A Novel Tale

by Blissey1

Chapter 7: The Hive, Part 2

Twilight told the tale of the changeling invasion of Canterlot and Chrysalis’ attempted coup of the throne. The entire time, Queen Polistae maintained a neutral expression, only occasionally interrupting to ask a question. Nurex also listened intently, having not heard the full story himself yet.

When Twilight finally finished, Polistae sighed and closed her eyes. “Chrysalis always was one of the more reckless changeling queens, but I never imagined she would do something so foolish.” She opened her eyes and looked to Twilight. “Twilight Sparkle, I can assure you that Chrysalis’ actions are not representative of changelings as a whole. You ponies are necessary for our survival, and anything that harms you indirectly harms us as well. I will make certain that as many other changeling queens as I can contact are informed of these events. Thank you, Twilight Sparkle, for bringing us this information,” she said as she gave a small nod of her head.

Twilight bowed her head. “You’re welcome, your majesty.” She looked up again. “But, uh, well...” Twilight faltered. Even though she was fairly sure now that Polistae was much nicer than she appeared, her imperious demeanor still made it difficult for Twilight to ask anything more of her. The unicorn couldn’t help but feel somewhat insignificant before the changeling queen, and that any request she had would just be an annoyance.

She steeled herself and continued. “...Informing you of what happened in Canterlot wasn’t my only purpose in coming here.”

“Oh?” Polistae said, a slightly raised eyebrow being the only change in her expression.

“Yes. I also wish to learn more about changelings. I was... hoping I could see the rest of the hive and take notes on how changelings work and live.”

“I see. And what do you intend to with such knowledge?”

“Well, I was planning to write a book on it...”

Polistae closed her eyes, thinking on the request. After what seemed like an hour to Twilight but was really only a minute, she opened her eyes again and looked to Twilight. “In the past I would have refused such a request without a moment's hesitation. Secrecy and obscurity have always been a changeling’s greatest assets. Now, because of Queen Chrysalis, ponies everywhere know that we exist and our obscurity is all but ruined. Knowing ponies, speculation on us is bound to run rampant, and thanks to the stellar first impression ponies have gotten of us, none of that speculation is going to be good. If things are left as are, I would not be surprised if mobs of ponies started forming in the streets, armed with torches and pitchforks. It will be a veritable witch hunt, all targeted against changelings. That can only end badly for all of us."

Twilight had not considered that there might be fallout of that magnitude. She highly doubted that things would escalate to the extent of torch and pitchfork wielding mobs, but on the other hoof, she couldn’t help but remember how Ponyville had reacted to Zecora. And all she had done was look different! This certainly gave her work here new-found importance.

Polistae continued. "The best way to stem wild speculation is by providing facts. In light of this, I approve of your request. Just so long as you agree to keep the location of our hive and all changeling identities secret.”

"Of course, your majesty!” she responded enthusiastically, nearly overwhelmed with relief. “Participant confidentiality is a vital part of any scientific undertaking." Twilight bowed her head. “Thank you very much, Queen Polistae, for allowing me to do this.”

“If you have anything you wish to ask me about changelings, please, feel free to do so.”

“Uh...” Twilight fidgeted. She had a question alright, but wasn’t sure how appropriate it was to ask.

Polistae smirked. “I promise I am not going to bite. Ask your question.”

“It’s just that...” Twilight hesitantly began. “Well, you’ve been much more patient and understanding about all this than I would have expected...”

Polistae’s expression turned serious. “Make no mistake, Twilight Sparkle. This is easily one of the worst events to have ever happened in the entire history of our hive. However, I understand that what is done is done and ranting and raving about it will not help anything. Truthfully, you were very fortunate that it was Nurex and thus our hive that you discovered. Due to our roles as actors, writers, and such, we are much closer to ponykind than most changeling hives. Combined with our aptitude for creativity that allows us to perform these roles, we are thus much more capable of handling the news that the masquerade has been broken. Most other changeling queens would not have reacted nearly as calmly as I have.”

“But, then doesn’t that mean that the other changeling queens won’t agree with your decision to let me collect information on changelings?” Twilight asked.

Polistae nodded. “That is very likely, yes. However, we changeling queens have no absolute authority over each other. I am sure that this is the best course of action for us to take, given what has occurred, and am confident in my abilities to convince them of the same.”

“Well, I’m just glad you didn’t take the news as badly as I thought you would,” Twilight said with a relieved sigh.

Polistae smirked again. “Oh? And just how did you think I was going to react?”

Twilight faltered at being suddenly put on the spot. “Er, I mean, it's just that your appearance and demeanor are a lot like some noble ponies back in Canterlot. If they were in this situation, they would be yelling and screaming and being completely irrational about it! That's all that I meant, really!”

Polistae’s smirk changed into a smile. As if somepony had flipped a switch, she suddenly seemed much more approachable, the air of importance she exuded greatly diminished. “Tell me, Twilight, what is it again that the changelings of our hive do?”

Twilight was flabbergasted at the sudden change, especially since Polistae physically appeared the same as far as she could tell. She glanced at Nurex, who was also staring in shock, apparently never having seen this side of his queen before.

Twilight did her best to compose herself. She recalled what the queen had just said and what Nurex had told her earlier. “Uh, well, they’re writers, actors, and other professions requiring a degree of creativity.”

Queen Polistae nodded. “That’s right. So would it not make sense, then, that the queen of such a hive would also be particularly adept in one of those roles, much more so than her changelings?”

Twilight supposed that made sense. She nodded.

“Good. Now imagine that queen’s best role is as an actor. Would she not do her best to act the part of queen?”

It took Twilight a few moments to realize what Polistae was getting at, at which point could only stare at her in disbelief. Her regal, imposing demeanor was all an act? If she was this good an actor, then Twilight was glad that it was Chrysalis and not Polistae that had tried to impersonate Cadance.

“But how?” was all Twilight could ask.

“It’s all body language, manner of speech...” she leaned in conspiratorially towards Twilight and whispered the next bit. “And just a touch of magic!”

She returned to her normal sitting position. “I do hope you found that explanation satisfactory, Twilight.”

For the first time since Twilight had finished telling what occurred in Canterlot, Nurex spoke up, his voice sounding slightly confused. “Um, my queen?”

She turned her head towards him. “Yes, Nurex?”

“I have a lot of emotional energy stored up, and—”

“Ah, excellent,” she interrupted. “You can take Twilight with you when you go to Storage and tell her all about how it works. Come, both of you. I will inform the guards of what has occurred here and you two can be on your way.” She rose from her throne and began walking towards the door to her chambers.

Twilight was quick to follow, Nurex falling into place beside her. Twilight took out her notebook and quill again to record all that had occurred here. She looked up for a moment and her sight happened to fall on one of the web-like tapestries strung between the crystal pillars, prompting another question. “Oh, Queen Polistae!” It was so much easier to ask her questions now that she had dropped her unapproachable nobility act!

Polistae stopped and turned around to look at her with a knowing smile. “Another question, Twilight?”

“Yes!” she said with an enthusiastic nod. “About these designs you have between the crystal columns. I'm assuming that the images of other changeling queens are previous rulers of this hive.” She looked to Polistae for confirmation, who simply nodded. “But I was wondering about these images of ponies.”

“Those would be the pony forms of very important changelings in our hive’s history.” Polistae walked up to a nearby tapestry of an earth pony stallion. “For instance, this particular changeling was the most successful changeling to ever come from our hive.”

Twilight took a good look at the design. She swore she could recognize him, but the unusual medium of the design made it difficult for her to pin down.

With a smirk, Polistae continued. “You probably know him by his pony name, Leonardo Da Hoovsie.”

Twilight’s magic winked out and her notebook and quill clattered to the ground. She stood there completely stunned, her mind unable to do anything as it tried to process the implications of the bomb that had just been dropped on her. This was not the kind of information she had been expecting when she set out to learn more about changelings!

Queen Polistae simply stood and watched, clearly amused.

A minute later, Twilight managed to get her mouth moving, and a half a minute after that, she actually managed to produce a coherent sentence. “You mean the most influential pony of the entire Reneighssance Period was a changeling!?”

“I’m sure it comes as quite a shock, but I assure you, it’s true. It was before my time, but from what I understand, he was more pony than changeling. I wouldn’t dwell on it too much right now, though,” she said as she waved a hoof in the air dismissively. “You have a hive to see, and the day is soon to be over. Come!” Polistae turned back and continued towards the door, Nurex following behind.

Twilight still found herself unable to move. Don’t dwell on it? How could she not! This was huge! Tremendous! If it was true that Da Hoovsie was actually a changeling, then Twilight couldn’t help but wonder what other influential figures in history might also have been changelings. Or even what current influential figures might be changelings! What if—

Twilight stopped that train of thought right there, realizing that this particular track could stretch on forever if she let it. Polistae was right. The implications of this could take her weeks to mull over, and she had things to do. She did her best to tuck that particular tidbit of knowledge away in a corner of her mind and turned to see that Polistae and Nurex were almost at the door. She hurried to catch up to them.

Just before they reached the door, Polistae’s smile disappeared. Somepony had flicked the switch back on and her imperious demeanor had returned full force. “Sylus!” she shouted.

The door to the room opened inwards and one of the changeling guards that had let Twilight and Nurex in stuck his head through the door. “Yes, my queen?”

“I have given this pony, Twilight Sparkle, permission to wander the hive so that she may learn about us. Nurex will be guiding her. I wish you to escort them and ensure that they are not harassed by other guards or curious changelings. Understood?”

If Sylus found the command odd, he showed no signs of it. He bowed, his horn touching the floor. “As you wish, my queen.”

Nurex began moving back towards the main chamber, Twilight and Sylus following behind, though Sylus hung back a bit. Twilight glanced behind her to see Polistae turn around to return to her throne before the other guard closed the doors.

They passed through the central chamber and made their way into another tunnel on the opposite side, Twilight and Nurex walking together and Sylus still hanging back a ways. Now that they had a bit more privacy, Twilight finally spoke up. “Nurex, did you have any idea that Queen Polistae was simply acting like that?” She hadn't wanted to bring it up in around all the other changeling in the central chamber, unsure of how common this knowledge was.

He shook his head. “No, I had no idea. I've always thought that's how she really was. And as far as I know, so do all the other changelings.”

Twilight was about to respond when she was interrupted by a pair of voices from a small cavern up ahead at the end of the tunnel.

“Oh boy, a fresh batch of emorphic gel, just filled with emotions! What kind of emotion do ya think is in it?”

“I dunno, but I know a way to find out!”

Twilight heard a quiet cracking sound. Now insanely curious, she ran ahead of Nurex to see what was happening and entered the storage cavern.

She took in the room as she searched for the source of the voices. It was much smaller than the main chamber, or even Queen Polistae’s chamber. She figured it was more the size of Applejack’s barn. It was circular with another tunnel at the far end, and the walls were all tiered. Upon each of the tiers were rows of what looked like green, semi-transparent cocoons. Most of the storage space was full, but there was room for more cocoons as well. At the end of one of the rows, a cocoon had been cracked open and a pair of changelings stood before it. They appeared to be eating some kind of gel like substance that was inside.

“It’s amusement! My favorite!” one of them said.

Twilight had a feeling that they weren’t supposed to be here, and was about to turn around to ask Nurex about it when Sylus entered the room.

“Frix! Frax! What do you two think you’re doing?!” he shouted.

The two changelings spun around and their eyes widened when they saw who had found them. Twilight couldn’t help but think of a filly caught with her hoof in the cookie jar, and was beginning to think that’s exactly what this situation was.

“W-we wasn’t doing nothing, Sylus!” one of them claimed.

“Yeah, we definitely weren’t trying out the newest batch of emorphic gel!” the other provided helpfully.

Sylus growled. “You two get out of here right now!”

They both immediately took to the air and buzzed out of the room as quickly as they could, right over Twilight’s head. She turned to watch them leave, and saw that Sylus had taken up position at the entrance to the room.  She turned back to the cocoon they had cracked open and walked up to it, leaning in close to the crack to examine the substance within.

Nurex walked up behind her. “This is what we store our emotional energy in.”

“What did they call it? Emorphic gel?”

“That’s right.” He walked up to the cocoon next to the broken one, and touched his horn to it. His horn lit up and the entire cocoon glowed slightly as Nurex transferred his stored emotional energy into it.

Twilight took out her notebook and began jotting down notes. “So... if you store it, then that must mean you can’t hold onto it yourself for very long?” Twilight reasoned.

Nurex finished transferring his energy before looking back to Twilight and nodding in confirmation. “Right. We can hold onto a lot of energy, but only for so long. I was holding onto a ton of energy from that party your friend threw, and I think I only would have been able to hold it for another day or two. Any longer than that, and we lose it.”

Twilight looked up from her notes. “But Chrysalis had been draining my brother for a lot longer than a couple of days.”

“Oh, well she was a changeling queen. They can hold on to however much energy they want for as long as they want.” Nurex explained.

“Okay...” she said, looking back down to her notes. “So how do you get the energy back out of the gel then?”

Nurex gave her an odd look. “We eat it,” he said as if it was an obvious answer.

Twilight looked up at him a moment before responding. “Oh.”

“What did you think we did?” Nurex asked.

“Well, I thought you might just magically siphon it back out again.”

“We could do that, but then we miss out on the nutritional value of the gel itself.”

“So changelings actually need both physical food and emotional energy?”

Nurex shot her a confused look. “Of course we do! We’re not spirits like windigoes, we have a physical body to maintain!”

Twilight blushed in embarrassment. “Right. Of course.” She scribbled in her notebook some more. “What does it taste like?”

Nurex’s expression turned thoughtful. “Well, for changelings it taste like whatever emotion is stored in it. I... don’t really know how to describe it for a pony,” Nurex said with a shrug.

If Nurex couldn’t tell her, then there was still one way to find out. Twilight lifted her leg and carefully gathered a glob of the gel on the tip of her hoof. She turned to look at Nurex. “Is this stuff safe for ponies to eat?”

“I think so,” Nurex answered.

Twilight glared at him. “You think so?”

Nurex sheepishly rubbed the back of his head. “Well, I’ve never heard of a pony eating any before, so I can’t say for sure. But just from knowing how it’s made, I’m pretty sure it should be just fine.”

Twilight looked back to the glob of gel on her hoof and grimaced. Was she really going to do this? The things she did for science...

Before she could second guess herself, she lapped up the glob of gel. It instantly sent a shock along her tongue and a shiver down her spine, and she wondered if that was the emotional energy being released. It reminded her of a candy Pinkie had once given her that consisted of little sugary crystals that popped in your mouth, only this wasn’t sugary.

“It tastes like... walnuts?” she said to herself in disbelief.

Nurex trotted up a tried a bit of the gel himself. “Huh, I guess amusement tastes like walnuts to ponies then. Who knew?”

Twilight copied this into her notes, her eyes glinting with excitement. “This is amazing! I never would have imagined that emotions could have flavors associated with them! How do you make this stuff?”

Nurex’s face lit up. “I’ll show you! Come on, it’s just down the next tunnel!”

Nurex headed towards the tunnel in question and Twilight turned to follow him. A quick glance behind her showed her that Sylus had also started following them again.

Twilight moved beside Nurex, who had a big grin on his face. “You got real happy all of the sudden,” she commented.

“Making emorphic gel is what I did before I was old enough to create my own pony identity and leave the hive!” he recounted enthusiastically. “I really enjoyed doing it, and haven't had a chance to see the growing chambers since!”

Twilight stopped in place, her face scrunched up in confusion. “Growing chambers?” she silently mouthed to herself. Now this she had to see! She picked up the pace to catch up with Nurex.

The tunnel they were in began ascending and Twilight could soon hear the sound of running water. About a minute later, Twilight and Nurex stepped into another cavern, about the same size as the one they had just left. There was a small underground stream on one side of the chamber, coming out of a hole in the wall on one side and disappearing into a hole in the wall on the other side. The ground of the chamber was interspersed with pools of the green gel that were bubbling slightly. Twilight noticed there were narrow holes in the ceiling above each pit, about the size of her neck, and couldn’t imagine what they were for.

There was a changeling sitting on the ground off to one side, here to look after the gel, Twilight supposed. He got a confused look on his face and started to get up as they entered, but sat back down when he saw Sylus enter the room behind them.

“This is where we grow emorphic gel!” Nurex said, and Twilight thought she heard a hint of pride in his voice.

“Grow? You mean like a plant?” Twilight asked.

“Exactly!” Nurex answered with a nod. “Here, it gets water, sunlight, and everything else it needs to grow!”

Sunlight? Twilight stepped up to one of the pools of gel and looked up at the hole in the ceiling. With a start, she realized that they were very close to the surface. The hole went up about a few feet before giving her an unobstructed view of the star filled night sky. It wasn’t hard for Twilight to imagine sunlight streaming in through the holes onto the pools of gel during midday.

She began scribbling all this down in her notebook when she heard the changeling watching over the gel get up. He approached the stream, and Twilight then noticed there was a small bucket sitting next to it. The bucket had a strange handle, and Twilight wondered at its purpose until the changeling picked it up by sliding the handle into one of the holes on its leg. He dipped the bucket into the stream and filled it with water, then spat a huge glob of saliva into the bucket and swirled it around a bit before carefully pouring it into a nearby pool of gel.

Twilight grimaced in disgust. She leaned in closer to Nurex. “Did... did he just spit in the water?”

“Yep!” Nurex didn’t seem too concerned about it. “Changeling saliva is a vital part of growing emorphic gel! It’s what gives it its emotional energy storage properties!”

Twilight thought on that a moment. That was... completely disgusting. And— Oh Celestia, she had just eaten some of it earlier! She put a hoof to her mouth as she suppressed an urge to vomit.

“So, uh, I guess this stuff is pretty important to changelings then, huh?” she said nervously, trying to take her mind off of what she had just learned.

“You bet!” Nurex answered excitedly, not noticing Twilight’s discomfort. “Not only is it our only source of food storage, but it’s also a building material!”

Twilight now found herself sufficiently distracted. “A building material?” She thought back to the opaque green substance that had been covering the hexagonal rooms in the main chamber, that had been the door to the queens chambers, and that had been shaped into those beautiful designs stretched between the crystal pillars.

Nurex nodded enthusiastically. “That’s right! When you put magic to it a certain way, it becomes solid, and quite tough! Although, we can’t use it for emotion storage anymore once it’s like that.”

“Really? Can you show me how?” she asked, extremely intrigued at how such a thing could work.

For the first time since they had entered the Growing Chamber, Nurex’s smile faded. “Oh, uh... well, I was only ever in charge of growing emorphic gel, not working with it, so I don’t actually know how.”

Twilight looked back to the gel pool in front of her. She was the Element of Magic, she should be able to figure this out easily enough! She put down her quill and notebook, closed her eyes, and reached out into the pool of gel with her magic.

She could sense a magical lattice framework within the gel, growing but currently magically dormant. She focused in one one of the nodes in the lattice, and it didn’t take her long to find a sort of magical switch within the node. In her excitement, she immediately gave it a magical flick. The node changed, and her excitement turned to horror as she felt the change cascade down the rest of the lattice.

She cut off her magic and opened her eyes. The pool before her was no longer gently bubbling, but perfectly still. She tentatively reached out her hoof and touched the gel, which she found was now as hard as glass.

Her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to! Wait, I-I can fix this! I can fix this!” She immediately reached back into the glass substance with her magic, focused back in on the node she had found before, and flicked the magical switch back the other way, once again feeling the change cascade down the lattice.

She opened her eyes, and the pool appeared to once again be a liquid, though it still wasn’t bubbling gently. She reached out her hoof, and found that it was now completely liquid, not a gel.

“That’s... not right, is it?” she asked, turning to Nurex.

Nurex, a dismayed look on his face, could only shake his head.

Twilight looked back to the pool of not gel and got a slightly maniacal glint in her eyes. “Okay. That’s alright! I can still fix this! I just need to try—”

Nurex put a hoof on her shoulder. “Just... leave it be Twilight. It’s just one pool, we have plenty more where that came from. Let's just... go.”

The maniacal glint in Twilight’s eyes faded and her head and ears drooped towards the floor as Nurex led her back to the tunnel they had come from.

Unseen by either of them, the changeling tending the gel, who had had a scowl on his face ever since Twilight began magically examining the gel, got up angrily from where he was and began approaching them. One glare from Sylus, however, and he reluctantly sat back down, muttering to himself about having more work to do.

Twilight was apologizing to Nurex when they and Sylus entered the main chamber. “I’m so sorry, Nurex! I just get so excited sometimes, and I start doing things without thinking them through, and—”

“Twilight!” Nurex shouted. “Really, for the last time, it’s okay! We can replace that gel in no time! We didn’t even need it all that badly since we’re not actively growing the hive right now!” He took a deep breath and continued in a more subdued voice. “Just, please, try not to worry about it, okay?”

Twilight couldn’t help but remember giving Nurex some similar advice earlier that day, and so did her best to take his words to heart. She sighed. “Alright, I’ll try.”

“I’m glad to hear it!” Nurex glanced at the crystal column clock in the center of the chamber. “Look, it’s past midnight. We should probably both be getting some sleep.”

They both trotted up to the far wall of the central chamber, the one that looked like a giant honeycomb. Most of the rooms were sectioned off with hardened emoprhic gel, with only a small hole in the wall providing entrance. Twilight couldn’t see any way to reach the ones above the bottom floor, but that wasn’t too surprising since changelings could fly.  As she was thinking this, she saw a changeling fly up to and enter one of the rooms near the top of the cavern.

Nurex fluttered up into the air a short ways and started scanning the rooms nearby. “Lets see here...” he began muttering to himself “No rooms available on the bottom floor... Oh, there we go!” He landed on the floor next to Twilight and pointed at one of the hexagonal rooms. “That room up there on the third tier is empty. I don’t think I can carry you up there myself, but let me find another changeling and—”

“Thank you, Nurex, but that won’t be necessary.” Twilight said with a faint smile. Her horn glowed, and in a flash she was no longer standing on the ground.

Twilight examined the room she now found herself in. It was a bit smaller than she would have liked, and very sparse. There was a crystal in the ceiling providing some light and what she assumed was a bed made of hardened gel. She was wondering how comfortable that could possibly be when she suddenly realized that Nurex had no idea she could teleport. It must have looked like she had just disappeared! She walked up to the small entrance to the room and looked down. Sure enough, Nurex was frantically looking about, trying to find her.

“Nurex! Up here!” she shouted.

Nurex looked up and his eyes widened when he saw her. He lifted up off the ground and flittered up to her room, hanging in the air just outside the entrance. “What was that!? Was that a teleport?”

She smiled for real this time. “It sure was! I know a lot of spells.”

“Wow, I’ve never actually seen a teleport before...” Nurex said. “Um, anyway, I guess you’ve seen your room then? It’s nothing but a bed and a light, but it’s the best we have on such short notice.”

“It’s a bit more sparse than I’m used to, but I’ll be fine.”

“That’s good! I’m going to get some sleep of my own then. Goodnight Twilight, see you tomorrow!”

“Goodnight, Nurex!” Twilight watched him buzz off, but he was soon stopped by Sylus, who said something to him before flying off with him towards Polistae’s chambers. Twilight remembered that Polistae had said she wanted to speak with him later. She hoped that the changeling queen wouldn't be too hard on him.

She turned around and went to examine the bed she was going to be sleeping on. She touched it with a hoof and was surprised to find that it wasn’t completely hard like many other structures of hardened emorhpic gel she had seen thus far. It was very firm, but still slightly soft. She reached out with her magic, focused on one of the nodes in the gel, and—very careful to not actually modify anything this time—examined it. That same magical switch she had found earlier was in a kind of halfway position. Her eyes widened in amazement. Was this substance really so versatile? She was sure that, if only its creation wasn’t so inextricably tied to changeling physiology, emorphic gel would be a great improvement for pony society.

She put her saddlebags down in a corner of the room and lied down in the bed. It wasn’t nearly as nice as an actual mattress, but it beat sleeping on the stone floor. Combined with a lack of a blanket and a mind full of new knowledge and question that wouldn’t stop whirling around, it was quite some time before Twilight finally fell into a restless sleep.