Pony POV Series
Raising Of A Monster
By Alex Warlorn
Edited By Louis
I did a bit of wandering after that. Seeing the countryside, taking in the sights, being one with nature.
I tried feeding off the love of animals. In doing so, I essentially learned what a lion feels like when it tries to eat leaves.
What did my conscience say about all this? What would I want with something society tried to PROGRAM into me? That's why I smothered my conscience in its sleep. So I spent a little bit whining about how life isn't fair, then hunger set me straight, and off I went.
For once, I was happy Father had never taken me to any other town or city. This meant I wouldn't be recognized.
I shall...confess...on the grounds this is not repeated...I did apply for employment at...an escort business. I realized Maua's old rock collection had more love than these stallions, and I wouldn't let this filth touch my body. My...employer told me what he thought of my behavior. I introduced his throat to my hooves, and helped myself to a generous severance package.
Where was I? Oh yes.
I didn't bother remember the names of the cities or town I came to or from, why would I?
Let see now... I think that's when I happened to camp at the same spot as this young, handsome zebra stallion. He was in love with me at first sight before I actually did anything! It was discording. No, not THAT kind of discording! And no, let us set one record straight right now:
I would not work alongside that lunatic if he offered me the goddess of love herself on a silver platter! A world full of bickering, miserable, insane ponies? How is anyling supposed to get a steady supply of love in THAT mess? I might as well ask the windigos to return. The bastard can rot in Tartarus for all I care, if I was in Celestia's horseshoes I'd turn his statue into gravel. I'm embarrassed to admit that I was CHEERING for the ponies when they dealt with Nightmare Moon, Discord, and Princess Gaia.
The pony code against murder is stupidity defined. Sure, kill on the battlefield! Kill away! But present a pony with a chance to make sure an enemy can never threaten them again? Not in peacetime! Rejected! Instead, let's give 'em a chance to escape someday, so they may lay havoc another day! Idiots! So to sum it up, I'd sooner help kill Discord than ever aid him.
Who was I talking about again? The stallion? Yes yes, if you insist his name was Buibui. Or maybe it was Bovbov.
Either way, he made a good mobile food source. Said he was traveling Zebrafrica to see the world or something, maybe he was looking for a magic sword, or maybe he was a mail carrier... no, he was a mail carrier looking for a magic sword! I think. I spun a completely fictional name and past for myself for him to dig into, and acted endearing.
I think I could have told him I was a door to door hay-saleszebra and the moron would have still loved the sight of me. Idiot didn't know me, and he just loves me then and there? Zebra who fall in love simply from how somezebra looks are no different from stallions who pay for a night with a mare. That kind of love is reserved for small foals and idiots... not that I was complaining!
I asked him what he loved about me, but all his answers came back shallow. He only knew my appearance and the fantasy I had fed him. His responses could have described anyzebra he liked.
I kept him around until I neared civilization again. And for a while after that, and a while after that. Trying to figure out what was it he saw in me that made him love me instantly. But it always fell short. I don't like failing! There are two ways to deal with a mystery, uncover it, or eliminate it.
Finally, I asked him if he'd give me all his love, and he agreed, so I took it. Yum! What? I asked.
I visited what libraries I could find, and there were always a stallion in such places, desperate for companionship, someone to share his love with, and normally wouldn't be missed a fair while. Though my real point in visiting was to read up on fighting, hoof-to-hoof combat of Earth ponies, aerial pegasus dogfights, unicorn combat magic, and of course the zebra-style cane fighting that had almost done me in. Finding books on those was a challenge unto itself! Which makes the lonely desperate stallions all the more useful.
Sometimes a target would last me a good while. Other were about as filling as chewing gum.
After all, I just want to go on living. Like the timberwolves of Equestria. If the deer they fed on were suddenly replaced with ones who were more than their instincts, would that change what the timberwolves' natural prey was?
My day job? Well, on one hoof, love was the only sustenance I truly needed; and you couldn't buy such a commodity at the market! But at the same time... well, you'd be AMAZED how many things they'll stick a price tag onto, and last I checked, stallions didn't consider moneyless vagrants to be 'smoking hot.'
So I had been everything, a waitress, manual labor, I took pride in my skill in lying and manipulating myself into anywhere. My prey often provided most of the money I actually needed.
On a whim, I once visited a fortuneteller, who used pieces of paper with pictures on them to foretell the future. Perhaps I could pick up some tricks I could use for myself!
Things didn't go the way they were supposed to, when during their ritual the zebra drew a card that she looked very surprised at. "What?... This is impossible."
Instead of rolling my eyes I asked, "What is it?"
THe picture was some naked mare on top of a several headed lion, the mare holding what could have been a lantern or chalice.
"This is the eleventh Major Arcana, it's commonly called The Lust, but it's also known as The Hunger."
I stiffened. "What does it symbolize?" I heard myself ask.
"Well, in this case, it symbolizes being consumed by power, the strength that comes through dominating others, and thus is not true power, but the emotional high of abusing power."
I gritted my teeth. "So what is so 'impossible' about it?"
"I didn't put in my deck! It's not part of a standard Tarot deck but one of the alternate decks! The standard Arcana with that number is The Strength! I should not have drawn this card!"
I looked at the other cards on the table, a skeleton equine drawn from before, which overlapped a card underneath she said was called the Temperance.
The mare drew again, shaking, the card this time was of a tower being struck by lightning and equine falling from it.
The mare did a couple more readings, and that card, Hunger, kept showing up. I couldn't figure out what her game was since she did these readings as a 'bonus' and I felt her growing genuinely afraid and disturbed.
"It's like this Arcana is calling to you, or like you are calling to it!"
The Hunger Arcana huh? Sure. Why not?
My plans for the future? I had no real plans then, my goal was living day-by-day. Though I'll admit, even back then, just wandering about, going from town to town, feeding, moving on, and repeating the cycle really didn't appeal to me. There had to be a way out. Freedom from my. . . condition. And I was going to find it.
Oh, and I ran into some accidentally-summoned (not by me stupid! I'd never even read on monster summoning) extra-dimensional parasitic creature that ate magic and decided to make me his entree. I ate him instead. There was something sweet about his rantings on how I was a insect compared to him and HE should have been eating ME, and me proving him dead wrong.
I was on cloud nine.
Some time later I spotted my newest target. In some town that had a bunch of foreigners, like griffins about. He was good looking. Attractive. And he seemed like the kind that fell in love with a mares on the spot. I'll admit, he was rather hot.
I did my dance with him, and he did his own dance right back at me! Now this could be informative. Let it never be said I was unwilling to learn.
We talked about meaningless trivial things. Something about him just drew me to him. Funny... I don't think I ever actually caught his name.
I told him where I was staying, and where to come to me, I asked him not to tell anyzebra else of course, I wanted it to be private, of course he agreed.
I went back to my room to prepare for our 'meeting.'
Inside my room I found several griffins and deer, I wondered if I had gotten the wrong room for less than a second before I began to back up only to find the door closed behind me.
Then they came at me all at once. Oh, funny story, I ALWAYS make sure my room are soundproof, and don't have any windows. Really funny ain't it?
Door was nice and strong too, the kind that wouldn't be broke down quickly, the way I liked it. The zebra who gave me this room really did fill out all my needs.
They didn't bother with introductions. They didn't waste time on banter to give me a few precious seconds to size them up. They came at me, nearly all at once, just enough at once so I had nowhere to dodge, the rest waiting outside the first pile for me if I managed to squeeze out of that. They didn't let up for a moment. They didn't let me get a word in edgewise. Their attacks came from every side, behind front, left right, above below, but angled so if I escaped, they wouldn't hit each other.
I kicked, bucked, jabbed, punched, but for every one I focused on, there were two more getting in a hit when I did. Contrary to what you've seen in plays, they did not politely line up single file for me to knock down one-by-one.
I gave them plenty of black-eyes, bite marks, bruises, and broken bones, but there was plenty of them too. One slammed a collar around my neck. Then a muzzle on my snout. Then came the rope. By the time they were done, I was just a package for delivery. I never stopped struggling. It just made them beat me harder.
By the time I was in the bag, I wasn't in much shape to do anything. I was just able to grab my mother's mask with my teeth. And I had felt increasing dizzy ever since the collar had gone around my neck. It wasn't restricting my breathing, but I was feeling more disoriented the longer it was on, like, like my thoughts...were turning, into soup...so tired...can't think...ugh...the bumpy ride wasn't helping either. I lost consciousness.
I had no idea where I was. It stank. It was noisy, hissing and clicking noises all around me. I was dumped onto a dirt floor.
Monsters surrounded me. Zebra sized insects, with dragonfly wings, stubby horns, black carapaces, fangs and blue eyes. They went on four legs but in place of manes or tail they had what looked like skin flaps or something. They were ugly.
I retched at the sight of them, and huddled closer to mom's mask.
I was indoors. Everything had a black flowing shape to it. The lanterns burned violet. I had no idea what that was about. I was surrounded on all sides by a raised wall, with the audience of monsters looking on above.
"All bow to the Queen of the Changelings!" One of the monsters, wearing armor, called out. They spoke Zebrifican?
The insects all lowered their heads.
Then one slammed my face into the ground.
"WE SAID KNEEL, DESERTER!" Another armored bug hissed in my ear.
I felt a faint shuddering in the ground. I was so disoriented. Something wasn't right. And I mean more so than the bizarre nightmare I now found myself in. What was it?
The faint shaking again. The my head yanked up to face the ugliest horror I had ever seen.
It was fat, bloated, and disgusting.
Its body pulsated every few seconds, like intestines. Most of its body was the most putrid shade of white imaginable. The front half of its body was small by comparison and black like the rest of the monsters and covered in carapace. Blech, its head was big and ugly. It had a pair of wings that were far too tiny for it. It had the same blue compound eyes as the rest of the monsters. It wore a black crown with amethysts. It held a similarly-made scepter.
It was carried on a giant couched slab, with more of the monsters shackled to it on either side. All of them looked utterly exhausted and hopeless. They looked relieved to finally place the giant load down and getting a chance to rest.
"All Hail Queen Cocoon Mab Loth Avalon!"
The...changelings... hadn't that been was what the armored monster called itself? The changelings all chittered and cheered at the bloated thing.
A number of the monsters fluttered to the big monster's side, standing at attention.
The armored one next to me bowed. "My queen, we have captured the rogue we were sent to retrieve."
"Black Beetle." The big monster said... in Low Equestrian!... "How did this little creature escape the eyes and ears of your intelligence network for so long? How did it escape the nest without your notice? Who could have exposed us?"
Black Beetle suddenly looked terrified. "M-my queen, I do not know! It must have been a grievous oversight on the guards' part! They clearly have been slacking in their duties in keeping the gatherers and workers in line! They have allowed creatures like this thing to run about, causing trouble!"
"So it is the guards' fault? That is your best estimate?"
"Yes my queen! Certainly!"
"Black Beetle... give me all your love."
Black Beetle screamed tried to fly away, but was grabbed by two of the armored bugs and was dragged in front of the queen, who touched his horn with hers.
I watched transfixed as violet flames flowed out of the bug and into the queen, his body withering. It lasted several seconds. None of the other monsters said or did anything to stop it. I was still bound and gagged.
The violet flames stopped coming out of Black Beetle...his eyes were empty. Not empty in the catatonic sense, but empty as in like a costume. Hollow. The armored bugs let go of him, and his empty exoskeleton fell to the floor and shattered. There was nothing inside.
Changelings rushed in front of the queen and swept up what was left of Black Beetle into a bucket and dump it into a bigger bucket that was carted away. Like garbage.
The Queen looked back at me.
"Soldier #1983, what is this little creature's brood and serial number?"
The armored monster got closer to me. "STAY BACK!" I tried to snap holding up my mother's mask.
Soldier #1983 punched it in two and tossed it aside.
What was this pain in my chest? Seeing that mask broken?
The monster mare-handled me, pushing and pull me, making the bindings and collar bite into my body. As he did so, I got a look at his helmet, and the reflect there in.
My blood turned to ice. I recoiled in disgust at the thing looking back at me in the helmet's reflection.
Bad dream. Bad dream. Bad dream. Or that's what I would have said if I wasn't in so much pain right now! Bad dream! Please bad dream! I've finally gone crazy and now I'm delusional. It's all a fever dream, everything since the day I became an Alicorn, just a fever dream.
I heard the insects whispering. "She's a monster. She could have exposed us all."
"She's not so... blagh! Her eyes!"
"A deviant? No wonder she ran."
"Your Majesty! She has no serial number! And no brood mark!"
The monsters all gasped.
"THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE!" The Queen snarled.
"It is true My Queen! There is nothing!"
"They are removed?!"
"No My Queen, there is no sign of them having been there at all!"
"Little creature! What is your number and brood?! I command you to speak!"
They practically tore the muzzle off me. "WHO ARE YOU!?" I demanded. "WHAT ARE YOU? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?! CHANGE ME BACK YOU SICK FREAKS!"
"These games do not amuse me, deviant! Answer!"
"I'm not one of you! Change me back! What did you do?! Let me go!" I knew that was unlikely, given I had already seen a secret society that wanted to stay hidden, but I wasn't exactly thinking straight.
"Do not try to pretend to be delusional, deviant. We know of your feeding and hunting. Your shapeshifting is bound by the collar little creature."
"You're lying! Your turned me into this! I WAS BORN A ZEBRA!"
"Converting cattle into changelings is a costly, time-consuming process: why would we waste it on a cattle's foal? Do not blame me, deviant, you are the architect of your own fate."
That last bit, was enough to give me back my focus. Thanks, Queenie!
"How is it possible you avoided being marked when born, and spend your entire life as such, and even left the hives undetected, deviant?"
"I've never been here before in my life. I've never seen you things before in my life. So buck you."
Amidst the sea of gasps, the armored bug smashed me across the face, knocking me down.
"Watch your tongue, monster, or I'll cut it out!"
"Monster? You look in a mirror lately?" He kicked me in the muzzle. It was so worth it.
I had no intention of sharing my life story with these giant bugs.
This continued for too long, the Queen demanding answers that I didn't have, ranting about things that didn't exist.
"If I'm not numbered... *KICK!* Then I'm not part of your system...*KICK!* So this entire thing is pointless!" *KICK!*
"...you may have somehow dodged being registered when you were born, little creature, but I promise your death will be not be so avoidable."
...Oh no...So this was it huh? Dammit. Guess I didn't get so far after all.
"Take her to the other deviants. I want her broken! I want 'Yes, Master' to be the only words she can say! I want this traitorous little worm to know its place! I want it know its words hold as much worth as flatulence!"
"HOW CAN I HAVE BETRAYED YOU WHEN I HAVEN'T EVEN MET YOU!?" I couldn't stand this insult to logic!
"You have endangered the swarm by acting without my command! Your genetic deviance endangers the gene pool! You show defiance towards your Queen! How could your actions be anything BUT treason? I'm done with this worm. Take it away."
Another of the armored bugs flew one and together the two of them dragged me away, still roped up, and still collared, dragged away on the dirt and then on the rough stone as we entered one of the passages that led into the circular dust bin.
I tried my hardest to memorize every passage and route we took.
We passed other changelings.
"Its eyes! Look at her eyes! She's an abomination!" Buzzed out one changeling.
"She's a deviant from the template! She's a mutant!"
Most however, didn't even look at me, or anything else. If I had to put a word to them, it would be tired. They trudged along.
I saw zebra, ponies, griffins, deer, with glowing violet eyes, looking deluded or like they were having the time of their life even if they were covered in dirt and stank like goats.
"Hey!" I shouted at one zebra, who looked at me dully. "Help me!" She took a trot forward.
"Ignore her," #1983 said. The zebra went back to sweeping.
Finally, they dragged in front of what, by any other name, was a prison cell. They cut my bindings. Big mistake. I kicked one in the face, and made a run for it even if I had no idea where to go.
Sadly, one grabbed me as I began to run, and I fell face first on a raised piece of stone. One of the fangs that now dominate my mouth broke, bleeding.
"Oh. Let me help with that." #1983 said, and then punched me in the face until the other fang broke. "See? That wasn't so bad! Both match now! NOW GET IN!"
The THREW me inside the slammed the cage door behind them.
I wasn't alone.
There were more of the monsters. But all of them slightly different; none were cookie-cutter identical.
One had violet compound eyes instead of blue. One's shell was gray instead of black, and another's was a darker shade of black than the norm. Yet another had red marks along her shell like flames. One had very large wings. Another was wingless but possessed bulkier armor, and yet another still was also without wings, but had a longer, more slender horn.
They all looked at me with sad pity, I snarled at them for that, but not before observing how they were all wearing the same collar I was.
I looked down towards the floor into a puddle of...something. My eyes. They weren't the same as the rest of the monsters. They were green and almost like a cat's. They were still my own.
Yes yes, they introduced themselves to me, and I introduced myself to them. But I told none my name. Can we please skip over that part? It was just an exchanging of identities. Their stories were all same. Born different, threat to the template, but 'waste not, want not.' So they were spared to entertain the swarm, (and by 'entertain' I mean everything from the clownish to the carnal) or perform the sort of menial tasks fit for the lowest of the low.
The matter of real importance? I learned stuff. What was at stake here. What the playing field was like. And especially, the rules of the game. You need to know the rules of the game so you can break them.
Moreover, I learned the 'history' of the swarm. Not dates and names and such; but what precious little the swarm itself remembered from its centuries of isolation and self-ignorance.
And I learned nothing alive has the same eyes as me.
The last queen didn't have the same eyes as me.
That old hag was never my mother! Don't tell me all this time you were thinking that it was going to turn out I was some long-lost princess, do you? Destined to be returned to the rightful throne, and meet with the rebel resistance and restore all that was right once? Don't make me laugh, you romantic simpleton.
I also learned it was tradition to destroy all records of the previous changeling Queen when the new one was crowned. The death of their history and leaving only the now (that was one of the first policies I changed). Not that anyling could even REMEMBER when Queen Cocoon had started ruling. They didn't even know if there any other changelings besides them.
The secret origin of the changelings? They'd like to know that themselves.
'The first Changeling Queen was the Hearts and Hooves Day princess!' 'She was Queen Rosedust!' 'No She was Queen Rostdust's daughter!' 'No no no! She was the pegasus who killed the demigod Cupid! She has to be!' 'Bioweapon created by the centaurs!' 'Ancient mutant space ponies!' 'Ponies mutated by a sonic-rainnuke!' 'Fairy ponies risen from the dead!'
Take your pick.
I wish I could say I was given some holy vision, telling me it was my destiny to rise to the top. Or spirits telling me I was Queen Rosedust herself reborn. But I had nothing. And I wouldn't have cared.
And every discussion ALWAYS kept coming back to my eyes.
They didn't look the same as eyes of prey, but they weren't the eyes of my own kind, so therefore 'not-changeling-eyes' equaled 'prey-eyes.' Not that unreasonable. No wait... it was stupid.
To be a changeling is to have everything be your enemy. Creatures of chaos, hatred, and ruin, spreading despair and misery, destroying our crops before they can be harvested.
And that said nothing about other changelings. There was never enough love to go around, ever. Not as far back as the current generation could remember with Queen Cocoon on top, no matter how diverse the prey, no matter how many forms love took, there was never enough to feed everyling. I thought of the fat queen, I wondered why.
In the darkest and worst times, Changeling tore each other to shreds over the smallest scrap of affection to take the edge off our never-ending hunger. This chaos didn't last long. Those whose feuds escalated into full-out war were more likely to make the prey aware that those horrors called 'changelings' were REAL, and needed to be disposed of!
We have been called abominations, plagues, diseases upon the world. As if what we're doing was any different than any other beast that seeks flesh to fill its belly.
Oh right, prey think everything eats fruits, vegetables, or rocks.
My eyes. 'How different they are,' the others would prattle on.
'Changelings and prey were fundamentally different,' they insisted. 'Like water and alcohol.' Water and alcohol could LOOK the same, FEEL the same, but one burned, one didn't. And it had nothing to do with how it was raised or its choices.
Personally? I knew I was fundamentally different from THEM! And I swore I'd never forget that.
Back to 'my fellow deviants...' They all had numbers and brood markings. I had none. This made me a strange anomaly, even among them. Every changeling's birth, life, and death was documented, along with the love it gathered and had and was given. Like machinery. Disgusting.
The idea of earning love instead of steal love? Want. Take. Consume. After all, lions don't ask gazelles' permission to eat THEM. It's just nature.
For changelings, GIVING love is like vomiting. Which also happens to be how nymphs are fed.
Oh, let me settle that as long as we're on the subject. Contrary to myth, our young aren't born as grubs and mature into pony shapes. They HATCH in equine shapes, and grow from there, so the proper term is nymph.
GIVING love to cattle is a sign of mental illness. It's actually written right in the laws and our psychology textbooks.
I could appreciate that. After all, I couldn't go giving love back to other zebra, it's not like THEY need it to live.
(Interviewer's Notes (Unicorn): You're wrong. Anything with a heart needs love to live. There was an experiment, long ago, with infants were fed and otherwise taken care of, but not nurtured or had affection expressed towards them...the experiment ended because they all died. Love IS needed for other creatures with hearts and minds to live.)
Well then, heh, I guess that means ALL creatures are changelings, doesn't it?
Now where was I? Oh, I and my fellow genetic deviants got to know one another, learned about each other, our likes and dislikes.
We also hatched an escape plan involving careful timing, distracting, knowing the exits to the surface (turns most of the hive was underground), and taking advantage of our 'disabilities' of course. Oh, and getting the collars off, but that one went without saying. We already had plans of where to go once we were free. Equestria was the one and only place we had any true desire to go. A kingdom so overflowing with love? We'd be fools to go anywhere else.
But our escape was foiled, thanks to a traitor in our midst. What? Me? Don't be stupid. I wanted OUT of that dung hole! And you think I'd be STUPID ENOUGH to believe any offer or promise the guards or the queen gave me? Me, the deviant whom they made clear they didn't even consider a person? Not worth the respect or handling even prey was given?
"You said you wouldn't say it was me!" Said red-streaks, aka #1992-PT, whom the guard happily outed as our mole.
"And you believed me," #1983 said kicking her back in with the rest of us.
What did we do to her?
I think I'll leave that to YOUR imagination. I certainly got to express mine that day!
I decided that day, if I was going to gain my freedom, I was going to have to do it myself.
Oh. What did we deviants do? Things. Lots of things.
Do I really have to tell this part?
"Bring in the clowns."
The collars never, ever, came off. I was thrust into arenas more times than I could ever recall. And I never saw the sky.
Made to do tricks with minimal or no practice, ball walking (with our front hooves), fire juggling (with our mouths), and who could forget the cream pies infested with muncher beetles?
The costumes and makeup were not all that inspired. As a performer myself, I took it as a personal insult!
It was actually WORTH the beatings I took when I dared modify my costume and make up an act all for the sake of delivering a better performance. For the record, the audience loved it.
I kept my singing voice a secret.
I'll admit, mathematically speaking, and considering my survival habits, there was no way I could deny they were the same species as me. But how? There was no way in Tartarus my parents were changelings. And the myths about changelings replacing babies with their own nymphs are just that, myths. It made no sense, but I couldn't deny the evidence staring me in the face, or how so many pieces made sense.
One thing about being considered less than even your own food? Changelings don't care what they say around you.
So many were afraid. I was stunned what a truly cutthroat society this was. One less changeling means more love for the rest, after all. I wondered how many were hiding deviances behind their shapeshifting.
Queen Cocoon, surprisingly, had a vast network of changelings away from the hive, making sure the hive stayed current in global affairs, and information about the swarm was silenced, vanished, blown up, or if the discoverer was particularly clever, converted as the situation called for.
They kept speaking of everything in Low Equestrian, her and her entourage. Regardless of how important or vital it was. I never let on that I understood every word dropped about plans for revising her private chambers, additions to the hive, rescheduling the guards, and more.
I also heard how the changelings' numbers had been steady dropping over the last hundred years, at least. Of course feeding Her Majesty always came first.
I also realized, if I escaped, they'd hunt me till the day I died.
Cocoon never said any of it in Zebrafrican, but apparently there WERE adult changeling scouts and gatherers who had chose to feel empathy for their prey, and abandon their 'loyalty' to the hive and assimilate fully with the creatures they were posing as. Some 'going as far' as 'vomiting love' back at their prey. They were declared 'legally insane' on the spot, full of 'poisonous ideas' and were hunted down and often killed on the spot with a proper cover up of their death or vanishing following for their alias.
Can't have security risks, after all.
They also made nice scapegoats for why there was a perpetual love shortage despite the population dropping. When Cocoon felt whimsical, one traitor would be brought back alive for a show trial, followed by attempts to 'cure' them for the rest of their lives. When Cocoon felt un-whimsical, traitors were just eliminated to safeguard the gene pool.
There were even changelings who found the 'taste' of a particular prisoner so enticing, they tried to escape the hive with them. Preying Mantis' drones would find them, the changeling would plead they had 'fallen in love' with their food and Cocoon introduced them to their fate.
Thanks to the 'language barrier,' of me speaking 'only' in Zebrafrican, I never lacked for information.
I learned of the swarm's alchemists and bioengineers. A century ago, the bioengineers had attempted to breed a 'love tree.' Apparently, it got 'too friendly' and was burned to ashes after taking the most brilliant bio-alchemist of a generation with it.
They had tried a 'hive mind' collective dream with cocooned victims and... it was a disaster. Individually, zebra lacked the knowledge to conceive of a perfectly detailed world. And different zebra considered different things real and fictitious. Ergo, a collective shared dream would create countless contradicts.
Factor in the magic needed to maintain it, and the minimal return, and the whole enterprise equaled out to a fool's errand.
Hercules Beetle, was the master of the swarm's soldiers, and didn't mourn Black Beetle's fate. A new changeling, Preying Mantis, was now master of maintaining order within the hive. The one charged with finding and silencing rogues and traitors.
Digger Wasp was master of the swarm's spies, but his presence at the hive itself, was a lucky rarity. His sister, Jewel Wasp, was master of the gatherers.
All changelings who could perform magic cast the same identical COLOR of magic: violet. This could be problematic when infiltrating as unicorns en masse, but Digger Wasp often boasted of finding ways around this tell that were 'surprisingly obvious.'
There was Shield Bug, our 'head pediatrician,' so to speak, who oversaw the health of the swarm's nymphs. Queen Cocoon didn't care much for her, insisting she found Shield Bug, 'pessimistic.' Shield Bug would ask for more love from the 'royal cache,' saying she was being made to ration love to nymphs that needed at least over a third more of the grand total being given if they were to grow up healthy. Queen Cocoon said it would be a good chance to weed out the weak to increase the swarm's chances for living.
While it was hardly expectant for all the young of a litter or brood to grow up to adulthood... where was the logic in withholding love?
Hercules Beetle would always report the number of guards ready to defend the hive or wipe a settlement off the face of the map if we were discovered and a 'natural disaster' needed to happen.
I often suspected him of lying about his army's size just to make Cocoon feel more powerful. Yet it didn't have the earmarks of a con.
Their army was huge. Why, though? Everything I read about war said the same thing: armies were expensive to train, equip, maintain and FEED. So WHY was our army so LARGE in the middle of a century-long food crisis?
There weren't many countries that could match our swarm's soldiers in numbers. And they were up-to-date in equipment and training, with spies in nearly every country, providing tactical and strategic information.
And every last bit of it, this huge drain on resources, existed on the chance the swarm's existence was discovered, Hercules Beetle's second officer, Goliath Beetle, often bemoaned having an army and not even having a solid enemy to fight.
So to sum up: an army that did nothing. A black hole on resources even as the hive crumbled. Queen Cocoon was also telling the bio-alchemists' chief mad scientist Kabutomushi, to try and develop cloning for their army so they wouldn't have to rely on breeding.
Cocoon could have used prey to carry herself around, but she seemed to prefer using her own kind.
There were jobs cattle could be used for when not being kept in storage, but working upside down in the dark on the cavernous ventilation and cooling systems wasn't one of them. Plus, cattle was too important to risk injury. Worker grunts were more expendable.
There was no internal economy. You did your job; you were fed. If not; you were fed on.
Promotions seemed to be at personal whims rather than any merit system.
Names were a privilege. Unnamed changelings were just numbers in the machine: a poorly-ran one.
The worst part wasn't the performances, the collar, or the cell, or the way I was looked through, it was every time I had to bow down to that fat, bloated, impassive sloth, who cared only about her own belly, while the hive and her swarm crumbled around her. Resentment built within me like geothermic pressure in a volcano.
Then there came the straw that broke the camel's back. I spent a performance listening to changelings speak. Now outside the hive, artists generally aided in the gathering of love, as they attracted admirers. Inside the hive, artists who managed to keep the swarm distracted were left alone. But the changelings around me were all abuzz about a subversive painting called the 'Final Sunset' that had indirectly cast Cocoon in a bad light, and so its creator had to be eliminated.
Cocoon arrived, her slaves carrying her bulk on a great palanquin. #1983 announced her arrival. Then the proverbial straw fell, when among the ever changing titles and prestiges Cocoon gave herself, #1983 proclaimed her to be, "Protector of the hive, the swarm, the changeling people, she who protects and guards our future."
Something inside me snapped then. I dropped my props, wiped off my make-up and tore off my costume, to the shock of everyling, but before the guards could do anything, I sang.
"You claim to look to what is today's beyond,
Fate does not stop because you say it's done,
What fools mistakes the dusk for dawn?"
"You can't see the world crumble around you
So who is the greater fool?"
"You are blind both far and near
You say you're loved but all I see is fear
"Show us all games and fun
Distract a hive that comes undone"
"A sword treated like a shield
Is it to a coward that we kneel?"
"Beasts tear down leaders who are weak
So who is the real freak?"
"Our future is ours if we'll take it
Or one who can only fake it?"
"A spider who hides from her own web
The only kingdom she'll rule is one of the dead.
Awaken and look left and right, do not hide
Don't we see that all of us feel the same inside?"
Takes our wings and fly
And see through this lie!"
"Swarm, kingdom, hive,
We must remember what means to be alive!"
That got their attention.
Well, there goes the bridge. Only way now is forward.
The swarm looked at me in shock and varied other feelings: some fear, some confusion, some awe. They'd respond with their emotions first, then reflect upon it later in a way that would create the illusion that they had used reason to decide their action. I need to strike now that I've played my ace to knock them all off-balance.
"Look around us! Our hive is crumbling! Yet we are not given resources to restore it! No matter how our numbers shrink, our supply of food remains scarce! Our swarm is on a death spiral! Our Queen has a massive army, and has for generations, in case the cattle should ever, may eventually, possibly discover our existence. But what has her army done for us other than eat and bully us?"
That got the guards unhappy, but it also got a lot of the assembled changeling talking. Which I like to pretend got Cocoon scared.
"How many of us, as gatherers, have gone beyond the protection of her army that never leaves our hive? Only to have to kill ourselves rather than risk revealing our existence to the cattle? How many of us have lost brothers and sisters to this fear? Once our numbers could blot out the sky! Why did we not listen to our courage then?! We are predators! We are the hunters! And yet we cower and bury ourselves in the dirt like grubs! Is that who we are? Is that who we want to be?"
The ugly bugs looked at each other, surprised and unsure.
"How has Cocoon protected us? Or have WE been the ones protecting HER? Is THAT the changeling way? And at what cost? Our swarm? Our hive? Our future? If we serve a queen only to all die ourselves, then wouldn't that queen only follow suit? How is that a future?! Why is it, no matter how much we bring our queen, there is never enough? What has driven our brothers and sisters to madness and stolen cattle from the hive and fled? Why does this madness continue? Why have we done nothing to change these things? Why has our queen failed to bring us back from the abyss? If we are a swarm, then why do we never swarm? Why do we neither do anything with our army or scale it back as we starve?! Who can answer me? If even a degenerate slave can notice these questions, then who has been keeping us from asking them? Who has the the ability, the means, but never acts?"
Some of Cocoon's entourage looked like they wanted to handle things delicately.
"I have protected the changeling swarm from extermination! I have kept us hidden and unknown. Not given in to mindless recklessness that would throw us into the jaws of the beast. The ponies and their goddess have strength that would crush us the way a wild beast crushed even the most civilized changeling!"
"The right preparation and information can overcome strength!"
Cocoon narrowed her disgusting eyes. "Is that so? Then maybe we should test that way of thinking." She stamped one of her hooves and a changeling retainer came to her side. And told him in Low Equestrian to get a stick, a sack, and three potatoes (we've got to feed our livestock something). And soon enough, they arrived. The crowd in the meantime was hissing and clicking to itself. Until Hercules Beetle stamped a hoof, "BE SILENT!" And that got them to shut up.
The items were tossed to me without fanfare.
"Since you said information and preparation can overcome strength. Let's see that in action, shall we? There are your weapons of war." She and the guards laughed. "And, to show this great ability of yours, you will be doing battle with Wolf Spider." The queen and the guards roared with laughter.
A few of the audience gasped. My 'fellow degenerates' who had been as stunned silent as the rest, waved me goodbye.
Every muscle in my body tensed and I gritted my teeth.
"As for preparation, I think tomorrow sounds fair, don't all of you?" None disagreed with her. "And as for information, you can be near Wolf-Spider's cage all day and all night to observe and learn from him. I'm certain you'll figure out a way to win!"
She laughed at me again, and did her guards and entourage, and a few of the common monsters as well. "And when it is over, everyling will see reality, rather than the delusion you offer them. And that nothing you say matters, that nothing you think matters. Get this lying worm out of my sight."
Wolf-Spider was a changeling. Barely. He was a degenerate, mostly. He had been the test subject for some of the bioengineers, hoping for an invincible guardian for their queen. It worked... too well.
Wolf-Spider was huge by changeling standard. He was huge by ANYTHING'S standards. In the circus-maximus, Queen Cocoon feed him degenerates or cattle that'd been sucked dry by the normal changelings. He'd rip the emotions out in the crudest, most forceful way possible. Then he'd eat their physical bodies were they'd linger in his vestigial stomach.
He attacked on command... most of the time, and didn't eat his own guards... most of the time. But Shield Bug had actually begged Queen Cocoon to put the giant monster out of his misery after it was clear the experiments left him severely brain-damaged. The brute was now just slightly less intelligent than an average household dog. I overheard Digger Wasp say that Wolf-Spider 'was too dangerous to be allowed to continue.'
I wasn't taken to my normal cell. Instead I was taken to where Wolf-Spider was caged, the guards laughing and joking the whole time.
Alright stupid, get yourself of THIS mess.
The guards were keeping watch just outside this dungeon chamber, out of sight, just making sure I didn't try to escape. I considered breaking Wolf-Spider out of his cage and letting him go on a rampage. But decided against it, since he'd probably make me his first victim. I considered befriending him, but decided with just one day to form a deep emotional bond, Wolf-Spider was likelier to heed his caretakers than myself.
Three potatoes, a stick, and a bag. Okay, how do I win against a mutant behemoth with these?
Okay, Queenie, you want to prove brawn beats brains? Buck you. Time to teach you that battles don't happen in a vacuum.
I nearly forgot to mention the snakes. Snakes had been introduced into the hive to deal with the infestation of rats. The logic being that rats could tunnel into the egg chamber, break the eggs, and feed on the unhatched nymphs. Snakes were not so much a threat to us as rats. Snake fangs can't pierce changeling carapaces, and this particular breed of snakes couldn't swallow eggs as large as we CHANGELINGS lay them, no matter how wide they could unhinge their jaws.
Idiots forgot: zebra hide COULD be pierced by snake fangs, in particular ones in a happy daydream.
Once I became queen, my first extermination campaign was on BOTH rats and snakes in the hive, which I'm happy to say resulted in no survivors!
But I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I?
Maua's mentor had taught Maua well, and she taught me in turn. Even if this scheme worked, it would require perfect timing. If it didn't...maybe this was natural selection's way of telling me this was as far as I go.
Fun fact about changelings I learned from the other 'freaks.' All changelings can...'produce' a green slime used as raw construction material and superglue.
And I wasn't kidding that Wolf-Spider's brain damage left him a little less smart than the average dog.
Next morning I was taken back to the circus maximus. Wolf-Spider, still in his cage, was brought along as well. The audience was much bigger than normal. I had never seen so many four-legged cockroaches squashed together, chattering animatedly, since the parasprites; even the slaves and degenerates had come to watch the show. It was easier to count which of the hive WASN'T here, (namely the guards and cattle-herders.)
Queen Cocoon spoke, "So here we are! Show us how the brilliant worm can dominate the poor dumb dragon."
Against all odds, stage one had worked. I counted down in my head. If I wasn't careful my victory was going to be posthumously.
"Could you have possibly picked a more exaggerated straw-changeling version of what I said? Were you that scared of being proven wrong?"
"I pick this as a perfectly reasonable example of how blind and childish your simplifications are. It suits the limited mind of a degenerate like you."
I couldn't count it down to the millisecond, but I could give a good guess. Just a bit more, and I'm in the safe zone.
"So much of the swarm has come! I'm honored you think so greatly of my idea that you need to bring this many together to prove me wrong with a jury-rigged test."
"This is merely to prevent your suicidal insanity from spreading. The swarm needs to be reminded why we don't throw away our safety for greedy upstarts who think they can not lose."
That should do it.
"So instead we have the self-defeating insanity of a cowardly sloth who is willing to throw us all... and those yet to be born... to the lions, if it means extending her life one second longer? I can appreciate self-preservation. But what about the rest of us? What is the point of a leader, if she doesn't lead us anywhere?"
Cocoon spoke in a flat voice; "Release Wolf-Spider."
They did so.
His caretakers directed him towards me. He took longer to respond than normal but didn't try to eat them.
And the hulking beast quaked towards me on his misshaped legs. Drooling like a waterfall and looking very drowsy, he moved like a puppet whose strings were crossed.
The entire swarm could smell that Wolf-Spider had wetted and soiled himself, which was surprisingly unusual for him. As he drew closer to me, it became obvious to everyling present Wolf-Spider was in terrible pain. I stood my ground. Wolf-Spider gazed at thin air and actually had to be REDIRECTED at me.
Queen Cocoon didn't look happy; this wasn't part of her script.
Wolf-Spider took a swipe at me, I avoided it like I would the blow from a bear-sized plush toy. He fell on his side, shaking the entire circus maximus.
His entire body trembled. His breathing become more difficult as everyling watched, confused, shocked, alarmed, befuddled, and at a lost. I trotted back only as Wolf Spider's caretakers finally rushed towards him and surrounded him.
"You're too late," I said, emotionlessly, "He'll be dead in minutes."
"YOU CONNIVING WORM! WHAT DID YOU DO?!" Queenie roared.
"I killed him," I said, "Before the fight even started. I used what the terrain gave me and what you gave me. To a creature of limited intelligence, three potatoes shish kabob'ed on a stick, covered in green slime bear a passing resemblance to a giant grub. And you can milk venom from snakes if you know how.
I looked up. "Now, I hate to throw your excellent judgment into question, Your Majesty, but out of ALL the snakes you could've POSSIBLY chosen to spread throughout this humble little hive we share, you selected BLACK MAMBAS? A serpent poisonous enough to kill an elephant in one bite... and you bred them as MOUSERS?! Talk about endangering our livestock! It's just one more example of your scintillating incompetence! Preparation and sabotage CAN overcome superior force and power! Conquest doesn't always hinge overwhelming force, but it ALWAYS hinges on brains!"
Fat changeling queen go boom.
"Conquest? Who said anything about conquest?! I could be...! I mean, our swarm could be put in danger!"
"Coward! You're so fixated on the idea that a face-to-face confrontation is impossible that you never bother to dream of some other path to victory! You're something else! You fill us with fear of you, but we're not cowering behind you! No, YOU are cowering behind all of US!"
Wolf-Spider's caretakers had rushed to get the anti-venom. It was pointless, he was a dead changeling twitching. The caretakers looked at me hatefully.
The rest of the audience, however, the rest of the hive, were struggling NOT to accept my words, NOT to embrace my reasoning, but it was a losing battle. They couldn't escape the truth now.
"Enough. I am done with you," said Queen Cocoon, with dark irritation.
"But I am not done with you!" I snapped back.
"Euthanize this disease!" Her Fatjesty snapped.