• Published 24th Oct 2014
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Culling of the Hives - law abiding pony

The changeling hives have always warred with each other to cull the weak. With Twilight Sparkle's announcement still echoing with the other hives, it is time once again to separate the chaff from the wheat.

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1: Reconstitution

Deep within a chittering hive of the Cresnox Jungle, chitin shelled changelings writhed in anticipation. Today was a day of truth. Deep in the bowels of their hive, a vast cavern housed over a thousand prisoners from Equestria alone. Every last one of them in that dim lit prison was encased in a green pod keeping them in a blissful dream.

Drones crawled all over the pods, making sure their chief sources of love remained alive and bountiful. Unwanted and forgotten by their own governments, the criminals satiated the boundless hunger of a trio of princess changelings situated in the center of the circular cave. Numerous love crystals, both full and drained laid scattered around the princesses while Queen Chrysalis herself silently studied her latest brood.

The princesses only partially resembled their mother. Chrysalis’ signature black chitin covered the young changelings’ neck, the upper forelegs, and the front half of their barrel. Chitin also covered the top of their hip, but the hind legs, lower forelegs, flanks, and face were all covered in light purple furry skin. Their translucent gossamer wings had a hint of blue to them, save for the leading edges baring stark crimson colors. Their deep emerald reptilian eyes were wide with a child’s curiosity. Most of their manes and tails were colored dark purple, and had stripes of cerulean along the left-center.

All three of them looked up at their mother with wonder and a hint of fear. Sensing as much, Chrysalis knelt down to give them a caring hug. “There, there my little ones. You are always safe with momma.”

Mimicking her love collectors was getting easier, and Chrysalis felt genuine warmth for the three little nymphs wrapped around her forelegs. She looked down at the nymph in the center. The little one’s aura glowed in a way that was still novel to Chrysalis, an aura that emanated love. The rich syrupy flavor of intended love was unmistakable.

The nymph on the left gave her mother love as well, but Chrysalis’ mood soured when the nymph on the right failed to produce love. The children noticed their mother’s falling mood. Those that could produce love clung tightly to their mother, whimpering all the while. The love they were producing turned bitter with the flavor of fear. The third nymph couldn’t understand why her mother was angry with her, and started whimpering for forgiveness.

Destroying this failure might be a mistake. I’ll have to find another use for her. Doing her best to look reassuring, Chrysalis stroked the third nymph’s mane, calming all three of them in the process.

Buzzing wings brought Chrysalis’ gaze up to two of her sisters’ drones. Both of which were already puppets of their queens. “Yeelindrus, Jstrul, how fares your progeny?” While Jstrul’s puppet was mostly calm, Yeelindrus’ was seething.

“I’ve followed your first plan so far,” Jstrul’s puppet replied with mixed resentment. “All three are still producing love. I try to keep them together so they can feed each other. Thus far, they are responding well to instruction.”

Chrysalis looked to her youngest sister’s puppet with the obvious question on her lips. Yeelindrus grumbled, having never been able to hide her emotions through her puppet. Chrysalis’ hardening look brought enough fear to break through the anger. “I have failed. Chiccadi doesn’t produce love anymore. All three of my royal children are worthless!” she hissed with barely contained malice. “I should just kill the useless love sinks.”

“Must you always fail at everything,” Jstrul sneered. Yeelindrus’ puppet bolted forward to kill the other drone, but was stopped short by Chrysalis’ telekinesis. “Not in front of the nymphs, dear sisters.” The nymphs cowered around their mother. “This confirms my theory; both Twilight’s blood and an overly caring upbringing are necessary. We cannot raise them like mother did us, if we want them to keep producing love.”

Chrysalis levitated a few teething toys over and let the nymphs distract themselves. With their mother seemingly placated, the love they produced surged upward as they stayed close to Chrysalis for warmth and protection. The surge did not go unnoticed by Chrysalis.

“Yet mother’s ways are what allowed us to thrive as queens,” Jstrul stated defiantly while stamping a hoof on the ground. “This soft approach may allow them to produce love, but they will be failures as adults.”

“She’s right about that,” Yeelindrus commented begrudgingly. “We are only alive today because mother’s cruelty was necessary to survive the jungles, and I hate her for that.”

“Which is why I allowed you to be the one to slit her throat,” Chrysalis replied evenly so her own hatred would go unnoticed by the nymphs.

“So what do we do?” Jstrul half demanded of her elder sister. “Sneak back into the Everfree Forest to hypnotize one of Twilight’s consorts again?”

Chrysalis summoned several caretakers to take the nymphs back to their chambers. “No, we don’t have the time anymore. We must enact phase one now while the other queens think we are still marshalling our forces. We have been fortunate to hide our royal daughters thus far, but they will soon be old enough to send ripples through our respective hive minds.”

Jstrul bowed to her older sister. “I will make preparations immediately.”

“As will I, dear sister.”

“One thing before I go,” Jstrul said before she let go of her puppet. “What of Phoenix’s Roost? You have yet to tell us what must be done with those two.”

“Yes, we’ll have enough trouble getting rid of the competition in the jungle as it is, the last thing we’ll need are Equestrians sticking their snouts were they don’t belong.”

Chrysalis chuckled darkly at her sisters’ concerns. “Never mind the hybrids. I will make sure they have no reason to interfere. We can deal with them once the jungle is ours.”

Roughly a thousand miles north, pillars of smoke rose from the center of a huge swath of clear cut forest. Surrounding the concentrated mass of buildings in the center were sweeping fields of fallow farmlands that were now blanketed in several feet of snow. Even with a cadre of drones using earth pony magic, none of them had mastered the art of a winter growing season. Their only source of food outside of trade, were two greenhouse airships, and they could never produce enough.

Winter was in full swing in Equestria, and the Everfree forest, it seemed, wanted to outdo the pony driven storm systems by dumping four times as much snow than any weather team would ever permit. Rainbow Dash often commented how the Forest’s wild nature was taunting both pony and changeling alike with harsher untameable weather.

Amidst the soot and snow covered hive, Twilight Sparkle was starting to suffer a migraine over the figures she, Gentle Touch, and half a dozen other accountants were going over. Of all the changeling hives in existence, only two ever had need for currency, and the all mighty bit was always in short supply in Phoenix’s Roost.

Within a cramped room in her palace, Twilight Sparkle wiped her brow of sweat to keep the ledger she was crouched over dry. A wall vent pumped hot air into the squarish room, giving the five bean-counting changelings a comparatively rare comfort. Aside from the gentle sound of scribbling quills, and the droning vent, abacuses ticked constantly.

Twilight Sparkle didn’t like what she saw in the numbers, but she was never one to shy away from hard evidence. “We’ll have to cut the PR campaign entirely. There’s no way we can afford it anymore.” Not if RD and I wish to keep our egg production at full.

Gentle Touch sighed in agreement, but one of the younger accountants looked up from his work and spoke with a cautionary tone. “Are you sure that is wise, my queen? Our original estimates said it would take another five years or so before we achieve the same level of acceptance as griffins or donkeys have in the eyes of the typical pony. Cutting it off now could prolong that effort by a decade.”

“We’ll just have to keep our progress going with normal interactions from here on,” Gentle Touch replied diplomatically. She had been the one to originally suggest cutting the program, and she gave an internal sigh of relief that her queen had finally came around.

“If we’re going along those lines, my queen,” piped up another accountant, “we might want to reevaluate Princess Luna’s proposal to arm the Night Guard with the rifles she requested.”

“For the last time, Ticket Counter…” Twilight pinched her muzzle as a migraine started hammering from inside her skull. “…We may not have much choice, will we?” The fear of her rifles and cannons ending up in the hands of armies across the continent had stayed her hoof at selling weapons up until now, but the hive’s future was at stake. I don’t want us start mooching off of Equestria by asking for hoof-outs.

This was the first time Twilight had shown hesitation on this matter, giving Ticket Counter the courage he needed. Even then, he knew to be careful. “We keep it restricted to the Equestrian military only. We are allied with them after all.”

Twilight had one of the other accountants adjust his overall estimates. “It would go a long way, but Luna’s request was fairly small. It won’t be enough.”

Having his championed proposal accepted, Ticket wisely resumed his seat. He left it to others to come forward, and he didn’t have to wait long. The youngest accountant, a mare by the name of Dividends, started speaking while rechecking her findings on a scroll. “Then what about stopping egg production entirely.” Twilight felt a chill at the suggestion. “Our biggest expenditure by far is food and nursery maintenance.”

“We can’t afford to stop now,” Twilight replied with forced emotionlessness. She couldn’t afford to let emotions drive this decision. “We need as many drones as possible for supporting Stripped Gear when the other queens go to war.”

“With all due respect, my queen,” Dividends pressed with more than a little worry at giving the proposal. It was common knowledge among the hive that both queens relished laying eggs every day. “We also need war materials to support grandmother even more so than we need soldiers at this point. Not to mention that in all likelihood, any eggs you or Aunty lay from here on will contribute nothing to the war by the time they’re adults.”

Twilight sighed wearily. Her queenly instincts to lay eggs had been sated for three years straight. The idea of lessening her laying rate shook her badly. Leveraging her experience, Twilight silenced that ill-at-ease from projecting too far over the Link. “Okay, cutting back on egg production would allow us to ease up on several other restrictions.” We could afford repurposing factory two back to war production which would allow us to manufacture the supplies Rainbow’s been too embarrassed to ask for. “But we still have to think long term. I’ll talk to Rainbow about curbing production down to one fourth.”

Gentle Touch listened to the group hurry to reallocate the various budgets. She joined in the activity as well. It wasn’t long before an idea to occur to her. She looked up to Twilight who was visibly less tense, and was actually chuckling a little. Seems like her quick discussion with Rainbow Dash went well. But if we’re going to start selling more than just manufactured civic goods to Equestria… “Curbing egg production is a great start, my queen,” Twilight and a few others turned to listen. As Twilight’s chief advisor, Gentle’s words carried almost as much weight as either queen. “But I must press the need to seriously consider the implications of accepting Luna’s request. We may only be equipping and supplying her Night Guard at the moment, should Equestria be brought into a… peacekeeping action, we may have to shift more of our industrial base to war production. Ever since the dragon matriarch’s assassination, seemingly by a group of ponies, our alliance has been on high alert. If—”

“Spike will never let a war break out,” Twilight cut in with stern belief. “Put more faith in my little brother than that.” A pang of pride and longingness traced her thoughts.

I knew she’d react this way, but I had to voice it. Gentle Touch raised her hooves in defeat and sat back down.

Twilight’s eyes recentered on the ledger, but her mind was on her scaly brother in Canterlot. If he hadn’t stayed with the last Great Dragon migration while I was searching for Rookhaven, he’d never have had enough clout with the rest of the dragonkin to act as an ambassador. I know Chrysalis was behind the assassination, but there’s no damn proof. Awfully convenient timing when mother’s spies tell me things are about to blow up in the jungle. I just wish her pride and posturing didn’t keep her from emigrating up here, or at least into the southern Chaos Lands.

The room settled back into relative silence. The overarching adjustments to the budget may have been decided upon, but the minute details still needed work. Before Twilight could dive too deeply into the wonderously exciting world of budget balancing, a strong pulse resonated throughout the hive mind. Having heard it once before, Twilight instantly knew what it was. Aegis is waking, at last.

All along the northwestern fields, two hundred changelings marched in step with their rifles strapped to their sides. A group of five drill sergeants made sure the mixed group of lavender and light blue drones moved in tight formation.

Trying her best to ignore the bone-bitingly frigid winds, Rainbow Dash observed the first company of riflelings that had an even mix between Twilight’s and Rainbow’s drones. Strapped across her back and in-between her buzzing wings, Rainbow Dash bore the weight of a particular flamethrower. Its name was engraved above the trigger guard: ‘Burny’.

While Rainbow had prepared and polished the weapon for the main event expected to occur before sundown, her primary focus was on the stone faced riflelings below. A group of thirty were alternating between marching on the ground in tight shoulder to shoulder formation and flying in a loose rectangle. The platoon she was focusing on at the moment had smoothly transitioned from a sprint around the inner hive to marching on the ground. They’re finally starting to shape up. The small grin she had faltered when a number of her children fumbled in rearing up into firing stance along a line formation. Slowly, at least. At the order to open fire, the front rank’s wings buzzed in a short burst of heavy force to counteract the expected recoil. The wind pushed the back rank’s rifles up, and some of them off their hooves entirely. They keep getting messed up by the soldier in front of them. I keep forgetting you can’t just brain dump my skill with handling turbulence into them. I’m going to have to find a way to correct that. There’s got to be a better way than to just ‘guess’ how much wingpower to use.

Shouting from the sergeants got everyone to get back in line within seconds to repeat the exercise. At the NCOs’ order, the soldiers’ first rank fired out into the open field, yet all anyone got was a resounding series of ‘clicks’. The back row recovered slightly faster from the first rank’s backwash. Another single word order commanded the first rank to kneel and begin using their telekinesis to mimic reloading, while the rank behind them dry fired as well.

Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but to drag a hoof over her face out of exasperation. Why did I have to pressure Twi so much to upgrade the army’s standard firearm to rifles? What good is a better weapon if we can’t even afford the powder and ball to train anypony to use them?! The poor state of the training program brought Rainbow’s insistence on retrofitting the Deception to the forefront of her mind. It was only recently that Rainbow came to realize just how expensive upgrading a warship actually was. Every day it sits in dry dock is another shipment it can’t make. At least the ship will be ready to launch in a week or so. Maybe I should just tell Sis that I’ll stop egg production so we can begin cutting food costs.

As with Twilight a few minutes later, Rainbow Dash felt her gut twist at the idea of lower her egg rate, let alone stopping it all together. It had become too much a part of her daily life, the thought of diminishing the growth of her children made her feel cold inside. “Stupid Summit. I knew the love reveal was big, but… We should be pouring our money into growing the hive, a thriving community, not a damned army!”

Fast movement off to the right caught Rainbow’s eye, and lifted her spirits a little. Flying in a chevron formation, three squadrons of Rainbow’s children engaged each other in a dogfight with two squads of purple drones hovering below to catch anyone who fell. Rainbow could feel the excitement, competitiveness, and snarkiness of her fliers, with a dash of fear added in. A fear of losing. I know that feeling all too well. Rainbow Dash let a proud grin cross her muzzle at the stunts her drones were pulling. Even if these drones were from unaltered clutches during Rainbow’s proto-queen stage, some of them were already proving stronger fliers than others.

Had she been her old self, Rainbow would have trumped it up to old fashioned drive to win, but Queen Rainbow Dash had to think more deeply on it. The longer she watched her prized fliers, the more curious she became. If they’re clones of me, then why are some better than others? Diet? More exercise? Is it possible that maybe they aren’t one hundred percent clones after all?

A pulse across the hive mind brought a huge, fang-filled toothy grin to her face. “Looks like Aegis is finally done baking.” Rainbow’s horn glowed brightly before she winked out existence, and reappeared near the Cave of Harmony. While black and grey pillars of smoke were starting to be a permanent fixture in the skies above, the ground and soil was meticulously cared for and cleansed by the Tea’la.

In fact, five Tea’la were in plant form around the entrance to the cave, both on the floor, and the top of the cave along the wall. They were held fast by their roots going deep. Their pollen absent during these frigid months. The Tea’la remained as guardians around the Tree, protecting both it and the changelings young from anything that may harm either.

Rainbow Dash nearly ran into Arya who was about to settle into plant form herself in one particularly inviting beam of sunlight she had just cleared of snow. “Oh, Ruler Rainbow!” She ran over, bringing the prismatic queen to an impatient halt. “Have you told sister about idea?”

Rainbow Dash could sense her sister was already down in the nursery. Aegis was moments from waking. It took monumental effort to avoid making excuses to brush the Tea’la off. “Arya, we’ve always made sure the soil anywhere near the Tree has been pollution free, and the new factories will not jeopardize that.” Arya raised a hoof and made to speak as Rainbow tried to leave, but Rainbow cut her off. “No, we still don’t have a budget to build a shield dome to capture the air pollution. You’ll have to do without it for a few more years or so. We're not going to be able to put enough focus into civilian needs until the shit storm down in the jungle either blows over or after it explodes. We'll be glad to build the air scrubbers once it's all over. Now, bye see ya later!”

Arya huffed as Rainbow sped off into the underground nursery. “So much fear of battle. I’d think she need bed mate, but she get one every day.” With nothing else to do at the moment, Arya cantered back over to the sunbeam and began to root herself. “When does fear end, and living begin?”

Rainbow left a prismatic contrail behind her on her path to the nursery. She blitzed past several drones before her wings kicked up a small tornado to come to a stop at the closed door to the nursery. Once the wind died down, she slammed a hoof on the wall panel to open the door. The massive chamber beyond still gave Rainbow pause, even after nearly four years of being a queen.

Inside were over three and a half thousand chrysalises, with an even split between lavender and blue pods. They were all attached in huge rows stretching two hundred chrysalises each. Massive reinforced concrete pillars bent the rows in a slight concave and supported the arched roof above. Catwalks, feed tubes, and steam pipes crisscrossed everywhere in an OCD level of organization and neatness.

With Twi’s drones running the show down here, I’m shocked they don’t have all of my kids on one side, and her kids on the other.

Casting the thought aside, Rainbow flew up and into one of the holes in the dense rows of pods left for safe flight. She sailed past thirty columns and took a sharp right to arrive at the hatching and cocooning center. Even with Aegis emerging from her chrysalis, other caretakers had to make sure the day’s twenty four nymphs were safely enclosed in their chrysalises before moving them to vacant spots later.

A small crowd had gather around the hatching area. Rainbow Dash saw her sister was already present, along with Aegis’ clutchmates. “Noo, I’m late! I’m late, cuuuurrrsssses!” By the time Rainbow finally landed with a heavy thud, Aegis was already trying to stand on shaky hooves while Intel and Ferrum helped her stand. The new princess looked exactly as she used to, save for possessing royal eyes and being a centimeter or two shorter than when she entered the cocoon. Aegis looked around at the gathered changelings right as Rainbow Dash flew over to hover beside her. “Hey kiddo, how was your nap?”

“Umm, very good, my queen,” Aegis replied with more than a little trepidation in her tone. “I guess.”

“Here, my daughter,” Twilight levitated a head-sized pale teal crystal shaped like the center starburst of Twilight’s cutie mark. Aegis’ confusion was painfully evident on both her face and emotional aura. “Before you entered your metaphormosis, you transcribed your memories into crystals like this.” Aegis took the crystal into her magic as Twilight surrendered it. At a silent command from Rainbow, everyone else gave the new princess some room.

“My memories are in that thing? Is that why I can’t remember anything before today?” Aegis’ wings buzzed at the irritating purple fluid covering her completely.

Rainbow Dash made sure to hide Burny behind her back for the moment and stepped forward to speak reassuringly. “Not exactly.” She gently tapped Aegis’ head. “They never left, they’re just hiding. Before entering your pod, you said to use this one first.”

“Umm, okay.” Aegis rotated the crystal in her magic to study it. Truth be told, she had no idea how to use it. A knowing glance from Twilight towards her sister gave Rainbow Dash the go ahead to gift Aegis the simple knowledge required.

Aegis glanced at Rainbow as the knowledge passed between them, but silent encouragement from both queens gave her every reason to trust them. The highly familiar two lavender drones behind her also nodded towards the crystal. She looked back at the gem with a mental shrug. Well, it’s not like I have anything else to do, except shower.

The crystal glowed with faint purple light as Aegis linked her mind with it. She gasped and her eyes widened as memories flooded into her: her last day as a drone, her dreams, along with her most important memories of Twilight, Rainbow, and her clutchmates. Various other crucial bits and pieces that Drone Aegis felt were critical to reestablish her personality as quickly as possible.

It took a minute to fully dive into the contents of the crystal and the moment her magic left the device, Aegis fainted to the deck. Intel and Ferrum were quick to pick her back up as Twilight used her magic to scan the princess’ snout for injury. “I feared as much. Such a sharp intake of important memories would require a short reboot.”

Ferrum hefted his sticky royal sister onto his back. “How long will she be out? Not another six months I hope.”

Rainbow Dash let off a snarky chuckle. “Hardly. She’ll be out of it long enough for us to clean her up in the showers. She should be up around the time we finish drying her off.”

In short order, the two queens and two drones got Aegis washed up and dry. Yet Aegis slept through that as well. So she was brought up to her new quarters, adjacent to Twilight and Rainbow's own in the reformed heart of the Ashes of the Phoenix: Phoenix Castle. The venerable colony ship had been broken down into pieces, save for this section. Deck plating had been reformed to convert the section to a rather plain, rectangular castle, bereft of any real exterior artwork. Rarity's plans for decorating the exterior had, sadly, never been fit into the budget.

Aegis awoke on a queen sized bed an hour later. Intel was sitting at the foot of the bed while reading a book. Ferrum was passing the time oiling Riposte’s blade. Rainbow Dash and Twilight were meditating on floor cushions. The prismatic queen had taken the flamethrower off and laid it down in front of her.

“Burny!” All eyes shot towards the blur of purple that bolted forward and scooped the weapon up. Aegis hugged the flamethrower tightly, nuzzling and kissing Burny all over. “I missed you so much!”

Twilight Sparkle huffed in exasperation. Great, I’ve got a pyromaniac for a royal daughter. I had half hoped she’d forget that, but at least she’s happy.

A supremely sour expression marred Ferrum’s features as he turned to Intel. “I can’t believe of everypony here, she goes for the flamer first.”

Missing her brother’s comment, Aegis looked up to her queens. “Momma, Aunty! I’d say I missed you, but it only feels like I went into the cocoon yesterday.”

Snickering all the while, Twilight wrapped her first hatchling up in a bear hug. The purple queen relished Aegis’ return to the waking world. “Well we certainly missed you.”

Aegis yelped as a cyan hoof ruffed up her mane. “I figured you’d want your hot coltfriend to be the first thing you see.”

Rainbow Dash joined in the hug with Intel and Ferrum joining the love buffet shortly thereafter. Aegis’ massive thirst for love was quickly slaked within seconds, but the five changelings remained in the loving embrace for over a minute before it broke. Now free of the tangle of limbs, Aegis turned to her siblings, with her eyes centering on Intel.

“By, the First Mother, you finally switched back to mare!” Intel rubbed the back of her head in mild embarrassment at Aegis’ enthusiasm. “When did that happen?”

“About two weeks before you went in the pod yourself. Apparently you still don’t remember that.”

“Oh,” Aegis chuckled nervously. “I’m sure I left it in one of my other memory crystals. Can you tell me why you went back to your old self?”

Intel’s ears flicked a bit in thought. “Well with you leaving the Jevruun Vrunningee, and my promotion to your old position, I went over our best troops to bring our squad back up to full strength since Riposte’s… retirement.” Although the pain of their beloved brother’s death had been blunted to near imperceivable levels by time and the Days of Mourning, Intel still felt reverence to the fallen was called for. “Counterspell will be taking over magical support, and Thunderfury has taken up the last spot. And since I fully champion asymmetrical arms doctrine, it didn’t make sense to have all four of us as stallions, so I switched, simple as that.”

Aegis’ ears wilted slightly at the reasoning. “And here I hoped you did it for more than practicality.” Intel tilted her head briefly with a lopsided grin. Aegis hummed in contemplation. She would have turned to catch up with Ferrum, but enough of her old captain’s mindset was present that it forced her to look into the replacements. “Thunderfury? I don’t remember him.”

“He’s one of my first hatchlings,” Rainbow Dash stated with fathomless pride. “He may not have had much of a chance to show it in real combat, but he’s fine addition to your old squad.”

Ferrum chuckled lightly. “He’s coarse and unrefined, but he’s got your speed in spades, Aunty.”

The group chatted the afternoon away and through lunch, before the needs of the hive required the attention of the queens. Before either queen could leave, Ferrum and Intel made for the door, but Aegis called out to the latter. “So, sis, now that you’re a mare again, does that mean you took your full name back?”

Intel hung by the door with a smile on her face. “I admit, Intel ‘La Gence didn’t sound like a stallion’s name. But since that’s no longer a problem, then yes I will.” She smirked at Aegis’ obvious approval before turning to the queenly pair. “My queens.”

As Intel ‘la Gence departed, both Twilight and Rainbow’s mood shifted to queen mode. Aegis climbed off the bed to stand before her queens in an equally serious manner. She may have only accessed a few crystals, but she could easily tell when it was time for business.

“Now, Aegis,” Twilight began with a flat stern tone. “I suppose it should be obvious, but I feel it needs to be stated to punctuate the fact. Your life as a drone and bodyguard is over.”

Rainbow Dash smoothly started talking as Twilight fell quiet. “You’ve got two jobs to do before you mature into a proto-queen.”

“First,” Twilight continued, “you have to expand your fields of expertise. As you are undoubtedly aware, you are removed from all normal duties. I’ll be training you personally on matters of magic and civic rule.”

“And while you may not think it once you finish recovering the rest of your memories,” Rainbow Dash cut with perfect timing. “You are in need of at least a cursory understanding of large scale military tactics. Not only for the day you form your own hive, but also for our current military forces. When the war breaks out in the jungle, and we expect that it will happen sooner rather than later, you’ll be my direct lieutenant.”

Each task laid before her only stoked Aegis’ determination even further. She stood tall with her wings raised and her head held high. This is what I fought for. They’re not saying anything I didn’t already expect. Mother has put so much trust and faith in me to grant me royal blood. I promise you this, my queens, I will not fail you. Aegis made sure to keep her eyes fixed on which ever queen was speaking at the time. “And what is my second task?”

Rainbow gave her sister a ‘this is all yours’ look and remained quiet. Twilight’s expression turned a touch harder. “I don’t know if you can tell, as you really haven’t had a chance to walk around. Your rebirth was a complete success. From my last scans of your chrysalis, I was able to grant you most of the alterations you wanted. I assume the form you wanted was in your first memory crystal.”

“Oh yeah.” Aegis searched herself, and felt the new muscle memory Twilight had implanted in her. Pushing off with her forelegs, Aegis merely thought to stand on her hind legs. The muscles and bones in her legs felt stronger and thicker. She had only been barely aware of the difference until now. Even though she felt uneasy with her new posture, she could already tell her reshaped legs and backbone could handle an upright posture quite comfortably. Aegis had a stupid grin on her face at looking upon the room at such a high standing vantage point, for about half a second.

Aegis was unable to compensate for a sudden shift in her balance, and face planted the ground before anyone could catch her. “Ooow!”

Rainbow Dash snickered as the new princess rubbed her head with her hooves. Rainbow used her magic to help the ailing changeling sit up on her haunches. “I know flying and walking on four legs is easy, but we have no innate reference for bipedal movement, so you’re going to have to learn that on your own.”

“Owwie… Well that can’t be too bad.”

“I hope so,” Twilight used her magic to help her daughter back onto four hooves. She could see Aegis’ whole skeleton returning to its normal form within seconds. “Unfortunately, minotaurs don’t exactly believe in physical therapy, so we were out of luck on that end.”

“Just makes life more interesting this way,” Aegis assured while trying to hide her mild ill-at-ease under several layers of excitement. “But I noticed my front hooves didn’t change at all. Wasn’t I supposed to get hands and fingers like a minotaur?”

Twilight groaned out of disappointment. “There was only so much I could do in good conscience. The goal I had in mind was to grant you both quad and bipedal locomotion, but without any noticeable difference between you and any other changeling while you’re on four legs. Reworking both your skeletal structure and musculature to support both four and two legged movement was far more difficult and complicated than I originally imagined.” Twilight’s sour expression melted into a short lived grin as she bent down to inspect her daughter’s legs. It brought her no small amount of pride to see Aegis had shaped up so well. “I got the idea for toes from Spike. Despite his age, he’s shown some remarkable hoof - er well, footwork at times that I’ve never see out of a minotaur.” Her expression fell. “Sadly after multiple tests with a robotic mock up, toes were proving to be quite troublesome while you’re on four legs. So I had to leave your hooves as they are. In addition, I couldn’t give you cloven hooves, like a minotaur, without sacrificing your wall walking abilities.”

Twilight’s horn glowed softly as she cast a spell to ease her daughter’s pained snout, and stood back up. “As for the front hooves, hands and fingers are criminally impossible to accomplish with alchemy. Between adjusting your musculature to reshaping your skeleton, the alchemy between those and forming hands causes far too many incompatibilities to accomplish.” Aegis looked on with wilted ears as Twilight watched her with sad eyes. “It was either bipedal locomotion, or hands and feet. I felt the former was more important than the latter. I might be able to figure it out eventually, but by the time I did, you’d have died of old age.”

“You should have seen her,” Rainbow commented with subtle praise. “Sis had half the caretakers and twenty scientists tied up for two years giving you what you have. From what I remember, Granny Cadista and Yumia usually worked alone on alchemical research, but time is of the essence.”

“Crazy.” Even with her spotty memory, Aegis knew her siblings were brilliant scientists. She knew her changes were far outside the norm, but had assumed it was simple for her mother to accomplish. “Well, I guess I have something to shoot for the day I can make a royal daughter of my own someday.”

As Aegis studied her legs, Twilight and Rainbow glanced at each other. <It’s sort of scary, don’t you think Twi? Of how many changelings we’ll give rise to? Not just from us directly, but of all the royal daughters we’ll have over the course of our lives?>

<It is. Which is why we have to raise every royal daughter the best way possible. We may not be Equestrians any longer, but we must make sure its ideals live on.>

Aegis was broken out of her study when point Rainbow Dash piped up. “There’s only one problem with the alterations my sister’s implemented.” Aegis’ face scrunched and her wings quivered out of sudden worry.

Twilight Sparkle hated to say it, but she had learned long ago to own her failures. “After Cadista came over to check my work on you…” Twilight swallowed a lump in her throat. “She discovered your genetic code is so different from the rest of us, that you are unable to access any known alchemical strains for your future brood.”

Aegis’ face fell and her lip quivered bit. “Y-you mean my strain is a failure? How can I be a proper queen, let alone have functioning hive, if I can’t access different strains?!”

Twilight didn’t bother trying to spread Aegis’ mounting despair across the hive mind to blunt the impact. We royals have to shoulder our decisions and their consequences. “It will be difficult, but the other races of the world get along just fine with only one general form, the minotaurs, griffins, and zebras to name a few.”

“But it’s not our way,” Aegis insisted with barely contained panic. “I’d be a laughing stock!”

Our way is to adapt, as well as to evolve,” Rainbow Dash reminded her with an edge of steel. Aegis looked up at her aunt with reddening eyes. “The extent of your alterations is deep, but you are not alchemically inert. You may not be able to use any existing templates, but this is hardly unheard of among our people. Granny Caddy said there have been several cases where a successful queen had been advanced too far for currently known alchemy.”

“Such as when Mother and Yumia shed their chitin in lieu of endoskeletons. Like them, you’ll have to completely rewrite alchemy from scratch to work with your particular strain.” Twilight tried to sound reassuring, yet it was having only limited success with Aegis. Maybe a joke will work? “Just be glad your expected lifespan gained a zero.”

It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was close. Aegis sat on her haunches with her vision fixed on her back legs, the source of her miserable state. “I take it there’s no chance I can be reborn into a more malleable strain?”

“It’s entirely possible,” Twilight admitted evenly. Just prohibitively expensive in reagents. She draped a caring hoof along her daughter’s back. “You championed this evolutionary direction for two months before I caved in. I’m sure you will regain that stance once you finish restoring your memories. As such, Rainbow and I feel it would be a disservice to you, to not give you a chance to make this work.”

Aegis nodded slightly as Rainbow interjected. “And by work, we mean for your entire hive. It would be one thing to have a bunch of drones with two legs, but for this to be the baseline template for an entire hive…” Rainbow Dash sucked in air between clinched teeth. “Meh, you, my little Aegy, have proven to be inventive if nothing else. If anypony can prove your template can work as a baseline, it’d be you.”

Aegis’ brow furrowed as her mother stepped back to resume fully regal posture. “Then it looks like I have work to do. How long do I have to prove this can work for a queen?”

“Five, maybe six years,” Twilight answered with a definitive tone. “Even before finding out about the alchemy issue, you agreed to undergo a second rebirth into a less… radical evolution, should your alterations prove untenable.”

“Huh,” Aegis searched her scant few memories. “That’s longer than you two had.”

Both queens laughed at their own expense. Rainbow Dash wiped a tear away, still giggling. “You didn’t honestly think we’d push you into a one month trial period did you? ‘Cause you’ve always been a ling, it was possible to make sure you had a more natural royal maturation pace. Not to mention we would rather have you become a queen during a time of peace.”

“Ah… well, that sounds perfectly reasonable. Still, considering the track record you two have, I wanted to double check,” Aegis replied with a sheepish grin. Rainbow rolled her eyes. “But that sounds more than fair to me.” She looked down at her forelegs. “I guess I can try to find something else to make up for the lack of fingers and toes.”

“I have every confidence you will, my daughter. I set aside a very reasonable budget for you to do just that.”

“Try not to go over it,” Rainbow added teasingly. Yet Aegis could tell she was very worried. As to what, she couldn’t tell.

Twilight hummed in agreement. “For now though, the two of us have matters of state to tend to which can’t wait any longer, and you need time to learn how to walk again.”

“Yeah, don’t trip up!” Rainbow snarked playfully as she started gathering mana on her horn. “I’ll send Resta up here to assist you.” Without further ado, both queens’ horns lit up and they teleported out of the room.

“Can do,” Aegis said with sarcasm to match her Aunt. She looked down at her back legs with a scowl. “You two cost a ton more than I ever thought you would.” Wrapping her forelegs around the bed, Aegis forced herself to stand back up on two legs. “So I need to make sure it was worth it.” Now that Aegis was back on two legs, she took a minute to notice her legs were in the same shape of the minotaurs they were based on.

“Quality work.” She could feel the untrained muscle was strong and could move quite smoothly, should she learn how to walk properly. “Even when I figure all this out,” she looked at her left fore hoof, “there’s no point to it if I can’t make hands out of you.”

Aegis kept one hoof on the side of the bed and looked around her room. A workbench caught her attention. “If momma couldn’t figure out an alchemical way do that, then maybe I can get an engineer to find a mechanical answer.”

A few minutes and three faceplants later, Aegis wobbled on two legs with only one hoof on the bed. Inch by agonizing inch, she slowly let go of the bed. Aegis had stood on two legs before, but only with her tail and buzzing wings to keep her steady. She couldn’t exactly get rid of her tail, but she kept her wings firmly planted against her barrel to keep from cheating.

By now, her forelegs were outwardly extended, moving back and forth along with her tail to keep upright. “Well, I think mother’s improved muscle memory seems to be working.” Her balance shifted, causing her to flail wildly to keep from falling. “Maybe not as good as I had hoped.”

A knock on the door and a ping over the hive mind distracted her just enough to keel over completely. Aegis firmly planted her snout into the carpeted floor. “Ah the floor, how are you my old friend?” <Come on in.>

Resta poked her head in and heard the pained princess moaning on the floor, unmoving. “Have I come at a bad time, sister?”

“Noooo…” Aegis peeled her bruised nose off the floor and grabbed the bed again to stand back up. “But if this keeps up, I might need you to bandage me up.”

Resta fully entered the room to stand by her royal sister’s side. “Then it’s a good thing our aunt informed me to bring a first aid kit. Her faith in this little venture is well known.” Aegis was back up and trying to find her balance again. “I guess I’ll just stay here and babysit you and catch you if you try to fall again.”

“Trust me doc, I’m not tryyy!” Aegis’s miserable snout was inches from a painful revisit to the floor, but Resta’s magic brought her back up. “Heh, thanks.”

“Of course, my princess.”

Aegis thought there might have been a ghost of sarcasm in the medic's tone. She tried to sniff it out, but Resta concealed it well, if it was ever there to begin with. The rest of the day and the following weeks would be quite difficult indeed.

In Canterlot Castle, Luna was in her chambers burning the midday oil when a thestral messenger slipped in and bowed before her scroll covered desk. “Princess Luna, I bear a message from the explorer hired for the western coasts. The seal is marked for your eyes only.”

Luna’s tired eyes narrowed at the news. “Very well, hoof it over.”

The Night Guard removed the scroll from his folded wing with his teeth before Luna wrapped it in her telekinesis. She promptly broke the seal and started reading. Her eyes widened at their contents, but soon settled in for playful curiosity. “Sergeant, have somepony go fetch Rolled Scroll and my sister. It seems there is a new wrinkle in the fabric of our world.”