• Published 30th Dec 2016
  • 9,318 Views, 456 Comments

The King of Love Bugs - NavelColt

Embracing the power to share love rather than steal it, the changelings seek to reinvent themselves and their kingdom, while Thorax works to introduce the idea of changelings in Equestria, one escapade at a time.

  • ...

Mornings are Never Easy, Twilight Sparkle

Woeful voices carried her into a new day, but Twilight did not register them as such.

The alicorn clenched her eyes. She was awake. This was a problem, because it brought the awareness of light pressing against her eyelids. With a groan she moved, her muscles as groggy as her mind, and she stretched the stiffness from her joints.

Next, she braved the light attempting to greet her, but immediately regretted it. Shapes and colors blurred in the wake of gleaming stars lining the walls. Those cocoon lamps must have had a daylight setting.

Twilight groaned again. To top it all off, she now owed Rarity an apology. Bringing your own furniture with you on trips had plenty of merit.

Why did she think a few loose papers would make stone comfortable?

"Thorax, why would you do this to us!?"

Well, at least her ears were working.

"Yeah, you said you liked spending time with your subjects!"

She opened one eye this time, the one nearest the ground. Being half blinded by the floor was quite helpful. When her ocular stinging subsided, the shapes and colors began to paint the hive around her, and memories of the previous day rushed back through the nesting chamber's features.

Twilight opened her remaining eye and raised her head off the floor. The drama playing out before her at last registered as such.

"Do you not love us anymore, Thorax?"

"Please, Thorax? Just a few more minutes!"

"Have we not been good cuddlebugs?"

Thorax suffered his drone's theatrics with a skeptical look. The vibrant bug ponies tightly clung to his hooves, assaulting him with pleading eyes, but it was a futile display. He met each face of desperation with a wisened smirk.

"You can stop the act, you guys," he said calmly, patting a hoof along one of their gripped legs. "I'll admit, it was kinda cute the first few times, but now it's become a morning routine. You're just looking for an excuse to laze around all day, and you know it."

The changelings adopted wounded looks. One drone put a hoof to his chest and gasped dramatically.

"Besides, even if I did want to humor you guys, I can't sleep in today," Thorax continued, his eyes subtly darting to the now awake princess. "Princess Twilight offered to come with me to the Crystal Empire so we can have an audience with Princess Cadance. I want to introduce our kind to the crystal ponies, so we can become allies."

Pinged by her name, Twilight arched her back and stood up, more carefully examining the room. Though lavishly lit with wall lanterns, the nesting chamber was largely empty. Only a handful of changelings remained from the night before, and most of them were already awake, starting their morning by sharing friendly conversation.

She turned to the front of the chamber. Thorax sat with a trio of drones, who seemed to be trying their best to hold their alpha down through becoming weights. His soft look of patience and play was all the context Twilight could ever need.

A mustard changeling buried his face in lime chitin. "I'd much rather stay here than make friends with crystal ponies."

"Yeah, isn't the Crystal Empire in the Frozen North? I'm all good on freezing my wings off," a second stated, claiming Thorax's other leg in a bear hug.

Dismissing his late morning critics, Thorax made an effort to stand. With a substantial amount of it, and no gracefulness to speak of, he pulled himself from the clinging bug ponies. More than once he nearly tripped and fell on his face, tugging to get his last hoof free from the potent vice grip of his former peers.

The moment their goal fell from reach, the changelings pathetically flopped onto their backs in a last ditch attempt to overwhelm their sentimental king. But all that awaited them was that same seasoned smirk, beaming at them, almost tauntingly.

"...give it up you guys, he's on to us," a drone surrendered at last, his voice noticeably dropping a few registers.

"You mean we actually have to find stuff to do, now?" Another drone had exposed his underbelly like a cat. Like a flipped switch he now stood and brushed his carapace of dust. "This is lame. It worked great the first few times."

"You guys oversell it - you gotta be more subtle. Don't make cute faces, just pretend to stay asleep," a third chided. "If it's his call to wake us up then he'll delay it longer."

"Have a great day, guys, I have faith in you!" Thorax encouraged. The drones grumbled in reply, a few yawns escaping them as they disappeared down a morphing side corridor.

"...well that was rather huffy."

Thorax's floppy ears twitched. Before he could turn around proper, Twilight had joined him, an enchanted hairbrush working through her bed mane.

"Good morning, Twilight," Thorax said pleasantly. "Don't mind them, it's just a whole thing they do."

Twilight cocked an eyebrow, something she could now visibly accomplish. Her brush withdrew to her left saddlebag.

"You don't think that was just a tad manipulative?" she asked. Thorax motioned his head towards the exit of the chamber in response, and so Twilight followed his lead.

"Well, maybe a little bit, but that's not exactly abnormal for changelings," Thorax replied with a chuckle. "You have to remember that while we may have changed form and begun to share instead of take, old habits still die hard. Most of the changelings weren't like me, Twilight."

"How do you mean?"

"Having a disposition for being honest," Thorax mused, smiling to a couple of drones fluttering past them in the hallway. "Every changeling is different. Because of Chrysalis it took us a long time to see that. Some changelings like the idea of communal energy restoration, while others think it's frivolous and degrading."

"And others use it as an excuse to be lazy," Twilight surmised. Her horn ached. She could so easily conjure her journals, add a quick note in the margins regarding social response to cluster napping, but...no. Today was about Thorax. She'd just have to fight the urges.

Celestia help her.

"Yeah, there are lazy changelings who try to use it as an excuse to sleep all the time," Thorax elaborated, rounding a bend in the corridor. "There are also changelings who get jealous when their friends share love with other changelings they don't know. And though I'm doing my best to curb it, there's still some bullying going on towards changelings who enjoy communal resting."

"Who knew something so simple could spark so many problems," Twilight wondered aloud. "I can't say I'm surprised, though. Even close friends have trouble seeing eye to eye from time to time, and the changelings have entirely altered their perspectives on all sorts of things. It's no wonder there are some hiccups."

"Seeing eye to eye has always been a problem for changelings, but I think we're making progress," Thorax stated with a smile. "Part of why I enjoy resting with them is because it's the one time I can really get changelings to spend time together. I know a lot of them only participate to benefit themselves, right now, but I know that'll change over time. After all, if taking naps with your hivemates doesn't improve your sociability, nothing will."

Thorax offered a laugh, and Twilight offered a weak grin. She watched him, noting the spark in his eye, and the firm weight behind that sincere smile. Bless his heart, she could scarcely name another soul in Equestria quite as genuine as him.

"Yesterday, when you began to play Ogres and Oublietes with Spike and the other changelings, I noticed something," Twilight began, signaling the moose changeling's eye. "The other changelings were quarreling, they were divided when we arrived, but as soon as you sat down with them, things changed, and I mean dramatically so. It was like your presence, itself was able to positively influence their mood. Have you noticed anything like that, before?"

Thorax giggled again. He kissed the ground with his gaze, as if it were an old friend.

"I've thought about it a few times, yes. I'm truly blessed, Twilight. All my life, all I ever wanted was to make friends, to have a meaningful connection with someone. Now I have the chance to help the changelings discover that for themselves. When I spend time with changelings who accept me as the hive leader, and who share their love magic with me, they're influenced by mine, in return. It becomes easier for them to befriend each other around me, because of it."

"As the alpha, your love magic must be pretty potent, indeed," Twilight commented. Her thoughts raced, scrambling to remember every detail of the conversation for later recording. Even the chance of a sullen lip or fallen eye from her friend upon caving to her note-taking was a risk she would not take.

Today was about Thorax and his needs. The next note topic of Changelings and Changed Forms would have to wait.

After a grueling, maze-like trip through the hive's inner tunnels, the pair passed through an apparent recreational space, where one question Twilight had been harboring was swiftly answered. Spike was among a small group of drones, apparently deep into a game of tag. Their mutual laughter reverberated off stone as they bounded around, chasing down one another like excitable foals. Warmth filled the alicorn's face.

It was, however, short-lived. With a loud thud Spike was relentlessly face-planted by a changeling from behind.

The bug pony responsible cackled. "I got him! Bug pile! Bug pile!"

An alarming amount of drones fell limply from the air, ruthlessly piling onto the first. Only Spike's tiny claw was visible from underneath the pile of chittering chitin, wiggling weakly.

Twilight winced. Maybe it wasn't tag, after all.

"Honey, can you please give the guards their duties for today when you're able?"

"Yes, dear."

"Oh, and can you please let Sunburst know we'll be requiring his assistance with Flurry Heart this afternoon during the meeting?"

"Of course, dear."

"Speaking of, I'm going to go check on her. Can you meet me in the main hall in half an hour?"

"Absolutely, dear."

"I love you, Shining Armor."

"I love you, too."

Shining Armor listened to the echoes of his wife's hooves leave their bedroom and traverse the hallway at a quickened pace. As the silence surrounded him once more, he was overcome with contentment, not to mention a choice. It would be the toughest choice he'd ever faced in all his years serving as a guard pony of varying ranks, and was also a choice he did battle with every morning.

Five more minutes, or no?

The longer he remained unsure, the more the room's silence speared him like Cadance's disapproving look. With a guttural groan, the white stallion stretched out his hindquarters, his rear-end rising out from underneath a deep lavender blanket. Though they had both suffered from lack of sleep due to unnamed baby alicorns, truly he had brunted it the worst. At least Cadance had always been an early-riser.

With a stammer in his step, Shining Armor emerged from the comfiest bed in Equestria and rubbed the crust from his eyes.


Shining repeated his mandated chores to himself quietly as he left the bedroom and made his way down the hall. His mane a disaster, his eyes sunken and his posture lethargic, he was hardly an authoritative sight to behold. So lost in his own mind fog was he, that he failed to notice a brown-coated guard pony only feet away.

"Prince Captain Shining Armor, good morning, sir!", the guard projected, saluting his captain and prince with gusto. "How are you this fine morning?"

"Been better - I mean never better," Shining stammered, careening himself away from a cast window frame of sunlight. "Hey, you haven't happened to see my wife leave Flurry Heart's room, have you?"

"The princess?", the guard thought aloud, complimenting the act by tapping his chin. "I don't believe so, sir. I saw her walk by that way and have not seen her since."

"Must still be with Flurry...guess I'll go find the squads and give them their orders."

"What was that, sir?"

"Oh, nothing. Oh hey, actually, can you please inform squad's three and four to do castle rounds, today? I'm going to have six and seven guard the borders. There's a lot of commotion today, gotta switch things up."

The guard pony blinked. Shining Armor sauntered by, and a curious gaze followed his flank right out the fourth floor corridor.

"But, Prince Captain Shining Armor, there are only six squads in the Crystal Empire!"

"Before we head off for the Crystal Empire, Twilight, there's one more thing I have to do. You could call it a morning routine. I hope that's okay."

"Of course! Work at your own pace, Thorax. I'm merely here to assist in whatever ways I can. What's this last thing?"

She couldn't see it then, but Twilight could picture shown teeth from his tone.

"Oh, you'll see soon enough. There's someling I have to check up on. He's usually up around this time."

The royal pair ascended a steepened passage, one much narrower than what they'd encountered thus far. Twilight bowed her head as she followed Thorax's lead, tinges of claustrophobia tickling the corners of her mind.

But grim hypotheticals were soon lost to the growing sound of sprightly laughter and a sporadic chirping, which echoed from the end of the hall. The familiar pitch of children's voices played in her ears, and far lovelier pictures now filled the alicorn's head.

"Thorax," she breathed. "Are those-"

"Hang on," Thorax giggled. "We're almost there."

As Thorax exited her path, the familiar warmth of the sun hugged Twilight's face and body, and she emerged from the passage with a cautious squint. When tiny, vibrant shells passed by, she gulped air, and her eyes widened despite the onset of painful tears.

A large chamber fitted with rows of carved windows filled her view, decorated with stone pillars that ran from floor to ceiling. In every corner and from every angle buzzed tiny changelings, with the occasional adult mixed among them. While some were tiny enough to mirror newborn foals, others perfectly resembled their elder counterparts, just micro in size. Radiant beams of light from the windows bathed them for the briefest of moments, rendering them iridescent, and drawing inspiration for flight paths that frequented such spots. The bugs raced around the open space, chasing, leaping on and playing with each other in an endless cycle of glee.

Twilight watched an adult pin a nymph roughly the size of Apple Bloom to the floor, not far from where she stood. With a devious grin they elicited frantic chirps by blowing into the nymph's chitinous underbelly.

Twilight's legs became jelly. Well, that was that. Starlight would have to make for an acceptable princess in her stead, because she was never going home.

"I was only able to show you the nursery chamber, yesterday," Thorax spoke up, his attention seized by thieving nymphs now lightly tugging against his antlers. "At the time of our tour, it was nap time for the hive's young, and I didn't want to risk waking anyling up. While I am here to see someling, I also wanted to surprise you. Meet the hive's youngest generation!"

Thorax was spouting words, or at least he may have been. Twilight's heart and soul had long since been claimed by big-eyed, buggy cherubs.

"They're absolutely precious!", the alicorn cooed, extending a hoof to try and coax the small bug ponies closer. When two nymphs curiously fluttered over, Twilight squealed.

"Oh, that yellow one is 'Mandi'," Thorax pointed out, turning to address the bumblebee nymph with a silky voice. "Mandi, this is Princess Twilight. She's a pony visiting us from Equestria. Did you know she really likes hugs? Would you like to give her one?"

Twilight's heart stopped. Her eccentric expression reflected off Mandi's emerald eyes, and so she endeavoured to reign it back into something less desperate. The fourth Equestrian princess should at least pretend her future didn't depend on the affections of a changeling nymph.

But oh, it did.

Mandi's curious glance bloomed, and two hooves curled about Twilight's neck. The alicorn's fresh tears ran free, no help needed from the morning sun.

"Oho, just call me Aunty Twiley, twice removed, sweetie," Twilight implored, gingerly wrapping one hoof around the small changeling's back. She turned to Thorax, who had resorted to more devious methods of obtaining snuggles from the nymphs assailing his antlers. Seized by teal magic, the young bugs involuntarily took turns having their snouts pressed to the monarch's, and nuzzled.

"If it's okay for me to ask, whose are they?", Twilight inquired, scarcely able to bring herself to interrupt the scene. "They're not all...Chrysalis's by chance, are they?"

"Oh no, that's a common misconception, actually," Thorax replied, releasing his captured bugs to the ongoing frivolity filling the room. "Even in the case of a queen, a hive leader doesn't actually lay all the eggs, they just have the authority to watch over and raise them how they see fit. At least, that's what Chrysalis did. Changelings are only part insect - we actually lay eggs in pairs like a lot of animals do. Having spent so much time around ponies, I thought it best to let nymphs be raised by their birth changelings, as well as the community at large."

Only by the magic of Mandi's embrace was Twilight's will held together, now. A magenta spark danced about her horn tip, and so the books in her saddlebags fidgeted impatiently. At the rate modern changeling lore was being dropped, her addiction would need addressing, sooner rather than later.

The alicorn opened her mouth, but a far spunkier voice than hers graced the air.

"Papa Thorax! Where have you been!? I've waited for you all the morning!"

Given no time to recover from her imminent heart attack, Twilight saw a crimson-shelled nymph bolt along the ground, beelining for Thorax. His miniature ears pressed tight to his head as he charged, building up both speed and his impish smirk.

Without a second thought Thorax sat back to his haunches, casting the bug torpedo a beaming smile Twilight had not yet seen from him. The inevitable tackle knocked Thorax clear over, and two more laughs joined the room's choir.

"You've been waiting for me?" Thorax's voice had lightened, softer than clouds. His front hooves securely pinned the nymph to his chest. "Now why would you go and do something like that for?"

"Um, you promised we'd play a bit every morning, Papa Thorax," the nymph criticized, squirreling against his restraints with limited success. "But you didn't even look for me, when you came in."

Thorax was met with a pout. He grinned.

"I was distracted," he said simply. "Maybe if you had been at the ready to poke and prod at me like those other nymphs were, you'd have gotten nose kisses, too."

The nymph revealed his tongue. "I don't want nose kisses, Papa Thorax, I wanna play! And lemme go! I don't want your hugs, either!"

Thorax's grin grew insatiable. "Hmm, that's something a nymph who secretly wants nose kisses and hugs would say."

"No, they wouldn't! I-I mean, no, I don't! I don't want your hugs right now, Papa Thorax! Lemme go, I wanna run!"

"Alright, let me think it over." Scrunching his brows, Thorax lightly bobbed his head to and fro a moment, but it was a ploy. A sudden snout pressed against the nymphs'.

"No can do. You're getting hugs."

Curling his body and rocking in place, Thorax playfully smothered the captured bug pony. Whines of protest saturated the air.

Somewhere a few feet away, Twilight proceeded on with her heart attack. Her lip went on its second minute of being self-bit. It would be fine. Starlight was a capable pony, she'd make an excellent replacement princess.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Twilight," Thorax reached out suddenly, eyeing the mare with a newfound energy. "This is Apex. He's one of the hive's youngest adult forme nymphs, or 'preadolescents', I think Shining Armor said ponies call that age range. Apex, this is Princess Twilight. She's from Equestria, and has been here visiting."

With their introduction properly staged, Thorax got to his hooves and levitated the young changeling to a comfortable seat between his antlers. There he sat, staring at the alicorn in a statue-esque fashion.

Twilight beamed. "Hel-"

"Hi, princess pony! I'm Apex, your wings are really cool!" Gripping hold of Thorax's antler, the micro changeling leaned around his horn to get a better look. "Why do you have a picture on your butt? Do all ponies have butt pictures or only princess ponies?"

Thorax was ripped from his lackadaisical thoughts. With an onset grimace he raised a hoof, seeking to get the mannerless drone under control. Unfortunately for him, his assaulting appendage was little more than an invitation to play.

"Quite rambunctious, isn't he," Twilight said sweetly, giggling as Apex playfully punched and fought back Thorax's hoof. Thorax's eyes widened in response, his mouth silently wording you have no idea.

"Can you blow things up with your horn like Papa Thorax can?", Apex carried on, having successfully wrestled down the hoof. "What do ponies eat? Do they eat love? Another changeling told me they eat rocks, but I think he was lying to me."

Thorax looked beside himself, but Twilight's face lit the already glimmering room.

"You are just too adorable, Apex," she said with a grin. "I know I certainly don't eat rocks, but I have a close friend who eats rock candy, and her family has a rock soup recipe. The world is full of fascinating things - even I learn new things every day."

Satisfied with her answer, Apex nodded enthusiastically. Thorax put a hoof to his face.

"If you don't mind me asking, how old are you, Apex?", Twilight asked, taking advantage of the tiny drone's attention span while she had it.

"I'm five months old!", Apex declared proudly, leaning out from Thorax's head. Twilight stared back in sheer bafflement.

"Five...months?" she parroted.

"He's five months old since he was a larva," Thorax clarified, his eyes rolling upwards to glance at the perched drone. "Changelings mature rapidly from larvae into our adult forms, then the aging process slows down. From now on he'll just get a little bigger year by year, like how ponies do."

A spark in Twilight's eyes had spread to her horn. Thorax blinked, and a magenta storm of writings, parchment, quills and ink emerged at last.

"I'm gonna need you to tell me everything."

"I'm sorry."


"Honey, I apologize, I should have taken a cold shower or something before trying to get things done."


"Cadance, please don't give me that look. I know you're disappointed."

Excercising substantial effort, a group of guards off in the corner contained their snickering as, for the second time this week, Princess Cadance stared her husband into submission. The white-coated stallion rubbed the back of his head, having moved right past sheepish expressions and now assuming a defeated posture.

"...I'm just messing with you at this point," Cadance said at last, breaking her frown with a giggle. Shining rolled his eyes, only to be caught off guard by a hoof under his chin.

"I know you're not a morning person, Shining Armor, but there are still mornings where you're way too out of it to get anything done," Cadance said quietly, her eyes locked on his. "Whether it's from late night duties, Flurry keeping you up or something else, you've got to let me know when you're exhausted, so I can help. We're a team, and I love you."

Shining's expression glowed.

"I love you too. And, you're absolutely right. I guess I've been trying to power through it a bit too often, lately," he said softly, wrapping one foreleg around her outstretched hoof and resting his forehead against hers. "I promise I'll do better to let you know in the future."

The two royal ponies shared a long, quiet moment together, and sealed it with a warm kiss.

Shining Armor turned his attention back to the crowd of observing guards, who had since regained their composure. Putting forth a more commanding presence, he began a steady pace down the line.

"In a matter of hours we'll be receiving a visit from not only my sister, Princess Twilight, but also her guest and ours - newly-crowned King Thorax of the Changeling Empire," Shining explained, making eye contact with guard ponies one by one as he passed them. "This is a major opportunity for not just the Crystal Empire, but for Equestria as a whole. The changelings are no longer hostile. They are no longer lead by the tyrant, Chrysalis. They are now lead by Thorax, who we've come to know as a compassionate changeling and a citizen of the Crystal Empire."

Cadance watched her husband take charge with a content smile. For what the stallion lacked in alertness at times, he more than made up for with his leadership and passion. The love princess could see it even in the eyes of the empire's guards - the respect and admiration they harbored for him, flaws and all.

"King Thorax has honored the request of Equestria's princesses to build a relationship together. Today, I want our empire to shine like it never has before. As the first of Equestria's major populaces to make contact with the newly-formed Changeling Empire, it is now our duty to treat Thorax and his subjects with the same respect we give all our friendly, foreign neighbors."

The long line of armored guards remained silent and still, watching their leader with rapt attention.

"I want squads one, three and four on the borders. I want squads two and five stationed in the castle. Lastly, I want squad six at the train station, awaiting our guest's arrival. I'm not sure if they'll be using the train system, but I want it covered in case they do. If you encounter any problems send a squad member to report to me. If you encounter our guests, make it your highest priority to escort them here safely. Dismissed!"

The uniform assembly saluted the stallion, and quickly dispersed into groups, galloping out different hallways from the main hall.

As the room became quiet once more, Cadance lit her horn, and gently rose the shimmering mobile bed of her young child into the air. Still fast asleep, Flurry Heart sucked on her front hoof, blissfully unaware of the many events transpiring around her.

Together, the trio left the castle lobby, and stepped out into the grand sun of the afternoon.

"You know, come to think of it, I think it might be your fault I was so tired, today," Shining said with a toothy smile, instigating a raised eyebrow from his wife.

"Oh? And how's that, exactly?", Cadance asked skeptically, Flurry Heart ever so subtly bobbing up and down next to her, wrapped in her turquoise aura.

"Princess Luna came to you in a dream last night, didn't she?", Shining said, leading the way along the central crystal path. "And then you proceeded to wake me up and tell me about it. So technically it's your fault I was so tired this morning."

Cadance playfully bumped her hoof against the stallion's side.

"Well, I would say that'd be aunt Luna's fault then, technically," she said with matter-of-fact. "But if I know Twilight, it was her idea to ask Princess Luna to deliver the message to me at nearly one in the morning, so you can blame your sister for that."

"Now that you mention it, that does sound like Twiley," Shining agreed, narrowing his eyes as he smirked. "But you can't ask me to lay blame on my visiting sister, can you?"

"Well you certainly can't blame me for getting excited about Twilight visiting us, and needing to let you know, can you?"

"No, I suppose I can't," Shining admitted with a hearty chuckle, looking up towards the blue sky dotted with clouds. Just outside their borders laid a wasteland of ice, snow and rock, but here they were blessed. Even more than living here, sharing the beauty of the empire with others had always been something he looked forward to.

"Today's going to be an interesting visit," Shining said absently, tracing cloud shapes with his eyes. "Seeing Thorax again will be great, too."

"He's always been so warm and kind, I'm sure he's already become a wonderful leader," Cadance added. "I can't wait to see where the day takes us."

As ponies around the Crystal Empire carried on with their morning, the crystal princess and her husband made their way to the east district. Before the summit with the new changeling leader, there was one thing left to do. Somepony, or rather somewizard still had to be talked into foal-sitting.

"Oh please Papa Thorax, can I go!?"

"Apex, I don't know if it's such a-"

"I really want to see what a crystal pony looks like! Do they eat crystals, or do they live in them? That'd be so cool!"

"Apex, really, I don't think-"

"I'll stay on your head the whole time, promise! And I won't break everything, only some things!"

Exhaustion crept on Thorax just from observing the tiny drone zip around the cavern. Every so often, Apex would return to the big changeling like a boomerang to pitch yet another reason for why he should go, before continuing his quest, utterly ignoring Thorax's many attempts at reasoning. It grew increasingly more difficult to say no to such an endearing ball of energy.

"Twilight, what do you think?", Thorax asked with a turn of his head.

Twilight, who had been pressed flat to the ground recording changeling aging information shot up her head like a startled chicken.

"Oh, absolutely!", she said enthusiastically, only half-listening as she scribbled away at her hypotheses regarding changeling biology. "The Crystal Empire is completely safe, the changelings will be totally fine."

"Well I think bringing Apex would be great," Spike added. Having survived 'bug pile' completely intact, he now laid upside-down in Thorax's throne. "More diversity would make more sense for bringing a party to the empire, right? Plus, I think a little changeling like Apex would be a great way to woo the crystal ponies."

"Spike...are you suggesting we deliberately manipulate the crystal ponies into our favor by using cute things like changeling nymphs to win them over?", Twilight asked, gathering her now updated notes into her bottomless saddlebags and darting a smirk.

Spike upped the ante with an even cruder smirk. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying."

"Well, I suppose he'll be fine," Thorax muttered aloud, more so warming himself to the idea than anything. "I do want to bring along one of my lead guards, though. I'll feel a little better knowing one of them can keep an eye on him, in case the princess would like a private discussion."

Thorax turned to face the open cavern. His chest inflated with air.

"Tarsus! Tibia!"

The monarch's voice echoed the walls like thunder, penetrating through the many zig-zagging holes leading to various locations in the hive. Spike jumped a foot in the air, falling on his head by the throne, and within just a few moments, the blue and green drones in question came fluttering into the chamber from opposite directions.

"Reporting in, Thorax!", Tibia said joyfully.

"What may we do for you, your highness?", Tarsus added, calm and collected.

"Hey, guys. Princess Twilight and I are leaving for the Crystal Empire shortly," Thorax began, garnishing eye contact from them consecutively. "I'd like one of you to come with us as part of the visiting party. I need the other one to stay here and look after the hive for me."

Tarsus and Tibia exchanged glances. With nothing but a head tilt, the tour fiasco from the previous day was reminded. The changelings bumped their hooves together in silent agreement.

"I'll go with you, Thorax," Tibia spoke up, fluttering his wings and hovering to Thorax's eye-level. "Tarsus is better at regimented duties, and I'm pretty good at first impressions."

"Fine by me, I'll stay here where it's warm. You know, where it's not the Frozen North," Tarsus muttered sarcastically, giving a mocking glance towards Tibia and getting a fresh bug pony tongue in response.

Thorax nodded in silent approval. "Thanks, Tibia. And Tarsus, if anything goes wrong I want you to send a pair of relay drones to the Crystal Empire immediately."

"Well of course," Tarsus replied, nodding his head. "I'll let the rest of the hive know what's going on. Best that we remain on alert and on ready lock-down until you return."

"Alright, I think we're ready now," Thorax announced, sweeping his glance around the chamber to catch the eye of each drone. Apex and Tibia aside, a total of eight changelings for a total of ten had volunteered to accompany him. A modest amount, but not an intimidating one.

"All set, your highness?", Twilight asked, her saddlebags full and Spike secure on her back. Thorax nodded in reply.

"I think we are," he said with mounting excitement, taking to the air and enticing the drones to do the same. As an envoy they departed, emerging from the hive and into the open arms of a truly breathtaking afternoon.

"You know, I haven't been this excited in a long time," Thorax stated, every inch of his being brimming with optimism.

Author's Note:

I've done it. I've fallen into using descriptors like 'someling' and 'everyling'. :fluttershbad: Someone stop me.

Despite how Thorax is a gigantic cinnamon roll who'd love nothing more than to cuddle every one of his subjects all at once, all day long and for the rest of recorded time, I take sadistic amusement in having the changelings moderately terrified whenever he puts on a serious tone. PTSD from tyrannical leadership is real. :twilightoops:

Also, now that we've hit another major supporting character, let's officially talk about the cover art. :pinkiesmile:
- The drone on Thorax's head is Apex. (you think you know the cute? I was molded by it, born in it.)
- The blue drone against Thorax's chest is Tarsus.
- The green drone laying against Thorax's side is Tibia.
- The purple drone to the left is a character we still have yet to meet. Yay foreshadowing! :pinkiehappy:
The colors all match, but from perspective, Tarsus and Tibia are slightly smaller than in-story. Ah well! :twilightsheepish:
Once again, thank you for reading. :twilightsmile:

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