• Published 17th Jul 2017
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An Exercise In Management - Nameless Narrator



A simple drone "accidentally" failed to leave the Badlands hive for the invasion to Canterlot. He was only two weeks old, one of the clutch specifically created to break through the protective shield. Now starving, he's just trying to survive.

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37: Together in full company.

So far, my rather foolish plan of letting Three take Tree Hugger out of the forest hasn’t been a disaster. Quite the opposite, in fact. Three returned happy, Four hasn’t reported any unusual movement from Fluttershy’s cottage, and Eight used the received energy to practice against some wolf creatures made of wood which she called the timberwolves. Some were three times her size, and she still called them a warm up. I hesitate to imagine what she would consider a serious threat. Anyway, I rationed the love I got between the hungry changelings in the healing room, and followed One’s example by going to sleep.

As I drift back into consciousness, I feel strange warmth inside my stomach. I’m not hungry, I’m comfortable, and there’s nothing immediately bothering any of my changelings. I feel pretty good.

Yawning, I rub my eyes, and sit up.

The changelings we brought are sleeping peacefully around, the heavily wounded warrior is still dormant, his breathing a little deeper than before though, Three is lying on his back, tongue out, and his hind leg kicking from time to time.

Everything is peaceful for once.

A quick mental check up on other changelings reveals that it’s nighttime outside. Ten is teaching Four some card game while surrounded by ponies in what looks like a bar , One is singing, her voice few tones lower than normal, while ponies move out of the way whenever she walks through a different dimly lit room. I can’t help stopping by in her head, and listening for a while to the slow, haunting, and sad song.

”~So much is lost, so much disharmony. So much is lost, no voice of sympathy.~”

SONG OF THE HERETICS. SHE IS RISKING HER CHITIN IN CASE SOME UNICORN IN THE ROOM KNOWS ANCIENT HISTORY AND CAN PUT TWO AND TWO TOGETHER.

Shush.

I, however, do put two and two together thanks to hive mind’s comment, and realize this is an old changeling song wishing for the good old times when we lived love, not just ate it. Needless to say, hive mind’s presence completely spoiled my enjoyment, so I switch to Eight.

OH GODS… WE PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE DESTROYED YOU SOONER...

From the hive’s memories, I recognize a chimera. From Eight’s mad grin, I recognize a chimera in mortal danger, its goat and lion heads smashed together and being choked by their own snake tail head wrapped around their necks.

”More heads, more teeth to punch out! HAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!”

Okay, that’s a bit too much groaning, choking, and blood for my no longer that peaceful morning.

So, everyone is alright. I stand up, stretch my legs, and leave the room, wandering the hallways of the crumbling castle randomly.

Was there something to what Tree Hugger suggested? Making ponies come to us instead of sending out hunting parties… hmmm. It would be dangerous. On the other hole, we wouldn’t risk getting hurt far away from home, and this place is full of secret passages and underground tunnels. I have no doubts that Three will uncover more when he gets going again.

The three ponies who tried to explore our house in Canterlot come to mind. Four’s scenario worked well with them. I think they had nothing to do with the paladin raid later. Maybe we could do something like that, spread a rumor which would make ponies want to explore the old castle, preferably in small groups.

Should we make them disappear afterwards? No no no, that would raise suspicion and draw danger here. Maybe we could make them come here, suck them dry over… let’s say a day, two at most, and them drop them off somewhere safe, possibly show them a good time? Tree Hugger did have that brothel idea. That way they might want to come back too.

No, a paid service is too big of a step and too much exposure this soon. However, just beating ponies up and putting them into cocoons isn’t that great either. So, we lure them in here with… something. Then we create another scenario, dangerous but tempting one… I’d have to talk to others if they have any good ideas. In the end we drain them, mess with their heads a bit- no, that won’t work. One said we left marks by messing with ponies’ memories, and doing this more often would definitely attract some unicorns. No, we would have to use good disguises and create a realistic experience.

I’m gonna need professionals for this one. I don’t have enough knowledge about pony customs, mentality, and culture.

One, you listening?

”A bit busy in the back room of the parlor, but I’m sure I can handle it.”

You weren’t with us when our Canterlot hideout was invaded the first time, but I’m sure someone either told you what happened, or you dug through someone’s head.

”Oh, the ghost hunters?”

I’m not sure whether to be proud or disappointed that you’re not even bothering to lie about it.

”FOUR TOLD ME! Well, after I found some clues in her head… and asked.”

Smooth. Rank one infiltrator here, everyone. Anyway, I had this idea after our session with Tree Hugger-

”Hmm, all I had was a massive headache, but do go on.”

She said that real hunters wait for the prey to come to them. How about we lure ponies to the castle, shapeshift into something interesting, and create an experience for them like with the… ghost hunters. Maybe a pleasant one instead of dreadful. Then we overpower them in disguise, drain them, and bring them let’s say to the edge of the Everfree so that they may try again.

I expect her to laugh, but all I get is a moment of silence, then:

”I… could spread rumors of some minor magical treasure. Nothing big enough to bring real adventurers, just some more curious civilians. And disguise, disguise… AH! You’ll be the dark warlock bad guy, I’ll be the summoned succubus. They’ll have to go through me to get to you and the treasure, I’ll capture them, have my fun, and then they’ll escape due to the unforseen mistake of jailor Three who leaves keys to the dungeon cells in plain sight and falls asleep. I’ve got just the right disguises in mind.”

I’m glad you’re into it.

”It’ll take some polishing, but if it works, I’ll be polishing a lot more than just our plans. One, king’s real succubus, demon magic and all. Beat this, Eight!”

A bit too much into it…

”Anyway, I’ll think of a proper rumor, and we’ll need advanced warning system, maybe Eight barking could work. This is going to be fun!”

I may have unleashed true horror upon this world.

***

As I wander through the throne room, I notice more echoes of hoofsteps. For a moment, I panic, and dart behind the throne. However, the faint mental links I feel closing in belong to changelings, namely the six changelings we’ve been nursing to health all this time. I peek out, trying to look as serious as I can after hiding, and walk out in the open.

The changelings fan out into a half circle around me. Uh oh…

“Do you need something?” I raise my eyebrow.

Two drones, three infiltrators, and… yeah, the reinforced and thicker chitin means the final one is a warrior.

“We want to talk,” says the one in front of me, an infiltrator of, I guess, triple digit rank.

“You’ve been waiting until now when I’m alone here, with no protection.”

“That was just in case you wouldn’t want to talk,” the infiltrator frowns. The entire group doesn’t seem too menacing despite being reasonably fed. The problem is that I’ve got no combat experience, a regrettable oversight on my part it seems, and I can’t just hop inside Eight and copy some of her skill, at least not in time.

Do I call for her at least? Or maybe for Three? He’s nearby.

No, definitely not Three. He’s been in more danger than a drone should throughout its life.

“I’m listening,” I sit on the throne. I’m bigger than any of them, I have more love than any single one of them, but all I’ve got now is that they likely see me as a king, no matter how weak.

“We want to leave,” they all take a step forward, ready to pounce.

Wait, is that it?

“Alright,” I shrug, “I was hoping to ask you for help, but I never got around to it. You are free to go if you want, though. You’ve never been prisoners or anything.”

The infiltrator speaking for the group straightens up, tilting his head.

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah. I came to Canterlot to find out what happened to the invasion and possibly help any survivors,” I bite my lip, “Unfortunately, you see how that worked out...”

“So… we can just go. No giving up all our love, or paying our debt, or anything?”

“As long as you don’t tell ponies where we’re hiding or lead anyone here, yes. One thing first, though,” I raise my hoof when they all frown, “Do you know how to resist feeding the hive mind?”

They all shrug or shake their head. I guessed as much, they are too low ranks to know about inner workings of the hive.

“To be honest, I don’t even know what you mean,” the infiltrator looks genuinely unhappy, “Before Canterlot, all I did was hunt in Appleloosa and immediately bring back all I got to the hive.”

Sighing, I nod.

“Fine, you can go. Got anything planned?”

“We’re heading back to Canterlot.”

“WHAT?!” I press my forelegs into the crumbled arm rests, pushing myself upwards. Nothing makes sense, “Why?”

He nods to the other infiltrators and the warrior.

“I guess no one told you because we were out cold most of the time, and then those ponies tried to kill us, out of us six only I and the drones were part of the invasion. These three,” he points at rest, “have lived in Canterlot from ten to thirty years give or take. Spice Rack here,” he pokes the warrior, “Has got a wife and two foals. It’s similar for the others. They didn’t replace anypony, they came and tried to live their lives in peace. Granted, Spice is the only one with a real family, but none of them were starving like us from the hive, nor were they a threat to anypony, they aren’t stupid. Chrysalis screwed us all hard!”

I’m getting the feeling that she wasn’t the hive’s real problem.

WHAT IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN?

Take a guess, you pile of hungry memories. Or better yet, take a dive from some really high cliff.

“But now the ponies will be after you!” I object, “You saw what happened in the caves.”

The warrior shakes his head.

“Can I speak, king?”

“Sure.”

“I have a changeling friend, and note that I’m saying I still have him, who told me to stay put in prison and wait for my trial. You see...” he thinks for a moment, “He told me that princess Luna, some of her Nightguards, and one strange bronze changeling are hosting trials for the survivors. They can sense if you speak the truth, and they allow the discovered changelings to integrate into their society. Under oversight at first, then as real citizens. That’s what happened to my friend. As Six hundred and thirty-seven here said, I’ve built a family and raised my own foals. I’m pretty sure I’ll be fine.”

“But you were all starving in prison. Some of you were almost dead.”

“Unfortunately so,” he nods, “The magic blast hurt and revealed every changeling in the city, and the ponies had no idea how to take care of us. No idea, but definitely not no intention. Some of their doctors tried, but all they could do was apply bandages. They don’t know the magic or surgery to repair chitin, and we were cut off of our sources of love.”

“And the paladins who attacked us?”

They look at each other, taking some nervous hoofsteps. The warrior takes charge again.

“I know the changeling trials are real, and so far I haven’t heard about anything like that happening. It could have had something to do with your prison break, or the fact that you killed a pony, but...” he sighs, “we have to risk it. We’d lose too much by trying to settle somewhere else, especially now when ponies are on high alert. And the three without any ties in Canterlot… well, they have everything to gain.”

The infiltrator suddenly walks closer, nods to the two drones, and whispers in my ear:

“Those drones were bred for the first wave. If I leave them on their own, they’ll die,” he takes a short pause, “Before the invasion I wouldn’t have given them a second thought, but thousands of these dummies suicided so that we had at least a tiny chance of getting through the shield. I’ve seen too many dead changelings, and I don’t want to see any more. I know I will, but if I can make it two less I’ll be happy. Do you understand?”

I chuckle to myself as I feel another mental link grow stronger.

”Good morning, Three.”

”Morning, boss! Hey, where is everyone?”

”We’re having a little talk in the throne room.”

”Do you need me?”

”Not right now.”

”Then I’ll go check the tunnels. I found a room where there’s this wooden thing with big black and white teeth that make noises when I poke them.”

”Sharp teeth?”

”Nope, all blunt.”

”Then just stay safe, Three.”

“Yeah, I do understand,” I pat the infiltrator’s shoulder, “Well, as I said, you’re free to go.”

He takes a step back, and bows.

“We owe you a lot. If you ever decide to return to Canterlot, we’ll vouch for you in the trials.”

“Thanks,” I just say. I’ve got far too many problems to deal with before that becomes an option, if ever, “Good luck, and goodbye.”

They all take a bow, and leave.

***

It took me few hours of wandering around to realize what I was forgetting.

Standing above the body of the broken warrior, I take in the damage. Even now, after the time spent dormant with us, shards of his chitin are missing. Thankfully, there are no spots where his flesh peeks out anymore, although slime does occasionally seep through the extensive cracks all over his carapace. His left eye is milky white, crossed with a deep scar which looks somewhat healed, making restoring the organ near impossible, at least in his current shape and with my lack of healing skills. He feels like a low rank, although his short, carpet-like, grey mane reveals he’s somewhere between that spot when changelings are uniform blue-eyed, black buggies, and individuals with tails, manes, and pony-ish eyes. What definitely looks imposing is the fact that he’s broader and taller than Eight or One. I know that as a warrior he’s been bred to look like this, and that our power isn’t exactly tied to our physical forms, but still… scary.

Putting the tip of my horn to his vastly longer one, I slowly let my love flow into him. I can’t pour energy into specific parts of his body to make his body react in the way I would want like One did when she restarted Three’s brain, but what I did learn was to go slowly, not just shove love inside someone.

By minute two of the transfer, I’m starting to sense a new open mind, and on reflex I peek inside.

As the warrior opens his working eye, I see myself out of it.

”How may I serve?” he says in a raspy voice. A simple question without any hint of malice, confusion, or anything really.

A TOOL READY TO BE USED!

Thank you for that insight. I was suspicious that would be the case. Well, better than if he was going after my throat.

“How are you feeling?” I stop feeding him, sensing that he’s nearly full. I’ve become so used to One and Eight never being really satisfied that it comes as a surprise now when I top a grown changeling off.

The biggest cracks in his armor close as he stands up, stretches his legs and neck, and salutes.

”With this amount of love, I’ll be in top shape in a day or two. The changelings who attacked me caused some internal wounds. The draining was worse, though.”

“That’s good. Now we need to talk about what to do with you. First, were you part of the invasion or did you live in Canterlot before?”

”Invasion. Front line right behind the drones.”

A low rank stormtrooper. Just another body meant to take the brunt of the pony defense.

“Umm, got any plans now?”

”I exist to serve the hive.”

I scratch my head.

“There… isn’t exactly a hive at the moment. What do you remember from the invasion?”

His brows furrow.

”I recall… a pony picking another pony up, and then a barrage of magic. Several other changelings retreated while I blocked the cast spells, but then I collapsed. I came to only when I felt something pick me up, set me on fire, and slam me into a wall. It was… pink, and felt like… love… angry love. Then nothing. I woke up behind bars few times, and then a changeling called Ten was telling me what to do in a cave under Canterlot.”

“I see. Well, did someone tell you that most changelings are probably dead, Chrysalis is nowhere to be found, and the hive as you knew it is gone?”

He ponders it for a moment.

”You’re the one leading this group of changelings, those who got us out of pony prison?”

“As much as I hate it, yes.”

”Do you need a warrior? My rank was Three hundred and ninety-two. If I can’t fight for the survival of changelings under queen Chrysalis, I can fight under you if you want me to.”

That’s actually not a bad rank. I’ve got three infiltrators, one drone, and one warrior right now. Three could use someone strong in case we need some manual labor, and Eight wouldn’t have to do all the patrolling and everything on her own. Plus, another changeling to help me resist the hive mind’s recently diminishing drain is what I needed in the first place.

In response to my mental prodding, his link opens completely without any resistance.

”Can you talk via the link?”

”It seems that… yes, I can. Strange, I’ve never done this before, and I don’t feel the hive mind’s knowledge,” he rubs his chin, and speaks, his muzzle not moving, ”Interesting, it looks like I got the basic knowledge straight through your link. Convenient, albeit a little taxing.”

A low rank warrior wouldn’t be too proficient with mental abilities. But hey, even Three learned just fine.

“Okay, you’ll need a new rank, though. There’s only few of us, so I’m keeping it simple. You’ll be Nine.”

”Yes, king,” he salutes, ”From now on, I’m Nine.”

“And don’t try to order anyone around, please. You’ll learn how it works here soon.”

”As you wish,” Nine bows, ”I serve and obey.”

On one hole, his approach weirds me out a bit, on the other… I’m glad I don’t have to deal with more big potential threats like One. Nine’s mind feels calm, focused, and ready.

Well, let’s see what Eight will think about him.

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