• Published 17th Jul 2017
  • 3,979 Views, 829 Comments

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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41: Together against the doom marine

“See, boss? You can see ALL the trees from up here!” Three waves his hoof around to encompass the breathtaking view, “Everything is pointy and green!”

I clear a spot of the floor from rubble littering the top of the broken castle turret to which Three’s finally found a safe way. The sea of green leaves covers everything, which on second thought makes sense because the turret isn’t too tall, but refreshing wind is blowing up here, I’ve had my rest, and Three’s happy, especially after his trip to Ponyville two days ago, so I’m not complaining about this vantage point not being overly useful.

“Peaceful,” I nod, looking around in case I spot some higher place of the castle that hasn’t crumbled due to the weight of time, but unfortunately it looks like this castle has much more space underground than above, “I wish we could stay here, maybe even rebuild bits the castle...”

Three huddles against my side, I give him a surprised look.

“Ponies like doing this a lot.”

“I wonder why...” on the other hole, unlike us they are soft. The best we can go for if we drop the density of our chitin and all its protection is kind of rubbery skin. At least that’s what I felt from others. After what One did to me, I’m just… solid.

WE CAN FIX THAT!

You can fix right off, if you know what I mean.

“Are you okay, boss? You still feel tired.”

“I’m scared, Three. Hive mind has been overall quiet recently, no sign of paladins despite our constant presence in Ponyville, nothing...”

“Maybe it’s over and we won!” he beams, “Ponyville ponies like us even if we have to disguise ourselves, miss One dropped a mountain on those bad ponies from Canterlot, and if the hive mind is quiet maybe you’ve proven you’re a good boss, which you are, boss. The best one!”

I wish I could believe at least a single one of those assumptions.

“Maybe you’re right, Three. Aren’t you scared that you’re wrong, though?”

To my surprise, his smile withers only slightly as he shakes his head. His tone is a lot more serious, however.

“Boss, miss One told me what was supposed to happen to me if I joined the invasion. I’m smart enough to know I live on borrowed time, I told you before. I know I’m not completely right in the head. I can’t think as fast as miss One or miss Eight or even Ten and Four. She also said that’s how I would be forever unless we had enough love for you to… remake me, fresh, working body and all, but then it wouldn’t be me anymore, right? Boss, I’m happy like this. If… if something bad happens, then it happens. You’ve given me time the Queen nor any amount of luck would. That means you’re more awesome than Chrysalis or a force of nature, and thanks to you I’m absolutely sure I’m the best Three out of all Threes who could have been. Besides, I’m not hungry and I’m having fun. I can’t think of a better life. The only thing I regret is not meeting more ponies in Canterlot, the city looked nice.”

I breathe out. There’s something to learn from those words, definitely.

”Yooo hooo!” One’s voice bubbles through my head, making me stand up. Three gives me a questioning glance.

“One’s back. I’ll go see what she wants.”

“Alright. Do you need me, boss?”

“Depending on what she wants, but likely not. Why don’t you go to Ponyville again and have fun with Four? Ten’s there in case things go south, and Tree Hugger didn’t seem to tell on us.”

“Yay!” his wings buzz excitedly, and a moment later he’s floating down through the forest canopy.

Well, for a drone he’s so full of love that I think he could drop and not suffer a scratch. I wonder how he does it. This morning he gave some to Eight, and didn’t feel even a little weaker.

Unfortunately for me, I have to climb down the broken spiral staircase and many more obstacles before I’m back in the ground floor throne room, facing a rather cheerful One.

“What’s up?”

Translation: What’s wrong?

“Oh nothing, nothing...” she pouts before jumping at me and shaking me by my shoulders, “WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME WE HAD VISITORS? I HAVE MY SUCCUBUS TRANSFORMATION ALL THOUGHT OUT, WHIP, CORSET, LEATHERY WINGS AND TAIL, DEMONIC GLOW, EVERYTHING! Eight got to bang some young souls filled to the brim with hormones while I was chewing my mane out of boredom in that backwater hole. I wanted to show it off to you and you didn’t even call for me...”

Now she’s all sulky and giving me the kicked puppy, or in her case ‘the obliterated panda’ look, great...

“I promise that next time something happens and you’re within reach I’ll definitely let you know, alright? Besides, they weren’t any threat, only a group of ‘just legal enough’, as Eight called them, ponies pretending they’re warriors and wizards.”

“I could use a brush up on my acting skills...”

Coming from a rank one infiltrator spending time daily in a hostile environment, that’s not reassuring.

“As I said, you’re certainly going to be a part of our next… performance. Eight followed them out of the forest, and they seemed eager to rest up and try to defeat us again.”

”You both will get your chance soon enough,” Eight’s voice in our heads makes both me and One look around, ”We might have a problem.”

“Other then you being able to know what we’re doing without our knowledge?” One remarks.

”I’m connected to my King, One. I am his second body, and he is my mind.”

“Like ancient changeling warrior armies...” One’s eyes go wide, “Now there’s a level of enslavement I haven’t seen in centuries.”

”My willing submission, One, and my King’s willing acceptance.”

“To be honest, I had no idea what it actually meant, but Eight wanted it so much...” I chuckle when faced with One’s laser glare.

“Look, changeling armies of the old empire used to have combat commanders, infiltrators usually, and squad leaders for whom their warriors were simply puppets who did what more powerful minds of somepony else told them. Very effective, but basically enslavement, because this connection couldn’t be broken.”

“This isn’t one-sided, I think.”

”No, it’s not, but you’re close, One. By the way, thanks, without your… ultimatum I never would have realized how things should be. For that, I might even NOT kick your teeth out one day. Now shut up and let me explain what’s going one, both of you.”

One and I exchange glances, but say nothing. Images of heavily armored and definitely armed griffon barreling through the forest appear in our minds. The armor is steel with gold trimmings, covers vast majority of his body, and yet he’s moving as if he was wearing barely anything.

”He’s got a sword, two-handed for a griffon, a pistol and a DOUBLE-BARRELLED SHOTGUN, I had to pull that knowledge out of the hive mind because I had no clue what the damn thing was, and a freaking CHAINSAW! Any ideas why he’s headed straight towards the castle?”

“Uh oh...” One doesn’t stop her innocent whistle in time.

“One?”

“Who cares?” she waves her hoof dismissively, “The more important thing is how we stop him, right? Imperial Guard soldier or not, he won’t be immune to proper feminine wiles. Eight… I am one hundred percent sure we won’t need you, but juuuuuust in case...”

”I’m on my way right now,” Eight says immediately. It takes me a second to realize that there was no bickering this time, and that never before has One been uncertain about not needing Eight’s help.

*BOOM!* *THUD*

“What the hole was that?” I glare in disbelief at the entrance to the throne room.

“It sounded as if someone… kicked the remaining wing of the castle gate down, which then slammed against the floor. Anyway, hide somewhere, watch me work, and try not to drool,” One gives me a smile before her horn starts glowing green.

My usual hiding place behind the throne won’t offer much protection against someone determined to search the castle, so I rush up the side stairs onto the right balcony, carefully jumping over any holes. When I’m fairly safely hidden behind a pillar and with good view of downstairs, I peek out.

One’s transformation is complete now. She’s still basically pony shaped, but with significant differences. Two small horns adorning her head poke through her long, glistening, black mane sharing the color of her fresh bat-like wings. Like a true queen-tier changeling the black, segmented corset around her barrel makes her waist thin and accentuates her new, significantly thicker but still shapely hips and thighs befitting her amazonian figure. Her tail is long, thin, and hairless aside from a duster on its end, swishing around and revealing absolutely everything to every and any viewer behind her. And there is a lot to see, because she doesn’t possess any coat hair, only dark pink skin, shiny as if oiled up. She looks up at me, purses her plump, red lips, and blows me a kiss.

Her exotic visage contrasts sharply with the humongous griffon who clinks and clanks his way into the throne room, his helmeted head turning from side to side, hidden from my view completely aside from a see-through visor. His eyes stop on succubus One approaching him.

”I’m dying to see this...” I hear Eight’s voice in my head.

“My my,” One winks at the griffon, “such a perfect specimen. Powerful body that might possibly satisfy even my little lonely self,” her wing bends, rubbing the outline of her barrel and flank, “What? Were you expecting my master? You’ll have to go through me first,” she puts her foreleg on the griffon’s armor, and breathes out a cloud of pink smoke, “But why fight, when we can do something far more plea-WHAAH?!” she plops on her butt, shoved away by the griffon.

He pulls out two pistols, grabs one in each foreleg, and starts firing at random at the second floor. I hide as some dust from a shot off piece of pillar lands on me, and decide on watching the situation from One’s eyes only.

Frowning, she picks herself up, trots over to the still unloading griffon, and smacks his backplate with her wing.

“Come on, handsome, why hide that chiseled godlike perfection behind an armor when you can grab me instead of the pistols and-”

One actually flies off as the griffon swats her away with the back of his foreleg.

“I even did the leather wings, corset, and everything!” One screeches, her high-pitched tone drowning even the gunfire.

The griffon turns towards her, and pulls the shotgun from a holster on his back.

*Blam!*

*Blam!*

One actually blurs as she dodges the blasts by jumping to the side, and within a second she’s cleared the entire throne room and stopped by a hallway leading deeper into the castle.

“YOU DON’T WANT MY BODY? ARE YOU IMPOTENT, YOU BIRDBRAIN LOSER?!”

As the griffon soldier simply charges towards her, she disappears into the hallway.

”Wouldn’t it be easier to drop the disguise now, One?”

”Hmph,” as she runs, she shapeshifts back into the slim, fit, and ladylike changeling form, ”Mark my words, I WILL be using it on someone else soon, and they WILL FUCKING MELT UNDER THE FUCKING ONSLAUGHT OF MY FUCKING IRRESISTIBLE CHARM!”

Despite the situation, I can’t help grinning as I feel Eight laughing inside my head at One’s complete loss of control.

”Do we give stopping him one more shot, or do we just hide?”

”I’ll rip his dick off and shove it so far up his ass that the third generation of his ADOPTED children will still be gargling chicken balls!”

”Am I talking to One or Eight right now?”

”What the hole did you just say?!”
”What the hole did you just say?!”

”Nevermind...”

Standing up, I get on my way to find a safer path towards the fight in case I’m needed for something. Considering the physical state of the griffon and mental state of One, I’m secretly hoping I get lost.

As the griffon barges into the first room he finds and starts rummaging through the moldy and rotten… everything, One, breathing heavily and eyes bulging, rips the door off its hinges-

Not, not with her telekinesis, but with her forelegs.

-and breaks it against the griffon’s helmet. He turns around, unfazed, and aims his shotgun again.

*Click click!*

*BLAM!*

The blast resonates through the small room, an ancient guest bedroom or something, and One looks in disbelief at her bleeding foreleg she didn’t get out of the way and at the shards of chitin strewn around.

She shrugs.

“Meh, what’s few more holes at this point?” the leg heals immediately.

Wait, doesn’t the griffon have TWO shots?

*BLAM!*

One flies out of the doorway, this time hit directly into the chest.

“Ughhhh...” back in the hallway, she scrambles to all fours, “Alright, no more miss nice One.”

The griffon rushes out, kicking her away as he rumbles past her and into the next room. The sounds of shattering furniture are broken only by a fresh leonine roar:

“WHERE IS IT?!”

”One, Nine, let’s bait him into the armory like with the adventurers. That’s a decent place to fight.”

One gets up, and punches the griffon as he searches the fresh guest room, her petite hoof actually denting his armor.

The griffon slowly turns around, and pulls the largest mechanical contraption from his back. It looks like a box several hooves in size with a sawtoothed blade sticking out of it. He clicks a button, and the whole thing begins rumbling.

”Alright, I’m not dealing with a chainsaw in close range and without a proper amount of love,” One tosses a second door at the griffon whose new whirring weapon slices it to shreds mid-air as he runs after her.

Not even a minute later, Nine and I are setting up an ambush in the old armory. A bunch of ponnequins spread around the entrance, old weapons ready to be used, tables and shelves scattered everywhere to make the battle as hard for the griffon as possible. He’s fast, but not agile at all. Even Nine will have less trouble moving here than him.

When everything is ready, I’m waiting on the raised dais on the other end of the training grounds slash old armory from where supposedly instructors used to watch practicing soldiers. Nine is by the entrance, his chitin as reinforced as possible.

One kicks the front door open, flawlessly vaulting over the tables.

Behind her, everything starts breaking into dust and splinters as if a massive tree fell down in the middle of the forest, all punctuated by the roaring of the griffon’s weapon.

Then an unstoppable force meets previously immovable object in the form of Nine blocking the griffon’s path. The chainsaw screeches against Nine’s armor and stops in a shower of sparks. In the same second, the griffon puts it on the harness on his back while grabbing Nine’s neck with his other foreleg, and starts smashing his face into the nearest wall repeatedly.

“Nine!”

*Thud!*

“I’m-”

*Smack!*

“-okay-”

*Slam!*

“-for-”

*Crunch!*

“-now.”

The griffon grabs the nearest ponnequin by its neck too, and screams in its face:

“WHERE IS THE HOLY BLADE OF THE FIRST EMPEROR?!”

“One, what rumor did you spread to get ponies to come here?” I ask her as she’s standing by my side, watching the scene unfold.

“I wanted something super ancient that no one could track, and that would sound super cool! How was I supposed to know the griffon idiots REALLY lost it and would send a fully equipped Imperial Guard to get it back?!”

“Alright, alright. Warn everyone not to come back here for now and we’ll hide until he decides there’s not sword of whatever here-”

The regular beating of Nine’s head against the stone wall stops, followed by the noise of a giant hammer hitting a gong. The griffon flies across the room, crumbling into a heap by a wall before jumping back to all fours and then bringing the chainsaw back up.

As the dust settles around where he was a moment ago, I see Eight standing on her hind legs and slowly breathing out, her forelegs glowing green.

“Just in time, I see, my King,” she shoots One a smug smirk before tossing Nine all the way across the room towards us. The big warrior looks as if several buildings dropped on him, but stands up immediately.

“How are you feeling, Nine?”

“Scratched and a little dizzy, but mostly okay, King.”

The griffon charges at Eight, firing his pistol with zero effect as Eight’s chitin proves strong enough to deflect the bullets. It’s only a distraction, though, because when the griffon gets close enough, he swings his chainsaw which bites into Eight’s blocking foreleg. in horror, we all watch the spinning steel teeth break against the love-infused chitin, but slowly chew through despite the losses.

Eight’s severed foreleg hits the floor, her loss evened out by the chainsaw sputtering and stopping in a cloud of black smoke. Levitating her lost limb, Eight darts out of the room. The griffon punches off the head of the doorside pony statue and screams into its throat:

“WHERE IS THE BLADE?!”

”I’ve got an idea. Buy me time!” we hear Eight’s voice in our heads.

From the corner of my… mind, I see Eight put the severed foreleg against her stump and reattach it in a flash of green light. She shakes it, frowns and curses as pain shoots through her during her first few steps, and then bolts down the hallway.

“Time time time, buy some time...” I look around as the griffon examines his ruined chainsaw.

”One, what’s the chance that this overgrown chicken has actually SEEN the ancient sword?”

”In a picture maybe? Depends on when the Imperial idiots really lost it.”

Alright, time for a little gambit.

”One, Nine, save your strength and just follow me.”

Levitating up the least rusty looking of the ancient swords and making sure it glows in my telekinetic grip, I swing it, hoping it won’t break, and call out:

“YOU’LL NEVER GET THE-”

”What the hole did you call that thing, One?”

”The Holy Blade of the First Emperor.”

“-THE HOLY GRIFFON WHATEVER SWORD!”

”Our King thinking on the fly, everyone.”

”Shut up, One.”

The griffon’s eyes go wide behind the dust-covered visor, he opens his beak and screeches like a hunting eagle.

“Alright, RUN!” I don’t wait for One and Nine to react even for a second. If the stomping of the armored berserker isn’t enough of a clue for them, then nothing will be.

As we flee aimlessly through the castle hallways, followed by the hopefully slowly tiring out griffon, we hear Eight’s voice again:

”You’ll have to wound him somehow. He’s dumb as a brick. I saw him try to interrogate a some trees with cracks looking like faces on them out in the forest. Lead him to the throne room, it’s the next best place to fight.”

Slowing down to let the griffon catch up to us, we head to the upper throne room. Entering from a side entrance, I spot Eight already waiting by a load bearing pillar. She obviously wants to collapse the balcony on the enemy.

“Nine, help Eight,” I call out, and the warrior immediately joins her while One and I run towards the throne.

The griffon barrels through, Eight and Nine heave and immediately rush away to avoid the rain of crumbling masonry.

Rumbling of the shattered castle suffering one more wound eventually stops, and the clouds of dust settle.

“I kinda didn’t want to kill him, Eight...” I mutter.

“Good,” she doesn’t let her eyes wander from the heap of rubble.

A heap of rubble which suddenly shifts.

“You have got to be kidding me...” my jaw drops.

With a grunt, the largest flat chunk of the balcony moves. First tentatively, then with more and more force.

“There’s a good reason Griffon Imperial Legion soldiers are the most terrifying fighting force in the world. Emperor’s personal guard, however, looks like they’re on a completely different level,” even One raises an eyebrow, clearly impressed, “Now this is a toy I’d like to keep.”

“NOPE!”

“Hmph, thought so. I bet Eight could get one if she wanted, though...” she mumbles, sulking.

“A bit tougher than I thought, but we’re getting there, I think,” Eight watches the griffon in his now scratched and dented armor rise from the ruins, “One, I think I need your help. Do you have something with range in your repertoire?”

“I’m not exactly an offensive mage, but I can cook something up.”

“Good, wait for a clear shot.”

“Wait, I’ve got an idea that might not involve anyone killing anyone,” I levitate the ornamental sword again and almost physically feel the griffon’s eyes on it, “Hey, soldier!” with all my strength, I slash at the stone throne, which the old rusty sword doesn’t handle well and breaks into pieces, “There’s no sword here anymore, so you can go home.”

Eight facehoofs.

“That was so… dumb...” adds One.

“GRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!”

Umm… I goofed.

Like a boulder rolling through a tunnel, the griffon clears the distance between us, and rips the throne out of the floor.

Nine blocks the first swing of the new marble weapon which makes him fly off, chitin cracked and shattered now.

“One, now!” orders Eight as the griffon raises himself onto his hind legs to swing again.

A thin beam of green light from One’s horn pierces the armor as well as the griffon who winces and barely rolls out of the way as he drops the heavy throne, one foreleg stopping the bleeding. However, he’s soon back on all fours when he realizes that despite being shot clean through, the wound is nowhere near fatal.

“Good, now run!” Eight waves her hoof, and helps Nine get up as I and One flee once more. When she sees the griffon follow, she drops something, “Ah damn it! Not the instant healing potion!”

The griffon picks up the dropped big syringe filled with red fluid, and jams it into his foreleg without a second thought.

He takes several steps towards us.

Slower and slower.

Then he collapses.

Eight counts to ten, then takes a long breath and closes her eyes, leading the way back to the throne room with the now unconscious griffon.

I walk over as quietly as I can, and pick up the syringe. The word ‘HEALTH+’ is written on it, followed by the picture of a red heart with a smiley face.

“Eight?” I levitate it over to her, where she plucks it from the air.

“I had to write it in big letters, plus add the picture. I wasn’t sure he could read. It’s changeling tranquilizing venom and a bit of pony blood for the colour.”

“Where did you get it?”

“From the weird pony I brought. He likes tomatoes and when I inject venom into him. As much as I dislike farming, gotta have my own sources to refill from,” Eight shrugs as if anything that’s just happened was normal.

Eh, who am I to judge at this point?

One puts her horn to the griffon’s forehead, and focuses. Not even a minute later, which we spend by breathing heavily and hoping the crazy griffon won’t wake up, One raises her head again.

“I messed up with his head a little, birdbrains are easy. He’ll report to his superiors that there’s nothing inside this castle and that the Blade of the First Emperor had been moved to the Dragon Lands long time ago. He can go piss off dragons as much as he wants, that’ll teach him to ignore my seduction attempts...” she chuckles. Borderline crazy villain behaviour aside, that’s actually a good idea.

To my utter horror, Eight then flicks One’s horn with her foreleg.

“Looks like I outsmarted the number one infiltrator of the hive,” she gives One the smuggest grin I’ve ever seen.

One bares her needle-like teeth, and for a second I expect her to lunge at Eight. In the end she just says:

“Looks like neither of us could outfight a dumb, overgrown catbird straight up.”

Eight growls, and I can sense that both of them are genuinely mad…

...however, not at each other, but at themselves.

As the heavy silence and feelings of inadequacy linger, I tap my hoof against the griffon’s armor.

“We could use this, right, so that we don’t need to waste energy on reinforcing our chitin?”

Eight walks over, examining the sturdy platemail.

“Hmph, not really. It’s too big for me, on top of being so heavy that wearing it would drain me more than carapace reinforcement. Plus the strength I’d need to wear it without slowing me down. I’m naturally not built for something that useless,” she raises her eyebrow, “The flower pot, though… hey!”

Nine joins us, apparently not minding Eight’s nickname for him at all.

“Strip him,” Eight nods towards the griffon, and watches Nine take the soldiers armor off, ready to attack the griffon in case he proves resistant even to changeling venom. When Nine is done, One shows him how to put the heavy armor on.

“Nine’s innately stronger than I am, so he doesn’t need love for the power enhancements I use,” Eight taps her foreleg against the armored changeling, “How is it, draining?”

Nine walks around, trots for few seconds, then gives the air few experimental punches.

“A little. I can get used to it, though.”

“Catch!” One tosses him the griffon’s two-handed sword which Nine levitates up.

A slow, heavy swing later Nine adds:

“I will need practice.”

“You’ll get more than enough. The forest is a good place for it,” she suddenly grins, eyeing the griffon’s broken chainsaw, “One, any ideas how to fix that beauty?”

“I can ask around Ponyville,” One shrugs, casually levitating the griffon’s twin pistols, “I’ll need someone to make holsters for these anyway. Shotgun, King?” she winks at me.

My stomach revolves when I imagine what shooting that thing would do to a living, unarmored creature.

“No, thanks, and keep those away from Three. He’s curious about new things. We don’t want to be using any of those anyway. We don’t want to kill anyone, remember?”

One kicks the now stripped and incredibly muscular griffon.

“The fact that we all DO remember is lying here, King. If we wanted him straight up dead, he would be.”

Eight nods.

”Eight, will you be mad if I do this?”

I send her a little fraction of a mental picture.

”Maybe only a little,” she answers in my head, ”But go for it, I think she earned this one. Besides, I’m always up for a chuckle.”

“One?” I face the changeling.

“Yes?” she raises an eyebrow.

“Thank you for the help,” I nuzzle her nose, and watch the blush creep up her chitin as her eyes dart repeatedly from me to snickering Eight, “even if the succubus disguise didn’t work.”

One vanishes.

“Umm, One?” I ask the empty air, and feel my attempts at mental contact fizzle.

Eight puts her foreleg on my shoulder.

“She’s okay. She just needs some time to think.”

I give her a puzzled look.

“Did I do something wrong? I thought she’d be happy because she always said she wanted-”

I’m suddenly breathing into Eight’s hoof.

“I think you did everything just right, our King of Hearts.”

Author's Note:

FINE, FINE, serious chapters will resume with the next one. :facehoof:

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