• Published 17th Jul 2017
  • 3,976 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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52: Seeking victi- customers

The King raised his foreleg. Green fire sprouted from all around his fetlock, forming a burning blade.

“We didn’t want things to end like this. Eight, deal with the paladins.”

“With pleasure,” she growled, “Show me what you got, hornheads.”

The female warrior pounced at the trio, Celestia teleported straight behind the King, and Scathing Review hid behind Firm Fair on reflex, which the mare answered with a disgusted frown.

The King, facing the alicorn, bared his fangs in a cruel grin.

“You will become a perfect addition to my hive after your mind breaks from being a toy for all my changelings.”

He had to immediately jump away as a blast of golden light shattered the ground where he’d stood an instant ago. The princess didn’t relent in her physical and magical assault, immediately using her wings to cover the gained ground and swing the halberd at the King. Firm Fair gasped when sparks flew as the changeling blocked the blow about to slash him in half with his own magical edge.

“We gotta help somehow!” hissed Review.

“Then stop hiding and watching my backside,” Fair answered, still frowning.

That’s all the time she had before one of the paladins landed in front of her, and the female changeling called… Eight straight on him.

“Aaah!” Firm Fair recoiled and backed off over Review who got very intimately acquainted with earthpony plot when Eight snapped her jaws at her. Sensing no threat from the civilians, Eight quickly buried her fangs into the paladin’s neck before rolling to the side to avoid another blast of white light from the second one.

Unfortunately, while Celestia held her own and pressured the King hard, the now solitary paladin had no chance against the changeling warrior. Few punches later, his helmet flew away, and his neck got acquainted with Eight’s fangs as well.

“Rise, my slaves,” she laughed.

The two paladins rose like zombies, their eyes glowing with green hue.

“RUN AWAY! INFORM MY SISTER!” was all Celestia could shout before being struck to the side so hard she crashed against the cavern wall, one of her wings now bent out of shape. She wiped a stream of blood from her mouth, “FLEE, YOU FOOLS!”

That was the last straw.

Seeing their princess battered and bleeding as well as the two paladins slowly but steadily walking towards them, the trio of critics followed Sharp Tongue’s lead and broke into gallop.

“The princess came that way,” Sharp Tongue pointed his horn towards a hopefully empty tunnel from which Celestia had arrived, “it should lead outside!”

“But the princ-” Scathing Review looked back one final time, and pure horror made way on his face as he saw the King’s burning blade hit the princess’ side, cleaving the armor in a splatter of blood. One whimper later, he was following Firm Fair’s tail through the dimly lit tunnel.

Eventually, all noises but their hoofsteps and heavy breathing died down, and the group realized they got lost again… if they ever actually had the right direction. In another cavern, this one with a central pillar leading all the way up instead of a simple stalagmite, they finally stopped, listening intently.

Buzzing and distant hoofsteps, that was all they could head. No imminent danger.

“Let’s… try to be… quiet now...” Review gasped for breath, “We don’t know… where we’re… running...”

“I’m all for… the sneaky… approach,” agreed Sharp Tongue.

“You’re seriously out of shape,” muttered the only earthpony of the group, giving them a soft smile to raise the morale, “but you’re right. Stomping around isn’t the best way. Unfortunately, I think we got turned around somewhere because now that I’ve got a moment to think of it I'm sure the last tunnel was sloping downwards.”

“Damn it!” cursed Review, kicking the central pillar. Sharp Tongue smacked the pegasus’ head.

“No. Noise.”

Doing their best not to panic or break down, the group examined each tunnel leading out, and discovered one leading upwards which they hadn’t arrived through. Unfortunately…

“No...” Review breathed out, despair in his voice gaining traction, “No no no no no.”

In the next cavern hung another changeling cocoon, this one shiny, crystalline, and most importantly - fresh. Inside it, in a green bath, floated princess Celestia, head down and lifeless.

“Maybe we can get her out,” Firm Fair tapped on the cocoon, cocked her foreleg back, and punched it as hard as she could.

It didn’t budge at all.

“I’m pretty sure they’ll take more precautions with her than they did with you,” commented Review.

“Oh shut up, you nitwit. I haven’t seen you do anything other than whine today,” growled Firm Fair at the pegasus.

“Calm down, both of you,” Sharp Tongue scowled, “Nothing changes. We still need to get out, and as the princess said - tell princess Luna what happened. Look!” his erratic head turning revealed several pickaxes, a hammer, and some other tools likely used for mining, not that he knew how they were supposed to be used, but they looked weapon-y.

“Uhh… how about no?” objected Review, “As we noticed before, there can’t be many changelings, but those who are here just took out a princess and two paladins. I doubt we can fight our way out, by which I mean that trying it would be the dumbest and probably the last idea we have. Plus, running or sneaking while lugging around a sledgehammer is definitely the zero out of ten option.”

Firm Fair rolled her eyes, and grabbed said implement. It was heavy, but not overwhelming, and it would definitely help “explain” things in case they found some weaker changeling or a blocked door.

“Hit a gym sometimes, Review. Besides, how about we try this?” she rose on her hind legs, and swung the weapon at Celestia’s cocoon. It started swaying violently, but after they made it stop it was barely scratched.

Sharp Tongue shook his head.

“This could work, but you’d get exhausted before someone came to check up on her.”

“Too late, snacks!” a cheery voice came from one tunnel, revealing the maniacally grinning changeling warrior Eight, “And put that sledgehammer down, those toys aren’t for foals,” she walked over to Celestia’s cocoon, and gave it a long lick, “Mmmm… the love she feels for all you ponies is making me stronger than ever before. I just have to suck her dry few more times before we turn her into one of us,” she gave the cocoon a final kiss, “Alright, you aren’t alicorns, but I think I can squeeze a lot from you three anyway, especially the young one. Let me offer you something. You come with me willingly and I’ll show you the time of your life. On top of that, you’ll buy your friends some time to run around like headless chickens.”

Review, shaken from the display with Celestia already, was halfway through saying yes before everything suddenly spun around. Stunned, he touched his stinging cheek and looked into furious Firm Fair’s eyes.

“Don’t trust her, you horny id- colt.”

And then they galloped again. Tunnel after tunnel, cavern after cavern they followed Firm Fair’s lead so that they’d keep heading upwards. Buzzing and hoofsteps behind them gave them previously undiscovered strength as they ran for their lives.

“Good… the ground is softer,” Firm Fair called out in between breaths, “We must be close.”

As if on cue, they arrived in another cavern, this one with actual stairs leading up from the exit on the other side. Unfortunately once again…

“You didn’t think you could run, really…?” grinning Eight was already waiting there.

Unlike the others, Firm Fair didn’t slow down.

“RUN, JUST BUCKING RUN!”

Eight raised an eyebrow at the silly earthpony trying to run past her, then her eyes bulged when Firm Fair’s entire weight along with the hammer rammed into her.

“Firm Fair-” Sharp Tongue croaked, gasping.

“RUN STRAIGHT UP!” she screamed, and found herself looking into the most beautiful dark green eyes she’d ever seen.

“Mmmm,” she heard a voice that resonated through her head, crept down her spine, and all the way through her body, making her limbs go limp, “All mine. I appreciate strong earthpony broodmares, and I’ll make sure to ‘appreciate’ you every single day for years to come.”

Calm, warm, happy, and ready to begin her new life as Eight's egg sack, Firm Fair completely forgot her family and kissed the changeling.

Finally seeing a door, Sharp Tongue rammed through it, and found himself in what had to be some sort of a dark cellar. Review collapsed on the floor next to him, unable to run anymore. Unlike the tunnels, this place lacked any sort of illumination, crystals or otherwise.

The unicorn felt something strange in his horn, and as he touched it he realized that some of the goop neutralizing his magic must have finally fallen off. He couldn’t focus properly in his shape, but he might-

“Waaaaait!” he heard Firm Fair’s voice coming from the tunnel.

“How stupid do you think I am, bugs?” he grumbled, and concentrated as much as he could.

-cast some minor offensive spell.

A purple bolt of force hit Firm Fair in the chest, making her slow down.

“What... are you... doing?” gasped Review.

“Smart hornhead, but not smart enough,” not-Firm Fair grinned, and rushed forward again.

“Damn!” cursed Sharp Tongue a moment before Review slammed the door closed and rammed a metal bar into two hinges on this side of the door to stop it from opening, “Oh, well noticed!”

“Yeah… now how do we… escape?” Review’s breathing was slowly calming down.

“There’s a chance we locked most of the changelings down there, and I can use my magic a little. If we’re inside the house, we can get out. The place looked tiny from outside.”

“Alright, alright.”

With the help of a faint light spell, Sharp Tongue found the thankfully unlocked door outside, and shut the magic off immediately when he saw complete darkness in the hallway outside.

One silent step. Two silent steps.

The floor was carpeted, which meant they had to be in the main hallway. Just one door had to lay between them and freedom. The changelings wouldn’t follow them in the streets, even at night. Las Pegasus never went dark outside.

Glowing blue eyes opened about a pony length away from Sharp Tongue.

“No!” yelped Review, pouncing forward and tackling a finally pony-sized and confused changeling revealed by a reactive flash of light from Sharp Tongue’s horn.

“The door! Run!” screamed the unicorn, shoving the pegasus off of the changeling and quickly helping him get up.

The locks and latches were all open.

Freedom. Finally, freedom!

Scathing Review followed by Sharp Tongue crashed through the door.

“Say cheeselegs!”

Three flashes of totally mundane light from all sides blinded the duo surrounded by a group of… ponies?

No, they couldn’t be ponies. There was no way they were ponies. No way. No way. No way.

Completely stumped, Sharp Tongue levitated a presented photo of himself and Review, utter horror mixed with relief etched deep into their face.

They weren’t outside. Instead, they were in some sort of a… night club? Stage with poles, tables scattered around the dimly lit room, and…

...of course, the ponies surrounding them and grinning.

“So, did you like it?” asked a mare Sharp Tongue faintly recalled being the receptionist.

“Wh- Whu- What?”

“The ‘Adventure Under The Hive’... adventure,” said the King, slowly arriving through the backstage door, “The title is a work in progress. Hey, Black Rose, come help me get this thing off, will you?” he shook his forelegs, pawing at his neck, “Stuck again… crappy Stalliongrad design.”

“Waaaaaaait...” Review’s eye twitched as his mind gradually caught up with the situation.

“Awww, I wish I could have been in the photo,” the duo heard Firm Fair’s voice as the mare reclined in a chair while sipping some dark drink through a straw and smirking at one of the pictures of the horrified duo, “but alas, I had to be the hero, didn’t I?”

“Firm Fair?” Sharp Tongue walked over and poked the mare in the chest.

“It’s me, it’s me for real,” she swatted his hoof away, and pointed to an empty chair, “Long Island ice tea? I think you need something for the nerves. We all do.”

“HEY, BOSS!” an arriving unicorn mare yelled across the room, dragging a green and slimy princess Celestia… plush toy? “This will cost a fortune to clean, can we let it just hang there for the next groups?”

“We’ll have to rethink the Celestia and paladin sequence, but yeah!” the ‘changeling’ still fighting with his suit answered.

“Hey there,” a newcomer brown pegasus mare who could easily pass for a strong fitness model pulled a chair, and sat down to the group with her own Long Island, “So, did you have fun?”

“You must be Eight,” Firm Fair looked into her green eyes, “Look, umm, I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me and-”

“Black Rose, but Eight is alright too,” the mare smiled at Firm Fair, and waved her hoof dismissively, “and don’t worry about what happened ‘under the hive’. Heh, name drop. Life threatening situation, high pressure, lust-obsessed species, all's fair down there, as we say.”

“This… was all… fake...” Review finally stumbled over into the final empty chair, “Can I have a drink too?”

“Are you over eighteen?” Black Rose raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, I am.”

“He is,” nodded Firm Fair, “although you’d never guess from how he acts.”

“Hey!”

“Four, one more Long Island here, will you?” Black Rose leaned back in her chair and yelled.

“On it!” answered the receptionist, walking over to the bar where a unicorn was already pouring quite liberal quantities of alcohol into a tall glass with ice and straws.

“Eeeeeight! I don’t want to be a changeling for the rest of my life,” the King was now apparently trying to pry his head off.

Chuckling, Black Rose or Eight stood up, and whispered into Firm Fair’s ear:

“Though if you want something new we can do some cave exploration together in private.”

Seeing the earthpony choke on her drink, Black Rose left laughing, and led the desperate King out.

The receptionist slash waitress brought Review’s nerve tonic, and was stopped from leaving by Sharp Tongue’s hoof.

“Can I help you?” she asked, clearly a little nervous.

“The changelings...”

“Umm, I don’t know into how much detail I can go, but aside from the boss it was all illusion magic, that’s why we couldn’t let you use your magic. Speaking of which,” she spat on a piece of cloth and rubbed Sharp Tongue’s horn. The unicorn felt his magic sense and power return immediately, “Here, good as new. You too, sir,” she did the same to the green hoop around Review’s barrel, which broke in one spot, and then took it off. Review stretched his wings.

“Ooof, I finally feel like a real pony again. So, what now?”

“Well, if you want to stay and chat about our attraction a bit you can, but we need to clean up the cellars and get mentally ready for your opinions.”

Sharp Tongue sipped his drink.

“Then I think I’ll polish off this one and go. I’m a bit old to be running around like that.”

“You did great,” Four smiled and left.

Review relaxed in his chair, and took a deep sip.

“I think I speak for all of us when I say… holy shit!”

***

It’s been a nerve-wracking week. For the first three days, Eight and Nine have been standing guard while One patrolled the streets around the house. Afterwards, I decided on resuming our normal operations. After all, the more love and lust we gathered, the better off we would be in case something really happened.

Right now, I’m digging the first escape tunnel designed by Ten which leads straight out of Las Pegasus. We’ve got several connected to various cellars or sewers of the city, but this one will be the direct route out.

”Hey, boss!” Four’s gentle touch reverberates through our link, ”I’m almost home, and I’ve got the new issue of City of Gold. I didn’t look inside yet, I swear.”

Wiping my brow, I leave the tunnels, and get back into the house where I see undisguised Four already entering the club room.

“So, anything about us?” I ask as the little changeling drops her saddlebag on the table, and levitates a rolled up magazine.

“Let’s see, let’s see,” she flips the pages, “So, number one… Sunshine’s Solar Sanctuary. Alright, we’re not number one, so who cares. Number two, Pelvis’ Palace. No,” Four stops, and a sudden wide smile threatens the top of her head falling off, “Number three, Adventure Under the Hive,” she scans the page long review and the experiences of the critics, “Excellent, daring idea… changeling costumes astonishingly accurate, but over the top… chitin plots don’t jiggle that much… makes evil Eight look more like a trophy bimbo than a savage warrior...”

“Bimbo, BIMBO?!” Eight’s eyes bulge, “Unbelievable costume?”

“Told you in Canterlot already that your transformations were overdone, miss Eight,” Four sticks her tongue out at Eight.

“I’m still peeved about this...” Ten shakes the Celestia plushie standing next to his chair. Sadly, the alicorn even while dry would now easily hide in a forest or grassland unlike the real princess.

“Uhh, maybe they’ll make a moss green alicorn at some point?” chuckles Four.

“Hmph, gimme that!” sulking Ten makes the magazine fly over to him, “Realistic sense of danger… can’t trust even your own companions… not sure if worth coming more times, but one hundred percent once, though... ah here! We eagerly recommend this to any and all ponies in good shape. Recommended age rating - thirteen to sixty-five. Four stars out of five. All three critics agree that this adventure will get your heart rate up and leave you with an experience you will unlikely forget,” Ten allows himself a smile too, “Well done, everyone, I suppose. Ruined plushie or not.”

Suddenly, I feel energy rising and pouring through our links.

“They loved us, they loved us, theylovedustheylovedus!” Four gives Eight standing next to her a crushing hug which surprises even the warrior, “They loved us for us, they loved us for what we were!”

And it comes.

All my links flare up with the purest love for all of us coming from the tiny infiltrator. In front of my eyes, I feel it rush into Ten, his entire body glowing, his wings losing holes and gaining colour as well as his chitin turning grass green. Same thing happens to Nine as his eyes turn bright purple.

Then One smacks Four in the back of her head, and transformations and everything other than the warm flow of pure love stops.

“No one’s getting glitterbugged on my watch,” One says simply, much to Eight’s vigorous nodding.

“What are you talking about? Why did everyone look so colourful for a while?” I ask.

“You don’t wanna know. It’s fate worse than death,” answers Eight, and this time it’s One who nods in agreement.

You know what? I’m too happy to care at the moment, especially on the occasion when Eight and One see eye to eye on something.

Huh?

I lean down to Eight’s forelegs and examine them from all sides.

“Eight, you don’t have holes anymore. None of you do.”

A horrified expression crosses Eight’s face before she grins.

“Still got the important ones, my delicious lover. Wanna give them a spin?”

“This is… intriguing,” One hums, “Wistful’s original changelings didn’t have them, they started appearing in later generations. However,” in a burst of green fire, she makes holes in her forelegs reappear, “life without cup holders isn’t life worth living,” she pops a glass of soda into the hole and takes a sip.

“Why are you looking at me like that? Three did have some great ideas.”

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