• Published 12th Dec 2018
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Child of the Invasion - Starscribe

The changeling army has taken control of Canterlot. While their queen secures her grip over this newly captured territory, what happens to the drones who made up her army?

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Chapter 1: "H"

Even after hours of assault on the surface, her eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the brilliance of sunlight. Everything was washed out, colors drained away to a few feeble pastels.

She was one drone among hundreds of thousands, a creature of black chitin and sharp teeth. She could fly, without having ever been taught to fly. There were others in the air beside her—creatures that were like her and also nothing alike. They were so much bigger than she was, and every time they spoke the things they said were so complicated that she had to strain her mind to understand.

Below them was food, she understood that much. From the first instant of her existence until the present moment there had been hunger in the back of her mind, and that hunger hadn’t ever been sated. But here at last was enough to eat, enough for numberless brothers and sisters.

There were so many others like her that they darkened the sky over the food-place, so many that she hadn’t been able to see the pink-thing until it was nearly her turn to go against it.

She felt it before she saw it, an energy that was like food but much less friendly. It glowed soft pink, visible even with the huge cloud of her kind covering up the sun.

They flew down in ranks, and the group ahead of her began lining up. She saw the resolve on their faces, felt their hunger as fierce as her own. The queen had promised food, and it was down there. They would bring it.

She formed her own line, ready with the next rank, next in line to attack.

One of those who was like her but not like her hovered in the air beside it all, not in any rank. Was that right? How was he brave enough not to fly in line? “Attack,” he ordered, and the group flew down towards the pink-thing.

The air was filled with an acrid burning as the sisters in front of her attacked. She saw it, saw their bodies go from healthy black to crumbling, empty black, blown away on the wind and leaving only a terrible cloud in the air behind them.

It was not a pink-thing at all, it was a death-thing.

“Forward!” commanded the one who was not like her. And she obeyed, just as all her brothers and sisters obeyed. She looked for fear in their faces, wondering if they had been watching when she watched. Didn’t they care? The death-thing hadn’t moved, and they were going to attack it! This wasn’t food!

But if they were afraid, they were better at hiding it than she was. Not one of them floated out of line, not even an inch. In their scents, she could detect only their hunger.

“Attack!” called the voice that wasn’t hers. They came down.

She followed with them, though she didn’t know why. Maybe because she knew she didn’t have anywhere else to fly—or maybe she hoped that the promise made to her would be kept.

It was. She heard squeals of pain from around her, and saw the most eager of the flyers blow away in the wind as so many before. But then the pink stopped glowing. For a few seconds it looked like the inside of a cocoon, without any of the light illuminating it and burning everyone who touched. Then it started to crumble away. Huge chunks tumbled down, and her weak eyes were able to settle on the thing that was beyond it.

Air went on for ages, though not as far as the trip here had taken. But down there, way down there, she saw shapes. Blocky, orderly shapes, like the inside of the hive but dryer and not inside. And all around them, just like the voice had promised… was food.

She no longer thought. There was food down there, and the voice beside her commanding everyone to attack. But she would have attacked even without the voice—and if it had told her to stop, she probably would’ve attacked the voice too.

They descended on the food-place.

It was not a conscious state that she existed in during the assault, for she had yet to ever be conscious. She joined with thousands of others, expecting an easy meal—but just like the death-thing, being big didn’t mean it was easy.

There was food in the food-place, but also lots of hard-shapes that didn’t want them to have food. Some of them had sharp sticks, some of them had pieces of wood that made other sharp sticks fly through the air. Some of them got really hot and burned away at you just like the death-thing.

When she saw one of the hard-shapes, she pulled back, letting the swarm fly around her and descend on them. But while many of the others didn’t seem to care as dozens of them died to bring down a single shape, she didn’t want to be first anymore. If she could have a little less food but not have to fight the hard-shapes, that was a trade she would happily take.

The bodies of the ones like her soon covered the streets, beaten off by the tens and hundreds. But there were always more—the swarm went on forever. Eventually all the hard-shapes were captured or eaten, and all the food-place was theirs.

It was a good night for her. She had been part of the first wave into the city, everyone knew it, and that made her important. All who had come before had died, but her group had made it in for everyone.

She got to eat near the highest part of the food-place, where the shapes glowed all night and were made of the cleanest rocks. It was a good place, and she felt full.

When the morning came, she was hungry again. She rose from where she’d slept, surrounded by hundreds of other survivors of her group, and just listened. Now that she’d eaten for the first time, she didn’t feel so afraid that she wouldn’t get food again. The queen had promised them they would have food forever if they took the food-place, and here they were. Life would be perfect forever.

I wonder what makes the bigger ones different, she thought, for the first time in her brief existence.

She watched the ones who had given her group commands the day before, watched and listened but didn’t try to find more food.

They were speaking to each other, and neither of them was hurrying off to obey. Why?

She found she knew the meaning of their words in the same way she knew how to fly, though she couldn’t have explained where either had come from. Certainly she’d never been taught.

“The queen wants the upper district secured against the return of the Equestrian army,” said one of the ones who was like her. Except he was much taller than she was, and the others responded to him with fear every time he gave them a command.

“Yes, Pharynx. I have just the drones in mind for the task.”

“Good. Do not disappoint me, Hydrus. Our queen lost many in her council. There may be a place waiting for you when the dust settles.”

That was it, the thing they had that she didn’t. A name. But where did one get a name? Maybe she could ask?

She waited until the one called Pharynx had flown back to the massive stone and glass thing, before rising from where she was hiding and crossing quickly over. Her little wings buzzed nervously behind her—none of the others were asking questions, they were sleeping off the glut of food they’d consumed the night before.

But she hadn’t fought as hard, so she hadn’t eaten as much. It didn’t matter if they got to grow a little bigger than she did. They were all one swarm anyway, weren’t they? “Hi.” Her throat felt strange, like she was doing something she shouldn’t. But the others spoke, and if she wanted to be like them, she had to speak too.

The one that was like her but not was different than her in other ways, she now noticed. He wasn’t naked like her, but wore something shiny around his chest. It was like the thing the hard-shapes wore, that stopped teeth and kicks for a while. This one hadn’t been broken into little pieces or dented so bad it couldn’t be worn.

“Hi.” His eyes seemed to focus on her for the first time in her life. Actually it was the first time anyone had. “Sleep with the others. When the sun is up, we will have more to do.”

“Can I have a name?” she asked. “I want to be called something, like you are called Hydrus.”

He frowned, and she could smell his discontent. He was bored with her already. But she remained where she was, despite the risk. If she angered him, something terrible might happen. But if she left too early, she wouldn’t get a name.

“I will call you… H,” he said. “Now rest. We fight again soon.”

H could almost feel it then—like food, except it came from one like her. How could that be?

H turned away from Hydrus, hurrying back out of his sight to the place she’d slept.

It was the inside of a place that lots of food had been visiting when they attacked, a place with glass on the front and little tables with squishy things inside. The soft things had been comfortable, so her brothers and sisters pulled them all onto the floor to make a nice place to sleep. H returned to the warmth of the room, but she didn’t try to sleep again.

She had a name now, the first thing that made her different from the big ones. What was next? Should she try to get some of the hard-thing for herself? Was there any small enough?

She didn’t want to ask Hydrus, not with how annoyed he had been just to have her nearby. But maybe she could find someone else.

She watched the room for movement, and saw another drone rising as she had. But where she had gone out of the room and wanted to look and listen, this one was only going to the smaller room in the back, where water came out of the wall when you pulled. She was just thirsty.

H followed her anyway. “Hey,” she squeaked, as quiet as she could. “Do you have a name?”

The drone stopped, glancing at her with obvious confusion. “More… food?” she asked, her voice straining with every syllable.

“I don’t think that’s your name.”

“Thirsty,” the drone said, turning away and pushing the door to the wet-place open. She pulled on the wall, then held her face under the water as it came out. “And tired. Go.”

H went, even if she didn’t want to. Why doesn’t anyone else care? The big ones tell us what to do. Don’t they want to be like them? Apparently not.

A smell of command rose from the space outside their shelter, and drones began to rise. Out of every makeshift nest they came, much less ferocious than they had been the day before.

“Everyone listen!” Hydrus called, hovering in the air above them all. He spoke with such command that H listened as intently as all the others, even if she hid in back like she had the night before. “We won, but we aren’t done working. There are still places where ponies are hiding, places where they fight. We’re going to find all their places, and bring them all out.”

“More food?” someone asked.

“More food,” Hydrus called back. “Last night was good, but we have to manage our food. Don’t worry, our queen will show us the way. All you have to do is come with me, and fight like you did last night.”

They obeyed. They didn’t know anything else to do—the ones who were like them and not like them smelled like they knew. Of course the rest would listen.

“Are you H?” asked a voice from behind her. It was a male this time, a little bigger than she was but not much. “I am K. Hydrus wants you to fly with us.” He pointed, at the little group of drones that flew close behind Hydrus. Every one of the same-but-different had them, and she hadn’t known why until now.

Now she did. She had a name. She was becoming like them. H beamed back at K, nodding eagerly. “I will.” And she followed.

The food-place was the best thing that had ever happened to them. It would only get better.

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