• 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 4: Feast

“That sword… it’s yours now,” Hydrus said, as soon as his entourage were done encouraging her. But for all their support, none of them had done anything for Dark’s fallen body. “Here, the scabbard.”

Hydrus removed a belt from the dead guard, made of the same gold-looking metal as the hilt of the sword. He settled it around her, tightening it until it held fast without constricting her wings. “It’s been a long time since I first killed. I wish I could remember. But now you can.”

He turned away, leaving H with a sword in her magic, surrounded by the dead.

She didn’t want the sword, and from the way it felt the sword didn’t want her either. It seemed that neither of them would get what they wanted.

H wasn’t ordered to extract the ponies from any more of their nests, though there were a few more close calls. Hydrus kept drones closer to them for the other homes, and whenever ponies fought back he just sent them in and let more die.

They don’t even care. H could see their numbers going down, but the drones didn’t care about it anymore than Hydrus did. Why don’t they care? Maybe there was more to death than she realized. She would have to find someone to ask about it.

A few hours later, and they were moved down into the lower city to watch over the food. They had found a huge round building to keep them all in, covered with almost as much fancy glass and stone as the castle. But none of that mattered to H.

“We can’t trust the drones in here…” he explained, as he led the others through the huge building. H wanted to stop and look at the huge stone sticks holding it up, or the images on the walls. This place had even more books than the last nest she had been inside. “The food… drives them crazy. And if they kill one by mistake, the prisoners will all panic.”

They reached a real nest that looked like it had been recently attached, some of the slime still sticky and soft. There were pony containers piled inside, many of them bigger than she was.

“And here they are…” Hydrus announced, as they got closer. The little nest had a lowered front, and the food lined up in front of it. Inside were a few like her, and… food. They weren’t trapped, weren’t tied up or shackled or anything.

H watched as a pony made it to the front of the line, said something. The pony in the nest made a few marks, then gestured. The drones with them brought out a little sack of something brown from a barrel of plant parts, and gave it to the pony. Then they left, scurrying away as fast as a drone after their first molt.

“Why are we letting them do that?”

“Because these ponies are sensible,” Hydrus said. “They cooperated with us when we took the university. A few of them even made the fight easier. Besides, do you know how much plant each one needs? There’s only so much in the city, and we can’t let it run out too soon.”

He spent a few minutes explaining what most of them would do, guarding the checkpoint and following instructions and mainly stopping the food from stealing. But while he gave instructions to most of them, he never said her name. Eventually all of them but her had been given their assignments, and wandered off. Only when he was finished did Hydrus turn on her.

“I had to pull some strings for this, H. You’re going to owe me for the rest of eternity when it’s done.”

“When… it’s…” she repeated. “What?”

“Follow me.” He took off, shoving past crowds of the captured food. They weren’t all restrained in here—it looked like they’d been separated. Up here were the ones that hadn’t fought back, left to more or less do what they wanted within the confines of their containment. But for as many of them as she saw, H didn’t feel like there was very much food. Not compared to the first night, when everyone got to eat as much as they wanted. How could she be surrounded by food and still feel hungry?

But she didn’t ask—Hydrus had that look he always had when he would get angry if she asked, so she kept quiet.

They passed down some stairs, where the hallways had all gone dark. But her eyes could still see fine, or at least well enough not to smack into the walls.

There were ponies down here too, locked in littler rooms, each one chained and trapped. This group looked stronger, and every now and then she could hear angry noises drifting down on them from the distance.

“Troublemakers,” she whispered. “These are the… bad ones. The ones you said I should kill, right?”

“Some of them,” he agreed. “But killing is only one solution to the problem. Sometimes there is something strong in the enemy, and we can take it for ourselves. That’s the way changelings have always been, H. We don’t need fate to give us things, we take them.”

The dark hallway ended in a gaping hole that had once been a door, covered with the slime of an interior nest. The warm green glow was almost enough to make her forget about the dead pony.

Then they stepped into the room. At first H thought it was a nest—there were cocoons covering the ceiling, each one of them attached to the thick green slime coating every surface in the room. It looked like it had held pony machines once, but now it was a nursery.

Except she could see none of the cells that larvae would’ve been growing in, couldn’t feel their wiggling through her hooves.

The cocoons on the ceiling were massive, bigger than she was. Big enough to hold a pony.

The floor wasn’t empty either. There weren’t chains, but instead a large metal cage that looked like it could come apart. And there was a pony inside.

It looked older, like the stallion she’d killed, but way weaker. It curled up in fear, hiding behind a few little pieces of glass on metal wire right in front of its face.

“Some enemies are too dangerous to let live,” Hydrus said, stopping in front of the cage. “But too valuable to waste. Do you see what this place is for?”

She tried to understand. It was something to do with food, certainly. Food, and the cocoons attached to the ceiling over her head. But how could those concepts be connected?

She shook her head. “That one doesn’t look like good food. Don’t you need more than one to eat anything?”

“Sometimes.” Hydrus turned to face her. “This isn’t any kind of feeding you’ve done before, H. This is a rare privilege. I could’ve claimed it for myself. But I didn’t, and I’ll expect gratitude. Once you’re… capable.”

“There’s really… no need for all of this,” came the tiny voice from within the cage. He had none of the courage that the stallion earlier today had. If she swung her sword at him, he’d probably just curl over and wait to die. “I can keep my mouth shut, honestly. The Hippology department barely even knew I worked here. They certainly didn’t know I studied mythical creatures! If my name meant anything, Canterlot would’ve been prepared for you, but here we are. There’s no need.”

“Quiet!” Hydrus banged against the cage, enough that the stallion lowered his head with a whimper. “You’ve been selected for a rare privilege. Your knowledge of our kind will serve the swarm now.”

H watched, confused. “What am I supposed to do?”

Hydrus pointed up at the ceiling. “Those used to be ponies up there, H. Fly up and look at them.”

She did, buzzing up towards the ceiling and looking for a cocoon with enough transparent parts to see through.

She found one, and her eyes widened at what was inside.

Was this where the ones who were like her but not came from? It was the size of a pony, but all the fur was coming off of it. The one inside rested with her eyes closed, black chitin slowly spreading where once there had been a coat.

She landed back in front of Hydrus. “Is that where you came from?”

“Me?” Hydrus actually laughed. “No, not me. A few in the swarm… but they’re older.” He pointed into the cage. “You’re going to do that to him. It’s like feeding. Once you get enough venom into his body, it will be easy. It will change you. Each time is like…” His eyes rolled back, and his tone stretched a little. “You won’t feel hungry for weeks, H. And in all that time, you’ll grow. Grow in ways those disposable drones outside will never have the chance.”

“Or you could let me go!” squeaked the voice from the cage, positively shaking with terror. “This entire invasion is pointless, you know. Emotions don’t have to be stolen to be consumed. You could just make friends with us the traditional way! It would be—”

Hydrus drew his crossbow, banging it against the bars. “I said quiet! Don’t make me ask a third time, professor. You’re lucky it was me who discovered you, and not Pharynx. He would probably have wanted you destroyed as a danger to the swarm. But once you’re one of us, you’ll be safe from his wrath. I’m the kindest, most generous bug around, and you’re going to owe me too.”

He glanced briefly back at her, lowering the crossbow and pulling out a set of rusty metal lumps. Keys. “You can do it, H. And when you get out, you’ll grow big enough to get more than just a letter. You can take Dark’s place. Who knows… when our queen rewards me for my loyal service during this invasion, I might even rise all the way to her court. Some bug will need to replace me. I would want it to be a bug I know is loyal, who will keep my troops loyal without my presence. That could be you.”

This was it—this was the key to her next step. H would be helping Hydrus to rise, and in the process she could rise into his place. Then she would be the bug giving orders, the bug who got to go in last and so was last to die to the food’s magic. It was her next step.

H nodded, lifting the sword in her magic and settling it down on the ground outside. Somehow, she didn’t think she would be able to manifest her own magic with that thing so close, hating her every second. “I’m ready.”

“Alright, professor, know your place. Stay back from the door or you get skewered. You know us so well, I’m sure you know we eat meat. You cooperate, and you live.”

He made a fearful squeaking noise in response, and didn’t rise from where he’d curled up against the floor. H could sense his helpless terror—he wouldn’t resist her.

H climbed into the cage, and was surprised to see Hydrus lock it behind her. She spun around, staring at him through the bars.

“W-why—”

“In case something goes wrong,” he said. “Ponies are more powerful than they look. All power comes from risk, H. If you remember nothing else from today, remember that.”

All power comes from risk. She would try to remember that, if she could.

H stopped a few inches away from the pony, looking down at him as he shook in terror. “You’re lucky,” she said. “Didn’t you hear what Hydrus said? This is better.”

“I heard,” he whimpered. “Go on then. I know you’re not capable of making your own decisions. No appeal I make to you will make a difference. Hopefully when this is over you’re changed enough to regret it for the rest of your life. At least I’ll have that satisfaction.”

H leaned close to his neck, and bit. It was strange to feed this way—venom wasn’t for prey, not really. But as soon as she had the taste of blood in her mouth, she felt it all gushing into his body. And in response, something welled in the back of her throat that was far more delicious than blood.

H now knew what Hydrus had described. She felt herself tense as she was flooded with love as she’d never known it before. So much magic that it felt like her body would explode. But it kept coming, even as the pony beneath her squirmed and fought, shoving uselessly against her with his hooves.

Hydrus had been right. This would change her.

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