• 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 47: Fate

Harlequin stood against the bugs most broken by the invasion. Even in total darkness, she could feel them coming, clawing their way up through cracks in the rock, shoving aside rubble and piles of the dead. It was probably a mercy that she couldn’t see them. Their shells would’ve gone white by now, their eyes sightless, and their limbs half-transformed into terrible weapons.

She imagined what they looked like as they closed in around something that wasn’t strong like themselves, wings spread. She could take off now, fly up towards the opening in the ceiling—and have Hydrus blast her into powder. She needed something else.

“I don’t require the king’s services further, Harlequin. He is an ungrateful servant. You, though… you will rule well.”

Further. That word rubbed against her brain, like that uneasy feeling when you ran your hoof up a pony’s coat against the grain and they weren’t expecting it. Hydrus had known the speaker, had even had a name for her. The Unturning.

Somehow, this seemed more important to her than the claws tearing up the stone to reach her. Bugs swarmed in from all around, and she could hear their duels as they fought over the richest food they’d found in a long time. But she didn’t run—their senses were better, and they knew the cave. She lit her horn, fishing around for anything she could use.

There were pony supplies here, torn haphazardly open. She removed several tent-poles from the stack, spreading them around her. They were the closest to weapons she had. Lighting her horn made her even more of a target, but she didn’t care. She didn’t have enough magic left to win this fight.

“Did Hydrus work for you?” she asked, horrified. “The things he did…”

“Work is a concept of only one perspective. Hydrus served my ends for a time, this is true. But now he has failed, and must be removed.”

Was burning those bugs his idea, or yours?”

The Unturning didn’t answer. In that way, it was probably the worst thing she could’ve said.

Bugs squealed as they approached her, roaring their claim of this territory. She knew full well what would be waiting for her when they arrived. These insects had fallen so far that they weren’t capable of demanding she give up her magic. They’d kill her and eat her, even though her death would waste much of what she had.

“Your thread is waiting for you, Harlequin,” said the voice. “Your place in the story. I don’t promise to always be kind, I don’t promise that changelings will always prosper. But if you take this path, you can join the ponies. Never need to feed on them again.”

Harlequin saw herself, with a shell of soft blues and greens, and wings that shimmered and sparkled in the air. Thousands of bugs just like her, never hungering again. They would eat like ponies did, they could build their own cities. They could start again.

“What about all these?” she asked, gesturing around the cavern. Half a dozen desiccated corpses had fallen here, their shells slowly collapsing inward as they rotted. Eyes that were almost white watched her from the room, fangs exposed and dripping.

The predators of this prison didn’t go for her throat, not yet.

“The Canterlot water grid drains its emergency cisterns through these caverns. Over many months of failed inspection, the central tank is about to fail. It will wash them all away. We will sever all ties with the ancient changelings, leave you to start anew. You will take your place in the story.”

Hundreds would die. Monsters and predators, drones that hadn’t even had names the first time. Pharynx said that once a bug matured, they couldn’t be brought back. But these never had names. There might still be a way to help them.

A single golden thread seemed to hang in front of her, shimmering in the gloom. “Take your place in the story, Harlequin. Accept fate. You don’t care about the squabbles of ancient ponies long dead. Take it, and kneel.”

She could have a lifetime of never needing to feed on another pony again. She could be queen of bugs with their own stories. Or slave to somepony else’s.

What was everything she’d done so far, if not her story? She’d stood before the princess, she’d escaped the prison, she’d made a place for her among the nameless.

“Reject my offer, and I will abandon you,” the Unturning said. “You are surrounded by ravenous predators. My power confounds them, but when I withdraw it, you will be devoured. I will give great gifts to welcome your people back into my story, Harlequin. Bend your knees.”

All she had to do was submit to a being whose influence made creatures do horrible things. The one who wanted her to leave Irongate to die, because of what his name would’ve been as the martyr in her story.

“No.” Harlequin balanced the length of wood carefully on her back, preparing to use it. There was a good chance her refusal would get her eaten alive. “I won’t bow to someone who kills like you. We’re better than that.”

“You’re nothing,” the Unturning said, her voice bitter and furious. “Many-times child of creatures who thought they could defy a god. Now you’re insects. I don’t need you. My vision is everywhere, and my focus is unbroken. You will die unmoored and unremembered, when another creature takes your place.”

“Maybe,” Harlequin said. “But I’ll die free.”

The voice faded from around her, thread of magic before her eyes instantly withdrawn. A future of health without feeding on emotions vanished, maybe forever.

Not that it would matter to her. The Unturning was not lying about the forces she kept contained. Now they were unleashed, a mob that descended on her from all directions with teeth bared to consume her.

She dropped the staff. Even if she could fight a few, there were just too many. It wouldn’t save her.

I know the hunger you feel, she said, glamour on her tongue. “I know what it’s like to be abandoned.

They closed in around her, a crowd of misshapen changeling forms that packed into the cavern. Each one had transformed in horrible ways, growing additional limbs that tore painfully at their shells, or half melting into copies of other creatures, or just growing teeth along their whole bodies that oozed their own blood.

But there was more than hunger here. In these creatures stripped of everything, bugs who had never even known a name… maybe she could find a thread of something familiar. She didn’t need it given to her.

They circled around her, salivating—yet they didn’t attack. Almost like… There’s a mind here. Here in the dark, their bodies had fed on every scrap of magic. Including the spells cast on them. The ancient Swarm was gone, its collective destroyed.

They’d made their own. All these monsters together, hunting and fighting and devouring the animals of the caves.

You’re hungry,” she said again, straining against the pony magic that had taken her own links away. But while she could feel this new mind just within reach, she couldn’t touch it. Princess Cadence had destroyed her, and she would not survive what these ponies had endured.

She would have to hope that, together, they could understand. “You need a queen,” she said. “You’ve been starving in the dark all this time. Let me give you what you remember.

She picked one bug at random, holding it down with her magic. The swarm reacted with squeals of hostility and anger, but too slow. She latched onto it, and shared a little glamour.

The bug was so shriveled and starving it could take almost none, far less than she gave to the drones of Hydrus’s hive.

But it reacted all the same. Strange wings covered in fangs began to shrink away, leaving a dazed drone much smaller than she was, with less wildness in its eyes than simple confusion.

The bugs pressed in around her, and the glow of her horn was smothered. But they didn’t tear at her with their strangely mutated limbs. In feeding one, she’d fed them all. They squeaked and moaned pitifully, with instinct as old as the changelings themselves.

Harlequin fed them. She didn’t have a wealth of magic anymore, but they couldn’t eat much anyway. She didn’t feed them because of fear, but because it was the right thing to do. She would’ve named them too, if there was time. But a plan was forming in her head that couldn’t wait for getting to know these bugs.

“We can end this,” she said, even though they would barely understand. “The one who wants to treat all of us this way, to use us and forget us, he’s up there. We can kill him, and escape.”

Some part of her wondered deep down if that meant that she was no better than any of the others she was fighting. These bugs shouldn’t have to fight, and she was asking them to, knowing they would obey. Maybe she was just like Hydrus.

But she didn’t care. That bug was a murderer, and if she didn’t do something about him, he would escape. The bugs around her might not understand her words—maybe they would one day, or maybe they never would—but they understood her rage, and they could feel where it was directed. That was good enough.

They took off, a hundred buzzing wings all lifting in unison, just as the Swarm had done while it fought. Harlequin followed behind, taking a stick with her. She couldn’t share the combat skills the Swarm had given her all those months ago, but maybe she didn’t have to.

She could see the outlines move as Hydrus and his guards turned to flee. One of them shoved the cover down over the entrance—but it was no good. They’d already broken all the locks to get it open in the first place. The wave of bugs ahead of her shoved through it, bending metal back with unified pressure and surging forward down the hall like a living wave.

Harlequin couldn’t speak to them—but she could feel what they felt. Nameless bugs, desperate for something to blame for their lives of misery. She’d just given them something.

Flames scorched the hall as spells blasted around her. The swarm reeled as some of them died, voices vanishing. Harlequin landed in the opening, following close behind. One of the guards went down, a dozen bugs tearing him apart in a spray of green and blue slime. Harlequin picked up his spear and kept going through the carnage.

More blood, more screams, blasts of magic that shattered the stone around her. She whimpered as the pain of loss hit her, but didn’t turn around. She couldn’t be part of the swarm in mind, but she could fight beside them in body.

She watched Hydrus go down under the torrent of bodies, then vanish in a flash of light. His teleport was clumsy, taking several of his attackers with him and shattering the bodies of others. Harlequin took to the air with those who remained, guiding their rage. Queen Chrysalis was the pony who really deserved their anger. Without her, they’d still be home, growing up properly instead of fighting as children.

But Hydrus wanted to perpetuate that into the future. Maybe he could be their last battle.

Harlequin summoned a shield ahead of her, protecting the bugs flying beside her as she joined their formation. Hydrus was bleeding now, unable to take off, maybe unable to teleport. He was burning magic in a panic too, using attacks powerful enough to turn bugs into bloody smears instead of just killing them.

He was never a fighter, Harlequin realized. Hydrus wasn’t a soldier like us, he was too good for that. He doesn’t know how to fight.

Finally she reached him. Her shield shattered with another spell, but they kept going. She roared, dodging under another attack and stabbing her spear through Hydrus with all the strength she had.

Her new friends did the rest.

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