• 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 48: Survivors

Harlequin didn’t flee the empty Canterlot Castle hallway. The only thing waiting down that shaft was a prison, and possibly capture at the hooves of the very pony she’d sent to stop Hydrus. And I didn’t even need her help.

Hydrus hadn’t ever planned on returning to the hive to gather his power. Once he was revealed… she could only hope that his threats against the ponies she cared about were similarly empty. Thorax and Codex and all the drones didn’t deserve to get blasted by Princess Celestia.

Besides, she had enough to do caring for the wounded of her makeshift swarm. If there was one mercy, it was that Hydrus had been so deadly that he either killed bugs or missed them. His guards had scored a few blows, and she patched them up one at a time, using hard green slime and a dagger she found among the dead.

They didn’t grow impatient, though she found herself wishing she could join with these bugs and show them how to treat their own wounded. There wasn’t a single adult here—all those would’ve died.

I don’t want to think about how many didn’t make it out of this.

It was a good thing changelings didn’t need to sleep much, because she worked for at least ten hours straight before she was finished. The bugs curled up in the hall, radiating gratitude along with the loss of some of their members. Though given how immature these bugs were, a pony losing a leg might be a closer analogy. They had so little individuality… somepony would have to change that.

Finally she heard hooves coming down the hall. Marching ponies, armor rattling around them. She didn’t even bother picking up any of the weapons. She wasn’t going to fight, and she would keep these bugs from fighting too. Their little swarm was much too weak to win against ponies in their own castle.

A pair of earth ponies closed the hallway off with massive metal shields, each one almost as tall as the passage itself and much too heavy for her to lift. She stood up, walking out through the bloody hallway past her bugs. There wasn’t much left of their tormentors. She hadn’t been able to stop these bugs from following their instincts. They were very hungry.

“You’re not going to be able to crossbow us to death,” she called from the other side of the shield wall, horn glowing. For reasons she couldn’t quite figure out, she hadn’t run out of magic. But she still had power. Enough to block a few crossbow bolts. “I’ve got magic for a shield. But we don’t want to fight.”

“You don’t want to fight,” repeated a voice from the other side. A mature, confident voice, though she’d never heard it before. “There’s an awful lot of blood over there for a creature who doesn’t want to fight. You were to be escorted to a cell for trial, and now you’ve staged a prison riot and murdered four ponies.”

Harlequin rolled her eyes. “Look closer, whoever you are. Ponies don’t have green blood.”

There was a brief pause, before the voice spoke. “Open.”

The guards straightened, and their shields twisted to each side. Behind them were ponies not dressed in solar gold, but a silvery blue and purple, with strange weapons strapped to their sides.

But then she saw the one who spoke, and she forgot all about the unusual soldiers.

Princess Luna wasn’t as tall as her sister, but she shared many of her same unearthly properties. Her mane filled the air, its own ghostly glow. Behind her, creatures skittered back along the cavern, sensing her power and not understanding it.

Don’t fight, she begged silently. Don’t run. Be calm. Stay where you are. She couldn’t send words, but she could feel those things herself and hope they copied her. It was what changelings did best.

Princess Luna strode out from behind the shield, inspecting the ground with a disgusted sniff. “This was… gruesome. Explain what happened.”

She did. There was no reason to lie, when the one standing in front of her could easily burn her alive at a thought. Even with all these bugs, she knew how long this fight would last. Not that she wanted to. This pony wasn’t her enemy.

“My agent told you not to cause trouble,” Luna muttered, as soon as she finished. “We thought your solution to caring for your physical needs was the best that could be considered, under the circumstances. Your actions have made things… difficult.”

Harlequin shrugged one shoulder, ambivalent. “Would you have left your ponies under the rule of a tyrant?”

The princess didn’t answer for a long time. She looked past her, her horn glowing as she illuminated the cowering insects behind Harlequin. “The fruits of our ignorance are a bitter dish. I can see exactly what you mean… these creatures, barely alive, barely intelligent, because of where we put them. There were many in the Solar Court who thought our accommodations were generous.”

She rolled her eyes, and her horn went out. She didn’t seem bothered by the near-darkness the way most ponies were, though her mane meant that there was always a little light around her. “And now your leaders are dead. Those who orchestrated the invasion that killed so many ponies have joined them in the oblivion beyond. This leaves Equestria in… a difficult position, Harlequin.”

She nodded. “We’re still invading soldiers,” she said. “Many of us didn’t know what we were doing. But that doesn’t bring back the ponies who died. You’ll still want to see us punished. And me in particular, I guess. I’ll face… whatever you think I deserve. But please, don’t hurt the others. They don’t want to take over your city, they just want to eat. And… I know a pony transformed during the invasion that would really like to see his family again. If he… survived whatever your sister did to my hive.”

Luna tensed. “Princess Celestia did not harm the bugs in your ‘hive’. They were contained, and she traveled down to inspect what you had been doing. When she did not find the bug you described, she took no further action. Apparently there had been a battle there as well.”

Princess Luna gestured down the hallway. “It was rather like this, if you can believe it. Loyalists from Hydrus’s side attacked some bugs who liked your way of doing things a little better. Lots of… drones, I think you call them? Regardless, they were eager to tell us that Hydrus’s soldiers were dead. You bugs don’t do anything halfway.”

She finally rose. “Since Equestria’s ancient days, I have been the pony appointed to judge the creatures of the night. My sister sent me to judge whether there was anything worth preserving among your kind. Could we live together, or would we be forced to destroy an evil that would only return to vex Equestria again?”

Her horn glowed to life, with a violet light that hurt Harlequin’s eyes just to look at. It was the sort of spell that could scour her from the planet without a trace. It was the final judgement, the one she never should’ve trusted to ponies. Now she would die for it, and every other bug with her.

“Before I found you here, I was intercepted by a pony of the Solar Court. He spoke about you at great length, Harlequin. About the suffering you endured for your ponies—what you had done for him as a stranger, even at terrible risk to yourself.”

Her horn went from violet to soft white, illuminating the tunnel with a gentle light. “We are very different creatures. We’ve seen some terrible evil from you since the invasion. But I see enough good that you’re clearly worth saving. Even so, there will have to be… measures taken. Restitution paid for the harm you’ve caused, and a chance to reform. It shouldn’t be terribly difficult for creatures that can change their shape.”

She nodded, eyes wide with tears. She tasted a new kind of love flowing into her at that moment, so much that she almost choked. Alicorns were powerful creatures, and even the younger sister was still a force of might. The healing taste of mercy, worsening her tears. The bugs behind her stopped cowering, as one by one their stomachs were filled. There was more than enough love to go around, even for the injured.

“We have no leaders left to punish,” Luna went on. “So there are no creatures to put back into the dungeon. And given what happened last time, I don’t think that punishment is appropriate. I think we’re going to have to put you all on probation.”

“Probation?” She repeated the word, its taste strange on her tongue. “I don’t… I don’t know what that is.”

“It means we’re going to spread you out in Equestria,” she said. “Put you with ponies who need some help in one way or another. Farms, factories, hospitals… there are never enough hooves. Hydrus’s solution might’ve worked to keep you fed, but… no creature should be forced to debase themselves for others to survive. Perhaps a few of them will choose that life, but it didn’t seem to me like many of them were capable of choosing yet. You are… unique, among the bugs I have spoken to. A child of the invasion, yet… wise enough to decide.”

It was more mercy than she possibly could’ve hoped for. Really, it was a better future for the bugs of her little swarm than they ever could’ve had living with Hydrus. There were some unanswered questions in her mind, things they would have to work out together. These lonesome survivors of the tunnels would need care together for instance, until they were old enough to separate. To say nothing of the many creatures still sealed and sleeping in the old hive. Would they sleep forever, or be woken and spread through Equestria like the other bugs?

“As for you…” Luna continued. “We will keep you close. Still punished with the others, but… near enough to Canterlot that we can use your knowledge. We still know so little about changelings…”

“If I, uh…” Harlequin began, her voice a little nervous. “I know it’s probably… not my place to ask, but… I’ve got some friends in the City Watch. They seemed to think I did good work, before… they realized I was a changeling.”

Princess Luna smiled. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. It’s perfect.”

The next few hours were chaos, of course. The bugs she’d brought out of the old jail certainly didn’t want to be separated from her, and there were enough of them to cause trouble for Canterlot Castle. In the end they just traveled in a few packed carriages down to the old hive, where they could be around their own kind.

There would be plenty of friendly faces—Harlequin’s own friendly drones had been the ones to fight.

Not only that, but she discovered something that even Princess Luna hadn’t known.

And good thing too, considering she seemed to be looking for leaders to punish.

Pharynx and a small group of fellow survivors, whose arrival had initiated the violence in the first place. She could only wish she had been there to help with the fight. But they hadn’t needed her, and Pharynx didn’t seem to want her.

“The ponies know about us now,” he said, pacing furiously back and forth in Hydrus’s old office. Thorax sat happily in a corner, apparently just wanting to be close enough though he had nothing to offer to the conversation. Harlequin didn’t ask him to leave. “Asking for help was stupid and unnecessary. You’ve cost us everything, Harlequin. And you didn’t even let me kill that slime myself.”

She shrugged. “Maybe you’d rather keep running this place… but spreading us out is a good thing. Bugs need love, and the ponies are going to give it to us. We’ll have to live their way, but… some of their ways are better than ours. The old queen promised us a life with as much food as we could eat. She might’ve abandoned us, but that promise will still be kept. Just not the way she thought.”

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