• 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 6: Thief

The request sounded simple on its face: find herself a name to steal. But what did that even mean? With everything else she’d done during the invasion, H had been able to rely on either instinct or imitation to get her through. She knew that food was good, and she knew that the bigger changelings would help her get more of it. She knew she wanted to be like them, not like the thousands and thousands of other drones who didn’t even have a single letter to their name.

But as she slipped into the pony prison, she found she didn’t know what she was looking for. What did a name even look like? How would she know when she found one?

She passed through the barricade, past the bored-looking changeling guards. As she walked, a few ponies were being chained up and taken the other way—for feeding time, she supposed. But she still wasn’t hungry, and so she didn’t have any trouble ignoring them.

Maybe the ponies will show me what it means. Lots that they did still had no words for her, and no easy way to extract what they really wanted. But if H couldn’t learn by asking, she would learn by watching.

Through the barricade, ponies had been packed in far tighter than they lived on their own. They’d set out little sleeping spots for themselves using desks, blankets, or anything else they could find in here. What’s the point of claiming a tiny piece of ground? Won’t the other ponies share with you when you need it?

That was one aspects of ponies she just hadn’t wrapped her head around quite yet. Some of them had a kind of status that meant they got to live better lives, that they had guards to protect their houses while most of them lived in the lower city and didn’t. But H hadn’t been ordered to the lower city, so she didn’t know how the fight there had gone. Maybe I could steal a name from them?

It would be a good backup plan.

As she walked, every pony that saw her backed away, clearing a path in front of her as though she were their queen. A few of them whimpered or cowered at her presence. Steal means I have to take it. But who do I steal a name from?

She picked one of them at random, an isolated male with a horn. His fancy outfit had been torn and stained during the battle, and as she approached he cowered away from her in utter terror. “You,” she said, pointing with a wing. “You have a name?”

“Dust Cover,” he answered. “Y-yeah.”

Could she just… steal it? First one she’d found, and she could be done. Except hearing it didn’t seem to be enough, and also she didn’t want Dust Cover. It didn’t even start with the right letter. “How do ponies get their names?”

This seemed to confuse him, and a little of his fear melted away. She could still sense the disgust, the desire to run, and deep down, a wish that he was brave enough to fight. But he didn’t fight her, and he didn’t run. “What?”

“Names.” She sat down in front of him, feeling the weight of her sword scrape against the ground. Though the ponies around him had scattered, she could see fearful eyes poking out from a nearby classroom. Ponies were watching her. “How do ponies get their names?”

“They, uh…” He glanced briefly at his cutie mark. “From our parents? When you’re born, your p-parents…” He shook his head. “Why are you asking me? Aren’t we just your food?”

“I used to think so.” H tilted her head to the side. “I don’t know right now. I’m trying to figure it out. Help me, please.”

The stranger she acted, the less afraid this pony seemed to become. He wasn’t slouching anymore, and any desire he had to run had faded so far that she couldn’t sense it anymore. He was barely afraid of her, though the fear for changelings as a whole was undiminished. There’s a difference. I’m not all changelings. He thinks of us different.

“Can you let me go?” he asked, curious. “If I help you.”

She shook her head. “I might be able to get them to put you in the Swarm. But the last pony I saw didn’t like that much. You probably shouldn’t ask for it.”

He shivered all over, retreating. He glanced to one side, and she could see his legs tense.

H stepped to the side. The stallion was taller than she was, and despite not being fully grown, he was probably physically stronger too. Even the horned ones were stronger than a drone. “I’m not done,” she said. “You can leave when you help me. Where do ponies get their names?”

He still seemed to doubt her question, and it took him a few seconds to even respond this time. “When a foal is born, its… parents name it. They try to guess what they’re going to be, or use old family names, or… that kinda thing. My parents named me Dust Cover, because I guess they thought I would be good at books or whatever.”

H didn’t understand what “good at books” meant, but she hardly cared. There was another problem with this answer. “What happens if they forget?” She advanced on him, not even trying to hide her desperation. And as she moved, his fear returned, and he backed up into a corner between a shelf and the wall.

“F-forget?”

“Like if there’s, uh…” She reached for the number of drones in her generation, but it just got bigger and bigger. She couldn’t keep it in her head long enough to write it down. “Lots. What if there were so many that your queen couldn’t name all of them? How would ponies name them then?”

“W-we don’t… we don’t have a queen. And I’ve never heard of more than t-two ponies born at the same time. Their parents wouldn’t forget.”

She was getting nowhere. This pony knew what she wanted to know, but for some reason he wasn’t very good at explaining it. H turned away from him, wandering a few steps before she realized something else, and spun quickly around. She stopped him with one hoof, yanking him back. “The other thing you said!”

The pony quivered in fear, making a terrified squeaking sound. Despite his size, despite his magic and his strength, he withdrew from her touch as though she’d burned him. “O-other—”

“You said parents try to guess what their eggs will be, right? Guess how? How do you know from looking at an egg what kind of drone it’s gonna be when it gets bigger?”

“Uh…”

“Like, do names just mean what you’re good at? If I wanted to be good at fighting, should I steal Pincers or maybe Fangs?”

The classroom door that had just been open a crack finally spread a little wider, and half a dozen ponies crowded the doorway, all watching her. They were a mix of various races, not just the ones with horns. More importantly, they were all resolved, with only a tiny bit of fear. Uh oh.

“You already put us in here,” said one of them—an earth pony mare built like a rock. “You aren’t going to hurt us anymore.”

“No,” she answered, retreating a little. Probably she should draw the sword, teach them a lesson or something. But Hydrus wasn’t here, and he didn’t have to know this had happened. “I just want to know about names. Maybe you can tell me.”

“Maybe you should go back,” the mare responded, advancing on her. “Dust Cover here answered your questions already. You should go back to enjoying Canterlot while you can. Because pretty soon, Princess Celestia is going to put an end to all of this. Then you’ll be the one in a cage.”

It was the same fierce anger she’d sensed from the pony she’d killed. This pony really did want to see her locked into a cage, maybe worse.

H wandered away, slipping down a different hallway and up the stairs to the second floor. Here it was much more open, with wide sun windows and vaulted ceilings that would even have given them enough room to fly. A few of the flying ponies actually were flying, though they stayed away from the biggest windows. There were changeling guards standing in front of them, drones with hungry expressions and spears they didn’t know how to hold straight.

But H ignored them—she wasn’t going to be able to steal a name from a changeling, or else Hydrus could’ve just given it to her.

She searched, listening to the conversations of ponies as she passed and letting herself wander. She didn’t know what she was looking for anyway, so it wasn’t like choosing a direction would make much difference. At least if she kept moving there was no reason for her to attract resistance from the ponies.

She heard a voice coming from an open door, a voice almost as afraid as she had briefly felt. H turned, advancing on it. Nervous and afraid wasn’t food, but it probably wouldn’t be about to fight her.

She peeked in through the doorway.

Inside, a number of pony-shaped statues were set up against the wall, and each of them had different clothes hanging on top. There were racks of colored cloth against one wall, and in the center, a single pony. She wasn’t very old, though she was old enough to have a mark on her. It looked like one of the machines she was using, bright and colorful.

She’s making clothes! H realized, as she passed in through the doorway.

But the pony noticed her. She looked up, eyes widening a little, and she made to stand from her machine.

“No, keep working!” H spread her wings, blocking the doorway. “I just want to watch. I wondered where you found all your clothes.”

But the pony didn’t stay sitting, despite her prompting. She rose from the machine, stumbling backward through the room. She passed the rack of different cloth, muttering as she went. “Damask, Matelasse, Paisley…”

Even her connection with the others in the swarm wasn’t helping her there—for all she knew this pony spoke an entirely separate language.

There was something different about her thoughts now, something subtly off and broken. “Hey, pony… you should really relax.” She followed her across the room.

“Ogee, Ikat, Jacobean…” H settled one hoof on her shoulder, holding her still. The pony froze, eyes staring up towards her. Except they were glazed and wild, and didn’t even seem to see her. “Harlequin.”

H could feel it then—something she hadn’t felt around any of the ponies before now. There was more than just their emotions—they had a pattern, similarities in body and behavior that were so simple, she could almost…

H changed. There was a brief flash of green light, enough to blind her and make the pony stumble back in shock and surprise. It only lasted a moment, but when it was gone—H felt taller.

The pony squeaked in terror, falling over herself as she retreated. “Basketweave, Brocade, Chevron…” She made it to the door, then spread her wings and flew—a few feet, until she bumped into the ceiling.

But she no longer cared. She stumbled forward, staring at her reflection in a large mirror. It wasn’t the reflection of a changeling anymore, but of the tall pegasus she’d seen before, right down to the feathery wings and pattern like the clothing machine. I did it.

This had to be what Hydrus meant when he told her to steal a name, right? She hadn’t actually taken anything from the pony, only copied her. But maybe that was enough.

It was costing her to stay like this. She blinked, shook herself out like a cat that had just been sprayed. Magic went with it, and there was another faint flash of light. She returned to her regular size, feeling drained but immensely proud.

Harlequin. I have a name.

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