• Published 5th Dec 2021
  • 1,123 Views, 23 Comments

A King’s Brood - eemoo1o

Thorax never asked to be leader. He certainly never believed he could fit such a rank. Now, he must face his fear of confrontation and disappointment for his Hive's reformed legacy to continue on, even when threats begin to arise around every corner.

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Chapter One: The Problem

Changelings were dying.

Old Changelings, to be exact.

After the big Change, the Changeling Hive’s nursery had started to empty, until it was empty.

The ex-Queen, Chrysalis, had been the one to reproduce. She had been the one to supply the nursery with eggs once a year for thirteen days. From one- to two-hundred a day, if Thorax wasn’t mistaken.

Granted, ten - or fifty - out of the two week’s supply didn’t make it, but it was still an extraordinary amount. How was Thorax, a male, meant to live up to that role? He couldn’t produce eight-hundred to two-thousand eggs in a day short of a fortnight. It was biologically impossible, even for a Changeling.

This might have seemed like an enormous number, but with Changelings living forty to twenty years less than ponies - with the more unfortunate cases of sixty, or even fifty years less - that vast egg-count was crucial.

Unless, of course, a Changeling individual shared love with another genus - such as ponies, dragons, griffons, and so on - the longer their lifespan could potentially be.

It was their life’s purpose, it seemed.

“Seems like it’ll be me and you as the last ones standing, huh, Thorax?”

That lifespan excluded ‘The Royals’, which was a nickname by adolescent Changelings for King Thorax and his older brother Pharynx, the so-called alpha and beta -- even though the personalities of the two very much said otherwise to their roles -- of the Hive. The Royals - and by extension, ex-Queen Chrysalis - were the Changeling equivalent to an alicorn.

Originally, the slang was ‘Mandibles’, referring to their stag-like antlers. Of course, one quick biology lesson later, and it was changed back to how ex-Queen Chrysalis referred to herself.

Stag. Even as he and his elder brother Pharynx stared up at the empty nursery’s walls, King Thorax knew that he liked that word. Being referred to as a ‘stag’ seemed to thrill him almost as much as tasting deep affection from someone he felt mutually about.

The egg count was - according to ex-Queen Chrysalis - for new hives to be formed all around the map, even beyond Equestria. The fact both excited and terrified Thorax. Hives could be already reformed, or they could still be feeding off of love as opposed to sharing it. The question was: did they already know about them?

Those other hives, reformed or not, could have been rooted from their very own, and the lack of eggs had been a problem for seven months, now. After all, more reformed hatchlings meant more reformed Changelings, and that meant more reformed Changeling hives.

It was simply Changeling ritual - no, instinct - to produce so many eggs, biology aside. Thorax just couldn’t provide that. Hives needed a Queen, just like an insect colony.

It wasn’t until he dragged himself out of his musings that Thorax inferred Pharynx’s tone of jest to be laced with wistfulness. It was something that Thorax had learnt to do over the years, because he and Pharynx were broodmates, but to the untrained ear and mind Pharynx was simply poking fun at an insightful observation, perhaps ironically. But Thorax knew otherwise; he had his brother’s best interests memorised: he was hurting at the realisation, perhaps even more than Thorax himself.

“Heh, yeah,” Thorax forced a laugh. He wasn’t King with his brother, he was just Thorax; just as much Thorax as what he was when the two were adolescents. Of course, now he had to look down at Pharynx, which - depending on the length of their conversation - made him quite the literal pain in the neck. An ache, really, but a pain no less.

But, now Thorax had to focus on the twanging on his heartstrings. It was a pain similar to the one he felt when leaving the Hive in hopes of befriending ponies and uniting their species with his own, only to find himself to be the bane of most happiness upon first sight.

The pain was because he and Pharynx would be the last of the Equestrian Hive, only living on for the next couple of millennia and being forced to watch as everything they had come to know and love disappeared forever, until they did too, and their species would be extinct. Their Hive would cease to exist, nothing more than a chapter in a history book to just be eaten by moths.

“Let’s...” Pharynx exhaled a sigh that had been trapped in his chest for a while. “Let’s talk about this tomorrow,” he said, before cracking a small grin at his brother. To Thorax, that gesture only meant emotional pain. His natural instinct to sympathise was ignited, and he felt a mimicry of Pharynx’s pain. Or perhaps it was because he knew his brother - someone he cared greatly for - felt emotional pain himself. “I’ll tell some of your hoof-servants to bring some tea to your room.”

“What kind of tea?”

Pharynx gave a wider grin than before. While not uncannily wide, intuition told Thorax he should console him, but then told him not to when he lifted his left forehoof off of the ground to put on his brother’s shoulder. As Pharynx spoke next, Thorax acted as though he did no such thing with his hoof. “What kind of brother do you take me for?”

Thorax returned the grin, albeit wearing it as a cheeky smile. It seemed as though every attempt he made at curving his lips upwards turned into a smile. He was the type of Changeling, even as a nymph, who could never truly grin or smirk. “A good one?”

“And don’t go letting me hear otherwise,” said Pharynx cockily. “Now go to bed.”

“But it’s still light out!” Thorax immediately objected, his ears dropping against his head; even though he knew Pharynx meant his royal chambers, not necessarily to sleep, he still felt the need to proclaim in retaliation.

“That doesn’t stop me from sending you to bed,” he said. “Neither does you being the Hive’s leader.”

Thorax could only sigh. He looked forward to drinking his tea and reading a book, anyway. “Okay, Pharynx.” After turning to depart, he twisted his head back around to his brother. “You- You can talk, you know.”

“I know. We...” admitting his own feelings was hard for Pharynx, Thorax could partly understand that. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

That said, Thorax made his way through the Hive - greeting, solacing or informing that he’d help the Changelings that approached him later along the way - until he reached his sleeping quarters. Once, Thorax had been the Changeling that was sneered or snarled at by all he walked, ran, or flew passed, but now he could barely take two steps without someone asking for approval, guidance, a conversation, or simply greeting him.

As nice as it was to be acknowledged by those around him, Thorax had a liking for introverted activities now and again. He liked his own company. Before the Great Change, it was dangerous for him to be alone in fear of being picked on; now, he enjoyed nothing more than to curl up with a book or two, or go over some treaties -- the least favourable of the two -- and drink some tea. Perhaps an occasional creamed scone would make an appearance, but that was simply splitting hairs. The enjoyment of silence amidst the bustling, humming-with-life Hive was indescribable beyond adjectives and nouns that centred around ‘peacefulness’.

Upon learning of Thorax’s newfound enjoyment in some quality alone time - now stretched thin due to the duties that leadership brought - Pharynx sought to it to make sure Thorax got it, under the guise of “getting him out of the way”. Secretly, though, Thorax knew that it was his brother’s way of saying sorry, typically with an “or whatever” conjoined to it.

It was Pharynx’s way of showing that he cared.

Thorax allowed the entrance-wall of his chambers to morph closed behind him as he made his way to the chair that had its back to the now-closed doorway. In front of it was a medium-sized circular coffee table, which on the other end of was another chair. The two pieces of furniture vastly differed from one another, placed on the opposite side of the room to Thorax’s bed.

The first - Thorax’s current option - was tall and slender and hard. The second was much more stout, and well-padded, usually reserved for guests or a heavy-headed, eyes-half-closed Changeling King. The inspiration for such decor came from Princess Twilight Sparkle herself.

Whilst stalling Thorax as Spike greeted Dragon Lord Ember when the two were in Ponyville - unknowingly together - the purple alicorn had told Thorax of her ‘fiction chair’ and her ‘studying chair’, respectively. Her comfy, cushioned chair had been for reading fiction, and the hard-backed one for studying.

At first, Thorax admittedly found it odd, and braved the tour of chairs with a progressingly-wobbling smile, and had ran to Spike the second he entered the room to whisper of Twilight’s odd fondness of chairs, but the more paperwork there was to be signed and the busier he got, Thorax decided to rethink the Princess’ ideology, and modified it after testing it out for himself.

Now, Thorax’s tall chair was for reading and signing whatever, with a single, lengthy pillow glued in position by his very own mucus to support his aching withers at the end of the day, as the hardness did a wonder for his back; if he grew tired as he read or had a guest, the second chair would find use. If by Thorax, it’s low arms would be employed as head and hind-leg support as he began to hold his book in his cyan magic aura.

As Twilight had said: efficient.

From his scarce bookshelf, Thorax pulled out Wuthering Hooves with his magic, and sat, nuzzling into the neck-pillow with remnants of a relieved smile. Pharynx said they would talk about the matter tomorrow, so he’d read a book and wait for a pot of tea from one of his hoof-servants - all of which he had turned down when first becoming King, but soon found that it was a job many favoured over others - while Pharynx most likely went on patrol of trained some of his guards, pushing them to the limits even after one of them cried in pain or exhaustion.

Thorax furrowed his brow as he opened his battered soft-back book to the first chapter of the first volume. It was an old copy that Spike’s friend Fluttershy had given him, with most pages having fold-lines at the corners, each further down or further up than the last. The spine and front cover was also creased, the white markings acting as wrinkles or rings on a tree as a tell-tale sign of age.

Perhaps if Thorax was an expert like Twilight, he’d be able to read the markings and give the exact date the book was bought. But, alas - possibly thankfully - he was not, and it didn’t damage the enjoyment of the book in the slightest.

The book was gifted to Thorax shortly after he had moved into the Crystal Empire’s Palace with Princess Mi Amore Cadenza - Princess Cadance - and General-Prince Shining Armor, as fortunate as he was. He’d always be grateful for their hospitality and forgiveness. He was sure that if the ponies asked for help from his Hive, he would come to their aid without hesitation. He was sure of it.

Fluttershy had been set on buying Thorax a new copy to keep for himself, but he wouldn’t have it. The Empire’s generosity was enough, and so he reassured her an old copy was fine. Not her first copy, though: he had heard those could be rather sentimental for book-lovers. Well, from Spike, but the point still stands.

“Your green tea, your majesty,” Cilia - one of the many turquoise longhorns with pink eyes that Changed shortly after him - entered with a dark blue-lined white teapot and a matching pair of teacups and saucers atop a wooden tray that rested on her upturned forehoof. Once placing it on Thorax’s coffee table, she bowed.

When he had assumed the role as King - due to his natural form being much larger than the others’, equipped with vivid gamboge antlers that, according to Pharynx, could potentially pierce a manticore - Thorax was always quick to correct his ‘subjects’, telling them to just call him ‘Thorax’, as opposed to ‘your majesty’, ‘King’, ‘your highness’, &c. Now, it seemed exhausting and tedious, as most didn’t abide by his wishes, either forgetting or choosing to.

Thorax remembered his confusion when reading ‘&c’ for the first time in Mane Eyre, another book gifted to him by one of Spike’s friends. After a few inquiries around the castle, Sunburst - the Crystal Empire’s Royal Crystaller - was the one to give an answer: it was a particularly archaic, if not fancy, form of ‘etcetera’. Once learnt, Thorax took the knowledge into more formal elements of writing, now at political summits more than ever before.

Perhaps, even though it wasn’t a part of the everyday language that he used, he could use ‘etc’ in his own company. It was silly, really, but Thorax - as the representative and leader of the Changelings - felt the need to set a good example. Even in the Crystal Empire, when he was practically scared of his own shadow, he felt the need to make Changelings - like him or not - ‘look good’.

Thorax could only smile to himself after he beamed brightly to Cilia and thanked her for her service. He remembered the literacy lessons from Princess Cadance, Shining Armor, and Sunburst, too. Ex-Queen Chrysalis had been deep in the belief that only Royals such as herself should learn parts pony culture - reading and writing, and the sort - and so when Thorax admitted the fact to his hosts, they sought to it that they taught him all of what they themselves knew about the subject, as well as some historical matters.

Now, Thorax made sure that every member of the Hive knew how to read and write, and - much to Pharynx’s dismay - had at least some knowledge of pony history.

After the first couple of lessons, Thorax was given a few books from his friends and acquaintances. Some old, some new, some historical, and so on. The historical ones, mostly centred around a great unicorn known as ‘Starswirl the Bearded’, had been received from Princess Twilight.

There were a few in the collection that Thorax was yet to read, alongside Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone, and Shadow Spade: The Silk Scandal which were both from Spike’s friends Rainbow Dash and Rarity, respectively. The blurbs seemed interesting enough, but Thorax never seemed to get around to them. Perhaps he would tomorrow.

Thorax released a contented sigh as he moseyed back into his neck-pillow, and ignited his horn - the cyan light radiating off of it brightly, and sliding up his antlers to emphasise the conduction - to put Wuthering Hooves next to the wooden tray so that, with his hooves, he could pour himself a cup of tea.

Holding the matching saucer and teacup, Thorax leaned back again and took in the silence. Even though he had only read a page and a half of Wuthering Hooves by now, and planned - nay, wished - to continue until the second volume, he knew that he’d soon be whisked away due to a problem in one of the feeling forums; or because something had gone wrong in the kitchen, even though he had complete faith in the Hive’s cooks for there not to; or one of the adolescent Changelings had suddenly decided they wished to accompany Ocellus in her studies of friendship at Princess Twilight’s school; heck, a dispute could have ruptured a moment between a couple of Changelings that needed Thorax’s help, and Thorax’s help alone to solve, as opposed to simply talking it out with one another or joining the feelings forum for an hour or so.

Thorax looked down at his cup of green tea. It was almost the same colour as his now-shaking forehooves. Whether he was shaking from anxiety or anger, Thorax couldn’t really tell, as all he could really focus on was the colour of the tea. It was green, like his Changed form, like the newly-grown trees and grass and moss around the Hive, all thanks to his actions. His - as Pharynx and a few others had once put it - ‘reign’.

He figured he may as well have clambered to the top of a large rock and roared to assert dominance over the land, as that’s certainly what it had felt like. The new biome, the new way of life, the new diet. All of it was because of Thorax’s actions.

Just because ex-Queen Chrysalis was dominating, and could lead without much of a second thought, Thorax wasn’t a bad leader. Pharynx had also said that. After his metamorphosis, that was.

It was reassurance like that from his own brother - his own kind - that inspired Thorax to keep going. He blew on his tea as he thought back to when he introduced the theatre, literary, and arts and crafts clubs to the Hive. At first it had been compensation for his bad leadership skills, but the more reformed Changelings took part in them, the more of the unreformed opened their eyes and saw fit.

The final exception being Pharynx, of course. He eventually came around, but he had been stubborn, and extremely destructive and vulgar. It had started putting strain on what Thorax had tried so hard to build up: his name, the new culture, respect from and amongst others, and even the memory of what was there and what was to come.

While he had wanted peace, allyship, and for the Hive to forget the Old Days under ex-Queen Chrysalis’ iron hoof, Pharynx yearned for nothing but the opposite. Pharynx had opposed him. He had broken down Thorax’s hard work like an angry ape against a building, clutching to the Old Days in his gargantuan fist as he climbed to the top, the fact that Pharynx had quite literally attempted that technique against the New Hive aside.

In truth, a part of the Hive had actually prepared to overthrow Thorax if Pharynx’s shenanigans continued, and it made Thorax wonder how long it would have been until they did. It made him wonder how good of a leader he was, and if they’d ever devise to do it again. It made him wary. It made him unsure whether or not he owed them an apology, or if they did him.

Thorax could barely take a small sip of his tea before putting it back on the wooden tray. His trembling tremors persevered in taking over his body, and his breathing grew ragged and shallow, starting a cold burn in the back of his throat as sweat began to form on his chitin, making him feel even more uncomfortable than what he was already. Thorax felt his face flush in accordance to his sweating, and he wheezed in a struggle for air.

In an attempt to collect his thoughts, Thorax put his right forehoof on his beating heart and inhaled through his nose deeply, making his chest expand as he did so. To relinquish the held breath, Thorax slowly pulled his hoof away from his chest. He took another breath, one much more abbreviated than the previous one - in through the nose and out through the mouth - and repeated the process until he felt calm enough to pick up his cup of tea and saucer once more.

Princess Cadance had taught him that technique after he had panicked about hissing at little Princess Flurry Heart after a bowl of hot porridge and sugar had been flung at his head. Well, not necessarily at, but more along the lines of in the general direction of, which made her bawl.

Upon regaining his senses, Thorax had collapsed to the floor as he cried and hyperventilated, and transformed into a shaking, out-of-place rug shortly after. It had only taken a little over ten minutes with Sunburst having to take Flurry Heart out of the room for Thorax to at least attempt to calm down. Even then, he had transformed back and apologised to the royal couple over and over with the promise to leave by the end of the hour as a means not to be executed, unless they - of course - deemed fit.

Instead, however, they had apologised to him, and had helped him off of the floor as they soothed his worries.

He had to wear bandages for the few weeks that followed after.

Thorax leaned back in his chair, simply holding himself against the neck-pillow as opposed to nestling into it. Sipping his tea with the use of his magic, Thorax closed his eyes for a moment. As usual, tiredness found him and pulled on his eyelids in hopes of closing them, and keeping them as such.

Thorax slowly lifted himself to pick up his book, and he turned to the page he had reached. Groggily, he searched for the line he had ended with, sipping his tea all the while. Once the line was found, Thorax refilled his teacup with some more green tea, and began resting himself against the back of his chair again, instead of holding himself there rigidly.

A sigh escaped his throat as he began drinking in the silence of his own room, spare for the sound of his own breathing. Breathing. Now he wasn’t breathing. Why did he have to think about breathing? Thorax inhaled, in hopes of restarting the subconscious cycle. He began reading Wuthering Hooves again.

Princess Cadance and Fluttershy had both expressed a love for the Horsë sisters - Princess Cadance on a multitude of occasions whenever she spotted Thorax reading Wuthering Hooves and Mane Eyre around the Crystal Palace - and while Thorax hadn’t read all of their works, he figured they must have been if two ponies of respectively high statuses spoke so ardently of them. Perhaps Princess Cadance, or even Princess Celestia herself, had met them before.

“King Thorax!”

Thorax jumped a proverbial mile, having flinched so violently that both he and his book were splashed with hot tea, and that his magic almost defused itself from fright. More worried about the condition of Wuthering Hooves than himself. Thankfully, the tea wasn’t as hot as the porridge Flurry Heart had once thrown at him, although it was definitely close.

Thorax turned his head to the voice, and found himself face-to-face with a small group of multicoloured Changelings; most, if not all, were from the First Change shortly before ex-Queen Chrysalis fled, with the repeat in colour schemes being the tell-tale sign. The one who had spoken took a step back, and blinked his orange eyes bashfully.

“Our apologies, your majesty,” a turquoise longhorn said. They had the same colours as Cilia, but Thorax - with intuition playing the biggest role yet again just as it had done with Pharynx earlier - knew that it wasn’t her, even before they opened their mouth.

Thorax put on a smile as one of the yellow shorthorns helpfully handed him a set of cloth napkins, and he started rubbing parts of his book dry, and left it open and face-down on his coffee table before he even remotely thought of drying himself. Celestia forbid he ruined the copy that Fluttershy had so kindly gifted to him.

“That’s quite alright, Sclera,” he said, putting the dampened napkins on the tray next to his now almost-empty teacup. “Now, what is it you all wanted me for?”

“I-It’s just that-” Thorax recognised the yellow shorthorn in the back of the miniature crowd that had brought itself to him. He was the Changeling who had started the riot about Pharynx - then referred to as You-Know-Who shortly after Cloudy Trotter was the subject of one of the previous bookclub meetings - in the feelings forum back when Starlight Glimmer and Trixie had come to visit. It wasn’t entirely his fault, per say, but he had brought up crafts time, and - well - everything had unravelled from there.

“We’re worried about the lack of eggs in the nursery!” exclaimed the one surrey-green Changeling of the group. She was the only one without a horn in the group. Thorax recognised her as ‘Epiglottis’. She, too, had added to the conflict over Pharynx whilst Starlight and Trixie were present.

Thorax’s insides seemed to fall, which made him reel his head back and furrow his brow. “I-Is that...” he swallowed, “Is that so?”

“Yeah!” A cyan longhorn, one that stood next to the one that had made their presence known to Thorax just moments ago, lifted his hoof and proclaimed. “We want to know what’s gonna happen!”

“Precisely!” agreed the shorthorn that had previously handed Thorax some napkins. “We want to know!”

Just as the whole group prepared to start a commotion, Thorax raised a hoof to settle them down and for them to know that he wished to talk. It was the polite thing to do, instead of talking over them at an even louder volume than what they were already at. “I understand that, and I-”

“We want you to do something about it!” exclaimed Epiglottis irately, pointing an accusatory hoof at him. And with that, the whole group started arguing with one another, and at Thorax, even though he gave them no verbal response.

He did sigh to himself, though. Note to self, he thought, get Pharynx to arrange for some guards to stop anypony coming in here.