• Published 1st Jan 2022
  • 1,177 Views, 257 Comments

The Light Within Us - theOwtcast

Be careful what you wish for; you might get exponentially more. Someone really should have warned Thorax what he was getting himself into by wanting friendship so badly.

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First Duty

It felt strange to be here.

It shouldn’t have, really; this was where my life had begun, where I’d spent most of my days, been taught about the world as my kind had seen it. This was where, by all accounts and expectations, I should have learned to hate and despise, to attack and conquer, to instill fear, to enslave other races and rob them of what made them so jarringly, unmistakably unlike us and use it to perpetuate the vicious circle of hating and conquering and enslaving. Such had been the ways of my kind ever since we came into existence, so why expect anything else from any of us?

Alas, it had to have happened sooner or later, and I was the one who had ended up with the uneasy honor of being the exact opposite of my kind. Whether by a whim of nature or by surfacing of the long-dormant trait in our core, I’d come into this world yearning to harness love in a way that the rest of my kind had seen as nothing short of sacrilegious, and as long as I’d insisted on adhering to my aberrant way, they’d made sure I paid dearly for disrupting the tried-and-true warrior ways and for daring to delude myself that there might be a choice! My days had been a long string of tears and pain, but for some inexplicable reason, my hope for better days, for being finally heard and given a chance to show the benefits of my way, had survived against all odds… until, at last, that too had been quenched.

So I’d left.

I’d be lying if I said my path henceforth hadn’t been just as trying; it had pushed me to the limit, brought me against both my kind and their enemies, and had been on the brink of claiming my life and the last remnants of my sanity more than once, but I’d succeeded. I’d made an ally in the most unlikely of places, gone through a terrible ordeal to earn an opportunity to have myself heard and be given a chance in the land of my kind’s enemies, and somehow or other, I’d earned their trust against all odds. It had taken another couple of months to completely overcome the residual friction and distrust, but I’d gotten there in the end. The wounds of the past had healed by then too, and I’d grown accustomed to my new home and expected to peacefully live out the rest of my days there.

Except that fate had had other plans: a group of drones had infiltrated my new home and abducted my benefactors, and I’d been left with no choice but to flee for help, assemble a few allies, and head back here to rescue the captives so they could return to their rightful places and banish the foes. We’d faced one obstacle after another, been outnumbered and eventually subdued, and just before meeting my end, an act of desperation on my part had unexpectedly turned everything in our favor. I’d unleashed all the love I had in me and it had made all the difference! That act had done everything I’d meant it to do and so much more that I wouldn’t have expected in my most daring fantasies: it had inspired the changeling swarm to finally embrace my way, it had destroyed the dreaded throne and thus allowed the non-changeling magic to come to life here again after what must have been an eternity, and it had united ponies and changelings for the first time in history!

The swarm may have accepted the new ways, but its leader hadn’t; though hardly surprising to see her livid after so many of her loyal subjects had abandoned her to side with an outcast - an outcome strange enough in itself - I hadn’t expected her to relinquish her reign and her home and everything she’d worked for all her life so readily, not even against such overwhelming opposition! But relinquish it she had, and had disappeared into the unknown before any of us could stop her or at least follow. Though I knew her heart to be filled with putrid, malignant, impenetrable darkness, it saddened me to think that she would give up her life’s work sooner than allow for a chance that she might have been wrong and let some light and warmth into her heart. Though I had no reason to after how much pain she’d caused me, part of me still hoped that she’d simply acted in shocked spite and that she would one day return seeking guidance and reconciliation, even if every sensible ounce of me dismissed such an outcome as utterly impossible.

Either way, whether or not she’d intended to, she’d essentially given up her crown. And whether or not I liked it, everyone else present for the occasion had agreed that I was the one to claim that crown.

In a way, I could see the logic behind it. I’d been the one to perform the act which had ultimately resulted in her retreat; essentially, I’d overthrown her, though doing so had been the last thing on my mind, even as a theoretical possibility! Even more, the act of unleashing love had changed us physically, transformed us into colorful beings and relieved us of every trait that appeared menacing to other creatures. There was now a variety in appearance between drones bigger than ever before, and my own appearance was the most strikingly different from all the others, and in a way made me stand out from the rest of them and paralleled how alicorns stood out from earth ponies, unicorns, and pegasi. In essence, it seemed like Harmony itself had assigned me the very role that the ponies and changelings alike had decided I should accept!

It felt strange to be here in the hive again after everything that had happened. It felt strange to be here and expect to live to see not just another day but plenty of days to come. It felt strange to be here and not expect pain and unavoidable lose-lose situations. But all of it paled in comparison to how strange, how surreal it was to consider myself in charge!

King Thorax. How weird, how unlikely it sounded! Had it all really happened? Wasn’t I about to wake up in my bed in the Crystal Empire, ashamed of how ridiculously grandiose my ideas had gotten? Had Princess Luna seen any of it? Was she going to reprimand me for stepping out of line? The ponies had helped my self-confidence grow, but surely there had to be a limit beyond which it would do no good to allow oneself to go! Would my friends think any less of me if I’d crossed that threshold? I hoped it wasn’t too late to go back!

But this wasn’t a dream; the impossible had really happened, the ponies had recovered from their cocoon-induced coma and left for their homes, and I’d taken the first steps toward undoing the centuries of damage that the changelings had caused to the world. I’d barely scratched the surface for now, admittedly: I’d ordered the release of all captured creatures from their cocoons and the recalling of our forces from the other lands; these were all small steps, and I knew there was so much more that I’d have to do, but I’d at least made a start! I’d taken those first steps right after the collective transformation, carried by the thrill of the moment and by the exaltation of my lifelong wish of bringing friendship to my kind finally having come to pass, and I knew and felt in my heart that those had been the right steps to take and that I’d never regret doing them or wish I’d done them differently; but a few hours had passed since and the initial hype had died down, and I was left with a failing self-confidence and unsure of what to do next. I hadn’t planned for this! I hadn’t seen it coming, I hadn’t expected I’d ever be trusted with this level of responsibility, and I certainly hadn’t expected it to happen so abruptly! If only the princesses hadn’t been in such a hurry to get back to Equestria and the Crystal Empire to undo any damage their impostors might have caused in their absence; any advice on how to rule a kingdom would have been invaluable! If only they could have spared a moment to share a few tips on how to get started! What if I failed at this? What if I did something wrong? What if the changelings decided they’d gotten ahead of themselves and that acceptance of peaceful ways and love-sharing had been a mistake? What if they reverted to the old ways and decided to follow Chrysalis again? What if I did something to make them revert to the old ways and decide to follow Chrysalis again? What if-

Deep breaths, Thorax. Calm down! That kind of mindset won’t do you any good! Nature and Harmony decided you were capable of this, and so did the alicorn princesses! Are you going to question their judgment? They trusted you, therefore you can do this! Now snap out of it, calm down, and start thinking rationally!

Scolding myself had only helped marginally, but at least I was no longer on the verge of hyperventilating and screaming and transforming into a mouse and scurrying to hide under the nearest rock. That wouldn’t be befitting of a king! How in the world had I ever ended up in this situation?! Surely there had to be someone more capable-

Alright, stop it! You’ll never get anywhere like this!

Realizing I was stuck in a loop of self-depreciation and panicked helplessness, I decided to get up and take a short walk in an attempt to clear my head. I hadn’t left the Throne Room ever since it exploded, and the events that had transpired were probably getting to me more than I cared to realize! The mess hadn’t yet been cleared; a few drones had merely collected the fragments of my predecessor’s throne and piled them up in a heap, and I’d been sitting next to that heap ever since. This wasn’t my first time near the throne; several instances of my punishment for one thing or another over the years had happened here, and though I had no reason to think I’d ever be subjected to unimaginable pain in this room again - on this plateau, to be more accurate, as the walls and ceiling were gone now following the explosion of love - but I wouldn’t be surprised if the memories of my previous experiences of this place were part of the reason why I was finding it so difficult to relax. Or was it some lingering spell that Chrysalis might have cast on the Throne Room, something to torment any usurpers of her throne with should she ever be deposed? It had seemed impossible to me and to everyone I’d ever known that her reign could ever come to an end, but I wouldn’t put it past her to have come up with such a thing regardless.

I’d started walking, but didn’t get far. As soon as I approached the edge of the plateau, a multitude of colors around the base of the hive assaulted my eyes: drones standing about in place as if gathered for a purpose, a few ponies trotting between them away from the hive, presumably on their way home, and a considerable number of drones hovering in place, almost as if overseeing the ones below or waiting for something…

They were waiting for something, I realized. I’d mentioned to Psycho that I’d hold a speech to inform everyling about what had happened and what I expected of the future! He must have gathered them there to wait for me! But why so soon? I hadn’t told him to do it now! I wasn’t ready to hold a speech yet! I was barely holding myself together; how was I supposed to figure out what to tell them so quickly, let alone leave them in awe and inspire confidence and trust? If I made a public statement now, it would turn out to be a disaster for sure!

But I couldn’t leave them hanging, either; Psycho had already said they’d gotten restless and begun to request instructions for how to handle this new situation! This was as much of an uncharted territory to them as it was to me! Sure, I would have preferred to have had some time to decide what to tell them and rehearse a speech, but under the circumstances, would an improvised one really be that bad? They’d understand my predicament and forgive any imperfections as long as I helped them figure out what to do with themselves, wouldn’t they?

I wasn’t so sure. My past with them screamed otherwise; why would they suddenly trust a traitor and sympathize with someone they’d mocked and beaten up on a daily basis? It took some doing to convince myself that choosing me over Chrysalis earlier today had to be a good sign, but how long would it last? What if the mass transformation hadn’t been their decision to follow me but rather to just hear me out and then decide whether or not what I had to offer was good enough to warrant the abandonment of everything they’d ever known? We’d all assumed that I’d won them over, but had I really?

I was about to start hyperventilating again when Psycho and one other drone flew up to me.

“I’ve gathered up the drones, Your Highness,” he said. “You may address them whenever you want.”

His words hadn’t ended my rising panic, but they had kind of shifted me into focus. Kind of.

“I would have appreciated being asked if I was ready, Psycho. Or at least being given a heads-up that you were about to do it.”

“My apologies, Your Highness!”

“And stop calling me ‘Your Highness’! I told you I’m not comfortable with it! Please?

“Of course.” He gestured to the other drone. “This is Urtica. She’s the hive archivist and has expressed a desire to document your speech. Will you permit it?”

“My King, I’d be honored to serve you if you will allow me to retain my duties,” she said, bowing gracefully.

Wonderful! How many times did they have to be told to loosen up around me? This was only making me even more nervous! Then again, this was my first encounter with Urtica, so she probably didn’t know all this and was acting the way Chrysalis would have expected her to.

“Uh, I guess so if you want,” I said, “but I have to warn you that I haven’t prepared a speech and it’d be nothing short of a miracle if it didn’t fail your expectations. And while we’re at it, may I point out that I’m not Chrysalis? I get it that she demanded a display of obedience, but I’d much prefer that you all act naturally around me!”

Still bowed, she snuck a glance at me and then at Psycho as if wondering if this was some kind of a test.

“Relax, Urtica,” he told her. “I’ve known him for years and he means it. I get it, I still revert to old habits too, but let’s try to adjust, shall we?”

“Okay,” she said and rose to a normal stance. “Shall we get started, Your Hi- uh, I mean Thorax?”

“I suppose… I just hope I won’t mess it up… I’ve never held a speech before…”

“Then keep it simple,” Psycho said. “They won’t expect a pep rally anyway. Just tell them what you want them to do without much fuss. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to wow them later when we’ve all gotten used to this new situation.”

“I guess that could work, but… isn’t that a little too… uh… militaristic, for the lack of a better word? I don’t want to make it look like I’m the next Chrysalis even if I tell them to go paint flowers…”

“You want to sound friendly?” Urtica chimed in. “Less like a commander and more like a guiding hoof?”

“Something like that, yes.”

“Then you might want to begin with setting such a tone. For example, infiltrators’ reports from Princess Twilight’s coronation stated that she thanked her associates - um, friends, sorry - and the other ponies present there for the roles they played in her path to becoming royalty, and Dragon Lord Ember allegedly made an attempt at humor when addressing her subjects for the first time. I’m not saying that you have to do either of those things, but if it helps you decide on your approach…”

“Thank you, it does help!” Maybe the ordeal wouldn’t be so bad after all…

I started for the edge of the plateau again. Seeing the crowd below again made my heart leap into my throat regardless of the advice I’d just been given. Hadn’t the crowd been smaller a minute ago? Were they still gathering up? How many of them were there supposed to be, anyway? And would they care to listen? I was sure Chrysalis wouldn’t have had to worry about that as few drones would be so foolish to risk punishment if caught inattentive, but how soon until they caught on that no such punishment would be coming from me, and how would it affect their behavior? I hoped they’d at least make an effort to appear polite and maybe even get the gist of the message in the process if I was lucky, but what if they decided not to bother and simply left the premises? Or what if they started a discussion on the matter? I wanted to believe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing so long as they kept it civil, but would they keep it civil? My first speech ending in carnage was the last thing I wanted!

Okay Thorax, that’s not helping, and you can’t stay here frozen in indecision forever! Just fly down there and address your subjects already!

My subjects. Oh, how weird it felt to refer to them in that way! Would I ever get used to it?

I swallowed a lump in my throat and buzzed my wings; Psycho and Urtica followed me to the base of the hive, to what looked like a podium set up for me - unless it was simply a boulder or a throne room fragment of a convenient size? - and positioned themselves close to me but in such a way that they wouldn’t be drawing attention to themselves. The crowd, murmuring among themselves until that point, went silent, and all eyes gave me their full attention. I looked them over. Most of the faces were the colorful ones of the reformed drones, but they were interspersed here and there with a menacing-looking black face of the old days. There were more than I’d expected to see, and I realized I was hoping none of the colorful faces were disguises erected to throw me off guard. There couldn’t have been too many of them or their collective love aura wouldn’t have been so thick, but it was impossible to be sure that none of them had decided to show up with a face that wasn’t their own.

It didn’t matter, I reminded myself. They were my subjects - goodness, it felt weird on so many levels to call them that - and I was their king - that still felt world-shatteringly strange and I had no idea how I’d ever get used to it! What they’d done to me in the past didn’t - shouldn’t - matter anymore; whatever I’d felt about them before was now irrelevant. Whether or not they’d come to accept my principles, they were my people, and their well-being was my responsibility; no matter how they felt about me and how I felt about them and about the rest of the world in relation to us, my first duty was to them, and nothing in the world would change that for as long as I lived!

Well, I assumed so, at any rate. But what to tell them, and how to begin? Memories of a previous life overwhelmed me momentarily; the last time so many drones had gathered up for me, they’d done it to watch me scream in pain… What had that episode of punishment been for? I couldn’t remember even though it hadn’t been that long ago, but with so many of them, they’d all blended together and I’d sometimes found it hard to tell where one ended and another began-

Okay, enough! That’s over and done with! Just do the speech already! Everything will be fine!

Thankfully, the drones hadn’t seemed to notice me panic a moment ago, or maybe they had but decided against reacting to it. It could have been the discipline from the old days when anything that could be interpreted as disrespect to the Queen would have been grounds for punishment, but I hoped that, this time, they would have held back their reaction out of at least partially-genuine respect.

I took a deep breath and stepped forward.

“My dear fellow changelings,” I began, “much has happened today and I believe you already know the gist of it, so I won’t bore you with the details right now. Let me begin by saying how deeply grateful I am to every one of you who had the courage to set aside everything you’ve ever been taught and lived by and to give me a chance to show you the benefits of sharing love! Judging by your new colors and the strength of your love auras, there’s more of you already than I ever dared to hope, and it means to me more than you realize! But as happy as this day was, it brought a tremendous change and it’ll take a while for all of us to adjust. I expect you’ll have a lot of questions, and though I can’t promise to know the answers as all this is just as new and unexpected to me as it is to you, I’ll do my best to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask! I’ll probably be somewhere around the, uh, former Throne Room most of the time, but if I’m needed elsewhere, feel free to wait, or come looking for me if the matter is urgent.

“Now, I’ve been told a lot of you don’t know what to do with yourselves now that I’ve cancelled all missions you were sent on or preparing for. We’ll be a peaceful nation from now on, therefore I don’t see the need to maintain an army anymore, and the same goes for prey-hunting as we can create love for one another now and won’t have to resort to stealing it. But there is so much more that we can do with our lives! We used to be bound by hunger and blind obedience, but now that we’ve overcome those limitations, I don’t think there’s anything we couldn’t do if we put our hearts and minds to it! I’d like to start an arts-and-crafts group to allow you to express yourselves in new ways and a feelings forum in which you could get to know and understand one another and help your peers with any problem they might have. Those are my own ideas for what we could do, but I don’t want to limit you to just that, and I especially don’t want to dictate your every move! If there’s something that interests you, feel free to suggest it, and you may find that you’re not the only one with such an idea! Draw your inspiration from anything, be it a role you had on an infiltration mission, something you were taught in training, a suppressed desire that you never dared to show in the old days, or whatever else you think the hive will benefit from. As long as it isn’t violent or harmful in any way, I’ll be glad to help you achieve it! The same goes for any suggestions on how to improve the hive and our lives in other ways, as I still haven’t had the time to take a closer look at Chrysalis’ rules, which I’m sure are in need of thorough revision now, and I’d like your input. Think it over and come to me to discuss it. And the most important thing of all: do make friends! You’ll be surprised to see how much love it’ll give you!”

The drones began murmuring among themselves, only a few at first, but more joined in gradually. I took it as a sign that they’d taken my advice to discuss possible activities; at least some of them would! At the very least, they were talking about something, and if that helped them get to know friendship, I’d be satisfied!

I didn’t know what more to say to them at the moment. If need arose, I could always ask Psycho to gather them up again for another speech, hopefully one I’d have prepared for a little better. Besides, I had a lot of catching up to do, and I still didn’t know whether or not Pharynx had gotten the message to return to the hive! I missed him so much; whatever happened next, I had a feeling everything would be easier with him by my side! I wondered how he’d react to the big news…