• Published 1st Jan 2022
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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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Bury the Hatchet

The outskirts of the hive welcomed us peacefully this time; the leaves and branches of the budding vegetation swayed gently in the breeze, their contours softened by the fading light of the setting sun, and an odd drone was flying in the distance. It was almost hard to imagine the landscape as it had once been, barren and ominous, and for a moment, I allowed myself to believe this tranquil beauty was the messenger of hope, promising better days about to dawn; no longer would the changeling kind be divided, no longer would they refuse the gift of peace and friendship, no longer would the other lands shun and despise us, and we would finally become what we should have been all along!

Indeed, nothing disturbed the idyllic scenery: no unreformed drones were destroying things or bickering with their reformed peers, no wild beasts were skulking around, and probably to Pharynx’s continued dismay, no foreign armies were marching on to invade the changeling territory! I’d never seen the place so peaceful, so… almost welcoming!

The absence of trouble continued in the hive’s hallways, and I soon dismissed Blade and Feisty and was left on my own. I intended to leave my saddlebag and the paintings in my bedchamber, then carry the flower somewhere outside, probably the throne room, so it could have plenty of sunlight it needed, and after that, I would go looking for Pharynx or Psycho. Either one of them would probably know everything I’d missed that was worth mentioning! Psycho may be a better choice, but I suspected Pharynx’s punishment hadn’t kept him out of touch with whatever was going on, not to mention that I just wanted to see him! Disciplined or not, he was still my brother!

I only got around to setting the saddlebag down on the floor when I became aware of a peculiarly white-hot aura… peculiar because there seemed to be two layers of the white-hotness, but somehow intermixed… and it was coming from above… And I could have imagined it, but there were also sounds coming from above, muffled and barely audible, but I couldn’t ignore them…

Puzzled, I went to look for the source of the strange commotion. I barely left my bedchamber when I remembered my flower was still squeezed into the saddlebag, and doubled back to at least get it out, hoping nothing would happen to it while I was away.

The sounds became louder and clearer as I followed the aura to its source. It wasn’t long until my suspicions were confirmed: some intense arguing was going on! But what about? Too many were yelling to make out individual words!

Well, the shouts seemed to be coming from the same direction as the aura, so they were probably about the same thing. Hardly surprising in and of itself, but the part that worried me was that, as my bedchamber was on one of the topmost levels of the hive, there was hardly more than one possibility as to where exactly the commotion was happening.

I kept going until I arrived at the throne room and was welcomed with quite a sight.

The entire throne room was packed with changelings, so much that some were standing on the remains of the walls or hovering in mid-air, and they were all yelling. It only took a moment to realize they’d formed two distinct groups, one reformed and one not; the reformed ones were gathered around something in the center of the plateau that hadn’t been there before, roughly where Chrysalis’ throne had once stood, the others had them surrounded as far as I could see, and in the empty space separating the two sides, stood Psycho, Antenna, Mystique, and Grim versus Pharynx, Cockroach, and Hyena.

Okay, one question answered but at least a dozen new ones were demanding the same, and it wasn’t going to happen as long as I remained there, staring baffled at whatever this was about. I flew closer to what I assumed were the representatives of each side.

It didn’t look like they’d noticed me, but at least I was able to make out their words.

“I don’t care! Either you take it away or I will!”

“Not going to happen! I’m telling you, it took us-”

“-forever, I get it, so what? It’s pretty to you so it has to stay?”

“What’s wrong with it being pretty?”

“Tell me, Antenna, since you’re so smart: what happens when the darn thing grows larger and the roots clog every hallway in the castle?!”

“The roots will go through the walls, Pharynx, not through empty space!”

“You better be sure about it, ‘cause I see one root and the whole thing is getting chopped down and I don’t care how much you wail at me to leave it alone!”

“You wouldn’t!”

“Try me.”

“You’d cut down a beautiful tree over one little root?!”

“I told you already, if you didn’t want to risk your precious little tree, you shouldn’t have planted it in the middle of the throne room in the first place!”

“Pharynx-”

“That goes to you too, Mystique! Not a single drone in your entire group realized how indescribably stupid that is?! Couldn’t you have done it without the tree?”

“Better yet, Pharynx, they didn’t have to do anything-”

“Shut up, Hyena. Grim, quit standing there and bring me an axe. Or turn into one, just make it big and sharp.”

“I won’t!”

“You will or I’ll rip you apart instead!”

I’d heard enough. “Pharynx!”

“Oh, hi Thorax. Back already?”

“What’s going on here?”

“I’m surrounded by idiots is what’s going on,” he grumbled.

“Thorax,” Psycho interjected, “Antenna has been working with the arts-and-crafts group to build you a unique throne and Pharynx and the renegades want it destroyed.”

“Destroyed is right!” Cockroach protested. “They should have made something worthy of Chrysalis for when she returns! Or better yet, this clown should have surrendered himself to her instead of pulling stunts! Just look at what we ended up with, and that throne is just as bad! The pathetic tree thing is an insult to her!”

“It’s Thorax’s throne, not Chrysalis’!” Antenna retorted.

“A throne…” I mused, still struggling to believe it was real. “You guys made me a throne?”

“Well, yeah, you need one, being a king and all,” Mystique said. “It would have been finished sooner but we needed to find a good sapling to incorporate into the design.”

“The tree is meant to symbolize friendship and how it grows when properly nourished, just like you taught us,” Antenna explained. “Mystique designed the chair piece. The tree itself will need some time to grow and I’ll be shaping it along the way. Do you like it?”

I came closer to the throne and looked it over. The chair piece seemed a little crude at first glance, but it fit in with the tree, and whether or not it would need remodeling or replacing as the tree grew, I was sure they’d thought it over and had a plan in place. It was an unconventional throne alright, all but grandiose at least for the time being, but in spite of that - or maybe because of it - it kind of appealed to me…

I sat down on it. The chair piece was more comfortable than it looked, and spacious enough to lounge on or even sleep in if I were inclined to do so. The emptyish back was slightly awkward, but only temporarily, as the growing tree would fill that gap, plus the tree would provide shade from the sun and shelter from the rain, maybe even welcome birds and their nests into its branches!

“It’s wonderful,” I said and meant it. “I wouldn’t have it any other way! Thanks, whoever took part in building it!”

The unreformed drones grumbled on, but the reformed ones weren’t letting that sour the mood; some of them gathered around Mystique and Antenna for a cheering group hug. Pharynx just stood there, rolling his eyes, except for one or two instances when he briefly abandoned the eye-rolling in order to hiss at any drone who dared approach him.

The crowd dispersed quickly, however; Pharynx caught Grim for a second and muttered something to her, then stormed off. I followed.

“Congratulations on the stupidest throne in the world,” he barked at me before I even fully reached him. “I hope you’re as happy with it as you sounded back there.”

“What’s wrong with the throne? Okay, it feels awkward to have one, but it’s actually kinda cute…”

“Well, it suits you, at the very least.” It didn’t sound like a compliment, and knowing him, probably wasn’t intended as one.

“Why are you so much against it?”

“How much did you catch back there?”

“You were complaining about the roots and-”

“Exactly.”

“I don’t follow…”

“Ugh, are you blind or stupid? Or both? Either the growing roots will compromise structural integrity of the hive, or they’ll block passage through the tunnels, or both! The walls aren’t shifting and changing anymore if you haven’t noticed! How do you expect the hive to repair itself now?”

“But Antenna said-”

“I know what she said! You think she can predict the future? How does she know the roots will behave exactly like she says and never, ever deviate from it?”

“She’s a gardener, she probably knows-”

“-more about plants than a soldier would, alright, I’ll give you that much. But she can’t be completely sure, can she? Nothing is ever foolproof! They should have designed something without the darn tree!”

“But they put an effort into making this one, so please don’t destroy it…”

“We’ll see.” He marched off into one of the tunnels that led into the lower levels of the hive.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“To get some sleep. I’ve got a long day of sweeping the dust tomorrow, in case you forgot your own orders.”

“But you sleep here!” I pointed to our bedchamber.

“Since when are janitors supposed to share a bedchamber with royalty?”

“You may temporarily be a janitor, but you’ll always be my brother. Besides, since when are First Commanders supposed to give up usage of their own personal quarters in order to share a burrow with low-clearance janitors?”

“Don’t get all sappy. I was just making sure some other janitor wouldn’t end up tasked with a messy corpse disposal on top of his usual duties.”

“Aww, I knew you cared!”

“Shut up.”


Pharynx wasn’t around when I woke up in the morning. He’d probably gotten up early for his duties, I figured, unless he’d snuck out early in the night and gone to wherever he’d originally intended to sleep. Or unless… well, given what he’d been doing, I wouldn’t put it past him! I rushed to the throne room, trying to not make it too obvious that I had a definite concern on my mind.

I may have done a bad job of hiding my worries, as Grim guessed them as soon as she saw me.

“Good morning, Thorax!” she chirped. “Your throne is in mint condition! There was only one attempt to mess with it overnight but I chased them off!”

Sure enough, there was nothing to worry about after all. The throne was still there, standing… uh, ‘proudly’ didn’t seem like the best word for a throne of such a design… Happily? Shyly? Yes, there was a humble streak in it… Either way, it stood there unharmed, just like Grim had said.

“You spent the whole night here, guarding the throne?”

“Pharynx told me to.”

“He did? Wow…”

“You sound surprised.”

“Didn’t he want to destroy it last night?”

“I’m sure it was a misunderstanding…”

“Grim, he asked you for an axe.”

“Oh, that! I think he just… didn’t like the design… but you turned out to be okay with it, so he must have decided to let you have it.”

“He didn’t sound very supportive afterwards,” I muttered.

Grim shrugged. “Individual tastes?”

“And he changes those as quickly as he can change shape?”

She tilted her head in confusion.

“C’mon, he beats up drones who want to reinstate Chrysalis, then joins the group that demands a new throne for Chrysalis and even represents them, then I show up and say I like the throne and suddenly he’s on my side? I feel like I don’t know him anymore half the time! In fact, it sometimes feels like he’s two different changelings in the same body!”

“Maybe he’s just confused? I mean, you did make some pretty big changes here, and it’s taking everyling some getting used to. I’m sure he’ll come around eventually!”

“I don’t know what to think anymore…”

“Well, for all his erratic behavior, I know one thing.”

I waited for her to continue.

He loves you, Thorax. Why else would he have risked his life covering for you for so long? I was there! He could be really difficult sometimes, but in hindsight, I think he was worrying his head off for you and wondering how long he could keep up the charade. I think he still hasn’t gotten used to not having to hide whose side he’s really on.”

I considered this. “Yes, you may have something there… but how do I get him to open up?”

“Patience,” she said. “After a lifetime of toughness and exemplary discipline, it’ll take him a while, but I’m sure you’ll get there in the end. Look, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’m due for a shift in the nursery and I hardly slept tonight. Mind if I…?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, and she took to the air. “Oh, and Grim?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks.”

She nodded and flew away.

I barely managed to sit on my throne when Psycho showed up.

“Were we expecting guests?” he asked right away.

“Not that I know of. Why?”

“Some buffalo are here, looking for you.”

That was unexpected… Little Strongheart had told me that her father was still insistent on keeping me banished from their lands, even after Applejack and Braeburn had vouched for me. Apparently he still hadn’t stopped holding a grudge against changelings for attacking their villages for so many generations, and that hadn’t been that long ago… Could he have begun to change his mind?

Well, only one way to find out.

“Where are they?”

“I told them to wait just outside the hive, though given their animosity toward us, I wouldn’t put it past them that they decided they weren’t obliged to listen.”

“They wouldn’t hurt anyling, would they?”

“They nearly leveled Appleloosa a few years ago over some orchard dispute,” he shrugged. “Like I said, I wouldn’t put it past them.”

Wonderful. Why was everyone so bent on destruction?

“Okay, I’ll go see what they want.”

I peered over the edge of the throne room. Half a dozen brown things stood still near one of the biggest ground-level entrances. It was hard to tell what exactly they were from this high up, but they could have easily been the buffalo. At any rate, the said brown specks hadn’t been there earlier, so unless a few drones were masquerading or had placed new objects around overnight, it was safe to assume these were our visitors.

I flew down to them. Chief Thunderhooves was there, along with a couple of buffalo I recognized from my first encounter with them and a few I hadn’t yet met. Their faces were painted in stripes and swirls for some reason, but they were waiting for me, calmly and patiently, and I didn’t sense any alarming aspects of their auras, at least.

“Good morning, and welcome to the Changeling Kingdom!” I said to them. “How can I help you?”

“We’re looking for one named Thorax who calls himself the new king of changelings. Will you take us to him?”

“I’m Thorax. This new body must be confusing you.” I shifted into my old one. “Is this better?”

“If you are the Thorax we know, why did you ignore the banishment of your kind from our lands?”

“I’m sorry, didn’t you banish just me when Little Strongheart brought me to your village? We are referring to that day, aren’t we? That was the only time I set hoof in your territory.”

“I’m referring to the messenger who brought this.” He held out the declaration of peace I’d sent to them. “It was you who sent him, yes?”

“Yes, but I didn’t realize all changelings were banned from buffalo territory now. Little Strongheart never mentioned it in her letters, and if the other changelings knew about it, I’m sure they would have told me. Now that I know about it, I’ll make sure we steer clear of your lands in the future even though we mean no harm.”

His posture relaxed a little. “That may not be necessary,” he said.

“Oh?”

“Appleloosan folk learned of the fate of the vile Chrysalis from Applejack and her friends as they were passing through to Ponyville, and news spread to us shortly before your messenger arrived. Given our prior experience with your kind, I didn’t want to take your message for granted, so I postponed my decision until I could discuss the matter with Applejack and Princess Twilight. We hold great appreciation for them, but I wish to see more before trusting their judgment on this matter.”

That also explained why Little Strongheart wasn’t here; her father must have wanted her to remain safely at home until we convinced him we’d abandoned the old ways. “In that case, how would you like a tour of the hive?”

They accepted, and I reverted to my current form.

It was a long way up made longer by taking a scenic route and occasionally waiting for me to erect stairs to upper levels where flightless creatures with no ability to walk on walls and ceilings would have no way of proceeding further, but I showed them everything: residential areas, former armories and drill chambers turned into activity grounds, a feelings forum meeting that was in session, some of the interior gardens that Antenna and a few others had planted near the gates leading to the hive’s outer surface, the archives, and much more. Finally, we ended up in the throne room.

“Is this your throne?” Chief Thunderhooves asked.

“Yes. It only just got set up yesterday.”

“I must admit I expected something bigger.”

“It will get bigger when the tree grows. Like I said, it’s still new.”

He shrugged. I assumed he was disappointed by my throne, though he was trying not to show it, and he and the others turned their attention to the rest of the throne room. I allowed them a moment to take in the undeniably more breathtaking - and dizzying, judging by how quickly a few of them moved away from the edge - view of the surrounding plains far into the distance.

“Impressive,” the Chief finally said. “Was this your predecessor’s throne room too?”

“Yes.”

“I did not expect her to care for such a magnificent view. Did it give her a feeling of power to sit on top of the world?”

“It probably did, but she didn’t have the view. There used to be walls and a ceiling here, but they blew up when we shared love. Some of the boulders dotting the landscape at ground level are actually fragments of those walls. But even if there were no walls, this used to be a wasteland, so she wouldn’t have had much to bask her eyes on.”

“I doubt that, Thorax. We can almost see our village from here!”

“What is the meaning of this?!”

We turned to the source of the sudden protest.

“Pharynx, meet our guests, Chief-”

“I know who they are! Who told them they could come here?”

“Uh, I’m sure I kind of implied it in the declaration of peace-”

He facehoofed. “You invited them?! What were you thinking?”

“We’re not at war with them; why shouldn’t they come for a visit?”

“You sure about not being at war?”

I tilted my head in confusion. He engulfed himself in green flames and emerged wearing the same swirls and stripes as the buffalo.

“War paint?” he sai, gesturing at his face. “Why come dressed for war if they just want to talk?”

“My apologies,” Chief Thunderhooves said. “We did not know what to expect and the council felt better like this. I trust we don’t need it anymore.”

They wiped off the swirls and stripes as best as they could without water. Pharynx snorted and marched off, then snuck back to retrieve a broom he’d hidden. The buffalo didn’t seem to notice so I ignored him.

“I’m afraid you haven’t been entirely unjustified about the war paint,” I sighed. “As you’ve seen, not all of my subjects are reformed yet. I haven’t had much success in getting them to see reason, but at least they haven’t done anything really harmful even though they’re pretty loud and obstinate.”

“How numerous are they?”

“A minority. A couple of thousand, maybe? I was given a census but never bothered to count the names…”

“If the majority are with you, then we shouldn’t fear the minority.”

“Can I take that as a sign of your willingness to sign a peace treaty sooner or later?”

“We have a tradition of burying the hatchet, but if you want a signed treaty, then we’ll do that too.”

“The… hatchet?” Why was everyone obsessed with chopping tools recently?

“A symbol of war in our people’s tradition. Burying it signifies the end of a war and is as much of a binding contract to us as any signed piece of parchment.”

“Okay then… I’m not very skilled with writing legal documents, and our head archivist is currently indisposed, so burying the hatchet kind of works better, actually…”

One of the buffalo produced a hatchet and waited.

“Uh… forgive me, but is this my cue to do something?” They looked at me sideways so I hurriedly explained, “Sorry. I was considered useless in the old system and haven’t yet had the time to learn the details of foreign cultures such as rituals. Infiltrators would have been taught that, but I wasn’t deemed good enough to become one, so… yeah. I would have tried to prepare myself better if I’d known you were coming!”

Had I offended them? Why hadn’t I spent more time learning?

“Fair enough. You’re supposed to bring your own weapon, or weapons, and we bury them together with our hatchet.”

“Oh… um… I’m afraid I had all our weapons thrown out…” Maybe Pharynx still had some?

I was about to excuse myself and go ask him, not really expecting he’d be thrilled about losing yet another weapon, when Chief Thunderhooves said, “No matter. The point of the ritual is to rid ourselves of the tools of war, symbolically at least, but since you’ve already done that literally, it shall be considered as the fulfilment of your end of the ritual, and it is only up to us to fulfil ours.”

“If you say so,” I shrugged.

“Now, where shall we bury this hatchet?”

Good point. “I’m not sure… Where do hatchets usually get buried?”

“Wherever the decision is made to end the war. The one we buried at the end of the Appleloosan dispute, for example, is in the soil of Braeburn’s orchard.”

“So, in our case, it would be this throne room?”

“That, or the nearest site suitable for the task.”

“Well, if the drones managed to plant a tree here, then we should be able to dig a hole,” I mused. “How about next to the throne?”

The Chief nodded; he and his companions made a small trench at the indicated spot, laid the hatchet in it, covered it up, and stomped the dirt until there was hardly a trace of it ever having been disturbed. Okay, it had been disturbed before in order to plant the tree, but now that the hatchet was there too, just to the side of the tree, it was hard to tell where one hole ended and another began. Probably a good thing, too, as I had little doubt that Pharynx would unearth the hatchet if he knew it was here! Maybe I should ask Antenna to carefully plant some flowers there to conceal the disturbed ground? Oh! The flower I’d brought from the Crystal Empire was still in my bedchamber; I could plant it right above the hatchet! If it remained in the flowerpot, the hatchet wouldn’t get in the way of the roots-

“Goodness!” I slapped myself. “I haven’t offered you anything to eat! I’m afraid we don’t have anything that normally counts as food… Do you think any of the plants growing in and around the hive are edible? I’m sure Antenna will understand…”

“We anticipated you wouldn’t have any food,” one of the buffalo said, “so we brought our own.” He opened a saddlebag and passed some apple fritters to the others.

“Braeburn’s latest harvest,” another of them said. “You want some?”

“Heh, thanks, but they’re your food. I shouldn’t!”

“Then you’ll have to try them when you come to the buffalo territory again.”

“You mean…?”

“I should have lifted your banishment long ago, when my daughter confirmed you were a good person. Heck, I probably shouldn’t have banished you in the first place!”