• Published 1st Jan 2022
  • 1,292 Views, 271 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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Riots

“Owwwww… my head…”

“What happened?”

“Where are we?”

“Why is everything shaking and spinning?”

“I think I’m gonna be sick…”

“What was in that cake?”

“Can you please be quiet?!”

I didn’t have an answer to any of my companions’ questions. I wished I did; I could have asked any of those questions myself! Unfortunately, I was in no condition to look for answers. My head was spinning and pulsating with pain, and my guts were attempting to turn themselves inside out, and I didn’t know whether I should hope to rein them in or just let them do whatever they wanted to and come back later to pick them up. Just keeping my eyes open was hard enough, and I wasn’t even trying to focus on anything around me! As far as I could tell in my pathetic state, it almost looked like we were on a moving train, but why would we-

Wait. We were on a moving train! But how had we gotten here, and-

Ow. Easy there, Thorax! No sudden movements or your head will explode again!

Keeping still, I convinced myself to open my eyes again and scan my surroundings. Sure enough, we seemed to be in a train car, every single one of us sprawled helpless on a seat, moaning and howling miserably, but that was about as much as I could tell. Even if I could get up to look through a window, it was dark outside.

“Guys, wha- mmmmmph…” Okay, maybe talking was a bad idea until further notice. I tried anyway. “Were… were we… are we sick…”

“Beats me… I just remember a party…”

“I remember a cake… did we eat a cake?”

“We did… Discord made a lovecake… I don’t think he got it right…”

“You sure that was Discord?”

“Who else would conjure up a rainbow-colored trope of dancing elephants and a singing pineapple?”

“You saw that too? So I wasn’t hallucinating…”

“This isn’t helping, guys… why would we feel like this after a lovecake…”

“I think he put lust in it, not love…”

“What are you talking about, Spiracle?”

“I’m talking about the intoxicating effect feeding on lust has on changelings, Thorax. Didn’t you know about it?”

“How would I? I’ve never been exposed to lust prior to running away, and was only ever feeding on what the crystal ponies were offering me, none of which was lust. I didn’t even know we could feed on it…”

“Well we can, but it’s not a good idea. Ever seen a drunk pony?”

“No, but I heard a few stories…”

“That’s pretty close to what happens when we eat lust. The thing’s loosely related to romantic love and has a similar taste to it, and can even ease hunger to an extent, but the after-effects… downright crippling if you cross the line…”

“So we’re… what’s the term… hungover?”

“You could say so, Antenna.”

“That explains so much…”

“I better not ask what you mean by that…”

“Don’t…”

“I just wanna know why Discord did it…”

“As if he needs a reason…”

“It could have been an accident…”

“Didn’t you see him smirk as he passed us the slices? He knew exactly what he was doing…”

“But how would he know?”

“He’s gotta be older than Chrysalis… if he hasn’t figured it out at some point, I dunno-”

The train came to a halt and some of us nearly fell off our seats-turned-beds. A conductor trotted in.

“Last stop, everyone,” he announced.

“Where are we?” Mystique asked. “How did we get on a train?”

“We’re in Appleloosa,” the conductor said, ignoring the rest of her question. “You need to disembark now.”

We got up on unsteady hooves and wobbled out onto the platform. Unsurprisingly, nopony was there to meet us, and the train left after the conductor emptied it of my saddlebag that I’d completely ignored until then.

“Now what?” Hornet muttered.

“Let’s find someplace to spend the night,” I said. “I don’t think we’re in any condition to fly to the hive right now…”

Easier said than done. We barely managed to drag ourselves off the platform, so instead of putting some distance between ourselves and the town like I’d hoped, we simply circled around the station building and slumped down onto the ground, hoping we could avoid the awkward situation of being found there in the morning, or at least to be able to explain ourselves. For now, sleep was in order.

“Spiracle?” I asked as the drones were beginning to snore.

“Mmm?”

“We will feel better in the morning, right?”

“Heck if I know…”

“But you’re the medic…”

“Mmh. Lust isn’t predictable like cider. Maybe. Probably.”


We didn’t feel better in the morning. Maybe we did, but not enough to say we were alright and as good as new and ready to take on whatever the day decided to throw at us, or whatever other phrases existed to describe the feeling. Everyling was reluctant to move on until Psycho suggested that some exercise might help snap us out of it, and after some persuading from both of us, we finally got them to start walking south. I had to promise to take it slowly and allow for frequent breaks, but it was an easy promise, as I didn’t think we could do it any other way in this condition. I certainly couldn’t!

Psycho’s strategy worked to an extent. Walking did clear our heads, and after a couple of hours, most of us felt ready to try flying. Or was it simply that we were finally getting Discord’s cake out of our systems, as Spiracle had suggested at some point? Either way, it felt good to be marginally ourselves again, even if it would take some time yet to fully get there. At this rate, we were more likely to reach the hive first.

We didn’t get quite that far.

A single drone, freaked out and out of breath, intercepted us just beyond the point where the jungle’s foliage gave way to empty airspace above the wasteland. She looked like she’d made a run through a battlefield, just barely dodged a thousand spears, and fallen into every trench.

“Thorax!” she exclaimed. “Thank goodness you’re back! I was afraid I wouldn’t find you!”

“What’s going on, Retina?”

“They’re fighting all over the hive! You’ve got to sort them out! We can’t take it much longer!”

“Slow down… who’s fighting?”

“It started when the renegades tried to break your throne and Grim saw them… she tried sending them to Proboscis but the incidents kept piling up… it’s gone out of control and I don’t know how much longer we can keep it up! Please, you’ve got to hurry!”

Well, so much for not having a headache. I dashed after her, unsure of what in the name of eggshells she expected me to do if all my efforts so far had failed. Unless the issue was that I hadn’t been around enough to try harder? I had been running about a whole lot recently! Could it be that things had escalated because the drones found it hard to be loyal to a king who was never there? Had I set my priorities wrong? Should I have waited with making the first steps to change our reputation in other lands until later, and instead focused on earning everyling’s trust first? Why had I assumed that I had enough trust to tackle international relations before dealing with internal affairs? How was I going to fix this mess now? Could I still fix it?

“How long has this been going on?”

“The last wave? Ever since you left for Ponyville. It was random and sporadic at first but now the fights are breaking out everywhere, all the time!”

“The renegades starting them every time?”

“Yes.”

“So… what ends the fights?” Blade asked.

Retina halted abruptly and gave him a blank stare.

“I mean,” he continued, “if the fights have been starting for the past few days, then they would have had to end at some point and start over later or you’d have all killed each other by now, or at the very least, you’d be talking about one huge fight, not multiple ones. So how do the fights stop?”

“As of today, mostly by everyling on one side getting knocked out. I don’t know how we’ve managed to go without fatalities so far!”

“And before that?”

She hesitated for a moment. “Pharynx,” she said in the end.

Hearing his name froze my heart. What had he done now? He was unreformed, therefore probably considered a renegade even if he wasn’t acting like a typical one! Had he taken the opportunity to side with the other unreformed drones in my absence? Had he killed - no, wait, Retina had said there were no fatalities - had he injured other drones? Had he commandeered a rampage? Was I going to have to punish him again, just when I’d started to hope I could terminate his janitor duty? But it had been hard enough to do it once already; how was I supposed to bring myself to punish him again or to extend his punishment, no matter how justified the reasons? How was I supposed to bring myself to punish so many drones when I regularly struggled to exact punishment on anyling?

Oh no. What if Pharynx was injured? Retina had said he’d been ending the fights at first… that implied he wasn’t doing it anymore... Could it be because he was unable to?

“W-what happened?” I stammered out.

“He was just showing up out of nowhere, hissing and growling at both sides until they would stop, then beating everyling up when hissing and growling became ineffective. I saw him do it in a battle disguise a couple of times, too. Then he just… stopped. Just like that, no obvious reason. He sees a group fighting and just trots past them and disappears somewhere into the wasteland. Don’t ask me where. I’ve been too busy to follow, and it didn’t look like I’d get anywhere by asking him about it.”

Okay, that was… strangely unlike Pharynx, and yet, exactly like him. He’d never been one to confide in anyling, except for the occasional venting in my presence in the old days, which he probably wouldn’t have done had it occurred to him that I could be paying attention to stuff beyond my clearance level, but why attack both renegades and non-renegades? He would have normally sided with one against the other! Something didn’t add up.

“Retina, would it be possible that we’re dealing with not just Pharynx, but someling disguised as him? Someling trying to get him in trouble?”

“I… hmm. The theory makes sense, but something tells me it’s him all the time. You’ll be able to tell, won’t you? You know him better than any of us!”

“Maybe.” I wasn’t so sure.

We were at the hive by then, and sure enough, a few dozen drones were engaged in an intense fight in the throne room, so intense that individual drones were getting thrown or catapulted off the plateau every few seconds, the conscious ones going back immediately, the unconscious ones mostly getting caught by whichever of their peers happened to be airborne and near enough, and my throne looked to be just barely defended against getting set on fire.

“It’s this bad?!” I exclaimed.

“Didn’t I just tell you?”

“...I guess I thought you were exaggerating…”

“I’m not. Grim is holding the fort here… just barely… and Apex’s team was trying to defend your bedchamber the last time I saw him, Feisty had to end two feelings forum sessions halfway through, Cornicle barely managed to hide the arts and crafts supplies before the chamber got swarmed, the infirmary is packed full of casualties-”

“Okay, I get it,” I moaned, rubbing my forehead and wishing for the time when nausea and an exploding headache made worse by train motion were my biggest problems. “Any ideas?”

The drones returning with me from Ponyville exchanged glances.

“If we create a protective cordon around the throne,” Hornet said, “do you think you could outyell them to get their attention and then command them to stop fighting or start giving out punishments or whatever you think is best?”

“Maybe,” I shrugged, “but what would be best? I don’t want to overdo it and basically become the next Chrysalis!”

“I’m sure we’re in no danger of that,” Blade said.

“You may be right, but what do I tell them?!” I was beginning to hyperventilate.

“Relax,” Mystique said. “Improvise if you want, or repeat something you said before on a similar occasion. But relax first, I mean it!”

“How will something I said before work now if it didn’t work then?”

“I’m not saying it will, but you never know. Maybe they just need to hear it enough times?”

The theory didn’t sound as convincing as I would have preferred, but there was some sense in it, in a way. I remembered my own first days under a system drastically different from the one I’d grown up in. How many times had I needed to hear Cadance and Sunburst insist that I was a good person before finally allowing myself to believe they could be right? How long had I been refusing to accept the love they’d been openly offering - almost forcing upon me - thinking I didn’t deserve it and fearing it would hurt them no matter how careful I was not to cross the line? Maybe these drones needed that kind of persistent nudging in the right direction, too! It couldn’t hurt to try, right? Especially since I didn’t have a better idea?

I landed onto the throne, but the surrounding chaos was so intense that the others couldn’t even get close to the ground properly, let alone form a protective cordon as per Hornet’s suggestion. They tried, but every time one managed to land, another got roped into a hoof-fight, and as soon as they got roped out of it, another would get forced into the air again to avoid being trampled. This went on for a while, and if anyling had noticed my return by now, they weren’t showing it.

Time to attract their attention already.

“Everyone, please…” I said, to no avail. “Um, can you stop for a moment?” Nothing. “Hello?” Still being ignored. I groaned and rubbed my forehead. “Ugh, will you stop fighting for one second?!”

I might as well have been talking to a pile of rocks. At least rocks wouldn’t be ripping each others’ throats out! I had to do something to snap them out of it! But what? If only there was some kind of instant fix-all such as the one that had ousted Chrysalis…

Maybe there was! I had no promise it would work when words had failed, but there was still one thing no changeling could ignore! It was worth a try, at least!

I unleashed a pulse of concentrated love energy, similar to the outpouring that had triggered my ascension, only shorter and softer, as I didn’t want to throw everyling off the plateau. The idea was to only get their attention, and it worked: I was left slightly light-headed, possibly as a sort of lingering after-effect of the recent hangover if not from the outburst itself, but everyling in sight stopped fighting as if dazed and turned to the source of the unexpected love surge.

Okay, maybe I was more than a little light-headed. I made a mental note to talk to Spiracle about it later. Right now, I needed to purge the ice-hot rage from my kingdom!

Except that I still wasn’t sure what to say to make an impact.

“Didn’t I ask you not to fight?” I blurted out.

“They started it!” a reformed drone exclaimed.

“And why should we care what you asked of us?” a renegade retorted, ignoring the other drone.

“Because he’s your king, that’s why,” Grim growled.

“He isn’t! I only acknowledge one leader and her name is Chrysalis!”

“So where is she now, you idiot?” another reformed drone mocked the renegade.

“Not where she belongs, that’s for sure! We’re gonna kick that useless maggot out of here so she can return to her rightful place!”

“Watch your tongue!” Psycho hissed. “I’m this close to doubling your hole count!”

“Can we please not resort to violence again?”

“What’s wrong, wimp? Afraid of getting your rump kicked a millionth time?”

“I wanna have the honor of kicking his rump off that joke of a throne!”

“I wanna have the honor of ripping his head off!”

“What are we waiting for? Get him!”

The group of renegades rushed forward but the reformed drones quickly formed a tight cordon in front of the throne. A few nearby ones adopted battle disguises.

“Not another step,” Psycho growled.

“Try to stop us,” a renegade smirked, charging forward with a battle cry.

The cordon braced for impact and I flinched, closing my eyes firmly shut in anticipation of a bloodshed. If only I could have stopped them! How could I have failed so miserably? It was my duty to establish and maintain peace and harmony among my subjects, and I’d failed! I’d failed at one of the most fundamental principles of my philosophy and the cornerstone of my reign! How could I have allowed it to happen? Did I really deserve to call myself king after this?

Then I realized everything was way too quiet.

I opened my eyes and needed a moment to make sense of what I was seeing. Every single drone in the throne room, reformed or otherwise, was frozen in place, some standing, some suspended in mid-air, some in positions of combat or impending combat, all of them glowing in a steady aura of blue magic. It almost looked like something had triggered another mass metamorphosis or some kind of a mass outburst of magic, but not quite. Then it hit me: it was my own levitation spell holding them in place, similarly to how Chrysalis had held me in her magical grip at the climax of my attempt to rescue the ponies she’d captured! I must have done it instinctively to keep them from killing one another!

I released my hold on the drones standing calmly, separated the ones who were fighting, and set them gently on the ground. This time, they remained there, grumbling and seething, but apparently resigned to withholding from further excesses, at least for the time being.

As relieving as it may have been to end the fight, I was under no illusion it would last. The momentary truce was undoubtedly only the product of realization I could physically manipulate them at will, and once they had some time to process my previously-unseen ability, the fighting would continue unless I figured out how to deal with the root of the problem. I wanted to tackle it now, or at least to make a start in what would hopefully be the right direction, but I was so tired, and frustrated, and this headache wasn’t letting up… none of which would be of any help in resolving the issue, and could even make it worse!

As much as I hated putting this off even longer, I had to admit to myself that it might be a better choice. A good night’s sleep could be what I needed in more sense than one; it may not do wonders, but if it restored some of my energy, that was better than nothing.

Assuming, of course, that I could get that sleep uninterrupted. Judging by what I’d been welcomed with and what was possibly still going on elsewhere in the hive, I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much.

“Look,” I said. “I know many of you have your grievances about one thing or another, and I won’t dismiss them outright like you may be thinking I’ve been doing ever since I took the throne. I promise I’ll hear you out, but right now, none of us seem to be in a state of mind that would allow us to do something constructive about it. Can you please hold back from lashing out at one another for the night and go to bed?”

“What bed?” a drone interjected.

“Yes, I’m sorry, I only just realized that you haven’t abandoned the habit of sleeping on the bare floor. Gosh, I really should pay more attention to you, shouldn’t I?” I smiled nervously. “Anyway, you don’t have to keep doing that. Build yourselves cocoon-like bubbles or moss nests to sleep in, or use pony mattresses if we have any, or invent something entirely new if you have an idea… of course, if any of you actually want to keep sleeping on the bare floor, I won’t forbid it, though I do recommend beds…”

Murmurs spread through the crowd; they sounded approving for the most part, but a fair number of drones, mostly unreformed ones, groaned and rolled their eyes at the suggestion. Whether they were disapproving of the beds themselves or of the fact that I’d been the one to make that suggestion, it was hard to tell, but it probably didn’t matter much.

“So you’ll sort this mess out in the morning?” Elytra asked.

“Yes, or at least I’ll begin then. Something tells me it could take a while, depending on how many of you have something to say. But yes, I do think we’ll be much better off resolving the issue once we take a break and cool down a little.”

The drones were apparently satisfied enough with that decision, as they started to mill towards the exit tunnels or fly away and down to the lower levels. It still wasn’t going without grumbling on the renegades’ part, but at least they weren’t starting any more fights, at least for now. Soon I was left alone with Grim and the drones who had accompanied me to Ponyville.

“Go on,” Grim said, “get some rest. The night may actually be peaceful after this and I hope I didn’t just jinx it. We’ll be alright.”

I took her advice, but there was one thing still on my mind. “I didn’t see Pharynx today. Any idea where he is and what he’s doing?”

“Honestly, your guess is as good as anyling’s at this point. All I know is that he’s been spending a lot of time ignoring his janitor duties to be in the wasteland, but for what purpose is beyond me.”

“Thanks anyway. He will be back in the hive at this hour, I hope?”

She shrugged. “It’s been completely random as far as I noticed.”

I thanked her again and said goodnight to all of them. I found my bedchamber relatively unscathed despite some signs of struggle having taken place there, but thankfully, there wasn’t much of importance there that could have been destroyed in the skirmish. Pharynx wasn’t there, and though I wanted to see him and talk to him, with no clue about when he might return, I decided there was little sense in waiting for him, so I set my saddlebag down on the ground and collapsed onto the bed.