• 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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Old Friend

I wandered through the hive aimlessly again, lost in thought. Well, ‘thoughts’ may not have been the best word; I was mostly just sulking over my incompetence as a leader. If only the renegades weren’t so stubborn; we could have at least settled for a compromise, a truce of sorts, if actual harmony was too much to ask for! Except, I was to blame, too. A leader - a proper leader, one deserving of the title - would have known how to deal with such issues and resolved them long ago! And while my failure could partly be explained by being new at this, it still didn’t excuse me, and there was no guarantee that I would get better eventually! At this rate, would there even be an ‘eventually’? Or would this unrelenting strife doom the entire hive before I could find a way to end it?

I was so engrossed in imagining worst-case scenarios and blaming myself for them that it took me a while to notice something was off about the hive.

The hallway was devoid of plants and paintings; this alone didn’t have to mean much, as this particular hallway was deep within the hive’s interior where natural sunlight wouldn’t come, therefore there would have been little point in planting anything in it, and even without the renegades destroying everything, the reformed drones wouldn’t have had enough time yet to decorate every single available surface. We had started to improve, but there was no denying that a considerable portion of the hive was still gloomy like in the old days. Even I hadn’t yet found the time to decorate my own bedchamber, and I had paintings readily available! They were still rolled up and waiting in my saddlebag!

Nothing to worry about here, then, by the looks of it. Except, when I reached a hallway opening to the outside, that one was just as barren. Not a plant in sight, not even a sprout, and I knew Antenna had made an effort to plant flowers and moss everywhere! Maybe she’d missed a spot? I wanted to ignore it and move on, but something about it was nagging at me even as I proceeded into further hallways. Some of them led outside, too, but again, there was no vegetation, no paintings, nothing!

Not even changelings.

I walked on, an uneasy feeling growing in me. Something wasn’t right, and it felt like there was more to it than missing plants, and more disturbing than the renegades! But what was going on?

Eventually I stumbled upon another hallway leading outside, and my heart skipped a beat when I saw floral shapes outlined against the sky. Finally! I trotted over, wanting to relieve my worries in this little garden; but when I got there, the shapes were just as dark as they’d appeared from the other end of the tunnel. I touched a vine and everything disintegrated into the wind.

I let out a soft gasp. What had happened here? Had the renegades charred the plants? But even if they had, there was nothing I could do about it. I turned around-

-and almost collided with a group of drones, all of them reformed, frowning at me. Where had they even come from?

“Uh… hello?” I said.

No response from any of them except for the unmoving frowns.

“Did any of you see what happened?”

Still nothing. They might as well have been statues!

“Um… I’m sorry… do you mind if I…?” I squeezed past them. They still remained silent, but their glares remained obstinately fixed on me.

“Oookaaay… um… gotta go…” I fumbled, and when none of them responded in any way, I moved into the next tunnel.

That too was full of silent, unmoving, frowning changelings.

“Guys?” I started hesitantly. “Is something wrong?”

These drones were no more eager to reply than the first ones. This was getting… well, maybe not creepy, but certainly unnerving… I walked past them, feeling their eyes on me and wondering what could have put them all in such a state. I would have asked but it didn’t look like any of them would have been interested to tell me. I had to come across someling looking and acting normally sooner or later! Maybe they would be able to explain?

But no normal drones came up along the way, not even the renegades; not even a hint of a normal changeling, whether or not they knew what was going on with the others!

I continued walking. Every now and then, I came across a dead plant, even in the deep-interior hallways, where noling would have put them. Every now and then, a changeling would pop up almost out of nowhere and give me the silent glare that I didn’t know what to make of. Sometimes, there were whole groups of drones acting like grim statues. Most were reformed, some were not, but it didn’t seem to matter; for once, they all behaved as one, and though I’d been hoping such a thing would happen, I’d never imagined it like this! This non-behavior was even worse than fighting and vandalism! What was wrong with them?!

Hallway after hallway, cavern after cavern, I kept running into the same thing. Frozen changelings, withered plants, then drones and plants together in their eerie state; the pattern repeated itself endlessly, sometimes with slight variations in sequence, but not a single odd element stood out: no plants thriving, no drones going about their business, nothing! There wasn’t even anything else that would stand out from the rest: no paintings on the walls, no music, no chatter of drones unseen, not even a stray remnant of the old days such as a cocoon or a discarded training dummy! Wait, why was I expecting those? Had someling mentioned to me that the renegades were doing those things again? Had I assumed they were doing it, or that they were about to start?

A hallway opened into the throne room, and I gasped in surprise when I realized where I was; I must have completely lost track of where I’d been going! Even more, I almost hadn’t recognized the throne room! Most of the plateau was overgrown in vines and brambles, all of them charred and insubstantial like the others I’d come across; I touched one and it fizzled apart. Where no plants occupied a spot on the ground, a changeling filled the empty space, and these drones too bore that heavy glare of disapproval that I’d been looking at for the past… how long? It seemed like an eternity! But it couldn’t have been that long, could it? I’d only been wandering through the hive a little! I couldn’t have traversed a great distance; I didn’t have time for that lately! I’d just been to… uh, why couldn’t I remember where I’d been? An arts-and-crafts workshop, maybe? The archive, discussing something with Urtica? Checking on whatever Pharynx was supposed to be doing? I didn’t know! How had I gotten so bad at this that I couldn’t even recall my own movement?! At least I knew I was in the throne room now… except it looked nothing like its usual self… in fact, the throne itself was the only thing in sight I could still recognize! The rest was nothing but cursed plants and an army of drones whose glares could freeze blood! Even the sky above us was ominously heavy like I’d never seen it before, just as disturbing and menacing as everything below it!

Hesitantly and with knots forming in my throat, I stepped into the throne room. I trod between the grim plants and changelings as their glares, their heavy auras, their very presence, weighed down my every step and made every breath a struggle. It took an eternity and beyond-supreme effort, but I finally made it to the throne in the end. I wasn’t sure why I’d felt it so vitally important to get there, but the compulsion to do so hadn’t even left me an option to consider remaining where I’d been, at the entrance to the throne room, not quite outside it but not quite within either, as the threshold had beckoned to be crossed even though my heart would have been content otherwise. What was it that dictated my actions and steered my every step onto paths I dared not take?

I’d made it to the throne, but some unseen force stopped me just before I could sit on it. The aura around me shifted dramatically, but not to bring relief: the ominous darkness of a second ago had become but a pale shadow of the utter doom it now spelled! My breath froze. How could it have gone so wrong so quickly? What was the ‘it’ looming over us?

I remained frozen in place for a second or two, then turned around, dreading what I would see. Nothing happened for another moment; then, one of the reformed changelings in the crowd dissolved like the charred plants, and an unreformed drone was left in his place, bearing that same malignant glare like all the others.

One by one, the other drones poofed away in rapid succession, only to be replaced by an unreformed version of themselves. The dead plants were caught in the chain reaction too as the transformation rippled outwards from that first changeling, and though some plants remained untouched, most unleashed an unreformed changeling of their own in the process. Soon, the entire throne room was filled to the brim with unreformed drones, and their eyes burned unbearably!

I stared transfixed at the sight before me when something shifted again, something that added a layer of dread to an already-dreadful aura around me, but not quite as tangible as to allow me to guess at the cause.

I really should have been able to guess.

When I finally snapped out of my trance and brought myself to take in my surroundings, everything fell into place as I saw who was standing behind my throne. No, in front of it! But hadn’t I been looking there a moment ago? How had I only seen her upon turning around? When had the world turned in on itself like that? Was I losing my mind?

She cast me a piercing glare and her lips parted in a triumphant, bloodthirsty smirk; her horn glowed and, though no visible blast shot from it like one would expect it to, my throne blew up in a million pieces, and yet, I was left completely unscathed despite standing right next to it. Everything was gone: the seat, the sapling, even the ground beneath it… so how come hadn’t I fallen into the crater?

Chrysalis licked her lips and pranced; her eyes glowed white and mine went wide in anticipation of the greatest pain imaginable… only to witness the fallen queen disintegrate as the white light spread from her eyes through the rapidly-forming cracks in her entire body, and as she vanished, so did all the changelings and plants that had crowded the throne room. The apocalyptic aura cleared and so did the skies, revealing a starry night and the soft flavor of relief for the soul.

I looked around me in awe. The throne room had never looked so peaceful, so hopeful; even more, my throne stood once again proudly - truly proudly - in its usual place, the sapling having sprouted more branches and leaves, and there was a proper little garden of flowers around it too! But all this thriving vegetation wasn’t enough to conceal a lone figure standing behind the resurrected throne, waiting patiently to be noticed before stepping out into full view.

“So we meet again, young Thorax,” she said, her soothing voice a melody of salvation to my weary heart. “I had hoped these circumstances would not repeat themselves!”

“I’m afraid that’s easier said than done, Princess Luna,” I sighed, “even after all that’s happened.”

“Something is troubling you.” It was both a question and a statement.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Nightmares do not come in happy times; they need to be provoked. Pray tell, what has happened this time? Your dream is somewhat… unclear on the exact cause.”

“You know how I’ve been making an effort to befriend other lands and clear the changelings of their infamous reputation?”

She nodded. “An endeavour most admirable, indeed.”

“Well, it turns out I should have focused on my subjects a little more. I was away from them a good deal, and the still-unreformed drones took advantage of the situation and they’re terrorizing everyling else! I’ve been trying to get them to stop, but nothing’s worked so far!”

“Do not blame yourself for their actions, dear Thorax, and do not lose faith in yourself. A leader’s path is difficult; a new leader’s more so until he learns his way. To expect to reach perfection in a day is a foolish idea! Your subjects may be unruly but it shall pass! It may have begun in your absence, but who is to say it would not have happened had you remained within your kingdom at all times?”

“It might have, but maybe it wouldn’t have escalated so far!”

“The other changelings, did they not resist?”

“They did and they still do, but the harder we try to rein in the renegades, the more violent they become, and I’d been hoping to end violence! Now, not only is the violence worse than during Chrysalis’ reign, the renegades are openly hoping to bring her back, and I don’t know whom to ask for help anymore! None of the reformed changelings could suggest anything helpful!”

“What about your friends?”

For a moment, I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.

“Do you not have friends anymore?”

“Yes, but… I just told you, Princess, no one in the hive could help!”

“And the ones not in the hive?”

Not in the hive… Of course! How could I have been so stupid?! I had friends in Equestria, some of which were world-renowned heroes! They had to have been in this kind of situation many times! They were sure to know what to do, or at the very least, to snap me out of my vicious circle of self-depreciation! Heck, maybe their emotional support alone would be enough to restore my common sense and I’d find the solution on my own!

Apparently the realization showed plainly on my face, or whatever the dreamscape equivalent was, as Luna smiled.

“Thank you, Princess! I can’t believe it was right in front of me all along and I couldn’t see it! I can’t believe I forgot I had friends! I’ll write to them first thing in the morning!”

She nodded. “I presume you will look to Ponyville or the Crystal Empire first, but keep Canterlot in mind as well. I too am more than willing to help, and so is my sister, I am sure. Alas, you will have to look for us in the waking world. I wish to help you now, but doing so may necessitate a lengthy discussion in order to fully understand the situation at hoof, and it would be wise for Celestia to partake if she chooses to and can spare the time. I regret I cannot stay with you for much longer; I feel many of my subjects’ dreams calling to me even at this moment. I cannot abandon them!”

“Uh, sure, go then… I understand! And thanks!”

She faded out of existence and my dream went with her. I opened my eyes to the sight of Pharynx eyeing me curiously, almost as if I’d grown a few dozen pairs of antlers in addition to the ones I already had.

“What?” I asked in confusion.

He simply snorted and left our bedchamber.

Where was he going? Was it morning already? Princess Luna had made it sound like the night wasn’t over yet, but if that was the case, what was Pharynx doing awake at this hour? Had I woken him up by talking in my sleep or by tossing and turning?

It didn’t matter, probably. Sometimes I wondered why I was making an effort to understand him when it was nearly impossible! It had been a little easier in the old days, but now… I shook my head in frustration.

At least I could check if it was morning yet.

I got off my bed and trod down the hallways, much like in the dream, except that the hive looked normal, or as normal as it could with the renegades rampaging about. The paintings on the walls were mostly torn up, some of the pottery smashed, and there were no plants to be seen, but the hallways had looked exactly the same yesterday, and the collective love aura was tainted with all kinds of flavors hinting at hatred and anger, but there were no ominously sinister undertones just waiting to send cold chills down one’s carapace. I couldn’t even hear any noises suggestive of an ongoing fight! No drones were standing about, either; they were all probably asleep, as I should have been at this hour. Probably this hour.

Definitely this hour, I corrected myself as I stepped into the throne room. The sky was dark and starry, without a hint of an impending dawn! It must have been just around midnight or a little after! It was pointless to try to do anything other than sleep!

With that in mind and a hope to get some rest while I could, I returned to my bedchamber and curled up on my bed, but sleep wouldn’t come. I shifted and adjusted my position every few minutes, tried to think of something relaxing, willed myself to doze off, but it was no use. It was almost as if Luna’s arrival into my dreamscape had cursed me against falling asleep again tonight! Except it couldn’t have been that; she wouldn’t have done such a thing, and I’d never had that problem before!

So I spent the night wide awake, mulling things over yet thinking of nothing in particular, and if anyone were to ask me about it, I’d be unable to repeat a single thing that had crossed my mind.

Pharynx never returned. I may or may not have wondered where he was.

Eventually, after what I guessed to be hours close to dawn, I gave up trying and got up for good. If I hadn’t fallen asleep by then, there was little sense in hoping I would! Instead, I went to the archive, found a piece of parchment and a quill, and sat down to write a letter.

Dear Spike,

How are you doing? We didn’t get to hang out much the last time I was in Ponyville, did we? I’m afraid I don’t remember much of that party… The drones think Discord had something to do with it, and though I don’t like to cast blame based on assumptions and gut feelings, they made it sound pretty convincing… I hope Discord won’t take offense if it wasn’t his doing… Nevermind. I digress. What I really wanted to ask you is, would you be willing to meet up with me one of these days? I need someone to talk to about something and letters may not be the most practical way to do it. It’s okay if you’re busy, I’m not forcing you to anything, and I’m sorry for using you all the time and offering nothing in return… I can’t even promise to stay and just hang out with you like friends should be doing, as there are… things… I have to keep an eye on over here… but as soon as that’s sorted out, I’ll make it up to you! It’s been too long!

See you soon?

Thorax

I read through the text a few times to make sure it made sense, then rolled up the parchment and went looking for a courier.


The courier returned a couple of anxious days later; I hadn’t made any progress with the renegades or Pharynx in the meantime and was by now putting all my hopes into Spike and his availability to help me. I was itching to read his reply so much that I nearly ripped the scroll out of the courier’s mouth! It said:

Dear Thorax,

You and I had a great time at that party! I’m sorry you don’t remember it, but the drones may be right as it turns out. Your courier arrived just as Discord, Big Mac, and I were finishing an Ogres and Oubliettes game so I asked Discord about it, and though getting a straight answer out of him is a proper challenge most of the time, he as good as confirmed having messed with that cake you guys were eating. Not sure if you should yell at him for it, though; he might take it as a compliment!

The rest of your letter makes it sound like something’s wrong, isn’t it? No worries, I’m happy to help! Just drop by whenever you can spare a moment and we’ll talk about whatever’s troubling you. Or if you’d rather that I come to the hive, that works too. You didn’t say which you’d prefer and, as things stand right now, it’s all the same to me.

See you soon!

Spike

Dear, sweet, wonderful Spike! I owed him more and more every day! I’d known I could count on him this time too! But where to meet? I had my misgivings about leaving the hive again, especially with the renegades’ rampaging, but would inviting him over be any better? It might, as he’d get to witness the problem firsthoof, but was it worth risking his safety?

Luckily, Psycho was just passing by. Now that I was asking for opinions left and right, it wouldn’t hurt to ask for one more!

“Hey, Psycho,” I halted him. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yes?”

“Suppose I had a reason to travel to Equestria for a few days, but that I didn’t have to because the guy I’m meeting offered to come here instead. Would I do better to go or to invite him over in our current situation?”

“That depends,” he said after a moment.

“On what?”

“On why you’re meeting with this guy, and also on whether you’re asking for permission to leave, a tactical analysis, or an estimated effect on your public image.”

“Uh…”

“Okay, let’s make it easier. Is it something that can benefit the hive?”

“Yes, that’s the main point.”

“Then your public image should be unaffected either way.”

“I’m not concerned about that…” I muttered.

“Does your guy have a preference?”

“He says not, but… I don’t want the renegades to beat him up… you think you can hold the fort for a few days without me?”

“No offense, Thorax, but you’re not making that much of a difference against the renegades. It might be a different story if they knew where Chrysalis is, in which case I’d tell you to stay here, but they don’t know her whereabouts any better than we do, and if they want to bring her back, they’ll have to find her first, which I don’t think is likely to happen while they’re busy fighting with us.”

“Okay, if you think… but what if something else happens that I’ll have to handle?”

“We’ll manage. Go on, do your thing. Do you need guards?”

“No, I’ll be fine… I think… You sure it won’t be a problem-”

He stifled me. “Just go,” he said with an eye roll.