• Published 1st Jan 2022
  • 1,327 Views, 278 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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Trigger

We’d started for the castle but our path was cut short by noticing Spike in the town square, taking down the decorations with Twilight and Starlight. None of them saw us arrive; hardly surprising, given their deflated auras.

“So how do we do this?” Ember whispered to me.

“Well… we say we’re sorry and… You’ve never apologized for anything?”

She opened her mouth as if to shout, then reconsidered and said, “Dragons don’t do all that ‘apologizing’ thing.”

“It’s not that hard. You just need to be calm and patient and not allow yourself to lose control over your anger, even if he says or does something that flares it up. I’m guessing he won’t mean to insult anyway, and if he has to start over to get the reply right, let him. I’ve found it often helps to tell people how you feel about what they did, but don’t go on the offensive while doing it.”

“That’s the exact opposite of a dragon’s instinctive response,” she groaned. “Fine, let’s get it over with.”

We landed next to Spike and, as he still hadn’t noticed us, I tapped him on the shoulder.

“Oh,” he said when he finally saw us. “You’re back. Go ahead, yell at me. I deserve it!”

Ember looked questions at me and I shook my head slightly, then focused on Spike.

“It’s alright, buddy, we’re not mad at you. We jumped to conclusions-”

“Not mad at him?!” Ember barked, throwing her claws up in the air. “Why would we- uh, I mean, I didn’t like how you handled the situation, but I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that. I’m… uh… sorry?”

Spike stared at her blankly. I gave her an encouraging nod.

“I mean, that was stupid and disrespectful of you and I’ll crush you like- ahem, I… I was… erm… offended and upset… but I understand now that I overreacted and, um, will try not to do it again…” She leaned in to me and whispered, “Was that good?”

“It was!”

“Wow…” Spike muttered.

“And I’m sorry too,” I continued. “I shouldn’t have run off like that without giving you a chance to explain yourself!”

“And I should have told you from the start how things stand and let you have a say in how to go about it. From the looks of it, I was fretting over nothing!”

“Told you,” Starlight interjected, then went back to dismantling the fire pit.

“You know what?” Ember exclaimed. “It worked! I’m not angry anymore!”

“Glad to hear it,” Spike said. “Now we can get back to- Oh. The party’s all cleaned up… How did they do it so fast? Sorry Ember, I was going to throw a party in your honor but…” He shrugged. “Wanna just hang out? We can probably still salvage some of that friendship training…”

“Sounds good, but I think someone else wants in, if you can manage it all.”

“Who-” He slapped himself. “Oh, right! Sorry, Thorax! I completely forgot about you! Uh, why don’t we all sit down at Sugarcube Corner?”

We did. Spike ordered a tray of cupcakes for the whole group, which arrived promptly so he dove right in, and Ember chose instead to munch on the tray itself. I wasn’t hungry at the moment so I just sat watching them.

“Ahhh, that’s the stuff…” Spike sighed contentedly after gulping down the fifth cupcake. “Didn’t realize I was so hungry! And Thorax, I don’t think you came all the way here to not tell us what’s troubling you!”

“I was waiting for you to finish eating. You looked a little too invested in those cupcakes to follow a conversation.”

“...you know, you might be onto something there.” He set down the sixth cupcake and pushed it away from himself. “Okay, you have my undivided attention.”

So, finally, I launched into a tirade on everything not going the way it should in the hive, most of which revolved around the renegades, but I also touched on the matters of Pharynx and my overall lack of leadership skills and experience and the resulting concerns about my suitability for the role destiny had thrust upon me. I’d intended to keep it short and to the point, but the floodgates had opened and there was no turning back or stopping what had been unleashed! I may have said the gist of it in the first couple of minutes and that should have been enough to give them the idea of what was going on, but all the accumulated frustrations needed an outlet, and before I knew it, it was getting dark and I was still rambling. I was vaguely aware of Ember having gradually devoured the cupcake tray and moving onto the vase and of Spike helping himself to the remaining cupcakes, but to their credit, they seemed to have survived the ordeal somehow, even if they looked drained by the end. I couldn’t blame them!

“I see your problem,” Ember said after giving it a few moments to make sure I was done. “You’re too gentle. You want them to take you seriously, you’ve got to show some teeth.”

“I know, I kind of figured it out earlier today at some point,” I sighed. “But I don’t know how! And even if I do bring myself to show some teeth, as you put it, how will I know I’m not overdoing it? I don’t want to end up becoming like Chrysalis!”

“Then you gotta practice,” Spike said. “And as luck would have it, I think Ember would be a great teacher! How ‘bout it, Ember? Think your dragons can fend for themselves a little longer while you help out a friend?”

She grinned. “Now we’re talking! Hey Thorax,” she raised her voice, “let’s go kick some pathetic pony flank!”

I winced and everypony within earshot scrammed away screaming. Ember looked around.

“Oops,” she said. “Probably shouldn’t have said that so loud…”

“Why would you want to attack ponies?!”

“That was supposed to be a practice prompt! You were supposed to stop me, or talk me out of it, or something!”

“Oh.”

“Guys,” Spike interjected, “maybe we shouldn’t do this in the middle of the town. The point is to help Thorax become more assertive, not to terrorize the townsfolk.”

“Good idea. Any ideas where we should go?”

“The castle?”

“Won’t Twilight and Starlight object to us rampaging there?”

“Nah, this is nothing compared to some other things they faced. I bet they’ll even want to join us!”

So we went there after Spike paid for the cupcakes and promised to the shop owner to bring a new tray and vase at the soonest convenience.


“Okay, take two,” Spike announced after we’d found a room in the castle. “Ember, go!”

“Thorax!” she growled bloodthirstily. There was no matching malice in her aura, therefore I knew she was putting on a show, but the tone of her voice still sent shivers down my carapace. “See those pathetic ponies there? I’m gonna kick their flanks!”

I flinched involuntarily. “Uh… please leave them alone…”

She faceclawed. “Is that supposed to convince me?!”

“I guess not…”

“Then try again!”

“Leave them alone…” I spoke a little louder.

“I can’t hear you!”

“Sorry…”

“No sorries!”

“Sor- uh, I mean… um…” I gulped.

“What is wrong with you?! You’ll never get anywhere like this!”

I hung my head. “That’s what Pharynx always used to say…”

Spike put a reassuring claw on my foreleg. “It’s okay, Thorax,” he said. “You’ll figure it out, you just need a little more time!”

“I’m not sure it’s that simple… Pharynx spent years trying to teach me to stand up for myself and didn’t get anywhere. What difference will one evening make?”

“How about reversing your roles so Thorax can see what it’s supposed to look like?” Starlight suggested.

“What good will that do? I need him to come up with stubborn replies either way but he already looks ready to hide under the table, and we haven’t even started!”

“Ember’s not far from the truth, and anyway, I know what fierceness looks like, I just can’t bring myself to act that way.”

“How else will you get the renegades to listen? This should have been the first thing you tried and it’s the literally the only one you haven’t!”

“I know, but… are you sure there isn’t a less… violent way?”

“Thorax, being nice is admirable, but there are times when the nice approach just doesn’t work, and this is one of those times.”

“But… what if I go too far with it? I don’t want to become like… like her…”

“I don’t think you’ll ever be at risk for becoming anything even remotely similar to Chrysalis,” she said. “Judging by what I know about her and what I’ve seen of you so far, you simply don’t have it in yourself! Your absolute worst will probably be just about enough to get the renegades to take you seriously with no risk whatsoever of crossing that line you’re so afraid you’ll cross!”

“But if I get used to acting like this, that line could get so close that I may not even realize if I cross it…”

“I seriously doubt you’ll ever run that risk,” Spike said. “We all doubt it. But even if you do, you’ve got friends to keep you in the safe zone. So no worries, okay? Just relax and show those renegades who’s the boss!”

“You can do it!” Starlight said. “I know you can! Didn’t you already do something similar when we were fighting our way through the hive to save our friends from Chrysalis? This is the same thing, only verbal!”

“I did do that,” I mused. “But our friends’ lives were on the line!”

“And this time it’s your subjects’ lives on the line! Aren’t they worth fighting for?”

She was right! This wasn’t unlike the rescue we’d pulled a couple of months ago; the reformed changelings were already suffering considerably and it was up to me to put an end to it! They weren’t even some random drones anymore; I’d developed something of a friendship with some of them, or a pleasant acquaintanceship at the very least! But if I wanted to stand in their defense in any meaningful way, I needed the right mindset, something similar to what had happened during that fateful rescue mission… could I produce that mindset at will? And just as importantly: could I snap out of it at will?

I asked the others about it.

“I think you can,” Twilight said; she’d been watching us silently up to that point. “My friends and I have been in such situations several times. The mindset wasn’t easy to arouse at first, probably in part because we were still struggling with the same thing as you are, but we always managed to find some trigger for it, and the more times it happens, the easier it gets. If Fluttershy could do it when facing a dragon twice the size of my castle, so can you! Ooh, how she blew our minds that day… but I digress. The point is, now that we seem to have found the root of your problem, we can work on it.”

“How?” Starlight asked.

“By helping Thorax find a trigger within himself so he wouldn’t have to rely on external stimuli to get there. But first, I want to test a hypothesis, if you don’t mind.” She got up from her cushion and whispered something to Ember, who grinned mischievously and nodded.

“Hey Spike,” she said, “remember earlier today when I apologized for snapping at you?”

“Yes… what about it?”

“I take it back! Dragons don’t apologize!”

“What-”

“Ember?” I said, incredulous. “I thought it made you feel better!”

“What does it matter how I feel? I made a fool of myself so much that even Twilight the Pony Princess says I’m laughably weak!”

“But-”

“Shut up! I’m not weak and I’m gonna prove it to you!”

Her aura was starting to get seriously red-hot! What had happened?

“I don’t like the sound of that…” Spike muttered.

Ember cracked her knuckles. “Don’t think you’re getting out of this in one piece, shrimp!” she growled. “You insulted me and I’m gonna make you pay!”

“Ember, please-” I tried, hoping to talk some sense into her, but it was too late; Spike was already engulfed head-to-tail in her firebreath!

“No! Stop!” I cried, and as she was showing no intention to obey, I transformed into a huge manticore and, only half-aware of my actions, swung a paw at her, hurling her across the room, where she would have made a dent in the wall if it weren’t made of solid crystal, and the very next second, I was right there on top of her, pinning her to the ground. “What is wrong with you?!” I growled. “If he’s dead, so help me…”

To my surprise, her aura went completely calm and she grinned.

“That’s how you do it,” Twilight said.

“Told you you had it in yourself!” Starlight added.

“What?!” I muttered. “But Spike… she-”

“Relax, buddy, I’m fine!” he said, walking into my sight. “Dragons are fireproof!”

It took me a moment to process the scene, and still dazed, I dispelled the manticore form and got off Ember, who calmly got up and dusted herself off.

“Why did you…?” I asked her.

“Because Twilight told me.”

“Yes, I had to improvise a little,” Twilight explained. “I wasn’t sure if you were aware of dragons’ fire-resistance, which could have blown the experiment, but I decided to count on you to forget that detail in the heat of the moment. You see, I had to create a scenario that would trigger your righteous anger, and since Spike is your first friend, it was likely that simulating a danger to him would do the trick.”

“Oh… wow, it worked! It actually worked! But what would you have done if I’d realized Spike wasn’t really in danger?”

“Then Starlight or I would have been Ember’s next target. I took the chance while you were distracted to tell Starlight to put up a shield if Ember comes at her next.”

“And if the shield had failed?”

“It wouldn’t have,” Starlight said. “My magic is strong enough. I know, I tested it.”

I decided I didn’t want to know the details.

“So now that you know that you can indeed be tough,” Twilight continued, “I think you can use this experience to deal with those renegades. If you need a trigger, just imagine you’re doing it to save Spike or any other of your friends!”

“And remember to demonstrate that you mean it,” Ember added. “If they come at you with fierceness at level ten, you have to crank yours up to eleven! And no backing off!”

“Isn’t that too much?”

“You won’t accomplish anything unless you make sure they’re the weaker ones.”

“But don’t overdo it,” Spike said. “Going eleven against their ten is okay, but if they come at you with a three, then you only need to give them a four, maybe five if you’re not sure, but no more than that, or you’ll end up on the path to where you keep saying you don’t want to be.”

“Not that we expect you’ll ever do it willingly,” Starlight quickly added.

“What about not willingly, then?”

She grinned sheepishly. “Eh… I guess it could happen from time to time in the beginning until you figure it out and learn to fine-tune yourself…”

“Great,” I groaned. “I’ll have to practice that now, won’t I?”

“Maybe not,” Ember said. “From what you told us, it sounds like they’re already pretty far gone, so you might have to go all out right away. Even if it isn’t quite that bad yet, it’s an ongoing problem, so overdoing it the next time they give you trouble could speed things up, make them realize more easily that you’re no longer a wimp they can push around as they wish, and get them to calm down entirely instead of needing a series of reminders every time they do something they shouldn’t, which again would require your constant supervision of them to make sure they don’t miss a lesson.”

“Because that’s how dragons do it?” Spike quipped.

“No, because that’s how winners do it,” she quipped back. “Dragons just happen to be one of them. Well, some dragons, anyway!”

“Heh,” he sighed. “I’m more of a pathetic pony…”

I picked him up and hugged him. “You may be more like a pony than a typical dragon, but I love you just the way you are!”

“Aww, pfffsh…”

“And who knows?” Ember said. “When you grow up, you might just put the rest of us to shame!”

We all converged into a group hug. I wasn’t sure who initiated it, but it didn’t matter; I would never refuse participation in a group hug, and it would never stop being one of the best feelings imaginable! Ember seemed to disagree, judging by her frustrated groan, but that groan wasn’t nearly as sour as the ones I routinely received from Pharynx while attempting to hug him!

“Okay,” Ember said when we released one another, “this has been great, and I think I kind of got a close enough glimpse of friendship for the time being, so I’ll be on my way if you don’t mind.”

“You could spend the night here,” Twilight offered.

“Thanks, but… I think I’d better go.” She walked over to the window and opened it after some fumbling. “Maybe next time,” she added before taking off into the night.

“Bye! Hope to see you soon!” Twilight shouted after her, waving.

“Safe journey!” Spike joined in.

“Maybe I should go home too,” I said after a moment.

“Aw come on, you just got here!” Spike protested.

“He’s been here all day,” Starlight said, “you just ignored him.”

“Heh… yeah…”

“You’re welcome to stay overnight if you want,” Twilight offered again. “Just because Ember refused doesn’t mean you have to!”

I considered it. “Well, I am kind of tired and would probably have to rest somewhere on the way back anyway… might as well do it here…”

“Great!” Spike exclaimed. “There’s an unoccupied bedroom right next to mine! We can put you there!”

“Sure thing! Um, is it bedtime already?”

“More or less, yeah, we usually go to bed at this hour. But if you want, we can stay up late, or hang out in the morning, or both!”

I chuckled. “Let’s just go with the flow, shall we?”

“Yessir! C’mon, the room’s this way!”

I trotted after him. As we were turning a corner, I heard Twilight say, “Shoot, I never finished giving him that tour!”