• 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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Heart to Heart

The three of us went on a mad rush through the hive’s corridors, looking everywhere we could think of and intercepting every drone we came across to inquire about my brother’s whereabouts. None of them knew, and most didn’t seem to care, regardless of whether they were reformed or not. Some even went as far as openly admitting relief he was unaccounted for under an assumption he’d either gotten eaten or left on his own like I had a year ago! I didn’t like it that they’d written him off so readily, but admittedly, it was hardly surprising, at least where the reformed drones were concerned, given how much he’d been terrorizing them as of late. Why the renegades welcomed his disappearance was somewhat less obvious at first glance, but I may have been right about him not really being a renegade, at least not quite in the same sense as the other renegades.

It was beginning to dawn on me that Pharynx leaving might make some sense after all: he obviously wasn’t reformed and the actually-reformed drones mostly hated him or at least disapproved of his antics, but up until now, I must have taken it for granted that, since he wasn’t reformed, the renegades would see him as one of their own even if he wouldn’t be their choice for a ringleader due to his connection with me… but if the renegades had shunned him too, then he really was on his own! He’d lost his rank way before the disbanding of the changeling army, and arguably some of the respect would have been lost along with it, and the rest of that respect would have gone with the revelation that he’d turned traitor to protect me from Chrysalis, and he hadn’t yet had a chance to reclaim any of that respect… Maybe the reformed drones would forgive him for protecting their new leader in his time of need, but the renegades probably still held a grudge against him for it! And not only had I done nothing to help him, I hadn’t even bothered to hear him out! No wonder he’d have lost his patience and packed up and left!

But why now? Despite everything, I believed he still loved the hive, so why would he turn his back on it in the face of a proven threat? Had my friends insulted him? I replayed their conversation in my head and found nothing he couldn’t handle. Had they - we - simply tipped the scale for him, pushed him to the limit at which he no longer cared what happened to us because we’d hurt him so much? Try as I might, I couldn’t convince myself that that was the case. It could have been without a maulwurf in the picture, but Pharynx wouldn’t have just left us like this! He’d never been one to give up easily, no matter how daunting the goal and how challenging the path to getting there!

That left one logical option, one I stubbornly and desperately refused to believe even as our search kept producing no results.

Please, Pharynx, I begged with every hallway and chamber that failed to show a trace of his presence. Show yourself… I can’t lose you… I don’t want to lose you… Please, don’t leave me…

“Should we split up?” Starlight eventually asked. “We’d cover more ground that way!”

Sunburst grimaced. “I don’t know… I think I’d get lost in here…”

“You probably would, both of you,” I said. “Not to mention that with all that thumping, the maulwurf could breach the hive any second if it hasn’t already, or there could be a cave-in, or something else! I can’t lose you too!”

Starlight went to take a look through a nearby opening. “Well, the maulwurf’s still out, at least,” she said. “Maybe if-” She stopped mid-sentence and craned her neck out. Her aura, already murky ever since hearing about the maulwurf and Pharynx, went worryingly chilly. “Uh, Thorax?”

Please don’t tell me what I think you’re gonna tell me! I swallowed a lump in my throat. “Yes?”

“How many maulwurfs did you say you were dealing with?”

...what? “One, why?”

“There’s another approaching from over there-”

What?!” Could Psycho and Hornet deal with both of them with the few helpers they’d managed to find?

“-and it’s swatting at some kind of an oversized flying spider-”

I pushed her out of the way and flew out. “Pharynx!” I cried, only to be knocked onto ground level by an immensely powerful blow that could have easily killed me.

I turned around and saw the first maulwurf looming over me, raising a claw. A flash of light in the corner of my eye caught my attention and I turned to see Starlight, who lit up her horn as the maulwurf’s claw crashing down at me, then her horn turned a different shade of thaumic glow and I was whisked away in her teleportation spell and materialized in one of the outermost hallways of the hive just in time to witness the claw make contact with the ground and leave a considerable crater where I’d been a mere moment earlier.

“Thanks,” I breathed.

“Don’t mention it. What were you thinking?”

“That spider you mentioned? That’s Pharynx’s preferred battle disguise!”

I’d barely said that when the spider crashed right next to the gate through which we were staring and dissolved in green flames. Starlight scooped up the resulting drone in her magic and levitated him inside.

“Let me go!” he roared, kicking at the air. “Let go, you idiot! Let go!”

“Only if you’ll-”

He blasted at her horn and she yelped and dropped him, and he wasted no time in turning back at the direction of the gate, except I was standing close enough to block the way out. He nearly collided with me, then attempted to shove me aside, but I held my ground.

“Thorax, you have half a second to move or I’ll stop restraining myself!” he spat.

“I just want to talk to you!”

“No time! Don’t you see what’s out there?”

“I do, and that’s exactly why I-”

“Stop wasting my time with your useless pacifist delusions!”

“They’re not delusions, and that’s not-”

“Time’s up!” He pushed past me but I grabbed him by the tail and dragged him back in a split second before a maulwurf would have splattered him all over the hive’s outer wall. Starlight quickly put up a shield at the gate, but I wasn’t sure how long it’d hold.

“Pharynx, please!”

“Are you gonna run your mouth till these things level the hive?!”

Sure enough, the maulwurfs were getting extra cranky on the other side of the wall; the ground shook hard enough that Pharynx’s expression could become true!

“Why don’t we stop arguing, then, and-”

“We’ll stop arguing alright when I defeat those things! Then I’ll leave and you’ll never have to put up with me again!”

Had I heard him right? “What?!” I gasped, even though I’d just considered that possibility a few minutes ago. I just hadn’t thought it would actually happen!

“You heard me! Now do you want to keep the hive standing or not?”

“Yes, but you can’t leave-”

Yes I can! I don’t know why I waited this long!”

“Can’t we talk about it-”

“No! For the last time, Thorax-”

“Pharynx! Will you please, just once, listen to me?!”

He stared at me for a second, then recovered his red-hot attitude. “Why should I? You never bother to listen to me!”

“I will this time!”

“And then do things your way regardless? Thanks a lot, but I’ll spare myself the effort!”

He pushed past me again and headed for the next exit. I rushed after him.

“Don’t want to talk? Fine, then listen.” He made a show of ignoring me but I wasn’t going to give up. “I was wrong. I thought I was doing the right thing by enforcing a peaceful approach on everything, and though I still believe that approach can do wonders and will never stop believing it, my friends helped me realize that non-violence isn’t always applicable no matter how much I may want it to be. Sometimes one has to resort to battle, and if the ponies can do it when all else fails, I think it’s time that I learn to put up with it too.”

He still marched onward with a clenched jaw and a venomous scowl, and though he never once even glanced at me, I was sure I had his full attention. Starlight followed at a respectful distance, and soon, the out-of-breath Sunburst came trotting out of a nearby hallway, accompanied by a few drones.

“They helped me realize something else, too,” I continued. “I thought helping you understand and accept my way of leadership would bring us closer, but it only drew us apart, and it’s because I didn’t listen to your advice… because I didn’t want to listen. I thought you were just being spiteful, but now I know you were just trying to help with your own point of view, to make me see the mistakes I was making and to suggest a better way of doing things, even if you weren’t necessarily right every time, but you never meant to undermine my leadership. I’m sorry I didn’t see it sooner!”

“Sorry?” he spat, stopping abruptly in his tracks. “You think a ‘sorry’ will magically make things perfect instantly and without any effort? Do you have any idea how hard it was?! I sacrificed everything for you, Thorax: my rank, my reputation, my life, just to keep you alive for one more day at least, to buy you as much time as I could to have some semblance of a normal life before you got captured and executed, and I don’t care that it was for nothing since you finally learned to stand up for yourself, except you didn’t learn to stand up for yourself! You got saved through dumb luck and the ordeal didn’t teach you anything! You’re still the naive little idiot you’ve always been, except you’re now even more deluded than ever and can’t be talked any sense into so I have to fix your mistakes and keep our enemies at bay, except now I have to do it alone because you refuse to have a defense force and everyling else is either too invested in sucking up to you to listen to reason or still hold a grudge against both of us for losing Chrysalis! Do you have any idea how hard it is to know your leader’s stubbornness will doom the entire species sooner or later and having to fight against the current and keep trying to fix it all by yourself even though you know it’s near-impossible because no one will ever listen?!”

“Wow, talk about irony,” Starlight quipped.

Pharynx snarled at her.

“She has a point, Pharynx,” Sunburst stated. “A leader’s stubbornness dooming the entire species, and fighting against the current to do the near-impossible task of fixing it? Don’t you think Thorax fits that description just as well?”

“How? We were doing just fine until he escaped and ruined everything!”

“Pharynx,” I let out an exasperated sigh, “we were at war with everyone, enduring tyranny of a deranged sadist, and constantly starving. Under what definition does that constitute ‘doing fine’? We’re not starving anymore, we don’t have to be at war, and though I hope I am not and never will be a sadistic tyrant, I never claimed to be perfect, either. I know I’m not. I thought I was doing the right thing by having us rid ourselves of all forms of violence, but I guess even pacifism can go too far. Yes, you told me that countless times, and I’m sorry I didn’t listen. I guess you sometimes need a friend with a different perspective to finally understand.” I smiled briefly at the two unicorns. “I’ll listen from now on. We may not agree on things, Pharynx, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together. Sometimes your way will be justified and sometimes mine will, and sometimes we’ll have to meet halfway. For starters, how about I reestablish our defense forces with you as their leader?” I offered a hoof. “Will you help me defend the hive?”

He stood there for a few moments in a silent, unreadable frown, long enough that I was starting to believe he’d slap my hoof away and storm off ranting insults. Instead, he bared his fangs in a mischievous smirk.

“Then let’s go kick some maulwurf rumps!” he said, then turned to the crowd of drones that had gathered around us in the meantime. Hadn’t I told them to seek safer areas? “I need volunteers!”

Apparently that was enough to get everyling to lose interest in our conversation in record time. The swarm stirred and murmured uneasily, the ones closest to us started looking around, and the ones further away backed away a little, some even disappearing into whatever corridor happened to be nearest. Even the renegades in sight weren’t showing much more enthusiasm!

My hopes sank at this display of mass reluctance. Pharynx had to have spent a while fighting that maulwurf with no success at driving it away; he had to have done everything in his power and still failed to stop the beast from reaching the hive, so how was he supposed to deal with two of them at once all by himself? I intended to help him to the best of my ability, but with my laughably pathetic combat skills, would I make any difference at all? I’d more likely just end up needing to get rescued instead of getting to contribute! And if Sunburst was right about maulwurfs being resistant to magic, then I couldn’t even count on him and Starlight to provide a solution! Maybe they could use their magic to distract one or both maulwurfs, or maybe they could trap one while the drones dealt with the other, but would that be enough?

And what about the volunteers that Psycho and Hornet had managed to gather? Would they still be interested in helping now that there wasn’t just one maulwurf on the agenda, or would they reconsider upon realizing Pharynx was the one in charge now? Where were they, anyway?

The ponies and I exchanged glances. They too looked like they hadn’t anticipated such a turn of events.

“Won’t any of you help Pharynx?” I asked the drones, hoping my explicit approval of the idea would snap at least a few reformed ones out of it.

My plea didn’t help, and an especially strong thud that came immediately afterwards only caused a few drones to yelp and dodge falling debris.

“Come on, we don’t have time for this!” Pharynx exclaimed. “Get your rumps moving already or you’ll all get killed!”

“Please guys, Pharynx and I can’t do it on our own!” I added as the next thud caused a cave-in in one of the tunnels in sight. Still, it was futile. “Is everyling okay there?”

Faint murmurs suggested they were alive at least, but the cave-in only made matters more urgent; more tunnels would crumble before long if we failed to stop the maulwurfs from hitting and clawing at the hive! It was a wonder it had lasted this long!

Pharynx got moving towards the nearest exit.

“Where are you going?” I protested, trying to stop him.

“Thorax, in case you haven’t noticed, there are two maulwurfs out there, trying to bring the hive down, and I don’t see anyling doing anything about it.”

“But you’ll get killed!”

“I will if I keep standing here like an idiot and waiting to be killed! Get out of the way!”

I refused to budge, but then a colossal claw tore through the wall and forced us all to retreat deeper into the hive, and I had to physically drag Pharynx away from the newly-formed hole as he sputtered threats and curses and struggled to get free. That had to be the first time in my life that I managed to overpower him! Was he simply restraining himself to avoid injuring me?

Seeing this, Starlight lost her patience and marched forward.

“What is your problem, people?” she said. “I can understand that not all of you like Thorax, Pharynx, or both of them - not even ponies like literally every other pony in existence - and I can understand that you may not have had combat trainings in a while and may be feeling unprepared as a result, but fighting used to be your whole life for much longer than it wasn’t anymore, and you wouldn’t have forgotten how to do it by now, and Thorax is your leader, so if he asked you to help out, why not do it? Especially because so many of you chose him over Chrysalis! He may not be demanding that you serve him the same way you served Chrysalis, but he gave you a lot of things she never did, one of which is the right to make your own choices! Don’t you think a great way to thank him for it would be to choose to help him and his brother save the hive from a threat? And as for the unreformed among you, I hear you’ve been starting a lot of fights recently. Why not fight now if you’re so starved of combat? Is it because Chrysalis isn’t the one issuing orders this time, or was it only fun while you were going at the ones you deemed weaker than yourselves?” She squinted at one of the clusters of renegades. “Are you… cowards?”

Gnat shot forward. “Who are you calling a coward?”

“Hey, if you can’t handle anything that fights back…”

“Try me, pony!”

“Okay, Gnat volunteered himself,” Pharynx interjected. “Who else?”

“I-” Gnat started, then clamped his mouth shut, probably having realized that any protesting would only prove Starlight’s point. Unfortunately, no drones actually volunteered.

“If I may,” Sunburst tried, “you should be aware that you’ll stand better chances if there’s more of you in the fighting team, regardless of whether or not any of you individually wants to-”

“I’ll go!” came a shout from one of the hallways. Soon enough, the slightly out-of-breath Grim buzzed in. “Sorry I’m late, been rounding up the nymphs. Cicada told me where to find you-”

“Is she alright?” Banshee asked.

“Yes, I left her and the others with Gossamer in the hatchery. Anyway, I want to help fight the maulwurf… Where do I sign up?”

“Right here-”

“Grim, are you crazy?” another drone shouted. “You’ll get yourself killed!”

“Thanks for the concern, Carapace, but I’m doing this!”

“Why? Haven’t you had enough excitement recently?”

“I have, and that’s exactly why I want to help. I’d never have a chance for the kind of life I want if it weren’t for Thorax, and if I can repay him in any way, I will! And Pharynx too, because Thorax wouldn’t be here now without a bit of brotherly help, no matter how the rest of us felt about that help at the time. And guess what? We all owe our lives to them, so let’s put that bloodlust Chrysalis instilled in us to good use for once and oust the maulwurfs so we can enjoy more of our newfound freedom! You don’t want to get eaten today, do you? Well the more of us join forces, the easier we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen!”

I saw a shimmer in Pharynx’s eyes as Grim held her short speech, and a poorly-concealed smirk as half a dozen drones flew over or squeezed through the crowd and lined up next to our little group, then a couple of dozen more, then probably twice as many. Before long, we had half the present swarm readying for battle! Even a few renegades decided to abandon their mischief and join the ranks!

“I’m proud of you, Grim,” I said tearfully. “Pharynx, will that do?”

“You bet,” he grinned. “Charge!”

So we did. The maulwurfs were momentarily taken aback by the sudden eruption of rainbow-colored chitin with occasional streaks of black, but they recovered quickly and started swatting at us. The swarm spontaneously split up into two, one half commanded by Pharynx and the other by Grim by unspoken agreement, both of them actively participating in the fight along with shouting orders. Every tactic must have been employed, both for fighting in our natural forms and in disguises, and though Sunburst, Starlight, and I were mostly clueless about what certain commands meant, having never served in Chrysalis’ army except for that one time in Canterlot when I’d actually gone out of my way to avoid partaking in combat, we did our best to compensate for that lack of understanding by mimicking whatever the others were doing whenever feasible and providing distractions. We weren’t successful the whole time; Pharynx shoved me out of the way of an incoming supersized claw more than once, and I caught a glimpse of Starlight looking around frantically while enclosed in a shield bubble and an apparently dizzy Sunburst being carried out of the battle zone.

Everything was going mostly fine until Grim got knocked unconscious and her predicament distracted my brother enough to unwillingly join her in dreamland.

“Pharynx!” I cried out, flying over to him and nearly getting splatted in the process myself. Luckily for me, Starlight had noticed what was going on and blasted at the maulwurf while clutching its claw in her magic.

“Get outta here!” she shouted.

“You too! It’s gonna-”

It did. Starlight’s magic, though powerful, was no match for the muscles of an enraged maulwurf, and the beast broke out of her grip and pounded the ground where my friend stood… where she had been until the very last moment. She couldn’t have cut it any closer teleporting away if that had been her intention! I couldn’t figure out why she’d chosen to teleport onto the maulwurf’s head of all places until she started blasting it again, then teleported onto its snout as it swatted at her, then onto its ear, then the other ear, and so on as the maulwurf kept hitting itself in a vain attempt to get rid of the annoyance.

“Hey, good thinking!” I said to her, whether or not she could spare a moment and some of her focus to register my words. “Why don’t we- uh…”

In this short time while Pharynx and Grim were out of commission and I was too distracted to notice much of what was going on around me, the battlefield had become dotted with drones lying around unconscious; less than half of our initial defensive team remained, and though most of them had switched to the other maulwurf now that Starlight had found a seemingly effective way to deal with hers, but the vigor in their auras had in the meantime given way to a murky chill, the telltale sign that losing their commanders, if only temporarily, had crushed their spirits and left them vulnerable to the point that we could easily be defeated even though Starlight’s maulwurf was showing every sign of having had enough of hitting itself and may have even considered leaving!

“Huh?” she said, having noticed that something was amiss, and missed her cue for teleporting away. A force field erected at almost the moment of impact with the claw must have saved her from getting knocked out too, but she probably hadn’t had enough time to put enough magic in it to make it stronger, as it shattered instantly and she was left dazed and unable to keep fighting.

Okay, Thorax, enough fooling around! I transformed into a manticore as big as the maulwurf and went at it furiously, counting on righteous anger to give me the edge I needed, but I lacked combat knowledge and experience and it showed; I’d barely struck a couple of blows when the maulwurf scored a hit that got me dizzy to the point of dropping my disguise and crashing to the ground.

The other drones noticed what had happened and, as far as I could tell, stopped fighting at once. I tried to tell them not to pay attention to me and to keep fighting, but it came out as incoherent muttering. Needless to say, it did nothing to snap them back into focus and give them a fighting chance again, and I’d barely started mentally apologizing to them for messing everything up and getting them all killed when a rainbow-colored cloud seeped from the hive’s entrances and continued where the first two teams had left off. I couldn’t believe my eyes! More drones had decided to help us? When had that happened? Okay, they weren’t quite as numerous as the ones Grim had motivated, but I was going to welcome any advantage I could get! Even better, their arrival restored some of the other drones’ lost spirits, and the joined teams were starting to make a difference at last! Starlight and some of the knocked-out drones were starting to recover, too, and soon they were back in business as if nothing had happened!

“About time they showed up,” a gruff voice behind me stated.

“Pharynx, you’re alright!” I exclaimed. Okay, to tell the truth, he didn’t exactly look his all-time best; his carapace was ripped up in a few spots and he seemed to be struggling to stand upright, but he was too stubborn to let that stop him, and he was awake at last, and the rest faded in comparison!

I started to hug him but he pushed me away. “Later! I’ve got a pest to get rid of!” he said as he took to the air and rejoined the battle.

“Be careful,” I said, but he was already too busy to notice.

Just about then, Grim woke up too and rejoined the fight, and so did the rest of the unconscious drones within the next few minutes. I was still making an effort to help the other fighters, but they could easily do without me by now: the arrival of reinforcements and the recovery of the temporarily-incapacitated drones had done wonders to restore everyling’s spirits, and the larger numbers made it harder for the maulwurfs to shake us all off despite their growing frustration. It took a while, but eventually they decided they’d had enough and ran off, chased by the swarm into the distant parts of the wasteland where they dug themselves into the ground in a last-ditch effort to shake us off.

“And stay there!” Pharynx shouted after them, and everyling else cheered.

Psycho and Hornet came up to me. “Sorry we’re late,” they said. “We didn’t know you’d started without us!”

“I found them in something called ‘feelings forum’,” Sunburst said, joining us. “They were getting their volunteers ready for when you give the signal and didn’t realize it had already happened. Maybe we should have sent someone to get them right away?”

“Oh… you’re right, we should have! At least we should have remembered to ask if they were there already! What about you, Sunburst? You okay?”

“Yes, it was only a minor hit as far as maulwurf hits go… not that I’ve had any first-hoof experience with them prior to today! But nevermind me, someone else wants your attention.”

I turned around to face Pharynx. He was grinning widely for the first time in years and there was a fire in his eyes that I’d never seen before!

“I take it you like how things turned out?” I asked him.

“Like it? Nothing like a good fight to get the old blood pumping!”

“Even if it didn’t go so well for a while? Speaking of that, are you alright?”

“What are you talking about? As if a soldier worth his fangs would be afraid of getting hit! I can’t remember the last time I was this pumped! And you know why?”

“Because you beat the maulwurf?”

He rolled his eyes. “No, you idiot, I’ve beaten maulwurfs before. I’m pumped because we beat them! Because you fought alongside me! I’d given up hope it would ever happen, but not only did my pathetic little brother go to battle, he did it willingly! And he won! Don’t you get it, Thorax? This is the best day of my life!”

“I don’t think I deserve that much credit-” I started, but stopped myself mid-sentence when I realized Pharynx was radiating visible tendrils of love energy. He noticed it too and opened his eyes wide in confusion as he looked at himself; his eyes only had enough time to dart back at me before his whole body wrapped itself in a magical cocoon of pure love, from which he soon emerged a new changeling, reformed like most of the rest of us, only taller but not quite as tall as me, but most strikingly, a pair of antlers maybe half the size of mine adorned his head.

I grinned as he looked himself over, still confused over the unexpected change. Eventually he got over the initial shock.

“Huh,” he muttered to himself. “You really do stop being hungry after this…”

I hugged him in response, and he pushed me away again, though not as violently as before.

“But that doesn’t mean I want to get all sappy like the rest of you,” he added.

I smiled sheepishly. What was I expecting from him? But for all his grumpy attitude that was downright infuriating at times, he was my brother, and I loved him to pieces and wouldn’t have him any other way!

“Come on, Pharynx,” I said. “Let’s go home!”