• 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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Firm Hoof

“So I have these ponies to thank for talking some sense into you, huh?” Pharynx asked as we were trotting back to the hive. The rest of the battle team was either having their injuries tended to or standing watch in case the maulwurfs decided to return or any more of them showed up. “Who’d have thought they’d be useful as something more than a food source?”

“You also have ponies to thank for taking care of your brother, in case you forgot,” Starlight reminded him.

“You mean, for spoiling him,” he quipped back. “How will I ever repay you for encouraging him to constantly hug everyone and everything in sight?”

I chuckled. “Come on, I haven’t gone that far! Though, now that you mention it…”

“No. Just no!”

“But it’s been five minutes since my last attempt!” I teased him.

“I swear, if you don’t drop that thought right now, I’m going back there and getting the maulwurfs-”

“Okay, okay, I won’t hug you! For now, at least…”

He looked sideways at me but said nothing.

“Is he always like that?” Sunburst whispered to me.

I nodded in reply. “Believe it or not, this is actually what he’s like on a good day.”

“Okay,” Pharynx said quickly, “if we’re not kicking the ponies out or putting them in cocoons, mind at least telling me why they’re here?”

“Can’t a guy ever have some friends over?” I protested.

“Did you invite them?”

“Not specifically for today-”

“So they have an agenda.”

“-but I told them earlier they can drop by whenever they want- wait, ‘agenda’? What are you talking about, Pharynx? You make it sound like they’re enemies!”

“Am I supposed to believe they just randomly decided to cross half the world because they’re bored with nothing better to do?”

“Actually, we do have something that might be described as ‘an agenda’, though not a hostile one, but that doesn’t mean we can’t-”

Pharynx spun abruptly and blocked his path. “Talk,” he growled.

Sunburst gulped and whimpered at my brother’s murderous glare.

“Leave them alone, Pharynx!” I protested.

“I’ll decide on that when I hear what they want out of you.”

“They don’t want anything! They came to discuss some spells I asked them about!”

He raised an eyebrow at me.

“You know those scrolls we found in the annex of Chrysalis’ bedchamber?”

Your bedchamber,” he corrected me.

“Whatever. Well, I wanted to know what’s on those illegible scrolls so I took them to Ponyville-”

You shared classified information with ponies?!

“They’re my friends, I trust them, and what use of the ‘classified information’ if we don’t know what it is?”

“...fair enough. So these two deciphered the scrolls? What did they find?”

We brought him up to speed. He listened with little interest at first, but his ears perked up at the mention of torture spells, and his aura turned increasingly red-hot as we went into more detail.

“Tell me again, Thorax,” he said in the end. “That time you blasted me. You weren’t especially trying to put your all into that spell? You put what might be described as a normal amount of effort into making it work?”

I nodded.

“I’ll blast her,” he growled. “That thing wasn’t enough for her?”

I opened my mouth to answer him even though I wasn’t sure what to say.

“Don’t answer that,” he interrupted, rubbing his temple. “Of course it wouldn’t. Nothing was ever enough for her and I knew it all along. She was addicted to inflicting pain on others and having you readily available for punishing might have only increased that addiction in the long run. That’s part of why I wanted to turn you into a warrior; I was hoping you’d stop being an unlimited supply of excuses for her to torture you. Of course, she’d probably have switched to someling else eventually, but… At the very least, I was grateful that she’d never decided to use the lethal torture spell on you, but with how stubborn you were, I had no promise that she wouldn’t.”

“The… lethal spell?”

Crucio Ultima,” Sunburst said. “It was among the others on that scroll, likely the enhanced version of the one Pharynx is referring to.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“It looked lethal but I wasn’t sure whether or not that was intended. I could have been looking at a draft of something that was intended to be survivable, in which case she would have removed the lethal component eventually. The rest of it alone was worse than all the other versions combined, which in itself would have explained the ‘ultima’ part of the title. Besides, you have enough on your plate already and we didn’t want to worry you.”

“Even if we’d agreed to tell you, there would have been no time before the maulwurf alert,” Starlight added.

Pharynx got in her face. “You withheld tactical information?!

“Pharynx, leave them alone!”

“You still trust them after this?!”

“Why not? What were we supposed to gain by knowing that one of the spells was lethal? It’s not like we were going to use it-”

“I wouldn’t be so sure-”

I pretended not to have heard him. “-and it wouldn’t have made any difference! She was going to execute me either way!”

“Yes, by casting Crucio Ultima on you.”

“...no, she asked for her sword when it came to that.”

“That sword was only meant to test my allegiance. If I refused to kill you, she’d have killed us both, otherwise she would have kept you in conscious stasis while casting the full inventory of torture spells for as long as she fancied and then finished you off with Crucio Ultima.”

I stared at him in confusion. “What’s conscious stasis? And where did you get the idea for all that?”

“I pressed Psycho for information, and conscious stasis is that first spell you described.”

“Oh…” Sunburst muttered, then took a scroll from his saddlebag and scribbled something on it. “Fascinating… I wonder now…”

“What?”

“That spell could potentially be used for good things if refined to-”

“The only good thing I can see it used for is keeping Chrysalis alive when I get my fangs on her-”

“Pharynx!” I protested again. “Please don’t get ahead of yourself… she could still come around!”

“That won’t excuse what she tried to do to you and I don’t care who tries to stop me and what consequences I get threatened with,” he growled.

Starlight snickered. “The only problem is that you can’t get your fangs on her because you don’t have fangs anymore…”

“Test my patience and I’ll grow them back!” he snapped.

I sighed. Knowing the length of his fuse, those fangs could be back by tomorrow, no shapeshifting involved!

“You guys have anything else worth noting?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Sunburst mused. “Why?”

“Because the changeling defense forces aren’t going to reestablish themselves and there are renegades that need schooling.”

“You’re going to tackle that now?” I asked. “But you’ve barely started hanging out with Starlight and Sunburst!”

“Didn’t you learn today that trouble doesn’t wait for you to get ready before showing up? Or do you need them to tell you that since apparently nothing I say matters to you?”

“It does matter! But, for the record, yelling and insulting doesn’t help your cause…”

“We’ll see how the others respond to it.” He spread his wings and flew off, leaving us almost at the hive’s proverbial doorstep.

I watched him return in the direction of the battlefield for a few moments, wondering what he was up to this time, then pushed him out of my mind for now and turned my attention to the two ponies. We could finally hang out together in peace!

They exchanged glances. “Uh, so…” Starlight started hesitantly. “This has been… fun, but… we should probably head home now. You seem to have your hooves full, and… uh…”

“Already? But you’ve barely arrived!”

“And had an unplanned adventure in the process,” Sunburst said.

“Oh… but the maulwurfs are gone now! Can’t I at least tempt you with… um… a tour of the hive, maybe?”

“Hmm,” Sunburst mused. “It would be interesting, I suppose. What do you think, Starlight?”

She started to say something when her stomach growled. So did Sunburst’s.

“Oh… dear… Yeah, maybe going home would be a good idea, after all…”

“I can offer you some of our plants! Assuming they’re edible for ponies… they should be if we were going to give them to the maulwurfs without causing them harm… we’ll have to ask Antenna which ones are safe… I’m sure she’d be okay with letting you grab a bite!”

“She’s your gardener?”

“Yes, one of them, at least. Planting stuff was her idea and some of the drones have been joining her from time to time. I’ve been planning to plant some flowers myself but haven’t found the time yet except for helping uproot plants for the maulwurf lure.”

“Which is the exact opposite of what you wanted to do,” Sunburst said. “I bet you’re glad those plants are coming back, huh? They are coming back, aren’t they? They didn’t wilt or anything?”

“Antenna said she’d keep them in good condition for as long as possible so they should be alright. So, dinner and a tour?”

“Okay, dinner and a tour,” Starlight agreed. “But please don’t take after Twilight when it comes to tours! I like you but I don’t want to die of old age before we’re finished!”


Starlight had only just teleported Sunburst and herself away following a daisy snack and the quick tour I’d given them and I was on my way to begin looking for Pharynx or anyling who might know if he’d returned to the hive when I ran into Grim.

“Yes, he’s back,” she said. “He’s rounding up the renegades. I think they’ll be in for a mouthful for disobeying you,” she chuckled.

“Let’s hope it stays a mouthful,” I sighed. “I don’t want Pharynx clogging up the infirmary with them! Especially now that we’ve got maulwurf casualties!”

“Actually, the medics said none of them are too badly injured to continue with their normal routine, though they did recommend to some of them to take it easy for a while.”

“Really? The way things looked over there, I thought at least half of them would need cocooning!”

“Nope!”

“Well, that’s a relief,” I said. “Do you guys need anything?”

“Not that I know of… unless you want to visit the hatchery? I was just going there, and you haven’t been there in a while…”

“Too long! Not that I didn’t want to, it just… kind of got lost in all the other things that were going on… Is everything alright down there?”

“It is, or it was the last time I checked. No promises that the maulwurfs’ rampage didn’t cause any structural damage, though, or lead to injuries among the grubs hiding there at the moment… but if something had happened, I’m sure we would have heard about it by now!”

“Maybe,” I shrugged, following her to the hatchery. “So, are any of the eggs yours yet?”

“No, and it might not happen so quickly after all.”

“Oh? What’s wrong? Anything I can help with?”

“No, nothing like that! I just changed my approach to the matter.”

“As in, you don’t want them as much anymore? Sorry if I’m prying in what’s none of my business…”

“No problem, you’re really easy to talk to! I still want eggs as much as before, but you’re kind of the reason why my approach is different now. Uh, in a good way!”

“What do you mean?”

“You know how it was under Chrysalis. I would have been expected to give up my eggs to her and never see them again, never even know what became of them, not even if they all hatched successfully, not to mention that the privilege to produce eggs was hard to acquire and easy to be revoked so I had to hope I’d get paired up with someling quickly because any mistake could cost me the privilege… That was how it always was with the changelings and I never thought it could be any different, and my maternal instinct was so strong that I couldn’t ignore it even if it meant I could never look at a drone of roughly the right age without my heart breaking because we could share the same blood and I’d never know it… but now, thanks to you, I can keep my eggs and be a mother to my nymphs, all without needing to earn the right to do it so there’s no rush, and I want to be a good mother to them, and part of that includes ensuring they have a good father. So, long story short, I’m putting motherhood on hold until I can find a mate I’ll like and trust, and who’ll like and trust me in return and who’ll take good care of our nymphs.”

“Oh! That makes perfect sense! Uh, this’ll sound awkward, but for a moment there you made it sound like you wanted to, um…”

“To ask you to father my eggs?”

“...kind of…”

“No, I mean, I like you and I’m sure you’d be the best father in the world, but I can’t ask you to commit to a relationship with me if you won’t ever fall in love… and it’s awkward enough because you’re the king…”

“You can tell I’m incapable of romance even though I’ve never told anyone or tried to be in a relationship? Even if I haven’t been sure about it myself for the longest time?”

“Not me. Pharynx mentioned it once while we were hunting for you… if you can call it ‘hunting’ since he was trying not to find you…”

“How did he get the idea? I mean, he’s not wrong but I don’t remember us ever discussing it…”

“A brother would know. You two are closer than you think!”

“Well, he does stick up for me all the time…”

“...and you for him. Don’t tell him, but I’m pretty sure some of the renegades would have ripped him apart for betraying Chrysalis but were too afraid of what you would do to them afterwards even though you’re normally softer than Luna’s pillow.”

I chuckled.

“No, really,” she said. “Luna does have unbelievably soft pillows. I should know, I slept on them while posing as her. Speaking of which, any chance you can pull some royal strings and get her to tell you where she buys them so we can get some for the hive?”

Not a bad idea at all! I’d gladly trade my own cocoon-bed for any pillow, no matter how old and tattered, and I was sure plenty of other drones could do with something cute and comfortable!

“I’ll see what I can do,” I promised.

We were at the hatchery entrance by then and Grim cantered inside.

“Gossamer, we’re back!” she exclaimed.

“I know, Banshee told us when she came to pick up her nymphs,” Gossamer replied. “Hello, Thorax. I hear you’ve had quite an adventure today!”

“‘Adventure’ is right! Though, I’d rather not have a repeat…” A few larvae slithered up to me and I hugged them, getting content chitters in reply. “Aww, hello, little ones! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve missed you!”

“Is it true that Pharynx reformed?”

More larvae slithered up to me and I scooped them in a hug too. “Yep!”

“I’d love to have seen that!”

Grim proceeded to describe the battle and Pharynx’s state of mind that had allowed him to trigger the change in himself. I was too busy snuggling with the steadily-increasing swarm of nymphs and larvae to listen to her story. The little ones were so cute and cuddly, so pure and innocent, I just couldn’t resist! Getting them to share their love and transform way back in the first days of my reign had been easier than I’d expected, and only proved that changelings weren’t inherently and hopelessly evil but had merely been raised as such and never given an opportunity to better themselves! I only needed one look at these grubs to remind myself of that! Why hadn’t I made a point to visit the hatchery at least once while the renegades were rampaging? It would have undoubtedly restored my fading hopes and spirits, and I could have cheered up the grubs as well! I should have come to cheer them up! They were my subjects too, and I shouldn’t have allowed myself to neglect them no matter how busy I’d been elsewhere! I made a vow to never let it happen again, no matter what!

A prodding hoof snapped me out of my reverie.

“Huh, what?” I blurted out, gently removing a couple of larvae off my face.

Grim stood before me, snickering.

“I’m sorry, did you say something? I wasn’t paying attention…”

“I can see that, you big grubpile!” True enough, I was covered head-to-hoof in baby changelings. Where had so many of them come from? “We were thinking to go check if Pharynx had finished rounding up the renegades yet. Wanna come?”

I did, but I’d only just started hugging the grubs! How could I abandon them now?

“We can come back later if you haven’t had your fill yet,” she added, as if reading my mind.

“...okay, um… okay. Sorry, little ones… I’ll be back soon, okay?” Disappointed chittering filled the room. “I promise!”

They reluctantly surrendered to Grim and Gossamer, who carried them gently to their nests until I was once again free to move around. A few still clung stubbornly to my antlers but they too gave in after a bit of convincing. We left the hatchery under supervision of a couple of Grim’s colleagues who weren’t especially interested in Pharynx and headed for the hive’s surface, as Grim claimed there wasn’t a chamber inside the hive big enough to fit them all and Pharynx had refused to hold the same speech twice.

Psycho was already there when we arrived, waiting for Pharynx to finish the roll-call. Quite a number of the reformed drones were there too, mixed in with the renegades. I asked about them.

“They’re the renegades that transformed earlier today, after we defeated the maulwurfs and you left with te ponies.”

“They did? All by themselves?”

“A few of them, yes. Most needed a bit of encouragement from Pharynx when he came back.”

I didn’t know how to feel about that. It was great that they’d learned to share love, but what had Pharynx done? Beaten them into submission? And what was he about to do now?

He started by flinging a scroll to Psycho. I recognized it as the list of unreformed drones Psycho had made just after my ascension. Hopefully it hadn’t become a hit list in the meantime…

“You all know why you’re here,” Pharynx started. “Some of you have had the presence of mind to correct that mistake earlier today. The rest, we’ll see. Now that I’ve officially been restored to the rank of First Commander, I have the authority to punish that mistake as I see fit, and you know me well enough that you can make a pretty good guess what that will entail if you decide to persist in the mistake that brought you here. I can assure you, turning rainbow-colored hasn’t made me any weaker or less unforgiving.”

A couple of renegades shuddered.

“Let me make one thing very clear,” he continued. “You’re all getting punished. Just because you decided to share love earlier today will do nothing to save you, but Thorax wants me to be friendly and merciful so I’ll humor him this one time and allow one chance to the rest of you to follow suit before I change my mind. Here’s the deal: you wanted to be soldiers under Chrysalis so I’m punishing you by enlisting you in the reestablished defense force, one under Thorax, whom you claim to disapprove of, and I’ll make sure to double all the drills in both duration and intensity. It will hurt! Those of you who shared love or will share it in the next five minutes will remain at that. The rest of you will get the same drills, only made harder with random hindrances depending on my creativity on each particular day, plus you’ll be obliged to clean up every mess we make, plus you’re the first ones to get picked for the worst assignments, plus I’ll look the other way whenever someling decides to punish you because you looked at them wrong, plus I’ll be extra quick to notice every slightest mistake you make and discipline you until you until you end up in the infirmary, and you’ve lost cocoon-healing privilege by the way, plus betraying the new Hive will guarantee that you’ll beg me to punish you the way Chrysalis intended to punish Thorax because it would hurt less than what I have in store for you and it would let you die sooner. Am I understood?”

Most drones gulped and nodded, and I decided to have a talk with Pharynx afterwards.

“Four minutes,” Psycho announced.

The renegades stirred nervously, murmuring among themselves. An aura of murky chill spread throughout them. Their eyes darted between Pharynx, me, and their still-unreformed peers as the aura of fear intensified. One by one, they relented; they reached in to their love reserves and allowed them to pour out and envelop them in magical cocoons. The transformation succeeded, even if the reluctance with which they’d triggered it resulted in duller colors than those of drones sharing love genuinely willingly.

Only a couple of drones remained unchanged. Pharynx raised an intrigued eyebrow at them.

“What if we refuse?” said one of them.

“That wasn’t an option,” Pharynx said. “However, if you insist, I can interpret it as a betrayal on your part and proceed with turning you into my personal training dummy as the first phase of your punishment.” He lit up his horn and antlers and I recognized the thaumic pattern of one of the Crucio spells.

The renegade winced and retreated a step. “Okay, okay! You’ve made your point!” he whimpered. “I’ll do it… just… just give me a minute…”

“That’s about as much as you have,” Pharynx warned.

He and the others made it just barely in time and with great effort. Pharynx smirked.

“I thought as much,” he said. “You pretended to be strong and fearsome when the system was backing you up, but in reality you’re weak and pathetic. I bet Thorax would beat you up in two seconds if he cared to try… I’m ashamed of you! Now go to your burrows and have the last good sleep you’ll ever get. Drills start at dawn on the southern side of the hive and end when enough of you have passed out. I won’t personally oversee you all the time, but every single one of you is to obey the other drill instructors with the same passion as if I’m breathing down your necks, as they will report every detail to me. Don’t make us wait for you if you value the integrity of your legs.”

They remained fixed in place, staring at the wall they were standing on.

“Dismissed!” Pharynx barked.

That got them moving. They stumbled into whatever entrance was nearest, some colliding into one another and losing their grip on the wall and sliding down before falling through a random gate, getting hung up on a vine, or reorienting themselves and taking to the air before trying again.

“Pathetic,” Pharynx sighed, shaking his head.

We joined him.

“You think they’ll obey the rules?” Gossamer asked.

“Heh, I’d love to see them not obey!”

“No worries,” Grim reassured her. “They’ll be too busy to cause trouble!”

“I hope they’re right,” I added. “You can probably stop worrying that they’ll break your eggs now.”

“Actually…” Turning sideways, she opened her elytra, and four sleepy larval heads poked out. “I’m more worried about them being a bad influence now-”

My eyes went wide. “They hatched?! Ooh, wonderful! Congratulations! When?”

“Earlier today, around the time when you guys were fighting the maulwurfs.”

“Aww, they’re so cute! Can I hug them?”

“Sure! This is Mayfly, and Dragonfly, and Firefly, and-”

“Sweet Tartarus, Thorax, do you have to hug everyone and everything you come across?!”

“But Pharynx-”

“Don’t you think you have more important business to take care of? Like, I don’t know, discussing security protocols or drafting penal law or-”

“Ugh, fine! Just stop complaining already! Sorry, Gossamer… you don’t mind if I drop by later to hug the little cuties, do you?”

“Why would I mind?”

“Okay then…” I glanced at Pharynx, who was already at one of the gates, rolling his eyes at me lingering around my newest subjects instead of following him. “Um, I didn’t catch the fourth one’s name?”

“Damselfly.”

“Right. I’ll, uh, see you later!” I hurried after Pharynx.

“Here’s the thing,” he started when I caught up with him. “The renegades may be physically reformed but I don’t trust them. I’ve gathered about twice as many genuinely reformed recruits, ones we can assume with reasonable certainty will be loyal to you, and I’ll have them watch the renegades for any funny business. They’ll train together and no renegade will be given an assignment without a trustworthy teammate to keep them in check. I’ve designed the renegades’ training regime in such a way that it leaves them no time off except for sleeping, which will minimize the chance of betrayal, but I’ll have to assign them all to one or more communal sleeping chambers and post guards to watch them. It’s necessary considering their stance on you but will put a considerable dent in our defenses- Thorax, are you listening to me?”

“Huh? Oh, um, yeah, I… uh, go on…”

He looked at me sideways, obviously not believing me. “As I was saying, our defenses will be stretched thin until further notice, and it would help if you could arrange your schedule and foreign visits in such a way that- oh, for hive’s sake, quit daydreaming! This is important!”

“I’m not daydreaming! Look, I know you can organize our defenses better than anyone and am prepared to let you do it without checking every little detail with me - you probably know me well enough to predict how I might feel about particular arrangements and act accordingly - but I wasn’t ignoring you just now. I actually want to discuss something with you and was wondering how to approach the subject.”

“How about opening your mouth and saying it?”

“...fair enough. It’s about the, uh… the punishments you promised to the renegades if-”

“Gee, why am I not surprised? I had to! Nothing else would have worked!”

“You’re probably right, but what I mean is, you don’t actually intend to do anything like that, do you?”

“You think I was bluffing?”

“I kind of hope you were…”

“I don’t bluff.”

“But do you really have to go so hard on them?”

“And risk them getting out of control if they figure out that I’m being gentle? That fear of punishment is one of the main tools for keeping them disciplined, and not just them! Can you imagine the chaos if word got out that I’m not as fierce as I used to be? Noling would obey orders anymore, not to mention the enemies could notice and strike while we’re at our weakest!”

“If you say so… but can’t you at least leave the really bad punishments for when you literally have no other choice and do something less drastic otherwise, maybe pretend as necessary that the punishment you’re giving is the bad one?”

He groaned and rolled his eyes. “Okay, I’ll try to kill the first few quickly.”

“Pharynx!”

“What, no killing? How am I supposed to make a point then?”

“Didn’t you just say you could frighten them into obedience?”

“So now it’s okay to frighten them?”

“If you have to do something, I’d rather that than you killing them!”

“Whatever.” We were at our bedchamber by now. “I’m gonna turn in early. Busy day tomorrow.”

He approached his usual sleeping spot and was about to lie down when I remembered something. “One moment,” I said.

“What?”

“You made a request a while ago and I keep forgetting.” I focused my magic, not caring whether or not the spell had some dark components, and erected a wall in the middle of the bedchamber, splitting it into two smaller rooms with a shared entrance. “You’ve got your own room now! I’m sorry it took me this long to give it to you!”

He stared at me blankly. “Thorax, this is the royal bedchamber. You can’t just split it in half!”

“Why not?”

“I’m the First Commander, I should be in First Commander’s quarters-”

“-but they’re Psycho’s now, and you’re the king’s brother, a prince if you will, therefore you’re entitled to royal quarters.”

He snorted but didn’t argue further.

“So now we have everything, I guess,” I sighed contently.

“Actually, no,” he countered. “You’re missing one thing.”

I was? “What?”

“A crown.”

Author's Note:

In the first version of the chapter, Thorax’s conversation with Grim in regard to her eggs had Grim refer to Thorax’s orientation as gay instead of asexual. I changed it thanks to a reader (Daemon Wolf 22, if I remember correctly) saying that it’d be nice to have more asexual representation in stories after I published a story that revolves around Thorax being asexual.

Also, by a happy coincidence, happy Pride Month!