• 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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New Alliance

“You can’t catch me!”

“We’ll see!”

“Nuh-uh! I’m so small I can crawl into any nook!”

I chuckled. “You do realize that doesn’t mean much to changelings, do you?”

The nymph smirked. “But you’d have to shift and it’ll distract you long enough for me to run off!”

“And there’s enough of us that you can’t keep track!” another quipped.

“Yeah!”

It was hard to argue with that logic with a couple of dozen nymphs scurrying about at my hooves and buzzing all around the nursery, and they were probably right that I couldn’t catch them all, but that wasn’t going to stop me from trying! They’d wanted a game of chase and they were going to get one! They had no idea how many hugs they were in for as soon as I caught them all!

“Ready or not, here I come!”

I pounced at one of the groups of nymphs. They scattered with a gasp; some hid in a pillow pile and others dashed into a tangle of vines. A couple whizzed through the air and I spun around and almost caught one, but then another buzzed right in front of me and I had to skid to a halt to avoid collision.

“Hey!” I protested as they blew raspberries. “Watch it!”

“You’re too gentle!” another taunted from the ceiling, then got lost among maturation cocoons.

Sneaky little guy; he knew I wasn’t going to follow him there, as maturation cocoons were supposed to be left undisturbed as much as possible! I called to him to get out but got no reply, and as the cocoons weren’t swinging, I assumed he was making an effort to avoid harming them and decided to have a conversation with him later. He’d have to come out eventually, and right now, everyling else was waiting to be caught!

The airborne nymphs shifted around as I went at one after another. I caught none, but it didn’t matter; what was the point if the game ended in two minutes? I was simply biding my time either until one of them made a wrong move and flew directly into my grasp, or until I positioned myself for tackling the pillows or the vines, both of which were giggling!

Chance positioned me near the pillows and I dove in, causing a bunch of drones to scatter out, and though I was pretty sure none remained hidden, I tossed the pillows around me for a couple of seconds longer, causing more giggles from the nearby nymphs. One got careless and drifted too close, and I leaned in and ended her escape attempts.

“Aww,” she moaned only half-disappointedly as I nuzzled her and shared some of my aura with her.

Still holding the nymph, I went back at her friends, missing most but catching a few and adding them to my collection. The vines stirred and a couple of gossamer tails poked out, allowing for easy pickings of the unsuspecting youngsters, and each got a nuzzle in compensation for their frustrated squirms.

A couple more nymphs succumbed to my sudden grasp before Gossamer’s arrival put an end to the chase.

“Sorry to interrupt, Thorax,” she said, “but Hornet tells me you have a visitor.”

“Oh? Did I forget I was expecting someone?”

“I don’t think so, but you might want to hurry. I got the impression she’s impatient or something.”

“Aww, but we were just playing!” an uncaught nymph protested, landing next to me.

“I’m sorry, but Thorax has royal duties, and you need your afternoon nap!”

More drones landed in front of me. “But Thorax likes to play with us!”

“Gotcha!” I scooped them all up into a group hug.

“Aww, no fair!”

“Yes fair,” I purred, nuzzling them.

Gossamer chuckled. “Alright, now…”

I finished the nuzzling and set the little cuties back on the ground. “Sorry, I really have to go. But I’ll be back! Now be good little nymphs and take your nap like Auntie Gossamer says so you’ll be well rested for the next play date!”

Reluctantly, they obeyed and followed Gossamer as she gathered up the pillows, and I went to the throne room, expecting the visitor would have been taken there.

I’d been right about where I’d find the visitor, and Hornet had been right about the situation being potentially urgent. Growling and shouting echoed through the hallways even before I got close, and it looked like a fight would have broken out had I arrived a second later.

“Pharynx! Leave her alone!” I exclaimed. “What’s gotten into you?”

“She entered the throne room without permission or escort, not to mention that she showed up completely unannounced!”

I facehoofed. “She doesn’t need to announce her visit, and neither does anyone else! And since when is the throne room off-limits?”

“Well, sorry for doing my job, Your Highness,” he spat. “Are you going to be as careless if Chrysalis shows up?”

“Don’t you think Chrysalis would pick a less conspicuous disguise if she wanted to show up?”

“She’d more likely pick the appearance of someone you’re vaguely familiar with to lower your guard without risking that you see through an improvisation in behavior.” He pointed a hoof. “Like this one.”

“Please calm down…”

“Whatever. I’ve got some recruits to yell at anyway.” With that, he buzzed his wings and disappeared towards ground level.

“Sorry about that, Ember,” I said. “I really thought he’d start behaving himself now that he’s reformed!” At least in the presence of foreign leaders if not in everyday situations…

“No worries, I can hold my own!” She looked me over. “So, where’s your crown?”

“In a box in my bedchamber. I didn’t see a reason to wear it all the time. I’m obvious enough as it is!”

“Too bad… it looked tasty!”

“Uh…”

“What?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize we could be needing dragon food so soon… maybe I can find some loose gems somewhere…”

“Don’t sweat it, I’m not hungry. I ate a phoenix on the way here.”

I winced. I knew dragons sometimes ate meat in addition to gems, but that knowledge didn’t make me any less sorry for the unfortunate bird.

“What? It’s just a bird!”

“But it was alive and happy and probably had friends and a family who miss it and wonder what happened and don’t know yet that they’ll never see it again…”

“Wow, you really take things to heart.”

“I can’t help it…”

“But it’s all part of the life cycle! Some animals eat plants, some eat other animals, some eat other things, and there’s even plants that eat animals! You eat love, so do you feel sorry for someone whose love got eaten?”

“Not really now that we share it, but I used to in the old days.”

She groaned. “Okay, fair enough, that was debilitating to whoever you caught, but what’s next? You gonna tell me you feel sorry for a patch of grass that gets eaten?”

“...well, now that you mention it…”

“Seriously?! It’s just grass, it doesn’t feel anything!”

“How do we know that? Just because we can’t feel its emotional aura doesn’t mean it’s not there!”

She faceclawed. “I give up.”

An awkward silence followed.

“So, um… how can I help you?” I asked eventually.

“I came to negotiate an alliance if you’re interested.”

“Really?!”

“Yeah, I figured now that we’re both allies with ponies and starting to introduce the idea of friendship to our subjects, we might as well become allies ourselves.”

I hugged her. “Oh, wonderful!”

“Ugh, this again?”

“Oh, right…” I let go of her. “You don’t like hugs… um, shall we sit down somewhere?”

She picked a section of the old wall for the purpose. I sat close by. The throne would have been a little too far away for convenience, and anyway, I didn’t want to appear commanding.

“So, uh, alliance,” she said. “I’ve only done this once so don’t mind me if I have no idea what we’re supposed to discuss.”

“How did it look like when you negotiated with Equestria?”

“Honestly, I have no idea what to make of that. We were just sitting at a table, talking about stuff, and in the end somepony brought a parchment for us to read and sign. I didn’t even realize we were negotiating anything until that moment. I mean, we must have as some of the things from the chit-chat ended up on that paper, but…” She shrugged. “I must have expected something more pompous and assumed we were just waiting for the pompous thing to begin.”

I chuckled. “No, the ponies like to keep things relaxed and friendly! I do too, honestly, but if you want something pompous, I might be able to arrange it-”

“Don’t bother. I’d get lost in that! I got lost during your coronation ceremony and all I had to do was sit and watch!”

“Okay. Is that why you didn’t stay to negotiate the alliance that day or the day after? Not that I mind seeing you again so soon!”

“Nah, I figured you’d have your hooves full, and the dragons I brought along were starting to lose self-control and I didn’t want them burning any villages on the way back to the Dragon Lands.”

“Okay, heh, keeping an eye on them was probably a good idea,” I agreed. “As a precaution, of course! I didn’t notice anything I’d have to complain about!”

“That’s probably because I dragged them aside before roasting them to avoid making a scene.”

“You needed to do that?!”

“Four times, and only the first time was just one dragon. Or was it five times?”

“Oh… wow…”

Another awkward silence followed.

“So, about those negotiations…” she said. “Do you have an idea what we’re supposed to discuss?”

“Honestly, my own experience was pretty much like yours, except that I expected it to be intimidating rather than pompous,” I admitted. “Okay, the crowd of anti-changeling protesters in the streets was intimidating until Celestia and Luna showed up to greet me, but after that, it felt like talking to old friends!”

“So I guess we’re doomed to improvise!”

“I guess we are… Okay, mind if I start? Would you agree to… how did they phrase it… promote a spirit of friendliness and positive attitude towards changelings among your subjects?”

“Doesn’t that go without saying?”

“Yes, probably, but Twilight had this checklist and I remember something along those lines was the first item on it, so it’s probably important… After all, there can be war alliances with a starting premise very different from this one…”

“Right. Yes, I agree, and would you agree to, uh, whatever you said, except swap ‘dragons’ and ‘changelings’?”

“Of course! See, we’ve already settled one matter! It can’t be that hard, can it?”

“I guess not… What’s the next matter?”

Good point. Maybe I shouldn’t have said this would be easy… “I’m not sure… maybe granting safe passage to changelings in Dragon Lands and vice versa without needing to get permission first? Or whatever it’s called? My couriers complained about barely getting out of there alive, and I’ve got someone here who’d be happiest if he could skin every non-changeling alive as soon as they enter our lands, so it might be a good idea to have some guarantee that won’t happen…”

“Uh-huh, though it’ll take some doing to convince the dragons to adhere to that. Speaking of which, how are you guys progressing with friendship? Any chance you could spare a few drones who have gotten a hang of it to help teach the dragons?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“And do you have any gems that you’d be interested in trading for… uh, something… I’m not even sure what you guys would need that we can offer in exchange…”

“I’m sorry, if there are any gems to be found around here, we haven’t found them yet, or at least noling told me about it and I’m pretty sure they would have...but say that we do find a natural supply of gems somewhere in changeling territory, what could you offer in exchange for them?”

She pondered this. “Now that I think about it, we don’t have much. There’s plenty of rocks here already and I don’t think you’d have much use for lava.”

“You really have nothing else?”

“What do you expect us to have? Too many things are flammable and no dragon would part with their hoard without a fight!”

“Right… heh…”

Another awkward silence sank down on us. Ember broke it by asking, “Anything else we need to arrange for?”

“Well, the ponies agreed to come to our defense if necessary and I agreed to help if they get attacked… I don’t suppose you’d need-”

“Dragons can hold their own in a fight!”

“Sorry…”

“...though I don’t think it’ll be too hard to get them to help defend you guys if I present it right… that’s what you wanted?”

“Only if you’re willing… I don’t want to force you into-”

“What happened to that assertiveness training?”

“Oh. Um…” I sat up straighter and cleared my throat, hoping that would make me appear less meek. “I would appreciate your assistance in case we need to defend our land. ...um, was that good enough?”

“Marginally, but at least you’re trying. Wanna work on it? I can yell at you all you want!”

I winced.

“Nothing personal, of course,” she added. “Just for practice.”

“Maybe some other time? I kind of already have someone who tests my patience all the time… unless you’re in need of venting?”

“Hey, I’m a dragon. I’m always in need of yelling at someone; we can’t go by that! In fact, I’m trying to learn to suppress that urge! Apparently it’s not very friendly even if the others know you’re not trying to kill them!”

“Yeah… Hey, you wanna practice friendliness? I can take you to a feelings forum! I think one is about to start pretty soon! You don’t have to hug if you don’t want to-”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll pass. I’m already pushing my limits of friendliness and trying to push them even further won’t end well for whoever happens to be nearby. Next time?”

“Sure! I’ll hold you to it!”

“This feels like we’re done negotiating,” she said after a moment. “Are we supposed to write it down now?”

“Actually…” How to put it? I didn’t want to say something that would undo the progress we’d made! “There is one more thing, if I may ask for it…”

“Yes?”

“You know how changelings used to infiltrate other lands to gather strategic information and scout for love sources for the prey hunters?”

She nodded with a hint of reserve in her posture. Had she guessed what I was about to ask?

“Some of those infiltrators were sent to the Dragon Lands recently. Psycho said it was after you took command because Chrysalis wanted to know more about you, and the hive lost contact with them just before I took over. I don’t suppose they’re being held prisoners and you’d be willing to release them or at least to extradite them to us?”

Her face and aura tensed up and she looked into the distance. “I don’t know what happened to them.”

“Not even a guess?”

“Oh, I can guess alright,” she sighed. “I just don’t think you’d like the most probable explanation, and frankly, I don’t like it very much either even though I’m partly responsible for it.”

“They’re dead, aren’t they? Pharynx and Psycho never said it outright but they’ve been acting like they’ve written them off…”

“They’d be guaranteed dead if discovered while my father was Dragon Lord,” she said. “Or even if he just suspected something was off about them. He would usually make them go swimming in lava… or thrown them into lava if they kept refusing. No big deal for a real dragon - we do it all the time - but the changelings in disguise… He loved the way they tasted afterwards… I put an end to the practice of suspicious dragons being brought forth for trial and judgment when I took over because it seemed unnecessarily cruel even though you guys weren’t reformed yet, but I never explicitly forbade other dragons to do as they please. I didn’t personally come across any unreformed changelings since but I can’t promise that the other dragons didn’t kill them without bothering to tell me.”

“Could you ask around?”

“Yes, but don’t hold your breath. There’s a lot of us, whoever did it may not remember or want to share that information, and there’s no telling that something else didn’t get to them.”

I sighed. “I figured as much… explains why everyling acted so evasive when I asked them about it. I think I kind of knew all along, so, uh… thanks for confirming… and thanks for offering to look for them.”

She nodded. “I’d ask about dragons in your keeping but I don’t think we’re missing any.”

“If you are, they’re not here. Releasing the cocoons was the first thing I ordered.”

“So, negotiations done?”

“I guess so! I can’t think of anything else!”

“That was quicker than I expected! Not that I mind not having to sit all day talking about stuff…”

“Even if we only have half an idea of what we’re doing?”

“Eh, good enough.”

“Let’s find Urtica now. We still need to put it on parchment!”

As expected, Urtica was in the archive, shelving some scrolls.

“Oh, hello, Thorax!” she said upon noticing us. “And Dragon Lord Ember! I heard you’ve been trying to spread friendship among the dragons just like Thorax has been doing here! It’s so amazing that so many creatures have been opening up to peaceful ways recently- wow, look at me ramble… How can I help you?”

“Ember and I have just finished negotiating an alliance and-”

“Oh my gosh! An alliance?! How amazing! I never thought in the old days we’d one day be forging alliances left and right, and look at us now! Unbelievable how things can change for the better, don’t you think?”

“Is she always like that?” Ember asked me.

I chuckled. “Yeah, pretty much…”

“Is there a problem?”

“No, of course not! We like you just the way you are!”

“Okay, but do tell me if I get overly excited about something, will you? It can interfere with duties, and I don’t want to disappoint- but wait, I’m rambling again… You said you’ve made an alliance, right?”

“Yes-”

“And you want me to put together a contract so you can formalize the alliance?”

“Yes-”

“Right away! Let me just dig up an unused scroll and… there we go! Now just tell me what you’ve arranged and I’ll write it down in a jiffy!”

We did, and we were just about finishing when I noticed Pharynx trot by in the hallway. He noticed us too and doubled back.

“Didn’t I tell you the archive should be off-limits to outsiders?” he asked me.

“You did and I see no reason for it, and besides, it’s not like I’m showing Ember any classified information or anything!”

“What is she doing here, then?”

“Forging an alliance,” she said in my stead. “Got a problem with it?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Wow, and I thought I was grumpy!”

“Whatever.” He turned around and left. I was about to take it for his usual demeanor and ignore him, but then a sudden darkness in his love aura caught my attention. I peeked out into the hallway.

“Thorax?” Ember called to me.

“Um… Can you handle things on your own for a minute? I’ll be right back.”

“Sure!” Urtica said.

“Uh-huh, we’re almost done anyway,” Ember agreed.

I nodded to them and hurried after Pharynx, and caught up to him as he was about to round a corner.

“What’s wrong?”

“Why do you think something’s wrong?”

“C’mon Pharynx, I can sense your aura!”

“Where in it does it say I want you pestering me?”

“I’m not pestering you, I’m concerned-”

“Why?”

“You’re my brother! Why wouldn’t I be concerned if something’s troubling you?”

He snorted.

“Pharynx, didn’t we agree to tell each other everything from now on?”

“So?”

“So why don’t you tell me what’s wrong and-”

“Wrong? Nothing’s wrong! We forge a new alliance every day and we’re friends with everyone and everything is sunshine and rainbows! Why would anything be wrong?!”

This again? “Pharynx, more allies means fewer enemies, therefore the hive will be safer!”

“I know that.”

“And just because it’s safer doesn’t mean we’ll stop needing you!”

“I know.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“...it was so glorious and thrilling to fight against some of those allies in the old days,” he sighed.

Something stirred in the back of my mind and clicked into place. “You used to want to defeat the Dragon Lord in battle,” I said.

“And to drain Celestia and to turn into a nirik,” he confirmed. “Well, the nirik is impossible - we can only burst into flames for a split second while transforming but we can’t imitate a fire as part of the disguise. I always knew it but somehow hoped I’d find a way around that limitation when I grew older; I was just fooling myself into thinking I could figure out what countless generations before me couldn’t. Draining Celestia would have been possible in the right circumstances but it stopped being an option the second you took command, and now it looks like any chance to even attempt a fight with a Dragon Lord just went out the window.”

“Even though you were picking on her just a minute ago?”

“I didn’t know about the alliance then,” he shrugged.

“You’d be willing to adhere to the terms of that alliance?” I asked, surprised.

“What else do you think I’ve been doing all along, you idiot? I didn’t want to be nice to all those creatures that swarmed the hive at your coronation! My first instinct was to break every bone in their bodies and throw them out! But I was nice because you wanted it! I spent my whole life trying to get you to find your place in the world and earn some respect, and now that you finally did, why would I undermine it all just because it didn’t happen the way I’d imagined it would? Even if I have to ignore my instincts and go against everything I’ve ever known and trained for because that’s somehow the thing that works?”

I hugged him.

“Don’t push it,” he groaned.

“Sorry,” I said, letting go of him. “But hey, I might have an idea. Come with me?”

“This better be worth skipping the combat drills…”

“I think it will,” I said, grinning.

I took him back to the archive.

“Hey, we’re done, we just need to sign it,” Ember said. “What’s he doing here?”

“I’m not sure if you’ve been properly introduced,” I said. “Ember, this is Pharynx, the leader of hive defenses and my brother. Pharynx, meet Dragon Lord Ember.”

Pharynx rolled his eyes. Ember said, “Okay, so?”

“It occurred to me that if we’ve agreed to aid each other in defense as and when requested, no matter how unlikely you are to request our help, we might as well have some mutual training sessions, or at the very least, we could gauge each other’s combative skills and tactics to give us an idea of what each of us can or can’t do if we have to fight together.”

“Don’t you think we already know that from fighting in wars?”

“Well, okay, maybe, but this time you can use it to learn from each other… I think?”

Pharynx facehoofed.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were asking me to beat you up,” Ember said dryly.

“No, not me! Um… I was actually thinking something along the lines of a sparring session between you two…”

“So you want me to beat him up?” Ember asked.

“Wait, you want me to beat her up?!” Pharynx said simultaneously.

“Well, if you’re up for it… it’s okay if you aren’t…”

They glared at each other for a long minute, then smirked mischievously.

“You know what? It is on!” Ember exclaimed, prancing at Pharynx with a roar.

“We’ll see about that!” Pharynx growled back, baring his teeth and assuming a battle stance.

CRASH!

“Um, guys? Why don’t you-” CRASH! “-go outside where you-” CRASH! “-won’t break anything…”