• 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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A Small World

Over the next couple of months, the hive settled into a peaceful routine. Hearth’s Warming had gone, the trees had been replanted and the decorations stacked away until next year, but the spirit of friendship remained. Antenna was still lushing up the wasteland, now with some of Proboscis’ crew digging up some riverbeds to eventually redirect one of the rivers from the jungle to feed our growing vegetation; Mystique had expanded the arts-and-crafts sessions, the choir was growing in size and popularity, more drones were deciding to experiment in the kitchen, with results ranging all the way from delightful to disastrous, Pharynx was spending day and night torturing his unfortunate troops and calling it basic training, and the feelings forum brought everyling together regularly. Being in charge was easy in such circumstances, and I was slowly getting used to my duties and growing more confident in enforcing my rule. Not that it needed much enforcing anymore; the vast majority of drones needed little more than a suggestion from me, and most incidents of acting out happened among the former renegades who were now in the military and therefore successfully dealt with by Pharynx every time.

The routine was, in fact, so easy that I found enough time to play with nymphs on a regular basis and do a bit of painting almost every day, as well as caring for my flower, which was now planted in the throne room where I could always enjoy its presence. It was thriving so nicely that I’d even started taking cuttings from it to plant elsewhere! The wasteland was big enough that I wondered if I’d ever be able to call the task done! Not that it ever needed to be considered done…

I also joined the feelings forums regularly. Not many drones showed up with problems anymore, and when they did, it was usually something easy enough to tackle, so the sessions mostly served as a hub of socialization and sharing of love.

One such session sprouted a conversation about our pony friends.

“I just got a letter from Roseluck,” Retina said to Antenna’s musings about what to plant next. “They just had a Winter Wrap Up, maybe I can ask her if she has any leftover seeds she could give you!”

“What’s Winter Wrap Up?” I asked.

“It’s a day of transition from winter to spring,” she explained. “Ponies work in teams to clear the snow and ice, plant seeds, wake up the hibernating animals, bring the southern birds home and build them nests… basically the things that would take weeks in other lands with a similar climate, but ponies have the means to do it in a day, provided they’re well organized of course, which Ponyville had trouble with before Twilight moved there, but she took care of it-”

“Are we going to have something similar next year?” Sleuth interjected, looking at me.

“I’m not sure,” I mused. “It sounds interesting, but isn’t it a little too warm for snow here? I don’t see a reason for us to copy every pony holiday, but if enough of you want, we can think of something similar, I guess?”

The response to the suggestion was lukewarm; most drones just looked at one another, shrugging and murmuring uninterestedly.

“I’ll take it as a no, then?”

Noling objected.

“Oh, good,” Sleuth sighed. “I have no idea how to start on making fake snow!”

“Not to mention that Proboscis would curse you forever for the mess you’ve made!” Nettle quipped.

“She’s not that bad,” Spiracle told him. “Though, I have to agree that she wouldn’t be happy…”

“Wouldn’t the cleaners be more unhappy?” someling added.

“Not if we all pitched in,” I said. “Assuming we ever decided to do some version of a Winter Wrap Up!”

“Yeah, didn’t we all clean up after Hearth’s Warming? I didn’t see anyling complain!”

“Except for the nymphs,” Spiracle chuckled, rubbing his son’s head. “But they have to learn that not everything in life is fun and relaxing; there has to be some responsibility, too, or they’d never appreciate what they have!”

I sighed, reminiscing on the old days for a moment. It wasn’t that long ago that fun and enjoyment had been forbidden; back then, if anyling had suggested that there was more to life than responsibilities and blind following of orders, they wouldn’t have fared well! And it felt so good that those days were over and that the next generation of changelings would never know first-hoof how lucky they were not to have to go through it all!

“So what else is new in Ponyville?” Mystique asked, snapping me out of my reverie.

“Oh, not much,” Retina said. “And I mean it! They’ve actually somehow hit a period of peace and quiet such as normally exists elsewhere but hasn’t been seen in Ponyville for years!”

“Didn’t you mention something about that fashion designer? Some gossip about her ruined mane?”

“Oh, that! Yes, there was some mention of it last month, but Roseluck didn’t say anything now. Maybe it’s growing back?”

“It would be weird if it didn’t,” she agreed, snickering.

“You guys make it sound so interesting,” Tibia moaned.

“Well, they do get their share of excitement, thanks to the Elements of Harmony living in town and the Everfree Forest being so close,” Psycho shrugged.

“I wish I could go there…”

“Actually,” Morpheus interjected, “their mailmare mentioned an upcoming birthday of somepony I know from my last mission to have a kind of obsession with unusual creatures. Maybe we can get Pinkie to hire you to play a monster or two for her-”

“If you do get hired,” Antenna said, “would it be a problem for you to pick up any seeds that Roseluck is willing to send me on your way back?”

“Oh, and can you return the book Banshee borrowed for Ocellus?” Spiracle chimed in.

“And see if Quills and Sofas got a new shipment of pillows-”

More and more drones joined in with requests, and I caught Tibia’s panicked glance as we struggled to keep track of it all. It seemed like everyling had some business in Ponyville! How was one changeling supposed to handle it all?

“And can you take some pictures while you’re there?” another request caught my ears. “I’d love to see what it looks like!”

“Everyling, please!” I exclaimed. “Why don’t you all go there?”

“...we can do that?” Sleuth asked.

“Of course! I’m not restricting anyling to the hive! My only concern is that you might get in trouble, but Ponyville is friendly, so I’m sure it won’t be a problem!”

Most agreed readily, but some still had their doubts.

“What if something does go wrong?” Tibia asked. “Not necessarily in Ponyville, but on the way there or back?”

I considered it. “Okay, not every town is comfortable with us running around yet, I agree, even if the messengers we’ve been sending around didn’t get in trouble. Would you feel better going as a group? I can tag along too; I’ve been meaning to spend some time with Spike!”

“That could work, yes,” she agreed. “But if you go, who will oversee the hive?”

“I’ll stay,” Psycho declared. “I have no particular business in Ponyville at the moment and I’m happy enough where I am. Something tells me Pharynx won’t be any more interested in going, either, unless he deems this whole group incapable of keeping his brother safe.”

“Okay, then! When are we going?”


We arrived in broad daylight this time. Though encouraged by no longer being the only changeling with a penpal from Equestria and by an outright invitation by several other penpals, part of me still couldn’t let go of worrying and coming up with worst-case scenarios and one complication after another, despite another part of me insisting that everything would be fine. It had to be; why else would Pharynx have shown so little reaction to being told a whole group of us was going away just for the fun of it? I’d been sure he’d have at least assigned us a few soldiers! So if Pharynx wasn’t concerned, why should I be?

It turned out he was right. A group of ponies was gathered at the Town Hall, waving at us excitedly. A few pegasi separated from the group to meet with some of us, and after a brief but warm greeting, left with their respective guests each in their own direction. The rest of us landed near the remaining ponies, who wasted no time in finding their friends and sharing greetings of their own.

All of my oldest friends were there.

“Spike!” I squealed, hugging him. “And the rest of you! We finally get to just relax and spend some time together!”

“Heh, it had to happen sometime!” he chuckled.

“Did you travel safely?” Twilight asked.

“Yes, and it somehow seems to take less time than it used to… or maybe it’s just that I’m getting used to it?”

“I think you’re just stretching your wings properly!” Rainbow said. “One day, I’m gonna race you and feel like I have to work for it!”

“Um…”

“What do you say? You think you’ve got what it takes to take on a Wonderbolt?”

“Rainbow!” Rarity scoffed. “Manners when speaking to royalty! So sorry, darling, some of us do tend to get carried away rather more easily than others! You don’t have to race anypony, of course; I’m sure you’d prefer a nice, relaxing spa day after than… ugh… long and dreadfully exhausting flight halfway across the world, don’t you?”

“Actually, we took a break-”

“Or a party!” Pinkie joined in, throwing some confetti in the process. “We still owe you a Welcome to Equestria party and a Becoming King party and an uncocooning party for all those ponies you let go and a First-Ever Changeling Alliance party and a Convince All Renegades to Reform party and all the birthday parties that you missed! Wait till I get my hooves on that party-planning machine! And we’ve already prepared a surprise birthday party for Lyra over there so you can join in and surprise her with the rest of us! Won’t that be fun?”

“Uh…”

“Now I know we already asked one of the changelings to entertain Lyra but who says there has to be just one? And it’ll be even better because more people at the party makes the party better! I mean, what’s a party with just a few guests? Bleh! Boring! But I just know everypony will love to see you there and you can dance and sing with them and eat cake and play pin-the-tail-on-the-pony and it’ll be super-super crazy fun-”

Applejack shoved a hoof into Pinkie’s mouth. “Simmer down, Sally,” she scolded. “Y’all agreed we’d let Thorax here decide what he wanna do, ain’t ya?”

“Mhm…”

“Well, Thorax, what’s it gonna be?”

“I’m not sure… were you girls invited to the party?”

“Um, yes,” Fluttershy breathed, “but we don’t have to go if you’d rather do something else…”

“Yeah, I can fetch Discord and Big Mac if you wanna try some intense Ogres and Oubliettes!”

“Sorry, Spike, Big Mac’s mighty busy plowin’ them fields right now,” Applejack said. “Ah woulda been helpin’ but we got ourselves a friend visitin’ an’ Ah ain’t turning mah back on welcomin’ him to town!”

“Oh… I, uh… didn’t realize this was a bad time… I can come back some other day-”

“Now dontcha start spouting nonsense there, buddy! There’ll always be somethin’ to do at the farm but that don’t mean we can’t make time for friends!”

“If you say so… I wasn’t really expecting to attend a party today, but since the rest of you seem to be going, are you sure they’d be okay with me dropping in… unannounced…” My gaze drifted towards a pony randomly passing by a little away and I instantly forgot what I’d wanted to say and why; it suddenly didn’t matter! “Excuse me,” I muttered, trotting across the town square as if in trance.

“What in tarnation?” Applejack said, but I barely heard her. My eyes and mind were fixed on a stallion I hadn’t expected to run into again, especially in this town! What was he doing here?

He hadn’t noticed me approaching.

“Um, Mr. Grand Pear?”

“...yes?”

“I can’t believe I ran into you here! I was so worried!”

“Forgive me, Your Highness, but I’m not sure that I follow…”

Huh?

“Oh, of course!” I slapped my forehead; how could I have forgotten something so obvious?! “Sorry… I just realized you haven’t seen me like this yet…”

I fizzled into the form of a pegasus that had dropped into his orchard one fateful day and his eyes went wide.

“That was you?!” he gasped, nearly falling over in shock.

“Yes- Are you alright?” I rushed to hold him steady.

“Yes… yes, I think so… just give me a moment…”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have startled you like that-”

“What in tarnation is going on here?!” Applejack cried, galloping over.

“I-”

“Your Highness, I trust you’ve met my granddaughter?”

“I- huh? Applejack?!

“Y’all know each other?”

“We… met in Vanhoover…”

“Remember that story about how I decided to come back to Ponyville, Applejack? The gentlecolt that convinced me to read your ma’s letters is standing right in front of you! Though, I never thought he might be a changeling…”

I smiled sheepishly. “You’d probably have chased me away…”

“Yes,” he sighed, “I probably would have… would have been another thing I’d regret…”

“An’ mah grandpa gave y’all that flower? Why didn’t ya say anythin’?!

“I didn’t realize you two were related!”

“AJ?” Rainbow shouted from across the square. “You coming or what?”

Applejack took in a breath as if to shout back, but Grand Pear put a hoof on her shoulder.

“Go on,” he said. “I’d like a moment with His Majesty, if he’s willing.”

“I am, but please, just call me Thorax, okay? I can’t stand all those high titles!”

“As you wish, Your- er, Thorax.”

Applejack returned to the others, glancing at us as she went, and I joined Grand Pear in his stroll.

“Uh, Mr. Grand Pear? Will Applejack be offended that you didn’t want her to tag along?”

“I haven’t known her very long, but from what I’ve seen of her, she would have spoken her mind if she had any objections. And no need to call me ‘mister’!”

“Yeah, probably…”

“And you don’t have to be disguised for my sake, now that I know who you really are!”

I fizzled back into myself.

“So, uh, did you find out about your daughter?”

His heavy sigh was all the answer I needed. “Yes… turns out the rumors were true after all…”

“Oh dear… I’m so sorry!”

“It’s alright… part of me already knew there wasn’t much to hope for when I decided to come back.”

“...I hope she didn’t… suffer?”

“They say timberwolves got them - her and Bright Mac, her husband, I mean.”

“Oh no…” Something left a bitter taste in my mouth and I swallowed hard.

Grand Pear glanced at me. “Something tells me you have a history with them yourself, don’t you?”

“I had a narrow escape once. One of my sisters wasn’t so lucky a few years before that.”

“I’m sorry!”

“Thank you.”

We walked in silence for a little while. “Vanilla Sugar said you tried to visit me once,” he said eventually.

“Yes, I didn’t realize you’d be away…”

“I needed to clear my head after reading Pear Butter’s letters. Tried to let it happen at home, but just couldn’t… everything reminded me of her even though she’d never lived there. I tried to stick to some semblance of a normal life, to pretend everything was alright just like I’d done all those years… thought if I’d done it for so long, I could keep doing it… What a fool I was! I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, couldn’t face my neighbors, couldn’t bring myself to keep working in the orchard… You might have thought me hopeless on the day when we first met, but that was a good day compared to what followed…”

“I’m so sorry… If I’d known, I’d-”

“Don’t be sorry; I don’t blame you. It hurt… sweet Celestia, how much it hurt… but it had to. It hurt all the way back when I abandoned Pear Butter but I buried that pain as if it would go away if I pretended long enough… and when I finally allowed myself to feel it, all that pent-up pain came crashing down on me… I brought it upon myself, and if anything, I have to thank you for making me face it and do something about it rather than continue to bury it under a life of anger. I don’t even know what I was angry about! Her marrying the wrong stallion? That should have been her choice all along and I should have learned to grin and bear it! Heck, I should have put an end to that feud! I started it over nothing anyway! Maybe I was just angry at myself that I couldn’t face my daughter being her own mare and a better person than I was…”

“At least you realized your mistake-”

“And a fat lot of good that did now that she’s dead!” He sighed. “At least my grandfoals don’t hold a grudge on me, though I can’t fathom how… Must have gotten it from their parents…”

“They never went looking for you?”

“Turns out they didn’t know I existed. They were too young to hear the story from their ma and pa while they still could, and ol’ Granny Smith couldn’t even think of the Pears without getting all worked up anymore, and none of them three ever knew to ask her, but they somehow figured it out when I moved back. Ponies around town must have told them, seeing how they confronted me already knowing everything that mattered and Granny Smith nearly fainted when I walked through her door with them that same evening. Boy, did we have a lot to say to each other, but none of it in raised voices anymore, as if we’d never fought in the first place, except from all the apologies coming from both of us.”

“I’m glad it worked out!”

“Thanks…”

“So you moved back for good?”

“I never should have left!”

“What about your orchard in Vanhoover?”

“I hired a crew of workers to take care of it while I’m still alive. After that, who knows? I have no one but my grandfoals to leave it to. Whether they’ll sell it or keep it going under their supervision is up to them.”

I nodded.

“I’ll still visit every once in a while,” he continued. “The workers will have to get paid and checked up on, and I still have a friend or two in the neighborhood. Wait till Vanilla hears that I have the king of changelings to thank for reuniting with my family and that she’s met him herself!”

“How is she doing?”

“She’s fine. Her life is largely uneventful and she likes it that way. My struggles against the mistake I made must be the closest she’s ever come to excitement in her own life and I’d never seen her so worried, and I’ve known her since she was a filly! You should have seen her relief when I went there to arrange the handling of the orchard!”

We were out of the town proper and approaching an apple orchard. “Is this Applejack’s?”

“It is indeed. Welcome to Sweet Apple Acres! I don’t actually live here with them - I bought a cottage nearby - but I’ve been spending so much time with the Apples that I might as well move in.”

“Why don’t you?”

“They offered, and I almost said yes, but the shame over how I treated my daughter wouldn’t let me,” he sighed. “I feel like I don’t deserve to live under their roof… But enough about me! Didn’t you say you had a brother you weren’t getting along with? Or was that just an attempt to make me feel better?”

“No, Pharynx is real,” I chuckled. “The ‘not getting along’ was mostly thanks to my wanting friendship, which clashed with everything changelings were raised to believe and directly opposed Chrysalis’ wishes. He was her second-in-command, by the way, and having a pacifist for a brother wasn’t making things any easier for him. But I’ve since discovered that his loyalty is for me and not for her, and he only obeyed her orders because he saw it as a way to keep the hive safe. Can you believe that he covered for me when she sent a swarm to hunt me down after I left the hive? It almost got him executed!”

He shuddered. “What saved him?”

“I came back. This coincided with the abduction of the Princesses and the Elements of Harmony, and I and a few others went to the hive to try to save them. We bit off more than we could chew, got captured, and that’s when I found out what Pharynx had done for me. I actually overthrew Chrysalis by pure chance while trying to defend Pharynx…”

“...and because of a bit of love and loyalty at the right place and the right time, the world will never be the same!”

“Yeah, I guess… even if being a leader can be hard sometimes…”

“Applejack says some of your subjects didn’t accept the new order of things easily?”

“She’s right, and Pharynx was actually one of them until I learned to listen to his input. We both want the best for the hive but have different ideas of how to get there. As soon as I learned how to seek common ground instead of forcing my way, everything fell into place.”

“That’s a lesson I refused to learn twenty-six years ago,” he sighed. “But my daughter knew it all along… Speaking of which, are you in a hurry to rejoin your friends? I’d like to show you something.”

“Sure!”

I followed him further through the orchard. It was hard to tell among the countless trees, but if I had to guess, it felt like we were approaching the edge of Applejack’s property. I didn’t pry; sooner or later, I figured, Grand Pear would bring me to our destination.

I recognized it as soon as I saw it, though I didn’t know what purpose it served. There was a small clearing between the trees, and the remains of a rotten wooden fence, a section of which seemed to have been removed, and in the resulting gap, a large rock with two tiny images carved into it stood, with two trees growing around it and each other, forming a canopy that was almost heart-shaped.

“This place has an aura of its own,” I whispered in wonder as the realization hit. “Like an echo of a love… but love tainted with sorrow…”

“This is where they got married,” Grand Pear said. “This is where I gave up on her… where I saw her for the last time… What was I thinking?!”

He slumped onto the ground, crying his heart out, and I sat down to hold and hug him, to help him through this wave of remorse. He leaned into the hug as if the world depended on it; his world was still falling apart at the memory of his daughter, and if I was the rock to hold onto to keep some of that world together, I’d be one for as long as he needed me!

The sun was almost approaching the horizon by the time his tears began to run dry and he found the strength in himself to face the world again.

“Thank you,” he said. “You have no idea how much I needed that!”

“Actually, I might,” I winked.

“Hmm, I suppose so…”

On an impulse, I reached into my saddlebag and carefully took out some of its contents.

“What is that?” he asked.

“Remember that flower you gave me?”

“Yes, what-” His eyes went wide as he recognized the shape of the leaf.

“It was the first gift anyone had ever given me, and I held onto it and later planted it on the outskirts of the Crystal Empire, where it caught root and began to thrive, and I grew so attached to it that I grew more flowers from the leaves of that one and planted them around, and one of those is now in my throne room. I took a few leaves from it to grow more flowers. I intended to give them to my friends today, and I will a little later, but Applejack probably won’t mind much if I give hers to you instead.”

“Wow… I never dreamed… My flower really survived?”

“Yes, and this is its grandchild, in a way.” I dug a little hole in the ground at the base of the rock, tore up the water-filled cocoon around the stem that had sprouted roots since being encased, and planted it. “I think it belongs here.”

“Pear Butter would have liked that,” Grand Pear said with a smile.

We remained there in silence for a little longer, this time respectful, comfortable. I felt Grand Pear’s aura settle down and latch onto the little leaf. By the time we parted ways so I could return to my friends, I knew the little buttercup was in good hooves.