• 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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I ran into Grim shortly after returning to the hive.

“You’re back already?” she asked. “How did it go? Nothing… bad happened?”

“No, in fact, I got to reunite with somepony I met a while ago!”

“Didn’t you go there to meet them?”

“I went to meet with Spike and his friends, yes, and we did spend time together, but I’m talking about somepony I met while on the run from the hive. Have I ever told you about Grand Pear? You know, the guy who gave me that flower?”

“You mentioned him once or twice, yes. But doesn’t he live in Vanhoover?”

“He used to. He actually started out in Ponyville, though I only found out about it just now, and moved to Vanhoover due to that feud with the Apple family, and his daughter’s marriage didn’t stop him from uprooting himself regardless and leaving her behind.”

“I don’t think I like the guy very much…”

“He regrets it now. That’s why he moved back! His grandfoals forgave him, too!”

“And his daughter?”

I sighed. “She’s been dead for years…”

“Okay, admirable of the foals to not persist in that feud, but she should have been the one to forgive him. You said it was twenty-something years, right? If she had multiple foals, that means her father would have had plenty of time to get his head out of his backside and realize what he’d done! The least he could do was send her a letter every once in a while!”

“And he regrets it! You should have seen him, Grim! He would have given anything to bring her back!”

“Would you forgive him if he was your father?”

“Yes!”

“Even after so much time?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm… yes, I guess you would… You really can’t stay mad at people for very long, can you?”

“No, I’ve always felt it would teach me to hate others if I couldn’t forgive them…”

“...and that attitude brought you where you are now. Gee, I’ve never looked at it that way… I don’t think I could do it so easily in such a situation… and I hope I won’t feel driven to put my nymphs through it…”

“Anything new in that regard?”

“I don’t want to jinx it, but there might be,” she said with a smile.

I hugged her. “Ooh, I’m so happy for you!”

“Whoa, easy there! It’s still a little early to be sure if he’s interested enough!”

“Can I at least know who we’re talking about? Do I know him?”

“I’ll tell you if it gets serious enough. Now, I wanna know how Ponyville was! Mystique said something about you being late to the party?”

“Oh, that…” I chuckled. “It wasn’t until I parted ways with Grand Pear and got halfway back to Ponyville that I realized I’d forgotten to ask where Lyra’s party was being held, and going back to ask him felt awkward, so I had to go looking for them, and by the time I got there, it turned out that Lyra had already set up a celebration just for herself and her marefriend, not having anticipated a town-wide surprise party, so everypony else cut the public party short for their benefit. I got to spend maybe three minutes there before they all went home.”

“Aw, too bad…”

“Not entirely. Spike and the girls took me to the castle afterwards and we had a slumber party. It was fun! Though, I’ve gotta admit I don’t get the appeal of ghost stories…”

“Some people like to get scared for fun. What else did you do? I’ve never been to a slumber party even as an infiltrator and it sounds like it might be interesting!”

“We made cookies, and played guessing games and truth-or-dare, and had a pillow fight, and the girls gave each other makeovers, though Spike and I skipped that part and just talked… What else? Um, we played hide-and-seek but got tired of it pretty soon, and, well, just tired, so we went to bed then. I gave them those leaves in the morning. Completely forgot about them earlier, somehow…”

“It can happen to anyone! So, how did they like them?”

“Most of them were delighted. Rainbow found it a little sappy but accepted the gift anyway, Fluttershy was moved to tears, and Applejack seemed touched although I’d already given her leaf to Grand Pear, or maybe because of that…”

“...I’m confused. Why would you give her leaf to Grand Pear?”

“Didn’t I say? Turns out she’s one of his granddaughters, and that was her mom’s favorite flower!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Well, they said it was like that…”

“Yeah, well, it probably was, but for someone so honorable to descend from someone so narrow-minded… but I guess it is possible… I mean, look at you!”

“Me?”

“Well, your parents wouldn’t have been assigned to have you if they hadn’t been deemed worthy, and you know what that entailed.”

“I guess, I just never thought about it much. I mean, it’s not like I was ever going to know them, so what did it matter?”

“But you could get to know them now, if either of them is alive!”

“How? I don’t think they would have been told who their sons were, and noling probably remembers anymore-”

“-but there are records in the archive. How else do you think Chrysalis would have avoided inbreeding of her soldiers, and how else do you think we’ve managed to track down the nymphs’ parents after you took the throne?”

She was right; why hadn’t I thought of it? I could actually meet my parents?!

“...but what if they don’t like me? What if they were among the last group of renegades remaining? The ones who only reformed under Pharynx’s threats?”

She put a reassuring hoof on my shoulder. “If that’s the case, I’m sure you’ll know how to cross that bridge when you get there.” She winked. “Even if it means having to ask Pharynx to do the hard part.”


“Pharynx?”

He stopped darting the image of Chrysalis momentarily to glance in my general direction.

“What?”

“Have you ever wondered about our parents?”

“No.”

“Not even a little bit?”

He blew another dart. “Nothing happening in the present so you have to get wound up about the past now?”

“What? No, of course not!”

Pop. “Then what’s the matter?”

“Nothing, it’s just that I’ve been talking to Grim about my time in Ponyville and mentioned Grand Pear.”

“Isn’t he that old croak from Vanhoover?”

“He is, well, he was until recently, but he used to live in Ponyville and now he came back. He’s Applejack’s grandfather-”

“Ah yes, now I remember. He stormed off after daughter dearest married the son of a sworn enemy.” Pop. “What brought him back?”

“Didn’t I tell you that story? You know, the sad stallion who gave me that flower?”

He rolled his eyes. “Figures. So what’s he got to do with our parents?” Pop.

“It’s just something Grim said that reminded her of how children didn’t have to take after their parents…”

“...and you immediately thought of yourself? Even though you never once showed interest in them in your entire life?”

“Actually, she’s the one who mentioned them-”

“Did she, now? Why doesn’t she introduce you to them, then, if she’s so eager to reconcile the royal family?”

“She doesn’t know who they are!”

Pop. “And I do?”

“She said it could be in the archives. I figured, since you had the clearance to go there, you might have gotten curious at some point-”

“And what, gone snooping around for the heck of it just because I can? Even if I wasn’t already busy enough balancing between serving Chrysalis and keeping your rump in one piece, unwarranted snooping was how one got stripped of rank and relegated to the cleaning crew! We didn’t both have to become public disgrace!”

“Okay, fair enough, but you weren’t even interested at a later time?”

“Don’t you think I have better things to do?”

I glanced at the dart-riddled drawing. “You’re not doing anything of vital importance right now…”

He spat out the blowpipe and stood up. “I’m killing time until the recruits regain consciousness! If you’re so obsessed with your lineage all of a sudden, why don’t you go investigate it yourself?”

He stormed off and left me completely at a loss at what to do and even more at what to think. I knew him to not be especially cooperative, but this felt as if he didn’t even care! And how likely was it that he’d never even chanced upon our parents’ service records? Was basic genealogical information even included in service records or were there separate logs for that? Maybe Pharynx couldn’t know anything after all!

It looked like I was going to have to dig through the archive myself after all if I wanted to get to the bottom of it. But that could take forever! Would I even know where to look? Sure, Urtica could help, but she was probably busy enough with her regular duties, and though important to me on a personal level, this wasn’t something the hive depended on, and may not necessarily benefit from in any meaningful way!

Okay, so it would take a while, but not much out of the ordinary was happening for the time being, and even if something did happen before I was done, it wasn’t urgent, so I could always put my research on hold while resolving the more pressing matters. I could easily make time for it by cutting down on something else I did in my free time! I could do this!

Except… what about those unconscious recruits Pharynx had mentioned? Assuming they weren’t just an excuse to get away from me and my pestering, shouldn’t I at least check on them? But Pharynx had developed a habit of insisting the army was his business and not to meddle! Would he see it as a breach of our agreement if I came to at least check if they were okay? Pharynx seemed to be on edge plenty enough already; I didn’t want my best intentions to make things even worse!

Surely he would understand if I just came for a quick look?

A cautious fly-by revealed the training grounds littered with drones lying still all over the drill course and among the punching bags and training dummies. Only a faint aura emanating from them suggested they were alive, but judging by some of their injuries and the state of some of their equipment, a casual observer would have easily been fooled. Spiracle and the other medics were going to have their hooves full… and what had Pharynx been thinking?! Having the troops perfectly trained and ready to face any threat was one thing, but to downright abuse them? I was probably going to have to have a talk with him about it… again

Some of the recruits were beginning to stir around the same time as a team of medics emerged from one of the hive’s gateways, followed by Pharynx. The healers focused their attention onto the unfortunate soldiers right away, but Pharynx noticed me and greeted me with a scowl and an ever-so-slight fang-baring motion of his lips.

Okay, message received, Pharynx, I’m leaving! At least he’d brought help…

The archive was empty when I got there. I hadn’t intended to arrive while Urtica was away - that would have been an accomplishment of sorts, as she seemed to be in a habit of not leaving the archive unless summoned - but now that she was, I realized I preferred it that way until I found what I was looking for. But where to begin? I hadn’t realized how big the archive was until now that I had to dig through the whole place all by myself!

I decided to start from the far end and work toward the entrance.

Though most of the hive still relied on fire torches to illuminate the dark passages, the archive had by now become one of the areas that used glowing crystals imported from the Crystal Empire instead, as Pharynx had deemed them less of a fire hazard. Their steady glow allowed for easier reading of the scrolls, which I normally wouldn’t mind, but for some reason, today it reminded me of the eerie glow of the cocoon-based lanterns the hive had been littered with in the old days. Maybe it was due to the greenish tint of the resinous slime holding the crystals fixed onto the ceiling, even though the crystals were encased in it only partially? The heavy silence was doing little to dispel the feeling I was involving myself in something forbidden and wrong, even without reminding myself that I was about to do something that, until not that long ago, would have been impossible to me and, had I somehow found a way to bypass that impossibility, would have landed me in a world of trouble.

I stood there before the archive’s far wall, staring at the scrolls arranged neatly into shelf-like niches, willing myself to get on with it. The answer was here; all I had to do was reach out and grab it! Maybe I wouldn’t find it right away, but if I persisted, I was sure to stumble upon it eventually! I could tear the whole place down and noling could stop me!

Noling and nothing, except for the whispers in my own mind.

Not even Pharynx had been allowed to do this… I certainly wouldn’t have, not in a million years…

Except that those millions of years had ended prematurely, I reminded myself. There were to be no secrets here anymore, and I’d made it so! The secrets had already stepped out of their dark pits and helped reunite families! So why shouldn’t they reunite mine?

I reached out with my magic and grabbed the first pile of scrolls, unrolling one to inspect it.

...and wanted to kick myself when I realized I was looking at a character report on Princess Amore. Of course the archive would contain stuff about how to impersonate foreign leaders, and of course some of it would be over a thousand years old! Urtica wouldn’t have thrown it out without permission, probably even now that the permission wasn’t supposed to come from Chrysalis! Oh well, maybe the historians would be interested… But that only reminded me that searching for information about my parents wasn’t going to be as easy as walking up to a bookshelf under T for Thorax or G for genealogy or wherever else it might have been shoved.

At least the system was predictable. Every scroll from that shelf represented a leader or other important historical figure; a smaller shelf adjacent to that one featured the same, except the individuals were still alive. A few more shelves were full of war strategies and I wondered if Pharynx had been expected to learn it all or at least to take a look if he needed to… then again, he could have easily written some of the scrolls himself, judging by the mouthwriting… Then, there were tactical maps of everything, defense system manuals, spearhead schematics, armor schematics, experimental weapon schematics, fortification schematics, assault spells, defensive spells, combat alchemy… How many more combat-related collections was I going to dig through? My head was spinning from the sheer number of creative ways to kill an enemy! And we’d been using all that?!

At some point, I had to sit down and catch my breath. All that science of killing and enslavement, and it was just one wall?! I felt my stomach twisting. No wonder every creature hated us! I’d never been more glad to have put an end to it!

It took a while to compose myself enough to continue, though part of me wanted to drop everything and leave and go back to painting and gardening and playing with nymphs and to never set hoof in here again. Though, if I did that, I’d never find the answer… Luckily, there didn’t seem to be much more combat-related other than training plans and logs of victories and defeats, and it was almost a relief to find that I’d moved onto infiltration tactics, infiltration manuals, and everything else that relied on lies and deception. This wasn’t much better, even if no lives had been lost as a direct consequence of at least some of the missions whose logs I’d found, and I wore myself out into needing another break. Still, for some curious reason, I ignored that and pressed on.

I was halfway through the intercepted correspondence between various members of thestral nobility when the echo of hoofsteps registered in the back of my mind.

“Thorax?” Urtica said. “What are you doing here? And when did you get here?”

Okay, that may not have been an echo of hoofsteps after all… How had I gotten so distracted?

“Uh…”

“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to sound accusing! You’re welcome to drop by anytime, and if you want to dig through all this, who am I to stop you? I mean, you’re a king, you can do what you want, right?”

“Urtica-”

“And you even removed restrictions of archive usage, so why am I still expecting to find noling here after I leave for a few minutes? And it’s not like we still need to keep a lot of this a secret-”

“Urtica, calm down! You’re not in trouble!”

“...sorry… I’m rambling again… I just didn’t expect to find you here…”

“I would have said hi but didn’t see you.”

“Oh. Um, yeah, some recruits started a fight and Pharynx wanted me to log insubordination into their service records, so I went to the infirmary to make sure I don’t miss anyling… I just got back.”

“Are they alright?”

“The medics say they will be, but there’s enough soldiers involved that our defenses will be stretched thin for a while. Let’s hope for no more maulwurfs in the near future… but I digress. How can I help you?”

“Oh, um… you don’t have to… it’s kind of personal…”

She raised an eyebrow. “You’re in the wrong section for anything even remotely personal. Can I at least help direct you?”

“Fine,” I relented. “A conversation with Grim left me wondering about my parents, and I thought the archive would tell me who they are.”

“It should be stated in your service record,” she said, motioning me to follow. “This way. I actually have business there too, pulling the service records of those delinquent recruits, so maybe we can help each other? I’ve got them listed!”

“Sure!” I might as well help, even if I didn’t like that the soldiers were about to get an unfavorable entry in their records. What was the fight even about? Hopefully Pharynx wasn’t overdoing it just because he could!

Urtica led me into a section I wouldn’t have gotten to in weeks at the rate I’d been going prior to her arrival and we got to work. The scrolls themselves were a royal mess in the sense that there seemed to be no criteria by which they were sorted, and Urtica regretfully informed me that that was indeed the case for the moment, as the near-neverending stream of drones looking to reunite with their nymphs, parents, and cousins had made it impossible to maintain the usual sorting system, and she hadn’t yet gotten around to tidying up, and as an occasional drone still dropped by looking for relatives, she didn’t really see the point yet. Thus, the work was slow and tedious, and in spite of carrying on deep into the night, we barely scratched the surface of both Urtica’s list and the pile of records, finding only a couple of the records she needed but not yet a trace of my own.

At least there turned out to be no royal duties that I needed to take care of at the moment, so I was able to rejoin Urtica first thing in the morning.

She’d already started where we left off last night but had only tracked down one of her scrolls before my arrival. Neither of us wasted time on elaborate explanations and progress reports; a simple shake of her head was enough to tell me she hadn’t stumbled upon my record. I didn’t have anything to contribute so I simply sat down and resumed the mind-numbing task.

Hours passed; Urtica’s pile gradually got bigger, she was nearing the end of her list, and I still had to track down my own record. Did it even exist anymore? I assumed it would have at least been created, but I hadn’t even completed basic military training and it was obvious to anyone with an ounce of brain that I was never going to; had someling simply thrown my record away? Had Chrysalis destroyed it after my escape? Urtica would have probably told me if that was the case, but what if she didn’t know? Surely Chrysalis wouldn’t have bothered to explain her actions to a lowly drone, no matter how high a clearance level that drone may have had!

I was starting to consider asking Urtica about the likelihood of such a thing having happened when she exclaimed “Found it!” at the same time as I unraveled a scroll titled ‘Thorax’.

“This one’s Pharynx’s”, she explained, offering her find. “Maybe…”

“Would you believe that I just found my own?”

“Really?!”

I took both scrolls in my magic. Like every other, they were pretty straightforward: basic information at the top, just under the name, followed by training history and then active service history.

Pharynx’s record was long and full of praise and commendations. Mine looked more like a list of every disciplinary measure known to the world, ending with ‘28th August 1004 CE - betrayed the Queen (desertion); sentenced to death by slow torture’ and a scribbled note ‘9th May 1005 CE - confirmed sighting in Crystal Empire; set trap (see ‘Pharynx’)’. Upon closer inspection, there was a mention of ‘suspected aiding and abetting a traitor (see ‘Thorax’)’ and ‘set trap (see ‘Thorax’, ‘Carapace’, ‘Operation Doom of Equestria’)’ around that time in his record too, followed by ‘pending judgment’...

But none of that mattered right now. Both records stated us to be sons of Pupa and Trouble.

While I was at it, I glanced at our hatching dates. Pharynx’s was in the late evening hours of 15th March 981 CE, and mine was just after midnight on the 17th of the same month. I figured Pinkie would be interested to know.

“Pupa and Trouble,” I mused. “I don’t remember coming across their service records. Do you?”

“No, but there’s still some of the pile to go through. I bet they’ll be there!”

They weren’t.

“Hmmm… we could check the section where we keep the records of deceased drones- Not to say that they are dead! Records of living drones have been known to get misplaced there, and I’ve been finding such misplaced records all the time since you took over! A drone comes looking for their family members and pulls out a heap of records wanting to track down the entire extended family, but part of that family invariably turns out dead, so they just shove the scrolls wherever, not caring how many living records end up in the dead section or vice versa… but that’s neither here nor there. I actually still have Rascal’s record to track down so I’ll have to go looking there anyway!”

“Could we have skipped him without realizing he was on your list?”

“I think I would have noticed with the list being in alphabetical order. You never know, though…”

“Maybe we should have sorted the pile alphabetically while we were doing this? Assuming it would help you get it organized again?”

“Maybe, but I don’t think you’ll be the last one to come looking for family members. Chances are any semblance of order I attempt to establish here in the foreseeable future won’t last long.”

I nodded. “So, should we re-check this section or move onto the deceased one?”

“I vote deceased. I’ve noticed that if I fail to find something in a certain location once, I often miss it when digging through the same place until I go digging somewhere else. Then, assuming I still haven’t found it, after taking a break and returning to the first place I looked, I often find it with so little effort that I want to kick myself because of how obvious it was!”

I wasn’t sure how exactly that worked but didn’t press further. Whether or not the strategy made logical sense, it was probably a good idea to check a section the records were known to get misplaced to, so I followed her there. I did so reluctantly; as optimistic as Urtica sounded, I was suddenly beginning to dread finding my parents’ records.

We found them eventually, all three of them: Rascal’s misplaced, and Pupa and Trouble’s exactly where they were supposed to be.

“I’m sorry, Thorax,” she said as I stared at the two scrolls. “I should have known… I just… I could have been wrong…”

“Why are their names crossed out?”

“Uh, it’s… it’s standard practice… was standard practice… I think it started out as the easiest way to quickly discern whether or not there was a point in reading further, you know, in case it got misplaced, or…” She mumbled something incoherently.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Oh, nothing…”

“Urtica,” I said gently. “You can tell me! You know that, don’t you?”

“...Chrysalis liked how crossing the names out made it obvious that the drones were no longer of any use to her…”

“...because they’re dead.”

“Yes… I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. I’m hardly surprised, really.” I thought of a list of names in her bedchamber annex, one with many names crossed out and some still intact. “I bet she couldn’t wait to cross my name out so hard that she’d rip the parchment, huh?”

“Um, probably… Uh, forgive me if I’m prying, but you seem to be taking this better than I’d expect…”

“I don’t know,” I sighed. “Maybe all the disappointments I’ve had in life left me numb, or maybe it’s because I never knew them. Or maybe… maybe a part of me already knew, even if I didn’t realize it…”

She nodded.

“Um, if you don’t mind, I still need a moment… Is it okay if I take scrolls with me? I promise to give them back soon!”

“Sure! And you can keep them if you want! I’ll just put a reference note in this section… or something…”

I thanked her, expecting to return the scrolls anyway, and took them to the throne room, where I proceeded to read them in detail. As expected from the fact that they’d been granted the privilege to produce offspring, they both turned out to be exceptional subjects by Chrysalis’ standards: mother had been a warrior deployed mostly to battles in faraway lands, and the scroll stated that she’d laid eggs after her swarm’s victory in Zebrica. The same victory that had chased Zecora away from her village, maybe? Unless there had been more than one invasion there in the past couple of decades? I’d have to ask Zecora about it. Father, on the other hoof, had been an infiltrator in Canterlot, and his report on a pegasus from the back of beyond having suddenly caught Celestia’s interest and rumors of her potential to rise into the ranks of nobility had, upon the said pegasus’ ascension to alicornhood, earned him a fateful encounter with the soon-to-be mother of his nymphs. They’d both resumed their duties as soon as physically possible, and their records showed no signs of them having an opportunity to see each other again. They couldn’t have, really: dad had apparently contracted changeling pox a couple of years later and been ordered to quarantine in the Everfree Forest, where he’d presumably either withered and died of the disease itself or been found and eaten by one of its countless beasts. Either way, his body had never been found, not that anyling would have gone looking for him.

Mom, on the other hoof, had met her end at the mercy of a Royal Guard’s spearhead during the failed invasion of Canterlot.

And to think that I’d been there… I could have met her… I might have met her and had some kind of interaction with her, unaware of the bond between us…

Had she known her youngest son had been deployed with her?

Probably not. Who would have told her? I doubted she would have recognized me on her own, either! Maybe, if our undisguised features had been similar enough… but what good would that have done? We wouldn’t have been allowed to stick together, probably not even to see each other from time to time, even if only in passing! In fact, even if we could, she probably wouldn’t have wanted to! She would have been ashamed of her useless, disgraceful spawn for sure! She wouldn’t have been allowed to lay my egg if she hadn’t been loyal enough to Chrysalis to care more for her duty than for her family!

Unless she’d been more like Grim, wanting nymphs even at the cost of never knowing them?

And what about dad? Would there have been a chance for us to meet if he hadn’t succumbed to illness? Would he still have been in Canterlot, maybe had a role in the assault?

What would either of them think of me now? Would they have accepted my rule easily, or would they have joined the renegades? Would knowing I was their son have had any bearing on their opinion?

“Someling took your favorite doll again?”

“Huh?” I spun around to see Pharynx eyeing me suspiciously. When had he arrived? “No, why?”

“Then why are you acting like that?”

I passed him the scrolls. He unraveled them just enough to see who they were about, then rolled them back up and said, “I see.”

You knew?!

“Yes.”

“Why did you lie earlier?”

“Because I expected you to start whining again if you found out. I figured if I kept it vague and acted like it was no big deal, you’d let it go eventually and forget about it. Didn’t think you’d bother to actually dig up their records…”

“How did you find out? And when?”

“Assembling the Canterlot invasion swarm required some checking of the service records and you already saw it contains the names of parents and offspring. I saw their names in our records, and later I came across Pupa’s record, and she qualified for deployment so I assigned her to one of the teams, then made sure to put you on a different team so noling would get suspicious about my intentions if they decided to check.”

You decided to send her there?”

“I was First Commander, it was my duty-”

“She died there, Pharynx!”

“I noticed!”

“...don’t you feel bad about it?”

“What was I to do? It was a war, and someling always doesn’t come back no matter how easy the victory was. It’s not like I knew her or would have been allowed to know her, and if anyling had told me at the time that this-” He gestured around himself. “-would happen, I would have executed him personally for spreading treacherous delusions! I only saw her once - at least I think it was her - and it was only for a few seconds during that sendoff speech. At least I didn’t have to put extra effort into not letting our paths cross too often afterwards…”

“Would it have really been that awkward?”

“It would have been dangerous! Chrysalis couldn’t allow anyling’s loyalty to her to switch to some random drone! She would have kept broodmates from each other too if it were feasible!”

“I know… but don’t you ever wonder what it would have been like if mom had survived?”

“No. What’s the point? It wouldn’t change the past, and we already grew up without her so it’s not like we’d need her… besides, she might not even like what became of the hive, even if it meant she’d be the king’s mother.”

I suppressed a smirk. Such elaborate denying was a stronger ‘yes’ than if he’d admitted it outright…

“And dad?”

He shrugged. “We were nymphs. What could either of us have done? Especially without getting sick ourselves? You know how contagious that thing is!”

“Yes, but… I was wondering, why’d he get quarantined in the Everfree Forest? Weren’t there any… less dangerous places for him to go to?”

“Maybe Chrysalis or Succubus thought he could handle it.”

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“...okay, I have no proof, but since you’d already started harboring forbidden ideas by the time it happened, maybe it was a way to punish him for siring a nymph that may not have been considered irredeemable at the time but needed some extra effort to get corrected.”

I gasped. “You don’t think-”

“I don’t think they infected him deliberately if that’s what you’re asking. They might not have even wanted him to die. It could just be that they wanted to mess with him a little and it got out of control.”

“Do you think they told him about me while they were at it?”

“No. I wouldn’t put it past Chrysalis to tell him that just before executing him if things had gone down that road, just to add insult to injury and feast on his shame for having failed her, but like I said, you weren’t yet considered irredeemable. You could have still been of some use to her even if your beginnings would have kept you from moving up the hierarchy.”

“...could he have survived?”

“And decided to neither resume his assignment nor return to the hive for new orders, not even to hail the hive and report himself recovered, and just go live wherever? He was neither a traitor nor delusional enough to expect not to be found out!”

“How do you know all that?”

“I checked his file while Chrysalis was parading around Canterlot in a wedding dress.”

“Didn’t you say that was forbidden?”

“Do you really think that would have stopped me? Especially since, as First Commander, I knew everyling’s schedule and could even orchestrate assignments in such a way to give myself more wiggle room.”

“Why am I not surprised?” I sighed, then fell into gloomy silence.

“Now what?” Pharynx asked after a moment.

“Nothing, just thinking about mom and dad…”

“Well they’re dead, so get over it!”

“I know… I just wish I could have known them…”

He rolled his eyes, then started for one of the hallways. “Come on,” he sighed, gesturing to me to follow.

“Where?”

“Some of their teammates should still be alive. Let’s dig them up in the archive and see if they’ve got any stories to tell.”