• Published 1st Jan 2022
  • 1,163 Views, 257 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.

  • ...

Declaration of Peace

“Is he supposed to be here?”

“What should we do with him?”

“Just leave him!”

“On the floor?”

“Didn’t you prepare a room?”

“Yeah, so?”

“We should move him there!”

“And how do you propose to do it without waking him up?”

The hushed conversation found its way to whatever half-conscious part of my mind was up and running.

“Huh?” I mumbled, cracking an eye open to a half-dozen green and blue faces outlined against the bright sky.

“Great job, Shadow! Couldn’t you have shouted a little louder?”

“But- I- ugh!”

“Guys, please!” I protested. “No need to argue! I should have probably been up already anyway!”

“That doesn’t give them the excuse to bother you while you sleep!”

“It’s okay, Psycho,” I said, getting up on my hooves. “They were whispering, and there’s no need to reprimand them for every single thing they do. Now, where’s Urtica? I’m going to need her help with something.”

“She should be in the archive. You know where that is?”

“I think so… a few levels below the castle, right?”

“No, we moved it into the castle after you left the hive. Chrysalis thought you might have taken advantage of a disguise to go there and learn potentially sensitive information that you could reveal to the enemy and wanted to have better control over who’s coming in in case any other drones started getting ideas.”

“Oh. So where is it now?”

“We merged a few chambers of the lowermost levels of the castle, southeast side.”

“Okay, thanks!”

Like Psycho had said, Urtica was in the archive, arranging some scrolls. I felt awkward and self-conscious setting hoof in that place for the first time in my life, it having been off-limits to everyling save for the highest-ranking drones, but Urtica didn’t give me much time to dwell on it. She noticed me within seconds, dropped what she’d been doing - literally, as the scrolls she’d held fell onto the ground and pulled a few more along with them - and buzzed down to meet me.

“Good morning, Urt-”

“Good morning, Your Highness- uh, I mean Thorax! So sorry! I know you said to loosen up, but old habits tend to slip through, and I’m going to need a long time to get rid of these habits! Oh, you might want to know that I managed to catch your whole speech in short script and will immortalize it for the history books as soon as I find the ceremonial scrolls, which I kinda sorta seem to have misplaced at some point, but don’t worry, I’ll find them! Amazing speech, by the way! I loved everything about it!”

“Thanks, but I really don’t think-”

“And I heard you made Grim’s day last evening! I can’t believe it - we’re gonna get so many super cute little nymphs when everyling hears what you told her! The whole hive could be crawling with them! Ooh, I wanna snuggle them right now-” Suddenly, her outburst of energy stopped and she landed slowly onto the floor in front of me, fidgeting her hoof and looking at a random corner as if it were the last thing she’d ever get to see. “Ahem. Please forgive me! I… I get carried away sometimes…”

“It’s alright! I’d rather have that than iron discipline!”

“Oooo...kay... Um. How may I help you?”

“I’m looking to reach out to other lands and let them know that I’d like to end any ongoing battles and animosity and offer an alliance if they want one, but I’ve never needed to do anything even remotely close and don’t know what a declaration of peace or whatever it’s called should look like or where to begin. You’re more likely to have been in contact with that kind of thing at some point. Can you help me?”

“Oh… I see…” She bit her lip. “Well, I’ve never had to actually write any kind of diplomatic correspondence - Chrysalis never cared for that - but we do have some peace treaties and alliance contracts between other lands that we… uh, obtained… um… at various points in time, er, ahem… and I suppose I could read them to refresh my memory of what they look like and what terminology they use. That might work! Uh, I think… Can you give me a couple of hours?”

“Okay, no problem!”

“May I ask which lands we’re writing to, in case I have enough time to draft an outline?”

“Every land that the changelings have been at odds with. And yes, I understand that probably means every land in the known world.”

“It’s more than ‘probably’, I’m afraid, but writing it out is the least of it. I’m more concerned about getting their leaders to want to listen and about convincing them that this isn’t some kind of elaborate scheme to throw them off guard and then stab them in the back.”

“Yeah, I’ve been worried about the same thing,” I admitted.

“And I don’t even know how we stand with the bits and gems anymore now that Chrysalis compartmentalized literally everything to crazy levels.”

“What do you mean?”

“After you left, she didn’t want to risk any other drones taking advantage of their clearance level in case they turned against her and she failed to stop them before they left, so everything not strictly within anyling’s current assignments became very off-limits. I only kept basic track of the Treasury’s dealings before that, but have been forbidden to even trot past the entrance to the Treasury section ever since, and I have high clearance!”

“I’ve been told something along those lines already, yes. What I meant is, what do bits and gems have to do with the declaration of peace?”

“Oh. That.” She chuckled sheepishly. “I meant that griffons almost never want to hear anyone out unless they’ll get bits in return, so you might want to provide the courier with a money bag. It’s similar with diamond dogs, except that they’re more interested in gems. And, uh, dragons might not outright demand gems, but they’re ill-tempered by default and a stash of gems might appease them or even save the courier from getting eaten if he or she runs into a particularly cranky dragon. Also, bits might help the courier get out of sticky situations in Klugetown if you’re going to send one there, which I don’t think I’d recommend because they’re about as bad as we used to be, only with more material tastes.”

“I see,” I said, wishing there was an easier way to do this. “So… I guess I better go check our supplies of bits and gems while you’re doing your thing, huh?”

“Unless you have more pressing matters! It’s not mine to order you around!”

“It’s alright, I’m probably going to have to check on the Treasury sooner or later anyway, so might as well do it now. Where are they?”

“Three levels above us, northern hallway!”

I followed her directions and found a green drone slumped against a rock that apparently served as a table of sorts, shuffling some scrolls and pencils around in a routine of utter boredom. He straightened himself up when I entered so quickly that I thought he’d launch himself through the ceiling, and half his pencils tumbled onto the floor.

“King Thorax! Uh, sorry, Your Highness, I wasn’t expecting you this morning! I, um…” He slapped himself and bowed at the same speed as when standing up a second ago, sending a scroll or two flying in the process. “Treasury Supervisor Bandit at your service!”

I sighed and rubbed my temple. How many more times was I going to have to tell everyling to drop the high titles and just act naturally?

“Is something wrong, Your Highness?” he asked cautiously.

“Yes! I’d appreciate it if you all would stop calling me ‘Your Highness’ all the time and bowing whenever I’m within a thousand miles! Uh, sorry! I didn’t mean to yell at you! It just… it’s so unnerving…”

“Wow… I thought they were exaggerating, but you really are as different from Chrysalis as they say! She never once apologized for anything, and I served her for decades! In fact, she’s been going out of her way lately to find every single mistake we’ve made! Let me tell you, I’ve been glad she’s gone ever since I heard, and especially now!”

“I’ll take that as a compliment… I think…”

“It was meant as one. But with how busy the hive is this morning, you’re not here to make small talk, are you? How can I help?”

“I’m about to send out declarations of peace, and Urtica said I’d probably need bits and gems to get the griffons and diamond dogs to listen, and that having some for the dragons and Klugetown - whatever that is - might be a good idea too.”

“I see.” He looked away and scratched at the ground.

“That bad?”

“That depends. If you just want to give them enough to heed the declaration and leave the couriers alone, yeah, we have that much and it’ll only make a minor dent in our reserves. That part doesn’t worry me. What does worry me is that, if you get into negotiations with any of the lands we’ve been at war with, not just griffons or diamond dogs, they could demand that we return every material thing we ever stole from them as a sign of good will. You can probably figure out that repaying such colossal amounts would take centuries, and that’s assuming we can find a way to earn money to compensate for what got spent in the meantime. If we don’t, we might as well skin ourselves alive!”

“I thought we used to steal love, not money and such things?”

“Haven’t you ever been on a long-term mission? Or trained for one?”

“No, I was only ever deployed to Princess Cadance’s wedding, and even that took Pharynx some doing to convince Chrysalis to include me, not that I wanted to. I also got kicked out from basic training some years prior to that due to incompetence. Why?”

“Love was our primary target, or more accurately, the creatures we could drain of love were our primary targets. But most of the said creatures had some items of value on their person at the time of capture, and Chrysalis didn’t like to let that go to waste if she could use it. Most of the loot served as starting funds for infiltrators, and they delivered their unspent earnings here to finance future infiltrators. Sometimes we’d use money to buy things on the black market if stealing wasn’t an option, but don’t ask me the details on that. I was only expected to count the cash as ordered and keep an eye on what’s kept here.”

“‘Here’, as in, in this room?”

“No, this is just an antechamber that I use as an office. Follow me.”

He led me through a gate hidden behind a boulder into a large chamber. Much like the archive, it was tall enough to span several levels, and as far as I could see, the only entrance seemed to be the one we’d passed through. There were many nooks and niches everywhere so I couldn’t be sure, but it made sense to have only one entrance unless every single one was guarded. And I had no doubt it’d have to be guarded even from changelings, as countless shelves were filled to the brim with bits, diamonds, golden trinkets, jewelry, and many other things shining and glistening in what little light had found its way into this place! I didn’t know how greedy griffons and diamond dogs were, but no doubt they’d kill for even just one of these shelves!

“Whoa,” I said, dumbfounded. “I didn’t even know we had a treasury until today, and just look at this!”

“I admit, it is a lot to look at if you’ve never seen it before,” he said, “but what you see here isn’t really that much. This room would be painfully empty if we had to give an average starting sum to every infiltrator out there at once, so imagine having to reimburse the stolen goods as a condition of negotiating peace!”

“Okay, I get it. If the matter comes up in negotiations, I’ll try to at least soften the blow, but I can’t promise anything. Now, can you count the money for the griffons and the diamond dogs?”

“And dragons and Klugetowners. Of course. Come back in an hour and it’ll be ready.”

Now that things had been set in motion, I didn’t have any immediate ideas for how to fill the time while waiting for the result, so I decided to go back to the throne room to see of anyling needed me. If not, maybe this would be a good time to take a stroll around the hive and familiarize myself with the parts that had previously been off-limits to me and to remind myself of the parts I’d known well.

It turned out that my tour of the hive would have to wait; a single green-and-pink drone was pacing next to the throne shards, mumbling to herself.

“Oh,” she said upon noticing me and stopped pacing.

“Have you been waiting long? I’m sorry… I guess I should have left a note where I was going…”

“It’s okay! I, um, needed some time to, uh, figure out how to approach the matter…”

“You have a problem with something?”

“No- uh, yes- I mean-” She took a breath to compose herself. “Well, I don’t have a problem in a sense I imagine you mean it, but I do have a confession to make, and you’ll probably have a problem with me when you hear what I have to say.”

“You… didn’t hurt anyone, did you?”

“No, it’s not that simple… actually, it is simple but… Ugh, why does this have to be so hard?!”

“Would it be easier if we sat down?”

She shrugged. “Eh, probably not, but whatever.”

I took that as a sign that she was willing to take my suggestion, sat down next to the pile of shards, and motioned her to join me, which she did, though still fidgeting and avoiding eye contact.

“Why don’t you start from the beginning?”

She fidgeted some more, then sighed and said, “Remember when you arrived at the Crystal Empire?”

“Yes, what about it?”

“I was there before you - myself and one other drone - posing as earth ponies who decided to live there. It was our assignment as infiltrators, and, well… when you got noticed and the city went into lockdown, we reported it to Chrysalis. We-”

“You’re Feisty?”

“How did you know?!”

“Psycho filled me in on what I missed. He didn’t have the time to go into too much detail, but he did mention you and Blade keeping track of my movement.”

“For the record, we were under orders!”

“I get that!” I put a hoof on her shoulder. “And I’m not holding a grudge against either of you! Everything turned out fine in the end, didn’t it?”

“You’re not just saying that to lull me into a false sense of security, are you? ...of course you aren’t…” she added, rubbing her temples. “I mean, I watched you for months and I can’t imagine you being mad at anyone… It’s just, it feels weird not being at least yelled at for spying on your superiors…”

“I wasn’t your superior back then!”

“But you are now! And you know what? Like I said, Blade and I were under orders to spy on you, and it was easy at first because we truly believed it was necessary! Then, over time, we started to notice you looking healthier… happier… you were doing way better than the two of us, and you shouldn’t have if everything we’d been taught about changelings was true! We three were in the same environment, exposed to the same food source, and you weren’t taking advantage of it nearly as much as Blade and me, maybe not even at all, and you were said to be a useless wimp, so how in the name of eggshells did you manage to get from a starving wreck to something any drone would be jealous of, and in so little time? We gradually started doubting everything we thought we knew, but we still kept a close eye on you and reported everything to Chrysalis even when we were all but certain it was wrong of us!”

“I see,” I mused. “Yes, I can understand why you were so worked up about telling me.”

“So… are you going to punish us?”

“No, why would I?”

“How about because we betrayed you?!”

“The way I see it, you were keeping yourselves safe. Chrysalis is intimidating even on a good day, and believe me, you wouldn’t have wanted to draw her wrath onto yourselves!”

“But you did exactly that when you left the hive!”

“That was different! I’d drawn her wrath onto myself years before, not to mention the disdain of pretty much every drone! Either Chrysalis would have lost her patience with me for good, or some group of bullies would have gotten carried away in beating me up when Pharynx wasn’t around to stop them! I didn’t have much to lose, and I could gain so much! You and Blade, on the other hoof, were in good standing with her and would have lost everything by opposing her will, and I can’t see how you could have benefitted from it!”

“Then what’s with all those paintings you made near the end? The ones depicting ponies’ and changelings’ future in unity?”

“Such a unity only makes sense if someone lives to see it! And if you know about the paintings, then you had to have picked up on me saying it before now!”

“Fair enough,” she shrugged. “But that still doesn’t make me feel any better about not accepting your ways until we heard what you did and returned to the hive.”

“About that… is Pharynx here yet?”

“I didn’t see him, but we got informed first thing in the morning, before we were due to go to work as our pony aliases, and we dropped everything and rushed back right away. Pharynx’s team might not have been in position to receive incoming hails until some time later, and considering the roles they were playing, they might have been unable to hit the road without at least wrapping a few things up, which would have taken time. Blade and I just invented a family emergency as a quick excuse to our bosses and cleared out. Even our gear is still there.”

Okay, so chances were I’d have to wait for Pharynx a little longer… not unexpected if Psycho’s estimate had been correct, but Feisty being here so soon had gotten my hopes up. Okay, Thorax, all in due time…

“Just out of curiosity, did I ever come across your aliases?”

“We made an effort not to cross paths with you, and I was successful, but you bought a saddlebag from Blade last week. Oh, and he said you can get a full refund and keep the saddlebag! I’m pretty sure he can also adjust it to your new body if it doesn’t fit anymore!”

I chuckled. “Thanks, but I’m afraid it got left behind in the Crystal Empire.”

“Well, maybe you’ll pick it up one day!”

“Yeah, maybe I will…”

We sat in silence for a moment.

“So, you’re definitely not punishing us, then?”

“I’m definitely not punishing you!”

“We’re not even getting yelled at?”

“I suppose I could try if you really really want me to, but it’ll probably end up pathetic, or comical at best.”

“Might have known… but you are okay with us making it up to you differently, right?”

“Are you thinking anything specific?”

“Blade has been helping release the cocooned ponies ever since we got back and transformed, and I’ll join him, but everypony will get released eventually, and I overheard mentions of something called a ‘feelings forum’?”

“Yes, I have an idea to form an open group that everyling can come to and express their feelings, ask for advice or help with a problem, and so on, but it hasn’t started yet.”

“You’ll probably need a moderator for that. Is it okay if I play the part at least some of the time? I may not be a perfect choice but I’m willing to learn! Unless you already have someling in mind, that is.”

“I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Sure, if you think you can handle it!”

“I’ll do my best! Thank you!”

She cantered off and I was left wondering whether or not it was too early to go check on Bandit and Urtica. It probably was, but what should I do to pass the time until they finished their assignments? I didn’t see the point of starting anything even mildly ambitious, as I could end up getting caught in it for hours and maybe even forgetting that I had unfinished business in the archive and the treasury!

I groaned inwardly. Why did leadership have to be so complicated? How did Princess Cadance or Princess Celestia manage everything? If it weren’t for them, I’d have thought this was why Chrysalis had been permanently stuck in a furious state!

I wished for probably a thousandth time since my ascension than I was still just a random little drone with hardly any real responsibilities, that I could still afford to go about my business without a care in the world, that I could have passed the proverbial crown to someling else… That way, I could at least take a walk around without feeling self-conscious or wondering what important things were waiting for me to tackle them and feeling guilty for not doing them at that very moment!

But I had to do something; just sitting here panicking was the worst thing I could be doing! If only Sunburst were here, or Spike, or Pharynx… I could ask them what to do, and they’d listen and probably come up with some good advice! Okay, maybe not Pharynx - he’d most likely just groan and roll his eyes at my incompetence and storm off after a minute or two - but Spike and Sunburst would surely be of great help! But none of them were here, and I was still stuck in my panicked indecision… if only I could walk it off! But wouldn’t the drones disapprove of their leader’s leisurely moment when there was so much work to be done?

Oh, what the heck. I still had a lot of catching up to do, so why not take a scenic route to the treasury and thus combine a moment of relaxation with a purposeful goal? For all I knew, something could come up on my route that would need addressing! And the drones wouldn’t really expect me to explain my presence wherever I went, right? Well, not anymore, anyway… probably…

Nothing much happened at first, save for a few colorful drones who bowed to me in passing, making me flinch and start feeling awkward again, and a group of black ones who hissed at me and grumbled something among themselves that I couldn’t make out exactly but guessed I wouldn’t have preferred to know the details. At least none of them got physically violent… for now, anyway.

Then, in one of many hallways, I heard voices coming from one of the burrows. They sounded almost arguing, though I couldn’t make out the exact words. I moved closer.

“...said we could do what we want!”

“I know, but we can’t do this with just the few of us!”

“Can’t we find anyling more? I’m sure we could if you’d just-”

“I’m not looking for any more members until we get permission!”

“Yeah that’s great, but how do you expect to get permission with so few members?”

“Tibia has a point, Whisper. You can’t pester the king for permissions without knowing whether or not what you want is feasible!”

“Thorax won’t mind, Gallow! Haven’t you seen him?”

By now, I was right at the burrow in question, so I stuck my head inside.

“I wouldn’t mind what?” I asked.

All four colorful drones recoiled in surprise at the uninvited guest, then went completely silent in the way that was becoming the running theme of an overly cautious approach that I’d often resorted to myself in the past. I came in and sat with them; the burrow was just about big enough to accommodate me without the need to downsize myself.

“Guys, I heard you debating whether or not to ask for permission for something, and let me point out again that I have no problem with being approached with whatever question you have.”

I got vaguely assenting murmurs in reply.

“Well? Any of you care to tell me what this is about?”

“Eh, fine, since you heard us,” one of them sighed; judging by her voice, I took her to be Whisper. “We have an idea to start a choir, or maybe an orchestra, or both, but we don’t know of anyling else who’d be interested.”

“And why did you think I wouldn’t approve?”

None of them said anything, but the floor became unusually interesting to a couple of them all of a sudden.

“Look, I get it that this is a big change after Chrysalis and that you’re not used to the hive being so casual, but if you’re looking to pursue music, I think it’s safe to assume that you’d like the new ways to take root, so why not help it a little by voicing your wishes? For all you know, there could be at least a dozen groups like yourselves, sitting alone in burrows because they don’t know there are others with the same interests! Now that I think about it, it might be a good idea to set up notice boards around the hive where everyling could put announcements!”

“Does that mean we have your permission, even though there isn’t enough of us to consider ourselves a choir?”

“Of course! Hey, if you want, you can even build a few notice boards to help move things along, not just for yourselves, but also for other drones with the same kind of problem!”

They looked at one another and nodded.

“Sure thing!” Gallow exclaimed and got up. “C’mon guys, let’s get to it!”

They followed him out of the burrow, and I got back on my way too. Urtica may not have had the time to prepare her thing yet, but Bandit would have probably counted out the bits by now, so I decided to go there first.

He was just coming out of the treasury proper when I came into his office, and somehow, I managed to startle him again.

“Oh… you’re here…” he said, composing himself. “I’ve just about finished filling the bags for you. How did you time yourself so perfectly?”

“Pure chance, I guess,” I shrugged. “So, where are the bags?”

“A moment, please.” He disappeared into the treasury and came back out dragging a bag of coins, then went in again and returned with a bag of gems, which was slightly smaller than the one with the coins, but still of considerable size. He placed them next to each other in front of me, wiped sweat from his forehead, then went back for two smaller bags that he carried on his back and set down near the other two. “There you go: twenty thousand bits for the griffons, gems of roughly the same value for the diamond dogs, and half that for the dragons and the Klugetowners each.”

“That much?!”

“The couriers might need that much depending on how big a trouble they run into with the dragons and Klugetowners, and as for the griffons and diamond dogs, I don’t think they’d want to listen for much less than that, at least when it comes to news of this magnitude. If you wanted to ask a griffon for directions, then one or two bits would have been more than enough in most cases. Explanations of things would cost more, the exact amount depending on the topic and level of detail you want and the griffon is able to provide, and assistance with a task would cost even more, sometimes depending more on how willing or unwilling they are than on how skilled your particular griffon is with what you want him or her to do… you get the idea. This is a really big thing that will affect all of Griffonstone and most if not all griffons will want to grab their share even though the news is good. Pretty much the same with diamond dogs, except they still have some remnants of a hierarchy and the gems will probably all end up in the bigshots’ paws.”

“Remnants of a hierarchy?” I wasn’t sure what he’d meant, but then one of Sunburst’s lessons flashed in my mind. “Oh, right, griffons are pretty much leaderless, aren’t they?”

“Their last king died ages ago and, the last time I checked, it didn’t look like there could be a new one anytime soon, yeah. Or ever, if you want my opinion.”

“So who should the courier look for if there’s no leader?”

“Dunno, Your High- Thorax, I’m just here to guard the riches. You’d better ask Urtica.”

“Thanks! Um,” I pointed to the bags, “should I take these with me or can I just tell the couriers to drop by on their way out?”

“Either way works for me!”

“I’ll send the couriers, then.”

“Which ones should I expect and what are their clearance codes?”

What? “I don’t even know yet who the couriers are or if we even have drones designated for that purpose! I’ll… just… send whoever, I guess, and trust them to do as they’re told.”

“...so, no clearance codes, then?”

“I’ve pretty much decided already to get rid of all that anyway,” I shrugged. “But if it makes you feel better about it, I can come with them this time.”

He pondered this. “Yeah, I think I can live with that,” he said.

“Okay then! See you later!”

Now that I was in the neighborhood, I decided I might as well check on Urtica, and hopefully I wouldn’t be too much of a nuisance; I didn’t expect her to be done yet. This kind of thing had to be long and complicated, right? Would I understand any of it? What if I, or Urtica, or both of us accidentally made an error in composing the declaration? Probably not that much of a big deal if the error was something minor that would only have the recipients laugh and roll their eyes at our incompetence, but what if we angered them or made them get a completely wrong idea about our intentions? As in, an utterly, unbelievably wrong idea, one that would lead to increased tensions and ultimately make me seriously consider violent methods of resolving the misunderstanding? But that would only make things worse! There had to be a civil way to deal with complications, otherwise there was no point in me trying to do everything I’d been trying to do! If the ponies could solve issues non-violently, then I should be able to do it too! But how?

Listen to yourself, Thorax. Picturing worst-case scenarios when you’ve barely started doing anything? Pull yourself together! You’ve been through worse; you’ll think of something!

If only confidence could be activated on demand… or at least, if only it would stop disappearing at the worst possible moment!

But I was at the archive by now, and Urtica was waiting for me.

“Oh good, you’re here already!” she chirped. “I was wondering whether I should come get you or just wait for you here!”

“Nothing’s wrong, I hope?”

“Well, no, uh, maybe, I mean, I’ve got some good news and some teeny tiny slightly bad news.”

Uh-oh. I’d known this wasn’t going to be that easy!

“Tell me,” I sighed.

“The good news is that I’ve managed to use what I had to piece together something that I think might be usable. If you like it, of course! The bad news, well…” She gulped and my heart sank a little further. “I’m afraid some of the documents I intended to rely the most heavily on are not quite complete because they’re, uh, damaged.”

Oh no… “Deliberately?”

“No, actually… I vaguely remember noticing them being in such a state a while ago, a few years before the Canterlot invasion in fact… I mean, they’re old and the hive structure has been known to act out from time to time, and it’s not like we took special care to preserve every single scroll at all cost…”

“Are they originals or copies?”

“What do you mean?”

“Come on, Urtica, I get it that the rightful owners of those scrolls wouldn’t have given them to us willingly! Someling had to have stolen them, but if the point was to simply find out what a scroll says, the drone assigned to the task could have simply transcribed it rather than grabbing it and risking to get chased if the theft was discovered too soon.”

“Interesting strategy, but I don’t think our soldiers were ever running around with spare scrolls and pencils for that purpose, though I won’t deny that a few treaties I’ve run into do look like hastily-done copies, so they might have resorted to something like you’re suggesting. Either way, I’m not sure if anyone would let us near the originals even now, and I get the impression that you wouldn’t condone obtaining them the old-fashioned way, so to speak.”

“I wasn’t thinking about that, Urtica. The point was that we’ll have to return the documents we stole, and it won’t look good if we show up with torn-up scrolls.”

“Oh! That… would be… problematic…”

“Okay, let’s discuss that later. You said you had something usable?”

“Yes, here it is!” She passed me a piece of parchment. “I hope it’s good enough! I had to make a few terminological assumptions, but we can always adjust the details, of course!” She chuckled nervously. “Or we can ditch the whole thing and start over if you don’t like what I’ve come up with!”

I started reading. It said:

Office of King Thorax, HRH

Badlands Hive

Changeling Kingdom

To: (ponies, griffons, dragons, etc.)

Re: Declaration of Peace

I, King Thorax of the Changelings, newly appointed to the Changeling Throne following the deposal of Queen Chrysalis, hereby decree that the changeling kind has abandoned all belligerency and ceased all offensive and invasive actions towards other lands as well as towards all non-changeling individuals, and that all illegal changeling agents in foreign lands have been recalled to their homeland. My aim is to end the mutual hostility between our peoples and establish friendly relations between our lands, and I am open to discussions on how best to achieve that goal, as well as negotiate an alliance if (species) is so inclined.

The current whereabouts and intentions of the former Queen are not known at present, but she is to be held responsible for her actions against other lands as well as against her own former subjects, and I hope her actions will not interfere with our efforts towards peace.

Changeling Hive, 17th September 1005 CE

(signature, hoofprint)

“Hmm, yes, I think this’ll do,” I said. “Only, what does ‘HRH’ mean?”

“It stands for ‘His Royal Highness’. That’s the standard way to write names of royalty in official documents.”

I buried my face in my hooves and groaned.

“Great… and just when I was starting to hope I’d get everyling to stop acting all stuck-up around me! How am I supposed to get used to being referred to as ‘King’ and ‘Royal Highness’ and who-knows-what else every few seconds?!”

“I’m… I’m sure you’ll get used to it eventually… but hey, just because paperwork needs to state your full title, doesn’t mean you have to put up with it in everyday face-to-face communication with your subjects if it makes you uncomfortable!”

“I guess you’re right… Okay, I don’t think I have much to add to the declaration, so can you write a copy for every land it needs to go to, including Equestria and the Crystal Empire? Princesses Celestia and Cadance already promised an alliance before they left, but it probably won’t hurt to send an official scroll regardless. I need to find Psycho to help me look for couriers now!”

“On it!”