• 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.

  • ...

Bumpy Road

I’d barely left the archive when Psycho came up, trotting down one of the side-hallways.

“Oh, there you are,” he said. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“Something wrong?”

“Aside from a couple of brawls between groups of reformed drones and unreformed ones-”

“Brawls?! What happened? Is everyling okay?”

“Relax, they’re fine, mostly just scratches and bruises. One got bitten and two sprained a leg, but the medics say they’ll be good as new in a few days tops. I’m pretty sure you can guess what led to the whole thing.”

“Some don’t want to accept the new ways and the others don’t want to go back, right?”

“Right. And don’t worry, I sorted them out without breaking any appendages.”

“Whatever you did, I hope they took it seriously? No more brawling in the future?”

“The reformed ones did, but they weren’t the ones who started the fights, so no surprise there. There was significantly more eye-rolling on the unreformed side. I want to think I’ve convinced them to behave, but can’t promise anything. You know what we used to be like!”

I nodded.

“Anyway, on to further matters. Everyling deployed on missions away from the hive has been contacted as of two hours ago and instructed to return, the uncocooning is progressing without complications and is expected to be done by evening, and the preliminary search for Chrysalis produced no results.”

“Not even a clue where she might have gone?”


“You did check for possible disguises, right?”

“That’s standard procedure! No, we didn’t find anything to suggest she might be lurking around in disguise.”

I sighed. “Well, can’t say I’m surprised. She could be anywhere by now, and who knows what she’s planning!”

“That’s easy,” he snorted. “She’s plotting revenge or I’ll eat my helmet!”

“Probably, but maybe she’ll come around at some point and decide to rejoin us peacefully…”

“Yeah, that’ll be the day!”

“It could happen! Granted, I find it hard to imagine her even remotely remorseful, but I used to feel the same about everyling, and look at us now!”

“Whatever.” He didn’t sound convinced, and truth be told, I couldn’t blame him.

“At least the deployed drones are returning! When can we expect them back?”

“They’re scattered all over the world and most are alone or in small teams, so they’ll be trickling back, those aren’t back already, that is. The furthest ones are a few days away. They’ll be reporting in daily as they go!”

“Good! I hope they won’t run into trouble!”

“They’ve been doing this for years, Thorax! They can take care of themselves!”

“Are any of them reformed yet?”

“Only some of those who have returned. The rest aren’t. Elytra and I have kept things vague lest they try to track down Chrysalis with the intention of joining her. Not even Pharynx knows you’re the king!”

“Really?! How much does he know?”

“Only that Chrysalis got overthrown and that we have a king now. I didn’t go into detail, not even about the reformation. I went as far as being disguised as my old self while talking to him.”

I chuckled. “Well, won’t he be surprised when he gets here! Do we know where he is now?”

“No, his team has maintained communicator silence ever since I told him to come back here.”

“Do you think Cadance and Shining could have gotten to him?”

“Not likely. They’re probably still crossing Equestria.”

“They teleported away.”

“They did?” He pondered this. “Hmm… I don’t think they could have gotten all the way to the Crystal Empire in a single jump even with alicorn magic, but that’s arguing semantics as several consecutive jumps would have only taken seconds… Did you tell them your brother was on that team?”

“I didn’t know it then! You brought me those scrolls after they all left, remember?”

“Right. They could have still missed each other, depending on which train they caught. If they opted for the train.”

Knots were beginning to form in my stomach. What if Pharynx had failed to leave the Empire in time? What if Cadance and Shining had found him? No doubt Shining would attack his family’s impostors, and no doubt Pharynx would fight back! But there were only a few drones close enough for him to rely on, and Shining had the whole army! Would either side care to talk it out? What if Pharynx got captured? What if he got killed? I couldn’t imagine life without him! What would I do? How would I go on? How could I go on knowing that a stupid oversight had killed my brother?

“I have to go to the Crystal Empire,” I gasped, spreading my wings.

“For what?”

“Pharynx could be in danger! I have to help him!”

“How? You’re days away by flight, and you don’t even know for sure what’s going on! You could even miss each other without realizing it!”

“So I should just stand idly by and do nothing to help him?!”

“Thorax, listen to yourself. You’re the king now, and you’re responsible for the whole hive, not just your brother, especially now that we’re adjusting to a completely new system! You’re needed here! And Pharynx is tough! Whatever trouble you’re imagining him in, he’s probably been in similar situations twenty times already and knows exactly what to do!”

“I know… but he’s my brother…”

He groaned. “Okay, how about this. If Pharynx and the rest of his team aren’t back by this time tomorrow, send one of the drones in the direction of the Crystal Empire to see if they can figure out where the holdup is. Will that make you feel better?”

“Maybe-” His suggestion reminded me of what I’d been preparing for in the course of this morning. “Hold on. I’ve been setting up a declaration of peace to send to other lands, and I’ve told Urtica to make a copy to go to the Crystal Empire as well even though they already know what happened! I was just about to go looking for couriers to deliver the scrolls! If Pharynx isn’t back in due time, the courier going there could check on him!”

“Finally,” Psycho muttered.

“Hey, I’m just worried for Pharynx! Don’t you have any family you’d go to great lengths for?”

“I’ve got a few broodmates but we’ve never been very close. We were always too focused on becoming good soldiers and serving Chrysalis to make an effort to get along with one another beyond what was required to keep us from getting distracted from contributing to the army. Most drones I know would tell you the same about their broodmates, too. You and Pharynx have actually always had a relationship unusual for changelings.”

“Well, now that you’re not expected to blindly obey to my every whim, maybe you can get to know your broodmates better, too!”

He snorted. “Not likely. Half of them are still unreformed!”

“But not necessarily forever! C’mon Psycho, don’t be so grumpy!”

“Whatever. I think they’re as likely to reform as you’re likely to get any land out there to listen to you. Not counting Equestria, I mean.”

“About that. Can you help me find some couriers I can trust to deliver the scrolls as instructed? A few of them should preferably be strong enough to carry money bags over long distances.”

“Money bags? What for?”

“Urtica suggested that the ones heading to the griffons and the diamond dogs should take some bits and gems to get them to listen to what we have to say and that the ones going to the dragons and Klugetown could use some money and gems to get themselves out of trouble if necessary.”

Psycho frowned.

“And you took her advice?”

“Yes… You sound like I shouldn’t have?”

“How much were you planning to give them?”

“I just came up to Bandit and he counted twenty thousand bits for griffons and-”

How much?! And you’re okay with that?!”

“Well, uh… it does sound like a lot of money, but I guess if it helps win them over…”

“Did either of them care to mention that the lands you’re not giving any money to would think it unfair and accuse you of bribing the griffons and diamond dogs into an alliance and that they’ll be less likely to honor that declaration and maybe even turn on us unless they get their share of money too?”


“And even if they don’t get furious about it, twenty thousand bits is too much no matter how you call it! The griffons should accept far less!”

“But Bandit said they wouldn’t-”

“Bandit hasn’t set hoof out of his office for longer than you’ve been alive! His criteria are outdated!”


“How much did he count for the diamond dogs?”

“Gems that amount to around twenty thousand bits.”

“And the dragons?”

“About half that. Klugetown too.”

“We’re gonna need a word with him. Coming?”

I shrugged. What choice did I have? Unlike Psycho, I clearly didn’t know what I was doing here! He had to have a better idea how to handle this!

“Which lands exactly are you sending the declaration to?” he asked as we were heading for the treasury.

“Pretty much every land. Urtica said I was right in assuming we’re enemies with everyone and I want to end that, and also form alliances if possible.”

“Whom are you offering an alliance?”

“Any and all of them that are interested. Why?”

“So, you haven’t made a selection of lands you don’t want to be allies with?”

“...no… I don’t think we’re in a position to be picky, and anyway, I may not even know of every single land out there, to be honest…”

He stopped in his tracks. “Wait, you’re going in blind?! How are you going to negotiate anything if you don’t know who you’re negotiating it with and what they want?”

“Uh… I guess I was going to ask Urtica or someling else for a crash course as and when the need arised…”

“Why am I not surprised?” he mumbled to himself.

We continued walking.

“What about Klugetown?” he asked. “Do you actually want to be allies with them for some reason or did they just come up as candidates for wanting money in exchange to hear us out?”

“I don’t even know where Klugetown is or who lives there. All I know is that Urtica said they’re about as bad as we used to be.”

“She’s right, and if you want my advice, I wouldn’t offer them an alliance. You can’t be allies with the whole world, Thorax. We’d be better off with the likes of Equestria. Can’t say I’m exactly thrilled about a possible alliance with Griffonstone or the Dragon Lands, but I doubt they’d be interested anyway, so…” He gave a noncommittal shrug.

“Okay, I get it, but what are you suggesting, that I shouldn’t send them anything? Not even a declaration of peace?”

“I didn’t say that. The declaration would probably be a good thing, at least to let them know that things are changing here in more ways than just new default anatomy and a new figure at the throne, and to have them find out about it from us rather than in a roundabout way. It might make a difference between life and death to any drone who happens to be in their territory even if they won’t want to have anything to do with us otherwise, and telling them ourselves wouldn’t give them the idea that they’re being deliberately ignored with who-knows-what in mind. As for giving any of them money…” He gestured to the treasury we were approaching. “...that’s what we’re here to discuss.”

We went in and Bandit sprang to his hooves, but this time, he didn’t look startled out of his carapace.

“Thorax, you’re he- Psycho? You’re one of the couriers?”

“We need to talk, Bandit,” Psycho snapped at him. “Twenty thousand bits for the griffons? What’s wrong with you?”


“When was the last time you were told to give away that much?”


“Actually, three times as much if we count the others?”

Bandit gulped. “I swear, I gave my best estimate-”

“Based on what?”

“I-I-I was an… inf-f-f-filtrator i-i-in Griffons-s-s-s-stone-”

“Was that before or after Celestia was born?”

“Guys, please!” I exclaimed. “Can we do this without arguing?”

They both looked at me as if they’d forgotten I was there. They… hadn’t forgotten, had they?

“...fine,” Psycho relented. “Bandit, we think the current arrangement with the money won’t do. We need to figure out something else.”

“Like what?”

“First of all, cut down on what you’ve already set aside for the griffons and whatnot. Thorax, you think five thousand would be a good enough upper limit if we’re giving them anything?”

“I guess…” I had no idea either way, but he might, having been Acting First Commander in Pharynx’s absence.

“Second, if we’re giving something to one land, then we’ll have to give the same amount to all the other lands, or half of them will get offended. Do we have that much?”

Bandit pondered this. “In bits and gems? We probably would, but that’ll leave hardly any bits for our own use, and I’m pretty sure none of us can guarantee that we absolutely won’t need them. There are objects and artifacts we could sell for additional money, but it can’t be done at a moment’s notice even on the black market, even if we assume we’ll remain in good standing - I mean, what counts as good standing to them - now that we’re reformed.”

“On the contrary,” I added, “if things work out the way I want them to, then changeling could end up mingling freely with other creatures and even buying things. I wonder how they’d feel about getting to own money for their personal use, maybe even about earning money for themselves…”

“Then we won’t get anywhere by giving out five-thousand-bit bags,” Psycho agreed. “Even though I doubt your idea of everyling owning and earning money like ponies do is going to happen in the predictable future.”

“So… half that?”

“Still too much. I’m thinking one thousand bits, tops. That way we can theoretically distribute some bits to the entire adult population of the hive - not enough to be actually usable for much, though, so we might as well skip it for now - and there might still be something left in the treasury for public expenses.”

“Is that how ponies do it?”

“More or less,” Bandit said. “I can go into detail if you care to listen and have the time. So, I should start counting bits again? How many bags will that be?”

Psycho and I exchanged glances.

“We’ll need to check with Urtica,” I said. “We have to go over those declarations anyway.”

“One more thing,” Psycho said. “We need to decide how to call this. ‘Here’s some cash, now listen to us’ would work with griffons, but most other lands don’t work that way.”

“You mean, something to make them want to accept that bag, or something to convince them that we’re giving it away for all the right reasons?”

“Something like that.”

“How about... reimbursement of some of the stolen goods as a sign of good will, or something along those lines?”

“Yeah, that might work,” Psycho mused. “It won’t guarantee it, and some might still see it as a trap, but I haven’t got any better ideas.”

“Me neither,” Bandit said. “So unless Urtica has any suggestions, I guess it’s as good as anything.”

“That settles it, then,” I said. “Now, to handle Urtica’s part.”

Psycho and I got underway. Neither of us said a single word the whole way to the archive. I wasn’t entirely sure how Psycho felt about my blunder and the need to guide me through correcting it step-by-step; his love aura was hard to decipher, and his posture and silence wasn’t helping any. Was he second-guessing his decision to side with me now that I’d made a possibly major mess-up of my first attempt at international relations? I couldn’t blame him if he was! What I’d done could be explained as nothing more than lack of training and experience, and he’d probably say something along those lines if I were to ask his opinion, but would he say it truthfully or merely out of politeness? What if it hadn’t been the lack of experience? What if I was just plain incompetent, unfit to rule? I couldn’t expect others to keep salvaging my bad ideas forever, and what kind of a leader would I be if I expected others to make decisions on my behalf in order to keep me from messing things up again? I hadn’t asked for the throne, and I was sure my life would be much easier and so much more enjoyable without that responsibility, but now that I was here, it felt just… wrong… to give it up to someone else no matter how capable a leader they might be! It felt as if I would disappoint - even betray - my subjects, and I didn’t want to do that!

Was I getting delusional? Had power gotten into my head already? Goodness, I hoped not! I knew too well what power-hunger and ideas of grandeur could lead to and didn’t want to find myself plunging into it! But what if it was too late already? Could I have crossed the point of no return; could I already be doomed to become the next Chrysalis if given enough time? Had she once been like me, hopeful and benevolent, before the same corruption had claimed her, twisting her over the centuries and depriving her of everything good she’d had in herself until nothing remained but the rotten embodiment of darkness that I knew and cowered before?

Quit it, Thorax! It’s not going to happen! Celestia has lived for centuries too, and she’s never strayed! Luna may have strayed, yes, but she found the light again! Even if it does happen to you, it might not be permanent!

But Chrysalis had never found that light. Had she ever had it? Had she buried all knowledge and evidence of that light in a darkness-driven fit of shame or whatever else would have made her resort to such an act, or had the light never existed at all? Either way, could she be cured? She wasn’t a pony, so I had no promise that the thing that had saved Luna would work on her! But if that was the case, and if I was to invariably succumb to darkness-

Okay, stop it already! It’s not going to happen! You’re not going to let it happen! And you’ve got friends who won’t let it happen! If it does come to that, they’ll find a way to help you!

“Thorax? You okay?”

“Huh- Oh, sorry, Psycho… I…” I took a deep breath and let it out; it helped snap me out of it. For now, anyway. “I guess I started overthinking things. You wanted to say something?”

“Just that you walked right past the archive like it doesn’t exist.” He pointed behind us, to the archive entrance. “What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing. Just overthinking things, like I said.”

He eyed me for a moment longer, then shrugged, apparently having decided not to press the issue. I went into the archive and he followed.

Urtica was sitting at a rock-turned-writing desk similar to the one in Bandit’s office, fully engaged in writing a scroll I assumed was a copy of the declaration. About a dozen scrolls were piled up on the floor on one side of the writing rock, and at least twice as many were on the other side. She finished the scroll in front of her, laid it onto the smaller pile, and crossed an item off a list before finally noticing us.

“You’re here already? I’m sorry, I haven’t had the time to finish all of the messages!”

“It’s okay, we figured you wouldn’t have,” I said. “How far did you get?”

“I’ve done Equestria and its autonomous principalities, the Crystal Empire, Zebrica, and Yakyakistan.”

“Okay, good. We have a slight change of plans for what some of the messages should look like, and fortunately, you haven’t gotten to any of them.”

“I’m listening.”

“The part about ending hostility stays the same in everything, but we won’t be offering an alliance to Klugetown and… What did we say, Psycho? Griffonstone and Dragon Lands?”

“The Storm Kingdom and Diamond Dogland. Griffonstone and the Dragon Lands can stay if you really want them to.”

“What’s the Storm Kingdom? You haven’t mentioned it at all until now!”

“Something closely tied to Klugetown and not a bit less hostile.”

“Okay then, I guess those.”

Urtica put a mark next to some of the items on her list. “Got it!”

Psycho took the list and counted the items on it.

“I’ll go get the couriers. Will you two be here?”

“I definitely will,” Urtica said, “and I’m going to need Thorax’s hoofprint and signature on each scroll before we send them out.”

“Then I’ll stay here too. Unless I’m more needed elsewhere?”

“Nah, I think the others can wait. This shouldn’t take insanely long.”

He left. Urtica had by then started on the next scroll, but paused a moment to pass me a quill and a sponge soaked in ink. Good thing I’d seen Cadance and Shining use a similar sponge a couple of times back in the Crystal Empire, or I wouldn’t know what to do with it!

I took one of the finished scrolls in my magic. This one was for Neighpon, one of Equestria’s autonomous principalities if my memory of Sunburst’s lessons served me well. I read it; as expected, Urtica had copied the prearranged text to the letter, and I touched my hoof against the sponge and left a print on the scroll, then signed it over the hoofprint. The next scroll was for Bitaly, then for the Crystal Empire, then the Griffish Isles, then Maretonia, and so on. I found no fault in any of them, and each got their own hoofprint and signature in due course. Stamping and signing them slowed down as I ran out of finished scrolls so I offered to write a few myself, but Urtica said there weren’t many left to go and assured me she could handle it. So, I waited patiently for her to finish each scroll and pass it to me, all the while trying not to drive myself into another fit of overthinking whatever random thing I got caught on this time. Somehow, it worked.

We were at the second-to-last scroll when Psycho returned with his company of couriers, some of them already equipped with Bandit’s money bags. The rest, I assumed, would get their bags once Bandit finished counting the money.

I told the couriers what their assignment was and implored them to put their own safety first, even if it meant returning to the hive with an undelivered scroll. No scroll was worth dying for, and messages could always be delivered at a later time if the first attempt got thwarted! They voiced no objections, so I assigned each of them a scroll and sent them on their way. A few still had to wait for the money bags, and the rest headed out immediately.

“Well, that’s that,” I sighed when they were all gone. “I have to admit, I didn’t think this would be so complicated, and I’m not talking about the text of the declaration!”

“Welcome to diplomacy,” Psycho muttered.

“Is every decision I’ll have to make going to have so many aspects to consider?”

“Not every, but plenty of them will.”

“I might have known… Urtica, is there anything here in the archive that I could read in order to learn leadership more quickly? I don’t want to have to rely on others to warn me that I’m about to make a big mess of things whenever something like this comes up! Not that I don’t appreciate your help, but-”

“We understand, Thorax,” she said. “Hmm… not sure about a guide on leadership, but there are some logs on observed behavior of certain royal figures… They were meant for ensuring disguise credibility in case Chrysalis decided to have the said leaders replaced, but if you can infer the thought process behind the decisions they made that were noted in the logs, I guess that’s as good as anything I can give you.”

“Oh well, I might as well try it,” I said. “Can I take them out of the archive?”

“Sure! I don’t expect we’ll really need them anymore so no worries if anything happens to them! Not that I think anything will! I’m sure you’ll treat them with care!”

She dashed off and disappeared in the maze of shelves. A couple of minutes later, she was back with a bunch of scrolls.
“There you go!” she said as I took them in my magic. “There are more if you want! All you have to do is ask!”

“Thanks! I’ll, um, be on my way now.”

“Do you need me for anything else?” Psycho asked when we left the archive.

“Not at the moment. I’ll be in the throne room if you need me, unless something happens.”

“Alright then.” We parted ways, me heading further up, him disappearing in the maze of tunnels and passages.

When I got to the throne room, I found a couple of drones standing about.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“No, we were just thinking of tidying this place up, if you don’t mind. It’s about time we cleared up the mess!”

“Oh…” I looked around and chuckled; there was a pretty big mess, now that I thought about it, and the throne shards were still piled up unceremoniously and awaiting… what? Disposal? A decision on what they’d best be used for? My permission to do something with them? “Yeah, go ahead!”

“Please tell us if we’re disturbing you at any point and we’ll see what we can do about it!”

I nodded and sat down next to the pile of shards, setting the scrolls down nearby. The two drones started sweeping, and I watched them for a moment, wondering whether this had been their own idea of Proboscis’ orders and reminiscing on the days when I’d been in their place. Well, whatever else was going on in my life now, at least I’d gotten rid of the bullying that had been an everyday occurrence then, and even if some of the drones still disagreed with and disapproved of the way I intended to lead the hive, I didn’t have to submit myself to their hatred anymore.

I looked at the scrolls again. Would they help me overcome my difficulties and teach me to be a better leader? Would the knowledge gained from them be useful in winning over the unwilling of my subjects? Could it help win over the other lands?

Only one way to find out.

I selected a scroll at random and started reading.