• 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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Stigma

A few days later, Psycho brought a drone to me. She was one of the couriers I’d dispatched with a copy of the declaration of peace, but I couldn’t remember where exactly I’d sent her to, and I wasn’t sure that I even knew her name!

“I have returned from Canterlot,” she said, offering me a scroll. I thought at first that she hadn’t succeeded in delivering it, but she had more to say. “Princesses Celestia and Luna sent their reply.”

I accepted the scroll. “Thank you! Did you run into any trouble on the way?”

“Well, uh… maybe… but it’s my fault, really!” She chuckled nervously. “No need to get upset at the ponies!”

“Why? What happened?”

“I… maaaaay have made a slight error in my approach…”

I waited for her to elaborate.

“...am I going to get punished?”

“No, don’t worry! Whatever happened, you can tell me!”

“Uh, okay… You know, going to Canterlot isn’t really the most pleasant feeling in the world after what we did there… and it’s barely been a week since you took command, so… I figured the ponies there wouldn’t be very happy to see a changeling roaming about even if it’s a reformed one…”

“You disguised yourself, didn’t you?”

“Yes… and everything was fine until I was taken to Celestia… she was here when all this happened so I assumed there’d be no trouble when I dropped the disguise but… uh, how shall I put it… Do you know that Royal Guards posted to the throne room have really impressive reflexes?”

I cringed. Yes, I could imagine them having impressive reflexes to the sight of something shapeshifting in front of them!

“Did they hurt you?” I asked, looking her over for any signs of injuries.

“No no no, I’m fine! ...okay, there are things I like far better than getting tackled and dogpiled by a dozen guards, and I tend to get nervous in changeling-proofed cages, but at least that knockout blast wasn’t that bad…”

I facehoofed. How much worse could this get?!

“...but then I woke up and they were really really polite, almost apologetic,” she said. “Heck, I wasn’t even in the cage anymore by then!”

“Well, at least they figured out you weren’t there with foul intentions!”

“Yes, but I still made an unnecessary mess of things and I wouldn’t be surprised if I undermined your efforts-”

“Zygoma!”

She recoiled and yelped as my brother marched into the throne room, seething at her.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he spat at her.

“I… uh… er…”

“Why aren’t you bowing with your face pressed to the floor?” he roared on. “Are you reporting a failure to your King or are you sharing stories with your pony drinking buddy?”

She only managed a whimper.

“Pharynx-” I started, but didn’t get any further.

“You think just because Chrysalis isn’t here, you can throw discipline in the wind and disrespect the-”

“Pharynx!” I raised my voice, getting between him and Zygoma. “Leave her alone!”

“How can you tolerate that kind of behavior?!”

“I’m not a bloodthirsty tyrant, Pharynx! I don’t like it when others are cowering before me!”

“Oh right, it’s your flower-loving, wimpy self again,” he groaned. “Haven’t you gotten past that already?”

“Why?”

“Ugh, don’t you see you’re dooming the hive with it?”

“But everyling’s happier now, and if ponies can thrive like this-”

He snorted. “We’ll discuss this yet,” he growled at Zygoma, and stormed off.

“I’m sorry,” I said to her. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him!”

“No, it’s fine,” she said timidly, “he has a point. I guess I got a little carried away with how everything’s been getting friendlier here! Uh, permission to leave?”

“Okay,” I sighed. “And don’t take Pharynx’s outburst personally. I’m… I’m sure he means well…”

She bowed and disappeared into the nearest hallway. I just stood there for a moment, wondering if I should try to catch up with her to remind her that she didn’t have to bow to me no matter what Pharynx said, but figured she was probably on the other end of the hive by now. I’d have to catch Pharynx and tell him not to do that anymore! In the meantime, I had a scroll to read.

I sat down roughly where the pile of Chrysalis’ throne shards had been. They’d gotten cleared away a couple of days ago, and nothing had yet been done with the space that had freed up, but I’d gotten kind of used to sitting there. At this rate, there might one day be a new throne at this very spot, but if the decision to add one was mine to make, which it probably was, it might not happen for quite a while yet. It was just one of those things that people usually called ‘royally magnificent’ or ‘highly honorable’ or ‘totally awesome’ but the very idea of me needing such a thing, and being expected to need it, made my chitin crawl! At least noling had yet started insisting that I should get myself an actual, physical throne! I didn’t even want the proverbial one! And yet, there it was, and I had to put up with it and would have to keep putting up with it for the rest of my life. Gosh, would I ever get used to it?

One step at a time, I reminded myself. One step at a time. The throne might feel natural years from now, or it might not, but I couldn’t rush it. I couldn’t get there today no matter what I did, but I could try to distract myself from the thoughts that would inevitably lead to a panic attack by keeping myself busy with whatever needed my attention in the now. Like this scroll, for example.

It said:

Office of Princess Celestia, HRH/Office of Princess Luna, HRH
Castle of the Sun and the Moon
120 Harmony Avenue, Canterlot, Equestria
To: King Thorax, HRH, of the Changelings
Re: Declaration of Peace

Dear King Thorax,

We are overjoyed to see that you have established your authority in the eyes of your subjects and begun to take concrete steps to ensure a better future for them and the rest of the world. We trust your ability to usher in a new era and believe the leaders of other lands will soon see it too if they haven’t already.

In regard to your offer to establish friendly relations and negotiate an alliance, we would be honored to welcome you and any delegates you wish to bring. No effort will be spared in ensuring that your visit to Canterlot is a safe and pleasant one. We suggest 5th of October as the start of negotiations but are open to rescheduling if you would prefer a different date.

With kindest regards,
Princess Celestia
Princess Luna

I read the scroll again to help the words sink in. Princesses Celestia and Luna had honored their word! I wasn’t dreaming; the hive’s first peaceful alliance - possibly our first alliance of any kind - could be forged any day now! It felt like I was finally getting somewhere in clearing our infamous reputation! Even better, once Equestria broke the ice, other lands could follow suit, and we could be forging more alliances in no time!

So why wasn’t I as happy as I’d imagined I’d be?

I read the scroll once again, more slowly this time, and tried to picture what would happen when I got there. I didn’t have any kind of fixed schedule yet, so the suggested date was as good as any other. The Princesses’ stance on my intentions had been approving and encouraging from the start, so no surprise there. But what about their subjects? Wouldn’t they have their doubts, even outright objections? Especially since I was due to meet with the Princesses in Canterlot if I’d understood the scroll correctly? The invasion may have happened a couple of years ago, but would that have been enough time for the ponies to recover and move on?

And what about me? They’d said they trusted my ability to pull this off, but was that trust grounded in something more substantial than wishful thinking? After all, I had absolutely zero experience in the matter and about as much theoretical knowledge! I could check if Urtica had anything helpful - the scrolls she’d given me earlier had been a disappointment - but the meeting was in about two weeks; how much could I realistically learn in that time, assuming no matters of greater urgency interfered? And sure, Celestia and Luna may not try to take advantage of me, but what about any other leaders? I’d assumed this was going to be just between us, but they’d never explicitly said so! What if they invited some of their own allies too, and by that, I meant someone other than Cadance and Shining Armor, someone I’d never met or even heard of before, someone I wouldn’t know what to expect from? They’d probably have the best intentions by trying to introduce me to more than one ally at once, but would I be able to handle the situation? The future of the hive rested on my shoulders, and I had no idea what to do! I didn’t even know whom to ask for help, or even if there was anyling in the hive I could rely on!

And whom to trust the hive to in my absence? Several drones had by now proven to be valuable assistants, but I had no idea how many of them would handle the pressure of running the entire hive even for a couple of days! Granted, I didn’t exactly know what I was doing either, but it felt wrong to unload that responsibility on anyone just like that! Pharynx would probably manage just fine, but he presented a different kind of problem: how to put him in charge without risking that the entire hive be reversed to its previous state by the time I got back?

Oh well, there were still about two weeks left until I was due in Canterlot. I still had the time to figure it out. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but things were overall going in the direction I wanted them to go, so a bit of optimism wouldn’t hurt!

I went to find Zygoma to send her to Canterlot with a reply that I agreed to the suggested date. Oh, and to deliver the message without disguising herself this time!


The dawn of the big day shone pleasantly as I flew towards the Equestrian capital, the warm rays of Celestia’s sun caressing my face, whisking away the nightly chill and bringing with them the soft whisper of hope. Everything was going to be fine, the rising sun seemed to say; Equestria would see the change of heart in their former enemies, the ponies would trust their beloved Princesses that there was no reason to fear us any longer, and unity was only a hoofstep away. So peaceful was the morning, so soothing the landscape, that I could almost believe it! How could anything go wrong on such a gorgeous day? The ponies would undoubtedly be in a good mood, ready to forget our troubled past; Urtica was right there by my side to assist with the technicalities, and I wasn’t even going to need Grim and Banshee to keep me safe from the angry mob or Spiracle to tend to any injuries I sustained! I couldn’t wait to see the look on Pharynx’s face when I told him that the ‘protective trio’ he’d insisted on sending with me had proven unnecessary! In fact, the day was so beautiful that it wasn’t hard to imagine him and Psycho finally getting along and supervising the hive together, without the strife and backstabbing like I’d begged them to before leaving for Equestria!

Then Canterlot came into sight, and doubts once again cast a shadow over my hopes.

Images of my first visit to the city flashed in my mind. That day had started out just as glorious as this one, undoubtedly due to the hard work of the pegasi to ensure that no cloud obscured the early summer sun, and flowers had been in bloom and the birds singing and chirping blissfully almost like today. Part of me had wondered then whether any of it was the unicorns’ and earth ponies’ doing intended to enhance the experience of the momentous occasion, and though I’d learned since that this was what the normal world looked like, the sheer beauty of everything around me had never again been so overwhelming as on that day! Had some of that wonder only existed in my head, sparked by the awe at the unimaginable contrast to the dull, severe caverns and passages of the hive and to the screaming emptiness of the surrounding wasteland? Maybe so, but now that I was more accustomed to some actual life around me, the day looked like it would easily match that first one in magical beauty!

Except for one shadow creeping in, slowly but steadily with every passing moment.

The day of the wedding had started out as an epitome of perfection, but that perfection of beauty and ambient had done nothing to ease the blow of the invading swarm; the magic had turned to blood, the heartfelt songs had given way to screams of terror, and the sweet love had died away, leaving behind the cold murkiness of fear. One city had been struck, but the blow had rippled throughout Equestria, and though many days had passed since, the wounds still ran deep and unhealing, and for some, no magic in the world could ease the pain that my kind had caused them.

Many of these ponies, as I’d learned later, had sworn to never forget what had happened on that day, and no matter what, to never, ever forgive the ones who had made it happen. And now, I was heading to the very heart that had been broken so painfully, right to the deepest wounds still gaping open, wounds that had sworn never to heal!

The shadow pushed on deeper into my heart, veiling my hopes into an ever-thicker blanket of doubt.

What was I doing here? I asked myself as I flew on closer to the city. How could I of all people heal those wounds? What was it that made me so special? How was I supposed to undo that much damage? How could I hope to succeed when so many before me had failed? And if I couldn’t help them overcome the past, how would I ever convince them to embrace the future? How could I possibly show them the brightness of that future if they insisted to look at it through the darkness of the past?

Relax, I told myself, it might not be so bad after all. News of our reformation would have reached them by now, and Celestia and Luna would have surely informed their subjects that there’s nothing to worry about! They already made sure to welcome you with a beautiful day; you’ll see they’re eager to get to know you and to give you a second chance!

Then why was that shadow still clenching my heart?

I knew why when we got close enough to make out the particulars of the city’s collective aura. Whether or not some primeval part of me had sensed it before my conscious mind could detect the finer nuances, I didn’t know, but when I finally got there, I had all the answers I needed and all the justification in the world for the shadow’s stifling persistence! The aura was as bad as during the invasion, only a different flavor of bad: traces of the cold, murky fear still lingered, but the bulk of the aura now screamed with burning fury and ice-hot hatred, leaving hardly any room for the bright warmth that I’d hoped to see!

I almost turned around and fled; nothing good could come of us being here! The Princesses would understand! And Pharynx had said this would happen; why hadn’t I listened? I should have listened to him; now I was at risk of not only getting beaten up by any ponies who may have noticed me arriving already - I was used to such things happening, having been through the ordeal too many times - but the drones accompanying me could find themselves on the receiving end too! No matter how trained they were, there was no way the four of them could stand up to the entire army of ponies!

They’d noticed it, too.

“Uh, Thorax?” Urtica said. “I don’t mean to question your judgment, but things aren’t looking too good over there…”

“Yeah, you sure this isn’t a trap?” Banshee added. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but, you know, shouldn’t we cut our losses and get out while we still can?”

Grim and Spiracle nodded. I almost agreed, but something stopped me. A sliver of bright warmth called to me from the ice-hot inferno, barely noticeable, but once I got a hold of it, I couldn’t let it go! Feeble as it was, it pierced a hole in the thick shadow still stifling my hopes, enough to breathe some life into them, and its song drew me closer despite every sensible fibre in me warning not to answer its call with so much that could go wrong! Though outvoted so fiercely, the voice of that call had all my attention now, and though drowned in many other voices, I knew with dead certainty who it belonged to.

“No,” I said, assured by the one voice among the million. “Celestia is waiting for us, and I trust her to keep her promise.”

As soon as we crossed the city limits, I thought I was going to eat my own words.

The ponies noticed us right away, civilians and Royal Guards alike. Ice-hot hatred flared up in them like never before, though the Guards were trying to keep it under control, presumably because they were under orders to ensure our safety and didn’t want any distractions. The civilians had no such restraints, and many of them started shouting, lit up their horns, or flew up to intercept us. Grim and Banshee positioned themselves in front of me in a perfectly-coordinated maneuver, and Urtica and Spiracle joined in on either side of me, albeit reluctantly. This puzzled me momentarily until I remembered them admitting they hadn’t been deployed to combat missions in years, and seeing how many ponies were very opposed to my arrival, I wished I hadn’t refused Pharynx’s insistence on more guards! But that wouldn’t have helped in the long run, I reminded myself; we were here to demonstrate our new peaceful ways, not to display force reminiscent of the old days!

A blast of magic hit Urtica’s flank and sent her tumbling head over hooves away from me before regaining focus, and a group of pegasi swarmed Banshee and Grim, who were both trying their best to shake them off without killing them, but there were too many ponies for them to really do anything even though the Royal Guards had by now begun some attempt at riot control! I had to help them!

Just as I’d changed my trajectory to rush head-first into the fight without the faintest idea what to do once I got involved, a colossal fly-trap flew in and closed one of its traps around me, swatting a few pegasi away as it went.

“What are you doing?” it yelled. “You’re gonna get yourself killed!”

“Spiracle? Is that you? Let me go!”

“No way!” Swat. “Pharynx said to-” Swat swat. “-protect you, and I do not-” Swat. “-want to know what happens-” Swat swat swat. “-if I bring him your dead body!”

I was going to remind him that I could just blast his trap open or turn into something small enough to get out when a flash of blinding light filled the sky, and all the fighting stopped instantly. The light then quickly faded, revealing its source, and the multitude of ponies bowed to her as she soared on to approach us.

My three undisguised companions needed a moment to realize what was going on, but when they did, they abandoned their battle stances and released the ponies they were holding, and bowed their heads gracefully to the newcomer just like the airborne ponies around us had done. The fly-trap quickly released me, reverted into Spiracle, and followed suit.

“King Thorax,” Princess Celestia said, “please accept my sincerest apologies for the way my subjects have welcomed you to our city!”

“It’s alright, Princess. I understand too well the stigma that my kind carries in the eyes of other creatures, and even our reformation is unlikely to change that in an instant.”

“I’m beginning to see how true that sentiment is. My sister has warned me of it upon witnessing the ponies’ dreams after your impending arrival was announced to them, and I have increased the Royal Guard presence in response to her concerns, though I see now that I underestimated the extent of the problem. In the light of this incident, our discussions will be all the more important!”

I nodded.

“Now, allow me to escort you to the castle. Would you prefer an aerial tour or a stroll through the streets?”

“Hmm… staying airborne may keep us out of trouble more easily, but I don’t expect that’ll be an issue in your presence, and if getting physically closer to the ponies would help them realize we’re not a threat anymore…”

“Very well.” She nodded to the nearby guard and he descended to street level, signalling his grounded peers to clear the way for us. We touched down and were quickly joined by a few guards in a loose formation as an additional measure to the cordon of guards on either side of the road that separated us from the civilians.

I didn’t exactly like having a military wall between myself and those I needed to convince about my kind’s newfound pacifism, but after what had just happened, it was probably a sensible thing to do, even if the ice-hot flavor of the city’s collective aura had dulled down enough that there may not be any further excesses of an angry mob. There still could be if the loudest haters were allowed a chance to rile the crowd, so I held back from protesting against the security measures. We were just going to have to take this one step at a time no matter how badly I wanted friendship to bud between ponies and changelings!

“Tell me,” Celestia spoke soon after we touched down and began our stroll, “have you had any success in finding more allies?”

“Not exactly. Other than you, only Princess Cadance and Shining Armor sent a positive reply to the declaration. A couple of couriers returned with no reply whatsoever, and most got ridiculed, accused of scheming, even attacked. One or two barely escaped with their lives, I’m afraid.”

She nodded as if she’d expected to hear that. “They will in due time, I trust. And how are your subjects handling the big change?”

Referring to them as my ‘subjects’ still gave me a cringe reflex regularly, but I tried to suppress it.

“It’s a mixed bag,” I said. “Most have accepted the new ways on the first day, some needed a bit of convincing over the following days, but there are still some who won’t budge. They haven’t attempted anything drastic yet, but I can’t promise they never will if they stay like that, and I’m running out of ideas what to do about them.”

“I’m sure you’ll win them over eventually, but in the meantime, don’t take it to heart. Every land has individuals one could call troublesome and it has nothing to do with how good or bad the leader is.”

“I understand, Princess; I used to be one under Chrysalis’ rule! It just feels like what they’re doing could undermine my efforts to establish peaceful relations with other lands, and that’s hard enough as it is…”

“Yes, your situation is somewhat specific, and while it wouldn’t be right of me to speak for other lands, I have every confidence that, as soon as my subjects come to realize that most of you are truly reformed, the few still clinging to the old ways won’t be so much of a problem in their eyes!”

“How so?”

“They’re still generalizing based on their previous experience with the changelings, but when they get to know you as individuals, they’ll come to realize that stereotypes can’t apply to all even if they may still fit someone, and that your past doesn’t define who you are now.”

“Forgive me if I’m prying, but that sounded like… personal experience?”

“You are right. My sister had to battle the demons of her past after returning from her long banishment. What you are facing today reminds me of her struggle to overcome her own stigma of Nightmare Moon.”

I could slap myself! “Of course! She told me about it the last time she visited my dreams! How could I have forgotten?”

Celestia chuckled. “I’ll take it as a sign that she has succeeded, then.”

“Speaking of Princess Luna, where is she? I got the impression I was to meet with both of you…”

“She will meet us at the castle. There were a couple of last-minute details she had to take care of.”

As if on cue, the younger alicorn descended from the sky to meet us, even though we weren’t at the castle yet.

“Greetings, King Thorax, and welcome to Canterlot,” she said. “Please forgive my late arrival. I do not mean to disrespect. I was delayed.”

“It’s good to see you again, Princess… uh, both of you, I mean, if I didn’t say it already… and, uh, no offense taken.”

She eyed my entourage. “Your brother does not accompany you?”

“He stayed in the hive. Kept rambling about needing to protect it and wanting to make sure Chrysalis doesn’t reclaim the throne in my absence… that kind of stuff… Anyway, he used to be First Commander, so I figured he’d know how to keep things in order until I return… not to mention that he’s still unreformed-”

“Your brother refuses to acknowledge your rule?” Celestia gasped.

“I wouldn’t say that. I think he doesn’t mind me being the king, he just has a very different idea of how I should go about it. Much closer to how things used to be, actually…”

“I do not mean to interfere,” Luna interjected, “but was it really a good idea to leave such a person in charge?”

“I assigned a reformed drone to share the responsibility with him and am hoping that’ll keep his old-fashioned instincts reined in, at least for a few days…”

“If you say so,” she shrugged. “May we have the honor of getting to know your companions?”

“Of course! This is Urtica, the hive archivist, Banshee and Grim, the security detail that Pharynx assigned to me for the duration of this visit, and Spiracle, one of the medics.” The drones nodded in turn as I introduced each one.

“Pleased to meet you all,” Celestia said to them. “Though this meeting was set up primarily for our discussions with King Thorax, we’d like you all to enjoy your stay here. If there is anything you’d like, please, don’t hesitate to speak up!”

“Actually…” Grim said, looking hesitantly at Banshee and then at me. “There is something we’d like - Banshee and me at least - and we hope it won’t make everything too awkward, but we feel like it’ll have to be done sooner or later, so maybe it’s best we get it out of the way now.”

Celestia’s posture stiffened a little, though she concealed it pretty well, but her love aura lost some of its brightness. Curiously, Luna remained mostly unfazed by the ambiguous way Grim had phrased her plea. I certainly wouldn’t be if they hadn’t brought it up on the way here! Could it be that Luna knew too?

“I’m listening,” Celestia said.

“Princess Celestia, Princess Luna,” Banshee began, “Grim and I are the ones who abducted and replaced you during the last attack on Equestria. We were assigned to the roles and wouldn’t have been given a choice either way, but it didn’t matter because we thought we were doing the right thing by obeying the Queen’s orders. Before that, we were deployed to hunt for Thorax until he was presumed dead, and we didn’t see anything wrong in that, either. But a lot has changed since then and we began to realize that a lot of things we’d done in the past was wrong… Thorax made us realize it.”

“It’s no accident that we’re the ones accompanying Thorax to Canterlot today,” Grim continued. “We asked Pharynx to choose us. Okay, we begged and pestered until he gave in - apparently he’d had someling else in mind - but we refused to give up because this is the best chance we may ever get to ask your forgiveness.”

“We come to you as two individuals who have wronged you personally, and if that’s the extent to which you’ll consider forgiving us in the predictable future, then so be it. But in doing so, we hope to set an example for the other drones to admit their own misdeeds towards other creatures as well, and hopefully serve as proof to our former enemies that our plea for friendship is genuine.”

A moment of silence followed until Luna’s chuckle broke it. “I must say, sister, she does sound a little like you. I can see why she was chosen for the task,” she said.

“What?! That’s not why- I mean I wasn’t trying to- we weren’t trying to- we just wanted to be respectful-”

Now Celestia chuckled too. “No need to get flustered, Banshee; we understand and hold no grudge. You are forgiven.”

Luna nodded. The two drones let out a slight whew. Celestia motioned us to continue our stroll to the castle.

“Tell me, my little changelings,” she said as we walked, “what do the four of you do now that there will be no more wars to prepare for?”

The four of them exchanged hesitant glances. Assuming it was because they hadn’t expected to catch the Princesses’ interest like this, I gave them an encouraging nod.

“Uh, like Thorax said, I’m an archivist,” Urtica said when noling else had displayed an ambition to be the first to speak up. “I did that under Chrysalis and it just stuck. Most other non-combative officials got to keep their jobs too, probably due to lack of suitable replacements- uh, not that I’m complaining! I like my work! Oh, and no awkward confessions from me! I wasn’t even in the first invasion of Canterlot!”

“Aren’t you going to confess to guarding military secrets?” I asked jokingly.

“I didn’t bring them there! I just- oh, you’re teasing me. Heheh… I’ll just… um…”

“And I used to be a medic in the old days,” Spiracle said. “Still am. I was in the Canterlot invasion force for the wedding, but most of what I did revolved around treating the injured drones. I didn’t get around to doing much damage.”

“How did you choose to be a healer?” Luna asked.

“I didn’t. None of us got to choose our functions and assignments in the old regime. We mostly ended up doing what we showed the most talent for in military training.”

“I am not sure I understand how that relates to becoming a healer.”

“Basic treatment of injuries is taught in military training because a medic may be too busy in the battlefield to treat everyling, or because he himself could be injured or killed, and on the other hoof, infiltrators have to be able to rely on themselves if they get sick or injured because requesting medical assistance from institutions in their area of deployment runs the risk of blowing their cover. A medic may still be deployed to treat a sick or injured infiltrator if the infiltrator can’t handle it themselves and their position is strategically too important to abandon it and no other infiltrators are immediately available to take over. I was marginally passable in combative and infiltrative skills but showed a decent understanding of the medical portion of the training, so here I am.”

“I see,” Luna said. “But you have an opportunity now to partake in activities other than your healing duty, do you now?”

“Well, yes, but I kind of like being a medic, and the only other thing I could think of was to reunite with my mate, who happens to be Banshee here.”

Banshee blushed.

“So it is not a coincidence that you were the one to accompany Thorax here, rather than another healer?”

“Actually, it is. Pharynx showed up in the infirmary one day and asked for volunteers, and I raised a hoof. I didn’t know then that Banshee and Grim were planning to weasel their way into the entourage.”

“Well, it’s not like I have anything better to do!” Banshee protested. “And I wanted to apologize!”

“You haven’t found your new purpose?” Celestia interjected.

“Not in the sense of having duties to the hive, but Spiracle and I are planning to raise our nymphs now that Thorax has abolished the old practice. Grim started working in the hatchery recently and has helped track down our nymphs, but we’re still getting to know one another and giving them space to decide whether or not they want to live with us as a family.”

The Princesses looked confused so I explained the egg-laying privilege of the drones deemed worthy enough and the separation of eggs from the parents to ensure loyalty to the Queen.

“Why am I not surprised that Chrysalis would come up with something like that?” Celestia muttered.

“How many nymphs do you have?” Luna asked.

“Three,” Spiracle said. “Ocellus, Nettle, and Cicada.”

“We earned the privilege twice, both times with each other, which is pretty uncommon,” Banshee added, then sighed heavily. “There would have been five more, but we just found out that an earthquake destroyed four eggs of our first clutch and only Ocellus’ egg survived, and one of the larvae from the second clutch was blind so a hatchery guard killed it.”

Killed it?” Luna gasped. “Why?”

“It was standard practice with impaired drones. Without the eyesight, it couldn’t serve the Queen and would only be a liability to the hive.”

“That won’t be happening anymore,” I interjected, seeing the horror and disgust in the Princesses’ eyes. “I made sure every single hatchery worker understands that! We’ll find a way to heal or work around the drones’ physical impairments and make sure they have a happy and fulfilled life! I just wish it weren’t too late for some…”

Banshee and Spiracle nodded appreciatively even though I’d already told them that when expressing my condolences for their loss when they mentioned it during our flight here. The Princesses did the same.

We were at the castle’s gates now. Urtica was going to accompany me to the discussions, and the other three settled down to wait. We were about to enter the castle when two ponies and a dragon materialized next to us.

“Are we late? Oh good, you’re here! Sorry we’re late!” Twilight exclaimed.

“It’s my fault,” Starlight added sheepishly. “I overslept. Sorry!”

Spike waved at me. I grinned and waved back.

“It’s quite alright, girls,” Celestia said. “We haven’t started yet.”

“Great! I’d hate to have missed this!” Twilight rambled on. “I know I almost messed up with the yaks, but now I’m more experienced and hopefully better prepared - at least I think I’m more experienced and better prepared - and I’ve met you before and we’re friends already so it shouldn’t be too hard- I mean, I hope we’re friends and I hope I won’t mess up and derail the whole thing and start a war-”

“Twilight, breathe,” Spike interrupted her. “Uh, sorry about that, guys. I think she’s been up all night going over the notes for the gazillionth time.”

“I was not!” she protested. “I went to bed at four AM! That was five hours ago!”

Starlight tried to suppress a snicker and failed. “Yep, typical Twilight! You kept me awake with all the pacing and blabbering, for the record, so please cut down on the lectures next time I oversleep an important event.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine. Can you spend time with Thorax’s companions? Befriend them, give them a tour, whatever they want.”

“Sure!” She went to join them.

“Shall we get started?” Celestia asked.

The rest of us agreed and she opened the castle gates.

Author's Note:

Happy Pride Month! I most likely won’t publish any Pride-related stories this year due to lack of inspiration on the matter, but I expect to be able to squeeze the next chapter of this story into the end of June (there won’t be anything Pride-related there either, just a regular chapter), unless 24-hour shifts mess me up and I forget. There's a cluster of them around that time :twilightoops:

On a semi-unrelated note, there was a Pride march in my area today, so I attended and did some filming. The video is compiling at the moment, and I can add it here when it’s done if anyone is interested to watch. Don’t worry, I always put English subtitles in them, though it’s the middle of the night here as I type this, so subtitles might have to wait until tomorrow :twilightsheepish:


Edit 6-Jun-2022:
I made two videos in the end - one that includes mostly the speeches aside from a few inserts from the march's route through the city, and one where I just filmed the people as they passed by near the end of the route (minus the very beginning of the parade because by the time I got to the suitable spot and managed to set up, they had already passed by). I also added some music for the second one and something tells me you guys might appreciate the selection :twilightsheepish: