• Published 1st Jan 2022
  • 1,327 Views, 278 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.

  • ...
7
 278
 1,327

Welcome Home

“Hey Pharynx, I’m back!”

He stopped trotting down the hallway just long enough to barely look at me.

“I can see that,” he retorted and kept moving.

I joined him.

“Well?” I asked eventually.

“Well what?”

“Aren’t you curious about how it went?”

“Let me guess. You had a cuddling session that lasted all morning, and then you sang songs and picked flowers.”

“Uh-”

“No? Then obviously nopony managed to get to you past the bodyguards, or your antlers would be sticking out of your other end.”

What?! “Pharynx!”

“Are you saying that you suddenly, miraculously developed adequate combat skills out of nowhere despite being an utter failure all your life?”

“No, I-”

“There you go.”

“Ugh, why-” I rubbed my temple. “Can’t you ever talk about anything other than fighting?”

“So you’re telling me there was no fighting? No resistance to your arrival whatsoever?”

“Well, uh…”

He waited for me to continue with that annoying, come-on-admit-I-was-right half-frown, half-smirk that he’d often sported while listening to how my attempts to befriend other drones had gone when we were younger.

I groaned, knowing there was no moving forward until I admitted everything. “Alright, fine! Half of Canterlot attacked on sight, but Celestia stopped them!”

“And the other half?”

“Earth ponies unable to reach us in the air and Royal Guards under orders to not attack us.”

“Told you.”

“It was only at the beginning! They calmed down later!”

“Of course they would. You were leaving! You know, good riddance?”

“No, I mean just after Celestia showed up, and all the way until the end. Starlight spent the day entertaining Banshee, Grim, and Spiracle, showed them the whole city, and there were no incidents whatsoever!”

“This Starlight is the one with insanely strong magic, right? Almost alicorn level?”

“Yes, why?”

“So don’t you think the puny mortals of Canterlot were just afraid of getting fried if they hit her by accident and she returned fire? And I think even you understand why they wouldn’t disobey Celestia right in her face!”

“Why do you always have to see the worst in everyone and everything?”

“And why do you always have to delude yourself with rainbows-and-sunshine scenarios that have no chance of playing out?”

“They do play out, Pharynx, and you’ll see it if you just give it a chance!”

“Oh yeah? Give me one example when it worked!”

“Me getting Crystal Empire citizenship, finding friends there, thriving there, defeating Chrysalis - okay, that last one wasn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows until the end, but-”

He facehoofed. “Don’t remind me. I still can’t believe what eyesores everyling became! The only thing it’ll do is help the enemies see us better!”

What enemies?! Pharynx, I just signed a peace treaty with what used to be our strongest enemies!”

Strongest enemies, maybe, but not nearly the only ones, and the rest of them will be a tough shell to crack if they unite against us! Heck, they don’t even need to unite! All they have to do is to happen to show up at roughly the same time!”

“Why would they do that? I sent them declarations of peace!”

“Thorax, you’re so irreparably naive that I can’t believe we’re related…”

I sighed. We’d been through such conversations countless times and he’d always come out on top in the past. It was hardly surprising, as I’d had no proof then that my ideals could work, but they had worked in the end! That should have been all the proof he’d ever need, and he was still refusing to see it! What was I going to do with him?

“What else did you negotiate?” he asked eventually.

“Huh?”

“You didn’t spend all that time just sitting there signing a ‘Best Friends Forever and Ever’ scroll and sprucing up the signatures to make them look cute and fancy. Even you couldn’t go that far. Are there any concrete benefits for us or did you let them sneak enslavement in pretty wrapping onto us?”

I tilted my head at him. What did he mean by ‘enslavement in pretty wrapping’?

He rolled his eyes. “Oh, quit staring like an idiot and just tell me what was decided!”

“Okay, um, there are several points. Equestria will release all drones held in their prisons and return them to us. We already released the cocooned ponies, so this’ll make us even. The Princesses will work on changing the public perception of us, which is something I’d already started on a smaller scale while living in the Crystal Empire, but it’ll be an ongoing process now and will require our cooperation. As long as we don’t do anything illegal, we’ll be free to stay in Equestria for as long as we want, but we agreed that this may not be the safest thing to do this soon after the reformation, so don’t expect drones flocking back to the cities they used to infiltrate. The ponies will extend their railways to reach the hive, but construction won’t be completed overnight, so I expect it’ll be a while before hordes of tourists start showing up here. Mail delivery should work sooner than that, though, so we won’t be cut off from the rest of the world like before. I also gave them the scarab communicator that Grim and Banshee had left behind and taught them how to use it in case of an emergency. We will help each other in emergencies, mind you.”

He mulled it over. “Hm. You almost make it sound sensible.”

Almost?

“The communicators are supposed to be a military secret. I get it that we aren’t using them right now as you recalled everyling to the hive, but I still think giving them away was a mistake. What if they use it against us?”

“How? It’s just a communicator!”

“They’re creative! They’ll figure something out!”

“But why would they do that? We’re planning to forge an alliance in the near future!”

“I hope something will kill me before that happens…” he muttered.

“Pharynx!”

“What? I spent my whole life fighting against ponies and tricking them into submission and now I’m supposed to be best buddies with them? Forget it!”

“But there are obvious-”

“-benefits to sharing love over stealing it, blah blah, you’ve said it a million times already! I don’t care!”

“Can’t you just once trust your little brother?”

We were at the entrance to my bedroom now and he waved his hoof around, mostly at the gates of the royal bedchamber and the First Commander’s bedchamber.

Trust?! I can’t even trust you to sort out who sleeps where! Didn’t you say ages ago that you’ll discuss with Psycho and me which of us gets the First Commander’s quarters and which has to move out? You said we’d discuss it ‘in the morning’ but Psycho is still using that room and I’m still bunking with you and you never said a word to suggest that you care if we like that arrangement!”

“You’re right… I’m sorry. It… it slipped my mind… Wanna discuss it now?”

“Thorax, it’s almost midnight, and you know as well as I do that it won’t be settled in two minutes.”

“Okay… so, bunking with me one more night, then?”

“Eh. Whatever.”

We went in and settled down in our usual spots. I noticed pretty soon that the slime bubble that served as my bed was somewhat… bouncier, for the lack of a better word… than usual. I poked and prodded at it, as if that would provide any answers.

“What?” Pharynx said, looking at me intently.

“Did something happen to this while I was away? It feels different…” Now that I’d said it, I noticed the sinister aura was gone! Not just faded below the threshold of my passive senses, but completely and undeniably gone as if it had never existed!

“I did some agility drills here and tripped and the thing broke.”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “You tripped.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Pharynx, you don’t trip. I’ve never seen you do anything clumsy! What really happened?”

He muttered something that sounded like, “You kept whining about it so I threw it out and made another.”

“Really?! Aww, that’s so sweet of you!” I hopped down and hugged him. “Thanks!”

He pushed me away.

“So, uh…” I said. “What else did you do while I was away?”

“Take a guess. I’ll give you thirty-seven attempts.”

“Why thirty-seven?”

“Because it’s gotta be that hard!”

I let out an exasperated sigh. “You wouldn’t know what happened to Antenna’s plants?”

“Yes, they grow way faster than any normal plant has a right to.”

“That’s because she managed to get hold of a potion that speeds up growth. It’s not exactly something you can find on every step.”

“But plants are, thanks to that stupid potion! Who told her she could get it and why did she have to use it on every single thing that sprouted out of the ground?”

“I told her, and she did it because this place could use a little livening up.”

“Didn’t you already ‘liven the place up’ plenty enough with that freakshow of the way everyling looks like?”

“You think I had a say in how we’d end up looking? I had no idea it was going to happen until it did!”

He rolled his eyes, then closed them and laid his head down on his forelegs.

“So what happened?”

“To what?”

“To the plants. Do you know why a lot of them are destroyed?”

He opened his eyes again and raised his head. “Because how do you expect me to see the enemies from far enough away to do something about them if there’s a whole jungle for them to hide in?”

“It was you?! Pharynx! How could you? Antenna worked so hard on them!”

“Then tell her to find a different pastime if you want to spare her feelings!”

“Why don’t you leave the plants alone instead?”

“And put the hive in danger?”

What danger?! We haven’t been attacked in… uh, how long?”

“That’s because anyone with common sense knew to avoid Chrysalis if they wanted to live. Oh, and there used to be this powerful magic-controlling throne thingy that made many strategies against us impossible! Too bad it isn’t there anymore!” He scowled. “I wonder who blew it up and why!”

“My friends’ lives were on the line! I had to do something!”

“And now every single one of your subjects is the one whose life is on the line because of it, and yours too, by the way! Way to go, Your Highness!”

I groaned. “Anything else you want to tell me?”

“Only that I sent Brutus, Cockroach, Screech, Heathen, Vampire, and Carnage to the infirmary a few hours after you left. They’re probably still there.”

Uh-oh. “...what did you do?”

“I went easy on them. Psycho said you didn’t want any killing.”

I facehoofed. “No, I- Why did you do… whatever you did?”

“Because they were starting a campaign for rejoining Chrysalis or bringing her back here to reclaim her crown. Or both.”

“...okay, I… I guess I can’t blame you for dealing with that, but couldn’t you have found a less drastic way to do it?”

“This was the less drastic way.”

I stared at him.

“Non-lethal, remember? I mean, it’s not like you were getting anywhere by asking them to please be a goodie-goodie-ponyhooves, pretty please!”

“Please tell me you didn’t hurt anyling else!”

“No need. They got the message after the first half-dozen. And not because you just said please! Now will you fall asleep already or do I have to bite you into unconsciousness?”

“Fine… good night, Pharynx!”

“Mmmh.”


A few routine days had passed until a black cloud appeared on the northern horizon. I first saw it while receiving news from a couple of couriers about Neighpon and Abyssinia’s response to the peace declaration. Neither land had shown much interest in starting any negotiations, apparently, so I dismissed the couriers, wondering if there was anything I could have done to spark a little enthusiasm for befriending us in any of the lands beside Equestria and, presumably, the Crystal Empire, whose reply I had yet to receive. I didn’t really expect an aha moment or a surge of inspiration, but when it didn’t come anyway, I sighed and looked at the sky, as if that would give me the answer I was looking for.

The black cloud had grown considerably and moved closer.

As if on cue, Pharynx wandered into the throne room, took one look north, and propelled himself into the air.

“Told you this would happen!” he yelled at me as he flew toward the incoming cloud. “But no, you just won’t listen!”

An invasion? It couldn’t be! Equestria was north and they were as good as our allies now! Why would they have sent an army? But what if Pharynx was right? What if Celestia and Luna had only pretended to want a peace treaty so they could launch a surprise attack? I dismissed that idea right away; they’d been genuine, I was sure of it! But who could be invading from the north, then? Griffons, maybe? But did they even have an army? Dragons? Not likely; they were supposed to be big enough that I’d recognize their individual shapes from this far away, and anyway, they should be coming in from the east! Unless they’d sent smaller dragons and opted for a different direction in order to confuse us?

And what should I do? I wasn’t ready for this!

I needed a minute to stop hyperventilating, and by the time I did, the cloud was close enough that I could make out shapes of the creatures that comprised it.

Oh. Changelings. They must have been the ponies’ prisoners, released and sent home! I hadn’t expected it to happen this soon!

I also hadn’t expected to see Pharynx so deflated as he was while leading the swarm to me. Could it be that he was embarrassed by having misjudged the situation? I wanted to dismiss the idea; Pharynx never got embarrassed! Furious, yes. Grumpy, definitely. But embarrassed? This had to be a first!

Of course, he’d never admit it. If anyone dared suggest such a thing, he’d rip their head off! He may not do that to me, but I was sure he’d come up with an alternative just as unpleasant if I tried to ask, so forgetting that I’d noticed anything amiss about him was probably the safer option.

Either way, the drones had by now gathered around me, most of them still airborne as the throne room was too small to accommodate them all, and Pharynx positioned himself close to me but not too close, probably wanting to make it clear to the newcomers who was in charge here while remaining at hoof in case any of them tried anything.

Okay, so I was expected to say something, by the looks of it… a bit of a heads-up wouldn’t have hurt, but oh well. If I’d improvised the first time addressing my subjects and survived, I could pull this one off, too!

...or so I kept telling myself.

“Hello, everyone,” I began, “and welcome back to the hive! You must have noticed already that there have been some changes around here recently. I’m not sure how much you’ve been told, but for any of you who don’t know yet, Chrysalis has been overthrown and is on the run. I’m Thorax, and I’m your new king.”

I wasn’t sure how much of my discomfort with the said title showed, but noling took it as an opening to berate my impertinence or get physically violent. This wasn’t to say that they all appeared satisfied; a fair number of them grumbled among themselves, and though most were showing no response either way, some still nodded or shrugged as if willing to hear me out. Better than nothing, right?

“The leadership of the hive isn’t the only thing that’s changed,” I continued. “We’re introducing a new lifestyle and a new set of values, but the most important change, one that started it all, is that we’ve learned to share love through friendship, and because of that, we no longer have the need to steal that love from others.”

“That’s it, I’m done,” one of the drones shot back, eliciting nods from some of the others. “I’ll take my chances with Chrysalis! Even being locked up was better than this idiocy!”

He started to fly off, followed by the group that had agreed with him, but Pharynx intercepted them.

“Get back there and behave yourself, Rascal!” he growled. “All of you! You will listen to your king, or I’ll find those timberwolves and have them finish the job!”

Rascal…

Images flashed in my mind again: a trek through the Everfree Forest interrupted by a team of drones hunting for me, and a pair of timberwolves arriving just in time to provide me a way out… a glimpse of a bloody scene and a lingering timberwolf just barely deprived of my flesh… and the next day, a fall from Canterlot and a fight against a drone as injured as I’d been… my fangs spouting venom into his bloodstream as he pinned me to the ground… a group of Royal Guards carrying him away as I watched hidden in a bush… No wonder Rascal wanted nothing to do with me! Self-defense or not, it was my fault that he’d been imprisoned when his place in the dungeons should have been mine!

The dungeons had taken a toll on him. His wounds of that fateful day had healed, but he’d since earned a different kind of wound, one invisible to the naked eye and even hidden from a changeling’s senses unless one knew where to look. He was doing a pretty good job of not showing it and acting like his old self, but the emptiness in his eyes told me everything: along with his freedom, he’d lost all hope. It had wilted and died away, and now, he was an empty shadow of the vigorous drone he’d once been. I’d only known him for two brief encounters, but this gaping hole in him hurt me more than I could have guessed at that brief moment when instinct had led me to drive my fangs into his flesh and substituted him for myself before the Royal Guards in an act of self-preservation!

He’d grown thinner, paler. The obvious explanation would be that he’d had little access to love, but I suspected the lost hope was the main reason. I’d needed Pharynx’s remark to recognize him, and I’d needed it because he was ih a state that had been my fault! Whether or not I would have gotten to where I was now had I acted differently, it was no excuse!

I flew up to him.

“Rascal,” I said, “I’m not sure if you remember what happened-”

“I do remember,” he retorted. “I didn’t at first but it came back to me after a few months. Guess the brain doesn’t have anything better to do when you’re locked up in prison so it starts digging out suppressed memories, but you wouldn’t know anything about it, now would you?”

“You’re right, I don’t know what it’s like to spend over a year in prison. I’ve only ever been locked up overnight once or twice. I can only guess what you’ve been through-”

“Then stop wasting my time, traitor!” He started to fly off again.

“Wait!” I exclaimed.

He turned back and raised an irritated eyebrow.

“Look, I didn’t like biting you, and I wouldn’t have left you to get captured if I saw another choice, but that still doesn’t make it right, even if I acted in self-defense. What I’m trying to say is, I’m sorry.” I saw Pharynx facehoof in the corner of my eye but decided to ignore him for the moment. “You have every right to be upset with me, and if there’s anything I can-”

“Upset? Don’t flatter yourself, traitor! Being upset would imply that I had better expectations of you! You’re just as bad as I remember if not worse!”

“Watch your tongue,” Pharynx growled.

“I’ll say what I want!” Rascal shot back. “You won’t silence me again! When I find Chrysalis-”

“You will not go looking for Chrysalis!” Pharynx retorted.

“Or what, tough guy?”

“Or I’ll silence you permanently,” he hissed. “And I’ll do it in a way that’ll make you beg to be put back in prison!”

Rascal simply scoffed to that and disappeared into one of the hallways. Many other drones followed suit, most of them grumbling and looking daggers at Pharynx and me, until about half of the original swarm remained.

“Anyling else wanna cause trouble?” Pharynx spoke out. “No? Good. You’ll keep it that way if you know what’s good for you!”

I put a hoof on his shoulder, hoping he’d get the message and calm down. He did, though not without casting me a quick glare first.

“Uh, um… sorry about that…” I said to the remaining drones. “Where were we?”

“You said something about sharing love,” a drone said. “Can it really feed us? Seems a bit counterintuitive…”

“I know, but I came to realize while living with ponies that even the tiniest amount of love is much more filling when shared than when taken by force!”

“Honestly, I’m so hungry that I’d try anything if it’ll make the slightest difference,” another drone interjected. Several others nodded and murmured in agreement.

“How does it work?” another asked.

“It’s simple. Each of you has something you hold dear in life, something you couldn’t bear to lose, even if you don’t want to admit it to anyone including yourself. Years of training drills and iron discipline have suppressed it, maybe buried it so deep that you forgot it exists, but it’s there, still within you.” Many drones stared at me blankly, but a few gave a slow nod, as if coming to an understanding or encouraging me to continue. “You need to reach in to that something, let it out of the darkness it’s buried within, let it breathe, let it thrive, let it give you power. Recognize the feeling it evokes in you, embrace it, savor it. Don’t hold back; let that feeling grow, let it shine, let it overwhelm you until nothing else in the world exists but that feeling.” Some drones were beginning to catch on, others were glowing, but a few hadn’t yet begun to make any progress. “Feel it grow, encourage it, don’t shy away; embrace it, be proud of it! It’s what marks your true selves; give it the freedom it deserves, sing its song for all the world to hear!”

It was working! Almost everyling had caught on by now, and some were already popping out of their magical cocoons, reformed and colorful and full of bright, warm love they’d been stifling all their lives, unaware that what they’d hunted for in others could have existed within them all along if only they’d dared to allow it!

The throne room erupted with cheers and excited babbling; the myriad of colors danced around, drones hugging one another, admiring their new bodies, even hugging me every so often! The only things missing were a DJ booth, Pinkie Pie, and her party cannon! Oh, and a smile on Pharynx’s face, but that was too much to hope for under any circumstances.

Eventually the collective ecstasy dulled down and the drones went to start their new life in the peaceful hive. Pharynx left too, grumbling something about this being so sappy that I’d broken my personal record. Only one drone remained, still unreformed, peeking gingerly from behind a rock.

“Can I help you?” I asked, coming closer.

“I’m not sure,” she said. “I overheard a couple of drones talk about raising their eggs… is that one of the aspects of the new lifestyle that you mentioned?”

“Yes, eggs will no longer be separated from their parents, and everyling is allowed to have them with whomever they want, whenever they want! Was that what you wanted to know?”

“Well, uh… yes and no… I was actually wondering if there’s a way to find out what happened with the eggs that were already laid…”

“Oh, right, that! Your nymphs’ names should be listed in your service record, and they should have their own records if they’re old enough-”

“I don’t think they’re old enough,” she said bitterly. “I’m not sure if they’re even alive…”

“What do you mean?”

“I got sent to infiltrate a city just after I laid eggs, and got captured on the first day… at first I was too distraught by what Chrysalis would do to me if I managed to return to the hive to think about anything else, but then a few other drones got captured too and brought to the same prison I was in, and I heard rumors about them having heard that Chrysalis smashed some eggs because their mother had messed up bad and proven herself unworthy of producing the next generation of warriors, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were talking about me-”

“You’re Coxa, aren’t you?” I blurted out before I could stop myself.

“Yes…” her voice quivered. “H-how did you know?”

Oh dear… how to tell her? Her fears had already led her to guess the truth! She’d suffered enough; I didn’t have the heart to make it even worse! But I had to tell her! If not from me, she’d find out from someling else! But how to break it to her gently?

“Your Highness?” she whispered hesitantly, snapping me out of my trance.

“I’m sorry,” I sighed, hanging my head. Sorry for zoning out on you, sorry for what you’ve been through, sorry for the worries that plagued your mind… and above all else, I’m sorry for your loss.

She caught on to every unspoken meaning. “No…” she whispered, slumping onto the ground and bursting into tears. I sat down next to her and embraced her in a pathetic attempt to console the incurable wound on her heart; I held her for a long time as she wept bitterly for her unborn nymphs, for the faces she would never see and voices she would never hear, for the lives that had never gotten a chance to become the continuation of her own.

“It’s my fault,” she sobbed. “I should have been more careful, I-”

“It’s not your fault,” I insisted. “You couldn’t have known, you couldn’t predict the future…”

“But I should have known! I should have tried harder! It’s my fault they’re dead!”

It isn’t, Coxa. It’s never been your fault and it never will be! She could have forgiven you, or decided on a different punishment, or settled for the one you were already getting! I don’t like to cast blame, but the only one to blame here is the one who stomped her hoof on a clutch of innocent, defenseless eggs!”

“She did it because I failed her-”

“Is failing her really a bad thing?”

She stopped sobbing abruptly and looked at me for the first time since hearing the devastating news. Her bloodshot eyes fixed on me, looking for an explanation of something they’d never considered.

“Think about it, Coxa. She waged wars against the whole world, she treated us like slaves and tools to satisfy her hunger for power, and she never asked herself how we felt. She taught us to hate other creatures for the love they had so we wouldn’t want to become like them, full of love and capable of sustaining one another. She wanted us starving and believing we could never sate our hunger but by doing her bidding, and she liked to turn us against one another so we’d compete for privileges that are taken for granted literally everywhere else. You saw for yourself just now how much better everyling’s lives became when they dared to allow themselves the things that should have never been denied to them in the first place! Do you really think you owe Chrysalis anything?”

“Well, when you put it that way… but it still won’t bring my eggs back!” She teared up again.

“It won’t, and you have every right to grieve, but don’t for one moment think that you were the one who caused their deaths. You did not! Remember that, and let go of the guilt you’re imposing on yourself!”

She sat there in silence for another while. I didn’t press further; it was a lot to take in, and she was going to need time to process it all and to come to terms with it, and rushing would do nothing to help the matter. When she was ready, she would take the next step on her own.

Eventually she calmed down for the time being and pulled herself a little away awkwardly, but remained close enough for a heartfelt conversation, even another hug if she needed it.

“How did you know?” she asked.

“About your eggs?”

“Yes.”

“I, um… I was told to… to clean them up… after the fact.”

“You?! Weren’t you a low-clearance janitor back then?”

“I was.”

“So why send you to do it? Why not just tell a hatchery guard when it was among their duties anyway?”

“If you know that I was a low-clearance janitor, then you probably also know why.”

She nodded. “What does that have to do with it? I mean, the hatchery was beyond your clearance level and outside of Proboscis’ jurisdiction, so how did she get around to giving orders about it?”

“Chrysalis gave the order, not Proboscis. She was always looking for ways to punish me for my friendly nature and to threaten me into obeying her, and I guess this qualified. What she consistently failed to understand is that with everything she and most drones were putting me through on an everyday basis, I had very little reason to embrace her ways. In fact, I often thought of leaving the hive because of it all, but didn’t know how to pull it off without getting caught and punished… and because I still held on to the last sliver of hope that I’d find a friend in the hive if I just tried a little harder…” I sighed. “Your eggs were the last straw. I guess Chrysalis did succeed with me there, in a way, but not the way she wanted. It made me realize my hope of getting the other changelings to become friendly was futile, but instead of giving it up and becoming a soldier, I finally decided to try elsewhere, come what may, and improvised my way out as soon as I stopped crying for your eggs.”

“Did it pay off?”

“Yes, in the end, but it took a long time and a lot of grief and hardship to get there. I almost died a few times, almost got captured more than once - both by ponies and by the hunters Chrysalis sent after me - but I had a fair share of luck, too. Things got easier after I made my first friend but it still took a while before I stopped facing obstacles on every step. I won’t deny it, Coxa; it was incredibly hard, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat for the same reasons, as many times as I’d have to!”

“You make it sound so wonderful, and I think not without reason… I just wish my nymphs were here to see it…”

“Me too… and I wish they hadn’t had to die to set it all in motion…”

She said nothing. I looked at her and saw tears in her eyes again, not as overwhelming as before, but still painful to watch. I pushed myself to think of a way to comfort her, but then she got up and smiled weakly.

“Well, this was… thanks you for your kind words, Your Highness-”

“Just Thorax, please,” I interjected.

“-but I shouldn’t take up any more of your time… and… I think I need to be alone now.”

“If you need anything - a conversation, a hug, anything really - you can always come to me,” I said. “Or if you’d prefer someling else, I know of a drone with a similar situation.”

That caught her attention and she stopped retreating momentarily.

“She didn’t have her eggs destroyed, but she wanted them all her life and worked tirelessly for many years to earn the privilege, only to have it permanently revoked when her subordinates on a mission messed up. Her name is Grim and you can find her in the nursery, which is what the hatchery got converted into now that drones are starting to raise their own nymphs. There’s also a feelings forum for anyling who wants to share their feelings or ask others for help, held on most afternoons in the former Armory 17. Ask Feisty for details; she runs the meetings.”

“Thanks… I think I’ll do that...”

She left, and just as I was about to return to Proboscis’ weekly report that I’d been reading before the arrival of the couriers and the released prisoners, Elytra stormed in, nearly knocking me over.

“Whoa, sorry!” she exclaimed. “Princess Twilight activated the communicator and is asking for you!”

I didn’t need to be told twice. I galloped to the communication hub and arrived there in record time, a little out of breath and almost falling over my own forehooves.

“Twilight… sorry you waited… what happened-”

“Easy, Thorax!” she said. “There’s no emergency. I tried to tell that drone but she ran off before I could.”

“Whew, you had me worried there for a minute…”

“I can see that, and I’m sorry. I didn’t want to wait for an actual emergency to test how this thing works, but I do have something to tell you, so I figured I might as well do it by testing the communicator.”

“Oh. Huh, good idea. What is it?”

“Remember those ponies that died in their cocoons in the hive? The ones you released to us along with the surviving ponies and some of the animals when you took command?”

I nodded.

“We’ve just tracked down all of their families and I think you said something about wanting to apologize-”

“Yes, thanks! I’ll be at your castle right away!”