As a time of great prosperity comes upon the changeling kingdom, King Thorax invites some of his pony friends to attend their Gourd Fest. Twilight, ecstatic at this chance to study the changelings' customs, knows not how its outcome will truly be...
The Gourd Fest is a three-day-spanning changeling ritual a drone holds for a special individual in times of tremendous happiness and great prosperity. With how everything has changed in such a wonderful direction for them after Queen Chrysalis' defeat, they've decided to promote the tradition to a full-on festival the entire kingdom can be a part of. Upon one midsummer day, Thorax, king of the changelings, gleefully invites Starlight Glimmer and a few of her friends to attend the first, fast-approaching Fest with him and the hive. Tagging along with them with only the biggest of smiles on her face is Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight, ever the avid and agog learner, is positively eager to study and write about the customs of changelings during this joyous celebration up close. Thorax, ever the obliging character, is more than happy to show them to her first-hoof. And as fate would have it, a simple and amiable lesson taught in changeling culture won't be all either of them come out with by the time the Gourd Fest comes to its conclusion...
Note: I have no earthly idea why I like the Twilax ship so much, but I like it just about as much as the Sporax one. Also, the rating and tags may change over time, depending on where I go with it (hint - it's probably going to go the 'M' route).
Starlight Glimmer dared to look up at the grand blue sky. A sky filled with poofy white clouds that drifted along it in the way of a fleet of ships, both large and minuscule, upon a great river's smooth current. With a saddlebag filled with provisions and such hooked to her side, she was traveling upon a dirt road that led from Ponyville to the Changeling Kingdom. And along with her for the journey was three of her friends.
In the back of the group was Twilight Sparkle and Spike, the Princess of Friendship and her number one assistant, respectively, and they were a pair who were rarely ever apart. Spike, a young, purple-scaled dragon who lacked the quadrupedal mobility of ponies, was wearing a backpack and marched forth with much diligence. Twilight, her fur of a similar dark purple purple texture, seemed to carry just as many things of her own, judging from multitudes of packs and bags she wore in a near-towering formation upon her winged back, and floating in front of her eyes was a book to read while she traveled behind her comrades. Starlight knew well of her mentor's love of written knowledge, and she could see that it was one of the books Twilight herself had authored, based on the study of changelings.
Walking beside Starlight in the front of the group was another pony and her best friend, Trixie. A unicorn of many illustrious, self-given titles, Trixie was an azure-blue mare dressed in a long, flowing cloak and drooping wizard hat, both decorated with patterns resembling a starry night sky. While Starlight was carrying some simple saddlebags filled with supplies, Trixie was pulling along a wagon that not only acted a mode of storage for her many practical magic trick devices for performances, but also served as her home.
Starlight finished looking at the heavens above and stared at the rest of the road going onward, now intent to keep her eyes focused dead ahead. If she were to hazard a guess, they were nearly there. Another two hours more of walking was all to be had before they reached the kingdom. It would be a short distance to cover from here for sure.
However, with the distance they had already walked (a good day's worth, seeing how they left at midmorning and it was late noon already), combined with the sun's golden rays constantly shining down on her pink-furred body, Starlight was beginning to feel a tad weary. Up ahead, as she could vividly see, were a cluster of green-leaved trees that protruded from the woodland surrounding the path and loomed high over it. Their shadows fell like great blankets upon the long grass and dirt before them, just off of the path. In other words, it was the perfect spot for one who wished to relax away from the golden sun on a hot, muggy day. It was here when Starlight voiced her newest plan.
"Uh, guys... if it's all right with you all, I'm going to take a little break," she spoke, moving toward the nearest tree with the intent on lying next to its tall, thick trunk. "This heat's been killing me for the last hour. I'm going to rest my hooves for a few minutes."
"Me too..." Trixie mumbled in agreement, already stopping to the side of the road and unhitching her cart. Now free of it, she sluggishly moved up to the tree Starlight had chosen and sat next to it, basking with her in the ample shade provided by the great pillar of wood and the cool breeze that passed by.
"I third that," Spike groaned, flopping down underneath another tree nearby them and running his claws along the green crest of scales that ran down from his head to his tail. Twilight, shrugging but not saying anything, walked to her own tree after levitating her packs and bags from her body without so much as batting an eye. Fluffing out the great wings she bore, she sat down at its base and continued reading, unhindered, from her book.
"Whoo!" Trixie sighed and brushed some sweat that was building up from her hat-covered forehead with a flick of her hoof. As she straightened herself out where she sat and got comfortable, the unicorn turned to Starlight and nudged her friend's shoulder with her own. "All this walking we do sure can get tedious from time to time, Starlight. It's certainly quite the workout, eh?"
"Yeah, I'll say," she agreed with a smile. Starlight looked in Twilight's direction, and found herself somewhat surprised by her mentor's lack of shared weariness. "And if I didn't know any better, I'd say Twilight over there doesn't look winded in the slightest."
Trixie took the chance to peer over to the tree where Twilight sat and squinted her eyes. With a thoughtful hum she puckered her lips and tapped a hoof to her chin. "Now that you mention it, I haven't seen her skip a hoofstep since the journey began. And she's rarely spoken at all. She's just been keeping her nose in her books the whole way."
Starlight cupped her hooves to her mouth. "Hey, Twilight!" she yelled her way, gaining the alicorn's attention quickly. "You feeling tired yet?"
"Not at all!" the Princess of Friendship yelled back, performing an easy, flicking wave with her foreleg. She used her magic to flip a page on her book and turned her attention back to it, looking over the notes held in the precious tome. "I'm ready to go on whenever you three are."
"Alright, I guess. Just give us a few more minutes," Starlight said again. Sifting around in the insides of her saddlebag she pulled out a big bottle of water she took along for the journey, thinking to take a good drink from it before it was time to again move out. "You know, you look extremely enthusiastic to get to the Changeling Kingdom. I take it that you are?"
"Honestly, how could I not be?" Twilight spoke with unparalleled mirth in her voice, her eyes still held to her book's contents as she responded. "It isn't often that I get a real chance to learn something new about changeling culture, and the only time I really can do that is through letters Thorax and I frequently send to one another. But to actually partake in some of their activities, where I can get up close and in person with them? Now, that's a whole different subject altogether!"
With that, Starlight now fully knew why Twilight seemed so very perky. She huffed out a small sigh as she lifted her bottle to her mouth, taking in its cold, refreshing liquid contents and swallowing it down her parched throat. She looked next at Trixie as she screwed the cover back over it, licking her lips of the last droplets of water to cling there. "Well, Twilight's still fully adrenalized ," she said to her fellow unicorn in a voice low enough not to be heard by her mentor in question. "Heh, heh... You've gotta admit, Trixie; when it comes to a challenge or just something that she wants to set her mind to fully, Twilight goes all-out, huh?"
"I'll say." Trixie murmured a small chuckle, shifting her hat around on her head as a thought came to her. "Remember when I told you about that time when I put on that awful Alicorn Amulet? She showed me just how crafty she was when she tricked my power-mad self into taking it off after only a few illusions and practical tricks."
"Well, that's nothing when you compare it to just how far she went when I was in Canterlot helping Princess Celestia and Princess Luna solve a friendship problem that came between them," Starlight brought up, thinking back to the moment as both she and her friend snickered to themselves in memory of the first time the tale was told. "She used a music box figurine to help give me advice. A music box figurine. Even I didn't know that kind of spell!"
"And how when you said she appeared the exact second that you finished your mission? Who could forget?" Trixie let out another, louder laugh that she failed to make an attempt to conceal. Twilight seemed not to notice though, as she was far too engrossed with reviewing her works. "And when you explained how she dragged you away with a big smile on her face, spouting more words in ten seconds than any of us could say in a given hour?"
Her mouth remaining closed in an effort to contain herself, Starlight tittered with her until neither could laugh any longer. Minutes passed and they all were beginning to feel rested up enough. Sensing that it was appropriate to move out, Twilight, not wishing to waste any more time, was the first to spring back onto her hooves.
"Time to go!" she nearly sang out to the group, packing away most of her supplies back into her satchels and pack with a simple levitation spell. The only ones she kept out, revolving in the air around her like the moon and sun, were the few she planned on skimming over on the path they traveled upon before they inevitably reached their destination. "Let's get a move on! We don't want to be there after dark!"
Waiting just enough for her friends to get themselves ready as well, with haste in her stride the alicorn began trotting in a very merry fashion down the road. Rolling her eyes and forming a smile at the sheer amount of enthusiasm she witnessed, Starlight, along with Trixie and Spike, quickly followed on the path and practically had to run after Twilight to catch up with her.
King Thorax stood alone upon a balcony of stone protruding from a far, open end of his royal chamber, staring out at the blue, soon-to-be-evening sky at times, but mostly down to the land sitting far below. His hooves tapping anxiously at the railing of stone, he hoped so very much that he would get the chance to witness the coming of his friends. Because the area was located at the apex of the changeling hive he had plenty of opportunity to see any sort of oncoming characters. But even in spite of all the view he had to himself, he still had yet to see any non-changeling individuals trot down the path that led directly to the hive.
Thorax had sent out invitations and received word of who was to come and be a part of the celebrations less than a week ago. It filled him joy when he found out who would be coming, and all that mattered now was their arrival. As a matter of fact, his mind was so lost in the image of meeting them before nightfall that he didn't notice the sound of the doors leading into his chamber slowly open and the orange figure of a changeling half his regal height slip inside. She walked deeper into the chamber, in the direction of the balcony where she spied Thorax dwelling at the moment. Thorax eventually picked up the sounds of her hoofsteps treading over the stone floor and turned to face her accordingly.
"Hey, King Thorax," the drone, Mayfly was her name, greeted in a friendly voice. "I apologize if I'm interrupting anything, but I wish to speak with you."
"Oh, no, you're not interrupting anything," Thorax smiled back as he approached his subject. "I was just in deep thought. Is there something you need?"
"I only have a question," she continued on, looking up to his king's much taller shape in a way that conveyed nothing but respect. "I'm just a little curious about when the Gourd Fest's gonna start. Well, curious and excited. We've had all the preparations in place to begin for almost a week and I'm just raring to go out and get my own gourd."
"I'm very much excited too. And I promise, it will start tomorrow," he said, nodding his head and the regal set of mandible-like antlers that rested on his cranium on either side of his horn resting at its fore. "As you said, all the preparations are in place. But right now, we're just waiting for our guests of honor to get here."
"Are they some of the ponies who you said you invited a while ago?" Mayfly asked.
"Yep!" Thorax replied, his long, transparent wings flittering briefly on his back in apparent glee. "It's Starlight Glimmer, Spike, Trixie and Princess Twilight. Because this is going to be our first big celebration since we made peace with the ponies of Equestria, I wanted to include some of my friends from it."
"That makes tons of sense. And I hope that they enjoy it as much as we surely will," Mayfly's grin was as bright as the sun, but soon, as another thought came to her mind, it began to slowly fade. "But... how will they participate in the Gourd Fest? Do you think they'll adapt to well our customs? Do you think they'll fit in okay?" she inquired next, evidently anxious.
"I do," he confirmed, a warm, confident smile on his snout. "I've laid my trust in Princess Twilight on that part. She and I have sent a lot of letters to each other over the past few months. It's mostly to do with stuff about us changelings, which she said she was going to record and share with the rest of ponykind, just like how we're learning more things about friendship and sharing love."
"Ah," Mayfly hummed in understanding, "So she'll be the one to 'guide them along', so to speak."
"That's what I had in mind." Thorax's ears twitched as he emitted a small hum. "But -"
Thorax found his speech coming to a halt as his and Mayfly's attention were caught by the sound of the door to the room opening. Who they saw enter was a guard dressed in armor similar in appearance to the shell of a beetle; his actual chitin bright and yellow, while his eyes were crimson in texture.
"My king!" the changeling spoke up in a voice much lower in tone and gruffer-sounding than either Thorax or Mayfly. "Our foremost sentries have just relayed to us that they made contact with Starlight Glimmer and her band. They'll be escorted here within the minute. Shall we inform them that you wish to greet them yourself?"
"Yes, yes!" Thorax agreed with an expression of pure and unkempt excitement shining on his green-colored face, walking past Mayfly and moving a foot in the direction of the guard. He next raised a hoof his way and motioned for him to leave and do just that. "Allow them to come in! Show them to the entrance! Assist them with whatever they might need!"
"Yes, my king." The guard bowed and turned around, departing from the chamber in a swift motion as briefly as he had entered with the intent on fulfilling his given orders. Watching the soldier leave, Thorax looked back to Mayfly and gave to her a most relieved, if not still slightly tense expression.
"Well, they're here," he said. Breaking into a light trot, he began walking in the same direction as the guard had done seconds prior, exiting his chamber. "Time to greet them."
Mayfly followed by his side and stared up at him, her brow furrowed. "Pardon my assumption King Thorax, but you sound as though you're a little... nervous," she spoke to him, lightly. "Surely you're feeling nothing of that sort. You're best friends with the young dragon, your Highness. He and the ponies are some of your greatest allies."
"It's not that I'm nervous," assured Thorax to Mayfly as they both fully left the chamber and entered a tunnel. No sooner had they passed through wit when it closed behind them; the interior of the changeling hive still as random and ever-shifting as before the dethroned Queen Chrysalis. "I'm just... super excited."
"Heh. It wouldn't just be you, then. With ponies coming along and an awesome festival looming just around the corner, I think we're all super excited," concurred the fellow changeling. It wasn't long before the two entered a spacious area with a great many forming, disappearing, and again reforming holes leading to tunnels all around, and so took to the air, entering another on buzzing wings. Mayfly knew her time to leave her leader's side was well at hoof by the time she went into it with him and acted accordingly. "Well, I'll go off and tell the rest of the drones around the hive what you told me. Good luck greeting the ponies, sir!"
With a cheerful wink of her eye, Mayfly began in another direction, passing out of her king's sight after a scant few seconds. Now alone, Thorax soon left the tunnel and entered another one that formed before him. He traveled a fair distance more through the chaotic and ever-changing environment, when he came upon what he knew was the right place, judging by the many shapes of a gathered crowd of changelings standing upon the wide and open ground far below.
He caught a glimpse of decidedly familiar silhouettes amidst a more open spot of the throng, murmurs going about throughout it. By the time he landed upon the ground behind several of his subjects he recognized that they were the shapes of Starlight, Spike, Trixie and Twilight. Upon taking notice of their king, the crowd, having gone silent, split apart enough for him to pass through. Thorax did just that, but no sooner had he started walking through when a new, joyous sound hit his ears.
"Thorax!" As could be heard by anyone's ears, Spike's shout was filled with a tremendous sense of mirth. With speed in his stride, the young dragon ran past the ponies and changelings, and right on up to his great friend. "How're you doing?"
"I'm doing great, Spike!" Thorax replied, reflecting the young dragon's smile. "How's life in Ponyville?"
"It's as good as ever. Gimme some hoof," he requested with a smirk, raising one of his clawed arms up. Lifting his own hoof, Thorax smacked it against the end of his friend's waiting hand and then pulled him in for a small hug, his purple eyes closing in happiness. Some laughter escaped each of them just before their embrace could end, and as it did Thorax reopened his eyes and looked at his remaining guests with a visage of pure cheer.
"Hey, you guys! Don't think I forgot about you all..." he giggled lightly. Thorax moved their way until he was within a short enough distance to speak at a more proper level. "How are you all doing?"
Starlight, who was more than pleased to answer her friend, was about to do just that, when the sound of Twilight's voice spoke up from beside her. "Great!" the princess sounded with delight she simply could not hold in. "Positively great, King Thorax! And I don't think I can say enough about how extremely grateful we all are for you giving us the chance to attend this celebration. Right, girls?"
Stretching out her hooves, Twilight pulled Trixie and Starlight close to herself, as though waiting for them to agree with her statement. The two unicorns, shifting their somewhat startled eyes to one another, both eventually responded to Twilight's query to the unsure sounds of "Uh... yeah..."
Eventually letting them go, Twilight dusted herself off and looked back at the changeling king. "It's wonderful to be here, Thorax. And... I was told by one of the changelings who found us first that you have some rooms specially made for our stay here."
"We do," Thorax confirmed with a nod. "You can go and set it all down in your own right now. After all; it looks really heavy, if I say so myself. I can help you bring it there too, if you'd like."
"Heavy? Pshh..." Twilight shifted her luggage further up her shoulder, only to realize in that one moment that he might have been right after all. "Well, maybe it is a little bit. But I can handle it. Thanks for the gesture though, your Highness."
A drone, bearing an olive-green carapace and bright blue eyes, stepped forth from behind Thorax . "I'll lead you to your quarters, Princess Twilight," he requested politely, his voice a little nasally in pitch.
Before joining up with the drone, Twilight made sure to look back to her companions. "I'll see you after I unpack, girls," she spoke their way. "I'll be back soon."
"By all means, Princess. Take your time," Trixie responded in a most dry manner. As she watched Twilight move into the denser folds of the hive, she slid her attention onto the changeling king. "So... Thorax. Before anything else, can you inform us on the deeper aspects of this festival? It does have something to do with gourds, right?"
"It's about gourds, yes, but they only serve as a more minor part of everything," Thorax explained with a hint of reverie in his tone, thinking back to when he first learned about the old tradition. "It would take me a whole hour or more for me to tell you all the entire story, and a little longer to describe the coming festival itself. And trust me you guys, I'd love to, but I need to go do something before I can."
"Do what?" Starlight asked back.
"I just need to speak to Twilight about some things concerning the celebration in private," was his response. "If you'll both pardon me, I should go do that with her now. It'll only take me a few minutes, so I'll be back soon. But until then, why don't you all get set with your own rooms?" he suggested. After Starlight, Spike and Trixie looked to one another for guidance on the matter, Thorax gained nods of agreement from the three. Bowing his head to the two ponies and dragon, the changeling king turned about and flew off into the air in the direction Twilight took through the hive to get to her chamber, his wings beating fast all the way.
The journey was short and swift thanks to his power of flight, and soon enough Thorax had gotten to his destination just as Twilight was setting herself up in her chamber. It was nearly as spacious of an environment as Thorax's own royal abode, but decorated far differently. In the center of it was a frame-like construct carefully morphed around from stone by changeling magic to resemble a bed used by ponies, and upon its wiry, sturdy form was a white, cotton-stuffed mattress they had crafted.
As he entered the room Thorax witnessed the Princess of Friendship testing out the mattress and sewn blankets laying atop it, to her apparent joy. She soon took notice of the changeling king and they both greeted one another a little more properly than when they were both in front of the crowd. They talked for a short time, mostly about how the trip from Ponyville to here went.
"But seriously, you have no idea how happy I am to be back here," Twilight continued on from where she sat on the side of the bed. Turning her head over her shoulder to one of her packs sitting in the pile about a dozen feet away, a book, surrounded by the light-colored aura of the alicorn's magic, began to emerge and levitate toward her. "Thorax, by being here at this time, I'll be able to record everything there is to possibly know about this Gourd Fest!" As she finished her sentence, her face grew a little bit more curious as a sudden realization dawned on her. "I'm... allowed to do that, right?"
"Yeah, of course," Thorax easily replied, finally finding a comfy spot on the ground to sit on. "When Starlight wrote back to me that you agreed to come, she told me to prepare myself for all questions you might have. Writing my answers down and 'observing' how we act now that Chrysalis is gone, for that matter, is the least of my worries."
Putting a hoof to her chest and letting out a small sigh of relief, Twilight went to the next, equally-important question on her mind while her book opened up and flipped through the countless pages contained within. "And speaking of writing, I have a huge thing to ask of you. I remember hearing you mention it several times in the past, but I don't remember anything at all about this 'Gourd Fest'. I looked through my books on the way here with both the intent of refamiliarizing myself on changeling culture and looking for anything on the subject of the Gourd Fest, but I didn't find anything based on it."
"I was going to tell your friends about it too, and... I don't think we ever talked about it, either," mentioned the changeling king. "It was a minor kind of tradition meant to be about one drone doing a specific set of goals for another. But with all the changelings talking to me about crafting it into a... full-scale celebration, one which the entire hive will be a part of, I think it's going to become something more... well, major."
"So, you're making your own... type of holiday? And... and I get to watch you... make it? Up close?" Twilight's jaw dropped, as did her book when the magic that held onto it failed; the weighty tome then falling to the floor with enough force to push up a small cloud of dust and pebbles. Thorax could see a certain, ecstatic twinkling within the pupils of the princess' eyes, like the spectacular glimmer of a pretty gemstone when sunlight light struck it right. Eventually shaking her head, Twilight came back to reality and picked her book back up with her hooves and a wide, albeit slightly embarrassed grin. "This is... I mean, this is... wow. But... back to you, Thorax. You must feel so humble about this! How long did it take for you to comply to their wishes?" she inquired, placing the tome on a part of the bedspread beside her.
"A while, actually. I still don't think I'm used to being a king who can give such a big command like that in so minor a way quite yet." Thorax scratched at the back of his head with a hoof and gave off a small chuckle. "It took a small bit of time, but yeah, I eventually gave in. Everything seems too good right now in the changeling kingdom to pass it up. It's best to celebrate something grand before something else has the chance to come along and potentially spoil it."
"Considering all the crazy stuff that happens in Equestria? Yeah, that's a good move," agreed Twilight, whose thoughts went back to all the foes and conundrums she faced with her friends since the first day she met them. She shivered at the image of some of them. "Ugh... a good move indeed."
His head turning away for a few moments and staring at the wall a far ways off, Thorax could sense that it was time for him to leave and discuss matters with his other guests. "Princess Twilight," he spoke with light-toned politeness as he turned her way again, "I hope you, and our other friends for that matter, will find yourselves comfy here during your stay over the next few days."
"Don't worry. I'm positive we will," smiled back Twilight. She closed her eyes and clapped her hooves together in elation. "The only problem I'm feeling right now is the fact that I can't wait to begin the celebration tomorrow with you and your hive!"
"And I can't wait either." Thorax sighed and stood up from the rocky floor. "I'll let you have some time to yourself to unpack and get comfortable. As we speak, some changelings who know much about pony cuisine and how to prepare it are getting your dinners all ready. I'll stop by again and tell you when it's all done."
Giving a low, courteous bow of his head and spinning slowly about, Thorax moved toward the chamber's exit at a leisurely pace; his view kept on nothing in particular as his mind became wholly consumed once more by deep thoughts of how the events of tomorrow would proceed. However, as he walked off, Twilight had already left her own seat on her bed to tend to her pile of books and bags a short distance away, trotting to them at a pace faster than his.
As the princess moved toward them, she couldn't help but take an impressed look up at the point-tipped stalactites riddling the ceiling far above (none of which were hanging over the area where her bed was located, thankfully). And as she finally reached the bags which contained her precious and copious amounts of research, she realized that she had overstepped them by a meager foot from the sightseeing, and turned to them with a semi-self-annoyed flick of her ear. What she failed to notice was that by overstepping by that far, she was put in the pathway between Thorax and the door he was moving toward. With neither's eyes watching the other, Thorax's chest suddenly collided with her flank, and the unintended repercussions of the altogether minor collision were immediately evident. The unexpectedness of it, combined with the level of force from the impact, caused Thorax to stumble a short ways forward. His purple eyes widening in surprise after gaining a level-enough head, he spun it back to the recovering Twilight in a state of fear.
"Oop!" he gasped, his hoof moving to his mouth in what seemed like horror over the trivial act of simple clumsiness. "I-I'm so sorry about that, Princess Twilight! I-I didn't mean to-"
"Thorax, it's fine," Twilight calmly said his way with a reassuring smile, having not suffered anything damaging. "That was my mistake. Either way, it wasn't anything major."
"Oh. Okay then. Sorry about that anyway. I'll just... go now. S-see you at dinner!" he nearly shouted. With that, Thorax quickly scurried from the room before he had the chance to accidentally torment his guest any longer. Twilight, by his display, was swift rid herself of the thought and focused back onto her work.
Thorax laid easily upon his great, stone bed; the object, though not cushioned as pony furniture was, was comfortable for a changeling like him. The day had come and gone. His guests were well-set and prepared for the festivities that would begin as soon as the first ray of morning light struck the land. Everything seemed fine. Even his mind told him nothing was wrong.
Except, there was still one problem.
Thorax could not fall sleep.
No matter how much he tossed and turned upon his bed of stone, he simply could not fall asleep. His mind was far too busy racing back to earlier in the day. To one event that kept him awake and restless as it did. They were there for only a few dozen minutes, and he had already stumbled into one of his prime guests of honor. Yes, he knew the collision itself with Twilight Sparkle was an extremely minor in its form, minor enough for him to forget as the day went on. But as he was getting ready to fall asleep it came back to him like something utterly vengeful.
Were Chrysalis still queen and he to have still been but a drone, a whole different story would have played out. If he had the rotten luck to do that to one like her, the consequences would have been most dire. And with Twilight... a little piece of him expected a similar reaction to his blunder. And yet, in spite of it, she forgave him with nothing short of ease. Her startlingly calm and simple response was the image he kept going back to, again and again.
And in that one image, she looked so... lovely to Thorax, for lack of a better term. Her bookish, organized, and forgiving personality was one he found himself floating toward like a moth to a flame. That cheerful grin, that naturally observant and astute posture, that soft, velvety flank he had traipsed into...
Thorax closed his eyes and placed his hooves on either side of his head, shaking it to and fro until he rid himself of the sultry image. Sure, Twilight was a pony, but even being a changeling as he was, Thorax could see that she was an attractive mare. If there was anything about her that brought forth this queer sensation it was the ever-inquisitive sparkling he saw in her eye that warmed his heart every time she approached him with a question. And he was always more than happy to answer her.
Biting his lip, Thorax froze upon that idea. He could feel a peculiar warmth building up within his chest just picturing it. A warmth that left his heart beating harder than before, and his very soul drifting free within the brittle frame that was his body. But why?
The first being he had ever befriended was Spike, back when he was but a misfit drone who had left his hive and wandered northward to the Crystal Empire on his own admission. Spike, who saw through the image of him being a love-stealing monster his kind were oft depicted as (and for good reasons at the time), and whom later convinced the crystal ponies to trust in his judgement on Thorax's innocence. Twilight, present for it, was the first pony to accept him as Spike had. Upon hearing her assistant's explanation, Twilight did not even hesitate to step forward and personally extend her own hoof of friendship to him. And with those two's treasured words backing him, he was officially welcomed into the Empire by everyone else.
Had it not been for Spike, he would have never known about friendship. Had it not been for the machinations of both him and Twilight, he might never have become the king he was now. Friendship had aided him in achieving his destiny far more than he ever thought possible. And, perhaps... he wished it to be something more than just friendship with Twilight.
But how could she see him, a changeling - the king of changelings or otherwise - as anything more than just a friend? As someone worthy of her full attention and desire, like how he pictured her? The very idea sounded like a pipe dream. A silly thought. A silly, immature, and highly improper thought - nothing more. Thorax let out a sigh, knowing the futility of such a hope and how it would never come to pass.
Rolling over and attempting to get his focus back on the celebrations of his hive, Thorax could at last feel his weary mind dozing off. With a few deep breaths, he finally fell asleep a few moments later, entering a still, dreamless state.
As the late morning sun glimmered through the holed lining the changeling hive's walls, Trixie had only just begun to eat her breakfast. Sitting upon a smooth, stool-like rock, she poked and prodded at the small stack of what she was told were pancakes sitting on a plate before her with a fork, soon carving off a piece and eating it. She would've known right off what they were, had they not all born such odd and poofy shapes. They tasted good enough to her, though.
Only Starlight and herself currently sat here. Whole some had stayed to do their normal jobs and get the decorations ready, most of the changelings had all gone off to participate in the activities scheduled for the first day, and along with them went Thorax, Twilight and Spike. Trixie and Starlight planned to go as well, but each of them wanted a decent meal first. Starlight, who had long since finished her own breakfast, patiently waited for her companion to finish.
"So, Starlight," Trixie spoke up after swallowing her latest mouthful, gaining her friend's attention. "What's the whole story on this 'Gourd Fest' thing again? I just want a refresher on what we were told last night. Just to make sure my memory's clear."
Humming at this and tapping on her chin with a hoof, Starlight thought back to Thorax's exact words before coming up with her answer. "On the first day of the Gourd Fest, all available changelings are supposed to go out into the forest neighboring the kingdom and search for a... 'wyvern gourd'," she began to reply. "The second day is when work on the gourd is done in private, and the third day is when the gourd is presented to one or more of their friends or family they hold favor toward."
"Hrm. It'll be a most interesting adventure, I presume," Trixie said, exhaling a loud, yawning sigh as she finished . "You know, to go find a gourd."
"I'll say... Thorax told us how rare they are to find in these parts," Starlight agreed. As she spoke, a changeling drone of an amber coloration, who came by twice now to check on the guests, entered the room once more. As soon as he saw Starlight's empty platter and silverware he trotted over to collect them and bring them away to be washed. Unperturbed by his presence, Starlight continued, "I just hope we don't get caught out there for too long."
"Caught out in the forest for too long? Oh, you should definitely hope that does not happen," the changeling suddenly spoke up, intrigued by what little of the conversation he heard. He stopped and gave both the ponies a wary glare. "You had best keep your eyes peeled for any... dangerous creatures."
Trixie, putting down her fork, gave the drone an odd look. "What kind of creatures?" she asked him.
"Lots," was what he said next. "There's owlbears, there's goblins, there's trolls, and there's skiurids, for a start. And then there's the worms. This forest has many varieties of worms. Paleworms, tatzlwurms, and of course... ugh, velvet worms."
"Velvet worms?" Trixie questioned, her head tilting. "What's a velvet worm? That doesn't seem so bad. Why do you sound so disgusted by it?"
"It shoots gooey snot at you to immobilize you, and then calmly crawls up to you and delivers a venomous bite," was the changeling's answer, sounding much more theatrically grim than before. "And that's before getting into the details on how it slowly, slowly eats you, taking its sweet, sweet time throughout it all. While you're still alive."
"O-oh," was Trixie's response, her eyes widened as she pictured such a gruesome sight. "Ew..."
She was brought out of it a few seconds later when the drone delivered a playful pat onto her shoulder. "Relax, I'm just kidding about the velvet worms."
"Oh, thank Celestia..." sighed Trixie, putting a hoof to her chest while Starlight Glimmer, who knew the truth behind the 'monster' the changeling was describing, held in a genuine snicker. "So, they don't exist?"
"No, of course they exist. And they do all I just told you they did," said he, shifting the dishes around to a more comfortable grip in his hooves. "They're just small - no bigger than most caterpillars. Gotcha, didn't I? Tee-hehehee!"
A pout formed on Trixie's face as the changeling departed, and it only grew more noticeable when she heard Starlight let out a small laugh. It was clearly more good-natured than mocking, but Trixie disliked it all the same. "What're you laughing at?" she asked, grumpily.
"You," Starlight giggled back.
Thorax joined Spike when he set off with most of the drones. Even as the other changelings split up to cover more ground, Thorax accompanied the young dragon. And through it all, his brain could not rid itself of his clumsy memory with Twilight, which had returned no sooner than he had awoken. He was so preoccupied with it that he failed to realize that he and his friend had stumbled across one gourd, and that Spike had already cut it free from its vine.
"Check this baby out," he said, no small amount of pride in his tone. The gourd Spike had found was a particularly large specimen. It had a big, round body, which slightly thinned out near where its freshly-severed vine rested at the tip. Its surface, like all wyvern gourds, was dark green and covered in small, wart-like bumps.
Spike's brow lifted when he realized Thorax didn't respond. "Thorax?" he questioned. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, that's great..." he sighed, clearly not all that focused on the conversation at hoof. Blinking upon realizing the question Spike was asking, Thorax shook his head and sent his full attention back onto his best friend. "Oh! Sorry about that," he apologized. "I was just thinking about some things."
"That's okay," Spike said. "But anyway, what do you think of this?"
"Ooh... It's bigger than most I've seen," he complimented, gazing upon the gourd. "It'll take time to carve it the way you like. And there's got to be tons of seeds within it."
As Thorax finished his observation, Spike grew curious over his friend's lack of focus for most of the morning. "When you said you were thinking... is it because there's something on your mind?" he inquired next, politely. The changeling king, unable to keep himself from hiding the truth from his best friend, decided to reluctantly answer.
"It's Twilight," he revealed. "I can't... stop thinking about her." To this, Spike's eyes widened in further interest.
"You're thinking of Twilight?" he asked. "Why?"
"I... don't know," he murmured, looking away to the rest of the green woodland surrounding them. "I... bumped into her last night. Of course, I apologized to her for it, and she herself stated that she was perfectly fine. And yet, I can't get the image of it out of my head. I don't even know if I feel embarrassment over it, or something else."
Spike blinked once as Thorax finished, feeling like he was hearing a joke of some kind and expecting him to deliver the punchline to it. However, when no punchline came, the young dragon was quick to come to the realization that Thorax was being serious on this matter. "That's it?" he nearly chuckled stepping closer to him. "That's what's been distracting you all morning?"
"Yeah," the changeling admitted, his head drooping a small ways. "And I have no idea why."
"Ah, don't beat yourself up over it," reassured spike, shifting his gourd into one hand so he could pat Thorax on the shoulder in a comforting gesture. "If you're just worrying about Twilight still holding anything toward you for it, then don't worry. She's one of the most forgiving ponies you'll ever meet. I should know; I've had more than one mess-up as her assistant."
"I'll trust anything you say, Spike," Thorax responded.
"I'm just glad it wasn't anything super horrible. Now, to bring this back to the hive." Spike held up his gourd again, and as he did that, an idea hit Thorax. It was so striking that he could not help but voice it then and there.
"Um... Spike, would it be okay with you if I went to go check on Twilight?" he asked his dear friend. "I think she might have... a few more questions in need of answering."
"If that's what you think she needs, then sure, I guess," he replied. He smiled again as he looked over his prize, turning it about in his purple, clawed hands, already thinking of the designs he would carve into it. "When you see her, can you tell her I found my own gourd? I don't want her to go the extra length and try to find one for me. Celestia knows she would do that."
"Alright," Thorax agreed. He extended his insectile wings and they began to flitter. "See you later, Spike."
"And I'll see you. Good luck talking to her!" wished Spike. He waved to Thorax as he saw him fly off into the sky above the forest, hoping for the best.
Throughout her venture through the great forest, Twilight followed and observed several drones go about and collect their wyvern gourds (with their permission, of course). She jotted her notes down upon the page of a book she brought along and kept safe within a saddlebag, and was feeling immensely pleased with herself over these findings. When it was clear that she had all she required from them, she decided it was appropriate to go find her own gourd, and so traveled out into the depths of the forest by herself.
She was quite aware of what dangerous creatures had the chance to be lurking within it, but with her magic and knowledge on how to potentially deal with them, worry was the last thing to bug her. And while her guard was up, things were fairly tranquil for her in that time. But through her search so far, no wyvern gourds came by her.
She was walking through a rather thick patch of the woods, her observant eyes cast everywhere, when a peculiar noise was picked up by her ears. The sound was like that of a distinct rustling of leaves, but what set Twilight on guard was the fact that there was no wind going about at the moment. For a good minute she looked over her surroundings, attempting to find anything worth investigating. Lo and behold, she found something indeed.
What she saw, sticking up from the bush, were a pair of antlers. Yes, definitely antlers. Or should she say... antler-like mandibles. Realizing who it was in that one instant, Twilight moved toward the bush at a slow pace, eventually stopping in front of it.
"Thorax? Is that you?" she queried to it, and whoever it truly was hiding within it. The mandibles seemed to shudder for a second before the light lime-green, horned head which they were attached to emerged, revealing, quite correctly, who it was.
His cranium emerging further from the bush, the expression Thorax gave Twilight was nothing short of nervous. "How did... how did you know I was here?" he asked sheepishly.
"Your mandibles were sticking out," Twilight bluntly replied, pointing to them. "They didn't really resemble branches, so..."
Feeling thoroughly embarrassed, Thorax let out a defeated puff of air. With it, he left the large shrub, brushing off whatever sort of twigs and leaves stuck to his chitinous hide. "Sorry for... spying on you like that. I didn't... know how to come up to you. The forest is dangerous, so I didn't want you to think you were being ambushed by something."
Twilight smirked at this, appearing more amused than anything. "I'd rather have an explanation for why you're doing it than an apology."
His ears flatting against his skull, the changeling king lowered his head. He let out a stale, saddened breath before looking back up the princess. "Twilight, this might sound a little odd, but I... I still feel bad about last night. I just wanted to come over here and see if you were stewing over it."
"Over what?" she asked, unknowing as to what he was talking about.
"Me bumping into you."
Twilight's brow furrowed, as though confused. The memory did come to her, but when it did, she could hardly keep herself from feeling nothing short of disbelief. "You still feel bad? About that?" her words left her mouth in a most surprised way. "Thorax, you do know just how little of an inconvenience that was, right?"
"Well, I think it deserves to be mentioned," he went on. "You're a princess. A princess who happens to be one of my guests of honor here! You deserve more than to have my clumsiness be included in your stay."
Twilight, keeping her easy visage, chuckled lightly after he finished. "Thorax, my friends and I go on adventures of varying degrees of danger all the time. To equate you bumping into me with the countless, perilous encounters I've had would rank pretty low on the meter. I had pretty much forgotten it until you brought it up."
As she spoke, Thorax only felt more abashed. While his attention was on her, he turned his gaze to the treeline, trying as best he could to keep his cheeks from flushing in humiliation for holding onto such a small moment in such a negative way. "I must sound pretty dumb right now, huh?"
"Politeness isn't dumb," Twilight retorted. "If anything, I think it's kind of... sweet. To know just how much you care about me. Er... us."
A small blush forming on his cheeks in spite of his efforts to keep it from happening, Thorax seemed to feel a tremendous weight lift from his chest. He inhaled and exhaled a deep breath of the fresh air. "Thanks, Twilight."
She grinned back at him and nodded. "Now, I've just got to find myself a wyvern gourd." A more serious visage came over her face no sooner had she said that. "And you were not kidding. Those other changelings I was with found theirs pretty fast, but it's taking me ages."
"Hey!" His face lighting up like a candle, Thorax crafted together an idea from Twilight's words. "While we're together, want to find them as a team? I was looking for some with Spike for most of the morning, but he already found his. I'm still trying to look for as many as I can take back to the hive for myself and the changelings who couldn't forage for themselves."
"Hmm..." Twilight hummed and placed a hoof to her mouth before deciding to agree. "That sounds like a most excellent plan, Thorax," she complimented. "Shall we?"
Thorax failed to hide a smile. "Let's."
And so, with those words, the alicorn princess and the changeling king marched together into the bowels of the wilderness. They trekked through it at a swift pace, looking everywhere they went for wyvern gourds to procure. Thorax, thinking Twilight would appreciate some knowledge of the changeling lands, couldn't help but point out several key parts of the forest they went through. Hearing him as clear as the day, Twilight would ask questions of her own on the subject matter, occasionally jotting down notes into her book if she deemed them important enough.
Their small chats were eventually halted, for soon they came across a clearing. Peaking through the trees, the most noticeable part of the glade they could see was a large, steep-sided hill at its center, which seemed to emerge from the ground like a protruding, grass-covered hump of sorts.
And there, perched atop its pointed summit like something positively grand, was the unmistakable shape of a large wyvern gourd. It had a thin appearance to go along with its wart-covered, greenish form, but its length and girth were both great. As was the stem it was attached to.
The second he witnessed it, Thorax nearly jumped with joy. "I see one!" he spoke aloud, pointing to it. His wings beating fast enough to leave a loud buzzing in his wake, he flew from the ground to the hill's apex and began looking over the prize. With her own feathered wings going to work, Twilight wasn't far behind him. But by the time she got to his position, she sensed something quite awry.
"Wait a second..." she hesitated, stopping where she was in the air. "A lone, rare plant situated by itself atop a large hill... This seems a little familiar."
"Familiar?" Thorax questioned, his hooves wrapping around the stem and horn slowly glowing in preparation to cut it and free the fruit. "In what way?"
"I'm... not sure," she replied. As she puckered her lips and tried to think back to what tickled her brain as it did, Thorax sent his horn downward in a slicing motion, but reeled it back when it impacted against what he felt as something too hard to cut. To her surprise, and his, the stem looked perfectly fine.
"Huh," he grunted, stopping for a moment to survey the situation. "This stem's a little tougher than most. I might have to pull it out."
"Need help?" Twilight offered, dismissing her prior thought as being nothing more than a bout of random paranoia. After observing Thorax nod, she landed upon the grassy top of the hill, lit her horn up and telekinetically grabbed ahold of the vine alongside him. Together, with their combined magic strong and fortitude, they pulled at the vine as hard as they could in the hopes of wrenching it free of the soil. Still it failed to budge. For a second, the effort seemed futile. Until...
With that one noise, the vine, and a large circle of the earth it was connected to, was pulled out. Nearly falling back in recoil, Twilight and Thorax caught themselves in time and regained their full footing. First looking to the gourd with a shared triumphant expression, both of their views eventually went to the hole had been created in the hill's surface.
It looked deep dark, as though the inside of the hill was entirely hollow. Letting Thorax take full hold of the gourd, Twilight moved toward the opening and peered inside it. Her eyes widened to the size of dinner plates when she caught a faint trace of movement in the near-lightless abyss. Then the ground she stood on tremble from something like an earthquake, and even while in flight, Thorax could, too.
And in that one, breathless moment, Twilight remembered why it was that this all seemed oh-so familiar.
Twilight pushed off from the ground she stood upon and leapt back, just as the hole, but a small thing originally, broke further apart as a beast of a magnificent size sent itself through. The great creature which had done the deed, a giant, purple-and-pink worm in appearance, opened its three-jawed mouth wide like a blooming flower and unleashed a screaming roar that tore through the warm air with all the subtlety of a knife drawing itself over the chalkboard of a once-silent classroom. The sheer shock of it made Thorax drop the gourd, which fell from his hooves to the ground far below, forgotten.
"Tatzlwurm!" Thorax and Twilight both shouted at once. Turning about in the air, the worm spotted Twilight first, and hunger for a delicious meal took over its mind. Without a simple moment of hesitation, a trio of tentacle-like extemities flew from its mouth and grabbed her in their coils, wrapping around her limbs and body as she could only yell out her fear.
"Twilight!" cried Thorax, extending a hoof futily in her direction. Too late he was, for the horrid serpent had by that point lifted its prey high into the air, trying with all its might to pull the struggling princess into its vile gullet. This image racing through his mind as he saw it unfold before him, Thorax could feel his terror turn to rage. White-hot rage.
"Get your slimy tentacles off of her!" he roared, his teeth bared and horn set aglow. Flying right up to its hideous head as it thrashed about without even a shred of care for his own safety, Thorax struck out at its maw. With ease comparable to a hot knife slicing through butter, his magic and horn cleaved clean through the base of the three tentacles holding onto Twilight.
The creature cried out with a horrendous noise, causing Thorax's ears to ring from the high pitch. Limply, the remains of the slick, dark appendages once gripped so tightly around her fell from Twilight's body, headed for the floor of the glade. Free, Twilight flew off and away as the worm recovered from the attack. Shifting its view angrily to the one who had done the deed, the tatzlwurm shot its open jaws at him like a flash of lighting, snapping him up in it before he could even think to escape after getting so close to it.
Twilight saw the whole thing occur with horror. "Thorax!" she shouted his way. With fear shining in her eyes and her wings propelling her through the air in a single, powerful stroke, she sped back in the monster's direction. But the tatzlwurm, its mouth clamped shut, was already beginning to pull itself back into its hole. Her brow arching in fury, Twilight knew she could not let it escape.
"Oh no you don't!" she boomed defiantly, racing to the tatzlwurm's giant, bulbous, retreating head. Her horn pointed forward, she blasted forth a purple beam of honed magic before it could escape back into its burrow with the changeling it had nabbed. With flawless accuracy the beam struck the great worm directly in its beady, black right eye, searing it badly enough to cause it to open its mouth once more and emit an agonized shriek. As soon as its powerful jaws split open, Twilight could see, with no short amount of relief, the shape of Thorax resting within, struggling against the beast's might.
Now free, if only just enough to move his limbs, the first thing Thorax did was send his forehooves to the saliva-strewn roof of the tatzlwurm's mouth. Using all of his strength, he held both the roof and the two other jaws back from shutting once more, grunting and puffing with his effort. It seemed like he was about to give out when a purple streak brushed by directly in front of him, grabbed ahold of one of his legs, and tore him out of the monster's maw. It took him not one second to realize that it was Twilight, even as he sailed on her hoof through the air behind her.
"Holy-! Thanks for that!" he said after becoming airborne himself, letting go of the princess' hoof and flying beside her. Twilight gave off a glad expression of her own, only to swiftly lose it after taking a chance look downward.
"Don't thank me yet..." she uneasily spoke. Looking down with her, Thorax saw, with horror, the tatzlwurm flinging itself from its hole altogether. It soared through the air like a terrible missile far too fast to avoid, determined to make one last dogged attempt at getting itself a fresh meal.
Before he could think of what to do next, Thorax felt Twilight suddenly 'tackle' him, wrapping her hooves around his body in a hug of sorts the moment she impacted against his chitinous body. Her horn let out a fizzing noise, and she cast the only spell she could think of in this most dire situation. As Thorax could only watch with widened eyes, a giant, pink bubble of magic enveloped them both, shielding them from whatever form of danger that was heading their way.
That danger was soon upon them. Seeing the bubble clearly and realizing that it was too big to wrap its horrid mouth around, the tatzlwurm decided to arch its head forward and sent its tail at them instead. With zero resistance to impede its attack, the great worm slammed its rearmost appendage into the bubble that covered its prey. The sheer force of it knocked the pair within loose and about, and the bubble itself went spinning off into the horizon.
With its prey nothing more than a speck in the sky now, the worm landed neatly back in its hole. It sluggishly looked back out and saw what had become of them, anger and disappointment ringing supremely within its head at the split-second decision it made during the climax of the ascent.
Knowing it had completely lost its chance to find something far better to eat than the stuff below the surface where it made its home, the tatzlwurm retreated back underground, emitting a sore growl the whole while.
A harsh soreness was the thing Thorax experienced first when he felt himself waking up. He groaned as a flash of mild pain shot through his head, but thankfully that was that. His eyes opened, and the first thing he did was shoot them upward. The sun was a little more further along in the sky, telling him only a few hours had passed.
Looking around, he noticed he was sitting within a deep crater, no doubt formed by the impact from Twilight's shielding orb of magic. The shapes of treetops emerged from its edges, telling him that he was still within the boundaries of the forest.
But where was Twilight? Frightened by the thought of her being hurt after the ordeal he created, Thorax began looking about the crater and readied himself to leave when he saw she apparently wasn't here; he was more than willing to scan his eyes over the entire forest if it meant finding her. It was as he started moving his legs, when he heard a soft mumbling from... below. It was only then that he realized that whatever he had woken upon was rather soft in its texture, indeed much too soft to be meager dirt, and so he looked down to see just what he was laying atop of.
To his utter shock and terror, there Twilight laid underneath him, unmoving. Her body, upon a quick inspection by Thorax, looked completely, and thankfully unscathed. With the calm expression on her still, unconscious face, she seemed not in pain, but peaceful rest.
Thorax dared not move. He dared not move a leg, nor twitch a muscle, or even so much as blink an eye for fear of disturbing the pony laying underneath him. She had saved his life, twice, during that encounter with the beast he had unwittingly unleashed. The last thing he wanted at all to do was irritate her.
Alas, Twilight's stillness did not last. Thorax's heart nearly skipped a beat in his chest when her face's features began to curl and move, followed by a small, weary moan. Biting his lip, he watched the princess regain consciousness. Blinking several times in groggy fashion, she was fast to become aware of what sort of position she was in.
"Thorax?" she spoke to the sun-silhouetted figure looming over her prone shape. "Is... that you?"
"Um... yes," he said uneasily. "Are... do you feel hurt?" he was quick to ask next.
"No, no. I just... feel sore," she answered with a groan. "Very, very sore."
"Thank goodness..." Thorax sighed in relief. Yawning, Twilight turned her head around for a few seconds, looking over the environment they landed in.
"How long was I out for?" she inquired in a groggy fashion.
"I don't know for sure, but I think it was at least a few hours," Thorax replied.
"A few hours?" Twilight scratched at her temple with a hoof. "That tatzlwurm really knocked me silly, huh?"
"Knocked us silly, heh. I was out, too. I woke up only a few minutes ago. On top of you." As he finished his sentence, he prepared himself to move, so the princess could stand and stretch those tired limbs out. "I'd... better get off you..."
"No, wait," she suddenly said, holding onto one of his hooves to keep him rooted where he was.
"What is it? Is something wrong?" Thorax asked in a concerned tone. Twilight shook her head.
"No," she bluntly stated, her grip tightening on his hoof before slacking when she knew he was going nowhere. "It feels... nice." Inhaling a deep breath, she looked around again, as though making sure nopony was there to disrupt this moment, and then gave a warm look to the changeling above her. "Not sure why it does, really. But it feels nice."
"Nice?" questioned Thorax, his voice cracking a tad.
"Yeah," answered Twilight, moving herself about in the dirt just a little bit to a more comfortable position.
"It feels... nice?"
"That's what I'm saying."
"Really nice." Twilight chuckled at the last question, practically eliminating the tension Thorax once felt hanging in the air. And with it gone, the last of his fear went with it. Setting his hooves around Twilight in a way both found much more pleasing, he laid there atop her warm body. And for a good few, silent minutes, all they did was stare at one another.
Unable to help himself, Thorax soon found himself smiling along at what he could only describe as Twilight's beautiful face. The joyous face that pleasantly warmed the very blood running in his veins. The one and only face that enamored him so. So much in fact, that the wings and shell casing on his back suddenly lifted up and rasped together in a brief movement, making a short, sharp, high-pitched sound, one not unlike that of a cricket's pretty chirp. And in the second that followed the delivery of the note, Thorax's grin vanished. As soon he realized what he did, his face blushed and he shot a hoof to his mouth; his expression curled into one that could only be described as shock.
Twilight's brow furrowed when she saw his expressions shift in such a brief and odd manner. "Thorax, what's wrong?" she asked him.
"O-oh! I, uh... I seem to have... I... Oh, dear..." Thorax, careful in his motions, stood up and got himself off of Twilight. He walked to one edge of the crater's interior, his thin legs shaking all the while.
Twilight was immensely confused by his actions at this point. "What was that noise?" she soon asked, tracing his perplexing behavior to the sound he made a few seconds prior.
"I-it was a... chirp. I... chirped," he squeaked. "Changelings... male changelings... only do it when... when we feel an a-a-attraction t-toward someone else. And I just... I... just did it in front of... you. Oh, dear..."
His cheeks had fully flushed by this point. His lips wrinkling upon noticing what he had just foolishly, impulsively revealed, he sat down on a nearby rock with his head lowered and hooves poking at his temples. "Twilight, I want to apologize for that... I didn't mean it."
"Didn't mean it?" Though sluggish in her movements due to her sore and stiffened limbs, Twilight rose slowly to her own hooves. After making a brief check over the satchel on her side and the book held within it, just to make sure both survived the journey, she turned her full attention onto her friend. Walking over the ground, she moved Thorax's way with a puzzled visage. "How?"
"I don't know," he sighed, unknowing as to how he could remedy the mess the situation had transformed into. "I don't know..."
Twilight grew closer to him, intent on divulging a valuable piece of information that might help the friend she fondly knew, and resisting whatever personal fear she herself felt about it. "Thorax... please, don't get upset. I don't think you're... well, alone on this matter," she spoke, quickly catching the changeling's ears. "Would it seem wrong to you if I... sort of felt a similar way toward you?"
Thorax's eyes widened. Lifting his head, he stared her way. "You... do?" he slowly started to speak, his pitch thoroughly shaken. Twilight, putting on a small grin, shrugged.
"Yeah. I guess I do," she confirmed, unable to keep herself from giving off the perky smile. Barely noticeable as it was, her cheeks gained a brief rosy texture to them as she laid her secret bare. "Thorax, if you think you're the only one holding in a few secrets, then... I think you're a bit mistaken."
Thorax stared at her for a second longer until he finally gained the will to turn away. Disbelief was all he felt toward her statement, even in spite of its seeming sincerity. Though he wished to believe it, he knew he just couldn't. She was merely trying to make him feel better with those honeyed words of endearment, nothing more. It was a kind gesture for sure, he thought, but that was all it was. And that would be proven when he-
Thorax was snapped out of his daydream on the reasons as to why Twilight's claim was obviously faulty when he felt something touch his left cheek. Something small, warm, slightly wet too, and just experiencing it alone was a confounding sensation he'd never perceived once before in his life. In that one, breathless moment, Thorax realized Twilight had kissed him.
It seemed like an eternity later, but in reality only about several seconds, when Twilight finally separated her lips from Thorax's cheek. As it happened, a puckering sound of them went out alongside it, and it rang as true in the changeling king's ear as a bell. As soon as he finished properly registering the new, conflicting emotions swelling up within him like a storm, Thorax spun his head in the alicorn's direction and stared, gawking like a fool, at Twilight's beaming face. His own was nothing short of shocked, nearly like the kind one would put on after encountering something quite terrifying.
"That's for saving me from the tatzlwurm," she smirked at him. Keeping the look, she began to easily stroll past him and up the side of the crater in a teasing stride, making sure to brush her smooth, purple tail in a most alluring way across the changeling's chest as she moved from him. Her hips swayed back and forth while she departed, the movement nearly hypnotic.
Thorax continued to stare; unable to take his eyes off of the mare who had just willingly kissed him. After finally regaining something of his wits, he himself stood back up. Without hesitation he followed behind the alicorn and climbed out of the crater. When he joined up with her at its top, which lay among a cluster of trees and short grass, she turned expectantly in his direction with an arched brow and a wide grin.
"When?" was all he was able to blurt out, breathless from holding the air in his lungs for so long. "When did you start feeling that way toward me?"
To this, Twilight shrugged again. "I don't know, really," she said in a quieter tone. Her own cheeks, as the changeling could see like from before, began to redden a small ways again as she explained herself. "You're a very handsome changeling, Thorax. Even before you became a king I thought you were someone quite attractive. I guess that when you, Starlight, Discord and Trixie saved my friends and I from Chrysalis, I might have gained... somewhat of a crush on you."
She turned her view to the grassy ground in front of her, then to the sky, then back at Thorax. "I just didn't know that you felt the same way this whole time. But looking back at how you acted yesterday and today... I think I see it now."
As she said these words, Thorax could feel the most perplexing, warm feelings permeating like an insidious mist within his body. Warm, passionate feelings. Feelings that practically screamed at him to forget all sense of reason, scoop Twilight up in his hooves, and show her all the love he wished to give to her, then and there. But knowing well enough that such an action was perhaps a tad too inappropriate for such a fragile moment as this was, he chose to remain simply at peace with the wonderful knowledge that she actually reciprocated his infatuation.
"This is... I-I don't know what to say," he grinned at her. "This whole time... you felt like that, and... I felt like that too."
"Who knew?" Twilight's question came in a light purr as she shifted her position closer the changeling's and rubbed herself up against his side in an affectionate manner, humming in delight. Thorax felt a chill race down his spine as he experienced the sensation of her soft, velvety fur once again, but now against his shoulder and neck in such an open, yet intimate way.
He turned his head and looked down to her. She sequentially looked up to him, and their heads soon started slowly gravitating toward one another as an irresistible force took a firm hold of their minds, replacing whatever fear that once sat in its place. Within a few short seconds their muzzles touched at the tip, and it was like a shock from a discharge of static. No sooner than that was when their mouths drifted up until they took over the places of their noses, and, at last, they kissed.
The feeling of Twilight's lips on his own was like heaven. They were soft, supple and... sweet. The chill that raced down his spine, once as cold as ice, now enveloped his entire being in a sensation akin to white-hot flame. His wings spread from his back, and thrice more he emitted his cricket-like chirps; all three given in quick succession. Her eyes closed as she savored the moment, Twilight heard the sweet music and let out a small giggle, though still kept her mouth fused to his.
The kiss eventually came to its conclusion a short while later. When it did, both of its participants were out of breath, panting heavily from their indulgence and not regretting a single thing about it. Thorax, swallowing in a deep breath of the fresh forest air, was the first to speak. "That's... that's for saving me," he stated, his eyelids half open and tone full of pleasure. "Twice."
Twilight bore a most amused visage, and a satisfied hum escaped her before she spoke with him. "Well, you're welcome, Thorax." Her expression began to slowly fade, however much she wanted to keep it, upon realizing one small, crucial detail. "We'd, um, best... get back to the hive, huh?" she asked, fretful over the fact neither could deny. "Before anyone realizes how long we've been gone and get worried."
Turning himself away as well and coughing into his hoof, Thorax gave a concurrent nod. "Y-yes, I believe that's the best decision." He looked up at the sun in the sky again and whistled. "But there's still some time left in the day."
"Now that we've got that bit of... business out of the way - for now - I'm still feeling up to continuing our search for those gourds," Twilight brought up, gently poking him once on the leg and flashing him another, much more mischievous smile when he looked her way. "Just so long as neither of us chooses to pull out any suspicious-looking ones and release another subterranean monster from the earth, that is."
Chuckling awkwardly at this, Thorax shifted a forehoof to his shoulder. "Yeah, yeah..."
Giving a wink, Twilight was the first to start through the forest. Thorax quickly began following behind her, reminiscing on the moment of ecstasy they shared. Silence fell about the woodland's floor as they trotted along, and all either heard for a time was the sound of the occasional bird chirping away in the trees and sky above. After spending some of their trek thinking on it, Thorax had another thing to say.
"Twilight," he began, breaking it. "This is all fantastic, what we just did back there, but it's all so much in so little of a time. I can't help but think... what does this mean? For us?"
"I'm... actually not sure," replied she, looking his way over her shoulder to him. "This is... a new chapter in my life. One I've never really explored before. But I'm excited to find out what's in it. With you."
The expression on her face utterly mirthful, she turned her view forward again as Thorax kept his eyes on her. This mare... this beautiful mare had kissed him. She revealed that she, too, harbored such feelings as the kind that kept him awake for most of the night before. And now he knew that it was the truth.
He kept his view on the thoughts in his head so much that he only snapped out of it when he realized Twilight had halted abruptly in front of him. He just barely managed to stop himself from bumping into her, and trotted to her side to see if something was the matter. When he got a clean look at her face, he saw it was blank with what seemed like shock.
"Twilight?" he asked her, his brow arching. Thorax stared at her as she kept her gaze held forward. For lack of a better term, she looked like she had seen a ghost.
"Twilight?" Thorax asked again. "Twilight, is something...?"
Blinking once, Twilight lifted one of her hooves without moving her head and placed it on Thorax's cheek before he could finish his sentence. Gently pushing it with no resistance to halt her, she rotated it in the direction she was focusing on. Thorax was fairly confused by what she was trying to do, but once his eyes shifted forward, his face soon joined hers in performing a most dumbfounded visage.
In front of them both, no less than a dozen meters away, was a cluster of trees, practically indifferent to how the rest of the forest looked. However, there was one different thing to them. Beneath every tree, attached to a vine protruding from the base of their roots like something just waiting to be grabbed, was a wyvern gourd.
For a minute longer, Thorax and Twilight simply stared at the gourds. They walked forward, together, and examined the first ones they came across with awe. More still waited further inward, as they soon found out. Indeed, many hundreds of the wyvern gourds were sitting all over this patch.
"There's gourds everywhere." Thorax's mouth gaped. "Hundreds - at least!"
Her face transforming into one more positive than shocked, Twilight's head spun to Thorax. "With these, we can make sure every changeling in the whole hive gets one!"
"You're right!" he nearly shouted with joy, his wings buzzing on his back in unkempt excitement. "And if we plant enough of their seeds in spots around the hive, we'll have more than enough for next year!"
"Well? What are we waiting for?" the alicorn went on. "Let's bring these back to the hive..."