A King’s Brood

by eemoo1o

First published

Thorax never asked to be leader. He certainly never believed he could fit such a rank. Now, he must face his fear of confrontation and disappointment for his Hive's reformed legacy to continue on, even when threats begin to arise around every corner.

Thorax never asked to be leader. He certainly never believed he could fit into such a rank. Now, he must face his fear of confrontation and disappointment for his Hive's reformed legacy to continue on, even when threats begin to arise around every corner. Thus, Thorax must learn how powerful he can actually be, in hopes of keeping his Hive, his pack, safe.

*This Is What It’s Like, and Celestial Ascent, both other books of mine, are hinted at throughout this book (and vise-versa). Although, they don’t necessarily have to be read before.*

Chapter One: The Problem

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Changelings were dying.

Old Changelings, to be exact.

After the big Change, the Changeling Hive’s nursery had started to empty, until it was empty.

The ex-Queen, Chrysalis, had been the one to reproduce. She had been the one to supply the nursery with eggs once a year for thirteen days. From one- to two-hundred a day, if Thorax wasn’t mistaken.

Granted, ten - or fifty - out of the two week’s supply didn’t make it, but it was still an extraordinary amount. How was Thorax, a male, meant to live up to that role? He couldn’t produce eight-hundred to two-thousand eggs in a day short of a fortnight. It was biologically impossible, even for a Changeling.

This might have seemed like an enormous number, but with Changelings living forty to twenty years less than ponies - with the more unfortunate cases of sixty, or even fifty years less - that vast egg-count was crucial.

Unless, of course, a Changeling individual shared love with another genus - such as ponies, dragons, griffons, and so on - the longer their lifespan could potentially be.

It was their life’s purpose, it seemed.

“Seems like it’ll be me and you as the last ones standing, huh, Thorax?”

That lifespan excluded ‘The Royals’, which was a nickname by adolescent Changelings for King Thorax and his older brother Pharynx, the so-called alpha and beta -- even though the personalities of the two very much said otherwise to their roles -- of the Hive. The Royals - and by extension, ex-Queen Chrysalis - were the Changeling equivalent to an alicorn.

Originally, the slang was ‘Mandibles’, referring to their stag-like antlers. Of course, one quick biology lesson later, and it was changed back to how ex-Queen Chrysalis referred to herself.

Stag. Even as he and his elder brother Pharynx stared up at the empty nursery’s walls, King Thorax knew that he liked that word. Being referred to as a ‘stag’ seemed to thrill him almost as much as tasting deep affection from someone he felt mutually about.

The egg count was - according to ex-Queen Chrysalis - for new hives to be formed all around the map, even beyond Equestria. The fact both excited and terrified Thorax. Hives could be already reformed, or they could still be feeding off of love as opposed to sharing it. The question was: did they already know about them?

Those other hives, reformed or not, could have been rooted from their very own, and the lack of eggs had been a problem for seven months, now. After all, more reformed hatchlings meant more reformed Changelings, and that meant more reformed Changeling hives.

It was simply Changeling ritual - no, instinct - to produce so many eggs, biology aside. Thorax just couldn’t provide that. Hives needed a Queen, just like an insect colony.

It wasn’t until he dragged himself out of his musings that Thorax inferred Pharynx’s tone of jest to be laced with wistfulness. It was something that Thorax had learnt to do over the years, because he and Pharynx were broodmates, but to the untrained ear and mind Pharynx was simply poking fun at an insightful observation, perhaps ironically. But Thorax knew otherwise; he had his brother’s best interests memorised: he was hurting at the realisation, perhaps even more than Thorax himself.

“Heh, yeah,” Thorax forced a laugh. He wasn’t King with his brother, he was just Thorax; just as much Thorax as what he was when the two were adolescents. Of course, now he had to look down at Pharynx, which - depending on the length of their conversation - made him quite the literal pain in the neck. An ache, really, but a pain no less.

But, now Thorax had to focus on the twanging on his heartstrings. It was a pain similar to the one he felt when leaving the Hive in hopes of befriending ponies and uniting their species with his own, only to find himself to be the bane of most happiness upon first sight.

The pain was because he and Pharynx would be the last of the Equestrian Hive, only living on for the next couple of millennia and being forced to watch as everything they had come to know and love disappeared forever, until they did too, and their species would be extinct. Their Hive would cease to exist, nothing more than a chapter in a history book to just be eaten by moths.

“Let’s...” Pharynx exhaled a sigh that had been trapped in his chest for a while. “Let’s talk about this tomorrow,” he said, before cracking a small grin at his brother. To Thorax, that gesture only meant emotional pain. His natural instinct to sympathise was ignited, and he felt a mimicry of Pharynx’s pain. Or perhaps it was because he knew his brother - someone he cared greatly for - felt emotional pain himself. “I’ll tell some of your hoof-servants to bring some tea to your room.”

“What kind of tea?”

Pharynx gave a wider grin than before. While not uncannily wide, intuition told Thorax he should console him, but then told him not to when he lifted his left forehoof off of the ground to put on his brother’s shoulder. As Pharynx spoke next, Thorax acted as though he did no such thing with his hoof. “What kind of brother do you take me for?”

Thorax returned the grin, albeit wearing it as a cheeky smile. It seemed as though every attempt he made at curving his lips upwards turned into a smile. He was the type of Changeling, even as a nymph, who could never truly grin or smirk. “A good one?”

“And don’t go letting me hear otherwise,” said Pharynx cockily. “Now go to bed.”

“But it’s still light out!” Thorax immediately objected, his ears dropping against his head; even though he knew Pharynx meant his royal chambers, not necessarily to sleep, he still felt the need to proclaim in retaliation.

“That doesn’t stop me from sending you to bed,” he said. “Neither does you being the Hive’s leader.”

Thorax could only sigh. He looked forward to drinking his tea and reading a book, anyway. “Okay, Pharynx.” After turning to depart, he twisted his head back around to his brother. “You- You can talk, you know.”

“I know. We...” admitting his own feelings was hard for Pharynx, Thorax could partly understand that. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

That said, Thorax made his way through the Hive - greeting, solacing or informing that he’d help the Changelings that approached him later along the way - until he reached his sleeping quarters. Once, Thorax had been the Changeling that was sneered or snarled at by all he walked, ran, or flew passed, but now he could barely take two steps without someone asking for approval, guidance, a conversation, or simply greeting him.

As nice as it was to be acknowledged by those around him, Thorax had a liking for introverted activities now and again. He liked his own company. Before the Great Change, it was dangerous for him to be alone in fear of being picked on; now, he enjoyed nothing more than to curl up with a book or two, or go over some treaties -- the least favourable of the two -- and drink some tea. Perhaps an occasional creamed scone would make an appearance, but that was simply splitting hairs. The enjoyment of silence amidst the bustling, humming-with-life Hive was indescribable beyond adjectives and nouns that centred around ‘peacefulness’.

Upon learning of Thorax’s newfound enjoyment in some quality alone time - now stretched thin due to the duties that leadership brought - Pharynx sought to it to make sure Thorax got it, under the guise of “getting him out of the way”. Secretly, though, Thorax knew that it was his brother’s way of saying sorry, typically with an “or whatever” conjoined to it.

It was Pharynx’s way of showing that he cared.

Thorax allowed the entrance-wall of his chambers to morph closed behind him as he made his way to the chair that had its back to the now-closed doorway. In front of it was a medium-sized circular coffee table, which on the other end of was another chair. The two pieces of furniture vastly differed from one another, placed on the opposite side of the room to Thorax’s bed.

The first - Thorax’s current option - was tall and slender and hard. The second was much more stout, and well-padded, usually reserved for guests or a heavy-headed, eyes-half-closed Changeling King. The inspiration for such decor came from Princess Twilight Sparkle herself.

Whilst stalling Thorax as Spike greeted Dragon Lord Ember when the two were in Ponyville - unknowingly together - the purple alicorn had told Thorax of her ‘fiction chair’ and her ‘studying chair’, respectively. Her comfy, cushioned chair had been for reading fiction, and the hard-backed one for studying.

At first, Thorax admittedly found it odd, and braved the tour of chairs with a progressingly-wobbling smile, and had ran to Spike the second he entered the room to whisper of Twilight’s odd fondness of chairs, but the more paperwork there was to be signed and the busier he got, Thorax decided to rethink the Princess’ ideology, and modified it after testing it out for himself.

Now, Thorax’s tall chair was for reading and signing whatever, with a single, lengthy pillow glued in position by his very own mucus to support his aching withers at the end of the day, as the hardness did a wonder for his back; if he grew tired as he read or had a guest, the second chair would find use. If by Thorax, it’s low arms would be employed as head and hind-leg support as he began to hold his book in his cyan magic aura.

As Twilight had said: efficient.

From his scarce bookshelf, Thorax pulled out Wuthering Hooves with his magic, and sat, nuzzling into the neck-pillow with remnants of a relieved smile. Pharynx said they would talk about the matter tomorrow, so he’d read a book and wait for a pot of tea from one of his hoof-servants - all of which he had turned down when first becoming King, but soon found that it was a job many favoured over others - while Pharynx most likely went on patrol of trained some of his guards, pushing them to the limits even after one of them cried in pain or exhaustion.

Thorax furrowed his brow as he opened his battered soft-back book to the first chapter of the first volume. It was an old copy that Spike’s friend Fluttershy had given him, with most pages having fold-lines at the corners, each further down or further up than the last. The spine and front cover was also creased, the white markings acting as wrinkles or rings on a tree as a tell-tale sign of age.

Perhaps if Thorax was an expert like Twilight, he’d be able to read the markings and give the exact date the book was bought. But, alas - possibly thankfully - he was not, and it didn’t damage the enjoyment of the book in the slightest.

The book was gifted to Thorax shortly after he had moved into the Crystal Empire’s Palace with Princess Mi Amore Cadenza - Princess Cadance - and General-Prince Shining Armor, as fortunate as he was. He’d always be grateful for their hospitality and forgiveness. He was sure that if the ponies asked for help from his Hive, he would come to their aid without hesitation. He was sure of it.

Fluttershy had been set on buying Thorax a new copy to keep for himself, but he wouldn’t have it. The Empire’s generosity was enough, and so he reassured her an old copy was fine. Not her first copy, though: he had heard those could be rather sentimental for book-lovers. Well, from Spike, but the point still stands.

“Your green tea, your majesty,” Cilia - one of the many turquoise longhorns with pink eyes that Changed shortly after him - entered with a dark blue-lined white teapot and a matching pair of teacups and saucers atop a wooden tray that rested on her upturned forehoof. Once placing it on Thorax’s coffee table, she bowed.

When he had assumed the role as King - due to his natural form being much larger than the others’, equipped with vivid gamboge antlers that, according to Pharynx, could potentially pierce a manticore - Thorax was always quick to correct his ‘subjects’, telling them to just call him ‘Thorax’, as opposed to ‘your majesty’, ‘King’, ‘your highness’, &c. Now, it seemed exhausting and tedious, as most didn’t abide by his wishes, either forgetting or choosing to.

Thorax remembered his confusion when reading ‘&c’ for the first time in Mane Eyre, another book gifted to him by one of Spike’s friends. After a few inquiries around the castle, Sunburst - the Crystal Empire’s Royal Crystaller - was the one to give an answer: it was a particularly archaic, if not fancy, form of ‘etcetera’. Once learnt, Thorax took the knowledge into more formal elements of writing, now at political summits more than ever before.

Perhaps, even though it wasn’t a part of the everyday language that he used, he could use ‘etc’ in his own company. It was silly, really, but Thorax - as the representative and leader of the Changelings - felt the need to set a good example. Even in the Crystal Empire, when he was practically scared of his own shadow, he felt the need to make Changelings - like him or not - ‘look good’.

Thorax could only smile to himself after he beamed brightly to Cilia and thanked her for her service. He remembered the literacy lessons from Princess Cadance, Shining Armor, and Sunburst, too. Ex-Queen Chrysalis had been deep in the belief that only Royals such as herself should learn parts pony culture - reading and writing, and the sort - and so when Thorax admitted the fact to his hosts, they sought to it that they taught him all of what they themselves knew about the subject, as well as some historical matters.

Now, Thorax made sure that every member of the Hive knew how to read and write, and - much to Pharynx’s dismay - had at least some knowledge of pony history.

After the first couple of lessons, Thorax was given a few books from his friends and acquaintances. Some old, some new, some historical, and so on. The historical ones, mostly centred around a great unicorn known as ‘Starswirl the Bearded’, had been received from Princess Twilight.

There were a few in the collection that Thorax was yet to read, alongside Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone, and Shadow Spade: The Silk Scandal which were both from Spike’s friends Rainbow Dash and Rarity, respectively. The blurbs seemed interesting enough, but Thorax never seemed to get around to them. Perhaps he would tomorrow.

Thorax released a contented sigh as he moseyed back into his neck-pillow, and ignited his horn - the cyan light radiating off of it brightly, and sliding up his antlers to emphasise the conduction - to put Wuthering Hooves next to the wooden tray so that, with his hooves, he could pour himself a cup of tea.

Holding the matching saucer and teacup, Thorax leaned back again and took in the silence. Even though he had only read a page and a half of Wuthering Hooves by now, and planned - nay, wished - to continue until the second volume, he knew that he’d soon be whisked away due to a problem in one of the feeling forums; or because something had gone wrong in the kitchen, even though he had complete faith in the Hive’s cooks for there not to; or one of the adolescent Changelings had suddenly decided they wished to accompany Ocellus in her studies of friendship at Princess Twilight’s school; heck, a dispute could have ruptured a moment between a couple of Changelings that needed Thorax’s help, and Thorax’s help alone to solve, as opposed to simply talking it out with one another or joining the feelings forum for an hour or so.

Thorax looked down at his cup of green tea. It was almost the same colour as his now-shaking forehooves. Whether he was shaking from anxiety or anger, Thorax couldn’t really tell, as all he could really focus on was the colour of the tea. It was green, like his Changed form, like the newly-grown trees and grass and moss around the Hive, all thanks to his actions. His - as Pharynx and a few others had once put it - ‘reign’.

He figured he may as well have clambered to the top of a large rock and roared to assert dominance over the land, as that’s certainly what it had felt like. The new biome, the new way of life, the new diet. All of it was because of Thorax’s actions.

Just because ex-Queen Chrysalis was dominating, and could lead without much of a second thought, Thorax wasn’t a bad leader. Pharynx had also said that. After his metamorphosis, that was.

It was reassurance like that from his own brother - his own kind - that inspired Thorax to keep going. He blew on his tea as he thought back to when he introduced the theatre, literary, and arts and crafts clubs to the Hive. At first it had been compensation for his bad leadership skills, but the more reformed Changelings took part in them, the more of the unreformed opened their eyes and saw fit.

The final exception being Pharynx, of course. He eventually came around, but he had been stubborn, and extremely destructive and vulgar. It had started putting strain on what Thorax had tried so hard to build up: his name, the new culture, respect from and amongst others, and even the memory of what was there and what was to come.

While he had wanted peace, allyship, and for the Hive to forget the Old Days under ex-Queen Chrysalis’ iron hoof, Pharynx yearned for nothing but the opposite. Pharynx had opposed him. He had broken down Thorax’s hard work like an angry ape against a building, clutching to the Old Days in his gargantuan fist as he climbed to the top, the fact that Pharynx had quite literally attempted that technique against the New Hive aside.

In truth, a part of the Hive had actually prepared to overthrow Thorax if Pharynx’s shenanigans continued, and it made Thorax wonder how long it would have been until they did. It made him wonder how good of a leader he was, and if they’d ever devise to do it again. It made him wary. It made him unsure whether or not he owed them an apology, or if they did him.

Thorax could barely take a small sip of his tea before putting it back on the wooden tray. His trembling tremors persevered in taking over his body, and his breathing grew ragged and shallow, starting a cold burn in the back of his throat as sweat began to form on his chitin, making him feel even more uncomfortable than what he was already. Thorax felt his face flush in accordance to his sweating, and he wheezed in a struggle for air.

In an attempt to collect his thoughts, Thorax put his right forehoof on his beating heart and inhaled through his nose deeply, making his chest expand as he did so. To relinquish the held breath, Thorax slowly pulled his hoof away from his chest. He took another breath, one much more abbreviated than the previous one - in through the nose and out through the mouth - and repeated the process until he felt calm enough to pick up his cup of tea and saucer once more.

Princess Cadance had taught him that technique after he had panicked about hissing at little Princess Flurry Heart after a bowl of hot porridge and sugar had been flung at his head. Well, not necessarily at, but more along the lines of in the general direction of, which made her bawl.

Upon regaining his senses, Thorax had collapsed to the floor as he cried and hyperventilated, and transformed into a shaking, out-of-place rug shortly after. It had only taken a little over ten minutes with Sunburst having to take Flurry Heart out of the room for Thorax to at least attempt to calm down. Even then, he had transformed back and apologised to the royal couple over and over with the promise to leave by the end of the hour as a means not to be executed, unless they - of course - deemed fit.

Instead, however, they had apologised to him, and had helped him off of the floor as they soothed his worries.

He had to wear bandages for the few weeks that followed after.

Thorax leaned back in his chair, simply holding himself against the neck-pillow as opposed to nestling into it. Sipping his tea with the use of his magic, Thorax closed his eyes for a moment. As usual, tiredness found him and pulled on his eyelids in hopes of closing them, and keeping them as such.

Thorax slowly lifted himself to pick up his book, and he turned to the page he had reached. Groggily, he searched for the line he had ended with, sipping his tea all the while. Once the line was found, Thorax refilled his teacup with some more green tea, and began resting himself against the back of his chair again, instead of holding himself there rigidly.

A sigh escaped his throat as he began drinking in the silence of his own room, spare for the sound of his own breathing. Breathing. Now he wasn’t breathing. Why did he have to think about breathing? Thorax inhaled, in hopes of restarting the subconscious cycle. He began reading Wuthering Hooves again.

Princess Cadance and Fluttershy had both expressed a love for the Horsë sisters - Princess Cadance on a multitude of occasions whenever she spotted Thorax reading Wuthering Hooves and Mane Eyre around the Crystal Palace - and while Thorax hadn’t read all of their works, he figured they must have been if two ponies of respectively high statuses spoke so ardently of them. Perhaps Princess Cadance, or even Princess Celestia herself, had met them before.

“King Thorax!”

Thorax jumped a proverbial mile, having flinched so violently that both he and his book were splashed with hot tea, and that his magic almost defused itself from fright. More worried about the condition of Wuthering Hooves than himself. Thankfully, the tea wasn’t as hot as the porridge Flurry Heart had once thrown at him, although it was definitely close.

Thorax turned his head to the voice, and found himself face-to-face with a small group of multicoloured Changelings; most, if not all, were from the First Change shortly before ex-Queen Chrysalis fled, with the repeat in colour schemes being the tell-tale sign. The one who had spoken took a step back, and blinked his orange eyes bashfully.

“Our apologies, your majesty,” a turquoise longhorn said. They had the same colours as Cilia, but Thorax - with intuition playing the biggest role yet again just as it had done with Pharynx earlier - knew that it wasn’t her, even before they opened their mouth.

Thorax put on a smile as one of the yellow shorthorns helpfully handed him a set of cloth napkins, and he started rubbing parts of his book dry, and left it open and face-down on his coffee table before he even remotely thought of drying himself. Celestia forbid he ruined the copy that Fluttershy had so kindly gifted to him.

“That’s quite alright, Sclera,” he said, putting the dampened napkins on the tray next to his now almost-empty teacup. “Now, what is it you all wanted me for?”

“I-It’s just that-” Thorax recognised the yellow shorthorn in the back of the miniature crowd that had brought itself to him. He was the Changeling who had started the riot about Pharynx - then referred to as You-Know-Who shortly after Cloudy Trotter was the subject of one of the previous bookclub meetings - in the feelings forum back when Starlight Glimmer and Trixie had come to visit. It wasn’t entirely his fault, per say, but he had brought up crafts time, and - well - everything had unravelled from there.

“We’re worried about the lack of eggs in the nursery!” exclaimed the one surrey-green Changeling of the group. She was the only one without a horn in the group. Thorax recognised her as ‘Epiglottis’. She, too, had added to the conflict over Pharynx whilst Starlight and Trixie were present.

Thorax’s insides seemed to fall, which made him reel his head back and furrow his brow. “I-Is that...” he swallowed, “Is that so?”

“Yeah!” A cyan longhorn, one that stood next to the one that had made their presence known to Thorax just moments ago, lifted his hoof and proclaimed. “We want to know what’s gonna happen!”

“Precisely!” agreed the shorthorn that had previously handed Thorax some napkins. “We want to know!”

Just as the whole group prepared to start a commotion, Thorax raised a hoof to settle them down and for them to know that he wished to talk. It was the polite thing to do, instead of talking over them at an even louder volume than what they were already at. “I understand that, and I-”

“We want you to do something about it!” exclaimed Epiglottis irately, pointing an accusatory hoof at him. And with that, the whole group started arguing with one another, and at Thorax, even though he gave them no verbal response.

He did sigh to himself, though. Note to self, he thought, get Pharynx to arrange for some guards to stop anypony coming in here.

Chapter Two: Asking Ember

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“And they just...” Ember lifted a brow as the two walked along the outskirts of the Dragon Lands, where the green forest met the dry, volcanic biome of Ember’s territory. “-walked into your room?”

“Mmhm,” Thorax nodded sullenly. “I just don’t know what to do, Ember!”

“Well,” Ember started again, huffing, “they shouldn’t have done that! What about our assertiveness lessons?”

“I’ve tried all of that back when there were unreformed Changelings that still insisted on feeding off of love,” he excused, suddenly feeling awful - his stomach twisting and turning inside of him - as his dragon-friend’s ruby red eyes seared into him, “but this is different, I guess.” He took a deep breath. “They all want to know what’s going to happen to the future of the Hive.”

“And that’s not your fault, Thorax,” Ember said sternly. “Until you find a solution, you don’t tell them anything.”

“That doesn’t seem very communicative.” Thorax thought for a moment on how that decision might unfold. The Hive might usurp him once they deemed his decision unwise, and un-leader-like. They might choose to exile him, and perhaps even Pharynx if he tried to defend him.

“Like I said when we first met: make it known that your decision is final,” Ember smashed her cerulean fist down into her other claw. If they had just met, Thorax was sure he would have flinched, but now - after a few months of befriending Ember - it barely even phased him. In a way, her dominant behaviour was much like Pharynx’s. “Trust me.”

“I do,” Thorax smiled, but soon found himself sighing. “It’s just that when I wasn’t willing to kick Pharynx out back when he wasn’t reformed, some of my pack were thinking about overthrowing me as their leader!” He admitted, now feeling a little sorry for himself, and for Ember for having to listen to his complaining. “It’s just that - now - everything in my head seems to return to that. So, it’s kinda just gone back to ‘please follow my directions’ and ‘please listen to me’, again.”

Ember halted, and crossed her arms. As she narrowed her fiery eyes at him, he felt his insides churn with nerves - both good and bad - and heat rise to his cheeks. “Define ‘some’...”

Thorax bit his bottom lip in reply. He didn’t exactly know how many - let alone who - wished to disown him as a leader. He remembered Starlight and Trixie telling him that they had some suspicions after Pharynx had metamorphosed, but Thorax didn’t have much faith that they were wrong. He released the breath he had forgotten he had been holding, and resumed their stroll.

“Every outcome I can think of always seems to backfire.”

“In your head?” It didn’t really sound like Ember was asking for confirmation. She was always so sure of herself, even when she struggled to come to terms with something she wasn’t all that skilled or knowledgeable about, like friendship. Thorax nodded. “So, why not keep it between you, Pharynx, and some of your advisors?”


“You don’t have advisors?” Ember groaned. “Thorax...”

“Well, Queen Chrysalis had them!” Thorax tried to defend himself. “But never used them! A-And I just assumed, seeing as the Hive doesn’t plan on invading... infiltrating, or going to war anytime soon - or ever - that I wouldn’t need any! That I’d just... go to political summits, talk to Pharynx about a couple of things, and that was it.” Aloud, the assumption seemed rather lousy and badly thought through.

“First thing’s first,” Ember said, her tone harbouring a blanketed edge that only Thorax and her pride could really detect; Thorax knew this was one of those times where he should take note; “get yourself some advisors. Start a council. Make sure to get Pharynx involved, too.”

Thorax nodded. “I know it sounds stupid,” he lamented, changing the subject back to what it had previously been, “but ever since I became leader I have more insecurities than I ever did.”

“Because of Chrysalis.” This time, Thorax knew that she wasn’t asking. Ember was simply stating what she knew already, or - at the very least - had figured out on her own.

“You could say that,” Thorax remembered the personal upbraidings he’d received face-to-face with ex-Queen Chrysalis for being too soft and too spineless. Most Changelings in the Old Days would have yearned for an encounter with her, whether it have been through strategising to infiltrate a small town, or through a simple acknowledgement of their existence.

Not Thorax, though.

No, he had first-hand knowledge of what she was like when faced with someone who might have gotten in her way, or enabled one of her many schemes in one way or another. He doubted she would have cared to reprimand him herself if not for the multiple reports of his kindheartedness.

If not for the fact that he had said it to his face once or twice in a moment of anger, Thorax wouldn’t have known that Pharynx had also been hit, demoted, or threatened by her - and his peers - on several occasions for his actions. By protecting him or promising that he would shape up under his own watchful eye, Pharynx had been endangering his social status and rank in the Hive. Yet he did it anyway, and Thorax was grateful.

Thorax knew that ex-Queen Chrysalis might have been the cause of his present issues with leading the Hive, but it could have been something else. He didn’t really wish to dwell on the subject.

“So, why don’t you ask Princess - uh -” Ember rolled her claw around in hopes of remembering the name of the creature she was thinking of, “Twilight... Glimmer about it?”

“Twilight Sparkle,” Thorax said, smiling in amusement. “You’re getting there.” Ember groaned, putting her face in one of her claws, and he put a hoof on one of her shoulders to comfort her. “Remember: if she has wings, it’s Twilight Sparkle. If she hasn’t-”

“It’s Starlight,” Ember replied, and Thorax could sense her agitation at the supposedly-similar ponies. “Yeah, yeah,” she crossed her arms again, “I know.”

Thorax fished through his mind in hopes of finding a piece of useful advice. Eventually, he suggested: “Why don’t you make an acronym?”

“A what-now?”

“You know!” He exclaimed, and their eyes met as his smile grew genuinely. “Like, uh...” he trailed off, and looked around. He saw the smaller, darker blue scales that dotted themselves around Ember’s body, and then smoke rising from a fire-geyser in the distance. “Tiny Scales for Twilight, and - um - Smoky... Gems for Starlight!”

“Huh,” Ember seemed to take Thorax’s help into consideration, as she tapped her chin with a single blue talon. “That’s... actually not a bad idea.” She smiled, before pointing her talon at him. “But don’t expect me to use it if it doesn’t work.”

“I won’t,” Thorax smiled. “But I know you’ll get there eventually.”

Ember paused, and he knew that she was struggling to fish for the word she had in mind. “Thanks.” She said at last, and Thorax gingerly clapped his front hooves together by shifting most of his weight to his back legs.

“You’re doing great,” Thorax praised, and Ember looked up at him with an uncharacteristically coy smile. “I believe in you.”

She only let out a single breathy laugh, crossing her arms as she spoke. “You know there’s... too much of a good thing, right?”

Thorax snorted as he quietly laughed back, lifting a forehoof in the process. Moments like these - with those he cared about, but with Ember especially - were flavourful, both physically and emotionally. He savoured them greatly. “Oh, there can never be enough encouragement for your friends!”

“Yeah,” Ember assented softly, “friends.”

Thorax was unsure of why she was confirming the fact, but tried to shrug it off of his conscience. She would tell him if something was wrong - wouldn’t she? No: he had trust in Ember. If she needed to tell him something, then he should - and would - let her say it on her own terms. But, he had to motivate her to speak of her concerns back when they had first interacted on a friendly basis. What would show the most trust?

“Is... everything okay?” Thorax asked, putting an end to his internalised debate.

“It’s fine,” Ember shook his hoof off of her shoulder, and tucked her wings into her back.

“But it’s not!” Thorax countered, the guilt from raising his voice already washing over him like a heavy storm.

“It is, Thorax,” Ember sighed, and relinquished the matter that Thorax had been clawing at, before smiling. “Just remember to turn into, y’know, a bear when they don’t listen to your orders, and everything’ll be great.”

Thorax gave an uneasy smile. “Thanks.” There was a moment of silence as the two walked, and Thorax started to think of what he would say, but found his mind blank. “Can we, uh, practice what I’m gonna say?”

“Sure.” Ember replied, her smile slithering into a grin. “First, you’re gonna want to get every Changeling together.”

“Interesting,” Pharynx mused, nodding slowly. Thorax smiled at him, before he hit him over the head. “So Ember told you to do what I did months ago!”

Rubbing the back of his head with a chitinous hoof, Thorax knew that wasn’t exactly true. It had been before Pharynx’s reformation, and the militant Changeling had jibed to Thorax that so he could cover all of Equestria in drum circles, leather-tasseled vests, and ‘kooky floral shirts’ he’d need a form of government inside of the Hive to discuss the measurements of peace-symbol necklaces and to analyse the Equestrian stocks for wooden-beaded jewellery and headbands. And in a passive-aggressive manner, no less, after Thorax had suggested he tagged along to a political party with the Princess Celestia and the Canterlot democrats.

“Actually-” Thorax began as he replaced his hoof on the ground.

“I don’t want to hear it, Thorax,” Pharynx’s tone bore a sharp hiss, but he soon relented it with a sigh. “What else did Ember say?”

“About this? Oh, nothing much,” Thorax shook his head, and rubbed his left foreleg with his right hoof; “except that maybe we should ask Princess Twilight about it.”

Pharynx jolted up with an electric flutter of his red wings. “The one who used to manipulate a whole village?” He frowned almost the second he finished speaking. “Really? Wow,” he gave a quick laugh, “Ember really is teaching you how to be more assertive.”

“Well, what do you think we were doing?” Thorax shot back, but all it really sounded like was a rhetorical question asked in the sweetest way possible. “Sitting around and making flower crowns?” A bright blush adorned his cheeks upon realising what he had just said, what he had just done. He had spoken back, and to Pharynx of all creatures. Butterflies began to form as he thought of Ember’s approval when he told her the next time they met up.

Okay, Thorsass,” Pharynx monotoned as he rolled his lilac compound eyes, “you got me; that’s exactly what I thought you were doing.”

Right - well - uh, good. It- It’s good that- that you - uh -” Thorax knew that if Pharynx had been using a form with arms, they would have been crossed, “-got that.” Wait, no, that hadn’t made much sense. How should he have responded to that?

“Leader of the Hive, mares and gentlecolts,” Pharynx quipped, before closing his elytra and sealing his scarlet wings inside. “So...”


“We gonna talk about it, or are we going to wait until it becomes an even bigger problem?”

Oh,” Thorax felt his ears drop, as did his gaze, “that.”

“We have to talk about it at some point, you know,” Pharynx entered Thorax’s quarters without much permission on his brother’s behalf, but they knew one another well enough - especially since Pharynx’s belated Change - to know what the other would say or do. The entrance sealed behind Thorax, who watched his elder broodmate dive onto his guest chair and rub his carapace against the soft back.

“I know,” Thorax exhaled, and as he approached his tall reading chair Pharynx chose to pounce over the table and seated himself there instead. One of Thorax’s cheeks lifted in confusion. It was one of the few instinctual attributes that the brother’s shared between them. “Uh, Pharynx? What are you doing?”

“I’m territorially insecure,” even though Thorax knew that his brother was jesting - in spite of his straight-faced countenance - he wouldn’t have put it past Pharynx for it not to be true, but the truth was soon stated as he pressed and rolled his own back against the back of the chair: “I’m trying to figure out which one I like more.”

Shaking his antlered head, Thorax sat himself upright in his guest chair, and closed his eyes. Even if it was just for a moment, he wished to take the time to remember what it was like before his excessive panic would settle in as he and Pharynx tried to talk about the problem at hoof in need of addressing. Thorax took a deep breath, and exhaled as he drew out a long and steady forehoof.

“What are you doing?” Pharynx parroted Thorax’s previous question to use as his own. Despite not being able to see his brother, Thorax could tell he had most likely narrowed his eyes to inspect him from across the table.

Upon opening his eyes, Thorax’s thesis had been proven correct. Pharynx averted his stare and cleared his throat. Thorax could only silently address his brother with a feigned smile: they were dreading the conversation just as much as the other.

“Would you like some tea, your majesties?” Cilia broke the silence as she entered.

Pharynx gave Thorax a pointed look. He understood the expression perfectly; it said one word, and one word alone: guards.

Thorax made an elongated exhale through his nose: I know. “What would you like, Pharynx?”

“Don’t care,” despite his previously incisive countenance, Pharynx now decided to adopt some curt form of ambiguity. “Get whatever.”

Thorax sighed, and fought the urge to rub his temples. It had been a long couple of months with Pharynx, but also some of the best he had ever gotten out of him. Perhaps they had been long because of the strain of leading a Hive that schemed to overthrow him after every possible decision in need of making.

Thorax opened his mouth to order with a smile. He had grown rather fond of green tea over any other since the Great Change, and he knew that - despite the facade of complaining and grumbling when served it, or anything for that matter - Pharynx didn’t mind it either. In fact, the longer his groaning, the more he was subtly showing that he found his liking for the snack or beverage, or so on, a weakness. Thorax made sure to reassure Pharynx that liking things didn’t make him weak, but it usually seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Thorax caught himself. He had ordered green tea yesterday - well, Pharynx had - right before his chamber was flooded with complaining First-Changelings, and he had to quench their thirst for answers with vague and incomplete responses, or understanding statements that informed them of his nescience on the matter.

What if he had drunk the last of the green tea the Hive had to offer? He hadn’t even finished the whole pot, on account of the startling disruption his alone time had received! Some of the tea had even been soaked up in the pages of Wuthering Hooves, making the paper all wavy and crispy, like the corners of burnt pastry. The book was still open and face down on his table, too; Cilia, or another Changeling that was to enter his room in search of him, must have seen it.

Thorax imagined their shaking heads and tutting tongues. What if they all grouped together and decided they didn’t want a clumsy Changeling like him to lead them? What if he was to order green tea again, reminding them of his accident from the day before, and they overthrew him?

What if - on top of all of that - the Hive really had ran out of green tea, and Thorax deciding to order it when there was none left spoiled his image for the eyes of the whole Hive, and made him infamous for a greed comparable to ex-Queen Chrysalis’?

And then they overthrew him.

Thorax gasped for air. The sudden action made Cilia flinch, and was not dissimilar to a drowning pony finally coming up to the surface to find air. He wasn’t that sure whether or not Pharynx had been startled too, because his hearing was buzzing like a Changeling’s wings, and his sight was getting rather blurry, almost as if he was face-down in a lake. He’d be known throughout the rest of the diminishing Changeling history as the Green Tea Glutton.

“Are you feeling okay, your majesty?” Cilia inquired slowly, her brows furrowing.

“Green’ll be great,” Pharynx huffed, his compound eyes glued to Thorax like a wolf to a deer.

Cilia only smiled at his answer. “Very we-”

No,” Thorax pressed a smile, his answer just a mere wheezing noise. “Chamomile.” He coughed, his throat now much drier than before. He hoped to clear his wheezing before talking again, and licked his lips in the process. “Chamomile would be amazing. Thanks.”

“Right,” Cilia’s smile had dropped like a penny out of a moth-eaten pocket. “Of course. Chamomile it is!” She beamed once again and departed, leaving the brothers in absolute silence... if Thorax’s hyperventilating abated.

Pharynx sighed, and put his head in a hoof that balanced on the right arm of his chair. “Chamomile? Really?” Thorax knew that his brother was watching him like a hawk, with the pretense of being over his behaviour. The pair of lilac eyes bore into him, from bottom to top, to left to right, and vise-versa. “You read too many pony books.”

That said, a magical aura roughly the same colour as Pharynx’s eyes engulfed Wuthering Hooves, and levitated it over to the elder Changeling’s eye level. Pharynx - with his horn and red antlers alight and pulsating with a matte lilac - did stop moving the book until the in between of the two crinkled pages was practically pressed against his nose. Pharynx then poked his eyes out from over the book, for his gaze over Thorax to remain sharp and vigilant.

Thorax gasped for air again, and tried Princess Cadance’s breathing technique. As opposed to the day before, it took a few tries instead of just one for Thorax’s body and mind to calm themselves. Once every quivering body part stilled itself, Thorax - continuing to do so with his mind - got up from his seat, pulled Wuthering Hooves into his cyan-blue magic, and made his way to his modest bookshelf.

Okay,” Pharynx huffed at last, and so Thorax decided to stall himself by reordering his few books, “we both know this isn’t about tea, so why don’t we just cut to the chase and talk about it?”

Okay,” Thorax took a deep breath, and returned to his seat. He lifted a forehoof out of habit when talking about his more negative feelings, and then the other. “So...” he could only halt, finding talking to Pharynx much more labouring than doing so with Ember or Spike, and moved one of his forehooves to the back of his neck; “you, uh, remember when everypon- ling,” Thorax corrected himself quickly, “when everyling transformed but you?”

Yeah,” for a moment, Pharynx forgot to read the room, and grinned with a snippy chuckle. “Those days were fun...ish.” His countenance fell into a frown, and Thorax fought the urge to throw himself over the table to hug him.

“They... weren’t so great for me, either,” Thorax admitted, putting his hooves back down onto the edge of his seat.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Pharynx said, and put an amused hoof onto his forehead and arched himself backwards. “Oh, Phaaarynx! This one time, this pony didn’t like hugging and kissing, and so that made this other pony banish her to the moooon..! Oh, Phaaaryyynx...”

Thorax watched as Pharynx mimicked him in a whiny falsetto. He rolled his eyes at the performance, and continued for Pharynx to readjust himself: “And... you remember how a bunch of people wanted you banished?”

Pharynx pulled a face. “You weren’t going to actually do it, Thorax.” It should have been a question. It really should have, but Thorax knew that his brother had confidence in his statement.

Thorax inhaled deeply through his nose, and found himself sighing when his emotions pressed down onto his chest so that most of his lungs’ capacities for air were compromised. “I thought about it.” He said, at last. Sharing thoughts and feelings was meant to take weight off of one’s shoulders, not put more on. Thorax felt at least ten stone heavier.

Pharynx seemed to wilt at that, and awkwardly tilted his head so that he stared into the table that currently divided them. In the physical sense, anyway. “Oh.”

Yeah,” Thorax breathed, his mind numbing to any further verbal coherence.

“Your tea, your majesty,” Cilia entered the thick atmosphere with a smile: she carried herself on three hooves as she used the fourth to carry the tray of tea-things. Upon setting the tray in the centre of the table, Cilia bowed at Thorax, and then Pharynx, and they thanked her for her service - Pharynx much more reserved in doing so, and Thorax additionally for her kindness - before she left them be.

“And you’re still beating around the bush,” Pharynx said at last, breaking the silence into several little pieces. “So, what does this have to do with your freak out?”

“A bunch of Changelings wanted to kick me out if I didn’t kick you out!” Thorax exclaimed, before hurriedly pouring himself a cup of chamomile tea.

Thorax could tell that his brother fought the urge to droop again at that. Instead, he guiltily rubbed his left foreleg with a hoof, and ohed again. “Right.” Thorax opened his mouth to change the subject, but Pharynx spoke again instead. “So, you think that everyone’s gonna overthrow you if you pick the wrong thing?”

Thorax hummed and nodded. “Mmhm. And now it seems like my first weeks as leader all over again! Especially with the whole, y’know...”

Y’know...” Pharynx parroted with an eye roll. “Yeah. I know.”

Thorax used his magic to open the top drawer of his right bedside cabinet, and take out a quill, some ink, and a piece of parchment. It had been a gift from Princess Twilight shortly after Princess Celestia and Starlight anointed him the ‘New Leader of the Changelings’. “Ember told me to ask Princess Twilight on the matter.” He said, setting the quill in the pot of ink, which he then set on the table, and the piece of parchment soon followed. “So that’s what I’m going to do.”

“You do that, Thorax,” Pharynx muttered, and then remained in his seat to simply stare at his younger brother. It wasn’t until Thorax began his opening sentence of humble greetings and polite ‘how do’s, that he piped up on the previously spoken subject that Thorax knew was bugging him. “They’re not going to do that, Thorax. There ain’t going to be another me.”

“I know,” Thorax smiled, trying to add some light to the conversation; “there’s only one of you, right?”

“Heh, right,” as he replaced his head in his hoof, which was again balanced on the arm of his chair, Pharynx grinned in turn, albeit it was much less known than Thorax’s. If not for his trained eye on the matter, Thorax would have missed it. It went as quickly as it came. “You’re the leader, Thorax. Maybe you should start acting like it.”

Thorax snapped the tip of his quill against the paper, and groaned before sharpening it with another piece of the writing kit Princess Twilight had kindly gifted him. “Maybe I shouldn’t even be leader. I never even asked-”

“Asked, schmasked,” Pharynx retorted. “Look, I know you’re probably tired of every single pony telling you that you were chosen to be leader for a reason - and I am too - so just know that with enough practice, you can become an okay leader. And... in your own way, you are now, and because of that your decision should be final.” Pharynx had lifted his head to slam one of his hooves into the other to punctuate his assertion.

Thorax smiled shyly, a pink tint to his typically lime cheeks. In an effort to hide his blush, he tilted his head to the right and slowly continued to write his letter to Princess Twilight, making sure to select each word carefully. “Thanks, Pharynx.”

Chapter Three: Book of Equestrian Creatures

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Dear Thorax,
I appreciate your faith in me when thinking of a candidate to ask for help.
My first instinct was to search for any books on Changeling culture, and I suggest that you and your brother do the same. Spike, Starlight and I searched through all of my own books, and then we checked Canterlot Library.
I’m sure Princess Cadance or Sunburst made sure to tell you that Canterlot Library is the most plentiful and knowledgeable library in all of Equestria! So, I was sure that whatever you were looking for would be there. (Princess Celestia even let us look in the restricted area! Can you believe that?)
But, I regret to inform you that we didn’t find much on Changeling culture, except for a couple of pages from Mirage’s long-lost diary. Do you know anything about it? Do you have it? Does Chrysalis? Did it even exist in the first place?
I digress. I asked Princess Celestia if I could lend you the pages that we found, and she agreed, and told me to tell you that you can keep them for as long as you please, seeing as they’re a part of your culture. Who knows? They might prove useful to you, whereas Princess Celestia, Starlight, and I couldn’t make top or tail of it.
Do Changelings have their own language? You never said anything when you were staying in the Crystal Empire. Speaking of, have you tried Princess Cadance and my brother? I’m sure they’d be pretty eager to help you! Sunburst, too. I hear from Starlight that he and I have a pretty similar stand on obtaining and sharing knowledge.
I will admit that since receiving your letter, I have begun to grow more and more curious about Changelings, perhaps even more-so since you revealed yourself just over a year or so ago, and ‘the Great Change’, as you put it.
There’s so many gaps in culture that not even you or Pharynx (especially Pharynx, from what Starlight and Trixie told me about him) know how to fill. It really makes you wonder what Chrysalis’ thought process was like. Did she lack the foresight to see a premature or irrefutable end to her reign? Did she not want to share knowledge as a fail-safe in case she perished or was dethroned in some way?
Has Chrysalis made any appearances around the Hive since she disappeared? Perhaps you could interrogate her if she does. Starlight has been on the lookout the most out of all of us, as it was her who Chrysalis declared that she would exact revenge upon. I doubt she won’t purposefully miss the opportunity to seek revenge on you, either. We all wish for you to remain safe and vigilant. Although, Starlight and I are sure Pharynx has told you that already.
While I was talking to Princess Celestia (and then as I briefed Princess Luna on the matter just as Starlight and I were leaving shortly after sunset), they informed me that Chrysalis was around the same age as what they were. Do you think that you have a similar life span now that you’re the leader of the Changelings? Oh, I have so many questions! So many cavities of knowledge in need of filling!
Celestia also gave me your and Pharynx’s tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala to send once I’ve written this in preparation of me inviting whomever once I become ruler of Equestria. Invites are also being sent out for my coronation - I hope you and the rest of the Changelings will be able to come! I hope to keep everycreature united for as long as possible.
Getting back on track (my apologies for getting side-tracked, there), I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty of asking Fluttershy about the matter to see if she might own the book on the subject. She’s the creature expert, after all.
As you can see by the contents of my parcel, the answer is: yes, she did.
The book is called ‘Book of Equestrian Creatures and Where to Find Them’. I’m not sure how true the book might be on your species (up until the Canterlot Invasion, the appearance hadn’t even been illustrated!), but it’s worth a shot, right? I pray to Princess Celestia herself that what you might find in Mirage’s pages or the Book of Equestrian Creatures and Where to Find Them is somewhat useful. If not, I owe you my sincerest solicitude.
I must admit, though, it certainly is an interesting situation. But, as I’m sure Starlight and Ember have told you countless times, I’m sure that there is a reason for you being leader and not another Queen.
I wish you good luck in searching for what you’re looking for.

Yours sincerely, Princess Twilight Sparkle

P.S. I was told to proofread this. I’m sorry to hear of your situation, buddy. And I’d like to apologise for Twilight’s questions. Hope you find an answer soon, Thorax. - Spike

Thorax sat back in his cushioned chair and blinked. Once collecting his racing thoughts into one lane, he replaced the letter in its envelope and left himself staring at the unopened parcel. Inside could either be the answer to all of his and Pharynx’s questions by including a crucial part of their species’ history, or it could be complete moose cud.

Pharynx wasn’t too appreciative of his brother’s silence in the seat opposite, it seemed, and groaned vehemently. “You didn’t just drag me here so you can keep me waiting all night. C’mon, Thorax,” he rolled his eyes, “I’m practically on the edge of my seat. Out with it!”

Thorax only inhaled through his nose and used his right forehoof to slide the envelope half way, but Pharynx snatched it up in his purple aura with his red antlers ignited and pulsating with the magical conduction, and ripped open the envelope in an act of carelessness and anticipation.

Thorax observed his brother closely for some form of visual reaction. He watched as his compound eyes ran over every line like they were running a literacy marathon, and for most of the reading he would be quickly muttering or slurping words under his breath in hopes of helping himself untie any knots in his flow that might come his way the further into the letter he read. Then, to Thorax’s surprise, he reread.

Upon halfway through his third reading, Pharynx’s attention snapped to Thorax - his lilac eyes wide and seemingly quite angry - and so the two were caught in a split-second’s staring match. Pharynx growled and dropped Princess Twilight’s letter like a hat, and then grabbed the parcel as the hideous black and purple creature he used to defend Thorax as when the two were nymphs.

With his beastly crab-like claws, he shredded the brown paper of the parcel off of its contents - despite Thorax’s warnings and pleas not to in fear of harming the book or ripping Mirage’s lost pages, but Pharynx seemed deft enough in the skill - and then, in a flash of purple, Pharynx was sitting back down with the Book of Equestrian Creatures and Where to Find Them in his hooves and Mirage’s pages on the table next to his own half-empty teacup and saucer of oolong.

“‘Where to-bucking-Find Them’,” Pharynx seemed enchanted in the title of the large book. But he was also angry. “Where to-bucking-Find Them!”

“What is it?” Thorax had flinched at his brother’s outburst, but it was nothing he hadn’t seen before.

“This book is from centuries ago,” Pharynx eased back into his seat, and quickly massaged his temples as he used his magic to lift his tea to slurp. “‘Where to Find Them’ isn’t going to be in the Changeling section, Thorax. It’s just gonna be a bunch of horse-headed theories and that’ll be that.”

Thorax confiscated the book by taking it in his own blue aura. He checked the index, and soared past the A-through-Ces with his eyes and navigating hoof until he reached Changeling just above Chimera. He didn’t delay flicking through the many crispy browning pages to number 189.

“We’ll take whatever we can get,” said Thorax, at last. He was smiling with hope, but Pharynx’s mood was already soured. Thorax only fell silent as he brisked through, and sighed with his ears down. One of them pricked up the second they caught Pharynx’s right hoof gently but impatiently tapping against the arm of the chair, while he held his head in his left. “Well, it’s all unreformed.”

“You don’t say?” Pharynx quipped dryly.

“The mare that wrote the chapter apparently ‘studied a Changeling colony from afar’,” Thorax let the book rest solely in his forehooves, so that he wouldn’t suffer a migraine later from an overuse of magic. “Then, she was almost captured, but escaped.”


Uhh...” Thorax could feel his heart palpitating as it tried to stay in place, but was quickly dropping to the pit of his stomach like a stone in water. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that he should read out loud: “‘Given their similarities to insects, it would be safe to assume that Changelings are eusocial creatures, much like bees or mole rats. Drones paralyse and cocoon their prey with slime they produce themselves’.”

“I could have told you that, Thorax,” Pharynx was almost ready to shred the book into a million pieces. Thorax could tell by the way his top lip was quivering and curling, like that of an agitated dog. “Heck, even you could have told you that! It’s Changeling One-oh-one!”

Thorax sighed, and then so did Pharynx.

“Is there anything else?” He asked, exasperated, stilling his querulous hoof. “Anything to do with reproduction? Royal jelly? Kings?”

Thorax hummed in reply as he continued to scan through the next couple of pages, until his eyes landed on a word he didn’t recognise for what he supposed was the second or third time throughout the page he found himself on. “Pharynx?” Pharynx’s gaze met Thorax again. “What’s an... ovipositor?”

Pharynx blinked. “A what?”

“‘Some insects are renowned for having an ovipositor as a part of their female anatomy. Perhaps Changelings are the same if they do not practice eusociality’.” Pharynx only shook his head in disbelief at this, and Thorax grew even more disheartened. “So, that’s not true?”

“What did I say?” Pharynx thundered, erecting himself in Thorax’s reading chair. “I told you that-”

“I know, Pharynx,” Thorax lifted a hoof to silence his aggravated brother, and to both of their surprise it actually seemed to work, “but if we’re not willing to read whatever we can find on the matter, why should we expect a solution?”

Pharynx slouched back into something similar to his previous position, only now both of his forelegs were limp at his sides and his countenance projected something of disbelief at Thorax. Thorax didn’t think he had seen his brother wear such a face since the first time he had set eyes on his new form. Not even beforehand, either. He believed it had been the first - and now was the second - time for him to have ever seen Pharynx even remotely shocked. As Pharynx cleared his throat, Thorax inhaled sharply. Had he over done it?

What kind of sorcery is this?! Thorax almost leapt out of his chair as he heard his brother’s raspy voice boom. But he hadn’t seen his lips move at all! Had he picked up ventriloquism all of a sudden? Since when did Thorax grow a backbone? That Dragon Lord must be doin’ something right. Maybe don’t ruin his momentum.

“I-” Pharynx’s throat seemed dryer than usual, which resulted in more rasp than usual. He coughed and his tongue ran a lap around his mouth. “Right. Carry on.”

Thorax couldn’t pry his eyes off of Pharynx, and his head slowly turned from side to side in disbelief. No. What just happened? That couldn’t have been real.

“What do you mean ‘no’?” Pharynx must have misunderstood the gesture and perked back up into his original self in a matter of nanoseconds.

“No, I mean- uh-” Thorax shook his head again as he fumbled for an excuse. “Never mind. I thought I just- I’m just imagining things.”

“Careful,” Pharynx smirked, “remember what Chrysalis used to say?” Thorax remembered all too well. “Imagining things will put you in an asylum!”

Thorax chose to ignore that, and instead returned to the book. “‘The leader is distinguishable through appearance and the respect it is given, and doesn’t seem to partake in such activities, but is always the first to feed, whether it’s from a victim or one of its own’.” Thorax, alarmed, looked up at his brother. He could tell by the shift in the air around them that Pharynx had a similar reaction, although he merely pursed his lips in turn.

“Chrysalis probably did that, too, you know,” Pharynx commented, “It’s like spiders.”

“I- right,” Thorax blinked in surprise, and it was at that moment he saw Pharynx’s true infiltrator come to light.

What? I thought everybody knew that.”

Thorax only went to the following page: “‘Fortunately, I have not witnessed a Changeling first-hoof, otherwise I wouldn’t have lived to write this very book’.”

“Meaning, she just gathered what she could from a bunch of locals,” Pharynx rolled his eyes. “Just read out the important bits, Thorax! We haven’t got time for this!”

“Right, sorry,” Thorax mumbled, and scanned through with his eyes and hoof, as he had done with the index. “I... don’t think there’s much else,” he brought himself to admit, “except that ‘Changelings don’t have wings, and they burrow underground’.”

Pharynx shook his head in disbelief as an answer, and let out an exasperated sigh as he rolled his eyes back. That’s probably just evolution, idiot.

Right,” Thorax closed the book and smiled awkwardly as he placed it on the table, “only the important bits. Gotcha.”

“Well,” Pharynx stood after he downed the last of his tea, gargled the dregs, and stretched. “I’m going to scare off-duty drones.” He sniffed the two pages of Mirage’s lost diary, and tilted his head with a thoughtful hum.

Pharynx!” Thorax hissed. He covered his mouth instantly, looking as apologetic as he possibly could. He removed his hooved from his muzzle and retried: “Pharynx,” he was much calmer, which he knew disinterested his brother after his outburst, “we don’t call them that anymore. I thought we agreed that it was derogatory.”

Fine,” Pharynx groaned as if he were a stubborn nymph again. “I’m going to scare the guards that are off-duty. You know where any of them are?”

“Why can’t you just let them enjoy their time off?” Thorax asked, frowning.

“To keep them alert in case Chrysalis does decide to make a surprise visit! Besides, isn’t your thing knowing where everyone is at all times?”

“My thing?” Thorax repeated, incredulous. “You’re their general!”

“I don’t know what they’re up to during their pansy-time!” Pharynx said, bearing a point, somehow knowing all Thorax could do was eventually relent. “So, where are they?”

Thorax thought for a moment and sipped his tea. He closed his eyes to reevaluate his brother’s words, and began to control his breathing so it became deeper and calmer. When he found himself ready to give an estimated answer based on the activity schedules for the day, distant chattering from a few places in and around the Hive, and scent. Thorax hadn’t really prepared himself for the last one. “Craft time, the training sector, the north-east wing, and somewhere just near the beginning of the forest. Does that help?”

“You’re improving, I see,” Pharynx gave an open grin, and turned to leave through the opening entrance.

Improving?” Thorax parroted, and then groaned as he put two and two together. “You couldn’t have done that yourself?”

“What’s the fun in that?”

“Lazy!” Thorax accused playfully, but Pharynx only shook his head. Though, Thorax could still catch his prolonged grin. “Don’t forget your ticket!” Thorax levitated the second golden ticket to the Grand Galloping Gala so Pharynx could take it in his mouth. He must be on the brink of a migraine, too. Or was he just being difficult? Did he purposely wish to soil the ticket with his bite mark? He was clamping down pretty hard...

“Stupid pony dance,” Pharynx nodded, talking through the ticket, “got it.”

Once Pharynx left, Thorax got up and stretched. He moaned habitually as his tense muscles eased, before making his steady way to his bedside drawers on the right side of his bed. Perhaps he should write to Princess Cadance and Shining Armor, just in case. Mirage’s pages could surely wait until later.

“So, no luck with Twilight?” Ember frowned. She and Thorax were sitting next to a lake of a clearing in the forest neighbouring the Dragon Lands.

“Well, I haven’t read the pages of Mirage’s diary, yet,” Thorax admitted, using his hoof to open the Book of Equestrian Creatures and Where To Find Them to the first page on dragons. “Twilight seems to think it’s in a different language, like Changeling.”

But,” Ember filled in automatically, “you don’t know Changeling?”

“Actually, the opposite,” Thorax said - which puzzled Ember a little - as he gingerly tapped the open book’s pages with his right hoof. “It’s mostly just a bunch of hissing, clicking, chittering. You know,” he shrugged, “bug noises. It’s just that... it’s never really been written before.”

“Ah, I see,” Ember nodded, before clearing her throat with a guttural ng-hm. “I could ask around with some of the older dragons to see if they know anything on Changeling Kings and reproduction, but I-”

Thorax found himself lighting up at that, and hugged Ember’s midsection closely. “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” He felt like he couldn’t owe her enough for that.

Ember groaned with a roll of her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Thorax. I get it, you like hugging and stuff.” Despite her tone of speaking, Thorax could feel her patting his back. The warm emotions she had began radiating all at once at the sudden hug were strong. Thorax could only will himself not to feast himself without Ember’s consent.

Thorax grinned a little giddily at the wave of emotion. Ember rarely expressed content - typically emotional, as the exception always seemed to land on when she was just after eating a hearty meal or delicious snack - and when she did it wasn’t a lot. Every positive emotion that she generated always managed to warm Thorax’s very core like the sun through a magnifying glass.

Thorax pulled away, his smile still pulling at the corners of his lips. “Could you check the stuff about dragons? Pharynx and I aren’t too convinced how credible the whole thing is.”

Ember shifted her weight so that she sat more upright. “I thought you said there wasn’t much in there about it.”

“There’s some stuff about osi-somethings and Queens eating some Changelings,” Thorax rubbed the nape of his neck. “Pharynx said it’s a bit like spiders.”

Ember frowned and snatched the book up in a similar manner to what Pharynx had done with Princess Twilight’s letter.

“Are you going to the Grand Galloping Gala?” Thorax asked as he watched her read line after line. How had he never noticed how radiant her fiery red eyes were? Her cerulean scales seemed to be glowing also, but Thorax knew that they couldn’t have been - not really - because she was the Dragon Lord, and she hadn’t placed a summoning for every other dragon to heed.

“Yeah - Tiny Scales sent me a letter,” Ember muttered. “Most of the stuff in here seems true. There’s not much in here, though, and it seems that most of the pages were just filled with sketches of us.” She pointed a talon to one of the larger and more defined drawings. It took up most of the bottom half of the page she had the book opened on. Ember looked up at Thorax, and to his surprise she smiled. “Why? Wait- this is a friendship thing... right? Inviting friends to go to fancy events with you?”

Thorax found himself smiling brighter than he ever had before. “Yeah! I was thinking - maybe - you’d like to go with me?”

“And what about Twilight’s coronation?” Ember’s smile dropped: “You were invited to that, right?”

“I haven’t had my invitation yet, but I was told that the Hive was invited. So, there’s nothing in here that isn’t true?”

“Just the thing about eating our young,” Thorax could tell that Ember was holding back the urge to shout. He was proud of her. “Although, even if that was true, there wouldn’t be any for us to eat.”

Thorax reeled, and his eyes widened. “Oh, no! Has the same thing happened to you?”

Ember’s cheeks went pink. “No! I’m not the one to lay all of the eggs. Dragons aren’t like that.”

“Then, what’s wrong?” Thorax eased himself closer to her, and waited patiently for her to answer. What kind of friend would he be if he wasn’t willing to listen to her problems as much as she did his?

“The eggs won’t hatch,” Ember said. “They’ve all been put in the egg-hatching grounds, and as Dragon Lord, I’m meant to watch over them until they hatch, but they won’t and haven’t.”

Thorax shot up. “What are you doing here?”

“Don’t worry, Flare and Clinker are there while I’m taking a break.”

Guilt scraped through Thorax’s carapace in a cold flush. “Because of me?”

“Thorax, it’s just a small break. I don’t think-”

“We can talk there,” he opened his elytra and spread his wings. “I don’t want to be the one who gets you into trouble.”

As she stood up, Ember scoffed in amusement. “You could do that even if you tried.”

Thorax smiled coyly as his response formed in his mind: “Good thing I’m not trying.”

With that, Ember had led Thorax - who made sure to carry the Book of Equestrian Creatures and Where to Find Them under his left foreleg - to the egg-hatching grounds. Like the rest of the Dragon Lands, it was dry, hot, and buzzing with the smelly fumes of sulphur. Thorax, used to the smell enough by now, barely even wrinkled his nose. The grounds - true to their moniker - were full of dragon eggs. Unhatched, but dragon eggs nonetheless.

“This is the hottest place in all of the Dragon Lands,” Ember said pridefully, but soon noticed Thorax’s profuse sweating. “Uh... are you okay? Do you want me to get you a water, or something?”

Thorax imagined her doing so, but predicted that it would either evaporate before his very eyes, or would heat up to temperatures only a dragon would be able to find even remotely cool. “No, thank you.” He muttered.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with them!” Ember proclaimed. “Usually, a dragon egg is meant to take just a couple of days to hatch.”

“Maybe they’re too hot,” Thorax crouched down next to a nearby clutch of eggs, and took note of the smoke that billowed out of the cracks underneath them every minute or so. A puff of smoke hit Thorax in the face, and he pulled himself back and stood, coughing into his free forehoof with his weight pushed onto his hind legs to keep balanced. “Or,” he wheezed, “is that a stupid question?”

Ember grinned, “There’s a reason why they’re in the hottest place in the Dragon Lands, you know...”

Thorax carefully placed the Book of Equestrian Creatures in Ember’s front claws, and crouched back down to the clutch of pale, multi-coloured eggs. “Have you tried talking to them?”

“They’re eggs, Thorax,” Ember retorted, “they can’t talk back.”

Pharynx had said the exact same thing with the last eggs that had been in the Hive’s nursery. However, Thorax’s persistence, mostly due to the positive effects it had on Flurry Heart back when he babysat her for Princess Cadance and Shining Armor, had reformed most of the eggs inside before they had even hatched, a feat which Thorax was rather pleased about. Thorax didn’t reply, and instead rubbed a hoof along one of the eggs closest to him. “Are you nice and toasty in your little beds?” He asked them. “You’re meant to come out, now. I know it’s probably all lovely and cosy in there, but you really should come out...”

“Well,” Ember sat down next to him, and - with the book resting on her thighs - patted Thorax on the carapace. “You tried your best, but I’m afraid dragons just don’t like huggy-feely things. Thanks, though.”

Thorax thought for a moment. “Have you asked Princess Twilight for any help?” He hated to suggest it, as she had already gone out of her way to help him, but if that was what was needed, Ember should do it.

“I got a letter saying that Smolder is coming back tomorrow for a couple of days to see her brother,” Ember shrugged. “It said she was bringing the animal one with her. Maybe she’ll know what’s going on.”

“Oh! If anypony knows, it’ll be Fluttershy. She’s the one who lent me the book.”

For what Thorax estimated to be the next hour given the position of the sun, Thorax and Ember chatted and tried a couple of techniques they had learnt from observing the wildlife in the woodlands that neighboured their respective kingdoms, from pushing the eggs closer together to collecting large leaves to blanket them.

Thorax had even transformed into a roc to incubate one of the nests of eggs himself. He had singed a few feathers, which would surely translate into a couple of burns on his chitin later, but to no avail. It had been to help Ember, in any case, so what were a couple of burns really?

However, their time together had to come to a forced end, as they knew that Thorax would be needed - dare he say missed - back at the Hive, and Ember would need to continue her duties as Dragon Lord in the Dragon Lands. Pharynx would be wondering where he had gotten off to, anyway.

“I hope Fluttershy will know what to do,” Thorax said, before wishing Ember good luck. She did the same for him, and they parted without another word.

Chapter Four: Others

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“So, we have gathered you all here today to reassemble the royal advisors,” Pharynx addressed the room of thirteen Changelings before Thorax and himself. “Thorax decided it would be best to let you decide what you want to do with your position. I heard some of you switched professions.” He was trying to be nice about it. As nice as Pharynx could be, that was.

“What Pharynx is trying to say is that -” Thorax cleared his throat; “we understand that some of you may not want to rejoin, and your decision will be perfectly fine - it’s your decision, and we can’t force you into something you might not want to do.”

You might not be able to,” Thorax’s ears pricked up and turned on instinct to listen to his brother grumble. By the corner of his eye, he shot Pharynx a pointed look. As pointed as what he could muster: he wasn’t really a pointed Changeling, after all. If anything, his ‘look’ was probably a glance that bore a nervous stammer.

So,” Thorax continued, giving Pharynx’s remark no verbal recognition, “if any of you would like to leave, by all means, do it now.”

A lily-green medium horn with a set of dark blue eyes and carapace raised his hoof and shuffled out of the group towards the exit. A knot bubbled in Thorax’s barrel at the sight of him, and a pungent scent of mucus, charcoal, and timberwood travelled up his nostrils. He recognised the Changeling, yet he was a stranger. He felt like it, anyway. Otherworldly, almost. Thorax felt like setting eyes on him gave some sort of deja-vu effect, while meeting someone completely new.

“You can go,” he heard Pharynx say on his behalf. He was too enveloped by the stranger to detect his brother’s tone.

The name Hallux was busy lingering on Thorax’s tongue like an unsuccessful, weak poison. He felt forgetful and knowledgeable all at once. A sickly feeling burnt in his throat, like he had just downed a full glass of bitter white wine. Whatever he was feeling, it felt horrible! He never wanted to feel this ever again. But, it only got worse as his eyes met with the other Changeling’s.

A lilac sheen glossed over the dark blue, and Thorax found his breath trapping in his throat. It felt all but a daydream, what happened next. It was a sensation Thorax had never felt before. Time seemed to stop, almost, as the two competed in a silent staring contest - no, a war of plea - as ‘Hallux’ was leaving.

In a fleeting couple of seconds, Thorax’s vision pulsated, and he was brought to a void where Pharynx, his own brother, was exiting the meeting room. Unlike with Hallux, Thorax knew that something was off immediately: the deja-vu was there, but the sureness of a stranger was much stronger, because Pharynx seemed worried. Nervous, even.

Never had Thorax seen Pharynx’s compound lilac eyes flicker that way, that strongly. He had never seen his brother’s dark steel chitin look so whole and untouched by cracks and scars. He had never even seen his scraggly purple wings droop so low in nerve-wracked caution.

A muffled, gravelly call echoed in Thorax’s ears.

The moment was over, and the second Hallynx disappeared out of the door, Thorax found himself back in the brightly coloured meeting room. He blinked in confusion. The feeling was gone, and he felt fine. Physically, at least.

“-rax! Thorax!” Pharynx barked, and Thorax found himself being twisted around, his rosy-purple eyes meeting his brother’s lilac ones. A shiver ran down his carapace. Thorax determined that Pharynx looked rather worried, and thus he shivered again.

“Yes, Pharynx?” Thorax clad himself in a nervous smile.

Yes, Pharynx,” Pharynx mocked, “no, Pharynx!” He hissed. “What happened?”

“I- you-” Thorax was happy to know that he was breathing again, but another shiver ran down his back. He was feeling cold and staticy. Perhaps he had accidentally gorged himself on too much love? That couldn’t have been it, he’d be hot and sluggish if that was the case. But, it felt as though residue magic was swimming through his bloodstream like there was no tomorrow.

An electric zap swirled in Thorax’s ears. He shook the sensation off by shaking his head.

“Should we go after him?” Pharynx whispered. Thorax shook his head much more carefully this time for his response.

“You saw that?” All Thorax could really do was rasp.

“I smelt it,” Pharynx corrected with a grimace. “If that infiltrator thinks it can come after us, it has another thing coming!”

Thorax, stammering, looked back at the other eleven Changelings and presented a nervous laugh and smile combo. “We’re really sorry about this.” He turned back to his brother swiftly: “You gather a couple of the guards and see if you can find them, or at the very least the Changeling they were impersonating. I’ll stay here.”

“Affirmative,” Pharynx said, and at that departed.

Thorax, having just watched his brother leave, cleared his throat. The panicked chittering in the air subsided. A silence set over the room of a dozen Changelings as he scraped together a couple of sentences to say to the twelve before him.

As Thorax opened his mouth to speak, a yellow shorthorn put one of their hooves up. “I’d actually like to return to my current job.” Philtrum licked their lips, and put on a smile. “I’ve actually preferred gardening to Hive politics.” They frowned, and their orange eyes softened with a thin grief. “Sorry, your majesty.”

Thorax smiled right back at them. “No worries, Philtrum. You can leave.”

“With that thing out there?!” Retina, a blue no horn with orange eyes, exclaimed. “We should all hide!”

Thorax could feel his face contort, but he forced it to keep only a little stern. He prayed for his voice to act the same, and not come across as an elaborate pantomime of assertiveness. “Now, is that any way to treat anycreature?” He asked the group, and the chittering revved up again in a baffled manner.

“He can’t be serious!”

“King Thorax-”


“No buts,” Thorax allowed himself just a fleeting second of self-praise. “How would you like it if the entire Hive treated you that way? I’m sure all of us here have experienced it firsthoof from some of the ponies! But, that doesn’t give us the right to do the same!”

A murmur of approval and agreement came to a crescendo, chittering heads bobbed supportively, and the aura of adoration permeated the room. Thorax smiled to himself: really, sometimes this ruling job was rather fulfilling. And nutritious.

Thorax was in that state of deep half-slumber where he could feel himself twisting and coiling around in his sleep, from one pillow to the next, up and down, left and right, etcetera and etcetera and etcetera. He could feel that, and yet he remained asleep, wandering through his empty arable hive.

The New Hive, usually bustling with life and heartwarming noise, was societally desolate. Thorax was left in the misty state of lazily-made unconsciousness. As he took many sheepish steps forward, he could - in an almost meta fashion - feel the heavy press of tiredness on his cheeks, just under his eyes, and the ache in his shoulders from his own tossing and turning.

The only explanation Thorax could conjure in his mind was that he was dreaming. It didn’t stop Thorax from desperately calling out for Pharynx. Despite the fact that it was his own voice that sounded, it felt as though he was listening to another.

Pharynx? Anyone?”

A set of glowing lilac eyes pierced through the thick fog that filled Thorax’s imagination. Out from the haze came a familiar grey-black creature, with holed legs and a grime-coloured neckfin. Its almost serpentine tongue flickered around the lips of its seemingly hungry, grinning maw, deftly skipping past its white walrussy fangs.

“Pharynx? W-Why are you-” Thorax stumbled back from the hungry, slowly approaching unreformed Pharynx, and then more figures emerged, each as identical and salivating and predatory as the next. What seemed like a million unreformed Pharynxes prowled and skulked towards their engaged hunt: Thorax.

Each of their lilac eyes glowed so intimidatingly, the patch of Hive - now completely dark and shrouded in fog - became eerily brilliant with light. Thorax found his legs much too long for his scared, oafish form, and he tripped over his own hind hooves. Fight or flight was activated, and everything in Thorax’s almost-paralysed body absolutely screamed ‘flight!’.

Thorax tried running: he couldn’t. He tried flying: he couldn’t. He tried transforming: he couldn’t. A burning breath was hitched in his throat; panic made his eyes sting and legs wobbly. Thorax bit his lip to stifle a sob, and his vision grew watery. He could feel the corners of his mouth ache and eyes go watery as he whimpered into his pillow.

Hallux emerged from the fog, covered in dregs of red cocoon slime, and the First Pharynx donned a significantly malicious grin on his sharply-fanged muzzle. A Changeling lunged from the right and sank their teeth into the side of Thorax’s neck, just before his shoulder. Thorax couldn’t move; he yelped, though, as the attack had hurt agonisingly. Then, Hallux said darkly, “You let me get captured, Thorax.”

Thorax finally jumped over the enclosing predators - not unlike a startled deer over some forest brush - and ran as fast as his dream-legs could take him while he twisted awkwardly in bed again. He should wake up. Why couldn’t he wake up?

A silhouette rushed by Thorax when he stopped halfway through the thick blanket of fog. He wasn’t out of breath, nor was his chest burning with exertion, for it was a dream that he was trapped in. He kept telling himself to wake up. He couldn’t.

Thorax peered ahead, and spotted the aforementioned silhouette: it was another unreformed Pharynx clone, although its countenance wasn’t ravening, but rather wary and frightened: brows furrowed; downturned lips; twitching nose; looking over its shoulder, it disappeared further into the mist.

Thorax followed, and he could feel his head weasel under one of his pillows. He needed answers. “Wait! Come back!”

The next scene was just as misty: a green coniferous forest with a floor of dead leaves and loud, gossiping twigs and some downed moss-freckled logs, either whole or hollow. With each step Thorax took, dry leaves crunched and brittle sticks snapped; as he looked around, he found himself alone, and no wildlife made noise. Dead silence, apart from the snap-snap-snapping twigs.

The snapping stopped. The mist thickened. The Thorax panicked. “H-Hello?” He asked, choking on the lump growing in his throat. “Pharynx? Ha- er, Hallux?”

Two shadows went by. One on the right: the larger and blurrier of the two, being a creature with two prongs on its head. Thorax dared say that the figure was as tall as Princess Celestia, just a bit larger than himself. The second was on the left: smaller, and filled with imperfectly circular gaps. Thorax could see the lilac glow of its eyes.

As the first greyish silhouette vanished, a sparky sizzle collected in Thorax’s head, from the nape of his neck to the tip of his horn. It was staticy and almost painful, like a prick of a small pin, but Thorax held his head all the same as an aftertaste of lightheadedness swayed him. It went as soon as it came, and thus he went after the second figure.

“Come back!” Thorax heard himself calling as he ran. “Please listen to me! Come back... please?”

The Changeling did not stop. Instead, it seemed as though it picked up its pace, and disappeared into the fog. Thorax stopped, and as if he was out of his own mind, turned right with his head held low and began to wander.

As if by magic, Thorax found himself at the edge of a lake in a sandy clearing at the centre of the forest. The lake water was dark but pristine; the mist foamed over the top of it seemed to clear as Thorax bowed his head to drink. As he lapped at the water, he noticed how his tongue remained dry, and the only wetness he could feel was his slimy saliva squished between his bed and chitinous cheek. His tossing and turning had stopped, but he felt so emotionally and sensually uneased, his nerves made him feel sick.

Something about this was too wrong. Indescribably wrong. Unwakeably wrong.

Thorax watched his grey reflection. It distorted with every lick he gave the water’s surface; it rippled and shifted but Thorax could still make out his own compound eyes and long, round antlers. Everything but the water was still and scarily calm.

Silence. Stillness. Dimness.

A one-eyed, horribly scarred ex-Queen Chrysalis lunged out of the water towards Thorax. She rasped, screeched, and echoed, “Wretched niece!”

Thorax awoke with a start. He gasped loudly, sat up in his canopy bed, and in his lap landed his beaten pillow. Upon finding comfort in his dark room, Thorax sighed in relief. His heart was racing, his shoulders were shaking, and his muzzle was covered in drool. He used his pillow to wipe it away, replaced said pillow back where it belonged, and used Princess Cadance’s breathing technique.

“Your majesty!” Thorax recognised the gruff voice of Trachea - a cyan long horn - as she charged into his chambers. He ignited his horn to cast a blue light through the darkness and then he noticed Chilblain - a yellow short horn - by her side. They both wore their ink-coloured helmets and held their spears in a foreleg each. “We heard you screaming!”

Had he been screaming? They had been guarding his room, Thorax was sure of it, and of course, it had to have been Pharynx’s doing. He wasn’t sure whether he should thank his brother later, or gently chastise him.

Thorax licked his dry lips, and checked the side of his neck where the Changeling had attacked. No blood, no wound, no pain. “I’m fine, thank you,” he said, “just a bad dream.” He closed his eyes for a moment, saw the old, lunging ex-Queen Chrysalis in his mind, and then went rigid as he opened his eyes with a sigh.

“Is there anything we can get for you, your highness?” Came the nasal voice of Chilblain.

The words ‘No, thank you’ danced on Thorax’s tongue and shaped his lips, but after he pondered over Hallynx, and the swarm of unreformed Changelings in his dream, he took a moment to make up his mind: “Get Pharynx. I need Pharynx.”

“Of course, your majesty!” Trachea said, and the two saluted, turned, and began their departure.

“Oh,” they turned back to him, “please. And thank you.” They nodded, and Thorax sighed again once he was left alone.

Using his hooves, he opened one of his bedside drawers and took out the few pages of Mirage’s diary. Perhaps they could explain his bad dream. If it wasn’t ‘just a bad dream’, that was. It couldn’t have been. It was too... exact. Was that the right word to use? Because, too exact was what his dream was, as well as too scary.

Thorax filed through Mirage’s pages by the dim blue glow of his antlers and horn. Everything was written in symbols and squiggles and some of the words - if they could have even been called that - seemed to be cut off from where they had been ripped out of their home in the diary’s cover. Thorax shook his head; was now the time to give up hope?

If it was, and the Hive was forced into endangerment as generation after generation, then it would be all his fault. He and Pharynx would be stuck, sitting back and watching as what they had built up completely diminished before their very eyes. Thorax’s eyes stung at the mere thought: Ocellus gone; the Hive abandoned; their own lives lonesome.

Lonesome... What if he and Pharynx unreformed? Then everything that he had stood up for would have been a waste, and he would be infamous, and everycreature - especially Pharynx - would hate him and-

Thorax inhaled sharply, held his breath, and then drew it out of his chest with an elongated hoof.

“That’s really getting old, you know, right?” Pharynx entered Thorax’s chambers with a lantern lit with golden light and a cardboard box in his pulsating purple aura.

“It doesn’t exactly go away, Pharynx,” Thorax spoke back, and Pharynx hopped onto his bed just in front of him. He put the lantern on the bedside cabinet, and placed the box between them. “What’s this?”

“After that Princess of yours sent some of Mirage’s pages, I recognised the smell of them,” Pharynx said, and with his hooves he pulled out a narrow, rectangular notebook from the box. Its cover was brownish-black, charred, and well-worn, and its browned pages were uneven and loose with a thin, tattered old ribbon clamped somewhere between. “Think this is the rest of it.”

Thorax peered inside the box. Accompanying the notebook was a dirty spine of a feather or quill of some kind; a large, moth eaten brown sheet of fabric - Thorax pulled it out, and realised that it was a really old scarf -; some rocks that the Old Hive was made out of; and lastly, a little black crown with blue beads at the end of the three points.

Thorax’s stomach sank when he saw the crown, for it was identical to the one attached to ex-Queen Chrysalis’ head, with the exception being its slightly bigger width. At last, Thorax looked at Pharynx again: “Pharynx, what is this?”

“Things I collected from Chrysalis’ room when everyling reformed,” he admitted; “well, what was left of Chrysalis’ room.” Clearly this was difficult for Pharynx, by the was he averted his gaze and spoke quietly. Thorax neither encouraged nor discouraged him. “I was gonna show you it tomorrow, but what’s a better time than the present, huh?”

“Pharynx,” Thorax said in a warm, sweet voice, “why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“Oh, great,” he sneered, “am I in trouble, now?”


Pharynx sighed. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. No need to be like that.” He sighed again. “I jus’ thought - y’know, at the time ’nd all - that you’d, I don’t know, be upset and tell me to get rid of it.”

Thorax put a hoof on his brother’s shoulder. “I would never do that.”

The reaction of shrugging the gesture off was delayed, but eventually it did happen. “I haven’t looked in the book, if that’s what you’re thinking. I never felt the need to.”

“Well, now we have a need to,” Thorax said. Perhaps there was an understandable answer awaiting discovery. There was, on the very first page. Thorax took a moment to process what he had read: he laughed in hindsight, and almost wryly if he had the nature to do so, “Pharynx, we are so dumb.”

“Speak for yourself.” Pharynx grumbled, but tried peering past Thorax’s gamboge antlers. “What’s it say?”

“It’s the code to the cipher that the entries are written in.”

“You’re joking.”

“Most of the symbols are letters, and the squiggles are full words.” Thorax frowned. “At least, that’s what it says.”

“Well? What are you waiting for?” Pharynx used his magic to take out a piece of parchment, a quill, and a bottle of ink. “Let’s translate it.”

Thorax noticed that Pharynx was prepared to write himself, and the first thing that came to mind was how it was usually a bad idea to write in bed. Shining Armor and Sunburst had very much told him so. The second thing was how Pharynx had always shown impatience when it came to quills, and demonstrated a heavy hoof when it came to using one. Usually, Pharynx’s quills would snap on impact with the paper, and then Pharynx’s impatience and wrath would inflate drastically as he tore the piece of paper to shreds.

Surely that was what was expected after being taught how to write as an angry adult, and not as an angry - but much smaller and manageable - foal. And, while Thorax hoped and believed that his brother had gotten better, he wasn’t quite ready to let that happen with his own pieces of parchment and quills, especially seeing as they were a gift from Princess Twilight herself.

Thorax traded Mirage’s diary for the writing triad quickly. “Okay,” he said brightly, as if nothing had been traded, “what’s first?”

Pharynx grumbled, taking on his usual role of dry pessimism against Thorax’s bright optimism. He flicked from the first page to the first entry multiple times. “T -” Thorax wrote it down, and Pharynx flicked between the pages again upon rubbing his hoof against the covers - “O, D - uh - A, Y... today!”

“You’re doing good,” Thorax encouraged, as it was second nature by now, and clapped his hooves together.

Pharynx gave a look of daggers, and Thorax bit his lip. There was a moment’s silence, one half comfortable and half awkward, pained, and eventually Pharynx spoke: “So, bad dream, huh?”

“That’s why I wanted you here,” Thorax said.

“I figured.” He was waiting.

Thorax took a deep breath. He wasn’t going to leave a detail out, no matter how difficult it would be to translate into an accurate description. He wasn’t going to leave a detail out. Perhaps a question would help ease the confusion. “Have you... ever had a dream where you can feel yourself sleeping?”

Pharynx seemed to take a moment to think. He stared at Thorax quite blankly for some time before settling on an answer. “Can’t say I have. Why? Is that what happened? You got freaked out, an’ you woke up?”

“No,” Thorax’s nose crinkled. “Well, yes. Sort of. Oh, Pharynx! It was so strange!”

Pharynx paused, “I’m assuming there’s more, then.”

“I was outside,” Thorax said, “and I was myself, but it wasn’t the Hive. Nopony was there, and it was really foggy.”

Ooh,” Pharynx’s lilac eyes rolled around in their sockets. Thorax winced.

Please, Pharynx,” he said gently, “this is- I think it’s serious.”

“Well, I’m here now. No more bad dreams are gonna get you, Thorax. I promise.” Through the dreary lighting arrangements, it was hard to say if Pharynx had cracked a small, tactful smile.

“It’s not that it was a bad dream, Pharynx,” Thorax sighed, thinking slowly, “it’s what was in the dream that I’m worried about.”

Pharynx’s upper lip curled in a grimace of disbelief. “...The fog?”

“The Changelings.” Thorax whispered, remembering that the two guards, Trachea and Chilblain, were outside his chambers, potentially listening.

“But, I thought you said there was no one-”

It wasn’t really in Thorax’s nature to cut across when someone was talking, and both he and Pharynx were well aware of this - as was everyone else that knew Thorax - but now Thorax couldn’t help it. He needed to get his point across. “Until there were, Pharynx!”

Pharynx rolled his eyes, but kept quiet.

“They weren’t from this Hive,” Thorax averted his gaze to Mirage’s diary at Pharynx’s dark hooves.

His brother seemed almost intrigued, now. “This Hive?”

“You know that infiltrator from the advisor meeting this morning?” Pharynx simply nodded. “And how Queen Chrysalis always knew when one of us tried deceiving her?” Another nod. “Well, I think that when I zoned out, I...” Thorax took a deep breath, “saw past his disguise. He, well- he-”

“Out with it, Thorax. If this is a skill you have, then-”

“He looked like you, Pharynx.” Another interruption, followed by another silence. However, this time it was much thicker and nerve-wracking. Thorax swallowed a mouthful of slime.

Interesting,” was all the indication of a response that Pharynx gave. Thorax knew he was puzzled, and upset. “Like I am now?”

“Unreformed,” Thorax mumbled, now rather abashedly. Still, he continued: “There was a whole swarm of them. Surrounding me. And then, Hallux - the Changeling that was impersonated - came out, covered in red mucus and leftover cocoon, and said it was all my fault that he was captured, and then I couldn’t-”

“Red cocoon,” Pharynx seemed submerged in shock and thought as the information warily sunk in. “I’m such an idiot.” He whispered under his breath, and Thorax barely caught it.

“No, Pharynx, you’re not,” Thorax didn’t believe he was helping much. “That would make me an idiot, too.”

“No, Thorax,” his voice was raspier than usual, “it doesn’t.” He flicked to-and-fro between the first two pages of Mirage’s old diary again.

“I know you’re upset, but-”

“Not upset, Thorax, just tired.”

Thorax sighed. “Let me finish what I have to say, then.” Pharynx waited, but Thorax could tell he had grown a little impatient. Perhaps he should try to egg him into a session at one of the feelings forums. “I followed the infiltrator into the woods. They weren’t our woods, though. It was still really foggy, and I lost them. I came across a lake, and started to drink from it. Then, this old version of Queen Chrysalis jumped out of the water at me, and I woke up.”

Old? What do you mean old?”

Well,” Thorax thought for a moment until his temples felt as though they were being pressed into his skull, and his horn’s light went out from magical strain, “by now, everything had gone pretty grey. Not black and white, but really... not bright and colourful. Like all the saturation had been sucked out.” Silence; Pharynx was waiting. “Her hair was pretty pale, and one of her eyes had been scratched out. She was pretty messed up. I think she was missing a few teeth. And she said something like, uh, ‘wretched niece’.”

“We’ll talk more tomorrow,” Pharynx said, landing on all four hooves beside Thorax’s bed and using his purple magic to put everything back in the cardboard box. He lifted his lantern with magic, and balanced the box on his back, against the back of his neck. “I think we just both need time to think.”

Thorax agreed, “Okay.” A brief memory sparked in his mind. “Princess Cadance used to say that Princess Celestia used to have visions in her sleep.”

“You’d better write a letter then.”

Thorax knew he would. “Okay,” he said, and laid his head down on his pillow, “goodnight, Pharynx.”

There came no response, and then all of the light in the chamber was gone.