Diaries of a Madman

When Discord breaks free of his stone prison, he proves to be much older and wiser than he was on the show. A being of ancient and unimaginable power, he forces Celestia to make a deal to save her little ponies. What she doesn't realize is that one of the terms of the deal is that she forgets ever making it. Enter Navarone, a poor human just trying to get by—or at least, to the ponies that's what he looks like. Pulled from his home by an accidental summoning from one Twilight Sparkle, Navarone is thrust into a world of ponies and more violence than he expected from such a peaceful seeming world. These are his adventures—with a few asides from everybody's favorite Lord of Chaos, of course.

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66. Chapter Fifty-Two—I fucking hate bugs

When they were gone, I turned to Chrysalis. “Well alright then. I assume you have something planned?”

“For today, no. Again, I am busy. It will not be until tomorrow that you will have a chance to see your children.” Her horn lit up and a small bag appeared. She passed it to me. “You have free run of the city. The laws are common sense. Ask any changeling for directions if you need them. When you tire, return to the palace. Do you have any questions?”

“Is there any place where sunlight filters through? I might need some of that eventually.”

“No, there’s not. There are, however, guards posted at the tunnel to the surface. Ask any of them and one will escort you to the top.”

“Awesome. Thanks, Chrysalis.”

She smirked. “No problem, Nav. It is the least I can do after what you have done for us. Now, I have a kingdom to continue running. Hopefully this will be the last distraction of the day.” She disappeared in a flash of green fire again. I looked around the room and saw that a few changelings were returning. I then checked the bag she gave me and saw that it had chunks of iron in it. I shrugged and pocketed it.

With that done, I started toward the door. I didn’t know where anything in particular was and I knew there weren’t any signs, so I was just going to wander around for a few hours. What’s the worst that could happen?

 

I hate everything.

I hate you, I hate ponies, I hate changelings, and I especially hate giant motherfucking ants.

I loaded the last bolt from my quiver and took aim. With a gentle twitch of the trigger, the bolt flew true and crunched into the skull of another ant in the swarm attacking the hive, dropping it and providing a mere obstacle to the insane number of ants right behind that one. I sighed as I dropped the crossbow and pulled my axe out yet again. It was already covered in gore, sticky ant juices all along it. I wasn’t much better, all things told; my entire body was covered in a mix of changeling blood and ant goo. There was a little bit of amber tree blood here and there, where a few ants got too close with their serrated pincers.

Oh, they weren’t actually out to get me. I didn’t even register as an enemy to them. That said, I also wasn’t an obstacle to them. They’d casually run me over without a thought in the world. Or if they were attacking a changeling that was a little too close to me, their pincers wouldn’t be greedy in who they hit.

“There is no more falling back!” Ditto called out as he flew above the mass of changelings guarding the building. “This is our nursery, where we store our larvae. We will fight to the last changeling. We will hold out until the queen arrives. Use magic only on large bundles. Give Navarone plenty of room to swing that monster. Do not let any of them past this line. In her name!”

There was no cheering. The only sound was the clacking of the ants as they marched inexorably on. And the screams from other parts of the hive, of course. The battle had been raging for nearly three hours now.

My day had been going so well. I was just chilling, wandering around the hive, seeing all sorts of cool sights. And then the screaming started. I flew up a bit and looked around until I saw a tidal wave of chittering insects crashing over the city, pouring out of a few side tunnels. From there, I fought with several groups of changelings. Often, I fought until I was the last survivor. Normally, my fighting style—hah, yeah right—wouldn’t do me any good, but to an enemy that doesn’t see you and fights as a swarm? Swinging randomly does wonders.

I hefted the axe in my hands as I watched the tide of ants grow closer. There was no shifting or twitching in the ranks around me, even though none of these changelings here were actually soldiers. The few soldiers alpha hive had were guarding the food halls and the queen as she flew around the city, doing her thing. Apparently, all changelings can double as militia when the hive is threatened. And thus, the group that was mostly behind me were random changelings, remnants of past battles all gathered together in one spot to defend the future of the hive.

I popped my neck. “Let’s do this.” At that queue, the ants were among us. I swung my axe, bisecting the head of the first one. It dropped, trying to drag my axe with it. With a small grunt, I pulled it out. Gotta sharpen this damn thing. I removed the side legs of one of the ants beside me, immobilizing it for the changelings to further dismantle.

I took a small moment to look around before jumping into the air, letting my wings carry me over the ants in front of me. I landed on the back of one of the ants further behind the front lines. I swung the axe into its skull, leaving it for dead, then jumped off its back and onto another one, repeating the process. I kept that up, hammering at the ranks of those in the back before they could get to the front, trying to hinder the movements of other ants as they rushed to the changeling lines.

When the blade of my axe got too dull to slam into the exoskeletons, I started using the spike at the end of it to impale them. It didn’t do nearly as much damage, but it was usually enough to kill most of them.

“THE ANTENNAE!” I heard a voice scream out. “GO FOR THE ANTENNAE!”

I eyed the axe and dropped it, letting it bounce off the back of the ants. I drew my knife and started hacking away at the giant antennas of the ants around the one I was standing on. As soon as I cut them off, the ants started going wild, attacking all those nearby. I grinned as I started doing that, just cutting antennas off left and right and letting the ant hordes kill themselves off.

When the knife was pulled from my hands by a rampaging ant, I just found an ant that I hadn’t fucked up yet and started pulling on his antennas. I found that I could control it by pulling left to make it go left and right to make it go right. If I pulled on both, its pincers would snap. With that, I started seriously having fun.

Well, up until every single ant in the hive just stopped moving completely.

I was having the time of my life, riding a giant ant and causing it to kill other giant ants, when suddenly the one I was on jerked to a standstill, surprising me and getting me to nearly tumble off. “What the hell?” I asked aloud. It was then that I noticed how close I was to the changeling lines. I warily stood up and jumped from ant to ant back to the lines, doing my best to keep balance. “What happened?” I asked when I was sitting on the head of the ant closest to the lines.

“Their queen is dead,” a random changeling answered.

“So, what, we win? Awesome.” I jumped down from the head and started combing over the bodies, looking for my weapons. A changeling passed me my crossbow, but I found that it was pretty banged up and the string was broken. I slung it over my shoulder and kept looking. I found my axe faintly glittering under a dead ant and managed to push the ant up enough to pull the axe out. With a grimace, I put it back in its loop on my back and shuddered at the feeling of the slime running down my back. The knife was the hardest to find; it was embedded in the thorax of an ant near the front lines.

By the time I got all the weapons back, the queen had arrived to our little last stand area. She was looking over the field of casualties—both ants and changelings aplenty were dead. When she saw me jumping back, she let out a small smile before turning back to her people. She was giving a small speech that I was too far away to hear. I could have flown back, but I think my wings were too covered in nastiness to do much in the way of flying. When I made it back to the lines, her speech was done.

I sat on the back of an ant as she approached me. I would have stood, but I was feeling really tired. “I see you had fun,” she commented as she looked over my body and weapons.

“Not my definition of fun, actually,” I replied. “I need a bath and a few bandages. And then I need a bed. I don’t even know where my small bag of clothes is… they could be anywhere, honestly.” I don’t remember where I was when I dropped them. It was only a week’s worth, so it really wasn’t a big deal.

“If they’re found, I’ll get them to you. But their blood is poisonous, Nav. If you are injured, you likely need healing.”

“I’m relatively immune to most poisons, but I won’t say no to healing. Do what you can.” Her horn lit up and gently touched me. I shivered as I felt my wounds close.

“There. Again, it is the least I can do. You didn’t have to stay here and help fight. Especially since the ants didn’t even seem to notice you, apparently.”

I shrugged. “Gotta earn my keep somehow. And after what Twilight did today, I figured earning some goodwill for Equestria wouldn’t be looked down upon.”

Her grin returned. “I think we both know you set her up. But yes, your help was appreciated. If there is anything I can ever do for you, just let me know.”

I stretched a bit, showing off my wings. “Point me to a bath. I need to get this grime off me. And then find me a bed.”

She nodded. “You’ll find both in the palace. Can you get there yourself? I have things to take care of here and elsewhere in the hive. I may have killed the queen, but there are still plenty of ants left alive that need to be removed.”

I looked around. “Yeah, I can find the palace. Getting there will be another story; I don’t think I can really fly right now. I’ll do what I can.”

“No. Stay here.” She walked off to her escort. A moment later, three changelings flew up to me. Two of them grabbed my arms and gently lifted me off the ant I was sitting on. They casually carried me to the palace and dropped me off right at the entrance. One of them stayed and walked me inside while the other two flew back off. Not a word was said by any of the three of them.

The one that walked me inside showed me to a large room. With a salute, he walked to the end of the hall and jumped out a hole there and flew away. I shrugged and walked into the room. I quickly found a bathroom and began washing.

Of course, changelings don’t have hot water or towels, apparently. I suppose they don’t need either of them when they have carapaces that can block external feelings and that they can just shake dry. Still, it felt nice to get clean, even if I did have to wrap a blanket around myself for decency.

I was running a whetstone down my axe—even with that, I was still probably going to have to have it repaired by a professional when I got back—when Chrysalis returned. She walked on in like she owned the place. Which, all things told, was fair—after all, she did own the place. I looked up and nodded when she walked in.

“Good to see you looking clean,” she said before using magic to throw a bag at me. I caught it and saw that it was my bag of clothes. “You won’t be getting any of your bolts back, I fear, but at least we were able to return those.”

“Thanks. How bad were the casualties?”

She grimaced. “It wasn’t good. We are not unused to monsters roaming in from the deep, but it is rare to have such a large assault. Very rare…” She sighed. “It could have been worse.” She reached up to her head and pulled the crown off before setting it on a dresser. “I don’t suppose you could give me a massage to help me relieve some of this stress?”

“I’ll do what I can, but you’d probably be better off getting a professional to do it.”

“There are no professional masseurs here.” She walked over to the bed and plopped down on it with a deep sigh. I shrugged and gently sat on her back, noting as I did that I still wasn’t wearing pants. Not like she cares. I began gently rubbing her body, doing my best to find hard areas and wear them down. I didn’t know much about massaging, but I have done it in the past for some ponies. This was hardly any different.

I didn't realize it at the time, but when I look back, I honestly wonder how I massaged through her carapace. This world, man...

When I was finished, she was actually asleep. I sighed and pushed her over a bit before lying down on the other side of the bed. As an afterthought, I grabbed a pair of pants and threw the blanket over her before joining her in sleep.

As it turns out, it was a good thing I put on pants. I woke up being cuddled by a bug queen, her forehooves on my crotch. I twitched my wings a bit and felt around to find that I was pretty well stuck. I could get out of bed, but I’d probably wake her up doing it. I gave a small shrug and just settled back down, letting myself try to sleep again.

I would kind of like to know what it is about ponies and cuddling against me, though. Pinkie, Fluttershy, Cadance, Luna, Sunshine, and now Chrysalis all seem to enjoy it. It was kind of awkward.

…even if it did feel nice, being held.

I was slipping in and out of consciousness when she woke up half an hour later. I didn’t move, just waited to see what she would do. She jerked when she felt me, but then sighed and pulled away. She walked to a door on the side of the room and entered it. I looked up and saw that it led to another bedroom. The door quietly shut before I could see anything else.

I stood up and put on a shirt. I noticed that her crown was still on my dresser. I shrugged and grabbed my axe and continued sharpening it. Even if I couldn’t get all the kinks out, I’d rather have it ready to be used than too dull to cut with in case something else happened while I was in the hive. When I finished with the axe, I started on the knife. I wouldn’t be able to use the crossbow until I got a new string and some bolts, so I didn’t bother doing too much to it aside from cleaning it. I quickly finished shining up the knife and slipped that into a sheath that I then slipped around my belt. I stood, stretched, and slipped the axe belt around my back.

I then grabbed the crown and gently knocked on the door between the rooms. The door opened a few seconds later, encased in a green glow. I entered and saw her brushing her hair with magic. I held up the crown. “Think you might have forgotten something.”

She turned to face me. “Yes, I was wondering where that went off to. Thank you.” It floated from my hands to her head. “Today is the day you get to meet the larvae you helped protect.” She stood. “Now, the larvae are different from us changelings. They aren’t exactly sapient, though some are more intelligent than others. Your children will probably take a year more to develop into changelings. After I show you to the nursery, I will have to go and attend to business. I fear this attack will leave me busy for some time.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“Not without understanding local politics and all manner of administrative issues. Your kind of work ended yesterday when the ants were destroyed. The work of the administrators begins now. You are welcome to stay in the hive; everything should be back to relative normality by tomorrow.”

I blinked. “How? You had to have lost several hundred changelings dead and possibly had thousands injured.”

“We are pragmatic. Yes, there were losses. Yes, the losses were high. But the hive doesn’t stop because a few workers are missing. We rebuild and carry on. And if you look outside, you’ll find that most of the damage is already gone.” She pointed me to a window. I walked over to it and looked out. The streets were once again immaculate. All the ants and bodies were gone.

“Simply amazing,” I whispered. It’s a shame the changelings were practically mindless. If they could accomplish this and have normal freedoms and mental capacities, it would be beyond amazing. I turned back to her. “And there will be no hits in morale?”

“Oh, there will be. But something like this could not have been expected or foreseen. Yes, we have the ability to occasionally catch raids before they happen, but it is impossible to always know when something is going to happen. There will be hits in morale, but it will fade. We all do our parts. Me just being seen today going about my business like nothing happened will be a nice boost. Of course, that won’t be able to last long.” She shrugged. “You are welcome to accompany me about my day, if you desire, but I assure you that you will likely be bored.”

“It would probably be a bad idea if I did join you. There might be some that see me as a spy for Celestia. It might hinder their abilities to speak freely if they thought they were being judged by a foreign power.”

“True enough, I suppose. Most wouldn’t care, but there are a few that might. I suppose you being seen might be a boost to morale as well. Especially given your role in the guarding of the nursery. According to Ditto, you made quite the figure.”

“I have my uses. I’m glad that I was able to help.” And even more glad that I didn’t get badly hurt doing it. “I hardly consider myself the hero of the day, though. I just happened to have a small advantage that I abused rather heavily. From what I heard, you were the one that killed the queen.”

“That I was. We used to be friends, her and I. It is a shame it came to this.” She shrugged. “Such is the life of those that live under the surface.” She was silent for a moment. “Come, it is time to visit the nursery.” She brushed past me to the door and we both entered the hall. She started off down to the end of the hall, toward a hole in the wall. “Tell me, how long do you think you will stay here?”

“At least until tomorrow, unless something happens and I’m needed for longer or I need to leave sooner.”

She nodded. “It is a shame to see you leave, but I understand the life of responsibilities. You are always welcome back, and before you leave, I will get you a list of changeling spies in Ponyville in case you ever need their assistance.”

“Not to be shared, I assume?”

She nodded. “Of course not.” With that, she jumped out the hole. I followed her, easily keeping up with her sedate pace. Now that I was outside, I could tell that the repair efforts hadn’t gone as well as I thought. Most of the damage was gone, but there was still some scoring in places, both black marks from fire and gouges from sharp ant legs.

“So why did they even attack?” I asked as we flew.

“Jealousy. Food, perhaps. What one has, another wants. Now that we finally got ahead in life, perhaps they figured it was their chance to do the same, even if it meant taking from those that were once friends.” She sighed. “I promised them aid, when we got back on our hooves. I suppose the promise of aid wasn’t as appealing as the idea of taking from us.” She shrugged—no easy feat, for someone flying—and added, “I suppose this is better for us, in the long run. We no longer have to pay to assist them.”

“But you lose a friend and an ally.”

“A friend and ally easily swayed against us and relatively easily beaten. Ants are good for cannon fodder, even if they are big and murderous. They have to be relatively close to their queen for the link to work well. When she dies, well, they become useless. We managed to lead the surviving ants away with some of the queen’s body parts. We left them in the darkness, where they will stand guard until they die of starvation. At least most changelings have enough independent thought to act without the hive.”

“Still, a shame it had to happen. When we get done here, I would like to talk with Ditto, if possible. I saw things yesterday that bear discussion.”

“That will be possible. I do have a meeting with him after this is done. You can come with me and I can leave you with him. I assume you have ideas for the defense of the hive?”

“Yeah. Changeling combat in general, really.” We finally made it to the nursery. A few nearby changelings bowed as the queen landed. We entered with little other fanfare. “So are all of the larvae stored in the same place? I don’t know much about this stuff.”

“Larvae are stored here in the nursery. Here they are tested for intelligence, general strength, magic abilities, and a few other things. They are also raised until childhood here. When they become children, they are usually given back to their parents, unless a class of parents gives birth to a child that belongs elsewhere. A drone should not raise a sentient, after all. A parent can come to visit their larva at any time. They are distinguishable by pheromones, so there is little chance of a parent finding the wrong child.”

“Are larvae actually sapient? Do they remember anything?”

“No, though that is debated. It is commonly believed that what happens to a changeling in the larval stage is lost.”

“Similar to our lives as babies, then. Most of us don’t remember much of our early lives either. Though we’re mammals and don’t have a larva stage.”

“I remember, from what you showed me of your world.” She shivered a bit. “Your birthing process is so nasty. I suppose that’s what happens in a male dominated world.”

“I’ve never seen a pony give birth, so I can’t really comment on the differences.” And I never wanted to see it, either.

Chrysalis led us right past a front desk with no one in it and down a hall. There were a few signs, but I didn’t take time to read them.

“So are there no caretakers?” I asked.

“There are. You helped some of them defend this place yesterday. But just the same, some of them were torn apart. I suppose larvae is especially tender, and that queen did love her comforts.” More information than I wanted to know. “Most of them are helping with the recovery efforts. Larvae generally need little watching.”

She stopped at a random room and gently opened the door with magic. She led the way inside. I followed. Inside were a bunch of black worm things. Large black worm things. “Uh…” Three of them started inching over to us.

Chrysalis smiled at that. “They know me,” she said.

“So these are larva?” I asked, nudging one very gently with my foot. It squished in a bit and then tried to curl around my foot before I backed away.

“Yes. There is not much to them. They require very little care, and can generally just be left alone. Drones usually sit in one place while not being stimulated, while sentients and intelligentsia tend to explore.”

“Like giant maggots. So these three are mine…” I knelt down and poked one. “I don’t see the resemblance.”

“I didn’t figure you would. Come, there is nothing else for us to see here.” I stood as she started back off to the door. We started away without a backward glance. I feel like a bad person for just leaving them… But it’s probably for the best. “Well?” she asked. “You are one of the only fathers in a while that I have been able to introduce to his larvae.”

“I don’t know. I mean, I kind of expected it to be… different. They were worms, plain and simple.” Meeting your children is supposed to be some kind of life changing experience, right? Well, what if your children are worms? Or maybe it’s just that I’m sociopathic. I don’t guess it matters. I might see them again when they’re older, I might not. “How long should they live?”

“The average changeling lifespan is rather short compared to ponies, but now that we have more food, I expect that to rocket up. My children usually live much longer anyway. Between the two of us, there’s no telling how long they’ll live.”

“Well, I suppose that means I’ll have a chance to meet them later. So, on to the meeting with Ditto?”

“Yes. Then more business for me and you can have your little play date.”

“Assuming he has time.”

“For you, he will. Especially if it’s about improving combat efficiency.”

“My suggestions might help. I don’t know the full extent of changeling capabilities, so I will have to find out what I can.” She was walking a bit quicker now, and we got to an exit in good time. We were quickly on our way to another part of the hive. There was no small talk on the way to our next destination. She set down in a hole near the top of the building. I joined her there a bit awkwardly; the holes in the side weren’t designed for someone like me. She smirked a bit at my landing, but didn’t comment. The silence lasted all the way to the meeting room.

Ditto and two random changelings were already there. They nodded to the queen and ignored me. I casually toyed with my knife as they spoke on something or another. I wasn’t really paying attention. I could have continued my weapon maintenance, but I figured I would likely distract the people there that actually had a job to do.

It didn’t take long for their meeting to end and for Chrysalis to exit the room, leaving me with Ditto and the two unimportant guys. I put the dagger up and walked to the table, holding my hands behind my back. “I have some issues with how the city was defended yesterday,” I said. I didn’t get an answer, just stares. “I admit to not knowing much about changeling abilities, but I have seen two of you turn into dragons and one of you turn into a manticore. I know you don’t get the strengths of the monsters when you do that, but surely you still have sharp teeth or claws. Why, then, do you stay in your own shape when there are shapes considerably better for fighting?”

“Without practice, the other bodies are relatively worthless,” Ditto answered.

“I’ll concede that point for the civilians. But I fought with a few groups of soldiers yesterday, and they stayed in their own shapes as well, rather than transforming. What is the point of having the ability to change into a fearsome monster if you don’t use it? And since most civilians don’t get practice fighting anyway, would they not be about as useful in a different, more fearsome shape than they would in their regular bodies?” The three of them shared looks before turning to me and nodding. “Another point: Very few of the changelings utilized their wings or their horns. Yes, I know that not all of you can do magic. But you have large, sharp objects on your head that are otherwise useless. If I had a choice of potentially losing a pointy thing on my head by stabbing something with it versus dying, I’d take the stabbing option. But in all honesty, that probably could have been avoided by having your changelings flying above the ants and dropping shit on top of them. You could have had a brigade of changelings evacuating the food ponies, the larvae, and anyone else that couldn’t fly while other groups harried the enemies from the air by dropping boulders or spikes on them. What I saw happening yesterday was like something attacking a pony city: No coordination at all. If attacks like these are semi-regular, why aren’t the civilians trained in emergency procedures? And why was there no warning system to let the hive know there were enemies coming?”

“Our outlying drones were not found from the tunnel the ants came from. We assume they are dead. Training the civilians in emergency procedures is a solid idea, as is training them in rudimentary shifting for combat. Our actual soldiers will be trained better to fight in different forms, and will be encouraged to experiment. However, given that our army is mostly drones, it is hard to get them to have any initiative. We can train them to fight when they shift, but without an order or a cue, it is unlikely they will do so automatically.”

“Whenever the hive is attacked, sound an alarm or a siren. Train the drones to shift when they hear that siren. And you should also give your groups of drones orders to defend certain parts of the city, if they don’t have someone in charge of them telling them where to go. The last ditch defense of the nursery should not have been done by civilians. I suggest having three sentients in charge of fifteen drones, so they can react as a large group or break off into smaller groups as needed. There is plenty of redundancy in case one of the sentients dies. Reward your troops for coming up with interesting solutions to hard training problems, if you have any kind of training exercises.”

Ditto nodded again. “Tell me, how do you know about war? I thought you were not a soldier in your world.”

“I wasn’t. I just picked some stuff up. I’m a predator and I’m good at thinking, so some of it just feels like common sense. You’ll have to let me know how some of what I suggest works out for you. And if any of it doesn’t make sense to you, either ask the queen or just don’t try to integrate it.”

“We will attempt some of your ideas. How do your people react in times of war?”

“Depends on the person. Everyone is different. There is no word I could say to describe everyone’s opinion of it. I will say that, as a whole, we take to war like nothing you’ve ever seen. At any point in time, you’d be more likely to find a few nations at war than you would to find the world at peace. There’s always fighting somewhere. You just have to find it. Doesn’t mean everyone likes it, though. Some people live for it, some people despise it, some people just do their best to ignore it. I never liked killing or fighting, but I also never really did anything to protest it. Now that I’m forced into the role of kill or be killed, I find that I really don’t like it. That said, I know it’s necessary sometimes. Some things just need to die. Do you changelings ever feel moral dilemmas like that?”

“I have not. If the queen says go to war, we go to war. If an enemy attacks the hive, we eliminate the enemy. That is our lot in life, or at least it is my lot. I do not know how the civilians feel. It is not my job to understand them.”

“Sounds to me like you have a nice setup. I wouldn’t mind not being able to think about it, but at the same time, I like having uses outside of war. If my entire life was devoted to fighting, I think I would get depressed.”

“Is there anything more you needed, Sir Navarone? We have much to do after the attack and planning the new defense ideas.”

“That’s all I needed. Thanks for hearing me out.” They nodded again and I left the room, quietly whistling an old song. I jumped out the hole in the side of the building and just drifted over the city, thinking of something to do.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I was lonely. The only changeling I could really talk to was Chrysalis, and she was busy. There was also Doppel, but she was kind of a bitch. To be fair, I was kind of an asshole, but I didn’t feel like putting up with her. Hell, that’s assuming I could even find her. Most changelings look alike to me. I could assume she was somewhere in the palace, but it would still be like trying to find the cross dresser in the women’s basketball game.

“Guess I should head back soon,” I muttered. I knew I was welcome to stay longer, but why, if I was having no fun?

Seeing nothing else to do, I landed at the school and quietly entered. It was mostly empty the first day, but now it was much earlier in the day. Classes were in session and lights were on all over the school. I quietly padded through the halls, occasionally looking in some of the open doors. I didn’t try to interrupt any classes, as I had no idea what most of them were. I got a few stares from kids in the classes, but no one said anything. There was no one walking the halls, so I kind of hope I wasn’t doing something I wasn’t supposed to.

All was going well until I got to the end of a hall and peeked inside a door. I saw several groups of changelings sparring. I nodded and started to look for a staircase when I heard, “Sir Navarone!” ring out from the room. I turned back in and saw one of the larger changelings at the door.

“Yes?” I asked.

“It is not often we get a natural bipedal in our caves. Would you be willing to help with a demonstration?”

“Depends. What would it entail?”

“Just a friendly sparring match. We usually don’t do much damage, so there is little danger to you.”

“I’m not really much of a fighter… but I suppose if it will help your students, I will do what I can.” I followed him into the room and pulled my axe off and set it on a table. My dagger joined it. “So what do you need me to do?”

“For now, just stand there.” He turned back to his students, who had all stopped sparring and were looking at us. “This is a biped. Notice how his weight is distributed between two legs. He can react quicker than most quadrupeds, but he has fewer areas to move to. It is generally possible to tell which side of his body he favors by how he holds himself. Right now, most of his weight is on his right foot. If I were to suddenly attack, there is a good chance he would move right to evade.” Actually, I would move backwards. “Bipeds will almost always have a height advantage over you, but they do not always have strength over you. I don’t know how strong on average Sir Navarone’s species is, so I cannot judge what he is like. But just because they are stronger does not mean they are better fighters. They have a center of gravity we can easily reach by bucking. Get them on their back and they are relatively helpless.”

“Not always,” I broke in.

“Yes, not always. Another thing I’m sure that many of you noticed is that he carries weapons.” He waved a hoof at the table with my axe and dagger. “That is a severe disadvantage for those of us without magic. That said, none of them have magic either. If you run into a biped with weapons and you do not have a mage available, do not despair. Though we lack swords or axes, hooves are very powerful weapons with a small connecting area. A lot of force can be pushed into one area, enough to break bones and incapacitate anything.” He looked to me for confirmation.

“Yeah. A few years ago, I got kicked in the jaw by a pony. Shattered all my teeth and almost broke my jaw. Hurt like a bitch.”

“And we changelings also have teeth we can use as weapons, if it comes down to that. Pony teeth are mostly flat, but we have fangs. If an enemy is bobbing too much to buck, try biting them. You might lose a tooth or two, but it’s better to lose teeth than your life.”

“Or you could try stabbing them with your horn. Or hell, turn into a manticore or hydra and rip them apart.”

The instructor turned to me. “What?”

“You’re changelings. You can turn into other critters. That means you can turn into something with more natural weapons and use that body to fight. Hell, if you start training now, you can probably get fighting as a predator down pretty quickly.”

“We follow the training regimen provided by high command. Continuing on, there are several ways to attempt to bring down a biped. Most involve taking out the legs first. Another option is going for the crotch, where they keep their reproductive organs. That brings extreme pain.” Damn right it does. He stepped closer to me and used a hoof to point to my crotch. “Aim your kick here. When your opponent goes down, leave him down and continue finding opponents. The swarm behind you will pick up the enemy wounded and drag them back to the hive for processing.” Doesn’t that sound ominous? He turned to me. “Now, how about a sparring match?”

“Do I get any kind of weapons?”

“We’ll vary it up. We have a stock of wooden weapons to practice with.”

I stretched my arms out and started popping fingers. A few changelings flinched when they heard all the pops. When I finished, I said, “Bring it on.”

He nodded a changeling off to a large chest. He walked over to it, threw it open, rooted around, and threw a shield and mace at me. I guess the mace was more of a club, but eh. I hefted them both and turned to the instructor. “Who’s my partner?”

“You can only learn so much from a teacher.” He turned to his students. One of them raised a hoof. The teacher nodded to him. “Do be careful, both of you. That may be wood, but it’s still dangerous.” I nodded as I squared up against the changeling. I thought this one was a mare, but I wasn’t certain. I held the mace and shield loosely, just watching.

One thing came to my mind before he started the match. “Can any of these students use magic?” I asked.

“Yes. Are you ready?”

I slipped the shield off, reached into my pocket, and slipped my ring on. With that, I picked the shield back up. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

“Begin,” he simply said.

The changeling flew at me so quickly I barely saw her. My shield raised just in time to catch her blow. She bounced off the shield and tried to circle to my left. I raised the mace and backed off a bit, giving myself room to swing. She jumped in, tracking me and trying to make sure I didn’t have room to swing. I grinned at that and slammed my shield on her, knocking her over. I went to swing my mace at her while she was down, but her legs shot up and I barely shot back in time to avoid a crotch full of pain.

“Feisty, eh?” She didn’t answer. I tried shifting my shield, to see if she would take some bait. She shifted as well, matching me. I grinned and took a step back. She stepped in just as I slammed forward and knocked her over with the shield yet again.

“Fell for the same trick!” the teacher said. She shook her head, trying to clear it. She didn’t realize that I was a few steps away until the mace went flying at her skull and clanged against it, knocking her to the floor again. The instructor nodded. “Never forget one clear advantage bipeds have with weapons,” he said as one of the changelings checked on the girl. “They can throw them at you. Next partner.”

I had more weapons shoved into my hand as the shield was taken away. Two daggers. I grinned and fell into a fighting stance as the next changeling took its position.

“Hold,” the instructor called. “Look at him, how he fell into position as soon as he touched the weapons. That’s a sign of experience. Be careful. Now, begin.”

This changeling was more hesitant. He waited for me to make the first move. I began by circling, trying to see what he would do. He matched my circle, going the opposite way. I took a few slow steps inward, trying to bait him into attacking.

“BOO MOTHERFUCKER!” He jumped so high I thought he would hit the roof. By the time he recovered, I already had the knives at his throat.

When the instructor stopped laughing, he said, “That’s a dirty tactic, but it works perfectly fine. If you think your opponent is easily spooked, shouting is a good way to unnerve them. Now, I think that warrants a rematch.”

I grinned and backed away to a safe starting point. The instructor nodded for us to begin again. I stood at ease, waiting for him to make a move. When he did nothing, I casually walked closer, not even in a fighting stance.

When I got close enough, I dropped into a fighting stance. He still hadn’t moved. “Come at me, bro,” I finally said.

He came at me, but it was in a manner totally unbecoming of a bro: He tried to take out my shins. I leapt over him and caught him in the back with a kick. He spun to face me and jumped back as a knife went whistling by him. I spun it in my grip and shot it back, trying to catch him again. Once again, he ducked. I came at him with my other knife and he jumped back. I stabbed straight at him and he jumped again. This continued until he hit the wall. He grinned and jumped, kicking off the wall and aiming both forelegs at my face. I barely dodged, but didn’t dodge his back hooves as they slammed into my head. I reeled, holding onto the wall to steady myself. It’s a good thing he was unbalanced when he fell, or I likely would have gone down.

As it was, I recovered in time to literally catch him as he sprung at me again. His eyes shifted to pinpricks when he realized that I was holding him. “Buddy, you lose,” I said. My knife met his throat and that was that. I set him down.

“Who can tell me what went wrong?” the instructor asked.

“Sir Navarone was a lot stronger than he thought,” one of the changelings said.

“Correct. He also recovered faster. If the student had not been as surprised when he was caught, there was a chance he could have broken free. Now, next partner.”

My lovely daggers were taken away and I was given a spear. I swung it about a bit while the next changeling came up. I finally settled for holding the shaft against my back, letting the point stick out to the side. It’s hard to describe, but just trust me when I say that it probably looked stupid. The instructor nodded and the changeling fucking leapt across the room at me, flying using its wings.

Thankfully, it was slow enough that I was able to bat it out of the air. The poor changeling flew at the wall with a nasty crunch. “Oh shit!”

“He’s fine,” the instructor said, nodding for two students to check on him. They poked at him for a few seconds before turning to the instructor and nodding. “Yeah, he’ll be just fine. Be more careful, though.” He turned to the class. “Now you know why you don’t blindly charge a biped with a long weapon. Next!”

This time I was given a bastard sword. I gripped it with one hand and rolled my shoulders as my next opponent readied herself. I held up a hand for a moment, pulled my shirt off, and threw it on the table with my weapons. A few more rounds and I’d probably start sweating, and I didn’t want that all over my shirt. Of course, taking my shirt off meant I exposed all the knife belts, but eh. None of them commented, at least. I nodded when I was ready. “Begin.”

The changeling turned into a giant ant. I grinned as she took one step forward and fell. “Not used to six legs, eh?” I walked around her as she tried to turn to face me. Right before I could ‘kill’ her, she changed into a hydra and swatted me back. One of her heads darted in while the others just sat there, not moving. I jumped to the right, expecting one of the other heads to dart in. None did. She turned to face me with the one head. “Not used to several heads, either.” I saw her flinch when I spoke. With that, I yelled out as loud as I could, causing her entire body to draw back. She couldn’t tell which head the sound was coming from. Moving seemed to cause her more distress as seeing the motion from several eyes kicked in. I easily poked her in the chest with the sword.

With a sigh, she changed back. “Now, it should be obvious what she did wrong,” he said aloud. “She tried using shapes she was not familiar with. Some differences do not matter to changelings. Height differences and shape distances are natural for us. But adding more or fewer legs and adding different senses takes time for us to get used to. You are welcome to attempt to fight as a different shape, but unless you have practiced in that shape, the chances of doing well are low. Now, we have time for one more bout.”

My sword was taken away and nothing was given to me. I shrugged and slammed my fists together, grinning. The changeling that squared up to me smiled at my confidence.

“Begin.” The changeling’s horn glowed. Nothing happened. He looked shocked. I walked to him as his horn glowed brighter and brighter.

When I finally got to him, I knelt down and gently picked him up. “I lose?” he quietly asked.

“I’m afraid so.” He sighed and I gave him a conciliatory pat on the head before putting him back down. I looked up. “The last lesson is that your opponent can always surprise you.”

“Well, that wasn’t supposed to be the last lesson,” the teacher said as his student returned to the others. “But all things told, that was probably better. Thank you for your assistance.”

“No problem. Just don’t use any of that shit against me. What you said about crotch shots is true. You need anything else while I’m here?”

“No.” I shrugged and grabbed my weapons and shirt. I walked out without putting anything on. I did my best to get stuff on as I walked down the hall. When all my weapons were situated, I removed the ring.

Well, I just got to beat up children. Doesn’t that make me feel good? At least it killed a few minutes.

When I got to the end of another hall, I got stopped by another professor. “Sir Navarone, you wouldn’t happen to be busy, would you?” He sounded… bookish, for some reason.

“I am not. What do you need?”

He grinned. “Would you happen to be interested in helping me teach a lesson?”

“Sure. What do you need?”

“Come in, come in.” I followed him inside. “I was talking to a good friend of mine at the palace. Doppel, her name is. She mentioned that you had very vivid… memories.” I looked around the room and saw a few restrained ponies and some very small changelings. “In this class, we teach the youngest of the changelings how to extract emotions from unwilling sources. It is easier for some than for others. While we do have a relatively sedate source of food for now, it is still good for them to know how to steal emotions. For that, we use ponies that have been allowed to lose their love poisoned status.” I bet that’s confusing as hell for them. “But that is too hard for some changelings to learn from. I remember Doppel mentioning your control when it comes to memories and was hoping you could help me train some of these students.”

“I can try.”

“Excellent! Now, let me first taste the emotion you are going to let them use so I know it is acceptable.” I knelt down and he moved his head toward mine. I thought of Taya. “Yes, this will do nicely. Now, try to hide it.” And it was gone. “Intriguing… She wasn’t lying! Oh, if only I had you for a few hours… Slowly bring it to the forefront.”

“That’s kinda hard to do, man. I’ll try.” I did my best.

“That should be fine,” he commented as he backed away. “Now, come forward you three!”

Three tiny changelings stepped up, getting closer to me. They actually managed to somehow look cute.

“You’re awfully tall,” one of them said.

“Yep. So which of you wants to try eating my memories first?” The three changelings looked at each other before the two on the sides pushed the middle one at me. I gently picked her up and set her on my head. “Whenever you’re ready.”

I felt something tiny enter my mind. I bottled everything up for her. “Nothing’s happening,” she said.

I showed her a memory. Nothing much, just a bit to whet her appetite. That done, I hid it away again. “Most ponies aren’t as good a hiding things as I am,” I said. “Their minds are ordered differently. I don’t really understand it, myself, but apparently I can hide emotions and memories very well. So start looking.”

“I… I don’t know how.”

“Well, a dog can’t teach a cat to climb trees. What about it, teach?”

He stepped in and knelt down to my head. I felt him enter as well. “Now, just follow my lead,” he said.

…I didn’t realize how dirty that sounded until I wrote it.

Anyway, I essentially did for those little changeling foals or whatever they were called what I did for Shining Armor. That said, I went a lot easier on them and didn’t give them anything involving sex. I also wasn’t evil to them. I mean, they were little kids. Reminded me of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, in a way. Except these kids were trying to steal my emotions and leave me a drained husk rather than cut my toes off. I think I preferred these kids to the ponies, all things told.

I left that classroom feeling a lot better than I did when I walked in. I successfully managed to help the girls become more able to devour emotions from unwilling subjects. When I left, they were happily feeding from a pony that was looking at me with tears in his eyes, trying to silently beg me for help. I smiled and waved to him as I left.

God, I’m an asshole.

I managed to escape the school without getting caught up by anyone else. That was only somewhat unfortunate. For one, I didn’t have anything else to do. For another, I had already been in a few fights and got my mind sucked on. So I was feeling a bit tired there as I was flying over the city again.

I did kind of want to help with the reconstruction of the city, but I knew that I would just end up getting in the way. Besides, most of the damage was finally gone. It looked like the workers had been busy while I was with the kids.

Lacking anything else to do and since I already had as much of a view of the city as I really wanted, I decided to head on back to the palace. While I was in the air, I noticed that I didn’t see nearly as many changelings out and about as I usually did. That was understandable, given what had just happened, but I still wondered where they all were. Maybe even changelings have work they have to keep up with.

I made good time to the castle, at least. I landed at the front entrance, since I didn’t know offhand which floor I was staying on. I did, however, remember the route the guard led me on the day before. I traced our steps and quickly made it to my room. I took my axe belt off and removed my shirt, stretching my wings as it hit the floor. “So damn stuffy in this cave,” I sighed. I guess that’s what happens when it’s under a desert, but I still expected it to be cool. I mean, all the other caves I visited felt nice. Even the one under Cairo felt good.

Of course, it might just have been the room that I was in. It was the room of the consort, after all. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was kept warm to facilitate sex or something. Either way, I know it felt good to go without a shirt.

I sat on the bed and pulled my damaged crossbow over. I knew I couldn’t fully repair it without supplies, but I could fiddle with it and make sure the damage wasn’t more severe than I thought.

It didn’t take me long to do that, so eventually I started writing again.

I was at that for a while before Chrysalis slammed the door open. “I need to get laid,” she groaned.

“Uh…”

As I was trying to think of something else to say, she slumped down on my bed and curled into a bug pony ball. “Idiots! Incompetents! None of them know how to think, they all require permission! No initiative at all! I try to make them all sound appealing to you and the ponies, but the truth is they’re all practically worthless!”

“Well, that’s what happens when you breed them for obedience.”

She sighed. “I know. I just want a… I want a stallion that I can’t order around. One that can make me feel like a mare.” She sniffed. “Not one that constantly asks if he’s hurting me or if he’s doing well.” She sighed yet again. “I suppose I might as well ask for an army of independent changelings while I’m at it.”

What the fuck are you supposed to say to that?

I walked over to the bed and wrapped my arms around her. “I’m not a stallion. But you can’t order me around, you know I can make you feel like a mare, and I don’t need to ask if you’re doing well because I can hear by the moans.”

I felt her shift a bit in my arms. “You don’t love me, but…” She sighed. “I never wanted to be queen,” she whispered into me. I just silently began stroking her hair. “I was the only one left, after so long… I slowly fell into the role. I was just a midwife. We all knew about him, but none of us ever expected he would come after us. One day… one day he got bored, I suppose. I never understood why he did what he did. But he came after us. I was the last… trying to protect two children. They escaped, in the end… I didn’t.” I had and have no idea what she was talking about. “I was a midwife. I delivered bouncing, happy foals… and now I’m queen of monstrosities. We devour emotion, steal happiness and love. Have to… have to feed the hive.”

This is getting kind of dark, man. And it didn’t help that my leg was really starting to itch. “What you’ve done in the past doesn’t have to define you. It is never too late to change, Chrissy. It’s hard. I know it’s hard. But it is possible. And if it would make you feel better, it’s worth it. Perhaps the best epitaph that could be given is that you fixed your own mistakes. I believe in you. It will be hard, but it will be worth it.”

She was silent for a while. “I just want to be happy again,” she finally said.

“If what you’re doing makes you unhappy, continuing to do it won’t ever make you happy. Something needs to be changed. I don’t know what, but something about you needs to be changed.”

“Can you… help me?”

“Of course. What are friends for, after all?”

I had no idea what I was in for when I agreed to do that.

 

 

A word from your loving Discord

What Chrysalis said was only half of the story. I was in China, having fun, when the wretched alicorns declared war on me. Yes, I was causing chaos. Yes, there was some misery involved. Yes, I might have been the cause of the duck billed platypuses.

Wait, what was I—Oh yes. Alicorns. They truly are spoilsports. Just because I was being mean to a few of them was no reason for all of them to attack me like that.

So, being the nice kinda guy I am, I teleported to the largest alicorn city in the world and started having fun. I would poke one and it would suddenly turn into three: an earth pony, a pegasus, and a unicorn. Then I would poke another and it would morph, all the love and joy inside turned into hunger and hate as it warped into a changeling. I would poke another and it would go mad, turning on its fellows. There were other effects, of course, but those were some of the highlights.

The early changelings were little more than mindless animals. They swarmed blindly and devoured the purported ‘endless’ love of the alicorns.

Heh heh… That love wasn’t very endless.

Especially when it came to me.

Anyway, I had fun destroying the alicorn society. They tried using their magic on me, but it never worked. I had a stronger will than any of them.

All too soon though, it was over. I had run very low on alicorns. There were plenty of other kinds of ponies running around now, but alicorns were scarce.

Of course, when you’re a guy like me, scarce doesn’t mean much. I cast my gaze around and found three very fun little alicorns.

One was a midwife, barren and unable to have children. She hated herself for her barrenness and was willing to give anything to hear the wailing of her own children, as she delivered them for others.

One was a student, studying healing magic under that midwife. She was brilliant, considered a prodigy of sorts.

One was a mother in labor, not long for that world. With the news of my arrival and destruction, the midwife and student were clumsy in their nervousness. That it was a hard labor was just icing on her wake’s cake.

When I arrived, the mother was dead and a child was born. I showed up with a horde of changelings behind me.

“But Miss Moonbeam, I can’t leave you!”

“Go, filly! I will distract them! Run, Celestia!”

The child took the basket in her mouth and looked at the midwife one more time before running from the back door. Some of my changeling horde ran to cut them off, but I waved them down. I disintegrated the door as I walked in, pulling a cup of tea from the air.

“Hello, Moonbeam,” I said. The vase she threw at me melted into smoke as soon as it hit me. So did the next several objects, until she threw a picture frame at me.

I caught it and froze Moonbeam in place. I walked up to her, looking at the picture.

“What a lovely family,” I said, tracing my eagle talon down the glass of the frame, giving out a terrible screech. “I’m sure their mother was so proud, before she died. I know she just loved her children so…” I held up the picture for her to see. She averted her eyes. “Oh, is something the matter?” She grit her teeth, not giving me the satisfaction of hearing her pain. I moved my lion’s paw to her face and gently lifted it. “You know, I have many children in need of a mother. I’m going away soon, and I can’t take care of them. It’s a shame that I have no one around to take the position for me.” I let her go. She didn’t look away. “Of course, some physical changes would be needed for them to accept that mother. She would have to look closer to them, for one. And she would have to be able to have many children of her own, to replace those that are lost. I’m sure I can find a volunteer willing to help me. Could you think of anyone?”

She licked her lips and looked from side to side.

I smiled. “You will need a new name, of course. I think Chrysalis will suit you well.” I held up my talons. “What do you say?”

She slumped a bit, free of my magic. She looked down at my talons for a whole five minutes. Slowly—painfully slowly—she raised her hoof and put it in my grasp.

I grinned as I shook. “You’ll regret every minute, I swear!” Her eyes had time to go wide before she began to screech in pain, transforming into the changeling queen we all know and love. It was a long, agonizing process that easily could have been done in a second with no pain if I was a nice guy.

I was whistling a happy tune as I left her in agony. When I stepped outside, I waved the changelings in to meet their new mother.

Only one thought was on my mind: Celestia. Oh, what fun we’ll have together!

 

 

 

The next morning saw me waking up dark and early—it was a cave, after all—when I got nuzzled in the face. “Eh? Oh Jesus!” I pulled away from Chrysalis, jumping a bit. I wasn’t expecting her to be right in my face.

“My name is not Jesus. Come. My attempts to change begin today.”

“…What?” I remembered agreeing to help her change, but I figured we would just talk about stuff for a while before I left.

“You agreed to help me change last night. Today you will assist me in my royal duties and make suggestions.”

That doesn’t sound enjoyable at all. “Okay. Do I have time for a shower?”

“No. Come on.” She pulled me out of bed with magic. My wings sort of flopped around a bit until I caught them. I sighed and walked over to my bag and pulled out a flask. I downed a bit of honey alcohol. I hooked the flask onto my belt—yeah, I sleep in a belt, wanna fight about it?—and threw on my axe belt. I didn’t bother with a shirt. I turned and saw her eyeing me. “I know you do not need to eat often, but you are eating today.”

“Sure. What’s on the menu?”

“Mushrooms. They taste awful for us, but I haven’t heard any complaints from the ponies.”

“What do you feed the dogs and the naga?”

“Mushrooms. They all get the same fare. Now come along.” I shrugged and followed her out.

She led me to the hole in the wall and we jumped out, flying over toward the feeding hall. “So what kind of schedule do we have?” I asked as we flew.

“First, we eat. Then we meet with Ditto and the leader of our scouts. He agrees with the early warning system you suggested and wants to help scout out locations to leave drones. There is a good chance you and I will go with one of the teams.”

“Why would we do that?”

“I do not know how it is with your princesses, but when there is a chance that my subjects will be in danger, I like to be there.”

“Each their own, I suppose. I don’t like randomly wandering in tunnels, but such is life.”

“There is nothing random about it. For the most part, our tunnels are extremely orderly. We do need to find out where the ants bored in, though. There is no telling what might be in their tunnels.”

“How fun,” I muttered.

We made it to the feeding hall with no more conversation. It wasn’t a long flight, thankfully. It was just in time for the ponies to be fed, so we didn’t have to wait long. Chrysalis morphed into Twilight and followed me into the feeding hall part of the feeding building.

Given how efficient the changelings are, there was no real wait. I got a large bowl of mushroom stew and was out of the line in minutes. Chrysalis followed me to a relatively empty table.

“So uh…” I dipped a finger in the stew. At least it was warm. I shrugged and picked the bowl up and tried tasting it. “Oh God… I think I’d rather starve!”

“Looking at you, that appears to be your option. Eat.”

“Shut up, Twilight. You’re not my mom.” I shuddered as I downed more of the stew. “I’m glad I’m not one of your love slaves. I’d hate to have to eat this stuff constantly.”

“With their minds shrouded by the love poison, they don’t even care. Weak fools.”

“Hey, that love poison is some nasty stuff. Doesn’t matter how strong willed you are.”

You were immune to it.”

“That’s because I’m not a pony, I guess. I don’t really know what caused it. It’s not so much that I was immune to it, though, but rather that it had a negative reaction with my body. It actually became something else.”

“Whatever, Twilight,” she answered with a smirk. It was funny seeing Twilight’s face do that.

I gave off a sigh of relief as I emptied the bowl. “You can fucking keep this stuff. I think I’ll just manage off what I have. Speaking of, if I’m going to stay down here for much longer, I need to get to the surface soon.”

“You can do that when we return from the tunnels. How long are you available to stay down here?”

“Few more days, if I need to. I need to return before the week is out, though.”

She muttered something dark. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay here, with me?”

“That would be fun, I’ll admit. That said, I would also get lonely and bored when you aren’t around. These changelings are terrible conversationalists. And there’s not nearly enough sun down here.”

“There’s no sun down here.”

“Yeah, and that’s not nearly enough. It’s not like I can’t come visit every now and then. Or like you can’t come visit me. Or if you’re going to the Europe party coming up, I might be there.”

“Hm… Yes, I remember that. I sent my agent there to kill Blueblood so he would be replaced by Cadance. We met on the way back from it.”

“Yep. I don’t know if you have any hives in Europe, but if you do, you could probably come to that party.”

“I will… ask Celestia about that. We are not well liked by the dogs or the griffons. It might come to blows if we openly attend.”

“I don’t know a thing about politics. It might be a chance for you to attempt to make peace.”

“I will think on it. Now come, we need to see Ditto yet again.”

I followed her out of the dining hall, just leaving my bowl where it was. I don’t really know how the ponies were so oblivious to everything around them, but it was kind of funny.

Anyway, we took no time to get to the war room or whatever it was called. Ditto and his scout leader made no comments about my presence. Chrysalis pointed a hoof at the random guy, looked at me, and said, “Ersatz.”

I nodded. “Sup, bro?”

He looked at me for a moment before turning back to Chrysalis. She said, “Are your troops ready to move?”

“We await your command.”

I think I heard Chrysalis grinding her teeth.

Speaking of which, why do changelings even have teeth? Or stomachs? Wouldn’t evolution deal with that? Eh, whatever.

“Next time, do not wait for my command. If you think an action needs to be done, do it.”

Ersatz blinked. He looked over at Ditto, who looked to him. They both shrugged before turning back to Chrysalis. “As you command,” he said. Chrysalis just gave off a weary sigh. “Will you be joining one of the patrols?”

“Yes. Navarone and I will be in the team that is following the ant tunnel.”

“I will see to it that team is granted more magic users, then.”

“I am plenty capable of looking after myself. And where I fail, Navarone will step in.”

I broke in, “I’m out of crossbow bolts, Chrysalis. My axe is dull and busted up. My knives are only good in the shortest of ranges and most of them aren’t very deep so they can’t get much penetration. I could try, but I’m not very fit for combat right now.”

“I trust in you. Now, when will your troops be ready to move?”

“Right now.”

“Then lead the way. Ditto, remain here and continue with whatever you do.”

“Yes, Queen Chrysalis!” they both answered.

Ersatz led the way to the door. We followed him out. He jumped out the hole at the end of the hall and flew down a few layers. We joined him down there and he continued leading us through the building.

“So is this building purely military?” I asked.

“Yes,” Chrysalis answered. “Most official and more combat oriented training sessions are held here. Combat magic is also taught. This is one of the many buildings that extends deep into the ground, rather than just being only everything on the surface level. We have several biomes of training areas represented, as well as several captured monsters that serve as practice in each of the biomes.”

“Do you have any light?”

“No. Why would we?”

“Because if you ever plan on fighting on the surface, fighting in the sunlight is a lot different than fighting in a cave. You have to worry more about heat exhaustion, the light in your eyes, more sweat than usual—if changelings even have that problem—and a few other factors.”

Chrysalis sighed. “Ersatz, come here.” He walked closer. She reached out and slapped him across the face, making him stumble down. A moment later, he got back to his feet and looked at her with emotionless eyes. “Why did none of this ever come into consideration?”

“It isn’t our job to think about that, my queen.”

She turned to me. “You’re supposed to help me change. Is it okay to kill him?”

“No. You also shouldn’t have hit him.”

“Do I have to apologize?”

“Yes. I also suggest meaning it, but I understand that baby steps are required.”

She turned back to Ersatz. “I apologize for hitting you. I understand that incompetence has been bred into you. For this, you may take a day in the fun chamber.” She turned back to me. “Was that sufficient?”

“What the fuck’s the fun chamber?”

“The closest pony equivalent would be a spa, but it’s so far different that you really can’t equate them.”

“I see. Is it public?”

“On certain days. Usually I reserve it for those that have pleased me. It doesn’t get used often.”

“What, so I don’t please you?”

“You would find no enjoyment in it. It is full of changeling pleasures, not human pleasures.”

“I’ll take your word for that. I don’t suppose you have some kind of pain chamber?”

“I do. I do not, however, put changelings in it. That little puppy you brought in went straight there.”

“Yeah, you’re gonna need to get rid of that. Torture is pretty much frowned upon by… well, most civilized species.”

She sighed. “Oh, very well.” She turned back to the changeling. “Why have we stopped? Continue.” With that, we began walking again. “I fear there are many facets of changeling society that are stupid to you, Navarone. If you ever notice something that is silly or a bad idea, tell me as soon as you can.”

“I have been. I like some parts of it, but with only one person with any real common sense, a lot goes unnoticed.”

“I fear I will have to start another breeding program to attempt to breed common sense and competence into my changelings, or at least my higher ranking ones.”

“That’s probably a bad idea, but you are welcome to try it.”

“Why is it a bad idea?”

“Undermines freedom and takes away independence. If they become able to make breeding choices on their own, they might start making other small choices on their own as well. With the ability to make choices comes the slow learning of common sense. They learn what works and what doesn’t.”

“I suppose that answer is as good as any.”

We walked in silence for a few minutes before arriving at a random door. Ersatz entered, asking us to wait outside. A moment later, he told us to enter. Several ranks of changeling soldiers stood at some manner of attention in the front of the very large room.

Chrysalis walked up front, to stand at the middle of the group. “You know your mission. Move.”

Well, that was to the point. As a group, they all saluted. A moment later, they orderly marched off to a large hole in the side of the building. Rank after rank jumped out. When the last group had gone, Chrysalis and I jumped out, following them. Ersatz was left alone in his large, dark room.

“So do you know where this tunnel is?” I asked

“Yes.”

We flew all the way to the edge of the cavern, a wall pockmarked with holes. By the time we got there, only a single squad of changelings was left waiting. We joined them.

“Go,” Chrysalis commanded the squad. Without a thought in the world, they started scuttling through the tunnel. We followed. Thankfully, the tunnel was tall enough that I didn’t hit my head on anything and smooth enough that I didn’t have to worry about twisting my ankle.

Fifteen minutes after we started walking, we came across a T-section. One side led slightly deeper into the ground and was uneven and shorter, while the other continued the same. We took the uneven one.

“So no one knows where this thing goes yet?” I asked.

“It has yet to be explored,” she answered.

“I would have blocked it off or at least put up a guard until it had been explored, then. If you don’t know where it leads, it could lead to some manner of monster nest or something.”

“The ants would have eradicated them.”

“The ants didn’t even see me. They were out for changeling blood, not anything else. If whatever it was ignored the ants, it might not ignore us or the hive.”

Once again, she was grinding her teeth. She was eyeing one of the changelings around her like she wanted to smack him, but she thankfully restrained herself.

Chrysalis and I had to duck down a few times to walk in this tunnel, but at least the floor was smooth enough that I never stumbled. Or maybe it was just that I was able to see well enough that I didn’t have to worry about it.

Everything was going good until we pretty much stumbled into a cavern about the size of the naga’s, but with considerably more trees.

Yes, trees.

“What the fuck?” I asked, looking around the cavern.

“This is… odd,” Chrysalis said. Her horn lit up and a pure light shot out. I saw that all of the leaves on the trees—and the tree themselves—were grey.

“An entire petrified forest,” I said, my voice dripping with awe. “Amazing.” I took a few steps in. I heard something and looked down to see grass crunching beneath my feet. “Simply amazing. You guys coming?”

“Move out,” Chrysalis commanded. “Explore the forest in small groups. If you see any kind of danger, return to the center. Navarone, lead the way to the middle.”

I started walking through the forest, a smile fixed on my face. “Twilight would love to see this,” I said, looking around. I reached out and touched a branch. It felt calcified. We saw bird nests—some of which that had eggs—spider webs, several kind of trees, a few fruits, pine cones, and flowers. There were no animals at all. The only sounds in the cave were those the changelings and I were making.

When we got to the center, we saw an altar with a…

“What is this, fucking Skyrim?” There was a sword held up on the altar.

We both walked up to it. “This is an odd place for a sword to be,” she commented.

“Yeah. I don’t trust it.”

“Don’t be a foal, Navarone. Take it.”

“Yeah, no. As soon as I pick it up, we would be attacked by some kind of evil ghost or monster or some shit. I ain’t touching it.”

“Even if that were true, you could just use the sword to kill it.”

“Pass. We can just leave it here.”

Her horn lit up and the sword lifted off the altar. She floated it over to me with a smirk. “See? Nothing to be worried about.”

I took it in my hands and she let it go. The thing was icy to the touch, despite it being lukewarm in the caves. As soon as I touched it, we heard and felt a massive thud. And then another.

We looked at each other.

“Don’t you dare say it,” she said. I think my smirk said enough. “CHANGELINGS, TO THE CENTER!” We heard several smaller crashes in the forest as the thuds got louder and closer. We heard some huge form closing in on us.

“Chrysalis, maybe we should get airborne.”

“We will face this monster and kill it for daring to assault the queen of the changelings.” Changelings began emerging from the forest, panting slightly. They formed up around us. We all turned to face the direction the monstrous noises were coming from.

We waited about fifteen seconds before it finally crashed into the clearing, destroying the trees in front of us.

It was a giant spider, taller than some dragons I’ve seen.

“Oh shit.”

“Attack!”

The changelings went to assault it. The thing reared up on its hind legs and pulled a massive spinneret around front. With a disgusting sound, it squirted web onto the first few changelings, trapping them. Oh, we are so fucked.

Chrysalis jumped into the air as I joined the charge, wielding my new sword. I don’t know what the little changelings were going to try to do against that, but I knew I was going to try to not die against it. I stopped momentarily to cut the changelings free before running up to it.

I saw that the changelings were doing a very good job of distracting it while Chrysalis was doing magic to it. She was shooting some green beams at it. The spider was already missing one leg. It was swinging the others at changelings and trying to bite them and shoot thread at the same time. I used my wings to propel me a bit to slash at one of its other legs while it was distracted. I succeeded in cutting it off, thankfully. It swung my way and managed to hit me hard enough to knock me on the ground. The sword flew out of my grasp.

Thankfully, Chrysalis took that moment to hit it with another beam. It spun back on her before finishing me. I started scrambling around, looking for the sword. I grasped it just in time to realize I was about to get crushed. I rolled out of the way and one of its large feet slammed into the ground where I had been. I jumped to my feet and took off into the air, trying to get a feel for the situation.

A lot of the changelings were down for the count. Of the ten we started with, three clearly were not getting up again—given they were cut in half, yeah, they were fucked—and three more were no longer moving. One was picking himself off the ground while three buzzed around the spider’s head, trying to get to its eyes.

I dove in and managed to get on the spider’s back while it tried to deal with the changelings. I drove the sword into it and twisted.

Before that time, I never heard a spider make any kind of noise. That thing fucking squealed and jerked its body so hard and so fast that I went tumbling off. Before I could hit the ground, one of its legs swung around and hit me like a fucking baseball bat. I went flying and hit the ground several feet away, through some trees. I don’t know how I got lucky enough to miss them.

When I managed to get to my feet, I realized that it was trying to find me. Chrysalis was still shooting shit at it, the changelings were still buzzing around it, and yet when it saw me, it narrowed its eyes and charged.

“Merde…” I attempted to spread my wings but flinched in pain. I looked over and saw one was pretty badly fucked up. I also notice that my axe was missing, so fighting wasn’t an option. I looked up and saw that it was close. “Gotta be kidding me!”

I turned tail and booked it through the forest. I heard its crashes pick up as it labored to keep up with me. I don’t know how it was moving so well while missing two legs and stabbed through the abdomen, but I suppose not having nerves would do that.

It managed to keep pace with me as I ran through the forest. I could hear it destroying trees as it pursued, so I know it was keeping up. When I finally got to the edge of the forest, I realized that I was pretty fucked: I was right at a rock wall.

I turned and saw the spider approaching. “Ah fuck…” It crashed through the final trees and slammed its remaining front leg at me. I dodged. It pulled one of its other legs up and slammed that at me. I managed to dodge, but lost my footing. It raised the two up and tried to slam them down on me but I rolled out of the way.

CRACK!

Wait, crack?

For a moment, I thought I saw a confused look in its eyes before the ground fell away beneath us. It shot a web behind it to keep from falling too far. It climbing back up was the last thing I remembered.

 

 

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