Today’s story will sneak into your favorites.
Without a Hive
[Romance] [Dark] [Adventure] [Sad] • 180,748 words
Young Nictis had one dream: to serve his hive by becoming an Infiltrator, the most vital and vaunted role a changeling could aspire to. To hide in plain sight among the other species, blending in, while gathering the vital emotional energies that fueled his people. Few were deemed worthy of the dangerous job. He was one of the few nymphs selected for training, in the hopes that one of them would develop the skills needed to be entrusted with such a treacherous task.
But when a training expedition ends in tragedy, Nictis finds himself thrust into the role not to serve his hive and people, but to preserve his own life. Separated from the hive, alone, he must put what little training he has to the test. He must blend in with the hive’s greatest source of food, and its most dangerous enemy: the ponies of Equestria.
FROM THE CURATORS: Let’s face it — our fandom loves changelings, and authors have done so much with them that changeling stories have to clear a high bar to stand out from the pack. So when Present Perfect said in his nomination that “Without a Hive is one of the best season-two fics I have ever read, and might just be the best changeling story on top of that,” we had to see for ourselves what the fuss was about. “I wish I’d read this years ago,” FanOfMostEverything quickly said. “This may be the gold standard for old-school ‘changeling in Equestria’ fics, made all the more notable by forgoing the usual ‘crashed somewhere after the invasion’ plot device.” And Horizon was equally effusive. “Perhaps I am — for Glitterbug-like reasons of academic interest, and CLEARLY none other — predisposed to a good changeling story, but this was consistently gripping,” he said. “It covers all of the tropes we expect a changeling redemption fic to have, but with exemplary nuance. The tension of being trained as a sociopathic predator who feeds on positive emotions, while also feeling those positive emotions, drips from every word here.”
That was only one of several compliments on which we all quickly agreed. “Central to this piece is its fantastic characters,” Present Perfect said, with Horizon adding: “This works as well as it does because every individual we ever meet is vibrant and sympathetic.” FanOfMostEverything praised the development of the protagonist: “Watching Nictis grow in spite of himself is wonderful — the changes coming subtly enough that he doesn’t notice until it hits him all at once in the worst possible way — to say nothing of all the other emotional arcs he goes through.” And all of us had a hard time picking favorites from the colorful supporting cast. “The ponies Nictis befriends have lives of their own,” Present Perfect said. “Nowhere is that more apparent than in a late chapter, when our hero meets two ponies named Violet and Grace. They exist on the page for a few scenes only, yet after a short introduction, one gets a deep and abiding sense of who they are.”
It was in the collision between those ponies and the central changeling that the story shined brightest. “What made me smile above all else were the several times during the first half or so of the story — usually in scenes where Nictis was interacting with Big Shot — when the author took a step back to remind the reader that the cute and clever character we’d been rooting for was in fact quite literally a monster,” AugieDog said. “It made for a great contrast with Nictis’ wanderings in the last few chapters when the character’s monsterhood is unmistakably slipping away.” And that left a lasting impression, several of us such said — such as Horizon: “I was legitimately upset when the story ended. I had an almost physical need to see how things shook out with Spark. Fortunately, there’s a sequel!”
Read on for our author interview, in which Phoenix_Dragon discusses esquire numbers, book commitments, and corporate weddings.