• Published 25th Sep 2013
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Bat and Bug - Silent Quill



Two equestrians, both outside the norm, are forced together. One on assignment, the other for her own wellbeing.

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Snow and Starvation

The Night Guard, a special subdivision of the Royal Guard made specifically to protect the Royal Sisters during the night when their daylight brethren are asleep. It used to be made of regular Royal Guard ponies whose sleeping habits were somewhat more nocturnal than the norm.

Almost four hundred years before what the Guard were calling ‘Night’s Return’, an alchemist trained at Princess Celestia’s School for Talented Unicorns concocted a miracle ‘wake up’ drug that would give ponies great resistance to fatigue. At least, that was its intention; the drug had barely made shelves before the exhausted Royal Guard were given their first doses and its incredible side-effect was discovered.

It had been made using a sample of bat fur, and a few other undiscovered ingredients which were created through heavy manipulation of magic, and once they had been introduced to the bodies of the Royal Guard these magics ran amok.

Records of the events were detailed; from otherwise painless effects such as fur growth and colour shifting to their eyes changing shape, becoming dagger-like and often causing blindness. Pegasi underwent the most painful of these transformation effects, with their wings twisting and warping into those not unlike the creatures from which the medicine was based. The pain from this transformation was often crippling, with several of the affected passing out from the pain.

The Night Guard had been crippled for weeks, and the alchemist had been on Canterlot’s ‘most wanted’ list for only a few days before the Day Guard had found him overdosed on his own medications. Still, the damage had been done, and almost every Night Guard affected had withdrawn from service. To compound the problem, several hundred civilians had been exposed to the dangerous drug as well, with reported cases coming in from as far away as Applewood. Since then, the bat ponies had become part of Pony society, living north of Canterlot in Hollow Shades.

When the Regent of the Moon returned, she became aware of the special nocturnal breed of ponies and went out to the town personally on a mad recruiting spree, returning to Canterlot with fifty bat ponies signed up for Royal Guard training.


*&*&*&*


It had been three months since the Changelings invaded Canterlot, and Stalwart Drone had been part of the officially named Royal Night Guard, sometimes called the Lunar Watch, for two years. He had already become a sergeant and was being trained in training recruits. It wasn’t what he’d call his ‘dream job’, but it paid the bills… and for his bees. His friends found it strange that he, a creature of the night, would have earned a special talent in apiary. Bees, after all, are not nocturnal creatures. In the end, what made him happy was his business.

Today he was worried. He’d been woken in the middle of the day, having only had a few hours of sleep, and been summoned to the castle by Princess Luna. Had it been anypony else he would have complained, but he, and the other bat pony guards, owed the Regent of the Moon much. She had returned and offered them a place, a job to pay their expenses and a roof over their heads should they lack one. Stalwart of course had his own home in Canterlot; he had saved up half a year’s worth of pay to afford it, but it was worth it to have somewhere to care for his bees.

He strode confidently through the halls of Canterlot Castle and stopped only at the doors to the Hall of Court, where he figured that Prince Blueblood was—no, no, he could certainly hear that pompous brown-nosing unicorn sucking up to the princesses for something or other.

When the doors opened and Blueblood strode out, he heard him grumbling under his breath about the Royal Guard defending royals and something about that including princes. Stalwart sighed as Blueblood moved out of hearing range; that boy needed a good mare to chill him out or rein him in.

He stepped into the Hall of Court, stopping before the throne and bowing before removing his helmet.

“You called for me, highnesses?”

The princesses considered him for a short moment before Luna nodded to Celestia and levitated a sealed envelope from beneath her cushion beside the throne. The letter found itself tucked into Stalwart’s armour.

“Stalwart Drone, recently we have received word from your prior superior, Prince Shining Armour requesting somepony to assist him in training Night Guard.” She announced. “Upon review of the personnel files, your name has been suggested by your current Captain, Rapid Parry, for the role. We would like you to take this letter of recommendation to the Crystal Empire and deliver it and yourself to Prince Shining Armour for duty. You have a train reserved for your departure in three hours.”

Stalwart blinked, stunned at this sudden change to his life which the Princess had decided to ‘bless’ him with. “B-but your highness, what about my home here in Canterlot..? I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for this opportunity, but I’ve only just finished paying for it. A-and what will happen to my apiaries? I can’t just take bees on a several-hour train ride to the frozen north…”

He cringed as her attention bore down on him silently for a few moments. He felt like she was attempting to burn his eyes from their sockets with her gaze alone.

“Sister, he raises fair points.” Celestia stated. “He has yet to be informed of the arrangements.” She added, her hoof on her sister’s shoulder managing to calm her down. She gazed down at her still-cowering subject stoically. “Your home and the furniture within you shall be reimbursed for, and you have accommodations at the Crystal Empire being allocated as we speak. As for your apiaries; your bees will be added to Canterlot Castle’s own private orchards and you shall be reimbursed for the expense of your queens and the apiaries they reside within. Judging by the gossip of your fellow guard about you being an avid apiarist yourself, they will likely fetch a handsome price.” Her stoic gaze turned into a warm smile as she let this information sink in. “I would recommend you go home to pack whatever private possessions you wish to keep into boxes for later delivery to your new residence, several guards will be sent to retrieve them shortly.”

Stalwart sighed, knowing that he had no real say in the matter, before nodding and saluting. “Yes, your highness.”


*&*&*&*


Stalwart spent almost half an hour packing away his most nostalgic belongings into carefully marked boxes; photos of his parents, his novels signed by their authors, his stainless-steel apiarists tools along with his gear, and a stuffed animal he had received when he was newborn that he had possessed for his entire life… He hadn’t much to pack away, but what he did have he felt he couldn’t live without. He had also spent a few minutes saying farewell to his bees after locking up his house.

He felt… strange, on the flight to the train station. Granted he wasn’t used to flying during the day, but at the same time he wasn’t used to leaving everything behind either. He wanted nothing more to return home and ignore his orders; but while depressed he may have been, wanting to commit treason he wasn’t.

He sat on the platform for a few minutes while his train was prepared hoping that his friends or any of the guard would show up to bid him farewell and walked with heavy hooves when the driver informed him that it was time to go.

Not one. Not one of his friends or fellow guards had shown their hide to send him off.

He barely held back tears as he watched Canterlot move away from him rapidly. Had nopony cared about him at all? Was he just the hanger-on apiarist that everypony was friendly towards to placate? He thought back through all the fun times he had enjoyed with his fellow guard. The cider they had packed away together, the bar-room brawls and apologies to the Captain they had gone through. The pranks they played on one another. It made him laugh thinking of the time they had managed to tie and ball-gag Feathered Bulwark to Princess Luna’s bed sans her armour and left her to her embarrassing fate. Princess Celestia hadn’t been as entertained as the Guard and her sister were, but they had gotten off with stern words and no real punishment.

Luna had gotten them back, of course. It was all in good fun.

He brightened up a little; fun. Was that all this was; just an elaborate prank to see how far he was willing to be pushed? He hoped so; he had really put his heart and soul into those apiaries and their queens and he didn’t want it to have all been in vain.

He sighed and lay down on the leathery seat and placed his head onto his forelegs, closing his eyes. It was still midday, and he really needed some sleep before he arrived at the Crystal Empire.


He awoke to the train lurching and the sudden deceleration launching him from his makeshift bed. Blearily he lifted his head and looked about, wondering why they had stopped. Not seeing anything from within the train carriage, he pulled himself to his hooves and moved to where the carriage had a door to the engine compartment, pushing it open and poking his head out only to find… nothing.

The train had run out of coal, something he was sure was supposed to have been restocked at Canterlot, and the driver missing. There was a small scorch mark on the floor where somepony had teleported away.

“Great, here I am in the middle of bucking nowhere on a train with no fuel and no driver!” He shouted angrily as the lights failed from lack of power. “Guess I’m going to have to walk to the Crystal Empire! I swear to the moon that if I ever find that driver I’m going to cover him in newspaper and use him as a piñata!”

He continued to grumble as he dragged down some curtains to wrap around his wings and face, moved to the exterior door for the train carriage and pulled it open. Snow and biting wind smothered him as the raging blizzard made its presence well known. He only grumbled louder as he stepped out into the snow, closing the door behind him before starting to follow the tracks.

“If I follow the tracks, I should be there in no time!” He told himself optimistically. “If there weren’t a goddamned blizzard raging I’m certain I’d get there sooner!”

He huffed in the cold as the train fell out of sight behind him, swallowed by the snowstorm. If a train can get there in a few hours, how long could this take?


*&*&*&*


The day was idyllic for the Crystal Empire. Celestia’s sun was high in the sky, the blizzard that had been raging beyond the Empire’s protective dome had passed, and ponies were going about their usual day-to-day business.

A group of foals, fresh out of school for the afternoon, were entertaining themselves by following Prince Shining Armour on his afternoon walk. He was well aware of their presence, and was half-tempted to turn it into a game to see how well they would follow him before they grew bored and went to play elsewhere.

That was until a pony wrapped in dogged brown fabric, shivering and covered in snow stopped near him and snapped a wobbly salute.

“S-sergeant S-Stalwart D-Drone reporting for d-duty sir!”

Shining Armour blinked before using his magic to remove the fabric and snow from the pony, revealing a very weathered bat pony in the majority of Night Guard armour.

“I-I was told t-to report t-to you o-on the d-double, s-sir.” Stalwart said. “M-my train b-broke down and I-I walked.”

Shining blinked at him. “You walked?” He asked incredulously. “Sergeant, how long have you been walking?”

“Three d-days sir.” Stalwart replied. “S-solid.”

“You’ve been walking out in that cold for three full days? Wait, wasn’t there a two day blizzard?”

“Walked through that, s-sir.”

Shining looked the bat pony over; he certainly looked like he had been walking for a solid three days. His facial fur had grown a good several inches, giving him a bearded look and his fur was matted and dirty. His bat-like wings hung at his sides and almost dragged along the ground and he had icicles –icicles- hanging from the mithril armour he wore.

“This is a hay of a state to meet a Prince in, sergeant.” Shining said teasingly. “Where’s your helmet? And why are your wings not at your sides?”

“L-lost my helmet t-to the b-blizzard sir,” Stalwart replied as formally as he could, “a-and I-I can’t feel m-my wings to h-hold them up.” He looked down at his wings stoically. “Hope that I d-don’t lose them…” He mumbled, before scrunching up his face curiously. “Huh, vision’s gone blurry.” He said nonchalant. “I-I’m afraid I n-need to do something s-somewhat u-unprofessional now sir. Many apologies.” He added, before slumping forward.

He was asleep before he hit the ground.


*&*&*&*


Stalwart woke slowly lying in a soft and warm place that, while he couldn’t remember knowing anything about, he couldn’t care about that small fact less. He was, for the first time in his recent memory, comfortable and warm and there was very little that would drag him from this happy state.

Still, even as he lay here he couldn’t deny overhearing somepony’s voice as it bled into his hearing.

“… He has shown impressive dedication, walking for three days solid without rest. He had even been woken during the day this all started, we have to admit that we are impressed.”

His mind slowly and sluggishly wrapped around these words and the way they were spoken. He knew a pony who spoke like this…

“The train driver has been suspended from work for his negligence, and the train has since been discovered half-buried in snow and pulled to Canterlot by way of a second engine. Since we did not receive word of any incidents, we were under the impression that he had arrived without incident.” The voice paused for a moment when Stalwart groaned, only to speak once more soon after. “Ah, he wakes.”

Finally it clicked who had been speaking, and he struggled to sit up at attention only for somepony to hold him down.

“Please don’t strain yourself; you’re recovering from hypothermia and second degree frostbite to your wings.” A female pony to his left said worriedly. “It was a good thing you wrapped your wings or you’d have lost them.”

He groaned again as he was forced back onto his back and his wings gently splayed out. He struggled to open his eyes, wincing at the bright lights as they assailed his senses.

“Dim the lights.” Princess Luna’s voice ordered. “His eyes are sensitive, that light is only doing him harm.”

He sighed in relief as the lights dimmed and became easier to tolerate, finally able to look over at the Princess of the Moon thankfully.

“P-Princess,” he groaned with a nod, “w-why are you here?”

“We are here because one of our guards went missing for three days only to appear at the Crystal Empire exhausted and frostbitten.” She explained calmly. “We are surprised that you walked all the way to the Crystal Empire through a blizzard and survived. Yet more proof that you are deserving of the position I suppose.”

Shining Armour, who had been standing beside Princess Luna, grumbled and shot her an irritable glance. “Speaking of the position you have been sent up here for, I think there has been a miscommunication.” He huffed.

“I… I’m not needed here?”

Shining chuckled. “There is no training position available or required.” He said.

The words made his stomach sink, and he looked pleadingly at the princess. “B-but my transferral! The letter!”

“The letter has been received and read.” Shining informed calmly. “Which is where this understanding of miscommunication comes from, actually; without it I would never have known that you were here to train Night Guard.”

Stalwart sighed and turned his face away. “This is great.” He grumbled. “And because it has taken three days for this mess to be sorted, my house and the furniture within have been sold and my bees taken by the royal apiarist. Guess I’ll be moving back to the barracks for a while.” He gave a pained groan as his left wing was inspected by his nurse. “Next thing I know, I won’t get sick leave either.” He hissed to himself. “This is just the worst week ever.”

“Stalwart Drone, you are not required here as a trainer, and were never requested for that role. It is our failing that has led to this… misinformation; you are still required here, however, and a home has been acquired for you and already furniture and your personal belongings have been moved in.” Princess Luna said. “You, also, have been promoted to Captain in accordance with your new position.”

He took a few moments to remember where he’d put his voice before simply saying: “What?”

“Allow me to clarify; we don’t need a trainer for Night Guard as we can train regular Royal Guards and switch their sleeping patterns.” Shining said flatly. “I sent word to Celestia that we were in need of someone to lead them. The previous captain of the Night Guard in the Crystal Empire retired about a week ago, and there isn’t enough experience in the rank to promote anypony here.”

“But I’ve only been in the service for three years!”

“And the Crystal Empire Night Guard has been in place for a few months.” Shining countered. “Half of the ranks are fresh recruits and the other half are Day Guard members who’ve been switching day and night shifts almost every week; they can’t keep that up forever. We need some… fresh blood to make up the gap and help with the newbies until they’re experienced enough.”

Princess Luna glanced down at him curiously. “So he would still, technically, be training recruits?” She asked.

“Well, within a technicality I guess…” He replied sheepishly. “But he’s taking more of a management role than an active one.”

“You were a Guard Captain for a few years Sir Armour, and yet you kept an active position.” Luna pointed out. “I did not send him here for you to hoof off some paperwork to because you feel yourself overworked.”

Shining Armour didn’t respond except to give a hearty laugh.

“And as for you, Stalwart; you shall be taken off of active duty until your wings have healed, be that one week, two, or even several months. I would advise taking that time for you to acclimatize yourself to the Crystal Empire; even at night it is rather bright.” Luna said authoritatively. “Is there anything you require from Canterlot to make your settling in easier? It would be the least we can do for the trouble you’ve been through due to our failings.”

Stalwart chuckled wheezily. “Princess, you know I would never blame you for any of this. If anything I brought it upon myself by hiking in the cold for three days.” He replied. “You have no debt to pay; I just… went out of my way to complete my assignment and nearly got myself killed.” He smiled up at her cheerfully. “If anything, that makes me stupid, not worthy of reward.”

“It makes you a well-trained guard, if anything.” Shining grumbled quietly.

“If I can speak freely; does it make me a well-trained guard or a well-trained idiot, sir?” Stalwart hissed. “Walking through a snowstorm for three days is not something that would be a good idea to impress onto rookies.”

“Walking through a snowstorm despite the risks to complete an assignment, however, is.” Shining retorted just as sharply. “We Captains called it ‘dedication to duty’. I’d take one pony that does stupid things to do their duty to fifty guards who don’t.”

For as weak as he was feeling, Stalwart laughed. “I dunno sir; you’re going to be short a few guards if you think that, especially after that one guard gets himself killed.”

Shining Armour chuckled. “If you say so, Captain.” He chuckled. “Get some rest, I’ll see if anything can be done about your beekeeping; who knows, you might get lucky and be the first pony in a thousand years to keep some rare form of bees from the Empire.”

“I’m sure that the Empire has its own apiarists, but thanks for the thought.” Stalwart huffed.

“We shall return to Canterlot and think over what we might be able to recompense you with.” Luna said, turning towards the door. “Do say hello to our niece for us, Sir Armour.”

Shining Armour nodded. “Of course, princess; thank you for coming on such short notice,” he replied.

Luna scoffed. “Shining, you’re married to our niece; you need not be so formal with us. Just Luna will do.”

“And I’m still a royal guard, princess; there are rules.” He replied cheekily as he followed her out the door. “But, if you insist, I suppose I can; just don’t expect me to start calling you ‘auntie’.”


*&*&*&*


She’d been waiting in line for an hour, the other petitioners giving her odd looks at her appearance; it was a rare day indeed to encounter a pony in such clearly deteriorating health. Hell, encountering a pony that was down on their luck was an uncommon event in and of itself. She didn’t smile, never talked besides to the secretary to assure that she would be seen, and she would sway ever so faintly on her hooves as she struggled to keep herself standing.

After what had felt, to her, like an eternity, the doors to the throne room sounded a heavy thud and began to swing open. The petitioner who had been ahead of her in line stepped back out with a smile upon his lips, clearly happy with the results of his meeting with the crystal princess and her prince, Princes Cadance and Shining Armour. Finally it was her turn.

She’d been waiting for this for so very long.

With a little difficulty she strolled into the hall of court, stopping before the throne and giving a polite curtsey, as was expected. She didn’t know much about attending open court, but she did at least know a thing or two about procedures when interacting with royalty.

The royal couple looked between one another worriedly for a moment before Cadance spoke.

“Welcome, my little pony. It’s rare we get those who are not crystal ponies coming to us in court with a petition. Usually Princesses Celestia and Luna handle them rather exclusively.” She gave a short, girlish giggle before continuing. “I digress; state your name and home for the record, please.”

The pony, still struggling to stand, nodded. “I… I call myself Ruby Swift, highness.” She announced, eliciting curious glances from both Cadance and her husband. It was a somewhat fitting name for her, really; her pelt, though currently marred with soil and snow, was a vibrant red. Her mane and tail, also sullied by the elements of nature, were a golden yellow, and her eyes were one of the most crystalline blue that the royal couple had seen outside of the crystal ponies they governed. “I hail from just outside Coltorado.”

Cadance nodded faintly. “And what is it that you wish of court?”

Ruby Swift groaned faintly, swaying more heavily for a moment as a small, unseen burst of emerald fire licked across her sunken stomach. “I wish… to die.”

She barely heard the worried gasp of the Princess, because with these words her vision swam and she slipped to the polished floor with an audible thud.

She couldn’t keep going anymore; getting here had taxed her body to its limits. The flimsy, thin illusion she had been forced to maintain upon herself had drained what little energy she had, and upon striking the floor it simply collapsed around her with a burst of emerald flames.

Left lying in her place, breath heaving and body shivering, was the all too familiar black chitin of a Changeling.

Shining Armour, forever the Royal Guard, shouted at the guards in the room, ordering them to detain her and drag her away. Dutifully the guards in the room hurried over, surrounding the offending changeling before Cadance could voice a word.

“Halt!”

The guards all stopped in stunned confusion, looking up at the princess as she strode towards them. With a wave of her wing they parted for her.

“Back away, give her some air.” She instructed calmly as she closed the distance between herself and the changeling now wheezing on her floor. The guards, sworn to do their duty and follow orders, complied and backed away a few steps, but nothing more. Shining had been sure to drill into every guard the dangers of changelings, and the closer they were while still doing as they were told the better.

Cadance came to a stop before the changeling and she sat down, looking over her thin form.

“Cadance, what are you doing? She’s dangerous!”

Cadance chuckled and looked back to her husband. “She could barely stand before, and now she cannot even keep up an illusion.” She said calmly. “I don’t think she could harm anypony bar herself right now.” She turned her calm face back towards the figure lying limply before her. “That being said please try not to move, you are in no shape to do very much right now.” She waved a wing idly at the guards to her right. “If one of you could be so kind as to fetch the castle medics, we shall be quite safe here.”

As a guard hurried off, Shining strode down from his place beside his wife’s throne with a scowl. “Cadance, you can’t possibly be thinking-“

“Shiny, if she is a prisoner, what royal decrees are there about such a situation? Imagine she were a Gryphon or Minotaur.” Cadance replied with an irritable snap. “And if she’s just an immigrant from their Hive who has, as she has said, hailed from one of our own towns, we have a duty to care for her. What would Celestia say if I simply turned her away in her time of need? I’m not exactly happy about it either, but we have to treat her as we would treat our own. I’ll write to Celestia about…” Her voice grew faint as she talked, but not to her talking quieter. No, Ruby couldn’t hear any better as her strength left her.

Ruby sighed as her eyes drifted shut, staring at the golden clad hooves of the crystal princess.


*&*&*&*


Ruby’s eyes strained against the light that assailed them, unyielding in its intensity and without flicker. She groaned and allowed her eyes to open faintly and looked around the room she was in. It appeared to be a regular hospital room, complete with a curtained window and an annoying beeping machine that seemed to be connected to her torso. A vase on the bedside table to the right of her bed held a bouquet of flowers she recognised as roses but couldn’t place the species of. They were most peculiar, their petals almost crystalline.

“They’re lovely, aren’t they?” A familiar voice asked from her left. “Crystal Kingdom flowers have such a unique look, and they can taste fantastic in a nice salad.”

Ruby spun in the bed, her eyes wide as she looked back at the pony who smiled down at her disarmingly.

“I hope you’re feeling a little better, Ruby, at least that we can talk.” Cadance said calmly. “Princess Celestia is on her way up to assist me in handling this… unique situation, but until then I’d like some more… ammunition to defend your case.”

Ruby gave a confused look to the princess sitting at her bedside. “’Defend’..?”

Cadance sighed and nodded. “We’ll get to that when Celestia arrives.” She said. “Please, tell me about yourself, if you can.”

Ruby shifted in the bed faintly, unsure if she should really say anything before sighing and nodding.

“I… I call myself Ruby Swift, and I do come from just outside Coltorado.” She said, gaining a little confidence as she spoke. “I lived alone in a cottage I built myself within a nearby forest. I… kept to myself, usually; entering the village was always something of a chore. The townsponies were afraid of me, you see. They called me the ‘Black Witch’ and I usually hid my form beneath a long and hooded robe, so as to not scare anypony when I went into town to get supplies. I never used a disguise, as I’m not very good at them and must maintain the spell as long as I want it active, unlike other changelings who can make it last even when unconscious.

“Though my name hardly suits what I did for bits, I chose it all the same. I always liked the colour red, despite what you may think of changelings having a preoccupation with green. We’re not named at birth, not given a name until the queen thinks us worthy, so I had to choose my own. I fled the hive when I was young, after my mother died in a cave-in. I was tagged as unwanted, a waste of resources, and I would have been culled had I not fled to Equestria. I learned to read and write mostly on my own with books, though I did ask questions to a townspony who was kind enough to help me.”

“You mentioned your name not suiting what you did for bits.” Cadance mentioned calmly. “Could you tell me what it was?”

Ruby nodded a little, her muscles hurting her to use. “I was a wood carver.” She said. “I would plant and grow trees which, after they grew to a useful size and age, I would cut down and use to make wood carvings, which I would then sell in bulk in town to other merchants. Toys, book ends, knickknacks… Anything I could carve, really. For a time, life was kind; I didn’t have any real worries until… until the Hive attacked Canterlot and ruined your wedding.”

“Were you there that day?”

Ruby shook her head. “No, I was at home working on a train set.” She said. “Some days since then I wish I was.” She added sadly. “Some days I wonder if it would have been better to have been there, to have been caught between the shield that repelled the invasion and a wall to cut my misery short.

“I walked into town the day after, when newspapers had rolled out Equestria wide with news about the attack. The looks I got from the townsponies…” She hissed a breath and shut her eyes tight, shaking her head trying to force the image from her mind. “They looked so… furious. Betrayed. I had no idea what was wrong until I was cornered by a group of them and angrily shown the newspaper. Despite my protests that I was innocent, that I would never… I’ve never been beaten so viciously, not before or since. I luckily had my bit pouch on me, and my cloak, because within the hour I didn’t have a home to return to.

“They burned it to the ground and left a sign warning me to leave or risk the same fate.”


Cadance shifted uncomfortably at the news of Equestria’s citizens being so heartless.

“And so, with what I had left, I began to travel. At first I figured I could just move to another town, but at every town I approached, out would come the torches and pitchforks until I had been well and truly driven away. After a few months of pointless travelling and shrinking hopes, I managed to find out about your kingdom here in the north, reading about it in a newspaper I was using to keep warm with one night.

“I remembered what the others did to you and your husband at your wedding, and, well, I’m not exactly in what one would call a happy place. I was dying anyway, Princess. Not of the cold, but mentally and physically, I’ve not eaten in a month. I… I didn’t want to wait for death to come to me, so I figured that, if anypony would… willingly kill a changeling it would be you and your husband. I lost my cloak during the walk here and had to use my ability to disguise myself to enter the kingdom at all.” She heaved a long-held sob and a pair of tears snaked across her cheeks as she stared down at the blankets of her bed before giving a mirthless and sarcastic laugh. “But even after all that, I can’t even get myself put out of my misery by those who should hate me the most. I suppose they were right, back before I fled the hive.

“I really am a waste of space.”

Cadance gazed down at the crying changeling sadly, unsure of what she should say. She’d never really had to deal with this sort of situation before.

“Did you try Ponyville?” She asked curiously. Ruby shook her head.

“It’s common knowledge that Twilight Sparkle and her friends live there, and during the time I was near that town I wasn’t exactly… broken like I am now.” She huffed. “I just wanted to find somewhere to live, somewhere I’d be accepted. That is unlikely to happen for a changeling where Twilight Sparkle lives.”

There was a polite knock at the door, followed by a voice.

“Cadance? Are you in there?”

Cadance shifted to her hooves and moved to the door, opening it with a flick of her magic.

“We’re in here, Auntie.” Cadance called back, looking out the door at the mares on the other side. “Oh, and you’ve brought Aunt Luna with you, too!”

Luna grumbled. “We were sleeping when your letter arrived.” She said irritably. “’Tia dragged us out of bed for what she was calling an ‘urgent matter’. We were here only yesterday, why could this not have happened then?”

Cadance giggled. “Nice to see you too, Auntie,” she retorted before letting them in. She closed the door behind them and hurried over to the bed. “This is the changeling I told you about in my letter. She’s calling herself Ruby Swift.”

“What do you mean by ‘calling herself’?” Luna probed with a yawn.

Cadance looked down to Ruby, who seemed to have gone rigid and was evidently unresponsive from the look on her face, her fear of what might happen as an outcome of this encounter clearly first and foremost in her mind.

“Changelings aren’t named unless they prove themselves to the Hive, or so she says.” Cadance informed. “She had to assume her own name when she fled the Hive for Equestria.” She said before quickly adding, “Something about being labelled as excess weight on the Hive and marked for culling,” with a raised hoof.

“You mentioned that she came to you a petitioner,” Celestia began calmly, her gaze tearing away from the changeling sitting ramrod still on the bed to her niece, “was she able to voice her request before she needed to be brought here?”

Cadance shuffled her hooves nervously and nodded.

“Might I be able to break the confidentiality of court to ask what it was?”

Cadance looked back at Ruby, whose eyes looked back at her. She gave a faint nod and Cadance sighed.

“She… she wanted me to… to kill her.” She managed to say.

Celestia sighed sadly and Luna only blinked incredulously at her niece. “We think our sleep deprivation has befuddled our ears, did you just say-“

“Yes, Luna.” Cadance snapped. “I. Did.”

Again the moon princess blinked.

“Surely you are aware that such a wish cannot be granted, yes?” Luna asked.

Cadance only glared at her. “’Are you aware’, of course I'm aware, Luna! I’m not stupid!”

The door clicked shut once more, accompanied by Shining Armour’s voice. “You married me; you should find a second opinion.” He said jokingly, earning himself a hard punch on the shoulder from his wife.

“Could we, perhaps, stop yelling and hitting one another? We seem to have frightened the patient.” Celestia voiced.

The arguing trio looked back to where Ruby was currently sitting on the bed with a pillow over her head, hiding her face from the royals.

“Fantastic, I asked to be put out of my misery by the most dysfunctional royals on the planet.” She grumbled her voice barely audible to the ponies present. Celestia gave a faint laugh before using her magic to prise the pillow from her head.

“Don’t worry about them.” She said calmly. “Tell me; why would you wish such a thing?”

Ruby sighed. She’d only just finished telling all of this to Cadance and really didn’t feel like going through it all again, but… she supposed that Celestia at least deserved the basic facts.

“I’ve lived in Equestria since I was young, until the invasion carving things out of wood and selling them to merchants.” She said emotionlessly. “The town I settled near beat me, burned down my home, and ran me out of the countryside. Since then, that’s been my life. No home, no food, no friends, I wasn’t even a part of that stupid attack on Canterlot, yet here I am suffering because of it.”

Luna huffed. “Your request was silly.” She said, earning glares from the others. “What? It was. She could have asked for a home here in the Empire.”

“Or be forgiven for being a member of a hostile race?” Ruby shot back sharply. “Because that will totally happen simply by asking for it; I didn’t have a broken rib for three weeks the last time I did that at all.”

Luna glared. “Is that any way to talk to royalty?!”

“Luna, calm down.” Celestia said, holding a hoof up. “Miss Swift is right to be angry if her claims are true. While I have the royal guard investigate her claims, she’ll need to be bunked here in the Empire.”

“For now she can stay here in the hospital to recover,” Cadance said matter-of-factly, “she needs to recover from her malnourishment and fatigue, and she doesn’t have a bit to her name at the moment. As it stands, we’re covering her recovery on the royal vaults, but we cannot just support her indefinitely.”

“We could bunk her with Stalwart Drone?” Shining asked, “I mean, he’s only just got here too and could probably do with the company.”

Ruby looked hesitant, but Luna shrugged. “We cannot see any drawbacks to this.” She said, before stepping a little closer. “Actually, this presents an opportunity… Miss… Ruby, is it? You said before you were a woodcarver, correct? Would you be willing to take a royal commission?”

Nervously Ruby nodded.

Luna smiled. “Are you aware of what an Apiary is?”

Author's Note:

I know, I know; ‘Augh, not another goddamned Changeling story! Quill don’t you have other stories to write anyway? What happened to them?’

Simple answer is that I am still working on them; writer’s block has struck me on them for a little while and I’ve churned this out in the meantime. Don’t know how often I’ll work on this, if much at all, so… hopefully it doesn’t hit the featured board because then I’ll feel like a total twatbasket.

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