• Published 9th Feb 2014
  • 3,299 Views, 112 Comments

Five Changelings In Equestria: The Five Paths - Bucking Nonsense

Orchid Mantis, a changeling, has retired to the Crystal Empire... only to find that things aren't as peaceful as she had hoped they would be.

  • ...

The Perils Of Being A Single Parent

"Are you Orchid?"

Orchid Mantis, currently sporting her disguise of a pegasus with a white coat and a white and pink striped mane and tail, turned towards whoever had just questioned her, a denial on her lips. Just in time, she stopped herself: old habits died hard, and she was still unused to using her real name in public, as odd as that may sound. Still, even if she hadn't stopped herself, she would have stopped in her proverbial tracks, due to the fact that the one questioning her was a guard.

Shining Armor had, upon her agreeing to assist in dealing with any of Sombra's constructs that appeared, required that she take all possible steps to conceal her true nature from the populace at large. While the Crystal Ponies didn't have any prejudices against changelings in general, her 'unique' appearance made her a potential risk: fear could spark a momentary flicker in the power of the Crystal Heart, and that could result in one of Sombra's constructs awakening.

"Yes," Orchid said, putting a slight smile on her face. "I'm Orchid. How may I assist you today, officer?" She felt she pulled that off rather well: more a a fighter than an actor, she'd always had trouble keeping herself 'in-character'...

Still, some of her nervousness must have leaked. The guard, a slightly purplish crystal pegasus said, "It's nothing major. I was asked to come fetch you and bring you to the school as soon as possible."

Orchid's eyes widened in surprise. The fact that it was 'nothing major' meant that it wasn't part of her new 'job', but that could only mean one thing. She asked, with worry she didn't have to fake, "Did something happen to Lance?"

The guard, seeming slightly embarrassed, said, "Well, he got into a fight at school, so the teacher wanted to have a word with you."

Orchid tilted her head to one side, and asked, "Well, if it was something that simple, why would somepony have sent a guard to find me?"

The guard blushed, then sighed, and with a roll of his eyes, said, "Because the one he got in a fight with was my son."
One hour earlier...

"You stink!"

"Well, you're ugly, and at least I can bathe!"

Lance and Charger had never gotten along. It was difficult to say why: some ponies just rub each other the wrong way, but every time they crossed paths they ended up getting into an argument. Today in the playground, it seemed like it would just be a repeat of the usual.

Charger wasn't ugly, but he was sensitive about his appearance. With a pure white coat, blonde mane and tail, and big blue eyes, the crystal pegasus would probably be quite handsome when he finished growing. And the fact that he was big for his age (already he was twice Lance's height and weight, and showed no signs of stopping) made him somepony you didn't want to get into a fight with, but thus far, the arguments between him and Lance had stayed just that: shouting matches that ended when one or the other ran off in disgust, or in tears.

...Today was the day that changed.

Charger, an angry scowl on his face, said, "Well, my dad can beat up your dad!" That wouldn't be hard, since, were Lance's father still around, he'd be a thousand years old. That insult had always sent Lance running off crying in the past.

... But not this time. Instead, Lance grinned and said, "Yeah? Well my foster mom can beat up your dad."

That was when Charger belted Lance in the face.

The two were now sitting on opposite sides of the hall, glaring at one another with sufficient anger that, if a fly were to cross between the two, it should, by all rights, burst into flames. Charger was perfectly fine, save for a little bruising around the hooves. Lance, on the other hoof, was sporting an impressive shiner, as well as a few other bruises he'd be feeling tomorrow...

Orchid, and Cloud Cutter, Charger's father, were now in conference with the teacher, trying to determine what the best course of action would be.

"Up until now," Daisy Chain, the young mare who taught at the school, began, "I'd been willing to let the two of them off with a warning: they might have argued a bit loudly, from time to time, but that often happens between two colts. I'd give them a warning, or even a lecture, but as long as it didn't come to blows, I was willing to leave it at that. However, what happened today is not something I am willing to tolerate. Something needs to be done, and done now."

Cloud Cutter nodded in agreement, and Orchid nodded absently herself. This was a bit of a problem: less than one day as Lance's foster parent, and she already had to deal with a serious issue. Admittedly, changeling hatchlings would scrap all the time, but with a hardened exoskeleton, even a solid blow would do no real harm. Still, it was recognized that too much fighting between two changelings was bad, especially in the long-term...

"So, I asked the two of you over so we could work out what we could do to nip this in the bud, before it becomes much more serious," the teacher continued.

Orchid thought back to her days in the swarm. There was a strategy that her last lieutenant liked to use when he ended up with two changelings that seemed prone to this kind of behavior. A smile came to her face as the idea formed in her head.

"Well," Orchid said, after a moment, "I might have an idea..."

As the teacher and the guard listened, their eyes first widened in surprise, then they both began to smile, nodding in understanding. There was a certain elegance to it...

"So," Orchid said to the two colts, a few minutes later, "Mister Cloud Cutter and I were talking, and we decided that the best punishment we could come up with was to have you both help clean up the house this weekend."

Lance's jaw dropped: he knew exactly how big the house in question was, and how much cleaning it would require. In the weeks since Sombra's defeat, and the colt's sitting around in an orphanage, his family home, well, mansion, really, had sat empty... and gotten quite dirty and dusty. Yes, maids and butlers could be hired, but it still took a surprising amount of time to get the practically palatial estate back into order, even with a dozen ponies to help. There were rooms where the dust came up to Lance's belly...

Charger, seeing Lance's expression, realized that this might not be a good thing.

Orchid, meanwhile, was smiling inside. It was an old trick. You take two individuals who get into any sort of a fight whenever they meet, and punish them with the worst thing they can imagine... Being forced to spend time with the one they got into a fight with, and be forced to work together for an extended period. Worse, since somepony would be watching them closely the entire time, they couldn't get into another fight without getting into even more trouble.

This would have one of two end results: either, after spending time with each other, they'd start to become friends... or they'd get so sick of one another that they'd actively avoid each other in order to keep from getting punished again. Win/Win.

Cloud Cutter looked down at his son, and said, "I have to say that I'm a bit disappointed in you, son. I was certain that I raised you better than this." The colt lowered his head, ashamed. While not quite in the script, Orchid couldn't argue with that: It was very clear that, of the two, Charger had been the one to do most of the damage. Depending upon how you looked at it, this could easily be considered bullying...

The colt, in a weak voice, said, "But dad, he said that his mom could beat you up..."

Both Cloud Cutter and Orchid raised an eyebrow at that. After a moment, Cloud Cutter, chuckled, and said, while rolling his eyes. "Son, do you really think I'd care if she could?"

Charger looked at the ground, now thoroughly ashamed.

Orchid chuckled, then asked Lance, semi-jokingly, "You really think I could take him?"

Lance nodded his head vigorously.

Orchid turned to look out Cloud Cutter, and gave an appraising look. After a few seconds, she asked the pegasus, "Would you mind making a muscle for me?"

The guard raised an eyebrow questioningly, but complied. Orchid gave the muscle in question a quick poke, then asked, an eyebrow raised in surprise, "Do you work out?"

Cloud Cutter chuckled, then nodded and said, "Three times a week."

Orchid gave the pegasus a longer look. He had a few inches in height on her, some surprisingly good muscle tone, in spite of being her age, and he outweighed her by at least forty pounds, most of it muscle. After a moment, she reached a decision.

Turning to Lance, she said, "I probably could take him, but only if I was willing to cheat. And I wouldn't want to have to do it twice."

Cloud Cutter gave the mare an appraising look of his own. A combat veteran, having done two tours in the Equestrian Army before Sombra, and having enlisted in the local guard after the end of his military career, he'd earned an eye for being able to size up another pony: a skill that had saved his life more than once. This mare, Orchid, was in surprisingly good shape for her age. In fact, he'd seen professional gymnasts and acrobats with less tone in their muscles. He'd noticed that she seemed to move with a very fluid grace when she walked... the kind of grace that came from regular intensive, and extensive, exercise. Just his type...

After a moment, he shook his head, trying to clear his head. He was single now, a widower (well before Sombra), but he was getting a bit too long in the tooth for that kind of thinking.

...Still, he couldn't help but wonder if she was seeing anypony.

Later on, Orchid was walking home, Lance on her back. The colt had developed a slight limp, so she'd decided to give him a lift. She'd have to give him half a dozen ice packs when they got home, given the overall extent of the damage done.

With a weary sigh, Orchid said, "I'm a bit surprised at you, Lance. I mean, getting into an argument with somepony literally twice your size isn't very smart."

Abashed, the colt said, "I know..."

With a roll of her eyes, Orchid said, "Well, I suppose I'll have to at least teach you a few things, so I don't end up having to carry you home if this happens again." Colts will be colts, after all.

Lance's ears perked up at that...

"I mean," Orchid said, "I guess I can at least teach you how to block a punch, or maybe just how to dodge one. After all, I don't want you coming home, looking like a raccoon."

Both of the colt's eyebrows raised, surprised.

"Bear in mind," she continued, looking back at the colt, "This won't be a license to get into fights: I just don't like the idea of having to cart you around just because somepony took a swing at you and you didn't think to duck. A few lessons in self defense should fix that. And a few lessons in self-discipline should help keep you from getting into any more fights, I think."

The colt nodded in understanding.

More importantly, she added silently, with monsters like the one she fought yesterday likely to sprout at a moment's notice, Orchid would sleep better at night knowing that Lance would at least know how to duck and run effectively. The kid, she'd come to realize, wasn't in very good shape: part of it might have been the aftermath of Sombra's tyranny, or perhaps depression caused by the loss of his parents due to Sombra's Time Skip spell, but he was rail thin, and generally unhealthy looking. She could barely notice his weight on her back. She'd spent the day at the library, looking into recipes that were considered 'nourishing' for a colt his age, but that wouldn't be enough: some healthy exercise would put some muscle on his bones, and hopefully make the colt feel better about himself...

"So, Lance," Orchid said, as they reached the front gates to the palatial estate that was the colt's family home, "I'll teach you what I can. But you'll have to promise, if it seems like you might get into an argument like that one again, you'll immediately back off. No more fighting. Deal?"

Lance grinned, nodded, and said, "Deal."