• Published 9th Mar 2014
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The Changeling of the Guard - vdrake77

Not all changelings are fit for life in a hive. But that doesn't mean they're capable of life outside it, either. Join one such changeling as he tries to find his place in Equestria, and what the difference is between survival and living.

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Tabula Rasa

Topaz was always an… odd companion. My first days with her were subject to more prodding and poking than any pony could tolerate, and sometimes I caught her staring as though she were trying to reassure herself that I was real. It was almost embarrassing when I began to shed the outer layer of my chitin as the damage from the manticore slowly healed, as Topaz collected it with a sort of amused amazement, though to my relief she understood that prodding my new chitin would be unpleasant for me, if not damaging.

Beyond that, the mare was insatiable in her study of me, filling in some dozen pages of a notebook, pen held in mouth and as she scribbled furiously. To my chagrin, I could not understand the point of her efforts at first, having only rarely been subject to writing and always before able to call upon the hive’s understanding of the letters. I was able to pick up on the symbols easily enough, though stringing them together was more of a struggle. At first I resisted because I felt that any idea worth being shared could be placed within the hivemind or told to another, but the idea of leaving a semi-permanent log of one’s thoughts astounded me, and is probably the only reason I write to this day.

Topaz had, to my great interest, a more than passable skill at producing images on paper. She showed me my own likeness, and it was likely the first time I had ever truly examined myself. There is no call for mirrors amongst changelings, and if we were to desire to change our appearance, we only had to do so… though I do have to wonder how most of my kind would ensure they were doing a passable job without examining themselves. Perhaps the ability to perfectly mimic a pony was one of the criteria for being chosen as a gatherer?

I cannot help but feel that Topaz was disappointed in many of the answers to her questions. I did not know what the average lifespan of a changeling was. I did not know how old the Queen was. The idea of the Queen having a predecessor had never before struck me, but it seemed grossly incorrect and I told her so. I was very much unaware of the processes a changeling went through from birth, though I did re-correct her that we laid eggs. When she suggested that the Queen laid all of them, I actually laughed. The Queen does not lay eggs, what madness would that be? When Topaz explained how most insect societies worked and questioned why we even had a queen if not for that, I was unable to truly answer her beyond ‘because we do’.

She found my ability to convert emotion to food and fuel rather incredible, and we spent several nights of her working herself into one emotional state or another and then having me identify and explain what I could use if for. She tried huge, fake sobs at one point to simulate sadness, but I was only able to sit there and stare at her dumbfounded as her allegedly emotional tantrum provided absolutely nothing. She stoutly informed me that she wasn’t used to faking emotions and she couldn’t really think of anything to be legitimately sad about. I agreed that I had found little enough to be troubling since her arrival, and we sat in silence for a long while after that.

Topaz’s saddlebags and personal gear had been mostly savaged by the angry manticore. Several texts (all replacable except her journal, which she managed to mostly salvage and wrapped in the binding of another damaged text), a canteen was punctured but repaired easily enough with a shell of my own making, though she was cautious to rinse it out many times before drinking. Her personal tent and sleeping roll, however, were completely rent beyond repair. She lamented their loss until I informed her that had she not been carrying them, it would likely have been her flank with the manticore’s claws in it. Her scratches would heal nicely, but thin lines would always be present on her back and flanks for those who cared to notice such things, though she professed relief that it had not marred her cutie mark. Thankfully her wings seemed to have just been badly bruised, but enough to prevent her from flying more than a few minutes at a time, and she admitted that she should probably see a doctor back in Canterlot, just in case. Her limbs were sore, but mostly functional, and she pronounced herself travel-worthy in only a few days.

So, we began a trek back to Canterlot, slowly making our way into Equestria proper. The journey began well, but when I took the shape of one of my intended forms, the unicorn I had named ‘Silver Spell’, she stared at me, aghast.

“Silver Spell? Really?”

“Is… it not suitable?”

“Well, sure, if you want to be perceived as an intolerant bigot. I mean, Silver Spell!” At my stare, she winced. “Oh, right, right. Silver Spell was a character from a famous play. She was obsessed with ‘purity’ and made the life of her nephew an absolute nightmare because he was involved with a pegasus.”

“A play? Then, if I understand, this character does not exist.”

“It doesn’t matter, if anypony named their foal that in the last… two or three generations, it’s news to me. I wouldn’t do it. If anypony did, it would be a political nightmare.”

“Over a character from one of these ‘plays’?” I mused, quite stunned.

“Besides that, it’d be like naming a pegasus “Cloud Brain” or an earth pony ‘Mud Hoof’ or… something else offensive. It breaks them down to a stereotype.”

“And… this is inappropriate? Would not being generic be more effective at blending in?”

“What? Being generic? Among ponies? No, of course not. Wait, that’s what you were going for? I thought this is what your people do.”

“I am a tunneler. I do not gather energy.” I mumbled, a little sourly. “Much of this is new to me.”

“Okay, we’re stopping here for the night. I think… maybe I should look at what you’re going to use.”

“There is much time before-“

She lightly shoulder checked me. “I’m not used to walking this far and you need to show me some of these other forms. I’m telling you right now, lose this one.”

“But… the name-“

“The name’s only half of it. A pony like you will stick out like a badly bobbed tail. Besides, you can show off that rock-cutting skill of yours.”

“It is not really a skill as such, so much as a-“

“Oh come on, just show me again. Your hooves should be all chipped to pieces and I want to see why they’re not.”

“Ah. I harden them. And shape them to be more angular.”

“Like a chisel! That’s fantastic, I hadn’t even really considered that. I love how much easier it is to just ask for information instead of researching it for days trying to get a glimpse of how it actually works. How hard can you make them? Is it just your hooves, or is it your entire body? Can you-”

Roughly two hours later, I’d managed to survive another unstoppable onslaught of questions from the curious mare, and I felt bolstered again. I truly enjoyed curiosity, and indulged in it frequently myself. Her presence allowed me to explore the sensation in depth, which I found myself reveling in. Now in the safety of a small hole in the side of the mountains, Topaz began to inspect my new forms with a critical eye. She walked around me, investigating each, paying special attention to the cutie marks, wings when I was a pegasi, and horn when I was a unicorn. Though I had not practiced quite as much as I intended, I was quite sure she would find them-

“I really can’t lie, they’re all sort of terrible. I mean, none are as bad as Silver Spell, but none of them are very good, either. They all look like they’d blend into the background.”

I couldn’t quite help but feel disappointed, and yes, a little offended. “Well… yes. Of course they do. I don’t want to be noticed, if you’ll recall.”

“And that’s the problem! Ponies don’t just blend into the background. We stick out. We’re colorful, we’re loud. If you aren’t colorful like the rest…”

“…Then I’ll be noticed. Because I’m so unnoticeable?”

“Exactly! What was your first pony named again? Sandy?” At my grimace, she nodded. “It stuck. You were different, ponies talk about different, it started to wear thin.”

I nodded, amazed by this new insight. “So I must blend in… by not blending in.”

“Uhhh, that might be oversimplifying it a bit. Besides, there’s other things to consider.”

“Such as?” I questioned, doffing my latest form with some chagrin. She prodded me with a hoof.

“Such as comfort. You said yourself that ‘Sandy’ started to itch after a while.” When she saw the beginning of a protest on my features, she raised her hoof. “Alright, alright, not itch, but something, it didn’t feel right. So, wings or horn, which bothers you least to hide?”

“Wings are barely noticeable, but-“

“Alright, first step. Hide your wings, please?” I obeyed, flattening my wings against my bag and covering them under a bit of protective chitin. “Now, the horn. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t make for a bad earth pony, but you need something you can wear almost non-stop. So, I think the horn stays.” I took a form of an average unicorn pony, basing its coloration off of Topaz’s own. She blinked at that, then nodded, looking amused. “It’s like a weird mirror. Unicorn stallion me.” She shook her head, then continued. “Alright, your magic is green. So. Let’s start with the eyes!”

“Eyes? What does magic have to do with –“

“Fast and loose rule. A lot of ponies have magic the same color as their eyes. Heterochromia can mean having magic that’s two different colors. Or magic that changes based on how you use it. Or it could cycle between the two, it gets weird quick. Point is, green eyes, green magic. Most ponies will shrug it off as normal. Next, your mane. Now, you’ve got a blue tint to your wings… but that little fringe is gray, and so is your tail, so I think we could go with a dual color scheme. Maybe a light blue streak, if anypony sees your wings they might pass it off as their eyes playing tricks on them.”

I nodded, more than impressed. “For the eyes, perhaps I should just leave them blue?”

“Well… you could. It’s really your decision. If somepony gets a good look at your face without you being disguised, you’ve plucked your pinfeathers anyways.”

“I don’t have feathers.”

“It’s. No, it’s not- Sandy, please.”

“I have explained that I dislike that name.”

“And that’s another thing. Your own choices for names are… well, you’re trying too hard to be unnoticed. They’re so generic that they’re embarrassing. Silver Spell was sort of acceptable, it just had poor social connotations! And that leaves the cutie mark.”

“A symbol of maturity and your place amongst pony-kind.”

“A symbol of knowing what you can do that’s special. A pony with a cutie mark for storytelling doesn’t have to be a writer. They could be a journalist. Or an artist. Or a politician! Or anything else that isn’t related to that, and do writing in their spare time. Having a special talent doesn’t make you exceptionally prolific at it, unfortunately, or guarantee that what you can do is really something anypony wants. The problem is… well, you’re sort of assigning yourself special talents that aren’t really fitting for you. Someone asks ‘Silver Spell’ to cast a spell about… I don’t know, lightning, and you can’t, that would be really awkward. If Cloudy Skies gets asked to do weather patrol in a pinch, and can’t manipulate clouds very well…”

“I begin to see your point. I must choose a talent more suitable for a pony that digs holes.”

“No, no no no no no. No. No. You have a chance to pick something you want to do. You have the excuse of practicing your special talent. You must want to do something, go big!”

“…I am intrigued by architecture?”

“Thaaaat’s maybe too big. That’s going to require training, and an apprenticeship, and possibly schooling to get accreditation… “The yellow mare began peering around, then focused on one of my small attempts to recreate the cup from the temple that I had brought along. “You’ve been making these, right? They’re not too bad. The big flat one made a good table.”

I considered, then decided that I would find the cup to be an acceptable cutie mark. I practically dreamt of the thing, duplicating it with near perfection on my flank would be much easier than trying to recall the precise shape of the lightning bolt I was using for Silver Spell.

“Now that looks good. A golden goblet, you could claim you’re interested in recreating ancient artifacts. It’s the sort of thing you don’t have to actually know a lot about.”

This was entirely reasonable. If anything, it sounded quite interesting. “And ponies would find that of worth?”

“Welllll maybe. But if not, we can find you something to make a few bits. And I’ll help, I mean, I’m not about to let you run off alone in Canterlot, I need to document all this. A changeling’s integration into pony society.”

“I… don’t know how I feel about that.”

“Don’t woooorrrry about it. I won’t publish for years and years. This is a long-term study. Heck, I could make you a research assistant and then I’d be able to get you some pay. Not really much because it’s really meant more for ponies going to school and needing a couple bits to get by and needing on-the-job experience more than the money. Now, how about a good name? Maybe something to do with that cup…”

“Gilded Goblet?”

“We’re going to stay away from anything that sounds like that first word, you’ll thank me for that later.”

I sighed, feeling annoyed. This was complicated business, and talking of the cup disappointed me. I still could not believe I had dropped the thing. I distractedly drew it and the ledge it had sat on in the dirt at my hooves.

“What is that, some sort of altar?”

“Hmm? It was a stone in the midst of a room. The cup sat on it, in the center.”

“You know, I’m starting to think your explanation of that was lacking in some details. You said the building started to fall in… was that right after you got the cup?”

“Yes. Perhaps age had weakened it.”

“Did the altar happen to… oh, I don’t know, move at all when you took the cup?”

“Yes, of course, and then the rest began to-“She started snickering at me. “…What?”

“Oh, no, no, nothing. You just waltzed in, stole a priceless idol from a dead temple, and strolled right back out, not a care in the world, and the whole place just kept trying to kill you.”

“A priceless idle?” I frowned, not understanding why inactivity would be priceless. Worthless perhaps, but priceless?”

“Idol, not idle. It means something held in reverence, respect.”

Zaimare’s saying came back to me, and I couldn’t help but smile. “Then idol hooves got me into as much trouble as idle hooves have.”

Topaz’s head came up. “Idol hooves? Hey… I like it. Idol Hooves.”

I blinked. “Idol Hooves?”

“Well, you’re always getting into some sort of trouble, right? It fits you like a good shoe.”

I rolled it around in my head, shifting my form to fully fit Topaz’s suggestions, the green eyes, the grey and blue mane, and the lack of wings, then looking back to look at the goblet on my flank. The name fit. Not only fit, but fit comfortably. For the first time in my life, I had a name that I could think about it relation to myself.

My name is Idol Hooves.

Author's Note:

Woo! Sorry for the delay, folks. I've been out of town for a while, finally managed to get settled back in. Still trying to come up with a decent cover picture. We're rapidly approaching Canterlot, for those of you interested.

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