• 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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Ignorance and Apathy

I am Idol Hooves.

“Yes, Idol, I understand. Are you alright?” A tinge of concern flavored her words, and I started. The mare was currently kicking stones into a small circle, a few pieces of brush and kindling already between us. I nodded, rolling a log towards the firepit.

“Oh. Yes, I am, it’s just… I have never actually considered… this. I have a name. On a shape that looks… something like myself. Based on things I am… interested in. It is a much grander experience than I had anticipated. But I have to familiarize myself with it to keep it as a useful form.”

“Is shapeshifting really that complicated?” She stepped on some of the kindling, shattering it further.

“The less pony-like a form is, the harder it becomes to hold. Shells that aren’t pony-like shatter quickly. An illusion will hold, but… illusion or shell will not grant me the ability to mimic a griffon’s cry.” A wave of interest from Topaz, which I drank in eagerly, seeing no harm in drinking of the emotion whilst I used energy to adjust myself to this new shape. I sharpened my already altered hoof, bringing it down on the sides of the log, splintering off several sizeable sections, which I formed into a peak at Topaz’s guidance.

“Wait, so, as a griffon, can you use the talons?” She held up a front hoof. “I mean, apart from unicorns, most of us don’t have that sort of dexterity.” She fought with her saddlebag a moment, prying her pen and notebook free and settling down on her sleeping bag. I frowned, looking up to the setting sun. It was still early, we could both still be gathering food, even if Topaz claimed that our food stores were enough for several days of travel already. Nonetheless, her apparent eagerness to rest at every opportunity bothered me, given that she was claiming her injuries more tolerable as time went on.

“Yes, of course. If, as a griffon, I was incapable of reacting appropriately, the disguise would be an utter failure. A griffon without the ability to snatch prey from the ground would go hungry and be ostracized, besides.”

“I think you’re a little out of the loop, griffons haven’t been that bad in… a long time. I mean, sure, some of them are still a little on the savage side, but I’m actually pretty sure that… that they’re not all bloodthirsty anymore. They do a lot of trading with ponies, I’m sure some of them even do their own farming.”

“It was my perception that they hunted ponies?”

Here Topaz’s head jerked up to look at me more carefully. “That hasn’t happened in almost a millennia. Outside of very, very rare cases that usually get resolved by both sides. Princess Celestia is even looking into trying to get some younger ones involved in our flight schools, get ponies and griffons to be even closer.” She began furiously scribbling, her face a mask of concentration but her attention still unquestionably on the subject. Or, I suppose, she was simply trying to hold the pen still in her mouth.

I considered her words. The changelings as a species did not have much interaction with griffons, I was almost sure of it. But… when had the hive’s last interaction with them been? The little knowledge the Queen had gifted me with at the start of my banishment was almost entirely devoid of context; I knew the griffons did not like ponies. I did not, however, know how recent this information was. ‘Stay away from treasure mounds, flee from any cave you discover with one because it is a dragon’s nest. Avoid Everfree Forest. Griffons are a predator.’ And more information that I could not immediately recognize as my own, but had slowly begun to sink into my thoughts as fact that I had personally established.

“Have you spent much time among the griffons? Why else would you take that shape?”

“None at all, actually. As I’ve said, I am not a gatherer.” With a huff, I set the kindling alight, the logs quickly catching with the green flame before it turned a cheery yellow with vague hints of red. Topaz rolled an apple to me, impaling her own on a green stick as we started at our dinner. I confess, I have grown fond of cooking food, even if there is some energy wasted in the process. After a day of eating apples, there is some strange appeal to roasting one over a fire as opposed to simply devouring yet another. It did not hurt that I was flavoring mine with emotion flowing from Topaz. “…When we are hatchlings, we play. We shapeshift at will, into whatever we wish. Small dragons, griffons, even one-headed hydras, or giant spiders. The freedom is encouraged, I think.”

“So… so what changes?”

“Excuse me?” I rolled my own stick, adjusting it to keep the apple out of the open flame. Burnt apple was different, but not what I would call a desirable repeat experience, even if Topaz had laughed uproariously at the look on my face as I had diligently chewed the charred fruit.

“It sounds like… like when you’re foals, you’re all encouraged to be emotional, and happy, and have fun wasting energy.”

“I can’t imagine any creature would not want their offspring to be happy and healthy.”

“No, no, I mean. When you… get older, I guess, you stop being… outgoing. You act like you’re supposed to be just… just a drone, but you’re not.”

“I should be. I am aberrant.”

Something fell into the fire, and I frowned, peering at it, then glanced to my own apple. I had never known Topaz to drop one of her own, as this was a trick her father had taught her when she was just a little foal.

“But why… why would anypony… stop wanting… to be happy?” The flow of emotion from her cut off like a line had snapped, and I jerked my head up to her, then froze.

Topaz was staring dully at the apple in the fire, watching it as it hissed and burned. Even in the yellow light of the flame, her coat seemed to have lost its luster, and as I watched the very color itself seemed to be draining from her.

With a wordless cry, I bounded over the fire to her, shaking the pegasus. Her breathing was steady and even, but I expected that. The sound did nothing to her, and she only reacted at the violent shaking I was giving her. I hadn’t been paying attention, hadn’t even considered this possibility.

“What.” Her voice was dull, a monotone. She didn’t care. Couldn’t. But that couldn’t be, I couldn’t have drained her so far, could I?

A knot popped on one of the logs, sending sparks flying. One landed on her open notebook, and she watched it settle and burn as I desperately stepped on it, trying to be delicate and not damage her pages. I snatched the notebook up in a wave of poorly contained magic and tossed it to our gear, giving it no more regard once the immediate threat to it was dealt with. “Topaz, are you well?”

“Fine.” Her stomach rumbled, but she made no motion to react to it.

Order preserve. I had just reduced the only pony who knew me to a husk. Her interest, I’d been feeding on the complex emotion for too long, too deeply… and now it was gone. I had seen this, amongst my own kind, especially where hatchlings were present. They would latch onto a parent too strongly, too desperately hungry, and the parent would be drained. Drained dry, and unable to feel anymore. The hatching they had loved was just a hatchling, of no special importance to them. Even if they could recognize the tiny changeling before them as their own flesh and blood, they could no longer attach significance to that fact. In many cases in my own memory… that changeling died soon after. They stopped functioning, stopped caring about their own well-being, or that of the hive around them. It was why hatchlings were kept in the nursery, with a caretaker who was given exceptional quantities of love to dole out. But… even so, a parent could be drawn to their own offspring. Drawn in… and consumed.

And I had done this to Topaz. A pony who had helped given me name and shape, a companion. I was horrified. I was no hatchling, no foal to be unaware of my actions. How had I not seen? How had I not realized this? Would she recover? Could she? I looked about, trying to think of what to do. Her reaction to the loss had been sudden. I would take her to Canterlot. They could help her, perhaps. I cursed myself, the feeling of fullness suddenly disgusting to me. The chill of the night air did nothing to soothe my fears, and remembering the rumblings of her stomach, I recovered my own apple. Not quite done, but enough that she could eat. I held it down to her, but she continued to stare dully ahead, comprehending perhaps, but not compelled enough to eat it. I dumped her saddlebag out, taking a small knife from a pouch and cutting the lightly toasted apple into sections, putting them down before her. When she still did not react, I pried open her mouth with tendrils of magic and set one of the slices inside, holding my breath until she began to slowly chew, more as if trying to clear her mouth than to assuage her hunger. A trickle of relief swept through me, and I sighed. If I could get her to eat, I could get her to Canterlot. Breathing and eating. Functional was good. If she could walk, better still. If not… if not I would carry this mare on my back until we reached the city.

Author's Note:

And here's the problem that comes with having a changeling as a traveling companion.

Also, does ANYONE ELSE have as much trouble with the spelling of griffons? I REALLY want to spell it 'gryphons'.

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