• 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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Shock Therapy

The first days were the most difficult. Left to her own devices, Topaz would simply stand, or lay about, staring into nothingness. It took constant pressure to get her to walk, and after looping a rope about her shoulders and hauling her along for a few miles, I realized how devastating her silence was. I tried making idle chatter, briefly asking her about her family, her position at this ‘CSGU’ and anything else that crossed my mind. Her flat, simple answers only made matters worse.

“Fine. I study bugs. I’m not a unicorn.”

The last seemed an odd distinction to make, but I paid it no heed until I felt more resistance on the rope. Careless of where she was putting her hooves, Topaz had stepped into a hole and was clearly having difficulty pulling her hoof free until we adjusted her to not be pulling at such an odd angle. It was becoming apparent to me that this was possibly more crippling to ponykind, who were used to having access to their own emotions, as opposed to my kind who usually actively suppressed them.

It did, however, also bring to mind that others would likely question the rope and Topaz’s state should we encounter anyone, be they pony, griffin, or diamond dog. A member of my own kind would surely recognize her state, and though they would recognize it… they would very likely see my attempts as foolish. The most a husk could expect was for the Queen herself to set them to rest, but it was far more likely for them to simply continue on until they collapsed of exhaustion and died. In the few I’d seen personally and could still remember, it had not taken more than a few days.

The thought brought me up short. I did not really know how hearty I was compared to Topaz. I could travel for several days without food, yes, but I was not sure that I understood how limited ponies were. Or if they were capable of lasting longer than a changeling could, though I doubted it. More importantly, I had to preserve Topaz’s health until I could get her help. It would not do if she were physically damaged as well as emotionally when I returned her to her home. I wanted her to recover. I wanted to talk more about my hive, to determine more about who I was. In mere days, she had helped me… become someone.

It did not help, for that matter, that I wasn’t entirely sure which way we were going. Getting Topaz to Canterlot quickly seemed wise, but her thoughts were muddled. Asking her for directions was difficult. The sheer apathy she displayed towards the situation was disturbing, and she seemed quite content to lay in a shallow ditch all night if I did not roll her sleeping bag out. Getting her out in the mornings was a nightmare, requiring much cajoling and in one case I was forced to upend the bag and dump her unceremoniously on the ground.

The next morning, however, was of greater concern. My rationing of our food had left her hungrier than usual, so the protestations of her stomach woke her before myself… and led her to devour the entirety of our stock of food. I had expected it, but not so soon. The husks tended to live in the moment; she was very hungry, that meant she should eat to make that pain go away. There was food for several days; she would get hungry less if she ate it all now. Thankfully our supply had not been greater; husks had been known to eat until their bellies ached, then regurgitate to alleviate the new pain. Out of fear for the trouble she might get into should I leave her to forage food, I elected to go hungry for another day of our painfully slow pace.

When next we stopped, I found myself nosing through her own packs, looking to see if Topaz had brought any emergency rations of her own, as she stared dully at the night sky with those uncaring eyes that I had begun to dread. A few pouches seemed hopeful. One contained ground coffee beans, which I imagined to be simply a more efficient way to store them. Two of the others I could not recognize, the one emitting an odd spicy scent, and the other… I could not describe it more than ‘vastly unpleasant’ and to my chagrin, when I recoiled from the pouch, it fell from my grasp and scattered the powder everywhere, lost to the wind.

Topaz’s sudden heavy breathing startled me, and I spun to see her looking about with growing panic. “It’s back, it’s back, it’s here, it’s here it’s here it’s here it’s here!” Then she gave a little wail of fright… and took off into the night. I stared after her for what seemed like a long time, trying to parse what had been meant. Then it clicked. Topaz had… recovered? How? Was there some cure in this bag? Her fear had been so sudden that I hadn’t even felt it, though now I could feel it like a beacon of raw terror. I hesitated, unsure if my presence would make matters worse or better. Was it me she feared? She hadn’t bothered to look at me, so it seemed unlikely. Nonetheless, she’d left her saddlebags. Even if she wanted nothing more to do with me, I would return her belongings. Perhaps we could part ways and remain friends.

Finding her was embarrassingly easy. I just had to find the bush that was quivering the most.

Approaching only made her soft whimpers of “Please, make it go away…” more heartrending, and I set her bags down a ways away.

“Topaz? I have left your saddlebags here. I… I apologize, I did not mean to-”

“Get in here you buggy idiot, it’s back!” She snapped, sounding desperate, frightened, and now a little angry.

“It? What it? There’s nothing else out here.” I peered about, unsure as to what she might have seen.

“Just get in! The manticore, it’s back, it must have followed us, can’t you smell it-“

I did not dive into the bush with her. Changelings do not dive into bushes. I may have entered hastily, but the distinction is important.

“I can’t smell anything over this powder.” I sneezed, annoyed.

Shhh! It reeks of that repellant I threw on it and… powder?” Confusion warred with terror on her face. Then began to fade.

In panic, I tried to continue, to keep her emotional. “Yes, from your bag. It was the red bag. It stank, I dropped it while trying to put it away, it was-. Oh. Probably your repellant. It is good that I did not try to consume it then-” There was a wave of anger from Topaz, and then a hoof collided with my face.

Around half an hour later, a very emotionally confused Topaz and I had a mostly silent dinner consisting of several hastily gathered roots, ferns, and assorted berries. I was having minor trouble with depth perception.

“…I’m sorry. About the eye. It doesn’t look so bad.” She mumbled, nosing around at a large strawberry we’d found.

My eye, as it had turned out, had valiantly done its part to deflect Topaz’s anger-driven blow. She had let loose a string of profanities that would have made Rough Shod blush, then stumbled about and fell on her haunches, breathing heavily as her emotions began to even out, anger and fear giving way as her other complex emotions began to recover. My eye evened out to what I understand to be a lovely shade of violet. It also hurt, as they say, like Tartarus.

“It feels bad.” I offered, trying to be helpful. “You have a good hoof.”

“Yeah, well. Dad’s an earth pony. I shouldn’t have hit you.”

“It is fine. I should not have drained you emotionally.”

She scowled at that. “No. You shouldn’t have.”

And for that I had no answer. We sat in silence for a few more minutes.

“…how… how bad was that? From the outside. I don’t… I can’t really understand what I was thinking, everything was so… right now.”

“It was bad.” I admitted, sighing and shifting my hooves. “Within our hives, the only cure is understood to be death. You become a danger to yourself and others.”

“Then why? Why would you do that to me? I thought we were getting along!”

“It was an accident. I did not… I have never done that before. With changelings, we can feel if one is draining emotion from us. If we take too much, the other will stop us. I did not consider that ponies would not be able to.”

Her glare softened. “…Right, right. Not a gatherer.” She fixed me with it again. “You still shouldn’t have been drinking that much. Not without permission, at least.”

“I apologize again. I was hungry, and we have been traveling. Most of what I had stored before was lost with the manticore attack. You have been offering, so I did not think it would be problematic.”

She considered, then rubbed a hoof on her chin. “…Alright. If we’re going to keep traveling together, we’re going to need to establish some boundaries.”

“Boundaries? You… you wish to continue traveling together?”

She fixed me with a look. “After all that, you bet your telson I’m keeping an eye on you, mister. Besides, I think you owe me enough to let me do my research.”

I had to concede the point. “Fair enough. I shall not feed upon you again.” After a moment, I had to ask. “My… what?”

“I’m not actually sure you have one, it’s really more of a scorpion and sea-spider sort of thing, and hold on just a second. I’m not going to starve you, that’s not going to do anypony any good. We just need to… you know. Boundaries. Establish minimum limits. Maybe put some floodgates in.”

“Floodgates?”

“You know…. Something to keep you from… what, husking anypony again?”

“I understand the intent, but not the term.”

She sighed, then rolled a shoulder. “Can you… I don’t know, do something to make it so you only absorb strong emotions that flow from someone else?”

I hesitated, not liking this idea. “I… might?”

“While still drinking in the ambient emotions, you know, the general feelings.”

“…I am not sure. Even if I can, my ability to read emotions may dampen. I don’t think I would like that.” She gave me a look of clear disapproval. “It would be like blinding myself.”

“Well not permanently, just… you know. A little barricade, so when you’re out among ponies you aren’t accidentally taking too much. Again.”

I winced. “I don’t know how to start, but I’ll try.”

“I’ll help. Besides, you shouldn’t be reading people the way you do anyways. You’re too good at it, it can make ponies a little nervous.”

“I honestly do not think another pony will pay me so much attention as you have recently. That may have been part of it.”

“Yeah, well… okay, I get too into my studies. You are fascinating, you know. A hidden culture of Equestrians, it’s just sort of wild.”

“Indeed. We are truly a thrillseeking, danger loving people.” I stated, attempting to be even more bland than normal. Topaz cracked a smile and chuckled, shaking her head as she settled down, still chewing the last piece of root she’d gathered. “…I am glad to have you back.”

She swallowed, giving me a tired smile. “I know. And I’m glad to be back. Just… give me a little time to stop being jumpy about all this. It’s not every day you turn into a zompony. Or back to normal.” Her tired smile turned into a wolfish grin. “And now I can write down a first person perspective, and you better believe I’m getting your version of this written down too. Maybe, just maaaaybe we’ll start calling it even after that.”

“Bargain struck, Topaz.” I yawned, using a phrase Zaimare had proven fond of, feeling settled again, and once more allowing myself hope for the future. “Bargain struck.”

Author's Note:

Hey folks, still moving along. Questions, concerns, or gripes, leave em! Annnd full speed for Canterlot. Should have a cover picture soonish, hope you're all as excited as I am!

P.S. I still want to call it Tartaurus or Taurtarus. It's right there!

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