• 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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Trust Exercise

Our companionship was weakened by my failure, I am saddened to admit. Topaz would keep the incident in mind for a long time even after she had forgiven me. Though she would put on a strong face, she admitted that she would need some space, and her emotional recovery took time as she tended to rage or break into fits of manic laughter or tears at a moment’s notice. I honestly did not see what good it did to give her more space, but continued to do so with every outburst, opting to err on the side of caution.

After one of her outbursts, Topaz looked at me in confusion as I stood some thirty paces away. “Hey, Idol!” She called, sounding annoyed. “The hay are you doing back there?”

“Giving you space. As requested.”

Topaz murmured something about Celestia, strength, and all stallions being the same, then sat on her haunches to try to work up a good glare, but I could see a bit of a smile even from this distance. “Get over here, that’s not what it means.”

“I dislike this trend of ponies to say a thing that doesn’t mean what it means and then claim it to be a ‘figure of speech’.” I grumbled as I trotted up. How was one to request space around them or explain that they had in fact kicked a bucket out of the way or that a clock had spontaneously grown wings, as Wasta had explained was a serious issue in Canterlot especially.

“Oh don’t pout. We didn’t design you for it. All I meant is that I don’t want anypony hovering over me.” As I opened my mouth to protest, she cut me off. “Don’t you dare say you haven’t been flying. We went over that one.” I was quite sure we had not, but chose not to argue.

“I was under the impression we should head due north. We have been moving towards the rising sun.”

“North northeast.” She clarified, holding up her odd disc with the arrows on it. I glared at the device, quite sure that it was untrustworthy. “See? We have to stop at an outpost before we head back. I honestly almost forgot, but maybe we can get a coach. Find someone to look at my wing.” The mare stretched both wings, though the right twinged before reaching full extension. “It’s probably just a small sprain. I wouldn’t have minded having that shell of yours back then.”

“To be quite fair, my wings would have probably been torn to shreds, if not ripped completely off.”

Topaz screwed up her face at that. “Ewww. Do they… you know, grow back or anything?”

“I… do not know. With molting, perhaps? It will take a great deal more time.” I pondered aloud. “Shedding bits is not uncommon, but larger injuries usually require a full-body molt. It is both exhausting and wasteful.”

“You know, some insects eat their moltings.”

“I believe my kind will do so to hide them or in times of scarcity, but it’s rather bland and most likely not worth the effort. Better to use it as bait for scavengers.”

“What, ah…. What does meat even taste like?” She looked a little ill at the question, but I opted to be truthful.

Then I hesitated. How would one describe the taste? ‘Wriggly’ seemed an inappropriate choice. Most of the things I had consumed could only be compared to other meats. “It tastes like what it is.” I offered lamely, knowing this would not be sufficient. Changing the topic seemed wise. “Why is there an outpost here in the badlands?”

Topaz seemed all too willing to leave that conversation to die as well. “Well, we’re in Equestria proper now. This is just on the more remote side of things. It’s really for travelers, Saddle Arabia isn’t technically Equestria because nopony controls the mountains or the badlands. Why take territory nopony wants when it makes a fine border?”

“What about griffins and dragons?” I countered, reasonably sure my people had encountered both in the badlands.

“Dragons nest wherever they want and griffins are clannish. If one of the clans splits, then we might have to worry about that. As long as nopony bothers a dragon’s hoard, usually they don’t bother with ponies. Besides, that’s why the outpost is here. Keep an eye out. If things get messy, well, they can contact the guard with dragonfire. I’d be amazed if they didn’t have a jar set to the next town and Canterlot at minimum.”

“I… assume they will see the plume of fire and send assistance?”

“What? No.” She gave me a look, then laughed. “Dragonfire jars. It’s one of the few commodities dragons are willing to trade with, the littler ones anyways. Have the dragon breathe fire to move things into a warded jar, tweak it a bit and you have a jar to teleport small packages. It’s only been around for a few years but Celestia raised the pony who discovered it to lesser nobility. Outrageously expensive but great for important mail.”

Having no idea what any of that meant, I grunted in acceptance and continued on.

The… outpost was little more than a few stone buildings and wooden pickets, with a large odd ladder set on the ground that went far out of view that I could not begin to understand the point of. A few ponies lazily patrolled the area, and I could not help but feel disdain for their lackadaisical attitudes. Given that the two species they knew that were likely to be in the area were capable of flight and one of them was also capable of setting wood alight, I felt entirely justified. With little more than above-ground stone to defend them, I deemed the outpost ‘showy and useless’, leading Topaz to shush me as we approached.

There was some commotion when Topaz announced herself to the guardian at the gate instead of doing the sensible thing and flying over it, but as I was soon to learn it was considered a ‘courtesy’ to let the local outpost know you were leaving Equestrian territory and give them some brief information on where you were going prior to departure, if only so they would know where to send the search party in the event of your disappearance. Topaz, for instance, had been gone for weeks longer than expected and a search party had been sent out only that morning.

After some hurried explanations, she was whisked away to see the outpost’s medic and I was left standing alone in a courtyard, feeling startled and confused. This was an odd place, I decided. There was not nearly as much bustle as Topaz had warned me of as the few inhabitants of the outpost wandered about doing chores and patrolling the walkway above the wooden barricade. I opted to ignore my feelings of foalishness and helped a mare in armor gather water from a well, though she protested that travelers weren’t required to assist in daily chores, the idea that I should stand around and simply watch was preposterous and I would not waste my time thusly. After that I assisted a pair of earth ponies who were carrying square stones and buckets of stone-smelling powder and water to the roof of one such building, and was delighted to learn that the mixture of the two buckets provided a thick compound that was runnier than I approved of but apparently would dry into a rocklike mixture in a few hours’ time, keeping the stones in place. I dumped a small amount in my saddlebag, intent on asking Topaz about its other uses later.

I had begun an acceptable rhythm of hauling stone and buckets up the side of the building when my thoughts began to stray towards Topaz’s extended absence. I was about to go search for her (as soon as the work was done, of course) when she returned with an odd contraption on her injured wing and plenty of fresh bandages, and I thought I could hear her grumbling something about ducks. She seemed confused by my absence.

“Marefriend’s looking for you.” One of the earth ponies offered, sliding another stone into place. “Got it. Thanks for the help. Easiest way down is-“ I hopped off the building, pleased by my labor and landed lightly by Topaz, who gave a small scream as I apparently fell from the sky. This was oddly echoed from above.

“What- where…” She looked straight up. “Were you on the roof? Whyyyyy were you on the roof? Did you just jump off?!”

I stared at her, not quite comprehending. It was not a long drop. Only twenty feet. Thirty at most. “Yes. I did not mean to startle you. I was moving stone.”

“Well, fleas can leap- and grasshoppers, I suppose, crickets too… but not unicorns. Unicorns don’t jump from buildings!” She hissed at me under her breath, looking up to where two earth ponies were staring over the edge in shock. Oh dear.

Foalishly, I waved up at them. I had been caught up and had forgotten myself again. It was good that I had Topaz to remind me of these things, I considered. Who knows what trouble I’d be in?

“He has a featherfall spell memorized!” Topaz called up to them. The two seemed conflicted between annoyance and relief, but then went back to their work. I could not help but marvel at such quick thinking. I also did not know such a spell existed, but realized I should probably educate myself on that as well. “You,” Topaz went on, “- are a very lucky bug. And I can’t believe I didn’t think to ask how far you could jump. Anyways, they sent a message to the search party. We’re invited to dinner, and we need to get our story straight.”

“Er… story? I have never tried to be a teller of tales… that seems… quite pointless, actually.”

“Better get used to it, Iddy. We need to explain why you weren’t in the logbook and how I got away from a manticore before someone gets it in their head that I’m a battered mare. Come on, they’re giving us a night’s lodging. There’s a supply train coming with fresh recruits, they’re letting us ride home tomorrow with the ones who are heading back.” She started trotting towards another building.

“What is this thing on your wing?” I asked, finally unable to contain my curiosity.

“This?” She lifted the bandaged mass. “…It’s a splint. You’ve never seen a splint?”

“What does it do?”

“Keeps you from moving it wrong. What do you do when a cha- one of your people can’t use a limb? Just let them hurt themselves more?”

“I believe we eat them.”

“You what?!” Topaz cried in horror. I began to despair that I would truly never master humor.

After reassuring Topaz that my people did not practice casual cannibalism, she showed me that they had given us each a room, side by side. I found both needlessly spacious, having preferred the smaller barred rooms I had seen through a window, but Topaz explained those weren’t for guests. I supposed it made sense that the warriors would receive more comfortably snug accommodations, so did not argue. I could not help but be wistful, however. A small sturdy hole in the rock surrounded by nestmates would have been wonderful, the idea of metal bars between us instead of rock only felt like it would have improved the sensation of closeness. I wondered if the hive would consider it.

Topaz crafted a fine tale about me being a colleague who determined there was an incongruity in the mixture she had used to create her repellant that would cause it to fail by tainting the results. I then rushed after her, forgoing all but the most basic of needs in an attempt to catch her to prevent her from doing anything unwise. Topaz had clouted a young manticore with her sack when the repellant appeared to not be working, and it had attacked her in a rage. I had arrived and driven it off with a combination of the correct mixture and a few lucky bolts of magic.

All in all, I decided, things were looking up.

Author's Note:

Hey folks! Told you I'd get a cover picture! Many thanks to Carnifex for it. Sorry for the delay in getting this chapter out, between travel for work and computer issues, well, you know how it goes.

Well folks, Idol's going to get his first glimpse of Canterlot next chapter. Love it or hate it, he'll be getting his first real taste of Equestrian culture. Have to admit, I didn't go into this expecting quite so much backstory, but I'm having fun with it.

And a friend surprised me a little ways back with a TVTropes page. I'm not updating it, but for those of you interested,Have at it.

Questions comments and concerns, lets hear 'em!

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