• Published 9th Mar 2014
  • 34,975 Views, 7,352 Comments

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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Cover Stories

As it turned out, a small dinner was instead brought to our rooms (specifically the one determined to be ‘mine’, as Topaz and I were still discussing our story) and we ate in relative privacy whilst waiting for the return of the search team. I did enjoy the pony tradition of meals as opposed to eating only when hungry, and the prospect of a return to the large shared meals of the caravan had a certain charm to it. I was disappointed to learn that generally ponies determined their own schedules for meals, and only in certain circumstances did this warrant multiple non-family members eating together.

“Fillies and colts that are still in school do it,” said Topaz, “The university has a mess hall, but there’s a wide open lunch period and it’s usually not everypony eating the same thing anyways. Too many ponies, too many different tastes. So you get to choose a bit more-”

I continued listening as I cleansed my tray of the meatless slop I had been served. Though not exceptionally pleasant tasting, I was pleased at how easily I could consume it and it lacked the gritty texture of much of Oaken Stave’s efforts. Topaz had called it ‘vittles’, though the term ‘sod on a shingle’ had been the name used, with an interesting mix of disparity and affection. I had no sooner consumed my own tray of the brownish glop-on-toast when Topaz pushed her own towards me, which had been perhaps a quarter consumed. I would never understand how ponies could resist eating when so much food was present.

“-Not that I think you’d care, actually. How can you eat that?”

I peered up at her, cleansing my face quickly. “It is nourishing and not physically distressing.”

“…Really? That’s your minimum standard? Its food and it doesn’t make you violently ill?”

I tilted my head, fearing I misunderstood. “…Yes?”

She shook her head in disbelief. “I’m going to need to document your reaction to a market. Or the campus cafeteria.” The mare cleared her throat, turning quickly and walking over to her saddlebags. “Alright, so we have a story. You’re a colleague, you knew I messed up my formula. You came to stop me from doing something risky, got here too late, then chased off the manticore.”

“Yes. I flew after you from Canterlot.”

She nodded, then caught herself and shook her head. “Unicorn, you don’t fly. Although, then again, some do. Maybe if you had a spell to give you temporary wings...? I know there are a few. No, too risky.”

“I do not know that spell, besides. I actually have wings.”

Topaz pressed a hoof to her face. “Let’s… just stick with you traveling by foot below me? I didn’t take the train in, I flew myself, so at least we don’t have to explain that. Dear Celestia, I don’t even know if I have the bits for the train. I was traveling light.”

“You had more saddlebags than I do.” I protested, confused.

“And you were playing hermit up in a cave in the mountains. I was doing research and needed equipment, bugsy.” She gave a very faint un-ponylike growl. “All those notes. And I had a few rare samples in one of those bags!”

“We could go back…” I offered timidly. “I’m sure the manticore is go-“

“Yes-no-thank-you-that’s-quite-all-right.” Topaz babbled. “I mean, I don’t really need them. Besides, I don’t even know where I was anymore. I had charts, and I mapped out where the prides were located…” She began to slump. “…And their territory boundaries… and I had some good sketches of all of them… darn it, months and months of work because one stupid rogue and one pegasus who couldn’t keep her muzzle out of things.”

Unsure what else to do, I put a hoof on her shoulder. “There there.”

Topaz blinked at me, then burst out laughing. “Oh dear Celestia, that was… oh sun and moon that was terrible.”

I disagreed wholly. I had mastered ‘comforting’ on my first try. This was wonderful news, and I smiled to let her know that I had caught her good-natured sarcasm. “I traveled after you, inadvertently saved you, and then we returned here because you were injured. Yes?”

She nodded. “And if one of us has to make up some details, the other one should just agree. It’ll keep things from looking too suspicious.”
“Fair enough,” I agreed easily, and finished off the last of the meal.

“Then with that, I think we ought to head to bed. Don’t wander too much, this is a military post and they won’t approve of that-“ The door swung open as her hoof reached for it, and an orange pony with a black mane in a breastplate stood there, looking surprised. “…Heeeeeeey-!” Topaz stated with false cheer and a forced grin that immediately set me on guard. “Ember Blaze!”

“Heh… ah… hey, yourself, Tops.” The orange pegasus cleared his throat. “Sorry, I’m on KP tonight. Was coming to see if you were done with chow.”

“Greaaaaat! It’s been so long, how have you been?” The fixed smile never left her face.

“Well, you know, pretty good, all things considered. Married Firey a few years back, you know how it is. First foal on the way. Hoping we can get a Cloudsdale position after this tour is done.”

Topaz relaxed slightly. “Oh yeah? How is Fire? I thought her parents didn’t like you.”

“Oh yeah, well, just her dad and it turns out he’s a big fan of Pegasus heritage. When he found out I was joining the military? Complete turnaround. Might as well have been the son he never had after that.” The pegasus ducks his head with a sheepish grin. “Of course… we’d already planned to just elope by that point. Felt a little silly have a Las Pegasus ceremony when everypony was all for it.”

“Right, right. But once its set up you might as well, right?”

“Exactly, exactly! Hey, mind if I get those trays?” The stallion took a single step into the room and then halted suddenly. “You, uh. You don’t have any bugs in here, right?”

I froze. How did he know? How could he have possibly seen through my disguise-

“Oh Celestia help me, it was one time and it was a giant hissing roach. You screamed like a little filly, stepped on it, then passed out.”

“Come on Tops, a bug the size of a dog ran up to me and jumped at my leg!”

“It was playful. I still can’t believe you didn’t ask-“

Finally I recognized the name. “Ember Blaze. Topaz has spoken of you.”

Both ponies froze, mid-argument. Ember cleared his throat. “Oh. Uh. Yeah?”

“Indeed, she mentioned you in passing.”

“Oh. Okay…?” He looked between us, then his eyes widened and darted between us more quickly. “Oh. Oh, I… I’m really sorry, I hadn’t thought, geez and I just kind of burst in. Here, let me get those…” The pegasus scooped up the two trays, balanced them on his back between his wings, and began backing up for the door. “Sorry again you two. Glad you’re back in the game again, Tops! I’ll tell Firey you said ‘hi’!”

“W-wait, Ember, it’s not-“ The door fell shut before she completed her sentence. What an odd, somewhat rude stallion. “…So that happened.” She sat on her haunches, half-obscuring her ladybug cutiemark as her forehooves dragged down her face from the top of her head. “He always did jump to stupid conclusions.”

I frowned, at a complete loss. “Pardon?”

“Just… you never mind.”

“Have I done something inappropriate?”

“You? No, not really inappropriate. Awkward, maybe. But nothing I can’t take care of. Don’t worry about it, it’s really nothing.”

“All I said was that you’d mentioned his name…” I stated with concern.

“Yeah, well. Meeting old ex-coltfriends is always awkward. Finding out he’s married to a friend from high school is better, but still not great.”


“…It wasn’t a great breakup.”

“He… stepped on a roach?”

“While screaming and passed out immediately afterwards. Yes. I was doing a study of them compared to their smaller counterparts and one kept escaping the tank. They’re smarter than ponies give them credit for. They’re not the same as the ones that you find in trash by a long shot and they’re much more fastidious.”

I would imagine not. The idea of an insect that size made my mouth water. Or would have, except I’d eaten the majority of two meals already and was feeling content. Another pony habit that I found myself in agreement with. I watched Topaz heave a sigh.

“It wasn’t… you know, the only reason for the breakup. I’m too ground-based for most pegasi. It’s hard to study insects in the air. And most unicorns seem to think that if it’s not in a lab of some sort it’s not worth studying. ‘Back in the game’, he says. Dork. Not like I stopped dating after that. Gusty, Iron Will, Wild Meadows… Um… Bronze Charm, that one was badly thought out, the rest were all mutual. But I have not been out of the game. This is just a dry spell.” She finished even more defensively.

Sometimes, I decided, ponies were just confusing and there was no getting around it. “What game?”

“The ga-“ She heaved a huge sigh. “Don’t worry about it. I’m just blowing off steam.” She gave me a look. “Are you sapping this? No, wait, don’t tell me. That’s not fair. If you are… that’s fine. I need to get over this anyways.” She stared at the closed door for a long time, then pushed herself back to her hooves and started for the door. “I really should get ready for bed. Good night, Idol. Sleep tight.”

“Snug as a bug.” I offered, and she laughed a bit. Much more suitable. “Good night, Topaz.” After she left, I decided I should set about my own preparations, and began the task of rooting through my saddlebags and our shared gear.

“Goooood morning Idol Hooves~!” Topaz called, pushing open the door to my room as I blearily began to peer around. “…Idol? Are you in here?”

“Of course. Where else would I be?” I offered sleepily, trying to extricate myself from my sleeping roll.

“Well your bed’s made and- and… Idol. Are you in a tent?”

“Ponies sleep in tents.” I offered smugly.

“…You drove tent stakes into stone?” She asked, her voice confused. Perhaps I was mistaken? “You… hhhhow...why? There’s a bed!”


“It’s soft! Warm and comfortable. More roomy than a sleeping bag! Military bed, so… not much more but still!”

I poked my head out of the tent. “You told me to sleep tight.”

“…Celestia give me strength.”

After hastily taking down my tent and explaining that ponies slept in tents while outdoors (which I still maintain is a fairly reasonable mistake) and covering the holes I’d driven the stakes into, we set out to breakfast. This… this was far more lively than the night before. Ponies were leaving most every room, all congregating into a large hall with long benches and tables, most filled to capacity. While nothing like the feeding chambers of the hive, I still felt… comfortable, with the situation. Helpfully, ponies cleared a pair of spaces for us, more than a few smiling, several just grinning at us. We began eating quickly, and I focused most of my attention on the simple meal. A stallion with a more polished helm soon sat before us, grey mane more meticulously short. He reminded me of Rough Shod instantly, though perhaps more fastidiously groomed.

“Good morning, Captain. Sorry for all the trouble-” Topaz started, only to be quickly cut off.

“Not at all, ma’am, you went through the proper channels, you were injured, and you came back to let us know everything was alright. If you’d been along the same route you’d left, we might have even met you along the way. But it’s probably hard to fly a path when you’ve got a broken wing.”

“Sprained, actually, nothing serious. Just… you know, manticore repellant didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. Worked on some, but made one… let’s just call him ‘very angry’ and leave it at that.”

“I believe I told you not to get that close to the beasts. They’re dangerous, violent at a moment’s notice.”

“This was a rogue male. It’s… probably even more dangerous than you think, but in general they’re much more agreeable, really!”

“Should wipe them all out and be done with it. And what’s your story?” The captain spun on me, glaring. “This mare at least signed herself in and out. What’d you do, teleport after her?”

Topaz huffed. “He thought there was something wrong with my repellant and was in a hurry. I was flying, he had to travel on the ground.”

“I am not a navigator.” I offered helpfully. This was much more aggressive than I had been led to believe, and I found myself wilting under the officer’s ire. Had I truly done this thing, I would be in the wrong…but I had not. Bolstered, I straightened. “It was not my intention to break the rules.” Another truth. And I had not broken any rules, besides.

“So how’d you get away from the manticore, anyways?”

“Well, um. Idol blasted it.”

“You killed a manticore? Really.”

“It is not dead. I believe I simply frightened it.”

“Most likely. I don’t think it will approach ponies again, but most of them don’t anyways. Unless they’re very hungry, and there’s plenty of food for them out there.”

The captain snorted, disbelief evident. I caught a glimpse of orange pegasus as Ember made his way up to the table, bringing hoof to forehead and straightening all his legs. “Sir!”

“Yes, Ember?” The captain asked, not bothering to look as he continued to glare at the two of us.

“Can I have a word? It’s about this.”

“Oh horse apples.” Topaz muttered under her breath.

“You two stay put.” The larger stallion ordered, then trotted off a small ways out of hearing distance of the tables. I watched with interest as Ember spoke to his commanding officer, made more intriguing when the officer put a hoof over both his eyes and spoke slowly at Ember, who nodded in embarrassment. When the captain eventually turned back to us, I saw a few more of the smiles had turned to grins, the mare at Topaz’s side giving her a playful shove just behind her ribs, and I had apparently missed some conversation between them. Another looked at me in appraisal, much the same way Zaimare or Wasta would do when considering trading amongst the caravan, and I felt distinctly uneasy.

“So!” The captain barked, sitting across from us again. “I think I have a better handle on the situation now.” He rolls his eyes. “…Everypony does something stupid from time to time. This was a bit more stupid, but… no real harm done. And it was a good excuse to get together a search party for training. No more unauthorized rendezvous to save mares from manticores. Understood? The two of you keep this business in Equestria.”

“Yes sir,” I agreed easily. I had no intention of leaving ponykind, the idea of being a griffin, rhino, buffalo, or small dragon held no real appeal after all. “I will try to keep her in check.” Topaz made a choked sound and I looked to her with concern. Her face was close to neutral, though her emotions were… mostly embarrassed, I think. Such an odd mare.

“The two of you are on the first train to Canterlot, get that wing looked at again. Damaged wings are no joke. Train arrives in an hour.”

“Of course, of course. I think, ah…we’re done with breakfast. Idol, are you done with breakfast? I’m done with breakfast.” Topaz nodded to herself, then stood. I eyed her mostly eaten plate with dismay, but followed her with confusion.

“Well that was easy.”

She gave me a dumbstruck look, then rolled her eyes. “Oh shut up. It worked out. Let’s just… get our things and get ready for the train.”

“Yes ma’am.” I agreed, wondering what a ‘train’ was exactly.

As it turns out, a train is a noisy metal monster that eats coal and takes ponies to different places. When Topaz managed to pry me from the ceiling at its first blast of noise upon reaching the fort, I found myself immensely concerned. This beast was smoking like a dragon’s den, consumed rocks, and ponies were just climbing inside? Absurd. Disgusting. What if this ‘train’ decided to digest us? I adamantly refused to approach it, and Topaz settled for dragging me from my room as she explained that it was not actually alive, though I could very clearly hear it breathing.

Several armored ponies with bags climbed out of the train, one awkwardly in a three-legged gait, alternating between kicking the fourth leg out, shaking it erratically, and gingerly stepping down on it. As soon as they were out, Topaz hustled us in and took a seat by the wide aisle. I sat across from her, poking my head out an opening and taking a shaky breath. I did not trust this thing.

“Seeya later, manticore~!” The mare I’d helped carry water called with a wave, and I frowned in confusion, then waved back. There was a manticore on the train? I began to bring this up to Topaz, but she had her head in her hooves and radiated embarrassment. Perhaps later. It was clearly under control. Somehow.

“Canterlot.” Topaz stated firmly. “I am not doing field work until this blows over.” She settled into her seat. “Get comfortable, bugsy. It’s going to be a while.” I peered at her, then went rigid as the length of the train jerked into even louder motion. Topaz sighed as my head jerked from side to side in panic. “A long while. We’ll be in Canterlot by tonight. We’ll… we’ll just figure things out from there.”

I stuck my head back out the window. Canterlot. Finally. I wondered how much things would change at this point. Then I drew my head back in, settled down, and allowed myself a rueful smile. It would be fine.

Author's Note:

Woo! Canterlot Express. It only took me a billion more chapters than I'd originally anticipated. Hope you folks are enjoying this ride as much as I am conducting it.

Questions and concerns if you got 'em!

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