• Published 9th Mar 2014
  • 35,136 Views, 7,354 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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But They Don't Check Out

I stared mutely, horror and confusion growing quickly beyond my reach and control. Hundreds of insects, large to small, in jars on shelves, pinned to boards with Topaz’s distinctive scribble around them, and arranged apparently haphazardly on a gigantic map of Equestria, hanging as if impaled on spikes above the ground, circles of felt around them displaying… what, I had no idea. Alongside jars were bulbs of various sizes, solid glass encasing several more… vicious looking insects, I decided. A scorpion roughly the size of a newborn pony, encased in glittering crystal and set on a desk, pincers wide and tail curled, the monstrous face absolutely nothing like a pony and yet still clearly capable of displaying hatred.

I almost fell down the stairs, unable to process the setting. Ponies did not eat meat, I understood. This… house of slaughter made no sense to me. A larger spike drove through four orbs of colored fluff, and I found myself reading aloud. “Parasitus Spiritus – Presumed endangered, rarely seen in Equestria. Subjects possess neither gender nor hierarchy, instead each individual will consume any normally edible substance before them given time. Study subject ate three apples, an entire jar of honey; glass and all, and the marmalade toast I was currently having for breakfast. Subject produced three more of its kind of identical size shortly after this astounding act of purest gluttony, through no means I could determine. Classification: Potential pest, contain at all costs. Consider to be vermin. Sorry little guys.”

I nearly screamed when Topaz lightly bumped me, my nerves rapidly fraying under the impotent glare of hundreds if not thousands of sightless eyes.

“You alright?” She asked, concern heavy in her voice as she lightly pushed the scorpion to the side of her desk, the huge insect not concerning her in the slightest. “You look like you took a bite of something and found a worm. Except, you know, I’ve seen you do that and enjoy it. Which is still gross, I’ll have you know.” She hung a saddlebag off the giant crystal stinger.

“What… what is this place?” I croaked, unable to fully express my concerns as of yet. Who had done this, why did it exist…?

“Wellllll it’s kind of my workroom, kind of a study… you know, have to preserve them when I study or they’ll fall apart long before that. Most of them are catalogued in the research wing but not all of it fits. I’m not about to let them throw out Stingsley here because he ‘can be better represented by a photograph’, not that he can mind you.” She huffed, patting the crystallized scorpion with affection.

You did all of this?” Visions of this mare with a giant spike, nailing me to a mossy board danced through my head before I could desperately squash them.

“Well, no, not all of them. Most of the time I only deal with what ponies bring me and I take steps to preserve and document it. And usually all they want to know is how to get rid of it or make it stop eating crops or how to drive them away.” She drooped a bit at that. “It’s kind of depressing when your special talent is how well you can work with bugs and your job seems to mostly consist of helping kill them, you know? Do you have any idea how many job offers I’ve gotten from exterminators? Ponies who do have a job killing them and driving them out?” At my quiet shake of a head, she scowled at her saddlebag. “Twelve. Twelve exterminators who all thought I’d be a ‘valuable asset to their business.’ Two of them even offered to make me partners. I don’t like killing insects, I want to study them. Like you! See, this is going to be great, because I can talk to you, and you can talk back. And you aren’t likely to try to kill me because I poked your stinger in the wrong way.”

And when she was done studying me, I would likely find a place on a wall somewhere. Delightful. I crushed the thought again. “So I am to stay… here?”

She looked around, as if really taking in her surroundings for the first time. “…Wow, that would probably be a little creepy, now that I think about it. I mean, for you. There’s another room right by the stairs, I just wanted to check on things. Sometimes things get in and… well, last time I lost months of work and a couple of rare species because a disgusting, grimy rat decided this was his own personal buffet. Honestly, it’s like it just knew when I’d be off visiting family. It was so bloated it couldn’t even drag itself away.”

I considered that with interest. Though I disliked the idea of being co-located with what amounted to a pet cemetery, the idea of relieving her of the burden of various local pests disrupting her work was pleasing, and if I would receive the bonus of a stout meal for my efforts, well, it would save Topaz the trouble of cleanup. All the better.

She lit a lamp, and I walked into the side room. Then adjusted, twisting around in place at the room, roughly the size of a large closet. Very snug, almost perfect with a few adjustments. Cooler than I liked, but the cocoons of a changeling would be warm in all but freezing conditions.

Topaz chewed on her lip thoughtfully. “Okay, so… maybe I could do something upstairs. We could make some arrangements, usually the sofa gets a blanket or something tossed on it when company shows up…? I don’t usually have long-term company, and this obviously won’t work- I think it was meant as a root cellar, I just-“

I balked at that. “It won’t? But this is entirely acceptable.” I did not know what a ‘root cellar’ was, but there were no roots edible or otherwise, and I assumed the alcove had served that purpose poorly. As a sleeping chamber, however, it would suit perfectly.

“Idol there’s an old mop in the corner that I don’t think I rinsed out properly, and the whole room just smells musty.”

“It reminds me of the hive, in truth.” I admitted. Rows upon rows of tiny niches carved in rock, each holding a single drone or, temporarily, a freshly mated pair. This was larger by far, but I could fill it in. Or expand it. I could hardly fit in should any expect to see my home and I displayed such a small abode. As Topaz’s home seemed to be built on good solid earth, it seemed entirely reasonable that I could expand it underground as well. Just in case. After all, who knew when some… wind or something would steal away all these above-ground structures.

Topaz frowned, but nodded slowly. “I guess I can respect that, but you absolutely can sleep upstairs. And you do still have that sleeping bag, I suppose.” Topaz gave a sigh and gathered up my saddlebags, hoofing them over to me. At the last, she frowned, hefting it several times. “Idol, what the hay do you have in here?”

“Building material.” I stated, quite pleased with myself as Topaz rapped a hoof on it.

She took a deep breath, closing her eyes as if pained. “It feels like a saddlebag full of cement.”

“And that’s what it is.” I agreed easily.

She gave me a flat look, then slowly shook her head and put her hooves over her eyes. “I… no, Idol. Idol, no. Just… just no.”

After a brief struggle to free the saddlebag of its contents (apparently cement would stick to the inside of a cloth bag, and the few items I had in that saddlebag were now permanently mortared to one another), I set about arranging my ‘room’ in much the same way as my cave had been. I set the crystals in a small pile in one corner, the various items from the caravan I’d used for travel in another, and after a moment’s hesitation, I put Rough Shod’s flask in a far corner. He had mentioned once that he’d had one explode in Canterlot due to a unicorn being a little too free with fire magic. Zaimare claimed that it had been Rough Shod’s breath that had ignited, not the bottle, and I again questioned the logic of consuming the brew at the memory.

Topaz again argued that I did not have to sleep in the basement, and… until I could fortify the entrance between my own room and the abominable rest of the below-ground level, I confess there was a certain unease to it. As we made arrangements, she offered the use of her ‘facilities’ which apparently meant a room to do ones business. After being reassured that I needed no business acumen, she simply explained that boiling oneself in bubbly water was considered the finest way to cleanse oneself. She provided towels, a block of something that smelled of flowers and tasted of pond scum, a scrub brush, and an inedible baby water fowl for my convenience. The sound the hatchling fowl made was unlike anything I had ever heard in nature, and I found it both odd and strangely comforting. Beyond that, it gave me something to chew whilst I scoured my chitin with the brush at Topaz’s insistence. The isopropyl rinse she gave me afterwards was surprisingly cool and invigorating, and Topaz cheerfully informed me afterwards that I was ‘clean enough to preserve’, a statement I determined to be meant to be reassuring, though it left me disconcerted while the sentiment itself pleased me. All in all, I felt clean, refreshed, and less… feral. I was actually inordinately pleased with my appearance as per her mirror; my chitin had a gleam to it that she told me was ‘very sharp’ and ‘indicative of good health’.

A bright ‘flash’ from behind startled me, and I found Topaz holding a large metal box with a single eye, which hissed as it expelled a black sheet from its mouth. “Sorry, need a few good shots. Can you extend your wings for me?”

I did, with a bit of unease, and she made a wordlessly pleased sound, adjusted the box, and another sheet was expelled.

“Turn please?” I did, and there was another dozen small commands, hisses, and several more sheets fell out though the last few times the box seemed to emit nothing. “Annnd that should be good. For my notes, you understand.”

“I… do not, actually.”

“Well, for my notes. I can’t really do a good study without them, and I should have some photographs. I mean, I’ll have to publish eventually. And it’s good to have something I can look at for reference instead of… you know, staring at you all the time. Can I get one of you mid-shapechange?”

“I… do not think I am comfortable with that.” I admitted.

“What, the photos or the publishing?”

“I… dislike the ‘referencing’. It seems… that if another pony saw, they would know what I am immediately.”

Topaz blinked. “…oh. Yeah, I suppose, but… nopony is going to see these but me. I mean, not anytime soon.”

“It makes me uncomfortable all the same.”

Topaz looked like she wanted to argue, but gave a sorrowful nod instead. “…Can I at least keep these ones of you? Nopony would even know it’s you. I won’t even put your name on them. Just… study subject number one. Idol Hooves won’t be on a single piece of paper in my study, I promise.”

Now it was my turn to consider. “If… you think that will be enough, then I suppose it will be enough for me.” I was not certain about any of that, but Topaz was sharing her home with me, and had been a pleasant companion thus far. I could hardly begrudge her doing her duties in the pursuit of knowledge.

And so, my first night in Canterlot found me curled into a ball of blankets in pony form at Topaz’s insistence, and we agreed that outside of the basement, it was probably wise that I spend most of my time in said form. After I made whatever adjustments would make me comfortable, I would have a safe place to sleep, where I could assume normal form out of prying eyes. Though most likely not out of reach of Topaz herself, I was coming to realize, but… I actually thought that I would like that. Being able to be truly myself with somepony would be far easier than keeping up the charade for the entirety of my life. I could do this. And in the morning, I would begin my life in Canterlot. The moon shone brightly through the window, and I smiled up at the Mare in the Moon. A failed drone, a failed pegasus, a failed hermit, and possibly a failed treasure hunter, if Topaz was correct. Surely, I couldn’t make a terrible unicorn.

Author's Note:

One of these days, Idol will stop tempting fate.

Today is not that day.

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