• 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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Business Ethics

I was a terrible unicorn.

The realization struck me quite harshly and very suddenly. Beyond that I was completely ignorant of all but the most basic magic manipulation, changeling magic and unicorn magic is completely different. Whereas a unicorn can apparently turn a frog into an orange, a changeling sees ‘frog’ and the idea of wasting precious energy to turn them into anything other than ‘food’ is appalling. Just eat the frog, stop playing with your food.

We can, if I am not horribly mistaken, mimic spellcasting at a far higher cost, but duplicating special talent spells are strictly hit or miss. I believe a truly good mimic simply knows how to go through the proper motions, but I had no such training, and thus could not claim my special talent had anything to do with magic.

Regardless, I quickly learned that I had no pedigree, lacked social graces, had incorrect thoughts, and lacked the wealth or status to make that ‘eccentric’ rather than ‘odd’. That aside, it seemed that the vast majority of unicorns in Canterlot actually fell outside these standards, and I again questioned the odd notions of ponies; if so few of them fell under this standard, why was the standard even upheld as an expectation? From what I saw, a great many unicorns of ‘lesser birth’ lived in Canterlot, and sought to uphold jobs outside of the nobility.

I myself decided that I would make pottery. An allowance of bits from Topaz to get myself started enabled me to procure my first bag of cement and a bucket for water.

Another allowance enabled me to purchase a potting wheel, which Topaz assured me would enable me to smooth and round my creations, and I was finally able to make a reasonable facsimile of the cup from the temple in shape, although the design was still beyond my skill.

Another allowed me to buy clay instead, because Topaz claimed nopony would buy small cement cups, so I made much larger ones, which left her speechless for a time.

Of course, then it was necessary to find a kiln, because she also explained that the clay must be fired. Since I was not a member of the Potters Guild, I was required to pay a guild tax. And a unicorn tax, because my magic could damage the set of other members’ clay. Also a Canterlot city tax, and the Celestial tax, because surely I couldn’t expect Princess Celestia to provide the city a decent kiln without taking some benefit, and of course there was also the tax because I had not bought my clay from the guild, and I would need to pay an entrance fee to the kiln.

I would have had to rent a cart, but as luck would have it Topaz had a small wagon meant for hauling, and with a little effort the two of us repurposed it to allow me to display my wares, such as they were. To my great chagrin, very few ponies showed any interest at all in my works of clay, calling them ‘inexperienced’, ‘odd’, and ‘quaint’.

I was somewhat startled and affronted when a mare bought a large quantity of flowers from the salesmare set up beside me and promptly dumped them in one of my large cement cups, then spent an inexplicable amount of time walking circles around it.

“How much for the pot? I won’t go higher than five bits.”

“It’s a cup.” And then I stared blankly, realizing for the first time that I had not assigned a value to my works. “Four bits then?” Wait, she’d said she wouldn’t go higher than five. Should I seek more?

She stared at me, then at the cup. “I… meant three bits?”

“Then three bits.”

She frowned, giving me a skeptical look. “Two bits!”

“We agreed upon three.” I offered hesitantly. Was this mare crazed?

She seemed oddly relieved, nodded, placed three bits on my cart, and with a little careful rope-work and my assistance, managed to leverage the cup-pot between her wings in a way that she seemed able to balance it.

I sold the entirety of my works of cement shortly thereafter, the mare running the flower stall next to me offered fifteen bits for the other four. Seeing that this was an improvement in value for the items, I accepted. It was almost a full week before I managed to sell the majority of my other wares, but I was quite pleased all the same.

Topaz informed me that my entire first month worth of sales would only barely cover the cost of materials used, and my hourly wage was something to the tune of two bits an hour, which I found reasonable, being more than one.

Topaz said I was mad. I refuted by claiming I had far better control than that. She spent a short time screaming into a pillow for reasons I dare not contemplate, but felt much calmer afterwards, and explained that I should see what other ponies charged for similar wares before assuming a price. I considered, trying to comprehend this.

“I do not understand. I have gained bits, this should assist in my survival, yes?”

“Idol… where do you think your food comes from?”


“I deserved that.” Topaz sighed, and shook her head. “I have to pay for it, Idol, from the pony who takes care of the trees.”

I stared, perplexed. “Why do we not just take care of the trees ourselves, then?”

“Because I accidentally killed a potted cactus by forgetting to water it. I’m not good with plants, and I doubt you are either. A pony who is better at it than me does it, gets more food, and then sells it. Didn’t you travel with a bunch of traders?”

“I do not think I understood as well as I believed.” I admitted, lowering my head. This ‘business’ was complicated. “I understood ‘barter’ well enough.”

“And that’s because most of them were operating in good faith. It’s a principle of Harmony. You trade a reasonable amount of one thing for a reasonable amount of the other. They knew roughly what your labor was worth, they made an offer, and you took it.”

“So… the mare whom I sold my first work to was not operating in good faith?”

No. She was taking an aggressive stance, but that’s fine; you could have laughed and told her your pots-“


“-Don’t start, were ten bits at minimum. Or twenty bits. Or fifteen thousand bits. You set the price, it’s your job to make it reasonable. Now, your work is… uh… a good effort, but you’re probably not exactly hurting the ponies who have been doing this for years. Or the ones who mass produce, but that’s not what you’re going for, you’re trying to have a bit of style, right?”

“…Would she have paid fifteen thousand bits for one?”

“Er. If you were a famous artisan, and… probably dead, so your work was limited… maybe? Um, there’s a lot involved-“

“Could I not duplicate the works of said artisan?”

Topaz stopped, took a deep breath, and stated very firmly. “That is called ‘forgery’ and it is a crime. Do not do that. You have to specifically make it known that it is not one of that pony’s works, only a duplication, and you will make a lot less bits.”

I wanted to protest, but sensed this was another matter of ponies being nonsensical. Still, there was something that still seemed incorrect…

“But you are paying for my food, then!" I sputtered, finally seizing on it.

“Well, yeah-“

“I owe you bits, by that reasoning.”

“No, no, I’m studying you-“

“I insist. How much have I eaten?”

Topaz mumbled for a bit, prodding one of my bits on the table. “...Two or three times what you have here?”

I stared. “…I have not gained bits.”

“Nnnnot really?”

“I have in fact, lost bits.”

“More or less, yeah…?”

“Bits that I can clearly see, right in front of me, existing. These bits do not exist, because I have no bits.”

She shrugged her wings, at a loss for words.

“…Ponies are crazy.”

“Sometimes we are. Honestly, I think you should have more bits than this… but really, you aren’t going to make much money the first time around. You need to network. I think. Or something, I was never all that good with business myself…”

“I… well, Honeydew has a stall nearby, and I…” I trailed off, feeling ashamed at my own lack of self-control.

“Idol, a honeyed marshmallow a day for a bit isn’t going to hurt anything but your waistline.” She frowned at my bits again, pushing at the loose pile.

"…Perhaps I should continue trading my labor instead.” I mumbled, feeling miserable and not being sure as to why. I did not oppose labor, but I felt… diminished, somehow. I had hoped that I would be able to live as a pony, doing as ponies did. I desired to be good at crafting these cups, and to be accepted for it, but for some reason I lacked some necessary ability. And all these expectations… “Nopony will even tell me what to do!” I blurted, unable to help myself. “I cannot understand why ponies do the things they do. I work and sell what I made for a month, now you say it was unacceptable and that I have in fact failed in this task, but you cannot explain to me what precisely I must do to better it. I cannot see for myself, I lack. The Queen was right to exile me.”

She put a wing around my shoulders, and I could feel her attempt to comfort me breaching the ‘walls’ she had me put in place. Though I knew I should not as a rule, her effort was just as clearly permission, and I drank it in, feeling the soothing nature of it as balm to my hurts. “Hey, come on now. This is a setback. Salesponies usually get a childhood of experience with other ponies before they try making their way out there, you’re starting late. It might be a few months or years before you really hit your stride. Until then, you just have to keep keeping on, alright?”

That was… not comforting. The idea of owing a greater and greater quantity of bits to Topaz seemed unfeasible. And then she would owe bits to somepony. Who owed bits to somepony else. Who owed bits to somepony else.

Dear Order, was I stealing bits from Princess Celestia? Had I created a chain of thievery?

“I cannot pay these bits I owe-“I started, horrified at the concept.

“Then we’ll call it a loan. You just pay me back when you can, alright? I’ve got some savings, it’s fine. We’ll figure out some way of getting you afloat.”

“I do not know if I can swim.” I hazarded, feeling hopeless again. How many other things would I fail at?

“No, no, that’s not… alright, look. Forget this happened. We’ll figure something out. Maybe we’ll keep the pottery as a… a side business! And we’ll find something else for you to do. Something you’ll make bits at and be happy with.”

“If such a thing even exists.” I grumbled, darkly. “I have only barely gotten enough emotion from the ponies around me, and what am I to do about that?”

Wow, grumpy bug.” Topaz snorted, giving me a light shove. “Look. Tomorrow is the Summer Sun Celebration. We’re going to go, we’re going to have a good time, and everything will feel a bit better, alright?” Teasingly, she offered. “There’ll be honeycakes~!”

My mouth instantly began to water. I did not even know what a honeycake was, but I desired very strongly to find out. “I cannot-“

“It’ll be my treat, and nopony does any business outside of food sales during the celebration.” She assured me, and I had to confess, I had no better plans. Her largess was the only support I had in Canterlot, and without her I would be forced to leave this marvelous city. Though I had precious little to celebrate… I would go forth into this celebration and would celebrate it as well as any changeling could.

Far too many ponies at a celebration, far too many, and none of them doing… anything worthwhile! There a mare creates… floating rubber clouds, and there a pony throws a ball at a target to drop another pony into water while all of them laugh, and… it is too loud, too noisy, and too pointlessly… busy-being-not-busy! And I was finding I didn’t care!

Topaz laughed at my consternation, and explained that this sort of thing is a great chance for ponies to cut loose, relieve some stress, and have a good time. I was clearly enjoying myself with the… festivity in the air, and she was absolutely right. I did feel better.

The honeycakes helped. Honeycakes are amazing. Honey is edible love. Drinkable even. Topaz still won’t give me back my mead. I must remember to ask for it again later.

I can’t begin to describe how incredible my first Summer Sun Celebration was. Topaz found two of my larger cups holding sugarcane treats for the older foals, which also bolstered my cheer, though the mare giving them out just as clearly didn’t remember me at all, but that could be attributed to the dim pre-dawn light. There was a certain… excitement in the air, like a buzz of the hive, as everypony waited for something, and Topaz refused to let me in on it.

And then there was the sound of horns, Topaz led me to look upon a raised platform filled with ponies in impressively identical garb all acting in tandem for the first time since I had seen ponies in masse... and I watched in sudden amazement as a wave of love and pride washed over myself and the rest of the audience, as Princess Celestia walked out onto the platform, gazing over her subjects with such strong emotion that I wondered briefly how she could manage it all by herself. All the while, I could only stare in awe at the majestic white alicorn as she took to her duty that defined daily… and raised the sun before a crowd of adoring ponies and one enraptured changeling.

Author's Note:

Heya folks, sorry for the huge delay, work stuff again, I'm actually in the middle of a trip that's got me pretty nailed down for time, which is why this took so long to get out.

Hope you're all still enjoying this!

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