• Published 9th Mar 2014
  • 35,137 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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Good Intentions

Outside. I was outside, and more than anything else, I wanted back in. A minute of desperate scrambling and buzzing at the stone of the entrance did little to improve my situation, and the boulder in the tunnel entrance was more antagonistic than sympathetic. But my accidentally self-imposed exile was just as clearly not open for debate. More frightening, my calls for sanctuary simply flew off into the void. I had no hive to call to. My nest was closed to me. Vocalizing my distress would only share it, and I had clearly done enough harm to the hive. I was banished, an exile.

Exile. It had never happened in my lifetime. Had it? Thinking back, I now wonder. I had been separated from the hivemind prior to my exile, but all punitive action against a changeling seemed to have started that way. Did some just never return to the hive after this? Their deaths would have hurt the hive had they been in contact with it, but was exile the more common punishment for a failed drone or was death? Surely death, or I’d not have been so stunned at my sudden fate. Were the elements meant to be my demise? Could I prove my worth, and earn my return?

With a sudden, almost blinding flash of insight, I knew that neither was the intention. I had been fed to satiation, given the barest of personal knowledge in survival, and shown the door. The stockpile of energy I’d received was akin to what a gatherer would take, only… greater. Which explained, if not excused, the show of panic and fear I’d made at the entrance, having more energy than I’d ever before held. I was expected to survive. My return to the hive was not expected, but my exile had not been an act of malice. It had been... I shook my head. The Queen had not simply explained matters to me. Talking would have taken time, and the hive was not a place for such idle pursuits. So, instead, she’d simply opened my mind and placed the knowledge within. I was no longer of the hive. I could no longer draw upon the knowledge, experience, or wisdom of my people.

To a pony, this is by no means the end of the world. Schooling, training, social mores, these are all things which a pony will have to base their personality and actions off of. Why does a farmer harvest apples? Because she was taught that apples are an acceptable food source, and has learned an efficient way to gather them. This becomes problematic for a changeling outside of the hive, and quickly. You see, a changeling will gather food in the efficient way of its predecessors. It would merely have to question the hive, receive word that this roundish, red thing hanging from a tree is in fact food that is safe to eat, and the knowledge, if required, would be granted on how to get it. It becomes less a matter of problem-solving and more one of tradition. A fallacious example would be if an apple tree were not present, and instead an orange tree that had never been seen, a changeling would be likely to bypass it because the orange is not recognized as food.

Meat, however. Is meat. And that is a thing all changelings are made aware of from an early age. It would perhaps horrify ponies to see a changeling foal eating roaches, but they are a fine source of nutrition and make for a good way to establish hoof-eye coordination in a foal. Besides, they are pests, and they, along with mice, will consume food intended for the hive. It is only fitting that their thievery is paid back. Cannibalism amongst our kind is… tolerated would not be the appropriate term. But if a changeling is dead, some of our kind would prefer not to be wasted and left to rot in a cavern somewhere. Though, in general, our dead are more likely to be used as bait to lure in a larger predator that may be taken down with magic or force of numbers. Manticore and the like are the preferred prey in such a situation, though occasionally smaller scavengers are an acceptable substitute.

As such, there were a number of animals near our nest by the border that would provide necessary nutrition. And I made vague plans to catch several, though it seemed a small pouch had been left by the entrance to the hive. A set of bags, in fact, of familiar shape. The queen had given me pouches, too small for excavation? What good would it do to move stones out here, and such small ones? Another flash of implanted insight struck, and I opened the pouches. Within were several small crystals and a supply of dried fruit. Why would any drone put food with the rocks- ahhh! Supplies! If one could not be certain of where to gain one’s next meal, one should carry another to allow greater time to seek it.

Let it be reiterated that I am an excavator. Not a warrior, and not a gatherer. My realization seems imbecilic now, but at the time, I was a foal in the woods. I had been stripped of my hive, and only these strange implanted memories and instructions were there to augment my own experiences. My saddlebags only ever held rocks. Food stores were centrally located, and generally meant for immediately prior to beginning the duties of the day. Carrying food was thereby a pointless endeavor… within the Hive. Which… I no longer was.

This was going to be difficult. All of it was. So little of my life had not been part of one hivebound compulsion or another. I no longer had a purpose. There was no hive giving me a task to perform. I was not even sure what was to be done. I had food. I had energy. But. What was I to do with those? Not continue digging tunnels, clearly, as the implanted thoughts told me in no uncertain terms that if I attempted to force my way into the nest by physical means, I would not survive… and also that if I did not leave the area by nightfall, I would be an intruder at this nest. That was more concerning. All hives have at least a few warriors to protect it. I would survive a very, very short time should one of them decide to ‘defend the hive’ me to death. This meant that no action was not an acceptable substitute for wrong actions… and that I had better start making the right ones. I knew, vaguely, where some of the hive’s gathered food came from. I turned in that direction, beginning to trot. I would go there, gather more- No. That food belonged to the hive. I stopped myself, thinking. I was not part of the hive any longer. My survival was not important to them. But… was their survival and comfort important to me?

Yes. It was. I don’t know why that thought comforted me so, but there it was. The hive was no longer a part of me. But I would still, in a small way, be part of the hive, acting in it’s interests. I turned in the opposite direction, buzzed my wings, and flew away from the nest. Then returned, because the saddlebags were still on the ground, and they had been intended for my sustenance. It would not do to insult the Queen by spurning such a gift. Placing them on my back was a familiar act of rote memorization, and it soothed my troubles somewhat. I was no longer part of the hive. But I would carve myself my own little nest, to the south perhaps. Perhaps I would make my own chambers, better chambers, and the hive would eventually expand into them and by then my own knowledge would be used by the hive. But not now. Now I would leave the lands I knew to belong to the hive, and I flew for a long time, stopping only when the territory began to change and the sun had begun to go down.

When I landed, the grass was still plentiful, although the trees were far less healthy looking. They were pitiful, ugly things, and the stony soil on which they grew seemed unsuitable for digging anything, let alone a chamber, proper tunnel, or even a cave. Traveling further did not seem to improve my situation. The grass and stony soil gave way to even looser dirt, that seemed to move with the breeze and my hooves sank into in an oddly pleasing, interesting fashion. But I could not fathom a way to dig into this new material, and though, with effort, I could sink my hooves in it up to my joints, I could not keep this new loose soil from falling back into the hole. I tried working up a decent slime, using magic to create the familiar green substance used to temporarily strengthen the walls of our caverns… and was quite put off that the soil simply mixed and clung to it, forming a disgusting messy clump that only rolled down into the loose pit. I tried the more dense saliva mixture that would make a more permanent slime, and was again displeased that the resulting goo ended up with almost identical consistency, even if it would last far longer. For building material, this would simply not do. Useless. But how long could the terrain be made of such a worthless material? And so, I continued on.

As it turns out, Saddle Arabia is enormous. And, though the Queen had instilled basic knowledge on food and feeding, as well as some minor survival skills, and even packed food and some basic necessities, she had neglected something that it turns out makes a trip into the desert exceptionally unappealing.

I had no water, and as drinking from the natural stream that flowed through the cavern was part of a daily ritual amongst my nest, it did not occur to me for at least the first day how strange it was that I could not create more of the special saliva for strengthening building material. And possibly the second before I began to grow concerned with the sensation in my throat. By the third, I realized that I was thirsty. And the dried fruit and little meat I had caught was not really improving that situation. Flying no longer seemed exceptionally worthwhile. My wings felt stiff, and most of the food was on the ground. Everything blended with the terrain, and my food stores would last few weeks if I relied heavily on my emotional storage… but then, how would I replenish that? Better to eat more and marshal my energy for necessity. The instilled knowledge told me that I would have to practice my shape-shifting, and I was very pleased to learn that the uncomfortable heat of this place was somewhat lessened if I took a lighter shade upon myself, and as an all-white pegasus, it made the heat much more comfortable… at first.

By the fifth, or possibly sixth day, I was no longer certain where I was. I had traveled due south, and the terrain had become even more dull than the hive had been. Now, things were becoming very strange. The grainy soil seemed to flow like water, though it certainly didn’t taste like it. And I was increasingly certain that this place was unsuitable for expansion of my hive. My not hive. The breeze was pleasantly strong, at least, and it was forming clouds of the loose soil. How fascinating. Clouds made of dirt. Though not as appealing as the sparse sky-clouds of days gone past, it intrigued the builder in me. Clouds could form shapes that stayed as they moved through the sky. Perhaps with the appropriate amount of effort, dirt clouds could be held on the ground and formed into a mobile hive. Which would then be able to harvest love and food simply by flowing over the pony hivenests. It was brilliant. I was brilliant. And thirsty. Very, very thirsty. Maybe I should try to drink from these clouds just one more time.

And that’s the last thought that went through my head before the sandstorm struck and I blacked out.

Author's Note:

Well folks, seems you like it so far. Please, comment and crit as you see fit, I'd love to know what you all think!

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