• 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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Military Cadance

Our march back to Canterlot was an interesting thing. The other recruits looked to myself and Shining Armor with a great deal of surprise and wonder, though quite obviously his own efforts with the shield had been of far greater import than my random attacks. Any unicorn of sufficient strength could have filled my role with ease. Several of our number seemed to find that ludicrous, but my adamance seemed to convince them by the time we arrived at our barracks. By the time the story circulated around to the rest, I was almost an afterthought, having been part of the fighting but of lesser import than Wispy and Bold, who had managed to rescue one Dank Woods from Everfree with the help of a friendly timberwolf. Merry Meadows was officially missing in action, presumed dead. Unfortunately, the bloody chestplate we found was not legally enough to be considered remains, and there was no means to gather more, Merry’s status would be in flux for at least several years.

I found the concept disturbing. A missing drone was a dead drone. If they returned, they would be set back to work and the hive would find itself with a small surplus of labor for a period of time, as the Queen controlled our numbers stringently. But... it was the nature of ponies to grieve such events. I watched Dank with some concern, but any attempt to soothe his emotions was for naught; they were too confused, too convoluted and self-sustaining. He felt like less of a pony, as though something had been torn from him, and though I could not understand it, I reasoned that it was as though they were a hive of two all of their lives, and now he was alone.

In truth, I think he handled the situation better than I would have. My respect for him grew, though I understood he took a leave of absence. Shining explained that such trauma could ruin a pony; Dank’s recovery would be slow and he would need a lot of support. I fervently hope he received it.

In the days that followed, the four of us that had gone into the forest found ourselves something of a spectacle, to my chagrin. Our education was coming to an end, it seemed, and most of our training now was purely physical, and I found that being rattled around in a glowing ball of condensed force had left a spiderweb of shallow mostly-harmless cracks in my shell now that I had the opportunity to truly feel the minor injuries. Still, every stretch and flex seemed to bring about well-earned pain, and I took some pride in that I could continue to ignore it even as the others compared their bruises with good humor. Shining regaled the others with how Bold had ‘grabbed a timberwolf by the jaws like a wrestler, screamed in its face and given it a ‘piledriver’ into a fallen tree’, which… seemed accurate but at the same time embellished, and Order knew what a ‘piledriver’ was. Bold countered that Shining had leapt into the mouth of the giant timberwolf when it attempted to eat me, plugged its mouth with a shield, and nearly suffocated the monster as it flailed its head around, with some cry of ‘choke on it’ that made the other soldiers laugh uproariously. I had heard no such battlecry, but reasoned that I had almost certainly not been paying attention.

All that aside, I was quite looking forward to relaxing in my native form as we prepared to leave when we were ordered to form up for a surprise inspection. This was not an uncommon occurrence, though it had happened less and less often as training went on and we began to meet the sergeant’s demands. I had nearly been apoplectic when during one such barracks inspection my rack had been found wanting and therefore overturned. Shining warned me that it was likely nothing I’d done, merely meant to keep me on the tips of my hooves, but I recognized my failure and sought to rectify it with greater efforts. Shining attempted to point out that the intention was uniformity, not perfection.

I decided that one day he would understand that the goal should be uniform perfection.

Still, I was reasonably confident that we would pass a parade inspection in full gear, regardless of the myriad of dents to ourselves and our armor. The armorer would repair the worst of the damage over the weekend and it would be our duty to refine his work during the following training. Not ideal for an inspection, but supposedly acceptable in the situation.

And then power incarnate walked onto the parade grounds.

I am incapable of expressing what I saw, what I experienced. This was no simple being, no sentient creature of mere physical flesh and bone. Celestia, praise her, is many things, powerful, beautiful, and wise, but even at her strongest, I am able to look upon her.

When Princess Cadance first stood before me and was introduced, I knew the truth of how insignificant I truly am. This was no mere sunny warmth from Celestia, it was a molten inferno of raw, unimaginable might. Power poured forth from her like a tsunami, and it was all I could do to weather the storm that was she. My body hurt from the pressure around it, and none of the others so much as noticed. When I was told she would be performing this surprise inspection to allow her to choose two ponies to have the privilege of escorting her around Canterlot for the day, I knew terror. I would be found wanting, must be found wanting, and had never had any right to stand in her presence. I was no warrior drone, no defender of the realm by blood, and-

She stopped beside me, staring at Shining Armor imperiously. Amusement wafted from him. Amusement. He’d been driven mad by her presence. I would attempt to put his mind together again later, when it would not displease her or draw her attention.

“You. And you.” Her rosy hoof lifted at Shining, and then myself. Ah. We were clearly inadequate, and to be destroyed. I wondered if I could will myself to death so as not to further upset her. Perhaps he had known we would fail, and sought to meet his doom with a smile. I tried my own, but it felt weak and foolish. “The two of you will do.” She started off, and Shining took a single step backwards, leaving formation gracefully, and I endeavored to do the same, now utterly and completely confused. How could we of all ponies be worthy of… she had surely heard of the slaying of the timberwolf, perhaps had been misled, we could not-

I marched resolutely alongside her and just behind and to her left, mirroring Shining armor on her right, mind ablaze with how to correct all of this. I would serve as well as I could, and perhaps she would show mercy.

As such, it was with great consternation that I froze when she spun on Shining as soon as we walked into an empty hallway and proceeded to try to consume his head.

To my despair, he was attempting the same. I wondered briefly if I should assist one of them.

It only made me even more stunned and horrified when I realized the sounds they were making were entirely inappropriate before she shoved him away, nearly tipping him over. He had the audacity to grin at her.

“The hay were you thinking, Shining! You promised you wouldn’t go into Everfree, do you have any idea how scared I was? Do you have any idea how mad I am?!”

“Well, I might. I think you bit my tongue, Cady. What was with the inspection thing? I thought you said you didn’t like doing that?” My breath caught at his familiarity. He had shortened her name! It was… I had trusted his judgement! This could not be allowed to stand!

She huffed. “I don’t, usually, but my coltfriend doesn’t usually get himself into trouble and kill giant monsters against my orders. You promised!”

“Oh, come on Cady, I told them you said I wasn’t allowed-”

“Don’t give me that-”

“He did.” I finally interjected very quietly, horrified that I was interrupting this divine being. I cleared my throat, trying to speak with the deference she deserved even as my mind reeled from these new discoveries. “Specifically said that you wouldn’t allow it.” My own audacity was horrifying. I had defended my… squadmate, and this was good, but… against his Queen! Order, perhaps the timberwolves had shaken something loose within me.

Her glare cut at me, and it felt like my armor was being pared away by the intensity of it, but then she laughed, and the music that came with it was havoc on my senses. “I bet he told them exactly that, too.” She looked me up and down. “...You must be Idol Hooves. Shining’s told me all about you.” My ichor felt as though it had turned solid. What had Shining said of me, what- Her forelegs wrapped around my neck and I obligingly stretched it, allowing myself to be strangled. She was doing so gently, and so instead I held my breath. It was entirely inappropriate for me to force this divine being to work on my behalf, after all.

“Hey!” Shining cried in alarm. “What the hay?” Compassion from Princess Cadance flowed into me, and I was intensely aware of how incredibly concerned for Shining she had truly been. I had, according to some stories, kept him alive. My concern spread to the fact that I’d never held so much of the emotion in my entire life. My shell felt as though I were long overdue for a molt and I wondered if it was possible that I could simply burst under the strain.

“I’m sure he’s kept your tail out of trouble, and for that he gets a hug. Also I’m hugging him so I don’t strangle you. I have a lot of emotions right now and I’m trying to sort through them. So you told them I had forbidden you from going into Everfree. Did you even mention who I was?”

“It’s not my fault they didn’t verify the orders were from a higher authority.” He gave a small sigh. “But you know how this has to work, Cadance.” He shifted restlessly, just a touch of jealousy wafting our way.

She pouted, and I was forced to question what madness allowed him to deny her anything. “No, I don’t. Auntie even said I could just declare you my captain and that was my right. You don’t have to do this.” Her forelegs tightened around me, forcing my head into her chest. I stared resolutely at Shining and tried very hard not to think.

“I bet she said it’s ‘technically’ your right.” Shining snickered, bizarrely immune to her expression. Strangely, I was the recipient of his distress. “Come on, Cady, you hate it when ponies just do whatever you tell them too. I need to earn this. And quit hugging Idol, that’s not fair, I’m being reasonable here! If everypony only does what I tell them because I have your authority, then I only have authority when you’re around!”

“Well... maybe I want you around all the time.”

“And I want to protect you. And Equestria. And I don’t want to be some… trophy stallion.”

“Well, I would like to have you mounted…” She blinked, then blushed, seeming to recall my presence and quickly pushing me away. “Forgive me, Mr. Hooves, that was… very inappropriate of me.”

“You are the princess and determine what is and is not inappropriate. I need only acquiesce to those whims.” I tried to parse what I’d been able to understand of those statements… he was in clear disobedience to her, and oddly she… approved?

Princess Cadance slowly tilted her head, eyeing me with clear bemusement. “Is he always like this?”

“More often than not, yeah. It’s nice, right? Blunt like getting kicked in the head.”

“We should keep him.” She stated cheerfully, clapping her hooves together.

“Keep me where, your majesty?”

“Please, call me Cadance. I think after what you’ve been through with Shiny, you can drop the formality.”

Call her Cadance. Drop the formality. She was Princess Cadance. Formality. A princess of Equestria. Call her Cadance. Formality. I was a drone. So far beneath her that I should not have had the right to speak to her without first being addressed, and to speak to her so rudely…!

Shining blinked, giving me a shake. “Idol, are you alright? Tartarus, it’s not that big of a deal!”

In a strangled voice, I managed. “I… do not think… I can do that. It would be… unworthy.”

“Well, I think it’s absolutely fine. You’ve earned it.” She looked to Shining with confusion. My distress was upsetting her. This only made the distress increase.

“Maybe… only in private. You should keep calling her Princess in public. Same as I do.” Princess Cadance nodded.

That seemed far more reasonable, and I felt myself begin to relax. “Yes, sir.” I swallowed, my mouth surprisingly dry. I could obey that, I thought. She… wanted to be insulted, perhaps? I could think of no other reason I should sully her name so. It… pleased her to be treated unpleasantly? No, that was unreasonable. Was it? Ponies were crazy, after all...

“Or even just Cady.” She offered, hopefully. I decided I would never call her such to her face. I would… attempt to refer to her as such with Shining Armor, but doing more would be too great a sin.

“Ah… Yes… Cadance. I shall endeavor to do so.”

She stared at me, and I managed to resist the urge to fidget under her glare. I still felt too much energy within my shell from our brief contact, and I would have to do something about that. I had to admit though… it felt rather nice. My aches and pains had faded to nothing after she had released me, and I wondered if I would even be able to see traces of those cracks upon my shell.

“...Eh. It’s a start. Now. Shining. I want to know what happened in that forest. No exaggeration, no embellishment. I just… want to know if you’re alright.”

Shining gave me a look, then nodded slowly, and I found myself mimicking the gesture. “Alright. Truth, and nothing but.” He bit his lip for a moment. “We went in to check on a guard post. One guard was a little disturbed, and the other was missing. We spent the night, intent on looking for the missing guard in the morning if possible. After that, found a dead manticore outside, buried it, timber wolves started showing up, we fought. A… larger one showed up, came after me and Idol, they all got distracted by my shield, and everyone escaped into the woods. We found its lair by mistake while looking for shelter, and we killed it in self defense when it showed up. The others backed off and we were safe until the next morning.”

A very succinct telling, I decided. I nodded my agreement.

“Well… that doesn’t… sound too bad… was it, though?”

Shining scoffed. “Nahhhh, it was really nothing. Soldier talk, you know, make it sound like a big deal.” He noticed her eyes narrowing slightly. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, it was more dangerous than I liked. Rather not go anywhere near Everfree again if I can help it. Right Idol?”

“Only if ordered, sir. And… reluctantly, at that.” I admitted.

She seemed mollified. “Well. Alright. But no heroics!” She waved a hoof at him. “If you die, I’ll kill you, and then I’ll be a necromancer and a murderess, so where would that leave us?”

“...A graveyard?” I offered, hesitantly. That was where necromancers traditionally did their rituals, Shining had explained. Though, it would be more convenient for putting him in the ‘grave’ again, I supposed.

“A coliseum is more likely.” Shining admitted. “It’s like a fancy indoor graveyard.”

“A mausoleum is not a fanc- it’s more complicated than that, it-” Cadance began, and I began to relax as she smiled, seemingly exasperated.

Somehow, he had won this entity’s favor. And serving him had in fact earned her favor for myself as well. I pondered this, understanding most of what was being said was not intended for me.

“-and you’d know that if you paid more attention. Honestly, what sort of paladin doesn’t know the difference between a mausoleum and a coliseum-”

“And I’m not sure what sort of ranger pays so much attention to the dark arts. You’re getting an alignment shift next time we play, I’m telling you right now.”

“Oh no, no GMing off-table!”

And, I was also reasonably sure, it was in some sort of personal code.

“You do still owe me for Everfree. You did promise.”

“Aw, Cady, come on-” He lolled his head from side to side, rolling his eyes comically. “I told you-”

“No buts! You… are coming with me to the Grand Galloping Gala this year.” She lifted her nose into the air as she walked, a pristine example of grace, I decided.

Shining only blinked, having missed a step in his concern. “...Oh. Well that’s not so bad.”

Cadance sucked in a breath through her upturned nose, coughed, and then started laughing. There was pure, wicked joy in the tone. Ohhh, poor foolish Shining. Even I knew better than to tempt fate like that.

Author's Note:

Hey folks, been a while. Injuries, sickness and work kept me away, but I think I'm back! Some art for those who haven't seen it.

Idol and Topaz I absolutely love how Topaz came out in this one! By ryuredwings

Idol Vs Daring Duckie By egophiliac

Short for a Royal Guard by Norad2Terran

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