• 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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Final Boarding Call

“...Which part is the joke, exactly?” I queried, not entirely sure I ‘got it’.

“...That you’re done.”

I slowly nodded and confirmed his response. “So we are not done?”

“No, Hooves, you are done. That was the joke.”

“If you insist, sir.”

The sergeant gave me a sour look, then turned with a grumble. “The four of you, follow me. The rest of you lot, get presentable in five and form ranks for inspection.” He stalked out, and we obediently joined him.

“Won’t lie. This is irregular. Whole situation is. But the four of you showed well out there. You all have some talent, and I’m sure you know it. But talent means beans if you can’t do anything in a fight because you’re too busy watering your legs. And now you four are blooded. By right, you can claim membership in the guard with your oaths. The rest, right now, is… mostly for show.”

Wispy blinked. “I… thought that was only a viable means of entry to the guard in times of war.” The other three of us gave her a curious (and startled, I realized, quickly imitating Shining and Bold) look. “What? I like military history.”

“Not sure what you’d call a pony-eater other than an ‘Enemy of Equestria’, cadet. You four are going to be interviewed, but sounds to me like it’s already done. Command wants to know what the buck happened in that forest for the official story.”

Shining tilted his head, hesitating. “...Official story, sir?”

“Celestia’s beard, we lost one of our own. A unicorn, from one of the noble families. The family is going to have our various reproductive organs in a bucking vice.”

“Sir, it… sounded to us like Merry Meadows was in Everfree to avoid-

“That is bucking hearsay, cadet. And you will not spread that around. The guard does not tolerate bigotry or buckle to it. And if Merry Meadows fled Canterlot to avoid just that, then we failed him.”

“Her, sir.” Wispy mumbled.

Also hearsay, cadet. The only pony to make any claim of that sort is now being treated in the wards for physical and mental trauma and both his judgement and recollection are questionable. But the guard will do its damnedest to do right by him and her memory. But it’s a damned shame all the same.”

Wispy looked up, and anger wafted from her. I took a cautious step away from her, unnoticed. “But… what about-”

“The truth of the matter is that we don’t know. It would be great if we could arrest some bad guys, throw them in a cell until they repent, but it’s not the way things work. And… it looks like Merry may have filed for an extension of their tour.”

“Why would anypony do that?”

“Because, cadet, maybe somepony thought it was worth the risk. Maybe somepony else thought they were doing the right thing. And it is above your rank, soldier, regardless. The higher ups will look into it. The four of you are no longer involved in that part of the situation. Frankly I don’t want to be any more involved with it myself. Heads are going to roll. Hopefully heads of ponies who deserve it, but if life were fair, we’d live in a land made of gumdrops and spun sugar.”

I refrained from questioning how that would make life ‘fair’ more than ‘sticky’. Mostly due to the rumbling of my stomach. We were, uncharacteristically, skipping our morning meal. This seemed a sacrilege, given how many ponies claim it to be the most important meal of the day. Which is yet another pony absurdity. Your most important meal is always ‘the next one’. Any changeling can tell you as much. And I was apparently missing more important instructions.

“-don’t tell them more than you have to. Keep it short, concise, and to the point.”

“Should we also make it snappy?”

“Don’t get smart, Bigflank, you’re not good at it. Don’t bog them down. Give them the important details, and let them move on.” He rapped his hoof sharply on a door, and stuck his head through. After a brief discussion with the occupants of the room he withdrew and motioned to Wispy. She swallowed, the brief bunching of her wings a clear display of tension as she rolled her shoulders… and then relaxed, striding into the room as though she owned it and called them for a meeting herself. That was more like Wispy. Bold paid far more attention to her peculiar strut than any expression the sergeant was making before the older stallion followed her in, and as the door closed, he caught Shining’s smirk just before it faded.


“Nothing, I didn’t say anything.”

The larger earth pony’s eyes narrowed, the challenge plain. “You thought something.”

“Maybe I think things from time to time.” Shining replied, looking… insufferable. Yes, that was a good term for it. There was a certain smugness to it.

“Well you’re wrong.”

“Guess I am.”

“Nothing going on there.”

“Never said there was.” Shining agreed, drawing something from his saddlebag.

“Good. Because there wouldn’t be. She wouldn’t be interested.”

I frowned. “That is questionable. She has commented favorably upon your posterior at least once.”

Shining separated the packet of little rectangular sheets, flipping them a circle. “Anyone want to play cards while we wait?”

“Wait, she what- when-”

“Five bits against what we know?”

Bold’s glares were beginning to lose their potency. “Oh you are on, Shiner.”

“And I summon the Eater of Planets, sacrifice your island to it and destroy Idol’s Ritual of Consumption. Sorry, Shiner. One down. Idol?”

“...I have tapped all of my lands. What can I do?”

Shining groaned and put his head against a wall. “Die of mana burn?”

“Ah. I do that, then. Congratulations on your third straight victory, Bold.”

“I still don’t think you get the point of this.” Shining mumbled,

“I’m absolutely certain of that. Shall we play again?”

“Could. If you colts want your bits back. Or have a couple more you’d like to donate to my dinner with Wispy.”

Shining blanched at that, clearly not so confident. “Go easy, he says. I can’t believe you used that old chestnut. Can’t believe I fell for it.”

“Works more often than you’d think. You’re sure about the neighponese thing?”

“She has spoken very highly of mango wraps.”

Bold nodded, but looked nervous. “Suppose those are pretty good. I dunno about the whole rice and seaweed business. Not really a big fan.”

I put a hoof to his shoulder. “Consume whatever is placed before you. If you do not like it, get something else next time.”

I did not understand Bold’s neutral expression. “Thanks, Idol. You’re a big help.”

“You are welcome.”

“NEXT!” Came the muted bellow from within the room. To Bigflank’s enormous disappointment, Wispy did not appear, and he went in with a much less confident swagger.

Shining took the opportunity to explain the rules of the card game to me again. I lost the next two games. He was in the middle of explaining a third time when he was called, and I spent the rest of the wait in silence.

When it was finally my turn, the questions from the trio of uniformed ponies seemed rather simplistic. I explained in detail the events of the initial attack, paying careful attention to the actions of the others. They had comported themselves exceptionally well, and I made sure to detail their efforts. Other details, such as my own contributions, were too minor to warrant much mention, and, with some discomfort, I left out the entirety of our means of finally dispatching the timberwolf.

One of the ponies, in a very fine velvet uniform with a number of shiny bits on it, settled a clipboard back to the desk before them and pushed up her spectacles. “Mr. Hooves. From the… depth of your report, and your views upon things, one could assume you view the others of your team as… heroes. Particularly young Shining Armor, whom you have attributed almost the entire defeat of the rogue timberwolf to.” She shuffled the paperwork, searching for something. “You also seem to discuss the actions of Cadet Bigflank akin to one describing a professional wrestling match and the actions of Aeronaut Nimbus as worthy of ‘utter amazement’. Would you agree?”

“I do not know what professional wrestling is, ma’am. But I stand by my statements.”

“And,” stated the older stallion to her left “you recognize that this statement says practically nothing about yourself. The other three members, if half of what you’ve said is true and we can confirm from their own stories and that of your sergeant, would warrant the three of them for commendations. Are you sure you wouldn’t want to, say, elaborate on your own contributions?”

I tilted my head, considering, but could think of nothing more to add. “No, sir. That would not be truthful. I performed my duty to the best of my abilities. That is all.”

“And your opinion on the situation with Dank Woods and Merry Meadows?” It was the first question, indeed, the first words I heard from the stallion on the right. “What is your take on the matter?”

“That it is largely irrelevant. There was a duty to maintain that outpost. The two of them held the post until forcibly removed, regardless of the side effects and personal trauma that was endured. This is commendable. A fine soldier was lost, and if Dank Woods’ effectiveness in dealing with the timberwolves is any indication, a very capable one. We are all made lesser for it.”

The three ponies looked to one another, and then one by one, they began to nod. “If your statement were to be declared the official one, would you sign to the truth of it?”

I would, of course, and very oddly, they provided me with a pen and I did just that, though I admit my signature was very blocky.

Nonetheless, answering questions and sitting quietly before had been a tedious exercise and I was eager to be done with it and return to training… which I suddenly realized I would no longer have. The idea tore at my focus, and I was guided to leave by a door on the other side of the room, doubtless the same way my compatriots had gone. The trio was waiting for me, curious but just as eager to be done with all of this as I was… and, I noted, Shining did not appear to have his cards out any longer. Unfortunate. Perhaps later.

Wispy raised her hoof suddenly as I approached the hallway, warning me too late that another pony was leaving around the same corner I had intended to enter. Our meeting, therefore, was abrupt, unpleasant, and short. I rubbed at my own nose, then looked upon the pony whom I had nearly run over, a cape of some sort on her back, fluttering then stretching out-

That was no cape. It was, in truth, a fascinating set of wings, unlike any I had seen upon a pony. They were covered in fur instead of feathers, clearly, and were just as plainly very different. I could make out the structure of bones within the wings, and immediately realized that these would make for for more secure ‘grasping’ than the mere ‘hook’ that pegasi wings were capable of. I marveled at the improvement, at this… simple complexity. Why, this was so much better than the feathered wings, if I ever took a pegasus form again it would be far easier to create these, and I made note of every contour, intent on at least attempting this shape later.

“You know, if you take a picture, it lasts longer.” The grey pony before me seethed, pushing a dark blue mane out of slitted eyes. Her armor was not the gold of the guard or the bronze of the trainees, but an interesting silver material, polished to nearly mirror quality. It was a very impressive contrast, quite to my liking. “You act like you’ve never seen a bat pony before.” Wispy, in the corner of my eye, had her hooves over her mouth, eyes wide.

“This is true. I never have. Forgive me, I was startled by your wings. They are… incredibly elegant. I had never imagined the like. May I see?”

Now she looked taken aback, for some reason, and her face darkened as she spread her wings. “They’re… just my wings.” She muttered this time.

“And they are very fine wings, at that. Idol Hooves.” I offered my hoof, and after a confused moment, she shook it, responding with a glance up and down my own form, followed by a nod of approval before her cheeks dimpled and she smiled… revealing a set of teeth that belong nowhere near a species that thrived on plant matter.

I cannot explain the sudden, irrational need to flee from this pony, who named herself as ‘Mothchaser’, but I may have stammered out a few pleasantries before we parted ways, and she walked off looking rather pleased with herself. I attempted to compose myself and went to rejoin the others.

Wispy had a huge grin as I approached. “You smooth bucker!” She drove a hoof into my shoulder, not lightly, but apparently not wanting to cause harm. “Complimenting her wings? You saucy devil!”

I blinked at that. “Saucy devil?”

“Is that really such a big deal?” Bold asked, utterly confused. “I mean, you have nice wings.”

Wispy’s chortling choked off, and she rolled an eye at the big earth stallion, but there was still mirth in her tone when she told him “Thanks Bold, nice try.” She missed Shining making a tentative patting and a negative motion to Bold behind her back, and I saw little need to draw her attention to it. Her glee was surprising. “And flirting with one of the Night Guard cadets! I love it! You totally threw her off” She pranced in place, overcome with the emotion. “Ohhh, this could be fun.”

“I’m not even sure what I did.” I admitted, and Wispy laughed uproariously.

We parted ways shortly thereafter, our sergeant coming across us and ordering us home to inform our families and to ‘stop lounging around like bumps on a log’.

I don’t think bumps on a log are capable of doing work. Or even having mobility. This metaphor, I decided, was exceptionally nonsensical, even by pony standards.

I decided to take a long route in returning home, intent on seeing a bit more of Canterlot’s architecture. The spires were lovely, if… far too high. I could not think of a good means to drive such a thing into the safety of the ground without depriving the view, however, and I regretfully decided that they were simply not for me.

Even some of the lower class shops were surprisingly well designed. There was a small shop that produced paper of a rough quality and a cheaper price that seemed frequented by a large number of local students, directly beside a coffee shop and a bakery. All three shops were apparently open ‘all night’ and did very impressive business; the coffee shop and bakery helped to mask the odor of paper production.

It was behind the bakery that I saw my first other changeling, and I was not well pleased by it.

They were a ragged individual, slinking around behind the bakery. Their disguise was barely held together, a random conglomeration of other ponies that seemed to shift and twist with every passerby. Entirely unnoticed, but I doubted it was by design. I was staring when they noticed, and the blast of fear that hit me as they fled my sight made me question their activities.

Perhaps the Queen hadn’t been entirely wrong about exiles. This one clearly gave no consideration to appearances, and seemed to have no particular duty.

My mood soured, I returned home. Topaz was not present, to my disappointment, and after an hour of waiting by the door I grew restless with my new concerns and wandered away. Her eyeders were doing well enough. One had apparently perished, though another had made a rather impressive block of cheese and had somehow captured a mouse.... the rest seemed content with the butterflies she had released into their chamber. Quite cross with the perished one, I opted to remove it so as not to trouble her.

I was working on my clay when she arrived and almost bit my tongue when she knocked my seat out from under me, not to mention nearly choking on my lunch.

"Idol." Topaz stated sweetly, a smile that did not match her emotions or her tone fixed in place. "...Why am I missing one of my research subjects?"

I blinked. "...It died?" I offered after a moment's hesitation.

"I assume it did. Where did it go, Idol?"

"I..." I began looking for an escape route. "That is to say..."

"Idol. Did you eat my homework?"

"...Perhaps?” I considered the possibility that I had made a mistake. Unlikely though it was.

“Don’t. Do that. Again. If I have spares, I’ll let you have them when I’m done, okay? Now, what are you doing here, you’re supposed to be at training. Are you playing hooky? We all need a day here and there, but that’s not like you.” Her annoyance had turned to concern, and I relaxed. “And I’m not sure you can just take a day off, are you allowed to do that? Won’t your trainers be upset?”

“I am done with training. Apparently I have succeeded and will be a full guard soon.”

Topaz blinked. Then she brightened. “Idol! Why didn’t you say so?! This is great; when?”

“I believe in a week or two. The details are somewhat uncertain, but I feel we will know more soon.” I took a deep breath. “I have seen another exile, I believe.”

“Exile? From-” Her eyes lit up with clear excitement. “Where?! Another changeling, that’s great, with multiple subjects I could-”

“I do not know where they are now.” Not… precisely a lie. I did not like the idea of Topaz studying another of my kind, though I could not quite say why. “And they were filthy. Their disguise was failing and they seemed to be in hiding. I do not think they were trustworthy.”

“Idol. That isn’t very nice.”

“We are exiles for a reason…” While true, the words fell flat in my own ears. Her disappointment, evident on face and stance, cut to my core. “...We are not to interact, Topaz. I do not think that is allowed. The Queen...” I trailed off, not sure what I could tell her about this.

“If you say so. I just thought better of you.” Those words struck like a physical blow. “I’m going to go check on the eyeders again.”

I sat there, in silence, for an indeterminate amount of time, long enough for the little natural light that filtered in from above to begin to fade, and sat there still. In the darkness, with only the dim lights for company. Suddenly, that seemed exceptionally strange; I looked about, only to find that the Queen’s gift to me, the few stones that had apparently held enough emotion for me to leave the hive, had returned to a dull glow. Though, before they had been a multitude of colors, they now appeared rosy, similar to the Princess Cadance, and I touched one in surprise… it contained Love. Startled, I withdrew from it, and checked the others. Unquestionably, they were the same, yet I could not determine how such a thing was possible. Perhaps the excess from my one meeting with her had overflowed and… been absorbed? Had I been so wasteful, truly?

I could think of nothing to do with such excess. I had been fed, and fed well indeed. To be truthful, I rarely went without thanks to Topaz’s ideas and my own duties… I rolled one of the rough cut gems from hoof to hoof, lost in thought.

I felt a fool. Perhaps I was, at that, wandering the streets of Canterlot at night looking for a fellow changeling I had never met and truly did not want to meet in the first place. I was unlikely to find them, and even if I did, they were just as likely to be justifiably suspicious of me. I had collapsed a portion of the hive. I deserved no companionship of any kind.

I found them, of course. They had not had the strength to flee far and were still by the bakery. Their disguise covered their sleeping form, a weak illusion, pieces fading in and out even as I watched, and would probably not hold until morning… but I found that I could respect the desire to try, even as exhaustion set in. I prodded the drone with a hoof, and they woke instantly… and immediately backed away, the buzzing pleading almost too fast for me to understand.

Will not interfere, did not mean to draw attention, the Queen’s will be done-

“Silence.” I said aloud. The drone fell silent, startled that I would use the pony tongue. I offered one of the stones. “A trade, if you have them. Mine are too full.”

They stared. Confusion, weak, flickering hope, and disbelief evident. “No. Not… not for me. For the Queen. For the little ones.”

“I am like you. Alone.”

The disbelief turned to disgust, but it was too weak to work the emotion properly. “Exile.”

“Like yourself.” I agreed, and they flinched. I pushed the stone closer, and was impressed when they continued to refuse.

“You… took the shape of a pony warrior. But are no warrior drone.”

“Ponies are very strange about such things. They… choose roles for themselves.”

A sort of awe settled in, and I agreed fully. “That… is nonsensical. Inefficient.”

“Incredibly. It makes them…” I struggled for the proper word. “Content. They take pleasure in their roles. I was an excavator. I am an acceptable guard, by pony terms. And I find I can enjoy that.”

They scoffed, but eyed the stone. A stone came from a pouch, as dull as my own was brilliant. It had been drained entirely. “You… want this one…? Why?”

I hesitated. I did not, actually. I did not wish to give up my own, but it occurred to me that this drone was very likely as confused as I had been upon my first meetings with ponies. Making these things clear would assist them. “It would be more valuable to me. Ponies call this ‘trade’. They do this often, trading bits for things they desire or need. Including labor.”

They dropped their stone, and I caught it in mid-air, pushing mine towards them. The energy was gone in a flash, but the contents were enough. The drone… solidified. Their disguise, a well-groomed unicorn, was now complete. The pain in their eyes was gone, replaced with wariness, but relief as well. They were not full, by any measure, but one meal is better than none.

I smiled thinly, for the first time since Topaz’s scolding feeling like myself again. “Come, friend. Let us see about getting you a ‘job’.”

Author's Note:

This chapter took me a while. It took me a long while to get things they way I liked them, and in the end a lot of little details were changed. Lemme know what you think!

Edit: Forgot to post some new art! First, a picture of Topaz with one of her research subjects... http://dont-mind-me-but-i.tumblr.com/post/144205477755/forgot-to-post-this-last-night-another-finished

And, from SkelePone, something extra unique. An Idol Hooves theme song! https://soundcloud.com/skelepone/my-mechanical-heart (Updated with soundcloud link!)

Thanks a ton, both of you!

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