• 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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Crawl of Duty: Black Hops

I did not scowl as I led my new acquaintance from the restaurant. It was, I reasoned, decidedly unfair to expect a changeling to assist in food preparation without sampling. And this odd fascination ponies had with washing the hooves before said food preparation was likewise absurd. Plants grew in dirt, it made little sense that it would harm any dish. My new companion had made an understandable error. It would not do to allow them to sense my dissatisfaction with the situation.

Anyone can lose three jobs in a week. The first attempt was with a carpenter, and they had proven to be entirely mad; good wood was expensive, certainly, but I was equally certain it did grow on trees. In fact, I wasn't sure where else it would grow. Perhaps some unicorn manufactory?

I had suggested the Guard, having found it very suitable, but the new drone was too horrified to consider the idea, and became increasingly disturbed that I would take such a role. The next attempt required me to ask what their previous position was. I reasoned that if I could have become a miner, as Topaz had suggested, perhaps they would think similarly.

"...No. I am a failed gatherer." they offered, with a bit of a flavoring of moroseness. It was rather interesting; they associated emotions with flavor in a way I never had. Sorrow tasted like the grapes Topaz had declared 'inedible'. "I cannot be trusted with such again."

"Failed in what way?" I offered back. Interesting, curiosity was 'minty'. Refreshing, but too much was overpowering. Perhaps a reasonable connection, looking back on my own banishment.

"My focus," they went on, "was to gather food for the hive. Plants. Animals. Find them, seal them, consume. I found a new plant, with thorny leaves and berries. They were... different. Sweet, but also bitter. The mouth felt strange. Like eating bees, and then numbness. It was interesting. But there were not that many, a few mouthfuls... I thought the little ones would like them. They always liked new things. And the berries were red."

It took me a long moment to understand the implications. "You poisoned the larvae?" I had poor hold of my emotions; the horror and disgust were too powerful to completely mask.

"I ate them and was fine! But... the little ones... some of them became... lethargic. One fell into a stupor, and I cannot be sure they awoke. I... think I saw that one when I was escorted out, but it was days later."

"Surely you could have explained yourself to the Queen. It was an honest mistake." One that reacted poorly with at least several of the larvae, but... if my cavern had collapsed on a fresh brood, or even eggs, my failure would have certainly killed them. It was not my place to judge.

Here, they scoffed. "Petition the queen? When I was clearly in the wrong?"

Now I was confused. "But. The Queen surely demanded to know your reasoning, some explanation?"

"She was furious at what I had done. She ordered me to defend my actions, and I could not. Sneaking treats to the larvae, when their caretakers have the duty of seeing to their nourishment? I woke outside with a single crystal shoved inside one of my hooves." Here, they lifted a leg, motioning to a hole roughly the size of the gem I had traded them for. "I have carried them before. It was only slightly brighter than those we carry when scouting for new foraging, but I knew I was no longer welcome."

I considered. Perhaps I had not displeased the Queen so much. My small collection of crystals had not been so large, but definitely more numerous. And I had been given a saddlebag. Their own was truly little more than a burlap sack strapped to their side. It looked uncomfortable, and more importantly, far out of place on a delicate unicorn of nobility as they had first been trying to appear when we first met. I had suggested trading my own for theirs, but it had been bestowed upon them by the queen; burlap would do.

Still, becoming a more rough-looking earth pony instead of a fastidious unicorn did much to enhance their disguise. I had seen a number of unicorns walking around with stunned looking ponies, and I understood these unicorns to be called 'tour guides'. I seemed passable at it, but could see definite benefit to the role; one could introduce emotional sights to a pony and be well fed... but I also knew that it required one to be familiar with said sights. Even if I was reasonably certain some were utter falsehoods designed to make eager ponies gawk at street corners and spend bits at the local eatery.

Appearance aside, the drone before me still wasn't quite pony enough. "Ponies are more... forgiving of such indiscretions, particularly ones made in earnest. However, there is also still the matter of a name. Your... last choice was perhaps less than subtle."

"I thought it suitable on short notice..."

"Food Pony?"

"I also may have panicked. Waiting Staff seemed inappropriate for an earth pony!"

I sighed. "True. Staves are more associated with unicorns, if Shining Armor is to be believed."

"I question his veracity."

I gave them the cold stare such an accusation deserved. "Do not. He is knowledgeable and honest to a fault, by pony reckoning. We must find a fitting name for you."

They looked appropriated chastised, and nodded their agreement slowly. "A number of ponies have referred to me as 'Hayyu'. Usually when they wanted my immediate attention."

For a moment, I considered. Then grimaced at the implication, hanging my head with closed eyes. "I have suddenly become incredibly sympathetic towards Topaz."

As it turns out, 'Hayyu' is a neighponese name, and, we reasoned, good enough for the time being... a sheaf of wheat adorning both flanks made this earth pony disguise more fitting, and it became their default form. I purchased a newspaper,and we returned to Hayyu's hotel room, which was an exorbitant amount of bits. A week in a hotel was roughly equivalent to a month of rent, but until we found a good final form and name it was unwise to establish permanent residence. And I found that I liked my privacy. I had tried to show Hayyu some of my pottery, but clearly his interest was less than piqued.

To be fair, I believe I made him feel uncomfortable, even as he appreciated my efforts. It was a large change in lifestyle, and I had adapted over a number of months. Perhaps I was rushing him faster than he could accept. Looking back, even I had found the idea of joining the guard ludicrous before seeing Celestia and understanding what it meant. Beyond that, my assistance made him feel lessened; changelings have the hive, but one must be capable of fulfilling their duties. He had failed so miserably as to lead those in charge to threaten to set him ablaze on two different occasions, and 'let go' on a third.

We parted ways while he studied the paper for more offers of work. I suppose I could have invited him to the underground, but that seemed a dangerous precedent. There was no way the Queen would tolerate a false hive being formed under Canterlot, and it seemed disloyal to Celestia to even consider it. And that meant it bore no further consideration; I may not have said the words of my oath before my leaders, but they echoed in my heart all the same. Equestria asked the blood of my flesh and the faith of my mind, but otherwise allowed me the sweat of my brow. They neglected to ask the color of that blood, and I decided that meant Equestria didn't care.

I spent the rest of the day with Topaz, though I was careful to carry around the dulled stone to try to recharge it somewhat. There was a very strange small play being performed in the street, and Topaz seemed bemused with my interest. A number of foals did as well, and somehow I found myself in a spirited argument with the boggle-eyed sock-actor on the virtues of cleaning your plate. Oddly, this delighted the foals, and they too began to argue with the creature, who turned out to be attached to the leg of a pony. Afterwards, that pony thanked me for the audience participation, for sometimes it was hard to get young ponies interested in the educational shows. They rolled their eyes when I suggested dispensing candy.

Topaz said I was adorable. I don't know how she'd come to that conclusion, but I accepted the compliment gravely, deciding that it was perhaps another pony word with multiple meanings, as I was quite sure I was not by the standard definition.

She suggested we celebrate my upcoming graduation into the Royal Guard with another play. I was more than topped off from my interactions with the Princess Cadance…but still, I decided it would be better to maintain good habits and continue to go through the steps of ensuring I could feed myself. And Topaz enjoyed the shows as well, which was also a fair reason to continue. It was what friends did.

Unfortunately, the show was not as…fulfilling as some of the previous ones. Some nonsense about a pegasus foal, trapped in the frozen north and raised by wild penguins. All in all, save for the final battle scene against the sea lion, Sheer Kold, I found very little of interest in the Tundra Book, and admitted that I would probably have preferred to simply read it... only for Topaz to claim that she didn't actually think it existed in written form. I cannot even begin to describe my thoughts on that matter, but somehow, I wasn't truly surprised. Worse, 'Whale Requirements' was jaunty enough to continue playing in my mind long after the play ended, a true nuisance.

I received a letter stating that our commencement would be three days hence; Topaz fussed over how strange it was to have an early graduation and how little time she had to prepare. The note mentioned that we had a mandatory training for the commencement itself the day prior, and then went on that the following weekday we would officially begin our duties, starting with several weeks of travel to various posts, intent on showing us our options should we not wish to stay in Canterlot while our assigned duty location was determined. I marked Canterlot as my preferred location, Stalliongrad as my second, and finally Manehattan as my final. I reasoned that the more populated areas would suit my needs best, if Princess Celestia deemed me unworthy to be in her presence.

The training was rather simple. It was an open ceremony, the Princess would oversee from on high, and we would give our oaths to her before the rising sun. The oath itself resonated strongly with me: to protect those within our borders, to uphold the Law and Order of the nation, to enable the citizens to live in Harmony, and to Obey the Princesses. I found all of that to be completely acceptable, particularly the parts about Order and Obedience.

When we were deemed capable of shaming ourselves to a minimal degree before the Princess Celestia, we were given our final task as recruits with a surprising amount of glee.

We would perform the traditional High and Low Crawl through Canterlot. I perked at this, even as the others seemed to cringe. Then it was explained that it was highest tradition for the last night of civilian life to be explored, somewhat wildly, by the young cadets, who would visit a chain of whine houses and pubs from the highest of the high class, to the lowest of the seediest pubs in Canterlot, which was, coincidentally, underground. After this, all of our actions would be judged on the basis of our being members of Canterlot's Royal Guard. The others found this a wonderful idea and swore to make it a crawl like none had ever seen before.

I found myself questioning the very idea that unicorns could sell whining. Bold swore he'd buy me a good Earth Pepper Stout, and I found myself wondering if that could possibly be as terrible as it sounded. Shining drew up a quick map that hit the various highs and lows, and we set out upon our quest.

Wine is not whine, though both can make one maudlin. We sampled everything available at the first and were well on our way to the same at the second before Shining pointed out to myself, Bold, and Wispy that we were supposed to spit the wine into the bucket. Bold giggled at our foolishness, and Wispy and I maintained our hooves only by virtue of being of a size with one another and able to maintain reciprocal force towards each other. I quickly recovered, but Wispy and Bold took the next two stops to begin to sober.

And then we hit our first pub. They had been forewarned, and the regulars cheered us on, buying us more drinks than was entirely reasonable. My tragic downfall was Honey Dew's Old Fashioned Mjod. Bold made good on his earlier threat, and it was actually sharp and hot enough that I required more mjod to wash it down with. This became oddly cyclical.

Three pubs and an unknown number of bottles later, I was no longer entirely sure who or where I was when I apparently was able to drink no more of Chaos's ambrosia. In fact, the lot of us were holed up at a table. And I was... merciful Order, I was Shining Armor.

"Do Wispy!" Bold cajoled, obviously delighted. Shining had his head on the table, staring blearily at nothing. Wispy was fighting the mechanical lasso and by all accounts would have been winning if she wasn't upside down and trying to flap through the floor.

I felt myself applying the illusion, as if out of habit. Shining hiccuped. The other patrons cheered, and I was told 'do Princess Celestia!' by one of them; I glared him down immediately, which seemed to put an end to the show. Bold wrapped a hoof around my neck.

"Na' bad, na' bad! Wispy ain't a uuuuney-corn though." He stared at me for a long moment. "An' I'm pretty ssssure she's not a ssstallion, either."

"I heard that, you drunken mule!" Wispy groused as the loops of rope neatly tied a bow around her legs. A scoreboard listed her time near the top. One patron gave half-hearted protest, and Wispy told him to 'stop staring at her flank and get her out of this', and laughter ensued as the patron cheerfully untied her.

"I... believe I am done." I stated, feeling sick as my coloration returned to normal slate grey instead of Wispy’s stormy blue. Had I revealed myself? What had I done? Eyeing the bottles stacked neatly beside me, I was forced to admit at least one of the things I had done was 'drink heavily'.

"Awww. That was a good show! Never seen someone... change color like that before. Without dye, I guess. Neat lil' trick. Could be better. But Hoovsie, you... are no lightweight. Didn't know unicorns could drink like that." A fresh bottle approached the table. "No, no. I'm done. We're done?" He looked at Wispy, who by this point smelled like the floor of the pub. Which I was suddenly concerned at my intimate knowledge of. Yes, yes, there was a definite memory of being face first on the floor. How inappropriate. When Wispy nodded, he waved the the server away. "We're done. Almost closing time. We got... we gotta get home. Shine. Shiner! Can you get home?"

Shining lifted his head. "Bwah...? No, no more salt...." Bold gave him a few light bats with a hoof, and Shining managed to focus on us. "Why are you in my house...?"

"We're not in your house. C'mon." He hefted the smaller Shining... only for Wispy to collapse into the vacated chair, snoring. "Aw, Nightmare's hairy fetlocks, you two! Least Dol can hold his own...!" He hefted Wispy and with some assistance got the two of them situated before nearly falling over himself. I caught Shining before his boneless descent to the floor, and Bold caught Wispy while putting enough bits on the table to settle the remains of our bill.

"I believe I can get Shining home if you can do the same with her." I managed as a not-quite limp-legged Shining managed to open the door.

"I... think she lives on a cloud." Bold admitted,

"...Well, good luck! Come along, Shining. Which way is home?"

Shining pointed back towards the bar. That seemed unlikely, and I led him a short ways away, supporting him with my shoulder. "Lower... lower nobility district. Mailbox with moon and stars on it."

Inwardly I groaned. We had started this night in that district, and had wandered to the far end of the city to continue our carousing. Shining's map proved useful, once we returned to the scene of the second and intended final bar on Shining's map. Shining began to sing cadence as we marched, and though his timing was drastically off in the tune, his hooves still fell on the beat, which meant our pace varied wildly.

A pair of mares from the other direction approached, and Shining brought a hoof to his mouth. "HEY! THAT DRESS LOOKS LOVELY ON YOU AND I REALLY LIKE YOUR MANE! IT'S VERY PINK!" One blinked, then looked cautiously pleased. The other scowled.

"Shining!" I warned, somewhat crossly.

"What about me?" Asked the very not pink mare. "This dress was hoof-stitched by Haute De Consignour!" She ruffled the colorful silk that was tied from her hair to a very strange dress.

Shining stared for a long moment. "It looks like there's a peacock’s butt on your head." He admitted with a chortle. Fury bloomed on her face, and her friend put a hoof to her mouth and giggled into it.

"Well I believe it is past time for us to be somewhere else." I choked, nearly pulling Shining into a nearby alley that should lead us to his home in a more roundabout fashion.

Shining's chortling turned into a sob. "CAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADYYYYY, I'M SORRYYYYYYYYYYYY! I didn't mean it, she's nothin' to me!"

"Shining, you only complimented a mare. Not insulted her honor. Though her hair was more mauve than pink."

"I'm the worst pony in th'world!"

"I am quite sure there are worse." I managed, keeping us at a brisk trot

"Cady deserves better. She can do better!"

"The first is unquestionable sir, the other is debatable. You are, like it or not, worthy enough for her acceptance."

Shining sniffled. "...yeah?"

"And hopefully you will be sober soon." He hiccuped. "Though maybe not soon enough." I admitted, seeing what seemed to be a mailbox with stars and a moon. The first pony had been very cross with us, though I argued that it did not look like a cutie mark detailer. Apparently it was not unheard of for unicorns with more ‘plain’ markings to make them a bit more gaudy. Whoever did mine, he claimed, did damn good work, but was a little over the top. I took the compliment in stride and got us on our way.

This house, Shining decided, looked like it. I wasn’t sure his judgement was currently sound, but I rapped politely on the door. Shining made a valiant effort to stand, looking as though he expected to be hit with a cart any moment and had resigned himself to the impact.

The door burst open and a pair of ponies bustled out, one either a very light grey or white, with violet stripes in her mane, and the other a more solid blue. They looked to be very concerned, and I could only make out a bit of it.

“-have you been-”

“-worried sick-”

“-smell like a distillery!”

“-what were you thinking-”

Shining held up a hoof, partially to block the questions, perhaps to forestall further questions. “Graduation is tomorrow.”

I stared. “...You didn’t tell them?”

“Ssssurprise!” He slurred, nearly falling forward.

His matron, which she could only be, stared. “But… but that’s early! That’s much too early! We wanted to prepare, to call your cousins, to- you can’t mean it’s tomorrow!

“Well… yes.” I put in. “We were given special dispensation for our efforts in Everfree Forest.”

“But… that would make this… Shining Armor! Did you just do the High and Low?”

I hesitantly defended him. “It was order and tradition.”

Here she laughed, and her husband seemed more than a little put out by it. “Nightie, don’t worry, this is normal.”

“Normal?! He’s been waiting for this ceremony since he got his cutie mark, and now he’s going to show up for it stinking drunk!”

She gave him a wicked grin. “The ceremony is at dawn. Facing the rising sun.”

“Dawn?” He asked. Then considered. “...Oh that is evil.”

“It is a fantastic way to teach moderation. And you must be Idol Hooves. Shining had told us all about you. Oh, it’s wonderful to finally meet you, I’ve been wanting to thank you ever since I heard about Shiny’s fall. I’m terribly sorry, you probably need to get back.” She frowned, tilting her head. “Surely they didn’t make you refrain during this?”

“No ma’am, I believe I handle it better. Shining, in truth, had less than I. I think. It does get blurry around… dusk?”

“That sounds about right.” She admitted, laughing. “I recommend you have coffee ready for the morning then. Come on, Nightie, let’s get our son to bed.”

“Honestly thought we’d never get the chance to tuck him in again.” Nightie seemed slightly mollified. “Did you do this?” The two of them braced Shining between them.

“Of course, sweetheart. It’s tradition.” And with that, the two ponies let the door swing shut. How very peculiar.

Changelings, it seems, get drunk fast and sober faster. This does not prevent hangovers, it only shortens the duration at the cost of intensity. Several pots of coffee made me functional, and I could not thank Topaz enough, even though I expected she had been up most of the night trying to determine exactly how much I had drunk.

Even so, the pre-dawn light had never been quite so harsh, and the idea of looking towards the rising sun was unpleasant. All of us felt astonishingly awful; given the general queasiness and misery I felt from my left and right, I imagined the sun was going to be torture.

I was right.

I barely heard the words being said by the captain. Knew them by heart, and repeated the oaths all the same. I looked up into the lancing rays of sunlight to see Princess Celestia smiling down on us, with Princess Cadance by her side. Love and hope radiated from both of them, and I tried to use the emotion to press down the rising sense of illness from the others… and oddly, it seemed to work. The others stood straighter, a bit more pride in their stance, and Shining finally smiled. Satisfaction began to form in all of them.

The last lines of the oath, our promise to obey the princesses, rang out, with the four of us speaking the words with utmost confidence. Celestia nodded her approval to us, told us we all made her very proud and she hoped we would continue to do so, and then left the stage with Cadance trailing. No sooner had they done so than our captain grinned and motioned towards the barracks. We marched stiffly to the barracks, where a trough of water and a large, empty barrel sat. It would not be empty for long.

Twilight Velvet was wise. Our first actions as Royal Guards was to void ourselves of the urge to be drunken revelers in the most humbling way possible. And thankfully, out of the eyes of Princess Celestia. We maintained our pride, if only barely.

All in all, not a bad start to our first day.

Author's Note:

I am so, so sorry.


http://backlash91.deviantart.com/art/Changeling-Of-The-Guard-612844448 From Backlash91, Idol in uniform lookin' fancy!

http://norad2terran.deviantart.com/art/Making-the-Wrong-Choice-611440441 From Norad2, the very first comic featuring Idol!

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