• 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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Lying By Omission

I awoke an indeterminate amount of time later in what I took to be a very bright, unpleasantly small and fragile cavern that I later learned is colloquially referred to as a ‘tent’, covered in something wet and warm. Staring at the pointed ceiling of this very strange place did little to enlighten me, and would have extracted myself from this strange predicament had a firm hoof not pressed against my chest and held me in place.

“Ah ah ah. Lie still, lie still. Shhh, shhh.” A wet piece of fabric was removed from my head, and a blissfully cool one replaced it. I would have buzzed my appreciation, but something sweet and deliciously moist was pushed into my mouth, turning the buzz into more of a curious ‘hum’. I chewed without thinking, each trickle of the juice a welcome sensation. “We thought you dead, traveler. Generally when you find a pegasus buried in a dune with only a wing sticking out, it’s more about arranging to contact his kin.” The voice was lilting, forming a pleasant cadence with her words, but it made no sense. Pegasus? A dune? Why was I so tired? How had I gotten here? Sudden disgust struck me. Was I sick? The hive could not spare the resources for a damaged drone, and the contagion could destroy it. Whoever had made such a foolish decision would face the Queen’s own wrath… and then my isolation truly struck me. I had been severed from the Hive... and already, I was too sickly to continue my journey. I was disgusting. Pathetic. To even think I would earn my return was impossibly optimistic. Tears, more viscous than that of most ponies, began to roll down my white face.

“Now now, no tears. You’re safe now. Everything is going to be okay…” The voice was wrong, of course, and I only felt worse. I shouldn’t be here. I should have never failed my hive. I should have been a good, obedient drone. Instead, I was a useless- with a start, I shoved this new emotion away from myself. It had been insipid, a snake writhing around my thoughts, like nothing I’d ever felt before.

“Wh… why did you help me? I am… sick. Should… should not risk it.”

A turquoise mare with bands of cloth over her face and a strange cloth pad on her back laughed at that, her voice growing richer and the emotional onslaught receded, the new emotion being slowly replaced with warmth and amusement. “Sick, colt? You were half-starved and all dehydrated when our caravan saw your wings sticking out of the sand like a very sorry signpost. It took the better part of three days before we were sure you were going to wake at all, but you’ve been making a fine recovery.” Here she paused. “Do… do you have a name, young stallion?”

“A… name?” I drew a blank. Of course. Drones did not have names, as such, because we referred to one another within the hive’s mind, and generally without speech. Names are a terribly inefficient way of referring to someone when you can simply establish a direct link between yourselves or share that changeling’s exact ‘frequency’. Of course, changelings out gathering emotions for the hive would have to have some sort of moniker… More important for now, I had lost any chance of entering this society without suspicion, even though I had kept a pegasus shape the entire time. “I… must confess that I don’t-” I nearly gagged as the sensation roiled over me again. What horrid emotion was this?

The mare clucked her tongue sadly, shaking her head. “Thought as much. It happens, sometimes. It usually comes back in time, but you must not let yourself become overheated again until you’re better. Do you have any idea where you live?”

An odd question. “I do not.” It was simple truth. I had no idea where I would live. Nor did I know precisely where I was in comparison to the Hive, which was significantly more embarrassing, even if I had been inclined to tell this pony where the Hive was.

Another pony burst into the room, a gangly stallion with a dark brown coat, blazing red mane and a tuft of the same under his chin. He practically danced in place. “Ahhh, Auntie Zaimare, the new colt is awake! Was he set upon by bandits? Is he a bandit? Are we going to place him back where we found him? And, by we, I mean ‘I’, as I don’t recall anyone else digging him out of the sand.”

“Matter, I thought I told you to stay outside until I told you otherwise.” She snapped, stern and annoyed. “And I’m not your aunt. I’m your Tradesmaster. Now go back outside.”

“But Auntie-“

“Out with you!” When the younger stallion darted off, her irritated glare quickly turned to an exasperated smile. “You’ll have to forgive him. This is his first trading voyage, and if he were any more green he’d sprout flowers.”

“…But he is not green. His coloration was more … like dirt and embers.” Perhaps this mare’s vision was failing her. It sometimes occurred within the hive, to the oldest of changelings. The Queen would sing those to sleep, in a terribly beautiful voice, and then… when the song went silent, so too did they. But no, piercing violet eyes fell upon me, and she laughed, clearly amused.

“Well of course he’s not completely green. I’ve been talking him through the basics of being a good trader... but he still has much to learn. Like not to try getting every last bit out of a poor fellow down on his luck.”

Well, that seemed reasonable, and I nodded my approval. Amongst the hive, though drones were plentiful, they were not simply wasted. A lone hunter was often a dead one. But this… ‘trade’ and ‘bit’ business made little sense to me, though I had gathered the first seemed to represent some form of work. Clearly losing one’s bits was cause for alarm. Did they feed upon the weakened? I considered how much physical mass I could lose to the jaws of a nestmate and remain functional. Little enough. Had that been the energetic pony’s aim? To consume the fallen pegasus he’d discovered? It very nearly made me shiver. Changelings should not be food.

“Now then. You don’t know your name, you don’t know where you live. I don’t think it would be appropriate to leave you wandering the desert with a single saddlebag. I wish I knew what you’d been thinking.” I squirmed out of the bed, to her dismay, though the wet towels draped over me clung to my body. “…Even if you do seem to be much better than I thought.” A towel fell off my back, plopping on the dusty floor. Her face tightened in distress and perhaps… revulsion? I looked back, confused, and realized my other mistake. While wandering, I’d not thought to give myself the traditional pony markings. Usually the mark went unquestioned, but the lack of it made an adult pony stand out. “Oh Harmony preserve, I’m sorry colt. I hadn’t known how to do it.” I froze, concerned that this was about to be a fight for my life. Too many things had come across wrong. I was an obvious failure as an infiltrator. “I’ve never seen anypony lose their cutiemark.”

“Lost…?” I muttered, confused by the implication. It was apparently precisely the right reaction. The older mare gave me a sad pat with a towel, drying me gently.

“I can only hope that your condition is temporary, but… if I had to guess, you’ve forgotten who you were so completely that you can’t even recall your special talent. I’ve heard stories about such things, filly tales around a campfire, but to see that it can actually happen… I swear, this caravan will do whatever we can to help you. I beg your forgiveness, I did not intentionally hide it from you. But after Matter saw, of course the entire caravan knows… that colt will be the death of me, I swear.”

Condition? Temporary? Forgotten? Well. I had forgotten many things, but they had never truly been mine to know. Or I’d never known them personally. But the implications… perhaps I could fit in here. This mare was a leader of some sort, and she seemed to be under the impression that my ‘dehydration’ had caused me to forget a great many more things. But then, there were a great many things I didn’t know. Perhaps this was a prime example to learn. I had a perfect excuse for any failings of common knowledge. The question was, I realized, not a matter of how to gain energy, but of not getting caught. I was a gatherer! For a hive of one. Which also made me the warrior, digger, nurse, harvester, and Qu- well. Perhaps not that. But I found myself in need of leadership and training, and a teacher had appeared. Well. Dug me out of a hole in the sand. All the same, a fortuitous beginning.

“And so, though the Lunar Princess protected her people from those creatures who would do them harm in the night, they rejected her. In her desire to be accepted, the night princess grew more and more active in her pursuits, chasing monsters from the very minds of ponies as they slept at night. Soon, Equestria was safe from all but a few of the creatures that would prey upon it, but the ponies still did not love her or her beautiful nights. Finally, when ponies’ fear of her exceeded that of the monsters she fought, they went to the Solar Princess, begging her to contain her sister, to control her. The night was too dark, even with the moon, and they wanted the sun to continue to shine, replace the night with a sunset. It was the final straw, and the Lunar Princess raged uncontrollably, shaking the land with her fury and betrayal. If the ponies would not love her night, she would force them to accept it, and the night would last fore-“

“I do not understand. The dark is for sleeping in. The princess was a warrior, she fought monsters; this is her duty. Should she not have been commended?”

Zaimare sighed, glancing me up and down again, but this story had prompted some half-dozen interruptions of similar nature. “It amazes me, young colt, that you cannot remember this story, and yet you can claim things like ‘duty’ as if it were common sense to anypony. The princesses have-had- great power. What once took many unicorns in concert, the sisters could do individually. Alicorns are capable of great power. Without restraint to match it, the Lunar Princess could become a monster far worse than any of the beasts she fought against. And… arguably, she tried to blot out the sun for an eternal night. There are many plants that bloom after the sun has left the sky, but few crops can survive. A simple thing, but important.”

The argument was disconcerting. These ponies were ruled by fickle, strange Princesses, or had been. One was driven mad by the lack of respect her charges had for her. But… one had to admit, if the hive were to stop loving the Queen, Order forbid, she might be driven to similar desperation. The other Princess driven to destroy her apparent equal for the good of those same charges. The truth of the matter was apparent. Alicorns are dangerous and worthy of fear. But what did that mean of changelings? We possess both wing and horn, after all. A topic best left alone, perhaps. A disguise as an alicorn would likely dissuade predators, but if there were only two, and now perhaps one, it would be nearly impossible to wear such a form and maintain a low profile. Besides, imitating royalty seemed… very un-dronelike. Inappropriate. I am to serve, not give orders.

The mare rebuked me with a hoof to the head, a light ‘pop’ to the top of my head that did not hurt but was hardly pleasant. “You’re wandering again.”

“I am still sitting right here.” I stated, flavoring my tone with annoyance, as I deemed appropriate. I did not like ponies tendency to spice the truth of things with hyperbole and odd phrasings. The number of terms for copulation astounds and worries me to this very day.

“Your mind is wandering, young colt. Honestly, so literal. Did you even hear the end of the tale? That the Lunar Princess was banished into the moon she had controlled?” I had offended her, clearly. Zaimare loved history, and claimed that it was tradition to pass it on orally. Since I had no traditions of my own, and had been too weak to stand, the older mare had taken it upon herself to keep me company while they waited for news from her not-nephew. I had not been unwilling to listen, as her pleasure at my rapt attention was far more palatable than her pity had been, though even irritation from her was better than that. I was not actively feeding on her, but passive feeding was enough to speed my healing.

Still… “Forgive me, Tradesmaster. I meant no disrespect. I only considered that I do not recognize your story. Perhaps there is less for me to remember than that?”

All ponies hear of this at some point.” She hesitated a moment, clearly uncomfortable. “Though… most ponies of Equestria seem to forget that Princess Luna wanted to make them safe, too. There were more monsters in the old days, if even half those stories are true. But… Nightmare Moon would have probably killed us all. But you can’t live in the sun all the time, and the princesses had to work together to defeat both Discord and King Sombra.” The names meant nothing to me. None of my people knew of this ‘Discord’ or ‘Sombra’, and Celestia herself was only little more than a name. A ‘king’ was a completely unheard of, though I understood it to be the masculine equivalent of a Queen. Celestia’s ‘banishment’ of her sister, which I strongly suspected was in fact Celestia ridding herself of a maddened near-equal in a more permanent fashion, meant little to me outside of that she was a pony who understood duty. Madness was uncommon amongst adult changelings, but hatchlings and those about to join with the Hive were different matters.

Some drones become too attached to their eggs, and hide them instead of presenting them to the Queen for inspection. It was natural, perhaps. Parents love their children, even changelings. The chance of the Queen shattering your egg made some drones act against the will of the Hive. And sometimes that went terribly, terribly wrong, costing many hatchlings instead of the few. So, the Queen’s duty was as close to sacrosanct as my people have. It is a thing that must be done.

“Well, if Wasta returns today, we’ll at least know if any friends were looking for you. If not, you’re welcome to travel with us. Perhaps something on our travels will jog your memory, and if trading is good, we may travel as far as Canterlot. Doctors there have treated almost everything.”

“Yes, Tradesmaster.”

“Zaimare, please. And I can’t call you ‘colt’ for the rest of the trip, now can I? Or layabout. Or ‘The pegasus with his head in the clouds’, though it’s accurate.”

“Those are exceptionally ineffective names.” I agreed easily. Lay about what? And of course most pegasi had their heads in the clouds, they were always flying about. Even if I never had experienced such a thing, the few clouds I’d seen looked far too poorly constructed, and I did not want my name to reflect such fragility. Though I was beginning to suspect when she was poking fun without opening myself to her emotions, I never could be too sure with these ponies. I needed a good name, a reasonable name for a digger. Something like… Earth Pony. Wait, that was awful. This was going to be more complicated than it had any right to be.

Author's Note:

Sorry for the delay between this chapter and the last, folks. Had some unfortunate family business that needed to be attended to. Writing again is making me feel better than not writing, so it's good to be back into it.

If you like what you see or have any questions, drop me a line!

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