• Published 9th Mar 2014
  • 34,975 Views, 7,352 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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Abridged Version

Apparently, the change of the day also brought with in the news that I would be temporarily relocating. It was tradition that new recruits not receive their first weeks of on-the-beat-training in the same place they would later patrol, I soon learned. It had something to do with not being seen as ‘too green’ to those we protected. I pointed out that none of us were green, and was quickly corrected that, whatever had gone on out in the forest, we had been tested and found worthy, but still needed a little experience of day to day guarding. Since none of us had expressed interest in Manehattan, that meant that the four of us were to be shipped off to exactly there, albeit only for a few weeks. Our armor would arrive before us, and when we returned or went to whatever permanent duty location we were assigned, we would be polished, prepared, and ready to impress.

I do not think the sergeant’s emphasis on the second syllable makes that ‘the three P’s’. And honestly, it bothered me immensely that the others did.

Topaz promised me that everything would be exactly as I left it in my ‘lair’. I appreciated the sentiment, and promised to bring her something from Manehattan, as I was led to believe was custom. She assured me that wasn’t necessary, also as was custom; this ensured a better gift. Somehow. The staunchness of her assurances, therefore, suggested that I must get her a very impressive gift indeed. She also gave me a small pouch of bits to pay for a dragonfire transmission when I arrived, and a large block of salt for the train ride, which I had not previously been aware was necessary.

I cautiously asked for permission to travel by hoof. Alas, it was denied, and I again ventured into the beast, fortified with salt. This made me drowsy, which in turn made me paranoid; I did not want to fall asleep in the infernal machine when it required such constant vigilance. I was relieved when the others seemed to naturally fall into shifts of wakefulness and various games to pass the time, with Wispy getting frustrated that the pieces on the boards kept shifting, which apparently ruined the game as she was about to win. I found this amazing, as she had perhaps three of her total pieces left on the board. Shining agreed that it was a shame that he hadn’t seen her amazing counter-strategy, which apparently involved throwing a piece at his head. Beating Bold and myself in succession seemed to greatly improve her mood, though Shining admitted my strategy had the advantage of being unique. Apparently moving every piece one move ahead at a time regardless of openings is unheard of. I would have to refine it.

Manehattan is not as… mountainous as Canterlot. By which I mean it both lacks a mountain and lacks the good marble construction of towers that appear as spires. I found myself immediately disappointed, but I supposed brick and mortar would suffice away from their Princesses. The barracks was reasonably cozy, I decided; instead of having a large open space with bunks as did our first barracks, it had small two-pony rooms. Shining and I were given a room, and Wispy and Bold both shared their own with other new recruits; apparently it was either improper or uncomfortable for unwed ponies of opposite gender to rack together.

Oddly, Shining seemed slightly disappointed that the first day of actual servitude in the guard consisted of almost exactly the same early morning exercises as before, excepting that those who were considered the 'most fit' were allowed to see to their own training; roughly a quarter of the pegasi and earth ponies in our assigned group fell into this category, and perhaps half as many unicorns. Of our little quartet, Shining, Bold, and I opted to join the most vigorous group because it would be beneficial to us. Wispy chose to do something called 'free running' that apparently involved a very spirited run across the various peaks of the city with her wings loosely bound. While this sounded odd to me, it was apparently not totally unheard of. Perhaps I would enjoy the experience, and I made a note to try it at some point.

The following training was a brief tour of the city, as led by one of the senior Guard. Our duties would consist of ‘a great deal of grunt work’, taking part in the various patrols of the city, and seeing how the old Guard dealt with trouble, which we had already been trained to do, as I understood it.

“Have to keep your eyes peeled, fillies and colts. This town never sleeps. Could be the crack of dawn or the stroke of midnight, and ponies are out and about, buying, selling, seeing theater or museums. And then there’s the bat ponies; Celestia knows pegasi can get in enough trouble when there’s light to see by. Bat pony gets all salted up and the only way anypony finds them before morning is one of our patrols, so keep those eyes roaming!”

Given that we were in the midst of what I believed to be the exact same lecture for the third time on the third day of this tour, which happened to coincide with our crossing of a suspended bridge (a horrible architecture that involves the use of very little material that is subject to the motion of wind and excessive travel. I disliked it immensely), I found that it settled my stomach to keep my vision focused on the ponies in the market below us, which was usually far more bustling than even Canterlot’s own. Too many ponies, I had decided, finding this place to be perhaps too full of emotion for my palate. It was almost suffocating. I’d initially found that I envied Wispy for being able to patrol above the crowds with her fellow pegasi, but she admitted that it mostly involved something with zoning restrictions and cloud homes being subtly shifted into more expensive neighborhoods, which was frowned upon.

So it was with some relief that my attention was drawn to a pony arguing with another very loudly at some sort of jewelry stand, and both were becoming clearly upset. Pony anger has always interested me; it rarely had decent cause for the most excessive expressions. However, I was quite certain something was amiss when the salespony turned away, only for the buyer to shove the necklace they had been discussing into a saddlebag and quickly trot away.

I hesitated, not wanting to directly draw attention to the scene which the others did not seem to have noticed, as one of the seniors would have surely already seen it. The pony was approaching us from beneath. I shifted, and realized that our senior guard was glaring at me even as he spoke.

“Sir,” I began, not wanting to interrupt as the new sergeant first class seemed to be telling a very important detail of an encounter with a griffin that was, again, larger than the day before and therefore evidence that a third griffin had assaulted him at some point. “If I may-”

“Celestia’s beard, Cadet, can it wait?”

I considered, trailing the pony who was still making impressive headway through the crowd and was very nearly underneath us. The keeper of the stall had meanwhile noticed the absence of their item and was looking increasingly upset. “I do not think so, sir.”

“Then go, be quick about it. You have five minutes.” I nodded, pleased that I was being given an opportunity to enforce the Law of Equestria, though the time constraint was troubling. I would have to make haste to the lower level. “The rest of you, take fi-” The last of his words were lost to me as I poked myself between the bands of the bridge and dropped out of hearing range, recalling too late that ponies seemed to find this disconcerting. As it was, my fall was ‘cushioned’ by the thief-pony in question, who had actually stopped to gawk when somepony nearby had noticed my approach.

Their shock allowed me to quickly wrap them in a hold that I had once managed to use on Bold himself for a period of almost a full ten seconds.

“The buck did you come from!?” they demanded, struggling in a way that was most unlikely to get them free. Training, it seemed, actually did assist one in these matters. Up close, it was clear the thief in question was a mare.

“I bring justice from above,” I announced, wanting her to be aware that I had been witness to the crime.

She stared, mounting horror on her features. Clearly, the realization that she had performed an illegal act had not fully occurred to her. This was good; I could scarcely believe a pony would purposefully do something knowing that it was morally and legally wrong, whatever the others suggested. It was almost unthinkable.

Thankfully, her struggles abated when two other guards separated us. The salespony was delighted at the return of her family heirloom, which had not been for sale and had been the cause for their earlier argument. The thief-pony said some very discourteous things that I will not repeat and claimed the necklace was hers. The lie displeased me and I believe my glare silenced any further outbursts.

Unfortunately, the process took considerably longer than five minutes, and I was ashamed to see my assigned squad hurrying down an alley to get to me.

“What the hay were you thinking, Cadet?!” the senior guard sputtered, looking as though I had done something out of the ordinary. This had been duty, clearly. “You jumped off a bridge!”

“Forgive me, sir. The time constraint given-”

The roar nearly set me back a step. “Buck the time constraint! You jumped off a bridge! We had to secure Shining Armor to keep him from bucking going after you! Are you insane!?” I noticed Shining Armor looked shamefaced at this, and I nodded my appreciation at him. He was indeed a very good friend, and true to his word. He seemed to brighten slightly at that.

“No sir. I had noted a crime, and you told me to go. It was the fastest way to the lower level.”

The senior sputtered, furious beyond words, though I could not reason why. Perhaps tackling a pony from a bridge was excessive force. Ponies were fragile in some ways, I understood. And not very good at landing. It was probably for the best that Shining hadn’t joined me; it was lower than our training climb had been, but not by much. The bridge was intended as a scenic view, and was clearly not meant for such a sudden departure by non-winged ponies.

“I have been said to be the beneficiary of some form of ‘feather fall’ spell,” I recalled; Topaz’s earlier claim, while untrue, could be truthfully repeated. It seemed to ease the senior officer’s mind, but he was clearly still upset. “I am not sure how such a thing works, but these drops do not concern me.” And, it allowed me to approach good sturdy ground more rapidly. I liked that very much.

He groused nonetheless. “Tirek’s teacups, lad, that would have been nice to know before you jumped off a Moon-cursed bridge.”

I was familiar with neither of those terms, so instead lowered my head as a show of deference. This seemed to finally appease him, and we continued on our trek around the city.

Apparently, I had made my first ‘collar’, which I would assume to be another term I had not been familiar with, and this was cause for visiting a bar for a ‘sensible’ amount of drinking. I was initially resistant, but this too was apparently ‘tradition’.

It seemed a lot of guard traditions involved alcohol. I was beginning to grow slightly concerned with the direction they seemed to be going.

However, my fears were unfounded. Only I was to drink more than I should during this event, and even then it was to be only to the limits of moderation, as was appropriate for celebration.

Princess Cadance’s arrival in a low bar made my mouth far more dry than any beverage, salted or alcoholic.

Not only should one so high never sully her hooves in such a place, but she was entirely without escort. More disturbing, she was wearing some form of disguise. Her appearance was completely wrong, and the magic surrounding her was… hard to explain. It was oddly disappointing, a glamour that changed her color to a rich dark green and altered her features only slightly, as well as hiding her wings… but smoke does not hide a volcano.

Except, apparently, this smoke did. Shining spoke to her and seemed to have absolutely no idea that it was she. That was intolerable; I would have to correct his misconception at the first opportunity. In fact, none of the ponies seemed to recognize her innate majesty. My horror at the unfolding scene led me to stare, unable to speak.

I could not even break eyes with her when she met my own and suddenly blushed, and I realized how horribly inappropriate that had appeared. Order, how was this to be fixed?

Shining politely returned a flirtatious comment, but soundly rebuffed any other invitations, which seemed to annoy her. I would have to make him aware of the disaster he was brewing posthaste, and I found myself following her when she left and took a seat elsewhere with a bit of displeasure on her face.

“Ah… excuse me, this is horribly forward of me-”

She blinked, then blushed deeply, looking away. “Oh, um… this is awkward. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a catch and all but I’ve… actually got my eyes on somepony already.”

“Princess, I-”

She spun so quickly she nearly knocked over a pony carrying drinks, and I could swear I saw a glimpse of pink wing as she did so, though whatever she had done to cover it quickly reasserted itself.

“Princess?! Where? Princess Celestia, here? That’s crazy! She’d never come here!” Princess Cadance laughed, her voice sounding just slightly off. “Surely you don’t mean me!”

Perhaps this was an implied order to use that name. “Er. Cady, I-”

At that moment, one of the Princesses of all Equestria shoved me into a corner. “Sh sh sh sh shhhhhh!” She looked frantically about to see that nobody had noticed us. Wispy had, damn the luck, but she nodded in approval and gave me a small salute. I was beginning to mistrust my friends' judgement at times. “Oh Harmony, how did you know? Does Shining know? Does he think I’m an idiot? Oh Harmony, I’m an idiot. I should have just told him it was me, now he thinks I’m spying on him or-”

N...no. I do not think he does,” I admitted, now completely lost. How could a Princess of Equestria be this… uncertain?

In a small, hopeful voice, she murmured. “He doesn’t…?”

“To my knowledge, he does not, Cada-”

“Emerald Glen,” She corrected, firmly. It was… suitable. Actually, it was a pretty good name, all things considered. Did all ponies find these names to be second nature?

“...Emerald Glen. He does not.”

“Oh thank goodness,” She looked at me, then sighed. “You’re going to tell him, aren’t you? Oh, this is such a disaster, I just wanted to surprise him and I thought it would be fun to flirt a bit and-”

“He did not realize it was you, and therefore turned you away.”

She looked embarrassed. “I wasn’t testing him or anything, I swear.”

I had no idea what she was talking about now, so I simply blinked.

“Okay, maybe a little, but I was going to tell him, I just didn’t expect him to be so firm about it. I was going to tell him in private.”

Ahh. This I understood. “Your honor is at stake. He holds your affection in so high a regard that he does not recognize those who would encroach upon your territory.”

She scrutinized my face, then met my eyes. Those she had left almost completely unchanged. Had Shining met those, he would surely have realized the truth. “You do not need to talk him up, Mr. Hooves.”

“Your ma-Emerald, it is true, and I swear it. After the traditional drinking before our induction, he was truly intoxicated to the point where he told another mare her dress was appealing. Then he was nearly inconsolable with the idea that you would be displeased with him for noticing even that much.”

Cadance-Emerald blinked. “Well of course I don’t want him to be blind. That’s not healthy for a relationship.” Still, she looked significantly more cheerful. “He is a good stallion.”

“One of the best,” I agreed.

“If I don’t tell him I came to see him, are you going to?”

“He has sent you a dragonfire letter every day since our arrival,” I noted. Those, I had found, were prohibitively expensive. A letter was a single bit; dragonfire was fifteen. The price one paid for instant communication, I supposed, but still extravagant. “It would please him greatly to see you.”

Now she winced. “I… haven’t been at the castle to receive them. I didn’t know he’d be sending anything dragonfire. Do… do you know what they said?”

“Reading another pony’s mail is a felony, your… Glenness.”

That near slip seemed to amuse her. “Alright, alright. Look. Do… you happen to think I could get into your barracks? I could tell him there. In private.”

I considered. That seemed reasonable. “We are the corner room. Number one-zero-eight. I believe we are allowed to have visitors.”

“Alright… yes, yes, I think this will work. So… please don’t tell him until I get a chance to?”

“Er. Yes, ma’am.”

Returning to my companions had never felt so awkward. Wispy seemed amused by my ‘nova’ ways. I was finding Manehattan to be a very complex place.

Author's Note:

Sorry folks, been traveling for the last month and a half. I've already started on the next chapter, though!

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