• 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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Tone Deaf

I could not fully understand why Princess Cadance seemed so disappointed.

"Your landpony."

"Yes. We have an arrangement. I am able to use excess room and-"

"I'm aware what a landpony is, Idol. Which is why I'm surprised you're so worried about getting her a gift."

"Because... that... is a thing... ponies do?" I asked, feeling a little foolish. "Isn't it?"

She peered at me, as if trying to gauge that I would dare to mock her. "...Hmm. Shiny's right, you do have a very strange way of looking at things. You saw right through an expert disguise-" Here I nearly laughed at her jest, choking it back only when I realized she believed herself to be serious, "-and yet you're a little off on other things. A landpony is someone you pay, Idol. You don't... generally get them gifts. I mean, you do pay her, right?" She prodded, apparently verifying my understanding of the situation.

"We have an arrangement, yes." I nodded. Truthfully, Topaz provided for all of my financial planning, as far as I knew. Checks were a complicated business that I wasn't sure I understood, but it involved not making paper bounce. Having never accomplished such a feat in the first place, I was uncertain if I was doing something terribly wrong or quite correct.

The princess's skepticism about our 'arrangement' made me concerned. Did she worry that I was not paying Topaz the correct amount of bits? Was I paying a reasonable rate? Heyyu's rent had been excessive, I thought; was I instead being undercharged? I felt a hint of panic. That would have to be rectified, obviously. Her gift would need to be fine indeed to make up for my earlier failings.

I wondered if explaining that I had promised Topaz my body would enable her to understand our situation. Oddly, I felt that it would only muddle the issue further. Besides, it would not do to have the princess believing that Topaz Showers did business trading cadavers.

Though now that I thought about it, she sort of did. Put them on display no less. But that seemed to be an... entomologist thing. It would be rude to draw attention to it.

"I... did not know much about Canterlot." I admitted slowly. "And beyond that, she is my friend, I would like to show her appreciation for her help. In truth, she is the main reason I came to Canterlot. I had no other ideas as to where I should go, and thanks to her assistance, I am now part of the Royal Guard. It is... important that it is a good gift." I explained, though it felt as though the explanation was lacking entirely.

"Ahhh." The pink princess agreed with a knowing look. "Well! There's always the standard travel gifts. You know, souvenirs; magnets, mugs, mats. But I'm feeling you want something a little more elaborate." I nodded quickly. These were things I had seen and been disappointed by. Not to mention the general feeling of betrayal that came from the apples in Manehattan.

I chewed thoughtfully, listlessly. Incredibly disappointing. Still, I gave the staring shopkeeper the bit he had requested and put the awful fruit down before him with a shake of my head.

Local produce was hardly nutritious at all. And it certainly did not make me feel love towards Manehattan, whatever had been drawn upon it. Truthfully, I cannot imagine how anypony would enjoy them in the first place.

All in all, Solid Oak Paperweight apples were a terrible gift and far too wordy of a species, I decided. A simple Red Delicious was far juicier. And resulted in less splinters. It was a wonder anypony in Manehattan could eat at all.

The shopkeeper continued to stare as I left, and I later found that he had changed his career. I was happy for him; I could not imagine there was much future in his produce.

"-Which isn't to say a bit of jewelry doesn't make a decent souvenir, it just isn't my thing, personally. And you can always go with flowers. You can say practically anything with the right bouquet. You can express gratitude, affection... everything from 'I can't live without you' to 'you are a great friend'."

"...or, 'are you hungry?', I imagine." It was really the only thing I could think flowers would say.

"Well..." Cadance tilted her head from side to side, weighing that before giving a slow nod of acceptance. "I mean, if they're her favorite flavor, it's always a good choice. But then you have to make sure you're presenting them as a snack. I like yellow roses, but I certainly don't want Shiny giving me any publicly. Some of the meanings there are pretty unpleasant, and even the better ones don't work well for ponies in a relationship."

"And what does it mean if I give somepony red roses?" I'd seen ponies doing that, at least. I had not paid much attention to other flowers.

"Obviously, that you're thorny." She stated with a little wink. I stared, unsure how to respond to that; she might have simply had something in her eye. She wilted slightly before continuing. "More romantic than friendly, actually. But honestly, flowers probably wouldn't even make a good souvenir; they usually don't last. Much better as something you plan for in advance or get on short notice." She considered thoughtfully. "A small piece of costume jewelry might work. If it isn't too gaudy, it could send the right message, be a souvenir, and leave things open for another gift. Plus, usually the top ponies from the incoming Guard in Canterlot get stuck with Gala duty, representing the Royal Guard. You could take her as your plus one. You know. As a friend." She gave me a winning smile that seemed exceptionally predatory and I was tempted to mistrust. Still, her highness had given me many ideas. That would be another to keep in mind.

Beyond that she was one of my Princesses, and that she was far above me in all things, I found myself quite liking Princess Cadance, and she seemed pleased with my company as well. I will not deny that her entire demeanor changed when Shining Armor finally arrived, and our ease with one another seemed to please him to an extraordinary level. We chatted briefly, but the lovers clearly wished to make the most of their time away from the public eye, and so I excused myself on the guise of souvenir shopping.

There truly is no place like home, I decided, marveling at the simple truth. Manehattan is a wonderful place, as anyone can attest, but it is no Canterlot. No building of brick and mortar will ever match the majesty and translucence of marble. Truly, I thought, only the hive's resin could compare. Nothing quite says 'safety' like black and blue with just a touch of bioluminescence. Still, I found myself trotting eagerly through the city with hardly a thought towards the appreciation of the beauty around me. I found that I truly wanted to know if I had chosen well. After I had ceased being near-bursting with love, I had begun to worry my gift was, in fact, too elaborate. Perhaps gift-buying after dealing with Shining Armor and Princess Cadance was not, in fact, entirely wise.

"Well, well, hello stranger!" The familiar form of Topaz Showers called moments after I made the final turn to her home. For a moment, I felt instant concern; had she forgotten me?

Then I scoffed. Topaz, forgetting an insect. Impossible. I swelled at her brief hug, enjoying the warmth and affection as she led me indoors, then quickly proffered the gift which had been impressively wrapped by the jeweler. He had suggested a velvet box, but anypony knows that gifts come in a package with wrapping and a bow. I found the ribbon far more appealing than the twine I recalled in various other packaging, and decided it had been bits well spent.

"Idooool, I told you that you didn't have to get me anything!" She was, however, immensely pleased, and I found that I was as well; I had cracked this particular pony puzzle. "Should I open it now?"

I frowned, suddenly concerned. Was there a sense of timing to these? Had I broken some sequence? I nodded hopefully, and she continued. Another test passed, and the ribbon and paper, expertly binding the small box, were torn aside by golden wingtips.

"Well thank you and-" She froze, and I tensed. "Oh wow, Idol..." Gingerly, she lifted the necklace out of the confines, admiring the jewels. "Idol this is beautiful...!" She tore her gaze away, quickly lowering it. "No, no... no, Idol. I can't accept that, it must have cost you a fortune!"

"Is that relevant?" I blinked, staring at the gift. Price was a factor in such things? Oh dear. Did that make this gift expensive, but in the future, or did it count as multiple gifts over the course of the next two years?

Both, I decided. And neither. I could be irrational too. It was one gift with a growing price, but not one that I had paid upfront. "It was not cheap, but I have paid for it. I did not possess a fortune, and therefore it did not cost one." That it might cost a fortune in the long-term was absolutely irrelevant. It hardly even mattered; I had little else to spend bits on beside food, lodging, and ensuring I could pay my tab for guard-related drinking events. The last might prove a challenge, I feared.

She glared, but as I am capable of reading emotion, her wavering was plain. "...If you're sure it wasn't too expensive..." Delicately, she lifted it again. "Where did you find something like this?" She prodded gently at the delicate red wings. "Who even makes ladybugs out of... oh Harmony, it's a ladybug made of topaz, isn't it?" She seemed more amused than affronted; Princess Cadance had been proven correct again. I vowed never to question the mare.

I couldn't help but explain cheerfully. "I felt it was practically made for you."

She gave a good natured snort, then lowered her head. "I, um... got you something as well. To celebrate your first arrest."

I blinked. "That is not-"

"Oh no, Bugster, you got me something after I specifically told you not to, and now you don't get a choice. Those are the rules."

I would have protested, but that sort of circular gift-giving sounded precisely 'pony', and since Topaz was a pony, I could hardly fault her for it.

She rushed downstairs, coming up again with her glasses lightly fogged. "Now... I've been thinking; we had a bit of a problem with your diet. And we've been covering for it with eggs and things, but really that only goes so far. Soooo I decided to take a bit of a trip and got you something I think you're going to like." She deposited a wax-covered box on the table before me. Though less festive, I did note with some disappointment that hers was larger than my own had been. "Now, I've kept it in your room, because... well, the griffin said best way to store it is in a cool dry place for a week or so to age, and the cellar where you stay was that, and..." She frowned, then lifted her glasses, peering at me. "...It's surpringly humid down there."

I poked the box, curiosity beginning to get the better of me. I could smell... something. "I have been adjusting and sealing my room. I prefer warmth and humidity, and it makes it easier to work the clay."

"Oh... I wasn't really paying attention, but it's a hydra chop, hydra live in swamps, I'm sure it's fine-" Her voice took on a nervous edge, and she broke the box open and lifted the lid... then gagged, dropping the lid and fleeing the room as the only partially desiccated meat slab became visible and the associated smells filled the room like no bouquet or aroma ever could.

I was transfixed. A single, long breath through my nostrils told me everything, tears coming to my eyes.

It was perfect. I had no idea that griffins enjoyed treating meat in such a fashion, and truly; changelings rarely had the opportunity to partake. Prey rarely had time to 'age' before it was consumed by the hive, but a single mouthful told me all I needed to know. Such a thing would have been brought only to the queen herself; delicate, without so much as a hint of chewiness, practically melting pure flavor into my unworthy mouth. I could hardly contain my delight; savoring this instead of consuming it and licking the box clean was taking every ounce of self control.

Self-control I found that I did not possess, getting the last bits of hydra out of the box. A sigh of contentment escaped me as I lounged back from the table, drunk on fine griffish dining and wondering where Topaz had gone. Her necklace was not fine enough a gift by half. A third, even.

I would have to do better.

Author's Note:

Sorry folks, writer's block had me down and out for a while. This chapter was a bit of trouble, because it's one of the last intended chapters before the timeskip. There's just so much I want to do and write that I'm honestly struggling to figure out what I can and can't put!

That said, I think I have enough plotted out to get to the timeskip. A few chapters might be short, but hopefully sweet.

Comments are an author's food pellets, leave 'em if you got 'em!

Edit: Ahhh! Almost forgot a bit of potential future-y what-if type art from Carnifex, featuring Idol and Topaz


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