• 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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The Kin of a Skiller

It was good to be back in Canterlot.

Topaz had made a fuss about getting me a better gift after I had to dispose of her prior attempt, and I became incredibly concerned. This matter of escalating gift-giving was a contest I could not hope to win. Assuring her that her gift was accepted and in the proper spirit seemed to only raise her concerns. And then led her to question how I had disposed of it.

‘Internally’ was apparently not the answer she hoped for, as she turned almost as green as her mane and had to excuse herself and return with a bottle of mouthwash, which she ensured I tasted vigorously and often but did not drink.

It begins to concern me that ponies have so many things to taste that you eventually spit out. Fine wine. Gum. Mouthwash. I have heard discussion of other things, so I assume this is fearfully common.

Afterwards, I treated myself to the usage of Topaz’s bathtub and my own bedding. It seems exceptionally striking to me how, though a bath is just water and soap... using your own as opposed to one shared is an exceptionally refreshing experience. The cocoon is simply the best sleeping arrangement possible; pony beds, sheets, and blankets are an inferior substitute. Topaz assures me that thunderpedic clouds are without doubt the best things a pony can sleep on, but I continue to be skeptical. Still, Topaz and I had set up a small rough bed in the corner of the original room I had been assigned; I maintained it dutifully and was quite pleased that I could bounce a bit off of it, as had been shown during one inspection. The cocoon we had wisely decided to place in the underground cavern that I had broken into and then sealed off externally. Hiding the entrance was something I continued to experiment with; I tried to explain to Topaz the mechanisms of the pony structure in the mountains, but we both accepted that we knew nothing of their construction. Eventually, we had decided that a tapestry on the wall would serve as an acceptable means of concealing the entrance.

My clay stockpile was doing well in the warm humid environment, and I may have begun to shape a likeness of Boulder out of simple amusement. Topaz would enjoy hearing about a fellow academic that I had found in Maud, I figured, and I would need a visual representation of the pet rock; it was such an odd part of the story, I felt it could not be overstated.

This is not to say there were no issues with my return; I found that I had a few concerns. Now that I was a full fledged guardpony, we were expected to keep our living quarters clean and tidy. Topaz’s house was... well, not, really. It was mostly a matter of dust and clutter, as Topaz tended to bounce from one insect-related study to another and her papers tended to be strewn about. Apparently, in my absence, she had opted for forgoing attempts at organization short of small piles. The concept was deeply troubling; I lived there, but it was Topaz’s home. Moving her things seemed inappropriate. And yet such things would be required of me. Surely there existed some compromise.

Our integration with the rest of the Canterlot Guard was... somewhat disconcerting. Though I cannot argue with their polish, there seemed to be less saluting and standing at attention than I had expected. If anything, the general atmosphere seemed a bit lax.

The food quality, however, was much improved to our usual fare, though Topaz had clearly spoiled me. As it turned out, our basic fare came from the castle chef who would also serve her majesty. Princess Celestia found the idea of a personal chef ludicrous and required any who came to serve her be capable of seeing to the needs of palace staff as well as her own glorious self. I approved of this to some extent; her majesty should be able to pick of the finest meals available; if only one was prepared explicitly for her, she would not have the luxury of choice.

Shining opined that this mindset was probably a little too worshipful. I condemned his heresy and we shared a chuckle. Mine was only slightly forced. Shining is a good stallion, after all, even if he is heretical. Though his worship of Cadance was more profound... perhaps leeway was justified.

I was surprised to learn that we would have rooms for as long as we were members of Canterlot guard by decree of Princess Celestia herself; apparently during some disaster or other, a number of her guards found themselves with little more than the issued tents and cots for themselves and their families. She had deemed this to be absolutely unacceptable; for so long as the castle stood and she had ponies willing to put their lives on the line to defend Canterlot, they would always have a solid roof over their heads.

The general consensus among the guard was that the Princess was always exceptionally kind and tolerant, even when such things were... potentially unwarranted, as was often the case with courtly matters. The guard was ‘officially’ above such matters, but it was not unreasonable for us to show extreme deference to the Princess as a means of rebuke to those who seemed incapable of such humility. Our day to day lives were to be part of the scenery, patrolling and protecting but otherwise interfering with the lives of other ponies as little as possible. As the palace was filled with things of beauty, gold and marble alike, we were, by extension, just part of it. I quite liked this; it was very changeling. We hid in plain sight by being beneath notice.

Within a week, I had already grown quite accustomed to the system. I found that ‘pony watching’, as some of the others called it, was a fascinating hobby. This one thinks she’s the most important pony in the room. This one worries his fashion sense is suspect; he’s the only one wearing green today and keeps looking about for someone else in similar attire. This one has written a ballad for the princess and is deeply concerned that her efforts will not be enough; she’s repeating lines to herself and changing the wording at will, scribbling out alterations as they come. These foals are here because today they could either be learning from a book or learning by seeing and they chose the latter with manic glee; keeping these with their groups was... interesting, but broke up what could otherwise be a rather placid patrol or guard posting.

I still don’t know how the one colt got onto the chandelier. If he were a pegasus or even a unicorn, I could at least hazard a guess. He claimed he fell. If any being could manage to fall upwards, I decided, it would be a pony. His teacher seemed to agree with the sentiment with a sort of muted resignation.

Nonetheless, the warmth and love flowing from the Princess seemed to energize the entirety of the palace with a sort of comfort, calm, and awe. To my understanding, there was very little trouble in the castle, and only slightly more in the city itself.

As such, the sudden influx of misery and shame I felt from one of the spare council rooms during one such patrol was both unusual and highly concerning. I cannot blame the others for not noticing; room checks are done on a case by case basis. Seeing to the well-being of her majesty’s subjects, however, was part of the duty of the royal guard. None had ever specified ‘emotional well-being’ but by the same token it had not been explicitly denied either, and thus I felt justified in including it for this matter.

The source of the sorrow was not immediately evident, but with the door opened, one could hear the faint sniffles of someone trying very hard to stop being sad. Not being a changeling, they were doing a poor job of it, and a faint hiccup escaped from underneath a table. Cautiously, I lifted the ornate tablecloth to discover a small purple filly clutching what seemed to be a day planner and trying to muffle her tears into a... rag...pony... thing. I scowled; I had heard tales of tour groups accidentally losing a foal or two to various mischief, but this one had clearly been misplaced. The little one, through some sense of another’s presence or simple bad timing, looked up at this moment and gave a little squeak, hiding herself behind the planner and... I assumed it was a doll, but quite honestly it disturbed me. Perhaps some sort of protective totem. I schooled my features; she seemed troubled enough and it would not do to worsen her situation.

“Begging your pardon, little miss. Are you lost?”

She sniffled, looking up at me again over the planner. “I... I think so. I’m s’sposed to meet Princess Celestia here an hour after dawn, and I can’t find her... she’s gonna think I’m a bad student and tell me to go away...” Here she buried her face in the doll-monstrosity. “S’only my first day...!”

An unlikely story, but not an uncommon one. Just about every lost foal claimed they were trying to meet the Princess, to my understanding. Some actually were, but I had never heard of one claiming to be summoned- and then I recalled that Shining Armor’s sibling had been made the Princess’s personal student and had been utterly delighted by the prospect. Shining had mentioned her name several times... Smart... Sparkle? I thought it was her, at least, comparing her coloration to one of Shining’s mementos. I have no idea how ponies can use photographs for identification; they are emotionally dead. Might as well chisel your likeness into rock.

“I see. Well, let us get you to that meeting. I would have thought your parents-”

“I wanted to get here all by myself.” She murmured, burying her snout in her hooves again. “I woke up extra early. So they wouldn’t have to help me.”

And... that likely meant ‘before her parents’. This was going to be... interesting. Still! I could not fault her work ethic. I gave her a small smile. “We shall have to ensure they know where you are, then. I am surprised you were not escorted to the Princess by one of us.”

“There... There were a bunch of foals coming in with a group, and I just followed them until I found this room. But... she never came. D... did I do something wrong?”

I suppressed a sigh. Apparently the idea of counting children didn’t occur to ponies. Perhaps that was a changeling thing. “Not... exactly, no. Somepony should have noticed you were not with the group. Come along, we’ll see where your benefactor has gotten to.” I stood back to full height, letting the tablecloth drop back into place.

“’m not s’posed to go anywhere with strangers.” Came the tiny response.

Ah. That was probably a teaching of her parents. Though I could not imagine anyone intentionally hurting a foal, this was apparently a wise teaching all the same. I poked my head back under the table, finding it easier to reason with her when I did not feel as though I were addressing a piece of covered furniture. “I am not a stranger. I am a friend of your brother’s. Shining Armor is my roommate, in fact. My name is Idol Hooves.”

She blinked, skeptical. “I thought you were supposed to be scarier.”

Now it was my turn to blink. And feel a bit of combined offense and pride. “Shining Armor told you I was scary?” Smarty Pants! That was it, I was almost certain.

“He says you’re scary good at being a statue.”

And now I felt immensely deflated. “Did he now.”

“Uh huh.”

I rolled my eyes a bit, but nodded grudgingly. “He is probably correct, at that. Well! Now we know one another, how about I show Smarty Pants to the Princess?”

She started as though shocked that I actually knew her name. She looked at her dollstrosity and gave a hesitant nod. “I... think that’s okay? She’d like that, thank you.” And with that, she rubbed her face and surreptitiously her nose on the doll, dried her eyes, and then got to her tiny hooves. “We’re ready.”

Now I was concerned that I had Shining’s eldest younger sibling speaking in third person, as I understood that to be something of an annoyance to most. With any luck, such a thing wasn’t habit forming. Still... her nervous smile was adorable, and hope sprang from deep within her. I would have to ensure I did not allow either cause to wither.

Lifting the tablecloth for her, I allowed the filly and her apparent protector to precede me to the large doorway to judge her pace, and from then I led her through the palace, making careful note to return to my patrol as soon as I was able.

We found Princess Celestia in extended court, and I immediately felt sympathy for the monarch restored. A number of the nobility, I had found, were exceptionally certain of their own importance regardless of any evidence to the contrary. One had even attempted to walk through guards who were protecting Princess Celestia’s private luncheon from unwanted intruders. After disabusing her of the notion that she was always welcome anywhere in the palace, we dusted her off and sent her to the great hall to wait properly. I found Lady Highbrow to be most polite after that, if skittish. Still, I did not have to deal with them on a personal level, and I found that entirely to my satisfaction. After all, if they were so far above me in social caste, it would not be proper.

That some were unquestionably rude to the princesses, however, made me seethe. How dare they? Schooling myself was ever the challenge; I did not wish to upset Ms. Pants more than necessary. And again, it was not my place to judge them, though judge them I did all the same. Most unprofessional of me.

Celestia stood, imperious as ever, and finally told them that the decision had been made. “Forgive me, my little ponies, but we have discussed this to the point where there is nothing more to be said. The crown will continue to purchase produce and preserves as we have always done. If any of you wish to contribute to the common good or distribute your own efforts, by all means, I support that wholeheartedly. But there will be no more discussion of ‘appropriating’ farmland for use of the crown, regardless of whether it was initially granted by said crown.”

There was grumbling, there was always grumbling, but grudging acceptance as well. For that I had to give them some credit; they might hiss and spit like angry larvae, but at least they obeyed. I maintained composure and a neutral expression as the nobles filed out past us in a disorganized mob of rank, waiting for Princess Celestia to formally acknowledge myself and my charge- I blinked, looking for the little pony, but she had hid behind me, clearly embarrassed. A warm smile from the princess quickly coaxed her out, and I felt the introduction was in order.

“Announcing Lady Smarty Pants, your Highness.” I offered, not entirely certain of the terminology. “And companion.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow at that, a hint of bemusement to the smile. “Smarty Pants, is it?” She raised a hoof to the doll gently, as if greeting a foreign dignitary. “How do you do?”

The filly giggled, delighted, but then cleared her throat. “I’m... I’m sorry I was late-”

“Why Twilight, whatever-” Now it was Celestia’s turn to blink, and I went still. Twilight? Then who was Smarty Pants? Order, was I a fool? “Oh... I am terribly sorry, Twilight. I’m afraid I was quite caught up with...” She made a vague motion to the door the petitioners had gone through. “I hope you weren’t waiting long?”

“N-no! Only a little while.” She beamed, clearly so pleased that the princess was not disappointed with her that she was almost bouncing.

“Well then, we have some catching up to do. Would you like to join me for a late breakfast?”

“Would I?! I... I mean ‘yes’. Yes I would.” Twilight stated, very properly. I found I quite liked this little filly. A good strong sense of decorum.

“And you, Guardspony?” The princess deigned to favor me with that warm smile, and I felt my chest swell. I had expected years before I met with her approval in this task, regardless of previous interaction or what others had said. I would have to strive to be worthy of it. Vaguely, I wondered if that was how Shining started... no, I decided. His aspirations were far different than my own.

“I must return to my duties, your highness.” I admitted with what I hoped was a good bow. It was a poor grovel, but she had explained once that she did not care for such and it would not do for her to tell me twice. “Enjoy your breakfast. Miss Twilight, Miss Pants.” I gave a careful nod to both the purple filly and grey totem. If the Princess was going to treat it with caution, I would certainly do no less. Twilight gave a cheerful wave, a faint purple outline surrounding the hoof of her doll to make it do likewise, and then her attention was focused entirely on the princess. Good, she had a firm grasp of priority as well. I quite approved of her.

I liked reassuring her surprisingly frantic parents approximately an hour later considerably less. They had apparently upended their home, perhaps literally, and scoured every inch of Canterlot up to the palace and were initially informed that Twilight was ‘not here’. Thankfully I arrived just in time to hear the inaccuracy and correct it; the verification seemed to restore sanity to them. They seemed amused and relieved by my further assurances that Smarty Pants was with her and that the Princess was currently overseeing both breakfast and tutelage. I wondered if they were so overprotective of Shining in his youth but I somehow doubted it; Shining’s defensive abilities likely made the little harms that befall the young utterly impotent. I could scarcely imagine how they would handle the knowledge that their son was reaching so far above his station... then again, they might already know and approve of his relationship goals.

I promised to let Shining know his sister was on site at first opportunity, and also to keep an eye on their youngest offspring.

A hiccup of green flame erupted from a bundle on Velvet’s back. I did not jump, but I may have damaged the mortar of several floor tiles in my zeal not to do so. The fabric-clad bundle began to squirm and fret with a hiss that would do a changeling larva proud.

“Second youngest, now.” Twilight the Elder cooed to the fussing baby dragon. “It’s alright, Spike, it’s alright~”

Night Light gave a chuckle of his own as he rubbed the back of his head. “Never thought I’d be raising another son. Never expected him to have scales and set my coffee table on fire either, but who can predict the future, right?”

“Does... he do that often?” I had to admit, he seemed to have taken to said dragon hatchling rather well.

“The fire or the coffee table? Because... the two coincide more often than you’d think. I think it spooks him.”

“And I think the furniture polish makes him think he’s supposed to set it on fire. Instinctually.”

“Dear, none of the books the princess sent make any mention of baby dragons incinerating coffee tables out of instinct. With or without mahogany-scented oils.”

Velvet rolled her eyes as she unstrapped her bundle and drew a bottle that seemed to be filled with a thick slurry of shiny substance. The baby dragon latched onto it with predatory hunger, but his growls and hisses continued even as he drank. “He’s just fussing because he misses his big sister, isn’t he?” She nuzzled the frilled form affectionately. A glow surrounded the feeding reptile as his adoptive mother began rocking him in mid-air, humming softly. The noise began to die down almost immediately and within half a minute, the little fellow was back to sleep and perched again on his mother’s back.

“Wish I could do that...” Night groused, good-naturedly but with some real jealousy. “Your magic must be closer to Twilight’s.” He lightly reached in to tuck the blanket back under the drowsing dragon’s chin.

Spike latched onto his hoof. With his teeth.

Night Light held very still, save for the sharp inhale and the muffled scream in a closed mouth.

“He’s got you again, doesn’t he?” Came the tired question, Velvet not even looking back.

Mr. Light's voice was closer to a whimper. “Mmhmm.”

“We have got to get him past this ‘biting’ phase. I will not have my son wearing a muzzle.” Velvet proclaimed. “I still think it’s your aftershave. If you’ll excuse us, Mister Hooves, my husband and I need to make another trip to the doctor. Honestly, Nightie, he’s never bit the rest of us, even when I brush his fangs-”

Could be teething-!” I heard faintly from the blue stallion. I watched them go with amazement. A very odd, but charming family. And both children chasing a princess, but in their own ways. And a dragon; I vaguely recalled them having some interaction with princesses in some story or other. I’m sure young Spike would follow in their hoofsteps.

I also had also deigned not to mention that one of Shining and Princess Cadance’s discussions had involved wearing a muzzle, but I was reasonably sure neither of them bit one another. I considered, then decided it was none of my business, and that I wasn’t entirely sure about the biting thing regardless. Who really knows, with ponies?

From my dealings with Shining I understood that Twilight Sparkle was obliviously precocious and eager to please, but Harmony help anyone who stood between her and knowledge. Being trampled by a tiny overzealous bookworm seemed an adorable end, if somewhat ignominious.

All that was good to know, I soon discovered, as the Princess’s Purple Protege (now code-named ‘Three P’ which only managed to annoy me further now that there were two things related to three of the letter to remember, one of which was nonsensical) became a permanent fixture. She was ever polite, eager to please, and unwaveringly loyal to the Princess. Her only foible became apparent when she learned to levitate books in front of her as she read; this led to a number of bumps, bruised noses, and startled personal students until we learned to gently nudge her along the proper path and around those paying even less attention to their surroundings. As Twilight was actively seeking to better herself and was, in general, adorable about doing so, the guard tended to be a little more tolerant of her than most.

She was also far less likely to curse those who interrupted her than the Princess’s previous apprentice, whom had disappeared not long before my enlistment after some heated words. I could not imagine the Princess becoming so upset, and could hardly believe that any would speak harshly to her besides. I had to agree that Twilight Sparkle seemed like a far easier student to work with. Initially, Shining Armor received teasing that his little sister would soon be ordering us about, but he pointed out he wouldn’t be surprised if she was helping run the country in six months.

In the meantime, she became an impromptu messaging service amongst the guard; simply attach a note to the outside of her book and it would be surreptitiously removed at her destination, usually without her even being aware of its presence. It became both tradition and enormous in-game to see how many notes the ‘royal messaging service’ would attain in a day. It also served as a means of ensuring the little filly got where she was going without forcing her to use an escort within the castle, though her trips to and from it were generally undertaken with her elder brother or parents.

Most often, however, her schedule and Shining’s only briefly coincided. In truth, even Shining and I only shared shifts once or twice in a week, though this was apparently to make us better roommates; his section of the room was usually unoccupied while I was preparing or resting between shifts, and mine likewise when he was. This turned out to be agreeable; Shining and I decorated our split room as we saw fit, and felt no real need to install any sort of divider as some did. This meant we were able to share usage of a plush chair and desk. Truthfully I rarely had any sort of paperwork to do, but Shining, for all his teasing of his sister, was... if not as studious, at least more so than I. While Twilight sought inspiration and the greater secrets of magic, Shining studied leadership and tactics. The former came naturally to him, though the latter he claimed educational assistance by ‘tabletop games’. He suggested I join him sometime; ever seeking self-improvement, of course I accepted. He approved of this effort and seemed elated.

Shining’s side of the room became a personal shrine to the Royal Guard. A number of books traversed from his parents home to his ‘study’, ranging from ancient military history to Zebrican battle strategies. My own side consisted of mostly my equipment, polished to perfection, and a few shelves that I chose to store the Queen’s crystals on. While no longer radiant enough to be used as light sources for most ponies, it seemed the constant influx of love from both princesses kept them at a comfortable glow. Shining found them to be fascinating even if he didn’t know precisely what they were, and we ended up setting extras around the room in various places as ‘Feng Shui’ which I’m reasonably sure is some other language for ‘clutter’. But I had to admit, it did make the room feel exceptionally comfortable, which nopony can really complain about.

I thought myself very content.

Author's Note:

As always, comments are an artist's food pellets.

Some art!
Idol Hooves by Irusu courtesy of ToastyTop! Thanks again to both of you!

I won't apologize for that title. :P

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