• 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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Tail as Old as Thyme

I pushed on, the my limbs alternating between stinging pain and deadened numbness, a single tatter of fabric all that stood between my body and the elements.

How could it be so wrong? Where was the sun, to drive this horror away? Was the Princess weakened, hurt? Ill?

Wards were placed. They inevitably failed, and the encroaching doom continued to find ways past even the most stalwart defenders. I was powerless against the might of this foe, but I had no time for bitter tears. Duty remained, even amongst this misery, this constant gnawing as both food and water were stripped from pony reach by uncaring hooves.

Even the grass was gone. No flowers bloomed. Darkness grew with each passing day. I began to wonder if I would ever know warmth again. I slammed the door of the small room, and began the laborious task of sealing it off from the outside world.

"You know," Shining said, "You might have a seasonal disorder. I bucking love winter." He idly flipped a page of his military history book, looking up from where he resided on his bed in full armor. "...And I'm leaving for patrol in five minutes. I'm just going to open it again."

I continued shoving a towel under the door. Shining was mad, of course, but I knew that. I had been horrified when he had been assaulted by foals with balls of this sky detritus, but he'd laughed and attacked them in turn, scooping perfect spheres and returning them. He claimed by the end of winter, the guards would have secretly constructed small forts around outposts for use of these missiles for purposes of amusement, and they and the children would wage a small war upon one another that would probably end with someone being reprimanded and children being ordered to apologize for throwing snowballs at guards.

Both sides would politely agree never to do it again, and eagerly await the next winter, where the players might change but the battle never would.

The fact that he still expected the world to exist after this hellish cold gave me pause. Perhaps hoping for warmer days to return was the only way to survive? I still had trouble believing this was in any way a natural event; pegasi positioned the clouds so as not to allow too much of the cold white deathpowder to fall upon us, but I still maintained that it should be taken out of the city.

Shining claimed it was important, and perhaps he was right. It was good for ponies to understand that there must be lean times as well as times of plenty.

He was absolutely right about one thing. As soon as I finished weatherproofing the door, he finished his chapter. Unfortunately, he almost ran headlong into a pony as soon as he opened the door, which meant it had to be open longer, damn the luck.

"I am here to see Idol Hooves." A mare's voice came. Though the voice wasn't familiar, I certainly recognized the tone.

"Ah. I am Idol Hooves. Shining, if you please?"

The stallion gave me a look of frank amazement as he left, though he also seemed vaguely displeased as he did so. I would have to see why my callers always made him so uncomfortable. I motioned the mare in, then carefully placed a leg garment on the latch.

"It will ensure we are not interrupted." I explained to her confused look.

"...That it... probably will." She admitted cautiously. She was looking about, determining escape routes... and then her eyes fell upon my collection of crystals and her shock became plain.

"It is some pony tradition. But I do not think that is why you are here." I drolled.

"I still cannot believe you collected so much... the others have mentioned that you have a reserve, but..."

"Please, take your fill."

She gaped at me, and I frowned. "I...I could not!"

"Of course you can. The crystals are full. If you will not feed yourself now, I will accept drained stones in trade for full."

"...You are mad." She whispered, and I scoffed.

"I am well fed. Surely the others have told you...?"

"I have been... outside of the hive for years now. I have never seen so much..." I marveled at the revelation as she trailed off... and then, as if she simply couldn't resist anymore, she drew upon the stones.

It was always a wonder to watch. As if glowing mist was pulled from the glittering crystals, rendering most of them almost completely dark, to swirl around her and finally flow into her mouth and where I could only assume the porous parts of her changeling form would be in a multitude of vortexes.

She staggered, and I assisted. "Never... never so much... how?" She looked at me with hope and fear. "Did the Queen send you for us...?"

"...no. I am also banished."

She did not wince, but the hope faded. "I... have five crystals. Can you... can you fill them?"

"It shall be done. And if you wish to keep any of them here, so they may allow others to regain strength..."

She nodded, and I smiled reassuringly. Not the first. Not the last. I would help my people.

I sighed, exploring one of Topaz's closets in search of something to, if not organize her mess, at least contain it. This entire situation was beginning to grate on me; it would be rude to touch all of her things... and yet as a guardspony, I was expected to present a certain orderly existence. Minor organization, I reasoned, did not fall into the purview of rudeness, as I was only protecting her studies from inadvertent harm.

And then, in the back of a walk-in closet, I made the discovery that would resolve all of my problems.

It was so simple.

It was so elegant.

And best of all, it was not rudeness, but the height of propriety and class. I could finally resolve Topaz's mess!

Finally, I thought, with utmost relief, as I began sweeping dust away clad with the uniform most befitting of the task. If it was good enough for Celestia, it could not be beneath Topaz. It was with almost palpable joy that I was able to brush away dust, remove clutter, and begin organizing her notes. I had discovered the loophole that I was sure no-pony could argue with. It may have taken hours, but I was quite confident that I had made great leaps to the service of order and cleanliness on Topaz's behalf. Even I could not help but smile at my work, so pleased was I with my efforts.

I heard chattering from the other side of the door moments before it opened, and I turned my smile towards Topaz and Honeydew as they entered, and was warmed by their shock at the scent and sight of Topaz's freshly renewed home.

Then I realized they were staring at me.

Honey broke the silence. "...Well now." She tilted her head, as if seeing me in a new light. It was the uniform, I decided. She broke into a slow, wide grin.

Topaz seemed almost horrified. But I was sure this was acceptable. She let out a soft wheezing noise, and I worried that she might need a drink.

Honey's grin broadened as I bustled over. It was slightly more difficult than I had always expected. The uniform was rather bulky, but still, that seemed a flaw in the design. "I didn't know you were into that. Didn't even know the two of you were into..." She motioned with a hoof, "...this." She tilted her head, rubbing her chin with the same hoof. "...I didn't know I was into this. Colts in maid outfits. Yeah, that... that might be the exception to the rules."

"Please wipe your hooves. I've been cleaning all day." I informed both of them, considering Honey's words. I had seen maids in the castle... but, I realized with growing shock, I could not recall seeing any stallions in the uniform. Was this a gendered position? I had been quite certain ponies didn't have those...

Topaz finally sputtered to life. "T-Take that off!" Her face practically glowed, and she seemed... embarrassed? Order, I had misread this situation. I endeavored to swiftly comply.

"No, no... slower." Honey chided. I blinked, but slowed down. Apparently she did not wish me to risk damaging the garments. Frilly things did seem to be more expensive...

"Honey! Out!" Topaz commanded, trying to take control of the situation.

"Oh come on! At least get a picture, he is rocking that!" Her friend whined, even as Topaz laid both forehooves on her to escort her out the door. "You look great, Idol, don't let anypony tell you different!" The door slammed, and Topaz put her head against it. From outside, I heard "Why the buck are you walking with Wane if you're coming home to that?" Topaz responded by pounding once on the door, face redder still.

"Have... I misjudged?" I tentatively questioned.

Topaz began laughing near hysterically. It was so infectious I could not help but join her.

After a vigorous series of explanations of both my logic and how I had fit into an outfit she had 'purely for personal use', which I did not pretend to understand and she did not deign to explain, we set about creating a 'chores list' that would include such permissions as 'can clean up any mess in a manner the choreholder sees fitting' we seemed to have come to a great understanding. Topaz did, however, make sure to establish that when it was my turn to do dishes, I would always use soap. Unreasonable, but again, this was a pony thing and the purpose of the agreement was to maintain a clean domicile. I would accept the terms as stated.

A more important matter had come up afterwards, and now Topaz flustered.

I am not entirely sure it can be used in that form. She was flustered, but did she fluster? The term seemed unfamiliar.

Regardless, fluster she did.

"Hearthswarming Ball? That isn't even a thing! I thought you were making a joke! The Gala is the ball, Hearthswarming is a pageant!"

"True, however the Gala was cancelled this year due to..." I hesitated. The memory of an orange tidal wave of cheese and flat-bread discs sent a shiver down my spine even now. The princess's apprentice had been seeking to assist the cooks at the time, and had very nearly been carried from castle grounds on a flatbread raft. Chef Sous Vide's experimenting with self-heating food had proven as disastrous as it was delicious once again, but even I could only eat so much cheddar. A number of castle inhabitants had begun to dread even the color. "...Reasons. Regardless, tickets were already sold. It is considered one of Equestria's foremost charity fundraisers; both the pageant and the ball may be attended if one intends to see both. And this year I am required to attend. And I distinctly recall you speaking about the gala once."

She scuffed a hoof on the floor sheepishly. "Well. Yeah. I mean, budget concerns are always a thing, and the Gala has always been considered a phenomenal place to beg for money in high society."

"That sounds... " I trailed off, trying to determine what it sounded like.

"Very mercenary? Bean-countery? Avaricious?"

"Yyyyyes, those things." I accepted, relieved that ponies did have terms for this.

"Research costs money, and that means knowledge isn't cheap. And then we distribute it for free, which makes it even more expensive."

"I have long since given up understanding economics, Topaz." I stated sternly. "It is pony madness."

She snorted, but the argument dropped as she reached for another tack. "I won't even know anypony there."

"You'll know me. And you have met Shining."

"True. Will this Cady of his be there? I've been dying to meet her. Someone to talk shop with while I hobnob? If she's going, I'll go." She bartered.

"That seems reasonable," I agreed, seeing that Cadance was expected at every formal function. She had actually been excited by the prospect of seeing Shining in one, but I expected she could not spend the entire night focused on him.

Beyond all of that, this was not so onerous a task, I felt. Many guardsponies sought to avoid the Gala in its entirety, and the replacement 'Hearthswarming Ball' was being looked towards with only slightly less trepidation.

"So... do I need anything fancy?"

"I believe 'nice' will suffice."

"Idol." Topaz growled. "This is fancy."

I considered escape over a railing. Or under a table. She had chosen a somewhat secluded table in a corner, and my options for flight were considerably lessened. "Perhaps we should have clarified the difference?"

"Fancy requires a gown. This is a dress."

I blinked. "...Perhaps... we should clarify the difference?"

Topaz sighed. "Idol, this is only slightly more than I usually wear." She murmured, plucking at her two-tone green dress. "Even you're better dressed than me." She pouted at my golden plate armor.

"...You're usually naked. Do glasses count as clothing?" I eyed her outfit, and then that of other ponies of higher wealth or standing. "...Is... is there a difference?"

"Of course there is!" She whined, putting her snout on the table. "..look at everypony! Do I look like I belong here?"

I considered carefully, looking from her to the others and back again. "Yes."

Topaz gave a snort at that and looked up at me. "Huh. You're actually getting better at lying."

Shining's arrival saved her from my affront.

"Heyyy, Ms. Topaz. I... didn't know you and Idol were still... uh... yeah." He seemed oddly uncomfortable, which was most unusual. His dress armor was polished to the same golden mirror-like shine as my own, and I had to admit, it made for a striking appearance. I considered roughening my appearance; when Cadance arrived, it would not do for the princess's chosen mate to be comparable to a lesser. Ponies would talk.

Order, maybe I was beginning to understand fashion and high society. I shuddered.

Topaz, already self-conscious to an unreasonable degree, seemed more than a little put off by his uncertainty. "It's... good to see you, Shining Armor. I'm to understand I'll finally be introduced to that marefriend of yours tonight."

And then Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, in a gown as elegant as anything I had ever seen with color flowing from a matching pink of her body to the purple of her wingtips, flopped over his back. "There you are! I don't know how auntie does it, Shiny~! My forelegs are numb to the knee. How many hoofshakes can you even give in a night?"

"Cady, people are going to stare...!" Shining murmured, likely as embarrassed as Topaz had been. I schooled myself. He had a duty to provide support, after all.

Topaz went absolutely rigid. "Pri-... Cad-" She stammered, eyes widening as she jerked them from me, to the princess, to Shining, to the princess, to me, and finally back to the princess. "-Cady is Princess Cadance?!?" She then covered her face with her hooves and slammed both hooves and face down on the table in what was perhaps an aborted attempt at a bow.

Cadance looked up, surprised. I doubted she'd even truly noticed us, as was her right. Then her face blossomed into a smile more joyous than I'd ever before received from her as she rolled off her beau in a single graceful twist. "You didn't tell her?"

"You... told me to call you Cady. So I did. In private."

"I thought it was short for Cadydid!" Topaz wailed into her hooves, mortified. Princess Cadance chortled at that, looking even more delighted.

"You call me Cady, in private, to your friends, but I have to fight with you every time to convince you to do it to my face," came her mirthful cajolations. I had to clarify this.

"I have never fought with the princess!" I assured Topaz. "She is a dear friend and I would never incite violence upon her. I simply cannot bring myself to be rude out of habit!" Cadance burst into peals of laughter as I tried to salvage Topaz's sanity.

Cadance pounded a hoof on a table. "Wait, wait, I've seen you before." Topaz looked up, dread in her eyes. "I had no idea you were dating Idol. I thought you were with that pest pony who blew up one of Auntie's trees."

Topaz numbly seemed to mouth the word 'Auntie'. "Oh... oh! Uh... yes, yes. I... I was. Am. Sort of. It's... complicated?"

Now it was Shining's turn to blink, and he looked from me to Topaz and back again, as if he couldn't tell which of us to be appalled at, though I could hardly guess why he would be upset with me.

Cadance did the same, though dawning comprehension turned to absolute delight. "Oh... my... Faust. You're swingers!" Came her gleeful whisper.

Topaz's mouth fell open.

Personally, I felt that the night was going wonderfully.

Author's Note:

Hey guys, sorry for the huge delay. Work stuff, as always, has been brutal.

Comments are an author's food pellets!

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