• 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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A Broken Clock

I didn't mind being assigned the watch as night fell, most nights. Some were more disconcerting than others, but I found that I preferred the time when both predator and prey seemed most likely to overlap. The dead of night, however, belonged to the night guard alone.

"Hey, Hooves! C'mere!"

I sighed, bracing myself. The... night guard tended to leave me particularly uncomfortable. I wasn't alone in that feeling, I knew, but most ponies just found the bat-winged thestrals to be unusual.

I found them borderline predatory. The few unicorns in the night guard also tended to be a little odd, but who was I to judge?

"New filly has a challenge for you. The New Moon thinks you Sunshiners can't handle it."

Sunshiners, Soldats, Dayknights, there were so many casual nicknames bandied about between our groups. Nightknights, Lunbats, and Moonshiners were the Night Guard's variation, but the last led to some confusion and fell out of use years prior. I sighed, looking from one batpony to the next. "And the challenge?" I queried, glancing from one fanged mouth to another.

A smaller batpony tensed. Obviously the new filly mentioned. The 'New Moon' in thestral parlance, and would be until she made a true nickname for herself or established her real name worthy of respect to her peers. "...They say you can handle anything."

"That is the duty of a guard, yes." I agreed, cautiously.

"You're the go-to day guy," she verified, growing more bold.

"As are we all, should the need arise." There was chuckling all around as a few of the other day guards ambled over, interested by the prospect of a new game. The rivalry between the Day and Night guard tended to be a little extreme, but amongst those who routinely took dusk or dawn-watch, it usually amounted to little more than friendly competition. A wager here and there.

She yanked something round and spiky out of her saddlebag, and the batponies went silent. "I bet you can't." Arguments erupted in their number instantly.

A male thestral with a cutie mark of a half-moon quickly held up a hoof for silence. "Challenge withdrawn. Nevermind."

"Oh come on!" The challenger cried out. "That's not fair, Moontrotter, you told me I had to come up with something!" A few of the day guard also joined in her protest, though for different reasons.

"It's just a fruit!" One yelled, disappointed. A few others grumbled and put coin bags away.

"Durians don't count."

"Why not?!" The smaller batpony was clearly deeply affronted by the unfairness of all this. I found myself eyeing the new fruit with interest.

"Can't do it. Doesn't even know what he's in for."

"...You're challenging me. To eat a fruit."

"Yeah, I am!"

"No, she's not." Moontrotter immediately disagreed.

"Challenge accepted."

"Not if everyone else doesn't agree! You are not prepared! This is a batpony thing, some pegasi like it but I've never known a unicorn who can handle it. It's... it's a thing."

A few of the day guard cheered their approval. One or two of the older guard saw the fruit and began to flee the room. That... was ominous.

Moontrotter hesitated, but rolled his wings and addressed the crowd. "...Alright. Alright! You want it, you got it! The challenge! Is three. FULL. BITES!"

One of the older guard stopped, shocked. Shook his head, came over, and patted me on the shoulder. "Celestia save you, son. You'll be remembered." Then followed his compatriots. I was already regretting this.

Mothchaser snorted. "Ten bits says he does it." She grinned, showing both dimples and fangs. "Make me some money, Hoovsie."

"Please do not call me 'Hoovsie'."

"Win me these bits and I'll think about it." She teased with a wink.

And then Moontrotter cracked the fruit open on the table. It smelled like the hydra. I stared, shocked.

More than a couple of the day guard retched. A few drew back, and one met my eyes and just shook his head, clearly wishing to free me of this obligation.

Ponies were strange, I thought. Food was food. And so, I scraped a hoof into the soft fruit innards and took a large bite.

It was soft, almost creamy, and had a faint taste of decay. Perhaps mango. And raw egg?

"...I love it." I admitted, amazed.

And then I cleaned out the rest of the fruit, to the weak cheers of my fellow day guard and more rowdy calls from those of the night.

The thestrals weren't so bad after all, I decided.

Which was good, as most of the day guard couldn't stand my presence for the rest of the shift.

Not all nights were so exciting, however. Most nights, I simply watched the Princess's room, and occasionally fulfilled minor requests.

"Guardspony, would you please return this to the librarian and ask her not to involve Twilight in any more of her little 'pranks' again?"

Hesitantly, I took the floating book from her with my own magic, cautiously checking the title. "The Ponisutra, your highness?"

"That would be the one. Not appropriate bedtime material. And you may inform her that she did, in fact, 'get me again'." The unusually red-faced princess admitted, closing the door behind her.

Having nothing better to do with this guard post, and aware that a bit of light reading could restore wakefulness, I opened to a random page.

Tilted my head.

"...The Royal Scissors...?" An interesting label for the diagram, to be sure. But I could not help but be aware that no reproduction was likely to take place in this particular pairing. Doubtless this book was not educational enough for the princess's perusal. I would indeed talk to the librarian about her choice of recommendations for Twilight the Younger.

Topaz flopped over the armrest of the single large couch we typically reserved for guests. "I'm only saying, I've taken almost all the available courses. I just don't know that I want to just do research all my life. Ponies don't understand insects, and so many of them just don't want to." Topaz groused, face down in the cushions. A number of conversations had occurred over the years through this medium, and difficult though it was, I was becoming surprisingly fluent.

"If you don't want to just do research, then what do you want?"

"I want to change things! Make ponies more aware. Show them the ways insects can be more helpful! So they aren't just 'icky bugs'."

"I believe I would appreciate that as well." I considered. The guards had a saying, I tried to recall it... Those who cannot do... teach? "...Could you not become a teacher?"

Topaz's head lifted from her cushion. "...me. A teacher."

"I see no reason why you couldn't. Ponies don't know. Why not resolve that?"

Topaz seemed to be rolling that about in her head. "... I don't really know that there would be that much of a calling for it... but if we get Honey Dew involved to include some beekeeping lectures... it might have potential. Ponies could actually try something other than 'call a pestpony' when there's trouble... Yeah, that's not a bad idea!"

"I have many good ideas."

"Uh huh. What's up with the spiky things in the cupboard?"

"Oh, you have to try some!"

Mothchaser assured me that these were at 'peak freshness', and I could hardly wait to share in this bounty. Topaz was some pegasus, after all.

"How dare you!?" Roared the white stallion in a fury. "Call me a... a..." He floundered, and I had to wonder if he'd already forgotten.

"A patoot, sir. I did not mean to claim that you were one, only that I had been informed of your status as such, claimed by another." Clearly he knew what the term meant. It had bothered me for years, and I simply had to ask.

What concerned me was that none of the emotions I felt from this pony seemed genuine.

"I should have you hauled up on charges regardless!" He blustered. In fact... he seemed... amused?

"I do not think you will, Prince Blueblood." I disagreed with a small bow. "In fact, in all the time I have served, you never have. You never follow through on your more outrageous claims unless they are sure to be crushed in open court."

He fumed for a few more minutes, eyeing me up and down... then smirked when I didn't respond. "I don't believe it. One of you actually does pay attention. And, to play it up, you know damned well I can't go to court and claim one of the guards called me a patoot. Schoolyard insult. Damn well played, if a little roughly."


"Soldier, I'm going to give you a few brief tips on the fine arts of... political misdirection and shaming."

A not-pony sat on the steps of the royal palace. The problem was not that the individual wasn't a pony, but that the sheer amount of misery he was expounding was enough that I had no doubt even most of the ponies could feel it.

"Bit for your thoughts, friend."

"Keep the change." The donkey grumbled. "It's not worth it for a run-down jack like me. I give up. I've gone from one end of Equestria to the other and back here again, and I just... can't. I give up."

"This sounds like a story." A grunt in response. "I have time." I confessed. As I've said, emotional well-being should be considered.

And so I got his story. A gala years before. A jenny. A dream. Loss. And the decision to follow her, find her, tell her everything. And throughout all of it, under the misery I could feel the fading embers of love, sweet and bitter in a way I was not familiar with, but could hardly stand to see destroyed. I pondered, trying gingerly to push my own emotional stores into this donkey. If Princess Cadance were present, she would do a much better job, but she and Shining were on a diplomatic mission to Prance. Somepony had to do something, I knew, but... apparently that pony was not to be me.

"Sounds like you've had one hell of a journey, old-timer." I continued shoving the emotion against him. It could be done for my own kind. Surely somehow it could be done for ponies; we drew from them after all.

"Journey's over. I'm tired." He sighed, and those embers faded just a little more under the weight of sorrow.

"Tired." I scoffed. "If you can walk, you can travel. But if she isn't worth it-"

"Not worth it?" Anger pushed at the cloud, almost enough to stoke the embers... and then merged with my offered emotion. "She's worth it if it takes me another ten years! Twenty!"

Suddenly faced by a roaring bonfire of emotion, I realized that directing it away from the anger I'd stoked and back towards love might save me another purpled eye, if not worse. "Then for the sake of love, Cranky Donkey, you go out there and you chase that ass!" I pointed to the horizon, and his eyes snapped to it.

"Yeah! I will!" The jack surged to his hooves, hesitating only a moment. "You know, that's kind of our word and- oh, nevermind. Matilda, I'm coming!"

I let out a sigh of relief. That could have turned out poorly. I turned, schooling myself, and met the staring faces of my fellow guards. "...What?"

I stood before her royal highness, unsure of what I had done wrong but shamed that I would waste her time so nonetheless. Perhaps I had been too informal with Princess Cadance too often in her presence. If so, I would accept the punishment; there was no other way to obey conflicting orders. If anything, it was a relief to finally have this addressed.

"Private Idol Hooves. May I just call you Idol?"

And we were already dispensing with formalities. I wailed internally, but nodded, as was proper and polite to allow the princess to do. "Of course, your highness."

"How long have you served with the Royal Guard?"

"Nine years, two hundred twenty seven days, four hours and-"

"And in all that time, how many days have you taken off?"

I blinked. Considered. Two to three days per week, as scheduled... but then I felt a moment of dread. "I... fear I do not know, your highness. I obey the schedule as it is given. If I have not been serving satisfactorily..."

"It's honestly very surprising that you can't answer... given that, in all the time you've served me, you've never taken a single personal day. Outside of one incident with a hydra where you tried to use your days off to recover from a venom burn."

Ohhhh, those! I bowed low. "My apologies, your highness. I misunderstood." I stood straight, feeling a bit of pride, though it was soured that I had been instead given 'medical leave'. "That is correct. I have never used a personal day."

"That's a problem, Idol."

Oh Order take it all. "Your highness? How... how would that be a problem?"

Celestia sighed, sitting back in her throne. "Because personal days are extremely important. And in all honesty, the guard has never had to deal with somepony not willing to use them here or there. You, on the other hoof, are up to..." She checked a report in front of her and her eye twitched. Oh dear. "Fifteen days per year. Ten years. Idol, you could spend roughly half the year not serving and still receive a paycheck."

"I would never do such a thing, your majesty." I assured her quickly. It would not do for her to think I intended to explore such laziness...!

"Well, you had better. If you do not use at least twenty of these days off by the next Hearth's Warming, I intend to see to it that you are put on extended leave."

I blanched internally. "Your majesty, I cannot simply abandon my duties..."

Celestia nodded, regal as always. "A fair point. Then let me consider..." She tapped her chin. "If you do not use at least two of those days each month... I will have your rank increased to corporal that very month."

This time I may have blanched externally. "That... your majesty, I have turned down all offers of rank. Those more deserving than I should-"

"You set an example already, Private Hooves. The rank of corporal is almost equal to that of sergeant, and will be transitioned into such swiftly, I'm sure. Regardless, this is not an offer of rank. This is an order. You have served your time, proven your worth, and you are not to languish under-utilized on the bottom of the guard ranks. You will accept the next rank advancement when offered."

"Your highness overestimates my worthiness." I admitted, lowering my eyes. I felt a hoof under my chin and lifted them to meet her sparkling ones, which I dared only for a moment before averting my own ever so slightly.

"This is how we become better ponies. By facing adversity. I do not know and will not pry into why you fear to be raised to a position of leadership, but you are well-liked, respected, and have served diligently for years. The only complaints I have ever heard are that you set an unreasonable expectation for work ethic... and are perhaps a little overzealous about obeying your orders, but even I can attest to the former. And so can other observers, who have taken to your example. Or used it as such."

"Your highness?"

"My apprentice."

Ah. I needn't have even asked. The precocious little filly had, at some point, grown into a dedicated young mare. Too dedicated, some of the guard had joked, though I had always treated such jokes with the disdain deserved.

"Twilight is going to go far in this world, I can practically feel it, Idol. But no matter how beautiful the sapling, all ash looks the same. She cannot be allowed to burn out. So, I am ordering you to take at very least the day of the Summer Sun Celebration off. And I would like it very much if you made a bit of a show of taking the day off. She is also on break, and knowing her, she's using it to work."

"Perhaps young Spike will distract her?"

"I love Twilight dearly, as I am sure all of you do as well. Have you ever known the... Royal Messenger to be deterred? She explicitly used your example, which led me to realize there were two ponies in need of correction. Though truthfully, I expected to review your record and prove her wrong. A decade without missed work or sick days may be an accomplishment, but your allotted time off is expected to be paid and used accordingly. You are throwing off future budgets if you do not use your days in a timely fashion," came the gentle admonishment.

Betrayal by well meaning praise. Only a pony could accomplish such a task. And once again, finance managed to befuddle me. A flash of green flame made me jump. It never failed; it was too close to the green of changeling magic. The message burned into existence before the princess, and she sighed fondly before reading it. "Case in point. Guardspony, please, take the rest of the day off. I shall inform your commanders and make it known that none of my guard is to work themselves to exhaustion. You may be needed in the days to come."

I saluted, then saw myself to the door, properly shamed. I had not realized that taking the appropriate amount of time off was also part of my duties. I would correct myself forthwith.

"-simply must stop reading those dusty old books!"

The offended noise from the neighboring tower could only have come from the royal protege's room.

I was not surprised to find her at the base of said tower, looking shocked. I nodded a greeting, and she jolted aware. "Guardspony Hooves, are you busy? This is important."

"I... am taking the day off." I announced, as per Princess Celestia's orders. The words felt like ash.

"Excellent, this should only take... a few hours, at most!"

I slumped in relief. It was good to know that somepony understood me. I followed her, hoping to avoid as much 'free time' as I could if it meant I could be doing important work.

"So the evidence is clear! Nightmare Moon is coming back!"


"It's been a thousand years. That's an important number in magical terms."

I nodded. "Makes sense."

"The stars are moving in strange patterns." She pointed to the sky, where... well, the sun was up. Still... maybe the stars had looked a bit strange the night before...

"Stars, strange patterns, truth."

"And Princess Celestia refuses to talk about it."

"A troublesome subject, I'm sure." Twilight hadn't even broached the fact that Nightmare Moon was apparently Celestia's own sister. Likely in the interest of saving time.

"And there was a prophecy, which is a legitimate source of knowledge about future events."

"Of course, which is why they're logged."


"Maybe they're all just coincidences."

Twilight's face hit the table. I cautiously steadied her teacup.

"Coincidences happen every day." I argued. "If it were truly a concern, the Princess would be acting on it."

"That's what I told her, but she doesn't listen!" Came Spike's voice from a nearby shelf. The not-exactly-baby-dragon was rearranging several tomes from the protege's personal library. I considered briefly that Twilight herself might expect too much from the young dragon; it was not the duty of the youngest to labor. Perhaps this was why the princess had been so insistent that I be seen 'relaxing'; not only was I setting a bad example for my fellow guard, I set unrealistic expectations for servants with those who would emulate the princess. I made a note to force myself to relax very hard indeed and slumped in my chair just slightly. A fine start, though it felt awkward.

"Twilight, allow me to reassure you. The Princess has insisted that I take the day of the Summer Sun Celebration off. If that does not tell you of her confidence, I imagine nothing will."

Twilight groaned. Being fluent in pony faceplant, I had to admit that her heart was in the right place. If one needed to disobey one set of orders to obey those to protect one's charges, such a thing simply had to be done and punishment accepted. It was accepted fact: ponies were flawed, and so could their orders be. And that is why there is Law.

"Yes, yes. I am certain she would not send you to Ponyville without just cause. If she wants you to oversee preparations, it must be important." Another grunt, but this one was just a grunt. "I'm sure it will be fine. Beyond all that, what would you do if Nightmare Moon were to return?"

Twilight looked up at me and gaped. "M...me? I don't know."

"Then you are not prepared, regardless." I stood, stretching. "Enjoy the rest of your break, young Twilight. Lest they become mandatory."

I rubbed my chin, staring at the moon in consternation. It should be day, I was almost certain of it. Topaz's clock might be wrong, I supposed. Still... I had promised to take the day off. It was still night.

Therefore it was completely justified that I put on my armor and report to work, I decided.

The frightened crowd was a bother, but hardly worthy of that much trouble. Cries for the sun to raise, demands for the princess to explain herself, fear because the Mare in the Moon was gone- well. Twilight might have been on to something. She was a very smart mare, so I was hardly surprised.

"Everyone, please calm down. The Princess surely has a reason for the sun not to rise. I am sure everything is fine."

"What, is she taking the day off?!" Someone from the crowd roared, clearly upset.

I blinked, weighing the possibility. The Princess never had been a hypocrite... "She may very well be! When is the last time any of you knew her to take a personal day?"

The crowd stopped. A few muttered. "Sun's risen every day for a thousand years without fail!"

"That is correct. One thousand years without a single day off. I believe we can all agree not to mention it if the princess decides to sleep in just one time in all that?"

A few of the ponies looked embarrassed. One actually had the wherewithal to look properly shamed. Another chose a different emotion, and I met his eyes directly. "But what about my flowers?! They're dead because she isn't raising the sun on time!"

"Sir, if I come to your home and your flowers are not withered husks, I shall haul you before her majesty to defend your slander."

"...They're not quite dead," he admitted, trying to blend back into the crowd.

I sighed. If there were somepony in Equestria having a more vexing not-day than I was, I thought, I should very much like to meet them.

Author's Note:

Sorry for the extra-long delay folks! November/December was a pretty busy time at work and I had to do a lot of travelling, and I wasn't entirely certain how I wanted to do this time skipping business. Think I came to a decent solution.

10 points for first people who name the refs!

Ack! Forgot to link new art!


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