• 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 Clock Strikes Moon

Dealing with the crowds was no small task. An hour after what should have been dawn was concern. By noon, however, it approached pandemonium. The Guard discussed martial law, and Shining Armor (Lieutenant Shining Armor, I reminded myself firmly) argued that citizens should be advised to remain in their homes until the princess resolved matters with the sun, but that ordering them to do so would only turn the pandemonium into panic. Even the older leadership agreed with this assessment, and I was quite proud to see that he was growing into a worthy mate for the princess. Worthier, I suppose. Maybe I should start pushing him towards that-No, no, Princess Cadance and Shining Armor could work that out themselves. Order, I was picking up on the princess's habits. Soon I'd start making her goods-transportation charts.

Of course, some ponies refused to be advised of anything, and an ever-growing number began to fill the courtyards as the not-day wore on. Princess Cadance, it seemed, was trying and largely failing to move the moon or sun; if she managed to adjust one of the heavenly bodies, the other seemed to follow it. The closest she could accomplish would be an eternal eclipse, which would probably do more to frighten ponies than reassure them. Worse, touching the sun left her nearly grieving, though she swore there was neither exhaustion nor pain involved, apparently just an unmentioned side effect of the spell.

Still, it was both relief and concern when the sun popped into the sky quite without warning and settled into a reasonable position. At first, ponies worried that it was simply going to fly off into... wherever, the sky, I supposed, and Cadance was able to reassure them that both heavenly bodies had resumed their proper places, and that everything would be fine. I had intended to doff my armor immediately, but so many ponies continued to require reassurance. The thestrals had tried to establish that things would be fine, even without the sun, but their efforts had proven... less appreciated. Mothchaser had a blackened eye from a panicky young colt who apparently mistook her for Nightmare Moon, and had in fact called the rest of the overworked Night Guard 'an army of Nightmare Moons.'

One would think ponies would be able to keep their own legends straight. How could there be multiple Nightmare Moons if there was only one moon? I digress. Most of the thestrals set about returning to their homes, but with Mothchaser's injury, she claimed she'd prefer not to worry her family by showing up with a swollen eye and instead asked my assistance with getting her to the bat-pony barracks, which... I realized I had never actually seen.

Assisting Mothchaser to her quarters led to a great deal of stumbling, and eventually I had to resort to her softly murmured directions; their barracks was, to my great shock, below ours, in one mostly sealed-off section of the caverns beneath Canterlot, accessible through a secret door in one of the walls. More concerning, the passageways were almost completely black, even to my own eyes. She took strange pleasure through her pain as she whispered directions to me, and I soon found myself in a rather spacious room she had claimed all for herself. She offered to let me stay until someone else came to see me out, but I promised that I could retrace my steps without fail; she should focus on rest.

It pleases me that she was disappointed. I could understand; surely she expected that I would eventually be talked into allowing her to return to work, but I was confident rest was all she sorely needed. Thankfully she had not been concussed, and seemed entirely aware beyond her minor injuries and being briefly dazed at the strike.

Unfortunately, when I exited, I strolled almost right into the Princess's procession. I blinked rapidly at the bright light, bowing low. "Your Highness."

Celestia's words were cheerful, but I had known her long enough to recognize tension in her voice. "Idol Hooves, to what do I owe the pleasure? Have you been working?"

"Only until the sun came up, your Highness," I responded. "It is my day off."

"Your... day... off." She repeated, flatly. "Your day, as in the time between dawn and dusk, or your day, as in the twenty four hours designated as the Summer Sun Celebration?"

I hesitated. "...The... former, your Majesty?"

She brightened. "Well then, Corporal Idol Hooves, you've missed the introduction of my dear sister Luna, returned to us after so many years." She beckoned to her side, and I blinked, taking in the small blue alicorn beside her. Purpleish, maybe? I still hadn't adjusted to the light.

I bowed again. "Your Highness, it is a true honor. I apologize for missing your introduction, I swear it will not happen again. I will serve more faithfully in the future." The smaller alicorn blinked, staring at me as if I'd grown a second horn. Something stuck in my head, and I winced, looking towards Princess Celestia. "...Corporal, your Highness?" Perhaps this course of action could still be reversed.

"Let it never be said I don't carry out my promises. And as I understand it, you've earned it." Warmth radiated from Celestia, though for the life of me I could not guess why.

Her smaller sister (and she was significantly smaller... Celestia's nutritionist was likely to have an aneurysm) smiled nervously, as if seeking approval. I saluted sharply, realized I was supposed to be off duty, and decided that the damage was already done, and that if anything, I had just confirmed my acceptance of my new position. So be it, there was more to report. "If I may be so bold, your Highness, the Night Guard should be commended for going above and beyond their duty. They did not call off their shifts until the sun arose, and most were forced to seek shelter immediately. I fear they will have also been absent for the return of Princess Luna."

"Night Guard?"

I almost didn't hear the voice, and I certainly did not expect something so timid from the sister of Celestia who had so terrified the populace in her day.

"Yes, your Majesty. The Night Guard protects ponies during the night so they may rest, while the Day Guard handles most affairs throughout the day. I tend to pull both. I enjoy the contrast."

Whatever I said was clearly wrong and I regretted it instantly when the smaller alicorn's eyes shimmered. "Ponies... want to experience the night...?"

An alabaster wing stretched over Princess Luna protectively. "Much has changed in your absence, dear sister. Ponies realized soon after your absence how much you did to defend them, and hastened to establish a force to ensure that they could continue to keep their families safe. And, interestingly enough, it's led them to be less afraid of the night."

Luna surreptitiously wiped her eyes in her own wing, but nodded. "You will have to explain when the royal guard stopped being merely a position of honor..." She seemed to stumble slightly, but that was absurd. Goddesses did not stumble. Her wings stretched and she tried to hold back a yawn.

Celestia smiled, though this seemed a bit forced. Luna did not seem to catch it. "Other matters, but that can all wait. I've tried to keep your room as you left it, but... I also felt you would have liked certain parts of it to be updated. Come, sister. You should rest. You have been gone so many years... it will be more than one afternoon for you to see it all."

"You may have a point, Celestia. I do seem to be out of sorts. All feels... Surreal. 'Tis like a dream yet unmade..."

A pony oddity. It had taken me years to distinguish that ponies had strange visions in the night, sometimes assigning meaning to them. And, of course, they also used the term to describe hopes for the future.

I took that as tacit permission to leave and bowed again. "Forgive me, your Highness. I have kept you from your rest too long already. Good evening to you, Princess Celestia. Princess Luna, I look forward to serving in the future."

"And I, all of you," the moon princess responded, formally. It had an air of tradition to it, and I was flattered to be so included.

Topaz swatted me with a newspaper again. "-sun never comes up and you go straight into danger! And you leave me a note?!"

"You are aware that doesn't hurt?" I verified, cautiously. Topaz's worry was plain, and truthfully I appreciated it.

"It makes me feel better! 'Gone to work. Nightmare Moon may be returned' and you don't even wake me up?!" A band of hair escaped the professional bun she had taken to wearing.

It was strange. Topaz changing her look upon being inducted to professorship had troubled me, but it was very appropriate for her new position. Still... I found that seeing the old Topaz breaking free of this imposed restriction pleased me immensely.

"I also opined that you should exercise caution. It is my duty to take unsafe action, not yours."

"The university is better protected than anywhere other than the castle." Her wingtips poked the bun, and I knew that my attention had been noted. "And what's this about Nightmare Moon?"

"That had been meant as a joke. But... she has actually returned. Not what I expected, to be honest, but it is not my place to judge, only to obey and protect."

"You're going to serve Nightmare Moon?!"

After Topaz finished hyperventilating and I had explained that all was well between Princess Celestia and her reformed sister, of course she focused on entirely the wrong event of the story.

"A promotion! Good for you! Cady and I had a bet going. She was going to cheat; going to have Shining tell you he was turning down his captaincy if you didn't accept. I honestly thought you'd never go for it unless someone ordered you to." She grinned, buffing a hoof on her chest. "Well. Someone more important than me, anyways."

"That is not how it went. And... corporal." I admitted with shame.

Topaz blinked, tilting her head, clearly trying to recall rank. "What's wrong with corporal?"

I sighed. "I have been promoted as punishment, Topaz. Not reward."

"Oh, horseapples. They don't promote people as punishment. Cady says they've been pushing you to accept for years now, and finally you didn't get a choice. If you weren't wanted, they give you terrible jobs or kick you out. Face it, Idol, you're the best pony for the job."

"But I am not a pony," I reminded her.

"Yeah, yeah, we know. But look. More rank means more work, which means more pay and more you can do to help ponies. What's wrong with all that?"

I hesitated. "I should not be telling ponies what to do."

She turned and began trotting away, continuing the conversation over her shoulder. "Well newsflash, you've been doing that for ten years. Congratulations, Idol, you were good at it and they want you to do it more. And it's cause for celebration. When's the last time we saw a musical?" She grinned through the rail to her upstairs balcony at me as she ascended.

I blushed, horrified. Of course I remembered that, it had been over the top. Plays, dancing, I could stand. But singing? It was... a glorification of pony emotional output. Anypony could sing. Anypony would sing. At very least when ponies danced in public, it was usually choreographed in some fashion or practice... but a pony could just decide to sing and others might join in. Topaz herself had sung along with the musical. I had been unable to meet her eyes for days. She'd delighted in the whole thing, and had even gotten me to try to belt out a marching cadence for her. I had made two lines before shame overwhelmed me and I stuttered to a halt.

Still. She said I was pretty good.

Regardless! "Perhaps just a play. I do not think I can do a musical...!"

I could hear her rustling upstairs. "Ohhhh, fine. A nice, safe, normal play. 'Mareio and Luigetta 2, the Lost Lovers' is playing. How about that?"

I did enjoy a good sequel... "I thought we already saw that?"

"No, no, they thought the original was a bit too free-spirited for Canterlot. There's a musical number, but only one. Think it'll be okay?" She trotted back down the stairs, and I may have stared. Her dress was emerald green, cut with gold embroidery. It did not match her coat, but somehow highlighted it. Her mane was freed of the bun entirely, hastily arranged but still every bit the Topaz from the day I'd met her. Older, perhaps, but just as intense and incredible. The ladybug necklace I purchased her all those years ago dangled and bounced as she made her way back to my level. "What do you think? Cadance insisted."

I shoved my emotions aside and smiled, offering her my hoof. "I think it suits you perfectly. To the play, then?"

Author's Note:

Figured I'd start the New Year strong, cause I love you guys.

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

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