• 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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Bard at the Moon

Princess Luna's acclimatization to Equestria was not without issue, even in those first days. There was some vying for the dusk and dawn watches to get a glimpse of the new princess, and I found my new rank made me exceptionally viable to both. Though truthfully the younger princess did not hold court, there were still ponies doing everything from climbing the walls (these we treated to an elaborate tour of the dungeons and a firm admonishment to not seek to extend that tour), to less unlawful attempts to curry her favor. And it was thusly I was introduced to a truth of the world. Love is many things, and life itself to changelings. It inspires acts of valor, of sacrifice, and of hope.

"Oh Princess Luna, oh Luna, your mane is so fair~"

It does not, however, grant one musical ability. I was coming to, if not hate, at very least feel a deep antipathy towards self-proclaimed 'bards'. "Sir, I must insist that you do not croon at the princess."

"I can't help myself, she's the moon and the stars, she's-" He strummed at his lute as he built himself back into it. Or maybe it was even a citole. I admitted some fondness for the one who arrived with a chitarrone, but one very industrious mare sought to woo the princess with a glass armonica, and her grief at cracking it attempting to get it over the wall was such that I promised to ensure her an actual audience if only to forestall such a wave of misery.

"Sir, call her your light in the darkness and I am authorized to beat you soundly."

"...Been said?"

"At length. You are the third this week. I would not be adverse to your continuation, but be forewarned of the consequences."

"...Oh... but... but she's so..."

"You don't even know her, sir, you're only-" I considered a moment, rubbing my chin with a polished gold-clad hoof. "...Starstruck."

The pony gave his instrument a mournful look, then blinked and scowled at me. Then winced, finally showing a sense of shame. "Oh, tell me we don't all sound like that...!"

"You do." I informed him mercilessly. "The princess is not even in this tower tonight. She has guests who, unlike yourself, went through the trouble of registering and having themselves formally announced. I am only here to ensure there was not a griffin who had flown into the tower again." It had been an unlikely possibility, but... it had happened once. Griffins were not known to be charitable or jovial in general, and one who was concussed was apparently considerably more aggressive than usual. It had taken four strong guards and a trail of seeds to lead the poor fellow to a hospital. We later learned that he thought he'd died and gone to Tartarus upon seeing the thestrals.

It consistently amazed me how few individuals actually interacted with the bat-winged pegasi, and other species seemed to doubt their very existence. And those that did... well. Thestrals did not generally approve of being called 'vamponies'.

The self-proclaimed bard wilted further. "She's not even here? Who have I been singing to?"

"Mostly the rest of the Night Guard. She is being entertained in the courtyard. If you are willing to remain quiet, you can at least see her before I will escort you from the castle grounds." Another bit of pony oddity. They all wished to see and be seen by the new princess, and refusing them outright never worked and only inspired greater acts of bardic insanity. However, letting them see her and escorting them out was usually victory enough to soothe wounded pride and gave them a tale for their friends.

Princess Luna was typically shocked at such brazen actions, but also flattered at the attention. I suppose having so many seeking to court could be a heady experience. None of us had the heart to tell her that her sister had received such courting attempts probably once every few months and had for as long as anyone knew. The Night Guard was somewhat infamous for making sport of them and had, on occasion, been called to task for their antics.

Princess Luna, being newer, younger, and perhaps a bit less unapproachable in such matters, was therefore the current center of romantic attention for every pony with a dream. I could respect that.

The courtyard was abuzz with activity, and I could sense a strange growing wonder from the courtyard as I approached with my charge... and then music. Order take it all, I was gone for mere minutes and they had broken into song.

"-and as you can see, our fine machine brings tears to the eye-"
"-Giving you your very own little starlit sky~!"

Out of self-preservation, I tuned out the rest. But the courtyard, I had to confess, was amazing. There were stars, clear constellations, spinning and swirling over the ground, a large box on a pedestal apparently, yes, creating the night sky on the world around it. Suddenly, I was at one with it, a longing so strong and joy so unexpected that I was swept away, stars I had never before taken note of blazing for my attention, and all over the world was made of diamonds-

There was a click, the courtyard was dark again, and then the braziers were lit once more, filling the courtyard with flickering light that burned in a much less pleasant fashion. My escortee was staring at me, and I quickly regained composure and looked to Princess Luna, who was wiping her own eyes with a kerchief. The other guards looked impressed, true, but none were quite so taken with the spectacle, and like myself, quickly distracted themselves from the Lunar Princess's emotions.

"A truly wondrous show. Would that I could show it to the world..." She began, taking a breath to calm herself.
"Why, your highness, but you can!"
"In fact, this one is a gift from us to you. Our very first Box of Stars! But then, we're going to go across Equestria!"
"One of these in every household, two so the kids don't fight!"
"And every one of them special and unique, like the night sky itself!"
"Of course! But we'd need your approval, of course."
"We couldn't imagine selling without your blessing, of course."
I felt a sense of disquiet. There was something... unpleasant about these ponies. I could not put my hoof on it, but I sensed... something, certainly. Not wickedness, but certainly nothing I liked.
The princess, quite overwhelmed, nodded eagerly. "You have it, then!"
"Now, about the box, there's a few things we need to mention-"
"Very delicate. Complicated inside, you can't imagine."
"One-in-a-million precision work."
"Can't be left in the light-"

I found myself scowling. I would have to look into the business of these lookalikes. Something about 'Bilkmore Incorporated' did not sit well with me.

Princess Luna did not entertain for several nights afterwards, and the Night Guard had little difficulty maintaining the peace of the castle.

"I'm just saying, it doesn't make sense. She pays her fines. She apologizes to the store owners. She even helped replace the stools after that barfight! She's a good chick; why does she keep breaking the law?!" Bold complained, aggravated.

"Riiiight, you keep saying that..." The on-duty officer, Lieutenant Sharp Tack sighed, pushing stew with a telekinetically-held spoon. "She only seems to get in trouble when you're on shift. It's looking kind of bad, Sergeant Bold... you've arrested more griffins than any other guardspony in history. There's implications."

"But I'm not a specist! It's just the one griffin, and she's actually breaking the law!" Bold slammed a hoof down, and I caught my drink, giving him a brief scowl.

"Well then, explain what's going on here. Because honestly... I'm starting to wonder. If it walks like a duck..."

"Actually, I can answer that, sir." I cut in. "Bold's first... arrest involved a... unique circumstance. I fear she may have misinterpreted it as heavy flirtation."

"Ex-cuse me?" Wispy barked. I hesitated... were she and Bold dating again? Still? Or was this another 'break'. It was a weekday... the second week of the month.... and it was after the Summer Sun Celebration... yes. Not together. But considering it, as I'd 'not' caught them in a supply closet yesterday. Which was a full two days earlier than they usually got back together, officially. Something to ponder, I supposed.

Courtship rituals between pegasi and earth ponies are beyond strange. Cadance had declared she would accept no more bets for the two of them because they were exclusive, even when they claimed they wanted to see other ponies. It was honestly more intriguing that some of the plays Topaz and I have seen. She says they're 'playing four dimensional hard to get'. I can't even begin to guess what that means, but Shining agreed and was oddly pleased by the terminology.

"...Yes. Bold damaged his armor showing off. Griffins enjoy physical displays of prowess as courting. Sergeant Bigflank did not so much... ah... push her buttons, as it is that he... typed a very improper letter with a great deal of bad grammar." I nodded, thinking this a decent allegory.

The others stared. Perhaps not.

"Wait. You're saying she thinks I'm into this? But I'm not. I mean, maybe. But no!"

Wispy cut her eyes at Bold, rear hoof beginning to tap a sharp beat. Have a care, Bold... "Either way. Not sure you should be egging her on."

"I'm not! Idol, back me up!"

"If Bold were egging her on, I believe that would be a hate crime."

The other stared again. Wispy groaned, putting her head in her hooves. Lieutenant Sharp Tack tilted his head, giving off waves of amusement and shock in almost equal measure. "Really?"

"I'm not gonna egg her, I don't even know the mare! Bird! Whatever!"

"Oh my Faust." Wispy murmured into her hooves. "See what you've done, Hooves? See, Tack? You never know what sets these up."

"You! Gretel!" There was a squawk of acknowledgement from down the cell block. "Stop breakin' the law! I'm seeing someone already!" I perked up. Perhaps they were back together again. How nice. I would have to update Cadance. Princess Cadance.

"You son of a-"

"YOU!" He pointed at another regular of this cell, the offspring of a donkey and a pony. Daniels, oddly named, tended to... not get in trouble so much as invent it? "Stop wasting our time and just bring your stupid soda through the front gates! If I catch you in the mines one more time I swear to Celestia-"

"I am an honest businesspony," He argued. "It's not my fault my clientele wants something spicier."

I gave him a curious look. "It's cola. If they want spicy, give them peppers. Your entire method of business relies on your customers thinking they are buying something illicit."

"And their expectations need to be met. Not my fault this isn't technically illegal."

"You are smuggling something that isn't contraband in as contraband to charge contraband prices to ponies who want the experience of buying contraband because when it isn't contraband most of them have no interest in it." I verified, once again amazed by the depth of insanity ponies would go to for a point. "And because it isn't actually contraband they break no laws for buying it and you break no laws for selling it. You don't even need a still."

"Exactly. Being arrested every so often actually makes things easier for me. Same time next month, Tacky?"

The lieutenant sighed. "The crown does not choose to pursue legal action against your trespass and once your cargo is searched I'm sure we will find the contents of your cart and fake still to be legally documented and against no law. Your mask and cape are to be returned to you when we're done." There was rote familiarity with the phrasing. "Please find another way to conduct your business that does not involve the guard."

"Find me somepony willing to buy homemade cola for a reasonable price in this economy!" Came back the cheerful reply.

There was something imminently satisfying about the hiss these bottles made upon opening. A sweet aroma, slightly bitter, but still quite saccharine. The burn left something to be desired, perhaps too much carbonation, but... just sweet enough for my palate. Probably half sugar per volume; that was the sweet spot. Hopefully, it would keep in these bottles and I could use it as a sort of 'icebreaker' when others of my kind came to call.

Shining said I was going to rot my teeth. So be it; I'd grow new ones. Besides, I needed something after Topaz cut off my maple syrup. A bottle a week is hardly excessive. And pancakes only existed as a vehicle to transport more of the sweet amber.

Still, I made a mental note to limit the Nymph's intake of the beverage. I could barely keep tabs on her without giving her liquid sugar.

"Ponyville, your highness?" I tilted my head, not entirely sure I understood the order.

"Yes, yes. I'm planning on making a visit and spending some time with Twilight. I think she's been stressed about her position there. Things seem to have been..." Princess Celestia hesitated, looking for a delicate way to express what was known to all of Canterlot. "...Excitable."

"All Tartarus broke loose." I acknowledged.

"And she and her friends nearly started their own excitement when she met her first Zebra..."

"...The rhyming is unusual." I admitted. "I was unaware that there was one living in Ponyville."

"Everfree, actually."

I stared. "I... see."

"Within the safer section, it seems, but I'd like to make sure there's no problems preventing her from leaving. Curses are no laughing matter. Just... make sure she knows that the Crown will offer support if she needs it. If we aren't providing a presence monitoring Everfree, then I feel we should reward those who do."

"I shall inquire with the expert." I promised. Dank Woods was now the foremost authority on Everfree, to the point where even Celestia herself would discuss any matters on the subject with him. He had a focus borne of tragedy, but I found him far more relatable now. He, like myself, knew failure, and was determined to prevent it from happening to another.

"But that is not your primary instruction. I want you to explore the town. I'd like to prepare for any further disasters, and I want to know how to recommend Twilight and I relax on my trip into Ponyville."

"Your highness?"

"I'm ordering you to provide reconnaissance of the various eateries and locations within town. Get a feel for it and the inhabitants."

And it would ensure that Princess Celestia already knew what she was doing when she came for her visit. Twilight would be relaxed by the existence of an itinerary and the entire thing being out of her hooves.

Princess Celestia, as always, was brilliant. "I shall see it done, Princess."

"Wonderful. Your train leaves first thing in the morning." Brilliant, yet cruel. Every day my respect for her grows. Surely, this was another facet of my punishment.

"So what are you doing for your anniversary?" Lieutenant- no, Just Shining Armor asked, taking notes from yet another military manual on monsters. It was terribly difficult to keep straight when the two of us were to ignore protocol.

I sighed, looking up from the guide to clay and various muds that Maud had sent me as a gift in her last missive. "My what?" I had been distracted again. I needed to pack a small bag for my trip and I had a theory that if I could distract myself, the train could not kill me.

Do not laugh. No foal has been eaten by a monster while hiding under their sheets. Delusion has some power, I had but to tap it.

"You know. Anniversary. It's been like... ten years since you met Topaz, and you haven't mentioned anything. So what are you doing?"

I blinked. Anniversary? Ponies did all sorts of things to celebrate that required gifts... birthdays, and Hearthswarming, and yearly celebrations of marriage I knew, but... ten years as friends? I bolted upright. It was precisely the sort of thing ponies celebrated. It was... two. No. Three weeks away? "I have done nothing." I murmured, horrified. "I have been a fool."

"Probably ought to," He responded. "Thought about asking Cadance officially to get engaged for ours. But... I'm pretty sure there's a law about how long a princess can be engaged."

"There is. You should do it anyways. It is improper to make a lady wait."

"She tell you to say that?"

"I have been given ample coaching to ensure that you get moving in the matter. From many sources. Your mother. Cady herself. Cady again, through Topaz. Honey Dew. Wispy. Bold. Princess Celestia."

Shining fell off his bed, book forgotten. Not a military monster manual, but one with the numbers. "What did she say?"

"Nothing I will repeat." I told him, disapproving. "You know full well that we do not reveal that which is discussed in confidence."

"Cady discusses all sorts of things with you!"

I nodded. "To my everlasting horror. Please marry her before you both go insane."

"Workin' on it." Shining gave me a roguish grin. And he was, I had to admit. The four of us were among the fittest and most well-trained of the Guard, and Shining could list every major military operation in Equestrian history, every Captain of the Guard to the time before Equestria existed. His captaincy was fast approaching. "Why not give Bold that advice?"

"Because Wispy will tie me in a knot if I spoil her fun." I hesitated. "Before I go on my business. Could you look into these... star boxes?"

"Sure thing. You want one? They're all the rage. Mom was going to get dad one as a joke, 'til she saw the price. Seems like they keep going up."

"Your father who works in the observatory and sees stars literally every night?"

"Yeahhhh, not that funny. Seriously, though, if you want one for Topaz, I can see about getting one before they go up again."

"Just... find out what people know about them."

"Alright, alright." He offered a hoof, and I gave him quick brohoof in return. "Good luck; hope the train doesn't eat you."

I glared. Some things just weren't funny.

Author's Note:

For those of you wanting to get in on some discussions, there's now a CotG discord! https://discord.gg/EvZJa6B

But always remember, comments are an author's food pellets!

ACK! New Fanart! Been sitting on this one for a bit!


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