• 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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Encore

It was with no small amount of pleasure I returned to Canterlot. In terms of non-traditional guard duties, that could have been worse. I had survived it; accomplished all missions; and returned with trinket, trophy, and treat, the last of which I had resolved to share with the Princesses as proper tribute. Still, I was relieved when the last train from Ponyville allowed me to reach the castle in time to join the line of petitions and reports to the Princess. I would hate to interrupt the Princess's other business to deliver this report. It involved the royal protege, so I was not quite sure of the importance that should be assigned to it. A typical verbal report would do for now.

When it was my turn, I caught a flash of emotions as soon as I walked in, quickly smothered. Surprise, certainly, but other things as well. Exasperation, perhaps? The petitions must have been extraordinarily taxing this day. “Princess Celestia, I have come to report.” I bowed low to the Solar Diarch, and gave a smaller bow to Princess Cadance, who seemed more bemused by my arrival, and did far less to hide it. Curious.

The Solar Princess tilted her head, raising one perfect eyebrow. “...Idol, I believe you were tasked to investigate Ponyville. And to patronize it.”

“And I have, your Highness. I visited every business of note, though found little of real interest in many.”

“… You’ve been gone for two days.”

“Of course, your Highness. I left immediately the morning after receiving my orders. The mission is accomplished, and I would like to report.”

The Princess’s smile seemed more forced, though I could hardly imagine why. “I see.”

“You will undoubtedly be very pleased with Twilight the Younger. Her friends are…” I searched for a good word. “...Diverse in their mentality. In truth, I could not have imagined her befriending any of them before leaving Canterlot. They will be good for her. Though I do hope she will not become too much like Rainbow Dash. She is a little more… aggressive than I am used to.”

Cadance tilted her head. “Um… how?”

“A small misunderstanding, resolved quickly. Her heart was in the right place. I would recommend being more cautious of the one known as Pinkie Pie, but I believe unpredictability is her nature, so I cannot presume what would be done in that regard. I quite liked Misses Rarity, Fluttershy, and Applejack, and assure your Highnesses that Twilight has done quite well for herself. As for Miss Zecora… the Everfree could not be in better hooves. I believe she is uniquely prepared to handle the wardship of the forest.”

“And the businesses?”

“Quills and Sofas sells… quills… and sofas.”

“And everything in between, one assumes?”

“No. The name of the store is as concise as it is accurate. The rest are of above average quality but with little else to distinguish them, with several exceptions. Miss Rarity is the proprietor of Carousel Boutique, and both her work and ethics are unquestionable.”

“Her… ethics?”

“Indeed. The Sugarcube Corner is far above and beyond the average, and I bring some of their finest. Miss Pie delivered her some of her ‘Extra Scrumptious Double Cream Sweetcakes’ on the train, and it is only proper that I share this bounty.”

“She delivered them to the station? Well, that was certainly nice of her-”

“No, your Highness. She delivered them to the train and left. She claimed she did not have a ticket.”

“...While it was at the station?”

“No.” I cleared my throat, not wanting to draw the attention of the Pink Demon, and certainly not wanting to think too much about her. “Sweet Apple Acres provides fantastic produce, and, while not a business per se, Miss Fluttershy is amazingly adept with animals. I have no doubts she would be utterly entranced to meet Philomena. As for myself, I made few other purchases.” I began laying out my findings. “A set of chisels from Rich’s Barnyard Bargains, a preorder for a dress, a few other things of minor note, and one… Pinkie Pie Party-in-a-Box. I have not opened the last and may never.”

“And that?” She raised a hoof to point at one of my items.

“It is a chicken composed of rubber. I purchased it at the local ‘joke shop’. It is hilarious.” I stomped on the creature and it made a goose-like honk, followed by a squeaky wheeze. I smiled at the very absurdity.

Princess Celestia opened her mouth, then closed it. She started to say something, stopped, and gave a small snort of laughter. “I… suppose it is!”

“Yes, your Highness.” I agreed.

“Well! I… I should commend you for a job well done. Perhaps you should take some time to relax-”

“Ah, yes, I nearly forgot the Ponyville Day Spa. It was a delightful experience. I laid hooves on one of the proprietors and learned a few things. I truly cannot recommend it enough.” I nodded firmly and gathered my belongings, silencing the large rubber poultry by stuffing it deeper into my saddlebag. “I will prepare a formal report as soon as possible to ensure I have missed nothing.”

I looked up to see both of the princesses staring at me, mouths ajar. The room seemed oddly warmer. “Is there anything else?”

“N...No! I believe I’ve heard more than enough. Ponyville sounds… lovely.” Celestia blinked rapidly. Odd. Perhaps she was daydreaming about a longer visit. Good, she could use the time off.

“Permission to speak freely?”

The Sun Princess looked hesitant but nodded. “Permission granted.” I could not begin to fathom her look of concern. I was the last of the reports for the day, and there were no more petitions.

“With respect, your Majesty, in the future? If you wish me to take a vacation, you have but to ask.”

I left quickly, intent on receiving my orders for the following day.

“...I told you that wouldn’t work,” Cadance giggled, as the door closed.

“Oh hush- oh my Faust that’s good, you have to try one of these-”


“Captain, I do believe this is borderline fraternization.” I offered as Spitfire planted herself across from me in the mess hall. The room, as usual, was relatively quiet. The mess hall was not known for exceptionally good food at the evening meals, as most ponies with a talent for cooking preferred not to waste it where ponies wanted to generally ‘eat and retreat’... if they didn’t already intend to go to home-cooked meals with their families. To me, it was a fantastic place to write a report while having a meal. I found that I rather liked my new quill; perhaps I had misjudged Quills and Sofas quality. That would have to be annotated. Page ten. Or perhaps I should rewrite the whole report.

Spitfire snorted. “No offense Hooves, you’re not my type. This is just coworkers having a few cold ones together at the end of a long day at work, all Harmony approved and everything.” She switched from wheedling to sing-song. “I got the goooood stuff~!” she pulled the neck of a bottle from her saddlebag.

I grunted, but she had me. Salted Caramel Whiskey was a wicked creation, but the Wonderbolt Captain knew my weaknesses far too well. “Burn your pinions. What do you want, Spitfire?”

“Heard the Princess ordered you to take a tour of Ponyville. Got a prospect going there.”

“I presume you do not mean Fluttershy.”

Her snort was as impressive as it was impolite. “Near as I’ve heard that one barely flies more than the Bug Mare.” Her eyes narrowed. “...Do you know something I don’t know?”

“Topaz dislikes that nickname, and… I have no idea how to safely answer that question. I saw nothing to make me judge her skills as anything other than ‘graceful’.”

“Sorry, sorry.” She waved a hoof. “C’mon, give. You did a checkup on Ponyville. I’m sure you got a good impression of the folks Sparkle hangs out with, because that’s what Celestia would have wanted. You had a chance to meet that Rainbow Dash filly, and it wasn’t when she was squealing like a fangirl or freaking out over her performance...”

I gave a small nod as she poured the delightful amber beverage. “She is brash, aggressive, willful and uncouth."

The pour slowed, but only for a moment as the flame-like pegasus shrugged. "Damn. Thought we might have some potential in that one. She’s got the speed, and she certainly has the reflexes..." She swirled her own mug in a practiced motion before taking a sip. Her shoulders and wings relaxed as she did so, and a waft of pleasure emanated from her, slightly tinged with disappointment.

I hesitated. I did not particularly like the Element of Loyalty, but I felt that clarification was in order. "...Spitfire, you are brash, aggressive, willful and uncouth. And you are the best leader the Wonderbolts have had during my lifetime."

She nearly spit out her drink, coughed and pounded a hoof into her chest. "...Damn it, Hooves, usually I have to buy a stallion dinner before he kisses my flank like that. What about Wind Rider?"

"Case in point.” I rolled my eyes. “And Wind Rider retiring raised the overall level of tolerability of your group immensely.”

She scoffed, waving that away, "You never did like him. But then, you don’t really like the whole ‘showpony’ thing. You know, most ponies would think all of that ‘brash and uncouth’ stuff was an insult."

"I believed those were all required traits for joining the Wonderbolts. Order knows how Soarin got in."

She gave a broad grin at that. "Someone had him try on the tights and none of us are willing to go without that ever again. And he’s one of the best long-distance fliers we’ve ever had, but mostly the first thing.”

"You are a wretched lech, Spitfire."

"I’m not wretched, I’m the best there is. I just call them like I see them. Any luck convincing Wispy to try out?"

"No. She has bribed me to stop bothering her with it."

"A fighter, knew I liked that one. You up for a counterbribe?"

"I believe that was a counterbribe."

"So it'd be a counter-counterbribe. I want her in the 'Bolts. I get Agility from her and Speed from Dash down in Ponyville, Endurance from Soarin, and I’m on my way to making my own Elements of Air Superiority.”

“I do not think that is a thing.”

“It could be a thing! I’d barely ever heard of the Elements of Harmony, you’re telling me there might not be some super secret forgotten pegasus elements of something or other?”

“I think ‘air’ is an element.”

Spitfire considered it, cursed, and downed her own drink. Mine had become empty at some point, so she refilled both. “Alright, alright. So how’d you run into Rainbow Dash, anyways?”

“She threw me into the dirt a few times.” I admitted, shrugging. “She is fast.”

Spitfire choked. “She’s like half your age!”

“She tied me up first, I had little say in the matter.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I’d hate you if I didn’t fear you. You were there for like a day and a half!”

“And I had much to do, so much was accomplished.”

“Ugh. I just don’t see it.” She shook her head. “No offense.”

“None taken. I was surprised myself.”

“I don’t know why anything you do surprises any of us at this point.” She downed her second shot. “Alright. I’ll keep an eye out for her name on the list of applicants. She’s clearly going to be a good fit if she can get her tail up here.” She heaved herself to her hooves and trotted out, and I followed her.

“Are you sure that you should be flying after imbibing?”

She scoffed. “Please, Hooves, I’m a professional. I had more than that in my morning coffee.” She stretched her limbs, grinning at the setting sun. The grass at her hooves began to brown as she lowered herself into a crouch. I backed away quickly.

“I feel that should be more concerning!” I called out as she rocketed from the ground, hooves leaving flaming grass in her wake as the mare left a smoke trail behind her. I sighed, stomping out the smoldering grass. Blasted showboat. But I had to admit… nobody could beat Spitfire out of the gate. Rainbow Dash would be in good hooves.


I returned to my room to find Shining in a mood. “...Have you-”

“I have not asked her to marry me yet. More importantly- well, less important, more relative chronologically-” I nodded at this correction. “-you were right about there being something up about those star box things. A mess of shady business.”

I gave my bed a wan look. No rest for the weary. “Go on?”

Shining shrugged. “Okay, first off, you’ve met my father.”

I nodded. “I have found Night Light to be surprisingly well-composed for somepony who has been gnawed upon by a dragon so often.”

“Ha. Seriously though, he’s spent more time in the Royal Observatory than anyone, including Twilight, even if it’s only because he’s got years on her…” Shining’s face fell at this. He, like the rest of us, had originally expected Twilight’s trip to Ponyville to be a short-term assignment. He was still getting used to the change of plans. “...Guess he might keep the title for a while, huh?”

“It does look that way. Your sister is doing well enough in Ponyville to have established a squad of...interesting friends. Young Spike has even developed a crush.”

No! There’s another dragon in Ponyville? I had no idea. Good for him.”

“No.”

Shining looked at me, perplexed for just a moment before realization sank in and he facehoofed. “...We ruined him?”

“He is utterly twitterpated with one of the Elements. Cadance will be delighted.” I had been uncertain if romantic entanglements belonged in my report. They probably did, I decided. Though this was less an entanglement and more of a one-sided crush. An annotation, perhaps. Princess Cadance would never approve of it being a mere footnote.

“And that, my friend, is why we don’t tell her. She’ll meddle.”

I felt the need to defend her. “...It would hardly be meddling…” And that was hardly a defense. Bah.

Shining recognized the attempt and allowed it. “Fair enough. She’ll be excited when she finds out or she’ll be heartbroken with him; you know how she is,” Shining assured me with the same faraway look he always adopted when thinking of his soon-to-be fiancee. He regained focus, however. “Anyways. The boxes. Dad. He recognized parts of the lightshow almost immediately. They aren’t just random star patterns, they’re actual constellations. Not the famous ones, obviously, but a lot of the ones that lost their shape.”

“...They what?”

“I don’t get the exact idea of it, but the night sky used to be a lot more interesting and organized. I think Princess Luna had something to do with it? Anyways, the boxes are just projecting a bunch of those old constellations. They’re all jumbled and not where they should be, they spin and stuff, but dad says it’s so blatant it ought to be obvious to anyone with even a passing astronomical inclination. His words, not mine, but he was pretty offended. Maybe a little disappointed that I didn’t catch it, but...”

“Hmm.”

“And I could absolutely prove all that… if the Book of the Night Sky wasn’t missing pages.” He finished, heat in his voice. I could understand this strained fury. In his family, damaging books was tantamount to treason. And stealing pages from a book- I was suddenly grateful Twilight the Younger was elsewhere. There would have been consequences.

“You suggest thievery, then?”

“And fraud, don’t forget fraud.”

“Then why have you not arrested them?” I sputtered, furious.

Shining sighed. “Because they have Princess Luna’s blessing.” I blinked, and he continued. “Basically, the only way to charge them is to say they stole from the Observatory and duplicated Luna’s works… and that she just gave her blessing to the theft. The first thing she’s provided patronage towards is someone who just abused her trust,” Shining shook his head. “It’d mean scandal. Besides, we don’t know they stole from the Observatory personally, only that there are pages missing that happen to coincide with some of their imagery, because a lot of them are just random dots. Oh, and it gets better!” He pulled a padded box out of his pack, revealing one of the devices.

I steeled myself as Shining activated the contraption with a small switch. To my disappointment, the room did not darken and the lights were not nearly so beautiful as they were for the princess… in truth, it was somewhat blurry, and it hardly did more than provide a slightly pleasant light show. Still, I could see several patterns of ‘stars’, though I could identify perhaps one of them. The sky had never been particularly noteworthy to me before the most recent Summer Sun Celebration. The light cut off as Shining flipped a switch, and then gave it a casual shake before offering to me. “You try.”

I flipped the switch, obligingly. Nothing happened. I frowned, activating it twice more. A faint grinding noise, but no lights. I lifted the box, looking it over skeptically, but could find no immediate cause for the failure.

Shining held up a bound scroll. “Oh, my apologies~! I forgot to mention the ‘Care & Agreement’ section of the Star Box instructions!” He unrolled the scroll… and the end fell to the ground. “Failure to obey the following voids the warranty of your Official Star Box. Protect from loud noises. Protect from sudden impact. Do not shake. Do not apply heat. Do not scry. Do not open. Do not apply excess magic. Do not eat. Do not wear. Do not bounce. Do not-”

“I believe I understand.” I frowned. “So what is wrong with it?”

“It’s broken. Junked. Take it back, it won’t work anymore. Except you can’t because you broke your agreement. This is the third freaking one I’ve gotten. I didn’t even read the agreement the first time and spent hours trying to fix the thing on my own. Do you have any idea how much they’re selling these for? If it weren’t for the mess hall I’d be eating grass this week.”

“...Are they truly so fragile?” I stared at the box in utter disbelief.

“Near as I can tell, you get a dozen uses out of it and the thing burns up. There’s some kind of mechanism in it that breaks the blasted thing if you open it, and I’m pretty sure the innards are made of glass. Some kind of magic-light projector in the box itself, glass panes for the stars, and a fancy bit of metal in there to wreck the whole thing at a moment’s notice. Of course, it’s all ‘proprietary’ so talking about it will bring the full legal might of the Bilkmore Brothers and their Patron down on you.”

“If you are not to open it, how do you know that?” I queried, more than slightly impressed with his diligence.

Shining held up the box with his magic, his horn glowed, and a tendril of light seemed to wrap around the center of the box, then formed an orb around the entirety of it. Shining casually took the shield in his hooves, and twisted in opposite directions. The shield split from one orb into two identical domes, each with half of the box inside. The contents were mostly preserved, from what I could tell. “I mean, it’s still closed, technically.”

I considered it, eyeing an oddly faceted metal orb that had likewise been split, if not perfectly down the center, enough to make out that Shining was indeed correct. “Show-off.” I took the one dome and looked closely. On the remains of one darkened glass plate, I could see light spots that would coincide with that of the ‘constellation’.

“This seems…” I hesitated, searching for the words. “...Unlikely to have provided the show that the Princess received.”

“Oh, hers is probably something completely different. They don’t say they’re selling what they gave to Princess Luna. They just say that they’re selling something like what they gave to her. It’s legal. Barely.”

I considered, then felt my carapace heat. “They sought her patronage because it provides defense. Princess Celestia-”

“Already knows. She’s forbidden me to act on it.”

“Order preserve,” I growled, then considered. “Forbidden… you… to act on it?”

“I can’t exactly order someone to act on it in my place, either. I’m just telling a friend who happened to be interested in the situation. The guard is going to have its hooves tied on this one.”

“And… what about the ponies with these broken products?”

Shining grunted. “Nothing good. The Bilkmores sold a bunch, but they make a show of claiming how ‘delicate’ the things are. Nopony wants to admit they don’t have the newest and latest bit of royally approved… whatever. Even Celestia is careful not to show too much interest in anything or she’ll cause a run on the market. Remember that tea from Neighpon?”

“Matchstick.” I gave him a look for his failure to adhere to her appellation, but he was used to such things.

“Close enough. Celestia really enjoyed it, and suddenly boom, it’s everywhere, tea markets had everything else overstocked, ponies who didn’t even like it were still drinking it, and coffee places had problems with business unless they added it to the menu.”

“Except Donut Joe.”

“Donut Joe’s will live forever.” Shining swore. “That’s not even worth mentioning. Coffee, near a university and the guard barracks? But the point is, Princess Luna gushed over it, and now it’s popular and nopony wants to admit to breaking something so expensive and complaining might damage the opinion of the princess in question. Economics!” Shining stated, raising a flask his beau had given him, which I knew he only filled with water. Hardly a proper toast.

“Ponies are crazy,” I confirmed with a sigh.

Still, I decided… something must be done. When Shining left for home, I set about for the only obvious option.


Princess Luna was still a new feature to the castle but maintained a timidness that none of us had expected. Most of her time was spent alone or in the presence of her elder sister, and I confess, the guard was of two minds about her.

Some of us saw her as another princess to serve. Others, a potential security breach in progress. Any suggestion by the latter camp of putting her in a tower for her own security, or outside of the castle entirely, had been met with firm opposition from the Sun Throne, and the admonishment that the Lunar Throne was to be treated with equal authority.

A small number of guards had retired in protest. I, like the Solar Princess, was most disappointed.

It was extremely surprising how cautious many of the thestrals were being of the new Night Princess. To many of them, she was far more likely to support their needs, but at the same time, her precarious place in current politics apparently made it dangerous to reciprocate such support. As such, they seldom offered public announcements of their loyalty for fear of making her ‘the bat pony princess’ and further relegating her to obscurity.

Even so, I was very pleased that Mothchaser had publicly sworn her guard oaths a second time to the Lunar Princess, and her example was followed by a number of the most loyal of the Night Guard. Nonetheless, the thestrals still gave the Princess her space, and she had taken to roaming the castle at nights on her own errands, whatever they might be until her control of the moon was fully recovered.

I found her outside, in the same area of the castle that had previously been where she had been gifted the true Star Box. She sat on the grass, looking to the night sky, box on a stone pillar, deactivated. Her horn had only the faintest of glow, so I cautiously reached my senses towards her and barely recoiled in time. Longing, loneliness, and guilt poured from her like a waterfall.

I had sensed as much from her sister, though far more restrained, on the darkest of nights by her door, when young Twilight was elsewhere.

“Your Highness?”

“Hmm? Oh, pray, excuse me.” The Princess composed herself quickly, drawing a hoof over her face. Exhaustion. Order, what was this? Had the Princess been in the midst of a working? I spared the sky a glance. The moon was unmoved, but… were the patterns of stars more intricate? Brighter? I could not be entirely sure. I hoped I had not interrupted anything.

“Your Highness, I have troubling news.”

“And… thou do not wish to bring such news before mine sister?” The Princess had a tendency to slip in and out of old Equish. It had a certain charm to it, I found.

“Nay. I am afraid it concerns thy patronage. We have reason to believe the ponies in question are abusing thy good name.” I gingerly gestured to her gift, and frowned, giving it a good look.

The box was activated. And nothing was happening. I was suddenly furious; not only had they provided poor counterfeits to the masses, but even the gift to the Princess had failed.

The Princess caught my expression and her face contorted in shame. “Prithee, wait, I can explain-” She took a step forward, staggered, and I moved to catch her before she struck the ground. The Princess convulsed, retched, and went limp in my hooves, shivering. Stress, weakness, pain roiled within her. The body of the immortal Moon Princess was too warm to the touch. There was only one possibility that sprang to mind.

“Fetch a healer!” I bellowed, augmenting my voice with all the magic I could muster. “The princess has been poisoned!”

Author's Note:

Hey folks, sorry for the delay. Work stuff had me running around all last month. I had hoped for more time to write!

Some new stuff!

First, a little 'what if' by Egophiliac. Da da da dun, da dun, da dun da dun da dun da dunnnnnn...

And the beginning of a live reading of CotG by Equinox3141! I really like his Chrysalis.
Check it out here!

Want to show some support? https://www.patreon.com/vdrake

Want to join the discord? Here you go!

As always, you guys are the best!

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