• 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 Flu Moon and an Empty Heart

“Well, first and foremost, it isn’t poison. Nopony is trying to hurt your sister.”

Princess Celestia’s entire body seemed to relax, and she sat heavily by the entrance to her sister’s room. In all the time I had known her, she had never looked so haggard before; even her naturally wavy mane was moving erratically, as if whatever breeze typically energized it was replaced by a strange tempest. One curl flared to orange before fading back into the colorful mass, to my immense surprise. “Oh, thank Harmony. If not poison then, what has happened to her?”

The doctor wiped his brow with a hoof. “It seems to be exhaustion, a severe case of the flu, and perhaps some anxiety. Certainly stress. Your sister needs time to rest and recover.”

“The flu…? Luna has the flu?!” Celestia sputtered, disbelieving. “Tender Care, she’s an alicorn. We don’t-”

“Yes, yes, I am well aware that you don’t get sick. My predecessors have been aware and there are a number of books written about it. I’m to believe you’ve even read some of them. Between unicorn magical resistance, pegasus environmental control, and earth pony hardiness, alicorns simply don’t get sick often enough to matter. Fine. I am aware. I am also aware that guardspony Hooves had to scrub his armor because your sister sicked on him. Now, are you going to argue with me or listen to my supposition?” While true, I had mostly burned it off with magic and only rinsed the remainder. It was also grossly impolite to bring it up.

The Princess glanced at me, lowered her head and nodded. “Forgive me, doctor. I am at a loss. Go on, please.”

“I believe that Princess Luna’s access to magic was severely limited by the Elements of Harmony. Her magical protections, as an alicorn, were torn away entirely. At this moment, I fear she is at risk from… well... almost everything. Even a common cold will play havoc until she fights it off naturally or her magic recovers.”

“And how long will that take?”

“I… do not know, Your Highness. I would recommend isolation for at least a month while we run some tests.”

“I see. I must speak with my sister about this.”

The doctor stepped in front of the door. “Your Highness, I must refuse entry.”

There was a pop and a sizzle from Celestia’s mane, but she smothered down the complex mixture of emotions. “You can try.”

“No, Princess, please. Your sister’s… condition is an edge case scenario. Put simply, she could make you sick.”

“Doctor, I believe we have discussed this. May I ask when it was that I last came to you for anything but information or a checkup?”

“Miss Sparkle caught a cold after one too many late nights in the library and you panicked.”

“I did not-!” The Princess cleared her throat, looking sheepish. She lowered her voice to a more conversational level, and I believe all appreciated it. “I was not panicking; she said she felt too tired to read.”

“That is a reasonable cause for alarm.” I agreed.

“Be that as it may, Your Highness, it is not for your health, but for your sister’s. Anything your constitution could safely ignore may take root in her, and then through her return to you, empowered by access to what little stores of magic she has access to. And anything with that level of power could be incredibly dangerous to the citizenry. And you, as I recall, were just visiting a children’s hospital.”

Celestia glared down at the doctor, and for once I felt the full weight of her displeasure settle on someone. “You are asking me to abandon my sister, so soon after she is returned to me, when she is at her weakest?”

“I am asking you to exercise restraint and allow us to do our jobs. For her well-being and your own.”

“Your Highness, may I offer a question, and possibly a suggestion?”

“...Yes, Corporal?”

“Would a shield prevent this... transmission of illness?”

The doctor frowned, pensive. “It would have to be one Tartarus of a shield…”

“I believe Lieutenant Shining Armor to be up to such a task. He is skilled beyond my own comprehension.”

Princess Celestia raised a hoof to her chin. “That would be… possible, I suppose… I will speak to him. I will need ponies I trust to watch after my sister in this hour of need. And who better than the pony who has never used a sick day and is already beyond passingly familiar with Lieutenant Armor’s shields?”

I did not wince, but the honor was unbearable. “Your Highness there are many ponies-”

“None who were by her side at that moment, and none who carried her to the medics. Idol Hooves, you have my gratitude, but I must ask more of you. May I trust you with this?”

“I… yes.” I bowed my head low, lowering myself on forelegs. “Your will be done.”

“Thank you, Idol.” There was relief in her tone, and some of her fear abated. The gratitude washed over me in a wave, and my exhaustion burned away in that warmth.

“With your permission, Your Highness… I would like to take the rest of the day off. I have much that I must do.”

She blinked, then gave a small laugh. “Of course. You have not left her since waking the castle. Go, see to your business and rest with my blessings. I will have need of you on the morrow, when we will discuss your new roles.”

I hurried off, leaving the more composed Princess to discuss how she could see her sister without chasing off her doctor. A runner was sent to find Shining Armor, and I...?

I had much to do.

I took care to put my armor away. I scoured it once more with green flame, heating the metal and ensuring that nothing still clung to it, though Topaz had suggested that my own physiology was too different from a pony’s for most illnesses to make the jump from one species to the next. Our nature as omnivores and apparent scavengers protected us from the rest.

I entered the darkness of the tunnels below Canterlot, though I did not seek out the Nymph. For the first time in so long I could barely recall, I created a new pony form. An Earth Pony. Sturdy. Light coat. Elements of Bold Bigflank and Blueblood. Aristocratic. Powerful. Possessing of wealth and refinement. It would have to do.

I found the Bilkmore Brothers as night fell.

They were packing for the day, but the prospect of money drew them more surely than the promise of rest ever could.

“Flim and Flam Bilkmore, at your service, my fine stallion. Sellers of many fine products. Fine silverwork, exotic plates, why, this saddle came all the way from Saddle Arabia, and it would suit a fine gentlestallion like yourself, wouldn’t it, brother of mine?”

I raised an eye. It was gaudy and terrible. I could imagine nopony from Saddle Arabia wearing the thing. Wasta, perhaps, but even so...

“My dear brother, without the matching ensemble, it would be an absolute shame, but we have the saddlebags right here as well. But let's get right to business, for a pony of your refinement, you can only have come for one thing; a Bilkmore Brothers Amazing Starshow In A Box, Version Two!” The younger of the two grinned, holding one of the black contraptions. This one had various constellations drawn over it, and I must admit, it was nicer than a plain black box.

I gave a nod, examining the device. Apart from the stars on the outside, it looked identical to the previous models. "So this is one of the star boxes that Princess Luna was delighted over?"

"Well, it's not so great as hers, I'm afraid. That was our absolute finest model," the mustache-bearing brother claimed.

"Pity. I would have very much liked to have one of my own."

The younger perked up. "Well... we could retool our manufacturing process and produce one of similar quality, though it would take a great deal of time and expense."

"One," I smiled. It was forced, and I disliked falsifying the emotion beyond what was required for the sake of politeness. Still, I was very rarely so… investigative, and smiling apparently made ponies talk.

Both nodded eagerly "Only one, of course, of course! All of our models are absolutely unique, impossible to replicate," the first brother agreed, cheerfully.

My smile widened. "And one."

"You'd like a second? We could arrange that, but they wouldn't be the same. We can't help it."

"That is fair." I nodded slowly, smile plastered on. "And you stand by the quality?"

"Absolutely! The Princess herself gave us her blessing. There are some minor usage and care restrictions, but there’s no reason you wouldn't be able to pass it on to your grandfoals, a piece of Equestrian history in the making."

"Two." My face twitched. The emotions roiling from these two were making me ill. There was a hunger to them, a disquiet. Not merely dishonest, then. Enjoying the game. The challenge.

"Two?" The Flim-or-Flam said, looking confused. A vague sense of unease was building. That was fine.

Still, I needed more information. "How did you come up with such a wonderful invention?"

The Flam-or-Flim ignored his brother's concern. "Oh, it came to us in a dream! We can barely understand the spells ourselves, it's why we needed the princess's blessing!"

"Two. Again."

"Brother of mine, just hold on a second. Two what?"

"That is twice each of you has lied to me." My smile stretched further. I questioned the guidance that had led me to believe ponies were more talkative when confronted with a broad smile. If anything, they seemed to be rethinking matters.

The first (Flim, I decided, for I did not truly care) bristled. "How dare you, sir! Are you calling me a liar to my face?" Both brothers were now facing me, each off to one side, too far apart to watch both together while so close to me.

"I am. Please. Continue." The stretched feeling changed slightly, and something dripped from my right cheek. This smile was beginning to feel very unpleasant, and my cheek ached. Perhaps I needed to practice this grin more, I was unused to such blatant shows of emotion. I felt… brazen. I did not like it.

The younger brother, Flam, flinched. Good. I hoped his conscience pricked him terribly.

“We work at the behest of the princess herself, friend. And if you question our product we shall see that she hears of it. And we are the very first under her patronage-”

I ground my teeth at that, and I fear it was audible. “You are not my friend, peddler. I have served since before her arrival in Equestria. Her Majesty’s will shall be done.” Damn, my face was slipping. I had damaged my disguise with misuse in my anger. I briefly considered readjusting but hoped they didn’t notice. Control. It was sure to be a minor thing. I stepped forward, intent on revealing their lies. I would crush one box, show them the contents, and accept my punishment for destroying another’s property, but I would not allow this farce to continue unchecked.

Both took several steps back and away. “Now wait a second! Wait a second! Is there...displeasure… with our products?” asked Flim, staring at my lower jaw. A fang had shifted slightly, I realized. Barely noticable, it probably just looked odd. I schooled myself, kept smiling. Flam appeared to be turning green. That was past strange.

“There is great displeasure with your products. It reflects… poorly, on my mistress.” I widened my smile. Flam made a noise, but he seemed unwilling to talk anymore, so I ignored him. “I am here to discuss recompense.”

“I… ah… that is… we would… assuredly… provide refunds for anyone… displeased! But… but you don’t seem to have a box on you, frie- sir.”

“I do not. But that pleases me. I would like that. In writing.”

“E...everyone has a recei-”

“I would like that… in writing. Explicitly.”

Flim bounded to a table, snatching up a piece of parchment and scribbling his promise of a refund on the page, and signed with a shaky flourish. “Will… will that suffice?”

“It will,” I accepted, pleased. “Be in the market square tomorrow. Let us say, first light. When my mistress’s other duties are done.” The two shared a look, and I felt fury boil inside me. “Do not make me find you. Compounding your crimes will displease us greatly.” I was already loathe to tell my Princess that she had, indeed, been the victim of fraud. A return of what was owed was a start.

I left them then. Their cart stank of emotions I wanted to be away from.

My trek to Topaz’s home was a quiet one, with too much introspection. I knocked on the door, as it was getting late and if she was already asleep, I would enter by underground. Politeness dictated that I at least try to come by standard means.

The door flew open, and Topaz stuck her head out, peering at me. “...Idol? What did you do? Why are you somepony else?”

“I...nothing.” I blinked “How did you know it was me?”

“You’re dripping ichor and it’s obviously you. I mean, either you or a very confused changeling. What did you do to your face? Sit down. Stay here.” She pushed me down onto the sofa, and perplexed, I sat. Topaz’s concerned haranguing continued from the kitchen, “Where have you been? You were supposed to visit Ponyville, you came back yesterday, immediately went to work, don’t come home last night, there’s a poisoning-”

“The princess is merely sick; my diagnosis was in error,” I admitted, shedding my disguise with a flash of fire. My face hurt horribly.

She would not be deterred. “-knew you were involved in that, you still don’t come home, your shift ends, you still don’t come home, you’re gone all day, and then when your shift should be starting-”

“I took the day off.”

“-you finally come home instead of… you took the day off..?”

“I… yes.” A deliciously warm, damp towel pressed against my face, and I sighed in relief, relaxing into the chair. Peppermint, a bit of my own slime, and a hint of honey all mixed into hot water. It was a delight on par with the spa, and I finally felt at home again as my split cheek seemed to soak up the soothing balm.

Topaz hesitantly sat beside me. “...Wanna talk about it?”

And so I did. I told her of my misgivings, of my assumptions that the Princess had intended to send me upon a forced vacation, of the unnaturalness of the Pink Demon, of my disconcert with the Bilkmore Brothers, of Shining’s findings, of having my morals questioned by the very Element of Loyalty. Of Princess Luna’s illness, of how I had failed her, of how I had sought to make things right. Of how I was now to be partially responsible for her recovery.

And I told her of my newly discovered orders.

She nodded, having a better understanding of the matter than even myself. “...It actually makes some sense. No reproduction outside of the hive permitted. She’s controlling the population of the changeling exiles. Too many people out of her control. It’s… very, very harsh, but… it might explain a few things.”

“We are not a people, Topaz. We are an aberration of the changelings.”

“Idol, that isn’t fair.”

“How is it not? We have no future. We have a fragment of a past. We all grow old, we all die, and there will never be a new generation for us.”

“There hasn’t been a problem with new exiles before, though. One every… what, few months or so?”

More than that, but not by much. “We are reliant upon more exiles. A generation with none and we cease to exist. Not even a memory to guide the next. Everything I have tried to do for us… it means… nothing.” Putting that into words… hurt. Hurt more than I had ever expected. The hive would not, could not, benefit from my actions.

“Oh, Idol…”

“...I love my queen. I cannot not love her. She is the Queen, and she knows best.” A tear escaped me. I could grieve, at least. “...But I think I hate her a little, too. In this too, I have failed.”

Topaz said nothing but embraced me. Warmth flowed from her, emotional and physical. She offered sympathy, with only a little pity. She shared my pain, and that made it bearable.

It wasn’t much. But to a changeling whose world had been shaken so badly over the course of so few days, it was everything.

Author's Note:

Heya folks, thanks for all of your support, and a shoutout to everyone who guessed Luna's affliction!

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!

Small addition! https://derpibooru.org/1492869

Fits the mood of Idol towards the end pretty well, yeah?

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