• Published 9th Mar 2014
  • 30,787 Views, 5,835 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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Cold Brew

The next days were something of a blur. Shining Armor was able to work with the Royal Physician to create a shield that would provide some measure of protection from harmful elements in the air, though the doctor insisted on some additional effort being put into it to ensure the air did not become ‘stale’. That, along with untreated air, could be harmful to the returned Princess’s recovery.

Shining explained that the cost of creating this shield was immense, and I soon learned that the effort of creating an active shield that filtered air and prevented entry to some, but not all, had run the ragged edge of even his abilities. To my understanding, the first attempt had literally put him to the floor. Upkeeping it, on the other hoof, was considerably easier. An interesting quirk of Shining’s skill with shields allowed him to pass on this upkeep; another pony with a modicum of understanding of his talent could perform said upkeep, if they had the power to do so even with the efficiency losses.

As I understood it, there were actually several shields in concert, and then multiple attempts to create them. One that stopped anything living above a certain size to prevent unauthorized ponies from entry, one that provided air filtration but did nothing to stop ponies, and one that oscillated and only affected air to provide a ‘pumping’ mechanism to ensure adequate flow. Shining somehow managed to tie all of these together into a single enhanced shield. He’d even managed to create a small ‘bubble’ effect around anypony who entered the ‘defending’ shield, which could be detached from the whole without being unlinked, though it would lose any benefit save air filtration. This had been mostly intended for Princess Celestia’s own benefit, as this initial design had simply been a small bubble around the younger Princess, whilst the final design had allowed Luna more access to the contents of her room, with a visitor.

I, having spent so much time with Shining and having attempted to file away his occasional ramblings as he tested a new shield for further consideration, was able to understand and adjust his shields to some small degree, though I could not hope to recreate them. There is a vast difference between maintenance or repair and construction, after all. Whilst I could follow along better than most, any shield I could manage on my own was best suited for an impressive physical and a far lesser magical defense. Shining, on the other hoof, could manage shields that would make the inhabitants feel warmer, or protect from intense heat, moisture, or even, as tests with Wispy had proven, a lightning strike.

I should note in the last, the shield protected those inside from lightning, excepting the one holding the shield, who received a sizable redirected charge, regardless of whether they were within the confines of the shield or not. Shining himself looked as though he had been stuffed in a dryer, and Cadance had delighted in her staticy lover’s ‘fluffy’ appearance. As Shining’s friend and confidante, I dubbed him Stuffed Armor, and dealt with the blow-back as a friend should.

My new duties were actually rather simple. I was to watch over the Princess Luna, guard her room from well-meaning if foolish intruders, and was, very specifically, to prevent Princess Celestia herself from countermanding those orders under any circumstances until her sister was better.

Simple, I have found, does not always mean ‘logical’ to ponies. Obviously, now I had a set of orders that I am not to obey, because it should never be ordered of me... but it might be, all the same. This is a very rational and sane thing to expect of somepony.

Order, had life ever actually been simple? In the meantime, my duty was mostly to maintain a shield of protection held by Shining Armor.


Princess Luna has had many titles. Dreamtrotter, the Moonlit Mare, the Starcaller, and the Dark Watcher. None of these, I should note, imply that she is a gracious patient, and for good reason.

“Fie upon you and your potions, physicker! We are tired. Our heart beats, our tongue is unspotted, and our coat is unlathered. Thou demandest that we rest, and then bother us with trifles. Away, away!” The last sounded more plaintive than demanding, but the Princess’s strength had yet to recover from the very unpleasant bout of flu. She grumbled something unintelligible and covered herself with her blankets, radiating displeasure and discomfort.

“Very well, your highness.” The doctor sighed, putting away stethoscope. “Your lungs sound fine, no hint of pneumonia, thank Celestia.” He cleared his throat at the look his patient gave him, then hurried on. “Take your medicine, and I’ll leave more with the maids or your personal guard.”

I waited for the doctor to leave the protective barrier of the shield and cautiously took his place, pushing a fresh cart of… breakfast or dinner, I could not entirely be sure which it was for the typically nocturnal princess. “Your highness, I bring you soup and some fresh produce.”

The mound of blankets shifted. “Fie on soup. We are not hungry.”

“Be that as it may, you must take your medicine. The doctor has made such clear.”

“‘Drink this, it is grape-flavored’. ‘Tis not grape, unless the grapes of old have changed to some new, cloying variety. ‘Oh, then try cherry’, if cherries taste so foul ‘twould be a blessing if they were scoured from Equestria. Feh!”

“Your highness is merely in a bad mood because medicine tastes of dishonesty and false fruit.”

The comforter came down at that. “In our day we would have dragonscale soup and at least that was supposed to taste like copper and lizard.”

“The cooks have scolded young Spike enough I doubt any would ever convince him to climb into a hot stewpot again. He used to rather enjoy swimming in, and subsequently ruining, supper. Perhaps I could convince him to donate a molt.” I gave her a tight-lipped smile. “At least it isn't leeches.”

The Princess’s face contorted in disgust and she shivered. “Ugh. We always hated the leeches. Has that quackery been expunged?”

“By almost everypony, your highness. Now, drink your soup. The doctor says it will help if you eat everything on your tray.”

Princesses do not pout, though she put up a convincing facade. "Fie on the doctor. Thou wouldst not eat this swill.”

“If I were ordered to do so, I certainly would.”

“Then we do indeed order it.”

I calmly lifted the bowl to my lips, then drank the still steaming hot broth in one extended pull. I then ate the banana slices, and noting the cloth napkin, tore it to shreds and ate the lot of them. “You are correct, that was indeed foul. I presume he did not intentionally mean the cotton napkin. Shall I get you another tray, your highness?”

The princess was staring at me, misery forgotten. A success then. “...You may.”

“I shall inform the cook that your napkin is to be properly seasoned in the future.” I bowed, and I caught a twinkle of something in her eye.

“You may. Inform her that in the future we take our napkins with honey and lemon.”

“Her highness’s wisdom and taste are boundless. Unfortunately, there has recently been a run on lemons, and grapefruit is explicitly banned from your table for the immediate future."

She bolted up in her bed, outrage evident. I noted that she swayed slightly from the sudden effort, and made ready to catch her if needed. “What?! What madness bans the noble grapefruit?”

“It interferes with medication.”

She settled, looking annoyed. “We do not even exceptionally like grapefruit. And now we want some.”

“That is unfortunate, your majesty. If you would, is there anything else you would like with your meal?”

“...Something not tea, nor soup, nor other malodorous sludge. Everything is either minty, bitter, or bland. If we have one more bite of tapioca we may scream.”

I considered. “I shall see to it, your highness.”


Cook Cookie was understandably displeased that I had taken it upon myself to consume the Princess’s entire dinner, and her annoyance was made all the more evident by the force with which she chopped the ingredients for another bowl of stew. Her mood was not improved when I mentioned the Princess wished for more seasoning, which was met with the admonishment that her meals were currently designed around ease of digestion and not introducing anything that she was not already used to. This meant simple ingredients with less seasoning, and Cookie was already displeased by the hobbling of her skills. I imagined Sous Vide would be beside himself with apoplexy at the notion of 'less seasoning', so perhaps I was lucky for her presence.

I was banished to a small section and allowed to see to my own needs, and the order to provide something in excess of my charge’s meal came to mind. I considered. Topaz had certain traditions when she was sick, such as ‘hair of the dog’ and peppermint oil in a boiling pot of water. The first seemed counterproductive, the second pleasant enough, though with her hair in a bun I was no longer required to help hold her it away from the boiling water. Her other tradition… I decided that one could do nicely.

I found the chocolate with ease, some heavy cream, butter, and a bit of cinnamon. I cheerfully ground up the harder ingredients, doused them with honey from my own hidden flask, and mixed the entirety into one concoction that I set to simmer. By the time I was done, so too had Cookie, and she soundly tore into me that I had forgotten the single most important part of a hot chocolate, placing several enormously large marshmallows into the pot.

Cookie is quite possibly a genius. I could not imagine why Topaz had never done the same.

I took the resulting mixture to the Princess with her restored meal. I was somewhat gratified that Princess Luna downed her entire first cup with a muffled sound of true pleasure, drawn out until the mug was nearly vertical above her.

The rest of her meal was quiet, but the Princess cheerfully allowed me to refill her mug several more times, and ordered me to enjoy a mug or two myself.

I had to admit, I do good work.


“Hooves, the buck are you doing?”

“...Patrolling, sir?” I blinked rapidly. I had been less attentive than usual. I would have to correct that.

The captain took a deep breath through his nostrils, eyes closed. “I can see that, Corporal Hooves. Allow me to rephrase. Why the buck are you patrolling? You’re supposed to be on Luna duty.”

“Because… that is also my duty?”

“Hooves. You are on special duty. Is special duty extra duty?”

Damn. “...Yes?” I asked, hopeful that it would be allowed to be such.

A wide grin split his face “Tartarus, no, it isn’t.” The grin vanished. “You’re working nights for Princess Luna. Your duty right now is to rest up and be prepared to serve appropriately when Shining Armor is off shift. Get your armor off, go… sleep, or rest somewhere, or... do something relaxing that you do! Dismissed.” And with that, he briskly trotted off.

Disappointed, I looked around the palace gardens. Topaz was teaching, and her hours would not coincide with mine. I had not purchased clay for use at home, and I had been explicitly forbidden from working off shift. What was a Royal Guard to do if not… Guard-ing something?

I eyed one of the statues, considered its state of disrepair, and made my decision. A trip to the market, and I was ready to begin.


I started from the bottom, working my way up. I cleansed every inch of it, doing my best to remove the ravages of time, nature, flora and fauna alike. Moss and mildew stains were easy enough to remove. Lichen could be scraped off with a bit of care, and the occasional crack could be filled in. That was fine… until I reached the bust. There… it became more complicated, the detail more intricate.

I very, very delicately scratched a bit of lichen away from the horn, wiping away at it with a sponge dipped in a mixture of soapy water and just a touch of vinegar. Almost done. A bit of marble crushed to a fine powder, just a bit of slime, and… perfect. The horn was done. Finally was the part I had dreaded above all others. I took a deep breath, peering at the beard. There were bits of moss, chips of material, bird detritus, and everything else in this beard, and I could scarcely believe the detail that had gone into it. I retrieved my finest pick, as this would be the greatest test of my talents; I would not damage this statue, and it would be something the princesses could be proud of again. Quite honestly, this was a masterwork of whatever sculptor had done it, and if I did damage it, I did not think Equestria would see its like again.

As such, I feel that I should be given a little forgiveness for becoming quite cross when I was interrupted after several hours of work.

CORPORAL HOOVES!” My sponge squeezed, letting potentially damaging amounts of vinegar dribble down the beard. I gave a grunt, catching them as fast as possible and very, very gingerly scraping the tip of my pick through the fine marble hairs one last time, breathing a sigh of relief.

“My apologies, your highness. How may I assist?” And then I noticed a squad of my fellow guards in full armor, leveling various weapons at me.

“Please get down.” She ordered, terse, but not angry. I began to consider that I had lost track of time, but no, Shining should still be on duty.

“Of course, your highness.” I eased myself down, taking a good look at the statue. No, it was still misshapen, lopsided and ugly… but it was still an amazing piece, and the detail was all the clearer for its new cleaning. Her tension was clear, and I was aware I had overstepped, bowing low. “Forgive me, your highness. I was told my duties for the day were relegated to assisting your sister, and having nothing better to do, decided to work on one of the statues. With the Gala coming, I felt it was important to do some minor work that might be overlooked. The statue is a most impressive piece, after all.”

Princess Celestia marched around the statue, inspecting it closely for even the slightest flaw. I bit my lip. Inappropriate, true, but I had never had my work so carefully scrutinized. “It… seems unharmed. Better than it was, truth be told…” Her stern visage softened, and she rubbed her chin thoughtfully. “...Corporal, in the future, I would prefer to be advised of any future desire to repair the castle statuary, but… honestly, it’s like he’s here again. I think he’d have appreciated my heart attack.”

“...Your highness?”

“Nothing, nothing.” She took a deep breath. “You may disperse, gentlecolts. I believe all is well. Corporal, I believe Shining Armor is due to be replaced shortly..?”

“Of course, your highness.” I trotted off, giving a backwards glance at the statue. I then blinked, then peered at it more closely. A trick of the mind, I decided. I should indeed have slept.

Why would the statue’s taloned claw have clenched with one thumb pointed towards the sky, anyways?

-----

I found Shining leaving his post early, but could not begin to bring myself to be cross with him.

“Shining. You… seem to be carrying a fireball.”

His eye twitched and he forced the words through clenched teeth in a ghastly smile. “Philomena. Decided to come visit. And hacked up flaming pellets in Luna’s tower.”

I winced. “...Perhaps… someone should talk with Princess Celestia about letting her go. She seems to have taken a harsh turn.”

“Princess Celestia. Really wants Fluttershy to see her.” He gave me a pointed look, and I recalled that my report had suggested as much. “I can only assume she wants her to see Philomena as she is now.”

Not, I decided, something anypony actually wanted to see. I didn’t say it, but Shining clearly agreed. “It will likely be the only chance she gets to do so,” I allowed, regretfully.

Cryptically, he only muttered “I wish.” Given the extra hours we had been working, I decided not to correct him for wishing multiple deaths on Celestia’s pet bird.

“And how is Princess Cadance?”

“...Idol, can I be frank?”

“Of course, sir.”

“I am absurdly angry with the world right now, and you’re kind of included in that?”

“Excuse me?”

“This,” he motioned to the tower, “-is actually pretty great. Cady’s happy for me, I’m happy, and that’s all great. Also, I am in a position, right now, where I can’t go visit my marefriend for a little affection.”

I blinked, then considered the implications. “Princess Luna is compromised. And you might share that with your fiancee.”

“Bingo,” he sighed heavily, settling down. “The shield’s secure for a couple hours. It can be charged a bit more now, I’ve been tweaking it. This is torture.”

“You look awful,” I admitted. “Perhaps you could make one of your shields for your personal use-”

He waved the idea off. “Nice idea, not really good enough. It’s like… hugging through a fence. It’s awkward, not bad, but it just reminds me how much I want to…” he trailed off.

“You should marry her.”

Another sigh. “Yeah… can you even imagine if she had to go somewhere now and we couldn’t… ugh, this sucks. I mean, I bought the ring-” his eyes went wide and he glared at me. “No, shut up.”

“You already have the ring?!”

“I can’t-!”

“Just. Do it!” I was aghast, but… oddly bemused. Finally.

“I can’t do it now, I can’t even touch her!”

“I am telling her.”

“Don’t you dare!”

“Try to stop me.”

“I’ll put you in a bubble and stick you in front of a train. You’ll be the world’s most eligible hamsterball-pony.”

I gasped, faking affront. “You bastard. Nopony should have that much power.”

His eyes narrowed comically. “I am, and I do!” The effect was ruined by a huge yawn, and some of the flaming pellets nearly slipped his grip. “Ahh, we’ll talk about it tomorrow. Dead to the world right now.” He gave me a closer look. “You need coffee too.” He announced, then wandered down the hall.

I fought my own yawn, and had to admit he was right.

-----

Luna had not been very talkative that shift, but had been pleased that Shining had offered her a book of Ogres and Oubliettes, and she was currently lost in her studies of the rules and manuals. As I understood, that was how most players began. And, as I understood it, she had asked not to be disturbed.

“Wow, Idol, were you run over by a cart or did you just decide to work a triple shift?”

I looked up, but I was too tired to be afraid of the thestral’s grin. “Good evening Mothchaser, no, and… yes, I suppose I sort of did.”

“You can’t do that! How are you even alive?!” She gave me an appraising look. “Coffee. My treat. I know a place.” She waved at the other thestrals, several of whom looked at me with some concern.

“Pony Joe’s.” I agreed, automatically.

“Meh. Pony Joe’s is rookie tier. Come on, it’s on my way home.”

Traitor,” I gaped, amazed at the brazen lie. “And… I thought you lived under the castle.”

“Joe has good coffee, sure. But you want great coffee, you come with me. And I don’t live in the Night Guard barracks, I just roost there from time to time. You don’t live in your barracks room, right?”

I supposed I didn’t. And… follow a potentially dangerous predator to a second location for the promise of free coffee? What could go wrong?

“Hey Hooves? Did you really polish that statue of Discord in the garden today? And totally ignore Princess Celestia and a bunch of guards?”

“Yes, I think I might have.”

She gave a screechy laugh, delighted. “You’re a wild stallion, Idol.”

-----

“...The Grindhouse.”

Mothchaser had the grace to blush. “Look, so it’s not the best name.”

“And it’s closed.” I looked into a window, and noted the place was rather dark.

“Oh, well, yeah,” she acknowledged, fiddling with the door with her wings. “Quarter turn, and- open~!”

“Did you just break in?”

“Don’t be silly, Hoovsie. It’s just a little finicky. Come on.” When I didn’t immediately follow, she sighed. “It’s my place. And my brother’s. Pristine Grind, so… the Grindhouse.”

I followed her into the dark shop, watching her make her way around to the various strange machinery. “What is all of this?”

“We’ve got espresso, cappuccino, and mochaccino makers, and over there we’ve got a bobaler.” She counted the devices off as she turned them on, and soon the building began to smell of freshly ground coffee. The last just… shook. I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“A what?”

“Bobaler. It makes boba tea.”

“Amazingly, that is not exceptionally helpful. What is a boba?”

“Tapioca balls suspended in fruit tea. We’ve got dragonfruit, mango, couple other things. We tried durian, but the neighbors filed a grievance.” She leaned against the counter, batting her eyelashes. “So, what’s your pleasure?”

“Hmm.” I eyed the complicated list on the wall. “...House special?”

“Coming right up!” She adjusted several valves with her wings, peered at them carefully, nodded, and then vaulted back over the counter. Quickly, I realized that a pegasus would never be as agile in this kitchen, and even a unicorn might not have the delicate touch. “Come on, I usually do a little to set the place up in the morning. Promise, you’ll get your coffee. Might even throw in a boba to sweeten the deal.” She winked at me, heading towards a table.

I tried to follow, but whether it was simple exhaustion or something sticky on the floor, I missed my step and tumbled into her, knocking both of us to the ground.

Mothchaser stared up at me, eyes wide, mouth half-open. I tried to get up, but our legs were tangled. A sudden inrush of emotion from her, trepidation, uncertainty, eagerness? “...Be gentle?”

There was a noise from above, followed by a choking sound and hysterical screechy laughter.

“PRIS, YOU ABSOLUTE JERK!” Mothchaser shrieked, flinging me aside and charging up a stairway in the corner of the shop, leaving me to the faint hiss of steam and my own confusion.

What in Tartarus had that been?

Author's Note:

Yikes, sorry about the delay folks! Travel and all that had me wiped. Should be back in the swing of things though. Hope you're all excited for the upcoming holidays!

Once again, if you like the fic and want to support me, feel free to toss a buck in the hat!
Thanks once again to all of you!

If you're interested in a live reading, hit up Equinox3141 on YouTube

And if you want to pop over to the discord server and say 'hi', well here you go!

Oh, and uh... for those of you wanting more Merry... Chapter 2 of Something About Merry got posted. Enjoy!

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

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