• 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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A Slow Roast

As I was not, apparently, an intentional participant in what was going on in the upper story of the business, I busied myself investigating the many odd contraptions The Grindhouse apparently used to make not-coffee. I had been initially concerned with what sounded like a large flyswatter striking something, but the screechy laughter and general mirth I felt from the other occupant of the house seemed to more than offset Mothchaser’s sudden inexplicable anger. Besides, I was aware that the bickering of siblings was held to be a time honored tradition in Equestria, and I would hardly interfere in such a personal thing.

Also, my ribs hurt and I did not look forward to her kicking me again. She could manage her kin.

The espresso machine was steaming merrily, and the whole shop was taking on a pleasant humidity, the rich scent of coffee filling the air. I had to admit… there might be something to this. A jet of steam came from a brass vent of one of the devices, and I settled into a nearby stool, closing my eyes amidst the various bubbles, hisses and steam. The warmth was a delight on its own, but the moisture, the hissing, and even the faint rattle and buzz of the various devices around me settled me. It had been years since I had been in the hive, and yet I found this strangely comfortable… it was much like being a nymph again…

There was a slight rustling, and one of the low whistles was muted. “Wow, you are tired. No wonder Mothy was worried about you. I mean, as a barista, I can’t help but be a little hurt when somepony just conks right out in my coffee shop.” I blinked rapidly, suddenly finding myself the object of scrutiny of an individual perhaps an inch away from my nose. I jolted, nearly falling off the stool. “Eaaasy, friend, easy-” the thestral coaxed, holding up a small steaming cup to eye level. “Breve. Steamed cream and espresso. You clearly need it.”

I inhaled deeply as ordered, enjoying the aroma. It took me a further moment to realize the cup before my nose was in actuality being offered to me, delicately held with wingtips by a small saucer. I couldn’t help but feel a moment of disappointment; Topaz and I had tried Prench food at a fancy restaurant once, and I had briefly considered eating the plates as a form of protest for the lack of real sustenance to the ‘dish’. Still… I took the beverage and quickly downed it. “...It is good,” I admitted, peering at the small cup, then up at the new batpony. “...Pristine Grind, I presume?”

“You may,” he acknowledged with a flourish of his wings and a small bow. “If I have the delight of meeting the lauded Idol Hooves?” He was not, I decided, typical of what I knew of the thestrals. To be fair, I’d met few that looked as tired as this one, but he had a slow smile to him and radiated a sort of contented cheerfulness. The bags under his half-open, slitted eyes appeared to be more of a permanent feature than actual evidence of exhaustion, but I assumed anypony dealing in caffeine would likely lack for sleep. He offered a wingtip instead of the usual hoofshake, and I gingerly shook it regardless. The slow smile turned into an actual beaming one, and he pumped my hoof vigorously.

I tilted my head, curious at the precursor to my name. “I was not aware I possessed any sort of fame.”

“Oh yeah, big topic around here.” He grinned, and now I saw a hint of something predatory. “So, what can I get you? Oranges, grapefruit, candied lemons? What’d Mothy offer you?” he paused, then shook his head. “Let me rephrase that, did you want to order anything?"

“I had ordered the house special,” I offered, uncertain we were discussing the same thing. “And she had mentioned something about a bubble tea.”

“House Special and a boba it is. Let’s see… you probably want… something bold. But sweet. Not a fan of lots of flavors, bet you don’t care about bean varieties and bitterness is a no-go. And a no on bat coffee, too.”

“I would think a lack of bitterness appeals to most ponies.”

“It’s coffee, you’d be wrong. Make it wrong enough, and you’ll get a bitter sludge that no sane pony should ever want to drink.”

“...They buy it, don’t they?” I offered him my cup, and he began twisting dials on one of the brass containers. He pushed down on something, and with a hiss more of the dark beverage flowed out, though he gave a surprisingly deft twist of his wings in the middle of the press and switched my cup out for another mid-pour.

“In barrels. Here, try this. See, a good espresso has parts. And a nice foamy top, see? Now, this middle part is what I think you’ll like, most of the bitterness out, gets a good aroma, nice full flavor-” he pushed the cup my way again, tossing the rest of the other cup back himself. I was beginning to suspect the cause of his apparent insomnia might be work-related.

Still, he was right about the coffee. “What was that about bats?”

“Pretty popular amongst the nobility. Y’see, fruit bats eat the insides of a coffee fruit, leave the seed on the tree with just enough cherry to ferment, and we do the rest. Good cup, but a little pricier and tastes a bit more like the fruit itself.”

“I honestly thought coffee was a bean,” I admitted, considering.

“Nope, fruit. Tastes like mango, raspberry, and a bit of jasmine tea. And that ‘bean’ is like a rock, hard enough to chip your teeth!” he grinned while turning his head, showing off his own sharp teeth on the side of his smile… where one of the typical thestral dental-blades was very obviously flat in a way that didn’t match the others. “Learned that one around the time I got my cutie mark.”

“We have all eaten things we should not, I suppose.” A bell jingled at the door, and I looked over to it owlishly. Apparently I had been too tired to even notice it on my way in. Several other thestrals began filing in, and they seemed to take notice of me with interest. Regulars, I assumed. “One would think coffee is the last thing on most thestral minds if they are preparing to turn in for the day. Night?” I peered at the horizon through a shaded window, the night sky only just beginning to brighten.

“Ahhh, but you’d be wrong. Most of them want a low caffeine cup of the good stuff to get them through a few bits of early morning shopping before it gets too bright. Most places are setting up for the ponies just getting up and starting the day, not for the ones trying to survive the last bits of a shift. Besides, most shops are bright and well lit. We keep it intimate here.” He flicked a wing out, gesturing to the entire establishment, then pointed at a sign reading ‘NO LIGHT SPELLS’. “Sometimes all we need during the day is a dim place to rest and get a bit of strength back before we fight through the rest of the day you sunponies love so much.”

“I see. And your regulars have decent night vision, so it works just fine.”

“Or good hearing!” He clicked his tongue at me, and I stared blankly. “...You know, like…” He made the expression again, without such a loud ‘click’.

I began to wonder if lack of sleep was taking an unusual toll on him. “I have no idea what you are doing.”

One tufted ear flicked, the other flattening. “Echolocation. Mine isn’t so great, but a lot of us, it’s like a sound photograph. Or… more like a short range topographical map?”

I was intrigued. “Like a plaster cast of your surroundings?”

The ears shot up. “Yeah, that’s a great way to look at it. The higher you can pitch it, the finer and finer the detail you get back. Like thinner plaster gets more detail. I mean, making sound models of ponies and things is a tradition. Foals collect them, a master craftspony can give you something that looks like a block but sounds like a pony.”

“Fascinating. Perhaps we should bring more thestrals into the day guard. A talent like that would likely enable them to pick up on certain details the rest of us could miss.” I wondered idly if I could learn to mimic such a skill. The idea certainly interested me.

“Huh. Could work!” He gave me an appraising look, heading towards the strange ‘shaker’ machine. “Let me get you that boba.”

I quite liked the beverage, as it turned out. There was something imminently satisfying about a beverage you drank and ate at the same time, the strange little spheres in the beverage having a pleasant chew to them.

Mothchaser bounced into a stool to my right. “Well, you certainly seem to be enjoying yourself. Double black for me, Pris.”

“You’re killing me, sis. This is a specialty shop and you just get black coffee? Where’s the love?”

“Hey, I brought you a customer, I’m being a good sibling!”

Her brother grinned. “Oh, yeah, ‘customer’. Is that what they’re calling it nowadays?”

Mothchaser’s own smile vanished momentarily. “Okay, customer slash coworker.”

“Poor guy was too tired to know what he was even in for. Sis, I am appalled.”

“I am quite enjoying myself, to be honest. It is… good to relax a bit.” I hesitated, then admitted with a hint of shame. “I am, perhaps, guilty of seeking too much work.”

“Like I said, he just pulled a triple. He didn’t even go home last night.”

Pristine gave me a searching look. “Your family must have been worried.”

“If I had kin willing to claim me, they have yet to do so.”

“That’s a shame. Around your age most ponies would be looking to settle down. Maybe start their own?” Pris grinned, looking towards his sister, who scowled at him.

“Duty always comes first.” I admonished, enjoying my tea.

“You know, it’s funny, Mothy tells our parents the same thing. I keep telling her with all the stallions around her in the guard she shouldn’t have any trouble finding one to her tastes.”

“She is a fine example of a guardsmare. I would tend to agree with you.”


His smiled widened, and I marveled at the sheer number of sharp teeth he could show off. “How about you? You know any mares with a good echo to them? I could introduce you to a few who wouldn’t be against meeting a nice military minded stallion. Know of one for sure who could use it-”

Pristine Grind!” I turned to look at her in surprise, then turned further when I heard one of the regulars mention me by name. Perhaps I was better known amongst thestrals than I knew? It made sense, I supposed. Nopony else sold durians.

“What? I’m having a nice little conversation with my new friend. He seems like a… gentle… sort?”

Mothchaser tackled her brother over his counter.

The walk back to the center of Canterlot found Mothchaser was surprisingly subdued. “I’m sorry about all that. I mean. I didn’t think you’d get an interrogation! Pris was just being...”

We were apparently not going to discuss the small brawl the two had, and I was not to bring it up. Topaz tended to be much the same with her mother’s antics. “A brother?”

“A bother.” She groused. I raised an eyebrow, and her cheeks flushed. “Sorry. Family. He’s just being nosey.”

We walked several blocks in silence after that. Mothchaser seemed as distracted as she was annoyed.

Finally she sighed. “So what does a mare have to do to actually get into your room?”

I shrugged, continuing to walk. “Ask?” I turned to look at her, then frowned and stopped, turning around fully. “Mothchaser? Are you well?”

“I… I mean… just… just ask? What if I… uh… wanted to visit?” Her wings were curled around her like a raincoat, and the little spikes mid-wing seemed to be twirling around each other in front of her chest. I made a mental note to ask what the digit was called.

“Absolutely. You are, of course, welcome anytime.” I tilted my head. “When we are not working, that is.”

She continued staring, and that confusing mixture of emotions began to resurface. “Well! I might take you up on that.” She began striding forward again, suddenly as confident as the Element of Loyalty herself as she passed me. How strange.

“I look forward to it.”

She stumbled, looking back, blushing heavily. She gave a little snort, then giggled, cleared her throat, and took off into the sky without another word.

Now that was beyond peculiar, even for her. Perhaps it was a thestral thing. Or even a pegasus thing. I would ask Topaz.

“Topaz, this is not helpful, and rolling on the ground is most unbecoming of a professor.” I eyed her with growing concern. “...Cackling is not an improvement.”

“So… so what you’re telling me... is all these years-” she struggled to catch her breath “-you’ve been putting… a sock... on your doorknob-” a most unladylike snort here, though her humor was becoming contagious at this point “-to keep… keep ponies from interrupting you… with other changelings? And that is why you’ve got this reputation as a casanova?”

“I do not know what reputation I have outside of being an upstanding guard. You are the second today to bring it up.” I tilted my head. “A casanova is a good thing, yes?”

“Oh, Idol." She rubbed at her jaw with a hoof, slowly getting herself back under control with a slow shake of her head. "It… kind of? Look, the sock on the door indicates you don’t want to be disturbed, yes. For reasons.”

I motioned her to continue, still not getting her point. “Reasons such as desiring privacy with a companion, yes.”

“I swear, it’s like you’re doing this on purpose. Reasons such as desiring privacy with a companion for intimacy, Idol.”

“...But that would be literally dozens of ponies. Male and female. Over the period of a decade,” I protested.

She nodded, too vigorously. “Yeah, it would. Ponies just lining up at your door. Waiting for it.” The mare wiggled her eyebrows suggestively, and I was again reminded how often she spent time with Princess Cadance these days.

Far from amused, I was aghast. “I am suspected of... lewdery?”

“Suspected? Idol, you’ve apparently been socking your doorknob for years. You’re a known lewdist.”

I stared, horrified at this misconception. I was not to do this thing, and I had been flaunting the exact opposite? “...But… but what does that have to do with Mothchaser?”

“You invited her to your room, Idol.”

“I did, yes. But how does that relate?”

“...She expects you’re going to tie the sock.”

“But she is not a changeling, why would I-” I stopped, understanding finally setting in. “...What?”

A wing laid on my shoulder. “She’s been hitting on you for years, Idol.”

“Mothchaser has only ever struck me lightly,” I insisted, uncomfortably shrugging off the wing. I did not like this teasing.

The look the golden pegasus gave me was withering, and I tried not to fidget. “You know exactly what I mean.”

I shook my head. “Yes, but I believe you are ludicrously wrong.”

“Based on…?”

“...Based on Mothchaser being an upstanding pony with no interest in lewdery.” I stated, feeling justified in my pride in defending a fellow guardspony.

Topaz’s breath came out in a wheeze before she fell over again, laughing all the harder. My concern grew.

Author's Note:

Heya folks, hope everyone's still enjoying things. I'm going to try to post more often this year. We're pretty rapidly approaching things getting a little more... interesting.

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!

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