• 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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In the Still of the Night

“-and I swear, if I find one more cloud with chewing gum in it I’m going to go to that statue, with a chisel, and even out those stupid horns!”

“You will do no such thing, Wispy,” I corrected, plucking some of the pink gunk from my armor. I was merely thankful that the indigestible substance did not cling to me as thoroughly as it would to a creature without the benefit of magical faux-fur. Wispy, on the other hand, was part of the crews assisting with removing the remaining pink clouds from Canterlot. Most, of course, had been cotton candy, and I allowed myself a moment of jealousy. A rare few, however, were what Bold had classified as ‘basically ABC Gum’. Essentially, anything Discord summoned purely by power alone vanished when he did. Anything he adjusted manually, however, simply returned to the non-magical state it was in. And at some point, creating clouds of the aether had apparently become interminably boring, and thus the inventory of the local candy shops had been… altered. Floating clouds of cotton candy had simply drifted down onto whatever happened to be the least easily cleaned thing sticking out of the ground in the vicinity, be it tree, roof, or telescope. Clouds of aerosolized chewed gum became… exceptionally messy. And the vast downpour that had been intended to cleanse Canterlot had made some sections miserably sticky. Even I was growing tired of the saccharine smell.

“I might! Ugh, gum is the worst, I hate that smell! It’s like he knew…”

“I doubt he intended any one pony to be specifically bothered.”

Bold grunted, rolling a boulder of dried sugar-and-street-debris past. “Don’t mind her. Her parents thought gum is the embodiment of everything wrong with youth. She also doesn’t like jazz.”

Wispy flustered. “Look, it’s rude to talk while eating, so why isn’t it rude to chew gum, it makes sense. And I like jazz just fine!”

“Sure thing Sugar-sus.”

I paused, looking at both. Each seemed abashed by the pet name, Wispy trying to hide it with a long drink from a flask full of lizard infused lemon juice or some such health nonsense that she swore by, while Bold merely flushed and continued rolling his chunk of defiled road candy. “Am I still to pretend I do not suspect what the two of you got up to in Prance with Cadance and Shining?”

Wispy choked on her lizard-ade. “We… I mean, they kept us busy…!”

“Shame, then. I am told Prance is a very romantic place. But to hear you tell it, the two of you are still ‘single’. It is beyond belief that a three day trip could be so busy that the two of you had not a single moment to yourselves.”

“Well I mean… that is, technically-”

“And that Prance would have been a phenomenal place to be married in secret.”

Bold’s eyes widened and Wispy seemed to be trying to consume her entire flask. “We’d never-”

“And, knowing Cadance, she would delightedly suggest marrying the two of you ‘as a joke’. Which, with Shining as a witness, would actually be legally binding.”

And there went the rest of Wispy’s beverage. “What? Shining wasn’t even there!”

I cocked an eye. “Shining left the princess completely alone? How… unlike him.”

Bold’s jaw fell open. “I knew it! The horns do make you evil! She married us!”

“You can’t just go around marrying people! Of course she didn’t! I mean, you have to have… there has to be a ceremony!”

Slowly, I nodded, giving that all the consideration it deserved. “Of course, you must be right. She wouldn’t have suggested that you assist her in practicing marrying ponies. Surely ponies cannot simply ‘elope’ to Las Pegasus. It must be a very elaborate affair,” I continued, nodding with growing emphasis.

“...She set us up! The nerve!”

“Wait, Hooves, how did you know-”

“I am privy to more plots than I could ever wish to be.” A pause. “Allow me to rephrase that.”

Wispy grinned, looking just a bit green as she tried to redirect the conversation. “No, no, that sounds right. Sounds like half the mares in the guard threw themselves at you while we were gone.”

“It was not like that,” I countered, trying to do the math. Considerably less than half, I decided. “It was only the mares on shift or in the castle who flocked to the throne room. Whether to protect or be protected, I cannot say, but I have avoided the conversation. And it was not like you suggest. And we were not supposed to discuss the matter.”

“And that’s pretty much why everyone who works in the castle knows about it, to be fair. Sounded to me like you were living like a king. All you needed was a crown. Or some kind of toga and some laurels…?” Bold lifted his hooves up around his head, mimicking the sort of ‘half-crown’ I had seen before in depictions of ancient equestrians.

And that… did explain why the drapes in the throne room were down in my confused recollections. Order, that fabric was not meant to be worn. It wasn’t even meant to be moved, really. “I believe the crown fits where it lies at the moment.”

“No kidding. That’s probably why Discord did it.” Bold snorted, pouring some sort of grease on his hooves before going back to rolling his ball of wasted sugar into a wagon. “Idol’s one of the only folks who never really saw any problems with Luna being back. Just another princess taking her place. So, he made Idol think his place was at the top instead of somewhere near the bottom. You need confidence, ‘Dol.”

“I am quite confident, I assure you. I know my place in Equestria, Sergeant Bigflank.”

“Yeah, you think you do, but it’s wrong, Corporal. You’re going to get promoted again soon. Just so you know. I bucking well shouldn’t be telling you of all ponies what to do. Not when you’re in the thick of things with Gonna-Be-Captain-Any-Day-Now Shining Armor.”

“I beg to differ. My position is minor and that is how it should be.”

“Sure, sure,” He repeated my earlier slow head nod, and I found it exceptionally aggravating. “You’re just one of a handful of ponies who provides for Princess Luna’s personal guard. You only spend more time protecting her than you do at home. How are those days off coming?”

I froze. Tartarus. “...There is… too much to do, as of late?”

“Called it. And Princess Celestia’s going to call you on it sooner or later.” He shrugged. “You do the crime, you get the time.”

“Bold, there’s something really wrong about that phrase being used for getting promoted,” Wispy snickered. I grunted, trying to get back to prying caramel off of a lamp post.

“Lunch break. I need something to eat that isn’t going to rot through my teeth. I’d kill for some hay fries. With enough salt to choke on.”

“Oh, Celestia, please tell me you aren’t eating this freaking road candy.”

“Come on, Wispy, I’m not Idol.”

“I would not do that.” The other two stopped, both looking at me with clear skepticism. “...This is far past the ten second rule.”

“Gross. And it’s five seconds.”

“It’s no seconds, food on the ground is disgusting.”

“It comes from the ground, it won’t hurt to be there a few more seconds. Besides, little bit of dirt never hurt anypony. Would you eat something you dropped on a cloud?”

“First off, clouds are just water and magic and they’re very clean most of the time. And most stuff would fall through them anyways. It’s not like clouds stick to your food.”

“There was absolutely not a ‘no’ there but fine. There is sugarwater on everything and if I can’t pick up something with my hooves I have to use my mouth. Pity the poor earth pony, please?”

“You get sympathy only, pity is beneath you. However... the hay fries are on me. It is the least I can do.” I motioned to one of the open air cafes. “I would like to hear more of your trip to Prance. How is their military?” A server quickly noted us, smiled, and put us in a sunny spot that looked like it had been at least modestly scrubbed free of the dregs of Discord’s holiday.

“We’re not going to war with Prance, Idol. Most folks would just want to hear about the sights. Gimme a sec to wash my hooves.” The bulky stallion ambled off.

“One can never be too well prepared. And I have seen photographs. It seems very Prench.”

Wispy nodded, bemused. “Suppose it’s Prench whether it seems to be or not, if it’s in Prance. Right?” She cleared her throat, and I felt a spike of nervousness from the normally confident pegasus. She leaned in very close and murmured “You are joking about the marriage thing, right?”

I slowly tilted my head. “Would I do that?”

Wispy groaned as a mare strode up to us with a vase, quickly turning towards her. “Oh thank Harmony, a distraction. Can we get three orders of hay-”

And then the mare dumped the vase full of not-entirely-fresh flower water on my head. Startled and more than a little displeased, I sucked in a very unpleasant quagmire of emotion from the mare; misery, righteous anger, despair. I had become entirely too familiar with this over the past few days. “Alright then. Whose would you be?”

The mare faltered. “Wh...what?”

“Whose lover are you?” I took a deep breath, sorting the emotions and various memories. Mare. Pink coat. Red mane, almost too dark. Perhaps a little bit of black dye in it. Eyes puffy. “No, not lover… fiance. You must be Ironsides’s?”

The anger slipped, turned to fear. Suspicion. “How do you know that? Ally-”

My assumption was accurate. Iron Allium, or ‘Ironsides’ to her fellow guards, was one of a number of mares who were avoiding me. For all her bluster and the strict persona she had adopted, the older mare was soft at heart. “Ironsides gets sappy the moment she touches liquor. She is quite taken with you. Told anyone who would listen about how romantic your Hearts and Hooves Day present was. Not that she told us what it was, so I imagine it must have been quite private,” I informed her, blithely.

Wispy’s head jerked to stare at one of us, then the other. As she seemed content not to interject, I simply waited.

“If you knew all that, why would you-”

“Stop. I. Did nothing. Iron Allium. Did nothing. Whatever you may fear happened between us… was nothing. It meant… nothing. I care no more for her than I care for any other guard.” I was growing tired of assuring various lovers that I was no threat to them. “Talk to her and deal with this. I assume you quite capable of doing just that.”

“But you… she won’t talk to me-!” The impotent fury, the fear that she was failing her lover somehow. I was so tired of it, this mix of emotion combined with the grey atmosphere of Canterlot following Discord’s reign. She wasn’t even the first today.

Sometimes it took a storm to clear away the clouds. “Then perhaps you are not mare enough for her. Perhaps I am her type, and I will take her from you. It is not like you can stop me.” And then I wrenched on her emotions, focusing on the anger. I had done something like this before, years back, and had been hesitant to do it again.

The things one does for the greater good.

The mare full on slapped me across the face, and I let go of her anger as I fell from my chair. She blinked, shocked at her own fury, then stared at her own hoof in absolute horror. Order help me, Ironsides would have to teach that one to throw a real punch. It barely stung, but I rubbed at my cheek regardless. “...Do you feel better now?”

“...No. Not… not really.”

“I am just glad you hit me and not Allium. I believe I would have been spitting teeth if I said something like that about you. But you are willing to fight for her. Are you going to let a mere god stand between you?” At her raised eyebrow, I clarified. “Discord. I already stated that I have no interest in being in your way. And I have no claim to divinity that I am aware of.”

Anger forcibly spent, she seemed lost. “I… I shouldn’t have hit you.”

“Lingering effects of external influence.” I told her, smoothly. “Forgiven, forgotten. Wispy, witness me in this?”

“Hooves, I don’t even know what the buck is going on. Sure, I’ll attest to putting this out of my mind as fast as I can.”

“The important thing is that you were willing to fight a member of the royal guard, in public, for your lover’s honor. You will get through this. You deserve each other. As I have said… she is quite taken with you.”

“I’ll… um… go get… you your hay fries.”

“And ice, please. If you do not mind.” I tapped my cheek lightly, and feigned a bit of swelling on my disguise. The mare flushed and fled.

Moments later, Bold sat down beside us, looking from me to Wispy, then frowning as he gave a sniff. “...Did I miss something? Hooves, are you wearing cologne?”

I jerked to the other side of the table, putting it between myself and the far larger stallion. “Order forbid, Bold, I have made absolutely no moves on your wife!”

Wispy burst into laughter bordering on hysterical.

Princess Luna spat her thermometer onto a tray, continuing to arrange her bizarre construction of glass and mirrors. “We art fine, Corporal Hooves! We simply had a bad reaction to our medicine. In our day, we chewed willow bark for aches and pains and-”

“Yes, your majesty. We note that you are without shield today?”

The lunar diarch sighed, allowing me to side-track her. “Our physician has decided to allow us the benefit of the doubt. If Discord bursting in like an arrow through a soap bubble was not enough to do us in, surely we are able to survive the vast horrors of the world beyond the tower.” To my skeptical look, she amended “To the confines of the castle with minimal direct contact.” At my firm nod, she gave me a piteous look. “Surely you do not believe that we would impose upon your honor by making you complicit in our escape from these marble walls?”

“Of course not, your Highness. As I believe it would be the pegasi patrolling the grounds to have greater chance of preventing your escape into the world at large.”

She grinned, looking through a telescope, then framing her hooves around the moon. “We have heard tale that lack of flight has never stopped you from pursuit.”

“It was one time. The bridge was not that high. No more than six stories.” I stabilized a chunk of curved glass with faintly shimmering runes with some concern. I was not entirely sure I should be touching it in the first place.

A scoff, but a fond one. “Besides. We have had evidence of our recovery.” With that, she ran a hoof through her short blue hair, tossing it… and it went strangely nebulous, much like her elder sister’s seemed to drift on a divine breeze. It lengthened, and for only an instant I could see the stars she loved so much… and then the effect faded, leaving her with a plain blue merely-phenomenally fine mane instead of an ethereal godlike one. At her expectant look, I politely clapped and she gave a bow. “As you can see, our powers return, if slowly. Our enforced rest has done its duty.”

Some of its duty, Highness. You are not fully returned to your glory.”

“Our ‘glory’?” She scoffed. “We were never glorious, but we… I… do appreciate the sentiment. I can keep that up for almost an hour.”

“Ahh. No doubt due to secret practice when you were supposed to be ‘taking it easy’?”

Her royal highness bit her lip and didn’t meet my eyes. “...Potentially. We may have… overdone it, which may have led to us feeling poorly.”

I gave her a stern look, but relented. “I shall not tell your sister if you do not. And if she does not specifically request it of me.”

“Thy loyalty and candor are most refreshing.” Luna assured me. “We shall not abuse such faith.”

“You are doing it again.”

A stomp of a hoof threatened to undo an hour’s worth of fastidious work. “Damnation and vexation! It was one thing to slip when I was not well. And now that I am trying to ensure I speak properly, I find myself adhering to a standard that exists no longer. I must get this right. I intend to go out among the people upon the next harvest festival. It is a tradition I would like to uphold. And I would like to see Ponyville again.”

I considered, then winced. “...That would be Nightmare Night, your highness. They have some… quaint traditions for the holiday.”

“All the more fitting,” she accepted. “I am, after all, the ‘reason for the season’, I fear. Perhaps I will be better accepted for it? But I must correct these vocal faux pas before that time comes!”

“Perhaps not?”

She gave me a delightfully imperious look, only slightly spoiled by the fact that she meant it in jest. “Explain thyself.”

“That, precisely. It is… charming. You are concerned that your people will see you as out of touch and an age apart, yes?” A potted mushroom that tended to have a faint green luminescence to it was placed under a round-bottomed flask.

“I did believe that to be obvious, yes.”

“...Then… perhaps make it clear that you are just that? It is not you who needs to be accepting of their era, but they who must allow you to join them in theirs.”

“You… think that I… we should play up our failures to adapt?”

“Given what I have heard of young Twilight, I begin to fear maladaptation is the norm.”

“Yes, sister mentioned a ‘want-it, need-it’ spell. At least she used it on a doll and not one of her friends.” I had truly no response to that. “But I will consider it. Perhaps… Royal Canterlot voice? Yes. It will be a fine nod to a shared tradition!” A beaker was rolled under a spiralling glass tube. After a moment of inspection, Luna took the tube, inverted it, then scowled, casting it aside.

Barely catching it, I looked up in time to see a near-identical tube curved in the opposite direction taking its place. “...Your Highness, might I beg to know what you are doing?”

“Tis a surprise. We have long wanted to thank those of you who have suffered alongside us. Weeks ago we overheard what was truly a remarkable idea from one of the Night Watch but could not begin to imagine how such a thing was managed. But during our fever, we were struck down with inspiration!”

This all seemed oddly familiar. “...Wait.”

“Hush! I have but a moment!” Her horn glowed briefly, lanterns went out, the moon suddenly seemed… brighter, closer as it drifted to finally be fully in the path of Luna’s telescope. The ethereal stars began to show in her mane again and I immediately grew more nervous as the enormous observatory telescope suddenly beamed a ray into the mass of mirrors and shaped glass. Something seemed to be congealing all around the equipment, as if the light itself was clinging to it all and leaving some sort of gelatinous glow. To my growing disquiet, it all oozed down into carefully placed beakers. The green mushrooms burst into flame very similar to that of changeling magic at Luna’s cheerful nod, and soon the strange substances began to bubble, the various tubes being piped off splitting out into several prismatic varieties before receiving other strange treatments around the room and finally coming back to merge together and drip down the spiral glass piping the princess had just installed. With a faint ringing, each individual droplet struck the final, fluted beaker. It was not merely tone, it was… music. Haunting, beautiful… much like the strange sound of the bowl-player’s instrument, finishing only with the last faintly glowing drop struck surface, leaving a hollowness to the room like the echo of a droplet from a stalactite to a cavernous lake.

When all was done, I sat in stupefied silence, stunned at the intensity of the moment. “That was… lovely, your Highness. I am honored.”

“That was not the reward, though the process was far more pleasant than I had expected.” She scooped up the container as though it were a chalice. “This is my thanks.” She flushed slightly. “We… we are led to believe that many in the Royal Guard partake in moonshine. While we know little of such things, nor how it was managed in the past, we felt that if it could be done by other ponies, surely we, the Princess of the Moon, could manage a far superior variety.” With that, she passed it along to me.

Dear Order. The Princess had turned literal moonlight into liquid and distilled it. My mind reeled. Not only could I not comprehend that this had been possible… I was entirely sure I was not supposed to drink such a thing. I began to formulate the words, looked to her again… and fell silent at her hopeful, nervous expression. I would rather die than dissuade her. Let alone correct this entire misconception. And with that, I toasted her, then took a long drink from the ethereal beverage.

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