• Published 9th Mar 2014
  • 35,082 Views, 7,352 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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Hooves On First

“-and it’s not her fault, she has a curfew of two hours after dawn! When else is she supposed to do stuff, everyone else has to be home two hours after the moon comes up, we can only play right before she has to go home or right before everyone else does. Since I don’t have to go anywhere and Topaz isn’t teaching me until she’s done with her schoolwork, I just, y’know. Nap while everyone else is at school. And we get to hang out more. There aren’t that many other batponies her age, most of them are in Shady Whatsits. Most of the adults are ‘career oriented’ and aren’t having foals. Or didn’t have them when her parents had her, I guess? Either way it’s not fair!” Nymph scowled over at me as she pushed another bowl in my direction.

I took it and began drying, reconsidering this ‘grounding’ business. “Dishes are never fair. Regardless, it sounds like you are being very dedicated to both groups of friends. But does it truly matter that she is not of age with her fellow thestral foals?”

Topaz immediately cut in. “Absolutely. There’s a bunch of divisions when you’re young, Idol; learning your colors, to count, to read, that sort of thing. And because you become proud of the things you can do, you want everyone to know you can, so you sort of disassociate yourself from foals who aren’t old enough to have picked up those skills yet. Not because you mean to, but because you want your peers to recognize that you’re of a certain advanced skillset. If you’re the only one that can read in your group, you might be ‘the smart one’ but you’ll also still be lumped in with a group of foals who can’t read and therefore might not be interested in the same things you now have access to. What’s the difference between historical biographies and a science fantasy novel to someone who can’t read? When you became an excavation drone, did you want to be mistaken for a nymph?” The dried bowl was scooped up in a feathered wing and casually rolled into a cabinet with another, and a small checkered cloth was settled over it to catch the next.

I smiled at the solid ‘thud’ and took the final offered bowl from the Ny-Cersus. I had to acknowledge Topaz’s point, however. “Assuredly not. But these things seem to be neglected with age.”

Chores done, Topaz began into full lecture mode as Nymph and I sat upon the couch attentively. Topaz was a natural instructor, I had found, and even when I did not know what she was talking about, I enjoyed listening. “You realize they don’t matter so much. Once you hit a certain level, you’re just kind of expected to go your own way in Equestria. Like your pottery. I don’t get it, and I’m not as fascinated by the art of it as you are, or of blending form and function like you tend to get, but that doesn’t matter because I have really nice dishes and a serving bowl with a big enough spout that I can pour stew.”

“I thought he just screwed that one up.” Cersus confessed with a cheeky little smirk.

I gave her a sour look, but Topaz gave my artistic heart and formerly fledgling skills no mercy. “It probably was, but it worked out. Stew is easy to make and hard to screw up. You basically can’t overcook it and I like that bowl. If it keeps me from getting broth in my feathers, it’s a win. Anyways. You don’t understand my fascination for insects as much, but who cares, you still help me with my research from time to time. We’re friends even if we’re not in the same general social circles. And there’s no hierarchy to dissuade it. Sure, there’s a bit of distinction between say, a first year and a fourth year student in higher learning, but if one’s going for botany and one’s going into medicine, the overlap is different. An early-training botanist knows how to care for a willow tree and maybe even how to make painkillers from the bark, but it’s the fully-trained doctor who knows how to properly and safely apply them. They could become friends just from seeing each other so often, but the botanist could also meet a bunch of doctors who need what they provide, or the doctor could see a lot of botanists for other sorts of medicine. So they aren’t in the same circles, but they share a periphery with a lot of folks that might be in those circles. You understand?”

“Not even slightly.”


Topaz rolled her eyes good naturedly. “Kinda figured you wouldn’t, Idol, but a little more surprised about Cersus. Maybe that’s just a changeling thing? I mean, to you, the Guard is one big happy family and you’re cheerfully oblivious to everything to the contrary. But the Wonderbolts are part of the guard, and while the Night Guard and Day Guard aren’t actually separate branches, there *is* a Navy-”

“Yes, but… I would be fearfully useless on a boat. And as I am not a pegasus, my interest in the Wonderbolts is less than most of yours-”

“So really the only ones in your circle are ones like Spitfire who likes to be a social firefly and be noticed everywhere, and Soarin because he likes being everyone’s friend. Do you even know Fleetfoot? Stratosphere?”

“Fleetfoot only... vaguely. She has a distinct voice.” I tilted my head. “Spitfire has never even complained about someone named Stratosphere. While I hate to cast aspersions, it does make me wonder if you mean someone else?”

“And she mostly spends her time with other Wonderbolts. You only interact with Spitfire because she’s Wonderbolt Captain and she likes to chat with you from time to time and get your opinion on ponies. And because she’s trying to poach Wispy. Good catch on Stratosphere, though, just checking.” She frowned, looking over to Nymph who looked dumbstruck. “I think we’ve gotten off topic.”

“You know Spitfire?! And Soarin?!”

“Of course I do. I am a Guard. She is the Captain of the Wonderbolts. Soarin has a fantastic nose for desserts and a sweet tooth.” Topaz gave me a strange look, but made no further comment.

“But the Wonderbolts are cool!”

I re-reconsidered my stance on ‘grounding’. And then decided that was petty and beneath me. Cersus’s troublemaking had been to establish a much needed friend to a thestral who seemed disconnected from her peers. “...And?”

“...you’re… um.”

“Not cool?” Truth be told, her efforts to squirm around my minimal attempt at establishing rules were amusing. As was her insistence that I was uncool. I was, in fact, the hippest. Though I knew better than to correct this grievous error. Only by insisting you were cool could one ever prove themselves fraudulent, apparently. So in not correcting her, I gave scathing criticism to her insult.

The little changeling shifted from hoof to hoof, radiating guilt. “I wasn’t gonna say that. Just… something like that?”

“I am bruised but uninjured. Regardless, Spitfire is… perhaps the epitome of what a Wonderbolt is. She is brash, showy, and proud. I believe she has earned the right to all three.”

“Can… can I get her autograph?”

I sighed. It was entirely an inappropriate request for a young infiltrator. Particularly one who already had a box of ‘trophies’.

And, of course, I was already planning to ask for it. Or perhaps… one could do better. A learning experience? “It occurs to me that Spitfire delights in doing signatures for fillies and colts in homemade Wonderbolt costumes for Nightmare Night.”

Cersus’s wings suddenly buzzed so ferociously that the hum was surely audible even to Topaz. At my look, she bit her lip and visibly calmed herself. “Oh. Is that so?” Still too much excitement, but no longer wasteful; a good show of her training. Truthfully, I was rather impressed.

I couldn’t help but encourage her further. “Indeed. She has even been known to have her photograph taken with those who truly impress her.” That was what she was known for, yes. But I knew better than that; she simply loved the looks on their faces when she told them some odd facet of the false uniform was close to perfect. That she wasn’t actually impressed often was irrelevant; it was part of her character for the foals, and she relished it. She even kept the spare photos in a carefully tended box.

As she put it, it would make for great teasing material for the new recruits in ten years or so. I had cheerfully condemned the lech for ruining such a sparkling, tender revelation, and she only grinned at me. Some things just didn’t change, I supposed.

There was a shrill chirp from the nymph, and she rushed me and clung to my leg. “Thank you thank you thank you I’m gonna go get started right now-” and with that, the young changeling had flipped the couch to get at her ‘secret’ escape route.

“-I meant you should disguise yourself-” I sighed, words lost to the air.

“She forgot that she was trying to hide that hole from me.” Topaz noted dryly, peering after my charge.

“Shame you missed it.”

“Absolutely,” she agreed, helping me shift the couch back over it. “Besides, it’s cute that she’s so excited to make something. Maybe she’ll get as into it as you are your pottery? Good idea, Idol.”

I hadn’t even considered that. It was oddly… humbling? “Yes, well... if it keeps her out of trouble, a worthy cause.”

Topaz tried very hard not to smile at me. “Depends on how and where she gets the fabric.”

I had the sudden mental image of a disguised nymph raiding a wonderbolts supplier for fabric scraps, and I do not think I could willingly replicate the sound I made.

To say the rest of my week was stressful would be… generous. My newest disaster in the making had left me dumbstruck for almost a full minute.

Very slowly, I raised a hoof to my eyes. “Once more. Explain why you are doing this thing?”

“Because it is a thing that should be done?” The one from Manehattan offered, hopefully.

“Being a protector is acceptable by the ponies.” Another suggested.

“I like the shiny shell.”

“The Guard has an important duty and lacks the numbers to accomplish it?”

I groaned. “These are not… good… explanations. They are understandable ones, yes. But not good. There is far more to being a member of the Royal Guard than mere duty or… shininess. There are oaths involved.”

“We will not give the oaths.” Came a response with too much cheer and promise.

“That… is exactly the problem. The oaths are important. The oaths are what makes a Guard. Without them, you are ponies in uniform pretending to be guards- stop being proud. That is not intended as a compliment.”

‘I’ blinked. “But why?”

“They are part of the rules that you agree to obey.” I glared at each of them. “It is unlawful to pretend to be a guard.”

‘I’ protested this perceived injustice. “But you are doing it!”

Scowling, I turned to face my accuser. “I have sworn oaths and been officially trained by the best Canterlot had to offer. I have done everything according to Equestrian rules. I am a Royal Guard. Enough of that. You will cease impersonating the Guard. All of you, or I will be required to arrest you. That will be awkward.”

‘I’ grumbled a bit at that. I was not petulant, and resented the insinuation.

And stop being me!”

The four Idol Hooves in the cavern blinked, looking up at me in consternation. “But… this disguise is unquestioned! Using it for yourself is wasteful.”

“It is me. Be… be you.” I protested, trying to come up with a better argument in this. “I am… unfortunately, well recognized among the ponies. If you are me, they will pay attention to you. And if you do not act as me, it will interfere with my ability to work and be me, because I will be expected to act as you, who are not me and have not been me for this past decade.” I should not have been so humored by Princess Luna’s attempts to dissuade others from connecting her to Lady Moonstone. Surely, this was my punishment. “What even gave you this idea?”

“One of us in Dodge Junction. He is a ‘cherry farmer’. He said there was a guard who knew what he was doing, so we decided to be you, so we could know what we are doing.”

Order preserve!” I snapped, taking a deep breath to control myself. I was irrationally angry about this, and I sought to push the emotion away; where and when did I even acquire so much? “I… barely know what I am doing. I am simply doing the best I can. Ponies are… very tolerant of mistakes. Even so, I have strained my credibility with some. Regardless, my presence is roughly monitored. The Guard has formations, check-ins. More than one of me would be logged. As it is, I will have to hope that it is attributed to clerical error rather than the idea that I am one of many.

Of the four, two were merely confused, one radiated disappointment that bordered on grief, and the last… just seemed tired.

“I do not understand this. The ponies want others to do things, but then we cannot do those things. I want to be used. Tell me what I should do. What do I do for the ponies?”

I hesitated. “What do you want to do?”

The tiredness gave way to anger. “I want to do what I am told. I do not like being misled. I am told to do a task and wait, I do so, others become irritated. Ponies constantly say they want things done one way explicitly, and then want something else.”

“That… would not tend to be a thing most ponies desire,” I admitted. “You need to be more open-minded. And you. Why are you so upset?”

“I like being you. You are us, but not.”

I froze. This was… this was not a thing changelings within the hive would say as a compliment. This was… I stared at him, hard. There was something… odd about him. Something different? Too free with his emotions. Young. No longer a nymph, which meant he should be able to work. And yet… in pony terms, not quite ready.

It was not a concept of my kind. One was either ready or one was not; a success, or not. This one had… somehow been a decent duplicate of myself. Good enough that he had spread the idea, shown others, managed on his own, and had decided to show me for… approval? Who was I to give such approval? For that matter, who was I to disapprove? And why should he care?

This one would have never fit in amongst the others. What was going on in the hive to produce such strange drones? None of my concern, surely, but… I could not help but wonder. Were there more exiles lately? It seemed… I regularly assisted others of my kind. Not a constant flow, but still. Never had there been four who sought my attention at once. Rarely had I even been confronted with two at the same time; it was simply not done among the exiles.

Something was changing. Changing in the one place where change was under control, where Order was maintained. And inexplicably, I dreaded it.

But that was a problem for the future. For the now, I could help. “You cannot be me. I will not allow it. But… if you wish, I will make a… recommendation. To the Guard. Perhaps you will be allowed to join. What you do with it from that point will be upon you. The rest of you, I will… think of something. Come. Let us make arrangements.”

The one who wanted nothing more than to follow orders did not move. “I will not allow myself to become a cause for indecision. It ends.”

“Perhaps one more time?” I suggested, considering, then nodding firmly before asking “Have you ever heard of accountants?”

I knocked, hesitating only momentarily at the barked ‘Enter!’ from the princess. I had heard… frightfully little about how the Princess’s Nightmare Night in Ponyville had gone. Something about Nightmare Night being cancelled and reinstated?

Princess Luna’s nebulous mane seemed… wispier than I was familiar with. Her coat darker. To my understanding, this was… concerning. Closer to that of Nightmare Moon. Was I late? Perhaps slightly; if the Princess was waiting on me, surely I should have arrived immediately after her request. “Corporal Hooves.”

I bowed, swift and precise. “Your Highness called for me?”

She glared for a moment, imperious and offended. “You cad. They were terrified of me, and I was roaring in Royal Canterlot voice and making an absolute fool of myself.”

I winced. I had not… expected that.

The sudden flow of mirth surprised me. “The foals loved it. I spent the entire night with Twilight being introduced to her friends, too afraid to reveal that I was trying to play a part! Royal Canterlot isn’t simply out of style, it’s dead! My sister hasn’t used it in centuries! Thou. Art. A. Cad.”

“The best kind?” I offered, daring to look up.

“One of a kind. I have ne’er bobbed for apples with the common folk, nor played ‘spider toss’ and certainly never taken a hay ride. Twilight is so delightfully eager to share such events that it never even occurred to her that perhaps I only intended to oversee such festivities. It was a delight! Far from being terrified that Nightmare Moon shall rise again, they have made mock of her, turning her into a scary story for the little ones and an excuse to prevent them from consuming too much candy.” She offered me a hollowed gourd with a face painted on it, and I dutifully took a caramel. “It was… it was everything I could have hoped, far more than I had any right. And if you had not convinced me to act a fool, I would have been… a dignitary. Someone sent by my sister just to provide a presence. But now…” She blinked rapidly, looking away. I did not see tears. “Now? I am not merely welcome to return, I am promised to do so. A guest of honor.” She turned back, looking down to me. “Thank you, Idol.”

I flushed, unable to accept such praise. “Your Highness does me too much praise. I had not thought nearly so far ahead. My intent was merely that you show yourself as you are and not to pretend yourself a mare of today’s world more than you are.”

“Nonsense, you schemer. Twilight pounced upon the situation before I could even fathom my own means of escape. You know her brother! You did this with purpose. Lie to me not.”

Obediently, I got to my hooves, beginning to unwrap my treat. “And how were the Elements? Did you, as they say, hit it off?”

Now it was Luna’s turn to flush. “I have no idea what you mean. Twilight was everything I expected. Fluttershy was, as they say, a riot. I fear I missed Ms. Rarity. Altogether rather charming, even if Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash did more to keep the children in the festive mood than I would have liked at first.”

“Ah, yes. The Pink Demon.”

Her eyes rolled as she acknowledged my point. “Yes, yes. I was perhaps a touch mistaken in correcting her title. But her heart is in the right place, be she fey or fiend. Had she not been there to encourage the children, I fear they may have followed their parents' reaction of actual fear. Still. You must be rewarded.”

I popped the caramel in my mouth. A particularly sweet and sticky variety; the absolute best kind. “Absolutely unneccessary, Your Highness. Only duty.”

“Not at all. I have made my decision. And I am aware of your interests. So, it is decided. You shall court my sister.”

I choked on my caramel. “Your Highness!”

“Now now, I will hear no argument. Your loyalty must be rewarded, and let us not pretend that mine sister has not shown interest. Before our outing, her jealousy was quite clear.”

I continued sputtering, and it was as though something misfired within my skull as I tried frantically to wave off the honor. “Your Highness misunderstands the nature of your sister’s relationship with her guard!”

“Oh, please. Mine sister doth surround herself with strapping stallions and then stands behind them. Her preferences are known, hither and yon, but I reveal to you this! Her only weakness is the tall and dark. You have that coloration, and with a few leg extensions we shall have you so tall you must beat my sister off with a stick.”

I continued making desperate noises of denial, trying to determine how and where this conversation had gone so horribly awry.

“Fear not, I know you are truly close with Cadance. It is good that you would have her approval as well. Perhaps you can even convince my sister to give up this ‘niece’ nonsense and finally claim her as she should. Who knows? Perhaps in time, she too will call you ‘Daddy’.”

There was a wheeze from the closet.

I launched myself over the princess, throwing open the door to reveal the intruder…

Princess Cadance, clamping her teeth on one of her own forelegs in a desperate attempt to hide her mirth.

“Cadance! You have ruined my trick!”

“I tried to tell you, it’s trick or treat, not trick and treat!” She protested half-heartedly under my own glare. “Hi, Idol!”

My eye twitched. “And how much of this are you responsible for?”

She darted around me, hiding behind Luna who seemed about to burst with laughter. “Only the idea! I told you I’d get you back for Wispy and Bold!”

I gave chase. “And nearly killed me!”

Cadance’s laughter was musical, though Luna only flopped over into her cushions, muffling her own uproarious guffaws. The pink princess let out an ‘eep’ and she fled the room, laughter echoing through the halls.

“Permission to give chase to the intruder, your highness!”

“Denied~” Came Luna’s refutation in a musical voice. “Be not too harsh with her. Truthfully, I came to her and asked how best to ‘get you back’.” She casually got to her hooves and ambled over, bumping a shoulder into me affectionately. “You did me a great service… and should have given me advance warning of it before sending me out. I could have spoiled the whole thing, had I been a greater fool. Had the Elements not helped me out as they had. A good joke, and a good ploy… and perhaps a dangerous one. Still. Laudable results. And… I had a good time. Twice over, you have provided me precisely what I needed. Thrice, if you count the day we met. I will be giving you a gift. An appropriate one, when I have determined just what that is.” She gave me a little wink. “Not my sister’s hoof, mind. If you dare seek that, you must seek it through her.”

I tried to be sullen. Truly, I did. But Luna’s cheer was infectious, and her own self-righteous contentedness radiated from her, and not smiling was impossible. “Fine, fine. But know that I have no designs on your sister. Nor anypony.”

“We shall see. Much rides upon you.”

I groaned. “Do not tell me you have bet upon Cadance’s…”

“Ah ha! You do know about it!”

I sighed, trying to regain my sense of decorum. The prank had indeed thrown me off. I would have to do everything in my power to prevent Cersus from learning of this. She, I feared, would weaponize such knowledge. “Regardless. There are many ponies who have served better than I.”

“One could argue for or against that.” Came the impish reply. “Truly, none have gone so far beyond the call of duty. I have already made my efforts to reward one other who has done so, and I believe we shall see the results of that reward all too soon.”

“Should I be afraid, your highness?”

“Not you, surely. But rest assured, I have taken your machinations to heart. You have started this game, friend Idol. And I find that I quite enjoy it. Now. You are dismissed. Have a pleasant eve, and try to compose yourself.” She gave me a playful poke and ushered me to the door.

“As you wish, your highness.” I saluted, beginning to close the door. “...Wait. I should be on duty-”

“You have the rest of the night off for being a good sport. I’ll not have you pouting.”

“I do not-” The door closed with a glimmer of midnight blue magic. The minx. “I do not pout.” I insisted, more to myself. Maybe I did.

Something to work on, I decided.

And I was not attracted to Celestia. Order forbid, no more than any other stallion would dare.

Some did, though. Best Princess was, after all, a matter of great argument within the guard, even if not a ranking any outsider should know about.

I was lost in these thoughts, heretical though they seemed. As such, I did not even think to knock when I approached the room I shared with Shining.

Nor did I take much note of the fact that he knelt before Cadance, and that her wings were flared in shock.

The band he was placing around her foreleg, however, grabbed my notice almost as surely as she did when she tackled him immediately after.

It had been a long night. A long week, in fact. But this? The sheer outpouring of love, washing over me, burning away the concerns, the stresses, and everything that had gone wrong. It was too much. I had no right to this, this had been meant to be private, I had no right…!

I fell beside the door, leaning heavily against the wall. Tears fell, and a relief I could not even begin to explain filled me. Joy, both theirs and my own for my friend, struggled to the surface of the vast emotional pool.


Author's Note:

Hey guys, hope this mess with the quarantine isn't keeping you too down!

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