• 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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With My Compound Eye

“Truthfully, I cannot begin to guess what inspired Shining to make his proposal so suddenly, or in such a place,” I admitted, finishing my impromptu report. “I am simply… simply overwhelmed that it happened.” I moved a piece upon the board, letting the simplicity of the candied lands soothe my emotions even as they toyed with my hunger.

A blue hoof flicked a card off the deck before us. “It is a mystery. Do you suppose it could have been the small matter of the parchment I had delivered to his room?” Luna’s blue gingerbread mare moved to a green tile.

“...Parchment, your majesty?”

The princess of the night booped my nose. I briefly went cross eyed to stare at her hoof in consternation. “Highness, Idol. A small matter. I have been in talks with my sister about codifying the positions of the Night Guard in Canterlot. The Day Guard, the Night Guard, and some that fall between. With captaincies thereof. And, since we established it, and Shining Armor has gone far above and beyond in the pursuit of his duties, making him a Captain of the Royal Guard is more than reasonable. Especially given that once he is made Prince, the title will simply be absorbed, while not… entirely consumed.”

“You have… made him a Captain.” I blinked. “...You gave him something he has sought for years… to legitimize his relationship with Cadance… on a whim?” A gumdrop. While delicious, and our own personal variation of the game warranted the consumption of said candy, a setback nonetheless. And it was not licorice, which was more bane than boon all around.

“Celestia’s need to not play favorites kept that game going far too long for anyone’s liking. And the truth is, he is deserving of it, has been in training for it for years, as well you know. It is only the current Captain’s desire to not yet retire that has prevented him from being given the position, and Captain Forscythe has more than a few good years left in him. This seemed a good compromise. And Lieutenant Mockingbird has deserved a position of greater import since… well. Before my return, clearly. Thus, we double the available positions, plus a few extra. He too, received a parchment.” She gave me a toothy grin, and I was immediately beset with smugness. “I believe Nerium’s jaw quite nearly fell off.”

I frowned, trying to pierce the fog of shared emotion, my own conflicted ones, and all the new information. “...Wait. You made Shining Captain. And you did not think to tell myself or Cadance this was happening?”

“Well, I had you to tease, and Cadance would have been heavily distracted by such tidings. I wanted her to enjoy this as much as I.”

I narrowed my eyes to make the accusation more plain. “Instead, you distracted her long enough for Shining to read your missive and be in an emotional state.”

Completely unfazed, the Princess simply rolled a wing. “His dreams and hers often coincide on this specific point, and while romance was often part of the backdrop, location never truly mattered to either. Truthfully, I had hoped he would be on his way to question my decision and receive my earlier explanation, and thus the two would meet ‘pon one of the elevated walks upon the courtyard. Sadly, I fear I mistimed how long he would be paralyzed by shock and now have adjusted the moon’s trajectory this night for naught. Bah. Let the astronomers wonder. Ha ha! Sugar cubes.”

“Your highness has taken it upon herself to read too many of those Neighponese graphical novels.”

Princess Luna had the good grace to blush. “The entertainments available have changed much since my day, and it is my duty as princess to get up to speed on all that I have missed. I confess I may have already determined some forms I am inordinately fond of. Comic books are fascinating to the young; thou wouldst not believe the number of dreams those play a part in, of ponies playing their favorite heroes. Games of chance are hardly new, but there is a new building called an ‘arcade’ that seems very interesting, though I have heard the ones in Manehattan are better than any you will find in Canterlot. But...should one start with the best, knowing that all that come later will be a disappointment, or wet one’s hooves on what is available locally? To say nothing of all the other new delights the modern era has to offer. Even if some of it is… not to our taste. Some of what is now called music we simply cannot abide, and yet… it is popular.” She gave a shrug as I moved my own figure to the next colored not-square-that-was-called-a-square. “Still, I like more than I dislike. Would you not agree that the discovery itself has meaning?”

“Yes. For example, there are these wonderful candies called ‘caramels’...”

Luna snorted in mock outrage. “Fiend! Dost thou think I am older than caramel? I shall tell my sister upon thee, and when she finishes plucking the gray from her mane she will have you whipped for your impertinence. We would flip this board, were we not winning.”

“You do not threaten me with a good time.”

Luna chortled. “Cad, indeed. I dare say you would enjoy driving my sister to bring back such a barbaric punishment to enforce her power. You are a very strange pony. But nay, nay, she never would, ‘twas a practice that fell from use before the founding of Equestria. And in part, ‘tis your own desire to see us more firmly grasp control of Equestria that prevented me from suggesting captaincy for yourself.”

My heart froze. “Surely, your highness, I was not even considered.” I carefully adjusted the position of my own figure upon the winding board of colored… rounded polygons, and then shuffled the cards again, trying to distract myself from the emotion. Too many complexities in too short a time. Shuffling cards was simple, tedious, and so long as I did not pay too much attention to what I was doing and did not try to remember the cards played, roughly fair.

“Assuredly you were. And dismissed. You have managed to beg off promotion for so long that ‘twould skip too many ranks to be easily countenanced. Even though Shining is considered young for such a position, if you both held a similar rank, you'd have more… gravitas for your position. One wonders if your refusal to accept rank was to ensure young Shining’s courtship could proceed…”

“Hardly, Highness. Though I confess to desiring that Cadance and Shining be married sooner rather than later, I simply do not think I am worthy of advanced rank. Better ponies deserve it.”

“A statement I disagree with thoroughly in many a case, but I digress, I argued against even forcing another promotion upon you. A reward should be a thing desired. Tell me true; do you want to be a Sergeant?”

“Absolutely not,” I assured the current best princess. A blue, but I was well placed for it that even a single was good progress.

“Then so long as you serve in the Equestrian Royal Guard, I shall see to it that you are not promoted until you feel otherwise.”

I am rarely moved to tears, but in this case, my eyes may have become somewhat gelatinous. “Your highness is kind beyond ken. A more gracious reward I could never ask.”

“Oh no, that is no reward, Corporal Hooves. That was a Princess doing a minor favor for a subject. And it would have been poor reward to allow mine sister to raise thy rank yet again for a service well done when said raising is against your will, regardless of my agreement with her that thou art wasted in the lower ranks. Nay, your reward is still forthcoming. I just… cannot determine what it shall be. Thou art difficult. Blast, a peppermint.”

“I… do not try to be so?” Two yellows, and my quest continued.

Princess Luna clucked her tongue, fondly. “If ever there were words I more dearly wished to be a lie. ‘Twould be great fun to raise a little Tartarus together. Still. Think upon it. If within my reach and of true desire to yourself, I would love to be able to provide it. And before you think that avoiding it will grant immunity, I swear I shall provide something excessively extravagant if you do not before Consort Shining and Princess Cadance make their nuptials official.”

I grimaced. “Your highness puts me in a tight position.” A green. Only minor advancement “I doubt they will prolong their engagement a moment past propriety’s demands. If even that.”

Her impish look was one of smug delight. “I know, and yet, thus it remains. An ultimatum only has teeth if it has both negative consequences and a timeline. And more than tight, I have pulled forth the mighty dual blue. Victory is at hoof. Now, dost thou feel better?”

In truth, I did. “I do seem calmer, your highness. I had not realized how much their wedding would mean to me.” And it was nice to see the Royalty still defeated me on a regular basis. The world felt right.

“Thou art a good friend. Shall we battle clouds, or must you be on your way? Thou were ordered to take the rest of the night off, and it would bring us utmost guilt if we presumed too much.”

“Your highness has other duties,” I reproved, gently, and she sighed.

“Ah, but true. Still, better for me to be in a good mood whilst I dreamwalk. I do far better work. Go home, Corporal. Enjoy the night off. Get some rest, perhaps we shall converse in your dreams,” she teased, giving me a gentle nudge.

I chuckled, both out of politeness and actual humor at the idea that I would purposefully bother the princess so. “Unlikely, highness. I do not dream. And never have, so fear not that you will have to patrol my own.”

Luna sputtered, looking me directly in the eyes. “What? Surely you dream, or simply forget what you have dreamed about?”

“Well… no, your highness. I have never.”

“Then we have done you grave disservice! Go home! Sleep!” She snatched a few flowers from a nearby vase, crushed them mercilessly, and wrapped them in a sheet of paper, cunningly folded. “Consume this before you do.”

Ahh, but she was wise. The order not merely to rest but to sleep? I could do that. “By your command, highness.”

“Are you sure Princess Luna is ordering you to go to bed early?” Topaz challenged, reading the thermometer again. “...Your temperature is fine. You definitely aren’t sick. Cersus is a little warm, but that makes sense. She’s a growing mare.”

“My chitin itches!” The little nymph complained, wriggling a bit. “Why don’t you itch?!”

“Because I am not growing so much as you.” I confirmed. “Nor have I taken much damage. Do not worry, soon you will molt but once a year. Or even less, as I do.”

“It’s because you wear armor and your body thinks you molt every day!” came the nonsensical complaint. The smaller changeling was trying to rub the back of her neck against the bottom edge of a table without much luck. It was true, a rough molt was a miserable experience, but one we all had to deal with occasionally.

Topaz patted her with a wing affectionately, and with a surprising amount of sympathy. “We’ll get you some steam. And some special hot apple cider. It always takes a bit of the itch away when I’ve got a few feathers coming in. And you know what really helps a bad day?” Her wing manipulated to stick a feather in the crease of the nymph’s shell at her neck, where the shell was just beginning to separate.

The nymph’s squirming eased at the ministrations, but she was still quite skeptical even as she began to relax. “What?”

“Honey cakes. Nice fresh warm ones, straight from Honey Dew herself.”

Doubt vanished like Nymph-Cersus’s business cards. “...I do like honey cakes.”

“And after that we’ll get you all bundled up in a nice warm cocoon, throw a couple heated towels around it, and you can just relax for a day until your shell gets loose and you don’t have to worry about it. Go get it started and I’ll get the rest of it.” Topaz promised, and Cersus eagerly headed down to her own little section of Canterlot’s underground to prepare.

“...I do not recall you ever offering me special cider and hot towels..”

“It’s an old family recipe, some cinnamon and stuff mixed into hot cider, and besides,” she corrected while pointing a hoof at me. “I make you some when it’s particularly cold out. And the cold is about the only thing you ever complain about, and you never even warn me you’re molting anyways.”

Ah. Much made sense. “That is true. And I rarely have the chance to molt my entire exoskeleton at once.”

“I will not apologize for science. Still kinda weird, isn’t it? I mean, it sounds like this isn’t normal. Maybe she’s just been eating particularly well?”

“Not terribly strange, but perhaps more aggravating for her. Her diet is not vastly different.” I considered a long moment. “...There was quite the massive outpouring of love from the castle after Shining proposed. I happened upon them right as it happened, and thus I cannot imagine what others must have felt.”

“Wait, really? Oh my gosh, I have to congratulate Cadance, when’s the wedding, what are they gonna do?”

“I do not know. I only witnessed the proposition and was overcome. I had to flee to the princess to regain control of myself,” I confessed, leaking shame.

Proposition? I… Idol, don’t call it that-” the pegasus froze, eyes going wider. “...Idol, do they know you know?” At my confused look, she waved a hoof. “This is important, do they know you know? Did they see you there or tell you about it?”

“No, I felt they were quite lost in one another and it would be rude to interfere.”

“Iiiidol! You can’t go around telling ponies they’re engaged, that’s… that’s half the fun! Well. Supposedly. Never been. Anyways, who have you told?!”

“...You and Princess Luna?”

“Well, now I have to pretend I don’t know and you have to pretend you don’t know if you don’t want to spoil this for them!” She put her face in her hooves. “I’m so bad at pretending not to know things, gaaaah!”

Horror filled me. Dread beyond horror. “I could ruin this?” A decade of planning and effort and I could ruin it? I could be a problem to my friends…?

“Yes!” And then she looked up, comprehension dawning almost instantly. “No! No, no, no, not ruin it. Just maybe screw up this part a bit. Look, Shining and Cadance were ‘hiding’ their relationship, right? Even though just about everypony knows. So this is just… part of the fun of doing that.”

I was not sure I believed her… but I wanted to. “Well. Be that as it may, now I do feel that I need to rest. Thank you for the mental trauma.”

She only smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, sorry, sorry. When I bring Cersus cider you’ll get some too. And maybe I’ll get you a honey cake too.”

“I believe that would entail all being forgiven.”

The next day found me remarkably well-rested. Perhaps extensive stress assisted in the sleep cycle. Or the order. An Order to sleep from a princess could do that, I decided.

“You did not sleep!” Luna thundered, storm clouds trailing the night princess.

Or… not, I supposed. “I did not go straight to sleep,” came my quick confession. “There were things I needed to do before resting. Forgiveness, your highness, I did not recognize the importance of-”

“Thou didst not sleep at all!”

“...Of course I did. You told me to.”

Luna stomped, cracking the tile beneath her, then swooped upon me, her eye very close to my own. One of the maids peeked her head around the corner from behind Luna, then flinched back. “Faust’s fetlocks, you do look well-rested. Not so much as a bag under your eyes.” Anger gave way to annoyance. “Thou wert completely impossible to find in the dreamscape. Not so much as a bubble.”

“I… do not dream. Perhaps I do not intrude upon this world beyond the waking?”

“Everypony dreams sometimes, and even those that are not can oft be brought into one. Thou didst consume the herbs?”

“Y...yes. With hot apple cider, your highness.”

“That should have only enhanced their potency!” A clatter from down the hall. The maid was clearly quite shaken from Luna’s outburst. “And yet… nothing?”

“I am afraid not, your highness.”

“We have spent a week stalking for thy dreams to ensure we had the perfect gift and thou do not dream.”

“...I am sorry, you have what…?”

“Nevermind. This is far more serious. Why dost thou not dream?”

“Perhaps I am living the dream, your majesty?”

Luna’s sour look did not reassure me. “In the place where I am most powerful, to one I wish to reward, I am powerless. Vexing.” She gave a snort, clearly taking this as a challenge. “I will not have it. We shall make you dream even if it kills us both.”

“...Is such an oath wise?”

“Damn the wisdom! Thou art missing out on an entire world, and I say nay to that, and nay shall it ‘ere be.”

“You are enjoying playing up your speech.”

“We are, it’s actually frightfully addictive. Too much?”

“Not at all, your highness.”

“Good. We shall continue this later. I believe you have other duties.”

Duties I was going to be late for, I realized with concern. “I must be off, your highness, or I will be late to my post. I was.. Distracted last night, as you know.”

She tapped the side of her snout knowingly, a sign of secrecy. Thankfully she knew the rules of ‘engagements’ more than I. “Yes, I do. And Shining is looking for you. I believe he has some business with you?” The wink was superfluous, but I suspected she was right. Shining had finally achieved his goal, and I should be there for him. At Luna’s coaxing, I moved at a far more brisk march than was appropriate, but reached the room I shared with Shining in time to more properly prepare. A minute to check my armor, fill out any flaws in my presentation, perhaps there would still be time-

Somepony was in front of my door, inspecting it. Somepony in the armor of the royal guard.

Somepony who was neither guard, nor pony. Damnation, I did not have time for this. I was both angered by the inappropriateness and the potential for disaster.

“You! In!” I demanded, grabbing the pony as I opened the door, shoving them inside. They spun upon me with a startled hiss, nearly dropping their disguise, Already quite stressed, I responded in kind, though with more intent than volume. The disguised changeling stepped back nearly onto the wall. I scowled. I was not that frightening.

“What… what are you doing?!”

“My duty. You do not belong here, and certainly not in that guise. Do not return with it again. There are rules.”

“I… forgiveness. There has been difficulty and I need much-”

I did not even know this changeling. Not their fault. They clearly hadn’t been told of the situation, nor of socks- which were not for what I thought, but I could hardly do anything about that now. “Obviously, or you would not be here. Have you crystals?”

“Well… yes, I possess five but-” And then they saw my collection. I was growing rather proud of it. It had turned out the caverns below Canterlot Castle had many of the sort our people apparently used, and since my own were routinely rather full to the point where even ponies could notice their light, I had taken to adding to their number to spread the emotion, as it was.

I had not been back since Shining’s proposal, and even I was taken aback by all of it. The room was practically awash in a faint pink glow as every single crystal within was filled to radiance. Only Shining or Cadance were likely to have noticed, but… it was excessive, and not fitting for myself. Something else to deal with, and no time for any of it! “Give me yours. Take…. Ten of these,” I decided, then reconsidered. I suddenly found myself in position to feed every changeling who had graced Canterlot in months. The ‘burst’ from Cadance must have overflowed every one of them, and Cersus’s growth spurt made a certain sense. “No, fifteen. I can replace them easily enough. But you must be gone from here.”

The changeling stared at me in absolute awe. “Fifteen… this is weeks of effort… did the Queen-”

“Bah, a single day and even the replacements may be full. And no, the Queen did not send me. I have simply been in the right place at apparently just the right time. Now go! Begone!” I shoved the changeling out the door again, where they were staring at me gape-mouthed as though I had sprouted extra heads. “...Yes…?”

“...Your disguise is terrible-”

I slammed the door. If that did not get them moving, nothing would. I would have to find this exile later, and explain again that the armor of the royal guard was more than mere pony clothing. And… perhaps I would apologize. I had been more than brisk, I had been absolutely rude. I checked the door, but the drone was long gone; in truth I was quite impressed. Perhaps they would be able to manage on their own.

I had more important matters to deal with. Such as pretending I did not know a thing which I already did, to ensure Shining Armor could marry his fiancee with a clear heart.

The things one did for friendship and duty.

Author's Note:

Hey guys! I had to buckle down on this one to get it out today. Travel for work is still being kind of crazy.

Hope everyone's staying safe in these trying times.

If you want to drop a buck in the hat

To join the discord and get art, some various other stuff, and just generally hang out with a lot of really fun people.

And, as always, comments are an author's food pellets~!

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