• 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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“...Forgive me, both of you, but what do the duties of ‘Best Stallion’ entail?”

“Honestly, it’s just a thing where you provide a counterpoint to the Best Mare and Bridesmaids. You know, get things organized, get the pre-wedding business out of the way, keep stuff from going wrong. Ejecting rowdy guests, be a good example of a stallion in a suit-”

“-Make sure sure Shining doesn’t get cold hooves at the last minute...”

“I will invest in hot water bottles. You realize most of those things will be subsumed by your younger sister?”

“We kind of did, yeah. But come on, Idol. You’ve had my back for some pretty hairy situations. Everfree-”

“Which we do not speak of,” I reminded him. Cadance gave both of us a look that plainly expressed her intent to one day wring the entirety of that story from one of us, but there were no loopholes in said agreement, not even for torture. Of which I was reasonably certain no princess would engage in.

“-which we don’t talk about, that Hydra that got into that ancient distillery, this whole thing with Luna. Million other times you’ve had my back. Heck, even helping us find a moment of privacy now and then. You’ve been a lifesaver, Idol. This is just… a thing. Like… thanks, you know?”

“The less we speak of the hydra, the happier we all tend to be.” It was an honor, to be sure… but more than that, it was a duty, granted to a friend. A great deal of responsibility that I was sure his younger sister would immediately steal, but it would be good for Twilight the Younger. And I presumed she would enjoy the organization of work. Still… Shining thanked me by offering me work. I was touched. Sometimes, he really did understand.

“Also if Shining doesn’t show up, the Best Stallion has to take his place at the ceremony.”

“Ah, I see.” Then I considered, and underwent what can only be called a full-body blanch. “I do not see!”

“Oh yeah. Shining is a no-show, I can’t just be left at the altar. Imagine the shame.”

Order preserve, I could. The nobility would never let her live it down. The gossip papers would have it spread across Equestria faster than Wonderbolts could fly. Even if Rainbow Dash was enlisted prior to the wedding.

Cady. Where do you get this stuff, that rule is so archaic even Celestia probably doesn’t know anyone who's actually followed it-”

“Princess Platinum herself, actually.”

“What, really?”

“Famously, in fact, you see, her intended was a boor and chose a minor servant as an insult, but she wedded him out of spite and they ended up falling deeply in love-”

“Then I shall not be physically present at the wedding.”

The playfully bickering couple stopped with a start and a tandem “Huh?” from the two lovers.

“If my duty would require me to wed the princess in lieu of Shining, then by any account, I shall not be present in body.”

“No, Idol, that’s not-”

“Shining, if you do not show up for your own wedding, I will be incapable of marrying your beau because I will be imprisoned for your murder.” Exasperated, I gave them both a look. “I have put up with enough manure from each of you. No disrespect intended, your highness. Captain.”

“Oh come on, Idol-” Shining rolled his eyes, giving his intended a look that clearly expected support.

She, on the other hand, blushed, not meeting those eyes. “No, no, that’s probably fair.” She mumbled the last. “We have sort of imposed on him a bit, from time to time.”

“I officially accept the position.”

“Are you seriously not going to come?!”

“Can you risk shaming your fiancee so?”

“Are you blackmailing me into making sure I’m at my own wedding!?”

“I believe this is technically extortion. I have nothing to use as physical leverage over you save my own threats.”

“Caaady, look what you’ve done!”

“Come on, Idol, you have to be there.”

“Is that a rule?”

“Ye…Hmm.” She rubbed her chin with a hoof, looking deeply contemplative as she chewed on her lower lip.

Cadance.”

“I can’t lie about the rules of a wedding, Shiny. It’s… actually, you don’t require the presence of the Best Stallion or Mare. The duties are sacrosanct but as far as that goes, his primary duty is to ensure you’re there. Even if you’re late, so long as he’s spurring you into the room, that’s still fine. It would only be if you’re a complete no-show for whatever reason that we’d have to go through with the alternative. I would be upset if you don’t show, and so would Shiny. But… hmm.”

“That’s… a really dumb rule.”

“It is a tradition, but I didn’t really think about it. Besides,” she pouted at him. “Would you really make me be a lonely spinster, old and grey?”

“You’re an alicorn, you’re never going grey and you know it.” Shining scoffed, bumping his nose to hers. “Can’t believe you.”

“Get used to it, Shining Armor, you’re going to be protecting my pink patootie for a looooong time.”

Dear Order, if I were any more stuffed with romantic intent I would burst like a popcorn kernel. These two, I decided, needed to be wed. And fast.

I did not think I could survive this much longer if they did not.


Topaz had the sheer audacity to scoff at my oath to avoid the wedding. “Idol, you’re probably going to get fat off the wedding no matter how far you are from it. You’ll just have to work it off.” A machine scritched at a spooling ream of paper, making a poor example of what I presumed should be a straight line. Two more, at least kept track of a very uniform pulse, even if it did look odd.

“I am not fat.” I groused, irritated at the insinuation.

“Of course not. You just have a large exoskeleton.”

“...It is known that the straps of a guard’s armor shrink over time, and must eventually be replaced.”

She gave me a flat look with just a hint of mirth, then popped a suction cup onto Cersus’s head. Another quickly followed on my own, in a similar position. The not-very-straight line became a long, triangular wave, though with some curvature. Topaz hummed in interest. “Huh. Sinusoidal and triangular. Might be background, but I don’t think so...”

“It is documented fact,” I assured her. “All of the older guards talk about it.”

A groan from my youngest charge. “Can you guys maybe talk about this later? Why are we all covered in wires and stickers?”

“Excellent question, Cersus! Today, I finally have the equipment to do a proper thaumaturgical reading on you both and document it properly. Do you have any idea how expensive this stuff is? Normally the best I can do is a live reading and take notes. With this, I can study the entire process!”

“...A year’s worth of allowance?”

“Five,” I guessed.

“Idol, you and I couldn’t afford this on a year’s salary. I’ve got it on loan from the university, and if I didn’t have tenure taking it off campus would probably get me fired.”

“I… do not think I like the sound of that.”

“Which is why I’m being very careful with it.” She fiddled with a dial. “Last time I had access to this much equipment was during the Bugbear thing with… a… uh… smiling friend… and it turns out that it just has creature magic. As in, magic is responsible for it existing but it wasn’t specifically created through an act of magic. Which means any sort of long-distance scanning spell isn’t going to do exceptionally well for them, like it’s hard to find ponies by thaumaturgical signature; it just degrades too much over a short distance, unless they’re doing something particularly intensive, and with earth ponies you essentially need a thaumic seismograph, besides.”

“A what the what?”

“It measures vibrations in the ground,” I informed the perplexed nymph. “...Magical ones, I presume. Though what that has to do with us, I cannot guess.”

“Hmm? Oh, nothing. I mean, you do produce some seismic vibration, but Cersus’s is more like amplified background noise. Which is actually pretty weird, but Cersus also has a more pronounced signature, like you’d see in a unicorn. I’m honestly not sure what to make of it. If I had to guess, you make a better earth pony and she makes a better unicorn.”

“...But she prefers to be a pegasus, and I a unicorn.”

“Yeah, I’m gonna be a Wonderbolt! Or an archaeologist. Ooh, or a Wonderchaeologist.”

Topaz nodded, as if that was the most rational idea in the world. “Neither of which really suits your magic types. Maybe it has something to do with who you feed off of more… no, that doesn’t seem right, Idol would definitely be more unicorn. Or alicorn. I wonder if there are zebra-type magics in changelings that frequent Farasi?”

“Pardon?”

“Zebra home continent.”

Cersus scratched at a suction cup on her back. “I thought Zebras didn’t have magic because they’re not ponies.”

“Don’t pick, I already promised you a good steam for helping me with this. I’m going to want to know which of your friends is saying things like that, but they have different magics. It tends to show itself as a natural affinity for alchemy and enchantments. Most ponies don’t have the talent to make long-lasting effects without implementing natural magical artifacts. While things like the Elements of Harmony are stronger, there’s only six of them. Every Zebra household can conceivably have something to keep mosquitos out. Closest thing ponies have is ritualistic or runic magics, and it’s just not the same thing. Alright! We… are… good! Now, I’m going to run a few tests, if you’re both ready?” She tapped on one of the drawing machines expectantly, frowned, then gave it a hard shove with her hoof, and then it began making… well, I wasn’t sure what it was doing apart from scribbling everywhere, but Topaz seemed pleased.

“Ready for what, exactly?”

“Transformations~! I need the two of you to start mimicking ponies. Now let’s see, try… me, I suppose? We’ll start with an easy one.”

It was, and I did so easily. Cersus tried, but I found a red-headed Topaz reminded me fearfully of the youngest member of the Apple family, though the nymph had managed to get some of Topaz’s lighter green strands. She was also roughly a third smaller than the actual Topaz, but with a huff of effort, the little infiltrator was able to ‘bulk up’ appropriately.

“Okay… hair color doesn’t seem to matter at all, that’s kind of what I expected… holding it seems to be just about perfect for a pegasus, even if it doesn’t match my own thaumic density… but Cersus’s is closer- Cers, can you stand on clouds easily or do you have to shift a bit like Idol does?”

“Isn’t he just fidgeting because he’s afraid of heights?”

“I am not afraid-”

“That’s a no, then. Can you move them?”

“Nah, I just kind of push through them if I try. It’s like flying in pudding.”

“Huh. Nimbitis is a bit like that. Most pegasi get vaccinated young, but… alright. Functionally, you’re both basically me. Just a shell this time- and wow, that’s pretty wild. It’s basically my signal, but in a step function. Idol’s is closer, but that’s probably something to do with the size difference. Either way, it’d actually fool just about any basic magic sensor. This is fascinating. Alright, something trickier. Earth pony, anyone you know.”

I chose Honey Dew, but Cersus apparently chose one of her friends. Topaz hemmed and hawed over the readings.

“Well, there’s definitely some seismic, but I don’t have a good reader for that. Should have grabbed one. Eh, tenure or not, I’d be out on my flank for that. Looks… pretty standard for earth ponies, Idol’s is just a bit sturdier… unfortunately, it’d be way too hard to explain why I’d need any of our friends to hook themselves up to this whole rigamarole. Okay. Now, I’m going to ask you to turn into some folks you haven’t seen before. Brown pony, white dapples. Stallion, shorter than Idol. Unicorn. Halfway between both of you normally.”

We did, and this time I had to ‘suck it in’ so to speak. It was not exceptionally comfortable, but within a minute I found I could hold the form without distress.

“That seems pretty close to a natural wave, both of you have unique signatures, but...close enough to be kin. Maybe changeling shapes share a baseline. Or you have natural sense to determine this sort of stuff? Alright, griffons. Any shape, any color.”

“Tada~”

“The sound effects are not necessary, Nymph.”

“Says you,” came the response, followed by a hiccup. I blinked. That was unusual.

“Whoa, whoa, something definitely different here. Cersus, everything alright?” Topaz adjusted her glasses, looking at one of the papers with concern.

“Back to normal, immediately. Try again,” I demanded. “Pay attention, this time. Focus on what they look like. Talons in front, paws in back.”

The little nymph looked woozily up at me. “Huh… fine, I…” Another flash of flame, just slightly off color… but then she perked up. “Eeeugh, that was gross. What happened?”

“She forgot or was not aware that griffons have paws instead of hooves and tried to ‘wing it’,” I informed her, stiffly. “Are you feeling better now?”

I had tried to keep the concern from my voice, but she wriggled in place, looking worried. “Yeah, I guess so…”

“What was that?” Topaz was rapidly scanning through her various reports. “Everything was off for a bit.”

“She became something that was not.”

“Not what? Real? Does that… does that matter?”

“It matters if you have done it wrong.”

“Wait, I’ve seen you do that! You’ve been a pony with a griffon talon before!”

“In those cases I am a pony with a griffon talon. Not a pony. The creature Cersus was becoming is not a real one.”

“I forgot the back legs…”

Topaz frowned, considering. “And… since she… knew that it shouldn’t have hooves, it… mattered?”

“We are mimics. A pony could, conceivably, have a griffon talon under certain circumstances, be it magic or perhaps some form of surgery… but it is unlikely that a griffon would have a pony’s rear legs in any circumstances. Having a talon feels… odd, but not completely wrong.”

“...Idol, are you telling me your magic actually… reinforces what you can and can’t do?”

“...Yes? Should it not?”

“I don’t know! But I know it doesn’t for unicorns! Idol, do you know how useful that could be in the medical field, if your magic can actually tell you ‘hey don’t do that’!?”

“But I am to understand dark magic corrupts a pony? Is that not a form of reinforcement?”

“Yeah, it changes them, that’s not the same as correcting them, that’s… that’s huge, Idol. It actually means your magic is fundamentally different than ponies. What happens if you just stay wrong?”

“We become ill if it is wrong… enough, I suppose? I do not understand-”

“But Cersus doesn’t get sick if she’s the wrong color. If she was, she’d know she was doing it wrong, right?”

I frowned. Typically, getting a mimicry wrong should do that to some extent, but… it clearly did not in her case. That seemed… peculiar.

“Here, here! I have an idea-” she quickly pushed a chalkboard between us, then pushed something beneath it so we were nominally isolated. I watched in bemusement, but had to admit… it was always interesting to see Topaz lost in her studies. Perhaps I had been boring for too long, but I could not remember the last time she had been this excited about a matter of changelings. She whispered something that sounded vaguely reassuring to Cersus and I felt a bit of dread creep in… “Alright. I’m going to describe a theoretical creature I want you both to imitate. No peeking at one another, and no feeling around. Think of a griffon, but with pony features. The beak is the end of the muzzle. Talons, but on fuzzy legs. Hooves in the back, like Cersus did earlier-”

And the nausea began to set in as I became this… thing Topaz was describing. I could only imagine the Nymph’s discomfort. The more I became this strange amalgamation, the more she described the feathers as being ‘eagle-like for the wings, but seabird-like for the body’, the worse it became. And finally, by the time she was done, it was all I could do to hold this… mess.

“Alright. Now…” She pushed the barrier between us away, and I looked over at Cersus, to find… she was fine. And something about that angered me- “What you both are is called a ‘hippogriff’. Cersus, read Idol the note I gave you.”

Dutifully, she did. “Hippogriffs live on Mount Aris, but they don’t really have much interaction with us outside of missives between rulers, and haven’t been seen in generations. They are i… isolationist and live outside of Equestria’s borders.”

And… almost as if by magic, the nausea began to subside. “Wh… what?”

“It’s perception, Idol! If you think it’s wrong, or maybe if you know it’s wrong fundamentally, you get feedback. Cersus can’t tell the difference between red and green, so there’s absolutely no feedback for her being wrong. Either that, or her magic perception is colorblind too, and that is fascinating. Alright, one more. Head and body of a pony, right wing of a bat, the left wing of a pegasus-”

I immediately knew where she was going for this- “No!” and was shocked to hear my voice echoed by my youngest charge. I looked down at her in consternation, but Cersus looked… afraid.

“...ooookay, why?”

“Draconequuseses are messed up!” Cersus asserted with what was certainly entirely too many ‘es’s. She rubbed her side against the chalkboard, and I saw a bit of her chitin catch just enough to allow her a moment of blissful relief. It had to be on the very edge of coming off.

“That’s… a terribly hurtful thing to say, Cersus.” A scolding, with more disappointment than anger. “Stop picking, it’ll happen when it happens. I’ve also got more cider for when we’re done.”

“But it’s true, they’re not… they’re not supposed to be real!”

Topaz tilted her head, curiosity wafting off her. “Explain what you mean by that.”

“I don’t… I dunno, it just…”

“It feels like an Order.” I told her, frankly. “Only… more.”

“Huh. You’ve seen Discord, Idol. Could you imitate him?”

“I… I should not.”

“If I asked you to try?”

I sighed, but attempted it. Having seen, and perhaps experienced, Discord in the flesh made it easier… there was much to focus on, but… the form burst in my mind as I recalled him ‘popping’ out of the tapestry, and a wave of dizziness struck me. “I… I cannot. I believe if I was… perhaps less aware of his nature? Cersus, do not try it. I think his… magic is fundamentally opposed to what we are.”

Her response was pouty, but by no means rebellious. “I wasn’t gonna.”

Topaz, on the other hoof, was rapidly scribbling. “That makes sense, I think. Your magic is all about orderly things, and, well. Discord is the God of Chaos. Sure, you can mimic his form but imitating him is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Could… could you do your Queen?”

Cersus was the one to deny this, thankfully. “We’re not supposed to. I mean, some of us try but… but things go wrong.”

“That… sounds unusual. Don’t Orders just prevent you from doing a thing entirely?”

“Perhaps not so much. If the Queen is… perhaps a more concentrated changeling, maybe it just requires far more power than we can muster? An Order would not be required not to perform an impossible task.”

“Could just be a perception of power, but you did do an alicorn once. Then again, that spiraled out of control… maybe it’s better that you couldn’t turn into Discord?” With that, she patted the scribbling machine lovingly. “I love answers that give me more questions~! There’s always so much more to know!”

Cersus and I simply watched Topaz browse through the massive quantities of apparently ‘useful research’ as she continued to explain some of her findings. After a minute or two of rambling, I had to admit the truth. “She is a very strange pony.”

“But we like her for that?”

“That we do,” I nodded. “...By chance, the other day, did you feel an exceptional amount of love from the direction of the castle?”

“Yeah, the other night I did! I was working on my wonderbolt costume, and it was like… boom! I was filling up one of my crystals, and it blew up.”

“You broke one of your crystals? Wait, filling?”

“Oh. Um. Yeah. Friendship. It’s not like, love love, but it’s like love. I only take a bit, and I put most of it away.” She looked down. “If… if we ever fix me, and I have to go back to the hive, I can take that with me. And it’ll be mine, so I get to have some of my friends.”

I felt intensely guilty, but I isolated the emotion within myself. I should have been more focused on her problems, but even Topaz was at a loss. Eye surgery was a fledgeling art in Equestria, and using magic instead of glasses for vision correction was considered too risky outside of the worst circumstance, and colorblindness was considered far less of a problem. Still… “I should tell you not to do that.”

The little nymph looked down, despondent.

“...But instead, I will tell you to be careful. What you take from your friends should not lessen them if you exercise caution.” At her surprised look, I had to explain. “It strikes me as hypocritical that I sometimes do things I tell you not to. I… will try to do better. I was never a proper drone; trying to force you to be one with my example is foolhardy. I simply… worry.” I took a deep breath. “I also want you to be more careful for the next few weeks than most. I fear others of our kind will be investigating that... burst, and I am not sure how they will react to you. And if what happened was enough to shatter your crystal, I can only presume it might happen to others. There may be a number of hungry exiles in our midst soon. I believe I can find spare stones beneath Canterlot, but that will likely take time.” I gingerly disentangled myself from some of the wires, taking care not to disconnect any. I had spied a teapot, and upon inspection it was indeed cider. With a bowl of sugar cubes. Only warm, but even changeling’s flames can reheat tea. Topaz was lost in research and would hardly begrudge me in fulfilling her promise of spiced cider.

“Want me to help you find them? I bet I’d be good at picking the best ones!”

I could not help myself. I tousled her headfin as she faked a scowl and swatted at my hoof before watching me pour eagerly. “I am quite sure you would be, but you have your friends to manage.”

“I know, but I wanna help.” Four sugar cubes was the limit. And four it was, for each of us, one by one. Perhaps I miscounted, I was understandably distracted by pride. “...And I wanna find somewhere private to molt. I’ll bring Miss Topaz the shell afterwards. You don’t think she’ll mind, right?”

“Of course not, she will understand. And I promise to think on it. Order knows with Shining and Cadance finally getting married, every exile in Equestria will probably feel it. One practically has to swim through the tension. Praise Celestia that royal engagements are fast.” I sighed, glancing forlornly at my potting wheel. I was still under orders to sleep early so that Princess Luna could ‘find me’. I wondered if any changeling actually dreamed...

“Cause they wanna do the sex thing, right?”

I promptly lost my tea.

Author's Note:

Hey guys! I know, an actually reasonably scheduled update. I'm scared too. I admit this chapter might be a bit dry, but things are in motion!

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