• 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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Royalty

“And this is where I’m gonna keep all my collectibles-”

“Which you should not have-”

“But I do, because they’re important parts of my disguise. Can’t be a pony without hobbies, right?” Cersus looked up at me expectantly. “And my wonderbolts outfit is right over there-”

I was impressed, and not just with her mental gymnastics. The material was substandard, but I presumed well within the range of her limited budget. The color was perfect, which suggested more assistance from Topaz or one of her friends, and, just as I suspected, there was a black and white photo of a beaming filly with a small cadre of obvious troublemakers piled up around her so that she could be almost of height with her idol. Nighthawk, a pair of monochromatically opposite pegasi, and a unicorn with what had to be so much chocolate smeared on his muzzle that I presumed his parents had to peel him off the ceiling that night. “Well done, Nymph. And I see why Spitfire was most impressed. But I have to ask…” I peered around the underground cavern. “Why are you renovating your old lair?” I prodded one of her many photos of her friends, and a drawing of what appeared to be Redshock in a cape and mask.

“I dunno, I just… Ms. Topaz is gonna want to meet some of the new exiles, ain’t she?”

“Well… yes, that is likely.”

“And you told me I should stay away from them.”

“That is also true. But I have never brought another changeling to her home, save you. It is… a private place. It is not their haven. It is… mine?” I looked down at the smaller changeling, and amended, firmly. “Ours.”

“...Wasn’t going to be mine, though.”

“And perhaps that was an oversight on my part, Nymph. I sought to… not unduly interfere with your life. There are a scant few ponies I have ever shared our nature with, but she would be top on the list for those you can trust. The second,” I sighed, “knows only what we are not, and precious little else.”

“Cause of your Orders?”

“...Is this a thing you know of, or a thing you only know because you eavesdrop on myself and Topaz?”

“Little o’ both? I think… when we leave the Hive, the Queen tells us things we don’t know. Or don’t… know we know? I dunno, I’m not finished yet, but some of the older ones told us stories about the Queen doing that sometimes.” At my look, she quailed only slightly. “And I only listen in because sometimes you guys talk about stuff and I wanna know! I’m supposed to know too!”

“Not everything, Cersus. I sometimes find you know more than I wish.” I gave her a look, having no desire to need to repeat the performance of Topaz giving her ‘the talk’ and she squirmed in place, obviously with some of the same opinions. The distraction gave me an opportunity to explore her little self-carved domicile. Several of the crystals from underneath Canterlot Castle glowed just brightly enough to give a fair look at her little ‘lair’. Her ‘collection’, I noted, included a few of Topaz’s pillows, particularly one of a royal purple that she had tucked up with an enormously thick blanket with carved pumpkins and bats on it.

In fact… I was beginning to note a theme. A plush bat was stuffed under the pillow, clearly an attempt to hide it from casual inspection. A few Batmare comics interspersed amongst the Daring Doo and various Wonderbolt memorabilia.

And almost all of the most prominent photos involved a familiar thestral filly.

I chose not to mention it. Sniffing about, however, revealed something I was quite sure she was not allowed to have. I pushed one large rock out of the way, revealing a rather deep hole in the wall. “Cersus.”

“...I can explain-!”

“You have over a dozen ponies worth of Nightmare Night candy.”

“There’s no rule saying I couldn’t be a bunch of ponies!”

I groaned, resting my face on the entry to the ‘stash’. “...I shall not tell Topaz so long as you do not spoil your supper.”

The little changeling beamed broadly enough to put Celestia’s sun to shame.


“But what about her molt?”

“I think she intends to try to keep it mostly intact and deliver it as a gift. Not a surprise, I hope, or I may have spoiled things.”

“Are you really sure she should be… well, feeding on ponies her own age? Is that ‘lair’ of hers even safe?”

“She is well fed, and children appear quite resilient. And it seems this situation with more changeling traffic has her on edge. Perhaps infiltrators do not typically work in concert?” I shrugged at the last. “It seems rather sturdy. Slime does make for typically sturdy adhesive.”

“Hrm.” Topaz frowned, adjusting her surgical binoculars and adjusting a set of petri dishes of aforementioned slime from Cersus and myself. “Maybe the infiltrator thing is something you should ask her? Honestly, Idol, you should talk to her about that stuff more. She flounders from time to time and she’s too proud to ask you for advice directly.”

“Advice I am ill-trained to provide. Her situation is odd. And… I believe she still fears I would pass her off to another exile.”

“You’re doing the best you can, but…” the yellow pegasus chewed on her lip, mumbling the rest in a bit of song. “-did kinda try to do thaaaat~!”

“Yes, I know. It seems distinctly unfair that you two continue to remind me of that.”

She looked up, slightly cross-eyed before she pushed the tiny binoculars up. “Augh, I hate trying to look at something far away with these loupes. You know we’re only teasing, right? She’d be really upset if she actually hurt your feelings.”

“Of course. And I am sure she knows that I am not particularly bothered. It is simply banter, and I think you overestimate her opinion of me.” I raised an eye. “But it is nice to know that you care, too.”

“Shoosh, you. Nibbling on my emotions is cheating. And I think you underestimate it. She looks up to you. It’s adorable.”

“Order forbid, Topaz. I am an exile, and she is not. One day, when she is made well, she will have to go back.”

“Not much distinction in that difference, Idol. If your Queen knew about her, she’d exile her anyways. Or have put her in a job she wouldn’t like, and Cersus would have probably revolted.”

I shuddered at the idea. “Do not even jest. I… do not know that either was likely, in any case. If what you say is true, and this defect of her eyes can be passed down to offspring, then the Queen may have taken other steps...” I did not chew on my lip, but the urge was there. I wondered at times if we somehow took more than just emotion from the ponies.

Topaz scoffed, but sighed. “You may have a point… she might have ended up like that other mare with the egg Order. Generally, if a mare is colorblind, her colts will be too. Fillies not so much. It has to have happened in the hive before.”

“That particular exile did not seem to have any issues with color,” I pondered. “But… I do not know. The Queen knows things we do not, clearly. But… I have never heard of others with Cersus’s condition..”

“Outside of color-matching to other ponies, it doesn’t seem like it would really be that much of an issue. The hive is mostly greens and blues. If red and yellow don’t come up much, then most of the ones that never leave the hive might never know there’s even a problem in the first place. Cersus just happened to be good at mimicking ponies and shapeshifting while being colorblind and at least a little more charismatic. Entirely possible that most other nurses just shrugged it off and made them… something else? I mean, gatherers would probably be fine, but it’d be a little harder for them to find food… apples would be harder, I mean, to pick out, I think...”

“Prey animals would not be well-protected by a lack of color vision,” I pointed out. “The Nymph is quite adept at play-stalking.”

“...Is that what she’s doing when she jumps on someone’s back? That’s hunting training?”

“Cats do it. Even I received some basic training that way as a nymph.”

“Oh my Celestia, you are all adorable.”

“We are not. Stop that.”

The scholarly mare was all smiles. “Alright, alright. If you insist. So, how’s the wedding prep going…?”

“Shining has finally sent his invites to Twilight.”

“Invi- Twi- he only just sent them?! Does she even know he made Captain?!”

“Of course. His being raised to Captain was national news. The wedding is… as private as a public event can be, I suppose. I fear that the excess exiles have been causing some minor stir. They all seem to be trying to investigate the castle, and most are… less adept. Quite honestly, I hope that the honeymoon is truly as ‘lovey dovey’ as it is made out to be. Elsewhere, where perhaps they can cause less commotion. And my arrangements are mostly complete, save for ensuring Shining’s arrival. I do not believe I will ‘best stallion’ again. I do not have the tolerance to wear ear extensions and ‘larp’, I fear.”

“I really don’t think you understood the point of a bachelor party, and… I really don’t think Shining cared. In fact, Cadance’s bachelorette party is more or less a formality she just wants to get through before the wedding, just her and a couple members of her wedding party. No nobility, a couple ponies she used to foalsit for a bit are going to be bridesmaids. She thought it’d be nice for Twilight to get to see some of her Canterlot friends again.” She motioned me close. “Between the two of us, she’s a bit antsy about how Twilight is going to respond. She was the sitter, and Shining’s quite the catch.”

I groaned. “I do not believe this. Now the Princess herself fears she is unworthy of marriage? All ponies are insane. The best of you seem to be more so.”

“Hey! What’s that say about me?”

“You are crazier than most. You live with a giant bugpony and are eagerly awaiting the cast-off exoskeleton of another.”

Topaz flushed, putting her ‘loupes’ back down over her eyes and going back to her studies. “Yeah, that’s fair.”

I rapped a hoof thoughtfully as I continued to consider as I began to put on my armor. “Perhaps I will… break off from my duties to discuss the matter. Shining is already in a state half of the time. Cady in the same state would be intolerable.”

“Scared they might get cold hooves together, now? You must really be worked up if you’re considering such a drastic step as playing hooky.”

“Please. If I must extend my shift to compensate, so be it. They will be married if I have to cocoon them together myself.” I sucked in a breath, shrunken strap put in place, and I was done.

“I’m presuming sharing a cocoon is a thing for mated pairs of changelings... but I think I like Mr. ‘Done-With-This-Horseplay’ Hooves. Go get ‘em, Corporal!”


Patrolling and running across the princesses tend to fall hoof in hoof. Which was interesting, because Princess Cadance was chewing on her own. It was not an act I knew her to be in the habit of, so it quite annoyed me that nopony else was noticing her obvious distress. I, on the other hoof, had been able to home in on said distress thanks to Topaz’s advice on the royal mental state.

“Two bits for your thoughts, Highness?”

“Huh? Oh, Idol. What? Two bits?” She looked at me, still mostly distracted, but a look of growing consternation.

“I believe you have more on your mind than one bit would aleve.” I confessed. “And royal thoughts are likely of higher quality, besides.”

The pink princess blew out a long breath, but gave me a weak smile. “From anyone else, I’d call that obsequiousness. From you… I think I’d still call it that but you at least mean well. Or you’re just… being Idol and altering a commonplace saying because you’re you.”

“All seem equally likely, Cady.” I agreed, deciding to put a little more effort into my attempts to reassure her. She did always press me for that last bit.

She gave a startled cough, but her smile grew warmer. “Huh. I really am a mess, huh?” She made a few quick faces, slapped herself gently with her hooves, straightened her crown, and then finally gave me a sickly grin. “How’s that?”

I mentally screamed at my audacity and the foolishness of the nickname. “With all honesty? Your highness does not seem to have been sleeping well.”

“I’m nervous, Idol! It is completely reasonable for a bride-to-be to be… well, jittery.”

“And if you were to advise said bride-to-be on her jitters?”

She rolled her eyes. “I’d be saying a lot of things about confidence and true love and how it’s going to be worth it.” An almost manic laugh escaped her. “It doesn’t work, still scared. I think I know all the advice so well I’m immune.”

“Well, that cannot be borne. Perhaps that was the point of the ‘bachelorette party’?”

Hooves flung into the air, and for a moment I thought she might throw a shoe. “It issssssss, I just didn’t think I’d get like this! I know what I’m about, I know what it is I want.”

“Then what is the problem?”

Her voice was husky. “I want… a lot of things.” She cleared her throat, pointedly. “Look, a princess is supposed to be demure, Idol.”

I looked straight ahead, staring at absolutely nothing and seeing even less. “Of course, your highness.”

“Don’t you go stone-faced on me! I am!”

“The mare who tried to… seduce him, almost ten years prior?”

She bit her lip, hard, blushing. “Look. There are rules for me and Shiny. Rules that. Chafed. A lot. But we have upheld the letter even if we might have um… bent the spirit a bit. And… yes, we may have… each had moments of weakness where we wanted to just outright break them. But by Faust, we’re there. I can see the finish line!”

“I fail to see the problem, your highness.”

“I don’t want to trip and fall and get all bound up in the tape at the end. And not just that, there’s after. I know about weddings, I know about relationships, and forming them, and keeping them, but… I’ve never been married. It’s… different! We won’t just be dating, we won’t just be together… it’ll be… Misses Shining Armor. Mister Mi Amore.”

“...Would it not actually be Mister Cadenza?”

Amethyst eyes went wide. “See?! I’ve just always assumed Mister Mi Amore, but what if he actually does want Mister Cadenza? I mean, that works, I kinda like it-”

“Highness. Cady. Please. Understand… that this is absurd.” Daring beyond reason, I put a hoof to her shoulder. “The two of you are always absurd. This arrangement, the requirements you put on yourself to maintain propriety, propriety itself in this case. It is all beyond any comprehension of mine. And yet, despite it all, one thing is more clear than most. The two of you are absurdly in love. Simply being in your presence during his proposal nearly killed me with it.”

“Wha- you weren’t there!”

“I was. I opened the door. You were both… understandably distracted, and I confess I was so happy for you I needed to compose myself elsewhere.”

She blinked, putting a hoof to her chest. “...Idol. You don’t really get-

“That is how important this entire matter has become. Not just to you, or Shining, but… everyone. It has actually been the cause of some minor concern, but it is being handled.”

“Random ponies trying to get a look at wedding plans? I have to admit, I really didn’t expect that to be a concern, but-”

“A complicated matter, but I believe we are handling it. Honestly, Princess… the two of you are going to be very happy. And regardless of whatever magical experiences the two of you may wish for on or about the wedding night… you will be together. And even if events go awry… you will be together, and you will laugh about them later.”

“Celestia, I hope so,” came her fervent wish. “Are we really being that silly?”

“If I have to re-convince Shining Armor you are actually willing to go through with this again, I may throw myself bodily out of a window. It is not my place to convince you, but I do advise that he is a fine stallion.”

“He is, he is.”

“And I have it on good authority he has a great ass.”

“That he does- Idol!

“It is a known fact among the guard. It is good that his future wife agrees.”

“Says the stallion I caught Auntie Celestia checking out the rump on!” she claimed, and I choked. “Sure, she said it was your cutie mark, and tried to make up some sort of story about a jade cup on the spot, but let’s face it, she’s not that interested in pottery.”

I flushed, then realized that Celestia might actually know something about the cup from that temple. I had never even realized. “Regardless. Everything will be fine, your highness. But… I am told a shot of strong liquor will soothe frayed nerves. Perhaps that is what you need? And perhaps a quiet moment alone with your beau?”

“You really think getting me liquored up and stuffing me in a room with Shining is a good idea?”

“Not at all. But, I think fretting here does you no good, and a walk in the palace gardens with him will hardly be cause for gossip. And if you are there, waiting for him, he can hardly be blamed for taking leave from his duties to escort his lady-love as a proper knight should.”

“You know what…? Yeah. Yeah, let’s do that!”

I sighed internally, but fondly. I should have simply suggested she see Shining from the start.


Most ponies' duties in the palace involved preparations for the upcoming wedding. Much of the guard was drilling for ceremony in the upcoming days events, and it was truly something of a skeleton crew inside the palace. Even Princess Celestia was more busy than usual… perhaps it was no wonder that Cadance had been left alone with her concerns.

As it was, we were deep in discussion of various topics intended to keep her mind off of the upcoming wedding, things like her newest novels, her relationship with her 'Aunt Lulu', Order help me, and Topaz’s recent release of a particularly irridescent beetle that feasted almost explicitly on a species of mite that had been plaguing the rosebushes of the royal garden… I was quite pleased that Cadance had discovered and been fascinated with them; apparently they huddled in a shape on the rose leaves that resembled a shimmering heart to await early morning sunlight, and the effect was particularly breathtaking. I was in the process of making a mental note to relay that information to Topaz when I noted Mothchaser trailing me. Which was not exceptionally unusual by itself, but she had not done so in quite some time.

Yet here she was. During… the day. With eyes that were both entirely too blue, and not slitted at all. Of course.

I scowled. “Princess, might I be excused? I will be right back, I promise. I believe I need to have a word…”

“Oh?” She blinked, looking back. “Oh! Is something wrong?” She peered at me, then Not Mothchaser with some concern. “...Did the two of you have a fight? Something’s… off.”

“No, not… exactly. I simply need a moment alone.”

“Do what you need to do.”

The false Mothchaser looked surprised by my sudden approach, but I swept up on her before the changeling could flee. “This. Stops now.”

There was no response, only confused silence.

“You will leave this place, you will exit that form, and if I find you here in the shape of any guard, there will be consequences. There is a procedure to be observed. Do not. Make me repeat myself.”

“How dare you-” The drone began, fury coloring the words, and I bristled immediately.

Be silent!

Idol Hooves!” I flinched, having momentarily forgotten my charge as she approached. “I can’t believe you, I have never seen you act like-”

Fauxchaser leapt for her like a starving animal. I barely had the wherewithal to latch onto a wing and haul her to the ground. She coiled and twisted like a rattlesnake, and a hoof beneath my ribs stole my breath even as I allowed my false pony shape to tighten. The batpony beneath me writhed, hissing and showing fangs that no longer fit the pony maw.

Damnation! I drove one hoof into her neck, and in the moment of surprise had her by the head, slamming her off of the marble floor, full of a sudden fury of my own. How dare she? How dare she? This was my home, my duty, and now- a maid was approaching. Too slowly. Not carefully, but with purpose that did not match the palace staff upon seeing a fight break out. The form was perfect, but the movements were too predatory-

And Cadance was not handling this well. “Idol, what the- that’s not- how...?!” She stared down at Mothchaser, and… I had defended my princess well enough to render her opponent temporarily harmless… and her assailant had not had the presence of mind to maintain her form as she fell. A changeling lay dazed before her, and there could be no denials.

“Changeling, your highness.” I ushered her down the hall. “Another is coming. I fear you are too enticing a target at the moment."

“What? Changeling, what?!”

“Shapeshifters. They feed upon love. They are not usually so… threatening. I have never dealt with any this openly aggressive before. It is very unusual for them.”

“F-feed on love?”

I grabbed her hoof with my magic, moving her to a more rapid trot. This was going to be trouble. I could save one, perhaps, from their own foolishness, but two would be too suspicious to arrange for a reasonable excuse. “I must get you someplace safe.” Her emotional charge was vast, but I was more used to it, I supposed. Perhaps, face to face with her, other changelings simply… went mad? And if they were able to trail her as easily as I did… “Our room. Forest for the trees, I believe the saying goes.”

“How do you know these things?”

“I cannot say, your majesty, but please, hurry!”

Down a corner. Two. Through an empty room with a second doorway. Where was everypony? I could not be certain our pursuer followed, but I had utmost confidence that the Princess was not one to be easily concealed. My collection would be enough to distract, and hopefully the mines would provide enough cover that I could find some way to fix this before matters grew far beyond my meager ability. I flung open the door to my room, dragging Cadance inside-

And met with a room currently dimming, a whirlpool of emotional energy drifting around it to be drawn into the occupant standing in the center, eyes half-lidded as the relief that only the ravenous know when they finally find sustenance. An occupant I knew, and knew could not be here. The door shut with a faint click, followed by a louder ‘clack’ as the latch fell into place. Oh dear. Oh Celestia, Oh Order-

Cadance stared up at the dark figure, mouth agape as she stared at the only pony either of us had met to rival Celestia in sheer majesty or size.

“Theeeere you are,” came the Queen’s voice in a low, velvety rumble. “So you’re the source of all of this…~”

I moved my mouth slowly, trying to speak. Finally, inanely, I managed, “Princess Cadance, now announcing Queen Chrysalis, of the changelings.” One regal brow quirked, and I went silent again, mouth devoid of both saliva and slime.

“You’ve done very well, drone. Now move aside.” When I did not immediately respond or obey, she tilted her head, then examined me more closely, face finally alighting with a broad, surprised smile, of someone who has received an unexpected treat. “Well now, isn’t this interesting…”

“Idol, what’s going on..?!” Fear lashed at me from her like a whip, but I withstood it.

I did not take my eyes from the Queen. Could not, in fact. The Queen had given me her attention, and I could do no less. It was all I could do to step between them. “I do not know, Princess.”

“So that’s why I had no word about this… fountain. An exile.” She began a slow walk around me. Somehow, I managed to keep myself between her and the princess, but… I could not help but allow her to give me a thorough examination. And in so doing, saw that there were perhaps a dozen additional drones, all in pony disguises, guards, maids, civilians, even a noblepony from the court... “Healthy! Very healthy. Well fed, at least. Probably not a blemish under that armor. One of the infiltrators, surely. But no. None would have the audacity. A gatherer, then? No, no… too sturdy. An excavator, then… but there has not been an excavator sent out in years…” The others maintained their neutrality, what little emotion they felt muted, but… mostly they were displeased with me. Judging.

“Roughly ten, your majesty.”

She froze, delight on her face for just a moment. “The forty-second. No! You wandered into the desert. I thought you a lost cause!” Her head tilted, far too much for a pony neck. “In Canterlot? How did you ever… and with this disguise?” A laugh, almost as much scorn as humor. “Order, what… are… you? I admit it. You have surprised me.” She halted midstep, a scowl replacing the humor like a flash of lightning. “Stop. Getting. Between us.” The order was plain. She was not merely circling me… she was attempting to inspect the Princess, as well.

But I could not. I shook my head, vehement. “I cannot, my Queen. I have sworn to protect the ponies, and to serve the princesses. To uphold their laws, and serve faithfully. I do not know your intentions, and the princess is afraid.”

“I see,” The Queen’s mouth quirked to one side, but more than amusement, I felt disappointment from her. “A simple matter, then. I release you of your oaths, drone.”

The suddenness of the weight lifting from me was staggering. A physical load being pulled from my back, from within me, and my oaths were broken. No, not broken; shattered, unmade. As if I had never voiced them at all. I could comprehend willful disobedience without shame.

“And with that, you can be mine again.” The offer was plain. A second chance within the hive. To Return. And I could.

“I… those oaths were mine.” I whispered, still unable to move past what had been done. “I chose to serve Equestria.”

She began to look bored. “And now you are no longer bound by it, or them.” She returned her attention to Cadance, her smile becoming predatory.

“...then I will serve because I continue to choose to do so.” I said. “This does not serve the Hive, my Queen-” The flash from the others nearly staggered me. This was not changeling!

Anticipation confusion anger anger disgust anger

She froze. “You… continue… to defy me?” She sounded amazed. Then, after a moment, she shook her head, and I sensed a hint of regret. “I don’t have time for this. Destroy it. Keep it intact if you can.”

As one, the false maids and falser guards attacked, with precision and cohesion that would have made the royal guard trainers green with envy. But, my people have never been trained in true military fashion, and for a time, that could have saved me.

Fury anger anger anger disgust anger

The first drone still proceeded his allies and collapsed after a buck to the face, another tried to come at me from above, but his dazed companion made a handy shield. However, I had made a single, foolish mistake; drones were expendable. The Queen’s will was all that mattered. One unconscious, two…? A half-dozen could have died in my wake and it would have changed nothing. Numbers matter, and I was still shaken from the ease at which my Queen had broken me.

I had stunned perhaps four before I was dragged to the floor under the mass of my kin, and it shames me that it was a false guard who managed to hold me at last. It was only then I heard Princess Cadance’s clear voice ring out with a simple command, not to me, not to the Queen, nor even to the changelings about to tear me to pieces, but to the world itself. And with her denial of my upcoming execution came a wash of power, rippling through me, through us all, and it shattered the pony-shells of those holding me. My own pony shape was torn away as soon as the majority of my body was no longer shielded, and only the weight of the changeling holding my jaws kept me from screaming, but when it fell away moments later the room felt… empty, somehow.

Confusion concern pain anger pain fear concern confusion

The Queen was gone. While myself and the others had our pony forms shattered by the explosion from the youngest alicorn, the Queen was… simply not. In her place was a ragged mare, not so young as Cadance but also not possessing the same mature agelessness as Celestia or Luna. Perhaps she would have been beautiful, once. Her eyes still were, pale and full of anger. She staggered, horn seeming… damaged, somehow, as if covered by some sort of corrosion. Her legs could not support her, and she fell to her haunches, looked down… and froze at the sight of her own hooves. Trembling, she lifted one slate grey leg, staring at the fur covering it in disbelief. A faint giggle escaped her, and she touched one strand of her tangled, unkempt hair that hung in front of her eyes and actually laughed in amazed delight. Her right hoof then touched left foreleg to brush through the fur, her eyes closed and the sheer relief I felt from this pony left me shamed, as though I were witness to something too private, too intimate for any spectators, but in a single moment, her beatific expression made her as radiant as any of the rulers of Equestria..

“Queen… gone…” The drone holding me croaked. He was older, sturdier than most of the others, with jagged cracks on his legs and one in particular that could have been caused by nothing less than a maulwurf. He looked bewildered, as if this mare before him was a complete stranger. I suppose she was at that. I had never seen her, but I felt… I felt that this was right somehow. A boil lanced, an infection treated, the first steps of something broken being mended.

Confusion concern pain anger pain FEAR concern confusion

The others didn’t seem to know what to do. Several looked away, as I had. Others seemed at a loss and looked about for guidance. Others had gone utterly blank from the shock, though I doubted they truly saw anything before their eyes.

Confusion fear concern confusion pain FEAR fear fear

“Queen? Where?!” He choked through clenched teeth, his grip losing strength as formerly suppressed emotions mounted within him. I had seen this before; some ponies who came to the Summer Sun celebration for the first time were overcome, some felt they were too close to somepony so divine. It was standard protocol to have someone on hoof to treat these, and usually, usually it led to little more than good natured ribbing and teasing. But the elderly were always most carefully treated, and through his chest I could feel his heart pounding… but something was wrong. The beat was not merely fast, it lacked proper rhythm. His head spun towards Cadance, who flinched back as he tried to step over me towards her, but he toppled as if I had tripped him, and I rolled away from him, backing up and trying to disengage from the shared feeling and experience of the hive. I knew this. I did not want to be drawn into it. He fell, and did not rise. “Queen!” He demanded, voice weakening.

The mare was with him in a heartbeat. Her voice was as ragged as her figure, but she was there. “I’m here, I’m here-” but the drone tried to push her away. There was no strength to him, as weak as a kitten, but she held him firmly. The fur coating her body seemed to be falling out… no, it had shattered where she had skidded across the marble to reach him, as dry grass might crumble at a touch. “I’m here, I’m…” Her voice caught as she saw her leg. Saw the greyness creeping up, saw the fur falling away. On one bared leg, shiny carapace began to dip, hollowing out as though something tunneled through it. Her horn glowed, and the encroaching chitin seemed to hesitate, but then marched inexorably on.

Alone…” The drone whispered, the paltry effort of fighting this strange mare too much. “Failed… Queen…” His eyes were clouding. The others backed away, but she didn’t flinch.

“No. You’ve done well.” Her horn winked out, and the chitin seemed to stretch over her from horn down as well as from legs up. Between one blink and another, first one eye became slitted, then the other. Her mane became wispy, ethereal as spider silk. The fear faded from the others as the room was again filled with the Queen’s presence. The others relaxed, becoming more stolid as her will reasserted itself. “Rest, now.” Her mouth opened and tendrils of energy leaked from the drone. Not his love, but his fear and pain.

The drone gave a final sigh of relief, fear quieted completely as it was siphoned from him. He closed his eyes, and did not open them again. Very gently, the Queen laid what had been a loyal soldier to the ground. For a moment, there was silence. Then, her eyes flashed up to Cadance, and there was only The Fury. “You… bitch. Did you enjoy that? Did you enjoy making me that pathetic thing?”

I tried to stand, but like the others, I could not resist the will of the renewed Queen. The air was full of her, of her influence, of her rage. It burned like a wildfire, no mere bonfire but a blaze, gone completely beyond any control.

“I… I don’t even know what’s going on-” Cadance tried to protest, her eyes flitting to me in desperation, a tendril of confusion and just the faintest hint of betrayal reaching out to me, but the Queen was already stalking towards her, deaf to any protest.

“How did you do it?” The Queen’s voice came out in a vicious hiss. There was nothing beatific now. Now, there was nothing but loss, and misery, and rage beyond fathoming. Unlike the rest of us, the Queen was clearly in prime health. She stalked towards the dazed Cadance, who tried to scoot away from her on weak legs.

“I… I don’t know what I did, I didn’t mean to-”

How dare you…” A thin rope of drool fell from the Queen’s maw, hissing as it touched the floor. She lifted a hoof.

Dear Harmony. Surely she wouldn’t-

The sound of the hoof against the face of Princess Cadance was something I will hear in my nightmares forever. Cadance fell, as if her bones had turned to gelatin. A leg lifted in weak defense, but this pitiful defiance only served to reinforce the unfurling wrath. A shield formed, nothing compared to Shining’s own but still something.

I could not move. Could barely think.

Had to try.

My head pounded, and I could not focus. The Queen continued to rain blows on Cadance’s defenses, and I was suddenly aware that the Princess of Love was completely inexperienced in true combat. Her shield shattered like frozen glass, and with horror I watched the Queen raise up, both hooves in the air and aimed for the downed alicorn’s head. The Queen’s wrath had robbed her of reason, of whatever she had plotted to do with the princess.

I could not, and yet I must. I could think of nothing save another alicorn that could resist the Queen’s will, and I reached for it, knowing I was no more worthy than now than I had ever been. But I, no matter what I called myself, did not have the strength to stand against the Queen.

It came.

Musculature writhed as my body contorted, twisting me into the only alicorn form I had ever dared to attempt. With the shape came the fury, the need to protect what was mine, and a single bolt sent the Queen tumbling. I clamped down hard on the emotion, desperately trying to reign it in, make it useful, to control it instead of blasting at everything.
Hissing and spitting with fury, the Queen rolled to her hooves to see what fool would dare challenge her. She stared in shock at my flaming mane as I took a supported stance and aimed my horn-

No. I did not hear the words. I did not see the source, for it was not the Queen. But I felt them, all the same. They were firm. They were, perhaps, sorrowful. But for all that, they brooked absolutely no argument.

And then the Queen was looking down at me. That was odd. The room had tilted. I tried to reorient myself. Fell again. Again? Why wasn’t my leg supporting me?

The stump of my right foreleg didn’t make sense. I stared, trying to force comprehension, and then my rear left leg crumbled. I fell into a puddle of something, and it seemed like my foreleg was… fuzzing, parts of it just falling apart. Melting even as it sloughed off. That should hurt, I decided.

Well, I thought, feeling oddly complacent. My audacity finally caught up with me. It seemed like it was about time. I smelled something faintly acrid, and it occurred after a moment that it must be blood. Mine? That seemed...odd. The Queen only stared, and I could not feel anything from her at all, save shock..

A weak laugh shook me. “Forgiveness… could not… let you harm… the…” A cough racked my body. Now I could taste something like the water that stood in a noble’s pool. Shame. I hoped Cadance could not see. She was to marry soon. I would hate to mar the wedding.

I had promised Topaz my remains. Damn. Could I ask the Queen to bequeath them to her as a final request? There might not be much left, but I had promised… I couldn’t remember if changelings did final requests. The room was dimming. Someone would have to rebuke the maids...

There are worse things for a final vision than the Princess you served and your Queen, I supposed. I would die as I lived, serving two hives as best as any changeling could dream. The Queen stepped forward.

The pain was so intense I could not even scream.

Her hooves were on me, in me, and she molded me as easily as wet clay, and by Faust it hurt. It hurt more than anything had ever hurt before. She scooped out… something. Fouled and rotting. I tried to beg for death. Even if she understood, she paid no heed, and mercy has never been a hallmark of my people. My senses were full of nothing but her, and I could feel every fiber of my being responding to her whims. My heart, steadily weakening, began to pound anew. Lymph resumed flowing, the trickle that escaped my mouth choking me as it inexorably crawled back into my body. Agony at the stump of my leg as something jammed into it… all borne of naught but the Queen’s unshakeable will, and of fury and wrath that burned far too cold for any mere pony. And all with a single word, sibiliant and full of horrible, nightmarish certainty.

Mine.

My shame is boundless. I tried to forswear everything. I tried to promise my loyalty to only her. I tried everything, and could do nothing. There was only pain, and it was endless. The single word echoed, battering what tiny flicker of life remained in me, refusing even the solace of darkness.

And still the Queen worked.

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