• 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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Shoddy Workmanship

My first days without the caravan were simple, engaged in preparing my small cavern for long-term use. Having spent more time in the caravan gauging my strength, I was pleased to determine the gratitude given to me by the mare whose foal I ‘saved’ and several of the other caravan members would sustain me for as long as several months alone, as I was able to determine that it was only truly useful for restoring health and as basic sustenance. I could ‘live’ off of gratitude, but without use of other changeling abilities. The other energies I had siphoned from the caravan were more useful, though I had siphoned off more anger from Rough Shod than even I had realized. The first days were spent in my own natural form as I expanded my own small cave into a workable nest for one, taking special care to place my sleeping roll over a shallow hole in the floor, which would hold a cocoon and be far more comfortable than fabric.

It is worth noting that my kind are capable of a sort of hibernation within our cocoons in which we use very little energy while still maintaining a sort of passive contact with the hive, allowing the Queen to wake them at her leisure. This is how the majority of warrior drones spend their time; mental training is shared and their physical needs are taken into account by short periods of wakefulness in which they feed and actively guard the hive before they replace another drone and return to a cocoon to rest. Beyond that, a cocoon provides a snug but not overly constricting way to rejuvenate oneself… for a changeling. I have come to understand that many ponies find the idea of being sealed within a tough membrane of warm gel to be somewhat traumatic, which only proves that most ponies lack the ability to rest properly.

My first course of action after ensuring that I had a safe place to store my belongings was to find a more ready supply of food and water. Scorpions and snakes I found aplenty, and a small reservoir of frigid water fed by a mountain stream made for excellent hydration, and the vegetation nearby produced several new flavors of berries and roots that I found equally satisfactory, and one that was so bitter and unpleasant that the simple odor of it when pulled from the ground and broken open had driven me away, and I was forced to assume Zaimare had inadequately described garlic to me and that I had harvested the wrong plant. Nonetheless, I determined food would only be an issue if I gorged myself overly, as there were apparently few predators of my size locally. There was, however, markings of a large cat in the area, and I determined that harvesting food should not be undertaken lightly if I were intruding upon its territory. There was also a variety of wildlife too small or quick to be of much interest, dragonflies and birds in abundance.

Having produced a very basic shelter, I soon realized that it had the same flaws as my old hive; it was visually unappealing. Taking some rock dust and chewed flowers, I attempted to crush it against the grey walls in an effort to simulate the more colorful walls of the tents, reasoning that the cave was small enough that anything entering would already be aware of my presence. These first attempts proved… unpleasant. Firstly, brown is not exceptionally better than grey. Secondly, any successful attempts to mimic any of the designs I had seen led only to runny smudges of color that left me feeling more irritated than accomplished, which I decided was more due to my overabundance from Rough Shod.

My attempts to improve my stable of false shapes were far more effective. I had made my grey unicorn with a brown mane, and had given it a cutie mark of a set of three stones side by side. It was completely unremarkable to my eye, and I was satisfied with it. Appearance-wise, I shared more of Wasta’s build than Rough Shod, and with some effort I tweaked it to fall more between them. Mottling my coat with spots to match my mane proved slightly more tedious, but served to hide my form amongst the stone of the badlands even more efficiently than a solid matching color had, to my interest. Over the course of the next few days, I came up with several other forms, a sky-blue pegasus with a white mane and a cloud for a cutie mark, a green and tan earth pony with a mountain for a cutie mark, and finally a silvery monochromatic unicorn with a lightning bolt, which I deemed reasonably appropriate. For names, I had come up with Stone Wand, Windy Clouds, Rock Hardtack, and Silver Spell, respectively. All far more suitable names than Sandy.

My next course of action, I decided, should be to familiarize myself with the terrain. Traveling up the mountain was much easier than it seemed to be for ponies, given my more lightweight frame and ability to cling to walls. As such, I made several discoveries, including that Zaimare had, at one point, carved that she was formerly present in one of the rocks. This pleased me for reasons I could not quite comprehend, and found myself visiting her impromptu sign when the mood struck.

It was upon the fourth or fifth visit that I was forced to recognize that my lack of a hive was disrupting my practice. I needed to ensure these new forms were second nature. But… I had been practicing for two weeks without much change in my daily routine. The time traveling with the caravan had instilled a… restlessness within me. New sights, new experiences... these are not things for a changeling. I stopped, considering the thought. They were not things for a changeling excavation drone. But… I was something else, wasn’t I? I was a gatherer. A hunter. An excavator. I was not adept at these other roles, but I was surviving. Perhaps some minor curiosity and restlessness was appropriate for my new life. This idea pleased me. I was entirely within my rights to ask questions and seek whatever I personally desired.

So… what did I desire? To live, obviously. But that seemed insufficient. Rough Shod sought a quiet place to live out his days. Wasta wanted to be a renowned trader. Zaimare wanted to pass on a legacy. But those were pony desires. Did I wish to start a hive? I could think of no means of doing so. I could possibly find a female exile? But that was disgusting. A female exile would be beneath even contempt- I examined that thought. I was an exile. Was I contemptible? Surely not. And I had never considered exiles or exile as an act prior to my banishment… the emotion did not feel… genuine. I realized with a sudden start and a burst of pain that the emotion was not mine. Something of the Queen’s? I considered the idea and shivered. Of course the Queen would not want me to start a hive of my own. If I were to challenge her authority in such a manner I would be destroyed. Regardless, having offspring held no interest for me.

To build. I wanted to create. To make. And yet, I lacked something I could not explain. I wanted to repair the hive, to improve it, but could not determine what had been wrong in the first place. So I would have to learn. Perhaps Canterlot did hold something of interest for me. But not yet. I had weeks to prepare. To grow used to these new forms, and to learn to live as if they were truth.

It was on one such session as Windy Clouds that I discovered a strange structure hidden in a valley in the midst of the mountains of the badlands, a set of large buildings with a massive one in the center, towers poking up from it at regular intervals. At first, I was concerned that I had stumbled across a small settlement of Equestrians who had sought to expand their borders, but if it was the case, it was apparently long abandoned. My curiosity piqued, I landed nearby, investigating one of these strange towers, which I noted was in fact an overgrown stone column, the greyish creepers all over it serving to hide it from casual inspection. Pulling some free, I was inordinately pleased to see that the stone had weathered the time very well, and more interestingly, was covered in intricate carvings. I was aware of reading, and could vaguely recognize letters, but these symbols were completely unfamiliar to me, though many of them seemed self-explanatory. They showed ponies, or something very like them, putting… something inside the much larger ramped structure. I felt a flicker of annoyance at the inability of the carver to accurately portray his meaning, then realized with more irritation that it was entirely likely that it was more a failing on my part.

Still, the implication was clear. Something had been placed within this enormous stone building, and I would be lying if I said I was not a bit curious as to what, but truthfully… I wanted to examine the structure itself. These stones were aged, possibly ancient, and it was fascinating. The wild weather on the edges of Equestria made above-ground hives a tricky prospect; these stones had not only survived, but well enough that markings made upon them had been mostly unharmed. Did the carvings serve some sort of purpose? Was it the strange stone itself that was exceptionally sturdy?

I had been curious before. This, on the other hoof, was the first time I felt my interest truly driving me, and I had to explore these ruins. I found disturbingly lifelike statues of ponies that made me think of warrior drones holding some sort of long-bladed staves, not quite the spears that Rough Shod had explained, and not quite swords, but a cross between the two. Not quite able to help myself, I fashioned a new earth pony shape after one of the ‘guards’, and felt markedly more comfortable; now I belonged here.

Finding myself drawn to the ramped structure in the center, I discovered a door near the top. Sealed, of course, but not nearly so well to prevent a suitably driven drone from tunneling through it. On the other side were more carvings, and I felt my interest grow still greater; these were not the somewhat crude carvings of before. These were beautiful, works of art in their own right. I could not grasp their meaning, but did not truly feel that I needed to; I was enjoying this place even without truly comprehending it.

Certain stones would shift beneath my hooves as I investigated the walls, having a strange tendency to cause said walls to emit spikes, in one case disgorging a veritable feast of snakes, confused and irritated by their relocation. After a stone slab from ceiling nearly crushed me, I decided with some annoyance to avoid putting my weight onto those loose stones anymore, having begun to grow tired of the shoddy work put into some of the construction. Regardless of the builders’ failings, it was wondrous. I doubt I would have ever left the hive had I been able to spend my days replicating such beauty, and even the Queen would have had to recognize the value. Even should changelings merely carve a daily experience on the wall, it would have perhaps added… something. I could not for the life of me determine what it was that I wanted at that moment. Something had lacked at the hive, something… something I could almost feel here, almost put a name to.

A certain disquiet in my thoughts, I continued on, pausing to give what appeared to be an eye carved from some gemstone a curious look. It very much resembled the Queen’s eyes in color, and to my surprise, another passageway opened, leading still deeper into the structure. Pleased that the builders had the good sense to dig deeper into the ground, I followed it, though could not help but be annoyed as another slab fell behind me. Torches lit nearby, triggered by an unknown source, revealing mountains of shiny yellow ore and smaller glittering faceted gemstones. I knew the material to be soft and relatively useless, whatever reasoning they had for gathering it completely beyond me, and the gemstones were of too small a quantity to be useful as material for anything I could think of. Besides, it was the design of the room that fascinated me, having been built of enormous blocks like inverted stairs, many carved with fantastic animals, including the odd fish poking its head out of the stone, mouth parted.

I realized there was a pattern on the floor, a collection of different colored tiles arranged to form pictures, and I found the concept immediately to my liking. I found many of its ilk as I wandered the room, pushing the yellow ore out of the way when necessary. Most displayed an odd green cup of an interesting design, surrounded by light and fire. One showed ponies lining up to drink from the cup, the warriors resembling the statue from outside, and on the other side of the cup stood guardians of red manes and enlarged builds. I wondered at that, finding several large images of the enhanced stallions beside the torch-bearing pillars, the head of each partially obscured by a pool of dark liquid. As I investigated, a torch fell into one of the pools, setting it alight. I quickly realized my misconception; the manes of the warriors were intended to be aflame, not merely red. To test the theory, I carried the fallen torch over to each of the other pillars, providing the room with a much brighter light with each lit pool, only startled on the last to realize that they revealed still another passage into the structure.

This final room was the most intricate of them all. The guardian statues here were of gleaming quartz, the armor of shimmering dark metal, the cut gemstone eyes refracting the firelight in an unsettling way. Between the guards was a dais of the same strange stone as the pillars outside, the cup resting in the center. The design was far more fascinating than I’d originally expected, its color almost an exact match for changeling cocoons, making me think of the nest again. Quite unable to resist, I gathered the cup into my hooves for a closer look, and was almost immediately reminded of the lack of craftsmanship shown by some of the builders when water began to pour in from the stone mouths of the fish, extinguishing the fires I had just lit. Slogging upwards through the darkened chamber was not exceptionally difficult, as most changelings are able to grip to a surface with ease even while in an altered form, but was not an experience I relished all the same. The piles of ore and gemstones were flushed into grates near the edges of the room, and I continued my efforts to leave with my cup, intending to examine it further in the light of day, even as the flowing water was mixed with sand, creating a disgusting slurry that made it even harder to travel, pouring over my head more than once, very nearly dislodging the cup from my mouth. To my great annoyance, the entrance to the passage began to slide shut, doubtless more lackluster work, and I was forced to shove one of the guard statues under it and crawl through the mud to leave the chamber.

Shaking the muck loose as I stepped out of the structure, I examined the cup as I walked in a three-hoofed gait, enjoying its carvings, color, and even the general shape. I had no idea what I would do with such a thing, but I was not about to drag it back into the building and put it back after all that, and it was apparently pony tradition to keep items that interested you somewhere that you could show them off and speak of them.

By the time I reached the center of the open area between the pillars, I realized something else; I was no longer alone. Cats, most large but several small, had surrounded me as a brown, black-maned pony with strange hat and a blue … well, I’m not sure what it was, bickered. When one of the cats yowled for attention, both of them turned eyes to it, and then to me, and I tensed.

“The chalice! Run!”

“BRING ME THAT GOBLET!” The blue one shrieked, and as one the ring of felines began to attack.

I did what any changeling with a hint of sense would do. I ripped my way free of my new form, and launched into the sky, leaving the husk of the shape behind. The effort also distracted me into loosening my grip on the cup, only to watch as it fell to the ground and shattered next to my discarded shell before I gave a buzz of despair and flew off, hoping to lose my pursuers before I was forced to seek shelter.

**********

“Well. That was unexpected.”

“Indeed, it was.” The blue creature agreed.

“Tell you what. You were here first. I’m a big enough girl to admit it, and gracious enough to know that sometimes you have to give a little. You can have what’s left of the chalice.”

“Oh, no no no, I couldn’t. I didn’t even really want it that much. Besides, I would have never found the location if not for spying on you. It’s yours, I insist. And it’s a goblet.”

“Nahhh, let’s just let bygones be bygones. You take the chalice.”

“I’d never known you were so giving, Ms. Do. Please, accept the goblet as an offer of good will.”

“…I am not taking that stupid thing, which is a chalice, it turned that pony into a giant bug.”

“Well I won’t become a giant cockroach, if you’re hoping that I’m such a fool!”

“Ha! Too bad for that, it might actually be an improvement on you!”

The blue creature snarled, looking ready to do violence, then both paused as the temple collapsed in on itself, watching with mute disappointment. “…It has been a trying day.”

“Yeah… yeah, this is kind of disappointing. I was searching for this for months, find it, and it breaks into pieces and the whole temple collapses.”

“It happens from time to time. I suppose we could call this one a draw. Neither of us was able to retrieve the chalice. Let us just say that the temple was already destroyed?”

“I suppose that’d be fair. Neither of us really saw inside. Probably nothing else of value in there… I guess just once we could go our separate ways without you trying to kill me.” The brown pony mumbled with a shrug.

“All strictly business, I assure you. Nothing personal.”

She gave him an annoyed look, fluttering her wings, then smirked. “Welllll, I did get one thing out of this.”

“Oh?”

“I got you to admit that it’s a chalice. I was right, you were wrong.” With that, she took off into the sky, heading towards her own home.

“CUUUUURSE YOU-“

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