• 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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I do not care to remember how far and long I fled before realizing my pursuers had, in fact, not pursued at all. Suffice to say, it was my first real experience with having been found out, and I… overreacted. That said, for the next three days, I studiously avoided my little niche out of a combination of fear of being discovered and shame at having been so easily startled… and, I must confess, my cup had been shattered into pieces, and that upset me more than was reasonable.

As the fear was managed and stowed, a surly mood took its place. When time had come to fight or fly, I had flown without plan or hesitation. For some reason, that disgusted me. I had never considered myself a coward, and the wasted energy of the fear response was something I could not easily recover by my lonesome. Worse still was that it forced me to examine other things. I had lost my first home, the hive, because I could not be what was required of me. I had to leave the caravan as a poor disguise wore thin. And now, a pony, several animals, and a… thing had very nearly frightened me into fleeing from another shelter. I was somewhat proud of this shelter, though it was not particularly attractive at the time being. It would be a waste to leave it. And the Queen’s gift, I had taken to leaving it in my cavern. The idea of not coming back for it was simply unthinkable.

What I needed was something more intimidating. Something that would inspire caution in an attacker, if not the same fear response I myself had given in to. I toyed with his for several days, keeping it in mind as I gathered food and tooled about with the walls of my cave. Ponies, I was coming to decide, simply did not intimidate nearly as much as more monstrous creatures such as the blue… thing. A burly earth pony would likely only dissuade an attacker with a show of force. A pegasus needed to prove speed and skill. A unicorn horn? Said next to nothing about the unicorn itself. Most unicorns lacked useful offensive magic, as I understood it. These were all reasonable, coming from what little knowledge I already had of ponies, possibly part of the Queen’s… addition to my mind. So, what would inspire enough fear or respect to give even a starving predator pause?

I thought to the Queen and felt my chitin shiver. Nothing attacked the Queen with impunity. But the idea of mimicking her, even for a moment, made me very nearly ill with the very wrongness of the concept. I further considered. The Princess Celestia and the Nightmare Moon, they were clearly beings of great power, feared and respected… but I had seen neither save for Celestia’s profile on coinage and the supposed ‘Mare in the Moon’ (which in my opinion seemed oddly changeling-like already). Not enough to make a convincing disguise, and it would draw far too much attention. Celestia was too well known for me to imitate on a whim. The Nightmare Moon? While her reappearance would no doubt inspire enough panic amongst monster and pony alike for me to escape, it would also draw Princess Celestia’s own attention.

As I began to replicate some of the designs from the ruined architecture on the walls of my cave, pleased at how well this carving business was going, I stumbled across another idea. The flame-haired alicorns from the temple. They clearly did not exist, but as I understood from Zaimare, ponies were often in the habit of telling one another stories based on things they had seen that were laughed off as ‘tall tales’, which Wasta had explained came from the length of a great storyteller’s own tail, though Zaimare’s glare put that to question, though I would be cautious not to grow my own tail too long for fear of becoming an untrustworthy figure. Claiming to see a random alicorn with a fiery mane could be considered one of these tall tales… and surely if the power of the alicorns was so widely known and the Nightmare Moon had truly driven monsters from portions of Equestria, even the vilest of predators would fear to attack one. A short stint as an alicorn, albeit with red and orange hair instead of true fire as the carvings from the ruins would have a viewer believe, would surely be enough to distract and frighten off foes. At least long enough for a single changeling to flee to safety.

The decision came as an immense relief. A pony with wings and a horn? How difficult could that be? I already possessed both, should I need to fly or use magic to prove myself, it would come naturally in the new form. Better still, I could use the statues of the structure for more of the design. So, in my head, I began to flesh out the new shape, with a heavier focus on a warrior’s build, though I studiously avoided shifting during this time.

The efforts served a dual purpose. Firstly, it returned some of my confidence in my ability to survive. Secondly, it served to distract me from being alone again, which was starting to creep into me. Confronting the sensation did nothing to alleviate it. Though I did enjoy the opportunity to do as I wish without much regard for the thought of others, I knew the situation could not last. My larder grew and shrank as I tried to assuage my self-imposed emotional fasting with physical foods, and then by distracting myself. I carved shelves into the walls of my cavern, stacking my meager belongings within. With some confusion, I noted that the crystals from the Queen’s pouches had begun to glow at some point, and I placed them in separate niches, wondering at the strange new light. I could not really think of a source for the new energy, and was confident they had not been glowing when the Queen had given them to me, and could not for the life of me determine if I had inspected them prior to leaving the caravan. I wondered idly if they were meant to establish trade amongst the ponies. The Queen must have had foresight that I would require the use of currency, or that in my future I would need to barter for some basic goods. If that was her intention, I was currently unable to accurately assess their value, and would not squander her gift by receiving less than full price.

I was able to duplicate the carvings on the walls of the ruined structures very nearly perfectly, I thought, taking into account the damage done to them and leaving spaces for the glittering stones and metals I had seen before. Perhaps if I found more, I could replicate the design in full, it was a shame that the entire thing had collapsed. I felt a certain kinship with those builders. My own workmanship had proven faulty, so clearly I was not the best judge of such things, but I wanted to be. I also began making duplicates of the cup I had found, and at that I proved far less adept. Annoyance was beginning to tinge my efforts, and I realized that part of the trouble was that some stone held a cup’s shape very poorly. A mixture of rock dust, finely ground beneath my hooves, and builder’s saliva made something a bit more like the cup, though I could not get it to hold shape properly. Even hardened, it ended up looking lumpy, almost melted, and eventually I recognized I was not yet capable of doing it justice, instead using these as bowls and making a much larger version of the cup that I did not hollow on either end, instead leaving it as a large altar-like table that I kept in the center of my cave, carving it appropriately, then arranging some of the Queen’s crystals on it. The effect was pleasing to my eye, lighting the entire cavern well with a color-changing light that seemed to fade when I left the area. I could not begin to understand the mechanism by which this functioned, and simply ascribed it to the Queen being far wiser than myself in such matters, as one would expect. All the same, things were progressing smoothly and I was growing more confident that I could make a permanent home somewhere more central in Equestria to keep important belongings or to hide, this would act as a secondary, and I could change my forms as I wandered, absorbing energy from the ponies in small quantities as my former hivemates did. It should prove far easier for me with practice, given that I would not need to feed ten to twenty times my number back at the nest.

And it was around this time my peaceful little valley in the mountains was intruded upon by the violent crash-landing of a pegasus, older than Wasta had been but not so old as Zaimare, in something of a fright, breathing desperately for no reason I could see… until the manticore burst from the clouds, its eyes red with rage. She quickly returned to her hooves and took back to the sky, her saddlebags spilling as she sought to flee the infuriated beast. To her great distress, her attempts to fly around it and return to the obscurity of the clouds was a failure, and the great winged feline slammed her with a massive paw, driving her back to the ground with a cry of pain, wing held awkwardly to her side.

I crept down on my rock outcropping, intending to return to the safety of my cavern, but I found myself watching the two with growing concern. It had limited her capability for flight with the strike. She grabbed several things out of her saddlebags, including what looked like a large slab of meat, flinging it at the creature to no avail as it again swatted at her, sending her rolling across the ground. I recognized this. A manticore might decide to toy with prey when it was certain it was in control, and the mare didn’t seem capable of escape. A desperate attempt to leap over the beast was thwarted by its tail very nearly impaling her, and she gave out a choked cry as she began scrambling backwards towards the cliff face. It was possible that she would survive the leap into the gorge without full flight available to her, but if she did not make the attempt the monster would almost certainly kill her.

I was not sure why this bothered me so. Her fear was contagious, her desperation biting into me from afar. She faced certain death, she wanted to be bold and it would not come. The powerful predator was going to bat at her with massive clawed paws until she was too broken and torn to survive… and she knew it. But this was of no concern to me; she had brought it here, far out of what was likely to be its normal territory. When she was gone, regardless of fled or dead, it too would leave. And yet. And yet, I could help. Possibly. A brief distraction might give her the time needed to slip around it. Was it worth it? Another cry of alarm as the tail struck the ground before her when she tried to dart to the side. This creature could kill me, a swipe such as the one that grounded the pegasus could crack my shell, teeth and claws could rend me even if my chitin provided more protection than the pony’s soft flesh, and the venom of the manticore’s sting had proven too much even for warrior changelings caught unaware.

Quite suddenly, I was disgusted with myself again. I was afraid. This was not the beast’s territory, I had made my little home here and it trespassed. My hive was a safe place, be it from pony, blue monster, manticore, or a bucking hydra. I would not allow this thing free reign here, not when all it took was a simple bluff. So I reached inside, shaped the form of the warrior alicorn, drew it forth…

And everything shifted and broke, something within my head wrenching. Suddenly, rage filled me, fury compelled me, power flooding through my veins, swelling my muscles and filling this new form to near-bursting. This mere beast dared to threaten one under my protection? The red and orange mane I had chosen burst into true flame, and I charged the brute, slamming a shoulder into it with all the power of an avalanche. It roared with startled fury and I screamed back, power lancing from my horn in arcs, tearing great gouges in the loose stone at my hooves. The beast took a step back, then lunged for the smaller, weaker pegasi, and I met it in the air, grappling it with what seemed like practiced ease and driving us both into the solid face of the cliff. As chunks of stone fell around us, revealing a large hole into my cavern, I flung the beast away, tossing my head with utter disdain. This pitiful creature had no idea what I was capable of, and as single bolt of green light struck it between the eyes it roared in pain, finally turning to flee, leaping into the chasm and flying desperately towards the jungle near my temple. I turned to my worshipper and- worshipper… temple? What… where was I… how-

I collapsed before the stunned mare, green flame eating at the form of the alicorn warrior in patches, the last dregs of weeks, if not months, worth of power flickering and going out as both orange and green flames sputtered and died. I stared unblinkingly up at her as the world slowly faded to nothingness, a horrid aching cold and emptiness filling me as my mind slowed. I had touched something. Something I was not meant for, and there was a price. I saw a vague shape rush towards me, but could not draw forth the energy to care or even truly be concerned. My last thought was of Rough Shod, and I wondered if he would have been pleased with me, and then the darkness was all I knew.

Author's Note:

Sorry for the delay folks, had some trouble with this chapter, and still trying to come up with a decent title picture idea.

Comments are greatly appreciated!

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