• 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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Polite Fictions

I awoke to darkness, the press of cool earth on my head, only vaguely able to make sense of any of this. This chamber had collapsed, apparently. The queen would be displeased, hopefully I could free myself- The soft gasp and a small wave of fear as I twitched my hooves uselessly in an attempt to get them under me brought things into a bit better focus, and I froze with pain and sudden clarity. Not the hive, I’d been banished. Not earth, but a wet piece of fabric. I’d apparently passed out again. This was becoming a bad habit. I decided I should put a stop to it immediately. My energy levels were… Queen’s hooves and horn, where were they? I was almost completely dry on… on everything. I’d have to find somewhere to feed, quickly, if I could even draw a basic illusion I’d be lucky. A faint nervous sound came from above me, and I tilted my head up blindly.

“Uh… I… m… my Lord? Are… are you okay?” Lord? Was I still in the shape of that alicorn? I could not recall willing myself to leave it, but… that had not gone as I expected. Fear tore through me, and I was reduced to shuddering. That… that had not been me. It was as though I had been replaced by a vengeful power that was all too willing to throw itself into danger. I had no idea what I had been doing, and yet, I’d felt so certain of it. If I survived this weakness… Queen, my horn hurt, did I actually have a flaming mane? What ludicrous foal had thought that to be a good idea in the first place? The rest of me just felt… a sort of pained numbness, as though I’d been carrying particularly heavy loads without stopping until my body had failed. My stomach rumbled, because obviously I couldn’t simply be emotionally starved and too weary to move, the very concept of chewing food had to feel like an insurmountable challenge. Something bumped into my face and a drop of water splashed onto my muzzle. The piece of fabric was lifted from my eyes, and I got a glimpse of my captor.

It was the pegasus from before. Her coat was a yellowish orange, almost golden, with a mane of of a very light green. She startled as my vision focused on her, and murmured in a voice almost too quiet to hear. “Would… would you like a drink? I’ve been giving you water for the past three days, and there’s soup…” She tilted the misshapen bowl, one of my own, towards me, showing me the fluid within. I tried to speak, failed, and could only nod my head with the most pathetic of motions. I was able to hold my jaw open as she poured the deliciously cool water in, letting me drink it with greedy, shameful little slurps until the bowl was empty. Odd that the poorly formed edge had served a purpose, I would keep the little spout in mind for further endeavors… she brought me another until I felt a modicum of strength returning and was able to request food in a monosyllabic breath. The soup was little more than broth, chunks of soggy bread and some small soft bits in it that I was easily able to make manageable without chewing. It was the single most wonderful meal that I can recall having since leaving the hive. It was hot, it was nourishing, and it was actually quite good besides. I managed two more bowls of that, feeling the warmth flow through me and slowly restoring feeling to my limbs, a mixed blessing to be sure. There were ponies who did that routinely? I hurt. I was reasonably certain I had slammed my own body into the manticore’s, and that seemed exceptionally stupid in hindsight.

“I… I’m sorry if that’s not what you’re used to, um… your majesty. Sir. I didn’t know if you could eat anything else, and all I had was some rice and some of the food someone had been keeping in this little cave-“ Ah. So there went my food storage, apparently. What was this pony going on about? Perhaps I was weaker than I realized. I cleared my throat, swallowing the very last of offered soup with some remorse.

“What… what happened? Is… is the manticore gone?” The mare nodded slowly, hobbling over to a pot over a small fire – at the edge of the newly expanded mouth of my cavern, I noted, and stirred it quickly, mumbling something about potatoes burning under her breath and ‘getting it together’. She’d wrapped more of the fabric around herself, bandaging one wing and covering several places where the manticore’s claws had apparently scoured her coat.

“Yes, sir. You, ah. Chased it off. It was trying to make a show of dominance at you, and then you slammed it into the wall. Before you chased it off, it started to show submission, and you took an appropriately aggressive stance. I’m pretty sure it recognizes this is your territory now.” My stare must have seemed appropriately stoic, or perhaps baffled, because she continued in a rush. “They do dominance shows, they’re not like big cats exactly, they’ll try to scare them off first. That was a male from further south, it was trying to claim new territory. It’s been stalking another pride for a few weeks now, maybe this will make it think twice.” I continued to stare at her. “I’m, ah, I’m an entomologist. In training. On grant from CSGU? I’ve been studying them for… oh, two or three months now. Studying them up close, I mean, I’ve been researching them for years.”

“Why… was it… chasing you?”

A faint, almost manic giggle escaped her. “Well! When, uh… when they start dominance shows, they sometimes start by killing a cub of the current alpha. It proves the old alpha can’t protect their pride. The others stand down sometimes, let the alpha sort it out. Only this one wouldn’t stay to fight when the alpha challenged him, he’d run away, he’s a little on the smallish side. Well, it would come back, kill another cub, get chased off again, and again, and again. It’s tried to pick fights with three other prides, and it just kept killing their cubs, and it started to get a little disturbing, and it was very hard to study the lives of the prides with a rogue male killing cubs wantonly which is not something they typically do, so, I, uh, decided to spray it with some manticore repellent I’ve been working on.” Here she flushed, becoming embarrassed but not ashamed. “It was killing all the cubs, I’d already assigned them all names, and there are only two left between all three prides, and he started going after Skippy and Hops and I just couldn’t let him so I flew down and dropped the repellent on him. Only, uh, it didn’t really work. Skippy and Hops freaked out and ran, but he started tearing up the bag and everything around it and… um… well… then he followed the scent back to me. I guess it’s not so much it acts as a repellant as they find it repellant. Meaning… they hate it.” She laughs again, looking wild. “Back to the drawing board for that! Ha. Ha ha.” She swallows noisily, looking distinctly ill. “He would have killed me. It. It was actually going to kill me.” Here she went silent, staring at nothing, though her mouth moved slightly.

I stared at her. These wild emotional outbursts were deeply concerning. One minute she was proud, the next terrified, then joyous, then embarrassed… I could not complain, as I was sucking up every bit of it I could, but I was rapidly wondering if this was a regular pony reaction to coming so near to death. The sudden wave of gratitude almost knocked me over as I shuffled to a sitting position, testing the little strength I’d managed to recover.

“And then… and then you saved me. You ran right into it, and you-“ She put a hoof to my chest, over my heart. “You fought through whatever… whatever curse they’ve put on you, and you saved me.” Ah, this emotion was familiar! Love was very complex, but lust was- oh dear.

“I… I assure you ma’am-“

“Topaz! My name is Topaz, you can call me Topaz. If you want. And you’re… um… Prince…?”

“…Excuse me, Prince?”

“Oh, Celestia, forgive me, I thought you were- I mean, if you’re a king, I didn’t mean any disrespect, I didn’t know, I just thought… I don’t know what your title is!” She gave a desperate little laugh, concern racing through her. “I mean, with this enchantment or curse or whatever it is, it’s hard to tell, but-“

“Wait, stop.” I raised a hoof. “I… cannot follow this conversation. I am… perplexed, and I do not like it.”

She took a few steps backward, away from me. “Oh, well I’m sure someone of your stature has had this sort of thing happen to you plenty of times. Being… you know, royalty and having to deal with us regular pony folk.” She licked her lips, eyes darting about.

I stared. Was this mare mad? “What… would make you think that I am royalty?” This was not appropriate! This was not appropriate at all, I was a drone, drones do not become royalty, they do not let others mistake them for royalty, only the Queen is royalty, the Queen leads!

Now it was her turn to stare, apparently. “Y-you are… you’re an alicorn, of course you’re royalty sir.”

I gestured at my grey chitin, at my blue eyes, the holes in my legs and horn, trying and failing to come up with proper words to express my confusion at her logical leaps.

She placed her hoof against my chest again, sorrow radiating off of her. “I don’t know who placed this sort of… of wicked enchantment on you, but I swear I’ll do everything in my power to help you lift it.”

“Wicked enchantment? Who would do such a thing? Why would anypony do such a thing?”

“Well, yes. Someponies and some things just seem to enjoy making others miserable. I figure you must have run afoul of some magic user that tried to change you into something monstrous. But your good heart fights against the enchantment and you're able to shake off the effects. If only for the briefest of times.” Hope beat against me, fierce pride in my apparent accomplishment of fighting off some… bizarre alleged curse. I could feed this, and feed upon it, but… no. This was too much. And I would require assistance to fully recover. And pretending to be royalty for more than a moment, let alone trying to be an alicorn again, frightened me.

“… I am terribly sorry. Truly I am, but this is not so.”

Her voice became small, frightened, like that of a lost hatchling. “W…what? Uh, my… my lord, maybe it’s my turn to be perplexed?”

“I am under no curse to my knowledge. The alicorn you saw was a lie. A falsehood, something I wore as protection.”

She drew her hoof from my chest as if burnt, then very gently touched me again, as if only just now really seeing me. “Wait, so… this is actually you? This is your true form?”

“This is the form I’ve had since I was hatched. Or very close to it, the Queen may have shaped me somewhat.” I frowned, unable to process the confused blend of emotions roiling within the pegasus as she stared at me. I tensed, preparing to leap away should she opt to attack me.

“This… is… AMAZING!” She bounced away then trotted around me in a small circle. “You’re built like a pony, but with insect features. I’ve done a brief study of breezies but they’re mostly just tiny ponies with antennae and soft wings, you’re more like an insect built to look like a pony instead of a pony shaped to be more like an insect, I’ve never seen anything like you-“

My confusion only grew. “You have been bringing me water. You have therefore seen me for at least three days now.”

“Huh, I guess that’s true. I’ve just been thinking of you as an alicorn under a curse. So you’re not? That’s… that’s fascinating. I’d have sworn you were until I was blue in the face.” She darted in close, peering into my eyes. “Do you see one image or multiple? I can’t really tell if you have compound eyes, it looks as though you have a pupil under some sort of shell. So you weren’t actually an alicorn, it was an illusion?” She went back to circling, and I began to feel something like prey.

“Well. No. I believe I actually took the shape. It was intended to be false. I do not think I can do it again even if I willed it. I… actually do not think I dare try.”

“Hey, you said ‘hatched’. What are you? Oooh, Equus Tabanida has a really nice ring to it-“

“I am an excavation drone. I dig holes.”

Topaz stopped circling, giving me a hard look, then a little giggle and a half-smile. “You’re a little absolute, aren’t you? What I meant was ‘what species are you?’ ”

I tilted my head, mimicking her gesture out of habit. “We… we are called ‘Changelings’. I would actually think you would have heard of us.”

“Oh, those are a myth- Oh. Those aren’t a myth. Uh. C-correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought they… ate ponies. And they’re not really supposed to be insects, they’re fae-ponies.”

“What? No. That is disgusting.” And it was. I couldn’t imagine eating a pony. Well. Perhaps if it was already dead. And I was starving. Which made me think that I would very much enjoy more broth. “I do not know what a fae is.”

“You know, a fairy pony- look, it… it’s apparently wrong.” She coughed. “I’ve been feeding you potatoes and soup and onions, and that all seems to be working just fine, so obviously you eat what ponies eat, which shows how little ponies actually know-“

“I also supplement my diet with other insects. Smaller ones. And snakes. Other things.”

“…So that’s not a smelly rope in the corner?”

“That was to be lunch before you arrived.” I watched her turn green, and noted that this was far more interesting than attempting to hide my nature from all ponies had been. I was concerned that I had made a poor choice; there was now a pony who knew my secret, but then… I required immediate assistance and she had provided it. I noticed that she’d placed the Queen’s crystals in a circle around me while I slept, and that their glow had faded almost completely. I prodded one with a hoof, and she looked from me to it and back.

“Something came out of it. I pulled you up in here in case the manticore came back, and they all started shining more brightly on the sides facing you, so… I thought you needed them for something.”

“The side facing myself?” I thought on this. It would have been difficult for me to notice that, if true. Perhaps they had been some sort of… healing crystal for our kind? Energy storage? I would toy with them, restore that shine perhaps. If that was their purpose, it would serve me well. Her hoof prodded my flank. I spun, startled.

“Oh, sorry. No cutie mark. And you do seem to have an exoskeleton, but there’s a bit of give to it. Not exactly a shell, more like a tough hide. Not bad at all.”

“This is pleasing to you?” I was not sure I understood this pony in the least. Her emotions, perhaps, but her attitudes and motivations were confusing me. As I understood, most ponies reacted to the sight of a changeling with fear and revulsion.

“Are you kidding me? I’m majoring in entomology.” I stared at her. “…The study of bugs?” I stared more. “You’re a big insect pony. You’re the most fascinating thing I’ve found since… since… Since the multiheaded millipedes! You have to let me study you, you’re like a walking talking source of wonder!”

“I… do enjoy wonder…” I admitted, tasting this emotion and finding it quite to my liking.

“Then come on, this could be fun. Wouldn’t you like having someone to talk to?” She started prancing in place, hopeful and excited at the prospect of having her very own changeling research subject, apparently. Some small part of me was absolutely certain that I would regret this.

But… I would enjoy companionship again. I truly would, and if nothing else, having someone around to keep my attention occupied would perhaps keep me out of trouble, which seemed to trail after me like moths to a flame. Perhaps Zaimare had been right. Idle hooves, and all that.

Author's Note:

Sudden bout of inspiration and insomnia, what fun! Comment if you got'em!

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