• Published 31st Jul 2012
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A Mote of Dust - That One Guy



In which a nameless changeling, parading as a faceless guard, discovers what it means to be a pony.

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Lovestuck

Word of the Canterlot Invasion spread fast. Within six hours, the news had made its way to the urban areas of Manehattan and the like. Eight, and smaller towns began to catch wind of the incident, among them Ponyville and Appleoosa.

It was nearly six days before the burgeoning colony of Trotondo knew of it.


Dawn Guard slowly clambered out of bed, blinking nine restful hours of sleep from her eyes. The feathery pony extended each of her limbs in turn, stretching and preparing for the admittedly predictable day. Finally, with a ruffle of her perfectly maintained wings, Dawn slipped downstairs to eat some oats, a smile creeping onto her face the farther she got from bed.

By the time she had reached the kitchen in her small lodging and eaten her fill of cereal, the pegasus was practically skipping along, a happy tune on her lips. The happiness emanating from her and coalescing in the air was nearly tangible as she burst out of her front door, the beam on her face rivaling that of the rising sun on the horizon.

Nearly a half second later, Dawn realized that bursting open her door and leaping outside with a massive smile and eyes shut from happiness-induced lack of worldly presence was a horrible idea. This was partly due to the fact that there were several early morning joggers on the street, their attention attracted by the, partially due to the whole ‘your door is made of improvised material and is quite liable to breaking with enough force’ issue, but mostly due to the other guard who was standing at her doormat, hoof extended in a way that most ponies about to knock on a door would have it in. Given that he arrived every day in the exact same fashion at the exact same time, Dawn figured that she really should’ve seen this coming.

About fifteen seconds later, both of the considerably disoriented pegasi were groaning from a pile of pony and wooden shards at the bottom of the concrete steps leading to Dawn’s now-nonexistent front door.

‘In hindsight,’ Thought Dawn blearily, a sore stiffness crawling up her shield-emblazoned flank, ‘Maybe the builder was right when he said twenty six steps was overdoing it.’

Several moments passed as the two lay, heaped together, on the sidewalk, mushed together in a position that wasn’t quite as uncomfortable as it may have seemed. Eventually, the winged stallion decided to make the first move; and a daring one, at that.

The pegasus guard poked the pegasus guard in the stomach and quietly whispered the word ‘boop’ into her ear. She shivered.

“Dust Mote, you… you…” Dawn began, pushing herself up and to her hooves as she struggled to find words that would properly encompass her feelings at that moment. “You.”

“Me.” Replied the similarly armor-less guard, flashing his friend a beaming smile. “I must say, Dawn, I’ve never fel- seen you so happy this early in the morning. Care to explain?”

Red-faced, Dawn simply turned away and began the climb up to her house, putting a little less pressure on her left hindleg than normal. Rolling her eyes to Dust’s apologetic cries of ‘but you told me to be more forward!’ she simply waved him in with a hoof. A silly little accident like this was hardly reason enough to disturb their daily ritual of sorts.


Dawn sat opposite Dust around her little round table, each taking their sweet time in drinking their large cups of imported-from-Canterlot coffee. Neither really needed to say anything, and so the silence that hung between them held no tension or hard feelings – rather, it was a peaceful truce for the briefest of moments, each pony content simply sitting there in the company of the other.

All of a sudden, a rush of red flew to Dust’s cheeks, and the pegasus looked down into the cup that had been empty for nearly a minute. Dawn noticed this, and briefly wished she could peer into his head to see her comrade’s thoughts, especially those regarding herself. For the eight long months that the duo had been posted to Trotondo, Dawn had tried every trick in the book to get the abnormally meek pegasus to express more boldness in their day-to-day lives, if only to amuse herself during the long winter months. Surprisingly, as Dust began to grow more emboldened, little corners of his personality previously unseen had begun to show on the surface.

For instance, his peculiar dislike of spinach. Or the way his breathing became slower and deeper when he was scared (the few instances in which she had observed this occurring being the Ursa attack and at the first big party he had attended). Or even the way he would become more emotional, more full of life, when the two guards were sharing meaningful conversation – and even moreso when said contact was physical, too.

She tried to hide another blush by way of looking down into her empty cup. ‘I seem to be the same way too, though, when it comes to getting close…’

Eventually, Dust looked up with a smile on his now blush-free face, shortly met by Dawn’s equally blush-free gaze. The two proceeded to follow the unspoken schedule that they had adopted a while back: Drop the cups into the sink, engage in conversation that really achieved nothing but to hear each other speak, and have Dawn escort Dust to the bottom of the twenty sixth step, regrouping ten minutes later at the meager Town Hall in the same worn suits of golden pegasi armor that they had been using since Trotondo had been founded. Then, together, the pair of snow-white pegasi would march around town for the waking hours of the day, paid to keep the peace in the colony – which, in all honesty, usually accounted to nothing but ‘trot around the marketplace and engage in light conversation with one another and everypony who decided to spark a chat.’

As such, asking anypony in town about the status of the local guard, they would most likely answer simply and without hesitation: “They love each other so much that they don’t even know it yet.”

… Perhaps then, it is with good reasoning that the residents of Trotondo (with the possible exception of two simple pegasi) were not known for their subtlety.


All in all, it had been a great day. The townsponies had been bit more interactive than normal, and as a result Dawn and Dust had managed to have quite a few interesting moments; from the mare who wanted to give Dust a pretty white rose (Dawn had felt inexplicably annoyed at nopony in particular for a brief moment when he had accepted. When Dust noticed and asked about her grimace, she blamed the glare of the sun in her eyes.) to the newest colt who had joined the colony and needed some help getting his bearings (Dust felt obligated to do so, while Dawn felt obligated to do it better than her fellow guard. Not too much chaos ensued.), the duo felt as though they did a job well done.

Or at least Dawn did - but she presumed Dust felt great too, given the massive smile on his carefree face and the eagerness in his stride. It wasn’t as though she could read his mind or anything, after all.

By the time the shifts of the sole two guards in the colony had ended, the sun was already beginning its descent into the Greater sea, and the smell of dinner hung heavily in the air. Still fully clad in their suits of celestial armor, Dawn Guard and Dust Mote took off on their final walk through the ‘heart’ (or ‘center’, given how small the town was compared to most others) of Trotondo, an act that always – albeit inadvertently – caused parents to issue the ‘wind down’ order to their foals and loving pairs to turn in for the night (or, if the atmosphere was romantic enough, to one of the three restaurants in town). It was here, in the pale light of the magical lampposts, that Dawn and Dust really connected and shared some of their deeper moments. Usually.

Tonight, though, they walked through without a word, a silence quite like that of their mornings embracing them. Several of the ponies still out on the streets gave cheerful little waves to the pair, and Dawn could’ve sworn that more than one of them were throwing her subtle ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ gestures, indubitably their way of saying ‘you two look perfect together’.

Slowly, over the course of their ten-minute-walk, her gaze shifted from Dust and to the nearby fenceposts, the glaring blush decorating her cheeks only encouraging further silent motivations from the crowd. Closing her eyes tight, the pegasus tried her hardest to will the crimson from her face by way of thinking of very unappealing things.

‘Old ponies.’ She thought, the beating of her heart still reverberating around her skull. ‘Old, wrinkly ponies. Granny Smith from Ponyville. Tangent’s house. Cats. The drapes in Dust’s bedroom window…’

She paused in her thinking of grotesque things. ‘Well, actually, they pair up quite nicely with his bedcover and wallpaper; it’s just that the rest of the junk he leaves in there tends to leave a really ugly picture. Unlike Dusk! Who is actually re-*’ She blinked quickly and shook her head a miniscule amount. ‘Artificial barley vats. Giant oat packaging facilities!’

“Dawn?”

‘No, I’m not that ugly, Dust said so. Kinda.’ She thought, the once-vanishing blush now returning in full force. ‘I mean, he was a little drunk off of the lemonade I spiked a little bit, and he was complimenting everything… Well, everything about me, at least – actually, I don’t even think he was really all that tipsy, he seemed perfectly coordinated, and that’s always the first thing to go when he is…’

“Um, Dawn? Dawn Guard?”

‘And it isn’t like Dust to lie! He’s truthful about everything, even that one time when he couldn’t resist and stole all of my cake mix and made a variety of cake-like things, only one of which was edible, which he gave to me!’ Dawn’s now completely red face gave a miniscule smile. ‘And he was so adorable when he did it! Like a little baby puppy who had just-‘

“Dawn!”

Dawn’s eyes snapped open and, momentarily annoyed, snapped at her botherer. “Quiet Dust, I’m thinking about how cute Dust is when heee-eeeeey Dust! …… Sup?” She finished on a high note, the thumping in her chest nearly loud enough to drown out a percussion band. “Wha- er, what did you want?”

Dust (whose face was also as beet-red as, well, a beet) looked down at Dawn through the four or so inches in height that separated the two. “I was wondering if you, ah, wanted to go to Salad’s for a bowl of… um…” He seemed to be having a massive internal conflict when it came to matching his partner’s semi-amused (albeit mostly-flustered) gaze.

“… Salad?” She finished, atypically meekly, fully accepting that her blush couldn’t cover any more of her body. “I’d love to, Dust.”

He smiled. She smiled. They continued to gaze into each other’s eyes, now standing immobile in the middle of the street. Their faces began to inch together, the romantic tension in the air around them growing by the second. Somepony in the huge crowd that had formed behind them gave a cheer.

Understandably, Dawn and Dust jumped about four feet off of the ground in that awkward moment when they noticed half of the town staring at them.

“Well, I, uh, I, don’t really…” Sputtered out Dust, eyes dilating a bit, as his breathing slowed drastically and became significantly deeper. “Have… any bits on me…”

“I’ll pitch in a few!” Shouted somepony from the back of the crowd, shortly followed by several other enthusiastic donators. “Anything for the happy couple!”

“No, really, I’m good!” He squeaked back to them, Dawn completely immobilized from the embarrassment and shock. “It’ll be better if I use my own bits! Which are at home!”

“I’ll get them!”

“Noooo thanks!”

Dust attempted to swallow the lump in his throat, nearly choked, and turned to Dawn, the blushes on their faces having drained away in a matter of milliseconds. “How about tomorrow?” He whispered as quietly as his voice would let him (which was loud enough to let Hearing Aid at the front of the audience to hear, and as such repeat to the rest in the form of excited shouting. “About this time, after our shifts?”

Dawn slowly regained motor control, and looked from Dust to the crowd and back. In lieu of answering, red began to rush back to her cheeks.

“Please?” Asked Dust, doing his best to phase out everypony else (who had all acquired popcorn by this point from the mysterious pink vender). “For me?”

Dawn cracked a tiny, almost invisible, smile. “Okay.”

Dust looked at her blankly for a few seconds, the glowing fire in his eyes burning as steadily as ever. After a moment of this, a huge grin burst out on his face, and, oblivious to the entire world (except for Dawn, of course), brought one of his hooves to meet her own.


The following musical number was simultaneously the most amazing, touching, emotional, and heartfelt thing that Dawn had ever seen, only magnified that Dust – the shy little pony who had shown up for his first day of guard duty underdressed in the freezing cold of the north – was singing it himself. (Granted, half of the town was ensemble and seemed to be performing flawless choreography in the background, but the whole ‘Dust is leading them by himself’ thing was all that mattered to Dawn.)


And in the end, when all was sung and done, as Dawn slowly ascended the last of the twenty six steps to her house (with a brand new door, thanks to Fixit’s role in the song) with Dust by the first on his knees, the pair shared one final glance – a look that conveyed every ounce of the mutual feelings they held for each other. In that briefest of moments, Dawn realized that maybe, maybe, they could be more than simple friends. The moment that the thought breached her head, the stallion at the sidewalk gave her a mighty blush-and-shame-free smile and raised himself to all fours. Dust gave a little bow, a quiet ‘good night’, and left for his home six streets down, a light skip in his step that the mare had never seen before.

Dawn shut her door, the thumping in her chest being the only noise she could hear. Almost as if in a dream, the pegasus slipped out of her enchanted armor and felt the rush of magic that shifted her pelt from the snow white characteristic to the guard to the rosy mahogany that was characteristic to Dawn. Down flopped her fancy orange mane, and the squarely cut blue tail that all guards had was suddenly replaced by her own luxuriously long one. Her cutie mark, previously obscured by the curve of the armor itself, stood out among her fur: a blue shield, emblazoned with a symbol of the moon.

She made her way to her bedroom door, and peered for a moment at the mirror affixed to the outside of it. Her reflection stared back, a faraway look in its eyes that told tales of a sense of rightness and hopes that, after kindling for so long, had burst into vigorous flame. Perhaps that was why she awoke that morning with spirits held high in the clouds – a good omen towards great things to come. In that very moment, Dawn Guard was on top of the world, emotions that had sprung to life beneath her very nose just now blooming into the start of something beautiful. She could feel it.

And in that very same moment, she knew that Dust did too. She had no proof, no magical emotion-reading sense, no hidden cameras strewn around the stallion’s house, she simply knew; she knew that Dust Mote, the silent guardspony with an unspoken past, loved her back.

She allowed the smallest of smiles to touch her lips as she climbed into bed, mind full to bursting with thoughts of tomorrow. Just as Dawn drifted off to sleep, she had decided on one solid thing: No matter how tomorrow’s encounter went, she would cherish it for the rest of her life. She owed him that much – after all, he had been the one to ask her out.

That night, Dawn Guard slept the best sleep she had slept in years.


Thumpthumpthump!


Dawn slid open an emerald eye, a huge grin immediately spreading across her face. The richly colored pegasus burst out of bed, spending only a split second on her daily stretches, and nearly flew downstairs (this was, of course, quite impossible given how thin the staircase was) in delight. Briefly noting that it was a bit early for Dust, Dawn gave a teeny little giggle.

‘Anticipation getting to him too, ey?’ She thought, the bubbling happiness only growing stronger every second it took her to reach the door, ‘Well, it’s not like I can blame him; I remember him saying he’d never been on a date before! I remember my first one, and I was a little early too!’

Dawn honestly couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so hyped up. As such, she didn’t quite notice that upon bursting open the door she gave a powerful hug to Post the mailpony and not Dust – the former’s hoof still extended from when he first knocked (about two seconds ago, total). The beige unicorn looked confused for a good three seconds before he gave her a big smile.

“Dust finally ask ya out, Dawn?” He inquired, prompting said pegasus to leap off of him and apologize repeatedly for not noticing it was actually him, all the while pretending to not have heard his question. The old mailpony looked amused at her flustering, and in after silencing her with a calm wave of his hoof, floated over a newspaper within a sealed plastic film. (Trotondo was quite far north, and it was quite likely that any given day would welcome a hail of snow and ice – after the sixth shipment of ruined newspapers, Equestria Daily had decided to spend an extra few bits to seal them and leave it at that.)

“Now now, no use hiding it, lil’ missy.” He laughed, Appleoosan accent slipping through a bit. “A certain somepony eight blocks down nearly missed me when he went nearly skipping down the street in this direction. Had to practically throw the paper at him to get him to read it!”

Dawn let out a little chuckle of her own, only to have it get caught in itself. “Wait, he was already headed out this way? He usually flies here, so why isn’t he…?”

Post threw her a halfhearted shrug. “I’unno, wasn’t my buisness to ask, but he seemed pretty excited for sum’n. At least up until he got a good look at the newspaper, then he just turned back and shut himself up in his house.”

The pegasus blinked, her bubbly attitude quickly melting into a puddle of concern for her friend. “Do you-… Oh, nevermind.” She said, taking the paper and handing Post a few bits (sure to hoof over a few extra as a means of conveying her gratitude to the mailpony who had to travel through a chilly land of ice every two weeks). “Thanks for the paper, Post. Make sure to bring me another one next time, as always.”

He nodded his head, floating the bits into his saddlebag. “My pleasure, miss Guard. Seeya ‘round."

Quietly closing the door, Dawn peered at the clock. Six fifteen – a quarter hour until Dust typically arrived.

‘It was probably nothing,’ She thought, idly flipping through the paper as she started up the coffeemaker with the typical setting of ‘three cups’ (usually enough for both guards), all the while making hollow comments to herself about how Canterlot had repelled a changeling invasion using the power of love, of all things. ‘He probably just forgot something or other. I’m sure Dust’ll be here – why wouldn’t he?’


Dawn arrived at Town Hall at seven on the dot – as always. However, instead of trotting up to the large double doors deep in conversation with her fellow guard, the pegasus approached the sign-in sheet alone. As always, she signed her name on the paper and wrote ‘7:01’ to the side; the same line of text that had been repeated two hundred and fifty eight times on this and previous pages, intertwined with the equally repetitive line of ‘Dust Mote, 7:01’ all the way through the stack of paper affixed to the side of the door.

Except, oddly enough, on Dust’s half, the slot for the current date was empty.

Now, as one might imagine, Dawn was now thoroughly worried for Dust. He may not have been the most organized of ponies, but if there was one thing he was constant on it was timing – after all, he had arrived at her house at exactly six thirty each and every day for nearly eight months, even when he was caught into a conversation along the way (an occurrence which he told Dawn happened quite frequently), a feat which most ponies would have an enormous amount of trouble doing. However, the code of the royal guard clearly stated that active duties took priority over locating absent guards, likely due to repeated mishaps that probably involved varying combinations of true love and ferocious monsters (it was Equestria, after all), and Dawn had long since pledged to hold true to this code to the best of her abilities.

As such, Dawn Guard patrolled her typical route alone on that seemingly normal day.

At first, the mare was caught up in her worry for Dust, as was explained in detail above. Later, however, this worry began to shift to an emotion more akin to confusion; absolutely nothing had changed in town, so why would her companion be absent in his duties? Foals still leaped around happily in the streets, and a great number of ponies continued to give her huge smiles and congratulations (the word of their date had spread fast, so it seemed).

If one didn’t count the understandably common question of ‘but where’s Dust?’ the day went perfectly normally.

Yet as she passed by the venders and restaurants, this single question relentlessly plagued Dawn’s mind. Briefly stopping to talk to Salad and confirm that Dust was indeed not at her restaurant, the confusion sprawled across her mind began the return trip into worry. Disregarding the option to simply return home and work from there, the pegasus - shift now over - began to trek across town, stopping at nearly every establishment she could think of.

However, Dust had gone unseen by everypony at the local supermarket. And bar. And bank. And post office. And clinic. And housing agency. And city gates. And gym. And so on, and so forth.

It only took Dawn an hour and a half to confirm that nopony in Trotondo had seen her date that day, which left only one option clear in her mind – an option that, in all honesty, she was dreading for one reason or another: Dust Mote’s humble abode.

Swallowing deeply, the pegasus (still bearing her armor, given that there were more pressing issues than ‘take off armor’, even though she passed by her house numerous times, even popping in once to make sure Dust wasn’t there) made her way to the comparatively tiny house that read ‘MOTE’ on the mailbox. She always preferred to not visit Dust’s house – it wasn’t the way it was perpetually messy, or how the colors inside seemed to blend into a dark grey, or even how sparse the vegetation was nearby (as though it avoided the place). Rather, it was how the stallion treated it that discouraged her visits: every time the duo would pass by it, he would try his hardest to look away, and on the rare occasion that she let herself in, he would always try to hastily improve upon it in some way, be it cleaning or decorating, as though he was ashamed at the very thought of her (or anypony for that matter) seeing the dark and foreboding interior of the tiny house he had insisted on buying.

It hurt Dawn to see her friend try to change his sole sanctuary to better accommodate her. She had figured that he liked the dark, was more comfortable in an organized chaos than a chaotic organization, and she could hardly bear to see him change it simply to seem more ‘normal’, if such a concept could apply to anypony at all. It was for this reason that Dawn preferred to invite him to her own house; so long as it wasn’t his own home, Dust didn’t seem to mind the light and cleanliness (especially on their morning coffee/bonding time), and the shame that she could almost feel pouring off of the pony whenever she came over was enough to keep her away. She kept her distance for both of their sakes.

But on that night, as she lifted her hoof to strike the door as he had hers so many times, that reluctance simply wasn’t there. Her concern had simply overridden it, and the blameless guilt she felt for not being there for Dust in whatever was happening was more than enough to get her to rap three times on the oak door. Promptly, a crash rang out from within, accompanied by a hushed grunt of pain.

Dawn’s eyes widened, and her hoof flew straight to the doorknob. A futile rattle later, and a renewed round of knocking befell the hinged sheet of wood.

“Dust, are you in there? Dust, if you can hear me, let me in!” She called, the intensity of her knocking increasing tenfold. “Dust, please let me in!”

The barrage of pseudo-blows ceased for almost ten seconds, almost as though awaiting a response.

Eleven seconds later, the door was bucked clean off of its hinges. A startled shriek came from within, and the scampering of hooves could be heard as the being within hurried off to corners unknown. Eyes narrowed, Dawn pulled back her hindhooves (the sudden ache in her left one forgotten the minute the muscle there had decided to fully strain itself), flew around in a circle…

… And felt a resounding chill blast through her body as she saw the room within.


Dawn Guard, still magically painted white within the protective shell of golden armor, took a tentative step into Dust Mote’s house. Her eyes darted around in shock, the disturbing silence within magnified a hundredfold by the appearance of the house.

It was clean.

But not just clean - obsessively clean. Every single trinket had a place, and a freshly sanded-and-repainted coathanger stood at the ready to her left, standing vigil to whatever terrors lay in the outside world.

The soft fluff of new carpeting met her armored hooves as she made her way through the main hallway, and the smell of professional-grade glue wafted calmly in the air: homage to the wallpaper (clearly meant to resemble the wood of an ancient tree) that was affixed to every vertical surface. Not to say that the walls were blank, though; picture frames were affixed here and there, round and rectangular arranged in a hauntingly beautiful array.

Yet Dawn’s unease only grew when she realized that the frames were essentially empty. Not a single one held a picture of Dust; instead, they were filled with images of flowers, mountains, boats… Even ponies from around town! There was Post, Fixit, Salad and even herself, among others. Everypony was fixed in a static smile, and those of children were more often than not of them playing around in the snow. But no matter how many frames Dawn peered into, not a single white pegasus stared back – for, armor or not, Dust was the only cream-coated stallion in town.

She gazed into the first door to her left; the kitchen was meticulously clean – a drastic change from the haphazard mess that once was. Neither a dish nor morsel of food could be seen out of place, undoubtedly hidden within the numerous cabinets and drawers now bearing a fresh coat of distinctive golden paint that matched the wallpaper exquisitely. Without moving her hooves, she glared to the right – a gleaming marble bathroom shined back, the old stone that had once composed it having vanished without a trace. She didn’t even have to enter to imagine the ornate handles on the faculties and repaired mirror.

Nine steps forward and again two doors branched off: one way boasted a magnificent, flawless set of polished mahogany furniture and a majestic globe of Equestria, all organized beautifully around a sparkling glass table, while the other - upon gently pressing open the new door – revealed itself to be a bed made of another expensive wood, fully adorned with trimmed edges and a blanket that was likely as fluffy as it looked. A handsome dresser stood silent in the corner, and a little table sat to the side of the bed, complete with a mechanized alarm clock and…

Dawn furrowed her eyebrows and took a step into the bedroom that smelled strongly of new. Silently, she approached the nightstand, and looked into the wooden rectangle with fragments of glue affixed to its face. The shards of glass that had once made up a simple mirror were lying by the wind-up alarm clock, split into fragments so small that they were hardly distinguishable from a meager pile of dust.

Building up a sudden suspicion, the mare backtracked to the bathroom. A large frame there, despite having the flattened glue that proved a new mirror had once been affixed there proudly, was now nearly vacant, the only remnant of reflective material being either in jagged shards along the edges or in glass needles cluttering up the floor. Without a word, Dawn carefully picked up one of the larger shards. It was warm.

Suddenly, a low groan reverberated through the house, causing Dawn to drop the sliver of glass. If she had been looking, she may have noticed it breaking into a fine powder as it hit the floor; instead, she traversed to the very end of the hallway, where the noise had originated.

She stopped four feet from the back wall. ‘This is wrong.’ Dawn thought instinctively, the reeling in her stomach reaching its climax as she searched desperately for the priceless mirror that once stood, strong and proud, where there was naught but an empty wall coated with the same generic paper as everything else. The mare turned her head to the sparkling house, every ounce of unfitting beauty contained within only encouraging the churning in her stomach.

‘This is very wrong. Dust would never do… this…’

A groan (or was it a sob?), this one low and rumbling – as though on the verge of breaking – sprang from the barrier of brick, nearly twisting Dawn’s heart from its place in her chest. She could tell, without a doubt, that the sound couldn’t be coming from a stallion like Dust; but even knowing that, the mare raised her hooves to the featureless surface and began feeling around on it for a means of passing through the obstacle.

‘Dust, what are you hiding?’ Thought the very concerned Dawn, pressing down on each and every crack and bump in the wall as she came to them. ‘What could you hide in a room like this?’

Her hoof meshed itself firmly on a surprisingly wobbly board. ‘A monster?’

Swallowing, she applied a small amount of pressure to the faded piece of wood. ‘A dream?’

The pegasus’ eyes widened as a tiny click rang out from the plaster, and a thin line of dim light emerged from the extremes of the wall, where it attached to the floor, ceiling and walls. A jagged crack split down the center, and the two halves of the wall began to inch their way apart, a near-invisible mist pouring out from between them.

‘… A lie?’


Without warning, the hidden doors swung open and Dawn was forced to turn her head from the violent flash of sickly green light that shot out at her. It was in this moment of shock that a pearly white stallion burst from nowhere and slammed into her chest, the pair skidding several yards on the carpet until they came to rest inbetween the bedroom and living one.

“D-Dawn! What are you doing here!” Came a familiar voice, a pair of armored hooves gently bringing Dawn to her hooves. “I thought that you, I mean I assumed that you assumed that I, I… I don’t…”

The mare snapped her eyes open, hardly able to keep from hurling a barrage of questions at the gold-clad stallion. Instead, she simply raised a hoof and gave her fellow guard a light slap to the face, already preparing to give him a relieved reprimanding about skimping on his duties, as any good friend would.

Understandably, Dawn was surprised when Dust recoiled as though she had hit him with a truck and stood immobile, hoof resting lightly on his cheek. Immediately, she extended a forelimb in an effort to make amends, yet the flinch that he let out just before the hoof came into contact with his chest wasn’t lost on her in the slightest - and thus, she willed her leg to stop in that position, two centimeters from the gleaming sheet of metal that separated the stallion from the world.

Dawn wasn’t sure how long she stood there, trying to piece together what had happened to cause such a frightening change in her friend. She took in as many clues as she could from his demeanor; the way his chest was rising and falling almost unnaturally slowly, even as subtle ripples suggested that his heart was racing (a combination that really wasn’t good for anypony’s body); the miniscule twitches of his tail and right hoof; the way his eyes refused to look at her, the spark within that she had fanned to the best of her ability sputtering as though lost in the cold.

She blinked. He blinked, and looked in another direction, only to have his eyes dart back away. She threw a glance in the general direction that his had flown earlier, and her eyes came to rest on the fireplace.

The fireplace that was feeding hungrily on a single roll of paper.

The Equestria Daily.

She blinked again. ‘’At least until he got a good look at the newspaper, then he just turned back and shut himself up in his house,’ Post said - why would the paper have anything to do… with…’

Dawn’s thoughts raced back eight months. ‘He had arrived, out of absolutely nowhere, with nothing but a tattered set of royal armor, and knocked on my door at three in the morning. When I had finally come out to answer it, the stranger had nearly lost a wing from the cold and told me that he couldn’t feel his feet. In the morning, when he finally regained consciousness, I asked for his name. He looked at the window, the one that used to be broken and let a beam of light shine through and make all the gunk in the air visible. Then he turned to me and said ‘Dust Mote’, and that was that.’

She lowered her hoof as her eyes began to widen.

‘’What do you mean you don’t know the code of the guard? Wow, didn’t know they gave out these suits just for being handsome. Heh, don’t worry, just teasing! Ah, don’t look so embarrassed – here, I’ll tell you what, you can borrow mine.’’

Her breath caught in her throat.

‘’You’re pulling my leg, right? … How does ‘Princess Celestia, the all-powerful-yet-surprisingly-nice-ruler who raises the sun every day’ not ring any bells?’’

Dawn glanced one last time to the fireplace, the ashen remains of the paper glaring back at her, as though mocking her deductive reasoning abilities. She looked at her hooves, which were shaking of their own accord. She looked at Dust.

And the stallion began to smolder.

Gasping, she reached for him yet again. Something in the way she moved, though, the way her eyes seemed to stare right through him, must have caused Dust’s heart to stumble and fall. He twisted away from her touch; extremities already engulfed in a blaze as brilliantly green as the flash from earlier, and the gold-adorned pegasus turned away, hooves striking the floor unevenly as he bolted towards the hidden door left ajar in the confusion. The mare leapt, and managed to snag his tail with a golden shoe – but instead of dragging the stallion to the floor with her, the navy-blue tailtip broke off and crumbled to scentless ash in the split second she touched it. Without a counterbalance, she tumbled to the floor unceremoniously; chin bumping against the carpet with a dull thud.

Only, it was no longer carpet. Before her eyes, the lush brown coating burst into brilliant green fire around her, blackening and twisting as the flames consumed it. Dawn clambered up to all fours the moment she realized that the magical blaze held no heat for her, and bolted towards the rapidly closing wall, leaping through the tides of green without hesitation. Even as the jagged crack in the hidden brickwork sealed itself, she closed her eyes and braced herself, willing the green fire to consume the barrier as it was the rest of the house.

A resounding crack was heard as her magically enhanced helmet snapped in half on hitting the very solid wall.

And so, seeing nothing but stars and hearing nothing but a dull ringing, Dawn Guard stumbled backwards through the burning house, finally understanding.

The green fire had finally burned its way through the faux woodwork and incomprehensible cleanliness, leaving not charred remains but a relieving – even if unfamiliar – image in its place. Looking to her left, a bed piled high with filthy sheets and unwashed clothes smiled back. To the right, and several pieces of well-used, shabby furniture piled high with books and half-eaten boxes of take-out beamed at the mare. Nine stumbles back, and a truly frightening visage of a bathroom glared, adorned with sufficient spiderwebs and oddly cracked stone to fully stock a haunted house. The kitchen, on the other hoof, was simply blocked off from the amount of debris that had fallen in from the rodent colony that had collapsed the roof several weeks prior.

She finished her reverse tour by smacking her head on the last remaining limb of a truly pitiful coathanger. It responded by snapping in half and poking her in the stomach in a way that may have hurt if the wood wasn’t old, damp, and full of holes.

So Dawn lay there, taking in everything that had become clear in the last five minutes. She took a long, slow blink. For an instant, the mahogany-lined walls and hollow frames replaced the decrepit hallway, only to melt away as she saw through the façade. Slowly, she got up for the fourth time that day and braced herself for what she had to do.

The dull howl of the wind and light chatter of ponies on the street faded out as Dawn traversed the hallway, finally seeing it for real this time. No frames hung upon the barren walls, and the barely-standing roof drooped down in several places. She gingerly stepped over a black splotch by the kitchen door, and was cautious enough to not place a hoof into the small holes that revealed the concrete foundation holding up the floorboards. The smell of cheap air fresheners assaulted her nose, and more than once she had to hold back a sneeze from the overpowering scent of unkempt wood.

When she came to a halt at the end of the hallway, Dawn briefly considered mashing down on the loose board to pop open the wall, though given how precariously everything seemed to be going at the moment, a touch of softness seemed appropriate. So she pressed her ear to the wall, swallowed the lump in her throat, and gently called out Dust’s name.

Or, rather, she tried to. What she really did was voice out the ‘D’ before nearly ejecting her breakfast as a bolt of discomfort and uncertainty rocketed up her throat. As though triggered by the attempt at speaking, doubts began bombarding her rational mind, the temptation to press down on the plank, or better yet, bolt and leave the corporeally decorated house forever screamed to the forefront of her brain.

‘He’s one of them! Shouted the loudest uncertainty, blaring through her being like a trombone, ‘A vicious, love-stealing, friend-impersonating, pony-abducting-‘

“Changeling…” She murmured, the urge to remove her ear from the wall and just go away almost painful in its strength. Yet she remained in place, steeled her stomach, and surprised herself with the unmistakable quivering in her voice. “Dust, please… Just let me in.”

A soft shifting and the clanking of metal. “N-no. Just… Just go away, Dawn…“ A muffled voice replied, accompanied by several more metallic thuds. “… I… I’ll come out later, and everything’ll be back to n-normal, okay? I… I promise…”

‘Normal…’

A deep breath filled her lungs of its own accord. Eyes wide, she took a step back from the passage in the brickwork. “That’s what this is all about, isn’t it Dust? Being normal.”

No response – one wasn’t needed.

“You came to Equestria as far away from the capital as possible, in the form of a faceless guard, all to be normal? All to fit in?” She said, voice rising. “Dust Mote isn’t even your name, is it!? Just a false one you made to seem a normal, run-of-the-mill pony! How could you come here and create a life where everypony loves you for who you are while lying to us about what you are! How could you do that to everypony! How could you do that to me!?”

That last syllable hung in the air for a moment, daring somepony to break the silence it wrought. For nearly five whole minutes, not a single sound came from either guard, not a single move made. And then, without the smallest warning, the wall slid open and beckoned the mare in, the once solid layer of brick replaced with a small, descending stairway.

A few endless seconds later, it slid closed behind her with an emotionless click.


The spiral staircase stretched down for nineteen steps, not counting either of the floors. Each time one of Dawn’s armored hooves came to rest on one, the more jumbled her thoughts became. On the first step, she felt deceived. On the second, angry. The third, guilty. By the nineteenth, the mare simply didn’t know what to think anymore.

During those nineteen gradual drops in altitude, hundreds of progressively unrealistic ideas of what lay below whisked through her head. Maybe the stairwell led to a tunnel connecting the town to a changeling hive. Perhaps she’d find half of Trotondo down here, already having been replaced with chitinous doppelgangers. Buck, she may even come across a superweapon primed and ready to destroy Equestria!

But on the eighteenth step, Dawn hesitated, hoof floating above the last, where the shadows thinned to whatever source of light lay behind the corner. Twice that day she had been frozen at the gateway to something jarring and unexpected; the first time had led to the discovery of the fake house, and the second opened her eyes to her best friend’s darkest secret. What more could a changeling hide?

She shook her head almost violently the instant that thought came into being. How could she think that way? Even if Dust was… one of them, she didn’t have the right to call him such. For all the time she had known him he had been a loyal and true friend (and a pretty good guard, for that matter), even if he had been hiding what he looked like behind a mask.

‘You know what, buck common sense.’ Dawn let her hoof rest on the floor. ‘A silly little secret like this is hardly reason enough to ruin our friendship. Changeling or not, he asked me out, and one way or another he’s going to take me out!’

Thus, confidence restored, the mare swung herself around the corner, fully prepared to face whatever lay around it. Maybe there was a death ray. Perhaps Trotondo awaited in silent stasis. Ten thousand changelings may even lay in wait, ready to lunge. But so long as the day came to a close with herself and Dust sitting around a candle-lit table making awkward eye contact while eating salad and drinking alcohol, she didn’t care. She’d break it, she’d free them, she’d beat them all single-hooved – and as Celestia was her witness, she’d do whatever it took to have that day end on a good note.


“Skitter.”

The word pierced the silence that had befallen the tiny, barren room. Both of the beings within probably would’ve found Dawn’s courageous gallop into a nearly-vacant room from around the corner to be side-splittingly hilarious earlier that week, but in that moment, to laugh was an impossible feat. Dawn had clearly been expecting something grand, some grand culmination of a vile changeling scheme.

Instead, she had burst into a basement that was hardly large enough for two ponies to sit in, much less scuffle. Within the room there were only two things worth mentioning. The first, propped on the back wall, rested the ornate mirror that once hid the passageway from prying eyes. The large reflective surface had a crack running down its height that seemed to tell more than the meager creature that sat in front of it: the jagged line that split its owner’s image in two spoke of pain, of anguish, and of fear. Each curve in this line seemed to be different from another – while each one may have originated from the round indent of the hoof that caused the fracture, not a single portion of the mass was identical to another. They each held their own story, their own life.

The black being that wore the golden armor much too large for it slumped down, wishing for a moment that it could cry. Fate had taken everything: his hive, his family, his normalcy, and now his final chance. Perhaps it would be better this way – now his presence wouldn’t hinder the beautiful town that he had helped to protect for eight long months.

“Skitter,” Repeated the inhabitant, obscured entirely by the equestrian suit of armor, “You wanted to know my real name… It’s Skitter. Drone two thousand eight hundred nineteen of the dead hive Axium.”

Guilt poured from Dawn, and the being felt her approach. “I’m sorry to have snapped at you like that, Du-“

“Dawn, don’t.” He said firmly, cutting her off. “I’m a monster. A changeling.”

He took in a shuddering breath, trying to hide just how rotten he felt at that moment for saying such things about himself, all the while believing them to be true. “And, as a royal guard acting under the will of Celestia herself, it is your duty to apprehend any threat to the area you’re stationed in.” The self-proclaimed monster took a long look at the mirror, placing a hoof upon its surface and wiping away some of the dust that coated it. The pegasus reflected within refused to mimic the appearance of the being on the other side. “Go on, do with me as you will.”

Confusion. Anger. Sadness. Each emotion radiating from the mare seemed almost tangible as they brushed by the changeling, each one promising different flavors and tastes if he were to draw them in – yet he did nothing, letting the excess of emotion flow by him and become lost to the air. It took nearly a minute for Dawn’s emotions to contain themselves and become obscured from changeling detection.

Not making an effort to stay quiet, the guard trotted up to the monster’s side. She shook her head once, looked unsurprised at the way Dust was reflected, and flung her armor to the floor with a clang. Needless to say, the other entity in the room jumped, startled. ‘What is she…?’

And then he felt a pair of hooves wrap around him in a warm embrace. His vigil melted almost immediately, and the head still wearing the much-too-big helmet turned to face his companion, who was – of all things – smiling at him with her big green eyes. The smallest of tears began to form in his reflection’s eyes.

“You can be Dust or you can be Skitter, I don’t care,” She said to him, bringing him even closer, “You’re still the pony who comes to my house every morning at exactly six thirty, still the colt who thinks it’s funny to act like an idiot in public, and still the stallion who asked me to Salad’s last night.”

He gave her a gaze and opened his mouth. With a lopsided smirk, she placed a hoof on it and stopped him before he could utter a word, all the while reaching around and pulling off his golden helm, revealing the inky black chitinous shell and membrane-like mane below.

“We both know that you’re not a monster, Dust, and so does the rest of Trotondo.” She stated, pouring care all over him. “So I’m asking you, as a friend and not a guard...” She gestured towards her discarded chestplate with a mahogany-shaded hoof, dismissing it without a second thought, “Will you stop being so angsty and sweep me off my feet for that date, already?”

Eyes wide and quivering, the changeling looked first at the pegasus stallion in the mirror, who’s tear-stained cheeks were drying. Then he looked to his hooves, where the golden shoes hung loosely around the cheese-like limbs that had long since stopped shaking. Finally, he stared at Dawn, his knight in shining armor. Or rather, knight-who-made-a-point-by-throwing-off-said-shining-armor. Heck, she wasn’t much of a knight at all; that was supposed to be his job!

And so, smile breaking from his fanged mouth, Dust Mote shook himself free from armor, sorrow and worry alike as he rose to his hooves. Interlocking a forelimb with one of Dawn’s own, he opened his mouth to speak, to thank her, to accept her pseudo-invitation.

After about twenty seconds of him standing there with his mouth wide open, struggling to find a fitting way to cram his feelings at that moment into the perfect sentence, his date rolled her eyes and pulled him towards the stairs.

“Come on, Salad’s is closed by now – I have some food at my house, we can have our romantic, candle-lit dinner there.”

The changeling quickly stopped, turned her around, and gave Dawn a great big hug.

“Thank you, Dawn, thank you so much. For this. For all of this.”

She let out a breath she didn’t remember holding and squeezed him back. Neither of them said a word for the duration of the hug, and neither of them looked back, to the side, or pretty much anywhere but ‘at each other’ as they walked, smiled, and laughed their way through midnight in Trotondo.

‘So tonight went a little bit differently than planned…’ Thought the mare as she found herself snorting in humor at a cheesy line emitted by a changeling, a monster rumored to to suck positive emotions from ponies via lies and treachery, ‘But, in this case, I think that ‘different’ is one of the best things to ever happen to me.’

In that moment, Dawn had a powerful urge to overzealously make out with the still-undisguised Dust. She resisted.

Dawn, for one, could wait until the actual date started before getting all sappy.


“And here we are.” Stated Dawn, referring to the first of the twenty six steps that led to her front door. She gracefully nudged her chitin-plated companion in front of her. “Youth before beauty and all that.”

Dust continued to stare up at the rather daunting stairway. “… It seems taller than I remember.” Was all he said before beginning the trudge upwards. “Or is it just me?”

The pegasus giggled in a way that Dust had hardly seen before. “Just you; you seem to have shrunk about half a foot since this morning.” She explained, pausing momentarily in her ascent to pat his head, for emphasis. She giggled again. “You seem to have traded ‘handsome’ for ‘adorable’ overnight.”

Ah. That would explain the giggling. The explanation itself was reason enough for the changeling to break out in a profuse (albeit invisible and arguably nonexistent, thanks to his non-pony biology) blush, and the way she continued to coo over him when she figured out he was doing so didn’t help all that much.

“Daawnn…” He groaned, giving her his best puppy-dog-eyes (which actually came out decent, even with the whole ‘no-pupils’ thing). If he had known that being a changeling would elicit such reaction from her (albeit in a completely different way than originally expected), he’d have turned back into a pegasus for the walk.

He could almost hear her heart explode. The face she made was immensely amusing.

‘So if I did this…?’ He wondered, putting on a bit of a false pouty show. “I thought you said I’d still be the same guy as I’ve always been!”

Twice. He could almost hear her heart explode twice. Dust could see how he could use this to his advantage in future arguments…

Eventually, though, Dawn recovered and meekly stated that she’d try to not go all obsessive on him. At least not any more than was expected of a marefriend, of course.

Coincidentally, the mare had said this at the twenty-sixth step, giving the changeling an excuse to stop and bug his eyes out. While he enjoyed the newfound power over making her heart flutter uncontrollably via enlargement of his retinas, Dawn had only the words she spoke to blame for the wave of forced adorable.

“M-marefriend?” Dust choked out in the sudden realization that he was actually on a full-blown date, self-image crumbling without delay. “But, I haven’t taken a shower or put on a suit and I don’t even have my wallet and-“

Dawn laughed. A good, pure, honest-to-goodness laugh.

“Dust, I just spent a half hour reminding you how good a stallion you are, in a hidden room, underneath your house, all after spending a few hours running around town with my armor on, looking for you.” She explained, pulling out a key and defeating the lock guarding her front door. “You, on the other hand, spent all day creating what I assume to be a powerful illusion spell on your house, all the while being completely depressed about not being normal.”

“Uh…”

What I’m saying is that we had a very, very long day, and I, for one,” Said Dawn, swinging open the door to the darkened house and throwing her date a grin, “Don’t mind if our date is a little bit unconventional.”

Maybe it was silly, maybe it was just a result of having sucked up too much emotion on the walk back, but Dust felt his heart (or equivalent thereof) beat faster. Sure, it was different, being shorter than the mare he had always towered over. Yeah, his ‘lips’ were pretty much a solid and hers were still very much those of a pony. True, they didn’t have a crowd of ponies edging them on.

But if there was one thing that remained the same the second time their faces moved together for a kiss, it was the out-of-world experience that surrounded the duo, encompassing them in a feeling that anyone, from the smallest changeling to the eldest pony, would verify as love.

And maybe, just maybe, if you asked the two in that exact moment if they held romantic feelings for each other, they wouldn’t have denied it.


“SURPRISE!!!“ Shouted half of Trotondo from within Dawn’s kitchen, causing both beings in the doorway to freeze, lips about two centimeters from connecting. Their eyes had shrunken to tiny points, staring nowhere in particular but forward, and they were both fully aware that the moment was over.

“Hi, I’m Pinkie Pie! What’re you guys’s names? I came over here from Ponyville because my left elbow was a-shakin’ and that always means romantic tension is happening off somewhere really really far away and…”

Dawn and Dust took in the surroundings. There was a super-ecstatic pink earth pony with poofy pink hair that neither of them knew who was babbling on about how nice a couple they made, about two hundred Trotondan ponies that were slowly realizing that there was a changeling pressed up next to Dawn Guard (all somehow crammed into the tiny kitchen), and in the middle of it all a darkened spotlight that held a small, round table lit with candles and adorned with plates of salad.

Clearly, the best option was to close the gap between their faces and complete the action they had begun some thirty seconds ago.

And so, they did.


FUN FACT ONE: I AM THE AUTHOR! Hello!
FUN FACT TWO: Dawn's descent down the hidden stairwell took twice as long to write as the whole rest of the story AND the yet-to-be-published epilogue combined and multiplied by two. Sad, I know :c
FF3: I will read every single flippin' comment and review and criticism and dangit I will listen and edit and fix the horrible, pre-readerless mess that is 'A Mote of Dust'!
FUN FACT FOUR: I encourage FF3! MOCK MY WRITING STYLEEE! ... Preferably constructively :v
HELP: My art skills are horribad. If anyone has a pretty picture that would fit better (preferably in the 'obscenely vague' style that I actually kinda pulled off on my other story's picture) please draw it/notify me and say its awight if I used it. Pwease :|
HELP the SECOND: Prereaders. I have none. If you really like this and are good at butchering bad plot/grammars, don't be afraid to ask for sneak peaks at the next chapter(s) or storie(s). Forewarning though, my writing schedule is almost as bad as my art :'(
FUN FACT FIVE: If this story gets no views and whatnot I shall feel super idiotic for having written this hurblurb XD
INQUIRY: Do you official Fimfiction people hate it if/when I type out author's notes beforehand? If so, just say so and I shall smite them in the beforehandtime! Without tarry! Huzzah!

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