• Published 3rd Apr 2023
  • 1,962 Views, 164 Comments

A Change in Darkness - David Silver

Bat ponies were a convenient hiding place. Few knew of their true nature, if they even really existed, so he could pretend to be one and get few hard questions. A pity one princess knew more than most, and would not be casually brushed aside.

  • ...

2 - Move It

The guard that had been ready to imprison, or poke, Skyline stood before him. He was scowling less, but still scowling. "Princess Luna thinks we can make something of you. Fortunately for you, I am not one to second guess her orders. If she wants you put through the paces, then we are going to do just that. Are you prepared to sweat? Are you prepared to bleed?"

Skyline turned his tufted ears back, which only seemed to annoy the other bat pony. "And stop that!" He stepped in closer to Skyline. "You have not earned the right to wear that." He tapped at his plated chest, clanging on the armor. "This is a symbol of your undying faith and servitude to our dear princess. With it, she gave us this form. You have not earned the armor, you should not have the form!"

"O-okay..." Skyline took an uncertain step back. "How am I going to do drills if I'm not in the right shape?"

The instructor drew out a whistle with a wing and blew into it sharply. "Do you think you're special? I had to learn the way I was born. As her highness already told you, I was a unicorn. I had no wings, and they forbade me from using my horn. I was less than any pony, but I had to make do." He leaned in, a quirk of a smile on his face. "It made that day I got the armor that much sweeter. If you're worried, there are different drills for ponies that earn the armor, afterwards. We aren't wasting your time, foal. We are all terrain."

He stood tall and proud. "On the ground or in the air, we are serving her needs and commands. In the darkest of nights, we will take flight. Fear has no home in these hearts! Now, names! I don't have one! So far as you are concerned, I am Sir. If I hear you addressing me any other way, you'll be paying for it. I will drum you out of the service if you make it a habit. We will address Princess Luna with deference at all times," he shouted at that last part. "She is not our friend."

"She's not?" Skyline imagined the kind face of Princess Luna, notably not doing terrible things to him. "She seemed nice."

The instructor clopped a hoof against this face. "She is a noble and true princess. Appearing kind is her job. Appearing regal and magnanimous is her duty. She is carrying out her tasks, and so will we. Princess Luna is not our friend." He waved a hoof with each syllable of that. "She is our lady. We are her servants. We exist here at her discretion. You may admire her, but never forget this truth. Our actions reflect on her. Do you want to make her look bad?" he practically screeched out, eyes wide, scowl growing with the words.

"No!" Skyline barked out, sure of that.

"Good." The instructor smiled, pleased for the first time of the evening. "Then let's do our part. First, I..." He trailed off, scowl returning. "Did you not hear me? You're a changeling, aren't you? They can be anything they want... except that. You can have it back when you earn it."

"Y-yes, Sir." Skyline erupted into green flames, but changed little. He was the same pony, just minus all the bat-like features. His wings were feathery and his ears no longer tufted. His eyes were round instead of slit. He was a pegasus, but still Skyline. "Is this better?"

"Much. Good, now let's start." And thus the work began. He had Skyline show off his fitness level to start. "Not awful, but Luna expects a lot more than just 'not awful' from her personal guard! Let's get you on the next level, hm?"

They spent the rest of the evening running, climbing, working with weights, and generally working up a rich lather of a sweat. Well, Skyline did. His instructor barked and shouted encouragement, but was not participating. "Just in case you're wondering, I have to do this too, just not in front of the pony I'm training. We all do! Every guard you ever meet is suffering the exact same way."

Skyline pushed against the ground, weights attached to him to make the action harder than it would otherwise be. "I... didn't know... sir..." he gasped out, gulping for each precious bit of air he could get.

"None of us get out of it. If we did, we'd have to turn this in." He tapped a hoof on his armor. "And we'd retire. Are you ready to retire?"

"No! Sir."

"Good, early for that." He patted Skyline's head as he worked. "Now that you're moving, it's time to stop."

"Stop?" Skyline sat up, weights falling free in the new position. "Did I do something wrong?"

"No." He brushed Skyline's back with a fuzzy wing. "But even cadets get breaks." He turned to point with hoof and snout at a new room. "Go on. I doubt you'll be the only one in there. Be back in an hour, and be ready to continue. Eat fast. You'll want time to digest, or what you put in will come right back out again, and I will laugh at you."

With the warning received, Skyline hurried out of the training room into what appeared to be a cafeteria of sorts. A large earth pony mare sat behind a counter, and she snarled at Skyline. "Take a shower." She thrust a hoof at yet another door. "Nopony gets a snack with a lather like that. It's bad for you."

"Oh, right." He was about to shake himself, but held himself back. Spattering the area, and the mare, with sweat would hardly make friends. "Be right back." He dashed on past her into the bright white tiles of the bathing area. Other ponies were there, of all tribes, even one gem pony. They were all busily washing themselves. Some were even helping each other reach spots that would otherwise be hard to get to.

Nervously, Skyline slipped into one of the alcoves and a light turned from red to green. A button on the wall. What was that? He checked himself over for anything that'd get wet, no... He dared to press the button, unleashing the hot water upon himself in a spray. He squeaked in surprise, but quickly calmed, enjoying the spray.

"Newcomer." A unicorn stallion was peeking in at him. "Nopony else makes a squeak like that. New to the corp?"

Skyline turned, water still streaming down on him. "First da--night." He examined the unicorn curiously. "You're one of Luna's?"

"With pride!" The unicorn gave a proper salute. "I know, don't look it. Can't wear the armor while you're showering. You'd look bad and be treating the armor bad and it'd all just be... bad." He glanced off and back. "You?"

"In training." Skyline pointed at himself. "Skyline."

"Piercing Thought." The unicorn offered a hoof towards Skyline. "Lucky."

"Lucky? How?" Skyline stepped to the side as he gained a shower-buddy, both being sprayed with the cleansing water.

"You don't have to learn how to fly." Piercing grabbed some soap in his magic and began applying it to Skyline without asking or prompting, just doing it. "That's a part of basic practice I'd gladly skip if I had to pick one thing."

Skyline jumped noiselessly at the touches of the bar of soap. "Oh, uh... should I...?" He reached a wing for a bottle of shampoo.

"I'm already clean, mostly." Piercing turned, presenting his back. "Though if you want to get around my spine and down from there, won't complain. Look, we have to take showers fast around here. We can't guard while we're in here, or much anything else, so..."

"So a little help is good."

"Exactly!" Piercing redoubled his soaping efforts, even if the water was washing away the suds about as fast as he made them. Still, Skyline was becoming clean. "Oh, other thing."

"What's that?" Skyline peeked around. "Besides this being co-ed. I didn't think co-ed showers were... a thing."

Piercing laughed at that. "What, upset a mare didn't take my place? Too bad!" He pointed a hoof to the interior of the alcove, the shining button. "For one, if that detects two ponies of not-matching genders, the water stops. For another, if either Celestia or Luna caught us getting up to anything in here, that'd be a real quick boot to the rump." He kicked at nothing but streaming water. "Oh, that was the other thing. There are Celestia guards in here too. Can't go making different showers for the two guards. That'd be a waste."

Soon, they were both clean. "This is my favorite part." Piercing pressed that button and it went from green to bright blue. The water stopped quickly, draining out of the alcove. "Wait for it..." When it was all gone, or at least most of it, new fans began, gusting at them with hot air from all directions. "The dry!"

Skyline turned and put out limbs to get wet parts in the streams of air, gusting the water right off of him. "Wow, that's pretty... neat actually."

"Right?" Piercing stepped free of the shower, clean and a little puffy. "Now you can get dressed and get back to duty. Where'd they hide... Oh right, in training. You don't have a uniform yet, do you?"

"No." Skyline shook himself out, dry, and then with his fur back in order. "I should get something to eat. I have to work afterwards."

"Oh, sorry!" Piercing shooed Skyline along. "I thought you were on the end of your shift. See you later, and good luck!"

Skyline emerged from the showers, clean and ready! With confidence, he went up to the counter. "All clean."

"You want a reward? I only got one." She grabbed a tray on a hoof and got to scooping in assorted things. "You're lucky. Princess Celestia's a bit of a foody, and she serves her guards appropriately."

Skyline accepted the tray with his wings, but one ear flipped back. "I work for Princess Luna, technically, in training. Does that make a difference?"

"That's all well and good." She was already moving to serve the next in line, but kept talking, "But Princess Celestia pays for this. She gets to pick what's on the menu. Her sister's guards get treated the same."

Piercing Thoughts wasn't there. Perhaps it had been his end of his shift? Skyline got to slide onto the long bench with other guards. Some wore their armor, some did not. Some gleamed with the gold of the sun, and others with the cool purples of the night. As a ratio, the day guards clearly outnumbered the night watch. For every one other night guard Skyline could spot, there were at least five, if not more, day guards.

The few, the proud? Skyline smiled gently, pride stirring in him. Also, the food was good! It wasn't bare staples to keep a guard from collapsing of hunger. It felt like the princesses were treating him directly to a fancy meal. "Mmm..." So many different parts to it too, sweet, sour, umami... If one didn't like a given portion, there were plenty of others waiting to be sampled. "This is amazing..."

A portly pegasus mare in golden armor laughed. "You must be new. Do you know where these come from?" She pointed to her own half-eaten tray of food.

Skyline looked to his own, then pointed at the mare that had served it. "Her?"

"Before that," laughed the guard. "Princess Celestia loves her food, and she wants it around. A lot of food gets made that she doesn't get the chance to eat. She cries thinking about all that wasted food, so..." She pointed at her tray meaningfully. "She makes sure hungry ponies get to enjoy it."

Skyline pressed the flat of a hoof against his cheek. "That's... Kind of smart, actually."

"Isn't it?" The mare chomped her food with a happy mmm. "One reason of many I love serving her."

Skyline hurried on the portions he decided he liked the most. He had to be ready for the rest of training.

Author's Note:

And now, boot camp! Luna gave the okay to begin, but that doesn't give Skyline permission to coast through. He has to earn it!

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