Buggy Vanity

by Rambling Writer

Chapter 1: On the Image Issues of Shapeshifters

Queen Chrysalis’s rousting and the subsequent transformation of the changeling species had been… to say “disruptive” would be like saying lava is a little bit hot. Between the changes in physicality and the world’s first accidental coup d’état, changelings weren’t so much making decisions as crossing their hooves and hoping for the best as they ran blind. But after the obligatory panicking and some help from one Twilight Sparkle, the Hive was settling down back to a semblance of normalcy. Now, the changelings could once again mull over the important things in life.

“We look idiotic,” moaned Trochanter, staring at his yellow leg.

“We look awesome is what you mean,” said Cilia. She took a break from clearing the rubble of the throne to preen, flexing her entire green body from nose to rump and buzzing her wings. (Even though they didn’t buzz anymore; now it was more of a pleasant, low-key hum.)

“We. Look. Abominable,” said Trochanter. “I cannot believe I must live like this for the rest of my life.”

Cilia rolled her eyes. “You… do realize you’re a shapeshifter, right? Just turn into something else and stick with that.”

“It is the principle of the thing,” snapped Trochanter. “Yes, I could fashion myself into a fierce changeling warrior in the old style. Perhaps with more pointy bits than are strictly necessary. I like pointy bits. But I cannot wear it forever without it aching, and I do not want to refresh myself by going back to this… grotesque… thing,” he spat. “It is why you have not given yourself your tail back.”

Cilia twitched and looked over her shoulder, at her tailless rump. She wiggled it sadly, swishing her lack of a magnificent tail through the air. “Yeah,” she mumbled, “I miss my tail.”

“I miss my fangs,” said Trochanter, punctuating the last word with a buck, sending a good-sized boulder flying out of the room. (Several changelings outside yelped and things broke.)

“Your fangs?” said Cilia. “You didn’t even need them, and those are what you miss?”

“Fangs have style,” Trochanter said, waving his hoof through the air like he was presenting some grand idea. “Character. They were indicative of our fierce natures, our determination. Now we are, both metaphorically and literally, toothless.” He scowled at his leg again. “And this is not helped by our universal change in hue. Looking like some brightly-colored children’s toys is not what we should be.”

“I like the colors way better,” responded Cilia, rolling another boulder out of the room. “It adds variety and flavor and texture and artsy stuff like that. It’s polychromatic or whatever the term is. Color spices things up a bit. Plain black is so… plain.”

“But we are so gaudy,” said Trochanter. He waved his leg. “Look at this! I have no qualms against color, but… pastels? Pastels? PASTELS?!

“I like pastels. What’s wrong with pastels?”

“What is wrong,” hissed Trochanter as he pushed another boulder out of the room, “is that they are pas. Tels. And they are omnipresent. I cannot take two steps without experiencing obscene amounts of visual overload from bright shades, with nary a burgundy or navy blue to be seen. Would it have killed the Powers That Be or whatever force caused this horrendous metamorphosis to include a few additional darker colors?” He scowled at his bright yellow leg again. “Not necessarily black, although that is ideal, but-”

“Black’s not bad,” Cilia said, “but it’s kinda lackluster when everyone’s black. You could barely tell anyone apart by sight, an-”

“And that is why you learned to do it via body language!” said Trochanter. He braced himself against a boulder, planted his hooves on the ground, and started pushing. The boulder didn’t budge. “It taught you how to recognize how someone moves, which is woefully underrated as an infiltration tactic. I could read one’s body language like no one else. Given a week of observation, I could flawlessly imponyate Celestia herself, and nopony would be the wiser.”

Cilia added her strength, and the boulder started moving slowly. “So why weren’t you selected to do the thing with her?”

“I almost was,” said Trochanter, waggling a hoof at her. “We were down to the last five, and the only reason I was not picked was because Proboscis started brownnosing to the Queen before I did, the stupid ┌┐a!tzoʖ little ϟ̈͛i⨎errѱ цъusↆelŋǂ.” (That’s not censorship. The clicks, buzzes, and hisses he said then are nearly untranscribable even with extensive borrowing from various Khorsan alphabets.)

“But we’re not gonna be like that anymore,” grunted Cilia, “so what’s the problem? We don’t need to learn body language so much. Ponies know each other by sight, why can’t we?”

“I am more than twice as old as you, and I learned things differently,” said Trochanter. “I do not identify changelings by sight and the pastels are distracting. I keep confusing Aculeate and Gula, when-”

Cilia froze. The boulder stopped moving. “You’re getting those two mixed up?”

“…Yes. Why?”

“…One of them’s orange and the other’s blue. I didn’t think mixing them up was possible until now.”

“My point exactly! It should not be, but thanks to the blindingly bright colors, I forget to focus on what they’re doing and I turn to what they look like.” He shoved the very immobile boulder and grunted.

Cilia got the hint and started pushing again. “Well, okay, but if you’re focusing so much on body language, you’re kinda forgetting that visuals play a large part for ponies identifying each other. Not to mention personality and vocals and…” She frowned at him. “How many successful infiltrations have you run?”

Eight,” snapped Trochanter. “How many have you run?”

“…How many total infiltrations have you run?”

“I asked you first.”

“I asked you second.”

Trochanter buzzed his wings and looked away. “…A little below seventy.”

“Ha!” With a final shove, Cilia and Trochanter got the boulder out of the room. “How many of those fell apart because you got somepony’s appearance wrong?”

“I. Do. Not. Know,” whispered Trochanter angrily. His eyes narrowed as he glared at Cilia. “It is not as if I could return there and inquire, ‘Beg pardon, madame, but I was wondering, how might I improve my deception? It would be of irreplaceable assistance in my species’ objective to undetectably spread love-eating shapeshifters throughout your nation.’”

“Based on what I’ve heard about ponies, you probably could.” Cilia glanced at Trochanter. “You sure you lost the role just because Proboscis was a suckup?”

Trochanter snorted.

“C’mon, live a little,” said Cilia, smacking him on the shoulder. “Stop being such a downer and look past the colors. We’ve actually got full legs now. Yeah, black looked nice, but those holes were just wlluuaugh.” She glanced down at one her legs. “And I swear they’re stronger now. I used to get sore legs all the time, but proper structure can do wonders, I guess.”

“Perhaps,” grumbled Trochanter, looking at his own leg again. “But I feel as if I have gained twenty pounds simply through filling in the holes, and I am much rounder than I used to be. I am becoming…” He shuddered. “Fat.”

“You’re just full.” Cilia started nudging some of the smaller rocks into a pile. “You were starving before, but now you actually have enough to eat, so you feel funny. I get that, I’m the same way. You’re not fat, you just think you are.”

“I’m fat.”

“You’re full.”

“I’m fat.”

“You’re full.”

“I am full, but that does not make me not fat!” Trochanter rubbed his chest. “I have not the faintest clue as to what happened when we shared love, but I am bloated. I feel as if I am liable to explode at any given moment.”

“Are you still taking in all the love you can?”

“Of course. I-”

Cilia slapped across the back of the neck. “Well, don’t do that, you ninny! There’s plenty to go around, you don’t need to keep gobbling it up! Of course you’re fat if you don’t pace yourself!”

“And of course,” mumbled Trochanter, “there is no possibility that the boundless love we are currently experiencing will ever run dry, so I most definitely should not take in what I can before the drought returns.”

“Are you gonna keep sharing love?” Cilia asked with a sigh.

“Well, it is our new duty, so-”

“Then no, it won’t run dry, not as long everyone else keeps sharing, too! Stop eating everything.”

Trochanter spluttered for a moment before snapping, “I am still fat!”

Cilia rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, that’s your own fault.”


Another eye-roll. “You’ll find anything to complain about, won’t you? I guess you also think that these-” She spread her wings wide and twirled, making them sparkle majestically in the sun. “-are supremely wussified?”

Trochanter flared his own wings. “I actually find the wings to be quite superb. I see nothing wrong with the shape, their capacity for lift has been greatly increased, and I imagine the covers will keep them dry in the worst of rainstorms. Perhaps not flight-capable, bu-”


Synkínisiphage stuck his head into the room. “Will you two shut up? We can hear you all the way down in the fungus gardens, and it’s frigging annoying. I’d rather listen to Termen wax poetic about slime glands.”

Maxilla strode into the room. “Come on, Syn. It’s not that bad. You just need to give a crap. Here, you can borrow one of mine.” She reached under her wing and came away with an empty hoof. “Darn it! I’m out.” She glared at Cilia and Trochanter. “Because you two used them all up with your pointless bickering! Shut up unless you want to clean out the ventilation tunnels in the lower galleries! And when you almost pass out from the fumes, don’t come crying to me, because as we’ve already established, I’m all out of craps to give!”

Cilia and Trochanter both snapped to attention. “Yes, ma’am!” they said in unison. “Shutting up now, ma’am!”

Maxilla huffed. “Good.” She left the room, picked a medium-size boulder, and began rolling it down the hall.

Following her, Synkínisiphage rolled his eyes and started moving another boulder. “What a stupid thing to argue about,” he muttered.

Maxilla nodded. “I know, right? Everyone knows these new forms blow.”

“Oh, come on,” said Synkínisiphage, shooting a sidelong glance at her. “I’m not saying they’re great, but they’re not half-bad.”

“Good joke,” Maxilla said with a snort, “but you’re not the one with crystals embedded in their chest.” She looked down at said crystals and nudged them. “I mean, really.”

“Hey, I could live with that. I actually think they look kind of sweet, to be honest.”

“Are you honestly saying that…”

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