Change of Life

Zevan was a loyal changeling and always did his queen's bidding, although he quietly questioned why changelings should end centuries of secret but peaceful intermingling with the pony population. After being expelled from Canterlot by the irresistible force of love and badly injured after crash-landing in trees, he had to reconsider his future. Ponies knew that changelings existed now, and the only example of them was Chrysalis' attempt to overthrow Celestia and their attack on Canterlot's population. His kind would be pariahs for the foreseeable future and maybe even their disguises would not keep them safe. A unicorn mare with a broken horn might do the trick though.
There is now a prequel to this story - Prelude To Change I suggest that you read that first.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/141487/change-of-life

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1. Encounters

Zevan woke to a world filled with pain. Without thinking, he tried to move to alleviate it, only to have agony rip through him and he blacked out again.

When he became aware again, he almost repeated his actions before the memory of it froze him where he was. Blinking rapidly to try to clear his blurry vision enabled him to finally take stock of his situation. He was jammed awkwardly in the vee of a tree trunk and a branch, with smaller branches poking into him or supporting his other limbs. He cautiously moved one foreleg. It ached and its movement was confined by the branches, but it wasn’t the cause of the excruciating pain. His other foreleg was trapped under him and it seemed to be numb, perhaps due to the circulation being cut off. He gently tried his left hind leg and screamed with pain. Twisting his head to try to see it better, he saw the cause. A dead branch had skewered through one of the gaps in his leg, and as it got wider nearer to the trunk, it had broken the chitin and ripped the flesh underneath. Any movement at all sent fresh stabs of pain through the tortured flesh.

The changeling knew that he was in real trouble then, but he was not defeated yet. He soon revised that opinion when he tried to lean in the direction of his trapped limb, only to feel fresh agony from his back, accompanied by the sickening grinding of a broken limb. Gritting his teeth in an effort to stave off the pain, he realized that his wing must be fractured or even smashed. How was he going to get out of this position if he could not move? How did he get into this position at all?

The last thing that Zevan could recall before he woke in the tree was being helplessly battered by an unyielding blast of love energy emanating from Canterlot castle. While his kind fed on that energy, it was like comparing drinking from a straw to trying the same with a fire hose. He and his hive-mates were flung inexorably and rapidly far from the mountain city, tumbling wildly, powerless to affect his flight. His view was a blur of sky and forest before eventually crashing through the tree canopy and his flight was abruptly terminated. Looking about, he had no clue exactly where he was, or even how far he had been flung. Worse yet, he had no idea where his hive-mates were, or if they were even in a position to help him. He would have to get out of this situation by himself, or else he ran the risk of dying right here, perhaps in hours, or worse in days.

The first thing that he had to do was to free his leg. With it stuck there, he could not move in any way except that which caused him to grind his damaged wing so agonizingly. The branch was too long to even consider sliding it out, so the only option was to break it off. Zevan knew that he could do it, but it was going to cost him. He took a few deep breaths, his battered and bruised chest protesting, and then he braced himself for the effort. As quickly as he could, he pulled and twisted his leg as hard as he could. The agony made his vision swim, almost making him black out again, and for a moment he thought that the branch was going to resist his efforts. However, with a painful snap, it finally broke and Zevan just lay there gasping for a while until the pain subsided. He contemplated that it had been a good thing that the branch was dead – a green branch might have simply bent without breaking. On the other hoof, if it had been alive and leafy, it might never had gone through the hole in his leg in the first place.

The job was only half done though because the broken branch was still jammed inside his limb. He considered leaving it there to provide some sort of seal to the wound, but it was too long and liable to interfere with his other efforts to free himself. After a few minutes of internal debate, he decided it had to come out. Now that it was free though, he could move his hind leg close enough to his foreleg so that he could grasp it with his hoof’s kinetic field. Once again he braced himself, and then hauled on the branch. At first it seemed that it was jammed there, but then with a sickening jerk, it pulled free. He threw the offending piece of wood away as green blood seeped from the wound.

With three of his limbs free, he could now turn his body and free his other foreleg in such a way as to not put undue pressure on his back and wing. It was not easy, and it was still painful, but at last he was freed from his entrapment. Now all that confronted him was trying to get down from the tree with one injured leg, another so numb that it would not support him, and a useless wing. The tree’s lack of suitable lower branches precluded climbing in his current condition. He pondered the drop – it wasn’t too excessive, or at least not so if he was in full health. It was a risk, and he again considered waiting for a while to see if help would be forthcoming. Only then did he think to check the position of the sun in the sky, and he realized how many hours had already passed since his forced exit from Canterlot. If that was any indication, it was unlikely that help was coming anytime soon. He did not really have a choice at all.

He assessed how best to make the jump, aware that he could not roll onto his already badly injured wing without exacerbating its condition. “You’ve pulled a branch out of your leg, Zevan; this isn’t going to be any worse,” he told himself. Sadly, he was unable to completely convince himself, so before he chickened out, he leaped. A thicker than expected pile of leaf litter helped break his fall, but it was still painful enough to make him black out again from the impact.

Zevan was not unconscious for too long though. He considered his position and decided to just rest for a while. He made his legs and body as comfortable as he could, and then tried to block out the throbbing pain from his legs and wing. Just lying there though made him aware of every other bruise and scrape that his body had endured as he crashed through the trees. He realized that he would not be able to get any decent rest, and he really needed medical help. He looked about himself and failed to recognize anything. The forest was of a different nature from the one surrounding his hive, and in his helpless flight from the city, he had been totally unable to get his bearings. He could have gone in any direction north, south, or west. Only east was out of the question as that would have smashed him into Mount Canterhorn. That certainly did not help narrow down the possibilities much though. Without a clue as to the best route to take, he was left with just one option, and that was to head in the same general direction as his hive was from Canterlot, with just glimpses of the sun through the canopy to give him any sense of orientation.

He eased himself onto his legs and painfully started hobbling as best as he could. His numb foreleg was slowly recovering but still weak, and he could now feel the severe bruising that it had gotten. His injured hind leg screamed with pain every time he put his weight on it. Undergrowth hindered his way while vines and roots tripped him. He knew that he was weakening fast, but he had to keep moving. He lost track of the time that he spent dragging himself onwards – there always seemed to be one more thicket to push through, one more gully to negotiate, one more boulder to get around. Abruptly he burst out into the open, stumbling to the ground for the hundredth time. He lay there panting and exhausted, wishing that he had encountered a stream to quench the thirst that was consuming him.

Looking about, he realized that he had encountered a road that had been cut through the forest. It was small but in good condition, which told him that it was likely to have travelers pass by fairly regularly even if not too frequently. He hoped that perhaps one of his airborne hive-mates might spot him there in the open, but realistically he knew that it was unlikely by now. His kind had always made it a habit to be inconspicuous, or at least they did until Queen Chrysalis had embarked on her quest for power. At this stage, he knew that he would have to accept any help that came by, and that was most likely going to be a pony.

With that decision made, he let himself rest to try to recoup some of his strength. It was about half an hour later that he heard the approach of hooves on the road, accompanied by the quiet rumble of a cart. Lifting his head enough to see past the tall grass on the roadside, he saw the traveler approaching from the westerly direction. It was time for him to disguise himself. In a flash of green fire enveloping him from horn to tail, Zevan assumed his usual alter ego, that of a grey-coated pegasus pony with mane and tail a blend of blue and green, the same as his upper carapace. It was not the most imaginative of colorations, but it also was not likely to be very memorable either, which for a changeling was preferable if they wanted to remain inconspicuous. His disguise came complete with a cutie mark consisting of two inter-meshing gears. He then waited until the pony came within earshot.

“Help!” Zevan called weakly. He repeated his call when it seemed that the pony had not heard him the first time. The sound of trotting slowed to a stop.

“Hello? Who's there?” came the voice of a mare.

“Help me, please!” Zevan called out again.

The pony came over to the side of the road and gasped at the sight of the disheveled and bloody pegasus lying in the grass with one wing positioned at an awkward angle. “By Celestia! What happened to you?” she gasped.

Zevan could now clearly see the pony. She was a pale-green unicorn with a lavender mane striped with purple, a matching tail, and a cutie mark consisting of a trio of flowers. He was stunned to see though that her horn was broken off to about a third of its natural length. He had never seen that before and wondered what had happened to her. The answer would have to wait though. He had spent some time considering how he would explain his predicament, and he gasped out, “I was knocked out of the air by some flying object that crashed into me. I saw a flash of something coming from the direction of Canterlot, and then many things about my size flying through the air. One of them smashed into me and sent me hurtling into the forest, injuring me badly. I've spent hours trying to drag myself to safety.”

“Oh, you poor stallion! Let me try to help you,” she said as she started extricating herself from the harness that attached to the cart. Zevan could see the glow from her broken horn was very weak, and apparently so was the grip of her hoof, so it was not easy for her to accomplish what should have been a simple task.

“Please,” Zevan said, “I need a drink. Do you have any water?”

“Oh, of course! Let me get some for you.” She unhooked a canteen that was hanging from the front of the cart. Unscrewing the cap, she brought it to Zevan’s muzzle. He took the canteen and drank greedily, draining it rapidly. He would have liked to have more, but the canteen had been only about a third full to start with.

In the meantime, the unicorn had been looking him over, assessing his condition. “You're going to need a doctor. I’m heading home to my village right now, and I can get you medical help. Do you think you can get onto my cart?”

 

Normally an average unicorn would have no problem lifting up a pony onto a cart, but Zevan realized that her broken horn must be crippling her ability to do so. However, he had managed to drag himself here under his own power, and with the rest and some water, he reckoned that he should be able to get on by himself. He struggled to his feet, aided by some non-magical assistance from the unicorn. She guided him to the side of the cart which she dropped down on hinges. She first had to move some of the contents of the cart, consisting of a large variety of wildflowers and various herb plants. With an area cleared, he put his front hooves on the tray of the cart and tried to climb on. When she saw the difficulty that he was having, she put her shoulder behind his rear end and heaved. With physical strength surprising for a unicorn, she easily pushed him up fully onto the cart, and she then lifted the side back up and latched it into place once more.

“Make yourself as comfortable as possible,” she advised. “We’re still about twenty minutes before we reach my village.” She started getting back into the harness.

“What village is that?” Zevan asked, hoping to get an idea of where he was.

“Whitetail Meadows,” she replied.

“Whitetail? As in the Whitetail Woods?”

“Of course. Surely you knew what forest you were flying over?”

“Yeah, sorry, I'm rather muddled right now due to my accident.”

“Oh, right. We'd better get something done about that soon. I'll make good time; don't you worry.”

Zevan pondered that information. Whitetail Woods was fairly extensive, but all of it was far south of his hive. Excepting for the possibility of others of his kind who had been swept here by that irresistible magical surge, it was extremely unlikely that he would encounter anyone else from his hive. Of course there was always the possibility of encountering changelings from another hive, but he had no idea how they would treat one from a hive that had done the unthinkable. His future was far from certain, and that was apart from what he would do if a doctor examined him. He undeniably needed medical attention, but even an earth pony doctor would soon realize that there was something askew with Zevan, and a unicorn doctor would know instantly that he was no pegasus.

As they made their way down the road, the unicorn called back to him. “My name is Lavender Dreams, by the way. What's yours?”

“I'm Whirring Cogs,” Zevan replied with the name of his alter ego. “You can call me just Cogs though.”

“Does that mean that you're good with machinery?” she guessed.

“Yes. I'm not very good with weather magic, but I'm great at maintaining the machines at the weather factory.” Because he was only an imitation pegasus, of course he did not possess their weather magic, but his proficiency with machinery allowed him to avoid that problem when he was with other pegasi by putting him in positions that did not require that magic. Weather ponies were common, but a good mechanic was always in demand. “What about you? Judging by your load and cutie mark, are you in the flower business?”

“I run a wildflower and herb shop in the village. I was just making one of my regular supply runs today. Only the best and freshest from me!” she proclaimed proudly.

“They smell really nice,” Zevan admitted. “Makes me feel a bit better too.”

“Yes, they can have that effect. You just rest until we get you to the village. Won’t be long now.”

Zevan did just that, and the gentle swaying of the cart was not unpleasant. They had been traveling for about ten minutes though when the cart hit a deep pothole. The cart bounced with a jarring crash, knocking Zevan into the side of the cart and knocking his injured wing. A lance of agony made him scream in pain and his disguise abruptly failed. Normally he could maintain his pegasus form even in his sleep, but the pain was enough to disrupt even that basic ability. He struggled through the pain to try to re-establish his disguise as fast as possible. The flare of green fire had to be a dead giveaway however.

“Oh no! I'm so sorry!” Lavender Dreams cried out. “I didn't notice the pothole until too late. Are you alright?”

The mare squinted back at him, and Zevan realized that the lowering sun behind them was dazzling her. She had apparently not noticed the bright flare of his transformation amid the greater glare of the sun. He sighed in relief. “I'm okay. I just knocked my wing. Just give me some warning for any more bumps, please.”

“Of course. I’ll be more careful, I promise.”

The rest of the journey went by without incident though, and soon the woods opened out into broad fields, the meadows after which the village was presumably named. He could see from the small rise of the road that it was a small township, pleasant but without any truly outstanding features. They made their way into the heart of the village, with Lavender occasionally exchanging greetings with others. He noticed a predominance of unicorns in the population, which meant that this place was likely established by them, just as Ponyville had been established by earth ponies. It also meant that any doctor was likely to be a unicorn also. Zevan’s hope for a small miracle practically died right there.

Lavender pulled up beside a shop, and Zevan could see the sign that proclaimed it to be ‘Wild Dreams’, with a display of flowers and herbs in the window. “I thought that we were going to the hospital?”

“Our village is too small to have a hospital” she explained as she got out of the harness. “We do have a healer though, and I'm going to see if I can fetch her as soon as I get you comfortable here. I think you need food and drink first.”

“I don't want to put you to any more inconvenience,” Zevan protested.

“Nonsense! I'm not going to simply dump you now. It's no trouble, really.”

She assisted Zevan in getting off the cart and supported him as he limped alongside her to the door of the shop. She guided him to a back room where she urged him to make himself comfortable on the sofa. She then fetched a selection of foods and a jug of chilled water. “I’ll let you eat and drink while I go find the healer. She’s usually making her rounds around this time, so I have to find her first. It shouldn’t be too long though.”

“Thank you, Lavender Dreams,” he replied with true gratitude. “I don't know what would have happened to me if you hadn't come along.”

She smiled widely. “Just Lavender will do, and you're very welcome, Cogs.”

Zevan took full advantage of the food that she had provided, not knowing what his situation would be like after she returned with the healer. Inevitably his secret would be revealed, and how would she react then? Had news of what had happened in Canterlot reached this village as yet? If so, he could be in even deeper trouble. He sighed in resignation. He had participated in the invasion of Canterlot and thus he was guilty of crimes against its citizens, but that did not mean that he had approved of it. His queen had ordered it though, and he was a loyal subject, and therefore he had not hesitated despite his misgivings. He would just have to deal with the consequences, whatever they may be.

It was nearly half an hour before Lavender returned in the company of another elderly unicorn mare with an orange-brown coat and grey-streaked blue mane and tail. “Sorry that it took me so long to find her, Cogs. This is Healing Hooves, our town healer.”

The unicorn started giving him a reassuring smile when a flash of recognition reached her eyes. Zevan returned the look in shock before she said, “Let's see what I can do for Mister Cogs. Lavender, dear, it looks like I will need to treat some rather gruesome injuries, and I would rather that you were not here to watch. Could you please give us privacy for a while?”

“Of course, Healer. I have to unload my cart anyway. If you need my help for anything though, just call.”

“I will certainly do that, dearie,” she replied with a beneficent smile.

Lavender left the room, firmly closing the door after her. As soon as she was sure that the unicorn was gone, Healing Hooves turned back to Zevan. There was a flash of blue fire which left another changeling standing in her place.

“What in the name of Tartarus happened to you, and what are you doing here?” she demanded.

* * *

Author's Note:

Just a reminder that you can read about what happened to Zevan/Cogs before he got into this situation in Prelude To Change.
Obviously the events of this story take place after “A Canterlot Wedding”. However, as the story progresses, further background material is drawn from the fanfic – A Novel Tale by Blissey1. I feel that the author made some very good fanon for the changelings which enabled this story to be written, although I won't be slavishly adhering to absolutely everything he came up with.

   
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