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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2. Wounds

Changelings feed on emotions, or more precisely the excess emotional radiation from others, ponies in particular. Because they consume them, naturally they don’t radiate any of their own. Unlike Lavender and all the other village ponies, Healing Hooves was an emotional blank, which is how Zevan had immediately realized that she was a changeling also, and vice versa. She was not however one from his hive, as evidenced by her differently colored carapace.

“I was knocked out of the sky and crashed into a tree. I'm here because Lavender found me and insisted on bringing me here,” he explained briefly. “Are you going to help me or not?”

“Hmmph! Of course I'm going to help you. I'm a healer, aren't I? If you work out in the field, you should know that our alter egos aren't just for show.” She started taking out various equipment and medicines from her saddle pouches.

“I thought that because I'm from a different hive, you might not be keen on helping me.”

“I didn't spend years learning medicine just to knock back a non-pony patient, no matter where they’re from. Now are you going to resume your normal form so that I can see the true extent of your injuries?”

“Oh! Of course,” he replied in embarrassment. With a flare of green fire, Zevan resumed his changeling form.

Healing Hooves gasped. “What happened to do that to your leg?”

Zevan explained even as the healer began a more detailed examination of his injuries. He groaned in pain as she moved his wing.

“Sorry,” she said. “That wing looks in very bad shape. However, I’m going to have to deal with your leg first to prevent complications due to infection. We’d better get something waterproof under that leg before it stains the sofa with an inexplicable color.” Putting actions into words, Healing Hooves carefully put a sheet of material under the damaged leg. Then she took out two tablets from a small bottle with a red cap, and passed them to him along with a cup of water to help him swallow them. “That should help with the pain,” she explained.

Zevan looked at the pills dubiously. “Are you sure that these will work on changelings as well as ponies?”

“Have a little faith in my abilities, please.” She held up the bottle. “Red cap means medicines suitable for both. Even if I never had a changeling patient, there's always the chance that I might need them myself.”

Zevan nodded and took the pills. Healing Hooves went into the adjacent room and came back shortly with a bowl of water. Taking another bottle from her supplies, she added a judicious quantity to the water. She then took a cloth, dunked it into the solution and laved the wound.

Zevan gritted his teeth while she cleaned out the wound before stitching up some of the torn flesh. She liberally coated it with an antiseptic cream before packing the hole in his leg and finally bandaging it.

“You're lucky – I'm fairly sure that’s not going to need more sophisticated treatment at a hospital. Given time and rest, the flesh will heal, fresh chitin will grow over it, and that leg should be as good as new. Let’s have a look at the rest of your wounds now.”

One by one, she treated every cut and scrape, getting him to painfully reposition himself to get to the other side of his body.

While she was working, Zevan asked, “What's your real name, if I may ask?”

She grinned at him. “My changeling name is Hurax, but I've been Healing Hooves for so long that I prefer that.”

“You really like your job, don’t you?”

“I do, and it certainly fulfills my need for emotional energy. Don't you like yours?”

“Of course I do… or at least I did.”

“Sounds like you have a story to tell. Is it related to why you were knocked out of the sky?”

Zevan realized that he may have said too much. He did not know if she knew of the events at Canterlot as yet. Then again, inevitably she would, and he wasn't going to be able to leave anytime soon. “Yes. I haven't been able to do what I love to do for a while now.”

“Why not?”

“Because our queen had us doing… unusual things.”

“You said ‘us’; what was so important that it took a number of you away from your task of gathering emotional energy for the hive? That’s always a priority.”

“I… I'd rather not say.”

Healing Hooves shrugged. “It's your hive’s business, so I won't push.”

She finished treating the wounds and turned her attention to the wing. “Hopefully that pain medication has fully kicked in, because I'm afraid that this is going to hurt a lot in spite of it,” she warned.

Zevan braced himself as she lifted his wing, grimacing in pain as she manipulated it to feel the extent of the injuries. Thankfully the medicine brought the pain down to a bearable level, but it still was not pleasant to feel the breaks grinding.

Healing Hooves shook her head sadly. “This is bad. Very bad. It's broken completely in two places, and I sense several more fractures. You must have had your full weight impact on it when you hit the tree. I can straighten and splint it, but I can’t be sure how well it will heal. If you were really a pegasus, I wouldn't worry, but changeling wings are more fragile and liable to permanent impairment.”

“Are you saying that I won't be able to fly again?”

“I'm saying that it's a possibility, or at least some degree of restriction. We won't be able to tell for some time, but don't get your hopes up.”

“Damn! Even that will stop me from ever going back to my old job. I used to work in Cloudsdale in the weather factory. Can you imagine a pegasus who can't fly working there, let alone commuting between there and my hive?”

“No, I guess not, but that doesn't mean that you won’t be able to do your specialty elsewhere, surely?”

“I suppose not. I don't know because I've never had to try. Then again, a machine is a machine no matter where it is. First I have to find my way back to my hive, and I can't do that very well at the moment.”

“You can't do anything at all,” Healing Hooves said emphatically. “You are going to need to give yourself time to heal before attempting any journey. You certainly can't fly, and if your hive is anywhere near as isolated as mine, you're not going to be getting a ride on a cart there either.”

Zevan frowned. “What do you suggest? I didn't plan to come here, and I can't count on Lavender’s charity for too long. I'm amazed that she's done so much already.”

Healing Hooves gave Zevan a sly grin. “Don't be so sure about that. I've known Lavender for many years, and she's a lovely pony. She's given me a lot of emotional sustenance too, which is surprising for one who has suffered like she has.”

“So you know what happened to her horn then?”

“Yes I do.”

Zevan waited for her to say more, but when it became evident that she wasn't going to do so, he prompted, “And…?”

“And why don’t you ask her yourself? Seeing that you seem to be her guest for at least tonight, it will give you something to talk about. Compare broken limbs for example.”

“You have a strange sense of humor, Healer.”

“Perhaps,” she agreed with a grin, “but don't tip-hoof around the subject with her. She's a strong mare – she has needed to be. You might get more from her than just a place to recover for the night. What’s your hive’s emotional preference, by the way.”

“Love,” he blurted out before realizing that it might give a clue to which was his hive.

“A not uncommon taste, although I prefer gratitude and admiration. Makes my job all the more enjoyable. Anyway, I'm sure that you can get by on other emotions for a time, and I doubt that Miss Dreams will let you starve for food either.” Healing Hooves finished securing the last of the splints and bandages on Zevan’s wing. “There, that's all I can do for you right now. Assume your pegasus form again, please.”

Zevan did so, and Healing Hooves examined the result.

“You need to adjust your illusion; the bandages look wrong on a pegasus wing,” she advised.

Zevan looked at the wing and then morphed the image until it looked right. “How's that?” he asked.

“Much improved.” Healing Hooves resumed her unicorn form. “I'd better let Lavender know that we’re done. She's probably wondering why it's taking so long already.”

She stepped out to the shop and soon returned with Lavender Dreams. She gasped when she saw all of the bandages on him.

“Oh, I knew you had a lot of scrapes, but this makes it look much worse. You must be aching all over!”

Zevan gave her a lopsided grin. “Yeah, but the healer has given me some medicine that’s made me feel much better. Thank you so much for getting me her help.”

Lavender blushed a little. “You're welcome, Cogs, but I was happy to do it. Everypony should help others when they can, for you never know when you might need their help in return, right?”

“I suppose that’s true, although I can’t see how I’m ever going to be able to repay you in kind.”

“Then repay me in another way. Please give me the pleasure of your company for dinner tonight.”

That surprised Zevan. “So little that you ask in exchange for so much. It seems that I have already robbed you of your sofa, so how can I deny you such a simple request?”

“May I suggest that you make Mister Cogs your wonderful herb vegetable soup?” Healing Hooves said with a sly smile. “It's sure to fortify him.”

“That's a great suggestion, Healer. I'll even make an extra large batch to give you some also.”

“Why thank you, Lavender dear. That's very kind of you.”

Zevan tried not to smirk. The old changeling certainly seemed to know how to manipulate a situation to her advantage. It did speak well for the soup though, and he looked forward to trying it out.

Healing Hooves took the bottle of pain pills from her satchel and tipped out a few. “If the pain returns and gets too much for you, take one of these. I suggest that in any case that you take one before going to sleep. That should stop you from having your sleep interrupted and you will get a good night’s rest that way. I’ll be back tomorrow to check up on you and change a couple of those dressings. Until then, I bid you both a very good evening.”

“Thank you, Healer,” Zevan said.

“I'll show you out,” Lavender said. A minute later she returned. “Did you need anything right now before I start dinner?”

“Don't you have to tend to your shop?” Zevan asked curiously.

Lavender laughed. “I think you have lost track of the time.” She pointed out the window through which a red-tinged landscape could be seen. “Celestia is setting the sun, and business is very much closed for the day.”

“Oh. I should have realized,” Zevan replied in embarrassment.

“I don't think you can be faulted, considering what you've been through. So did you want anything?”

“More water, please. I can wait for dinner for food.”

“Easily done!” She trotted away to the kitchen, and shortly returned with a glass of water. She was obviously having to put a lot of effort into that simple task, her magical grip unsteady.

“Thanks. Umm… speaking of harrowing experiences, may I ask what happened to your horn?”

Lavender froze for a moment, then gave him a determined smile. “I lost it in an epic battle against a fearsome monster in the Everfree Forest, protecting my foolish baby brother who went exploring there.”

Zevan’s eyes widened in surprise. “Really?” he said incredulously.

She glared at him as if to challenge his disbelief, then giggled. “No, but I had you going for a moment, didn't I?”

Zevan didn't mention that he could taste the emotions of humor and deception after he got over the surprise of her words. “Yeah, you did. So what really happened. Please – I'd like to know.”

She sighed. “I had a stupid accident when I was a teenager. I got it into my head that rock climbing was fun. ‘You're no mountain goat!’ my mother kept telling me, but what did she know? I kept right on doing it until one day I pushed my limits too hard. I fell into a ravine which in itself was bad enough. The height wasn't too terrible, but it was nothing but boulders below. I certainly found out that I was no mountain goat alright because I fell very awkwardly and my horn got jammed into a crevice. My momentum kept the rest of my body going and my entire weight pulled on my horn and it snapped.” She pointed a forehoof at Zevan’s broken wing. “That hurt pretty bad, didn't it?”

Zevan nodded mutely.

“Imagine that pain through every fiber of your being. I screamed in agony and that was the last thing that I knew until I woke up in hospital. I had been in a coma for a week, although apparently I’d mostly escaped serious injury except for a broken leg and sundry cuts and bruises like yours. It had been the shattering of my horn that had done me the most harm though and rendered me comatose. After that, I practically had to re-learn how to do almost everything again.”

“I can see that it's difficult for you to lift and manipulate things.”

“Oh no, it was much worse than that. My entire magical matrix had been disrupted. In earth ponies, all their magic is in their legs and it gives them their connection with the soil and living things. If they break a leg, the rest still compensate until the leg heals. You pegasi have your magic mostly in your wings, and some in your hooves. It enables you to fly and manipulate weather. Again, injure part and the rest will adjust. But with we unicorns, it's all focused in the horn. It lets us do very sophisticated magic and versatility with spells, but it also makes us vulnerable because if our horn is damaged, there is nothing to compensate for it. When I awoke from the coma, I could not lift a feather with what remained of my horn, and my hooves could hold nothing except from sheer friction. I was magically crippled. I had to literally start from scratch to re-learn how to manipulate mana to do the simplest thing. However, because the structure of my horn is permanently destroyed, I will never be able to do much more than what you have seen me do. I'm still grateful that I can do that much, and I've learned to compensate in other ways.”

“How so?” Zevan asked curiously. She seemed to want to talk about it, and he was more than happy to give her an attentive ear.

“Well if you can’t do something magically, then you have to do it physically. You’re unlikely to find a stronger unicorn than yours truly because I've had to put my muscles to work. How many unicorns have you ever seen pulling carts as big as mine?”

“Can’t say that I've ever seen them pulling carts, let alone something like yours. That's earth pony work normally.”

“I might not be able to match an earth pony’s strength, but I'm no slouch either.” She gave him a grin. “And I've managed to win a few bets too from strangers who don’t know what I’m capable of doing.”

Zevan laughed. “I'll keep that in mind – no making bets with you.”

“And now that you know my sad sob-story, I had better get back to the kitchen if either of us are going to have anything to eat tonight.”

Zevan watched her admiringly as she trotted into the kitchen. Here was a mare who had been dealt a major blow and yet had managed to fight her way back and make the best of her circumstances. He could learn a thing or two from her. He had been fortunate to have her encounter him on that quiet road.

The soup was everything it had promised to be. It was a good thing that Lavender had made so much because Zevan found that he had a very large appetite.

“If you keep that up, Healing Hooves is going to be very disappointed,” Lavender commented with an amused smile.

Zevan looked at the third helping he’d just ladled out with a touch of guilt on his face.

Lavender laughed. “Oh, don't worry – I have more in the kitchen. The healer likes it as much as you seem to, and I always make extra for her.”

“That's a relief. I'm a little dependent on her good will at the moment.”

“I don't think she would do anything to you if you ate her soup. Of course I may be wrong,” she added with a mischievous grin.

Zevan did his best to be a good dinner guest, talking about his work at the weather factory and listening to her own little tales of interest. It was something that his kind was good at doing though. Their need for emotional sustenance had made changelings adept at ingratiating themselves with their hosts, a practice refined over millennia in peaceful, secret coexistence with the ponies. At least up until now.

Lavender noticed Zevan’s grimace as he realized that this peaceful relationship was as good as ruined due to Queen Chrysalis. The future of the changeling race looked very murky right now.

“What’s wrong, Cogs?”

“I’m sorry, Lavender. I didn't mean to put a downer on this meal. I've been enjoying myself more than I've been able to do so for a while, but I can foresee that coming to an end all too soon.”

“Oh dear, how depressing. I'm not just going to kick you out the door tomorrow if that’s what’s worrying you.”

Zevan chuckled. “No it's not that, although I had wondered. There are some things that I can't tell you as yet that could have a profound effect on my future.”

“More than just your broken wing then?”

“Much more. The wing just complicates things.”

“Well, if my own experiences have taught me anything, there’s little that can't be overcome by persistence and positive thinking.”

“I suppose I'm being rather negative. The first step is to figure out exactly where I am so that I can plan my next move once I can travel again. I've never heard of this village before, and I only know vaguely that it's within the Whitetail Woods.”

“I'll find a map for you tomorrow. The only thing that you need to decide on tonight is whether you would like some dessert.”

Zevan smiled and shook his head with amazement. It was impossible to stay feeling down with this mare.

After dinner (and dessert of course!), Zevan limped back to the sofa and settled down with a comfortably full belly topped up with some emotional sustenance also. Maybe it was not his preferred emotion of love, but it was more than he had been able to feed on for a long while and he felt content.

Lavender Dreams cleaned up in the kitchen, having refused all offers of help. When she was done, she fetched a blanket for Zevan. “It’s a warm evening, but if you’re feeling too cool later, you can use this blanket. And now I must head off to bed myself. After missing a day to procure more stock, I need to get an early start in the shop tomorrow. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen if you’re feeling hungry or thirsty again. Bathroom’s down there. Sleep well, Cogs.”

“Thanks, Lavender. I’m very grateful for all this.”

“You’re welcome, and I thank you too for one of the best evenings that I've had in a long time. I think I’ll have pleasant dreams tonight.” With a toss of her mane, Lavender trotted off to her bedroom with a happy air.

Now why would such a nice unicorn put so much stock in this evening?’ Zevan wondered. ‘I'm not that good as a guest, am I?

* * *

Zevan woke to the smell of pancakes and syrup, and he found a plate of them on the coffee table by the sofa. By the sounds coming from the shop, he guessed that Lavender was already busy getting ready to open for business. He must have slept more soundly than normal not to have been woken sooner. He tentatively tried his injured legs – the foreleg felt much better, but he quickly stopped testing the hind leg. That was not going to heal very quickly, apparently.

He made short work of the pancakes before making use of the bathroom. Lastly he checked his appearance in the mirror. Normally holding his pegasus form was instinctive, but after the battering he had received, he was not taking any chances with anything going wrong. However, everything looked perfectly normal, including the splinted and bandaged wing. It was time to greet his host.

With his foreleg in more usable condition, it was easier to favor his hind leg, and he limped into Lavender’s shop with little trouble. He spotted her arranging some of the wildflowers that she had harvested the previous day, their purple flowers blending well with her two-tone mane.

“Good morning! That’s a pretty bouquet,” Zevan remarked.

“Thank you,” Lavender replied, recognizing the compliment for what it was. “How are you feeling this morning?”

“Much better, thanks. Hind leg has a long way to go yet though.”

“Not really surprising. Give it time. Healing Hooves does great work.”

“I have no doubt. So this is your business?” He looked around at the neatly displayed flowers and the shelves of prepared and fresh herbs. Everything was clean and tidy, but Zevan realized that it also looked worn and in need of maintenance. His inner Mr Fix-it started to twitch.

“Yes, I've been running this business since I recovered from my accident. It was good therapy as well as a source of income.”

“So you run it all by yourself?”

“Yes I do. I can’t afford any employees – this is a small village with limited custom.” She ran a hoof over the rather ancient till on the counter. “Of course if it got any busier, my poor cash register might have a nervous breakdown,” she added with a grin.

Zevan admired her sense of humor about the situation, even as he wondered how long she could continue this way before things started breaking down in a costly manner. Maybe before he left, he might be able to do something about that. It would be a good way of repaying her for her kindness too.

“Anything I can do to help?” he asked.

“Not really at the moment. May I suggest that you take advantage of the bench outside and take in some of this lovely morning sun? You could always play huckster for the business if you’re feeling bored,” she added with a wink.

“Ha! Maybe I will do exactly that.” Zevan made his way outside and saw the bench that Lavender mentioned. He carefully made himself comfortable on it. She was right – this was nice. He watched the town ponies passing by on their business, occasionally exchanging greetings with some of them. His first impression that this was a unicorn-predominant community was reinforced, although as usual there was the normal smattering of the other two pony types. He amused himself trying to figure out what their special talents were, judging only by their cutie marks. At some time, he nodded off into a light snooze.

He was woken up by the sound of someone speaking his name.

“Mister Cogs!” Healing Hooves repeated. “Now that you’re awake, we need to talk.”

Zevan saw the expression on her face and winced. ‘Uh-oh! She knows!

   
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