• Published 6th May 2019
  • 3,211 Views, 268 Comments

Walk Where There Is No Path - theOwtcast

When everything you’ve ever known goes against everything you believe in, can leaving help you live with yourself?

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Several hours of aimless wandering later, the new part of the forest seemed to take pity on me: no hungry beasts disturbed me while I sat in the shadows, catching my breath and thinking about what had happened. My shoulder still throbbed - all that walking couldn't have helped it get much better - but at least the gash on my side had stopped bleeding. I wanted to be mad at the timberwolves for injuring me, but on the other hoof, I couldn’t really; the injuries were a small price to pay for saving me from something much, much worse.

Fearing I might find out the hard way what else lived in this forest, I decided to get going before another beast mistook me for lunch; but as soon as I got off the ground, a sharp pain stabbed through my side, and upon landing again, I realized the movement of my wing had opened the gash and caused it to bleed again. I couldn’t fly like that! Testing my shoulder, I determined walking would still be possible with care, but I better be careful not to run into trouble again - galloping was out of question for now!

It was slow progress, but at least it felt better than sitting on my haunches and hoping nothing would come get me. Having plenty of time to think, I came to realize that although the feelings of uneasiness and dread that had tormented me so much were still present, they had diminished significantly since my close encounter with the changelings and timberwolves. Was it possible I’d somehow predicted what would happen? Had I sensed the attackers before they’d had the chance to show themselves? If I’d listened to the whispers in the back of my mind, could I have avoided this mess?

Then I noticed movement in the bushes ahead of me. I couldn’t see what was there, so I lay on the ground to make myself harder to notice in the underbrush without risking the flash of shapeshifting magic in case whatever was out there happened to be facing my direction, freezing in place until I could determine whether or not it was safe to proceed.

A cloaked figure came out of the bushes, facing away from me. It was equine in size and posture, and though I couldn’t see its face, I did notice a lock of black-and-white mane protruding upright from under its hood. The figure picked a plant from the ground and put it in a saddlebag.

Just a pony collecting herbs, I concluded with relief and got up. If I stayed quiet, I could follow without being seen. The pony must know the way out of the forest, I told myself - this was my best bet for getting out quickly.

Everything was going fine until a twig cracked under my hoof.

“Oh dear! What is that sound I hear?” the figure started to turn.

I quickly transformed into a pony.

“Oh! You startled me good! Few a pony comes to this wood,” the figure now turned completely and removed its hood. A smiling face, striped black and white, looked back at me.

“I’m lost,” I tried to explain. “I’ve never seen anypony with stripes such as yours,” I added curiously.

“I’m a zebra from a faraway place, but I have lived here for great many days! To ponies of Ponyville I’m a close friend, and helping hooves to each other we often lend!”

She did seem genuinely friendly, unlike the two unicorns I’d met earlier!

“You have a nasty wound, I see,” her smile turned to concern. She was bound to notice sooner or later; even a disguise could only do so much to hide fresh injuries. “Pray tell, how did that come to be?”

“Timberwolves,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t have to go into detail.

“Then your luck is keeping well in check,” she marveled. “Most who meet timberwolves do not come back!”

I nodded gravely.

“Come with me! I have just the thing to heal that wound in a blink!”

“Oh… I wouldn’t want to trouble you…” I hesitated. Goodness knows I needed a healer, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with letting myself get treated by a stranger of an unfamiliar species. What if she noticed something was wrong? If she really was friends with ponies, she could easily know about changelings!

“Don’t be shy - you’ll be alright,” she assured me.

I weighed my options. I could refuse and try my luck in the forest - a strategy which had nearly cost me my life so far, and injured like I was, my chances of escaping any future encounters were much lower. Or I could accept and get the help I needed. Sure, there was a risk of getting discovered in the process, but maybe she would be reasonable and willing to give me a chance to prove my good intentions! Even if that wouldn’t happen, did I really have that much to lose, considering the alternative? Besides, I reminded myself, finding a friend was the very reason why I’d escaped and gotten into all this mess in the first place!

“Okay, I’ll come with you,” I accepted her offer.

She led me through the forest to a hollowed-out tree decorated with masks and sculptures like I’d never seen before. I couldn’t help but stare in amazement.

“What are these?” I asked.

“They are mementoes of my old home,” she explained, pointing at two masks. “This one speaks ‘hello’, and this, ‘welcome’.”

“They’re beautiful!”

“You are very kind. Now do come in, if you don’t mind?”

Inside were shelves with countless pots and bottles, more decorations I assumed were from the zebra’s homeland, and a large cauldron that dominated the center of the room.

“This won’t take long. Please, make yourself at home,” she said.

I sat on a stool near a small table. The zebra went searching through the shelves, humming a calming tune as she did so - quite enjoyable, in fact. After a minute or two, she returned with a small jar.

“There - rub this ointment on that gash, and watch it disappear in a flash!” She removed the lid.

I studied the greenish substance precariously. Could this really help me?

Only one way to know.

I took some of the ointment on my hoof and rubbed it into the wound as instructed. Just a split second later it turned out the zebra was telling the truth! The wound was healing rapidly before my eyes, and in less than a minute, it was completely gone as if it had never existed!

But before I could thank her, I felt something else happening - the peculiar tingling sensation I’d felt in the wound as the ointment worked its magic was now getting stronger and washing all over my body. My eyes widened in horror as I realized what was about to happen - and I was powerless to stop it!

My disguise collapsed, revealing my true form.

“Oh no - what a tale of woe! I brought a changeling beast to my home!” the zebra recoiled in terror.

“Please, don’t be afraid! I don’t want to harm you!” I tried to calm her, but to no avail.

“No! Lies and deception are your way - if I let you, you’ll destroy me any day!”

“No - please believe me - I’m not like that!

It was useless. Whatever I tried seemed to only frighten her more!

“Please, just get out of here,” she begged, “and I’ll tell nothing of you being near!”

I wanted to believe her, but could I?

“Worry not, my words are always true!” she was beside herself with fear by now - curled up on the floor and trembling. “Now, leave me and go, I beg of you!”

“I’m so sorry to have frightened you,” I apologized sadly and left.

She may or may not have been telling the truth when she said she wouldn’t warn anypony about me, but I simply couldn’t stay there and perpetuate her fear. I just wanted her to calm down, even if it meant her pony friends would learn about my presence. I’d have to worry more about my safety anyway now that Chrysalis’ forces were around, looking for me!

As night was falling, I came upon ruins of what might have long ago been an ancient castle, now overgrown with the forest’s vegetation. Having no better place to go, I picked a relatively well-preserved room, made sure I knew where to flee if something were to happen during the night, and curled up to sleep between piles of scattered books lying on the ground.