• Published 6th May 2019
  • 3,077 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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A Changeling’s Best Friend

I broke out of my cocoon immensely hungry, much hungrier than I’d ever been. I was however, relieved to find that my cave indeed hadn’t been disturbed. Digging myself out would help break the stiffness of my joints that was the expected consequence of being cocooned for an extended period of time. It would also help me get warmed up; the cave seemed colder than when I’d first found it.

I walked out into the moonlit scenery and took a good long look around. Nighttime explained the relative coolness, but as far as I could see, the forest didn’t seem too different from when I’d seen it last, unless I counted that terrible nightmare. It felt like I’d been away for months, but there were no visual cues to suggest either way - not at night, at least. Maybe daylight would bring some new information on that.

I got a little further out, treading carefully to keep silent. Nothing jumped me - another piece of good news. That alone was far from enough to relax and count on smooth sailing from this point onward, but much like I’d thought had been the case at a certain point in that dream, if anypony or anyling had wanted to capture or ambush me, they would have had plenty of opportunity to do that by now, even after I’d gotten out of the cave. I would still have to find out - probably the hard way - whether or not they were still searching for me, but right now, I was apparently safe.

I took a moment to examine myself more thoroughly. My wounds had healed and the pain had gone. My wings had straightened themselves out, too. I gave them a test buzz, then took to the air, satisfied they were functional again. I’d have to be more careful from now on; I’d had enough injuries for a lifetime, and unless I found a way to replenish my love reserves, I wouldn’t be able to last through another period of cocooned healing.

Then again, having vowed to refrain from taking love unless offered freely, if I did replenish my love reserves, that would mean I’d succeeded in finding a friend, and maybe then I wouldn’t have to run and hide any longer... unless, of course, that friend would be the only one willing to accept me. And what then? Should I remain with that one friend, hidden from the world and hoping to see the day when I wouldn’t have to fear for my life if I dared to show my face to anyone else, possibly limiting my friend’s options in life as well, or would it be better to go away and look elsewhere at the risk of never finding another friend? The former may be too selfish, but the latter didn’t seem like a much better choice, either. I hoped I would be able to make the right decision as and when it became necessary!

I spent the whole night flying, but at the break of dawn I was still nowhere near the end of the forest. There weren’t any settlements within the forest, either. Now that there was more light, it seemed to me that the trees were a shade greener than before I’d cocooned myself, but I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t just imagining it due to trying too hard to notice anything that might give me a clue about how long I’d been away from the world. Not that it mattered much, except for estimating how likely I’d be to run into any more search parties; but then again, the sight of my undisguised face would trigger another wave of panic among ponies regardless of how long it had been since the last time they’d seen a changeling, and Chrysalis would punish me equally regardless of how soon I got tracked down, so other than to calm or fuel my anxiety, it was really all the same either way. I would likely find out sooner or later, so why bother guessing if it had no bearing on what I might do? I’d only start overthinking things again, and I didn’t need any more paranoia!

Eventually I realized I was getting too tired to keep flying. Desperately hungry or not, it wouldn’t do any good if I collapsed from exhaustion in the middle of nowhere. I found an abandoned burrow, curled up in it, and slept through the rest of the day.

I woke up in the late afternoon and proceeded with my flight to new horizons. It was mostly uneventful, except for having finally gotten out of the forest some time into the night. I flew over fields and rivers, seeing a small village or two close by, and a larger city in the distance. I wanted to try the city; more ponies meant more chances to meet a future friend, and in the meantime, easier blending into the crowd. I was undisguised for the moment, but at night in a sparsely-populated area, this didn’t present any difficulties. I could always put on an appropriate disguise upon arriving to whatever destination I picked.

I was just approaching the city when thick clouds obscured the night sky, taking away the light that the moon had been casting on the land. It would help conceal an undisguised changeling such as myself, but then again, any attempt to shapeshift in need would be clearly visible throughout the city to anyone who might be awake at this hour.

A road sign at the city limits was barely readable with so little light, but I managed to make out the words: Welcome to Manehattan! The name was familiar to me from conversations I’d overheard in the hive, but I couldn’t remember any mentions of trouble there recently, as far as the word ‘recently’ was still applicable. I would try to keep that track record, assuming it hadn’t been broken during my absence.

A rainstorm broke out shortly thereafter, forcing me to find any shelter I could. The nearest one was under a bridge - this one not on a cliffside like the one near Canterlot where I’d almost been captured, but over a stream I came across while searching the streets of Manehattan, so I expected to have an additional escape route this time.

I wasn’t going anywhere in this rain, and I was getting tired, so this seemed like a good chance for a nap.

I was woken up by something licking my face eagerly, causing me to jump in apprehension and confusion. I looked around, ready to flee at the slightest sign of trouble.

In front of me stood a dog, eagerly wagging his tail.

I willed myself to calm down. I’d never been this near a dog before, and wasn’t sure how to proceed. I did, however, know a few basics about them. Ponies liked to keep them as pets. Some were friendly and sociable; others were more… cautious about strangers, which made them good guardians. I assumed that would include a lot of growling and biting. Face-licking and tail-wagging would then likely be more characteristic of the friendly type of dog. I decided to try interacting with him.

“Hello, doggie,” I said softly.

The dog came a little closer and opened his mouth, letting a wet tongue drop out. It almost looked like he was smiling.

“Do you live here?”

He barked once in reply.

“Do you need anything from me? I’m not sure I have anything to give you.”

He came closer and licked my snout. Just once this time, but I felt a little bit of love offered with it.

“Oh… um, I’m going to take that as a ‘Hello, nice to meet you’... you did mean that, didn’t you?”

He nudged me lightly with his paw and laid on his back, exposing his belly.

“What does that mean?” I asked, carefully touching his belly. “Are you hungry?”

I didn’t get a proper reply, but his tongue dropped out again. Did that mean he was enjoying my touch? It seemed so! When I moved my hoof away, he looked at me sadly, almost as if I’d offended him.

“Oh, you like that?”

I rubbed his belly again. He seemed much happier now. Eventually he got up, put his paws on my shoulders and proceeded to lick my face frantically. He nearly knocked me over!

“Okay, okay - stop it!” I laughed, barely able to breathe. Not that I could object much; the dog was giving me more love this time around! I didn’t want to drain him of it, but so far it hadn’t gone far enough to be harmful to him, and I was still in my own form, so arguably the dog knew he wasn’t dealing with a pony. Whether or not he understood what a changeling was... that was another matter. I was going to allow this to go on just a little bit longer, and then I’d try to stop him if possible, lest my feeding on him cause him any damage.

“Porthos! Porthos, where are you? Come out, Porthos!” A filly’s voice from nearby interrupted my train of thought.

I rushed to hide behind a pile of rocks low enough to let me peek over the top and keep track of what was happening. The filly was looking for her dog - quite possibly the same one I’d been playing with!

The dog remained in place, looking at me, then at where the filly’s voice was coming from, than back at me, than back at the direction of the filly’s voice. He didn’t seem to be able to make up his mind about who he wanted to be with.

“Porthos, where did- oh, there you are!” The filly came further under the bridge, far enough to reach her dog. “Come, let’s go!”

“Pawprint? Did you find him?” a stallion’s voice sounded from a little away.

“I did, Daddy! He’s right here!” she answered. Then, to Porthos, “Come, boy!”

But Porthos remained in place.

Go on, Porthos, get back to your filly and forget about me, I begged him silently.

But apparently he hadn't had enough of me. He turned toward me and took a few steps forward.

“Porthos, what is it? You found something?” Pawprint was getting interested too. She came further down, and I had to lie down completely or she’d see me! I hadn’t wanted to shapeshift before lest I scare Porthos, and now it was too late; Pawprint was bound to see my magic and scream for help!

Then Porthos went into a barking fit.

“What’s going on here?” Pawprint’s father seemed to have come down too, judging by the closeness of his voice.

“I think there’s something there,” Pawprint sounded concerned.

“Wait here,” said her father.

My muscles tensed in preparation for the inevitable.

The stallion’s head peeked over my pile of rocks.

I jumped out as if on fire, rushing to get out faster than either of them could take a good look at me.

“A changeling!” he yelled, running close to his daughter and embracing her to keep her safe. “Get away from her, you-

I didn’t need to hear the end of his threat, even if it hadn’t been lost in the screams of everypony around who were startled by my sudden appearance. I was sure I could fill in the gap with anything a changeling had ever been yelled at by a pony and it would have been close enough.