• Published 3rd Mar 2024
  • 1,076 Views, 43 Comments

Sickness to Health - David Silver



His life had become pain and sickness, but a bright new world offered an alternative path where not only it glittered, but it offered him the chance to shine as well. He would never be the same again, but life as a hippogriff can't be worse.

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1 - Sickness

The soft beeps of the medical monitors were all he had for company. He could see outside his room from this bed, but the world was still so fuzzy he couldn't make out much more than vague shapes, and color hadn't quite returned yet. Even the blue sky looked white, as if someone had added too much water to a painter's palette.

They had provided a button. With just a press, they promised the pain would ebb, but he had heard what happened when someone got too used to that. He didn't press it.

There was a girl sitting next to his bed. That much he could make out, in sharp detail. Her skin looked black where the sunlight from outside didn't fall on it—black and gleaming like a raven's wings. He could remember he knew her, but not too much besides that.

The others came and went, all bright colors of hair or clothes that were impossible to sort out into individual shapes, faces and names. They said things he couldn't make sense of, gave him water or food, then left. They had given him a TV, a source of distraction, but it was still so fuzzy he couldn't watch anything. Besides, watching television seemed to tire him more than doing nothing did.

She was the only one who stayed. When he slept she stayed in a chair beside the bed and read.

He was tired, but he was always tired, and though his body was relaxed, his mind refused to quiet itself. He decided to make an effort to talk to her.

"What are you reading?"

His voice sounded harsh even to him—like someone had taken a nail file to each of his vocal cords individually and given them a quick buffing. It hurt just to speak, which is why he had been quiet this long.

The girl glanced at the book, as if she hadn't thought about it in days and needed a reminder. She said it was a fable, about a world without pain.

Without pain. The thought filled him with an ember of hope, a little smile. The idea of a world without pain was one of the few things that didn't feel fuzzy, that made perfect sense to him.

It was probably for children. The drawings, at least, were bright and colorful enough for kids' TV, but it was a blur, like everything else. Still, it described a better world.

He fell asleep with a tired smile on his face, thinking of that other world.

***

Aaron awoke, the sand beneath him warm and soft. "Hm?" He didn't remember sand, or the gentle breeze that played across his skin. No pain. He rubbed at his eyes, expecting to find them bandaged. He expected pain to shoot up his arm at any moment from the motion. There was no pain. His vision cleared.

"Wow." A new voice, female. "What are you?" A strange creature approached, with the front half of a bird of prey and the back half of a horse. A hippogriff, he decided. "You're like, all—" She made a funny face and spread her hands, sharp talons glinting in the bright sun. "Not all there."

Aaron wanted to reply to her, but no words came. He was only sort of there. There was no pain, but there was hardly any other sensation.

"I'll get some help. You just." She aborted her thought and grabbed Aaron, waddling off on two legs. "You're kinda light!"

Aaron couldn't perceive himself properly, only that he knew she was holding him, and she became a little brighter for doing so, as if he was some source of faint light. He looked down at his hand.

Slightly glowing fur, only as solid as his own shadow cast under bright sunlight, just... less dark. Less visible. Not much more than that. He couldn't even feel his clothes, as if they didn't exist. As if he didn't exist himself, save that he could feel she was there, and heard her frantic steps. I think, therefor I am. The term came to him, and he wanted to smile. It was all he had.

"Auntie!" The hippogriff set Aaron down gently on a blanket. "Look what I found. Is it supposed to do that?"

A larger hippogriff sat up, female, regal of bearing. "Silverstream, what have you brought me." That queen of hippogriffs rolled to her hooves and hands. "It does not look well. Perhaps it—" She clucked her tongue against her beak. "Perhaps it is already too late. You shouldn't bring dying animals to me, niece."

"Auntie, please." Silverstream nestled near Aaron. "Can't we help them? They feel nice."

The aunt raised a fine brow. "How would you, never mind. Silver, your thoughts are as alien as this creature. If you think they are worthy of consideration, I will assume you speak the truth as you see it." She reached into her midsection, drawing out a little fragment of crystal. "They have one hope."

"One hope is better than no hope," sang Silverstream, bouncing a little in place. "Please!"

"If you can hear me." The larger one leaned over Aaron. "I am Queen Novo. If I give this to you, you will become one of mine. I will treat you fairly and well, but that fact will be unchangeable. If you do not want this, let me know now."

She offered the little crystal, the size of a single slice from a marble. It didn't glow, it just felt important, as if it were something she normally wouldn't share with strangers. Aaron thought about reaching for it, but he had no hand, arm, or anything else.

Silverstream clapped with building joy. "They said it's okay."

Novo shook her head at Silverstream, not comprehending the way her niece operated. "Then it will be done." She gently placed the slice on the nothing that was Aaron and worked a rope around him, attaching it to him.

And he gasped, suddenly real, suddenly breathing. They were dry and hungry and weak, but they were alive, and nothing was in pain, aside from the wants they could feel in their body. Their arms and legs felt strange, heavy and alien, but they could move them.

Silverstream leaned over them with a bright smile. "Now I can see you!"

Aaron grabbed her head the moment it came into view, and startled, aborting the motion without even finishing it. They were gaping instead at their own hands. They weren't human hands, attached to human arms. They were talons, at the end of feathery arms. They sat up slowly, dizzy, feeling a massive weight on their back.

"Haha! They're a hippogriff!"

Novo chuckled, deep in her chest. "Your senses work fast, child. That shard has given them two bodies, two forms. They are a hippogriff on land, and a seapony in the embrace of the water, just like you or I." She rose to her hooves with a sigh and moved a bit away.

"Welcome to our home." Silverstream waved wildly over the large hallway that was Queen Novo's throne room in Mount Aris. "Your home now too, come to think. I hope you'll like it! I also hope you don't mind my saying you're a pretty hippogriff mare." She grinned broadly, tail flicking to the side.

Aaron lifted a wing, just to let it flop, Silverstream's words settling on them. "Mare?" They looked down at themselves. They had the barrel of a pony, rounded on the belly. Leaning harder, they could see they were not a male anymore. They were a female. "O-oh! Um, thank you..." They frowned, not knowing how to respond. This was going to take some getting used to.

Silverstream flopped right beside her. "What's your name?"

"My name?" Aaron frowned a little. "My old name doesn't work so well." Aaron was not the name of a female hippogriff, as far as they could tell. "Ma'am? Please let me figure that out." Aaron struggled to stand up, shaking. "I hate to ask, after you helped me. But do you have anything to eat?"

She thought about it. "Yes. You can ride me if you want to."

That idea didn't settle well. "I think I need to learn to walk first."

Silverstream was more than pleased to show how one should walk, one limb at a time with a little hum with every step. "This and that and this and—"

Aaron was doing their best, placing one hand down, then another hoof forward, stumbling, but moving. "I'm actually moving." Sure, their voice was soft, female, but they were moving. Their life was returned, and with it movement, thought, sensation. The little things one takes for granted. The pitter patter of Silverstream's feet made Aaron smile. She was helping. She had saved them. "I owe you so much, but, please, where is that food? I'll do whatever it takes."

Silverstream nodded eagerly and stood upright. "This way, please follow me and do your best not to fall."

She trotted along in that easy, casual way that only came with practice.

Aaron trailed after her, only upright for having a wall to fall against a few times, but they made it out of that audience chamber into one that seemed far more suited to food, with long tables for a host of guests, and a whole crew of cooks busily at work preparing a variety of dishes. The aroma filled Aaron's lungs and set their mouth to watering.

"Over here, please." One hippogriff of many was waving them over towards an available seat. "What would you like, ma'am?"

"Don't call me that," giggled out Silverstream. "Novo is my aunt, not my mom. I'm not royalty or nothin'." She nudged Aaron in the side. "Auntie just lets me live with her."

"I—uh. She saved me. I would have died otherwise." Aaron ducked her head. "Calling me 'ma'am' is more than enough, thanks."

"As you wish, ma'am. What would you like to eat?" The hippogriff set a carved bit of wood in front of Aaron. The writing was alien, and yet Aaron could read it. It had a menu of options, so many looking delectable. "Anything on the board, and the chef will prepare it for you, hot and fresh. Anything not on the board, we can try to find, but if we don't have the ingredients on hand, we won't have a recipe to go on, and you may have to wait until tomorrow."

Aaron inclined their new head. "That is a long way to go for me. I'll take this." They pointed to the top of the menu. "They all look great."

"Haven't eaten in a while, huh? Don't worry about it. I'm sure Queen Novo won't mind you living with us." The servant laughed with his wings wide open. "You seem nice enough to me."

Aaron examined the hippogriff. Were they handsome? How did hippogriffs measure that? They seemed nice enough, as the servant had just said. "Thank you. Really. Oh, and some—" They caught themselves, realizing a glass of water was right in front of them. They grabbed it in both hands and drank in deep swigs. Their body recoiled at the sudden flooding, but she kept it down, and the massive thirst began to ebb. "Whew. That hit the spot. Thank you for the drink."

"Good luck, Silverstream. You have your hands full, it looks like." The hippogriff servant shook his head and went off.

Silverstream set a hand on Aaron's shoulder. "Now, you acted like you were surprised. What were you before you were a hippogriff, or were you another color? Or were you an owl?! Tell me!" She was very, very interested.

Aaron found that to be a little disconcerting, but she couldn't help but answer. "No. I was... human." The word tasted a little bit off, and Aaron tried again. "Human?" The word felt foreign and strange. "I was something else, and a man." That word felt odd too. "Male?"

Silverstream blinked with wide eyes at that. "Whoah. You must be so confused. If I woke up and I was a boy instead of a girl, I'd—I don't know what I'd do! I'm a girl, and so are you." She reached to poke Aaron gently in the front, where no curves were. Hippogriffs didn't have that where human females did. "It must have been super weird, turning into this. Did it hurt? Maybe the stone knew?"

The poke in the chest was uncomfortable, but it didn't hurt. They flinched back anyway, finding that contact too direct for someone they had just met. "It didn't hurt, and it wasn't weird, but it isn't what I was born with."

Silverstream tilted her head at that. "Are you mad, sad, or a little glad?"

The question caught her off guard, and Aaron paused. "Glad. I'm really glad. There were a lot of problems I have with who I was. This will make things so much better." Aaron flexed their new talons slowly, watching them with some amazement. "I can move. I can talk. You tell me things and I actually remember them a moment later, not hidden in a veil of pain."

Silverstream shrank back at that. "Oh, wow, that's more than a little deep. Were you feeling that bad?"

Aaron shrugged. "I dunno." They smiled, thinking about the possibilities. That included the delicious smells sifting in through their new beak, prompting their belly to rumble with desire.

"Sounds like you're ready for this." The servant had returned, placing a plate before Aaron and another in front of Silverstream. "Enjoy! And if you want anything else, let us know." He tipped his hat and left.

Aaron leaned in close to inspect it. It was a rich stew of thick cuts of meat—lamb or beef—along with a mixture of vegetables floating among them, with an airy loaf of bread to one side. A simple meal, but to one who had been dying, it looked like a feast. They remembered to use the utensils, picking up the knife and fork, cutting with a careful motion.

Their arms shook from the strain, but it was the weakness that came from being unused to moving, and the hunger they could feel urging them on. It didn't matter that it took a dozen cuts to get through a single piece of meat—they had food. Food they could actually taste.

The savory, tender flesh of the meat slid down her throat without too much chewing, each bite better than the last, the rich, salty broth tickling her tongue even between bites of bread. They ate the entire thing, leaving nothing but a clean plate behind, feeling far better when it was over.

Silverstream watched that process with fascination, picking at her own food—some kind of noodle dish with chunks of seafood—with far less enthusiasm. When she saw Aaron was finished, though, she offered over her plate. "Have it, if you're still hungry. I can get more. You need it a lot more than I do, if you were that sick before."

She reached for Aaron's face, gently brushing a few tears there. "Do you not like it? We could get something else."

"No!" Aaron shouted, just to turn red. "No, it's wonderful. It's amazing. These are happy tears." They sniffled with an almost hiccup. "Very happy. So much better than what I had before, and thank you for that."

Silverstream nodded. "Eating good food is better than eating nothing. Anycreature would be crying if they were dying, and then somebody gave them a good meal!" She rubbed at her own cheek. "I could barely imagine being in such a bad spot. But we rescued you!" She put her abandoned plate before Aaron. "Eat up until you're full."

They did, devouring every drop on that plate as well. Each bite was a gift, a reason to live. When she had finished it as well, that left them smiling softly at Silverstream. "I want to ask you things." So they did, without even a pause. "What is it like, being a hippogriff? I am one now. How do I?"

"How do you what?" Silverstream inclined her head with clear confusion in her tone.

Aaron groaned. "How do I be one?"

Silverstream shrugged. "You are one! Now it's your job to be yourself." She threw up her arms.

"Easy to say." Aaron clacked their new beak. "I'm not a little baby, who gets to figure that out without anyone judging them." They paused. "Actually, how old am I? This body, I mean. I'm not a baby, pretty sure. Adult? Old? I don't feel old. Teenager?"

"A hippogriff never reveals their age! At least, Auntie says that sometimes." She paused, putting a finger on her chin. "I think it means not to tell others how old they are."

"Good advice." Aaron hiked a thumb at themself. "But I'm asking you to say how old I look, not how old you are."

Silverstream grumbled under her breath. "Not fair..." She looked Aaron up and down. "Um, young? Younger than Auntie, I bet."

"Okay, so not too old." Aaron considered Silverstream. "Am I as young as you?"

Silverstream shrugged. "How would I know?" She took Aaron by the hand. "Come on! Let's go explore Mount Aris! Well, there isn't a lot of it left. The palace here has the most shiny things." She led Aaron outside, where other hippogriffs flew, danced, talked, and otherwise lived their lives. "Ta da!" She spread her arms and spun around.

Aaron ducked under a wing, backing up with a soft snort. "Wait a second." Aaron examined all the hippogriffs soaring around, taking note of which ones seemed older or younger. There were plenty who had more signs of age, and others with less. "I am—I think, an adult, a young adult." The term came easily enough, along with an assurance she knew what it meant, even if the specifics slipped her mind. "You can't be any older than I am, Silverstream."

Silverstream stopped spinning, tilting her head. "And why is that?"

"Because there are plenty of adults, but only a few teenagers, and none as young as us. You fit right in, so you've gotta be about our age." Aaron nodded with building confidence. She was a young adult hippogriff. "This is amazing." They had gone from crippled to a new world of wonder. Their tail wagged with building excitement. "I want to see everything, meet everyone." She took one step forward. "I want to know what it feels like to fly!"

Silverstream backed up and threw herself off the side of the mountain without any fear, without hesitation. The wind caught her wings, and she floated high into the air, twisting and twirling with her arms above her head. "Join me!"

"Here I come!" Aaron walked to the edge and pushed off it, arms outstretched.

But they had no practice. They fell with style, their wings flapping awkwardly in an attempt to catch them, but they did come down roughly, landing hard on the ground below.

Silverstream descended next to him, concerned but not worried. "First flights are rough. Come on! Let's get you fixed up and try again. Up we go!"

Aaron took her hand, laughing at the whole thing. "That hurt." But it was a local pain, and one already fading. It was a normal pain. Compared to what she had been living, it was just another sign of their new life. "Let's try again." She didn't even complain that she was getting dirt all over, having taken the fall on her forelimbs and rear, dragging them across the ground.

Silverstream dusted her off. "If you want, we can teach each other. I have never been to the land you are from. The ocean is my home! I want to hear everything!" She dragged Aaron to their feet, walking with her, fingers intertwined.

Aaron squeezed gently at that hand, cheeks warmed at the idle intimacy of that walk. "I'm a girl."

Silverstream blinked, pausing. "You sure are. Me too. Why'd you say that?"

"It's a big deal, for me." Aaron put a hand on her own chest. "I. am a girl. That is what I am. I am a young adult hippogriff girl, and I can't wait to experience all of it."

Silverstream giggled. "There is lots to do! But if you have ideas, feel free to share. The sky is the limit!" She hesitated at that. "Once you learn how to fly properly. Oops!" Silverstream grinned at herself.

"Exactly!" Aaron laughed with her, eyes alight with hope and joy. "I don't know what will happen, but I know I want to experience it all!" She hugged Silverstream, the two meeting in a fond embrace with little avian chirps of happiness shared between them. "This is new. All of it. It's new, but wonderful. Is this how a baby feels? No wonder they smile and cry so much."

"Told ya." Silverstream hugged Aaron. "You were really messed up. It's okay now. You're better, and we'll get you flying soon! It'll be easier, since you've got a second body to practice with."

Aaron backed a step. "Novo mentioned that, what second body?" She patted herself down. "I have one. It's pretty nice, so far."

"All hippogriffs have two." Silverstream grabbed for her dangling crystal. "So long as we have this. Come on, I'll show you." She began down the slope towards the beach far below. "It's real neat. I bet you'll love being a seapony too! Then I can show you some of my favorite places and, well, everything else!"

"Seapony?" Aaron thought on the word. "Like a mermaid?" But that wasn't quite right, and she knew it. "Show me." Aaron danced along after Silverstream to the warm sands.

The water lapped at their talons, Silverstream's feet disappearing into the waves with a sigh of relief. "Yeah, seapony! Isn't that cool? That's what we are, deep down. Whenever we get in water, then, well, you'll see." She ducked beneath the waves and was replaced with an aquamarine seapony. She splashed her powerful fin, sending water spraying. "I forgot how nice this is."

Aaron felt her curiosity going. She dared to advance into the water as the necklace against her chest gave a sudden powerful tingle. "Oh! I feel something happening!" Her feet changed, becoming fins, legs becoming one powerful tail. She dropped deeper into the water, lifting her face. "Hey, you're right! I feel so light."

"Just like you were made for it! Well, the stone makes it work, but it does a good job, yeah? You look like you belong." Silverstream swam in circles around Aaron. "It's pretty nice to have both homes. Though this one is colder than the sunlit one." She dove into the waves, vanishing a moment before she popped up, giggling.

Aaron swam up to her, trying their powerful new tail. "I feel so slick." Their body was slick and streamlined, made to navigate the waves. "I love it. I love every bit of it."

"Good." Slilverstream swam a little closer. "So, what's your name? Feel like sharing now?"

Author's Note:

We begin a new tale. Come, walk with me. Swim, if you prefer. I got inspired and this chapter went on and on.

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