Chapter 1: Change in Direction

A grizzled, shaggy Sasquatch sat hunched over his workbench. It was a rare quiet afternoon in Tiny’s clinic deep in the Dark Forest. He and his assistant had taken advantage of the free time to do some cleaning and organization, and various other putzy activities. They were enjoying a companionable silence.

Tiny was ostensibly crushing some berries with his mortar and pestle, but his thoughts were far away. Across the cavern, a pink unicorn with flaming red hair was engaged in combing a hodag, a great green spiked beast, who was laid out comfortably at her side with his head resting in her lap. She sat human-style, the way ponies of this continent did, bent up at the waist with back legs folded under her body.

Tiny’s equine apprentice had come a long way from the flaky, chaotic individual he had been tasked with training three years ago. Her high energy level–which, left unchecked, sent her flitting from one thing to another–had been focused, and her natural quality of inquisitiveness had flourished. 

When Tiny had begun her training in magic healing, he had not held out much hope that she would amount to anything useful, but she had surprised him. There was only so much, however, that she could learn under his tutelage. He himself relied on talismans, whereas she had magic flowing in her very veins. Now it was time for the next stage of her training, but he found himself reluctant to cut her loose.

Finally he lifted his head and addressed her. “Tabby…” he started to say, fishing in his mind for the words. 

“Yes?” The unicorn looked up expectantly. 

“I need you to, uh…” The Bigfoot scratched his head.  “…before you leave today… get a count on how many magic injections are left.”

“I did that already. There’s a note on your desk.” Tabby paused to eye a particularly plump insect plucked from the hodag. “Ooh, that’s a big one.” The beast rumbled appreciatively.

“Oh. Of course,” Tiny said. An awkward pause followed as he continued to look at her.

“Is there anything else?” Tabby finally prompted.

Tiny cleared his throat. “There is… something,” he hedged.

“Is it the complaint from the jellicle,” Tabby said indignantly, her pitch rising, “because that whole incident was completely overblown and–”

“No, it’s not that, although you do need to write that apology letter to the chief–” Tiny sighed. It was no use getting side-tracked. “But that’s not the point. Tabby, the time has come for you to consider your future.”

“You know I don’t like planning ahead,” Tabby said.

“You may be flippant if you like, but you know as well as I do that my resources are limited. There is only so much you can learn as my student… particularly considering my unlicensed state.” Tiny paused. “You shouldn’t be hiding in the shadows and operating short of the law.”

“I don’t care about that,” Tabby scoffed. “Those sanctions are garbage, and who’s going to turn us in? We provide necessary services to the forest-dwellers. I like what I’m doing.”

Tiny stroked his graying beard thoughtfully. “You were made for great things, things that you don’t understand right now,” he said slowly.

“Do you have to be so mysterious about everything?” Tabby snapped, shifting out from under the hodag and rising to all-fours. She approached Tiny’s workbench. “What has got you on this kick?” 

“You can’t hide yourself away forever,” Tiny continued. “There is a limit to what I can show you. Some things must be taught by your own kind.”

“Ponies!” Tabby said scornfully, rising on her back legs and planting her forehooves resolutely on the bench in front of her mentor. “That’s what this is about, socializing me? Look, I may not be good at small talk, but I am not a complete savage and can function in society. I just don’t like to. And anyway,” she said sternly, gesturing at the hodag, “Othello doesn’t like town life.”

“Othello will cope,” Tiny said dryly, observing that the beast was contently crunching on a small creature he had just captured. “Your neighbors are not so unfeeling as you believe, child.”

“Well, you’ve never told me that my doll collection is silly, or that my garden has too many teacup towers, or that I need a boyfriend, or–” Tabby was just picking up speed when Tiny cut her off.

“And maybe that is the very reason you need this change,” he pointed out. “Your neighbors require medical services as much as anyone. The time is coming when… well…”

“There is no grand destiny waiting for me!” Tabby huffed. “You have some absurd notions. And anyway, who in the medical field would hire me? I haven’t been to med school, and no one’s going to take the reference of a Sasquatch. You know how they are,” she spat.

Tiny paused. “The new vet clinic in Misty Hollow is looking for an assistant,” he said at long last.

“Oh, great! And you think they have low standards and would hire me?” Tabby glared at him.

Tiny held his hands out, palms up, in a gesture of helplessness. “It’s just a… suggestion.”

“I really don’t see that happening.” Tabby’s brow creased with skepticism. “They hired Strawberry as receptionist, and I don’t think I’m as good at… veterinarying as she is at… receptioning. I’m sure there are plenty of qualified vet techs around. Why should they consider me?”

“I think you should try,” Tiny said firmly.

Tabby sighed. “Well, I suppose Straw might at least get me in the door for an interview. That’s what best friends are for, isn’t it?”

“Just remember… whatever happens, your destiny is your own,” Tiny said, staring her in the eye. “Your decisions will always be of your own making.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever.” Tabby rolled her eyes. “Well, are we done here? I guess I’d better go home and get to work on my resume.” She grabbed a satchel off a hook on the wall and sauntered toward the cave entrance. “Come on, Othello.” The hodag bounded after her.

“Don’t discount your abilities. The right ponies will recognize you for who you are,” Tiny said quietly as she reached the cave entrance.

“Well, regardless, I’ll be back for my shift tomorrow,” Tabby retorted. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily.” Then she was gone.

Tiny sat in quiet contemplation. There were forces at work here far beyond Tabby’s understanding, and Tiny regretted the role he had to play in directing her fate. It was his own poor decisions from many years ago that had put him in this position. The Bigfoot sighed, and prayed that his pupil would stand strong in the coming trials.

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