1000 years later
Fluttershy wasn't entirely sure why she had picked that particular day to go foraging for mushrooms. Maybe it was the crisp Autumn air, maybe she felt she had spent too much time indoors lately, but she had taken one look at the wicker basket she kept next to her boots by the front door and grabbed it.
Though it wasn't below freezing yet, she donned a thick scarf and sturdy footwear. The last thing she needed was to catch a chill when so many helpless animals depended on her to look after them. She had no solid reason to venture into the woods that day other than whimsy, and the prospect of something new and interesting for dinner later. Harry the bear, on the other hand, needed no such excuse. It was late October, and at this time of year Harry foraged as much as he could so he could build up his fat reserves before hibernating. Berries, mushrooms, fish and even field mice were fair game. He caught as many as he could at this time of year, but mushrooms were much easier to run down and ended up being the bulk of his diet. The bear snuffled the ground as he walked alongside the pegasus, hoping a tasty truffle would make itself known to his senses. He listened to Fluttershy as she walked beside him, and she barely made a sound with her footfall.
"I wonder if we'll find a giant puffball this time, Harry," she said, smiling as she thought of the mushroom. That would be lovely with olive oil and garlic. "Or maybe some Chanterelles. I could make an omlette."
Harry continued to sniff the ground. He did not partcularly care what type of mushrooms they happened to stumble across as long as they were the edible kind.
Twenty minutes into the walk, Harry had devoured all of the fungi that Fluttershy found.
"Oh dear," she sighed. She supposed she really couldn't begrudge the bear his pre-winter appetite. He needed the nourishment more than she did. Despite the temperature it was a lovely day, so Fluttershy decided to continue her walk even if her basket was empty so far. Further down the path the ground became steeper and Fluttershy began to climb upwards, seeking more stable ground. She preferred climbing to flying, though she had perfectly usable wings. Something about being closer to the ground comforted her, and she wondered --not for the first time--why she hadn't been born an earth pony.
Harry began to lag behind; The fungi was much more abundant on lower ground.
Fluttershy continued to climb. She hadn't been to this part of the woods before but she was pleased that she was trying something new and decided that she would see how far she could go before turning back. If at any point she felt lost she could always fly above the tree tops to work out where she was, and make her way back home from there. Maybe she would even be able to find some mushrooms before Harry did.
The pegasus ended up climbing the gentle slope for almost an hour before the ground eventually became even again and the plant life was much thicker up there. Perhaps something interesting for dinner wasn't a lost cause after all. She began to forage, and after only a few feet she spotted some penny buns growing on a dead log. Perfect. She placed her basket on the ground, removed her scarf (she felt much warmer after the climb) and crouched down to start to gently break the mushrooms off by the base of their stem, and that was when she noticed something. She couldn't hear any birds. That in itself was not unusual. Sometimes there were patches of wood where there weren't many birds flying or nesting, but the silence felt...off, almost as if it was the precurser to something else. She began to wonder if she had gone too far and was nearing the borders of the Everfree. She raised her head and...
It happened so fast she didn't even have time to scream. Instead, she inhaled sharply and a deep gasp filled her lungs and she briefly wondered if she had sucked in too much air, and wasn't getting enough at the same time as it felt like she had been punch in the side by a great weight. She also felt something like a strong puff of wind next to her air, and a snapping sound. Then she hit the ground with the weight on top of her and all the dream-like confusion became stark and terrifying reality: Something had her and wanted to make her its meal.
The realization made her adrenaline soar and she squirmed and kicked furiously, tears of panic already running down her face and blinding her so that she couldn't even see her attacker. All she could percieve was its crushing weight and hot breath and it was snarling and trying to hold her still while she kicked furiously, but she was weak and she knew she was going to die and she screamed.
Harry burst out of the trees at top speed and flung his full weight into Fluttershy's attacker. The creature did not see the bear coming and the bear's weight flung it against a nearby tree trunk. The creature yelped on impact and then slumped to the ground, still.
Harry whirled round to check on Fluttershy. The pegasus tried to stand up, but her legs felt like jelly. She was trembling and her face was streaked with tears and dirt.
"H-Harry..." was all she managed to sob.
The bear chuffed at her softly and nuzzled her cheek. She threw her arms around him and sobbed into his fur. After nearly fifteen minutes of taking great gulps of air and trying to cry the adrenaline out of herself, Fluttershy finally began to feel normal again. Harry was here, and the thing couldn't hurt her now.
The thing. What was the thing?
She peered round the bear's massive shoulder what she saw surprised her.
The creature was large, that was true, but she had expected a huge, hulking muscular beast with rows of sharp teeth, like a dragon or timber wolf. Instead she could see ribs lining a snake-like body covered in tattered feathers. But that was by far the least unusual thing about it. Its limbs were mismatched--all four of them. She could see the paw of a big cat and the talon of a large bird or prey, and on its head a deer antler and what looked like a twisted goat horn. Fluttershy was no stranger to chimerical beasts, but the ones she had encountered were usually made up of two animals at the most. Centaurs, griffons and manticores all had the features of two animals, but they were also symmetrical. If the right hind leg of a griffon was that of a lion, then so was the left one. The long, serpentine beast before her looked more like someone had taken an Eastern dragon and switches its limbs with anything going. Its head, however, wasn't very dragon-like. There was what looked like a very sharp fang protruding from its mouth, but the head was very goat-like. The fur on its head and neck looked mangy, and there were bare patches on the feathery parts of its body. It was a deeply unhealthy looking creature.
Fluttershy assessed the situation. The creature looked like it was starving, and it hadn't put up any kind of a fight with Harry. It was just before winter, and she knew starving animals would take bigger risks if they needed food to survive. That was likely what had happened here; she was food and that would have kept him going for a while longer and she had wandered into his territory. Now that the panic she had felt had subsided, her kindness took over and she felt sorry for the creature. It definitely seemed to need medical attention.
Throughout her life, Fluttershy had borne the unspoken criticism she knew was there-- that other ponies sometimes thought of her as naive, or worse, stupid. She could practically hear them now:
That thing attacked you, why would you want to help it?
One day you'll make a mistake and realize that kindness doesn't solve everything.
No, this was an animal like any other and it had done what it had needed to survive. She crouched downnext to the chimera. Harry grunted in alarm. She looked up at the bear and nodded.
Harry positioned himself over the creature so that the front part of its body was shielded from Fluttershy. Any teeth, claws or sharp antler had to make its way through a 200 kilogram bear before reaching her. She gently placed a hoof on the creature's side, feeling for any broken ribs. She was relieved that everything seemed intact, however she was still reluctant to attempt moving the creature without some sort of safeguard in place. It occured to her that she still wasn't sure how far they were from the Everfree, and she flew upwards to orientate herself.
Above the treetops she saw exactly what she had hoped to see: a column of smoke rising from the trees about a mile or so away.
"Harry!" she called, flying lower so that her voice would carry towards the bear. "I need you to wait here. I'll be back as quickly as I can. I need to get something from Zecora!"
The bear nodded.
She was exhausted. The flight there had seemed shorter from the site where Harry and the creature were based, but after about a quarter of a mile the muscles in her wings were beginning to ache. When she finally reached Zecora's hut her heart was pounding and her skin was flushed from exhaustion. She collapsed on the grassy area outside the hut, her wings flopping on either side of her as she tried to catch her breath. She really needed water too. The thought spurred her on, and she got to her hooves and knocked on the door. There was a pause, then she heard hoofsteps and the door swung open.
She was greeted by the striped, angular face of Zecora.
"Goodness, dear you look a fright! Come on in and we'll set things right!"
Fluttershy didn't argue but she did manage to croak the word "water" from somewhere in her parched throat. "Of course!" said the zebra. She went into a corner of the hut that served as both her kitchen and cauldron room. Magic and food were intertwined for a zebra. The room was where both kitchen activities and spells mingled, and the plants she used often had dual uses as flavourings and enchantments.
Zecora returned from the water pump with a cup of fresh water. She had added peppermint to make it more refreshing. Fluttershy took it gratefully and gulped it down.
"Now," said Zecora. "What has you in such a tizzy, to the point where you are dizzy?"
Fluttershy took a deep breath: "There's a creature in the woods about a mile from here, and it's starving, but I can't get it back without calming it somehow. It's in pain, but it's dangerous. Harry is with it. If we can sedate it I can get it back to my cottage and care for it."
One of the many things Fluttershy liked about Zecora was the witchdoctor never told her that what she was doing was naive or that she should have known better than to take predators in. Like herself, the zebra lived in solitude most of the time with nature as company, and like herself, she knew some ponies whispered behind their backs about Zecora, which only added to her desire to be introverted.
"What kind of creature, may I ask, is this beast for whom you've set this task?"
"I...I'm not sure. I've never seen anything like it before. It's a chimera, that I know, but all the chimeras I've seen are made up of two animals. This one is made up of lots of different ones. At least six."
"Oh?" said Zecora, who was listening, but had turned to pump a second glass of water for the bedraggled pegasus.
"It has a paw. A cat paw. One of the big cats, maybe a lion, and a hoof and a dragon claw on its hind legs. Oh! And it had an antler on its head along with a goat horn! I've never seen anything like that before!"
Zecora caught herself in time before she nearly dropped the cup.
It can't be.
The chaos god had been killed centuries ago. Its legend, along with the Quagga had nearly died out. Though the stories were still handed down from mother to foal in the last remaining Quagga tribes of Zebrica, they were nothing more than morality tales designed to teach foals how to be cunning, or how not to get too ahead of themselves; to be watchful that they never became too full of pride like the Ulaghai did. But she knew the Quagga tribes of old had also once worshipped the god as a physical, magical creature, and they feared it too.
"You say the creature is starving, true? Is it suffering from an injury too?"
"I don't know for certain, but he doesn't look healthy at all. That's why I hope I can get him back to the cottage so I can look him over. But he's in such a state. I'm worried that if he doesn't get some food and medical attention soon he could die!"
Zecora relaxed a little internally. Though the creature of legend had been killed in the tales, she had never heard of it wanting for food. Its cunning and magic always ensured it found a way. Maybe she was projecting the childhood tales she'd heard onto Fluttershy's description of the beast. Jackalope had antlers, didn't they? She had never seen jackalope before she had moved to Equestria, so it stood to reason that there were other antlered animals besides deer that she had not come across. She decided she would visit Fluttershy in a few days, just to be sure. She knew the pegasus was more than capable of handling large animals. She mainly wanted to visit to put her own mind at rest.
The witchdoctor got up from her chair and began crushing some herbs and a strong smelling root using a mortar and pestle. She then poured boiling water over the mixture from the kettle. Next she added some wild lettuce and muttered words Fluttershy couldn't understand under her breath. Finally the zebra carefully poured the mixture into a flash and covered it with a stopper.
"I have just the thing, just the drink. This should do the trick, I think."
"What is it?"
"A sedative, but it also kills the pain. Give t to him and in time his strength will gain."
Fluttershy threw her arms around Zecora. "Thank you" she exclaimed, then she blushed, feeling embarrassed at the display of emotion. "Um, thank you," she said quietly. The zebra laughed. "That's quite alright, my dear. Be sure to visit again, do you hear? Now go, there is no time to waste, and your friend is surely waiting, make haste!"
"I will visit again," promised the pegasus. Zecora smiled and nodded. She packed another flask of peppermint water to help Fluttershy recover when she reached her destination.
The pegasus was extremely grateful for this extra when she finally reached Harry again, and she gulped down the peppermint water as quickly as she could. There was suddenly no time to lose, as a change had come over the creature--it was growling.
Fluttershy understood the different types of growls animals made. There were threatening growls and then there were "please leave me alone, I'm in pain" growls and this creature was using the latter. It sounded like a cross between a wounded dog and a yowling, angry cat. She moved closer and the growling grew louder. She could practically feel the ground rumbling. The creature kept shifting its gaze back and forth between Harry and the pegasus depending on who was moving the most at the time. Fluttershy noticed for the first time that the burning red pupils, like the rest of the creature, were mismatched. She didn't know if this was because they normally looked like this or if it indicated some sort of brain damage. How was she going to get the sedative down his throat when it looked like he was ready to bite at any moment? Would the Stare work on an animal this frightened? Probably not. The Stare was mainly for a commanding tone, not a calming one.
"Harry, I'm going to need you to hold him down while I pour this liquid down his throat," she said. Though the bear did not understand the spoken language Fluttershy uttered, he instinctively knew what his pony friend intended to do, and he placed his huge paw on the creature's face. The chimera flailed in panic and anger and his claws sank into the side of Harry's leg, but the bear's pelt was thick and it barely fazed him. Fluttershy quickly pulled the stopper off the bottle and before her courage could fail her, shoved the bottle neck between the beast's sharp jaws. There was a lot of coughing and spluttering and snarling, but she managed to get some of the medicine into him.
She hated forcing a creature to do anything, and she felt tears sting her eyes. She hadn't asked Zecora how long the sedative would take to work, and she wasn't sure when she could give Harry the all clear, but the creature seemed to be looking groggier and groggier as time passed. The paw that had its claws firmly in the bear's leg began to fall, and eventually it slumped to the ground, claws back in their sheaths. Its eyes were having trouble staying open and its head eventually it slumped to the ground, claws back in their sheaths. The eyes struggled to remain open and the head joined the paw on the ground. Finally the red eyes closed and the creature began to breathe deeply. Fluttershy sighed with relief.
"I have one more favour to ask of you, Harry," said the pegasus. "I need you to carry him back to the cottage for me."
The bear pushed his snout under the chimera's long body. Fluttershy winced as she watched the ribs seem to make themselves even more prominent through the creature's feathery coat. With a gentle roll of his head,Harry managed to shift the unconcious creature onto his back. It hung there like a very sad and moth-eaten throw rug.
The journey back was slow. It was difficult walking down hill with a mostly cylindrical creature resting loosely on a bear's back, and soon Fluttershy was spending the majority of the return journey making sure it wouldn't roll too far one way or the other. At least she didn't have to worry about carrying the weight. Thank goodness she had a bear with her, for more reasons than one.
By the time they reached the cottage it was after sundown. Harry practically poured the creature's long, noodly body onto a large bean bag that Fluttershy had dragged in front of the fireplace, and gave a deep sigh as he seated himself in a corner of the room. Though Fluttershy was extremely tired, she wasted no time. She moved towards the creature and began to press her hooves on various parts of its body, feeling for anything out of the ordinary. She felt many patches of bare, rough skin, and dry scales that had peeled away. She felt the joints of its great paw, and was surprised to feel the tell tale signs of rheumatoid arthritis. She began feeling the bones in its long neck, the base of its skull its...wait. She felt behind its ear again to make sure. She had not been mistaken. There was something under the skin. It felt like it ended in a dull point. She wondered if it was another horn. She wondered how many horns and limbs this creature could grow.
Don't be silly she told herself. It has mismatched features but they all come in pairs.
She knew the only way she was going to find out what that lump was, was by taking the creature to a specialist. That would have to wait. For now she had to check him over, then she was going to have to figure out how to get food into him, then she had to tend to the other animals who were probably wondering why she was home late. Besides the ever demanding Angel Bunny she also currently had a barn owl, four chickens, two ferrets, one monitor lizard and a hamster in her care. They would all need feeding and watering. It was going to be a long night.
Far away, the creature could feel the pony's presence. It could feel her running her hooves over its ribs and neck, and behind its ears. Normally its instinct would have told it to run or bite, but at the moment it felt nothing but sweet relief. It felt like the bean bag was eating it up, in a good way. Normally its joints and muscles ached, especially in the cold, but at the moment it wanted nothing more than to rest and enjoy the sensation of painkillers running through its veins and the warmth of the fire. Even the pony's hooves felt good as they massaged and caressed the aching joints.
The creature could not remember the last time it had felt something good.
Fluttershy did not finish her chores until after midnight, and now she was bleeding. Things had gone well enough at first. She had gone into the cellar where she kept the salted fish she stored for the ferrets and Harry, and made a fish stew. She made two bowls. One of them was ordinary stew, and the other contained sedative. She hoped she would be able to tempt the animal into eating. If at any point it looked like it was getting more alert, she would give it the second bowl. Once he had food in him he needed to rest anyway. She definitely needed rest. In fact, this was demonstrated in a way she was still kicking herself for. Earlier, when she had given him the first bowl, he had happily gulped it down. As she turned her back to get the second bowl, she heard Harry bellow and she felt a swift, sharp sting rake across her shoulder. She swung round and shouted "No!" in the most commanding tone she could muster.
The creature's ears flattened against its head. It had just clawed at her, yet her raised voice made it uncertain. Even more perplexing was the fact that he couldn't smell any fear on her. She stood her ground, and eventually the chimera lay down on the ground, its paw and eagle talon in front of it so that it looked like a Anugyptian sphinx. Fluttershy walked backwards towards the kitchen, and ended up pushing the second bowl of stew towards the creature with a broom. She watched it eat the stew and didn't leave the kitchen until she saw the creature's eyes close and its body flop down on the bean bag once more.
She hurried to the bathroom and checked the wound. Three long gashes were bleeding in the mirror. They were not too deep, but she might need stitches for one of them. She cleaned them with hot water and put some anti-septic on them. Then she hurried into the back garden, fed the chickens, the ferrets, the owl and the hamsters. She fed Angel Bunny last and he was thoroughly ungrateful about it.
Now she was hurrying to the hospital. She really didn't want to go for a multitude of reasons, but she knew that it was better to check to wound. She really didn't want it becoming infected, even if it didn't look terribly serious. While she was taking her seat in the waiting room, she saw the very pony she had been hoping to avoid.
It wasn't that she disliked this particular pony. Far from it. She avoided him for a wholly different reason. She hid behind her mane, hoping he wouldn't recognize her and that she might be seen by a different professional, but he spotted her anyway.
"Fluttershy! What happened?" asked the copper coloured earth pony.
"Um, I'm afraid an animal got a bit out of hoof today."
"I'll say! Let's get you seen to!"
"Um, I don't want to be any trouble. If there are any ponies waiting that are in more need..."
"Are you kidding? It's been dead in here today. Sure, that's a good thing, but it can make the hours drag. Come with me. Let's see what we can do about those scratches."
Sethoscope and Fluttershy had dated about a year ago. Ever since their mutual breakup Fluttershy felt awkward around him. She wished she didn't, but it was palatable. He was everything that could make a mare swoon--strong, kind, handsome, with a good job and a friendly manner. And that should have been enough for Fluttershy, but for some reason it wasn't. After about a month of dating, things had gotten heavier and then she had broken it off. She didn't understand why, but despite what a devoted and decent stallion Seth was, she did not feel wholly attracted to him. She still felt incredibly guilty about it, despite the fact that Applejack had taken her aside and said:
"Ya can't go beatin' yourself up about it, Sugarcube. Sometimes that's just the way these things work. A stallion can be everything society wants him to be, but if your biology isn't feelin' it, aint nothing you can do."
Seth had been very understanding about the situation, and was friendly towards the pegasus whenever he saw her, but Fluttershy couldn't help but feel something was wrong with her. She hadn't been attracted to very many stallions, come to think of it. For a while she wondered if she was into mares, but nothing seemed to point in that direction either. Sometimes she lay awake at night wondering if she was defective.
"Now, let's see," chirped Seth brightly, breaking Fluttershy out of her ruminations. "Nothing some anti septic cream can't fix, but that first scratch will definitely need some stitches".
"Okay," said Fluttershy. She winced a little as Seth began the sutures.
"You sure you're okay?" he asked her as he worked. "What kind of creature was it anyway. Those look like big claw marks."
"Um, a wolf," Fluttershy lied. She hated lying but she really didn't feel like telling Seth the details because then he would offer to help out and she would feel even more awkward and guilty.
"Wow, good thing you've had shots," remarked Seth. Fluttershy relaxed a bit.
Seth bandaged up the pegasus's upper arm and gave her some painkillers. She guessed the mismatched creature wouldn't be the only one recovering tonight.
Perhaps that's a good name for him: Mismatch.
"Well, thank you," she said softly as Seth followed her out into the lobby. "I better get back and see how my animals are doing."
The stallion nodded. "It was good to see you again, Fluttershy," he said.
"Um, and you," she mumbled, hiding behind her mane.
She hurried out the door. Mismatch was sedated for now, but in a few hours he would be up again, and she knew what panicked and startled animals did when they were in an unfamiliar environment: they destroyed things.
"Ulaghai" is Swahili and translates as "guileful one." Quagga is a a now extinct form of zebra.
Those of you who have read Taxonomy know that Scriptum was an absolute horror pretending to be nice. This time with Seth I'm writing a stallion who actually is nice.
I've got job interview coming up next week, so the next chapter probably won't be up for another month.