Strength Grown from Kindness

Fourth main installment in the Tutelary Spirit universe. Recommended reading order: Loyalty, Honesty, Generosity, Kindness, Laughter, and Friendship.
Many ages after the original adventures of the Elements of Harmony, a young soldier tells his story of when he met the Element of Kindness. And this story, like many of the stories about the Elements of Harmony, entails Kindness herself imparting a lesson of friendship to the one who needs it most.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/237473/strength-grown-from-kindness

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2. Following the White Rabbit

In the woodland hills of thick bark and sturdy trees, where the streams flowed gently and quietly through the spacious forestry that was dense by the ceiling of colorful leaves that glimmered huefully in the late evening shine, there sat humbly a small cottage by a lonesome road. Built from the same bark of the surrounding forestry, the cottage was an epitome of humble housing far away from the sprawling urbanity of cities and townships; its wood-crafted furniture and homely front porch giving off a warm invite to guests better than any city dwelling ever could.

Yet for the two equestrian soldiers standing firm and iron-faced in their golden-enchanted armor, 'warm and inviting' were the last things on their minds as they spoke to the trembling mare lying frozen on her patio's swingbench; her auburn mane shadowing the eyes of her downcast expression as she listened to their words. Next to her, the equestrian flag that depicted Their Majesties encircling Their Sun and Moon was neatly enfolded on the bench, where upon a sealed envelope and a small medal that glimmered in the evening light lied on top of it.

With a nod of their heads and final words on their lips, the two soldiers said their goodbyes and made their way off the porch, soon enough disappearing beyond the curving stretches of the winding road as they left the still mare to stir alone on her dusk-covered bench.

And as the last vestiges of the twilight sun dipped behind the rolling hills of woodlands, as the final rays of the late sun's light were cast off of the autumn leaves that rustled gently in the wind, did the mare's first tears begin to fall.

BLAM!

The sudden noise startled the mare, and her teary, violet eyes widened fearfully as she recognized the sound of her home's backdoor being harshly slammed open. Quickly swinging off of her bench to lean over the side of her porch's wooden railing and gaze towards the back of her home, she was just in time to see an earth pony, too old to be called a colt but also too young to be called a stallion, gallop into the woods before disappearing completely behind the forest trees, the screen door behind him left swinging open.

"Steel!" the mare cried out to her son, pleading, "Steel, come back here!"

But the youth did not heed the call of his mother, too wrought with tears and furious emotion was he to slow his escape into the woods at his mother's behest. Instead he just continued to run blindly forth into the dark forest, the beginnings of the nightly sky overhead doing little to light the way for him as he fled the warmth and comforts of his home.

"No... He can't be... He can't..." were the desperate, defiant thoughts of the young pony, his tears wetting the forest floor as he galloped over roots and fallen bark. Tucked squarely in that awkward stage of growth where he was marked with a laurel wreath on his quarters but had yet to accomplish anything substantial by it, the young pony was of average height for his age, if a bit on the lanky side, with a clear coat of black color and a white mane that danced wildly as he galloped through the woods.

Deeper and deeper into the woods did the teenage pony run, hoping against hope that he'd find a better truth than the one he had just overheard back home. With the day's twilight over and the twinkling of the night just beginning, the forest had darkened into an abyssal maze that could staunch the heart of any brave explorer. But even with the trees inked black by their own shadows, the teenage pony galloped forth into the woods' gullet irregardless of its swallowing darkness, more afraid of the truth behind him than the unseen mysteries slithering about in the shadows around him.

Despite the suffocating blindness that the forest encroached on all who entered its folds during the Moon's reign, the youth knew these woods well enough for the darkness to deter little against his traversing; life-long familiarity in every fleeing step he took guiding him better than any map ever could.

...At least that was until he tripped over a particularly large root that jutted out from the ground like Discord's leg outstretched in front of a galloping pony.

"Gah!" exclaimed the young pony, his trip over the insidious root that he absolutely swore had never been there before spiraling him out of control and into a bushel of bushes. And like all bushel of bushes, these bushel of bushes were a merciless sort of shrubbery that was made obvious by the fact that there particular placement obstructed the view of the sudden, steep decline that the teenage pony suddenly found himself uncontrollably barreling down; his cries of pain as he fell through the evermore bushel of bushes growing atop the decline inciting the plants to dance with sick, humorous delight that only members of the kingdom Plantae could convey.

Eventually the decline leveled out and the youth's escape out of the large growth of bushes saw him speedily rolling across the ground, before slamming hard to a stop against the base of a lonely tree that stood isolated in a small clearing, an agonized grunt escaping out of the young pony's muzzle at his collision.

For but a moment, the forest was still; its silence vastly more condescending to the teenage pony's plight than the merciless bushes could ever convey with their dances.

Lying on his side, the young pony slowly shuffled closer to the base of the tree, where a lone beam of moonlight that pierced through the thick canopy of darkness enveloped him in an oasis of light against the surrounding sea of shadows, allowing visibility to his pain.

His coat was caked with dirt and small scrapes that trickled with blood, his mane was lathered with mud and twigs that pricked painfully at his head, and his face was stained red by the trail of tears that flowed freely down his cheeks. And although the young pony was battered and bruised from his short tumble, it was not the pain of the body that originated his tears, but rather of a greater pain that overshadowed and numbed the aches of his body...

Instead it was the sorrow of his heart that birthed such rivers of woe.

And under that lone tree bathed in moonlight, as the distraught pony bundled himself closer to the trunk for some small measure of comfort, as he let the truth finally catch up to him and allowed the anguish to take a hold of him, as he succumbed himself to a period of mournful tears and bemoans, as the time passed away for what seemed like hours, as the groans of aches and hiccups intermingled with the tears, and finally as the sorrowful cries waned away into the darkness at the end of the pony's dying lament, did woe give way to anger.

He screamed.

He screamed a harsh scream filled with furious frustration that set fire to the aches of grief within his lungs. Standing up with dangerous impulse, the youth bucked hard against the tree behind him for no other reason than its close proximity to the storm of fury he was kicking up, splintering bark and tearing up an ugly scar across its trunk. He then directed his ire towards the nearby bushes that had scraped and bruised his body during his tumble, running over to them and tugging them out of the ground before angrily throwing them across the clearing.

It was, all in all, a perfect example of a child throwing a tantrum.

And like all tantrums, it accomplished nothing but destruction and heartache, with the tantrum thrower in question standing in the middle of his ruin: exhausted, miserable and alone. Around him, the ravaged clearing was still silent and just as uncaring to the pony's plight as it was before he threw a fit.

As the noise of the rushing, beating thumps of his heart quieted from his ears and his anger-fueled adrenaline cooled out of his veins, the brooding teenager looked over the results of his tirade with exhausted and tear-hardened eyes.

The lone tree in the center of the clearing now bore an ugly gash across its bark.

Clumps of grass were scattered across the ground, having been forcibly kicked up by hooves being purposely dragged across the forest floor.

The uprooted bushes surrounding him were now splattered across the ground like the corpses of a battlefield.

And even a nearby sapling, barely tall enough to reach the teenager's height, had somehow been snapped in half in the ensuing storm of emotion.

Seeing all of this, the young pony sighed.

Picking up the tattered clumps of grass that he'd torn up, he dropped them back on their original spots that they had been growing from and stamped on them with his hoof, evening them back to what they were. The youth then dragged the thrown bushes and stuck their roots back into the holes that they had been ripped from.

Turning to the tree that he had scarred, the youth scanned the forest floor and quickly found the scattered pieces of bark that he had kicked off, all of which were too splintered to be done anything about. With a face barren of any expression but a slight morose frown, the youth turned away from what he could not fix and set his gaze on the snapped sapling. Lifting up the hanging half and trying to align the young tree back into shape, he frowned when all it did was fall and hang off again like the torn limb of a crooked corpse.

Once again, he sighed.

"Sorry," he mumbled out an apology, too morose to really express his regret on his ruination of this young tree.

As if in response to this apology, he promptly got an acorn to the face.

THWACK!

"OW!" cried out the young pony in surprised pain, rubbing his hoof against his sore muzzle as he glanced down at the acorn that had struck him. Staring at the offending oak nut that laid on the ground all innocent-like in its motionlessness, he could not help but scrunch his eyebrows down in confusion, "What the—"

THWACK!

Another acorn smacked the youth in the side of his head, prompting him to cuss out a word that his mother would have surely disapproved of. But since his mother wasn't currently present, the youth was able to promptly skip the usual tongue-lashing and go straight into the search for the offending acorn-thrower, his violet eyes scanning in the direction of where the last acorn was thrown from.

The shadows that clung to the forest trees like loose webbing were still as dark as ever, shrouding his gaze from reaching further into the deeper folds of the cavernous forest that surrounded him, increasing the difficulty of finding anypony. It was only when a nearby bush started rustling that the young pony cast his gaze from the darkness and set it onto the menacingly dancing shrubbery.

"Wh-Who's there!" stuttered loudly the young pony, before gritting his teeth fiercely and spreading his legs out in an offensive pose, "Show yourself!" he demanded.

The rustling bush seemed to shake wilder in response to his demand, its branches and leaves bouncing everywhere in rising crescendo as if it was in the midst of a buffalo war dance on the eve of battle, ready to strike down any offender that dared approach it, when suddenly—

A small rabbit jumped out of the bush.

The teenager blinked once in complete, underwhelming surprise as he stared down at the little critter.

Said little critter stared back up at the pony with its beady, little eyes, its white coat shining brightly with a luminous glow from the moonlight as it twitched its nose curiously at the pony.

Releasing a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, the teenager relaxed his stance as he sighed, "Just a rabbit," under his breath. Looking down at the white rabbit, he was half-tempted to ask the little critter if it had been the one throwing the acorns at him this whole time, but given his currently sour outlook from the day's events, he wasn't really in the mood to humor it.

Casting his gaze back out into the forestry depths, the teenager ignored the rabbit in front of him as he returned to his search. Scanning the surrounding treeline, the youth had his ears pricked up and at the ready as he listened intently for any noise that would—

THWACK!

An acorn collided against his jaw.

Snapping his neck downward to where the acorn had come from, the teenager finally came face to face with the perpetual acorn-throwing perpetrator.

Standing there, with a single acorn being casually tossed up and down in its furry, little paws without a care in the world, was none other than the white rabbit with the smuggiest of grins plastered all over its face. Gone was the mask of curious animal innocence that it had first worn when meeting the teenager, now what was unveiled was a sadistically gleeful expression on the rabbit's face, its beady, little eyes revealing only the barest hints of a darker and much more superior intelligence held within.  

The youth, upon meeting his acorn-throwing agitator, was of course quite taken aback at this smaller-than-expected reveal and could offer nothing but a short soliloquy of his surprise.

"Wha?" he uttered with eyebrows scrunched together in confusion, his bottom lip hanging open in an intelligent manner quite commonly seen of teenagers.

This stupid expression was promptly THWACKED! off of his face by the acorn that hit him right square between the eyes.

"OW! HEY!" cried out the youth in indignation as he threw a brutally murderous glare at the rabbit; a brutally murderous glare that was usually quite unconvincing when it was so over-frequently used by teenagers such as him, but now, when put under all those bleeding scrapes and from out of those tear-stained eyes, that murderous glare seemed to have quite the hardened edge to it.

Unfortunately, if the teenager was expecting his glare to have some desired effect, this was most assuredly not the case. The white rabbit, when confronted with this glare, just rolled its eyes in unimpressed amusement, before snidely blowing a raspberry at the teenager. It then swiftly turned about and leapt away into the brush; clear, smug accomplishment on its back.

And that should've been that.

That should've been the end of that little debacle with the rabbit. All the youth now had to do was just let the little critter run off into the forest, let it have its childish victory of successfully assaulting him with acorns without suffering any consequences and just let it disappear from his life; let it be the end of that. It would be the smart thing to do, the adult thing to do.

But the teenager wasn't an adult yet, he was young and emotional, and his sufferings of the day had whittled away his patience and had shortened his fuse to the keg of furious anguish he had barreled within him. Already the deep, thumping beats of his heart were once again hammering away at his ears, deafening his thoughts as he leapt into the brush and chased after the conniving rabbit.

"COME BACK HERE, YOU LITTLE RAT!" shouted the youth as he jumped over the bushes, his violet eyes staying solely focused on the rabbit moving through the foliage ahead of him, whose bright fur beaconed its fleeing form in the dark forest like that of a burning flare in a sea of shadows. Bu despite its bright coat though, the rabbit was clearly much faster than the young pony could ever hope to achieve and would have easily disappeared out of sight on speed alone if not for the fact that it kept stopping just short of this goal to turn back and hither the riled up youth even more with visibly goading acts.  

With the white rabbit always in sight to goad him on, but always out of reach for him to do anything about it, the coerced young pony was self-forced to twist and turn through every obstacle the winding forest had as he stayed on the luminous rabbit's puffy tail.

Around the forest trees the rabbit did run, and so did too the pony.

Across gentle streams and shallow rivers did the rabbit traverse, and so did too the pony.

Over steep hills and rocky steps did the rabbit hop over, and so did too the pony.

Past cavernous dens of sleeping beasts and between the hunting grounds of predators did the rabbit avoid, and so did too the pony.

Through a hollow log did the rabbit enter through one end and come out of another, and so did too the pony.

And down the rabbit-holes did the rabbit not enter, and so neither did the pony. A curious bit of info for the young pony to contemplate if he had not been so hot-tempered to take notice of it. After all, if the rabbit was so obviously not fleeing for escape, then where was it running to, and more importantly, why was it goading the teenage pony to follow?

But the youth did not contemplate this, nor did he even fully realize it, instead he only focused his aim and fury on the rabbit. The forest whizzed by him as he continued to take chase, the shadowy trees around him blurring like blots of ink on paper: becoming more and more unrecognizable as he furthered himself deeper into the forestry depths, into parts unknown to him.

"WILL YOU STOP RUNNING SO I CAN BUCK YOUR FACE IN ALREADY!" shouted the teenager, his voice hoarse from exhaustion.

And then the rabbit did.

The young pony's eyes widened in surprise before he slammed his hooves down into the ground, grinding them against the dirt as he skidded to a stop right in front of the waiting rabbit.

The rabbit was looking up at him with a hard stare, its expression sharply pointed downward with what could only be described as cool anger mixed with disappointment. Holding this glare with the young pony, the rabbit suddenly snapped its paws outward, away from its torso,  in a beckoning stance that practically dared the pony to follow up on his word and buck its face in.

"Well, go ahead. Do it," were the unspoken words perforating the space between them.

Sitting there with his dark-coated rump in the skidded dirt, the youth made no motion against the rabbit. Too caught off guard by the rabbit's sudden confrontation, the young pony's lips were parted, revealing a tongue that was too swollen with confusion and trepidation to formulate any sort of response.

"Uhmm..." he uttered out, his tone surprising him by the shaking cracks of nervousness that were carried along with it.

The two continued to stare at each other; the reverberating thumps of the youth's beating heart steadily lessening within his ears as he sat there.

Slowly, a forehoof was raised, trembling and uncertain. Violet eyes glanced toward it with a hollow gaze, before returning back to the little critter before him.

The rabbit's beady glare did not waver.

A moment later and that forehoof dropped back to the ground like the dead weight of a brick.

The youth sighed a deep, truly brooding sigh as his head lowered closer to the forest floor, his white mane casting over his face like a loose cowl; disappointment and other such internal lamentations sorrowing within him. He didn't know whether to be disappointed with himself that he resorted to violence so quickly, or be disappointed that he couldn't muster himself to throw a punch; he just knew to be disappointed with himself.

Suddenly, upon his muzzle, the rabbit's paw patted him comfortingly, breaking him out of his depressing reverie and surprising him greatly. But it wasn't the fact that the rabbit was daring enough to physically touch him that surprised him, nor the fact that it was actually willing to express any comfort at all for his sake that caught him off guard.

What surprised him was that the rabbit was patting his muzzle from atop his head, having somehow jumped up there without his notice.

Hopping off of the youth's head, the rabbit stood in front of the pony, before crossing its paws and giving him a resolute nod, as if expressing both satisfaction and permission for the young pony.

The youth blinked once, confused, "Uhh... thanks?"

The rabbit showed off a smirk, it was a smirk that was accompanied with that same gleeful expression that the young pony had seen on the rabbit back in the clearing; smugness and dark intelligence in all.

And that was when the rabbit ceased to be a rabbit.

Like a bright glare that's on the glass in front of every painting, the luminous sheen of the rabbit's coat inexplicably glowed so much brighter, blurring away the rabbit's features from view until there was nothing left but the little critter's shape. Even then, that too went away quickly as the white, luminous figure of what was once the rabbit soon dissolved and spread out into an amorphous shape of floating light.

Then, like a speck of dust caught up in a sudden gust of wind, the nebulous blot of luminescent light flicked away from the teenager, speeding across the forest floor and out of sight as fast as a shooting star.

"Gah!" yelled out the youth, springing up to his hooves and shambling back away from where the rabbit had once stood. Accordingly shocked to his core, the teenager stood stock frozen with his gaze constantly switching between the spot where the rabbit had previously stood and where the nebulous light of a once rabbit had disappeared deeper into the forest.

Almost disbelieving of what he had just witnessed, the nervous teenager began frantically glancing about the shadows surrounding him with a wary eye, as if in hopes that what he saw was just a trick of the light or something, and that the rabbit was somewhere nearby. Yet as well as the youth could cast his violet eyes, the rabbit's bright coat was nowhere to be seen and the teenager was quick to realize his lonesomeness in that forest.

For a while, the youth stood alone between the shadowy trees, the dark forest around him just as silent as he was still, with the rustling of the tree's branches in the wind contrasting in rhythm to the fearful exertions of his deep, nervous breathing.

Before his beating heart even had the chance to calm its pace from the surprising dilution of rabbit into light, did that very mass of luminescent light suddenly return just as fast as it had left. Back from wherever it had gone, the energetic whiz of light zipped speedily along the ground directly towards the teenager, circling around his hooves a dozen times and nearly scaring the young pony half to death, before finally heading to the base of a nearby tree, where it stopped. As fast as a blink and the mass of luminescent light was a rabbit again, casually leaning a paw on the tree's trunk, that same smug smirk still on its face.

Once again, pony and rabbit stared at each other in heavy silence.

From behind its back, the rabbit pulled out a long carrot and took a bite out of it; chewing loudly and casually, as if it didn't have a care in the world.

And that's when the youth really looked at the rabbit.

The luminous sheen that the young pony thought was just moonlight being reflected off of the rabbit's white coat was most certainly a sheen, but it was most definitely not a reflection. As the rabbit stood in the shade of that tree, still casually eating that carrot in perhaps the most annoyingly loudest manner possible, its coat still shimmered with a luminous glow despite the fact that no ray of light from the lunar orb above was successfully breaching the tree's canopy to even reach the rabbit underneath, let alone have enough exuberance to cause a reflective glow such as what the rabbit was exhibiting.

This rabbit was glowing a luminous glow all on its own!

This rabbit was not made of flesh and blood like most animals of the world, but rather of a thick, physical light that gave it shape!

This was a moon rabbit!

And this frightened the teenager.

"Oh, Celestia's tail!" improperly cussed out the teenager, already not doing himself any favors by swearing the Sun Princess's name during the Sovereignty of the Moon.

The youth knew of the moon rabbits; knew of them from the bedtime stories he had heard straight from his mother's lips and from the cautionary tales that were whispered to him over family campfires; each and every one of them highlighting both the rabbits' guile and trickery.

Descended from the Mare of Kindness's familiar, the fastest and most guile of all his ilk, moon rabbits were well known for their knowledge of the twists and turns of this world, and of the shortcuts to the other worlds that were pocketed in this one. With this knowledge coupled with their enjoyment of playing tricks on ponies lends to the belief that many a moon rabbit will habitually lead and leave a pony into one of these worlds, where all sorts of adventure, hilarity and trauma for the pony tends to abound.

And the teenager had just spent the last half-hour or so chasing such a moon rabbit.

Backing away from the rabbit, the youth's violet eyes switted about the forest's shadows fearfully, his mind running a mile a second as he tried to figure out if he had been tricked into another world or not, and if so, which one.

Had the youth been transported to Discord's Immaterium Void, where the laws of physics were loosened and twisted to suit the chaos deity's random whims, where matter and shape were continuously shifting and appearing in the roaring waves of arcane wind that filled his domain? Doubtful, because if the youth had, he would have undoubtedly already been swept up in the vortex of chaos magic that swirled around the Unchanging Tree that stood in the center of the Void and where under Discord built his home.

Did the moon rabbit trick the youth into falling into the Princess of the Night's Dreamscape? Was this dark forest somepony's nightmare? Was he to be stuck swimming through the ocean bed of stars, traversing through one strange dream after another until the Goddess of the Moon herself finally took notice of his presence and cast him out of her domain and back into his bed? Perhaps, but that nagging feeling in the back of his head that told him that this all was too real to be a dream seemed to say otherwise.

The youth knew in his heart that he had not been led to Tartarus. There were no woods in the bowels of that Hel pit, at least none that were as quiet as the one he was currently standing in. If he had been sent to Tartarus, he would've been immediately greeted by the smell of brimstone and the wailings of the repenting dead, before quickly being accosted by the Underking's wraiths and their orthrus guard dogs, who would have swiftly smelled his living body in that place. Being neither dead nor demonic enough to warrant a stay in the Sticks, the young pony would have been promptly pushed out of the gates in rapid form.

But that's when he remembered Jinx's Mad Woodlands: a world that was entirely composed up of a labyrinthine forest that stretched on endlessly, and where the strange and nonsensical were always found waiting just around the next bend. Founded by the kirin daughter of Discord and the Mare of Laughter, Jinx's realm was the home of madness and loonies. Too paranoid to die and too untrusting of competent, straight-thinking ponies that liked to go to war, Jinx, in her haphazard sovereignty, only allowed the innocently deranged to live in her Woodlands of Madness; whom she oftentimes liked to personally invite herself, which is why it was so common for the staff of insane asylums across all of Equestria to so often not blink an eye whenever a patient 'wanders off.'

That said, despite the "Only creatively unbound permitted" sign that's hanging up on some random tree in her domain somewhere, she does occasionally oh so revel whenever a 'normal' pony sometimes wanders into her kingdom.

Was that it? Had this young pony been tricked into Jinx's kingdom? Had the backwoods of his home been magically melded into the Woodlands of Madness without his notice? Was he to traverse through a forestry maze of loons and ill equines at the entertainment of a mad daughter of Chaos and Laughter? Would he ever be able to return home?

Standing in this dark forest, the youth's legs shook in fear at the prospect that he may have very well been tricked into the Mad Woodlands. Slowly, he started to back away from the moon rabbit before him, fear of his situation driving him to think with instinct rather than logic, and by the ancient equine instinct that still lied within his soul and DNA even after millennium of civilization, he immediately turned and fled.

...Only to slam his head into the tree that was directly behind him, the impact of his face with the hard bark stumbling him onto his back with a pained groan.

Behind him, the moon rabbit looked on the clumsy teen with deadpan eyes, clear disappointment written all over its luminous face as it slapped a paw over its beady eyes in expressed dissatisfaction. Clearly the young pony had assumed it had tricked the overgrown colt into some other world and had panicked because of it. Now the kid was lying there like a half-dead possum, which wasn't going to look good for the moon rabbit when she arrived soon.

Sometimes it wasn't easy being a familiar.

"...Uhhh," moaned out the young pony as he lied on his back, his head throbbing in pain from the fall. Blearily opening his eyes, he found that his vision had already blurred to a distasteful degree, with darkness quickly encroaching on the rest of his sight. Perhaps it was just his collision with the tree, but after a long night of physical and mental trauma, the exhaustion of his body was taking a toll on his mind, and sleep seemed much more welcoming now as his eyelids grew increasingly heavier.

"Oh my goodness! Um, excuse me, but are you alright?"

But just before the darkness in his eyes dragged him into his welcoming slumber did the softest of voices he had ever heard in his entire life exclaim out for his well being, with the warmest pair of blue eyes he had ever seen looking down on him and piercing through the blurriness of his own violets.

It was at that moment that he then slipped into unconsciousness.

"Oh dear..."

 

 

Author's Note:

The moon rabbit is a popular character in Mesoamerican and East Asian folklore, which originates from how the darker markings of our own moon seem to take the shape of a rabbit pounding in a mortar and pestle.

The rabbit is also commonly seen as a trickster animal that likes to outsmart its predators and unfortunate humans, i.e. the Br'er Rabbit and Bugs Bunny (remember the carrot).

The ability to travel to pocket worlds is there because references to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are mandatory to all things literature.

 

 

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