Twilight Sparkle pulled aside her window blinds to reveal an elephant grey sky. The clouds hung low over the horizon heavy with rain. The air grew thicker and more humid as the minutes passed. She was about to turn away when a flash of white caught her attention. Twilight found, through closer inspection, that nopony other than Flater trotted down the street. "Huh. He rarely heads into town..." Twilight mused to herself, stepping away from her window. "Whatever is he doing?" Twilight Sparkle headed for the door scientific mind roused. "Spike! Watch the library for me! Pinkie might return a book."
"Mm, whatevs." The purple dragon muttered from the kitchen. Dark dreary days put him to sleep. In fact, with her gone, he could nap to his heart's content.
Twilight paused, hoof on the doorknob. Was this wrong, stalking-no, following, him so? It technically was a study. Besides, what if he got lost. She pushed her way into the electric morning air. Something bumped her hoof. Twilight quickly discovered that it was her dictionary, still in mint condition. She tucked the book under her wing; There was no time to put it back in fear of losing the fresh trail. The alicorn cantered in the general direction that Flater went.
Several streets flew by before she caught him exiting Sugarcube Corner. He had his unicorn disguise on and toted a large sack of sugar. Twilight Sparkle slid to a stop behind a nearby building pressing hard against the warm brick. It would be very awkward if he caught her following him. Much to her surprise, the blind Changeling hybrid turned down a different route instead of the main road. Of course. His mind is hive-oriented. These twisty streets must be like home to him. She waited a moment or two, then slowly meandered after him.
Sometimes, he would go through an alley. Other times it was a tight squeeze through a building gap. After cutting across several lawns, Twilight began to wonder if this was even legal. But nopony came out to yell about it so it was fine in the end. Every so often he'd take a nibble of grass. Twilight guessed that the action helped him orient himself. Did the grasses actually taste different? She made a mental note to test that one of these days.
Twilight was so caught up in this new hypothesis that she just barely saw Flater's tail vanish inside a particularly tight building gap. She wedged herself through, sides rubbing the walls that enclosed her. It was very much dark, the sky threatening to combust any minute.
Hoofbeats clicked from somewhere behind her. The owner of the hooves were humming to themself, and it went a lot like, "Hmm hmm hmm, why are you hunting me? Hmm hmm hmm, Twilight you need a hobby...hmm hmm hmm, you might be stuck."
"Flater?" Twilight Sparkle yelped in alarm cover totally blown. How did he figure it out? She wiggled realizing that he was also correct. She was solidly stuck.
"I'm not deaf you goof." Flater snorted, going around the building to face her. "I could hear your bumbling hoofsteps from a mile away."
"Wait can you actually do that?" Twilight replied, curious. That'd be a cool ability to have.
"If I could I wouldn't tell anyway." He held out a hoof. "Pass me whatever you're carrying so you can get out."
Twilight Sparkle handed over her dictionary, folding her wings even closer to her body. Now she just barely scraped through.
"Oh hey! I returned this earlier." Flater patted the cover.
"I wanted to...ask what your favorite word in it is! Yea, that's why I was trying to find you." Twilight Sparkle stamped a hind leg uneasily. He probably hated her guts for this.
"I can't read it by myself, remember?" Flater crinkled his nose quizzically at her. His ears suddenly pricked and his head snapped skyward. He hurriedly passed the book back to her.
Twilight returned it to her wing, glancing upward to see what he was listening for.
As to answer her question, a fat raindrop plopped squarely into her right eye. Twilight Sparkle whinnied at the sudden agitation, more shocked than hurt. The sky split open bleeding out in a violent downpour. "I can't let the sugar get too wet. Plastic bags only defend so much....Follow me for home isn't too far."
Twilight stumbled toward his voice, water streaming down her eyelashes, down her mane, down her entire being blinding her temporarily. Puddles formed instantaneously from the relentless drops. She splashed through several, almost tripped over a curb, and eventually reached Flater's side. He blocked some of the rain, yet she still couldn't see through the slanting force of nature.
"Put your wing around me so I can guide you the rest of the way!" Flater shouted over the wind.
Twilight needed no further coaxing. Her feathered appendage grabbed on to him like a drowning swimmer would a floatie. She smiled apologetically at him by reflex. "Sorry, wet feathers aren't the best thing to have wrapped around anypony."
"It's fine, we're almost there." Flater grimaced, suppressing a shudder. She could say that again.
The alicorn guiltily enjoyed being pressed against him. He was incredibly warm and didn't smell of wet fur. Disguises had developed many useful attributes throughout the years. She scooted even closer.
Her bliss shattered as a door materialized through the hazy rain. Flater nosed it open and dragged her inside. "There we go, finally safe. May I breathe now?" Flater wheezed through her tight grip.
"Oh! Sorry." Twilight forced herself to push away from him, shaking the water droplets from her coat and wings. Thank goodness only a few pages got wet. She thought to herself as she put the dictionary on a nearby table.
The flat's scent was different today. More...woodsy and almost smoky. "Don't forget to bring your book with you this time!" Flater called from across the room as he navigated a log onto a little fire. It crackled merrily, the oranges reflecting across his eyes. "Is my sugar ruined?"
Twilight Sparkle pushed aside the thin plastic to check. "It seems to be alright."
"Thank goodness all that work wasn't for nothing." Flater sighed, sinking into a chair by the brick fireplace.
Twilight sat on the floor across from him, not wanting her wet body to ruin his furniture. She flared her wings slightly allowing the heat to dry her off. The peaceful atmosphere, combined with the steady warmth and cheery crackling of the fire, shut the alicorn's senses down and she began to doze despite herself.
A spritz of mist to her face jolted Twilight back into reality. "What the-"
"Hiya sleeping beauty!" Pinkie Pie giggled, shaking out her loofah mane. "Sorry about that, my hair is like a sponge."
"Oh hello Pinkie." Twilight blearily nodded, scanning the room for other arrivals. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and, unexpectedly, Rarity. They were also ridding themselves of excess water.
Flater bustled about passing out towels and mopping up any puddles left behind.
"I brought the marshmallows Flater! I would've brought sticks as well, but they're all wet." Pinkie piped up, motioning to another bag by the sugar.
"Many thanks Pinkie. We can use the sticks I was going to put in the fire as kindling." Flater tossed a towel in the party pony's direction.
Applejack rounded up the sticks while Rarity fussed over her ruined mane. Eventually they settled down after Twilight dragged over a massive fuzzy blanket. Four mares and a hybrid snuggled together in a happy warm pony burrito, contentedly roasting plus-sized marshmallows. Flater wasn't sure how big they would actually puff, but after hearing Pinkie squeal that hers was larger than her head, he didn't really want to know.
"Rarity, pass the powdered sugar please." Pinkie Pie already had hers roasted and stacked on a graham cracker.
"Pardon, sugar?" Rarity deadpanned.
"Uh huh! Granulated sugar goes on second." Pinkie beamed. Rarity passed over the shaker without further questioning. Applejack gagged putting her s'more down.
"What? It's not sweet enough without it!" The pink mare blinked innocently at them, mouth full.
"Pinks, that's disgusting." Rainbow Dash stuck her tongue out. "And Flater, yours is on fire."
"Good," Flater took an appreciative sniff at the charred gooey remains, "I like crunchy foods."
"Double yuck!" Rainbow shook her head.
"I'll only have this one. A lady must watch her figure." Rarity huffed.
Twilight Sparkle munched on her s'more, enjoying the delightful combos of milk chocolate, marshmallow, and slightly stale graham crackers. That and she pretended not to notice her pelt brushing Flater's.
Applejack bumped Twilight's wing with a shoulder. "Ya okay sugarcube? The amount of drool you're losin' can't be healthy. Stop starin' at him or ya will be dehydrated soon." She hissed into the alicorn's ear. Twilight blushed slightly, embarrassed that Applejack noticed, choosing to gaze intently at her food.
Flater, ignoring or not noticing them, licked off his forehooves. He had felt too lazy to remove his disguise so far, so he decided to leave it up for the day. "That hit the spot. S'mores are the perfect solution for trashy weather."
"The only thing missing is a good story." Rainbow Dash yawned, growing dopey from the heat emitting off of the fire.
"Very well," Flater took the discarded half of Rarity's unwanted s'more, "Where did I leave off?"
"You went into a coma!" Rainbow perked up.
Cold metal pressed against every orifice of his left side as he came to. A harsh light stabbed through his pupils as Flater attempted to blink fully conscience. The Changeling hybrid found himself strapped to a steel hospital cart underneath a strong strobe light. He swallowed, throat chalky. Was there any water around? He couldn't tell. All around was just light light light. His head swam.
"Study subject number 18629 is now on display. Which experiment do you wish to test first?" A whiny lab-coated stallion groveled as his boss strode through the silver swinging doors into his lab.
Flater could only recognize them by voice and hoof-stride. He shifted slightly under their invisible scrutinizing glances.
"What sort of testing shall he be subject to?" Whiny Voice inquired beseechingly.
"The Corporation has unanimously voted to use the filthy creature in 'Dumb Question Testing'. Although I'd prefer to test cosmetics." The boss with the big coat responded in a deep rumble.
"Oh me too me too. All of the rashes!" Whiny Voice trilled in high-pitched laughter.
"Shut up you imbecile and give me a hoof with this cart."
Flater flinched as the table swung wide, wheels shrieking in complaint. He felt a wash of relief that makeup wasn't for him at least. But dumb questions?
As if sensing the hybrid's curiosity, and having a love for killing it, Whiny Voice leaned his sunken skinny face over. "The first will be an age old query: Does a dark room change eye color after an elongated time?" He cackled in glee. "Now we can finally know!"
"Silence!" Bellowed Big Coat. "Quit yapping with 18629, you'll grow attached to it."
"I'm not yapping," Whiny grumbled, "It's muzzled too tightly to respond."
Flater just closed his eyes. Hopefully this would be over soon and he'd go back to Happy Hooves. Or even better Brooke.
"Here we go." Rough hooves undid his bindings. The strap around Flater's muzzle loosened then slipped off. He flexed his jaws thankfully. The stark light was gone; Flater turned to locate his captors. Before he could catch a glimpse of Big Coat, he was firmly grabbed from behind by the shoulders and shoved forward.
An open void yawned open in front of Flater, hungry for another pathetic soul to feed it. There was nothing he could do. He allowed the two scientists toss him down, down, down into the thirsty darkness.
In reality, it was just a really dark room. Flater scrambled to his hooves, knee deep in water, as they sealed his fate with a slam that rattled his bones. He tested the liquid with a half-hearted splash. It didn't smell... His dehydration won out over caution. He desperately plunged his head under, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of the lukewarm stuff. Sides comfortably bloated and thirst quenched, Flater lifted his dripping muzzle. This place was suffocatingly black. A shred of fear broke off and clawed at his heart. He took off, careening madly off every wall until he forgot which way was up or down. Panting slightly, the hybrid began to tremble. He really was stuck here, an ugly toy for twisted puppeteers to play with. To melt and reshape as desired.
Flater sank to his haunches, water lapping at his sides. To add to his dismay it was too deep for laying down in. He rose, plodded to the nearest wall, and leaned against it. A small reminder that darkness couldn't go on forever. It was trapped just like him.
Some time passed. Flater grew drowsy, head lolling slowly earthward. The water's surface pricked his lips and up his head shot, only to sink once more. He shivered wishing for a dry spot to nap.
Nearby, a dry rasping sound caught his attention. It was very much like scales sliding across a concrete wall. His breath hitched as the sound emitted again, closer this time. Little waves lapped at Flater's shins. Something else was in the water. He found himself paralyzed with fear, eyes wide to locate the thing in the impenetrable darkness, muscles locked stiff.
It brushed against his hindlegs, textured like an old shoe. A scream shattered the silence; It took Flater a second to process that it came from him as he skipped into the air. He landed a few feet away, legs still churning.
Flater did not stop galloping until he was sure The Thing was gone. As his muscles spazzed from adrenaline aftershock, his young mind raced. Was it really gone? Did it just swim around until next time? Flater did not feel tired for a long time after The Thing came into play.
"The Thing? Sounds spooky." Pinkie Pie stuffed several marshmallows into her face.
"Was it actually a giant snake or something? That'd be epic." Rainbow Dash gushed.
Flater pursed his lips. "Not exactly." He adjusted a distracted Twilight's marshmallow stick before continuing.
Several days, weeks, or months could've gone by. There was no time in the pit. Flater came to learn the patterns of the place. Every so often the pit would drain out and food would be shot through a vent. It wasn't as often as he would like, but it was enough. He had also mastered the art of sleeping while standing. Flater came to notice that The Thing only came around when he was sleepy, sometimes failing to come at all. It still spooked him horribly. He was always on guard, always ready to run. Flater often wondered what condition his hooves were in.
After what felt like an eternity later, a wire noose snatched Flater's snoozing neck and hauled him back to the real world. Fully awakened, he attempted to help whomever was saving him by trotting slightly. His holey knees bumped against a step. He climbed up and out, so relieved to be on dry ground that he could've cried. Too soon multiple hooves lifted him, placing the hybrid on the familiar chill of a cart. The familiar bindings restricted his every move. Yet, he loved it. Relished it mostly because he longed to be touched, to be wanted even slightly. It made his heart sing. Flater hardly noticed the conversation going on around him until something whiny voice said stopped his lungs.
"Hey, how come his eyes aren't reacting to the strobe light?"
"Shut. I'm taking very detailed notes," Big Coat rumbled. "Three months...no perceivable iris discoloration...does it even have an iris? Too insect-like...no perceivable eye discoloration then. There. Now what are you screeching about?"
"There's something wrong with it!" Whiny Voice repeated.
"No there's not you fool." Big Coat growled.
Flater felt a rush of air then a sharp sting on his side. He gave a strangled yelp.
"Huh. He should've seen that blow coming and flinched. There is something amiss here..."
Flater tuned out their bickering, gut tightening as the truth dawned over him. He should be bombarded with relentless light, but it was still as dark as the pit for him. His eyes were open he was sure of it. His spirit crumpled up on itself and Flater acknowledged his powerlessness through a low sigh of defeat. There was no chance of escape now; He must now rely on the scientists who hated him so. I hope your funding is worth it.
"Anyways, that was the second worst experiment they've ever tried on me." Flater shrugged. He found himself being squished by sympathetic bodies. "It's fine, just some Retinopathy caused by stress. My fault for not dealing with it better."
"Bull hooey! Ya were a 'lil youngin' an' shouldn't have had that happen in the first place." Applejack hollered.
"Did you ever find out what The Thing was?" Rainbow Dash demanded, insanely curious.
"Yup. It actually was an old shoe attached to a robotic arm used to stir up the water." Flater chuckled bitterly. "I figured it out after Big Coat hit me over the nose with it to test my vision."
Pinkie Pie leaned over to wave a s'more in front of his nose. "At least your other senses are still top-notch!" She giggled as he precisely snapped up the treat from her hoof.
Rarity rearranged her end of the blanket to better cover her shoulders. "I wonder what brand of shoe it was..."
Twilight Sparkle laughed at her friend's pettiness. "I doubt that the shoe brand was on the top of his list to find out about."
Flater crunched in pure bliss. Being surrounded by friendly chatter and actual friends filled up his aching heart and left it glowing. This was one thing that the scientists universally didn't understand: Companionship.