"Y...you know where she lives? And it's pronounced Sugar?" Flater shot to his hooves, his heart fluttering. "The pony that I've grown up with, the pony who shaped me into who I am today? Here?"
Pinkie Pie, enjoying his reaction, wiggled happily. "Uh huh! She works on the other side of town as a corn syrup processor. And it is pronounced 'sugar' because she's kinda southern so you never picked up on it!"
The pony that stole my heart away. Living here practically next door! Flater's head swam as he fell back into the beanbag chair. "This is a change of events." Especially since he had been pronouncing her name wrong for years.
"Bro, you should totally invite her to the party." Rainbow Dash punched his shoulder. Pinkie Pie giggled in agreement.
Twilight Sparkle frowned slightly. "I don't think that's a good idea. Just appearing out of nowhere and expecting a warm welcome."
Flater's head drooped. "You're probably right. I doubt that she'll even remember who I am."
"Twily!" Pinkie Pie snapped. "How could you dampen his glimmer like that? Jealousy does not help friendship!" The pink pony jabbed an accusing hoof into the alicorn's chest.
Twilight stepped back shocked that Pinkie Pie, of all ponies, had called her out in such a manner. What hurt even more was that it was true. Twilight pinned her ears inching to the door. What she had on Flater was nothing more than a fillyish crush, or so she thought. Now it was to the point of borderline destroying their friendship! And as the princess of friendship that meant that she had failed miserably in her duties. Her exit abruptly ended as a hoof latched onto her tail, yanking her back.
"Nuh uh Twi. You run away from your problems too often! You're staying here to sort out this thing." Pinkie commanded, shoving her friend into the couch nearest to Flater (who looked clearly flummoxed). With a sharp nod, the pink party pony exited the area.
"She's right in a way." Rainbow Dash shot Twilight an apologetic glance.
Twilight Sparkle chewed on her lip as the cyan pegasus also evacuated. A suffocating silence transcended in an awkward cloud between the two remaining ponies. Flater coughed slightly. Twilight parted her jaws to speak, then snapped them shut with an audible click. All of the cards were on the table; Both attempted to wrestle their whirling emotions and thoughts.
"I would like to start off with an apology." Flater broke the quiet first. "It wasn't hard to pick up the vibes you radiated every time you entered in my presence. So if I have done anything in any way to lead you on..."
Twilight broke in. "No! No. Flater, don't apologize to me. It's all my fault and I'M sorry. For every time that I might've made you feel uncomfortable or divided. I should have admitted it sooner and we probably could've worked it out somehow." She let her ears fall in shame.
Flater reached out a foreleg, waved it around, and eventually found Twilight's shoulder. "Hey, don't beat yourself up about it. We can't help who we fall in crush with. If we could, then gryphons wouldn't exist!"
Twilight let out a wry laugh. "You're right. I just...don't want you to get hurt by this mare."
"Well, even if she does deny me, at least I'll have a solid answer and the knowledge that I tried." Flater's foreleg retracted as he sat upright like a stoic statue. Twilight took in his Changeling-ish appearance in all its shiny white glory with a giggle.
"I still fail to see why this mare still matters after years and years later. It's not like she tried to contact you."
Flater didn't deflate at her observation. "The depths of the roots cannot be described in normal dialect. It can, however, be felt through story."
Flater came to on the floor of his cell and in a ball of extreme pain. It leaked slowly back into his senses as he attempted to come to terms with what just happened. He groaned in agony, weakly lifting his head.
"Oi, sit still won't ya? It's hard to apply this when yer wigglin' around."
Flater dropped his head in complete shock. "S...Suga Cane?" He choked out.
"That's mah name, don't wear it out. Gawsh, they shore messed ya up this time." There was a rustling movement down by his open wounds then a welcome wave of cool relief. Flater almost sobbed in gratitude as the gel she rubbed on eased the acid's stinging burn. "Feels good, huh?" Suga Cane inquired, completely amused by her friend's reaction. In reply, Flater rolled over so she could do the other side.
From then on, she tried to visit him every other day. Beneath his fanged exterior she found an intelligent survivor. So Suga Cane helped him learn all about writing and the outside world. Writing was difficult because of his impaired vision, but he had an excellent sense of direction so his pencil marks rarely overlapped. Flater himself enjoyed the lessons to a high degree. They took his mind off of his pain until it healed. The scientists had even deemed him useless now that he was damaged. He was just a full time prisoner with tons of time to spare, which he used to practice his new knowledge.
Suga Cane was often impressed with how quickly he grasped new concepts.
The end of his back had regenerated to normal. His flanks had not; Two scars remained as if needing something to fill the void of an absent cutie mark. It didn't bother him in the slightest anymore. Because now he had a friend.
Period of time later...
Something was horribly wrong. Flater blinked the sleep from his head as he emerged from under his cot. (This small endeavor had gotten more tricky ever since his growth spurt kicked in.) There were more screams than usual he realized as he stretched his long limbs. The air hung hot and heavy all around him. This too was unusual, since his cell was climate controlled. He took a tentative sniff. A bizarre chemical stank pricked his nostrils. He sneezed, now concerned. Faint crackling could be perceived and it seemed to be surrounding his cell. The temperature grew almost unbearable within a few seconds. Flater flattened out on the floor in a sweaty, panting mess. What an odd way to kill your captor.
Another wave of heat slammed into him as his cell door got wrenched open. "Flater, git out of there an' follow meh!" Suga Cane shouted over the loud roar of flames.
Cinders and brimstone. That was the stench. Flater asked no questions as he calmly followed her. She had enough sense to bring along an abandoned piece of rope, so they could each hold an end without losing each other. Suga Cane moved in a brisk trot through unburnt passageways. All around bolted panicked ponies and test subjects. Some were still trapped as their scientists abandoned them. Suga Cane would pause to free the easily reached, but those behind a curtain of fire were unhelpable. Flater bit into the rope every time she hesitated then moved on. He tried hard to block out their pleading cries.
They continued in this fashion for awhile until they passed a certain open-doored lab. There were many voices chorusing for an audience from within, but one held a higher pitch than the rest. Flater's legs locked in place; He refused to budge from the opening, no matter how many times Suga Cane tugged. He had to save him. He couldn't let Whiny Voice die! Flater flash-inspected the doorway. The flames didn't seem to pass his knees based on his sniff test. He dropped the rope and took the leap through.
At his arrival, the voices picked up in volume. He had ears only for a specific one.
With much inspection Whiny Voice was located underneath an overturned cart. The scientist was too petrified in fear to attempt an escape. Flater firmly grasped the nape of his neck and dragged him out. "18629 what're you doing?" Whiny Voice bawled. "Are you here to throw me into the fire? I deserve it."
"Flater! Hurry up and git out!" Suga Cane's warning held an edge of terror.
The fires that raged were not normal in the least. They started in the cosmetic section when a frustrated dragon blew the whole section up with a tiny spray of sparks. Bottles of testing makeup did not mix well with flammability. Normally, the fire would have sputtered out against the merciless marble masonry. Unfortunately a bit of flame had reached the inside of the sound system. Wires for the speakers ran throughout every inch of the facility, and some overlapped with maintenance wires. The whole building was a giant microwave. Mini electrical fires grouped together to weaken the ceiling. Flater did not know this until it was almost too late.
"Flater!" Suga Cane pleaded once more. She watched in scared fascination as the ceiling above him started to bulge outward. Flater flicked his ears skyward just as the tiny cracks flaked apart. He could hear it giving away bit by bit. Whiny Voice might not have heard it, but he sure could see it. He squealed at the same time Suga Cane did. Their vocal complaints snapped Flater back into the moment. The hybrid shot forward, holed legs pumping to the point that the doorway's licking flames didn't get to take a solid taste of them. Behind, the ceiling gave up the ghost in a crumple of blank rock. The aftershock sent Flater sprawling into the hall.
Flater's burst of speed ended as he ran right into Suga Cane. She knew that he'd hit her; It was better than him colliding with a wall and being knocked out cold. He barely had any time to trip over before she had him and Whiny on their hooves, gripping the rope, and heading away from the hungry fires.
Suga Cane led them with less certainty than earlier. Halls had been blocked by rubble. Passageways became super-heated to extreme temperatures. She often backtracked to safer areas, and each time she did so, she became more and more disoriented. All around them hung thick black smoke.
Flater sucked in a breath, immediately wishing that he didn't. It ripped down his throat polluting his lungs. He dropped the rope to cough violently. Suga Cane had completely stopped moving. "Flater," She wheezed hoarsely, "ah'm lost."
"Aw buck, that's it. We're all going to die here! You should've left me under that cart." Whiny Voice's voice cracked, thick with inhaled particles. The scientist stamped his hooves in fear.
Flater pondered their possible actions. "Guys. I think I can lead us out."
"What?" Whiny complained. "You can't do that, you'll walk us right into the flames! It's the blind leading the blind."
Flater ignored the protest, picking up the rope and heading forward.
"It's not like we got much of ah choice anyway." Suga Cane whispered as she grabbed the middle to follow the hybrid.
"Madness. This is all madness." Whiny Voice spat. Soon enough he joined the line by bringing up the rear.
Navigating by sound alone wasn't that difficult as Flater found out. You just had to strain your ears through the surrounding chaos and concentrate. If your head doesn't hurt, you aren't doing it right.
He felt the weight at the end of the rope. His friends were increasingly weakening, pausing often to cough in a chest splitting way. Flater had no idea how much farther he had to go; It seemed that the corridor-ducking, hot-floor-crossing, leave-before-flames-from-above-fell-on-you would never end. His insect-ish eyes were dryer than the desert. The hybrid's hooves shuffled due to heat exhaustion. His lungs were clogged and his head swam. Everything seemed to be lost.
But what was that? Flater lifted his lowered head to be sure. It was. A cool tendril of air danced across his forehead, and very faint sirens rang out in the distance. He perked up body flowing with newfound hope. "The exit! It's near." His voice rasped from a sandpaper throat. Somehow the others heard him. Suga Cane took the lead, scanning the area.
"Tha smoke is thinning... Ah see light!"
"Behind that barricade of flame you mean." Whiny panted. The scientist eyed the obstacle with utter hatred.
Suga Cane grinned at Whiny Voice. "Are ya thinkin' what ah'm thinkin'?"
"Uh no." Whiny squeaked.
"I think I follow you." Flater piped up.
"Good. Two outta three, majority rules. Try ta keep up whitecoat!" Suga Cane reared, grimy face set in fierce determination. Whiny Voice inhaled to deny her actions, but was denied in turn as she galloped full-tilt towards the flames. Flater, hearing her take off, dragged the terrified scientist behind him with aid from the rope. Ahead, Suga Cane successfully shot through completely unscathed. Flater sensed the harsh heat and, pinning his ears, thrusted his neck straight forward. This action hauled both him and Whiny over.
Flater landed hard. Whiny Voice careened past him, bleating in relief or insanity. He must see the exit. Flater sighed to himself, glad that the endeavor was finally almost over. He sped up just as another section of building collapsed nearby.
It would have been a clean escape. Flater could taste the fresh, clear air as he neared the end. From behind he picked up somepony's squawking. It took him a second to recognize Suga Cane's mewls of pain. His numb hooves stopped cold, and Flater fishtailed as he spun in a perfect 180. She must not have been fast enough to dodge the cave-in! His mind raced in concern for her. Flater followed the voice, locating the fallen pony relatively quickly. A metal beam had her rear ankle pinned, and she was coughing so heartily it was a miracle she could even yell for him.
"Suga Cane!" Flater yelped, scrabbling around for an edge. He had to get the beam off before it became a branding iron.
"Flater?" She whispered. "Ah twisted mah leg while runnin' an' couldn't git away."
"Shh shh, it's okay now." Flater soothed as he shoved at the beam. It was extremely heavy, and if it wasn't for the adrenaline already surging through his blood, it wouldn't even be possible to scoot it. He did manage to lift the end a tiny bit with much staining.
It was enough for Suga Cane to grasp the opportunity by yanking her leg out.
Flater dropped the beam with a loud thunk. He helped Suga Cane regain her footing. She swayed then collapsed under a heavy barrage of coughing. "Ah can't Flater."
"I have a solution, don't worry." He nudged her onto her hooves once more, then shoved his head under her belly until she rested on his shelled back. Flater wasn't sure how long she'd remain there, so he spun and charged for the exit.
"Fl...Flater?" Suga Cane's legs flopped lightly at his sides. "Ah'm glad that ya came back fo' meh." Her body went completely limp. A lump formed in Flater's throat as he broke into the brilliant sunshine. The air tasted so sweet and refreshing, but none of that mattered. His friends' lives mattered first.
As a firefighter, Tarmac had seen many wonky things in his line of work. Like a toilet that had combusted because the owner attempted to flush kerosene. Or a pegasus foal stranded in a tree at 3:30 in the morning because he was certain that he was a batpony. The best for sure was an elderly stallion who sleepwalked for five miles because he was dreaming about a tuna vs. corn marathon. Today almost hit that level of craziness for him. To start, this was an unlicensed facility. Second, most of the fires were blue, green, and purple (Tarmac soon found out about the whole electricity thing). And finally, the creatures that ran out were just demented. A dragon with three wings, a two-headed rabbit, and a bald unicorn to name a few. Several were unidentifiable. Many were still alight. A few died on site.
After a few hours of hardcore spraying, Tarmac's walkie talkie crackled. "Sir, this end is uncontrollable. Requesting permission to just wet the surrounding area?"
Tarmac wasn't having much success with his unit either. Spraying the surrounding area meant that the fires couldn't spread to the neighboring forest, but it also meant that the fire couldn't be controlled manually. "Permission granted." Tarmac grunted in reply. He was fine with watching the building burn. It allowed him to turn his attention to whatever came out needing help.
About fifteen minutes after his command a creature did come stumbling out from the blazes. It appeared to be a scientist with large glassy eyes, a now dark lab coat, and a voice with just the right pitch to drive one crazy. He was jabbering gibberish as he staggered drunkenly in Tarmac's direction. Tarmac figured that the heat had gotten to the pony's head.
"The walls. Are they still falling? Tell them to stop! The hybrid's still in there! And the a...apex pony. I abandoned them all. I'm a bad pony." The scientist broke down into soot-soaked tears. They carved mini paths in his grimy cheeks. He also vehemently refused all offers to go to the hospital that Tarmac made. The firefighter supplied the loopy victim with an oxygen mask while wondering what to do with him.
From his seat in the grass, Whiny Voice sucked gratefully on the air while casting mournful glances back where he came from.
Tarmac, in turn, watched him while scratching his head. Is it possible to get PTSD and epilepsy at the same time? His thoughts scattered as the scientist's face lit up. He jumped to his hooves dropping the oxygen mask, filthy coat flapping. "See? There! There they are!"
Tarmac turned to see what he was screeching about. It took him a minute to pick out anything from the smoke. By squinting fiercely, Tarmac could distinguish a figure, no, two figures. One carrying another. As the carrier stepped out from the dark plume, Tarmac's jaw dropped. It was a beast of awesome proportions. A tall pale beacon that stood out from the disgusting darkness.
Its head, beneath a matted mane, held two large fly-like eyes and pearly fangs that protruded in a curved angle from the upper jaw. Its legs, holed and gangly, firmly carried their owner onward. The beetle-like shell was partially hidden by its passed out cargo, but Tarmac could see a little bit of an abdomen band that covered the ribcage. He knew that he should be attending to the unconscious pony draped across its back, not gawking in gross awe, so he took a few shy steps to meet the creature. Up close, it was borderline terrifying. In fact it almost paced right past him, as if it didn't know he was there. The poor thing's body was peppered with soot and charcoal. Some of the leg holes appeared to be singed. Tarmac winced at the amount of grime trapped in the scars. I guess this thing is blind or in shock. The firefighter gathered up his courage. "Pardon, do you require assistance?"
The creature's head snapped toward him, and the body followed. "Yes please, but her first."
Tarmac decided that the voice was male as its owner knelt down. He sucked in his breath; Tarmac had no idea that so many shades of white existed. All of them must have been displayed on this beast. He diverted his attention to his patient. The mare seemed to be in bad shape, but with further inspection all she needed was air and rest.
Flater breathed in relief when the official sounding pony took Suga Cane. The relief grew when Whiny Voice hollered apologies over to him. By now, all of the words melded together into one giant mumble. His head was light, and it swayed slightly. Something was being slipped over Flater's muzzle. Fearing a bridle, he resisted weakly at first. A wave of cold coaxed him into the mask. Welcome oxygen was his last sensation before succumbing to the fuzzy warmth that clawed at his brain.
Tarmac scratched his head some more. This odd menagerie around him seemed to be connected somehow. The filthy-coated mare and blackened hybrid lay passed out but breathing, and the annoying scientist hung around them, taking full responsibility for them, refusing to break up the set. Somehow, hopefully, this would all be sorted out by the cops when they showed up.