XCOM: Ranger

by Wanderer D

Chapter 172: Dawning


Chapter 172: Dawning

By Wanderer D

At the crack of dawn, Tala guided her mount up to the fence next to the chicken coop and watched with some amusement as all sorts of critters ran away in terror.

"Tala!" Fluttershy called, marching up to the Skirmisher-turned-breezie. "I told you about bringing Mr. Sticks to my house."

A whine made her wince, and she looked at the Timber Wolf with an apologetic smile. "I do like you, Mr. Sticks, but Tala promised to let me know when you'd be coming around, so I could tell all my other friends in advance."

"I did send one of your tree-rats ahead of me to inform you of my inevitable arrival," Tala responded.


Mr. Nuts blinked when the tiny little hook wrapped a tiny little rope around his branch.

He then held on to dear life as the branch was suddenly forced to bend down almost to the ground with him still on it. Eyes wide and grasping the branch for safety, he looked around in a panic until the branch stopped shaking and he found itself eye-to-eye with Fluttershy's armored-breezie friend.

Who was sitting atop a timber wolf.

Mr. Nuts held himself very, very still.

"You." The breezie pointed at him. "You are the one they call Nuts, correct?"

Slowly, Mr. Nuts nodded.

"I have a mission for you, rodent," the breezie said then. "I intend to visit Fluttershy's cabin in the company of my pet, Mr. Sticks." The breezie pointed down at the wolf. "I shall arrive there within an hour. I wish you to inform her of this, as she requested it be done for fear other weak creatures as yourself would find themselves intimidated by my mount."

Mr. Nuts dared not be offended.

"Do you understand my request, tree-rat?"

Tree-rat! If the wolf hadn't chuckled, Mr. Nuts would have felt offended. However, he decided to let it slide. The breezie was, after all, riding an evil-magic-animated-wolf-like-creature-of-death. So, slowly, Mr. Nuts nodded.

"Good," The breezie said, then hesitated. "My thanks."

Mr. Nuts let go of the branch to wave it off, but before he could do so, the breezie released it, and he felt the world suddenly go away.

Present time…

"Last time I saw the tree-rat it was flying in this direction."

Fluttershy blinked. "Flying?"

"In any case," Tala continued, "I attempted communication. I shall not rely on tree-rats for future messages."

Fluttershy sighed. "They're called: Squirrels."

"Are they not tree-climbing rodents?"

Fluttershy's eyelids lowered half-way. "How come you remember their individual names and even recognized them each and you can't remember their species?"

Tala shrugged. "You all look the same to me."

Fluttershy raised an eyebrow.

"Fluffy and harmless."

"Even Harry?"

"Especially Harry," Tala said, flying over to land carefully on Fluttershy's mane and waving Mr. Sticks to go away. "I should advise you that he is—once more—trapped in that little hole through which he does not fit, but insists on attempting to push through."

"Oh my," Fluttershy said, trotting across her yard towards the edge of the forest. "Has anypony tried to help him?"

"Cranky Doodle was there," Tala informed her, "but he was grouchy and did not want to assist me in liberating the bear. I did recruit an owl, a pig, and a rabbit to help, but together they had not the strength." She tapped the base of her helmet with her tiny hoof. "Maybe next time I shall ask that tiger creature for assistance as well."

"Not your timber wolf?"

"It didn't feel right."

"Did you help them pull?" Fluttershy asked. "With your strength you should have been able to—"

"No," Tala interrupted. "For what will they do, when I am not here to help?"

The hole itself was on the bottom side of a ravine, where certain types of bees would build their hives. Even though there were bees around and honey, the fact was that they were much higher, and outside of Harry's reach… however some honey would drip down through cracks, or even just carry through the crevices and small caverns, emanating the enticing promise of sweet honey.

There were several holes around, much smaller than the one the bear was stuck in, but they were also thankfully out of his reach as well. The group of animals that Tala had gathered were looking at the bear's large frame in bewilderment, no doubt asking themselves what exactly had been Harry's plan should he manage to fit more than his head in there.

Fluttershy frowned as they approached the group of creatures trying to pull Harry's head out of the tiny hole he had managed to get it stuck in. "When you're part of a community, you help-no matter how long you'll be part of it."

Tala was quiet for a moment. "If you insist, we can assist them now."

"I do." Fluttershy nodded firmly and stepped behind the rabbit, "Alright, everypony, let's try once more. Tala and I will help."

The group once more took positions, ready to pull when Fluttershy gave the order, but she paused. "Tala, where are you going?"

"I intend go around through one of the smaller holes, and into the cavern. I will push Harry while you pull."

"Um... " Fluttershy hesitated. "Are you sure it's not better if we all pull? The cavern is a bit tight."

"The quicker we do this, the better."

"Tala, I don't think—"

But Tala flew out of sight and it didn't take long before they heard her voice again, muffled by the earth and rock. "Ready!"

Fluttershy bit her lip, not liking the situation one bit. "Fine… but be careful!"

They pulled. The rabbit, pig, pegasus and owl all strained back as hard as they could, while Harry himself pushed away from the hole with his forelegs, and Tala pushed his head from within the hole.

With a groan, chirps and shouts, the group managed to force the bear's head out of the hole, and collapsed back in a tangle of legs, dust and pieces of rock.

"The bear should learn not to do this again," Tala said, taking a seat on the edge of the hole. "There is no honey in here."

Harry groaned from where he was lying, and rolled over, letting the others slowly stand up.

A sharp, cracking sound made Fluttershy look up with horrified eyes. Right above the hole where Tala sat, a large crack had formed, connecting it to many of the other holes in the wall. The whole side of the ravine started shaking and almost immediately the rock face collapsed.

"Run!" Fluttershy shouted, picking up the pig and rabbit in her forelegs before flying out as fast as she could, with Harry the bear roaring in fright right behind her. They turned to watch in horror as pieces of rock and dust rose into the air and the ground trembled until, slowly, things started to settle down.

When the dust dissipated, Fluttershy could only gasp. At the top of the ravine the bee's hives had been exposed, glittering golden in the daylight, but the base of the ravine, where they had been standing before, was nothing more than piled rocks and dirt now.

"I-is everypony okay?" she asked, receiving a few growls and grunts of acknowledgment. "Um… Tala?"

When there was no response, she slowly stood up and stared in horror at the pile of rocks. She felt her blood run cold, and her stomach felt like a frozen claw had grasped it and clenched. "Oh, no. Oh, no! I told her not to get inside! What was I thinking?!" she whispered, slowly stepping closer to the debris.

She vainly tried to move one of the large boulders that had crushed the area where Tala had been, but it was too heavy, it didn't even budge. Fluttershy sniffled. "It's my fault… I should have just forced her to pull with us… what am I going to tell Twilight?" She hiccuped. "Oh my… what about her family? How do I even tell them? They're so far away…"

"Alas, kind one, you will not need to do that quite yet."

Fluttershy spun around, staring at the breezie, who now sat on top of Harry's head. "H-how?"

"Grappling hook. Shot the bear while he rolled away."

"Gah!" Fluttershy shouted, standing on her hind hooves and leaning on top of Harry's shoulders to glare at the skirmisher. "How dare you put yourself in danger like that! What would we have done if you had died?! Any of those rocks could have killed you! I warned you it was dangerous, and yet you ignored me and went in anyway!"

Harry cowered under the breezie, but Tala simply stared up at Fluttershy. "Perhaps, kind pony, now you understand Alejandra better than before. Perhaps now you know the horror of almost losing someone because they refused to see reason, and yet, it would still be your fault in a way, since you knew the dangers." Tala shrugged.

Whatever Fluttershy was about to say, she bit back, eyes watering as the breezie took off, leaving her with her animal friends.

o.0.o End Chapter 172 o.0.o