Allgood stopped along the dirt road leading towards Ponyville, taking a short moment to catch her breath and let Anton catch up. While most Pegasi weren’t the most enduring walkers, Mane was more robust than most pegasi. Years of tracking primates through dense jungle understories had hardened her legs and hooves. This was in stark contrast to the pudgy gargoyle that was struggling to catch up to Allgood’s brisk pace. With the painful chest injury keeping him grounded, he had no hope of matching her on the ground.
”Hey! Wait a minute!” Anton wheezed, panting loudly as he came to a slow and crashing stop next to the pegasus. His face and paws were sopping with moisture from the summer heat and exertion, while his mouth hung open. “I’m sorry for slowing you down, I’m really out of shape.” He rasped through desperate gasps. “Just go on ahead without me, I’ll catch up later.”
Allgood arched a brow. “You sure Anton? I’m fine with sticking by you until we get there.” She was secretly proud, perhaps Anton was finally heeding everyone’s collective advice and trying to improve his weight?
“Yeah! Fauna’s probably going to chat your ears off when you get in the clinic, so if you want time to yourself today I’d probably hurry.” Anton cracked a genuine smile, his breathing easing up as his stamina returned.
“You’re not wrong Anton, you’re not wrong. I’ll go on and hurry up, tell them you’ll be there shortly” Mane lowered herself before explosively jumping upwards, craning her wings out to their full length as she began to fly through the air towards Ponyville. Relishing the wind blowing through her mane.
Allgood came to a running stop outside of the Ponyville Vet, her hooves skidding against the soft dirt as her wings beat the air in order to offset her forward momentum. Having kicked up some stray dust, she ruffled and folded her wings to clear some off her coat before pushing open the door to the practice, scraping her hooves against the welcome mat.
The vet was much like she had remembered it, though they had rearranged the furniture and changed the paintings on the wall. Now the walls sported murals of ponies and animals interacting in different ways. Some were foals playing with dogs, others were vets attending to sick animals. The fish-tank was still there, filled with multiple colorful species of saltwater fish, crustaceans and what looked to be a sea urchin scraping along the bottom. It was nice to see one of her friend’s pet-projects going well.
Said friend was named Pineapple Sorbet. A saffron yellow unicorn mare with a wavy and cream-colored mane, who was currently waving at Allgood from the front desk. She was clad in light-red scrubs, which covered most of her front, with a skirt covering most of her back, though it did leave her heavily scarred flanks exposed, her purple anchor cutie mark heavily chipped by scar tissue. “Hey Allgood! Glad to see you back! Where’s Anton?”
“Hey Sorbet! I’m glad to be back too, Anton’s fine he’s just lagging behind, said he’d be here soon.” Allgood’s smile and cheery demeanor wavered slightly as the acrid fumes of cleaners and sterilizing agents stung at her nose. Allgood hated that smell and the memories it brought to the forefront of her head when looking at Sorbet. “I’ll be back for good too! Got me a job here in Ponyville.”
“Oooh, what job did you snag?” Sorbet questioned, leaning over the desk with her head in hooves. Patiently awaiting an answer from her studious companion.
“I got a position as a professor of Zoology at Twilight’s Academy. I’m starting this fall.” Mane replied, her feathers rousing in pride. Not only was she a good zoologist, she was good enough to have the Princess of Magic, who was also the headmare of one of Equestria’s premier academies. If only her mother could see her now.
“Goodness! You’re moving up in the world. I’d love to sit here and catch up with you, but Fauna would have what’s left of my tail if I kept you here.” Sorbet chuckled, the mare turning her attention away from personal matters.
“Is Fauna in her office?” Mane inquired.
“Nope, she’s in the observation room attached to the isolation ward. Dr. Ocotillo should be there with her as well.” Sorbet responded, scooting off her chair and landing on the floor with a light clop. The mare walked out from behind her desk, revealing the prosthetic hoof beneath her back left ankle. It was carved to fit her frame and dyed to match, but it still was noticeable to an untrained eye.
“Oh uh, I’m afraid I don’t quite know where that is. Would you mind leading me there, or giving me directions?” Allgood’s eyes lingered on Pineapple’s flank and the tapestry of scars that ran across her hide. Her feathers ruffled up, a subconscious gesture of offering comfort.
Pineapple breathed in, and offered Allgood a strained, if genuine smile. “I’ll take you there, and, to answer the question you’re about to ask.” The unicorn motioned to the puffed-out feathers of Mane’s neck. “It hurts like Tartarus, and I still don’t feel right on this peg-leg.” She let out a heavy breath, batting her eyes a bit to disperse some welling tears before they dropped down her muzzle. “I’m getting better though, I was able to gallop for the first time since the… incident. So that’s good, even if it wasn’t that long.”
Allgood sheepishly lowered her ears and feathers. “Indeed it is, you’re a strong mare Sorbet. You’ll get through this.” The Pegasus cooed, reaching a wing down to drape over the smaller unicorn’s back. “I think we should move on from that topic, what say you?”
“Indeed. Ward’s back this way.” Sorbet was quieter and less cheery than she had been before the accident, and Allgood couldn’t blame her for that. Mare nearly lost her life to a shark attack while she was in the middle of a dive. She was still traumatized from the event, and she needed more help than she was getting.
“Did Anton give you the rundown of what we’re dealing with here?” Pineapple probed, looking up at the taller mare as the two of them roamed through the halls of the practice to the Ward.
“Unknown species of ape, survived a poaching attempt. Brain injury, scalping, and loss of an ear?” Allgood fired back.
“Yeah, that doesn’t do it justice though. Those poachers messed her up bad.” Sorbet’s tone turned sharp at the end and her ears flicked in irritation. “It’s not right. Ocotillo says she might never ‘be totally there’ when she’s recovered.” Her ears flicked in annoyance and an angry snort ripped through her nostrils. “Anyways, this is the place.” She replied in a restrained manner, trying to keep her tone from getting too severe. Her bum leg was raised, her weight resting on her three good ones, face flinching slightly.
“It’s just down the hall and to the left. I’m sorry, I’m cramping really bad after P.T yesterday.” Sorbet replied through clenched teeth, trying to supress the urge to yell from the charlie horse she was currently suffering through.
“Thank you for the guidance Pineapple, do you need help gettin-”
“No!” Pineapple fired back a little too harshly, the mare wilting a bit from her outburst. “S-sorry, I’ll head back. I need to soldier through it so I can get better.”
Allgood sucked on her teeth, she didn’t like seeing Sorbet like this. “Well. I’ll leave you to it. Just be careful.” The pegasus responded, turning around to trot down the hallway and towards the isolation ward, turning her head around to respond to an earlier remark. “Ocotillo’s just a big pessimist, primates are pretty resilient. I’ll withhold my judgement ‘til I get a gander at her.”
“I guess your words have some merit, don’t think a pony would have survived that. I’ve got records of her to deal with back at the front office, so I’ll catch you later. Want to have lunch somewhere afterwards?” Pineapple questioned as she limped away, swiveling her ears to hear Mane’s response.
“I’d be glad to do so!” Mane replied, before turning her head back around to continue making her way to the isolation ward. The naturalist began to steel and prep herself for whatever gory, gauzed mess of a poor creature might lay on the other side of the room’s glass.
Allgood had been expecting something familiar, something that looked like the apes she knew of. What was behind the one-way mirror however, was anything but familiar. Mane had been so intrigued and stunned that she almost failed to notice Fauna Cureall sitting in a small chair off to the side. “O-oh! Hey Fauna!”
“Nice to see you again Mane, strange isn’t it?” Cureall snorted, waving her hoof at the glass and the creature beyond it. Her mannerisms were slow and lackadaisical, the heavy bags under her eyes suggesting she had not slept well and was dead tired for it.
“One way to put it. It’s vastly different from anything I’ve seen, the closest relative might be a yeti I think?” Allgood muttered to herself in thought. “I’m just worried that I’ll end up studying a corpse here.” She looked to Cureall with a dejected sigh and a noticeable frown. The creature swaddled in gauze and blankets was not the most comforting or reassuring sight.
Fauna shrugged her shoulders, slowly making her way over to stand beside the pegasus. The stocky mare sighed as she looked out over her patient. “Ocotillo is a naysayer, but I think she’ll be fine. Just this morning she was somewhat cognizant despite all the drugs we have her hooked on. That’s a good sign.”
“I’d say so too. Speaking of Ocotillo, where is the spindly bugger?” Allgood inquired.
“He’s asleep in his office. We got her in right before my shift was about to end so Oco did most of the surgery. I was more his aide during the whole thing. He’s staying here just in case he’s needed on short notice.” The vet’s ears swivelled as the doors to the isolation ward opened and an Abyssinian aide waltzed in. Their ginger pelt was covered in light green scrubs, a facemask and gloves.
“There’s Francis. He’s the only one who can get close to Sable without her freaking out.” Fauna commented, watching the cat as he checked on the ape’s biometrics and made sure everything else was in order. While the ape certainly couldn’t break free of the restraints keeping them from potentially damaging themselves. Stress to any living creature tended to hamper healing.
“Sable? Is that her name?” Mane questioned, leaning in towards the one-way mirror to get a better look at the sleeping ape beyond it. Francis was a more familiar sight, though she knew little about the cat as he was a more recent addition to Ponyville. A study under Ocotillo to eventually become a vet himself.
“Mhhm. We named her after the color of her little ‘raccoon mask’ she has there. Anton came up with the name.” Cureall lectured, sitting down on her haunches.
”Earlier you said Francis was the only one who could get close to her. Her poachers were probably ponies then.” Mane deduced, her gaze hardening as her feathery hackles rose in anger.
“Yep. We had to scrape out a whole bunch of pony fur from her teeth when we took her in. Whoever she fought, she took a pretty big chunk out of them.” Fauna chuckled grimly, her laughter dying out as Allgood’s stern expression remained steadfast.
“Serves them right. Hope it was out of their neck.” The pegasus responded in an unusually harsh tone.
Cureall cringed slightly, her ears flattening against her head. Mane certainly had good reason to hate poachers, she had dealt with some of the worst over by Shire Lanka. “That’s a little harsh don’t you think?”
Allgood snapped her head over and stared down at Fauna. While she was angry, she wasn’t angry at the small, stock mare beside her. “If someone were trying to kill me for sport I’d certainly take a chunk out of their neck in retaliation.” She snapped, flicking her head towards the wounded ape. “Probably the only reason she’s still kicking is that she fought back.”
Her ears folded back and her expression quivered for a few moments. “Look, Fauna I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-”
Fauna interrupted her by pressing a hoof against the tip of her nose gently. “I know. You get passionate, I was only your roomie in college. I’m fine, no offense taken.”
Mane smiled and sheepishly looked away, avoiding eye-contact with her fellow mare. “Why don’t we switch topics? Do you have any paper or pencils? I forgot to bring some so I could take notes.”
“I would think it wise. As for paper and pencils, I’ve got some on the table here. Along with some pictures we took when she first got in here.” Cureall trotted over to a table in the corner of the room, where a cheap notebook lay sprawled open next to a collection of pencils and photos detailing Sable both inside and out.
Craning her head to look at Francis swapping out a depleted IV drip, the vet let her words come to a stop before resuming. “Normally I’d just tell Francis to pull the covers down to get a good photo, but she looks comfortable and she’s half bandages at the moment. Wouldn’t be very good for a paper.”
“Well, you’ve certainly collected enough material here to begin drafting a paper.” Mused Allgood, slowly trotting over to the table and taking a seat on the floor beside the vet. Raising her hooves onto the wooden platform, she would rifle through the photographs stacked neatly beside the notebook.
Ignoring the bloody wounds on Sable’s body, Mane got a good idea for what the creature looked like. She was a bipedal ape with dense, but short and thin fur all over her body. The fur was the thickest on her forelimb, above her genitals, under her arms and atop her head. The last being the most notable, the strands being so thick and long that they could put a mane to shame. The rest of her body had the appearance of being bare-skinned for how much the fur did to cover her skin. Said skin was rather unique, as she was uniformly brown. She had splotches and swathes of her skin that were either darker or lighter than her normal skin-tone. It gave her a sort of mottled appearance like that of a painted wolf. The mottling only being absent on her face, save for the mask of her namesake.
Her hindlimbs were feet modified for easier terrestrial locomotion, with an X-ray showing a complicated structure of fused bones and muscles. Without a tail to keep balance it was likely that she gripped the earth to help keep herself upright. The legs themselves were thickly muscled and strong, with quadriceps that could dent a breastplate with a good kick. The pelvis was large and accommodating, which suggested that they gave birth to similarly large infants.
The upper body was standard fare ape, although with a spine modified and bent to support standing upright. Of note was her two large mammaries, further suggesting the idea of large infants. Her arms, while strong and muscled, were disproportionate to her legs, which was an odd choice for an ape. Allgood’s hypothesis for the moment was that it’s an adaptation for better stability and perhaps using tools on the move. She had seen chimpanzees using tools to hunt down monkeys, perhaps this creature was similar?
Turning her attention over towards the more anatomical photos. She pulled up two images. One was a scan of her skull, complete with teeth and the hole in her head on the upper part of her temporal fossa. The other was a thaumaturgical survey of her internal organs, Mane was particularly interested in the anatomy of the gut. Scribbling down little details and thoughts in the notebook with her dominant hoof..
“Hey, Fauna.” Mane called out behind her, snapping a tired Cureall out of a small rest.
The vet lazily blinked, looking a bit confused before trotting over to Allgood. Once there, she set herself down and leaned against the table. Her energy seemed to have disappeared since meeting Mane in this room. Likely she had stayed awake solely to get Allgood’s input.
“Do you have an idea on what she eats? Because I have a pretty good idea.” Mane inquired, reaching a hoof out and straightening a stray lock of mane that had fallen over Fauna’s muzzle.
“Haven’t thought about it much Mane. She’s on an IV and has damage to her masseter from that head-wound. She’s not in a state to eat and won't be for some time.” Cureall yawned, stretching her legs to try and keep herself awake.
“You have a point there, but for future care. Judging by how thick her enamel is and how her teeth are shaped, along with her gut anatomy. I think she’s more of a facultative carnivore like the yeti. Note how the colon is tiny compared to the amount of small intestine, can’t ferment anything with that.” The primatologist explained to the vet, her listener looking up to her with dreary but interested eyes.
“You’re the expert Mane. I’ll trust you on it. Soon as she can start to eat again, it’s what we’ll feed her.” Cureall offered, a tired smile worming its way onto her face.
“When will that be?” Was the immediate followup from Allgood.
“About a week or so, by then the spellwork of Ocotillo should have set correctly and she’ll be fine so long as she doesn’t take a fall or try and do something stupid. I’m just hoping that the head wound didn’t nick anything on the motor cortex.” Fauna bemoaned, her hackles raised as her body shuddered. Deeply loathing the thought of someone being paralyzed, especially a wild animal whose whole life was movement.
“Well, that’s about all I can infer at the moment, I’ll need to study these in further depth and get some sample information as well. Did you take any of those while you were operating?” Stuffing the photographs in between the paper sheaths of the notebook, Mane got up from the floor, closing the notebook and stuffing it into a saddlebag laid across her front shoulder.
“We did, got them in cold storage until they could be tested. Need to find a place or pony to sequence out the genome and all that jazz.” Yawned Fauna, lazily striding over to her friend’s side. “I’ve kinda forced myself awake to speak to you, I’m going to take a nap if you don’t need anything else.”
“I’m perfectly fine, you go and get your rest.” The naturalist responded, dropping a wing over Fauna’s back in a supportive gesture. “I’ll be back here tomorrow, I still want to discuss getting her acclimated to ponies so we can help with rehabilitation.”
“Fluttershy was also wanting to do that, I’d speak with her about it. Regardless, you have got my blessings for it.” Fauna nodded, nuzzling the side of Allgood’s neck before moseying her way out through the double doors, leaving Allgood alone in the observation room.
The pegasus mare took a moment to collect her thoughts and noticed the time on the clock mounted above the doorway. She was going to be late for lunch with Sorbet! With that thought she was already galloping down the hallways, eager to catch up with the yellow unicorn.
After checking in with Sorbet at the front desk and confirming their destination, Allgood took a quick flight back to her home to drop off her notebook and tidy herself up a bit, having not gotten the chance since she had left Shire Lanka. While she was back at the house grooming, she checked back up on her household. Giving her foal’s ears little nips of affection and Snap a quick peck on the cheek before heading off.
That was before Scootaloo had requested that she accompany her mother for lunch. Mane being the softie mother that she was, agreed. Secretly though, Scootaloo just enjoyed getting carried by her mother while she flew. Her Karkadann admixture thanks to her father meant she was a bit heavier and stockier than a pegasus should have been for her age, so she couldn’t quite fly on her own just yet.
After a quick flight Allgood came to a skidding stop on the dirt road next to Cast Skillet’s, a smaller-scale restaurant located just off to the side of the Market-Square. Normally she’d go for Café Hay, but Sorbet picked up a liking for seafood from her time in Shire Lanka and Skillet was one of the few who cooked it. Looking up, she smiled as Scootaloo gilded her way down beside her. It made her proud to see her daughter make so much progress since she had been gone last.
“You’re getting much better!” Mane chimed, nuzzling her daughter’s cheek. Scoots had come a long way from the panicked flapping of her younger years. Her feathers were fully ruffled, including the large ones just before her mane. Her little ‘Cockatiel feathers’ as Snap called them.
“Thanks mom! Rainbow’s been helping me practice, just this week I was able to fly for a bit. She just says I gotta work hard and build up my muscles.” Scootaloo beamed, pressing up against her mother.
“You’ll be soaring alongside her and everypony else soon enough, pumpkin. Just have to keep practicing!” She wasn’t the best at motivational words or speeches, but to her daughter all she needed to be was genuine and she was touched. It made her resent the fact that her job had taken her away so much, yet proud that Scootaloo was growing into such a fine mare even without her guidance.
Scootaloo simply nodded and hung close to her mother. As the two of them walked into the eatery, two mares waved at them from a windowside booth. Sorbet and surprisingly enough, Fluttershy.
“Hey! What brings you here Miss Shy?” Mane asked, her tone slightly nervous as she took a seat at the table opposite her and beside Sorbet. While she did know Fluttershy personally, talking to a national hero always tended to put one a bit on edge. Scootaloo however had no such issues, striding up to Fluttershy with the confidence that only the insane and children possess and getting a hug from the butter-colored mare.
Fluttershy gave a short wave in greetings before embracing Scootaloo in her forelegs. “I stopped by the vet and Sorbet told me you two were going to meet up here. I was mainly just wanting to talk with you about getting Sable over her fear of ponies. “ The Element-Bearer replied, giving Scootaloo a small, gentle noogie on the head and ruffling her mane before turning her loose.
Sorbet gave a small nod of acknowledgment to Mane, the silent greeting was returned moments later. “Fluttershy here patched up Sable when that deer brought them to Fluttershy’s home. What was his name?”
“Blackthorn, that’s his name. He dropped her off and went to inform the guard about poachers being about.” The Element of Kindness clarified, rifling through the stores menu as Scootaloo moved away from her side to sit beside her mother.
“Speaking of which, has there been any progress towards finding them?” Allgood questioned, moving a menu from the table over towards Scootaloo so she could order something that she wanted.
“Can’t say, it’s only been a day afterall. Last I heard they were cooperating with the Thicket Wardens to track them down.” The grey-gold mare explained, turning her head as a waiter approached the table and began to take their orders. “Oh, I’ll have the hayburger thank you.”
“Stir-fry with noodles and shrimp for me.” Sorbet stated.
“I think I’ll just go with the fruit salad for now. Scootaloo, what would you like?” Allgood asked, draping a wing over her foal’s back.
“I think I’ll have a hayburger too.” Scootaloo beamed up to the waiter before turning her attention to Fluttershy. “Who is Sable and why are there poachers involved?” Was her immediate question.
“Well, Sable is an ape that was attacked by poachers. An undiscovered one at that. I, and hopefully your mother, are going to work to make it so she’s not scared of ponies so we can help her recover.”
“Awww, I hope she’s okay. What does she look like?” The filly questioned almost immediately. “Is she like a big sasquatch or something?”
“I’d be honored to help Fluttershy, and you’re somewhat correct Scootaloo. She walks on her hind legs like a Sasquatch but she’s pretty different, barely has any fur for one. I’d show you a picture if it weren’t for the fact that she’s pretty badly injured.” Mane explained to her filly, rubbing her wing against her withers. “Once she’s healed up you can go see her. Maybe in-pony, though we’ll need to see how she behaves first.”
“I hope she’s nice.” Scootaloo stated.
“I do too Scootaloo.” Allgood rhymed, settling into a pleasant conversation with Sorbet and Fluttershy that would be the highlight of her day. The mare eventually retired back to her home to enjoy some quality time with her husband and foals before passing out after starting the paper detailing the strange ape that would quickly become the focus of her first months back in Ponyville.