• Published 15th Mar 2014
  • 545 Views, 14 Comments

Where Southern Birds Fly - Quicksear



Thrown to the dogs in a world not her own, can one pony find the help she needs to recover, and maybe, just maybe, get back home?

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6. Sentience

It’s so bright.

Compared to the darkness of the street, the doorway is glaring. All I can see is brightness only barely held back by the silhouette in the door.

“Hey there.”

I can barely make out Tory’s expression as he looks down at me, but his voice is soft and careful. He thinks I’ll bolt if he does anything loud. He would be right if I had anywhere else to go. He mutters a few more soothing words, gesturing to me. I don’t know what he means, I can’t see. I turn my head slightly to better catch his movements with my good eye. He steps aside, waving a hand into the building.

“C’mon, it’s warmer inside than out, girl.”

Warmer? Yes, it would be. I take a step forward. I have no real choice now, I’ve thrown my dice. There are butterflies in my stomach. Tory, he’s one of the nicer Ones, but he’s still one of Them, and They aren’t very nice at all.

I stop there, halfway between the glaring white and the darkness of night, remembering why I ran in the first place. He had needles. He worked with dogs. But he had helped me too. He doesn’t look like he wants to hurt me again. If I tell him not to, he won’t. I won’t let him.

He slowly walks back into the building, leaving the doorway empty to pour all its light over me. It hurts. But it’s also friendly, inviting. The light will be safer than the dark. Monsters never hide in the light.

I’ve never seen this place before, but I recognize parts of it. Tall Ones like their lights, their windows and their metal. Tory isn’t all that different to the Ones who held me captive before, only cleaner and better organized. And not trying to kill me yet. There are differences, though: Tory’s home, the first room anyway, has a smooth wooden floor, not all cracked like the other one. To one side, through another doorway, I see grey tiles and a few counters, but Tory quickly closes that door with a quiet muttering. He slowly points into the opposite door and coos a few encouraging sounds. He watches in utter fascination as I slowly, uncertainly comply. I keep my good eye on him at all times; I’ve learned my lesson about letting a Tall One get behind me, even for a second.

This room is completely different. It’s darker, but not in a bad way; it’s more comforting. Tory swings around through the room, gathering things and quickly starting a fire in the fireplace. It crackles hungrily, but he adds no wood. Is it magic? Magic would be nice.

The floor beneath my hooves is covered in a large soft rug right up to the fire, and around in a circle are three soft-looking chairs that seemed like they were built for two Tall Ones to sit together. They are large, brown and a little imposing. Tory turns on the rest of the lights in the room, but it’s nowhere near as bright as the entrance. The walls are painted dark and the ceiling is wooden. The soft yellow light is very soothing. I need to make sure I stay awake.

Tory gestures for me to sit up in one of the seats, but that’s too far away from the fire, and the carpet looks more comfortable. He frowns as I curl up on the floor, but I don’t care, I like it here. He shrugs and places a blanket next to me before stepping back and watching me intently once again, as if studying my reactions. It’s starting to make me a little uncomfortable. Either way, I’m next to the fire, I don’t need a blanket. I don’t know what to do though, and neither does he by the look of it. We would have sat like that all evening I think, but right then I start to cough.

It’s a dry hacking cough, and it feels like my throat is being scratched by thorns all along inside and outside alike. I touch my uninjured hoof to my neck once the fit subsides, and it comes away a little bloodied. I may have pulled a stitch…

Tory jumps into action. I crane my neck to watch him as he dashes away. I expected him to...do something different. Instead he runs through the door he previously closed, taking care to close it right behind him. I hear a soft squeaking noise, and Tory replying. I don’t know what that is. Instead I stare at the fire, wondering, as a feeling of immense tiredness sinks into my bones. The fire feels safe.

Sitting down with some friends around a warm fire, listening to them laughing, and joining in. Whispering nothings and gossip back and forth over steaming cups of cocoa and muffins and fruit while talking about Hearth’s Warming Eve as a soft song is played outside to filter over your contentment. That is what a fire is really for.

The images, not quite memories but not solely imagination either, roll in and out of my mind like a tide, one I wouldn’t mind being lost in. I'm not sure...but the images are familiar, comforting. If nothing else, they are proof that I have a past, something better than this, something I can strive to get back to. I barely notice when Tory returns not five minutes later, carrying a bowl and a glass. The glass, filled with water, he places on a small table beside one of the chairs. The bowl he places in front of me. I look into it slowly, and see my own reflection.

I’m shocked. I don’t look anything like I’m supposed to look! I’m gaunt and scraped, and my coat is dull, my mane ragged and bleached. My ears...I knew they were hurt, but...their edges are ragged and chewed. I touch my hoof to my cheekbone and trace its visible length, a testament to my starvation.

No wonder these Tall Ones look down on me; I look like a wild animal.

Tory coughs and taps the bowl, breaking my eye contact with the waif I’ve become. The ripples through the water in the bowl shatter my concentration, and I jerk back sharply to look at Tory. He is smiling encouragingly, still tapping the bowl gently, waiting for me to catch on.

He...wants me to drink from a...bowl?

Well, sure I could drink from the bowl, but why would I? He brought a glass! I’m capable enough to drink from a glass at least, not from a bowl like a rabbit! I point a hoof at the glass, and then again when Tory just looks at me. Eventually his eyes slowly follow the direction I am pointing in. After an age, his eyes finally lock onto the glass of water. He blinks for a few seconds, then his head whips around to me again, shocked. I forge on, pointing at the glass, then myself, the glass, then myself.

When he sees what I mean, he...well, it was very loud.

He jumps to his feet and to the glass, his excitement scaring me into shuffling back. I make angry noises in the back of my throat, but it’s far too soft for him to hear. He leaps back to me and plops the glass on the carpet in front of me before kneeling and staring at me intently again.

He is really beginning to scare me now, the way he keeps glaring at me, waiting for me to do something. What if I do that something wrong? Either way, I reach out slowly and grasp the glass in my fetlock and raise it to my lips. The glass is slippery, but I manage. He gasps as if this is a really big deal, and jumps away and out the door even before I’ve put the glass back on the floor.

But I barely even took a sip…

I don’t have a moment to process his conduct before he returns. He only pauses to make sure the door is closed before tripping over the carpet and falling onto one of the chairs, but he never stops smiling. In his hands is a strange board and a black bag. In a hurry, he slides off the chair and drops the board in front of me, spilling the contents of the bag all over the floor.

The board is weird. It’s quite thick and has six differently shaped and coloured holes through it. The surface has large friendly-looking letters printed all over, but they keep shifting in and out of focus, so I can’t read them. The black bag’s contents were six coloured shapes of wood, the same shapes as in the board. Is this some sort of game? If it is, then it seems to be only half of it. maybe he plans on teaching it to me?

Tory leans forward and picks up the triangular green piece of wood. He shows it to me clearly, then slides it into the green triangular hole. He smiles and then gestures to me.

Wait...Is this thing...what I...No, he can’t really think…

How dumb does he think I am?!

He looks disappointed. I’m still trying to understand how he could think so little of me as he turns away with a sad look. I sigh and roll my eyes...eye. This is ridiculous. If I could talk, then you’d see, you’d see how smart I can be, I could show you! But instead you bring me a foal’s toy. Fine.

I cough gently, to get his attention. Tory turns back to me, expression unchanged. Until he sees the board that is. If he freaked out before, this time he goes absolutely ballistic. He shouts at the ceiling in a high voice, then careens out of the room, this time forgetting to close the door opposite in his apparent excitement. I’m left lying on the carpet by the fire, the discarded blanket and glass of water at my hooves beside the completed puzzle, huffing in annoyance.

That is until I hear the squeaking again.

Now that I’m alone, and the door is open, I hear it much more clearly. A soft, breathy sound from some small creature just around the doorframe. I hear soft snuffling noises as well, followed by another mournful squeak. What in the wide world of-

Then I see it.

It pokes its nose out just as I lean around in curiosity. A small black nose first, then a head. Two liquid eyes and two excited fuzzy ears, then a small bundle of a body wrapped in unruly black fur, and lastly a small violently wagging black tail.

A dog.

I’m cornered. It occupies the doorway, and there’s no other exit! If I need to escape, I could charge it, kick it across the hall, it's small enough, but...It’s so young. I could never forgive myself if I hurt it.

It starts waddling across the room in slow, unsteady steps. I bristle, flaring my wings at it, but it doesn’t flinch away. If anything, I just made my presence all the more known. It’s eyes light up and it’s speed slowly increases, it’s little yipping noises growing louder, adrenaline in my system making the squeaks ring like the peals of a bell.

I place my forelegs defensively in front of me, blocking the little creature from nearing my body. It doesn’t seem to mind. Barely a length away from me, it sets its little legs, readying itself, before it leaps at me with a yap.

I nicker in surprise, try to rear up, but my hooves slip out from under me. I land on my belly, my forelegs bent awkwardly before me, and the little dog, not much bigger than my two hooves, lying excitedly atop them. It snuggles down into my fur and almost smiles up at me, and my mind is completely blank.

A louder sound comes from around the corner, a calling voice. The little one in my hooves responds happily, and a much, MUCH bigger nose rounds the corner as well. A sharp nose, dark eyes and glossy brown fur. The older dog looks at me in surprise.

I am suddenly, painfully aware that this is Mother, and she has just caught me holding her Puppy.

Her tail is slowly wagging, a light in her eyes. She starts padding towards me. There is no escape. I feel the strength leave my limbs.

...Help…

*****

Tory could not believe what he was seeing. The creature, the Pegasus they had rescued, was lying on his carpet, by his fire, looking at him with one big golden eye and pointing with one hoof, quite emphatically, at his glass of water. It was surreal. Everything about her was incredible, astounding, insane. Ten hours ago she had been barely alive, tied up in the dark. He hadn’t held much hope for her, right up until the point where she knocked him over and kicked him in the gut. She then went on to break open a steel door and knock the lights out of an alley urchin before following Tory home.

Now she was asking for a bloody drink.

Tory got the feeling she was insulted by bowl he had placed in front of her. Something about her expression was so familiar...he hadn’t even meant for her to drink at first; he still clutched the cloth he had planned to bathe her inflamed and seeping neck with. Now though, as Tory’s mind tried to process exactly what this meant, she moved that one hoof she held up back and forth, pointing at the glass, and then at her mouth. There was no mistaking that.

Tory squeaked. He did not mean to, nor have any control over it. In his excitement and rush to grab the glass, he spilled about half of it without noticing, and dropped it the carpet in front of the Pegasus. He noticed her flinching away from him, and he tried to calm himself down, but this was too much. This was ground-breaking.

He watched in utter fascination as she tentatively reached out with one hoof and illogically wrapped the limb around the drink. How, Tory could not comprehend; those joints should not work in that way at all. He merely stared, frozen, as she lifted it to her mouth and drank.

Then he flipped out.

The possibilities of this were beyond description, so he didn’t try. He merely ran out of his living room, across the narrow hall and into the kitchen. He shut the door behind him and nearly tripped over the golden-brown border collie sitting curiously in the middle of the room.

“Ugh,” He muttered, "Sorry Jess, I’ll feed you now. New species comes first, girl.” He barely heard her excited little bark as he scrambled through one of the kitchen cupboards. He’d put it here somewhere…for some reason…Then he finally found it: the shape board! It was hiding behind the cereal.

Grabbing the bag of blocks, he rushed back through the kitchen, jumping over Max as the little black puppy tried to bite at his shoe laces. “Later, Max!” Tory growled as he dashed at super speed through the kitchen and into the entrance hall. In his massive rush through his house, he missed the urgent knocking at the front door, only pausing to make sure the kitchen and living room doors were closed, some instinct within his scattered mind still keeping that self-control. A self-control that stopped dead at the door. He didn’t even manage to turn around without tripping into one of his couches. He barely noticed, rolling over onto the carpet and dropping the shape board at the creature’s hooves. This was the deciding moment.

With trembling breath, Tory slid all the pieces onto the carpet. The pegasus looked uncomprehendingly at the board, but Tory kept his patience. He knew in the back of his mind how unlikely any intelligence was; he could hear Doc Alison’s voice muttering in the background, about how this creature had probably been taught all sorts of clever-looking tricks by her previous owners, how she was merely parroting his own actions, but Tory also knew the look of determination he’d seen in that big golden eye.

He’d seen sentience. And proof was just a test away.

The pegasus was just staring at him now, waiting. Tory realized a demonstration might be needed. With a shaky hand, he reached out and picked up the green triangular block. He showed it to her clearly, like he’d seen vets do on those primate intelligence documentaries. Then he slowly slid it into the corresponding hole in the board before waving his hand to the pegasus, hoping desperately that she would prove him right. He kept on watching as the seconds ticked by in silence, other than their combined breathing and an very muffled and completely unheeded knocking at the door.

When seconds turned to a full minute, Tory’s hope faded. She was just staring at him with surprised eyes, as if questioning. Or maybe that was just him being optimistic. She was still fascinating, even if she proved no more intelligent than the dogs she’d fought. A sigh escaped Tory’s lips as he turned away to go get some-

He heard a cough. Not a choking cough, but unmistakably the attention-getting kind. No. Way. He turned slowly, unsure what to expect.

The pegasus was tapping her good hoof against the shape board, calling his attention to the fact that it was perfectly complete.

Tory’s reaction was even less gracious than earlier. He’d hoped for this, or at least something near this, but it was still too much to take in. Everything they had drummed into him at the University of Pennsylvania’s veterinary wing was being blown out of the water in a matter of hours. This pegasus, an ancient legend come to life, was easily as smart as any human child, and Tory would bet money on her being smarter still. She was a mystery, and puzzle, and even with everything he was trying to learn, even more questions bounced into his skull. He wasn’t entirely sure how or when, but the next thing he knew he was sitting at his kitchen table, a glass of milk in his hands. He wished it was something stronger.

“Heh,” He chuckled to himself, “I guess I can understand why the Doc drinks so much…” Curious about earlier, Tory tried to copy the way the pegasus had lifted her glass of water, but his wrist couldn’t bend enough to get purchase. With a groan, Tory slammed his head into his hands on the table, breathing heavily.

“I wish the Doc was here already…”

So lost was he in his thoughts, he didn’t hear the impatient knocking at the front door.

What he did hear, though, was a faint barking followed by a pained nicker coming from the living room. He froze, listening, thinking. Did he close the kitchen door on the way in? Or had he just left the door open between his collie and her puppy, and a creature violently scared of dogs?

Tory felt a little panicky flutter in his chest as he whispered, “Jessie, you here? Max?”

He waited for a cold nose to rest against his leg, a sign that he was in the clear. None came. Tory swore and jumped up, spilling his milk. He awkwardly dashed to the door, but stopped short of the corner. Around that door was the entrance hall, and across from that was the living room. Through that was a possible natural disaster. He was already imagining a giant hole blasted clean through his ceiling as he finally stepped through under the lintel.

In the living room, bathed in the flickering light of the fire and the low lights, was a sight enough to give Tory a heart attack. The pegasus lay as she had before, looking up at him beseechingly while Max burrowed contentedly into her forelegs and Jessie settled herself comfortably alongside, snuggling into the warm feathers of the pegasus’ wings.

Tory didn’t know what to do. At any moment, this situation could go off like a timebomb.

Minutes passed. The pegasus looked back and forth sharply, trying to figure out how to react. Tory couldn’t bring himself to move. Suddenly, the pegasus froze. The way she lay with her hooves before her, the hoof she had been keeping hidden was exposed, the sharp bruise and cut along to back of the ankle clearly visible. Jessie was sniffing it now, inspecting it. Tory’s breath caught in his throat. This was it.

Jessie sniffed once or twice more, then tried to lick it. The pegasus jumped, disturbing Max, who yelped. She quickly froze, unwilling to just drop the young vulnerable puppy on the floor. Jessie did not try to lick the injury again, instead laying her head beside the hurt leg and whining, staring soulfully at the scared pegasus.

The pegasus dithered. Uncertainty played clearly in her eye, her ears stuck halfway between fully back and attentive. Her tense muscles strummed and her tail flicked back and forth agitatedly beside Jessie’s lazily swinging own.

Eventually, her tail stopped twitching and her muscles slowly relaxed a little. Her ears swung forward, and her expression softened. Looking at the puppy in her embrace, she calmed. Slowly, tentatively, she reached a wing over Jessie’s back, flinching slightly as she finally closed the hug, but relaxing immeasurably once she had.

A small uncertain smile spread upon her features, and Tory’s heart nearly melted at the sight.

*****

Meanwhile, Charles Alison pulled his ear from the door, banging tiredly upon it once more as he shouted, “Tory?! What the hell is going on in there? I’ve been knocking for twenty minutes!”

Author's Note:

I started writing this one curled up comfortably with a puppy in a skybox-office-thing at a supermarket. I finished it outside a set of stables after being bucked off a horse. These slightly disturbing and rather painful experiences may have coloured the writing slightly, but I think for the better. Maybe. I call it 'inspiring'. My mates call it 'illogical'. My version of logic disregards their own, therefore I win. And you get a chapter, so you do too.

Regards
Quicksear