• Published 15th Oct 2011
  • 4,440 Views, 44 Comments

Airborne - Fernin

A misnamed colt and a misplaced human Soldier find friendship despite the barriers between them.

  • ...

Chapter 6: Reunited

Cirrus fluttered her wings, circling in the early-morning updraft as she looked down at the valley below. She’d been fuming all of yesterday from the stupid earth pony’s ‘chicken wings’ remark. ‘True,’ was it? Well, she’d show him.

The orbiting pegasus filly felt her wings waver slightly in the breeze as she caught sight of the light blue spot that was Skydancer. All the practice was paying off; this was as high as Cirrus had ever gotten. Her parents were going to be so proud! And better yet, after today the little annoyance below her was going to regret ever messing with her.

What was Skydancer doing, anyway? He was leaving the village pretty early today… probably off to do something with his school project. Well, little dirt clod better have a backup plan, because Cirrus had a few ideas about what she was going to do to his plan A, whatever it might be. Giggling maliciously, she glided down to a high ridge to rest her tired wings. And the little foal was going out into the middle of nowhere, too. This would be perfect.

The up-valley wind was really strong today. Skydancer was tempted to fly his ‘kite’ for a bit of extra practice as he trotted down the path towards the mountain monster’s hiding place, but he resisted the urge. He’d have plenty of time once he got there.

Skydancer had spent his evening regaling his parents with excited, fragmentary ideas about ‘kite’ flying and all the wonderful things it could do for earth ponies. Okay, he had to admit that using them as a mail delivery system in place of the pegasus pony express was stretching it a bit, but he’d had some good ideas!

Now, the blue colt felt his heart rising as he scaled the steep slope to ‘Green’s rock alcove. He had another reason to hurry today. Skydancer had probed his father carefully about the search for the monster behind the mine, and his dad had been sure that the guard ponies were closing in. How could he have forgotten to give the warning yesterday? Oh, right. The amazing ‘kites.’ And… to be honest, not wanting ‘Green’ to leave.

“‘Green?’ Hey, ‘Green,’ it’s me!” Skydancer called as he neared the entrance. The little shelter remained silent. Well, that was normal. Mountain monsters obviously slept a lot.

“‘…Green?’ Are you there?” Something seemed different about the dank little half-cave. For one, it stank slightly less than usual… And for another, it was entirely empty.

No, the shelter wasn’t entirely empty. Sitting under a few small rocks near the opening of the shelter was a small bundle. At the bottom was ‘Green’s expertly crafted ‘kite.’ On top of that was the remaining half of the chocolate bar that the mountain monster had shared at lunch the day prior. And on top of that, under a small rock, was…

Skydancer’s vision blurred with tears. ‘Green’ hadn’t waited after all. And now he was gone. The dejected young pony moved mechanically, removing the rocks and sliding the chocolate bar into his saddlebags. He looked closer at the little picture drawn on an extra scrap of paper. A slightly better drawn stick figure of ‘Green’ waved up from the page, smiling. More of the strange angular scribbles surrounded the drawing.

With a short sniff—he certainly wasn’t going to cry—Skydancer put the drawing in his saddlebags and picked up the second ‘kite.’ He climbed back out of the hole, blinking in the brightness of the day, and climbed back to the top of the ridge. Well… well… at least he could get in some practice on his new skills.

‘Kite’ practice could burn up some time while Skydancer waited. ‘Green’ would be back soon. Of course he would. He wouldn’t just have left without saying goodbye… unless he had done so yesterday? The colorful paper diamond of Skydancer’s ‘kite’ rose into the sky, but his spirits had never felt lower.

* * *

Lieutenant Green waited for the hoof beats on the path to fade and stepped out again onto the path. He was making good time. At this rate, he’d be down to that trail and past the busy bustle of the mine in no time. And if ‘Sky’s map book was right, there were no more towns after this, all the way to the plains below. He was practically home free. All he had to do was put one foot in front of the other…

* * *

What was that twerp doing? Cirrus could see him sitting dejectedly on a ridge overlooking the river valley. As she circled, a light-colored scrap of something rose into the air until it was almost at her level. “What the hay is that, dirt pony?!”

Skydancer groaned. Cirrus. As if things couldn’t get any worse. He waved an angry hoof in her direction. “Go away, Cirrus!”

Cirrus rolled her eyes. “And here I thought you might be doing something cool. Guess you’re just playing with stupid… diamond… thing?”

“It’s a— it’s a ‘kite.’ Don’t you know anything, chicken wings?” Skydancer snarled through gritted teeth as he tugged on the kite’s strings and sent it hissing past the startled pegasus’ head.

Surprised for a moment, Cirrus lost altitude and nearly crashed into the hillside. The heat of an embarrassed blush rose to her cheeks as she struggled to regain altitude. “Watch it!”

You watch it! Go away, Cirrus!” The angry blue colt started to reel in his ‘kite.’ He was tempted to try out some of his new ‘kite’-fighting skills, but he just wasn’t in the mood. Besides, it might hurt the ‘kite.’

“Sure, I’ll go away. With this!” Unfortunately, Cirrus was in the mood. With an unpleasant smile she snatched the wood-and-paper diamond as it swooped lower and jerked it out of Skydancer’s grasp.

“Come back here! COME BACK HERE WITH THAT, CIRRUS!” But it was too late. The string was well beyond Skydancer’s reach now, and gaining speed as the annoying gray pegasus circled mockingly.

After several fruitless attempts to regain his hold on the ‘kite’s string, the furious colt watched his tormentor sail serenely down the valley. Cirrus wasn’t moving as fast as she could… she didn’t want to lose him, obviously. Well if it was a chase she wanted… Skydancer took a deep, ragged breath, shucked his saddlebags, and galloped down the slope.

The race was taking a toll on both young ponies as they galloped further down the valley. Several times, Skydancer almost lost Cirrus entirely. Once or twice, he nearly grabbed the string in his teeth and wrestled his kite from her grip. But now they were nearly at the mine.

Cirrus gasped for breath. How the hay was the little dirt clod still running? She was nearing her limit. Time to end this. She saw a narrow valley behind the emerald mine and angled down, letting gravity do the work as she transitioned into a gentle glide. This was going to be great. She couldn’t wait to see the look on Skydancer’s face.

Panting heavily, Skydancer raced past some of the miners of the morning shift and made a right to follow Cirrus’ glide path. She was heading for the hills behind the mine. The pegasus filly was obviously tired. If he timed it right, he might be able to get there when she did. Putting his all into it, the light blue earth pony picked up speed.

Skydancer and Cirrus reached the edge of the rocky, narrow path at about the same time. Cirrus circled once and dropped the ‘kite’—then landed on it with all her weight. The wooden dowels snapped. Despite her wheezing breaths, she still managed to gasp out a few pre-planned lines. “Ooops. Sorry. I feel like such an earth pony…

For Skydancer, a crimson veil dropped down and covered the world in angry shades of red. That had been his ‘kite.’ From his friend. And now that stupid chicken-winged filly had broken it. “I’m…”

“What’s that, Skydancer?” Cirrus moved her weight from hoof to hoof, grinding the brittle dowels and tearing the rent paper of the ‘kite’ just that little bit more.

I’m going to buck your stupid face into next week!

“Hah! You have to get to me first!” Cirrus spread her wings—and winced. Ouch! Of all the times to get a cramp… But the enraged blue earth pony was barreling down on her fast. Didn’t he ever tire out? Desperately flexing her wings, the pegasus filly turned tail and ran down the twisting path as fast as her hooves could take her.

Skydancer didn’t let the fleeing pegasus get far. The two went down in a heap and tumbled, finally smacking into a larger-than-average rock lying across the trail. Skydancer was up in a flash and planted his hooves over Cirrus, tears streaming from his eyes. “Why did you do that? It was ‘Green’s ‘kite!’ He left it for me and now he’s gone, and you BROKE IT!

Cirrus struggled to climb out from under her pursuer and got shakily to all fours. “Geeze, what is wrong with you, Skydancer? I just broke your stupid thing, you don’t have to crash into me like that! Look, I’m sorry, I…”

The gray pegasus’ eyes widened. She stared at Skydancer, but didn’t seem to see him. “Ch-ch-chicken…”

Blinking back tears, Skydancer wiped one dirtied fetlock across his eyes. He wasn’t going to cry now. Not in front of her, anyway. “What? You did that because I called you ‘chicken wings?’”

Cirrus raised one shaking hoof and pointed. “Ch-ch-ch-chicken head…”

A strange half-hissing, half-clucking sound made the fur rise all down Skydancer’s back. He turned his head slowly and looked behind him. There, out of the corner of his eye, he could see it slithering slowly out of a small, dark burrow. His blood froze.

The cockatrice clucked again, blinking its red, beady eyes. It spread its dark, leathery wings and flapped them experimentally, yawning a bit thanks to its abrupt awakening. What had disturbed its morning nap? Oooh… breakfast.

Skydancer shuddered. So the mine’s guard ponies hadn’t been looking for ‘Green’ after all. And he’d promised his dad and everything… but now it was too late. He bit his lip and exchanged a terrified glance with Cirrus as she watched the cockatrice finish its post-nap stretch. What would a brave pony do right now? What would Bucephalus the Great do? “Cirrus? When I say run, run as fast as you can and get the guard ponies. All right?”

“S-skydancer, what are you--?”

“Run! Now!” Fortunately for Skydancer’s plan, Cirrus didn’t need any urging. She was off like a shot, stumbling past the cockatrice and out of sight before it could react. Okay, time for step two.

“For SKYDANCER THE GREAT!” Somehow it had sounded better in Skydancer’s head, but he had no time for that now. He kicked out with both rear hooves, catching the cockatrice full on the beak. It squawked angrily, but its annoying prey was already galloping down the rugged, torturous path as fast as his hooves could take him.

Unfortunately, thanks to the direction he’d been facing, Skydancer had a long and dangerous flight ahead of him. There was no way to double back; the earth pony had to keep running. He dodged around a boulder and tried to accelerate, trying desperately to fill his lungs to do the only thing that could save him now. “Help! Help! Dad! ‘Green!’ Anypony! Heeeellllp!”

Lieutenant Green looked at his watch and leaned tiredly against a rock. It had been at least thirty minutes since he’d entered the hills behind the mine. He was making good time… he hoped. If only the trail wasn’t so rugged, and he didn’t have to move so slowly for fear of making noises which would betray him. His stomach grumbled and he found himself wishing for any food—even another one of ‘Sky’s bizarre sandwiches—to take the edge off. Well, maybe he could delve into his M&M’s…

A terrified shout sent a jolt of adrenaline through Mike’s tired muscles as it echoed through the hills. Someone was nearby! That someone had a voice that sounded a lot like ‘Sky.’ And from the sound of it, the kid was in trouble.

The lieutenant was on his feet again in an instant. Should he..? No. No time for thinking now. It was a good thing he’d had time to clean his rifle again… Lieutenant Green unshouldered his weapon and checked the chamber. He slapped the magazine out of habit to make sure it was seated properly, then turned his back on his path and raced back the way he had come.

Skydancer yelped in pain as he trod on an unexpectedly loose rock. He stumbled and fell, going head over tail and scrambling to regain stable ground for his hooves. He had to keep going, or he was dead—worse than dead. “Help! Help!”

The cockatrice was gaining on Skydancer. He could hear the measured beat of its wings. It was toying with him. Why had he been so stupid?! How could he ever think that a little colt like him could be as brave—and as victorious—as Bucephalus? He looked up—and saw a familiar mottled green shape lumbering up the path. “‘Green!’”

“Jesus Christ on a pogo stick, what the &$#*ing $#@$ is that?!” ‘Sky’ was being chased by… a thing. Lieutenant Green lacked even the vocabulary to describe it properly. What kind of crazy hallucination would replace some normal, every day thing with a chicken-headed… lizard… snake… bat… whatever the heck it was?

The safety clicked off as the lieutenant raised his rifle and squeezed off a few shots in the creature’s direction. Whatever it was, it didn’t look friendly and ‘Sky’ was running from it. That was good enough for him. The shots whizzed by the beast, a lucky bullet clipping the edge of one wing. The monstrosity squawked for all the world like a surprised and angry chicken and dropped, bleeding, to the ground.

Both Skydancer and his rescuer were out of breath as the pony reached ‘Green’ and leaned tiredly against him. The colt’s ears were still ringing from the explosive sound of the mountain monster’s weapon. Skydancer wondered dully if perhaps he should have been more worried about the guard ponies than ‘Green’ if the group had found him.

No worrying about that now, though. Skydancer waved his hooves tiredly, trying to come up with the gestures to tell the mountain monster what needed to be said. “‘Green!’ It’s a cockatrice! Don’t let it look at you!

Lieutenant Green looked down at the blue horse and patted his head in what he hope was a comforting way. “Don’t worry, ‘Sky,’ you’re safe now. You don’t need to cover your eyes; it was just a rifle. There, there… But man, what the heck was that thing?”

Holding his weapon at the ready, Lieutenant Green moved forward to get a closer look at what he’d shot. He mentally cursed his persistent hallucinations. It would be nice to know if he’d just shot a mountain lion, or a mujahedeen, or what. He stared at the creature in trepidation. Honestly, who was he kidding, really? There was no possible way that he’d still be hallucinating this long even after getting his bell rung by a roadside bomb, right? The brain was weird, but not that weird… was it?

The cockatrice hissed angrily and struggled upright against a wave of horrendous pain. The big gray-green creature had… hurt it somehow. And now it was coming closer to finish the job. The cockatrice hadn’t woken up this morning with plans to be on anyone’s menu, and it definitely wasn’t going to change those plans now. Staring up with revenge in its small red eyes, it lashed out in the only way that was left to it.

Lieutenant Green stumbled a bit as he took another step towards the creature. It was… looking at him now, in a way that was hard to describe. He squinted his eyes. What was wrong with him? He felt so tired…

Skydancer moaned. Already the dark gray stone was creeping up ‘Green’s legs. The mountain monster had come to the rescue, but now he was the one in danger! The blue earth pony gritted his teeth and tried to will some life back into his shaking limbs. He couldn’t just sit by and let this happen. Small rocks scraped underhoof as the light blue colt forced his body into what would probably be its final sprint. “‘Green!’ Look out!”

At the shout, both cockatrice and Soldier looked at the charging earth pony. The cockatrice cackled and shifted its petrifying gaze. The big one wouldn’t take much longer anyway, and the small blue pony…the blue pony had hurt it first.

Lieutenant Green gaped in horror as ‘Sky’s body suddenly seized up and turned gray. The little horse halted mid-stride and tipped over, scraping the ground with a terrible grating hiss of rock-on-rock. The small body lay still, frozen as if he was still galloping along. He… was he dead? No living thing could lie that still. It was impossible. It couldn’t just have happened. It…

A cold feeling washed over Mike. He let his breath out slowly and raised his rifle, aiming carefully through the sight. His finger slid onto the trigger.

The cockatrice hissed in satisfaction. Now, to finish off the big one. It looked up—and met a controlled pair of 5.56mm rounds coming the other direction. The white-feathered head exploded in a shower of gore. A few more shots slammed into the creature’s body, but it was already dead.

Echoes of the last few gunshots and the quiet click of the safety going back on were the only sounds as Lieutenant Green slid the rifle back onto his back. He stumbled over to the prone form of his little blue friend. His feet still felt strangely numb and leaden as he went to his knees beside the body. It was cold and gray, and strangely hard. Stone? How the heck was ‘Sky’ made of stone, now?

“&$#* this place… &$#* that stupid monster thing… and &$#* this… this… THIS.” Grunting with the effort, Lieutenant Green picked up ‘Sky’s still form and surged to his feet. Barely knowing what he was even doing, the snarling, swearing officer stumbled back the way he had come. The locals at the mine would be able to help. They had to. There was no other choice.

Everything that followed stretched out into one long, exhaustion-fogged moment as Lieutenant Green struggled up the path. He tripped, nearly falling, but managing to slam his shoulder into the steep hillside before he dropped to the ground. Couldn’t do that. Might hurt ‘Sky.’ With his shoulder throbbing, he continued on.

Mike tripped again. What was wrong with his feet? Didn’t matter. Had to keep going.

After a bit the panting, exhausted lieutenant could hear voices and movement ahead. He was close, now. Taking a ragged breath, Mike raised his voice. “Hey! Over here! Help!”

Diorite’s hooves pounded on the rocky ground as he galloped up the path. He’d heard the news—all the miners had—when the bruised and crying Cirrus had come stumbling into the mining camp. It had taken precious minutes to get the story out of her—and after that, Diorite wouldn’t have wasted another second if Princess Celestia herself had ordered it. If only he’d been there… if only he’d been more forceful! If only Skydancer had listened!

The large gray stallion screeched to a halt as he rounded the next bend in the twisting trail. A strange, hulking figure, taller than anypony Diorite had ever seen, was stumbling up the path on its hind legs. Several guard ponies from the rescue party slammed into Diorite with confused shouting, but they were of secondary importance to what lay before the horrified father. There, in the creature’s forelegs, was Skydancer. And he was gray instead of light blue. And he wasn’t moving.

Lieutenant Green blinked dully at the suddenly appearing horses. Where had they come from? They hadn’t been there a moment before. His limbs felt so heavy. He could just lie down… and… No! Not yet. Feeling his legs buckling under him, Mike turned his body so that he’d land face up. He managed to gasp a final plea as he fell. “Help…”

The strange creature topped before Diorite reached him, landing heavily on the ground. The gray stallion cringed—but somehow the monster had fallen oddly, landing so that it almost cradled Skydancer’s cold, petrified body. There was still hope, then. Diorite was almost crying in relief.

“Wow, what happened to this thing…” One of the guards prodded the prone form of the green-gray creature with a curious hoof. It had obviously had a run-in with the cockatrice as well—gray stone encased its rear legs almost all the way to the knee.

Diorite stared down at the thing that had brought him his son. “I don’t know… but I think we need to bring it to the Foremare.”