• Published 27th May 2015
  • 3,831 Views, 159 Comments

The Unraveled Thread - Bender Alpha



||ON HIATUS|| The Stillness is coming. It's up to the heroes of Equestria to defend their home, with perhaps a little help from an unwitting refugee.

  • ...
18
 159
 3,831

CHAPTER 02 - An Unwanted Adventure

A bone-chilling wind rustled the branches of the dense trees. The cloying darkness of a clouded night filled every crack and corner of the forest in which it could find purchase. The near total blackness was broken only by the flickering red light of a lone campfire. Tucked into an overhang made by the twisted roots of a large, broad-leafed tree, Sam stared vacantly into the embers of the small fire in front of him. He huddled under the meager insulation provided by his emergency space blanket, clutching the last remaining piece of energy bar he had left. It had been days since he’d last eaten, and he could feel the exhaustion tugging at his brain.

Since awakening in that strange clearing, Sam had lost count of the passing days, but it had certainly been weeks now. Probably more than a month. And yet, he hadn’t caught even a glimpse of civilization. The further west he wandered, the more he began to realize he wasn’t in Washington any longer. For one thing, after all this time, he hadn’t seen a single pine, fir, or spruce. The trees were all twisted and short, covered in hanging moss and blotting out the sky with their thick, dark leaves. Even the undergrowth was foreign.

And then there was the wildlife.

Several times, Sam had caught glimpses of a ridged, reptilian tail slithering into the underbrush and out of sight. The first few sightings, he had hoped it might be an escaped pet or something. But as days became weeks, the brief sightings became more common, and the feeling that he ‘wasn’t in Kansas anymore’ compounded. This feeling only grew as he encountered more wildlife. The number of different exotic birds alone boggled his mind, but then there were so many other small mammals he knew weren’t Washington native. He had even spotted a massive, heavily armored crocodile on the banks of a small marsh. Gradually, the notion of abduction seemed less and less ridiculous, whether by aliens or some shadowy organization.

Now Sam had never been much of an adventurous person. Sure, he had dreamed of adventure when he was a child, but who doesn’t? He had a job, he had school, and he had his routine. It was neat, it was tidy, it was safe. Video games, books, and television allowed him to experience adventure vicariously, like so many thousands of other Americans. He led a mundane life, and he was happy to leave it that way. Imagination was more than enough to send him to exotic locations. Which is why he was trying to spend less time in front of the boob-tube and more time reading and writing. He even had a novel he was working on. All from the comfort of his home.

But fate had conspired to have adventure thrust upon him. Bilbo Baggins was right. Adventures were nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. And his had made him late for dinner by a few weeks. As if taking cues from his thoughts, Sam’s stomach snarled in displeasure, reminding him of the terrible, sharp ache. Never in his life had he been this hungry. He ruefully wished he had spread out the emergency rations much further than he had in the beginning.

Sam’s forlorn gaze shifted to the wrapper peeking out of his clenched fist. There was barely a fragment left, no bigger than the first section of his thumb. But if he didn’t eat something soon, his mind would be so clouded by hunger, he’d be unable to think straight. Slowly, he unclenched his fist, shamefully pondering the last morsel. He’d been unable to find anything suitable to eat over the last few days, and the lack of food had made him irritable and restless, though he honestly hadn’t slept well in weeks. So the question became: Should he eat now, and hopefully sleep better, or save it for the morning?

He sighed, and placed a hand over his mouth in contemplation, over his growing beard. Then, his stomach made the decision for him, and he tore the last piece of energy bar out of the wrapper and shoved it in his mouth before he could reconsider. The sweetness of the orange-flavored foodstuff was enough to make him gag. Making sure he paced himself, he slowly chewed the small piece of confection, hoping to make it last. All too soon, however, his mouth was empty, though slightly more damp than it had been previously. Now he wished he had water to wash down the taste, but he’d run out of that a couple of days ago.

The grim nature of his situation began to wash over his mind. No water for almost three days, very little food for weeks, and only restless sleep for over a fortnight. He was surprised he wasn’t delirious with fatigue by now. Not to mention the difficulty he was having just getting up in the morning. Hopelessness had begun setting in only two days after the crash. Without his prescribed anti- depression and anxiety medication, he spiraled into a pit of despair.

But maybe it was all for the best. Maybe he was finally getting his just desserts. His entire life was one big opportunity taken for granted. He’d had so many chances for success and snubbed them all, just because it was easier and more comfortable to stay in his room, play video games, and pretend the world outside didn’t exist. There were millions of people that deserved more than he had, and yet somehow he was the one reaping the benefits. Everyone would be better off if he weren’t around. Wouldn’t now be the perfect opportunity?

At that thought, Sam recognized what was going on in his own head, and followed the advice his counsellor had given him. He isolated the self-defeating thoughts from the healthy ones and gave them a separate voice. The resulting inner critic groaned in annoyance.

Oh great, this again. I’m a part of your own mind. I don’t understand why you insist on separating me from the rest of your thoughts.

Because I don’t want you to be a part of me!

The voice chuckled. Oh, but I am a part of you. You know, deep down, that I only speak what you feel. Why do you deny it?

He remained silent, but his inner critic continued, needling away at his resolve.

See, you can’t deny me, can you? For all your complaining, you agree with my every word. Because we both know what you are. I would say ‘useless sack of shit,’ but even shit has its uses. ‘Waste of space’ is more appropriate, I think.

Sam remained silent, hoping that his critic would follow suit.

Hah! You know as well as I it doesn’t work like that. Even if you aren’t actively giving me a separate voice, I’m still there, just under your skin. We are one – you and I – and I will always be there to remind you of your failures. At least, until you can be convinced to end your own miserable, pathetic existence.

Sam waited for the abuse to continue, but his self-hatred seemed to be sated for the moment. He swallowed dryly at the aching lump in his throat. His inner demon was right about one thing. There were times when he wished he could just end his ungrateful life. But his family – his mother especially – loved him so much, he couldn’t bear the thought of what they would go through after his death. He couldn’t break their hearts.

So, he soldiered on. As soon as he got home, things would be alright. His mother would be overjoyed to see him alive. His father, too. His little sister would probably rush home from college just to see for herself. They’d have a celebration. A barbeque in the back yard. All his friends and family would be there, eating burgers and laughing about his strange tale. His grandparents, his coworkers from the pizzeria, and maybe even Liam Neeson. And then Gandalf and Dumbledore would show up. In the dark of evening, they’d set off fireworks and teach him to be a wizard.

He would walk around, showing his family all the magic he’d learned, and every time he turned around, there would be fewer people than before. Until he was all that remained. The lights would dim. The darkness would furl around him until he stood in a void of nothingness. Alone. All alone. Blackness all around. No one left.

Until the voices. Off in the distances, he would hear a chorus of voices singing. At first, it would sound like they were singing a lullaby. They would come to him, figures in hooded black robes, visible only because the black of their robes was pale in comparison to the umbral shade of the world around them. He would be soothed by their deep melodic chorus. But then, as they surrounded him, he would hear unfamiliar lyrics.

“Hush now child, quell your fears.
The Stillness comes to dry your tears
And gently lay you down to sleep,
Never more to fret and weep.
We’ll put the lights out, one by one,
Until the course of life has run.
And when we’ve done our eternal chore,
The Watcher in the Weave comes forth once more.”

And then, in the darkness behind them, an eye would open, pallid and grey with a diamond-shaped pupil, and so massive it nearly met the edges of his vision. He would see himself reflected in its retina, and despair would wash over him. And then, he would begin to fall. He would tense up as the sensation of weightlessness shot up his spine-

***

Sam jerked awake. When he saw that he was still in his makeshift campsite, he relaxed. The fire had died down, so that only a scattering of embers remained. The light of dawn crept over the horizon, casting beams of pale, ghostly light through the dense canopy. He had slept maybe five or six hours. And he had dreamt. For the first time in weeks he had reached REM sleep. He didn’t know whether to be overjoyed or anxious. But he did wonder why, in his state, he hadn’t slept past sun-up.

An unfamiliar, low, warbling growl answered his unspoken question. Instantly, adrenaline banished the dregs of drowsiness from his mind. His eyes snapped up, scanning the foliage. At first there was nothing. But then, long, predatory things slithered out from behind the trees. Things that warbled and clicked to each other. Things with red eyes that seemed to glow in the dark.

If it weren’t for the cold sweat trickling down his back, and the sensation of his hairs standing on end, Sam could almost hope this was a simple nightmare. Looking at their eyes, he could feel his extremities becoming heavy and leaden, paralyzed by fear. However, a small terrified thought whispering in the back of his mind broke through his trance.

Run.

Sam scrambled upright, grabbed the shoulder-strap of his bag, and bolted. Leaping over roots and fallen trees, he sprinted through the forest, hardly bothering to protect himself from the branches whipping at his face and arms. He dodged around trees and jumped over small ravines, trying his hardest to shake the things following him. But no matter what tactic he tried, he always heard their warbling cries behind him, only a few yards away. They were matching his pace, intent on running him ragged. They were toying with him. He was exhausted and they knew it.

Suddenly he felt something snapping at his heels. He twisted his head for a moment, trying to get a glimpse of whatever was chasing him. Immediately he whipped back around and struggled to move faster, wishing he hadn’t looked. Behind him was something out of a nightmare.

It was reptilian, for the most part, in the shape of a bird and about the size of the average dog. Green scales coated its body, with rigid fins snaking down its spine to the tip of its yard-long tail. It had draconic wings, but sprinted after him on chicken legs. In stark contrast to the rest of its body, the creature’s head was distinctly avian, covered with feathers and sporting a rooster’s comb and wattle, though it managed to make the thing look even more predatory. Its beak was, by far, the thing’s most horrifying feature. Behind the edge of the beak, Sam caught a glimpse of a row of needle-like teeth, made to shred the flesh of the creature’s prey. These lizard-things were born predators, and he had no idea how many were chasing him.

Sam was running out of energy. Air came in ragged breaths, burning in his chest. Before long, he would collapse, unable to run any longer. The only thing keeping him from slowing was the sound of snapping beaks behind him. He had no idea how far he’d come, but the ground was beginning to slope downwards, and hope sparked in his mind. Maybe he could outrun these creatures with a little help from Sir Isaac Newton.

Sam picked up his feet, pushing the last of his energy into an all-out downhill sprint. Squawks of alarm echoed behind him as the monstrous lizards raced to catch up. Trees whipped by as he barreled down the hillside, praying that he didn’t stumble. For a moment, it seemed as though he might put some distance between them. But his victory was short-lived. The squawks and warbles were closing in behind him and from the sides. Another quick glance found the creatures gliding alongside him, easily matching his pace.

Something brushed his head. He felt claws scrabbling at his neck and shoulder, trying to find purchase. Panicked, his pace slowed as he flailed his arms about his head, pummeling the lizard-things that dared get too close. However, there were too many to fend off. He felt their claws digging into his flesh, leave little gashes on his shoulders and the nape of his neck. They nipped at his arms, taking bits of skin and flesh. One of them caught the earpiece of his glasses, and they were torn violently from his face, but he dared not stop or go back for them. The raptors’ demonic cries grew in his ears, until they filled every corner of his mind with terror.

He was going to die.

Then, quite suddenly, the predatory warbling became strangled cries of alarm. The claws and beaks instantly vanished, and the beating of wings fell behind him. Through blurry vision, he noticed he was running through an open meadow of blue flowers, devoid of any sort of obstacle to the lizard-things. He slowed to a halt, finding that they were no longer following him. He bent over, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. When he looked back, he saw the creatures panicking in the air above the meadow, flapping madly to stay off the ground until they were back behind the tree line. The ones that had successfully braked before the clearing paced along the flowers that marked the meadow’s edge, clucking in agitation. He could hardly believe his luck. The stupid things were afraid of the flowers.

A strangled laugh escaped his lips. The mania of surviving a near-death experience settled on his mind. He sat heavily, laughing uproariously at the lizard-things’ distress. Feeling petulant, he blew the loudest raspberry he could manage and twisted his hands in the air by his ears, taunting his saurian tormentors from the relative safety of the meadow. The lizard-things just clucked angrily, glaring at him. Even with his near-sightedness, their red eyes burned through the haze, chilling his spine. He felt his limbs going stiff again and looked away in panic. Then after a minute, he heard them turn as one and take off back into the trees, having realized their quarry had escaped their reach.

Sam watched them retreat until they had all vanished into the dark forest. He stayed that way for ages, before finally falling onto his back. The scratches stung, but he didn’t care. He was safe from those nightmarish lizards. Panting, he closed his eyes, unable to fend off his exhaustion any longer.

***

Sam awoke for a second time this new day to the sun shining down from almost directly above him. Immediately, he was enveloped by the heady scent of flowers. The rustle of a soft breeze through the trees whispered to him. But then, the sting of his injuries brought everything into sharp clarity. He sat up slowly, muscles still burning from the sprint for survival. To his left, his leather brief lay discarded on the ground, scratched up from the chase. He sighed in relief.

At least I still have that.

Somehow, it was comforting to know at least a few small pieces of home survived. He stared at the spot where he had last seen the strange lizard-things. He wondered if there was anything on Earth that looked like that. Perhaps something he’d never heard of? They looked almost prehistoric. The disheartening thought that he had somehow traveled in time popped into his head. He swallowed nervously, though there was nothing in his parched throat to swallow.

Well, if I got here, there’s got to be a way back.

So sure of yourself, he mocked.

“And you can shut up!” Sam shouted at his doubts. He had to keep up hope. There had to be a way home. Somehow.

Sam winced as the breeze blew across him, sending a chill across his skin and exciting his wounds.

First things first, he decided. He was about to reach for his bag, when he picked out another sound nearby. Under the rustle of leaves, there was a quiet, voiceless babbling. A familiar sound that sent feverish elation running through his mind.

He stood, looking all around for the source of his glee. Then of in the center of the meadow, he spotted a glint of sunlight shining off of a reflective surface. He scooped up his bag and stumbled excitedly towards the growing burble. In seconds, he was within sight of his goal.

A small creek, running through the center of the meadow.

Sam nearly tripped over himself in his rush to the water’s edge. He found clear, running water! Tentatively, he stuck his finger under the surface. It was cold; probably glacial run-off. He scooped up as much as he could hold in two hands and drank. The water went down like a winter wind, cooling the fires burning in his throat. He repeated this process until his thirst had been slaked, and then took off his shirt and proceeded to rub down the gashes and scrapes on his neck, shoulders, and arms with the cold water. After they were thoroughly rinsed, he took out his first aid kit, sterilized the open wounds with alcohol wipes, and bandaged them up as best he could.

Sam fell back onto the bed of flowers, sighing in relief. He hadn’t felt this calm and relaxed in ages. The sweet aroma of the flowers, the babbling brook, the sunshine pouring warmth down on him; the meadow was the most peaceful place he’d encountered in a long time, and it was all thanks to these flowers.

They were quite beautiful, too. A sky-blue, star-shaped flower, crowned by a smaller set of petals, with long, delicate stamen. They had a light, sweet aroma, and were incredibly soft to the touch. He didn’t want to leave. But he would have to, if he wanted to find civilization.

Just then, the sweet aroma of the flowers became pungent and fruity. He opened his eyes, searching for the source of the mouth-watering smell. Then, not three yards to his right, he found a variation in the light blue carpet. One of the flowers stood straight and stiff, its petals peeled back to display a bulbous blue fruit growing out of the center of the bloom. Curious, Sam picked the fruit off of the flower, which instantly sagged in relief. He chuckled a bit at this before turning his attention back to the fruit.

It was dark blue, and plum-like both in its shape and its smooth skin. The skin broke with only a moderate application of pressure from his thumbnail. The open fruit smelled heavily of peaches. Were it not for the little bit of survival information he remembered from the days before he quit the Boy Scouts, he would have devoured the aromatic fruit on the spot.

He splashed a drop of its juice on the inside of his wrist and rubbed it into the sensitive skin. After a few tense minutes, nothing happened. Then, shakily, he squeezed a drop or two onto his tongue. The taste of peaches flooded his senses. When the juice proved not to be an irritant inside of his mouth, either, he took a tentative bite.

Delicious, citrusy-sweet juices collected under his tongue and dripped down his beard, leaving a hint of a flowery aftertaste. It was all he could do not to immediately shove the rest of the flower-plum in his mouth. Biting his tongue, he set the fruit down and willed himself to wait. He had to be absolutely certain the fruit wasn’t poisonous before he indulged. He folded his arms and lay down on his side, turning away from the fruit, and resigned himself to counting.

One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi…

***

One thousand, one hundred-eight… One thousand… One hundred-nine… One… thousand…

Sam was having difficulty concentrating. His aching stomach roared angrily at him, demanding he fill it with more of the flower fruit. One glance at the fruit beside him, and his mouth was already watering. One more rumbling gurgle, and he was no longer able to restrain himself. He snatched the fruit off the ground, taking only a moment to brush it off before tearing into it. Instantly, his taste buds were flooded with watery, citrusy goodness.

He ate until every morsel of fruit was consumed. Even then, he hungered for more. Casting his gaze about, his eyes fell on three more fruit clustered together a few yards away. He ate those as well, relishing the feeling of the fruit-flesh sliding down his throat, coating it in nectar and filling his stomach. He continued like this for several minutes, until he had eaten more than a dozen of the strange, plum-like growths, then washed down the sweet aftertaste with cold creek water.

Soon after, lethargy set in, pulling on his eyelids and making the air feel like soup. He struggled against it for only a moment before he lay down again, truly content for the first time in weeks.

Maybe I’ll just stay here for a little while. Recover my strength.

Sam yawned before drifting off to sleep, unaware of a second presence in the meadow.


*One week! I turn around for one week to patch up a hole in the universe and he up and wanders off!*

From his vantage point in the sky above the campsite, the intangible tracker scanned the canopy of the forest.

*For weeks I’ve followed this stupid boy’s trail. Weeks! Little ingrate! He was microseconds away from death and worse. Is this any way to repay your savior?*

A whiff from below caught his attention and he tightened his focus to search for the source. Inaudibly, he sighed.

*I can’t really blame him, of course. He can’t possibly understand what happened.*

In the grand scheme of things, only a relatively miniscule number of races actually understood interplanar travel, and the boy’s race was not one of them. If he didn’t know where they were in the multiverse, the boy stood no chance of finding out. The tracker could only hope that the young human would be grateful for his life.

Finally, he homed in on the trail. A faint trace of DNA, like the softest stroke of a brush on canvas, led away from the camp in almost the same direction the boy had entered it. No wonder it had been difficult to pinpoint. It was almost as if the boy was trying to throw him off the trail. The tracker chuckled at the idea as he maneuvered down below the treetops, undetectable to all but the most sensitive of perceptions. Barely a leaf was disturbed by his descent. Only an infinitesimally few beings would be able to mark his passing.

*Hopefully, he hasn’t gotten himself in tr-*

As soon as he was below the treetops, the tracker found where the trail of the human’s discarded skin cells split. But that wasn’t the source of his sudden distress. He also picked up the trails of several other creatures following the boy.

*I just had to open my big fat mouth.*

He surged forward, ghosting past trees and shrubbery with cheetah-like speed. Although this was hardly his top speed, he could only move as fast as his ability to track would allow him. Eventually, he came to to a downhill sprint. The boy’s trail was diluted. He had to have been running at incredible speeds. The other creatures’ ground trails all but vanished. But then, he began spotting small splashes of concentrated DNA. He halted momentarily to get a closer look.

Blood.

The boy’s blood.

Mind racing, he rocketed down the hill, scanning the ground only infrequently. At an all out sprint, humans had very decreased maneuverability. The boy would’ve been unable to effectively dodge predatory attacks. The pattern of blood droplets widened until he barely had to pay attention to the ground to follow them. If he had a heart to begin with, it would have been pounding.

*Please, please, don’t die!*

Quite suddenly, he came upon a confusing mish-mash of the predators’ trails at the edge of a field of blue flowers. The blood trail continued into the meadow, but the predators seemed to have been unwilling to enter. Relief flooded over him momentarily, until he remembered that the boy had been bleeding. There was still a very real possibility that he could still be in danger. Refocusing on the trail, he noticed the boy made off at a right angle from a point of rest. The tracker picked up the sound of running water as he raced after his charge. Hope flared in the midst of dark despair.

*Maybe he’s still alive! Maybe he was able to patch himself up!*

As he crested the hill overlooking the creek, he spotted the boy, lying on his back. In an instant he was hovering over the sleeping youth.

*Oh thank-*

Just then, he noticed an abnormality. The boy’s breathing was short and uneven, he was sweating profusely, and his heart was beating much too fast. Something was wrong. He started scanning the boy’s internals.

Immediately, he noticed a great, frothing mess in his intestines. As far as he could tell, the boy’s body was trying to digest a large amount of some kind of fruit. Initially, it appeared that the juices of the fruit itself were toxic. But on closer inspection, he noticed a nearly undetectable magical transfer when the blood cells tried to absorb the nutrients. Once the nutrients were consumed, the cells would either shrivel up and die or begin attacking the boy’s body.

He tried to remove the infected material with the strongest translocation spell he could manage, but it wouldn’t budge. Something blocked his attempt from the inside. He applied pressure to the plant flesh, trying to gauge its reaction. The pulp pushed back, its essence writhing and roiling against his.

*Chaos magic!*

He didn’t have enough energy to fight chaos magic, and the boy would die before he rested enough to try again.

*Not enough time. Need to act.*

The chaos magic was deflecting interference from outside the boy’s body, so there was only one other option.

*Oh, he is not going to be happy when he finds out…*

He hesitated, but then shook himself out of it.

*It doesn’t matter. He’s stranded here, with no chance of returning to his old life, because of my incompetence. The least I can do is keep him alive, even if it means sacrificing my freedom. He is my last charge, and he will survive.*

Relaxing his consciousness, he drifted down towards the boy’s head. He compressed his essence, and flew into the boy’s mouth, phasing through the flesh in the back of his throat. He wove himself into the neurons in a miniscule portion of the boy’s brain, overlapping the boy’s own attachments. From there, he began the arduous process of purging the boy’s system. He poured all of his energy into combating the ill effects of the chaos magic that had infused itself into the boy’s bloodstream, isolating and encasing every last mote. It would take a week or more for him to fully expel all of the toxic magic. Thankfully, once he had engaged the invading chaos, the boy’s body was able to process the fruit normally, even gaining nutrition from it. He only hoped he could subtly discourage the boy from eating any more of the enchanted fruit.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t see the toll the fruit had already taken on the boy’s mind.


Sam awoke to a warm, fuzzy feeling enveloping him in body and mind. He rubbed his face, trying to recall what had happened the day before, but he couldn’t think of anything special. He had a suspicion that something was different, but he felt too relaxed to really care. The sound of running water helped him recognize his thirst, and he sat up. He scooted down to the water and drank until he was no longer thirsty. A rumbling in his stomach brought the blue fruit to mind and he searched the area for another cluster.

Moments later he was moving to take another bite of the delicious treat. But he stopped short when he realized there was a small part of him saying it would be a very bad idea. He looked at the fruit.

I do need to eat… other things. But these are tasty. And in… big… There’s a lot of them. I’d be stupid to… not… eat them. Sam shook his head. I must still be tired. My thoughts are all…

He tried for a few minutes to think of the word, but came up empty. Instead he took another bite of the fruit, much to the horror of the little voice.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!