• Published 27th May 2015
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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.

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CHAPTER 04 - An Unanswered Mystery

“Sorry, but this is going to sting for just a bit.”

Fluttershy picked up the tweezers in her mouth, clamping down on the alcohol soaked cotton ball. She placed a comforting hoof on the ape creature’s thigh, already bare of his leggings, and moved in to begin disinfecting the gashes on his calf. But, at the lightest touch of the swab, his leg jerked away, and she received an angry yowl for her trouble. She set aside the tweezers, quietly sighing away her distress.

“Oh, come now. You’re not going to get better unless you let me help you. It’ll only sting for a little bit, I promise.”

The primate glared back at her, then dejectedly returned to his sidelong position facing the back of her couch, grumbling at the cushions. He relinquished his injury into her care again, sticking his leg out ramrod straight in a petulant display of displeasure. She giggled, seeing behavior in another animal that mirrored Angel Bunny’s, who was conspicuously absent. In fact all off her animal friends had vacated the cottage when she brought him in. Oh well, they’re probably just scared of him right now. I'll introduce them later.

“Don't worry. It won't take long, you big baby,” she teased good-naturedly.

Once again, Fluttershy retrieved the tweezers, and moved in to clean out the wound. This time, when the cotton contacted flesh, there was naught but an errant twitch and a hiss of discomfort. Fluttershy moved as efficiently as she could, keeping to her promise of swiftness. When she was satisfied that the gashes had been properly sanitized, she picked up the tube of antibiotic gel, squeezed a line along each cut, and then, with practiced ease, wrapped the whole thing up snug with an elastic bandage around a gauze pad.

While Fluttershy tended to her patient, Rarity had been examining his discarded clothing. He hadn’t much to offer, only his pair of denim leggings and a softer pair of undergarments. Plus that bag that kept giving her the heebie-jeebies. She couldn’t put her hoof on it, but something about the thing seemed wrong. Shaking herself of the disturbing thoughts, she returned her attention to the leggings. She held them up, thankful that they had taken the time to thoroughly wash both the creature and his clothing after they reached Fluttershy’s cottage; she’d had a difficult time standing near the poor thing the entire trip out of the forest. Twilight had run off to grab research materials as soon as they were clear of the trees. Only Fluttershy seemed able to bear his odor, though Rarity suspected she had been breathing through her mouth.

The leggings were standard, machine stitched denim, with a button and zipper combination at the front to better facilitate pulling them on. Their design was reminiscent of a few minotaur fashions she’d studied – she believed they called them “jeens” – so maybe that was something to look into. The leggings were held up by a standard canvas belt with no markings, and the tag sewn into the inside seam of the leggings gave no insight, either. It was written in a language foreign to her, so she would have to wait for Twilight to try and decipher it.

With a sigh, Rarity set the torn denim aside. Unfortunately, she could discern nothing from his cotton undergarment either. They appeared to be a simplification of the leggings, with shorter ‘sleeves,’ an elastic waistband, and a single button in place of a zipper. If there had ever been a design mark in the first place, it had long since been worn down or fallen off. While at first she didn’t understand their purpose, she began to suspect that the piece had been designed specifically for the mostly hairless ape. Denim was a fairly rough material, so the undergarment could be designed to alleviate chafing in his more sensitive regions. Plus, there was his... unusual condition.

She remembered his surprised yelp when she had first tried to disrobe him with her magic. After Fluttershy had coaxed him down from his hiding spot atop one of her shelves – she still couldn’t figure out how, with his size, he had managed to climb up without knocking it over – she helped Rarity to remove his leggings without much fuss. But when they tried to remove the undergarments, he had held on to them, giving them a look of confusion and uncertainty. He had only released his grasp when Fluttershy showed him the soapy washbasin she used to wash the other animals. They had certainly received quite a shock at that.

At first, Rarity had feared they had made a terrible mistake. He was completely exposed, and she had been certain something indecent was about to happen. But then he had simply climbed into the wooden basin, wincing at first when the water touched his injuries, then cooing happily as he settled into the warm water. When he made no other moves, Fluttershy then proceeded to wash him, unable to hide her blush. Either he hadn’t noticed her discomfort, or hadn’t understood, because he just sat there, humming contentedly as months of grime were washed away. But then, when Fluttershy had worked up the nerve to clean all of him, he had grabbed her hoof before it came too close, taking the brush to finish the job himself.

After he had been washed and dried, he just sat huddled in the towels, happily rubbing his face into the soft fabric. He hadn’t made a single move to indicate he was preparing for intimacy, and yet his stallionhood remained on display for all to see. If anything, he had seemed… looser than before. At that point, she took Fluttershy aside and demanded an explanation as quietly and nonchalantly as she could. Fluttershy seemed lost for a moment, before a curious look crossed her face. She looked over to the creature – who was watching them, head tilted in confusion – before turning back to Rarity. Then she said the strangest thing Rarity had heard yet.

“I think he might not have a sheath.”

It had taken Rarity a moment to process what she had heard.

“F- Fluttershy, darling, what are you talking about? That’s just silly.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking about it, and it kinda makes sense. I mean, he doesn’t really have much hair or fur, and I don’t think that’s because of an illness. His kind probably evolved in a warm climate, where it wasn’t as important to keep the cold out. Besides, I guess he kind of has a sheath. It’s just the skin covering his-”

“Yes, okay!” Rarity quickly interjected before Fluttershy could continue. “I’ll, uh, leave the explanation to the experts, I think. Just so long as he isn’t entertaining lewd thoughts.”

“I don’t think so. He’d probably be much… stiffer.”

Immediately, Rarity had retreated from the conversation, avoiding eye contact with either of the others in the room.

She had focused all her attention on examining his effects after that. Now that she was thinking about it, Fluttershy’s claim seemed more reasonable by the minute. It would certainly put his wearing clothing into context. Unfortunately, it still told her nothing about who had the clothing made for him.

Rarity grumbled in frustration. So many unanswered questions, and so few clues to go on. She couldn’t even discern anything from his fashions, her professed forte. She was about to toss the undergarment into a pile with the denim leggings, when she heard a low chirp from the couch. She turned to see the ape twisted around from his position facing the back of the couch, watching her, eyes occasionally flicking to the piece of clothing floating in the air. She glanced between the two until the connection clicked in her mind.

“You want these back, don’t you?”

He chirped again and held out his hand, palm up, in a supplicating gesture. She gave an amused huff, then levitated the garment over to him. Immediately, he snatched it out of her magic and clumsily put his legs through the sleeves, much to Fluttershy’s chagrin. Eventually, he figured out how they were supposed to go, and pulled them up, once again covering himself from roaming eyes. Rarity sighed in barely concealed relief.

Oh well. It’s not like there’s anything more to learn by studying them…

But then, she remembered there was one other object she hadn’t looked into. She glanced apprehensively at the bag sitting against the wall, and shuddered. It was just a bag, right? So why was she so revolted by the thing?

Steeling herself, Rarity strode up to the bag, determined not to let it best her. Once she was only a step away, she stopped, unable to take another step. She took a deep breath, and came to a compromise between her unease and her need for answers by examining it from a distance.

Critically speaking, the overall design was pleasantly simplistic. It was large, at least three times the size of a standard saddlebag, with three outer pockets – one on the front and one on each side – and secured by two standard belts wrapped vertically around either side of the front pocket. She was certain that she’d seen similar, albeit simpler, bags in use in minotaur fashions. However, she couldn’t be sure if this indicated that his owner was a minotaur, or if it had simply been based on minotaur designs for the ape creature to use.

Upon closer inspection, she noticed that the rounded metal snaps on the pockets were embossed with the image of a buffalo from the side, with unfamiliar letters that wrapped around the top and bottom of the image. Three of those same letters were engraved onto the front flap: from the left were one that looked like a snake or a curved road, one that looked like a snowy mountain peak or maybe a tent, and a third that looked like twin peaks. She wondered idly if Twilight knew anything about the language.

Well, there’s nothing more to be learned from the bag’s exterior. I suppose it’s time to open it up.

By then, Fluttershy was finishing up with the her first aid efforts.

“There we go. See, doesn’t that feel bet-”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!”

Instantly, all eyes were on Rarity.

“Rarity, what’s wrong?!”

Rarity backed away from the bag, holding her nose, nausea growing by the second. There was no mistaking that smell. She had only ever been to one griffon fashion show, and had been shocked to learn about the kinds of materials they used. At first she had been fascinated by the material they called ‘leather,’ entranced by its durability, its water-resistance, and its sheen. But when she’d asked how leather was made, she was not prepared for the answer.

“This… this… THING! It’s leather!”

“What?”

“Leather! It’s…” Rarity put a hoof over her mouth, trying her hardest not to gag. “It’s a griffon material, made from… tanned cow hide.”

Fluttershy gasped, looking between Rarity and the ape, who watched their distress with confusion and alarm of his own. Rarity swallowed audibly, trying to force her bile back down.

“Well, there’s nothing for it,” she asserted, “we’ll have to get rid of it.”

She proceeded to remove the contents of the bag, ignoring the squawk of protest from the ape. He had quite a few unusual things in the bag – tools, notebooks, a large black plastic rectangle that looked somewhat like a book – but she was too preoccupied with the target of her ire to take note of anything that fell out of it. Once she was satisfied that all of the contents of its pockets were emptied, she trotted towards the door, bag trailing behind in her magic aura.

“Rarity, wait!”

“Don’t worry, my dear. I’ll just go put this… abomination… in the trash, and we’ll have done with-”

She had barely crossed the threshold when a sudden tug on the bag stopped her short. She looked behind her to see the ape with his arms latched around the bag. She yanked on the strap, but he wouldn’t budge.

“Nnnnh… Let… go!”

The ape only growled at her and tightened his grip, a wild look in his eyes. She turned around, angling herself away from the ape for better leverage. She gritted her teeth and strained against him, digging furrows in the dirt with her hooves, but the bag wouldn’t budge an inch. After a few minutes struggle, the ape tore the bag out of her magical grasp and she fell backwards onto the dirt path. He bounded over to the far corner of the room and huddled protectively over his prize.

Rarity rocketed to her hooves, raging at the indignity of it all. She stormed over to the trembling ape, intent on giving him a piece of her mind.

“Rarity-”

“Not now, Fluttershy! Somepony needs to teach this ruffian some manners!”

She took a wide stance a few paces away from the ape, head lowered as though readying to charge, and began shouting.

“How dare you treat a lady that way?! I was trying to do something nice for you, you big gorilla! Do you even realize what that bag is? How it was made? If would just let me dispose of that disgusting display of butchery, I could make you something even bet-”

The ape, tired of her tirade, whipped his head around and glared at her. But Rarity saw something in his eyes that she didn’t expect. Instead of the glint primal rage, she found glistening tears and an angry expression of grief and pain. Taken aback, she opened her mouth to apologize. But before she could get out another word, he hissed at her, clenching the bag tighter to his chest.

She felt Fluttershy’s hoof on her shoulder, gently pulling her away.

“Come on, Rarity. I think we should give him some space.”

Fluttershy led her to the other side of the room, away from the agitated animal. Rarity sat down with a sniff, swallowing at a lump in her throat.

“What was that about? I really was trying to help him, you know. Poor thing probably doesn’t even know what he’s carrying.”

Fluttershy was silent for a time, carefully pondering her hooves, before she replied.

“Rarity… I was thinking. About where we found him. I think he may have been traveling through the Everfree with his owner, whoever that was, and that… that something may have happened to them,” she explained, then looked back at the ape. “That bag may be all he has left of his owner.”

Rarity stifled a gasp with her hoof, a pang of guilt freezing her insides.

“I… I hadn’t even considered…”

Suddenly it all made sense. Of course he would want to keep it. If it was the last reminder of a previous owner, one that he loved, it wouldn’t matter what it was. He’d want to keep it no matter the personal cost. He couldn’t help it if the one that cared for him had used barbaric practices. For all she knew, it was the norm where he came from. And here she was, trying to throw away the last reminder of a better time in his life. Her ears drooped as the shame washed over her.

Slowly, she got back on her hooves and walked over to the ape’s corner, shoulders hunched and head bowed. Fluttershy followed her progress with anxious eyes. Rarity stopped just inside of his reach. A moment passed, then two, and more, while Rarity tried to compose herself. Finally, she worked up the courage to speak.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured.

The ape’s head perked up, and he watched her suspiciously out of the corner of his eye.

“I didn’t think your bag might mean that much to you. It was… inconsiderate of me to try and do what I did. I promise I won’t touch your bag again. I’ll even make you a new one, so you can have two!”

Hopefully, Fluttershy can help you understand that your owner’s bag might make ponies uncomfortable. I just wish your memento wasn’t so… barbaric.

The ape frowned suspiciously at her, as if he could sense her ulterior motive. She flinched, hoping she hadn’t just made him more angry, even if he had every right to be. She would be if she were in his position. Her hesitant grin faded as the guilt came back full force.

“I really am sorry.”

For a moment, Rarity was convinced that the ape wouldn’t forgive her, and reminded herself that his anger was definitely justified. But her self-berating was interrupted by the soft touch of the ape’s fingers on her arm. Her eyes snapped up to his, and was surprised to see that his eyes matched his touch. She could swear that she saw the forgiveness. He was still miffed, but he would let it slide. She put a thankful hoof over his hand.

“I will keep my promise.”

Just then, the front door to Fluttershy’s cottage burst open, revealing a very frazzled and disheveled Twilight Sparkle. With a grunt, she dumped several saddlebags loaded up with books onto the floor. She stomped over to the couch and, with a frustrated growl, flung herself onto it.

“Twilight!” Fluttershy exclaimed, fluttering over to her friend. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing!”

“Huh?” Fluttershy’s brow furrowed in confusion.

“I found nothing! There’s nothing in any zoology textbook, expedition account, or myth in all of Golden Oaks Library that could possibly refer to him!”

“Really?” Rarity marvelled, joining them at the couch. “Nothing at all?”

“The closest thing I could find that looks anything like him are chimpanzees, but even then the physical differences are staggering. In size alone, he’s closer to a gorilla, but very little else! Everything has more hair than him. The only thing I know for certain is that he’s a primate.”

She buried her face in one of the cushions and moaned loudly once more. It seemed that the ape was able to recognize the tension in the room, because he gently placed his bag in the corner and crawled over to the trio of ponies. He looked nervously between their downcast faces, unsure of what was causing their distress. But in his mind, there was only one remedy.

Carefully, he crawled up on the couch and sat on his heels next to Twilight. She was about to look around to see what he was up to, when she felt something combing through her mane. Her heart shot up into her throat. A glance back showed her that he was running his fingers through her hair, straightening out her mane in the process. Confused and a unsettled by this strange display, Twilight turned to the animal expert.

“Fluttershy!” She hissed through clenched teeth, “What’s he doing?”

Startled out of her pensive contemplation, Fluttershy’s attention shot up to the couch, fearing the worst. It took a moment to process what she was seeing. But instead of concern, she found herself relieved and amused, and couldn’t help but giggle at Twilight’s unnecessary dismay.

“Twilight, he’s grooming you,” she reassured, touched by the large creature’s care for her friend’s mental state. “It’s something primates do to comfort and bond with one another. He’s trying to help you relax.”

The knot of anxiety unraveled with Fluttershy’s explanation, though Twilight was still unsure of how she should be responding to this attention. But as his ministrations continued, she found herself growing increasingly relaxed, even reassured by his touch. As she loosened up, the ape began humming in contentment, seeing he was making progress. Eventually, Twilight let loose a long sigh, feeling much calmer, though her shoulders and back were still sore from tension and hunching over tomes of information. At this, the ape ceased grooming, satisfied that he had helped. He then let loose a titanic yawn, curled up on the opposite end of the couch, and promptly fell asleep.

“Poor thing,” Fluttershy cooed, “I can’t imagine how hard it must have been on him, having to survive in the Everfree all on his own. I gave him some more food when we got back, and he would have choked if I hadn’t coaxed him into slowing down.”

“Not to mention what you suspect of his backstory,” Rarity added sullenly.

“Why, what do you think happened?” Twilight asked, already dreading the answer.

“Well, it’s pretty obvious he must have been tame before he lived in the Everfree. But from how protective he is of the bag he had with him, Fluttershy thinks he may have witnessed his previous owner’s… death.”

Twilight nearly gasped aloud at the thought, but quickly remembered the sleeping ape next to her.

“Oh how horrible,” she murmured, watching him with sad eyes. “Have you found out who his master was?”

Rarity sighed. “Unfortunately, no. I haven’t had a chance to examine the contents of the bag yet, but any writings we may find there will probably be just as foreign as the markings on the bag itself. I think it’s possible that his owner was either a griffon, since the bag is made of… eugh, leather… or a minotaur, from its design. Unfortunately, I can’t tell for certain. His clothes are far too simple to identify their origin, and the one tag I could find was likely printed in the same language.”

The trio mulled over the information, curiosity growing by the minute. Quite a confounding mystery they had gotten themselves into. Every answer seemed to sprout five more questions. Finally, Twilight made up her mind. They weren’t going to get anywhere by sitting around, moping about their ignorance. She stood up and made her way over to her saddlebags.

“Alright, girls, we have work to do if we want to piece this puzzle together. Fluttershy?”

“Yes, Twilight?”

“Do you think you could convince Dr. Fauna to come take a look at him?” She called over her shoulder, pulling a quill, ink, and scroll out of her saddlebags. “She may know something that can help us figure out where he came from.”

“I’ll try, but I don’t know if she’ll be able to come right away. Her clinic can be awfully busy at times.”

Twilight nodded, already jotting down notes. “Just ask her to come by ASAP. I don’t want to keep you from taking care of your animals.” She then turned to Rarity.

“Rarity, could you get one of the other girls to help get these books from the library?” Twilight passed the list she had been writing over to Rarity’s levitation. “Spike should know where to find them. In the mean time, I’m going to study the things you found in his bag.”

Rarity glanced hesitantly at the sleeping ape. “Alright. But, for goodness sake, be careful! He was rather upset when I tried to take his bag. I don’t want to find out what may happen if your… ahem, curiosity, gets the better of you.” She pointedly eyed the more peculiar objects in the pile of the ape’s possessions. Twilight followed her gaze and immediately recognized Rarity’s worry. She chuckled sheepishly.

“Alright, I promise not to try taking anything apart until he’s awake.”

Rarity capitulated with her best long-suffering sigh, knowing that was likely the best assurance she was going to get.

“Very well, we’ll be back as soon as we can, darling.”

Twilight simply hummed an affirmation, already engrossed in sorting the contents of the bag by type. Slowly shaking her head in defeat, Rarity followed Fluttershy outside. Fluttershy gave Twilight one last worried stare before closing the door behind her. She quickly joined Rarity on her way down the lane from the cottage, still glancing anxiously back at the door. Eventually, she gave in and spoke her fears.

“Oh, do you think Twilight will be okay in there, by herself?”

Rarity let out what felt like her hundredth distressed sigh that day. “I suppose she can handle herself. She did promise not to do anything too rash.” But then she followed Fluttershy’s example and stared uneasily at the cottage.

“On the other hoof, you’d best run along. The quicker you get your message to Dr. Fauna, the quicker you can come back to keep an eye on things.”

“Alright. I’ll see you back at the cottage?”

"Sure thing, darling. I'll see you soon."

With that, Fluttershy took to the air, making a beeline for the Ponyville Veterinary Clinic, hoping frantically that nothing would go amiss in her absence.

*****

Boredom. It was the bane of Rainbow Dash’s existence.

Usually, her days were occupied with weather management and aerial acrobatics. However, today’s weather was scheduled to be the same as yesterday’s: slightly cloudy. The weather team only needed to shift the clouds around a bit, to make sure nothing was covered too completely. She’d also been banned from practicing her stunts for a week, as punishment for crashing into Town Hall.

“Honestly,” she grumbled to herself, fluffing up the cloud she was laying on, “it was only a window and a couple of filing cabinets. I don’t see why the Mayor’s making such a big fuss.”

She flopped back down onto her stomach, idly kicking her legs up. She’d already taken a nap, so it wasn’t like she was tired, and Pinkie wasn’t available for pranking. I wonder why she was so insistent on waiting for Rarity to show up.

She was about to resign herself to rereading the Daring Do series for the hundred-millionth time when, all of a sudden, Fluttershy shot by beneath her cloud perch. Startled, she almost fell off the edge. She watched Fluttershy speeding off for a moment, bewildered by her haste. Fluttershy almost never flew that fast! Huh, maybe something interesting will happen today.

Rainbow dove off the cloud, feeling the rush of the wind under her wings. She set a strong pace, easily gaining on the generally ground-bound pegasus. Just as she reached her, Rainbow called out.

“Hey, Fluttershy!” She bubbled, pulling off a lazy loop when she caught up, excited by her friend’s urgency. “What’s shakin’?”

Fluttershy, startled by Rainbow’s sudden appearance, faltered in her flight, dropping almost a full wingbeat in altitude. Rainbow would have caught her, but she recovered admirably, returning to her original course with all haste.

“Rainbow Dash, you startled me!”

“Sorry, Shy. I was just wondering what’s the rush?”

“Oh, well, I need to ask Dr. Fauna to come by my cottage as soon as she can. I have a new animal there, and we think we could use her expertise.”

“Wait, we?”

“Yes,” Fluttershy continued, “Twilight, Rarity and I found him on the way back from Zecora’s, being chased by a Manticore.”

“Woah, really?! How did you guys escape the Manticore?”

“Oh, no, we weren’t being chased, he was.”

“Oh wow, he must be in pretty bad shape if you need Dr. Fauna’s help.”

“Not really. We’re just not sure what he is. We were hoping she might have some idea.”

Rainbow Dash was stunned. An animal that neither Twilight nor Fluttershy knew about… She started grinning excitedly.

“Hey, I’ll go get Dr. Fauna for you! Then you can go take care of the animal while I bring her to you.”

“Oh, um, sure, if you wouldn’t mind, that is.”

“Course not! I wanna see this new creature that has two of my smartest friends stumped!”

Fluttershy blushed lightly at the offhoof compliment as they slowed to a halt in mid air. “Well, okay. If you want to, then I guess it’s okay. Just tell her to come by as soon as she’s available. I don’t want to impose.”

“Pfft, whatever. I bet she’ll come running when I tell her you found a rare animal! See you back at your place!” She gave a single wave as farewell before shooting off towards the clinic, leaving her signature rainbow trail in her wake. Fluttershy just stared after her in a confused daze. After a moment, she shook herself out of it, and headed back to her cottage, eager to check up on Twilight and the ape.

*****

“Pinkie, would you please slow down?!” Rarity pleaded, struggling to keep up with the bouncy pink mare.

“But if I slow down, I’ll have to wait long to meet our new friend!” Pinkie shrieked giddily. “Ooo, I wonder if he likes parties.”

Applejack regarded her excitable friend curiously from alongside Rarity, balancing two bushels of apples across her back and the tops of her largest saddlebags, which were filled to the brim with books from Twilight’s library. She had heard the pair nearly tearing the library apart on her way to deliver the apples to Fluttershy’s. When she stopped to see what they were doing, Rarity had roped her into helping to curb Pinkie’s hyperactive enthusiasm. Pinkie had obviously been running her ragged long before Applejack came along. But even after Applejack relieved her of some of the burden, she still couldn’t quite match Pinkie’s pace.

“Pinkie,” Applejack called out, “it’s only some new critter of Fluttershy’s. You don’t need to throw a party for every animal that comes to Ponyville.”

“I know,” Pinkie bubble, “but something tells me that this new animal is suuuper special, even apart from the fact that both Fluttershy AND Twilight didn’t know what he is!”

“What makes you say that?”

“Just a hunch!”

Bewildered, Applejack exchanged looks with Rarity, as if she had the answers.

“I’m telling you,” Rarity said between gasping breaths, “she was waiting for me outside Sugarcube Corner with two sets of empty saddlebags, as if she knew I was coming!”

Applejack just shook her head. Another case of the Pinkie Sense at work, if ever she saw one.

“Come on you guys!” Pinkie shouted. “I think I see Fluttershy’s up ahead!”

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