• Published 13th May 2012
  • 4,971 Views, 125 Comments

Tiger Bloom - Tundara

Applebloom finds herself in the Everfree with a guardian that may be more dangerous than the forest.

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Part Two: The Dragon's Lair

Tiger Bloom

Part Two

I didn’t sleep much that night. My mind kept pacing back and forth, shooting curious glances at the soft warmth pressing against me. At some point the filly had crawled under my right forelimb, using it as a cover and a paw as a pillow. She was so cute I could just eat her up.

My mouth watered at the idea of my jaws pressing down on her throat. I was so hungry and she was prey, it should have been so simple. Yet every time I looked at her pink ribbon my blood froze and my insides re-arranged themselves in a complicated dance.

The filly wasn’t the only thing on my mind. There were three lovely little aches in my shoulder and haunches from where I’d been bitten. Unable to get at the bites on my haunches without waking the filly I settled for inspecting my shoulder. To my relief the bite wasn’t deep. In a few days it’d be well on the mend. Assuming I could get some food in my system.

And there I was thinking about how hungry I was, again.

It was going to be a long few days, I could tell.

Very gingerly I slid myself out of the filly’s death-grip on my paw and climbed onto my aching legs. Stretching to work out some of the aches and to finally get a look at the remaining bites, both shallow thankfully, I decided that I had to do something about the nagging thoughts about the filly, my stomach, and where the two intersected. Something had to be done about the persistent tug in my stomach and the potential meal the filly represented.

Unless I just abandoned her.

Looking down on the filly I felt a mix of dread and confusion. My head was swirling with emotions I had no idea how to deal with or control. Fixing my gaze firmly on her ribbon I stared at the inanimate pink thing like I could force it to reveal its secrets. After a few moments I had to turn away as my breath began to quicken and my heart hammer in my chest.

Whatever it was about that ribbon that affected me I wouldn’t learn unless I stayed and helped the filly. If I was going to do that I had to at least mitigate the threat I posed.

Marking the filly and tree in my memory I slid deeper into the forest, a whisper promising swift death that barely rustled leaves on low hanging branches. At least that was my hope. I am certain I scared off more than a few meals with the inopportune snap of a twig or swish of fallen leaves under clumsy paws. I didn’t venture far from the filly, putting another hamper on hunting. Every time I found my path taking me more than a few minutes away from where the filly still slept I found a persistent worry that’d smack me upside the brain. Turning around I’d slink back close enough to see the filly still sleeping before heading off again.

This went on for a good while, me going out, and then back empty pawed. Eventually I did find some prey, nothing extravagant like a deer or elk, but rather a couple field mice and a little white rabbit. I wasn’t exactly sated, but I wasn’t starving, the first food I’d ever tasted lessoning the pinch in my belly. Best of all the thoughts about eating the filly finally quieted down.

Feeling more confident and assured than I ever had, I returned to the filly.

She was still curled in a tight ball, shivering a little in the chilly night air, where I had left her. Smiling a toothy grin I curled up around her, draping a limb over her little body. After a couple moments she stopped shivering, rolled over, and gave a content sigh. Closing my eyes I drifted off to sleep.

In that sleep I dreamt of tall two legged creatures. There were dozens of them just at the edge of my sight moving through a hazy cloud. Among them I heard children laughing, little arms raised to point at me. Irritated I wanted to wipe away the invisible leers and laughter. But I couldn’t reach them. Every time I came close the cloud would grow solid stopping me as surely as if it was a wall.

Utterly unacceptable.

I may not have known who I was, but I knew what I am. I can feel it thrumming through all six hundred pounds of muscle, bone, and fang; I am a hunter. You don’t laugh at a hunter, not when he can rip out your throat as easy as winking. That I couldn't actually get at the creatures, which meant they did have a right to laugh, was even worse.

Growling I turned back finding a nice sun warmed rock to lay on and trying to block out the unintelligible murmur of noise filling the dream.

The spindly two-legs faded away replaced by something sitting beside me. A cloud wall separated us showing only a shapeless lump. Through the cloud, clearer than the laughter had been, filtered a strong resonating song. A male was singing about rejection and sadness, about his creations being ignored, and how he’d show others the beauty in his work. I rotated my head to look at the blurry shape leaning against the cloud. It was so very familiar, and yet, so very strange and new.

That first dream, the first recognizable fragment of my past to surface, still sits with me the strongest. The laughter, the frustration, the heavy blanket weighing down on my heart, the song; it is with me always, as are the memories that returned later.

A bug crawling across my nose shattered my short lived sleep, its little feet tickling me until I sneezed. Opening my eyes I saw a beetle lying on its back, legs kicking in the air uselessly between my paws. The sneeze had the effect of also waking the filly.

“Five more minutes, Applejack,” she mumbled into the soft fur of my paw before rolling over.

Realising she wasn’t in her bed, the filly’s eyes snapped open to be greeted by my fangs as I let out a long yawn. A shrill scream punctured the early morning air, the filly scrambling out from under my leg and up against one of the tree’s broad roots. I gave her what I hoped was a deadpan stare as she quickly looked from me to the forest around us.

“Not ah dream?” the filly asked the forest. I remained silent. She’d remember and figure things out on her own. “Wait, did... did yah foal-nap me?” she asked instead.

Rolling my eyes I got up slowly and stretched, the filly shrinking back farther against the root.

"I rescued you, remember?" I muttered with a little growl.

“No, Ah remember now, yah saved me from the Timber Wolves,” the filly said stepping back towards me. “Golly, ah don’t know how ah can thank yah.”

I nodded and smiled. So, I learned that the wolves were ‘Timber Wolves’. I prefer the alliteration of 'Wood Wolves' over the pun personally.

The filly shifted a little closer warily watching me as I continued to stretch. Slowly, her eyes filled with wonder and fear, she raised a hoof holding it out towards me.

“Mah name is Apple Bloom, what's yours?”

I looked at the extended hoof for several long seconds, the filly's face gradually descending from a wide smile, to a perplexed cant, before settling on worry. Apple Bloom looked so cute, the way her ears rotated and the tops of her eyes pinched together as she bit her lower lip. Finally a little switch in my brain flipped and I held out one paw in a mirror of the filly.

"I am... I don't know." I responded as the filly grabbed my paw in her fetlock, shaking it twice before letting go.

"It's okay, yah don't have to tell me yah name if yah don't want to."

"It's not that I don't want to, I just can't remember," I grumbled pacing back and forth.

"So... what do we do now?" Apple Bloom asked looked around at the trees crowding around us.

Before I could reply something new, but oddly familiar, slammed into my awareness with all the subtlety of an angry bear. My head snapped up as I tentatively tested the air, running all the scents and smells of the forest through my nose and over my tongue. Whatever it was drove a lance of fear deep into my heart. I couldn't place the origin of the scent, but it was something evil, and dangerous. My ears perked for the slightest noise. It didn't take long to hear the gentle hiss of leaves being brushed aside and a muffled snap of a branch.

Whatever it was that approached was large and confident, that was all I could glean.

Warnings screaming inside my head I scooped up Apple Bloom and headed south, or rather south-ish. The dull glow of the sun against the belly of the clouds made it difficult to know for sure.

“Aww, do yah have to hold me in yah mouth? Yah’ll slobbering on my mane,” the filly crossed her forelegs, her back hooves dangling. I imagine she was also scowling.

My jaw was aching from the effort and control needed to not hurt the filly, my heart shivered at the idea of tasting her blood again. That would not provide the answers I wanted however. With a roll of my eyes and twist of my head the filly was deposited on my shoulders, her chin resting on top of my broad head.

“Yeah, this is much better!”

I just smiled. Truth is it was easier with her riding on my back rather than carrying her. Plus there wasn’t the constant dangling idea to just bite down.

Along the back of my neck my hackles shivered, my ears twitching at every slight sound of the forest. The birds had stopped chirping, which is never a good sign. But whatever it was that had frightened me had fallen behind. Picking up my pace we skimmed the edge of a tall steep mountain that was almost a sheer cliff. I wasn't going to give it another opportunity.

Remarkably the filly remained was mostly quiet, just looking around at the lush greenery. Occasionally she'd ask a question, usually about some plant or flower, or if I knew where I was going. All were answerable with a monosyllable grunt.

It was during this time she took to calling me 'Mr. Cat'.

I didn't feel like arguing the name. It was as good as any other.

Overhead the clouds parted as little shafts and pillars of golden light started to peek through the canopy. Up ahead I spotted a wider area, the forest opening into a small field. Flowers of every conceivable colour, from blue to purple to green and yellow with a swath of shimmering grey mixed in, criss-crossed the field.

I was about to let Apple Bloom down so she could have something to eat when they came slinking out of the shadows around the edge of the field.

All five of the Timber Wolves strode confidently forward, their fangs showing in threatening display. I cursed myself for a fool as I realised that they had been shadowing Apple Bloom and I for the last few hours, keeping downwind to avoid detection. Quickly I scanned for an avenue of escape, only to quickly realise that we were well and truly trapped.

The cliff behind was to steep. The wolves cut off any escape back into the woods. Even if I could get passed them they had proven to have more endurance in a long chase already.

Lowering myself I slowly scooted backwards, hunching my shoulders as my ears went flat and my fangs were bared.

It was about then I felt a tug on my ear and a voice whispered, "Mr. Cat, there is a cave behind us," almost making me jump out of my skin. Even with her sitting astride my shoulders it had taken only a few seconds for me to completely forget about Apple Bloom.

I spent all of a second debating her suggestion. A cave would be just another trap, but one where I could at least lessen the angles of attack open to the wolves, and maybe keep them away from Apple Bloom. As far as plans go it was terrible, but so was trying to fight five wolves at once in an open field.

Turning on my heel I sprinted for the cave, spotting it after a couple bounds a little to the left, hidden in a long shadow cast by a pair of burnt oak trees.

“Yah need to go faster, Mr. Cat!” Apple Bloom practically shrieked as the wolves leapt after us.

Claws scrambled over loose rocks as I tried to follow the filly’s obvious advice. For the second time in as many days I felt the sickly sweet breath of the wolves wafting over my tail. Kicking off I dived inside the cave, spinning as I landed and letting Apple Bloom's momentum cause her to tumble off my back. With a yelp the filly bounced and then rolled across the smooth cold cave, coming to a rest upside down against something large and green.

I didn't spare any further thought for Apple Bloom as I raised a paw in anticipation of a pouncing wolf. Instead I saw them pacing just beyond the cave's yawning mouth.

Confused I lowered my paw and backed towards where Apple Bloom lay, the filly grumbling to herself as she rubbed her head.

"Why ain't they following us?" Apple Bloom asked as she found her footing.

"I have no idea," I replied with a swish of my tail. "Is there another way out of-"

Apple Bloom screaming at the top of her lungs cut off my question.

Twisting around I again raised a paw, claws extended, ready to face whatever new threat had found us, only to be confronted by a single, massive, amber eye larger than my head.

A great rumble echoed through the cave as, slowly, the head of a lizard began to rise, its eyes narrowed and fixated on me. Teeth long as my head and talons like swords glistened in the half-light. All my fur was standing at attention in a flimsy instinctual attempt to look bigger. I still felt like I’d barely make a snack for the monster. As it sat back casually looking me and the filly over I finally got a true sense of the size of the lizard. It was like a living mountain inside the mountain, one that was teeth and claws and wings. Big wings that were like green sails.

It was about then that I realised that this wasn’t a lizard. Lizards don’t have wings. My suspicions were confirmed seconds later.

“Uh, h-hi Mr. Dragon, h-how’s it a-all going?” Apple Bloom stammered shrinking back into my fur.

The dragon seemed to notice the filly on my head for the first time, its eyes opening wide for an instant before shrinking into even smaller pin-pricks of anger.

“A pony!” the dragon roared, the mountain shaking with the power in its voice. “Are you here to steal my gems like the purple one and her pet?”

“W-what? No! A-ah course n-not!”

My heart was pounding in my chest louder than the percussion section of a symphony as the dragon narrowed its eyes further in suspicion. They became two narrow slits on its long craggy face.

"We have no interest in your gems," I added, a frantic note in the flick of my ears.

Just as the dragon was about to say something the pack of wolves began slipping into the cave.

I caught the movement out of the corner of my eye, and so did the dragon.

Seeing the wolves, the dragon exploded with rage. A great burst of heat created a flash fog as all the moisture in the cave evaporated in one quick whoosh. I reacted on instinct, turning and bounding as fast as I could towards the entrance. On either side of me was a Wood Wolf, the beasts harrying and nipping at my legs. A second later a long tongue of orange fire swept behind me licking at the tip of my tail. One of the wolves wasn’t so fortunate, its wooden body exploding in fire, sap popping and sizzling, it's companion continuing out into the streaming daylight.

My jaw fell open as I watched the dead wolf collapse. Hopping away from the burning pile of wood I almost stumbled as my brain tried to remind of something important.

Apple Bloom shrieking for all her lungs were worth smashed into my senses strides away from the cave's mouth. Screeching to a halt I looked back over my shoulder.

My eyes went wide as I saw Apple Bloom, her head whipping every direction, standing underneath the dragon. Around her the three remaining wolves tried to dart past the dragons trunk-like limbs. Massive jaws snapped at the wolves forcing the wooden things to retreat. Thick oily black smoke billowing from his nostrils the dragon continued to push the wolves back.

I wondered for a moment why the dragon didn't breath fire on the three wolves when it had destroyed one so efficiently. The golden glittering beneath the wolves and dragon was a hint I didn't notice at the time.

Coins clattering under her hooves, Apple Bloom darted towards a side passage that, probably, lead deeper into the mountain. I looked from the filly racing out from under the dragon, to the entrance of the cave, and back to the filly. Every nerve in my body was screaming to get out of the cave and away from its massive angry owner. But a voice, thin and melodic, was louder, telling me in no uncertain terms to get my stripped hide moving and rescue the filly.

It was the accursed ribbon that was the decider.

One glimpse of it flopping in Apple Bloom's mane and my legs were in motion. Bounding forward I cut between the wolf I had partially blinded the previous day and the dragon, my paws kicking up a shower of gold. The dragon's eye flashed from the wolves to me, fire curling around his teeth. Leaning down I caught Apple Bloom, flipping her into the air as I turned towards the cave's mouth.

"You came back for me?" Apple Bloom gasped as she landed on my back, hooves digging into my sides as she held on for dear life.

Any response was cancelled as the dragon’s tail smashed down in front of me, not unlike the spiked club of an ogre or perhaps a falling tree. Not slowing I leapt over the tail and protruding lime green spikes. My aim wasn’t all it could have been as one of the razor sharp edges caught me just along my left side, scoring a gash a couple feet long down my chest. Gritting my teeth I refused to acknowledge the pain as I landed.

Closing my eyes I poured on an extra burst of speed as the welcoming glow of the sun fell across my face.

A couple strides from the cave Apple Bloom gave a sharp yank on my ear, bringing me into a sharp turn that saved both our lives as deep red fire ripped across the path I had been taking. Behind me I could feel and hear the ground tremble as the dragon chased the remaining wolves out of his home.

Several moments later and the cool damp air of the forest greeted us. Fire scoured the air and trees moaned before crashing underneath the dragon's claws.

The dragon must have picked one of the wolves to chase as after a few minutes I slowed down not hearing the thunder of his pursuit. Panting I slid down in the hollow between two ancient trees. Tumbling off my head Apple Bloom gave me a concerned look.

“Yah don’t look so good, Mr. Cat.”

I just smiled before drifting off into a deep pool of black.

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