• Published 13th May 2012
  • 4,981 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 Four: Caught in the Carrion Crow's Craw

Tiger Bloom

Part Four

I honestly have no idea how to start this.

Do tell you about the dreams I had that night? Another exciting bit of my still mostly fragmented past. But that’s how I opened up the last bit of this story and I think Selena’s ghost would haunt me if I used that tired cliché twice in a row.

Poor Selena.

I wish that memory hadn’t returned.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. There will be time for that part of the story later.

Also, the remainder of that day wasn’t without more excitement and the greatest danger me and Apple Bloom had faced yet. What happened after encountering the Demon Flower, as I’ve come to call them, Poison Joke is too nice a name for something so twisted and evil, will haunt my nightmare’s until I die. Even after a day of chases, dragons, and a Wood Wolf being turned into a tree the forest had worse in store for us.

I'd rather not relate the remainder of that day. It'd be so much easier to say that we wandered in circles for hours before collapsing from exhaustion. Easier, but a lie.

“Do yah think they all are looking for me, Mr. Cat?” Apple Bloom asked.

She was again riding on my back, her back legs dangling in front of my shoulders and her head propped up on her fore hooves as she rested her elbows, for lack of a better term, on top of my head. Apple Bloom's voice was so sad and distant. She’d been quiet for the previous hour after giving the wolves the slip, this time for good I hoped. With only three of them left I was becoming less concerned if they did return. The filly had been so quiet I had started to wonder if maybe the Demon Flower had done something to her.

“They should ah found me by now, right? Ah mean, the whole town’s got to be searching for me, right?”

I remained focused on the path and the woods being careful to avoid all plants, shrubs, bushes, weeds, and even trying to avoid touching the trees as Apple Bloom continued to air her thoughts. My skin crawled at the slightest brush through my fur. An idle part of my mind had taken to the idea that the entire forest might be animals that had been turned into trees by those evil little flowers. It was a very small portion of my thoughts going over that idea, but still enough that I was jumping at shadows and missed the next couple minutes of the filly talking.

“Miss Sparkle must have some spell or other in her library that could find me. Ah mean, she is the Most Faithful Student of Princess Celestia. She has it written on a plaque in the library and everything. So, why ain’t they found me yet?”

What could I say to that?

I didn’t know anything about comforting a lost cub, or filly in this case. Not having eaten her was already something of a minor miracle. We’d spent a little over a day together, which already was more time than I spent with anyone other than Czarina and Selena. No comforting words came to mind as Apple Bloom sniffled on top of my head.

Even if I had any to share, she wouldn't have understood me.

I couldn’t stand to see her so miserable. New emotions bubbled just below the surface tugging at my heart with every sniffle. What could I do to help her out of her misery? Scattered memories pulled up gave no hints.

So I did something so unnatural and insane it just had to work.

I sang.

There were no real lyrics, or structure, I just started to hum as I padded towards what I hoped was the forests edge. After a few moments I started to sing, at first just about what I was doing, namely walking. Yes, I was in the middle of a dark creepy forest with a filly perched on top of my head and I was singing about how I was putting one paw in front of the other. Worse, I was terribly off tune.

Birds grew silent as my cracking voice began to filter through the forest. Even the filly was covering her ears. High notes were the worst, my throat protesting the abuse as I tried to squeeze out the makeshift song. Then in my ears an ethereal tune began to play, a whisper of a memory that guided my singing with the slow notes of an orchestra away from the simple description of walking through a haunted forest. Horns mixed with violins, cellos, and clarinets in a dance of sound so pure I can still hear it when I close my eyes.

My voice stopped cracking from being forced it into a range it wasn’t suited. Instead it turned into a low rumble that shook the ground beneath my paws. Illuminated in a golden finger of light peaking through the canopy I stopped walking. Lifting myself onto my hind legs I stretched up towards the sun high above as the gentle rumble of the lyrics continued to poor forth in a wave describing my many strengths and power. Apple Bloom was no longer plugging her ears and grabbed onto my shoulders tighter so she didn’t slide off my back as I propped myself up using a nearby tree.

Tears stung my eyes as I launched myself into the second verse of the song with barely a pause. Around me the forest seemed to grow smaller as I swept my free paw through the clear afternoon air. In my mind the music slowed to a mournful crawl lamenting a longing for something never known as my deep voice trailed off pleading for a release from the empty world. Just as I felt like the song was about to end my voice leapt into the branches again exulting my strengths and talents, all of them so tiring and worthless. A great weariness seeped out of my bones and into every fiber of my being as I fell back onto all four paws.

At the corner of my lips I tasted the salty tang of tears running freely down my face. Yet the song wasn’t done yet. A mournful flute tugged my voice lower still as I felt the finale approach. At last my voice trailed away into nothingness. My heart was hammering in my chest like I had just been running, feeling so heavy and yet empty. I was hollow, and I had been for years I realised.

“That... that was uh... interesting Mr. Cat,” Apple Bloom said after several moments of silence.

I shrugged wiping away the remaining tears as I closed my eyes.

“Were yah singing?”

A curt nod in response.

Oh, how I wish in that moment that I could look up at her and say with a cheeky smirk ‘no’. We’d fall to the ground rolling and laughing at the clever bit of teasing before getting up and continuing our journey filling the forest with our chattering voices. But the simple fact is I can’t speak in the same manner as the filly. There was and always will be a wall between us. At least I can understand her even if she’ll never hear me. So I just gave a little shake of my head and tried to hold back the welling loneliness.

Sitting still I took a shuddering breath as the emptiness continued to grow. It’s hard to put into words what it is like to learn that you’ll never be able to share your innermost thoughts and feelings, or something as simple as a greeting, with another. A part of my world, one taken for granted, was missing and there was no way to fill the hole it created. Never would I be able to share a joke with the Apple Bloom. Nor would I be able to tell her how pretty her name sounded.

“Where’d yah learn to sing like that?” Apple Bloom asked leaning forward to look me in the eyes. “It was kind of like a deep rumbling landslide, or something.”

I just shrugged at Apple Bloom’s question. I had no answer, and even if I did I couldn’t share it with her. I wasn’t even sure I had ever sung before in my life. When I had been walking and ‘singing’ it certainly hadn’t felt normal or natural. With the music flowing through my mind it felt more like I was lost in a memory and was just an outlet for the past. Neither made me believe that singing was something I ever did, and certainly in the few memories I had regained I hadn’t sung.

At last I opened my eyes again and what I saw stole my breath away.

Standing only a dozen paces away half hidden in the shade of an old willow was one of the spindly creatures from my dreams. The creature’s left side was hidden by the willow’s natural curtains. Slender in build, more so than most of the creatures in the dream, it was greyish in colour with long auburn hair that hung down nearly to the waist. The creature was so familiar with its oval face and large brown eyes.

My insides twisted in a knot as I took a step closer to the creature. I felt so certain that I knew it, that I knew her. Realization struck me that this was a woman. She beckoned me to follow slipping away down the path. Without thinking I began to move, my paws kicking up dirt as I broke into a quick trot.

She was moving fast, easily keeping ahead of me even as I sped up into a short loping run. Whenever I got close she vanished with a laugh only to reappear further ahead.

“Mr. Cat, where ah we going?” Apple Bloom asked from atop my head.

I didn’t respond as I tried to keep the woman in sight. She was so familiar and I had to know who she was and why just the sight of her was enough to make my heart shudder in delight. I couldn’t remember feeling such a pure sweet sense of joy before, which I understand isn’t saying much given the condition of my memory at the time. My paws seemed to float across the forest floor as I continued to follow the woman.

“Mr. Cat? Mr. Cat!”

To the west the sun began to set behind the mountains. Only dimly was I aware of the fading light, not that night bothered me. The woman continued to laugh and beckon me to follow as we went deeper into the forest. Overhead the branches of the trees grew gnarled, twisting together to form an impenetrable weave. No light shun in this part of the forest. Even the little critters were absent. I continued onwards not noticing the changes.

“Mr. Cat, what’s gotten into yah?”

On my head Apple Bloom began to pull on my ears. I felt the tugging and slowed a half step rotating my head to look at the filly. For a brief moment I wondered what she was doing on my back. Growling at the filly I tried to shake her from my back. Yelping Apple Bloom clung tighter to my neck. A soft laugh from the woman drew my attention away from Apple Bloom and back to the path. During Apple Bloom’s distraction the woman had put more distance between herself and me. A moment of panic tripped my heart and forgetting about the small pony on my back I took off into a run to catch up to the woman.

“Snap out of it, Mr. Cat!”

Apple Bloom’s voice was a distant sound as my senses focused in on the woman. As I began to run so had she, weaving and bobbing among trees that crowded closer and closer together. Many were so close as to form walls of black bark and moss covered limbs. Then the forest opened into a little clearing, red bellied clouds hanging low overhead. Underneath my paws little stones clicked together. In the center of the clearing was a single dead tree, its old brittle branches hanging down to the ground.

“Ah’m sorry to do this Mr. Cat!”

I’m only vaguely aware of what Apple Bloom said, I was too focused on the woman. She was sitting on one of the low branches. Her smile was like golden honey poured onto a thick cut of steak. A goofy grin tickling my face I trotted towards the woman. Just as I neared the dead tree Apple Bloom bit my ear. Yelping I jumped straight up and landed with a clatter.

“Sorry,” Apple Bloom said still straddling my back.

Slowly getting back to my paws I shook my head slowly. I felt like I had been in a fog and run full speed into a wall. My head was hammering with a dull ache as my eyes focused back on the tree. The woman was gone, replaced by a large black bird. I blinked backing slowly away as my vision cleared and I saw that the bird had teeth and large red eyes that shimmered with an unnatural light. Underneath my paws the ground shifted. Adjusting my gaze I saw that I was standing in a circle of sun bleached bones.

Before I could ask Apple Bloom what was going on the tree began to move. Its seven long branches lifted themselves up, the twilight filling with a groaning crescendo of moving bark. The trunk of the tree split open revealing a gaping maw filled with rows of yellow teeth.

To say I was less than thrilled to be confronted by what appeared to be another hungry flesh eating plant would be an understatement. Spinning on the spot I began to run. I hadn’t even gone two strides when the black bird exploded into my face in a flurry of feathers, cawing, and snapping talons and beak. Roaring I tried to swipe the bird out of my way, but it easily dodged my paw.

"Get out of here, yah mangy crow!" Apple Bloom yelled, her small hooves swinging through the air above my head.

Letting loose a deeper roar of anger, not for myself but for Apple Bloom, I lunged jaws snapping. This time the bird wasn’t fast enough, my teeth clamping around one wing as the little black nuisance tried to flip out of my way. Before I could do more than bruise the wing something wrapped itself around my hind legs pulling me off balance. Apple Bloom shrieked and the comforting weight on my shoulders vanished.

Panic turned into terror as I rolled over onto my back to get a look at what had grabbed me and I saw Apple Bloom in the evening air above me. The frightened filly was being suspended in a thick branch-tentacle. Hooves kicked and scraped at the bark to no effect. Slowly, to the groans and creaking of moving wood, Apple Bloom was lifted towards the trunk’s gaping maw.

Growling a minor profanity that I alone understood I got back onto all four paws.

A second branch snaking towards Apple Bloom spurned me to action. I couldn’t let this abomination eat the gentle little filly. The branches around my back paws had been trying to drag me towards the trunk. When I suddenly started to charge the center of the mass of branches the abomination didn’t seem to know what to do for a moment.

Landing on the wide trunk with claws extended I wasted no time. Kicking with my back legs I raked the trunk in long strokes as I held on with my front paws. My jaws rushed forward my long fangs snapping again and again trying to find a good biting angle. With a massive tug the tree pulled my from its trunk leaving long wounds that bled thick green pussy sap. My mouth burned with the foul fluids. I could have gargled a lake and I don’t think I would have gotten rid of the taste.

I landed with a grunt half a dozen paws from the hungry tree on my back my breath escaping in a gusty whoosh. Winded I struggled for a few precious moments to reclaim my breath instead of acting. Still held above Apple Bloom continued to scream and kick to no effect. A second branch had wrapped itself around her front hooves and neck. A load sickening pop filled the air as the two branches began to pull the filly in opposite directions. Apple Bloom screamed louder than I thought a living creature capable. The branches around my hind legs began pulling in diverging directions as well. It was literally trying to rip us apart I realised as I struggled.

Before I could save Apple Bloom I’d have to get one of the branches off of me. Putting every ounce of strength into the move I rolled and twisted to bring my teeth in range of a branch. Not caring about how the tree’s ‘blood’ burned my mouth I clamped down with all the force I could muster and twisted and wrenched. If this didn’t work than the filly was going to die. The branch continued to hold its grip on my leg for a moment before it grew slack. Crushed and mutilated the branch slithered off my leg the end hanging limp and dead.

Apple Bloom shrieked again. I didn’t hesitate. She was too high in the air to reach now. Roaring as I hurled myself at the trunk. Apple Bloom was saved not because I was determined, or had some strategy. She was saved by luck alone.

As I few towards the trunk the remaining branch wrapped around my leg tried to pull my away, succeeding only in altering the angle of my trajectory. Instead of landing in the center of the trunk I hit the side right beneath where the branches holding Apple Bloom joined the abomination. My teeth found the base of one of the branches trying to pull Apple Bloom apart while my back legs kicked the other. The branches squirmed as I continued to apply a thousand pounds of pressure from my powerful jaws. With a great snap the branch broke its internal workings crushed.

The dead branches released Apple Bloom, the filly yelping pitifully as she impacted the bleached bones strewn around the tree. To her credit she tried to stand but the moment Apple Bloom put weight on her right foreleg she screamed and blacked out. Kicking off the remaining branch I turned away from the trunk. The abomination’s branches were whipping through the air striking the ground to send up cascades of bones. It had given up trying to tear us into bite sized parts and had settled on bludgeoning us to death with its remaining four limbs.

With no intention of staying in range of the deadly weapons I ran straight to Apple Bloom, scooping the filly up in my aching jaws. A couple of steps later one of the black branches crashed into my side. Apple Bloom tumbled and bounced out of my mouth and thankfully out of the range of the branches. Without time to think I rolled over and scrambled across the loose ground, a branch smashing into the earth only inches from my muzzle. Kicking off again I cleared myself of the abomination.

The bird had retreated to the edge of the clearing, tending to its bruised wing. It watched me retrieve Apple Bloom, beady red eyes glaring balefully at us.

Limping I held the unconscious filly as I had when I first rescued her. The sun had set while we fought for our lives and as the rush of adrenaline left my system I could feel a terrible weariness creeping through my strained and battered muscles. My entire body groaned at every movement and my chest ached from where the last branch had hit me. Blood pattered around my paws and trickled down my leg from the gash I'd received that morning from the dragon. But I knew that staying near the tree, even if it seemed to be unable to move from where it sat, was insanity.

Silence permeated the chilly evening as I continued to limp for what felt like hours away from the clearing. Finally when I could move no more I collapsed into a fitful sleep laying my paws protectively around Apple Bloom.

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