• 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 Six: Reunion

Tiger Bloom

Part Six: Reunion

Several things each contributed to bring me out of the sea of memories; Apple Bloom’s gentle whimpering as she shifted her position between my paws, the thrumming beat of my heart hammering in my chest, the knife of hunger digging deep into my insides, a gentle misty rain threatening to open into a true downpour, and the salty tang of tears tickling at the corner of my lips. No one event alone could have brought me back to reality, but together they shot me out of the nightmarish memories.

Grunting I blinked away the remnants of sleep as my mind turned over everything that I had recalled since collapsing in fatigue.

All I could think of was the ebon skinned man and his daughter, his daughter with the pink ribbon in her black hair. I was certain, and still am, that he died despite the attempts of the caretakers to save him.

My eyes alighted on the pink ribbon in Apple Bloom’s mane and a little smiled tugged at my face.

My heart didn't suddenly race, my breathing, strained from the aching flowing through my body, wasn't coming in fast sharp gulps, nor was my mind blanking. I felt a release, despite the despair clinging to my heart like frost in winter, a sense of peace in understanding my past life. I had the answer I wanted those days ago, and now I had no reason to keep Apple Bloom safe.

Stretching slowly I felt every muscle give a mute protest. The worst was a sharp pain in my side from the cut caused by the dragon's tail. I was battered and bruised, but alive, and I felt complete, not like a lost cub mewling for my mother.

I had started to slink away from Apple Bloom when the hunger again stabbed at my senses. Pausing I turned and looked back towards the filly. Liking my lips I turned around and slowly approached the sleeping form of Apple Bloom.

Stopping above her I paused wondering just what I was about to do.

On one paw; She was prey, I was a hunter. Traveling with her and protecting her was wrong. She was also hurt, perhaps crippled. If not me then one of the dozens, or hundreds, of other predators in the woods would get her.

On the other paw; She was the only friend I had, and she was hurt because of me.

My tail slapped into the begging of a shallow puddle in irritation. I knew what the me from the memories would have done. He'd have eaten the filly on the first day. A pounce and snap of the jaws securing dinner.

But I wasn't that tiger anymore.

For one thing I could think so much clearer than I ever could in the caretaker's prison. It's hard to fully describe, but things, concepts, ideas, basic arithmatic; all of them seem so simple after waking in the forest where before I hadn't even considered them. I was more intelligent, and by a tiger's standards I hadn't been a slouch before.

Frowning I leaned down to at least get a better assessment of Apple Bloom's condition before making a decision.

Apple Bloom had at least one dislocated shoulder, most likely from the branches pulling on her legs. I hoped that it was only dislocated and not broken.

Czarina had broken a leg once trying to leap out of our territory. The Caretakers had taken her away for a couple days. When she was returned Czarina had been kept in her den with a white skin of hard plaster covering the break. When the cast, as Selena called the hard skin, was removed Czarina was good as new, like there had never been a break.

I had no idea what the caretakers had done to heal Czarina, and even if I did, I didn't have anything to make a cast. I was unsure what to do about a dislocated leg either, but from my memories of overhearing Selena talking with other caretakers I gathered it involved ‘popping’ the joint back together.

Looking down on the whimpering and wincing Apple Bloom I had not the foggiest idea how to accomplish relocating her leg. Careful not to wake her I moved a paw towards her back thinking that, maybe, if I braced her with one paw I could use the other to sort of push her shoulder back into place. I didn’t get to try the idea, however, as I noticed something very, very, very wrong with my paw.

It was blue.

Not a dark blue, not a royal blue, or a navy blue, those would have not been so terrible, but rather a brilliant azure blue like the sky on a crystal clear summer day. Worse my black strips were gone, replaced by glowing bright pink spots shaped like clovers.

A panicky yelp burst from my lips as I scrambled backwards, forgetting about trying to not wake Apple Bloom. Craning my neck and spinning in a circle I saw that the blue with pink clovers extended across my entire body and even down my tail. With a defeated ‘whump’ I sat down on the damp stone all thought draining from me like the rain washed it away.

For once I felt nothing, not panic, or fear, just... nothing.

This was a blow to the foundation my being.

I am a Tiger; pinnacle of millions of years of evolution to be one of the most perfect hunting and killing machines alive. Part of that, a big part, is the natural camouflage of my fur that lets me blend into the background scenery to stalk my prey. Having it ripped away and replaced with this garish blue and pink would be the equivalent of walking around with giant bells around my neck. But there is more to it than just the hunting aspect.

Our stripes are signs of our strength and lineage. If I was a pony, it's be like having my cutie mark changed. Old Spar had taught Czarina and me the importance of our strips before he’d been taken away by the caretakers, and it was one of the few lessons from the cantankerous old tiger I had taken to heart. To have it ripped away by the forest was just typical.

I sat there, the mixed emotions of despair, loss, anxiety, fear, anger, and regret all vying for dominance in a stressed morass. It all became too much for me to handle. The return of my memories, the events of the past two days, and now the loss of my beautiful orange and black stripes, all of it cracked down the last vestiges of strength I retained.

Lying down beside Apple Bloom I cried.

I cried for Selena.

I cried for Apple Bloom.

I cried for myself.

I just cried, and cried, and cried until I could cry no more. The rain had picked up as I laid next to the shivering filly mixing with my tears so it seemed like I had created a small stream. A shiver ran up my own back as I regarded the huddled form of Apple Bloom.

She had woken up at some point while I poured my soul out onto the stone we had collapsed on the previous night. The filly was regarding me with a single red-rimmed eye, her hooves curled up close to her body, except for her fore right leg which hung limp and useless beside her. The sight snapped me out of my self-pity.

Standing back up I saw that she was smiling up at me, though the edges of her smile were tight as Apple Bloom fought back against the incredible pain lancing through her small frame. She even managed a hacking little laugh as I took a step closer and positioned a paw behind her back as her golden eye roamed over my mutilated and disgraceful fur.

“Poison Joke, Mr. Cat, Poison Joke,” she said in a weak and strained voice that broke into a hissing intake of breath as the words caused the pain to blossom.

I looked away from her and if I was capable of blushing I’d have turned red as a beet from embarrassment.

It was then that I noticed that at some point the previous night while escaping the flesh eating tree I had wandered into a series of old ruins. Instead of tree trunks and leaves there were the broken remnants of walls and pillars. Where once a roof had blocked the elements only open sky remained. It wouldn’t be much longer until the forest completed reclaiming the ruins. To my right sat a lonely stretch of disconnected wall, little pieces of weathered coloured glass littering the ground where an ancient window had once been.

“The Castle of the Pony Sisters,” Apple Bloom wheezed through clenched teeth as she also surveyed our surroundings. “At least ah know where we are.”

Abandoning surveying the change in the forest I returned my attention fully to Apple Bloom. How I wished I could break that wall of silence that existed between us as I raised my other paw. I knew what I was about to do was going to hurt her, but if I didn’t she was going to be in pain for far longer.

She seemed to realise what I was about to do however, her large eye darting from the paw hovering over her dislocated leg and the offending shoulder. Biting her lower lip Apple Bloom turned her head away from what was about to be done.

“Just make it qui-AHHH!” her voice broke into a high pitched scream of pure agony as I forced the bone back into the socket.

For several minutes Apple Bloom just laid on the ground panting and groaning. I politely lifted her head up when she threw up a small bit of bile as the pain became too much and she passed back into oblivion. Hoping I had done the right thing I picked her up in my mouth like on the first day. I had only taken one single solitary step when a light orange form rounded a corner a little over a dozen lengths away from me.

I lifted my face slowly to assess the new threat and realised with a little shock that it was another pony, but one much older than Apple Bloom. The new ponies orange coat was slick with mud and rain, her long blonde tail full of sticks and burrs where it had been dragged across the ground. Curiously, perched atop of her head was a wide brimmed hat in a style I had seen being worn by the not-Caretakers that would pass by my territory. To my hungry eye, she looked fit and healthy with strong lean muscles that rippled underneath her matted coat.

She took one look at me, at Apple Bloom hanging from my mouth, and then back to me and gave out a strangled cry.

“Apple Bloom!” the newcomer shouted digging her hooves into the muddy ground to launch herself towards me.

The sheer insanity of this new pony’s actions caught me almost flat-pawed. I had to be easily over six times her size and weight. Even weakened as I was from the encounters of the past few days she had no chance of overpowering me. Careful not to aggravate Apple Bloom’s shoulder, I set the filly down and braced myself to repel the charging mare.

From somewhere behind the new pony another voice raised up a sharp protest, but I was too focused on the orange and blonde ball of anger bearing down on me to pay attention. A part of my mind, the part responsible for sorting and sizing up prey while hunting did take note however categorizing it as ‘female’, ‘afraid’, and ‘near’.

That was all I had time to do before the charging mare reached me, and in a stunningly stupid move, planted her fore hooves in the mud less than a length in front of me. She tried to pivot around in a graceful ark, but instead her hooves lost all purchase on the smooth stones the mud hid with their brown sheen and she continued to slide towards me even as her back end began to tumble over her own head.

On instinct my paw snapped up intercepting the tumbling mare before she could crash into me and the still unconscious Apple Bloom between my forelegs. To my shame, in my surprise at seeing another pony and having her charge me, I didn’t keep my claws retracted. I felt the soft pliancy and give of skin and muscle as my long claws slashed into the orange mare’s side and shoulder. To her credit all she did was grunt as she collapsed and skidded across the wet stone coming to rest beneath the arch of an ancient window.

Working somewhat on instinct, as well as a desire to prevent any real fight, I launched myself after the orange mare.

My entire body ached from the simple action, the gnawing pit in my belly reminding me of my hunger. The weight of my blue paw crashed down onto the orange mare even as a little voice in my head reminded me of a salient point; I could end the hunger now. There under my paw, glaring daggers from her wide emerald eyes, was a potential meal. I had no connection to her, not like I had with Apple Bloom.

But I couldn’t, no matter how loud my instincts and hunger screamed in my head to go ahead and clamp my jaws around the ponies throat.

Looking down at the wounded pony, her blood leaking out under my paw to mix with the rain and mud, I instead saw the ebon skinned not-Caretaker. I saw how he had tried to shield his daughter from me. Turning to look over at Apple Bloom laying with her head resting on a mossy rock I saw the torn and muddied remnants of pink tied into her mane. And then I wasn’t seeing Apple Bloom, but rather the small chocolate coloured girl who had fallen into the moat clutching her dying father. The filly’s eyes fluttered open, connecting with mine before shifting down to the figure I held pinned to the slick ground.

“Applejack?” Apple Bloom asked, her voice distant and confused before realisation struck her. “Applejack!”

Apple Bloom hadn't seen the blood, but she was clearly concerned given my posture over Applejack. Struggling to her hooves Apple Bloom started to stumble towards me calling the other pony's name again.

“Apple Bloom, git back, yah hear!” called the pony under my paw.

It’s a funny thing; Fate. I was a believer in destiny and that our lives are plotted out for us before we are even born. It gave me comfort while trapped in my small territory. This was the way of things, I was never meant to roam the vast expanses of my father and his father, rather I had been born to be a showpiece for creatures I couldn’t begin to understand. I only had the company of my sister, Selena, and for a brief time, old Spar. This was the Fates plan for me, and who was I to question it?

I don’t believe that anymore. The Fates put tests before us every day, big and small, and it is up to us to either succeed and be rewarded, or fail and reap the punishment.

I failed that day in the moat as I sank my fangs into that father’s throat.

The punishment for that failure has been long and arduous. It cost me the one life I valued above all others. It cost me my home, such as it was. It cost a little girl her father and probably a mother her mate.

But, perhaps, the Fates had given me a second chance, a way to make amends.

“It ain’t safe, go on an run.” Applejack continued trying to raise her head to look towards Apple Bloom.

Lifting my paw I released Applejack. As if her action in charging a full grown tiger hadn’t been enough proof of family between the two ponies, their names certainly were. I wasn’t going to be responsible for breaking another family apart. I knew that pain all too keenly as I thought briefly about Czarina and Selena. I took two steps towards the struggling filly before there was a flash of purple and suddenly my view was taken up by a third pony.

The first thing I noticed were her lavender eyes that were a shade lighter than her coat and the smell of ink. The second was her glowing horn. After seeing wolves of wood, dragons, and flesh eating plants, I barely batted an eye at this development. My mind was already getting used to the idea of this forest throwing weirdness in my face. What was a pony with a glowing horn on top of the pile?

“Stand back, Apple Bloom,” the new pony growled keeping herself interposed between me and the filly.

I gave one of my signature eye rolls. As sore and hungry as I was another pony wasn’t going to be much of a threat. So I just ignored the new pony that was several shades of purple. Continuing to pad towards Apple Bloom I started to brush past the mare. It was then I was hit by a bone jarring force the sent me tumbling back past the still prone Applejack.

Shaking my head to clear the stars that had burst up behind my eyes, I gave the newcomer a startled look. She continued to stand with her hooves firmly planted and splayed, her horn glowing with a nimbus of purple-white light. Selena would have been squealing in delight at this development, she always had a thing for fantasy. All little girls love unicorns, or so Selena had once claimed during a session of that D and D game. A smile managed to break through the shock of being tossed like away I was a cub without being touched at that memory, and the sight of the defiant pony in front of me.

What was I to do? I could try again to approach Apple Bloom, but the unicorn clearly had no intention of letting me near the filly. Neither was I about to leave. Apple Bloom and Applejack were both hurt and the unicorn, for all her strength knocking me back, didn’t look exactly fit. In fact she was rather scrawny looking all-in-all, especially compared to the muscular Applejack.

It was Apple Bloom who put an end to the stalemate.

“Stop, Twilight, he’s a friend,” Apple Bloom said, tugging on one of the purple mare’s legs.

Twilight’s resolve faltered for a moment, her eyes darting from me to Apple Bloom.

“That’s a Panthera Tigris Altaica, they are not friends with anything,” snapped Twilight. “At least I think it is based on size and cranium structure. It is hard to tell with it being blue.”

I winced at that part.

He’s blue on account of carrying me across some Poison Joke,” Apple Bloom responded tugging harder on the unicorn’s leg.

“What ah yah talking about, Apple Bloom,” Applejack grunted slowly pushing herself back onto her hooves.

From a glance I could tell my swipe had hurt her more than I had at first thought. Muscles in her shoulder were lacerated and would need the attention of a Caretaker, or someone equally skilled in healing, if it was going to mend. In the mean time she’d find walking extremely difficult and painful. Worse, with the amount Applejack was bleeding predators for miles around would begin to smell the opportunity for an easy meal.

“He saved me from Timber Wolves, a dragon, Poison Joke, and a Carrion Crow’s Creeper Craw.”

Apple Bloom smiled at me happily. If I had been able to talk to the ponies I’m not sure I would have pointed out that I was the one who dragged her into the danger with all of those monsters save the wolves. The two older ponies looked between me and the filly with uncertain looks on their faces.

“He saved yah from what?” Applejack asked her mouth falling open a little.

“Then what was that scream about?” asked Twilight glaring back at me.

“He, uh, set my leg after it was dislocated.”

“He what?” the mares shouted in unison.

“It was no big deal,” muttered Apple Bloom as she limped past the two mares stopping right in front of me. “He’s really a sweat heart, ain’t yah Mr. Cat?”

There it was; the moment of truth as Selena would call it. The Fates were tempting me one more time. Not much of a temptation at that point even with the screaming ache in my guts. But I couldn’t help but have a little twinge of mischievousness that caused the corners of my eyes to crinkle. In a quick fluid motion I leaned forward, grabbed Apple Bloom as the two mares called her name, and swung her onto my shoulders.

“See? Mr. Cat is really a big softy.” With her good leg Apple Bloom ruffled the top of my head before lying down, her chin resting just between my eyes.

Both Twilight and Applejack stood there, their manes matted to their necks and tails dragging in the muddy ground, mouths hanging open in unison.

“But... he clawed Applejack,” Twilight protested pointing at the claw marks stretching across Applejack’s side and shoulder.

My ears flicked back and I lowered my head at the accusation. It was impossible for me to explain that it had been a mistake, that I’d been surprised and after the events of the last two days hadn’t even thought to retract my claws until the damage had been done. It’d have been a flimsy excuse and a part of me is glad I couldn’t stammer it out. Instead I had to rely on Apple Bloom figuring it out.

She didn’t.

“Wait, what? Why did yah claw my sister?” she asked, and I felt her shift backwards on my neck.

"I didn't mean to claw her," I started to protest automatically, my deep voice coming as a series of grunts, and my tail snapping from side to side.

I heard the distinct slap of a hoof meeting a face from above my head.

"Of course, yah can't speak Equestrian," Apple Bloom muttered.

I felt a heavy weight cling to my heart again at Apple Bloom's statement. It was replaced by confusion a moment later when she asked, "Is Fluttershy near? Ah'm sure she could understand Mr. Cat."

Twilight and Applejack shared a look before the unicorn said, "She and Rarity are at the hospital with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle."

I heard Apple Bloom gasp, "They're both alright, ain't they?"

Nodding slowly Applejack took a slow tentative step towards me and Apple Bloom, "Yeah, they'll be fine, sugarcube. Now, why don't you come down off that, uh, nice kitty, and we'll go see them. I suspect I'll be needing some time there myself, and you could as well."

Lowering myself so Apple Bloom could slide off my shoulders I gave the gashes I had given Applejack another look. They weren't too deep, but I could see the pain dancing behind the mare's eyes, mixed with fear and suspicion. I knew that they wouldn't trust me, no matter what Apple Bloom said. I also felt like I had done far more than I should have for the filly.

Apple Bloom limped to the two mares, stopping to look over her shoulder towards me when she realised I wasn't going to follow.

"Ain't you coming, Mr. Cat?" she raised an eyebrow and tilted her head slightly to one side.

"No, I think I will rest for a bit before I go hunting." I shook my head and smiled. Lifting a paw I made a shooing motion.

"Apple Bloom, I don't think it's a good idea to bring him to Ponyville," Twilight said, chewing on her lower lip as she looked me over. Her horn still glowed making it clear she didn't trust me.

"But," Apple Bloom began to protest, but was stopped by Twilight shaking her head. "Well, what about his fur? Can't we do something about the Poison Joke?"

Twilight again looked me over, but she gave me a reassuring smile, saying, "That should pass in a few days, a week at most from what Zecora told me after our encounter with the plant. It's effects are less severe on non-magical beings."

I found that immensely reassuring, a tenseness I hadn't realised I was carrying flowing out into the cool morning. Apple Bloom tried several more times to convince Twilight and Applejack that I should go to Ponyville. Eventually she gave up with a pout.

Hugging my neck, Apple Bloom said, "Good-bye. Yah saved my life, and I'll never forget that."

"And I'll never forget what you helped return to me. I wish you knew what you've done for me."

Wiping her nose, Apple Bloom slowly trotted away, flanked by Twilight and her sister, Applejack limping but putting up a brave front.

Hungry, wet, and strangely content, I sat and watched as the three ponies slowly made their way out of the ruins, and out of my life.

For some time I continued to sit and look at the bend Apple Bloom had vanished around. The rain had stopped and a damp breeze blew through the forest. Just as I turned to begin hunting for a meal I smelled it, the pungent odor I had smelled previously in the forest. This time I knew what it was; the creatures that had killed Selena.

Stretching out my senses I tested the wind, ears flicking for any source of noise, but the ruins were eerily silent and the air clear of the smell. For a few minutes I stood there, waiting for the scent to appear again. When it did, with it came the smell of fruit and ink.

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