• Published 30th Oct 2019
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A Deer Named John - Teapot Tales - Tael_Spinner

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MA1-C3: Seeking Refuge

John

My throat burned and the barrel of my chest heaved with rapid, heavy gasps as I slowed amongst the trees. Even though my new body shuddered with exhaustion, I kept my head high. Eyes constantly surveying the forest I had entered. My ears acted as if they had a mind of their own, flicking and twitching, swivelling all around in search of any sound, preparing me to run on yet further.

How long had I been running?

The storm had come, roared for what felt like days, and passed. Its thunderous rumbles had torn into my new instincts, shredding my nerves and giving extra urgency to my already tired legs. I only slowed when it passed and I was instantly struck by the needs of my stomach. It grumbled so loudly, for a moment I prepared to run, thinking the storm had returned or there was a predator nearby. I could’ve kicked myself when I realised it was just my empty stomach demanding to be filled.

I let out a nervous giggle, which quickly became a morose sigh. Since when do I giggle? I shook the thought away and turned my attention to my surroundings.

Nothing I saw would be suitable for a human to eat. Just leaves and grass and bushes and… And, I’m not a human anymore. I cringed both mentally and physically. I really had to start thinking like a deer, even of myself as a deer. At least until I found a way to change back.

Looking around again, this time, doing my best to think like a deer. Well, what I thought a deer should think like, anyway. I took a chance to pull some leaves from a branch using just my mouth then started to chew.

I screwed up my face and snorted to myself at the taste but kept chewing. It was so bland. Next, I tried some grass. It was only a little sweeter than the leaves but nothing like the foods I had eaten as a human. Even so, I persevered. I was a deer now and I would have to eat like one. I even took the time to belatedly thank the aftermath of the storm as I slaked my thirst by drinking from some fresh puddles I came across.

At least I could be content with the basic needs I now had in order to keep living. Even if they weren’t anything to write home about. I could even forage as I walked. An absolute bonus now that every plant was a buffet to me.

When I finally emerged from the trees, I found myself overlooking a spectacularly deep valley where the tops of the tallest trees below my perch could never come close to reaching me. It was like a sea of green stretching onward, rolling with the landscape. Sometimes clinging to the very edges of cliffs in an attempt to cover every outcropping with plant life. It was such a peaceful view. I felt my muscles loosen as I closed my eyes and stood there, simply basking in the nature of it all.

My ears twitched at a sound I didn’t expect. Opening my eyes, I furrowed my brow in thought. Creaking wood? Letting my hearing hone in on the sounds brought me to the very edge of a cliff. I swallowed heavily as I gingerly approached, still seeking the sounds which were now joined by murmuring voices.

Far below, winding against the side of the cliff I was standing on, was a dirt track. Spotting what vaguely looked like open-top wagons or carts being pulled by animals, I mentally corrected myself. It was a wagon trail.

I squinted, trying to make them out just a little clearer. They looked like… I strained my eyes even harder. Some kind of small horses… Sort of like what Schmidt and Jacob had become.

There were a decent number of them. I frowned as I tried to count. Probably ten groups of at least seven or eight members. Each had two members pulling a wagon, while the smaller ones rode in the back and the other large ones trotted alongside. One thing I noted, rather belatedly, there were no humans among them.

Were they changed by the teapot too?

I shook my head. No, why would the dark unicorn have let so many get away. These must be the natives of this land. I looked side to side, trying to find wherever they were going to or coming from. There was little to see, other than trees as they swallowed the trail in either direction. That and there were more tree-covered outcroppings which stood even taller than the one I was standing on. One of which, to my right, blocked much of my view of anything where this group of horses or ponies had come from.

I leaned out a bit more, trying to see past the outcropping. I let out a gasp at what I saw. Further up the dirt track the ponies were traversing, I could clearly see several columns of thick, black smoke rising into the sky.

I looked to the ponies, frowning in thought. Were they fleeing the fires?

Shifting my stance on the rocky edge, I instantly cursed my luck. My front legs suddenly slipped out from under me. I scrabbled with them and tried to lean back but all it did was pull me forward, causing the loose rocks around me to tumble over the side.

Seconds later, I followed.

I did my best to slow my fall, keeping myself against the rock face as much as possible. I sank my back hooves in and somewhat squatted as I slid down the cliffside at an ever-increasing pace.

Tiny loose rocks fell with me, tumbling on their journey to the valley floor. I could see the wagoneers so much clearer now as I raced towards them down the cliffside. Probably hearing my fall or witnessing the first rocks hitting the trail around them, some of the ponies turned their gazes skyward. The looks of surprise on their muzzles… It probably matched the terror on my own!

Before I reached them, however, there was a bit of a rocky ledge which overhung the trail. Needless to say, I hit it with a heavy thump. My almost raw rear screamed with pain at the impact before I bounced out over the trail. I let out a bleating cry and flailed my legs as I sailed toward the valley even further below. Closing my eyes, not wanting to witness my own demise.

Instead of whatever someone expected to feel when they hit the ground, whether an intense momentary pain or merely the sound of the impact before the great nothing that would follow my foolish fall, all I felt was my stomach as it suddenly lurched forward while the rest of me just stopped.

The saving grace, there wasn’t any pain. That and I could still hear the creaking of wood, and the stirring of wind among the leaves of nearby trees. Not to mention the voices I had heard murmuring before, only now they were much closer and a lot clearer.

“Good catch, Pa!” squeaked a voice with the cracking of puberty.

“Told ya I still got it,” chuckled a much older, gravelly voice.

Clearly, I was still alive. But how?

Opening my eyes, I found I was no longer falling. Instead, I was suspended in the air, upside down, surrounded by a pale blue glow.

My stomach lurched again as the world moved around me. At least, that’s what it seemed like to me. When I stopped, I found myself, still upside down, face to face with an older looking pale orange unicorn who seemed to be inspecting me while keeping one eye closed.

The old unicorn grinned at me and said in the slightly drawling voice I had heard just moments before, “Bit far from home, ain’cha deer?”

I shuddered at both the sudden memory from the past few days and the terrible pun. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”

I inwardly groaned. My new voice still sounded so alien in my ears.

Thankfully, after being lowered into the cart next to the unicorn who had saved me, these ponies, as I learned they were called, didn’t ask too many questions of the deer who fell from the sky. Except their children of course. I had little way of answering anything their little fillies and colts verbally threw my way. I had been a deer for only a few days. How was I to know anything? They probably knew more about this world and the resident deer in general than me!

The adults amongst them, seemed nice enough, though very distracted with the task at hand, er, hoof. It was something I was getting very used to doing in my short time as a deer; fleeing. I soon learned that they had fled their village at the order of the village guards as a legion of ponies and other beasts in strange helmets descended on the town.

Seeing as I had no helmet, the refugees assumed I was lost and had been fleeing the attacks as well. I didn’t discourage that idea. I knew what they meant when they described the helmets worn by the attackers.

I felt squeamish as they spoke of three dragons of different colours setting fire to the town, a moment these refugees had witnessed from the trail as they fled. It wasn’t surprising that they didn’t want to talk too much, they had no idea if those who had remained to defend the village had survived.

I stayed with them for the remainder of the two days it took to reach another village. To my surprise, although we were greeted by the village guards, we were not treated as hostile. In fact, only concern and kindness were shown to us. Of course, the guards wanted to know as much about what had happened as possible.

I stood with the old pony who had caught me. His name was Stargazer and he was busy metaphorically chewing the ear off one of the guards about how I came to be with them. “This doe here fell outta the sky when we’s were passing on the road while we made our way from Border Village.”

“Must’ve come out from the Yakyakistan border,” the soldier pony mused. He turned to me and said, “Well, if you’re a refugee, you’re welcome here.”

I felt my nerves ease a little at his words. That is, until he continued.

“Best all of you be moving on quickly. We have scouts watching. Whatever is driving these attacks is keeping their forces at a very fast pace.”

“Don’t we know it,” cried one of the ponies I had arrived with. “Our homes... our village is gone!”

“I understand, sir,” the soldier stated. “We will do everything we can to help you. Give you provisions for the journey east.”

“East?” exclaimed another of the group. “Why not south? Vanhoover should be safe enough!”

“Our scouts inform us that the road to Vanhoover has already been cut.”

While the discussion continued to devolve into a mishmash of place names, some of which sounded oddly like ones back in my world, but with some kind of horse pun thrown in, I frowned and turned my attention back to the leader of the soldiers.

I cleared my throat and said, “I’m sorry, uh…”

I squinted as I took a stab at the soldier’s rank, I wasn’t from a military family. My parents were doctors. My grandparents were farmers and my great grandparents had been sharecroppers. “Captain?”

“Lieutenant,” he corrected. “Lieutenant Spears.”

“Right, sorry,” I said, nodding my apology as I pressed on. “Would a dark unicorn with a red horn mean anything to you?”

The soldier frowned. “Can you be more specific?”

“U-Uh,” I stammered, taking a small step back as I did my best to mentally recall my time in the cage. “Dark grey coat, black ha— I mean, black mane and tail. Silver armour.”

I hesitated, knowing exactly how strange the next part would sound. “Makes people drink from a strange teapot that changes them into ponies and other… creatures…”

And just as I expected, he started giving me the oddest, almost pitying, look.

“I will pass the description on to my superiors, they may know more.” The corner of his mouth quirked. “Though I’ll probably leave out that teapot part.”

He raised a hoof and pressed it gently onto my shoulder. “Get some rest.”

He turned to the others I had travelled with and declared, “All of you, rest. You will be moving again in two hours.”

I watched as he walked away, giving instructions to two pegasi as he went. I hung my head, let out a heavy sigh and mumbled to myself, “Why, John? Why did you have to mention the teapot? Now he thinks you're crazy.”

And yet, despite the strange things I said, and clearly being the odd one out here, the ponies I had arrived with, those of the village, and even the soldier ponies welcomed me with open arms. Erm, legs… hooves?

I shook my head, trying to brush away the thought. I moved to try to help the villagers and soldiers who were re-stocking the wagons of the refugees, but I was quickly and, oddly, kindly moved aside where I was told to sit, drink and have something to eat. All of which the villagers generously supplied even though I had no money to give in return.

The sandwiches they gave me on a plate looked like normal sandwiches. At least the bread did. The rest of it however, how do I put this? They were filled with flowers. Although, considering what I had eaten in the forest, it probably shouldn’t have been surprising. Deer and ponies are herbivores after all.

I frowned as a bigger question popped into my head. How was I supposed to eat it?

I turned my head to watch the ponies I was with. The unicorns had it easy. They picked up their food and drink with the glowing magic from their horns. An older pegasus used their wing as if it were a hand. It appeared just as capable and dextrous. Next to her, I was guessing a little due to pegasus’ size compared to their companion, a male pony without horn or wings sat chomping away on his sandwich, using, of all things, his hoof to somehow hold his food.

I arched an eyebrow at the sight and continued to stare, fascinated. How did he get it to stick to his hoof? Are hooves sticky?

I looked down at my own cleft forehooves and tapped them together a few times. Never did they feel like they fused together, nor did they refuse to part again. With my hooves still together, I looked at the plain pony again and frowned. Was there some kind of trick to it?

Whatever it was, I didn’t find out that day as an armoured pegasus shot overhead from the direction of the refugees’ former village. The pegasus hit the ground with such speed, she dug a trail for each hoof into the dirt as she skidded to a halt.

“Lieutenant!” she barked out, her voice harsh as she gulped in air while trying to get her message across. “Lieutenant Spears!”

The Lieutenant I had spoken with stepped away from his discussion and approached the pegasus whose attention snapped to him with the same speed she used to give a salute of her hoof. The Lieutenant said nothing, he simply nodded to urge her into speaking.

“The enemy, sir,” the pegasus rasped. “They’re—”

The Lieutenant’s attention quickly snapped to the distant sky, a hoof raised to silence the pegasus scout. With concern deepening in his expression, the Lieutenant barked out an order. “All guards stand ready!”

The previously peaceful village suddenly burst into a mix of shouted orders, stomping hooves and rushing soldier ponies.

I turned to follow the Lieutenant’s gaze. What I saw instantly stirred the deer flight response in my body. It took bit of mental strength not to bolt from the village.

There were maybe thirty dots in the sky, dots which quickly became more defined flying creatures, most of them vaguely pony shaped at this distance. But there was one which didn’t look like a winged pony. It was a much more different shape. One I saw in the poor lighting of the cage.

My heart sank as I glimpsed what appeared to be an emerald-green dragon wearing one of the dark unicorn’s helmets. I swallowed heavily and, with what little breath I could muster, I let out a name. “William…”

Author's Note:

This chapter has had a couple of titles so far and I'm still not exactly happy with it. Might change it at some point.

John's still going. Thankfully found help, but looks like Sombra's forces have found her too. Not that they were searching for her.