Chapter Seventy-Three: The Path to Las Pegasus
Time passed into the somber twilight, and saw the filly fidgeting and squirming on the pile of hay. Whimpering, she cried audibly as she kicked out. After a moment, all four of her legs flailed out, pumping as if she were on the run from something. The sounds emanating from the child soon awoke the dragon beside her. Yawning, he rubbed his eyes, chains clinking from the movement. Once he was more adjusted to the dim lighting, he could make out the frantic figure of Terra Cotta. That, combined with the whimpering she created caused realization to spring upon him.
Bringing a hand to her shoulder, Smokey gently shook her.
“Terra Cotta… Wake up. You’re having a bad dream.”
“Noooo!” Terra Cotta cried as he touched her. Jumping, she huddled into a ball. Her forelegs covering her head, she sobbed pitifully. “Pleas don’ hit me again, St’rmy Skies! Pleas don’! ‘M s’rry! ‘M s’rry!”
Stormy Skies… So that is what her sister’s name was…
“Terra Cotta, it’s me, Smokey!” In an effort to comfort her, he scooped up the child and held her against his torso. “It’s all right. It’s all right. You do not have to worry about her now.”
Quaking and sobbing, the small filly trembled and held herself against the draconian’s chest. Looking up at his face, she shook her head and closed her eyes again, heaving as she tried to shake off the last vestiges of the nightmare she had been through.
Embracing her in one arm, Smokey stroked her mane with the other hand in order to soothe her.
“It’s all right,” he repeated softly. “She’s not here…”
The little one choked and sniffled a bit, burying her head against his chest and the cold chains keeping him bound.
“Sh’ skurs me,” she whimpered. “Sh’ hates me…”
“Now, how can anypony hate a cute little darling like you?” Smokey questioned, more than a little curious over the filly’s older sibling.
“Dunno.” She sniffled again. “Sez… sh’ hates me. Sh’ sez b’d tings. V’ry b’d tings.”
She screwed up her face in rage.
“I hate yu!” she spat in a high-pitched, younger, speech impeded, but otherwise rather scarily accurate impression. “I wish you wer nev’r born! Stupid! Usel’ss! Trash!”
Just hearing these words brought forth a pang of sympathy for the filly. Lowering his head, he nuzzled her forehead gently as to not jostle any pain from the gash.
“That’s… horrible…” Still stroking her mane, he drew her closer. “Just know, nothing your sister says is true. Everypony is good for something. Everypony has a reason for being alive… I… thought… my existence was taking care of this mare and baby griffon, but… I suppose here is where I belong…”
Terra Cotta glanced up to stare at him for a good moment, remaining silent until she decided to speak up.
“Yur good,” she said. “… Yur… nice.”
Trying to force back his sadness, he pushed a smile onto his face.
“I try to be…”
“You are.” Terra Cotta’s frown deepened. “… Wish St’rmy was nice… I hate her, too!”
Her brow sank further, her face contorting into a scowl, and then--as if in emphasis--spat on the floor off to the side.
Smokey couldn’t blame her for her feelings towards her sister, but it still disturbed him to see an equine so young feel so much hatred.
“Terra… it’s not good for somepony to hate. It only leads to more and more hate. I know it is going to be hard for you, but you need to learn to forgive.”
Terra Cotta stared at him in puzzlement, her brain having not yet registered the meaning of the word “forgive”. Smokey immediately recognized the look of bafflement upon her face.
“Forgiving is pardoning something somepony had done to you, and you try to put it behind you.”
“… Par… do… ning?” she repeated, very slowly and with great difficulty. She didn’t understand the meaning, though the expression in her eyes suggested she had a sort of vague comprehension of the term.
Smokey wracked his brain for a better description that a child her age would be able to understand.
“It’s… it’s… uh… to excuse somepony and not be angry at them anymore.”
This explanation seemed to come across to a point where she understood--and she didn’t seem to particularly like it one bit.
“She hits me!” she retorted. “All time, she hits me! It… it hurt. I no-no why… Why she alway hit me? Why she hate me? Why? I don’ unastan.”
“I know it can be hard… I wasn’t treated very well my entire life by ponies, and… I’ve learned that forgiving is better than letting hatred grow inside of you.”
“… You wer hit, too?” The corners of her lips drooped. “… Ponies hate you?”
“Oh, yes. Not too long ago, I was hit with a rake and a lot of ponies threw cake and pie at me. Even though ponies may hate me, I don’t hate them.”
The filly was rather surprised at this revelation, and gave a questioning tilt of her head.
The dragon struggled for a moment to think of a reason. He didn’t quite understand himself. With how he had been brought up, he should abhor the equine race, but… he didn’t. Like he said before, it was better to forgive than let hatred stew within him and build.
“I guess… it’s just not in me to hate somepony… Not for long, anyway.”
The child still seemed befuddled about this, but she tore her eyes away from Smokey, as if in contemplation. Snuggling up against his warm scales, she yawned and began to feel sleepy again--though, struggled to remain awake.
The winged beast smiled down at her, threading his fingers through her mane.
“It’s okay to go back to sleep, Terra.” He had been about to add ‘You’re safe as long as you’re with me’, but the mental imagery of Pendulum’s bloodied foreleg prevented him from doing so, and instead said, “… Your sister cannot get to you if you are with me.”
This seemed to appease the girl, and she issued a weak, yet notable smile. It did not take much longer for her to fall back asleep. Nightmares that usually plagued her slumber would leave her alone tonight.
“Okay…” Twilight Sparkle said, observing that the tracks left by Smokey had come to a halt. There were a few tracks from the train-carriage, but they were lost in the underbrush and thick grasses of the Everfree Forest. “NOW what?”
Fluttershy whimpered, biting her lower lip. The Everfree Forest had always scared her as she was never certain of the dangers that lurked within its confines--however, she usually had her friends with her when they went into it, and, as she steeled herself, she remembered she was doing it for Smokey.
“Ah have an idea,” Applejack proclaimed. “Why don’t we ask Zecora? She might’ve seen somethin’!”
“Good idea, Applejack! Let’s go!” As the princess turned off, she spotted a simple wooden carriage that was being drawn by two burly stallions nearby, who were heading towards the road that ran abreast of the forest. They weren’t moving fast, cruising along at a leisure pace. “On second thought, why don’t we just ask them?”
As the mares trotted into their direction, the lavender alicorn called out to them.
“Sirs! Excuse me, sirs!” Stopping next to them as they came to a cessation, she greeted them with a smile. “Pardon us, but we’re looking for another carriage--a very LARGE carriage, several cars in length, looks kind of like a train? Did you see anything like that pass by here?”
Exchanging glances with each other before smiling, the stallions turned their gaze back to the mares and nodded. A chestnut pinto opened his mouth to reply.
“Yeah, we seen it. It went along the path a few days ago.”
“Need a lift?” asked the other stallion, a palomino pinto.
Twilight Sparkle had been about to answer when Applejack cut her off.
“You’d do that for us? That’s might kind of ya!”
“Such gentle colts!” Rarity complimented.
Fluttershy was hesitant. She had a bad feeling about this--something seemed off to her.
“I’m… not sure about this girls…” she said in a low voice.
“Not sure? We got plenty o’ room,” said the palomino, jerking his head into the direction of the cart, which was only partially full of freshly chopped wood. “There’s firewood in there, but it’s still spacious.”
Twilight Sparkle gratefully bowed her head.
“That’s really gracious of you, sirs. Thank you!”
She moved to the back of the wagon, as did Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity--who expressed delight at not having to walk. Fluttershy, though, hadn’t moved. She glanced over and was partially relieved to see that Applejack hadn’t, either, suspicion labeled upon her countenance.
“Applejack, Fluttershy, come on!” Rainbow Dash urged the remaining two of their party. “This’ll get us to Smokey faster!”
The two mares looked to each other warily, before they nodded and climbed aboard. The farmer sat next to the pink-haired pegasus to place a comforting foreleg on her back for a second after they were seated. Once the stallions were sure everyone was safely seated, they were on their way.
“So, you want to go where this carriage-train went, right?” queried the chestnut pinto.
“Um, yes.” Fluttershy answered with a nod. “We’re looking for somepony very important to m--to us.”
“Who is this somepony, if I may ask?” inquired the other stallion. “Maybe we can help.”
There was a pause among the six, all glancing between one another as if asking if they should relay the full story.
“His name is Smokey,” Fluttershy finally said. “He’s my boyfriend. Or rather, I was going to ask him… if… he… would… well…” She shook her head, furrowing her brow. “I love him, that’s all that matters! I love him and I never got to tell him!”
“What happened to him, miss? What made him leave?” came the question from the other stallion.
“An accident. A horrible, horrible accident. He thought he… severely injured somepony and left before he felt he could hurt anypony else. But it wasn’t his fault! That’s why I’m heading out to… to find him. To tell him everything’s all right. To tell him I love him…” Fluttershy cast her eyes downward. “… And to ask him to come home with me.”
“He thought he hurt somepony? That’s… unusual. Are you sure you want him back and not convict him to a mental ward?”
“It was an accident,” the yellow-furred pegasus stressed. “And it turns out the pony who we thought was injured wasn’t injured at all!”
“I don’t understand. Why would somepony do that to your boyfriend?”
“We… we really don’t know,” Fluttershy lied, turning her gaze away. It would’ve been one thing to admit he was kidnapped. It would’ve been another thing to entirely admit so he could be shown off.
“Fair ‘nough. So you think he ran away to the circus, huh?” the chestnut chuckled.
Fluttershy delivered a glare for making light of the situation, clearly put out by his cavalier attitude.
“As a matter of fact,” she began softly, but sternly, “Yes, I do.”
“Sounds like a fun trip, doesn’t it, brother?”
The palomino nodded.
“We just might have to take you the whole trip. I heard they’re on their way to Las Pegasus.”
“Las Pegasus,” Fluttershy mirrored.
“Oooh! I’ve always wanted to see Las Pegasus!” Pinkie Pie chimed. “Bright lights, fun games, exotic shows!”
“Pinkie, we’re not there for a vacation, we’re going to rescue Smokey!” Twilight Sparkle admonished.
“Come on. Can’t we have some fun after we spring Smokey?” Rainbow Dash requested, casting a glance over at the alicorn.
The young princess paused.
“Well, I suppose we could relax for a bit. Fluttershy?”
“I just want to be in his arms again, and have him in mine…” Fluttershy sighed.
“You’ll get plenty of time to do that after we get him back,” Rainbow Dash reminded her fellow pegasus with a reassuring smile.
Twilight Sparkle smiled weakly, as Applejack lightly rubbed the yellow feathered equine’s back.
“You truly do miss him, don’t you?”
“It feels like part of myself is missing…” Fluttershy sank into Applejack’s embrace, before she sighed and forced a smile. “But I’ll be all right. Don’t worry about me, girls--I know we’ll get him back.”