Kindling

Pufftt!

The white, puffy cloud was immediately destroyed, leaving a fine mist of water vapor in it's wake.

Pufftt! Pufftt! Pufftt!

Even more clouds vanished, just like the first. While the sudden disappearance of numerous clouds might seem like a strange occurrence, there was in fact a logical reason behind it.

Pufftt!

Once again a cloud was wiped from existence. The only difference: a streak of light that accompanied the cloud's vanishing act. A familiar, multi-hued streak, every color of the rainbow. There was no questioning what had happened nor who was responsible. Indeed it would be very hard to mistake this pony.

Rainbow Dash quickly dove from cloud to cloud, punching and bucking every last one she could get her hooves on. She tore through them faster than the eye could follow. One might think that this was just her doing her job of clearing the skies. This, however, was not the case. Rainbow's expression was not one of her usual cool-mare attitude; there wasn't so much as a grin of victory or smile of joy from the experience of flying high in the sky.

No, the cyan Pegasus was far from happy. She was furious, frustrated beyond belief. All because of that mangy mutt. She just couldn't accept what had happened. How could she, Rainbow Dash, fastest flyer in all of Equestria and athlete extraordinaire be taken down so easily? That shouldn't have happened!

And yet it had. Somehow, someway, that scoundrel had gotten the drop on her. It frustrated her to no end. Add to that the fear that Fluttershy could be in danger because of that wolf and Rainbow was just a buzz with emotion. Taking out all her frustration on the clouds was an escape, a way to vent her frustrations, no matter how small the satisfaction it brought.

Pufftt! Pufftt! Pufftt!

This had been going on for much of the time since leaving Fluttershy's cottage...

Rainbow Dash glared at Slithe one last time; that glare conveyed her extreme distrust for the snake, as well as a silent threat: If you hurt Fluttershy in any way…you'll be sorry. With that she followed the rest of her friends out the door. Once outside, she spoke up. "I don't like this!"

"I don't entirely like it either Rainbow, but Fluttershy knows what she's doing," Twilight spoke up.

Rarity raised her own concern next. "Twilight, do you really want to just leave Fluttershy here alone with that…that animal?" Twilight merely shook her head. "I really don't…but we have to trust Fluttershy. If things take a turn for the worse, she'll come find us."

"Come on Twilight, we can't really leave her alone with those two! They just look like trouble!"

"Fluttershy's handled plenty of animals before Rainbow."

"Yeah, but not something as dangerous as a wolf," Rainbow yelled.

"What about that manticore?"

This caused the pegasus to stall. "I…uh…well…" Twilight nodded in victory. "Uh-huh. That's what I thought. Look Rainbow, Fluttershy has proven that she can handle herself when it comes to caring for all kinds of animals."

"Ah have ta admit, the way Shy handled tha' manticore was mighty impressive," Applejack joined the conversation.

"You too Applejack?"

"While I admit am concerned for Shy's safety an all, Twi has a point"

Pinkie jumped for joy. "I like them, they seem like fun."

"You like everypony Pinkie," Rainbow deadpanned.

"Of course silly filly, that's why I have soooo many friends. If I like ponies they like me back and then we become friends and have tons of fun and eat cupcakes and sing and dance and party and…GASP! We should have a party for them. Do you think they'd like that, huh? Doyoudoyoudoyou?" By this point Pinkie was bouncing very erratically, like a rubber ball.

"I don't think a party is the best thing fo-" "Of course it is! There's no time like party time! We can have cupcakes and punch and music and dancing an-" She was cut off by Applejack's hoof. "Simmer down sally, we get it."

"Pinkie, a party is a bad idea. Do you want to scare the whole town?" Twilight's question brought Pinkie's bouncing to a sudden halt. She frowned. "So…no party?"

"It's for the best that we hold off on a party for now," Twilight answered .

"Ok Twilight…wait," Pinkie's smile returned as suddenly as it had vanished. "So we can have a party later?" "Well, I didn't me-" Pinkie cut her off. "Great! I'll get started on it right away!" The party pony dashed off, leaving a pink smoke outline that soon vanished.

Twilight did her best to shrug off the strange occurrence; Pinkie's just being Pinkie after all. She turned her attention back to Rainbow. "The point is Rainbow, Fluttershy will be fine. She can handle herself and, if anything does happen, we'll be there to help."

"But…"

"We have to trust Fluttershy. She will be fine."

Rainbow shuffled around indecisively. On one hoof she did trust her, she truly did. But on the other was the prospect of a danger to her longtime friend. She knew they were dangerous, especially that wolf. Finally she conceded. "Fine, but I don't like this." With that Rainbow took to the air, the rest of her friends also leaving.

From there, the cyan pegasus had tried practicing her tricks in an attempt to vent her frustrations; this proved unsuccessful. From there she went to busting through the clouds. It wasn't much but it did help alleviate her anger better than anything else.

Pufftt! Pufftt!

Two more clouds gone. Normally Rainbow, even as manager of the Ponyville weather team, would not be able to just alter the placement of clouds; the weather was planned in advanced. Fortunately, today was scheduled to be bright and sunny, not but a few clouds to be seen. So she continued her cloud demolition. With deft movements Rainbow began to alter the cloud, shaping it to her will. A bit more cloud here, a little less there. With a few more adjustments it was just right. Before her was a cloud shaped exactly like a wolf. Grinning, she soared up into the sky. Once she was high enough she leveled out. Looking back down at her creation, Rainbow's grin only grew. While this wouldn't be as satisfying as the real thing, it would have to do for now.

Taking a brief moment to compose herself, Rainbow closed her eyes in preparation. A split second later, her eyes shot open and she dove for the wolf-shaped cloud. Her speed just kept climbing and climbing. Second by second, the cyan mare propelled herself fast towards her target. As she neared the wolf cloud she positioned her hooves together in front of her head, breaking the wind.

"Humiliate will me will you," she growled to herself.

With that, Rainbow plowed through the cloud.

Pufftt!

Rainbow quickly slowed down and circled around to see the result. She was quite pleased to see the final particles of the cloud vanish into thin air.

Satisfied for the time being, she felt that now would be a good time for a nap. She located and flew over to a nearby cloud that had escaped her earlier rampage. She curled up on the improvised bed, intending to sleep the day away.

Of course that would have to wait.

"Rainbow Dash?"

The voice was quiet, but filled with a sweet yet concerned undertone. Peeking over the side of her cloud, Rainbow saw Fluttershy below. With a sigh of disappointment at having her nap interupted, she dropped down to meet her shy friend.

"Hey Fluttershy," she greeted, "you need something?"

"O-oh, n-not really," Fluttershy answered quietly, hesitant. "Um well, a-actually I was worried about you and came to talk…if you don't mind that is."

"I don't mind Fluttershy, what did you want to talk about?" Maybe a friendly conversation would help take her mind of off things.

Fluttershy's next words put an end to that hope. "Well, I just wanted to talk about what happened earlier…you know, with Zeviathan?" Oh, that. "I just wanted to make sure you weren't upset."

"I'm fine, don't worry."

"Are you sure," Fluttershy pressed on.

"I'm sure!" Rainbow responded confidently. This wasn't something she felt like talking about. "Why would you think I wouldn't be?"

"Oh, um, well…you didn't look too happy when you left. I was worried that maybe you were upset with Zev."

Rainbow waved off her concern. "It's fine Fluttershy, I'm so over it." Despite her positive words, there was little truth behind them. She was far from over it. Fluttershy didn't seem to pick up on this though, something Rainbow was grateful for. "If you say so…I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"It's cool, nothing to worry about."

"Okay, I'm glad to hear that." She nervously scraped her hoof across the ground. "I'm sorry if he hurt you, he really didn't mean for it to happen. He was just surprised and acted on instinct. He's quite really friendly."

"Right, instincts," Rainbow mumbled quietly to herself, not buying it. Even if that's true it still didn't give him the right to attack her like that. How friendly was that? Unfortunately, Fluttershy picked up on this. "It's true Rainbow, Zeviathan was just doing what comes naturally to him. He didn't mean for that to happen, honest."

Sighing, Rainbow finally voiced the question that had been on her mind ever since she first saw Zeviathan and Slithe. "Look Fluttershy, are you completely sure that keeping both of those creatures in your home is a good idea?"

"What do you mean?"

"They're dangerous!" Rainbow exclaimed. "You saw how that aggressive that wolf was, and we don't even know what the snake could do!"

Fluttershy shook her head. "Neither Zeviathan or Slithe are a threat. They've both been very well behaved since I met them." She smiled at the thought of the two new arrivals into her life. "And, like I said, Zeviathan didn't mean to do that. He never would've done that if he hadn't been startled."

"Come on Fluttershy, they're carnivores. What if they get hungry and decide to eat you, huh? And what about how messed up that wolf was? What if whatever did that to him came back? What then? Think Fluttershy! They Are Dangerous!" Rainbow took a moment to gather her breath. "I think you should just get rid of them."

Fluttershy looked at her, unbelieving. She couldn't believe what she had just heard. Get rid of them? How could I get rid of them, they need me. That was something she wasn't prepared to do. Zeviathan was still recovering from his injuries and Slithe was still just a hatchling. How could they survive if she just up and tossed them out? The idea of them out in the forest, all alone and barely clinging to life brought tears to her eyes.

"H-how can you say that?" She questioned. "They haven't done an-anything to anypony. They need help, I can't j-just leave them all a-alone in their condition." She turned away, trying to hide how hurt she was. "How can you ask me to just leave them Rainbow Dash?" Fluttershy repeated, clearly upset.

Seeing this, Rainbow struggled with her response. "…I…oh, come on Fluttershy, can't you see that you're in danger with them around?" Shifting to a calmer tone, Rainbow continued. "I really think it's best that they leave Shy…"

"But I Can't!" Fluttershy promptly raised her hooves to her mouth, surprised by how loud her outburst was. "Sorry," she quickly added.

Slightly surprised, Rainbow pressed on. "But Fluttershy, it's for the be-" She was cut off by Fluttershy. "No, it's not!" Her tone made it clear how she felt about this; she would not abandon Zeviathan and Slithe. Her sudden shift from sadness to stern really surprised Rainbow.

"But-"

"I said no Rainbow, and that's final." Why was she being so defensive of them? Sure she really, really cared for animals-it's her special talent after all-but something was different when it came to that duo. She felt a warm, happiness fill her heart whenever she thought about them, Slithe in particular. His first word echoed through her mind: mother.

Mother…

That one word made her happy beyond belief. The fact that Slithe actually looked up to her as his mother…it just filled her with joy. Ever since she first met the snake she had felt a close connection to him. At first she had been unsure, afraid that she would be a poor mother…but now, now she fully embraced it. She was his mother and he, her son.

Then there was Zeviathan. Though he was unconscious and severely injured when she first found him, there was definitely more to him. He was strong-willed and independent, yet there was much kindness within, even if it doesn't look like it. And what about this 'mental link' that connected them, allowing them to communicate with their thoughts? It was a special connection that bonded them together, yet she felt there was more to it than that. Did Zev see her in the same way Slithe did, like a mother? She would be willing to say as much but would he? Maybe, just maybe…

A soft tap on her back sent her straight up into the air, afraid. She quickly looked around only to find Rainbow right next to her. She quickly relaxed, realizing that it had only been her friend. "Oh, I'm sorry Rainbow, did you say something?"

"I just wanted to know if everything was okay? You sort of zoned out there for a minute?"

"Oh no, I'm fine. I was just thinking…"

"About what?"

"Zeviathan and Slithe," Fluttershy quietly admited.

"You really care about them don't you?" Fluttershy nodded. "And you aren't going to abandon them?" Another nod, prompting a sigh from Rainbow.

"I know you don't really trust them yet bu-" "Listen Fluttershy, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry for upsetting you earlier." Rainbow interrupted her, her expression more apologetic. "I didn't know what I said would hurt you that much but I'm really, really sorry." "Oh, you don't need to apologize. I know you didn't mean for that to happen." Rainbow smiled upon hearing that.

But the cyan mare still had more to say. "And uh…about how I've been acting toward the sanke and wolf, I-" "Slithe and Zeviathan!" Fluttershy smiled shyly. "Oh, umm, sorry but please don't call them that. They're names are Slithe and Zeviathan."

"Right, Slithe and Zeviathan. I've been thinking about how much of a jerk I've been lately. I admit it. And just because I was worried about you doesn't mean my actions were justified." Rainbow paused as she considered her next words carefully. "I see now how much you care about them now and, if you are willing to give them a chance then…I suppose I can too. More than anything thought, I…I just wanted to say I'm sorry, for everything."

Fluttershy was ecstatic to hear that. Her friend was willing to give Zev and Slithe a chance. She quickly, but gently, embraced her friend. "Oh Rainbow, it's alright. I'm just happy to hear you say that." Fluttershy broke the hug and continued. "I know you didn't get the best impression when you first met, but I just know you'll all get along nicely."

Rainbow smiled at her Fluttershy. "If you think so Shy, then I trust you. I'm just so sorry for everything."

"You're already forgiven Rainbow," Fluttershy shook her head, dismissing Rainbow's third apology, "but maybe you should be apologizing to Zev. You did kind of invade his personal space and acted maybe, just a…tad bit threateningly towards him?"

Rainbow sighed at the prospect of apologizing to the wolf, but she knew she had to. For Fluttershy's sake, if not her own. "Yeah, I guess you're right."

"Great…s-" At that moment, Fluttershy felt a slight spike of fear. She didn't know how or why but something was amiss, and she was certain it had something to do with Zeviathan. "Zev's in trouble!" With that, she took to the air and, with a sense of urgency, sped off towards her cottage. Rainbow just sat there, stunned, before quickly following after her friend. "Hey, wait up!"


Zev walked around the small meadow, searching for the small snake. "Bah, this is beyond frustrating..." he thought, "that irritating snake could be hiding right next to me and I wouldn't be any wiser with this tall grass." He kept searching for Slithe, keeping an eye out for anything that could give an inkling where the serpent would be. He couldn't see any indentation in the grass, and any recent scent would be washed away by dumping Slithe in the river earlier. "I can't do anything right, can I..."

For several minutes he continued to find nothing as to his charge's whereabouts. Luckily though, he at last caught the slightest wisp of the familiar scent of Slithe. "Finally! Now I can-wait... What was that?" he sniffed again, this time catching another scent in the slight breeze. He barely had time to recognize it before something pounced at him from grass, bright amber eyes glinting in the sunlight.

Slithe lay at the top of a small knoll. His body was coiled around itself as he sniffled and cried, a tear rolling down his cheek as he looked at the small cut. While the wound itself didn't hurt much, the fact it was there filled him with sadness. He didn't know what he had done wrong, the wolf his mother called Zeviathan felt safe, so he tried being friendly. Why this caused so much aggression was beyond him.

He lay there for awhile, feeling sorry for himself. He was only broke out of his depressed stupor by a sound less welcome than the wound on his stomach. A loud yelp came from several yards away. Frightened yet curious, Slithe got up and looked above the grass. A small distance from the base of the hill was Zeviathan, two other creatures like him moving around in a circle, one gray and one brown. Mustering up what little courage he could, Slithe ventured down from his hiding place.

Zeviathan rolled as a gray form charged, barreling into him and knocking him down. As he winced and yelped Zeviathan tucked in his still-injured paw as he got up. Looking at the gray mass of fur, Zeviathan instantly recognized him. "Sapphique..."

"Well, well, well, what do we have here, an injured pack reject nursing his wounds like a pup? Pathetic." Sapphique taunted Zeviathan with a snarl on his face. Hearing a growl from the other direction, Zeviathan looked to see a lithe brown wolf who he remembered as Shard. "What do you want Sapphique?" Zeviathan asked. He had a good guess already, the wolf had a cruel streak in the pack and worked himself up to Beta wolf from it, leading the pack's day-to-day routines and making sure everything went smoothly. It was the last part that caused the two to form a shared animosity, as Zeviathan would ruin hunts whenever he went.

"Isn't it obvious? We wanted to make sure you didn't try to come back after that last fiasco on the hunt. Unfortunately it took us awhile to find you, but now that we have, we can get this over quickly and be on our way." The gray wolf almost smiled at this.

Catching a bit of movement out of the corner of his eye, Zeviathan whipped his head around to find a third antagonist. Instead, he saw a small nervous Slithe looking at the three of them. "Slithe? Get out of here, this doesn't concern you." Sapphique and Shard both turned to look at the new arrival, "Who's this Zeviathan? Making friends with the local wildlife?" The following laughter just made Slithe lower his head a bit.

"Be quiet!" Zeviathan quickly limped to Slithe, "Slithe, really. Go now..." Slithe looked at Zeviathan's injured paw before shaking his head. With a sigh, Zeviathan turned around and faced the two wolves, one on either side. "Then stay behin-" Zeviathan was cut off as Shard made the first move, tackling him and sending the two rolling in the nearby dirt. Sapphique casually strolled up to the quivering Slithe with a malicious and wolfy grin.

"And who might you be?" the wolf asked rhetorically. To his surprise, he got an answer. "Sss-Ssslithe..." The reply made the wolf pause and look at his prey, a small feeling of shock on his face. Taking his chance, Slithe darted off only to be stopped by a paw on his tail right above the cut. The pressure on the wound caused him to wince slightly as he turned over. Sapphique looked down at him with a snarl "You won't be trying that again..."

Slithe was shaking uncontrollably at this point, staring up at the now raised paw above him as he tried to pull away. Sapphique brought his paw down and took his other paw off Slithe's tail, sending the snake flying. Looking on, Sapphique smiled as he saw his mark land with a thump, staying there and not moving. He turned away from the defeated serpent, returning his attention to his lackey and main target. He took only a few steps when he felt a sharp pain on the back of his front right leg, making him stumble.

He lifted it up and saw two small puncture wounds at the bottom, a small steady trickle leaving the holes. "A snake bite? But...?" Sapphique looked back to where he had left Slithe, the spot now empty. As he was wondering where Slithe had gone, he felt another sharp pain on his back left leg in the same place, making him buckle unexpectedly. This time he saw a white dart shoot out to his left. Turning in that direction, Sapphique was surprised again by the snake, who was fully erect. The only sign of injury was two small cuts on the underbelly. However what struck a cord with him the most was the serpent's head. The mouth was bloodied, and the eyes... he wasn't sure, but he could have sworn they were green, not the stark white they were now.

Sapphique readied himself for a fight, ignoring everything else around him besides the snake in front of him. Slithe however, merely swayed slightly, as if trying to hypnotize his opponent. Sapphique made the first move and sprung forward ignoring the pain from his two legs. Slithe zipped underneath him and gave Sapphique another lightning fast bite, this time hitting his front right leg. Sapphique collapsed immediately when he touched down, and like that the fight was over. Sapphique, the pack beta, could now barely stand up due to the strategic bites on his tendons. Making a quick, yet shameful, decision, he let out a defeated growl and limped towards the forest and leaving Shard to fend for himself.

Zeviathan was having trouble with Shard, never being much of a fighter in the first place, and his injuries were not helping in the slightest. It quickly became evident who was going to win this confrontation as Shard managed to wrestle his way on top. Both coats were bloodied and cut, one more so than the other, and their strength was waning. Shard now on top, Zeviathan was certain the next attack would be for his throat.

Shard suddenly yelped from atop Zeviathan and fell backwards as a fresh wound on his ear started bleeding profusely. As he looked around for the assailant, Slithe darted forward and wrapped around the wolf's neck, sinking his fangs into one of Shard's shoulders. Letting out a howl, Shard swung Slithe off and sprinted after Sapphique into the forest.

Zeviathan weakly got up and looked at the small snake. "Slithe?"

Slithe whipped around towards Zeviathan, the white eyes staring into his own as Slithe started slowly moving forward. "Slithe, calm down now. It's me, Zeviathan..." he started to slowly back away from Slithe, who stopped for a moment and tilted his head. Shaking his head, Slithe started inching forward again, "Slithe, please, it's okay now. You can stop!" He seemed to consider this for another moment, shaking his head and looking about as if he was lost. Zeviathan, really not wanting to be on the receiving end of the fangs at the moment, sucked up his pride. "Slithe... I'm... I'm sorry for earlier...I didn't mean to hurt you…"

That seemed to do the trick, as Slithe looked up at him, his eyes back to normal and a tear back on his face. He slithered forward and wrapped himself in a ball at Zeviathan's feet, sniffling.