Art: SpaceSmilodon (http://www.furaffinity.net/user/spacesmilodon/) and Vexxblack (http://vexxblack.deviantart.com/)
Characters (c) of Space and Vexx
Story: BRNQuil (https://brnquil.sofurry.com/) and myself. (https://arcane-reno.sofurry.com/)
Make sure to check out other work done by Space and Vexx, at http://pmdbtad.deviantart.com/
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Chapter Notes:
The earth shuddered beneath Dusty’s pounding hooves. Long razor blades of grass whipped at his heaving chest, slashed at his face, left dripping lines of red on his muzzle and flanks. The air in his lungs burned with each breath he sucked through flared nostrils, the lathered sweat on his coat matching that burn when it rolled down into the criss-cross pattern of cuts. As he ran, he threw occasional glances over his shoulder. They were still there; faceless beasts nipping at his heels, flashes of searing pain shooting up his haunches.
Please, oh please leave me alone!
Dusty bellowed, the desperate cry tearing from a throat parched enough to make a flygon cringe. He had to make it to his team! They needed him! He could help, warn them of the danger, if he could only run faster, faster, faster…
Angie’s voice, floating to his ear from miles away across these stormcloud-hung plains. Sweet, sweet Angie, calling out for him to run, to lose these awful things, and save his fellow Moonlighters from the horrendous fate he kept seeing played out over and over in his mind. Dusty’s heart threatened to beat its way free of his chest. He stumbled, nearly tumbling head over heels, but managed to catch his balance and gallop onwards.
One of the beasts lunged, scoring his flank and drawing a squeal. Dusty swerved, ducking away from those flashing claws. A sharp snap. Hot, slavering breath an eyeblink from his left ear.
“Dusty, I’m right here. It’s alright.”
No, it wasn’t alright! Dusty fled, neck stretched out, gaze locked on the horizon which never seemed to grow closer. The landscape ahead blurred into an eye-wrenching swirl of red and black, churning his empty stomach. Where was Stuart? Thomas? Angie? He had to find them! He had to save them!
A firm shove from the side. Dusty fell, crashing through grass whips, landing heavily on his back. His vision blurred, flickered. The brooding landscape and snarling beasts closed in. Bared fangs aimed straight for his vulnerable throat.
Angie stood over him, staring down with gentle concern written in those chestnut eyes. Dusty glanced around wildly, searching for… what? Phantom, faceless beasts? An angry sky? Grass that stung and bit? No, he was in the team hut, lying on his bed. His disheveled bed, now. His heaving chest slowed its frantic pace. He shivered, the sweat drying on his hide like ice against his skin.
“More nightmares,” Angie said, murmuring in sympathy. “Here, drink this.” She nudged a wooden bowl up to his muzzle, a no-nonsense paw tapping his neck. “You need as many fluids as you can stomach.”
Dusty’s throat was too arid to consider arguing. He dipped his head, flicking his dessicated tongue into the bowl, and lapped at the cool water within. At least, he assumed it to be water. His nose felt as though a pineco had taken up residence inside each nostril. He swallowed, forcing a few dribbles past the painful lump in his throat. Immediately, he began to cough and retch.
“Oh dear,” Angie murmured, her paw stroking his back. “I thought you might be able to keep it down this time…”
Dusty shuddered, his body enslaved to the muscle spasms, the room swimming and warping around him. His stomach felt like it was attempting to crawl up his throat. Had she decided it would be more merciful to poison him and end this torture? No… Angie would never do that. A final, mighty cough wracked him, spraying water and bile onto the floor. Spent, he flopped, staring listlessly at the wall.
What did I do to deserve this?
Angie trotted around in front of his view, giving him a gentle nudge on the shoulder. “Hey, I’m still here. Talk to me. Is there anything I can get for you?”
Poor Angie, having to see him like this, deal with him, take care of him. He hated to be a burden to his team, her most of all. She already took responsibility for looking after all of them, and here he was, nothing but deadweight. He attempted to clear his throat -which achieved nothing more than renewing the searing line inside it.
“Ang, I’m sorry.” It came out as such a weak croak, he didn’t think she would even hear, but she frowned.
“For what? It’s not your fault you’re sick. Don’t worry, I don’t mind tending to you, you silly horse!”
Dusty coughed again, the sound harsh in the small room, agitating the pounding ache behind his eyes. “I know, but-”
“No buts!” She cut him off with that familiar ‘don’t argue with me’ tone. “If I have to get the water down your throat drop by drop to make you better, I will!”
Dusty subsided, biting back what he’d been about to say. The awful thought remained in his mind, however, crawling about like a malignant spider. This fever had devastated Boris’s herd. They didn’t know how it passed itself along, but surely being around those who had it didn’t help. Angie had been with him this whole time. What if she were to get sick too? Sweet, sweet Angie, coughing and wheezing, unable to drink a sip of water, let alone stand on her own feet. Angie, shivering with chills and burning with fever at once, whimpering in pain. Angie, gradually losing her strength and slipping away-
Terrified, he whipped his head around, frantic to see that she was still there, that she hadn’t collapsed on him. His skull pounded, needles digging into his eyes, dragging a pathetic groan from his throat. Yes, she was still there -she’d only moved to drag a blanket over to him- and jerking himself around like that had been a mistake. Dusty’s vision hazed.
“Whoah, easy now,” Angie murmured, while covering him with the soft blanket. It was one of her personal items -a human artifact she’d been given by an old friend. “I’m right here.”
“Ang,” Dusty croaked, “I need to tell you something.”
“What is it?”
The warmth of the blanket felt nice, for a moment. Then, the wicked fever grabbed him in its claws, flashing heat up and down his body, drawing sweat from every pore. Dusty’s belly heaved, but he swallowed down the sensation. “I want you to have my scarf. And my fire stone. Y’know, the one we found on that mission last year? Just in case I don’t…” he trailed off, coughing.
“Don’t be silly,” Angie scolded. “There won’t be any need for me to have your things, Dusty. Tom and Stuart will make it back with the cure any time now!”
“And what if they don’t?” a small, insidious voice whispered in Dusty’s mind. “Poor, ditzy donkey. What happens to you if they get lost, or can’t find the cure? What if they’re too slow? Poor, poor Dusty.”
“No!” The ferocity of her tone shocked Dusty into silence, her gaze burning into his eyes from inches away. “I won’t have you talking like that. I won’t! You’re going to stay with me and rest until you’re better. Is that clear?”
Dusty wished he could smell -take in her soothing, familiar scent from so close. Maybe then, he’d be able to believe her. He nodded, lowering his head back onto the straw. The bone-weariness was making its return, dragging him back into that dark realm full of uncertainty and fear. Would he survive its terrors this time, or would they consume him? He almost didn’t care which.
All he wanted was to make sure Angie didn’t face them.
Hurry, Stuart. Hurry, Tom. She needs you to protect her from me.