The corridor opened up to a long, long platform stretching across a gaping chasm. For several hundred feet above and below, numerous spiraling, silver-reinforced floors stretched just beyond the immediate glow of the ancient facility. On the far side of the ten-foot-wide bridge was another corridor leading off into darkness. In the center of the platform, glowing brightly, was a plume of billowing red flame floating a few inches above a golden pedestal.
“Miss Dash!” Astral called out. “Don't go too far ahead! My fellow unicorns and I can't summon as bright a light as you!”
“Where's she going?” Red asked.
“I don't know,” Astral replied as he trotted nervously onto the first few feet of the long bridge. “It's like something's gotten into her.”
Red chuckled. “You just now noticed?”
“Hold up!” Rainbow flew down and perched just before the golden pedestal. Her ruby eyes reflected the floating fire as her jaw hung in open wonder. “Come and check this thing out...”
The air around the pedestal was just as cool as the rest of the interior. The flame appeared to be giving off no heat. There wasn't any smoke, or any sign of a substance being burnt to begin with. The closer Rainbow's muzzle drifted towards the phenomenon, her skin didn't so much as twitch. If she closed her eyes, she'd have no clue that there was a billowing torch anywhere remotely near her.
While the rest of the group waited behind, Astral cross the bridge until he galloped up to Rainbow Dash in the middle. “Miss Dash,” he panted. “Is this some kind of detour? Not all of us have wings. If we're to cross this chasm, I think it'd be best if you guarded us in case any of us was to fall—”
“It's not even making a crackling sound or anything,” Rainbow Dash murmured. “It's just... floating here on its own.”
“Erm, yes, I see it,” Astral said with a nervous shift of his leg muscles. “It's quite remarkable. However, it has nothing to do with our swift and safe exit from this immeasurably large place. Maybe, once we're home free, I'll return here with an expedition to more properly study—”
“There's no heat!” Rainbow Dash lifted a hoof. “I wonder if would be cool to the touch—”
“Miss Dash!” Astral blocked her hoof with his. He stared at her with a furrowed brow. “Since when did you have such a rabid interest in random magic?”
“This isn't so random,” she said to him. “I... I dunno, but I feel...”
“You feel what?”
She gulped. She looked at the thing. “I feel like I'm facing east...”
Astral's eyes narrowed. He looked worriedly at the group behind them, then back at their guide. “Miss Dash, you're... you're not making any sense...”
“No...” She slowly shook her head. “I guess I'm not.” Her nostrils flared as she turned to look at him. “Astral, you've read a crapload of stuff in your life, right?”
“Have you... erm...” She bit her lip briefly, fidgeting, as if she was on the verge of relating a bitter secret. Eventually, she muttered, “Have you ever heard of the Midnight Armory?”
Astral's eyes twitched. His face paled with surprise as he almost reeled from the name. “Why... Why yes. Yes I have heard of it. Ahem.” He glanced back at the distant, watching group and spoke in a hushed tone, as if afraid that they could somehow hear this conversation. “But that name is a secret to all ponies except those with a Master's Degree in Sorcery.”
“So you know about it?”
“Well, y-yes, but none of my associates do,” he said. “They're technically understudies. They won't be told until they can balance the Harmonic Spells. Then it will be their secret to keep within the orders of sorcery for as long as they live. That's been a tradition in all cultures since the dawn of time.” He cleared his throat and leaned in. “Might I ask, Miss Dash, how it is that you know about it?”
“Hey, I'm a pegasus,” Rainbow Dash said with a tired yet smug grin. “I have plenty of 'little birds' to tell me stuff.”
Astral looked at her. He looked at the flame, then at her dimly glowing pendant. Finally, he took in the entirety of the grand place and said, “Miss Dash, what's really going on here? I think we all have the right to know.”
“I wonder if they have stuff like this in the Midnight Armory,” she remarked.
“That hardly answers my question.”
“I'm not here to find answers,” Rainbow Dash murmured, lifting her hoof parallel to the pedestal's flame. “I'm just here to exist.”
“Couldn't you do that back home in Equestria?”
Rainbow's eyes were briefly moist. “No. No I can't....”
Astral gave her a sympathetic look. “Maybe if you told us what you were searching for, we could help you once we're out of this place, if even in a fraction of the way you've helped us...”
“I just wonder if it's cold or not...” Her hoof stretched.
“Miss Dash, no—!”
Her hoof made contact. The flame billowed, burst, and disappeared. In its place, a rapid glow flew through Rainbow Dash's body. Her head flew back. Her eyes grew wide, flickered red on yellow, and then rolled back.
“Miss Dash!” Red's voice shouted from afar while Rockspot gasped.
Rainbow fell and collapsed on the platform in a series of spasms. As Astral struggled to hold her thrashing limbs in place, she saw a splash of lavender colors flooding over her vision.
And then she saw nothing.