Rainbow Dash opened her eyes, but had to blink a few times to be sure of it since she couldn't see anything either way. She definitely wasn't at home. It was never this dark at home, not with the stars at night and the sun in the day. Maybe, if there was a major storm, but it was too quiet for that. Besides, she'd never be sleeping at home if there were a major storm on the schedule.
She flapped her wings and stretched. It felt like she'd taken one killer nap, all her muscles were stiff and lethargic. She didn't feel tired, though, or groggy like when she usually woke up. Instead she just felt kind of stiff, like she'd been sitting still too long. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with her physically, she just couldn't see anything. For a moment she thought she'd gone blind, and a burning panic tried to claw its way up her throat, but she shoved it back down.
She was Rainbow Dash, the fastest flyer in all of Equestria, and Rainbow Dash did not panic.
So, since she wasn't panicking or anything, the thing to do was to figure out where she was and if there was a light or window or something else to let her see. She took a tentative step forward and felt something wet and soft under her hoof. She froze, and it was then that she noticed the smell. It smelled like dirt and dust and stale air, but it also had another smell, a slight coppery tang to the air. She knew that smell, she'd been injured enough times. Blood.
"Oh Celestia, please no," she whispered. The sound shockingly loud in the otherwise silent blackness. Her voice felt as raw and unused as the rest of her, and the dusty air made her cough violently even as she backpedaled from what she had stepped in. She backed right into an earthen wall, the impact jarring even more dust and dirt free and into her hacking lungs.
Once she had recovered, she crept back to where she had smelled the blood. She didn't want it to be what she thought it was, but she had to be sure. She felt wetness under her hooves and then butted up against a still form. She probed for a moment, gingerly running her hooves over the form, getting a mental picture of it while her heart sank and fear began crawling along her spine. It was a pony, a stallion from his size, and he was dead. Her hoof touched the gaping wound in his chest and she retched, bringing up stinging bile and nothing else.
Suddenly the darkness was too much, the stale air and silence oppressive. She couldn't be here, couldn't be in this place with a dead pony. She had to get out, and now. She ran back to the wall and began running around the outside of the room with one wing outstretched and touching the wall to find an opening, any opening, through which she could escape. There could be any number of dangers in the room that she could run blindly into, but that didn't matter. All that mattered was getting out.
Suddenly her wing was touching nothing but air. Dash didn't think, just lunged. She jostled through the narrow opening, bruising her side and pulling a few feathers from her wings as she stormed into the tunnel. It was still incredibly dark, but she had a path to follow, so she ran. Her headlong rush took her face-first into the wall more than once, but she didn’t care. She'd not only been the speed-queen of Junior Speedsters flight camp, but the crash-queen as well, and all the impacts did was tell her to change direction. The tunnel seemed to go on forever, twisting and turning at sharp angles. The uneven floor tripped her up and the walls stood barely far enough apart for her wings to compensate before she broke a leg. Still, she didn't slow down or let up. If there was a tunnel there had to be an exit.
She thudded into the wall again, and rounding the corner her eyes caught the first glimmer of light she had seen. It was coming from around yet another twist in the tunnel, showing her where to turn so that she hit the wall with her flank instead of her face. Then she saw it: light, air, freedom. The exit.
She burst out of the tunnel with a gasp, rolling to a halt in the dirt and sucking in great gulps of fresh air as she stared up at the open sky. The light was brilliant, stinging at her eyes, but she didn't mind. That minor pain was far better than the endless dark of the tunnel and the chamber at its end.
She spent a few minutes just breathing, calming herself down before she went about the important business of finding out why the hay she had been down there in the first place. Finally she pulled herself to her hooves, taking a long look at her surroundings. She was in some sort of depression dug into the ground, like someone had been making the foundations for a house. The dirt was packed with the prints of thousands of hoofsteps, and she could clearly make out that the pit had been full of tables and benches and other signs of ponies at work not too long ago.
She walked the pit from one end to the other, then hopped up to hover about a hundred feet up and get a better lay of the land. It felt obscenely good to get her wings moving, like she'd been grounded for a week and this was her first chance to fly. She resisted the urge to take off into the sky and get the wind in her mane, but only barely. With keen pegasus eyes she scanned her surroundings, and found that she was nowhere she recognized. There were mountains in the distance to the east and north, and a forest that stretched all around her for miles and miles. To the south she saw a river winding through the forest and she thought she could make out the vague shapes of buildings along the river's path, but far enough away to be near the horizon.
The clouds clung to the mountains, which usually meant that the local pegasi were being lazy, but this seemed different to her. The clouds were too high up, and far too thin. They barely looked substantial enough to walk on, let alone be used for shade or rain or all the other things the weather teams used them for. Looking around she saw what looked to be more substantial clouds in the distance to the west, but they were too high up as well, and too large. Either whoever was running the weather in this place was doing the poorest job she'd ever seen or there was something else going on, something she couldn't immediately see. The way the clouds looked sent a shiver down her spine. It almost looked like the way the weather got out over the Everfree Forest.
She shook the foreboding thought away and focused on the rest of her surroundings. She didn't get to travel much as chief weather-pony for Ponyville, but Cloudsdale was a roaming city and when she had lived there she'd gotten to see most of her nation's landscape, and this wasn't it. She was sure she had never seen this place before, not from the air or the ground, which meant she was outside of Equestria.
That thought made her frown. She didn't know a lot about the lands outside of Equestria other than the basics anypony learned in school and what she had heard from her friends. Definitely not enough to know any geography. She turned towards the south and the buildings in the far distance. She would have to go and see if anypony could help her figure out how she had gotten there, and what had happened to that stallion back in the chamber.
Her shoulders sagged at the thought of the dead pony. He hadn't died easy, or by accident, not with that gaping hole in his chest. With a quick shake of her head she threw off the morose thoughts, instead focusing herself on those buildings and the possibility of help.
It was then that she noticed the two dark shapes winging their way to her. With a cry of joy she recognized a pair of fellow pegasi as they flew from the south. She rushed towards them, leaving a trail of rainbow light in the air in her haste to meet the oncoming ponies and get some answers.
"Oh, gosh I am so glad to see you guys!" Rainbow Dash cheered as she zipped right up to the two pegasi. They were both stallions, one was a dark brown with a light caramel mane, the other a charcoal gray with a dark green mane. Both of them wore identical silver-trimmed blue outfits that covered their chests, forelegs and flanks, hiding their cutie marks. A silver crescent emblazoned the front of the outfit, the whole of which reminded her of the barding the royal guard wore, except this was obviously some sort of cloth or stiff fabric and not the metal of armor. Their eyes were covered by dark-tinted goggles that hid their expressions. They reared back in surprise as she approached. "Look, I don't know where I am," Rainbow Dash rambled, "I don't know how I got here, but I am this close to freaking out! Back there in that pit there's this really long tunnel and then there's a room and there's a dead pony there. I didn't do anything to him, I swear, but you gotta help me!"
The two pegasi shared a look made unreadable by their tinted goggles. Then one turned to Dash and said something slowly and clearly. Dash blinked in confusion, she had no idea what he had just said. The words sounded somewhat familiar, like she'd heard the individual sounds before, but the whole of it together just made no sense. "What?" she said. The pony repeated himself, and it made just as little sense the second time around.
"Oh, just great!" she shouted, throwing her hooves up to the sky. "I don't know where I am or how I got here, and you guys don't even speak Equestrian! I thought everypony spoke Equestrian!" One of the pegasi was saying something but she cut him off. "Listen, pal, I don't speak whatever crazy language you do, okay?" She began circling around them, the pegasus equivalent of pacing back and forth. "Okay, Dash, think! Think, think, think! What would Twilight Sparkle do? Teleport home. Okay, bad idea. What would Flutter - no, wait, worse idea. Don't I have any friends that would be helpful if they were me, or I were them... or something?" She spared a glance at the pegasi who were talking to each other while keeping an eye on her.
"Applejack!" The idea hit her suddenly and she stopped in midair, only losing a little altitude before she started flapping her wings again. "She'd be honest, and forthright and she'd talk real loud and real slow! That's it!" She turned to the black-clad pegasi. "I. Am. From. Equestria." The pegasi shared another look. "You know? E-ques-tri-a? Homeland of ponies? Home of Princess Celestia, who raises the sun?" This last got a reaction, the eyebrows of the ponies shooting up. "Yes! Celestia! You know her, right! I. Am. From. Celestia! Or, not her, specifically, but where she's from."
One of the pegasi fixed his covered gaze on her and said something, but Dash caught 'Celestia' as a recognizable word.
"Yeah! Celestia! Celestia! I'm from where she is, get it through your thick skull featherbrain! Take me to someone who speaks Equestrian! Thank you Princess for reminding me why its so awesome to have you in charge."
Then the pegasi pulled out batons that attached to their hooves and rushed at her.
She dodged the first swipe with a sudden lurch upwards that took her in a quick arc to the other side of the stallions. "What the hay, guys?" she shouted, staring at them incredulously. They didn't even pause to listen, the charcoal one powering at her while the other circled around to flank. Rainbow Dash ducked under a swing, sliding inside the other pegasus' reach and blocking him from swinging again. The weird goggles that he was wearing stopped her from seeing his expression, but the way he suddenly jerked back it was almost as if she’d bit him.
"What is going on?" she cried out as the brown stallion flew in and tackled her. Rainbow Dash wasn't exactly used to being attacked out of the blue like this, but she was a black belt and knew how to handle herself in a fight. Now, all the ponies who taught her would say never to fight someone bigger than you if you could help it, especially if they had a weapon and you didn't. That just wasn't the Rainbow Dash way of doing things, though. She'd bucked a dragon in the face! These two punks weren't going to intimidate her into running!
The tackle had disrupted both of their abilities to fly, so they were dropping like brittle stones to the ground that wasn't far enough below. She reared back and smashed her forehead against his nose. The goggles cracked as her bad aim caught them instead of directly on her intended target, and a stinging pain flashed through her head. That was okay, pain like that wouldn't even slow her down. Her opponent, though, reeled back, giving her enough room to regain flight control and swing out of the dive.
She rocketed into the sky, wiping blood away from her eyes with one hoof. Her tackler made his own rough save and started climbing after her while his partner moved to intercept. Rainbow Dash watched the pony trying to block her and rolled her eyes. He got in front, baton ready, but with a burst of speed that left a prismatic trail behind her she cut four hard ninety degree turns in quick succession and simply bypassed him and went back to her original heading. A look behind her showed him staring after her, mouth gaping in shock.
She laughed, unable to help herself. The wind was in her mane, her wings were only getting warmed up, and she was already impressing the locals. Now if they would stop trying to beat her up and speak some simple Equestrian her day might just start to turn positive.
The brown stallion caught up to the charcoal one, and they paused to say something to each other. The brown one took off his cracked goggles, which revealed bright blue eyes and clarified his expression. He was angry, furious. She wondered where all the anger she saw was coming from. She hadn't embarrassed these two enough for that kind of ire yet.
Rainbow Dash came to a halt, more than three hundred feet up from the two stallions. "You guys ready to talk yet?" she shouted down at them. "I mean, I don't mind kicking your flanks all over... uh, wherever we are, but I'm kinda having a crisis here, and I really don't wanna fight!"
The charcoal stallion started shouting something back, but it was all in their weird language that she didn't understand any of. She thought she caught the word 'Luna' though. Which might have been them confirming if she was from Equestria. Or could have been their word for salad, for all she knew.
"Look, guys," she replied, trying to communicate her situation in her eyes and body language. "I don't know what set you off, but I'm from Equestria, and I don't know why or how I'm here, and I just want to go home! Okay? Home, to Ponyville! Which is in Equestria! Which is ruled by Princess Celestia!"
The brown pegasus suddenly roared in anger and shot up at her. She was so surprised that she didn't even think to avoid him, but she did block the baton when he swung it at her, and let her training take over. Not knowing how the baton was attached to his hoof she wasn't sure she could just disarm him, but she couldn't let him keep swinging it around like that. Somepony might get hurt. So she grabbed the baton in her teeth and did a quick mid-air somersault. The stallion let out a high pitched scream as his forehoof was dislocated. She let go, the weight of the baton pulling on the hoof and making it hurt even more.
"Serves you right! What the hay is wrong with you?" The stallion cradled his injured hoof, staring daggers of rage at her while spitting a reply that she just did not understand. The sheer hatred in his tone communicated clearly enough, however, and it was almost like a physical blow. She had never heard a pony speak with that kind of anger before. She had been cursed at before, and badly, but never with anything approaching the utter vehemence she saw and heard in him. It was like she had lightning bolted his dog or something equally heinous.
She was so shocked by what she was seeing that she completely missed the other stallion swooping up at her. The baton slammed into her side with a sickening crack, knocking the air out of her and sending her tumbling down. She tried to right herself, but the blow had stunned her and they just didn't have the altitude for a long recovery. She crashed down, tumbling end over end and skidding in the grassy earth before coming to a rest on her back. She managed to suck in a deep breath, which she then let out in a pained wheeze as her bones protested the stress. "Oh yeah," she coughed, rolling to her hooves. "That cracked a few ribs."
She didn't have more time to recover as the two of them were dropping down towards her fast. She flared her wings and with one mighty downstroke she was shooting up to meet them. Her chest burned with pain as her flight muscles pulled at her cracked ribs, but it was a familiar pain, one that could block out without any effort. The charcoal stallion swung at her, but she was going too fast and had too much control. She ducked around the swing and bucked him in the side before ascending once more into the clear sky.
"Come on, guys," she said to herself. "Let's see if you wanna race."
The two pegasi turned and pursued her, their wings working feverishly as they tried to keep up with her constant acceleration. The landscape rushed by beneath them, but she was gaining altitude and with every passing second the ground became more and more distant. She looked back, watching as they slowly began to gain on her.
The charcoal one pulled something from his clothes, a weird tube with a box at the end, she couldn't tell what it was. Another baton, she guessed, but he gripped the box part in his mouth and pumped his wings harder closing the distance. She shook her head and focused on continuing her climb. She was already at safe altitudes, but she had no idea how delicate the local weather was and she didn't want to mess it up for a weatherpony if those bizarre, messy clouds were actually serving a purpose.
From this high up she could actually see all the way down the river towards the buildings in the south. There was a whole city that way, and it was huge! It looked like Manehattan, but spread out over five times the area. Skyscrapers clustered at what must have been the core of the city, surrounded by miles of streets and houses and buildings. She had never seen a city that big, never even heard of one. Wherever she was, it had to be one heck of a long way from Equestria.
Of course, with all the sightseeing she wasn't paying attention to her pursuers again. The brown one, with a growl of effort and a furious pumping of his wings, had caught up to her and took a kick at her wings. Dash saw him at the last moment, and with world-class reflexes she spun into an inverted barrel-rolling loop. The stallion couldn't keep up, dropping back. His partner tracked Dash's flight with his hidden eyes, carefully lining up the tube.
The shear forces at the speed they were going were intense, and she found herself relishing the cut of the wind through her feathers as she came out of her roll. Once again it struck her that it felt like the first time she'd been able to fly in weeks. More than that, it felt like the first time she had seriously raced, that day she had earned her cutie mark. The setup was almost the same, a couple of colts bashing her and thinking they could push anyone they wanted around. There was the thrill of it all over again, like racing was new and she didn't know for sure whether she could win. There was that same little voice in the back of her head urging her on, pushing her to go faster, fly harder, to burst the bonds of the possible and become a living legend. It was all that, turned up to maximum volume and pouring through her like molten sunlight in her veins.
"What's up with me?" she wondered aloud. This was too intense, and too soon after waking up in this strange land. She felt like she was losing herself to the joy of flight, to the urge to go faster. It was a terrible need that burned in her, a need to push past all the limits, to touch the spectrum and pass through it transformed. "Rainboom," she said, entranced by the word and the memories it conjured up.
She would have tried it. Would have climbed as high as she could then shot down fast enough and with enough magic to shatter light. She couldn't have stopped herself. The almost hypnotic reverie she was caught in shattered as something sharp and fast struck her flank, jerking her hips out to the side and sending her spinning in a dangerous tumbling mess into one of the thin clouds that clung to the high mountains. She bounced along the spongy surface of the cloud and skid to a stop, creating a shallow trench that slowly began to fill in with cloudstuff.
Rainbow Dash was almost more interested in the pathetic excuse for a cloud than whatever it was that had hit her, but a burning pain in her flank demanded immediate attention. She looked and found a metal dart sticking out of her side, just above her cutie mark. She reached over and tried to pull it out, but it was barbed, and a good inch deep in her. "What the hay?" she whispered, just before lunging to the side as another dart whizzed through the cloud where she had been standing.
She looked up to see the charcoal stallion circling above her, loading another dart into that tube device he had in his mouth. The brown one just hovered, eyes wide with shock, anger and disbelief. Her brow furrowed in anger. Randomly attack her with batons? Fine. Tackle, yell at and generally antagonize her? Okay, she could live with that. Not even try to listen to her or figure out what she was saying? It was pushing it, but she'd been treated worse. This? This was the last straw. They thought they could just dart her and get away with it? Well, they had another thing coming, and it was coming attached to her hoof! No more nice Rainbow Dash!
A burning sensation started tingling its way along her flank, a burning that was quickly followed by icy numbness. She shook her leg, finding that it was slow to respond and she could barely feel it when it did. The realization hit her, and all her anger drained away to be replaced by fear. The dart was poisoned.
"Oh horse apples," she said, and rearranged her priorities from 'kicking flank' to 'getting the buck outta here'. She leapt off of the cloud, heading over the mountains, accelerating as quickly as she could. The two stallions flew after her, puffing in their exertion as she put on yet another burst of intense speed. Rainbow wasn't racing this time, though, and she wasn't getting distracted by the scenery or by some weird feeling. This had just become about survival. She shifted herself into high gear, calling out her pegasus magic, and shot through the sound barrier.
Going supersonic always hurt, and it was always scary. It required letting the magic take over so much that a lot of pegasi who could do it still wouldn't. Once you had broken the barrier and let the magic do its work, though, everything got a lot smoother. She sped up to three times the speed of sound, a feat that all but the fastest pegasus would normally balk at. The mach cone spread out in front of her, barely visible with her keen eyes. It was a barrier composed of compressed air and magic, and she could feel the pressure on the other side of it waiting to shred her should that magic fail even for a moment. Rainbow Dash wasn't afraid of that pressure, she lived for the thrill of overcoming it. What she was afraid of was the way the numbness was spreading through her. It was at the base of her wings now, and her legs trailed limply behind her. What would happen when it reached her heart? Was it meant to kill her, or only slow her down? She couldn't out-fly poison.
After a couple minutes she risked a look back, but she couldn't see either stallion following her. They had looked like they were struggling just to keep up with her in the high subsonics, so she guessed they couldn't break the barrier on their own. That was a good thing. She was already past the mountain range and over a wide plain, with scattered forests she could see to the horizon, and one huge storm snarling and spitting in the distance. If those guys couldn't do supersonic she was way out of their range.
She let out a breath and began to decelerate. The burning was settling into her wings now, and she couldn't afford to lose feeling in them while flying. The turbulent shudder of dropping back to subsonic rattled her more than it should have. She wasn't compensating like she normally would. The magic receded as she slowed, and with its departure she was realizing how badly numb her wings had become. She couldn't even feel it when she flapped, and that loss of sensitivity was making her flight too erratic. Worst of all she was still going too fast.
Desperately she locked her wings outstretched. If she couldn't flap them properly, then she could at least glide until she was going slow enough to land. The ground was passing by too fast, and now that the poison had reached her heart it was spreading more quickly. Her tongue went numb first, strangely, and then her nose. It was a weird and terrifying sensation as her body just shut down around her. She focused all her will on maintaining course and not falling into the earth at several hundred miles an hour. She just had to slow down to the point where a crash wouldn't kill her. That's all. She'd crashed so much one more wasn't an issue, it just had to be slow enough. That's all she needed, just a little slower. It was a mantra she repeated over and over in her head. A little slower.
She was still thinking that when the tranquilizer knocked her unconscious and she fell from the sky.
Star Fall nibbled on the grass unenthusiastically. She didn't like foraging for food like this, but every time she was out in the field it turned out to be necessary at some point. For some reason she just couldn't plan her rations right. Her mentor, Twinkle Shine, would say it stemmed from a lack of self-discipline. Her guard, Astrid, would say it was because she used too much space to pack other things. Star Fall herself thought she just ate way too much on this side. She couldn't help it, she was always starving after crossing the Everstorm. Regardless of why, it meant she was eating grass now.
Most of the plants in the nightlands were different strains from the ones in the sunlands, regardless of how similar they looked, and having grown up on sunland plants she found the taste on this side to be unpleasant. It wasn't like it was bland, just wrong. She wondered how Astrid felt, if what she ate over here tasted wrong to her too. It was something to think about, at least. If so it might mean a tangible difference in the magic of the nightlands. That was an interesting thought, and she was sure Twinkle Shine would agree.
A sound like thunder cracked across the sky. It was loud enough that Star Fall actually felt the pressure change as it hit her. She looked up, surprised. There weren't any storm clouds here, and she was far enough from the Everstorm that she shouldn't be hearing the thunder from it. The tenor of the sound was wrong, too. It was something that poked at her recollection, a sound she had heard before, but not often and not in any context where it was instantly recognizable.
The idea struck her that it could be a weapon. She knew the Republicans had been experimenting with explosives, but there was no way they would be testing them so close to the Everstorm. She frowned, waiting to hear if the sound repeated, but all she got were a few faint echoes. She almost went back to her grazing when she spotted the shape falling out of the sky.
It hadn't registered at first because it was so far away, and so small, and she had just assumed it was a bird. Then it began to tumble irregularly through the air, losing altitude at a dangerous rate. Star Fall focused on that shape, and realized that it was a pony. A pegasus in an uncontrolled fall moving extremely rapidly.
Star Fall's wings flared out, her first instinct being to intercept and rescue the falling pony. She hesitated, though, the admonishing voice of her mentor reminding her that she was essentially a spy in enemy territory and any sort of daring rescue would be bringing too much attention to herself. She thought of Astrid, busy getting her own dinner and too far away to help if she got in over her head. The falling pony sped towards a messy reunion with the ground, but still Star Fall didn't move. She could see the pony more clearly now, a sky blue pegasus mare with a mane that had too many colors to call it any one shade.
Star Fall bit her lip, her wings shuddering in indecision. "Damn it!" she swore, finally giving in and leaping into the air. She focused, calling her magic to provide lift and thrust while her wings just caught the air currents and kept her stable. She shot towards the falling pegasus, furiously working out the proper heading to save the other pony without hurting herself. She quickly realized that her hesitation had cost her that chance. The best she could do was to ram the other pony in the side, hopefully bleeding off enough of her momentum in a direction change to prevent a fatal crash.
That would just leave them both broken, however, and while it might save the mare's life, it might also cost Star Fall hers. Even if such an impact didn't kill her it would definitely leave her and Astrid stranded in the nightlands until she was well enough to cross the Everstorm. If she ever was well enough. If they weren't captured during her convalescence.
She froze up as the worry bubbled up in her mind, her concentration faltering and her magic going with it. Star Fall nearly screamed at her own timidity, but refocused on the magic and kept going. She reached out willing every ounce of power into her speed as she approached the tumbling pegasus. But her calculations were off. The moment of worry had cost her the speed she needed to intercept, and now she was going to miss the falling mare. She stretched out a hoof, trying to do anything to slow the other pegasus down, but all she caught was the trailing edge of multicoloured hair.
Star Fall closed her eyes, letting herself slow down. She still heard the impact, though. The sound of a body striking unyielding earth at far too great a speed. She'd seen a crash like that before, while watching a race once as a filly. The thing they had pulled from the ground hadn't even looked like a pony anymore. They'd needed to use unicorns to clean up what had been left.
She shuddered, but banked around towards the crash site anyways. She had failed to save this mare, she might as well give her a proper burial. Even if her stomach heaved at the thought of what she might find. The falling mare had been going so fast and at a shallow enough angle that she had plowed a furrow through the dirt. That might have helped, but the dirt here was only a few inches deep before it hit rock. She could smell the blood already.
She landed a little ways out from the mound of dirt that was where the fallen mare would rest. She stared at that mound for what felt like forever, trying to will her hooves to carry her forward. Finally she took a step, then another, haltingly making her way to the edge of the crater. Tears stung her eyes, and she squeezed them shut. She didn't want to see the remains of the pegasus, she really didn't.
"Owwww," the sound that came from the crater made Star Fall's eyes shoot open. There, lying in a twisted, bloody heap, but not splattered or horribly deformed like she had imagined, was the blue pegasus mare. Two of her legs were obviously broken, as were both her wings, but other than a few gashes and scrapes the rest of her was intact. She was also staring right at Star Fall, bright eyes boring into her with incredible intensity. "Please tell me you speak Equestrian," the mare said, and Star Fall felt a shock go right through her.
That had been Old Equestrian. Not only that, but the pronunciation, the casual diction, all of it sounded like the voice of a native speaker. Which only the oldest Dragons could be. To find someone who spoke it so well, and under such circumstances, was shockingly bizarre. So bizarre that Star Fall couldn't stop herself from responding. "I do speak," she said. Her own command of the ancient language was clumsy, but her mentor had made her learn it as part of her studies.
"Cool," the mare said with a bloody grin. "I think I'm about to pass out, so if you could stick around till I wake up that... that would... be... awesome," As she was getting the last word out the mare's eyes rolled back and her head fell to the dirt. For a moment Star Fall was sure she was dead, but then her chest rose and fell with steady but wheezing breaths.
"Astrid!" Star Fall screamed out as she rushed into the crater. "Help me!" It was the quickest and easiest way to get her guard's attention this far away, and she was going to need the help to get this mare to somewhere safe. Somewhere she could heal, somewhere that Star Fall could find out why she knew a dead language so well.
She began to examine the other pony, finding her lightweight pegasus bones were miraculously intact after such a hard fall. Other than the wing and leg breaks, which were clean breaks and not splintered like they should be, her ribs seemed cracked, and she probably had a concussion. The gashes that oozed blood were all obviously from the crash, but there was one thing that couldn't be from the impact. Star Fall pulled the barbed dart from the hanging patch of flesh it had been stuck in. This was something used by the Republic police forces. Yet the nearest city was more than two hundred miles away, across the mountains.
"Dammit, Fall!" Astrid screeched as she dropped to the crater. Her golden eagle-eyes were hard, her beak stained with blood that she hadn't had time to clean off. She was the perfect picture of a predator interrupted in their meal. Astrid stalked up to Star Fall, then hesitated, her talons digging into the dirt as she saw what her charge was fussing over. "What the hell have you been doing?"
"Astrid, we've got to get her somewhere sheltered," Star Fall said, carefully checking the mare over for any other injuries. "You said there was a cabin near here, can we use that?"
"What? I don't know! Who is this chick, and what the hell is going on?"
"She fell, Astrid! She fell, and I need to know who she is!"
"Why?" Astrid asked, frowning. "We're already running late, the Professor is gonna be pissed enough as it is. I don't wanna know what she'll do if we just stop to care for every little thing that falls outta the sky."
"Astrid, please," Star Fall begged, looking away from the injured pony up at her guard.
Astrid held her gaze for a long moment before rolling her eyes and sighing. "Only for you, Fall."
"Thank you," Star Fall said, turning back to the downed pegasus. "See if we can use that cabin. I'm going to find something to set her legs and wings with before we move her. I'm not strong enough to carry another pony, so you're going to have to do it."
"Yeah, I figured." Astrid shook her head as she spread her wings. "I hope you know what you're doing."
Star Fall watched the Griffin go airborne, then returned her gaze to the impossible pegasus. "So do I."