Spitfire held Frostburn’s head in her arms, crying softly. Next to her, the limp body of her colt Blizzard lay motionless. The floor vibrated from another explosion, but Spitfire didn’t notice.
She looked down at the scorched face of her filly. It was unrecognizable to any eye but a mother’s, but Spitfire knew that somewhere deep down her child was smiling. She was at peace with this horrible world, and Spitfire was left to pick up the pieces.
I should be angry, she realized, but I’m not. It wasn’t the Shadowbolts or the rebels or Nightmare Moon that caused this. It was all of us, everypony. If I hate anyone, it should be myself for not trying to stop it sooner.
The ceiling groaned ominously, the apartment building warning of its imminent collapse. Spitfire looked around her home, wondering what she should do now. What was there left to live for? Why not just lay down her burdens, here and now?
A voice floated to her over the sound of creaking metal, and she looked toward her shattered window. Her friend Soaren flew outside, waving at her frantically. For him, she thought, and for ponies like him. I have to stop this chaos, or at least I have to try.
The captain sat against the wall of her cell, listening to the din above. She knew her lieutenant was already dead, and her only solace was that she would soon be next.
Sure enough, the door to her cell was flung open a moment later, an ominous figure standing illuminated by the torch outside. “My turn then?” she questioned, “take me already; I’ve nothing left to live for.” Wordlessly, the figure approached and opened a black bag, the same that had hidden the face of the late Spitfire.
The captain didn’t resist as the bag was pulled over her face, obscuring her vision. She didn’t struggle as her hooves and wings were bound behind her back, nor as she was dragged painfully across the floor and out of the cell.
She could hear the town above her clamoring, the walls and floor vibrating around her. She was left to her thoughts as the noise grew slowly louder, her guard remaining silent the whole way. She didn’t even care that she wasn’t being beaten this time, and it was only by concentrating that she could even feel the pain in her knees as they were scraped along the rough stone.
As she heard the town above her grow closer, she was jerked sideways and painfully dragged around a corner, her flank bumping sharply into a doorframe. She didn’t wince at the pain, but she was surprised when she was dropped onto the ground. The rope around her neck was pulled painfully backwards for a few seconds before it was released, and to her further surprise a hoof yanked it off her face. Her vision came swimming into focus as she looked up at her guard. “You? They sent you to drag me up?”
“Of course not, you foal,” spit Rainbow Dash, tossing the hood to the side, “I came down here on my own.” Rainbow Dash turned and closed the door behind the captain, locking them inside the small storehouse. Rainbow Dash sat on some empty boxes, about the only thing left in the room.
The captain turned a suspicious eye towards her, her depression temporarily forgotten in the face of this mystery. “Why?”
“Because what Rarity is doing is wrong. Twilight and I tried to convince her to spare you and Spitfire, but she wouldn’t listen.” Rainbow Dash hovered behind the captain, fumbling with one hoof to undo the binds holding her. “I brought a change of clothes with me, if you put them on you can walk out of town unchallenged. Even the gate guards are in the town center.”
The captain felt her hooves slip free and she brought them back in front of her, rubbing them as the circulation returned. “And what if I don’t want to go? What if I’d rather die here, with my friend that you murdered?” The venom in the captain’s voice could have killed any number of small, furry creatures, but Rainbow Dash was unscathed.
“You don’t. Look, I’m not from this place the same way you are. I’ve seen…things…that had to be done to survive. I came from a place where there was still sun and everything was better.” The captain saw a tear in Dash’s eye, but she had no sympathies to share for her. “I always thought that we had problems, but being here, seeing this…it all seems so trivial now. Heh, I don’t think I’d even want to fly in the Wonderbolts anymore, not knowing that my friend’s were in this place.” The captain continued to glare at the pony above her, awaiting her next words.
Catching herself dreaming of her lost home, Dash shook her head and returned to the conversation. “Err, look, the point is that there’s gotta be something left to live for. If I can get through it as an outsider, then you certainly can. When I first got here and saw what Pinkie and Fluttershy had done, I almost lost it. I almost gave up and quit right there. But Twilight never stopped, and looking at her, knowing that there was at least one thing left here to be loyal too…I guess I just couldn’t. Heh, I don’t even know why I’m telling you this, you’re just some Shadowbolt.”
“Just like Spitfire was ‘just some Shadowbolt’?” The captain’s first words were reflexive, her hatred returning to her as Dash finished. Startled, Dash looked down at her.
“I’m sorry. I really am.” The captain could see that she was telling the truth, the moisture in her eyes glinting in the torchlight. “I thought I wanted to fight you guys, when I first learned about what happened to Ponyville, but now I’m just tired. I just want to go home, but I don’t want to see anypony die to get me there. If you take it one day at a time, I’m sure you’ll find something else to live for, so go while you still can.”
The captain sighed, but she had already realized that Dash was right. She had something else to live for, something that she could do now that she was free again. As realization spread through her, she turned a grateful eye towards her rescuer. There’s something else I must do first, she thought.
“Rainbow Dash, there’s something I want you to see before I go. It’s the reason I tailed Spike here in the first place, instead of just telling the Royal Guard.” Dash’s ears piqued with interest.
“Please, Dash, take off my mask.”
Rainbow Dash hesitated, but stood. The captain could see in her eyes that she wanted desperately to know, and now she was being offered the chance on a silver platter. Tentatively, she reached out her good hoof and grasped the hem of the mask, pulling it and the goggles off the mare’s head slowly.
The goggles clattered to the floor as the mask fell from Dash’s limp hoof. “How…but…oh Celestia, no!”
With the strength to her hooves restored by the lengthy conversation, the captain leapt up. Because of her shock, Rainbow Dash didn’t have time to react as the captain turned and bucked her across the room, soaring into a pile of heavy boxes. For a moment they creaked ominously, but then gravity took over and they came crashing down on her.
The captain waited for a minute to ensure that nothing was moving beneath the pile, and then turned back towards the door. She was right, I do have something left to live for, something I can gain with my new freedom. The captain’s mouth smiled crookedly. Justice for Spitfire.
Soaren stumbled out of the crowd, leaning against a nearby building for support. His other hoof was tightly clenched, pulled closely to his chest. Feeling more than seeing his way down the street, he tried to make his way home. His eyes were wide open, but gazed unseeingly ahead. All he could imagine was the scene of Spitfire’s fall: When he opened his eyes he saw it over and over, when he closed them he could hear the crowds as they clawed for her. He stumbled, not even bothering to catch himself as he fell onto the dusty ground. For what seemed like forever, he just let himself lay there, his shattered mind trying to make sense of what he had done
I just want to die. The thought was subtle at first, just another voice in a sea of self accusation, but it rang out again and again until the mental chant became a crescendo. I just want to die. I deserve to die. What difference does it make if I ever move from this spot? Everything I believed was wrong, everything I fought for…oh Celestia, I just want to die.
In some part of his mind, he registered that his head hurt. It wasn’t until he reflexively wiped his brow that he knew he was bleeding from the fall. He crawled up to a sitting position, looking at the blood on one hoof. Bringing the other around in front of him, he uncurled it to reveal Spitfire’s shattered goggles that had fallen from the stage. Looking down at the bloodstained hooves and the broken remnant of his mistakes, he finally broke down and began to weep.
Big Mac walked down the tunnel, the two guard unicorns behind him, the crowd was getting restless, but Big Mac never, under any circumstances, hurried. He calmly plodded along, knowing that he would reach the dungeons and fetch the next prisoner in due time.
A noise to his right made him turn his head absentmindedly, and he had no time to duck as Rainbow Dash came bursting out of a door. The two ponies collided with the other wall, but Rainbow Dash was on her feet again almost instantly. “Big Mac! Get up! The prisoner has escaped!”
“E-wha? Rainbow Dash, what are you doing down here?” The deep voice rumbled along with the patience of the mountain they lived under, his face unperturbed.
“It doesn’t matter! Big Mac, we need to close off the city and warn Rarity, she could be in danger!” Rainbow Dash was breathing violently, her eyes searching side to side frantically. “She knocked me out and got a head start, is Rarity still outside?”
“Eyup, but hey, Rainbow Dash, nopony could have gotten out of that cell on their own. You didn’t-“
“No time Big Mac! I’ll go on ahead and warn Rarity, you get the guard organized. The safety of New Ponyville’s leader is at stake!”
Not waiting for an answer, Rainbow Dash flew up the tunnel, weaving around the turn until she emerged into the main chamber, entering from a side tunnel just behind the guardhouse. She gained altitude, her eyes quickly spying the stage around which everypony was gathered. Rainbow Dash began soaring towards it, her mistakes quickening her wings onward.
Rarity turned her head as she heard the wings, and gasped in astonishment as her friend touched down. “Rainbow Dash! Oh my, whatever happened to you? You look absolutely terrible, my dear!”
Rainbow Dash stopped and looked at herself, as if noticing her wounds for the first time. “That’s what I’m here to tell you. Rarity, the other prisoner escaped, and I think she’s after you. She bucked me into a pile of boxes in a storeroom and they collapsed on me. I was knocked out, and now she’s on the loose. Quickly, you’ve got to get somewhere safe!”
Rarity stood still, but the guards around her immediately formed up close around the group, eyes peeled toward the skies. Her voice carried suspicion. “Rainbow Dash, how did the prisoner escape, and why were you there?”
“Ugh, never mind that! Is there someplace safe you can go? She could be watching us right now!” Rarity watched her hover frantically, but her experience with people told her that something else was going on here.
“Rainbow Dash, I won’t go anywhere unless you tell me the truth. Besides, I can’t simply leave this crowd waiting for another prisoner, they’ll start rioting if they aren’t calmed down correctly.” Rarity stomped her hooves stubbornly, but Applejack was already pushing her toward the carriage.
Head plowing the resisting unicorn forward, Applejack’s voice carried all the stubbornness she could muster. “Oh no you don’t, sugarcube, I ain’t gonna watch you risk your life for more publicity out here. If that Shadowbolt is loose, her target is either you or the surface.” Pushing the disheveled mayor into the cart, she smiled victoriously. “I’ll stay here and talk ‘em down, they all respect me nearly as much as you. You take Twi and Rainbow Dash into safety until this whole thing blows over.”
Rarity picked herself up from the floor of the carriage, prepared to respond. Before she could, however, Rainbow Dash and Twilight had jumped inside with her and shut the door. The carriage took off at breakneck speed, the towsnponies diving out of the way to make room.
Disheveled and displeased at this turn of events, Rarity turned to Rainbow Dash. “Well, now that I have been quite embarassed in front of everypony, would you kindly tell me how exactly the prisoner escaped while you just happened to be in the dungeons?”
“I…look Rarity, you’re one of my oldest friends, but killing Spitfire was wrong.” Rarity frowned, annoyed that this same topic was being brought up again. “I was…going to set her free, so that she could escape from New Ponyville, but when I untied her she bucked me away and took off.”
Rarity sat silently thinking, her chin in her hoof. Finally, she spoke up. “Rainbow Dash, I should have you arrested for treason, but you saved my life once. Therefore, you’re punishment will be making sure we all get out of this alive.” She glared at the pegasus across from her, “But don’t think this means we won’t be having a talk about this later.”
Twilight spoke up. “Rarity, this Shadowbolt is a pegasus, we should be extra careful about this safehouse. Are there any windows or anything we should be aware of?”
Rarity gasped. “Oh no no no, my dear. Applejack was in charge of building that dreary place, and she was quite insistent on that. There are no decorative windows or any other well-placed pieces of common decorative sense, much to my chagrin. There is, however, an escape tunnel up to the surface, just in case.”
Twilight sighed with relief. “Oh thank Celestia, it sounds like we’ll be safe after all.” The car rumbled to a stop, and the door was flung open by one of the guards. The three ponies rushed out of the cart, and Twilight slowed down to look at their destination. She was disappointed, for all she could see was a heavy metal door in front of her. Rainbow Dash yanked it open, and they all prepared to enter the dark room.
“Wait,” said Twilight, “We shouldn’t all go in. One of us should stay guard out here, and we can rotate in shifts. I volunteer to go first.”
“No, Twilight, let me.” Twilight could hear the same tone of stubbornness in Dash’s voice that she had used with the food delivery. “It’s my fault this is happening. Plus, the best defense against a pegasus pony is another pegasus.” Twilight had to admit that his made logical sense, but the she also noticed the gleam in Rainbow Dash’s eye. No doubt about it, she thought, she’s looking to fight that pony, even if she has to wait out here all night.
“All right Rainbow Dash, but I’m taking my fair share of the work this time. I’ll be out to relieve you in half an hour.” With that, the purple nicorn turned towards the door, Rarity shuffling her through.
“Twilight, come inside dear, Iets see what food we have stockpiled back here. No sense in going hungry while we wait for our guards to catch her, after all.” The two ponies disappeared into the shelter, shutting the door behind them. The guardsponies pulling the carriage turned and left, their abilities needed elsewhere. Rainbow Dash sat alone outside, eye’s scanning the darkness halfheartedly.
Soaren stood on the cloud, looking up at the sky. It hung empty and barren above him, as dark as the guilt weighing him down. The blackness seemed yellow through the tint of Spitfire’s goggles, and he raised a green hoof in front of his face.
So this is what I looked like to her. This was the monster she saw in her last moments. He lowered his hoof and rolled over, the thin cloud wafting dangerously beneath him. This was how she saw the world. His tears leaked out the side of the goggles, it’s no different from how we all saw it.
He looked below him towards the ground. It was lost to the darkness of day; Soaren stood in a cold void. Visually, it made as much sense for him to fall up or sideways as it did to fall down. He contemplated falling forever, knowing that the pain inside of him would never be diminished. He prepared to roll off the cloud, but froze on the precipice.
I can’t do it. I’ve got to have something left to live for. There’s always hope for a better future, isn’t there?
He laughed a bit to himself, but it was mirthless. Of course there is, he reasoned, there’s always hope. But ponies like me, bad ponies, we don’t deserve it. The best thing we can do to make the world brighter is to remove our own stain on it.”
In frustration, he slammed his hooves down. The already wavering cloud beneath him vanished completely, and he slowly began his fall. Turning around without care, he faced the void beneath him. It always looks to small from so high up, he mused, but I can’t even see it now. I don’t even get that last mercy.
It’s relentless. Relentlessly dark, relentlessly crushing. Maybe there’s good down there somewhere, but you have to dig deep. The rushing wind whipped past his face, tearing the tears from his eye in the shattered goggle lens. You have to dig far deeper than anypony can, than anypony wants to. You have to dig past all the badness that you’re capable of.
And I can’t do that.
He purposefully kept his eyes open as he plummeted, wanting to see what she saw. The ground looming up, her certain death reaching up towards her, and nopony left that could help.
Rainbow Dash turned her head at the sounds of yelling from behind the door. There was a loud bang, and she leapt to her hooves in surprise. The sound of a metal mechanism churning away was followed by the opening of the door, and an exasperated Twilight stomped outside.
“What happened?” Rainbow Dash’s question was direct, but her voice held little surprise.
“That blasted foal! She still won’t even begin to listen to any of my advice!” Twilight sat down in a huff, crossing her hooves in front of her as she leaned against the wall. “Even with the promise of the town’s morale being restored, she refuses to consider a ration. ‘Oh no, my dear, the ponies here have grown accustomed to this way of life. It would just be ever so cruel to take that away from them after such a joyous occasion’” Her exaggerated mocking of Rarity was cruel, but Twilight found that she cared very little for her friends feelings at the moment.
“Joyous occasion?” Rainbow Dash asked it as a question, “She said that, huh?”
“Can you believe it?” Twilight shook her head, taking a deep breath to calm herself down. “It’s like she has no sense of self anymore. All of her morals are gone, she only cares about making these ponies happy, even if only for a few days before they die of starvation.”
“Maybe that’s not so bad,” defended Rainbow Dash, “maybe it’s the mark of a good ruler to stop trying to be a good pony. Maybe giving this town what it needed was what she needed.”
“No,” returned Twilight, “a good ruler would never have done this. A good ruler would have held them as hostages, maybe even tortured them for information if she had to.” Twilight sighed again, “But giving the people what they want is not always the best option. Hell, it probably never is. I’d bet that if you asked any pony in town whether they’d rather eat like kings tonight or live to see next week, they’d all give up a little comfort for a chance to make a new life. Maybe last week, they wouldn’t have cared, but now…” she turned her head back towards the town, where the noise of the crowd could still be heard, “…for better or worse, they’ve come back to life.”
“Then Rarity must be proud of what she’s done.” Rainbow Dash seemed more thoughtful than perturbed at this point, like she was still making her own judgments.
“She is, and that’s the worst part.” Twilight put her head in her hooves, groaning into them. “If she regretted her actions at all, showed even a little hesitation in her decisions, I might still believe there was somepony in there, but instead…Rainbow Dash, it’s like I don’t even know her. She’s just a symbol of generosity, a pony that refuses to adapt to this world.”
Rainbow Dash sat and thought for a long time, but eventually she spoke again. “So what do we do now? About her, about New Ponyville?” Her face was unreadable as she scanned the darkness looming above them. “It sounds like you are more capable of ruling than she is. And what she did was murder, we both agree on that. If we don’t call out for justice, I’m afraid nopony will.”
Twilight looked to the ground. “I…Dash, what she did was wrong, but I can’t lead these people. You and I are both from a different world, we’ll never understand what they’ve been through, and they love Rarity too much to support anyone else that she didn’t appoint on her own.” She sighed, finally approaching the statement directly. “And Dash, I don’t know what justice we’d be appealing to. I can see why she made the decisions she did, even if I don’t support them. Killing her for killing them is no better than what she did, it’s just more of the same circle.” She buried her head in her hooves again. “I don’t like it, Rainbow Dash, but eventually someone is going to have to be strong enough to stop the cycle.” She looked directly at her friend, and Dash could see the traces of tears in her eyes. “Somepony has to watch their friends die last, and not kill in return. I don’t know if we can stop it, but we can certainly refuse to help continue it.”
Twilight looked desperately at Rainbow Dash, desperate for some support for her case. She knew it wasn’t going to be easy for her friend to swallow, but she didn’t expect the explosion that followed.
“WHAT?!” she yelled, leaping into the air. “You’d just let her crimes go unpunished? You’d let her walk free of that murder!? You’re- You’re no better than she is, Twilight!”
“No Rainbow Dash, please, just listen.” Twilight couldn’t help but tear up. Since they had come here, she and Rainbow Dash had never fought; they were always in this mess together as friends, and Twilight didn’t want to ruin that now. “I…I support what you did. With freeing the Shadowbolt. She didn’t deserve to die, and neither did the other one-
“Spitfire,” Rainbow Dash corrected.
“Spitfire. And Rarity does deserve to answer to the same justice she claims to flaunt. But Rainbow Dash, what’s more important? Justice, or saving lives? It’s hard to just let Rarity go like that, but if it saves even one pony like Spitfire down the line, isn’t it worth it?”
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to reply, but sank back to the ground. Folding her wings, she sat back against the wall. “I don’t know,” she finally admitted. “I…it’s hard to just let her go. I need to think about it.” Her stomach grumbled and she looked down at it in surprise. “Oh, wow, I don’t even remember the last time I ate. Is there still food in there?”
Twilight smiled. “Yea, there are enough dried mushrooms to last weeks, but if you hurry you might get some of the stuff that Rarity is cooking before she eats the rest of it. Don’t worry, it’s about time for me to switch shifts with you anyway.”
Rainbow Dash nodded at her gratefully and hobbled over to the door, pushing it open. Twilight heard the small click as Rainbow Dash locked it behind her, sealing herself in with her inner quarrels.
Applejack stepped down from the stage, ponies muttering all around her. She lifted her head at the sound of quick hoofsteps, seeing her brother come trotting towards her. “Whew nelly, you’re a sight for sore eyes Big Mac. Whatch’ya got for me?”
The red stallion looked at the crowd around him before answering. “Well, my guards and I searched-“
“Shhhh!” Applejack glared at her brother and motioned him closer. Once he had leaned in, she whispered, “Not so loud, big brother! I told ‘em that some more evidence had come up in the other pony’s case, and so the judgment is postponed.” Her brother looked at her nervously, not liking the sight of his sister lying. “Look,” she continued, “if they knew the Shadowbolt was loose they’d hunt the town for her, smashing doors, windows, and homes in their search. Better to just let them cool down for now.”
Big Mac nodded sagely. “Well, me and my guards just searched the dungeons, looks like Rainbow Dash just let her out. We also scanned the room where Dash was attacked, and found a big ‘ol Shadowbolt uniform just lyin’ on the ground there.”
“Darnnit, I knew we shoulda just stripped their masks off right away. Rarity and her damn theatrics, I swear that pony-” She stopped and took a deep breath, her stressed body beginning to relax. “- whew, ok Applejack, just calm down. Ok big brother, you go ahead and start the guards searching. Have them look for suspicious ponies that they haven’t seen before, but don’ let this turn into a witch hunt. I’m gonna go and take another look at that uniform, it’s the best lead we have right now.”
Big Mac nodded, and Applejack began galloping away. She knew Rarity was safe in that bunker, especially with Twilight and Dash guarding her, but she was still nervous. I know nopony left through the gates, ‘cause you need another pony to close them behind you and they’re all still closed. That means she’s still here somewhere. As she ran, her eyes scanned the dark ceiling of the cavern. She could be behind any stalactite, inside any crevice, waiting to make her move. The only way Applejack was going to know where to look for her was if she knew what that move was.
She arrived at the guardhouse, moving behind the large building to find the natural tunnel opening. The tunnel descended smoothly, ponies having smoothed out the tougher patches to make travel easier. She arrived quickly at the storeroom where Dash was attacked, most of the storerooms being very close to the main chamber for ease of access.
She pushed the door open to find the room deserted. A blue fungus bed glowed softly in the room, but Applejack grabbed a torch from outside to give her better lighting. Affixing it to the wall, she turned toward the scene before her.
The captain’s outfit, torn in numerous places from the wounds its wearer had endured, lay in a heap against the wall. The mask and goggles lay near the doorway, next to rope from the dungeon. Scanning the room quickly, Applejack could see that stacks of boxes took up at least the last dozen feet of the room, leaving only about four feet to move in from the door.
So Dash dragged her in to here, and untied her here, she looked at the discarded ropes. But then the Shadowbolt attacked her and knocked into the crates there. She looked toward where the crates still lay smashed in a large pile, the floor completely hidden beneath the tumbled boxes. So then the Shadowbolt stripped off her uniform over there...
…and put her mask and goggles on the other side of the room? No, that doesn’t make sense; she must have had them off before she attacked Dash…which means…
“Dash knows who she is?” Applejack spoke out loud, her disbelief refusing to be constrained to her mental thoughts. She was even more surprised when her question was answered by another sound in the room.
Rarity turned toward the door as she heard it close. “Ah, Rainbow Dash, I’m glad it’s you. I don’t think I could have stood another minute of Twilight’s complaints.” She turned back towards the stove, the nauseating smell of fried mushrooms revealing what she was doing.
Dash took a step forward, examining the room. It appeared to be a natural cavern that had connected to the main chamber by chance. A whistling sound could be heard coming from a dark hole in the ceiling, revealing the connection to the open sky and fresh air. 4 cots lay on the bare stone along one wall, with several stacks of dried foodstuffs and barrels of water lining another wall next to a stove. The whole chamber was maybe 40 feet in diameter, big enough for a few ponies to survive in comfort, if also boredom, for quite a long time.
Rarity used her magic to lift some food onto a plate, which she set on a table in front of rainbow Dash. Despite the atmosphere, she had taken great pains to set the table appropriately, even folding the napkins around the silverware in the most ornate fashion she knew. Rainbow Dash unfurled the napkin and looked at its contents quizzically before simply going at the food face first.
Rarity suppressed a wince. “Err, Rainbow Dash, I’m sure in your world they still have manners. Not to be rude my dear, but, well, you are being quite rude yourself.”
Rainbow Dash looked up and swallowed hard, looking the unicorn right in the eye. “Oh, yes, I know about manners. I guess I just assumed that in a town without morals, polite society would be gone as well.”
Rarity stiffened and turned away, nose in the air. “We’ve all made hard choices, my dear. I don’t judge you for yours; I’d suggest you learn a little bit of respect for your friends.”
“No, you didn’t judge me. Then again, you never judged Spitfire either. Was she a good friend of yours too?” Rainbow Dash was chewing nonchalantly on her food, toying with her silverware with her good hoof.
“The Shadowbolt was condemned to death the moment she put on the enemy’s uniform, Rainbow Dash.” She scoffed at her, “You may be too sheltered to understand times of war, but let me assure you: every Shadowbolt we spare is another pony of ours we put at risk.”
Rarity looked down her snout at the other pony, expecting a reaction out of her. But Rainbow Dash simply continued chewing, staring absently at the knife she twirled. “Funny thing about enemy uniforms, Rarity. Twilight tried to look past them, and found that the lieutenant didn’t deserve to die. Of course, you killed her anyway.”
Rarity’s ears perked. “Lieutenant? Was that her rank in the Shadowbolts? How did you-?”
“You know, Rarity, interrupting is awfully rude.” She spun the knife around and around on its point, the blade gouging tiny bits of wood out of the table with every turn. “You see, I tried the same thing. I went through an awful lot of trouble to try and look under the enemy uniform, to try to understand her better. ‘Maybe,’ I thought, ‘she has a reason for her actions. Some justification, any justification.’”
“So that’s why you really set the other prisoner free, then.” Rarity sighed and looked at her friend pityingly. “I’m not surprised you didn’t find anything.”
Rainbow Dash sighed. “I really hoped I would. I really, desperately wanted there to be a reason for this killing. I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised that I found nothing.”
Twilight stared at the cavern ceiling. It almost looks like a sky, she mused, all it needs are a few stars. She was finding that the eternally dark ceiling was beginning to mirror the darkness of day, weighing her down a little more every hour. In the center of town, the comfort of other ponies kept it away, but out here on the fringes, Twilight found herself huddling under the pool of light cast by her solitary torch.
Twilight turned her head towards the noise. In the distance, she could just make out the figure of a pony galloping towards her. She figured out who it was by the sound of her voice before she came clearly into sight.
“Applejack? Did you find the prisoner?”
“Twi! Get the door open, now!” Applejack finally arrived at the door, panting heavily and trying to open it. It didn’t budge, but she kept trying anyway.
“Applejack, what’s going on, it’s just Rainbow Dash and Rarity in there, we made sure it was empty when we got here.” Twilight was puzzled, not sure if she should be helping her friend or not. “Did you find the prisoner or not?”
“No, Twilight, I found something worse. I found Rainbow Dash!”
“What? But she’s inside with-” Twilight froze, understanding dawning on her.
Rainbow Dash twirled the knife in her hoof, thinking quietly to herself. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the unicorn growing nervous. “Well, I suppose that just goes to show you. Some ponies are just bad,” Rarity followed up.
“Yes, I suppose they are.”
“And sometimes a hard decision must be made about those ponies. Sometimes, a good pony simply must- would you kindly top doing that!?” Dash caught the knife as it spun, holding it still. Slowly, she raised her gaze up to look at the unicorn in front of her. “Th-thank you. As I was saying, sometimes, in the most unfortunate of circumstances, a pony simply must be killed.”
“I agree completely.”
“Then you…you agree with me killing the Shadowbolt?” Rarity’s eyes filled with hope, “I never thought I’d convince you, Rainbow Dash. I thought I’d have to fight you on this until the end of our days!” She smiled warmly at her old friend.
“I simply- what?”
“No, I don’t agree with you killing the Shadowbolt. There were choices there, and you simply picked the one that suited you and your people most.” A loud bang could be heard against the door, but the captain didn’t turn her head.
“Oh, it sounds like they’ve found our missing prisoner.” Rarity walked to the door, nervously giving Rainbow Dash a wide berth. She froze as she began to make out the frantic cries of the ponies on the other side.
“Yes, I suppose they have.” The captain stood, her injured hoof slipping out of her sling. In horror, Rarity watched the captain pick up the knife and toss it calmly back and forth.
Rarity’s breath froze. Her nervous breathing stopped completely. Fear and shock rooted her to the ground as her frantic mind tried to catch up. “No. No, no, no, no no no no no. You…died! For me. For us!”
“Part of me did.” The captain began advance toward her, knocking the stool out of the way. “And the part that’s left is all the stronger for it. What I want to know, Rarity, is what you are thinking right now. More than anything else, I want to hear the regret in your voice. I want you to know what you almost did tonight, who the pony was underneath that mask.”
The captain strode forward, twirling the knife around and around. Rarity shrunk back further, her mind blank with terror. “Because I’ve seen what lies beneath my enemy’s mask, Rarity. I’ve looked past the colors of your flag and seen the ponies behind them. I’ve judged you, much more fairly than you’ve judged me or my friend, and I’ve found you guilty.”
Rarity felt a pressure on her back and realized that she had backed up against the wall. The door lay to her left, but it would take several seconds to unlock and open it for her friends. Desperately, she tried to buy herself some time. “Wh-what about your loyalties Dash? To Applejack and Twilight-“
The next sensation Rarity knew was pain. She looked straight ahead, and found herself staring at blood on the ground. She watched in shock as a tooth fell out of her mouth, turning to see the captain drawing back her hoof. Grabbing the unicorn by the throat, the captain dragged her face right into hers.
“Let’s be perfectly clear about this, Rarity,” she began. “I hate you. I have no loyalties to you or any of the ponies here. Nightmare Moon ordered us to obliterate Ponyville and kill everypony there, and I didn’t. My first order as captain of the Shadowbolts was ignored so that I could pay of that debt off loyalty to you all.” The hammering outside had stopped. “My loyalties are to my friends, and you never earned that title. None of you did.” She tossed Rarity backwards, her flank landing in her puddle of blood. “And you murdered the only pony that ever had.” She raised her hoof above her.
“And then what!?” Rarity cried out in desperation, “Will you just walk out of here after you kill me? This town will tear you to pieces!”
The captain laughed, and Rarity could see tears in her eyes. The laugh went on for several moments, her hysterics breaking through. “I don’t care, you foal. I don’t care if they kill me, I want them to kill me. I died when you killed my last hope for a brighter future. So let them come, let them find me over your shredded body; I’ll gladly die if it means you were slaughtered like the swine you are.”
Rarity closed her eyes, sobbing with terror. Her flank heaved and twitched rapidly as she stiffled her cries. If she was to die, she’d do it with grace. She braced herself for the coup de grace…
…but it didn’t come. Gingerly, she opened one eye to look up at the pony above her.
The captain stood on her hind hooves, knife grasped above her head. I can end it now, she thought, justice for Spitfire. Even Twilight outside knows she should die. I have every reason to kill her.
So why can’t I?
The thought of Twilight brought back memories of the conversation she had had with the purple unicorn outside. Rarity was a murderer, and Spitfire was innocent. The captain was prepared to die for her crimes against Ponyville if it meant making Rarity answer for hers…but what was the point?
What’s the point of justice if it just leads to more death?
The captain lowered herself, the knife clattering to the floor beneath her. Rarity let out a nervous laugh, then her own hysterics broke through. “Oh Rainbow Dash, thank you thank you thank you! Your generosity towards me will live on forever in this town, and I’ll make sure that nopony-”
Rarity blinked and wondered what happened. Gradually, she became aware of more pain in her face, and realized that her head was lying on the ground. “You’re guilty, and you know it.” The captain loomed over her, “But eventually, somepony needs to bite the bullet and end this. Somepony needs to be the bigger pony.” She looked toward the door outside, and Rarity detected a hint of…gratefulness? “You’re not even worth killing,” she continued, “You and these deluded foals can sit here and starve for all I care; I’m not losing another of my friends in some stupid quest to extinguish an already dying flame.”
“But…” Rarity blinked, shocked. “You…aren’t going to kill me?”
“No,” she began, “worse. I’m going to let you live with this, Rarity. I’m going to make you live with the knowledge of what you would have done, but mostly, I’m going to make you live with the knowledge of what I’ve done.” She spit in Rarity’s face, but her anger was under control now. “I saved your life, and you killed my only friend. Remember this, Rarity, because this is the day that your enemy was the bigger pony.” She scowled and looked towards the door, where the noises had long since ceased. “Now open the door before I change my mind.”
As Rarity scrambled to her hooves and threw herself upon the door mechanism frantically, the captain flew towards the escape tunnel and thought. Perhaps there is something to live for now, she mused, something to look towards the future for. Spitfire is gone, the Shadowbolts will never be any more than a tool for Nightmare Moon, and New Ponyville will eventually starve. There’s probably no hope for a better tomorrow anymore. She heard the door open beneath her, but she was already winding her way through the natural tunnel.
But I can try.