An MLP:FiM Fanfiction by Seattle Lite
Her feathers ruffled as she banked gracefully into the steady wind, the pressure of the cool air comforting beneath her wings, her long mane streaming out behind her. Heights had always been a bit of an issue for her, a fact that some of the crueler fillies and colts back in school had taken gleeful advantage of when they got bored. Not that it wasn’t odd, she’d be the first to admit—a Pegasus afraid of heights? She chuckled lightly, the irony not lost on her, before swallowing a gulp as her thoughts led her to acknowledge just how very high up she was. She’d never come this high by herself willingly. Fortunately, she did indeed have company.
Fluttershy leveled off and darted a glance to her left. The tips of long, midnight blue feathers stretched out next to hers, almost close enough to touch, as she flew alongside Princess Luna. The presence of the Alicorn was strangely comforting—she emanated a powerful feeling of serenity and assurance, and watching her fly... the Princess never seemed to have to flap her wings or exert any effort at all. Fluttershy doubted she could have even made it up here amongst the spatterings of alto-cumulus clouds had Luna not led her to the rising thermal near the lake.
Spiralling upward with the billowing drafts of warm air had been exhilarating, and she used the time to reflect on the events of that morning.
She had awoken before dawn, as was her custom for attending to the animals that had come to depend on her care over the years. There had been a moment of confusion as she blearily peered about at the unfamiliar stone walls and large bed she was nestled upon. She may well have devolved into a full-blown panic had it not been for the pink ball of riotous-maned pony curled up next to her, snoring lightly and talking in her sleep. As it was, the reassuring presence of her friend had held her lurch of fear in abeyance while her sleep-addled mind struggled to catch up with recent events.
With a shocked little cry, the visceral memories of being crushed beneath tons of stone washed over her. Whipping her head back with a panicked gasp, she looked over her body and was amazed to find herself whole and undamaged, with no injuries to substantiate her horrific recollections; not even a feather was out of place as she daintily fluttered her wings in careful inspection. After the collapse of the hallway, she remembered... nothing. With the tiniest of frowns, Fluttershy began to carefully extricate herself from the multiple layers of blanket she was nestled in.
Wide awake, she gently eased herself off the bed and tiptoed across the floor, so as not to disturb the slumbering Pinkie Pie. Nopony would have accused her of being the adventurous type, but she was up, and at least Applejack should be awake... wait. Applejack? Vague impressions of the hardy workpony flit through her scattered memories of last night but... nothing distinctive, just that her friend had been shouting and distressed. Shaking her head, she carefully eased the door closed and turned to trot down the hall to her friend’s quarters.
The stone corridors were frigid with the pre-dawn air; Fluttershy rubbed her wings against her sides as she made her way to Applejack’s room. Nosing the door open with a timid query, “Applejack? Are you awake?” She was bewildered to find the room empty, the bed neatly made. Frowning slightly in confusion, she turned to the next door down—Rarity’s room. Propriety abandoned with the growing knot of unease in her stomach, she pushed through the door. Empty. “What’s going on? Where is everypony?”
Trotting to the window, she peered out in hopes of finding some sign of her missing friends. In the courtyard below she caught movement- somepony was walking through the grasses across the wide field. It was still quite dark, so she had to squint to make out... Princess Luna! Oh! She’ll know where everypony is! Fluttershy turned and, exiting the room, began to trot brusquely down the halls to the exit. She almost tripped over herself as she passed into the main entranceway- rubble was strewn about, blackened scorch marks scarring the walls in random profusion. The great stained-glass window high above she had so admired yesterday was now broken out, the shattered pieces littering the floor in multi-colored shards. “Oh my...”
Fluttershy broke into a gallop; she did not like this scene that both looked and felt like a war-zone. The huge atrium was cloying with a sense of oppressive violence that overwhelmed the timid Pegasus, a violence that triggered an atavistic instinct to escape, to get as far away as possible. The large main doors were wide open and she galloped straight through them, taking deep breaths of the cold, open air in relief. Looking about, she saw the Princess still casually strolling into the middle of the field, and she began to move toward her. Her ears perked at the songs of the morning birds that filled the treeline, their jaunty tunes calming her somewhat. Closing to hailing distance of the Princess, she pulled up short as she picked up a palpable feeling of... expectancy, that lay heavy in the air.
Luna was standing tall, rigid as a statue, her eyes closed as she drew in deep, even breaths. The space around her began to shine with small motes of light as her horn burst into a brilliant radiance; Fluttershy felt the hackles on her neck prickle with the rising energy. A small, strained sound broke from the Alicorn’s muzzle, and she slowly began to raise her horn upwards, as though struggling against some great invisible weight. Fluttershy had never seen magic like this—not that she was terribly familiar with Unicorns and their predilection—but the sight before her was unlike any she had encountered before. Waves of power rolled off Luna; suddenly, bursting from the mountain range on the far horizon, the sun flared into existence, shepherding the darkness of the night to the far horizon and casting its life-giving warmth across Equestria.
Fluttershy belatedly realized her jaw was hanging on its hinges; she had never seen Princess Celestia raise the sun before. In fact, the Summer Sun Celebration was to be her first time witnessing the famous spectacle and she had been excited about the opportunity. So taken aback by what she had just seen, it was a moment before she noted that Luna had lowered herself to the grass and was breathing heavily, this time as though working to catch her breath.
Sheer wonder swept aside her usual reticence and she cantered forward joyfully.
“Oh, Princess! That was amazing!” she called out in admiration.
A startled sound burst from the Princess as she jerked in surprise, looking up with wide eyes.
Fluttershy pulled to a quick halt, slipping a bit on the wet grass. “Oh! I’m so sorry!” she squeaked. “I didn’t mean to scare you... that was just so wonderful! I never got to see Princess Celestia raise the sun! It was wonderful and... I... um, that is...” she trailed off, her excitement giving way to a consuming embarrassment as the Moon Princess just looked at her, expressionless. She began to curl up on herself behind the obscuring curtains of her pink bangs.
Luna rose with a small smile. “It’s quite all right little one, I’m just... not quite used to having anypony around. Sometimes it’s easy to forget I’m not alone anymore,” she finished softly.
Fluttershy had not the faintest idea how to respond to this, though her heart went out to Luna in a wash of empathy. The call to heal, to reach out and give of herself to anypony, to any animal in pain was as natural to her as breathing, and every bit as compelling. “Um... what was it like? Being up there all alone for so long? It must have been so hard...”
Luna looked up, her eyes resting on the fiery orb that hung in the sky. “What was it like? How can I even begin to describe it in terms you can understand? Mortality really is a gift, you know,” she said, scuffing at the grasses with a hoof. “Your kind have no conception of everything just... never ending. I hear the wishes in their dreams you know- the fear of dying, the longing for immortality... they have no idea what they’re asking for. And if they did? Should they receive their heart’s desire? They’d curl up on themselves in the abject horror of what they wrought. The centuries would soon begin to pass as if they were days, all they had ever come to love turned to dust before their eyes. Mountains would rise where verdant plains once rolled, oceans once teeming with life fade away, leaving naught but scorched deserts and the bleached bones of civilizations. Without the release of death, everything becomes ephemeral, both what is remembered and all that is cursed to remember...” The princess shook her mane out, enveloping the trembling Pegasus with an amaranthine gaze. “Do you understand yet Fluttershy? We envy your kind.
“...In the wake of all of that, my time spent on the moon was merely an... interlude, I suppose you could say.” Luna narrowed her eyes at the sun. “Though it was not without its trials. Solitude is a wonderful thing Fluttershy, when it is intentionally sought. As an imposition, there are few things more unpleasant...” Luna trailed off, as though she had forgotten the presence of the little pink-maned Pegasus entirely.
Fluttershy was at an utter loss for words... the wound she sensed here was so... vast. Inwardly flailing, she unwittingly stumbled upon the one solace that mortals could offer the gods- distraction.
“Um, Princess? I’m sorry, but where is everypony? Where are my friends?”
Luna blinked, pausing in thought for a moment. “...Would you like to join me for a morning flight Fluttershy? There are some things we need to talk about.”
Near midday, the pair slipped down through the clouds, gliding casually back toward the castle. Details began to resolve as they drew closer and revealed one of the Dragons sitting in the vast veranda, head tilted back as he patiently tracked their approach. Fluttershy released a squeak as she realized she was being scrutinized by the enormous beast and reactively flared her wings to drift back behind Luna, who turned her head with a light chuckle.
“It’s all right, my dear, Sali is a very old friend of mine. He would never harm you. He’s actually a very gentle soul... but it appears he wishes to speak with me about something, would you mind giving us a moment? I’m sure Pinkie Pie is wondering where you are, and you have much to discuss.”
Although Fluttershy attempted to keep the relief from her features, a surreptitious smirk from the Moon Princess suggested that she might as well have tried to hide her wings. “Al-Alright, Princess. I’ll go find her. Tell... tell your friend I said ‘good morning,’” she said with a brave little smile.
Luna giggled. “I’ll be certain to. See you soon.” With that, she banked off, drifting gracefully through the air towards the great Dragon.
As she fluttered to a landing, Saliant bowed his head and intoned somberly, “My Lady. Good day to you.”
Luna rejoined with a playful curtsy. “Good day to you as well, my Lord.”
The pair stared at one another for a moment of haughty appraisal before breaking into a laugh.
“Never gets old, does it?” he rumbled mirthfully.
“Never,” she replied with a warm smile. “Though I take it you’re here for more than mid-day greetings.” She paused and cocked her head to the side. “Something weighs on you, Sali. What’s wrong?”
The ancient Dragon hesitated before replying, “There has been a... complication.”
“A complication,” Luna repeated leadingly when he didn’t continue.
“Aye, just so.” His wings shifted nervously against his sides and the tip of his huge tail began to flick about erratically.
Luna frowned, her concern growing.
“Sali... I haven’t seen you this nervous since you were little more than a hatchling, about to embark on your first hunt. What happened?”
The dragon’s massive chest expanded as he pulled in a deep breath. If Luna were just about any other pony, extremely pressing thoughts about the maelstrom of flame that generally followed such an inhalation would be crowding her mind. As it was, she merely raised an eyebrow and waited patiently.
“I’m afraid young Demetrius has acted precipitously. When it became evident that a confrontation was likely to take place, he took it upon himself to go into Ponyville and ensure the safety of the young one there.”
Luna’s voice turned hard.
“He did what.”
Sali raised his hands up defensively. “He acted in concern for a Clan member. If any is to blame, it is my loose tongue. I spoke of my concerns freely to them both. I should have known he would take it upon himself to act on my behalf.” Pride flared in the Elder Dragon’s eyes as he remembered himself. “And even if I had, I would not have stayed his wings. I will not have one of our own sit unprotected and helpless in the midst of a contest of goddesses. Such things rarely end well, even for my kind.”
Luna huffed her displeasure. “Oh, do calm down, Sali. I’m hardly going ‘spit my bit’, as they say these days...
“However, this is not good news, and your reaction tells me there’s more to this story.” she said expectantly, with no small amount of foreboding lacing the words.
“Sadly, you are correct. As I said—complications arose. There were Equestrian guards in the town, and... Twilight Sparkle was there as well. When she saw Demetrius speaking with the young one, she attacked him. He... responded in kind.”
Luna’s eyes went wide. “No,” she said breathlessly, “tell me she’s not—”
Sali gestured to forestall the Princess’ alarm. “No, my Lady, she is alive and well...”
Luna exhaled a shaky sigh of relief. “Thank the Endless. We’re already walking the edge with this.”
The Dragon continued as though she hadn’t spoken, “Though I’m afraid the same cannot be said for the town itself and... many of the guards, who followed suit and attacked as well.”
The silence stretched out, and if ancient Dragons could sweat, this one would have been.
Finally, Luna spoke. “Salient. Elaborate.”
“My Lady... you must understand. The ponies broke peace and drew first blood. Demetrius acted in defense of himself and the young one. He only—”
Luna’s hoof struck the ground and a deafening crack filled the air, as though a bolt of lightning had broken right above their heads. Her eyes were hard, bright as emeralds.
“How many died, Sali?”
Salient stared at the ground, unable to meet her regard, and rumbled, “Many.”
Luna turned abruptly away from him, visibly trembling in the effort to control herself. Dragons were exceptionally sensitive creatures, and powerfully magical. As such, Salient could clearly feel her struggle, both her emotional distress and the immeasurable surges of power that she struggled to contain. It had literally been ages since any of the world’s races had freely preyed upon Pony-kind, and Saliant shivered at the stark reminder before him of precisely why that was. He harbored no doubts that this diminutive, Equine-shaped being could obliterate him with a thought, should she choose to do so. Only his courage and pride kept him still, stoically awaiting her judgement.
As abruptly as shutting off a faucet, the turmoil emanating from Luna ceased, and she turned back to look up at him, her expression inscrutable.
“This will not happen again, Sali. Am I understood?”
The Dragon nodded.
“And what of Rainbow Dash and Applejack? They were not with my sister’s protegé?”
“Demetrius reported no sign of them my Lady.”
“Very well. Thank you, Sali. I trust young Demetrius is unharmed?”
“He is well, my Lady. He bears a new scar proudly.”
Luna surreptitiously rolled her eyes and huffed. “Stop calling me that, Sali. It’s not amusing when you mean it, and this is no time for old jokes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some new issues that need attending to.”
The princess was already lost in thought as the great dragon dipped his head in a short bow and turned, launching himself into the air, his vast wings pulling him effortlessly skyward.
As soon as he was gone, Luna’s gaze hardened once more. If she chose to put the power into it, the stare would have been enough to shatter stone; she turned this regard to the drifting sun and began to hum a light tune. It was a very, very old lullaby.
Bile. The acidic taste of it filled her mouth. A wave of nausea stole through her, and she bit her lip in protest, attempting to hold her stomach down. The world was spinning. No... her world was... moving. As awareness slowly returned to her, she felt the rush of strong winds pulling at her mane and the rhythmic motions of the platform she was laid upon. Her ears worked to translate the sounds of an argument underway: the voices were male, their tones grim and angry. Slowly blinking her eyes, she didn’t have the energy to make sense of the exchange just yet. Twilight Sparkle regained consciousness gradually, finding herself curled up in the corner of a flying carriage. Ironically, her first clear impression was that this was not a royal carriage; the design was sleek, the lines more angular and hard—this transport was meant for speed, not comfort.
"Nice to have you back with us, darling."
Twilight snapped her head around in surprise, the sudden movement eliciting a wave of vertigo and pain. "Rarity! You're okay! What's going on? What happened? I—" she broke off, nausea hitting her once more as it threatened to turn her entrails inside out and force them up and out of her muzzle.
"Oh, you poor dear. That bump on your head looks just awful." New concern flared in Rarity's large blue eyes. "Oh my! Twilight, are you feeling dizzy? What's the last thing you remember? How many hooves am I holding up!"
Twilight raised a hoof to hold the overbearing Unicorn out of her space as she replied, "I'm… well, I'm not fine, Rarity, but I don't think I have a concussion. And you're only holding up two hooves, that's not much of a test. Just… give me a moment please, and room to breathe." As Rarity complied, Twilight turned her gaze to the knot of tightly clustered Elites at the far end of the platform. Their voices were low and she couldn't make out the words over the rush of the wind, but the undertone of the discussion was clear.
"What are they arguing about? For that matter, where are the rest of them?" Twilight raised a hoof to her pounding head and flinched as it made contact with a searingly painful spot; she pulled it back to see a splotch of sticky blood. "And what the hell happened to me?!"
Rarity cast a withering glare at the soldiers, who seemed to be ignoring the pair entirely in their private huddle. "They happened to you. They happened to me too, for that matter. I was just coming back from seeing to Sweetie Belle - I left her with Berry Punch, do you know her? Lovely mare, old friend, bit of a lush these days - and was on my way back to you, when that dragon came dropping out of the sky! The next thing I knew, everypony was rushing at him, and somepony threw a spell at him! Well, he didn't take kindly to that, and then… Oh, it was terrible, Twilight! You really don't remember any of that?"
Twilight frowned, forced to entertain the possibility that perhaps she did have a mild concussion after all, if chunks of her memory were missing. But that didn't explain how she had actually been concussed. "Not much. I don—" she broke off in horror. “Spike! Where is he?!”
Rarity looked on the verge of tears, her ears laid flat against her head. “The dragon took him Twilight. I’m so sorry. When everypony started attacking—a rather foolish impulse I must say—he went… berserk. It was terrible. I knew Dragons were powerful, but I had no idea what they were capable of. He just shrugged off the waves of magic like they were so much fabric! The only thing that actually hurt him was an attack from one of the Pegasi: he dove in with those wing blades and managed to cut along the dragon’s side. He… didn't make it out though.” Rarity’s eyes glazed over with a vacant look. “I've… never seen such horror in all my life. The dragon’s head just snapped around and he… he bit the Pegasus guard nearly in half! And then he started breathing fire. Five of the Earth pony guards were caught in the first wave. They just… melted. They didn't even have time to scream...” Rarity trailed off and looked up to meet Twilight’s eyes beseechingly.
“Twilight, I… I thought I was a cosmopolitan mare. I thought I knew what the world was like but… but now, I've seen things that change a pony. I used to think in gossamer and silk… now… there's blood everywhere. I just—" Rarity couldn't continue, her voice breaking as tears filled her eyes. Her understanding of things—how things were supposed to be—had been irrevocably shattered, and nopony walks away from a shattered paradigm comfortably. It was, after all, her entire world she had lost. She could never go back. She had struggled to convey all of this, but some things were simply ineffable. Some things must be intuited in the end, and only a compassionate friend can bridge that gap—something Twilight finally understood.
Twilight reached out and pulled Rarity into a crushing embrace, and they wept together, poured their shared misery into one another's embrace, for at this moment there was no other comfort to be found.
After a time, when she had no more tears to shed, Twilight returned to reality. She opened her eyes to find the remaining Elite forces were all staring at her, rather unpleasantly. The apparent leader, the head Mage she had spoken to before the Dragon came, muttered something to his soldiers, and approached. He stood looming above her, his eyes flat and face utterly expressionless, before hunkering down before her with a sigh. For a moment, he just looked back at her in silence.
When he spoke, the hardness of his voice startled her. "Miss Sparkle. I want you to know, if my orders were not otherwise, I'd let my ponies throw you right over the edge." Though his face remained impassive, rage began to creep into his tone. "Thanks to you, fully half of my squad now lies in so many pieces across a backwater settlement. So help me, the next time you put my soldiers in danger, if you cross one hoof out of line, I'll do more than simply knock you over the head."
Twilight was utterly taken aback by his venom and for a moment could find no words. Her face drained of color as she processed the implication. "I… I don't understand. You hit me?"
He scowled at her words, as though she were mocking him. "Are you saying you don't remember what happened in the town? What you did?"
"No," she whispered. "I don't."
He snorted derisively. "Wonderful. Now I get to play nursemaid. Yes, I knocked you out. You completely lost it back there. You incited an attack on a creature that it takes a full battalion to deal with. We are not a full battalion, as you may have noticed. In fact, we are now less than half of what we were when we arrived." His jaw bunched and his eyes burned into her. "Their blood is on your hooves, and thanks to you, on mine. They were my responsibility, and I failed them."
He fell silent, glaring at the floor of the platform. Twilight, guilt and confusion overwhelming her, was completely at a loss for words. Fortunately, Rarity was not, and Twilight started in surprise when she spoke in a voice low and hard as steel. "Touch her, and you die."
Both Twilight and the Mage stared at her, shocked. Rarity raised her head up to look squarely at the Mage, her eyes narrowed dangerously.
"You think I'm joking? Try me."
The Mage’s recovery was impressively swift for having just received a death threat. "Finally, some realism. No, Miss Rarity, I don't doubt you. However, you'll find you're being overly generous with your threats, as my orders are to return you and your friends to Canterlot safely." His expression turned contemplative. "Speaking of which, I think it's high time you leveled with me. Your story," he said, lifting a hoof to point at Twilight, "is at odds with the intel I was given. But it's clear you haven't been entirely forthcoming. Now, however, we have time, and I need to know what you know. Starting with the locations of the others you’ve been avoiding telling me about.”
Twilight and Rarity shared a glance that spoke volumes. Nodding to one another, they returned their attention to the Mage, and haltingly, began to talk...
The Mage just sat there, brow raised nearly to crown his horn.
“You... honestly expect me to believe all of that, “ he stated flatly, raising a hoof to rub his forehead. “So... let’s just recap here, shall we? A demonic entity of some kind whose return was foretold by an old mare’s tale has come to pass. Said creature has taken the form of an Alicorn and claims to be Princess Celestia’s sister. ‘It’ has some manner of pet demon locked away in its dungeon, has draconic allies, and is in possession of the remaining ponies my orders obligate me to retrieve, several of whom may have actually joined its side of their own cognizance... all of whom are in a dilapidated castle in the heart of the Everfree Forest. Did I miss anything, or does that about sum it up?”
Twilight bit her lip. “Look, I know how this sounds, but it’s the truth! And...” she trailed off as something occurred to her. “Wait. If you don’t know any of this, then what the hay are you doing here in the first place?”
The Mage compressed his muzzle, lips thinning. “Hmm. Just a moment,” he said helpfully, before standing up and turning back to his squad. “Scroll, I need you to send a spark message to HQ: Lightning One to run escort interference. Add our course, disposition, and ETA.”
The other Mage nodded a sharp acknowledgment, turning to face the outline of Canterlot in the distance and reared up to place his front hooves on the edge of transport. His horn lit up in an intense verdant glow and a ball of contained energy slowly formed from the tip, before collapsing in on itself and disappearing in a flash. He turned back to the captain with a confused expression. “Done, sir. But... L-One? Just her? Why not the rest of the team?”
“Because they’ve been sent off to trail those black-suited Pegasi the Council scryed out, which you’d know if you’d read the file. Which you can be damned sure we’ll talk about when we get back,” the captain finished with a growl.
Scroll’s ears laid back and one of the Heavies next to him rumbled out a low chuckle, prodding him in the ribs. “Went an bucked yerself on that one, eh, greenhoof? Next time, learn ta’ keep your mouth shut. Never know when an officer expects ya to know stuff.” The remaining two Heavy veterans nodded in sage agreement.
Rolling his eyes, the captain returned his attention to the two fillies, who were staring at each other and looking distinctly more pale than they had been a moment ago.
He cleared his throat and asked, “Is there something else you’d like to share?”
Rarity met his gaze and hesitantly asked, “Did you say... ‘black-suited Pegasi’?”
The Mage nodded slowly. “I did, which is the single piece of credibility lending itself to your entire story, aside from the Dragon. A few days ago the High Council alerted the Elite Contingents of an ‘oddity’. Apparently they had scryed out a group of five Pegasi in black uniforms all crossing Equestrian borders at high speed. Their individual flight paths correlate back to the edge of the Everfree as their point of origin, and their destinations—if they don’t alter course—are the respective capital cities of bordering nations. Needless to say, this perked some ears. Why do you ask? What aren’t you telling me?”
“Sir!” came a shout from one of the Heavies at the end of the platform.
As the Mage looked over, Rarity leaned in to whisper hurriedly in Twilight’s ear, her eyes flicking back to the heavily stuffed pair of saddlebags laying behind them.
“What about the Elements of Harmony? Why didn’t you mention them?”
Twilight flicked her ear and jerked her head in a furitive negative.
“I’ll tell you later. Something just doesn’t feel right about all this,” she hissed from the corner of her muzzle.
A poignant segment of the soldier’s conversation had both mares snapping their heads around in unison. “We’ve got company. Hard to make out at this distance, but it looks like one of those black-suited traitors is coming up on us from the forest.”
One of the Pegasi pulling the chariot called back, “Lighting One in-bound!”
A bleary-eyed Pegasus raised her head, her jaw creaking wide in a huge yawn. She hated mornings. Repeatedly smacking her dry mouth, she raised a hoof to rub the sleep from her eyes. At this moment, the best young flier in Equestria had one thing, and one thing only, on her mind: Coffee. Now. Except... this wasn’t her cloud home, was it?
Looking around at the tall grasses waving in the light breeze, the sunlight pouring down through the trees, she thought, Nope. Definitely not home. So then what the hell—Dash lurched to unsteady hooves as memory rushed back to her. AJ! Wolf! Where—her panic proved short-lived, for slumbering contentedly a few feet away was the object of her concern, cowpony hat tilted askew and covering her face; in her relief, Dash released a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. But... how? The admission stung her pride, but she knew that wolf had had her dead to rights. There had been no contest—she hadn’t even seen him move. With a shudder, she recalled the look in those eyes as she had launched herself at him... that utter detachment and unshakable certainty of a natural-born predator. Scant recollections of the night past washed over her: she recalled waking a couple of times, catching glimpses of a mint green Unicorn. The massive Wolf sat placidly by her side, the two engaged in a conversation Dash couldn’t remember. The haunting music of the Unicorn’s lyre that washed over her attempts to rouse, like a low tide roaring in.
Shaking herself from those dark thoughts, Dash stretched out her wings and legs, deciding to let Applejack get a bit more rest while she figured out where in the hay they were. They were definitely still in the Everfree, though that was the best she could determine from the ground—it all looked the same to her. Launching into the air, a few powerful flaps of her wings had her catapulting up toward the canopy. Finding a thin spot in the foliage, she slid through into the sharp, clear light of a sunny day. Momentarily blinded, she hovered for a moment, rubbing a hoof across her eyes. Blinking rapidly against the intense glare, her vision cleared and the vista unfolded before her. Huh. The forest ends just over there! I think... yeah, we’re not too far out from Ponyville! Wait... what’s that?
Squinting, Dash peered into the distance. Something glinting in the sunlight had caught her eye... but it wasn’t on the ground- it was in the air, flying low and moving at a fair clip. Dash raised a hoof to shield her eyes and bit the tip of her tongue in concentration... at first she thought it might be a royal carriage, but, no; it was weirdly shaped, a configuration she’d never seen before. She could, however, make out that two Pegasi in golden armor were pulling it through the sky. That was when she saw it—a flash of streaked purple mane blowing in the wind on the passenger-laden platform. Twilight! She had found her, finally! And she was getting away! This was not good.
“Applejack!” Dash yelled as she burst back down through the canopy. She hadn’t wanted to wake her friend so abruptly, but there was no time to waste. “Applejack! Get up!” she shouted again, landing a moment later next to her slowly rousing companion and prodding her urgently.
Applejack looked about her groggily as sleep pulled back. “Wha-Where are we sugarcube? What in tarnation! What time is it?!” The mere notion of sleeping in to this hour—the sun was high enough for it to be nearly noon—went against every grain of her deeply held pride in years of working the farm from sunup to sundown. How in Equestria had she slept in so late?!
Nearly vibrating in her impatience, Dash gave her no time to ponder. “Doesn’t matter. AJ, I saw Twilight,” she said in a rush, pointing her hoof due west. “She’s hooked up with some royal guards, they’re flying toward Canterlot right now; we need to move it before they get away!”
In the rush of emotions upon hearing they had finally found Twilight, AJ still had to frown. Royal guards... The thought was more than worrisome. Yes, they were technically ‘on a mission’ for Celestia’s sister, a rightful Princess of Equestria, but... did Celestia’s government know that? Did Celestia know that, wherever she was? Things were not looking good. Twilight was close to Celestia, and she’d had a... less than neighborly experience with Princess Luna, not to mention Rainbow. A deep seated feeling of unease nestled in the pit of Applejack’s stomach at the thought of rushing out to meet Twilight and her escort. This could turn bad, real easy.
Looking up to Rainbow Dash, the look of impatience couldn’t be more clear on the brash Pegasus’ face. Applejack sighed inwardly—there was nothin’ for it at this point, but she had to try to talk some level sense into Dash one more time. Reaching over, she planted a firm hoof on Dash’s shoulder and faced her squarely. She felt the her friend tense under the touch.
“Dash, Ah know what the stakes are here. An’ I need’ta make sure you do too. We ain’t got no clue what the situation is over there- Twilight could be captive, or she could be with ‘em willin’, but either way ya need to keep yer head. Remember how she took off? Rainbow, she was scared.”
Dash scowled, outrage blooming, and Applejack rushed to continue before she could interrupt—the ‘Fluttershy’ argument plain on Rainbow’s face. “Somethin’ happened to her that night, an’ damnit all, Ah’m askin’ you, let’s try ta’ settle this friendly-like. An’ Ah dunno ‘bout you, but Ah don’t wanna go attackin’ royal guards fer no reason.” Applejack stared pleadingly into the cyan mare’s angry eyes. Her tone softened as she said, “C’mon, sugarcube. Can ya honestly tell me ya ain’t worried about Twilight at all?”
While the scowl was still firmly in place across Dash’s brow, her eyes turned thoughtful and lost a bit of their edge as she sighed and said, “Alright AJ. I hear you. I promise to hear her out, okay?”
Applejack raised an eyebrow.
“Okay!” Dash exclaimed, rolling her eyes. “I admit it, something weird happened that night, an’ maybe she had a reason for what she did. And yes, maybe I am a little bit worried about her, alright?”
“Cain’t say fairer than that, sugarcube. Let’s go.”
Applejack made to move toward a thin trail snaking off through the trees in the direction Dash had pointed, but was forestalled by yet another surprise.
“AJ, we don’t have time to go by hoof. We’re close to the edge of the forest, but not close enough. You’re gonna... have’ta ride me.” As pressing as the situation was, Dash couldn’t help but feel her face burning as the words left her mouth. Applejack wasn’t helping matters either, staring at her blankly like she’d just... Well, like she’d just asked Applejack to ride her.
“I’m serious! There’s no other way to catch up to them! If we try to run through this forest they’ll be long gone before we even clear the edge!”
“What makes ya think ya can even carry me, Dash? Ah ain’t no li’l filly ya know,” AJ said dubiously.
“Puh-leaz, AJ. Totally not a problem. Now come on, every minute we stand here Twilight gets farther away with the Elements!”
With her trademark look which somehow managed to convey both skepticism and suppressed amusement, Applejack reared up to rest her forelegs across Dash’s back. “Er... Jus’ how is this supposed to work again?” she asked of her would-be mount.
“Ugh! Just—Oh, hell with it,” Dash grumbled and promptly laid herself down on the soft grass. “Now just stand over me, an’ when I get up, wrap your hooves around my neck, okay?”
“...Right,” Applejack drawled, as she positioned herself above her rainbow-maned friend.
Dash rose, flushing brightly as she felt Applejack’s taut form stretched out atop her.
“Uh, Dash? Is somethin’ wrong with yer wings? They’re, uh, vibratin’ somethin’ fierce... are you—”
“Not one. More. Word, AJ, or goddess help me I’ll leave you in a tree,” Dash growled between clenched teeth.
A series of choked-off ‘snerking’ sounds came from behind her head, but she felt Applejack’s hooves wrap around her neck all the same. It didn’t help matters that Applejack, in her oh so cleverly disguised mirth, was now quivering against her with each shock of suppressed laughter. This was unbearable, and soon there would be a reckoning. Oh yes.
For now, Dash savagely shook her head, snapped her wings out to their full length and growled, “Hang on,” before abruptly launching herself into the air.
Applejack had been right—she was not a light pony. In fact, she was a damned heavy pony, having developed layer upon layer of corded muscle from her years of dedicated apple bucking. Dash was sorely tempted to make a fat joke as she struggled up towards the canopy, but given the fact that Applejack had such a firm grip about her neck... now might not be the best time. Later.
Dash was getting a bit winded as they finally cleared the trees, but the hard part was pretty much over. Now that she had some altitude, and wasn’t straining to lift the both of them straight up, the wind and forward momentum would do a fair part of the work, though her wings were going to be pissed tomorrow. With a sigh of relief, she canted her wings to catch the steady breeze and took off in pursuit of the distant carriage.
Before long, the pair were drawing close enough to their quarry to make out the individual forms of the passengers. Sure enough, there was Twilight, and Rarity was with her as well. In the distance, high above the thin wisps of low-lying clouds, AJ saw something through her wind-streaked vision. Something... odd. The clouds and air were deforming in the streaming flow of a conical heat wave, as though something moving fast had just passed through. She was about to mention this... thing, to Dash, when an exclamation from the Pegasus she was riding cut her off.
“Shit, they’re descending, picking up speed. We must’ve been spotted. Hold on!”
Applejack tightened her grip just in time, as Dash angled down sharply, burning off all of the hard-earned altitude in a rush of wind as she dove, picking up speed and leveling off a bare ten feet above the ground.
Dash was confused at the move. Are they... about to bank? They are! Why the hell would they dive—
An alarmed shout next to her ear and a flash from the corner of her eye was all the warning she had, before an electric-orange blur moving at an incredible velocity clipped into her. The strike was not a full-bodied collision; rather, the glancing blow at high speed hit her at just the right angle to obliterate any semblance of control she had, sending her into a flat spin amidst a wash of pain.
It felt like her shoulder had been ripped right off. Worse, Applejack had been torn loose from Dash’s back in the impact, and she hit the ground hard, sending up a cloud of dust as she rolled to a stop. Dash wanted to call out her name, to rush to her side, make sure she was alright. She was denied all of these things as she caught a streak of movement—again from the very edge of her vision. This Pegasus was attacking from her blind spots. Dash had the barest second to evade—wrenching her back in a strained arch, her wings surging, she executed a snapping roll on a knife’s edge.
The orange blur shot past, barely missing her and disappearing around a nearby puff of cloud. Shooting a glance down at Applejack, she saw her friend was slowly rising to her hooves, shaking herself off as she stumbled faithfully toward where her worn Stetson had fallen. Relief and focus washed over Rainbow, one after the other. Applejack was alright. Now it was time to deal with this cowardly buzzard that only attacks from behind.
Eyes narrowed in fury, her wings pounded the air as she gave chase. Dash reached down to tighten the black straps on her forelegs, cinching the armored barding tighter. Adrenaline and rage burned through her veins as she neared the cloud where the sneaky bastard had disappeared. He was probably lurking just out of sight, waiting to pounce on her when she came around the side. Well screw that. Wait’ll he sees—
The cloud erupted right in her face in a burst of obscuring steam, blinding her as effectively as if a smoke bomb had just gone off. Dash felt the breath knocked out of her as both the Pegasus’ leading hooves sunk deeply into her stomach. Spittle flew from her muzzle as she was hurled backwards. The blow was vicious, but Dash had other matters on her reeling mind—she had recognized her enemy in the split-second that they were nose to nose.
No way. There’s no way! she thought in stunned disbelief. Spitfire?!
A Wonderbolt. One of her heroes. There was no mistaking that distinctive uniform, not for her. For as long as she could remember, she had longed to just meet them, even dared to dream of being part of the team one glorious day. Now, the stark reality that her greatest idol, her aspiration, appeared to be actively trying to kill her was just... too much to process.
So she didn’t. She didn’t even try. As it was, she was cartwheeling backwards through the air, and her immediate survival took precedence over all else. Flaring her wings, she slid out of the tumble and into an elliptical glide, arching back up to gain lost altitude and scanning all about to locate Spitfire.
There she was—high left, banking hard and trying, again, to come in at Dash from behind. Not this time, Dash thought grimly as she maintained course and looking left and right, acting as though she hadn’t spotted her opponent. Sure enough, Spitfire slipped fully into her assumed blind-spot and dove. Dash counted down, having judged the distance as best she could; this was going to be close. Three... Two... One... Dash jinked hard to her left and flipped about, her rear hooves already lashing out.
She had mistimed by a hair. Spitfire saw the move coming and, while she didn’t have time to get fully clear, managed to dip a wing and roll underneath the blow that could well have crushed her chest. Instead, the hard edge of one of Dash’s hooves slashed across her shoulder, tearing away a strip of tight uniform and opening a shallow gash. The maneuver left both Pegasi stranded in the air for a moment, their speed and momentum fully spent as they flapped their wings hard just to stay airborne.
Spitfire spun about, taking off in a flash, clearly favoring the shoulder Dash had injured. Before she had time to consider the move, Dash was off in pursuit, trailing her foe. Spitfire glanced back, a confident smirk sliding across her face to find she was being chased, and poured on the speed.
Holy shit she’s fast, Dash thought as the Pegasus took off like a shot. Despite everything, despite all of the madness that had occurred in the past week, Dash felt an answering grin hard on her muzzle. Her blood boiled in defiance, and here, right in front of her, was the best challenge she could have ever asked for. This was it—her chance to prove herself, finally. She slid into Spitefire’s wake and powered after her. Spitfire took note of Dash’s pursuit and banked hard to the right before fully inverting and taking a nose dive straight down into a tight, spiraling corkscrew, trying to throw her opponent out of her slipstream. Dash mirrored the maneuvers to perfection, actually gaining a few yards on the orange Pegasus. Spitfire glanced back again, and Dash caught the look of incredulity on the Wonderbolt’s face.
Applejack stood, her hooves unsteady beneath her, recovering from the rough tumble she’d taken. “What in Equestria—” she broke off as she looked up. Her heart lurched up into her throat as she saw Rainbow engaged in a vicious aerial duel with another Pegasus. The two were moving too fast, too erratically, for her to get much of a clear look, but as it turned out, she had problems of her own. The carriage was banking low and around... back toward her. The two gilded Pegasi drawing it touched down in an explosion of dust at the hard landing. From the back jumped three of the biggest, meanest looking stallions she had ever seen. She nickered. Oh horseapples.
The slalom-like chase had taken the two Pegasi far above the ground, the trees below now just a green blanket across the landscape. Without warning, Spitfire stopped her evasive maneuvers, looked back to throw a glare at Dash, and dove. Straight down. Dash followed without a moment’s hesitation; two blurs descending from the clouds—one the color of fire, the other an extended line of rainbow hues, streaking down from the heavens. Dash felt that familiar resistance begin to form up around her and she thrust both hooves forward to press against it. She was the fastest Pegasus alive, and she was about to fucking prove it.
Through the tunnel vision of the compressed air around her, Dash caught sight of something that froze her heart. Applejack: On the ground, surrounded by three huge stallions in golden armor, one of them pulling out a rope while the others pummelled her mercilessly into submission. In her shock she failed to notice the split-second in which Spitfire flared her wings. As she flashed past, the orange Pegasus wrapped her forelegs around Dash’s neck. Dash yelped, pulling hard out of the dive but Spitfire refused to be dislodged. Her grip was like a vice, and it was only getting tighter. Spitfire jostled around to get Dash’s neck into the crook of her elbow, her other hoof wrapped around the back of the blue mare’s head, and she threw all of her strength into the choke.
Dash couldn’t breathe. The Wonderbolt was crushing her neck and she couldn’t breathe. Flailing in panic, gurgling noises coming from her mouth, it was more by luck than anything else that Dash threw her head back at just the right moment, smashing squarely into Spitfire’s muzzle. Rainbow felt a sudden rush of wet on the back of her head, heard her enemy cry out—none of that mattered, because suddenly she could breathe again. Pulling in a few huge lung-fulls of air, Dash spun around to face a stunned but quickly recovering Spitfire. For a lingering moment, the pair just stared rage at each other, vibrant manes streaming in the stiff breeze. Every muscle in their bodies was poised on a hair trigger as they waited, each daring the other to make the first move. There was a twitch in Spitfire’s eye, and that was enough.
Colliding in mid-air, the two mares tore into each other with a snarling, savage abandon.
Dash was consumed with an incandescent rage. Applejack needed her now, and this bitch was keeping her from her friend as she was being beaten bloody.
Spitfire got the first strike in, loosing a lightning-fast punch and striking the cyan Pegasus solidly across the jaw. Dash spun with the blow, returning with an armored elbow into Spitfire’s face. At that moment, any pretense of martial decorum was abandoned. As they closed again, Spitfire feinted and her knee lashed up, sinking into the blue Pegasus’ gut.
As she doubled over in pain, Dash latched her teeth onto Spitfire’s thigh, biting down hard. Warm blood filled her mouth as an agonized scream tore from the other mare. Dash pulled back, barely avoiding the hoof that lashed out at her face. This was it, Dash felt the moment arrive in that perfect clarity of predator and prey—Spitfire was overbalanced, panicked and in pain. It was a little known fact among the Unicorn and Earth ponies, but a Pegasus’ wings were not merely their defining attribute, allowing them the gift of flight and the magical manipulation of the weather. They were weapons—the matrix density of the bones making them harder even than a Unicorn’s horn. Tilting on her axis, one wing behind her, the other held low; Dash threw all of her weight at a downward angle, her back wing coming up and over in a blue blur, connecting with Spitfire’s outstretched leg. The crack of bone rang out like a shot.
Dash watched as though through slow motion; Spitfire’s eyes were wide in shock, her muzzle open, the burning agony not yet fully reaching her. Nevertheless, she fell backward, her limbs and wings seized up in shock. By Pegasus standards, the fall was not a great one—still, the Wonderbolt hit the ground with a sickening crunch, bounced once, then twice, coming to rest on her back, fully stretched out with her head lolled to the side against the grass. As Dash descended, she saw the thin line of blood leaking from Sptifire’s mouth, her foreleg bent at an angle it had no natural right to. She was breathing, but it was a jagged, gurgling sound.
Only as Dash landed in a stagger, the sustaining adrenaline burned off, did she come to terms with her own condition. Blood dripped from her muzzle, and its coppery taste was mostly her own. She gasped in pain as she took a deep breath—at least one of her ribs was surely broken, and her shoulder at the base of her left wing was on fire.
Her attention was torn from her own pain as familiar screams filled the air. Looking over, Dash saw both Rarity and Twilight screeching their heads off at the guards—two of whom wore brown cloaks and were restraining the struggling, furious Unicorn mares. The three massive Earth ponies in the rugged armor threw a bound and unconscious Applejack into the already moving carriage. The armored Pegasi threw themselves against the weight, powerful beats of their wings lifting them off the ground. In moments, the carriage was aloft.
Dash tried to take to the air in pursuit, a strangled shout of denial ripping from her throat as a muscle tore, deep in her shoulder. Her entire left side felt like it had been lit on fire and she dropped to the hard ground in a heap of feathers. Refusing to give up, tears streaming from her eyes, Dash rose and galloped for all she was worth after the quickly receding transport, her left wing hanging uselessly at her side. Pathetically, all she was worth was little more than a lurching hobble and she soon collapsed into the dirt with an exhausted finality. Clenching her eyes shut, each breath an inhalation of agony, Dash stretched out her neck and screamed.
From the obscuring edge of the forest, a pair of teal-green ears perked attentively. The mare sighed and ‘tsked’ in exasperation. “Really now,” she muttered to herself. “I’ve had quite about enough of this.”
Chapter 7- “Ambiguity”
Chapter 9 - “Inquisition”