It took several minutes of flying, of bursting through the frigid heights above the mountain tops, but somewhere above the smog and mists Rainbow Dash had found a cloud. She sat down on it, her body bathed in a pale, luminous glow. Taking deep breaths, she stared up at the full moon. The entire object shone in a perfect circle, stabbing her ruby eyes through the dead fabric of night.
It had felt like only a few days since the last time she did this, but Rainbow Dash knew better. No matter how much landscape had blurred beneath her, the moon remained stagnant, constantly shadowing her as her nights bled into weeks and then into months.
However, in spite of her hesitation, she had not skipped an appointment once. She was too loyal to do otherwise. So, with calm precision, she raised a hoof to the ruby lightning bolt hanging from her pendant and ran her limb across the cold surface until it lit up with a dim glow.
The magical fire from within the necklace burned brighter, intensifying in variable degree to the amount of moonlight it was progressively absorbing. Soon, a vibrant beam of energy shot out of Rainbow Dash's neckpiece, strobing in time with an ethereal voice that filled the cold space above the cloud with noise and enchantment.
“Rainbow Dash. Doth thou hear us?”
Rainbow inhaled hard, then managed a tranquil smile as she spoke to the winds, “Sure thing, your highness. What? Did you expect to me to leave you hanging?”
“We do not understand. Hath we committed a crime that deserveth execution by a noose?”
“Ehh... heh heh. It's just an expression, Princess. You do remember what I said last time about how you should be talking to your guards more?”
“Verily, we do recall. Albeit, thy Princess hath dealt with many responsibilities as of late, which hath made casual socialization most difficult.”
“Awwww. Well, that sucks.” Rainbow Dash winced at her own words. “Ahem. Pardon me, your Highness.” She gulped and smirked into the glow of her pendant. “So... uh... like, how's Equestria... and stuff?”
“Equestria is safe in our hooves. Though it hath taken many trials and tribulations, we hath come close to mastering the revolutions of both the Sun and Moon. Our beloved sister maintaineth meditation over the chaos rift. No single pony hath suffered since the day you departed for your journey.”
“Well, that sure is super,” Rainbow Dash said. She gulped and added, “And Ponyville? How's... How's Candy Mane taking care of the weather since I've been gone?”
“We are most sorry to confess that we are not familiar with the royal subject known as 'Candy Mane'. Regardless, Rainbow Dash, thou need not give into fear. Ponyville remaineth the jewel of Equestria's beautiful country. Our sister and we hath even erected a temple over the chaos rift. So long as Celestia upholdeth her duties, no harm shalt come to thy beloved village.”
“Well, that's good to know...”
“Thy questions are art well respected, though they suffer an unnecessary repetition from the last time we conversed. Tell us, Rainbow Dash, what hath though discovered in your journeys?”
“Ohhhh... Y'know...” Rainbow Dash laid back and kicked at a few white fluffs of moonlit clouds. “Same old, same old.”
“The entire world is old. Wouldst thou be more specific?”
“Well, if it'll humor you, then sure!” Rainbow Dash stifled a yawn and droned, “Past Dream Valley, there was a bunch of marshlands. Then there were mountains. Then there were more mountains. Then there were even more mountains...”
“Hath thou, by chance, encountered Stone Clefts of Wintergait?”
Rainbow Dash's brow furrowed as she scanned the right edge of a map in her mind. “Lemme guess... it's two tall clefts of mountainous stone jutting up into the clouds?”
“Affirmative. They are as old as time itself, rivaling even our sister's years in antiquity. We imagine they must be an astounding sight for a mortal's eyes such as thine own.”
“Oh. Heh. Yeah.” Rainbow Dash chuckled and waved a hoof in the air. “I saw those rocks.”
“Oh yeah. Several days ago.”
“Remarkable. Then thou must be well beyond the western ridges of Wintergait.”
“Yeah, that's just what the ponies call it around here.”
“Thou hath met local equines?”
“Yup. They eat meat. Isn't that totally gross?”
“Thou art bound to discover several diverse cultures in thy trek, Rainbow Dash. It is not unbecoming of many of them to disgust thee in their customes. Be forewarned: several nations residing beyond the reach of our sister's glory may very well be hostile.”
“Yeah, well, these ponies couldn't hurt a fly if they wanted to,” Rainbow Dash said in a muttering tone. “Heck, I had to do just about everything to keep them from dying along the way back home to their mountain village.”
“Wouldst thou clarify?”
“It's a bunch of earth ponies, and they can barely build a fire, cross a stream or fight off hydras on their own.”
“Thou hadst engaged with hydras?”
“Oh. Totally. Made one vomit up a stallion too. It was cool.”
“Thy adventures are most intriguing, Rainbow Dash. We art proud to be bequeathed with your knowledge.”
“Yeah, well, you're welcome and all that jazz. Say...” Rainbow Dash stood up and held her hoof over the glowing pendant as she spoke, “How's Apple Bloom?”
“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash uttered breathily. “I can't help but worry about the little scamp.”
“We hath visited her on several occasions. She appeareth to be doing well in her studies. Granted, she hath stepped up to do more work on her family's farmland. We assumeth thou wouldst be happy to know that her entire family is prospering with the latest harvest.”
Rainbow Dash exhaled long and hard. She smiled gently into the moonlight. “Yeah. I'm happy to know that.” She gulped and glanced down at the cloud. “What about her friends?”
“Her unicorn companion, Sweetie Belle, hath moved back to Canterlot to be with her mother and father. The last time we took notice, she had brought her pegasus acquaintance along with her for an extended stay.”
“Oh-ho really?!” Rainbow Dash snickered. “Scootaloo's gonna be bored stiff in Canterlot. Yeesh, what I wouldn't pay to see that.” She laughed again, exhaled, and said, “And Spike? Is he still at the library?”
“Indeed. On occasion, he volunteers to assist our sister in meditation. It would seem that he hath become a very important figure in Ponyville. Many unicorns visit the town just to speak with him.”
“Well, that's kind of cool. I always figured he could do with some attention after everything...” Rainbow Dash murmured.
“Celestia believeth Spike to be a prodigy of sorcery. It wouldst appear that purple dragons possess an innate ability to channel mana. Once she hath mastered her meditative duties, she wouldst endeavor to make Spike her pupil.”
Rainbow Dash's nostrils flared upon hearing that. In a low voice, she muttered, “You don't say.”
“Wouldst thou wish to ask our sister about the matter? She is available for summoning, Rainbow Dash, if thou wouldst share audience with the Princess.”
Quite deliberately, Rainbow Dash changed the subject. “I've had another one of the fainting spells.”
The voice was slightly slow to respond. “Hadst thou recovered?”
“Well, yeah. It was over and done with in a blink, but it took me several hours before I could fly again.”
“Hadst thou been assaulted with any greater severity or frequency?”
“No. Not really.” She bit her lip at the thought. “The sucky part is that it comes without any warning.”
“Thou hath kept the Element of Loyalty on thy body at all times?”
“Oh. Yeah. Absolutely!”
“Then our enchantment maintaineth thine countenance still. We art pleased to hear of thine good health. We can only hope that it lasts throughout the extent of thine journey.”
Rainbow Dash fidgeted, glancing down at her hooves resting atop the cloudbank. “It's... It's only gonna happen more often, isn't it?”
The voice replied swiftly, “Our estimation hath not changed since thine departure.”
“Yeah. I guess it hasn't.” She took a deep breath. “Well, so long as I keep the clouds beneath me half the time, I'll at least have something soft to fall on if worse comes to worst.”
“We fear that thine humor is loss to us.”
“Heh. Wouldn't be the first time, your highness.” Rainbow Dash openly yawned. “Unngh... I'd better go. I have—what—two more nights to talk to you, right?”
“That is correct.”
“I'll let you know how things go next evening. These silly ponies have a bunch of crap to deal with, and I kind of wanna learn more.”
“We art intrigued. Wouldst thou have a reason to tarry along the fringes of Wintergait?”
“Huh? Could you say that a tad bit unprincessified, your highness?”
“We only mean to remind thee that there is a great deal of landscape left between where thou art and the end of thy journey. No single mortal truly comprehendeth the distance we mean to imply.”
“Hey. I know! Really, I do,” Rainbow Dash uttered with a shrug. “I'm trying not to get too stressed. I'm just... y'know... wingin' it. Heheheh.”
“If thou insist. We wish thee a pleasant sleep, Rainbow Dash.”
“Bah. Sleep is for royalty,” Rainbow Dash raspberried into the air, giggled, and swung her hoof across the ruby bolt in finality. “Stay frosty, your highness.”
“But we doth not feel any cold—”
The glow of the necklace faded. Rainbow Dash was once more alone with the cold whisper of the high altitude breeze. She exhaled long and hard, her blue wings fluttering. She shifted the weight of the saddlebag on her spine, feeling the rolling weight of the apple inside the canvas material.
She remembered something the Princess had said, and a tranquil smile came to her face.
“'Doing well in her studies.' Heh. Well that's not so bad.”
She stretched her neck, cracking the joints within. As she did so, she caught a break in the smog below her. The towering rock structure that Windthrow clung to stood tall, majestic, and mysterious. The moonlight tried stabbing through the misty vapors surrounding the structure, but could barely pass through.
So Rainbow Dash decided to take an extra step herself. Holding her breath, she flexed her limbs, dove off the cloud, and soared her way towards the top of the awkward mountain.