Several minotaurs glanced up, blinking curiously from where they stood at the sloped entrance to the quarry. Shuffling spears into their grip, they marched towards the incoming stranger.
“Not so fast,” one the guards said. His voice was low and gruff, and it resonated from the deep core of his muscular chest. “State your business, pony.”
“Business of Windthrow,” Rainbow Dash said. She was clad from head to tail in canvas blankets, resembling the manner in which Fulltrot's fellow Wintergaters garbed themselves in leather armor. “I've come to check on whether or not the delivery has been made.”
The minotaurs looked at each other quizzically. They glanced back at Rainbow Dash, studying her. The “cloak” covered her wings and prismatic mane. She looked just like any usual earth pony from Windthrow.
“What delivery?” one of the minotaurs grunted.
“The light crystals of course,” Rainbow Dash said, trying to keep the inflection in her voice pleasant and... earth-ponyish. “Y'know, the white glowy things that keep the monsters from attacking our village in the mountains down south.”
One minotaur stepped forward until he was leering down at the disguised pegasus. “If this is about the latest shipment, why isn't Fulltrot himself here to perform the delivery?”
“I was sent ahead as a scout.”
“He's never sent a scout before.”
“He's never been injured before.”
The minotaurs muttered amidst each other. The one at the front of the group gave Rainbow a curious glance. “He's been injured? Since when?”
“Since he was smacked hard upside the head by one of those stupid bat thingies that come out of the farm. Look, dudes, I'm from a neighboring village, and only so much was explained to me. Hushtail doesn't like any other ponies leading the caravan. He'd send his son, Sladesteed, but Sladesteed's too frickin' busy with the mines as it is. So, the idea now is to wait until Fulltrot recovers and then send the caravan out under his experienced lead.”
“You don't say?” The minotaur snorted. “That could delay things for a while.”
“Right. Which is why they sent me. I've got a lot of bits to spare, and I was tasked with putting down an initial payment to see that you don't give the crystals to any other buyers before Fulltrot belatedly arrives. So, in the interest of our... uh... mutual earnings, would you mind letting me see if the unicorns have dropped off the crystals yet or not?”
The minotaurs exchanged glances yet again. The tallest of the group sighed and said, “We'll have to see if it's alright by Thunderhorn.”
“Oh! But of course!” Rainbow Dash chuckled. “Thunderhorn! I hear he's really... big.”
“Most certainly he is, pony.”
“Oh. Well, fancy that. So... uhm... like...” Rainbow Dash stirred where she stood. “Can I go see him and stuff?”
“He's deep in the quarry right now. Follow me, and I'll take you to his overseer post. Then we'll fetch him so you can conduct business.” That said, the minotaur swiveled about on his staff and marched with a weary lurch towards the center of the quarry.
Quietly, Rainbow Dash followed him. She kept a cautious distance, all the while glancing behind and to the sides of her path. The air of the quarry was alive with the constant hammering and breaking of rocks. Minotaurs could be seen laboring every which way Rainbow looked. The further she walked after the distant guard, the hotter the air felt, as if something steamy was billowing out from the cave's mouth to the south.
Something stirred under her cloaks, and it wasn't her wings. A tiny voice broke the air around Rainbow Dash in a muffled fashion. “This 'Thunderhorn' sounds scary. Is it too late to go back?”
“Shhh!” Rainbow hissed. Her ruby eyes darted around from beneath the hood that her blanket-cloak had formed above her head. “Can the foalish whining, Spotty!” she whispered hoarsely. “I gotta figure something out.”
“I don't like this at all,” Rockspot's voice nevertheless stammered. His tiny body stirred in the saddlebag beneath Rainbow's cloak. “I don't understand what you're trying to figure out.”
“Me neither,” Rainbow Dash smiled nervously as she made sure the guard ahead of them wasn't listening. “I don't usually do this sneaking sort of thing.”
“Then why are you doing it?”
“Would you rather we just fly in and start busting minotaur heads?”
“I'd rather we just go home and see my Mommy...”
“And we will, kid. I promise you. If things go bad, I'll spread my wings and have us out of his quarry in a flash. But before we do, I gotta understand what these creatures have to do with the monsters.”
“You mean there are monsters here?” Rockspot squeaked and stirred all the more under the blanket.
Rainbow Dash steadied him with her feathers and hissed, “Yes. But I gotta know for sure. Cuz if my hunch is right—and I rarely have hunches—then Fulltrot and his fellow ponies are being screwed over by these guys.”
“Yeah, Spotty.” Rainbow gulped as she trotted up towards a wooden building beside which the guard was coming to a stop. “I'm starting to think there are no unicorns delivering these crystals in the first place.”