Booting up... Main systems: Online. Auxilary systems: Online. Unit Functioning at 90% efficiency.
These words flashed across Rainbow Dash's view before she even opened her eyes.
"What? What the hey is that?" Rainbow Dash's eyes snapped open. The moment that they were open, she wished that she had left them shut. "Woah..."
The entire world had changed, to the point where she couldn't even believe it to be Equestria any more. Starting at the bottom, the ground had become green and flat. It was hard, like some kind of tiled floor, but not smooth. More of the metal lines that they had seen on Discord's statue were running along it in all directions, not only that, but it was punctuated by tiny cylinders and smooth, black, plates. The skies were dark, without moon or stars, but the world was lit instead by glowing red grid lines that ran across them. Aside from that, the land seemed to be barren and empty, devoid of any life.
But all of that paled in comparison when Rainbow looked down at her own body. A scream rang out through the air, one of sheer horror.
Her entire body had become smooth and hairless, made of smooth, sky-blue metal. Her legs were divided into smaller sections, with wired joints where her ankles, knees, shoulders, and hips. Instead of being on her flank, her cutie mark was now a glowing insignia on her chest. Peering over her shoulder, she could see that her beautiful, multi-hued tail and most of her mane had been replaced with some kind of magical light that flowed like her mane and tail ought to... Twilight would probably have some kind of egghead word for that. The front part of her mane had somehow been fashioned out of more colored metal, and was fixed to the top of her head in the shape of her normal style. The scariest change, though, was the fact that her wings were completely different. They now seemed to be a metal skeleton, with the outer structure formed by long, thin pieces of metal that bent in the center to form a distinctive wing shape. Rather than feathers, more shards of metal hovered in the air, looking very much like a skeleton of a wing, rather than an actual full, living and feathered wing. The space between these shards was filled with crackling and sparking arcs of energy, which filled the empty space with light and energy, and seemed to be the only thing preventing the wing from simply falling apart.
"What the- What happened?" Rainbow Dash thought back to the last few moments before she had fallen into unconsciousness. "We were all standing around Discord's statue... We were about to beat the snot outta him with the Elements of Harmony..." Dash grinned at the thought. "But then... There was some kind of explosion! Discord was free, and then... I woke up here!" She looked around once again at the unfamiliar world. "That means that Discord's been running around loose while I was out dozing! Is this Equestria? It doesn't look anything like the last time that he took over!"
"Nah, this is someplace totally different, Dash." The voice was notoriously familiar. She spun around, and spotted the apparent source. She almost screamed again. It was Gilda the griffon, but... she was made up of the same kind of red lines that stretched across the sky. Her whole body was constructed out of red lines of light! Rainbow Dash walked towards her old friend, extending a hoof to touch her and see if she was real.
"Gilda? Is that you?" When her hoof finally reached her friend, it stopped. The light was indeed solid, even when she applied a bit of pressure.
"Course it is, Dash! Things sure have gotten weird around here, haven't they?" She laughed and motioned to the world around them. "Discord sure did get creative with this prison..."
"Prison?" Rainbow Dash's eyes widened with a low whirring sound. "This is a prison? Then what are you doing here? How do we get out? I have to get my friends and save Equestria!"
"Woah, there, Dash! Let's see if you can still fly, first!" Gilda spread her wings and jumped up into the air. "Then you can go save Equestria!"
"I'm a pegasus! Of course I... can... fly..." Rainbow looked back up at her wings, suddenly uncertain. Discord had taken away her wings once before, who could say that he hadn't done it again? She tried flapping them, but they simply couldn't hold any air beneath them to push off of.
"What's the matter? Can the 'fastest flier in Equestria' not even get off of the ground?" Gilda laughed from her viewpoint in the sky.
"Hey! This isn't fair, Discord changed my wings!" Rainbow Dash tried to defend herself, to rationalize her situation, but Gilda seemed to be right. Come on... I have to fly! There has to be a way!
Activating Maglev Systems
The words flashed across her vision, overlapping what she was seeing. It was at this time that she began to become aware of a new feeling. It was a feeling that something inside of her had suddenly changed, reaching deep inside and drawing out some kind of new power. Her body shot upwards, leaving the ground far below in a matter seconds.
"Woah! Hey! I wasn't ready!" Rainbow Dash scrambled to try and understand what was going on. "Lemmie down!" As if responding to her request, she began to float down towards the earth. Now that she could calm down, she began to become aware of a new sense: a kind of omnidirectional compass, and she could feel it pointing downwards. On a thought, she took hold of this new sense and moved the point of the compass up and forwards. In perfect sync, her direction changed, moving to a forward acceleration.
"You have got to be kidding me!" Rainbow Dash smiled. "Is it really that simple? I just think of where I want to fly?" She laughed, putting more effort into her speed. As her effort and energy input increased, so did her speed. In a matter of minutes, she had completely mastered this new way of flying. "This is SO COOL!" She shouted as she practiced forming tornadoes.
"Hey, Dash! You done fooling around?" Gilda called. "Cause I wanna race!"
Rainbow Dash snapped out of her awe of her new flight and flew up next to Gilda. "Sorry, Gilda, but I've gotta get going! Now that I can fly, I can find my other friends in ten seconds flat! We have to get going if we're going to get out of here and beat Discord! So, what's the way out of here?"
"You gotta beat me, Dash!" Gilda's grin went from friendly to a bit more sadistic. It was only made more unsettling by the red lines of light forming Gilda's body. "You see, I told you that this is a prison. I just didn't tell you that I'm the one Discord left to guard it!" Without warning, Gilda tackled Rainbow Dash, and the two of them plummeted towards the ground. Rainbow tried to struggle out of her grip, but it was useless, the griffon's grip was like iron.
Come on, Rainbow Dash! You've got the strongest wings in all of Equestria, and you've held up WAY more than Gilda's weight before! She pushed herself as far as she could, straining with all of her might to move upwards, to push away from the ground and back up into the sky. It didn't seem to help, and there were only seconds left before they hit the ground. I sure hope that this new body is built as tough as my old one was...
Rainbow Dash's world seemed to flash on and off again when she hit the ground, and pain exploded through her body, stemming at her back.
No critical damage to main systems. System efficiency reduced to 75 percent.
The words flashed across Gilda's face, which otherwise filled her vision. This close, Rainbow Dash could count the individual lines of red light that made up her sadistic grin. "You see, Dash, the only way out of here is to beat the jailer... Me."
Rainbow Dash shook her head. "How can you betray me like this, Gilda? I know that we haven't always been on the best of terms lately, but this is crazy!" Rainbow Dash pulled her hind legs up to her chest, placed her hooves on Gilda's stomach, and bucked her off. The griffon landed on her feet with ease.
"'The best of terms?' You ditched me for those lousy ponies, little miss loyalty!" Gilda shouted, flying up into the air. "So, I'm here to make sure that you don't get back to them!"
Rainbow Dash's eyes narrowed as she began to realize just how twisted Gilda had become. It's all business from here on. Gilda's chosen her side. "I have to beat you to get outta here? At what?"
"Anything!" Gilda laughed as she flew back up into the air. "I've always been better than you at everything!"
Rainbow's temper flared at the insult, and she followed Gilda up into the air. "You have NOT! Let's race right here, right now!"
"Alright, then!" Gilda laughed as, far away, a finish line sprung into existence, crafted from the same red light. "I'll even let you give the countdown, Dash!"
"Three, two, one... GO!" Rainbow Dash threw herself forward, taking only about a second and a half to accelerate to full speed. Somehow, Gilda kept right along side her, flapping her wings slowly and yawning. At about the halfway point, she grinned again.
"Well, see ya, Dash!" She moved ahead with ease, passing Rainbow Dash and accelerating past the finish line in a matter of seconds. Rainbow Dash didn't even finish the race, her jaw dropping and her pride taking a huge blow.
"What? How did you- How can you- WHAT?" Rainbow Dash's wings and jaw both drooped.
Gilda laughed as she flew back. "Well, maybe you're just out of shape, Dash... But then again, you've always been weak." She cockily examined one of her biceps. "Care to try something else?"
"Yeah! Let's hoof wrestle!" Rainbow Dash spotted the taunt, and her temper flared anew. Gilda rolled her eyes and a table and two chairs appeared, once again made of the strange red light. The two of them each took their seats without a word, and assumed their positions, with Gilda's claw wrapped around Dash's hoof. "One, Two, Three!"
Rainbow Dash's hoof slammed against the table for what must have been the tenth time. "How... Are you so strong?" She panted.
"It's not that I'm strong, you're weak!" Gilda said matter-of-factly for what must have been the twentieth time.
"Well, that's Discord's fault! This lousy body-"
"Is a direct translation into machine form from your old one." Gilda spoke over Rainbow Dash. "All of the same abilities, so-called strengths, and weaknesses."
"But... Then how are you-" Rainbow Dash shook her head. "I know that I'm stronger than this..."
"Strong? Don't make me laugh! You couldn't protect your friends from Discord, and now they're all in their own prisons! You know what?" Gilda leaned in close to her face. "You were the first one to pass out, too! The weakest one was the first to stop fighting."
Every time Gilda spoke, Rainbow Dash's self-esteem took another blow. Her head bowed, and her ears would have fallen down against her head, if they hadn't been microphones that couldn't move. Instead, they received every word with crystal clarity.
"Face it, you can't even hold a match to those Wonderbolts, but you have the crazy dream of joining them? Dash, you're delusional." Rainbow Dash flinched as Gilda's words turned on her dream.
"I get it, okay?" Rainbow Dash shouted, slamming her hoof down on the table. "I'm not as strong as you, or as fast as you..." She hated to say it, and her self-esteem was nearly gone. "Maybe I'm not the best... But I'm still going to beat you!" Her eyes flashed with a brighter violet light. "So, don't you think for a minute that I'm weak! I'm not giving up, I'll keep fighting for my friends!"
Despite what Rainbow Dash had hoped would be a dramatic exclamation of hope, Gilda just rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah? In what?"
It was Rainbow Dash's turn to smile. She had finally figured out the secret: Gilda was here to put her down, to keep her from escaping by being better at everything that she was good at. Time for a change of tactic...
"How about something simple? A coin toss?" Rainbow smiled. "Heads, I win, tails, you lose?"
"Deal! No one touches it, we just let it hit the ground." Gilda laughed, pulling a virtual bit out of her pocket and tossing it into the air. I'm part of the system. I can make sure that it lands on tails... Or was it heads? Her eyes widened as she realized her mistake. "H-Hey! Wait a minute!" Her plea fell on deaf ears as the coin dropped past her astonished face.
"Oh, look! It's heads! I win!" Rainbow Dash laughed at her foe's awestruck face. "You know, Gilda, I haven't read the entire Daring Do series without learning a few things about escaping traps... You always fell for my pranks, no matter how simple they were. I just beat you... In a battle of wits."
Gilda screamed. It seemed overly dramatic at first, but the reason soon became apparent... Her body, made of so many tiny lines of red light, was beginning to lose its shape. First, the edges of her body seemed to blur, becoming looser as red lines began to fray. Once this change had overcome her entire body, giving her the hazy appearance of being seen through mist, pieces began to fade away, starting at her tail and moving upward in chunks. Every time a piece of her body faded from sight, it would leave behind only a few lingering 0's and 1's that soon faded, as well.
Unit's Prime Directive Compromised. Simulation Gilda: Fading.
Rainbow Dash's eyes once again saw words overlapping reality. "Wait, that was a simulation? A trick?" As the last piece of the false friend faded, Rainbow Dash was more aggravated than ever. "Discord's going to pay for that!"
Behind her, something new appeared. A panel in the ground slid open, revealing a tunnel beneath the earth, lined with the same strange green-and-silver plating that covered the ground.
"Well, here's hoping that this is the exit..." Rainbow Dash muttered as she jumped down into the hole. "I really HATE being underground..."