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Rainbow Dash gave out a challenging snort as she faced the fearsome Diamond Dogs. Frankly, she was underwhelmed. There were only three of them and none of them exactly struck her as being all that impressive. One was decently sized and bulky, but looked about as sharp as a bowling ball. Another was so short Scootaloo could’ve taken him. The one in the middle with the red vest looked intelligent—comparatively speaking—but was skinny and lanky as all get out. The arms looked disproportionately large on them, but Dash knew she could take them all, without help.
“I got this!” She called over her shoulder before revving her wings and launching herself towards them.
Zecora tried to call her back, but her voice was lost in the slipstream of air. An instant before she would’ve knocked those dogs flat on their tails, a horde of large, muscular, armored Dogs emerged from below. It was headfirst into the chest plate of one of those Dogs that Rainbow crashed right into.
Everypony—and zebra—winced in sympathy and the cacophony of noise that broke out when Dash’s face hit solid metal. The big dog just looked down at her as the woozy pegasus peeled her face off his chest and slid down onto her rump.
“Oh my goodness, are you all right?” Fluttershy called out—softly. Applejack hurried over to give Rainbow Dash a hoof, and to defend her in case the dogs attacked. The wall of dog guards let the farmpony take her friend back. They had them enveloped on all sides in a ring of Diamond Dogs.
“Now ponies go nowhere!” Crowed the lead Diamond Dog.
“What do you mangy ol’ mutts want?” Applejack snorted, pawing at the dirt with her hoof. “Cuz if it’s trouble yer lookin for, you’ve found it!”
“Geeems!” Hissed the Diamond Dog. “We need ponies to dig for us in the mines!”
Twilight blinked. “Why do you need ponies? It seems like you’re better equipped to handle the task of mining the earth, if the last five minutes have been of any indication.”
The three main Diamond Dogs blinked. They hadn’t thought of that. “Hrm, ponies pull! Yes! Ponies pull the wagons!” Barked the shortest dog.
“Wouldn’t it be hard for non-Diamond Dogs to even see underground, or live for that matter?” Twilight pressed. “Studies have found that ponies are best equipped for survival in habitats that provide clean air that is well circulated as well as temperatures ranging between…”
“Enough!” The dogs covered their ears. “Stop criticizing us!”
Twilight lowered her head. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to, it’s just that you—”
The big one moaned as he covered his head. “Purple pony is still talking…WHY is she still talking?!”
“So will you let us go?” Zecora asked politely. “No disrespect did we mean to show.” She nudged Rainbow Dash meaningfully. “Isn’t that right? Nothing was meant by her, hrm, sudden flight.”
“Yeah, sure whatever.” Grumbled the annoyed pegasus.
The Diamond Dogs looked at each other and went into a quick huddle. There were hushed whispers and murmurings before they broke apart, facing the party of equine. “Hrm…no!” Declared the leader. “Striped pony and non-striped ponies not pass until they give us tribute!”
“Oh, I’ll give him a tribute…” Rainbow Dash said, raising herself on her hind legs and boxing the air with her front ones. AJ pawed at the ground, lowering her head as if to charge them. Fluttershy hugged the ground, covering her face.
Twilight tugged both of them back with her magic. “Come on you guys…we can’t fight all of them!” She whispered.
“Speak for yourself.” Rainbow hissed back. “If we can’t stand up to a bunch of dogs, how do you expect us to stop Nightmare Moon?”
Rolling her eyes, Twilight amended her objection. “Okay, fine you can take them. But what if somepony gets hurt? We need all of our strength to deal with Nightmare Moon.”
Dash snorted, but had no retort.
Pinkie Pie bounced up to the Diamond Dogs. “What sort of tribute do you want? Oooh, how about a party? We can have a great big doggy party with party favors shaped like bones and we can play pin the tail on the Diamond Dog and bob for tennis balls and…eeep!” AJ yanked Pinkie back by her tail.
“Gems!” Hissed the dogs. “Give us gems or we not let you through!”
“Where are we supposed to find gems?” Demanded Applejack. “Dang things ain’t just layin’ around the Everfree Forest!”
“Don’t suppose you happen to have some sort of magic spell that makes gems out of rocks, do you?” Rainbow Dash said to Twilight.
“Well, there are spells that can transform objects into other objects, but it’s only temporary—I don’t know if it’ll last long enough for us to get away.” She whispered.
Rarity bit her lip as she concentrated. Her horn shimmered with magic. After a minute she sighed and sat down, looking depressed. “It’s no use.”
“What is it?” Twilight asked, the others looking to see what Rarity had attempted.
The elegant unicorn sighed again, deeply. “I know a spell that helps me find gems…it’s what led me to my cutie mark, though I didn’t know it at the time. I was checking to see if there were any gems nearby that we could dig up and give to those dreadful Diamond Dogs.”
“And?” Applejack asked. Rarity shook her head. “Shewt. Looks like we’re gonna have a fight on our hooves.”
Rainbow Dash stretched, cracking her neck as she readied herself. Her preparations were cut short by Rarity’s soft interjection. “Not necessarily.” She reached up with her hoofs and slowly pulled her necklace from around her neck.
“Oh but Rarity—you can’t! It’s from your own granny.” Applejack whispered, a pained look on her face.
“I know…but Equestria needs us to move forward more than I need this stone. And besides…” She gave a wane sad smile as magicked the shining gem up to her eye. “I don’t really need it to remember that my grandmother loved me.” The elegant unicorn strode forth, her head tilted back as she levitated her necklace up high for all the Diamond Dogs to see. “Shall I assume this is enough for us to pass by?”
The dogs didn’t answer. They were all looking wide-eyed at the amazing, rainbow-colored gem. Their ears were flattened against their skulls as if simultaneously awed and ashamed to be in front of such beauty.
“It beautiful…” whispered the short one.
The lead dog’s eyes went wide as he hesitantly reached out and grabbed—no, caressed, the gem within his paws. He cradled it, half-turning away from Rarity for fear that she might suddenly renege and take their precious gem away. “This is most beautiful gem Diamond Dogs ever see…” He whispered in a hushed tone that still managed to travel across the clearing for all to hear. “You give this…to us?”
Rarity closed her eyes and lowered her head in a single nod. “A-at least I’ll know that it’s always appreciated—eek!” She opened her eyes and raised her head to find herself being adoringly licked by the Diamond Dogs.
“Nice pony! Give pretty gem to dogs!” The leader slurped her cheek in a friendly manner. “You are friend to Diamond Dogs forever! You may pass! Yes, and back again later! Oh thank you wonderful pony!”
Rarity gave a weak grin as her eye slightly twitched at the sensation of Diamond Dog drool on her cheek and their hot breath in her nose. After one last group hug, the Diamond Dogs—clutching their new treasure—leaped back into their holes and filled them up again.
Hesitantly, the rest of the group made their way to Rarity. “Are you…okay?” Rainbow Dash asked. “Rarity?”
“Hmm, yes, I’m fine. Just…fine.” Rarity’s voice was light, airy even. “Why wouldn’t I be?” Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie gave her a hug on either side.
Applejack removed her hat. “Rarity I—I know how important it is to have something from your kinfolk to remember them by. How about for the rest of the trip, you can wear my hat.”
Shooting the earth pony a grateful smile and a nod, Rarity levitated Applejack’s hat onto her head. “Hmm, not the most stylish but undoubtedly functional.” Was her judgment. “Thank you.”
“So…think you’ll be okay?” Applejack asked.
“I said so, didn’t I?” Rarity replied in a non-answer. “There’s something a wise pony once told me: When you're giving love away, love will come again to stay. What you give is what you gain, when you pass it on.”
Zecora nodded approvingly at the wisdom and the way it was conveyed. With a gentle whicker, she urged the group onward.
Just before Rainbow Dash took the skies she heard Applejack ask where Rarity had heard that saying from. The last thing she heard was Rarity’s answer.
“From my grandmother of course. Who else?”
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Once more the party was on their way through the great tracts of the Everfree Forest. Rainbow Dash, for a change, had decided to walk with the rest of the group instead of flying above them. Her eye kept trailing to Rarity, who walked with quiet dignity, trying to conceal her pain at what she had to sacrifice. Rainbow Dash was in the throes of cognitive dissonance—a phrase she had never had cause to use—as she tried to grapple with her two images of Rarity. On one hoof: prim, prissy Prima Dona and fashioñista: On the other hoof, caring, and generous and even capable of deep sacrifice.
And Pinkie Pie…how could a pony that random and seemingly detached from reality be capable of spreading so much joy that she effectively managed to counter or drown out the worst moments of her life?
What was the deal with these ponies? Why were they sticking by her like this?
So lost was she in her thoughts that Rainbow Dash didn’t even notice when everypony else stopped. She kept going ahead until she felt herself being tugged back by her tail.
“Hold up there Rainbow.” Applejack said around a mouthful of rainbow. Releasing her grip, she gestured ahead of her. “Or were you planning on taking a dip?”
Dash looked ahead. She was about three feet from setting a hoof into a large river. She had nearly walked right into it without even noticing! She coughed. “I…knew it was there the whole time.” Rainbow smiled weakly.
“Of course you did.” AJ agreed amiably.
“Oh jeepers!” Pinkie Pie said as she peered over at the river. “That’s a river of refreshment! A lake of liquids, a whole lotta water, a…does anypony else suddenly need to use the bathroom?” She made a face.
Sidestepping that issue entirely, Zecora looked across the river. “Blast this confounded mist! I cannot even see to the other side in this!”
“I-it looks really far away.” Fluttershy said meekly.
“Too far to swim.” Applejack agreed. “Ah don’t think most of y’all could make it across, no offense.”
Twilight nodded. “None taken. We don’t even know what lives in that water.” She looked at it critically. “I can’t teleport across either if I can’t see the other side. I’d either come up short and end up mid-river, or overshoot it and end up teleporting into a rock or a tree or something.”
“Nothing to stop me from flying over.” Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I could carry you guys.”
“All of us? All the way across the river?” Twilight was incredulous. “I’m sure you could carry a couple of us across, but we can’t see the other side. If you get tired or if your grip slips—even once!—somepony could fall in.”
Zecora nodded. “Splitting up would be unwise, especially if we are split on the river’s two sides.”
Dash snorted. “Okay, so we can’t swim, teleport, or fly across. What’s left?”
“Bucking.” Applejack announced, to incredulous stares. She walked over to a nearby tree, a weeping willow that hung out over the river. She started kicking at the trunk. Her hooves lashed out again and again until the drooping tree tipped over and fell into the river with a splash!
AJ shot her companions a grin. “Well? What’re y’all waiting for? A written invitation?” She let out a whoop and leapt onto the fallen tree. “We’re gonna ride this thing all the way across the river!”
“Applejack you’re brilliant!” Twilight exclaimed as she jumped onto the tree. Pinkie bounced over with ease and Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash landed breezily on the trunk. Zecora had to gently nudge and prod Rarity into getting on the wet, dirty trunk but eventually she did.
“And we’re off!” Rainbow Dash cried as she started flapping her wings, helping to navigate the ungainly vessel. “Give me some wing power Fluttershy!”
The yellow pegasus squeaked. “O-okay…but it’s not going to be much.” With the two of them flapping, they managed to more or less steer the tree towards the other side of the river and had managed to put some distance between them and the other side.
The mist that clung to the river’s surface had enveloped the bank they had launched from, now they couldn’t see either side of the river. It was all water and mist as far as they eye could see.
“Leastaways the water’s smooth.” Applejack said when Rainbow commented on it. No sooner had the words left her mouth then the tree was suddenly rocked hard. “Whoa nelly!” She called. “Everypony hang on to a branch!”
“Aaaaah!” Rarity shrieked as water splashed over her. “Bwah! My MANE!”
“Is the water getting rough?” Rainbow Dash asked, deciding to stick with her companions on the tree even though she could easily fly off and avoid the turbulence.
Twilight shook her head…though that could’ve been the tree rocking. “No! The water’s still smooth! I think something’s hitting us!”
Zecora pointed with a hoof. Everypony looked to see ripples in the water and a dark shape just below the surface swiftly approaching their makeshift ship. It collided, sending tremors all along the length of the tree. “I’m getting dizzy….” Fluttershy said woozily.
“Here come more of them!” Twilight said, seeing half a dozen dark shapes cutting swiftly through the water.
Rainbow Dash just managed to shout “Hang on!” before the impact. The tree turned on its side, pitching seven equines into the cold river. Rainbow sputtered, spitting out water as she surfaced. “Everypony alright?” She called, her soaked mane obscuring her vision.
“Ptooey! I’m okay!” She heard Pinkie Pie call. “Hey, who wants to have a splash fight? We can—hmmph!”
Rainbow Dash sighed, grateful somepony else had put her hoof down…or in, as the case may be. “Thanks AJ.”
“Thanks for what?” The earth pony called. “I didn’t do nothing.”
“…Rarity? Twilight?” Rainbow Dash asked, hearing a pair of nos drift her way. Looking around she saw Zecora treading water. She was going to say something but suddenly submerged. Dash looked on in confusion as Zecora burst out of the air, spitting out water and taking a gasping breath of air. “Zecora, what—” Suddenly the zebra went under again. Not diving under, Rainbow realized with horror. But *pulled* under. “Something’s in the water!” She called right before she felt a tug on her hind leg. “Watch ou---HMPH!” There was barely anytime to close her mouth before she was tugged under.
She kicked her hooves around furiously, but the water made her movements feel slow and lethargic. Still, whatever had pulled her under had been shaken off.
Rainbow looked around. After flying at literally blinding speeds and through all sorts of weather, seeing through the water wasn’t much of a challenge for her. She saw Zecora and the others being tugged down by the tails, by their hooves by vague shapes darting through the water.
Fins and tails and flippers and…no. It couldn’t be. Rainbow Dash felt her eyes widen. Something tugged on her and she turned to find herself staring face to face with the impossible: a pony face attached to fish-like body snarling at her with a jaw full of little sharp teeth. It angrily burbled at her through the water. “Shoo be doo!”
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