“It's not the Grand Choke,” Cold Canter muttered as he telekinetically poured a glass of water for Rainbow Dash. “Who in the hay told you that?”
“Oh, well, uhm...” Rainbow Dash shifted nervously from where she sat at a dusty wooden table in the center of the guards' tiny bunkhouse. “I just kind of figured...”
“I've heard tales of the Grand Choke, but that's leagues away,” the elder stallion said, walking back to the pantry. “The continent stretches for thousands of miles east. That's what travellers tel me, anyways.”
“You get a lot of ponies passing by this... this...?”
“We are essentially in charge of a guard outpost, meant to send a magical signal across the latiduninal leylines in the event of an unforeseen incursion,” Cold Canter said. He shuffled over and sat across from her with a weary exhale. “There are many outposts like this one north and south of here, but they tend to get travellers more than we do. With the ravine most dry and arid in this location, I'm afraid the answer is no: not many ponies stop by this place.”
“Well, you certainly know how to make a pegasus feel welcome.” She said with a smile as she took the glass in her hoof and sipped its contents. As she did so, Desert Light strolled by and unceremoniously slapped a plate full of lettuce leaves onto her edge of the table. She finished gulping the water and gave him a droning, “Jee, thanks.”
“Insincere response: you are most welcome,” he grunted and marched towards the far end of the shack.
“Don't mind him,” Cold Canter murmured. “He's the latest in the line of young, novice guardponies sent to fulfill their quota here on the eastern border.” He sighed and leaned forward against the table. “He's been here only four months. He's headstrong, but learning. Being out here so far from the heart of Darkstine does wonders to the ego.” He smiled wearily. “Have you seen the capital of New Ring? It's quite the mechanical wonder.”
“I... m-may have flown past it along the way here,” she said with a nervous voice crack. She munched on a leaf, swallowed it, and smiled. “So, like, what keeps you staying in a lonely place like this while so many recruits come and go?”
“Mmmf... You live as long as I have, you start to look inward for answers,” he said. “I never quite had a grasp of the industry like so many of my fellow unicorns. Thankfully, the government is understanding of my 'heretical deviance,' and they haven't tried to recondition me. To be perfectly honest, life would be a lot harder for me if I moved back west. I like it out here. It's peaceful... it's calm...”
Rainbow Dash munched on another leaf and smirked. “You don't get many foals on your lawn...”
“But when I do, it means that the visitors must be those invested with a great deal of remarkble gifts and stories to tell of their travels.” He rested his hooves together and stared at her intently. “Tell me. Is that necklace that you wear something of royal design?”
“Eh... well, uhm...” Rainbow Dash shrugged. “It may be kind of sort of built out of the harmonious essence of cosmically displaced goddesses from a realm far gone.”
Cold Canter stared dazedly at her.
“But!” She smiled nerviously and rubbed a hoof over the ruby lightning bolt. “It can do this!” A crimson glow shimmered across the room. “And it can do this!” She grabbed a rusted spear from the nearby wall, took a deep breath, and smacked herself in the head with it. A metallic ringing noise filled the air, followed by an aura of white light enshrouding her like a translucent cocoon. “Ta-daaaa!”
“Impressive,” Cold Canter remarked with a dry chuckle. “Maybe you could consider minding an outpost such as this with those kinds of talents!”
“Disgruntled interjection: she lacks the horn of industry.”
“Yes, but she has the wings of shut your muzzle!” Cold Canter growled.
“Heh heh heh!” Rainbow Dash almost choked on a length of lettuce. “I like you, dude. You're like if somepony crossed Clint Eastwhinny with my uncle.”
“The day I become a pegasus' uncle is when I know I've put off drinking for too long.” Cold Canter stood up and trotted across the shack. “Why, I haven't seen a pony of your kind in decades.” He took a canteen off a fixture on the wall and raised it to his lips. “Last bunch of journey equine we got in these parts was an exodus of earth ponies who actually managed to scale the ravine from the east.”
“You don't say?” Rainbow Dash's wings twitched. “And did they have any interesting stories to tell?”
He took a sip, but lingered. His gray eyes blinked, and he eventually swallowed with a solemn expression. Slowly, he hung the canteen back up on the fixture and trotted towards the door, motioning to her. “How about you finish your lettuce, filly, and then we can have a little talk about the east...”
Rainbow Dash squinted curiously at him. She looked across the way at Desert Light. The younger stallion had a solemn expression. For once, he wasn't scowling at Rainbow Dash.
She took a deep breath and munched a few lasting bites. “Well, at least the greens are good...”