“So, let me get this straight,” Stu spoke back from where he trotted beside Sam Rose and Swirls along the subterranean wreckage. “You have different modes of weather called 'seasons,' and every year it's the job of pegasi and other ponies to 'wrap up winter' so that the skies will be clear and the land can be warm again?”
“It was all about the group effort,” Rainbow Dash said with a smooth smile. She and Ember Speak took up the rear of the tiny procession, stumbling beneath the gray cavernous ceiling above. “Still, I did do a great deal of ushering around southern birds, but, hey. Who gives a flying feather, am I right?”
Swirls giggled lightly.
Ember Speak was smiling. “That's just so remarkable. Green grass, dewy fields, a forest that grows on its own? Down in Sanctuary, we have to maintain our own garden. The elders of the Council says that it's not a natural formation, but we manage to grow vegetation through sheer Silvadelian perserverence. It's difficult to grasp the idea of green things living on their own.”
“Trees are boring. It's ponies that are awesome,” Rainbow Dash said. “What you guys are doing here? I only know so little, but I'd already say that it's a group effort that puts any Winter Wrap-Up in Equestria to shame.”
“Here's the part that I'm hung-up on,” Stu muttered. “There are dragons where you come from?”
“And they're not trying to devour all ponies?”
“Nope. Not the last time I checked.”
“Are they toothless or something? What's up with that?”
“Dragons and Equestrian ponies have lived together peacefully since—like—forever! I never really had to try and explain it to anypony before. That's just the way things are where I come from. I even knew a baby dragon whom one of my friends kept around as a library assistant!”
Swirls nearly choked on the implications of that thought. “A dragon... Touching books? Walking around a library?”
“Wel, he 'waddled' more than walked, I guess. I'm not sure if he grew wings at this point or not...”
“It's a good thing he hasn't,” Sam Rose grunted. “It would do the world a fair service if the nearest guard pony dismembered them once the whelpling's appendages sprouted.”
Rainbow Dash frowned at him. “Now, that's not frickin' fair.”
“A lot of things aren't fair.” He ascended up a cleft of rock.
Swirls sighed as she followed after her majesty. She glanced back and gave the prismatic maned visitor a smile. “I'm guessing it's because you have alicorns living in your kingdom.”
“Huh?” Rainbow Dash made a face.
“On account of how much peace and prosperity you've enjoyed,” Ember Speak added. “Even with dragons in your midst.”
“Yeah. I... guess I've been lucky...”
“I hear that alicorns are older than time itself. I'd really love to speak with one someday,” Ember Speak mused. “I wonder what things they could tell me that even the Council doesn't know.”
Rainbow Dash glanced up at the dim, gray sky as they broke the upper surface of ruined Silvadel. “I'm still hoping that that can be arranged...”
“Shhh!” Sam Rose hissed, holding up a hoof. He crouched low at the very edge of the entrance to the upper world. “Everypony, lay low!”
The other followed suit, as did Rainbow Dash, fidgeting.
“I don't understand!” Silvadel uttered, leaning in towards Sam's armored form. “The southeast entrance to Sanctuary is up ahead! We're almost home free!”
“I know that,” Sam muttered, squinting his hard green eyes at the sundered landscape. “I have a feeling that something else knows it too.”
“Huh?” Swirls craned her neck. “What is it that you see, your Majesty?”
Sam pointed forward. “There, upon the pale ridge, about two dozen feet before where the concealed entrance should be.”
The group looked and looked, until finally their eyes caught what Sam's expert gaze had spotted moments before. A single pony was sitting on its haunches, staring up at the smoggy sky.
“Who is that?” Stu remarked. “Doesn't look like one of us...”
“Another pegasus?” Ember Speak remarked.
Rainbow Dash shook her head, gulped, and uttered, “I came alone, guys. It must be one of yours.”
“I recognize each and every one of my subjects,” Sam Rose said coldly. “This pony is a stranger.”
“Then what are we looking at, exactly?” Stu remarked. Swirls leaned into him, trembling, and he wrapped a forelimb around her figure.
“There's a way to find out, for it's another two days' treck to the east entrance and we haven't the food to last the journey.” Sam Rose looked around. He found a pebble lying amidst the rubble. Gripping it in the crook of his hoof, and shot up, jerked his forward body, and tossed the projectile at the equine figure.
The rock flew true, whistled through the air, and struck dead-center in the pony's hide. The skin of the equine promptly fell apart in a cluster of straw and wooden flakes.
Ember Speak murmured. “A dummy!”
“Uhm... Guys?” Rainbow Dash's wings twitched.
Sam Rose looked up at the sky; his brow furrowed. Reaching back to the sheathes of his golden armor, he shouted, “Everypony, spread out!”
Thunder and screams resounded as three sets of iron-hard talons slammed down onto the fractured slabs, followed by breath and flame.