Rainbow Dash trotted through the rocky corridors, her head bowed in a perpetual slump. She took deep breaths as she passed by wooden marketplaces full of pony vendors. The Silvadelians gazed at her and murmured in a hushed tone, but she didn't pay them any mind. Her path was taking her in subterannean circles, and still it wasn't enough to outrace the meandering thoughts in her mind.
Sam Rose's words echoed in her ears, aching with each passing minute. There was no easy way to clear her head, no sky to fly to. Rainbow was trapped in the land that the Silvadelian prince had always sworn to protect. Her only exit would come upon the evening hour she made her exit, and flew straightway to the dragon Matriarch, perhaps even her death.
Upon passing a junction of stone corridors, Rainbow Dash heard a familiar voice wafting out of a tiny chamber. Blinking, she paused and looked past a series of canvas curtains. The infirmary of Silvadel lingered to her left. Slowly, she entered the place, craning her neck to hear the words that had caught her attention.
“Zetta is taking good care of you,” Swirls said. She coughed and regained her breath to continue, “I know that some of the ponies think that unicorn has a screw loose. But I know that he's a true blue genius. Stu had the utmost faith in him too. I'm so glad he's delivering us the key to the dragons' defeat...”
“I just wish he'd let me have a hoof in making the acid bomb!” Lime Tech's voice exclaimed. “I wanna get those dragons back for what they did to you!”
“Now, Limey, what matters is that I'm getting better. The doctors here are amazing. Besides, having you and the rest of the foals around is the best medicine a mare could possibly have...”
Rainbow Dash passed by several hanging sheets and platforms of flickering candles. She approached a corner of the rocky enclosure. Swirls was lying on a cot of bundled brown sheets. Squatting on the edge of the bed was Limey, who was gently nuzzling her hoof and returning her gentle smile. Several foals Limey's age were gathered in a circle before where the injured pony was. A container was lying beside them—a gift—and it was chock full of what appeared to be equine figures carved out of salt crystals.
“I don't care how tough things might get or how scary the dragons are,” Swirls spoke in a calm voice while running a weak hoof through Limey's mane above his goggles. “You must never give up hope. We are strong ponies. We have a wise council and a courageous prince...”
“Don't forget!” Limey beamed, his little tail flicking. “We got a brave pegasus willing to meet up with the Matriarch! Isn't that cool?”
“Hmmm... I'm not sure...” Swirl's eyes darted up towards Rainbow as her lips curved more. “Maybe you should ask her.”
The foals' head spun. They all gasped as the prismatic outsider stepped into that side of the chamber.
“What, do I have the pony pox?” Rainbow Dash mused calmly.
“You'd be in the right place for it,” Swirls said, then coughed. “Hey... I heard about what you said to the Council...”
“Wait until you hear about what I do with the Dragon Matriarch,” Rainbow said with a wing.
“Yeah!” Limey hopped off the bed and smiled up at Rainbow. “Are you gonna smack her in the teeth or what?” Several foals giggled and cheered.
“Er...” Rainbow Dash bit her lip. “That's... not exactly the point of this. You were obviously there, kiddo. You should know that this is all about getting the Matriarch to talk to somepony reasonable. And that reasonable somepony is a Princess of Equestria.”
“You mean a real princess?” a filly exclaimed. “Like with pretty dresses and stuff?”
“More like a total badflank who once spent a millenium as Dictator of the Moon.”
“Er... Never mind.” Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Long story.”
“If only Stu was still around to see things come to this...” Swirls remarked in a wheezing voice. Her eyes briefly watered. “Silvadelians resorting to diplomacy...”
“Hey...” Rainbow Dash leaned in and sat on the edge of her bed. “The whole point of what I'm doing tonight is to find a solution to all this hundred years of craziness that doesn't involve violence. I think Stu would dig the idea of making this kingdom into a world where ponies wouldn't... wouldn't have to suffer like he did...”
Swirls slowly nodded, her eyes wandering towards the floor between her and the foals. “Perhaps it's true. Maybe you can do something so miraculous. I mean, who else could? You're not from around here, after all. You can fly...”
“Really?” Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow. “I thought Ember Speak was the one who could fly.”
The foals in the room giggled.
Swirls smiled weakly. “It hurts to laugh...”
“Then just listen.” Rainbow Dash leaned in. “I don't believe in miracles. I believe in awesome ponies doing awesome things. You and the rest of your friends and family here? They've survived dragons burning up the world above them for over a century. That's a pretty awesome thing, not a miracle. You got to this point by depending on each other and fighting the good fight against evil, scaled morons and the like.”
“But to solve all of this through negotiations?” Swirls gave Rainbow Dash a painful look. “It sounds so... so...”
“Impossible,” Swirls remarked with an exhale.
Lime Tech's ears drooped. The other foals shuffled nervously and gave Rainbow Dash solemn expressions.
Rainbow Dash's eyes were searching the room, searching her mind, finding something. She smiled, casting off the shadows of the last few hours. “Funny thing, that...”
“The impossible,” Rainbow Dash said. “I've made it happen before.”
The foals stirred with curious, gaping expressions.
Swirls' eyes narrowed. “Oh really?”
“Yes. Would you like to hear about it?”
Swirls merely stared at her.
Rainbow Dash gestured towards herself. “It's how I got this cutie mark, after all. I grew up in Cloudsdale, a giant floating city of clouds in the middle of the kingdom of Equestria.”
“A floating city?” Limey remarked.
“You heard me right. A pegasus sky city: powered by rain, cloud vapor, and radicalness!”
All of the foals cooed in amazement.
Rainbow Dash smirked devilishly and faced the group as a whole. “Little pegasi aren't born with the ability to fly. We gotta teach ourselves. So, I went to flight camp. It got boring at times, and I was a bit too cool for all of the classes that they had, but that's another story altogether. Ahem.” She gestured with her hooves as she spoke, “This one day, a bunch of bullies were poking fun at my friend Fluttershy. Fluttershy was a really tiny, dainty filly, and it took her a long time to learn how to fly. This is kind of a normal thing for pegasi, but these bullies didn't care. They just wanted to be cruel to a pony, and they picked her.”
She leaned back and ran a hoof through her mane, her eyes dancing between the candlelight of the infirmary.
“I thought it was dirty cruel, of course,” Rainbow said. “She totally didn't deserve to be treated like crap. So, I stood up for her. I told the bullies to back off. But they weren't about to let a blank flank tell them what to do, no matter how awesome she was.”
The foals giggled. Swirls listened intently, leaning her head aside.
“So, like, I challenged them to a race to protect Fluttershy's honor. I was going up against two really big-headed morons, and I knew it was time to make them eat their words, Rainbow Dash style! The flag waved, and we took off for a lengthy circuit around the southern edge of Cloudsdale. I was totalling smoking them, of course. But one of them got touchy and blew me off course with his wings. He was a few neck-breaking seconds from winning. Now there's not much in this world I hate more than losing. That's true now, and it twas definitely true then. I beat my wings faster than I ever did before. Not only did I soar past him, but I broke a barrier that had never been broken before in this day and age! I produced... the Sonic Rainboom.”
Every foal's eyes went wide.
“What... What's the Sonic Rainboom?!” a filly exclaimed.
“It's like breaking the sonic barrier, only you're flying so fast that you shatter the magical leylines fused to this world and—” Rainbow went cross-eyed in the middle of her explanation. She glanced down at the foals, only to see blank expressions facing her. “Ahem.” She smiled and made a wide circle with her hooves. “Imagine a huge splash of color exploding above you, taking up the entire sky, filling the world above with every piece of the spectrum as far as your eyes could see.”
“Wowwwwwww,” the foals chanted.
“And you made this happen?!” Limey remarked. “All by yourself?”
“They said it was a legend, a myth,” Rainbow Dash said. “An old mare's tail. But I proved them wrong, and I entered the history books.” She turned and glanced at Swirls. “So, as you can see, I've made the impossible happen, and I've lived to tell the tale about it. Things that appear too good to be true are simply that way because they haven't happened yet. And once they do, it only means that the world can get so much better, with newer and awesomer barriers to be broken.”
Swirls took a deep breath, smiling gently. “That's certainly an amazing tale. You must have lived an exciting life, Miss Dash...”
“Heh... Well...” Rainbow Dash gazed down at her hooves, fidgeting. “There's something that I tell myself each morning I see the sun rising ahead of me in my flight.”
“And what's that?”
Rainbow Dash gazed up at her with a calm expression. “That I haven't lived. Not yet. It's a barrier that I'm still soaring towards. I expect it to be really, really loud when I break through it.”
“Hmmm... I wish I had your strength,” Swirls said.
“Hey...” Rainbow Dash planted a hoof on her forelimb. “Don't ask to be downgraded. You and your Silvadelian buddies are waaaaay out of my league. For a while there, I was worried that I couldn't fit in with you guys.”
“And now?” Swirls asked.
Rainbow Dash smiled. “Well, let's just say I still hate to lose.”
“That means you're going show the Matriarch who's boss, right?!” Limey remarked.
Swirls chuckled, coughed, and smiled with a roll of her eyes.
“One thing at a time, kiddo,” Rainbow Dash said. “Now...” Her ruby eyes lit up as she grinned at the small crowd. “Who here wants to know about how I did the impossible Sonic Rainboom... a second time?!”
And they all gasped and cheered for her to continue.