I shot up with a gasp. I was alive; I was in one piece. There was still a horrible weight around my neck. I flung two hooves to my throat and felt the pendant. My vision dashed down, and I saw a pair of ruby eyes being reflected by a golden finish.
"We hath noticed a disturbing pattern."
I jolted. Turning around, I looked across the edge of a cliff and saw Princess Luna sitting beside me. It was early morning; the wind was in her cosmic mane. Behind her, there stretched rows upon rows of rocky mountaintops. There was no civilization; we were someplace remote.
"Every time a favor hath been done for thee, thou shattereth its value by attempting to perform an even more dramatic favor in return." Her wings flexed in the golden light as her midnight eyes narrowed on me. "Selfishness and selflessness art indeed polar opposites, but we hath lived enough millennia to see both qualities become one within thee."
I winced. Running a hoof through my hair, I muttered in a cracking voice, "Is it still standing? Ponyville, that is?"
"Thanks to the masterful sorcery of our sister and the swift speed through which we relocated thee, that village remaineth in one piece. It would appear as though the essence of Discord within thy body is not only a danger to thyself, but it poseth a threat to the very stability of the rift our sister is endeavoring so desperately to maintain."
"I seriously, seriously didn't even think about that," I said, gazing down at the deep ravine below us. "I just... nnngh... I dunno what I wanted—"
"Thou hadst the intention of allowing thy pendant, the one remaining piece of the Elements of Harmony, to act as a buffer through which our sister's task could be either simplified or completed early. Twas a noble concept, but not a very smoothe undertaking."
"Tell me about it." After a deep breath, I smiled nervously in her direction. "I must say, Your Highness, in spite of my little tantrum, you're treating me with a great deal of respect."
Luna gently nodded. "We understandeth the motivations that brought you to such a melodramatic point, and we forgive thee for thy shortcomings." Her eyes blinked. "Besides, it would be very uncouth for a Princess such as ourselves to call thee a 'stupid bucking idiot.'"
I winced heavily. "Yeah... g-good thing you are not uncouth."
A long, hard sigh escaped my lips. I ran two hooves over my aching brow. "So lemme get this straight. I can't go anywhere near the rift, because the rift—as it turns out—could go kablooey thanks to the chaos energy that's inside of me...?"
"That is an affirmative."
"And on top of that, being closer to my home village drains the life out of me faster..."
'But it doesn't really matter because in a matter of months, I'm gonna be dead anyways?"
"We art afraid so, Rainbow Dash."
"Then seriously, Princess, what's the friggin' point of keeping this darn thing around my neck?!" I swatted the pendant so it spun around my chin and frowned at her. "Time's the one winning here; not me!"
"We may yet find a cure for thee, Rainbow Dash. We have the finest sorcerors of Equestria working around the clock—"
"Do you seriously, for one second, believe that anypony has a hope of fixing me?" I asked in a low tone.
Luna held back her tongue. Her eyes fell to the rocky cliff beneath us.
I sighed, slumping down on folded limbs. "If Twilight was still around—now there is a master sorceress who could have figured a way out of this jam."
"We know that it may seem bleak, Rainbow Dash, but thou must not give up hope—"
"Where are we?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"This place!" I exclaimed, waving my hooves towards the craggy vista and the misty mountains beyond. "I've flown pretty much all over Equestria in my life; I've never seen these cliffs."
"That is because we art located on the eastern edge of the Canterlot Mountains."
I did a double take. "East of the mountains? That's... that's almost outside of Equestria's Borders!"
"Most certainly. Thou art correct."
"What the hay for?! Do I—like—have a death aura around me now too?"
"Not quite, Rainbow Dash..."
"We hath learned that we had completely underestimated the impact thy chaotic essence hath been having on the rift. As soon as we brought thee to Canterlot for safe-keeping, pegasus messengers from Ponyville told us that there was a noticeable difference in the anomaly. The disruptive turbulence had lessened. So, while thou were unconscious, we took thee even further—beyond the very mountains of our capital. As we standeth here, it turns out that the rift is the calmest it's ever been since our beloved sister began guarding it."
"So..." I looked at her. I gulped dryly. "So I'm like a poison? And all of Equestria is at risk so long as I'm staying here?"
Luna said nothing.
My nostrils flared and I looked down at the rocky cliff. "All of my friends are dead, and I can't even hang out with and take care of everypony's who's left..."
"There is still thy place of birth, Rainbow Dash," Luna said. "By our estimation, Cloudsdale is distant enough from Ponyville for you not to serve as a danger to the rift if you wouldst desire to move in there—"
"Thou could stay in the loving care of thy family—"
"Luna, you just don't get it, do you?!" I exclaimed, sneering. "There is nothing left! Nothing!"
She raised an eyebrow, staring at me with a neutral expression.
I groaned and ran a hoof over my head. "I... I never told many ponies about this, not even my friends. I didn't think it was a big deal at the time. But, I guess, having friends around made it so that it wasn't a big deal." Gulping a lump down my throat, I sniffled and gazed off towards the misty horizon. "My mom died over a decade ago. I never really knew my dad. I don't have any extended family to hang out with because—well—there are none. Cloudsdale is just a bunch of white mists with several cool pegasi living inside, but I never made friends with them! If anything, I saw them all as ponies I had to prove I was better than. So, when I was instructed by the Cloudsdale Commission to do weather flying in Ponyville, I took the job up in an instant. I wasn't one to back down from a challenge. Besides, I was... kind of kicked out of many social cl-clubs while I went through flight camp. I just didn't blend in with other ponies. I wanted so badly to show that I was better than the rest of them, that I could do stuff on my own. And then I met Twilight and the rest and... well... I-I guess a lot of that stubborn pride flew out the window." With a groan, I closed my eyes. "Now that window is shattered, and there's no climbing back through it again."
Luna slowly nodded. "We did not know of this..."
"It wasn't your place to know, Princess," I murmured. "Only mine." Brushing a hoof along the dusty cliff face, I grumbled, "There is no life for me in Cloudsdale, even if it is just a few months of living. I don't know why I was so desperate to 'save the city' after Discord gave me the zap."
"A wise pegasus once said 'There is always somepony to be loyal too.'"
I turned and squinted at her. After a blinked, I smirked bitterly. "Isn't it also uncouth for a Princess to eavesdrop?"
"Perhaps," she said. "But wouldst thou rule out the possibility of living a life in such a place?"
"You and I both know this is no longer about living," I said. "Guess existence is really just all about dying in slow motion." I gazed off into the mists once again. "Only I've got a ticket to the finish line sooner than the rest."
"We shall find thee a solution, Rainbow Dash," Luna said. "Thou must not give into despondency."
"I dunno about despondency," I grunted. "But I know a thing or two about wind."
"We beg thy pardon?"
"I'm sorry, Luna." I shook my head, groaning. "But I can't think right now. Not like this, not cooped up on the side of a cruddy mountain. I gotta..." I gazed upon the clouds, feeling my wings twitch. "I gotta fly. I do my best thinking when I'm flying." I gulped. "And my b-best feeling."
Luna quietly nodded. "If it would improve thy spirits, then please feel free to do so."
"I dunno what it's gonna improve," I said, extended my feathers, and took wing. I muttered against the blistery, foggy wind, "That's the whole point!"
And I lost myself.