The green spires of several treetrops were lopped off as a managlider skimmed overhead. Two dark shapes flew through the air, fell through the branches, and landed several meters away from the group with a flash of enchanted flame.
Pilate winced. Belle clung to him and flashed the others a look. "They're right on top of us!"
"It's a miracle they don't see us already," Zenith hissed, supporting Phoenix's stumbling weight as he glanced aside. "Captain? Any ideas?"
"I'm working on it," Crimson muttered, his eyes darting across the bomb-swept forest as he panted heavily.
"Well, work on it faster!" Phoenix barked. "We're toast here if we wait any longer!"
"We're toast if we gallop any further along!" Crimson growled. "They know exactly where we have left to go! They're trying to herd us into a dead end!"
"There must be twelve... fifteen... at least eightteen gliders!" Eagle Eye exclaimed, getting an expert headcount of the bogies overhead. "Crimson—Captain, whatever we do, we gotta do it soon!"
"I don't suppose staying in place is in order?" Pilate remarked.
"Judging from those bombs, we'd better not play with that idea." Zenith looked to Crimson again. "Boss?"
"I'm thinking... I'm thinking!"
"This is all our fault!" Bellesmith uttered, trembling. "If we hadn't trotted into Foxtaur, we wouldn't have brought this madness upon you!"
"No time for those kinds of thoughts..."
"The Enforcers who are chasing us are familiar with myself and my beloved," Belle said. She nuzzled Pilate tightly, her eyes close to tears as she stammered above the tumult, "Maybe if we exposed ourselves and talked to them, they'd reason with us and allow you four to leave—"
Everypony looked up.
Pilate's brow furrowed. "Miss Dash...?"
Rainbow was hovering higher and higher to the tree canopy. "I did not haul you guys all the way across Lamemare just for you two to give up the first moment things got dicey!" She frowned as her wings beat the leaf-riddled air on either side of her. "What we need here is a distraction! Those jerks wanna fight with me so bad, what say I give them what they want so the rest of you can get what you want!"
"Rainbow!" Belle exclaimed. "Don't even pretend to—!"
"What?" Rainbow's ruby eyes pierced her gaze from above. "I've outflown dragons! These guys are a piece of cake!"
"You know fully well that you're not invincible!"
"I'm pretty sure I'm better than invincible."
"Look, Belle, I'll be fine." Rainbow Dash's grin broke through her iron glare. "I'm not gonna go ten rounds with them. As soon as I'm up there within sight, and I have those clopjobs on my tail, the rest of you book it and head towards Site Balogna or whatever it is!"
"Captain?" Zenith glanced aside at Crimson. He spoke in a low tone, "What do you think?"
"We'd better split up into two groups!" Eagle Eye hoarsely added, gulping nervously as more bombs went off beyond the nearby thicket. "Just in case!"
"Look, it's not like the decision is yours to make!" Rainbow Dash pointed a hoof down. "I'm gonna give them a slice of what they want, so you'd better use the window of opportunity that's at hoof! Once I've shaken these idiots, I'll make myself invisible then come and meet with you guys due east!"
"Rainbow Dash, it's suicide!" Pilate shouted.
"What makes you think you can lose them once they've seen you?" Belle asked.
"Lemme worry about that on my own."
"I'll be darned if I let my friends bite it again!" Rainbow grunted.
Belle bit her lip. Pilate rested a hoof on her shoulder before she could summon the will to speak.
"Caps?" Rainbow looked at Crimson.
He muscular stallion slowly nodded. "We do appreciate it."
"Heh. You'd better." Rainbow began flapping her agile self towards the blue heavens beyond the canopy. "Now, promise you won't split my friends up or I'll paint your face with your namesake!"
In a clap of vaporous air, she rocketed skyward, taking several branches with her.
"Alright, everypony!" Phoenix hollered, already scampering off with the two Ledomaritans in tow. "Let's go! To the ruins!"
Belle and Pilate stumbled after them, with the chestnut-maned mare casting a forlorn glance towards the sky. Crimson, Zenith, and Eagle eye bounded off in another direction. The petite one of the group paused on a rock cropping, fidgeting as he looked towards the heavens above.
"Right!" Eagle Eye bounded after Crimson's voice.