"She's Searonese," Crimson grunted.
Rainbow Dash looked up from where Bellesmith was squatting beside her, applying a bandage to the gash in her side. "Is that supposed to excuse everything?"
"Excuse it, no," the head mercenary said with a sigh as he strolled across the clearing to glare down at the bound, armor-stripped figure of Roarke. The brown coated mare's body glittered with strategically placed metal plugs located all across her limbs and spine. Helpless to do anything but lie to the side of the forested ruins, she glared up at Crimson with dull lenses as the stallion further said, "But it certainly explains a lot. If the Council of Ledo wants you and your friends this badly, a sizeable bounty has undoubtedly been announced to the public. Searonese metal mares are attracted to such things like moths to a flame."
"I'm still totally in the dark," Rainbow Dash muttered, wincing slightly from Belle's ministrations. "Just who are these Searonese when they're at home?"
"They're a bunch of gearheaded, stuck-up wastes of spit," Phoenix grumabled, standing watch besides Roarke. "They do nothing but hunt, kill, pillage, and enslave."
"And just what worthwhile things have you done with your life, breeder?" Roarke hissed up at the mercenary.
"Shut your rusted trap!" Phoenix kicked her in the ribs.
"Hey!" Rainbow jumped up, almost knocking Belle off her hooves. "The fight's over! No need to give her anything more to ache over."
"What, are you two sisters all of the sudden?!" Phoenix scowled. "She tied us up like butchered meat!"
"But did she kick the crap out of you when you were disarmed and helpless?!" Rainbow frowned. "Beating another pony within an inch of their life is nasty enough as it is, but being mean to someone who can't fight back is totally uncool!"
"Seriously, Captain!" Phoenix gawked at Crimson. "You gonna stand for this?! She should have killed this freak when she had the chance!"
"I would like to see you try it yourself," Roarke said with a bruised grin.
"Don't tempt me—!" Phoenix barked.
"Stand down!" Crimson grumbled. He exhaled heavily, running a hoof over his face. "Just... enough bickering. Today's been hectic enough as it is. I think we're all lucky to be standing together instead of in the cargo hold of a metal manaship."
"Manaship?" Belle remarked out loud. "You mean she pilots one?"
"They all do," Zenith said in a dull tone from the sidelines.
"I'm still a bit lost on who 'they' are," Rainbow Dash remarked.
"Searo is a country to the far south, just east of Franzington across the Sapphire Ravine," Pilate said, causing everypony to glance over at him. The zebra tilted his striped head in Rainbow's direction and spoke. "It broke off from the Confederacy centuries ago. There was a schism in the matriarchy. Two monarchs sought the crown: Queen Belten and Queen Searo. Searo had an uniquely ambitious vision of a society run by mares that pursued industrial perfection. The equines who supported her—predominantly earth ponies—broke free from the rest of the continental kingdom to give her support. Thus began Searomare, while the rest of the Confederacy became Beltenmare—which led to the dynasty that has given us Queen Ledo today."
"Your paltry and banal knowledge of history is an insult to the power of Searo!" Roarke spat.
Pilate sighed and smiled tiredly. "Did I mention that all ponies in the kingdom hold an undying belief in Searo being the embodiment of military power and matriarchal entitlement?"
"Forgive me if I think that sounds almost awesome," Rainbow Dash said.
"Rainbow!" Belle hissed.
Rainbow shrugged. "So sue me!" she half chuckled.
Phoenix bitterly added, "What's not so awesome about is that they strip all the stallions in their country of all rights, reducing them to slave laborers... among other things."
"Neither of which you would qualify for," Roarke gleefully hissed.
"Why you—" Phoenix made to kick her again, only for Crimson to steady him.
"So, like, if they're such a bunch of annoying ponies, why doesn't Ledomare invade them or something?" Rainbow Dash asked. "It sounds like a small kingdom."
"Simple," Zenith droned. "Searo freaks the crap out of the Confederacy."
"I don't blame them," said Eagle Eye. He sat in the corner of the clearing, desperately attempting to wipe his battle-worn shield clean of scorch marks. "A culture full of bloodthirsty mares who turn their bodies into industrial war machines? Pffft... The Council of Ledo finds them useful for dirty mercenary jobs and assassinations. You have no idea just how many times Searo and Franzington have almost come to blows over it all."
"Just you wait," Roarke growled, her bound body writhing. "One day, the glory of Searo will burst down the bulwarks of your putrid little nation-state. We will reduce your farmlands to ashes, you spineless breeder!"
Eagle Eye glared daggers at her. "I am not a breeder!"
Crimson spoke over Roarke's chuckling voice, "It begs the question. Did the Council of Ledo send her to apprehend Rainbow Dash?"
"I doubt the psycho pony's gonna tell us herself," Phoenix grunted.
"It makes no sense," Zenith thought out loud, rotating his polearm in the crook of a hoof. "She's the reason that Rainbow Dash made it away from the Steel Wing to begin with."
Eagle Eye flashed him a double-take. "She is?"
Zenith shrugged. "Isn't it obvious?"
Rainbow Dash sighed and ran a hoof through her prismatic bangs. "It's all a dizzy blur, but I'm pretty sure that it was her ship that came in and provided a smoke screen for the managliders to lose track of me."
"The metal manaship, right?" Belle remarked.
"It would make sense," Pilate said. "Searonese metal mares have many means of self-propulsion, but their manapacks can't help them over long distances. She would likely have arrived in an airship of sorts."
"Ugh!" Phoenix groaned. "If it wasn't enough that the Ledomaritans are on our flanks! We gotta contend with metal mares too?! What if there are more of them?"
Roarke simply chuckled and wheezed.
Belle glanced down at her, then at the other ponies. "She... seemed particularly interested in Rainbow Dash."
"Yeah, you think?" Zenith glanced over with a lethargic expression. "Metal mares like her live for the fight."
Rainbow Dash fidgeted, gazing at the bound pony's twitching body. "Well, I gave her one, alright..."
"Then what are we to do?!" Phoenix barked. "If this pegasus' name is that friggin' popular, who's to know how many more are out to get her!"
"Phoenix..." Crimson began.
"We can't stay in one place! We have to move—"
"Phoenix!" Crimson stomped his muscular limbs. "You're forgetting one thing!"
"The ship, ya dumbflank," Zenith grumbled, glaring. "If she's here, her ship has gotta be as well... and metal mares always fly alone."
Phoenix blinked, his mustached mouth hung open.
Eagle Eye stared curiously among the other ponies. Gulping, he murmured towards the pegasus, "Rainbow? You recall where... y'know...?"
"As a matter of fact..." She stood up, dusted herself off, and smirked devilishly. "Who's for a hike through the woods?" her voice cracked.