The Sword Coast

by AdrianVesper

Flaming Wing

Flaming Wing

Twilight stopped, muttering, and lifted her hoof. With a flick of magic, she tossed aside a stone that had dug uncomfortably into her heel. “Four days...” she grumbled.

“We’re getting close,” Applejack said, beside her.

Twilight gazed out at the patchwork of sunlit farmland sprawling around the Coast Road. The rest of the journey had been much the same – farms and villages interspersed with tracts of unclaimed land. “How do you know?” she asked, turning to look at Applejack.

“I’ve been here before,” Applejack said simply. She pointed down the road. It sloped upward into the distance, wide and almost rigidly straight. Ahead, a couple of farmers pulled carts full of goods towards them. “See that ridge up ahead?”

Twilight nodded, noting the spot where the road crested the hill.

“On the far side of that is Rigger’s Cove, and the Bridge of the Gods – and across the bridge, the City of Manehattan,” Applejack said. “We might be there by sundown.”

Twilight stepped forward again, sniffing the air, smelling the hint of salt in the air. “When did you visit Manehattan?”

“A long time ago... a bit after my parents died,” Applejack said wistfully. “I came here to live with my Aunt and Uncle Orange.”

“Why?” Twilight asked. “Wasn’t Granny Smith taking care of you?”

Applejack nodded. “Yeah.” She looked ahead. “I just had to get away... I wanted a different life. I thought I did, anyway.” She kicked a small pebble off the road. “It was tough without my Ma and Pa... I thought the city would be different.”

“And it wasn’t,” Twilight said.

“It wasn’t. It hurt just as much there as anywhere else. The Oranges were... nice... but they didn’t understand, not the way my Granny did. It took me awhile to figure out what I really wanted,” Applejack said. “One morning, I saw a rainbow in the distance, pointing the way back towards Ponyville, and I realized two things.” She pulled off her hat while she walked, and looked at the scale on the brim. “First, I wanted to be just like my Pa, and second, I wanted to kill a Dragon. There was one pony that could help me do those things, and that was my Granny.”

Applejack put her hat back on, staring forlornly at the cobble as it passed by. “Turns out, I’ll never be my Pa.” She turned to Twilight and smiled. “I did kill a Dragon though, thanks to you.”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah... we did... where do we go from there?” she said, staring ahead.

“We’re gonna get this Black Knight, right?” Applejack said with a grin.

Twilight felt a smile lift the corners of her mouth. “Right.” She glanced over her shoulder. Crystal Clear’s group trundled along behind them. She didn’t regret traveling with the scholar, even though her conversations with her were not as enlightening as she had hoped; often, her questions were answered with more questions. She shook her head, not wanting to think about what would have happened to the group of ponies if she’d chosen to travel faster than Crystal Clear.

“So, what do you make of this Crystal Princess business?” Twilight asked. If anypony could give her a level opinion, it was Applejack.

“I don’t rightly know,” Applejack said. “I mean, I’ve heard rumors, but they sound like wishful thinking at best. I guess we won’t know for sure until we get to the city and can see her for ourselves.”

“I think she’s very clever.”

Twilight started at the voice in her other ear. “Rarity, don’t do that!” she shouted irritably.

“Sorry, Twilight. Didn’t mean to startle you,” Rarity said. “A little bit of talent with illusion magic... or maybe she paid for a spell, and voilà – wings,” Rarity continued as if nothing had happened. “Suddenly, you’ve got the populace buzzing and the ear of the nobility. Ingenious.”

“Well, what if they’re real?” Pinkie said.

“Argh!” Twilight groaned. “Both of you!”

“Pssh, not likely,” Rarity said dismissively.

“Well, they could be.” Pinkie sulked as she trotted up beside Applejack from the road behind.

Twilight shook her head. “The gods aren’t coming back, Pinkie, even if we want them to. They’re too busy,” she said bitterly. She still hasn’t answered my letter, Twilight thought. Probably avoiding my questions.

“By busy, you mean dead, right Twilight?” Applejack asked.

“Except for one,” Twilight said.

Applejack shrugged. “Granny always said Celestia had a good reason for not bein’ around.”

Twilight kicked at a pebble. Granny Smith too, huh? she thought. “Yeah,” she said. If Celestia has a good answer, why doesn’t she just tell me? she wondered. Instead, here she was, her father dead, and the power of the Sun nowhere to be found. Why does killing Dragons and fighting Demons come down to us? She glanced at Celestial Fury’s hilt. Why can’t Celestia carry her sword herself?

A shout broke Twilight from her thoughts. “Halt, in the name of the Flaming Wing!” She looked up. Four pegasi in Flaming Wing uniforms descended from above, pressing two captives, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, toward the ground. A fifth Flaming Wing pegasus hovered above, her plume larger than the rest.

Twilight laced her magic around her swords warily as the Flaming Wing squad landed. She watched her captured friends with concern; the two pegasi had flown on ahead to stretch their wings and were supposed to be waiting up the road. Rainbow was disarmed. She had a black eye, and her lip was split from a vicious blow. At least Fluttershy was largely unharmed, but Twilight didn’t see Angel.

“Sorry, Twilight. I tried to make a break for it and warn you, but—” Rainbow said.

One of Rainbow’s captors clubbed her in the back of the head with a hoof. “Shut up!”

“Twilight Sparkle, you and your associates are under arrest. We have you surrounded. If you do not drop your weapons and submit, we will use deadly force,” the commander announced.

Twilight glanced to the sides. To her left, four pegasi emerged from a wheat field. To her right, another four approached in the air, skimming low over freshly tilled dirt. Further off, eight more took to the air from behind a farming cottage. Twenty-one, counting their leader. Her swords hummed to her. A list of choice spells formed in her mind.

“What are the charges?!” Applejack shouted.

“All you need to know is that you’re under arrest,” the commander said. “Submit. I can assure you you will be treated fairly.”

Twenty-one heads... Twilight mused. She could have them as surely as the Sun rose at dawn. She remembered her first nightmare since Star Swirl died, where the Black Knight beheaded the residents of Candlekeep. How many heads will I have when this is over? How deep will my ocean of blood be? she wondered. Her friends were readying their weapons around her, waiting for her to make a decision that would end the standoff.

She looked at the pegasi again. They were on the ground now, landed and arrayed around her, with wings flared and wingblades ready. These weren’t bandits. Brutes, maybe, but not rapists or murderers. There has to be a better way, a better choice, than killing them, she thought.

“We’ll submit,” Twilight said. She slowly drew her swords, and lowered them to the road. She could pick them up in an instant if she changed her mind. Her friends’ weapons clattered to the ground as they followed suit, though Twilight noticed that only Rarity’s bow was on the road; her daggers were nowhere to be found.

“Good choice,” the commander said, hovering above Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. “Now push them over here... especially you unicorns.”

Twilight gritted her teeth, hesitating.

“Your possessions will be returned to you when and if your incarceration ends,” the commander said.

Twilight sent her swords skittering across the cobble towards the pegasi. Her friends kicked their weapons over. Immediately, the Flaming Wing soldiers swarmed in, roughly jostling her and pushing her to the ground. “We’re cooperating, now what are we charged with!” Twilight shouted.

“Murder, two counts, of officers of the law. Resisting arrest, one count. Aiding and abetting a grand theft, one count. You’re also the last ponies to meet with Lord Ruby, and as such you are charged with murder of nobility,” the commander said. “You ponies are going to hang,” she added with a grin.

Twilight felt manacles clasp around her hind legs. A soldier leaned on her neck, forcing her head to the ground. Another rummaged through her packs, searching her. “Wait! Bronze Fury killed the soldiers!” she shouted desperately. She pulled the ring out of her pack with her levitation.


The ring landed on the stone beside her with a soft clink. Vibrations reverberated through her skull, and she groaned in pain. Somepony had hit her in the horn: hard. A soldier picked the ring up and tossed it to the commander. She snatched it out of the air with a hoof. “Ahh, his nose ring.” She smiled. “We’ll see if this makes it to court.” She pocketed the ring. “And, she tried to do magic, make that two counts of resisting arrest.” Her smile shifted to a smirk. “Get a suppressor on that unicorn A.S.A.P!” She ordered.

“You lying pile of manure!” Applejack roared.

The soldier holding her down clamped something heavy around her horn. Immediately, she felt like her mind was buried underneath a pile of blankets – warm and suffocating. She gasped. Darkness crept at the edges of her vision.

The last thing she heard before she lost consciousness was: “Round up the other group! They could have information.”

“Yes, Commander Lightning Dust!”

The Bag of Holding engulfed Twilight Sparkle in her nightmare.

She sucked nothing through her nostrils. She couldn’t breath. It was a slow agony, as she floated in nowhere, her sense of being drifting away. Am I dead? she wondered. She dismissed the thought. She couldn’t be dead and dying at the same time.

There was a glimmer, the mouth of the bag, and with a surge of desperate power, she reached for it.


Twilight flickered back to consciousness. Somepony screamed in her ear. She slumped off the back of the pony carrying her and hit smooth stones. She bit her lip as her face smacked into the rocks and the irony taste of blood filled her mouth. She smelled brine, and waves crashed in the distance. Beyond that, she felt a vast ocean of power, once again open to her.

She opened her eyes. Beside her, a Flaming Wing soldier writhed, a spike of metal lodged in her eye, fluids and blood dripping from it. She was screaming.

“What the hell happened?” somepony shouted.

“Get another suppressor on her!” Lightning Dust ordered.

“Twilight!” Pinkie Pie cried.

A shadow fell over her. Blinking, she looked up, and saw the silhouette of an armored pegasus against the bright blue sky, a cylindrical object in his mouth. Suppressor... not again! she thought, terrified.

She lashed out with her levitation and cast the soldier aside. He yelped, followed by the crunch of armor on stone and a sickening snap. There were two ponies screaming in pain now. She gathered her limbs underneath her, trying to stand. Where are my swords? she wondered.

A pony smashed into her side, and chainmail links pinched her fur. A pair of limbs wrapped around her neck, forcing her down. She yelled and tried to throw her assailants off with a surge of magic, but one struck her in the horn as soon as the glow lit it.

“Stop! Can’t you see that it’s killing her?!” Fluttershy screamed. “She’s just trying to live!”

Something clasped around her horn, and her world went dark again.

A hoof caressed Twilight’s cheek, and she opened her eyes. Her head rested on a rough mattress. A metal cylinder wrapped in a blue aura floated beside her. She looked up and saw a white unicorn standing over her. “Rarity?” she breathed, hoarse.

Rarity nodded. “Quiet now, Twilight,” she whispered, her hoof dropping away. She opened the cylinder, revealing a hinge and a hole just wide enough for a unicorn horn. Abjuration runes were inscribed on the inside of the suppressor. With one of her daggers, Rarity scored a line through the runes, then broke the pin that locked it around a unicorn’s horn.

“It shouldn’t work quite so well anymore. I’m going to need to put this back on you, or else they’ll put another one on. Are you ready?” Rarity said softly.

Twilight swallowed and nodded, closing her eyes. The metal cylinder clasped around her horn, unlocked, but attached, and she felt nothing. She sighed with relief and looked back up at Rarity. “Thank you,” she whispered.

Rarity held a hoof to her lips, glancing to the side. Twilight followed her gaze. Beyond the foot of the low cot she lay on, she saw the metal bars of an open cell door set into the stone wall. Across the hall was a nearly identical cell. In the shadows beyond that cell’s door she thought she glimpsed Fluttershy. Voices echoed from outside.

“Mind if I take the food?” the first, a mare, said.

“Would you? You’re a godsend. My shift was about to end, this is the last tray, and I’d like to stay as far away from that purple unicorn as possible. Did you hear she broke a suppressor? Isn’t that supposed to be impossible?” a second voice, male, answered.

“She did it; I was there. How do you think I got this bandage?” the first speaker said.

Rarity moved to the cell door. She hid beside it and gently swung it shut. Her magic laced around the lock, and it clicked.

“This whole thing is weird... she’s been in a coma since they brought her in. They’re not supposed to react like that,” the second speaker said. “Say... you sure you’re supposed to be on duty? That looks pretty bad...”

“I’m not... I’m gonna take her eye, just in case she makes it,” the mare spitefully said.

“Ah, gotcha... well, take the tray, I didn’t hear nuthin’,” the stallion said. Twilight heard the clop of hooves ascending a stone staircase.

A second set of hooves moved toward her. The mare whistled softly to herself, and keys jingled. As the hoofsteps loomed closer, Twilight closed her eyes and pretended to still be unconscious. The mare stopped, and a tray clacked in the corridor.

A key clacked on metal. “Dammit,” the mare muttered. The keys clinked, then the lock clicked. Twilight opened one eye a slit. The mare swung the door open, a bloodstained bandage covering one of her eyes. Rarity lurked beside the door, her back pressed to the cold stone, her daggers ready.

The mare stepped through the door. “You’re pretty... this is going to be a shame,” she said, eyeing Twilight while she drew a dagger from a sheath at her shoulder. “I’m going to give you a sc—” Rarity’s dagger pierced her neck, right at the base of the skull. She dropped instantly, her last breath whispering out of her mouth. Rarity used her levitation to ease the body quietly to the floor. After pulling her dagger free, Rarity pushed the body under Twilight’s cot with a combination of hooves and magic.

Twilight realized she’d never seen Rarity actually kill another pony before, but the dressmaker did it with apparent ease and precision.

“They shoulda put a suppressor on you too...” Twilight whispered, managing a small smile.

“Oh, they did. First thing I did once they were gone was pry it off,” Rarity grinned. “Now, Twilight, you’ll have to work some wizardry to hide this body, when you’re feeling up to it. You have a few hours before another guard comes down here.” She looked Twilight over. “You’re probably in no condition for casting now, but when you’re recovered, don’t cast an Invisibility spell and try to escape. You need to sit tight while I arrange somewhere safe for us, or we’ll be running through the streets chased by the entire Flaming Wing.”

She stepped towards the open door. “Bide, Twilight... and remember, you’re in a coma. Pinkie and I will be back soon,” Rarity said.

“Rares, are you sure we can’t bring them with us?” Pinkie hissed from the corridor.

“It’ll work best if it’s just us two, Pinkie,” Rarity answered with a hint of remorse. “We’ll be able to slip away without raising an alarm until they find the cells empty.” She closed the cell door behind her and locked it. A moment later, she slid a tray through a gap in the bars, a bowl of gruel and bowl of water on it. “Don’t eat this,” Rarity said.

“Ya’ll go, you’re the sneakiest,” Applejack said from an out of sight cell.

“Get us out soon!” Rainbow said, her intense whisper carrying down the corridor.

Twilight lurched off of the cot, manacles around her hooves clanking. She made her way to the cell door to get a look outside.

“Remember, everypony, we’re selfish criminals that left you behind,” Rarity said. And with that, she was gone, trotting silently off down the corridor.

Pinkie quietly stepped down the corridor. She paused in front of Twilight’s door and slipped a hoof between the bars. “I’ll be right back, Twilight, Pinkie promise.”

Twilight smiled, meeting Pinkie’s hoof with her own. “I’ll see you soon, Pinkie.”

Then, Pinkie was gone too.

Twilight sighed, settling back onto her haunches. She sniffed the gruel, a featureless white paste, by the door, and her stomach turned. Even if she could eat while she was supposed to be comatose, she wouldn’t want that. Before her eyes, a cockroach skittered across the floor and climbed up the edge of the bowl of gruel. The water was tempting though.

“You okay, Twilight?” Fluttershy said softly from across the hall, her voice filled with concern.

“I’ll live,” Twilight said. She lifted up her forehooves, awkward with them chained together, and rubbed one of her eyes. She felt drained; Rarity was right, she was in no shape to work magic. She’d need at least a couple hours of sleep before she could even consider casting spells.

“Thirsty? Go ahead and drink. I can refill the water,” Fluttershy said.

Twilight nodded. “Thanks,” she said, leaning down to lap at the water. As soon as it touched her mouth, she sucked it down greedily until the bowl was empty, then licked her swollen bottom lip. When the bowl was empty, Fluttershy’s eyes glowed, pulling water out of the air to refill the bowl.

“I can’t believe they did that to you,” Fluttershy said.

Twilight shrugged, turning. She glanced at the body under the bed. “They were scared...”

“So were you,” Fluttershy said.

“We tried to stop them,” Rainbow said from a cell down the corridor. “But, we weren’t in much of a position to... you looked bad, Twilight.”

Something caught Twilight’s eye, and she looked up. She saw the orange glow of sunset over the tops of buildings out a narrow grate set high in the wall of her cell. Mercy... all it got us was stuck in here, she thought. “I’m sorry, everypony... we could have fought.”

“I think we did the right thing,” Fluttershy said confidently.

“If we’d fought, then what?” Applejack asked. “How many Flaming Wing ponies would we have to kill? Would they have brought us down eventually? You made the right call, Twilight. We just need to rely on Rarity to get us out of this.”

Twilight blinked, staring at the grate. She was certain she’d seen a glimmer of green. A moment later, Spike appeared next to her. He wrapped his arms around her foreleg, tears in his eyes. “Twilight! You’re alive!”

Twilight nuzzled him. “You were gone, and then you flickered back for a second, and then you were gone again... nothing,” Spike said, sniffling.

“I made it,” Twilight said calmly. “It’s good to see you, but if you want to stay here, you need to be sure to leave if guards come. It’d only cause problems if they saw you.”

Spike nodded. “I won’t let them see me,” he said. He looked under the bed, and his eyes widened. “Is that a body?”

“Yes. I’ll deal with it later,” Twilight said. She looked up at the grate again, a plan forming in her mind.

Twilight hefted the weight of corpse on her back, scrunching up her nose at the smell. She focused on a point beyond the grate, outside. It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump, she told herself. She closed her eyes, and with a spell, ripped a hole in reality.


She opened her eyes. Above her, a dome of stars glittered. Instinctively, she flailed at air. She was falling. Her hooves struck mud, and she caught herself, but the corpse slumped off her back and landed with a wet plop.

It worked! she thought with glee, looking around. She stood in the middle of a muddy alley, a towering fortress wall on one side, and a row of townhouses on the other. Nearby, at the base of the wall, she could see the grate that let air into her prison cell. She silently thanked the mason who put it there; without it, she wouldn’t have been able to see where she was teleporting, and the Dimension Door spell wouldn’t have worked.

She picked up the muddy body in her levitation. The further I get this away from the prison, the better, She thought. She wanted it to look like an alley robbery gone wrong. The mare wasn’t supposed to be on duty, after all.

She crept down the alley a short distance, her chains clinking, until she reached a gap between the buildings. A deserted, debris filled corridor barely a pony wide cut between the structures. She cautiously slipped down it, the body behind her. When she reached the end, she checked the street beyond. It was dark and empty, poorly lit by an oil lamp at an intersection half a block away. In the other direction, she heard water sloshing. She hesitated a moment, then flitted down the street as fast as she could with her legs chained together, keeping close to the buildings. The clop of her hooves on the cobblestone was deafening in the silence.

She passed by first-story shops, a sign in window of the building by the passage catching her eye; ’Bakery,’ it read. Ahead, the street terminated at a narrow channel, the dark, choppy water flashing in the sparse light. She paused at the corner where the street met a path that ran alongside the channel and looked both ways. Beneath a footbridge, flames glowed where two vagrants hunkered on the narrow strip of land next to the channel, warming themselves. They were a good distance away, so Twilight stepped forward and slipped the body into the water.

That’ll do, she thought.

She took the opportunity to relieve herself in the gutter running alongside the street rather than use the meager bucket provided in her cell, hoping that the guards wouldn’t look too close if they found her bed unsoiled. On the way back, she paused in front of the bakery and peered through the windowpane. Beyond, loaves sat on a shelf marked ’yesterday’. Her mouth watered.

She pried a loose cobblestone free and floated it beside her while she eyed the loaves. Stealing is supposed to be wrong... she thought. Swallowing her saliva, she drove the rock through the window, and it shattered with a crash. There is no black and white, only grey, she told herself.

After brushing aside shards of glass, she carefully clambered through the broken window. She found a basket and filled it with bread from the shelf. With a pang of guilt, she climbed back out the window, basket in her mouth.

“Oi! What’re you doing?” someone shouted from down the street.

Twilight’s eyes widened when she saw a pegasus in a Flaming Wing uniform beneath the streetlamp half a block away, looking in her direction. Panicking, she slipped between the buildings, moving as fast as she could, and reached the fortress wall. He can’t see the shackles in the dark, she told herself.

“Dammit!” the guard shouted in annoyance from the passage, probably moments behind her. “Why do they always have to run?”

Twilight spotted the grate. One more time, she thought, hurriedly casting her second prepared Dimension Door. In the blink of an eye, before the soldier reached the alley, she was back in her cell.

Agitated cursing filtered in through the grate when her pursuer found the alley empty.

Twilight sat near the door to her cell, chewing on half a loaf of bread. She’d distributed the food to her friends using her levitation. Nopony mentioned the fact that it was stolen, not even Applejack. She rubbed at her ankles. The manacles had scraped her skin when she ran. Already, her coat was starting to chafe away, leaving bands of sparse fur where the metal rested.

“I can fix that... after we get out,” Fluttershy said.

“Thanks,” Twilight said, looking up. Fluttershy nibbled her bread close to the door of her cell. Twilight glanced at Spike resting on the cot. “Say, Fluttershy, where’s Angel?”

“I didn’t want him to fight the Flaming Wing ponies so I sent him away,” she said. “He’s fine... he’ll find me again,” she added with certainty. “He always does.”

Twilight nodded. “I’m sure he will,” she said.

“Sun’ll be up soon,” Applejack said. “Guards are bound to check on us come morning. Remember everypony, we need to act like we hate the two ponies that escaped without us.”

“Except for you, Twilight. You just have to pretend to sleep,” Rainbow said, joking half-heartedly.

Twilight stepped over to the cot. “Yeah...” She nuzzled Spike, and the fey dragon opened his eyes and looked blearily at her. “Time for you to go Spike. See you soon,” Twilight said.

Spike nodded. “Bye.” He vanished.

Twilight checked to make sure the broken suppressor was fixed to her horn, then climbed onto the cot and tried to get comfortable.

Trying to keep completely still turned out to be more taxing than she could have imagined. The mattress made her skin itch, but she couldn’t scratch it. She longed to shift and ease the growing pressure in her joints. A roach skittered across her body, and she had to suppress the desire to brush it off.

The discovery of two empty cells had awoken a flurry of activity, and guards had been in the corridor outside her cell since. She wasn’t certain how long it had been, most likely less than an hour. She hoped things would die down soon; when they did, she’d be able to move again. Almost the entire time, Fluttershy had been muttering “they left us behind” over and over. It almost hurt to hear it; acting turned out to be among Fluttershy’s talents.

Two guards chatted outside the door of her cell.

“She’s still out cold huh?” the first asked.

“Yeah, it’s downright odd that she passed out with the suppressor on...” the second said.

“Shouldn’t we... y’know, take it off?” the first suggested.

“Are you crazy?! You know she broke Spectrum’s wing just by tossing him, right?”

“Most unicorns aren’t any harder to deal with than anypony else...” the first grumbled. “Now one’s dying, and the other escaped.”

A voice of authority and order cut down the corridor like a knife. “Atten-shun!”

The guard’s hooves clicked together as they went rigid, and Twilight opened her eyes slightly. They faced the corridor, heads high, eyes presumably focused on the far wall.

“Report!” a voice she recognized as Lightning Dust ordered.

“Two prisoners escaped, Commander,” a guard Twilight couldn’t see answered.

“I can see that, Captain Bailiff,” Lightning Dust said, exasperated. She approached Twilight’s cell door. “You two! What happened here?”

Twilight closed her eyes as Lightning Dust addressed the guards, favoring caution over risking getting caught peeking. One of them yelped.

“Um, Commander, we found the unidentified white unicorn’s suppressor pried loose on the floor of her cell. We suspect she used her magic to unlock her cell and free herself and the unidentified pink earth pony. Two guards were found bound and gagged in a supply room. They claimed to have been attacked by at least five ponies,” the other said.

“How did the escapees get out?” Lightning Dust growled.

The guard swallowed audibly. “We are not certain where their exit point was, Commander. All the windows were barred and all the doors were locked this morning.”

“Bailiff, pay cut for everypony stationed here last night!” Lightning Dust snapped. “Did they recover their equipment?” she asked.

“Negative. Evidence vault remains secure, Commander,” Bailiff said.

“And search parties have been organized?” Lightning Dust said.

“Of course, Commander,” Bailiff said. “Though, it’s been so long since they escaped that they could be anywhere by now. The search parties are unlikely to find them.”

“Organize more. Double shifts. Let them work back their pay,” Lightning Dust ordered.

“Yes Ma’am,” Bailiff said. “Am I dismissed?”

“No, but everypony else here is,” Lightning Dust said.

Twilight heard the two guards by her cell scramble for the exit, trotting as rapidly as they could without it being a full-on gallop.

After they were gone, Lightning Dust said, “Captain, can you explain to me why six prisoners who are familiar with each other were incarcerated in the same cell block?”

“You ordered that they be placed in secure, single cells, Commander. These are the most secure cells we have available,” Bailiff said calmly.

Lightning Dust sighed. “Yeah, I remember now... see if we can split them up, I’d rather not have a repeat incident. You and I both know what’s at stake here. The reports say six... Oh, and Captain, if you can’t find them, at least bring me ponies that look like them.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Bailiff said.

“You’re splitting us up, eh Lightning? Sweet,” Rainbow Dash said, her tone a mixture of excitement and familiarity. “I couldn’t take another second with these ponies.”

What’s she doing? Twilight wondered.

“Ah, Dash...” Lightning Dust said. Twilight heard Lightning Dust trot down the corridor. She stopped, probably in front of Rainbow Dash’s cell. “You’re telling me you’d like to be separated from these ponies?”

“You heard me. Between ‘mopey’, ‘rigid’, and ‘sleeping beauty’, I’d much rather spend my last days alone, or maybe near somepony I didn’t hate,” Rainbow said.

“Hey!” Applejack protested.

“I seem to remember you showing extreme loyalty towards Twilight Sparkle when we brought you in,” Lightning Dust said.

“She helped me out, I tried to help her out. You know how I roll, Lightning. That debt’s been paid, and now I want to be as far away from her as possible,” Rainbow said. “So, thanks.”

“Even your little fillyfriend Fluttershy?” Lightning said. Twilight could hear the smirk in her tone.

“That one isn’t on me, Fluttershy hates me now, don’t you Fluttershy?” Rainbow said.

“With every fibre of my being, Rainbow,” Fluttershy said calmly.

“There, see? You couldn’t be doing me a bigger favor, Lightning. I’d owe you one, but I’m gonna hang, so...” Rainbow said.

“You know what, Bailiff? Let’s leave them here,” Lightning Dust said.

“Yes Commander,” Bailiff said.

Lightning strode past Twilight’s cell, a second set of hooffalls, the Captain’s, beside her.

“What’s wrong with you!” Rainbow Dash yelled. “Don’t do this to me! Don’t leave me with these ponies!”

“Thanks for the wingblades, Dash,” Lightning Dust said, ascending the stairs.

Rainbow yelled with unbridled fury, her voice amplified by the confined space. A moment later, when Lightning Dust was out of earshot, she burst out laughing. “I can’t believe she fell for that! You were perfect, Fluttershy!”

Twilight stretched luxuriously, finally free to move.

“Um... thanks,” Fluttershy said. “That was really clever, Dash.”

“I can’t believe you pulled that off,” Applejack chuckled dryly. “Hey, Twilight, you okay in there?” she called, raising her voice slightly.

“M’fine,” Twilight answered, standing up and rolling the kinks out of her neck. “Did you know the Commander, Rainbow?”

“Yeah, acquaintances. We met at a competition, temple training stuff. She hates my guts. I think I might have wrecked her house or something,” Rainbow explained.

“She seems awfully young to be in charge,” Applejack said.

“She always did whatever it took to get ahead,” Rainbow said. “She probably stepped on some backs getting this command.”

Twilight sighed, rubbing her brow. “Well, I’ll bet whatever she was talking about being at stake has something to do with the Iron Circle.” She took off the suppressor; it was starting to irritate the skin at the base of her horn.

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Applejack said. “After bounty hunters failed, I’d try something different too. It seems like they want to get all six of us though.”

Twilight sat down and scratched at her flank with a hoof, glad to be free of the mattress. “Yeah... What was that bit about the wingblades, Rainbow?”

Rainbow shrugged. “No idea. I don’t think we’ll find them with the rest of our stuff; she was wearing them.”

“Ah...” Twilight said. She wondered if Spike could tell it was all clear. Almost as soon as the thought left her mind, he appeared next to her.

“Hey, Twilight,” he said, nodding in greeting.

“Spike, could you get me a book on pegasus law please?” Twilight asked.

“Little bit of light reading to pass the time?” Spike grinned. “Sure thing.”

Twilight lost track of time as she flipped through the pages of three books, cross referencing passages of interest. She had to hide the books and pretend to be unconscious once when a guard came bearing trays of gruel. There were only three trays; they didn’t even bother to feed her anymore. After the guard left, she had to borrow Fluttershy’s bowl to get a drink.

After rechecking a description of an ancient pair of wingblades, Twilight went to her cell door and called softly down the corridor, “Rainbow?”

It took a moment, but Rainbow Dash wearily responded, “Yeah?”

“Did I wake you up?” Twilight asked.

“Don’t worry about it. What’d you need?” Rainbow said, shifting in her cell. Her muzzle appeared at her cell door, the poor angle shrouding most of her face.

“Apparently, your wingblades belonged to Commander Hurricane,” Twilight said matter-of-factly.

“What?” Rainbow said, surprised.

“I guess you know who Commander Hurricane is then?” Twilight said.

“Yep.” Rainbow said. “Big ol’ pegasus hero from a long time ago. Beat the unicorns back in the tribal days. I knew the wingblades were important, but are you sure they belonged to her?”

“I’m as certain as I can be,” Twilight said. “Do you know what that means by Cloudsdale law?”

Rainbow nodded. “Possession by honor.”

“Right,” Twilight said. “Since Lightning Dust caught you, and you stole them, they’re hers by right, along with the status that comes with them... if she kills you. I guess execution counts.”

Applejack snorted. “She probably figures she’s got you in the bag, so she’s prancing around with them already. Any trial we do get is gonna be a sham.”

Twilight sighed and stepped away from the door. She slumped in a corner beside the door; she kept off the itchy mattress as much as possible. “Rarity and Pinkie had better come back soon.”

“You got that right,” Applejack said.

Twilight glanced around the room. The four walls closed in on her. It was a vice – a cage, and she had a mission. If they aren’t back by tomorrow, I’m getting us out of here, she decided, hoping she wouldn’t need to. She doubted she could get them all out without raising an alarm. They would have to fight their way through the streets of Manehattan, instead of slipping quietly into the night like Rarity and Pinkie, but she couldn’t stay here.

She looked up at the glimmer of sunlight beyond the grate. Where are you now? she wondered. “She still hasn’t answered, huh?” Twilight said to Spike, quietly enough that she doubted her voice would carry beyond her cell.

Spike stretched on the floor. “She gets busy sometimes.”

“What does she do?” Twilight asked, her frustration creeping into her tone.

“I dunno, Twilight. A Solar told me once that they play games with a madman. Solars are supposed to fight wars, not play games, but she seemed to think it was important,” Spike said.

Twilight sighed, resting her head back against the hard stone wall. “Tell me about the Celestial Plane, Spike. What’s it like up there?”

“Well, I end up stuck in the Library most of the time, but it’s bright, and ordered. Everything works with precision, and all of the celestial creatures do their duties to perfection,” Spike said. “There are golden waterfalls, and fountains of pure light. The best part is, occasionally, you get to see her.”

Twilight closed her eyes as Spike launched into a description of the Goddess. She let her mind drift away, beyond the bars of her cell, imagining herself beneath one of Celestia’s radiant wings. She couldn’t help picturing a life up there, free from pain and suffering. A life where Star Swirl was still alive, and her birth parents were still there to care about her. A life where she didn’t have to strive to survive every day, and she didn’t have to carry the weight of death on her shoulders.

”The closer you get to the Sun, the more likely you are to burn,” a faraway voice whispered in her mind. ”You were made to kill.”

Twilight ignored the whisper, preferring her fantasy.