Chapter 10 Define: Elysium
Twilight and Rainbow left the river behind, heading deeper into the cave. Eventually they finally reached the literal gate to Hades. It was a little underwhelming, a simple iron gate that looked like it would barely hold up in a small wind. While the gate may have been shut, it did not appear to be locked in any noticeable way. Rainbow looked at Twilight with a surprised expression on her face.
“You've gotta be kidding me! This is the gate to Hades? This is a joke, right?”
Twilight thought the indignation on Dash’s face was somewhat cute. “Well, what did you expect? Some big red gate with fire flowing off it?”
“Maybe… I don't know; just not this, it feels kind of like a letdown.” Rainbow poked at the gate with her hooves. The entire thing swayed over, ready to collapse.
“Rainbow, stop playing with the gate. Let’s just teleport over.” Twilight somehow doubted that the gate served any real purpose; however, she did not want to accidently cause any more damage. Enough of that has already occurred for one lifetime.
Rainbow huffed at the gate then walked back to Twilight as she finished casting her teleportation spell.
The two friends disappeared in a flash of purple energy and when they reappeared, they were anywhere but on the other side of the gate. The area they were in was pitch black.
“Uh Twilight, where are we?”
“Someplace not good; someplace we definitely shouldn't be.”
“How did we get here?”
“I think that’s my fault. Teleportation has become second nature to me over the years, so when I put the normal amount of energy I use into it, I forgot to adjust for the power differential with my new abilities. I kind of... supercharged it.” Twilight said with a guilty tone in her voice. She needed time to figure out her new powers. Sadly, time was the one thing she did not have.
Twilight’s eyes were darting back and forth, due to the fact that several creatures were passing around the two, big black dogs that seemed to radiate hatred of them.
“Twi, a little light if you don’t mind. “
“Sorry,” Twilight was a little distracted, so she forgot that Rainbow could not see in the dark. Adding light to the situation did not lighten Twilight mood, as the hounds were now plainly visible.
“What are those?” Rainbow asked, clearly shaking a little at the monstrosities she saw that were in the room with them.
“Hellhounds, and they have us surrounded. You asked something about guards earlier, Rainbow?”
“Not funny, Twilight.”
Seven hellhounds were circling the pair with more arriving every minute; their usual prey was the lost and the damned souls. The ones that got a little too uppity for their own good. As such, an undead pony and an immortal were a little confusing to the pack.
“Don’t hurt them, Rainbow. These are the guards in Hades, they're just doing their jobs.”
Rainbow looked at Twilight with an ‘are you bucking serious’ face before replying, “Yeah I’ll be sure not to hurt them. Can you tell them to do likewise?”
The pack attacked Rainbow, she avoided the first one. Her natural speed and agility served her well. The hellhounds were fast; when they moved in, they left a fire trail in their wake, but her name was not Dash for nothing. The pack quickly adapted; one at time was not getting the job done. A second hellhound joined in, but it was not until the third started to help that Rainbow received her first scar. A slash down her flank alerted Rainbow that this was not a winning strategy. Only Twilight could beat these things, but if they had not won yet, had something happened to her? A glance over confirmed her fears. Twilight was holding back, and losing because of it. “TWILIGHT!” Rainbow yelled as she jumped in the way of a hellhound leaping for the back of Twilight’s neck.
When the pack attacked Twilight, she immediately responded with a magical blast of her own. She reasoned that the bigger threat she made herself into the less Dash would have to deal with; however, she did not want to hurt any of them. Blasting the first two with as little energy she could manage, she still felt a little sick at the ‘thud’ they made when they impacted the back wall. Although it did seem to accomplish the objective, Twilight definitely had the packs attention.
Twilight alternated between shields and beams, she kept the numbers in check, but only just. Her mind worked like a computer, playing out the attack vectors and locations of each of her enemies in turn. It allowed her to keep up the pressure on their foes. Unfortunately, much like a computer, she could only process information that her senses imputed. She missed the one that snuck up behind her.
Rainbow yelped as the hellhound closed its jaws around her back, she was thrashed around as the beast grabbed her and pulled her away. Twilight looked at her, horrified at the sight of Rainbow in the hellhound’s mouth. The beast itself seemed shocked, the taste was anything other than what it expected. Before Twilight could do anything, the hellhound ran off, Rainbow carried like a chew toy in its mouth.
Twilight stopped caring about not hurting the remaining Hellhounds. They had taken Rainbow, and right now her only priority in the world was getting her friend back. The remaining hellhounds seemed to sense her intentions, each of them standing in her way as if signaled to do so by some unforeseen command.
She tried flying overhead but the snapping jaws soon convinced her the only way out was through, not over. It took her a few minutes to clear out the room; the few hellhounds that survived would be out of commission for weeks, if not longer. At this moment it did not matter, only Rainbow mattered, as Twilight had a promise to keep.
Rainbow shut her eyes; once again she was faced with the prospect of becoming something’s living dinner, she had protected Twilight, that is what mattered. Whatever fate awaited her was worth the cost.
Before long, the hellhound dropped her off, assuming it wanted to feed and not wanting to watch herself become a meal for the beast, Rainbow kept her eyes tightly shut. The bite never came. After a few minutes, Rainbow dared open them. The sight before her was anything other than what she had expected. It was almost like waking up to a dream.
Rainbow was in a locker room; she had seen many during her time in the Wonderbolts. This one covered in posters of the Wonderbolt's flying through the air. Something was off about the pictures. Where most Wonderbolt posters had Spitfire in the center of the formation, these had Rainbow in her place. Walking around, Rainbow saw that one more thing that took her by surprise. At the one open locker in the room, a uniform was hanging up in it, emblazoned on it was the title of Wonderbolts Captain, with Rainbow’s cutie mark directly below it. This was her uniform; Rainbow Dash was Captain of the Wonderbolts. She could not help herself, Rainbow quickly put on the uniform. The feel of it was unlike anything else she had experienced before. It wore like a second skin.
"Wait… I can feel it!” Ecstatic, she decided to push her luck and try flying again. Like sliding into a pair of comfortable clothes, she easily took off, the locker room made a poor substitute for flying outside, but it felt like being wrapped in her mother's embrace when she was young. Rainbow would have stayed flying in that room for hours, she would have if not for the noise she heard coming from outside. It took a while for her to make out what the noise was chanting, but slowly she began to make out her name, rising in volume with each repeat. “Rainbow Dash, Rainbow Dash, Rainbow Dash….”
Intrigued, she followed the noise out the doors and down the hallway, it grew louder in volume the closer she got to the source. The light outside took a minute to get used too. As her vision returned she saw that she was in the middle of the biggest stadium she had ever seen. The stadium was fully packed, posters lined the walls, and fans held up signs. The vast majority of which featured Rainbow’s cutie mark.
The crowd cheered at the top of their lungs, all of them smiling and yelling at the cyan pegasus. Rainbow looked around, her face beaming a smile at all the attention. She noticed the cheerleaders off to the side, their captain, a very familiar pink mare leading her team through a series of impossible stunts. All the stunts ended up spelling out Dash’s name or making a symbol of her cutie mark.
On the other end of the field several booths were set up, the more popular ones belonging to an orange earth pony and a white unicorn. Both booths seemed filled to capacity; the orange pony was selling apple pies and Dash lost count of how many ponies were lining up to buy some. The unicorn sold clothing, tactful, but elegant. Dash approved, they would be the type of clothes Rainbow herself would not mind wearing.
A noise behind her got Rainbow’s attention, as she turned around a yellow pegasus with pink hair walked up. On her side, was an orange mare with purple hair, both wore Wonderbolt uniforms. The yellow pegasus spoke first, her voice sweet and innocent. “Captain, we're ready when you are.” The orange one spoke next, “C'mon, captain, the crowd demands a show, and since when do you keep your fans waiting.”
“Let's do this!” Rainbow shouted.
The air show was everything Rainbow dreamed it could be. Never before had she let loose like that. In all her previous performances, she had been a wing pony. Forced to follow the lead of her captain, but now, since she was captain, Rainbow let it all go. Her body followed her instructions perfectly. She did tricks that she did not even have names for. The crowd loved every minute of it. The team kept up with everything she did. Always on point, never stopping, slowing down, or holding her back. The spotlight was always on Rainbow and she loved every minute of it. Truly, she was the queen of the air. Rainbow Dash finally felt at peace.
After what Rainbow felt to be only a few minutes, but the clock stubbornly said to be two hours, Rainbow landed. Her teammates and fans immediately swarmed her.
“That was AMAZING!” The white unicorn shouted.
“No, that was awesome!” The yellow pegasus replied.
“Extreme is more like it!” The orange earth pony spoke.
“Super is more Rainbow Dash’s style” The pink earth pony said.
“How about Super Ultra-Extreme Awesome Amazing!” The orange pegasus yelled.
Rainbow laughed aloud as all her friends began lifting her in the air. The shouting doubled in volume, “RAINBOW DASH, RAINBOW DASH, RAINBOW DASH!!!”
Rainbow had never been happier in her life; all the fans loved her show, the feeling of flying, the cheering, and the adulation of the crowd. This was truly the happiest moment of her life. She felt like this could go on forever. The fact that her friends where here too…
The thought came to her like an intruder in the night. As much as she wanted too, as much as every fiber in her body told her to get rid of it, to simply ignore it, she could not. That lone thought, ‘something's missing', it seemed to ruin everything. Suddenly, the crowds did not seem to cheer that loud. The feeling of being hoisted in the air by her friends did not seem to matter. ‘Something's missing’, it may have well been a blade shoved in her back.
“It’s not right,” Rainbow whispered it, yet it seemed to get everypony's attention.
“What are you talking about, sugarcube?” The orange earth pony replied.
“Let me down,” the others let Rainbow get down. Her hooves planted on the earth, the first time she had done so since she found out she could fly again.
Rainbow turned and faced her friends, “I feel like something's missing, something vital.” The others just stared at her, not possibly comprehending what she was saying.
“UGH! If you girls won’t help me figure it out I’ll do it on my own!” Rainbow shouted, taking off down the corridor to the only place she knew, the locker room she originally found herself in.
Rainbow started panicking; she was looking for something, anything which might explain the feelings she was having. The more she thought about it, the more this all seemed unreal. She began tearing down the posters in the locker room, she was not captain, Spitfire was. Her team, her friends, what were their names? Why couldn’t she remember something as basic as the names of the ponies she flew with? Her friends, why couldn’t she name them? It was frustrating to the mare beyond all belief.
It was then that she saw it, off in one of the lockers was a hairbrush. Most likely from one of the other Wonderbolts. There was nothing particularly special about it, just a normal standard brush. It was well used by the looks of it. What caught Rainbow’s attention was the fact that it was purple.
The memories hit her like a mac truck; Applejack and Rarity were in Ponyville. Pinkie Pie ran a bakeshop; she was never a cheerleader, although it did suit her. Fluttershy was never a strong flyer; she would never qualify as a Wonderbolt. Scootaloo, her wings never grew, she could not fly at all. Twilight, she was counting on Rainbow's help. So much had happened, Twilight needed Rainbow with her.
Rainbow turned and looked in a mirror hanging on the wall. Her reflection stared back; it was a perfect representation of everything she wanted to be. No, it was a perfect representation of everything she HAD wanted to be. It did not surprise her when the mirror started talking.
“This can all be yours, you know. You have earned your peace.”
“I don’t want it.”
“But why? You deserve to be here, all the good you've done. Back in the real world you are trapped, a shadow of your former self. Here, you are with your friends, your family.”
“But it’s not real. I couldn’t even remember their names.”
“Does it matter? You knew they were happy, and when they pass on, you will remember their names and be able to interact with them. They will love being with you, and for you, well you won’t even see the difference.”
“Why wasn’t Twilight here?”
“Ahh, that. Immortals can’t be duplicated down here; but the rest were. They lived your dream with you, and you can have it back too, just step back out the door.”
Rainbow took a minute to consider her reflection's offer, staring at it, she could just make out a speck purple off in the distance of the reflection. Something that definitely was not in the locker room with her.
“Two things wrong with your comment. First, if Twilight and I don't succeed, none of my friends will be able to pass on. Second, without Twilight here, I could never enjoy it.”
Rainbow turned around to buck the mirror, the reflection tried once more to get her to stop, “She will outlive you, either now, or in a hundred years. You will spend eternity apart.”
Rainbow did not care; any amount of time spent with her friend would be worth it.
When her back hooves contacted the mirror it shattered. On the other side she could make out the alicorn. Twilight looked like she had fought her way through half of Hades to get there.
“Rainbow, I finally found you!” Twilight yelled as she jumped in the room and hugged the cyan pegasus.
Rainbow did not care about the contact; Twilight was back, Rainbow had her friend back. “What happened, Twi?”
“After the hellhound grabbed you, it ran off, and the others seemed intent on stopping me from rescuing you. The best I can tell is that sense you were not an evil soul, it took you to what it thought was your actual resting place. Your afterlife if you will. I was able to follow your aura, but I couldn’t get past that last gate, I guess it has to be broken from the inside.”
That made some sense to Rainbow; it explained everything that she had been through at least. Twilight let her go and started looking around. She was awe inspired at some of the posters that Rainbow had failed to rip down.
“Rainbow, are you the Captain of the Wonderbolts?”
“Yeah, I guess this place made me into that here.”
“Wow, is that… Scootaloo and Fluttershy flying with you?”
“Uh huh, Rarity, Applejack, and Pinkie are here too, not flying of course. They were all assisting with the performance. It was unlike any other I have ever been in, Twi.”
“Where was I?” Twilight asked.
“You aren’t here.”
Twilight was a little taken back by this; Rainbow’s perfect afterlife did not have her in it? The expression on her face must have tipped Rainbow off on how she felt at that knowledge.
“Apparently they can't duplicate immortals down here. I don’t really understand it, but hey, that’s what tipped me off that something was wrong.”
Twilight looked at Rainbow with a curious expression on her face before Rainbow continued, “After all, what sort of afterlife could I have without my best friend by my side?”
Twilight considered this; here in this place was Rainbow’s afterlife. Everything the cyan mare had ever wanted. What right did she have to ask Rainbow to give it up?
“You should stay, Rainbow.” Saying the words hurt her more than anything else had in her entire life.
“No buts, Twi. Don't ever ask me that again. I could never stay here and leave you to do this all on your own. I was happy here for a while, but the feeling something was missing radiated throughout this place. Even if I went back, even if I forgot everything again, it would just keep happening. I don't care if I only get another few days with you, or if I get a hundred more years. Any amount of time we get to spend together would be worth it. Besides; this is Rainbow Dash you're talking about, she keeps her promises.”
The two friends embraced for the second time in a few minutes. Twilight never wanted to let go. “Thank you Rainbow.” Twilight said, tears falling from her eyes. Truly, she had no idea what she would have done if Rainbow had stayed. The idea was too horrible to consider.
After what felt like hours they separated and the two turned and left the area through the broken mirror. In one of the bigger pieces of shards, Rainbow’s reflection watched them go. Smiling, it disappeared in a cloud of red smoke.