Aria laid upon her sparse bed in the small, drafty chamber she shared with two other maidservants. Her eyes were trained upon the ceiling as she tried her best to concentrate on not retching for the thousandth time. Her purple and green strands of mane had been freed from their constraint, and spilled off of the bedside, onto the floor. For a somewhat pinkish pony, her complexion now casted a slight twinge of green.
Misses Clouds, ever the busy body, bumbled about lighting the oil lamps, and some mysterious herb infusion whose smoke would supposedly work to settle Aria’s stomach. It only proved to make her cough, jostling her insides about like a dropped sack of crabapples. When she was finished, the old mare flew over toward her, descending to take a seat by her side.
Sitting upon one of the other two small beds on the opposite side of the room, knitting what appeared to be the last sock in a matching set of four, was another mare. She was sky blue in color with a yellow mane tied up in a ribbon. As she purled and looped, she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide the nosey glare she was passing in Clouds' and Aria's direction.
“This is all my fault,” Clouds began in that shaky, worried tone of hers. Aria sighed, thankful that her long mane was concealing the fervent roll of her eyes. She mused on the notion that, if it were up to Clouds, she would surely find a way to blame the very existence of evil in the world upon herself. “I should have never let you go down to the kitchen today. You needed your rest, and I just—”
“Clouds, please. This has nothing to do with you,” Aria groaned, all while passing an annoyed and attentive glare in the third mare's direction.
“On the contrary, Miss Aria. It has everything to do with me. I have to tell you—"
"One moment, Clouds," Aria interrupted the old, lavender pegasus with a lifted hoof. She eyed the third mare intently. "Bella, would you give us a moment?"
The blue pegasus jumped at her name being called, and turned to face Aria with a haughty frown.
"Aria, these must be done today. I simply don't have time to spare," Bella replied blowing her forelock out of her eyes. Aria grimaced.
"Well, then go and knit by the cloud garden. It's a beautiful day outside," she posed, trying to feign composure.
"I'm sorry, Aria, I work fastest when I'm in my room. I simply can't have any distractions and..."
As the other mare continued on, Aria felt her temperature rising. These gossipy, young mares always ate up every chance they got to learn more juicy information about Aria, information that they would, no doubt, grossly exaggerate. It had been primarily their fault that the horrid rumors surrounding Midnight Swift and herself were always circulating around the estate. It also didn't help that Bella Blue had been Cirrus Weaver's replacement as seamstress after the mare had been sent away. At once, Aria bolted upward, her pillow clenched between her teeth. She chucked the thing violently toward Bella who it missed by just a hair.
"Get out or I shall knit socks out of your mane, Bella!" she screamed, her eyes on fire. Gawking, the blue mare leapt up, and raced from the room, blocking her head from the threat of another white, puffy onslaught.
Clouds rubbed her head in disappointment as Aria continued to stare at the door angrily. Gradually, the younger mare's breath returned to normal, and she reclined once again onto her back. She sighed, somewhat regretting that she had relinquished her pillow, and was now forced to lay flat. There was a pregnant pause as it seemed Clouds was trying to figure a way to return to the conversation, making a talk that they had a thousand times seem fresh and meaningful. Aria heard her take a deep breath and exhale.
“Miss Aria, please listen to me. Ever since you were a filly, my inability to save you has always been my greatest shame.”
Aria was genuinely surprised by this outburst, but hesitated to reply. She felt a gentle hoof on her shoulder, and turned her head to meet Clouds’ eyes. She saw therein exhaustion and the most genuine look of affection.
“I have been a servant in the Mist house for so long, sometimes I plum forget the meaning of happiness and freedom. Sometimes, I confuse this place and the meager scraps I’m given here for happiness and freedom. But when you came along, Miss Aria, things were different. Even now, I look at you, and I remember again that there’s far better beyond those gates. In your eyes I can see them clearly.”
Clouds sniffed, miraculously managing not to whimper, and brushed Aria’s mane away from her face.
“I’ve wasted my chance thinking myself clever for remaining here because the scars of my past experiences beyond those gates were too much for me to bear. You, Miss Aria, you have the flame that I did not… that many do not. Your scars do not have to define you, but to watch you withering amongst these walls is…” Clouds trailed off, shaking her head to regroup. “If it’s the last thing I do, I shall see that you get away. Then my conscience will finally be clear.”
The older mare’s honesty startled the younger. Perhaps it was her own guilt that forced her to avert her eyes back down toward her bed.
“My life is beyond you, Mum,” Aria murmured, using her affectionate title for Clouds. “Nothing of what has happened is your fault. You cannot continue to blame yourself for these things.”
“No, Miss Aria. Like I said before, I can, indeed!” Clouds replied, very serious now. “You see… there’s something I haven’t… haven’t told you.”
A beat of silence. Aria slowly turned back 'round in her bed to look at the old pegasus through the dim of the little chamber.
“Do you remember the widow Rosedawn?” Clouds murmured as she fumbled with her hooves.
“Of course, I do.”
How could she forget? After all this time spent regretting and dreaming of what could have been, the image of Madame Rosedawn had warped, and grown to take the form of a sublime being in Aria’s mind. As she chose to remember it, the mare had been some unexpected shining light, some deliverer of mercy sent to save her, and all Aria had done was muck the entire thing up like the incessant fool she was. It did seem strange, however, to hear that Rosedawn had been a widow. This opened up an array of fresh questions about her in Aria’s mind. Who was her husband? Could they not have foals of their own? Which void within herself had she wanted Aria to fill?
Realizing that she had drifted off into her thoughts, Aria cleared her throat, and glanced again at Clouds. The look of guilt that had washed over the old pegasus caught Aria’s attention, and she sat up on the bed, clutching her belly for comfort’s sake. What could Misses Clouds possibly have to tell her about Rosedawn that would have her feeling so on edge?
“Clouds? What about Rosedawn?”
A silence descended upon the room, so thick one could cut it with a dragon’s tooth. The two stared at each other as Miss Clouds’ mouth gaped open and closed. Finally, she exhaled a great puff of air.
“Miss Aria… over the years… Rosedawn and I have been kee—”
The chamber door swung open with a deafening ‘BANG!’ In raced two mares, Bella, once again, and Daisy, Aria’s second roommate. Skidding to a halt, their necks both drooped as they tried desperately to regain their breath.
“Young mares!” Clouds exclaimed, immediately forgetting the conversation between Aria and herself. “What in the skies is the problem?”
“Comet… Racer!” Bella gasped, pointing out of the door toward the front side of the building. Aria jumped to her hooves at once. Her heart began to race. The nauseous feeling that had been plaguing her, again began to grip her stomach.
“What about Comet Racer?” she breathed.
“Guards... Dismissing him!” Daisy replied.
Before the words could finish leaving the maidservant’s mouth, Aria was already halfway down the corridor, listening to Misses Clouds’ desperate pleas for her return fading into the distance. Racing down the dank, servant’s stairway, she exploded through the front door, and out into the yard. There were numerous servants of all ranks littering the space, some gawking, some whimpering, and some simply whispering amongst themselves as servants were prone to do.
“Hold him! Hold him, you idiot! Get him back!” spat a fully armored guard, directing his subordinates to take control of the raging, red stallion as he bucked, and pulled at the ropes that threatened to bind him. From where Aria stood, she could see clearly the sweat glistening off of his bruised and battered hide, and his single black eye that shone even in the early evening twilight. Comet Racer was yelling something wildly as he fumed, but it was barely distinguishable. Aria, reeling in disbelief, took a few shaky steps forward to get a better listen.
“Bastards, all! I’ll take every last one of you!” Comet bellowed, managing to yank his ropes so as to draw two of the guards closer. With no hesitation, he then headbutted them both out of commission. Unfortunately, the two ropes he managed to free from around his neck were swiftly replaced with four more, and soon enough he was wrestled down to the clouds, completely bound. As the realization that he had been bested fell upon him, his brazenness quickly melted away.
“I demand to see the Lady Mist! Take me to her at once!” the stallion cried, only to be met with the head guard’s hoof coming across his face. Comet Racer staggered, and fell silent.
“That softened you up a bit, didn’t it?” the guard laughed, waving his foreleg to direct his team toward the estate’s open gates along with their defeated cargo.
It was at that time, as Aria took in the entire scene, that unexpectedly, an untouched switch was flipped within her. The sight of the usually brash and confident Comet Racer, now crushed, and being dragged against the ground, and the image of the plethora of household servants not having the decency to stand up for even one of their kind under the threat that the house’s vicious eye might then be turned upon them next, all seemed to fade and become flat. Suddenly, she was looking at a play, something unreal, a moving painting filled with characters that, for as much as she entangled herself in their welfares, could now easily be kept at a foreleg’s distance as she coldly watched them dance about within their canvases. Standing there, she acquired the clearest understanding that fate had not wanted her to be a vibrant participant in the normal achievements and discoveries of life. She asked herself why, then, should she grant it the pleasure of feeling too much for any of what she saw?
Comet Racer had been a means to an end, and indeed, she had not loved him. Even though what was happening to him was unjustified, and even though she might have very well been the cause of the entire thing, she found herself finally able to cede that all of these ponies, these players around her, were nothing but tools. They were pawns whilst, for some reason yet to be discovered, she had been the queen all along. These servants, wards, and guards could be, and were all shifted and uprooted, played and punished, simply for the sake of getting to her, cornering her into submission. She recognized herself as a target, and thus, the one who suffered most, the one who made others suffer. Hence, a grand conclusion was reached in her mind. She reckoned that her own happiness and freedom, her finally getting away from this place, would subsequently free them all.
Lost in a trance, her eyes plastered upon the open gates, Aria never noticed Misses Clouds finally catching up to meet her. When she had, she too faltered and fumbled over her words at the sight of the ruckus.
“Oh, stars. What is this?” she breathed, realizing what was happening to Comet Racer. “Aria, what has happened?”
Aria scoffed to herself at Clouds’ question. Try as she might, she could not quell her resentment for the older pegasus’ naivete. What had happened? After all these years, Clouds still seemed unable to grasp the notion that whoever Aria had known, had touched, had shown affection for would inevitably suffer for it. Eventually, Aria undid the large shawl bound around her slender figure, revealing her scars, bruises, and the mark upon her flank to the world. All of them were testaments to what she had endured over the years.
“I happened, Clouds, but no more,” she said, digging her hooves into the clouds, and spreading her wings as something both radical and beautiful presented itself to her.
Misses Clouds glanced at her in confusion only to catch the mare giving her a look filled with such affection, such sad regret, that it made her heart leap.
“I’m sorry, Misses Clouds. Goodbye,” Aria breathed.
She darted off at full speed toward the open estate gates, spreading her wings. Ignoring the small aches that still lingered, she bounded into the sky as the guards were all bent low, tending to the struggling Comet Racer. They didn’t have the wherewithal to turn, and catch sight of her until hearing the gasps of the household staff, watching as they pointed in disbelief beyond the threshold.
As if she had been preparing for the escape her entire life, Aria’s graceful form could be seen amongst the clouds beyond the gate, moving with purpose. She glanced backward to the guards, and retracted her wings, folding them to her sides. Then, eyes trained gleefully upon the estate for perhaps the first time in her life, she dropped out of the air like a stone, vanishing into the foggy maze of an enormous cumulus floating below. The entire courtyard paused for a moment, struck by just having seen what they thought was the impossible. The head guard was the first to move, raising up, and rushing forward in a panic.
“After her!” he screamed wildly, all but tossing Comet Racer to the side in a forgotten heap.
The only thing she could hear was the rushing of the wind past her ears, and her own belabored panting. The only thing she could see was the extended, puffy white in front of her own nose. So much adrenaline now coursed through her veins that every fiber of her being began to buzz. Aria knew that it didn’t matter in what direction she flew, as long as she flew fast.
She couldn’t say how long she soared before deciding to descend out of the cloud. As she dropped, white wisps gave way to a beauty that she barely remembered—sprawling green.
As quickly as her joy came, it was swept away by the sound of flapping wings, and ferocious shouts coming from behind her. Craning her neck around to take a look, she was distraught to see the armor of the Mist estate guards glinting in what little was left of the day. For a moment, a wave of panic washed over her, and she slowed ever so slightly. Noticing what was happening, she shook her head free of doubt, faced front, and hunkered down against the wind.
Alright, Aria. Time to let them know who it is they're dealing with.
A young guard, swift and slender, was the first to catch up to her. She evaded him easily. Rolling upward into the clouds, and then down to his other side, she then hoofed him in the barrel, sending him reeling. The next to approach was the head guard, a rather large and stocky stallion. Aria felt herself grinning at the thought of the challenge.
“Come on then!” she laughed at him as he struggled to keep up. “What’s the matter? Grown too old?”
“Swift will have your wings for this, mare!” the guardspony shouted as he kept up expertly with Aria’s dodges and evasive rolls in and out of the clouds. They settled into a straight line again, Aria panting for air as she felt the rage rising at the mention of Swift’s name. Glancing down toward the earth, a thick and seemingly endless patch of deep green came into view. An idea struck her, and she grinned mischievously.
“Give Swift this message for me!” she shouted back toward the guardspony before angling her body downward, and tipping herself over into a roll. As she curved upward directly under the guard, her front hoof came careening up into his jaw, knocking him out cold in midair. She continued her roll until she tilted back ‘round and downward toward the endless expanse of treetops. Pushing off in the air with her wings, she sped into a death defying dive. Taking just a moment to glance backward at the guards, she saw them all diverting downward to save their tumbling leader. Laughing to herself, it wasn’t until she broke the surface of the forest canopy that she remembered she had never attempted to fly through a forest before. Twisting out of the way of an enormous branch, she yelped and reeled through the trees before straightening her angle, and slowing her momentum. Even still, she did not escape being hit with snaking vines, mosquitoes to the face, and a mouthful of leaves before she came careening down to the ground.
Sputtering out a gob full of foliage and bugs, she wiped off her tongue all whilst spinning around in the grass, her gaze locked ardently upon the canopy above her. Stumbling into a bush to hide, it took mere seconds for her to notice that no sounds could be heard save for the expansive flora and fauna of the woods. Realizing that she had evaded Mist’s guards, she let out a triumphant howl before racing deeper into the forests.
Night had fallen a few moments before she had dashed into the woods; yet, Aria could feel anything but fear. Around her thrived a glowing and magical world the likes of which she had never seen, a world full of things far different from a cloud, pegasus, or any other creature of the air. In fact, she had already spotted quite a few strange beasts that didn’t have wings at all. She wondered if they found her as odd as she found them.
Walking reverently through the brush, Aria lost herself in complete wonder and awe, drinking in everything she laid her eyes upon. She didn’t care where she went, so long as it was far, far away from Gales. To her, it was impossible to be lost in such a place as this.
She wasn’t aware of how long she wandered; it could have been hours, it could have been mere minutes. At one point, she stopped to sample some of the most delicious-smelling fruits she had ever encountered, growing from a strange vine. The fruit, for some reason, made her tongue tingle, but she decided it was worth it, and ate another soon after. After gleefully chasing a small owl through the brush simply because she could, she came upon some rows of long grass. Peeking through them, she gasped in delight at the sight of what appeared to be a cool and gentle spring. The water glowed, beckoning for her to come closer; however, being ever the suspicious pony, she peered down into its depths with a look of skepticism.
Touching its surface, she verified that the liquid wasn’t harmful to the flesh. Splashing about on its banks, she established that there were no hungry creatures lurking therein. Finally, bending her head down toward the water, she took a small gulp which turned into a large gulp, which turned into ten more. Raising her head up, she sighed in satisfaction before backing away from the pool, and racing to dive into its depths.
Strangely enough, sinking into that calm, deep blue, she felt unlike she had ever felt before—at peace, at home. She couldn’t even recall how it was she knew how to swim, and yet, she moved through the stillness effortlessly. The birthmark upon her chest began to itch as she felt something ebullient beginning to glow within her. As she rose up again to break the surface, for the first time in forever, Aria felt like she had become who she was meant to be, consecrated into the wonderful world that she had been longing for. Blowing caution to the wind, she let loose a brief but beautiful soprano as she kicked about in the water. Doing so, the air went still and silent as the entire blessed night listened to her in awe. Though it had no words, the song was unlike any she had ever sung before. It felt timeless and familiar, almost as if it had been lurking below the surface ever since she was born.
Hours rolled by. Happiness engulfed her. Everything was right and good. A subdued hum escaped her throat as she finally stepped onto the shore, shaking the excess wetness from her long, shining mane. Plopping down near the bushes, she set to work braiding the length over her shoulder. It was only then that exhaustion caught up with her, and she recalled all that had transpired during the course of her day. Almost instantaneously, her eyelids began to droop. Thinking that a plan of action—one that led toward the sea—was needed before she went to sleep, she decided that it would be best to head out first thing in the morning, deeper into the length of the wood. Gales was a floating city after all, as were all pegasus townships. She would have to make sure to make some good distance at first light in order to avoid the place accidentally moving in overhead. Yawning once, she then collapsed onto her side, quickly falling into a deep slumber.
The sound of rustling in the bushes woke her with a start the next morning. Head darting about in confusion, it took her a while to remember where she was. This was understandable since she had never before awoken outside of the estate in the clouds. Still, feeling rather sleepy, she shrugged the sound off as yet another new and strange little creature making a ruckus. She plunked down again, beginning to snore. When the rustle came a second time, more loudly, she darted up into full attention. Glancing around the clearing in vigilant silence, she saw and heard nothing. Still wary, she decided that it would be best if she got a move on.
Trotting up to the waterside to have a morning dip, she dove headlong into the coolness once more, trying her best to confine the pleasant sensation to memory before she left. She reveled in the fact that it was just as enjoyable as the first time she had done it. She closed her eyes, and floated around but a moment before rising again to the surface. Gasping gleefully for air, she swiped away the long curtains of mane that had clung to the front of her face, and climbed out of the pool. After shaking off the excess water, she bore down, spread her wings, and took off into flight over the spring.
The entire day was spent in flight, soaring over the forests. After a while, a hypnotic trance descended upon Aria as she went, watching the small speck that was her shadow racing below her against the green of the trees. She grinned when she realized, amidst the sound of songbirds and rustling leaves, that she was finally free. So, this was what peace felt like. An indescribable calm wrapped itself around her; it was both startling and relieving. There was a strange sense of emptiness, of listlessness that came along with not being under the command of somepony else. There was a slight sense of panic as she realized that her life was now her own to make or destroy. With it came an extraordinary exhilaration, and laughing loudly, she began to dip and twirl in the sky, following those distant flocks of birds toward the horizon.
She had nearly begun her descent as the sun moved halfway through its own decline. Had she done so, she would have missed a sudden glimmering of blue and white at the very edges of her field of vision. Gasping loudly, heart racing, she slowed down her pace, and flapped in place for a moment. Had she seen what she thought she saw?
She began to ascend, pushing her wings and her lungs to the very limit until she could confirm that, indeed, what she had seen was that gorgeous place she barely remembered, the place she often visited in her dreams—the sea.
"Stars..." Aria breathed, trying not to choke on her own words as she allowed herself to float back down. She had finally done it. In a state of shock, she realized that the growing tremor in her shaking wings would not allow her to go any further for the day, even if she wanted to. Besides, there was still quite a trek to make before reaching the ocean, and she would have hated to arrive too late to actually see the sunset as she had imagined on the other side of those gorgeous waters. As she landed gently upon a branch slightly below the canopy, she decided that it would be a good idea to rest there for the evening, and head back out again at first light.
The night seemed to take a most thrilling turn when, whilst looking around for a good place to sleep, she happened upon a cloaked figure wandering through the darkened wood. Using her ability of flight to her advantage, she bounded up onto a branch in order to follow the stranger without being noticed. At first she figured she had been tailed by one of Mist's guards until she realized that the stranger was moving to and fro, foraging for plants, and seemingly unaware of her presence. In wonder, Aria trailed them from up above, interested to better know the ways of wingless ponies.
After a while, perhaps to take a breather, the figure pulled back its cloak, and took a seat against an enormous tree. Aria could barely contain her gasp as she stared down at the odd pony. With its striking black and white stripes, and beautiful golden jewelry, she was quite sure she had never seen anything like it before. Quietly flitting about to another branch to take a peek from a different angle, she watched as the strange pony pulled some fruit out of the satchel it had been carrying, and took a bite. It must have felt rather comfortable because a few moments later, it sighed to itself, leaned back against the tree, and closed its eyes.
Seeing this as her opportunity, Aria quietly floated down to the ground toward the back of the pony, and as silently as she could, edged her head around the side of the tree. A small smile crept up onto her face as she took in a detailed view of the stranger's beautiful fur, its oddly shaped mane, and its sparse tail.
"You know, I can hear you," the odd one spoke up, nearly making Aria jump out of her wings. Stumbling backward in fear, she found herself tripping over weeds and twigs as the stranger peeked amusedly at her with one, golden eye. When the rose-colored pegasus fell hard upon her back, groaning, the creature then stifled a small laugh.
"Are you quite alright?" it asked. "You seem to have forgotten how to use your gift of flight."
"Yes," Aria sighed, rubbing her head until she realized how much potential danger she had put herself in. "I mean, no! I mean... Who... who are you?"
The odd one smirked.
"It would seem that I should be asking you the same. You follow me around, then ask after my name. These woods were my home before you ever came. Some humility could take you far, and might save you a little shame," the odd one replied. Aria instinctively scoffed at the creature's odd style of speaking, but quickly muffled her mouth, knowing that she sounded extremely rude. Cautiously, she took a step forward toward the smirking figure.
"I'm sorry. I'm... I'm Aria. I come from Gales. Excuse my following you. It's just that... I've never walked around off of the clouds before. I'm afraid this is all a bit new to me. I didn't realize there were ponies like... Are you a pony?"
The figure smiled. She seemed to be enjoying this strange encounter.
"I am Zidaya. This is all you need to know," the striped pony said. "Come closer, friend. Let us talk before I go."
With slight hesitation, Aria nodded her head, and moved to sit beside this Zidaya. Noticing the mare's anxiousness, Zidaya reached into her satchel, pulled out a piece of fruit, and offered it to her. Aria declined, still not quite sure she trusted the strange pony. Shrugging, the striped mare then ate the fruit herself.
"Tell me then, Aria. Why have you never left home? You're a full grown mare, and never had desire to roam?" Zidaya asked through a mouthful of juice. Aria rubbed at one of her wings nervously.
"No, I've always had such a desire. I just have never had the opportunity," she lied. "My life has been rather... strange, if you will."
Trying to hide her own embarassment, Aria peered toward the ground, allowing her mane to conceal her face in shadow. Zidaya eyed her knowingly.
"I see," the striped mare said. Eventually, she sighed, glancing upward contently toward the moonlit canopy. "Well, there is no time like the present. That is what I say. Everyday is an opportunity to find a brand new way."
This seemed to lift the pegasus' spirits, and she passed a soft smile Zidaya's way.
"Do you live here alone? Are you hiding from somepony?" Aria asked curiously. Perhaps she might be able to learn something of use in evading the Mist estate guards from this strange pony.
"Yes, I live alone as my kind is sometimes prone to do. In the quiet, I learn powerful things that I never knew. There are secrets in the stillness, here with me and you. Something tells me that you also understand that this is true."
Glancing again up toward the canopy, Zidaya took a deep breath, and closed her eyes, perhaps to take a nap. Following suit, out of curiosity, Aria did the same. She leaned back against the tree, closed her eyes, and sighed, taking in those gorgeous sounds of the night. As the various nightbirds and bugs continued their singing, Aria chuckled as she felt the spot upon her chest begin to tingle, and the wellspring in her mind open up. As to be expected, all awareness of her surroundings slowly melted away, and soon enough, a gorgeous hummed melody joined the sounds of the evening, twisting amongst them, adding to their beauty. She never noticed Zidaya slowly turning to give her a wide eyed look, as she recognized the presence of one able to wield a unique and powerful magic. This look then warped into one of awe and slight fear. As the rosy mare's melody faded away into a contented sigh, the striped mare cleared her throat, trying to still her own breath.
"You do not know what it is that you are, do you?" she asked cautiously. Aria passed her a confused look.
"Savor the sweetness of our time. For soon she shall have us all in her ravenous eye, and we shall walk toward destruction thinking it sublime," Zidaya finished. "Aria, have you ever heard this rhyme?"
Aria shook her head, a bit put off by the eeriness of the striped mare's words.
"What does it mean? Is it some sort of story?" she laughed, now nervously fiddling with her tail. Zidaya huffed. A conflicted look passed across her face as she appeared to be thinking to herself. Her hoof wandered back into her satchel, and slowly pulled something sharp and shiny from within.
"I wonder what calamities could be avoided if you were simply gone, ending these impending sorrows, ending a siren's song," the striped mare croaked, almost saddened to be saying these words.
Aria's eyes went wide at the glint of the dagger, and the sight of Zidaya strapping it around the base of her hoof. She slowly rose up, and began to retreat.
"What are you talking about? I don't understand! What is a siren?" Aria yelped frantically. Not receiving any reply, she opened up her wings, preparing to fly away only to be caught around the neck by a taut rope. When she looked at Zidaya again, the striped mare was attaching the end of the rope to the tree where, a few moments prior, they had been sitting together as friends. One more moment, and another length flew out to bind all of her legs together.
"Please!" Aria begged as she pulled and wrestled with the rope, unable to get anywhere. "I promise, I shall fly away. I shall never bother you again!"
With such a look of sadness in her golden eyes, Zidaya came closer until she loomed over Aria. The pegasus lay before her, worn out and gasping for air, a look of terror upon her face.
"Why are you doing this?" she whimpered, feeling like a fool for having trusted the other mare in the first place. Zidaya huffed, and seemed to think to herself again.
"Who could have thought that you would be so lovely? Pretty mare, I beg you to please pardon me. What I do, I do for the rest of the world and for thee. I save you now from your own prison of misery, and swiftly send you back to the depths of your beloved sea."
Confused and horrified, Aria could do nothing but stare at the dagger as it rose up into the air. When it began its swift descent she closed her eyes, and bid farewell to all that she had held dear in this small life of hers. At first she didn't notice the 'CLANK!' of metal against metal, but hearing Zidaya suddenly yelp urged her to reopen her eyes. Realizing she wasn't dead, she then glanced around quickly to find two daggers lying nearby. One of the daggers, Zidaya's, lay next to another which appeared more streamline, and had a hilt made of glossy black metal. Gawking in shock, Aria barely had time to try to struggle against her restraints before the striped mare turned angrily toward the brush from whence the second dagger had come. Quickly, she faced the fuchsia mare again. Aria screamed as Zidaya lunged toward her, ready to strike. Suddenly, she felt yet another small gust of air rush past her legs, cutting the rope that bound them. Flying upward, she shifted her body around to dodge clear of the other mare's attack. One more swish of air past Aria's face, and her neck pulled loose, sending her head tumbling backward. She spiraled for a moment before realizing the rope around her neck had been severed as well. Instinctively, she flapped her shaky wings, and rose to a low tree branch.
Not seeing nor caring who her savior had been, Aria flapped hard, forcing herself to stay steady. Bounding off of the branch, she soared high up above the canopy, into the starry, night sky. Hoping that no one on the ground would be able to see or notice her at this altitude, she sped away further over the endless green.
By the time she landed, exhausted and shaken, she was whimpering. Her entire body ached. The night had grown even deeper and quieter around her as she stumbled along. Eyesight blurry and weak, she searched for a suitable place to eat and then collapse. Wearily foraging around for some food in the glints of moonlight that peaked in through the treetops, fortune smiled upon her when she finally stumbled upon an entire patch of blackberry bushes growing beside a gentle creek. Inspecting them in wonder—having only recognized them from reading about them in one of her many scrolls—she cautiously plucked one up with her teeth, and swallowed. Humming to herself in thankful delight as the delicious flavor exploded in her mouth, she collapsed onto her back, gorging herself as she plucked one after another. Wiping her face clean of old tears and blackberry juice, she then took a deep breath, and attempted to calm herself down. Gazing up dreamily at the sky, mouth full of berries, she allowed herself to ruminate on all that she had endured, and all that she had left behind for the first time since she had escaped. Her heart ached at the thought of Misses Clouds, but she knew that the old mare would find nothing but joy in the fact that Aria was now unfettered from her proverbial shackles, roaming the world—free. After the evening's events, however, she could not help but wonder if it was a wise thing to do. It seemed that pain and death lurked around every bend, and it appeared to her that they kept her constantly in their line of sight. Why was it that the one thing that brought her so much joy—her singing—was the one thing that seemed to drive everypony around her mad?
Resolving herself to being more cautious with her voice from now on, she sighed, and turned onto her side, nuzzling into the grass as sleepiness fell upon her like a rock. Even after the trials and troubles of her day, the tiniest of smiles still managed to grace her face as she fell asleep imagining the joy that awaited her once she would reach her beloved ocean. Soon, she had drifted off into a deep slumber to the sound of crickets chirping.
A rustling in the grass stirred her, and she was suddenly aware of the morning sun glinting through the treetops against her closed eyelids. Supposing it just another woodland creature, she grimaced, shook her head, and stretched. Turning to her other side, she attempted to get back to sleep. A strange, shadowy cast blocked out the glimmering light upon her face, and her brow furrowed as she wondered if some nearby pegasus ponies might be bringing rain that day. Yawning, and rubbing the sleep off of her face, she then allowed her eyelids to flutter open. She gasped as her gaze met with two burning, red orbs inset into a dark blue visage. Her eyes went wide.
“Good morning, Love,” Swift growled, staring down at her with a practically hungry smile.
A hoof came down into her face, and her world went black.