The moon was bright, luminous, and pale. However, it still hadn't reached its full phase.
Rainbow Dash took a deep breath. Sitting on a high branch several feet above the sleeping caravan of ponies, she leaned back against the main trunk of the tree and ran a hoof up to her golden pendant. She felt the glossy contours of the ruby lightning bolt just beneath the nape of her neck.
Her ears twitched, as if expecting to hear a voice murmuring through the winds of the night at any moment. Silence reigned, solacing the brief spike in her heartbeat. She clenched and unclenched her jaw, as if still reeling from the bizarre act of having talked out loud to so many ponies just an hour or two before.
Rainbow Dash couldn't sleep. There was no point in pretending that she could. She had sped so much over the world that the rise and fall of the Sun had become just as inconsequential as all the other fine details of the landscape she blurred past. In fact, if she could do away with slumber, she would. It served only to cramp her style. Not only that, but on the few occasions that she gave into sleep, all that awaited her was a realm of gray layers, the forboding curtains of dreams.
It was easy to pass the nocturnal, insomniac tedium when she was alone, when all she had to commune with were the stars. But here, in the wake of hearing so many ponies talk and tell fantastic stories of the world, she could hardly sit still without wanting to take off and spin laps around the forest. It were chance meetings akin to this one that reminded Rainbow Dash, deep down, that there was no way to shake the fact that she was a social pony. Her eastward flight had introduced her to solitude, and it wasn't so terrible a sensation as long as it was her only sensation.
So it was with undeniably relief that she detected a sign of life rustling beneath her. Rainbow Dash craned her neck. In the shadows below, a figure was trotting lightly through the underbush. There was the faintest glint of starlight reflecting off an amber coat. It didn't take Rainbow Dash long to figure out who owned the lithe limbs and petite body.
“You really shouldn't let them treat you like that,” Rainbow Dash said with a smirk.
The figure stopped dead in his tracks, followed by a sharp gasp. A pair of eyes reflected the moonlight like silver goggles below. “Do pegasi ever sleep?”
“Only when we feel like it.” Rainbow Dash blinked. She saw a thousand mid-afternoon snapshots from her past, and all of them laced with the hazy fog of a nap taken above the rooftops of a bright and happy home. She blinked again, and everything was once more blissfully dark. “I haven't felt like it in a while. I'm too busy flying. What about you?”
“What about me?” Gold Plate's cracking voice stammered.
“Are you taking a running start? You gotta have wings if you wanna fly off the mountain's edge.”
“Wow,” the young stallion grunted. “You Celestians are really full of it.”
“Equestrians,” Rainbow Dash corrected. “And I'd rather be full of it than be spilling out all over the place.” She glanced down further from the branch. Seriously. Isn't it late for a stroll?”
“I was just returning to camp.”
“Returning from what?”
“What do you think?”
“Ohhhhhh... Heheheh...” Rainbow Dash chuckled. “Guess I'm not the only one who was full of it.”
“Whatever. I'm going back to camp...” He started trotting away.
Rainbow Dash yawned and leaned back on her branch. “I still think you shouldn't let them treat you like crud.”
His hooves spun in the dirt as his figure glanced up to face her. “Hey, this caravan depends on me! I only take their smack cuz if I left them, they'd all starve or dehydrate or even worse!”
“Seems like a rather selfless task you've got. Do they ever thank you?”
“Why do you care?”
Rainbow Dash glanced aside. A sliver of moonlight glinted off her pendant. “Because, where I come from, loyalty is never something that goes unrewarded.”
“Then what are you doing here, so far from home?”
For once, Rainbow Dash was silent.
Gold Plate sighed. “Look, I'm sorry. You were kind enough to give us fire. You don't need me griping...”
“Heh. Who's griping?”
“I just...” Gold Plate's shadow shifted. There was lasting rustle of leaves, and he murmured, “I've got friends back in Windthrow, and they're really depending on this shipment we're making. It bugs me that we've taken so long to get back there. Fulltrot's not the expert guide that he used to be. Time is catching up on him. If this was a trip being made a year ago, we would have been back by now.”
“It doesn't seem like he's gotten much help,” Rainbow Dash said. “He's got a hearty bunch of ponies in his caravan, but they don't seem to put the muscle into it all.”
“It's not that. These shipments... they only help Windthrow for a short time.”
“Help? Help with what?”
Gold Plate didn't answer that. Instead, he glanced up and murmured, “You're a pegasus. Is it true what they say about you being able to make the sky rain?”
“Technically, it's the clouds we make rain. And even then...” Rainbow Dash smiled. “...it would take waaaaaaaaay more than just one born-and-raised Cloudsalian like me to move water high enough into the sky to rain back down on the world.” She leaned her head aside. “Why you ask?”
“Erm... No reason.” Gold Plate yawned, stretching his limbs. “Nnngh... Well. Gotta be up in two hours for breakfast. Don't want to make the other guys angry on top of being hungry before we pull out.”
“Don't worry. I'm sure you'll be delicious.”
“What? I... You... Ugh!” Gold Plate stomped off, fuming.
Rainbow Dash chuckled. As the pony wandered off, and she once again sat alone in the treetops, she found her smile fading away under a sudden cascade of shadows, as if all of the many miles behind her were bunching up onto her shoulders. The sheer weight drove her breath out in a long sigh, and she once again found her hoof gently caressing the cold metall frame of the pendant around her neck.
The stars took their sweet time dying out.