Rainbow Dash dry-heaved as they left the dungeon and the smell of burning flesh behind and stepped into the hallway once more.
“Art thou well?” Iron Forge looked at her with raised eyebrow when she nodded.
“Yeah, just…glad I didn’t eat breakfast.” The mare’s muzzle scrunched up but some of her color began to return.
“Thou lookest greener than the stripe in thy mane.” Iron Forge hesitantly tapped the mare on her withers.
“I’m okay, just gimme a second…” Rainbow Dash spat at a wall to clear her mouth and took a deep breath. “Okay, I’m good now. Just…didn’t expect it to be that bad. I mean, I saw dead bodies on the way here, but to see literal piles…”
“Sombra was very…thorough in eliminating what he saw as a threat, even when little more than a feral monster.” Iron Forge gave the mare several seconds to finish gathering herself before he began to move forward, the cyan pegasus following close behind when she noticed.
“I don’t get it though. We saw Sombra when he was fighting Shining Armor and Barrier and he was completely crazy. Like…out of his mind, wild beast crazy. Why would he take some of them to the dungeon instead of just leaving them where they were?”
Iron Forge shrugged. “One can only speculate upon what happens in a mind consumed by madness and darkness. If anypony could guess, it would probably be the Captain.”
“Well…we should go outside.” Rainbow Dash offered, shifting topics. “More bodies to…” Dash hesitated in an uncharacteristic manner, “dispose of. Plus we could do with the fresh air.”
Iron Forge nodded almost absently, his gaze drifting downward as he seemed to head towards the palace doors on autopilot.
“Hey,” Rainbow Dash nudged him before he could completely lose himself to his mind. “Watcha thinking about?”
“Change, Lady Dash.” Iron Forge answered.
Rainbow blanched slightly. “Just Rainbow or Dash, kay? Calling me ‘Lady’ makes me seem uptight, like Rarity. I’m not really a fancy mare. I like getting dirty and doing awesome stunts more than stuff like spa trips and frilly dresses.”
“Very well,” Iron Forge acquiesced, paying little heed to the rest of her statement. “I am thinking about change, Rainbow Dash. One-thousand years have passed. Now is as good a time as any to think about those changes. Tell me,” Iron Forge stopped just as the open sky of the Empire came into view, signalling their departure from the Crystal Palace. “What were the years following the Griffin Kingdom’s surrender like?”
“Uh…” Dash shrugged. “I have no clue. I’m definitely not the right pony to ask about egghead stuff like that. That’s more Twilight’s thing. I mean, I can tell you about some of the more recent stuff, but history really isn’t my thing.”
Iron Forge continued his questions, undeterred by the mare’s lack of historical knowledge. “Hast thou heard of Gallopfrey?”
“I…don’t think so?” Her statement came out as more of a question; the term held some familiarity, but she couldn’t place it for the life of her.
“Twas an island town, between Equestria and the Griffin Kingdom. It was where we held the griffins at bay for many a year. The ponies there have an accent quite similar to mine. Or…should. I suppose that may have faded with history as well.”
“Oh!” Rainbow Dash clopped a hoof and smiled. “Now that rings some bells. You’re probably talking about Trottingham. I think I do remember that it used to have a different name.”
Iron Forge nodded. “Mayhaps I’ll pay it a visit when I am free of my duties.” Silence settled between the two as they walked through the Empire, Iron Forge occasionally stopping to stream a gout of fire from his horn onto a body while Rainbow Dash blanched.
“Hast thou ever met a griffin? I’ve only seen a few myself, and never outside of the palace dungeons. The Captain insisted we be familiar with our enemies. I remember when he showed us how to best take one apart…”
Rainbow Dash winced at the tone Iron Forge had used to described taking apart a griffin, but answered regardless. “Yeah, I know this one griffin. Her name’s Gilda.”
Iron Forge frowned almost imperceptibly. “And what wouldst thy assessment of her be?”
“Well, she can be a bit of a jerk…and she steals stuff sometimes, but she’s not too bad I guess. She was my best friend during my time in the Junior Speedsters.”
“Friends?!” Iron Forge’s voice rose several decibels. “How couldst thou be a friend to one of those monsters?!”
“Hey, cool your jets!” Rainbow Dash’s voice rose as well and to Iron Forge’s minor surprise, she didn’t back up or balk in the slightest. “Things are a lot different from your time. The worst stuff Gilda’s done is stealing some apples and maybe being a bit too hot-headed and a jerk sometimes. I’m no history expert so I don’t know how things were between ponies and griffins back in your time, but things are way different now!”
Iron Forge and Rainbow Dash stared hard at each other, until Iron Forge finally broke eye contact and turned his back to the mare with a snort. “That dost not change them from monsters to me. They conquered my hometown, killed my friends and family…” Iron Forge sighed as his anger faded. “I don’t believe I will ever forgive the griffins.”
Rainbow Dash grimaced at the resignation in the stallion’s voice.
“And now, Sombra has taken the one thing I had left…” Iron Forge’s voice cracked. “Thanks to him, I’ve lost even my mum…” Iron Forge closed his eyes tightly as hot tears worked their way out of the corner of his eyes. “She was the only family I had left…”
Ah crap… Rainbow Dash awkwardly stepped forward and pulled the stallion into a hug, patting him on the back when he returned the embrace. “Look, I know things seem like they suck right now, and I guess they do, but there’re tons of ponies who want to help you, y’know? Your squad’ll be there for you, Barrier will be there for you, my friends will all be there if you need us, and so will I.” Rainbow Dash patted his withers again, still awkwardly glancing around for ponies that may be watching the scene.
The tears were short lived as Iron Forge tried to get his emotions in check and broke away, wiping his eyes with a fetlock. “Thank you, Rainbow Dash. Thou art as kind as they are beautiful.. for a mare, from what I can tell.”
Rainbow Dash tilted her head in slight confusion after the stallion broke away and addressed her.
Iron Forge turned back to the street and started on another corpse as he spoke. “Mayhaps I should think of something to take my mind off of these things…”
Rainbow Dash nodded, even though Forge wasn’t facing her to see it. “Long as you don’t do it all the time. I know it sucks, but there’s a difference between running away from something hard and coming to terms with it…believe me, I know.”
“Worry not, I’ll come to terms with it eventually. Just…not yet. We’ve too much to do.” Iron Forge fell silent until the corpse-fire was self-sustaining. “Tell me, what is this train vehicle that Captain Barrier spoke of?”
“Uh, what’s a good way to explain this…” Rainbow Dash put a hoof to her chin and absentmindedly began to fly several inches off of the ground. “Think of it like a bunch of really big minecarts that are all chained together and pulled by this big engine-machine-thing that runs off of coal. It can hold tons of ponies and cargo and goes pretty fast. Not as fast as yours truly,” Rainbow Dash puffed out her chest slightly. “But it’s still pretty good.”
“A machine you say? I’ve always been fascinated by machinery,” Iron Forge confessed. “Tell me, what other wondrous machines hast this modern era brought forth?”
“Uh, well…oh!” Rainbow Dash touched back down on the ground and struck a hoof to the crystalline pavement. “There are some really cool speed-boats that compete in the Griffin Isles Grand Prix. The race always starts in Trottingham. Every now and then I’ll go and watch it when it’s shown in theatres. You should go and see it some time, it’s great.”
“Hm…I think I’d like that.” He began to stream fire onto another cold body. “Mayhaps I’ll visit Trottingham around the time of this race.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Rainbow Dash choked as the fumes of burning fur and flesh assaulted her nostrils and turned away to dry-heave once more.
“Wait,” Iron Forge continued, woefully unaware of his companion’s predicament. “How wouldst they show a boat race in a theatre?”