• Published 6th Oct 2013
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Faster - Einhander



Rainbow Dash is given a chance to make her heart's desire real: to be the fastest pony alive.

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I: Blue Pegasus

FASTER

by Einhander

Pre-read and edited by SpaceCommie and Cola Bubble Gum

New edit: Sharp Spark


Part I: Blue Pegasus


It sleeps.

For how long nopony knows, least of all itself.

Time isn't important to it. What is important is to find the next pony. And even then, how long isn't so important. They will come. They always come.

And so it sleeps.

It reveals itself only to the worthy, to those who strive for the extraordinary. For the ponies whose hearts burn to move mountains and shatter the barriers between this world and others.

It sleeps, waiting for the next dreamer.

Why it does what it does is hard to say.

What it wants is easier to decipher.

It wants to wake up.


The angles were right. The air was right. This was it.

Rainbow Dash flapped her wings and looked down at the earth. The last time she had pulled this off—and truth be told, it had been awhile— she was soaring into the sky over Canterlot for Cadance's wedding. There was no wedding this time, but the same dread surfaced in the pit of her stomach.

She gritted her teeth.

Focus.


“Fluttershy, I bet you're wondering why I’ve brought you here for this morning's sunrise.”

“Oh, yes, it is a lovely sunrise. Thank you for sharing it with me, especially on your birthday. I am a bit sleepy, though.“

“Ahem. I brought you here to be my timekeeper. This run's gotta be timed perfectly, Fluttershy. Per. Fect. Ly. Do you copy?”

“Um, I understand you, if that’s what you mean?”

“That's exactly what I mean. Now, I’ve been practicing this for months, and tomorrow is my last Wonderbolts tryout—”

“Oh. I thought you already had your last tryout. Wasn’t it last month? Or the month before that? I thought . . . um, I mean, yay? Wonderbolts try out? Woo hoo?”

“Just hold this stopwatch. You hit start when I go off, you hit stop when I get back. Ready?”

“Well, okay.“

“GO!"


She got into position for her dive. It already felt like she was falling.

Dash took a breath and closed her eyes. She visualized herself as a Wonderbolt. She saw the crowds, the uniform, the look of respect Spitfire gave her, the wink she earned from Soarin, her friends in the crowd.

Fluttershy waving a tiny banner, giving that adorably pathetic “yay”.

The best of both worlds.

She opened her eyes, and dove in freefall.


“O…okay… whew… how was that?”

“Way to go, Rainbow Dash! Five minutes, ten seconds!”

“What?!”

“Um… well, that’s what it says, am I reading it right? It says five, and then one, and then zero.”

“Did you click the button when I said go?”

“Yes?”

“And you clicked it when I came back? Like right when I crossed this line?”

“Yes.”

“This is important, Fluttershy. Did you click it when I crossed the line?”

“Yes! I mean. I’m pretty sure.”

“Five minutes and ten seconds?!

“I think that’s pretty good, Dash. I certainly couldn’t do the gorge in that time and— hey, Dash, come back! I’m sorry! Did I say something wrong?”


All she needed was to hear that sonic explosion. All she wanted was to see the wave, the colors. If she could do that again, then she’d ace her tryout tomorrow.

The wind rushed by her. Flapping her wings, she used the wind to add speed to her descent. She was picking up speed, but not enough. Not to break through and cause a rainboom.

She flapped her wings harder, and started straining every muscle. She knew it was a mistake to start that soon, that she should pace herself, but she didn’t care. She wanted to break that barrier.

She was going to be a Wonderbolt if it killed her.


“Doc, there’s gotta be something wrong with me, there’s just gotta be.”

“Well, I’ve run every test I can think of without keeping you here overnight. Blood pressure’s normal; you’re not running a fever. I can’t see anything physically wrong with you.“

“I’ve been pushing myself everyday! I cut out sweets, and I’m working out as much as ever, but my time for the gorge hasn’t improved. And then today—”

“Gorge? Time? I’m sorry, you’ve lost me.”

“Listen. The best way to gauge my current speed is a lap through the Ghastly Gorge. I measured it. It's about the same length as the Wonderbolts obstacle track. My best time is 4 minutes flat. But that was like, once, two years ago. I usually can complete it around 4 minutes, 30 seconds. Sometimes up, sometimes down, but always trying to move my average closer to 4 minutes.”

“Okay...”

“But over the past year, my average has stayed the same, no matter how hard I try. The gorge hasn’t changed. The weather’s always about the same, but my time stopped going down. It even started going up!”

“I see.”

“So I figured I’d just, you know, keep it cool for awhile. Practice, but not time myself. Figured I was psyching myself out. Well, today, I do the run, and it’s five minutes ten seconds! That’s forty seconds over my average! Something’s gotta be wrong with me!”

“Uh, huh. Rainbow, how long have you been trying to become a Wonderbolt?”

“Gosh, it feels like forever. But if you want to get all specific about it, I guess... four years, maybe?”

“And how long do they let ponies try out for?”

“Technically, this is the last year I can try out. They’ve got this stupid age limit, which I really don’t get.“

“Ms. Dash, as ponies age, their bodies age as well. And change.”

“I remember health class. You gonna tell me where foals come from too?”

“I’m telling you that you’re not a teenager any more, Dash. You’ve been a working weather pony for years now. You’re an adult.”

“What are you getting at?”

“You’re in top health for your age, Dash. You’re just getting older.”

“Doc, that’s not going to work for me. I’ve been working my whole life on getting faster. I need to be faster.”

“Ponies slow down over time, Rainbow Dash. That’s just life.”


The wind roared past her, and her eyes started to water as the ground got closer and closer. She felt the white barrier start to form around her body as she found it hard to keep her eyes open. Her body started sending her warning signals. Her back leg was kicking out. Her wings were trembling, not in a good way. Her eyes were watering too soon.

She ignored them all. The colors started to form. She was so close.

She could do this. She was Rainbow Dash. The fastest pony in Equestria. A shoo-in for Wonderbolt glory. Age be damned, physics be damned, she just needed one last push. She dug down deep.


“Rainbow, calm down. You’re not making sense.”

“Don’t you get it? This is it! My last chance! There won’t be another try out, and I just had my worst lap time ever!”

“Isn’t it possible that Fluttershy just, well, messed up with the stopwatch?

“That’s just it, Twi. That was the second time I did the run today.”

“What?”

“I asked Scootaloo to do it after I met with the Doc. I thought the same thing, that Flutters was nervous and screwed it up.“

“What happened?”

“Five minutes, eight seconds. Fluttershy was only off by two.”

“Oh, Rainbow…”

“I’m washed up. I’m never going to be a Wonderbolt. Happy birthday to me.”

“Would that be so bad?”

“What?”

“I mean, you’ve got a great life here, Dash. Your friends love you. Tank loves you. You’ve stolen the hearts of many a stallion, and I know for a fact at least one mare. Scootaloo worships you. And the weather department couldn’t run—“

“Stop talking Twi. Just stop.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—“

“This is my dream. Everypony got theirs but me! Your crown, Rarity’s fashion line, Applejack’s farm, Pinkie’s, well… it’s Pinkie, she’s living her dream already. Even Fluttershy’s got her bucking pets.”

“Dash!”

“Don’t ‘Dash’ me, Princess. You’ve gotten everything you wanted out of life. So has everypony else around here. I just want what’s mine, and now, it’s not going to happen. Because I’ve spent my prime years, my fastest years, bumming around with you and everypony else when I could have been—“

“Everypony else? You mean your friends? The ponies you’d never leave hanging?”

“Yeah! I stood by you all and what did it get me? A one way ticket to loser city. I’m just going to be another stupid, boring, ordinary weather pony in this stupid town.”

“Dash, this isn’t you. You love Ponyville. Don’t you remember what happened at the Wonderbolt Academy? The choice you made?”

“I chose wrong, Twilight. I should have stayed.”

“That hurts, Dash.”

“Look, I’m- I gotta go. I’m all messed up. Sorry. I’m just gonna go fly around or something.”

“Pinkie’s got a surprise party planned for you, you know. She got me to cast the cloud-walking spell on everypony. They’ll be waiting at your house. Fluttershy even made you a cake...”

“I can’t. Not right now.”

“We love you, Rainbow, no matter what. You know that, right?”

“Don’t follow me.”


Her spirit was willing, but biology and physics would not be ignored.

They caught up with her, fast. Her muscles had nothing left for one last push, leaving her less of a high-speed flier and more a fast-dropping sack of fur and feathers. Her wind speed and velocity, while not fast enough to create a sonic rainboom, were fast enough to make it too hard to pull out of a dive.

Dash fell.


It felt a heart crying out, and it awoke.

There was a new pony. Brave beyond brave and rash beyond rash, flying.

No, falling.

Still trying, anyway.

It watched.


She screamed as she tried to flap her wings. Nopony could hear her, as she was plummeting through the sky in a deserted mountain range, but that wasn't important. She kept sending orders to her muscles, and they did nothing. Her legs were shot. Her arms had almost nothing. Her wings were working, but just barely. She decided if she couldn't stop, maybe she could glide her way out of it.

Tentatively reaching out her wings, she tried to adjust her direction. Feather by feather, it started to work. She was shifting the fall into a dive, and a dive meant control.

She angled her wings up ever so slightly. The wind caught, and her descent slowed a bit. Carefully, she leaned her head and arms up. Still diving but slowing, she prepared her legs for one last kick to start ascending.

A gust of wind hit from the side, and pain jolted through her wings as they blew out. Flexing brought the clear understanding that something was broken. Whipping around at the will of gravity and the winds, black clouds started to swim through her vision.

Then her brain, her torturous brain that never let her forget any mistake or failing reminded her:

This is no one's fault but your own.

The mental blow somehow doubled her physical pain. Dash looked down. Her vision was dimming, shock overtaking her senses, and it occurred to her for the first time that she was actually going to die.

She had about twenty seconds, and she was not afraid.

She was angry.

Dash shrieked.


It heard her scream. It felt her heartbreak.

It decided it was time to try again.

It opened up and let her fall into its world.


Wet. It was the next thing Rainbow Dash remembered. Her body was soaked through, and her back legs were still in some kind of water.

Then she felt the pain. Everything ached.

Which wasn’t right. Her body was aching with pain, when it should have been screaming. This was day-after pain, the pain you get from exerting too much, sleeping all day and then trying to move. It was harsh, but survivable. Based on how fast she was falling, and from how high…

I should be dead.

She opened her eyes and looked around. She was lying on some kind of beach, not immediately recognizable to her. Everything was dark, except for the stars above. She stood up, tried to shake off the wetness, and then—

She paused. She looked up at the stars again, and realized they were very far away, and there appeared to be a dark ring surrounding them. Then she looked down at her wet hooves, and the source of the water dripping off of them.

This was a lake. An underground lake. And the stars, her way out, appeared to be very far away indeed. What was this place?

How was she going to get out of it?

Experimenting with her wings resulted in a mild wave of pain and nausea. They were still in pretty bad shape, but didn’t seem to be broken now. She could fly a little, maybe hover, but she wasn’t getting out of here without rest.

Great. I should be resting up for tomorrow, not—

Her mind froze. Tomorrow. Even if she could get out of here by then, the odds of her being in any kind of flying shape tomorrow were close to zero. She sank back to the ground, realizing that while her being alive was probably a miracle, her dream of being a Wonderbolt was, in fact, dead. This was her last chance, and she was going to spend it at the bottom of a hole until she could fly out of it.

Dash didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was all so absurd. She stared at the water lapping up on the shore. While she was indeed deep down, the light from the stars was bright enough so that she could see her reflection.

It didn’t make sense. Where was the light coming from?

Blue pegasus, rise.

Her head snapped up. The voice was loud and formal, bigger than Princess Luna’s royal Canterlot voice. It was neutral in tone but overpowering in volume. And where was it coming from?

Golden light filled the cave. She could now see that the cavern was a giant circle, and the lake was a thick line cutting it in two. There was one path out: a tunnel at the opposite end of the lake, where the light was brightest. There was not, however, a path around or through the lake. It looked quite deep.

After a moment, the source of the light appeared in the mouth of the tunnel. Dash wished Twilight was here to tell her what she was seeing. No doubt there was some egghead magic term for the thing floating on the other side of the lake. It looked sort of like ball lightning, but not like any she’d ever seen, sparkling and electric, a yellow fireball about the size of a pony’s head.

It had sped towards her before she realized it, and stopped right in front of her. It floated over the water for a moment.

Rise, and follow.

Was she dreaming? It was the only sane explanation for everything since her fall. She looked at the ball, unsure if it could look back. It had no mouth or eyes. But she couldn’t shake the feeling it was staring right at her, if not right through her.

She stood up. “Where?”

Follow. It started floating away, across the lake.

She frowned and shouted, “Hey, genius! There’s no way across!”

The orb stopped.

Do you not have wings?

“Well… yeah. So?”

Make a path.

The orb continued over the water.

Dash swore.

Given the distance, it was perhaps the longest, most tiring and embarrassing flight of her life. She was trying her hardest, but for the strangeness of the dream, the exhaustion was very real. All the while, the orb floated silently, waiting for her on the other side. After five minutes of panting and high-effort low-output flapping, she finally landed on the other side of the lake.

“Now what,” she wheezed.

The orb remained still, as if regarding her.

Follow.


She followed.

Half an hour later, she was starting to regret it. After the latest climb up a rather long stairway, she whined, “Look, buddy, are we close?”

Time is not important. Only the journey matters.

Dash rolled her eyes. The orb had given a lot of these types of answers.

The orb led her deeper into the cave, up and down different paths and stairways, past statues, bizarre rock formations, and even piles of treasure. Every question she had was met with vague promises of the answers being at the end. Dash decided to just keep her mouth shut for the rest of the ‘journey’ that supposedly ‘mattered.’

The treasure had been getting stranger as they went along. After a dragon’s trove of gold bits and raw gems, next came jewels that were polished and shaped: apples, stars, balloons, diamonds.

She stopped at a beautiful pink diamond butterfly, entranced.

The orb stopped as well. Do you desire this bauble?

“Can I have it? I mean, not for me, but I know somepony who would really appreciate it.” Dash looked away, a light blush on her cheeks.

It will surely make a suitable gift for your desired mate.

The blush was now deep and fast. “Hey! Who said anything about a m— about that?!”

If it is your heart’s true desire, you may have it.

“Really? Awesome! I’ll totally pay you back. I make decent pay, but I don't have any bits on me."

You may have it for nothing.

Red flags went up in her mind. “What’s the catch?”

Only that your journey ends here. Take your jewel and go.

Dash was getting mad. “Oh yeah? And what if I take it and follow you anyway?”

The way forward will close. The way back will open.

She blinked, then looked behind her, and realized that there was no way back. Though she had been walking for a long time, the path behind her was a dead end. There was only the way forward.

A wave of anger went through her, but left as fast as it came. It was pointless. Dream or real, she wasn’t in charge here. It was a standoff. Dash took another look at the butterfly, then dramatically flipped her mane and looked away.

“Whatever. It’s just a stupid butterfly. Let’s get this over with.”

Follow.


“That’s it. I’m not going another step until you tell me what the heck is going on.” It was a half hour later. There had been more treasures, more statutes, and she was done.

We are here.

The orb vanished. She looked around. It was a room much like the one she had started in, only instead of a lake, there was a tiny pool in the center of the room, and in the center of the pool, a pedestal. On the pedestal, a glittering stone hovered. A bright golden light was coming out from the middle of it, and it was blinding.

Approach.

Dash squinted, unable to keep her eyes on the stone for more than a few seconds without looking away. It was too bright.

Dash tried to step forward, but was practically blind. “Any way you can, uh, turn it down some?”

Very well.

Though her eyes were closed, she felt the light dim. She opened them, and found a mist had wrapped itself around the room. It was still bright enough to see, but the fog dimmed things to a tolerable level.

You have been tested. You have passed. You have proved your endurance, your patience and your ability to withstand temptation.

“Tested? What? Who are you?”

I have not found you wanting in any area, although perhaps you should refrain from complaining quite so much.

She snorted. “Well maybe you shouldn’t be quite so mysterious and answer a question now and then. Like who are you?”

A White pegasus once named me Proteus. You may use that name as well as any other.

Dash groaned. “Proteus? Really?” She sighed. “Alright, ‘Proteus’, what’s up?”

I felt you falling from the sky because you dared too far. You refused to die quietly. I decided to intervene.

Dash felt the color drain out of her. “You, uh, saw that?”

Such bravery is rare. And that, Blue pegasus, is why I have saved your life.

Silence. Dash’s throat felt very thick. “Thanks?”

Gratitude is not important. What is important is your heart, and what it desires.

Dash blinked. “I’m sorry, I’m lost.”

The reason you were pushing yourself further than was safe or sane. Why you were trying to achieve a top speed, knowing full well you were weak.

The light was getting brighter.

What your heart truly desires, Blue pegasus. If you wish it, I can grant it.

She lit up. “Really? Any wish? You’re like a genie?”

Only for the worthy. One wish, to make your desire real.

“Ohmigosh Ohmigosh Ohmigosh…” Dash was a little filly all over again, hopping up and down. “A wish, a wish, I could have anything!” She stopped. “Wait. What do I want? How was I supposed to know this would ever be an actual situation?”

The voice’s tone was always level, but if Dash had been paying more attention, she might have heard some confusion in it.

Truly? You do not know? You almost died trying to achieve it less than a few hours ago.

Dash waved a hoof. “Nah, I’ve done the Sonic Rainboom. Not lately, but I’ve done it.”

Why did you fail, when it is something you have achieved before?

She frowned. “My Doc says no matter how hard I train, this is as fast as I'm going to get… that I’m too old. 'Ponies slow down', or some kind of crud. Which is ridiculous! I’m only been out of school like, what, five years?”

Ponies grow old, they die. The heart wants the moon, but the wings only deliver the sky. Most ponies are content with that, as they discover love, friendship and parenting.

“Horsefeathers! I'm the best flier in Equestria because I bust my chops everyday! It’s not fair that just because I waited a year or two, I can’t be a Wonderbolt!” Dash felt tears coming. “It’s not fair!

You could settle for an ordinary life, but I suspect you were meant for something different.

“Different?”

Something better. Something special.

“Yeah! I’m supposed to be a Wonderbolt!”

There was a pause. The confused tone returned.

Have I slept too long? Have ponies traded dreams of the moon and the stars for a mere uniform and rank?

Dash backed up a step. The tone had turned nasty.

If that is all you wish, then very well. A Wonderbolt you shall be, and that is all.

Dash spoke up, “Wait! You... you’re right. Even if they didn’t know I got it by wishing, I’d know. I want to earn it.” She kicked at the ground. “And even if I got it just cause of some stupid wish, I’d blow the next test. They time you twice a year. If you slow down too much, you’re out. I’m just going to get slower and slower, and that—“

She stopped. It clicked in her head. It was so simple.

“I got it.”

Speak.

Dash closed her eyes, and cleared her head. “I want to be faster.”

Strange sounds emanated from the mist, a low level of rumbling.

You wish to be the fastest pony in all of Equestria? Truly the fastest?

She hesitated. “I don’t want to just, like, win a race because I wished it. That’ll get old real quick. I want to compete, and I want to win, but fair and square.”

And is this not… unfair? The advantage you seek?

“I work harder than anypony else at flying, and that’s not changing. But it’s bucked up that I can work hard and just maintain my speed, or see it slip. It’s not fair.” She sighed. “Life isn’t fair. My wish is just for it to be fair. If I get stronger, fly better, and try harder, it’s only fair that I get faster. Not slower.”

The sounds continued, and the glow intensified.

Make no mistake, Blue pegasus. The price you pay will be steep.

“I thought you didn’t want my money?”

We are not discussing price. We are discussing what it will cost you.

The riddles were shredding Dash’s nerves. "And what is it, my soul? I’ve had this dream before.”

There was a pause.

I don't presume to tell you how to interpret your dreams, but I am real, and I have been doing this a long time.

The cave suddenly filled with light, and Dash was momentarily blinded.

I was real when a young pegasus asked to be the sun so many years ago.

Dash felt light all around her. She tried to open her eyes. The harsh light was now replaced by gentle sunshine. She was in the middle of a field on a sunny day. The warm rays of Celestia's sun washed over face and back, and she almost purred at the touch. She closed her eyes, taking in the warmth.

Her sister followed. She wanted to be the moon.

Suddenly as it had come, the light vanished. Dash felt the grass under her hooves turn somehow soft and yet hard at the same time. She opened her eyes. The moon and its tiny bright companions lit up the sky, and Dash felt the wind sweep past her. She shivered as she saw the desert stretch out for miles around her. The warmth had been replaced by bitter cold, but she could not deny the stark beauty of the desert ocean and its shifting sands. The cave suddenly filled with white light, and Dash was momentarily blinded again.

Once the light faded, Dash felt the grass under feet turn somehow back to rock. She opened her eyes. They were back in the cave.

“Let me get this straight. You gave Luna and Celestia their powers?”

I have been here a long, long time. They were my greatest successes. Others... did not turn out so well.

The light in the cave went away and there was nothing but darkness, followed by a sickly green glow.

You asked about a soul. I have never seen or held such a thing. But your request might take you beyond the lifetimes of your friends and family. There is no other way. And for some, that is too long.

Black skeletal structures stretched everywhere, with green slime oozing out of sinewy bags that were hung from the ceiling.

A young unicorn said she wanted love— all the love in the world. She wanted to drown in it, to eat, sleep and breathe it. Her wish was granted, but was this her dream?

A young unicorn stallion ran past Dash, breathless. "No, please, no..."

Chrysalis flew around the bend, a hungry smile on her face. "But dear,” came her sickeningly sweet voice, “I love you... "

"Stop right there!" Dash snarled, and jumped in front of the changeling queen. Chrysalis didn't stop. Instead, the queen went right through Dash, and pounced on the unicorn colt.

Dash turned, dumbfounded. While she could feel the muggy dampness of the cave, Chrysalis's rampaging body had passed through her like she wasn’t real.

"What gives?"

These are shadows, things that have already been and cannot be changed.

"I don't know you! I've done nothing to you, please! I have a family, two little ones..."

"Oh I know, Right Hoof. Your little ones and your stallion at home. How could I forget? You chose him over me, remember? Of course no mare could have competed with him, in your eyes." Chrysalis leaned over and licked her lips.

"Crystal?" Right Hoof croaked. "Is that you?"

She shook her head. "Chrysalis. I am now a queen." She hesitated, closing her eyes, "I would have made you so happy, Right Hoof. I would have done anything for you." Her eyes opened again, and Dash was shocked to see how soft they were.

"Crystal... If I hurt you, I can't apologize enough. You disappeared halfway through the night. We, we thought you were dead. Please, if I can make it up to you, I will. I just want to go home to my family."

"Oh yes. Your stallion, Starbuck. And your two foals." She got closer, her eyes now void of all gentle nature.

"Please, whatever you want—I'm sorry, okay? I'm sorry, whatever I did. My little ones..."

"Aren't you going to help him?" Dash demanded.

These events happened long ago.

"What do you want?" said Right Hoof.

"Your family..." Chrysalis put her hooves on Right Hoof's shoulder, and he writhed in pain.

This stallion is already dead.

"Tell me how much you love them."

Her eyes flashed green, and Right Hoof's eyes went wide, and green energy started flowing out of him. There was no sound, just a long sigh.

"Stop!" Rainbow screamed. "No more! I want to go home!"

The muggy feeling was gone. Dash spun around, and realized she was back in the cave. The glowing stone lay in front of her.

There are rewards. There are risks.

"Risks? Risks! Chrysalis is like the most evil creature there is, besides Sombra! You’re saying I’m going to become like her?!"

I am saying that all I do is grant the wish. You will become faster, faster than any pony in Equestria, if you commit yourself. You will live as long as you have the drive to fly. You will be remembered. Remembered for what? That is up to you.

Dash shook her head, “She’s a monster. I don’t want to be a monster, I just want to be the best.”

Perhaps I misjudged you. Very well. There are joys in anonymity as well. Good luck to you.

"No, wait!" Dash darted forward, hurtling through the cloud. The light was getting dimmer. “I didn’t say for sure yet!”

Then decide, blue pegasus! Choose your path.

She thought hard. Her test tomorrow. The disappointed looks on her friends’ faces when she failed again. A life of managing the weather in this small town. A family, maybe? Foals yukking up on her. A long, boring life, never having truly tasted the sky, while the others went on to royalty, fame and fortune.

She looked up at the stone with a hard glint in her eye. "I want to be faster."

This is your final choice?

Dash nodded.

So be it.

A flash came, brighter than anything, blinding. There was a roar, and she felt a cold wave wash over her body, like a freak blizzard. Then, nothing.

Dash opened her eyes. The flash was gone, the cold was gone, and all that was left was the glow of the mist in front of her.

It is done.

"That's it?"

I have given you what you asked for. You are, most certainly, 'faster'.

Dash hesitated, closing her eyes to focus on her body. She felt less tired, but that was really no different from before she had asked Proteus to grant her wish. She opened her eyes and looked at her legs, glancing at her cutie mark. Still Rainbow Dash. Out of desperation, she lifted one of her hooves and looked underneath it.

I feel your doubt.

"I just don't feel any different."

You are not the pony you were. The physical manifestations will not occur until later, once the transformation is complete.

She shrugged. "Okay." The mist shifted, and Dash felt the temperature starting to rise.

Do you require a demonstration? Very well.

The mist started glowing a bright yellow and orange. Warmth flowed in the air, and a guttural sound grew from the silence. The orange mist became red, and the walls started shaking. Dash backed up a step.

Something Proteus said chose an inopportune time to jump to the front of her mind.

"Wait, what did you mean, physical—"

Suddenly the mist dissipated and there was just flame. She had only seen an actual fireball a few times in her life, but now she was seeing another.

Fly, blue pegasus!

Dash turned tail and did just that.

Thankfully, the trickery from before had evaporated, and there were tunnels everywhere. The problem was, most of them were on fire. She took any available route that was not engulfed in flame. Up, down, left, right, bobbing and ascending, any path that didn't start with hot death.

She zoomed past statues crumbling in the heat, her muscles screaming at her as she committed every available ounce of energy towards survival.

She flew on.

Clarity came to her. Usually at this speed her brain would be focused on beating a record or saving another pony in danger, some one thing to focus on that wasn't just her. This time the only thing at stake was her life. She was no fan of irony, but there was a smile sneaking in on her stretched grimace of a face. The fire was getting closer. It was a losing gamble. She was going to die because she said yes to some stupid voice in a cave.

Something in her back leg gave out, and she felt that recent familiar chill of slowing down. She wasn't completely spent, but her future was locking into place. At the next corner or bend, she wouldn't be able to make the turn. She'd hit the wall. The fire would win the race.

At least nopony else would get hurt.

Nopony else gets hurt? Really? How's Pinkie going to take this?

A shard of ice went through heart.

Remember how sad she was when she thought you all abandoned her? Talking to a rock and a bag of flour? Now imagine her at your funeral. Of course, that's if there is a funeral. If you fall behind now, there's not going to be a body. You think Twilight's going to give up until they find it?

Another cold stab went through her. Dash suddenly despised her new-found mental clarity.

You thought that Smarty Pants incident was something, wait until that egghead tries to spend all of her energy trying to find your stupid corpse. That's on you, Dash.

She gritted her teeth, and focused on the next turn.

She's not going to go alone, either. Rarity will help, because that's how she is, especially after you saved her that one time. She'll go to the ends of Equestria with Twilight to find you, if need be. In fact, she'll probably want to find you so bad that she'll end up making the same dumb deal you did.

She wanted to scream stopstopstopPLEASEshutup, but her actual muscles refused to be used for anything but propulsion. No emotion would be allowed to override the need to move, and the use of all energy towards that end. The flames from the cave licked at her hooves, as if trying to focus her attention.

Applejack will act strong of course, but she'll be devastated. She'll try to be the shoulder to cry on for all of them. Celestia help her for dealing with those three kids, though... her sister and Rarity's sister and Scootaloo. Poor Scootaloo. What's that poor filly going to do? What about Tank?

She squinted at the path ahead as the walls themselves started crumbling. Impossibly, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Traces of smoke reached her nose, the scent of singed hair and approaching death.

Fluttershy.

That word brought a fire inside her that suddenly melted all of the ice that had been stabbing her heart. The light was closer. So was the ceiling. It was collapsing. She willed herself forward.

You'll never get to tell her.

The light was dimming as there was more rock than air. Somehow, she saw a path through the debris.

She’ll never know how much she means to you.

If she could just get a last boost of speed...

You're going to die.

She reached down deep, like she had earlier, for one last push...

Because in the end, Dash, you were just too slow.

She didn't find it, but something else was happening. A wave of cold shot through her body. She felt her hooves turn to ice, then somehow they weren't in pain anymore.

—too slow—

She found it. One last burst of energy. Earlier where there was nothing, now came a wave of strength. She broke through the rainboom barrier, the wave of energy pulverizing falling rock. She didn't have to dodge anything, because now there was nothing in her way.

Rocketing out of the cave, she burst forth into the cool air that washed away the heat. The air entered her lungs and soothed the tiny burns as the smell of fresh air and clouds filled her nostrils. She heard the cave explode behind her, but didn't look back, couldn't look back. The voice in her head had been silenced by the glorious explosion of color and sound.

She kept waiting for her energy to run out but instead, somehow, it was still there. It was dogged, persistent. It wasn't a glass of water, it wasn’t a river, it wasn’t even a waterfall. It was an ocean, endless and everpresent, unable to be drained no matter how much she drank.

She drank more.

Faster. Clouds zoomed by. Her speed was still rising, but so was her control. She did a loop-the-loop, and laughed like it was her birthday.

Which, come to think of it, it was.

There was another explosion, and a fresh wave of colors flowed. She’d broken the barrier, again, like it was nothing.

She drank again. A cold shiver went through her body. She felt the wave of cold seize over her, focusing on her ears. And she went faster. In fact, she felt like she was about to—

There's no way you can keep this up.

Her brain found its voice again.

You should be dead, or at least, you should be passing out.

The wave of cold left her body as it found itself in agreement with her mind. At least the passing out part.

She felt all the energy drain from her body, and she began to fall. As she plummeted to earth, two vague thoughts entered her head.

The first was, that her hooves, for whatever reason, were covered in bright shiny white-bluish metal. She wasn’t sure why, but they felt incredibly light and looked damn cool. Not that it mattered now.

The second was, she thought she could hear a storm brewing to the north, by the Everfree. Which was strange, because a storm wasn’t scheduled for another two weeks.

Everything went black.

Author's Note:

This chapter has been re-edited by Sharp Spark.