• Published 22nd Feb 2016
  • 11,526 Views, 808 Comments

Empty Horizons - Goldenwing

Twilight wakes up, alone in the dark. And she's drowning.

  • ...

IX: The Catch

Rarity was sitting on a cushion by Twilight’s bedside, a half-ignored book levitating before her. The Count of Mareti Cristo was an old favorite of hers, a tale full of sweeping emotion and yearning romance, and she’d been ecstatic when Mr. Rich had shown it off to her during a walk through one of his several reliquaries. An original print, he had said, preserved in an iron lockbox within the wreckage of an ancient Equestrian vessel. She hadn’t been so crude as to take the weathered book itself, but had been quick to have a servant fetch her a reprinted copy from the local library. She was finding it hard to focus on the words, however. Try as she might, she couldn’t distract herself from the very pressing issue at hoof.

Twilight had collapsed right in front of Fluttershy’s bed, and she hadn’t woken up for the past three days.

Even now she lay twisted up in her sheets, head turning, hooves twitching, and her lips parting to let loose strained grunts of pain every few moments. She would sometimes throw terrifying fits where she screamed and begged for help or forgiveness for a few hoarse minutes, unrelenting no matter how many of her friends came to comfort her.

Rainbow Dash was in the room as well, wings working as she paced across the ceiling. Pinkie had gone with Fluttershy for a walk through the estate gardens a couple hours ago, and they’d yet to return; the soft-spoken mare had been stricken with a petrifying mix of shock and guilt since waking up. Applejack had meanwhile been throwing herself into helping the crew of the Argos prepare for their next outing, only saying that Twilight would want them to be ready when she woke up.

Rarity grimaced, looking over to where she had spread Twilight’s neatly penned notes across the writing desk in her quarters. Trying to parse the dense thaumic equations was like diving horn-first into a slab of concrete. The sparse spellcraft lessons she’d received as a foal were like a desert puddle compared to the vast ocean of Twilight’s own arcane knowledge. The best that Rarity could tell her friends was that something had gone awry during the disenchantment, and Twilight had opted to accept the consequences onto herself instead of letting the wild magic travel freely. Rarity had seen unicorn’s faint from magic overloads before, but never for more than a few hours at a time.

And never with screaming night terrors. Rarity didn’t want to imagine what they would do if Twilight didn’t wake up soon. It had been surprisingly easy to keep her fate a secret—Mr. Rich happily believed that she was merely caught up in a pile of books, and Sea Sabre had done little more than arch a brow at the explanation—but she feared the illusion wouldn’t hold for long. She had been hoping to join Whitehorn on his trip westwards, but perhaps she would instead have to join her friends in vainly searching for some cure instead.

She sighed, trying once more to return to her book. There was nothing to do but wait, and to hope.

It was no good. She was so distracted by the situation that she didn’t even notice the silence until Rainbow Dash spoke up.

“Hey, do you hear that?” she said.

Rarity looked up, seeing that Rainbow had stopped her aerial pacing and was now hovering stationary beside the bed. “Hear what, darling?”

“Twilight. She’s quiet.”

Rarity scrambled to her hooves as properly as she could, letting her book fall to the ground. Now that she was paying attention she came to the same realization. Twilight was lying still for the first time in days, her mouth closed and the rictus of pain on her face fading into something distantly peaceful.

“Twilight?” Rarity said, taking a few hopeful steps closer. “Twilight dear, can you hear us?”

No response. Rainbow hovered a little closer. “C’mon Twi, wake up!” She nudged Twilight with a hoof.

Twilight’s horn burst into light.

Rarity flinched away at the sudden brightness, her horn tingling at the wave of magic. When she looked back, one hoof shading her eyes from the glow, she saw Twilight sitting up in the bed, her eyes glowing with energy, fixed on Rainbow Dash, and contorted with fury. Rainbow was frozen mid-air in the purple glow of Twilight’s magic, eyes bulging and mouth open as she gagged for breath.

“Twilight?” Rarity called, speaking up to be heard over the vortex of wind summoned by the rogue unicorn. “Twilight, please!” She backed up against the wall behind her, ears flattening against her head.

Twilight ignored her, instead climbing slowly out of the bed and advancing on Rainbow. The pegasus was floated backwards with her, still caught in her telekinetic grasp, until she was pushed up against the wall. Her wings twitched in futile resistance as she attempted to escape the vice of Twilight’s grip, knocking a mirror off the wall.

Rarity watched in terror as one friend began to choke the life out of the other. She turned and saw Pinkie gallop into the room, the rug bunching beneath her as she skidded to a stop. The pink mare’s whole body was vibrating, and her face was a mask of determination. Fluttershy entered a moment later, gasping for breath.

“What’s happening?” Fluttershy yelled.

“It’s a doozy!” Pinkie shouted back. She leveled a hoof on Twilight. “If you don’t stop hurting Dashie right now I’m going to have to slap some sense into you, Twilight!”

Twilight slowly turned her head, and though her pupils were impossible to see through the glow of her eyes, Rarity thought she saw a hint of confusion on her face.

“You asked for it, filly!” Pinkie reared up on her hind legs, drew back a hoof, and punched Twilight square in the jaw.

In an instant the glow of Twilight’s magic sputtered out, releasing Rainbow to bounce limply off a dresser and fight to suck in her breath. Twilight stumbled backwards, blinking in confusion as if she realized where she was for the first time.

“W-what?” she said. “What happened?”

Rainbow was already on her hooves, leaning against the wall as her chest heaved. She watched Twilight with wide eyes. “I… I need to stretch my wings,” she mumbled, before staggering out of the room.

Rarity approached Twilight, who had sat down heavily against the bed, and laid a hoof gingerly against her shoulder. “Are you quite alright, dear?”

Twilight looked up to her, tears already welling in her eyes. She broke down into ragged sobs, leaning into Rarity’s embrace. “I—I’m sorry! I don’t know what came over me, I just—it was so—”

The words fell apart into incoherent ramblings, and so Rarity simply ran a hoof through her stricken friend’s mane, making soft, comforting sounds into her ear like a mother comforting her foal. She looked plaintively to Pinkie and Fluttershy for assistance. Fluttershy kept a wary distance, but Pinkie bounced up to Twilight’s side as if she had already forgotten what had happened.

Together they held her until she could cry no more.

“We don’t have any time to waste, girls. I told you, I’m fine.”

The clearly skeptical looks of her friends sparked a flame of ire in Twilight’s mind. She shook her head, dislodging the irrational anger. They’re right to worry about me. I might have crippled Rainbow Dash—or worse.

Applejack’s concerned frown showed no more sign of fading than it had for the last hour. “I just don’t know, sugar cube. Y’all can’t go from faintin’ to screamin’ in yer sleep for three days to roughin’ up yer friends just like that and still say y’all’re right as an apple in a pie.”

“Applejack is right, dear,” Rarity said. “You know that you… overwork yourself, sometimes. A few days rest might do you well.”

Twilight’s horn lit as she grabbed an apple off the pile of fruit she’d assembled before herself and bit into it irritably. Unlike Fluttershy, she had woken from her sleep with the ravenous hunger and parched lips of three days without sustenance, and a great deal of her discipline at the moment was focused on not shoveling the food down her throat all at once. She and her friends were all seated at the mutual dining table in the shared suite that Mr. Rich had lent them, sparing only Rainbow Dash. The pegasus had bolted the instant Twilight had let her go, and there hadn’t been any sign of her last night. The empty seat stared her down like a shouted accusation of betrayal.

Twilight swallowed and took a deep breath, forcing herself to smile. “It was just the magic that I took in from Fluttershy working through my system. It’s all done with now, I promise. Really.” She hadn’t told them about the terrifying nightmare she’d been trapped in for those three days, or the alien sense of hatred that had overcome her when she’d woken up. She dared not let her friends know about either, lest they grow even more insistent in her resting. I need to get out there. I can’t fail Equestria any more than I already have.

Fluttershy had ducked lower in her seat at the mention of her name. Shy as she had been before, she was now practically mute even around her friends. Still, it was obvious that she blamed herself for what had happened.

Pinkie pulled Twilight into a sideways hug, shaking her gently. “C’mon, Twilight! It couldn’t hurt to laze around and relax for a couple days! Look, look—” She pulled out a scroll, holding it in front of Twilight. With a flick of her hoof it popped open, unrolling far further than it seemed it should have.

“What’s this, Pinkie?” Twilight frowned down at the foalish drawings and haphazard, multicolor scribblings. Pinkie was moving it around far too much for her to get any sense on what was written there.

“Plans for my ‘Congratulations on Breaking the Curse on Fluttershy and Then Eating It and Also Welcome Back Rainbow Dash’ party, duh!” Pinkie said. “Oh, and also for my ‘The-Party-Never-Stops First Party After the Apocalypse’ party, but that one has kind of become more of a sideshow now.”

Twilight couldn’t help but snort amusedly as Pinkie rolled the scroll up and stashed it in her mane. “Okay, how about a compromise? I still haven’t had time to draw up plans for our next expedition, and you all know how much stacks of paper, thick-bound historical tomes, and complex planning help me relax. Just… it will take me a few days to get everything organized. If there’s no other incidents by then, will you let me leave?”

“Sounds good to me!” Pinkie said, re-appearing in her chair. There was the sound of a party horn being blown from somewhere unseen, and confetti rained down on the table. “Just don’t be a frowny face when the party drops!”

Applejack kept her gaze fixed on Twilight. “I suppose I can’t fault y’all for wantin’ to get back into it. I sure as hay don’t like sittin’ on my rump when there’s a job that needs doin’. Just take care of yerself first Twilight, y’hear?”

Twilight nodded, her smile growing genuine. “Of course. I understand that you’re worried about me, and I appreciate it. I’m glad we could come to an agreement.”

Fluttershy let out a barely audible noise of assent. She had hardly been vocal in the debate in the first place, but Twilight still gave her a gracious smile. She turned to Rarity expectantly.

Rarity dipped her head. “As long as you know your own limits, darling. Heavens knows I’d like to avoid another incident. Has anypony seen Rainbow Dash, by the way?”

“She’ll be fine,” Applejack said. “That mare’s been through a lot, she probably just needs to zip around a bit, nap on a few clouds, and clear her mind. She’s been real cramped up lately. I’m sure she’ll be back later today.”

“I should hope so,” Rarity said. “I would like to bid her adieu when I leave for my trip.”

Twilight looked up from the neat little stack of apple cores she was arranging in front of her. “What trip?”

“Shucks, Twi,” Applejack said. “I reckon with all that’s been goin’ on we ain’t even had time to tell y’all yet.”

“It’s nothing major, darling.” Rarity waved a hoof and tossed her mane. “Pinkie and I were just going on a sojourn to Fellis. It’s another city, to the west of here.”

Twilight frowned. She chewed on a head of brocolli pensively. “When did that happen?”

“Just a few days ago, actually,” Rarity said. “A gentlecolt of my recent acquaintance invited me along with him.”

“His name is Whitehorn!” Pinkie added.

“Uh huh.” Twilight’s tail swished side-to-side beneath her seat.

“Somethin’ wrong, sugar cube?” Applejack asked, catching the motion with her eye.

Twilight sighed. “I just… I don’t like the idea of splitting up, is all.” The image of bodies floating in a sunken library flashed through her mind, and she tossed her mane to disguise the shiver that ran through her.

“We aren’t helpless foals, Twilight,” Rarity said. “I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’d rather not just sit about shining our hooves.” She paused, stretching an immaculately polished hoof out before her. “Well, at least not all day. You three might be suited to spelunking in dusty old ruins, but I’d rather do my part otherwise.”

“Yeah!” Pinkie added. Her smile grew strained, and her mane seemed to lose a little of its poof. “I’m not like a super-duper big fan of that, either.”

Twilight decided to ignore the incredibly incorrect use of the word ‘dusty,’ instead gesturing to the room around her. “Why can’t you do that here? Mr. Rich has given us these rooms, and bits. Isn’t that enough?”

“It’s not just about bits, dear,” Rarity said. “You have to know where to put them. Back in Ponyville I had connections with just about every business in town, but I’m an outsider here. Whitehorn is a generous soul, and he’s showing me how to make a difference here.” She smiled, leaning forwards to touch Twilight’s hoof. “We won’t be in any danger. We’ll be out in the middle of the city and with each other to keep us company. I’ve already talked with Mr. Rich about it, and he’s agreed to pass messages between us. It’ll be fine.”

Twilight closed her eyes, shaking the nightmare images out of her mind. “You’re right, Rarity. Even if you weren’t, it wouldn’t be right for me to try and hold you here. Just be careful, alright?”

“Of course, darling.”

“Okie dokie lokie!”

Applejack tilted her head, tapping a hoof to her chin. “What about y’all, Shy? Ya gonna stay here or what?”

Fluttershy flinched, ducking behind her mane. In a voice so quiet that Twilight had to lean forwards to hear her, she said, “I’ll stay with Rainbow Dash.”

“Well, I suppose that’s settled, then.” Rarity stood from her seat. “And with no time wasted, at that! There should be a boat arriving for Pinkie and I soon. We really must be going.”

Twilight blinked. “Already?”

“To be quite honest, dear, I was just about to call it off when you woke,” Rarity said. “It was quite a relief, once everypony calmed down.”

Pinkie had also left her seat, though Twilight hadn’t seen her do it. She bounced in place a few times, grinning. “Oh, I’m so excited I can barely wait! I hope everypony likes my Boarding Party! Seeya later, girls!” With that she zipped out of the room, leaving a small, confetti-laden draft in her wake.

Rarity giggled as she followed at a more measured pace. “Be sure to give my love to Rainbow when she returns. Tata, all! Don’t forget to write!”

There were certain perks to being a griffon.

A great many, actually, if Gava spent some time thinking on it. The rush of wind on your feathers, the taste of warm blood, the way that a pony would flinch when you flashed a talon and falter when you grinned—such were the everyday things that kept her going.

Today Gava had discovered another advantage: It was incredibly easy to gain access to Crazy Rich’s personal island estate. With her ship tied off on the mainland and Anatami watching the estate grounds from some hidden perch, Gava had simply walked up to the front door and knocked. She didn’t even need to supply a story. As soon as Rich heard that there was a rare griffon at his door he had rushed up to personally meet her.

Now they walked through the warmly lit halls of his subterranean homestead as he rambled on. She wasn’t truly listening, giving only the occasional acknowledgment as he led her to some lunch party or other like gathering. Her senses were instead intent on assessing the estate security for the much more thorough and secretive investigation that Ana planned to make later in the night. Gava had been surprised to find the estate entirely unguarded so far, a distinct departure from the constantly patrolled keeps of the baronlands she usually frequented. Perhaps there’s a barracks hidden somewhere deeper down.

They came out into an impressively wasteful open chamber at the intersection of several other halls. It was just as gilded as the rest of the manse, with faux windows that reflected sunlight channeled in from the surface and a fountain surrounding a statue of a unicorn with three bulging moneybags under his hoof. Gava couldn’t help but shake her head as she recognized the red liquid streaming out of the bags as wine. An actual wine fountain. What the hell.

Movement drew her eye, and she caught sight of a group of ponies entering from another hall. The trio at the rear of the group were dressed in the mismatched outfits of Crazy’s servants, each one struggling beneath bulging white-and-purple packs strapped all over their bodies. Ahead of them was an aggressively pink mare that was babbling something in an equally irritating voice and practically bouncing up and down with every step.

Gava came to a sudden stop as she recognized the pearlescent white unicorn in front. She had an overcomplicated curling mane—the sort that Gava usually associated with an excess of either time or money—and was wearing a bulbous violet and white lace dress bedazzled in multicolor gemstones. Well isn’t that just my luck?

“Oh! Is something wrong, my friend?” Mr. Rich asked, looking back. He had stopped a few steps ahead of her.

Gava dipped her head towards the approaching group. “Is that Countess Rarity?”

“Ah, you’ve heard of her, have you?” Rich asked, his voice laced with smug satisfaction. “How about a chat, then? Lady Rarity! What have you enchanted my poor servants into now?”

When Gava looked back, the pink pony seemed to have disappeared. Lady Rarity was already heading their way, a smile on her face. “Haven’t I told you, Crazy? I was leaving on my trip today,” she said.

For a brief moment Gava couldn’t help but frown, but she quickly recovered her mask of indifference. Leaving?

“Ah, was that today? Celestia, how time has flown since I took you in!” Rich said, taking the hoof that Lady Rarity extended. “Tell me, have you ever met a griffon before?” He gestured towards Gava as if presenting a gift, beaming. “Let me introduce you to Gava. One rarity meets another, as it were!”

Gava clacked her beak together. Most ponies didn’t recognize it as an expression of irritation. “Our numbers might have fallen, but we’re no weaker for it. I’ve heard much about you, Countess.”

Lady Rarity dipped her head cordially. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, darling.”

“Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie!”

Gava practically jumped out of her feathers, her talons scoring deep scratches in the wood paneling as they tightened. She looked to the side and suddenly found herself beak-to-muzzle with the pink one. “Wha—uh, hello? Who?”

“Pinkie Pie!” Pinkie repeated. She bounced over to Lady Rarity’s side, wearing a ridiculously goofy smile. “It’s nice to meet you!”

Gava ruffled her feathers. “I suppose you’re the Countess’ hoofmaiden?”

Rich chuckled, waving a hoof. “Actually, Miss Pie here is another of the Gifted that I rescued from the ruins of Old Canterlot!”

“Ah.” Gava offered the mare a curt nod. Things will be hard enough as is, even with them all in one place, and now they’re splitting up? She briefly considered pouncing right then and there, but promptly dismissed the idea. Normally she would be confident in her ability to quickly dispatch a half dozen soft-furred ponies, but the Gifted were still too unknown. Lady Rarity might even be able to defeat her alone, just by virtue of the powerful telekinesis and spellcasting abilities she was rumored to possess. As for Pinkie—well, it had been at least a decade since a pony had snuck up on her. She put on a false smile. “So, you’re going on a trip?”

“Indeed we are, darling!” Rarity said. “Pinkie and I are heading out on a friend’s yacht in just a couple hours.” She offered a quick curtsey. “As such, I’m afraid we haven’t the time to chat any longer. A pleasure to meet you, Gava! Adieu, Crazy!”

“See you later, guys!” Pinkie said, already bouncing along in Lady Rarity’s wake. “Be sure to look out for the party invitations!”

Gava followed them with her eyes as they stepped out of the room, the luggage-laden servants struggling along behind. She couldn’t help but swish her lion’s tail against the floor a few times as her mind raced. It was like watching a huge bag of bits walk away.

“What was that about a party?” she asked, still looking at the door they had left through.

“I’m not exactly sure,” Rich said. He started walking again, in practically the opposite direction. “Miss Pie is apparently renowned for throwing parties, though, so I’m sure it’ll be grand when she has it all ready! I’ll be sure to get an invitation your way if you’d like.”

Gava sighed, following behind him. She would have to hope that Ana handled the opportunity better. “That’s alright. I’m not much for parties.”

She put the encounter out of her mind for the next two hours as they joined up with a gaggle of minor officials and merchant emissaries. There was nothing she could do about it, so she instead focused on her original objective. Rich led the group around the halls like a colt leading along a flock of pigeons with bread crumbs, letting them stop only long enough to wonder in awe before he remembered some other room or trinket to show off. After nearly every statement it seemed he would ask Gava’s opinion, and she would come up with some trite comment to satisfy the crowd. All the while she was intent on constructing a mental map of the estate and searching for any further signs of the mysterious Gifted that had supposedly been pulled right from the ground.

Once she finally extracted herself from the group, she was forced to admit defeat with regards to her original purpose in visiting the estate. The servant that she eventually asked to lead her back to the front door kept glancing back fearfully as Gava quietly smoldered behind her. There may not have been any real security, but the sheer sprawl of the estate could hide a treasure as well as any labyrinth.

As soon as she felt the sun-warmed gravel of the outside paths undertalon, Gava took flight. The servant let out a choked cry as she was buffeted by the sudden gust of wind. Even through the anger in her mind, Gava managed a satisfied smirk.

She settled onto a thermal and let it carry her higher in lazy circles above the grounds. When Gava looked down she found the grounds empty. As expected, the servant had followed her instinctive urges to avoid giant birds of prey and headed back inside.

Gava spent a few minutes scanning the island from above, searching for Anatami. She should have revealed herself by now. With a grunt of annoyance she glided lower, eagle eyes flitting from tree to tree. Soon she found what she was looking for: a single, straight mark scratched into the trunk of a cedar.

Her wings fluttered rapidly as she landed among the branches. It took her only a moment to find Ana’s message, scratched into the wood where a ground bound walker couldn’t see it and where the leaves helped protect it from the notice of an unlikely flier passing above.

The message was written in and old and threadbare language that Gava’s father had taught them; more of a code than a real written word. It was designed for hunting, and so even with the additions that the duo had come up with there was often a certain open-mindedness required when using it.

Big prey passes, it said. Herd splits. I claim trophy myself. Feed clan first. Fortune guide your shadow.

You as well, sis, Gava thought. She couldn’t help but growl her frustration as she raked her talons over the wood, marring the code beyond recognition even to her. The chance of anyone who saw it being able to understand it was vanishingly slim, but it felt good to sink her claws into something either way.

Big prey passes. Ana had seen Lady Rarity and Pinkie and rightly identified them as targets. Herd splits. She must have shadowed them through the grounds and figured out that they were splitting off from the others. I claim trophy myself. Faced with the possibility of losing their trail and having to find them again, she had decided to stalk them herself. If an opportunity presented itself, she would pounce, but otherwise she would likely wait for the rest of the crew to catch up. Feed clan first. Ana didn’t want Gava to follow until she had caught the remaining four Gifted. The clan was the crew, and the more reliable bounty was to be focused on for now. Fortune guide your shadow. An old griffon farewell. Ana didn’t want her worrying.

Gava couldn’t object with the reasoning, even if she was leery of the complication. Ana would be sure to get a message out to her—she always found a way, somehow—but until then she was left with nobody to infiltrate the estate and no descriptions for the rest of the targets. With only Topgallant’s knack for picking up rumors to go off, all she knew was that they were somewhere under Rich’s protection.

She pumped her ire into her wings, quickly leaving the island behind and heading back for the mainland. She needed another plan, and she needed it before her prey began to scatter even more. Perhaps she could simply storm the estate with a bit of hired help. It would be easy enough to cover the island from her ship, capture Rich, and cut their whereabouts out of him. Or maybe she would arrange another meeting, bringing Drift Eye along, and coerce Rich into turning the Gifted over to him. The unicorn certainly didn’t seem the sort to suffer much pain for his toys, especially with how many he had. She might abduct a servant and twist their descriptions out of them. Knowing their appearances would be a great boon to the hunt.

She passed over a small island that seemed to house a minor manufacturing operation, and let out a shrill eagle cry. The sight of the ponies suddenly looking up in alarm or scrambling for cover did little to help her mood.

There was also Ana to worry about. The thestral had always liked to stalk her prey extensively before making a move, but Gava couldn’t help but be concerned. If the rumors were close to the truth, then Lady Rarity was powerful and dangerous game. She wanted to be back at Ana’s side as quickly as possible, even if the means would be a little sloppy.

A flash of color caught Gava’s eye, unusually vivid for the otherwise drab Heighton. She looked to her left, but all she saw of note was the rising column of smoke spawned from a factory on one of the lower islands. She watched for a few moments longer, and was rewarded with another stroke of color as a passing gale disturbed the smoke.

Gava drifted closer, curious. The smoke shifted again, and now she was certain. There was a glint of rainbow tucked away between the columns.

She didn’t know what any of the Gifted looked like, but she did know that they were unusual. Unusual like a tiny patch of rainbow color floating stationary above factory smokestacks. She reached into the satchel at her side, pulling out a pair of goggles and a thick leather bandana.

With her face protected, she climbed higher, took a deep breath, and dove into the smoke. To her surprise, there was a space of relatively clean air between the columns. She looked down as she hovered in the pocket of open air, and saw a cyan blue pegasus with a wild rainbow mane, curled up on a puffy white cloud as if it was a bed.

Gava cautiously flew lower, narrowing her eyes. What the hell is this? Even a Gifted would have trouble reaching this spot, as far away as it was from any of the neighboring islands. As if that wasn’t enough, the mare was lying on a cloud like it was solid, one wing folded and the other sloppily splayed out. Soon the mare’s cutie mark became distinct: a tri-color lightning bolt arcing out of a cloud. And just when I thought fortune had forsaken me.

This had to be one of her targets. Gava had heard legends of pegasi being able to shape the weather and stand on clouds, but even a Gifted pegasus could only dream of such feats. Not only that, but any Gifted with such a gaudy rainbow dyejob would have developed a reputation quickly. The fact that she had never heard of a pony with a rainbow mane only fed her suspicions.

Confident that she could outfly and outfight any pegasus, Gava brought herself to hover next to the cloud. She had never seen such a solid cloud, so she gave an experimental swipe of a talon through it. As expected, the cloud offered no resistance.

Let’s get this show started, then. Gava cleared her throat. “Hey, wake up.” The mare didn’t show any sign of hearing her through her obnoxious snoring, so Gava flicked her on the muzzle with her tail.

“Ow, hey!” The mare swatted at Gava’s tail with a hoof, opening her eyes to reveal fiery cerise eyes. “What do you want?”

Gava cocked her head. She wasn’t used to unfamiliar ponies regarding her with much beyond a wary respect. Now that she thought of it, Lady Rarity and Pinkie had hardly seemed cautious of her either. She pointed a talon at the mare’s mane. “I just saw that crazy dyejob of yours and had to take a closer look.”

“Excuse me?” The mare straightened up, wings flaring. She jabbed a hoof at her head. “This is all natural, thank you.”

Gava pretended not to hear her, leaning in closer. “By the winds, who the hell did that? Those lines look so natural.”

“Back off, chump!” the mare said, shoving her away with a hoof. “I’m really not in the mood for this, alright?”

Gava chuckled, carefully bottling up the surge of fury at the shove. She would use that later. “Sorry, I’ve just never seen a pony with a mane like that before. And Gifted, at that. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of you.”

The mare snorted. “That’ll change soon enough, trust me. The names Rainbow Dash, and I’m the fastest flier in Equestria!”

Gava grinned. “I’m Gava, and I know all the good fliers around here.” She prodded Rainbow’s chest with a talon. “So why haven’t I heard of you then, huh?”

Rainbow snarled, batting the claw away. “Because I’ve been missing for bucking centuries, I don’t know! I don’t even feel like racing, just leave me alone!”

“Centuries?” Gava asked innocently. Just a bit more proof, first. “Are you one of those frauds that Rich says he dug up from some puddle or something?”

“It’s real!” Rainbow snarled. “Just about everypony I ever knew is dead, and one of my best friends nearly killed me! Now leave me alone!

Yes, I think that’s more than good enough. “How about no?”

She lunged, barreling headfirst into Rainbow’s chest and locking her talons together behind her back.

Rainbow let out a strangled “Urk!” as she was pulled off of the cloud, her wings beating wildly in an attempt to escape. It was a valiant effort, and there were a few seconds where the two fliers hung in the air uncertainly. Then Gava reached out with her larger wings, pinning Rainbow’s to her sides, and they began to fall.

“Agh, get off!” Rainbow yelled. “We’re gonna crash!”

Gava’s beak stretched into a predatory grin as the wind began to pick up in her ears. Hooves beat against her back, but her prey wasn’t able to get the leverage for any kind of significant blow. She could just make out the dark shape of the smokestacks rapidly approaching from below. Just as they were about to burst through the smoke cloud below, Gava spread her wings wide and let go.

She grunted as her wings caught the air, transforming the fall into a carefully controlled dive. She came out of the smoke a couple dozen feet above the roof of the factory, pulling up into a wide curve above the rooftop.

Rainbow wasn’t as lucky. Confused and off-balance, she was just barely able to get the air under her wings and turn what would have been a painful fall into a stumbling, rolling crash landing on the hard surface of the factory roof. She yelped as she struck, tumbling head-over-hooves into a smokestack with a strangled grunt.

Gava was on her before she had any chance of recovering, landing on her side and driving the breath from her lungs. In an instant she had all six of Rainbow’s limbs under control, pinning the pegasus beneath her.

“What—what the hay!” Rainbow’s nostrils flared as she looked up at Gava with one eye. “What are you doing?”

Gava ignored the question, reaching into her satchel with her beak and pulling out a length of rope. It wasn’t quite as thick as she would like for transporting prisoners, but it would have to do until she got back to the ship.

“Hey! Answer me!”

Gava carefully wrapped the rope around Rainbow’s hooves, tying first her forelegs together and then her hindlegs. Lastly, she tied a third loop between the two, taut enough that Rainbow wouldn’t be able to move any of her legs.

“I’m talking to you, chump! Get your filthy talons off of me, you—”

Gava took in a deep breath, letting out a screeching eagle cry straight into Rainbow’s face.

Rainbow’s complaints cut off abruptly, her eyes shutting tight and her ears going flat against her head. She remained silent, no doubt trying to stop the ringing in her ears. Gava wrapped another length of rope around the base of the pegasus’ wings, securing the rest around her own chest and tying it snug. She then sat down on top of Rainbow, waiting for her to recover from the piercing shriek.

After a couple moments, the fiery cerise eye had locked back onto her. “Who the hay are you? What do you want?”

“I already told you who I am,” Gava said, cocking her head as if she didn’t understand the question. “I’m Gava, remember?”

Rainbow began to struggle against her bonds, though to no avail. “Let me go!”

Gava chuckled. “Well, since you asked so nicely I suppose I have to, huh? Oh, wait—no I don’t.”

Rainbow just glared at her as she continued to pull at the ropes around her hooves.

“Here’s what we’re doing, okay?” Gava tapped a single razor-sharp talon against Rainbow’s cheek, making sure she noticed the deadly point. “I want to take you back to my ship, but it’s tied off on the mainland. So we have to fly. I’m not going to tie your wings up and make myself have to carry your plush pony flank all the way there, but get this.” She pointed to the rope tied between the two of them. “I’m a stronger flier than you. If you get too annoying then I’ll make sure you regret it when we arrive, but if you cooperate then maybe I’ll even leave your wings unbound once we arrive. Okay?”

Rainbow smirked up at her. “Was that a challenge?”

Gava rolled her eyes, standing up off of the mare. “Look, you can take it however you want. Just remember you’re only making things harder on yourself. Now let’s go.”

She didn’t bother to wait for a response, instead opening her wings and taking off. Predictably enough, Rainbow remained on the ground, glaring up at her.

Gava sighed. Guess we’ll do it the hard way, then. She made for the edge of the roof, simply dragging Rainbow along instead of trying to gain any altitude. She had transported plenty of pegasi this way before, so she knew how to tie a rope around their wings so as to make hanging freely not only extremely uncomfortable, but even excruciatingly painful if it went on too long. Rainbow let out a few choked grunts as she fell off the rooftop, the rope going tight around the space where her wings met her barrel. If she didn’t flap, then the force on her wings would be liable to gradually pull them out of their joints until they became little more than feathery pieces of flesh hanging loosely on her sides.

As expected, she gave in after just a few stubborn seconds. She continued to glare at Gava as she worked her wings, carrying her own weight.

Gava smiled at her. “Was that so hard?”

“You’re really pushing it, y’know that?” Rainbow growled back.

Gava couldn’t help but chuckle as she led the pegasus away from the island and out towards clear skies. “Yeah? What’re you gonna do about it, dyejob?”

“It’s not a dyejob!”

“Yeah, sure it—urk!” Gava grunted as the rope tied around her chest went taut, tugging against her with surprising force. She turned to look back at Rainbow, who was flapping energetically away from her in an attempt to escape. “Stop that!”


Gava flapped harder, equalizing the force until the two of them came to a stop in the air, each pulling against the other. “Just give it up, dyejob!”

Rainbow let out a guttural scream. “It’s not a dyejob!” She began to fly circles around her, still tugging on the rope.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Gava asked, turning in place to avoid getting tangled in the rope. “You gonna try and make me dizzy or something?”

She didn’t answer, only flying faster and faster, her tail seeming to stretch out behind her in a rainbow blur.

For the first time, Gava began to think that maybe she shouldn’t have left Rainbow’s wings unbound. “Stop that!” She lashed out with her talons, hoping to cripple a wing, but the pegasus seemed to effortlessly dance just out of her reach. Still she flew in circles, the vortex left in her wake starting to tug at Gava’s feathers.

“I’m warning you!” She lunged out again, and again her talons sliced through empty air. The vortex was growing beyond what Gava thought possible from mere flight. The air seemed to be shifting around her, flocking to Rainbow’s wings and spawning powerful winds. Gava was beginning to have trouble keeping steady.

The wind had grown into an actual tornado, surrounding Gava and pulling her into its walls with more and more force. Rainbow continued to fly within the tornado, as if guiding it with her body. Gava couldn’t hold out for long, and within a few seconds one of her wings buckled under the force. She screeched as she was sucked into the cyclone, the impossible winds buffeting at her body and tossing her about like a toy. In the midst of it all she was vaguely aware of the rope tied around her snapping, but she was too busy trying to pull out of her wild spin to care.

It couldn’t have been more than a minute before the unnatural winds began to finally fall apart, and Gava was able to angle her wings to tear herself free of it. She was ejected at speed, but with the strong winds gone she was quickly able to recover her equilibrium.

She looked around, breathing hard. Despite all the open air that had been around them, Rainbow Dash was nowhere to be seen. Somehow she had already made it all the way to an island and hidden from sight. It couldn’t have been half a minute since Gava got stuck in the twister.

Hot fucks, that mare is fast.

Gava wasn’t sure whether to be impressed, excited, or angry. In the end she settled for an apathetic mixture, turning to head back for the mainland where her ship was tied up. Those Gifted would be on alert now. They knew that somebody was coming for them.

She didn’t have any time to waste.

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