• Published 27th Nov 2011
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The Dread Chitin - Karazor



Dimension travelling with Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash

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Chapter 8

Chapter Eight

Rainbow found her friend right where she expected to; seated at the desk in her bedroom, right across the hall from where she'd just left Duran. Instead of staring at the terminal, though, the unicorn had the human's journal levitated in front of her, and was reading it with every sign of interest. She set it aside as the pegasus entered.

"I have to thank you again for showing me this, Rainbow," Twilight spoke before Rainbow could. "It's a very interesting read, if a bit disturbing, and it's been good for me to have when I'm taking a break from my equations."

"Glad you like it, Twilight. Hey, I've got something to run by you…" She quickly summarized the last few minutes, including the conversation she'd just had with the human, ending with, "…and I kinda told him we'd bring him along when we went home. We can do that, right?"

Twilight was silent for a long moment. Long enough that Rainbow started rubbing the back of her neck nervously. Finally, she said, "Rainbow, I really wish you'd talked to me before making an offer like that. I'm not entirely comfortable with bringing this human back to Ponyville with us."

"What?" Rainbow felt a little sick to her stomach. "But Twilight, he's been busting his flank trying to help us! He saved my hide from those bugs, let us stay here in his home, and nearly got killed trying to bring food back!" She shook her head in disbelief. "Are we just gonna leave him here?"

The unicorn sighed. "I'm uncomfortable with that option, too, Rainbow. I don't want to leave the poor soul here alone, but he may be just too dangerous to bring back with us! I've been reading that," she nodded at the journal, "and some parts of it seriously disturb me. He's clearly inclined towards violence, he fights and even kills other creatures fairly often, and with no sign of remorse that I've seen." She shook her head. "I'm not sure I'd want someone like that around Ponyville; he might hurt somepony."

"You don't, huh?" Rainbow asked quietly. "Well… if that's really what you think, maybe I shouldn't come back with you either."

Twilight clearly didn't understand. "What are you talking about, Rainbow Dash?"

"You remember when we got here, those bug things that were coming after us when I told you to run?" Twilight nodded. "Well, I don't think you saw, but I attacked them to try and keep them off of you. I even tried pretty hard to kill the first one." Twilight gasped, but Rainbow continued without pausing. "I hit it really hard, Twi. Right in the back of the head. The only reason I didn't kill it was because it was really tough, it wasn't because I was trying not to. I stopped trying with the other four, but that was just because they were too tough to hurt." Rainbow chewed her lip, tension making her ears lay flat. The next admission was harder. "And when I figured out what those gun things in the armory were, I started wondering if we could use them. Some of the monsters I've seen come out of the Everfree are dangerous, and I started thinking about whether I could use those guns to hurt or kill something rather than let that something hurt or kill one of my friends. And you know what, Twi?" The pegasus looked up and met her friend's eyes. "I think I could. I really do. So, do you want to leave me here, too?"

"O-of course not, Rainbow Dash! That's a totally different issue! I know you; you'd never hurt anypony! And besides, you're my friend, I could never leave you here."

Rainbow snorted bitterly. "Ha. 'Never hurt anypony.' I used to get in fights all the time in school. Plus, you weren't in Ponyville when I first got there. I got in big trouble and nearly lost my job the first couple of weeks I was there when I beat the hay out of these two colts; only reason I got to stay was because somepony else heard what they'd been saying, and I still got a serious black mark from the Mayor. Nopony talks about it anymore, though." Rainbow could tell that Twilight had never heard any of this. "All I'm saying is, give him a chance. I agree that he's probably kind of dangerous, but I don't think he's dangerous to us, or to anypony or anything that doesn't try to hurt him first. I don't think it's fair to judge him by the way he's acted in this place. It's worse than the Everfree, and there's nowhere to go to get away from it. And besides," she gave her friend a strained smile, "would you believe he's almost as nervous about us as you are about him? He was acting like he thought Ponyville was gonna attack him or something. I got him to promise to talk to us, get to know us, while you're working out the way to get us home. Could… could you at least make the same promise? Just talk to him, get to know him, and maybe he won't be quite as scary?"

Twilight hesitated again, but finally nodded. "All right, Rainbow. I won't make up my mind yet. But I can't promise what my final decision will be. I feel responsible for keeping Ponyville safe, and I don't think the Princess would want me to bring a dangerous alien into Equestria, but if I decide he's not dangerous to the Principality or the village then I'll let him come along."

Rainbow let out the breath she'd been holding. "That's all I'm asking for, Twilight. Thanks." It wasn't a lot, but it was a step in the right direction. Now if only Duran would cooperate.

Leaving the unicorn to her reading, Rainbow figured she'd go ahead and get the supplies Duran had retrieved and get them stored. That was really something Twilight would probably be better at, but Rainbow thought it would be better to leave the unicorn to her spell studies; she didn't really want to stay in this world any longer than she absolutely had to.

She even wound up getting a fair bit of exercise out of the deal. That cargo box thing was heavy, not as heavy as the battle armor suit, but still a long way from light. She wound up having to drag the thing all the way down the long hallway to the mess storage. The pegasus felt better once she got it there, though; she hadn't had a chance to really exert herself since she and Twilight had gotten here.

Opening the thing up was a nice surprise. Duran hadn't been kidding about how full it was; she didn't see any airspace inside. It was completely packed with fruits, vegetables, and other plant matter, and as she started sorting out the contents into the storage bins she realized he'd actually used things like grain stalks and large, succulent leaves as packing material. This was way more than two weeks' worth of supplies.


In fact, it actually proved to be more than three, as that was how long it took Twilight to finish modifying her portal spell. Rainbow occupied some of her time exploring the rest of the base, (she never did find that pile of skeletons, though she did find another entrance) exercising, or flipping idly through the library mainframe. She found all kinds of stuff in there, including stuff that Duran had never stumbled across. She was particularly proud of the entertainment database she'd found. She'd seen movies a few times on visits to Cloudsdale, but nothing like what she found in the human library. These not only had sound, but full color as well! Plus bizarre, fantastical visuals like nothing she'd ever imagined. After this discovery, the three made a point of watching one of the films after dinner each evening. Rainbow and Twilight took turns picking the movie, though Duran insisted they check with him, as resident 'human cultural expert,' before deciding on a particular film. Rainbow resented that a bit at first, but only briefly. Annoyed, she'd privately watched a film he'd vetoed and discovered that, rather than the adventure story she'd thought it was from the summary, it was instead filled with the most graphic, grotesque torture sequence she'd ever seen. Horrified and sickened, she'd gone to the human demanding an explanation for the depravity she'd seen. He'd reassured her that nothing on that film had actually been real, and that, while some of his people enjoyed watching that kind of thing, he most certainly wasn't among them. Indeed, when she'd pulled it up to show him what she'd been talking about, he'd looked away and shut it off after only a few minutes, a nauseated expression on his face like he'd worn when she'd asked if she and Twilight should worry about him eating them. (His verbal response had been a horrified, "Eat another sapient? Fires forsake me, I'm no monster!") Afterward, she'd listened when he'd said the ponies might not enjoy a particular film.

The second base entrance she found was interesting as well. The base evidently extended all the way through the mountain, and the second entrance opened into a valley nestled in the heart of the range. The really peculiar bit was that the valley had actually been leveled out and paved. The paved area was immense, and must have taken a truly immense amount of time to build, and the only clue to its function lay in the four deep hemispherical pits, each outlined with a bloom of black scorch marks, spaced around the perimeter of the huge field. She meant to ask Duran if he had any idea what the field was used for, but somehow never got around to it.

She also occupied some of her time in the minor prank war she'd started with the human. Rainbow had managed to find a command in the computer (as Duran had told her the terminals were called) that allowed her to broadcast sounds throughout the entire base, so she'd first used it in combination with a ghost movie she'd watched without either of the others present to make it sound like terrifying moaning phantoms were roaming up and down the bunkroom hallways in the middle of the night. Twilight and Duran had been utterly shocked, bolting out of their bedrooms to try and figure out what was going on, only to have the pegasus burst out in peals of delighted laugher at the success of her joke. Twilight had just sighed and let out an exasperated, "Rainbow…"

The human had quirked an eyebrow and remarked, "You realize, of course, that this means war."

The next morning, her bedroom door had been locked with a randomized password. It had taken her nearly an hour to figure out how to reset the passcode to get it open. He'd been leaning on a wall out in the hallway, smirking, and she'd jokingly shaken a hoof at him and vowed revenge.

She'd retaliated by learning the password trick, and sneaking into his room to set the most obscenely pornographic film she could find (and she'd found some pretty gross ones before she'd figured out how to filter them out) playing on his desk terminal looped at maximum volume, with a locked password so he couldn't disable it. He'd actually had to ask her for the password to turn it off, blushing furiously, which she'd counted as a major win. Then, the next time she went to take a shower, activating one shower head caused every other one in the room to come on at full pressure. The thundering roar echoing through the cavernous space had sounded like a huge waterfall for a moment, and made her worry for a heart-stopping moment that something had gone really badly wrong, until the various shower heads had started actually pulsing in rhythm, somehow playing an awesome rock-and-roll song Rainbow had recognized as one she'd enjoyed from the movie they'd all watched the previous evening. That time she'd had to ask him to turn it off, (after letting it run for a while) and she never did figure out how he'd done it.

They'd eventually started keeping score, with the target of the prank rating it on a scale of one to ten, and the score counting as a negative if it caught Twilight instead of its intended target.

Most of that time, though, Rainbow had spent swapping stories with Duran. She got Twilight to join in, too, as often as she could. The unicorn and the pegasus had very different tastes, but the human had plenty of tales for both of them. Rainbow preferred adventure stories, especially scary ones, and was constantly asking about how Duran had survived, and about kinds of creatures he'd encountered and how he'd dealt with them. Twilight, on the other hoof, was fascinated by the world he'd come from. The human's stories of the huge, shining cities of the Tethinar Imperium's central worlds, the strange savage landscapes of the frontier worlds, and the vast space ships that traveled between them often held the unicorn academic enraptured for hours. His knowledge of the history of his world was extensive, and Twilight enjoyed that just as much, even his recounting of its many wars. Rainbow had to admit the war stories were kind of cool, too, and she'd found the great Arcane Wars that had ripped his home world apart more than a thousand years ago to be fascinating in a horrible way. Once she'd realized how interesting the subject was, the pegasus had started pestering him for more of those stories, too, and by the time they were ready to go, she knew more about the Arcane Wars than Twilight did.

Rainbow had been secretly overjoyed (though she pretended to be tremendously bored) when Duran went through some of the N.A.I.S.'s history archives with Twilight, offering possible explanations of some of the events that had confused or disturbed the lavender unicorn and giving her insight about the way humans in general thought. That had been the first major breakthrough between the human and the unicorn, and marked the point where Rainbow no longer had to push her friend into spending time talking to their 'host.'

For his part, Duran listened to even the dullest, most boring story either pony told as though it was the most thrilling adventure tale. Simple things, like when Twilight talked about her time in the Canterlot Academy or when Rainbow couldn't come up with anything else one day and wound up telling him about how she'd helped Pinkie set up a surprise party, was more than enough for him. Rainbow thought it was both sad and embarrassing; she didn't know anywhere near as many cool adventure stories as he did (probably because she hadn't spent years fighting hostile predators) but he barely cared about the difference between a cool story and a lame one when she told it. It seemed just listening to someone else talk was enough to make the human happy.

One particular story stuck with Rainbow, partially because it was exciting and disturbing, where most of his survival stories were exciting and scary. It had been during the first week they'd spent in the base, and she'd just finished telling the human about the time she'd won the Best Young Fliers' Competition, pulling off a trick everypony else had thought was just an old pony's tale in the process. (She'd sort of… glossed over her minor breakdown right before the competition.) He'd thoroughly enjoyed the story, even sharing a celebratory hoofbump with her. (He did it oddly, lacking hooves. He'd just balled his hand into a fist and thumped the knuckles against her outstretched hoof.)

"Thanks, Dash," He'd said. "Any preferences on what you'd like to hear in return?"

"Yeah," She'd answered, "How about what happened to your arm?" She'd been trying to get that story for days, but he'd been really reluctant to tell it. Rainbow had hoped that telling one of her best stories would get him to loosen up enough to share it.

He'd hesitated long enough that she thought she'd blown it, but had finally nodded. "Ok, I guess I do need to tell someone that story sooner or later, and I never did write it down." He'd smiled wanly, "But I warn you, it's not as interesting as you might think." The human had paused, gathering his thoughts.

"Have I told you what a Tank Bug is?" He'd started, and Rainbow had shaken her head. "Well, each one looks pretty different, but they've all got a few things in common. They've got this thick, heavy armored shell, a pair of gigantic pincers out front, and six legs. Oh, and they're huge, the size of small buildings back home. They've got to weigh seventy, eighty tons at least." Rainbow had formed a mental image of a water tank with legs and claws, and figured that's where he'd gotten the name from. "That's about where the physical similarities end; I've seen some with a smooth carapace, others with a forest of tentacles coming off of their backs, some with multiple heads, some with horns, and some without, and a whole bunch of other things. Their behavior is all similar, though; they like to dig underground in soft soil and sit there, waiting for something to come by. When it does, if they're awake, they lunge up out of the ground and start chasing it. If they're drowsy, they usually wait until it's really close, then grab it with a claw and drag it underground to eat." Rainbow had realized suddenly that she'd seen a similar creature when she'd been up on the mountain looking for Duran, and interrupted briefly to describe what she'd seen.

"Yeah, that sounds like a Tank Bug," the human had mused. "The big scythe claws are new, but it wouldn't surprise me a bit, and the behavior fits. Anyway. A few years ago, I was living in a cave a really long way from here. It was a really nice one; the entrance was just big enough to let me in, so most of the bigger predators couldn't fit, the inside was really roomy, and there were some cracks in the ceiling that would let smoke out. Plus, there was this little freshwater spring in the back. Honestly, until I found this place, that cave was the nicest living spot I'd seen since I got here." Duren had drifted off into the past for a moment, and Rainbow had felt the same mixture of horror and pity she sometimes felt when listening to the other's survival stories. "I really liked that place. Lived there for about three months before the Tank moved in." His mouth had twisted in recollection. "Those things are impossible to live near. They're really good at hiding for something so big, and they don't have any predators. If one moves in close to you, it's safest to just move out, but I liked that cave, so I decided to see if I could kill the damn thing." Rainbow had twitched a bit at the curse; she and Twilight had both asked the human not to do it, but he forgot sometimes. "So I set up a deadfall. I was going to lure it through a canyon and drop the heaviest rocks I could find on it; I figured that would kill it pretty dead, and I'd have food for months. I spent about a week undermining this huge stone outcrop and bracing it, then rigging the bracings so I could pull 'em out from the ground, then I went to find the Tank. I got lucky, it was awake enough to chase me, and I swear the things have a sadistic streak; he stayed just far enough back that he couldn't reach me, and just let me run." He'd grinned at the memory. "Backfired on him that time. I got him right where I wanted him, and dropped half the damn cliffside right on his head. I was pretty sure he was dead, but I decided to let him sit under that pile of rocks for a few days just to make sure. Came back on the fourth day, and the pile of rocks hadn't even shifted, so I figured it was safe to dig it up."

"Dig it up? Why would you want to do that?" Rainbow had asked.

"Because I was hungry, and that was a heck of a lot of meat to let go to waste!" He'd answered with a wry grin. The pegasus occasionally forgot about Duren's predatory tendencies. Most of his stories didn't emphasize that much, but this one did. "I'd started moving rocks, trying to figure out how I was going to crack that huge shell, when the claw came out of the pile. Just shot out," He'd lunged forward suddenly, right hand extended in a grasping claw. Rainbow had shied back, startled, before he could grab her. "Like that. Heh, you're quicker than I was. That claw grabbed me, I'm sure you can guess where," he'd gestured to his artificial left arm, "and started dragging me into the rock pile. I was terrified, of course. I'd seen Tank Bugs swallow other creatures whole, not exactly a prospect to relish! I fought, but Tanks are so big that it was pretty much a lost cause from the start. All it accomplished was to make him tighten down with that claw and, sharp as it was, that meant it sliced clean through down to the bone and dug in. Pretty memorable feeling, let me tell you." Rainbow had shuddered, but it got worse. "So there I am, being dragged into a pile of rocks, with this huge Bug claw basically holding on to the bones in my arm. It hurt more than I thought anything could ever hurt, and I suddenly had this absolutely crazy idea. I mean, it had me; I was going to die unless I did something, and I'd basically lost my arm already, right? So I grabbed my left hand with my right one," He'd suited words to actions, gripping his left wrist with his right hand, "set my feet, and pulled. There was this snap, and this horrible tearing feeling, and all of a sudden I was holding my own hand, only it wasn't mine because it wasn't attached any more. I stood there for a second, I think I was kind of in shock, and then I took off running for my cave. The Tank comes up out of the rocks, just shrugs and the whole pile falls apart. Not only was he not dead, the big bastard wasn't even hurt; I'd just given him a burrow he hadn't had to dig himself. I knew he was about to take off after me again, so I threw it at him."

The way he said it had confused the pegasus. "Threw what?"

"What else? My arm!" He'd let out a snort of bitter laughter. "I was still carrying the silly thing! Not sure what I thought I was going to do with it! So I chucked it at him. I don't know, maybe I figured he might slow down some to munch. I think he did, but not by a whole lot; I squeezed into my cave and he was right behind me. He couldn't fit into the entry, but his claws could. He reached in, one claw snapping," The human had waved his hand right in front of Rainbow's face, making a claw with it and grabbing repeatedly an inch or so in front of her forelock, "like that, but I was able to scoot back far enough that he couldn't reach. I was bleeding like a fountain, too, but that I could fix with my fire right there. Stuck my stump in the coals, and whoooo, I only thought it had hurt before! Worse, I hadn't eaten in a while, and I'm ashamed to admit… I smell pretty good when I'm cooked." The pegasus's stomach had turned a few times, hearing that. "Stopped the bleeding, but I passed out. Guess I was far enough back, and the rock was strong enough, that the Tank gave up while I was unconscious. When I woke up, I grabbed what I could with one hand and took off as soon as night fell, and didn't stop moving for about a week. Never saw that particular Bug again, but I never saw my cave again, either." He'd looked despondent. "I liked that cave."

Rainbow hadn't been quite sure how to respond, but one statement had stood out. "You… smelled good cooked? But I thought you said you didn't eat, uh, creatures that could talk?" She'd glanced around nervously.

The human had looked horrified. "Oh, flames and furies, I don't think I could actually eat another sapient, or even bits of myself, even if I was starving! That was just a joke; a bad one, I'll admit. It did smell good, but blech," he'd mimed retching, "Haven't your folk ever encountered anything that smelled good, but really wasn't?" The conversation had drifted off to discussions of their respective diets, which was way less disturbing.


About two weeks after that particular conversation, Rainbow and Duran were sitting in the mess hall, playing a game of horseshoes, though Duran thought it was funny to give the pegasus human boots he'd pulled out of storage to throw while he used steel horseshoes he'd made in the machine shop. They were idly discussing something of no particular importance, and Rainbow was ahead a comfortable five games to two, when Twilight burst excitedly into the room.

"I've got it!" the unicorn exclaimed, skidding to a stop, "I'm finally finished! Woo hoo!"

"What, you've got the portal spell fixed?" Rainbow asked, and the academic nodded ecstatically. "Dude, that's awesome! Can you cast it now?"

Twilight lost a bit of her enthusiasm. "Actually… it won't work here. I need to cast it as close to where we landed as possible, and the sooner the better."

"Wait." Duran interjected. "You have to cast it out there? How soon?"

"As soon as possible." Twilight replied seriously. "There's a congruency between that particular point and Equestria, but it decays with time. I'm reasonably certain I can still get us home, but after a few more days my calculations get a lot more uncertain. Oh, and it needs to be during the daytime; the congruency has already decayed to the point that I need an extra sympathetic element, and with Princess Celestia being both my teacher and Equestria's leader, sunlight is the best one I'm going to find."

The human's jaw sagged in disbelief. "You need to go out there, where there was a major magical event only three weeks ago, find the center of said event, and cast a spell, and you need to do it during the day?"

Twilight blinked at the vehemence in Duran's tone. "Um, yes. And I need to do it sometime in the next two or three days."

Duran stared at the unicorn speechlessly. Rainbow, who'd heard more stories about the local wildlife and was more familiar with the way this world worked than the unicorn, chipped in. "Uh, what I think he means is; that's gonna be crazy dangerous. There're still all kinds of monsters out there, and they can smell magic, remember? As soon as you start casting that spell…"

The human's mouth closed with a snap, and he spoke up again, cutting the cyan pegasus off. "If that's the way it has to be, then so be it. You'll need someone to keep the predators off your back, Milady. Give me the rest of today to get one of the heavy battle suits fitted, and we'll go." Now it was Rainbow's turn to look shocked. Duran shook his head at her. "They're not going away any time soon, Dash. If this is the only way to get the two of you home, then all I can do is to carry the heaviest firepower I can manage and try like mad to keep you both safe." He sighed. "I only wish I could get one of the blasted tanks working."

"Hold it." Twilight interjected, putting as much authority as she could into her tone. "It's not going to be just the two of us, Duran. You're coming, too, especially if you're going to be right there guarding us anyway!"

Rainbow, who'd been about to say pretty much the same thing, nodded so enthusiastically her hat nearly fell off, "Darn right you are! Come on, dude, you can't still be scared of Equestria, I thought you were getting along with the two of us pretty well!"

"I didn't want to assume…"

"That's enough, you two." Twilight interrupted whatever the human was going to say. "Duran, we both sincerely appreciate the generosity you've shown us over the last few weeks. I'm going to quote Rainbow Dash, and say that it wouldn't be at all right for us to leave you here while we went home. So, on behalf of Princess Celestia, I'd like to extend you an invitation to return with us."

"I-" Duran ducked his head and gave one of his people's odd, flourishing bows. Rainbow always expected him to fall on his face, but somehow the biped always stayed upright. "Thank you, milady. I appreciate the offer, and I'll take you up on it."

Twilight frowned slightly. "Would you please stop calling me that? I've told you about a million times now, my name is Twilight Sparkle!"

"Of course, milady Twilight. Please excuse me." He said, bowing again. Rainbow snickered.

"It's Twilight! Just Twilight! You don't need the honorific!" Rainbow's snickers got louder, despite her attempts to keep them quiet. The human and the unicorn went through this exchange periodically, and it never stopped being funny; he'd explained once that mages that were capable in every field were a very high social class in his home world, and he tended to refer to Twilight as though she outranked him socially. That annoyed the unicorn (who most definitely did not see herself as part of the nobility) no end, while amusing Rainbow. She's so funny when she's mad!

"Right. Sorry, mil- Twilight. I'll try and remember next time." Twilight gave the human a suspicious sidelong look, clearly expecting him not to remember next time, (much like the last few times he'd said that, as her expression eloquently said) and Rainbow nearly choked trying to suppress her giggles.

"I'm sure you'll try." Twilight sighed. "I'll be glad to get home, but there are things I wish we didn't have to leave here. I'm going to miss that library computer, that's for sure."

"Actually, that we might be able to take along with us," Duren said, "the memory core is designed to be easily copied, and it's not very big. I can save a copy of the blueprints for a simple terminal station on my pocket computer, and once we've got that built, we can find plans for more elaborate setups in the library core itself. I checked that when I first found this place, hoping I could bring some of this tech home with me."

The unicorn smiled delightedly. "Really? Oh, that's wonderful! All that information could be amazingly useful back home, not to mention how interesting the history and fiction sections are! How much time would it take to make a copy?"

"None. I've got one already made; I can just pull it out of stores tomorrow morning when we're ready to leave." He blinked. "Speaking of leaving, I need to go get my armor ready. Don't look for me at dinner; I'm going to need several hours, and I'll probably go straight to bed when I'm done." He smiled, and bowed again. "So if you'll excuse me, ladies, I'll go get started. Make sure to get a good night's sleep; we'll need to be sharp tomorrow if we want to live to see you home." Waving, the human left the mess hall.

"We're really gonna get to go home?" Rainbow asked, wings flaring excitedly. "Great job, Twilight, I knew you could do it!"

"I'm just glad I managed to work it out when I did," the unicorn admitted, "If it had taken me just another two days, it could have been bad." She gave Rainbow a wry look. "Though it does mean you're going to have to give Applejack her hat back."

The pegasus sheepishly adjusted her headwear where it sat on her rainbow-striped mane. "Heh heh, yeah, I'm gonna miss it after wearing it around for this long. I've kinda gotten used to it, you know? But it'll be great to see A.J. again."

The two ponies grabbed a few bites to eat and left the mess hall. Twilight went back to her bedroom to rest, so she'd be ready the next morning. Rainbow wasn't tired, and she'd never really stopped being curious about the armor suits, so she headed to the armory to pester Duran while he got his suit ready.

He had the left arm of one of the big troll-suits open when she got there and was messing around inside it. She stood and watched for a minute, not wanting to break his concentration. It looked like he was disconnecting the big gun mounted in the suit's forearm, a suspicion that was borne out when he lifted out the big, heavy barrel. He caught sight of the cyan pegasus when he turned to set it down. "Hey, Dash. Need something?"

"Just wanted to see what you were doing." She watched him carefully set the heavy barrel assembly down, noting the odd rings spaced along its length.

"Well, right now I'm swapping out the weapon mount on this suit. The Magshot here," he tapped the gun he'd just removed, "is great for single, hard targets at long range, but I'll have the missile launchers if I need to hit something hard, and I won't need really long range out in the hills. I'm putting in a heavy machine gun instead; it'll help me deal with multiple targets, and its range should be more than enough out in the badlands." He lifted out another component from the suit's forearm, though Rainbow had no idea what the big boxy thing was supposed to do.

"Do you need any help with that? What you said in the mess hall made it sound like it was going to take a long time." She wandered over to look at the heavy box thing he'd just set down.

"No, but thanks for the offer. It's mostly a single person job, and most of it needs these." He wiggled his fingers at her. "Feel free to hang around and talk to me, though."

Rainbow did just that, chatting with the human idly while he fiddled with the big suit. She did learn that when the human talked about wanting a 'tank,' he wasn't actually talking about a water tank; (which didn't make much sense anyway) he was actually referring to the huge armored vehicles sitting in the hangar. The pegasus couldn't help but agree; one of those things would make surviving the next day a lot easier.

Twilight's announcement had been so sudden that Rainbow hadn't really had time to think, but as she talked to Duran she was getting more and more tense. She knew she was doing a terrible job of hiding it; she caught herself laying her ears back quite a bit, and she was having major difficulty standing still. She flew restlessly around the hunchbacked suit the human was working on, and even when she was on the ground she kept fidgeting, nervously spreading and folding her wings. She hoped the rustle of her feathers wasn't bothering Duran, but he seemed way calmer than she was. Rainbow gradually realized how scared she was about facing this world's monsters again tomorrow.

Worried that trying to keep it in might lead to another breakdown like she'd had at the Best Young Fliers' Competition, she decided to speak up about it. "So, Duran… I gotta admit, I'm, ah, a liiitle nervous about what's going to happen tomorrow." She laughed uneasily.

He finished connecting the wires he was messing with and turned to face her, eyebrow quirked. "A little nervous, eh? You're a good bit braver than I am, then. I'm utterly terrified." She started to laugh, before she realized he was dead serious. "I mean it, Dash. We're going to be going out there, where there's already a high concentration of predators, and sending out a flare to get as much attention as we can. This is what the army back home would call a nightmare scenario." He shook his head bemusedly. "I am going to do my damnedest to shoot the things down before they get to Twilight, 'cause they're going to be making a beeline for her. Before she starts casting, though, they're going to be going for you." He stared into her eyes unblinkingly.

"What, me? Why?" Her fear started to crystallize into a hard knot of panic. Maybe speaking up wasn't the best idea…

"Because Twilight and I have conscious control over our magic use. You don't, or at least I don't think you do; you use your magic instinctively, and you do it almost all the time. I can sense some right now, and all you're doing is sitting still. Before Twilight starts her spell, you're going to look tastier to them than either of us will. They are going to be trying really hard to get you." Rainbow started shivering, lowering her head and closing her eyes. She could feel her ears laying tight to her neck, and her wings were clamped against her sides.

Suddenly, she felt the human's hand on her chin. She was a little surprised; he'd been really shy about touching her. She opened her eyes and realized he was kneeling right in front of her as he gently pulled her head up so he could look her in the eye. "But you know what? They won't get you. First, because if I remember right, you're not exactly easy to get." His mouth quirked in a crooked smile. "The first time I saw you, you were out-dancing no less than five murderpedes, right?"

"That didn't last long…" she began dejectedly, but he held up a finger to stop her.

"Of course it didn't. Murderpedes are probably the fastest, nastiest creature I've ever seen. And there were five of them. I've only ever fought those things when I was wearing armor, I've never gone against that many at once, and even then they've tagged me six or seven times. Through the armor. That you lasted as long as you did was downright astonishing. If I hadn't been a half-asleep fool and shot the things when I should have, you would have gotten out of that without a scratch, Dash. And if there had only been one or two, I think you could have danced around them all day long. That's amazing." Rainbow felt a flush of pride warring with her fear, and her ears lifted while her wings relaxed a bit. That was kinda awesome, actually. "And if you can do that, you can stay clear of nearly anything we might run in to. And that brings me to the second reason; I'll be there too." His blue-green eyes were hard as steel. "All you'll need to do is stay clear long enough for me to deal with anything trying to get you. I've handled nearly anything we could run in to, back when the best I had to work with was a spear, Dash." He thumped the leg of the battle suit beside him. "This thing is far, far better than any spear. So, like I said, if anything comes after you, just dance with it until I deal with it. Once Twilight starts her spell, they're going to ignore you and me both and go straight for her; that's going to be the tricky part. I'll deal with them as fast as I can, but you may need to try and distract some of them until she gets that spell up, and we can get you home. It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be fun. But we can do it. The three of us are going to beat this place, hear? We're gonna win. You with me?" He held out a fist.

Rainbow's confidence came flooding back in a heady rush. "Duh, of course I am!" She thumped his knuckles with a hoof. We can totally do this. I never should have doubted!

Another thought occured to her in that moment. "Hey, Duran... do you think there's anything in the armory I could use?"

"What, you mean the guns?" Rainbow nodded firmly. The human gave her a searching look. "Are you sure you want to use that stuff? I was given to understand that your people were... less inclined toward the kind of actions those tools facilitate, shall we say."

"We are." Rainbow had been mulling over the issue since her converation with Twilight after discovering the armory. She'd asked Duran several times to tell her exactly what the various weapons did, and he'd been very thourough. The human weapons were powerful tools in a fight, giving their wielders tremendous advantages over anyone who didn't have them. "And if we were in Equestria, that would matter. We're not, though, are we?"

Duran shook his head slowly. "Not yet, anyway."

"Right." The pegasus gave another decisive nod, hat bouncing atop her flame-colored forelock. "And we'll have a lot better chance of getting there if I help you defend us. If I can use one of those guns, there's less chance I'll get hurt, and there'll be more things I can stop, right?" The human nodded. "Then every one I stop is one less for you to have to deal with, and one less that might slip by to hurt one of us."

"Dash," Duran said quietly, "you know what those guns are designed to do. They're killing tools. Are you sure you'd be alright with using them?"

Dash took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Yeah, I think so." Then she added, in a moment of rare frankness, "Yeah, there's a chance I'll freak out the first time I have to use it. But I don't think I will. You and Twilight are gonna be depending on me, just like Twilight and I'll be depending on you, and we'll be depending on Twilight. I don't let my friends down. Ever." She gave him a level look.

The human nodded, a slow grin spreading across his face. It had a predatory edge to it. "I knew there was a reason I liked you." He stood. Turning back to his armor, he remarked over his shoulder. "Alright, I'll see what I can do, once I get this finished. I can't promise anything, you understand; those weapons are built for humans, and it'll be a job finding one you could use. You remember our fun with the battle armor." Rainbow winced, and nodded. At her urging, he'd tried a few times to modify one of the battle suits so the pegasus could wear it, but Duran hadn't been able to manage it. He himself was just barely large enough to use the suits, and after a few attempts, he remarked that he'd probably need to custom-build a suit from scratch to get it to fit her. Such a project would probably take months.

Rainbow sighed. "Okay, if you'll try, that's all I can ask, huh?"

"I will definitely try." Duran promised. "You should probably go get some rest, if you can. Tomorrow's going to be interesting."

"Ah, I don't think I can sleep right now. Maybe later." The pegasus brightened, the heavy subject out of the way. "Besides, I'll get all the sleep I want back in my own house. I've totally got to show you my place, it's awesome!" She was looking forward to introducing the human to the rest of her friends, too. That thought reminded her… "Hey, just so we're clear, you are coming back to Ponyville with us, right?"

He hesitated. Just for a split second, but it was long enough for Rainbow to notice. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I am."

She returned his earlier searching look. That hesitation worried her, but there wasn't really anything she could say that she hadn't said already. I'll drag your butt through that portal if I have to, metalhead. No way am I leaving a friend in this place. She didn't vocalize the thought, though, and just changed the subject. The two stayed up talking about other things for hours while Duran finished working on the armor, finally turning in around midnight to get what sleep they could. To Rainbow's disappointment, the armor modifications took longer than the human had planned, and he hadn't had time to find her a weapon. Oh, well, she thought, I'll just have to work with what I've got.