• Published 1st Dec 2011
  • 32,181 Views, 1,862 Comments

The Games We Play - AbsoluteAnonymous

Somepony is once again masquerading as Mare Do Well, and it's up to Rainbow Dash to figure out who.

  • ...

Chapter 2: Stormy Weather

The search proved fruitless. Although Rainbow Dash patrolled the village from the air for what felt like hours, she'd lost track of time a long time ago and had no idea how long it had actually been.

She knew one thing, though – it had been a huge waste of it. Time, that is. Although she'd kept an eye out for any potential crime scenes that might have attracted a wannabe superhero, it had been a relatively peaceful night for Ponyville for once – much to her disappointment.

Privately, Rainbow had been half hoping to come across at least one mugging, or something like that. Even if Mare Do Well hadn't come to the rescue, she would've felt a lot better about almost getting robbed herself if she'd been able to save somepony else from meeting the same fate. Although nopony knew what had happened, not even her friends, she still felt a little twinge of shame twisting around her gut at the memory.

Spending a night flying – no tricks or flashy stunts, just raw speed, for as long as she could sustain it – was a strange experience for her. Rainbow Dash had never tried it before. Usually she flew only to race or with the express intention of showing off for an adoring crowd, and she was a pony that loved her sleep; flying alone at night was basically unheard of. But she'd pushed ahead, driven by insomnia and her desire to find the Mare Do Well imposter.

At last, the horizon began to glow with the rosy tinge of dawn, indicating the beginning of another day.

The sun was going to rise soon, and Rainbow Dash hadn't slept at all. All at once she felt exhausted, burdened as if the sleep she'd missed had chosen just that moment to catch up with her and happened to carry considerable, tangible weight.

Rainbow's wings ached, and her eyes began to roam as she tried to figure out where, exactly, she was. Then she saw it, just in the distance: her cloud house, not too far away. With a sigh she changed direction and began to return home. It would be nice to catch a nap.

• • •

"Hey, Twilight. 'Sup?"

"Where have you been?" Twilight asked accusingly, throwing Rainbow Dash a pointed glare. "It's almost three in the afternoon! Did you really sleep that late?"

"Hey, what can I say? I'm a growing mare. I need my sleep," Rainbow Dash answered with an easy shrug.

They were in the library. Twilight sat at her desk, surrounded by enormous stacks of thick, complicated looking books. She had one open in front of her now; a book filled with tiny words and elaborate diagrams, which she was busy scratching away in now, frowning in concentration.

"Is there something you need?" Twilight asked, sounding distracted. She appeared to be utterly focused on her reading, not even bothering to look up when she spoke to her friend, the way she tended to when she was busy.

Somepony with a little more tact might have been able to read the atmosphere in the room and realize that Twilight wasn't exactly in the mood for company and that it might have been better to come back later. But Rainbow Dash wasn't especially known for her tact, and this wasn't just a friendly visit. She was here on official business.

"So, what did you do last night?"

"Stayed in and studied," Twilight answered immediately. "I'm trying to learn this new spell. See, it's supposed to..."

"Yeah, I don't really care about that," Rainbow Dash interrupted, cutting her off with a wave of her hoof, earning her an annoyed look from the unicorn. "If you're curious about what I did, I happened to visit Rarity last night."

"She mentioned that, actually. She's still a little huffy about it."

"Let me cut to the chase," Rainbow Dash blurted, interrupting Twilight yet again. She slammed her hooves on the surface of the wooden table, causing Twilight to jump and drop her quill. "I know that I saw Mare Do Well that night; I don't care if you think I was just seeing things. Last night I went to look for her, and I didn't see anything. I talked to Rarity, though, and found out that she doesn't have your old costume anymore, because somepony bought it. Do you know anypony that might have done that? Somepony with a superhero obsession?"

"Rainbow Dash," Twilight said patiently, lifting her eyebrows. "Are you sure that you –"

"Positive! I know what I saw, Twilight! What I don't know is why anypony would want to do that in the first place."

Rainbow Dash scowled, face screwing up into a childish pout as she crossed her forelegs over her chest.

Twilight pushed back her chair and stood up from her desk, walking over to a nearby bookshelf. The pegasus followed, floating beside her as she examined the titles the spines displayed.

"Well, with maybe the exception of Pinkie Pie, nothing ever happens without a reason, Rainbow. You just need to find it. There must be a good explanation. Maybe your mind was playing tricks on you, or maybe you just thought you saw somepony dressed like Mare Do Well, because it was dark and you couldn't really tell."

"But I did! I totally know what I saw! I told you, she had the hat and cape and everything!"

"Maybe –"

"Look," Rainbow Dash said curtly, landing neatly on the floor and placing two hooves on Twilight's shoulders, turning her around to face Rainbow so that the unicorn could see how serious she was. "I know what I saw. What I don't know is why I saw it, and this is going to drive me crazy if I don't figure it out. I just wanna know two things. First of all, did you really give away your costume?"

Twilight blinked, looking confused, then wriggled free of Rainbow Dash's grip, her expression of confusion suddenly replaced with one of annoyance. "Are you implying that I lied to you?" she asked sharply, looking and sounding offended by the very notion. "Don't you think I would've come clean when you first asked us about it, especially when I saw how bothered you were? Do you really think I'm the kind of pony that would do something like that?"

"How should I know?" Rainbow snapped back, flushing in anger. Her wings were beginning to beat harder and harder as her temper flared. "I didn't exactly think you were the kind of pony to humiliate me again and again and turn me into the town laughingstock just to teach me a dumb lesson about being humble, either, but you sure proved me wrong there, huh?"

"No!" Twilight shouted, and the volume of her outburst took Rainbow Dash aback. She'd heard Twilight get angry before, but she'd never heard her yell so loudly. "No, I didn't dress up like Mare Do Well and follow you around just to bug you! Okay? And I don't know who would be that stupid, either! Now get out of my library, I'm trying to read!"

A burst of magical aura suddenly enveloped Rainbow Dash, and she felt the invisible force of Twilight's magic begin to push her towards the exit. Before the unicorn could shove her out the door, though, Rainbow Dash stuck out her hooves and grabbed the doorway, struggling to hold on despite the almost overwhelming force of Twilight's magic.

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," she said quickly. Twilight was scowling, her cheeks red and her normally perfectly tidy mane frazzled, but as soon as Rainbow Dash apologized, the unicorn sighed and the aura was swept away, releasing the pegasus.

"If you say you didn't do it, then I guess I believe you," Rainbow Dash said hesitantly from the doorway. She pawed at the ground with a hoof, a nervous habit that she'd picked up from spending too much time around Fluttershy but which she rarely ever had cause to use. "I was just thinking... that except for Applejack and Fluttershy, you all said you didn't have costumes anymore. But nopony else in town knew that Mare Do Well was never real, so I don't know who would have the idea to dress up as her except for one of you. So if Rarity was selling one, then even if you'd given yours away, you might have bought the one she sold."

"I didn't buy it, Rainbow Dash," Twilight said gently, lifting a hoof to her head to smooth her hair. She looked exhausted all of a sudden, as if she hadn't slept at all, either. "I'm sorry that you're so upset about this, and I'm sorry that you're still mad about what we did. But we apologized for that, remember? We all did. So why would one of us want to trick you again? And besides, I was the one that gave Rarity the costume back in the first place, so why would I buy it back from her? It makes no sense."


The truth was, that line of thinking simply hadn't occurred to Rainbow Dash. Of course somepony would have to blatantly point out the obvious for her to even consider it herself, and of course it would have to be the smartest unicorn in all of Equestria who did it.

"Okay," Rainbow said at last. "Fine, I believe you. But just so you know, if I find out later that you really were just messing with me and you were somehow behind this the whole time, we're not friends anymore. This'll be the last straw. Got it?" She extended a hoof.

Twilight grinned wryly, and extended a hoof herself so that they could shake on it. "Deal."

• • •

After leaving the library, Rainbow Dash ran over the facts of the case in her mind again and again, considering all the possible explanations that she could think of.

Twilight had made a good point. If she'd really wanted to play Mare Do Well again, why would she have returned the costume, only to buy it back? Unless she and Rarity were collaborating for some unknown reason, and were lying to cover for each other.

Applejack had flat out said that it wasn't her, and unless Applejack's Element had been broken, she wouldn't have lied about that. Although... she'd specifically mentioned her own costume. She hadn't said anything about any of the other costumes.

That was the problem with the whole situation, Rainbow Dash was quickly beginning to realize; there were so many loopholes that led back to the fact that more than one Mare Do Well outfit existed. The Applejack she knew couldn't lie worth squat, but if Applejack had somehow figured out how to at least stretch the truth, she could have intentionally misled Rainbow to throw her off the trail.

It was incredibly unlikely that Fluttershy was the one that had appeared to her as Mare Do Well, if only because it was Fluttershy, for Celestia's sake. But Rainbow Dash couldn't rule anypony out; not until she knew for sure. Same with Pinkie Pie. For some reason, it seemed incredibly unlike the party pony to pull a stunt like this, but at the same time, it was also incredibly just like Pinkie Pie to do so as some kind of elaborate, misguided prank.

And Pinkie Pie had never explicitly said that she didn't do it. All she'd said was that Gummy had eaten her own costume. If somepony had bought the one Rarity had in her store, why couldn't it have been Pinkie Pie?

In the end, Rainbow Dash realized that she was going around in circles and decided to take a break.

As far as she knew, Mare Do Well had made no more appearances since Rainbow had first run into her. If she had, Dash would have heard about it; or at least, the pegasus assumed so. Considering the buzz the superhero had created the first time she'd mysteriously appeared out of thin air, an unexpected return surely would have garnered some attention. Yet nopony was talking about her at all, and Rainbow Dash had no choice but to assume that there had been no other sightings or further incidents.

Knowing that Twilight doubted her and that her friends were all insisting it wasn't them had begun to shake Rainbow Dash's confidence the slightest bit. At first she'd been absolutely focused, determined to figure out who'd done it, even though she didn't fully understand why it was so important to her that she knew who Mare Do Well was, but now she was finding herself doubting that it had even happened.

Maybe Twilight was right. Maybe it had been some kind of optical illusion. Maybe the mare who had helped her had just been some average, everyday mare who'd been taking a late night stroll and saw the stallion giving Rainbow trouble, and that was why she didn't chase after him – because she wasn't a superhero, just a random concerned citizen.

Maybe Rainbow Dash needed to let it go. It had disturbed her for whatever reason, but the incident had been an isolated one. Maybe it would be better if she just went back to normal. And normal meant kicking back and having a good time, so that was what she was going to do.

• • •

Rainbow Dash was flying. The sky was wide open and empty over Whitetail Woods, and she was alone except for the sea of clouds that surrounded her – just the way she liked it. Or at least, the way she liked it when she wanted to think.

She sliced through a thick stack of clouds, cutting her way across the sky. The clouds were the rolling, dark, menacing kind that always tended to precede thunderstorms. The weather team had spent the past few days putting together a storm for next week, and the entire time, Rainbow Dash had been able to think of nothing but getting in a quick dip in the clouds before the storm was primed to burst.

Now that she had free time on her hooves, she flew to help herself relax. Sure, storms were always a little dangerous for pegasi to swim through, maybe even a little scary or disorientating, but she wasn't called Rainbow Danger Dash for nothing. She could handle a little trouble.

The wind buffeted all around her. It was like floating on rough water, sealed within an endless sea of gray. It was completely, one hundred and twenty percent awesome.

Grinning, Rainbow Dash looped back up before folding her wings and plummeting straight into the clouds, practically delirious with the rush of adrenaline that followed each time she made a dive.

Something bright flickered in the corner of her eye. Thunder boomed through the sky, roaring right through her.

A dim, half-recalled memory returned to her. A memory of a question that she'd asked Soarin' during the brief time they'd spent together during the Grand Galloping Gala.

Have you ever soared past lightning? It's awesome!

Rainbow's mouth went dry. Her heart was in her throat, pounding like a drum.

When Rainbow Dash had asked him that, it had been part of a desperate bid for attention. She'd wanted to make herself look like a risk taker, the kind of bold, adventurous pony that the Wonderbolts would practically beg to have join their team. Long story short, she'd been exaggerating and had no actual idea what it was like to fly with lightning, having never been stupid enough to try it. Lightning, real lightning, the by-product of the storms brewed by the weather team, was incredibly, incredibly dangerous. Not even adrenaline junkies like herself risked it. At least, not the ones that wanted to live.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no.

She had to get out of there. Fast. Before –

A crack of light.

It hit her right in the center of her back, between her wings. Sharp pain radiated through her entire body.

She fell.

• • •

The figure in black watched from her place amongst the trees as the pegasus swam through the thick masses of clouds.

During the day, going out in public was riskier, and she knew that she was going to be seen eventually, but she wanted to draw it out as long as possible. She didn't want the attention of the public; that wasn't why she was doing this. Even disguised, it was safer for her to keep to the background.

Although many couples enjoyed taking strolls together under the autumnal colors provided by the trees of the Whitetail Woods, it wasn't exactly a popular destination once the trees were left bare after the Running of the Leaves. It became even less popular when it was used by the weather team as a focal point for storms and the sky overhead was left thickly overcast with storm clouds, but that was where Rainbow Dash was. A place where Mare Do Well could keep an eye on her without attracting too much attention herself was a place she wanted to be, even if it was a phenomenally stupid place to stop for a sky swim.

Mare Do Well was there to see the first flash of lightning striking and to hear the beginning rumbles of thunder, and she knew exactly what was going to happen and what she had to do when Rainbow Dash was first hit. She wasted no time springing into action as the pegasus first began her plummet to the ground.

She moved fast; almost impossibly so, like a bolt of lightning herself.

• • •

Rainbow Dash didn't scream while she fell. There wasn't enough time, and she was too much in shock to even think of it. Instead she began to flap her wings as hard as she could, desperate to catch herself before she hit the ground, but each beat of her wings sent another current of pain rushing through her body. Some of her feathers had been torn out, and her primaries were singed from the lightning strike.

But she wasn't afraid. The shock had probably been the worst pain she'd ever felt in her entire life, and sure, falling wasn't exactly the greatest sensation in the world – the wind was shrieking jarringly in her ears, and her stomach was lurching unpleasantly – but she'd fallen from greater heights than this plenty of times before in her life. As much as she hated to admit it, she'd gotten the nickname "Rainbow Crash" for a reason.

And then somepony slammed into her.

• • •

"It's Mare Do Well!" an excitable pink pony with a curling yellow mane shrieked. "Mare Do Well's back, everypony!"

A crowd was gathering around the pony that had first made the announcement, but Mare Do Well stoically ignored them all. She was too focused on her cargo: an unconscious blue pegasus with singed wings that she carried slung over her back.

Although she remained silent in the face of the eager fanatics pressing against her from every direction, she occasionally glanced behind her to make sure that her passenger was doing all right.

Her return to the public hadn't exactly gone as planned. If she'd had a choice, she probably would've done something a bit more theatrical, to take full advantage of the costume. Maybe let a couple of ponies catch a fleeting glimpse of her, possibly stop a few bank robberies or apprehend a few murderers, a dramatic chase or two, let the rumor mill run its course, build up the legend a little. Then, and only then, would she have been ready to make a proper entrance again.

But although the circumstances weren't perfect, she'd gotten to catch Rainbow Dash, and holding her for even the briefest of moments had been more than enough to satisfy her.

She almost shuddered with happiness at the memory of it, but managed to restrain herself.

But as nice as it had been, Mare Do Well had to admit that it could have gone better. Ideally, she would have sprung forward only to have Rainbow Dash miraculously land in her outstretched forelegs, bridal style, and then she could have carried the pegasus to safety. Instead there had been a lot more kicking, flailing limbs, and screaming of "Get away from me, you freak" during the actual catch, which hadn't been what Mare Do Well had hoped for at all. She was lucky none of Rainbow Dash's hooves had made contact and knocked her unconscious. That would have just been ridiculous, to have made a comeback waking up unmasked in a hospital. At least this way, there was no doubt as to who the hero was, here.

Her fans followed her as Mare Do Well strolled down the cobblestoned road to Nurse Redheart's, chanting her name and waving Mare Do Well signs that they'd seemingly pulled from nowhere. All very flattering, of course, but maybe a tiny bit excessive.

"Mare Do Well!" a unicorn reporter cried, pushing against the crowd as she tried to reach the front and pass the mike to the mare. "Mare Do Well, what prompted your return to the public circuit?"

"Isn't that Rainbow Dash?" somepony in the crowd gasped.

"What happened?"

"Did you two fight?"

"Who won? Was it you?"

"I bet it was!"

• • •

Rainbow Dash opened her eyes with a groan. Her entire body ached, down to her very last feather.

The first thing she heard was the roar of a crowd, and her face instinctively broke into an arrogant grin, already taking on the cocky attitude that was so habitual to her.

Then she started to listen, and heard the name they were chanting.


"What?" Rainbow Dash muttered, shaking her head to clear her mind, blinking groggily.

She'd been draped over the back of a pony dressed in shades of midnight, and when she lifted her head, she saw a familiar looking crowd: the adoring kind, that wore T-shirts with your face on it and carried signs with drawings of you. Only the pictures on the shirts and signs weren't of her, or even of the Wonderbolts. They were of –

"Mare Do Well!" Rainbow shouted, immediately leaping into the air, only to wince when her injured wings failed her. They seized up, and with a cry she fell to the ground, landing on her haunches.

The masked mare turned to stare at her wordlessly. Like always.

"What the hay are you doing?" Rainbow Dash snarled, immediately getting back up and ignoring the pain she felt as she did so. She fell and crashed into things all the time; pain was something you got used to after a while. "What is this? It's not enough that you –"

"Did you guys fight?" a colt shouted.

"I bet Mare Do Well won!"

A cheer rose up from the crowd.

"No, we didn't fight!" Rainbow Dash snapped back, not even caring which direction she shouted the response in. All that mattered was the caped mare that stood in front of her right then and there, whose eyes never left her for a moment. At least, that's the impression she gave with the mask.

"Listen, pal," Rainbow Dash hissed. "I don't know what your problem is, but whatever you're doing, cut it out, okay? It's not enough that you humiliated me before, you wanna try for a second time?"

"She saved your life."

When Nurse Redheart spoke, Rainbow Dash jerked her head upright, startled. The nurse pony stood before her in the entrance to the hospital, looking as serious and solemn as ever, even though what she'd just said was so obviously ridiculous that she must have been telling some kind of a joke.

"Apparently you were flying in an electrical storm and were struck by lightning. She caught you and brought you here," the nurse continued, with a pointed nod at Mare Do Well.

"She... she... that wasn't saving my life!" Rainbow Dash cried in ever-growing frustration. Her mind flashed back to how worked up Twilight had grown when she'd confronted her in the library, and she briefly wondered how she must have looked to everypony watching them right then. "I fall all the time! Ask anypony! It happens, okay? I would've been just fine and dandy if she'd just left me alone! That totally didn't count!"

"Do you fly through lightning storms all the time, too?" Nurse Redheart asked dryly.

"Well... I..."

"I wouldn't recommend it," the nurse interrupted before turning a concerned eye to Rainbow Dash's singed wings. "Now, if you'd let me –"

"No!" Rainbow Dash blurted, taking a step back. The rush of indignation she felt made no sense to her; she had no idea why she was choosing now of all times to be as stubborn as Applejack, since she knew very well that she'd done some something stupid. But she didn't want to give the Faker Do Well the satisfaction of knowing Rainbow Dash had accepted any help she had to offer. "I'm fine! I'll be fine! My, my wings are tough. Like me. So I'll just be going now."

"If you're sure –"

"I'm sure. And as for –"

But when she turned, Mare Do Well was gone.

With their idol gone, the crowd appeared to lose interest and began to disperse, but out of the corner of her eye, Rainbow Dash thought she caught sight of a flapping black cape as the owner ducked around the corner. Just like that, the pegasus was off like a bullet.

Even if her wings were injured, Rainbow Dash could still run pretty damn fast when she put her mind to it. Just like she was doing now.

The chase felt eerily familiar. It reminded Rainbow Dash of the last time she'd chased Mare Do Well through Ponyville. Just like before, it was as if the mare was taking great pains to let Rainbow catch just enough glimpses of her prey to keep the pegasus interested in the chase itself, even though Mare Do Well somehow managed to remain just out of reach the entire time.

Without wings, it was infuriatingly difficult to keep up with the other mare; but in the end, Rainbow Dash rounded a corner only to find herself in a nondescript cul-de-sac and staring down Mare Do Well, who was pressed against a brick wall with seemingly no means of escape.

"I've got you now!" Rainbow Dash declared, voice ringing with triumph. "And boy, have you got some questions to answer, Miss Mysterious!"

Mare Do Well met Rainbow Dash's gleeful smirk with a level stare. Any change in expression that there might have been was hidden by the mask that covered her face.

"So, who are you?" Rainbow Dash demanded, slinking forward, eyes narrowed. "Twilight thought I'd just imagined seeing you, but I knew I was right. And now everypony else knows, too, so you might as well just give up. Do the smart thing and come clean now, while I'm still feeling relatively merciful. Okay?"

No response. Rainbow Dash felt her feathers bristle in irritation.

"Cut the silent act! It's annoying like you wouldn't believe! It's almost as bad as the way you keep just disappearing when somepony's talking to you!" Rainbow finally snapped, frustrated. Her ears were pinned back, nostrils flaring and tail swishing as she pawed at the ground in rapid succession: one, two, three. Her entire body was tense, as if she was primed for a fight. "Don't you have anything to say for yourself?!"

Instead of an answer, there was a sweep of a cape, and Mare Do Well suddenly appeared beside her.

Rainbow Dash froze.

The mare still didn't speak, but instead ducked her head low, leaning forward to brush against Rainbow Dash's cheek in a brief, affectionate nuzzle.

This little show of intimacy caught the pegasus completely off guard. The touch was surprisingly gentle, almost hesitant, as if Mare Do Well wasn't entirely sure how Rainbow Dash would react to the caress, but wanted to risk it anyway.

For a moment – only a second or two, really – they stood there, side by side, faces softly pressed together.

Rainbow Dash's jaw dropped, heat flooding her cheeks. Warmth summoned from deep somewhere within her coursed throughout her body, extending to the very tips of her poor, battered wings and spreading them as far and full as they would go.

Only then did Mare Do Well make her getaway. With a second flourish of her cape, she was gone, leaving Rainbow Dash to stand in shock.

• • •

When she could finally move again, Rainbow Dash realized that she was alone. Only then did she take the opportunity to examine her surroundings and recognize it for it what it was; it was the same narrow back alley that she'd mistakenly gone down on the night she'd first run into this new Mare Do Well.

And just like that night, Rainbow Dash was now standing in it alone – confused, somewhat shaken, and wondering whether the encounter had actually happened or if she'd imagined the whole thing.

"Dashie!" a familiar high-pitched voice shrieked. A pink blur rocketed forward, crashing into her side and knocking her to the ground.

"Pinkie, she's hurt!" Twilight chided from behind. "Be gentle... Rainbow Dash, are you okay?"

With a groan, Rainbow Dash lifted her head to see her friends walking towards her.

"I'm fine," Dash answered, but her voice sounded hollow, even to her own ears. "You guys... you saw that, right?" she couldn't help but ask.

"Saw what?" Applejack asked, coming from around the corner and joining the cluster of friends. Rainbow Dash stood in the center of them all as they huddled around her, the five of them all wearing identical expressions of mingled curiosity and concern.

"Oh, no," Fluttershy said in that soothing way of hers upon seeing Rainbow's injured wings. "We'll have to get those bandaged right away. You should've let Nurse Redheart treat you... it might be two or three weeks before you'll be able to use them again..."

"I don't care about that," Rainbow Dash answered, shrugging off Fluttershy in annoyance. Pinkie somehow managed to maintain an iron grip around her middle, even though Rainbow Dash tried as hard as she could to shake her off as well. Rainbow turned to her friends, eyes wide and pleading, and the others exchanged confused glances; Rainbow Dash had never shown such indifference to the thought of being grounded before.

"You saw it, right?" Dash asked, a touch of desperation in her voice.

"Do you mean Mare Do Well?" Rarity asked with a haughty sniff. "Yes, we saw her, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the news of her so-called comeback was all over the papers tomorrow. I must say, I feel a little cheated that somepony will be getting famous for donning one of my creations, and I won't even be getting credit for it."

Rainbow Dash resisted the urge to smack her. All you have to do is say who bought it, she wanted to scream; but just then, Twilight spoke up.

"Wow, Rainbow Dash," the unicorn began, voice faltering slightly. She looked immensely uncomfortable. "I... I'd thought there must have been some kind of misunderstanding, but somepony really is trying to pass themselves off as Mare Do Well. Huh," she finished lamely.

"Dashie, wow, it was so cool!" Pinkie babbled, still clinging to her. "She just swept in from nowhere, all vooom and whoosh, and then we saw she was carrying you and it was like, oh, no, Dashie got hurt! But she totally brought you to safety, and it was like she was being a real superhero when before we'd just been pretending –"

"Whoever it was can't keep it up for long, at any rate," Applejack interrupted, adjusting her hat. Together, the six of them turned, walking side by side down the alley and back into town. Rainbow Dash, as the center of attention – something that she wasn't especially enjoying for once – walked in the middle, with Pinkie still draped all over her and Fluttershy fussing over her like one of her pets. "It took four of us to pull it off the first time around, and that was hard enough. I reckon they'll slip up soon enough, especially if they're tryin' to follow up the original Mare Do Well."

Rainbow Dash nodded. "Yeah. You're right."

But although she agreed out loud, privately, she still found herself wondering.

Loyalty meant having absolute faith in your friends, and they in turn had absolute faith in you. Feeling doubts such as these about her friends almost physically hurt. It was like there was a dull, throbbing ache somewhere in her heart, but as much as it pained her, she couldn't ignore the growing suspicion she now found herself regarding her friends with.

Whatever the new Mare Do Well was trying to accomplish, Rainbow Dash was going to figure it out. Not only that, but she was going to find out who it was and make them pay, friend or no. If not for her pride, then for the memory of the surprisingly gentle touch that still burned on her cheeks.