• Published 8th Aug 2017
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Cascade! Clouds Above, Obfuscate! - WritingSpirit

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Consider the clouds.

Look at them. Now, now, don't fret, just look.

Marvelous, aren't they? Floating up there, drifting along invisible tracks, those cotton-white locomotives in the sky. At times, they would swell. When they do, they would tremble; they would howl; they would frown their ugliest frown. From ugliness comes their power, and from that come the showers, and from that, the flowers of life blossom bright.

They're a ceaseless bunch. Stubborn as well. Soaring high, diving low, flying fast, crawling slow— my, my, you'll never know. One moment, they whiten the sky; the next, they blacken it. One moment, they bore; the next, they burn. See them shiver, hear them chatter. Now, feel their passage: their voyage across the vastness languid and lush with loneliness. Feel them drift between your ears.

Consider the clouds.









"Rainbow?"

Black silver burned bright from what little light that fell upon the forest. A mere glimmer or two, nothing worthy of note. There came hope with it once upon a time, though that was quickly set ablaze like moths to a flame. Lackadaisical, but what was one to do? What else can one do but to wonder and wander across this pearlescent eternity until they reach their end? If there even was an end?

"Rainbow, you awake?"

"Yeah..."

Starless. Moonless. Sunless. If there had been anything else other than the clouds above his head, Soarin' would've been none the wiser. He missed it, the celestial trinity. He missed them all. Then again, he missed so many things: home, the academy, his family, his friends, the thrill of flight, the taste of pie, the warmth... the warmth... of the above, he knew he missed the warmth most of all. The warmth of life, the warmth of the day, the warmth of everything else that came with it... he missed them.

His shivers were violent tonight. Tumultuous and numerous. The heat had all rushed to his head, so much so that everything else just... ceased, or were ceasing. Every joint, every tendon, every part of him felt like they were fading away, crumbling and turning to dust to be blown away in the wind. The clouds trembled, its synchronicity blatant, and had he been stronger, he would've cast his curses to the sky at their eager snickers. Instead, he was stranded in the cold, the ice already freezing up his cords until he could do no more than whimper and bemoan.

"How long has it been? Since we're down here."

Silence.

"I don't know... I don't know..."

"You sound so defeated," he chuckled, reaching out. "Dammit..."

"Soarin'?"

"You know I... I always wanted to... ask you... just... what did we do, you know? Why us? Why here, why this place? Why not... why not somewhere familiar, at least. Somewhere where the rest could find us and..."

"Soarin', stop it."

"Hehe... sorry, I thought..." he stopped himself. "You know, if I had a chance... a one in a millionth chance, at this point, but if I had it... I think I'd... I'd fly with you again... with the team... all of us... one more time... you know, just one more time. Hear the screams, the shouts, feel the thrill, remember why... why is it that I enjoyed it..."

"Really?"

"Really... I mean, retirement, it's a... it's a hell of a step to take, I... I don't..."

"You don't want to?"

"I want to, I just... it's just... not like this... not here... not like this..."

"Soarin'?"

Desolation was aplenty. He could see it in the smoldering rays of daylight, those golden locusts seeping through the silver forest. He could taste it in the iron scent of a passing breeze. He could feel it rippling through his coat, his body fading... no, decaying. That's what it was. Decaying. That explains it.

"Explains what?"

The silence that followed was as brittle as his bones. "I said that out loud, didn't I?" Soarin' choked on his laugh. "Good to know we come full circle on this. It's just... Rainbow, I know I'm the one that said... that demanded we shouldn't give up... if you're even here at all... I just...I can't do this... I can't do this anymore..."

"Soarin', snap out of—"

"SHUT UP!"

Silence.

No less brittle, no less poignant.










Consider the clouds.

Look closer. Don't worry, they won't bite.

See that? That single tremble? That flicker in the soot? Listen now: hear it crackle. There's a fire in them. A hungry fire. A vivacious fire. A violent, arrogant fire. A vengeful, vain fire. Now, smell it. Give it a whiff. Pungent, isn't it? That stink of humidity? That pluvial stench of liquid enmity? Imagine the rage. The wrath. Imagine the fires you're hearing, burning in its eyes as it unleashes its storms, spilling the bubbling broth churning in its guts out into the open world.

Imagine how furious it could be when its dramatic display of its ferocity was met by nothing more than admiration.

Fear is what it seeks, yet this is all it always gets: sheer admiration. 'Oh, how terrifying,' you always cry, always sounding so... amazed. Awed. Pfft, admiration. It cuts deep, you know that? All that effort, all those days of pent-up anger, all that energy coalescing into a clash of the ages, and you think only to admire it? 'This is why I like rainy days', you say? Are you hearing yourself? Don't you realize how ignorant that sounds? How ignorant you sound?

You can't deny it.

You've said it more than once, I've seen it.

I've heard it.

I've heard it all.

I'm hearing it now, in fact.

Clear. As. Day.









Silence.

That's all that ever was by his side.

Deep, dreadful, deceitful silence.

Perhaps he knew it deep down somewhere. Perhaps his fragmented mind found the right shards and pieced it together then. How long had it took him to figure it out? Days? Months? Years? Decades? Surely not decades? Or centuries even? It could be. Perhaps even longer than that. Knowing how much there is to conceive from eternity, he just didn't know anymore. Or perhaps he didn't care. One or the other, that he was certain. One or the other.

Soarin' missed the warmth.

The warmth of life. The warmth of the day. The warmth of home. The warmth of friendship. The warmth of family.

The warmth of love.

The warmth he so desperately clung on to, even when it had been forcibly pried away his side.

"Soar?"

"Shut up," he hissed once more, clenching his eyes shut. All he could hear in his head were its screeches. All he could see were the fluttering shadows ravaging the corner of his eyes. All he could feel was the cold sawing into his bones. He needed not pity, for he had pitied himself endlessly in this aimless journey of his. No, he needed salvation. The warm, blistering light of salvation. He wanted the golden swarm to swoop in already, to nip him bit by bit, tear into flesh and bone until his will, well tempered by his time in the Wonderbolts, would taper off. He wanted to stop the suffering.

For why should he live any longer when the warmth had long left his side?

"Soar, it's me."

"No, it's not." How much pain must a stallion go through for salvation? Just how much? How longer must he suffer as he stumble along this cold wasteland? "Don't do this to me... please... I don't want to hear it... to hear her..."

"Soarin'? Soarin', come on."

"Leave me alone..." Too weak to shout. Too weak to fight. "Just go away... go away... get out of my head... please..."

"For Celestia's sake, Soarin', look at me!"









Ah, but I don't blame you.

You don't know the clouds like I do. None the wiser, as they say. You can never comprehend its rage. You can never comprehend its fury. I can, but not you. You'd beg and plead, and even after I gave an answer, still you won't get it. Nothing is ever that simple. No cloud is fully black or fully white: there's always a blend of both. Comprehend that, then maybe you still have a chance, though I'd admit it would be the same chance everyone else has.

Consider the clouds.

Yes, yes, again. Now, consider them.

Take a step back. Look at it all, the big picture. Marvel, if you will.

See the spiral? The large one the clouds are making? Yes, the big one.

Rather lovely, isn't it?

There's a pattern to it, you know. A mathematical logic. You haven't realized it yet, but it's been staring at you the whole time, watching as you drift further and further away from it. You think you've escaped, yet you should know that there is only tranquility in the eye of a hurricane. There is only calm, yet in that calm rests a calculating mind. Now, go back to the spirals surrounding it. Take a look at the proportions. The clouds ravaging en masse. See it yet? See the pattern? The numbers?

Count them with me.









Silence.

Brittle. Brusque.

A second after that silence, Soarin' shed away his reluctance and gave into the demand.

A second after that, he spotted her.

Panting.

Wheezing.

Withering.

Sweating.

Sputtering.

Crying.

"What... what is this..."

"Soarin'?" A shriveled smile. "S-Soar, it's me... it's Rainbow Dash, it's me, it's... it's really me..."

"What are you trying to do..." His eyes shimmered. "What are you—"

"I'm here... I'm here to save you, Soar. I'm here to get you out of here."

"To save me... to get me out..."

"Yes! Yes, to get you out... to get you..." A cracked gasp, then a shattered cry. "Celestia, what did it do to you? What the heck did it do to you?"

"What are you... talking about..."










Don't be afraid now. Follow the spiral, outward from the center. Count the clouds with me, my love.

One.

One.

No, I'm not wrong, you're wrong.

Oh, don't be daft. You think you know better? You think everything is all linear for you? You want to see the big picture or do you want to resume your little wallowing in that well of yours? From what I know, you don't have much time anyway! Water's rising up to your neck already! Matter of sink or swim!

Your move, Rainbow Dash.









He couldn't see it. Of course he couldn't see it.

She was warned about this. She knew what to expect the moment she came straggling here. She knew the state she would find him in when she galloped through the woods. She was perfectly aware of what she would stumble upon the moment she finds him. She knew. Nightingale told her, so she knew. She knew, in full, glorious detail, just what this rescue expedition would entail.

"Rainbow..."

She knew. She knew.

"R-Rain... Rainbow..."

She knew, dammit.

"Soar..." she choked on a sob, staring down at the pony she had called her coltfriend.

That is, if he was even a pony anymore.

The stallion she had marveled and admired from afar had become nothing but a withering, writhing carcass, living and limp on the forest floor. He was all shriveled up, with what remains of his flaking skin clinging and bulging around the bent fibers of his bones, the shape of his ribs stabbing against the crumpling flesh. His hooves had been emaciated, resembling more of dead leaves tapering in the wind. The feathers that flourished upon his wings had rotted away with most of the skin beneath it, leaving behind only the white spindles that once supported them.

What's more gruesome and gut-wrenching, however, was the culprit behind this visceral atrocity.

It was there, as Nightingale said it would be. It was still clinging onto him, or more specifically, his right shoulder. It was this... amorphous mass of brooding violet, expanding and contracting slowly and irregularly. It looked almost as if it had erupted from Soarin's shoulder, with its fat tendrils stretching along his sides and down his spine. One of the tendrils even seemed to have begun clawing to dig into the walls of his throat, convulsing to the tune of his raggedy pants and ghastly croaks.

"R-Rainbow?" he managed despite all of that. Somehow, he managed. "Rai... Rain..."

"Soar, l-listen to me." she knelt down, her tears dripping. "Listen to me, okay? Everything will be fine. You're gonna be fine. This is all just... just a nightmare... a very bad nightmare..."

"Night... mare..."

"That's why I need you to do something for me, okay?"

She glanced down at Soarin' lying on the forest floor, too tired to move, to even utter a sound. Gritting her teeth, Rainbow hauled his limp form and propped him against the nearest tree, unwrapping the stained bandage that had covered around her forehead— a little too grimy for what she was about to do, but if Nightingale's words were to go by, it should be fine. She ripped the bandage in half with her mouth, taking the longer strip of the two first and wrapping tightly Soarin's frail body to the tree with it by the waist. The shorter one was twisted and fashioned into a thick gag which was then tied around his mouth.

"Ra... Rainb... wh-what are you..."

"I told you, didn't I?" Rainbow wore a misshapen grin. "I'm... getting you out of here... I'm getting the both of us out of here..."

"Getting out... getting out..."

She held back a sniffle as she took out from her satchel the best thing she could find to finish the job: a shovel. The sight of it alone, however, was enough for her knees to crumple underneath her as the first few tears slid down her cheeks. "D-Dammit..." she muttered underneath her breath, picking herself up and making her way to her barely-conscious coltfriend, stopping only to shiver at the sight. It was hard seeing him like that: half-alive, bony, blistered and bound to a tree, not to mention the writhing growth on his shoulder— a parasite of some sort, according to Nightingale.

A parasite that needed to be removed.

"Rainbow..." his voice shimmered, frigid and fractured. "Rainbow, what are..." his gaze remained petrified at the sight of the shovel clasped between her hooves. "Why are you..."

"I'm sorry..." came her equally broken response. "I'm sorry..."

Silence.

He spoke first.

"Don't be... don't be, it's not your fault..."

"I have to do this... I h-have to, you know I have to—"

"Rainbow."

"—but it... it'll hurt, Soar. It'll hurt. I'm gonna hurt you. Badly..."

"Come... come here..." he muttered, to which she complied, making her yelp, the shovel falling from her grip with a clank when he suddenly planted his snout against her neck, taking a deep whiff of her scent. Tensed up and agape, she just stared down at him, before she finally spoke.

"Soarin', what are you..."

"I missed this." The certainty that permeated from his voice was pungent. "I missed you."

Rainbow smiled her first genuine smile in the silver forest. "I missed you too."

"We're..." there was a strength left untapped. A strength that was now surging through his veins. "We're getting out of here... right?"

A firm nod.

"Then... get us out of here... get us out..."

With their twin sighs came the moment they dreaded, she more than him. Stepping from his side, shovel in tow, Rainbow Dash convoked her glare to the tumor growing on his shoulder; the growth sapping everything it could from her coltfriend; the monster that had the nerve to steal him away from her. "It'll hurt..." she found herself uttering, glancing to the stagnant clouds in the night sky. "We don't wanna wake it up but... but it's gonna hurt. It's gonna hurt really badly."

"Okay..." he grunted, shifting in his bonds with a pained groan. "What do...gah... what do you want me to do?"

With that, she knelt down and firmly stuffed the gag into Soarin's mouth before she stood up and readied the shovel, quavering as she pointed it downwards to the parasite on his shoulder, her instructions clear and concise conveyed in three simple words.

"Bite down. Hard."

With it came the first plunge out of many.










Try again.

One. One. Two. Three. Five. Eight. Thirteen. Twenty-one. Thirty-four—

Ah, you've realized it, didn't you?

The universe has a logic. It adhered to that logic. It had to, in order to belong to this universe, otherwise it would be thrown out. So from that logic came the spirals, and thus, it adapted. Now, say a storm is brewing in all of the clouds. A storm of time and space. A storm — the largest in a long while — is brewing in this silver forest. When that happens, know this: it's because it knows what you're doing. It has gotten wind of your plan. It knows what you want. It knows that you're trying to set yourself free, that you're trying to set him free. It knows very well that you're with me, and when you're with me, our escape is a real possibility. However, it knew you wouldn't leave without him, and with that knowledge, it created this storm.

That's why you have to do it when it's asleep. And you have to make it so that it stays that way.

What's 'it', I hear you ask.

The gatekeeper, of course. The guardian that presides over this realm.

The guard dog.

Yes, it's looking at us right now. Yes, it's listening. Closely, I might add.

Where is it, you say? Why, it's right there, all along.

What do I mean, you say?

Do I really have to— ach, but of course, of course. I never understand what lies in the minds of a fleeting life that keeps you lot going sometimes, but it's... admirable, let's put it. I'm amazed.

Let me put it rather simply for you.

That's not the sky you're looking at, love.









"Yes. Yes, I've warned her."

"Night... Nightingale!"

"Yes. Well, you're her friend, you know how rambunctious she is, what do you think happened?"

"Nightingale!" she needed only to yell once more to get his attention. "Nightingale, I got him!"

A grin at her approach, then a twirl of his staff. "So it would seem. Now, lay him down beside me. Quickly now."

"I'm trying," Rainbow cussed underneath her breath, crouching low and tipping her disheveled coltfriend off her back. He landed onto the floor with a splat, flecks of red whipping across the floor with most of it gushing from what remained of his right shoulder. He was groaning and huffing in pain, trying his damnedest not to just scream out his agony to the heavens. She wearily glanced to the crimson trail of blood she made in her squalid journey here, snaking between the trees, towards a place she was willing to forget. "He won't die, right? You said he can't die here."

"I said that, yes, if only because I'm confident you'd saved him from certain death."

"O-Okay..." her voice lurched. "That was enough, right?"

"Hmm?"

"I left something behind," she stated. "That's enough, isn't it?"

"Not exactly, my love. There's more to it than blood and... shoulder, was it?" Nightingale's chuckle sent a spark across her head. "Oh, but... how should I put this... we had some help. External help, one could say. Unlikely, I know."

"What do you mean?"

"A friend of yours, so she claimed." Nightingale snorted. "Really, the things you lot would do for mere kinship. I shall admit, your friend had certainly piqued my interest. Rather compliant as well, more so than you. I had her arrange a few things to ensure the success of my arrival — your return — to the material world. Mind you, this all wouldn't need to be done had you been willing to give up this coltfriend of yours here as a snack. After all, there's so many fish in the sea, as you lot coined it?"

"There's no way I'm leaving him here, you know that," she growled, glancing over at Soarin'. "He... he means a lot to me."

"I suppose that notion is true. Nevertheless, there shall be consequences to your actions, Rainbow Dash. When you come to, you will find that your actions, however righteous it may be, has its own fair share of consequences. There is a toll to be paid, after all. Nothing more, nothing less. All I'm wondering now is whether you're prepared to face them, my love."

"Why? What did you do?"

"Like I said," he answered with a most menacing grin. "I made sure the toll was paid."

Before Rainbow could question him further, she heard a screech in the air. The night sky started to flutter, before it suddenly erupted into a bright blue that washed over the pool of black, blinding the both of them in the glare of false daylight, if only for a moment. The clouds, once dormant, had begun graying and swirling above them violently, lightning streaking from its harrowing edges. Another screech tore through the shuddering world, sending a pang ricocheting in the depths of her head.

"It knows he's gone," Nightingale scowled. "It knows you took him. It's angry. Very angry. Downright furious."

"Then what are we waiting for?! Let's go!"

"Hmm? Oh yes, yes, right. Leaving. That's what we're doing, yes. Freedom! Taste it, love it, live it! May we three birds fly far!"

With a gentle sparkle of azure, Nightingale whipped his lamppost of a staff in an arc, the blue flames dancing inside spilling out to form a burning circle around the three. Cautiously, and with the injured Soarin' around her shoulder, Rainbow stumbled over to his side, watching as the fires began eating away at the ground around them. A riveting screech tossed our gaze up to the air to the clouds, her breath hitched in her throat when she saw what could only be described as a tunnel filled with swiveling silver teeth, whirring and fizzing with sparks.

"Nightingale, we have to—"

"Ooh~! Lovely weather we're having today! What a view, don't you think?" A pompous cackle from Nightingale, his excited glance sparkling at the abyss descending upon them. "Wowie! I've seen so many being devoured by it but who could've known that I get to see it up close myself? Is this what you ponies feel before you die? This thrill at the edge of life?"

"Nightingale!!"

"Ach. What a bad sport, this one, eh?" Nightingale laughed one last time, before giving the monstrous pit a tip of his top hat. "Toodles, my love! No hard feelings!"

With that came a second twirl of his staff.

And in a burning flash of bolstering blue, they were gone.










You understand now, don't you.

Those aren't clouds you're looking at.

Those are its eyes.

All of them, yes.

So, my last piece of advice? Consider the clouds.

For they very well might be doing the same thing about you.









Author's Note:

Well, delayed a week thanks to a flu, but here it is!

Next chapter will be the last. There'll be one more chummy scene between our pair, so be on the lookout for it by next week! :pinkiehappy: