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

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Night VIII



"I'm pretty sure it's around here somewhere."

"You're pretty sure?"

"Absolutely sure, if you wanna delve in the specifics! I can smell it in the air! The moisture! It's close by, Rainbow, I know it!"

Rainbow Dash tried her best to keep a straight face. Really, she tried, yet to see Soarin' sniff about the thick air like an excited puppy was already calling in a swarm of vicious butterflies circling in her belly. She didn't know whether she was fortunate or not to call this quirky stallion her coltfriend, though that wasn't something she minded, really. In fact, she was perfectly content with him leading the way like this, prancing up and about in his whimsical search for a good spot to bathe.

The night was young. Just past sundown, if the watch around her hoof was of any indication. She had bought one for her and Soarin' back in Vanhoover after learning that the temple was mostly subterranean. With how vast and far-reaching the underground complex was, she was almost certain they'd spend a day or two down here, perhaps even a week if things get rough. As such, she stockpiled as much as she could, just in case. Sure, Soarin' might complain about carrying all the baggage, but that's just Soarin' for you — runny mouth, sure, but he always gets the job done, no matter what.

Come to think of it, that was something she was always found amusing about him. Why bother complaining when you're gonna do it anyway? Why waste his breath when he could just utilize it for his task? 'That's just what divas do', a voice clamored in her head, though she shrugged off that notion. If anything, Soarin' was much more than those snobs up at Canterlot could ever hope to be; the last thing he was as a pony is one that was all talk and no action, that much she knew. 'Still a diva though', rang that voice again, to which she responded with a snarl.

"Come again?"

"Wha— uh, nothing! Nothing!"

"That's a lot of nothing to be thinking about," Soarin' said with a smirk, cantering up to her. "Guess I can be pretty obsessed when it comes to looking for a bath, huh?"

"I wasn't— okay, maybe I was, but it's not like it's a bad thing," Rainbow protested earnestly. "I just find it a little funny, that's all."

"Well, I try my best. Seems like we needed a bit of cheering up anyway."

She couldn't argue with that. Spending three days wandering about the temple's labyrinthine depths, with only the light of their headlamps and each other to confide in, was definitely taking a toll on them. That's not to say that the vast network of rooms itself was dreary: there was a quaint beauty to it, seeing as all its stone walls and even some of its floors were designed with carvings of every kind, depicting what life must've been like living in the dense jungle and all the stories told here that were now lost in translation, and they've certainly spent most of their first day marveling in awe at the intricate artistry of it all. What really got to her was this... this sensation of darkness watching them from behind, at times even glaring down from above their heads. It was the asphyxiating dread of loneliness lunging right into their ribcage, smothering whatever trace of air still clinging onto their lungs. It was incomprehensible, at times inconceivable, yet standing amid this obsidian miasma, she knew it was anything but.

To put it simply, it was like the weight of the surface world was being stacked on her shoulders.

Perhaps that explains it.

"Explains what?"

A long pause.

"...did I say that out loud?"

"Kinda did," Soarin' chuckled, stopping at a doorway. "But before we get to that, maybe you should do the honors."

"Do the honors for w-holy guacamole!"

That was all that came out from her lips. The rest of it was all stolen away by the shimmering beauty of a large rectangular tub of marble jutting out from the ground, filled to the brim with water and dappled by a few fallen leaves. The welcoming rays of moonlight glistened upon its surface, beckoning the two of them into their embrace. Quickly placing her various satchels aside, she quickly scampered up to the tub and dove in without a single thought, sending a ripple of gushing waves across the tub and spilling out its edges. With a relaxed sigh, she swam back and rested her head on the rim, before realizing that Soarin' was still standing outside and doing nothing.

"Ah yeah, that's it... so you gonna stand there and stare for the rest of the night or you gonna come in?"

"Uh, yeah, yes! J-Just thought you would've checked if it was actually water before diving in, you know? Traps and such?"

"Oh... right..."

"As long as my marefriend doesn't get hurt. it's fine." Soarin' chortled at her growing blush, setting aside his bags and slowly striding into the tub with a low, rumbling purr of content. "Cold, cold, oh... ooohhh, now that hit the spot..."

Rainbow silently and wholeheartedly agreed, giving a couple of backstrokes and drenching her head before letting herself just drift along with the ripples she created. Her eyes glimmered between the shafts of moonlight spilling in, split as they were by the fronds of a palm tree hanging above the square skylight. Before long, Soarin' had swam up to her side and flipped himself onto his back, joining her in this splendid view of the sleeping world outside. Together, the two gazed up at the waning moon and the many twinkling stars surrounding it, bringing to their souls a wondrous repose, however brief it may be.

"Soar?"

"Hmm?"

"I think I get it."

Soarin' craned his neck upward, the hairs of his mane swirling into the water. "Get what?"

"Retirement."

Surprise graced his features. "So that's what you were thinking about earlier."

"Yeah. You're tired, aren't you? Not about flying, but about the whole 'being a Wonderbolt is awesome and I'm proof of it' gig."

"Yeah, you could say it's one of the reasons," he muttered, paddling himself to her side. "I just don't feel like flying for the sake of putting up a show. It's been my dream when I was a colt, sure, but I don't think that's what I want to do anymore. Why, you thought it had something to do with you?"

"Uh... a bit..."

"Well, aren't you feeling a bit insecure?" he teased.

"I can't help it! I mean, it was so sudden..."

"I know, I know, I should've warned you ahead of time, sorry," Soarin' sighed, his breath meeting hers. "It's just... I had a lot of things on my mind."

"I kinda noticed." Rainbow brought herself closer. "You looked exhausted every time you reported in."

"I do, huh?" he laughed despondently. "I guess it's because I couldn't sleep at all lately. My body wants to, yet my mind keeps interfering every time. I keep getting this headaches because of that. So I thought of going to the doctor's. You know, just to see if I got a little sick. After giving me my checkup, they're saying it's insomnia, so there's that."

"Wait, insomnia?"

"Can't believe it either," he mumbled, his wing unconsciously wrapping around his marefriend. "I guess I had it coming for a while now. Drinking with my old buds, partying all the time, all the stuff I did. It's like it's been slowly growing and I've been taking good care of it. Sometimes, I could go nights without sleeping and just wandering around, you know, and I'm tired as heck but I still can't do it even after counting hundreds of sheep, no matter how hard I tried."

"S-Soarin', I... I didn't know..."

"It's cool. I mean, it's not like I went around showing it off to everybody." A small laugh. "I think apart from you, only Spitfire knew about it before I announced my retirement, mostly cause she's the captain and my oldest friend ever. Thought if anyone would understand, it was probably her. Sure enough, she excused me whenever she thinks I couldn't handle it, just in case I put the rest of you guys in danger. She even recommended the idea of retirement to me as well."

"You could've told me."

"I didn't wanna worry you, though it didn't work out that well now, did it?" he muttered sheepishly. "I didn't want to make this your problem to handle as well, that's all. I mean, you're still enjoying life as a Wonderbolt and everything and... I just don't wanna take that away from you. You looked like you were having fun and everything, and I didn't want me dragging you down. You were having fun, right?"

"Of course I am."

"Great."

"That doesn't mean you should just keep quiet about it." Rainbow stopped to gravely ponder. "Okay, wait, when's the last time you slept? Tell me when, honestly."

"Uh...two nights ago, after we finished gathering the supplies."

"So you haven't slept the whole time we were down here?" Rainbow gawked, to which he solemnly nodded. "Celestia, have you brought anything along to help? Any sleeping pills, anything?"

"Left them back at your place."

"In Ponyville?" she gasped. "But why didn't you bring... oh... oh, you idiot. You stupid idiot."

"Yeah."

"You think I'd be mad if I found out? You think I'd be better off not knowing?"

"Mm."

"You freaking idiot."

"Yeah..."

"You idiot... y-you stupid, boneheaded, harebrained—"

"Hey now, you don't have to cry over thi—"

"Then what do you expect me to do?! Am I supposed to just ignore all of that?! Am I supposed to sit here and be happy about it?! What do you want me to do, Soarin'?! What do you want me to... want me to..."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't you try to do that now!! Don't you dare! Don't you even try to... gahh.... can't believe you had to just went ahead and do this to yourself... it's stupid, you know? It's stupid..."

Soarin' glumly stared down at his reflection. 'Pathetic', he wanted to yell at himself. 'Just pathetic'. He wanted to speak up, he really did, though he knew that there was certainly nothing he could so to salvage the situation right now. His gaze followed Rainbow Dash as she sniffled and heedlessly wiped her tears away, wading across the tub and stumbling out without giving him a single glance back.

"I screwed up, didn't I?"

Her response, or lack thereof, was as cold as he expected.