• Published 10th Aug 2011
  • 31,938 Views, 267 Comments

Off The Edge Of The Map - Daetrin



Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy journey through unknown lands.

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Terra Firma

Off The Edge Of The Map
Part 3: Terra Firma

Fluttershy let out a sigh of relief as her hooves finally touched Equestrian soil. They had only the word of dragons that it was Equestria, of course, and there were no familiar landmarks in sight. Still, it felt safer here, with the land of Draconia only a dirty smudge on the horizon. “Finally.”

“Yeah, we’re almost home!” Dash didn’t bother landing, peering out above the treeline at the northern forest that stretched away from the scrub of the coast. It was all but trackless, and although there were birds wheeling here and there above the trees, no sign of any real civilization. “Well, maybe.”

Fluttershy extended her wings again, flying up to share the view with Dash, then dipping back down to the treeline. She cast about among the trees for a moment before finding a nesting hole. “Hello, is anyone in there?” She rapped on the tree with a hoof and smiled at the small brown rodent that popped its head out.

“Hello there, little friend. I was wondering if you knew of any places around here where there might be ponies like us.” The animal cocked its head one way, then the other, skittering out of its burrow. It leapt the tree trunk to another, extending its arms and legs and gliding on a furry patagium to another tree some distance away. Fluttershy blinked and looked back at Dash. “See? We’re not lost anymore!”

“Awesome. Let’s go.” The two ponies trailed behind the flying squirrel as it glided from tree to tree, leading them deeper into the forest. They passed between evergreens, hooves silent on fallen needles where they landed to fit under the canopy. Their guide scampered ahead, the grey squirrel pausing to look back at them, whiskers twitching as it waited for them to catch up.

After a few bushels of minutes, the trees began to thin, and after clearing a final stand of pines the two ponies stumbled on a grassy rut cutting through an open field. An odd scent wafted from the far trees, sweet and faintly spicy, and Fluttershy pawed uncomfortably at the ground, looking around for their guide. “Dash, I don’t think this is-”

“ - civilization!” Dash exclaimed. They stood on the edge of a clean-cut highway running through a prosperous town, the buildings proud and clean and crisply painted.

“Thank you, little friend!” Fluttershy waved at the squirrel as it vanished back into the trees. The two ponies watched it go, then Dash flew over to an approaching earth pony hauling a cart full of persimmons.

“Hey there!” Dash waved, grinning. “Can you tell us where we are?”

“Well, hey there stranger!” The grey colt waved back. “Welcome to Cantrot. As pretty a town as you ever will see! Who might you be?”

“I’m Rainbow Dash!” The pegasus held a hoof to her chest, then waved it at her companion. “And that’s Fluttershy.”

Fluttershy drifted over as she was named, giving the persimmon-hauler a shy smile. “You see, we’re -”

“-not in a town at all.” The yellow pegasus shook her head, dazed from the vision or hallucination - she wasn’t sure what it was. “Rainbow Dash, what’s going on?”

“I...don’t know.” Dash looked over at where the buildings of Cantrot had seemed to stand just moments before. “But I think we need to get out of here.”

“Y-yeah.” Fluttershy nodded, and the two of them turned to head back the way they’d come. She shivered as the breeze blew again, wafting the scent of fruit trees over them. “I -”

“ - would love to show you around!” The pony shook their hooves vigorously. “I’m Simon, by the way. Come with me!”

The town was almost exclusively earth ponies, they saw, and the affluence of the couples strolling about and the elegance of the storefronts bespoke significant wealth. Genteel colts and elegant fillies walked from store to store, and there were even a scattering having a picnic in a grassy sward near the middle of the town.

Simon pulled into a side street next to a large restaurant, sliding out of the halter and rapping a hoof on a back door. Fluttershy dropped down to the ground, with Rainbow Dash hovering overhead as the door opened. “Delivery for you, Simms.”

There was a grunt from inside and Simon waved. “I’ll be right around.” The colt turned to them and gestured at the restaurant. “Let’s go inside. The Watering Hole is the best juice bar in Cantrot.”

“Oh yeah I could use a drink.” Dash was enthusiastic, but Fluttershy was less so. Something about the situation seemed subtly wrong to her. She opened her mouth to say something, but no words came to mind and she ended up just following Simon and Dash into the bar.

It was anything but a dive. Chandeliers hanging from the ceiling spread polished bronze arms like tree branches, illuminating the dark wood of counters and tables. The Watering Hole was less than half-full at that time of day, and Simon headed directly up to the counter. A dour colt with a silver coat and even paler mane nodded a greeting to the other earth pony.

“A pair of mugs for my friends here!” Simon grinned. “And some of your famous tarts. Something tells me these two have never tried persimmons.”

Simms was not impressed. He grunted again and vanished into the back, reappearing with the victuals. Dash plunged her muzzle into the mug, and Fluttershy shook her head at the other mare. “Manners, Dash!” The yellow pegasus bent to bite into one of the tarts herself. It tasted -

- bitter. Fluttershy spat unripe fruit, backing away from a low mound in the earth hinted at the remains of a building. She looked around wildly, and Rainbow Dash met her gaze, standing stock-still in the same position she’d had in the false Cantrot.

Dash reached a hoof up to scrub at her mouth, making a face. “I can still taste that drink,” she said, her voice shaking a little. “But...that wasn’t real. Was it?”

Fluttershy just whimpered. This wasn’t like the dragons, where she could at least see them and run away from them. This was a threat she couldn’t locate or understand - or count on Rainbow Dash to deal with. In fact, Dash’s obvious fear was more disturbing to her than what had caused it.

The blue pegasus shook herself, an all-over shiver, and tentatively stepped over to Fluttershy. The two of them looked around, afraid that they might disturb sleeping ghosts if they put a hoof wrong. “Let’s just...fly,” Dash whispered.

Fluttershy nodded softly, spreading her wings and following Rainbow Dash into the air. They flew upward as quickly and quietly as they could, getting an aerial view of their location. Below them was the broad, clear area where maybe-Cantrot stood. It was covered now with grass and dotted with bushes, but ripples in the terrain hinted at the long-buried bones of a town.

They were a good distance from the road they’d been guided to, the shore and stone bridge now long out of sight behind a screen of tall pines. In the distance green-carpeted hills smudged the sky, shadowed by a few puffs of cloud. It was warmer than the surroundings would suggest, to the point that their dragon-made vests were growing uncomfortable.

To the south and west stood groves of persimmon trees, overgrown and wild but still marking neat rows. Even this far up, the scent of the fruits wafted through the air, and Fluttershy’s eyes widened as the smell reached her nostrils. “Dash,” she said urgently. “I think - “

“ - that you should stay the night.” Simon called up to them. “It’s a little wild out there.”

“We don’t want to impose...” Fluttershy began, but Dash interrupted.

“Sure we do, Fluttershy! It’d be our first real bed in almost a month!” The blue pegasus dove back down to the level of the town, perching insouciantly on The Watering Hole’s sign. “Where are we staying?”

“Well...if it won’t be any trouble,” Fluttershy conceded after a moment, dropping down after Dash. “It would be nice to have a bath and mattress. And blankets.”

“Just come with me.” Simon waved for them to follow, heading down the main avenue. The setting sun cast purpled shadows over the polished wooden façades of the storefronts and the grass of the town center, and bathed the roofs of Cantrot in a ruddy glow.

The colt stepped through the glass-paned double doors of a tall building with H-O-T-E-L in enormous letters projecting from the outer wall above the front entrance. Fluttershy poked her head in, and Dash nudged her the rest of the way inside as she followed after. Like the bar, it was all polished wood, oil-rubbed and gleaming.

A young, nervous-looking green colt in a badly clashing red bellhop’s uniform and hauling a two-wheeled cart sprang forward to assist them. “Take your bags, mares?” He squeaked, voice cracking.

“Oh, no thank you...” Fluttershy began, but Dash snorted.

“Come on, Fluttershy, it’s his job.” The blue pegasus pulled off her saddlebags and dropped them on rickshaw. Fluttershy, with some hesitation, followed suit.

“Room Three-Eighteen, Figs.” Simon called back as he stepped up to the counter to talk with the concierge.

“This is awesome! I love hospitality.” Dash grinned as Simon turned to toss them keys to their room. The blue pegasus snagged them out of the air and turned to trot after Figs. Fluttershy glanced after them, then turned to Simon.

“We...don’t really have anything to pay you with.” Fluttershy said, her left forehoof scuffing nervously at the lacquered floor.

“Don’t worry, this one’s on me!” The colt waved cheerfully. The yellow pegasus ducked her head in thanks and followed Rainbow Dash with a growing feeling of unease. The elevator clanked softly as it lifted them to the third floor, soft music playing tinnily from the speakers overhead, and Figs fidgeted in place until the doors slid open again.

“This way,” the bellhop said, hooves silent on plush carpet. The hallway was full of gleaming brass and dark wood, and the paintings hanging from the walls depicted Cantrot through the years. It started out small, the building spreading outward and upward as the wealth of the town grew, and always in the background were the groves of persimmons.

“Rainbow Dash,” said Fluttershy after looking at the paintings. The blue pegasus paused as Figs went ahead into a room with ‘318’ carved on the door.

“Yeah, Fluttershy?”

“Do you remember finishing dinner?”

“...huh.” Dash frowned thoughtfully. “You know, now that you mention it, I -”

“ - don’t know what’s going on.” Dash tumbled through the air. Startled, she stretched her wings, braking to a halt as she tried to get her bearings. Below her, Fluttershy thudded to the ground with a squeak. “Fluttershy! Are you all right?”

“I...I think so.” The yellow pegasus struggled free of entangling ivy and got shakily to her feet. Luna’s moon above cast the forest and groves and the surrounding fields in a silver light that seemed all too ethereal. She looked up at Dash’s silhouette, watching as the other pegasus dropped down beside her.

Fluttershy looked around nervously, huddling against Dash. “Our...our saddlebags are gone...” She shivered and shrank down against the wall. “I...I don’t know what’s real.”

“Hey.” Rainbow Dash put a reasuring hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder. “I am. And I promise I’ll stay right here. We can get through anything as long as we’re together, remember?”

“Yeah...” Fluttershy summoned a faint smile. “But...how are we going to get out of this?”

“It can’t be too hard, right? All we gotta do is remember -”

“-to wake up.” Fluttershy prodded Dash. Sunlight streamed in through the window, reflecting off the wooden walls and bedposts, the thick carpets and coverlets, giving the whole room a burgundy glow. “You want to go home, don’t you?”

“Nnh.” Dash squinted up at Fluttershy. “...right.” She slithered out from under the covers, hitting the carpet with a muffled thud before wobbling upright again. “Right.” She yawned hugely, her mane rumpled and frizzed. “Hey, we might even get to Ponyville today!”

“That would be nice,” Fluttershy agreed. She donned her saddlebags again, the two pegasi making their way back out of the hotel. The day was bright and clear, with a hint of crispness to the air. Dash had just spread her wings when a voice called to them.

“Hey there! Where are you off too in such a rush?” It was Simon, the blue-maned pony trotting enthusiastically in their direction.

“We’re, um, headed home.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash added. “We’ve got so many cool stories to tell our friends, I can’t wait!”

“What’s wrong with Cantrot?” Simon asked. “After all, everyone you remember is here.”

“...what?” Rainbow Dash frowned at the colt, but her attention was jerked away as a voice called from the side.

“Fluttershy! Rainbow Dash!” The sunlight framed four ponies standing in the middle of the main avenue. Their four friends, exactly as they remembered them; Twilight and Rarity, Pinkie Pie and Applejack. Twilight was waving at them.

The pegasi exchanged a started glance and rushed over to the other ponies. “Hey, when did you get here?” Rainbow Dash asked, grinning widely.

“Silly Dashie!” Pinkie bounced in place. “We’ve always been here!”

“Good to see ya’ll.” Applejack put in. “I -”

“-miss them so much.” Fluttershy burst into tears. “Why did it have to show us that? We’re never going to see them again, are we?”

“Shh. I’m sure we will.” Dash put her foreleg around the yellow pegasus, looking at the empty field where the phantoms of their friends had stood. “We just have to figure out how to deal with this. If we can remember what’s going on in the other place, we might be able to just walk away, right?”

“I...guess?” Fluttershy was willing enough to let Rainbow Dash take the lead. Despite being on home soil, she felt more lost among the ghosts of the Cantrot ponies than among dragons or on the trackless ocean.

The sun stood high in the sky, midday already slipping past them. With every transition they lost time, and Fluttershy could feel hunger and thirst fighting for attention past the taught anxiety filling her. “I hope you’re right, Rainbow Dash.”

“Sure I’m right.” Dash helped Fluttershy to her feet, the blue pegasus stretching her wings The wind blew through the nearby grove, rattling the branches and tossing the leaves in a soft sussuration. “And if we start moving now, we might get - “

“ - you to hold still, dear.” Rarity’s horn glowed softly as the fabric slithered over Fluttershy’s shoulders. “Otherwise we’ll never get this fitting done.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Fluttershy ducked her head in chagrin. The view out the window caught her eye, and she blinked slowly. Past the immaculate interior of the boutique, the framed glass looked out on the sun-soaked streets of Cantrot. There was something strangely wrong about it, and Fluttershy frowned, thinking.

Outside the window, something kindled alight. Flames licked upward, hazing the view between the boutique and the rest of the buildings. Fluttershy squeaked and backed away from the sudden inferno. “Ra-Rarity! There’s something on fire!”

The unicorn gave an exasperated sigh and the pins floating in the air returned to their cushion. “I’m sure it’ll be fine, Fluttershy. You’re making it difficult to work here.”

“I...” Fluttershy shook her head, and the flames were gone as abruptly as they had appeared. “...where’s Rainbow Dash?” She felt suddenly and unaccountably alone, even though Rarity was right there.

The fashionista gave her a blank look. “Out flying around somewhere, I’m sure. Why -”

“I-I’m very sorry, Rarity,” Fluttershy said, backing toward the door. “But I, um, have to go.” The pegasus turned and fled, winging up into the sky above Cantrot. She looked around frantically, surveying the town for a flash of rainbow mane and tail.

She spent several minutes casting about the buildings, attracting surprisingly few glances from the richly attired ponies walking below, but with no success. True panic was just starting to set in when the blue pegasus bolted out the window of a nearby store, nearly colliding with Fluttershy on her ascent.

“Fluttershy!”

“Rainbow Dash!”

They spoke simultaneously, and Fluttershy flushed briefly, putting her hooves over her muzzle. After a brief pause the blue pegasus continued. “I think there’s something weird going on, Fluttershy.”

“Did...did you see fire too?”

Dash gave her a startled look. “Yeah, actually. Nopony else seemed the care though.”

“What’s happening, Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy looked around warily, as if expecting to see the air itself ignite.

“I’m not sure. But I bet Twilight would know!”

The two pegasi glanced around, and Fluttershy spoke again. “Um, shouldn’t there be a tree that she lives in? I remember-”

“-that we’re doing better,” Dash said encouragingly. “We almost had it that time.”

Fluttershy blinked at the clear sky, shaking the last remnants of Cantrot from her head. “...I don’t know, Rainbow Dash, that just seemed worse.” They were deep in the persimmon groves now, the tree canopy providing patches of shade across the grassy rut of the road.

The orange fruits weighing down the branches would have normally looked delicious, but now the very sight turned Fluttershy’s stomach. Rainbow Dash helped her to her feet, and the yellow pegasus leaned against the other mare. “We’ve got to keep it together,” Dash said.

“I’ll try.”

“You’ll do more than try. I’m not leaving you behind.”

Fluttershy smiled faintly at the strength in Dash’s words. It seemed the blue pegasus always had a boundless reserve of energy and optimism, even in the worst situations. And this certainly qualified as one of the worst.

The rows of persimmon trees stretching out over the hills were like some strange mockery of Sweet Apple Acres, and Fluttershy could almost see a phantom Applejack trying to buck down the fruits. The involuntary thought made her wince, and she stared fixedly down at the ground instead.

“You know,” Dash said after a moment. “It’s like every time we try to remember-”

“-me to your friend.” Fluttershy blinked at Simon, something itching at the back of her mind.

“What did you say?”

“I asked if you were going to introduce me to your friend.” The colt grinned broadly, looking from her to Applejack, but Fluttershy shook her head. “No...it was...”

“Remember me to your friends,” a deep voice rumbled, giving voice to her thoughts. Fluttershy stared in shock at the massive bulk of a scarred dragon, crouching among the fruit trees, barely noticing the flames flickering at the edges of her vision.

“Wh-Scar!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, the blue pegasus startled into the air, wings fluttering as she hovered in place. “What did you get here?”

“I have always been here.” The dragon blinked languidly, tail flicking and rustling among the trees. Fluttershy backed away from the apparation, only to stop with a squeal as flames licked at her flanks. She bolted back away from the sudden boil of fire, belatedly spreading her wings to rise above the trees.

Cantrot burned. Thick smoke boiled away from the buildings, blackening the sky and fouling the air. Dash flew up next to her and they stared at the sight. The long streets of glossy wooden buildings withered and cracked under the heat, paint peeling and floating into the air as it turned to charcoal.

The horrifying vision persisted until Applejack called up at them. “Hey, what are ya’ll looking at?” The flames winked out as if they had never been, Cantrot standing whole and undamaged against the first faint stars of twilight.

“You didn’t see the fire?” Fluttershy asked incredulously.

“Don’t know what you’re talking ‘bout there, Fluttershy,” the earth pony replied, tilting back her hat with a hoof as she looked upward. Their friend looked incongruous standing next to the scaled paw of an enormous dragon, and the yellow pegasus felt something was profoundly wrong.

“Rainbow Dash,” she said quietly. “There’s something here that isn’t...isn’t right.”

“You can say that again.” Rainbow Dash scowled at Scar, who arched an eyeridge at them inquiringly. “It’s all like a dream. Or a memory.”

Fluttershy nodded miserably as Applejack gave them a confused tilt of her head. “I have no idea what ya’ll are on about. Have you spit your bit or somethin’?”

“Nah, we just -”

Dash was interrupted by Pinkie Pie bouncing into view, fairly bubbling with the cheery joy that she gushed forth like an endless fountain. “Applejack and Simon and Scar and Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash! We’re going to have a party!”

Fluttershy sank down to the ground as Pinkie capered over to them. “Are you going to come and have fuuuuuuun?”

“...no, Pinkie.” Fluttershy sighed, and Dash dropped down to hover overhead.

“Yeah, we’re real sorry, Pinkie, but...not this time.”

“Aww, why not?” The pink pony stared at Fluttershy with big, blue, soulful eyes.

“Because, Pinkie...” Fluttershy found tears streaming from her own eyes as she looked at her friend. “I don’t think you’re real.”

Smoke streamed away in the breeze, staining the early morning sky. The ground wavered underhoof, the yellow pegasus faint from lack of food and water. She took a step, and felt Dash supporting her from the left. “Thank you, Rainbow Dash.” Her voice was hoarse, and Dash’s was equally ragged as she responded.

“We’re getting out of this together.” Dash looked around at the endless groves around them. “Just keep walking.”

“Where’s all the smoke coming from?” Fluttershy coughed, turning her head away from a particularly dense swirl threatening her already abused throat. There didn’t seem to be any fire, any evidence of heat on the grass and trees, the blades green and lush under their hooves.

“It’s got to be coming from that fire in the...other place.” Dash followed Fluttershy’s example, snorting and spluttering at the smoke curling about her muzzle. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad.” The two ponies stopped as orange tongues curled up ahead of them.

The fire surrounded them, rising like a wall on every side. Steps came from behind the pegasi, and Simon approached them. “Please don’t go,” he begged. “You are the first ones to remember us in so long.”

“What’s going on here?” Dash took a step forward, baring her teeth at the earth pony. “Why is everything on fire?”

Simon sighed, dancing flames reflected in his eyes. “It took everything,” he said softly. “The fire consumed the forest, the groves, the entire town, colt, filly, and foal, down to the bare earth. All that was left was the memories of the earth and the trees.”

“What does that have to do with us?” Dash demanded. “We’re not from Cantrot!”

“No.” Simon took another step toward them, and the flames roiling in his eyes seemed hungrier somehow. “But you can carry -”

“Carry my memory with you.” Fluttershy said softly. Another flame kindled, but this one was green and cool, and no smoke came from it as it grew to a towering figure, with a lion’s forepaws and an eagle’s claws, a scaled head and two long horns.

Blue flickered in the empty sockets of the god as it surveyed the two pegasi, and turned to look at the phantom pony. Simon flinched back from the empty gaze, but to Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy the presence of the spectre was a welcome relief.

“Aww, yeah. We’ve got a god on our side now!” Dash grinned, and the enkindled spirit gave the blue pegasus a look of non-expression that was somehow quelling. It breathed in and out, and the fire died away, leaving the ghosts of Cantrot. They surrounded the small group, couples and children and foal carriages, and behind them the buildings stood in stark relief.

Fluttershy could see Figs and Simms in the crowd, as well as some of the ponies they’d run into here and there. Every single one was watching with wide eyes. The earth pony standing in front of them finally found his voice with a question. “What will we do?” He asked, helplessly.

All.

Things.

Must.

End.

In this place, the god’s voice was the roar of surf on sand, bringing with it hints of the tropical island that was its home. Simon shook his head. “We don’t have anywhere to go.”

Fluttershy was not a complete stranger to death, not with all the sick animals she dealt with. She had no more knowledge of what came after than anyone else, but it was obvious to her that these ponies were stuck somewhere between. “...isn’t there anything you can do for them?” She pleaded with the god.

Blue lights flared in empty eyesockets. The spectre surveyed the lost inhabitants of Cantrot, the lingering memory of a town long dead.

You.

Can.

Wait.

With.

Me.

“Wait...for what?” The expression on Simon’s face was mirrored by every single Cantrot pony in a moment of eerie synchronization, and the god’s two-word response made Fluttershy shiver.

The.

End.

Simon looked at the fiery being for a moment, then around at the watching crowd. Finally, he bowed his head in a gesture of assent. Fire spread outward again, but this time it was the cool, soothing foxfire of the god’s own essence that engulfed the ghosts, and not the inferno of their own tragic past.

“Wait,” Rainbow Dash said. “So...are you a memory too, or are you actually here?”

The answer came as a sigh, rippling from somewhere far away.

Yes.

***

Reality slammed into them like a thunderbolt. Two days without food, water, or sleep drove Rainbow Dash to her knees and Fluttershy to the ground. The blue pegasus panted, dazed for a short while before helping the other mare to her feet. “Come on,” Dash croaked past her parched throat. “We should go.”

No ghosts stopped them as they stumbled downhill toward a small rill that trickled through the grass. They more collapsed than stopped, slurping up the precious water in greedy chorus. Once they’d slaked their thirst, Rainbow Dash grinned and poked the yellow pegasus with a hoof. “Hey. Told you we’d get out of there.”

“Heh.” Fluttershy gave her a tired smile. “Yeah. I’m going to have nightmares for years, though...”

“Don’t worry, Fluttershy. We’re okay now.” Dash put a hoof around Fluttershy, and the mare leaned back against the blue pegasus.

“I thought we were almost home,” Fluttershy murmured. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take, Dash.” She closed her eyes, drawing comfort from the presence of the other pegasus. “I’m not strong like you.”

“You’re just as strong as I am, Fluttershy,” Dash told her. “And don’t let anypony tell you otherwise.”

The yellow pegasus opened her eyes, looking over at Dash. The mare gave her a trademark grin, and Fluttershy smiled back. “I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Rainbow Dash almost flushed, but instead shook her head at her companion. “They haven’t been traveling with you. We are almost home, Fluttershy, and the last thing I’m worried about is you not being strong enough to make it.”

More days slipped by as they recovered, eating grass and drinking water. It was a rest not just of body but also of soul; more than once did Fluttershy jerk awake in the middle of the night, and more than once did Rainbow Dash reach out and touch the other pegasus to make sure that, yes, she was really there.

Neither of them were disposed much to linger, though, and it was not too long before they were off again. South was the only direction they had in mind; neither pegasus had even a vague knowledge of the shape of the continent this far from Ponyville. They didn’t stumble across any other overgrown roads or ruins, there was only a seemingly endless stretch of virgin forest and field.

Whenever Fluttershy spotted an animal, squirrel or rabbit or bird, she inquired after the presence of ponies. It availed them not at all until they crossed a series of rock-littered hills, the deep grooves of a glacial moraine providing a network of tiny lakes. There, finally, a bluejay chirped and danced as it talked to the yellow pegasus, and she broke into a broad grin.

“What’d it say?” Dash peered over Fluttershy’s shoulder.

“Southeast,” Fluttershy replied. “I don’t know if it’s Ponyville, but there are some ponies there!”

“Awright!” Dash whooped, looping around in the air in sheer exuberance. Fluttershy giggled and followed the other mare’s example, albeit with far less daring aerobatics. The airborne dance went on for some minutes, until Dash finally stopped and chuckled. “We should get going.”

“I suppose so.” The yellow pegasus stopped and followed Rainbow Dash back up to cloud level. The two of them went from cloud to cloud, gliding more than flying in an energy-conserving, long-endurance technique that had become familiar to them over the journey.

The shades of green in the panoply spread below them shifted slowly throughout the day, until the vegetation looked nearly familiar. “I think,” Fluttershy said at length. “That this is part of the Everfree Forest.” She looked around, but the haze hanging in the air obscured anything beyond the nearby trees.

“I think you’re right.” Dash waved a hoof at a dark smudge to the east. “See that? I bet it’s one of the storms that the forest makes, and they’re not as well-behaved as ours.”

“Oh.” Fluttershy peered at the dark smear nervously. “Is it coming this way?”

“Can’t tell yet. But we’re headed toward it, so either way we’ll probably have to take shelter somewhere tonight.”

The yellow pegasus nodded, then smiled briefly. “After all that we’ve been through, the Everfree Forest doesn’t seem quite so frightening anymore.”

“You can say that again.” Dash squinted at the storm. “I think it is getting closer. Come on, let’s find somewhere to stay.”

The two of them circled down into the trees as the wind began to pick up, hissing through the branches of trees and sending leaves tumbling through the air. The Everfree Forest was riddled with caves and burrows and it didn’t take them long to find an abandoned grotto scraped into the face of a nearby hill. Even so, thunder growled spitefully in the distance and the first few drops of rain spattered against the rock just as they entered the shallow cave.

“Even the animals are hiding,” Fluttershy observed, peering out of their hiding place.

“Yeah, the storms can get kind of lively.” A flash of lightning and a sharp crack of thunder punctuated Dash’s words, and Fluttershy took a few steps back from the cave entrance. There wasn’t much room; the shelter provided little more protection than an overhang. That was no doubt the reason it had been abandoned, but it was enough to block the wind starting to gust through the trees.

“Um...how lively?” Fluttershy asked apprehensively as the gusts turned into a keening howl, the clouds turning the evening sky nearly black. The rain drummed on the ground, falling in sheets before the sudden gale.

“We might get a little wet,” Dash said, waving a hoof dismissively. “We’ve been through worse.”

Fluttershy giggled softly. “Yes, we have. I think we can survive that.”

The blaze of nearby lightning and accompanying booming of thunder wiped the smile from Fluttershy’s face, but didn’t entirely erase her sangfroid. It wasn’t until the intermittant flashes illuminated a looming funnel shape that the yellow pegasus became restless. “Um...Dash? Is that what I think it is?”

“...yeah.” The sound of the wind became a rumble, vibrating the ground underhoof. Dash took her own step back, bumping against the back wall of the cave. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come this way.” While the blue pegasus may not have paid much attention to flight school, she was an undisputed expert on weather. She’d seen enough storms, pony-made and otherwise, to realize that this was dangerous.

Fluttershy huddled against her, the two of them staring out of the cave entrance at the storm’s fury. The rumble became a roar, and suddenly their hideaway became a pocket of harsh wind, the air raking its talons across them. Dash braced herself against the floor as the currents dragged her toward the opening, hooves scraping against the stone.

“Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy called, her voice high and panicked, barely audible over the noise. She was slipping even faster than Dash was, drawn inexorably toward the screaming vortex just outside the cave. The blue pegasus freed a hoof long enough to lock her foreleg with Fluttershy’s, but they only slipped faster.

Dash made a decision “Hold on, Fluttershy!” Her words were whipped away as soon as they left her mouth, but the yellow pegasus looked at her and gave a quick nod. Dash launched herself off the floor, grabbing onto Fluttershy in the process as she tumbled into the maelstrom. Rainbow Dash was the best flier to ever come out of Cloudsdale; if anyone could escape an Everfree tornado, she could.

The sound was something beyond noise. It shook her bones and rattled her teeth, leaving Dash completely deaf as she struggled to get her bearings, wings working hard as she fought against the gale. She could feel Fluttershy’s legs tight about her as the other pegasus clung close, though she couldn’t actually see the mare except during brief flares of lightning.

Small debris stung the blue pegasus, fast enough that there was only impact and numbness. Nevertheless, she forged outward though the walls of wind, the world swinging by in a vertiginous rush until they finally broke free. The two pegasi went tumbling through the air, and Dash shouted exultantly. “Hah!”

And then the storm flung an entire tree at them, roots still clinging uselessly to rock and dirt no longer connected to the earth. Dash’s world came apart in an explosion of stars and pain. There was a moment of blurred uncertainty, and the blue pegasus found herself tangled in the canopy, soaked with rain and shivering. In the next stroke of lightning, she saw that she was alone.

She opened her mouth to call for Fluttershy, and she realized that she couldn’t even hear herself. She struggled free of the branches, peering around wildly for the other pegasus. The angry funnel was still uncomfortably near, and the blue mare searched frantically for any sign of her companion.

In the inconstant light of the storm, she saw a patch of pink amidst a litter of branches. “Fluttershy!” This time her voice was tinny and distant, but there was no response as she darted downward, pulling off the remnants of a tree’s crown. The yellow pegasus didn’t move.

“Oh no. No no no.” A rumble underhoof and a fast-moving branch leaving a bloody welt across her flank forcibly drew Dash’s attention back to the tornado. It curved sinuously up to the dense clouds above, twisting around on itself as it changed direction. Toward them.

“You have got to be kidding me.” Dash stared in disbelief, but not for long. There was no time to be careful, so she simply gathered Fluttershy up and spread her wings.

It was as nightmarish a flight as she’d ever taken. She had to fly low, to stay out of the lightning-licked clouds, and the tops of trees reached up to clutch at them like claws. It was nearly black, illuminated only by the arrhythmic strobe of the storm, and the wind gusted unpredictably, as if trying to send them crashing to the forest floor below. Dash was soaked to the bone, and the sky couldn’t decide whether rain or hail was more appropriate, pelting her with both as she darted away from one, two, then three gluttonous funnels.

The storm chased them. Black clouds pregnant with rain swirled and roiled, gaining a malevolent green cast as the wind whipped them. Blinding flashes of electrical discharge made the air smell bitter and tense, coming uncomfortably close to striking Dash in her headlong flight.

Abruptly, Dash broke into an eerie calm. Moonlight streamed down over tumbled stone and shattered glass, and the blue pegasus knew where they were. The stormed piled up angrily at some unseen barrier, unwilling or unable to cross the gorge that surrounded the looming spires of the ancient Palace of the Royal Pony Sisters.

Dash dropped into the shattered courtyard, laying Fluttershy down on a patch of grass showing through the cracked flagstones. “C’mon, Fluttershy,” she urged, patting the mare’s cheek with her hoof. “Wake up.” The silver moonlight bleached the color from the world, giving Fluttershy a monochrome palette of white coat and black blood.

After a long, long moment, Fluttershy stirred, and Dash let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding. “Fluttershy! How are -” She stopped herself. Neither of them were in good shape, bruised, battered, and bloody, and asking Fluttershy how she was struck her as supremely stupid.

“Can you stand?” She asked instead, looking worriedly down as Fluttershy’s eyes flickered open, glazed and unfocused.

“...hurts, Dash,” Fluttershy whispered, barely audible over the rumblings of the frustrated storm.

“What -” Rainbow Dash looked over Fluttershy, gut twisting as she saw where her companion’s left wing was crumpled unnaturally against her body, bloody gouges along her flanks bearing testament to where the tree had impacted. “Oh, no...”

Dash ducked her head down to Fluttershy’s muzzle. “Fluttershy,” she said urgently. “You’re hurt and I, I don’t know how to fix it.”

Fluttershy visibly struggled to focus on the other pegasus. “B-be calm, Dash.” She shivered and winced. “M-maybe a fire, first.”

“Fire. Right.” Dash swiveled her head, looking around for any likely prospects. “Don’t move,” she added unneccessarily before zipping off. There would have been no chance of igniting any timber from the forest, but within the palace grounds it was dry.

Over the weeks of their journey, Dash had learned some things from Fluttershy, so it wasn’t long before a fire was burning to drive off the cold and damp. The firelight brought color back to the world and made both their injuries look even worse, but it also gave Dash time to start thinking properly again.

She nudged Fluttershy back to full wakefulness. “I don’t know how to splint a wing, Fluttershy. You’ll have to tell me.”

The yellow pegasus glanced back along her own body and shuddered. “A-all right, Dash. You need to f-find some wood. Flat wood.”

“On it.” Dash was off again, casting worried glances at the pegasus huddled miserably by the fire. While Rainbow Dash had, on occasion, been tended to by Fluttershy after some mishap or another, there had never been any need to learn much first aid herself.

Now, though, she wished she had. It seemed fundamentally wrong that Fluttershy should have to coach her own care. Dash hunted through the detritus of the tumbled palace, trapped by the hostile storm rumbling and roiling just outside the encircling gorge, restless with feelings of frustration and useless. It was exactly how she felt when she lost.

She finally pried some wood veneer off the paneling of a half-destroyed staircase, the wood so thickly lacquered that even after a thousand years it remained untouched by damp or mold. The blue pegasus flitted back to the circle of brightness cast by their fire, dropping her findings next to Fluttershy. “How’s this?”

“Perfect.” Fluttershy looked pale underneath the yellow fur, but Dash couldn’t tell whether it was due to the moonlight or her imagination or shock.

“So what’s next?” Dash shivered slightly as the heat of the fire stole into her skin.

“P-padding,” Fluttershy said faintly, but her next words came out louder. “You’ll have to pull my wing straight and I -” She swallowed. “I might not be conscious a-after that so I need to tell it all now.”

Rainbow Dash winced. “Fluttershy, I’m sorry. I should have learned all this before instead of making you -”

“It’s all right, Rainbow Dash.” The yellow pegasus put a hoof on Dash’s foreleg. “You can’t do everything yourself.” She smiled softly. “We’ll just work together. We’re getting pretty good at that.”

“Heh. Yeah.” Dash tried to smile back, but it didn’t reach her eyes. After a long pause, Fluttershy continued.

“You’ll need to put padding between the boards and the wing, and then tie it in place somehow. I’m not sure what we h-have...”

“Don’t worry, Fluttershy, I got this.” Rainbow Dash eased the saddlebags off Fluttershy and then shed her own. The coats they’d gotten from the dragons, indelibly white even after all they’d worn them, went onto the boards as padding. The saddlebags themselves she cannibalized for their straps, laying them out next to the boards. “All right. Ready.”

Fluttershy nodded and ducked her head down, closing her eyes. Dash slid the bottom board into position and then carefully took the wingtip in her mouth, pulling slowly. The yellow pegasus whimpered softly, then went limp, but Dash continued, blinking back tears. The sight of bones shifting into place was nauseating, and her stomach twisted as she brought the wing to full extension.

Rainbow Dash had to pause a moment to fight back her bile before continuing the splint. She fastened the buckles around the top piece of wood, careful not to let it squeeze the injury. The splint slipped briefly as Dash laid the splinted wing back against Fluttershy’s body, and she bit her lip, glad the other pegasus was already unconscious.

Dash tore apart the saddlebags themselves to provide straps to secure the wing to Fluttershy’s body. She wasn’t sure what the material was, but with the amount of effort it took to make it into strips, she didn’t think it would fail. It was the very last scrap of their supplies, too, so it would have to do; it only had to last long enough for them to get back to Ponyville.

The blue pegasus began feeling shaky as the adrenaline high faded, but mindful of her own experience with untreated wounds, made the trek to a small rivulet she had noticed earlier. It was by now practiced habit to make a cup out of leaves, and she brought back several to tend the worst of Fluttershy’s cuts and scrapes.

The storm rumbled and growled around the periphery of the palace, but the moon and stars were clear above. Dash lay by her unconscious companion, looking upward, and felt suddenly and unaccountably sad that she would never see the strange skies of the north again. “Don’t be silly,” she told herself. “You should be glad to be home.”

Still, it was melancholy that kept her company while she waited through the long night for Fluttershy to wake up. She fed the fire twigs and branches, listening anxiously to the injured mare’s breathing and watching the dome of the sky wheel slowly overhead. As it lightened from black to purple, the stars vanishing in anticipation of a new day, the storm ebbed away, fleeing before the dawn.

Fluttershy finally woke when the light stained the retreating clouds pink and orange, lifting her head up and blinking slowly. “Rainbow Dash?”

“I’m here, Fluttershy.” Dash trotted back bearing another bundle of wood for the fire. “How’s your wing feeling?”

“Well, it hurts less.” The yellow pegasus favored her companion with a weak smile. “You did a good job.”

“Heh. Thanks.” Dash scuffed the ground briefly, then walked over to help Fluttershy up. “Come on, the storm’s gone so we should be able to make it to Ponyville today and get it seen to properly.”

“What?” Fluttershy looked around, startled, only really seeing their surroundings for the first time. “Oh, we’re almost home! Actually almost home!”

“Yeah!” Dash grinned. “So long as nothing else happens.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Dash slapped her hooves over her muzzle and looked around, but fate didn’t seem tempted enough to present them with another immediate obstacle.

Fluttershy giggled, then rose shakily to her feet, wincing from innumerable aches and pains gained from her misfortune. Dash sported a similar array of bruises and scrapes, but they were both well enough to move. They made their way out of the ancient palace, and into the dawn-quiet Everfree Forest.

It was extraordinarily quiet in the wake of the furious storm, as if the land itself were exhausted and sleeping. Fluttershy stepped carefully, trying to ease the jolting on her broken wing, and Dash alternated between flying low to the ground and walking beside the other pegasus, as all her limbs ached equally. Finally, she broke the silence. “What do you think they’ll say when we walk into Ponyville?”

“Umm...welcome back? We missed you?” Fluttershy hazarded, and Dash snorted in reply.

“We’ve been gone for like, over a month, Fluttershy. I hope they’ll be more excited than that!” Dash waved a hoof, and winced as muscles twinged. “On second thought, a quiet welcome might be a good idea.”

Fluttershy nodded softly, glancing around the forest. “It’s strange to know where we are...”

“Heh, first time in a while I’ve recognized a place.” Dashed tapped the dirt road underhoof that led out of the forest and into Ponyville. “I bet I could fly home in less than a minute!”

“Why don’t you?” Fluttershy glanced over at Dash. “You don’t have to wait for me to walk there.”

“No way,” Dash said emphatically. “I’m not leaving you behind, not for any reason.”

Fluttershy ducked her head briefly and flushed. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

“We started this together, we’re going to finish it together.” The blue pegasus dropped down next to Fluttershy with finality.

***

They returned home, not triumphant, but bruised, battered, and a bit bewildered. Ponyville held the same streets, the same buildings as when they had left. The same ponies went about their same duties. The sun shone, birds chirped, bees buzzed. But it seemed somehow smaller and more fragile than they remembered, even though it hadn’t changed at all.

The two pegasi attracted glances and murmurs immediately. Most of the ponies seemed to be too shocked to do more than look, but a purple earth pony with a flowery cutie mark stepped up to them right away. “Oh, you poor dears!” She didn’t seem to recognize them, but after a month, surely nopony expected them to simply walk into town, let alone in that condition. “You stay here, I’ll go get Nurse Redheart!”

“Thanks, heh.” Dash gave the pony a nod before she galloped off, feeling strangely awkward simply standing in the middle of the road. “Come on, Fluttershy, let’s find somewhere to sit.”

“All right,” Fluttershy agreed, but they didn’t make it two steps before a pink blur interrupted them.

“Dashie! Fluttershy!” Pinkie Pie fairly vibrated with the effort it took to not tackle her injured friends. “You’re back! You’re alive! Where have you been? What happened to you oh my gosh you look terrible are you okay oh Fluttershy what happened to your wing?” Tears streamed down her face even as she beamed at them. “Oh I was so worried!”

“It’s...it’s good to see you too, Pinkie,” Fluttershy managed to get out past the emotion in her own throat, and spread her forelegs for a hug, heedless of the bruises. The earth pony let out a noise of glee as she enfolded Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash in the same fierce embrace. Fluttershy closed her eyes, savoring the contact. “...I’m glad you’re real,” she whispered.

“Of course I’m real, silly! Why wouldn’t I be?” Pinkie Pie giggled and released them.

“Long story, Pinkie.” Dash sighed. “We’re just glad to be back.”

“I’m glad you’re back too! We spend days and days looking for you and Twilight went to Canterlot to get help and do research and there were search parties and everything.” Pinkie bounced in place. “Where in Equestria did you vanish to?”

“We’re...not sure actually.” Dash rubbed at her mane with a hoof. “Somewhere in the middle of the ocean and...” She trailed off as the purple mare from earlier returned with Redheart and, it seemed, half of Ponyville in tow. Two unicorns headed the froth of interested ponies, charging forward heedlessly.

“Fluttershy! Rainbow Dash!” Twilight Sparkle looked terrible, her mane unkempt and eyes ringed with dark circles from lack of sleep. Spike clung to her back, the small dragon nearly asleep himself. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Where have you been?” She demanded, in a voice that bordered on hysteria and tears wetting her cheeks.

“And where did you get those, darlings?” Rarity added, pointing a hoof at the dragon-crest medallions still hanging about their necks, somehow unscathed from their travels. The white unicorn was elegant as ever, beauty untarnished in sharp contrast to the ragged-edged Twilight, but her mane was more tightly curled than usual in subtle evidence of her distress.

“Now, now,” Redheart interrupted. “Questions later. I need to get these ponies to the clinic right away. You, you, and you.” She picked several colts out of the crowd. “If you’d be so kind as to carry them?”

“I can walk!” Dash protested, but she had to secretly admit she was sore and tired enough to be grateful. Fluttershy, by contrast, just ducked her head in acquiescence.

“Not while you’re under my care,” Redheart informed her bluntly, and the two pegasi suffered themselves to be picked up. Their bearers carried the injured ponies through the crowd, and the two unicorns trotted to keep up. Pinkie bounced along behind, humming something to herself.

The clinic’s interior was a cool, soothing blue-green. They shed most of the watchers at the door, and while Redheart frowned at Twilight, Rarity, and Pinkie, she allowed them to stay near Dash. The nurse crossed over to Fluttershy’s bed and began inspecting the splint while her companion, a blue pony, tended Dash’s scrapes and bruises.

“So we know what happened when you disappeared,” Twilight began, “but - “

“Well, we don’t.” Dash interrupted. “We just appeared somewhere. How’d that happen?”

“Oh.” Twilight blinked and then smiled, horn glowing as she slid a bundle of scrolls out of the grip of the now-asleep Spike. “Well,” she said, thrown into lecture mode. “After looking through hundreds of books, I found that you’d accidentally made half of a lightning gate. We haven’t used them for nearly a thousand years, mostly because they’re so dangerous.”

She flipped through the scrolls until she found the one she wanted, stretching it out above head-height so both Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash could see the sketches on it. “Pegasi would stabilize the lightning clouds, and once you had enough of them, close enough, a unicorn could use them to create a gate to somewhere else for a short period of time. Without the stability, and without a unicorn, you could end up anywhere...and not all in one piece.”

The blue pegasus looked guiltily at Fluttershy, who smiled. “It’s all right, Rainbow Dash. You didn’t know.” She winced from Redheart’s prodding, the pink-maned nurse already bringing bandages over for Fluttershy’s cuts.

“I just thought it’d be a good trick,” Dash muttered.

“It’s a really good trick to vanish for a month!” Pinkie exclaimed. “You probably shouldn’t do it too often though. You’d miss all the other fun.”

“Pinkie.” Rarity’s look bounced off the earth pony without a mark, and she turned to Dash. “Dear, I know your practice is important to you...but please don’t ever worry us like that again.” Rarity pleaded with her. “Please.”

“Heh. Don’t intend to.” Dash grinned. “Next time I try something like that, I’ll clear it with Twi first.”

“Like that would stop you,” Twilight shook her head in amused exasperation, sorting through her saddlebags and coming out with quill, ink, and empty parchment. She stopped and set them aside, then turned to the pegasi. “I’m...really, really glad you’re back. I was just so worried, especially when I found out what had happened.”

Twilight opened her mouth but another pony swept in, breezing into the clinic room with the sweet scent of fresh apples. “Whew!” Applejack tilted her hat back with a hoof. “They said ya’ll were back but I had to see it with my own eyes. It’s good to see you safe, you two.” She looked from one injured pony to the other and shook her head. “Looks like ya’ll have been through quite a rodeo, though.”

“You could say that,” Dash agreed. “You wouldn’t believe what we’ve been through.”

Twilight unrolled the parchment, dipping quill into ink. “I want to hear all about it.”

“As do I.” A new voice added, serene and mellifluous. “It’s not every day two subjects of mine disappear into nowhere and then return.”

“Princess Celestia!” They chorused. Those ponies capable of it bent to their knees, and Celestia waved a hoof for them to rise. “Nurse Redheart,” she addressed the clinician. “I’ve brought Doctor Fillyston to attend to your patient.”

The mare in question strode past, a grey unicorn with an asklepian for a cutie mark and a white mane framing pince-nez glasses. The nurse looked flustered. “It’s an honor, Doctor.”

Fillyston gave Redheart an absent nod, her horn glowing as she unceremoniously unbuckled the splint and discarded the top half, peering at Fluttershy’s broken wing. “...passable.” She admitted grudgingly. “Nurse, prep her for surgery if you would.”

“S-surgery?” Fluttershy squeaked. All the ponies stared the injured pegasus.

“Nothing major,” the doctor said dismissively. “Removing bone fragments and fusing the ends.”

“Doctor Fillyston,” Celestia said, drawing the attention back to her. “Is the Wonderbolts’ own wing surgeon. Fluttershy will be in good hooves.”

After a pause Rarity trotted over to Fluttershy. “It’s all right, dear.” She told the pegasus. “We’ll be here waiting for you.”

“A moment.” Celestia crossed over to Fluttershy as a pair of retainers brought in a cushion for the princess. The alicorn’s horn glowed as she lifted the dragon-crest amulet. “May I?”

Fluttershy nodded meekly and Celestia slipped it off her neck, inspecting it closely. “Well.” She shifted her gaze to Fillyston. “Take good care of her.”

The surgeon snorted, unimpressed, and waved for the Redheart to wheel Fluttershy into the next room. They all watched her go, the room silent until Celestia broke the pause. “Miss Rainbow Dash. I think we all would like to hear where you’ve been.” A smile played about the corners of Celestia’s mouth as she looked from Fluttershy’s medallion to the one Dash still wore. “And who you’ve been talking to.”

Additional cushions and seats appeared for the rest of the ponies as Dash began her tale, brought by the remainder of Celestia’s entourage camped outside the clinic. “We went through the storm and just sort of plowed into a cloud bank.” This part the blue pegasus had already rehearsed when she’d told Scar, so it flowed easily enough.

Pinkie had somehow procured a bag of popcorn from somewhere, and munched on it interestedly as Dash spoke. When she passed it to Celestia, the princess took it with perfect aplomb. Nopony stirred otherwise until Rainbow Dash described the first appearance of the island god.

“Sirrush!” Twilight blurted out, eyes full of wonder.

“What?” Dash blinked, startled.

“The sirrush civilization was...very old. There aren’t very many books on them because they predate the dragons, even, let alone written records here in Equestria. I’m surprised there is anything left of them.”

“That’s right, Twilight.” Celestia nodded to her student. “Even I did not know there was any remnant of their race worth mentioning, let alone a guardian of that magnitude. I haven’t seen a sirrush for a long, long time.” She looked thoughtful. “I wonder if it was anyone I knew.”

“Well, I never got its name.” Dash shook her head. “It mostly talked to Fluttershy, anyway.”

“Fluttershy?” Rarity lifted her eyebrows. “It sounds disturbing enough to me, I can’t imagine what it would have been like for her.”

“She can be really impressive sometimes,” Dash grinned. “Wait ‘till you hear how she handled it.”

“She handled it?” Applejack cocked her head at the blue pegasus. “It sounded like you were all saddled up to do the fighting.”

“Um, yeah, that didn’t turn out so well.” Dash gave Applejack an embarassed smile, but continued with the story. The reaction as she described the way Fluttershy had faced down the island god was gratifying. Even Celestia looked impressed.

The audience was appreciative, as she went on, of her description of the northern lights, though Twilight looked tremendously jealous. It was the introduction of Scar, however, that gave Dash a reaction she wasn’t expecting. Celestia threw back her head and laughed.

“Oh, Scar,” she said in tones of amusement. “I thought it might have been him.”

Dash stared. “You know him?”

“Oh yes.” The princess smiled in fond reminiscence. “I knew him from before Draconia isolated itself. We’ve kept in some contact since, though. Spike’s egg had to come from somewhere, after all.”

Twilight Sparkle prodded the sleeping baby dragon. “Spike, wake up! We’re talking about you.”

“Huzza-what?” Spike blinked awake. “What about me?”

“The dragon that Dash met is the one that sent your egg to Equestria!”

“What, so he’s my dad?” The purple dragon squinted up at Twilight, who in turn looked at Celestia.

“Simply a distant relative,” Celestia answered. “But now I understand how you got these.” She lifted Fluttershy’s medallion.

“So what exactly are they?” Rarity asked, staring at the steel. “Other than rather heavy jewelry.”

“They’re many things,” the princess replied thoughtfully. “And not to anticipate the story, but in this case I believe the important thing is it marks the bearers as the personal agents of the dragon king.”

“He didn’t tell us that,” Dash frowned. “He just said it’d keep us safe from dragons.”

“Which is true.” Celesta let the medal drop back to the cushion. “Please, continue.”

“Um, right.” Dash picked the thread of storytelling back up. Spike blinked sleepily, trying to pay attention as the pegasus described his ultimate homeland, but the next to interrupt was actually Pinkie Pie.

“What a meaniepants!” She exclaimed, tossing down her third empty popcorn bag. “He just left you behind like that?”

“Yeah, he’s kind of a jerk,” Dash said. The corners of Celestia’s mouth curled in a small smile, but she didn’t object to the appellation. “I guess he did help us, but he’s still a jerk.”

The remainder of their time in Draconia was quickly told, and Dash took a deep breath as she began the tell them about Cantrot. Even after so much time and distance, it gave her chills to think about the ghost town, let alone try to describe the shifting, uncertain reality that hung over that place.

It had an effect on her audience, too. Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie drew closer together, as if to ward off the attention of Cantrot. Twilight, though, frowned all through the tale, despite the way Spike clutched at her neck, wide-eyed, and finally shook her head as Dash finished. “But...there’s no such thing as ghosts!”

“Twilight,” Princess Celestia said mildly.

“Yes, Princess Celestia?” The unicorn asked, instantly contrite.

“There are mysteries in Equestria not yet covered by your books,” the alicorn chided gently. “Even if it was not, precisely, ghosts, there was something very real there. I don’t know what it was either, but it seems you are owed something for laying Cantrot to rest.”

“I’d love more time with the Wonderbolts.” Rainbow Dash grinned incorrigably. “...but you already brought someone to help Fluttershy, so I’m happy.” The blue pegasus cast a glance toward the closed door of the surgery room. “I hope she’s okay.”

“As am I,” said Rarity. “Whatever happened to you two after you left Cantrot? You made it all that way without any serious injury.”

“We ran into a really bad storm in the Everfree Forest,” Dash said. She didn’t really want to tell them that the storm had seemed to chase after them, as, examined in daylight, it seemed unreal, even compared to Cantrot. “We ended up taking shelter in the old palace, but...not before we got thrown around a bit.”

Dash sighed. “And that’s it. We walked into Ponyville and here we are.”

“That’s quite an adventure, Rainbow Dash.” Princess Celestia stood up. “And it tells me I need to get ready for visitors. I suspect that Scar will want his amulets back.”

“Oh. Right.” The pegasus blinked and pulled hers off, watching as it sparkled with Celestia’s magic. The two pieces of jewelry floated through the air, disappearing with a brief flare of light.

“Do give my regard to Fluttershy,” Celestia said. “I’ll leave a coach for Doctor Fillyston.”

It wasn’t long after the Princess left that Redheart wheeled a groggy Fluttershy back into the room. Her wing was now dressed in a snow-white cast in a more natural position folded against her body. Bleached bandages swathed her flanks and side, mirroring the dressings Tenderheart had applied to Dash’s cuts and scrapes.

“Fluttershy!” The ponies crowded around her bed. Dash stepped over, tentatively flexing her new bandages as she made her way to Fluttershy’s side. “How are you feeling?”

The yellow pegasus blinked up at the ponies gathered around her bed. “M’better,” she said muzzily. “H’ws D’sh?”

“I’m fine, Fluttershy.” Dash gave her a smile, but backed off a bit as Redheart moved forward and shooed them away.

“She needs to rest and recover,” the nurse said, as Fillyston strode past with no concern for her prior patient. “You can come back later. And you’re fine,” Redheart added, waving at Dash. “Just take it easy for a few days.”

“I suppose I could use some sleep...” Twilight said grudgingly.

“And I just left my chores half done,” Applejack added. “But don’t worry Fluttershy, we’ll be back.”

“Come on, everyone,” Rarity lifted her head. “We must give her time to rest.”

The five ponies filed out, Rainbow Dash casting one last glance over her shoulder at Fluttershy before leaving the clinic.

***

Hours later, Fluttershy roused at the sound of hoofsteps.

“Rainbow Dash!” She smiled at the other pegasus. “You came back.”

“Of course I did.” Dash stepped up next to the bed, looking down at her.

“I’m glad.” Fluttershy ducked her head with a slight flush. “I missed you.”

“...I missed you too,” Dash admitted, kicking at the clinic floor. They looked at each other, the unspoken knowledge that their relationship had changed over their journey hanging in the air between them.

“...where do we go from here?” asked Fluttershy, at last.

“I don’t know,” Dash admitted, then suddenly gave the yellow pegasus a wide grin. “But as long as we’re together, we’ll be fine.”

***

Thank you for reading!

As always, epic thanks to Melionos for critiquing, editing, and general ideamongering.

Comments ( 197 )

Still find the ending a bit awkward, probably mostly for the somewhat cornball end line (I mean that in the most endearing sense though) or maybe the stealth shippy element (seriously, did it exist? if it did, I'm still completely oblivious to it), but, well, as I said on EQ, this is a damn near perfect representative of the adventure genre.

Still a feckin' brilliant story, good writer, feckin' brilliant.

OTEOTM suffered rather severely from lack of planning and ending fatigue. Hopefully my future efforts will be somewhat less crippled. I learned a lot writing it though, and I had a lot of fun experimenting with various techniques. Insofar as the shipping goes, it was the foundation-building for a relationship than a relationship itself. So, yes, possibly too subtle but the intent is there.

1623 I could kinda see the ending fatigue to certain extent with the amount of elements that ended up in the final chapter (the ghost town, the spirit coming back, the injury to Fluttershy, the abbreviated homecoming recap), most of which probably could have held a chapter all on their own. You still handled it better than most (and I love surreal/horror elements anyways so the ghost town was filed under A for Awesome) so I really have no right to complain. After all, these were far above the normal/average chapter length at 10k plus per, so can I really call it brief.

Awesome job anyways, even my reservations about the very end don't tarnish what you managed here.

(I definitely got the relationship building, the role reversal worked very nicely towards that end, I think I might just be ignoring the potential for shipping/romance since I not really that big a fan of it. Don't hate it, just don't look for it)

#4 · Aug 13th, 2011 · · ·

Awesome fanfic is awesome

I loved this. Including the ending, honestly. I've gotten a bit tired of shipping fics. A good adventure story that resolves into a relationship and a future together was much more satisfying than all the shipping angst that so many of these stories are full of.

#6 · Aug 20th, 2011 · · ·

This fanfic is just too awesome, And this is now one of my more favorite mlp stories.
:rainbowkiss: So Aweosme!

#7 · Aug 20th, 2011 · · ·

I must say, that I LOVED this story,I swear its probably better than most of the books I've read and even if I expected the "shipping" to be more explicit.... ( I love Flutterdash :rainbowkiss: )
Please, make another fic like this one, *yay* :yay:

One of the best pony fics there is! Glad to see it here. :rainbowdetermined2:

This is so incredibly written. I was astounded at the word length, which is excellent, because, not only did you cover such a BROAD expanse of subject matter, but did it in such a way as to call it efficient. Just purely astounded! And, yes, I took the time out of my sleep this before-morning to read it. (I kid you not, I probably spent a good hour-and-a-half reading, it was THAT enticing) I honestly cannot wait to see what you have planned next, and now I must catch up on your remaining stories.... in the morning...... if you have more, that is. ;P

That was an amazing story! I can't put into words of how much it was an awesome read. Your use of imagery let me paint not just scenes, but a flowing movie in my head the whole time I was reading. Thank you for this wonderful Braingasm! :pinkiehappy:

omg this fan fic is awsome
i couldnt stop reading it!:twilightsheepish:

Legitimately one of the best fanfics I've EVER read.:twilightsmile:

Woah, woah, woah. WOAH. This fic is truly amazing! It's well after midnight and I have work tomorrow but I don't care because I just read the best pony fic ever! Scratch that, the best fic ever! Amazing. I hope you write more stories one day.

Sequel is 5/8 done.

Features Luna and Twilight.

Good read, and suddenly it's past midnight...

Sequel?

Oh, yes please!

Tip: when you post it, if you make a blog post and tag it with this story, everypony who's tracking this one will get pinged.

2221
i agree... NEEDS MORE ROMANCE!

62037>>56547

Check out the sequel for both more story and more romance.
http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/11/story-apotheosis.html

This story is awesome. Enough hints of romance to satisfy shipping lovers, but subtle enough to avoid putting off those who don't like mane cast shipping. I loved it when I was the latter, and I still love it now as the former. :pinkiehappy:
Heck, it was this fic that made me want to start writing fan fiction in the first place. You are officially awesome, worthy of a Spike Stache. :moustache:
Five stars. All well-earned!

Super awesome fic, I'm glad i read it. Keep up the great writing.

And now, with all three chapters read, I can safely say that was the most well written, well fleshed, and well composed fanfiction I have ever read, based on any story.

You told an amazing tale, from start to finish, and I felt really involved in the story. I loved your subtle hints at romance along the way, and it seems like a real and believable development, without being blatant "Oh my god I love you so much" like so many fics tend to do.

Leaving this story (to the sequel, of course!), my thoughts are mostly comprised of 'If this author ever wrote a novel, I would probably be so compelled I would read it start to finish in one sitting, then wake up the next day and feel a strong urge to do it again.'

Keep up the great writing.

This story was the first MLP fan fiction that I read when I saw it on EqD. I must admit, I had a slightly cynical outlook of the fan-produced stories and the quality that might be, but that changed swiftly once I began to read. I was quickly absorbed by your work, and I can safely say that it catapulted me into reading fan fiction wholeheartedly. I thank your for your brilliant work.

140072

You're right, and I'm dumb. Fixed :D

This was the first pony fic I ever, EVER read. And I love it. It was cute, heartwarming, awesome, had some sad bits, and kept me on the edge of my seat. The only thing that bothered me was the ending, and that was because it was the end. That's it. I would say "MOOOOAR" but I doubt you'd make more, aside from the pseudo-sequel. I just wanted to let you know that this was my first pony fic ever read, and now that I have found it again it has secured its spot as my #1 favourite fan fiction ever.

Five stars and favourited. And even though it's pointless, tracking as well. Thank you for this. Flutteryays for you. :yay::yay::yay::yay::yay:

I have read plenty of fanfic's in my time in this fandom, but This is so much more than a simple fanfic. It is the embodiment of everything a well wrote and well put together story should be and has quickly ranked right up too #2 in my most favorite fanfic's I've ever read. I just wish i had read this before i read it's sequel.

All in all, excellent read and excellent work. You have gained the right to half of my currently owned internets, congratulations. :twilightsmile:

i really enjoyed this story thanks

Well, after reading both Apotheosis and OTEOTM, I think I must logically conclude that you are easily one of the better (if not the best) adventure writers within our fandom. Of course, this saddens me to know that it is unlikely that we will see anything new from you in the future!

Anyway, top class adventure story. My one nitpick would be the transition of time. I wasn't able to get a feeling on how long they had been away, so when I was told that they had been gone for over a month, I was left feeling very confused and a little disorientated. I guess as an extension of that, some of the action transitions felt too smooth as well. Scenes like the ice dome collapsing just seemed to lack a certain kind of punch, and I think that might have been because there was no room for tension or forewarning. Ironically, I think that the lack of tension stemmed from the smoothness of your sentence structure, haha.

Anyway, I'm going to stop nit-picking, because I really, really loved this. It was a great read with amazing vision and imagery. Daetrin scene/world building is best scene/world building. Best of luck for all your future writing endeavours!

Anyone else notice, the god that essentially saves RBD's and Flutters is described almost exactly like Discord? O_o

Well-written, engaging, page-turning plot. Definitely deserves a thumbs-up. One question, though: why the "romance" tag? The change in their relationship (as mentioned on the last page) seemed more to me like a closer friendship than a romance. I didn't pick up on anything romantic at all in the story. Maybe I'm missing some subtle innuendos...? :rainbowhuh:

313198
That was my first thought when it was initially described at the island lake. There are some subtle differences, though. Not to mention that the characterization is completely unlike that of canon Discord.

315602 yea. Other then that though......:rainbowhuh:

I found Apotheosis before this, but have now read both several times. And you are a master. Each time through reads as naturally and engagingly as the first.

Hm. Speak of Rainbowshy or Flutterdash or whatever else - all I found was a grateful, heart-mending end to a crazy adventure starring two very different ponies, their differences between somehow saving both of them from terrible danger - mere chatter amongst a greater truth. Faith, hope and the knowing what comes shall be overcome is the permeating gift left me from this wonderful tale.

Well written, well inspired. I look forward to more of this sort of writing. Huzzah!

:pinkiehappy:

Read this again, just because it's THAT good.
Adventure romances are win, which is why my next story will be one.

One of the best stories I've read

A lot of people complaining about the ending, I found it sweet. Well done, I enjoyed reading it.

I wrote a poem for this story. Here it is. http://pastebin.com/4ubh8i9L

536794

Oh wow, fantastic, I certainly was not expecting anything like this. Thank you!

536838

I was asked to read over your story and write a poem for it. A few months ago I had been going through a stint of allowing people to request stories and poems from me and a poem on your story happened to be one of them. Even though it wasn't my idea to write the poem, I still had a lot of fun reading and writing for your story.

Ahem... anyway, what exactly about my poem was "fantastic"? (leans in close, nearly falling off chair)

536855

I knew nothing about this! Who requested it?

And the poem definitely manages to distill the emotive components out and in doing so heightens them since they're more concentrated. Though it seems one-sided I freely admit OTEOTM was not narrator-balanced so it certainly is more from Dash's POV as the poem is. That's probably due to the high contrast between the two though, Dash has a tendency to seize agency.

Well, in my first month of being a full fledged brony, I have read some of the greatest stories I have ever read. I have not seen a greater story with such a good example of character development and not to mention keeping the spunk of rainbow dash and the subtle actions and words of fluttershy WHILE showing advancements in their characters. This is a very memorable story and I did not see much romance, but I did see a relationship emerge. It was of a great love of a friend and not of a deeper variety. You, sir, get a 5 star from me. :fluttershysad: :heart: :rainbowderp:

545544
Thank you, thank you, it's not as good as it probably could have been, but I was mostly happy with what I did.

Now, on to Apotheosis! >.>

545564Actually, I believe it was perfect. You can't improve perfection. And I am reading your newest story and already love it. I will read it before the morning arrives here in the old central time. It has started off fairly well, but I did see some fluctuations with the actually story. I am quite sure that luna still had her powers after her Nightmare Moon Phase......LOL anyway, I didn't see any change. Nor did I see her use her magic. Hmmm.........GOOD SHOW SIR. You didn't even have to reply.

3rd read... W00t! :pinkiehappy:

This is one of my fav fanfics
i just wish the sequel wasnt about luna and twilight...

Uhhmm... wow.
I was not expecting this level of greatness when I started reading this fic. This is by far, and unquestionably the best fic Ive read so far. It is actually better than some books I've read.

What I commend you for:
**Great illustration. A literally illustrated novel wouldn't have even done equal justice. I could picture the environments and characters so well because of you great descriptions.
**Great emotional play. Not too mushy and suggestive, as a usual ship may be. Sad moments where seriously heart breaking, happy moments where purely amazing. I shed a tear (maybe <.< >.>) at a few points, mostly in the last chapter.

Here are the emotions I felt, probably in order::
:rainbowdetermined2::rainbowhuh::twilightoops::fluttershysad::fluttercry::twilightsmile::twilightsmile::fluttershyouch:
:rainbowderp::twilightsmile::fluttercry::fluttercry::fluttercry::pinkiehappy::rainbowlaugh::twilightsheepish::heart::heart:

5 out of 5 :moustache:

This was amazing. Just brilliant.

Thank you for writing it.

...now I have to go re-read apotheosis now that I've read the prequel...

I'm going to nitpick here for a bit, but mostly because This story really warmed my heart. :twilightsmile:

I loved the depth of character you gave to Dash and Shy. Some wonderful chemistry between those two during their journey, and I, for one, found their inseparability at the conclusion to be appropriate and justified within the text. It doesn't necessarily imply a love interest, but more plainly a common bond of experience. They are inseparable because no pony else will truly understand their journey. :rainbowderp:

That said, I found the homecoming scene to be weak in comparison to the prior scenes. This was supposed to be the culminating event, and it did not deliver the emotional punch worth of your story. In detail, I thought that the emotional content of the remaining four to be significantly underwhelming. Pinkie was restrained. Twilight was reasonable. AJ was absent and almost bored. Rarity was an afterthought. These four were on a journey as well, although their journey was an emotional one and not spatial. You didn't take us on that journey. We needed to see their happiness, yes - but we also needed one month of frustrations and recriminations, worry, determination, sorrow, consolations between the survivors. When Dash and Shy returned, they had never been gone, and that frustrated me. :fluttershysad:

I am being harsh about this because I really loved the story. Please take this in the spirit it was intended; from a writer, to a writer, about writing I admire. :pinkiehappy:

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