• Published 23rd Dec 2011
  • 23,041 Views, 1,750 Comments

A Bluebird's Song - Ardensfax



Rainbow Dash is struggling against her own past. Is it time for her rising star to fall?

  • ...
56
 1,750
 23,041

Falling Flames

A Bluebird’s Song

~~~
This world was never meant
For one as beautiful
As you
~~~

Falling Flames

What if I don’t want you to change?

What if I wouldn’t want you to be any different?

What if I said I couldn’t live without you, just as you are?

What if I said we go together, or not at all?

Her breaths were long and shallow, but their very presence was a surprise. A vice-like grip was crushing her skull.

I’m breathing.

Twilight’s eyes flickered open, and the pain in her head increased tenfold as the light speared into her eyes. Disjointed hazes of memory crowded into her brain, each clamouring for acknowledgement.

The small room came slowly into focus. White. Sterile. A fat, ruby-red intravenous drip fed deep into her right foreleg. The bed was soft, the blankets comfortingly heavy. A hospital, but not one that she recognized. The room was deserted, the sky outside the window the dusty amber haze of late evening. She was alone.

Suddenly, her heart began to hammer at the onslaught of memories. A cold, rusty blade seemed to plunge into her chest. She was alone.

Rainbow!” she screamed, suddenly flailing against the impossibly heavy covers, trying desperately to sit up. She was dimly aware of a pulsing beep; the machine that was feeding her blood had apparently triggered some kind of alarm at her awakening. She managed to raise her head, but a wave of giddiness and nausea welled up inside her. Her hearing failed, and spots of nothingness bloomed in her vision. Her head collapsed, unconscious, back onto the pillow, as she blacked out.

*

“Twilight?”

It was an instantaneous eternity later, and a dim, echoing voice impinged upon her darkened consciousness.

“Twilight Sparkle?”

Once again, her eyes opened. Slower, this time. Rushing, she knew, would not end well. The face of a stallion in full guard regalia shifted gradually into view. His fur was flecked with spots of grey, and he sported a rather impressive black eye, still inflamed and bloody where he had been struck. He looked tired.

“Rainbow?” Twilight whispered, praying to hear that warm, slightly coltish voice respond from somewhere outside her field of view. No such response came, however, and her breathing sped up as she began once again to hyperventilate.

“I need you to focus on me.” The voice was stern, but kindly. Twilight felt compelled to exert some kind of control over herself, and tried to fix her eyes on the guard’s, her breathing still hard and a little ragged. “My name’s Sergeant Ignis, and you’re in Canterlot Hospital. The doctor’s already conducted a full examination, and he says you were very lucky to avoid severe brain damage.”

“How… how long?”

“We brought you in earlier today. You weren’t physically hurt, you should be back to normal soon enough. You were just exhausted and… drained.”

Twilight stirred again, but stars popped horribly in her vision and she groaned.

“Don’t try to move,” Ignis warned her, gently. “Your blood pressure’s still nowhere near what it should be.” He sighed. “What you did was… incredible. If it weren’t for you and your friend Fluttershy,” (for some reason, his good eye narrowed in annoyance at the word ‘Fluttershy’), “Rainbow Dash would doubtless be dead.”

A wave of giddying relief came crashing over Twilight. “She’s alive?” she gasped, refusing to believe it until she heard the confirmation uttered aloud.

“She’s alive,” echoed Ignis, but somehow there was no triumph in his voice. An unspoken qualification hung in the air between them, turning the moment sour. Twilight did not enquire further. Right then, it was enough that the mare she loved was alive. She could live with anything, as long as Dash was alive. As if to distract the unicorn, Ignis looked over his shoulder and motioned to somepony outside her field of view. “I think she’s okay, you can come and talk to her now.”

Tentatively, Twilight edged her head to the left. She realized that Ignis and herself were not the only ponies in the room; Applejack and Pinkie Pie were sitting on those cheap, functional chairs that seem such a permanent fixture in any hospital.

The tips of Twilight’s mouth twitched upward. “Hey guys,” she murmured. Their smiles of relief were tinged a little with consolatory sadness as they trotted over to the bed.

“Hey there, Twi’,” Applejack said, quietly. Both ponies had a strange air of respectfulness about them, obviously surprised and impressed in equal measure the lengths to which Twilight had been prepared to go to save Dash.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” whispered Pinkie. Her hair had lost a little of its customary bounce; whilst not utterly straight, its usual maniacal frizziness was somehow lacking. She smiled, but seemed uncharacteristically serious. “Is it okay if…?”

Twilight understood what she was asking, and nodded. “It’s fine. I’m not physically hurt.” She smiled, weakly. “Just… mind the head, if that’s okay.”

Pinkie nodded, a little of her bounce returning. She gently embraced the prone purple mare with her forelegs, her eyes a little tearful. “Thanks for bringing Dashie back,” she murmured. Applejack followed suit after Pinkie had relinquished her hold, hugging the librarian with the utmost care.

“Where are the others?” Twilight asked, after Applejack too had pulled away.

“Rainbow… she’s in the room next door,” began Applejack, not quite meeting Twilight’s eyes. “She’s gonna be okay, Twi’.” There was something frightening in her voice; the farm-pony was obviously trying to convince herself. “Rarity’s looking after Fluttershy, in the burns unit.”

Twilight made another ill-advised attempt to sit up, but fell back almost immediately, her vision gone, her ears plugged in a burst of light-headedness. “Burns unit?” she exclaimed, as soon as her hearing returned.

“Don’t you go worryin’, sugarcube. She’s fine,” promised Applejack. “They said they’ll prob’ly let her out tomorrow.”

Ignis stepped forwards once again. “If I may,” he interjected. “I think I should bring you up to speed myself.”

Twilight nodded, and immediately regretted it. “I’d like that. What… what happened down there?”

Ignis sighed. “Before I begin, I should forewarn you that you won’t think much of me after I tell you what happened. I’m not proud of it, but I stand by what I did.”

The bedridden unicorn raised an eyebrow. “Go ahead,” she said, warily.

*

The Everfree Forest, several hours ago.

“Any sign?”

“Nothing yet, sir.”

Sergeant Ignis snorted in frustration, kicking out halfheartedly at a loose stone among the undergrowth. The guards had arrived at the clearing to find it deserted, apart from two wolf corpses and an ominous pool of drying blood around a sun-kissed rock. It had been easy to find the place from the dark wheeling masses of ravens that jockeyed for scraps of the freshly-fallen wolves. With no obvious reason to stay among the cawing and the stench, the group of stallions had been tracking their quarry eastward as best they could for the past few hours, spears at the ready in case of an all-too-likely attack.

The worst part was how open the situation had become. Like any soldier, Ignis knew all too well the value of not rushing blindly into a situation without intelligence. Unfortunately, that was exactly what they had done. He assumed that Twilight and Dash would be heading eastwards towards Ponyville, but the details were utterly unknown. The wounded pegasus could be ten metres or ten miles away. For all he knew, Twilight might even have made the pair invisible or inaudible or some other infuriating piece of unicorn magic.

They had long ago given up the pretence of moving silently, instead favouring speed, fanning out through the trees. The burly corporal had managed to find a hornet’s nest the traditional way, but had escaped with little more than cursory stings and a bruised ego.

The afternoon was beginning to wear on, and the heat was sticky and oppressive. Ignis sighed, turning to their designated navigator, the overburdened Private Dockleaf.

“Where are we now?”

The slight stallion cast a practiced eye over the map in his hooves. “We’ve got oaks behind us, so we’re in the eastern crescent,” he replied, after a moment. “Nearly at Ponyville. I’ll be honest, if we’ve not found them yet, they’ve probably made it out on their own.”

Ignis did not look convinced. “Or we’ve just missed them.”

Dockleaf shrugged. “Unlikely, Sir. Transporting the injured doesn’t often leave room for subtlety. Besides, she’d know we were coming, so she wouldn’t go out of her way to get camouflaged.”

“That seems reasonable,” agreed Ignis. “I think we ought to-”

He froze, suddenly. His pegasine danger sense, honed by the rigorous training of the Guards, was buzzing in the back of his head. Something was wrong, but what was it?

“Sir?” Dockleaf began, but Ignis raised his hoof for silence.

“The animals,” he whispered, the low sound carrying in the sudden quiet. Dockleaf realized immediately what he meant; the continuous chattering and shrieking that usually filled the forest had gone utterly silent, as if the wildlife had suddenly decided to vacate the area en-masse.

Then, in the distance, came a roar. It was a harsh, grating sound, like two pieces of rusty iron being ground together. Immediately the other guards, who had until now been picking their way between the boughs, darted back to Ignis’s side, creating a circular formation, spears outwards.

“What is it, Sir?” hissed the corporal.

Ignis shook his head. “I don’t know, but it’s big. It seems distant though...”

He would have continued, but at that moment there was a crashing in the undergrowth to their left. The squad wheeled around as one, bringing their spears to bear, ready to hurl. A panicked figure came charging between two trees, skidding to a halt and backpedaling as best she could with a cry of shock. A faint smell of burning hung about her.

Ignis raised a hoof, and the guards lowered their spears warily, eyeing the newcomer. A canary-yellow pegasus mare, her face streaked with dirt and tears. Her luxuriant mane was also dirty, the tips seemed to be singed. She was shaking, her eyes wide. Ignis had been in Ponyville when Nightmare Moon returned, he had tried to mount a pitiful defence. He had seen that expression of wild fear on the faces of guards before, and he knew that this mare would need careful handling if she were to avoid a breakdown.

He took a step forward, but the mare shrank away from him. “Miss,” he said, gently. “My name’s Sergeant Ignis, you’re going to be okay.”

“I… I’m F-Fluttershy,” whimpered the pegasus, biting her lip to hold back further tears.

It was strange, though. Ignis could have sworn that something was changing in her eyes, the initial fear beginning to recede.

“What happened to you?” he asked, making a conscious effort to keep his voice low so as not to startle the obviously timid mare.

Fluttershy closed her eyes, taking several deep breaths, controlling her shaking. When she looked up, her tear-tracked face was set with a kind of fearful determination. Ignis was impressed at the self-control of the obviously terrified mare. “It’s a dragon,” she said, a slight shake to her voice. “You’re down here looking for Twilight and Dash, aren’t you?”

Ignis nodded, and Fluttershy continued, sitting down and leaning her back against a tree-trunk to catch her breath. “So am I,” she said at length. “My birds can track down anypony, they know this forest better than any of us. It must have been about forty minutes ago now, but my birds found them. The main group sent a few back to me, so they could lead me to them. I was… I was so close.”

“What happened?”

“F-fire. Out of nowhere, this fire that just… ate everything it touched. Right where Jasper and Carnelian were flying. One moment, they were there. Then they were… they were gone.” Her voice broke, and her eyes filled with tears, but she forced herself on. “I… I can’t believe such a big creature can move so quietly. Maybe I was in his territory, or something like that. I only just got behind a rock in time… I don’t know what happened to the other birds. Maybe they got away… I hope so. They’d never have been there if it wasn’t for me…”

Ignis could tell that he was starting to lose her. He knelt down beside her, trying to make eye contact. “Miss? Fluttershy, I need you to look at me.”

The frightened mare obliged, swallowing hard and once again forcing herself under control. She looked the stallion in the eye, her gaze quite steady. Again, Ignis was surprised.

“I’m not… not sure he knew where I was,” she continued. “I heard him lie down, this great ground-shaking thump. I… I couldn’t move. I must have hidden there for about twenty minutes, and I guess I thought he’d fallen asleep. I tried to make a break for it.” She paused for a moment, collecting herself. Ignis could see how much of a challenge this was for her, and once again admired her ability to keep talking. In spite of her apparent universal phobias, the mare made up for it with a strength of will greater than many soldiers he knew.

“He spotted you?”

Fluttershy nodded. “He spotted me. I don’t think he thought I was worth chasing, but he sent a fireball after me. I managed to get behind a tree, but the sparks... got me. I’m not hurt, it’s just my mane,” she hastily clarified, in response to Ignis’s concerned look. “He couldn’t aim between the trees once I got deeper in. I just ran and ran… I was stupid, I could have tripped and broken a leg, or run into any kind of awful thing… I just wanted to put as much distance as possible between me and that dragon. Then… then I found you.”

“Sir,” Dockleaf appeared behind his sergeant. “If we’re to have any chance of finding them, we’ll need to move.” He turned to Fluttershy, smiling at her. He seemed somehow less of a solider than the others, more personable by a long way. “Do you think you can walk, miss?”

Fluttershy nodded, getting unsteadily to her hooves. Her knees shook just a little, but her breathing was even despite her still-widened eyes from the draconic encounter. She looked almost ashamed of herself, as she brushed the dirty tear tracks from her face. “The birds scattered,” she admitted. “I tried to call them as I ran, but no bird’s going to go any where near a… a d-dragon. Not even for me. I don’t know where they are any more than you do.”

In the distance, the great beast roared once more, an incandescent plume of flame dancing up above the treeline. Fluttershy let out an involuntary squeak, cowering a little and hiding behind her singed mane.

Ignis nodded. “We’d better move if we want to find them.” He looked warily at the hovering smoke above where the dragon lay. “Besides, I want to put as much space as possible between us and-”

“Wait!” Fluttershy’s voice was suddenly urgent, and despite its relatively low volume, Ignis fell silent, to his own surprise. All eyes turned to Fluttershy. “I… I hear something. Let me check for sure.”

She tipped her head back, letting out two low whistles through her teeth. Then, she broke into a smile, sighing with relief. “Sapphire!” she exclaimed. With a near-inaudible whirr of wings, the bright-eyed bluebird descended through the trees and nestled into Fluttershy’s hair, letting out a few rapid chirps of greeting. “You came… Thank you,” Fluttershy said gratefully to the small bird, obviously pleasantly surprised that he had braved the dragon’s proximity for her sake. “Do… do you know where they are?”

Immediately, Sapphire took flight again with a high note of affirmation, circling her head twice, then flying off in a rough north-easterly direction. He alighted on a branch, half-obscured in the oppressive gloom, and turned to stare at the group with his quick, intelligent eyes.

Fluttershy turned to Ignis, a determination rekindling in her eyes, washing away the barely-suppressed fear and hopelessness. A subtle shift of power had taken place, to which Ignis was not oblivious. Suddenly, this timid, fearful mare was in charge. “I’m going to find my friends,” she said, quietly. “Come on, it’s this way.”

Ignis raised an eyebrow, looking from her to his squad. He knew not one thing about this mare, or the tracking abilities of her animal friends. Right now, however, it was all her had to go on. He felt a little undermined, but on the other hoof, if his squad saved the princess’s protégé, there may well be a promotion in this. He could live with taking the back seat for a while. He jerked his head at the group of guards.

“Let’s move.”

*

The ground shook a little beneath her, and Rainbow Dash opened her eyes the barest of cracks. Groggily, she realized that she must have blacked out. The last thing she remembered was burning pain in her wings and lacerated body, the twitching of the speared snake, then Twilight tearing her cocoon apart, her face bloody, her eyes empty.

Now, there was no pain. That was strange. The dew-soaked grass brushed her cheek, and her left wing was crushed underneath her as she lay on her side. The pressure on the broken limb should have been agonizing, but somehow it was not so. All she was aware of was a strange light-headedness. Somewhere in her muddled brain she knew that the absence of pain was bad. Things were beginning to shut down. Pain was a self-preservation instinct. Maybe her subconscious had realized that there was too little left to be worth preserving.

Twilight. Where was Twilight? The world was a broken watercolour mess, and she could make out nothing distinct. With a great effort, she tried to open her eyes a little further. The green of the forest was dominant, but the glistening ruby staining of the grass around her also seized her attention. She caught a flash of purple, lying beside her in the grass.

“Twi…?” she whispered, her voice cracked and near-inaudible. The unicorn did not respond.

Her vision was white at the edges. She had the sensation of slipping backwards down a steep incline.

All was silent. She was floating. Floating away.

Crash!

She felt the earth-shaking sound more than she heard it. Everything felt unreal, and she could not rouse the cognitive strength to question the noise. However, her vision cleared a little, and she was suddenly a little more aware, as if the motion of the ground had roused her a little. She was vaguely conscious of lying in some kind of liquid that stained the grass around her fallen body.

I’m still bleeding. Twilight’s spell must’ve broken when I fell… It must be deep.

For some reason, she could not let the thought go. Something did not add up.

We must’ve been going for ages… The rate I’m losing blood... I should be dead by now.

Once again, her eyes alighted on the purple mass beside her, still blurred in her half-shut eyes. The unicorn was horribly pale; her eyes closed and peaceful as if in sleep.

No! Oh Celestia, no... Twilight, you didn’t…

She wanted to speak; she needed to scream out her guilt and frustration, but she was too weak. She tried to move her head but the sense of lightheadedness made her nearly black out, and she did not try again. It was all she could do to cling to consciousness as it was.

Another crash; nearer now. All she could do was lie and watch, her raised heartbeat wastefully pumping away what little remained of her life. Her borrowed life.

Twilight’s life, she thought with a shriveling sense of shame in her chest.

Somewhere on the edge of the clearing, the trees parted, their trunks bent and ripped aside like matchsticks. A flash of green appeared between the broken wood, and then a long, snake-like body began to tread its gradual way into the clearing, making no attempt at stealth or speed. It was a dragon, but one unlike Dash had ever seen before. Its body was low and reptilian, four-legged with small, atrophied wings. She could not see clearly enough to make out its eyes, but its very motions were animalistic and feral.

Somehow, Dash found it impossible at that moment to feel anything so proactive as actual fear; instead she was aware of a withering resignation.

I’m so sorry, Twilight. Thanks for coming after me.

The beast was regarding the two ponies, with a lazy gaze that said it was all too pleased with itself. It had obviously drawn by the scent of Dash’s blood, and she felt almost relieved. One bite, gone. Infinitely better than the slow, near-artistic deliberation with which the wolves would have dealt with them.

That was the moment she gave up hope. The moment that her willpower, which had sustained her so far beyond the point of physical collapse, finally failed her. With a supreme effort, she shifted her gaze away from the dragon, and let her eyes rest on the beautiful mare curled up beside her.

They were together. They would always be together. There was no point or gain to be had in guilt or fear at this stage.

With a sense of something close to relief, she fell willingly into the waiting darkness.

She did not see the glint of light as the first spear arced through the air, and buried itself in the dragon’s wing.

*

The dragon was a setback, that much was obvious. It was obvious from its predatory advance on the two obviously injured ponies, and it was obvious from the sweat beading on Fluttershy’s face and neck. Ignis’s squad had spread out around the perimeter, keeping silent and taking careful aim with their spears.

Ignis held up a hoof, rotating it twice in mid air, indicating the squad should wait for his signal. He was waiting for the dragon to lower its head; waiting for it to be vulnerable.

Fluttershy mumbled something incoherent, her eyes closed. Ignis leant closer, realizing that they might well have a problem if they brought down a creature, even one such as this, in front of such an obviously nature-loving mare. He cupped his ear, indicating that he needed her to repeat herself.

The canary pegasus looked up and met his eyes. Her expression was halfway between guilt and determination. Her voice was still a whisper, but a little stronger now. “Aim below the wing,” she said, quietly, her voice emotionless bar a slight shake. “The scales are thinnest on the underside; there are two major arteries unprotected just beneath the wing-joint.”

Ignis could tell that Fluttershy hated herself for abusing this knowledge of animal anatomy in this way; she was a healer, not an accessory to killers. But she had obviously made a decision. There was no time to risk trying to reason with the beast; Twilight and Dash were short on time, and if she had to make a choice between their lives, and the life of a dragon, then the dragon was a sacrifice that she was apparently prepared to make.

The sergeant nodded gratefully, and turned, indicating the target area on his own body, then gesturing to the dragon. Nods of assent came from the edges of the clearing, and Ignis drew back his own spear, clamping down on the shaft with his powerful wing muscles.

There was only really one way to unambiguously signal an attack. Ignis cast his spear into the clearing, and Fluttershy gasped, unable to watch. The throw, however, was unlucky. The dragon lowered itself at exactly the wrong moment to take a sniff at the downed unicorn, and the barbed silver spike struck home into its wing, piercing the membrane and tearing out a great hole before rebounding off the thick scales of the dragon’s upper body.

It roared its horrible, gratingly metallic roar, and spun to face this assailant, its spiked tail whipping dangerously close to the fallen ponies. With well-practiced coordination, the three stallions lurking in the trees to the dragon's rear charged into the clearing, flinging their own spears. With a sound of breaking metal, one of them punched through the dragon’s vulnerable underside, burying itself neck-deep in its stomach. The second struck its elongated snout, digging in deep and sticking in place. The third spear struck an armoured plate head-on and fell, buckled to the grass.

Surrounded, with no way to turn, the dragon began indiscriminately blasting lashing tongues of fire into the trees around it. Immediately, with practiced skill, the guards took cover behind rocks or thick trunks, weathering the searing heat.

Suddenly, Fluttershy took flight. Bringing the creature down had never been her intention; she simply needed the guards to make a distraction. That way, the dragon would be encircled, and its resolve would be weakened. It would be in no position to resist her significant powers of persuasion. She was terrified, her heart hammering as she approached the one creature that haunted her nightmares on such a regular basis, but pressed on regardless. Ignis, unaware of her abilities, watched her with horrified eyes.

The dragon let out one last blast of un-aimed fire, and by sheer bad luck the tip of it caught Fluttershy’s foreleg as she flew, scorching the fur and blistering her skin. She gritted her teeth against the searing pain, her eyes watering, but she knew that to cry out before establishing her all-important eye contact would invite certain death.

The dragon was holding momentarily still, scanning the woods for the source of these stinging pinpricks. Fluttershy seized her moment, alighting on the tip of its nose with a soft thump. Her fear tugged at her mind, but the prevalent emotion was anger; anger to the point where she was barely articulate. The pain in her leg was horrible; the unfairness of the situation unbearable, and she refused to get this close to saving her friends only for some dragon to get them first.

She stared into the beast’s surprised eyes, and narrowed her own gaze. When she spoke, her voice was quiet, and infinitely more dangerous than the shout she felt boiling inside her.

“Listen to me,” she hissed, the intensity of her stare drilling into the dragon. “You’re going to turn around, and you’re going to go back to your cave. If I ever hear of you trying to hurt anypony again, me and my friends,” she gestured around at the guards, “will find you.” She leaned closer. “You don’t want that, do you?”

The dragon’s eyes were still mutinous, although it apparently could not summon the willpower to break her stare entirely and swat her away. With a snort of anger, Fluttershy realized that there was no time for subtle persuasion. She seized between her teeth the silver shaft of the spear still wedged in the dragon’s snout, and twisted the barbed tip sharply around and upwards, never once breaking eye contact with the monster. It let out a whimper of pain, and the last of its resolve crumbled under the mare’s infamous stare. “You don’t want that, do you?” Fluttershy repeated, her voice more forceful now.

The dragon’s eyes were submissive, and it shook its head mutely. Fluttershy nodded, giving it one last warning look before turning her back on it, trying not to rest any weight on her burned leg. The pain was bad, but the injury could have been much worse. She had seen similar injuries on forest animals before, and they usually healed up in a few days, given a decent dressing and a burn-salve.

Already, Dockleaf and a couple of others had entered the clearing, and had set to performing field examinations on the two fallen ponies. Dash’s bandages of moss were ripped clear, her wounds disinfected and tightly bandaged up once again.

“They’re alive,” announced the medic, “but they’re in a bad way, the pegasus particularly. We need to get them out of here.”

“Put me down,” Fluttershy commanded, her back to the beast’s submissive gaze. Obediently, the dragon lowered its head until its chin brushed the grass, and Fluttershy stepped off into the clearing, with a bound somewhat lacking in her usual grace. Now that the immediate danger had passed, she was shaking, and more acutely aware of her injury now that the adrenaline burst was dying away.

The guards advanced into the clearing, expressions wary but undeniably impressed. Fluttershy turned to Ignis. She expected him to be pleased, perhaps surprised or grateful. Instead, the look on his face scared her. It was the look of a stallion coming to a difficult, unpleasant decision. He closed his eyes for a moment, apparently making his mind up. “Well done, Fluttershy,” he said, quietly, his expression one of utmost guilt. “I’m sorry you have to see this.”

Then, he nodded over Fluttershy’s shoulder at the brawny corporal. “Do it.”

Everything happened too fast for Fluttershy to realize what was being done until after the event. In one swift, practiced motion, the corporal drew back his shining spear, and flung it with all his might into the unsuspecting dragon’s eye. It met no resistance; piercing almost up to the hilt with a terrible plunging sound.

The beast made no noise. That was the worst of it. It did not roar or twitch; it simply slumped, unresisting to the forest floor, as if it were a marionette whose strings had been cut. The corporal observed his handiwork with something close to a craftsman’s pride. Thick, burgundy blood was pooling around the fallen creature’s head.

Fluttershy was utterly speechless, as she turned from the once-imposing dragon to Ignis. The sergeant looked genuinely apologetic.

“I’m sorry, Miss,” he said, quietly. “Dragons are cunning creatures; you can’t reason with them. As long as it knew where we were, this extraction was compromised.”

To Fluttershy, his words were meaningless noise. For a dragon to fall in combat seemed somehow right, but calming it before making this cold, callous betrayal left Fluttershy breathless and horrified. She felt as if she were a part of it; as if this unnecessary, undignified death were her fault. She wished that she had let them simply bring the beast down in the first place; at least that way it would have had a chance to defend itself, rather than being put down like an unresisting dog.

It had submitted to her, just like the last one. Just like any animal. Ignis was a fool; he knew nothing.

She looked over her shoulder. Dash and Twilight were already on stretchers, and their bearers were preparing to take flight. That was good. Her friends were safe now; Ignis was surplus to requirements. Deep down, Fluttershy knew that any soldier would have done the same, that when recovering such an important charge nothing could be left to chance. None of it mattered though; she felt used and dirty, an abuser of her abilities.

“I came in here to save two ponies,” the sergeant stated, bluntly, his tone of apology no longer evident. “I’m under no obligation to protect monsters.”

Fluttershy lunged at him. She was on him in a fit of blind rage before he could react, and she slammed home her un-burnt forehoof into his face, just beneath his eye, leaving a jagged cut and knocking him backwards. Unfortunately for her, Ignis was a sergeant of the guards, at the pinnacle of fitness and training. She had made a good account of herself with the first blow, but within seconds he had restrained her, holding her immobile in a painful leg-lock. The canary mare thrashed furiously, until Dockleaf came rushing over, drawing a syringe from his pack.

Fluttershy felt the cold needle slip into her kicking hind leg. The plunger was pressed down.

Suddenly, struggle was impossible as the sedative paralyzed her system.

The world seemed to melt, and the chemical sleep took her.

*

Twilight was sitting upright in her bed; her head swam but she felt just able to retain consciousness as Ignis doggedly told his story. By the time he finished, Twilight had no idea what to say. She was torn between an enormous sense of gratitude, and an anger that she feared was irrational.

“Why did you kill it?” She asked at length, her eyes wide.

“It tried to kill two of your friends,” Ignis reminded her, coolly.

Twilight sighed. “I know… I know. But I can vouch for Fluttershy, she can make creatures do anything for her. I once saw her single-handedly convince a dragon to abandon its cave, she’s amazing. You saw the way she handled the birds.”

“That’ll all well and good,” replied Ignis, “but you were in no state to vouch for anypony back there. For all I knew, that dragon was pretending. It might just have roasted us all the moment we’d turned our backs. Imagine for a moment that you were a solder. What would you have done, in my hooves?”

Twilight opened her mouth to speak angrily, to insist that she would have acted differently. Then she closed it again.

He knew nothing about Fluttershy’s abilities. He couldn’t have known that the dragon had really submitted. Twilight, can you look him in the eye and tell him you’d have taken that risk, if Dash’s life had been at stake?

Her morality recoiled from the idea. There must have been a better way. I can’t justify trading one sentient creature’s life for another.

And yet you’d have made exactly the same choice as Ignis. Besides, what about those wolves? Or the snake?

That was self-defence.

Don’t act noble. Killing’s all the same to the one who ends up dead.

She looked up at Ignis, and her anger dissipated, against her will. They both had blood on their hooves; she had no right to judge him. This was not her fault, and it wasn’t the sergeant’s fault. It was Dusk Tempest’s, and he was beyond the reach of anypony’s vengeance now. At this stage, blame was pointless.

“Thank you,” she said, eventually. “I’d… I’d have done the same.”

Still, it did not feel right. Sometimes there was no clean solution; no easy, pleasant answer.

“I want to see Rainbow,” she added, suddenly.

Applejack was immediately by her side, raising a calming hoof. “Now, sugarcube, I’m not sure that’s…”

“I need to see her,” repeated Twilight, forcefully. “I need to see she’s alive.” At that moment, she felt unable to trust anything beyond the evidence of her own eyes. She shifty looks, the consolatory tones of voice, the unspoken but obvious fear in the eyes of her friends. It all added up to something, and she needed to know what.

“Twilight,” interjected Pinkie, “please just… wait. You can hardly sit up right now, you’re not gonna be able to walk.”

Twilight gritted her teeth. “You’re keeping something from me. Something’s wrong, and if you won’t tell me, I’ll find out myself.” She sat up straighter, ignoring her hazy, fluctuating vision, and prepared to swing her hooves out of bed.

Applejack sighed, hanging her head in surrender. “Okay, sugarcube. You win.”

Twilight froze, and looked at the farm pony with an expectant gaze. “What happened?” she asked, quietly.

Still Applejack did not meet her eye. “Ah’m sorry, Twilight. We were stupid, we just thought it’d be easier on you to wait fer you to be stronger. We shoulda known you’d never accept that.”

Twilight gritted her teeth, a few errant sparks falling from her horn as she stared Applejack down. “What happened to Dash?” her voice was low, her breathing sharp and fearful.

Applejack took a deep breath. “Twilight… She’s in a coma.” She looked up to meet Twilight’s gaze, and her vivid green eyes were swimming. “The doctors don’t think…” the earth pony sniffed, her voice scarcely audible, utterly removed from her usual optimistic tone. “They don’t think they’ll be able to wake her up.”

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!