• Published 19th Oct 2012
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Eljunbyro - Imploding Colon

Bellesmith must perform experimental tasks in order to keep herself and her beloved safe.

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Dying, Fighting

"There is no way the Ledomaritans on board their battlecruiser can detect this," Crimson said, lifting the blue sound stone between the two of them. "Not unless it is activated. So long as it remains inert like this, it's as dull and disenchanted like any other rock."

Rainbow Dash gazed down the sloping tunnel towards the spacious cavern below. Under the glow of O.A.S.I.S., the other five ponies were setting up a humble camp to rest a bit. She turned and looked at Crimson.

"Then why do you have it on you in the first place?" she asked.

"This is the stone we were issued when our company of Blades Guild members joined the Ledomaritan war campaign," Crimson explained. "It was our means of reporting to the authorities of the Confederacy. Since we split off from the army, however, we've had it re-enchanted. It's now capable of picking up any random leylines that happen to pass through a given area."

"That means other unicorns can pick you up as well."


"So, then, why do you even have it?" Rainbow Dash's brow furrowed. "It seems kind of super dangerous, especially for a bunch of deserters like yourself."

"Sound stones are rare to come by," Crimson muttered, looking lethargically upon the shard in question. "And there is no telling when they may be of major use in a pinch. However..." He bit his lip.

Rainbow Dash stared at him quietly, patiently.

He sighed and clutched the stone tighter in the crook of his hoof as he said, "So many stallions have died under my command, and for what? To protect moral integrity? Is that the explanation I'm going to give their families when I return to Franzington?" He winced painfully, his gaze falling down towards the four ponies below. "If we return..."

"You were planning on using that to bargain with the Ledomaritans about my capture," Rainbow Dash finally blurted.

"No." Crimson gazed at her with chiseled eyes. "But the thought did occur to me, yes. You can choose to believe this or not, but I held onto this precisely so that wouldn't happen."

"No, I... I-I can believe you..." She sighed, running a hoof through her spectral bangs as she cast a forlorn glance beneath the whispering pair. "I can think of one or two of your fellow comrades whod' be more than happy to turn me in right about now."

"Don't be so swift to judge them," Crimson said. "They're confused, tired, and afraid—"

"Look, will you stop making excuses?! I just wish everypony would stop making excuses!" Rainbow Dash ran her hoof over her face, groaning. "We... w-we both know what the problem is." She gulped. "Who... the problem is."

Crimson stared silently at her.

She dropped her hoof and gave him a tired expression. "You never asked for any of this crud to happen to you, Captain, and just look where we are."

"Since you met us, you've been nothing but considerate and helpful—"

"Heh. Including beating the ever-living snot out of you four when we first met?"

"You've saved me and my stallions from unsightly catastrophes and defeated the bounty hunter who had us ensnared—"

"And how has that helped you guys in the long run?! Huh?!" her voice squeaked as she leaned towards him, frowning. In a hushed tone, she uttered, "You four are a bunch of swell dudes. Sure, one or two of you may be rough around the edges, but who can blame ya? You've gone through stuff that nopony should have to go through."

"The same can be said of yourself, Miss Dash."

"Yeah, well, I don't have a home to return to," Rainbow Dash said. Her features twitched as she gazed down at the crowd once more, eyeing two ponies in particular. "At least if you know that you do everything right and overcome all the bad stuff chasing you, you know you'll live long enough to see the place you're headed. That's not something I can say about myself."

Crimson gave her a queer look.

With a bitter-sweet breath, she smiled at him. "I'm dying, okay?"

He gulped. "I... I was not aware of this..."

"Yeah, well, that's the second most selfish thing I've done to you guys: leaving you in the dark." She brushed her hoof against the golden material of her pendant. "The first thing was screwing up your lives when I don't really have one of my own to be sure of. The least I could have done was been honest to you, but I suppose that's not really my element."

"You've struck me as a very honest pony."

"And you're a very loyal one," she said. "Trust me." Gulping, she kept a steady gaze locked with his. "And it's definitely possible to be way too loyal to something. I didn't set out on my journey thinking that I'd get a chance to care about other ponies again. But it's happened—twice. The first time, it killed me. The second time, I was reborn."

"You think this is a third?"

"Even if I wanted to keep you guys safe with my awesomeness, I'm still just one pegasus, and these jerks bombing the forest high above is aren't gonna stop at nothing. I know I can outfly them, but the rest of you guys?"

"We can make it to Franzington together," Crimson said in earnest. "All we need is effective misdirection! Just like you did earlier with the managliders—"

"And I was fine until this deathly dizziness knocked me out of the sky and then I was as useful as a stuffed turkey!" Rainbow Dash stuck her tongue out. "And where would I be when twenty frickin' metal mares come to make mince meat out of you guys? Huh? Face it, the cards are stacked against us."

"You don't strike me as a mare who easily admits defeat."

"Yeah, well, the key to winning is keeping oneself from being in the position to lose." She bit her lip, fidgeting. "And, let's be real here, I'm shaping out to be a real loser as of late."

"You're selling yourself short."

"And you're just selling yourself. Have you really thought hard about all this? I mean, you're a great captain and all, but are you thinking with your brain or with your wilingness to do good? You're a lucky stallion, Crimson. But trust me, luck runs out. I know this 'cuz I've suffered for it. I don't think I'm ready for ponies I care about suffer as well."

"Just what are you thinking about, Miss Dash?"

Rainbow stared down at the camp site as dust fell from more shelling overhead. "Where do these tunnels lead off to?"

"They will bring us east to the bluffs of the Sapphire Ravine," Crimson answered. "There's a deep river bound by steep cliffs that can take us swiftly down to the landscape between Searo and Fanzington."

"Isn't that cutting it rather close to metal mare stomping grounds?"

"All things considered, it's a great deal safer than where we are now," Crimson replied. "It's a route we were hoping to take under cover of winter. But right now, we don't have the luxury to wait for much longer."

"So you really know the lay of the land, huh?"

"Absolutely. At least three of us have been through the territories bordering the Sapphire Ravine on multiple occasions. It's customary for Guild Members to practice hunting and military exercises in the east recesses of Franzington."

"You're well equipped to move four ponies through the wilderness, huh?"

"I wouldn't have lived as long as I have if I wasn't."

"You think... y-you think that you can look after six ponies?"

Crimson blinked. His lips parted, but no words came out.

She took a deep breath and looked up at him with an extraordinarily prepared frown. "Well?"

"I..." He stumbled for words. "Ahem. Yes. I can most certainly... do that, Miss Dash."

"You're loyal. You're strong. You believe in the right thing." Rainbow Dash's ruby eyes narrowed like daggers. "Can I trust you?"

Crimson nodded. "I think you already do."

The air was silent between them. Even the shelling had stopped, as if christening a holy moment. Then the two strong ponies shared a singular nod, and it was over as soon as it began.

"I'll find a way... I mean... I-I'll do something," Rainbow Dash stuttered. "I-I'll get those lousy mana huffers out of your hair."

"And then where will you go?"

"Where else?" She smiled painfully, though she avoided his gaze. "Due east, where I'm supposed to go... or at least whatever is left of me."

He nodded gently. "Where it is you are going, I hope you get there after all. That is to say, I hope that you get there before..."

"I won't," Rainbow Dash muttered. "But... heh... it won't kill me to try." She winked. "Or will it?"

His smile was twice as awkward as hers. Clearing his throat, he inquired, "What have they said about this? They seem quite attached to you, Miss Dash. What are their feelings?"

"They don't have any..."

"I beg your pardon?"

Rainbow Dash bit her lip, tilting her head towards the shadow to hide the single tear running down her blue face. "I just now decided." She sniffled, her jaw clenched. When she lowered her face back into the light, it was dry again. "They'll be crushed, but at least they'll be alive. That's... th-that's the least I can say about every other fr-friend I've made in this life."

Crimson gazed at her with soft eyes. "If only every pony had a friend like you."

"Yeah, well..." She chuckled dryly, her glinting teeth showing beneath a sad face. "I'm as rare as they get."

"And such precious things are what I've always fought for." He raised the stone up between them, gazing at it this time with monumental disdain. "It's so easy to give into cowardice and desperation." His teeth clenched. "I've always doubted my own resolve, but not any longer."

With a grunt, Crimson spun and flung the stone far into the recesses of the winding tunnels far away from the group. Rainbow watched and listened as the blue shard flew well beyond sight, ultimately clattering into the echoing abyss beyond them.

"I too have come too far to let horrible things happen to those whom I care for," Crimson said. He turned and gave Rainbow Dash a subtle smile. "Thank you, Miss Dash, for reminding me why I've fought in the first place."

She nodded. "Just in between all the fighting and the dying... be sure to fit in some living, okay?"

He returned the gesture. "Okay." He gestured down the winding platform flanked with stalacmites. "Shall we rest for the journey ahead—yours and mine?"

"Yeah," was all she had to say. Shaking loose a lasting shudder, she flapped her wings and hovered bravely down the pathway. Crimson marched after her, his gait considerably more subdued and patient.

It wasn't until a good two minutes following their departure that a dim light glowed beyond the edges of where they previously stood.

Slowly, like a rising lantern, a unicorn horn rose into view. With dull, neutral eyes, Zenith glanced down at the descending pair of ponies. He stood on a steep ledge just beneath the platform., well obscured by shadows Breathing quietly, he levitated the sound stone into view, examined it, and slid it stealthily into his vest's pocket.

He disappeared back into the shadows without making noise.

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