• Published 15th Jan 2012
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Upon Wings of Sacrifice - Rated Ponystar



Rainbow Dash journeys to find a way to bring back Applejack from the dead...but at what price?

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An Apple Is Lost

Upon Wings of Sacrifice (Rewrite)

Chapter 2: An Apple Is Lost

An MLP: FIM fic by The Rated PonyStar

Edited by Fernin and Halcyon!

Artwork done by: alfa995

***

Dash looked at Applejack and saw the smears of blood marring her orange pelt. She was starting to regret ignoring her instincts, but regret was quickly replaced with anger. Rainbow shot the three griffins a murderous look before focusing back on Applejack and helping her up. “You okay?!”

“Yeah, just dandy,” answered Applejack, ignoring her bleeding back.

“Two of them? Great, how many more are there?!” shouted Falk as struggled to his paws. “What are you waiting for? Get them!”

“Dash! Hold’m off while Ah get mah rope!” ordered Applejack, making her way back to the cart.

“Gotcha!” shouted Dash, racing towards the trio.

Kludd and Kuffie flew straight ahead, weapons ready. The three were about to collide when Rainbow Dash suddenly rocketed up like a missile with blazing haste. This surprised the griffins, but they quickly followed.

As she flew higher into the air, Dash blew a raspberry at them, following it up with a mocking laugh. Eyes gleaming with murder, the two griffins screeched and flew faster. They soon caught up and swung their blades, but Rainbow Dash quickly did a 180, dodging their strikes before diving for the ground. The griffins stumbled in the air following their missed swings, but recovered and continued their chase.

Just as Kludd and Kuffie were about to catch up again, Rainbow Dash did another spontaneous turn and ascended once more. Irritated, the griffins tried to keep up, but it was no use. Over and over again, Rainbow Dash would let them get close enough before she flew in a different direction.

Hope Applejack’s doing alright, thought Rainbow Dash as she continued her tactical retreat.

***

Back on the ground, Applejack searched desperately through her cart to find her saddlebag. Apples were tossed around, along with some camping equipment, as sweat dripped from her brow. Just as she turned her head to check the other side of the cart, the saddlebag was seen from the corner of her eye, lying nearby on the ground. She was about to grab it when she felt somepony grab her tail, lift into the air, and slam her into the ground. Applejack shook her head, ignoring her painful back, and looked up in horror to see Falk standing over her on both hind legs. He raised his sword with both front claws, ready to cleave her in two.

Applejack delivered a quick kick right between Falk’s hind legs. He screamed in agony and fell to the ground, curled into a tight ball of incandescent pain. A large grin spread across Applejack’s face as she got up and gave Falk a kick in the face for good measure.

With a clear run, Applejack got her saddlebags, pulled out her trusty rope, and tugged her hat free from the dagger that had impaled it. Flipping it back on her head, Applejack looked up and saw Rainbow Dash handling the other two thieves. She rushed underneath them, and shouted, “Rainbow! Brin’ em down here!”

***

Rainbow Dash’s ears perked up. She glanced down and spotted Applejack preparing her lasso. Grinning, Dash dived downward with the griffins right on her tail. Applejack spun her lariat as Dash zoomed past, her pursuers close behind. With careful aim, the lasso was let loose. It sailed through the air before its coils ensnared the thieves.

Applejack pulled as hard as she could, jerking the trapped griffins’ wings tight against their waists until they crashed into the earth. They struggled to escape, but Applejack was already ahead of them. With her honed rodeo skills, she swiftly wrapped them in coil after coil of her rope. Standing triumphantly over the struggling griffins, she nodded in satisfaction. “Just like bull wrestlin’, only with the wings and talons.”

“Son of a hen!” cursed Kludd as he and Kuffie struggled against their confining bonds. They tried to reach for their weapons with their back legs, but Rainbow Dash swooped in and knocked the blades out of their reach, provoking few more curses from the tied-up duo. The victorious mares grinned and slapped hooves.

“Mighty fine work their, partner,” said Applejack, wincing in pain as her back twitched.

“You okay?” asked Dash. Looking closer at the wounds, she could see her friend’s back was worse than she had thought. Already the entire backside of her pelt was replacing the orange with red. A twitch of guilt stuck Rainbow Dash. If only I arrived sooner…

“It ain’t bad. Not as bad as that one time when one of them bulls at that rodeo gored me. That was painful. This is nothin'.” Applejack patted Dash on the back. “Thanks again for the help, Dash. Ya saved mah life.”

Rainbow Dash blushed. “Well, yeah. Nopony hurts my friends! And who else other than me is awesome enough to deal with three griffins at once?”

A familiar groan alerted the two to a squirming Falk, only now recovering from the low blow he’d taken several minutes before. Dash smirked as she lifted herself a few inches from the ground. “Looks like only one left! I’ve got him!”

Dash dived for the helpless Falk at full speed, ready to knock him out. This is for hurting AJ!

“Rainbow! Look out!”

Rainbow Dash didn’t realize she had been knocked to the ground until she felt her head nearly split from the impact. She looked up, thinking Falk had got in a lucky shot. Instead, she found herself held in the grasp of a new and unfamiliar griffin. The newcomer was huge, at least as big as Princess Celestia. He had clack, scar-covered fur and dark red feathers for one of the hugest set of wings Dash had ever seen; they were wider then her entire body. He loomed over the downed pegasus like a dark and angry storm cloud as his large talons wrapped easily around Dash’s entire neck. The strength behind them made Rainbow feel like she had been pinned down by a boulder.

The dark griffin's eyes glittered with cold malice. The right one could do no other—light glinted in the dark red facets of the ruby skull that adorned the creature's eye patch. The left, however, was just as cold and lifeless as the gem—and the look in the griffin's one good eye sent a chilling shiver of fear down Dash’s spine. Her eyes turned to a sheathed bastard sword around his waist, and his tail end that was tipped with a sharp and glittering barb dagger tied around it.

Applejack only managed to start sprinting towards them when the new griffin growled, “Move and I take out her eyeballs. I doubt you want to see your friend fly around blind for the rest of her life.”

He poised his talons inches away from Rainbow’s eyes causing her threatened pegasus to gulp. Applejack gritted her teeth in frustration, but held back. Falk looked at the large griffin with fear, stuttering, “C-C-Cyrus! W-we were… uh… we were just…”

Cyrus’ tail lashed out, grabbing the helpless Falk by the throat. He lifted up the smaller griffin—previously the largest Rainbow Dash had ever seen—until Falk's terrified eyes were leveled with the cold ruby glare of his leader. “I told you to get food and come back. Not get your hides handed to you by a bunch of ponies!”

Falk tried to say something, but words wouldn’t come out. Whether by fear or the constrictive grip of his leader’s tail, Rainbow Dash couldn’t tell. Cyrus hissed in irritation and released his wheezing subordinate. “Free the others. Now!” Falk went to work immediately. After the other two griffins were free, they picked up their discarded weapons and approached Applejack, bloodlust in their eyes.

“Tie her up,” Cyrus ordered. His gang looked at him, surprised by the sudden request.

“But boss! She humiliated us! They both did! Can’t we at least beat them up first?!” asked Kludd, but quickly shut up when his boss glared at him. “Never mind! We’ll do it!”

Taking the rope that had been used on them, the griffins tied up Applejack. She struggled a bit, but she quickly conceded when Cyrus’s talons hoovered over Rainbow’s eyes again. Applejack winced when they wrapped the ropes around her damaged back. but held her tongue. Dash glared at Cyrus. “If you harm one hair on her, I’ll make you regret it!”

Cyrus smirked. “You got guts. I like that.”

He turned to his posse. “Tie her up next.” Rainbow Dash cursed as the thieves tied her up and tossed her next to Applejack. Cyrus turned to his team. “Get the apples into the cart and pick it up. We’re heading back to the hideout for some rest. Then we’re heading back to Grydon.”

The thieves nodded and went to work, wincing in pain from the earlier fight much to Dash's satisfaction. She struggled against her bonds, but they were too tight. Letting out a frustrated sigh, Dash banged her head against the ground. “Well, this sucks.”

She turned to Applejack, who was looking away, her eyes filled regret as she mumbled, “Ah’m sorry Ah brought ya into trouble, Rainbow Dash.”

“Hey, forget it. It’s not your fault,” whispered Rainbow Dash, giving her friend a smile. "They just got lucky. If that big oaf hadn't come around and surprised me, I would have kicked his hide real good."

Applejack snorted a bit, a small smile stretched across her muzzle. It was quickly replaced by a frown as she glared at the thieves, a growl escaping her lips as they ransacked her cart. “What do you think they’re gonna do to us?”

Rainbow Dash didn’t answer. She wrapped her tail around Applejack’s and sighed. “Whatever happens, we face it together.”

Applejack nodded before turning back to the thieves who were finishing reloading up cart with the spilled items. She gritted her teeth. “Darn thieves. If Ah get out of here Ah’m gonna pluck each of them feathers off their wings and shove them down their throats.”

The two trapped ponies just watched in silence and before long, the thieves were done packing. Kuffie wiped the sweat from her brow before pointing to their prisoners. “Hey, what about them? Are we gonna kill them?”

“I wouldn’t mind doing that,” said Falk, licking his beak. He took out his sword and made his way towards a glaring Applejack. “Oh, I would love to split this one in two.”

“Hey! Leave her alone, you pellet-puking coward! You want to kill somepony, kill me first!” shouted Rainbow Dash, inching closer to Applejack.

“Enough!” shouted Cyrus, getting their attention. “This is pointless. Assuming they don’t die from hunger or thirst, chances are that by the time any help arrives, we’ll be long gone from Equestria. Now let’s fly.”

The four griffins took the cart and started making their way towards the mountain in the distance. When they were finally out of sight, Dash attempted to escape again, but it efforts were in vain again. “Ponyfeathers! They really made these ropes tight!”

“Hold on, Dash,” said Applejack, gritting her teeth. “Almost… got... it… there!”

Dash’s jaw dropped as Applejack’s ropes loosened. Rising to her hooves, she started working on Dash’s own bonds, licking her lips as she concentrated.

Rainbow Dash continued to stare at her for awhile until she finally asked, “How did you do that?”

“Ah know every rope trick in the book, sugarcube. Workin’ with knots like that is easier than buckin’ apples,” answered Applejack with a hint of pride in her tone. Soon, she managed to free Rainbow Dash who got up and stretched her wings, grateful they weren’t damaged.

“Thanks. How’s that back of yours?” asked Dash, checking on the wound once more. It was getting redder with rivulets of Applejack’s blood dripping down her side.

“Like Ah said, Ah’ve had worse,” said Applejack, but she winced nonetheless. “Ah got some first aid stuff in mah bags, assumin’ them featherbrains didn’t take it.”

Rainbow Dash spotted the saddlebag lying on the ground, along with ointment and bandage wrappings inside. The two sat down, Dash rubbing the ointment on Applejack’s back who twitched a few times as the medicine went to work. Continuing her treatment, Rainbow Dash whispered, “Sorry I got captured back there. I should have seen him coming.”

“Ain’t yer fault, Rainbow Dash. That one-eyed griffin came out of nowhere; Ah don’t blame ya. In fact, Ah’m more than thankful that you helped me out,” said Applejack.

Dash put the ointment away and started wrapping bandages around Applejack's back and waist. “Well, I wasn’t gonna let you get killed. You’re my best friend.”

“Thanks, Sugarcube. Ah feel the same way,” said Applejack, giving her a wide smile.

Rainbow’s cheeks started to blush. I just wish we were more.

A few minutes later, Applejack was all patched up and good to go. She inspected her bandaged back, giving Dash a satisfied nod. “Nice work. Now if ya excuse me, Ah’m gonna teach a couple of griffins a lesson in pain.”

Rainbow’s mouth dropped.“Wait! What?!” Rainbow Dash jumped in front of Applejack and glared at her. “Look I'm angry at them just like you, but I'm not suicidal. Those four are armed to the teeth and that leader of theirs is nopony to laugh at! Plus, you’re hurt! You can’t go out and fight them in your condition! Besides, it’s just a bunch of apples. Can’t you just go to the farm and bring them tomorrow?”

Applejack stomped her hoof and flared her nostrils. “Hay no! Ah ain’t lettin’ no thieves get away with mah apples, especially those!”

“Well, can we at least get help first? Maybe get the other girls? That Cyrus guy looked like he could take on every guard in the palace and come out unscathed,” pointed out Rainbow Dash.

Applejack shook her head. “There’s no time! Ya heard them, right? By the time we manage to saddle up any help, them griffins could be long gone from here. And Ah ain’t lettin’ them get away with those apples! Those are for a special delivery!”

“Yeah, you mentioned that. What’s so special about these apples? They didn’t look any different from any other apples I’ve seen,” asked Rainbow Dash, scratching her head.

Applejack looked at Dash straight in the eye. “Those apples are going to the orphanage down in Trottingham.” Rainbow Dash eyes widen as Applejack continued, “My grandpappy was adopted into the Apple family from Trottingham. When he was old enough he made a trip every year to the orphanage where he grew up and gave them a huge cart of apples for free. He kept doin’ it even when his bones were old. My pa followed the same tradition, and so do Ah.”

“Why?” asked Rainbow Dash. "You're not adopted, and I'm guessing your granddad is long gone. Why do something like this every year?"

Applejack smiled. “It’s a good experience, really. Why, Ah remember the first time Ah did it with my pa. All them foals smilin’ and lookin’ at me with their widen curious eyes. Each of them enjoying the sweet taste of a good homegrown apple. They would decorate them, play with them, make pies with them, and Ah got to be part of that experience. It was one of the most fun days Ah ever had growin’ up. The best part is that, every year, they always make a giant card with their names on it saying thanks. Ah’ve never let those kids down before, Dash, and Ah ain’t going to do it now.”

“Applejack…” Dash stared admiringly at her friend, a grin slowly growing across her face. “You really are cool. You know that?”

“Thanks, Dash," said Applejack. She then lightly smacked her and gave a confident smirk. "So what do ya say we go get them apples back? So Ah can introduce those kids to the coolest pegasus in all of Ponyville?”

Dash’s face lit up. Flaring her wings out, she puffed up her chest and nodded “Yeah! We can then tell them how we heroically stole back the apples from those griffins!”

“That sounds fine and all, but we don’t know where the hay they are,” mumbled Applejack, lowering her head.

“Hey. You’re forgetting who once had a griffin as a best friend," reassured Rainbow Dash. She turned towards the mountains behind them. "I know griffins, and the one place they like to live is up on mountains. After all, most of the cities in their homeland, Grydon, are settled up in mountains. Since Mount Wildbuck is just nearby, I’m willing to guess they’re hiding out there.” said Dash, pointing at the location.

Applejack's frown disappeared as she gave a satisfied nod. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s saddle up and kick some tail!” shouted Applejack rearing back and giving out a loud whoop. Dash kneeled down and let Applejack jump on before kicking off the ground. They then headed towards Mount Wildbuck, determination on the faces as they prepared themselves for a rematch.

***

Rainbow Dash’s wings strained with the effort of keeping both Applejack and herself in the air. Judging by the position of the sun, the pair had been flying around the mountain for at least an hour, but so far their search had been fruitless. They had managed to find a few caves, but each was empty except for the occasional bat swarm. With each failure they rose higher up the mountain occasionally taking breaks so Dash could regain her strength.

Applejack had offered a few times to climb on her own, but Dash wouldn't have any of it. She wanted to make up for getting captured and she wasn't going to take no for an answer. Despite her disagreement with the stubborn pegasus, Applejack conceded and continued to ride her best friend.

About a quarter of the way up, Applejack poked Dash on the side and pointed left. “Look over there!”

Rainbow Dash turned and saw a pillar of smoke coming from the edge of a cliff. The two looked at each other and nodded before heading towards the cliff. They landed just a few feet from the entrance of a small cavern, the thick, black fumes emanating from inside. Hiding behind some rocks, the two poked their heads out and searched the outside. “No guards outside. Ya think it’s them?” asked Applejack.

“I’ll get a closer look. Stay here,” answered Dash, taking off as quietly as she could. When she landed on the top of the cave’s entrance, she stood still, praying that whatever was inside didn't hear her. After waiting awhile, she tiptoed towards the edge of the cavern. Using her her front hooves, she held herself up while slowly peered inside from above.

Jackpot.

Inside were the three thieves, relaxing next to a crackling fire. Kuffie was making some stew while the other two were eating apples and lounging around next to the half-filled applecart. Dash looked around for the leader, but she couldn't spot him. Doesn’t make it any less safe though.

“Ugh, I’m still pissed we didn’t gut those two ponies when we had the chance. They made us look like fools!” whined Falk, splattering an apple against the cave wall. “I hope that redneck one gets eaten by a bear. If I had my way, I would chop off all her legs and drag her body back to her family so they could watch me slit her throat!”

It took all of Rainbow Dash’s willpower not to rush in and beat the griffin to death for his obscene comments. Just hold back, Rainbow; you’ll get him soon enough.

“Quit complaining. The boss needs his sleep. So keep your voice down,” mumbled Kuffie. Unlike the other two, who seemed more sadistic then anything, she seemed to be the most level headed, which meant Dash would have to be careful around her.

“You should listen to Kuffie more often, Falk,” Cyrus commented as he came into view from behind one of the cave’s walls. The shadows of the cavern nearly covered the outline of his huge figure, but his jeweled eye patch glittered in the darkness like a dragon’s hidden horde. “At least she knows when to behave properly.”

Falk’s beak opened, but any snappy retort he might have loosed quickly died under his leader’s glare. He looked away and seemed to deflate.

“So did you have a nice sleep, boss?” asked Kludd as he handed Cyrus an apple.

Cyrus ignored him and walked away. “I’m going to get some air for a bit. Don’t do anything stupid while I’m gone. I won’t hold my breath, though.” Cyrus spread his wings and made his way to the exit. Dash quickly retreated and lay low as he flew out of the cave. She watched him fly towards the right of the mountain, and waited a bit longer until he was gone.

Rainbow Dash exhaled and glided back to a waiting Applejack who sighed in relief when she returned. Rainbow Dash gave her a cocky smirk, "Aw, miss me?"

Applejack chucked before slapping her upside the head. "Just tell me what ya found."

“Well, good news is that your cart’s mostly filled and you just saw Cyrus leave so that helps a lot," Rainbow Dash nearly shivered, but remembered who was in front of her and blushed. "I mean, I could have taken him down myself, but you get what you get... right?" Applejack rolled her eyes and encouraged Dash to continue. "Right, sad news is that the other three are still in there and from the looks of it they still want to go find us and put us in our graves."

“Well, better than Ah hoped. Guess we’re gonna have to wing it then. So do we storm the cave and take it back?” suggested Applejack. "We took care of all three of them before with just the two of us. If we're quick enough we can knock them out and take the cart before the big fella gets back."

Dash thought about it. Normally, charging headfirst would be her style, but Applejack was wounded and, although her stubborn friend would never admit it, those wounds would slow her down in a fight. Dash’s eyes then lit up. “I’ve got a better plan! First, how bad is your back? Can you still run and maybe carry the cart?”

Applejack stretched her back a bit and jumped up and down. “It’s a bit painful, but Ah think Ah can manage.”

“Great, I’ll distract them by getting them to chase after me. While we’re out flying, you go in, take your cart back, and hide in a nearby cave. After I ditch those losers, I’ll meet you at the cave and we can take off when the coast is clear,” said Rainbow Dash.

Applejack shook her head. “Oh no, Ah ain’t lettin’ ya be bait.”

“Oh come on, AJ! What’s the worst that can happen? This idea is foalproof! All my ideas are!” stated Dash.

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “What about the time ya thought the best way to get rid of that dragon was to take it head on?”

“Uhhh…” Rainbow Dash tried to think of a good explanation, but words failed her.

“Or the time ya decided to have a race to find ya pet, and the whole thing almost led ya to being buried alive by a pile of rubble?”

Rainbow Dash started rubbing the back of her neck nervously. “Well, I…”

“Let’s also not forget…”

“Okay I get it! Not all my ideas work out!” shouted a defensive Dash. “Look, we need to get your cart, and this is the best way to do it. Are you in or not?”

Applejack didn’t answer for a few minutes. Finally she sighed. “Alright, but promise me yer gonna be careful.”

“Careful? AJ, these guys aren’t going to even touch me. I’m the fastest in Equestria and a future Wonderbolt! I’ll be fine,” said Dash with a confident grin.

“Ah just don’t know if Ah can forgive myself if somethin’ happened to you, Rainbow,” said Applejack. She placed a hoof on her friend’s shoulder and looked her dead in the eyes. “Yer important to me.”

Dash's heart skipped a beat as she wondered if those words had any deeper meaning. Gazing away from Applejack, she replied, "Y-yeah... You're important to me too..."

The two of them avoided each other’s sight as the awkward silence continued. For some strange reason, Rainbow Dash wished it could last forever. A thought then entered her mind: this was her chance. She coughed and tried to meet Applejack’s curious, and beautiful, face. Okay, Dash. You can do this. Clearing her throat, Dash said, “Look, Applejack. There’s something I want to tell you… something important. It’s something I’ve wanted to say for the longest time…’

Dash opened her mouth and tried to say the words, but they wouldn’t come. Pinkie’s speech from the previous day rang in her head and she forced all doubt away. “I… I… I…”

Before Dash could finish, Applejack raised a hoof and smiled. “Ya can tell me when we’re finished here, sugarcube. We need to stay focused for now.”

Rainbow Dash nodded, and sighed. She’s right. I’ll tell her after all this. Keep your head in the game, Dash.

Ready to put their plan into action, Dash gave her crush one last glance before taking off. Entering the cave, she hovered over the oblivious griffins and took a deep breath. Here we go!

“Hey, chicken heads!” shouted Dash, catching their attention. Their stupefied expression nearly made Dash laugh as she turned around and shook her rear mockingly, giving it a slap. “Kiss my flank, you overgrown pigeons! Ha ha!” Just as she predicted, the angry griffins drew their weapons and charged after her, but Rainbow Dash had already bolted out of the cave and begun to lure them away from their base.

***

Once she saw Rainbow Dash fly off with the griffins close on her tail, Applejack immediately galloped into the cave. Inside, she quickly found her applecart, harness still attached. Thanking her lucky stars, Applejack started to slip on the harness only to be alert when she heard somepony clearing their throat from behind her.

“And where do you think you’re going, my dear?”

Applejack felt every hair on her pelt straighten. Silently cursing to herself, she turned around and saw Cyrus stalking towards her. “I thought I’d find you here when I saw that friend of yours fly away with my three minions. Figures they would fall so easily for a simple diversion…”

Applejack readied herself for a fight, but winced as her wounded back twinged painfully. Cyrus's single eye glanced at her bandages and smirked. “I commend you for coming back for another round even in your wounded state, but such courage is going to have unfortunate consequences.”

“Nopony steals from the Apple Family. Ah’m goin’ out with this applecart, and there’s nothin’ that ya can do that will stop me!” declared Applejack, striking the ground with her hoof.

Cyrus gave a sinister smirk. “I think I like you. It’s a shame I’m going to have to kill you.”

***

Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash was continuing to lead her pursuers away from their cave. Using the treacherous surface of the mountain to her advantage, she flew dangerously close to the mountainside. She forced the griffins to dodge and weave their way through tall rocky pillars and giant boulders, nearly causing them to slam into them a few times. After a few minutes of constant pursuit, Rainbow glanced back and cursed. Although the griffins weren’t as nimble as the lightning-fast pegasus, they had somehow avoided serious injury... so far. She was going to have to kick things up a notch.

Increasing her speed, Dash soared upwards. “Come on, slowpokes! A filly can fly faster than you three!”

“Stay still, you little annoyance!” cried Falk, eyes burning with rage

The chase stopped abruptly as Kuffie stopped in mid-air. Her allies banked hard, narrowly avoiding a messy collision. Rainbow circled the hovering griffins as she saw the calculating look on Kuffie's face and realized she was suspecting something. This wasn’t good; she had to get them to keep chasing her. Surely Applejack needed more time than this.

“Why did you stop, Kuffie?! Let’s get her!” roared Kludd, his talons twitching eagerly.

Kuffie glared back at her smaller companion. “Idiots! She’s only distracting us! Her other friend must already be back at the cave stealing the cart right now!”

Ponyfeathers! thought Dash, gritting her teeth.

“What?! Oh peck! Cyrus will kill us if those apples are gone! Let’s go!” cried a horrified Kludd. The three of them raced back to the cave, leaving Rainbow Dash in the dust.

“Oh no, you don’t!” Dash went after the trio, flapping her wings as hard as she could. Slowly she managed to catch up and grabbed the nearest griffin, Kludd, by the tail with her teeth, separating him from the others. Kludd growled and kicked Rainbow in the face. Her head jerked as the blow knocked her loose, but she managed to take some of the griffin’s fur with her. Enraged, Kludd went back on the assault, forcing Dash to weave and dodge the angry swipes of his sharp talons.

Falk glanced back and cursed. “Kuffie! Go get the other one! We’ll take care of this whelp!” Falk drew his sword and charged into the fray while Kuffie continued onward.

Dash tried to follow, but Kludd stopped her with another swing of his sharpened steel talons. She dodged, but the edges managed to take a hit on her shoulder, drawing several thin crimson lines of pain across Rainbow’s cyan pelt. Rainbow Dash retaliated quickly with a vicious kick to Kludd’s chest as she tried to ignore her bleeding shoulder. Her recovery time was cut short once Falk joined in on the assault.

The two males circled around Rainbow Dash from all angels, occasionally diving for a quick death blow that Dash barely avoided. If I don’t do something quick, I’m dead. She searched the sky for a quick exit, but then noticed a large, thick cloud drifting in the sky. A smirk appeared on her upper lip. That’ll do nicely.

Spotting an opening, Rainbow Dash flew towards the cloud, the griffins hot on her trail. Putting all she had into her wings, she managed to enter the cloud with the thieves rushing in shortly after. immediately, she wrapped herself with thick white puff and stayed hidden as the griffins searched for her. They hissed angrily, trying to spot her, but no luck. Dash grinned. Now for phase two.

“You see her anywhere?” called out Falk, squinting his eyes.

“No! She could be anywhere!” shouted Kludd.

Rainbow Dash wasted no time and jetted across the cloud. When she reached Falk, she gave him a quick kick to the back of the head. He cried out in pain, alerting his partner, but Dash soon smacked him in the face before retreating to another hiding spot. She soon repeated her stealthy attack over and over again, with each blow harder then the next. The other two tried escaping, but Dash cut them off each time with another attack. Soon they resorted to swinging their weapons around randomly, but Dash easily dodged their desperate swings.

However, Dash grew overconfident and went for a second dive instead of hiding after her last attack. Just as she was about to strike another kick, Falk reversed his swing much to her surprise. She tried to avoid the blade, but it sliced at her ribs. Yelping in pain, she quickly headed towards the cloud’s surface for safety. When she landed, she checked the cut and swayed in horrified shock at the sight of the ugly gash.

Suddenly, Falk’s sword stabbed up from underneath the cloud, inches away from her face. Dash jumped back and was about to take off when Kludd erupted out of the cloud right behind her. He jumped onto Rainbow’s back with his sharp steel talons, piercing her and digging in as hard as he could.

Rainbow Dash thrashed in agony, trying to get the laughing Kludd off her bleeding back. Desperate, Dash did the only thing she could think of: she dove straight down as fast as she could towards the mountain.

“H-hey! What are you doing!?” shouted Kludd as they got closer. “Stop!”

Ignoring her rider’s pleas, Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth and continued her suicide dive. Kludd released his grip in an attempt to escape, but she grabbed his leg with her tail, dragging him down as well. He attacked her frantically with his claws, scratching whatever he could in a desperate attempt to get free. Dash held on tight and retaliated with heavy blows from her lightning-quick hooves. Both refused to back down, exchanging attacks as feathers and fur were ripped from the two.

They continued to plummet, the ground growing ever closer. Both flapped their wings in an attempt to slow down, but their efforts resulted in them spinning out of control. Rainbow Dash saw their upcoming collision with the rocky mountain and let go in an attempt to escape, but it was too late. The two of them crashed.

Rainbow Dash felt pain unlike anything she felt before. Her previous crashes paled in comparison to this. Her head was pounding, and she was covered in scratches oozing with blood. Dash’s wings were a mess of dangling feathers and sharp rocks which poked painfully through her skin. She was only grateful that they weren’t broken.

Opening her eyes, but Dash was forced to quickly closed them again. The crash had caused a big dust cloud to form around her; she could even taste gravel and blood in her mouth. After a few blinks, she looked to her right and saw Kludd nearby, trying to get on all fours without falling. He looked just as bad off as her. Worse. Dash was pretty sure his wings weren’t supposed to bend like that.

Dash tried to get up as well, but she still felt too weak. Sweat beaded on her brow as Kludd was nearly up. Any minute now he was going to turn around and finished her off. Dash’s eyes lit up. Unless…

Closing her eyes, Rainbow Dash laid back and went limp, letting her arms flop to the ground. She tried to slow her breathing and even let her tongue loll out for good measure. Soon, she heard him walking towards her until she peaked a bit out of her eye to see him looking right at her. Holding her breath, she watched him shake her before lifting one of her arms. When he let go, she let it drop without any resistance. There was only silence for a long time until she heard the griffin’s croaking laughter. “Finally… I killed her…”

Kludd’s mirth ended when Dash saw his guard down and opened her bloodshot eyes. She jumped up and wrapped her hind legs around his neck, his face turning blue. She flipped her body backwards and, using her momentum, managed to lift Kludd into the air before slamming his head onto the ground, knocking him out. Rainbow Dash gasped for breath as she tried to get to her hooves. When she stood tall, Dash turned around and grinned at the result of her inverted hurricanrana. And Twilight says wrestling moves are fake. Ha!

Her moment of glory came to a halt when she sensed something about to collide with her, and jumped out of the way. The steel blade of Falk’s sword hissed through the air, nearly slicing Dash’s head open like a melon. Falk glared at Rainbow Dash as she struggled to stay on her hooves. “You should have continued playing dead, pegasus.”

Dash snarled and spat out blood. “Like hay I was… I’m not done yet.”

“You’re going to regret dealing with us. Once I take care of you, we’re going to get your little marefriend, and make sure she begs for her death!” said Falk with a laugh.

Enraged, Rainbow Dash tackled the griffin at full force, ignoring the agonizing pain in her wings. She slammed him into the side of the mountain, striking his face again and again. “You! Will! Never! Touch! Her!

With all her remaining energy, Dash jumped up, grabbed Falk’s head in a front headlock and fell backwards. His head slammed on a nearby rock, knocking him out instantly. With both of her opponents down, Rainbow dropped onto her back, her entire body pulsing with pain. Nearly every part of her was either bleeding or bruised and her wings felt like they had been shocked by a lightning storm. But it wasn’t over.

“Applejack… got to save… Applejack,” whispered Dash as she struggled back to all fours and flew towards the cave.

***

Applejack felt her eyes roll about her head as her body slammed down on her applecart. The battered cart shattered with the impact, sending the remaining apples tumbling across the cold floor of the cave along with its owner. The iron taste of blood filled her mouth, and most of her body was either scratched or black and blue. All thanks to an untouched Cyrus.

Cyrus picked Applejack up by the throat and lifted her to his face, her backlegs flailing in the air. “Your attempts to fight back are pitiful. I know hatchlings that fight better than you.”

“Hatch… this…” mumbled Applejack. She lifted her right hind leg high enough to smack Cyrus in the jaw, forcing him to drop her. Back on her hooves, Applejack tried one last attempt to buck him in the face. Unamused, he grabbed her limb and threw her across the cave again.

“Boss!” shouted Kuffie as she arrived at the cave, daggers drawn.

“Kuffie. Where are the other two?” asked Cyrus, still focused on the semi-conscious Applejack.

“Working on that pegasus. How’s she been?” asked Kuffie, grinning at the sight of Applejack's condition.

Cyrus drew his blade from his sheath and pointed it at Applejack. “She’s tough, I’ll give her that. However, I’m going to end this now.”

Kuffie eagerly nodded. “Good. I can’t wait to see her cry like a ba—”

“Heads up!”

Applejack’s heart leaped as she saw Rainbow Dash fly into the cave and smack Kuffie into a wall, dropping her daggers. Dash fumbled her landing a bit, but managed to stand tall as she stood between a stunned Applejack and an intrigued Cyrus.

“Rainbow!” shouted Applejack. Despite her own wounds, Applejack cringed at her friend’s pitiable condition. Swaying on her hooves with indescribable fatigue, Rainbow Dash could barely stand—and yet stand she did. All for the sake of protecting her friend.

“Hey AJ… don’t worry. This is nothing,” Dash smirked before wincing in pain.

Cyrus nodded in approval, he gave a respectful smile and said, “It’s not every day I see somebody take out two of my gang and come back alive. Granted, you look like you’ve been wrestling with a dragon, but the fact that you are still standing shows you have talent.”

“So what?! You going somewhere with this?!” cried Dash, readying herself.

Cyrus smirked. “Too bad you’re not a griffin. I would have asked you to join us.”

Dash laughed harshly, but she winced with each derisive snort. “And I would have told you to take your offer and shove it up your nostril!”

“’Tis a shame,” said Cyrus nonchalantly before lunging forward with his sword. Applejack held her breath as Dash ducked in the nick of time and head-butted Cyrus in the gut, knocking him back. She flew straight at him, but Cyrus spun around and whipped his barbed tail into her face. The sudden strike knocked Dash on her back, her left cheek gashed by the blow.

Dash tried to get up, but she was barely moving an inch; her wings weren’t even responding. Rainbow Dash eventually fell on her stomach and groaned. “What?! What’s going on?! I can’t move!”

Cyrus smirked as he stroked his tail. “I guess I forgot to mention that this blade on my tail is covered in poison. It paralyzes the victim’s nerves.”

“That’s… dirty…” grumbled Dash, glaring at him.

“I’m a thief. What do you expect?” said Cyrus, lifting up his blade.

“Oh no, ya don’t!” shouted Applejack, leaping into the air. She landed on Cyrus’s back and held on, her teeth sinking deeply into the back of his neck. He swung around, cursing as he tried to throw her off. Applejack continued to hold on, the wall smeared with her blood. Cyrus charged at the wall again, but Applejack braced herself. With each slam, she felt her wounds get worse and worse, but she refused to let go.

Cyrus soon stopped and grabbed Applejack by the mane, throwing her to the floor. Applejack struggled to rise, but the griffin slammed her back to the floor with a brutal stomp of his paw. Her vision swam as founded it harder to breathe. He grabbed her by the throat, lifted her off the ground. Swiftly, he slammed her against the cave floor. The twig-like crack of Applejack’s breaking rib was quickly followed by an agonizing scream.

“Applejack!” cried Rainbow Dash. She was still struggling to move forward, dragging herself inch by painful inch across the rough cave floor.

Cyrus looked at the two before calmly sheathing his sword. He went to the semi-conscious Kuffie and smacked her lightly on the face, waking her up. Before she could question him, Cyrus ordered, “Go find Kludd and Falk. Leave these two to me.”

Kuffie looked at the two ponies and then back at Cyrus. She nodded and made her way towards the cave’s entrance, taking flight. Cyrus stood still for a few minutes as Applejack and Rainbow Dash held their breaths, staring at the griffin who held their fate in his claws.

He walked over to the fallen applecart and picked up one of the apples. After a quick inspection, he took a bite and gave a satisfied moan of approval. Chewing silently, he continued his meal, ignoring the wounded ponies who were staring at him with fear in their eyes. When he finished his apple he tossed the core away and smiled, “I can see why you would want these apples back so much. These are, quite frankly, the best I’ve ever tasted."

Applejack tried to say something, but she winced as the simple attempt to open her jaw sent pain coursing through her. Cyrus shook his head. Walking over towards Applejack, he kneeled before her and poked her ribs. Applejack screamed while Rainbow Dash cursed at him.

“You shouldn’t talk so much. That broken rib of yours is only going to get worse,” said Cyrus. He stood up, but then sat back down on a nearby rock, facing them.

Scratching his chin, he asked, “So what should I do with you two? You lie here before me broken and beaten with your lives in my hands. You’ve attacked my gang, ruined our stolen goods, and given me a headache. Why don’t you give me a good reason not to kill you both and leave your bodies for the buzzards?”

***

Rainbow Dash couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Everything had gone wrong. Her plan had failed. She was nearly paralyzed and Applejack had a broken rib and countless other injuries. Now they had to beg for their lives with a griffin who had beaten them without any apparent effort. It’s official. We’re bucked.

She glanced over at Applejack, who was struggling not to scream from the pain in her chest. If only I gotten here sooner... if only I hadn’t been so careless. Applejack, I’m so sorry.

“Well?” asked Cyrus, getting her attention. “Are you going to say anything or shall we just cut to the chase?”

Rainbow Dash tried to think of anything that could help them, anything at all. At first she thought about letting him know they were wielders of the Elements of Harmony, but she quickly ditched this idea. Being a ransom would only lead to more trouble, and she didn't want her friends to be subjected to the possibility of obeying whatever demands these criminals would want. Not to mention, he only needed one of them and even if Dash said she was the only Element of the two, Applejack would still be killed. There was only thing left she could do: beg. As much as it pained her, she raised her head as much as she could and stared right into Cyrus’ merciless gaze. “Let her go and kill me...”

“Dash! No! Ah’m—” screamed Applejack, her protests quickly cut off by another moan of pain. Rainbow Dash shook her head, urging Applejack to be silent.

“And why should I?” asked Cyrus, raising an eyebrow.

“Because... she doesn’t deserve this,” said Rainbow Dash. A small smile spread on her muzzle. “She’s honest, caring, and will go to the ends of Tartarus to help somepony in need. She’s got a family that cares so much for her that I’m even jealous sometimes. And everypony depends on her. The entire town even put on a celebration for her a few times. They trust her with their lives, wellbeing, and homes. Only the Princesses can do better in earing that much respect.” Looking up she saw Applejack staring into her eyes. The beauty of those emeralds were still amazing, even through the blood and pain. Dash took a breath, feeling herself relax despite the poison coursing through her veins. “When you see her, you think a pony like this can’t be real. She’s too perfect. She’s sure a bit stubborn sometimes, but who isn’t? That’s why she deserves to live out her life. This shouldn’t be her end.” Rainbow Dash turned to face Cyrus and glared at him. “If it means dying so she can live, then go ahead. Chop my head off. Slit my throat. Stab me a million times, I don’t care! I’ll do anything to save her.”

Rainbow Dash continued to stare at the griffin. He watched her emotionlessly with no sign of movement, no glimmer or glare in his eye. Dash held her breath as he continued to rub his chin thoughtfully. Finally, he got up and looked down at the worried earth pony. “You really care about her that much, pegasus?”

“I... I... I love her...” confessed Rainbow Dash. She was sure she heard Applejack gasp, but she didn’t want to look. Instead, Dash kept her focus on Cyrus. The griffin continued staring at Applejack with his cold eye.

The cave was silent for a long time as Rainbow Dash held her breath and waited for Cyrus to come to his decision. Finally, the griffin sighed. “Alright, I won’t kill you both...” Rainbow Dash sighed in relief as he drew his blade. “...but I will be killing one of you.”

Dread seeped into Rainbow Dash’s chest, its cold fingers cradling her in its oppressive embrace. This was it. She was going to die. A tear dripped from her eyes as she gathered all her courage. Guess only the good do die young. Too bad I didn't become a Wonderbolt. She glanced towards a crying Applejack, who was looking at her with the most heart crushing plea to not do this. Rainbow Dash replied with a sad smile. "Sorry, AJ. Looks like I won't be telling that story with the orphans after all..."

Cyrus flipped his sword in his hands as he stared at the blade, asking, "Are you ready?"

Rainbow Dash felt her heart pounding as she lay back, exposing her bare chest. Gulping, she took a deep breath and said, “Alright... I’m ready.” She went still, waiting for the final blow to come and end her life.

“Who said it was going to you?”

Rainbow’s eyes snapped open and she tried to shout—the wet, sicking sound of Cyrus’s sword stabbed into Applejack’s gut as the latter shouted in shock.

Noooo!” screamed Rainbow Dash. Her shaking hoof reached out for Applejack, but it was too late. Applejack started coughing up blood as the sword withdrew, now crimson and dripping. Cyrus took his blade and wiped it clean before sheathing it again.

Rainbow Dash felt time suddenly stop. Her eyes never left the sight of her best friend, her love, dying in front of her in a growing pool of her own blood. Cyrus, still smiling, knelt down before her. “Do you know why I chose to spare you?” He leaned forward and whispered, “It just seems more interesting to let you slowly watch your lover die before your eyes.”

He looked for a response, but Rainbow was stoic, her horrified expression still present. With a snort, he got up and made his way to the entrance. “I’d say she’s got about two hours before she bleeds to death, and my poison for you won’t stop working for another four... do what you will with the time you have left.”

He lifted himself up with his powerful wings and flew out of the cave, leaving them alone. Dash didn’t even notice. The only thing she cared about was Applejack, dying by inches across the cave floor. Using what strength she could muster, Rainbow Dash crawled her way towards Applejack.

After what seemed like forever, she finally made it to Applejack and surveyed the battered mare’s injuries. Dash nearly puked. The wound was larger than anything she had seen. Rivulets of blood flowed out past Rainbow’s hooves as she tried desperately to stop the bleeding. The extra pressure did nothing but squeeze another agonized groan from Applejack’s throat.

Rainbow Dash struggled to her knees, trying desperately to think of some way to help. “Don’t worry, AJ! I’m going to get you out of here! I just need to... I just need...”

“Dash...” Applejack muttered weakly. “Forget it... Ah’m done for...”

“Don’t say that!” screamed Rainbow Dash. “You're not giving up now, are you?!”

Applejack chuckled. “Kind of hard to... a-admit it... b-but that’s... th-the truth...”

Rainbow Dash shook her head. “No! You’re going to be okay! You're not going to die! I won’t let you...”

“Then... why are ya... c-cryin’?” asked Applejack. She raised her hoof and wiped away tears that Dash didn’t even know were flowing down her cheek.

“If I’m crying, it’s because of you, stupid!” shouted Rainbow Dash, rubbing her eyes. “AJ... you can’t die you j-just... can’t...” Applejack reached out and brought Rainbow Dash down for a hug. The weeping pegasus rested her face against Applejack’s red-stained chest and held nothing back as her tears mixed with the blood. “I... I don’t want… t-to l-lose you... I-I-I l-love you...”

“Ah know, Dash,” mumbled Applejack, a smile growing on her face. “Ah-Ah’ve known... f-for a long time...”

Staring into the face of her dying friend, Rainbow Dash’s jaw dropped. “Y-you knew? H-how?”

“Shucks, Dash. Ah may not be the most romantic... of ponies... but even Ah can tell wh-when some-e-epony is all lovey dovey,” said Applejack, giving her a toothy smile. “Besides, ya weren’t exactly as subtle as ya might think.”

“But if you knew? Why didn’t you say anything?” asked Dash, pressing her forehead against Applejack, staring into her dying emerald eyes.

“Ah wanted ya t-t-to say it first. Ah wanted ya to s-say t-those words… those worrds that Ah’ve dr-dreamed of he-e-earin’ for a long time. Please D-Dash... just say them,” pleaded Applejack.

The two mares looked at each other’s teary eyes as Dash whispered, barely loud enough for Applejack to hear, “I love you.”

Applejack smiled, blinking tears from her eyes. “Ah love ya too, Dash. Ah always have.”

Rainbow Dash felt her heart cry out with joy. Applejack loved her. She really loved her! All this time she’d had the love of the most important mare in Dash’s world. The two of them looked into each other’s joyful eyes as Rainbow leaned in towards Applejack’s lips.

Their lips connected. Dash could taste the saliva and blood, but it didn’t matter. This one moment—this last moment—couldn’t be ruined by anything. Her first day of flying, getting her cutie mark, the sonic rainboom, even using the Elements of Harmony paled in comparison to this one kiss. Dash separated from her love and laid her head upon Applejack’s chest. She closed her eyes and heard Applejack’s heartbeat slowly thudding in her ear.

As Applejack stroked Dash’s rainbow-colored mane, she whispered, “Dash... it... it hurts so much...”

Rainbow Dash lifted her head and wrapped her hoof around Applejack’s. She never felt so helpless in all her life. Struggling to keep a smile, Dash whispered, “Just stay with me. I’ll get you out of here...”

“No,” moaned Applejack. She turned her head to the right. “Look over... there...”

Dash saw Kuffie’s dagger only inches away. Applejack tried to open her mouth, but started coughing up more blood. “Applejack!” cried out Rainbow Dash as she tried to comfort her love, but Applejack pushed her away.

“Stop! Just... just get that dagger” begged Applejack.

Confused, Rainbow Dash tried to reach for it, but the glittering blade was too far away. She tried to move, but her exhausted limbs shook as the poison in her veins sapped her strength. Struggling to think, Rainbow noticed her tail was flicking. She flicked it back and forth faster and found that she could control it without any effort. Reaching out with her tail, she knocked the dagger towards her. Rainbow turned to Applejack and asked, “What do I need the dagger for?”

No answer came from Applejack. She stared into the top of the cave, silent while tightening her grip around Rainbow’s hoof. Then she spoke, “Dash... Ah-h want ya to end this... p-pain...”

Rainbow’s eyes immediately turned to the dagger and then to the pleading eyes of Applejack. Dash could feel her mouth dry up. “No... no, you... you can’t be serious...”

“Ah am...” muttered Applejack.

“No!” shouted Rainbow Dash. “You can’t ask me to do this! I won’t! You can’t just give up like this!”

Rainbow!” shouted Applejack, flinching as her wound squirted more blood. “Ah’m dying, Rainbow! Ah know ya don’t want to believe it, but it’s true! Ah... Ah...” Applejack laid her head down as she sobbed. “Ah don’t want to die like this... bleedin’ out like some animal... feeling drop by drop of mah blood drippin’ away... Ah want it to end. Please...”

Rainbow Dash put her hooves over her ears and closed her eyes. “No... no... no... please... you can’t... I can’t...”

Applejack raised her free hoof and turned Dash’s head towards her own. “Please... Dash... end mah sufferin’...”

The two of them stared at each other. No words. No tears. It was if time had stopped and the world was holding its breath. She had finally told Applejack her feelings and now she was saying goodbye only minutes after confessing. In the deepest part of her heart she knew there was no way out. A long and painful death. Or a quick and simple one. A lose-or-lose situation.

Rainbow Dash lowered her head and took the dagger into her mouth. It felt even heavier than her paralyzed body. She positioned it just inches away from the center of Applejack’s chest. The two held each other’s hooves tighter than ever.

“Dash… tell m-mah family A-Ah love them…” whispered Applejack, her voice growing weaker with each word. “Tell our-r friends… Ah love them too.”

“I promise,” whispered Rainbow Dash, gritting her teeth.

“A-and Dash? Never…blame yerself… and... remember…” Rainbow Dash looked up and stared at Applejack who gave her a loving smile. “...Ah’ll always love you.”

Rainbow Dash cold feel her entire body shaking. Her mind was torn between two duties as she struggled to push it forward, but couldn't. She closed her eyes and shook her head. "I-I can't... Applejack... I can't..."

"Rainbow..." whispered Applejack as she brought her hoof behind Rainbow Dash's head, "Ah'm mighty sorry... goodbye..."

Rainbow Dash felt Applejack push her head forward, sending the dagger in her former's mouth straight into her heart. It took only a second for Dash to realize what happened as she pulled the dagger out, spat it away, and yell Applejack's name. Applejack squeezed her hoof. The grip tensing up, then slowly lessened until Applejack’s hoof lay motionless on the floor.

***

Big Macintosh took another swig from his cider jug as the sun dipped towards the horizon. He leaned on the fence and turned around, spotting Apple Bloom playing catch with Winona. “Apple Bloom, time for ya to give Winona her bath.”

“What? But it was Applejack’s turn!” Apple Bloom complained.

“Ah’ll make sure she does it next time. Now get goin’,” Big Macintosh ordered. Rolling her eyes, Apple Bloom whistled for Winona and made her way back to the house.

Macintosh took another sip as he started to wonder where his sister and her friend were. It was getting late, and they weren’t back yet. Maybe they decided to stay in Trottingham for the night or maybe they were out campin’?

Big Macintosh was about to head inside himself when he spotted a figure making its way towards the farm. Curious, he narrowed his eyes for a better look. The figure was actually limping towards him until it got close enough for the sun’s sinking rays to identify it as Rainbow Dash. Big Macintosh was about to shout a greeting, but it died in his throat.

Dash looked terrible. Her rainbow mane looked wild and torn. Dark, crusted clots and flecks of fresh red blood streaked her fur. Macintosh had to fight down his rising bile at the sight. On Rainbow’s back was a large, limp shape that she carried with the greatest of care, but the glare from the sun made it near impossible to tell what it was.

Then he saw it.

Between Rainbow’s teeth she clenched a small object. It was nearly destroyed, tattered nearly into peices, but Big Macintosh had seen it so much in the past he recognized it immediately. It was a light brown Stetson hat, dyed a dark crimson with drying blood. He looked again at the object on Rainbow’s back. Several of its straps swung listlessly with every step the pegasus took. No. Not straps. Legs. The limp shape was a pony.

Big Macintosh’s cider jug slipped from his hoof and cracked against the ground.