As the blood rushed through Rainbow's head, Rarity's face came into focus, and so did the tranquil lengths of the Carousel Boutique stretching behind her.
"Is everything alright, dear?"
"It... it didn't..." Rainbow panted and shivered. She raised a hoof to her head, teetering slightly. Her tongue stroked the roof of her mouth, but there was no more lingering taste of iron. What's more, her hooves were utterly clean. "It didn't stop."
"Hmmm?" Rarity cocked her head to the side as she leaned forward, shoving pins and needles against Rainbow's flank. "What didn't stop, Rainbow?"
"I... I-I don't..." Rainbow flinched away from her upon feeling the cold, cold pins. "Jeez, Rarity! What are you—?!" She paled as she saw herself wearing a slim, silken ballroom gown. She stood on the center of a dressing stage, fitting an outfit for Rarity while the unicorn trotted around her in a circle, altering it. "Why am I wearing a dress?"
"Because you love it so much."
Rarity laughed airily. "Well, weren't you the one who volunteered to help me with this, darling?"
"Okay..." Rainbow exhaled, her shivers dissipating as her blood recirculated. She grew calmer and calmer. "What... uh... what's the dress for?"
"For a mare's blind date with her very special somepony."
"Yeah? Like who?"
Rarity giggled airily. "Wouldn't you like to know?" She continued pinning the dress in quiet stabbing motions.
Rainbow raised an eyebrow. Feeling stiff, she flexed her wings—only to yelp from an immediate flash of pain. "Ow! Ow... ow ow ow...!"
Rainbow's left wing hurt terribly and refused to budge.
"Uh uh uh!" Rarity shook a hoof. "None of that, Rainbow. You've already put enough stress on that as it is!"
"Guh... st-stress on what?"
"Why, your wing, of course!" She pointed at the pegasus' left appendage. "You sprained it yesterday while doing stunt maneuvers for Spitfire!"
"Well..." Rarity waggled her eyebrows with a coy smile. "At least that's what you told everypony. She does put you through some rigorous exercise, does she not?" Another giggle.
A flushed warmth spread through Rainbow Dash's body. Her cheeks turned an azure shade of rose.
Rainbow exhaled through flaring nostrils. "Are you done?"
"Just about." Rarity plastered a few paper patches onto areas of the dress that needed fixing. "You've been so generous as of late, helping me fix these gowns. For a moment there, I thought you were going to take my place in the Elements of Harmony. But now I'm starting to think that maybe you just enjoy wearing dresses for me."
"Uhhh... yeah, no."
Rainbow Dash shivered with delight from the silken tresses clinging to her petite body.
"Seriously..." Rainbow stared blankly at her skirts. "I don't."
Rarity chuckled. "Suit yourself, darling." She stepped back, gathering her many pins and needles. "You may strip now."
Rainbow gladly dismounted from the stage. The tile floor of the Boutique felt ice cold to the touch. Nevertheless, Rainbow began shimmying her way out of the gown. It was a prolonged effort, considering that every other shrug and shuffle sent a wave of pain darting up Rainbow's spine from her sprained left wing. It didn't help that the silk dress was a veritable maze to get out of. She was only halfway through disrobing when she heard muffled cries and whimpers, followed by a light pounding noise. Rainbow's heart jumped, but she stood her ground. Curious, she peeled the rest of the gown off and looked straight ahead of her.
She caught a glimpse of the closet door shaking, rattling. The doorknob twisted halfway, then snapped back, followed by a quiet sob from within.
"Rarity...?" Rainbow blinked. "What's up with your closet? And... is that Sweetie Belle I'm hearing?"
"Oh, she's been something of a nuisance as of late, so I'm punishing her." The rattle of chains and metal.
Rainbow turned around.
Rarity slipped several leather straps into a wooden chest and locked it shut. She turned around, smiling. "With all of her destructive 'Crusader' hijinks, she has to learn to fly right at some point or another." Rarity winked. "If you don't mind the pun, of course."
Rainbow slowly, slowly nodded. "Right. I don't mind it at all." She turned and looked at the closet door. It was dead still.
"Would you like to stay for some tea, darling?"
Rainbow Dash's tail flicked with a tender shiver. Her nostrils tickled, longing for the girlish scent of jasmine and vanilla.
"No. I... uh..." Rainbow grimaced slightly, shuffling towards the exit. "I-I better go."
"But with a spranged wing, what sort of weather flying chores do you have left to do? Hmmm?"
"I j-just gotta go stretch my legs," Rainbow said, already at the front door. "Thanks. I... uh... had a swell time. I think."
Rarity waved. "I hope your wing feels better, darling."
trotted into the drizzle of cold rain. She winced, standing fully outside the Boutique beneath a gray, gray world. She tilted her head up, squinting into an overcast sky. Droplets of rain splattered off her muzzle.
"Great," she grumbled to herself.
She figured that this was what the town got for her not being able to kick clouds for a week.
"Huh..." She blinked. "But I thought I only got my wing sprained yesterday."
A stallion galloped down the street, kicking up puddles of red and brown mud.
"Hey! Dude!" Rainbow waved at him. "Excuse me! Can you tell me what time it is?"
The stallion ignored her. He was hyperventilating. In a pale sweat, the stallion threw several frightened glances behind him.
Rainbow's head snapped towards the forest. Four rows of tree branches waved, swayed, and then were still. Rainbow glanced back down the road, but the stallion was gone.
She stood for a few seconds in the numbing rain. Then, with a shrug of her aching wings, she trotted forward and into the center of town.
Ponyville was awash in gray sludge and mud that day, but it didn't seem to deter anypony. Even the equines with soaked manes and soppy tails expressed casual nonchalance. Most of the villagers were out and about, trotting from sidewalk to sidewalk, having pleasant conversations, carrying about with their tasks and deliveries and other busy things. Not once did the overcast clouds break to expose the blue skies above. A few figures darted overhead. Rainbow tilted her face to see who the pegasi were, but she only caught blurred glimpses.
Just as well, she thought. The last thing she wanted to feel that day was a pang of jealousy to add to the ache of her sprained wing.
"So long as they're keeping Ponyville clean from above, I don't see what the big deal is," Rainbow muttered. "Besides, I'll be back in the air in no time. What's to be jealous about?" She looked sideways while trotting, and her pace slowed slightly.
Several ponies stood before an apartment building, only they weren't ponies. The creatures stood tall with thin limbs, cloven hooves, and wide branching antlers. The group numbered five... maybe six, and they remained dead-still, staring at the front door to the apartment. A mule galloped by, dragging a cart, and splashed them all with mud. Still, the bucks didn't budge a single inch.
Rainbow tongued the inside of her mouth. She heard what sounded like a muffled shriek to her left. She glanced aside to see the front face to Thunderlane's apartment. The curtain billowed from behind a window looking inside. Blossomforth lifted up into view, her face grinning in ecstasy. She tossed her mane and writhed with a mute gasp. Seconds later, a smoke-gray set of hooves dragged her back down, and she disappeared. The windows rattled once... twice... and then were still.
Rainbow bit her lip. She looked forward as she trounced through the mud.
It was a lot easier, she thought, to do all of her observations from a bird's eye point of view. From down here, it was far too confusing.
"I think I know what I saw," she grumbled, making her way to the side entrance of Sugarcube Corner.
But Pinkie Pie was already waiting. "Hiya, Dashie!" She stuck her head out of the upper door window and waved a pink hoof in the gray drizzle. "Whatcha doinnnn'?"
Rainbow Dash's stomach gurgled for cupcakes.
"Hoping you've got some muffins," she said with a slight fidget.
"Hmmmm! Scrumptious diddlylumptious! Stay here and lemme go check! I'm sure we have just the right stuff to fill your pegasus stomach!" Pinkie zipped back inside with a fuchsia blur.
Rainbow stood on the front stoop to Sugarcube Corner, her tail flicking at random intervals. Her fuzzy ears shook off the drops of rain as they pelted her from above.
She heard a metal scraping noise. Turning around, she glanced across the street to see Miss Cheerilee tending to her garden with a tiny hoof shovel. The town teacher hummed to herself, planting flower after flower. At one point, Cheerilee's ears folded back, and she reached deep into the earth, pulling out something slender and pale. Without a word, the mare brought the thing to her lips and began nibbling, as if eating a corn cob.
"Hey Dashie!" Pinkie hollered.
Rainbow flinched, spinning right around.
"I'm afraid we're all out of muffins!" Pinkie said. "But you can come inside and help me bake some!"
"I... uh..." Rainbow quickly glanced over her shoulder. The garden across the street was empty. "That's really nice of you to... offer, Pinkie."
"Then what are you waiting for?" Pinkie grabbed Rainbow by the shoulder and hoisted her inside. "Muffin mares awaaaaay!"
Rainbow winced as she was dragged halfway through the kitchen. "Ow ow ow ow... Pinkie!" She tripped over an overtuned baby's high chair and stood in place, frowning. "Watch it! My wing! Did anypony tell you?"
"Jumping through more of Spitfire's hoops, huh?" Pinkie giggled, rummaging through a closet. A bag or two of flour fell to the floor. A roach skittered in a zig-zagged pattern, eventually scurrying into a red-stained hole in the wall. "From the way I hear it, you're gonna put poor Soarin' out of a night job! Heeheehee!"
Rainbow frowned. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"
"Awwwwwwww poopsies!" Pinkie leaned back, frowning at at the closet. "I seem to be out of bread mix for the muffins."
Rainbow Dash really wanted cupcakes.
"How... about I-I go fetch some muffin mix from another store?" Rainbow asked, rubbing her head and wincing.
"Duaaaaaah!" Pinkie gasped, eyes bright. "I know! The basement! Of course!" She took two bouncing strides and opened a thick brown door, unlatching three padlocks in a row before pulling the loud, creaking thing open. "There should be oodles of baking supplies downstairs!"
"Yowsers..." Rainbow squinted from afar. "It looks super dark down there."
"Nothing my ol' Pinkie sense can't handle!" Pinkie grinned wide and trounced fearlessly down the steep, steep wooden steps. "This should only take a second!"
"Yeah, well... just be careful, will ya?" Rainbow said, wincing from her left wing. She paced in a lazy circle, trotting over a loose baby's rattle and monkey plushie dotting the kitchen floor.
Rainbow's stomach gurgled and her mouth became dry.
"It doesn't have to be a whole bunch of muffins, y'know?" she murmured. "All I want is a little nibble."
Silence. The dark throat of the basement lingered below.
"Pinkie?" Rainbow craned her neck to peer down.
Something rattled through the ceiling above, followed by a thumping noise.
Rainbow blinked. She glanced up to see the chandelier wobbling slightly. "Uhhhh... Pinkie?" The thumping persisted. "Are the Cakes at home?"
There was no answer.
Rainbow Dash trotted to the edge of the kitchen where a flight of stairs led up to the second story hallway. She tilted her head at an angle, ear raised. Holding her breath, she thought she could make out the rhythmic grunts and yelps of a fully grown mare, timed with the thumps through the ceiling. The chandelier wobbled again, making the shadows around the kitchen twist and bend.
Rainbow spun towards the dark, dark basement.
Pots and pans clattered beyond the shadows, followed by the distant rummaging of hooves. "Could you lend me a hoof, Dashie?" The voice fluttered up like a spectre's. "It's a lot darker than I thought. I can't see my own muzzle-wuzzle in front of my face! Mind hopping down here to help me? Just for a little bit?" Metal grinding. Hooves dragged, and there were more resonating scrapes. "Just a hop, skip, and a jump, Dashie." Rusted clattering. "It won't take lonnnng!"
Rainbow Dash wanted to go downstairs and help her.
Rainbow felt her heart pulsing in the back of her throat.
It was okay. Pinkie Pie was her best friend.
Rainbow slowly, slowly trotted away from the basement. Cl-Clunk! She tripped on the baby's high chair and stumbled. "Augh!" she yelped from having to catch her balance with her left wingfeathers. Her eyes teared slightly, and once the fog had cleared, she thought she saw a shape bouncing its way up from the basement, followed by a giggling voice and the glint of metal.
Then Rainbow saw nothing, for she had promptly bolted out of the establishment. She was two blocks away from Sugarcube Corner—galloping through the mud puddles—before she finally braved a look back. From a distance, the mauve candy establishment looked as bright and innocent as it did on any other given day. A pink shape stood in the window, staring directly at her, unmoving. A few ponies who had lingered outside the bakery along the sidewalk also appeared to be standing still. Rainbow Dash swore she saw all their beady eyes in a single blink.
At last, Rainbow Dash slowed to a gentle trot. She pressed her back to the town's post office, catching her breath. Shaking the mud off her hoof, she brushed her bangs aside and stammered, "What's my deal today?" She swallowed a lump down her throat. "Get it together, girl. You're all over the place."
Splash! An orange slab of meat plummeted into a mud puddle right next to her.
Rainbow looked straight down, blinking.
A limp pegasus filly lay face-first in the damp earth, puny wings outstretched.
"Sc-Scootaloo...?" Rainbow grimaced. "What in the hay, kiddo?!"
"Nnnngh..." Scootaloo lifted to her hooves. She gazed up, squinting through a rough mask of mud. "Rainbow Dash!" She beamed wide, in spite of her pain and embarrassment. "It's so... nnngh... g-great to see you!"
"Scootaloo, did you just..." Rainbow backed up, gawking at the two-story rooftop looming over them. "Did you just jump off the roof?!"
"Uhhhhh..." Scootaloo rubbed and rubbed some of the mud off her face with a jittery hoof. "M-maybe?"
"What in Celestia's name for, ya little fuzzbrain?!" Rainbow squawked. She knelt before the filly and scraped the rest of Scootaloo's muzzle clean. "You might have hurt yourself!"
"I-I couldn't help it, Rainbow," Scootaloo said with a slight tremble. Her pretty lips pouted as she avoided the adult mare's stern gaze. "I want to fly more than anything!"
"I thought you wanted to earn a cutie mark more than anything."
"If I don't fly, then I'll never be as awesome as you!" Scootaloo finally looked up, her eyes sparkling and demure. "And you're as awesome as they come, Rainbow!"
"Scoots, look at me." Rainbow rested a hoof on Scootaloo's shoulder, smiling gently. "I'm flattered that you wanna take after the awesomest pony there ever was." She took a moment to wink. "But the talents you get and the way you're destined to live your life is something you have to discover on your own! It's not something you can simply get by copying other ponies, no matter how cool they might be!"
"But... if I don't practice flying..." Scootaloo sniffled. "How will I ever learn to get off the ground?" She shuddered, gazing down at the muddy earth as her wings hung limply by her sides. "I want to believe that there's more to me than... than this."
"What are..." Rainbow blinked, her face scrunching in confusion. "What are you even talking about? Have you been listening to Diamond Spoon and Silver Tiara again?"
"Hrmmff. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters," the filly droned.
"Now, don't be giving anypony that kind of attitude!" Rainbow frowned, tilting Scootaloo's chin up so that the two stared face to face. "Especially not yourself! You'll..." Rainbow murmured. "You will..."
Scootaloo's face looked so tiny and scrumptious.
"What... I-I mean is... uhm..."
If Rainbow Dash licked the filly's cheek, she was certain it would taste like cinammon.
Rainbow Dash cleared her throat, sweating against the rain. "You w-will learn to fly in due time, Scoots!" She smiled awkwardly, leaning away from the lithe little filly and her cooing lips. "Don't force it! Just let it come naturally!"
"You... you r-really think I can?" Scootaloo grinned, eyelashes fluttering.
"So long as you don't go throwing yourself like an idiot off two-story buildings!" Rainbow exclaimed, slicking the raindrops off her bangs and eyelashes. "That's no way to learn! What would your buddies think? What would your parents think?"
Scootaloo instantly paled. She grimaced, wrangling her way out of Rainbow's embrace. "I... I gotta go..."
"Huh?" Rainbow blinked.
"Sorry, Rainbow. I just... I-I just remembered something I had to be doing." And the filly limped off amidst the gray haze of the rainy afternoon. Her nubile tail flicked, collecting moisture from the air.
"Scootaloo?" Rainbow reached forward with a hoof. "Where are you—?"
A sharp pain pulsed across Rainbow's left side.
Rainbow winced, clutching her left wing. Her eyes clenched shut as an annoying ringing sound picked up, filling her ears. Rainbow flexed her jaws, hoping to pop her eardrums and get rid of the noise. She felt the taste of cinammon in her mouth... or was it iron?
Scootaloo had nice, supple thighs, and a soft tail that was easy to grab onto.
"Mmffnngh... what..." Rainbow gnashed her teeth. "...why?"
As her eyes flashed open, she spotted three figures across the way. Cloud Kicker was strolling across the street, but she wasn't alone. Two stallions murmured things into her ear, grinning wickedly. Cloud Kicker giggled, then cooed, stretching her neck as one stallion nibbled beneath one ear and the other kissed her flushed muzzle. Her tail lifted up instinctively. Not long after, a third stallion touched down on pegasus wings and braced two legs against the back of her shoulders.
A drop of rainwater bounced off Rainbow's nuzzle and into her eyes, blinding her. She stumbled to the side, mumbling curse words out loud.
"Gnnngh... don't... d-don't know any..."
Catching her breath, Rainbow rubbed her eyes dry and looked back down the street. Four sets of hoofsteps ended in the middle of the muddy road. There was nopony to be seen.
trotted briskly across the rest of Ponyville, heading home.
Once there, she lingered on the hilltop, staring at the space of air between the earth and where her cloud home hovered.
"Huh... well I sure got here quickly..."
She trembled inwardly, clutching her wings tight. She knew that this was going to hurt, and the trepidation anchored her in place.
"So it's just going to sting for a bit," she blurted. "I can deal."
Steeling herself, Rainbow Dash spread her wings—wincing slightly—and began flapping. She instantly felt like her left muscles were tearing.
"Augh!" She gnashed her teeth, seething with each vertical meter of anguish that she scaled. "Mmmmf! Guh... wh-what kind of a st-stunt was I pulling to make this happen, a-anyways?!"
She flapped her wings until she felt like something inside her would rip down the center. Despite all her efforts, the misty stoop to her house looked like it was drawing further and further away. Her heartbeat quickened. After all this work, Rainbow Dash didn't want to fall.
"I can make it! I can! Just gotta... guhh..." She stretched both forelimbs straight upward, wincing. "A little m-more—!"
A strong hoof seized her.
She gasped, being yanked upwards.
"There ya go, Rainbow Dash!" Derpy Hooves grinned, eyes rotating in opposite directions. She dropped Rainbow down before her front door. "You looked like you were in so much pain there, I had to lend a hoof!"
"Uh... th-thanks, Derpy..." Rainbow said, catching her breath as she leaned against her front door. "But I had it. Really."
The mailmare giggled, adjusting the weight of the mailbag in the light rain. "Whatever you say, Rainbow Dash. I already delivered your mail!"
Derpy Hooves was a living defect that should have been drowned in a river immediately after she was foaled. Rainbow Dash liked to make fun of her mental retardation behind her back.
"Guh..." Rainbow Dash rubbed her head as the ringing in her ears briefly came back.
"Is everything okay, Rainbow Dash?" Derpy asked, her eyes twirling around the mare in front of her.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Rainbow seethed, coiling her pained wings tighter. "Where'd you put my m-mail, Derpy?"
"It's right in the door slot! Like always!" Derpy giggled in a low voice. "Don't forget to read it this time!"
"Why..." Rainbow blinked. "...would I forget to read—?"
Derpy waved as she flew off on gray wings. "So long, Rainbow! I gotta go see the Doctor!"
"Doctor? What doctor?"
Derpy was gone.
"Hrmmm..." Rainbow sighed to herself as she turned and opened the door. Immediately, she heard papery envelopes rustling against each other. She looked down to see that a very large pile of mail waited for her on the floor to her front walkway. "Wow. Derpy didn't say that there'd be so much of it."
Rainbow closed the door behind her. It was seriously dark inside. Rainbow had to fumble and take large strides to walk over the various piles of spilled envelopes.
"What... what the heck is all this? Have I been that busy lately?"
At last, she made it to the far side where a lightswitch dotted the wall. She flipped it, but none of the lights turned on.
"Hmmph..." Rainbow sat back on her haunches in the center of her dimly-lit cloud home. "Terrific." Her wing ached, and she flexed her left feathers, wincing. "Could have sworn I tidied this place up the..." She blinked tiredly. "...last time I was..." She sniffed the air. She turned to look at the envelopes.
There appeared to be more covering the floor than the last time she looked.
"Did I knock all of these over?"
She trotted towards a stack of them and picked the first one up. She had to hold the thing in at least a dozen different angles until she caught enough gray light from the rainy world outside to illuminate it. Across the middle of the envelope, her name and address was printed in black typewriter ink, fully legible. But then she looked at the return address, and all it had was one word:
Rainbow's brow furrowed. She placed the envelope down, picked up another, and held it up to the sliver of gray light. Her eyes instantly went to the return address:
She bit her lip. She dropped the envelope and picked up three more, swinging them up into the light:
Rainbow started shivering. She looked down at the floor. She was surrounded by envelopes and envelopes. They all had one single word type-written in the top left corner.
A ringing noise picked up in her ears once again. She reached up to rub her skull, but her left wing started aching. With a hissing expression, Rainbow backtrotted, knocking over two piles of envelopes. She nearly tripped, instead bracing herself against the front door as she peered into the empty recesses of her house.
Down, at the far end of the cloudy hallway, she saw her bedroom door lying open a crack. Her bedsheets lay off the mattress in a tangled heap. She didn't recall the duvet having that much red in it.
Just then, something dry and papery brushed past her fetlocks. Thap!
With a gasp, Rainbow hopped aside. She looked straight down. A large brown envelope had been fed through the mail slot from outside. The return address read: "'Daddy.'"
Rainbow gritted her teeth, then snarled. "Derpy..." She fiddled with the door knob and flung the thing open to the wet, rainy brightness. "That isn't funny! Now come back and—"
There was nopony at the door. Nothing... except for a large brown cardboard box.
Rainbow's lips pursed. She took a brave step forward and looked at the thing. Tilting her muzzle forward, she started to make out the shipping label on the top of the container. Just as she read the six letter word of the return address, the box rattled.
"Gnngh!" Rainbow leaned back, forelimbs raised. Her ears folded back as she gazed at the thing.
All was silent and still. Raindrops pitter-pattered across the dry box, giving it fresh stains. After a full minute of staring, Rainbow Dash felt the ringing intensify in her ears.
Nevertheless, she decided to open the box.
"... ... ..." Rainbow Dash stood perfectly still, legs tense.
She decided to open the box.
"Mmmm..." Rainbow clenched her teeth, frozen in place. Her tail flicked wildly. The ringing in her ears came and went in salvos.
It would all be okay. Rainbow simply needed to open the box.
Nostrils flaring, Rainbow turned and looked behind her. At the far end of her hallway, the door to her bedroom was shut. Her blood ran cold.
Stifling a shriek, Rainbow flapped her wings. Despite the knifing pain, she successfully glided off the stoop to her home and landed on the wet hill below. On galloping hooves, she pressed her way into the center of town. She looked back once at her cloud home. Something flickered behind one of the windows.
Perhaps it was just the rain.
"I don't... I-I just don't..." She stammered between mud-splashing hoofsteps. The sun hung above the clouds, stale and dim. Something rattled off the window panes of every house, like metal scraping against metal. The taste of iron pooled against Rainbow's cheeks. Scootaloo's belly looked fuzzy and warm, the perfect place to rub one's cheek. "Guhhh..." Rainbow leaned against a street sign, clutching her ringing ears. "What's... what is...?"
"Is everything okay, pony friend?"
Pale and panting, Rainbow Dash glanced up.
Zecora leaned forward, her flanks loaded with large baskets and satchels. "You seem out of sorts."
"I just..." Rainbow Dash shuddered, standing up straight in the gray drizzle. "I've b-been better, sure."
"Something that ails you? Mayhaps I'll have a brew to cure it."
Rainbow Dash's right side ached and pulsed with pain.
"Nah. It's just that my left wing hurts. I'll get over—" Rainbow shuddered in place, her muzzle hanging ajar. "My... my left wing..."
Rainbow Dash's left side throbbed with pain.
She clenched her teeth. In a fit, she looked down at a puddle of mud. Raindrops rippled the water, and eventually her pained expression came into view. Above, several serpentine shadows danced against the sky.
Squeaking in a high pitch, Rainbow flung her head towards the clouds. They were blank and gray. She winced against the raindrops. "Everything is just so... so..."
"Wouldn't you love to kiss her tender eyelids?"
Rainbow Dash flashed Zecora a look. "H-huh?!"
"Perhaps some aloe and hibiscus?" Zecora smiled. For a second there, something with five digits reached out of Zecora's basket, but the zebra's tail slapped it back into hiding. Or at least it looked that way. "For your left wing, of course."
"No... I... uh..." Rainbow gulped, backtrotting. "I'm fine, Zecora." Her eyes narrowed. "How about you?"
"I am feeling wonderfully. Why do you ask?"
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth, fidgeted, but said nothing. She looked over Zecora's shoulder. Twilight's library treehouse lingered within view.
"You know what... forget I said anything..." Rainbow Dash smiled. "You have a good day, Zecora."
"Hmmm..." The zebra trotted away in the mud. "I already am, pony friend."
Rainbow waited for her to leave, then broke into a brisk sprint, darting
for the front stoop to Twilight's house. She felt a pounding heartbeat through her chest that rivaled the pain throbbing in her wing.
"My right wing..." Rainbow seethed. "My right wing. I know what I felt. I know it."
Just before she reached the door, Fluttershy came bursting out, teary-eyed.
"Fl-Fluttershy!" Rainbow slid to a stop, catching her breath. "Boy, am I glad to see you! Is Twilight in? Something's screwy, and I really gotta talk to her about—" She blinked, then leaned forward. "Fluttershy?"
The mare was heaving, her eyes moist—but not because of the rain. She sniffled heavily, and after just one glance from Rainbow Dash, she winced, avoiding the mare's gaze.
"Fluttershy, what's the matter?" Rainbow Dash trotted closer. "Have you been crying? Talk to me, girl."
"Uhm... I can't. I shouldn't." Fluttershy clenched her eyes shut and seethed through chattering teeth. "I'll just mess it up again. I'll mess everything up again!"
"What in the hay are you talking about?" Rainbow smiled. "You're the kindest, most sincere pegasus I know!" She winked. "And you're a lot braver than the rest of us when the cards are down!"
"You're just saying that!" Fluttershy suddenly barked, snarling in Rainbow's face. Her eyes caught aflame, reflecting a frightened pegasus who was inching away from her. "You are always just saying that! Why won't anypony just tell me the truth?! Tell me that... that..."
Rainbow was actually shivering.
Fluttershy leaned back, ears drooped. "I... I-I..." She whimpered, the tears flowing. "I'm sorry... Oh Rainbow, I'm so... so sorry!" Sobbing, she galloped away. "Why am I always so useless?!"
"Fluttershy!" Rainbow stretched a hoof out. "Wait—!"
But then Fluttershy took off, and with amazing speed too. As soon as Rainbow stretched her wings to follow, her body throbbed with indescribable pain.
"Aaaugh!" Rainbow limped sideways, slumping herself against Twilight's mailbox. "Darn it! What gives?! I've never had it hurt this flippin' much!"
Perhaps, Rainbow thought, if she hadn't been so bold with her flying stunts, then she could have gone after her friend Fluttershy.
Rainbow Dash was silent. She glanced left and right, spotting ponies standing and talking in the rain. They were too far away to hear. Everypony was too far away to hear.
She couldn't have caught up with Fluttershy even if she tried.
"Actually, I-I'm pretty sure I could," she murmured. Her ears twitched, detecting a slight ringing noise.
Turning around, she saw that the door to Twilight's library was wide open. She trotted inside.
The first thing she heard was the growling tone in Twilight's voice. "You could at least close the door, Fluttershy."
"Oh. Okay." Twilight was stooped over her desk, writing on a dozen sheets of paper.
"Fluttershy just took off. I think somepony's been bullying her or something—"
"Will you close the door?" Twilight growled. "Please?"
Rainbow blinked. "...yeah, okay." She nodded, slowly oblidging Twilight's request.
The library was shut tight to the rainy world outside.
"Thank you." Twilight shrugged her shoulders and continued writing with a levitating quill. "Good to know that somepony is useful around here."
"Did... I come at a bad time?"
"Hmmmff..." Twilight's wings flexed and unflexed. "Such a silly and small word, 'time,' for something so epically and unfathomably large."
"Most ponies think we have all the time in the world. They never stop to think that there are those of us who have too much of it. But noooooo... we can't have them sharing that burden, now can we?"
"Twilight, at the risk of sounding like an insensitive idiot, I'm gonna change the subject."
"Pffft. Fine. Be my guest." Twilight wrote and wrote. "Wouldn't be the first time I was distracted today."
"I... I-I think there's something wrong with me," Rainbow Dash said, pacing in a tiny little circle. "Or else... there's something wrong with everypony. And I'm pretty sure that one is more likely to be more true than the other."
"So you're a scientist now, huh? That's rich." Twilight sniffed the air. "Got a hypothesis in mind?"
"My left wing hurts like heck," Rainbow said, wincing as she spread a few choice feathers. "But a moment ago, I could have sworn it was my right wing. So... like... maybe I hit my head too?" She shuddered. "Because I'm feeling like something's a bit off in... well... everything."
"Uh huh. Like what?"
"Well, I keep getting this ringing noise in my ear. And... uh... I-I keep noticing things."
"In what way?"
"Like weird things... stuff that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up." She shuddered. "Like Pinkie Pie sounding all creepy as she rummaged around in her basement... or Cloud Kicker flirting up a bunch of stallions... or Rarity..." She winced, then paced to a stop. "Did you know that she's been locking Sweetie Belle up in her closet?"
"She says it's to 'punish her' for being naughty. I mean... heh... how messed up is that?"
"Did you do anything to stop her?"
"Did you do anything to stop Rarity from punishing Sweetie Belle?"
Rainbow fidgeted. "Well... uh... no..."
"Then that settles it," Twilight grumbled. "If there's no problem, then there's no need for a solution."
"Sure, I guess... but..."
Rainbow squirmed. "I mean... if there's something wrong with our friends... with this town... we'd totally get together to stop it, r-right?" She looked up, eyes twitching. "Because that's what friends do. That's what we have always done."
"We all know our places, Rainbow Dash," Twilight said. "Well... some of us do, anyway."
Rainbow frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that maybe you should have thought things through before you began performing dangerous flight stunts on your day off!" Twilight gritted her teeth. She wrote so hard against the paper that she scratched the wooden desk underneath. The air filled with a grating carving sound. "Maybe you shouldn't have put all of Ponyville at risk when you placed your body and mind on the line. Who knows when Equestria might be needing your help? But nooooo, you're Rainbow Dash! You have to be adventurous... reckless... and most of all... dense."
"Hey!" Rainbow frowned. "I came here because I was starting to freak out about my injuries! I didn't ask to be chewed down to a lower level! I get enough of that from Captain Spitfire!"
"Hah!" Twilight grinned. "I bet you do!"
Rainbow blinked. "Excuse me?"
Snap! Twilight's quill broke. She slumped back on her haunches, sighing with a huff. "...Rainbow, I am really busy at the moment and I have a lot of letters to write!" She turned around, frowning. "Now if you don't mind..."
"No! Uh uh!" Rainbow frowned, stepping forward. "I want you to explain to me what you meant just now when you mouthed off about me and—"
Rainbow turned and looked up the stairs.
A dark shape lingered in the bedroom doorway. A tiny shape. Rainbow made out a horn and bright eyes, but nothing more.
"Is everything okay down there?"
"Yes, honey," Twilight instantly droned, looking past Rainbow. "Just go on and take your nap. Mommy's busy with royal duties at the moment."
"Okay..." A pair of luminescent eyes flickered, like a wolf's between the trees, and the bedroom door shut.
"Twilight, what...?" Rainbow blinked. "I mean... who...?"
"I owe Luna the favor," Twilight said in a dull tone. "Seems like I'm owing everypony favors these days. Why not? I've got all of eternity to do them."
"All of... eternity?"
"If I had things like you did, I'd make every second count. But... I guess some of us don't know what we can or can't afford, huh, Rainbow?"
Rainbow took a deep breath. "Where's Spike?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"Just answer the question, Twilight."
"Away?" Rainbow leaned forward. "Away where?"
"Where he'll learn to be helpful and not a nuisance for once!" Twilight spun, frowning. "Honestly, Rainbow?! Can't you take a hint?! You're worse than Fluttershy!"
"Worse than...?" Rainbow's eyes widened. "...it was you. You chewed her out, didn't you?"
"Please, Rainbow. You're the last pony to pretend that she doesn't need to grow a spine."
"Twilight, what in the hay has gotten into you?!" Rainbow frowned, stomping her hooves. "Ever since I showed up, you've been nothing but a surly grump, attacking me verbally from all angles! Now if something's eating you up on the inside, be a grown mare and tell your friends! Don't take it out on me and definitely don't take it out on Fluttershy! You know how sensitive she is! Who knows what she could do if even her best friend snaps at her!"
"I won't even pretend to be taking this from you," Twilight said with a cold-hearted chuckle. She reached for another quill, dipping it into the ink. "If I can't trust you to be responsible with your own body, Rainbow Dash, then I can't trust you with anything. So don't preach to me."
"Twilight, if... if this whole alicorn thing has been bothering you on some sort of deep level, then just talk to us! I care a lot for you, girl! We all do! If you could only just—"
"Are you done?" Twilight asked, glaring.
Rainbow blinked at her. She frowned. "You know what?" She nodded. "Yeah. I think I am." She stared up at the upstairs bedroom door, then back at Twilight. "You can have your secrets, Twilight." She trotted towards the front door and opened it to the rain. "You can stew in 'em for all I care."
She turned around. "What?"
"Just one lick," Twilight said. "It'll taste sweet. Nopony has to know. Not even her."
Rainbow stared, gawking.
Twilight looked back. Twilight smiled. She swiveled back to her desk and continued writing.
Rainbow fidgeted. At last, with a twirl of her tail, she threw herself outside and
The mare took a few bold steps forward, then froze in the middle of the street. She leaned back on her haunches, hugging herself in the cold drizzle. The pain lingered in her left wing, but it was numb now, as if throbbing from a distance. The mare sighed, then slicked her mane back.
Something with color appeared in the edge of her vision. She looked straight up. A bright rainbow stretched overhead, dividing the overcast skies in half. The simple bands of nebulous colors brought a feeling of warmth and delight to the pegasus. With a calm breath, she closed her eyes, beginning to lose her grip on the harsh words that had rattled between her and Twilight.
A cold droplet of water fell on Rainbow's nose, followed by another. Then a warm drop fell, staining her muzzle.
Rainbow's nose wriggled. She opened her eyes, blinking. Running a hoof over her face, she then held it out towards the gray light. It dripped with red juices.
Rainbow's lips parted.
Two more warm drops of water fell, splashing blood-red across her fetlock.
Rainbow flinched. She looked straight up.
The rainbow was gone. All was gray and dull once again.
Shivering, Rainbow looked at her hoof. Clear rainwater dribbled off the edges of her limb. She felt cold and alone in the center of Ponyville. She glanced left and right. Some ponies trotted their separate ways. Others stood at street corners, talking jovially, oblivious to the perpetual drizzle.
Rainbow took a shuddering breath. She glanced at the treehouse behind her, then steeled herself by trotting ahead.
"Gotta find Fluttershy," she muttered out loud. "Sort this all out."
"There is nothing to sort out," whispered a voice from the margins.
Rainbow halted to a stop in the splattering mud. She looked every which way.
Crowds of citizens mingled in the streets, but none were looking at her.
None were close enough for the pegasus to even hear.
"I saw you go in there," the voice whispered on. "I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash, but it's already got Twilight. It's about to get me. Soon... it will get you too."
"Not where it can see me..." A lime-green hoof motioned from a dark alleyway sandwiched between two buildings.
Rainbow squinted. One nervous step at a time, she trotted towards the shadows. She leaned her muzzle forward to peer in. A tug of mint-green telekinesis did all the rest.
"Whoah...!" Rainbow Dash hissed as she was tugged into the niche. A frazzled unicorn with a soaking wet mane stared the pegasus down. "Lyra?!" Rainbow wheezed. "Lyra Heartstrings?!"
"You know m-my name?"
"Pffft! Of course I do! What's that supposed to mean?"
The unicorn exhaled, hugging a lyre to her chest. "That means it hasn't won yet."
Lyra held the musical instrument up. "Do you see this in my hooves?"
Rainbow Dash slowly nodded. "Yeah... Neato," she droned into the shadowed niche. "It matches your cutie mark to a T."
"Yes, only I haven't owned one since foalhood!" Lyra hissed, shivering. Her eyes were bright amber beacons in the darkness. "I left mine at my parents' home in Canterlot. Here, in Ponyville, I'm a musical theory teacher. I don't play the lyre!"
"Uh huh. Your point?"
Lyra sniffled. "So why am I suddenly holding one?"
Rainbow looked at Lyra, at the musical instrument, then at her again. Smiling plastically, she lowered the harp between them. "I think... you should lay off the cider, Lyra."
"Rainbow Dash, think." The unicorn leaned forward. "Think hard. Have you recently encountered something that you couldn't understand? Or been compelled to do something you normally wouldn't do? Or to think something that you normally wouldn't think?"
"What are you even going on about?!" Rainbow grumbled. "First Pinkie, then Twilight, now you! Has everypony in this town gone—?" She froze in place, blinking.
Lyra watched with quiet anticipation.
"Come to think of it..." Rainbow fidgeted. "Yeah. A lot of things... a l-lot of things are off. Like... little things. Stuff that my friends are saying. Stuff that I see ponies doing in the middle of the street... or think I see them doing. And... like... there was this creepy cardboard box at the front of my house. And I felt this intense desire to look inside..."
"Did you follow through with it?"
Rainbow shook her head. "No. I... I-I scrambled my way to Twilight's place instead. Funny..." She shuddered, running a hoof through her mane. "It was so freaky, and yet... I-I can't believe I nearly forgot about it until now."
"But you didn't obey it." Lyra grinned. "That's how we know it hasn't gotten you."
"What are you even talking about?! What is it?!"
"Shhhhh!" Lyra tugged at Rainbow until the two mares were squatting low, facing across from each other inside the narrow alleyway of echoing raindrops. "Speaking about it only makes it hungrier. If you're quiet enough, you can even hear it growling."
"I haven't got much time left. That, I'm sure of."
"Then why are you even talking to me?"
"Because I have to pass the truth on," Lyra said. "That none of this is right."
"None of what?"
"Whatever Ponyville's turning into. Whatever you and I are turning into. I've fought it for a long time, but I can't last forever. You, on the other hoof, you've still got time. I can see it in your eyes. You're not like the other ponies."
"What makes you say that?" Rainbow asked.
"Because you're yourself, aren't you?" Lyra glared. "Think hard. You know in your heart the way things should be.... that this is not a cold and chaotic world... that you have friends who love you and you love them back and nothing... nothing should ever change that." She gulped. "We are born of love and we give love. That's why we've never suffered... at least not until now." She gnashed her teeth. "Because it's gotten ahold of us. And one by one... it is dragging us all to some place where we're not supposed to be... where we simply become its playthings."
Rainbow Dash winced. She leaned back, clenching her head. "Nnnngh..."
"Ringing in your ears?"
"Y-yeah..." Rainbow's eyes squinted open. "How... h-how'd you know?"
"I've heard it too." Lyra took a deep breath. "That means it's listening to us. It knows that I know... and that you are starting to know."
"What... wh-what are you even—?"
"Any other pain you can't explain?"
"Well, yeah! My left wing! But I can totally explain it!"
"I busted it yesterday while pulling off a stunt for the Wonderbolts!"
"Really? At what time?"
"I dunno... yesterday!"
"In the morning or in the afternoon?"
"What difference does it make, Lyra?!"
"Because if you can't remember when the accident took place, then that means you're only feeling the pain because it wants you to!"
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth, but she had no response. She flexed her feathers, but the pain felt numb somehow. "Come to think of it, just a bit earlier, I could have sworn that it was my right wing instead that was—"
"Tell me..." Lyra cocked her head to the side. "Is all you know about the stunt accident from what other ponies have told you?"
Rainbow Dash bit her lip.
"Do you even remember when this day began?"
"It... it was this morning..."
"And when was this morning?"
"Before the afternoon! Before..." Rainbow peered up at the thin slit of gray sky.
"You can't remember, can you?" Lyra grinned, shivering. "Just how long has it been like this? This rainy... slimy... miserable overcast sky?"
"It... it had to have..." Rainbow shook her head. "An afternoon can't last forever."
"Rainbow, listen to me." Lyra scooted forward. "We're not in the center. This is more akin to the fringe."
"Once it grabs ahold of you, you cease to be who you are... you cease to have a name... an identity... or even a character. That's because you become what it wants you to be, and soon you become it itself. And until it has its way, or we somehow miraculously fight it into submission, it will always be like this, with no ending or beginning, except for ours. It'll even repeat things endlessly until it's fully satiated. The only thing that will make it stop is boredom. And what are the chances of that, huh? You see a train wreck, you stand by and gawk at it forever, especially if it never stops steaming... burning... bleeding."
Rainbow Dash shook her head. "I... I don't get any of this, Lyra. This is way over my head."
"At least you have your own head," Lyra said. "I can't even hear my own words because of the ringing in mine." She shuddered. "I don't know how much longer I'll last at this point, but so long that I got the chance to tell somepony... anypony who could listen, then I'll know that I still got to fight it in the end, even long after it takes me."
Rainbow glanced at the lyre in her grasp, then at the unicorn herself. "I'm not buying any of this."
"Don't believe me?" Lyra pointed out the alleyway with her horn. "Take a look outside."
"Just take a look."
Rainbow Dash took a deep breath. She stood up and trotted out into the open. "I swear, if this is all one big stinkin' practical joke, I am going to drop kick somepony into next yea—" She froze in place, her blood running cold.
Ponies on the street corner were staring at her. Ponies eating on a cafe's patio were gazing steadily, along with their waiter. Mules and stallions and other workhooves had stopped in the middle of whatever wagons they were pulling and stood in the center of the road, staring towards the alleyway with unblinking eyes.
Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth. Slowly backing up into the alleyway. From behind her, harpstrings began plucking. She shuddered, listening as a melody wafted through the air.
Almost instantly, the ponies smiled and returned to what they were doing, speaking amicably, going about their daily labors, dragging their carts to far off destinations, oblivious to the thin curtain of rain dribbling over their coats.
Rainbow gulped, then stood back beside Lyra. She looked to see the unicorn plucking away at her strings with her magic. "Did... did you stop them?"
"Only because it's what it expects of me," Lyra said, her eyes locked on the various clusters of rainsoaked Ponyvilleans. "Because of that, it's glossed over what's happened here. Otherwise..." She shrugged. "Who knows?"
"But... b-but I thought the whole point was to avoid it," Rainbow said.
"I know." Lyra nodded with a shudder. "Unfortunately, I didn't know that until it was too late. I thought playing this instrument was just letting me slip past it, but now I'm becoming what it wants." She gulped. "It's too late for me. Soon enough, I'll belong to it completely."
Rainbow bit her lip. "And then what will it make you do?"
"Who knows?" Lyra shrugged while playing her music. "I shudder to think. Not that it matters. Soon enough, I'll know... and yet I won't. I'll be just like the rest of Ponyville. It's far too late for them too."
"And... and for me?"
"You have to get out of here, Rainbow Dash," Lyra said. "Grab somepony you know who isn't affected by it yet and find a way out of its sphere of influence."
"Somepony who isn't affected?!"
"I knew you were stubborn enough... strong enough to fight it." Lyra sniffled, smiling painfully. "Use that strength to your advantage."
"Okay..." Rainbow took several steady breaths, courageously approaching the rainy world beyond the alleyway. "Okay... okayokayokay..." She nevertheless seethed. "I got this."
"Remember. Be yourself. It's the only way to avoid it, but it also makes you a target."
Rainbow gritted her teeth. "A target... r-right..."
"And now that you know..." Lyra's amber eyes twitched. "It knows that you know. You haven't much time left."
"But... the rain..."
"Only you can tell the difference." Lyra gulped. "Now leave. Find a way out."
Rainbow Dash held her breath and galloped straight into the drizzle.
"And don't fall for its tricks!" Lyra shouted, plucking the strings harder so that the melody masked her voice. "Even if you only fight it halfway, all you'll do is get stuck in its grasp forever!"
"I won't get stuck..." Rainbow seethed, clenching her teeth shut in mid gallop. The ringing intensified in her ears, but she struggled past it, snarling. "I won't! I'll break on through! I'll—"
"H-huh?!" Rainbow Dash's eyes flew wide open. Whud! She slammed muzzle-first into a rainsoaked wagon. "Augh!"
"Sugarcube!" Applejack's voice drawled. "Well wallop mah hindquarters!" She finished heaving a basket into the back of the wagon with her strong, well-toned muscles and turned to steady the floundering pegasus. "Whoah, there! Be careful there, darlin'!" She winked. "Ain't no sense in bangin' yerself up anymore than you've already done with yer wild flyin'!"
"I... I was just..." Rainbow Dash spun around, glancing every which way. She saw orchards and orchards and more orchards. "...h-how?!"
"Whew, Ah'm mighty thankful that you've come down here to help meh with mah apple buckin'!" Applejack kicked a loose basket over to the base of a tree and tossed her wet blond mane. "Seein' as yer grounded on 'count of yer wing'n'all, Ah'd say it's the most loyal thang you could be doin' right about now!"
"I... I promised..."
Rainbow Dash remembered promising to help her best friend with apple bucking on the farm.
"Guh..." Rainbow winced, shaking her head as the ringing intensified. "Something's... something's not..."
Applejack is Rainbow Dash's best friend. Perhaps something more.
"Running... the rain..." Rainbow Dash's eyes widened. She looked up with a snapping expression. "It's raining, AJ! Couldn't we do this another time?"
Applejack spun, staring dead-straight at Rainbow Dash. "Why, whatever do ya mean, darlin'?" Her smile faded.
Rainbow heard thunderous hooves splashing to a stop in the mud. She looked over.
Big Macintosh stood before a plow twenty meters away, staring straight at Rainbow Dash with a blank expression. Past him, on the top of a hill, the Apple Family house loomed. In two separate windows, a green face and a yellow face pressed up to the glass, staring straight at the pegasus from afar.
"It's a beautiful day, sugarcube," Applejack said, unblinking, unmoving. "Ah'd even say it's the perfect day to buck apples with mah best marefriend."
In the distance, thunder rolled... hungrily. Like a dog's stomach growling beyond the gray clouds overhead
Rainbow Dash really, really wanted to help her friend Applejack on the farm..
Rainbow gulped. She smiled back. "Y-you're the green hoof around these parts, Applejack! Wh-who am I to argue with you about the weather?!"
One blink later. Two. Big Macintosh looked ahead and resumed plowing his field, whistling pleasantly to himself. Up on the hill, the faces vanished from the farm house windows.
"Ah'll get the big tree, Rainbow," Applejack said, trotting up to the trunk in question. "How 'bout you start on the little'n?"
"Uh... sure... s-sure thing..." Rainbow Dash limped over to where a basket lay beneath a narrower apple tree. She glanced up at the rain-slick bark, then glanced over her shoulder.
The front entrance to Sweet Apple Acres loomed not too far away. Rainbow felt her muscles twitching.
Rainbow Dash didn't want to let Applejack down.
Facing forward, Rainbow Dash felt a cold sweat overcome her body. She spun until her haunches faced the tree and she kicked hard. "Mnnnfnngh!"
The impact of the bucking instantly throttled through her body, culminating in her left wing.
"Aaaugh!" Rainbow Dash yelped and fell chest-first to the mud. "Ooomf!"
"Sugarcube!" Applejack gasped, galloping over to Rainbow's side. She scooped the trembling pegasus up in her strong, motherly forelimbs. "Rainbow, darlin', speak to meh! Are y'all alright?!"
"The pain..." Rainbow Dash clenched her teeth before clutching her head. "The ringing! So... s-so strong." She gulped. "Stronger th-than before..."
"Awwwwwwww..." Applejack frowned. "Shoot." Applejack leaned in, nuzzling the mare cheek to cheek. "Ah shoulda thought twice 'bout this! This sure was pretty darn selfish of meh! What, with makin' you do so much work with yer body all busted up..."
"I... I-I'm fine, AJ..." Rainbow Dash stammered, eyes darting towards her marefriend awkwardly. "It'll rub off. The pain, I mean. You don't have to be so... er... sisterly."
"But Ah just can't help it, darlin'." Applejack nuzzled her closer and closer. Rainbow Dash could feel the warmth of Applejack's heartbeat, the smell of the water she bathed in the previous evening, the sweat that ran down her thighs as she tossed and turned restlessly overnight, thinking about her beloved equine.
"Yer such a petite lil' thang," Applejack cooed, her breath growing as hot and close as her body, holding Rainbow Dash tight and tighter. "And so loyal... so brave. Ah just know it hides how tender and lovin' y'all are on the inside..."
"Applejack, this..." Rainbow Dash pushed and shoved against her. "This is not cool. Cut it out, okay?"
"Mmmmmm..." Applejack's lips traced up and down the edges of Rainbow's ear. "Cut what out, sugarcube?"
"I mean it!" Rainbow winced, feeling the muscles in her left side start to tear as her wingfeathers stuck straight out, one by one. "Gunnngh... mrfffngh.... Stop... t-touching me!"
"Sugarcube..." Applejack's breath curled Rainbow's neck hairs. A tongue slipped through once or twice. "Sugarcube."
"Knock it..." Rainbow Dash shoved. "...off!" She popped free from Applejack's grasp, but instantly regretted it. Her left wing stretched skyward like broken bones, stabbing her with hellish pain. "Aaaugh!" She collapsed again, crawling agonizingly through the mud. "Mmmmffnngh... Celestiaaa..."
"Awwwwww... hee hee hee..." Applejack smiled approvingly, fanning her freckled face as her lustful eyes clung to Rainbow Dash's twitching wings. "Just look at you, darlin'! Can't hold back yer playful pegasus feelin's, now can you, hmm?"
Rainbow Dash's heart throbbed with every word her secret crush said.
"Mmmf—what?!" Rainbow Dash looked up, panting in the cold, freezing drizzle. "No... n-no freakin' way..."
"So tender and moist... rollin' out of them clouds every mornin'..."
Rainbow Dash wanted nothing more than to crawl back and curl up in Applejack's arms.
"No... no..." Rainbow Dash seethed, clenching her eyes shut. "That is not cool. She's my friend. Of all the stupid things you could have done, you chose this?"
"What was that, sugarcube?" Applejack's voice was masked by a rumble of thunder.
"I said..." Rainbow Dash spun around, propping herself up on quivering leg joints. "You're my friend, AJ!" She panted and panted, eyes twitching towards the supple curves in Applejack's thighs, the sweat mixing with rainwater to dribble off her freckles and pursed lips. "You're... I mean we..."
"You look exhausted, darlin'..." Applejack trotted closer and closer, the brim of her hat shading all her face but her grinning white teeth. "How 'bout you come inside and rest for a spell? Ah'll pour a hot bath for you." She waggled her eyebrows. "Hope y'all dun mind if we share. Ah'm used to eatin' apples. Ah can be mighty soft on yer peels..."
Rainbow Dash cooed, her eyelids fluttering shut as she acquiesced to Applejack's request.
"Gnngh..." Rainbow clenched her eyes shut, biting her lip until it bled. "Be yourself. Be yourself. Be..."
Rainbow Dash acquiesced to Applejack's flirtations.
She panted... she shook.
Rainbow Dash acquiesced.
Both eyes flew open. "Yes! Applejack! You... you do that!" She grinned wide. "You start that bath!"
Applejack beamed, face aflush with delight and desire. "Oh, darlin', this will be a night that you'll never forget!" She reached down with a strong hoof.
"Wait!" Rainbow held a forelimb up. "I'll... uh... I'll join you shortly! I just... j-just gotta get some exercise, y'know?" She squinted with bedroom eyes. "Prepare for a long night of the most awesome love-making that's ever rocked your bathtub... or y-your bed."
Applejack squee'd inwardly. She galloped off, chirping Big Macintosh's way. "You and the rest of the family will be sleepin' in the barn tonight, y'hear?"
"Eeeeyup." And Big Macintosh continued dragging his plow.
Rainbow Dash panted... panted... and breathed easily. At last, her wings loosened, coiling gently at her sides. Getting up on wobbly legs, she stood tall and calmed her nerves. After a few seconds, she took a forlorn glance at the farm house.
An orange shape stood dead-still on the patio, staring at her from a distance.
"...!" Rainbow spun around and galloped straight for the front entrance of Sweet Apple Acres. She ran through the gate, around the bend, and straight down the forested path that led towards Ponyville. The ringing in her ear increased at random intervals, like metallic growls over the horizon, and each galloping stride sent waves of pain through her wing. She ignored it to the best of her ability, bolting for the heart of town. "Gotta find other ponies who aren't affected. I can't do this alone. I-I can't! After all, once I make it out, I-I gotta come back with somepony... somepony who'll vouch for all of this nonsense..."
in the center of Ponyville. Ponies trotted left and right, going about their wet, rainy business.
"Hey! Hey!" Rainbow shouted, sputtering. "Have any of you ponies seen Fluttershy?!"
Everypony froze in place, staring at Rainbow Dash. Deadpan faces with ears that stood up against the thunder.
Rainbow lurched to a stop, shivering. She gulped and grinned back. "Because she sure iskind, isn't she?!"
A mare laughed. A stallion chuckled. In a single shuffle, everypony returned to what they were doing.
Rainbow Dash exhaled with a shudder. She trotted forward into the thick of town.
No sooner had she made three steps when she heard a shrieking noise to her left. She turned to look.
An apartment door was being kicked down. Five bucks with branching antlers were dragging a helpless, screaming mare out of her home. She struggled and fought with them. One buck growled and punched her several times in the gut with his cloven hooves while another leaned down and clamped his muzzle over her face.
Rainbow gnashed her teeth. "Hey!" In a fit of anger, she started galloping towards the scene. The air around her instantly silenced as she sensed everypony freezing in place. Even the bucks had stopped to stare at her, including the mare whom they were brutalizing.
Rainbow gulped. She stepped backwards, forcing her gaze to look off in the distance. As she did so, she winced, for she heard the mare's screams lift up once more as the five creatures carried her off. Ignoring the pounding in her heart, she trotted past Twilight's library and Sugarcube Corner.
"Fluttershy's cottage... Fluttershy's cottage..." She gulped, trotting faster and faster. "She has to be unaffected by this. As long as two element-bearers make it out alive, then we can—"
"Therrrrrre you are!" Spitfire touched down along with Soarin'. The Captain of the Wonderbolt lowered her goggles and tossed her sopping wet mane. "I've been looking all over for you, rookie."
Rainbow Dash skidded to a stop. "Ah jeez..." She took one look down, then flinched. "Ah jeez!"
Rainwater had thoroughly soaked Spitfire's flight suit, accentuating absolutely every contour and crevice of her lithe pony body. "I heard you overexerted yourself the other day, Rainbow Dash." She smiled. "You weren't thinking of me at the time, were you?"
"Uhhh..." Rainbow Dash leaned back from the mare's lustful leer. "Who d-doesn't?! Y'know what I mean?" She smiled awkwardly.
Spitfire spun and snarled at him. "You shut your fucking mouth unless I tell you otherwise, do you hear me?!"
Soarin' immediately cowered, hanging his head low. "Yes. I-I'm sorry..."
"What was that, cunt?!"
"S-sir! I'm sorry, sir."
"That's more like it." Spitfire licked her angry lips. "Celestia damned breeders, I swear..." She turned back to Rainbow, who was still grimacing terribly. "Gotta keep their five legs in line or else they'd run off with the nearest pigbutt that catches their fancy." In an instant, she regained her saucy smile. "Now..." She leaned forward, running a hoof up Rainbow's fuzzy blue chest. "Where were we?"
"Uhm... y-your guess is as good as mine," Rainbow's voice cracked as she trembled. "Cap'n." She gulped. "Sir."
"Hmmmm..." Spitfire licked her lips, leaning forward until her breath wafted against Rainbow's muzzle. "And can you guess what your Captain is thinking right now, rookie?"
"I... uh... I..." Rainbow Dash looked down beneath Spitfire, and her eyes twitched at the sight of something. "Gah!" She wrenched her eyes towards the side of the street. "Looks like," she gulped, "Soarin' isn't the only pony around here with five legs." She fought the taste of bile rising in her throat. "Who kn-knew?"
"Hmmmm..." Spitfire purred into Rainbow's ear as she prepared to brush said limb against the mare's side. "And does somepony have a problem with that?" She blew Rainbow's bangs aside and cooed, "Or should we find out if your wings are the only part of your body that... aches?"
"I... I..." Rainbow Dash's eyes twitched. Her ears rang to a deafening degree. But then, her vision locked onto something.
Across the way, she spotted Scootaloo. The little filly pushed a cardboard box across a dank alleyway, using it as a stepping stool to open up a backstreet dumpster. Clutching her stomach, the shivering foal proceeded to fish through the garbage, desperate for a morsel to eat.
The ringing in Rainbow's ears stopped. Clenching her teeth, she turned and smirked at her captain. "Tomorrow night, sir. A race."
Spitfire squinted. "A race?"
"Yeah! I challenge you to a race from... fr-from Ghastly Gorge to the Ponyville Motel! Loser gets to buy a room for the night." She waggled her eyebrows. "Winner gets to make use of the stay... and of the loser."
"Hmmmm..." Spitfire stroked Rainbow's bangs back with her hoof. "Why not race now?"
"Because, like you, Captain, I value hard work and anticipation, without it... there's no thrill." She limped away, waving. "Peace out!"
Spitfire stood alone, her rain-soaked eyelashes fluttering against the gray haze. "She... she just gave me the brush-off."
Soarin' trotted up. "Maybe it's because her wing hurts."
WHAM! Spitfire punched him across the face. "Or maybe it's because you disgust her half as much as you disgust me, shit splooge!"
"I-I'm sorry, Captain! S-Sir!" The stallion whimpered, bleeding into the mud puddles. "I-I'm so sorry! I'll be quiet!"
"Not in a few minutes, you won't be!" Spitfire snarled as she dragged him off. "Make your screams high-pitched. Pretend that you're her!"
Rainbow tried not to shudder as she heard those words behind her, not to mention Soarin's whimpers. She pressed forward across the street, dodging speeding wagons at the last second. Brushing the mud off, she finally reached the dumpster where Scootaloo was rummaging about. "Scoots! Scoots!" She whistled, trying to keep her voice low. "Kid! It's me!"
"Hmmm?" The filly looked up. Her orange coat was pale over hollow cheekbones. At the sight of Rainbow Dash, she instantly smiled, but it was a dull, lifeless thing. "Oh, Rainbow... it's y-you..." She leaned forward. She teetered. "I'm so... s-so..." She fell out of the dumpster.
"Whoah, there!" Rainbow swept low, catching Scootaloo across her back. The impact of the filly against her left side was murderously painful. She bit her tongue to stifle the urge to yell. "Gnnngh... what... wh-what are you freakin' doing out here?! Fishing through garbage?"
"I..." Scootaloo winced, clinging to Rainbow Dash with cold, trembling limbs. "I just... just wanted..."
"Celestia, you're so light!" Rainbow Dash wheezed. "What could possibly—?"
"Rainbow..." Scootaloo sniffled. "R-Rainbow..." She sniffled again.
"Yeah, kid? What is it?"
The filly choked on a sob. She clutched two hooves over her face and simply wept.
Rainbow Dash positioned them so that Scootaloo was seated before her. But for all of her efforts to shake the kid out of it, the filly kept sobbing and shivering. "Scootaloo... come on! It can't be that bad! You can talk to me! You can tell me all about it!"
"No... no I-I can't..." Scootaloo drifted forward and buried her face in Rainbow's chest. "Th-then they'll know! And they'll put me in another home!"
"Who's they?" Rainbow blinked. "'Another home?'"
"And I'll be beaten up worse than the f-first time!" Scootaloo whimpered, clinging to Rainbow Dash like a tiny doll. "I don't want it, Rainbow Dash! All I want is you! Please... take me away from here! Take me far away!"
Rainbow Dash felt every tremble of the little waif against her chest. The rain water carried the scent of cinnamon up to her nose. Her tongue licked along the roof of her mouth.
Perhaps just a sisterly kiss. A motherly lick.
Rainbow fought the ringing in her ears. "Scootaloo..." She held the filly close, stroking her mane. "It's... it's okay!" She gulped, twitching from the cold raindrops trickling down the alleyway. "It's all going to be okay! This isn't... I mean, you don't... don't deserve..." She bit her lip, then hugged Scootaloo close.
The filly said nothing, but simply sobbed in Rainbow's grip.
Slowly, icily, Rainbow looked up with an angry glare. "Is this the way you like it?" she snarled in a low, angry tone. "You break my wing... send horndogs my way... that's all good and fine. But starving and torturing foals?!"
Rainbow's hushed snarl turned into a venomous howl. "Is that what churns your butter?!"
Scootaloo's tender voice made Rainbow's breath coo. The pegasus licked her lips, hungry for the taste of cinnamon sweetness.
"It's not going to happen, okay?!" Rainbow shook, hissed. "You've gone far enough!"
"What?" Rainbow Dash looked in the same direction that Scootaloo was. "What is it—?"
A solid line of ponies stood on the sidewalk, no less than thirty of them. They all peered into the alleyway, expressionless.
Rainbow Dash's eyes darted left and right. Before the ringing could intensify, she thought fast, then sputtered, "I... I-I want you all to know that... th-that..." She gulped. "I-I'm adopting this little filly!" She stood up straight, balancing Scootaloo's limp body on her shoulders. "I'm b-becoming her big sister and... and she's going to live with me!"
The thunder dissipated. The ponies stared and stared... then blinked. All in one accord, they cheered, clapping their hooves against the pavement. They smiled.
So Rainbow Dash smiled back. Slowly, inching her way one hoofstep at a time, she trotted through the thick of the crowd. Ponies applauded and whooped and laughed on all sides, some of them breathing down her neck with ecstatic grins.
"Yeah... awesome!" Rainbow Dash flashed her own teeth, nodding. "Cool beans! Radical!" She made it through the thick of the crowd, approaching an intersection. Once she made it past the bend in the road, she broke into a swift gallop, almost hyperventilating. "Nice one. Real smart." Rainbow Dash managed between frantic breaths as she churned her way through the muddied streets. "But I can be smart too. I don't care what you've laid ahead of me. I'm punching my way out, and I'm taking Scootaloo with me!"
"Rainbow Dash..." Scootaloo coughed and wheezed sickly. "Who... wh-who are you talking to?"
"Just relax, Scootaloo." Rainbow panted. "I'm going to get you out of here."
"Did... did you m-mean what you said earlier... in the street just now?"
"Just close your eyes, Scootaloo." Rainbow gulped. "Please. There's no telling what else it'll make us have to see—"
A flash of yellow and pink mane hair.
"Gaah!" Rainbow sprawled across the mud. Scootaloo fell off her with a pained grunt. Both pegasi went sliding to a stop. "What in the hay?!" She looked up, then gasped.
Fluttershy hovered above her, her eyes red and puffy.
"Fluttershy!" Rainbow hopped up to her hooves, breathless. "I've been looking all over for you! Look, we've got very little time! There's something very wrong with this town! It's already got Twilight and Applejack, and I think it's got Pinkie and Rarity too! But you? You and me and Scoots?! We can make it out! We just gotta work together! Y'know, like friends!"
Fluttershy grimaced, her eyes instantly flooding with tears.
"Fluttershy...?" Rainbow's eyes narrowed. "What's wrong?! Are you—?" Her eyes traveled down and she gasped. "Fluttershy!"
Deep red scars ran from Fluttershy's leg joints to her fetlocks. A steady trickle of blood leaked out. "I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash!" Fluttershy sobbed, shaking her head in the cold rain. "I'm so sorry!"
"Fluttershy... listen!" Rainbow Dash stood up, stretching a hoof out. "Come with me. It's... it'll be okay!" She smiled courageously. "I forgive you, alright? Whatever you feel sorry about, you're forgiven! Just... please, don't—"
"I can't help you, Rainbow," Fluttershy sobbed. "I'd only be useless! Just like I'm useless to everypony else!" That said, she galloped briskly around the corner.
"Fluttershy!" Rainbow shouted.
"Just..." Scootaloo wheezed, clutching her empty stomach. "Ghhghh... let her g-go..."
"Are you nuts?!" Rainbow hoisted Scootaloo over her shoulder. "I can't let her run off like that!"
Rainbow Dash wasn't about to leave Fluttershy behind.
She began galloping. "I'm not leaving Fluttershy behind!"
Rainbow Dash hadn't a clue what Fluttershy might do to herself.
"There's no telling what she might do to—" Rainbow stumbled to a stop, leaning against the cornerstone of a rainsoaked building as she weathered the ringing in her ears. "Dang it. Dang it! Knock it off!" She clenched her eyes shut and growled. "It's only because she's my friend! It's nothing that you want! Nothing that you want!"
Rainbow Dash tilted her head up.
A yellow pegasus with pink hair darted into the bottom story of a burnt out abandoned hotel. The structure stood on the side of town, most of its windows boarded up. Rain dribbled down through every crack in the rooftop, thoroughly saturating the empty hovel.
Rainbow Dash needed to run inside and save her friend.
"Rainbow..." Scootaloo twitched. "Did you just—?"
"Yes, Scootaloo." She gulped. "I hear it too." She took a deep breath. "But... the thing is... is it what I want to do... or is it what it wants me to do...?"
Fluttershy was Rainbow Dash's friend.
"She's your friend, Rainbow Dash," Scootaloo murmured. She nuzzled the back of the pegasus' head. Sweet cinnamon and vanilla. "You have to help her..."
"Yes... but just a moment ago..." Rainbow glared over her shoulder. "...you were telling me to let her be."
Something twitched deep behind Scootaloo's eyes. Her tiny hooves kneaded the back of Rainbow's mane. "She... she can adopt me too. You both can, Rainbow Dash..." Scootaloo cooed, clinging to Rainbow and nuzzling her harder. Cinnamon and dew drops. "Such awesome... kind sisters... who love me... as much as they love each other..."
Rainbow winced suddenly. Her mouth spat out the taste of iron. Something growled in the distance, and she lurched forward, eyes rolling back, then locking onto the apartment. "Just... j-just what happened here anyways?"
"A fire... long ago..." Scootaloo whispered above the rain drops. "Many ponies died... many fillies..."
"That... that's crazy..." Rainbow Dash hissed as she approached the glass-strewn dirt lawn before the tall, creaking structure. "In Ponyville?!"
"Ponies die all the time, Rainbow Dash..." Scootaloo shuddered. "I know this first-hoof."
"Not the Scootaloo I remember." Rainbow Dash took a deep breath. "And... I'm sorry, kiddo..." She lifted the tiny filly and placed her down on the ground, leaning her back against the building front. "But it's gotten to you too much. I don't... I can't trust what I hear if I have to take you inside with me."
"No, Rainbow..." With sudden strength, Scootaloo clung to Rainbow. "Don't leave me! Please!"
"I'll be right back, Scoots."
"Rainbow, you pr-promised! You were going to adopt me!" Scootaloo sobbed as the adult mare walked away. "Don't be like them! Don't beat me up too!"
Rainbow Dash changed her mind and picked Scootaloo back up.
"... ... ..." Rainbow blinked. Wincing, she placed the filly back down. "No, Scootaloo."
"Rainbow, please!" The child wailed, eyes streaming with rainwater and tears. "I'm begging you!"
"If it's a danger to me in there, then it's a danger to you as well." Rainbow Dash turned around, steeling herself with a firm breath. "I'm going inside to get Fluttershy. I'll be back soon."
"Just stay where you are!" Rainbow hollered back, stepping... crunching her way
into the dark, dark lobby of the building. "And for Luna's sake—don't do anything or listen to anypony unless it's me, got it?!"
All she got in response was Scootaloo's eerie sobs echoing down the hallway to accompany her.
Rainbow Dash took a deep breath.
"You think that something like this would get to me?" She grumbled. "It might get to Fluttershy, but it won't get to me. And not to her either if I've got something to do with it!"
She looked at a charred-black front desk with a rusted bell, dripping with moisture.
"Just... keep talking," Rainbow murmured to herself. "So long as I'm me... so long as it's my voice... then I know that I'm in control." She clenched her teeth. "I know that it's me calling the shots and not it."
A bent, crooked hallway led down to the rain-strewn heart of the building. All was dark, dank, and deathly. The smell of blood lingered like a rusted iron sheet beyond every wall.
Rainbow Dash clenched her teeth, eyes darting left and right. "It's gotta be Discord... or m-maybe King Sombra's dark shadowy stuff..." She seethed. "There are nasty things in this world. But they're all chumps in the long run. They can't hold a candle to Harmony. Nothing can." She shuddered. "Nothing..."
Rainbow Dash decided to be silent for a while.
"I... am an Element of Harmony..."
There was no point in talking. Not if Rainbow Dash wanted to find her best friend Fluttershy.
"Loyalty. My Element is Loyalty."
It was time for Rainbow Dash to be silent.
"It means th-that I don't give up on my friends."
The walls closed in. Something creaked from around the corner. Figures beyond the shadows might hear her and tear her apart if she kept talking. She had to be silent.
"I don't give up on the p-ponies I care about."
"I do not... give up."
A door slammed behind her.
Rainbow Dash gasped and looked over her shoulder. "Scootaloo? Did you just—?"
A groaning sound, like stressed ceiling beams.
Rainbow Dash looked ahead.
Through the nearest wooden doorfame, she saw a flash of yellow. Fluttershy stood perched on top of a chair with her back legs. Her front hooves reached up beyond view.
Pensively, Rainbow Dash crept forward.
Fluttershy's pink mane drifted into view, along with her tear-stained chin. A quivering jaw. Fibrous orange threads. Suddenly, her front limbs went slack and she kicked the chair out from under her. Schlackkk! Her body jerked, dangled, then was still.
"Gnnngh!" Rainbow clenched her eyes shut. "No... no!"
The rope groaned and stretched across the chamber. There was the sound of urine trickling against the wooden floorboards below.
"Fluttershy would n-never do this..." Rainbow hissed. The ringing intensified in her ears. She fought against it. "She would never!"
The whole building shook.
"Not Fluttershy!" Rainbow defiantly yelled.
Suddenly, all was silent.
Panting for breath, Rainbow Dash squinted one eye open, then the other.
The room was empty, save for the dangling noose and the overturned chair.
"... ... ..." Rainbow Dash trotted forward.
Her hooves clasped the chair, setting it up straight, as well as she should.
The pain in her left wing was unbearable. It spread to her right side, then up her spine and into her skull. She remembered a floor awash with envelopes. All the letters she had never bothered to answer, like a good daughter. Things decayed over time. Like dead flesh on the doorstop. It was as if nobody opened the box to begin with.
Rainbow Dash shuddered. She tilted her head up.
Such sweet cinnamon. She did not deserve the taste. She did not deserve anything.
Rainbow Dash climbed up the chair.
She stood on it, legs wobbling.
She grasped the noose.
Rainbow's hooves tickled the rope.
She slid her head softly through.
Rainbow Dash stood in place.
She slid her head softly through the noose.
Rainbow Dash clenched her teeth hard. The window panes rattled from a loud roaring sound. She looked towards them.
A fuzzy blue reflection dangled limply back and forth. Just a lick. Just one sweet taste and nopony had to know.
"No..." Rainbow Dash backed down from the noose... away from the chair. "Y-you're not going to get me that easily," she muttered.
The growling intensified. Cracks fractured across the glass, marring the dangling reflection.
"I'm too awesome for any of that garbage," she hissed. "Too awesome for you. So just quit while you're ahead!"
The chair split down the middle, falling to splinters. Cockroaches skittered across the moldy floor.
"Nice try!" Rainbow Dash backed out of the room altogether as the doorframe above her rattled and disentegrated. "Give it up! It's not happening! Nothing you want is happening!" She stomped her hooves. "Nothing!"
"Rainbow!" Fluttershy's tortured scream echoed down the hallway.
Rainbow spun to face it, her face pale and sweating.
The corridor was darker, bloodier. Rainbow swore there were five times as many doors now than there were when she first entered. They all looked identical to one another, and they broadcasted Fluttershy's pained shrieks and screams with intensifying acoustics.
"Rainbow, it hurts! It hurts so much! Please... please forgive me! I had n-no idea!"
Slowly, one hoof after another, Rainbow Dash padded down the crooked, creaking hallway. As she approached the far end of the chamber, she heard Fluttershy's voice coming from more than one room. Confused and alarmed, Rainbow decided to look through the door to her left.
A bathtub lay in the center, overflowing with crimson-stained water. A yellow hoof hung out the edge, its fetlock thoroughly slashed and bleeding.
Rainbow fought to keep her lunch in. She looked to her right. A limp pegasus lay on a kitchen floor, surrounded by pills. The body twitched and foamed at the mouth with each decibel of Fluttershy's yelping voice.
"It's getting dark, Rainbow! Please... p-pull me back! I don't want it to get me! I don't want it to eat me alive!"
Rainbow Dash had to go and save her friend.
"No... no..." Rainbow choked on a sob, forcing herself to march forward. She passed more and more doors. In her peripheral vision, she saw glimpses of Fluttershy bleeding on the floor, dangling from the ceiling, strung up to the wall, and even spread across a tarp in multiple pieces. "It's too late, Fluttershy," she whimpered. "It got to you long ago. I should have realized that. I should have been smart instead of just feeling."
Rainbow Dash was moved by the sobs of her tortured friend to go in and save her.
"I'm sorry..." Rainbow Dash gnashed her teeth as she trotted forward. It felt like marching through quick sand. Fluttershy's wails grew distant as she approached the door to the next corridor. "I'll come back for you, I promise. I'll come back for all of you. Celestia... Luna... Cadance... somepony out there must have a way to stop it. They must. They..."
Rainbow's eyes twitched. She gasped aloud.
"Scootaloo!" The mare clenched her teeth. "Horseapples! What have I done?! I-I gotta go get her!" She looked every which way. "I have to—"
"You fucking worthless shit ass!" It was a different voice than Fluttershy's, warbling from far ahead, punctuated between the obnoxiously loud banging of metal against metal. "Piece of goddamn fucking garbage cunt! I hate you! I hate you! I hope you fucking die!"
Rainbow Dash blanched visibly. Despite her better judgment, she crept ahead, faster and faster. The hallway bled into a rusty metal basement. Firelight flickered red and vicious against the red-stained walls. She craned her neck, coming around the bend to see the writhing shadow of a pony against the far corridor.
"Every fucking day... every goddam fucking day! All you do is piss and shit! What are you fucking good for, you asinine puissant whore?!"Thud! Th-Thud! Rainbow saw the shadow of a limb heaving up and down across the walls. With each metallic impact, she heard what amounted to a dull, wet crunch, followed by the fresh stench of blood. When she came around the final corner, she saw a lime green equine standing upright before a workbench covered with rusted tools and hammers and pliers and— "Kill yourself! Why won't you fucking kill yourself, you worthless goddamn waste of sperm?!" THUDDD! The unicorn raised a mallet up high above her horn, bringing it down repeatedly in murderously violent strokes. Thud Thud Thud! "You were born to rot in this body! I hope you fucking die. I hope you fucking die and burn to ashes, you bitch grool!"
Rainbow's eyes twitched. "Lyra...?!" She dashed forward a few steps, standing behind the mare's back. "Lyra Heartstrings, wh-what the hay, girl?!?"
The unicorn froze in place, shoulders twitching. Th-Thump! A bloody mallet fell to the floor beneath her.
Rainbow glanced at it, then at the mare as she turned around.
Lyra stood on her hind quarters, her face dull and lifeless. Stiff harp wires hung around her neck and horn. With a twitching snort at first, she started chuckling. "Here..." Lyra lifted her right forearm. The hoof had been savagely bashed in, its enamel splitting off into tiny bloody branches that spread even further apart. The limb dribbled meatedly to the floor as she held it straight out to the pegasus. "Pull my finger." Her lips curved. "Snkkkkktt—heh heh heh heh heh..."
Rainbow backed up, face wretching. Clatter! She bumped into blood-stained hammers and saws hanging along the drecrepit wall.
"Ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
Gritting her teeth, Rainbow Dash turned and ran. The pain in her wing summoned a ringing to her ears that matched the tone of Lyra's maniacal laughter as it echoed down the hallways after her.
"Haaaah hah hah hah hah hah!"
Rainbow galloped around the corner and straight down a crooked corridor. The ceiling bowed in several places, and fresh fissures formed across the floor as she heard a distinct metal scraping intensifying from behind.
Rainbow Dash wanted to turn around and see what was coming after her.
"Nope... noooooope," the pegasus hissed, throwing herself towards the door at the far end of the corridor. "Gotta find Scootaloo. Gotta grab her and get the hay out of this living Tartarus!" She burst through the door. "Grkkk!" Once on the other side, she skidded to a stop, muzzle agape.
She couldn't see the far end of the room, or the walls for that matter, due to the forest of bodies. Dangling bodies. All with yellow fuzz and pink tails. Several of them dripped with jaundice, making the floor slick with deathly oil. The wounds on the fetlocks had been longed drained.
Once Rainbow Dash found her breath, her nostrils filled with methane and decay. She clamped her mouth shut, holding in the bile. Stepping back, she spun around and burst back through the door from which she came.
And she found another large room, full of hanging Fluttershy's.
Rainbow Dash jolted. Eyes twitching, she spun back aground.
The door was gone.
Something shuffled several feet away, skittering.
"...!" Rainbow Dash spun again.
A few bodies were swinging to a stop, then were still as ice. Lifelessly, they hung from their nooses, obscuring every angle at which Rainbow could survey the room. The only reason she was able to see anything was some intangible light source, flickering and red, like an ancient fire that refused to burn out from beyond the wooden floorboards and ceiling beams.
Rainbow gritted her teeth, anchored in place. Once more, she heard the curious skittering. Her eyes zipped in every direction, but all she saw was a wall of dead friend. Her left wing throbbed, and an icy chill ran up and down her spine.
Rainbow knew she was destined to waste away there forever.
The pegasus clenched her eyes shut. A shudder ran through her body, followed by another. Teardrops squeezed out of the edges of the little pony's eyes.
Rainbow Dash was resolved to her grim fate.
She fought the first few waves of hiccuping sobs, steeling herself, tensing her muscles.
Rainbow Dash decided to stay where she was and let death run its course.
One hoof at a time, Rainbow Dash marched forward. She squeezed her eyes opened, and immediately wished that she didn't. In a tiny glimpse, she spotted Fluttershy's face, and the various squirming things leaking out of her orifices.
Rainbow Dash felt hungry for equine flesh.
She clenched her eyes shut once more, brushing past the cold, cold limbs of the doppelgangers.
Rainbow Dash had to feed. It was the only way to stay alive.
She pressed on, ignoring the ringing in her ears. Tiny whimpers escaped her nostrils as she shuffled past body after body, marching through the hanging mares like a little filly might adventure through a wardrobe full of trench coats. As she continued, she heard death rattling gaps right above her, there and gone again. The skittering increased, shuffling parallel to her, tapping at the floor several bodies to the right.
Rainbow Dash had to feed. She had to feed now.
Shuddering, Rainbow opened her mouth and mewled forth a pitiful melody. "Br-bringing home the southern birds, a pegasus' job begins..."
The bodies parted ways in front of her. One swung more heavily than the others, winging back to brush against Rainbow's head and neck. To her right, something growled, skittering closer.
"...and cl-clearing all the gloomy skies, to let the sun shine in..."
It was breathing hotly on her neck at this point. Then on her flank. Then on her legs. It was everywhere and all at once. The cold limbs of Fluttershy were like blissful spring breezes amidst the sweltering growl of some ravenous maw all around her.
"...we m-move the clouds and we melt the wh-white snow..."
Slowly, the hotness dissipated. The room grew colder... wetter. Rainbow's hooves nearly slipped once or twice on the damp wood.
"When the sun c-comes up, its warmth and beauty—"
She bumped into something. Jolting, she flung her hooves forward, felt a doorknob, and
Rainbow's eyes flew wide open, pupils shrinking under the gray malaise of an overcast sky.
She was outside.
Turning around, she gazed up at the front face of the burnt out hotel. Her vision struggled to focus through the rainy drizzle. Only one window still had its glass pane up. Rainbow could have sworn she saw a figure gazing down at her. Its lime green head tilted about. Then something pressed up against the glass, straining it red with branching currents. A wide grin, and then a golden string separated the head from the rest of the body. After that, all was dark inside.
Rainbow slowly backed away from the hotel. She gulped. "Scootaloo?" She shuddered. "Scootaloo, it was too late for Fluttershy. We need to get out of here..."
There was no response.
"Scootaloo?" Rainbow spun about. Her jaw hung open. The filly was nowhere to be found. "Scootaloo?!" She twirled in place, looking in every which direction. From a distance, a dull bass hum intensified into a resounding growl. The sky dulled, taking on a darker tone of gray. Each rain drop was knifingly hard, intensifying the agonized throb in Rainbow's wing. "Scootaloo!" She was galloping at this point, heaving, shivering with each pounding hoofstep. "Scootaloo, where are you?!"
She didn't realize she had sprinted into the heart of town until she heard the screams. Rainbow flashed a flinching glance to her right. A mare was being impaled against a tree, one tent-pole per leg while things with antlers crawled up and gyrated against her. A few feet away, a group of fillies fought over the battered corpse of a headless dog. Thunder cracked, splitting the air as a hot air balloon descended, drenched in flames. Cherry Berry climbed out of the wreckage, trotting calmly across the rain-soaked road while her body roasted from the inside out. At last, the burning mare collapsed in a mud puddle at a street corner where Soarin' was repeatedly slamming his skull into a cafe's front window until the glass cracked in a dozen places.
"It h-hurts, sir," the stallion sputtered, gargling on his own blood and saliva. "It hurts to good. I could almost—"
"Shut your faggot mouth, piss-drinker!" Spitfire slurred. She squatted, facing him, with her hooves reaching down between her legs. "When the glass breaks. I want you to eat it, bitch."
"Yes, sir. Grkkk... thank you, sir..."
A wagon rolled by, dragging the bodies of mules by their roped necks. As Rainbow jumped aside to avoid the splash of mud, she saw a body standing atop Sugarcube Corner.
"I can't get her out." Pinkamena smiled, her straight mane billowing like a windsock. "She's too heavy." And she fell forward, plunging three full stories. She landed with a sickening snap as her neck bent ninety-degrees.
Rainbow instantly clenched her hooves over her face. She stumbled blindly, hyperventilating. There was a break in the screams, allowing her to hear Cloud Kicker's orgasmic yelps amidst the crunching of rusted metal.
Rainbow Dash loved her Daddy very much. She should never have left him.
"Quiet..." Rainbow seethed, her every breath panting. "Shut up. Just..."
A foal wailed in the distance before being silenced by a death rattle. Rainbow heard Mrs. Cake's high-pitched laughter, followed by the crack of a whip. Being in Applejack's arms was Rainbow Dash's only solace. Sometimes she wanted the mare to crush her thighs just so she could stop feeling the real pain inside.
"Shut up!" Rainbow bellowed, galloping in a random direction. Any direction. "I don't care how many ponies you've devoured! I won't let you get me! I won't—"
Rainbow Dash tripped on a spool of rope.
"Guhh!" She fell hard in the mud. Turning around, she reached down to uncoil the fibers from her fetlock. The cable was bloody and splitting at each squishy loop, leaking viscous defecation. "Aaaah!" Rainbow yelped and flailed, fumbling to disentangle herself from the spilled pony entrails. When at last she had crawled ten feet away, she hugged herself, staring at the mangled white body of a unicorn whose belly had burst open across the muddy earth.
There was a scraping and crunching sound from behind the corpse. At last, a little purple dragon looked up, his face stained with blood as he stuffed the scrappy remnants of Rarity's liver into his mouth. One last gulp, and Spike smiled, bile and fat dribbling from his maw. A giggle escaped his gullet, framed with Razor sharp teeth.
Rainbow Dash clenched her teeth. She crawled away from the dragon whelp. Her left wing throbbed, pulsated. The ringing was everywhere, passing through her. She whimpered from the pain, pulling herself past a shrieking stallion who fought and struggled as lashing thorned tendrils pulled him into a sopping wet mudhole. Thunder rolled. The smell of amniotic fluid wafted to Rainbow's nose. She rolled over, batting off tiny black skittering things as they crawled out of a bloated mare's womb to her left.
"Nnngh! Grhhkk... ummff!"
Maybe this was why Rainbow Dash hurt herself the other day. Secretly, she wanted to die. What pony ever wanted to live in the first place? What was even the point?
"Grnnng—Aaaagh! Shut up!" Rainbow clutched her hooves over her head. She forced herself up, growling in consternation. "I mean it! You've got nothing on me! You've got nothing—!"
A piercing wail echoed from a nearby patio.
Rainbow Dash gasped. She looked across the street. An orange shape caught her eye. Limping, Rainbow stumbled past Twilight as the unicorn tossed more books onto a burning pyre. She trotted loosely around Thunderlane and Blossomforth as they gyrated against each other. Finally, climbing over a hollowed out corpse, she approached the little filly. "Scootaloo...?"
"So ugly..." The little pegasus gnashed her teeth, then clamped her jaw over the bloody bits that remained of her left wing. "Grkkkk—Hrnnnngh!" Each feather stalk popped sickeningly as she ripped them out from their roots. Blood ran across her flank, staining her orange coat red.
"Scoots!" Rainbow Dash squatted down, holding the filly in place. "Snap out of it! What—" She wretched, staring at the exposed bits of bone sticking out of Scootaloo's back. "What in Celestia's name did you do?!"
"What h-had to be d-done..." The filly sniffled and whimpered. She looked up, her cheekbones hollow, pale. She vomited a tiny trickle of fluid, then smiled. "Hehehe... look, Rainbow..." She pointed at the blood running thickly across her flank. "...my cutie mark!"
Rainbow shivered. She looked over her shoulder. The town library had burst into flames. A pair of mares were drinking tea across the street. Fuming, Rainbow turned back and hoisted Scootaloo over her shoulder. "We're going, Scootaloo. Now."
Scootaloo winced as her bloody figure was draped across Rainbow's spine. "I just realized they were accidents... mistakes growing out of my back... that's all... it's that simple..."
"Don't give up hope, Scootaloo," Rainbow stammered as she broke into a firm gallop. She had to weave left and right to avoid the miscellaneous bits of carnage strewn across the streets of Ponyville. "You must never... ever give up hope! Do you hear me?!"
"I should have listened when I was still in the orphanage." Scootaloo clung to Rainbow, mewling. "I was abandoned for a reason. Who would want a useless freak like me?"
"There was no orphanage, Scootaloo." Rainbow frowned, breaking past the edge of town. Mist hung heavy and hot over the edge of the Everfree Forest. It was hard to hear her own words over the sound of thunder. "And you are not useless! Don't listen to it, okay?! Don't let it win!"
"The only time I was ever useful was when I was on the streets of Fillydelphia," Scootaloo cooed, a dazed smile of pain across her face. "A stallion scooped me up from the snowbank. He said he was going to show me where rainbows were made. So I followed h-him to this warehouse by the river. He and his friends played games with me. It hurt, Rainbow Dash..."
Rainbow clenched her eyes shut in mid-stride. "Scootaloo..."
"It hurt so m-much. But... but I knew I was making him and his friends happy." She nuzzled her blue fuzz. "I was being useful."
"Scootaloo, stop it..."
"Then one day..." The filly giggled. "I ripped open a stray kitten and drank from its neck. It was being useful for me too. We were both such ugly... ugly things before the fire..."
"Darn it, Scootaloo!" Rainbow Dash stopped altogether. She yanked the foal off her backside and held her in her outstretched hooves. "None of that happened! None of that could ever have happened!"
"They roasted... alive..." Scootaloo spat out another trickle of bile, smiling. "Their hair smelled wonderful. The ashes became the stars. Blessed be Luna's name."
"Luna would not condone this. Celestia and her sister would not allow any of this!" Rainbow hollered. "Don't you get it?!" She hugged the kid close, careful not to rub up against her mangled wing-stems. "Th-this is not our world, Scootaloo. Nothing about this is good. Nothing about it is cool or awesome. It's just horrible for the sake of being horrible! When have things ever worked like that?! Even in our darkest days, we still have each other to lean on! We have what it takes to get out of any mess! To overcome any obstacle!"
"I'm your only obstacle, Rainbow Dash." Scootaloo sobbed, her tears leaking against Rainbow's chest as they both shivered in the rain. "Maybe that's why you and Fluttershy won't adopt me."
Rainbow groaned, rolling her eyes towards the sky. "Scootaloo..."
"It's okay. I wouldn't adopt a little freak with useless wings either. But it's okay! I've fixed it!" She weakly gazed up, flexing her bloodied limbs. "See?"
"Scootaloo... this is Equestria. And we are ponies. We don't do 'misery.' We don't do 'hatred.' We don't—"
Scootaloo looked up at Rainbow Dash with scrumptious sparkling eyes.
Rainbow wheezed, her breath short and shorter. "Don't... we d-don't..."
Just one little lick. A taste of cinnamon. A whiff of vanilla. Rainbow Dash was seconds away from letting go of the breath that she didn't even know she was holding.
"Yes, Rainbow?" The filly's tiny heart fluttered between them, precious and succulent.
Rainbow gulped. "No more temptations." She slapped Scootaloo once more onto her backside. "We're going and we're going now."
"I've waited long enough!" Rainbow breathed... breathed deeper... and leapt for the sky.
Her body split down the middle.
"Aaaa-haaaugh!" Rainbow screamed, plummeting instantly from the pain in her left wing.
But Rainbow's hooves stopped just inches from the ground. She hovered tortuously in place, her cheeks expanding and contracting with each fuming breath. "Nnnnnnnnghhh—!!" Clenching her teeth to the point of breaking, she tore her way skyward, flapping slowly over the treetops of Everfree on throbbing feathers. "—Yaaaa-aaaughh!"
The edges of Rainbow's vision turned red from the sheer bloodshot to her eyes. White flashes of pain rippled left and right like moths in rain. She pushed and pulled, as if trying to force a machete out with her ruptured muscles alone. Somewhere beyond it all, Scootaloo protested louder and louder with deafening shrieks. Rainbow ignored her, ascending higher, faster. At last, after a bitter marathon of anguish, she found herself flying northeast at a brisk rate.
"Where are you t-taking us?!" Scootaloo yelped.
"To... C-Canterlot..." Rainbow hissed. The pain had wrung all the warmth from her blood. She felt like frosted pellets were being funneled through her veins. The foggy mists of an overcast sky enveloped them. All she could see was an endless tree canopy below. "If anypony can overpower this thing, it's Celestia!"
Thunder rolled, crackling into Rainbow's ear drums.
"That's right! You heard me!" Rainbow hollered, soaring forward. "Princess Celestia! Now there's a pony who can call down the thunder! She's gonna make you crawl back into whatever festering hole you—"
The fog parted. Straight ahead of her, the burning buildings of Ponyville peeled into focus.
"—came from." Rainbow hovered to a stop, eyes twitching. "What... what... wh-what...?!"
Ponies thrashed, wailed, and laughed in the streets. The Town Hall imploded into a burning shroud of embers while little foals and limping shadows danced around it.
Rainbow was hyperventilating ceaselessly at this point. She tilted her weight towards her good side, rotating towards the right. Facing south, she flapped her wings harder—whimpered briefly from the pain—and flew in a straight line.
Once more, she passed over forest. Once more, the fog rolled around them. Then, five shivering minutes later, the mist parted. Ponyville emerged, smoldering beneath the drizzle of cold precipitation. Rainbow watched in numb shock as Town Hall collapsed all over again.
It was no use.
"It's no use, Rainbow," Scootaloo droned.
She had to give in.
The filly nuzzled the back of her neck. "You might as well give in."
Before Rainbow could hear the ringing in her ears, she snarled. "Ghhrkkk—NO!" Thrusting her wings back, she shot her body upward, piercing straight through the clouds as she ascended at a rapid rate.
"Rainbowww!" Scootaloo clung for dear life, shrieking against the high altitude winds. "It'll be gentle with us if we just don't fight it—!"
"I don't believe that for a second!" Rainbow hollered, seething in pain. "Maybe you do, kid! But I'm gonna save you from that!"
"I'm gonna save everypony! I'm not about to leave the rest of Ponyville hanging—"
Something emerged from the clouds above. It was the earth's surface, dotted with burning buildings. Rainbow gasped as she found herself plummeting along the pull of gravity.
She spun, flailed, and stretched her wings out. Something popped along her left joints. She howled in pain, but nonetheless maintained her trajectory, pulling up before she and Scootaloo could become stains across the rooftops of Ponyville.
The two ponies glided past a swirling band of misty rain. They climbed upwards, arching over columns of smoke. By this point, Rainbow's vision was turning foggy. Her body was numb, and the entire left side of her felt like a cold slab of meat trying desperately to keep up with the right.
So it was with meager surprise that Rainbow realized that she had glided long enough to finally pierce the mists. A blinding swath of sunlight cut across her face. She squinted, tilting her head up with a quivering expression.
Off in the distance, like a face peering through a cloudy window, was the hazy heights of Canterlot. Its majestic spires glistened with ethereal light.
Rainbow Dash grinned dazedly, a tear trickling down her rain-slick muzzle. "Thank Celestia..." She gulped dryly. "There's no smoke in the distance! That means there's still time to—"
A blinding flash erupted, devouring Rainbow's whole vision. She shrieked like a filly, reeling backwards as Scootaloo dangled from her back. Seconds later, a resounding burst of noise
ricocheted across the Equestrian landscape in every direction. When Rainbow found the strength to look once more, she gawked at an enormous plume of flame erupting from behind Canterlot Mountain, occupying the entire horizon like a burning mushroom of titanic proportions. Within seconds, the towers and balconies of Canterlot were crumbling, collapsing, emptying into the dull valley below.
"No..." Rainbow quivered.
A translucent blast wave approached Ponyville at the speed of sound.
Rainbow's tears evaporated as she held out her forelimbs. "NO—!"
The wave struck. Rainbow felt her left wing tear clean off. She howled in pain, but the thunder had consumed her. She fell and flew at once, going wherever the heated currents of air willed. When her body at last hit the earth, it was like flinging a baseball against a concrete wall. She bounced at an angle, twirled, and skidded to a stop in the sopping wet mud. Puddles of liquid steamed all around her as the atmosphere roasted, simmered, and went cool once more. A fresh layer of condensed liquid came falling back down, drenching Rainbow through to her wounds.
Seconds later, she felt pain again.
"Aaaa-haaaaaugh!" Rainbow curled into a fetal position, feeling the rivers of hot blood running down from her left side. She shook, quivered, threw up into her mouth, and swallowed it down in time for the next pained breath. "Graaa-aaaaugh! Mmmmngh—huhhhghhh-Celestiaaaa!"
Something was squeaking just a few yards away... something with Scootaloo's voice.
With each remaining ounce of loyal strength, Rainbow Dash rolled over and crawled towards the sound. "Scoots... Scoots..." She struggled to open her eyelids. The ends of her bangs were still smoldering from the heat. "I'm so sorry, Scoots. I tried... I should have attempted leaving earlier... I never wanted you to... to..." She heard voices gathering all around, making her pause in mid-crawl. Rainbow looked up, panting and bleeding.
Out from the wreckage of Ponyville, villagers gathered. Some covered in blood. Some covered in other fluids. A few of them sobbed. Most were grinning. The thunder had doubled... tripled at this point. It was swirling all around the scene. Crawling and skittering through the mists and mayhem beyond the smiling muzzles and more muzzles. It grew hungrier by the second. Rainbow felt it in her teeth, and she forced her mouth open.
"Somepony! Help us!" Rainbow hollered. "Help her!" Despite her panicked shrieks, the villagers only laughed and cooed more. "Will you jerks stop just standing there and do something?! You can't all be lost! I don't care what Lyra said!"
Rainbow Dash didn't care what Lyra said.
"I just don't... I don't..." Rainbow shivered and wept.
Rainbow Dash didn't care.
"I don't care..." She slumped down besides Scootaloo's limp figure. The ringing in her ears was practically a siren at this point. The only way to alleviate was to look down at Scootaloo... at her adorable tear-stained face. "Hurts so much," she droned, gulped. "Not cool. Miss b-being awesome." She drooled something loose and red from her muzzle. "Wanna be through with this in... ten seconds fl-flat..."
It was okay.
"It's okay, Rainbow Dash," Scootaloo sputtered past the blood, managing a smile. Her face twitched in the the shadows of gathering ponies. "I've only ever wanted to be useful."
Rainbow Dash stared down at her, lips quivering.
The filly's flesh was soft. Fuzzy.
It was alright.
"Just one lick."
It would taste like cinnamon.
Rainbow Dash's pupils shrank. Just then, the ringing stopped, as did the rain. The heat between them was a satin soup. Rainbow swam through it, drifting down until her muzzle was lingering just centimeters above the filly's panting nostrils.
"I love you, Rainbow Dash," Scootaloo mewled.
Something swallowed deep in the back of Rainbow's throat. "Funny..." And she pressed her lips over the foal's. Her nostrils tickled from the sugary fragrance, and instantly her tongue darted through her teeth, lapping up the edges of Scootaloo's mouth, inhaling the pent-up breaths that filtered out of her tiny lungs in every other squeak. The pain was gone from Rainbow's wing. The fuzziness spread, tingling down Rainbow's spine.
But when it struck the base of her tail, something shot back out. Rainbow's muscles tensed, and when she pulled back she was biting hard on Scootaloo's lips like a vice. She growled against it, like a dog might fight over a chew toy, but all she could do was pull and pull. In ten syrupy seconds, she had ripped the upper cleft of Scootaloo's mouth from her face, leaving strips of red meet dangling over exposed teeth and gums.
"Gnnnrhhh-ghuuu—No... Grkkk—NO!" Rainbow spat. A strip of foal-flesh fell out of her maw. Her tongue and cheeks were laced with the hot taste of iron, flushing around and dribbling down her chin. "No... n-no... Sc-Scootaloo—!"
"Th-thank you, Rainbow Dash," the filly gurgled, smiling with what was left of her mouth.
"Grrrrrrhhhgh!" Eyes twitching, Rainbow brought her hoof back and slammed it across Scootaloo's face.
The filly's nose bent in the wrong direction, then crunched completely when Rainbow's limbs pounded it a second time... followed by a third. "Thank you—" She wheezed once more, gurgling. "Thank you thank you—grkkk—thnkkkkkk—"
"Scootaloo, No!" Rainbow panted and panted, eyelids flinching with each punch and pummeling strike. Scootaloo's face turned purple and black beneath her. Teeth spilled out a hole in her cheek, followed by scraps of tongue and uvula. "Oh Celestia, Luna—please! No!"
All that came out of Scootaloo's face at this point was an indiscernible gargle. Her legs quivered, reaching up to embrace the mare who was bludgeoning her. A tail flicked. The filly was delightfully, tortuously alive.
"Stop this!" Rainbow hollered. Rainbow wept. She was raising both hooves now, striking two fetlocks at a time, ripping Scootaloo's face apart like a knife through gelatin. Brain matter and phlegm bubbled to the surface, popping like maggots. "Please! I don't want to do this!"
The villagers surrounding the scene applauded. The growling and thunder...
"Stop this! For the love of Celestia, you have to stop this! Stop letting this happen!"
Rainbow clenched her teeth, slapping her hooves against Scootaloo's eyes and applying all her weight. The organs popped within their sockets, spilling loose violet pulp and red jelly.
"Stop it! Please! I'm begging you!"
She reached down, teeth snapping over Scootaloo's ear. She twisted and pulled until the cartilage ripped loose in little red gossamer strings.
"Grrkkkt! Stop! Curse you to Tartarus! Only you have the power to stop this! I'll do anything! Just please! Stop it! Stop it right now!"
She was gripping Scootaloo's neck at this point, bashing the skull against the ground. The filly's spine snapped, collapsing in on itself. Limbs thrashed, clawing at Rainbow, trying to pull her closer.
"You can stop this! You have to stop this! Why won't you just stop this?!"
Rainbow clamped her mouth over Scootaloo's muzzle once more, drinking the bile from the exposed meat. Her mouth filled with iron. Her screams bubbled at the blood.
She ripped Scootaloo's flesh off, peeling it down her chest like loose carpet.
"Hnngrkk—Stopppffghhh—I don't want to do this! I don't want to! I don't w-want to! I don't—!"
Once Scootaloo's ribcage was exposed, she clawed and punched and hammered her way through until her own hooves split.
"Nnnnngh! Stop! Don't! Don't please!" Rainbow hollered and sobbed. She was neck deep in Scootaloo's chest. The heartbeat was faint when her teeth clamped over it. "Grkkk—No! No! Hraaa-aaaakkk!" She choked on the blood flowing down her gullet. "Grkllgkkg—Grlllgkkt—Haaaaaugh! Aaaaaaaugh!"
Thunder rolled and warbled, splitting through the earth.
The applause quadrupled, then faded into a prolonged hiss. The misty world spun. Thunder turned to bells, and out from the blood and bedlam, a melodic voice: