The Everfree Forest was no stranger to peculiarities, and its scent certainly fit the bill. Anypony crazy or mentally unstable enough to tread within its boundaries wouldn't catch a single change in aroma. Only someone who risked every moment of their life living there could recognize just how pungent it was.
Brilliant moonlight squeezed through bizarre vegetation. Sticky fog formed a sphere around any viewpoint, and even though creatures were up and about, no markings of any kind could be seen.
In a small clearing, a cloaked stallion made himself comfortable on an purple pillow, taking in the community around him. The misshaped trees, the dank air, and the treacherous monsters truly tickled his fancy. Sitting there for hours on end sniffing the place would've been a field day. After a particularly deep whiff, he took out some of the roasted cockatrice from the bags sitting by him and bit off a mouthful. He had found the remains of this terror before, but he would only savor his favorite meal when he killed it himself.
The sound of a single pair of footsteps severed the stallion's concentration. The fragrance in his nostrils jetted back out.
"Mr. Unicorn, sir!" exclaimed a panting voice. "She's awake!"
The pony didn't bother to recognize his interferer's presence. He just sat there and continued to eat, loudly licking his lips. Even in his panic, the diamond dog couldn't help but double take as he verified what he was eating. "Sir"
"I thought I told you to wait until I came back?"
"Y-yes, you did, but as soon as she woke up, she she started yelling and kicking and trying to fly away." He massaged his belly and muttered, "Bucked my tummy too."
"Awwww you poor thing. Would you like some medicine?" The unicorn turned around and combined a gentle tone with a friendly smile.
"Um, I guess that would be nice?"
"Well, too bad. I'm afraid that nothing in my bags can help you." He resumed his natural position and gnawed on another chunk of the cockatrice. "Quite the opposite, actually."
The dog bit his lip, but stopped because of his teeth's sharpness. The forest's silence reigned again, save for the unicorn's hushed chewing.
"So what do we do then?"
"You are free to continue watching me eat."
"But, she's yelling her head off!"
"Oh, let her yell. Nopony is going to hear her."
"B-but, what if a hydra or something hears her and finds us!?"
The unicorn pondered this, distracted by the taste dissolving in his mouth. "Well I suppose it would be problematic to you diamond dogs if a monster were to decide to show up." After swallowing, he spotted a mouse with its nose up off in the distance. Something dug itself out of the ground and snatched the poor thing before he knew what hit him. It squeaked for mercy, but it knew the end was inevitable. The creature pulled its prey back beneath the ground to its death. The unicorn finally exhaled. "Very well," he concluded as he stood up. "Let's not keep her waiting, shall we?"
With two brown bags floating in his magical grasp, the pony and the dog started walking through a crude path, the latter keeping his distance. The former smirked and assured, "There's no reason to fear me, Rover. I am not your enemy."
"Yes, but you haven't told us what we're going to do, why we're doing it, or why you needed all of us. I don't even what your name is," he responded.
"Don't worry yourself with the details. All you need to know is that your payment is diamonds, lots of diamonds."
The talk of his coveted reward did nothing to soothe the dog's nerves.
One moment the tears were coursing as she was officially welcomed into the Wonderbolts, and the next everything was black. Rainbow Dash feared that the unconditional thrill of having finally achieved her life's dream had caused her to pass out. Horrified at the idea of being perceived as flimsy, she quickly tried to wake herself up. All her sensations, however, told her that she was awake.
Darn it! Why couldn't it have been real?
Strange things began to come to Rainbow's attention. Instead of fluffy blankets, it was clammy air hugging her coat. She could hear the gruff breathing of a plethora of life forms surrounding her, perking up her ears. Everything was pitch black, but what unnerved her the most was knowing her wings were tied to her back.
"Wha what happened? Where am I?"
She tried to break free from her unseen captors, shouting, "Hey, who's there?! Let me go!"
"You're not going anywhere, pony."
The screechy voice was nothing compared to the appalling stench. She was sure it was only breath, but it felt like a spray. Despite having just awakened, Rainbow exploded into a fit of thrusts and thrashings. She lobbed her hindlegs into a poor creature that quickly smashed into a tree. Jagged claws tried to clutch her limbs, but failed as she walloped them back. More and more creatures barked whiningly at being struck, others shrieking, "Control her, control her! We can't let her get away!"
"Take that!" Rainbow shouted as she amplified her blind assault. She felt the body parts of many beings come into contact with her hooves, mostly on the receiving end of a nasty kick. Strangely, nopony really tried to grab anywhere else.
The tussle prolonged for only minutes, but during the most recent one, the filly could hear somepony attempting to talk her. Whereas the initial voices were deep or high, this one seemed a bit feverish, like it was eager to exert its owner to the brink of death. Regardless, Rainbow ignored it.
"Give it up, chumps!"
"Ah, Rainbow Dash, is it not? I'm so glad you could visit us"
"It'll stop if you let me go!"
" Rainbow Dash, excuse me"
"Fight like a stallion, you cowards!"
"The only thing you got on me is your disgustiOOOOFFF!"
The clash ended when a dense hoof collided with her abdomen. Wincing, she heard the voice continue in a playfully offended tone, "My badness! I know that you're the impetuous one, but it's just plain rude to ignore somepony when they're trying to talk to you!"
"Why did you" Rainbow's eyebrows cocked underneath her presumed blindfold. "Wha huh?"
"Oh, nothing, my dear."
After a moment of silence, the voice inquired in disbelief, "What in Equestria ?"
"Um," said someone else. "We can expla"
"How did she do all of that to you? We did only take one pony, correct?"
A cloggy voice answered, "Yes, butyou see she"
"Oh, I can see what she did," he persisted. "I've never seen so many dogs so bruised. Why didn't you bind her more? You didn't even tie up her forelegs. Did you expect her to wait until we released her to try to escape?"
"We've never had to tie up a pony before! She caught us by surprise and"
"Oh, don't give me excuses! I expected you too keep it under control, and this is the exact opposite of being kept under control. I mean, just look at yourselves! If I didn't know any better, I'd say the Canterlot Royal Guards whipped your rear ends like nopony's business!"
"You told us not to hurt her!" another howled. Several individuals woofed in agreement.
"Yes, I did," clarified the first one, "but that doesn't mean you have to let her do this to you." He paused, his tone turning to praise. "You sure put a number on them, didn't you Rainbow Dash?"
"You bet I did! It's gonna' take more than a few monsters to handle me!"
"Now now, must you be so crude? I wouldn't call them monstersah, that's right. You still have the blindfold on. Rover, remove it for her, please."
Rainbow felt a shaking claw clamp over the blindfold and gingerly remove it.
Once her eyes adjusted to the light, which wasn't much, she examined her environment. There were creatures she recognized as the diamond dogs everywhere, the majority being grunt-like hounds. The only pony was an average sized stallion standing right in front of her, something black covering nearly his entire body. A hood cast a shadow over his face, but she thought she could see a sparkly white smile amongst the dark.
Her location was undesirably familiar. Hoping she was wrong, Rainbow asked, "Where am I?"
The stallion twittered, "Why, you're in the Everfree Forest, my dear! Such a lovely place this time of year. Oh my! Rhyme unintended." He giggled.
Rainbow's lips hung ajar.
"Don't leave your mouth open, Rainbow Dash. You'll catch a fly."
She blinked. "Wait wait wait. How do you know me?"
"Aren't you the only pony to ever perform a sonic rainboom?" he asked with visibly fake shock as he put his hooves to his cheeks.
"What? Oh yeah! That's me!" The pegasus beamed and held her chin high. "The one and only Rainbow Dash. Heh, heard of me often?"
"No, actually. I've never heard of you."
Her haughty smile fell into puzzlement. " What?"
The unicorn sat in front of Rainbow and pulled a small bag out of one of his larger bags, and then removed a steaming piece of meat. Levitating it towards her, he asked politely, "Cockatrice?"
"I'm offering you some food," he explained as if it was obvious. "Surely you have been taught to accept a free meal when it is presented to you?"
"You're crazy! Ponies don't eat meat." The unicorn shrugged and dug his teeth into the meal and tore a piece off. Rainbow eyed him warily and added, "And even if they did, I don't think they'd eat cockatrice?"
He stared at her funnily. "Ah, you're not a unicorn, are you?"
Rainbow instinctively tried to flap her wings tauntingly, but the bonds still kept them down.
"Allow me to articulate, my dear. Certain varieties of sorcery can do things to you, some that can never revert," he said, holding his hooves in the air. "When you've delved into the deepest recesses of dark magic as I have, physical anatomy and physiology can be manipulated." He chuckled, "Can you imagine my face when I found out I can only eat meat?"
Unfortunately, Rainbow didn't hear more than the beginning of his explication. Once he started using big words, she went back to what she knew: the cockatrice. Twilight had told her that she had once been turned into stone while trying to get to Zecora's Hut for some kind of tea. Thanks to Fluttershy's stare, everything had turned out okay, but the idea of what that monster could do made the fur on the back of Rainbow's neck shoot up.
"and I discovered that it can be quite succulent. Took a while to get used to, mind you, but I'm fine with it now."
"But cockatrices can turn ponies into stone! How did you get that?"
"Silly, you cut off the head, of course!" replied the stallion jovially, who then took the largest bite of the meat yet.
Rainbow Dash gaped at her surroundings, expecting herself to be a part of some sick jokeone she could not appreciate. All of the dogs that weren't expressionless hounds were staring back and forth between her and the unicorn edgily.
"Wait a minute what's going on? The last thing I remember is lying down to take a nap. The next thing I know, I'm in the Everfree Forest being held hostage by the diamond dogs and you!"
The unicorn held up a hoof, then motioned to his mouth, indicating that it was still full. This did not help Rainbow's confused look.
When he was finished, he answered, "Well, first of all, it's not a good idea to sleep on a tree branch. You could fall off and break a bone or something." He smiled thoughtfully.
"Second, a simple sedative was utilized to prevent you from arising prior to our desired point in time. However, it is evident that I administered an inadequate dose. No matter! You're here now, we may therefore forthwith commence with our scheduled activities."
Rainbow couldn't keep the astonishment off of her scowl. "I only speak Equestrian."
"I need you to deliver a message to somepony."
Rainbow's bewilderment boiled into affronted rage. "Hey, I'm no mailmare! And even if I was, I wouldn't do anything for a ponynapping, meat-eating freak like you!"
"Gee, Rainbow Dash, I'm getting the vibe that you don't trust me?"
She quickly recovered from his outlandish response. "Don't trust you? I don't even know who the hay you are! I can't even see your face for Luna's sake!"
The stallion smirked. "If you wanted me to remove my hood, you could've just asked." He brought a hoof to the top of his cloak and pulled it down.
No one successfully stifled their yelps.
It took Rainbow a moment to realize that there wasn't blood all over his head; it was just the color of his coat. His spiky, unkempt mane was a baleful black, and the vivid red disks she guessed were eyes seemed to outshine the moon. For the first time tonight, Rover's agitation spread to all the dogs and ponies in the area.
"Who who are you?"
"Me? I'm just a simple guy with a hobby."
His lips spiraled in delight. "You'll find out soon."
The unicorn stood back up and brought another one of his bags between them. "Now, as I was saying, it is crucial that Twilight Sparkle receives this messag"
"No!" she shouted as her muscles tensed up again. "I'm not delivering anything! You ponynap me from my homewhich I still can't figure out how, considering it's in the skyhold me against my will, and then expect me to do something for you?!"
"I said, no!"
"Are you absolutely sure?"
"YES! Now let me freakin' go!"
"So what you're saying is, you won't deliver my straightforward message to Twilight?"
Rainbow Dash glared daggers at him. "Go jump in a river."
"Aha, aren't you the feisty one?" he remarked, clicking his hooves together. "Now, if you insist on doing this the hard way, then I have no choice but to comply."
A small vial filled with a purplish liquid floated out of his bag. Rainbow's eyes set upon it nervously. "Um what's that?" Her gaze then traveled to the unicorn's face. Although she had been sure before that his smile couldn't get any bigger, it had expanded.
Immediately, he magically wrenched Rainbow's muzzle forward and coerced her mouth as open as possible. She tried to fight back, but the unicorn sternly held her muscles in place. He opened the vial and decanted its contents down her throat and swiftly sealed her jaw shut.
Once she recovered from having nearly her entire body magically manipulated for the first time, Rainbow established her supremacy by not ingesting the fluid.
"Oh my, I'm didn't expect that to happen!"
Another object was removed from the bags: a knife stained with dark red material. Rainbow's eyes flew wide open.
"Oh, don't worry, it's not real blood. I haven't acquired authentic substance, yet. Now then." He callously pressed the blade against Rainbow's neck. "I'm a very patient pony; I've waited a long, long, long time for this day, but I honestly don't feel like saying this more than once. Swallow it."
Rainbow almost did out of panic. What would it do to her? Poison her? Paralyze her for life? Melt her body from the inside? But what would happen if she didn't drink it? She couldn't find a solution, until the stallion said flatly, "It not poison. I wouldn't waste any of that when I could kill you with little effort right now."
Taking her chances, she did as he asked. If firecrackers had a taste, then they would've gone off on her tongue. The pegasus shut her eyes in anticipation of something even more terrible happening, but to her pleasant surprise, she started to feel good. Very good, actually. Every second that passed by exponentially brought more confidence despite her circumstances. "Well, you must've picked the wrong one, because I feel like a million bits!"
"No, that means it's the right one," he assured. "You see, what this potion does is escalate the senses in the body. You feel great right now, but it does other things too. For example "
For the second time, the unicorn threw his hoof into her belly. A traitorous gasp of air escaped and never returned. Rainbow effortlessly realized that even though he hadn't punched in the same spot, it had hurt more a lot more. Regardless, she recollected herself and spat, "Is that all you got? You punch like a little school filly!"
Many of the dogs guffawed inanely, but the stallion's smile didn't erode in the slightest. "Well, if I punch like a filly, then I suppose I'll have to let these here fellows punch harder. diamond dogs!"
The majority of the cronies snapped to attention, and after a few moments of intense thinking, the hounds followed suit. "I need you boys to teach this pony a lesson."
Rainbow commented, "Yeah right."
The non-hounds peered at each other uncertainly. Their leader responded, "Well, what do you expect us to do?"
"Maul her. Maim her. Rout her."
" What?" replied Rainbow and Rover in unison.
The unicorn sighed. "Allow me to put it in simpleton vernacular: beat her to a pulp."
Rainbow, for once, said nothing.
"But why? What has she done to us?"
The unicorn's head went back as his hooves went up in a staggered manner. "What are you decent? I thought these were the diamond dogs, not the sissy, scrawny scaredy puppies."
Scowls quickly reached each of their faces. They let loose their opinions with a spectrum of pitches.
"Hey, we ain't scared o' nothin'!"
"We could whip this pony's flank!"
"Yeah what they said!"
Rainbow couldn't help but mock them. "You really wanna' try that again?"
"Don't you realize what she did to you fine gentlemen? Her cohort deceived you all. She and her gang gleefully trotted away with barrels upon barrels of diamonds diamonds that belonged to you!"
"Hey he's right! They stole our diamonds!"
"I did not! You literally gave them to us!"
"Nah-uh! She stole them, the thief!"
"She thinks she can get away with stealing from us!?"
The stallion merrily continued, "She also thinks you're all a bunch of weak, brainless mutts who couldn't find a gem to save your life, right Rainbow Dash?"
"You kidding? Everypony thinks that!"
Rainbow cursed herself for speaking her mind as the diamond dogs growled even more heatedly. They were dim, but she realized a little too late that they could do what they were considering. When she noticed that a black glow was shrouding the unicorn's horn, her worry grew. 'What is he doing?'
"Who does this pony think she is?"
"She deserves to be punished!"
"Hey, hey, hold on just a minute here," began Rainbow anxiously. "Can't we talk about this?"
"Punish the pony!"
"Make her pay!"
"Yeah what they said!"
The unicorn provoked, "Then what are you waiting for?"
"Wait a second"
With all motivation and means, the diamond dogs piled against the pegasus, taking whatever shot at her they could and hitting their own in the process. They socked her and clawed her and kicked her, in the stomach, the shoulder, and the chest. She tried and failed to break free from their grasp.
The ruin all seemed to go so slow to Rainbow. The fights she had gotten into at Junior Speedsters Flight Camp were never this painful. It was as if every punch counted for two, twice as fast. Despite the pandemonium, she could hear the unicorn shout, "Stop!"
His voice penetrated everypony, like he was speaking directly into their minds. The diamond dogs almost immediately let Rainbow fall to the ground, who had amazingly prevented herself from shouting yet. She calculated the damage done as she breathed with difficulty.
"Does it hurt?"
The panting pegasus opened her eyes to see the stallion's face right next to hers, his expression having gone back to a kind, concerned one.
Ferocity smoldered in Rainbow's heart. Her responsespitting in his facedidn't even make him flinch. "I thought as much." He stood back up.
Very willing, the dogs recommenced their beating. Rainbow frantically tried to flap her wings, but she couldn't break them free from their bondage. Even if she could, it would do nothing to stop them from striking her. The dog's eyes were literally black in bedlam. Just when she thought she couldn't take anymore, the unicorn once again roared, "Stop!"
They reluctantly dropped her body again, though this time there was much more of a mess. She was bleeding, black-and-blue, and wheezing almost uncontrollably. Though feeling grateful it had stopped, she recklessly hollered, "Wha', i' z'at all ya' got!? Pathetic!"
Rainbow felt a tug on her tail. The unicorn was dragging her across the ground away from the diamond dogs. "Hey, L-let me go! 'M not finished with 'em yet!"
"This sordid lack of creativity is simply inexcusable," he said as he eyed the dogs disapprovingly. "Thank you for your assistance, but I think I'll take it from here."
After numerous vain endeavors to remove herself from his magical command, Rainbow felt the unicorn hoist her up so that she was sitting on her haunches. In the exhausted pony's sight was a large gray tree, thicker than most. confusion briefly returned before something struck the back of her head, slamming it against the hard bark. Everything went dizzy for a moment as Rainbow tried to voice her natural reaction at last, but the sound couldn't flee through her parted lips. The unicorn grabbed her mane and unceremoniously smashed it against the tree again.
"Now, does it hurt, Rainbow Dash? Huh!?"
"Not so tough now, are you? All talk and no trot!"
"Doesn't it feel gooooood to get a little nature in your nostrils!?"
"Can't you accomplish anything in life? You think the Wonderbolts would accept a disgraceful failure like you? Do you!?"
He crashed her face against the tree with additional force. Her perception beginning to diminish, Rainbow finally cried out in anguish, "Please stop!"
"Stop? You mean it's painful or something? I thought the mighty Rainbow Dash was impervious to pain? We'd better double check to make sure you're right!"
He slammed her face against the tree for the sixth time, and Rainbow felt like her head was rupturing. Mercifully, the stallion let her body lifelessly fall to the ground, where in abundant tears and uneven breaths she pleaded, "Please, I d-don't know what I did to you b-but I'm sorry!"
"'Sorry' won't save everypony from the calamitous and meaningless tragedy called life, Rainbow Dash. Did you honestly think that I have something against you? 'Cause let me tell you, I don't, even if it seems that way. No, you're just part of the formula."
Rainbow Dash had given up trying to understand anything this stallion was saying. It was quiet for a few moments in the Everfree Forest, except for her near bawling. Wrapping her hooves around her face hurt, but it brought a minuscule amount of imaginary protection. Rainbow prayed that she was only having the worst nightmare imaginable, and that in reality she was safely asleep in her warm, calm cloud home.
His breathing becoming less deep, the unicorn broke the silence. "Let's finish this, shall we, pegasus?"
With the power she had left, Rainbow could tell that the stallion was hauling her back to the diamond dogs, whom weren't making a peep. Struggling to reopen her eyes, Rainbow's face petrified when she saw that his grimace had reverted to his smile, which was curved in an ever alarming fashion.
"Please stop!" she begged. "Please let me go!"
"Sorry, Dash, but that's not going to happen. You see, there's this certain sound I like, one I haven't heard in months, and I think you're the perfect pony to help me relieve it."
Not even wanting to know what it was, the pegasus used all the energy she had left to try to pitifully crawl away from her subjugator. Unfortunately, she felt him step on her tail again, but that didn't stop her from trying.
"It's contortion time!"
Perverse magic enveloped around the bones of Rainbow's hindlegs, and she desperately hoofed the ground to get away.
Rainbow Dash screamed at the top of her lungs and writhed in absolute agony. The pain was past unbearable, past unnatural, she wouldn't want anyone to endure through it, not even the pony who did it to her. Nothing she did made it lessen, as if her bones were being snapped over and over again.
No one could really hear Rainbow, however, because somepony else was detonating their own earsplitting noise: the unicorn. A demented, euphoric cackle perforated the minds of any being within a mile, horrifying the life out of the diamond dogs and causing them to grab their ears in panic. No matter what they did, it still blared so well in their minds that they started to go haywire as well.
Rainbow Dash couldn't bawl any louder. Nothing made any sense to her. One day she's practicing aerial tricks for the Wonderbolts, and the next she's being beaten to death by the diamond dogs and a maniacal unicorn. It wasn't right anything in the world could be so excruciating. While never one to probe far into educational, or in her words, boring, subjects, she had read that when a pony gets in a serious enough accident, the pain can often be enough to knock them out. But she was still very much awake, every nerve in her body barraging messages to her brain for more pain, more pain, and more pain.
The Everfree Forest wasn't used to so much commotion. No creature, great or small, dared to get near the scene. Soon after the unicorn's ecstatic laughter was finished, the diamond dogs' panic died down, though they were still couldn't get their eyes away from him.
The stallion wiped a tear from his eye, grinning eccentrically. "Oh, I do apologize, everypony. I usually don't get so animated, but I haven't been able to do this for far too long. Oh, how I've longed to hear the screams again!"
The dogs were slowly stepping back, but he didn't care. Rainbow had now gone down to weeping miserably as the unicorn pulled her back to the tree along with one of his bags. Carefully levitating her limp body so that her hooves didn't touch the ground, he took out some rope and wrapped it around her and the base. "There you go. Not too tight your hooves don't have any pressure, aaaaaaand you're all set!" he chirped.
When she didn't say anything, the stallion started to chatter. "I know what it's like, you know. Not that the physical reaction doesn't say something, but I prefer to know exactly how it feels, the things I do to my subjects." He shuddered. "Jeez, just thinking about it hurts, hah!" The stallion put his hooves together. "Okay! Now that we're finished with that, how 'bout that message, hmm?"
Rainbow just kept crying. The stallion frowned and brought himself close to her face. "Hey, hey Rainbow Dash," he whispered as he gently patted her cheek. "Hey, RainbowI'm trying to talk to you, hey."
The stallion abruptly seized her face. Rainbow's eyes couldn't open fast enough as her terror reached its climax.
"Listen to me!" he snarled. "There's already enough pessimism in this world, so I'm just going to be positive here for a minute, alright? Let's just assume you do somehow survive our encounter. Let's also assume that no residents of this forest find you and tear your body limb from limb, and while we're at it, let's even assume you can break free from these ropes. You crawl back to your little town and tell Twilight that"
Rainbow's mutters of begging to wake up became audible, and the stallion indignantly jerked her head, bellowing, "LISTEN TO ME!"
In the brief moment of silence when Rainbow's terrified eyes smashed into his, she didn't see any hint of wrath or hatred. Instead, she only saw elation, pure, unadulterated elation.
"You tell Twilight that everything she thought was serene and wonderful in this world is about to turn into a maelstrom of misery and grief. You tell her that her friends are going to be the playing cards in this conflict, and that as long as she stands alive and well, everypony she cares about will suffer the consequences."
He dropped Rainbow's dripping head. She had heard, but she did not understand. The pegasus saw no reason in telling her this, other than to scare her more than she already was. She eventually gazed up at the pony. The devious smile was plastered on his face again.
"You know," he said. "Even as I tell you this, I find it might just be a waste of my breath. I originally did mean for you to live, but I guess even I can't control myself sometimes." He stroked her cheek again, while she shivered and breathed in and out quickly.
"You're going to die out here, Rainbow Dash. You're going to die alone, a failure at anything and everything, with nopony by your side, because nopony will come for you, because nopony loves you."
He didn't say anything else for a few moments. Cocking his head, the unicorn asked, "What's this? No more defiance? No 'You're wrong!'s, or 'That's a lie!'s?" She said nothing. What could she say?
"I'll take that as a no. I may now consider the First Act a success!" he shouted joyfully. He turned to go back to the diamond dogs, who were monitoring in apprehension. "Now, who's ready to get some diamonds?" Gradually, they raised their paws. "Excellent! Let us depart." The unicorn started to leave the scene, and after glancing at each other uneasily, the dogs did likewise.
Water droplets cruised to the ground and gave off a hum as wind set them off at a tangent, enhancing their tempo. Leaves and branches raucously wrestled with each other, forming an Everfree chant, but it was still soundless to one cyan-coated pegasus.
Rainbow Dash hung there, a new meaning of torment homing in on the pain scale of her life. The bruises she had acquired before this day had tended to pop up in certain places, as opposed to everywhere. Even if she had the liveliness to ponder who or what that pony was, she didn't think she'd care. At this moment in time, everything was inconsolable.
No, I can't die like this! I was supposed to go down in history as the greatest flier in all of Equestria, not to be killed before I become a Wonderbolt
Rainbow tried to wiggle out of the rope's command several times, but none of them brought any release.
No, no, no, NO! This can't be happening!
Her head sagged, and tears that weren't from physical harm slinked from her battered eyes.
I had so much to live for, so many things I could've done
Rainbow tried one last shot in the dark. Inhaling deeply regardless of how piercing it was, she summoned the very last of her vigor and cried out, "SOMEPONY HELP ME!"
Something imploded in Rainbow's throat, and then the darkness veiled her again.
Up until this point, the pegasus had kept herself calm, but as the time got closer to when they'd knock on her front door, Rainbow Dash felt her inner willpower fading. She fought to keep its ambition alive, but the intensifying grin on her face guaranteed her that no matter what she did, it was going to happen. Rainbow gave in.
She squealed fanatically and threw her hooves in the air.
"I'm gonna' hang with the WONDERBOLTS! This is going to be SO. TOTALLY. AWESOME!"
Knock knock knock
Mixed emotions swiveled in Rainbow's mind: irrepressible glee that her lifelong heroes were standing right outside her home, and fear that they had heard her. She made herself breathe in and out, and then composedly opened the door. Outside stood Spitfire, adorned with the Wonderbolt's uniform, and the other team members she instantly recognized following her.
"Heya Rainbow Dash," she greeted chillily. "Ready to hang with the Wonderbolts for an entire day?"
"Yes yes yes!"
Almost everypony laughed at her outburst. Once she realized what she had done, the filly blushed wildly and held her head low. Spitfire put a hoof on her drooping shoulder and smiled warmly. "Don't worry 'bout it, Dash. We get that a lot." She winked.
The fellow pegasi's friendly expressions made Rainbow's spirits rise. The heat in her cheeks was leaving, and her thrill was returning. The rest of the Wonderbolts said their own version of "hello", and she squeaked, "Hi."
"You all set?" asked Fleetfoot.
"Totally!" This time, Rainbow had only spoken just a bit louder than she'd wanted to.
"Alright then. So, we were planning to go to this diner, it's a pretty sweet place"
"The Cirrus, right?"
Spitfire grinned again. "I see you know a thing or two."
Rainbow waved a hoof nonchalantly. "Yeah, I know all about you guys, the greatest fliers in all of Equestria."
"That's what we've been told," she said. "Think you can keep up?"
"Hay yeah! I could fly there with both wings tied to my back," she declared decisively, earning approving chuckles from her fellow pegasi.
"I like your enthusiasm, Rainbow Dash," she said. "Let's fly."
In perfect accord, all the ponies blasted off from the cloud cover, the matchless exhilaration of one pegasus not being left behind.
Soarin' had never been in the Everfree Forest for its horrendous reputation, and seeing it from above didn't help its case.
The stallion's unrest at the site below was strong. His anxiety of personal issues he'd rather not talk to anypony about however, blew that out of the water. Having been soaring over the place for hours, Soarin' was sure he'd gone in circles more than once, but he didn't really care at the moment.
For the first time in many, many months, he and Spitfire had gotten into a fight. Instead of something they would later laugh at and remark as trivial, however, the pegasus feared this one would put a permanent incision on their friendship, even though he knew he was innocent.
The always-relaxed Spitfire had shown up at the Wonderbolts Headquarters earlier that day and demanded to know where Soarin' was. Everypony knew she knew where she could find him, but it was her way of telling everyone to not follow or talk to her. Past experiences had taught them well.
When she found the stallion he was, as expected, devouring a pie. Before she could say anything, he tried to get her to eat some, claiming, "It's the best flavor ever, dude!" Spitfire stated that that's what he said about all of the kinds of pie he liked, and become stern. Soarin' wouldn't take it though, insisting that she try "just one bite". The mare responded by knocking the beloved pastry out of his hooves and ordered him to tell her where "it" was.
Ever since she was a little filly, Spitfire had kept a locket with a picture of her father holding her as a foal. He had passed away when she was just a couple of years old in an untimely flying accident, leaving her mother to raise her on her own. His caring manner and encouraging beam were the most prominent things she could remember about him. He was her inspiration to become a great flier, even a Wonderbolt, and the thought of how proud he would be of her was very soothing.
Spitfire had always kept the heirloom safe and sound in the Bank of Cloudsdale. Because of her profession, she was able to afford one of the most expensive vaults they had to offer: six inch thick steel wall with a twelve digit combination she couldn't forget if she tried. The mare would check periodically to talk to her father, to tell her how great she was doing and how much she wished he could see her. She knew he wasn't really there, but it had always provided a bit of sentimental support to her heart.
Having grown up with Soarin', she was adamant that he have permission to open the vault at any time, even though he could never think of a reason why he would. It was her way of making sure it was still there, still real.
But when Spitfire visited the bank today, the gold encrusted locket was missing. She interrogated the desk attendants, but they solemnly replied that her vault hadn't been opened since the last time she was there. The pegasus had slammed her hooves on the table in aggravation and shouted the same question, but the nervous-looking stallion stammered the same answer.
Soarin' assured her plenty of times that he didn't take it, but the mare accused him of stealing it, even of selling it for commercial gain. He proclaimed that he really wanted something, he could just pay for it, but she was rigid. While both pegasi knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would never do such a thing, Spitfire swore that she would never forgive him as long as she lived.
Soarin' sniffed crossly. His anger at her accusation was easily surpassed by his perplexity as to why she would even believe for a second that he would do something like that. He didn't want to see her right now, not for a long time, and like all pegasi, the solution to a problem can often be flight. Soarin' had a hunch that he would be the Everfree Forest's sole visitor tonight.
Amidst his dejected reflection, a thunderous commotion from the ground darted through Soarin's ears. It wasn't too difficult to tell it was a cry for help.
Did somepony get attack by a monster?
Soarin' had heard the stories about the kinds of creatures that somehow made the forest below their home. While bumping into any of them wasn't on his to-do list, he felt incapable of abandoning a pony in need. The pegasus accelerated towards the source of the noise, promptly finding himself above an area without any trees. As he descended to the ground, the obvious signs of a scuffle presented themselves, but that wasn't what concerned him.
Not twenty feet away was clearly someone tied to a tree. Soarin' promptly flew to the pony's side and shook her shoulder. "Hey, hey buddy? You alright?" A quick examination revealed that the filly had bruises and blood everywhere, like she had been run over by a stampede. Despite the red in her mane, Soarin' could tell that it was rainbow-colored. A moment later
Soarin' bit the rope and pulled back with his legs and wings. To his surprise, the rope broke easily, causing him to fall onto his back. As the freed pony slowly descended to the ground, he raced up to catch her. When he did, he laid her body on the ground, cautiously removed the rope holding down her wings, and began to shake her urgently.
"Dash? Dash! Wake up! Are you okay, Dash?!"
Does she look okay, Soarin'?!
Soarin' put his head near her heart, trying to hear a beat. There was none. Without panicking, he tilted her head back, opened her mouth, pressed his lips onto hers and blew with the might of the athlete he was. Her chest rose, but she didn't awaken. Soarin' blew a second time, then forced down his hooves onto her chest.
The sickening reverberation of shattering ribs shot through Soarin's ears, vibrating his entire body. Once he recovered, the pegasus apprehensively continued to push down. More bones broke, but he sorrowfully assured himself that her life was more important than her ribs.
"Come on, wake up! Wake up!" After thirty compressions, the stallion went back to blowing in her mouth, with no greater luck. Soarin' did thirty more and blew again.
"ComeonDash! Youcandothis!" he exclaimed as he compressed. With real dread coursing through his veins, Soarin' began to strike her continuously, but no matter how hard he hit, no matter how badly he wanted her needed her to wake up, nothing worked.
After what was surely half an hour, the stinging in his lungs finally pushed him back on the ground. The previous limit he could exercise to had just been exceeded. "Gosh darn it, Dash!" he half yelled, half cried. "Why can't you just wake up?!"
Despair settled in the stallion's rapidly beating heart, supplementing the lactic acid in his muscles. Every time he tried to get up, the combination of hopelessness and fatigue make short work of all his effort.
Believing that Rainbow would die because of him, Soarin' mournfully pondered their brief but (in his opinion) enjoyable history together. She probably had never noticed him in comparison to the other Wonderbolts, but no force in Equestria could've stopped him from noticing her. Her vibrant mane, devoid of anything undesirable, came to mind. Her sleek, athletic body and aerial flair had mesmerized the stallion, distracting him even when he was eating. 'She looked so awesome when she saved my pie'
Soarin' wouldn't doubt it if somepony had dropped bricks on his head.
She saved my life. She saved my life. She saved my life!
The demoralization on his face was quickly replaced by a resolute frown.
She saved my LIFE, for Celestia's sake! She wouldn't let me die, and I wouldn't let her die I can't let her die I WON'T let her die!
Despite the instant punishment, Soarin' forced himself to roll over onto his stomach. Inch by inch, he dug his hooves into the ground and dragged himself towards Rainbow Dash. He then stood up, lifted his hooves as high as possible, and pummeled them onto her chest with his last fragment of energy.
Blood propelled from Rainbow's mouth into the air a good three feet, and oxygen went back in. "Ha ha!" Soarin's trademark grin illuminated at last in sweet, sweet relief. He carefully turned her head to the side so that she wouldn't choke, and then whispered gratefully to the stars, "Thank you, oh, thank you so much "
Soarin' then turned to the next order of business: stopping the bleeding. Without a second thought, he pulled off his Wonderbolt's uniform and put his hooves to a small tear near the back. He had procrastinated getting it repaired for quite a bit of time, much to Spitfire's chagrin, but right now he couldn't be more grateful that he did. He wrapped his teeth against it against and tore it off.
"You're gonna' be okay Dash, you're gonna' be fine."
Rainbow had stopped coughing and was now breathing heavily and resting her head. Soarin' applied the tourniquet to the best of his ability, grateful he had actually paid attention in his mandatory health class.
Rainbow instinctively blinked several times before she realized that the torment sinking its teeth into every part of her body assured her that was still alive. She tried to laugh triumphantly in hopes that the unicorn would hear her, but it only came out as a guttural cough that squeezed her lungs more. Soarin' brought his face near hers and whispered, "Dash, how are you feeling?"
Rainbow froze. No, it couldn't be, could it? She pulled her face upwhich felt like raising a truckand found the eyes of her savior. Awe overcame her as one of the last ponies she thought she would see grinned goofily at her. "S-Soar"
The stallion quickly but gently put a hoof to her mouth before she could hack again. "Don't say anything. You don't need to worry." Soarin' did nothing to stop the craving to nuzzle her muzzle with the utmost of caution. "I'm so glad you're okay."
A blush fought for territory on Rainbow's cheeks. Aware that she was in the presence of a Wonderbolt, Rainbow tried to stand up. It didn't work. Every possible speck of life was sapped out of her legs. "Here Rainbow, let me help you"
But the filly balked from his hooves with a negative vocalization and tried flapping her wings on her own. The whole heroine act would've made Soarin' chuckle if he wasn't so incredibly anxious. He didn't know what she hoped to accomplish. What does she think she's gonna' do? Fly back to Ponyville all by herself?
Rainbow grinded her teeth as she got about a foot in the air before the energy being bulldozed into her wings ran out. She fell hard on the ground and screamed. "Dash!" Every time she coughed, Soarin' felt like something in his chest cringe. Soarin' put his hooves over her head and said, "Rainbow Dash, I'm taking you to the hospital and that's final."
With precise care, Soarin' picked up her body bridal style and held her close to his chest. After using his wings to steady himself, he blasted off of the ground. Once he was clear of the forest top, the stallion set off towards Ponyville with a resurgence of energy, holding a stunned, slightly less sobbing Rainbow Dash in his hooves.
The butterflies had invaded Soarin's stomach once again, but this time, they threatened to take over forever. Even though the Wonderbolts were cruising at a regular speed, her house seemed to get closer and closer faster and faster. He gulped noticeably enough that Spitfire nudged him and laughed, "You're not going to pass out, are you, Soarin'?"
"What? No, I'm fine!"
She smirked. "You realize that you've been drifting all the way across the formation, right?" Soarin' blinked and blushed. "I've just gone along with it, 'cause I know what you're thinking about," she tittered, "but we're about to go entirely off course."
The stallion took a quick look at his surroundings and realized that she was right. He was supposed to be on the far left side, but he had somehow gotten all the way over on the right. The other members had doubtlessly seen that their arrangement was jumbled, but they wouldn't say anything. Even if they were performing one of their shows, Spitfire would be the one to point out errors, nopony else.
"Heheh, sorry about that. I've just had a lot on my mind." He grinned goofily.
"Hey, don't sweat it, Soar'. Stallions are always swooning over me, but you're not nearly as bad as them."
Soarin' exhaled, one end of his smile curving upwards. "You always could see right through me, Spitfire."
"Actually, it wasn't hard to tell." Her smile became more sympathetic. "You haven't really reacted to a filly quite like this before."
Soarin' shrugged. "Well, maybe she's the one for me," he proposed. "She can do a sonic rainboom, Spitfire! Who'd be a better pony for me?"
"If she's that awesome, maybe you can ask her to teach you some lessons after practice," Spitfire snickered.
Soarin' reddened again. "Hey, I didn't mean it like that!"
"Alright team, we're here!" the mare declared, helping Soarin's blush capture his entire face. "You all know that we are to spend the entire day with this pony. Now, unless you've been living in a storm cloud for the past twenty-four hours, you'd know that if it weren't for her, some of us just might be dead, so you respect her like you respect me, got it?"
"Yes ma'am!" chimed the team in perfect harmony, excluding one stallion. They smoothly landed on the cloud exterior, waving their wings to steady themselves, and approached the front door.
The Wonderbolts instantly recognized the zealous shriek of a fanatic. Smiles abounded for one reason or another when their captain knocked on the door. Soarin', however, was still bummed about what Spitfire had said. He wasn't mad, just afraid that it was true. He had wanted to ask the pony who saved his life just how she accomplished the impossible.
Is that weird, a fan teaching a professional how to do a particular trick? he pondered. Most would say that it wasn't just any trick, but Soarin' still felt a bit embarrassed at it all.
That all vanished when the door opened.
The dazzling coat of cyan splashed into view, and Soarin's enchantment reemerged like a stalwart gale. Her nimble body was perfect for a flier, which he being cognizant of slightly after he felt the sparkling sensation of intense attraction slide down his spine. Chronic flying had shaped her mane into a ruffled rainbow, Soarin's favorite array of colors (though only his parents and Spitfire had the privilege of knowing this), and Soarin' couldn't tell if it was simply flowing in the wind, or if her hair had been charmed like the Royal Princesses.
All in all, Soarin' was gaping again, mouth wide open enough to consume an entire pie. And once again, the muffled ambiance of Spitfire talking floated around his brain, futilely attempting to disrupt his admiration.
Then Rainbow Dash squealed. In one fell swoop, she went from drop dead gorgeous to drop dead adorable.
How did she do that?
She looked down and blushed, which made Soarin' want to go and embrace her. She was just so cute when she did that, it made his heart flutter. Several times, actually. Spitfire was then talking to her, and she was responding in a lively way. From what he could make out, they were discussing the Cirrus, a luxurious yet cozy diner near the top of Cloudsdale. Another Wonderbolt bumped his shoulder, warning him that they were about to depart. Soarin' snapped out of his trance and bent down. On Spitfire's cue, they took off.
Their formation was laidback since they had a guest, a guest that a certain pie-adoring pony really wanted to talk to. He was just as confounded when he first saw her. At the time, he was glad that he was wearing his flight suit and goggles, because they effectively obscured his flushed face.
Soarin' felt his wings slowly take him towards Rainbow. 'She is just too beautiful,' he reflected. Before he knew it, she was feet away from involuntarily brushing against him. Oh, he would like to do that very much. But he couldn't. How could he? What if he tarnished her gorgeousness with his lack of gorgeousness? The stallion bit his tongue and shut his eyes tightly.
WHY is this so difficult?!
Soarin' inhaled, exhaled, and prepared to make his move. To his consternation, however, another Wonderbolt flew right next to her and composedly commenced a conversation. The suddenly heartless wind beat Soarin's drooping ears against his head.
Great, Soarin', just great. You can fly faster than almost every pegasus in Equestria, but you can't go and talk to one filly.
Her grin lit up, and when he spotted it, so did his spirits.
I'll talk to her
The grand towers and magnificent waterfalls of Canterlot came into view, rising over the landscape and providing a sublime background of Soarin's vision.
Cardio smacked his own face in frustration twice, even though the slash on his flank was painful enough. Nopony was awake to hear his crabby murmurs as he limped through Ponyville, which just added to his aggravation. Complaining just wasn't the same when there weren't any ponies around to hear it.
Knowing that the hospital was likely in the center of the town, the stallion had plenty of time to wish for somepony to trot out of their house during of the middle of the night. He didn't care what their reason was or who they were, just as long as he could chew them out.
A medical facility appeared as he turned a corner. Pathetically small place. This town must be puny. As the doors opened, the smell of sanitation and antiseptics greeted his nose, which scrunched up in disgust. The chilliness was suffocating, the chalkiness reminded him of his bland white coat, and the noise of whining patients nauseated him.
If I had just brought some stupid first aid kit I coulda' patched myself up and avoided this dump altogether.
The unicorn soon realized that he was just imagining things; there weren't ponies whining. In fact, there weren't any ponies at all. As he got past the front room, the only soul he could find was a mare with her head down on a counter, pink mane kept nice and tidy despite the lateness of the hour. The edges of Cardio's mouth climbed to the top of his face.
Thoroughly forging his tone, the stallion groaned, "Oh, the pain! It's unbearable!"
The other unicorn sat right up. Cardio had to fight to keep his expression upset. Oh, yes. I like what I see.
"Oh my! Are you alright?!" asked the mare worriedly. She went around the counter and caught sight of his flank. "My goodness! Stay right there, I'll be right back!" As she galloped into another room, Cardio ogled her.
She returned a few moments later with several floating items that Cardio recognized. "Just sit right down and I'll have you fixed in a jiffy!"
The stallion did as he was told, and Nurse Redheart began to disinfect the wound. It wasn't too hard to resist flinching, but Cardio still glanced at her face to see if she had noticed. To his dismay, she hadn't.
"How did this happen?" she asked.
Happen? Happen. Okay, think masculine injury
"Well," he began softly, "I was just taking a walk through the countryside, and I found myself in this dark forest. Everything was quite fine until some random creature popped out of nowhere and gave me this here present."
"That must be the Everfree Forest. It's a dangerous place to be in, and it's a good thing this is the only problem you ran into." Her eyebrows furrowed. "You're not from around here, are you?"
"No ma'am. I'm from Manehattan," he said.
"Manehattan that's very nice." Once she finished, she brought forward a small white box with a red cross on it. "Alright, now I'll need to put some stitches in," the mare said gently, "so here's some medicine to numb your flank."
Numbing? Okay Cardio, use your ol' stallion charm.
"Oh no, that won't be necessary," he declared suavely, lazily waving a hoof. She looked at him hesitantly. "I can handle it. I don't like not being able to feel my own body."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," she said. "It's not exactly pleasant to get stitches."
"Don't worry about it. You can save it for somepony who needs it."
A small smile came to her face. "Well if you insist."
The next procedure commenced. The mare precisely sewed up what was required, right there in the infirmary's waiting room. Cardio once again containing his desire to cringe, though this time it was much more difficult.
Eventually, she divulged, "You're quite the stallion, aren't you?"
"Me? Naaaaaaaaaaaah, I'm just a regular pony. Nothin' special."
Her smiled got bigger, and now that his flank was clean she could see his cutie mark. It was a piece of parchment with several numbered sentences on it, like directions. "What's your name, Mr. Nothing Special?"
Oh great. Think, think, think!
"Uh, just call me Memo."
Before she could breathe again, the stallion changed the subject. "It's very quiet in here a bit odd, really. Where is everypony?"
"Well, it's the middle of the night," she giggled.
"Well, yeah, but back home the hospitals are always filled with ponies, even at this hour."
"Well, Ponyville isn't nearly as big as Manehattan." She said. "I'm the only faculty here at the moment, if you would believe it. Nurse Tenderheart is in Hoofington visiting her coltfriend's family, and her parents requested that the other nurses come with her. Doctor Pulse is on vacation in Manehattan, coincidentally." She frowned. "It's really weird, that everypony has things they're doing this weekI wanted to go to Hoofington too, but somepony needed to stay here " She sighed. "All alone "
"Doesn't your husband have time to come see you?" Cardio asked seriously.
Something of hurt appeared on her face. "No, actually, I'm not married."
"But he still visits you, right?"
The mare laughed a little. "No, I'm not dating anypony at the moment."
The stallion cleared his throat. "So, you're here all alone, and nopony ever takes the time of their day to say "hi"? Aren't you overwhelmed or something?"
"Not really. We rarely have serious cases here in Ponyville. The crime rate is practically nonexistent, since it's so small. The only problem we'd get is from anypony entering the Everfree Forestwhich would be the case tonightbut parents have taught their foals not to go into that dreadful place."
"Well, if you weren't here, I don't know what I'd do." 'Oh Cardio, you are so clever!'
"Well, I'm just doing my job." She smiled weakly.
"Oh, but you're doing it so professionally."
Her grin widened. "Thank you, Memo. Almost finished."
Cardio shot a glance at his flank, and something churned in his stomach. To see such slashes on his own body was far worse than seeing it on another pony's. His eyes went up to the nurse, who was focusing. He asked, "What's your name, by the way?"
"My name is Nurse Redheart."
He then whispered, "Nurse Redheart, you're hot."
"Oh, nothing." He grinned.
The mare cocked her head slightly. "If you say so."
Noticing she was on the part she needed to concentrate the most, Cardio wiggled his eyebrows up and down in a needlessly dramatic fashion. To his amusement, she didn't notice.
"Done!" She took the items back into the room. Cardio took the chance to lick his hoof and put his auburn mane back.
"And you're all set!" she affirmed as she returned. "If you need a place to stay, there's a motel down the street and " She realized the stalling was staring at her amorously. "Sir?"
"I really dig you, Nurse Redheart," he said as he stepped towards her. She in turn stepped back, a faint blush on her cheeks.
"Oh, you hardly know me," she professed. "I could be a real pain in the neck."
"No, I don't think so."
"And how do you know?" She grinned, knowing her hindquarters were close to colliding with a wall.
"I can tell a lot about mares. It's my special talent." He wiggled his eyebrows again, and this time she was able to see it.
"I've heard that one before."
"I'll bet you have," he said as he leaned into her.
The doors abruptly burst open, wind blowing both ponies mane's awry. A blue blur zipped straight to them and skid his back legs on the white tile. Even though he was startled, Cardio griped out loud.
"This pony needs medical attention now!"
Nurse Redheart didn't falter. She galloped faster than before back into the same room, and came out even quicker with more items with her, not including a gurney.
"Set her down here!"
Soarin' did so with as much care as he could. Rainbow had passed out on the way, and Soarin' was frenetic again. "Can you save her!?"
Nurse Redheart gasped when recognized the extent of her injuries. "What in Equestria happened to her?!"
"I don't know! Can you save her?"
"I can help, but I'm just a nurse. The other physicians are gone right now"
"What?! Gone? What do you mean, 'gone'!?"
Nurse Redheart's lips squirmed as Cardio exhaled irately, looking around for a way out of the situation.
"Please calm down, sir. I'll do my best, but I fear another's support is essential."
"There's no doctor here? Nopony at all!?"
"No, there's not." She frowned grimly. "I'm sorry."
"No, don't be sorry," Soarin' said quickly, "because she's going to be just fine. Just do your thing."
"I'll do my best, but I need a doctor."
"I'm a doctor."
Soarin' and Redheart's heads whipped to Cardio, who looked like he would rather be in any other place in the world right now. "Doctor Cardio Pullman, at your servicccccccce," he hissed.
"WhaWhy didn't you tell me beforOh never mind! Here, help me!"
As Cardio casually walked over to the gurney, Soarin's hopes ascended. Unfortunately, that meant that the adrenaline rush of saving Rainbow had left the building, leaving his vision failing and muscles screaming.
"So, she's gonna' be okay?"
Cardio and Nurse Redheart shared a look, the former's apathetic. The latter replied, "I'm not sure, she doesn't"
"Will you do everything in your power to save her?!"
"Yes, of course."
And with that, Soarin's knees finally gave in. He passed out before he hit the floor.
Twilight shrieked as she shot up, her rigorous breathing about to blow her lungs out of her ribcage.
Beads of sweat ran a marathon down her face, and evidently they had dispersed all over her bed. She quickly peered over to see Spike snoring peacefully, and then out the window. The radiant night was completely indifferent to her trepidation. She swallowed, and then put a hoof to her head.
"It it was just a dream," she breathed, blinking several times. "Just a dream." She exhaled. The unicorn wiped her face with a wash cloth, swallowed the entire glass of water on her desk, flipped her pillow around, and lay back down.
'It wasn't real; it was just a silly, implausible dream. Everypony's fine.' She smiled.
Twilight Sparkle went to bed that night content as ever, completely unaware of the turmoil her life was about to warp into.