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Act II - Part 7: Loyalties

Trying her best not to cower in the presence of such a powerful display of savagery, Rainbow Dash wracked her mind for an explanation, any alternative to accepting that the griffin before her was her old friend.

Maybe it was just someone else who looked like Gilda.  That was excusable, was it?  There weren't many griffins in Equestria; nopony could fault her for getting two of them mixed up.  A tad racist, perhaps, but plausible.

Except that Rainbow knew this wasn't true.  The way she limped slightly on her left back leg when she walked, the result of a childhood accident she had refused to explain, and the familiar patterns on her wings, subtle but obvious to anypony who knew her well enough, were both signs told Rainbow that this was Gilda who was standing before them now, caked in Zecora's blood.  And even if Rainbow Dash had been blind, she would have recognized the voice: gruff, with a hint of irritability, even when she was happy, and that small bit of genuine empathy that nopony but Rainbow ever seemed to notice.

Rainbow Dash wanted to deny it, but she had been close enough to Gilda to recognize her.  And now she was faced with a different dilemma.

This wasn't her Gilda.  The Gilda on this side led an entirely different life.  For all Rainbow Dash knew, they had never met before.  She looked into the griffin's eyes for a sign of recognition, but they were focused on the two Twilights now, switching back and forth between them.

"What's this?" Gilda asked sarcastically.  "Twilight Sparkle has friends?  I did not see this one coming.  Seriously."  The voice, although familiar to Rainbow Dash, was so completely wrong.  Gilda had always had a mean streak, but she was never this cruel.  She was never brutal.  She wasn't a killer.

Gilda began a long circle around the ponies, looking over each one for a few seconds.  "I'll admit, the Twilight clone is a bit freaky.  What is she, your sister?  Not that it's too important.  I'll just kill you both, for good measure.  The rest of you can go, actually; I don't care, and I'm not too hungry.  You got ten seconds to make up your mind."

The ten seconds were excruciating for Rainbow Dash, frozen with indecision.  Too much of her mind was preoccupied with making sense of her surroundings.  Whatever Gilda was doing, she only seemed to care about the Twilights.  Twilight was on her stomach near the center of the room, Moonlight close beside her.  If Rainbow Dash moved quickly enough, she might be able to pick up Twilight and get her out of the cave before Gilda could respond.  Moonlight and the others would have to fight their way out, but the odds would be stacked, five to one.

Four to one,  Rainbow Dash corrected herself, choosing to not count Fluttershy.  Maybe three to one, if Fluttershy was more of a liability than an asset.  It was still a battle the ponies could likely win, but not without injuries.  Besides, Rainbow didn't want to hurt Gilda either, not while nopony had any idea what was going on.  The small part of Rainbow Dash hoping for a peaceful way out refused to let her move.

The other ponies must have had similar thoughts, Rainbow Dash realized, because none of them made any move to escape.

"We're not leaving," said Rarity, deciding that she should speak if the Element of Loyalty wasn't going to.  "Twilight is our friend, and we won't abandon her."

"'Friend'?" echoed Gilda as she walked.  "That's really the word you dweebs are going to use?  Twilight Sparkle doesn't have friends.  She's a solitary creature.  A poor, pathetic loser who spends all her time playing with toys so she doesn't have to admit she screwed up.  I don't know what's worse, the things she's done or the fact that you're standing up for her.  And now time's up.  Pity.  You don't all look like bad ponies."  As she finished speaking, she completed her semicircle and maneuvered in front of the entrance to the cave.  Moonlight grimaced as she realized too late what Gilda had planned.  The griffin's show of theatricality was a distraction while she blocked off their only means of escape.

Fluttershy, literally rigid with fear, backed herself against the cavern wall and squeezed her eyes shut tightly.  Twilight looked up weakly from the floor, trying to focus her eyes on Gilda.  Moonlight swallowed, berating herself.  She shouldn't have come back here.  She should have known the creature would still be here, waiting for her.

Pinkie Pie had stopped bouncing and was glancing around the room nervously, trying to find anything that could help them.  Her eyes settled on a small circle in the ceiling, about a foot in diameter, from which light was shining into the room, and her face lit up, an idea forming.

"You meany-pants!" she shouted at Gilda.  "What's the big idea, threatening to hurt my friends?"

"Excuse me?" said Gilda incredulously.  "That's your defense?  Your elegant, sophisticated, intelligent response is to call me a meany-pants?"

"But you are a meany-pants!  What did Moonlight ever do to you?  You just want to boss her around to make yourself feel better, and you're nothing but a bully, just like last time.  You haven't changed a bit.  Who would have guessed you'd be a grumpy party pooper in both worlds!"

Gilda's jaw quivered as she tried to process Pinkie's rant.  "Moonlight?  Last time?  Both Worlds?"

Pinkie continued, undeterred.  "Well guess what, missus meany mc-bully fun-sucker murder queen?  I'm not going to let you hurt my friends.  I'm going to save every last one of them, just like I know they would for me."

Gilda smirked, intrigued.  "Really?  And just how do you plan on doing that?"

Instead of answering, Pinkie turned her head to address Moonlight.  "Get ready to move when the opportunity comes."

"What opportunity?" asked Moonlight.  She was inspired by Pinkie Pie's courage, but she had no idea what the pink pony could possibly be planning.

"Oh, you'll recognize it when it happens," answered Pinkie.  "But I want to keep it a surprise for Gilda."

"Well?" demanded Gilda.  "Don't keep me waiting.  I can't wait to watch you fail.  But I'll give you an A for the effort and eat you last.  That way you can the watch your friends as they get torn to pieces.  So go ahead.  What's your brilliant plan to stop me from eating all your friends?"

"Five taps," answered Pinkie Pie.

"What?"  Gilda scowled but then froze as another part of Pinkie's speech registered in her brain.  "You called me Gilda," she muttered softly.

"I'm sorry, Gilda.  I'd love to stay and try to turn that frown into something happier, but my friends need me."  She beat her right forehoof on the ground twice.  Moonlight and Rainbow Dash smiled, realizing what Pinkie Pie was planning.  Rainbow stretched her wings, preparing to launch.  "Goodbye, Gilda," Pinkie announced before she stuck her hoof against the stone three more times in rapid succession.

The lights went out.

Fluttershy squealed and pressed herself even more tightly against the wall.  All she could see was Gilda's silhouette blocking the perpetual moonlight from outside.  A shadow passed in front of her vision, blocking out all the remaining light, and Fluttershy fell, trying to make herself as small a target as possible as Rainbow Dash rocketed past.

The rainbow-maned pegasus raced toward where she remembered Twilight to be, trying to reach her friend before Gilda got the same idea.  She looped her forelegs around Twilight's, fumbling awkwardly in the dark, and a vicious, unnatural scream echoed through the cave.

"Wrong move, ponies!" snarled Gilda as Rainbow Dash secured her grip on Twilight.  Rainbow heard a rush of air from Gilda's wings as the griffin took off, launching toward them.

"Hold on," Rainbow whispered to Twilight.  "This is gonna get messy."

Twilight's neck snapped back as Rainbow Dash threw herself toward the cave entrance.

Rainbow let her hind legs dangle so she could measure her distance to the cave floor.  She needed to be as close to the ground as possible, as she wasn't going to get much clearance.  She thought she could hear Twilight's belly scraping the ground, but she ignored it and pressed onward.  Injury was better than death, she thought as she tried to fit in the gap between Gilda and the floor.

The painful sensation of claws digging into her back and becoming ensnared in her wings told Rainbow she had made the squeeze, if only barely.  After a second of intense pain, she was free.  Gilda could only turn and watch, beak agape, as Rainbow Dash extended her wings fully and carried Twilight through the cave opening and out into open air.  Angrier than ever, the griffin flexed her wings and took off in pursuit.

"Everypony into the tunnels," Moonlight commanded, seizing control as soon as Gilda was gone.

Fluttershy, too overcome with fear to put up a fight, obediently bounded to Moonlight's side.  "What h-happened?" she asked.  "I thought she wanted to, um, you know, kind of kill you?"

"Isn't it obvious?" asked Pinkie Pie.  "She went after Twilight because she got them mixed up.  She wanted Moonlight and went after the wrong pony."

"Hold up a minute," added Applejack.  "How would Gilda do that?  They're two of the same pony."

"Nope!"  Pinkie Pie drew her hoof down Moonlight's face, mimicking the gash on Twilight's face.  "Because Gilda marked her prey."

"Fine.  But instead of talking, shouldn't we be, ya know, running away from the slaughterhouse, and not cornering ourselves into it?"  asked Applejack.

"There's a back exit," explained Moonlight hastily, "a series of natural tunnels beneath the lab.  Naturally formed and here before me.  We can use them to put more distance between us and Gilda.  Rainbow Dash can meet up with us later; she'll find a way."  She started toward the leftmost tunnel, and the other ponies followed behind her.  "Plus," she added, "there's something I need to pick up.  The other reason I came back here."

The path sloped down, and Moonlight had to dig her hooves into the tunnel to keep from slipping.  She really wished she had taken the time to build stairs when she had been given the chance.  When the path leveled out, she turned at the first opportunity into a new room, much smaller than the first and filled with various scrolls and magical components organized neatly on shelves.  A few bookcases in, she pulled from a shelf a small circular metal object, slightly smaller than a pie plate.

Rarity leaned in and read the name off the side of the device.  "Columbus?"  She looked up.  "What does this do?"

"A last resort," answered Moonlight.  "It will bring us to safety."  She lowered it to the ground and stomped on it.  A crack sounded, and Rarity worried Moonlight had broken it, but it was still in one piece when she lifted her hoof, and a series of green lights were now flashing on the machine's perimeter.

"Good.  It's transmitting.  Now we just to get where she can find us."

"Shouldn't we be helping Dashie?" asked Pinkie Pie.  "I mean, I told Gilda I was going to save all of us.  Letting her chase after Dashie while we escape isn't exactly all of us."

Moonlight sighed and furrowed her brow.  "And how do you suppose we do that?  Rainbow Dash and the griffin are locked in their own aerial battle right now, and you can't fly.  Out of all of us, Fluttershy's the only one that could even reach them, and frankly, I really don't want to put her in any more danger than we're already in.  So, basically, unless any of you know how to sprout wings, the best thing any of us can do is get as far away from Gilda as we can."

"Perhaps we can't grow wings," said Rarity from behind her, "but what if we were to wear them instead?"  Moonlight turned to see Rarity lifting a metal harness above her head.  From each side of the harness a segmented metal sheet extended, strongly resembling a pegasus wing.  "Tell me, Twilight," she continued.  "Did you not mention this remarkable piece of engineering because you forgot, or was it because you knew we'd insist on using it?"

Moonlight used her telekinetic grasp to pull the artificial limbs away from Rarity.  "Because it's dangerous.  The Daedalus Mark II is a project Madam Orange and I abandoned long ago.  It was, well, unethical."

Rarity raised an eyebrow.  "Unethical?"

"The Daedalus binds to the user's nervous system.  The integration is painful, crippling, even.  And there are side effects."

Rarity's voice instantly dropped.  "And what," she growled, "makes you think I wouldn't do anything to keep my friends safe?"

"I'll do it!" shouted Pinkie.  "Ooh!  Let me!  Flying sounds like loads of fun!"

"Thank you for the offer, Pinkie, but I should be the one to do it," said Rarity.  "I've had experience flying before."

Now it was Moonlight's turn to be surprised.  "You have?" she asked skeptically.  She remembered dreaming about something like that, but she had decided it was merely that.  A dream.  She'd had crazy dreams all her life, like the one where she was trapped in a never-ending snowstorm, or the one where she murdered Celestia.

"Indeed.  At the Best Young Flyers competition in Cloudsdale.  I had the most beautiful set of gossamer wings I'd ever laid eyes on."

"Even I thought so," added Applejack.  "And that ain't easy."

"And therein lies the problem," said Moonlight.  "You're used to flying slow and gracefully.  That won't work with the Daedalus.  It's heavy, so you'll need to maintain a minimum speed to keep aloft."

"I still have more experience than anypony else.  If anypony's going to get in that thing, it's me."

"Exactly.  If anypony uses it, it'll be you.  But nopony's using it, so it's a moot point."

"This is not up for discussion.  Now answer me truthfully.  Will wearing that thing allow me to help Rainbow Dash and the other you?"

Moonlight paused, trying to come up with any alternative answer.  "Yes," she finally admitted.

"Then put it on me."

Moonlight placed the Daedalus snugly over Rarity's body.  "Do you even understand what you're about to do?" she asked, her last attempt to get Rarity to change her mind.

"Not at all," admitted Rarity.  "Nor do I care."

"Very well."

The device activated with a soft hiss.  Rarity gritted her teeth and screamed.

Pinkie Pie started to move toward her, but she raised her head at growled, keeping the pink pony at a distance.

"Stay back," Rarity warned.  "Don't try to stop this."  The wings extended involuntarily to their full length, an impressive span of almost ten feet.  A grinding noise began from within the Deadalus, and Rarity's cries increased in volume.

Rainbow Dash struggled to keep herself aloft.  Her injured wings weren't responding properly, and she had to grit her teeth with each beating.  She hoped they were only bruised and not torn.  Either way, she knew she was going to have to land soon.

Could she take Gilda in a fight?  The two had fought before, when they were friends, but it had always been playful.  Neither of them were actively trying to kill the other.  And for all Rainbow Dash knew, this Gilda was much more skilled.

Rainbow tumbled out of the sky, spinning in the air at the last moment so that she would be the one to take the impact instead of Twilight, who remained safe cradled in her forelegs.

She felt the impact as Gilda touched down a dozen yards away.  Rainbow quickly set Twilight on the ground and turned to face her former friend.  "I don't want to fight you," she said as calmly as she could, although she knew her voice was shaking.

"Then why are you defending her?" Gilda asked.  It took Rainbow a moment to realize it was a serious question.  Gilda didn't want to fight either.

"She's my friend, like Rarity said.  I don't know what she's done to you, and I bet it's something bad, but she doesn't deserve this.  I have to believe there's a better way than killing."

"What she's done to me?" echoed Gilda, surprised to hear the comment.  "She hasn't done anything to me.  Not personally.  But that's just the way it is sometimes."

Twilight raised her head and tried her best to look Gilda in the eye.  "You're an assassin," she surmised.

For a moment, Rainbow Dash thought she saw Gilda's impenetrable image break, the beginnings of a sympathetic smile forming.  "Sorry, sister," said Gilda, regaining her composure.  "This wasn't my plan.  I always thought you were pretty cool, personally."

"Who hired you?" demanded Rainbow Dash, but she was too late; Gilda's defenses were up again, her professionalism overriding any empathy.   Instead, the griffin shook her head.

"This is just the way it is," she repeated as she turned her back to Rainbow Dash and spread her wings for takeoff.

Rainbow dared to believe Gilda was leaving.  As Gilda took off, Rainbow sighed in relief, and then watched in shock as Gilda looped around in a circle, descending in a straight line toward the helpless Twilight.  Rainbow let her instincts take over.

Before Gilda could reach Twilight, she was intercepted by a rainbow blur that knocked her off target and send the pair of fliers rolling down the rocky slope.  Luckily for Rainbow Dash, the pair stopped with the pegasus on top.

"If you won't do this for Twilight, do this for me," she begged.

"You?"  Gilda's intonation was impossible to read.

"It's me," said Rainbow, taking a gamble.  "It's me.  Rainbow Dash."

"You," repeated Gilda flatly.  Then, with rage, she screamed, "You!"

Rainbow Dash had never felt as much force behind the griffin as she did then, as Gilda kicked off of the ground, carrying Rainbow Dash aloft with her.

"Why in the world would I do anything for you after what you did for me?  I don't owe you any favors, Rainbow Dash!"  She dropped Rainbow Dash in midair and kicked her in the jaw as she fell.  Rainbow Dash barely managed to right herself and achieve flight before hitting the ground.  She quickly ascended to keep up with Gilda.

"I'm really sorry," she said, trying to figure out the best way to phrase the question and wondering what the other her could possibly have done.  "But what exactly did I do, specifically, to make you mad like this?"

Gilda stopped flying and hovered in midair.  "You don't know," she said dryly.  "You really don't know.  How did you think I would react after hearing about what happened at Buraq?  Every pony I asked told me you were dead!"

Rainbow Dash almost forgot to keep flapping her wings.  "But I'm not dead," she protested before the full implications of the statement hit her.  A coldness began creeping up her back, making her wings stiff and impairing her flight.  It reminded her strongly of how she had felt during the Best Young Flyer's competition.  Was this what it felt like to go into shock? she wondered.  

She was dead.

"Gosh," she said softly, still trying to come to terms with the revaluation.  She saw things from Gilda's perspective now.  She was a ghost, a memory, and she had just walked right back into the land of the living.  "Gilda, I'm so sorry..."

Her words did nothing to calm Gilda.  "I knew there had to be a mistake," she continued to scream.  "I hoped that you'd found a way to survive.  But then, why would you have never attempted to find me?  Or even let me know that you were alright?  I finally accepted it, that you were dead and gone, when you show up like nothing had ever happened, and you're trying to protect, of all ponies, her!"

Gilda was acting hysterical, Rainbow thought.  This wasn't like her at all.  She was supposed to always be in control of the situation.  Gilda was the queen of cool, and what was happening was completely uncool.  Gilda shot toward Rainbow Dash, and Rainbow, still trying to come to terms with the revelation, didn't have time to defend herself.  The pair plummeted, crashing to the earth and knocking the air from Rainbow's lungs.

In the distance, through blurry vision, Rainbow Dash spotted a shape rapidly approaching their location.  "Gilda?" she asked weakly?

"Buck you, Rainbow Dash!" cried Gilda.  "So no.  I will not do you any favors.  I will not spare the life of your girlfriend.  You haven't changed a bit, you know that?  You're still pretending to be a hero.  You're still just a stupid loser who likes to go and get herself killed, and you're still asking for sympathy.  Well, guess what, Rainbow?  Killers like us don't deserve any sympathy."

If Gilda was about to say something else, she was cut off by a streak of silver that cut into her side as it passed.  The griffin hissed and turned to face the new foe, but it had already moved beyond her and was out of reach.  Rainbow Dash, taking advantage of Gilda's distraction, took to the skies again and chased after the blur.  She saw now its purple mane and tail flowing behind it, obscuring the white flank and revealing it only in flashes.  With a bit of difficulty, Rainbow Dash managed to catch up.

Rarity raised an eyebrow.  "Glad to see me?" she asked smugly.  Rainbow watched as she attempted a smile, struggling against an invisible strain.  Giving up, Rarity returned her gaze to the land in front of her, narrowly avoiding a boulder.

"You're flying," said Rainbow Dash, unable to do anything but state the obvious.  "Again."

"I can't stop," Rarity told her, not moving her eyes.  "You need to keep her away from Twilight.  Keep her distracted until I can do another pass."

Rainbow nodded and broke away, turning back to Gilda, who was examining the new gash in her side.  "The hell..." muttered the griffin, as she clutched the wound with one claw and looked up just in time to see Rainbow Dash barrel into her and pin her to the ground.

"Ready to give up?" Rainbow taunted.  A look of rage was glaring back at her.

Rainbow Dash knew that this was her moment to attack, to cause as much damage as she could, to bite or stamp or claw, anything that would leave a permanent mark on Gilda.  But she couldn't.  Even to protect her best friend, she couldn't bring herself to hurt Gilda.

The moment of hesitation was all Gilda needed to throw her off and send her tumbling.  As soon as Rainbow recovered, she charged again.  She had to keep Gilda focused on her, and keep her from noticing Rarity, or going after Twilight.  Gilda, ready for Rainbow, knocked her aside with a sweep of a claw as soon as she was in range.

Rainbow Dash struggled to her feet, snarling at Gilda like a bull.  It was no longer about creating a distraction or bargaining for peace.  Gilda was making a foal out of her.  Nobody made a foal out of Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow saw Rarity level off behind Gilda and speed toward them, the sharp metal wings reflecting the moonlight.  Rainbow had already seen the damage a glancing blow could do, and she didn't want to think about the damage that could be caused with a direct hit.

Gilda, noticing the change in Rainbow's eyes, turned to face Rarity, and her eyes narrowed.  She had no intention of letting that vermin get another attack in.  She flexed her wings and raised her claws, and she was trying to figure out the best way to take on Rarity's attack when Rainbow Dash tackled her from behind again.

Rainbow Dash caught Gilda by surprise, but by the time the griffin hit the ground, she was already planning her next move.  Rainbow Dash couldn't stay on top of her for long without forcing Rarity to give up her attack.  After all, unless Rainbow Dash moved, Rarity wouldn't be able to get a clear shot and risked hitting her friend instead.

Rainbow Dash counted the seconds in her head as Rarity approached for her second pass.  Everything would have to be timed perfectly.  It began to occur to Rainbow what she was doing.  They were going to seriously hurt Gilda, maybe even kill her.  Rainbow's breath came to her fits and starts.  She didn't want to be a killer.  This was never supposed to have happened.  But it was too late to stop.  Everything was in place, and all Rainbow Dash could do was escape and save her own skin.  "Why are you doing this?" she begged of Gilda.  "Don't make me do this."  She looked into Gilda's eyes, trying to find that small glimmer of compassion, the sliver of kindness she had always seen but was invisible to everypony else.  She thought she had seen it in this Gilda, back in the cave, but now she wasn't sure.  Was this Gilda really so far removed from the griffin Rainbow knew that she would kill a long-lost friend to finish her mission?  "You were my best friend," continued Rainbow, "my hero.  Why did you have to go and become," she paused and made a broad gesture with one of her hooves, "this?  Don't you care about anything?"

Gilda, for the first time in the battle, was at a complete loss.  She imagined that Rainbow Dash was offering her hoof, showing her a way out.  But the rational part of her knew better.  There was no way out of this world.  There never would be.  "I did," she confessed.  "I used to care about something.  A lot.  Then she died."  She felt Rainbow loosen her grip, and she seized the moment, kicking hard and throwing Rainbow Dash off of her, straight into the path of Rarity.

Rainbow Dash didn't feel what happened next, but she heard it.  The blunt, almost hollow sound of the collision and the sickening wet squelch that followed.  Rainbow Dash fell, her weight bringing Rarity down and throwing her off course.  One of her metal wings dragged into the ground, and Rainbow heard the metal being torn from the joints.  Half of the wing, separated from the rest of invention, skittered along the mountainside at high velocity, narrowly missing Gilda.  Rarity, now off balance and unable to steer, but still moving at only a slightly reduced speed, found herself carried by her momentum for a hundred more yards, her one remaining functional wing slowing her descent, before she touched down again and tumbled along the ground, over a steep embankment, and out of sight.

Rainbow Dash didn't know how to react.  Rarity had vanished, as quickly as she had appeared.  The battle was back to Rainbow and Gilda.  Rainbow tried to stand again when she realized she couldn't feel one of her forehooves.  Slowly, and with intense trepidation, she looked down to examine the damage.

She was honestly surprised the hoof was still attached.  A deep gouge cut almost halfway into her leg, and the hoof at the end of it wasn't responding to her commands.  She felt multiple other scrapes and cuts along her body, but none of them seemed to be as bad as this.  She looked at Gilda to see the griffin's reaction.

Slowly both sets of eyes turned to Twilight, neither combatant forgetting what was at stake.  They ran, Rainbow to protect her friend, and Gilda to finish the job she'd started.  Rainbow was much closer, but she hobbled, avoiding her butchered hoof, and she reached Twilight only seconds ahead of Gilda.  She threw herself on top of Twilight, using her own body as a shield.  It was the only thing she could think of, and she was much too tired to continue fighting.

Gilda seemed fatigued as well, and now she became frustrated.  "Step aside, Rainbow Dash," she demanded, her voice rising.

Rainbow Dash hugged Twilight tighter, trying to cover as much of the unicorn's body as she could.

"I said, step aside, Rainbow Dash."

Rainbow Dash cradled Twilight's head in between her hooves, pushing the purple mane from the unicorn's eyes.  Twilight's eyelids fluttered, but in her state of injury and exhaustion, she only seemed acutely aware of what was going on around her.  "I'm sorry," Rainbow Dash whispered.  "I'm so, so, sorry.  But it's the only way.  I can't kill her, and I can't let her kill you.  I'll protect both of you, and this is the only way to do it."  She closed her eyes and waited for Gilda's claws to strike her.  She waited for Gilda to beat her legs against her defenseless flank, to rake her side and watch her bleed out.    She tightened her grip around Twilight.  No matter what happened, no matter what she was forced to endure, she wouldn't let go.  She would protect Twilight, even up to her last breath.  And even then, she would wish Gilda the best of luck prying her lifeless body from the pony she cared so much about.

"Damn you, Rainbow Dash," she heard a voice say.  It sounded like Gilda.  It had to be Gilda.  Rainbow Dash didn't care.  Nothing mattered except keeping Twilight safe.

Seconds passed.  The seconds stretched into a minute.  Finally, Rainbow Dash dared to open her eyes.

Gilda was gone.

It took another minute for Rainbow's breathing to return to normal.  She sat on her rump, holding Twilight gently and watching her breathe.  She had kept her promise; she had kept Twilight safe.

But not without cost.  Rarity was gone.  Not dead, Rainbow prayed, but gone nonetheless.  But Rarity was strong.  She'd been in worse situations before.  Even though she didn't like to get her hooves dirty, she would, if the situation required it.  And Rarity was smart.  Rainbow had faith that she would survive until they could rescue her.

Rainbow turned her attention her injured hoof.  It was bleeding rather freely, staining her coat and Twilight's.  She knew she needed to get back to the others.  Fluttershy would likely know how to treat it.

"Rainbow Dash?" asked Twilight, who was once again coherent.  "What happened?  Is she gone?"

"Don't worry about anything.  You're safe.  Just hang in there, and everything's going to be okay."

Rainbow Dash pushed her head underneath Twilight's body and lifted her onto her back.  Fortunately, neither of her wings had been broken or damaged to the point of inoperability.  They hurt, worse than Dash could ever remember, but she could still fly with them.

"Everything's going to be okay," she said again, straining as they rose slowly into the air.  "This never should have happened," she added to herself.

As for Twilight's questions, Rainbow Dash didn't have any answers.  She scanned the sky and the ground, looking for any sign of Gilda, but it really did seem that the griffin was gone.

Her thoughts turned to what Gilda had told her.  The her from this world was dead.  Rainbow Dash wondered if this was really true, and if so, how she had died.  The fact didn't seem to bother her as much as she thought it would.  What was the place Gilda had mentioned, the place where it happened?  Berrick?  It sounded vaguely familiar.  Still, Rainbow Dash felt like she was taking the news of her demise rather well.  It was something else Gilda had said that terrified her.

"Killers like us don't deserve any sympathy."
Here we go again. Returning to my original plan of one-word titles! Let's see how long I can keep that up.

You know how I said there were only two chapters left in Act II? I was wrong. But there should be only two more after this.

I wonder if anyone will notice, but Pinkie's speech is loosely inspired by the Doctor's speech at the end of Bad Wolf.

The problem with designing an alternate version of Gilda is that Gilda has no backstory. So, before I could figure out how her story had changed, I had to create it. I had to invent a backstory for Gilda.

I hate to say, "She's mean because she had a rough childhood." It not that that's not a valid excuse, but it definitely requires more elaboration than that. My opinion of Gilda is that she's vaguely aware of the fact that she's a bitch, but she doesn't care. In fact, she feels that the other ponies should be able to stand up to her, and it almost disappoints her when they don't. They're weak and don't deserve her respect. The logic's a bit twisted, but it's there.

For the record, the Columbus device is NOT a reference to Christopher Columbus. Rather, it is a bastardization of Columbidae, the family of birds that includes the pigeon. What does the device do? I'm sure you can figure it out.

Previous Chapter: [link]

Next Chapter: [link]
Chapter List: [link]
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BuckingAwesomeArt Featured By Owner May 21, 2012
again i must stop. aaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgggggghhhhh! ah well ,this is very enthralling. youve kept my interest. good job.
KurseofKings Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
"Rather, it is a bastardization of Columbidae, the family of birds that includes the pigeon." Does it transmit messages?
KurseofKings Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
"She'd had crazy dreams all her life, like the one where she was trapped in a never-ending snowstorm, or the one where she murdered Celestia." Those were so not dreams./What makes you so sure those were dreams?...
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2012
It is beginning to seem that there is more the Twilight's dreams than one would initially suspect...
ApocalypsePenguin Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2011
This is absolutely epic. I can't wait for more.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2011

I need to add the links to the end of part 16.
Frostybrand Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2011
Confound this F&C, he drives me to keep reading fics!
This ones going pretty good, even with that almost Dr. Whooves incident :XD:. Glad I kept reading it.
I am so glad you're still writing it out as well, theres a good number of fics that never made it past the first part that had great potential. This one is definitely being realized.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2011
Thanks. I'm not going to give up on this one.
Fantasyfreak18 Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2011
You, sir/madam, are a twisted genius. If I could think of stronger words to use I would. My only regret is not realizing this fanfic was incomplete when I started reading.

Though I must admit I kinda hate you for the fates of Moonside Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, my two favorites.

Thanks for the great read, hope to see more soon.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2011
Well, the word "fate" seems to imply a final outcome. Moonside Fluttershy isn't gone from the story. Nor are any of the rest of them. Starting with Act III, they're going to be just as important as their Sunside counterparts.

And we don't know the fate of Rainbow Dash. All we know is what an angry bitter Gilda said.
shioku21 Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2011
Once again.....

This story has yet to disappoint. For real, you should try and publish it as fanon. I'm pretty sure Spice and Wolf got to.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2011
Who are Spice and Wolf?

And what do you mean by "Publish as fanon?"
shioku21 Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2011
Spice and Wolf is a fanon manga based on another manga.

And you should get this published.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2011
I'm still not sure what you mean. Like, bind it up in a book and print it out?
shioku21 Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2011
Yes! and make a killing!!
I mean.... if that's something you'd like to do, of course....
You don't have to.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2011
Well, I wouldn't really be able to sell it. And even if I legally could, I doubt that many people would be willing to buy it.
shioku21 Featured By Owner Nov 24, 2011
Hmm. well...... I would! but that's not really cost effective is it?
Too bad.
Raxadian Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2011
Is okay if you write non pony stuff...
mlpMaconMixx Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for this awesome new chapter! And I was thinking along those same lines as Rainbow when I read that line the first time. "Killers like us"? Chilling. I can't wait to finish Act II!
Cjkiscoolmon Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2011
:DD Woo! Keep Going!!! please.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2011
Will do! Full steam ahead!

Except maybe not. Will you be mad if I also write some non-pony stuff alongside this? (All one-shots. No epic-length stories like WWR.)
kamenriderculamon Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011
Rainbow Dash deceased and possibly an assasin...did not see that coming.
Me thinks any idea of using the Elements of Harmony on the Moonside are going to be even more difficult than it was already.

Keep up the good work, it's worthy of a What If? comic of it's own.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2011
We can't necessarily jump to conclusions with what Gilda said. She's only one griffin, and she said what she knew (or thought) would sting.

The story behind Alternate Gilda and Alternate Rainbow Dash is something I've been dying to tell, and I've actually started writing it, even though I currently don't plan on revealing it for a little while.

Yes, I realize that right now, all I'm really doing is creating tons of questions without answering any. The last two chapters of the act are going to have a much stronger focus on actually answering questions instead of just asking new ones.
lisamariefan Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011
I just started reading this entire thing today. It's definitely engaging.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2011
Thank you. I don't think "Engaging" is a word I've seen used to describe the story before, but it's a compliment, and I'll take it.
DevolutionEX Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011
this entire story is just FANTASTIC , i eagerly await the next chapter :)
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2011
Why, thank you!
MagicaITrevor Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011  Hobbyist Writer
Yay! Thanks for the chapter! *Waits patiently for the next chapter*
bronieswillrule Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011
Finally it the story has continued and it is as good as all the others.

good job and keep it up ill be looking forward to the next installment
Raxadian Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
I really liked this chapter...
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
Awesome! Can you tell me what, specifically, you liked/didn't like?

That is, if that's okay with you...
Raxadian Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011
I liked

* Gilda is a monster

*The whole "This can't be happening" with Dash

*Secret weapon that fails!

I did not like...

*That any of the two Twilight did really anything, I mean if I had a secret lab, I would have some safety measures in case of an intruder.

*How you step away from the canon in the sunlight universe, that's more about the fanfic in general, so far story wise there are no reason of why use seaponies, why make Trixie Twilight sister and so on.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011
Also, I kind of regret stepping away from the canon sunside too. But since I'm treating this project as a learning experience, I try to focus on the lessons I'm learning instead of the mistakes I've made.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011
Moonlight's main defense was her belief that no one was ever going to find her secret lab, since it was hidden in a large mountain range. Stone Wall only found it because her special talent is amazing eyesight.

Which should be begging a certain question right now...
dwreanpony Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
buraq? we going to pony iraq?
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
No locations in the story are designed to parallel real-world locations.
jongyon7192p Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011
Aw cmon! It sounds too similar. Or maybe that's what we're initially supposed to think until it's revealed to be something else!
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2011
I was looking for a horse pun, and ended up going with this: [link]

I realize that this probably won't make you change your mind.

Buraq is not another country in the story. It's not a city either, though.
Wash-III Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
:icondoctorwhoovesplz: :iconsaysplz: "Ma'am! Twilight's beacon has gone live."

:iconapplejackplz: :iconsaysplz: "Send in the team."
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
I'm imagining a swat team of pegasi descending out of the sky and carpet-bombing Gilda.
Wash-III Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
:iconderpyhoovesplz: :iconsayzplz: "Target in sight. All units, engage!"
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
Correction. Muffin-bombing.
niklashg Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
i can only think of one word to describe this... but ill use two anyway "Ubelivably awesome!"
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
Why, thank you! You're pretty unbelievably awesome too!
MGDarion Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
It's an awesome FanFic! Oh, and schedules work well for managing your time. Set aside a little time a day to work on this, in addition to time for homework, socializing, etc. You'll find you have a lot more time than you think ;)
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
I know what I need to do, I just never have the willpower to keep to it...
MGDarion Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2011
You need an accountability partner. Someone else who has trouble with time management who is willing to hold you accountable (you should be doing such and such work right now) and is willing to be held accountable.
FreedomAndChaos Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2011
Sounds like you just described my roommate. He actually suggested something like that last night, so maybe I'll go for it.
Lyphaen Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
Finally a new chapter! Thanks for keeping this story so awesome... And so dark! o.0
Well, I know that problem of yours all too well... Hope both of us can overcome this habit!
yawns12345 Featured By Owner Oct 9, 2011
Heh, Since school started back up for me, I haven't really followed or read any fan fictions. I've got a list of *considered* fanfictions which has 40 in it. But yours is an exception. I'm really excited to read more when I see this appear in my Deviant watch,
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