The queen's caress was not loving as his. It was a possessive and twisted touch, letting her know with each teasing stroke that Rainbow was her slave now. Rainbow wanted to push her away, but the pale aura of light emanating from the princess left her will drained and standing helpless there, unable to move or speak. She couldn't even cry as Chrysalis walked around her, inspecting her, studying her.
“And now you will be so kind as to give me the Elements.” Chrysalis stopped in front of Rainbow, looking down at her expectantly.
Luna's horn gleamed, causing the light in the room to billow in waves. Rainbow wanted to obey. She should give the Elements to Chrysalis, and she made the choice herself. She relaxed her iron grip on the box containing the Elements and obediently, willingly, happily held them out for Chrysalis to pick up.
Green light surrounded the box as Chrysalis lifted it out of Rainbow's outstretched hooves, smiling pleasantly. “Very good.” Chrysalis lifted Rainbow's head with a hoof to look at her, then she leaned down to say quietly, “You are now useless to me, except as amusement. A shame your love is wasted on that worthless failure of a changeling, and I can't even seem to fool you into loving another, can I?” Her eyes narrowed. “I can not have ponies whose eyes are not fooled.” She stood back up. “Princess!”
“Command me, my love.” Luna was still standing there, horn glowing its soft glow.
“This pony is an affront to my being. Her eyes displease me.” Chrysalis trotted up next to the princess, brushing her neck with a hoof. “Take away her wings too, and do give her a chance to beg. I love it when they beg.”
Rainbow's eyes turned to the princess in fright as she felt herself regaining some control to speak. “I-I will never beg!” she stammered, feeling tears betray her.
“How very disappointing.” Chrysalis brushed through Luna's mane with a relaxed sigh.
Luna's horn burned a bright teal, casting back the shadows of the room. Rainbow tried to staunch the flow of tears and face Chrysalis with a defiant glare. She breathed hard and cried out as a pain surged through her back, making her fall on the floor in agony. A thousand tiny needles pricked her muscles as her wings fell limp, hanging lifeless and heavy by her side.
She could hear Chrysalis say something and forced herself to look up through the red haze of pain. Luna's horn drove away the shadows once again, then took away all the light.
Rainbow cried helplessly on the floor as she felt Chrysalis touch her face and whisper in her ears. “I believe I shall keep you alive until your double returns. It will be interesting to see what happens when you two meet.” She stood back up, and Rainbow could vaguely make our her hoof steps as she walked to the door. “Enjoy your stay. Not many ponies get to stay in the royal chambers. I trust you won't be going anywhere.”
The door opened and Chrysalis walked out. Rainbow heard the click of the lock as she closed it behind her.
She hadn't heard Luna leave.
The pain faded after a while, leaving only two lifeless lumps of feather. Something similar had happened before—once or twice that she could recall—when she had been sleeping awkwardly on one of her wings, but blood and life always returned to it after a minute or so once she woke up and moved off the wing. This time nothing happened, both wings just hung limply from her back, dragging along the floor as she tried to pull herself up.
The darkness didn't leave her either. Rainbow managed to pull herself up into a sitting position and closed her eyes, or thought she did; it made no difference. All this didn't matter. She had to get out, and find Doodle and Flix before it was too late. If it wasn't already.
She tried to think. The door was locked and the hall would be guarded anyway. The balcony was guarded too, and there was no way she could fight even one guard in this state. She would fall to her death from the tower even if she did beat them.
And where was Luna?
Rainbow held her breath and listened. After a minute or two she thought she could hear another's breath nearby. The princess hadn't moved much, if any. Was she asleep or watching her?
Rainbow tried to stand but fell over, groaning as she hit her jaw on the floor. She closed her eyes, or thought she did, and felt a tightness in her chest as she cried. It was hopeless. Even if she could get out, how would she ever find Doodle? It had all gone wrong, and she had failed them all. She wiped her nose with a hoof and lay there, crying at the darkness.
She wasn't sure how long she had been lying there. Couldn't be long.
She didn't think she had fallen asleep.
It didn't matter.
She might as well be dead.
The princess sighed faintly … or perhaps Rainbow had simply imagined it. Another minute drifted by, and with each second ticking away, Rainbow felt less sure of what she had heard.
“… mm …”
It wasn't a sound. It was … a little bit like the wisps back in the ruins, a sound, but not a sound. It simply came to her and touched her thoughts, she just knew it had been there despite everything being silent. Rainbow didn't dare to move, lest she drive off whatever it was or reveal herself to it. She wasn't sure which she should hope for.
A sudden chill went through her as a ghostly presence flitted through her mind.
Something simply left the word lingering in her mind. Rainbow tried to move, pulling herself up in a mounting panic. She couldn't take any more. She would rather risk throwing herself off the tower than this.
“We are …”
The words became clearer as she scrambled to her legs. “N-no …” She grabbed her head and collapsed again, crying on the soft carpet. “P-please …”
“We are sorry,” the voice whispered in her mind.
Rainbow gazed into the darkness as she felt herself slipping away, her thoughts fading one by one, her mind dissolving into oblivion …
“And may you … never forgive … us …”
The first thing to return was utter darkness. Next came the memory of words, then the pain and the heavy weight of her two dead wings. Rainbow sobbed and opened her mouth, letting go of something she had been grasping in her teeth. Something warm ran down her face and soaked her coat.
A metallic scent filled her nose and made her freeze.
Shaking and crying, Rainbow reached out a hoof, touching something soft and wet. A host of feelings fought for dominance of her reeling mind as she blindly ran her hoof across the limp body in front of her, too terrified to pull away. With trembling hooves she found the graceful neck, felt the blood still gushing from a savage wound … felt the muzzle and …
Rainbow choked as her hoof touched a slender horn and the cold metal of a crown. She fumbled in a panic, trying to find the wound and stop the bleeding. She knew it was far too late.
“P-princess …” she whispered. There was no response.
Feeling her way with her hoof, Rainbow gently closed Luna's eyes and sank a bit as she stared blindly ahead of her. All was dark and silent. The princess was dead, and no pony had heard? It couldn't take long before they noticed, and she would be right here, covered in blood.
… Chrysalis will know soon.
Rainbow's head nodded a bit, as if tired.
… The bathroom window.
Rainbow's head perked up. She wasn't sure where the thought had come from. Why hadn't she thought of it before? She turned her head slowly, trying to orient herself before dragging her body around, and with fumbling hooves she found the end of the bed. She tried to remember the room. Her only chance was finding the bathroom window. Dragging herself forward as fast as she could, Rainbow searched the floor until she found the wall and the doorway to the bathroom.
The floor was cold as she stumbled and crawled her way along the perimeter of the room, trying to find a window. There would be one, but she didn't know how she knew.
It took her several stumbling trots around the room before she found something, higher than she had hoped. Pulling herself up, she hung with her hooves and head over the window's edge. With some effort she managed to push the window open and felt a gust of fresh air in her face.
“K-kin …” she tried to call, not too loudly. The last thing she needed was to alert any guards.
She prayed the gargoyle had made it up here without being noticed.
“P-please …” she whimpered. How could her wings be so heavy? She felt light headed and her body ached too. Had she fought the princess? She didn't remember a thing.
“Kin … are you …”
There was a slight scrambling outside the window. Rainbow lifted her head weakly. “K-Kin?”
A strong claw grasped her hoof, and she felt herself pulled up. “I am here, hrm,” the creature said as quietly as it could. Rainbow winced as she was pulled over the edge of the window, only a pair of strong arms and clumsy wings between her and a fall to certain death. “What happened?”
“I n-need …” Rainbow paused. She wasn't sure what to do now. She had to save Doodle and Flix, if it wasn't already too late. But she was in no state to do anything, and didn't know where to even look. Except somewhere in the woods.
She needed help, but she couldn't trust anypony in Gloaming.
And Kin didn't know where anything was.
“I …” She stopped and concentrated. Where was Zecora's hut from here?
“Take me to the s-south road out of the city,” she said finally. “Hurry! We d-don't have any time!”
“What manner of rudeness is this? Knocking down my door and disturbing my bliss!”
“Hrm, sorry 'bout that.”
“Is that … miss Dash my eyes espy? Careful! Put her here, and let her lie.”
Rainbow sighed at the familiar voice. Hearing it filled her with hope again. She had made it this far, and if anypony could help her, it was definitely Zecora.
She felt herself slipping away at last from pain and exhaustion.
“Rainbow Dash! Awake and listen here!”
An insistent voice woke her again and was followed by a hoof hitting her cheek with some force. Rainbow groaned and felt her head lifted up as if to look somepony in the eyes. “W-wha—” she murmured in a daze. All she could see was darkness still.
“When the beat of my drum you hear, your wings you will shake, make you no mistake!”
“W-wha—” Rainbow stumbled over the words and stared blankly ahead at where the hoof was pointing her head. Her ears perked up to listen as a hollow beat broke her off, and her whole body twitched. She cried out as the drum beat again.
“Listen! Listen to the drum! Beat your wings to its rhythm!”
A thousand little needles pricked her muscles and made her scream. The drum kept a steady and relentless beat, her body twitching and twisting with each sound. Several beats passed before a wing lifted off the ground slightly. Rainbow cried. It felt heavier than ever, like solid gold feathers weighed down by stones. She grit her teeth and tried again, flexing every muscle in her body. Slowly her wings lifted and fell back down.
She flexed again and lifted her wings.
Her wings flapped slowly, each flap following the beat. The pain slowly subsided, leaving her exhausted and sweating from the effort.
“Good! Listen! And when the beat is past, you open your eyes to see at last!”
Rainbow blinked, or thought she did. The drum beat several more times, and stopped. The silence that followed was deafening. Rainbow blinked and winced as bright light flooded her vision. She groaned and closed her eyes tight. Only after several seconds did she open them a crack again and blink away the painful light.
The interior of Zecora's hut, and the serious face of the zebra herself slowly came into focus. “W-what happened?” Rainbow groaned and looked back at her wings, stretching them out carefully. They felt a bit weak, but seemed to be just fine. She had a lot of scratches and a large wound in her side that she hadn't noticed before. Zecora had done her best to bandage it. “I thought the princess took my wings! I thought I'd never fly or … or see again!”
Zecora held up a small cup to her lips. “Your wings and eyes she took not, only your mind she put in a knot.” Zecora stood up slowly, watching Rainbow as she drank the sour liquid. “And very soon they would have died, had help been you denied.”
Rainbow let go of the cup and stood up unsteadily and a little too fast. But there were so many questions, so much to do, and so little time. Her face hardened as she remembered the urgency of the situation. “The princess is dead. The queen of changelings has taken over the castle. I don't have time to explain, I need to find my friends!” she said quickly and grabbed Zecora, looking intensely at the zebra. “Two friends. The changelings were going to bury them here in the forest somewhere, but I don't know where. I have to save them before it's too late!”
Zecora nodded in the direction of the center of the room before slipping out of Rainbow's grasp and turning to the big iron cauldron there. “Your friends I shall help in finding, from the cauldron they won't be hiding.”
Rainbow nodded eagerly. “Just point the way and I'm off!”
Every beat of her wings ached and felt like weights of lead as she raced through the forest, weaving in and out among trees and over and under branches at breakneck speed, unheeding of the pain screaming at her to stop and walk instead. She felt alive again, with purpose coursing through her veins and determination in her eyes. She had long since left Zecora and Kin in her wake.
There was no time for snails. She had to save Doodle and Flix before it was too late!
A rainbow trail shimmered in the air behind her as her hoof shot out and grabbed a tree, using it to slingshot herself ninety degrees straight down a narrow path and swiftly ducking under a fallen trunk in her way. Her mind was a crystal sea of calm, focused like a mirror glass on one point ahead. The only sound in her head was the pounding rhythm of her heart, driving her towards it.
She broke through a thicket and swung around, digging a groove in the earth with her hooves as a brake. The earth here had been disturbed. Two unmarked graves caught her sight.
Rainbow's heart beat but once in the time it took her to close the distance to the nearest grave and dig in her hooves. The hollow beat of the heart filled the whole forest as Rainbow dug in a still and focused frenzy, throwing dirt in every direction. The ground heaved beneath her and cracked open.
Her hoof hit a chitinous blue shell. Rainbow threw herself down and stuck her hooves into the soft earth, grasping the quaking body, and with a cry for strength she pulled it out of the ground.
Flix gasped in the cool air and choked on a scream, flailing wildly in mindless panic at the ghost of her grave. Rainbow dropped her and scampered wildly towards the second grave.
There was no time for thought or hesitation, no time for fear or panic. Earth and stones exploded out of the hole around her until her hooves, chipped and bleeding, hit upon something.
Rainbow cried as she pulled Doodlebug's still form out of the ground and dragged him out of the hole onto the floor of the forest. She cried as she felt his heart pumping, weak and failing on its last notes. She cried as she pressed her lips against his and …
Rainbow beat his chest and screamed.
She pressed her lips against his and …
“No!” she cried and shook him, tears streaming down her face.