The enormous beast's head rose out of the fiery glow with a roar and a snapping of its massive fang lined jaws. Its claws dug into the sides of the pit as it began to rise upwards towards the struggling form of the gray coated colt.
Storm's hooves gripped tightly to Ink's as he lifted the unicorn. Firefly managed to get a firm grasp on Ink and together she and Storm pulled Ink to safety. Ink's hooves sat down upon the mossy floor and he turned quickly to face the danger.
"Oh Celestia..." he whispered as the silver scaled beast let out another sickening bellow.
The sound of hoofbeats trailed off into the distance but Ink couldn't turn his gaze away. The massive dragon would more than likely be able to stretch completely across Ponyville and then some. Ink watched as the dragon's sharp claws reached up and dug deep into the pits walls as it ascended higher and higher. Ink shook, his hooves threatening to give out under him.
Its eyes... he thought.
"Ink!" Storm Chaser yelled as he firmly placed a hoof on Ink's shoulders, snapping him out of his daze. "We have to go, now!"
Storm took off and Ink quickly followed, his head partially turned back watching as the dragons head began to breach the surface of the pit. As the ponies made their way deeper into the caverns depths one last thunderous howl rang through the air. Ink turned and looked one last time and for a moment he swore he could see two white figures approaching the dragon. His eyes blurred and he shook his head as he faced forward to follow Storm Chasers path.
The two colts slowed down to a trotting pace as the forms of the others came into view. Everypony stared in awe at the beautiful hollowed cavern before them. High ceilings adorned by stalactites greeted them as water fell from a cliff face below to a deep pool that trailed off as a stream deeper into the caves.
"It's so pretty," Firefly said, a small smile upon her face. "Let's take a break," she said. "We can figure out where to go from here."
Rhythm hopped a bit. "Yeah, break! Firefly, wanna come swim with me?"
The white mare blinked for a moment then looked at the others. "Sounds like fun," she said, watching the filly run off. "I'll go keep an eye on her."
Ink and Storm exchanged glances as she departed then looked to Sky Fall. "What do you think?" Storm asked.
Sky Fall looked out into the cavern for a moment, her eyes steady. "I don't like it but it doesn't seem like a bad place to rest," she said. "We should be careful though and not stay here too long." With that she walked off to join the other two mares.
Storm Chaser's eyes narrowed at the mare. Ink slowly moved up beside him. "What do you think?" the writer asked as his gaze too followed Storms.
"I don't like this. It's too open, too large," he said, looking at Ink. "Large enough for a dragon if it wanted a snack," he said, bluntly. Ink remained silent for a moment and Storm Chaser let out a sigh. "I suppose Firefly is right... we should take a break. But not for too long."
Ink looked at him and nodded casually. "I agree. A short stop won't hurt as long as we keep on our hooves."
Running into the dragon again could pose a true problem.
Storm gestured for him to follow as he too wandered off towards the water. Ink hesitated for a moment and looked back along the path that they had followed. He relaxed a bit as there came no more terrible growls or sounds of approaching danger. Trotting slowly he caught up with Storm and together they reached the edge of the pool. Sky Fall lay shoulder deep in the water, eyes closed as she relaxed, her blue mane flowing under the water. Firefly and Rhythm swam around each other on the end opposite Sky as to not disturb her. Leaning down, Ink took a long drink from the cold water, Storm following suit though quickly breaking from the action.
Storm walked slowly towards Sky and leaned down. "Are your wings alright?"
Sky blinked a bit as she turned towards the sound of Storm's voice. "Hm? Oh.. yeah they're alright," she said, though her voice still sounded unsure. "The water's nice and cool. You should come in too," she said. "It helps."
Storm's eyes darted around for a split second as he thought. "I... suppose it couldn't hurt..." he said as he stepped into the water, the cool sensation calming his nerves. He stretched out his left wing, rotating it a bit, flexing it. Focusing slightly he began to gently move his still flared right wing. He winced as even the slightest movement pained him. After a few moments he had completed a slow rotation of the wing then set it back to how it was before. The action had proved exceedingly unenjoyable but as Storm lowered himself into the water the chill numbed the pain away.
Ink lowered himself into the water and let his body sink, the liquid passing over his shoulders, across his face and above the tips of his ears. The water felt nice across his entire form, the stress of everything seemingly melting away for a moment. All of the terrible thoughts and memories faded away for a split second and it felt as if everything was alright. He surfaced and shook the water from his black mane. Leaning up against the ledge Ink closed his eyes and took a breath. "This wasn't such a bad idea..."
Ink looked over at Firefly, meeting her gaze momentarily. He gestured for her to come over and she did without hesitation.
"Is there something wrong?" the white earth pony asked.
"No, I just..." he began, not knowing where to start. "What do you remember?"
Firefly lowered her head. "Not much. The ground fell out from under my hooves then suddenly Storm Chaser was there and he tried to catch me but," she looked up at Ink. "something hit us from behind and we just fell. When we woke up, we were under the remains of a shattered home, the wood planks had protected us from a lot of the large rocks that fell though..." the mare glanced over at Storm. "One of his wings wasn't so lucky."
"I see," the gray colt said, quietly. "So, do you know Storm or...?"
"Hey Storm!" Rhythm said, bouncing in the shallow water having made her way to where the blue colt sat, catching the attention of the other ponies. Storm opened his eyes and came face to face with Rhythm's teal gaze.
"Storm, Storm," the filly said excitedly. "I wanted to ask before but we were busy running so I couldn't but now I can so can you tell me what your cutie mark means?" Rhythm spoke quickly. A few seconds passed as Storm tried to comprehend the filly's words. "Please?" she asked, leaning in again.
The older ponies all exchanged glances. This wasn't exactly the time for this sort of thing but the mood was tense and needed some relief.
Storm stood slowly from the water and turned so his flank was visible. The black storm cloud spiraled downwards into a gray tornado, wisps of white snow flaked wind decorating the mark itself.
"Whoa," Rhythm whispered. "That's awesome."
Storm Chaser smirked a bit. "I suppose."
"So, tell me, tell me what do you do with such an amazing cutie mark?"
Storm leaned down, a smirk still across his face. "I'm one of the fliers for Cloudscape's elite massive storm system disruptor group, the Storm Strikers."
The filly's jaw dropped. "That's... that's... so cool!"
Firefly stepped over next to Storm. "Isn't it? He gets to fly the skies and break up destructive weather before it reaches Equestria," she said. "He's one of the fastest fliers to come out of Cloudsdayle's flight school. He can take out a tornado all on his own," Firefly continued, telling Rhythm who was listening intently.
"Firefly, don't go telling stories. I'm not that good," Storm said, rolling his eyes.
"Don't you start with that, mister. You're more amazing than you give yourself credit for," Firefly said to Storm then turned back towards Rhythm. "Storm and I grew up together. We used to hang out all the time when we were little. One day this massive tornado passed through Equestria and was headed straight for Ponyville,"
"Firefly..." Storm's expression had turned a bit less joyful.
"It was ripping apart houses and destroying crops and everything. No pony could stop it, not even with magic and so everypony had gone into hiding," Firefly continued, her story coming to life.
"Firefly," Storm said with a heavier tone. Firefly stopped for a moment and looked at him.
"Oh, well let's just say he dispersed the tornado all on his own and saved the day." She ended the story sparsely.
Rhythm didn't seem to mind, however as her eyes lit up and she smiled. "Storm you're so awesome, I hope I have cool stories like that someday."
Storm let out a small sigh and Firefly smiled at him sheepishly. Before Storm had a chance to say anything the yellow maned filly had turned towards Sky Fall.
"Hey Sky Fall, you're a pegasus too just like Storm so did you guys go to school together?"
Sky who had been listening in the background was suddenly in the spotlight. "Huh? Oh, no I don't think we were." She turned to Storm. "Were we?"
Storm shook his head. "No, we were in different classes. I remember seeing you around Cloudsdayle's flight school but I was put in training with the Storm Strikers right after I got my cutie mark."
"Ah I see. Then I guess we never flew together in school." Sky said, lightly.
"Probably not," Storm responded as he sank back down into the cool water. "So what did you train for?"
Sky Fall looked at the dark blue pegasus and shifted her position. "Well, I trained as a medical flier."
Firefly's ears pricked up and she gasped. "Wait wait wait, you're a nurse? Can't you help everypony with their wounds then?"
Sky Fall shook her head. "I'm not trained in any medicine. I just fly supplies to where they're needed and injured ponies to hospitals when they can't make it there themselves."
"Oooh," Firefly said, sounding a bit disappointed. "So you're an ambulance pony then?"
Sky smiled a bit. "Yep, I'm an ambulance pony." Her smile dropped. "Or at least I was." She looked back at her broken wings. Firefly lowered her head a bit, ashamed for pushing the subject.
Storm stepped in. "Don't worry too much. I've broken my wings quite a few times through my work. It does take a bit of time for recovery but broken wings aren't too much trouble to fix." His voice sounded honest and sure.
Sky Fall lowered her head a bit, a small smile upon her face. "I'll try to relax..."
Rhythm splashed around in the water for a moment before jumping over to Firefly and examining her flank which was embellished by three orange sunbursts. "What does your cutie mark mean, Firefly?" Firefly perked up a bit, turning her head to look at her own design.
"Well, I guess you could say that I-"
Firefly stopped, cut off by Ink's harsh tone quieting her. The colt was standing and staring towards the passageway where they came. His ears stood pricked and his expression grim as he listened closely.
"Ink what are you-" Storm started.
"Shh!" Ink cut off the dark blue pegasus.
The others quieted and began to listen as Ink did. The sound of flowing water held in the air among the silence but there was something else there as well. Something slow, faint but heavy.
"Footsteps," Ink whispered before looking around frantically. "Quickly, every pony get behind the water fall," he said lowly.
Carefully, each pony made their way behind the wall of water making as little noise as they possibly could. The space behind the waterfall was tight but it would have to suffice. Huddling together the ponies sat and watched, being able to see slightly through the clear liquid. Minutes passed before the sounds of steps came again, closer. Ink exchanged a purple hued glance with Storms yellow gaze before meeting with Firefly's orange orbs. The three stood watching closely, Sky Fall protecting Rhythm behind them. After a moment of silence Ink gestured to Storm Chaser, a slight nod before he readied himself to take a step forwards. He suddenly felt a hoof upon his shoulder and froze in place as Storm's face lay inches from his own.
"Look," Storm whispered.
The dragon's head lowered into the pool of water where the ponies had just been. It's large snout dipping into the liquid and taking a few mouthfuls. The ponies held their breaths. The dragon rose up, looking around the cavern in all directions. Its head jerked suddenly downwards as if forced and the beast let out a pained whine. Slowly the visage of two white forms came into view through the rippling water. Ink muffled a gasp. Storm Chaser's eyes narrowed as he too saw the silhouettes of the two ponies. One of the ponies raised their head up and the dragon let out another hurtful growl before turning and making its way out of view. The pony followed behind but the second took a moment to look around just as the dragon had done. Slowly the ponies head turned to look straight at the waterfall. Firefly, Storm and Ink suddenly all felt shivers up their backs. The figure held there for a moment before turning and following the dragon, the sounds of footsteps and hoof beats disappearing into the distance.
The three ponies exchanged frightened glances before turning back to Sky Fall and Rhythm. "What happened?" Sky Fall asked, noticing the others pale faces.
"The dragon just passed through here," Ink said, slowly.
"But that's not exactly the worst part," Storm Chaser continued.
"I think... I think they were unicorns," Firefly said, a bit unsure. Ink and Storm turned to her with questioning looks. "I mean, it looked like they were controlling the dragon, right?"
"You think it was through the use of magic?" Storm Chaser asked. Ink's expression turned grim. 'Could a pony really do that with magic?' he thought.
Firefly nodded in response to Storm, her eyes holding a worried gaze. Sky Fall stepped forward, Rhythm standing underneath her entangled in her legs. "You mean there were other ponies out there? They could have been in trouble. What if the dragon captured them?"
"No, you don't understand Sky Fall," Firefly said. "Those ponies were controlling that dragon. They weren't being held against their will."
"And how do you know, Firefly?" Sky retorted. "How does any pony know when we were hiding here? It's not like it's a clear view out into the cavern through the water."
"Sky," Ink stepped forward. "The dragon was being led around by them and they were following it willingly. Even if we couldn't exactly see what was going on I doubt that those two were captives. Firefly may be right, it did appear as if they were using magic somehow. Whether it was to control the dragon or not we don't know but something didn't seem right about that entire situation," He said, standing confidently.
Sky Fall let out a breath and backed off a bit. "Alright, but what do we do now? They could be anywhere. We could be stepping out into a trap."
"Don't be such a scaredy pony," Firefly piped up suddenly. The white mare then stepped out from behind the waterfall and out into the open room. She took a moment to shake herself off, her orange mane dripping wet. Ink almost let out a yell but before he could Rhythm jumped after her. Storm Chaser rolled his eyes and made his way around the water as to not get wet. Sky Fall trotted after him and gestured Ink to follow.
"Giggle at the ghostly..."
After a quick sigh Ink chased after the group. Firefly trotted around the cave, Rhythm mimicking her. "See?" she said. "All clear."
"Is this normal for her?" Sky Fall asked Storm Chaser quietly.
"You mean her bouncing around, smile on her face without a care in the world? Or do you mean putting herself in possible danger and treating situations lightly?" he asked in return.
Sky Fall shrugged. "Both?"
"Yeah, it's normal," Storm replied, not hesitating for a second.
The ponies all converged around the waters edge and looked off towards the rivers path. Traces of the dragon and the mysterious ponies led off in a different direction. The hollow path lay a bit too high for the ponies to reach but a dragon would have been able to climb up to it without any effort. Sky Fall stared at the trail that the water followed. She turned to Storm Chaser, the feathers on her wings slightly ruffled. "We should follow the water. If the dragon is chasing us then walking through the water will hide out path and our scent. It won't be able to track us."
Storm raised an eyebrow. "That's... very true." He seemed a little surprised at Sky Fall's knowledge, his expression still askew. "Ink, should we keep moving?"
The black maned unicorn stepped up next to Storm and Sky. "I don't think we should stay here, if that's what you're asking." he said.
Sky Fall and Storm Chaser both nodded. "Hey Firefly, Rhythm, let's get going." Storm called back to the two who were still prancing around. The white mare and the purple filly hopped over with a pair of small smiles.
What are they all so happy about? A wave of sadness swept over him as he remembered his fallen friend. Pinkie would be doing the exact same thing, he thought. she would be smiling, Ink held his head low for a moment then sighed with a barely noticeable smile. He walked over to the entrance of the hollowed path and turned to the others, waiting. Storm joined him after a moment and Firefly followed close behind. "Let's all go together," the gray unicorn said, the grin growing upon his face. "As friends."
A thunderous cracking filled the air as the ground began to shake and rumble. "Another earthquake?" Storm Chaser said before the event reached its peak. Ink fell to his knees and Firefly found herself pressed against the wall. Storm's legs quivered, threatening to give out but he held his ground and managed to remain standing. Rhythm fell, her body tumbling against Sky Fall's forehooves, sweeping them out from under her. The light blue pegasus dropped to the floor, barely avoiding landing on the filly. Storm Chaser shielded his face with his good wing as the ceiling began to crumble and rocks came crashing down. Firefly's eyes widened before she ducked her head, rubble raining down around her. Ink quickly covered his face with his forehooves, a few pieces of debris hitting him along his neck. A saddened cry rang through everypony's ears as the ground ceased to shake, the earth beneath them settling. Firefly rubbed her face upon her forehooves and Ink grumbled as he rose his head. Storm's feathers parted and his yellow eyes came to focus upon the pile of stone that now blocked the opening. His wing dropped and his ears turned back, pressed against his head. Ink gathered himself up to his hooves and walked over. He placed a hoof upon the rocky wall, his eyes shocked and saddened. "What... what do we do now?" came the voice of Firefly, trembling.
"I... don't know." Ink's voice followed, resonating throughout the rivers path.