Chapter 24- Loyalty

"Rainbow...Wake up."

The echoing voice pulled her from a deep slumber. As Dash regained her wits, she felt the softness of a cloud beneath her belly. Forcing her eyes open, she blearily took in her surroundings. She was on a cloud, about her size. This wasn't unusual, as she napped on clouds constantly when she wasn't flying. What was unusual, was that she had no memory of how she got here, or what she had been doing before she woke up. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she peered over the edge of the cloud. Nothing but a cloud layer below her, obscuring the ground. A glint of light from a distant cloud bank caught her attention.

Rainbow gasped as she recognized where the light had come from. The clouds in front of her were in fact the Pegasi city of Cloudsdale. Or, what was left of it. The skyscrapers that once reached proudly towards the sun now sat in ruin, some having collapsed completely, while others listed dangerously against its neighbor, threatening to fall at any moment.

"Come to me, Rainbow..."

The city itself seemed to call to her. Its voice seemed to convey a since of comfort, of safety. As unlikely as it looked, she felt following the voices orders would protect her from whatever had done this to her hometown. She pushed the cloud out from under herself as she spread her wings to catch the breeze. After a short flight, she landed at the edge of the city, the only sound to greet her was the lonely whistle of the wind through the ruins. The voice seemed to be coming from the cloudesium in the center of town. The once magnificent structure that served as the background for many a postcard had decayed nearly beyond recognition. The mighty walls now fallen, the seats and press boxes now collapsed in on themselves from what appeared to be decades of neglect.

The eerily quiet streets were nothing compared to the disturbing scene around her. Cloudsdale should be full of life, full of pegasi living out their lives as they planned. It was the capital of the old pegasi empire before the princess united pony-kind under a single banner. Yet here it stood, abandoned, floating where ever the winds pushed it, a lost city inexplicably crumbling from its lofty perch above the world.

How could this have happened? she thought as she slowly made her way to the center of town. Trash littered the streets leading up to the once glorious gateway to the cloudesium. It seemed as though it was just recently abandoned, but the wear on the structure itself suggested otherwise. A lump rose in Rainbow's throat as she continued her trek, passing beneath the crumbling archways and making her way into the stands, as the arena had no 'floor' to speak of.

"Finally, you've arrived."

That voice. It was terrifyingly familiar. Clouds from the decrepit structure began to move toward the center of the arena, forming into the unmistakeable shape of that which was responsible for all the pain and misery in this world. Discord sat on the cloudy hammock he created for himself, looking to Dash with mild disinterest.

"Glad you could make it."

Her wits regained, she remembered instantly the events leading up to this illusion. "What have you done to my city!"

An aggravating smile was all the answer she received as he rolled on his side to face her.

"What I've done?" he repeated coyly, "No my dear, this is all your doing, I assure you."

Dash was dumbstruck. How could she have done all this? She loved Cloudsdale, and would never do anything to hurt anypony on purpose!

"Bull! I would never do this!" she snapped, "Especially to my own hometown!"

He kept his same, deviant smile as he continued to explain, "Well, I suppose you didn't do this directly, but you are responsible for the fall of Cloudsdale, nay, the entire planet!" he cackled in delight.

"Or, you would be, depending on the choices you make in the next few hours."

Dash's curiosity piqued, she figured she might as well let him finish his explanation. Her first encounter with Discord let her to realize that whatever he had planned to show her would be revealed, whether she liked it or not. She decided it best just to play along for the time being. At least until she and the other girls were able to put him back where he belongs.

"So what is this?" she said motioning her hoof to the dilapidated ruins of her former home. "What choice led to this?"

"This is but one of two outcomes, my dear. But this isn't all gloom and doom. Should you choose this fate, you will remain with her, for all the days of your life." With a snap of his fingers, she felt a presence behind her. A half turn was met with a loving tackle, as a straw colored mane brushed against her face, tickling her nose as the owner planted a flurry of kisses on her cheeks.

"Rainbow! Ah can't believe it's you!" Applejack said, stepping back and allowing her lover to stand. "Ah thought Ah'd never see you again..." she said, tears present in her eyes. Rainbow hated to see Applejack upset, nearly bringing tears to her own.

"I'm here now AJ." she whispered, embracing the mare she loved more than anything in this world. "Why'd you leave us Rainbow?"

Dash's confusion was obvious, "What? What happened here? Where are Twilight and the others?"

Just as Applejack opened her mouth to speak, a snap of talons zipped her mouth shut, before she disappeared in a cloud of orange smoke.

"Ah, ah, Applejack! We mustn't spoil the ending!" he said from behind Rainbow as she turned to glare at him.

"This is but one outcome, of one choice." he added, standing from his cloud and walking over to her on thin air. "The world lies in ruin, yet you get to live with your beloved, until the both of you are old and grey."

"And the other?" Dash asked impatiently. Discord smiled his trademark grin.

"Let's find out."

Another snap, and the two of them were transported to a vastly different place than the ruins of Cloudsdale. They seemed to be in Canterlot, the entire city now a bit more modern than the one she remembered. They floated above the city, no clouds to support them as Rainbow took in all before her. The royal palace was different, it was of similar design, but it certainly wasn't the old castle she recalled on her many trips to see the princess.

It seemed as though the entire city was celebrating something, though from this height, she couldn't say for certain what it was. One building beside the castle struck her as odd. It had never been there before, that much she was certain. It seemed to be some kind of temple, and while not as grand or imposing as the castle, it was still a marvel to behold. As if he could read her mind, Discord began descending towards it.

"Come, you'll enjoy this." he said as she followed him down to the steps of the structure she had been admiring from afar. Dash gasped as she took in the massive entranceway. Two statues flanked the long stairway leading to the entrance, both statues were of her! They held an imposing stance, one foreleg raised slightly, resting on what looked like a ball of lightning, her signature confident smirk adorning both the statues faces.

"Those...that's me!" Dash exclaimed excitedly, noticing her cutie mark adorning the massive double doors leading inside.

"That's right. This is the temple of lightning. Your temple. Should you choose this route, you will become a goddess among mortals. These ponies will practically worship you, your deeds, and your image." he said, beginning up the steps.

"Shall we have a look inside?"

She nodded quickly, bounding past him up the steps as Discord simply admired her enthusiasm. He was certainly no stranger to appealing to a ponies most easily manipulated emotions. Pushing the heavy oak doors open, Dash was greeted by a even larger statue of herself than the two outside, though this was one of her in the gala dress Rarity had made for her, inlaid with solid gold, and all kinds of jeweled accents. It certainly was fit for a goddess. Her ego swelled to immense proportions as she took in all the stained glass windows lining the walls. Each one depicted an important event in her life. Her first flight, her first and second sonic rainbooms, their first battles against Discord, and various other accomplishments she'd managed in her youth. As she took in the beautiful stained glass, she noticed a halo around her head in every image of her. Discord was right! She truly was treated as a goddess in this scenario!

The opulence of her temple gave way to a quiet sobbing, echoing around the high, vaulted ceilings. It seemed to be coming from the foot of the massive statue of her at the front of the temple. She hovered over to the front and noticed an orange mare laying on the altar, perhaps just out of fillyhood in a black leather jacket, her purple mane ragged as she continued to sob into her hooves.

Rainbow recognized the mare immediately, landing next to her softly.

"Scoots...what's the matter?" she whispered softly. The sobbing mare ignored her, as if she hadn't said a word. Dash reached out to comfort her number one fan, only to find her hoof passed right through her.

"What the..."

Rainbow's head whirled around as the temple doors flung open again, this time Applejack stood at the entrance.

"AJ! Thank Celestia you're here!" she said flying towards her marefriend before she too walked right through her on her way to the front of the temple.

"Ah thought Ah'd find you here." she whispered to Scootaloo, still gently crying beneath the statue.

"I-It's not fair..."

Applejack began to tear up as soon as the young mare spoke. She harbored the same pain in her heart, if not more so.

"Ah know it ain't sugarcube..."

"We were going to-!" Scootaloo shouted in anguish.

"Ah know darlin', Ah know." AJ consoled, though tears flowed freely from her eyes as well.

"She meant everything to me...I did everything to try and make her proud of me. I even joined the Junior Speedsters! How could she leave us like that?" the tears of sadness streaming down the orange mares face now becoming tears of anger and frustration.

"She had to sugarcube...so we could live our lives the way we want to-"

"I don't care about that! I just want Rainbow back!" she sobbed.

"Ah know you do darlin'...so do Ah." Applejack took Scootaloo in her arms and held her tightly as they both wept beneath the monument to the mare who gave everything she had to ensure they would have a happy, chaos-free life.

Dash was dumbstruck. Before she even had time to grasp the implications of their words, Discord transported them out of the temple and onto the castle balcony, where Princess Luna, and the other elements of harmony stood, dressed in black. Even Scootaloo had managed to dry her tears enough to stand with the rest of them on the balcony. The normally sun red banners adorning Canterlots main street leading up to the castle were changed to the same dark shade of mourning. It appeared as though every citizen in Equestria had gathered beneath the castle for whatever was going on. A central lane stood cleared as Dash noticed the Wonderbolts march slowly, in perfect lockstep, carrying a flag draped casket on their shoulders. As it passed, the royal guards saluted one by one. None of her friends were able to hold their composure as the processions neared the castle, a solemn drumbeat announcing each step they took as they neared the occupants final resting place.

The quiet was unreal, as the Wonderbolts laid the casket to rest beneath the balcony, where a concrete monument had been constructed. The flag of Equestria was folded by Spitfire and Soarin as she gave the command to the other Wonderbolts to present hooves. After her command, every hoof gathered saluted the fallen hero. Soarin took the folded flag and flew up to the balcony, stopping in front of Applejack, who had broken down long before this point.

"On behalf of a grateful nation, and a proud flier, I present to you this flag, honoring the sacrifice Rainbow Dash has made, for all of us."

The color drained from Dash's face as those words reached her ears. Discord had brought her to her own funeral!

"Were you not curious as to how a mortal can reach the plane of the immortals?" Discord whispered to her, his apathy making her sick with anger. "Only through death, can one truly achieve immortality."

Princess Luna stepped forward to address the citizenry.

"Hail, my ponies."

"Hail, our princess!" the crowd roared in unison.

"I speak this day, with a heavy heart, as we commit our greatest flier, to the earth. Without the noble sacrifice made by Rainbow Dash, we would not be able to live our lives according to our will. Though she leaves behind many friends and loved ones, we must never forget what she would want for us." Princess Luna was arguably the only pony on the balcony besides the guards not on the verge of hysterics, though as the new ruler of Equestria, it was part of her royal duties to show strength when all others falter.

"Though our hearts are heavy now, we should not grieve for too long. Instead, we should celebrate the life of our friend and savior, my sister, and Rainbow Dash. We may commit her to the ground, but when you cast your gaze skywards, remember, she is all around us now, and would want us to be at peace, and appreciate what she has given us. A life free from the tyranny of Discord, and a chance to honor her memory, and Princess Celestia's..." Luna stopped, a hoof coming toward her face to remove a stray tear as she mentioned her beloved sister's name.

"Every day of our lives. Equestria prevails."

"Equestria prevails!" the gathered masses responded in unison. With a nod, a lonely trumpet belted out taps, the casket containing the fastest flier in Equestria slowly being lowered into the ground with the utmost respect and dignity.

Rainbow had no words for what she had just seen. This had to have been just another mind game. This couldn't be the only two choices she had!

"No...NO!" she shouted, fluttering away from the balcony. "This isn't real! It's just your stupid fog!" she shouted, tears streaming from her eyes at the thought of leaving her friends behind.

"Deny all you want, Rainbow. It's your fault I'm free from my prison in the first place."

"No it's not!"

Discord laughed, "But it is! Was a sonic rainboom over the statue garden really such a good idea? Let alone adoublerainboom?"

"I should be thanking you, after all. If you hadn't pushed yourself for that double rainboom, I'd still be in my stone prison!"

"You're lying!"

"Afraid not, my dear. You, and you alone are responsible for freeing the deity that brought the world to it's knees!"

Dash flew towards the sun, a bright portal opening up before her.

"That's right Rainbow, run away from the hard choices. The time will come for you to decide whether or not you want the blood of millions on your hooves, soon enough."

The end is near. I know I said I'd release everything once it was complete, but I didn't want to keep you guys waiting any longer for a few new chaps.