Pride and Prism
"Enlighten me as to why I am perched upon this hill," said Wither, sitting on his hindquarters on the aforementioned hill. The sky was cloudless, the sun was bright, and Ponyville was a mile or so away.
The sky-blue pegasus that hovered ten or so feet in front of him did a little somersault in mid-air. "Because Fluttershy's off buying animal food, Pinkie's got baking stuff to do, AJ's busy with the farm, and I need someone to watch my stunts!"
Truth be told Wither would rather have been kicking trees, or carrying animal food bags, or even risking life and limb for the sake of confectionaries. However, to his disappointment, Twilight insisted that he spend a day with Rainbow Dash, as he hadn't gotten a chance to really get to know her. And when he vehemently refused, she simply shrugged and asked whether or not he had a phobia of rainbows.
His angry denial that he had no such phobia, as a result, led him to the hill. Rainbow Dash hovered a scant few feet in front of him, forelegs crossed.
"Have you ever seen a pegasus flight show before?"
"No, I haven't."
"Didn't think so, kinda hard for a non-pegasus to get up in the clouds."
"As if I'd want to traipse about on a damned cloud for a day."
"Well," said Rainbow, flying up high into the air, having to half-shout to make herself heard, "maybe you'd be less cranky if you spent a day up here."
Wither scowled. "Wouldn't make you any less annoying. Get on with the damned 'stunts'; every second I spend sitting here is a second wasted."
The pegasus rolled her eyes, less keen than ever on having Wither as an audience. Nonetheless, she had to practice, and she had to have someone watch. Without further ado, the rainbow-maned mare flew quite a ways up with a short, graceful flourish.
"NOW!" yelled Rainbow, though at her altitude she was barely audible, "PAY ATTENTION AND TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK!"
Wither sighed, waving about a foreleg in a "get on with it" fashion. What he was expecting was a paltry, half-baked collage of midair twirls and loops that the pegasus had slapped together and arrogantly called "awesome."
What he quickly realized, though, was that if Rainbow Dash was good at anything, it was flying. Flying fast.
The display started off simple enough, high-speed turns at almost impossibly sharp angles and rapid barrel rolls done in quick, dizzying succession. Wither wasn't quite expecting the rainbow-trail effect produced by the pegasus' tail and mane, and the shimmering outline of her various rolls, flips and turns quickly burned itself into his vision. From there, she started going even faster, lines so fast and turns so tight-maneuvered that her multicolored flight trail weaved dazzling, complex shapes in midair. Clouds, thunderbolts and intricate geometric patterns; she even made what Wither thought was a turtle.
After a rather impressive, completely vertical corkscrew of vibrant multicolored light, Dash took a moment to pause, spreading out her forelegs in what Wither understood as her asking "How did I do?" To this, he worked his jaw to the side, shrugged, and gave a single half-hearted nod.
Privately, the gaunt stallion was somewhat impressed. But he wasn't about to toss more fuel onto the blazing bonfire of Rainbow Dash's ego.
Dash scowled at Wither's lackluster response, not sure whether to think he was genuinely unimpressed or if he was just being his usual mean-spirited self. She guessed it was a combination of both. Regardless, she nodded and, with several furious flaps of her wings, shot off even higher into the air.
For a moment, it looked as if the pegasus was simply flying in aimless circles. It quickly became apparent that she was, in actuality, gathering up stray clouds into one large platform, high above the air. Once she'd cobbled them all together (a feat which took all of ten seconds, it seemed), she flew a good fifty feet up, and then with a prismatic flourish, slammed right down onto the cloud.
Almost instantly, the cloud let loose a blinding torrent of rain, soaking the grass and trees below. Rainbow did a great arcing backflip off of the cloud and started zipping around within the rain, doing all manner of tight turns and quick rolls.
The result, as Wither could quickly and quite plainly see, was an eye-watering, vibrant rainbow display in the form of Dash's cutie mark, shown in what seemed to be three dimensions thanks to the rain. Flying up in a vertical corkscrew, the pegasus flared her wings out and perched herself on the stormcloud. She gestured one hoof to the design, then pointed it at him.
That seemed to do it. Fuming, Rainbow flared her wings out and rocketed upwards with enough force to tear the stormcloud apart. She flew up, higher and higher, until Wither couldn't even see her anymore. For a moment, he thought that she'd left in aggravation; but soon, he heard a faint whistling sound. The whistling grew louder and louder and Wither caught sight of Rainbow Dash once more; and she was flying at a ninety-degree angle towards the ground.
He had cracked his neck and started to wonder just what the pegasus would look like as a bloody smear when he heard a deafening crack that shook the trees and rattled his bones. Rainbow Dash seemed to explode in a brilliant, dazzling flash of multicolored light that flared outwards like an explosion. Mere feet from the ground she pulled up and skidded to a stop twenty feet or so from Wither, rainbow trail following close behind.
"Well?" asked the pegasus, panting slightly. "Was that good enough for you?"
"I can think of several dozen damn things I'd rather watch. Regardless," he said as Rainbow seemed to get ready to yell at him, "my interest has been raised; what the hell was the explosion?"
Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes at him for a moment before starting to explain. "A Sonic Rainboom; my own special stunt. It only happens when I go really, really fast."
Wither rolled his eyes at that. "Sounded more like a cannon shot than a little flying trick."
"Little?!" exclaimed Rainbow, her voice cracking and her wings flaring out. "It's big! It's amazing! It's the most awesome move in Equestria, bar none!"
"It's a loud bang and a bunch of bright lights," said Wither, straightening up a bit as he scowled down at Dash. "Anyone with a set of fireworks can do what you've done."
"Nopony else can do what I just did! I think you're just jealous."
Wither snorted. "Jealous? Of the likes of you?"
Rainbow nodded, flying up into the air a few feet and crossing her forelegs. "I'm cool, super fast, good looking, super talented, have a job at the weather factory, have the Wonderbolts' autograph, and I actually have friends. I'm about one-hundred-and-twenty percent more awesome than you."
Wither slowly narrowed his eyes. "I am leaps and bounds more resilient, knowledgeable and intelligent than you. At one point in time I could have very well froze your stupid little backside solid."
"Oh yeah?" said Rainbow, getting right up into Wither's face. "Go ahead and try, you big brute!"
Of course, Wither couldn't try if he wanted to, and he very, very much wanted to. He couldn't do much more than stand there and glare at Rainbow Dash in his current state; he was, after all, lacking in both a horn and a pair of wings. After a few tense moments of staring, he finally spoke.
"I have better things to do than suffer your presence, you rainbow-striped little braggart."
Rainbow scowled. "What happened to freezing me solid, huh?"
"I don't have the damn inclination to deal with the headache that—"
"You aren't even able to do that! You don't have a horn!"
"I'm very much aware—"
"How did you even do it in the first place, huh?" Rainbow tilted her head to give him a chicken stare. "Unless you're making it all up, which you probably are."
Wither growled. "I am not making anything up."
Rainbow put a hoof to her ear. "Huh? What's that? I can't hear you over the sound of all the things you're totally making up."
"I am going back to the damn Library," hissed Wither, doing an about face and trotting towards Ponyville. "This conversation is over."
"Hold it!" Dash flew over and hovered ten or so feet in the air to his left, glaring down at him. "This conversation totally isn't over. We've got a lot of stuff to talk about, most of it about you being a jerk!"
"How about you shut your mouth," said Wither, looking up at her. "and spare me the torture of your voice."
"See! Exactly! You've been really mean to just about everyone around Ponyville!"
"That's a damn exaggeration—"
"You were really rude to Rarity when you went over there."
"She deserved it."
"You kept threatening Pinkie Pie and wouldn't sing with her."
"That one's psychotic."
"You're stressing Twilight out and making her think she's gonna have to zap you."
"If she does it'll be because I decide I no longer want to deal with this nonsense."
"You keep insulting Spike."
"And with good reason."
Wither stopped in his tracks, his path blocked by Rainbow Dash, who had firmly planted herself in front of him, giving him a look that could strip paint.
"You tried hurting Angel Bunny and made Fluttershy cry."
"The rabbit was asking for it and it's not my fault the yellow one—"
"That 'yellow one' is my friend! They're all my friends!" Rainbow flared her wings out, stamping the ground once. "And I don't really like people who're mean to my friends and think they can act all nonch… nonsha… non…"
Dash narrowed her eyes further. "Act all cool about it!"
Wither stared down at her, setting his jaw. The pegasus' words had set his blood to a slow boil; she reminded him very, very strongly of someone he'd known in his past life. And he wasn't happy about it.
"If you're so damn upset, you little pissant, do something about it."
"Do something, huh?"
"Yes, do s—"
The next thing he knew, Wither was sailing through the air, propelled by something fast and rainbow-colored that had rammed into his chest. By the time he gathered his wits and his air the ground was a good hundred feet below him.
Wither raised a foreleg and brought it down hard in the small of Rainbow's back. In response she flared her wings out and came to an abrupt stop, causing him to jerk forward and start to fall. Before he'd gone more than a few feet, though, Rainbow wrapped her forelegs around his right hoof, holding him aloft.
Rainbow wore a look of intense anger, one mirrored by Wither. The pegasus' wings were beating extraordinarily hard and fast to keep them both aloft.
"Give me a reason why I shouldn't let you drop like the jerk stone you are!"
Wither pursed his lips. He wasn't ready to depart from his brightly colored hell just yet. "Because that is homicide, for one. For two, I'm not afraid of it. And lastly, what'd your friends think?"
Rainbow Dash furrowed her brow as she stared at him. Then, without a word, she flew onward; not as fast as she would have liked, but fast enough. Wither had no choice but to go along with the ride, half-yelling over the wind.
"If I give you a damn apology will you come to what little senses you have and let me down?"
"An apology? You wouldn't even mean it!"
"No, I wouldn't, but at least it'd be there."
"No way, no how."
Wither growled quietly, looking down at the ground below. An uneasy feeling came over him, tightness in his stomach and a small gnawing at the back of his mind. The more he stared, the stronger it became. Then he heard it.
'Go on then. Show your subordinates how damn paranoid you are.'
Wither blinked, taking a deep breath. He looked up at Rainbow, his gaunt face wearing a stony expression.
"Let me down."
"Let me down."
Rainbow glanced down at him. "Do you promise not to be a jerk to everyone?"
The dead man hefted his tower shield, yelling. 'I WILL NOT BE CONTROLLED AGAIN.'
"Just put me down, pegasus."
"That didn't sound like a 'yes'."
Rainbow looked forward, grinning. "Alright. Here's your stop, Wither."
Wither followed her gaze, eyes widening.
In front of them was a very, very big rock wall. One that Rainbow very promptly threw him into.
I never asked for any of it. Not a single damn bit of it. But it happened. And I accepted it, relished it.
And I wrought havoc.
I paid the price for it. But it looks like I'm paying damn interest, now.
"Seriously, not cool! Wake up!"
"Rainbow, don't slap him!"
"C'mon, it's fun!"
"Yes, but still!"
I'll be having words with whatever deity is responsible for this. They will regret the day of their conception.
"I think he's waking up."
"Good! I'll take him up to the cliff again and—"
But that talk will come another day.
Wither flicked his eyes open and his senses hit him all at once. He smelled grass and leaves and antiseptic and lavender. He heard chirping birds and singing crickets. He tasted an unpleasant mix of iron, dirt and bile. He saw a clear blue sky, a few treetops, and the faces of Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash.
But it was the sense of touch that hit him hardest; or rather, the sense of pain, because every part of him ached, from his ears to his tail. He groaned, his tongue rolling around in his mouth to make sure all his teeth were still intact as he gingerly flexed his limbs. Thankfully he wasn't missing any teeth, nor was any of his legs broken. He focused his eyes on Twilight, then Rainbow, then on nothing.
Rainbow rubbed the back of her neck. "Uh, a few hours. You didn't wake up the first few times I slapped you so I went to go get Twilight. And, um. Get lunch."
Wither glared at her. "In that order?"
Rainbow looked over to the side. "…Maybe."
Twilight sighed. "Luckily for you, Wither, you didn't manage to break anything; I fixed a few of the more serious bruises when I got here. Why did Rainbow toss you into a cliff?"
Wither rolled over onto his stomach, putting his legs underneath him. "Because I was 'a jerk'."
"That's what she said too," said Twilight, turning her head to give a sheepish-looking Rainbow a sharp look. "And even though he's a pretty big jerk you can't just go tossing him into walls."
"Yeah, yeah… Sorry, Wither. Kinda."
"What the hell ever," hissed the pale stallion as he forced himself upright, ignoring the painful yells of protest from his muscles and joints. "That's the last time I willingly stay in your company."
Dash scoffed. "I'm not complaining. Do you need a hoof getting back, Twi?"
Twilight shook her head in the negative. "No, I know how to get back to Ponyville. And I'm sure Wither's able to walk."
Rainbow nodded and soared away fast as she could. Wither watched her go with a tired, pained glare. As she vanished, he looked over to Twilight, who was looking at him carefully. Wither snorted.
"The hell is it?"
"That could've easily been number four on the 'death' counter, you know."
Wither shook his head. "I'm not talking about this damn nonsense now."
"What better time to talk about it?"
"When every fiber of my being isn't in pain."
Twilight frowned. "Look, you're going to have to start to explain things some time, Wither if you're expecting me to keep housing you."
"As if I'm reliant upon your generosity. I could easily live out here if I needed to."
"On your own? With nothing but your hooves?"
"Yes, on my own."
Twilight opened her mouth to say more, but paused, eyes wide. Wither furrowed his brow in confusion just before it hit him as well.
It wasn't strong, really; it was just noticeable enough for a tingle to go down Wither's spine. A swooping, eerie feeling, as if something malicious were perched just above him, staring down. He looked up and saw nothing but leaves and branches.
Blinking, he turned his head to Twilight, who was quite clearly agitated. "You felt that too, didn't you?"
"Yes. Like someone was staring at me from above."
"If even you can feel it… come on. We ought to get back to Ponyville. I'm not too sure it's safe out here."
Wither was tempted to ask her what, exactly, made her think it was safe to begin with. He couldn't find the energy to do so, however, and settled with wearily following Twilight back to her home.
He dropped like a stone onto the pile of blankets once he had arrived, and other than to nip at some food that Spike shoved his way, he didn't move an inch the rest of the evening.
He spent an hour or so staring out the window after Twilight had gone to bed, his bright eyes narrowed and his tail twitching every so often. It didn't sit right with him, whatever it was that was out there.
If it wasn't his problem before, he was sure it was his problem now.