Rainbooms and Boulders
Flying into Cloudsdale was like entering a dream place; a fantasy of a skyward haven that had somehow made its way into reality. Floating above the world in a mass of cloudy textures, its structures stood out in the endless sea of blue and white, boasting its surrealistic works of architecture, painstakingly formed onto each and every building. But this high haven served a higher purpose in Equestria, with its incredible ability to produce weather for an entire kingdom. The weather factory itself was a sight to behold, a brightly coloured industrial area, if one ever existed.
I was still atop Fluttershy's back beside Rainbow Dash, attempting to take in every bit of this magnificent place as I could. We flew just a little higher than the main level of the industrial estate, making our way to the stadium. I found myself gasping at landmarks that would have been considered normal on the ground, instead of being formed out of compressed, condensed water vapour.
"C'mon! We're gonna be late!"
"Relax, Dash." I said, glancing at my watch. "We've still got a little over an hour before the show begins!"
Rainbow Dash, failing to take heed of my words, bolted forward towards the stadium, leaving me and Fluttershy in the dust.
"Oh, let her be, Keith." Fluttershy spoke over her shoulder. "She's just anxious, that's all..."
"And proud... and hard-headed..." I teased.
It didn't take long to finally reach the stadium. It was a massive oval-shaped building, and strikingly similar to the ancient Roman's colosseum. Complete with pillars and arches that were carved into great detail, it was suitably called the Cloudoseum. We flew through the structure, maneuvering around the skeletal framework of concentric piers and arches to the topmost floor. Besides the fact that it was constructed out of compressed vapour, the major differences I saw was that the arena was circular in shape, and the arena itself had no ground. Peering over on Fluttershy's back, I could literally see the ground, almost three thousand feet above Equestria's surface. The same hole that was Rarity's downfall, and the same hole that help Rainbow Dash conjure up her first Sonic Rainboom in years.
"Ah, the cloudoseum." Rainbow Dash spoke with nostalgia. "I remember when I won the competition here! It was so awesome!"
"And now, you're the guest of honour and a judge." I added.
"You make me sound old!" Rainbow Dash punched my arm as we came into landing. "Now, these pegasi have never seen anything like you before, so just try not to lure too much attention to yourself?"
"Sure, I'm just the only human here. How much attention would that get?"
Rainbow Dash shook her head and smiled, zooming ahead of her rather sarcastic friend.
We landed on the sixth floor of the Cloudoseum, two floors higher than the highest floor of the regular Colosseum. Up here, there was a large group of pegasi ponies, hustling about their business; some were setting up lights, some were placing speakers, and some were flying off to situations of other importance, all the while, speaking into their headsets non-stop.
Rainbow Dash pulled off a glided landing, placing all four hooves down and turning to one side. Then, with the flap of only the other wing, the cyan pegasus seemed to drift sideways across the ground before coming to a perfect, graceful halt. She tossed her head, flicking her vibrant mane to the side and striking a small pose.
"Good morning, Cloudsdale!"
That caused almost all the workers stop their setup, and turned them to their guest of honour. A burst of cheers and greetings followed. Those with free hooves rushed up to shake her hoof, while other ponies merely applauded. Somepony even threw a flower at her.
"Boy, she really knows how to make an entrance, huh?" I whispered to Fluttershy, setting us both giggling as we came in second, landing with less noticeable maneuvers. As the crowd of setup crew had their backs to us, I subtly hopped off Fluttershy, landing without so much as a small puff of a cloud. It was like walking on anti-matter; the clouds, up to a certain weight and velocity, could take all the force you threw at it. It had been a while since I had felt the magical experience of walking on air, and I wasn't going to get tired of it anytime soon.
The crew of the YFC began to disperse again, returning to their business before the main event. It was a mutual agreement between me and Fluttershy to not intervene. Rainbow Dash would've liked all the attention to herself anyway. Pulling up the hood of my favourite black hoodie, I took a seat next to Fluttershy in the circular stands, observing the bustle of the pegasi's preparations. Nopony bothered us when we were there. The pegasi were too busy setting up, and barely spared a glance in our direction.
The cloudoseum was another spectacular sight. The massive stadium was still in its prime, unlike the one on Earth. The sterile structures were beatutifully designed, rows and columns of stands could have seated ponies by the thousands. From the level we were on, the crew that was working on the first floor looked miniscule. It was one thing to look at a landmark through a screen, but it was a whole other-worldly thing to be feeling it in reality.
From where we were, we could hear somepony talking to Rainbow Dash. I assumed it was the event manager.
"We're so glad and honoured to have you here, Miss Dash."
"Pleasure's all mine!"
"Please, allow me to finalize the procedures for judging one last time..."
They trailed off in to the clang and clutter of the setup. We could only wait for her to return. For a moment, Fluttershy and I enjoyed the silence.
"Enjoying Cloudsdale so far?" Fluttershy asked.
"It's amazing." I said, ignoring the sudden glares of a couple of crew. "But then again, every place I've seen in Equestria so far has been quite different."
"Really?" She turned to me. "How so?"
"It's like... I don't know how to put it... it's magical in a sense. Every location, city or small town. They are all so different, so brightly coloured and friendly, just like its residents. Like you, for example." I gestured at Fluttershy, causing her to blush. "Heck, everything about Equestria is different from Earth; the places, the peop-er... ponies, the magic, even the change of seasons is something to marvel over, in my opinion."
"Maybe it's because I've lived here all my life," began Fluttershy. "But I've never really looked at it that way. But... where you come from... Earth? You make it sound so droopy, so sad." She scooted closer. "From everytime you talked about your home world, you made it sound a lot worse than Equestria. Surely it's not that bad?"
I turned to meet her eyes. They were warm and friendly The oversized, cartoony element of every ponies' eyes made them all look too cute, especially in reality.
"You have to stop looking at me like that." I said.
"Don't change the subject."
"You're going to give me diabetes." I chuckled lightly.
"Don't say that!" She lightly punched my arm before soflty uttering a soft sorry, and then carried on to giggle.
We became silent again, as we saw our rainbow-maned friend zoom across the arena to the other levels, leaving a rainbow trail behind her that lasted for half a second.
"Well, maybe you're right." I fell back, relaxing onto the soft, clouded seating. "Maybe Earth isn't that bad. Maybe it's just my outlook. And hey, once I saw the colour of Equestria, others look just a little more dull. There's no magic on Earth, none whatsoever; no mystical creatures, no pegasi nor any other big winged creatures. Maybe I'm just used to being surrounded by such things." I shrugged. "But that's just me. I know there are wondrous things about Earth that I haven't seen, and that there is bound to be a lot more people out there who love the world more than me."
"Hey..." Fluttershy lay down next to me. "The medallion you found? That thing that started it all? It's giving you the best of both worlds, Keith. The way I see it, you're only enjoying one side of it. Try cherishing the world you were born in as much as the one you found, huh?"
"Heh, you're right..." I hadn't brought the medallion with me to Cloudsdale. I figured that an object of such power shouldn't be openly displayed around my neck unless absolutely necessary. "...I guess being this supposed 'Spirit of Harmony' has its perks." I ran my hand through Fluttershy's mane, messing it up. "And you're just full of life-lessons, aren't you?"
Before our conversation could go any further, a head abruptly shadowed the sun from my face.
Rainbow Dash's wore a disappointed expression. Knowing her, it must have been something important to have brought her down.
"Hey, Dash. What happened?" I pushed myself back up.
"Ugh... looks like this year's competition may not be as great as the last one..."
"Why? What happened." Fluttershy rose to her hooves, eyeing her foalhood friend curiously. "Is there something wrong? Can't you perform the Sonic Rainboom? Are you unwell?"
"I'm fine, Fluttershy!" Rainbow Dash dismissed the help. "The problem isn't me. It's the Princess. It looks like she won't be able to make it this year." The cyan pegasus flared her nostrils and whipped her tail in frustration. If it were anything else, Rainbow Dash would have attempted to fix it. Whenever she was willingly part of anything, she would want it to be the best she could make it. But this was the Princess. Rainbow Dash couldn't do anything about that.
"But she always comes to the competition, whether she judges or just watches!" Fluttershy said. "Why won't she be here this year?"
"I don't know!" Rainbow Dash began to pace on the clouded surfaces. "They just said that she has some 'urgent matters' to attend to in the castle. Something about it being political or something..."
I draped an arm around her. "Hey, cheer up. It'll be fine! So what if she doesn't come? Your Sonic Rainboom will still be seen by thousands, and the Princess may even see it from the Palace! The show must go on, right?"
"Yeah, you're right..." Rainbow Dash began to perk up. "I wouldn't want to upset the fans who have come to see Rainbow Dash's famous Sonic Rainboom! She hovered above the arena, pumping a hoof in the air.
"Please don't talk in third person." I chuckled.
"Ah, it helps." She swooped down, curving one front hoof around my arm and pulling me up. We zipped out of one of the stadium's any windows. My heart skipped a fearful beat as I dangled from one limb above the expansive town.
"Now c'mon! We've got Cloudsdale to show you!" she exclaimed.
"FILLIES AND GENTLECOLTS!! Today we celebrate the talent of our young ones. It is my honour to announce this year's Young Flyer's Competition, OPEN!!"
That one voice boomed through speakers all over the cloudoseum. It was almost drown out by the crowds' whale of a cheer. From where we were, a VIP cloud on the sixth floor, we could see the tremendous masses of colourful pegasi, shouting, hollering, pumping themselves up for the show. Some swung flags of who they supported. Groups spread out banners of their friends who were going to participate. For a flying competition for little ponies, the audience was certainly psyched.
"Nice of Dash to get us this little spot." I said to Fluttershy, and she nodded in agreement. The two of us were the only occupants of this VIP cloud. The edges of it were carved specifically for important ponies, and we got our own, just because we were the guest of honour's friends.
We didn't cheer like the others. We were more quiet, watching the show from atop the cloudoseum. Even though I never hollered, I found myself smiling at the joyfulness of it all. I only heard Fluttershy say 'woohoo' once, and it could have made my heart explode.
"It's a shame the others couldn't make it though." Fluttershy had to speak loudly into my ear, over the boom of the speakers.
"It's alright! They'll see the Sonic Rainboom from Ponyville. It'll be like a giant 'hello' to them." I replied.
"Unfortunately, it is also our displeasure to have to inform you that her highness, Princess Celestia will have to be absent this year."
What followed were a few jeers, but not enough to even compare to the first cheers. It was then that I began to wonder what would have caused the Princess to miss this event.
She attends it every year. It can't just be bad timing. It must be something really important... or bad...
"However the show MUST go on!" Boomed the enthusiastic voice of a mare over the stadium. "Before we begin the main event! Please stomp your hooves for the FASTEST PEGASUS IN EQUESTRIA!"
With that, the roar of the pegasi totally drowned out the speakers.
"The toughest pegasus you'll ever meet! The spectrum speeder! The founder of the legendary Sonic Rainboom...!
"I bet you she planned for the MC to say that." I whispered to Fluttershy.
"...WE GIVE YOU: THE ONE, THE ONLY, RAINBOW DASH!!"
The shrill, jubilant cries of the crowd grew louder than ever, even on the topmost level with the rest of the important pegasi.
"Wish me luck!"
Out of the blue, the guest of honour tapped Fluttershy and I from behind. It shocked us for a moment, as we thought she would have appeared from the main entrance. She must've changed the plan.
With a menacing grin spread wide across her cyan face, she pulled up a pair of flying goggles. Cracking her legs one last time, she crouched down tensing every muscle in her body. She extended her wings, raising them up and ready to fly.
WIthin the blink of an eye, she was gone.
In one mighty flap of her wings, a huge gust of wind was generated, forcing me to stumble back. The rainbow silhouette of her figure was all the remained as she darted like a missile into the sky.
The crows cheers were constant. Loud and empowering. From one pegasi, a chant grew louder and louder, spurring our friend onwards.
"RAIN-BOW-DASH! RAIN-BOW-DASH! RAIN-BOW-DASH!...
The two of us even joined in the chant. It was only a matter of seconds before she was merely a brighter speck of blue in the atmosphere. Our hearts raced with anticipation for the outcome. Honestly, I had never seen a Sonic Rainboom yet, in all my time in Equestria, and I was shaking with anxiety to see one.
I raised a hand to shade my eyes from the bright sun. I felt my breath quicken when I saw the speck in the sky stopped growing smaller. Most of the crowd saw it too, and a chain of gasps and exclamations broke the cheers. Everypony grew quiet.
Rainbow Dash had stopped her ascent.
"She's gonna do it!" I found myself jittering.
"COME ON!" I heard somepony a few floors below holler.
"GO RAINBOW DASH!" shouted another.
"YEEEAAAH!" I looked down to see the overly-muscular white pegasus I knew as Roid Rage cheer as well.
Turning my gaze back to the clear blue sky, I held my breath and grew wide-eyed. The speck of the rainbow-maned pegasus was coming back, growing bigger.
Everypony began to chant her name again, louder than before. It was deafeningly brilliant.
What I saw next defied a few laws of physics I had come to know, although I didn't really care at that point.
A white, swirly cone had formed around the dot in the sky, and it grew thinner as the came closer. As her velocity increased, the thinner and longer the cone grew. Like a natural missile, she descended faster than any of her fellow pegasi, or any conscious human could withstand.
She was clearly visible now, and she was near the break point. The cone began to grow in colour. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet became the seven consistent colours of the cone. It was a shot of adrenaline just watching her go! Until at last... it was the break point.
The cone around her burst into a wide, expanding radius, shining all colours of the spectrum on its growing rim! The boom was similar to the sound of a jet, and just as loud. The force of the Sonic Rainboom, affected everyone in the cloudoseum. And to top it all off, the mesmerising trail of the rainbow was an opaque line in the sky, sparkling from the refraction and dispersion of light.
"Oh... my... god..." I whispered inaudibly, watching the wave of light spread across the sky. There was no doubt in my mind that the whole of Ponyville and Canterlot would have seen it. I barely noticed Fluttershy screaming in ecstasy right next to me.
Rainbow Dash continued to 'draw' the rainbow line through the sky, shooting up into the sky a second time. Soon, she was another speck again, along with the other one...
Wait a minute...
Shielding my eyes a second time, I noticed a second dot in the sky. From the distance, I could tell it was grey...
...and it was coming in fast...
...straight for us.
A few pegasi noticed it as well. The dark grey circle grew bigger with every passing second. It looked like a humungous rock.
"Fluttershy, do you see that?!" I stood motionless. My heart began to race, and it wasn't from anticipation this time.
I turned to my side to see Fluttershy frozen in fear. She stared agape at the massive thing that was heading towards us . My heart pounded as the thing got closer. My eyes darted left and right. It was to my horror that I realized that there was no way off this cloud, except for flying.
"Fluttershy we gotta move!" I shook her heavily, but it was ineffective. "Fluttershy! Snap out of it!" I turned my back from the slight panic of the pegasi.
Like a rock against my chest, my heart thumped in panic. Half of me just wanted to jump, but I couldn't leave Fluttershy here! But I soon would have no choice. On Fluttershy's forehead, a small shadow appeared. It was growing rapidly. The small shadow from a second before engulfed her head.
"Oh my... goodness..." she exclaimed.
"Oh crap!" I spun round to see a humungous boulder, twice my size, less than a hundred meters away.
I had to act fast!
"Sorry Fluttershy!" I exclaimed. With a hard push, I shoved the Element of Kindness off the VIP cloud, putting her out of the aim of the boulder. The shriek that echoed from her fall made me regret doing that for a moment. But not long enough for me to think about it. The screams of other pegasi replaced the cheers as I heard the sound of other projectiles landing in various places. Those cries were blocked out by my own.
I barely had half of a second to throw myself to the other side, I felt the force of the rock as it barely missed me.
But that was the least of my worries.
The boulder had decimated the small cloud Fluttershy and I was on. I had nothing to catch my feet, nothing to stand on or grab...
...and I couldn't fly.