For many years, Rainbow Dash had fantasized about this moment. Its attainment had, after all, been her lifelong goal, and the one thing she had worked the hardest for to accomplish, for as long as she could remember. She had dreamt about it many a night. Her dreams had always been much the same. She had stood, surrounded by a crowd of other eager pegasi, in the Cloudiseum. As one excited mass, they had waited patiently, staring upwards at an empty stage. In her dreams, she had held her breath in nervous anticipation, listening to the faint buzz of whispered conversation around her, until, wait, there she is! There she is!
The appearance of Spitfire, captain of the Wonderbolts and subject of every conversation around her, would invariably bring the mass of pegasi to a sudden hush, and pure, deathly silence reigned over the entire assemblage. To Rainbow Dash, this part of each dream seemed to play in slow motion, each movement unfolding itself in an impossibly long stretch of time, but that was always part of the magic. Slowly, Spitfire approached her place at the front of the stage, her head rising slowly so that her mouth reached the microphone. She would always make a long pause, taking the time to swing her gaze out over the mass of assembled pegasi, her eyes sparkling as she did so. The unfaltering gazes of hundreds of pairs of eyes followed her every move, the stadium reaching a point where it must have been possible to hear a pin drop, even on the, relatively soundless, cloud surface.
Then, invariably, with a twinkle in her eye and a flourish of her hoof, Spitfire would produce the prize. A brand-new, immaculate Wonderbolt flight suit, with goggles placed carefully atop the perfectly folded blue and gold fabric. She would hold it above her head tantalizingly, balanced on a single hoof while she gazed out across the crowd. Not a pony moved. Not a feather ruffled. When Spitfire spoke, her voice always seemed to shatter the very air itself. Everypony hung on her every word. "Fillies and Gentlecolts, I want to thank you all for coming today. You've all put on fantastic performances for me and the team today and I'd like to say you're all winners, and that you've all done well enough. You've all exceeded my expectations, but, unfortunately, there can be only one new Wonderbolt."
She would always pause here, leaving her audience to sit on pins and needles. She grinned before she spoke again, her words magnified by the magic-powered microphone standing before her. "So, without further ado, the winner of this competition, and the newest member of the Wonderbolts is…"
Sometimes, Rainbow Dash would snap awake right at this moment, blinking in confusion. "NO! Who won? I have to know!" She would yell, punching her pillow for emphasis.
Sometimes, Spitfire would utter a name Rainbow Dash did not recognize, and some pony she didn't recognize would cry out in joy, flying up to the stage to receive their new uniform while Dash looked on in barely suppressed shock. On those nights, she would wake up in cold sweat.
More often than not, however, it would be her name that graced Spitfire's lips. It would be her name that was broadcasted out to the ears of every pony assembled. It would be her to scream in joy. It would be her to do a somersault in the air as she rushed up to the stage. It would be her to accept the uniform.
So many times had Dash dreamt of the moment, that it seemed almost surreal to be experiencing it outside of her own fantasies.
It had been a normal morning. She woke up late, as she normally did, stretching herself and rubbing the sleep from her eyes when she finally decided it was time to drag herself out of bed. She was still blinking groggily as she made her way to the kitchen for breakfast, which happened to be the cold leftovers of her dinner from the night previous. Rainbow Dash had never been much for cooking.
The slow, melodic whirring sound of the coffee machine filled the kitchen. Rainbow Dash stood at the kitchen counter, tapping her hoof impatiently as the sustenance-giving liquid dripping slowly into her favorite mug, which, of course, sported the Wonderbolts signature lightning bolt logo. She grabbed the cup and took a long gulp as soon as it was full, her eyelids flying open as the electrifying drink hit her taste buds. She smacked her lips together, still rather put off by the bitter taste despite having taken her coffee black for years.
The hungry pegasus scarfed down the remains of her vegetable stir-fry from the night before in a matter of seconds, washing it down with another swig of coffee. She grimaced. That combination of flavors was not something she wished to try again. Finished, she grabbed her mug in her mouth, careful not to spill any coffee as she trotted from the kitchen. It was time for her morning flight; a ritual Rainbow Dash had always enjoyed. The peace and quiet of a good, exhilarating flight not only gave her the chance to stretch her wings, but also to prepare for the day ahead.
The eager mare stretched her wings, loosening them up and preparing them for her first flight of the day. Mere inches from the door, she happened to look downwards, and froze in her tracks. Her mug, forgotten, fell to the floor as her jaw dropped, the remainder of her coffee splashing unnoticed onto the cloud floor. She stared down at the floor, and the envelope seemed to stare back at her. It was of crisp parchment in an off-white color. It was not, however, the envelope itself that had grabbed her attention. She received plenty of mail in similar envelopes, mostly bills and junk mail. No, the importance of this piece of mail lay not in its plain envelope, but the emblem used to seal it: a perfect, instantly recognizable, lightning bolt.
Rainbow Dash stood and stared for several moments. This was it. The day she had anticipated for years had finally arrived. On the floor in front of her lay a letter which could only have come from the Wonderbolts. There was no other explanation. She had arrived.
As soon as she came to her senses, the excited mare scooped the letter up and flew it back to the kitchen, sweeping dishes and carry-out containers off the top of her table and gingerly laying the envelope down. Unable to hold herself back, Rainbow Dash tore into the envelope, carefully preserving its emblem as she removed its contents. She bit her lip in anticipation as she held the creased letter in her hooves. Slowly, she unfolded it, her eyes flitting across its face as she read the words, still half in disbelief.
'Dear Miss Rainbow Dash,
As you have undoubtedly assumed upon receiving this letter, you are cordially invited to attend a practice session with the Wonderbolts in two days' time. As I'm sure you are also aware of, a long-standing member of the Wonderbolts, Rapidfire, is to retire at the end of this season, and we are looking for a suitable pegasus to replace him on our team. I would like to be the first to offer congratulations to you, as we would like to offer you the opportunity to try out for that position. You have proven yourself worthy many times over, particularly with your spectacular performance at the Young Fliers' Competition. I do hope you will accept this offer, as I believe you would make a fantastic addition to our team.
Practice will be at our Cloudsdale training facility, beginning at 9 am sharp in two days. We hope to see you there!
Wonderbolts Team Captain,
Rainbow Dash stood in dumbfounded silence, reading the letter over and over again, just to be sure it was real. She blinked several times, hardly able to breathe as she stared at the writing. Her dreams were about to come true.
In two days' time, Rainbow Dash found herself standing on a small cloud, high above the vast expanse of cloud and open sky that was the Wonderbolts' training grounds. She swallowed a nervous lump as she looked down. Far below her, four members of the Wonderbolts, Spitfire and Soarin' included, stood on a cloud, staring back up at her. As Spitfire had explained to her upon her arrival, her trout was actually set to take place before the practice officially started. She had then given Rainbow Dash a few minutes to warm up, but the rainbow-maned pegasus found herself unable to focus; she was too nervous.
Not that a few minutes of warm-up would have made any difference for her. She had already spent her entire life training for this moment. The nervous pegasus had also managed to cram as much practice as possible into the last two days. She was as ready as she would ever be, yet she couldn't shake the agitation that stuck in her mind.
The actual tryout already differed from what she had expected, and dreamt, it to be like in one major respect. She was the only one there. Rainbow Dash had always assumed that the Wonderbolts chose new members from some sort of competition. In truth, she hadn't really known what they did until she was invited herself, as the new member selection process was always kept well-hidden by the team. She had been surprised, therefore, upon showing up at the Wonderbolts training facility, to find that no one else would be attending. In a way, it put even more pressure on her than an actual competition might have; she had no one to compare her performance to but herself.
It all came down to this. Every move she had invented, tried, practiced, and perfected from the day she first learned to fly had been designed to impress the Wonderbolts, and now here she was, about to try and impress the Wonderbolts. Rainbow Dash's stomach felt like it had flipped upside-down. Below, she watched apprehensively as Spitfire brought a small, metallic whistle to her mouth. A few seconds later, she blew, the shrill call echoing up to Rainbow Dash. It was now or never.
Throwing her wings out to their full length, Rainbow Dash took a running start and thrust herself toward the edge of the cloud. She kicked her hind legs into the springy surface, flapped her wings twice for lift, and soared out over the edge, her athletic frame silhouetted against Celestia's sun high above. She remained poised in the air, almost frozen in space, for a moment, before she plummeted downward. The speeding pegasus stretched herself out and poised her hooves in front of her head, picking up speed as her aerodynamic form cut through the air like an arrow.
A streak of rainbow shot out behind her as she flew faster. Near the bottom of her path, she spread her wings to their full extent in one smooth motion and threw herself into a nearly bone-crushing vertical turn, flattening her flight path out so that she shot right over the heads of her judges. Her head pounded from the stress of the gravity-defying turn, but she ignored it and angled herself upward, prepared for the next part of her routine. Her wings flared as she brought herself upwards into a near perfect circle, keeping her high speed up as she executed one… two… three perfect loop-de-loops. She exited the top of her third loop flying even faster than before, and used her momentum to fly straight through a series of small, white clouds, which had been set up in a perfect line just for this purpose. The rainbow trail streaming out behind her made the clouds appear as but small, white beads, strung out on a six-colored string.
She angled her way into another wide, sweeping turn, arcing downwards as well as around. The assembled Wonderbolts looked on as Rainbow Dash flew straight at them. They twitched their wings nervously as she barreled towards them, ready to dive out of the way. At the last possible moment, she pulled off another high-speed, small-radius turn and shot straight upwards, punching through another cloud just above their heads. Two of the Wonderbolts' jaws fell slack as the rainbow streak blazed past them. Spitfire cracking a wide smile while Soarin' leaned backwards, straining to see Rainbow Dash as she propelled herself even further straight up.
High above, Rainbow Dash leveled off before she lost too much speed and entered another wide, horizontal, circular turn, looping in underneath herself to continue her spiral as she let the loops grow tighter and tighter. The rainbow trail left behind her in the sky adopted the shape of a swirling vortex as she spiraled ever downward. The wind around her began to whip, coaxed into a circular spiral motion by her flight. She had to strain to keep tightening her circles as she flew, gaining speed all the while. Her head began to feel dizzy, but she brushed the sensation away, concentrating on perfecting her ever tightening vortex.
Just when she thought she couldn't possibly tighten her turn anymore, she broke into a straight dive, plummeting downwards, before spreading her wings again to throw her body into a tight U-turn. Her wing-joints screamed in protest and her head pounded, but the strained pegasus followed through, retaining much of her speed as she flapped hard, powering herself straight upward once again. She entered the bottom of the vortex she had created earlier, pushing herself forward with reckless abandon. The force of her upward motion interrupted the swirling motion of the vortex, and it exploded apart just as she exited the top – the rainbow contrails dissipating into a cloud of multi-hued mist as they spread apart.
As the remaining mist of her last stunt sparkled in the sun, still fading away, Rainbow Dash was already focusing on her final, and most important, trick. The, aptly-named, Rainbow Vortex had gone off without a hitch, but she knew in the back of her mind that her finale had to be absolutely perfect. Her wings continued to flap like mad, propelling her ever higher. She gradually lost speed as she soared upwards, finally coming to a near stand-still. At this point, she simply let herself fall.
Rainbow Dash entered a controlled tumble, gaining momentum as she lost every bit of height she had pushed herself up to. She pointed her nose downwards, gradually straightening herself out as she gained speed. The world began to flash past her faster than her eyes could keep track of as the diving pegasus plummeted ever faster. Rainbow Dash felt a cone of air begin to form around her. This was it.
As the air cone began to take definite shape around her, everything started to go wrong. She had only performed the Sonic Rainboom three times, but she had attempted on more than enough occasions to know when something was amiss. She felt the air resistance ahead of her press even more against her, and she flapped even faster to counteract. However, instead of forcing the cone into a tighter shape, like Rainbow Dash knew she had to do to break through it, she felt herself losing speed. In a matter of seconds, she knew, the cone was going to collapse completely and fling her backwards. She could not let that happen. Not in front of the Wonderbolts!
In a split-second decision, she pitched one wing outwards, but held the other back. The sudden imbalance threatened to throw her completely off-course, but she held herself steady, rolling over several times in midair to counteract the bone-rattling force of the sudden move. Seconds later, she felt the force of air resistance dissipate as the sonic cone fell away around her. She flapped her wings once, using them like a sail to exit the barrel roll and smooth out her flight path. The maneuver had worked as intended; at least, she had broken free of the sonic cone. Now, however, she was on her own. Her routine had gone flawlessly up to this point, but without a Sonic Rainboom, she now had to improvise a finale.
If the force of the wind had allowed her control over her mouth, she would have grinned as her mind immediately flashed to a memory of the time Trixie had come to Ponyville. Instantly, Rainbow Dash knew what to do. Re-aligning herself, she flashed through the remnants of the clouds she had broken up earlier, making sure as much mist as possible was dragged into her wake and pulled along behind her as possible. She once again angled towards the Wonderbolts, speeding in their direction. At the last moment, she threw her wings out like an airbrake and slowed to a stop almost completely, settling just on the edge of the cloud in front of her heroes. The water, having retained its momentum, kept going just past her, only to dissipate, catching the light of the sun and forming a magnificent, if brief, rainbow between her and the Wonderbolts.
Rainbow Dash panted hard, staring expectantly at Spitfire. The other mare brought a hoof to her chin and rubbed it, as if deep in thought. She turned to Soarin' and whispered something in his ear. The pegasus stallion nodded in silent agreement. Spitfire turned back towards Rainbow Dash, a slight frown adorned her face. Rainbow Dash's heart, which was already beating at a mile per minute, sank when she saw her face. Spitfire looked her over. Rainbow Dash met her gaze, her golden eyes seemed to stare deep into her. She gulped when Spitfire began to speak. "So, Rainbow Dash. Were you going to perform a sonic Rainboom for us today?"
Rainbow Dash found that she could hardly speak. Her mouth felt strangely dry. She opened and closed it several times as she tried to find words. Spitfire just blinked at her. Rainbow Dash swallowed and finally managed to say something. "I… I was going to… but I… I didn't set it up right… I… I had to bail out."
Spitfire nodded, tapping her hoof against her chin. "I see…. Well, in that case, Rainbow Dash, I'm afraid I have no choice…"
Rainbow Dash just stared at her, unblinking, unmoving. Inside, however, was a completely different story. She was going into crisis control, entering a vain internal struggle to try and figure out what she did wrong, how she could have failed. She knew the Sonic Rainboom was special, but had they been expecting it? No. NO! They couldn't have expected her to do it! That just… that just… that didn't make any sense at all! It…
"... but to welcome you to join the Wonderbolts as a full member. Congratulations."
"I said congratulations." Spitfire laughed. "Your performance was magnificent, even if it didn't include a Sonic Rainboom, and the fact that you could bail out of a failed trick and recover your finale so easily shows that you're both good at thinking on your wings and acting quickly and instinctually in difficult situations. You'd make a brilliant Wonderbolt. Welcome aboard." Rainbow Dash stood speechless, her lip quivering. Spitfire's grin faltered. "Uh… hey, Dash… you ok?"
Still, the rainbow mare did not move. Spitfire raised an eyebrow in confusion. She flet a presence to her side and turned to see Soarin' standing beside her. "I think ya broke her, Spits. She-"
"OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH!" Both Wonderbolts stumbled backwards as the rainbow-maned mare before them rocketed into the sky, screaming her elation to the heavens as she soared end over end in a tight circle, almost as if she were doing backflips in mid-air. Spitfire could not help but smile as she watched the ecstatic mare flip head over hooves. She glanced over at Soarin' to see a wide grin spread across his face, his eyes following the cyan mare's every movement. Spitfire looked back towards Rainbow Dash, who had finally stopped her aerial display, only to do a quick double-take as she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She glanced back at Soarin'. She could not be sure, but for a brief instant, she thought she saw his tongue flick out of his mouth.
"So, Dash, have you had much experience with group flying?" Spitfire leaned against one of the benches in the locker room, stifling a laugh as she watched Rainbow Dash admire her new Wonderbolts flight suit in the mirror.
"Well, besides flying with the weather team, not much." Rainbow Dash found she could still hardly tear herself away from the image of herself in a Wonderbolts flight suit. Dear Celestia she felt like she was dreaming. After striking another pose and taking a good long look at herself, she spun around to face her idol. "There was that one time after the Young Fliers' Competition when I got to spend a day with the Wonde- I mean, you guys. That was about the only synchronized flying I've ever done."
Spitfire nodded as Rainbow Dash trotted over. "Not bad… not bad…. Well, looks like you'll need some more practice in that department. And speaking of practice, the other guys are probably waiting for us outside. Let's fly."
"Right behind you!" Rainbow Dash smiled brightly as she followed the elder mare out from the locker room and back out into the open. The other Wonderbolts had all gathered there. Rainbow Dash beamed as they welcomed her into their midst. She could not have been happier. The ponies she had idolized for as long as she could remember now accepted her as an equal. She received slaps on the back, hoof-bumps, and other congratulations from all, and she just couldn't stop smiling throughout.
When practice finally ended, Rainbow Dash felt more exhausted than she could ever remember being before. Her wings burned. Every joint in her body seemed on fire. Drops of sweat ran down her face and streaked her entire body. Thankfully, the fabric of the suit helped wick some of the moisture away from the skin so its wearer did not overheat. Rainbow Dash wiped a hoof across her brow, scattering droplets through the air as she did so. She was breathing heavily, but smiling all the same.
The practice had been a trial by fire for the new recruit. Spitfire and her teammates had put Rainbow Dash through her paces, testing her to find her limits. Smiling now as she approached the sweaty, bright-eyed, cyan mare, Spitfire could not help but be impressed. "Great work out there today, Dash! You were showing some real improvement towards the end. I think we'll have those kinks with synchronized flying ironed out completely in a few more weeks."
Rainbow Dash beamed. "Thanks Spitfire… that… really means a lot to me."
"Don't mention it, filly." Spitfire grinned, giving Rainbow Dash a good-natured slap on her rear, as teammates are apt to, as she brushed past. She did not see Rainbow Dash blush heavily as the highly excitable filly ducked, trying to hide the uncanny amount of red that had suddenly flushed her face to a shade that nearly matched the red streak in her mane. Rainbow Dash hung behind the other Wonderbolts, trying her best to cool herself down.
When she looked up again, Spitfire and the others were walking back towards the locker rooms, chatting happily amongst themselves. Rainbow Dash hurried to catch up with them. She flew the short distance and landed amongst them, Spitfire chuckling as she did. "So, Dash, you up for a celebration with us tonight?"
"A celebration? With you guys? Tonight? Really?"
Soarin' and several of the others laughed, Spitfire merely grinned. "Of course. We always celebrate when we get new members. We're heading to a bar in downtown Cloudsdale. You game?"
"You know it!" Rainbow Dash felt like leaping into the air again, but managed to keep herself under control. "I mean… that sounds cool."
"Alright! We're gonna shower down quick, and then we'll head over there."
"Actually…" Rainbow Dash pawed at the cloud beneath her hoof nervously, a coy smile on her face. "I kinda wanted to fly down to Ponyville to tell my friends the good news first."
Spitfire gave her a knowing grin. "Ok, just meet us at the Cloud Nine Inn Bar in about an hour."
"You bet!" Rainbow Dash smiled before jumped into the air and flying off, angling towards Ponyville.
Applejack sighed in contentment as she walked through the orchard. Her orchard. Autumn was coming, and that meant Applebuck season was near. Applejack smiled at each tree. She knew each of them personally, every branch, leaf, and knot in their bark. Each tree was laden with nearly-ripe apples. Ever careful not to put all her apples in one basket, she still could not help but wonder about the crop they would have this year. She could only hope it would be a good one, but looking around her, she felt that it would be.
She felt the wind on her face as she climbed a hill, reaching the crest to look out over her entire orchard. It appeared as a nearly endless sea of green leaves and green, unripe apples. She grinned. These were her babies. So lost was she in their splendor, that she almost missed the voice, calling out to her from above. She did hear something, however, and quickly glanced upwards.
"Applejack!" Applejack looked up just in time to see a cyan and rainbow blur speed down towards her. She grinned as she recognized her best friend.
"Well, whaddya know? Look who has a fancy new outfit now? Like ya needed yer head any further up in the clouds."
"Come on, AJ! I'm a Wonderbolt now!" Rainbow Dash's voice cracked as she did a flip in the air, coming to land just in front of her friend, a wide grin plastered on her face. "I did it! I finally did it!"
"Congratulations, Rainbow. Ah'm happy fer ya." Applejack smiled and cuffed the pegasus on the shoulder. "Just don't forget us down here on the ground now, ya hear?"
Rainbow Dash flushed a slight pink at the comment. "Come on. You know I wouldn't do that." Suddenly, she leapt into the air, doing a flip before hovering in place. "See ya, Applejack. I've gotta tell the others and then I'm meeting the Wonderbolts in Cloudsdale to celebrate!"
Applejack could not help but snicker at the overly-excited mare, listening as her voice cracked once again. "Alright, Sugarcube. You go have yer fun. Ah'm proud o' ya."
"Thanks, AJ." Rainbow Dash smiled before rocketing off towards town. As she receded into the distance, Applejack could have sworn she heard the faint cry of "Wonderbolts!"
She chuckled to herself, turning back towards her home. "That silly filly…"
The cloud house was dark. The sun had not yet risen, and the darkness of the wee hours of the morning reigned. Somewhere in the peaceful still of the early morning an owl hooted, his call falling across a silent landscape. Inside the large, floating house, the five assembled ponies had long before grown accustomed to the lack of light, having been waiting in near pitch black since the night fell. Their eyes had barely gotten used to the low-light conditions, and everything around them seemed a blur of grey.
The moon was well on its way towards the horizon, and sunrise was but a few hours forgone. Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, and Rarity, the latter ones making use of Twilight's cloud-walking spell, had nonetheless been awake for hours, waiting well into the night for their friend to return home. Despite the early hour, however, nopony was really tired. All were too excited to think about sleep. As soon as Rainbow Dash had given them the good news, they had been caught up in the whirlwind of manic activity that was Pinkie Pie when she prepared a last-minute party.
Streamers of every color to match the new Wonderbolt's mane had been strung throughout the house. Confetti to match the streamers was set to explode. An assortment of food had been brought up. A large banner, just barely visible to the five friends in the low light, had been strung across the kitchen entryway, and offered its message of congratulations in tall, colorful letters. The Pinkie-Pie-officially-dubbed "Congratulations on Making the Wonderbolts and Making all Your Dreams Come True Party" was all set, except for the fact that it was missing the guest of honor.
In truth, nopony knew when Rainbow Dash would show up. They knew she had been celebrating with the Wonderbolts that night, but they did not know when their celebration was set to end. As a result, all five were stuck waiting, well past midnight, for her return. They busied themselves by chatting excitedly, as difficult as that was when all were crouched behind pieces of furniture, waiting for their cue.
"Oh, when do you think she'll be here? I'm all for being fashionably late, but waiting this long is ridiculous!" Rarity peaked up over the edge of the couch she had crouched behind, watching the front door in barely-hid agitation.
"Relax, Rare. She's had a night out with her heroes. The least we can do fer her is wait a little longer." Applejack chuckled. "Ah just hope she ain't too plum tuckered out for a little after-party!"
"SHHHH! Everypony shhh! I think I hear her!"
"Pinkie, you've been saying that every minute for the past half hour. She isn't here yet!" Twilight Sparkle, having grown annoyed by the pink pony's near constant false alarms, hissed at her friend in a barely constrained whisper. "Shouldn't your Pinkie Sense tell you when she's near, or something?"
"Silly Twilight. I don't control what my Pinkie Sense tells me or when it does!" The bubbly pony giggled to herself.
Twilight had to resist the urge to slap a hoof to her face. "But that doesn't make any… oh forget it."
"My Pinkie Sense has been acting really strange because it kept telling me that something terrible was going to happen and then I thought something terrible did happen when the oven at Sugarcube Corner caught fire but we put that out easily so it wasn't really terrible so I thought something else terrible might happen but then nothing terrible did happen and the Dashie got in the Wonderbolts and I said "Wait, that isn't terrible at all, that's super-duper amazing!" so I was still waiting for something terrible to happen and I wondered when that was going happen and what it would be but then all of a sudden my Pinkie Sense stopped telling me anything just a little while ago and nothing terrible happened so I think it was a mistake." Pinkie Pie grinned hugely, her wide, toothy smile visible even in the dark.
This time, Twilight Sparkle really did have to slap a hoof to her face, dragging it downwards for good measure before she sighed in exasperation. She shot a quick glare at Pinkie Pie before returning her attention to the door.
"SHHHH! Everypony shh! I think I hear her!"
Twilight very nearly yelled across the room, almost forgetting to keep her voice low. "For the last time, Pinkie, she's not-"
"Actually, Twilight, I, um… think I hear something outside, too…" Fluttershy spoke up.
"Quiet, y'all, this might be her this time." Applejack put a hoof to her mouth, motioning the others to silence. Each cocked their ears, listening intently. Outside the faint, but unmistakable rustling sound of flapping wings could just barely be heard. It grew more and more audible as the five friends eagerly listened. So excited, and so intently focused, were they, that they could not hear the even fainter sound of quiet, muffled sobbing. Instead, they carried on, blissfully unaware, prepared for what each assumed would be a night of fun, games, and celebration. They could not have been more wrong.
When the door opened, the room exploded in a sudden jumble of light, colors, confetti, and ponies as each jumped from their hiding places, laughing and shouting, their voices full of mirth. "SURPRISE!"
Rainbow Dash stared about the room in horror. The others, some with their eyes closed, were shouting congratulations, eager for the party to begin. One by one, however, they fell silent as their eyes opened and they took in the scene before them. Rainbow Dash stood in the doorway, yet she was not the eager, excitable, devil-may-care Rainbow Dash they had expected to see. She did not look to be riding the wave of the pure, blissful, pleasure high that would have come from finally achieving her dreams. On the contrary, she did not look like the Rainbow Dash they remembered at all.
She seemed glued in place in the threshold. She was immobile, save for her eyes. Her eyes were bloodshot and appeared as if they had receded back, as if they were cowering backwards when confronted with her own friends, they flicked about the room, seemingly in fear, as they flashed from one face to the next. Her mane was a mess, various hairs of every color splayed out all over, as if shaken out of place. Her ears were folded back, as if out of fear. A small bruise adorned her cheek. Her tail hung limp behind her, just as messy as her mane. Her feathers were ruffled, her wings clenched at her sides as if in a protective embrace of herself. Very subtly, almost imperceptibly so, she shook in her hooves as she stood, as if a chill had swept the room, when none had.
For a moment that seemed to last for hours, no one said anything. The five gathered ponies stared at Rainbow Dash, their party now long forgotten. Nopony knew or even could know what to possibly say. Then, suddenly, Rainbow Dash jumped into the air and shot past them, flying toward the stairs, her room, and shelter. Everypony else was too stunned to follow, everypony else except Applejack. She took off at a good clip, her speed not lost on the unfamiliar cloud surface, chasing after her best friend.
"Sugarcube, wait! What happened? We can help ya! We can help! Come back, Rainbow!" She charged up the stairs, in hot pursuit of the distraught pegasus. Rainbow Dash rounded a corner at the top with Applejack right behind, beelining straight for her room. She flew into the doorway and Applejack skidded to a halt just outside. The orange mare's eyes went wide at the sight of her friend. She got a good look before the pegasus turned around to face her. Rainbow Dash looked distraught. Her blood-shot eyes, now filling with tears, seemed to plead with Applejack. Rainbow Dash said nothing. Applejack gulped. She understood. Rainbow Dash slammed the door shut.
Applejack understood. She had seen. Just before her best friend spun around, she had seen. She did not want to, could not, believe, yet she had seen. It shook her to her core, and she tried desperately to think of something, anything, that could explain what she had seen, anything except that. But there was no answer. There was only that. That which she could hardly fathom, yet understood all the same. She saw the dark stain of blood running down her best friend's rear leg, and she knew, like a great, two-ton boulder falling to the pit of her stomach, exactly what it meant.