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It was around mid-morning when six ponies (plus one dragon) found themselves climbing aboard Twilight’s purple balloon.
“I still don’t see why you couldn’t have just asked the Princess to send a chariot or two straight to Ponyville instead of making us go all the way to Cloudsdale to catch our rides from there.” Rarity commented, wincing at being cramped in with five other ponies in the balloon’s basket.
Twilight looked at Rarity apologetically, Spike riding on her back as they set under way. “I’m sorry Rarity but we just put this together at the last minute. I didn’t want to trouble the Princess or her guards by sending them all the way to Ponyville. Besides, Cloudsdale is pretty close by and it has one of the biggest chariotports in all of Equestria.”
Applejack, who made sure to stand in the middle of the crowd, nodded then looked as if she regretted it, turning a little green. Apparently the grounded earth pony didn’t care much for being so high up. Still, her voice sounded solid when she said, “Ah promised Apple Bloom I’d bring her back a souvenir from Cloudsdale. You should bring Sweetie Belle a little something too.”
Rarity harrumphed. “I’m not bringing my sister some tacky little gift from a tacky little souvenir store! I intend to bring her back nothing less than the best that Cloudsdale has to offer! Ooh and there’s all the stores and fashions in Cloudsdale that I’ve never been able to see for myself before—”
“Maybe on the way back Rarity.” Twilight cut in. “We’ll only be stopping over in Cloudsdale for about an hour before our chariot leaves for Canterlot. That’s just enough time to get some lunch and stretch our legs for a bit before we have to go.”
“Lunch! Woohoo!” Pinkie whooped. “I can’t wait to try out all the tasty treats they’ll have at the commissary! Hm, isn’t that just a fancy word for food court? Ooh! So THAT’S why the judge ponies always say ‘order in the court!’ They’re talking about the FOOD court! Hm, I wonder what the judge of the food court is like…”
Rainbow Dash listened with only half an ear as her friends talked and bantered. She was too busy worrying about her performance for the Wonderbolts. She didn’t so much have butterflies in her stomach as she had rampaging dragons battling Ursa Majors. Returning to Cloudsdale only aggravated the feeling. On one hoof this was the home she loved but on the other hoof, this was also the place where she first was called ‘Rainbow Crash’ and spent a lot of time being needled and teased, up until she dropped out of flight school. This left her with conflicted feelings of nostalgia, love and fear. Rainbow Dash *hated* feeling conflicted. Why couldn’t she simply love or hate a place and have that be that?
She barely noticed when they arrived at Cloudsdale and the balloon was tethered to the clouds for their return trip back. Without a word, a rare experience for those who knew Rainbow Dash, she led them from the balloon to the large chariot transit port where chariots constantly arrived and left Cloudsdale for places all over Equestria.
Never having seen anything like it before, the non-flight capable ponies trotted wide eyed to the giant cloud board that announced the incoming and outgoing chariot flights.
“Look at all these places!” Twilight gasped. “São Pony, Marebourne, Neighrobi, Singapony, Hay Chi Mare City, Bayjing, Coltcutta, Mare Aviv…You could go anywhere in Equestria from here!”
Applejack, while no great fan of flying, couldn’t help but be impressed herself. “Whooee, this’d make getting the family together for reunions a hay of a lot easier!”
Fluttershy nodded. “Oh yes, ponies come from all over through here. I-I never liked the big crowds, but it is fascinating to see all the traveling ponies. They seem so nice.”
Twilight nodded numbly as she looked up at the board. “If you could pick anyplace in Equestria to go where would you choose? I always wanted to see the libraries and the museums of Coltstantinople, or Istanbull as the natives call it.”
Applejack thought for a moment. “Shoot, ah never figured much for traveling about after ah got back home from Manehattan…but if ah had to choose, I’d say Maredrid. They have wrasslin’ matches with the local bulls and races with ‘em too! Sounds like a heap of fun!”
Rarity sniffed daintily. “I for one always wanted to see the sights and sophistication of Trottingham.”
“Oh, gee, um, I don’t know. All these places sound very…nice.” Fluttershy said, crouching down. Pinkie Pie, in contrast, was hopping in place, eager to share her thoughts. She sure was giving Twilight’s cloud walking a spell a good work out.
“Ooooh! I always wanted to try Scandineighvian chocolate, so I’d go to Clopenhagen! Maybe Horseinski, but I think it’d be too cold. But the place I really really REALLY would like to visit would be Marescolt or Stalliongrad!”
“Stalliongrad? Good heavens, dear why?” Rarity asked in amazement.
“Duh! Because everypony says that those are the places where the party is the biggest! And you know those Stalliongraders. If you don’t join the party, they’ll come and get ya!” Pinkie beamed excitedly. No pony quite knew how to respond to that, so they did their best to pretend that they never heard it.
Twilight turned around and noticed that Rainbow Dash hadn’t rushed over to join them at the flight board. She stood alone, apparently staring off at nothing. Twilight trotted up to her. “You okay Rainbow?”
Rainbow shook her head as if clearing out the cobwebs. “S-sure. I guess.” The twitching of her wings belied her words. Twilight gave her a stead look. Rainbow Dash sighed. “Or, ya know, maybe not.”
“Nervous?” Twilight said sympathetically, phrasing it like a question despite it really not being one. “Well, I’ll let you in on a little trick Pinkie Pie taught me for when I had to speak in front of crowds.” Twilight raised her head up and looked around to make sure nopony was close enough to overhear. “The secret is…” she whispered lowly. “…just imagine everypony in the audience naked.” Then she nodded solemnly, as if she had finished granting Rainbow the wisdom of the ages. “It’s guaranteed to make you smile.”
Rainbow Dash looked at her. “Um, Twilight, most ponies don’t wear clothes at all. We’re kinda always naked.”
Twilight gave her an even look. “Why do you think Pinkie is always smiling and laughing?” She looked deadly serious. Too serious.
Rainbow sputtered and after a second’s pause threw back her head and started laughing loudly, the tension in her gut completely destroyed. “Oh geeze Twi! Ha ha, thanks! I really needed that!”
Twilight smiled as well. “You’re welcome. I thought you could use something to take your mind off things.”
“Heh, did you read about that in the Egghead’s Guide to Social Interactions?” Rainbow teased, only to grin even wider at Twilight’s awkward shuffle indicating that she had.
“W-well…” Twilight blushed. Rainbow gave a gentle laugh as she nudged her with her wing.
“Heh. Twilight you are the queen of adorkable.”
The lavender unicorn goggled. “The queen of what?”
“Nevermind.” Rainbow smirked. Then she turned serious. “Twilight, thanks again for doing this for me.”
“Of course Rainbow! You’re my friend. You’re our friend. We’d do anything for you.”
“…can you tell me the truth then?” Rainbow said quietly. “Do you think…do you think I have a shot here? I mean, I know the Wonderbolts are only giving me this chance because you asked Princess Celestia—”
“Rainbow Dash.” Twilight raised her voice slightly, as if a teacher whose student had something particularly silly or frivolous. “Princess Celestia herself said that she knew you were the greatest Flier in Equestria. You performed not one, but TWO Sonic Rainbooms. You’ve been training hard all this past week and for years before that. If it weren’t for you, the others and I wouldn’t ever have our Cutie Marks!” Twilight smiled. “I think you’re a pony that can do anything she set’s her mind, and her heart, to.” She grinned as a confident smile crossed Rainbow Dash’s face.
“You really think so?”
“Absolutely. And you know what else I think?”
“Um, a lot of stuff?” Rainbow guessed.
“…kinda walked into that one.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “I also think that one day you’re going to be able to judge for yourself what you’re truly capable of, without having to depend so much on everypony else’s opinion of you.” She paused and then added. “Of course, it MIGHT be good if you listened when one of your friends tries to tell you when you’re being ridiculous or getting a swelled head.” Rainbow looked away sheepishly. Any further discussion was cut off as an audible grumble came from Twilight’s stomach. “Ah heh heh, perhaps we should get something to eat before our flight?”
“Sounds like a plan: your specialty.” Rainbow grinned. She raised her voice. “C’mon guys, lunchtime! Last pony there has to pay for everypony’s desert!” She took off in a gallop.
“Hey!” Twilight gasped as she was nearly flattened by the others running past her. “Wait for me!” But she was laughing as she ran after them.
The commissary at the chariotport was very spacious. There were several cafes and restaurants on a few floors that accommodated to a wide array of tastes. The girls, and Spike, were lucky enough to find a place around a nice circular table that had room enough for all of them. After they placed their orders they spent some time looking out the nearby windows at the magnificent view and talking about what they were going to do in Canterlot tomorrow.
Rainbow could hardly keep still. She was wriggling with excitement. She hadn’t felt this good in weeks and after talking with Twilight, all her worrying and fretting had been—for now at least—regulated to the sidelines. For now she was chatting with friends, having some lunch and about to have the best day ever.
Life was good.
“Oh look! Hey there Rainbow Cr-uh, Dash.”
Rainbow turned around. She gave a small frown at the sight of her three biggest past headaches: Hoops, Quarterback, and Dumb-Bell. Suddenly every bad feeling and memory she had of Cloudsdale came back at once, like her lunch after eating a Baked Bad.
“Hey guys.” She kept her voice carefully neutral. “What’s up?”
“Uh, nothing much. Just getting lunch.” Dumb-Bell said with a weak grin. Rainbow nodded. The commissary at the port was so big that a lot of the workers from the weather factories came there to eat too. And all three of them were wearing their white hardhats and white coats from the factory.
Hoops and the others used to bully her but after she won the Best Young Fliers Competition they had changed their tune. Didn’t that prove that what she needed to do in Ponyville was to just go out and do something spectacular, like joining the Wonderbolts? Wouldn’t that solve everything? But if she had failed at the competition those three would still be a burr under her saddle. What if she messed up in front of the Wonderbolts? What if the ponies back in Cloudsdale or Ponyville found it? What if--”
“Do you mind if we eat here?” Hoops asked, pointing at a smaller table next to the girls. Rainbow quickly gave her friends a glance. Apparently they remembered the trio. Twilight looked concerned. Applejack gave an angry snort and even Fluttershy’s face looked hard.
“…it’s cool with me.” Rainbow said finally, half to the three colts and half to her friends, although she wasn’t really sure if that was the truth.
“Sweet, thanks!” Hoops, Score and Dumb-Bell (who preferred to be called Billy, frankly Rainbow Dash couldn’t blame him) went to their own table.
“So…did you three just come off your shift?” Rainbow asked, not really sure how to talk to her former fillyhood tormentors. She may have said she’d forgiven them after the competition, but forgiving was a long way from forgetting.
The three nodded then an awkward silence fell. “So, uh, what’re you doing back in town Rainbow…Dash?” Billy said, taking his time saying her name lest he screw up and call her Rainbow Crash. He had called her that more often than he had her actual name.
“Not much. Just stopping over.” Rainbow kept it short. She didn’t really want to talk about her day anymore. Somehow the tension that had been in her gut earlier had come back.
But she reckoned without Pinkie Pie. “Yeah! Dashie’s going to Canterlot to try out for the Wonderbolts!” She squealed in excitement as she threw a hoof around Rainbow’s neck and gave her a tight sideways hug.
“Dude, no way!” Hoops’ eyes bulged though they were concealed by his long bangs. “That is wicked cool!”
“Y-yeah! We always knew you could do it!” Billy nodded so it looked like his head might fall off. Rainbow narrowed her eyes and gave a neutral expression and a shrug that accepted the compliment without really believing it.
What a load of horseapples. She thought to herself.
“You gonna do another Sonic Rainboom?” Hoops asked eagerly. Rainbow Dash shrugged her wings as she faked nonchalance.
“Eh, I dunno. The Wonderbolts have seen it already. I’m no one-trick pony. I’ve got a ton of cool tricks the likes of which no pegasi have ever seen!” She proclaimed immodestly.
“Whoa…” The three jocks said, their eyes and mouths wide. Rainbow smirked. They put her in the mind of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, the difference being that the Crusaders were younger and smarter.
“So, you boys hungry?” Rainbow Dash switched tracks.
Hoops nodded. “Yeah! And I am as hungry as a horse!”
“We just got finished with a big lightning order.” Billy added. “Supposed to be a doozy of a storm. I added them to the cloud vat myself.”
Quarterback looked at him. “No you didn’t, I added them to the vat!”
“No way dude!”
“Yes way!” Billy asserted. “I put in the lightning, you were supposed to put in the rain!”
“…Seriously?” Quarterback said, looking suddenly nervous.
“That’s what I’ve been saying!”
“But I also put lightning in the vat…”
There was a sudden clamor as Rainbow slammed down her front hooves on the table. “You birdbrains put in twice as much lightning into the clouds as you were supposed to?!” She shouted, her voice getting scratchy. “And you didn’t even put in the rain?!”
Quarterback and Billy crouched down. “Um, oops?”
“Oops? OOPS? I’LL give you both ‘oops!’ ” Rainbow snapped her head to Hoops. “Where is that storm headed?”
“Um, I dunno, I-I’ll check the schedule.” He fumbled around with his hooves digging into his coat pockets. After what felt like an eternity he fished out a piece of paper. “Uh, here it is! Lets see: clear skies for Hoofington, rainy day for Seaddle, small shower for Ponyville…Lightning storm planned for Fillydelphia…uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh.” Rainbow repeated. “What’s ‘uh-oh’ supposed to mean?” Hoops shrank down alongside his two compatriots.
“I might have gotten some of the orders for today mixed up.” He gulped. “Y-you know how it goes? Too many orders, not enough pegasi, things get confused…”
“What. Did. You. Do?” Rainbow ground out between clenched teeth.
“I think I sent the small shower to Fillydelphia…and the lightning storm to Ponyville?” He said meekly.
There was a deadly moment of silence. Then it abruptly was shattered when Rainbow Dash exploded into a loud cacophony of such angry yelling and bellowing that pegasi all over the port stopped to watch and listen with horrified amazement. One grizzled old chariot-puller who’d been carrying cargo and passengers for over twenty years felt himself blushing at the fierceness and creativeness of the young mare’s curses.
When her initial flush of anger had finally ended Rainbow collapsed back onto her rump, panting for lack of breath.
“R-rainbow?” Fluttershy poked her head out from underneath the lunch table, her face bright pink. Her friends weren’t much better off. Rarity’s hair had actually straightened from the sheer power of Rainbow’s outburst, Pinkie Pie’s eyes were wide as a scared doe’s and Applejack’s hat had flown off her head and onto a young filly whose mother had clapped her hooves over her ears. Spike found himself stuck headfirst in the cloudy wall and Twilight had a sudden image of Princess Luna being tutored in the Canterlot Royal Voice that she couldn’t explain or get out of her head.
“W-what…” Twilight stammered. Rainbow zoomed up to her.
“Twilight! This is bad! Really bad!”
“…I think I got that impression…” the unicorn murmured, still in something of a daze.
“Snap out of it!” Rainbow rapped her lightly on her noggin. “Ponyville’s expecting a light shower and they’re gonna get a mega-storm with double lightning and no rain! The Weather Patrol ponies will be fried!” Now the tension in Rainbow Dash’s stomach had invited its friends and neighbors and was partying like Pinkie Pie was in charge.
“Don’t you pegasi deal with lightning all the time?” Applejack asked. Rainbow shook her head.
“Yeah, but not like this! These featherbrains put twice as many bolts as there should be…and these weren’t meant to be little autumn shower clouds either, but heavy duty thunder and lightning storm clouds! Pegasi can buck the lightning out of clouds but when there’s THAT much?” She shook her head. “They’d be toast! And with so much lightning packed into the clouds, those things are gonna be super sensitive! Anything could set them off! Buildings, trees, anything tall or made of metal!”
“M-maybe the pegasi can just…blow them over to the Everfree Forest instead of Ponyville…” Rarity suggested hopefully.
Twilight shook her head. “That’d be just as bad! If what Rainbow Dash is saying is true—”
“It IS!” The cyan pegasus interjected.
“—then that much lightning could cause a fire in the Everfree! And in a forest that thick it could easily spread! Zecora lives there! And all the animals and monsters inside would try to get out and swarm into Ponyville—and anyplace near the Everfree Forest!”
Gasps of horror and disbelief rose as they contemplated a giant fire covering square miles of forest and a horde of charred, fearful, and angry manticores, chimeras, cockatrice, dragons, Ursas, Canus, Scorpios, sphinxes, dragons, wyverns, hydras, rocs, basilisks and other monsters all streaming into Ponyville.
“W-we need a plan!” Applejack blurted out. “Apple Bloom! Big Macintosh! Granny Smith! All of Ponyville! We need to save ‘em!”
Twilight started pacing, swishing her head back and forth as she thought, her eyes clenched in though. “O-okay. We can’t let the lightning in those storm clouds strike Ponyville or the Everfree. So…we need to get all the lightning out of the clouds before they arrive! But any pegasus that touches those clouds will be electrocuted! Ooooh, so how to get rid of the lightning?”
“By getting a pegasus who won’t touch the clouds.” All eyes drew to Rainbow Dash as she went on. “I’ll fly past the clouds at high speed; close enough to set them off but not too close to get fried. There’s no pony with my super speed, agility, and reflexes.”
“Are you crazy?” Twilight blurted out, her eyes wide with shock. “Don’t be ridiculous! You’ll get yourself seriously hurt if you get hit by that much lightning! Maybe even…”
Rainbow gulped. She could fill in the blank. So could everypony else. “T-then I guess I’ll just have to make sure that the lightning doesn’t touch me! I’ll zoom by those clouds so fast they won’t even know I was there!”
“Hey, c’mon now.” Rainbow smiled at Twilight. “Weren’t you just the pony telling me that I could do anything I set my mind to? And that one day I’d be able to judge for myself what I’m capable of? Well, that day may not be today, but I know I can do THIS.” Twilight sniffled, suddenly more afraid than she’d ever been for another pony.
“Rainbow Miriam Dash, don’t you even THINK about—” Applejack started.
“Sorry AJ, ladies, I gotta do this!” Rainbow zipped up into the air. “I told you when we first met Twi: I never leave Ponyville hanging. You guys take care.” With that, she flew out of the commissary and within seconds was zooming away from Cloudsdale back to Ponyville. Home.
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