“Dash,” Twilight’s voice called, followed by a nudge to her shoulder.
Dash stirred, lazily opening her eyes to find herself in the library, lying on a bed of pillows.
“Dash, come on!” Twilight urged, her voice filtering through Dash’s sleepy conscience.
Dash rolled onto her back and wearily opened her eyes to see Twilight standing directly over her with a piece of metal hanging around her neck, glinting in the sunlight.
Dash shifted uncomfortably beneath her. “Huh?” she asked intelligibly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
A sharp whistle cut through the library, shattering Dash’s ear drums. Wide awake, she scrambled out from under Twilight to a sitting position, scattering the pillows she had been lying on. She stared at Twilight, panting and trying to calm her racing heart.
Twilight let the whistle drop from her mouth, falling back to its spot around her neck. “Good, you’re awake.”
“What gives?” Dash asked.
“We need to get training! I’m going to go prepare breakfast for you, and then we’re going to get started! I have everything planned out, and it’s all written down!” A clipboard bathed in a luminescent pink glow floated to Twilight’s side, holding a piece of paper with a bunch of scribbles on it that Dash couldn’t make out. “I’ll be right back!” Twilight said cheerfully, turning and disappearing into the kitchen.
She can be so strange sometimes. Dash stretched, yawning and holding out her wings. Sleeping for twelve hours had made her exhausted instead of well rested.
Twilight came out of the kitchen, levitating a cup, an apple, and a blender full of sawdust colored sludge. Twilight tipped the contents of the blender into the cup, the sludge pouring out slowly, its surface like unhardened cement.
“What’s... that?” Dash asked, pointing at it.
“A mixture of proteins, carbohydrates, and fiber,” Twilight answered, knocking the blender against the edge of the cup to get every last glob of it in the glass.
Dash leaned back, keeping her distance. “None of those things sound like food.”
“Quit being such a baby,” Twilight said, holding the glass in front of her. “Look, it’s chocolate flavored!”
Dash frowned as she was offered the glass, but took it. She looked down at it, then back up at Twilight, who was smiling and looking at her expectantly.
Dash idly wondered how far she would make it if she ran.
Gulping and closing her eyes, she tipped the glass to her lips. It took a moment for the sludge to start moving. The thick gooey substance stuck to the roof of her mouth like peanut butter, and it tasted of dirt, oats, and wheat grass. Biting back her gag reflex, she swallowed it, giving Twilight a very fake grin. “That’s the only time I’m going to have to drink that stuff, right?”
Twilight handed her the apple, and Dash hungrily took a bite out of it, eager to get rid of the taste in her mouth. Twilight hummed as she walked outside, stopping in the doorway. “Nope! One of those and a piece of fresh fruit every morning!”
The fake smile fell from Dash’s lips, and her ears drooped. “You’re kidding, right?” Dash asked. Twilight wasn’t laughing. “Every morning as in, every morning? Not every other morning, or every other week?”
“Come on!” Twilight said, motioning out the door with her head. “Let’s get started!”
Dash let out a sigh and hung her head, trotting to the door. She grumbled under her breath, “Why do I feel like a guinea pig in one of her experiments?”
“Eighteen,” Twilight announced, looking down at her watch as Dash finished a push-up.
Beads of sweat ran down Dash's muzzle, and her mane fell in her face, clumped and messy. She lowered herself until she was just inches above the grass, her legs quivering and screaming in pain. Clenching her teeth, she pushed herself back up.
“Nineteen,” Twilight counted from beside her, never once tearing her eyes away from the watch she wore
Just one more and she would be free. She almost flopped onto the grass as she lowered herself one final time, but she couldn’t give up now. Not while victory was so close. Her front legs trembled as she pushed against the ground. They felt like lead. She clenched her eyes shut and pushed, her legs locking in a complete pushup.
“Twenty!” Twilight said cheerfully.
Dash collapsed onto the grass, forgetting grace as she panted with her tongue hanging out. The grass was soft and welcoming, and at that moment it felt comfier than any bed she had slept on for the past month.
She rolled onto her back and closed her eyes. The sun’s warmth spread across her coat and a large self-satisfied grin split her face.
Twilight walked over to her and took up her clipboard and a pen. “That was another minute of plank position, another thirty sit-ups, and another twenty push-ups.” Her pen scratched like sandpaper as she spoke.
Twilight floated a water bottle over to Dash’s side. Dash popped open the lid and drank.
Twilight set her clipboard down and gave her a merciful smile. “Take a ten minute break, and then we can move onto set nine and ten!”
Dash choked on her water and spat it out. She coughed, thumping her chest with a hoof. “You can’t be serious,” she wheezed in between coughs. “I can’t do two more of those! I’ll die!”
“No, you won’t,” Twilight said dismissively, still scribbling on her clipboard.
“Yes I will!”
Twilight stopped writing, and lowered her clipboard and pen. She looked at Dash thoughtfully for a moment, pursing her lips. “But...” She glanced down at her notes. “I had a few more things planned...” Tearing her gaze away from the clipboard, she looked at Dash, contemplating. “If you really need to take a break, I guess we could stop here.”
Dash let out a huge sigh of relief.
Twilight gave her a disarming smile. “How about winding down with a small twenty minute jog?”
Dash frowned, giving her an unamused look. “No.”
“Fine, fine.” Twilight’s eyes drifted to her wing. “How does it feel?”
“It’s alright,” Dash replied, moving it slightly. “It should be good for some basic flying. I don’t think I should fly on it too much, and it’ll probably be a couple more days before I should be pulling off any tricks.”
Twilight tenderly stroked the base of Dash’s injured wing with her hoof. “I hope it feels better soon.”
A shiver ran from the base of the wing to its tips. Dash tensed, paralyzed by Twilight’s touch, and looked away. “Uh, yeah. Me too.”
“You did well.”
Dash blinked. “Huh?”
Twilight continued rubbing the base of Dash’s wing as she spoke. “You did well with the exercises. I thought you were at your limit a couple times, but you kept going.” She smiled warmly. “Much longer than I would have.”
An embarrassed blush crept upon Dash’s cheeks. “Heh, pushing limits is what it’s all about, right?” she asked, receiving a nod in reply from Twilight as she continued to work on her wing.
A soft, rolling breeze blew over the field they were in. Grass rustled softly beneath Dash, and the wind cooled the sweat on her body. With her hooves lying to either side of her, she let the grass swaying back and forth in the breeze tickle them. She stretched her wings as wide as she could, catching the sun with every feather it would reach.
Just as Dash was beginning to get comfortable, Twilight stopped massaging her wing.
Broken from her reverie, Dash opened her eyes and sat up, looking at Twilight.
“Would you like to come inside and have a drink?” Twilight asked, smiling and tilting her head.
“Oh,” Dash folded her wings away, the feeling dissipating. “I guess.” She stood up, flashing Twilight a half-hearted smile as she walked back to the library with her. “You know, Twilight, it hasn’t been half bad having you around.”
“Half bad?” Twilight asked with an amused smile.
Dash huffed, and shot her a playful smile. “Okay, it’s been pretty fun.” Dash continued to walk, looking towards the library as she spoke. “The company is cool. Having somepony to talk to makes the boring parts go by quicker.” A small smirk tugged at Dash’s lips. “I could do without the muck, though.”
Twilight scoffed, but the corners of her mouth turned up in a smile. “Would you like to stay around while I do some studying?”
“I know,” Twilight interrupted as they approached the library door. “I won’t try convincing you to read anything.”
Dash stepped inside, shaking off loose bits of grass that had gotten in her coat and curling up in a ball on the carpet near the base of Twilight’s desk.
Twilight sat at her desk and slid a drawer open, taking out a thin black quill and inkwell and setting them by the top corner of the desk.
Resting her chin on her hoof, Dash looked up at her. “So what are you working on this time?”
“I thought I would give that spell from yesterday another shot,” Twilight replied, taking one of her books and flipping it open to a marked page.
“I thought you said it wasn’t worth how difficult it is?”
Twilight was silent for a moment. “It probably won’t be.” She turned to Dash with a smile. “But pushing limits is what it’s all about, right?”
Dash scratched her cheek. “Heh, I guess so.”
Dash usually didn’t like the quiet. But hearing the soft scratching of Twilight’s quill on parchment, the faint singing of birds outside, and the subtler still sound of the evening’s first crickets coming out, Dash found she didn’t mind the quiet for a change. She took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
It was so quiet she almost wanted to take out a book and read. Something had to be done.
“So,” Dash said, breaking the silence. “What’s the spell you’re working on? You never did tell me.”
Twilight’s quill, which had been ceaselessly moving for the past fifteen minutes, froze. “It’s umm...” Twilight faced Dash, stealing glances back at the scroll and book that were open on her desk. “It’s just an idea that’s always been sitting in the back of my head. But then again, so are at least half a dozen others, so it’s not really anything special.”
“Well, what is it?” Dash said impatiently.
“It’s...” Twilight looked at her papers, and then back at Dash. “It’s nothing.” She stole one more quick glance at her desk. “I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I’ve had five dead-end projects in the past month. It happens all the time.”
“What about that whole ‘not giving up’ thing?”
“There’s a difference between perseverance and futility,” Twilight said with a small sigh, looking at her work.
Dash scratched her nose. “Well I wouldn’t know what it is.”
Despite her woes, a giggle escaped Twilight’s lips. “No,” she said, smiling. “I suppose you wouldn’t.” Twilight lifted her quill, a spark of confidence returning to her eyes. “I’ll give it my best shot and see where I can get by tonight.”
Dash watched Twilight go back to work with a look of determination that hadn’t been there before. She watched her friend work diligently, in what most who knew her would call an uncharacteristic silence, only speaking one or two times, usually trying to help Twilight when she seemed to be stuck on something, although she didn’t wind up being much help.
The birds singing went quiet, the sound of crickets replacing them. Dash glanced out the window; only a bit of dying light remained before night time.
Dash yawned. “I guess it’s getting pretty late, huh?” she said, still looking out the window.
Twilight was focused on her work, staring at her papers and biting the tip of her quill.
Dash rolled onto her back and lay sprawled out on the pillows. “Shouldn’t you take a break or something? You’ve been at it for a while.”
If Twilight heard her, she didn’t act like it. She continued to chew on the tip of her quill, puzzling. She had been like a statue for the past half hour. The only part of her that had even moved during that time were her eyes, and her eyes were starting to become bloodshot, tired from hours of reading.
“Twilight?” Dash tried again, sitting up slightly and looking at her friend in concern.
Finally, Twilight let out a sigh and hung her head. “Sorry,” she said, rubbing her eyes. “I thought I was onto something, but it was probably nothing.” She sighed, putting her notes and books away.
Dash stood up, treading silently off of the pillows to Twilight’s side. “Are you alright?” she asked, peering around to see her face.
Twilight turned to Dash, smiling. “I’m fine,” she said with a reassuring tone.
Dash looked skeptically at her. “You sure?”
“Positive,” Twilight replied, humming as she tucked her inkwell and quill back in their drawer.
“If you say so.” Dash glanced out the window over Twilight’s desk. “Listen, it’s getting late... and I should probably head home.”
“Oh, of course!” Twilight trotted back and forth across the library, scanning through books and making herself look busy. “Stop by tomorrow morning before nine. I’ll prepare a new schedule based on the data from today’s training.”
“Right,” Dash called over her shoulder as she walked to the door. “I’ll set my alarm clock or something.” Stopping in the doorway and turning to look at Twilight, she gave her a slightly awkward smile. “So, see you tomorrow then?”
“Yep,” Twilight replied, shelving a book she had been looking at.
Dash turned to leave, but a voice halted her as she placed her hoof out the door.
“Good night, Rainbow Dash.”
Dash turned to see Twilight standing in the middle of the room, not a book near her, her full attention on Dash for what felt like the first time that night. A sheepish smile overtook Dash’s features. “See ya, Twilight.”
She walked outside and let the door fall shut. Turning back to look at the library, her eyes lingering on the knotted, old tree.
She snapped out of her thoughts with a violent shake of her head. Spreading her wings, she turned away. “What’s gotten into me?”
Leaping into the air, she flew home. It was slower than usual, her wing still a little sore and dinged up, but she was flying for the first time since yesterday. A day and a half out of the sky was like a day and a half without water. It was as much a part of her as the wings she rode through it with.
The sky was caught in the middle of night and day, a few stars beaconing the night’s arrival. Lit by the afterglow of the sun, the sky was a color between midnight and cerulean. Lanterns hanging from doorposts and candlelight from windows surrounded Ponyville with a faint golden glow. She might have even stopped to look at it for a while if she hadn’t been freezing her tail off.
After lying on a warm bed of pillows, the night air seemed cold and unwelcoming. She rushed to get home, as fast as her injured wing would take her, the wind chill biting.
Her house was dark by the time she got home, but she was grateful to get out of the cold and inside once more. Treading to her bedroom, she set her alarm and fell sideways onto her bed, burying herself under its thick covers.
As she lay on her back, she looked up at the stars through the skylight over her bed, legs fidgeting restlessly under the blanket.
It sometimes seemed like she barely knew Twilight. She hadn't expected a bookworm to become such a close friend. Then again, each of her friends were very different from her.
But Twilight was the only of her friends who had the same ambition to become something great. It brought out a competitive drive in her that she hadn’t felt since racing at flightschool.
Her mind drifting, Dash’s eyes slid shut.