Chapter 6 - Terminal Velocity
"Come ON, Twilight! It's the easiest thing in the world!" the blue pegasus shouted down from fifty feet in the air.
Twilight shifted her hooves nervously. This wasn't like her balloon. And it wasn't at all like a pegasus chariot. SHE would be doing the flying, and if she stopped flapping her wings, she'd fall out of the sky.
So then I could just teleport down to the ground. Or I could probably just hit the ground at a hundred miles an hour and not feel a thing.
Maybe not a good idea. I might hit something important.
She shook her head slowly and exhaled, her nostrils flaring wide. Something vaguely rainbow-coloured was moving about in her field of vision.
I am doing the right thing.
Friends. She needed to spend time with her friends.
Because soon they'll just be memories along with everypony else...
Stop that. That won't happen.
"I SAID, ARE YOU READY TO TAKE OFF YET?"
Twilight blinked. Rainbow Dash had been flapping up and down barely three inches from the end of her muzzle, and she hadn't noticed. "Huh?"
"Jeez, Twilight." Dash dropped to the ground. "You're, like, a million miles away."
"A million... huh?"
"You got a lot on your mind. I know. But come ON, Twilight! You're starting to cut into my nap time!"
The corners of Twilight's mouth twitched. Then, the first grin she'd worn in days hitched itself onto her face. "Cutting into your nap time? It's ALWAYS your nap time, Rainbow Dash!"
Laughing, Dash flapped her wings and hovered about a foot off the ground. "Heh heh, yeah. That's about right... You gonna at least try flapping your wings or something though? See what it feels like? Because," she finished with a wink, "I could be napping."
Twilight smiled. She could concentrate on anything she wanted to now, she supposed. She could stop concentrating about that... that other thing.
Stop. Flying lesson.
Twilight stretched her wings out to her sides and gave them a few slow experimental flaps. "So, most of this is going to be balance, right?"
"You read 'Elementary Flight Control', didn't you?" The singular circumstance of Twilight borrowing a book from Rainbow Dash was probably going to be a talking point for years.
There might not be years...
STOP. IT. Flying lesson!
"Cover to cover. I've got it memorised."
"Great! I'll catch you if you fall, just keep your head up, and keep beating your wings. You'll find your rhythm. Jump when you take off, it makes it easier. You need to find your balance more than anything. Ready?"
Twilight nodded. She tensed her legs to spring, then lifted her wings high for that first powerful downstroke.
Woah. Woah. Hey, now, this, I like...
She was two hundred feet in the air -
"Hey! You're supposed to just be doing circles around the meadow, not trying to set some new altitude record on your first flight!" Rainbow Dash complained. She was about ten feet off to Twilight's right, her wings moving faster than Twilight's slow, easy beats - but then, while extended, Twilight's wings were nearly twice as large as the pegasus pony's own.
"Rainbow Dash! I love this! I LOVE THIS!" Twilight closed her eyes and just kept flapping, the glorious, refreshing wind blowing her mane and tail, seeming to take more and more of her terrible worries for the future away with every gust. She opened her eyes and beamed at Dash.
This is flying? No wonder Dash is hardly ever on the ground. This is great!
Yeah, now you can just fly happily along and watch the world burn beneath you...
Her wingbeats faltered for the tiniest instant.
No. NO. Stop that. FLYING.
"Twilight, you're just flying straight up. You need to be going forwards!"
Twilight leaned forward at the right part of her stroke, just like the book showed. Her head went down, her tail went up, and she flipped onto her back.
A flash of red. She stood on the ground, shaking slightly. Looking up for Rainbow Dash, she saw the cyan pony streaking back towards the ground. She was yelling something.
Well, best to just get back up in the saddle, I guess.
Beating her wings again, she leaped lightly from the grass of the meadow into the air. Slower this time. Ten feet. Twenty feet. Thirty feet. She met Rainbow Dash at forty.
Twilight looked at Dash. "That what?"
"That. That was..."
"AWESOME! Twilight, that was TOTALLY awesome! You're never gonna get a dopey nickname if you can just teleport yourself out of a crash! Oh man. I wish I could do that!" Dash looked so impressed that Twilight couldn't resist.
"So, are you saying that you're NOT the most awesome pony in all of Equestria?"
"'Course I'm still the most awesome pony in all Equestria. Nothing changed there!"
"Twilight. You are HARDLY just a pony any more. You're royalty. That doesn't count." Twilight coloured, and Dash added "But don't you think I'm gonna start bowing and scraping and saying 'Ooooh your highness can I please please kiss your hooves' or anything like that. You're Twilight. You're my pal. And Celestia said you don't need to take the titles anyway."
Twilight felt a bit better. Her friends, at least, would never consider her royalty. Oh, they joked about it, but never anything serious. They all wanted Twilight to stay in Ponyville too.
"Let's just keep flying, uh, straight up for a while, Rainbow. I like this."
"Yeah, we're not really that high. When you start to feel chilly, we'll head back down and work on manoeuvres."
Not to say that actually managing to stay in Ponyville was proving particularly easy at the moment... The only alicorns that anypony even knew about - well, at least until a week ago - were Celestia and Luna, and it seemed that everypony's immediate reaction to an alicorn was to assume they were royalty.
Well... You didn't even know there have only ever been two winged unicorns either, until last week. If a strange alicorn turned up in town, you'd have thought she was a princess. A relative of Celestia's. You would have bowed.
Now, I guess, you'd just try to suck them dry of magic, just like you did to Luna...
Stop that. That's not even true and you know it.
How strange that an alicorn's kneejerk reaction to a spell being used on them was to pull all of the spellcaster's magic out through their horn. You had to suppress the urge to do so, if you didn't want to knock the unfortunate unicorn out, or worse. Admittedly, a fairly useful ability to have, especially in Equestria's earlier days of assassination attempts and the like. Luna, of course, was far too magically powerful to be harmed in this manner, and the result of Twilight's subconscious yank on Luna's spell had just massively increased the force, in Twilight's direction, of the gentle shove Luna was giving to everypony. No, you couldn't do this to an alicorn. But as far as unicorns were concerned...
Thank goodness I was out cold when Rarity levitated me downstairs that first morning. If I'd been awake, I could have subconsciously killed her.
I wonder what it'll be like to consciously kill her?
Squeezing her eyes tight for a moment, Twilight smiled over at Rainbow Dash, who really did look impressed. This was only her second flight, after all, even though they were just flapping lazily upwards. Twilight directed her thoughts back to some of the stranger reactions she'd experienced in Ponyville over the last week.
Mrs. Cake just couldn't stop herself from addressing Twilight with "Your Highness." Pinkie, bless her crazy heart, had told Mrs. Cake that Twilight wasn't a princess, but then, giggling a pink streak, had gone on to say that Twilight would throw anypony who called her a princess into the royal dungeon. So it was Her Highness at Sugarcube Corner for the present.
What will you force the screaming masses to call you as you burn them alive?
Stop. It. Think about flying.
"Hang on. This balance thing."
"The best thing is practice, right? And the higher you are, the longer you can fall, and that means you have more time in a single fall to practice balance and poise and centre-of-gravity?"
"Yup. Just remember, it's not the fall that kills you."
"The sudden stop at the bottom can't really kill me either, Rainbow Dash."
"Yeah. That's gotta be the weirdest thing, right?"
"This is going to be weirder. Wait here, I'll be right back."
Twilight teleported herself ten thousand feet straight up.
This is HIGH.
Her eyes slammed shut as panic roared in her ears.
You can teleport yourself safely to the ground any time you want. You can probably survive a fall from this height without even a single bent feather. You just flew, on your own, for the first time in your life. And you loved it. So. Open your eyes. You have to do this. You KNOW how to do this - you have that whole book memorised. It just takes...
"PRACTICE!" Twilight's eyes flicked open. She wasn't level. She stopped flapping, holding her wings straight out. She dropped like a rock, the wind howling through her ears.
Stay. Calm. You. Can't. Possibly. Fall. To. Your. Death. So. BALANCE!
She shifted her body's centre of gravity by moving her legs. Then she started rolling her body underneath her wings.
She was pointing nose-first at the ground, plummeting downwards. She banked to the left, accidentally rolling completely around once before getting that back under control. The wind in her face was exhilarating, the pure rushing speed was almost a drug.
I've never felt anything like this in my entire life...
She pitched back a little. She could see the meadow far below, just to the southeast of Ponyville. There was a tiny blue speck...
Twilight grinned. She aimed.
The tiny blue speck grew into an anxious-looking blue pegasus with an unruly shock of multicoloured mane. She was circling at about fifty feet, looking up and down, obviously trying to see where Twilight had got to. She didn't see the rapidly-approaching lavender blur until it passed under her at a distance of three feet, and a speed of about two hundred miles per hour.
Rainbow's shriek filled Twilight's ears as she flared her wingtips up very sharply and rocketed back into the sky. At the top of her brief climb, she flipped over backwards and began to flap again, rolling level, slowing herself down, and approaching the stunned pony standing in the middle of the meadow.
As Twilight came in to land, wings beating up dust and leaves, she took one look at Rainbow Dash's face and knew that every single prank that this particular pegasus had played on her had been worth it. Disappearing ink, itching powder, whoopee cushions, hoof-buzzers, super-spicy cupcakes, everything. They had all been worth it for that look.
Twilight's hooves touched down. She ruffled her wings and folded them neatly against her sides. She grinned at Rainbow Dash.
Dash's expression was priceless. Her mane was blown every which-way, her feathers were rumpled, and her tail was stuck straight out in awe. Finally, she managed to make her jaw move. She mumbled a bit.
"Well?" Twilight asked proudly. "How'd I do? On the Rainbow-Dash-And-Pinkie-Pie Prankometer, where do I score?"
Dash shook her head. "We need another scale. That was so far off the chart, that was, like, like..." She couldn't seem to find the words. "I'll never prank you again. I could never top that!"
"You should see your mane," Twilight smirked.
"You should see yours! If you're gonna do those kindsa speeds, you'd better get a style like mine! Neatly-brushed fringes do not go well with that much speed!"
They were still laughing an hour later when they flew to the town square for smoothies. Last week, Twilight would have just walked. Yesterday, she would have teleported. Today, she was going to fly. Not only was this the best feeling in the world, she'd also managed to pull one of the biggest pranks ever on one of the biggest pranksters around. And the elation she got when soaring that fast pushed almost all of the very dark thoughts straight out of her mind.
She didn't tell Rainbow Dash that she couldn't decide whether to loop underneath the hovering pegasus, or smash straight into her back, impaling her most loyal friend upon her rapier-sharp horn, until she had only been about ten feet away.