Part One - First Breath After a Coma
Live Reading by lk12lk21
“We’ll be washed and buried
One day my girl
And the time we were given
Will be left for the world
The flesh that lived and loved
Will be eaten by plague
So let the memories
Be good for those who stay."
Rainbow Dash ground her teeth together. If finishing this race killed her, she wouldn't care. Her stomach ached with nausea and her chest was on fire with a searing, unbearable pain. Her head was pounding like a drum, and her vision was fragmented. Although she usually enjoyed the feeling of wind pulling on her mane, it now felt as though it was being ruthlessly ripped from her scalp.
She fought with all she had. 'I've worked my entire life for this.' she repeated over and over in her head. Failing now was not an option. It never was.
Despite her condition, Dash had managed to keep up with the three top racers. Normally, they wouldn't have presented much of a challenge for Equestria's Self-Proclaimed Fastest Flier. But things were different now.
The racers rounded the corner after the ninth gate, closing in on the finish line. A straightaway. Perfect. Rainbow did her best to streamline herself, aligning her hooves with the rest of her body. Her limbs screamed out in agony, but she managed to gain enough speed to rocket past the other racers.
She was almost there, and the finish line was now clearly visible in the distance. 'I can do this. I have to finish. I have to win.'
500 meters out.
The blazing pain in her lungs only allowed her to take quick, shallow gasps for air. It was as if there was a knife lodged inside her chest, cutting into her with each breath she took. Rainbow could feel herself beginning to black out.
The announcer said something over the megaphone. The crowd was roaring. It was loud. Too loud. The sound echoed inside Rainbow's head like a drum. She could have sworn her skull was beginning to split at its seams. It was cracking under the strain of sound. The pain was unbelievable.
Rainbow's body finally had enough. Her wings gave out, leaving her in an uncontrolled spiral towards the finish line. Her body flipped and tossed in the air, and she caught a quick glimpse of the rest of the racers sprinting behind her.
She briefly heard the crowd grow louder before the world faded into darkness.
Rainbow yawned and fell back onto her sofa. It had been a long day of training. After completing her weather duties for the day, (taking no more than a mere ten seconds) Rainbow had practised her tricks and stunts from dawn till dusk. The Wonderbolts Auditions were rapidly approaching, and she was finally qualified to enter due to her performance and the Young Flyer's Competition. She had to be in perfect condition, as the Wonderbolts only held one audition every five years. Rainbow had worked her whole life for this chance, and she sure as hay wasn't going to wait five more years
Dash took a bite of her dandelion-oat sandwich and stared blankly at the wall of her cloud-home for a while. It was a nice wall; clouds sure did make nice homes. They were soft, reliable, and inviting. Pity that unicorns and earth ponies were cursed with cold, hard wooden and concrete buildings.
She shook her head, 'Ugh, I'm doing it again. Focus, Rainbow. Tomorrow I need to work on my sprints, then--' Her thoughts were interrupted as she swallowed. A burning sensation bit through her throat and into her nostrils. Strange, she hadn't felt that since...Rainbow froze.
Maybe it was just a once-off thing, but she had to know for sure. After a moment, she took another tentative bite and swallowed. Same feeling. It was that bittersweet feeling that she would occasionally get back in flight school. It was an omen. It meant she would have an excuse to skip a few days of boring lectures, but it also meant she would have to spend those days in her dorm.
A sore throat. It almost always acted as a precursor to a cold. 'You have got to be kidding me. Two straight years of perfect health and my body picks now to get sick. Bucking awesome.' she thought with an irritated groan.
She sighed and dropped the sandwich on a table. Whatever the case, she wouldn't let something as trivial as a cold, if it even was a cold, distract her from her training. Least of all the Wonderbolts Auditions. It might just nothing anyway. Just a side-effect of being too tired from all of that training.
She slumped back deeper into the sofa.
Dash perked her ears up, she could've sworn she heard something outside. Whatever, or whoever it was, they would have to wait until morning. She was too exhausted to even consider opening her eyes, let alone investigate the disturbance. She rolled over in the sofa, trying in vain to get comfortable in her irregular sleeping spot. Something was pressing against her head, but she couldn't be bothered to move it.
“Rainbow Dash!” A voice called from outside. She definitely heard it this time, and she tried to ignore it. Who in their right mind would be calling her in the middle of the night? Didn't they realize that even the coolest of ponies need their sleep too?
“Rainbow Dash!” The voice called again. Though the voice was distant, it was still loud enough to make Rainbow's ears ache. The aching spread through her head, somehow making whatever it was that was pressing against it feel a bit heavier.
'Confound it all.' Rainbow cursed to herself. She sure as hay wasn't going to be able to sleep now. She opened her eyes, instantly regretting it. A barrage of light seared into her eyes like a thousand tiny needles, burrowing deep into her brain. The pressure on her head increased tenfold, she could almost feel her skull crack under the strain. The morning had come. She tried opening her eyes again, slowly. The pain trickled through, but she was able to bear it after a few moments. She began climbing to her hooves, noticing that her joints were aching as well. There was no doubt about it. She was getting sick.
“Rainbow Dash! I know yer up there! Come out or Ah'll find a way up there m'self!” The voice called again, the accent clearly giving away its owner. Rainbow stumbled drowsily towards her door, absentmindedly unlatching the cloudbolt and stepping outside. The sunlight intensified, searing once again into her already tender eyes. Squinting as tightly as her eyes would allow, she peeked over the side of the cloud.
“Hey Applejack, what's up?” Rainbow asked, surprised by the gruffness of her own voice.
“Rainbow! What in Equestria are ya doin' in there? D'ya have any idea what time it is? I know yer big event is comin' up soon, but this is ridiculous!” Applejack convicted.
Rainbow began to register her surroundings. The sun was high in the sky, she could feel it beating down on her from above. She had overslept. A lot.
“It's past high noon an' you haven't even started on yer cloud buckin! M'apples won't grow under clouds, Dash!”
“Yeah... Sorry about that, I must have overslept.. I'll go get those clouds bucked in ten seconds flat...” Rainbow said groggily, confused as to how she'd managed to sleep far into the afternoon while still being dead tired.
“Aw, forget the clouds. We're gonna be late if we don't leave now.”
Rainbow twisted her face in confusion. “Late? Late for what?”
Applejack seemed caught off-guard by Rainbow's question, almost like she wasn't expecting it to arise “Uh, Ah mean, Pinkie Pie wanted to talk to you-- uh, us over at Sugarcube Corner. She mentioned something about, uh, pastries. Yeah. Pastries. Eatin' Pastries!” She beamed with a wide, fake grin.
Rainbow couldn't help but smirk while she glided down to the ground. Applejack was the element of honesty, and she couldn't make it any more obvious. She was, bar none, the worst liar in all of Equestria. She was up to something, and rest assured, it wasn't about eating pastries. Nevertheless, Dash was intrigued and decided to play along.
“Alright, but I can't stay for long. I've got traini-- hmpf!” Dash stumbled a bit as she touched the ground, her joints felt weak and cumbersome. Applejack, of course, took notice.
“You alright there Best Young Flyer?”
“I'm fine.” Rainbow lied, somewhat irked by Applejack's sarcasm.
“Y'sure? Ya look like Big Macintosh did after he tried to finish an entire barrel of hard apple cider by 'mself.”
“I said I'm fine! Let's go.”
Twilight mused at the sight before her. Decorations and streamers hung from every possible nook and cranny; the tables were filled to the brim with pastries, cakes, punch and confectionery. The whole building was packed with ponies, all of whom seemed to be having a great pre-surprise celebration. Pinkie Pie was a master of parties indeed. The pink pony was bouncing around, singing one of her signature songs with her usual, over-the-top gusto. The anticipation of the upcoming Surprise-Good-Luck-Rainbow-Dash-at-the-Wonderbolt-Auditions-Party was weighing on all of them.
Today would be the day, Twilight had resolved. It would be the perfect opportunity to pull Rainbow aside and finally let her know. The feelings inside were tearing her apart for far too long. She had to get them out, and get an answer. A simple yes or no would be so much better than living in a constant state of unknowing.
Fluttershy tapped her on the shoulder. The shy pony had 'volunteered' for lookout duty. “Um... Twilight.. Excuse me.. Sorry to interrupt but... I think you should know... They're coming.. I think..”
“They're coming! Everypony get to your positions!” Twilight bellowed.
Ponies scrambled this way and that, hiding under, over and inside anything in sight. The lights were quickly shut out, and the music stopped. Twilight quickly hid herself behind one of the counters, next to Rarity. Even the exquisite white unicorn looked excited for the upcoming celebration, seeing as though she didn't complain about sitting on such a dirty floor.
Muffled voices were soon heard outside, growing clearer as the two ponies neared.
“Alright Applejack, what's up? I know this whole pastry thing is a load of horseapples.”
“Uh, what makes y'say that?”
“This place isn't even open.”
“Sure it is! Just take a look inside”
“Why? Aren't you coming?”
“Uh, yeah. After you. I mean, my leg is broken. Uh, fractured. Sprained. I need you to open the door.” Twilight couldn't help but bring a hoof to her face. She knew tasking Applejack of all ponies to collect Rainbow Dash 'discreetly and without notice' was a terrible idea.
The door creaked open, and Rainbow stepped into the dark parlour.
Every light in the room suddenly ignited, “SURPRISE!!!” The ponies cheered in unison, cheering and clopping their hooves.
Rainbow recoiled at the sudden bombardment of sound, dropping to her flank and clamping her hooves to her ears while letting out a sharp cry.
Half of the ponies in the room fell silent, and the other half burst out in laughter. None of them were expecting the infamous Rainbow Dash of all ponies to react in terror to a simple surprise. Twilight and Fluttershy ran over to their cringing friend.
“Rainbow Dash! I'm so sorry. We didn't mean to scare you like that,” Fluttershy coaxed. Slowly, Rainbow released her ears and opened one eye, then two.
“Hey, everypony...” She began to climb back to her hooves with some help from a hopelessly apologetic Fluttershy.
Rainbow's manner genuinely concerned Twilight. It wasn't like her to pull a Fluttershy when surprised. In fact, Rainbow's wings would usually always explode outwards when something exciting occurred. Something was wrong. Before she could say anything, however, an ever boisterous Pinkie Pie was on the scene.
“Come on Dashie! Turn that frown upside down! It's time for a PARTY!” Rainbow's eye visibly twitched. “And not just any party! It's a super special Surprise-Good-Luck-Rainbow-Dash-at-the-Wonderbolts-Auditions Party! We know you can do it! You're the best and fastest flier in all of Equestria!”
Rainbow seemed to perk up a little with the last comment, regaining a bit of her regular, chesty pose. “Thanks Pinkie. Thanks everypony, this is... great.” Her voice was rough and laboured.
“Then... Let's party!” Pinkie squealed, bursting into song from which instrumentals came from nowhere in particular. The ponies quickly began their celebrations; eating, drinking, dancing, talking and laughing.
The three of them watched Pinkie for a few moments before Fluttershy turned to Rainbow. “Are you okay? You seem a little strange today. Not that it's a bad thing. You look nice.. Sorry.”
“I'm fine. I'm just a bit tired I guess.”
Twilight opened her mouth to press Fluttershy's question further, but was immediately cut-off again, this time by a fulminating Rarity. “Rainbow, darling! You look simply dreadful! Your mane is all frazzled! You look like you haven't slept in days!
“I'm too busy training to care about how I look. I'll catch up on sleep after I win.” Her bravado was accompanied by a swooping motion with her hoof, which was quickly retracted it with a grimace.
“That is no excuse for such unfabulousness and you know it!”
Twilight trotted off, this argument could last hours. Besides, it would give her some more time to mentally prepare herself.
The party went on as planned for around two hours, though she noticed Rainbow wasn't nearly as lively as she normally was at such events. Twilight found herself pacing anxiously around the room, fighting with herself in an interior monologue. 'Alright Twilight. You can do this. Just ask see her outside and tell her the truth. I can't do this. Yes I can, I have to. She'll just say no. But there's always a chance. Maybe I should ask her after the auditions, when she isn't so busy. No, I can't wait that long. I'm being selfish. Confound it. Just go.' Twilight took a few deep breaths and glanced around for Rainbow, but she as nowhere to be found. Pinkie Pie and Applejack were at one of the tables stuffing back ridiculous amounts of food.
“Hey girls, have either of you seen Rainbow?” Twilight inquired as she trotted up to them.
“Yep.” Applejack responded concisely as she devoured a donut.
Twilight sighed, “Recently? Like in the past five minutes?”
“Oh! I have! I got her to eat one of my famous cupcakes! Made with my special ingredients! I don't think she liked it very much though. Or maybe she just had to use the bathroom real bad! It's a mystery!” Pinkie said excitedly before resuming her unending buffet of rather unhealthy food.
Twilight trotted off, trying her best to not think too much about what she was about to do in fear of losing her nerve. 'Just tell her how I feel about her. No big deal'
She waited outside of the swingdoor entitled 'MARES' for quite some time. She wanted to be sure to intercept Dash before anypony else got to her. Eventually, however, impatience got the best of her. She needed to do this before she lost the dwindling nerve she still possessed. She opened the door and trotted inside, gasping a little as she found Rainbow Dash stooped over the sink, coughing in between dry heaves.
“Ugh, hey Twilight.” Rainbow groaned before beginning another short coughing spell.
“Wow, I didn't think Pinkie's cupcakes were so volatile. Are you alright?”
Dash pushed herself away from the sink and started for the exit. “Yeah. I think I'm gonna go home and start training. Tell Pinkie I said thanks for the party.”
This was her chance. “Uh. Hey, how about I walk you home?”
“Sure. Whatever floats your hay.”
The two mares left the still lively party and walked in silence for some time. The normally talkative Rainbow Dash seemed to have other things on her mind, and her usual arrogant pose had deflated. She also seemed to grimace with every hoofstep she took. It was odd, but Twilight couldn't blame her. The audition she'd been waiting for her whole life was finally just around the corner. Twilight wracked her mostly socially-inept mind for some sort of conversation starter.
“So, you must be really stressed about the audition in a couple days.” she tried.
“Huh? No way. I know I'll win. I'm the fastest flyer in all of... um.. Equestria,” Dash boasted with the least amount of gusto Twilight had ever witnessed.
“Oh really? Then what's up with your behavior? It's not like you to freak out like that.”
“I was just surprised, that's all.”
Twilight stopped mid-trot. “That's a load of horseapples and you know it. You never cower like that. Tell me the truth.”
“W-well to be honest, I haven't been feeling that great today. My head kinda hurts when there's a lot of noise.”
“What? Why didn't you say so earlier?” It was so obvious now. How could she have not noticed?
“I didn't want to spoil the party for anypony. Especially not Pinkie Pie. She puts a lot of effort into those things.” Rainbow admitted.
“I'm sure she would have understood.”
“Pinkie? Understand? Her fix for everything is more parties and more cupcakes.”
Twilight couldn't help but give a brief giggle. “Yeah, I guess you're right”
It wasn't long before the duo arrived at the patch of field below Rainbow's looming cloud-home. 'It's now or never, Twilight. Just do it you stupid egghead.'
“Hey, um, Rainbow. There's something I need to tell you. I've been putting it off for far too long.”
'Just go. Stop Thinking. Just go.' Twilight trotted up close to her cyan-coated friend and planted a kiss directly on her lips without a moment's hesitation. Sure Rainbow was sick, but she didn't care. Besides, actions always spoke louder than words. That's what her books said, anyway.
Rainbow stood with a look of shock on her face for a short time, gazing at Twilight through watery eyes. She looked like she wanted to say something, but her expression quickly changed into one of disgust and repulsion. She almost looked like she was going to be sick.
The pegasus pony abruptly launched into the sky, leaving a hurt and confused unicorn in her wake.
Rainbow was freezing. The cool chill of the day was amplified as it blew past her soaking wet body. It wouldn't be so bad, she supposed, but the stench of the bile she slept in made her want to retch all over again. She probably would, too, had there been anything left in her stomach.
She had been drifting in and out of consciousness since she had passed out on the floor after returning from the party. Rainbow rolled over, and her sides screamed in agonizing protest. She wanted nothing more than to fall back asleep to escape the pain, but the Auditions were starting soon. A gander at the clock indicated merely three hours until they began. She'd been lying there for fifteen hours.
This would be a fight won with determination and nothing else. Rainbow was a tough pony, but she realized this would be a struggle of a lifetime. In the end though, it will be worth it. Her lifetime had been filled with dreams of becoming a Wonderbolt. Dreams of this very day. A chance to prove herself once at for all. If only it wouldn't hurt so much.
'One hoof. Two hooves. Push. Ow, slow down. Almost there. Good. Now for the back hooves. Don't lose balance. Just a little further.'
After a tremendous effort, Dash was finally on her rickety hooves. Her vision was splintered. The world drifted in and out of focus, its colours distorted and erratic. The inside of her cloud-house seemed to churn and swivel on its axes. She stumbled around on her way to one of her household rainclouds, pain wracking her every hoofstep. Fire filled her lungs with each breath she took.
Rainbow gritted her teeth before releasing a powerful, upwards buck; releasing a sprinkle of rain from the overhead raincloud. Her front hooves buckled under the strain, causing her to plough face-first into the cloud below. The normally soft-feeling cloud felt like a rock as she collided with it, evoking a sharp pain to blast through her head. Though her mouth was closed, fluid was somehow filling her mouth. She tried to spit it out, but the red water kept on flowing. It burned her tongue.
She lay motionless under the cloud for what seemed like hours. Each drop of rainwater impaled her, each stinging like a tiny needle. She desperately wanted to crawl away, but she needed to get the vomit our of her coat. She couldn't even begin to imagine anything more embarrassing than meeting the Wonderbolts smelling the way she did.
After the vast majority of the vomit had been cleaned away, Rainbow once again struggled to her hooves and headed towards the door. A cough tugged at her throat, begging to be let out. She tried to stifle it, but it was persistent. A wheeze escaped her lips, followed by a series of hacking coughs. Each one rattled her brain, making her head feel as though it would explode under the excruciating pressure. She dropped to her flank once more, unable to stand any longer.
The coughing fit lasted a long while before she was able to recover and come back to her senses. Her head hurt more than ever now, the headache seemed to grow with every passing second. She crawled towards the door on her belly, deciding it best not to stand up just to fall down again.
Thankful that she didn't lock the door, she was able to nudge it out of the way with her nose and crawl outside. The sunlight burned as usual, but squinting seemed to help a bit.
The bones in her wings cracked as she lifted them into the air for takeoff.
'I guess I'll have to win on an even playing field.' She thought with a smug grin.
Beep Beep Beep
A deep breath filled Rainbow Dash's lungs as consciousness began to return. She was lying on something soft, but not quite as plumose as a regular cloud. Something was wrapped around her, radiating a soft, comforting warmth. A fleecy pillow was at her head, enveloping it in a delicate embrace. She had no idea where she was, and she didn't really care. It had been a long time since she'd felt so snug and cozy, wrapped in a soft embrace of linen. Her own blankets would always fall through the clouds of her home, so she had long since given them up.
Beep Beep Beep
If only that bucking beeping would stop. What was that anyway? Maybe she should open her eyes and investigate. No, that would ruin everything. It felt too good to just lie there. She'd just have to get used to it; but it was just so annoying. It reminded her of those machines in hospitals that kept track of a pony's breathing.
Memories of the past week returned with a flash. The sickness, the race, the pain, the kiss. Rainbow opened her eyes, finding a set for four whitewashed walls greeting her. Instruments and medical appliances filled the room, with an ever cliche IV drip stationed right beside her. She was tightly tucked into a hospital bed, though her forehooves stuck out and were wrapped in some sort of white bandaging. Half-inflated balloons inscribed with 'Get Well Soon!' were scattered throughout the room, accompanied by copious bouquets of flowers, cards and stuffed animals.
A male, brown unicorn pony stood near the doorway, levitating a clipboard while writing something down. He didn't seem to notice her waking up. She shuffled a bit in her bed, trying to sit up. Something felt different. Something looked different. Was that pain all a dream?
After a short while, the unicorn took a short glance upwards before returning to his notes. “Ah, you're awake. Good.” His booming voice carried a sense of gentle authority. “You just missed your friends.”
Rainbow cleared her throat to ensure she could still talk, and was pleasantly surprised when she noticed her throat was no longer a blazing inferno of agony. “H-how long have I been out?”
Rainbow gagged, “three weeks?”
The doctor began to walk towards her bedside, levitating his clipboard and pen to a nearby table. “I would count yourself lucky. It very well could have been much longer.”
Rainbow stared blankly at the doctor for a moment as the words sank in. A new desire crept into her mind: a desperation to stand up and fly away, but her bandaged forelegs wouldn't move. “My legs...”
“Were broken when you fell. But that should be the least of your worries,” the doctor said as he produced a stethoscope and began pressing the cold endpiece against her chest.
Rainbow watched him for a moment, gasping as a horrifying thought grazed her mind. “Did ... Did I lose the race?”
The unicorn looked up and glared at Rainbow before answering, “I don't know anything about a race, but I can assure you that something much more serious than a trivial race is at hoof.”
“Miss Rainbow Dash, as you probably already know, you are not in adequate physical shape. And I don't mean fitness.”
Her mind flashed back once again to the days previous. “Well, y-yeah, but I feel fine now.” It was true, too. Her previous afflictions had completely subsided, and her body seemed to be in perfect physical condition. Minus her forelegs, of course.
“You feel fine now, but it won't last. We've used our strongest magic and healing techniques to stop the pain and relieve many of the side-effects caused by this... Ordeal.”
Rainbow could feel herself beginning to shake. She wasn't sure what the doctor was getting at, but she knew it was bad. “W-what's wrong with me?”
"Perhaps I should let you get some rest before we move on."
"No. I need to know. Please."
The doctor sighed as he removed the stethoscope and placed it on a nearby tray. “Miss Rainbow Dash, you are undergoing an unexplained physical phenomena. The circumstances of your case are incredibly rare, even unheard of. The symptoms of this event are far from over, though we were able to slow them down.”
“W-what... What are you saying?”
“What I'm saying is that your body is shutting down. It's decaying from the inside out and there isn't anything we can do about it. Miss Rainbow Dash, you are dying. I'm so sorry.”