“Hey, Rainbow Dash! Letter for you!”
Rainbow Dash flapped lazily over the edge of her cloud to see who was calling to her. She had been enjoying a lovely doze in the cloud-hammock by her front door, letting the early afternoon sun warm her face and carry her off into her usual daydreams, but the voice from the ground roused her just before she got to the bit about joining the Wonderbolts for their Gala performance.
On the ground, a small purple dragon was jumping up and down, waving an envelope skyward. “Oh, hi there, Spike!” she greeted him as she vaulted off the cloudbank and spiralled gracefully down to hover a few feet above the grass. “A letter? For me? Since when are you delivering the mail, anyway?”
“Well, sort of for you. I was at the post office, picking up some books that Twilight ordered from Canterlot’s library; she’s on a big research project right now or something, it’s all really boring.” The young pegasus nodded in agreement to that, and Spike continued. “Anyway, the mailmare showed me this while I was there, and said it had the right address but the wrong name, so she didn’t know what to do with it. I told her I’d drop it over to you, and you’d know what to do. Do you know this name?”
Rainbow Dash took the proffered envelope and peered at the name and address. “Sonic Dash, Raincloud Hall, Ponyville. That’s... not a name I’ve seen in a while. Return address is... Lightning Dash, 104 Cirrus Street, Cloudsdale.” She trailed off, her lips curling back nervously.
“Are you okay, Rainbow Dash?” asked Spike, peering up at the pegasus, who had begun drifting from side to side, her wings beating in agitation. “Are these guys family of yours?”
Rainbow Dash nodded, tucking the envelope under a foreleg. “Yeah, you could say that. Lightning Dash is my father, and... I should go and... make sure this gets to the right pony. Later, Spike.” Without further ado, she had retreated back to her cloud home, leaving Spike to return to the library, looking confused.
Once she had locked the doors and made sure that Pinkie Pie wasn’t hiding anywhere, Rainbow Dash placed the envelope on her kitchen table, glaring at it as if she could frighten it into disappearing. She paced back and forth, tossing her head, and then finally stood her ground in front of the table.
“Sonic Dash,” she muttered as she tore the envelope open with one hoof. “Wish I never had to hear that name again. What does Dad want now? He’d better not be coming to visit, that’s all I can say.”
“Fluttershy! Did you hear?” gushed Twilight Sparkle as she trotted into Fluttershy’s meadow, levitating a flyer next to her. “There’s a famous weather engineer coming to visit from Cloudsdale, to give a lecture on weather production and maintenance! I was so excited when Rainbow Dash showed us the factories, and I wish I’d had time to learn more. Isn’t this great?”
Fluttershy bid farewell to the badger she’d been helping prepare for winter, and edged quietly over to Twilight’s side, smiling to her friend and peering at the flyer. “’The Importance of Weather: Averting the Dangers of an Uncontrolled Environment. A series of lectures by Doctor Lightning Dash.’ I tried weather maintenance at school in Cloudsdale, Twilight, and I wasn’t very good at it. But you should go.” She chewed her lip nervously as she read the text, shuffling her hooves awkwardly.
Fluttershy’s agitation was lost on Twilight, though, who moved the flyer back around in front of her and opened up the folds. “He’s covering some very advanced topics! Cyclones, tornadoes, hailstorms... I never realised how dangerous weather could be. I can’t wait to hear him talk!” She folded the flyer up again and slipped it into her saddlebag. “Doctor Lightning Dash... is he any relation to Rainbow Dash? Rainbow never really talked about her family.” She tilted her head to one side, her horn glowing gently as she pondered. “Do they not get on well?”
Fluttershy lowered her head, her voice barely above a whisper. “I don’t... I don’t think they do, no. Actually... I think we shouldn’t mention Rainbow Dash at all to Doctor Dash while he’s here. It might be... awkward,” she finished, and turned her head to avoid looking Twilight in the eyes.
“Oh. That’s sad,” mused Twilight. “I wish there were something we could do. I couldn’t imagine not getting on with my parents, or my big brother. I should write to them! Spike, take a... oh, Spike’s not here. Well, I’m going to go and read some books on weather, so I can ask Doctor Dash some intelligent questions. I’ll see you later, Fluttershy!”
Fluttershy watched the unicorn go, and sighed deeply. Poor Rainbow Dash, she thought, as she flitted up the gentle slope towards her house. This is going to be so difficult for her. I’d better go and help.
The next day, Twilight peered through her telescope, not at the stars, but at the clouds above the Everfree Forest. She had her meteorology textbook open on a lectern next to her chair, and was leafing through it every time she saw a new cloud through the lens.
“Spike!” she called, as a particularly interesting formation came into her field of vision. “You should take a look at this, it’s fascinating! According to Weather Formations in Unmanaged Environments, these low, fluffy clouds with the flat bottoms are thunderstorm clouds, and the green tint to them means that they might contain hail. There’s going to be a hailstorm in the forest!”
Spike obligingly looked through the telescope and examined the clouds in question. “Yep, those are green, all right. What’s hail?”
Twilight flipped forward a few pages in her textbook. “Hail is condensed water vapour that cools around a nucleating seed into its solid phase while descending from the troposphere...”
“It’s ice, falling from the sky. My book says it can destroy crops, kill small animals and even devastate entire forests!”
Spike looked alarmed, and squinted harder through the telescope eyepiece. “That’s awful! What kind of pegasus would do that?”
“This is wild weather, Spike,” Twilight reminded him, pointing to the Everfree Forest through the window. “It happens by itself, without pegasi creating it. It mostly stays in the Forest, but sometimes it spills out into the rest of Equestria, and we need the weather pegasi to keep us safe from that. Alright, I think I’ve done all the reading I can before the lecture starts – let’s get down to the town square.” She levitated her books into her saddle-bags and trotted down the stairs, Spike close at her hooves. “I hope Rainbow Dash comes. It wouldn’t be the same, learning about weather without her. I wish I knew what was wrong between her and her father.”
The town square was full of pegasi gathering in front of the lectern, but Rainbow Dash was nowhere to be seen, and nor was Fluttershy. A handful of earth ponies and unicorns had also turned out to hear the visitor speak, including, to Twilight’s surprise, Rarity.
“Rarity!” Twilight greeted her friend as they edged towards the front of the crowd. Rarity didn’t look like she was there to hear Doctor Dash speak – she didn’t even have a notepad and quill like Twilight’s. “Great to see you, but... what are you doing here? I didn’t think you were interested in weather.”
Rarity shook her head, her perfectly coiffed mane rippling in the mid-afternoon sun, leaving Spike spellbound. “Oh, I’m not. I’m really only here because I wanted to meet Rainbow Dash’s parents. She doesn’t talk about them much. Look, here they come now!”
Sure enough, two pegasi were spiralling down from the clouds to land near the lectern. One, a stallion, had a dark grey coat the colour of a thunderstorm, with a bright yellow mane and tail, and the mark of a yellow lightning bolt on his flank. He wore a pair of saddlebags bulging with papers, and he touched down behind the lectern to cheers from the audience. Behind him came a mare with a lighter grey coat, with mane and tail the colour of a sunset through clouds. Her cutie mark was a fluffy white cloud. Both pegasi were in their middle years, mature but obviously still healthy and active.
The stallion cleared his throat as he stood behind the lectern, while the mare arranged his notes in front of him and then stood to one side, watching him with a quiet, satisfied smile.
“Good afternoon, Ponyville!” he greeted the audience. “I am Doctor Lightning Dash, senior researcher at the Cloudsdale Weather Institute, and to my side is my lovely and talented wife, Cloud Dash. I would like to thank you all for inviting me here, and I hope I can repay you by being both entertaining and educational. Now, Ponyville’s proximity to the Everfree Forest means that many of you will have observed the strange weather that arises in its environs. Who here has seen the forest under the effects of gale force winds?”
Twilight scribbled notes furiously as Doctor Dash spoke, amazed at the depth of knowledge he was revealing to the audience. Rarity smiled and nodded as the pegasus gave his lecture, but Twilight recognised the subtle cues that showed that her friend really didn’t quite follow what was being said. Not that Twilight blamed her – very few unicorns or earth ponies ever had to think about things like low pressure cells and temperature inversion layers. Even some of the pegasi in the audience were clearly lost, but at least they seemed to be enjoying themselves.
After the conclusion of the lecture, a small knot of pegasi surrounded the doctor and his wife, eager to ply him with their questions. Twilight and Rarity eventually managed to worm their way to the front of the crowd, eager to introduce themselves. “Doctor Dash! Mrs Dash!” Twilight greeted them, almost hopping in her excitement. “That was a wonderful lecture! Rarity and I are friends of Rai... ow!” Twilight cut off mid-sentence as a sharp kick from the normally gentle Rarity struck her in the hind leg. Why would Rarity... oh, that’s right. Don’t talk about Rainbow Dash to her parents. “... of Princess Celestia! And... and that’s why I wanted to hear your lecture, because she wants me to learn everything I can. So... yes! It was great! I have so many questions for you, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time...”
Cloud Dash laughed, shaking her mane. “My husband can talk about the weather all day. We should really be getting indoors before dark, though. We’re staying with our colt, and he...”
“Oh, Mrs Dash!” interjected Rarity. “I just noticed how lovely your mane looks in this light! You should come to the Carousel Boutique tomorrow, I have some fabric that would go wonderfully with it. But Twilight and I should be off now, and let you get some rest, after all your travel. Come along, Twilight.” With that, Rarity backed away through the slowly dispersing crowd, making obvious come with me, I’ll explain later tosses of her head.
“But I was going to ask about... oh, alright. Goodnight, Doctor Dash, Mrs Dash. I can’t wait to see you tomorrow!” Twilight hated to leave so soon, but Rarity had never steered her wrong before, especially when it came to meeting new ponies. Once they were back inside the library, and Spike was unpacking Twilight’s books and notes, she turned to Rarity, eyes wide with indignation.
“Rarity, what’s going on? You kicked me! And you interrupted Mrs Dash! You never interrupt other ponies! There’s something going on... this is about Rainbow Dash and her father, isn’t it?”
Rarity bowed her head and nudged her nose against Twilight’s flank in apology. “I do apologise for my beastly behaviour, Twilight, but this is a very delicate situation. I wish I could explain why, but it’s not my story to tell.”
Spike poked his head down from Twilight’s study. “Didn’t Mrs Dash say they were staying with their colt? Is that this Sonic Dash pony he was writing to? I gave Rainbow Dash a letter for him yesterday, from Doctor Dash.”
Rarity looked shocked, and glared at Spike. “Master Spike! Talking about a pony’s private mail! You of all people should know better.” Spike withered in the heat of his beloved Rarity’s glare, and mumbled something about needing to rearrange Twilight’s notes before scurrying off.
Twilight sighed as she watched Spike depart. “I’m sorry, Rarity, he shouldn’t have said that. But this Sonic Dash, is he Rainbow Dash’s brother? And he lives in Ponyville? Why didn’t Rainbow Dash tell us she had family here?”
Rarity sighed, scuffing her hoof against the library’s wooden floor. “I’m sorry, Twilight. If I could tell you, you know I would, but I simply mustn’t. I can’t stop you from asking questions, but I’m asking you, as your friend, just to let it go. For Rainbow Dash’s sake?”
Twilight sighed heavily, her natural curiosity warring with her loyalty to her friends, and her deep respect for Rarity’s advice. “I’ll try, Rarity. But you know how much I hate secrets! It’s so hard not to poke and prod at them until they come apart.”
Rarity laid her neck against Twilight’s in a gesture of companionship. “I know, Twilight, and I wouldn’t wish you any other way. But some secrets are better left buried. Just... trust me, and trust Rainbow Dash. You don’t need to unravel this one.”
Twilight returned the gesture, and lipped Rarity’s mane gently. “I understand. I don’t want to hurt you, or Rainbow. I’ll see you tomorrow, Rarity.” She let her friend out, waving to her before closing the door.
Rarity trotted back to the Carousel Boutique, head hanging low. She hated lying – not so much as Applejack did, but it was something she liked to consider to be beneath her – and especially hated concealing things from her friends. But a secret was a secret, even if she’d never promised to keep it. Even if nopony knew she knew it.
She looked up at the sky, towards Raincloud Hall. In the dim dusk light, she could barely make out a yellow and pink pegasus ascending to the cloud and entering the house. That’s good, she thought to herself. Rainbow Dash needs Fluttershy with her right now. I don’t know how else I can help.
The next morning, Spike woke up to the clip-clop of Twilight’s hooves pacing around the library floor. He quickly jumped down the stairs to the library proper, hurrying up to his friend’s side. “What’s wrong, Twilight? You look like you’ve hardly slept.”
Twilight whinnied in frustration, halting in her pacing to look at Spike. “I don’t know what to do, Spike! Rainbow Dash and Rarity are keeping some big secret from me, I just know it! What’s going on between Dash and her parents, and why didn’t she tell me she has a brother living right here in Ponyville? Dash is usually so talkative, and she trusts me. She does trust me, doesn’t she? After all we’ve been through? Argh, why wouldn’t she tell me?”
Spike listened to Twilight’s pained musings as he went to the pantry and fished out some hay and dandelions for her breakfast. “Maybe she just doesn’t want anypony to know. Maybe it’s something embarrassing that happened at flight school. That place is full of stories, just look at what happened the first time she did a Sonic Rainboom. It’s probably nothing terrible.”
Twilight resumed pacing, more frantically than before. “But what if it is something terrible, Spike? What if something terrible happened at flight school and Rarity found out but they’re keeping it from me because they think I won’t want to be around them if I know? What if there was an accident and somepony was really hurt... or died? What if... what if... argh, I can’t take this!” she cried, stamping her hooves in frustration.
Spike nudged Twilight towards their dining table, placing the bowl of food in front of her. “Calm down, Twilight! Whatever it is, it can’t be that important! Besides, if she tells you, then you’ll have to keep it secret. And you, uh... you aren’t very good at keeping secrets.”
Twilight narrowed her eyes at that, then glanced at her mirror as if expecting Pinkie Pie to admonish her from it. “You’re right, Spike,” she mumbled as she took a mouthful of hay. “I wouldn’t want to risk telling everypony.”
Abruptly, the unicorn resumed her pacing. “But what if it is important? What if it’s something I do need to know? I won’t know if I need to know it or not until I know it, and then if I don’t need to know it then it’s too late! I can’t un-know something! But if I don’t know it, then I can’t know it without knowing it!”
Spike tilted his head to the side, trying to piece together his friend’s ramblings. “Then... you do want to know?”
Twilight’s shoulders slumped, and she slunk back to her dining chair. “I just want to know... something. I want to know enough to know whether I should find out the rest.” She lowered her mouth to her bowl, munching in silence for a few minutes.
“Alright,” she decided once she had finished her breakfast. “I’m going to go over to Raincloud Hall and ask Rainbow Dash what’s going on. If she doesn’t want to tell me, that’s fine, but I at least have to ask.”
Spike paused in clearing away the breakfast things. “But what about what Rarity said? Maybe you’re better off not asking at all.”
Twilight poked her head into the pantry and levitated a few packages of carrots and oatcakes into her saddlebags, figuring that a tasty meal would be the best way to discuss the matter with Rainbow Dash. “Rarity’s not a scholar like I am, Spike. Knowing things is the way I get things done. And Rainbow Dash is my friend. Friends can tell each other anything.”
Twilight carefully cast her cloud-walking spell before teleporting up to the edge of Rainbow Dash’s cloud, and looked around in awe once she had her footing. She had only been up here a couple of times, and the cloud had always impressed her. The rainbow streams made a pleasant splashing noise as they cascaded into their pool, kicking up a multi-hued cloud of vapour. The cloudbank seemed to meld seamlessly into the columns supporting the house, and the entire effect was very aesthetically pleasing. Not for the first time, Twilight wondered if Rainbow Dash’s house showed a sensitive, artistic side of her personality that her brash, competitive exterior usually hid.
The unicorn carefully trod through cloud-stuff to Dash’s front door and rang the doorbell. She tried to make herself look casual, but her entire body was tense with anticipation and worry. What if I make Rainbow Dash mad by asking? What if I get Rarity into trouble? None of her concerns, however, led her to anticipate the cloud-grey mare who answered the door.
“Twilight Sparkle!” exclaimed Cloud Dash. “We didn’t expect you so soon! Eager to ply my husband with questions, are you?” The pegasus gave Twilight a teasing grin and stepped out of the doorway. “Lightning, Sonic! Twilight Sparkle is here!”
A light blue pegasus with yellow mane and tail skidded around the hall to the front door a second later, wings beating frantically. “Twilight? What are you doing here? You can’t be here, you have to go!” exclaimed the pegasus, eyes wide with panic.
It took Twilight a few seconds to recognise who this pegasus was. “Rainbow Dash? What happened to your mane?”
“Rainbow?” asked Cloud, as Lightning Dash trotted around the corner, with Fluttershy slinking behind him. “Oh, my little colt, you’re not doing this again, are you? I thought you’d grown out of this.”
“Colt?” asked Twilight, perplexed, as Rainbow Dash backed away into her living room, tossing her head from side to side. “No, I’m talking about your filly, Rainbow Dash... what’s going on?”
Lightning frowned and bowed his head to Twilight. “I’m sorry, Twilight Sparkle, but we’ll have to talk another time. We have some family business to discuss. Fluttershy, you too, if you please?” Fluttershy was already at the door with Twilight, looking back at Rainbow Dash in anguished sympathy before the door closed.
Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but a quiet “Shh...” from Fluttershy made her wait until they were both back on the ground. “Please, Twilight,” the pegasus begged as they began the walk back to the library. “Rainbow Dash will explain everything soon. We should get the others together. Rainbow will meet us at the library when she’s ready.”
The unicorn sighed and lowered her head. “I’m sorry, Fluttershy. I’ve made everything worse, haven’t I?”
Fluttershy nodded sadly. “Maybe it’s for the best, though. I’ll let Rainbow Dash explain.”
“What’s wrong with Rainbow Dash?” asked Pinkie Pie, while rummaging through a stack of Twilight’s books. “Is she sick? Is she auditioning for the Wonderbolts? That’s it, isn’t it? That’s why she’s been acting so weird lately!”
Applejack stood her ground near the door, frowning. “If it’s trouble with her family, we should let her keep it in her family. Ain’t right to go meddlin’ with another pony’s family troubles. If I had ponies buttin’ in whenever Big Macintosh and I had our problems, they’d be all over Ponyville by now.”
Twilight sat at her desk, her hooves fidgeting nervously. Should I have listened to Rarity? she wondered, looking over at her fellow unicorn, who was waiting with surprising poise and composure. I’ve gone and made a mess of things again. Some friend I am.
Finally, a knock came, not at the door, but at the upstairs window. Spike clambered upstairs to open the window, and a forlorn looking Rainbow Dash slunk down the stairs, coming to stand in the middle of the library floor. Her head hung limply, her face framed by her dull yellow mane.
“Rainbow Dash, what’s all this about?” asked Applejack, starting forward. “And what did you do to your mane?”
Rarity held up a hoof, gesturing for the other ponies to give Rainbow Dash some space. After she caught her breath, she began. Her voice lacked its usual vivacious pace – instead she sounded tired and defeated.
“I know I’ve been acting weird lately. It’s true. Having my parents show up like this has turned everything upside down, but I should have known this was going to happen. I’m just sorry that you had to find out like this.”
“Find out what?” asked Twilight, rising from her desk. “I’m really sorry that I made a scene with your parents, but what’s going on? Who’s Sonic Dash? Is he your brother?”
Fluttershy edged over to stand next to Rainbow Dash, supporting her with her flank. Rainbow Dash brushed her head against her friend’s, then took a deep breath.
“I don’t have any brothers. I’m Sonic Dash.”
Twilight shook her head. “That doesn’t make sense. Your parents said Sonic was their colt.”
Rainbow Dash nodded slowly. “That’s right, Twilight. I’m...”
She looked around at her friends, the most loyal and loving group of friends she had ever had. Applejack, Twilight and Pinkie looked perplexed, but Rarity gave her a quiet, encouraging smile. You can do this, her smile said. Fluttershy, as always, stood by Rainbow Dash’s side, silently supporting her.
Finally Rainbow Dash could speak again, her friends giving her the courage she needed.
“I’m a stallion.”
The library erupted into chaos as Pinkie Pie, Twilight Sparkle and Applejack all started talking at once.
“What?” “Are you crazy?” “Y’all are joking, right?” “That’s impossible!” “That doesn’t make any sense!” “This had better be a joke.” “No you’re not!”
“Ahem,” Rarity interjected with a firm clearing of her throat. “My friends, please. Let Rainbow Dash speak.”
Rainbow Dash had lowered her head as her friends raised their voices, unwilling to shout back as she usually would. Now she looked up at them again. “It’s true. I’m a stallion, and I always have been. But it’s never felt right to me. I’ve always known that I was supposed to be a mare. I hate being a stallion.”
She flapped her wings nervously and shuffled her hooves. “When I started at flight school, Fluttershy helped me to pass as a filly. She helped me with clothes and things... you really don’t want to know what I had to do to make it work. And I kept it up when I came to Ponyville. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I can make it up to you...”
Applejack was standing in the doorway, her lips curled back angrily. “Don’t try to make this right. You lied to us, Rainbow Dash. Or whatever your name is.”
With that, the library door slammed and Applejack was gone.
Fluttershy started running to the door, but Rainbow Dash laid a hoof on her flank. “Let her go, Fluttershy. She’s right. I’ve lied to all of them, and they deserve to be angry if they want. I’ll be on the balcony if any of you want to talk.” The dejected pegasus flitted slowly up the stairs and out onto Twilight’s balcony, curling up by the railing.
The remaining friends exchanged a worried glance, unsure whether to be more shocked by Rainbow Dash’s revelation or by Applejack’s reaction. “I think it might be best if we talk to her one at a time,” Fluttershy suggested, her voice barely above a whisper. “Rarity, do you want to go first?”
Rarity nodded, trotting delicately up the stairs, while the other friends milled around the library floor in awkward silence.
Rarity nudged open the balcony doors and came to lean against the railing, looking down at Rainbow Dash on the deck. She smiled warmly at her and began to speak. “Rainbow Dash, I want you to know that I...”
“How long have you known, Rarity?” the pegasus interrupted her. “I saw you covering for me down there. You already knew, didn’t you?” Dash didn’t sound accusatory or even interested, her voice dangerously flat instead.
Rarity pursed her lips. “Since a few months after you moved here. I was hoping you’d tell me in your own time, and I’ll confess to being a little hurt that it took so long. But it was always up to you.”
Dash raised herself up onto her forelegs and nudged her head against Rarity’s flank. “Thanks for not telling anypony. Do... do you think anypony else knows? How did you find out?”
“Well, if you must know,” Rarity began, before pausing for a deep breath. “You walk like a stallion. You certainly fight like a stallion – you rear up on your hind legs and flail your hooves. Mares don’t do that unless they’ve had military training, they just bite like Applejack does. Your shoulders are wider and your hips narrower than most mares your size. And you dye your mane and tail on Saturday mornings – I can always see your yellow regrowth by Friday.”
Rainbow Dash lowered her head again as Rarity ran through her list. “Am I really that obvious?”
Rarity laughed softly. “No, darling, I’m just that good. I don’t think anypony else knows. There are always rumours that you’re involved with other mares, though. Usually Fluttershy. I don’t repeat such gossip, of course. It’s none of my business, but...?” She trailed off with a questioning look.
Dash blinked. “What, me and Fluttershy? No! No. She’s... no way. No. Fluttershy’s like a sister to me. That would be weird. But yeah, I like mares. I just haven’t been able to date anypony since I started passing as a mare. Nopony since, well...”
“Since Gilda?” asked Rarity innocently.
“How did you... never mind. I know Gilda was a real nag to you guys, especially to Pinkie Pie, but she got me through flight school. She and Fluttershy were the only people I could talk to about... this, and Gilda never judged me for it, never said it was weird. It tore me up when she started picking on Fluttershy. Oh, and... it’s okay if you think I’m weird for dating a griffon.”
Rarity nodded her head slightly. “I do, a little. But then, I have a dragon pining after me, although I imagine I’ll be long dead before he’s old enough to do anything about it.” The unicorn kneeled down and laid her neck against Rainbow Dash’s flank. “I love you, Rainbow Dash. I want you to be happy, and trying to be a stallion is making you miserable. As far as I’m concerned, you’re one of the mares, and you always will be.”
Rainbow Dash laid her head against Rarity’s neck and enjoyed her friend’s closeness for a while, then got to her feet. “Thanks, Rarity. For today, and for everything. I can deal with the others now, I think.”
“So you’re a stallion?”
Dash chewed on her lip as she tried to explain herself to Pinkie Pie, who wouldn’t even stand still while she was asking her questions. “Yeah. Well, I mean, physically, yeah, but I feel more like a mare inside, so...”
“So you’re a mare?”
“No, I mean, I want to be a mare, but I’m not...”
“So you’re a stallion?”
“No! I’ve just got the wrong body!”
“So you’re a mare?”
“Pinkie, are you even listening?”
“Of course I am! What’s wrong with your mane?”
Rainbow Dash blinked at the sudden change of topic. “My mane? It’s always been this colour. I dye it in the streams outside my house.” She pawed at the balcony deck with her front hoof. “Only mares ever have rainbow manes. When was the last time you saw a stallion with a rainbow mane, or a rainbow tail, or a rainbow anything?”
Pinkie Pie suddenly perked up, as if she’d thought of something brilliant. “But your cutie mark is a rainbow! So your body is wrong and your cutie mark is right, and that makes you a mare, because cutie marks are never wrong!”
“Pinkie, that’s... hey, I never thought of that,” mused Dash. “You’re right. I feel better already. Thanks, Pinkie! You’re really smart sometimes!”
“That’s what I’m here for! That and parties. Ooh, we should have a party now that you’re a mare! Oh, except that you’ve always been a mare. I mean, you were a mare yesterday, and you’re a mare now, so it’d really just be a ‘Rainbow Dash said she might be a stallion but it turns out she was wrong’ party, and that would be weird, it would be like having a party for that one time Twilight thought she could fly, but it turned out she couldn’t. Except that we did anyway, but that was more like a ‘Twilight got out of hospital’ party.”
“... okay. Can you get Twilight to come out here, Pinkie?”
“Sure thing, Rainbow Dash! But you have to remind her that she can’t fly, I don’t know if she learned her lesson the first time.”
As Pinkie Pie retreated back into the library, Rainbow Dash looked out over the view from the balcony. In the western distance, a beautiful bank of clouds drifted in front of the setting sun, catching the red light perfectly and casting long, dappled shadows across the ground. The pegasus sighed deeply. That’s my mother’s work, I’d know it anywhere, she thought. She always makes the most beautiful cloud formations for sunsets. I love watching her sculpt. She forced herself up onto her hooves and paced along the length of the balcony. And I miss working with Dad too. I wouldn’t be Ponyville’s weather manager if he hadn’t taught me everything I know. Why did it all have to go wrong?
Twilight Sparkle trotted nervously out onto her balcony, knowing that Rainbow Dash’s current predicament was her fault, and having no idea how to make it right. When she saw Dash, the pegasus took two steps towards her, her nostrils flaring. “Are you happy now, Twilight?” she asked, snorting angrily. “You figured out my big secret, and now everypony knows and my father won’t even talk to me! Is this what you wanted?”
Twilight backed away nervously, wracked by guilt. “Rainbow Dash, I’m so sorry. I was stupid, I should have let you have your secrets...”
Dash pranced closer to Twilight and reared up on her hind legs, bating her wings angrily and lashing out with her hooves. “Sorry won’t make my parents love me again! Sorry won’t bring Applejack back!” She snorted loudly, her posture one of challenge.
Twilight whinnied in fear and instinctively dropped into a posture of submission, pushing her head low to the ground. “I’m sorry, Rainbow! Don’t hurt me, please, I’m sorry...”
Rainbow Dash reared up again, then looked down at Twilight as if seeing her for the first time, and started backing away, folding her wings and placing her front hooves on the ground. “Oh, no, Twilight, I’m sorry, how could I do that to you? I’m acting like such a... just like a stallion! No, no, no...”
The pegasus looked like she was about to start beating her head against the railing, so Twilight ran forward and laid her head against her friend’s flank. “It’s okay, Rainbow Dash. I’m alright, you didn’t hurt me. We’re friends, and nothing’s ever going to change that.”
Dash pressed her face into Twilight’s mane, starting to sob. “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want anything to change. When we beat Nightmare Moon, I felt closer to you five than I’ve ever felt to anypony. I don’t want to do anything to change that. Whenever you write to Princess Celestia, you talk about what ‘the mares’ are doing. I don’t want that to be ‘the mares and Rainbow Dash’.”
Twilight leaned forward and lipped gently at Dash’s mane. “We’ll never change, Rainbow Dash. What we have can’t ever break. You’ll always be one of the mares to me. No matter what. We’ve been through too much for that to change.”
Rainbow Dash lifted her head and smiled softly. “Really? Then I wish I’d told you sooner. Then maybe you could have helped cover me with my parents, instead of letting them find out. Which... I really shouldn’t blame you for. It’s not your fault.”
Twilight shook her head. “Maybe, but I shouldn’t have pried. I should have trusted you. If you want to keep a secret from me, then... I should let you.” She sighed and peered off the balcony. “Do you want me to talk to your mother? I think she likes me.”
Dash smiled and butted her head against Twilight’s. “She’s going to see Rarity about a dress tomorrow, so she’ll talk to her. I’d rather you go talk to Applejack. I feel so bad for lying to her – I know how she hates that.”
“I’ll go to her farm first thing in the morning, then.” Twilight paused for a moment, then lowered her voice. “Do you want me to... look for a spell that can help? Help give you the body you want, I mean.”
Rainbow Dash raised her head in surprise. “You think there might be one?”
Twilight shrugged her shoulders. “I honestly don’t know. It was hard enough to give Rarity those wings, and they didn’t last. But... wait! Rarity isn’t really a pegasus, so of course that was hard! But you know who you really are, and every pony’s identity is bound up in her cutie mark, so it’s... it might be possible. I’ll do my best, alright?”
“All I can ask for, Twilight. Thanks for... for getting it. For understanding.”
“Of course, Rainbow Dash. We’re friends.”
Finally, Fluttershy flitted out onto the balcony, while Twilight and Spike busied themselves at preparing dinner downstairs. At first, the two pegasi merely settled down together, leaning against each other’s flanks and taking comfort in one another’s presence. They watched the last rays of sunset disappear behind the artistically sculpted clouds, then huddled together for warmth as the cool of night fell across Ponyville.
Rainbow Dash finally broke the silence. “I couldn’t have done this without you, Fluttershy.”
Fluttershy smiled softly and butted her head against Dash’s. “Oh, no, I think you would have found a way. You’re so much braver than I am. I would never have been able to reveal a secret like that in front of so many ponies, even my friends.”
“I didn’t just mean today. I meant everything. Every day. You stuck with me all through flight school. You helped me pass as a mare, you and your freaky knowledge of sewing. You looked after me on those days when I was just too much stallion to cope with. And you listened. You always listened. And I’ve done a real lousy job of repaying you for that sometimes. I yell at you, I blow you off when I’ve got fun to have somewhere else, I don’t stand up for you nearly as often as I should! I wish I could make it all up to you.”
Fluttershy shook her head. “You don’t have to do anything, Rainbow Dash. You’ve always been a little sister to me, and helping you makes me happy. But if you want to help me with my birds for a while, I wouldn’t say no.”
Dash grinned. “I’m there! Those birds won’t know what hit them. Um, because it’ll be a... big ball of... kindness? I’ll do it. Anything for you, Fluttershy.”
They sat in silence for a while longer, watching the moon’s shadows steal across the landscape. This time, it was Fluttershy who spoke. “I’ve always liked your parents. They’re good ponies. I think they’ll understand, if you give them some time.”
Dash smiled hesitantly. “You think so? My mother thinks it’s just a silly phase I’m going through, and Dad is always going on about weather engineering being ‘stallions’ work’. I don’t think they’re just going to change their minds.”
“I don’t know if they will either, I’m afraid. But they love you. I could see it. They want you to be happy, they just don’t know what that means.”
“I hope you’re right, Fluttershy. Come on, it’s getting cold. Let’s see what Twilight’s got for dinner.”
The next morning, Applejack was up at dawn, as always, wending her way through the orchard, looking for trees in need of attention. As she walked, she scanned the horizon in case today’s weather plans had changed unexpectedly. The skies over Equestria were clear, but the dark, green-tinted storm cloud hanging over the Everfree Forest had only grown larger and more menacing since the previous day. Drifts of cloud were crossing into Equestria proper, including one bank floating in the general direction of Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack was about to call out to Apple Bloom to take a message to Rainbow Dash, but then yesterday’s revelation came back to mind, and she shook her head and dug her hooves into the ground. The farm would survive just fine without his help.
The earth pony sighed as she ground through the morning’s chores. How could Rainbow Dash have lied to them all for so long? Except for Fluttershy, of course, and she had an inkling that Rarity already knew, but that just made it worse, that they were all keeping this secret from her. From everypony! Including the fillies! Scootaloo practically worshipped the air under Dash’s wings, and Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle looked up to her – him – too. Lying to her was one thing, but lying to her little sister was quite another.
“Applejack, can we talk?” came a gentle voice from behind a row of trees. Applejack stepped forward to see Twilight Sparkle leaning against a tree, pawing the ground nervously with her front hooves.
“Oh, Twilight. It’s good to see you.” Truth be told, Applejack was already starting to feel isolated, after walking out on her friends. Part of her was afraid that they’d all side with Rainbow Dash and never want to talk to her again. “So... this’d be about Rainbow Dash, then?”
Twilight nodded, and levitated some oatcakes out of her saddlebags as she spoke. “Here, I brought you some brunch. I just... think you should give her a chance, Applejack. She’s killing herself over this. Her father won’t talk to her, and her mother doesn’t understand at all. She needs us, Applejack. We can’t abandon her now.”
Applejack sighed and took a bite of the oat cakes. “Mmf, thanksh Twilight. Look,” she said once her mouth was clear, “I can see that. I ain’t never seen her so torn up since just before her flyin’ contest. But this ain’t just about her. Friends shouldn’t lie to each other. I’ve never lied to any of you. But Dash is lying to us, he’s lying to my little sister, and he’s lying to himself.”
Twilight shook her head. “I don’t think she is, Applejack. She might have the body of a stallion, but when I talk to her... calling her a mare just seems right. You remember how it felt, the six of us setting out for the Gala? There wasn’t a stallion in that carriage, just six mares out to have the best night ever, together. That was real, Applejack. It wasn’t a lie.”
Applejack shifted her legs uncomfortably, then turned and slammed her rear hooves into a nearby apple tree. Apples fell into the earth pony’s baskets as she gave a whinny of frustration. “Dang it all, Twilight, I know all that! Rainbow Dash and I have saved each other’s rumps more times than I can count, and I don’t want to lose her. I mean him. I mean... I don’t know what I mean. But it ain’t natural, and it ain’t right, and I don’t like it one bit.” She sighed heavily as Twilight looked disappointed. “But I’ll try my darnedest to figure it out, ya hear? You can tell Rainbow Dash I’ll talk to her when I’m good and ready. Might take a while, is all.”
Twilight nodded and butted her head against Applejack’s. “Thanks, Applejack. That’s all I can ask for.”
Applejack returned to her chores after Twilight left, then wended her way back to the farmhouse when it was time for lunch. On her way to the kitchen, she passed a small framed replica of one of the Canterlot Tower stained glass windows, depicting her friends’ triumph over Nightmare Moon. Her eye drifted to the picture of herself, projecting the power of the Element of Honesty at the dark alicorn. That’s all I’m asking for from Rainbow Dash, a bit of honesty, she thought. It’s not right that she lied to us!
A voice spoke in her head, one that she heard more and more often these days. Applejack wasn’t sure whether this was the voice of her own conscience, or the spirit of the Element itself. Perhaps there wasn’t any difference.
Be honest with yourself, it said to her, in a calm but firm tone that sounded an awful lot like her own voice. Rainbow Dash might not be showing honesty right now, but that’s your element, not hers. What’s hers?
Her element? she thought in response to her voice of inner honesty. Well, that’d be loyalty.
Maybe if you showed her some loyalty, she’d show you some honesty.
Applejack stamped her hoof in frustration, leaving a mark in the floorboards. Consarn it! That ain’t fair, and you know it!
It might not be fair, but it’s true.
Applejack grumbled to herself and plodded on to the kitchen, several thoughts fighting for dominance in her head.
“Mrs Dash! I’m so gratified you could make it. Won’t you come inside?”
“Thank you, Miss Rarity. And please, call me Cloud.” The pegasus lady smiled charmingly as she stepped into the Carousel Boutique, then knocked the door firmly closed with her flank, against the wind that was starting to pick up outside. “I’m a little worried about that storm. It’s coming in from the Everfree Forest, and that’s always trouble.”
Rarity peered out of a ground floor window at the sky over the forest, then hurriedly closed the shutters. “Oh, my, I see what you mean. Still, I’m sure Rainbow Dash has the situation well in hoof.”
An awkward silence fell between the two mares for a few moments, and then Rarity showed Cloud to a seat. “I do love your mane – it’s just the colour of sunset. I take it you were the artist behind yestereve’s display? I haven’t witnessed a sunset like that in years. Here’s the fabric I wanted to show you – don’t you think it sets off your colour perfectly?”
The two artists chattered and gossiped as Rarity’s magic held swatches of fabric up against Cloud’s coat and mane, and she noted down the pegasus’s measurements. The conversation came to a lull as Rarity sketched out a design and Cloud paged through an issue of Clothes Horse. As the silence drew on, both mares felt compelled to speak at once:
“May I talk to you about your filly?”
“Could I ask you something about my colt?”
Both ponies laughed nervously for a moment, then Rarity nodded and allowed Cloud to continue. “I just want to understand why he is the way he is. I remember he always used to get into my things when he was just a foal, my makeup and my jewellery and so forth, but the other mothers I know all said that a lot of colts were like that at his age, and that he’d grow out of it. And he always loved to tag along with his father when he was visiting the factories or working out in the clouds. He said he was going to be a great flier and spend all day kicking clouds into vapour just like his dad.” Cloud sighed deeply, setting aside the magazine. “Did we do something wrong? Did I not love him enough? Or... or maybe too much?”
Rarity smiled gently and set aside her sketches, trotting over to Cloud’s side. “You and your husband have raised a fine foal, Cloud. Rainbow Dash is brave, daring, willing to put her life on the line for what needs to be done. I’ve never had a more loyal friend, and I have nothing but admiration for her skills. I see a lot of her in both of you – she has your husband’s love of the sky, and your artistry. Not many ponies see that side of her, but it’s there.”
Cloud smiled and sighed softly. “I am proud of him. I’ve heard about the quality of work he does for Ponyville’s weather. His house is beautiful, just like the little play-house we built together when he was little. And now I hear that he won the Best Young Flier competition last year. If we’d only known he was entering, we’d have been there cheering him on. I know things are different now, but he’s avoiding us, shutting us out of his life. I don’t want to lose my colt.”
Rarity listened in silence, nodding sympathetically. After Cloud finished, she turned her attention to a framed photograph hanging on the wall, and it floated over to hover in front of Cloud. “This is Rainbow at the Grand Galloping Gala, with the rest of us. I made her that dress. She was so happy when she put it on, and we were all heading out to the Gala. She even tried to design her own dress. It was very... creative,” she managed, concealing a grin. “Rainbow Dash might be rambunctious and, truth be told, a little aggressive, but she’s a mare through and through, and that’s what makes her happy. I don’t think you’re going to get your colt back,” she finished, lowering her voice, “but when you’re ready for her, there’s a filly who wants to be part of your family again.”
Cloud stared at the photograph, biting her lip. “He does look happy. Happier than he was when we came to see him yesterday. I don’t suppose... do you have a copy of...”
The photograph floated into Cloud’s saddlebags. “Take it,” Rarity insisted, not even waiting for Cloud to ask. “I can have another copy made later.”
Cloud brushed the photograph frame with her wingtip. “She...” she said hesitantly. “She’s so beautiful. My brave filly. If... if this is what she wants, then I’ll make sure that she’s still welcome in our family. I just want my little pony to be happy.”
Rarity smiled. “She is happy, and she’ll be even happier when she hears you say that.”
Just then, a sudden gust of wind struck the shutters of her window. She opened the shutters carefully and peered out. A fierce wind was tearing at the trees and buildings in the direction of the Everfree Forest, and the storm clouds had grown into a black mass blocking out the sky. A haze of precipitation almost obscured the treeline, and seemed to be advancing quickly.
Rarity slammed the shutters closed again and whirled to face Cloud, who was already at the door. “Cloud! You can’t go out in this! That storm could be doing anything!”
The grey pegasus shook her mane grimly. “I have to help. No Dash can stand idle when ponies are in danger from the weather. And you know my husband and my filly are going to be out there. I’ll be alright, Rarity. And thank you again, for everything.”
Lightning Dash was already in the air when he heard his wife calling him. “Up here!” he cried, wheeling around in the sky to show that he heard her, a faint trail of lightning crackling in his wake as he flew. Four other pegasi followed behind him, as he angled towards the huge storm clouds flooding out of the Everfree Forest’s skies. “Get these ponies to hold back the edges of the storm – I’m going for the heart!”
Cloud launched herself into the air and flew up to the other pegasi, shouting at her husband. “It’s too dangerous! You’ll never be able to break it up alone!”
A rainbow streak shot across the sky, narrowly dodging Cloud, and moving to fly alongside Lightning as he dove towards the storm clouds. “He’s not alone!” cried Rainbow Dash, her yellow mane and tail whipping in the wind as she powered forward.
“Sonic! What are you doing in here?” shouted her father. “This is stallions’ work! Go back and help your mother!”
Rainbow shook her head. “I can do this! We’ll take out the heart together!”
By now, they were deep within the storm cloud, and had lost sight of the world outside. Only very dim sunlight filtered down from the top of the cloud, and the two pegasi’s bodies were pelted with small pieces of hail. “Alright, but do as I say! I’m going to go in and divert the winds away from the low pressure zone at the heart of the cloud. There’s a moist updraft feeding the hailstorm – go down and push that away. And be careful!”
“Will do, dad! I’ll have it clear in ten seconds flat!” Rainbow Dash dipped her wing in salute and dove down through several layers of cloud, quickly losing sight of Lightning above her. Diverting a moisture current would normally be easy – it was the same process by which she built up small clouds for local rainfall instead of flying to the factory in Cloudsdale. Doing it while being pelted by hail would be another matter entirely. Still, she wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to show her father what she could do.
Dragging out the first stream of updraft was easy – she executed a slow corkscrew spiral and bound up the air current in her rainbow wake, forcing it to flow after her and out to the edge of the storm. She performed a perfect turn and streaked back into the storm, eager to draw out the next current. The hail from the storm had intensified, though, almost as if the storm knew they were fighting it, and Rainbow was forced to shield her face with her front hooves as she dove onwards, almost unable to see anything.
Three more passes, and Rainbow could sense that the moist updraft was gone, or nearly so. She spread her wings and hauled her way up towards the heart of the cloud, finding movement difficult now that the updraft had dissipated. Hailstones the size of her hooves pelted her body and wings, but she gritted her teeth against the pain and forged on upwards. As she pierced through the layers of cloud, her father became visible. Lightning’s coat was bleeding in several places, torn by the impacts of huge hailstones. The wind had died down substantially since he started working, but they were still enough to toss the weather engineer to and fro. Worst of all, the wind and hail had knocked several feathers loose from his wings, causing him to flap frantically to stay aloft.
“We’ve nearly got it, son!” called her father, as the winds tossed him about. “Draw off the last of the wind and we’ll be done!”
“What about the hail?” Rainbow shouted back. “It’s tearing you up!”
“I’ll be fine! Grab the wind and go!”
Rainbow hesitated, but she knew that her father understood weather better than anypony else she’d ever met. She wheeled around and snared a gust of wind with her wings, dragging it away from the heart of the cloud.
As she streaked back, she saw that her father wasn’t holding up against the hailstorm. He was losing altitude with every new pounding of hail, and it didn’t seem to be stopping. Rainbow picked up speed, desperate to reach him in time to help. For all that she had dreaded seeing him again, she didn’t know what she would do if he died.
Rainbow drove forward as quickly as she could, wings beating furiously. She wasn’t trying to perform a Sonic Rainboom – that would most likely knock her father out of the sky entirely, and she wasn’t sure she could even do it on demand. She was much more than a one-trick pony, though, and she picked up speed as she advanced, preparing for a manoeuvre she had only tried a few times previously. Ignoring her father’s warning cries, she dove directly into the swirling, icy heart of the storm, barely feeling the stinging impacts of dozens of huge hailstones,. As she neared the heart, she snapped out her wings and allowed her rainbow wake to rush past her body, slamming into the ice at the storm’s core.
Hailstones exploded out at Rainbow as the storm’s heart blew apart, striking her body and wings as the wind caught her and flipped her upside down. She tried to remain aloft, but an icy sphere the size of her head struck her outstretched right wing with a sickening crunch, and her world exploded briefly in pain, until, mercifully, she lost consciousness.
Lightning had retreated from the storm’s heart as Rainbow dove into it, allowing his foal to perform whatever daring manoeuvre she had in mind. He held his breath as the rainbow streak shot into the centre of the cloud, then cheered in victory as the core blew apart in an explosion of ice. His joy quickly turned to horror as the limp body of his foal fell out of the cloud. Without thinking, he tucked in his wings and dropped into a plummet, collapsing his profile enough to catch up to Rainbow as they fell. Lightning spread his wings again and caught her, bracing himself against her weight. With his own injuries, the best he could do was descend in a slow spiral, sinking out of the dispersing cloud, towards the ground.
Cloud flew up to meet them as soon as they became visible, taking part of Rainbow’s weight and easing her to the ground. “My poor little foal,” she whispered, stretching Rainbow out safely and examining her injuries. “I think she’s alright – she’s just stunned, and... oh, no, her wing.” She looked up at her husband. “What happened up there?”
“She saved us,” Lightning said simply. “She did everything I taught her to do, and she broke up that storm when it might have killed me.”
Cloud brushed her wingtip against her filly’s face, cradling her as she did when she was young. “You... you said ‘she’. Does this mean...”
Lightning sighed heavily and nodded. “I can’t ask for more than what she did up there. She’s stallion enough to be whatever she wants. Even a mare.”
Cloud leaned over and embraced her husband wordlessly, keeping a vigil by their filly’s side, as the storm above them broke apart and gave way to gentle rain.
“And that is why, ponies of Ponyville, it is so important to remain vigilant against hostile weather. Yesterday’s storm could have killed ponies or caused untold damage to houses and crops.”
Lightning was finishing the next day’s lecture with a presentation on the hailstorm, its causes and how it had been tamed. “I want to thank the brave pegasi of Ponyville for putting their own lives on the line to stop this menace. I especially want to thank my...”
He stopped and looked to his side. Rainbow Dash was waiting there, her wings bound in bandages but otherwise healthy, her mane and tail now back to their usual rainbow shading. He looked from her to his wife, who gave him a smile of encouragement.
“My filly, Rainbow Dash. She saved my life up there yesterday, and I want everypony here to know how proud I am of her. I couldn’t wish for a finer foal.” Rainbow actually managed to blush as her father placed his hoof on her shoulder, and the crowd stomped in applause.
Once the lecture was over, Rainbow Dash’s friends gathered around her, congratulating her on her work and asking how her wing was feeling. The others stepped back to allow her some space when Applejack stepped forward.
“Hey, sugar cube. Glad you’ve got your hair back to normal.”
Rainbow Dash grinned nervously. “Yeah, well... I’ve started dyeing it twice a week now, because apparently the regrowth is really obvious.” She poked her tongue out at Rarity, who just grinned back at her.
“It suits you. Just ain’t the mare I know without the hair.” Applejack pawed at the ground before speaking again. “I still don’t get it. And what I do get, I don’t like.
“But I don’t like the way Twilight makes me feel stupid sometimes. I don’t like the way Rarity gets so fussy about her clothes and her coat.” She gave a rueful smile. “And don’t get me started on that Applejack pony. She’s stubborn, narrow-minded, won’t ask for help... and she tried to make me hate one of my best friends. But I ain’t gonna let that happen, y’hear? I’ll try to get my head around all this, but even if I don’t... you’re still Rainbow Dash, and you’re still my friend. And I hope I’m still yours.”
Rainbow Dash had been listening thoughtfully throughout Applejack’s speech, and tried to stay sombre, but soon broke out into a huge grin and wrapped her forelegs around her friend’s shoulders. “Like you even have to ask!” she cried, hugging the earth pony tightly.
“Group hug!” called out Pinkie Pie, and the rest of the friends crowded in to embrace the pair as well. The rift was healed, and the six mares were best of friends once more.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Today I learnt that while you should trust your friends with your secrets, you should also trust your friends with their own secrets. Prying into your friends’ secrets will only cause trouble, but if you have faith in your friends, you can trust that they aren’t hiding anything you really need to know.
I also learnt that true friendship can overcome any obstacle. Friends won’t always agree on everything, but even when friends disagree on the biggest of issues, as long as they agree on their friendship, that’s enough to keep the magic alive.
Your faithful student,
Sonic Dash ran along the wide cloud bank near his parents’ home, laughing with the joy of movement and the sensation of wind in his bright yellow mane. He pushed forward with his hind legs and sprang into the air, flapping his wings in a frantic attempt to take flight.
He felt his body gain about two feet of lift before he lost his balance, tipping forward to crash head-first into the cloud. He slid several yards along the cloud bank before coming to a halt, his cyan coat covered in bruises and scratches.
“Nice flying, Sonic Crash!” came the jeering voice of another pegasus colt. Sonic looked up to see one of his school friends, Hailstone, laughing at him. He and a handful of other colts were clustered at the edge of the cloud, peering down at the ponies walking or flying along another cloud running at right angles beneath it.
“Hey, he got more air than you ever have!” rejoined Snowdrift, another of Sonic’s friends, shoving Hailstone with one hoof. The two colts flailed ineffectually at each other as Sonic trotted up to join his friends.
“Yeah, that’s right! And I’m going to be the best flier in Cloudsdale one day, while you’re all still stuck at flight school!”
The other colts laughed, although several looked as though they believed Sonic. Snowdrift in particular nodded his head. “Yeah, Hailstone! We’ve all seen how high Sonic Dash can get. Compared to him, you fly like a filly!”
“Hey, you take that back!” yelled Hailstone, launching himself at Snowdrift again, hooves extended. The two colts rolled along the cloud bank, kicking up vapour as they tussled.
Sonic turned his back on the fight, trotting over to the edge of the cloud and looking over. “What’s wrong with flying like a filly?” he asked a nearby colt, who was hauling a bucket of water towards the edge. “Spitfire’s a filly, I mean, a mare, and she’s... well, she’s Spitfire! Nopony’s as awesome as her!”
The colt set the bucket down at the edge of the cloud, directly above the other cloud below. “Yeah, but... that’s Spitfire, she’s a Wonderbolt. Most fillies are lousy fliers. I mean, look at Fluttershy. She’s a year above us and she can’t get her hooves off the cloud at all.”
“Hey!” objected Sonic, stamping a hoof on the cloud. “Fluttershy’s my friend! She tries really hard! It’s not her fault she’s so sick all the time!” He peered over the edge of the cloud again. “What are you doing with that bucket, anyway?”
The colt chuckled, as Hailstone, Snowdrift and the others clustered around the edge. “We’re waiting for Miss Windsong to come past with her fillies’ choir. They won’t know what hit them! It’ll be a bucket of water,” he added unnecessarily.
Sonic laughed, grinning down at the unsuspecting ponies beneath them. “Yeah, that’ll be pretty hilarious... wait. Why are we doing this again?”
Snowdrift gave Sonic a quizzical look. “Dude. Fillies. Bucket of water. How is that not awesome?”
Sonic shook his head and turned away. “Whatever. I’m gonna go hang out with Fluttershy.”
Hailstone laughed as Sonic trotted back down the cloud bank. “Yeah, sure, go hang out with your marefriend instead of us!” The other pegasi turned their attention to the mayhem that was about to ensue beneath them, not paying any more attention to the cyan colt.
Fluttershy’s parents greeted Sonic at the door, pleased as ever to see him. “Fluttershy’s in her room, Sonic dear,” smiled her mother, a mare with a blue coat a little darker than Sonic’s. “Here, I’ve just boiled the kettle, you and Fluttershy can have a little tea party!”
Sonic obligingly took the tea-tray in his teeth so that she wouldn’t see his grimace. Fluttershy’s “tea parties” were possibly the lamest thing Sonic ever did on a regular basis. In fact, Fluttershy had to be the least cool pony Sonic knew, including his parents. Somehow, though, the two of them had been fast friends ever since Sonic’s first day at school. Sonic usually found himself visiting Fluttershy’s house whenever his fellow colts left him exasperated or bewildered, like today.
“Sonic Dash!” exclaimed Fluttershy, looking up from the hoof-powered sewing machine at her desk. She took the tray from Sonic and carefully placed it on her dresser, then wrapped her front legs around Sonic’s shoulders in a tender hug. “I was hoping you’d come and see me today! I’ve just finished some outfits that I think you’ll really like!”
Sonic flopped onto a pile of tiny clouds in the corner of Fluttershy’s bedroom, watching as Fluttershy took the teapot between her teeth and poured them both a cup of tea. “Yeah, well, I got tired of hanging out with the other colts. They’re all being so weird lately. I’d rather be here anyway. What have you done?”
Fluttershy slid a table over to Sonic, laden with cups and saucers. She took a slurp of tea, then reached into her wardrobe and drew out a long, flowing dress. The fabric was a soft, light red with a faint blue tint, with a white trim. “I’m so proud of this!” she said as she draped the dress over her shoulders and flank. “I saved up my allowance to buy the cotton – it’s imported from the ground, you know. What do you think?”
Sonic drew in a sharp breath. “That’s awesome, Fluttershy! It’s just like the sunsets my mother makes! You should totally wear that to the Best Young Flier competition next week. We’re still going to that, right?”
“Oh, of course! That is, I’d like to, if you still want to.” Fluttershy hugged the dress tightly, then poked her head back into the wardrobe. “I’m so glad you like it! And look, I even made something for you too!”
Sonic scrambled off the cloud pile, his wings beating in excitement as he looked to see what Fluttershy had sewn for him. Fluttershy trotted forward with a bundle of cloth in her teeth and draped it over Sonic’s shoulders. “It’s a suit jacket! Just like the ones I’ve seen your father wearing. Try it on, I think I got your measurements right.”
The young colt slipped his front legs into the sleeves of the jacket, pulling it tight around his shoulders with his teeth and a helping hoof from Fluttershy. He turned to look at himself in the mirror. The jacket was made of a bright yellow cloth, matching his mane, and trimmed with a dark grey braid reminiscent of storm clouds. He shifted from left to right, trying to catch his reflection from every angle.
“Do you like it?” asked Fluttershy anxiously, watching Sonic fidgeting. “I thought the colours would go so well with your coat and mane...”
Sonic chewed on his lip. “It’s... nice, I guess,” he finally replied, sighing.
Fluttershy’s face fell, as Sonic was afraid it would. “You don’t like it.”
“No, I like it,” said Sonic hurriedly. “I like the colours, it looks awesome. I just... don’t think it suits me, that’s all.”
Fluttershy nodded and helped Sonic out of the jacket. “That’s alright. Why don’t you see if there’s anything else in my collection that you like? I usually sew when I’m bored and I can’t go outside.”
Sonic nudged Fluttershy’s neck gently. “I’m sorry you’re stuck in here so often. I’ll come around more often, I promise.” He disappeared into Fluttershy’s wardrobe, nosing through a variety of outfits, before emerging with one folded over his head. “I really like this one.”
Fluttershy stared at Sonic for several seconds before speaking. “That’s a dress, Sonic,” she said slowly, as if speaking to a much younger foal. “Fillies wear dresses. You’re a colt.”
Sonic looked awkward for a moment, then snorted and tossed his head, dropping the dress to the ground. “Yeah, you’re right. Don’t know what I was thinking.” He stomped back into the corner and threw himself down on the clouds with a sigh.
A few moments later, Fluttershy nudged Sonic’s shoulder, and draped the dress over his flank. “If you want to try it on,” she whispered, “I won’t tell anypony.”
Sonic whickered in delight, and thrust his head into the dress. Fluttershy helped him to fit his front legs and his wings through the right holes, and tightened some sashes with her teeth before ushering him in front of the mirror.
The dress was long in the body but short in the legs, covering Sonic’s rump and tail but leaving his legs free. The fabric was striped in bright red and blue, running diagonally along the dress and ending in a fluffy white trim at the hem. A darker red hem edged the wing-sleeves, contrasting against the blue of Sonic’s feathers. He stretched out his wings and danced from side to side, watching the way the stripes of the dress rippled with the motion.
Fluttershy watched Sonic modelling the dress, her heart swelling with pride and delight. “Do you like it?” she asked, fluttering her wings.
“Like it?” exclaimed Sonic, his eyes still fixed on the mirror. “I love it! It’s just the way I can see myself when I’m flying!” He flapped his wings hard, lifting a couple of inches off the floor before touching down again. “Did you make this dress for somepony?”
Fluttershy looked at her hooves, mumbling. “Spitfire.”
Sonic gasped. “Spitfire asked you to make a dress for her?”
The yellow filly nibbled on her lip. “Um, no. But I kind of pretended that she did, and this is what I would have made for her if she did. I mean, it’s not her size or anything, so... um... do you want to keep it?”
Sonic whinnied happily and pressed his neck against Fluttershy’s. “Really? I can have it? Thank you, thank you, thank you, this is so awesome! It’s exactly what I’d wear if I were a filly!”
Fluttershy blushed and returned the gesture. “Oh, Sonic, you know I’d do anything for you. You’re so good to me, coming to see me when I’m not well. Maybe you can...”
“Sonic! Your father’s here!” came Fluttershy’s mother’s voice through the bedroom door.
Sonic yelped, his wings fluttering in panic. “Quick, I gotta get this off!” he fretted, trying to shrug out of the dress without damaging it. “I don’t know what Dad’s gonna say if he sees me in this, and I don’t wanna know!”
Fluttershy eased Sonic’s wings out of their sleeves and pulled the dress over his head just as her mother opened the door. Sonic’s father, Lightning Dash, stood behind her, smiling warmly. “Hello, son! Hello, Fluttershy!” he greeted them. “Having a nice tea party?”
Sonic grinned and stepped over to greet his father, while Fluttershy did her best to look nonchalant while putting the dresses back in her wardrobe. “Yeah, Fluttershy was just showing me some of the dresses she’s made. She’s freaky good at sewing.”
Lightning ruffled his colt’s bright yellow mane with a front hoof. “I’m glad you two get on so well. Come on, your mother will be finishing work soon.”
Sire and colt made their farewells, with Sonic saying that he’d see Fluttershy at school the next day. At he trotted off after his father, he thought longingly about the dress Fluttershy had given him. Exactly what I would wear if I were a filly.
Lightning and Sonic sat on the western balcony of their home, eating hay and watching the sun set in the western sky. A blanket of altocumulus clouds lay across the sky, catching the yellow and orange rays of the sun and breaking them up into a dappled pattern of light. As the two ponies watched, the light shifted from orange to red, and then faded altogether, as the moon slowly rose behind them.
Just as the last rays of red vanished from the western sky, a small grey shape detached itself from the clouds and flew towards the house. Lightning watched with a satisfied smile as his wife came to a graceful landing on the balcony, touching down and regaining her balance just in time for her colt to rush into her embrace.
“That was great!” gushed Sonic, pointing to the western sky. “Dad and I loved it, didn’t we, Dad?”
Lightning chuckled and walked over to kiss his wife, tousling his colt’s mane as he went. “We did. It was beautiful, honey. Cloudsdale would be a dull place without your work.”
Cloud Dash kissed her husband back, then unhitched herself from the small wagon she was hauling. “And look, Sonic, I remembered my promise!”
Sonic whickered excitedly and rushed to the wagon, hauling several scoops of fluffy white cloud out of it. “Wow, this is perfect! You brought enough for my play-house, just like you said! We can start work tomorrow, right, Dad?”
Lightning nodded. “As soon as I get home. There’s a box of factory reject rainclouds on my desk that I’ll bring home tomorrow too. I was thinking you and your mother could set up a nice little waterfall effect if you get the precipitation balance right. Which I just know my little weather stallion will!”
“Of course, Dad! I’m going to be just like you when I grow up! Until I join the Wonderbolts, anyway. Hey, maybe we could mix some rainbows in there! You know, give it some colour?”
Cloud smiled in agreement. “I think it would be a delightful touch, Sonic! We are going to have so much fun together! You’re so artistic sometimes.”
“I don’t know, son,” Lightning commented. “We don’t want this to look like a filly’s house. Wouldn’t you rather we put a few storm clouds in there instead? That’d give it the proper weather stallion look.” He exchanged a worried glance with his wife, who nodded.
“Aww, but... okay, Dad. Storm clouds are cool too, right?”
Lightning smiled. “That’s my colt.”
The day of the Best Young Flier competition rolled around, and Sonic arrived at Fluttershy’s house bright and early. Fluttershy was waiting for him when he arrived, already wearing her new dress. “You came!” she squealed as she hugged him, walking him to her bedroom. “I’m so excited, can’t you tell?”
“Yeah, you’re so excited I can hardly hear you,” muttered Sonic. “Try to be a bit louder, can’t you? It’s gonna be weird if you’re the only pony not cheering for the Wonderbolts or for the competitors.”
“Alright, I’ll try. I just don’t want to sound rude or annoying if I’m too loud.” She kicked her bedroom door closed behind her and went to her wardrobe. “So, do you... want to wear your new dress today?”
“To the contest?” Sonic’s wings bated nervously, his front hooves pawing at the air. “Like, out in Cloudsdale, where everypony can see me? I mean...” he slowly relaxed and touched down on the floor again. “It’s not like I’m scared or anything, but... what are ponies going to say when they see a colt wearing a dress, no matter how awesome it is?”
He looked at the dress where Fluttershy had laid it out on her bed. “But I really want to! I like it better than anything else I’ve ever worn...” He nudged the dress with his head, sighing heavily.
“Well, you know, Sonic...” replied Fluttershy quietly, “when you’re wearing that dress, it’ll be hard for anypony to tell you’re a colt. It covers... um... everything. You know.” She squeaked and let her mane hide her face, before walking over to her dresser. “And if I put a bit of powder on your muzzle, nopony will be able to tell from the shape of your face.”
Sonic rolled his eyes. “Fluttershy, I’m not going out there in a dress and makeup. Makeup is for... it’s...” He trotted over to the dresser. “You think it would work?”
Fluttershy nodded eagerly. “I think so! Just enough to soften out the lines of your bones. And if we stick together, nopony will look at us twice.”
Sonic chewed on his lip as he looked at the pot of blue powder on Fluttershy’s dresser. This has “bad idea” written all over it, he thought, but his gaze kept trailing back to the dress on his friend’s bed. I could spend a day in that dress, looking like Spitfire. Hanging out with Fluttershy, not having to listen to the stupid colts at school and their dumb “colts versus fillies” attitude. No father telling me that colts shouldn’t like rainbows.
“Let’s do this.”
Sonic took one last look in Fluttershy’s mirror before they left for the Cloudiseum. Fluttershy was right – he did look like a filly. He was lucky that she had had a powder and cream in a colour that almost matched his coat, because it softened his face just enough to mistake it for a filly’s at a casual glance. He stretched out his wings in the best flying posture he had seen from his father, imagining a crowd cheering for him.
“And now, fillies and gentlecolts, let’s hear a round of applause for the youngest pegasus pony ever to captain the Wonderbolts, Spitfire!”
Sonic launched himself across Fluttershy’s bedroom, catching the air under his outstretched wings for long enough to let him glide onto her bed, where he crash-landed, cheering for himself. Fluttershy nuzzled her friend and laughed softly. “You do look just like her. You’ve almost got the same mane, even. Come on, we should leave now if we want to get good places at the Cloudiseum!”
The Cloudiseum was starting to fill up when they arrived, but they managed to find a standing area near the front, across the arena from the royal booth. He pointed out the white pegasi standing guard in the booth. “Look, that’s the Princess’s travelling guard! I’ve always wanted to see them! I wonder what it’s like being one of the royal guards. Look at their armour! It’s like something out of a history book.”
Fluttershy nodded eagerly. “It’s lovely,” she agreed. “It must be a great honour to work directly for Princess Celestia. Look, here she comes now!”
Sure enough, the great white alicorn herself was gliding into view, flanked by another pair of guards. All eyes in the stadium were drawn to the princess as she took up her position in the royal booth. Fluttershy admired the grace of Celestia’s flight, hardly seeming to flap her wings at all, while Sonic stood transfixed by the princess’s mane.
“I didn’t know she was so pretty!” murmured Sonic, staring at the corona of hair that trailed behind the princess like the rays of a sunrise. “I’ll never have a mane like that.”
Fluttershy leaned against her friend companionably. “Lots of ponies try to look like her, especially in Canterlot. Nopony ever really does, though.” She sighed happily, watching the princess. “I just wish I could fly the way she does.”
“Aw, come on, Fluttershy,” Sonic reassured her. “You’re starting flight school next year, and you’re getting over your illness really well. And I’ll help you, too. We’ll have you flying in no time.”
Fluttershy whickered appreciatively and passed Sonic one of the oatcakes her mother had made for them that morning, while they waited for the contest to begin. Other ponies smiled at them as they shuffled past, but nopony paid them much attention, just as Fluttershy had predicted.
The show began with a display from the Wonderbolts, as it did every year. Sonic cheered wildly as the orange-haired captain Spitfire led her troupe in their performance. He pointed out the other performers to Fluttershy as well – Spitfire’s aging second-in-command Skywheel, the younger fliers Rapid Fire and Hawkwing, and even their newest member, Soarin’. Both young ponies, however, had their gaze firmly on Spitfire for most of the performance, entranced by her agility and style, not to mention speed.
Soon the display was over and the contest itself had begun in earnest. Each competitor had their own tricks, techniques and style, and Sonic took careful mental notes as he watched, preparing for the day when he would amaze Cloudsdale with his own routine. Fluttershy simply enjoyed the spectacle and the chance to be out in the fresh air with her friend.
By the end of the show, Sonic was full of ideas and eager to be stretching his wings again. His thrice-weekly flying lessons with his father simply weren’t enough to satisfy his desire to be in the air, to feel the rush of wind in his mane and swoop and soar just like his father and his Wonderbolt idols. He would prance ahead of Fluttershy as she walked, then spin around and glide back to her. Fluttershy simply giggled and kept pace as best she could.
As Sonic landed next to Fluttershy for the fifth time, a filly’s voice from behind him made him freeze. “Hey, Fluttershy! Who’s your friend?”
Sonic turned around slowly as Fluttershy hurried past him, seeing a small herd of pegasus fillies led by a filly with a bright green coat and deep red mane. Fluttershy moved to greet the filly with a friendly nuzzle. “Dazzle! I didn’t know you and the rest of the choir were coming to the contest!”
Dazzle grinned, as the fillies behind her waved. “It was a kind of last-minute thing, and you’d already said you were going with a friend. So, what’s your name?” she asked, switching her attention to Sonic despite Fluttershy’s best attempts to distract her.
“Oh, well, Dazzle, this is my cousin, um...”
“Firefly!” Sonic chimed in, extending his front hoof to Dazzle. “Nice to meet you, Dazzle.”
“You too, Firefly!” answered Dazzle, and Sonic noticed just how lilting and measured her voice was, even simply speaking. “I really like your dress. Did Fluttershy make that for you?”
“Yeah, she did!” exclaimed Sonic, trying to keep his voice high and rounded, to hide the coltish sharpness in it. “I love it so much! She modelled it after how she thought Spitfire would dress when she’s not in her flight suit.”
A chorus of admiration for both Spitfire and the dress went through the other fillies. “Spitfire really is amazing, isn’t she?” agreed Dazzle. “I think she’s going to be the best captain the Wonderbolts have ever had!”
“Spitfire’s going to fly the Wonderbolts straight into the ground,” came a colt’s voice from behind the choir fillies. “Skywheel should never have put a filly like her in charge of the team.”
Fluttershy squeaked and hid behind Sonic, trembling. The choir fillies turned around to see a pegasus colt with a dull amber coat and dark brown hair, laughing at Dazzle. A small group of colts clustered behind him, laughing as well.
“You take that back, Hoops!” demanded Dazzle imperiously. “Spitfire is the finest flier of this generation!”
Sonic looked the colt over. He seemed vaguely familiar, about a year older than Sonic, and when Dazzle mentioned Hoops’s name, he remembered seeing him on the opposing team at a school basketball game a year or two ago. He slowly edged his way through the crowd, towards Hoops and Dazzle. Fluttershy crept along behind him, too frightened to speak.
“She’s a klutz, is what she is,” continued Hoops. “We don’t need a pony like her ruining the Wonderbolts’ performance. Skywheel should have taken over when the old captain retired. Putting a mare in charge of the team is the worst mistake they’ve ever made.”
“Why, you... miscreant!” Dazzle stammered, losing her composure for a moment. Behind her, the other fillies snorted and pawed at the cloud angrily. “How dare you say such a thing! If anything, fillies are faster than colts, and more agile, too! Better fliers in every way!”
“Oh, yeah?” demanded Hoops. “Prove it.”
Dazzle suddenly looked nervous, losing her haughty demeanour. “Oh, well, I didn’t mean me specifically... that is to say, I was speaking generally, of fillies, and...”
“That’s what I thought,” gloated Hoops. “You’re all too scared to run a race you know you’re gonna lose. Unless you want to make it a singing contest instead!” He and his cohorts laughed at the fillies again, while Dazzle turned her face away in shame and Fluttershy continued to cower.
“I’ll race you!” yelled Sonic, shoving his way to the front of the crowd. “I’m faster than you! I’m faster than any colt!”
“Well, well, well,” mused Hoops, looking Sonic up and down. “Looks like we’ve got a real Spitfire fangirl here. You sure you want to do this, little filly, or are you too afraid you’ll ruin your pretty little dress?”
“I’ll ruin your pretty little face if you keep talking!” retorted Sonic, raising one hoof threateningly. “Are we gonna do this, or are you scared that a filly’s going to beat you?”
“Oh, we’re doing this,” agreed Hoops. “First pony to make it around the Cloudiseum and back here wins.”
Dazzle gave Sonic an admiring smile, then drew a handkerchief out of her saddlebags and stood to one side of the two pegasus colts as they lined up for the race. Sonic pawed at the cloud beneath his hooves and bared his teeth at Hoops, who just snorted back at him. As soon as Dazzle waved her handkerchief, both colts sprinted off along the clouds surrounding the Cloudiseum, leaving a puff of vapour dissipating in their wake.
Hoops ran ahead of Sonic by half a body length, using his longer legs and greater strength to his advantage. As they reached the first curve in the path leading around the Cloudiseum, though, Sonic leapt into the air and spread out his wings, banking sharply and touching down perfectly, keeping his speed throughout the turn while Hoops had to corner clumsily on his hooves. Sonic landed a full body length ahead of Hoops, tossing his mane contemptuously. “Try to keep up!” he jeered, galloping along as quickly as he could.
“How’d you do that?” shouted Hoops, gaining a little bit of ground on Sonic as they moved into another straight section of the path. “You shouldn’t be able to fly like that!”
“Guess I’m just too awesome for you, then!” retorted Sonic. The two colts thundered along the track, Hoops powering ahead on the straights but Sonic losing less time on the turns. After a few minutes of running, they rounded the final turn and could see the fillies and colts waiting for them at a finish line they had drawn in the clouds. Ahead of them, the cloud path split into two, with one path ascending to lead away to another part of Cloudsdale. Sonic saw that Hoops was only a quarter of a body length behind him, and knew that he would make up that distance over the final sprint.
Taking a chance, Sonic ran up the higher path, ignoring Hoops’s confused glare. He knew he was losing ground to Hoops by taking this route, but if what his father had taught him was true, he should be able to make up that ground and more with what he was about to do. He felt the eyes of all the colts and fillies on him, and knew that this was his chance to shine.
The upper path climbed high enough that a fall would be uncomfortable if not painful, but just before it curved away from the main track, Sonic sprang off the edge, his wings and legs drawn in close to his body. As he felt his descent gain momentum, he snapped out his wings, catching the air under them and letting his dive transform into a swoop. His wings burned as he felt the stress of the drag on them, and he could hardly focus on the track in front of him for fear that he would dislocate a joint or tear a muscle. The awestruck expressions of the fillies at the finish line made him keep his eyes open, though, and he glided along swiftly, crossing the line fully three body lengths ahead of Hoops.
Sonic barely had time to register his victory before his hooves caught the cloud beneath him, sending him tumbling head over rump for several yards before grinding to a halt. Sighing in annoyance, he pulled himself upright, waiting for the “Sonic Crash” taunts to start again.
Instead, a crowd of fillies surged towards him, surrounding him and hoisting him up on their shoulders. “Three cheers for Firefly!” called Dazzle, watching Sonic with a wide grin. Fluttershy was hanging near the edge of the herd, only cheering softly but with the proudest expression on her face.
The colts had turned their backs on the fillies and were shoving Hoops with their shoulders and hooves, jeering at him. “You lost a race to a filly! What a loser!” Hoops snarled and shoved back at his friends, and soon the crowd had descended into fighting.
Dazzle made a show of ignoring the colts, walking up to Sonic and nuzzling his neck. “That was amazing! Where did you learn to run like that? And you were almost flying! You really are going to be the next Spitfire!”
Sonic felt a blush rising to his cheeks. He had never been at the centre of so many admiring gazes before, and Fluttershy was usually the only filly who ever nuzzled him like that. “Oh, well... my dad’s a pretty big-shot weather expert, and he teaches me everything he can.”
“Well, it paid off! None of us could have beaten Hoops in that race. Not even come close. It would have been so humiliating, having all those colts laughing at us.”
Sonic grinned. “Yeah, well, it’s a pity he wasn’t going to go for the singing contest idea instead. Then you’d have beaten him for sure. You have a really pretty voice.”
Dazzle looked suddenly nervous. “Oh, no, he was serious about that. Hoops is the lead treble of the Cloudsdale Colts’ Choir. I don’t think any of us could have beaten him at that either.”
“Hoops is a singer?” asked Sonic incredulously. “But he’s... he’s such a jerk! I only just met him today and I can tell!”
“Oh, he is. I have to sing with him sometimes, but I can’t stand him. Come on, forget about him. The Parthenon Milk Bar is just across the road from the Cloudiseum – I’m buying you a milkshake!”
The sun was disappearing behind the clouds as Sonic and Fluttershy finally made their way home, both exhausted after their big day. Sonic was still full of euphoria after his victory over Hoops, prancing and flapping his wings despite the protests of his aching body. Fluttershy was almost asleep on her hooves, but even her yawns couldn’t dislodge the smile from her face.
“Best day ever!” exulted Sonic, trying to shake loose a cramp in his left wing. “Did you see the look on Hoops’s face when I beat him? And I think Dazzle really likes me! Is she always that nice?”
“Dazzle? Oh, she’s wonderful,” agreed Fluttershy. “She takes her singing very seriously, and pushes the rest of the choir very hard, but she’s always very kind and generous. And she has a beautiful singing voice. You should come to one of our performances. I think you’ll have fun!”
Sonic nodded. “I’d love to! This really is the best day ever! I met so many cool ponies, and won my first real race! And I proved to that stupid colt that a filly can beat him!”
Fluttershy stopped in her tracks, looking at Sonic. “But, Sonic,” she began, cautiously, “you’re not a filly.”
“Yes I am!” retorted Sonic. “I’m faster than any colt, and I’m... I’m...”
He trailed off, his elated mood evaporating as a look of horror crossed his features.
“What’s wrong with me, Fluttershy?”
“There’s nothing wrong with you, Sonic,” Fluttershy assured him anxiously. She started to back away from him slowly, having experienced his bad moods before.
“Yes there is! How could I just... forget that I’m a colt? All afternoon, with the choir, I really thought I was a filly! They treated me like one, and it was... it was better than all the times I’ve spent hanging out with the colts at school! But I’m not a filly.” He looked down at his dress, his wings hanging dejectedly. “I’m just a freak.”
Fluttershy stepped forward again and laid her neck against Sonic’s, nuzzling him reassuringly. “You’re not a freak, Sonic. You’re just not like the other colts. That’s okay. Everypony is different, but we’re all ponies, remember? We are a circle of pony friends...”
“A circle of friends we’ll be ‘til the very end!” they finished together, Fluttershy doing her best to harmonize her sweet soprano voice with Sonic’s squeaky treble. Sonic sighed and smiled, leaning against Fluttershy. “You’re right. But what am I going to do now? Am I just going to go back to school and pretend everything’s okay, now that I know what’s wrong? And what am I going to tell Dad?”
“Well... I don’t know about your father,” Fluttershy admitted, “and I don’t think the ponies at school will understand. But you can come and hang out with the choir some more. I’m sure Dazzle wants to meet Firefly again.”
“That would be okay? I mean... what if they find out?”
Fluttershy sighed softly. “I don’t know, Sonic. I just know I’ve never seen you this happy before. And I want you to stay this happy, whatever we have to do to make that happen.”
Against his expectations, Sonic found that spending time with the colts at school was actually easier now that he knew why he didn’t fit in. He still tussled with them and strove against them to be the fastest runner and best flier in school, but soon gained a reputation for being the pony to stand up for the fillies when other colts decided to pick on them. Of course, this backfired quickly when a gang of the older fillies decided to bully the colts in return. Nothing was ever simple, he found.
On the weekends, he found himself spending more and more time with Fluttershy, Dazzle and their friends. Dazzle begged him to audition for their choir, but Fluttershy assured her that “Firefly” couldn’t carry a tune in a wagon. In private, though, Fluttershy was giving Sonic extensive voice coaching. He was terrified that his voice was going to give him away, especially once it started to deepen as he grew older, but Fluttershy’s tutelage helped him to soften out his voice, just a little.
Instead of singing, Sonic was more than happy to listen to his new friends’ performances, and they, in return, dragged him around on their activities, attending plays and social events, and simply hanging out in the many wide open spaces of Cloudsdale. Some of Dazzle’s friends asked him for help with their flying, and soon he was running regular classes for them, sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm with them.
Fluttershy continued to help Sonic with clothing, too. By the time Cloudsdale ushered in spring, Sonic had amassed a wardrobe of half a dozen dresses, from formal attire to casual clothing and a dress tailored specifically for flying. Fluttershy even sewed him a flight suit similar to those worn by professional fliers like the Wonderbolts, matching the precise shade of his coat. With this, she hoped that he would be able to pass as a filly even without a full dress, although he was reluctant to try it just yet.
Over the course of the year, Sonic did his best to keep up his alternate identity with his filly friends, and still put on a proper appearance among the colts at school. By spring, it had become clear to him that the mask of being a “normal colt” at school was just that, a mask, and it was only with Fluttershy and Dazzle that he could truly be himself. Many times he would find himself staring into his mirror, asking why he had to be born looking like he did.
Fluttershy and Dazzle moved away to attend Cloudsdale flight school at the start of the next autumn, leaving Sonic without his closest friends. To his delight, though, he found that the remaining fillies in the choir already looked up to him. They loved to hear him talk about his father’s weather work, and to attend the running and flying lessons he gave them. Without Dazzle’s magnetic charm and presence, “Firefly” was the centre of attention in their little herd, and Sonic couldn’t be happier, although he did miss his older friends.
He tried to tell his parents what he was doing, but with little success. The first time he suggested that he might like to wear a dress at home, his mother insisted that he needed to spend more time with the colts at school instead of with Fluttershy. His father eventually relented regarding the playhouse, though, and brought home a can of concentrated rainbow, helping his colt to build the beautiful structure that he wanted, with rainbow waterfalls and deep white cloud banks. His only condition was that Sonic accompany him to the weather factory, to learn about “stallions’ work”. Sonic didn’t really understand his father’s aim in that, since there were just as many mares as stallions working at the factory. Any chance to spend time with his father and learn the weather pony trade was worth taking, though, so he kept quiet about not wanting to be a stallion at all.
All too soon, the year was over, and Sonic was ready to leave home to attend flight school. His intensive training with his father meant that he could already fly, albeit only for short distances, which was still better than any other colt or filly in his class. Flight school would give him the chance to become a greater flier than even his father could teach him to be. It would be his first step towards his lifelong ambition of becoming a Wonderbolt, or a famous weather pony like his father.
More importantly, though, flight school meant a new start. A chance to be a new pony. The time he spent at flight school would be when he found out what he wanted from life, and learned how to make it happen.
“Welcome back, Fluttershy!” exclaimed Dazzle, running across the playground to give her best friend a nuzzle of greeting. “How was your summer?”
“Oh, it was nice,” replied Fluttershy. “My parents came to visit, and we talked about school, and I did some sewing, and some reading. How about yours?”
“Great! I was in a musical over at the local theatre – I never knew how much fun it could be! I just wish the old herd could have seen it – it’s so different without them. Speaking of which, is Firefly coming to flight school this year? I’ve really missed her.”
“I’m not sure,” admitted Fluttershy. “I hope so. I miss her too.”
Both fillies turned to watch the crowd of young ponies making their way into the schoolyard, when one blue filly broke away from the pack, taking to the air. She flew recklessly over the side of the cloud bank, then performed a midair somersault and streaked back over the cloud, eliciting gasps of awe from the ponies beneath her. She circled around the playground once before coming to a stop in front of Fluttershy and Dazzle, shaking out her brilliant, rainbow-coloured mane.
“Firefly?” asked Dazzle, her jaw dropping. Sonic? thought Fluttershy, amazed at what she had just seen her old friend do.
“New school, new mane, new name, pal!” grinned the filly, giving the two friends a wink before spinning around to face the crowd of fillies, colts and even a young griffon who had gathered to admire the newcomer.
“Hello, Cloudsdale Flight School!” she greeted the crowd, rearing up dramatically and spreading her wings. “Meet your new greatest flier...
Rainbow Dash was an instant hit among the colts and fillies of Cloudsdale Flight School. In the half hour before orientation started, she made more friends than she had ever had at her old school. These friends were mostly new students as well, since new student orientation began an hour before the older students’ classes.
Rainbow found herself the centre of attention for both her vibrant mane and her prodigious flight skills. Even the older students in the crowd were impressed, with several eliciting promises from her to fly with them at lunchtime or after school. Some also engaged her in discussions about her father’s work at the Cloudsdale Weather Institute, seeking out insights beyond what their teachers at the flight school had taught them.
The young pegasus hadn’t even managed to meet all of the ponies who wanted to talk to her before the bell rang for orientation. The new students filed into the school’s administration building, while the older students kept talking and playing in the schoolyard. Dazzle was more than happy to tell her classmates all about Rainbow Dash’s exploits, while Fluttershy was quietly joyous at how happy and confident her old friend had become.
Cloudsdale Flight School was the best institution for young pegasi learning to fly anywhere in Equestria, and so it drew in students from all over Cloudsdale, as well as the children of pegasi living on the ground who wanted their colts and fillies to get the best training. The new students assembled themselves in rows according to their home district or city, and Rainbow caught glimpses of many students from her last year at her old school. She did her best to avoid making eye contact with anypony she knew, but fortunately, nopony could look at the rainbow-maned filly and see the yellow-haired colt they had grown up with.
The colt standing behind her in the line seemed to recognize her, though. “Hey, Rainbow Dash!” he called, trying to get her attention while she was reading the signs around the orientation hall. “That was some great flying you did outside!”
Rainbow rolled her eyes and twisted her head around to look at the colt, who had a very slight frame, with a grey coat and light blue hair. “Yeah, thanks, glad you enjoyed the show,” she mumbled, too distracted by the orientation process to pay any real attention to the colt.
The colt squinted at Rainbow’s face, then grinned. “Wait a minute! I know you from somewhere!”
Rainbow’s eyes darted from side to side, and then she leaned in close to the grey colt, butting her head against his. “Now listen to me, boyo. I don’t know where you think you know me from, but the name’s Rainbow Dash. If I hear anypony making up weird stories about other ponies they think I am, somepony’s going to get hurt. Got it?”
The grey colt looked taken aback, and stepped carefully away from Rainbow Dash. “I’m sorry! You just reminded me of a filly I used to see around sometimes. Firefly, I think?”
Rainbow Dash stopped advancing and blinked. “Firefly? How do you know Firefly?”
“Well, I don’t really know her,” the colt admitted, shuffling his hooves. “She was just this really cool filly who came to all of Dazzle’s choir performances. She always had these awesome dresses, and...”
“Alright, alright! Yeah, I’m Firefly,” admitted Rainbow. “I don’t remember you, though...” She peered at the colt, concentrating. “Wait. Aren’t you one of Hoops’s singers? Echo, right?”
Echo nodded eagerly. “Yep! Or, well, I was. No time for the Cloudsdale Colts’ Choir now that we’re at flight school. Besides, I haven’t seen Hoops singing anywhere since his voice broke. He’s gotten really mean since that happened.”
“Meaner than he was?” asked Rainbow in disbelief. “This I gotta see.”
“Oh, he started here last year, so he’s bound to be somewhere. So... do you want to hang out later? We could go watch the races with Dazzle and Fluttershy!”
Rainbow Dash tilted her head to one side. “Depends. Can you fly yet?”
Echo grinned awkwardly. “Not really, but that’s why I’m here, right?”
“Then... no. Sorry, but I’ve got plans. April Showers and Brolly are going to show me the best flying tracks around the school. See you around!”
“Oh, okay,” replied Echo, as Rainbow trotted up to the registration desk. “See you later, then. I really like your mane!”
Rainbow Dash acknowledged Echo’s farewell with a casual flick of her tail, then forgot all about him as she focused on the first real challenge of her life at flight school. She nosed open her saddlebags and drew out the sponsorship letter from her father. Attendance at Cloudsdale Flight School was free as long as each student was sponsored by a Cloudsdale pegasus, typically the pony’s mother or father. Rainbow had pestered Lightning to write her letter ahead of time, ostensibly because of how excited she was to attend, but really so that she would have time to forge her new name into the text. She had practised copying her father’s mouthwriting from a report on rainbow production, and had spent days erasing the name “Sonic” from the sponsorship letter to replace it with “Rainbow”. She had even rehearsed the upcoming conversation, ready to explain why she was taller and broader at the shoulders than other fillies her age. The next few moments would determine whether she could live the dream – a filly training to be the world’s greatest flier, at the world’s greatest flight school.
“Next!” called out the pegasus at the registration desk. “Got your letter and your forms?”
“Right here!” replied Rainbow, smiling brightly as she nosed the paperwork across her desk. “Name’s Rainbow Dash. I’m a filly,” she added nervously.
“Yes, I can see that,” the bored-looking official agreed. She looked briefly over Rainbow Dash’s sponsorship letter, then nodded. “Alright. Pick up your books and equipment from the table on my right. Welcome to Cloudsdale Flight School, Rainbow Dash. Next!”
And just like that, she was in. The dream began today.
Orientation had taken up the rest of the morning. There were textbooks to collect, safety procedures to be taught, and boring speeches to listen to. Rainbow Dash hadn’t been the only filly eager to get out into the school and stretch her wings, either literally or metaphorically. The bell rang for lunch just as the final orientation lecture finished, and the herd of new students ran out into the playground, meeting up with the older students who had just finished morning classes.
Many colts and fillies tried to catch Rainbow Dash’s attention, including Fluttershy, Dazzle and Echo, but she slipped past them with a strut and a wave, and made a beeline for the racetrack where April Showers and Brolly had gathered with a few other older pegasi. April was in her last year of flight school, and was the leader of Falcon Squad, an elite herd of fliers from all years. Rainbow Dash was eager to be her latest recruit, hopping from hoof to hoof in anticipation of demonstrating her skills.
“Rainbow Dash!” the older filly greeted her. “All done with orientation? Great! You ready to show us your best moves?”
Rainbow laughed and performed a short loop in the air. “I was born ready! Wait ‘til you see my fantastic Filly Flash!”
“Sounds awesome!” said Brolly, scanning the buildings on the nearby cloud banks. “We’re just waiting for the second-years to get out of their high altitude navigation class.” As he spoke, a herd of children streamed from one of the buildings, and Brolly waved his front legs in the air to catch their attention. “Dumb-bell! Hoops! Over here!”
“Hoops?” asked Rainbow, her wings flaring in agitation as she looked up at the approaching ponies. Sure enough, her least favourite amber-coated pegasus colt was gliding down from the building and landing in front of them, stirring up a puff of vapour as he touched down. A heavy-set brown colt landed just behind him, and they both flared out their wings as they inclined their heads towards April.
“Yo, April!” called Hoops, waving to her and then turning to look at the rest of the gathered fliers. “Who’s the new filly?”
“Hoops, this is Rainbow Dash, a new first year,” said April, gesturing to the two pegasi. “She pulled off some pretty impressive moves for her age when she showed up, so I figured she’d make a good addition to the team. Rainbow Dash, this is Hoops. He’s...”
“We’ve met,” snarled Rainbow, stamping a hoof and staring Hoops in the eyes. “I can’t believe you’re letting this loser into your herd.”
April seemed taken aback, and shook out her wings nervously. “Now listen, you two, I can see you have some history, but we’re all friends here, right?”
“History?” snorted Hoops. “I’ve never seen this pony before in my life. And for your information,” he said, stepping into Rainbow’s personal space and shoving his muzzle an inch away from hers, “I’m no loser. I’ve never lost a race, to anypony. You think you’re gonna change that, little filly?”
I already have! Rainbow thought, but she decided she could live without Hoops connecting her with “Firefly”. “Darn straight I am!” she shouted back, shoving her forehead against his. “I’ve never lost a race to a colt and I’m not gonna start now!”
Brolly trotted over to April and tried to whisper something to her, but April waved him away. “Alright, look. If the two of you have a score to settle, I’ll set up a race for you. But if you’re going to be in Falcon Squad together, I want this to be the end of it. You both finish the race, admit who’s faster, shake hooves, and it’s over. Got it?”
Both children nodded. “Let’s do this,” they said, still baring their teeth at each other.
A crowd gathered quickly once word spread that Falcon Squad was putting on a race. Brolly seemed to have some pull with the faculty, as the staff of the flight school turned a blind eye to students using the racing track outside of approved hours. April Showers hovered just in front of the starting line, holding a green flag between her front hooves.
“Listen up, everypony!” she shouted. “This race is an honour challenge between Hoops and Rainbow Dash! Racers, no bucking, bumping, or deliberate manipulation of wind or clouds! The first pony to circle the track once is the winner, and that’s the end of it! Everypony else, stay out of the way! Racers, are you ready?”
“I was born ready!” cried Rainbow Dash, pawing at the cloud beneath her hooves.
“Ready!” snorted Hoops. “Ready to put you in your place, Rainbow Dash!”
“Yeah, first place!” Rainbow shot back.
April Showers took the flag between her teeth and brought it down sharply between the two racers, signalling the start of the race. Both Hoops and Rainbow Dash shot past April, spinning her around in their slipstream for a moment before she could right herself with an expert stroke of her wings.
Rainbow Dash took off from the starting line as quickly as she could, hoping to establish an early lead over Hoops and maintain it for the rest of the race. Once her vision cleared from the initial rush of air and vapour, though, she saw that Hoops was a full two body lengths ahead of her, his wings beating ferociously. The wind ruffled up the amber hair of his coat, highlighting the trio of basketballs on his flank.
Hoops has his cutie mark! she thought frantically. And he’s faster than I am! How did this happen? It was simple, unfortunately – Hoops had been at flight school for an entire year already, more than making up for Rainbow’s tuition from her father. He was also a year older, and probably had stronger wings. Still, Rainbow wasn’t about to give up just like that. Her manoeuvrability was what had won her their last race, so it was her best weapon in this one.
With renewed determination, Rainbow powered ahead, beating her wings in a desperate effort to catch up with Hoops. The amber colt kept his pace, though, and refused to let Rainbow close with him. Her chance came when the track took a bend around a structural pillar. Hoops took the curve wide, keeping well clear of the pillar, but Rainbow knew she could do better. She flew in close to the pillar, tucking her right wing in just in time to avoid clipping the hard cloud mass, and gained a body length on Hoops. On the sidelines, Dazzle cheered enthusiastically while Fluttershy merely waved in encouragement. April and Brolly looked uncertain about the whole thing, though, while plenty of ponies were cheering for Hoops, Rainbow or both.
The race continued, Rainbow Dash still trailing a body length behind Hoops, who was picking up his lead on the straight sections of the track and losing it on the curves, just as in their first race. Rainbow could feel her wing muscles burning, having pushed herself to the limit for the entire race. Her eyes were hurting from flying so quickly for so long, too, and she wished she had thought to wear her goggles for this race. Still, nothing was going to stop her from winning, especially not the jerk in front of her.
Rainbow redoubled her efforts as she saw the final curve approaching, and knew that this was her last chance to win. Hoops took the curve wide, as usual, and as Rainbow glided in close to the pillar, she saw that she was now level with him. If she could take this curve tightly enough, victory would be hers!
The young pegasus’s body tilted as she turned, her wings stretched out almost vertically. The world seemed to slow down for her, her attention focused on the precise placement of her wings and the balance of her body. The pillar loomed close in her peripheral vision, and then a sharp pain shot through her croup. The dense cloud material of the pillar slammed into her body, sending her spinning out of control into the other side of the track. The crowd gasped in dismay, ponies lining the edge of the track and craning their necks to see what had happened to Rainbow Dash. She raised her head and groaned, just in time to see Hoops shoot across the finish line without her.
Rainbow Dash had never lost a race before. She had sometimes come in second or third in a herd of fifty students at school athletics carnivals, but in smaller races, she had always, always, been the winner. Losing to a pony like Hoops was something she simply couldn’t comprehend. Maybe she wasn’t as fast as she thought she was.
Rainbow watched as several ponies clustered around Hoops, hoisting him up onto their shoulders and cheering. A distressingly smaller group of ponies, led by Dazzle and Fluttershy, made their way carefully down the stairs onto the racetrack towards where Rainbow had landed. Off to one side, April Showers and Brolly were engaged in heated discussion, with April looking sidelong at Rainbow and shaking her head. Rainbow could hear the words “volatile” and “teamwork” from the pair, before they walked away to talk to Hoops.
I hate losing.
The young pegasus felt a lump forming in her throat, and her eyes started to water. No, this isn’t the end of the world, she told herself, gritting her teeth furiously. This is my first day at flight school – most fillies my age can’t fly at all. With my natural talent and Dad’s training, I’ve got a huge edge on everypony else here. I’ll be the champion of this school within months.
And more importantly, this is my new life. I’m not Sonic anymore. I’m Rainbow Dash, and nopony can take that away from me.
Rainbow shook her head and took a deep breath, then looked up to see Hoops’s friend Dumb-Bell flying just overhead. “Rainbow Dash, huh?” the brown colt jeered, looking down at her. “Maybe we should call you...”
No! No, please, laugh at me, beat me up, do anything, just don’t take my beautiful new name away from me...
The young filly buried her face in her fetlocks and sobbed, her chest heaving as hot tears flooded her eyes. She curled up into a ball and shuffled behind the pillar, hoping that everypony would simply leave her alone.
“Are you alright, Rainbow Dash?” asked Fluttershy after a few minutes, edging her head around the pillar. Dazzle stood right beside her, looking concerned, gesturing for the other children with them to stay back.
“I’m fine!” snapped Rainbow, jerking her head away from Fluttershy. “Just leave me alone! I don’t want to talk to anypony right now, okay?”
Fluttershy and Dazzle looked at each other for a moment, then started herding the other children away from Rainbow. “We’ll be behind the cafeteria if you need us, Rainbow,” Dazzle told her. “We’ll give you your space now.”
The remaining colts and fillies followed Dazzle’s direction to vacate the track. Echo lingered for a few moments, dancing from hoof to hoof awkwardly, before giving Rainbow a sad smile and following the others.
Rainbow Dash snuffled into her fetlocks for a few minutes longer, then sighed and laid herself down on the cloud, letting the cool, fluffy vapour soothe her eyes and nose. She heard the sound of a flier landing next to her, and waved a hoof in exasperation. “I said I don’t want to talk to anypony,” she mumbled, her face still pressing into the cloud.
“Do I look like anypony to you?” came the reply, and Rainbow looked up to see what looked like a giant eagle talking to her. She hauled herself up onto her legs and looked the newcomer up and down. She had the head of a large white eagle, with purple highlights around her eyes and fringe, but her body resembled a lion’s. Her front legs ended in an eagle’s talons, while her hind legs stood on clawed paws. When she saw Rainbow looking at her, she spread her dark brown wings, displaying an impressive wingspan.
“Wow,” gasped Rainbow, gazing at what must have been the coolest looking creature she had ever seen. “Who are you? Um... what are you?”
“Name’s Gilda,” said the newcomer, and Rainbow heard the faint hint of an eagle’s cry in her voice. “I’m a griffon. You know, half lion, half eagle? And, in my case, all awesome!”
Gilda extended a taloned hand to Rainbow, and the pony raised a hoof, letting Gilda pull her upright. “All awesome is right!” Rainbow squealed, her despair forgotten for the moment. “I’m Rainbow Dash, but you probably already knew that, huh?”
“Sure did,” the young griffon agreed. “Everypony was talking about you since you pulled that wicked somersault on your way in. Forget Hoops and those other jerks. I can tell you’re the most awesome pony in this lame school. We should hang out. What do you say?”
“All right!” Rainbow stretched out her wings and flapped them experimentally, verifying that she hadn’t hurt herself in her racing accident. “Hey, can you fly yet?” she asked, as she prepared to fly out of the racetrack.
“Enough to get in and out of Mom’s nest back at home, yeah. Chicks who can’t manage that much don’t turn out so well. Mom works in Canterlot now, though – we moved here a few years ago.” Gilda stretched out her own wings and flew, powerfully though unsteadily, out of the racetrack and back to the schoolyard, Rainbow following hot at her paws.
“Great! We can practise together, then! So...” Rainbow looked around, at all of the colts and fillies who were paying attention to anypony but her. “It looks like I don’t exactly have the fan club I thought I had. You should meet my friends, though – they’re pretty cool.”
“As long as they’re cooler than the unicorns in Canterlot, that’s good enough, I guess. You wouldn’t believe some of those ponies. All they do is talk! It’s all politics and finance and stuff. At least in Cloudsdale ponies know how to have fun.”
Rainbow Dash led Gilda around to the back of the cafeteria, where Fluttershy and Dazzle were deep in conversation with Echo. “You should have let me introduce you to Firefly last year, Echo!” said Dazzle as Rainbow approached them. “She was practically part of our choir, even if she didn’t sing herself.”
“I should have,” Echo admitted. “All of the girls in my class talked about her. She sounded really... oh, hi Firefly!” said Echo hastily as Rainbow approached. “Uh, I mean, Rainbow Dash! Are you, um, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” sighed Rainbow, gratefully accepting the hug that Fluttershy offered her. “I just thought things would be better now that we’re at flight school and away from home. It’s all the same, though, isn’t it?”
“Not everything is the same,” said Fluttershy. “Other ponies might be the same as they always were, but we’re different! We can be anypony we want here. Dazzle and Echo and I can learn to fly just like you! And you can... be yourself.”
“You’re right, Fluttershy. This is still going to be pretty cool, even if I don’t get all the fans I wanted. Oh, hey, everypony, this is Gilda. She’s a griffon! Isn’t that awesome? Do you think she could hang out with us?”
Fluttershy looked hesitant and shuffled behind the others, but Dazzle and Echo nodded eagerly. “Of course!” said Dazzle, extending a hoof to Gilda. “Welcome to the herd, Gilda!”
Gilda shrugged and shook Dazzle’s hoof. “Sure, whatever. Beats Canterlot, I guess. I’ve got to have someone vaguely cool to hang out with.”
The school bell rang, and Rainbow Dash trotted off to her first classes with her new herd, ready to deal with whatever her new life had in store for her.
The first classes of flight school were about to begin, and despite her earlier humiliation, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but be excited. Now that she actually bothered looking at her curriculum, most of it seemed pretty cool. Of course, some of the classes, like “Introductory Gliding”, were so far beneath her current skills that she would probably find them mind-numbingly boring, but that was the price of being so awesome. “Weather Hazards” sounded like a lot of fun, though, and she supposed that “History of the Weather Industry” was important, even if it would probably be pretty dull.
“You girls have fun with your classes!” called Dazzle as she flitted off towards a separate section of the campus. “You too, Echo! I’ll see you all this afternoon!”
“Aren’t you going with Dazzle, Fluttershy?” asked Rainbow Dash. “You know, for your second year classes?”
“Um, well, actually…” mumbled Fluttershy, prodding at the cloud with one hoof. “Actually, I’m taking Introductory Gliding again this year.”
“Ah, that’s okay,” said Rainbow, giving Fluttershy a gentle nudge. “Flight school is supposed to be hard. Failing one class is no big deal.”
Fluttershy squeaked unintelligibly, gnawing on her lower lip.
Rainbow sighed. “How many classes did you fail, Fluttershy?”
“I… I passed Bird Migration Management. That’s a very important class for ponies who want to work on the ground. There are dozens of different animal species down there, and the pictures are all so beautiful! Um… that’s all.” Behind her, Gilda buried her face in her talons.
Rainbow Dash stepped closer to Fluttershy and laid a hoof on her shoulder. “It’s cool, Fluttershy. Now that I’m here, I’ll make sure you pass everything, even if I have to keep you up to midnight every night to do it.”
Fluttershy’s face brightened. “Really? You’d do that for me?”
“Of course! I’d never leave you hanging. What are friends for? Besides, there’s no way it’ll take that long. We’ll have you flying in no time.”
Fluttershy hugged Rainbow tightly. “Oh, thank you! Thank you! This is going to be so much better than last year! Being in the same class as Hoops and Dumb-bell was just horrible. They always made fun of me and Dazzle… mostly me. I just know it’ll be different with you here. With all of you,” she said, smiling nervously at Echo and Gilda.
“Hey, of course,” said Gilda. “We freaks have gotta stick together, right?” Echo nodded in agreement.
“Alright, let’s do this, then!” exclaimed Rainbow. She draped a wing over Fluttershy’s shoulder as they trotted off to their first class.
Introductory Gliding took place in a large cloud field not unlike the Cloudiseum. Students stood on a raised bank of clouds on one side of the field, and attempted to glide across to the opposite side without falling into the lowered clouds in the middle. The drop was far enough to put students on edge and give them an extra incentive not to fall, but not nearly enough to hurt anypony.
Rainbow Dash raced to the front of the class, eager to be the first to show off her skills. Obeying the letter of the teacher’s instructions, she leapt off the edge of the clouds and spread her wings, gliding across without twitching a muscle. There was even a warm updraft within the field, making the crossing foal’s play, at least in Rainbow’s mind. She reached the other side of the field and flipped over using just one wing, touching down on all four hooves at once. Echo cheered loudly, and the cheer was taken up by several other students. Rainbow shook out her mane and bated her wings, glad to be back in the spotlight again, even if only among her fellow first-year students.
The rest of the class took their turns. Echo showed no fear of the drop, but seemed to have difficulty holding his wings steady during his glide. He coasted across the field and had to scrabble with all four hooves to mount the opposing bank, but eventually settled himself safely. Gilda’s flying technique was very different from the pegasi’s, with her massive wings which were powerful but clumsy. She clearly had no difficulty flying across the gap, but actually gliding took a great deal of effort. Still, a few circuits of the field saw her technique improve.
Fluttershy was shivering in terror by the time the rest of the class had made their attempts, and was trying to back away from the field without being noticed. The instructor would have none of it, though, and blocked her path, pushing her back towards the drop. She looked up at the instructor with wide eyes. “Do I really have to do this?” she pleaded.
The instructor’s harsh expression softened briefly. “This is flight school, Fluttershy,” he said, patting the filly on the shoulder. “You’re here to learn to fly. Unless you want to spend the rest of your life on the ground, you’ll have to learn sooner or later. Didn’t I teach you anything at all last year?”
Fluttershy stared at the cloud beneath her hooves. “I guess I don’t want to disappoint you, sir,” she mumbled.
“That’s the spirit!” exclaimed the instructor. “Now get out there!” He hooked one leg behind Fluttershy’s rump and hoisted her up and out into the cloud field. Fluttershy whinnied in panic, and her wings snapped shut as she plummeted to the cloud bank below. Rainbow groaned as she edged forward to see if her friend was alright.
A pale gold filly with teal hair snickered and pointed at Fluttershy, where she was struggling to stand up again after falling into the cloud. “Hey, Hoops was right! Fluttershy really can hardly fly!”
Unfortunately, this was all it took to bring the rest of the class forward, pointing and laughing at the poor yellow filly, who whimpered and tried to hide her head in the clouds. “Fluttershy! Fluttershy! Fluttershy can hardly fly!” they chanted, heedless of her distress, or of how many of their own number could hardly fly either.
“That’s it!” yelled Rainbow Dash. “Echo! Gilda! Let’s teach these punks a lesson!” She dove across the field, bringing her full flying skills into play as she crossed the gap expertly and crashed into the filly who had started the teasing, sending them both skimming across the cloud bank. “You leave Fluttershy alone!” Behind her, Gilda eagerly waded into the fray, roaring and bating her wings at anypony who didn’t back away from her. Echo rushed along behind Rainbow Dash, and did his best to look brave, but held back from engaging. Below them, the instructor had alighted next to Fluttershy and was helping her back up onto the cloud bank.
By the time Fluttershy and the instructor surfaced, two colts and a filly were clinging to Gilda’s back, trying to restrain the enraged griffon. Rainbow Dash was sitting on the gold filly’s chest, shaking her by the shoulders. “Nopony messes with Fluttershy, you got that? It’s not like you were much better! You want to pick on somepony for her flying, try it on me!” Echo was standing behind Rainbow Dash, spreading his wings in what he obviously thought was an intimidating fashion, keeping the other children from interfering.
The instructor set Fluttershy down on the cloud bank and blew his whistle harshly, then propelled himself into the crowd at an impressive pace, throwing Gilda over his shoulders and depositing her on a separate crowd. “Break it up, kids, break it up!” he shouted, landing next to the fight. “Raindrops! Rainbow Dash! You two stay away from each other. Gilda, see me in my office after school. Now let’s all get back to practice!”
The four friends walked back towards the middle of the campus after their last lesson of the day. “Introductory Weather Crafting” was a breeze for Rainbow Dash, often literally, and she had spent most of the class showing off her skill at handling rainbows to the other fillies. That was something Hoops and his cronies could never take away from her, her love of rainbows. Fluttershy had a good grasp of the theory of weather crafting already, and her practical skills, though still subpar, were better than they had been the previous year. Gilda probably wouldn’t have paid any attention if not for Rainbow Dash’s encouragement, but she ended up learning a lot. Echo tried his best, but simply didn’t seem cut out for the life of a weather pony.
“I don’t see why you’re the one in all the trouble,” grumbled Rainbow Dash to Gilda as they went to meet up with Dazzle. “Raindrops started it, and I’m the one who jumped on her. How come you have to see the teacher after school?”
Gilda rolled her eyes. “Mom said I had to be on my best behaviour at school, because it’s not like being around other griffons. I’m supposed to ‘set a good example for pony-griffon relations’ and junk like that. I guess that’s her job, being the ambassador to Equestria and all, but it’s just so lame. Plus I’ve got these.” She held up a front leg and flexed her talons. “And these,” she continued, indicating the claws on her hind paws. “Oh, and this,” she finished with a snap of her wickedly curved beak.
“Y….eah,” commented Rainbow Dash, eyeing her new friend’s beak warily. “You could do some serious damage with those things. Is it weird, trying to fit in with ponies when you’re used to hanging out with griffons? I mean, we’re pretty different and all.”
“Kinda,” mused Gilda. “Sometimes it’s cool, when I meet ponies like you. We hang out, fly, laugh at jokes and stuff. Everyone does that. But sometimes it’s like I have to spend my whole life pretending to be something I’m not.” She swished her tail idly. “Do you know what that’s like?”
“Uh, maybe a little bit,” admitted Rainbow, hastily changing the subject. “Hey, there’s Dazzle. You’d better get to your detention now. I might catch you after I unpack my stuff, okay?”
Gilda agreed, gave Rainbow a hoofbump with her furled talons, and flapped off to the school offices. Dazzle leapt down from a raised cloud and glided in to meet Rainbow, Fluttershy and Echo. “Hey girls! And Echo, sorry, I keep doing that! You all ready to move in to the dorms? I brought some more of those nice floral wall hangings you like, Fluttershy.”
Fluttershy cleared her throat nervously as the four friends began walking towards the dormitories. “Um, actually, Dazzle, I was wondering if you’d mind, if it’s okay if I roomed with Rainbow Dash this year?” She smiled apologetically, poking at the cloud with one hoof.
Dazzle seemed taken aback, but smiled. “Well… of course I don’t mind, Fluttershy! Why, though? I thought Rainbow would want to room with Gilda or one of the other first-years.”
“Oh, well, you see, it’s actually a bit personal,” Fluttershy whispered, and Echo obligingly stepped away from the fillies. “Can you keep a secret?”
Rainbow Dash’s eyes went wide. Fluttershy isn’t about to tell Dazzle everything, is she?
Dazzle nodded. “Of course I can, Fluttershy. I promise I won’t breathe a word to anypony else.”
Fluttershy smiled happily and laid her head against Rainbow Dash’s flank. “Oh, good. You see… Rainbow Dash is such a great flier because she practises so hard, and she always has, since she was little. Sometimes she trains too hard, though, and she injures herself. A couple of years ago, she tore her left supracoracoideus muscle in training, and it never quite healed properly. It doesn’t slow her down, but it does hurt a lot sometimes, doesn’t it, Rainbow?”
Rainbow nodded stupidly, giving a weak grin. “Yeah, uh, it totally does.” I have no idea where Fluttershy’s going with this, she thought, but she’s never let me down before.
“So she needs somepony to massage her wing muscles just right every morning, and, well, I know how to do it right, and what ointments to use and all that. I just think it’d be better for Rainbow if I roomed with her, so I can take care of her properly. She’s always been like a little sister to me.”
“Oh, Fluttershy, that’s so sweet of you!” said Dazzle, beaming in delight. “Of course you and Rainbow should room together! I can find a new roommate, no problem.” She stepped over to Rainbow Dash and pressed her head against her neck, eliciting a blush from the cyan filly. “You’re lucky to have such a good friend as Fluttershy.”
“Yeah, don’t I know it,” Rainbow agreed. “Come on, let’s go find our rooms.”
An hour later, Rainbow Dash dragged the last of her suitcases up into the dormitory room she would be sharing with Fluttershy for the next ten months. Fluttershy was sitting upright on her bed, hanging up a poster of Princess Celestia on the wall. Rainbow tossed her suitcase onto her bed and closed the door behind her, then dove across the room and caught Fluttershy in a fierce hug.
“Eep!” squeaked Fluttershy, startled, but she quickly returned the hug, nuzzling her oldest friend joyously. “Oh, Sonic, it’s so good to see you again! I’ve missed you so much!”
“I missed you too, Fluttershy!” said Rainbow, curling up next to Fluttershy on the bed. “You’re my best friend, and everything was just so different when you went away.”
Fluttershy sat up against her pillow and took Rainbow’s fetlock between two hooves, squeezing it gently. “I hope it wasn’t too bad, Sonic. I mean, Firefly. Oh, I mean, Rainbow. I’m sorry, so many names…”
Rainbow Dash laughed, cuddling close to her friend. “It’s Rainbow Dash now. It’s Dad who sponsored me for the school, so I can’t dodge the family name. Firefly is okay around Dazzle and Echo, just not Hoops and his goons. But not Sonic. That’s… y’know. A colt’s name.”
Fluttershy nodded happily, arranging herself comfortably against Rainbow’s head and body. “Of course. And just look at you!” She ran one hoof through Rainbow’s multi-coloured mane. “Your new mane and tail are just gorgeous! Why didn’t you stick with your old colour, though? I thought it looked fine.”
Rainbow grinned and tapped the poster on the wall. “Remember when we saw Princess Celestia at the Best Young Flier competition? The day you convinced me to wear my dress in public for the first time? The first time I saw her, I knew I wanted to look just like her. I asked Dad about the Princess’s hair, and he showed me one of his weather history books. It had a picture of something called the ‘aurora borealis’, that looked just like her mane, but the book said that the aurora hadn’t been seen in Equestria for a thousand years.” She chuckled, patting her mane with one hoof. “And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t something you could buy from a factory, either, so I did the best I could.”
“You’ve always loved rainbows,” agreed Fluttershy. “It really suits you, Sonic… um, Firefly. The way the hot colours are at the front of your mane makes you look all brave and adventurous. Which you are. I ran into some of the other fillies from the choir today, and they all talked about how much fun they had with you last year. Oh, Firefly,” she cried, sweeping Rainbow Dash into her embrace again and hugging her fiercely. “I’m so proud of you. I always knew you could be the filly you wanted to be.”
“Hey, cut it out,” mumbled Rainbow Dash, although there were tears welling at the corner of her eyes too. “No need to get all sappy on me. I couldn’t have done it without you, after all. You showed me how to do my makeup, you made me all those dresses… and look! I’m wearing that flight suit on my croup to hide my,” she coughed awkwardly, looking at the ceiling, “my colt bits, without even wearing a dress over it!” Rainbow Dash stroked Fluttershy’s back with her front hooves, hugging her tightly. “If it weren’t for you, I’d still be Sonic Dash, muddling through life trying to figure out why nothing felt right.”
Rainbow released Fluttershy from the hug and shuffled down the bed, looking squarely at her friend. “So what about you, Fluttershy? What was last year like?”
The yellow filly started toying with her blankets as she answered her friend. “Oh, well… it was… oh, Firefly, it was horrible! I can’t fly! I’m never going to be able to fly, and the other ponies tease me all the time! Hoops and Dumb-Bell are so mean, and I thought I’d have my cutie mark by now but I don’t think I ever will!” She buried her face in her fetlocks, crying pitiably. “I’m a failure as a pegasus!”
Rainbow Dash cautiously stroked Fluttershy’s shoulder with her hoof. “You’re not a failure, Fluttershy. You’re… different. We’re all different, but we’re all ponies, remember? We are a circle of pony friends…”
“A circle of friends we’ll be ‘til the very end!” Fluttershy smiled and snuffled, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. “You’re right, Firefly. I don’t have to be like the other pegasi. It’s okay if I’m different, just like it’s okay if you’re different.”
“See?” said Rainbow. “Now, don’t you worry about Hoops and Dumb-Bell. Gilda and I will keep them off your tail. What really matters is getting you flying. What’s holding you back?”
Fluttershy slowly extended her wings and gave them a flap, then relaxed them by her side again. “Coach Hurricane says that I need to build up my wing muscles more, because I didn’t get enough exercise when I was little. But every time I go to the gym, Dumb-Bell is there, and…” She trailed off, shuddering.
Rainbow Dash pounded her front hooves together. “That’s it. Gilda and I are definitely gonna take care of that. Those two aren’t going to bother you anymore once we’re done with them.”
“Oh, Firefly, please don’t hurt them,” Fluttershy squeaked. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to them. I just want them to leave me alone. That’s all.”
“Ugh, fine,” sighed Rainbow Dash. “If they start giving you trouble, let me or Gilda know and we’ll chase them off. It’ll be okay. Now, we have to get you flying properly. What do you say to an extra hour of practice every night, after dinner, just you and me?”
Fluttershy’s eyes brightened immediately. “You’d do that for me? Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” Fluttershy hugged her friend again, then bounced around the room happily. “I knew everything would be better when you got here! This is going to be the best year ever!”
Thus it was that the little ponies and their griffon friend settled in to the daily routine of Cloudsdale Flight School. Compared to the classes at their local elementary schools, the pace was gruelling. Five hours of flight practice and three hours of theoretical classes were interrupted only by an hour-long break for lunch, six days per week. Many of the children at the school had thought that learning to fly would be easy, just like learning to walk. After four weeks at flight school, after which even the best students could barely stay aloft for thirty minutes, they were roughly disabused of this notion.
The pace was especially hard on Fluttershy and Echo, neither of whom was strongly athletic to begin with. Echo had always fancied himself a performer rather than a flier, and had only come to flight school at the insistence of his parents. After a week of training, he had been ready to quit the school and live on the ground for the rest of his life. A pep talk from Rainbow Dash had changed his mind, though, and he was determined to stay at school for long enough to be able to survive in Cloudsdale, at the very least. Having Rainbow Dash in his class seemed to give him all of the motivation he needed to improve his flying.
Fluttershy needed more than simple motivation to get along at the school. Even with an extra year of experience over the rest of her class, her wingpower was too weak to give her much lift at all, or even support her weight when gliding for long distances. True to her word, Rainbow Dash spent an hour after classes every day helping her to practise. Despite the blue filly’s best efforts, though, Fluttershy hardly seemed to improve. The best she could accomplish was to hover for several seconds, before falling on her face in exhaustion. Even that accomplishment only came after several weeks of constant practice.
Dazzle was progressing about as well as the other ponies in her class. Like Echo, she had dreams of being a professional singer, but she told Rainbow Dash that the stress of flight school kept her from pursuing her dream except in the holidays. She was no athlete, but kept to the school’s training regimen well enough that after one month of her second year at the school, she could navigate around the various clouds and layers of the school without exhausting herself. In spite of her moderate flying skills, she retained the socially central position she possessed in her old school, attracting followers, admirers and hangers-on from her own class and, indeed, the whole school. Her core social group was still Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Echo and Gilda, though, and they were all grateful to have such a loyal and popular friend amongst their number. Rainbow Dash, in particular, was overjoyed to be in Dazzle’s circle again, and when she wasn’t determinedly honing her skills or teaching Fluttershy, she happily followed in Dazzle’s wake, enjoying the sense of energy and sophistication she brought to their herd.
Gilda’s relationship with flying was a bit unusual, being a griffon instead of a pony. Her large wingspan gave her a great deal of power, but worse manoeuvrability than a pegasus pony. Still, the Cloudsdale Flight School was the best in Equestria, and Gilda had a personal tutor who, according to gossip around the school, had once taught a baby dragon to fly. He taught her how to dive, glide and soar like a pegasus, while capitalizing on her griffon strength to achieve higher speeds than ponies her age. Gilda’s unique brand of flight soon drew the attention of the students who really cared about speed, including the leaders of Falcon Squad. Slowly, she began to overcome the suspicion that went with being an outsider in pony society, at least in the eyes of the keenest fliers in the school.
As for Rainbow Dash herself, the blue filly’s progress was not what she had hoped. Training with her father had developed her skills fantastically, but so many of her first-year classes felt like covering old material. She knew a lot of the theory already, too, from watching both her mother and her father working. As a result, she could feel the other students catching up with her, slowly but surely. By the end of the year, she might not be anything special at this school – just another wannabe Wonderbolt, waiting to graduate and move out into a job in the weather factory or on the ground. Something was wrong, she was sure of it. Something was holding her back from achieving her destiny. She didn’t even have her cutie mark yet, which she had expected to earn on the first day of school. Granted, nopony else in her class had theirs either, but that was no excuse. She was falling behind on her dream, and she knew it.
One Sunday, about a month and a half into the semester, Dazzle didn’t appear at the herd’s usual breakfast table. “Has anypony seen Dazzle?” asked Fluttershy, over a plate of hay and carrots. “She wasn’t in her Bird Training class yesterday, and she loves that class! We’ve been teaching a flock of sparrows to sing show tunes!”
“I dunno, Fluttershy,” admitted Rainbow Dash. “I haven’t seen her all week either. I always keep an eye out for her between classes – she’s pretty hard to miss. Maybe she’s sick?”
“I hope not,” said Echo. “Come to think of it, I didn’t see her around last Sunday either, or the Sunday before that. Did you guys?”
“No idea,” said Gilda. She was sitting a little away from the ponies, engrossed in a plate of food that none of her friends wanted to examine too closely. “I’ve been too busy with extra practice to go looking for her. If I keep working on my high-speed turns, I think I’ve got a shot at Falcon Squad next semester.”
Rainbow perked up. “Falcon Squad? Really? No way! That’s awesome news!” Gilda grinned and nodded, talking about how April Showers had complimented her on her routine the previous Sunday.
After breakfast, Rainbow Dash and Gilda were out on one of the cloud courses, practising their dives and swoops. “So you really think you’ve got a shot at Falcon Squad, huh, Gilda?” asked Rainbow, as she glided in from a particularly impressive stoop and recovery.
“Totally, Dash,” said Gilda, pumping her wings in anticipation of another dive. “You’ve seen how hard I’ve been practising on Sundays. I mean, not only do I want to be a better flier, but it’s the only way to get these stupid ponies to take me seriously. Apart from you guys, I mean. You’re awesome.”
“Yeah. We are. Hey,” said Rainbow, hovering near Gilda uncertainly. “Did, uh, did April say anything about me when she was talking about the squad?”
“Oh, gee, Dash,” mumbled Gilda. “I mean… yeah, of course she mentioned you. She still thinks you’re the best first year flier in the school. Totally.”
“Then why isn’t she getting me to come in for another tryout? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for you, but what about me?”
Gilda scuffed one of her lion paws against the cloud, not meeting Rainbow’s gaze. “Well… the thing is, Dash… April said that you don’t really push yourself enough to make it on Falcon Squad.”
Rainbow Dash flapped backwards ten feet in surprise. “I don’t push myself enough? Me? I push myself all the time! I don’t goof off like Echo and Dazzle with their concerts and stuff. I practise every night!”
Gilda waved a taloned hand in the direction of the dormitories. “No, Dash, you help Fluttershy practise every night. Big difference.”
“What?” yelped Rainbow, her voice cracking. “Glida, how could you… Fluttershy is my best friend! She’s your friend too! She needs all the help she can get, or she’ll never graduate, and she’ll have to live her whole life on the ground, with lame earth ponies and boring unicorns! I can’t let that happen to her.”
“I know, Dash, I know,” said Gilda, as she draped a front leg around Rainbow’s shoulders. “I like the little squirt too, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to see her crash and burn, but what choice do we have? She’s the runt who’s holding back the whole flock. Herd. Whatever.”
Rainbow Dash flitted forward out of Gilda’s grasp and tilted her head to one side, looking at the griffon quizzically. “Is this a griffon thing, Gilda? Because ponies don’t work like that. Sure, if there’s a runt in the herd – and I don’t ever want to hear you calling Fluttershy that again – we push her hard to make sure she doesn’t slow the herd down. That’s what I’m doing - whether she likes it or not, I’m going to make sure Fluttershy is a great flier by the end of school. I’m not going to leave her behind, to… to die in the snow! Even in the bad old days before Equestria, we weren’t like that.”
Gilda sighed and threw herself down on the cloud, looking up at Rainbow Dash. “Yes, Dash, it’s a griffon thing,” she muttered, scraping a talon idly through the cloud surface in front of her. “The place I grew up isn’t like Equestria. We’ve got dragons, Dash. Actual giant fire-breathing dragons that can take out a whole flock of griffons without breaking a sweat. There’s this story that every griffon knows, about a family who insisted on raising this chick of theirs, even though he could hardly fly and was only ever going to slow the rest of the flock down. When a dragon came for the nest, the whole family died because they couldn’t move quickly enough.”
Rainbow Dash stared at Gilda, standing still on her hooves. “That’s awful! But what were they supposed to do, leave their own chick behind? If that happened to a pony family, there’s no way they’d leave a foal to die. I know Dad would do anything to make sure I was safe.” He might not understand me, but he’d die to protect me. I know that for sure.
“Yeah. Every pony I’ve told that story said that they’d do the exact same thing. It’s just so different here. Maybe it’s better. I dunno.” Gilda rolled over onto her back, keeping her wings against her flanks. “I’m not saying we should let her die, or make her live on the ground for the rest of her life, but I’m worried about you, too! She’s holding you back. You’ve got to see that. What’s the point of carrying her dead weight all the way through flight school if it means you never get to do anything for yourself? You want to stand behind a bench making snowflakes for your whole life?”
“Of course not!” retorted Rainbow. “I’m going to be a Wonderbolt one day! I just… I can’t leave Fluttershy hanging. She’s my oldest friend. She’s done stuff for me that I can’t even talk about, but it’s important. We’ll… graduate together, I guess, and then I’ll get ready for the Wonderbolt Academy, and she’ll… do whatever she’s going to do with her life. And I’ll get my cutie mark somewhere along the way.” She trailed off uncertainly, looking over her shoulder at the blank blue fur on her flank. Maybe Fluttershy really was holding her back.
“Hey girls!” came an excited voice from above them. Rainbow Dash looked up to see Dazzle gliding down to meet them, wearing what looked like an old-fashioned earth pony farmer’s dress. “Guess what happened to me today!”
Rainbow Dash galloped over to meet Dazzle with a joyous nuzzle, glad to see her friend again. “Dazzle! Where have you been? Nopony’s seen you all day!” Gilda pushed herself up onto her feet and nudged Dazzle in greeting.
“I was at the theatre!” she replied, flitting back and forth excitedly. “The Cloudway Theatre is doing Pegasus on the Roof, and…”
Rainbow groaned and rolled her eyes. “Ugh, this again? Dazzle, you’ve got to take your flying seriously! Goofing off to watch musicals is… do you wanna end up failing everything like Fluttershy?”
Dazzle looked upset, and Rainbow immediately felt the pang of hurting somepony important to her. “I hardly consider it ‘goofing off’, Rainbow Dash,” she said haughtily, turning up her muzzle a little. “Besides, I wasn’t watching musicals, I was performing.”
“Performing? At the Cloudway Theatre? You’ve got to be kidding! That’s amazing!” Rainbow embraced her friend and nuzzled her affectionately, and Gilda happily allowed herself to be dragged into the hug.
Dazzle laughed happily, then drew back so she could talk to her friends properly. “It really was amazing. I mean, I was only playing Little Bird, so I only had a solo part in one song, but still! Community theatre is one thing, but Cloudway is just… it was worth skipping classes to be in it. I just know that this is what I want to do with my life!”
“Yeah?” asked Gilda sceptically, although she was still hopping in excitement for Dazzle’s success. “How can you be so sure?”
The vivid green pegasus filly flared her wings dramatically and kicked out with her hind legs. Her peasant’s dress flipped up over her haunches, revealing a bright yellow pair of musical quavers on her flank.
“Oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh!” shrieked Rainbow Dash, leaping around Dazzle triumphantly. “You got your cutie mark! When did it happen?”
“It was when we were on stage, taking our final bows. I realised I was probably going to be in a lot of trouble when I got back to school, and yes, I’ve been setting aside my flying practice for this, but I just knew that it was worth it. To see the admiration of the crowd, to feel their applause shaking the floor… this is truly what I was born for!”
Rainbow Dash laid her head against Dazzle’s neck, taking comfort in her closeness to the pony who had been a good friend to her ever since she realised that she was a filly herself. “That’s so awesome. It must be great to have your cutie mark, finally.”
Dazzle turned her head and gently licked Rainbow’s cheek. “You’ll get yours in good time, Rainbow. Remember that Fluttershy and I are a year older than you.”
“I guess. And Fluttershy doesn’t even have hers yet. We’ve got a practice session in a few minutes – I should go meet her now. Are we done here, Gilda?”
Gilda sighed and waved a hand at Rainbow Dash. “Yeah, we’re done. Just think about what I said, okay, Dash? You’re gonna have to pick up the pace sooner or later if you want to make it as a serious flier.” With that, she spread her wings and launched herself out towards another cloud.
Dazzle watched Gilda depart, then looked back at Rainbow. “Is everything okay? It sounded like you two were arguing.”
Rainbow shrugged as she looked towards the flying course where she planned to meet Fluttershy. “Just about Fluttershy. I want to help her be a better flier, but Gilda says she’s holding me back. I don’t know what to do.”
Dazzle draped a wing over Rainbow’s shoulders, leaning against her comfortingly. “You’ll do the right thing, Rainbow. You always do. I’ll never forget the way you stood up for me – for all of us – when Hoops was saying those horrid things outside the Cloudiseum. You’re such a good friend to Fluttershy, and to me. We’re lucky to have you in our herd. Now go on. You don’t want to be late for your meeting with Fluttershy.”
Rainbow Dash reluctantly stepped away from Dazzle, after nuzzling her cheek. She spread her wings and descended to the obstacle course below. She kept turning Gilda’s words over and over in her mind. She wanted to help Fluttershy, but Gilda was right about Falcon Squad, and the Wonderbolts weren’t likely to be any different. If she wasn’t careful, her whole dream could slip through her hooves. Fluttershy’s welfare meant an awful lot to her, though. But how much? And why was Dazzle’s approval suddenly so important to her?
Rainbow Dash called out to Fluttershy as she coached her through another training session. Rainbow had instituted the Sunday morning sessions after witnessing Fluttershy’s lack of progress in their first month at flight school together. Sadly, today’s training wasn’t proving to be more fruitful than any other.
Fluttershy was flying about two feet above the flat expanse of cloud beneath her. Being close to a solid surface meant that she gained a generous amount of extra lift from the compression of air between her wings and the cloud – the so-called “ground effect” in their textbooks. Every inch Fluttershy rose above the surface would reduce her lift, and Rainbow Dash had initially set a target of four feet.
By halfway through the lesson, Rainbow would have been happy if Fluttershy could have achieved two and a half feet. She shouted encouragement, she bit her hooves, she flew alongside her friend and showed her the best way to beat her wings and hold her body, and yet Fluttershy couldn’t maintain any altitude higher than two feet.
Finally, the yellow filly could take no more, and she collapsed onto the cloud, her wings and legs sprawling out at all angles. “I’m sorry, Rainbow Dash,” she whimpered, between gasps for air. “I just don’t think I can do it.”
Rainbow Dash sighed and pressed a hoof against her forehead. “Come on, Fluttershy!” she groaned, her patience fraying. “I know you’ve got the muscles for this. We’ve been working out together. I’ve seen how much weight you can wing-press. I just don’t get why you’re not flying like the rest of us by now!”
“I don’t know how anypony else does it!” said Fluttershy, rolling onto her side and trying to get her breathing under control. “You make it look so easy, you and Echo and Gilda and everypony else.” She let her head slump against the cloud. “Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a flier at all.”
I gave up my shot at Falcon Squad for this? thought Rainbow Dash, fighting to get her temper under control. “Alright, look. Just… let’s try something else,” she said. She flitted over to a series of cloud rings, hanging in the air. “You should be able to get through at least one of these rings. The lowest one is only five feet off the ground. You’re not trying to maintain a constant altitude, just reach that height, get through the ring, and descend on the other side. Even you can…” She stopped herself just in time, and took a deep breath. “I know you can do this, Fluttershy. Show me what you’ve got, okay?”
Fluttershy smiled weakly, pushing herself up onto all four legs. “Okay! I’ll do it!” She looked up at the cloud ring, then swallowed hard and bunched up her legs while flapping her wings. She gave as mighty a jump as her little body was capable of, and sprang into the air, beating her wings as hard as she could. Her body slowly rose as she caught the air with her wings, and she pushed her hooves forward as she got ready to pass through the ring.
Rainbow Dash groaned as Fluttershy barely got her head level with the bottom of the ring, latched her legs around it, dangled awkwardly for a few seconds, then fell back onto the cloud bank with a startled squeak.
Fluttershy looked up at her friend, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. “I can’t do this, Rainbow Dash,” she said, hanging her head in shame. “I’m never going to fly. I’m never going to graduate. I just can’t do it. I’m so sorry.”
Rainbow Dash paced around Fluttershy angrily, kicking at the cloud beneath her hooves, until something snapped inside her. “You’re sorry? You’re sorry? No, Fluttershy, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you’re obviously not even trying to learn to fly! I’m sorry that I’m wasting my time foalsitting you…”
“I’m a year older than you,” Fluttershy managed to whimper, curling up into a ball and trying to hide from Rainbow Dash’s outburst.
“Then act like it! I’m not going to hold your hoof for the whole of flight school! I’m done coaching you. Gilda was right – I can’t let you ruin my chances at being a champion flier. You can pass flight school on your own, or you can go live on the ground like a lame earth pony for the rest of your life. I don’t care anymore.”
Fluttershy peeked up at Rainbow Dash from behind her long pink mane, her eyes filled with tears. “But Rainbow Dash…”
“But nothing!” snorted Rainbow, trotting away from the yellow filly. “I’m done with this! I’m done with you!”
Rainbow Dash took five steps towards the edge of the training area, before she heard the clop of galloping hooves behind her, and a weight slammed into her back, shoving her face first into the cloud.
“Don’t you walk away from me, Sonic Dash!” shrieked Fluttershy, pinning Rainbow against the cloud and flailing at her with her front hooves. “You think you can just turn your back on me after everything I’ve done for you?”
Rainbow Dash was too startled to fight back as Fluttershy pummelled her. She had never seen Fluttershy angry in her life, let alone violent. “Ow! Haven’t I done enough for you? Wait, what did you call me?”
“You heard me!” Fluttershy whinnied angrily, tears streaming down her cheeks. “If it weren’t for me, you’d still be a colt! You’d still be Sonic Dash, stuck trying to figure out why your whole life was a mess, without me to give you all the answers! I did everything for you, and I won’t let you leave me!”
“What, and you think you can just hold that over me for the rest of my life?” retorted Rainbow. She gritted her teeth and bucked Fluttershy off her back, quickly taking to the air. “Well, you can’t! I’ve got lots of friends now, and a future! It’s not my fault that you can hardly fly. You… you’re just… I don’t need you anymore!”
Rainbow Dash flew away from the training field as quickly as she could, trying to ignore the screams and sobs behind her, and trying to convince herself that the tears in her own eyes were just from flying too fast without goggles.
“How could you?” said Echo, staring at Rainbow Dash in disbelief. “I never thought you could say something like that to Fluttershy! I looked up to you, and this is how you treat your best friend? I thought you were better than this!”
“I am most disappointed, Rainbow Dash,” chided Dazzle, shaking her head. Rainbow swallowed hard and pawed at the cloud beneath her hooves, unable to meet the green filly’s gaze. “I honestly thought better of you. Fluttershy has done so much for you! I expected this sort of behaviour from that ruffian Hoops. Perhaps you aren’t so different after all.”
“Seriously, Dash, what the hay?” Gilda asked, shoving her beak in Rainbow’s face. “I said you needed to think about your own career before you wasted all your time on Fluttershy, not that you should tell her she’s useless and throw her out of the nest! Come on, ponies. We’d better go find Fluttershy before she does something stupid.”
Rainbow Dash’s friends all flew away from her, without looking at her. “Come back!” she cried, reaching out a hoof towards them. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt her, I swear!”
A chill came over Rainbow Dash’s body, and she shivered. Her friends weren’t going to like this at all. And they were right. Fluttershy was her oldest friend, the pony who had been there for her since before she could remember. She didn’t want to think about where she’d be now without her best friend’s guidance. Suddenly, the thought of losing Fluttershy’s friendship forever took hold in her mind. What would she do without Fluttershy? Nopony else understood her the way Fluttershy did. And what would Fluttershy do without her?
Sighing, she wheeled around in the air and started flying back towards the training area. Hopefully, she hadn’t damaged their friendship irreparably. Maybe they could come to some sort of compromise, and Rainbow could pursue her own advancement while still giving Fluttershy the help she needed.
Rainbow Dash slowed down as she reached the area with the cloud rings, looking around for Fluttershy. Knowing her as she did, the yellow filly probably hadn’t gone far – Rainbow would probably find her curled up behind the nearest building, crying. Just imagining it made Rainbow’s chest feel tight, knowing that it was all her fault.
Instead, Rainbow saw Fluttershy precisely where she left her, underneath the cloud rings. As Rainbow watched, Fluttershy sprang upwards and beat her wings, trying to gain enough lift to carry her through the ring. To Rainbow’s amazement, Fluttershy managed to plant her front hooves on the inner surface of the ring, and seemed about to fly through it. I knew you could do it, Fluttershy! she thought, grinning to herself. I’m sorry I ever doubted you.
Rainbow’s joy turned to concern as Fluttershy pitched forward, falling onto the cloud slope under the rings and sliding down, only to careen into the air again, collide with a flag, and come to rest on another cloud.
Rainbow carefully flitted towards Fluttershy, not wanting to embarrass her by calling attention to her accident, and still not sure if her presence would be welcomed at all. Fluttershy seemed to be alright, wounded only in her pride…
… until two laughing colts touched down in front of her, one amber, one brown. Hoops and Dumb-Bell! Rainbow wasn’t about to let those two jerks tease her best friend again, and she picked up her pace, streaking across the sky to land just in front of Fluttershy. “Leave her alone!” she yelled, flaring her wings menacingly.
“Ooh!” jeered Hoops, leaning forward and narrowing her eyes at Rainbow. “What are you gonna do about it, Rainbow Crash?”
I’d do anything for Fluttershy. I just forgot that for a little while, that’s all. “Keep making fun of her and find out!”
“You think you’re such a big shot?” asked Dumb-Bell, stepping forward alongside his friend. “Why don’t you prove it?”
“What do you have in mind?” Rainbow Dash shot back.
“How about another race?” said Hoops, smirking. “Since you think you’re such a hot-shot flier. We’ll have a flying race to settle this once and for all.”
“Um, Rainbow Dash?” whispered Fluttershy, creeping to her friend’s side. “Why are you doing this? I thought you said…”
“What I said was stupid,” muttered Rainbow Dash. “I’m sorry, and you’re my best friend, and I’m trying to make it up to you.” She nudged her head against Fluttershy’s briefly, then locked her gaze with Hoops’s again. “Alright, let’s race! If I win, you two leave Fluttershy alone. Not just for today, but for the rest of flight school. She doesn’t need you two jerks making everything harder for her.”
Dumb-Bell raised an eyebrow, surprised, while Hoops just grinned. “And if one of us wins… you stay out of Falcon Squad for the rest of school. Deal?” He spat on his hoof and held it out to Rainbow, looking the filly squarely in the eye.
“Deal,” said Rainbow, spitting in her hoof without hesitation, and she sealed the bet with a shake of Hoops’s hoof. If I can get these two off Fluttershy’s tail, that’s worth the risk. And if I lose, Fluttershy’s still going to need my help. Falcon Squad might be the first step to being a Wonderbolt, but I’ll find another way if I need to. Fluttershy’s more important.
Once again, the race was set up quickly. Pegasi loved races, after all, and by now Rainbow Dash was certain that Brolly was pulling strings with the faculty. The course Hoops and Rainbow had chosen was a senior racing track, with no cloud beneath it to catch students who fell. Rainbow had no intention of falling, though. Not this time.
“You’re going down!” sneered Hoops as they formed up at the starting line. Most of the school had converged to watch this race, aware of the rivalry between Rainbow Dash and Hoops, and eager for a rematch. Dazzle, Echo and Gilda stood beside the track, cheering excitedly.
“In history, maybe!” Rainbow said, smirking at the colts beside her. “See you boys at the finish line!”
Despite her outward bravado, Rainbow Dash’s mind was working frantically. Hoops and Dumb-Bell were both on Falcon Squad, which meant that they were training constantly, whereas Rainbow Dash had been relaxing her own training in order to help Fluttershy. They also had an extra year of experience over her. The last time she had raced against Hoops, she had lost, by no small margin. How could she make up the gap? What was different this time?
Rainbow turned to face the track, and fixed her gaze on Fluttershy. For some reason, she had insisted on being the starter for the race. She’s what’s different this time, Rainbow thought to herself, setting her muzzle in a determined grin. I was racing for myself last time, just to show off and so I could enjoy beating Hoops again. This time I’m racing for her. For my best friend.
Fluttershy waved the flag, and the three ponies shot forth from the starting line like so many slingshots. Rainbow Dash kept her eyes closed for the first few seconds, trusting in her instincts to keep her flying straight, and powered ahead as quickly as she could. Her wings started to ache almost immediately, but she pushed the pain to the back of her mind, for her friend’s sake. When she reckoned herself as approaching the first cloud ring, she opened her eyes, expecting to see at least one of her rivals threading the loop ahead of her.
The track ahead of her was completely clear. Rainbow dared not turn her head, but she couldn’t see Hoops or Dumb-Bell in her peripheral vision. She was winning! She stopped thinking about her last race against Hoops, and instead went back to her very first one – standing up to Hoops to defend Dazzle. It had been a moment of triumph for her, championing the friendly, charming filly who was the first to speak to “Firefly” on her big day out. Everything had been perfect on that day, just as everything was perfect right now, with the wind in her mane and loyalty to Fluttershy in her heart. How could she possibly lose?
The second turn came up quickly, and Rainbow Dash took it with almost contemptuous ease. She risked a look behind her as the crowd groaned in sympathy, and she caught a glimpse of Dumb-Bell getting caught in Hoops’s slipstream, missing the turn and barrelling straight into a pillar. Her friends all cheered as she streaked along the course, waving their hooves or talons exuberantly. There was no way she was going to let them down. This was for all of them, as well – the beautiful and generous Dazzle who inspired her and helped her to be a better pony, the soft-hearted but hard-working and loyal Echo, and Gilda, the perpetual outsider who kept her striving her hardest, who knew what it was like to be different from the ponies around her. She was going to win this race for them, and for Fluttershy.
As Rainbow Dash passed through what must have been the eighth cloud ring, she was suddenly knocked off course by a shape slamming into her from her left. She beat her wings rapidly to regain her balance, and looked left to see Hoops flying alongside her, throwing her a mocking salute. “Later, Rainbow Crash!” he called, going into a dive towards the next ring, which was perilously close to the ground.
“Hey!” shouted Rainbow, diving after Hoops. How did he catch up to me so quickly? Did I stop paying attention, or did he cut some corners? There weren’t any more spectators at this part of the course, so Hoops could easily have skipped a few of the obstacles and cut straight through to hit Rainbow. It didn’t matter, though – what truly mattered was that Hoops was in the lead now, just like he was in their last race.
But this wasn’t like their last race. Now, she was defending Fluttershy’s honour, and standing up for all of her friends who were tired of being pushed around by ponies like Hoops. She had to win. There was no other choice.
Time to show these ponies what loyalty really means.
Rainbow Dash stopped thinking about Hoops. She thrust her hooves out in front of her body and flapped her wings faster than she ever had before. She hardly even noticed when she streaked past Hoops, sending him off the track and into a spin, putting him out of the race. All that mattered was reaching the finish line, showing her rivals what she was capable of and her friends what she would do for them. She was flying faster than she thought she would ever have been capable of, and still she kept gaining speed.
The air in front of Rainbow’s hooves started to feel strange as she accelerated – heavier, thicker, almost like trying to swim through water rather than fly through the air. Her eyes streamed with tears as the wind tore at her face, though the discomfort was nothing compared to the exhilaration she was feeling. Had anypony ever flown at this speed before? Dad had told her about the theoretical limit of pegasus speed, the so-called “sound barrier” at which the air would literally not be able to get out of a pony’s way. Several attempts had been made to break the barrier, but each one had ended with the air snapping back against the flier and throwing them into an uncontrolled spin.
Rainbow felt the air threatening to do just that to her, but she fought it. The pressure against her face and hooves built up until it was almost unbearable, but she kept her wings beating against the thick, sluggish air, refusing to give up. If she was ever going to do the impossible, then it was today – today, when her friends could see the victory she was winning in their names.
The final cloud ring waited for her, a tiny distance above the ground, and she angled her flight towards it, gritting her teeth against the wind and the pressure. As she passed through the ring, the pressure vanished, and her entire body felt weightless. The world almost seemed to slow down around her as a ring of brilliant colour spread out from her body. She adjusted her wings and executed a sharp one-hundred-and-twenty-degree turn as if momentum meant nothing to her, and soared back up into the sky. She looked behind her, and saw both the ring of colour expanding across the land beneath her, and a bright, undulating stream of rainbow streaking out behind her like a Wonderbolt’s smoke trail, merging with her mane and tail.
A Sonic Rainboom?
There was an old legend, of a pegasus who once broke through the sound barrier, and left a wave of sound and rainbow in her wake. Other ponies who tried to fly faster than sound had often hoped to duplicate the feat, but centuries of failure led most ponies to think that it was nothing but an old mare’s tale. If this wasn’t a Sonic Rainboom, though, then what else could it be?
Rainbow Dash laughed as she casually flew past the finish line of the racetrack, accompanied by the frantic cheers of the spectators, and soared up to fly all the way over Cloudsdale. Dad would have a fit if he saw this, she thought, grinning to herself. His “good little weather stallion”, trailing rainbows everywhere. Still, I wish they could both see this. I know they’d still be proud of me, the first pegasus to break the sound barrier in centuries, or maybe ever.
As Rainbow Dash curved back around towards the starting line, her adrenaline faded to a calm confidence. That was the most amazing thing ever. I always enjoyed racing, but I never knew it could be like this. I just got Hoops and Dumb-Bell off Fluttershy’s tail forever, broke the sound barrier, proved that the Sonic Rainboom isn’t just a legend and found out I can make rainbows happen by myself.
I’m never going to give up on racing, and I’m never going to give up on my friends again.
Even with the wind whipping at her body, she felt a distinct tingling on her flank. She turned her head, once more admiring the rainbows trailing from her mane and tail, and saw another rainbow – a red, yellow and blue lightning bolt forking out of a cloud, depicted on her flank.
Her cutie mark.
Best day ever.
The crowd erupted into cheers as she landed. Gilda, Echo and Dazzle rushed towards her and hoisted her up onto their shoulders. “That was amazing, Rainbow Dash, simply amazing!” gushed Dazzle, beaming brightly. “And to do all that for Fluttershy, to keep that beastly Hoops and his crony off her tail – I couldn’t be more proud of you!”
“I knew you’d win, Rainbow!” said Echo, nodding along with Dazzle’s sentiments. “You’re the greatest flier in this school, no matter what anypony says!”
“Cool moves, Dash,” said Gilda, trying to seem laid-back, but still beating her wings in triumph. “About time somepony put Hoops and Dumb-Bell in their place.”
Rainbow grinned and tried not to blush, basking in the adoration of her friends. “Yeah, well… I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been thinking about you guys. You and Fluttershy. Say… where is Fluttershy, anyway?”
Dazzle chewed her lip awkwardly, and Gilda looked at the cloud beneath them.
Rainbow hopped down from her friends’ shoulders and looked around. “Guys? What happened to Fluttershy? She was right here, wasn’t she?”
“She, um…,” began Dazzle. “Rainbow, there was an accident. When the three of you flew past her at the start of the race, she…”
Rainbow suddenly noticed that there were marks on Dazzle’s face where tears had dried. Her elation at the events of the race drained from her, and she felt her mouth go dry. “She what? She fell?” Rainbow ran to the edge of the cloud and looked down. There were a few tiny clouds dotting the air beneath them, but nothing that would support a falling pegasus’s weight. “Hang on, Fluttershy,” she cried, springing into the air. “I’m coming!”
Before Rainbow could dive more than a foot, she felt a taloned hand wrap around her tail and yank her back onto the cloud. “Dash, dude, are you crazy?" said Gilda, holding Rainbow's tail in an iron grip. "What are you gonna do? Fly all the way to the ground, find Fluttershy and carry her back all by yourself?”
“Yes! I have to! This is my fault!”
Gilda slowly dragged Rainbow back onto the cloud and pushed her into a sitting position. “No it’s not, Dash. It was an accident, and it was as much Hoops and Dumb-Bell’s fault as yours. Look, as soon as it happened, April Showers went and fetched the teachers. They’re down there looking for her right now. If she’s… I mean… yeah, they’re gonna find her, and bring her back safe. You’d just be in the way, especially when you’re all worn out like this.”
Rainbow Dash stretched out her wings and winced. “I guess you’re right, Gilda. I’ll stay here.”
Gilda nodded. “Good plan. Look, you did great out there. And congrats on getting your flank-thingy. Must be nice.”
“It’s pretty cool, yeah. I just hope Fluttershy’s okay, or it won’t be worth it.”
Dazzle and Echo came over to comfort Rainbow Dash as the four of them waited anxiously for any word of Fluttershy. Finally, after an agonizing hour of worrying, a medical wagon came into view below them, pulled by two of the school’s teachers. At the front of the wagon sat Fluttershy, seemingly uninjured and none the worse for her ordeal.
As soon as the wagon touched down on the cloud, Rainbow Dash galloped over to meet Fluttershy, with their other friends hot at her hooves. “Fluttershy!” the blue filly cried, leaping up onto the wagon and laying her neck against her friend’s. “I’m so sorry! You could have been killed!”
“Oh, but I wasn’t, Rainbow!” said Fluttershy, nuzzling her friend. “It all turned out for the best! I met lots of new animals. I never knew there were so many different kinds of birds in Equestria, and I met some animals I’d never even heard of! And look!” She sprang off the wagon, flapping her wings idly and hovering gracefully in the air.
“Oh my gosh, Fluttershy, you’re flying!” said Rainbow, hopping from hoof to hoof. “That’s amazing! It looks like you’re hovering without getting tired – that’s a really big step!”
“Hmm?” said Fluttershy, looking down at the cloud several feet beneath her. “Oh, I suppose I am. I don’t know when that started happening – I just felt so good when I learned to communicate with the animals on the ground that I didn’t even realise I was flying. No, I meant this!” She angled her body around and displayed her flank to her friends, so that they could see the three butterflies depicted on it.
“Your cutie mark?” shrieked Rainbow Dash. “That’s incredible! I just got mine, too! And so did Dazzle! This is just the best day ever! I’m sorry it started out so bad, though.”
“Me too,” said Fluttershy, nuzzling Rainbow again. “I’m sorry I said those things about… your name and stuff. You go way out of your way to help me, and it’s not fair to you.”
“Hey, Rainbow Dash,” said a voice from behind them. Rainbow turned around to see April Showers addressing her. “Sorry to interrupt, but I wanted to talk to you about that Sonic Rainboom you did.”
“Heh, sure thing,” said Rainbow, running one hoof through her mane and recovering a bit of her old nonchalant demeanour. “It was pretty cool, wasn’t it?”
“It was,” agreed April. “And I got the whole story from Dazzle here about why you and Hoops and Dumb-Bell were racing to begin with. I gotta say, I’m impressed. Listen… Falcon Squad won’t be doing any more racing for a month or so. Brolly is facing suspension for abusing his influence with the faculty, and I’m on detention for the foreseeable future. We’re not going to run any more races without faculty oversight, and after what might have happened to Fluttershy, that’s probably for the best. Anyway, once we’re back in the air, we’d love to have you on the squad. What you did for Fluttershy is the sort of spirit we like to see, and with that Sonic Rainboom, we know you’ve got the skills. What do you say?”
Rainbow Dash scratched her head and looked between April and Fluttershy, pondering. “Oh, don’t say no on my account, Rainbow Dash!” said Fluttershy, shaking her head vigorously. “You belong in Falcon Squad. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”
Rainbow turned back to April. “Falcon Squad will still be here next year, right?” she asked. April nodded. “In that case, I’ll join up next year. I want to make sure Fluttershy gets up to speed this year. How does that sound?”
“That sounds good to me,” said April, nodding. “I’d better go – the faculty want to shout at me some more. I’ll see you on the squad next year, Rainbow Dash. And I’ve still got my eye on you, too, Gilda. Catch you later!” With a graceful flip of her wings, she took off towards the faculty buildings.
Fluttershy threw her front legs around Rainbow Dash’s shoulders. “Oh, thank you, Rainbow, thank you! I feel much better about my flying now that I have my cutie mark and I know what I want to do with my life, but I still need a lot of practice. I promise I’ll work as hard as you want.”
Rainbow Dash tousled Fluttershy’s mane with one hoof. “I know you will, Fluttershy.” She turned to smile at the rest of their friends. “We’re all in this together, guys, and if we’re always here for each other, we can get through anything.”
The four ponies held out a front hoof each and placed them atop one another, and Gilda followed suit with her furled talons.