The sound of water dripping, drop by drop, down the edge of the metal pipe and into the rippling puddle below.
I’m five hundred feet in the air.
Where does the horizon end and the sky begin?
I don’t know. I wouldn’t know.
For me, up is down and down is up.
The ground’s rapidly approaching. I should spread my wings soon.
“Twilight!” I shouted, banging on the window to her room on the top story of the library. I could see her in her bed through the glass, sleeping on her side and facing away from me. “It’s almost time! Get up already!” I continued to bang on her window.
The sun had just come up, and I had just finished my flying exercises for the morning. Corkscrews, nosedives, loop-de-loops, figure eights, barrel rolls—everything and anything you can name, and things that don’t even have names. Not yet, anyways. I don’t normally get up this early, and I’m a pony who values her sleep. But today? Today was going to be special.
“Come o-o-on!” I shouted. “If you sleep any later, we’re going to miss it!”
Twilight didn’t budge.
“You agreed to come!”
The blue blanket covering her chest steadily rose and fell, and Spike was sleeping just as soundly as she was in his little bed next to hers.
This wasn’t working. I needed Twilight for today. If she wasn’t there, everything I did so far would have gone to waste. The days—no, weeks—of planning. Of practicing. Of goading and nagging Twilight into saying yes. Today was the Alabaster Angel, a competition for non-professionals like me. Not major league stuff, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that Twilight would see me in action.
I barged through her front door and flew up to her room, then pulled the covers out from under her arms. “Wakey, wakey!” I shouted.
Twilight grumbled, reaching for the sheets. Failing that, she rolled away, facing her back to me and rolling up into a ball. Light shone through the window, letting her hair gleam in the morning sun.
How cute. I couldn’t help but smile.
“C’mon, Twilight,” I said, gently rocking her back and forth. “It’s time to get goin’.”
Twilight scrunched her muzzle. She opened her eyes to a narrow slit, then shut them tight again. “If it’s the latest Daring Do book you want,” she said, “I told you, it’s coming on Thursday.”
“No, Twilight!” I rocked her a little faster. “The flight competition’s today!”
Even after everything I did, Twilight didn’t seem interested in the Alabaster Angel. A week ago, I asked her, “Hey, wanna check out my flight competition? It’ll be totally awesome!” and she replied just, “No thanks.”
“Hey, wanna check out my flight competition? There’ll be commemorative books and stuff!”
“Hey, wanna check out my flight competition? I hear Soarin’ll be signing copies of his new autobiography!”
“Ooh, I’d love to, but...”
In the end, I agreed to going to a public poetry reading with her so she’d come with me. She’s the bookish type, so I guess that it’d only be natural for her to not want to go to something like this. In about a week from now, we’d be listening to something about the tortured soul of a pony born and raised in the darker parts of Manehatten. Her explanation of the event went soaring over my head, and the poems she quoted flew even higher.
But for now, it didn’t matter. It was just going to be me, her, and about a few hundred other ponies drawing vapor trails in the sky with the tips of our wings or watching us from the ground below. That is, if we could arrive in time for it.
“Sorry, Twilight,” I said, “but I gotta do this.” With a heave and a grunt, I jumped onto Twilight’s bed, bouncing her off onto the wooden ground below and making her land with a thud.
She got the message clearly enough. Still half-awake and disoriented, she brushed her hair, ate her breakfast, and walk out the door. “Watch the library while we’re gone,” she told Spike, and the purple baby dragon gave us a groggy salute as he sat at the kitchen table, sloppily eating a bowl of honey oat cereal and drinking a glass of orange juice.
The Alabaster Angel only came once a year, and luckily for me, it was just in the next town over, Fillydelphia. We boarded the train and arrived in Fillydelphia within a couple hours. Twilight, still tired, took a short nap on the train. I, on the other hoof, wondered if my practice would pay off. From the train, we headed straight to the Fillydelphia Oval Gardens to the side of town, where the competition was being held.
The Gardens looked a giant oval bowl. It was about the size of three Canterlot Castle Ballrooms if they were put side to side, and it had no roofing of any sort, making it perfect for today’s competition. Tall white pillars lined the stone walkways that spread out from the gardens in all directions like tentacles from an octopus. Soft grassy patches dotted with flowers spaced out the walkways under the blue sky above.
We passed through registration at the front gates. I got a number, and Twilight got an audience pass. She wouldn’t be with me with at the performance. Of course not—she couldn’t fly. When we parted ways, though, I caught a glimpse of her ticket. Section B, row 4, seat G. I’d know exactly where she was, even if I was flying from above.
Twilight was here, and I was here. She’d see my trick, I’d tell her my feelings for her, and we’d start going out. It was supposed to be perfect.
The sun got in my eyes that time.
No. I shouldn't have thought that. That was just an excuse, and excuses mean nothing.
Failure wasn't an option. It never was. It never will be. Even if I don't win first in the Alabaster Angel, even if I don't place—that'd be fine. As long as Twilight saw this and saw it done right... That’s all I wanted.
But I fell then, just like I’m falling now. I flew too close to the sun and I got burned, as she'd say. The sky’s the limit—a limit I reached.
The sun was setting and the moon was rising. The horizon masked the sun like a blazing blanket, slowly dying down as smoke-like clouds wafted into the dusk, moving further and further away from me.
I had reached my hooves up. The dimming sky felt so close then, as if I could have almost touched it. Kissed it. Held it in my hooves and embraced it.
I closed my eyes. The sky moved further and further away from me as I fell closer and closer to the ground.
Where was I? Ground? Sky? Down? Up? I wanted to fly up high, as high as I could, and stay up there forever.
I was so close, yet so far. The higher I flew, the harder I fell.
What was between me and it? Between sky and beyond? I asked her once. I couldn’t understand a word she said, but she was so excited to explain it to me, so I just nodded my head and pretended that I did.
But why couldn’t I do it now? I’d done it before. Twice, no less. But that was going down. I wanted to go up.
As the sky continued to dim to a darker shade of lavender, I saw a star twinkle above.
My guiding star.
I unfurled my wings. I couldn’t give up. Not then. I had it all planned out. Get Twilight to the Alabaster Angel, get the latest spot in the Alabaster Angel, wait until dusk at the sky turns deep blue and orange. Then, I’d show everypony—and more importantly, show her.
I flew back up as fast as I could—flew high above the clouds—and tried again.
At the registration table for the Alabaster Angel signups, I picked the last possible spot, number twenty. The move I had planned for tonight needed the sunset backdrop.
It looked like competition was drawn in from all parts of Equestria. There were pegasi from Cloudsdale, looking eager and confident, some pegasi from Canterlot, feathers preened and noses pointed up, and there were pegasi from small towns here and there, kind of like me. Each of us were given a number, chosen by ourselves, along with a tag to show on our flanks.
The waiting lobby we had was pretty cramped. It stood maybe a little smaller than the foyer to Twilight’s library and held all twenty of us plus the staff, the dressing ponies, and that pony with the clipboard who told us who’s flying next. There wasn’t enough space for everypony, and I was pushed by the crowd into a corner that I had to share with a fake potted plant whose leaves I’d get bumped into way too often.
I figured that it was too cramped for me. It wasn’t like I was going to be flying anytime soon, anyways. Each pony’s performance could go anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, so I expected that nopony would go looking for me if I left the area for a bit. (I was right, as I would later find out.)
And so I left the room. The outermost part of the Garden was shaped like a giant oval ring. At the top part of the ring were the seats, and below those was the blue circular hallway where vendors sold popcorn, peanuts, drinks, and all sorts of silly merchandise from fake pegasus wings to Wonderbolt bobbleheads. I got in line for a soda when a pegasus about my age came up to me from behind and started talking to me.
“Whoa!” she said. “You’re actually competing, aren’t you?”
“Yup!” I replied, and turned my sign with “20” on it towards her. “You know what they say. Save the best for last.”
“Wow, you must be pretty awesome.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said confidently. “Just wait until the end.”
I’m not sure why I said what I said next. Maybe it was the excitement, or maybe I needed somepony to tell me that what I had planned was actually as awesome as I thought it would be. Whichever it was, I motioned with a hoof for her to lean in close.
“So, here’s how it’s gonna go down. First, I’m going to gather all the clouds together in the middle of the stadium. Next I’m going to fly as high as I can, as fast as I can. Then, finally...” I could feel the excitement building in my voice, as well as in her eyes. It was a good sign, I thought. “I’ll let myself fall, building up speed, then use the build up air pressure to slingshot myself into the sky even faster than before, and once I go fast enough, I’ll burst through the clouds, scattering them, and—”
“A-hem!” said the stallion behind the counter. The rest of the ponies in line had already cleared out. “You gonna buy something or what?”
“Oh, uh, right.” I bought my soda and went on my way.
Twilight’s seat was pretty close to the soda stand. The seats themselves were in the shape of steps facing in towards the stadium, and stairs that led down to the circular hallway separated the sections. Luckily for me, the seat next to Twilight’s was empty, but on her seat was a half-finished bag of popcorn and a cup of soda. Ignoring them, I sat down next to her anyways.
She didn’t notice at first, with her eyes concentrated on the current flyer doing corkscrews and loop-de-loops through an elaborate obstacle course, but I got her attention soon enough.
“Hey, Twilight!” I called.
She turned her head. “Rainbow Dash!” she said. “I’m surprised to see you here. Shouldn’t you be down there with the other competing ponies?”
“Not really,” I replied. “See her out there?” I pointed at the current contestant. “She’s number three. I’m number twenty. I got plenty of time.”
Contestant number three dove between a series of pillars striped red and white, flying through several hoops connecting them.
“Pretty amazing, huh?” asked Twilight.
“Ha, yeah. She’s, uh... she’s great and all, but she’s not as good as me. ”
Twilight smiled. “Don’t be nervous, Rainbow. I’m sure that you’ll do just fine. Try to relax.”
“Nervous?” I said nervously. “Don’t be silly. I got this! And just you watch. I promise you, it won’t just be awesome—it’ll be dazzling.”
Contestant number three finished her routine, and many pegasi started to clear away the obstacles for the next contestant.
Twilight stood up and began to walk away. “Well, I’m going to go check out the shops. They had some pretty neat stuff there.”
I watched a helper pegasus pony set up a ring of clouds in the center of the stadium as Twilight walked away until an earth pony with a giant sun hat came up to me and told me to get out of her seat.
Two hundred feet. The crowd gasps as I plummet towards the ground.
Falling. Am I still in the sky? I am falling. I turn over to face upwards.
Dripping, then flowing. Flowing, then gushing. Ripples upon ripples, waves upon waves. Down—or up—my face and into the wind.
Where does earth meet sky? Where does sky meet the beyond? I thought I was about to find out. I was wrong.
Maybe she just forgot. I know how she gets when she’s like that.
But it hurts. So much.
One hundred and fifty feet.
The wind feels nice as it sifts through my feathers. My mane blowing in any which way, my tail blown about like a kite in a storm.
I was so close, yet so far. The sky is deep, but space is deeper. I tried to reach up and grab it, but I couldn’t. Of course I couldn’t.
All pairs of eyes were on the sky. Supposedly.
I shouldn’t have looked, but I did. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I did. I just wanted to see. I needed to see. But I shouldn’t have.
One hundred feet.
Wings spread, I slow my descent. I align myself, nose down and hooves forward. As I approach the ground, I pull back, and move to a glide against the ground, eventually coming to a slow stop along the grassy ground of the stadium. I look to the crowd again.
All pairs of eyes are on the sky—except one.
“Okay,” said the clipboard pony in the stuffy, cramped room. “Contestant twenty! You’re up!”
I stepped up to the edge of the stadium. The center of the stadium was covered with grass, and the sun quickly sank in the horizon. It wasn’t going to be easy, I thought. I gave my wings a few grounded flaps. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I’ve been practicing for too long. And this trick? I knew it could be done.
I glided into the center of the stadium, then flew straight up to the clouds. After that, I herded the clouds together into one giant clump—tight enough for it to break apart cleanly, but soft enough for me to plow straight through it. And then, I folded my wings in and dived.
A straight drop from the sky to the ground. I held one hoof in front of me, and lined my wings back to speed up. I felt the air condensing in front of me as I saw the ground come closer and closer. Then, my moment came—failing a Sonic Rainboom to shoot myself straight up towards the clouds I gathered.
A loud gasp from the crowd. I smirked. All according to plan.
It was difficult—I had performed Sonic Rainbooms before, but until only yesterday, I’d never done one while flying up. On top of that, I needed to time it just right. If it went off too early or too late, it just wouldn’t be the same. It was fine, though. I worked for this. I flew until my eyes watered and the wind chilled me through to my hooves. I had it in the bag. The air pressure formed an aerial trampoline, and I relaxed my wings, letting the pressure slingshot me straight up and at the clouds, letting me pick up as I flew up with both hooves pointed out.
And just like that, I scattered the clouds like a break shot on a billiards table with a Sonic Rainboom, letting the clouds spread out like ripples in a pond.
A brilliant rainbow of concentric circles radiated outward from the clouds’ center, shading the night sky with all sorts of hues. Red stars above. Orange stars. Scattered clouds, forming arcs along the sides of the circles, acted like prisms for the rainbow light. As the sun gave way to dusk, yellow, green, blue, indigo stars, all the way across the approaching night sky, dotted it like milkweed seeds in a spring breeze. And in the center of it all, one violet star sparkled, brighter than the rest.
As I reached the peak of my burst, far above the clouds and above the rainbow ring, I looked at the star and reached out for it with my hooves. I was so close to it. It were as if I could give it a gentle blow and it’d shake about in the sky.
The plan went flawlessly.
Or so I thought. There was but one flaw that seemed so minor, yet still brought my entire plan crashing down like a flower pot kicked off of a third story windowsill.
As I fell back down to earth, I scanned the audience for Twilight and the look on her face and saw her.
But she didn’t see me.
She was looking down, nose-deep in a book.
“So sorry,” says Twilight, sitting next to me on the train home. “So very sorry.”
I look out the window. Stars like twinkling pinpricks dot the deep blue night sky.
“Psh. Don’t worry, Twilight.” I wave a hoof. “It was nothing special. Nothing that you haven’t seen before, anyways.”
“It’s just that...” She holds a signed copy of Soarin’s autobiography to her chest and sighs contentedly. “I didn’t think this book would be so interesting! Did you know that Soarin’ was born and raised in a barn? Like, an actual barn? By cows?” Her eyes glint.
“Really? Heh. I’m going to have to borrow that book from you sometime, won’t I?”
“Only if you’re as big a Wonderbolts fan as you say you are. You’ll probably never be able to look at Soarin’ the same way again after reading this.”
We share a laugh, and then a calm silence.
“Look,” she says, “I’m really sorry about missing your trick. I know you were so excited about it—”
“—but by the thirteenth contestant, I was tired of seeing them do basically the same thing at different angles—”
“—corkscrew into barrel roll into insane death spiral, and I really wanted to buy the book before the lines got too long—”
“Twilight!” I plant a hoof in her mouth. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” I take it away.
She looks at the first place trophy sitting next to me on the bench, decorated with a figure of a shiny pegasus wearing a halo. “I’m sure it must have been impressive.” She looks at the book, then sighs again.
“Well, I did try to use the book to get you to come. And you came!” I put on a cheery smile.
“I guess I did, didn’t I?” She responds in kind.
She yawns and leans against me. “Today was really tiring. I can’t believe you’re not sleepy yet.”
“No kidding. Usually, I’m the one sleeping, and you’re the one staying up into the crazy hours of the night.”
“And you were flying around too! All I did was sit and watch while you did your trick. What was it, anyways? Tell me?” She looks up into my eyes. “Please?”
“Like I said,” I reply. “Nothing special.”
She yawns again. “If you... say... so...” She trails off.
I put a foreleg around her and hold her tight. As the train chugs along to Ponyville, she drifts off to sleep, still leaning against me.
I look out the window again. My guiding star brightly shines beyond the sky.
Beyond the sky.
As I smile, I pull down the curtains on the window.
“So glad you could make it, Rainbow!” said Twilight.
“Heh. Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Twilight.” I looked around. We stood on top of a grassy hill overlooking Ponyville. There weren’t a lot of trees around us, and the ones that were around us were still growing their leaves from last week’s Winter Wrap Up. It gave us a brilliant view of the night sky.
Spread on the grass below us was a quilt, checkered orange and blue. The sun floated just above the horizon, slowly sinking, and clouds lightly rained, scattered all over the sky. Luckily for us, we weren’t under a cloud.
“You never did tell us what’s happening tonight, anyways. Another meteor shower?”
Twilight lay down on top of the quilt, looking up at the sky. “It’s a surprise. Oh, Pinkie, Applejack, Rarity, and Fluttershy won’t be joining us tonight. They all had things to take care of, so it’s just you and me. Come over here.”
I beamed, and I joined her on the quilt.
“So can you tell me now?”
“Not yet. Look up, Rainbow Dash.”
“So... What am I looking at?”
“For now, you’re looking at a sky during sunset. You’ll find out what we’re here for after the sun dips to just above the horizon.”
I turned my head to the sunset. That would come in a few minutes.
“Sunset, horizon, sky,” I mused aloud. “Hey, Twilight, what separates the horizon from the rest of the sky?”
“Hmm. What separates the horizon from the sky? Well, the horizon’s just the line between earth and sky. If you fly high enough, you’ll see the curved edge of the planet and a line. Below that line is earth, and above that line is sky. If you fly even higher, you’ll find space above that.”
“Then what’s between sky and space?”
“More sky, I guess. Technically, the line that separates sky from space is about sixty-two miles up, but that’s just a number scientists happened to choose. From the ground up, there’s the troposphere, which is where we fly, then there’s the stratosphere, where I guess you can fly if you train hard enough, then the mesosphere, where meteors fall, then the thermosphere, which is where the sky technically ends, and past that is the exosphere. And then there’s space. ”
“Think of it like this. Where does red become orange in a rainbow? Unlike in your mane, there isn’t a solid line that divides them. There’s always a slow transition from red to red-orange to orange-red to orange, and even that’s simplifying it. There isn’t a line—there’s a spectrum, with a different hue at every step of the way.”
I didn’t know what she meant, so I just nodded my head and pretended to understand.
A short silence.
“Why?” she asked.
“Well... It sounds kind of stupid, but I’ve always wanted to hold a star in my hooves, or at least feel like I did.”
She rubbed a hoof against her chin. “I guess if you fly high enough and hold your arms out, you can feel like it.”
“Eh, I guess. Doesn’t feel like it’d be the same, though.”
“I would hope not. Stars are burning balls of gas. Get too close to one and it’d burn your wings off. Oh, look up! It’s starting!”
The clouds above stopped their light raining, and the sun sank, forming a half-circle on the far side of Ponyville.
“I managed to find this after looking at the weather schedule a few times. The clouds have to be positioned exactly right, like a bunch of circle sections, and really high up in the sky. After that, we need some kind of rainbow. This light rain should provide that shortly. Next, the timing with the sun needs to be perfect.” She giggled. “To be honest, I had to ask the weather manager a few times to change the time the rain stopped to match the sunset.
“And finally... Wait, no, that’s it. Just watch.”
So I did. Because the sunlight wasn’t strong, we could see the stars, but as the rain ceased, the light from the setting sun struck the mist still lingering in the air, making rainbows high in the sky. The light from the rainbow reflected off the clouds, giving them an odd mix of shades of colors. This acted as some kind of reflector for the rainbow, masking the sky directly above us in a transparent rainbow haze. The sky was a rainbow, with colored stars shining left and right in the orange-blue twilight.
For the next few minutes, I just stared up, speechless.
The event ended much faster than it began—the sun finished setting and the moon slowly rose into the sky. The rainbow was gone, revealing the stars among a deep blue backdrop.
“That was awesome!” I shouted, jumping up off the quilt.
“It wasn’t just awesome,” said Twilight. “It was dazzling.”
“No kidding! Wow!” I kept my eyes fixed on the sky. “Man, if only I could do tricks that awesome! Not even a Sonic Rainboom can top that!”
“Oh, I’m sure you can,” she said confidently.
“You kidding? What kind of flying trick could top a Sonic Rainboom?”
“Well, have you tried?”
“I—well, no, but—”
“So maybe you can pull it off!”
I sat back down on the quilt. “I doubt it. To do anything like that, I’d have to fly really high up. I might as well try to hold a star in my hooves.”
“Who knows? I mean, Princess Celestia can move the sun.” She chuckled, then turned to look at me. “I’m sure you can do something that amazing, if not more. After all, you know what they say, Rainbow—the sky’s the limit.”