19w, 4dHarmony on the Winds 3 comments · 65 views
33w, 3dTalk about a long time! 5 comments · 73 views
69w, 15hHeadcanon Updates 2 comments · 117 views
81w, 2dTaking Lots of Time 3 comments · 51 views
105w, 4dBreak Time is Over! 0 comments · 73 views
107w, 1dReaching the Mid-Way Point 1 comments · 55 views
111w, 15hOnward to Chapter 5! 1 comments · 52 views
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112w, 2dChapter 4 and History of Equestria 0 comments · 50 views
112w, 2dOn the FINAL subject of Chapter 3 0 comments · 48 views
Twilight's eyes darted around the area, trying to get a bead on the source of the voice she had just heard. The sound of it alone made her very fidgety, jumpy, and not being able to see the source of a voice that seemed to come from all around her only made her more concerned. "Where are you? Why don't you come out and talk to me?" she asked in as calm a voice as possible. That didn't change the speed of her racing heart though, the intense dread she was feeling now, alone and unfocused, currently stuck in a very 'lacking' mentality....oh, thinking about THAT wasn't making this any better, crud!
Twilight swallowed the lump in her throat, suddenly wishing very, very much that she'd somehow delayed Wind Strider heading back into town. Did he run into this as well, whatever this was? "W-well, what do you want with me?" she called out again, trying to break the silence that surrounded her now, anything to make the forest around her seem less foreboding. She felt plenty alert now, all of her senses sharp as a razor's edge, her fear forcing her to break through her depression and her anger to focus more on self-preservation, a far more motivating reason to raise her awareness than 'I should do something'.
Silence once again surrounded her, aside from a rustling in the bushes nearby, Twilight unsure if the sound was from the wind, or from something moving through the underbrush. The quiet, the lack of a response, upset her further, her driving her fear away for a moment by calling out in her frustration. "Answer me, damn it!" she shouted out at nothing in particular, desperate for an answer. She spun around, her eyes wide, when something behind her finally responded.
"I want you," a feminine voice said to her, Twilight looking left, then right, then down when she realized that the voice was very young, almost sounding like a filly of the CMC's ages. She wasn't ready for those eyes, though. Those shiny, vertically slitted draconic eyes, the same she'd seen in her reflection. She didn't look away though, she was equally afraid of not keeping an eye on this....this pitch-black-furred foal, this foal that made her far beyond uneasy just being this close to her. Twilight was only standing maybe five steps away from the young filly, the little foal appearing from just around a tree behind the one she had decided to rest against. "I want to be with you."
Though she was scared, she was also oddly curious. Did this thing know her, somehow? Her tail twitched with the terror-addled excitement she felt, the first kind of curiosity-driven excitement she'd felt since before her breakdown, that tri-colored tail sweeping left and right over her flanks. "O-okay....erm, who are you, then....?" she asked, her voice shaky and unsure, her imagination going a mile a minute. Would this thing kill her, or attack her? Would it simply be nice to her, or would it do nothing at all?
The black-bodied foal, clearly female, eyes only blinking once at the question Twilight asked. "I am like you," she said, giggling an ethereal laugh, one that made Twilight jump, startled at how all-encompassing it sounded, the little laugh coming from all around her, just like the foal's voice seemed to before she appeared where Twilight could see her. The little filly never turned her gaze from Twilight's face, staring at her with a creepy eagerness. "I am what you want to be. Don't you want to be like me, Twilight Sparkle?"
Hearing her name made Twilight swallow another lump in her throat, her mouth suddenly feeling dry, her eyes dilating and her heart redoubling its beat rate. "How do you know my name? What's YOUR name?!" Twilight asked in a clear panic, her terrified eyes staying locked on the little foal as she slunk along the ground, her hooves staying pressed to the ground, as if she were skating without any actual skates. "I said that I am you, Sister...." she said in a wispy voice, her sliding motions suddenly jolting her forward and up, her legs becoming long and spindly, utterly out of proportion from the rest of her tiny body. She was eye-level with Twilight, the lavender Unicorn locked in place out of utter and absolute fear. "Please stay with me, Sister....give yourself to me!!"
Twilight's eyes dilated when the little foal's mouth opened, and then distended, becoming larger and larger before her very eyes. All she could see were teeth, rows upon rows of gnashing, spinning, undulating teeth attached to inky blackness, ready to gore her into small pieces and swallow her comparatively fleshy body. In her terror, her magic almost kicked in all on its own, the initial blast making the mouth closing in around her bulge out further and away from her, the snap of energy after making her blink back ten feet away from the monstrosity.
She didn't have time to relax or ask questions. "Please, Sister, I want your help....!" the little foal begged in her wispy voice once more, her mouth closing to normal once more as she slid along the ground towards Twilight once more. The lavender Unicorn turned and bolted down the pathway, barely acknowledging the burn in her very out-of-shape body in favor of survival and nothing but.
"SOMEPONY HELP ME!!!!"
To say that Strider was surprised at the spread waiting for them once they had arrived was an understatement. Food was laid out, a lot of it being sweets and baked goods of all varieties, including some of Rainbow Dash's favorites. Muffins, pies, a few personal cakes and more, he couldn't even apply a known name to most of the things he saw. His gaze fell on Rainbow Dash, who was sitting next to him, him pointing his left forehoof at an odd, round creme-like treat with a red center that wasn't made of cream. "Uh....what is this thing?"
"It's my own special design! The outside is a boiled creme, and the middle is a plum. Kind of like a rice ball!" Pinkie said with her usual enthusiasm. "Go on, give it a try!" she said, holding the plate full of them out to Strider, him looking at them closely. They were shaped like a big wafer, and he was seriously wondering about the construction of this confection, but nonetheless, he tilted his head down and went after one with his teeth. "WAIT!"
He almost jumped from the rather startling shout from the pink mare, his eyes going wide and him backing off from the offered plate. Pinkie looked at him sternly. "Haven't you ever tried one of these before? Sheesh, so uncultured...." she said in a flat tone....then giggled and patted his slightly drooped head, making him blink in confusion. "I'm just messin' with ya, ya silly billy! But seriously, these things take a lot of precision, so you gotta eat the whole thing all at once, the whole thing in your mouth, don't bite into it."
He tilted his head, looking down at them, singling one out in his eyes. "Why's that?" he asked, and Pinkie just grinned as Rainbow Dash grabbed one and showed him how to eat them. "You'll see!" she said in her usual cheery tone. Strider just watched as Dash's cheeks bulged around the flat treat, taking it into her mouth in one massive gulp, chewing and breaking it down, a look of bliss crossing her features and making her wings flit in delight. Strider didn't need much more encouragement than that, gingerly taking one of the plum-cored treats between his lips, lifting it up and tilting his head back, pulling it into his mouth with his tongue.
The first thing he noticed was the squishyness of the yellow-ish gold part of the snack outside of the plum core. He thought that she had baked it throughout, and while it was nice and warm, the moment he bit into it, the treat was akin to pudding skin. What greeted his tastebuds once it was broken through was a massive burst of gooey creme goodness that almost instantly painted a smile on his face. He chewed and chewed and chewed, biting through the plum part that was missing its pit, that flavor mixing with the creme and creating a lingering flavor mix that he was apprehensive in removing from his palate.
Eventually though, he swallowed his blissful payload down, the aftertaste making him run his tongue over the inside of his mouth constantly for a while longer while he spoke up, his eyes wide in happy shock, his lips contorted with deep joy for this treat. "You were placed upon this world to create physical embodiments of happiness, Pinkie Pie. Like those things. Would you like to marry me? I'm totally available, please say ye-oof!" he said, laughing some after Rainbow Dash gave him a playful shove. "Heeeeey hey hey hey, I'm not sharin' you buddy! Deal with it!" she said, laughing a bit along side Pinkie Pie. "Oh, Rainbow Dash, you got yourself a funny one, way to go!"
Strider just chuckled and went to snacking on a Rainbow Cupcake or two, looking around the area, gazing over the expanse of Sweet Apple Acres only a yard away from Starlight Hill. He looked to Applejack a moment later, still chewing a piece of cupcake. "So, miss....erm, Applejack, right? Do you run that place all by yourself?" he asked with a hint of awe, as if he already thought that she managed to do it herself. Applejack was in the middle of taking a drink of her cider, non-alcoholic of course. She set her glass down a second or two later, her weary appearance not lost on Strider's keen eyes. "Oh, well, lately ah been workin' overtime, moreso'n usual ah mean. But, ah'm not th' only one workin' there. Ah got my big brother an' mah lil' sis t'help me out."
Strider nodded to that, swallowing his cupcake piece down, setting the plate he'd put it on down so he could talk for a bit. "I see! Why do you look so tired then, if you don't mind me asking?" Applejack grumbled and looked away. "J-just a rough Applebuck Season, that's all! Nothin' to it really, it happens sometimes," she explained to him, the orange-furred pony examining some of the available food before settling on a slice of apple pie. Holding it up with a hoof, she took a large bite out of it and closed her eyes, her body seeming to shrink in on itself somewhat while she let a blissful murr escape her. Swallowing it down, she licked her lips clean. "Ferget HIM, marry me, Pinkie!"
Pinkie Pie just laughed at Applejack and shook her head. "Wow, I'm popular today! But then I'm always popular at parties. Especially surprise parties!" she said, her tongue hanging out of the corner of her closed mouth, her brows furrowed in thought. "I wonder why that is? I know I'm one really cutie-patootie Pinkie Pie, but I didn't think all of my friends were attracted to me!"
Everypony just laughed at that and continued with their meals, the conversation going this way and that between them all, Strider learning plenty about each of them, even Fluttershy, who was hesitant to talk about herself in the first place. Pinkie had left the group at least three times looking for Twilight, but with increasing worry, she couldn't find the lavender Unicorn. "Excuse me, mister Wind Strider?" Pinkie asked him, interrupting his conversation with Rainbow Dash, the two of them talking about some good times back in Flight School. "You said you saw her at Zecora's, why isn't she back yet?"
Strider shrugged his shoulders. "Honestly, I don't know why she's not back yet. She was only visiting with Zecora," he said, rubbing the back of his head. "Also, uh, just call me Strider, or Wind Strider, not 'mister' or anything. I get enough of that back in Canterlot," he said, Pinkie nodding a little. "Okay! Well, maybe Twilight's just hanging out with Zecora right now....I'll go get 'er!" Pinkie said, starting to hop away. Rarity stood up from her luxurious red couch she brought along, holding a hoof out to Pinkie. "Pinkie Pie, are you sure you'll be okay going alone? I can go with you if you like." The others save for Strider nodded in agreement as well, but Pinkie held up a hoof. "No no, that's okay girls, I'm only going to get Twilight! It shouldn't take me long."
With that, Pinkie Pie left them all behind, the five ponies going back to enjoying all of the treats Pinkie had put together. Rarity was still curious though, and now she had a real chance to sit down and dig into the juicy pile of gossip that presented itself before her! "So, Wind Strider....such a strong and stalwart name. Who are your parents, or is that a more personal sort of subject?" Rarity asked him, laying down across her couch once more.
Strider smiled more and ate another of those creme things, taking his time chewing it while Rarity spoke, only sending it to the pit of his stomach once she finished her question. "Oh, my parents were commoners that got rich through hard work. Erm....have you heard of Sturdy Stiles and Savory Saint?" he asked her, Rarity just shaking her head. "No, I'm afraid I haven't. Do you know if they've ever ordered anything from my shop? I do all kinds of clothes these days!"
He shook his head once more. "No, I don't really talk to them very often, I mostly live by myself, save for when I'm on assignment with other members of the Royal Guard," he explained, licking his lips clean and turning his gaze down to the plate that had those creme treats on them. If one were watching, one might be able to see his body visibly slump at the realization that there were no more of them, much to his intense dismay. "Ooh, I see~! Well! Now for the question I just know we ALL want to ask...." Rarity said, clopping her forehooves together excitedly. "Eee, howdidyoutwomeet?! I never would've expected Rainbow Dash to find a coltfriend before me, but here you are, and a Royal Guardspony at that! I just HAVE to know."
Rainbow Dash hung her head and her face turned purple from her blush, it was so intense, the red contrasting with her blue fur. Strider was blushing as well, but not as badly, a bit more open about the subject. "W-well, uhm....Rainbow Dash? Is it okay?" he asked his fairly quiet marefriend, the sky-blue pegasus nodding a couple of times. Rarity could be heard squee'ing. "Yeeee, she's so cute when she gets embarrassed!"
Rainbow Dash glared at the fashionista and growled. "Don't make me come over there and shut ya up by force," she growled out under her breath, her gaze never moving away from Rarity's eyes. Rarity only covered her mouth with a hoof, her muffled laughs seeming to grate and aggravate the blush that Rainbow Dash could only recognize as an overpowering disease at the moment. Rainbow Dash shifted her glare away from Rarity and towards the ground, mumbling something under her breath. "SO not cool...."
Strider could only laugh at the exchange, shaking his head a little and leaning over towards her, his cheek pressing against the side of her neck, making her glare disappear and an embarrassed grimace replace it. She knew what he would've wanted to say to her if they had some privacy, and she was glad that his sappy words were reserved for such a situation, since it would only make things worse in front of her friends. Fluttershy let out a barely audible 'aww' at the show of affection, and Rarity's eyes got big. She was SUCH a sucker for this sort of thing!
"Well, anyways, when we first started dating...."
Wind Strider flew high above the grasslands below, long flowing fields of wheat passed beneath him, the Royal Messenger taking a liesurely pace with the package he had stowed away in his saddlebags. It wasn't a high-priority delivery, but he was sure the pony awaiting it would consider it to be of the utmost importance for her weekly tasks. This wasn't the first time he had to make such deliveries during the less active times of the year, the heat of Summer and all the new Summertime jobs cutting into the crime rate in just about all of the cities and towns in Equestria. It was his main job, outside of standing guard when messages and deliveries to and from the palace for the Royal Pony Sisters.
He could see Ponyville in the distance, and in maybe ten minutes he would be touching down in the hometown of the Elements of Harmony for his first time! He couldn't help but be a bit excited by such a thing, mainly because he might get a chance to visit with an old friend. Of course, if he remembered Rainbow Dash's personality well enough, she was probably milking what could possibly be a celebrity-like status for all it was worth....but, he quickly cast that thought aside in favor of believing in the possibility that she was the same friendly, good-natured Rainbow Dash she always was behind that lively, prideful demeanor.
He touched down in the middle of the main pathway through town, where most visiting Pegasi touched down because of all the space they had to land. He wasn't exactly sure where the library was, even after getting a good look at Ponyville from the air, so he walked down the street to the nearest business: the Sofa & Quill Store, which he soon found out was NOTORIOUS for being all out of quills to draw in ponies in need of quills just so they can try to convince more customers to get some new furniture. Apparently it was a semi-successful, semi-unethical business ploy.
Getting the location of the library from the young colt working the front counter in place of the older male, Strider flew a few feet above the ground, not entering 'airspace' and staying in the 'Pegasus Lane', as most referred to the area above the streets that most Pegasi stayed in so that anypony could speak up and talk to them without having to yell. He had his armor on, and a trio of adorable young fillies likely in kindergarten still stopped him to have a chat with him. He landed near Sugarcube Corner to talk with them for a bit, the young fillies apparently enchanted by his very unique armor.
"So, what are your names, anyways? My name's Wind Strider," he explained, his wings tucked in now that he was sitting down, the filly with the red mane going to get something to snack on from inside Sugarcube Corner. The orange pegasus spoke up first, her grinning wide. "I'm Scootaloo, this is Sweetie Belle, and our earth pony friend is Apple Bloom!" she said with such adorable enthusiasm, him able to feel her bright eyes locking in on his armor. "Wind Strider's such an awesome name! Almost as awesome as Rainbow Dash."
Wind Strider blinked a few times, clearing his throat and looking around nervously. "O-oh, you know Rainbow Dash?" he asked, much to Scootaloo's delight. "You know I do! She's gonna teach me how to fly. She's so cool, being able to do things like the Sonic Rainboom and the Buccaneer Blaze, and-and-" she said, starting to become background noise to Strider, who was looking to the other Crusaders for assistance in this matter. This matter, of course, being getting Scootaloo to come back to reality and out of her fanfilly mindset.
Apple Bloom came back outside of Sugarcube Corner, a bag of tasty cupcake-like snacks in tow. She turned her attention to Scootaloo, who was dominating the conversation now with her Rainbow Dash-based rant, and shook her head in disdain. "Ugh, here she goes again....hey! HEY!" she said, shouting towards the end while clopping her hooves hard against the ground in front of the small-winged pegasus, making Scoots blink a few times and snap her attention to her friends. "Huh? What? Oh...." she said, looking up at Wind Strider, who was rubbing the top of his head. "So you're a fan I'm guessing, right? Well, do you know where she is?"
Scootaloo nodded vigorously to his question, her little wings flapping so quickly that they actually made a buzzing sound akin to a small motor. 'Is that why she's called Scootaloo....? Huh,' he pondered silently to himself, waiting for her to calm down enough to talk to him straight. By the time she actually did, a number of people had started to stare at them, drawing a vague blush to his cheeks. Not enough to be visible through his coat of fur, but he could certainly feel it. The Crusaders seemed utterly fine, however, with such attention; he figured it must be an acquired tolerance.
The Crusaders went their own way together, something about being Cutie Mark Crusaders....Pinata Detonators? He thought that was what he heard after their small conversation drifted towards young Apple Bloom's upcoming birthday. The last thing he heard the three talking about involved a cannon, makeshift helmets, pinatas, and what he could only assume were really, really poor attempts at martial arts in mid-air to break said pinatas. He wasn't sure if he should notify the Ponyville Fire Department about what they had in mind....nah. That would be so bogus for him to do, restricting their young adventurous ways....
Making his trip short when it came to the library, he stepped inside and spoke with the citizen that had volunteered for the job of being a Librarian, in place of Twilight Sparkle while she was back in Canterlot with her studies. He was a young pony, slightly younger than Strider was, but he seemed to have a good head on his shoulders, what with how quickly he took to putting the books that Strider had brought away. They were books from the Royal Library that were being transferred and copied for distribution to libraries all over Equestria. These were books unseen by the average citizen's eyes, and the Librarian made a point give each of them a once-over as he began to leave, having gotten all the proper paperwork and registrations stowed away.
He took off once more after leaving the library again, leaving the colt to his new reading while scanning the skies for the cloud home the Librarian mentioned. He thought it might be harder, but apparently Rainbow Dash was the only pony in Ponyville, or the only Pegasus in Ponyville perhaps, that could afford, wanted, or needed to live in a cloud home. That was the only conclusion he could come to, judging by the remarkable design it had! It was HUGE for one pony!
A slightly saddening thought occurred to him as he flew in the direction of that house-in-the-sky. His legs slumped a bit as he wondered, with a house that big....was she really living alone in there? Maybe this was a bad idea, would she even remember him? "Eugh, what if she has one of those really mean coltfriends that wants to pummel me just for being another stallion on her doorstep....?" he muttered to himself in thought, idly tapping his chin with a hoof. "Or she might not even be into stallions, she could be yet another mare that's into other mares. Hmmmh....I dunno."
In the midst of his own personal debate, complete with himself on the left side, himself on the right side, and himself as the narrator for each side of himself in said debate, he didn't notice the speedy streak of rainbow colors rushing through the sky some distance away, heading in the direction of the cloud home as well. It was no surprise to him that the faint rainbow trail both led to the same cloud home he was flying towards, and belonged to the only rainbow-maned pegasus in Ponyville. Seeing nopony accompanying her at the moment, he tossed his worries aside and sped up his approach.
Rainbow Dash stood at the front 'door' to her home, pushing the clouds aside and walking in, shifting what she'd squished out of her way back over the entrance, smoothing the cloud out like a sheet of wrinkled paper under her hooves until it looked like a marshmallow door once more. She flexed her wings outward a couple of times, twisting and flapping them in various directions until an audible pop emanated from the base of them, twice in succession. She sighed out and groaned soon after, the burn of backed-up blood vessels being allowed to flow freely once more making her wings go limp for a good minute, them hanging down at her sides. "Oh-ho yeah....! Now, bath-time-" she began to say with a subdued delight. That is, until she heard someone tap at her cloud door, making a fluffing sound with the misty mass of water vapor. Had to be another pegasus, if the cloud was behaving like it had some kind of solidity to it. "-or not. Who is it?"
She waited for a moment, her ears perking at the distinctly male voice on the other side. "Royal Guard, ma'am. Is this the residence of Rainbow Dash?" the voice called out, making her cringe a bit. 'Oh no....this is about that crash-landing I made in the market the other day, it has to be! They want to sue me or arrest me or something!' she said to herself in her head. Nervously, she pushed the cloud door aside, squishing it once more, grinning nervously at the armored pegasus standing before her.
Strider hid his uncertainty behind a curtain of professionalism, standing at attention once she opened her door. "Greetings! I'm here on business from the castle," he said with as straight of a face as he could, given the rather unsteady grin Rainbow Dash had going. He wasn't entirely sure what had her riled up though. She on the other hand looked around for a moment, then looked back to him. "Sooooo....how many bits do I have to pay this time to make this lawsuit go away?" she asked, heh'ing and lightly, nervously tapping her hoof against the cloud she was standing on.
He blinked a few times and rubbed the back of his head, letting that professional presentation of himself fade after hearing that. "Uh....what? Lawsuit? What for?" he asked, leaning in and peering into her house, past her. She hrm'ed and cleared her throat. "So....you're not here to deliver a court date or anything?" she asked him with her hoof outheld to him. He shook his head quickly. "N....no, I'm not here for anything of the sort. Actually, may I come inside?"
His request confused the rainbow-maned pegasus, but she didn't question it, instead inviting him in by stepping aside and motioning her hoof in a gesture that told him it was okay, a sweeping motion with her foreleg in a semi-wide arc. "Sure, c'mon in then!" she said quickly as he began to step forward. He knew that she had no idea who he was, but he was moreso wondering if she'd remember him once she saw him sans his armor.
He let himself take a moment to look around inside the main hall that led into the rest of Rainbow's house upon stepping inside, looking over several pictures of various members of the Wonderbolts, a subconscious smile curling his lips upward when he realized that many of the Wonderbolts paraphernalia that decorated the main hall had Spitfire prominently featured. "Still think that Spitfire's the best Wonderbolt, I'm guessing?" he asked her, turning to face her while she closed her door up once again, getting an eyeful of blue-furred flank.
Rainbow Dash was caught off-guard by him, looking back just in time to see where his eyes were locked on, making her blush and turn to face him quickly. "....Uh, yeah. Please stop looking at me like that," she said, her wings loosening and extending a little, Dash suddenly realizing the fact that she'd just let a stranger into her home without asking for credentials of any sort. She wouldn't have been thinking that way if he hadn't looked at her like that though, and the way he said what he said....like he knew her. The word 'stalker' appeared in front of her mind's eye, setting her on edge.
He chuckled a little and tilted his head. "Why? You certainly didn't mind me doing it back in Flight School," he said, causing Rainbow Dash to lift her head up in confusion, leaning back a bit. "Huh? Flight School? I don't know yo-" she started to say....but then, she blinked a couple of times and looked over his body quickly. "-oh. Right. All you Royal Guard ponies look the same."
He grinned and flapped his wings a couple of times, uttering something under his breath that Rainbow Dash couldn't quite make out. His silvery armor shimmered and loosened around his chest as well as his head, his fur almost seeming to dull and turn off-white until he shrugged the armor on his torso off. His fur rapidly shifted to a darker blue color, his mane elongating from the uniform length and style, all of it haphazardly laying over one side of his neck and down the back of his head when he removed his helmet as well. He set his armor on his back for now, standing tall and returning his attention to Rainbow Dash, who was still quite confused.
She looked him over carefully, eyeing his long mane and his face, looking for any signs of familiarity, anything that would spark some kind of memory in her, but nothing jumped out. She examined his Cutie Mark next, the bright image of the moon with a silhouette of a mare's head etched into it with stars barely visible around it. The mark was topped off with a Honeysuckle plant growing up from under the moon, surrounding it on either side with its flowers sprouting open on both the left and right of that celestial orb. She blinked and looked back to him. "Nnnot recallin' anything," she said, making him facehoof. "Strider. Wind Strider." She oh'ed and grinned almost instantly, her look of understanding almost lighting up the room, she seemed so pleased with herself. "Hah, right! Blank-Flank Strider!"
Strider sighed and rolled his eyes, that old nickname seemed to follow him wherever he ran into old friends and enemies from Flight School. He just shook his head and tried his best to change the subject, or at least deflect the focus off of himself. "Yup, that's me! Been a few years. Whatcha been up to? Aside from winning renowned contests like the Best Young Flyer's Competition, of course."
Soon, they both found a cloud outside to relax on and just chat, reminiscing and laughing about some of the better times back in Flight School. Rain bow Dash however, always tried her best to avoid talking about herself, especially what she did with herself after running away from Flight School. Strider did his best to remain insistent though, constantly bringing it up in the middle of more entertaining conversation. She always brushed the question off with one of her own, in the usual cool and collected Rainbow Dash fashion, never missing a beat.
All of this happened around half a year after the Grand Galloping Gala, it being a time when Strider wasn't fully engrossed in his training to serve Princess Luna directly alongside three other new and old Royal Guard recruits. It wasn't long before he began to use that time to visit Rainbow Dash every week, stopping in to hang out....but one day, he asked something that would alter his stays and short visits from then on.
Strider flew into Ponyville and picked up some lunch, the time close to the afternoon. He knew that like clockwork, Rainbow Dash was most likely to be taking her usual break from her daily workout and training. It was a shame that she hadn't managed to do another Sonic Rainboom yet, but while they had been hanging out so much this past half a year, he had seen her somehow get faster and stronger than she already was. She was like a magic racing vehicle, like those ones he'd seen being developed in Manehattan for that up-and-coming racing sport that didn't rely purely on the wings of Pegasi.
He landed on a cloud and took a quick look around, spotting her not too far away lounging on a cloud that was just her size, shaped and reformed to be the softest recliner anypony had ever felt. No furniture of any kind compared to the comfort of a cloud. "Hey there, Dash!" he called out as he flew over, grabbing a small cloud on his way over and landing on it a few feet away from hers. "Takin' your break right on time, I see."
She opened one eye and lazily waved a foreleg at him, hoof motioning him over until he settled into his own cloud. "Yup! Gotta rest and get a snack, or I'll wind up getting exhausted way too fast," she explained, rolling over and standing up. "You mind gettin' me a couple apples?" she asked him, bending her forelegs while straightening her hindlegs, lowering her upper body only inches from the cloud before pushing back up, doing a couple of push-ups while flexing and tucking her wings in over and over in long, tense flexes. She had begun to feel a bit stiff from the lactic acid building in her muscles from her workout, so she needed to stretch her muscles out again to keep the blood flowing effectively. Otherwise, she would HURT tomorrow.
Strider nodded and held off on asking his questions for the time being, figuring it might be better for him to catch her off-guard. So, he flew down to the main marketplace after stopping in at Rainbow Dash's home to stow his armor away, the dark-blue pegasus coming back with three apples in a small pouch tied to his right hoof. He landed near where she was flying straight up into the air, then making a U-turn and flying rapidly down at the ground, the exercise one of control. She was trying to maintain an even flight speed with a speedometer she had tied to her midsection, a loud beep going off every time she started to fly faster than the time she had set as the standard minutes earlier. This was difficult because going down and up, she had to fight against gravity the whole time, both slowing her descent and beating her wings to speed up while flying straight up.
"Hey, Rainbow Dash!" he shouted out to her when she neared the end of her little exercise. "C'mon, I've got your lunch....aren't you supposed to take the time to rest until one o' clock?" he asked, undoing the tie on the pouch and setting it down. Normally, it should have fallen through the cloud, but he had purchased an enchanted pouch that he kept in his saddlebags in case he had to carry something smaller, like apples. The pouch fell and landed with a light puff of cloud vapors all around it, the pouch enchanted to treat clouds the same way as the bodies of Pegasi: pseudo-solid ground.
Rainbow Dash grabbed her cloud this time and smooshed it into the one Strider was sitting on, the guardspony already grabbing the third apple he'd bought and rested it on one of his hooves, biting into it. "Thanks Strider! I wanted to get this control exercise done before I really took a full-on break, otherwise I would've gotten the apples myself," she explained, biting into one of her two apples and chewing thoughtfully, looking out over the sea of clouds that occupied the sky. "So, what've you got planned for your visit today?"
Strider took another bite of his apple, flexing his wings and popping the joint that bent his wings to adjust his trajectory during flight. He flapped them a few times and settled them against his sides once more, looking over to her. "Well....I thought that maybe later, after I'm done checking in with the Mayor to get an update sheet, we could maybe....meet up above Trotsam Street and grab some dinner....?" he asked, finishing off his apple and setting the apple core inside of his pouch, clearing his throat a bit. "Maybe go see a movie too?"
Rainbow Dash almost choked on the chunk of apple she had in her mouth the moment he talked about seeing a movie too, her looking away and around for a moment, making sure nopony else was around. She eventually focused on him once more, a blush staining her cheeks, bright enough to be seen just barely under her thin fur. "Uh, Strider, not to make this weird or anything, but....are you asking me out on a date? I mean normally you just spend a day with me, then you head back to Canterlot the next day, so...."
He just nodded his head when she began to trail off, making her eyes go wide, her hooves fidgeting against the cloud some. "Uh, wow, alright, uhm....I, uh...." she struggled, stumbling over words that came and went from her mouth as quickly as she readied herself to say them. She didn't know how to respond to such a suggestion! Strider hung his head a little, his brows furrowing into a look of rejection. "I'm guessing the apprehension's a 'no', right?"
Rainbow Dash shook her head quickly and cleared her throat. "No! No no no, I just....I dunno what I'm s'posed to say, I mean nopony has ever asked me out since I moved here after I ran away from Flight School. This'll actually be the third date I've ever been on, and the third co-uh....stallion, I've ever gone out with." Strider perked up almost instantly at that news, a smile spreading from ear to ear on his youthful visage. "Really?! Wow, I really didn't think you'd say yes! Well, I have a place in mind, so....meet you back at your place at six?"
With the time set, they went their separate ways and kept to themselves. Rainbow Dash was on cloud nine, having never been asked out by anypony in several years, while Strider was pumped from the fact that she agreed to go out with him. He didn't often have much luck with mares, he was far too old-fashioned. This was something he kept in mind throughout the day, because his mannerisms were fine, but Rainbow Dash seemed far too cool to be treated like a Princess constantly.
"....After that, we kept on dating, hooking up whenever I had a chance to stop in! I've tried to make as much time as I can, but lately I haven't been able to find enough time....but, I've got an entire week to myself this time around, so hey," he said with a wide grin. "No complaints here!"
Rarity aww'ed at the two of them, currently lazing over one arm of her sofa while listening to them talk. Applejack didn't seem to be all there, though she did have a faint smile after noticing the shy smile Rainbow Dash was trying to hide. Fluttershy, true to her name, shyly fluttered over and landed light as a feather next to her almost life-long friend, placing a hoof on her back. "Oh, I'm so happy for you, Rainbow Dash! You must be so ecstatic...."
Rainbow Dash lifted her head back up and looked around at her friends, smiling and clearing her throat, trying to break the tension she felt with all of them focusing on her. Normally she would welcome such attention, but at the moment she just wanted to disappear. This whole situation made her feel like such a....filly, a silly filly at that. She was embarrassed, being in the spotlight right then and there, as if she were being scrutinized by her own friends. She looked to Fluttershy with the most genuine smile she could muster, having plenty of practice doing so by trying to look as cool as possible no matter what the situation. "Yeah, of course I am, Fluttershy! Why wouldn't I be? Strider's a cool pony."
The guardspony smiled at that and looked around, only to meet Rarity's eyes and gigantic grin. "So how long?" she asked him, having left her sofa to get in close to speak to him with some semblance of privacy. "How long have you tried to work up the nerve to ask her out? Come now, I just HAVE to know!" she asked, stepping to one side and looking down at his Cutie Mark. "By the way, what caused you to get your Cutie Mark? It's a very unique one."
He blinked at the mini-barrage of questions from the very inquisitive fashionista, rubbing the back of his head and hesitating with his answer to her first question. He quickly welcomed her second one wholeheartedly, that was a far less embarrassing topic. "Well, actually I didn't get my Cutie Mark until after I joined the Royal Guard and started working closely under Aolimnus, the Commander of Princess Luna's personal guard-" he started to explain, but a resounding, blood-curdling scream quickly interrupted him.
Pinkie trotted carefree as ever down the path through Everfree, heading for Zecora's in hopes of running into Twilight on the way. After all, it had been a while, and she'd been at Zecora's hut for quite some time if she hadn't left by now. She had made the lavender Unicorn's favorite snacks, she wasn't going to let them go to waste! She stopped when she heard the rapid clop of hooves galloping against the hard dirt.
"STAY AWAY FROM ME!" Pinkie Pie heard someone scream, her carefree demeanor leaving in favor of her being far more alert, and very worried. She had a funny feeling in her gut, and that never meant anything good. She started to run down the path, but the sight of Twilight coming around the bend made her stop in her tracks. "Twilight?!" she called out, trying to figure out what exactly had her friend so panicked.
Pinkie's eyes went wide and her mouth hung open in terror when she noticed the dark, shadow-like pony running behind her bookworm friend. She was a large pony, no longer the little foal Twilight had encountered earlier, and several black tendrils were extending from its body, trying to grab at Twilight while they ran down the path. One tendril grabbed Twilight's leg, but a quick snap of magical energy had Twilight teleporting forward and only a few feet away from Pinkie.
Twilight didn't wait for Pinkie to snap out of it, she grabbed her friend in a telekinetic bubble of energy and carried her, her lungs and legs burning from the constant exertion, but her panicked mind didn't dare register the fact that her body couldn't take much more of this. She would die if she bothered to pay attention to how cramped, how worn, and how exhausted her muscles were. Pinkie snapped to attention a few seconds after being trapped in the bubble, Twilight setting her down once she started trying to run as well. She was afflicted with the same sense of panic just from gazing at the terrifying creature, and both ponies were rushing back towards Ponyville as fast as they could. Their blood-curdling screams of terror could be heard by most everyone in proximity of that main entrance to the Everfree Forest, including their friends sitting at the picnic that had been put together.