The next morning, Johnathon Dwire headed over to the Library for the trip.
He knocked on the door, and after a few moments, Twilight peered out. "Oh, hi Johnathon." she stood aside and let him come in. "I was just telling Rainbow Dash that I can't really come with you two to Cloudsdale today. I checked my schedule, and I'm way behind on my studies. It's just been so hectic lately, what with my new research project and all."
Johnathon nodded. "Oh... well, that's alright, Twilight, I completely understand."
The purple unicorn looked apologetic, then blinked. "Oh yes, let me recast the translation spell for you. This one should last until this time tomorrow, alright?" she cast the spell, then turned back to Rainbow Dash. "I do wish I could come, but I'm really swamped."
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Yeah, that's cool. It'll be faster if it's just the three of us, anyway." she turned to Johnathon. "So... I was thinking, why don't i just carry you? I mean, that'll be a LOT faster than pulling Twilight's balloon."
Johnathon blinked. "Er... isn't it a long way to Cloudsdale? Won't you get tired carrying someone as big as me?"
Rainbow Dash snorted. "Are you kidding? During the best young fliers competition, I managed to carry four ponies at once!" she looked thoughtful. "I mean, I did have a lot of momentum that time, it's not like I could lift that much weight from a dead start or anything." she grinned. "But I can get off the ground while carrying at least two other ponies with me."
Johnathon's eyes were wide. "You can carry... three times your own body weight into the air?"
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Sure." she nodded at him. "I mean, you're tall, but you're probably not even as heavy as I am. It won't be a problem."
Johnathon blinked. "Uh... huh."
Rainbow Dash's eye's narrowed. "What, don't trust me?"
He was quick to shake his head. "No! No... it's just... It's a long way to fly, and if something happened... I...."
Rainbow Dash snorted. "Hey, I'm not going to drop you! If the Princess can carry you on her back, so can I, OK?"
Johnathon knew that the cyan pegasus would be upset if he protested further, but he couldn't help himself. "The Princess is a whole lot bigger than you are, Rainbow Dash... and if I fell, she had her magic to catch me. I don't know."
Twilight spoke up quickly, seeing Rainbow Dash's wings puff out and her face start to redden in anger. "Johnathon, Rainbow Dash is the best flyer in Ponyville, and she'd never let anypony get hurt. She's rescued me, and lots of other ponies with her skills, and I can vouch for her strength. She shouldn't have any problem carrying you."
Johnathon Dwire sighed, and nodded to Rainbow Dash. "Very well. I apologize for doubting you. I am just a bit uncomfortable with situations where I'm not able to effect the outcome, you know? On the ground, most anything that comes at me, I can handle, or at least give it an honest go, but up in the sky? You get me over the treetops, and a fall will kill me. I'm not totally happy about that idea."
Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow. "Are you afraid of heights or something?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Not... really. I'm cautious of heights. I'm pretty light on my feet, and I've done a bit of rock climbing, but when I get above the point where I can survive a fall safely, I like to be extra careful, that's all."
Rainbow Dash thought about that. "OK, sure. I get that." she looked thoughtful. "I guess if I didn't have wings, going up really high would make me kinda nervous too."
Johnathon shrugged. "Yeah." he looked at her seriously. "But, I'll give it a try. I'll trust Twilight, and she trusts you." he tilted his head to the side slightly. "But I'm curious, why are you offering to carry me? I mean... you're not going to be a bit weirded out to have a human on your back?"
Rainbow Dash frowned. "I... well, maybe a little, but it can't be all that big a deal if the Princess did it." she put a hoof behind her head in embarrassment. "And... well, I didn't get you anything for your welcome party... and I wanted to make it up to you... what with the kicking you in the back of the head and all."
Johnathon shook his head.. "You don't have to make anything up to me, Rainbow Dash. You were protecting your friends, I completely respect that."
She frowned. "Do you want me to take you to Cloudsdale or not?"
Johnathon put up his hands. "I just want you to do this because it's something YOU want to do."
Rainbow Dash frowned slightly. "Well... yeah. I do. I mean, it is a pretty good distance to Cloudsdale, and I hate going slow, so since carrying you on my back will get us there a lot quicker, that's one reason... and, no pony besides the princess has carried a human on their back before, which makes it kind of a challenge, and... well, the extra weight would be a pretty good workout." she shrugged. "So yeah, I want to do it, OK?"
Johnathon nodded. "OK." He held up a finger. "Can we try a short flight first? Near the ground? Just to make sure we're not going to have any problems for the longer trip?"
Rainbow Dash blinked. "Sure, if it'll make you feel better, I guess that's cool." she headed for the front door. "Come on, I'll fly you over to Fluttershy's place, and we can see what's keeping her."
Johnathon followed her, looking dubious. "I hope I manage to live to regret this."
Rainbow Dash chuckled. "You are scared!"
He rolled his eye and snorted. "What, about riding bareback on a pegasus who supposedly can exceed the speed of sound? Why would that make me nervous?"
Rainbow Dash blushed. "OK, that just sounds wrong...."
The archeologist chuckled. "What, riding bareback?"
She frowned slightly. "What does that mean, anyway? It sounds kinda... er..."
He laughed. "It means to ride without a saddle, Rainbow Dash, that's all."
Rainbow Dash blinked. "Oh." She looked confused. "Does that mean you usually ride with a saddle?"
He nodded. "Usually. Why, do you have one?"
Twilight spoke up. "Actually, I do. I got one for carrying Spike a few winters ago... although usually I don't use it. It is nice and warm though."
Rainbow Dash blinked. "Oh! Is that what saddles are for? I've always kind of wondered about that."
Twilight nodded. "They're not common, but they're useful if you're going to carry another pony a long distance, so that you don't rub each other raw with constant friction. Before Spike got his balance, he used to grab on with his claws, which got kind of painful. Princess Celestia got me it for Hearth's Warming Eve one year after she caught me levitating him everywhere...." she blushed slightly, looking slightly embarrassed and happy at the same time. Twilight turned around and her horn glowed. They could hear a drawer opening and closing up in her bedroom, and then a small, fur-lined saddle floated down and over to them. "Here it is! Would you like to borrow it?"
Johnathon raised an eyebrow, then glanced at Rainbow Dash, who shrugged. "Sure, I guess." the cyan pegasus agreed halfheartedly. "I mean, if it'll make this easier."
Twilight levitated it onto the Pegasus's back and adjusted the straps to fit. "It's a good thing we're about the same size." she noted with a smile. "If it was any bigger, it would hamper your wings!"
Rainbow Dash frowned, and flapped experimentally, rising easily several feet into the air. "Yeah, I can sort of feel it against the edges of my secondaries, but it's not in the way." she nodded to Johnathon. "Well, what are you waiting for? Hop on, and we can get this show on the road!"
Johnathon grimaced. "I am REALLY going to regret this." he walked up to her side, grabbed the saddle lightly, and swung a leg over her back. When he settled in, his legs hung down nearly to the ground. "I can just about stand up on tip toe here...." he muttered. "Are you sure this is going to work?"
Rainbow Dash snorted. "I'll take it nice and easy to start... don't be such a big baby!"
Johnathon sighed. "Alright...." he hesitated. "Um... are you going to complain if I grab hold of your mane, or am I going to have to hug you around the neck? I mean... I can probably balance alright if you're going slow, but if you want to make any quick maneuvers at any point, I'm going to need something to hold on to."
Rainbow Dash glared back at him. "Well, don't grab my mane!" she chuckled and winked. "At least not on the first date." Johnathon blanched, and she laughed, hard, nearly throwing him. "Hah! The look on your face! I'm just pulling your leg." she said, still chuckling. After she managed to stop laughing, she shrugged. "You can put your arms around my neck, I guess, if I have to dive or something. I suppose if you just need to get your balance, you can grab onto my mane, just don't pull too hard. It hurts!"
Johnathon nodded, then lifted his legs and tightened his knees into her sides. "How about this? Does that hurt?"
Rainbow Dash shook her head. "Nah. You can squeeze tighter than that without hurting me any." she glanced down at his knees, which were pressing tight into her sides, then back up at him on the saddle. "So... ready now?"
Johnathon tightened his grip with his knees slightly, grabbed on to her mane lightly with one hand and put his other hand on her shoulder, just behind where the wing joined it. "I'll lean forward quick and grab you around the neck if I lose my balance, OK?"
Rainbow Dash nodded agreeably. "OK. But don't worry! Even if you do fall off, I'll catch you." she lowered herself on her legs slightly, then sprang into the air, her wings flapping hard to compensate for the extra weight.
Johnathon gritted his teeth and held on, but Rainbow Dash kept her promise and the acceleration wasn't too much for him. She seemed to be trying to keep her back pretty much level with the ground as she traveled. Her wings were surprisingly quiet, given the fact that they were carrying a pony and a full sized adult human male into the air.
"It has to be magic." he muttered to himself. Rainbow Dash's wings were muscular, and she had an extraordinary amount of control over them, he had seen her hover in mid air, after all, but they still did not seem half large enough to carry them, despite her obvious skill and strength. Nevertheless, the flight to Fluttershy's Cottage went surprisingly quickly. They were there in moments, and Rainbow Dash circled the cottage once before coming in for a landing, using her wings to land almost vertically, coming nearly straight down for the last half dozen meters.
"Hey Fluttershy!" Rainbow Dash called into the house. "Are you ready to go yet?"
The yellow pegasus peered out of her front door, looking distressed. "Oh my. I'm sorry I was late, Rainbow Dash, but Angel Bunny has caught a cold. I don't think I'm going to be able to...." she blinked at Johnathon and the cyan Pegasus he was riding. "Er... Johnathon, why are you riding Rainbow Dash?"
Johnathon shrugged. "It was her idea. She says we'll get there a lot faster if she's not pulling the balloon."
Fluttershy blinked again. "Oh. Um... OK?" she shook her head, remembering what she had been saying. "Anyway, I don't want to leave Angel Bunny right now while he has this nasty cough... so I don't think I can come to Cloudsdale with you today."
Rainbow Dash frowned. "Aw man, and I wanted to ask you to race me!" she said with a sigh. "I thought, with me carrying Johnathon, you could keep up for once, you know? You could use the exercise."
Fluttershy giggled. "Is THAT why you volunteered to carry him?"
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Well... that might have been one reason." she sighed, and glanced back at Johnathon. "Well, guess it's just you and me."
Johnathon nodded. "if you don't mind, I don't."
The cyan colored pegasus shrugged. "I don't mind. You can tell me more about the flying machines from your world on the way! You said you've been to some flying shows on your world? With stunt... airplanes, right?"
He nodded. "A couple. Well, three, if you count watching the Blue Angels fly over the Seattle harbor...." he grinned. "They're a little bit like your Wonderbolts, I think."
Rainbow Dash looked dubious. "Maybe, but I doubt they're as cool." she waved to Fluttershy, and started flapping hard again, taking off by hovering straight up before accelerating into the sky.
Johnathon leaned over her body to compensate for the acceleration and grinned. "Guess I'll have to let you know after I get a chance to see the Wonderbolts for myself."
Rainbow Dash grinned. "That was the other reason why I wanted to go today. They're in Cloudsdale today! Doing some sort of book signing thing, I think." she frowned. "I don't get why ponies as cool as them write books, but I guess it'll be cool, especially if Spitfire is there!"
Johnathon grinned. "Who's that?"
Rainbow Dash sighed. "Only the coolest pony ever! She's the leader of the Wonderbolts." Johnathon could feel a shiver going through her sides. "Sooooo... awesome...."
They had cleared the edge of Ponyville, and Rainbow Dash had been slowly accelerating the whole time. The wind pressure had been building steadily, and Johnathon leaned in closer to her neck, lowering his wind resistance as well as allowing him to hear her talk.
"Are you going to be alright, maintaining this speed the whole way?" he asked the cyan pegasus incredulously. He couldn't be sure, but his best guess put her exceeding a couple hundred miles an hour already, and she was still accelerating, although only gradually now.
As she felt the drag from the human on her back decrease, Rainbow Dash increased her speed again, noticing how he seemed to move with her body as she flew, as if anticipating her movements. "Sure." she said easily, hiding the fact that her breathing was starting to, in fact, get a little labored. "No problem!" she glanced momentarily back at the human, raising an eyebrow. "You're pretty good at the whole riding thing..." she commented curiously. "I kinda expected you to have a little more trouble."
Johnathon shrugged slightly. "I have done my share of riding, Rainbow Dash." he told her, leaning in close so that he could talk near her ear as the wind pressure increased once more. "And you're actually a really smooth flyer! I've just never rode a flying pony before...." he chuckled. "Or well, any pony. I've never tried to ride anything smaller than... well, Princess Celestia before. Not seriously, anyway." he looked thoughtful. "Well, except for this one big mean billy goat that I used to own. Two hundred pounds, horns a foot and a half long on either side... made of muscles, and mean as a dragon with a tooth ache. Although that wasn't riding so much... I just tended to jump on his back to keep him from spearing me... and so I could wrestle him down. He used to go after my wife all the time. He nearly broke her ribs a couple times, so I had to deal with him when she wanted to do some work out back.
Rainbow Dash blinked. "Oh! That's how you managed to hog tie AJ so easily!" she said with a slight grin.
Johnathon chuckled. "Easily? Have you MET Applejack? But yeah, that did have something to do with it."
Rainbow Dash strained for height and speed, and suddenly the noise of the wind and the pressure on their faces cut off, almost all at once, and she wasn't flapping anymore, but gliding along, still moving at an incredible speed. Johnathon's stomach felt like it was left a mile behind them as the air current she'd found carried them higher and higher into the sky, like an elevator to the stars.
"Whoa!" he wrapped both arms around Rainbow Dash's neck and held on tight.
"N... not s...s...so t...ight...!" Johnathon loosened his grip slightly and Rainbow Dash coughed. "Careful, you're going to cut off my air supply!" she told him roughly. "If you want to grab on that hard, hold my neck further down."
Johnathon winced, and adjusted his grip. "Sorry about that." he said, risking a glance toward the ground. Ponyville had all but disappeared in the distance, and the trees bellow were starting to look like toothpicks as they got further and further from the ground. "How... how high up are we now?" he asked, trying not to seem nervous.
"About a mile, I guess?" Rainbow Dash estimated. "Most of Cloudsdale is about a mile and a half to two miles up, I think?"
Johnathon sighed. "Whew. Well, remind me not to fall off the edge!"
Rainbow Dash laughed, then glanced over her shoulder again. "Are you alright though? I mean, it IS pretty high up for someone who can't fly."
Johnathon had been looking over her shoulder toward the ground far below, and he locked eyes with her long enough to grin. "Yeah, no sweat. Heights really don't bother me that much. I get just nervous enough to be careful, but that's not a bad thing."
The cyan pegasus shrugged. "Cool." she flapped her wings a few times as they left the air current, rising slowly but steadily higher, and maintaining their velocity with the ease of long practice. "We're making pretty good time. We should be there in about ten more minutes." she pointed with a hoof. "You can see it up ahead, there."
Johnathon followed her hoof and blinked in surprise. "What he had originally dismissed as just another far off bank of clouds, he could now see had a definite sense of structure... and a glint of color that didn't belong in a normal cloud bank.
As they approached, he could make out multiple waterfalls, and even several very solid looking rainbows coming out of the cloud city, which became clearer and clearer into focus as they got closer and closer. As he made out more and more detail, he started to get a feel for the sheer size of the place. While he had pictured something extremely large, he was still more than impressed. It truly was a full sized city made of clouds. The architecture reminded him of Rainbow Dash's cloud home, which he supposed made sense. The city itself was not all one piece. There was a number of clouds that simply floated nearby, holding their own large structures. One of the larger ones seemed to hold an enormous open air coliseum, but the theme of pillars and lofty ceilings seemed to hold throughout the metropolis.
One thing that stuck him was the the... imagination of some of the designs. A tall, flowing staircase would lead off of a cloud's surface, to wind it's way into the air, and come to the base of another, ignoring gravity entirely. Of course, the entire city was ignoring gravity, but they seemed to want to intentionally remind anyone who looked at how little they cared for the most omnipresent force of nature in existence.
"OK...." Johnathon said breathlessly as they started passing between cloud buildings on the outskirts of the city. "This is easily the most impressive thing I've ever seen."
Rainbow Dash glanced back at her passenger and grinned, but didn't reply. Her flanks were starting to heave now, and she was no longer able to hide how much difficulty she was having. They had lost a lot of speed in the last mile or so as they reached the mostly wind free zone around the city, and she had been struggling more and more as they approached. Johnathon frowned, but chose not to mention it. He had ridden often enough to know when his mount was pushing past it's limits, and Rainbow Dash wasn't quite there yet. Still, if her breathing got any more ragged, he'd have to tell her to set them down.
Rainbow Dash banked slightly and glided in for a landing on a relatively deserted part of the wide bed of cloud that most of the city seemed to rest upon. She flared her wings and flapped hard a few times as they touched down, and took a long shuddering breath as Johnathon slipped off her back, placing his feet gingerly down on the spongy surface. Almost immediately, the man's legs sagged.
"Whoa." Johnathon Dwire forced his legs to stay steady, although they felt like water. "Muscle cramp...." he said with a slight moan, then turned to his cyan mount. "Rainbow Dash, how are you doing? You were getting pretty tired at the end there."
Rainbow Dash stretched her wings, then moaned lightly. "Talk about a muscle cramp...." she said with a wince, slowly stretching her wings out to their full extension, then letting them fold up against her sides with a small whimper. "OK... I guess I may have overestimated my endurance just slightly." she glanced at him, then shrugged. "But I got us here, didn't I?"
Johnathon nodded firmly, a serious expression on his face. "I had no idea it was this far away, or this high. You were fantastic. If you asked me to try carrying someone almost my own weight for... heck, half a mile, I'd be every bit as tired as you are now... more so... and I probably couldn't manage anything more than a walk."
The cyan Pegasus grinned. "Well, they don't call me the fastest pegasus in Equestria for nothing."
Johnathon grinned. "If anyone asks, I'll tell them they should add toughest pegasus in Equestria to your resume."
Rainbow Dash chuckled. "Tell that to Applejack. She thinks she's so tough...."
Johnathon shrugged. "Well, she IS tough, but she can't move like you do, that's for sure."
Rainbow Dashed grinned, flaring her wings again, then wincing. "Well... thanks." she shrugged. "So... what do you want to see first?" she turned her head, tugging on the strap for the saddle to loosen it, then bringing up one her hind legs to try and scratch herself underneath it. "Man... I worked up a sweat under there... my back is soaked."
Johnathon nodded. "Here, let me." he knelt at her side, undid the straps to the saddle, and stood as he lifted it off of her, tossing the light winter saddle over his shoulder with practiced ease. He noted the damp, matted fur underneath, and glanced at her face. "Er... want me to give you a rub down? That looks a bit uncomfortable."
Rainbow Dash hesitated, glancing around once as if to see if they were being observed before shrugging. "Well... er... if you could get my back where the saddle was? It kind of itches, and I can't reach back there very well to scratch."
Johnathon nodded and started running his fingers through the matted fur. "No problem."
As his fingers worked through the mats in her short fur, the cyan pegasus shivered, then sighed softly. "Oh... oh yeah. Yeah, that's the spot...." the archeologist grinned slightly, and applied a bit more pressure, which elicited a slight moan of pleasure from the pegasus, which turned into an embarrassed cough a moment later. "Um...." Rainbow Dash coughed again to get his attention. "Johnathon, er... you can stop now."
The man glanced around, then up, and realized that they were being observed. Three pegasus, wearing what appeared to be white hard hats and white lab coats, were flying in their direction.
"Hey Rainbow Crash!" the pegasus in the lead, a brown colt who Johnathon identified as male almost immediately from a combination of his voice and build, spoke to the Rainbow maned filly beside him with an air of carefully maintained disdain. "What the heck did you just carry into Cloudsdale? Some sort of weird hairless monkey?" he landed nearby, his two companions just behind him. Johnathon noted that they all appeared male, although he wasn't a hundred percent certain. There was a grey colt with a black mane to the right, and a very large tan colt to the left, who was one of the larger pegasi Johnathon had ever seen. The tall colt had what appeared to be three balls on his flank, the brown colt that had spoken had three dumbbells. He did seem to be muscular, as if he worked out on a regular basis.
Rainbow Dash sniffed loudly. "This happens to be a human. He's a... a warrior from another dimension, who came to Equestria though a magical portal. Princess Celestia asked me to show him around!"
Johnathon raised an eyebrow at the exaggeration, but didn't dispute her claim. From her attitude, and the initial impression he got of the newcomers, there was some sort of grudge between Rainbow Dash and the three young stallion pegasi, and he didn't want to embarrass her.
The brown stallion looked at Johnathon with a frown. "Doesn't look all that impressive. Kind of scrawny. What are you thinking anyway, Rainbow Crash? Carting an alien creature around on your back like that? Kind of weird, don't ya think?" the other two stallions laughed, and the cyan pegasus mare's wings flared as she glared at them.
"I'll have you know that the Princess herself has carried this human around in the same way! If it's good enough for the Princess, it ought to be good enough for you." she said haughtily, glancing away from the stallions as if she was starting to get bored with them.
"So that's how it is." the brown stallion said with an irritated expression. "Now that you've shown everyone you can do a Sonic Rainboom, you're too good for us regular ponies? First you're off hanging with the Wonderbolts, and now you're doing personal favors for the Princess, are you?"
Rainbow Dash glared at him. "What's it to you? You've been making fun of me since we were in flight school together. What's your problem with me, anyway?"
The Stallion snorted. "My problem with you is YOU, Rainbow Crash." he said with a strong emphasis on the second 'you'. "You were always so full of yourself in flight school, and that hasn't changed at all." he glanced at his companions, and jerked his head. "Come on boys, let's go. Obviously the Princess's pet doesn't want us here." he laughed, pointing at Johnathon. "We might frighten the Princess's hairless money thing...." he snorted. "Warrior from another dimension. Right!"
Johnathon grunted lightly. "Don't let me keep you." he said in a level even tone, that, nevertheless, seemed somehow threatening. He wasn't angry about the snarky comments, but he didn't like the way the Brown colt had been talking to Rainbow Dash. She was, in his opinion, a genuine hero, and she deserved more respect than these three were giving her. He wasn't happy about Rainbow Dash calling him a warrior either, but he understood. She was so used to being bullied by these three that she obviously had tried to play up his importance, and with their rude behavior towards them, Johnathon was now more than willing to play the part. The cold menace in his voice caused all three pegasus to pause even as they turned to go, glancing back at him uncertainly.
The brown colt rose to the bait. "So, the monkey can talk! What's a hairless monkey with out wings doing in our city, anyway? Are you so sick of Rainbow Crash here that you plan on jumping?" the other two young stallions chuckled, although their laughter died slightly as Johnathon started to slowly walk toward them.
"I was told...." Johnathon said softly, his voice pleasant but cold, "that Cloudsdale was one of the wonders of this world. My world has no cities built in the clouds." he continued to advance on the three young pegasi, walking slowly, his breathing easy, his stance open, but still, something about him seemed to scream predator. "I had hoped that the residents of this fair city might be as generous of spirit as their city is magnificent. But it seems I am to be badly disappointed." as he was about to get into arms reach, the three pegasi took to the air with a rush of wings, suddenly, as if they had only just became aware of how close he was getting. They nearly collided as they retreated several dozen yards away and into the air.
Their leader, the brown colt, glared down at him trying to cover up his embarrassment with bravado. "Well... you're still just a useless, hairless monkey... you... you... monkey!" he said weakly. The young brown stallion turned to go. "Come on, guys. We've got better things to be doing."
Johnathon took a deep breath as they flew off, relaxing, and Rainbow Dash fluttered over to his side, landing next to him and looking at him in astonishment. "That was AWESOME!" she finally decided. "How did you freak them out like that? They looked like they'd seen a manticore or something!"
Johnathon shrugged. "Bullies are pretty much the same on my world... they'll never let you alone if you show fear, but if you stand up to them, they'll usually back down."
Rainbow Dash looked dubious. "Yeah... but when you got close to them... they ran away like you really scared them! Why did they get all spooked like that?" she frowned. "Actually, I got a little spooked myself. Is that a predator thing?"
Johnathon grinned. "More of a security guard thing. I did some guard work for a few years to put myself through school. Intimidation is something I happen to be pretty good at. It's better to scare someone away then to get into a fight."
Rainbow Dash shook her head. "Well... remind me not to get on your bad side." she looked curious. "Why did you back me up when I...." she blushed. "Well, I kind of exaggerated, and you knew it. Why didn't you say anything?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Well, maybe we haven't known each other very long, Rainbow Dash, but I like you. I want to be your friend, like I am with Twilight, and Fluttershy, and Applejack. They all seem to think very highly of you, and I trust their opinions." he shrugged. "Besides, it wouldn't be very gentlemanly of me to embarrass a lady."
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. "Hey! I'm no lady, alright? I can take care of myself."
Johnathon nodded. "Oh, I believe that. But that's no reason for me not to support you. You'd do the same for me, after all."
Rainbow Dash blinked. "Well, yeah. I mean, I never leave my ponies hanging." she grinned. "I guess that sort of includes you too."
Johnathon grinned at her. "I'm glad to hear that." he shrugged. "As for where to go, it's my first visit, I have no idea what's cool here. Do you have any suggestions?"
Rainbow Dash looked thoughtful. "Well, last time I was here I showed the girls the Weather factory. Would you like to see that?"
Johnathon blinked. "A factory, where they make weather?" the cyan pegasus nodded, and he blinked. "Yeah, that sounds like a must see!"
The rest of their stay in Cloudsdale was comparatively unstressful. While many of the citizens gave Johnathon a wide berth, most of the pegasi seemed unconcerned about the strange creature in their midst. Perhaps it was simply that they could fly away from him easily should he turn dangerous, and perhaps because Johnathon himself was growing so comfortable with his surroundings. He found that the more he acted like he belonged, the more he was accepted by the ponies around him.
Johnathon was in turns, impressed and dismayed at the Weather factory. It flagrantly broke the laws of physics as he knew them, and he could scrape up a somewhat reasonable explanation for less than half of what he saw there. As they were walking through the main part of the city a bit later, Rainbow Dash took the time to explain to him some of her own duties as captain of the weather team for Ponyville, and how they controlled the weather there.
"So... you control every bit of weather in Equestria?" Johnathon asked after listening to her for several minutes. "Every storm, every rainbow?"
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Pretty much. Everything but the weather over the Everfree forest, really, and the weather outside our borders."
Johnathon shook his head. "Unbelievable. So your farmers never have to worry about a drought, and if some pony is planning a picnic outside, they never have to worry about it getting rained on?"
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Well, you'd be surprised at how many ponies forget to check their weather calenders... but, yeah, pretty much." she shrugged. "I mean, there isn't always enough water... some of the border towns can get pretty dry from time to time, but we usually manage to get everyone enough rainfall to manage."
Johnathon shook his head again, and smiled slightly. "Well, I've seen it, so I have to believe it, but... still, wow."
Rainbow Dash looked curious. "So, I guess you can't control the weather on your world?"
Johnathon shrugged. "We can predict it... a little bit, anyway, although we're not always right, but control it? No, not even a little." he frowned. "Well... we've had... some small success in making it rain, when there are already clouds in the sky, anyway... but if the conditions aren't right, we can't even do that."
The cyan pegasus looked amazed. "Weird. It's like your whole world is one big Everfree forest."
Johnathon nodded slowly. "Yeah, it is a little bit like that, I suppose."
As they got in line for the Wonderbolts book signing, Johnathon got a few weird looks, but after chatting with the pegasi in line near him for awhile, they seemed to accept him smoothly enough. It was a long line, the Wonderbolts were obviously quite popular, but he and Rainbow Dash had gotten there just as the line started up, and in less than half an hour they were walking into the large open bookstore The pegasus signing autographs and copies of "Flying with the Wonderbolts" was wearing a form fitting dark blue flight suit and a pair of goggles. Johnathon recognized her from his tee shirt, and from Rainbow Dash's poster.
"It's her!" Rainbow Dash hissed at him in glee. "It's Spitfire! It's really her!"
Johnathon nodded appreciatively. "Leader of the Wonderbolts, right?"
Rainbow Dash giggled. "Yup! We're buddies..." she blushed. "Well, kinda. I mean, she knows who I am, and I kinda saved her life and all...." she blushed. "Ohmygoshohmygoshomygosh!" she blurted out as Spitfire, her bright flame-orange mane like a beacon of light over the crowd, waved cheerfully at her.
"Hey Rainbow Dash!" Spitfire called out to the cyan Pegasus, causing dozens of heads to crane around to try and figure out who she was talking to. "Never mind the line, come on up here! And bring your friend!"
Rainbow Dash froze, and Johnathon nudged her. "Well, go on, she wants to talk to you!" the crowd parted slightly to let them get through, and Johnathon followed Rainbow Dash to the table where the orange maned Wonderbolt was busy signing. "Hey." Johnathon said casually to Spitfire, grinning slightly. "I'm Johnathon Dwire. Rainbow Dash tells me you're a pretty fantastic flyer."
Spitfire grinned back at him. "Coming from her, that means something." she chuckled at the look of awed pleasure on the cyan pegasus's face, and nodded to him. "So... I hear you're a warrior from another dimension or something?"
Johnathon laughed. "Just an archeologist, in the wrong place at the wrong time, I'm afraid. Apparently Princess Celestia visited my world a few thousand years back, and built a temple or something there. I was excavating the site about the time Discord showed up... a major bad guy around here, I guess, and a portal between our two worlds opened up... again, from what I'm told. It closed behind me, though, so I guess I'm stuck for the moment."
Spitfire looked impressed. "Pretty cool. How are you liking Equestria so far?"
He grinned. "It's a nice place. I really like Cloudsdale though. No cloud cities on my world. It's really impressive."
Spitfire nodded to Rainbow Dash. "Is my girl Dash showing you around alright?"
Johnathon put a hand on Rainbow Dash's shoulder. "She's been great. She carted me up here from Ponyville on her back. We probably made the trip in... I don't know, fifteen minutes? She's a pretty remarkable flier."
Spitfire grinned. "You don't have to tell me! Saved my life during the Best Young Flier's competition." she turned to the next fan, and signed her name with a pen between her teeth, then nodded to him again. "Well, why don't you and Dash wait around till after the signing, and we can hang out. Get something to eat or something."
Johnathon grinned. "Sure. That'd be cool."
Rainbow Dash was staring at him like he'd grown a second head, but at the news that they'd be hanging out with Spitfire after the signing caused her slightly crazed grin to split wide into a genuinely happy smile.
As the crowd came up for autographs, one or two ponies came to ask Rainbow Dash for an autograph as well. "We saw you at the Best young Flier's competition!" was a common remark. Many of the pegasi there, in fact, did seem to recognize Rainbow Dash, and the cyan pegasus swelled under the mild storm of complements she caught while basking in her hero's shadow. Johnathon noticed the Wonderbolt glancing over at Rainbow Dash with a fond smile every once in a while, and was favorably impressed by the celebrity.
He could sympathize with Rainbow Dash. He had once met one of his favorite comic book artists at a gaming convention, where the man had been running a game session of an RPG based off his comic book, and had been so flabbergasted in the man's presence that he had barely been able to string two words together.
The man had recognized his paralysis, and told him simply, "I put my pants on one leg at a time, like everyone else, you know?" Johnathon had managed to pull himself together, and had gamed with the man for several hours, getting to know the man as a regular human being, instead of an icon. He had never felt the same awe at meeting a celebrity after that, but he did appreciate how Rainbow Dash was feeling.
Johnathon found himself getting a lot of attention, standing so near what was apparently a major celebrity, but apparently, for the moment at least, his strange appearance had the side benefit of being intimidating enough for most of the curious to avoid wanting to attract attention. As Rainbow Dash hung around her hero, Johnathon talked quietly with Spitfire's bodyguard, a large, muscular white pegasus wearing a black jacket and sunglasses. The pegusus guard had been a bit standoffish at first, but after sharing a few anecdotes from his own years as a security guard, the stoic stallion loosened up enough to chat, although only in low tones. He seemed focused on the crowd most of the time, doing his job, and Johnathon made sure not to interfere with the stallion's work too badly.
When the book signing was over, they slipped into the back room, the crowd blocked by the large guard, and Spitfire started stripping out of her Wonderbolt's costume. "One of the main benefits of the suit is that most of the fans don't seem to have a clue what we look like without them." Spitfire said with a grin. "We'll get out of here as soon as I get this thing off...." she glanced at Rainbow Dash's mane with a raised eyebrow. "Hmm... well, on the other hand, no pony is going to miss you leaving...." she grinned. "I love the look, but you stand out a mile, you know?"
She shrugged. "How about this? You head out first, and meet me at that little diner over behind the coliseum... Branches? Do you know the place?"
Rainbow Dash nodded quickly. "Sure! I used to go there when I was skipping out on flight school practices...." she grimaced. "Er... yeah, I know it."
Spitfire grinned at her. "I always figured you for a rebel. See you in a bit?"
Rainbow Dash grinned and nodded. "You bet!" she hesitated, then glanced at Johnathon, then up at the saddle he was still carrying over his shoulder. "We're going to have to fly quick if we're going to avoid this crowd." she said with a grimace.
Johnathon shrugged. "Don't worry about me, I'll hang out at the bookstore for awhile, you girls have fun."
Rainbow Dash's face lit up. "Really? I mean, I promised to show you around Cloudsdale! I don't like just ditching you like this...."
Johnathon shrugged again. "Really. I'll be here. I'd like to pick up a book or two while I'm here anyway, if that's OK."
Rainbow Dash grinned. "Thanks Johnathon. I'll be back in a little while, OK?" he nodded, and she slipped out the back door, then flew off at high speed.
Spitfire glanced at Johnathon thoughtfully. "Well, that was decent of you. Now I feel kind of bad, since she's ditching you to spend time with me."
Johnathon chuckled. "Forget about it. Dash and I live in the same town, we can hang out anytime. You're her hero, I know she's dying for the chance to spend some time with you."
Spitfire looked a little embarrassed. "I usually avoid the really enthusiastic fans, but... well, she's a good kid. She's a hell of a flier too, if she could just stop being so nervous in public." she shrugged. "She kind of reminds me of me, a few years back, actually." she glanced out the back door, then grinned. "Coast is clear. Looks like a couple of them tried to follow Dash." she grinned. "I can guess how that went." she took off, followed at a distance by her bodyguard, who had also changed out of his 'uniform'. "Take it easy, Johnathon! Come to one of our shows sometime!"
Johnathon watched her go, and headed into the bookstore. He purchased an already signed copy of "Flying with the Wonderbolts" for Rainbow Dash, and read it while he waited.
The sun was already well on its way to the horizon when Rainbow Dash flew back, breathless and excited, into the bookstore.
"Have fun?" he said, already knowing the answer from the huge grin on her face.
"Are you kidding me?" Rainbow Dash gushed. "It was awesome! I mean, we just kinda hung out... and talked, like... she just wanted to get to know me." she shivered, then grinned. "She's really cool, but... really nice too, you know? I mean, I thought she was a bit stuck up... you know, just a bit, when I met her at the Gala, and she kept getting pulled away by every self important jerk who thought they were important, but... well, she told me she felt really bad about that."
Rainbow Dash sighed. "She gave me some tips... about, you know, relaxing before a performance, and stuff like that. She says I've got the talent to be really great." Rainbow Dash sighed again, then looked at Johnathon. "Anyway... thanks for waiting for me. I'm sorry I left you here for so long."
Johnathon shrugged. "Don't worry about it. I had the time to read Spitfire's book while you've been gone." he showed it too her. "I've got a signed copy for you. As a thank you gift for you going to the trouble to show me around Cloudsdale like this."
Rainbow Dash blushed slightly. "Ah man, Johnathon, this was supposed to be my present to you, for, you know, everything. You're not supposed to get me a present too!"
He shrugged, grinning. "I felt like it." he sighed, looking at the sky. "It's getting late, I guess we should get headed back to Ponyville."
Rainbow Dash looked at the sky, then nodded slowly. "Yeah..." she glanced at him. "Anything else you want to see while we're here?"
Johnathon grinned. "Well, I wish I brought a camera, I'd love to get some photos..." he shrugged. "Maybe next time."
Rainbow Dash looked thoughtful. "Hmm... maybe we can do something about that." the cyan pegasus took Johnathon to one of the cities main plazas, where a photographer was selling custom shots of various tourist ponies who wanted to commemorate their trip to Cloudsdale, and paid for him to take several photos of her and Johnathon, with some of the more spectacular structures in the cloud city as a backdrop, including one of her carrying him on her back. The photos would take hours to be finished, but Rainbow Dash gave the photographer her address in Ponyville, and he promised to get the photos to her within a week.
As they were flying out of the city, the sun was already setting, back-lighting the beautiful metropolis. "Can we come again some time?" Johnathon said, gazing back at the city a bit wistfully. "I saw a poster that says the Wonderbolts will be performing here in a couple more months. Want to go?"
Rainbow Dash grinned. "Sure! You haven't seen a flight team till you've seen them perform, I'm telling you! I still say your Blue Angels can't be half as cool."
Johnathon grinned and shrugged. "I guess I'll see." he patted her on the head affectionately. "Still, if they're halfway as good as you, I expect I'll be in for quite a show."
Rainbow Dash snorted. "Aw, come on. You haven't even seen me doing any of my signature moves yet!"
He shrugged. "I've seen you fly, and I've seen a lot of other pegasi flying around today to compare you against. You've got talent, I'd be blind not to see it." he grinned. "But you if you want to pay me back for the book, you can show me your moves sometime. I'm dying to see an actual Sonic Rainboom."
Rainbow Dash nodded, holding up a hoof to shake. "Deal."
By the time he staggered, exhausted, into Cheerilee's house, the sun had been down in Ponyville for quite some time.
"Did you have fun in Cloudsdale?" the earth pony schoolteacher asked with a cheerful smile, looking up from where she was grading papers on the kitchen table.
"It was fantastic." Johnathon told her honestly. "I never imagined anything so... incredible could exist." he walked over and took a seat next to the table. "Rainbow Dash is a rather amazing flier. Can you believe she carried me the entire way there and back?"
Cheerilee blinked. "Really? I can't imagine!" she shivered slightly. "I sometimes wonder if I really know the ponies here in Ponyville half as well as I think I do. I mean... how did such extraordinary ponies end up to be living in such a small town?"
Johnathon looked thoughtful. "I have wondered that myself. I haven't been in Equestria long, of course, but those six... they really seem... extraordinary somehow, don't they?"
Cheerilee nodded slowly. "I never really noticed... not really. I don't know why." she frowned, shivering again. "I don't know what I'm going to say the next time I run into Twilight Sparkle on the street, or bump into Rainbow Dash at the market." she blushed slightly. "It's just... they're heroes! Twilight... she's the most powerful unicorn I've ever seen in my life... and Rainbow Dash's Sonic Rainboom is already something legendary. No pony else has ever done one!"
Johnathon nodded, then shook his head. "So I keep hearing. Rainbow Dash told me she'll do a show for me and her friends in the next few weeks... when she has a break from her weather work, and has had a little time to practice a bit." He grinned. "I must say, I am looking forward to it." he shook his head. "Carrying me, she was... incredibly fast. I can't imagine what she can do when she's not carrying nearly twice her normal weight."
Cheerilee sighed. "I don't like feeling so... small around them. You know, I ran into Pinkie Pie today, and I almost couldn't say hello with a straight face. And she's just... Pinkie Pie!" she frowned. "I'll manage, I think. I mean, they really are a bunch of nice girls, and I've known most of them for years. It's just strange remembering that they saved us all. I never said thank you! I mean, there was a party when they got back from defeating Nightmare Moon... but...." she shook her head. "Then everypony just... forgot about it, really. I still can't believe it."
Johnathon put a hand out to pat her shoulder. "You'll be fine. Just keep treating them like you used to. I'm quite sure that's the way they'd prefer it." he yawned, and stretched. "Well, the translation spell will wear off pretty early tomorrow, so I won't be able to say more than a couple words in a row to you when you get back from school, I expect."
Cheerilee nodded with a smile. "I'll bring more language text books home with me from school then. We can work on the harder parts together."
Johnathon nodded. "Thanks. I'm not really looking forward to this, but I'm really glad you're going to be helping me. I'm going to need all the help I can get, I expect."
Cheerilee smiled and nodded. "Any time." she looked thoughtful. "I think you'll get all the help you need, however. You'd be surprised at how many ponies are willing to help you learn our language. The Crusader's all volunteered to help, and Twilight seemed quite interested in my project as well! She said she would really like to try learning your language while you're learning ours as well."
Johnathon grinned. "Shouldn't be surprised. That pony really does seem to love to study, doesn't she?" he rose to his feet. "Well, it's been a long day, so I'm going to call it a night. See you in the morning, Cheerilee."