As overjoyed as Storm was to see Flying Grace again, he also knew that it could only be for a short time. As per Proud Skies’ rules, the number of days Grace spent with Quakehoof translated into the number of years before she could visit again. He pushed the thought from his mind as he enjoyed the comfort for what it was, a momentary reprieve from the harsh reality in which he lived.
“Mom, it’s good to see you again. I’ve missed you,” he said softly, gaining some semblance of control over his emotions.
“Five years is much too long...” Storm nodded, pulling away so he could look at her. She was the perfect trophy wife; beautiful, lithe, smart, delicate... The list was long. She had a soft violet coat with a flowing orange mane offset by small streaks of pale yellow. Two wings forming a heart adorned her flank, testifying of her gentle nature and graceful features. All of the above was lost on Proud, as it had been an arranged marriage by the families and he only consulted her when he found a way to use her to his advantage. When in public he would dote on her, showering her with a facade of love and affection that immediately dissipated the moment they arrived home.
“Mom, what are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to take Scootaloo to her grandfather’s funeral. The ceremony is this evening in Canterlot, and the next train leaves in about an hour. We will stay the night in Canterlot and return tomorrow afternoon.” Grace’s features darkened considerably as she prepared herself to face his wrath. “Storm, I’m sorry... Proud Skies has forbidden both you and Quakehoof from attending.”
“He what?!?” Storm shouted, jumping upright. Grace had expected this, and let him rant to the fullest. She said nothing as he raged, using language that she had certainly never taught him, though she couldn’t help but smile just a little as every insult was well deserved. As he began to quiet down she spoke once more.
“You’re frustration is well placed, but that is the way it must be. Things have finally started to calm down after the incident, especially since Scootaloo left Cloudspire. Poor dear, how is she?”
“Hard to say, she won’t even talk to me.”
“Well, since Proud Skies told her that you ran away out of guilt, that makes sense. As usual, I wasn’t allowed to correct her assumption, nor move her here sooner. He made me wait the full three years from my last visit before bringing her here.”
“Why did you want to move her here sooner? Did something happen to her?”
“Storm, she was bullied nearly constantly. Even at three years old, full grown pegasi would march up and yell at her because of what you... I mean, what your friends did.”
“I told them to take care of her! Didn’t they listen?” Storm muttered, wondering if they really had forgiven him at all.
“They tried their best, but there’s only so much they could do. Storm, you must know that Proud Skies did everything in his ability to spin the situation against you, further embittering the ponies of Cloudspire. Scootaloo was just another tool in his plans, his fabrications deepening her resentment of you.”
“I’m not going to lose to his lies,” he replied, determined not to let that snobby politician win. “There’s a pegasus here named Rainbow Dash that’s trying to help me work things out with Scootaloo, and I was planning on talking to her when she returned from school. Scootaloo really looks up to her, so between the three of us I think we’ll work it out. I know you will probably be leaving almost immediately when she gets here, but I’d like to talk to her first.”
“Of course, you two need to stick together. You always did have a soft spot for your sister, it’s good to see that hasn’t changed.” It sounded strange to his ears, but Storm knew it was true. “And you’ve already met a nice mare? Good to see you’re managing a normal life,” she said with a coy smile, to which Storm stared blankly, not understanding the inference at first. When it did finally dawn on him he vigorously shook his head.
“Mom, it’s not like that. Seriously, I’ve only been here for two days. That’d be moving a bit fast, don’t you think?”
“Mmm, perhaps.” The door swung open and they both stopped talking, looking to see who had entered. Seeing Quakehoof tear up was truly disconcerting, though if he had been away from his lover for years at a time he’d likely have the same reaction. Storm quietly excused himself from the room to let them have some time alone. Quakehoof shot him and appreciative look before he left, Storm acknowledging him with a nod before stepping out into the street. Scootaloo was had just appeared on the horizon, talking with her friends and laughing before she saw him. The mirth drained from her features as she slowed to a halt, noting that he stood solidly between herself and the door.
“I’ll see you guys later, wish me luck,” she muttered as she broke away from them, trotting up to Storm and stopping just short. She didn’t even make it to his knees, yet she glared at him defiantly like he was nothing more than a nuisance. “You’re in my way.”
“Scootaloo, I just want to talk. Is that really so much to ask?”
“Coming from a promise breaker, yes, it is.” Storm cringed, the words reminding him of his greatest regret.
“I left because Proud Skies made me, Scootaloo! You think I wanted to run?” he asked, sincerely hoping that she wouldn’t say yes.
“That’s a lie! You left because you were a coward, daddy said so! You abandoned me to save your own skin!” she screamed, her eyes piercing into his heart. That was it. He had been instructed countless times not to tell her the truth, but he wasn’t about to hide it any longer. Storm was beyond caring what happened to Proud Skies’ career, one that should have ended years ago.
“Proud Skies isn’t even your real father, Scootaloo! Quakehoof is, just like he is mine. So regardless of what that heartless, good-for-nothing pegasus says, you’re always going to be my sister and that’s not going to change!” he bellowed, immediately regretting his tone of voice as Scootaloo sank to the ground.
“I don’t believe you... Daddy was always kind to me, he never... You’re lying to me again!” she cried, suddenly standing and bolting into the house, where Flying Grace caught her as she tried to race passed them into her room. Grace’s eyes silently pleaded with him to drop the subject, as she wasn’t able to back him with the truth.
“It’s not fair,” he growled, Scootaloo’s misguided anguish baring down on him full force. Unable to cope, he threw open his wings and took the skies, eagerly searching for something to vent his anger on. There were only a few clouds left, and dispersing them did nothing to improve his mood. He scanned the horizon and noticed a dark mass over the forest in the distance, immediately heading for it. He narrowed his eyes with grim satisfaction as he drew near; it was a late spring thunderstorm in full swing over the Everfree Forest.
Rainbow Dash had watched the little display from the ground, wondering why he felt the need to rob the sky of the few cushy pillows she had left in case she wanted a nap later. She was about continue on her way when she saw him take off, following his path and quickly coming to the realization that he was heading straight for the storm. She immediately gave chase, though he was already poised over the roiling clouds when she arrived. A clap of thunder rumbled close by as she drew near. She opened her mouth to speak but it was too late; he dropped into a dive and flew right into the center of the storm.
Lightning flashed around him as he punched holes through the clouds, each layer sending out a shower of sparks as he burst through before rising above the cloud bank once again. The static collected on his wings and he gave them a mighty flap, sending out a pulse of electricity that further agitated the already unstable clouds. Recalling his earlier days he spun the black thunder caps into a gyroscopic maelstrom of charged cloud.
Rainbow Dash watched awestruck as he punched straight through, lightning cracking and branching out in all directions as he did so. Most pegasi could stand being hit by one bolt of lightning, with two grounding them and three being nearly fatal but Storm... He was covered mane to hoof in lightning seemingly with no effect. She watched as he then plunged straight through to the forest floor and then looped through the clouds, creating a path of sorts. Rainbow Dash couldn’t resist the prospect of pulling off the most daring stunt of her life; following his path while dodging the lightning at super fast speeds! It was gonna be awesome. She narrowed her eyes, checked her wings, and then dove in.
The holes were more than large enough to accommodate her size, and she easily flew through the first few with no problems. As she descended and the storm grew more intense, she became increasingly hard pressed to dodge the lightning that arced in every direction with no rhythm or pattern. It was the single most fun stunt she had pulled since the last Sonic Rainboom, and she couldn’t help but let her laughter tear forth, defying the danger all around as she reveled in her speed and skill.
As she neared the forest floor she swept up again through the loop that Storm had made, when suddenly her vision flashed white and a bolt shot across the sky in front of her. She tried to slow but it grazed her wings, the current causing a slight spasm in her wings. She shook it off and prepared to keep flying when the path through disappeared, the whole mass beginning to swirl around her.
“That crazy pegasus, is he really spinning the whole storm?” she cried, looking around her frantically for a way out. To fly through clouds that dense would be suicide, and as she dodged a second bolt her enthusiasm quickly turned to fear. “Storm, stop making the storm worse! You’re gonna get us killed!” Her shouts were muffled, but just hearing the voice was enough to make Storm freeze. The storm maintained its momentum, quickly building to a devastating tornado, the fury beginning to rip the limbs from the trees below.
“Rainbow Dash?.. What is she... hold on!” he shouted before plunging into the clouds. He ignored the pain as he was struck once, twice, thrice by brilliant blue arcs, drawing close to Rainbow Dash’s frantic cries. Breaking through he grabbed her and wrapped his massive wings around her as they fell, shielding her from the torrent of lightning that raged around them. Pulling up as they neared the tree line he flew towards the edge of the forest and landed on the ground, setting Rainbow down and standing over her, his facial expression every bit as terrifying as the storm she had just faced. His mane was singed from his reckless descent, and the smell of burnt feathers pervaded the air.
“Don’t you ever... follow me into a storm like that again...” he whispered.
“But I was just...”
“Never again!” he roared, his face inches from her own and volume partially deafening her. “What kind of brain dead pegasus would willingly throw herself into a storm like that? You must be some special kind of stupid to even consider that; you could have easily died!” Rainbow said nothing, torn between lashing back and bursting into tears. “If you ever follow me like that again I’ll... I’ll!..” Rainbow had had enough, and she scrambled to her feet and took off towards her home in Cloudsdale, all desire and motivation to complete the rest of her daily training seeping out with the tears that sprang unbidden to her eyes.
Storm brought his wings around and stared at the damage. It was completely superficial, something that would heal in a day or two whereas any other pegasi would have been burned beyond recognition. But if he hadn’t made it to Rainbow Dash in time... The image of his friends falling from the sky flashed into his vision and he shook his head. He just didn’t want to see her get hurt, but sure had blown his explanation, and now she’d probably hate him for good. Her encouragement to be strong for his sister came to mind, and he applied it to himself as he took off towards Ponyville, rejecting his anger and fears in exchange for determination.
Applejack was at her usual place in the market, selling apple preserves and other such treats when a horrible smell wafted by. She wrinkled her nose and double checked her treats, making sure it wasn’t coming from her stand. Satisfied, she looked up to see Storm’s slightly charred features towering over her.
“Whoa nelly, what happened t’ you?” she asked, trying not to stare at his singed mane and feathers.
“I did something stupid, freaked out at Rainbow Dash, and generally acted like a total moron. Now I wanna fix it, but I don’t know where she lives. Can you help me?” Applejack had to laugh a little as his blunt explanation, appreciating his honesty and nodding with a good natured smile.
“Being an earth pony, I’ve never been t’ her place before. Ah know she lives in Cloudsdale someplace, but not much else. Why don’t you try talkin’ to Cerulean? He lives in the library with Twilight, and he’s been t’ her place a time or two.” Storm ran off without hesitation, making for the building with all haste. He knocked on the door and a very tired Twilight called for “whatever pony is making that racket to stop and open the stupid door.” He quietly obeyed, noting rather odd flora adorning the inside; who had ever heard of a blue cactus?
“Oh, you must be that new pegasus in town. Is there something I can help you with? We have a great selection of books...” Somehow, Storm doubted that she actually would have felt inclined to help him find a book in her condition even if he had come for one.
“I need to talk to Rainbow Dash, but I don’t know where she lives. Applejack I suggested I ask Cerulean for help, is he home?” he asked, glancing around the room. Twilight sighed and walked over to the blue cactus, and after a short burst of magic it again resumed pony form. Unfortunately for Cerulean, she had failed to remove the needles, and as overjoyed as he was to again have his limbs back, his skin immediately burned like he was being bitten by ants head to hoof. Twilight, not having meant to punish him that severely, immediately set about removing the needles with her magic as Cerulean did the same, glancing over at Storm.
“Hey Storm, what can we do for you?” Right, cacti don’t have ears or eyes. He repeated his explanation and Cerulean nodded, thanking Spike quietly who had come to assist in the de-quilling process. Spike had wisely decided to comply with any and every request Twilight made, not having the strength of will or pain tolerance to stand up to her often bizarre requests. Cerulean used a bit of magic to cool his body temperature in an attempt to soothe body wide inflammation before motioning towards the door. “All right Storm, let’s go.” Storm obeyed, wondering how a unicorn was going to help him get to Cloudsdale though he didn’t have long to wonder as the moment they made it outside Cerulean summoned his frosty wings, turning to face Storm, a slight grin on his face.
“So then, Storm Blitz... Think you can keep up?” With that he launched into the sky, and Storm gave chase, shaking the snow from his muzzle as he pushed himself to keep up. How that little unicorn could fly so well was a mystery, but as he matched his graceful motions he felt a spark within his chest as the memories of his love for the air drifted back, a time before his cutie mark had ruined everything. His joy was short lived, as Cerulean set a fast pace and Cloudsdale soon loomed into view.
Rainbow’s cloud home was on the outskirts of town, a fact that Storm was thankful for should the conversation become heated. “Storm Blitz, I don’t know what happened between you two and it’s none of my business, but Rainbow Dash is a good friend to me too. Whatever you broke, fix it. She’s not as strong as she seems.” With that, he galloped a short ways before diving towards the ground below. Storm walked over and stopped with his hoof at the door. What was he going to say?
“Rainbow Dash?..” he called out, waiting and hearing no response. “Rainbow Dash, if you’re in there I’d like to apologize. May I come in?” Still nothing. “Dash, I’m not leaving until you come out. I’ll stay out here all night if I have to.”
“Just go away.” The voice sounded like it was coming from just on the other side of the door. He had never heard her sound so dejected, and it only steeled his will to overcome the barrier he had raised between them.
“Even if you won’t come talk to me, I’d like you to at least listen to my story.” He waited, hearing nothing before continuing with a sigh. Rainbow Dash was leaning against the door, ear pressed against it so she didn’t miss anything. “I used to love flying, you know. Probably wouldn’t guess it by looking at me now, but I couldn’t get enough of it. I loved watching the Wonderbolts and even got a few lessons from Lightning Wing the one time he came to visit. Yet no matter what I tried - racing, weather control, obstacles... I couldn’t get my cutie mark. One day I was messing around near some storm clouds and my tricks agitated a large tuft, causing it to spin and shoot out electricity. I knew it was dangerous but it was just one cloud, so I figured even if I got struck, I’d survive. I braced myself and plowed through, gazing in wonder as the lights danced around my body. I can still remember the sensation as I emerged, coated in sparks and completely enthralled.”
He laughed at the memory, recalling how he immediately replicated the stunt multiple times, burning some hair but escaping largely unscathed. “But then... Some of my closest friends tried it. The burns they received were equivocal to being struck by lightning several times. All but one lost their ability to fly, and the other can only stay airborne amidst great pain. I was devastated...” he choked back the tears and continued his explanation, this being the first time had spoken about the ordeal since the night it happened. “They didn’t blame me, but the whole town turned against me, especially their families. I was forced from Cloudspire the next day, and never spoke of it again.”
The door cracked open and Rainbow Dash slowly trotted over to sit beside him, still not making eye contact but at least showing herself. “Rainbow Dash, anypony can see how much you love flying. When I saw you in the middle of the storm I couldn’t... I couldn’t stand to see you share the same fate as the others that had tried to mimic my stunts. But that’s no excuse, I was a jerk to yell at you like that, and I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”
“...On one condition,” she replied, a slow grin spreading across her muzzle as she jumped in front of him. “Teach me your grandfather’s secrets.”