“Instincts exist for a reason. Anypony who ignores them does so at their own risk.”
“So, should I assume that that confident look on your face means you’ve thought of something?” Rainbow Dash asked as she slipped into the saddle.
“I most certainly have,” Twilight replied as she cinched a strap around her friend’s barrel. “It took me the whole week, but I’m fairly certain that this will work.”
“Certain enough to ignore the fact that we don’t have nearly as much cloud cover this week?”
“Well, that does complicate things a little, but I’ve got a solution for that.”
“I see... care to explain it?”
Twilight hopped into the saddle and secured her hind legs, a motion that had almost become second nature to her over the past month. “I’ll go into more detail after we warm up,” she replied as she attached the reins to her hooves.
Warming up, in this case, consisted of running through all of the moves the two had worked on previously, with the addition of a new trick that Rainbow Dash had recently come up with, inspired by the “weird squiggly thing” she’d seen in an ad for a firm of lawyers. Hearing this description, Twilight was able to identify this mysterious symbol as an ampersand, a word which her pegasus friend decided sounded cool enough to serve as the trick’s name. The maneuver wasn’t all that different from the horizontal eight, consisting of two partial inside loops separated by a single inversion. The main differences were the fact that the two partial loops were vertically arranged and the fact that it began and ended on downward angles on the bottom loop, instead of a flat pass. The only difficulty Twilight had in piloting her friend was a habit of inverting after the second partial loop (as was standard for the horizontal eight), which in this trick served no purpose other than to cause the two to end the trick upside-down.
However, all this was merely a preamble to what Rainbow Dash assumed was some kick-awesome technique Twilight had figured out to deal with problem of air resistance. “C’mon, spill the beans, already,” the pegasus asked as her friend guided her higher into the air.
“In a minute,” the unicorn responded. “First, I need to make sure we have enough altitude to pull this off safely.”
Rainbow Dash sighed and resigned herself to the fact that Twilight Sparkle wouldn’t reveal anything until she was absolutely ready. In the meantime, there was little for her to do other than flap her wings and enjoy the scenery while her friend manipulated her instincts. She’d long since gotten over the weirdness of being a spectator of her own flying skills—though knowing that she could take over at any time made that idea way less creepy than it sounded—but she had to admit that when Twilight wasn’t guiding her through various twists and turns, it could get a little boring.
Eventually, Twilight stopped their ascent and had her friend hover in place. “Now will you tell me what we’re doing?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Gladly,” the unicorn responded. “Basically, our problem is that we’ve been losing control because I ruin our aerodynamic profile. My attempts to reduce that profile by leaning forward met with failure, because I couldn’t overcome the air resistance.”
“Uh, no kidding. I already know all of this. Come on, skip to the good part. Did you find a magic spell or something that will fix it?”
“More or less. Basically, the spell I found is going to keep me in place so that I can concentrate on actually steering.”
“Oh, so it’s like glue?”
“Actually, it isn’t. Any spell that could function like an adhesive would restrict my movement so much that I wouldn’t actually be able to steer you, since I’d be stuck in one place. Instead, I learned about a spell that mimics the properties of magnets. It will cause our bodies to pull towards each other, but since the strength is adjustable, I can make certain that I’m never so far down that I can’t do my job.”
“Okay... I think I’m following you here. So, why are we up so high, then?”
“Well, I haven’t had the chance to test it out, so we’re going to fly to the barrier on a downwards trajectory.”
“Whoa, hold up, Twilight. Remember what I said last time? I’m looking for a challenge here, not some way to make the Sonic Rainboom easier.”
“Okay, first of all, this is primarily a test to see if my idea works. If the spectrum barrier bounces us back, I want it to be upwards so that I have more time to regain control. Secondly, after I double-checked the physics involved, I realized that it is going to be more challenging, since I’m going to add drag no matter what position I’m in, reducing your terminal velocity. It would be harder for you even if you were headed straight down.”
Rainbow Dash slapped a hoof against her forehead as she listened to Twilight explain something she should have been able to figure out on her own. “Okay, enough talking. Let’s get to work.”
The unicorn’s horn glowed as a magical aura surrounded the two ponies. When it subsided, Twilight abruptly lurched forward, collapsing onto Rainbow Dash’s shoulders.
“Whoa! You okay?” the pegasus asked.
“I’m fine—it’s just a little stronger than I expected. Let me dial it back a bit.” A somewhat fainter glow emanated from Twilight’s horn, allowing her to sit up again, although she had to steady herself with her forelegs, since she couldn’t get her center of gravity over the saddle. “There... that should be okay once we start flying.”
“Speaking of which, that sounds like a good idea right now.”
The unicorn smiled, and slapped the reins to signal her friend to begin moving.
As the two ponies descended at a somewhat steep angle, Twilight was pleased to find that her plan was working out exactly as intended. The attractive spell counteracted the air resistance quite well, giving her a very comfortable riding posture. The only hiccup was the fact that she had to repeatedly increase the strength of the spell as Rainbow Dash’s velocity increased, but this was a minor problem, since the spell didn’t require her continuous attention, which was good, as most of that concentration was focused on her flyer’s ever-increasing speed. The pair surged towards the ground as the visual distortion associated with the spectrum barrier formed around them. Twilight made a quick check of their altitude; she had a fairly good idea of how close to the ground they could get before a crash was inevitable, and she intended to cut off the maneuver quite a distance before that, but she really wanted this to work the first time. Come on... almost there....
The distortion grew more and more visible, but other than that, Twilight didn’t notice any major changes. As the pair neared the cutoff point, the unicorn was nearly ready to have her flyer slow down and turn upwards, when suddenly the distortion coalesced into a solid white cone, stopping the two in midair.
“The barrier?” the rider quickly asked.
Rainbow Dash had just enough time to nod before the two ponies were catapulted back upwards. For a few seconds, it seemed as though they were out of control yet again, but Twilight somehow managed to reorient her flyer just as they reached the peak of their parabolic trajectory. She maneuvered her friend over to a nearby cloud, where they could debrief the proceedings.
“That was the most amazing thing ever!” the unicorn yelped excitedly.
“Whoa, easy on the technical stuff,” Rainbow Dash joked. “I suppose it is pretty impressive for somepony who doesn’t normally think of it as a failed Sonic Rainboom attempt.”
“More importantly, the spell I found worked perfectly. I was able to adjust its strength as needed, and I canceled it entirely in time to get back to normal flying.”
“Yeah... that’s actually something I’ve never done on my own. I mean, I’ve always crashed when I didn’t break the spectrum barrier before. How’d you manage to regain control?”
Twilight paused as she attempted to come up with an explanation. “Hmmm... well, maybe it’s related to what you said before, about how I don’t view this phenomenon as a failed Rainboom. That probably put me in a better mental state to deal with the chaos.”
“Eh, makes as much sense as anything,” the pegasus said with a shrug. “But you were right about it being more difficult than flying solo.”
“So, I take it you’re satisfied with my skills as a rider, then?”
“You bet I am. In fact... how about I do something for you?”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I want to take you along for an actual Rainboom.”
“I’d love to, Rainbow Dash, but that’s still a long ways off.”
“Not if you use your magic to help me out.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“You know that spell you use to reduce terminal velocity?”
“Well, what if you used it to increase it instead? That way, I don’t have to fight against nearly as much drag, and the Rainboom should be a snap!”
“I don’t know...”
“Come on, we can make sure there’s a cloud in place to stop us if something goes wrong.”
“But that really won’t help you with your training.”
“Duh! That’s why I said I’d be doing something for you! Come on, it’ll be fun.”
“Well, in theory, there’s no reason it shouldn’t work.”
“Is that a ‘yes’?”
“I didn’t say that. You need to keep in mind that that spell takes a lot out of me. We’d only be able to try it once, and it would mean we’d have to end the practice early.”
Rainbow Dash smiled. “That sounds like a ‘yes, but’ to me.”
“I suppose it is.”
“But a ‘yes, but’ is still basically a ‘yes,’ right?”
It took several minutes of needling, begging, and pleading, but eventually the pegasus won over her friend, due in no small part to her unshakable confidence. Even so, Twilight Sparkle insisted that several clouds be pushed together to provide adequate deceleration in the event that they ended up going too fast for either of them to maintain control. This done, the two hovered high overhead, going over the plans one last time.
“Okay, so we’ll do three-quarters of an inside loop to build up our speed, then you’ll aim me straight for the clouds,” Rainbow Dash said. “There’s no way it isn’t thick enough to absorb our momentum if we collide with it.”
Her rider nodded, though not without some uncertainty. “I understand. But how do I know if the Rainboom is going to happen?”
“You know how the barrier looks white before it pushes you back? When you’re about to break it, it becomes multi-colored for a split-second. When you see that, you give me an extra burst of speed, and then we’ll be cruising.”
“And you’re sure this will be worth it?”
Rainbow Dash smiled. “Did Rarity ever tell you what it was like when I rescued her?”
“Well, no. She said she was too busy panicking at the time to really appreciate your achievement.”
“Oh,” the pegasus said disappointedly. “Well, in any case, flying at super-spectral speeds is totally awesome by itself, but the moment you break the spectrum barrier is absolutely amazing. I mean, when I did it the first time, I became obsessed with the Rainboom for years.”
“You’re still obsessed with it today,” Twilight pointed out.
“Which really oughta show you how awesome it is. Believe me, there aren’t a lot of things that are worth the risk of abysmal failure, but the Sonic Rainboom is one of them.”
Twilight slowly nodded to herself. “Okay... alright. You’ve convinced me that it’s at least worth trying.”
“Awesome! Ready when you are.”
The unicorn’s horn glowed as she ran through her mental checklist. “Attraction spell activated... check. Increasing terminal velocity...” The glow pulsated for a few seconds as the magic in question flowed through the two ponies. “...check. Emergency landing area still intact... check. Rider worries assuaged... well, close enough, I guess. Okay, let’s go.” Rainbow Dash began the maneuver at her normal sprinting speed, and only increased over the course of the wide loop. When the ponies had reached the three-quarter mark, they broke off the loop and nosedived straight for large cluster of water droplets intended to cushion their fall if anything went wrong.
They were moving fast, Twilight noted. Much, much faster than their last attempt—indeed, faster than they’d ever flown since beginning their regular practices, if the hastened appearance of the spectral distortion was any indication. The air resistance seemed nonexistent; if anything, it felt like they were being pushed downward by an unknown force rather than pulled by gravity. The unicorn wasn’t certain if this was the result of her terminal velocity spell, or her own imagination, but she decided to push these thoughts aside and press on, if only because the adrenaline was starting to kick in again.
Twilight suddenly felt the drag of the air as she and Rainbow Dash hit their modified terminal velocity. It was all up to the pegasus’ wingpower now. The cloud rushed closer and closer as the distortion became more opaque. When the two sights suddenly merged into a nearly solid wall of whiteness, Twilight briefly considered calling it off—but she decided against it. Her curiosity was now piqued; she had to see why Rainbow Dash thought that the Sonic Rainboom was so important that it needed to be shared with her. Still, the spectrum barrier clung to its notorious reputation as a nigh-indestructible phenomenon; the darn thing was almost stubborn enough to be a member of the Apple family.
The compression from the barrier was quite noticeable now: Rainbow Dash was showing more signs of turbulence than in any of their previous flights. It was all Twilight could do to keep them pointed straight down towards the cloud. However, just as she resigned herself to being thrown back up into the air, she saw it: the glimmer of color from the distortion. Remembering the pegasus’ instructions, she signaled for a final burst of speed.
Twilight Sparkle had already experienced much in her brief lifetime. She’d studied magic under the tutelage of one of Equestria’s ruling princesses and helped rescue the other from her inner demons. She had calmed an angry ursa minor, traveled through time, and observed the famed Dragon Migration from a closer vantage point than anypony else on record. She had been brought to the brink of despair by a mad draconequus, and with her friends, she had overcome both through the magic of friendship. She had met Pinkie Pie. She’d even observed two Sonic Rainbooms before, albeit from a distance. None of these experiences, however, could prepare her for the explosion of colors that washed over her, surrounding and permeating her as the spectrum barrier abruptly shattered with an indescribable roar. It only lasted half a second, but it was the most ineffably enchanting concentration of wonderfulness she’d experienced to date. Suddenly, Rainbow Dash’s notorious obsession with the maneuver made perfect sense.
This reverie might have continued if Twilight hadn’t suddenly felt the force of the attraction spell pulling her down towards her flyer once again. She quickly regained her senses and began to steer her friend away from the cloud—there was no way she would let this experience be cut short by a collision. The unicorn didn’t do anything fancy; she simply guided her friend in wide turns and climbs and dives until their momentum finally petered out, all the while staring awestruck at the rainbow trail they left in their wake. Appropriately enough, the violet band in Dash’s rainbow seemed to be sparkling in the afternoon sun, a detail of the experience that would soon become much, much less poetic.
Twilight collapsed onto her friend’s shoulders as they glided to the ground, breathing heavily from the adrenaline rush. “Worth it?” the pegasus asked with a grin.
“Totally worth it,” agreed the unicorn. “Although trying to explain it to anypony else is going to be a major pain in the flank.”
“Yeah, it is annoying. But I’d say that’s enough for today.”
“Right,” Twilight said with a nod as she began to undo the assorted straps that kept her in the saddle. “Oh, Dash?”
“Yeah?” the pegasus asked as she slipped the reins off of her muzzle.
“It’s no problem.” Rainbow Dash smiled as she waited for her friend to step off of her back. Five minutes later, the smile was gone. “You having trouble, Twilight?” She looked behind her to see that Twilight had undone all of the straps and freed her hind legs from the greaves, but was still sitting in the saddle with a strained look on her face.
“Something... something’s wrong.” Twilight suddenly pressed her forehooves against Dash’s shoulders, lifting herself up and sliding the saddle off of the pegasus before her haunches landed on her back again.
“Ow!” Rainbow Dash said in annoyance. “Okay, two things. First, that’s a really weird way to remove a saddle, and second, why the hay are you still on my back?!”
Twilight didn’t seem to hear this, because she was in the early stages of a panic attack. “It’s not the saddle? But then...” The unicorn’s voice trailed off as a look of horrified realization spread across her face. “No, no, no, no, no, no, NO! This can’t be happening!” The unicorn stared at the glow just over her forehead, which seemed to be completely ineffectual. “Why isn’t this stupid horn working? Come on!”
Rainbow Dash had never, ever heard her friend openly doubting her horn before. Her eyes widened as she realized that something had just made life more complicated. “Twilight... what’s going on?”
“I don’t know... it could be that I’m just tired, or maybe the Rainboom had some sort of unexpected effect, but—”
“Twilight, I don’t really need to hear the ‘why’ right now. I need to know what happened.”
“The... the attraction spell.”
“It... it won’t go away.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“I mean that I can’t seem to cancel it like I should! It’s still affecting us for some reason. We’re... we’re stuck.”