The sky was alight with an orange glow that could only be produced by a dying flame. Streaks of gold, red, and a dash of purple spanned the emptiness as the light died away, a darkness rising in its place. The air was chilled, and only growing colder as a brisk breeze washed across the desolate, flat cloudscape that sat grey in the sky. It blocked the beautiful array from gracing the ground like a shield to a flower. It was a shame, too; sunsets were a gorgeous display, soothing and serene as the twilight hours flickered briefly.
Across the expansive grey blockage, atop the lumps and hills of rumbling clouds, sat an outstretched lump of vivid cyan. A multi-hued spectrum of rainbow streaked strands pooled from beneath her, creeping over small mounds of bland fluff. Her eyes were blind to the world, open only to the mesh of warm and cold above her. The yin-yang of the twilight hour always seemed to worm its way into her core and burrow in for a while, before fleeting quicker than it had came.
Her chest expanded as she drew a deep, long breath. It released as a low sigh, her chest deflating once more. Head propped up on her forearms, she lay there in silence, doing no more than staring up at that thick canvas called the sky. She seemed grim; even her eyes, trained though they were, drooped with a forlorn gaze. Upon her mouth was the tiniest hint of a frown. Nothing more serious - not a scowl, a grimace, or sneer. Simply a frown.
Though the somber serenity that wafted through the cool breeze was bittersweet, the taste on the back of this mare's tongue was sour and pungent. The weight of her eyes was unbearable; the dark, heavy bags beneath them sagged as though they were putting a conscious effort into dragging her down. Yet no matter how much force she applied - and she had put forth much lately - she could not shut her eyes for even a wink.
Her thoughts were racing much too fast for her to comprehend them. One would fire off, only to be muffled by yet another. It was an overlaying system, and soon, she could feel her supports cracking under the weight. Oh how she ached to sleep again, to socialize again. But here she was, just like the past two days, alone atop a pegasus storm. Would she sleep tonight? She did not know. Celestia willing she would; if not, well, the idea of slamming full on into a wall was beginning to scrape her mind.
What was worse - as though days of sleeplessness and isolation could become such - was the sad fact that she couldn't even place her hoof on the problem. There was a storm brewing in her mind, no doubt about it. But just what that entailed...well, that was the grand mystery. She breathed out a sigh, adding a bit of a cracking vocal ring to it. The scratchy note deflated and was soon whisked away in the ever constant breeze.
To the contrary of her destitute disposition, however, she was nowhere near the verge of giving up. She didn't become the fastest flyer in all Equestria by giving up, now did she? So, behind her blank expression that gazed into the darkening beyond, she drafted up a mental checklist. She could actually see it, feel it; possibly thanks to her little bookworm friend who always had one of these things at all times. As much as this colorful pony hated to admit it, there were one or two things she had picked up from that nerd.
A mental image of a feather quill materialized in the ferocious chaos of her mind, scribbling down the appropriate thoughts as they whirled by in the painful maelstrom of her mind. She had been at the Gala just two days ago. The thought surprised her, freezing the scrawling utensil in its place. The Gala had been an eternity away. Though, she reasoned as she forced herself to truly see from her eyes, the mashing of days and nights threw everything off. Just yesterday she had eaten a breakfast sandwich in her kitchen at three in the afternoon and thought it to be midnight. Sleep deprivation did strange things.
After a few moments of taking in the sky, which by now was speckled with tiny shimmers and distant glimmers, her sight receded past her magenta eyes yet again. Her clipboard, paper, and quill were still there, ready to be used. So, naturally, she used them. The next thing to be scratched down was her failure with the Wonderbolts. How illustrious that had been. To be ignored by her own heroes, after she had saved their lives and their pie was not only humiliating but also sickening.
The breeze around her picked up, rushing her deeper into the night. Days of endless pity and self loathing all for this unknown cause had turned her numb to the world. By now, she hardly flinched at the thin red and yellow hair strands that lashed at her eyes. She hardly shifted when the cloud beneath her rumbled and boomed with its ominous crack of thunder. Not even once had she tried to smoothen out the ruffled patches of fur that were popping up across her body.
Though to be fair, it wouldn't have made a difference. Her light cyan coat was matted and slick in areas that painted her with oily polka-dots. Her mane was clumped and knotted as it swayed in the sideways wind. And even her tail, which she had pride in as being the best to ever grace anypony's rump was nasty and greasy. To top it off, were it not for the unrelenting wind, an awful smell - possibly close to that of a decaying carcass - would be awash in the clouds, spewing her vile collection of odors amassed from days of not showering.
With the faded light finally dying to but a whisper on the horizon, and the moon beginning to replace its twin, she retracted to her clipboard. The quill stalled. The next obvious thought whipped by her, striking her hard. She was dumbfounded as to how she could put this in words. Her friends, those five innocent mares that she actually enjoyed lumbering herself with had brushed her plights away. That night, at good ol' Donut Joes, when she had expressed her pain of abandonment by her idols, they had done no more than giggle and say 'At least we have each other.' It just wasn't good enough.
Guilt. That's what panged her, and not simply in her throbbing mind either. It stabbed her heart, twisting like the gleaming blade of a knife. She shifted on the cloud, her flat gaze degrading into a more somber, depressed stare. Her eyes drooped impossibly lower, and her lips finally curved downward at their corners.
Was she saying that her friends weren't enough? That the Wonderbolts were better? It was an awful thought, sure, but it was there nonetheless. It crept around her mind like a spider weaving its web, ready to trap her and devour her. She loved her friends, loved them dearly. If they were ever in danger, she was there. Just as that pompous little fashion diva she cared for at the bottom of her heart had fallen to the Icarus syndrome, and she had dived down to save her at the cost of her show. The memory was clear in her mind: the wind in her face, the burning of the mach-cone, the crack and boom of the colorful pastel circlet as it radiated from behind her...and then, of course, the Wonderbolts.
Now the possibility stirred in her gut with a sickening gargle. She might have done it for her friend. She would do anything for her friend. It's what the element of loyalty does, right? Ah, but loyalty played fickle in her hooves, and no matter how hard she tried, she could never grasp it. Yes, she was loyal - she made a note of this on her faux checklist - but just exactly who was she loyal to? The Wonderbolts had come into her life far before the generous diva had. Hay, she practically worshipped the aerial crew, and she knew it too. So was it them she had saved, with her friend being a bonus? Or was it the other way around?
Quickly she drew a foreleg from beneath her head, wrapping it around her midsection and cringing. Her face scrunched tight, turning instantly red and strained. Teeth barred she bent into an arch, exposing her neck and plot fully to the night's breathing. The thought of food, perhaps a warm, toasted pop-tart flooded her mind, but unfortunately not her gargling stomach.
But there was no food in sight, unless she could eat clouds. And from what past experiences told her, that was a big fat no. So she pushed herself down, giving her all to ignore the stabbing in her gut. She forced herself back into a reclined position, letting her face return to its somber frown and glossy stare.
As she readjusted, she muttered something in the wind. It was drivel, slurred like only an exhausted or drunken pony could achieve. It was fairly nonsensical, pointless and lacked in vowels, but it did manage to conjure up that crisp image of the clipboard, paper and quill yet again. She reviewed its contents with a distanced gaze, listing them down in their order: failure, rejection, ignored. So far it wasn't too bright.
The next to go on the list was an less than fortuitous event; drinking. Criticism galore for such a hobby, she popped the cap off a cold on and sent it down the hatch. Keeping a jubilant mask on wasn't easy, especially not when she'd been ignored by not only her idols, but her friends as well. In her world, it was all fair and right to be allowed to relax after such a night. And she supposed that's where the restlessness began.
Stars dazzled the sky above. It was dark now, the last kiss of the sun faded, depleted from the world. It was now the moon's turn to rule the sky, and rule it did; it was colossal tonight. The cyan insomniac could clearly make out each porous crater and splitting crevice that the pale orb had to offer. She felt as though she could simply reach out and graze them with her hoof. She tried, in fact, sprawling her foreleg out from underneath her greasy mane. It extended to its full length, hardly filling the huge gap between her and something so close. Just like her thoughts, she noted. So close, yet so far.
Oh, but what if she could touch it? What if she could graze the moon with her hoof? Would that give her the satisfaction she craved? And what if she could reach these thoughts? What if she could come to peace with herself and her quarrelling mind? The first answer that spun through her mind: sleep. A long, deep slumber to make dragons envious. Then food. A meal for the princesses. But these were simply the physical rewards. Peace would bring acceptance to her mind, perhaps a bit of joy and a touch of laughter.
A certain buoyant mass of energy booted the wooden slab from her mind's eye, a pink, frothy mane bouncing in harmony with the rest of the pony. She knew this pony as her best friend of them all. They had so much in common; pranksters and jokers to the end of time. Perhaps she simply needed a laugh? The thought of a smile only made her strained lips crease more, though. Smiles and joy were different, as were laughs and happiness. But this pony could combine all four into one big party-in-a-box. She wouldn't trade this mare for the world.
Then the rejection portion of the clipboard flashed its ugly ink. If it truly came down to it, would she abandon her best friend for the sake of a happiness that was promised but not showed? To be part of an elite team was so tantalizing...how in Equestria could she make up her mind?
She pressed her hooves against her head with a full scowl now, shaking her whole body to and fro. What if she traded her best friend for a lifetime of fortune and fame? What if she surrendered her position as the Element of Loyalty for the showering of loyalty to her? What if she wasn't truly loyal to her friends at all, but instead resided her loyalty in her lifelong heroes?
Questions, questions, and more questions. That was all she could conjure now, were these simple questions. Her mind didn't show any signs of stopping either, to her deep, genuine chagrin.
What if she had been accepted into the Wonderbolts at the Gala? What if she gave up all her friends for it? What if she never had those friends in the first place? Even the simple thought, though it brushed her mind for but a mere second, sent waves of disgust through her body. She slowly shook her head, letting her empty eyes fall from the expanse above to the stretching planes of grey upon which she lay.
Her mind perked up. For what reason, she did not know, but the spike was there as new questions invaded her splitting head. What if her friends deeply cared? What if the Wonderbolts didn't match up to the love and care she received from her friends every day? What if the fame, the fortune, the rush...what if it just didn't compare? Was that even a possibility?
She thought of her friends, each of their smiling faces as they laughed and played, frolicked and leapt together. She was there, smiling as well. They were all so happy. Even on her face, there was a look of pure, unrefined joy. What if this was where she belonged?
And then it clicked. So many questions, so few answers. But it clicked.
Life was just one big what if.
And for the hundreds upon hundreds of what if questions she could ask, very few had real answers. What fell to her hooves to do was pick them out, like picking out the good grapes on a dying vine. Those questions - the ones with solid answers behind them - were the true questions, the ones that could guide and answer believably.
So what if her friends deeply cared? Well, she would love them even more. And what if the fame, fortune, and rush of the Wonderbolts just didn't compare? Well, she'd miss where she was now. And finally, what if this was where she belonged? Well, then she'd be happy for the rest of her days.
A smile grew on her lips, giving her tense muscles a well deserved break. She understood now, and was happy. She was happy with her friends, and were she to leave, she couldn't even begin to fathom the heartbreak. And besides, she reasoned, she already was part of an elite team; the team of her friends. The Elements of Harmony.
Satisfaction alight in her eyes like a freshly relit wicker, she rolled onto her belly and carefully pushed herself to her hooves. Her legs wobbled a bit, and she did stumble once or twice, but in the end, she managed to level out. Her eyes were darted and glazed evenly with a thick passion. She knew what she was going to do now. First, of course, shower, eat, and rest. She would undoubtedly need these for tomorrow. A day out with friends seemed to be in order.
Up higher and higher she flew, into the star splattered sky, the chilly breeze doing its part to lift her sluggish body from the clouds. Slow though she was, the smile on her face wavered not once as she turned away, beat her wings, and disappeared into the cold, welcoming night.