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Standard Legal Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters contained in the following work. “My Little Pony” and all subsequent properties belong to Hasbro.
The top half of Fluttershy’s door was still open by the time Rainbow Dash arrived, a paper bag shoved tightly in her mouth. Scootaloo’s scooter was still safely nestled away outside the cottage, telling the mare that the Crusaders were still working. Smiling, the cyan pony poked her head inside.
Inside the cottage, Fluttershy and the Cutie Mark Crusaders were hard at work. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle were wiping down one of the tables with rags dripping with furniture polish, Scootaloo was dusting the back curtains, and Fluttershy was cleaning up the mess from her animals’ latest meal. Even Dash was amazed at how wonderful the place looked. One could hardly tell that a storm had ravaged the cottage only a few days prior.
The yellow Pegasus snapped to attention as she heard Dash approach. With a hop, skip and a jump, she leaped over to the door, grabbed the bag from her waiting friend, and dropped it off on the dining table. The fillies sniffed the air in anticipation, their bellies rumbling from all their hard work today.
“Alright, girls!” Fluttershy said. The three Crusaders immediately dropped their cleaning tools and turned to the provider of sustenance. “I think we’ve all worked hard enough for today. Come on over and we can have a nice, quiet-”
All hopes for that died as the Crusaders charged at the table, passing Fluttershy with such speed at the Pegasus actually spun in place for a few seconds. All three were seated at the table and tearing through the bag just in time for Dash and Fluttershy take their own seats.
Dash reached into her mane and pulled out a small pouch of bits. She then tossed the bag aside, the coins rattling as the pouch landed perfectly on one of Fluttershy’s chairs. “You wouldn’t believe the line at McFlip’s today! You’d think they were having a sale or something.” She motioned towards the money pouch. “Oh, and you have some change left. I figured I’d throw in a few bits myself.”
Fluttershy smiled and nodded. “Thanks. And thank you all for helping me clean up today. After that storm, I was so worried that somepony could have been hurt.”
“It’s no trouble at all!” Dash said. “It’s just a shame everypony else couldn’t help. But man, did that thing tear up the library! Twilight and Spike were lucky to get out of there alive.”
“An’ don’t forget Sweet Apple Acres!” Apple Bloom added, her hoof still plunged in the bag. “Big Mac ’n Applejack are gonna be busy fer days!”
Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes as she thought of her own sister’s problems. “Ever since Rarity moved back in, she’s just been going off about every little thing. Mom spilled a little bit of flour on the counter, and she acted like the moon was going to crash right into Equestria. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t wait for Carousel Boutique to get fixed up.”
“Well, that’s just how it goes sometimes,” Dash said. She turned to Scootaloo. “And what about you, small fry? How are your folks holding up?”
Scootaloo shrugged, both forehooves still digging for her precious lunch. “Dunno. They’ve been real busy fixing up the house. They couldn’t wait to get me out here!”
Finally, the fillies struck pay dirt. With trembling hooves, they pulled out five tinfoil-wrapped sandwiches and three small paper sleeves of hay fries. Scootaloo handed Dash her Double-Decker Egg Salad, while Apple Bloom gave Fluttershy her BLT (Bread, Lettuce and Tomato) meal. And finally, the Crusaders unwrapped their own Triple Grilled Cheese lunches, along with several packets of ketchup.
The five were about halfway through when Apple Bloom chirped in. “Ya know, Ah was wonderin’ somethin’.”
Dash swallowed her current bite, taking extra time to chew on an extra-large bit of egg. “Shoot.”
“Well, remember when y’all told us how ya got yer cutie marks?” Bloom continued. “Fluttershy said it was because ya had a race to help her, Rainbow Dash. But…”
Scootaloo’s eyes widened as she caught onto the gist of Apple Bloom’s curiosity. “What she means is, why didn’t you go down and save her? What happened after the race?”
Dash’s teeth stopped chewing immediately. Her face was puffed up like a blowfish as she considered just what to say to this. With no small degree of anxiety, she swallowed her bite. “Well…you see…I went down to save Fluttershy afterwards.”
“Save her from what?” asked Sweetie. “Didn’t the butterflies break her fall?”
Dash chuckled nervously. “Well…of course they did, but I didn’t know that at the time. And besides, there were far more dangerous things down there. At least, that’s what I thought.”
Scootaloo cocked her head. “What?”
Fluttershy giggled as the old memories returned. “What she means is, she was afraid of the ground.”
The three fillies were stunned quiet, while Dash shrank back in her chair in embarrassment. Even Fluttershy felt more than a little ashamed at what she had just blurted out, fearing that the Crusaders would burst out laughing any second. Instead, however, Scootaloo turned to Dash in puzzlement. “Wh-What does she mean, ‘scared?’ You’re not afraid of anything, right?”
“W-Well, it was different back then,” Dash said between nervous chuckles. “I was just a filly, after all. I even got into Summer Flight Camp a year early. But that doesn’t mean I’m scared of this dirtball now!”
“So wha’ happened?” asked Apple Bloom.
Dash looked up expectantly at Fluttershy, as if to beg her not to let her continue. The yellow Pegasus, however, smiled and leaned back in her chair. “It’s okay, Rainbow Dash. You can tell them the whole story.”
Dash sighed. “Ugh, fine. It all started at Summer Flight Camp. I had just pulled off my very first Sonic Rainboom, and was heading back in for a landing. What I didn’t know was what had happened to Fluttershy….”
The cheering and shouts echoed throughout the entirety of Cloudsdale’s Summer Flight Camp for several minutes after. It had taken Dash almost that long just to slow down enough to touch down again without breaking through the cloud layer. As for her opponents, one of them slowly wobbled down just after she landed, while the other was still being hauled away to the nurse’s station after crashing through a pillar.
The cyan filly fell to the floor, her lungs desperately seeking air. The crowds swept around her almost immediately, as just about every camper with a free hour poured out to witness the historic event. Her heart was still pounding with the force of a Cloud Maker, and there was enough sweat coming from her brow to drench a small farm, but she had done it. Not only had she performed the legendary Sonic Rainboom, and shown those punks why they shouldn’t mess with weaker ponies, but she had earned her cutie mark. And what an awesome mark it was!
Oh yeah, best day ever! Now I just gotta find that pony, and…
The filly’s eyes widened as she turned towards the cloud the yellow Pegasus had been standing on earlier.
It was empty.
Dash’s eyes widened as she realized the truth. Wait. Just as the race began, I thought I heard somepony… “OH NO!”
Dash’s scream was enough to alarm the onlooking fillies and colts into backing off. The formerly victorious filly scanned every inch of the racetrack, but there was absolutely no sign of that pony anywhere. Frantic, Dash turned back to the crowd. “Excuse me, but did anypony see where she went?”
One of the colts shrugged. “I dunno. Guess she fell.”
The filly’s jaw came close to crashing all the way down to Equestria proper. “Y-You mean she fell? Like, fell fell?”
“What’s the big deal?” asked one of the fillies. “She can just fly up again?”
The now-beyond panicking Dash was in the filly’s face in an instant. Her eyes glinted with a hint of growing madness. “The same pony who couldn’t make it through the loops? The same pony that crashed fifteen times during basic takeoff? You really think that pony is gonna be able to fly all the way back up to camp?”
The cheers and shouts for joy came to a screeching halt. The first thing to replace the jubilation was an uneasy silence, as the fillies and colts digested the actual facts surrounding the camper’s disappearance. Next came the low wail that traditionally signaled an impending doom. And finally, the massive scream of terror, the kind that rattled the heavens and alerted every adult pony to their foals’ worries.
By the time everypony else was panicking, though, Dash had already leapt from the side of the finish line and started diving downwards. Below her sat a field of endless green, the only thing that could ever give the Dash reason to pause. She had been close to the ground, but never actually touched it. And for good reason.
She had heard the bedtime stories her mother used to scare her with. She may have been young, but that filly had reasoned the truth long ago.
The ground was the most evil, vile place in all of Equestria.
And she had just knocked a pony down there.
Scootaloo almost spat out her sandwich right there. “Wait, wait, wait! You thought the ground was evil?”
Rainbow Dash shuffled about in her seat and blushed to the point her face resembled a ripe tomato. “Y-Yeah...”
Unlike Scoot, Apple Bloom was decent enough to swallow the contents of her mouth before continuing the line of inquiry. “Wha’ in the hay does that mean?”
“W-Well...It’s kind of a long story.” Dash could feel her guts turning, and given what she had just eaten, that was far from a pleasant feeling. “You see...you know how when you’re a kid, you find the dark scary and think the Boogie Pony is hiding under your bed?” The fillies nodded. “Well, it was kinda like that. I didn’t know how things were down here back then, so even something like a squirrel could scare the daylights out of me.”
Scootaloo turned back to her half-eaten lunch, despair already growing inside her. “R-Rainbow Dash...the coolest pony to ever come out of Cloudsdale...was afraid of squirrels?”
“Um...If it’s all right, I’d like to speak next.”
Everypony’s eyes turned to the patiently-waiting Fluttershy. Seeing that they weren’t going to stop her, the mare swallowed a bit of radish and smiled. “While Rainbow Dash was back in Cloudsdale, I was still with my new friends. I really had no idea what I should do now that I had my cutie mark, and, well, I didn’t really think anypony was going to come after me...”
The animals, once utterly terrified by the rainbow explosion overhead, now seemed as calm as a gentle breeze in Fluttershy’s presence. Even the yellow Pegasus was seeming more relaxed than ever in their presence; she had even barely noticed that her cutie mark had appeared. In just a short amount of time, she had both discovered her special talent and found a place where she could truly belong.
She looked over each and every creature she could find. A few she recognized immediately, such as the butterflies and the rabbits and the fish, but others were either completely lost on the yearling or simply appeared to be a variation of another creature. Fluttershy sighed as she realized how little information she could have found in Cloudsdale. Being in the clouds, her home was not the easiest place to learn about animals without wings. She had absorbed as much knowledge as she could, but it still wasn’t quite enough to prepare her for such a large change in scenery as this. The other foals weren’t much help, either; most of them had just barely gotten over the ground not being covered with pony-eating monsters to care about what a chipmunk or goldfish was.
Even worse, she still couldn’t fly well enough to get back home. Her parents had taken her time at camp to go off on vacation, if only so they could forget how much of a disappointment their daughter was. The two were top-notch fliers on the Equestrian National Weather Team, while she was being held back with the foals again.
Fluttershy barely fought back a small tear. They’ll be happier without me.
Sighing, Fluttershy leaned over one of the nearby bunnies, her lips curled into an almost motherly smile. “Are you feeling better now?” The bunny’s answer was some nose wiggles, all of which the Pegasus could understand. “I’m so glad.”
In the treetops, a small robin sang out a song towards Fluttershy. The pony grinned and rubbed her forehooves together nervously. “That’s right, I’m not really from around here. I actually live waaaay up in the clouds, in a city called Cloudsdale. I wish you could see it, but it’s too high up for birds to fly.” The pony gulped. “Or me, for that matter.”
A tortoise slowly moved its head upwards, which the pony interpreted as a request for more information. “Well, you see, I’m not a very good flier. All the other ponies at camp are a lot younger than me. They’re always teasing me and calling me names.”
An anteater looked up from his meal and gurgled out something. Fluttershy shook her head sadly. “I don’t think my parents are going to be worried at all. They wanted a good Pegasus, after all. And I…I…”
She shook her head, clearing her brain of all those negative thoughts. She rose to her hooves, her thin legs shaking uneasily on this new surface. “No, now’s not the time to be feeling sorry for yourself, Fluttershy! You’ve found your special talent, and it’s time to put it to good use!”
She turned back to her new animal friends. “Would you care to show me around here? I think this is going to be my new home from now on.”
“We were in the middle of the tour when Rainbow Dash came by,” Fluttershy finished.
Sweetie Belle, her cheeks stuffed with hay fries, turned back to Dash. The mare had already begun to get over her embarrassment at her filly self’s blatant stupidity, if only just enough to keep things going. “Pho? Phwen vhut fhappened?”
“Well, I had just pulled up from my dive, and was flying high above the ground, just underneath the cloud layer. As far I knew, Fluttershy was in mortal danger...”
The filly darted from one corner of the skyline to the next, her small eyes desperately scanning every inch of the utterly alien world beneath her. Her mouth gaped as she took in the countless sights and smells that came from the world below. Every time she had been this far down, she was usually speeding by at about fifty miles an hour or so, and she had never taken the time to really look at the rest of Equestria.
All it did was make her nerves even tighter.
She could make out small creatures, the likes of which she had never seen before, huddling around various collections of plants next to a small pool of water. They were small, furry things with big, bushy tails. Dash grimaced as their beady little eyes locked on to the passing pony. They must be sizing me up for their next meal. I don’t wanna land there.
About fifteen meters from that, a gargantuan monstrosity of a beast was scooping up scaly, slimy things from a stream. Its claws shimmered in the sunlight, making the filly’s heart skip a beat. Something like that could eat a pony in three – no, TWO – bites!
And then she saw the legendary dirt. The brown substance covered everything, with only some grass and other plants to conceal it. I hope she didn’t land in that stuff that eats you if you land on it.
All this confirmed the stories she had been told by her parents. Whenever she brought up the notion of heading down to Equestria’s surface, her father would tell her of how dangerous the idea was. She was still young back then, and Cloudsdale wasn’t exactly the most accessible place for an unskilled flier. Her mother echoed the same sentiments, telling her time and again not to go exploring down there without an adult or she might not be able to get back up. The surface was big, they said, and if she got lost it might be awhile before her parents could find her and take her home.
Even back then, however, Dash knew the real story. It wasn’t because she was too weak of a flier; even in Kindergarten, she was pulling off loops and spins like nopony’s business. She was so talented that the Summer Flight Camp staff actually moved her up a year just so she could find some kind of challenge. If that wasn’t the reason, though, then there was only one possibility.
Dash had seen things like dragons and wyverns before, but they mostly left the flying city alone. There were other things, however, that scared her even more. She had never really bothered learning about the beasts that roamed the surface, but she knew enough to recognize how quickly they could devour a pony. If a pony landed in just the wrong spot, they would find themselves inside a creature’s stomach in no time at all. Even the foals that managed to survive the barbaric wastes long enough to attend Summer Flight Camp remarked on how much safer the clouds were than places like Manehatten and Fillydelphia.
Except for the ones from Canterlot, but they were snobs. And besides, they had Princess Celestia there to zap all the monsters, so they had nothing to worry about. But this pony...
Dash shuddered as thought of the implications of this trip. She knew all the stories by heart, and was certain things like this could be waiting for it. It was probably already too late for that poor pony. No, I have to keep looking. It’s my fault she’s down here to begin with! I…I need to just make sure she’s still alive!
As if by Celestia’s providence, Dash finally caught glimpse of the yellow Pegasus, strolling down towards some grassy field of some kind. It was right then that she realized the flaw in her cunning plan: she had no way to get the pony back to Cloudsdale. She certainly couldn’t carry a pony that old on her back, and given what she had seen, there was no way she could fly after her.
Her eyes drifted upwards, towards a few small, low-hanging clouds. With a devilish smile, she flew off to begin the operation.
Fluttershy yelped in surprise as the Pegasus pony from before flew up alongside her. Between the foal’s hooves sat a small cloud, just the perfect size to fit any little pony. The blue filly sighed in relief as she saw the still-breathing yellow Pegasus. “Thank Celestia you’re okay…um…”
The yearling smiled. Her old insecurities threatened to grip her voice, but she could still feel some of that confidence she had gained only moments before. Any lingering doubts were also smothered by her appreciation for the brave filly helping her with those bullies. “Oh, I’m sorry. I guess we never really did introduce ourselves. I…I’m Fluttershy.”
The blue filly smiled and extended a hoof. “Name’s Rainbow Dash, fastest flier in Cloudsdale and soon-to-be champ of all of Equestria!”
“Um…that’s…nice?” Fluttershy said. She was not quite used to speaking to another pony this long. “So…what brings you down here?”
Rainbow rolled her eyes before setting her hooves down on the cloud. The feeling of something familiar, even in this bizarre landscape, was more than a little comforting. “I’m trying to rescue you, duh! Just hop on this baby and I’ll take you back to camp! If we hurry , we can get there before snack time!”
Fluttershy’s smile vanished as she stared at the fluffy puff of frozen water crystals. “Well…thanks for coming, but I…I don’t really need to go back right now, do I?”
“What in Equestria are you talking about?” Dash responded. “We have to get back now! If the counselors know you fell down here, we’ll all be in trouble!”
“How can you be worried about that right now?” Fluttershy asked. She waved a leg around, his hoof sweeping over the various trees, plants, animals, lakes, and other assorted natural objects lying around. “Look around you. There are things here you’d never see up in Cloudsdale. There are rivers and grass and everything else. No having to wait for food to be carried up by other Pegasi or making sure you’re not drinking what’s going to be rain water.”
She pointed up to the sky. The Summer Flight Camp was still situated overhead; the place wasn’t scheduled to be moved again for another few hours. “And have you ever seen just how wonderful the sky looks from here? Clouds look so much more beautiful when you’re far away, don’t you think?”
Dash gulped, her eyes still locked on the small field of green Fluttershy was standing on. “Y-Yeah, whatever. Look, we have a serious problem here. You’re on the…” She gulped even louder than before. “Ground.”
Fluttershy smiled. “Of course.”
“Don’t you know what lives on the ground?”
Fluttershy was thoughtful for a second. “Well, there’s squirrels, and raccoons, and bunnies. Oh, and of course there’s fish and birds and bugs and…”
“Yeah, and do you want THOSE things to be eating your face off while you sleep?”
The entire field fell silent. Fluttershy just stared at Dash in bewilderment. It reminded her of the old pony's tales that would be told around bedtime. Sometimes mothers would tell their foals stories about manticores and hydras living on the ground just to keep them quiet at night, but that was it. Even the ponies that were affected mostly grew out of it by the time they got out of Kindergarten. Even a pony as timid as her had stopped believing such stories a long time ago.
Then the yearling caught Dash’s eyes. They were shaking with unbridled terror, and not that of being caught outside of the Flight Campgrounds. The young pony honestly seemed to believe all this nonsense. “Rainbow, there’s nothing to worry about. None of these animals want to eat ponies. They just eat nuts, seeds, and grass, like us.”
“Exactly!” Dash exclaimed. She sank deeper into the cloud, as if trying to pull her whole body inside until the danger was passed. “They know we have all that stuff inside our bellies! We’re just a big buffet to them!” She pointed to a nearby chipmunk, who quickly recoiled in surprise. “Why, I bet that one is sizing your wings up right now! He must think they’re full of…what’s that thing mom keeps making me eat…FIBER!”
Fluttershy’s eyes drifted downwards as her natural shyness began to return. “Well, um, I don’t think they want to eat you…I mean, Mr. Chipmunk here was actually out gathering some twigs for his family so…”
Dash raised an eyebrow, one of the few parts of her still visible from the ground, at the name. “Mr. Chipmunk? You mean you actually understand these monsters?”
“Like I said, they’re not monsters,” Fluttershy chided. “And I…I don’t know how I can talk to them. I just can. It’s my special talent, after all.” She sheepishly pointed towards the small butterfly marks on her flank. “See?”
Rainbow’s head poked out of the cloud completely, tossing aside cotton ball-sized puffs as she did so. She stared at the image quizzically, as if trying to fathom just what bizarre beast had attached itself to Fluttershy’s rump. It wasn’t until she recognized the coloring as being that of a cutie mark that she realized exactly what was going on. “I…I see. So your special talent is making evil creatures do your bidding!”
“THEY’RE NOT EVIL!”
The small herd of animals fled towards the nearby trees. Rainbow Dash ducked into her security cloud, with only her tail still sticking out. Fluttershy took a few steps back herself, squeaking sorrowfully as she tried to lower her voice. “I…I mean…I’m sorry if I scared you, but…I…I didn’t want you to…to…”
The first few sobs came just as Dash poked part of her head out of the whiteness. Fluttershy had fallen to her knees in a fit, her face turning beat red as she lay witness to her own self-destruction. I finally found something I’m good at…and I scared them away. I finally found a friend…and she probably hates me now. I…I…I really am no good. I’m the-
Fluttershy shivered as a hoof touched her along the withers. She looked up just as the hovering Dash moved her leg away. The blue pony was smiling. “Sorry about that. It’s an awesome talent, really. I know I can’t do anything like that.”
Fluttershy squeaked in response, but did manage to flash a smile up towards her new friend. The cyan filly flapped her wings, flipping about in mid-air before landing back on the cloud. “But you really want to spend the rest of your life down here? How can you even stand this place? The floor looks so…” She shuddered. “Hard.”
The yellow Pegasus looked down at the soft grass beneath her hooves. She could feel something solid underneath, a feat that wasn’t easily replicated with clouds. At most, you would get some columns and walls, mostly built out of hardened cloud matter or enchanted materials from unicorn merchants, and even those were only used to keep the pieces of the city ponies walked on from collapsing or drifting away. But this was different.
“Well, I guess it is a little…rough,” she sighed. She would have said more, but stopped when she heard a gentle buzzing in her ears. Fluttershy turned to find herself staring at several bees, no doubt from the same hive she had found when she first landed. The swarm buzzed something that almost resembled a code before flying over a nearby patch of flowers and coordinating themselves into an arrow pointing downwards.
Dash yelped and hid behind the cloud as best she could, even pulling up an edge to give herself some more cover. “Wh-What are those things?”
“Oh, those are bees,” Fluttershy said with a smile. “Without them, we wouldn’t have honey.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Dash moaned. “J-Just keep them away from me, all right?”
If Fluttershy was listening, she certainly did not show any sign of doing so. Instead, she cantered up to the flowers, and with a definite yank, pulled out a few with her mouth. She then walked them back and set them on the ground before Rainbow Dash’s cloud. The smaller pony poked her head over the edge, eyeing the things with bemused frustration. “What are these things for?”
“You don’t see these growing in Cloudsdale, do you?” Fluttershy said. “They’re so lovely and…” She bit off one of the petals and swallowed. “Delicious.” She looked back up at her new friend. “Would you like some?”
Dash let out an exaggerated gag. “No thanks! I don’t trust anything that comes from this place. How do you know those bees weren’t trying to poison you?” She ducked down inside the cloud again, with only her eyes poking out in case anypony or anything tried to gobble her up. “I bet that’s their plan! Get you all messed up with weird plants until you pass out, so they can carry you off to work in their honey mines!”
Fluttershy raised an eyebrow. “Um…honey doesn’t come from mines. And like I told you, they aren’t evil. They may sting you if you get them mad, though.”
Dash shrank deeper into her impenetrable cumulus force field. “Look, it’s awesome and all that you love it down here so much. Really, I couldn’t be happier for you. But there is no way anypony is gonna convince me that anything good comes from down here.”
Fluttershy moaned. She was still enjoying Dash’s company (even if she was being more than a little irritating, what with the constant accusations and paranoid delusions and all), but it was already getting rather tiring to talk to what amounted to a low-flying pile of condensed vapors. “Dash, do you want to come down? I mean, if you don’t mind. I…”
Dash poked her head through the cloud, her eyes narrowed in a furious gaze. Fluttershy squealed and shrank back a few hoofsteps. Rainbow’s response was more than a little curt. “NO NO NO!”
“B-But there’s so much here…” Fluttershy squeaked.
“And if I wanted to look at it, I could do it just fine from Cloudsdale!” Rainbow Dash snapped. Her entire body rose up from the cloud, her wings beating to a furious beat to keep her afloat. “I don’t care if this is where food comes from! I don’t care if these animals can fool you into thinking they’re cute and cuddly! And I REALLY don’t care if dirt isn’t gonna devour you whole if you step on it! There is no way I am EVER gonna spend my time on some stupid ground like an Earth pony or unicorn! We’re pegasi! We belong in the clouds!”
“B-But…I’m no good…at…” Fluttershy cowered even more, her heart slowly breaking.
“And if you want to spend all your time with a bunch of lamebrain monsters, then fine! But I’m not gonna stay here a moment longer!”
Fluttershy whimpered as the first few tears traced down her cheeks. “I-I thought we were friends…”
Rainbow froze before she could launch into another wild rant. Only the beating of her wings remained to show she was still alive and breathing. Fluttershy turned her head away from the rather mean Pegasus as her low moans morphed into loud sobs. Dash opened her mouth to give some kind of apology when she felt something tug on her tail. The filly looked down in a panic, and soon confirmed her worst fears.
A chipmunk had grabbed onto her tail with his teeth, its black eyes filled with an intense loathing for the bully that had just insulted its new best friend. Dash screamed and tried to pull up with all her might, but alas, her first attacker was soon joined by a small horde of bunnies, squirrels, badgers, beavers, and even a platypus or two. The sheer weight at her rear end quickly proved too much for the foal; her wings slowed to a crawl as she exhausted herself, sending the pony toppling backwards into the furry pile.
The filly’s eyes widened as the animals closed in on her. They all seemed to eye her voraciously, sizing up her limbs and barrel for their dinner.
Fluttershy noticed none of this. She was too afraid to even look at the downed Rainbow Dash. I…I thought she liked me. But she’s just like everypony else. Who could possibly like a talentless, flightless little pony like me? I-
The yellow Pegasus finally snapped back, just in time to see one of Rainhow’s outstretched hooves be taken down by a possum. The yearling immediately broke out of her funk and galloped up towards the crowd. Her eyes widened with terror as Dash’s screams continued. “My friends, what are you doing? I-I know she was mean, but that doesn’t give you the right to pick on her like that!”
The animals didn’t listen. They continued to press themselves against the terrified filly. Fluttershy threw herself at the furry gathering, trying desperately to either convince them to let Dash go or break her free herself, but nothing doing.
And then came the shouts. “STOP! FLUTTERSHY! MOMMY! DADDY! Please get them off me! I don’t wanna get eaten! I don’t wanna be some monster’s snaaaaaack! No, please make them stop! PLEAA-AHAHAHAHA! Oh Celestia, that tickles! N-N-No, not the withers! BWA-HA-HA-HA! Stop, please! I-I-I give up!”
Flutterhy’s ears perked straight up. Is she…laughing?
Their horrible mission complete, the animals parted enough for Fluttershy to pass. Sure enough, Dash was laying on the ground, wings extended, while a few small critters tickled her back. The filly was crying, not out of pain or fear, but from laughing so hard her sides were hurting. Fluttershy could barely stifle a similar uproar with one hoof, and even then more than a few snorts and giggles managed to break through. “Th-That’s enough! I…I think she’s had all she can take!”
The animals fired off a happy salute and broke formation. Dash continued her laughing fit for a few more moments before leveling her eyes back at Fluttershy. “D-Did you plan that?”
Fluttershy gasped. “I…I didn’t. I couldn’t! I mean, I never wanted them to do something like that! I just wanted to show you how nice it was down here. And, well, now you are.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Dash said. With a groan, the filly picked herself back up to her hooves. It was right as she was tucking her wings back in that what Fluttershy had actually said struck her. “Wait, I…I’m on the ground?”
Fluttershy nodded. “And there’s so much more! Why, one of the butterflies was telling me about this beautiful meadow and…”
Rainbow Dash tuned out her newfound friend’s lecture about the wonders of Equestria’s ground level. Instead, she took to simply staring at the underside of one of her forehooves. The rubbery surface was now covered with green stains and small bits of brown dirt, something she had never seen before in her life. Ponies could still get dirty in Cloudsdale, but it was mostly from working in the factories or, according to her father, the stupid ponies in Fillydelphia turned on their fans and blew the pollution towards the city to spite them. In any case, dirt didn’t get stuck under hooves like it did down here.
And then there were the animals. She had been expecting ferocious, pony-devouring monstrosities capable of picking her bones clean within seconds. And yet, the few she had seen appeared to be downright friendly. Outside of the tickle attack, not a single one had made any real hostile action towards her, and even the ones she saw on the way down didn’t exactly look like they were hankering to make her their next meal.
And besides, if they wanted to eat a pony, I don’t think they would have had much trouble with Fluttershy.
Nothing was matching up with what she had imagined. Everything looked so…remarkably peaceful. And the sky…the sky was a wonder to behold. The camp looked so distant, like a tiny star dancing amongst the heavens. Fluttershy was right. This place really IS awesome.
But, there was still a problem…
“…and then we can feed ducks by the pond, and…”
“Um…Fluttershy?” Dash asked, her voice uncharacteristically sheepish. “I...really think it’s time we started heading back. It’s already been too long.”
Almost instantaneously, Fluttershy stopped talking and swirled on her hooves to face Dash. The younger pony could feel her nerves tighten as she saw the absolute terror in Fluttershy’s eyes. “B-But why? Why do we even have to go back to that terrible place?”
Fluttershy leaned in closer. “Haven’t you seen how the other foals tease me? They call me things like ‘Klutz-ershy’ and keep chanting how I can’t fly! I…I’m not a good flyer like you, Dash! I can’t keep up with everypony else! I’m already too old for the camp to begin with! I’m a laughingstock in my family! I don’t even have a single friend!”
Rainbow Dash wisely decided to take a few steps back, just in case Fluttershy decided to start crying again. She needed maximum distance to both console her and maintain her coolness ratio. “Okay, first off, don’t worry about what the other foals, okay? A lot of them are just jerks. I mean, they make fun of me, too.” She crossed her eyes and made a ridiculous “O” shape with her mouth. “‘Oh hello, Rainbow Crash! Did you knock over any bleachers today? Or did you punch a hole through the roof of City Hall again? Oh, and did you electrocute yourself because you were a dummy who thought going through a thunderstorm would make you faster? Duh duh duh!’” She turned her face back to normal with a definite retch. “I swear, one of these days I’m gonna do a sonic boom right past their windows!”
“Um, that’s…nice,” Fluttershy said. “B-But I still can’t…”
Dash waved a leg around the splendor of the countryside. “And would you believe my parents didn’t want me down here? You were right, this place is wonderful. And if I hadn’t been so obsessed with monsters, even after all the stuff you showed me, I would have found that out a lot faster.”
Dash took a leap forward, landing right next to Fluttershy. The socially nervous pony started to recoil on reflex, but stopped as Dash touched a foreleg to the back of her neck. That was about as far as she could reach anyway, given the significant height difference between the two. “You’ve got me, haven’t you? I’m not gonna make fun of your or call you names. Hey, I know how it feels to have other ponies laugh at you.” Fluttershy whimpered. “Look, just give me a chance. If anypony tries to pick on you again, I’ll set them straight. And when camp’s over, maybe you can get something going down here. So, what’ll it be...friend?”
Fluttershy’s eyes, ears, muzzle, mouth, head, and general disposition perked up almost immediately. She looked Rainbow Dash right in the eyes, subconsciously searching for any sign of falsehood or treachery. The filly smiled back at her, a little nervous under her soul-penetrating glare but otherwise still friendly and welcoming. The yellow Pegasus scanned Dash as deeply as she could, but could read absolutely nothing off.
Rainbow Dash was telling the truth.
She really did have a friend now.
“O…Okay,” Fluttershy said. “We can go back…for now, I mean.”
“Perfect!” Dash had barely finished her exclamation before darting off towards the sky. She returned eleven seconds later with several more tufts of cloud, all of which she loaded onto the rather ramshackle remnants of her former Mobile Pegasus Platform. Before long, the small cloud was now large enough to support Fluttershy’s body. She even took time to prepare a set of reins for herself out of clouds and a stick. The last step was to lower it down enough so Fluttershy could climb on board without having to use her wings. Her work complete, Dash set herself down on the ground again.
“Oh my,” Fluttershy muttered, mouth agape. “Y-You are really good at this.”
Dash blushed and scratched the back of her crest, trying to act as humble as possible. “Well, my mom used to make the same thing for me before I could fly. I kinda picked it up from her. Now hop aboard and let’s blow!” She darted over to the front and grabbed the bridle between her teeth.
The yellow Pegasus slowly walked to the waiting cloud chariot. As she set her first hoof aboard, however, she heard a small chorus of caws and squeaks coming from behind. She turned to the remaining animals, all of whom were staring at the Pegasus with no small measure of sadness. For just a moment, Fluttershy felt the conflict raging inside her once again. It would be so easy just to turn around and stay here, away from all the mess that awaited her back at camp. Nopony would pick on her here, and Dash could always visit…
The Pegasus sighed. “I’m sorry, but I have to go home now.” Her mood quickly chirped right back up. “But don’t worry, I promise I’ll be back soon! I just have to finish up a few things back in Cloudsdale, and then I can come here to stay!”
Her new friends cheered at the news; even Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but smile underneath the bridle. With one last push, Fluttershy pulled herself onto the cloud and laid down, trying to get as much rest as she could on the trip back. Her cargo secured, Dash reared up in the air, let out a whinny, and flew upwards.
It crashed back down to the ground about five meters into the journey.
“Wait…you crashed?!” Scootaloo asked. Bits and pieces of her hay fries, mixed with conspicuous amounts of ketchup, splattered across the recently-cleaned table, eliciting a groan from the other two fillies in attendance.
Dash looked away sheepishly. “Well…yeah. As it turns out, little fillies aren’t quite strong enough to carry a pony almost twice their size AND a whole cloud. I…kinda had to go back and get some of the coaches to help.”
“An’ were they mad?” Apple Bloom said.
Fluttershy blushed from her seat, doing her best not to relive the day as she explained it. “Well, of course. We were a pair of campers well out of the camp’s bounds, after all. They had every right to worry.”
“The point is,” Dash interjected, “we were scolded, banned from all camp activities for three days, and had to eat gruel instead of applesauce at lunch. A few weeks later, camp was over, and Fluttershy and I went our separate ways.”
“Bhuet yhouve fhote back!” Sweetie Belle swallowed before restarting her sentence. “But you got back together afterwards! I mean, you’re all still here, right?”
Dash sighed. “Well, there was an opening for a weather pony around here, so that’s why I moved to Ponyville. And then I ran into Fluttershy, and that’s that.” She really did not want to explain to the three fillies about dropping out of Flight School, or the whole mess with Gilda, or how she moved to Ponyville only because she knew Fluttershy was already there and needed to get away to practice for the Wonderbolts. Stories like that were for big ponies.
“And what about your parents, Fluttershy?” Scootaloo asked. “Weren’t they upset about your cutie mark?”
“Actually, they weren’t,” Fluttershy said. “They were a little disappointed that their daughter wouldn’t turn out to be a fantastic flier like they had dreamed, but they were still nice enough to get me a cottage here in Ponyville, helped me learn about all the little creatures I would be taking care of, and even helped me with finances when I was first starting out.”
Their curiosity sated for the moment, the three fillies quickly finished their lunch and rushed to the door. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash calmly walked up to the two, silently giggling at their exuberance. “So, what are you squirts gonna do with the rest of the day?”
“What else?” Scootaloo said. “Cleaning houses didn’t work, so it’s off to try some more crusading!”
“We haven’t tried fishin’ yet!” Apple Bloom “I hear there’s a monster of a fish down by the river!”
“Then let’s do it!” Sweetie Belle added. She turned to the nearby adults. “Oh, and thanks for lunch!”
“AND the story!” Scootaloo added. “Come on, Crusaders! We’ve got us a fish to catch!”
The three darted out the door and down to the town streets, no doubt to procure some fishing rods and bait. Fluttershy rolled her eyes sadly. “I guess those girls will never learn.”
“At least they’re trying new things,” Rainbow Dash said with a shrug. She looked up at the sky, and saw the clouds awaiting her return. “Well, looks like I have to get back to work. The boss is really not happy that I blocked the sun over his daffodils yesterday. The stallion’s making me pull double shifts for the next week.” She snorted. “What a slave driver.”
“Well, I’d better let you get back to work,” Fluttershy said. She looked up at the small houses she had set up for her animal friends/tenants. “I have a lot to do, too. Mr. Nuts really needs to get his claws trimmed, and I have to take Angel to get his dental work done. Oh, it looks so painful whenever he chews his carrots.”
“Wow, sounds like we got ourselves a full day! Well, see ya!”
Rainbow Dash took in a deep breath and started out the door, her wings flapping with all the training of a Royal Guard. She was halfway up towards the nearest target when she stopped and spun around. Sure enough, Fluttershy was still down there, watching her go from her doorstep.
Smiling, Dash lowered herself back to the ground. She kicked her hooves against the dirt in a vain attempt to hide what she was wanting to say. “Hey, about that story…”
Fluttershy smiled. “It’s okay. I don’t mind you telling them things like that about us. It had a happy ending, right?”
“Yeah, heh, it did,” Dash said nervously. “But that’s not it. What I mean is, thanks.”
Fluttershy cocked her head slightly. “For what?”
“If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have found how great things could be down here.” Dash looked up at the sky, her eyes locking on her distant cloud mansion. “Don’t get me wrong, I love the sky. I always will. Flying fast and pulling tricks is what I live for. But if you hadn’t help me get over that crud I filled my mind with, I wouldn’t have met you, or Twilight, or Applejack, or even Rarity and Pinkie Pie. I wouldn’t have the wonderful life here that I do now.”
Slowly, Fluttershy closed her eyes and smiled. “And if you hadn’t convinced me to go back, I wouldn’t have made it to Ponyville. I would still be a friendless pony who can barely fly. So really, it was you that helped me.”
The two stood there in an awkward silence, both silently heaping praise upon each other, until they finally broke down and grabbed each other in a hug. The two smiled, reaffirmed the friendship they had forged so long ago. Whether it be Dash’s frustrations with her friend’s timidness, or Fluttershy’s feelings being crushed by an unwittingly cruel comment from Rainbow, nothing could tear these two apart.