This was it. After a full day of flight, a near deadly encounter with a manticore, and a rough night spent in a musty cave, Dash was finally in my sights. The forest was humid, sticky, and miserable. I crept my way through it, brushing into all types of thorny vines and tall grasses. Every now and then, my paws would slosh into hidden mud patches, indistinguishable from the marshy land all around me. Cursing for the fifth time this happened, I shook the muck out and continued towards the edge of the forest. Despite my annoyance, I knew I had to keep low and out of sight. It was too big of a risk to have Dash spot me in the open air or hear me rustle through the dense treetops. Everything depended on me staying grounded and hidden, at least for now.
The full brightness of the morning sun began to permeate the thinning edges of the forest, making my position more conspicuous. I lowered into a stalking stance while tightening my wings close to my body, making sure no part of me stood out from the low underbrush. The package in the crook of my arm pressed hard against my chest. Dash was close now, only a stone's throw away beyond the muggy woodland. I stopped short of the parting copse to settle into a shabby bush. Reasoning that I was in sufficient cover, I braved a quick glance to Dash’s location.
She was on top of a small hill in an open field overlooking Ponyville. I could see her zipping back and forth with an orange pony sporting some cheap cowboy hat, bouncing a red rubber ball between each other in laughter. Near the pair laid a checkered red and white blanket with a dinky, wooden, picnic basket. Four other ponies sat in the warm sunlight on top of the blanket sharing sandwiches, drinks, and a few jokes by the look of their smiles.
Their smiles, it was their smiles that had my tail swishing in irritation.
Having a fun time ya bunch of losers? Enjoying my best friend? Why I bet those dweebs are yucking it up right now about that one day. Why I oughta go over there and beat the living day lights out of …
I stopped with a blank stare of realization of what I was just thinking about. The package fell to the ground.
It was my pride, always my pride - sparking flames of animosity within me. Anger flowed freely from it like the rapids of a frothing river, dialing in on a deep primal urge. I would practical purr in satisfaction when I would let it take over, guiding my base instincts for combat and dominance. However right it felt, or how weak I was to give into it, I had to suppress it. That side of me came with a heavy cost, and I was no longer able to afford such a price: The price of driving away the most important person in the world, Dash. I could not let it happen again, not like that one day.
I pulled myself out of it by slapping my palms against my face, literally trying to beat the poisonous thoughts out of my head. The anger subsided in reluctance, only to be replaced by shooting thoughts of fear and doubt. It was always the same backlash - a constant cycle - an emotional whirlpool. A shutter of stress gripped my body for an instant as beads of sweat started trickling down my forehead, completely unrelated to the heat. I took one deep breath in an attempt to calm my racing mind.
Okay, just shut up, don’t psyche yourself out. Relax. You’ve already made it this far, just go over the list in your head.
Number one, a present for Dash. I looked down at the plain, brown, papered, package at my feet. I sighed quietly in annoyance, could I possibly of done a lousier job with the wrap? Well, I know she’ll like what is inside, so check. Number two, rehearsed speech about being a jerk and apologizing. I wasn’t the most eloquent Griffon alive, but Dash never cared much for words, only action. I’m sure she’ll know where I’m coming from and be accepting. After all, we only had each other at Junior Speedster’s Flight Camp. She can’t hate her only friend from camp forever. With that hope, I could feel a small smile begin to lift on my beak. Check. Number three, keeping your cool and not being a jerk this time around. Uhhh…
My feet shifted nervously in the overgrown grass as my heart started running a race in my chest. I slowly took a peek behind the bush I was hiding in, and could see Dash and her dorky friends having the time of their lives. Wait! They’re not dorky! I rushed back down under the bush, sitting flustered.
You see? This is why you’ll mess it up. Just look at those dweebs, how could Dash become such a… a flipflop!
My pride began to boil as the mental onslaught kicked up again in my head. The played out arguments began rattling off reasons why I should just bail now, or go over there and kick some pony flank, or stick to my poorly crafted plan. Alright, this is seriously starting to piss me off, my inner voice flared.
Pride! We didn’t come this far to mess it up now, just SHUT UP!
“Eeeyaahhh!” In my sudden rage, the yelling in my mind turned into a full blown eagle screech.
Oh dude, did they notice? Maybe they are on their way over to find me out. Okay okay okay, just stay hidden for ten more seconds and then take a peek; stop freaking out.
I froze on the spot, trying to keep absolutely still. My ears strained to catch any approaching hoof steps but my pounding heart only answered in return. It bounced like that crazy pink pony on a trampoline against my chest, drowning out all other sound. My face paled in fear, and although I hate to think about clichés, this had to be the longest ten seconds of my life.
…Eight, nine, gulp ten. I inhaled one last breath and crept upwards slowly, pushing my eyes barely over the hedge. What? They’re beginning to pack up and leave. Yes! Oh, wait no!
I dove back down behind the bush and scowled. This was not going my way. I had specifically planned to come out in private to confront Dash alone, preferably in an empty field or in the open sky. That way, I could always bail if things didn’t go my way, or be able to successfully reach Dash in a sentimental moment with no distractions. But at this point, with my desperation erupting in unintentional ways, I would have settled for a group encounter in the open field; just to get this over with before I did something I would regret.
I rose onto all fours and gave a quick stretch of my wings.
I want this done and over with. I shouldn’t have to be skulking around like some weirdo because I’m not Griffon enough to confront a flip-fl- … friend.
There, you see? You can do this, just play it cool and stick to the plan.
With a growing grin, I swept up the ruffled package into one arm. I turned to the dank forest behind me and started a confident run through the trees. With three powerful down strokes of my wings, I emerged through a clearing in the treetops and into the open Ponyville skies.
Where is she? I can’t believe I lost track of her so easily. Here one moment and gone the next!
Things had not gone well since this morning. When I first burst into the sky, I quickly flew to a great altitude to avoid anypony from discovering me. I could still spot Dash and her friends leaving the field. Stealing from cloud to cloud, my sharp eagle vision kept her in my sights relatively easy. All I had to do now was wait for her to reach an isolated spot, but as she came to the Ponyville marketplace, her small group began to blur among other bustling ponies. I watched helplessly as they came from every roadway, obscuring my vision of Dash. The crowd had swelled to a confusing shifting puzzle of ponies moving in every direction. My eyes strained desperately to regain sight of her. A few minutes passed in aggravation before the humongous crowd began to dissipate, yet it was too late. She had completely disappeared.
For the rest of the day, I scoured all over this lame town to spot that rainbow mane. First I checked her home by punching a hole through her cloud wall to see if she was chilling inside – no luck. From there I jetted over to some rinky-dink apple orchard only to find a huge red pony bucking trees and a whiny little dog. Luckily, they didn’t see me swipe a few apples. The whole place was loaded with them; I’m sure they wouldn’t miss a few. Anyway, with lunch taken care of, I checked every other place a pegasus like Dash would hang out. The whole time I was still clinging to the notion that I could catch her alone, but after hours and hours, I failed to find her at all.
The sun was starting to set, and there I was, sitting all alone on a dark cloud like a lame-o. I could feel my frustrations mounting to the surface.
Why is nothing going my way? I may not come up with the best plans, but this one should have been plainly simple to accomplish. All I had to do this morning was pop out and get to it. I mean, who the heck cares if other ponies were around! Why should that matter? If I came all this way back to Ponyville to make up, why couldn’t I be sensible enough to follow it through? Why am I even getting hysterical? What – is – wrong – with – ME?!
In my sudden flash of mounting rage, I vented my anger on the only item available to me:
My claws swatted at the package, and my arms sprang upwards with it in my tearing grasp. I could feel my claws trembling in anger as my eyes were set to the orange sky around me. Seconds passed as a breeze rolled in, but it felt like minutes to me. A barrage of noise hit me like a buck to the head, yet amongst the mental screaming only one word came through in a clear tone.
It was over in an instant. The package sailed across the setting sun, disappearing into some unknown place. Unknown because I just didn’t care anymore. But was it really me that didn’t care, or was it my pride?
A sardonic smile flittered across my beak.
“I’m going to dive down there to get it, aren’t I?” I asked the empty sky.
Without a seconds more hesitation, I back flipped off my small cloud into a headlong dive.
I’m going too fast. I won’t be apologizing to anyone by becoming a splat on the ground.
I worked my wings furiously in order to get a stable draft under my feathers. I needed to slow my suicidal descent. From this lower altitude, I realized I was over some crazy tree with a balcony and windows embedded on its sides. I could hardly take in this bizarre sight as I reminded myself to focus on saving my own life first. In an instant, I caught sight of my package lodged into a few branches of this tree. A split second decision from my braver (or crazier) side had me slowing down into a crash landing near my package.
I tucked my wings in and tumbled through snapping branches and rustling leaves. However stupid my move was, I came out of it comparatively unscathed with my package in claw. After spitting out a few rogue leaves that flew into my mouth, I took a look at the present. The paper wrapping was frayed in a few areas from the fall, but otherwise, it seemed alright. I gave it a cautious shake to hear if anything was damaged. I could feel a small shift in weight but no broken pieces could be heard.
Good, I sighed in relief.
With its safety secured, I could find out what kind of insane tree I was in. I was at the near top with a half circled window right below my position. A faint yellow light came from its frame. I lowered my head from an upside down position to peer inside, and when I did I nearly lost my grip in surprise.
She was standing right there with her back turned towards the window. She was busy fidgeting with a thick book on someone’s bed. Through the thin pane of glass I could hear someone call out to her from the dark doorway, but couldn’t make out who it was. After a few seconds she finally lifted the book onto her back and started towards the doorway, switching off the light. I raised my head back up in confusion.
Should I do it tonight? I could wait until she was completely alone, but I just experienced the insanity of waiting any longer. After all the craziness and complaining and emotional headaches – yes I should do it tonight.
I still felt hesitant. Fear and doubts were stabbing at me, but it wasn’t as strong as before. With my package in arm, I took a gliding leap down to the ground.
I can’t believe it, Dash is in a library of all places. I deadpanned when I saw the book sign. There was no way I would have willingly searched for her here in a million years.
I could hear several voices beyond the wooden door, it sounded like a small crowd of ponies judging from the different voices. Jeez, a crowd, this is going to suck. I readied myself like I was about to fight for my life. I took an extra minute to dust myself off and straighten out my crowning feathers, every bit helps I guessed.
I was about to knock when I heard the voices become a little louder. Are they counting down? It was a bit muffled, but I could tangibly hear a small crowd say, “Ten! Nine! Eight!” in excited voices.
I started to become excited myself, nervously stupidly excited. My mind was racing.
Could they have heard my crash landing and knew I was here, right outside their door about to come in? I was careful to have nopony see me the whole day, but what if one did and tipped Dash off? It just doesn’t make sense, but why else would a bunch of ponies be in one place counting down? Was this, oh no, her party for me again? This is a nightmare, or a second chance.
I audibly gasped at the new realization of reliving that party. It could have been a second chance to stop myself from going on a tirade and insulting everypony. A second chance to be properly introduced to Dash’s new friends and at least try to find some common ground. And above all else, a second chance to simply hang with Dash, like best friends were supposed to do.
This felt so surreal, like a waking dream. I really had no idea what lied beyond that door and what exactly was going on. But I knew one dynamic way to find out.
“Five! Four! Three!”
“Okay Dash,” I whispered. “Whether you’re ready or not, here I come.”
I pushed hard against the door, ramming my shoulder against the wood. The door flew open like it wasn’t even there; whipping out from under my weight the instant I made contact. I was catapulted inside into a stumbling mess. My head turned down to my claws as I desperately tried to regain balance. The inertia from my shove however kept me going well into the room, my limbs staggering the whole way.
In the short moments I entered, I took in an avalanche of sensations and sights. The atmosphere felt heavy, thick with something resembling moisture. It had the same quality of a bristling field under the weight of an oppressive thunderstorm. I heard papers rustling, wooden shelves quivering, and books flapping in the wind of an unseen storm. I heard cackling of what I took to be electricity, humming in low but consistent drone close by.
An outcry of gasps met my ears. Only one voice stood out from the commotion though, an old voice that I could never forget.
I snapped my head up to the horrific scene ahead. It was indeed a crowd of ponies, the very same from this morning. They were gathered in a circle around a small purple dragon, its jaw dropped at my sudden appearance. Every face was coated in absolute shock, eyes wide in disbelief. Only Dash’s face was different; our eyes locked. In that one brief glance with each other, it was as if we had a full conversation. I could see anger, alarm, sadness, and the worst of all, fear in her eyes: A fear that I was here to hurt her and her friends.
I felt my heart wither.
In the corner of my eye, my brain finally registered the source of the unknown tempest. The lavender unicorn had jolted its head in my direction; giving me a full sight of what I took to be a huge glowing death ball. The tip of her horn was wrapped in swirling threads of magenta light, radiant as molten lava. Sparks flew wildly off it in all directions as crimson coronas flared dangerously outward – it was a miniature sun of magic. Her face contorted in pain, she was losing control.
“Oh n-n-o, I c-c-can’t h-hold it back!” she exclaimed in panic, her voice cracking under intense pressure.
The ball shot right at me.
“Oh crud,” was all I could say before I was completely engulfed by light.