“Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye. Four and twenty black birds, baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing. Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the King?”
- Sing a Song of Sixpence
Lunchtime around Ponyville can be considered a rather quaint experience. With weather managed by the local pegasus team, and Celestia carefully managing just how much sunshine Equestria gets, it was almost ALWAYS perfect for any outdoor activity one could imagine.
“So Fluttershy tried Mrs. Cake’s new recipe for Strawberry Strudel,” Pinkie began to Rarity, who was listening in rapt fascination. "She almost didn’t want to take a bite at first… You know how she is.”
“Definitely,” Rarity nodded. “Always the same around anything new.”
Then the fashion designer leaned forward.
“So did she like it?”
Pinkie Pie smirked.
“Like it?” she chirped. “You should have seen her. Once she actually tasted it, she downed it in three bites!”
“Three-!?” Rarity covered a laugh. “Oh, I bet that was priceless to watch.”
“Oh it was!” Pinkie laughed. “And Mrs. Cake was so shocked… The look on her face!”
Rarity continued to giggle at the prospect of Mrs. Cake staring surprised at Fluttershy ravenously gobbling up a Strudel. Or in fact, the idea of Fluttershy ravenously doing ANYTHING. As she did so, Applejack came trotting up, saddlebags loaded down with what was most likely apple products on her back.
“Hey fellers!” she called as she got closer. “Y’all’er a bit early I see.”
“But of course,” Rarity tilted her head back ever so slightly. “As much as I enjoy being fashionably late, I wouldn’t want to keep my friends waiting. Would I?”
“Heh,” Applejack chuckled. “I reckon so. Though I don’t see Rainbow Dash here. You’d expect her to be the early one.”
“Yes,” Rarity pouted. “You would expect her to be first. But then again, she does take those naps…”
“Don’t worry,” Pinkie piped up. “She should be here any second.”
“What, pray tell, makes you reckon that?” Applejack asked. Pinkie just shrugged.
“Twitchy Tail,” she chirped.
“Twitchy Tail?” she frowned. “I thought that was for when things were about to fall?”
“If Rainbow Dash is in a steep dive, she’s really just falling…. Right?”
Applejack frowned, then opened her mouth to speak, but stopped.
“I honestly couldn’t tell ya,” she commented after a moment. Then quickly moved to change topics rather than think about that. “So what’y’all got in the basket there?”
Pinkie turned to a basket sitting next to her that had until this point gone unmentioned.
“This?” she asked. “That’s the surprise! What do you have?”
“This?” Applejack nodded to her saddlebags.
“Knowing Applejack,” Rarity began in a teasing tone. “It’s probably six different forms of apple product.”
“Nope!” Applejack laughed. “Nice try though Rarity. Any other time you’d probably be right. Take a look…”
Applejack gave a quick buck and a twist, swinging her saddlebags onto the picnic table they had taken over. With a quick levitating shove, Rarity opened them to get a look inside.
“One of my cousins from outta’ town dropped by on Saturday,” Applejack continued. “He brought us a whole buncha’ nuts as a bit of a gift during his visit. Walnuts, Pecans, Macadamias, Cashews…”
Applejack reached down and pulled a pie out of the top of the second bag.
“Granny Smith even baked us up this here Pecan pie.”
“Oh, that looks delicious,” Rarity eyed the pie expectantly. Then raised her head to look at Applejack.
“Yep!” the country pony smirked. “I’ve had these before. Granny Smith makes a MEEEEAN Pecan. Almost as good as her apple pies. Anyhow, I also brought a few bags of the nuts so we could all enjoy some.”
Applejack stopped when she noticed Pinkie doing her best to contain an otherwise obvious fit of giggles.
“What?” she asked. “What’s so funny?”
Applejack turned around, but saw nothing, then looked back at her friends. Now even Rarity was trying to contain herself.
“Come on now…” she frowned. “Out with it. ‘Fore I get impatient.”
Rarity and Pinkie failed to give any clues, and only started laughing harder. Pinkie Pie actually fell over, almost choking as she tried to breathe.
“Okay…” Applejack sighed, reaching up to take off her hat and scratch her head. “I give up, you go-“
There was no hat.
“What the ha-“ she looked up.
“BOO!” Rainbow Dash shouted. Applejack yelped something incomprehensible as she leapt probably about four feet straight backwards and fell over.
Everyone really did fall over laughing then, even Rarity. Rainbow Dash then righted herself, Applejack’s hat firmly pressed to her head, and gently lowered herself to the ground.
“Yeah baby!” she grinned. “Still the master!”
Rainbow Dash pranced in place, seeming to do a little dance.
“Uh huh! Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh!”
“Hahahaha!” Applejack laughed as she pushed herself back to her hooves. “You got me good there RD… Nice one.”
“Of course,” Rainbow Dash handed Applejack back her near omnipresent headgear. “It’s like I said this morning. Nobody EVER looks up…”
“Living proof,” Applejack laughed again. “So, ya ready to eat?”
“Am I ever!” Rainbow Dash bounded over to the picnic table and examined the food. Between the pies, nuts, and whatever Pinkie was hiding, it smelled awesome.
“Hold on just a second there dear,” Rarity commented. “You did remember to bring something right?”
“Me?” Dash gave a sly smirk. “Of course! You didn’t notice that?”
Rainbow Dash pointed to a cloud, placed in just the right spot to cast some shade on the picnic table.
“I always come prepared,” she smirked.
“What about food?” Rarity asked.
Rainbow Dash ducked her head, looking left, then right. Then she quickly brought something she’d been concealing out. A small pink fluff ball no bigger than her hoof.
“Cotton Candy?” Pinkie Pie frowned. “And not enough for everypony even.”
“What?” Dash looked at her hyperactive friend. “No! Watch. It gets better.”
She let go of the cotton candy.
“Just what-“ Rarity began, but stopped.
The cotton candy stayed right where Dash left it, floating about a foot off the table.
“Wait just a cotton pickin’ minute!” Applejack frowned. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Got a glass?” Rainbow Dash smirked. Rarity absentmindedly handed her friend one in response. Then Dash stuck it below the small cloud and smacked the top of it with a hoof. Immediately the glass began to fill… With chocolate milk.
“I tore this off one of the old jerk’s goofy clouds right before we zapped him,” she explained. “Now I get free chocolate milk whenever I wa-“
“Why!” Pinkie pie demanded after tackling Dash to the ground. “Why have you been holding out on me?”
“Holding out?” Rainbow Dash laughed. “I’m not holding out. I just didn’t want Twilight to see it. Can you imagine how much she’d freak out if she saw this thing?”
“Is she not coming then?” Rarity asked, noting the glass was starting to overflow and calmly slapped the cloud to make it stop. Applejack immediately snagged the glass and gave it a sip, a surprised smile popping up on her face.
“Nah,” RD shook her head. “Too busy today. She even had Cheerilee’s chalk board in there. I don’t know what she was doing… But she said that she’d be okay for next week.”
“Ah well,” Applejack finished downing the glass of chocolate milk. “It’s her loss then. Wow, that’s some good chocolate milk.”
“So what about you?” Rainbow Dash continued to Rarity. “What’d you bring?”
“Me?” Rarity blinked innocently, then reached into her bag and brought out a loaf of bread.
“Bread?” Applejack asked.
“Not just any bread,” Rarity frowned at the group. “This is fine French bread. Add a little butter and it’s the perfect contrast to what we’ve got here.”
The group said nothing, opting instead to glance back and forth at each other.
“Oookay…” Rainbow Dash shrugged after a moment. “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starved. Let’s eat!”
“Wonderful idea,” Rarity practically jumped at the change of topic. “I’ll get the plates.”
With that, she practically dove into her bag, then popped out just as quick with a frown. Then rummaged through it for a few seconds before crossing her hooves with a ‘harumph!’
“I can’t believe this,” she frowned. “I brought glasses, knives, forks, spoons, napkins. But no plates… I forgot the plates. I can’t BELIEVE I forgot the plates. That’s like, THE, most, important, thing!”
“Eh,” Dash interjected. “No worries. We’ll improvise.”
“You’re going to eat off a filthy table?” Rarity looked appalled.
“If you want it washed I’ll dump a monsoon on it,” Dash rolled her eyes. With a near snap, the pegasus zipped away and returned with a menacing dark thundercloud. The other three ponies jumped and grabbed their things off the table as she promptly hopped up and down on top of it, drenching the table thoroughly in the process. After a few seconds of downpour, Dash zipped away to return the rumbling storm cloud where she’d gotten it and returned to quickly whirlwind dry their spot.
“THERE!” she stated when she finished. “Better?”
Rarity did her best to feign satisfaction, though to be honest... Well, Dash’s methods left much to be desired. But one should never look a gift pony in the- What the heck did that mean anyway?
“Perfect,” Rarity stated in falsetto. “Now, can we eat or what?”
“Wait wait wait!” Pinkie Pie piped up. “Hold on!”
“What now?” Dash hovered in place and crossed her hooves. Pinkie, mean time, was looking around as if searching for something.
“Did anypony just hear that?” Pinkie continued. “I swear I just heard the strangest sound.”
“Like what sugarcube?” Applejack asked. “Cause I don’t hear nothin’ ‘cept my stomach grumbling.”
“It was really quick,” Pinkie frowned, looking around again. “Like a ‘thump’, or a ‘badump’! Yeah, definitely a ‘badump’ sound!”
“You sure it wasn’t just that storm cloud I had a minute ago?” Dash rolled her eyes.
“No, this was different,” Pinkie frowned and sat on her haunches. “It wasn’t all rumbly or anything, but more like Spike’s claws snapping. Really, really, REALLY big claws snapping. But far away.”
They sat in silence for a moment, just trying to hear if the sound occurred a second time.
“Nothin’,” Applejack shrugged after a moment, looking around. “Just birds and the wind. And weird clouds in the sky.”
There was a brief pause before all the ponies looked at her, then looked up. High above, was a single long white line.
“Rainbow Dash,” Rarity frowned. “What kind of cloud is that? I don’t think I’ve seen it before.”
“I dunno,” the pegasus responded. “I don’t even GO that high, and I’ve never seen any patterns call for anything like that.”
“Whatever it is,” Applejack tilted her head. “It goes a loooong ways westward.”
“OH!” Pinkie pie jumped up. “Sky lines! SKY LINES! Maybe Princess Celestia is trying to draw something in the sky!”
“Now why in tarnation would she do THAT?” Applejack asked.
“I dunno,” Pinkie shrugged. “The same reason she invited us to the Gala?”
“I don’t see that happening,” Dash shook her head. “Not her style. And shees, Applejack your stomach really is getting loud. Maybe we should eat and forget about it.”
“That’s not my stomach,” Applejack frowned, turning to face the ever increasing rumble.
They all turned, spotting something swooping towards them across the treetops. Black and red-striped and...
“Well by howdy!” Applejack’s features lit up. “It’s Dainty Dish!”
“Finally remembered to come back for her broken camera,” Dash smirked, hovering up behind Applejack. “Took her long enough.”
“Well, maybe we should invite her to lunch whiles she’s here,” Applejack nodded over her shoulder. Then the country pony started to trot forward towards the approaching pegasus, fully intent to greet her.
“Hey y’all Dainty!” she shouted. “Welcome back! Ya’ hungry?”
The response shouted back wasn’t so encouraging.
“GET OUT OF THE WAY! I CAN’T STOP!”
“What?” Applejack’s eyes widened. Then she saw it. Dainty’s wings were out wide, turned almost sideways to catch the air. That was the source of the growling rumble. And she didn’t seem to be slowing down much at all.”
“MOVE!” the black pegasus screamed as hard as she could. She was most certainly NOT stopping on a bit.
“WHOA NELLY!” Applejack yelped, and dove aside. And just in time. Dainty came roaring into the group, disturbances from her wings kicking up a cloud of dust behind her. Rainbow Dash had only just enough time to see Applejack jump out from between herself and the incoming pegasus before they both collided in mid air.
When the dust cloud dissipated, Dainty was on the ground, caught in a sneeze attack, pinning Rainbow Dash beneath her.
“Whoa...” Pinkie Pie stared wide-eyed at the spectacle. “You okay Rainbow Dash?”
Rainbow Dash just looked up, one of Dainty’s hooves in her face.
“Aww... THAT’S THREE!” She snapped in irritation.
“Sobby,” Dainty Sniffed after heaving one last explosive sneeze. “I cad stop dad gwick.”
“At least Y’all aren’t hurt or nothin,” Applejack trotted up.
“Not hurt she says,” Dash growled in exasperation.
“Well,” Applejack frowned at Dash. “Ya AIN’T. So quit-cher whinin-”
“Complaining,” Rarity corrected.
“Complainin’,” Applejack rolled her eyes.
Rainbow Dash just crossed her hooves and growled. After a moment, Dainty picked herself up and turned to offer assistance. Dash, grateful that at least SOMEPONY cared, reached out and grabbed the outstretched hoof. Unfortunately, the moment she did so Dainty promptly yelped and yanked back. Rainbow Dash was unceremoniously dropped as a result.
“I guess I spoke too soon,” Applejack sighed. Then trotted over to take a closer look.
“Alright,” she continued. “Let me see that hoof.”
“I- I’ll be fine,” Dainty winced. “This happens all the time. I come in a bit too fast and just can’t stop when I land… and p- APFPH!“
“A sprained hoof’s nothin’ to sneeze at,” Applejack Admonished the pegasus, then said after a pause. “No offense…”
“Nub taged…” Dainty sniffed.
“Now just mosey right along over here, and have a seat,” Applejack continued, leading Dainty over to the table with one hoof. “Take a load off. Relax. Ya hungry?”
“Darbig,” Dainty sniffed. “Bud-“
“Perfect,” Applejack interrupted. “Now, I know. Yer allergic to everthin’ and all. But you gotta be able t’ eat SOMETHIN’, am I right?”
“Y-“ Dainty began, but stopped, took a deep breath, and swallowed before she continued in a clearer voice. “Yes…”
“Then no problem,” Applejack smirked. “Just tell us what you CAN eat, and we can fetch it for ya in no time. Right RD?”
“Yeah,” Dash trotted over, rubbing her chin where Dainty’s hoof had caught it. “I know all the best places for grub.”
Dainty looked back and forth at the group as Applejack made her sit down. Pinkie Pie just smiled across the table at her. For some reason, it sent a shiver right down her back. The fact that somepony seemed THAT... Well, happy. It was almost inequine. In fact, the whole group was unnervingly friendly. It made Dainty want to run… After all. She’d only met these four a few hours ago. She didn’t know them.
“I’m not sure I should just-“ she began. “I mean, you barely know me and you’re offering me lunch…”
“It’s okay!” Pinkie Pie’s hyperactive voice chimed in. “We always have extra. Well, except the candy. We always run out of that for some reason.”
“Don’t worry about it dear,” Rarity added before Pinkie could really fly off on a tangent. “There’s usually six of us anyway. So even with you, we’re still one pony short.”
“See?” Applejack nodded. “Nuthin’ to worry ‘bout. We’re all friends here.”
Dainty Dish glanced around again.
“Are you sure?” she asked, her head drooping a little. “I don’t want to impose…”
“Come on already,” Rainbow Dash frowned impatiently. “Just tell us.”
“Okay…” Dainty closed her eyes for a second, taking a deep, calming breath. Unfortunately, that was interrupted with a sneeze that made her almost fall off the bench. After corrected herself, she began to speak. Rapidly, and in great detail.
“I’m allowed to eat berries and nuts,” she began. “However, I can only eat unsalted nuts, since I’m allergic to iodine in the salt. Berries cannot be artificially sweetened or caramelized. In fact, I’m not allowed to have any form of processed sugar because my throat closes off and I start to suffocate in less than a minute. So I can’t have any form of candy, and I’m forbidden from any concentrated juice drinks except lemonade. I can have bread, but only if it’s wheat, not white or sourdough. I can have butter, but only a little because I’m lactose intolerant. And only real butter, not margarine. Milk is right out, so is tea. I’m allergic to caffeine and get a nasty rash. I can have lemonade like I said before, but only if it’s sweetened with honey.”
Somewhere around ‘no candy’ Pinkie Pie’s mouth hit the floor, prompting the other three ponies listening to Dainty’s rather in-depth list of foods to slowly begin screwing their faces up more and more as she explained details right down to the method of preparation.
“Roots and tubers are fine, so long as they’re washed and peeled, but I can’t have leaves or other greens. Fruits, I can only have soft ones like peaches, no apples, no pears, etc… Cherries are okay so long as the pit is removed. I can have baked goods, so long as it doesn’t include any caramelized filling. Cake is okay in limited amounts provided I don’t eat the frosting. I can’t have anything lathered in oil or grease. No fried foods, no fire-roasted foods. Vinegar burns my lungs. Mushrooms will kill me.”
The silence that followed lasted a good thirty seconds. The other four ponies simply blinked, cast glances at each other, blinked some more, and fidgeted uneasily in place. Finally, Rainbow Dash actually worked up enough nerve over her own shock to say something, anything really.
“Whoa…” she began. “And I thought Fluttershy had some strict diets for the animals…”
“I know,” Dainty hung her head. “I’m just-“
Pinkie Pie nearly exploded in a waterfall of tears, and jumped over the table to embrace Dainty in a hug.
“You poor thing!” the party animal wailed. “It’s just horrible! No candy, or sweets! No delicious delicacies or treats!”
“I know…” Dainty sniffed again. Pinkie’s crying was becoming contagious. “Did you know the only candy I ever tried was a sweetie pop? It made me so sick… And all I wanted… was to taste…”
Then Dainty too broke down. And for a moment it was nothing but her and Pinkie, bawling away over the loss of many sweets between croaks from Pinkie Pie sounding a lot like ‘The horror! THE HORROR!’
Applejack, who’d watched Pinkie Pie turn the whole thing into a near sideshow act right before her eyes, had to resist rolling her eyes before stomping a hoof to get their attention.
“Hey!” She snapped. “Don’t y’all be frettin’ none,”
She then reached out to pat the tearful pony on the back. “Y’all’re actually in luck.”
Applejack turned and opened her saddlebag again. “Lookie here at this spread. We got just what you can eat. See?”
“Hey!” Pinkie Pie’s tears stopped in an instant. “That’s right! We’ve got all kinds of good stuff right here! And most of it is stuff you CAN have! It’s like it was planned this way!”
Dainty managed to suppress a sneeze between her tears and took a look at the food laid out. In an instant, her eyes shot wide. Nuts, lots of them. A pecan pie, no filling. Walnuts, not even cracked open, macadamias, and even…
“CASHEWS!” Everyone jumped as Dainty exclaimed in a loud squeal. A moment later, the lithe black pegasus had practically ripped the bag of said nuts open and was crunching on them in total delight. Rarity was silently glad she’d kept her hooves off the table, because it seemed possible they would have quickly gone missing.
“I wuv cassoos!” Dainty managed to fire around a mouth full. “You haf no ijea. They’re jush show gooj!”
Applejack just stared for a moment, as did everypony else. Until now, Dainty had been almost as timid as Fluttershy. She just had that kind of air about her. But at the same time, there was a certain edge to it. It was, different from Fluttershy. She couldn’t put her hoof on it.
“Heh,” Applejack began, trying to take her thoughts off that. “Dainty, sugarcube, y’all might want t’ slow down just a hair. Wouldn’t want ya to choke, would we?”
Dainty froze in mid bite and let her eyes flick over to the other four ponies watching her. Then a pink flush to match her nose came to her cheeks, her ears flopping down as it did so. After a moment, she swallowed with an audible gulp and ducked back.
“Sorry,” she all but pouted. “I- I just like Cashews, that’s all. I didn’t mean to act like... Like a-”
“Like a pig?” Pinkie Pie asked. Her tone indicated it was more of a joke, but the way Dainty seemed to recoil as if slapped all but nailed it down for Applejack.
The difference between Dainty and Fluttershy was: You just wanted to cuddle Fluttershy all day because she was afraid of everything. Dainty looked like somepony who was constantly two seconds away from getting yelled at for something she didn’t do. Like what she really needed was just one big HUG.
Well, if Cashews made her that happy…
“Eh,” Applejack shrugged. “If ya like them Cashews that much, they’re yours. I brought plenty of them there other nuts to snack on. So we ain’t exactly short here.”
Then she turned her head to the others.
“That okay with y’all?”
The remaining three ponies nodded.
“Not a problem for me,” Dash shrugged. “Had my eye on that pie anyway.”
Dainty’s face lit up, prompting Applejack to smile.
“Well then,” Rarity cut in, giving each of her friends a quick, pointed look. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s eat. I’ve got a wonderful French bread here, and Rainbow Dash WAS kind enough to wash the table for us…”
Dash glanced at Rarity, catching just a hint of her earlier distaste in the way she’d spoken the words.
“Dang right!” Applejack took the initiative. “Let’s eat.”
The food got distributed quickly after that. Dainty was left too her Cashews, which she crunched on in delight, though at a more… Sedate pace.
The others divvied up a slice of pie each, and divided the various remaining nuts with plenty to spare. Rarity shared her French Bread, and Pinkie Pie unleashed her surprise.
“Tadaa!” she shouted, removing the napkin covering her basket.. “A fresh batch of Mrs. Cake’s new Strawberry Strudels!”
“Oh!” Rarity commented. ”So that’s what you’d planned earlier.”
“Yep!” Pinkie grinned. “I thought of it back when Dainty Dish here left her Camera at the Boutique!”
“Speaking of that camera,” Dash turned to Dainty. “We left the parts back at the boutique. You can grab them after lunch.”
Dainty stopped chewing for a second, her expression scrunching up.
“You left it,” Dash continued. “Remember? That’s why you came back.”
Dainty sneezed, and then after shaking off the irritation, cast a glance at Dash.
“I didn’t come back for that,” she said. “I already got the new one.”
Rainbow Dash stopped moving and just sat there looking confused.
“But didn’t you need the old one so you could show them what you had?” Rarity asked.
“No,” Dainty began. “I- APFPH! I just memorized the name. NK-2500 Hycon Technical Objective Camera with Eagle Eye with adjustable exposure timing and blur suppression...”
She paused and quickly lifted an object onto the table. It was a camera.
“Check it out!” she giggled. “This is a Neighkon NK-3k, Hycon Advanced Technical Objective Camera with Falcon Four enhanced optical tracking. It’s got night vision, and IR field sensitivity with an auto-steadying feature. It’s got auto-focus, auto-zoom, auto-blur reduction... It’s totally amazi-... Am- APFPH!“
The other ponies frowned, silence only broken by a series of sneezes that left Dainty blinking blankly at the table as she tried to work the puffiness out of her eyes.
“Did you understand any of that Pinkie?” Applejack asked at last.
Pinkie Pie just shrugged.
“Nope,” she chirped. “Not a word.”
The other three friends just stared flatly back.
“What?” she asked.
“Wait wait wait!” Rainbow Dash moved her food aside and grabbed a camera strap. “Just where exactly did you get that thing?”
Dainty looked up, sniffling.
“I god id frub Neighkod ub coard.”
“What?” Rainbow Dash furrowed her brow. “No you didn’t, there’s no way-“
“Yed way!” Dainty snapped. “I wed do da Neighkod plad mydelb!”
“You flew all the way to Seaddle?” Rainbow frowned.
“Uh huh,” Dainty nodded, then stopped to clear her sinuses.
“As in, far end of Equestria, Seaddle?” Dash continued.
“It’s not that far,” Dainty frowned. “I flew right to the Neighkon plant and talked with the manager himself. When I told him who I was, he seemed excited and gave me that camera.”
Rainbow Dash sat back and crossed her forelegs.
“Uh uh.’ she shook her head. “I don’t believe you. Covering that kind of distance so quickly is IMPOSSIBLE. You didn’t go to Seaddle! ‘I’ couldn’t even hope to get there and back again in a day. And in case you didn’t know, my specialty is SPEED. Heard of the Sonic Rainboom? That would be me.”
“Well if ya’ll are going to be like that,” Applejack stuck her head between the two. “Maybe she’s just FASTER than you.”
“What?!” Dash all but shouted. “Faster than ME? No! No way! Not this pony!”
“You sure?” Applejack gave her friend a sly grin. “She does have those large, POWERFUL wings. And maybe that’s what that there cutie mark on her flank means. Maybe it’s speed lines or somethin’, and she gets a speed boost of plus three over all other ponies. Like that game Twilight tried to get us to play that one time. Dungeons and Draconequuses.”
Rainbow narrowed her eyes and bit her lip, letting a growl out as her friend antagonized her.
“No,” Dainty shook her head, interrupting the two before they could really start goading each other. “I can’t be faster than Rainbow Dash. That much I know.”
“Hmm?” Applejack turned her head, gauging the dark colored pony.
“I can’t go very fast at all,” Dainty continued, hanging her head. “I’m just not that strong a flier. You saw. I couldn’t even stop properly. I can’t turn; it hurts too much. And I can’t even fly for more than two hours without getting tired. All I’m really good at is just going along in a straight line. And doing short vertical climbs.”
“Vertical climbs?” Rarity had been silent up until that moment.
“Yeah,” Dainty nodded. “I can breathe better when I get high above all the stuff I’m allergic too. So I worked hard to be able to do that.”
Then Dainty sighed.
“It’s about all I can do though.”
The ponies nodded in understanding, save for Rainbow Dash, who just seemed to sigh in exasperation.
“Okay fine,” she continued. “But that STILL doesn’t explain how you managed to get to Seaddle and back so quickly. If you even did so.”
“I’m telling you,” Dainty started to back up, getting a little defensive as her voice started to quiver. “It’s not that far! Why don’t you believe me?”
“I’ve flown it!” Dash snapped. “I know how far it is! And you’re saying you got there and back in five hours!”
“Whoa whoa whoa!” Applejack jumped in before Rainbow Dash could really start ranting. “Ease up a little, you’re scaring her.”
“I’m not trying to be mean,” Dash sat down. “I just know how far it is.”
“Maybe you just done remember it all wrong like,” Applejack did her best calm Rainbow Dash down. “If she’s not faster than you, then you’re just getting your distances mixed up.”
“I didn’t MIX anything,” Rainbow frowned to her friend.
“Easy now sugarcube,” Applejack soothed. “One way or another, there’s bound to be some sorta’ explanation. You don’t have to take it out on her, okay?”
“I’m not taking it out on her.”
“Coulda’ fooled her,” Applejack indicated with a nod. Dainty had scrunched almost right off the table, tears visible in the corners of her eyes.
“What?” Dash gaped as dainty sniffed. This one less an allergy-sounding sniff, and more like someone who was ready to start bawling any second.
“Oh come on!” Dash took to the air and floated forward. “We’re just arguing. Don’t cry! Not over that! You’re supposed to argue BACK!”
Dainty just sniffed again.
“Hey I know!” Pinkie Pie suddenly interjected. The other four ponies looked at her in curiosity.
“If we’re arguing over distances,” the pink pony continued. “Why don’t we ask Twilight? She’s BOUND to have some maps in the library. Then we can just measure the distance on the map, and we’ll know whether or not Rainbow Dash has gone completely psychotic on us.”
“Yeah...” Rainbow Dash started to nod, then gave Pinkie a funny face. “That... could work.”
Then she stopped and asked more to herself.
“Great idea sugarcube!” Applejack agreed. “Let’s head over to the Library and get this settled once and fer all.”
Then Applejack gulped down what was left of her slice of Pecan Pie and trotted over to Dainty with her usual confident smile.
“Cheer up,” the country pony continued with a nod. “And I hope you’re not TOO allergic to books and paper.”
Twilight Sparkle was a unicorn with certain special needs. As THE student to Princess Celestia, and admittedly Equestria’s most talented unicorn, she was constantly studying the ways of magic. She was brilliant, logical, and organized. In fact, her skills at organizing had earned her the position of Team Coordinator from the Mayor during the last Winter Wrap Up. A position that didn’t even exist before then. But because Twilight did such a stellar job in taking what had been an entire Winter Wrap Up almost a day behind schedule, and literally getting it done overnight, well…
“Tone number seven,” the dragon mused idly. “The, ‘I can’t find where I put something and now I need you to find it’ tone…”
Unfortunately, as Spike had come to learn, Twilight’s organizational skills would fall apart in a day if she were left to her own devices. There was just too much going on in that Pony’s head for her to remember every last detail.
“I can’t find the spare chalk!”
So she had a bad habit of misplacing just about everything if someone didn’t at least keep half an eye out… Like a certain baby dragon come assistant.
Actually, as Spike liked to muse to himself from time to time, he was perfect for this job. A dragon had incredible photographic long and short-term memory. If you asked him where any book in the Library was, he could walk right to it without so much as a glance at the catalogues.
Or in this case…
“It’s over here with the new ink and quills,” he called, meandering over to the writing desk. True to form, he managed to get about half way back with the box of chalk sticks when Twilight, patience lacking, yanked it up with her levitation magic, dragon in tow.
Spike never mentioned it, but he loved getting picked up like that. It was fun. So long as Twilight didn’t shake him off and drop him on the ground.
“So what are you working on this time?” the dragon asked as Twilight plucked a single white stick out of the box. The chalkboard in front of her was covered in a series of scrawls that loosely formed equations whose purpose he could only guess at. More equations were on the way as Twilight added a fourth piece of chalk to a group of three she already had writing into various empty spots.
“I had an idea about Pinkie Pie’s ‘Pinkie Sense’,” the unicorn replied. “It just kind of hit me this morning.”
“Oh brother,” Spike rolled his eyes. “Not this again. Didn’t you learn your lesson last time…?”
“I was trying it disprove it as a TRICK last time,” Twilight returned at her assistant. “But now I want to try something new. I understand it works, but I want to know how… or why.”
“You just can’t learn to leave and let be can you?” Spike shook his head. “What about the bees? Or the doors… Or the anvil, dresser, and piano…? Or the HYDRA at Froggie Bottom Bog? All that bad stuff at once- it’s like all that stuff was out to get you. Like the Pinkie Sense was AWARE that you were investigating it and went to town on you.”
Twilight Sparkle paused from her equations for a moment to glance at Spike, one of her chalk pieces tapping the side of her head thoughtfully.
“Good observation Spike,” she smiled at last, then turned, picking up a parchment and quill and wrote on it.
“Theory number five,” she dictated to herself. “Pinkie Sense possibly self-aware?”
“Oh boy,” Spike slapped his face. “This has ‘Bad End’ written all over it.”
About that moment there was a knock on the door.
“Oh quit being such a worry wart and get the door Spike,” Twilight rolled her eyes in exasperation.
“Yeah yeah…” the Dragon grumbled. “I got it. I still think looking into Pinkie Sense again is a bad idea.”
Spike walked over to the door and opened it with a polite ‘Can I help you?’
“Hey Spike!” Pinkie Pie greeted.
Spike backed against the door to anchor it as a muffled ‘Hey!’ sounded through it.
“It… It knows!” he gasped in horror.
“Was that Pinkie Pie?” Twilight looked over in confusion.
“I…” Spike huffed. “I’m not sure we really want to find out.”
Twilight rolled her eyes again, an exasperated sigh escaping her as she trotted over to the door.
“You’re so hopeless sometimes,” she shook her head and levitated the Dragon away. “Just because I have a theory, doesn’t mean you need to get all in a panic about it.” Then she reached out to open the door, but at the last second stopped, and stepped off to the side opposite its swing.
“Hopeless huh?” Spike asked with only the slightest disguise of his sarcasm. Twilight just gave him a withering glare before reaching for the handle aga-
The door practically came off its hinges as it rocketed around to bang against the wall, a pair of powerful orange hind legs having given it a titanic ’push.’
“-tarnation are you thinkin’ slammin the door in our face like that Spike?” Applejack’s voice was just short of outraged as she turned around. “What’s'a matter with you?”
“Eh-” Spike all but squeaked as Applejack trotted in across the threshold. “S-sorry…”
“Much better,” Applejack smiled, then glanced around the library. “Now where’s Twilight, I gots somethin’ to ask her.”
Spike recovered from his momentary shock and fear a little, raising his claw to point toward the door. Applejack turned her head to follow. Twilight was still standing right next to the opening, her eyes flitting back and forth to where the door was swinging freely on its hinges, and where she'd just been standing moments before.
“Oh, howdy Twilight,” Applejack finally noticed the scholar. “Sorry about the ruckus, but Spike was being a little rude.”
Then she paused, noting that Twilight wasn’t moving.
“Say…” she continued. “You’re looking a little pale there sugarcube. Maybe you should get more sun.”
Twilight Sparkle finally remembered how to breathe and started laughing unsteadily. In the back of her mind, she reconsidered Spike’s advice and decided that maybe studying Pinkie Sense would be best done from a safe distance…
“Uh, Twilight,” Applejack asked. “Are you sure two miles is far enough away? Aft’r all Pinkie said it was GIANT EXPLODING MOUNTAIN. And that’s a mighty mean lookin’ volcano.”
“Don’t worry,” Twilight responded. “Even if it does erupt, there’s no way the blast could be that powerf-.”
…Preferably from behind sixteen feet of steel plate.
“Uh, Twi?” Applejack continued, concern growing on her features. “You okay?”
“Y- yeah,” Twilight shook it off and smiled. “Just thinking about research. What’s up?”
“Oh good,” Applejack stepped back. “We was wondrin’ if y’all got a big map of Equestria in here somewhere.”
“Map?” Twilight asked. “What do you need a map for?”
“Well,” Applejack turned as the others filtered in through the door. “We met this here pegasus earlier this morning and she’s sayin’ that she done flew all the way to Seaddle and back again by lunch time to replace her broken camera. And Rainbow Dash here keeps a sayin’ that she didn’t-“
“Hi!” Twilight greeted Dainty when they were close enough, partially interrupting Applejack. “I’m Twilight Sparkle. And you are?”
“Dainty Dish,” Dainty smiled back.
“Anyway,” Applejack continued after the two ponies had introduced themselves. “Little ol’ Dainty here keeps insistin’ that it ain’t that far to Seaddle at all. But Dash keeps sayin’ it’s too far fer the amount’a time she was gone.”
“So you want a map to see how far it is?” Twilight nodded.
“Yeah,” Applejack replied. “Got one?”
“Hmm…” The scholar thought about it for a second. “That’ll be in the cartography section.”
She turned and looked across the library, shelves of books filling every space that wasn’t otherwise used for living.
“Spike,” she frowned. “Can you find the Equestrian Atlas of Captivating Cartographic Captures?”
“Oh!” the dragon exclaimed. “I know just where that is.”
Spike skittered across the room to a section of books larger than he was tall and started pulling on a volume that looked many times too large for his frame to handle. There was a small pop as he finally worked it free, and the book promptly attempted to squash him flat. Luckily, it was immediately caught in Twilight’s levitating magic and floated over to the table where it landed with a frighteningly heavy ‘THUD’.
“That’s a mighty big book,” Applejack gaped at the cumbersome manuscript.
“It’s large so it can show the maps in high detail,” Twilight explained as Spike wandered back over to them. “Now, let’s see…”
Twilight opened the book with a burst of magic, pages flying by as she hunted for the map she wanted. In the mean time, Spike wandered over to where dainty was standing, glancing around nervously, and began to walk around her as if examining her. After a moment he stopped.
“Cool stripes,” he commented. Dainty seemed confused for a second, her voice coming out unsure when she finally replied with a ‘thank you’.
“So,” Spike continued after a moment. “Did you hurt your ankle?”
Dainty glanced down where she’d been favoring the hoof she’d tweaked in the landing. It had gotten a little swollen but she hadn’t complained about it even once so as to keep Applejack from thinking about it. After all, there was no need to trouble anypony about her own woes. Nopony wanted to hear about that kind of thing after all.
“Yeah,” she admitted. “I botched a landing. It’s not all that bad.”
“Maybe not,” Spike shrugged and turned away. “But I think Twilight’s got a magic bandage over here. Let me take a look.”
“Oh,” Dainty chirped uneasily. “You don’t have to do that. I’ll be fine.”
“We can at least get the swelling to go down,” the Dragon replied as he bounced up the stairs. “This won’t take a second.”
Dainty opened her mouth one last time to protest, but stopped once more after realizing she wasn’t going to change the dragon’s mind. Instead, she just smiled appreciatively after him.
“Ah,” Twilight got her attention again. “Here we go. Continental Equestria. Will that work?”
“Ah reckon,” Applejack replied in a tone that said ‘beats me’. “Where’s Ponyville on this thing?”
“Actually,” Twilight nodded to the map. “Ponyville is too small a town to be labeled on this one. You’ll have to use Canterlot instead. It’s close enough.”
“Alright,” Rainbow Dash floated over the map. “And over here’s Seaddle. What’s the distance?”
Twilight glanced down at the Legend on the map as Dainty limped up to look over Applejack’s shoulder. After a moment, the Unicorn levitated a ruler from the chalkboard across the room and placed it on the map.
“That’s roughly…” Twilight frowned, then turned to her desk and levitated a protractor and compass. Then across the room, an eraser hopped up and quickly cleared a section of the chalkboard, and she went to work.
“If radius is- then arc distance is Pi over three minus Pi over eight.” she muttered.
A series of numbers quickly scribbled up on the board.
“Common factor twenty-four,” she continued. “So, arc distance is five Pi over twenty four…”
“Uh, Twilight?” Applejack turned her head. “What are you doing? Just draw a line and measure it. Yer confusin’ me with them maths.”
“I can’t just draw a line,” Twilight frowned. “Equestria is round, and this map is FLAT.”
“We don’t need a perfect measurement,” Rainbow Dash sighed. “Just ballpark it.”
“But I’m almost done,” Twilight returned with a pout
“Oh all right,” Applejack sighed. “But finish quick, yer makin’ my head hurt.”
“There,” Twilight Sparkle turned to the chalkboard again, writing a number down and underlining it. “Twenty eight-hundred miles.”
“It takes about six hours to cover that distance,” Rainbow Dash pointed out. “By the time you get there, you’re too tired and it’s too late in the day to really bother trying to come back.”
“And how long did it take her?” Twilight asked, indicating Dainty.
“Bout four hours round trip, give or take,” Applejack shrugged.
“So about two hours then?” Twilight asked.
“Hour-” Dainty began, every pony instantly looked at her causing her to falter. “-And a half…”
Dainty backed away from Applejack a bit, ears falling flat.
“I-I spent about an hour at the Neighkon Plant talking to the supervisor before coming back.”
Twilight looked at the map one more time and at her numbers, a perplexed look on her face. Two thousand eight hundred miles in an hour and a half? That couldn’t be right. That was absurd. She wasn’t the expert on speed, but the numbers don’t lie. And her numbers were absolutely bonkers.
“There has to be a mistake somewhere,” Twilight frowned, looking at her math. “Maybe I calculated the arc distance wrong."
“I still say she couldn’t possibly have flown that far,” Rainbow Dash floated back and crossed her hooves.
“Well she’s got the camera,” Applejack pointed out.
“Maybe...” Dainty began again. “Maybe the map’s wrong. Maybe the distances are stretched? I couldn’t have flown that far. I’m just not that fast.”
“I doubt that,” Twilight looked at the gargantuan volume. “This book was produced by the Equestrian Land Survey Group.”
“Don’t you work for them?” Rainbow Dash frowned at the dark pegasus.
“Well,” Dainty looked back and forth unsteadily. “Yes, but I’m a photographer. I don’t make the maps. I take the photos they’re based on.”
“Then maybe the photos that were used are off.” Spike commented as he returned with a small bandage to wrap around Dainty’s injured ankle.
“Hmm…” Twilight Sparkle looked at the tome in front of her, skimming the page. “It credits the photos, all six hundred and eighty seven of them, to the photographer ‘Blackbird four-twenty’.”
‘EEP!’ Dainty’s ears shot right up, prompting the other ponies to stare at her for several seconds before her head began to sink again.
“Let me take a guess at this one,” Applejack stated in the flattest tone she could muster. “I reckon you’re this here Blackbird fowar-twenty?”
Dainty nodded slowly.
“So what?” Rainbow Dash landed. “Are you saying your photos are messed up or some-“
“I DON’T MAKE MISTAKES!”
Dash practically fell on her hind quarters as Dainty all but jumped in her face, wings stretched out and raised as if to make herself look as large as possible.
“WHOA!” The speed-obsessed pegasus shuffled back. “WHOA! Calm down!”
“All photos,” Dainty snapped again. “Were taken at exactly high noon local times, using fixed reference points during clear weather on cool days. They were blur-free, distortion-free, and aimed correctly. I did not mess up ANY of those shots!”
“Whoa nelly,” Applejack interspersed herself between the two. “Calm down now. She didn’t mean no offense to your camera ski- are you crying again?”
Indeed, there were tears in the corners of Dainty’s eyes even as she glared back at Rainbow Dash. Applejack just frowned and let out an agitated sigh.
“Look,” she turned to Rainbow Dash. “This is gettin’ us nowhere. I don’t know what you want to prove here, but it’s already confusing as it is-“
“I just want to know what’s going on,” Dash snapped. “This whole thing doesn’t make any sense and I’m just trying to sort it out. That’s all.”
“Well all yer ‘makin sense’ is doin is upsettin’ her somethin’ fierce,” Applejack retorted. “So why don’t you just leave her alone?”
“I’m not trying to upset anyone!” Dash’s voice climbed in pitch. “I just don’t believe her claim that she flew all the way to Seaddle. We know that it’s twenty ei-“
“We don’t know anything fer sure at the moment,” Applejack got in Dash’s face, her own temper starting to flare. “Even Twilight said she might’a messed somethin’ up.”
“I doubt she’s going to mess it up by THAT much,” Dash fired back. “It’s not like some small error's going to make that much difference!”
”Stop it!” Twilight snapped, stepping between them. “Both of you. Just calm down.”
After a pause, Twilight Sparkle stepped back, letting the two friends stare across the gap for a moment before she continued.
“What we know right now,” Twilight stated calmly. “Is that someone here is wrong.”
“Or lying,” Dash muttered.
“Oh is THAT what it’s about?” Applejack reared back. “You think she’s-“
“ENOUGH!” Twilight stomped a hoof. “We’re not going to lob accusations like that around without proof. Okay? Rainbow Dash, why is this bothering you so much?”
“Like I said,” the pegasus continued. “It doesn’t make any sense. Her story just doesn’t match my experience.”
“Unless she’s just faster,” Applejack shrugged. “Lookin’ at it like that makes sense to me.”
“But she said so herself,” Rainbow Dash stood up on her hind legs and exclaimed. “She’s not that fast, she can’t fly for more than two hours at a time, and she’s allergic to what seems to be everything below cloud level. What am I supposed to do? Agree to a story that full of holes?”
There was a brief silence as the ponies thought about it for a moment. Twilight looked over to Pinkie Pie, who’d been strangely silent the entire time.
“What do you think Pinkie?”
“I’m not touching this one with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole,” the pink-one stepped back, shaking her head.
Another brief silence followed.
“How about a race?”
The ponies turned to Spike. The dragon had finished tying a bandage around Dainty’s hoof and was looking at them expectantly.
“Just a quick lap around Ponyville or something,” he explained. “Nothing big.”
“Good idea Spike!” Twilight Sparkle beamed with pride. “You okay with that Rainbow?”
Rainbow Dash developed a rather menacing smile at that moment and quickly nodded.
“Good,” Twilight nodded as if making a checkmark in the air. “Dainty? What about you?”
“I uh, I mean, a, it’…” she stopped, took a breath, and continued. “A RACE? I don’t do well in races.”
“Come on sugarcube,” Applejack leaned over to Dainty. “There ain’t nothin’ to it. Even if ya’ lose, I’m sure you’ll at least make RD here sweat a little with them monster wings a yers.”
“But,” Dainty began to back up. “I... I... Can’t. What if I sneeze, and crash. And then I can’t get home-”
“Nonsense,” Applejack prodded. “Twilight here’s in good with the princess, if something like that were ta’ happen, not that I’m saying it would, I’m sure some of the palace guards would be thrilled to help you out.”
“Come on,” Rainbow Dash landed on the ground and pranced right up to Dainty’s face. “Just you and me. Nopony else. One lap around Ponyville right up to where I caught you at Sweet Apple Acres. If you can beat me, I’ll let the whole matter drop.”
“But-“ Dainty backed up more. “But-”
“But WHAT?” Rainbow Dash snapped. “Spit it out already.”
“But-“ Dainty’s voice was climbing in pitch as the blue pegasus continued to advance on her. Finally, Dainty Dish took a few too many steps back and collided with the chalkboard, going down as she attempted to press up against it like a wall.
“Oh boy,” Applejack frowned as she watched an eraser smack the dark pegasus on the snout. Twilight just glanced at her friend in confusion.
Dainty immediately started to sneeze as the cloud of gray-white powder expanded around her. In a near panic, she bolted to her hooves and immediately ran blindly forward to get out of it, only to crash headlong into Rainbow Dash, unfortunate enough not to get out of the way.
“Let’s get her out of here,” Applejack quickly started trotting forward. “She’s allergic.”
“To what?” Twilight followed her friend.
“EVERYTHING,” the others chimed in almost simultaneously. Unfortunately, Dainty sneezed again, this time her wings pumping involuntarily as she did so. Resulting in a burst of air knocking anything in front of her that wasn’t nailed to the floor over, and practically freeing her from her tangle with Dash.
‘Ob nob!’ she managed to sniff. “I godda...”
Dainty struggled back to a standing position again, only to sneeze, resulting in a reflexive wing flap that propelled her straight backwards over the toppled chalkboard and headlong into more chalk dust.
Spike and Pinky Pie quickly backed away from the scene as Dainty’s sneezes continued to run out of control, the pegasus quickly turning into a highly destructive projectile as she tried to make a break for the door and failed.
“Get ‘er outside!” Applejack gaped as Twilight’s home quickly began to turn into a disaster area. “Come on!”
She bolted forward, intending to tackle the pegasus when another sneeze and wing burst literally picked her up and dropped her right on her flank.
“Sweet mercy!” AJ snapped in shock.
“I got her!” Rainbow Dash growled as she took to the air. “I-“
Dash had no traction with the floor, and no defense against the burst of air that slammed her into the bookcase behind her.
“Five,” she managed to comment in a dazed state.
The situation deteriorated even further until Dainty pinned her own wings against a shelf, preventing them from flapping involuntarily while she sneezed. It was enough that Twilight decided she could safely take action, and trotted forward, her horn glowing with magic.
The next sneeze out of Dainty was strangely silent, cut off by a transparent glowing sphere encapsulating the distressed pony.
“Bubblebrain spell,” Twilight nodded idly as she trotted up to the now contained Dainty Dish. “It keeps your air in, and our air out. Perfect for containing sneezes.”
The unicorn looked around her home, shelves toppled and books of all kind lying strewn about. A complete mess of what had previously been a well-organized library. And it had been accomplished in less than thirty seconds.
“Well,” she continued more to herself than anypony else. “I guess I won’t get any work done today at this rate.”
Dainty sneezed silently again inside the transparent bubble. It expanded slightly before contracting back down to size.
“Uh,” Applejack righted herself. “Will that hold her?”
“Probably not for long,” Twilight admitted. “We better get her outside before that thing pops. Spike?”
“On it,” the dragon quickly came out of hiding. With a light tap, he started batting the bubble, seemingly almost weightless, towards the door. Dainty continued to sneeze at a less prolific rate within as he did so.
“Oooo,” Pinkie piped up as she too emerged from hiding. “That looks like fun. Let me try.”
As Pinky joined Spike in guiding Dainty’s bubble out the door, Twilight trotted over to the shelf where Rainbow Dash was picking herself up.
“You okay?” she asked.
“Fine,” Dash groaned. “Fine... This day has been one headache after another.”
“You still want to race?” Twilight asked.
Dash turned to her friend with a look of grim determination.
“I all but made the challenge,” she began. “I am NOT backing out of it now. Not until I get my answer.”
Twilight nodded in understanding. Rainbow Dash’s pride wasn’t about to let her back out of a challenge, especially not one like this. And being one never to walk away without an answer, she could understand how her friend was feeling.
“I just hope she can get all the way THROUGH it,” Applejack strode up. “That there was the worst sneeze attack she’s had yet.”
“Why’s she so allergic to, ev-” Twilight began but halted.
“She said ever’thin’,” Applejack nodded.
“Why everything?” Twilight finished.
“Beats me,” Applejack shook her head. “But from what I done seen, she ain’t lyin’.”
Twilight turned her head back to the door, a perplexed look on her face.