“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.“
Arnold H. Glasow
“Okay,” Spike began. “Here’s the course I’ve picked out.”
The group was gathered on the edge of town as they stared at a sheet of parchment Spike had procured. The looks they had gotten on the way there as they bounced Dainty Dish the bubble along had been a little alarming. But with Pinkie Pie hopping along at the head of the group those looks quickly turned to looks of understanding. Dainty had stopped sneezing at some point, prompting Twilight to let her out of the bubble. Despite the student’s previous misgivings about the spell, it had managed to hold surprisingly well.
“Starting from here,” the dragon continued. “Fly north, past the Carousel Boutique, then a left out to the main path where we did the running of the leaves last year. Then left again, past the Carousel Boutique. Over Sweet Apple Acres, loop back around right to Carousel Bouti-”
“Let me see that,” Twilight Sparkle levitated the scroll out of her assistant’s claws and gave a glance at it. It was a basic doodle-sketch of Ponyville, with major landmarks like the Library, Carrousel Boutique, Sugarcube Corner, and so on, marked out. Amusingly enough, Spike’s drawing skills were atrocious, a stark contrast to his otherwise immaculate clawwriting ability.
However, it wasn’t his lack of artistic skills that proved to be the issue. But rather the course he’d drawn. It wasn’t hard. Rather, Twilight found her eyes automatically drawn to the center of something like a dozen figure eight’s. All of which were centered on Carousel Boutique in such a manner that it was like one giant flower petal. It was plain as day to see where Spike’s mind was.
“Right…” Twilight lowered the parchment with some chagrin. “Let’s simplify this.”
With only the slightest thought, Twilight Sparkle made as if to toss the rudimentary map behind her. About a second later, it burst into flames and was reduced to ashes before it even hit the ground, courtesy of a campfire spell.
“Hey!” Spike frowned.
“Here’s the course,” Twilight continued without mercy. “Straight over Ponyville with Carousel as the first checkpoint. Then out to Fluttershy’s house, then double back over Ponyville to Sweet Apple Acres, then back here for the win. Got it?”
Rainbow Dash nodded. Dainty just looked nervous.
“No cheating,” Twilight continued. “No roughhousing, no interfering with each other. No, horseplay. I’m sure you remember how that turned out last fall Rainbow. No shortcuts either. And just to make sure, Pinkie Pie will be watching from my balloon.”
Right on cue, Pinkie popped up between the two pegasi.
“We Pies can see EEEEVERYTHING,” she informed them, her head slowly twisting around like an owl’s, creeping everypony (and one baby dragon) out even as they winced in sympathy at the seemingly impossible move. Then her body quickly followed like some kind of mechanical windup toy whose spring had come undone.
“So play nice, okay?” she continued with a chirp, then leaned down right next to Dainty and Dash’s faces, a grin on her face the size of Equestria.
Pinkie Pie stopped, grin fading to a frown. Then she stood up, stepped back, and wiped her face.
“Gerr-OSE!” she gaped after a few silent blinks. “Warn somepony before you do that!”
“Sobby,” Dainty lowered her head in shame. “I dink I’b allergic to-“
“I know I know,” Pinkie waved a hoof to interrupt the dark pegasus. “Allergic to my conditioner. That was my fault really.”
The pink pony trotted out in front of the group and over to Twilight, one eye still closed.
“Sorry Twilight,” she sighed. “Looks like you’ll have to find a different ref. I have to go sanitize my face in one of Mrs. Cake’s ovens. I should be back just in time to miss the climactic finish.”
And with that, Pinkie trotted on back toward Ponyville, humming to herself as she went. The other ponies just watched in silence until she was out of sight.
“So much for an unbiased ref,” Twilight shook her head.
“Does- Does that mean I don’t have to race?” Dainty asked with a certain level of hope in her voice.
“Hah!” Rainbow Dash gave the other pegasus a cocky grin. “As if. I’m not backing down, and I’m definitely not letting you back out either.
“But-“ Dainty tried to protest, but was interrupted by Applejack’s reassuring voice.
“There ain’t nothin’ to it sugarcube,” the country pony commented. “I done raced her before. Just give it yer best and play fair, and she’ll play fair too.”
Then Applejack gave Rainbow Dash a dark glare.
Rainbow Dash could almost feel the sweat form on her face at the memory of the embarrassment that brought up.
“Right,” she replied.
“But,” Dainty tried one more time. “But I told you, I’m not a good flier. How am I supposed to win?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Spike commented. Dainty looked down at the dragon walked up to her.
“Don’t worry about winning,” he reemphasized. “Just have some fun with it okay?”
“Fun?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Spike replied. “Fun. It’s just a race between the two of you. No big deal.”
The dragon then crossed his arms and shot an unimpressed look at Rainbow Dash.
“Though to some…”
Dainty looked at the young dragon then at the pony who was so insistent on racing her. There was no way to beat that pony. After all, Rainbow Dash performed the Sonic Rainboom. There was no way Dainty could compete.
But then, Spike said to just have some fun with it. Win or lose. Just have fun.
“Okay…” Dainty looked back down at spike. “I’ll try.”
“That’s the spirit!” the dragon grinned. Dainty just grinned back and trotted (still limping) over to the starting line Applejack had drawn in the dirt.
“Now we’re talking!” Rainbow Dash grinned at Dainty. “You ready to rock?”
“I’m...” Dainty looked up and around. “I guess I’m ready.”
“Good,” Dash directed her gaze forward. The pony of Loyalty unfurled her wings as she took a crouch. “You better give me everything you’ve got.”
“Everything I’ve got,” Dainty nodded as if taking notes. Then she gazed up again, allowing her eyes to close. Just for once, not sneezing.
“Headwind,” she mumbled as if pleased opening her eyes. “Perfect.”
“Y’all ready?” Applejack asked.
“Ready,” Dash commented.
Dainty Dish replied by unfurling her own wings. The action kicking up a swirl of dust that rolled away, causing her to glance around nervously.
“Biggest wings on a Pony I’ve ever seen,” Spike muttered.
“Take your time,” Dash commented in a tone that implied exactly the opposite.
“Oh,” Dainty looked at the speedster. “Sorry. Just need to do a few checks.”
Dainty’s left wing came down like an oversized whip, generating a sound a lot like a crack of thunder. Everypony (and one baby dragon) about jumped out of their hides.
Dainty’s right wing came down in the same manner. Kicking yet more dust up and away from her hard enough to spray Twilight in the face with the grit.
“Whoa Nelly,” Applejack cocked her head to the side. “What in the name of all things Equestria was that.”
When Dainty Dish noticed the other ponies looking at her, she lowered her head again and blushed.
“Just making sure they work,” she muttered. “I kinda’ crashed earlier, and it rather hurt.”
Rainbow Dash at that moment honestly began to feel the first tiny inklings of doubt. Whatever it was Dainty just did to her wings, they had moved so fast that even she had a hard time following it with her eyes.
No, NO doubts! There is no room for doubts on this flight. Captain’s orders! Rainbow Dash turned to face the wind and locked a determined smile on her face. No matter how pathetic Dainty seemed, Dash was going to throw in everything she had, even if she blew the competition away in the literal sense.
“On ya’ll’s marks,” Applejack began. Both pegasi assumed their ready stances.
Dainty winced and glanced at her bad hoof. Sooner in the air, sooner off the hoof, sooner she could... she could... Oh NOT NOW!
Rainbow Dash, as was expected, took off in a blur. Her wake kicking up a wall of dust as she went. In less than four seconds, she was rocketing across the treetops, well on her way to the first checkpoint.
The remaining ponies cheered at the spectacular start. But then they stopped as they realized a now all too familiar sound…
Dainty, caught in the midst of a full on sneeze attack.
“Whoa whoa whoa!” Applejack trotted forward but on remembering the Library, stopped short. “Now ain’t the time ta’ be sneezin!”
“I cad- APFPH! -heb it!”
Dainty sneezed one more time, hard, before the attack stopped as suddenly as it began. The pegasus just stood there for a moment, gasping for air.
“What’re you doing sitting there?!” Applejack gaped. “RD’s getting away!”
“Go!” Twilight snapped. “Get moving!”
Dainty Dish glanced back and forth nervously again, slightly confused. Then she turned towards the line of settling dust Dash had left and began to trot forward, flapping her wings. Her hoof still hurt, but she wouldn’t be on it for long anyway. Wincing, she picked the pace up to a rapid canter.
“Come on!” she heard Spike’s little baby dragon voice. “Don’t run! FLY!”
Dainty bit her lip, pushing harder and advancing to a gallop as her hoof protested. She could feel tears in her eyes as she started to pick up speed. Her gallop became small bounds as she flapped her wings more. A nice headwind, good takeoff speed.
Dainty felt a grin cross her features.
“Hooves up,” she muttered to herself on the next bound. As she bounded, she brought her wings down firmly, catching air as her hooves tucked away. This was the part she loved. Acceleration into flight pouring on like a snowball rolling down a mountainside. At first it was like a trickle, but soon turning into a full on avalanche of raw power as it picked up momentum. It made her just want to forget this silly race and climb.
But then, Spike said to have fun. And if she had fun with a little race, win or lose, what did it matter? Dash was way ahead, so her winning was certain. But it wasn’t about winning. It was about having fun. There was nothing stopping her from doing that except the next sneeze attack, whenever that came.
“Time to catch the lightning,” Dainty took a deep breath, mentally praying not to inhale something she was allergic to. Then with a grunt, raised her wings, bounded one last time off the ground, and snapped them down with everything she had.
A crack like thunder rewarded her effort, and the ground leapt away as she aimed for the sky.
Back at the starting line, Applejack, Twilight Sparkle, and Spike watched as Dainty’s wings snapped impossibly fast, and she roared into the sky ahead of a dome of dust that rolled away from her in a pair of spiral-shaped swirls.
“Ya’ did remember ta’ bring yer b‘noculars, right Twi?” the country pony asked.
“Of course,” Twilight levitated said item to her eyes. Let me find Dash real quick…”
Ahead over Carrousel, Rainbow Dash checked over her shoulder for the first time, frowning. There was no sign of her opponent anywhere to be seen. And all that did was irritate the competitive pony.
“Aww man,” she moaned. “Don’t tell me she chickened out already.”
Another glance back and still no Dainty Dish. What good was a race without anypony to race? It wasn’t good at all. That’s what. Dash toyed with the idea of slowing down to give Dainty, wherever she was, time to catch up. But immediately scolded herself for even THINKING such a thing. You don’t hold back during a competition just to give yourself a challenge. That was unthinkable! Selfish even! She would never do that, and she would expect nothing less from anypony who challenged her.
Rainbow Dash’s eyes locked forward again. Ten seconds to checkpoint, then a hard turn. No less than the best. That meant a perfect right angle turn.
Some distance behind, and about twice as high, Dainty began a shallow dive, recognizing Carrousel Boutique from earlier in the day. Her initial climb had been a bit too much, but that just allowed her to relax a little as dropped back down to the designated race height. She could see Rainbow Dash way out ahead, a multicolored speck against the pastel greens of a hillside further beyond.
Dainty was really starting to pick up velocity at this point. The wind made her eyes sting, her wings ached as they were pulled back, and the little swirls of turbulence around buildings and clouds made for a bumpy ride so close to the ground. Going this fast wasn’t really her thing. It was just too tiring and stressful. But she’d endure it just this once.
Then ahead, the speck that was Rainbow Dash suddenly became a line ripping off to the left. Dainty’s eyes widened in shock. A turn like THAT? There was no way! And just when she was getting up to speed too!
Angling her wings, Dainty cut her dive as she approached the checkpoint turn. After a moment, she rolled and began a steady turn, climbing up and around. He wings protested angrily as she tried to bleed off speed.
Back at the line, Twilight frowned.
“Dainty’s rounding off the corner,” she protested. “She’s not supposed to do that! I told them, NO SHORTCUTS.”
“Oh Twi…” Applejack rolled her eyes. “This ain’t no fancy grand prix.”
Twilight sparkle just lowered her binoculars and frowned at her friend in an unamused fashion. Then Spike turned and tapped her on the side.
“Can I see?” he asked. In response, Twilight’s binoculars floated down to the baby dragon.
“Cool,” he commented idly.
Back in the lead position, Dash checked over her shoulder again, this time pleasantly surprised to see a pair of black wings in the turn behind her.
“Now we’re talkin’!” she smirked. “Come on! Show me what you’ve got!”
Dainty, coming around out of the turn, glanced over her shoulder, huffing nervously at a touch of wobble. She’d started to lose it a bit in her cornering and slipped at the highest point. A turn like that was not to be repeated. She’d have to take the next one wider and faster or risk losing control.
Down ahead, she could see Dash, a little less than a speck, but still far enough to make catching her little more than a miracle. How long was it to the next checkpoint? Was there enough time to accelerate?
Dainty decided to risk it. If she overshot, she overshot.
Raising her wings and grunting, she brought them down with a snap in the thick air. She was rewarded with the usual thunderclap and the force of the air on her face doubling in intensity. Again, she repeated the process, and the force of the air started to become almost painful.
Rainbow Dash looked over her shoulder at the sound of the second crack, followed by a third and a fourth in rapid succession, and was surprised to see the dark pegasus was now starting to pick up momentum like a pony express train bound for Apploosa barreling down the track.
“Alright,” she grinned. “BRING IT.”
And she accelerated.
Dainty saw Dash put on an extra burst of speed and her heart sank. The wind was blasting away at her face and she was already starting to tire out from trying to put on what speed she had. But she was too close to drawing even with Dash, if only for a moment, to give up yet.
Dainty cracked her wings once more.
Dash glanced back, mentally counting down time to her next turn. Dainty was clearly visible now, coming up strong despite Dash’s extra speed. Her wings would rise gently, and then snap down so fast they looked more like they belonged on a dragonfly, loud cracks audible over the roar of the wind. And for once, Rainbow Dash was genuinely impressed as Dainty slowly drew even with her.
“Not FAST eh?” she called over the wind. But then frowned when she noticed that for all the speed, Dainty’s normally pink-ish nose was turning pale, and the pegasus was panting like she’d been running a full gallop for hours.
“You okay?!” Dash shouted. Dainty chanced a really short glance, then nodded in an exaggerated manner, wings coming down in another crack pushing her just a little bit faster.
“If you say so,” Dash took the time to shrug and put on another burst of speed to push ahead. At about three-quarters of her top speed at this point, she still had plenty of speed to put on. And Dainty looked about maxxed out. This contest was over…
“Left turn in five,” Dash called a warning. “Four… three… two… one!”
Dash broke left so hard that she was in front of, and past Dainty before the darker pegasus even registered the motion. Unfortunately, as soon as Dainty realized Dash had shot directly across her path, she panicked in anticipation of a collision, rearing back hard as she passed through the rainbow-colored afterimage Dash left in her wake.
A moment later she realized her mistake as her wings caught the air, yanking her head further back. Dainty tried to fight it, but was too tired from attempting to catch Dash to force herself back down. Promptly, her wings buckled, trailing out behind her as she was yanked backwards, flipping head over flank.
Dainty gasped a ragged shout of terror as she flailed her hooves uselessly at the air, her trajectory going ballistic. This had happened to her before only one other time. And all she remembered from that was that she never wanted to do it again. Now she remembered why.
She was out of control; recovery was impossible…
Dainty caught sight of the wall of a house rising up to meet her.
…And momma wasn’t here to catch her this time.
Back at the starting Line, Spike dropped the binoculars with a shout.
“WHAT!?” the remaining ponies chorused.
A loud boom rocked the group, pulling their attention to the cloud of billowing smoke coming up from-
“Sweet merciful Celestia!” Applejack shouted. “That was Fluttershy’s house!”
“Oh no!” Twilight’s eyes got large as she yanked Spike into the air with levitation magic. “Come on!”
“You ain’t gotta' tell me twice!” Applejack took off at a full gallop.
Up in the air, rocketing along towards the starting line, Rainbow Dash also heard the loud boom behind her.
“What they HECK?!” She slowed to a hover in a heartbeat, spinning around.
Immediately, Dash’s eyes noted two important things.
One, Dainty was no longer behind her, or even in sight for that matter.
Two, Flutterhy’s house was enveloped in flames and-
“OH MY GOSH!” the pegasus exclaimed. “Fluttershy!”
Race forgotten, she looked around desperately for a cloud, spotting the stockpile on the edge of town she’d procured for the spring shower that was scheduled.
Wasting no time, the pegasus zipped away to grab one, then raced over to the burning home of one of her best friends. She could already see animals fleeing in every direction. And coming up the road at full speed were Twilight and Applejack.
“Looks like today’s rain’s coming a little early,” she glared as she centered the cloud over the burning home. Then she pounced, repeatedly stomping on the dark cloud until it was pouring water and drenching the fire.
“Keep it up!” Applejack shouted as she entered the yard. Twilight levitated a few animals out of AJ’s path as the pony took a full charge at the door, planted her front hooves, and came around with everything she had to bust it open. Immediately smoke poured out of the opening.
“Spike!” AJ shouted. “You’re up!”
“I’m on it!” The dragon replied, leaping off Twilight’s back and bounding through the door. Being a dragon, Spike was all but immune to mere smoke, and being small, he could walk below the majority of it anyway.
“Stupid fire!” Rainbow Dash shouted. The fire was stubbornly refusing to extinguish so she zipped away to add another cloud to the downpour. “GO OUT!”
Twilight took another glance around, trying to find a source of water. With a dozen pessimistic worse case scenarios already playing through her mind, she was anticipating the possibility of the fire leaping to the trees at the edge of the Everfree Forest, and what it would take to prevent that from occurring.
“I got them!” Spike’s voice came out of the smoke pouring through the door. “Twilight, cut the gas valve!”
“Gas valve?” The unicorn paused from her apocalyptic dread and glanced around, quickly finding the object in question half-buried almost inconspicuously near a fence post.
Using her magic to give the valve a crank was a no-brainer.
Immediately, the fire began to diminish in size, prompting a shout of encouragement from Rainbow Dash as she redoubled her efforts.
At the door, Spike emerged, leading Futtershy, who was coughing blindly with Angel Bunny holding firmly on to her mane.
“Where’s Dainty?” Applejack asked hastily as Spike performed a handoff. The dragon said nothing before diving back into the smoke, only to emerge a few seconds later leading a coughing, sneezing, and terrified crying pegasus.
“This way sugarcube,” Applejack instructed, taking the handoff again. “Is that everypony? Any more critters in there?”
“None that I could see,” Spike glanced over his shoulder.
“An-hck-gel!” Fluttershy gasped between coughs. “Where’s Angel Bunny?”
“He made it out.” Applejack informed her. “Just relax a moment and breathe some fresh air.”
Fluttershy nodded, coughing more to clear her lungs after all the smoke she’d inhaled. Above them, Rainbow Dash crowed triumphantly as the deluge she’d released on the fire finally extinguished it.
“Phew,” Applejack wiped her face in relief. “That was a close one.”
Then she turned and trotted over to where Dainty had collapsed in the yard, crying full force between sneezes that were interspersed with hacking coughs and wails that sounded distinctly like she was repeatedly calling ‘momma’ over and over again.
“What’s wrong with her?” Spike asked.
“I-“ Applejack cocked her head. “I dunno Spike. She’s actin’ like when Applebloom had them horrible nightmares.”
“Had?” Spike looked at the wailing pony. “She looks like she’s LIVING it! Do something!”
“I- I don’t know what to do.” Applejack looked on in confusion. “I ain’t never seen it this bad!”
“I-” Fluttershy coughed before she could finish a word, but trotted over. “I’ve got it…”
She quickly knelt down next to Dainty, picking her head up gently and began to coo the best she could between coughs.
“It’s okay… calm down.”
If anypony could handle this, it was Fluttershy. Calming down upset animals and ponies was a specialty of hers. That’s what Applejack was hoping for anyway.
“It’s okay,” Fluttershy cooed again. “I’m here.”
Dainty’s sneezing and coughing failed to slow down. If anything, it seemed to get worse, to the point where Dainty started to squirm away from Fluttershy’s hold.
“N-No…” Fluttershy cooed. “Calm down, It’s okay. I’m right here, I’m right-“
Fluttershy had to admit getting kicked in the face as Dainty’s squirming turned into an outright struggle to get away was a first for her.
“It’s oka-” Fluttershy tried again. This time Dainty only just missed knocking her silly with a kick as she struggled violently to get away from the gentle pony.
“Hold still,” Fluttershy’s tone became more firm. “It’s okay.”
“MOMMA!” Dainty managed to scream on the tail end of a ragged cough. “I cad stob! MAGE ID STOB!!!”
“Can’t stop?!” Applejack blinked, feeling panic starting to creep into her mind. “Stop what? Coughing, sneezing? What’sa matter with her?”
“I’m not sure,” Fluttershy released Dainty and allowed the pony to scramble away from her, collapsing into an uncontrollable fit of coughs and sneezes. “I’ve never had this problem. Not even with Philomena. She just won’t stop crying… Or coughing… or sneezing.”
“STOB!” Dainty hacked. “MAKE ID STOB!”
“Stop sneezing…” Twilight frowned as she looked at the group. Then suddenly, her eyes got wide as saucers as it suddenly clicked.
She looked around, thinking from the perspective of a hyper-allergic pony who exploded in a fit of uncontrolled sneezes from a puff of dust. And she started to see it. Dirt on the ground. Clouds of dust from the running. Smoke, ashes… And lots of animals all around them watching.
For somepony like Dainty Dish, the entire area was a cloud of pure torture. It made her throat itch just thinking about it. The choking, gurgling, itching, unstoppable sneezing. The wheezing, gasping for breat-
“SHE CAN’T BREATHE!” Twilight tore through the group, her horn already glowing as she threw a Bubblebrain spell down on Dainty. “She’s suffocating!”
“Sweet merciful stars!” AJ realized. “Of course she cain’t breathe! This here place done be her worst nightmare!”
Applejack turned her head to the air, where Rainbow Dash was inspecting to make sure the rain was putting out the fire completely.
“RD!” she shouted. “We needs it to rain on the whole yard!”
“What?!” the pegasus glanced down. “This is no time to water Fluttershy’s lawn!”
“Jus’ do it!” the country pony ordered. “Do I need ta’ explain everthin’ ???”
“Okay!” Dash replied defensively. “Fine! Sheesh…”
Rainbow Dash zipped away to grab more storm clouds, building up a rather substantial rain shower over Fluttershy’s house until the ground around them started turning into mud.
“Good thinking Applejack!” Twilight looked around as the rain drenched them.
“But of course,” AJ nodded knowingly in response. “Cleanest air in Equestria’s right after a storm easy.”
Then she eyed the mud on the ground, giving a satisfied nod.
“Works fast too,” she continued. “Let’s see if she cain’t breathe now.”
Twilight nodded and dropped the bubble, allowing the temporarily isolated air out and the rain-washed air around them in. Dainty was still choking, coughing, and wailing, but the ferocity had significantly dropped off as she tired out.
The dark pegasus continued to twitch and cough for a few more minutes before her breathing finally started to relax. It still came in ragged gasps, but now instead of sounding like she was about to choke to death at any second screaming for her mother, she just continued to sit there whimpering in exhaustion.
“My word!” Rarity’s voice came from behind them. Those who were keeping an eye on Dainty turned to see the fashion designer trotting up with a look of concern and a set of saddlebags.
“I heard the blast,” Rarity commented as she reached the group, frowning at the sky a little as he mane began to get drenched. “So I came as fast as I could. What exactly happened.”
Then she noticed Dainty, still lying in the mud, taking deep ragged breaths.
“And WHAT, may I ask, happened to poor miss Dainty Dish?”
“Race with Rainbow Dash,” Applejack admitted. “She lost control and crashed.”
Rarity looked shocked.
“She blows up houses when she crashes?”
“She came through the kitchen wall,” Fluttershy informed her friend. “I was cooking a late lunch, and she must have ruptured the gas line.”
“Well,” Rarity marched right past the group and over to Dainty. “Poor dear’s been through a lot then, hasn’t she?”
With only a slight hesitation about stepping into the mud surrounding Dainty, Rarity kneeled down and nudged her slightly so that she was looking up.
“You’re going to be just fine dearie,” she smiled. “I heard about what happened, and it’s just awful. Now come on, get up. I brought those cashews you were enjoying at lunch. You never finished them you know.”
Dainty’s exhausted face turned to a weak smile.
“Casoos...” she managed to breathe.
“If you can get up,” Rarity smiled. “You can finish them. Come on.”
Dainty sucked in another breath and grit her teeth, twisting until she could get one of her forelegs under her. Then the second followed as she tucked in her wings. Finally, her hind legs we next and after some effort, she was standing.
“There,” Rarity nodded as Dainty wobbled around a few steps. The fashion designer dug into the saddlebag she’d brought with her and pulled out a half-eaten bag of the nuts Dainty had all but attacked at lunch. “Eat, and relax...” Then she added as an afterthought. “They might be a bit soggy though.”
Dainty didn’t respond save for simply diving headfirst into the bag and began to crunch hungrily on its nutty contents. The total lack of stable manners shocked Rarity, but she decided to let it slide considering how much of a wreck the pegasus before her was.
“Boy,” Applejack blinked. “She sure got hungry in hurry. But I think she’ll be okay.”
“Of course,” Rarity smiled. “If she can stand and eat, she’ll be just fine.”
Then the fashion designer looked up.
“Oh Rainbow Dash,” she began. “Could you be a dear and turn the rain down before you flood Fluttershy’s house?”
Rainbow Dash stopped her work and looked around, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof for a moment.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “Just give me a sec.”
The localized downpour that had cleared the air began to taper back until it settled at a fine drizzle. The fire that had all but destroyed Fluttershy’s kitchen was completely out at this point, not even so much as smoldering.
Satisfied the situation was well in hoof, Rainbow Dash nodded and zipped on down to the ground, where she landed with a ‘squish’ in the mud near the group.
“So what HAPPENED anyway?” she asked.
“Dainty crashed,” Spike commented. RD just blinked in confusion and glanced at the pony scarfing down Cashews like they were going out of style.
“How’d she manage to do that?” the blue pegasus asked. “It was only a left turn.”
“Don’t know,” Spike shrugged. “You made your turn, and then she just flew out of control. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I think maybe you’d better call this whole thing off Rainbow Dash,” Twilight nodded.
“Yeah,” Applejack nodded in agreement. “Before somepony really does git hurt. We done got lucky this time ‘round.”
“Yeah,” Dash nodded, glancing at Fluttershy’s house. “I guess you’re right. Besides, after what I’ve seen I know she couldn’t have flown all the way to Seaddle.”
“Oh come off it RD!” Applejack snapped. “Does it REALLY matter?”
“What?!” Rainbow Dash turned back in shock. “Wha’d I do?”
“Yer the one who brought this whole business with not being able to fly that far in a few hours up!” Applejack retorted. “She was plum happy to have her camera until then.”
“Hey,” Dash frowned. “Since when was it wrong to question when something seems off?”
“Yer ‘questinion’ ain’t done nothin but stir up trouble,” Applejack spat back.
“Wouldn’t BE any trouble if she’d just stop claiming she flew as far as she did when it’s obvious she didn’t!” Dash turned and glared in Applejack’s face.
“She ain’t lying!” Applejack returned the glare. “She done got the camera ter prove it!”
“Girls?” Twilight saw a fight coming.
“How do YOU know she got it where she said she did, HUH?” Dash poked Applejack in the chest with a hoof.
“Pinkie Pie told us where those cameras were made,” Applejack glared. “They don’t make them but at that there Neighkon plant.”
“Girls!” Twilight raised her voice but was ignored, much to her worry.
“And Pinkie might have been wrong!” Dash snapped, her tone rising to a shout. “There might be a place that sells those cameras closer. For all we know Dainty was just mistaken about where she went!”
Then Dash stomped her hoof in frustration, yelling point blank in Applejack’s face.
“For all we know, SHE STOLE IT!”
Dead silence reigned as all heads turned to where Dainty had dropped the near-empty bag of cashews in the mud. Her eyes were big, staring right at Rainbow Dash in shock. Despite the soaking the rain had given her, tears were plainly visible in the corners of her eyes.
“I’m a-” she began with a whimper. “Do you, really...”
“Oh horseapples,” AJ looked at the dark pegasus as she sucked in another huff of air. “Now you’ve gone and done it.”
“What?” Dash glanced at AJ for a moment, and then back to Dainty. “She doesn’t really think I mea-“
“You think I-“ Dainty’s eyes watered even more. “I’m a... “
The pegasus lowered her head and she turned away, beginning to trot with a slight limp.
“I’m leaving,” she sniffed. “I can tell when I’m not wanted.”
Rainbow Dash gaped in shock as AJ’s head slowly turned back to her, followed by everypony else.
“Wh-WHAT?!” She asked. “I- I...”
“You done crossed the line,” Applejack commented in a tone so low it sent shivers down Dash’s spine. “You’d best go ‘pologize this very instant. ‘Cause them’s fightin’ words you just spoke about Dainty Dish. Were that me, you’d be in a heapin’ helpin’ a trouble right now.”
“But!” Rainbow began. “I don’t, I don’t GET IT!”
“You’ve done called her a liar, a fake, and a thief,” Applejack’s tone was all but a growl. And as soaked as she was at the moment, she looked downright scary. “And nopony-“
Applejack forcefully poked Rainbow Dash in the chest.
“NOPONY, deserves that kinda’ disrespect. Ye’ hear me?”
“But-“ Dash looked frantically back and forth between Applejack and the retreating pegasus, then to her other friends. Nopony said anything.
“But-“ she tried again. “But I, I wasn’t actually serious!”
“Well,” Applejack continued, the vibe coming off her so frightening even Fluttershy started to creep slowly back. “Maybe if you go ‘pologize, like I know you will. We might convince her you didn’t really mean it.”
There was silence for several seconds as Rainbow Dash glanced around nervously. Then she looked back at Applejack, who just continued to frown at her disapprovingly. Every hair on Dash’s back started to stand on end in icy shivers.
“I-” she began one more time, then suddenly broke eye contact and started to trot towards the retreating Dainty. “I better go apologize.”
And as soon as she finished speaking, she broke into a gallop.
Applejack watched her friend go, her features slowly starting to relax when a slight cough got her attention.
“Dearie,” Rarity glanced between Applejack and Rainbow Dash. “I don’t know what you just did, but it was giving me the shivers. Ooo... I get goose-bumps just thinking about it.”
“Tain’t nothing special,” Applejack let a weak smile grace her features. “My uncle Applewood taught me that fer dealin’ with low down no-good dirty varmints.”
Then she paused, taking a long deep breath.
“Never thought I’d use it on a friend.”
“Applejack,” Twilight joined in. “Remind me never to mess with your uncle.”
“No kidding,” Spike added.
The others nodded in unison as they turned to watch Rainbow Dash catch up to Dainty as she cleared the wet area.
“Dainty!” Dash called, running up to her. “Wait!”
“Don’t talk to me,” Dainty sniffed, sarcasm dripping in her voice. “I’m a thief.”
“But I didn’t mean it!” Rainbow Dash walked up next to the dark pegasus. “I was... I was just angry!”
“You think I’m a liar,” Dainty sniffed, picking her sullen trot up to a mild canter. “You shouldn’t talk to liars.”
“I never said you were lying!” Dash picked up the pace, matching the pegasus. She started to notice at that point that Dainty was still limping and mentally kicked herself for not noticing sooner.
“You don’t believe a word I say!” Dainty took her canter to a slow gallop. “Why should I believe you!”
“Wait!” Dash shouted as she caught up once more. “Just talk to me okay? It’s just a misunderstanding.”
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” Dainty all but snarled, causing Rainbow Dash to slide to halt in shock. For a second she just stood there blinking before a frown crossed her features. Try to be the nice pony, TRY to extend a helping hoof...
“I will NOT leave you alone,” she snapped, quickly jumping into a gallop. “We ARE going to talk!”
“Stop following me!” Dainty’s angry snarl was breaking into a sob again. “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
Dainty extended her wings; water droplets spraying off them and mixing with the swirls of dust she generated. All of which sandblasted Rainbow Dash right in the face.
‘Blech!” she stuck her tongue out and spat some of the grit that managed to get in her mouth. “You want to play rough?! I LIVE rough!”
Dash stretched out her own wings and took flight. At this point, she’d just tackle Dainty and MAKE her listen. It was just all a big misunderstanding. There had to be something she wasn’t getting.
Dash had to dodge a swirl of dust as Dainty snapped one of her wings like a whip.
“Ha!” she snapped. “As if th-“
Dash jinked back the other way as the opposite wing snapped down.
“She can’t be-“ she thought for a moment, then accelerated.
“I said, STOP...” Dainty took her gallop to a bounding sprint as she gave her wings a few flaps.
Rainbow Dash did the best she could to stop ahead of the wall of dust that suddenly exploded in her face, and smashed into the ground in surprise before sliding to a stop. Above her, she could see Dainty Dish rapidly ascending away in a steep climb.
“Why I aughta...” she growled, but arrested her temper.
Back at Fluttershy’s house, Rarity jumped at the loud cracking sound that reached her ears.
“My stars!” she turned back to where Dash and Dainty had run off. “What in the world was THAT noise?”
“Spike!” Twilight quickly glanced at the dragon. “My binoculars!”
The dragon complied; handing the magnifying device that he’d left strapped to his neck the whole time over to her. Twilight yanked them away as she galloped to the edge of the yard where the clouds stopped, raising them to her eyes. She was just in time to see Rainbow Dash emerge from a growing cloud of dust as a fast moving rainbow streak. Tracing the direction of the streak, she spotted a dark speck rapidly ascending away from her friend.
“What did Dash say to her NOW?” Twilight snapped in frustration.
As she watched, Rainbow Dash was already closing the gap.
“Rainbow!” she snapped uselessly at the distant ponies. “You better be apologizing!”
Of course, that’s exactly what Dash was TRYING to do, if Dainty would listen. But Dash knew, as she closed on Dainty Dish, the darker pegasus couldn’t keep up the pace very long. And nobody was better at high-speed sprints than she was.
“Dainty!” She shouted. “Wait!”
Dainty Dish snapped a look over her shoulder, tear streaks staining her face.
“STOP FOLLOWING ME!” she half sobbed, half bellowed.
“Just give me a MINUTE!” Dash shouted back, pausing to inhale. “PLEASE?!”
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” Dainty sobbed ahead into the sky. Rainbow Dash grit her teeth and put a little more push into her climb. The temperature was starting to drop, allowing her to work just a little harder without breaking a sweat.
“Give up!” she was almost even with Dainty now. “You can’t out climb me!”
“WATCH ME!” Dainty snapped in a hurt tone.
Dash frowned as she almost immediately passed through the concussions the wings generated. Then frowned more as she began to drop back. That little- deliberately messing up her-
Then Dainty began to really climb as if empowered by the very challenge, pulling away sharply.
“What the HECK?” Dash blinked in surprise. “She can accelerate in this climb?!”
Back on the ground, Spike was becoming irritated at not being able to see.
“Twilight,” he snapped in eagerness. “Twilight what’s going on?”
“They’re still climbing,” she frowned. “And they’re getting really high now.”
“It’s really cold up high,” Fluttershy began in a worried tone. “I hope they don’t get sick.”
Back in the sky, Rainbow Dash was beginning to feel things other than the cold. Her wings were starting to burn as she worked to gain back ground on Dainty. However, she could feel the shivers as they hit a thin cloud layer made of bits of ice. The kind usually placed only by extremely specialized high altitude pegasi. Normally, Rainbow Dash never came up this high because nobody could see her, and it was too cold to hang around. But Dainty just kept going like she was made for this kind of thing. The ride was also starting to get a bit rough. Getting jostled around in a high-speed climb was never any fun.
“Hah!” she laughed more to herself then anything. “She’ll tire out at this speed in no time!”
Almost as soon as she said that, she saw Dainty begin to decrease the angle of her climb, relaxing her wings as she arched over the top and started to level off.
“Now’s my chance!” Rainbow Dash smirked, putting all the oomph she had into coming out of her climb above Dainty, then twisted and rocketed into a dive.
Dainty Dish just took a deep breath as she adjusted her wings. The flight was so very bumpy, but just a little more...
“Wings back,” she muttered, working her memory. “Breathe in, wings up, breathe out, wings down.”
Rainbow Dash was picking up speed, she could see the air at her nose starting to distort as she plunged towards Dainty. She had to be careful, push too much too soon, or not enough too late, and she’d be in for a WILD ride all the way back to the ground.
Dainty suddenly curved, dropping into a dive of her own, wings snapping down with a crack as she did so.
“WHAT?” Dash gasped but quickly returned her focus to the air at her nose. “The barrier... She doesn’t think she can- Does she?”
The two pegasi continued to dive, Dainty continuing to accelerate at a pace Dash previously thought impossible for the darker pegasus.
Dainty, unaware of Dash’s shock, continued to focus on her dive. Just a little more... It was so rough that she had to give it all her concentration. The pressure on the tip of her nose was so much like a balloon that could pop at any-
Dainty’s ride suddenly went smooth as a clear lake on a calm day, and she smiled in personal satisfaction, picking her wings up and dropping them with a crack.
Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened in shock. The- that was... But- A SONIC- NO WAY! Where’s the rainbow!?
Gritting her teeth, Rainbow Dash threw everything into her dive, forcing her way through the barrier of pressure on her nose. It was cold, that meant she could get through it sooner, she just had to-
And she was through; she could feel the air change almost instantly and pushed after Dainty. She had to catch her, NOW!
On the ground, Twilight lowered her binoculars in confusion.
“I’m not sure what happened,” she began, handing the binoculars off to Spike, who eagerly snapped them up and started scanning the sky. “But I swear I just saw them create two really weird sonic rainbooms.”
“At that altertude?” Applejack frowned. “I cain’t even see them no more.”
“WHOA!” Spike snapped. “I see them, and... Dainty’s climbing still?”
“STILL!?” Twilight zipped back, yanking the binoculars back up and putting them to her eyes. “They’re already as high as a pegasus can fly!”
It took her a moment to find the two, but Spike wasn’t lying.
Now way above the clouds she was familiar with, Rainbow Dash was starting to lose her composure. Dainty was climbing again. AGAIN! After punching through the wall of air that Dash thought separated her awesome speed from any other pony in Equestria, Dainty Dish was continuing an all out climb, and she was STILL speeding up!
“You’ve GOT to be kidding!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed at the pegasus ahead of her, though she was certain that with the roar in her ears it went unheard. “How am I supposed to keep up with a climb like THAT!?”
Dainty only accelerated even more.
How was she doing it? How was she still climbing and picking up speed? Dash couldn’t even figure out how fast they were going at this point, and she didn’t really know how fast she could push it either. After creating a sonic rainboom, she never really pushed herself, opting instead to just enjoy it for the few fleeting minutes she was cruising around, glowing rainbow afterimage in her wake.
And as they continued to go higher and higher, it seemed as if her wings were having a harder and harder time grabbing the air. For every one of those cracks Dainty was now doing almost leisurely, Rainbow Dash was pumping her wings almost to the point she looked like a lazy humming bird. And it felt like it was getting harder and harder to breathe. Dash was starting to lose her breath, already pushing her limits, she would gladly admit when she got back down that she was exhausted from this stunt.
Risking a glance at the ground, she was shocked to see Equestria now looked like some kind of oversized ball. Down, was a long, long ways away.
Looking back ahead and up, Dainty showed no signs of stopping, only slowly starting to pull away even more, prompting Dash to suppress the burning in her wings and drive them faster. The air blasting her face was freezing, but at the same time, was starting to burn, as it did to her hooves.
“Oh my...” she began in a huff. “GOSH! Does she... Ever... Stop...CLIMBING!?”
Rainbow Dash managed to arrest Dainty’s lead for a moment, taking note that she was now trailing bits of white, cloud-like vapor over her wings. Of which Dash further noticed, were now folded back so far between thunderous cracks that they almost looked like she was diving UP.
Miles below, Twilight squinted into her binoculars.
“I’m losing them,” she began in worry. “They’re getting so high that they’re getting too small to see.”
“You want your telescope?” Spike asked helpfully. The comment took a moment to strike home with the other ponies before they realized just how high it was to need a telescope.
“I’ll lose them completely before then,” the unicorn advised. “It’s hard to see them now, just two long white streaks going higher and higher. It almost looks like a pair of clouds made of string.”
“Really LONG string?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Twilight would have nodded, but was too busy holding her binoculars instead. Behind her Applejack’s look changed quickly between surprise, then to horror.
“Sweet apple pies,” she muttered. “It cain’t be-“
“Can’t be what?” Twilight lowered her binoculars, all but giving up on keeping track of the two pegasi.
Back at altitude, Dash was trying one last trick.
“Any... thing.... You can do...” she huffed, attempting to mimic what Dainty was doing with her wings. The way they were tucked back definitely smoothed things out, but Rainbow Dash just couldn’t sweep them fast enough to snap them the way the other pegasus did. And she was close to losing it. She could see sparkles above them as if it was slowly turning into nighttime, despite the sun being plainly visible in the sky.
“I... Won’t... Lose...” she continued huffing. The air was screaming against her face, blasting her nose with heat. Her wings felt like they were on fire, and so did her lungs. And Dainty was continuing to climb, seemingly going on forever into the sky as if she’d fallen from the stars themselves.
Rainbow Dash pushed herself more, but found she just couldn’t make her wings move any faster. She was losing, losing speed, losing a race she hadn’t even realize she'd started. And Dainty Dish, the seemingly timid little pony, allergic to everything that moved, exhausted in minutes, was beating her wholesale. She was like a black arrow, ripping along in front of her trailing two white lines from her wings-
Dainty Dish’s cutie mark suddenly snapped into focus in Dash’s mind. A black triangle, a black ARROW! Lots of lines like a camera flash, but two white lines like streaks. The mark, made sense?
And instantly, Rainbow Dash knew she’d lost. She’d lost before she even started.
“Can’t...” she panted, her vision blurring. “Can’t breathe... Too high.”
And Rainbow Dash understood what Dainty felt on the ground, so far below. To be miserable and unable to breathe, and suffering. It was all so clear, high above it all where she could feel the pinch in her lungs, gasping to inhale as her head swam.
“Daint-“ she began one last desperate pant. “-wait?”
And Dash gave up. Her lungs gave up, her wings gave up, and it was over. And Dainty continued to extend her lead, ripping forward like Applejack said. As if she were empowered with a speed of plus three. Just like that game Twilight got them to play.
Over the roar of the icy hot wind, Dash felt her body drop, her vision fading to black as the bottom dropped out of the world. She could feel the sensation as she began to spin, unable to do anything about it. And one last thought entered her mind as blackness took her.
Any Pegasus in a falling leaf spin had more things wrong with them than just losing control of their flight.