No lights. No sound. Adrift in an endless sea of nothing in all directions, overwhelmed and lost in the deafening silence. She wasn't sure how she found herself here, but she was determined to find an exit into the light no matter how long it took.
But where, her mind echoed, not sure if she was standing, floating, or something more disturbing.
Is this a dream? A nightmare? Why can't I see anything? Why can't I hear anything?
Why can't I feel anything?
Lost between worlds, not knowing if she was dead, alive, or... No. She couldn't think like that. The thought would only add to the odd, dull throb already pounding slowly in her head while her heart dashed forward in terror, a feeling she could normally put aside in a gust of bravado...
Just not this time.
Let me out of here! Let me out of here right now! Please...
The emptiness responded to her angered pleas.
From behind the lost soul came a streak of light, illuminating her multi-colored mane and the surrounding darkness. Muffled sounds began to echo around her, growing louder until the point of origin drew her attention.
Let's do this!
Flexing her wings, she left the obsidian silence in the wake of a sonic rainboom towards the white glow with a brave face toward the unknown.
* * * * * * * * *
"Wh... where am I?" groaned Rainbow Dash as her world at last came into view, however blurry. She could hear waves gently crashing upon the white beach where she laid prone.
Rainbow looked up to see what appeared to be faint sunlight rising from the horizon, the sky echoing the colors of Twilight Sparkle's mane, and decorated with the sparkles from Princess Luna's ethereal waves.
"I know you," a warm voice sweetly entered into earshot, "though you're not due here for a very long time, my dear Rainbow."
Rainbow blinked, rubbed her eyes, then blinked again, her gaze slowly moving up towards a tall, pale purple pegasus with vivid heliotrope eyes and a very deep heliotrope mane that danced gently of its own will with the ocean breeze.
"You... do?" she asked the unfamiliar mare. She had always dreamed of her name being known far and wide throughout all of Equestria, but hearing those three words and her name sandwiching an odd statement about 'not being due' to arrive for a 'long time' out of a pony she hadn't seen... ever. It was unsettling to say the least, despite of the comforting warmth she felt from the tall, partially armored pegasus before her.
"Of course. I know every living spirit who comes and goes within my domain, though I usually guide them here myself."
"'Spirit'? Don't you mean 'pony'?"
"Ponies, griffons, mules, bunnies... I take care of them all," the mysterious pegasus explained with a gentle smile.
"H-- Wh-- I'm not-- "
"Dead?" she chuckled softly. "No, my dear Rainbow. Just a bit disembodied. I should introduce myself," the regal pony said while Rainbow finally found her hooves and began to rise, though without the confidence she normally possesses. "I am Pandora, Shepherd of Avalon."
"Pandora, how did I-- Oww," she groaned while put her hoof to her head, feeling some sort of phantom pain throb to the surface.
"My guess? You were performing a spectacular stunt -- like the kind my twin sister tells me about all of the time -- when the stunt went awry, sending your spirit here. Do you remember?"
"Heh-heh! Do I ever!" Rainbow beamed to the Shepherd, finally finding her courageous spirit.
* * * * * * * * *
High above Ponyville, a small fluff floated down towards the inedible Sugarcube Corner ever gently as to not disturb Rainbow in her afternoon slumber. Attached to the cloud was a gold fish hook, which in turn was attached to a very pink fishing rod through a sky blue line.
Reeling in her catch, Pinkie Pie giggled to herself, making sure not to wake her partner-in-pranking too soon; it would ruin the surprise, after all.
"Almost there," she quietly proclaimed, smiling brightly as her catch floated ever closer to her window. "Just a little more... and... "
"Pinkie Pie!" Rainbow exclaimed, startled by the gentle boop on her nose, waking to see she wasn't as high as she was before when the blue barnstormer took her daily afternoon nap. "How did I get down here?"
A pink hoof pointed at the golden hook while bursts of wild giggling knocked Pinkie on her back, her legs kicking in the air.
"You are so random, Pinkie," Rainbow smirked before breaking out into a small giggle fit of her own. "So, what's up?"
"I just wanted to see if you were up for any pranks this afternoon. I've got lots of super-duper awesome ideas that I know you'll just love, Dashie!"
"I actually want to try this awesome trick I've been dreaming about for a while now: A triple sonic rainboom!"
"Oooooh! That does sound awesome! Has that been done before?" she asked in awe.
"I'm not sure. I don't think so," Rainbow pondered. "But I'm willing to try," she proclaimed while striking a proud pose on her cloud.
"Ooh! Ooh! All of our friends should see this!"
"Cool! Meet you back here in an hour, pal! There's something else I want to show you, but it's in Cloudsdale, and I have to go get it."
"I love surprises! I'll see you soon, Dashie!"
The merry pranksters went their separate ways, Pinkie gathering the rest of their friends, Rainbow flying up to her home to grab the contents from a special box delivered to her home days earlier.
* * * * * * * * *
"A triple sonic rainboom, huh?" Pandora quizzed the disembodied spirit. "I must say that does sound impressive, dear Rainbow."
"And awesome!" Rainbow added.
"And awesome. Of course," Pandora repeated. "Although--" pausing briefly with a curious gleam in her eyes "--shouldn't you have tried for a double rainboom before trying for three of them?"
"I've done those a few times already," Rainbow grinned. "But a triple rainboom? I've dreamed of doing that for months!"
"I wonder why," she snorted while looking towards the east with an accusing look. Turning back to the matter at hoof, she could only ask if her new friend could remember what happened next.
"Well... ," Rainbow continued with her tale of daring.
* * * * * * * * *
"I'm a little worried, Pinkie," Twilight Sparkle lamented to her bouncing friend as they and their friends trotted over to Sugarcube Corner. "A triple rainboom? Is that even possible?"
"Oh Twilight, don't be silly! If anypony can make the impossible possible, it's Rainbow Dash!"
"Pinkie's correct, darling," chimed Rarity. "You mustn't let yourself worry about Rainbow's attempt at a triple rainboom. Why, just the other day she did a double rainboom with no trouble, though my windows were another matter. Oh, and my ears were ringing for a bit, too."
"Don't worry Rarity! I've got earplugs stashed all over Ponyville just in case of deafening sonic rainbooms," Pinkie gushed, fishing out a pack of foam earplugs from a random tree nearby.
"I hope you're right, Rarity. For Rainbow's sake."
"Right this way, everypony!" a brash voice rang out to her approaching friends.
"Are you ready for your super-duper amazing triple rainboom?" Pinkie excitedly quizzed her friend.
"You better believe it! I even have this amazing speed suit and goggles to help me achieve awesomeness!"
"That suit is quite dashing if I do say so, Rainbow," noted Rarity as she eyed her friend's deep purple suit with a deep magenta stripe in the center, chased with vivid magenta lines glowing eerily from shoulder to flank. "Wherever did you find that dazzling ensemble?"
"I'm not sure where it came from, actually," Rainbow stated plainly. "Derpy dropped the package off one day, but she left before I could ask more about it."
"Was there a note or anything saying who sent it?" asked a concerned Twilight.
"There was, but it wasn't much. Just said, 'I think you'll need these for your next adventure.'"
"Sounds like you have a secret admirer, RD," Applejack chuckled.
"Um, Rainbow Dash, I don't think your secret admirer got your cutie mark right," noted Fluttershy, pointing to a pattern featuring three four-pointed light brilliant cornflower stars in a triangle formation, the center star out front pointing towards a pale cerulean waxing moon with a fourth star on the other side.
"Heh-heh! Yeah, that does seem a bit off. Not as cool as what I've got, but beggars can't be choosers."
"And it's symmetrical," Twilight said as she peered over her friend's left flank.
"I think you meant 'electrical,'" Rainbow attempted to correct Twilight, coyly petting her on her head.
"Actually, she meant that the cutie mark on either side is a mirror image of the other," corrected Rarity.
"Oh. Why didn't you say so, Twilight?"
"I did," she responded, slightly annoyed.
* * * * * * * * *
"Wait a minute! A four-pointed star?"
"Yeah," confirmed Rainbow.
"A four-pointed star like this one?" Pandora asked, pointing to her own cutie mark: A four-pointed light brilliant cornflower blue star exalted by a highly stylized phoenix with vivid indigo and very light phthalo blue feathers, rising from the grayish fuchsia flames marking where the Shepherd's armor stopped and her body began.
"Minerva," she muttered, once again looking toward the east with a slight smirk on her face.
"My twin sister."
"Is she a Shepherd like you?".
"No. Just a big fan of yours who has a lot of explaining to do," Pandora sighed in bemusement by the new turn of events. "But we'll worry about that later. Please, finish your story, my dear Rainbow," smiling warmly upon her new companion.
* * * * * * * * *
"Are you sure this is a good idea, Rainbow?" Twilight asked.
"Relax, Twilight! If I can do two rainbooms, how hard can it be to do three," Rainbow confidently replied as she donned the vivid magenta goggles that came with the speed suit.
After a few stretches and wing flexes, she braced herself for takeoff.
"Count me down from five, Pinkie!"
"You got it, Dashie! Five... "
This is going to be so awesome!
A triple rainboom! I mean, how could it not be cool!
And with this rad speed suit and goggles, it'll even be more... what did Rarity say? Oh yeah: dazzling!
A smile appeared on Rainbow's face alongside a determined look in her eyes.
Besides, Twilight shouldn't be so worried. Last time I got seriously hurt, it was just a wing; I got better.
The suit's unusual lines began to glow brighter than they had just seconds before.
What could possibly go wrong?
Like a shot from a railgun, Rainbow charged into the heavens, leaving a single sonic rainboom in her wake, and her friends in awe.
"Oh my! We better put those earplugs in," Rarity informed her friends while Pinkie passed out the purple foam plugs to everypony.
High above Ponyville, Rainbow could see a lot of Equestria, from the ivory towers of Canterlot to the many orchards growing in Sweet Apple Acres, even the odd wasteland where weeks earlier a new menace had been blown towards by the power of love. As much as she enjoyed the scenery, however, the dazzling daredevil was ready for her next move: a double rainboom.
Seconds later, two multi-colored halos appeared in the sky, delivering a thunderous explosion towards the ground.
"Whoa!" Pinkie began to uncontrollably shake.
"Uh-oh," Applejack noticed with slight sense of fear in her eyes.
"Pinkie Pie, is your Pinkie Sense telling you something?" Twilight asked, panic and concern manifesting within her voice.
"I don't know, but whatever it is, it's gonna be a doozy!" Pinkie got out as her whole body vibrated faster by the second.
"We better get ready to catch Rainbow if she loses it," Applejack steeled herself.
"There's a life net in the bushes behind me," pointed Pinkie as she jackhammered the ground.
"Got it!" Fluttershy and Rarity said, rushing over to retrieve the necessary tool to help save Rainbow, fearing the worst was about to come.
Circling around above her friends, Rainbow felt an excitement she hadn't felt since her second-ever rainboom, knowing it was now or never for her latest stunt. Her suit was just as excited, the neon lights glowing brighter than ever and throwing off random sparks. Though she was a little concerned about the sparking, Rainbow decided it just added more style to the triple rainboom she was about to create.
"It's go time, Rainbow!" she said to herself. "Let's do this!"
Rushing downward and righting herself, she figured she would speed toward the Everfree Forest, then arc upward and to the east towards Sugarcube Corner where her triple rainboom wouldn't bust out windows or eardrums while still providing the most spectacular show Equestria ever saw.
'Who knows," she mused. "This might get me into the Wonderbolts!"
Rainbow made a few loops of increasing height, gaining momentum before her big rush toward the unnatural land containing the former home of Princesses Celestia and Luna, the place where the Elements of Harmony were recovered and used to redeem the latter from the darkness of Nightmare Moon just two years earlier, and the place where her friendship with those cheering her on below was first founded.
"This is it! Three... two... one... Go!"
Rainbow rocketed upward into an eastbound arc towards Sugarcube Corner, flying faster than she had ever known herself to fly. The energy generated by her flight coursed through her speed suit, magically propelling her higher and faster into the heavens.
At that moment, the suit's cutie mark finally activated, giving off an eerie blue-white light that began rapidly blending with the neon magenta lines and Rainbow's multi-colored mane, turning the pegasus into a glowing missile.
"She gonna do it! She gonna do it!" exclaimed Pinkie.
I'm gonna do it! I'm gonna do it! excitedly thought Rainbow.
Miles above the sun and all of Equestria, the glowing missile went critical.
Seconds later, the sky shattered not with a triple sonic rainboom, but with a roaring hypersonic triple light halo that shone brighter than a thousand suns.
Pinkie's shaking stopped.
* * * * * * * * *
On a distant island somewhere to the west of Equestria, a flash in the night sky caught the eye of a few alicorns, as well as an iron-legged pegasus who stood just as tall as her subjects. She felt a certain calling enter her mind, prompting the caretaker to head northwest, vanishing behind a veil of mist as she galloped.
Tending to the royal garden, her twin sister also caught the flash. Instinct took over as she trotted to the northeast wall to meet the spirit set to arrive any second, calmly fading out with a beaming look of joy in her eyes.
* * * * * * * * *
In Canterlot, Shining Armor witnessed the halos spread rapidly towards the castle. Thinking quickly, he threw a protective shield around the entire city as he had when another threat to Canterlot made itself known.
Lying in her private chamber, Celestia looked out of her window to see the shield go up, followed by the first halo smashing into the protective bubble, throwing electrical arcs and auroras with the force of a 12,000-wingpower hurricane.
Sensing the other two halos immediately approaching with greater force, the princess lent her magic to boost the strength of her nephew-in-law's forcefield, turning away from the blinding white light generated by the halos.
* * * * * * * * *
Resting in her sleeping quarters in the mountains above Canterlot, Luna startled to life as the sickening howl of the halos shook her and her closest guards to the core of their spirits. The princess and two unicorn guards used their magic to erect a barrier of their own to keep the halos from vaporizing all inside the cave. Though it held, each successive strike from the three hypersonic rings drained their magic.
* * * * * * * * *
Big Macintosh and Applebloom were preparing to bring down a few bushels of apples into the family apple cellar when the blackened roar approached Sweet Apple Acres. Wasting no time, he grabbed his baby sister and rushed down the steps, slamming the door behind him just as quick.
Granny Smith, who was organizing the harvest already in the cellar, asked her grandson what all the ruckus was about when the door blew open. Big Mac threw himself over his kin, yelling for them not to look into the light as the halos incinerated the parts of the family farm that were at the same elevation as Canterlot.
* * * * * * * * *
Cloudchaser and Spitfire had caught the tail end of Rainbow's attempt, curious as to what her big finale was. They weren't expecting to run for the nearest wall cloud as the first halo tore through Cloudsdale, a city that was built as sturdy as the pegasi it housed. Each ring triggered electrical storms the likes of which had never been seen in the cloud city's long history, shaking Cloudsdale to its foundations with every successive rumble of thunder.
The two pegasi hoped it would stop soon.
* * * * * * * * *
After the blue and white waves began their race to all corners of Equestria, five ponies on the ground bore witness to a sky filled with stars, all twinkling in an endless inky sea. Neither the sun nor moon were in sight.
Applejack looked to the southwest to see her farm razed to the ground. Unable to do anything, her only thought at the moment was that her family had managed to avoid the fate of her parents.
To the northeast, Twilight watched another part of the halos bash themselves against the forcefield her BBBFF threw up to protect her teacher, her sister-in-law, all of Canterlot. She then looked higher up to the mountain above her former home to see more sparks thrash upon a magic barrier that glowed violet with each strike.
Directly overhead, blue and mulberry auroras danced violently within Rarity's gaze. Though terrifying, she couldn't help but notice how beautiful the show in the obsidian sky was.
The demonic roar was too much for Fluttershy, trembling before whatever unholy entity unleashed this horror upon her lifelong friend and the town she called home through muffled, tear-filled squeaks.
Pinkie focused on the spot where seconds before a bluish-white light that was her friend, her prank buddy, had exploded three times, hoping Rainbow wasn't lost in the cold darkness that had been a beautiful day up until that point.
* * * * * * * * *
As the last ring dissipated into the ether, the sky slowly returned to normal against the sound of silence that had broken in Ponyville.
A lifeless body emerged from the void, her purple and magenta suit torn and scorched, its magical neon burned out. The unconscious mare's rainbow mane was singed through and through, and the goggles' glass was a shattered mess just barely holding together.
Rainbow Dash then began her decent to the earth.
"I'll slow her fall," said Twilight, snapping back into reality to put her organization skills to work. "Applejack, Pinkie, Fluttershy, get the life net ready. Rarity, help me direct Rainbow to the net."
The two unicorns used their magic to protect their friend during her free fall as best as they could, though Rainbow continued her increasingly rapid downward spiral. Twilight strained under the pressure exerted against her impromptu air brake, Rarity facing a similar challenge in keeping Rainbow from drifting too far from the life net waiting to catch the smoldering body, her limp wings sprawled out and aiding her twisting flight to the surface.
"Here she comes, girls!" Twilight warned. Both she and Rarity rushed over to the rest of their friends to help as Rainbow entered the final stage of her re-entry. Between them, they were able to at least turn the falling pegasus on her back, preferring a broken wing over a broken neck.
Thirty seconds passed before Rainbow returned to the earth, knocking her saviors over in their attempt to catch her fall.
"Dashie! Are you okay? Wake up! Please, please wake up!" Pinkie begged, tears coming to the surface.
"We have to get Rainbow the hospital quickly!" Twilight urgently ordered. Carefully, they gathering the broken pegasus with the torn remnants of the life net, then galloped off to Ponyville Hospital as fast as they could.
* * * * * * * * *
"I... was... so... AWESOME! Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh! A hypersonic triple light halo? I didn't even know there was a such a thing!" Rainbow bounced in excitement.
"Nor did I," Pandora calmly replied. "I've always known ponies were made of strong stuff -- especially pegasi -- but you definitely take the cake in durability!" she smiled.
"Oh I can't wait to tell my friends," she grinned. "But wait a minute. That still doesn't explain how I woke up here, or how I got this headache," she groaned, placing a hoof to her forehead and tightly shutting her eyes.
"Rainbow Dash, you are in a coma right now. Your spirit was separated from your body when your suit fused with your pegasus magic to create those halos. Luckily, there is still a connection between worlds; otherwise," Pandora leaned in slightly ominously, "I would have been in Ponyville to retrieve you."
"Oh," Rainbow dejectedly stated.
"As for your headache, that is from the concussive waves your head took when the triple halos exploded from the breaking point. It will go away eventually while you are with me, but you will be feeling it when you return to your body," Pandora laid out for her friend.
"Return? But how?"
Looking out into the inky blue ocean, Rainbow sat for a long time, lost in thoughts about her friends and how worried they must be. She looked up for a moment at a cloud, thinking of Cloudsdale and the Wonderbolts, then looked out into the distance again, trying her hardest to see any sign of Equestria.
Only the sea emerged from the horizon.
Finally, she looked toward a faint tower-like object off in the distance to her left that gleamed like the walls of Canterlot, the memories of Celestia, Luna and the Elements of Harmony flooding her battered head as she looked through the veil.
A metallic wing wrapped around the sobbing pegasus, reminding the latter of how Fluttershy would comfort her... if she were back in her body in the physical world.
"It will be okay, my dear Rainbow. We will get you back home soon."
"You-- you promise?" sniffed Rainbow, her bravado broken.
"I promise you, my sister and I will return your spirit to your body. And I will get to the bottom of why she wanted you here in the first place."
"You mean that suit was supposed to transport me here?"
"I believe so. Minerva and I have been preparing for something for quite a while; I think you -- and your friends -- are being called upon by fate to help us at this time," Pandora gently explained. "Now, dry your eyes, my little daredevil. I have a lot to show to you. Think you're up to it?"
"Up to it? I was born up to it!" Rainbow turned to face her new friend, her bravado returning once more. "Lead the way, Pandora!"
The two pegasi gazed upon the horizon one more time before turning eastward to the lush forests surrounding Avalon.