S P R I N G
Lightning Dust watched the latest prospect take to the skies for his tryout. Already she was taking points off in her head; the liftoff was sloppy, but he quickly straightened it out as he built altitude. She knew he was a good flier—every pegasus here today was—but nerves had cost him a few valuable points before his routine had even began.
Her wings fidgeted at her sides, her wingtips touching the paper of the numbers taped over her flanks. She stood under a tent with two dozen other prospects and their friends and families, waiting for their numbers to be called out. A hundred feet away, the tarmac runway of the academy practically glistened, the heat radiating off of its surface rippling the air in the springtime sun. And next to the runway, a table with blue and yellow tablecloth stood, behind which sat the three judges: Spitfire, Soarin’, and Fleetfoot.
A friendly blue wing nudged Lightning’s side, and she turned to see Rainbow standing next to her. “Nervous?” Rainbow asked, a cup of water in her feathers.
Lightning chuckled and shrugged. “Pre-show nerves, maybe. But it’s not that I’m worried I’m going to do poorly. It’s just that, well, last time I was here, I didn’t leave on the best of terms with everypony. Especially Spitfire.”
Rainbow wrapped her wings across Lightning’s shoulders and pulled the mare closer. “Relax, LD. I’ve already talked to Spitfire and the others. As far as they’re concerned, you’ve got a clean slate. Just do well today and you’ll be back at the academy in no time!”
“Well, that’s good then.” Lightning sighed with relief. “That was about the only thing I was worried about.”
“See? You got it, girl.”
A scattered applause momentarily distracted Rainbow and Lightning, and they turned to see the stallion from before land and start trotting back to the tent. By the runway, Spitfire and the other judges jotted some notes down on their clipboards, then moved the top paper to the growing stacks at their sides. Then, Spitfire picked up a microphone and spoke into it. “Number twenty-three, you’re next!”
A yellow mare with red and white stripes in her mane stood up, nuzzled her family and friends, and then flew out to the tarmac to await instructions. Shifting in place, Lightning glanced at the number on her flanks again. “Guess I better get ready to go next, then.”
“Psshh. If you ain’t ready now, LD, then I don’t know what we spent all of last year training for,” Rainbow said, rubbing her wing along Lightning’s shoulders. “You got the best training money could buy. For free!”
“Well, not for free,” Lightning said, pecking Rainbow on the nose and sticking her tongue out. “Some terms and conditions apply.”
Rainbow nuzzled Lightning’s cheek. “I think they’re pretty fair, don’t you?”
“Certainly nothing to complain about,” Lightning said with a teasing smirk. Sighing, she leaned against Rainbow’s petite frame and looked at the rest of the prospects under the tent with them. “Most of these kids are nineteen or twenty. I feel so old.”
“That just means you’ll be the wise old leader for them this summer,” Rainbow teased. “Whoever ends up being your wingpony is gonna be really lucky.”
“Yeah. Maybe I won’t make them try a tornado with me this year,” Lightning said. She shook her head and trained her eyes on the tail end of the prospect’s tryout. “You’re gonna be at the academy this summer, right?”
Rainbow nodded. “I mean, it’s during our mid-summer break where we get a few weeks off from shows before hitting the west coast, but yeah I’ll be here. It’s always fun to watch the new recruits fluster about, absolutely star struck just to be there.” Chuckling, she added, “It reminds me of how I felt when I got here for the first time, almost three years ago. But this year will be even better once a certain somepony shows up.”
She waggled her eyebrows at Lightning, who just flicked her ear with her wingtip. “Don’t you mean special somepony?”
“Right, that too.”
Pretty soon, the latest prospect landed on the tarmac to applause and cheers from her family and friends. The judges briefly chatted with each other, and smiling, shook the prospect’s hoof. “She’s probably getting in,” Rainbow said, watching the judges’ reactions.
“Good,” Lightning said, flexing her wings. “I can easily beat that.”
A minute later, Spitfire’s voice crackled over the speakers again. “Number twenty-four! You’re up!”
Smiling, Lightning took a step into the sun, Rainbow right at her side. “Here goes nothing,” she said, flashing a grin at Rainbow. “Gimme a kiss for good luck?”
“Who needs luck when they’re you?” Rainbow asked, but she leaned in and offered her lips anyway. The two kissed and parted after two seconds, and Rainbow pressed her wing against Lightning’s.
“Ah, you got me. I just really wanted a kiss before I go,” she said with a wink. Then, spreading her wings, she flew off to the tarmac, her heart light and fluttering.
As soon as she touched down in front of the judges, she snapped to attention and waited. Spitfire, Soarin, and Fleetfoot glanced at each other, but ultimately it was Spitfire who leaned in. “So, Lightning Dust. You’re back. I wasn’t sure if we’d see you again after the incident at the academy.”
Lightning took a deep breath to steady her voice. “I wasn’t sure I’d ever be back, ma’am. I have Rainbow Dash to thank for getting me here today.”
“So we’ve heard, so we’ve heard.” Examining her papers, Spitfire brushed them aside after a second and leaned back in her chair. “I remember your first tryout three years ago. You were a wicked good flier back then. If that same flier’s still in you, then this should be a breeze.”
“She’s not, ma’am,” Lightning said, making Spitfire raise an eyebrow. A second later, she added with a cocksure smile, “She got better.”
Spitfire chuckled. “Been awhile since I’ve trained somepony with your dedication, Lightning. But enough standing around.” She picked up her pen in her wingtip and set it on the paper in front of her. “You know the course already. Get it done.”
Saluting, Lighting turned around and trotted over to the center stripe painted on the landing strip. She spread her wings, plotted out her flight path in her mind, and stretched her wingtips out as far to her sides as they could go. She knew this course by heart; she’d flown it so many times with Rainbow at her side. She could probably do the whole thing with her eyes closed.
Taking a deep breath, she looked off to the side one more time. Her eyes locked on the colorful blue mare standing just in front of the tent, watching her with a proud smile. When they made eye contact, Rainbow winked at her and mouthed something from across the field.
Get it done.
That was all she needed. Goggles down and chin held high, Lightning Dust aligned herself with the first ring of the first loop. Now was her time. A time she never thought she’d have until her marefriend led he back to where she belonged. She was no weathermare. She was a stunt flier. And nothing was going to stop her from chasing that dream.
Wings extended, Lightning swung them down with every ounce of strength in her body…
…And she flashed into the sky.