It was maybe thirty minutes later when Fluttershy, Applejack, Rarity and Spike finally joined Twilight, Rainbow, Pinkie, and Starlight under the palace. The first group to arrive was Rarity and Spike, with Spike quickly latching himself onto Twilight in a warm hug, his spirits significantly lifted. Rarity explained that she had made good on her promise to get him some gems to eat while they were out and about, and he had claimed they were the best gems he had ever eaten. They had also acquired a couple of decently sized baskets and, thanks to some foresight from Rarity, a strainer, to make sure that the juice Applejack made wasn’t littered with fragments of berry skin.
As if on cue, Applejack and Fluttershy came back with Wind Whisper arriving a minute before them. The little thestral was absolutely buzzing with energy, having eaten several more berries than she should have and acquired a weird sort of sugar-high. Outside of that, the two adults of the group each carried two pairs of saddlebags, one slung over their backs, the other dangling by the straps from their lower jaws. Each one was full-to-bursting with crystal berries and emitted a mouth-watering aroma. Upon arrival, Applejack had wasted no time in collaborating with Rarity to get the baskets ready for berry-stomping (although Rarity had insisted on cleaning the farm mare’s hooves, first, claiming that ‘nopony wants dirt in their juice.’)
Now, everything seemed to be in order. Even now, with Applejack stomping away in one of the baskets, a small crowd was starting to gather in the plaza. The crystal ponies looked on with curiosity, skepticism, and confusion. From the center of the plaza, Twilight looked over everything one more time, running through her mental checklist again. “Okay, I think we’re good to go!” She called after a few seconds.
“Good, this waiting is killing me,” Rainbow replied with no small amount of eagerness in her voice. Twilight smiled back at her, then looked over at Pinkie Pie with a knowing look.
“Pinkie, I think it’s time. Fire your cannon.”
Pinkie Pie beamed. “Yes, ma’am!” she replied before galloping over to the aforementioned engine of party decoration. She slid to a halt just behind it, made a few adjustments to its angle, and then slammed her hoof down on the firing mechanism. There was a loud bang from the barrel of the cannon, followed shortly by an enormous mass of confetti, streamers, and all of the miscellaneous objects Pinkie had stuffed inside of it earlier. In a matter of seconds, the entire plaza, including the parts beyond the underside of the palace, looked like it was host to a gigantic outdoor picnic/birthday party hybrid. There were dozens of blankets laid out flat upon the ground, each one housing one or two baskets filled with sweets and food. Joining the baskets were plastic or paper cups that were just waiting to be filled with crystal berry juice. Several of the crystal ponies backed off a bit in surprise at this, but remained in the plaza, the group of foreigners now having their undivided attention.
Starlight’s eye twitched in abject confusion as she looked at the decoration. “What? How? How is this possible?!” she babbled out, putting a hoof to her temple to try and quell a rising migraine. “That’s easily ten times the amount of stuff you shoved into that canon only a little bit ago! HOW?!”
Pinkie Pie casually leaned up against her party cannon and fluttered her eyelashes at Starlight with a smug smile. “s’what I do, Glim Glam. s’what I do.”
Twilight chuckled slightly at her friend’s antics, then turned to the stars of the show. “Rainbow, Starlight, you two can get started whenever you’re ready.”
Starlight blinked away her confusion and nodded, her gaze briefly shifting to look into the back of Rainbow’s head uneasily. Rainbow did a couple of last-second stretches before also giving a sharp nod. “You got it. You ready, Starlight?” she called back, turning to look at the mare in question.
“As I’m going to be,” Starlight replied shakily. She chuckled weakly, then gulped. “Just, uh, give me my cue.”
“As soon as I’m in the air, that’s your cue,” Rainbow advised simply before taking a deep breath. “Whew…. Alright. Let’s do this thing!”
“You go get ‘em, Rainbow!” Applejack cheered, halting in her stomping of the berries as she did so.
Rarity, who was sitting next to Applejack’s basket with the strainer in her magic, gave a thankful nod to the farmer for halting her stomping, as juice had been splashing against her face, then smiled encouragingly to Rainbow Dash. “We all know you can do this, darling!” she called out.
“Yeah! Get up there and show these crystal ponies why you’re the best flyer in Equestria!” Pinkie Pie shouted before giving a few loud whistles.
“You rock, woohoo!” Fluttershy voiced her own encouragement in her typically quiet manner.
Rainbow puffed up from the shouts and praise, slowly unfurling her wings and letting what little there was in the form of a breeze pass through her feathers. Twilight came up to her side along with Spike, smiling. It was Twilight who spoke. “Go on, Rainbow. Go on and show these crystal ponies the awesome mare you are.”
Rainbow blinked. Then her grin widened. “You got it!” she said confidently before kicking off of the ground with a mighty flap of her wings. The force of her launch created a gust of wind that blew outwards, kicking up a small amount of dust. Starlight was quick to gallop after Rainbow, her horn sparking to life to create the auroras she had spent the last half an hour perfecting.
Already, Rainbow Dash had gained some serious altitude in the open air around the towering palace. After a few seconds, she stopped flapping her wings, halting her ascent near the top. As her momentum came to a stop, she pivoted backward in an almost lazy backflip, looking down onto the plaza beneath her. She could still see the remnants of that multi-colored trail that she left behind in the air, and she could see the eyes of the ponies in the plaza looking up at her in surprise.
She couldn’t help it; she giggled like a little filly as her altitude began to drop. All of these ponies watching her put on a daring aerial flight performance reminded her of her dreams to become a Wonderbolt. In the back of her mind, she wilted and remembered that she could never become one of her foalhood heroes. Her duties and responsibilities as a princess had to take priority.
I had better make the most of this chance, then, she thought to herself before flapping her wings again, rocketing her back down towards the ground at ludicrously high speeds. She focused on the arch leading to the underside of the Palace, and stuck her tongue out as the first of her many dangerous stunts began. The ground was coming up fast, and she’d only have a split-second to pull up and make her manuevor work. With her heart racing, Rainbow snapped open her wings to their maximum length and spun upright. The wind caught her wings at the perfect angle, allowing her to alter her trajectory just before hitting the ground. She swooped up and shot under the palace and over her friend’s faces, like a thread through a needle, before blasting back into the sky on the other side.
All the while, Starlight made her way towards the edge of the plaza to better keep track of Rainbow’s position, so she could ensure that the light show she was creating wasn’t distracting while still lending a certain ‘wow factor’ to the performance. A minute ticked by, and then two, with Rainbow continuing to perform stunning aerial maneuvers that were unquestionably impressive. From the edge of the plaza, Starlight spied several large groups of crystal ponies approaching with awe and curiosity at the display. It’s working, she mused to herself before returning her full attention on her aurora.
After maybe fifteen more minutes, Rainbow Dash decided that it was time to wrap this up. The crowd around the palace was quite large at this point, and she was getting winded. She growled with disappointment at her slightly decreased stamina, a byproduct of how long she had been stuck on the ground after her wing had been broken. Still, if it was time to end her performance, she figured she should end it right.
With a flourishing spiral, she gained altitude one more time and, like before, stopped flapping her wings and brought her ascent to a stop high above the tip of the palace. She rotated in the air and analyzed the structure of the building, determining the best angle and the best route to take. “Okay… okay…” she took a deep breath and launched herself down again as fast as she possibly could. The air lashed against her face, forcing her to squint against the wind. She grit her teeth even as the wind pulled back on the edges of her lips, making her cheeks billow out. She felt the air trying to stop her, a pressurized cone forming in front of her. With a growl and one more hard flap of her wings, she pushed through.
Down below, the now massive crowd of gathered onlookers gasped in awe and wonder when, just above their palace, there was a blinding flash. That flash dimmed quickly, allowing the onlookers to see the bright ring of prismatic colors that expanded from the very top of the heart of their city. The mare who created it was now leaving a shimmering and sparkling trail of glowing rainbow light in her wake that persisted for many seconds after she had passed, and she capitalized on that. She flew in a descending spiral down the palace, creating a spring-like shape around it before, with a fanciful flourish, she came to a stop just in front of the crowd with her wings outstretched. Countless condensed water droplets on her wings sprayed forward from her sudden stop, hovering in the air and allowing a few small rainbows to appear in the air around her before slowly fading away.
The crowd was silent and awestruck. Rainbow grinned when she saw their faces; they were dazzled alright. With a giddy laugh, Rainbow did one more backflip from her position in the air and landed on her hooves before the audience, standing tall. Then, with a proud smile, she bowed.
There was a moment of silence.
Somewhere in the crowd, somepony began stomping their hooves on the ground in applause. Then another, and another. In no time at all, the entire crowd was roaring with applause and exclamations of praise. Rainbow stood back to her full height and closed her eyes, just soaking it all in and basking in the moment. The cheers, the hoops, the hollers, the whistles… all of it. She committed this moment to memory as she opened her eyes, beholding the ecstatic faces of the crystal ponies. She couldn’t help herself, and put on a massive grin. “It sounds like you all enjoyed that, didn’t you?!” she shouted to be heard over the roar, which only got louder in response to her call.
“That was amazing, Rainbow Dash!” Pinkie Pie squealed in delight from Rainbow’s side before tackling her with a hug. Rainbow gasped from the impact, having not seen Pinkie approaching, but smiled nonetheless. Pinkie Pie then grinned at the crowd, still latched on to Rainbow’s side. “Hi, I’m Pinkie Pie! The flying may be over for now, but this party is just getting started! Go on and make yourselves comfy! There’s snacks in the baskets and, if you need something to drink, bring a cup over to Applejack and Rarity! Those two have got you covered!” she announced before gesturing at the two aforementioned mares, who both waved.
“What’s this a party for?” Somepony in the crowd called out, sounding a little confused. Pinkie Pie rolled her eyes as though it were a dumb question.
“Well, it’s obviously a ‘Congratulations for coming back’party! Duh!” she declared before pausing and releasing Rainbow Dash. She put a hoof to her chin in thought. “Wait… maybe it’s a ‘Congratulations on being free from King Sombra’ party?”
“The point is,” Rainbow cut in before Pinkie could confuse herself, even more, looking to the crowd again. “This party is for all of you. So go on and have some fun! Pinkie,” she turned to the party mare with a hopeful smile. “Do you have something that can play party music?”
Pinkie Pie’s grin returned with gusto. “Haha, please."