For Twilight Sparkle, there was nothing in the world more serene and no meditation so profound as that of the early morning study. It was now as the creeping dawn stretched forth to pick at night’s dark threads that everything was at its quietest. The bats and crickets were slipping into their nests while the birds and squirrels still lingered at the edge of their dreams, and for a while the world was empty save for one studious unicorn and her oldest companions: the smell of wrinkled parchment, the occasional scratch of the quill, and the written word. Twilight’s horn shimmered with the purple aura of her magic as she scratched a note and turned the page in her book.
“Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwww,” she yawned.
Twilight blinked a few times. She was a little disoriented by the sudden disturbance of the library’s quiet, never mind that that disturbance had come from herself. Her studious trance now broken, Twilight took notice of just now exhausted she really was. Her eyes were burning, her head hung heavy, and her flank tingled with bloodless sensation. She glanced over at the tick-tocking grandfather clock across the room and chuckled at its outrageous face. Twilight had intended to try to get to sleep early, but A History of Saddle Arabia had a way of making her break those ‘just one more page’ promises she kept making to her petrified retinas. She was gripped by another big yawn, this time so loud that even Owlowiscious dozing on his perch cracked an eye to peer at her.
Twilight pushed herself up on her hooves and felt a wave of little pinpricks cascading down her sides. She took a few hard steps, trying to kick the feeling back into her legs, and felt a sudden desire to have the raw morning on her skin and in her lungs.
Owlowiscious watched Twilight as she walked across the room, his eye a shining black bead tracking her from beneath a blanket of feathers.
“I’m just going to step outside for a minute,” she told him.
Twilight’s hooves dampened with morning dew as she opened the library door and stepped out into a Ponyville smoldering in the colors of autumn. The hunching tulips and the balding blonde trees seemed to lean east in anticipation of the coming sun, its waning warmth loved more now than ever could be in the abundance of summer. Twilight leaned with them and breathed deep the moist, cool air, so refreshing after a night in the hearth-baked library. She smiled and pricked up her ears to listen for the chime of distant birdsong.
“WATCH WHERE YOU'RE GOING, LEADFLANK! GERARD GOLDENWINGS' NEW APPRENTICE COMING THROUGH!”
“LIKE HE'S GOING TO TEACH A KLUTZ LIKE YOU, RUSTFEATHERS!”
Twilight’s ears bent as the racket slashed the morning. She looked upwards and found two pegasi tangled up in each other, half-flying and half-falling down through the sky. The awkward mass of flapping wings and kicking hooves jerked drunkenly about for a moment before the two parties, a lavender mare and a white stallion, jerked free of each other. They raced off together over the rooftops, drawing two perfectly parallel straight lines save for the occasional scribble made by one trying to body-check the other. Twilight had no time to ponder at the two pegasi before her attention was grabbed by another... and another... and three more. Dozens upon dozens of pegasus ponies came dropping out from high altitudes and went racing after the first pair. Wild as Everfree, they shoved and shouted and cursed their way over Ponyville like a thunderstorm of bad manners.
Twilight stumbled and blushed as she was slammed by the twin gales coming off their wings and their tongues. Finally the last of the pegasus ponies had passed over the library to join the others as a spiraling cloud hanging over the middle of town. Twilight stared off after them, patting down her windblown mane.
“Sheesh, those ponies make Rainbow Dash look like a proper Canterlot gentlemare,” she said.
There came a resounding crash from within the library followed by the fluttering of parchment. Twilight whipped her head around so fast that her neck popped. There was a second crash followed by the swish of something being strewn out over the floor; this time, the paper sounded with the distinctive crackle of something very, very old. Twilight blasted open the door and found a rainbow-colored whirlwind inside wreaking havoc upon her library. Her delicate instruments were upended without dignity, her meticulously compiled notes now carpeted the floor, and her books! Oh, her precious books! Owlowiscious was racing about trying to save them as the whirlwind sucked them up and sent them careening through the air, but he could only catch so many.
“RAINBOW DASH, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Twilight screamed.
The spinning cyan blaze with accents from across the spectrum solidified into a pony of the same colors.
“Twilight!” Rainbow Dash tossed aside the book she found herself holding and flew over. “Quick, Twilight, I need that machine that tells you how awesome a flier you are.”
“Awesome flier machine...?” Twilight watched warily as Dash literally vibrated with energy, the colors of her mane blending on the borders.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Dash buzzed, “that thing you used to measure our wingpower last tornado season, remember?”
“Oh, you mean the anemometer. What do you need it for?” Twilight asked.
“Because—oooo, you’re not gonna believe this—” Dash said, shaking her hooves excitedly. “Because Gerard Goldenwings is in Ponyville!”
“And this random pony being in town leads to you ransacking my library because…?”
Rainbow Dash gasped. She grabbed Twilight by the shoulders and shook with all her athlete’s strength. “Pony? Random?! I said Gerard Goldenwings, Twilight, didn’t ya hear me?! You know the griffin who invented the Reverse Half Griffish Eight, right?”
Twilight said nothing.
Rainbow Dash shook her again. “The griffin who made the continental circuit in under fourteen hours?”
“You gotta at least know about the guy who’s been winning the annual Tour de Griffrance eight years running,” Dash said, shaking desperately.
“Is... Is that like the Equestria 500?”
“Ugh, you’re hopeless, egghead!” Dash cried, finally releasing her. “Gerard Goldenwings is only the greatest griffin flier there is, maybe even the greatest flier period! Spitfire—that's captain of the freakin Wonderbolts Spitfire in case you forgot that too, smartypants—once said that she would have happily put off her admission to the ’Bolts just for lessons with him.”
It felt like something was still shaking around in Twilight even though Dash had let her go. “Unnngh... so what’s he doing in Ponyville?” she asked, putting a hoof to her head to try steadying whatever was still rattling around in there.
Dash folded her wings and landed, hesitating a bit before she spoke. “I don’t know, it’s part of some sort of Equestria sightseeing thing he’s doing,” she said. “Look, you’re missing the point. Gerard Goldenwings is in Ponyville, Twilight, and the rumor is he’s looking for a student!”
Rainbow Dash’s wings shot out, and she resumed searching the library. Twilight watched in sick silence as Dash got halfway through ransacking the zoology section before abandoning it for the library’s upper level.
“All those other ponies are just gonna brag to Gerard about how great they are, but talk is cheap,” Dash said. She found Spike sleeping and lifted him up to search his basket before plopping him back down in it. Spike’s snoring continued through the entire episode unperturbed.
Rainbow Dash’s eyes scanned the library for her next target. “I need that armo-meter thingy so that I can PROVE just how awesome I am with some digitastic evidence!”
“Digitastic? Do you even–” the rest of the sentence died in Twilight’s gaping mouth when she saw Dash making for the Classics section.
One of the storage crates on the second level burst open, and the anemometer came flying out in a blaze of purple aura. “JUST TAKE IT!” Twilight shrieked as the instrument came rushing to her side. Dash stopped with her hooves only fractions of an inch from Equinnus Rex. She came over and grabbed the anemometer from where it levitated at Twilight’s side.
“Great! Thanks, Twilight, I owe you one!” Dash said, racing out the window into the autumn morning to meet her fortune.
Twilight felt her heart rate begin to tick down and her muscles relax. She sat before her shaking legs had a chance to give out beneath her. “Yeah, don’t mention it.” She sighed and began to survey the damage.
Horte Cuisine got his cutie mark in waitering before he was even eye level to the tables he served, and he had been plying his trade ever since. Nevertheless, it took nothing beneath the full exercise of his practiced skill to accomplish the task set before him that morning: navigating a sea of flapping wings and flailing hooves to deliver his customer’s breakfast. Balancing a tray with a cranberry muffin and hot coffee on his back, the lone waiter pony faced the undulating torrents of rowdy pegasi gathered around one of the cafe’s outdoor tables. Horte Cuisine uttered a prayer and entered the maelstrom.
“Hey Gerard, what do you suggest for flying through hail?”
“Gerard, what do you think of Spitfire’s new lineup?”
Horte deftly bobbed and weaved past the excited pegasi, avoiding the obstacles they presented as if they were no less deadly than spikes and swinging axes. He skipped over a tail waiting to trip him and ducked just in time to avoid a stray rump arcing through the air. He noticed a falling feather out of the corner of his eye and swerved just in time to avoid it spoiling the steaming hot coffee.
“What tips do you have for keeping your feathers in shape, Gerard?”
“Gerard, look over here!”
Finally Horte Cuisine arrived at his customer’s table, and so great was his skill that he managed to slip through without any of the ponies he had evaded even noticing his presence. His feat did not pass by completely undetected, however.
“Your coffee and your pastry, monsieur,” Horte said, setting the modest fare upon the table.
“I thank you,” responded a voice in the same accent as Horte’s own. Gerard Goldenwings took up the fresh coffee to his beak and scented its fine and pure aroma. The seated flight master contrasted intensely against the pegasus ponies who filled the air around him, and not just because he was a griffin twice their size. He was like the eye of a hurricane, a bubble of quiet, intense focus around which the storm of wings and thunder of voices whirled. The scarf and aviator goggles hanging around his neck were in a style alien to Equestria, but his feathers could have been cut from the falling leaves so perfectly did his colors sympathize with autumn; his coat consisted mostly of burgundies and fawns, save, of course, for the gold which streaked his folded wings and radiated in the morning sun. He studied Horte over the rim of his coffee cup, his sharp blue eyes shimmering like the horizon.
“Would you have anything else?” Horte asked coolly, restoring the empty tray to his back.
“No, but I appreciate it,” Gerard said. He emptied a talon half full of golden bits on the tray. “Truly, I do.”
Horte nodded graciously and began to again maneuver back through the tight throng of Gerard’s admirers. Gerard watched him go and patiently waited for the brisk autumn breeze to cool his coffee and touch its flavor with oak wood and pine.
“SHOVE ASIDE! COMING THROUGH!” shouted a voice through the hundred other voices. “MOVE IT OR LOSE IT, LADY!”
Gerard set down his cup and observed as a mare with a very colorful mane shoved, punched, head-butted, and otherwise smashed her way through the crowd. The other ponies did not take kindly.
“Hey, watch it!”
“You watch it!”
“What’s your problem, manebrain?”
“Slowpokes keep getting in my way, that’s what!”
“OW! You poked me right in the eye, you jerk!”
“Relax, you’ve got another one.”
The mare continued to beat through the folds of irascible pegasus ponies until finally she squeezed between two stallions and came spilling out of the crowd. Her balance offset, the young pony stumbled forward and rammed sidewise into Gerard’s table, sending his coffee flying.
Gerard reacted. In one fluid sweep of his talon, he snatched the flying coffee cup out of the air and used it to scoop up the steaming, black liquid spilling out before it had a chance to spoil itself on the ground. He balanced the cup securely in his grasp and smiled politely as the young mare righted herself to greet him.
“ehuff Gerard huhff huhff Goldenwings,” she panted, her eyes wide like a filly’s.
“An honor, my dear,” Gerard said, inclining his head slightly. He couldn’t help but notice the peculiar device she had tucked under her left foreleg. “And I think I may know you as well. You’re… Rainbow Dash, correct? The pony who won Cloudsdale’s young flier’s competition last year?”
Rainbow Dash looked up at him, mouth slightly agape. “You– You know my–EEEEEEE!” Dash bit down on the squeal and coughed a few times. “Uh, I mean yeah, that’s me! Guess I shouldn’t be surprised you’ve heard of me; I am pretty amazing.” She cast a slanted smile at the other pegasi around her.
“You are at that...” Gerard observed. “I was indeed amazed to hear that a pony could win after such a… less than amazing beginning. That last trick must have been quite something.”
Dash’s chest puffed out. “Only if you consider flying so fast that you shatter both the sound and light barriers ‘something!’” she said.
Gerard smirked and playfully mimicked her enthusiasm. “Ah yes, noise, speed, and pretty colors. Who could have ever thought to combine such things?”
That got her positively glowing. “Well, I am kind of a natural. You know I didn’t even do it on purpose the first couple times?”
Gerard gasped. “You mean that all of that was just an accident? Truly, you are more than just a great flier, my dear, you are an artist! No, a genius!”
“Aw shucks…” Rainbow Dash looked down and pawed at the ground. “Yeah, I guess I am.”
“But of course you are!” Gerard enthused. “Six whole colors! Not three or four or even five, but six entire colors! I did not know there could be so many, let alone all at once.”
Some of the surrounding pegasi began to snicker.
“Um, thanks?” Dash said. “But don’t they have rainbows where you come from?”
Gerard laughed then, a warm and generous sound that filled the air like wedding bells. “Yes, but none quite like you, my dear. So what is that you have tucked away?” he asked, pointing to the strange device.
“Oh, this!” She took the delicate instrument and slammed it down on the table. “This is an ano… an animo… a machine that tells you how strong your wingpower is. I thought it could help save you some time deciding which pony you want as your apprentice.”
“Apprentice? I see,” Gerard said, studying the anemometer’s spinning rotors. “I really do wish sometimes that my prospective students would consult me before deciding how I will be spending my vacations.”
“Uh huh. So, how about I go set this bad boy up and we begin testing?” Dash said, wings flaring.
“Alas, I am afraid I am in no condition to be teaching you ponies anything about flying today.”
“What?” The storm went out of the pegasus ponies. Hooves touched down to earth, wings folded, and the roaring thunder of voices dissolved into mere breath going in and out. The sun shone unobstructed and the birds’ lyrical calls poked through the awful silence.
Gerard cleared his throat and addressed the pegasi. “For you see, my beloved pet, Ferris, has escaped recently, and I am far too distraught to turn my mind towards much else. How can I even think of flying when my little companion is off scared and alone in your savage Equestrian wilderness? Oh the horror of it all!” He took a sip of his coffee; it had cooled sufficiently.
The pegasi began to murmur and converse amongst themselves at this new turn of events.
“You’re really torn up about this, huh?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“I’m devastated,” Gerard said, dappling his beak with a napkin. “If only someone, mayhap somepony, were able to find him, I would be most grateful.”
“Grateful enough to teach that pony some tricks?” Dash asked.
Gerard smirked. “Perhaps.”
“What is Ferris?” a voice from the crowd asked. “We can find him for you.”
“Do you think so? Oh, I could not even allow myself to hope,” Gerard said. “Ferris is a golden sparrow not native to these lands, quite a handsome creature, I think you will find. Do not make the mistake of assuming that his striking features are all that there is to him, however; he is very nimble, and quite quick. Terrified as he must be in this new land, Ferris will undoubtedly flee from any attempt to chase after him, and I do not think that even you young, fleetwinged pegasi will be able to catch him.”
A black stallion stepped forward and stamped his hoof to the ground. “Don’t worry, Gerard. I’ll catch that sparrow for you.”
A light purple mare with a white mane nearby gave the stallion a cockeyed look. “Please, Thunderlane. The only thing I’ve ever seen you catch is the feather flu,” she said.
Rainbow Dash laughed at them both. “This coming from a pony named ‘Cloudchaser?’ Yeah, I bet keeping up with those pesky cumuli sure must beat it out of you after a while, huh? Just look at that one go!” She pointed upwards at a puffy white cloud drifting lazily overhead.
One by one, the pegasi all began to chip into the argument.
“I will catch the golden sparrow!”
“No, I will!”
“Ah, but you see–” Gerard began.
“No, I’ll be the one to catch the sparrow.”
“That sparrow’s mine!”
“Unfortunately–” Gerard started.
“I’ll catch the sparrow.”
“I’m so good I’ll catch two sparrows before the rest of you can even bag one!”
Gerard politely waited for a break in the conversation, but the bickering ponies showed no signs of slowing.
“AHEM!” Gerard interjected, his voice half a lion’s roar. The pegasi fell silent, and all eyes turned towards him.
“But alas, my friends, before any one of you can catch my little comrade, you will have to find him,” Gerard said. “And what are the chances of that with all this vast countryside to–but wait, what is this?” Gerard swept his gaze up, head feathers swishing dramatically behind. “Is that a glint of gold I see in the distance?” He pointed his talon, and the pegasi followed it to see something shimmering brightly over nearby Sugarcube Corner. At first it seemed no more than a lance of morning light, but the erratic flying pattern with which it moved betrayed it for a living thing, an avian thing.
The pegasi looked away from the bird and exchanged quick glances with one another. Eyes began narrowing into glares and lips began curling into ferocious grins. As one, they spread their wings and propelled up and after the sparrow, knocking over a few tables and chairs and sweeping up some fallen leaves with the winds of their composite takeoff.
Gerard grabbed his scarf to keep it from flying off and watched as the pegasi went chasing after the little, golden glint now darting off and away. A low, rumbling sound came from deep down in his chest—a chuckle—and he noticed that the rotors of the anemometer had been sent spinning. Gerard examined the device with great interest and took another drink of his morning coffee.