Darkness. All I see is darkness. I’m standing on a cold and hard floor, and the air is just barely too cold to be comfortable. The lack of sight is disorienting, and I fumble about on the ground, before finally falling to a sitting position. The hair on the back of my neck stands up when I hear the nearby sound of heavy breathing. One voice sounds almost like a furious growling, the other like desperate fear. There is a deafening screeching noise as the lights turn on, and I see the source of the breathing, two ponies, directly in front of me:
High Flyer and Checkered Flag.
High Flyer is strapped to a table, her chest rising and falling intensely as she hyperventilates. Checkered Flag is breathing more slowly, holding a butcher’s knife, facing High Flyer with a face full of pure rage. His eyes are bloodshot and wide, his pupils manically small.
My heart starts to race, and my fur dampens with sweat.
“High Flyer!” I cry. “Checkered Flag, leave her alone!” They both ignore me. I stand, now able to see the ground, which is made of concrete and covered in stains. I sprint as fast as I can toward High Flyer, but stop with a painful and abrupt crash before I can reach them. Some invisible force is keeping me from getting any closer.
“Twilight!” High Flyer cries, looking at me, tears rolling down her cheeks. “Help me, please!”
My entire body aches with fear as I pound the invisible wall with all my might. It is to no avail. My hooves are bloody now, and tears sting my own eyes.
“Twilight!” High Flyer cries, more intensely. “What are you doing? Help me!”
“I can’t get through!” I yell. She takes no notice.
“Shut up, you miserable wretch.” Checkered Flag says to High Flyer. “You’ve been a thorn in my side for far too long.”
“Leave her alone!” I scream at the top of my lungs, pounding more at the invisible wall. My hooves are in excruciating pain.
“I’m going to make sure you never fly again.” He says quietly, holding up the butcher knife. He begins to bring it toward High Flyer’s outstretched wings.
“NO!” I scream, shooting into a sitting position. High Flyer is gone, as is Checkered Flag. I’m lying in bed, completely covered in sweat. I stand quickly, not bothering to see if I woke Rainbow Dash. My stomach twists in knots and I quickly sprint for the bathroom, vomiting into the toilet. After the heaving ceases, I clumsily and shakily flush the toilet, and lie on my back, sobbing. The door to the bathroom opens.
“Twilight, what’s wrong?” Comes the voice of Rainbow Dash.
“I thought…” I choke. “I thought I’d beaten the nightmares.” I manage through my uncontrollable sobbing.
“Are you in here throwing up?” Rainbow asks.
“I was.” I admit. My stomach feels better now, but I’m still in a horrible panic.
“Well, come on, brush your teeth, I’ll stay up with you.” Rainbow says. I sniffle, taking a deep, shaking breath and I stand, wobbling with fatigue.
What time is it?
I grab my toothbrush, sloppily slather it with toothpaste, and brush my teeth.
“There you go,” Rainbow says as I spit. “Any better?”
“Come on, let’s go back to the other room.” She offers, slowly walking out of the door. I follow her.
I haven’t had a single nightmare since…well, for a few weeks now. The panic attacks were more mild, and half the time I didn’t even need to wake Rainbow. The other times, she was very accommodating. The panic attacks are easier to handle than the nightmares.
Rainbow sits on the edge of the bed, and pats the spot next to her. I comply, slouching beside her. She drapes a wing over me.
“Oh, Rainbow.” I say. “It was so vivid.” I shutter. “Checkered Flag had High Flyer strapped to a table, and he was about to cut her wings off.”
“High Flyer is just fine.” Rainbow assures. “She’s safe and sound in the room we got her.”
“I tried to help her, I really tried!” I insist. “But there was some invisible wall keeping me from her. She kept asking me ‘What are you doing? Help me!’ and there was nothing I could do!” I break down into sobs, and bury myself in her shoulder. “I couldn’t help her, Rainbow.”
“Shh…” Rainbow says, nuzzling my head. “It’s okay, Twilight. It’s just a dream.”
“It’s just a dream.” I echo. “It’s just a dream.”
“That’s right.” Rainbow says.
“Rainbow?” I say, my face still buried in her shoulder. “I’m afraid to go back to sleep.”
“Well, uh…” Rainbow says. I can hear her heart start to beat a little faster. “What if...I sang you a lullaby?”
“I…I think I’d like that.” I say. Rainbow gently clears her throat.
“Sorry, I’m kinda bad at singing.” Rainbow apologizes in advance. She takes a deep breath, and begins her lullaby.
“Hush now, quiet now,
it’s time to lay your sleepy head.
Hush now, quiet now,
it’s time to go to bed.”
Rainbow lied; her voice is beautiful.
“Drifting off to sleep,
Leave the day behind you.
Drifting off to sleep,
Let the dreamland find you.”
She continues the lullaby until I feel the dull wave of sleep wash over me. I have no more nightmares that night.
A bright and gentle light wakes me from my sleep. My eyes drift open slowly and I remember where I am. I yawn and rub my eyes, coming to a sitting position. I slouch, looking to my right, and notice Rainbow Dash is gone. She must be in the shower or something.
I reach my arms to the heavens in a blissful stretch, then stand next to the bed. My stomach rumbles. I’m hungry, and I could really use some pancakes. I walk up to the bathroom door, which hangs open. Looks like Rainbow isn’t in the hotel room. I walk up to the mirror and levitate a brush, fixing my disheveled mane. I drink a glass of water and leave the hotel room.
I hobble down the stairs and begin my walk down the hallway toward the breakfast room. I study the carpet. A pattern of green and brown spans the length of the hallway, a complex tessellation that's a cross between plaid and diamond shapes.
I accidentally collide with another pony in my carpet-induced trance. I rub my head and apologize to the blue Pegasus.
"Sorry," I mumble, continuing down the hallway.
Wait a minute...blue Pegasus?
"Rainbow?" I call. She turns and faces me.
"Hey, Twi!" She says. "Didn't realize it was you." I jog to catch up to her, and we continue walking.
"Where have you been?" I ask. Rainbow flinches briefly, her eyes flaring subtly. "And why are you so sweaty?"
"Uh..." She stammers.
"Have you been flying?" I inquire suspiciously. Rainbow hangs her head as we climb the stairs. "Rainbow, you're supposed to be getting rest."
We round the corner at the top of the stairs and walk to the door to our hotel room.
"I know, Twilight, but I'm just so bored." She complains as I open the door and walk inside. "And I feel better, honest!"
"For now, maybe, but what if you make it worse? What if you get hurt again?" I ask.
"I'm not gonna get hurt again, Twi." She assures.
"That's what you thought yesterday, before you crashed and broke your ribs!" I retort. Rainbow rolls her eyes in frustration. "I just don't want to see you get hurt."
"Who cares if I do get hurt?" Rainbow says angrily. "It's not like it matters or anything."
"Rainbow..." I say, my ears dropping.
"You know, that’s the upside to this whole thing:" Rainbow says bitterly. "Now I have nothing to lose. I don't have to worry about ruining my future because I don't have one anymore."
"Rainbow, that's not true!" I insist.
"Yes it is, Twilight. Flying with the Wonderbolts was my dream." She says, her voice breaking on the last word. "I was so close..." She says quietly. "And I blew it."
"Rainbow, I know you're upset. I can't even begin to imagine the grief you're going through." I say. "But you can't go getting yourself killed. Ponyville needs you. I need you. You're the element of loyalty, right? Well... Please be loyal to yourself. There's always next year."
Rainbow's eyes are filled with tears now, and her lips are held tightly together in a desperate attempt to keep her composure.
“Twilight…” She squeaks, her voice breaking. She lets out a shuddering sob and sits on the floor. I go to her and sit next to her, draping a foreleg over her shaking back.
“Is this what your nightmares feel like?” Rainbow asks.
No, my nightmares aren’t real.
“Yes,” I say instead. “And just like my nightmares, this won’t go on forever.” Rainbow nods next to me. She takes a deep and shuddering breath and looks at me.
“What did I ever do to deserve you?” She asks. My ears go back and I blush.
“You’re my best friend, Rainbow. And you’re awesome. You deserve the world.” I declare.
“Thank you,” She says. “For everything. I mean, you took me into your house, and you trained me for the competition, and now you’re being, like, the best friend ever. You’re perfect.”
Normally seeing Rainbow so sad and humble would concern me. But ‘You’re perfect’ is quite the leap from ‘You’re amazing’. My stomach growls.
“Have you eaten?” I ask. Rainbow chuckles. I think she’s starting to catch on to my obsession with food.
“Nah, I got up early and went flying right away.” She says, wiping her eyes with a foreleg. “You’re hungry, aren’t you?” I chuckle sheepishly.
“A little.” I admit. “Don’t you think some pancakes might cheer you up?”
Rainbow chuckles and gives a heartwarming smile.
“I think they might.”
“Well get showered. You’re sweaty and covered in tears.” I say with a giggle. Rainbow nods and stands, walking towards the bathroom. The door closes, and seconds later I hear the familiar trickling of water.
“There’s always next year…” I say out loud, to myself. “The Wonderbolts will understand.”
Then it hits me.
“That’s it!” I say. “The Wonderbolts!”
In a fit of excitement, I run into the bathroom and fling open the shower curtains, revealing Rainbow Dash, singing opera to herself. Her face turns a deep crimson as she sees me.
“Twilight, what are you--” She begins. I ignore her.
“That’s it, Rainbow,” I say. “The Wonderbolts!”
“Why are you in here?” She demands.
“If we tell the Wonderbolts about High Flyer, maybe they can help!” I explain.
“O...kay?” She says, confused. “Can I get back to showering now?”
I finally notice the horrible breach of privacy I’ve committed, and I feel my face get hot. I chuckle nervously and close the shower curtain, walking out of the bathroom.
After a shower and a much-needed breakfast, Rainbow Dash and I are headed out to the Wonderbolts’ Headquarters. We’re walking down a busy downtown street in Cloudsdale, bustling with noise and ponies. The weather, as usual, is perfect.
“Oh my gosh, Twilight, this is so awesome!” Rainbow says excitedly. “I know I’ve talked to Spitfire a couple of times, but now I’m gonna get to see all of them! Maybe they’ll like me so much they’ll let me join without even flying!” I roll my eyes and give a smile.
“Jeez, Rainbow,” I say. “You’re starting to sound like Pinkie Pie!”
“Hey, it could happen, right?” Rainbow says confidently. I give her a disbelieving look.
“We’re here to talk to them about High Flyer, alright?” I say. We arrive at the building, a grand building with rainbow fountains feeding prismatic liquid into a small moat surrounding it. I look at Rainbow, whose eyes have widened, and her jaw has dropped. After a few moments she smiles wide and jitters excitedly, quickening her pace.
As we enter the building, we find ourselves in a lobby, with a secretary sitting at a desk. She eyes us as we walk in.
“Hello, girls, can I help you?” She asks.
“Yes, I’m Twilight Sparkle, and this is Rainbow Dash.” I say, gesturing to the smiling pegasus on my left. “Rainbow here is a contestant in the national EFL competition this Saturday, and I’m her trainer. We have a question to ask the Wonderbolts.”
“Rainbow Dash, huh?” She says, inspecting Rainbow. “Yeah, I did see your name on the list. I’ll go get Spitfire.”
“Thank you!” I say cheerfully as the secretary walks away, rounding a corner. Rainbow and I look at each other. Her face is plastered with a heartwarming grin from ear to ear. Moments later, the secretary returns, tailed by the instantly recognizable Spitfire, who is dressed casually in dark blue Wonderbolts sweats. A quiet and excited squeal escapes Rainbow next to me.
"Hey, guys." Spitfire says with a relaxed smile. "You wanted to talk to me?"
"Hello, Spitfire, ma'am." I say.
"Uh...he-hello." Rainbow says, stammering with happiness. "I mean, hi. Ma'am." I smirk at Rainbow and continue talking.
"I'll cut to the chase, ma'am." I say bluntly. "We think there's foul play going on in the EFL competition."
"Whoa, what?" Spitfire says. "What brought you to that conclusion?"
"We saw it ourselves." Rainbow says.
"One contestant is being intimidated into not competing, and then paid off not to tell anypony." I say. "She's too afraid to come forward."
"Intimidated into not competing..." Spitfire says, pensive. "Oh, no."
My heart skips a beat.
"What?" I ask frantically. "What is it?"
"That pony wouldn't happen to be High Flyer, would it?" She asks.
"Yes, why?" Rainbow asks, uneasy and suspicious.
"She officially dropped from the competition this morning." Spitfire says.
"What?!" I cry. "We're too late?"
"Well..." Spitfire says, pondering something. "I suppose under these circumstances I could make an exception."
"Oh, thank you so much--" Rainbow begins, but is interrupted.
"But good luck finding her. She skipped town right after she resigned. She didn't say where she was going." Spitfire says.
Skipped town? She must have been so overwhelmed with pressure and fear that she had no choice but to run away... Rainbow and I put so much pressure on her to compete, and now she's run away to Celestia knows where, and we have no clue where to find her. Should we even find her? Maybe a clean slate would be good for her; a fresh start, no competitions, no mean stallions threatening her, no nosy unicorns butting in to her personal life...
"Come on, Twilight." Rainbow says, a hint of bravado in her voice. What is she planning? The voice is retreating, and I turn to see Rainbow walking towards the door.
"Rainbow, wait!" I call, running after her. I turn back to Spitfire. "Thank you, Spitfire, for your help!" I run after Rainbow once more. "Rainbow, where are you going?!"
“We need to find out where High Flyer went.” She says as we pass through the open door.
“You still want to go after her?” I ask as we walk down the front stairs. Rainbow turns down a narrow city street, and I follow her.
“Well, duh! We can’t just give up. She deserves to compete.” Rainbow says, looking straight ahead.
“She doesn’t want to compete.” I insist. Rainbow finally looks at me, her expression relievingly genuine.
“She’s too afraid to compete.” Rainbow corrects me. “I know she wants to.”
“Who are we to make her face that fear?” I ponder, half to myself. Rainbow sighs.
“I like to think we’re her friends, Twilight.” Rainbow says. “And I think her emotions are getting in the way of her success. She could really go places, you know.”
“Isn’t emotion what it’s all about? The glory and happiness that comes with the Wonderbolts?” I offer.
“Maybe for some.” Rainbow says. We take a turn to the right, and I’m starting to wonder where we’re going. “For High Flyer, it’s different. It’s about getting somewhere better. Getting out of this mess.”
“You don’t think that’s exactly what she’s doing?” I point out.
“Maybe. I don’t know.” Rainbow says, a hint of doubt leaking into her voice. “You could be totally right, Twilight. Maybe what she needs is to start over fresh in a new town. But at the very least, we should make sure she’s okay. And maybe give her an apology.”
“Well…” I say, trying to think of a retort. I can think of nothing. “Fine.” I decide. “We can go see her. But let’s try and not make her life any more crazy than it already is, okay?”
“Deal.” Rainbow says with a grin. There is a short pause as we continue walking down the street, which looks oddly familiar.
“Rainbow, where are we going?” I ask.
“The only place I know High Flyer goes.” Rainbow says, looking to her right. I follow her gaze until my eyes meet a humble sign hanging from a building.
“The Amore.” I say. “Good thinking, Dash!”
We walk through the door and are assaulted with the wonderful smell of gourmet food. Our walk and subsequent meeting with Spitfire has put us here at lunch time, and I’m not sure about Rainbow, but I’m starving.
“You maybe wanna…” I begin, looking to Rainbow for signs of hunger.
“...Eat first, ask questions later?” Rainbow finishes. I try to contain my excitement. “Maybe our waiter will know something.”
“Good idea.” I say.
“Table for two?” A voice comes. Rainbow and I look in front of us to find a watier standing patiently in front of us.
"Yes, please." I say. He nods, his gaze lingering on Rainbow for a moment before walking toward a booth. We sit at the dimly lit table, popping open the laminated menus lying on its surface.
"Can I get you anything to drink?" He asks, once again looking at Rainbow a bit too long.
"Yeah, could I get a soda?" Rainbow asks, seemingly oblivious. The waiter grins and subtly cocks his head to one side.
"Of course you can." He says. He turns to me. "And for you, dear?"
"I'll just have a water." I say, expertly hiding a bit of bad mood.
"Absolutely." He says. "I'll bring those right out." He looks from me to Rainbow, lingering on her once again. I watch him go.
"Yo, Twi?" Rainbow says. I snap out of my staring and look at Rainbow. "You okay?"
"Am I okay?" I echo. "I'm fine, why?"
"You look kinda..." Rainbow eyes me suspiciously. "Ticked."
"I'm fine." I repeat, consciously softening my expression. "Let's just eat some pasta, ask him some questions, and we'll go find High Flyer." Rainbow seems unconvinced, and gives a concerned expression.
"Okay then." She says slowly. The waiter comes back, carrying our drinks on his wings.
"Here you are, ladies." He says, setting them down gently. "Are you ready to order?"
"I'll have the pasta." I say as politely as I can.
"Yes ma'am." He nods. He turns to Rainbow. "And for you?"
"I'll have a Hayburger." She says. "Extra cheese, please."
He gives a smile and a nod, and begins to walk away, but Rainbow calls out to him.
"Do you know High Flyer?" She asks. Damnit, I thought we were eating first! He freezes, and, after a moment, turns to face us.
"She...she's my best friend." He says somberly. "Why?"
"We're trying to find her." I say. "Do you know anything that could help us?" He freezes for a moment, his face tense and blank.
"No, sorry." He says. I give him an incredulous look.
"Are you sure?" I deadpan.
"I wish I could help you." He says nervously.
"Oh, I think you can." I say, my brow lowered and my tone accusatory.
"Look, can we at least have this talk in the kitchen?" He asks. Rainbow and I look at each other, and nod simultaneously. We stand, following the waiter into the kitchen, shuffling past a few waiters carrying trays of food.
"Alright, now tell us what you know." I demand in a whisper.
"I told you," the waiter insists. "I don't know anything." I frown at him in frustration.
"No?" Rainbow's voice comes from my left. I look to see her step closer to the waiter slowly. "I think you know something." Is Rainbow...flirting with him?
"Well..." The waiter responds, blushing. "Okay, I know something." He admits with a sigh. "But I promised not to tell."
"We're her friends too." I offer. "We're trying to help her."
There is a silence as the stallion looks between Rainbow and me.
"Please?" Rainbow says, batting her eyes. I feel my face get hot and I start to become irritated.
"She went back to Canterlot. To her parents' place." The stallion admits quickly, looking away. "That's all I know."
Rainbow and I grin victoriously.
"Thank you!" I say cheerily, turning to leave.
"Make sure she's safe, okay?" The waiter says shakily.
"We will. Thanks for your help." I promise. I turn to my right and spy a plate of pasta sitting on the kitchen counter. I throw a few bits on the counter and levitate the dish. I see a Hayburger sitting next to it and levitate it as well. I look at Rainbow, who cocks her head to the side and raises a brow. I light my horn and teleport us out to the street in front of the Amore. Rainbow stumbles, and sits on the sidewalk.
"Jeez, Twi." Rainbow says, a hoof on her temple. "Robbery, much?" I give a mischievous giggle. I can't deny it felt pretty cool interrogating a guy, grabbing some food, and disappearing in a flash of light.
"I paid for it." I assure. Rainbow smiles softly, then frowns.
"No drinks?" She teases.
"I can only be so awesome." I say with a chuckle. There is a short pause before my face gets hot as I remember Rainbow's behavior.
"Hey, what was with all that flirting in there?" I say, my heart beating fast.
"It was awful. I don't even like stallions!" Rainbow complains. "But it worked, right?" She looks at me with a smile, but it fades when she sees my glare. She rolls her eyes. "You're jealous." I flinch in surprise.
"Why are you so obsessesed with me being jealous?" I demand. Rainbow cocks an eyebrow.
"You are jealous." She says with an excited smile.
"No I'm not!" I say, my voice shaking with anger. Or maybe with nervousness. "And even if I was, what's it to you?"
"Oh, nothing." Rainbow says, stifling a giggle. "Just that you have a crush on me."
That's ridiculous. I don't have a crush on Rainbow. I'm far too busy for trivial stuff like relationships. It's not like despite having wonderful friends I still have a lonely hole in my heart and a longing for companionship that Rainbow Dash has effectively filled for the past month. I don't have a crush on Rainbow Dash!