Snow Bolt was feeling better in the morning. She still missed her home and her father, but the sadness was under control, at least. The knowledge that another day of soaring practice lay ahead of her improved her mood significantly. She saw that the door of the cave had already been rolled away, and outside the winter sky was bright and clear.
Stepping outside, she saw Scarlet was already at work sweeping away the night’s snowfall from the ledge. “Good morning, Pot Pie,” Scarlet said without looking.
Snow Bolt was still a little upset with Scarlet for what she had said the night before. “Good morning,” she said flatly.
“The winds are a little lighter this morning than they were yesterday,” Scarlet said, “but it should be enough to fly in, and should pick up more in a few hours. You seem to turn well enough, so today you should focus on improving your speed.”
Snow Bolt nodded, then sprinted off the ledge and into the brisk morning wind. She first hovered for a moment to get her bearings, then turned to the south and began soaring back and forth across the face of the slope. She tried her best to gain more speed, but after experimenting with several different wing positions, succeeded only in flailing awkwardly in mid-air.
Below, Snow Bolt heard Scarlet groan at her efforts. “Absolute rubbish. Come here, Pot Pie. Watch me.” Scarlet reached up and snatched Snow Bolt out of the air in mid-flight. She held the little pony up at eye level in her claw. “Pot Pie, you are not so much flying as floating,” Scarlet said. She raised her wings above her so that they formed a right angle with each other. “Right now, you are gliding like a butterfly. Soaring with your wings high like this makes you more stable in flight, like a pendulum. But it's also much slower. You must learn to fly with your wings more level.” Scarlet leveled her wings to the horizon to demonstrate. “And here,” Scarlet then wiggled the trailing edge of her wings up and down. "You fly with your wings tilted too far back. Your wings cup the air like a... like a spoon. Instead, your wings should slice through the air, like a knife." Scarlet leveled her wings and whipped them forward to demonstrate. "Understand?"
Snow Bolt nodded.“I think so,” she said. With that, Scarlet turned Snow Bolt around, tossed her into the wind like foal's paper airplane, then went back to her sweeping.
Snow Bolt soared back and forth a few times to get her bearings again, then tried to implement what Scarlet had said. Instead of flying with her wings upwards at an angle, she brought them downwards until they were almost level with the horizon. She immediately noticed a loss in stability, but her soaring practice from the days prior had accustomed her to making small adjustments and keeping herself from rolling over. In just a few moments, she had adjusted to the change, and she was definitely to be making the trip from one side of the slope to the other in much less time.
Next she tried tilting her wings downward, changing her “angle of attack” as Scarlet had called it. But when she tilted the leading edge of her wings downward to be more level with the horizon, the lift beneath them seemed to give out all at once. Each time she tried, she found herself plummeting downwards until she panicked and put her wings back to the old position.
Snow Bolt tried this a few times more, growing more and more and more frustrated each time. Scarlet, who had stopped sweeping for a moment to watch her, called out to her. “Do not doubt your wings, Pot Pie!"
It took Snow Bolt a few moments to understand what Scarlet meant. She used the next few passes to gain as much altitude as she could, then took a couple more to steel her nerves. After completing a turn to the north, she took a deep breath and tilted her wings downward.
She plummeted downwards toward the snow-and-scree covered slope as before, but this time she forced herself not to panic and kept her wings at the angle Scarlet had shown her. Then, just as she was sure she was going to crash into the slope, something remarkable happened. She once again felt the familiar sensation of lift underneath her wings, and her trajectory leveled out. She was once again soaring northwards along the face of the slope, but now she was going fast.
“Whoa!” Snow Bolt said aloud. She had covered the distance from the north side of the slope to the south one in only a fraction of the time it had taken her before, and it was already time to turn. She banked left the way Cheeky had taught her and steered around until she had reversed her course, all the while keeping her wings in their new orientation. She had barely finished her turn when she found herself already at the opposite end of the slope, and had to repeat the process again.
After a few more passes, Snow Bolt began to understand. With the leading edge of her wings high, the rising wind from the slope could only just hold her aloft, like a parachute. But with her wings more level, her wings would only support her if the wind were moving across them at great speed. Thus, when she shifted from one position to the other, she dropped lower and accelerated.
Compared to the speed she had been flying at before, gliding in her new posture seemed positively breakneck. It took Snow Bolt several dozen passes before she began to feel comfortable with it. She was at first confused by the strange sound from just behind her as she flew, until she realized that it was the sound of her own wings whooshing through the air. Before long, she was enjoying herself immensely.
“Yee-haw!” Snow Bolt whooped as she banked through another turn. Scarlet, who had finished her sweeping and was now lounging with a book near the mouth of the cave, looked up and watched her for a moment. Knowing Scarlet as she did, Snow Bolt interpreted her lack of derision as a compliment.
Snow Bolt did not want to stop for lunch, but eventually the burning in her flight muscles forced her to land. She set down on the ledge and gingerly stretched and folded her wings back against her side. Gliding at high speeds, and turning in particular, required much more exertion than the gentle floating she had been doing before.
Scarlet had finished her sweeping and gone back inside the cave. Snow Bolt could have joined her inside and had some soup left over from dinner last night, but instead simply cleared a small patch of snow with her hoof and munched on the minty grass beneath while she enjoyed the view.
Her thoughts were interrupted when a familiar brown squirrel scurried around the bend towards her. “Cheeky!” Snow Bolt said, and rushed over to meet her new friend She scooped Cheeky up with one hoof and brought her up to eye level. As she did so, Cheeky hopped excitedly and nuzzled Snow Bolt's nose in greeting.
“Guess what, guess what!” Snow Bolt said. “I can fly so fast now! Scarlet showed me how!”
Cheeky made a high-pitched gasp and clapped her paws together, then scurried up Snow Bolt’s arm, up her back, and mounted atop her head. She spurred her mount excitedly as she tugged on Snow Bolt’s mane.
“You want to see, huh? Alright, let me show you.” Snow Bolt got a short running start, spread her wings and leapt into the wind. At first she assumed her old flight posture, soaring gently back and forth a few times until she gained enough altitude. “Okay, hang on tight,” she said, then she dove and assumed the new posture. Atop her head, she could feel Cheeky squeak in panic and tighten her grip on her mane as she hurtled towards the slope below. Cheeky’s grip did not relax until Snow Bolt had leveled out and completed a few turns, at which point Cheeky began to squeak excitedly.
The two of them flew together for the better part of an hour, with Cheeky riding atop Snow Bolt’s head. After some time, Cheeky dismounted Snow Bolt’s head in mid-flight and tried to fly alongside her. The flying squirrel was no longer able to keep up with Snow Bolt, but by keeping to the inside of every turn while Snow Bolt swung wide to the outside, the two found they were still able to fly alongside each other in a fashion. The pair spent the next hour practicing flying in formation together, and also matching their courses so Cheeky could mount and dismount Snow Bolt’s head in mid-flight.
Some time later, while sitting atop Snow Bolt’s head, Cheeky peered down over Snow Bolt’s brow to look the young pegasus in the eye. “What?” Snow Bolt asked. In response, the squirrel leaned over and very deliberately touched Snow Bolt’s nose before leaping off her head and gliding away in the opposite direction.
“Oh, you want to play tag, eh? You really think you can outrun me?” with that, she banked and dove after the little squirrel. She was just about to snatch the little thing with her hooves, when the little squirrel banked, completely reversing direction almost instantaneously. “Wow!” Snow Bolt said, changing direction to follow.
The two spent the remainder of the afternoon playing tag. Though Snow Bolt had the advantage in pure speed, Cheeky’s smaller size meant she had an enormous advantage in maneuverability, and the two proved to be an even match. They chased each other back and forth across the slope all afternoon and into the evening, until the sun touched the horizon and Scarlet called Snow Bolt inside. Pony and squirrel landed on the ledge and said their goodbyes.
Snow Bolt held the little squirrel in her hoof and smiled broadly. “Goodbye, little friend! I had fun today. Can we do this again soon?”
Cheeky nodded enthusiastically, and turned to leave. After a moment’s hesitation, the little squirrel instead turned back and gave Snow Bolt a hug, wrapping her tiny arms around Snow Bolt’s muzzle.
“Aww!” Snow Bolt said. The two nuzzled for a moment, and with one last wave, Cheeky leaped out of Snow Bolt’s hoof and glided down the mountain, down to wherever her home was on the valley floor below.
Snow Bolt winced as she folded her wings and walked back into the cave. The fun she’d had playing with Cheeky that afternoon had temporarily made her forget the pain in her flight muscles, but she was certainly feeling them now. She did not mind, though. The pain she felt was a righteous one, the type of pain that comes with building oneself. She decided that she liked the feeling.
That night Snow Bolt read to Scarlet again, as she had the previous few nights. Neither of them spoke of the unpleasantness from the night before, and any remaining resentment Snow Bolt held for Scarlet had vanished in the day’s excitement. As she curled up to sleep that night, Snow Bolt dreamed of flight, flying impossibly fast high above the clouds and watching all of Equestria pass beneath her.
* * *
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, life for Snow Bolt fell into a regular, if completely absurd pattern. She woke in the morning, and if the winds were favorable, she would practice gliding back and forth across the face of the slope. She would stop only briefly for lunch, taking only as much time was necessary to gobble up a meal before returning to her practice in the afternoon. About every other day or so Cheeky would join her, and the two of them would show off the latest tricks they had learned, or play tag or some other game they made up. In the evenings, Snow Bolt usually read to Scarlet until the great dragon fell asleep, and in the morning she would do it all again.
Scarlet seemed to take only a passing interest in Snow Bolt’s practicing, mostly in the form of a jeer or backhanded insult as she loitered on the ledge by the cave, reading her books and munching on precious stones. She still made casual promises to eat Snow Bolt the next day, or as soon as her meat got a little less stringy, but so far Scarlet had not made good on these. There were times that Snow Bolt wondered if Scarlet ever really intended to eat her at all, but she decided it would be best not to bring up the subject herself, lest she goad the dragon into doing just that.
All the while, she was becoming more and more competent in her soaring. She learned how the angle of the rising air steepened over each of the mountain’s folds and fingers, and she learned to pump and dive over these for extra speed. She became so familiar with the mountain’s wind patterns that she could literally fly back and forth across it with her eyes closed with complete confidence. The slope became a canvas, and Snow Bolt was the artist.
Each day her turns grew sharper and tighter. Eventually she learned to bank so far over in a turn that she was completely upside down, then dived and looped around until she was flying in the other direction. She then taught herself the reverse maneuver: performing a half-loop until she was upside-down and flying in the opposite direction, then making a half-roll to right herself again. From there, Snow Bolt knew the next logical progression was a full loop-de-loop.
One afternoon, she and Cheeky decided to go for it. The young pegasus soared back and forth across the slope until she had gained as much altitude as the winds would allow, then turned turned to face the wind and came to a hover.
“Are you sure you don’t want to let me try the first one on my own, Cheeky?” Snow Bolt asked the little squirrel perched atop her head. “I’m not really sure what will happen.”
Cheeky chittered bravely in Snow Bolt’s ear, then gripped the pegasus’ mane tightly.
“Alright then, if you’re sure. Here we go!” With that, Snow Bolt tucked her wings and began a dive.
She was going much faster than she had ever flown before, and before long the sound of rushing air in her ears was deafening. Atop her head, she could feel Cheeky hunkering down, making as small a cross-section as possible. Snow Bolt dove for a full ten seconds, and when she thought she had enough speed, flared her wings out and pulled up.
“Whoa!” Snow Bolt had been unprepared for the amount of strain trying to pitch upwards at that speed would put on her wings. It took all of the strength she possessed in her fledgling flight muscles to even keep her wings outstretched, but she managed. Pony and squirrel leveled off their dive, then continued to pitch upward until they were pointed skyward. Their speed slowed as they approached the apex of the loop, and Snow Bolt panicked for a moment and began to flail. A quick spur from Cheeky steeled her resolve, and she maintained her pitch until she was upside down, then diving once more towards the slope below. They then leveled off, completing the loop.
“Yeah! We did it!” Snow Bolt cheered. Atop her head, Cheeky also cheered and patted the filly between the eyebrows in congratulations. “Wanna go again?” Snow Bolt asked. The little squirrel chittered affirmative, and Snow Bolt began another dive.
The pair spent hours performing loop after loop in the higher reaches of the mountain that was Snow Bolt's new home. They experimented with performing fast, tight loops; straining Snow Bolt’s small wings to their limit. They also made big, lazy loops across the sky, and these Snow Bolt liked best of all. She would sometimes close her eyes at the top of each loop and relish the momentary weightlessness of free-fall.
When she thought she had gotten the hang of that, Snow Bolt decided to spice it up a bit. “I’m gonna try something Cheeky! Hold on tight!” Snow Bolt dove until she had the requisite speed, then pitched upwards and climbed. This time, however, when her trajectory was just past vertical, she tucked her wings in and arched her back, slowly tumbling backwards head over heels. After completing a full backwards somersault, she opened her wings again and continued her loop. Both she and Cheeky let out a mighty whoop as they completed the maneuver, and Cheeky spurred Snow Bolt repeatedly as if to say, “again, again!”
“Want some more, do you? Okay, here we go!” and Snow Bolt repeated the maneuver. They performed several more loops with a backwards somersault at the top, then several more with two back flips instead of one. At she rounded the bottom of another loop, Cheeky spurred her three times.
“Want to try to three, huh?” She took a moment to visualize the maneuver in her mind, then decided she could just manage it if she got up enough speed. “Alright, let’s give it a try.” She pitched downward into a dive again, this time for a full fifteen seconds, then pitched upwards as hard as the strain on her little wings would allow. When she was just past vertical, she again quickly rolled backwards, tumbling end over end over end, this time tucking herself into as small of a ball as possible. She watched ground and sky tumble around her one, two, three times. After the third, she un-balled herself and opened her wings, and found herself streaking straight downwards, already dangerously low to the mountain’s slope.
“Eep!” Snow Bolt and Cheeky squeaked together. Snow Bolt pulled up as hard as she could. Her flight muscles screamed in agony from the strain. Slowly, too slowly for comfort, she pitched upward, practically scraping the slope, but did barely manage to avoid a collision.
Snow Bolt and Cheeky cheered, but Snow Bolt’s flight muscles were also in agony after the extreme maneuver. “Ow ow ow,” she said, steering back towards the ledge and landing somewhat more roughly than usual. “Oh goddess, I am going to feel that tomorrow,” she said, gingerly folding her aching wings back against her side.
Cheeky scurried down into Snow Bolt’s hoof, looking concerned. “Oh, I’ll be fine, Cheeky. Don’t worry.” The little squirrel looked relieved, then seemed to look over Snow Bolt’s head to something behind her.
“What? What is it?” Snow Bolt asked.
In response, Cheeky grabbed a tuft of fur on top of her own head. “Oh. My mane? What’s wrong with it?” She walked over to a small overhang on the slope, where a pool of meltwater had collected. Looking down at her reflection, she saw that her mane had been blown backwards from the wind, and was now styled very much like some of the Wonderbolts' she had seen in the newspapers.
“Haha. Wow.” Snow Bolt carefully probed her new manestyle with a hoof. “You know what, Cheeky? I think I like it.”