It was a red letter day for the city of Manehattan. While the city saw more than its fair share of special events, few drew more spectators than the biannual Wonderbolt Exhibition. The event was held every year, alternating between Manehattan and Los Pegasus. This year promised to be quite the spectacle, showing off an entirely new second wing of fliers.
Another full train came in on the New Main railway, rolling to a gentle stop at Manehattan Central Station. The doors slid open as scores of ponies of all tribes disembarked. Other types of ponies could enjoy fast-paced stunt flying. Stepping down from one of the cars was a group of four ponies, a pair of stallions and mares. The lead stallion stepped onto the platform, stretching his limbs after the long train ride.
"Come on, Bolt!" The violet mare tapped her hoof impatiently. "Get clear of the train before you take up the whole platform."
With a grin and a bit of a chuckle, Prism Bolt obliged the pegasus. Whirlwind stepped down, shaking her head and tossing her silver-streaked mane about. Another pegasus emerged behind her, this one carrying himself in a far more composed stature.
The light-blue tone of his fur was complemented by the dark-blue of his mane, which had been allowed to grow out slightly, stopping just above his emerald eyes. Icy Storm looked to his brother with a half sigh. "Can't resist causing trouble at every opportunity, can you?"
Prism just shook out his own mane, looking up at the skyline of Manehattan with a grin. "Well, somepony has to!"
"Duh! Who cares about what's proper? Just do what you want!" The last of their group jumped out of the train, not lowering herself to something as boring as walking. She, among the group of them, stood out. The cream colored mare landed deftly on her hooves, her pink-streaked mane held firmly in a ponytail. Her amber eyes glowed with excitement and whimsy, as her horn sparked slightly in anticipation. On her flank was a heart, though not rounded as many similar cutie marks were. This heart looked to be made of many tiny boxes, giving it a rigid and structured appearance. "This is all just a big game, after all!" she said excitedly.
"Pixel," Whirlwind said softly. "This is a big event. It only happens once every other year. I mean, the Wonderbolts will be performing here!"
Pixel Bit yawned. "So? We see the Wonderbolts allllllll the time in Ponyville! You guys see them even more since you can go to Cloudsdale, and you"—she pointed at Prism—" work in Cloudsdale!"
Prism shrugged. He'd started working at the weather factory in Cloudsdale recently. He needed a job, and Ponyville Weather Manager was already taken. "Yeah, I know. It's the Wonderbolts, though, and everypony knows how much Dubz would love to be one of them," he said with a teasing smile.
Whirlwind smacked her hoof across his shoulder, as was common with the two of them. "Hey! It's not like having some aspirations is a bad thing."
Icy Storm, always the picture of grace and composure, was quick to jump into the discussion. "Being a Wonderbolt takes a lot of hard work and dedication. It's no wonder it doesn't interest you, Bolt."
The comment sounded hostile, but they all knew it was just playful banter between brothers. Pixel Bit, however, decided to jump in anyway.
"Oh? What does that say about me? I don't have any dedication?" she asked Stormy, a cunning twinkle in her eyes.
"I didn't... I mean that wasn't… er..." Stormy began, finding himself without a proper response.
Pixel Bit, on the other hoof, looked delighted. "There we go! All relaxed and normal!" she declared, bounding off the platform. "Come on, you slow pokes! We got here late cause we had to wait for you two grown-ups to finish your jobs," she said, pointing to Prism and Whirlwind.
Prism rolled his eyes and chuckled, but Whirlwind didn't falter before firing back. "Oh, that reminds me. Not to be rude, but why are you here, Pixel?"
Pixel Bit turned her head, a glimmer of mischief in her eye. She leapt back onto the train platform, standing above all the ponies in the street. The train had just left the station, so she was the only pony on the platform. "Then stand and listen, noble ponies, for I will tell you the tale of my journey to behold the greatest of performances in all of Equestria!" she announced.
Most of the ponies on the crowded streets took a moment to look up at the boisterous mare, but many of them went back to their routine with naught but a shake of their heads. Whirlwind opened her mouth to stop Pixel, but Prism held his hoof up to her lips.
"Shhh. She's got a good one going here. I can feel it," he said, offering no further explanation.
"It was scarcely two turns of the sun since that auspicious day! When the grand invitations born of respect and recognition found their way to a pair of unassuming metal boxes. In their wrappings of fiber and leaf sat a quartet of rewards to those that have served with pride and skill. These four ponies, once called 'Wonderbolts,' had been called to see their disciples carry on the mantle. But such blessing proved too great for these ponies, and one lay unclaimed. A young mare was presented with the gift. This mare loved exhilaration and danger, but felt no pull to the aerial stunts of these illustrious fliers!"
Pixel had successfully regained much of the attention she'd lost. Almost a block's worth of ponies had stopped what they were doing to watch her. Some of them snickered and whispered; some smiled and laughed; and others rolled their eyes in annoyance.
Icy Storm pretended he couldn't hear her.
Prism, on the other hand, was having the time of his life. Pixel spoke with such enthusiasm, he just couldn't help but smile as she told her exaggerated tale. Whirlwind leaned over to him, whispering into his ear. "Are we sure she isn't Rarity's foal, switched at birth?"
"Since she doesn't breathe fire, I think it's a safe bet," Prism shot right back with a dumb grin.
"And then, a decision of whimsy took hold in the mind of he who bore this gift. If one from his house did not wish the boon, then the blessing should fall upon the wisest of those who desired it!" Pixel continued. A few of the ponies gathered there actually looked interested in her tale. The busy crowds moving towards the performance field had slowed to a stop, her performance being much more interesting.
"For this pegasus of midnight coat decided that the gift would fall to the first who knew the importance of this event! For today is the first appearance of a new wing of fliers, called the 'Split S'! Silverwind, Slipstream, and Sidewinder, the next generation of Wonderbolts debut today, ready to show all of Equestria what they can do!"
Pixel stopped, taking a bow upon the train platform. Most of the crowd was quiet, still dazed by her exuberance, but a few of them sent up a cheer or a clap of their hooves on the pavement.
Whirlwind shook her head with an exasperated sigh as Pixel pranced back over. "I meant why did you come? I didn't think the Wonderbolts interested you."
Pixel responded simply this time. "Your dad made it a game, and I like games. Besides, it seemed like a good way to waste a day."
Icy Storm cleared his throat, trying to regain some form of composure. "I'm a little surprised you knew their names at all. It isn't common knowledge."
"They were in the roster for Equestria Derby, which my dad got an advanced copy of to put into the arcade. We might have taken a sneak peak," she said with a wink. "Now we really need to get going if we want to get there on time!" She began prancing down the street, leaving the other three behind her.
Their various reactions only lasted another moment before they followed the energetic mare down the busy Manehattan streets.
Stormy caught up to her first, instantly falling into something resembling a strut. He stood tall, his bangs swaying gently in the breeze as he wore a confident gaze. He gained the impressed glances of more than a few young mares, who stopped to pay attention to the bold and striking stallion.
Pixel, however, was not to be outdone. She pressed her nose into the air, sauntering down the streets as if she were showing off one of her Aunt Rarity's dresses on the runway. Unlike Stormy, her over-exaggerated mannerisms attracted confused glances and a few suppressed laughs.
She smiled as she walked side-by-side with Stormy, mirroring his class and grace with her absurdity and vivacious swagger.
Behind them, Prism and Whirlwind walked at a more casual pace. Growing up had mellowed both of them out significantly. At twenty years, their foalhoods were long behind them. Prism still liked playing pranks, and Whirlwind still enjoyed lounging around on lazy spring days, but they seemed perfectly content to let the younger generation be loud and rambunctious for right now.
Despite their concerns, they had made it to the performance grounds with plenty of time to spare. The four of them had the tickets delivered to Whirlwind's house, since Cloudchaser and Thunderlane had been Wonderbolt reservists in the past. Their seats were nice, but still among the general populace. The adults had all taken the box seats that had been delivered to Soarin and Rainbow Dash, since they had been part of the main wing.
Prism was more than happy with this arrangement. He liked being the center of attention, but only if he was the reason they were paying attention to him. Up here, any pony would assume he was some crazy fan who dyed his mane for the show. Looking through the stands, he saw more than a few ponies with rainbow-colored manes and tails. Even retired from the Wonderbolts, she was still a legend.
"It feels like this crowd gets bigger and bigger every time we come here," Whirlwind said, speaking loudly to be heard over the crowd.
Pixel was craning her neck back and forth, trying to drink in everything around them. "I can believe that. There's gotta be thousands of ponies here! Didn't know this stuff was so popular."
Icy Storm chimed in, shaking his mane slightly. His mane wasn't in his way at all, shaking it out was just a habit he'd picked up. "It's more than just a Wonderbolt show. This is where they show off all their new fliers. The 'Split S' isn't the only group performing today. I expect we'll see a lot of the reservists as well as some of the older members. Mom hasn't flown for these shows in a few years, but I think she would in a heartbeat if they asked."
Pixel looked confused by that. "Why wouldn't they ask her? I mean, everypony here would love to see your mom fly."
Bolt answered her this time. "Because if she did, the show would be all about her. This is a show for the up and coming flyers. She doesn't want to steal their spotlight." He gestured to the crowd around them. "How many ponies here are wearing something rainbow colored? Who would care about anyone else if the great Rainbow Dash took to the air?" There was no anger or bitterness in his voice as he said this. He seemed rather calm about the whole thing.
Stormy, however, looked over to his brother curiously. "Who told you all that? Dad?"
"Nah, I just figured it out. She doesn't mind showing off at home, but she won't at anything big. What else would it be? Did she just get a case of reverse stage fright after performing for years?"
Stormy considered this for a moment, if only to hide his bashful expression at missing something that Prism had caught. He turned his eyes to the horizon, enjoying the soft breeze through his mane, when something caught his attention. "Hey, Bolt, Whirl, you see that?"
The three ponies looked up, wondering what Stormy had just seen. Pixel missed the importance of it, but Prism and Whirlwind did not.
"Storm clouds," Prism stated, looking over the water. "Still a good ways away, but enough for a full day's storm if I had to guess."
Whirlwind narrowed her eyes as she studied it. "At the speed it’s moving, it shouldn't pull in until tomorrow. That's fortunate. It would be bad if the show got rained out."
Pixel Bit looked confused now, stopping their train of thought. "Why would they schedule rain for the show date? That would just be silly."
Whirlwind, Ponyville's resident Weather Leader, gave the explanation. "Pegasi only control weather inside Equestria. Weather that comes from outside areas, like the badlands"—she pointed her hoof out towards the storm clouds—"or the ocean, is impossible for us to control until it gets closer to us. Still, it should be fine. It's part of a Wonderbolt performance preparation that all rogue weather has to be a certain distance away from the flying zone."
Icy Storm studied the clouds a bit more as the field below them began to clear. It looked like the performance would begin soon. "It shouldn't be a problem. We've got the best fliers in Equestria here. All the active Wonderbolts and most of the retired ones showed up for this. I think we can handle one little storm."
Whirlwind rolled her eyes at Stormy's declaration. "Hah, that sounds like something Bolt would say."
Prism shook his head. "Not after working in the Weather Factory. They've got a huge wall full of paper clippings from problems a factory screw up caused across Equestria. These clouds can do a lot of damage."
"Fillies and gentlecolts!" came the magically-augmented shout from the performance grounds. "The city of Manehattan welcomes you to the Biannual Wonderbolts Exhibition! Without further ado, allow us to introduce the pride of Cloudsdale, the Wooooooonderbolts!"
The crowd erupted into a storm of cheers, drowning out any other sound as the professional fliers took to the air. The pack was led by the new Lead Team, The Split S. The three pegasi shot into the sky, making a quick fly-by over the stands and ruffling the manes of the spectators.
The left wing of their formation was Slipstream, a stallion of green coat with a sapphire blue mane. Prism's eyes ran over his for a moment, as he was the closest to the stands during the fly-by. Since Soarin was a Wonderbolt Academy instructor, Bolt and Stormy knew a bit more about these fliers than Whirlwind or Pixel did.
"That's Slipstream!" he said, pointing with his hoof. "Dad said he's an awesome wing pony. Nopony is as good at dealing with the wind resistance as he is."
As the Wonderbolts pulled out of their turn, Stormy gestured to the pony on the right wing, puffing himself up. "The one with the yellow coat and the long red mane is Sidewinder," he said. The crowd around them had quieted, but only slightly. "She's got the best agility of any active Wonderbolt! She's usually the tight end of turns and tricks because of that."
Finally, the trio of fliers pulled up into the center of the pavilion, pausing to show off to all gathered there. Whirlwind spoke now, pointing out the leader. "And the Lead Pony of the line is Silverwind. She's got the silver mane, obviously. I heard that she's almost a better leader than Spitfire was. They say that she's got good insight and split second reaction time. She's also the youngest Wonderbolt in four generations! She's even younger than I am!"
Pixel Bit whistled softly. "Really? Huh, I always thought Rainbow Dash would be the youngest Wonderbolt, what with her performing the Sonic Rainboom and all that amazing stuff."
Prism kept his eyes on the fliers, but answered the question. "She was always so busy doing stuff for the good of Equestria that she didn't wind up getting into the Wonderbolts until she was nearly 25. She was only in them for a few years after that. She got tired and moved on. I guess when you’re an Equestrian National Hero, some stunt flying just can't measure up."
"Whoa! Take a look at that! That's mom's move!" Stormy shouted, drawing a few murmurs from the ponies around them. The other three focused on the fliers, seeing them swap to a triangle formation. Their speed increased as they shot around the sky, the friction making their wings seem to glow in the dry air.
"I know a Buccaneer Blaze when I see it!" Whirlwind shouted gleefully, watching as the static crackled around the three stunt fliers. As the explosion of light erupted through the stands, Prism had to smirk. It took three pegasi to copy what his mom had designed by herself. There was a reason she was Equestria's greatest flier. Even as their stunts buffeted the thrilled crowd with sprays of sea air, he knew he'd seen better.
These performances were never a big deal for him. Still, Whirlwind liked them, and that was reason enough to go. Besides, it was kind of fun to see what other ponies were capable of. He'd been slacking on his flying for years, so he knew he'd never be even as good as they were. He didn't really want to be, either. Stunt work was so... self-important. Showing off was all well and good, but to make a job out of it? The best part of showing off was giving everyone a good laugh when things went wrong. If everyone was having fun, then it was the best use of time.
But when a Wonderbolt screwed up, there was no fun. There was injury, worry, disappointment and anger, but not laughter. That was too much pressure for him.
Another explosion stole his attention away from his thoughts. It had been almost an hour since the performance began, but with this rumbling echo, the party was over. Another flash of light, followed by the unmistakable crash of thunder across the sky. All eyes present looked up to see the storm that was once so far off speeding towards the coast.
Whirlwind was on her hooves in an instant. "What? How did it move in so quickly?" she asked, Weather Leader instincts taking over as she spread her wings.
Prism Bolt sat there for a moment, thinking as the murmurs of concern rose around them. More than a few ponies seemed to be going for the exits. "Argh! Of course!" he shouted. "They kept pushing blasts of wind over the crowd. The air from out at sea came in to fill the gap, and dragged the storm with it! They made a miniature vortex!"
He didn't seem to be the only one to make this connection, as the VIP boxes were a flurry of activity. The stands began to empty as the winds picked up. A foreboding howl went up as the winds ripped through the fields, funneling between buildings, taxis and storefronts.
As the clouds made landfall, it began to rain. It wasn't too bad yet, but Prism knew that wouldn't last long. If they were lucky, they'd have twenty minutes before the downpour started. That should be plenty of time to get ponies to safety. Manehattan had no shortage of large buildings that they could use for such.
It was in that moment that fate intervened, changing the course of history for the worse. With a blast, Slipstream shot into the sky. His right hoof out, he charged at the bank of clouds. Prism's jaw fell along with Whirlwind's, as time seemed to stop in the stands. Slipstream was going cloud bursting and didn't see the danger in doing so.
Silverwind shouted after him, but his speed and the roaring winds silenced her call. The stunt flier made contact with a the dark storm cloud. The explosion of sound rippled around them, sending the storm clouds further over the city. The charge in the cloud had been released by his reckless move, causing a chain reaction that turned this event from a problem into a catastrophe.
Lightning arced through the clouds, causing more of them to burst and release torrents of water onto the city. In an instant, sheets of water were falling as if they were underneath Winsome Falls. The ponies on the ground began to panic as the storm picked up, stampeding against each other to try and get to safety. Prism watched in shock as the situation descended into chaos.
He missed the fact that Slipstream fell from the sky like a stone, his wings singed from the electric blast he'd inadvertently released. It was only when he looked back towards the VIP box, which he could no longer see, that he snapped himself out of his stupor.
"We've gotta help 'em!" he shouted to Stormy and Whirlwind, gesturing to the crowds of ponies stampeding and running against the storm. Somepony was going to get hurt.
"Good call!" came the shout from behind them. Prism turned around to see his father flying there, looking as if there was but a little breeze. "We're gonna try to safely move the clouds." He was interrupted by Silverwind coming up behind him.
Silverwind looked to Soarin, quickly taking command of the situation. "Soarin! We need you up there! You three, get the ponies to safety! Stay low and don't be fancy!" she commanded.
Pixel Bit was tired of being ignored and jumped up next to Stormy. "C'mon Stormy! We can lead 'em through this!" she declared, making her horn light up like a fog lamp. Even through the thick sheets of rain that assaulted them, it was clearly visible.
"Right!" Whirlwind shouted. "Me and Bolt will check for stragglers! You two guide that mob to safety!"
The group nodded in unison, all of them taking off into the sky. Soarin and Silverwind shot up towards the clouds. Stormy, with Pixel on his back, glided through the rain and wind towards the crowd of ponies. Her boisterous voice could be heard even above the roaring winds, gathering attention and guiding the ponies to the light of her horn.
Prism took to the streets with Whirlwind, checking for stragglers who got lost in the chaos. With any luck, today would end without further incident.
The storm had ended, finally. It felt like it went on forever, but as Prism sat alone, he could only think about what had gone wrong. The muted colors around him provided little to distract him from his thoughts. He sat in the corner, his eyes watching the large double doors adorned with the words "Emergency Room".
How had this happened? Everything was going smoothly, or at least as smoothly as a storm ever went. She was a Weather Leader! There was no way she should have gotten hurt like that! Prism sat in the corner, a small pool of water under him from where the rain had collected, listening to the slow ticking of the clock as he waited.
His head jerked up as he heard the loud slam of a door opening. The sound of hooves clattering across the tile floor greeted his ears as he recognized the soaking wet stallion that had just entered the building.
Icy Storm looked livid, turning his head to glare down at his older brother. "What the hay were you doing up there! They told us to stay low! This is why! You did something cocky and stupid and she got hurt bailing you out, didn't she?" he shouted, drawing the attention of the one pony behind the desk. She looked on the verge of saying something, but thought better of it.
Prism spoke back to his brother. He wasn't yelling, but his tone was clearly annoyed. "You think I was messing around at a time like this? Ponies could die if we are playing around! It was an accident!"
Stormy's face went red as he stomped his hoof in frustration. "It's always an accident with you, Bolt! You're too damn cocky, and ponies get hurt because you don't care!"
Bolt's eyes burned with rage at his words. He turned to his younger brother, snarling like some rabid beast. The front door to the hospital opened again, unnoticed by both brothers. "Just because I don't spend all day walking like I've got a flagpole shoved up my flank doesn't mean I'm not every bit as dedicated as you think you are, you pretentious little foal!"
It wasn't uncommon for Stormy to act more mature than Bolt. At that moment, however, Prism was in no mood for his brother's holier-than-thou airs.
Stormy ground his teeth with a snarl, rearing up and dropping his hoof down with a powerful blow. A crack resounded in the room, followed by a grunt of pain and a small splatter of blood on the muddy floor.
"Dad!" came the shout from the door, as all the energy of the room seemed to evaporate into thin air. The two brothers froze as Stormy pulled his hoof back in shock. Thunderlane, who had pressed himself between the two of them, rubbed his bleeding muzzle as Whirlwind looked aghast that Stormy had just slugged her father.
"I...I'm sorry..." Stormy began, regaining his senses. He stepped back, falling onto his haunches as he deflated.
Thunderlane cracked his neck. "I would hope so. Your mom hits harder than that." He looked over to Cloudchaser, Whirlwind and Pixel, who had followed him into the building. "Speaking of which, do you think the first thing she wants to hear when she wakes up is her two foals shouting at each other?"
The brothers remained quiet as Whirlwind stepped up towards the three of them, shooting a reproachful glare towards Stormy. If he wasn't depressed enough from accidentally striking her father, that look stole what was left of his ego. His eyes turned to the ground, and he refused to lift them.
"Soarin flew off as soon as we got the news. What happened up there?" Cloudchaser asked, fussing over the new injury her husband had acquired.
"He's inside," Bolt said, gesturing to the double doors. "I'm... not too sure. One second, she was fine. The next, I heard her shout and fall. I think she got hit by a stray bolt, but I didn't see it."
"I thought you two were supposed to be low altitude?" she asked, looking between him and Whirlwind.
Whirlwind rose to his defense. "Moving was my idea, and I saw what happened. It wasn't Bolt's fault at all. We started close to the ground, like Silverwind ordered..."
The duo flew through the empty Manehattan streets, barely able to see five feet in front of them thanks to the endless sheets of rain. Every block, they would pass a side street and be buffeted by the wind being funneled between the buildings. Three times they had nearly slammed into buildings, poles or abandoned Taxis because of this. They'd have needed rescuing themselves if things went on like this!
Whirlwind turned to Bolt, gesturing with her hoof. It was an old Tornado Day hoof signal, but he recognized it.
Nodding, he turned upwards, beating his wings against the pounding rain. At first, nothing changed. As the two of them began to clear some of the buildings, Whirlwind felt the strain on her wings lessening. Up here, the wind could flow more naturally, allowing her to fly with it instead of in the middle of a vortex caused by the structures below them. It was also much easier to see ponies when one was looking down.
Over the next hour, the pair of them circled the city. In their trip over the flooded streets, they'd found six ponies in need of a rescue: a couple hiding underneath an awning, two stallions trapped in an overturned taxi, and a mare who had slipped and twisted her hoof in the middle of the street.
Prism was currently dealing with number six, a small blue filly they'd found shivering under a massive oak in the park. The poor thing must have been too scared to move once the storm started.
"Hold on tight!" Whirlwind could hear Prism tell the filly. He took off slowly, heading for a nearby concert hall that they'd been taking the ponies to for shelter. Whirlwind followed behind Bolt as he glided along the dangerous air currents, keeping his speed low. She kept her eyes open in case something went wrong.
Fortune was on their side, however. Prism and his passenger reached their destination without incident. He ushered her inside, but not before the little filly placed a peck on his cheek.
Whirlwind was about to make a comment on Prism being a hit with the 'Ten and Under' crowd when she felt a sudden gale of wind strike her. She looked up, seeing a familiar rainbow trail soaring along the sky.
When she looked back towards the ground, Bolt was almost on top of her. She gestured up again, and he nodded.
The two returned to just below the storm clouds, continuing their survey of the city. Whirlwind noticed, as they flew, that Rainbow Dash was flying slower. She kept turning towards them, eyeing them. The clouds above them crackled and flashed, rumbling with the unstable energy they were trying to dissipate.
That moment of distraction was when disaster struck. A sudden change in wind direction made them all veer slightly. Normally, it wouldn't be a big deal, but Rainbow hadn't been watching where she was going. Her body pressed against a storm cloud as her wings struggled to right her course. Instantly, a loud crack was heard as the energy found a release, her body spasming violently. Slipstream had the insulated Wonderbolt suit on when he hit the cloud. Rainbow Dash was not so fortunate.
The loud crack drew everypony's attention, and they turned to see the familiar rainbow streak fall from the sky like a stone. Three ponies were close enough to respond: Prism, Whirlwind and Sidewinder.
The Wonderbolt instantly pulled into a steep dive, going straight for Rainbow. Prism did likewise, diving straight down with more speed than Whirlwind had ever seen him muster before.
His eyes were locked on her figure, face up with her limbs still twitching from the shock. Her body jerked and shook at random, even as she fell through the sky. He pulled out ahead of Sidewinder, his speed besting even that of a professional Wonderbolt. As he neared his mother, his direction changed suddenly. In an instant, he accelerated even more, flying right past her.
Sidewinder continued her dive, reaching out her hooves to grasp at Rainbow. Without warning, a spasm made Rainbow's hooves jerk, nearly clobbering the Wonderbolt. She wasn't a Wonderbolt for nothing, however, and managed to dodge the flailing limb in time. The distraction cost her speed, however, as Rainbow continued falling.
Prism was several feet below Rainbow Dash when he acted, turning around in an instant. He came up behind her, wrapping his hooves around her as her back slammed into his chest. His wings flared out, providing more air resistance as the fall began to slow. They'd been falling too long, however, and there was no way he'd be able to stop before they hit the ground.
In truth, the slowdown was all that was needed. Sidewinder caught up to them, grabbing onto Dash, adding her wingpower to slowing their descent. Thankfully, the power of two skilled pegasi was able to beat the combined offense of the storm and gravity, as they finally stabilized in the air.
Whirlwind had been flying after them the entire time, but had been easily outstripped by Prism and Sidewinder. She caught up to them now that they'd stopped. "Bolt! We've gotta get her to the hospital!" she said, helping set Rainbow Dash on her son's back.
Sidewinder nodded to Bolt, looking him over for a moment before shouting her reply. "I'll go get Soarin! You two get her out of here!"
As Whirlwind finished the story, silence fell over the waiting room once again. Thunderlane spoke first, walking over to Prism and clapping him on the back. "That must have been some flying! She'll be over the moon when she hears about it!"
Prism nodded bashfully. He usually loved attention, but today was different. That was a matter of life and death. That wasn't something to be proud of. That was something everypony should do without even thinking about it.
"I'm sure she will," came the familiar voice from the other side of the room. Soarin had just entered the waiting room, and everypony stood up, eagerly awaiting the news.
Everypony except one.
"She's awake now. She's weak, and she's got some bad burns, but it's nothing she won't recover from. The doctor wants us to limit the the visit to family for now," he said, gesturing to Prism and Stormy.
Prism walked over to his father, beaming after hearing the news. They both turned to look back at Stormy, the one pony who did not rise in excitement when Soarin entered the room.
"I...I need...some air," he said weakly, galloping out the front doors without another word.
Soarin blinked once, looking at Thunderlane in confusion.
"I'll go get him," Thunderlane said, but his path was obstructed by his daughter.
"No, Dad. I'll go get him," she said, heading for the door before she too was obstructed by Pixel.
"Nuh-uh," Pixel said, shaking her head. "Trust me, I'm the only pony here that he doesn't feel like he's 'betrayed'. Besides, Windy, he upset you, and he's had a crush on you since he was old enough to walk. Seeing you wouldn't help him right now."
"I suppose no—Wait, back up. He had a...whaaaa?!" she exclaimed. Prism covered his mouth to hide a snicker.
Pixel Bit just rolled her eyes playfully. "Blind as a batpony. See ya!" she said, dashing out the door, following the muddy hoofprints.
It didn't take her long to find her quarry. Icy Storm had gone to the other side of the building, but hadn't continued running. She rounded the corner to see him shuffling along the wet road, his wet mane falling in front of his eyes. He flipped his hair up, but even that act seemed without his usual energy.
"Heya! Where are you running off to?" she asked jovially.
Stormy didn't respond. He continued shuffling down the road, his destination uncertain.
"Hellooooo? Equestria to Stormy! You in there?" she said, walking up to him and poking his head with her hoof.
"Sorry, Pixel. I'm not really in the mood for this right now," he answered, turning to walk in a new direction.
"Hah! Why not? There is always time to have a little fun! What could be more important?"
"You just don't get it. How could you? I was beaten, again, by him. I was dumb and blamed him, and he was being a damn hero! He always gets the glory! Every single time! He's right. He's the hero. He's the 'golden colt'!" Stormy growled, stamping the ground in frustration.
"So? What does that even matter?" she asked him, shaking a bit more of the water out of her own mane.
"He gets everything he ever wants! He takes everything he has for granted and gets it back in the blink of an eye whenever he wants!"
Pixel watched him, arching an eyebrow. "Something tells me we aren't talking about his flying anymore."
"Nopony gets it. He screws up, and because he fixes the problems he made, everyone treats him like some paragon of... of... everything!"
"And of course, your parents tell you every day how disappointed they are that you aren't like your brother."
Stormy rounded on her like he had just been smacked in the face. "What?"
"And everypony talks about how you are nothing like the great Rainbow Dash. They say you'll never be a Wonderbolt. You'll never... 'get the girl'."
"Shut up!" he shouted at her, turning his face down towards the ground a second later. "I've done everything to try and be the best I can! But it just isn't good enough for anyone! He's always better!"
"Oh just shut up, already!" she shouted back at him. Stormy looked up, stunned. "Who is it, exactly, that is saying you're a failure? Nopony I've ever heard, that is for sure! I don't even know who Icy Storm is anymore!"
She turned away from him, her voice a bit uneven. "I remember who you were a long time ago. Now there is so little of you left in there that it's like it was all a dream. You wanted what somepony else had, so you changed who you were to get it. Did fawning over the Wonderbolts or acting like your brother make Whirlwind see you like she did him? Did killing yourself with training regimens get you respect and admiration from anyone you'd wanted it to? Will being better than Bolt make you somehow more valuable?
You trained like mad because you thought it was what your mom wanted from you. You act professional and polite because you thought it was what your dad wanted to see. You flirt and strut because you thought that was what Whirlwind saw in your brother. Why? If you were going to copy someone, why couldn't you copy me and just stop caring what ponies thought about you?"
There was silence as the words sunk in. Before Stormy could respond, Pixel started again. "Do you know what you've put us through? All of us? I've had to sit here for ten years and watch you slowly throw away everything that was you because you thought others wanted something different from you. I tried to help you—really I did—when we were foals. Be who you are! You don't need to answer to anyone except yourself! But I just ‘didn't understand,' I guess."
She sighed, looking up into the sky. "I can't keep doing this, though. It breaks my heart to see you keep changing yourself for others. Others who don't care what you are. Your parents, your brother, your friends, we truly don't care. But I guess you just don't get that. I guess you can't get that. After all, I couldn't possibly understand you."
Stormy found his voice, finally. "P-Pixel. What do you w... I mean... What should I... "
Pixel turned around to face him, the remnants of rain sliding down her mane and along her face. Her eyes burned into him, but with a fragility he didn't normally see in the carefree unicorn.
"Who are you, and what do you want to do with your life?"
Who am I? I'm the son of the two greatest fliers in all of Equestria! I'm gonna do great things!
Now that he was paying attention, he knew that was wrong.
No... I am not an extension of my parents!
I'm gonna be the most famous pegasus in all of Equestria!
But how was that any different? He was defining himself by what he was, not who he was.
I am not defined by my race, or by the number of ponies that recognize me!
"I'm Icy Storm, and I..."
...am going to be a Wonderbolt?
No. That is Whirlwind's dream, not mine.
...am going to be better than my parents?
No. They don't define me or my place in the world. That is my choice.
The answer became clear.
"I don't know."
He sheepishly looked up at Pixel, to find her beaming down at him. "It's been a long time since I heard the pony called Icy Storm talk. I almost forgot what you sounded like," she said.
"Well... er... what do I do now?" he asked, still reeling from the mental blow he'd just been dealt. Did he really have no personality of his own? Had every bit of him just been a mask of what he thought others expected to see from him?
There had to be something down there, under all the masks, that was really him. "I don't even know what I want to do with my life now. Chasing those dreams, the dreams I thought I had to have, was the only thing I had going for me."
Pixel smacked him upside the head, wearing a bright smile. "You have your friends, you doofus! You've got your family and a whole town that would love to help you find your own way in life. Just because you're picking the path doesn't mean you can't get some help. For now, though, I would suggest going to see your mom."
Icy Storm nodded, turning to look at the large, white building. "Pixel. Why did you keep trying? Ten years to try and make me see this… It's too much."
She stuck her tongue out at him. "I had a lot of continues," she said, prancing off back towards the front door.
Rainbow Dash looked up as the door opened. Prism and Soarin had just been shooed out by the doctor, so she hadn't been expecting a new visitor. She saw her youngest slip into the room, closing the door quietly behind him. "Ah, so there you are," she said with a smile. "Prism said you were taking today a little hard. I don't blame you. This wasn't the kind of thing I wanted you to be part of. Still, I heard you carried yourself very well today." She gestured for him to come to her bed side.
Icy Storm met her gaze and finally got a good look at her. She had bandages scattered around her body, covering what must have been burns from her collision with the storm cloud. In addition, her right wing tip was bandaged, with a few blackened feathers visible from underneath the bandages. Rainbow Dash followed his eyes and shrugged.
"I've had way worse. Still, I'll probably be stuck here for another day or two. The doctor doesn't want to let me go quite yet."
Stormy moved up to the bedside. "I'm glad you're okay. I wish I could have done more to help," he said, looking over her injured form again. This was her getting off easy. If Prism hadn't been there, it would have been worse.
"Hey, you had a job to do. We all did. You did your job well."
"It's not like it was that big of a deal," Stormy responded.
Rainbow huffed, giving him a disapproving look. "Why? Because it wasn't a dramatic race against time to perform a last second rescue? I bet the hundreds of ponies you and Pixel guided to safety would disagree with you. Every pony you got off of the streets and to safety is somepony who isn't in this building right now. You shouldn't make light of that."
Stormy nodded, remaining quiet. How could he even begin to ask the questions flying around his mind?
"You know, it isn't wrong to be scared when things like this happen. It's normal, really. Heck, if you weren't scared, I'd be worried that you weren't taking the danger of a storm seriously."
Stormy shook his head. "It's not that, Mom. It's… well… I can't help it. I keep feeling that I have to do more. I have to make you and Dad proud of me. Instead, I got so jealous and petty over the fame and recognition that I blamed Prism for you getting hurt. I know acting like that isn't meeting your expectations of me, but I'm trying."
Rainbow Dash sighed, shaking her head. "Well, you're right. You aren't meeting the expectations me and your father have for you."
Stormy hung his head as a sigh escaped his lips. He then felt his mother's hoof on his chin, lifting his eyes to her.
"We both wanted you to be a healthy colt, happy with his own life. But I guess that isn't the case here, is it? Healthy, sure, but you don't look happy to me." Rainbow Dash leaned up in bed, causing her to wince slightly. Stormy jerked, trying to keep her from moving further, but a glare from her stopped that thought in its tracks.
"Now you listen and you listen good, because I don't want to have to say this again. If you were born without wings, I wouldn't have cared. You're my foal, and whatever you do with your life, I will always be proud of you. You can be a Wonderbolt if you want to, a royal guard, a weather pony, or nothing related to pegasi at all. All I want you to do is something you love, something that makes you happy."
"I... just wanted to be like you and Dad. Respected, dependable and talented."
"And that is fine, for a start, but you aren't me. You aren't your father, and you certainly aren't your brother. Nopony gets to tell you what your destiny is. That is for you to figure out."
Stormy arched an eyebrow as he looked at her. "How can you believe that? I mean, the story of your first Sonic Rainboom is legendary."
"Nopony told me to love racing, or to be loyal to a fault, or anything else. I made every single one of those choices, and I had faith in myself that I would be able to work it out."
She reached over and wrapped a hoof around him, pulling him into a hug. "You may be the spitting image of your father, but you're so much like me, it hurts. You don't want to let anypony down, but you don't have to worry. The only time you let ponies down is when you give up. If you trip, get up and keep walking."
Stormy returned the hug, relaxing for a moment as the door swung open again. An older stallion walked in, clearly annoyed.
"She needs her rest! You can visit plenty tomorrow, but she has just been through a harrowing experience."
Rainbow Dash, still sitting up, looked up at the doctor as she released Stormy. "Doc, I want to thank you for helping me out. You do an important job, and I appreciate it. That said, if you want to kick my son out of here, you better make sure you have a free bed for yourself." Her tone was level and calm, but her words carried a weight behind them that Stormy was quite used to.
The doctor looked from her to Stormy, then back to her, and finally back to Stormy with a sigh. "Please, don't stay too long. She's quite durable, but she really does need her rest."
Stormy nodded, and the doctor took his leave without another word.
Rainbow Dash smiled. "Still got it," she said with a wink.
Stormy chuckled, before clearing his throat. "Actually, Mom, I kind of wanted to ask you something."
"Hmm? What is it?"
"What was I like as a foal?"
There was an old saying among weather ponies. 'It is always strangely calm after a storm.’ Whirlwind was seeing the truth of that with her own eyes. The rest of the group had returned to Ponyville with her parents two days ago, but Rainbow Dash and Soarin had remained in Manehattan. Pixel and Stormy were still in school, albeit their last year, while she and Bolt had jobs to get back to. Ponyville couldn't be without both their Weather Leader and her protégé, after all.
Still, the day had been boring. Moving a set of clouds over at Sweet Apple Acres to water the trees and doing a sweep over the Everfree on the lookout for rogue weather was all she'd had on her plate. She'd been planning on spending some time with Bolt when he got back from Cloudsdale, but the sun was starting to set, and there was no sign of him.
A familiar voice from below her caused her ears to perk up. Ponies had been walking under her cloud for the better part of an hour, but she hadn't really been paying attention. Icy Storm's voice snapped her out of her trance. "Hey there!"
Whirlwind had been intentionally dodging him since the storm. Finding out, rather surprisingly, that he'd had a crush on her for so long answered a lot of questions. However, the revelation also raised a whole bunch of more difficult questions. She leaned out from behind the cloud to respond to him, since she had no choice now.
She practically clamped her hooves down over her mouth at what she saw.
He wasn't talking to her.
The mare he had addressed looked up from her toy, sticking her tongue out with a childish smile. "Heya, Stormy! You're looking happy today!" Pixel Bit said.
Stormy paused, thinking for a moment. "I am, aren't I? It's been a good day so far. How about you?"
She shrugged. "Oh, you know how it is. Pointless classwork, nice weather and a good game. It doesn't take much." She turned back down to her game as the electronic bleeps resumed.
"Well..." Stormy began, shuffling his hooves. "W-what would you say to some company and maybe a movie?"
Pixel stopped what she was doing and looked up at him curiously. "Why Stormy, are you asking me on a date?"
Whirlwind was wondering the same thing. From her vantage point, she could see his cheeks turning an adorable shade of pink at Pixel's teasing.
"...um....Maybe? I mean, you don't have to..." he began, starting to sweat.
Whirlwind struggled not to laugh. Stormy was not new to the dating game. He'd probably gone on more dates than any other colt in Ponyville. He'd even gone so far as to date both of Pinkie's twins, thankfully at different times.
None of the fillies had seemed to mind, and he remained good friends with almost all of them.
But in all of those times, this had never happened. He'd been smooth, confident, suave and charming. This was new. He was nervous. He was jittery. He was embarrassed.
He was also adorable, standing there frozen as Pixel seemed to mull the idea over in her mind.
"Hmmm," she said, putting down her toy as she stood up to circle him. Stormy stood silently, as if he were being sized up by a predator. "You've never asked me on a date before, and I think that makes me a minority. Why now?"
"Er...well I... uh... I didn't think you would be... interested in that... sort of thing..." he said, trailing off near the end.
Pixel eyed him suspiciously. "And something recently made you rethink that?"
"Not... really. I... uh... just wanted to ask."
"So," she said, stopping in front of him and watching his eyes. "You just thought I'd like a mundane and cliché date with somepony who hasn't passed me a second look for ten years?"
Stormy winced. "I... uh... I didn't think you'd—"
"Okay!" she said cheerfully, sticking her tongue out at him again. "You meant tonight, right? What movie did you have planned?" She started to meander off in the direction of the center of town.
Stormy was stunned, left behind by her sudden shift in tone. "Ah! Y-yeah, it's tonight!" he said, trotting after her and trying to regain his composure. The two continued chatting playfully as they left earshot, leaving Whirlwind to try and suppress her laughter at the whole scene.
"Poor Stormy. He's gonna have his hooves full with that one," she said to herself, shaking her head with a smile. Good for him! She knew better than most that sometimes the difference between a friend and something more was very small.
Almost as if on cue, the sound of beating wings caught her ear. Without even looking, she shifted over, making room for Prism on the cloud. He landed, laying down next to her with his usual smile.
"You," she said, poking him with her hoof, "are late."
Prism pulled in, placing a quick kiss on her lips. "Better late than never?"
Whirlwind rolled her eyes with a smile. "For now, I suppose," she teased. "You got hung up, I guess?"
"Yeah. I got called to Wonderbolt headquarters. Spitfire wanted to get my view on what happened in Manehattan. She had some nice things to say about you, by the way."
Whirlwind nearly did a double take. "A-about me? But I didn't do anything. It was all you!"
Prism Bolt shook his head. "Oh really? Who recognized the bogus order from Silverwind to stay low? Your experience as a weather pony made you willing to—How did she put it?" He paused, thinking. "Oh yeah, 'defy orders when the orders are unsafe or unjust.' That was what she said, anyway. I think she was more impressed with you than she was with me."
"That is one thing that bothers me," Whirlwind said. "Why did Silverwind give that order? Why did Slipstream not know the dangers of trying to burst a storm cloud like that? I thought they were the best in Equestria?"
"The best in terms of speed, agility and skill when it comes to flying, sure. Most Wonderbolts weren't weather ponies, because being a weather pony cuts into their training time. You'd be amazed how little they actually know about weather control. You and my mom were probably the most knowledgeable there, outside of the Manehattan weather team. Trust me, Spitfire was not happy with what happened. When she heard my story, she ripped into the three of them right there in her office."
Whirlwind looked at him in confusion. "All of them? But Sidewinder didn't do anything wrong, and Silverwind just made one bad call. It wasn't intentional."
Prism Bolt shook his head. "She's the leader. They're always responsible."
Silence surrounded them for a few minutes. Whirlwind got tired first and spoke up. "So, what is bothering you now?"
"Come on, Bolt. Don't play dumb with me. I know you. When you get quiet and thoughtful, it means something important happened."
"That might explain why I'm here," came the new voice.
Whirlwind nearly jumped off the cloud in surprise, turning to see the yellow pegasus that hovered a few feet away.
Starburst allowed a small smile to break her stone facade before turning to Bolt with a serious expression. "In response to your request, Princess Twilight has requested your presence in Canterlot at your earliest convenience."
Now that Whirlwind had a moment to gather her senses, she was surprised at the change that had taken hold of the athletic and competitive mare. Now she wore the official armor of the Equestrian Royal Guard, though she was only a squire. This wasn't a social call; this was official.
Starburst's violet mane, visible from under the helmet, swayed gently as she turned to look between them.
"Right, I can go now," Prism said, standing up on the cloud.
"Her Highness expects it to take a few days. Have you made the arrangements?"
Prism nodded. "Yeah. I've left a message for my family, and the Weather Factory knows about it."
Whirlwind spoke up next. "Whoa, hold on a second! Why am I always the last to know about these things? What's going on?"
Starburst eyed Prism suspiciously, but said nothing. Prism, however, did speak. "It's something I’m working out with the princess. I... I promise I'll tell you all about it when I get back."
Whirlwind scowled. "I don't like being the one in the dark," she said, throwing a glare to both of them. She sighed, resigning herself. "But I guess I don't have much of a choice, do I? Take care, Bolt. Don't stay away too long." She placed a kiss on his lips again. This time, she allowed the contact to remain for a bit longer than was needed, at least long enough to make Starburst uncomfortable.
Prism didn't seem to mind.
They pulled away slowly, Prism giving her a childish wink. "See ya, Dubz!" he said, taking to the sky with Starburst.
Prism managed to make it until they were out of Ponyville before his desire to tease Starburst got the better of him. "So, running an errand for your mom, eh? I should be honored to have the lone daughter of our great princess escorting me personally."
Starburst kept her eyes dead ahead, her expression not changing. "I wasn't sent by Princess Twilight. I was sent by the Guard Captain, who assigned this mission to me due to my familiarity with the area and ponies involved."
"So... he sent you because he didn't want to send the princess' daughter on any mission that was actually dangerous?"
There was silence for a moment, save for the flapping of their wings. "Basically," she finally responded.
Bolt sighed. "How many of those stallions do you have to trounce in training before they figure out you aren't some demure little filly?"
"At least one more, apparently. Maybe next time I'll challenge the Captain directly."
Prism winced. "Challenging your old man directly? I'd be careful with that. There's an old saying that my mom used to tell me. He may have taught you everything you know, but I doubt he taught you everything he knows."
Starburst scoffed, and Prism just rolled his eyes. Starburst was the only pony he'd ever met who could make him seem humble in comparison.
Whirlwind was busy shifting the clouds around the following afternoon when it happened. The schedule said it should be bright and sunny for the next three days. A few scattered clouds would provide some much needed shade for the ponies below, however. The small touches were what made the job so enjoyable for her. She hummed to herself while shifting the clouds around the sky.
"I don't think I've ever seen a pegasus take such great pride in their work before."
Whirlwind wasn't as jumpy as she was yesterday, though the owner of this voice had snuck up on her. She turned without missing a beat, greeting the new arrival.
Then she panicked.
"S-S-Spitfire!" She gave a rough parody of a salute as she pulled herself up straight. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were coming to town."
Spitfire returned the salute with a tongue-in-cheek smile. "Well, I heard Rainbow and Soarin were getting back today, so I thought I'd come visit. Also, I wanted to get an answer from you, but I guess I just did! It's good to hear. I think it'll really help us out."
Whirlwind was instantly confused. "Answer from me? For what?"
Now it was Spitfire's turn to look confused. "He didn't tell you?"
The amount of males Spitfire had spoken to recently that Whirlwind knew was pretty low. It wasn't hard to guess who 'he' was. "Prism didn't tell me anything. Well, he said that he spoke to you yesterday about our part in the storm, but that was it."
Spitfire narrowed her eyes, causing Whirlwind to shrink back. Her expression softened quickly, smiling at the panicked mare. "Oh well, guess I'll just have to deliver the message myself. I, personally, was really impressed with your performance in Manehattan. You showed commendable skill and knowledge of the situation, as well as putting the safety of the ponies there above your own ego. Rainbow Dash, my former wing mate, claims you are the most knowledgeable pegasus she's ever trained as a weather pony. Therefore, I am extending a personal invitation to the Wonderbolt Academy."
Whirlwind's heart skipped a beat. Being a Wonderbolt had been her dream since she was a filly, but she'd always been too shy and scared to seek it out. She always hoped she'd just be noticed by somepony else. She never actually expected her dream would come true.
As she nodded frantically, her mind bursting in delight, one last question occurred to her.
Why didn't Bolt tell her?
Whirlwind's current position left her a lot of time to reflect. The last week had been a storm of activity. After Spitfire had invited her to the Wonderbolt Academy, Whirlwind had been in a frenzy to get everything set up. First, obviously, she needed to talk to her parents. That had been the easy part. They were over the moon.
She'd expected to have some issues with her 'boss'. Rainbow Dash was back in town, but she still wasn't supposed to be flying until her wings healed fully. With Whirlwind leaving to go to the Academy, there was no Weather Leader for Ponyville. Whirlwind brought up the idea of staying, but Rainbow Dash would hear none of it.
Soarin was taking some time off to make sure Dash was alright, so she put him to work.
The issue with Bolt went largely ignored and unresolved. She still didn't know why he kept her acceptance from her, or why he was being so secretive about his work with Princess Twilight. Dwelling on that issue was distracting her, however, and was the reason for her current problem.
Whirlwind stood in Spitfire's office, the older pegasus not even looking up from the papers she was perusing. Whirlwind's divided attention had caused her to slam into another mare in training. Tempers had been high, and it led to a fight. Whirlwind's punishment had been a slap on the hoof, standing at attention in her commander's office for an hour after training every day for a week. Apparently, it was supposed to teach her maturity and 'bearing', whatever that meant.
Today, thankfully, was the last day. Her mind stopped wandering when a rap came on the door. Spitfire didn't even look up from her desk as she spoke.
The door swung open, and Whirlwind had to remind herself not to react. Prism Bolt had just walked into the office, but that wasn't the most shocking thing. He was dressed up in something that looked eerily similar to an old Wonderbolts dress uniform. All the insignias and markings had been removed, but the style was unmistakable.
Prism Bolt didn't have the same stone face that Whirlwind had been ordered to maintain. His head turned as he passed her, and for some reason, he looked forlorn. He wasn’t sad, but somber. He faced forward again, walking up to the desk and placing a folder on it, sliding it over to Spitfire.
"Ma'am," he said by way of a greeting. Anypony who knew Prism could tell that he'd rehearsed this.
"Hold a moment," Spitfire said, ringing a bell on her desk. The door opened again as her aide, a cream colored stallion, looked in.
"Get me Silverwind," Spitfire said simply. The stallion nodded and shut the door as Spitfire returned her attention to Prism Bolt. "Very well. I am to assume that Princess Twilight approved of your idea?"
Prism Bolt nodded. "Yes, after offering several suggestions. They've been detailed in the report."
Whirlwind allowed her eyes to shift, trying to see the folder that Prism had set down. There was something written on it, along with what looked like a crest or a cutie mark. She squinted before she noticed Spitfire's eyes meet her own. Whirlwind instantly went back to looking straight ahead, not saying a word.
It was at that moment that there was another knock on the door. "Enter," Spitfire said again. This time, the silver mane of the Wonderbolt flight leader passed through the archway. "Silverwind, good. Now then, please make your proposal."
A proposal? What was going on here? Something official with the Wonderbolts and Princess Twilight seemed far too serious for someone like Bolt to be involved in.
"As was suggested earlier, the Wonderbolts, as they exist, are woefully under-trained in the area of disaster control and rescue," Prism said. Whirlwind nearly winced. He almost sounded like Claire with how direct and cutting that remark had been.
Silverwind seemed to feel likewise.
"Most Wonderbolt fliers have minimal experience doing anything more difficult than cloud bursting, with the possible exception of generating a tornado. As was evidenced at Manehattan, there was a lack of understanding on the dangers of large storms, the effects terrain can have on flight conditions and safe rescue."
Silverwind, standing tall, turned her head to him. "I am of the belief that Sidewinder handled herself perfectly in the rescue attempt. That she was not the one to complete the rescue is not an issue of concern."
Prism Bolt shook his head. "That wasn't what I meant. When she moved in to rescue, she moved in from the front. That exposes the rescuer to the limbs of the victim, which may be flailing or convulsing from electrocution. Proper rescue form is to grab the victim from behind to minimize the danger."
Spitfire rubbed her chin as she considered this, or perhaps it was a bad memory assailing her.
Silverwind did not back down, however. "In that instance, Sidewinder's professional reflexes were fast enough to avoid the danger, as I would expect from all Wonderbolts."
Spitfire turned her attention from Prism to Silverwind. She narrowed her eyes, making it very clear that what Silverwind had said was not appreciated. "It is never acceptable to let ego put somepony's life at risk. An incapacitated rescuer just adds to the victims."
Prism continued, sparing Silverwind from the ire of her commander. "In light of the recent event, Princess Twilight agreed with my assessment that a new flying squad should be trained, whose sole purpose is to handle these rogue storms and coordinate the response."
Spitfire had been nodding along with him, but she stopped there. "Wait. A separate squadron? Wouldn't it be easier to instill a new training regimen for the Wonderbolts?" Whirlwind could almost hear the defensive tone in her voice.
"That was what I thought, at first. According to the historical records, however, changes like that were attempted roughly three hundred years ago," he said, gesturing to the folder, which Spitfire began going through. "Slowly, focus drifted back to the parts of fliers that were easily measurable. Speed, agility and grace became the standards by which a Wonderbolt was measured. Being knowledgeable about weather and rescue became second to just being skilled. Princess Twilight believes that trying to do the same thing again will fail the same way. Therefore, we reached the conclusion that it would be best to make the institution separate from the Wonderbolts."
The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. Prism let the words sink in before he continued. "However, Princess Twilight acknowledges that making an entirely new organization would be a large investment of resources. Therefore, the request being presented is to establish this new squadron, named the Storm Wardens, as a side group of the Wonderbolts. They would have the same upper command chain and base of operations here in Cloudsdale, but would have specialized training regimens and recruitment criteria, and would have total authority in any disaster or rescue situation."
Spitfire looked up from the folder and its extensive paperwork, an odd smile forming on her face. "That is quite an ambitious suggestion. You must have made quite an impression on Princess Twilight for her to back this."
"She was quite impressed with the idea and saw it as an excellent plan to keep what happened in Manehattan from happening again. We were lucky there, but we cannot depend on luck. We need to be ready if something like that ever happens again."
Spitfire nodded. "Very well. I'll need time to discuss this with my own command staff. Your information is thorough," she said as she picked up a paper, only to find it unfold like a centerfold. "...Very thorough."
Prism let his serious face crack for a moment, offering a grin. "We felt it was better to have more information than less."
Whirlwind would bet anything that 90% of that was from Princess Twilight directly. Her reputation as a bookworm was well known.
"Do you have anything to add, Silverwind?" Spitfire said, turning to the mare.
"Yes, Ma'am," she said, turning to face Prism. "I think this idea has merit. The incident in Manehattan was caused by our own inexperience. I think having a group of fliers whose job is to take command in such a situation, where our own knowledge may be lacking, is an excellent idea."
Spitfire nodded. "Well then, I believe we are done here. Oh yes, one more thing before I forget, and this is strictly personal. What gave you the idea for this? I'd always assumed I would see either you or your brother in the Wonderbolt uniform one day. Why did you decide to go this path?"
Prism chuckled, relaxing for the first time since he'd walked into the office. "Two reasons, auntie," he said with a grin.
Whirlwind inhaled sharply, trying her hardest not to laugh. Prism didn't have a 'casual' attitude. It was either serious or smart ass.
"First," Prism said. "During the event, I helped to rescue a few ponies around Manehattan. Most were fully grown, but there was one young filly. If we hadn't been there, the adults would have probably been okay. But the little filly, scared stiff under a tree? What would have happened to her? We need ponies who are more concerned with keeping everyone safe than being the best. Nothing personal," he added to Silverwind, who nodded in response.
Spitfire nodded with a smile. "And the second reason?"
Prism Bolt walked towards the door, turning to speak the last bit over his shoulder. "Something Princess Twilight told me. Did you know that Star Swirl had a brother?"
He closed the door behind him, leaving two very confused mares in his wake. Whirlwind, however, understood what he had said. Spitfire and Silverwind exchanged a few words of confusion, but then Spitfire seemed to remember something. "Recruit!" she called.
Whirlwind's mind kicked into gear, turning to face Spitfire. "Ma'am!"
Spitfire's eyes narrowed. "I take it we won't be having this issue again?"
Whirlwind saluted, turned professionally and left the office. She made it five feet down the hallway before she galloped after Prism Bolt.
That stallion had a lot to explain.
As soon as she left the main building, she saw him. He was standing by the edge of the clouds, placing the dress uniform in his saddlebags. They weren't designed for flying, anyway. "Hey!" she shouted, galloping after him.
Prism turned, seeing her running after him in her recruit flight suit. "Oh, hi..." he said, less enthusiastically than she'd hoped.
"Hi? That's all I get? After everything you've done over the last week, the only thing you have to say to me is 'hi'?" she said, coming to a stop right in front of him.
Prism looked down, shuffling his hooves about.
"I deserve an explanation, Bolt. Why did you keep this a secret? Why didn't you tell me that I'd made it into the Academy? You knew how much that meant to me! How could you keep it from me?"
Bolt sighed, looking up at her. His eyes were painful to look at, as if just looking at her was making him miserable. "I know, I know. It was dumb. It's just, well, being a Wonderbolt is a big commitment. I guess I... just wanted you all to myself."
"I knew you'd take it as soon as they offered, but I... well, I wanted to ask you something. It's something really important, but I wasn't sure I could compare with the Wonderbolts. I just... wished that they hadn't said anything at all."
Whirlwind felt a sudden warmth in her cheeks. What was he saying? Was he seriously about to...?
"Bolt," she said, barely over a whisper. "What are you asking?"
"Well... I... I wanted you to fly with me. I'm going to start the Wardens, and I wanted to ask you to join."
And just like that, the suspense crashed around her. "What," she said with a flat tone, staring at him incredulously.
"Well, I mean, you're so much better than me with weather and storms. I couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather have as my second."
"I can't believe you!" she shouted, whapping him upside the head with one of her hooves before doing likewise with the other. "I thought you were going to propose, and it's just about your stupid new flying group?"
Bolt tried to shield himself from her, not able to back up since he was on the edge of the cloud. "Ow! Hey, come on, I..." He stopped short, dropping his guard. "Wait, propose? Y-you mean you would have said yes?" he exclaimed in surprise.
Whirlwind went from angry to humiliated in record time, her voice becoming no more than a squeak. Her mouth hung open as she tried to think of a way to salvage her dignity.
A wide smile split Prism's face. In an instant, he'd wrapped his front hooves around her and jumped back with a loud whoop of delight.
Of course, the jump took the both of them over the side of the cloud.
Whirlwind panicked as she felt the two of them in free fall. She was held in place by Prism's forelegs wrapped around her. "Bolt! Bolt! Booooolt!" she shouted, as they plummeted through the sky.
Bolt flared his wings, bringing the two of them into an odd glide and crashing against another cloud. Bolt was lying on his back with Whirlwind on her shaky hooves above him.
Whirlwind's breath came hard, not believing how stupid that had just been. Bolt, on the other hand, was all smiles, still laughing like a mad pony. "What were you thinking? I could have... You could have... We could have… Argh!" she said in frustration.
Prism just smiled all the wider, running one of his hooves through her mane. "Hee hee, you're so cute like this. I hope you're ready for a wild time, ‘cause you're stuck with me now!"
Whirlwind just sighed. This wasn't anything like it was supposed to be. There was no well-planned romantic situation or build up. There wasn't even an engagement necklace. Everything was so spur of the moment and spontaneous.
What other way could she have expected this would have gone? This was who Prism was, and she wouldn't want him to be as boring as those old traditions.
"You," she said, placing a kiss on his lips, "are very lucky that I get bored easily."
"Is that a yes?" he asked with a smirk.
Whirlwind shrugged, sticking her tongue out at him. "Hmm, I don't have anything better to do."
Prism had decided to exchange the customary debauchery of a bachelor party for a good night out with 'the guys.' Everyone showed up, even Prince Illusion, whom he had always been on shaky terms with. Probably had something to do with kissing the prince's marefriend after Prism and Whirlwind broke up the first time, all those years ago.
Illusion was currently recounting that story, which explained why he'd shape shifted into a mare.
"—and then Prism, with all his class and grace, just stands there with his mouth hanging open. I mean, it's not like he's never kissed a mare before!" Illusion said, batting his eyelashes and drawing another round of laughter from their friends.
"I don't make a habit of making out with shape shifters, in my defense!" Prism shot back, laughing at the memory.
Illusion shrugged with a smirk. "Well, you made out with my lady. What was I supposed to do for revenge?"
"I dunno, slug me? That's what she would have done."
Illusion just laughed. "With who my dad is? Nah. This makes a much better story!"
Illusion returned to his normal form, sitting down at the table with the rest of their friends. Golden Delicious sat with a mug of cider, quietly chuckling at the variety of old stories they'd been passing around. Turquoise Blitz didn't bother with a stool, sitting on the ground so his large size wouldn't break anything. Icy Storm returned from the bar, four mugs of cider with him.
"Another wedding so soon. Seems like just yesterday it was T getting suited up," Stormy said, sliding the mugs to their owners. "Life is changing so fast."
Prism rolled his eyes. "Tell me about it. I've barely had time to enjoy my freedom, and I'm looking into houses now. Guess that's the price to pay, yeah?"
He looked to Turquoise, since he was the only one there who was married. "Don't look at me. I was waiting to get married since I was tiny," Turquoise said with a dreamy expression.
There was a collective groan from the table. He and Anthea were downright sickening with how affectionate they could be. The guess was that it would have dulled down after they got married, but it had only gotten worse.
"Wait, looking at houses? You mean you aren't making a 'Love Nest'?" Stormy said with a snicker.
Del arched an eyebrow at the statement. "Now what the hay is a 'Love Nest'? Never heard o' that."
Prism spoke up. "It's what they call it when a newlywed pegasi couple live in a cloud house. It's for… privacy."
"Stop!" Del said, holding up his hoof. "Pretty sure I've heard more than enough 'bout that."
Another rough of laughter went up around the table. "And to answer your question, Stormy, no. We're looking at a ground house. It's safer. Better for avoiding any accidents..."
Stormy nearly choked on a mouth full of cider, and Prism knew why. Stormy, of course, would know why pegasi couples would live on the ground. "Bolt! Tell me she's not...?"
Prism held up a hoof. "No! No, she's not. It's just… You know. Just in case."
Illusion laughed louder than anyone else there, smacking Prism on the shoulder. "You dog!"
"Speaking of life-changing decisions," Stormy began, drawing attention to himself amid the dying laughter. "I didn't want to steal Bolt's thunder, but I thought this might be the best time. Next month, I'm finishing school and… well, I've been thinking about what I wanted to do with myself."
Prism spoke up. "Well, I told you before. The Wardens will always have a spot for you. You're just as smart about weather as Whirlwind is, and she could probably use the help. She's not gonna like being the only trainer until we actually find a few capable weather ponies to help her."
Stormy shook his head. "No. Thanks, Bolt, but no. Not yet, anyway. Equestria is a big place, and all I've seen of it are places where everypony already knows who I am. Golden Delicious told me that the Appleloosa Weather Leader was injured recently."
A few heads turned towards the massive Apple. "The Apple family's got roots all over Equestria. We hear everything that's fit to know," he said, by way of an explanation.
Stormy continued. "They've got a temporary solution, but it isn't anything reliable. I'm going to head out there to help them. They don't have many pegasi living there, so they could use the help."
The announcement hit like a bombshell, especially considering Stormy was the youngest one there.
Prism asked the first question. "Do Mom and Dad know?"
Stormy nodded. "I told them the other day. Dad said it was a really good idea. Mom... Well, I think she was a little worried. But when I told her I was going to stay with the Apples at first, she warmed up to it."
Turquoise jumped in next. "But the Weather Leader is only injured. What are you gonna do when they recover?"
Stormy shrugged. "Jump on the train and go someplace else. I want to see what's out there. I want to, I dunno, go on an adventure."
Prism laughed. "That's Mom in you, no doubt about that. Well then, I think we've got a good choice for our next drink. This one's to Stormy, the Adventurer of Ponyville!" he said, raising his mug.
The party finally died down a few hours later. As the guys left the bar, laughing, they ran into the other half of the party.
What was a guys’ night out without the corresponding ladies’ night out? Of course, the ladies’ night out was significantly larger than the guys’. The two groups intermingled for a while, but they slowly broke off into smaller groups.
"So, did you colts have fun?" Whirlwind asked, planting a kiss on Prism's cheek.
Stormy responded. "Of course. Hearing all the hilarious stories of my brother making an idiot out of himself? That's always a good night!"
"All of them? Stormy, you'd be here until Celestia raises the sun to pull that off!"
"Oh hah hah, you two. You know, I might not miss you when you go halfway across the country," Prism joked, punching Stormy's shoulder.
Whirlwind arched her eyebrow. "Oooh, so he did tell you. I lost that bet, Pixel."
Prism turned to them both, confused. "Wait, you two knew?"
Pixel just laughed. "Of course I knew! Who do you think is going to keep him out of trouble?"
"What?" came the uniform cry from the stallions.
Pixel looked around at the shocked faces as if they didn't have a clue in the world. "I didn't think it was that surprising. I always wanted to go on an epic adventure. Plus, I never quit a game once I start playing." She placed a small kiss on Stormy's cheek, causing a few scandalized whispers to erupt from the group of ponies.
"Besides, the game isn't over until I reach the end, and I always win at games."
A small, feminine cough from the crowd stuck out in the silence.
"You don't count! You cheat!"
Stormy noticed who Pixel had yelled at, and looked very confused. "You... lost to Annie?"
Pixel grumbled to herself. "Yeah. She and T used to foalsit me," she said.
"You lost in a video game... to Anthea."
"I know! That's why she cheats!" Pixel shouted. The entire group burst into laughter.
For some time they simply stood there, chatting and reminiscing for what might be the last time they would all be together for quite a while. Finally, they began to split up, heading towards their respective homes.
Stormy and Bolt met up at their house after walking their respective marefriends’ home. This house was where they had both grown up, and they'd both be leaving it very shortly. One to continue his life and the other to find his.
"It's funny," Bolt said. "One of us was going to be an aimless drifter, while the other was going to join the elites of flying. It's still true, but it looks like we changed places."
"Seems that way," Stormy said with a chuckle.
"You know, despite what I used to say when we were growing up, I always thought you were the better one."
"You were the hard worker, the determined and dependable one. Nopony trusted me with anything because they knew I'd just brush it off. You were the all-star colt."
Stormy paused, and then laughed. Bolt looked over to him in confusion and a little bit of annoyance. "Hah! And I was so jealous of you that I nearly gave myself a complex over it. How did you do it? You didn't care what ponies saw from you. You just did what you wanted to. You were... honest, I guess. You were who you wanted to be."
Prism smiled with a shrug. "I wasn't that clever. I just wanted to make ponies smile. Life is way more fun when everypony is having a good time. But it's just like the Wonderbolts; being good at something is great, but only if it does good. What good is all the showing off if they can't do crap when ponies really need them? Starting up the Wardens is gonna be hard. I know that. But when I think about what we get from it, it's worth it. Every bit of joy and happiness that little filly in the rain has in her life is due to me and Whirlwind being there when she needed us. That's worth anything to me."
Stormy nodded, looking up to his brother for the first time in years. He'd spent most of his life being jealous of him and wondering what others saw in him. Now he knew. They could see that what Bolt wanted, more than anything else, was for everyone else to laugh and smile.
"For what it's worth, Bolt," Stormy said, "you would have been a great role model if I was smart enough to see it before now."
Prism Bolt laughed. "I could say the same to you, really."
The two walked into the house, quietly returning to their rooms. These four walls that had kept them connected for fifteen years would soon fall away as their paths diverged.
Stormy didn't know how long it would take him to finish his 'adventure,' but he had no regrets. No matter how far afield he went, he had a home to return to.
After all, home is just the place where you are surrounded by those who know and love you.