The stars were whirling around Twilight Sparkle, first in a broad sky, but then they moved in closer, and spun faster. Closer and faster they kept on advancing, until they were a tornado of stars that spun around her, trapping her in place.
“Twilight Sparkle! Give me your hoof!” cried out Princess Celestia. Twilight started reaching for her mentor.
“Take my hoof, Twilight Sparkle!” called out Fëanor, and suddenly she wrapped her foreleg around his.
High deer and pony princess tugged at the small alicorn; Twilight found herself caught fast. Each great being tried to bring her in, only for the other to respond. They pulled her tighter, tighter, tighter still, they were nearly tearing her in two-
“Huh?” Twilight murmured, blinking as she woke. The sun was streaming brightly through the gaps around her shades. She sat up and she yawned. “What... what is it, Spike?”
“Twilight! Come quick!” he said, bursting through her door. “Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are waiting outside!”
Twilight yawned. “Very funny, Spike. Now really, what's the big-”
“Eep!” she cried, for that had been Celestia's voice, and in fact it came from down below and out of doors. Bolting from her bed, Twilight used a quick spell to arrange her mane and tail, even pulsing energy throughout her coat to clean herself completely. She glanced into the mirror. It was nothing like what time and care could do for somepony's appearance, but it would have to serve. She hurried down the hall then down the stairs, bounding cross the library and throwing open her front door. “Princess Celestia! Princess Luna!”
“Princess Twilight Sparkle,” said Luna with a nod.
“It's so wonderful to see you, princesses!” Twilight exclaimed. She spared another glance at Luna. “All respect, Princess Luna, but shouldn't you be asleep?”
“Alicorns, thou wilt find, do not need sleep, not as mortal creatures do,” said Luna. “It is a luxury for our kind, one we can if necessary do without.”
“That's good to hear, I guess,” said Twilight. She hastily stepped sideways. “Please, come in, come in!”
“We've already sent word to the other Element Bearers,” said Celestia once she was indoors, “and to Lady Falalauria as well. They should be-”
“Here,” said Falalauria as she appeared out of thin air. “I knew that you would come, Tia.”
“You also must know what I'm here to ask,” said Celestia.
“I do,” said Falalauria. “What remains uncertain, however, is whether I can dissuade you from compelling me to help.”
“Help? Compelling?” Twilight asked. “What's all this about, princesses?”
“Let us wait until thy friends arrive,” said Luna.
Fortuitously there then came a knock upon the door. Spike threw it open. “Hey there, girls!”
“Hello there, Spikey-wikey,” cooed Rarity, reaching down to stroke his chin. Bubbling hearts came swimming through his eyes, though Rarity pretended not to notice.
“What's all this, then?” Applejack asked as she, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash all came into the library. Her eyes went wide. “M'lady! Your highnesses!” Her hat was swept from off her head, and she bowed low. The others followed suit.
“Dear Spike,” said Falalauria, “if you would close the door.” And when he'd done as she had asked, she turned toward Celestia. “Tia, I cannot.”
“Lala, please,” said Celestia.
“Can't what?” asked Dash. “What's all this about?”
“Canst thou not feel it, Rainbow Dash?” asked Luna. “The change upon the air, the sourness of the wind, the lengthening of all the shadows. Canst thou not feel the rising tide of nightmares?”
“Uh... no?” Dash answered with a shrug.
“Luna believes Reiziger is getting ready to attack,” said Celestia, “and I agree. He's been dormant too long.”
“Where? When?” Fluttershy asked.
“We do not know,” said Luna. “Which is why...” her turquoise eyes moved back to Falalauria, who shrank away.
“I cannot, Lulu,” she said.
“Lala, I need this,” said Celestia, a note of pleading in her voice.
“The future is too fragile,” said Falalauria, though her galactic eyes were wavering. “Right now this war ends well for us, though not without much hardship. However, I have never before Seen a future as subject to change as this one is. The slightest move and word makes differences in it. That is why I cannot tell you what Reiziger's plans are. One wrong action, one lever of fate pulled too soon, and everything could be ruined.”
“Lala, please,” Celestia was begging now. “Help me protect my ponies- my country. I don't want anypony to die, and so many have died already!”
“You did tell the six of us about the Elements of Harmony ahead of schedule,” said Twilight.
“That was a gamble,” Falalauria replied. “It turned out for the best, but I cannot guarantee that other actions will do likewise.”
“But ya made the gamble anyway, m'lady,” said Applejack, “and it did turn out well. T'ain't gonna win this war by playin' it safe, not with a fella like Reiziger on the other side.”
“Applejack is correct,” said Luna. “I have been reading the forbidden volumes in the archives concerning Reiziger. By the end of the Deer War he was a cunning strategist, and though he was cruel, he led with skill and confidence. We must fight to win, not merely to not lose. That requires risk- calculated risk, but risk regardless.”
“I...” Falalauria's amazing eyes were wide now, and though they held no pupils one could tell that she was glancing back and forth between the princesses and the six ponies.
“Come on, my lady!” said Spike. “Have some faith in us!”
“Yes, my lady,” said Rarity, a note of knowing in her voice, “faith- remember?”
Falalauria fixed Rarity with one long, careful stare. She did not flinch to be the subject of that starry gaze, instead staring intently back at her as memories of one deep night filled both their heads. Falalauria took a deep breath. Celestia prepared to flinch. At last a sigh sprung loose from mouth and nostrils. “Faith, eh?” she said. She smiled subtly. “Very well.”
“Woohoo!” Pinkie cheered.
“Your instincts are correct, Luna,” said Falalauria, a nebula now floating in her eyes. “Reiziger is indeed preparing to attack. His target is Cloudsdale.”
“No!” Dash cried.
“How much time do we have?” Celestia asked.
“Less than forty-eight hours,” said Falalauria.
“So almost nothing,” said Luna, beginning to pace back and forth across the library. “Cloudsdale is, of course, impossible to attack from the land- that is its best defense.”
“He has winged beasts under his control now,” said Falalauria. “He also has taken command of the changelings, whom I know can fly.”
“He has changelings?” Twilight said. She swallowed. “So that means he could have servants-”
“Anywhere,” said Applejack. “And they could look like anypony!”
“We shall have to scan the mind of every member of the royal guard,” Celestia said.
“If Reiziger's forces can fly, then things are very difficult,” said Luna. “Cloudsdale's greatest strength is also a weakness: floating in the air as it does, it can be attacked from every direction, and so it is impossible to totally defend.”
“But it's sturdy!” Dash cried. “Cloudsdale weathers storms and hurricanes all the time!”
“Sturdy for pegasi,” said Luna. “It is made of clouds, Rainbow Dash. Most creatures barrel through its stout walls as though they are dew.” Her eyebrows rose. “However, the magic by which the city is shaped could certainly be modified.”
“Yes!” Twilight said. “The cloud-shaping spell could be tweaked! You could increase the density until the clouds still float, but they're solid as stone!”
“Canst thou make the modifications, Princess Twilight Sparkle?”
Her violet eyes grew wide. “Me, princess? B-But what about you?”
“Thou art a clever sorceress, skilled in both theory and practice of magic,” Luna answered. “If anypony can make successful changes to such old and mighty spellwork, it is thee.”
“Well... I... I'll need to do a little studying...”
“You can do it, darling!” Rarity cried.
“Yeah!” Dash said.
“I'll try,” said Twilight finally.
“Then thou wilt be going to Cloudsdale,” said Luna. “Rainbow Dash, thou wilt go as well. Thy speed and skill at weather will be most vital in the defense, particularly thy command of lightning.”
Dash stood up on her back hooves and snapped off a salute. “You can count on me, Princess Luna!”
“Two days is not enough time to muster the full complement of the guard,” Luna continued, “stationed as they are across Equestria. Fortunately, pegasi are mostly what we need, and they can travel swiftly. Even so, I fear we shall be undermanned. Tia, what of that troupe of acrobats I always see at festivals? The fliers, the bolters, something?”
“The Wonderbolts?” Celestia asked.
“Yeah! They're the best fliers in Equestria!” Dash said.
“They are stationed in Canterlot, and if they are as skilled as their reputation suggests, they could be useful in airborne warfare. Can they fight?”
Celestia winced. “They... they have basic combat training, but-”
“Can they fight?”
“Well enough,” Celestia at last admitted.
“Then they will go as well,” said Luna.
“And me also,” said Celestia. “If Reiziger himself is going to be there, somepony has to be present with the strength to hold him off, or at least distract and neutralize him.”
“No, Tia,” said Luna. “Thou must stay in Canterlot. This strike may be a feint, or some component of a larger assault. Thou must be on hoof to respond to any attack in some other location.”
“I agree,” said Falalauria. “You must stay in Canterlot, Celestia. I See that if you leave, Reiziger definitely takes advantage of it.”
“But... if he's going to be there...”
“If he is there, then he will deal with me,” said Luna, “for I shall go to Cloudsdale in thy stead. Under my command, Cloudsdale will not fall.”
Celestia chuckled. “You always were the better commander between us.”
“As I am well aware,” said Luna with a knowing smile. She turned toward the six. “Rainbow Dash, Princess Twilight Sparkle, gather provisions for a stay of some few nights, then meet me in the center of the town. We shall leave this very afternoon.”
“Yes ma'am!” Dash said with a second crisp salute.
“Of course, princess!” Twilight cried.
“In the meantime,” said Celestia, “Spike, take a letter.”
Spike was quite prepared for this command, having received it very frequently from Twilight. He even kept a quill and inkwell handy in the library, along with rolls of parchment suitable for letters. Retrieving these, he said, “Who's it to, princess?”
“To the Royal Council, for distribution throughout all of Equestria,” said Celestia. “Orders from Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. Equestria is under attack by a dark lord of incredible power, who commands servants terrible and foul. The ponies of Equestria need to be able to defend themselves from his designs. Therefore, I am lifting the ban on battle magic-”
“Princess!” Twilight cried.
“-immediately and indefinitely. I am also lifting the ban on unplanned extreme weather events. The sun has set, and the night is dark.” She nodded. “Send it.”
Spike rolled up the letter, thought upon its destination, and blew a stream of glittering green fire. The letter was dissolved into a haze of sparkling purple that went soaring out an open window in the summit of the library.
“But Princess Celestia, battle magic is dangerous!” Twilight said.
“It is also prone to abuse, isn't it?” Rarity asked. “That's at least what my tutor always told me.”
“Both things you say are true,” said Celestia. “However, I cannot allow Equestria's ponies to go without protection.”
Luna nodded. “Thou art correct, of course,” she said. “So let what consequences may come, come. Now then, pack! I should prefer not to dawdle.”
So in the course of a few hours Dash and Twilight filled their saddlebags with what they deemed essential. Finally stood five of them before the center of the town, where Luna's chariot, black-enameled and pulled by her bat-winged Night Guard, stood ready to depart. Dash fidgeted before it. “Where's Twilight?”
“It is not like her to be late, I think,” said Luna, standing in the cabin of the chariot.
“I'll go look back at the library,” said Spike, who went off like a shot. Soon he was at Ponyville's great library, enmeshed as it was inside the trunk of an old oak. “Twilight?” he called. “Twilight, Luna's ready to go! Where are you?”
“... only be gone a few days.”
“I hope the battle goes well for you, Twilight.”
“It should,” came Twilight's voice through the warm air. “We'll have Princess Luna and her Night Guard with us. The Wonderbolts will be there as well.”
“More than that, they will have you with them,” rose up another voice, this one with a cultured accent. “Think of this as a training exercise, Twilight. Use what I have taught you. Remember: will.”
“Of course,” said Twilight. “Well, you'd better get going.”
“Indeed. Farewell.” The voice vanished just as Spike went round the corner, to the bend in the tree's trunk where a small picnic table was set out.
“Twilight!” he cried, for there she was, saddlebags strapped to her flanks.
“Oh!' she cried, rearing back in shock. “Oh, h-hi Spike.” She quickly recomposed herself.
He raised an eyebrow. “Who were you talking to just now?”
“Oh, nopony,” said Twilight. “I was just... talking to myself.” She bobbed her head from side to side. “You know me, Spike, I'm pretty crazy sometimes.”
“Uh... I guess...” he arched an eyebrow. “But anyway, Luna's ready to go!”
“I know,” said Twilight. She broke into a gallop, hurrying so fast she left Spike in her wake.
By the time Spike caught up with her the six friends were all gathered in the town center. Many deer and ponies gathered around Luna's chariot; foals and older children gazed in wonder at the princesses. “It is time,” said Luna. “Princess Twilight Sparkle, thou wilt ride with me. It should be quicker. Rainbow Dash, thou wilt fly by thine own power.”
“Fine by me!” said Dash, flapping up into the air. “Bye, everypony!”
“Good luck to both of you!” cried Rarity.
“Give 'em a slice o' Tartarus!” shouted Applejack, swinging her left hoof.
“Ohmygosh, ohmygosh, ohmygosh, be brave, guys! Be super awesome and amazing and fierce and wonderful!” Pinkie bounced so high she nearly reached the height of Dash's hover.
“Please be safe!” said Fluttershy.
“Yeah, Twilight,” said Spike, coming up behind her. “Be safe.” His green eyes wavered. “Please?”
Smiling softly, Twilight drew him into a tight hug. “I'll be safe, Spike. I'll come back to you. I promise.”
“If thou wilt, Princess Twilight Sparkle?”
With a final squeeze of Spike, and a final nod to all her friends, Twilight leapt up into Luna's chariot. The batlike ponies flapped their leather wings. The chariot shimmered with magic, and it rose off of the ground, climbing swiftly high into the sky. The Night Guard hovered up above the town, and as their mistress rose to meet them they assumed a tight formation. Dash fell in beside them, and the flying ponies soon set off into the sky.
Commander Gawing paced upon the cloud-made outer wall of Cloudsdale as it rose some miles over far below Equestria. The Equestrian Guard that stood about him was near perfectly still, only a blink of eye, a breath of air occasionally, betraying them as living things. Gawing could not bring himself to their level of stoicism. Princess Luna herself would be arriving shortly, bearing portents he already knew were sinister. Gawing had never met the younger of the sisters, and had heard some very stomach-clenching stories from his fellows in the officer's corps. She was said to be intensely formal, a vicious stickler for propriety, as severe as Celestia was gentle. He still remembered his military school manners well enough, but everypony tended to relax a bit in Cloudsdale; a city full of ponies who could fly away at will did not have the highest tolerance for jerks.
He glanced out once again across the cloudy, endless sky. His eyebrows rose. A dark shape was approaching, and around there was seen a shifting mass of living matter. In no time he could tell its true nature, for pegasi have sharper eyes than unicorns or earth ponies. “The princess is approaching!” he called out to the guard. “Escort formation, you lot! Go down, form ranks! Stand at attention, on the double!”
With flurryings of feathers the guard flew down to the great landing of Cloudsdale. Rainbows from the foundries thundered into space on either side of the immense front porch, while towers shaped of clouds rose up in all directions, from which the wealthy pegasi looked down at this new spectacle. The Night Guard, some hundred strong, flew like a swath of shadow through the sunny day. In their midst was the chariot, and even from here Princess Luna could be seen, her galactic mane and tail wavering in unseen lunar wind. The guard lined up in ranks on either side of the long entrance, with Gawing standing at the head, ready to receive his sovereign.
The Night Guard landed with a mighty whisper of their leather wings. The chariot soared over them, touching down at last amid the normal guard and rolling to a stop just before Gawing. Gracefully stepped Luna from the cabin, mane and tail alight with night's soft glow, coat of midnight blue somehow steeped in shadow even in this daytime. Gawing's red fur stood up at her approach. He could feel the magic radiating off her, could almost see the way her massive power disturbed time and space. It was very much like being in Celestia's presence, though also different in its way. He bowed low as she came close. “My Princess Luna, welcome to Cloudsdale.”
“Commander Gawing, I presume?”
“Yes, your highness,” said Gawing.
“Rise,” she said. “I have much to speak with thee about.” She glanced over her shoulder at the guard standing so still. “These are thy assembled guardsponies, then?”
“Yes, o princess,” said Gawing. “More will be here tonight, and even more tomorrow. You said forty-eight hours, so we won't have time to muster every pegasus in the Royal Guard, but we'll have a great number as things stand.”
“Fort-two hours, now,” said Luna, “which is not much time to make things ready.”
“I-If I may ask, princess,” said Gawing, “ready for what? Your letter didn't go into much detail.”
Luna fixed him with a piercing gaze. “For war, Commander Gawing. Surely thou hast heard the rumors?”
“I, I know there was some talk of a dark creature-”
“A dark lord,” said Luna, “a resurrected enemy from ancient times. He wishes nothing less than the annihilation of our state. Cloudsdale is his first great target. He means to wreck the city.” A daring smile flashed out from her mouth. “I mean to prevent him.”
Gawing's mouth hung open. “A... a dark lord? I didn't think there were any of those left in the world.”
“There are now,” said Luna. She glanced over her shoulder. “If you would step forward?”
Luna moved aside, revealing two winged ponies just behind her. One was lavender, and bore a unicorn's horn to go along with pegasus' wings. The other was- “Dash?” said Gawing.
“Gawing?” said Dash, breaking into smile. “Dude, it's been ages!”
“You know each other?” Luna said.
“Just a bit, your highness,” said Gawing. “Rainbow Dash and I attended kindergarten together. I haven't seen her since- though everypony's heard of her. And you as well, Princess Twilight Sparkle,” he inclined his head.
“I can't believe boring little Wingy wound up Commander of Cloudsdale's Garrison!” Dash cried.
“Well, I'm not half as famous as you,” said Gawing. “I haven't been on all of those adventures. I haven't saved Equestria so many times.”
“So there is already a rapport,” said Luna. “That is beneficial. Rainbow Dash and Princess Twilight Sparkle will take part in the battle. Princess Twilight Sparkle, of course, has her royal status. As for Rainbow Dash, from now until the battle is up I grant her the rank of Commander. She is thy equal, Sir Gawing. Work together.”
“Of course, my princess!” said Gawing. “I assume your position will be highest of all?”
“I shall take the general's seat, if thou dost not object,” said Luna.
“Of course not,” said Gawing. “I'm perfectly happy to help out, though, if you need it. I realize you must have vast stores of information on warfare, but I have been in strategy classes more recently. Things have changed in the last thousand years.”
Luna arched one graceful brow. “I doubt they have changed quite so much as thou might imagine, Commander Gawing. Courage has not changed. Carnage has not changed. And besides,” said Luna, “I have seen battle. Hast thou?”
“W-Well, no,” admitted Gawing. “I'm afraid I wasn't even at the Changeling assault on Canterlot. This will be my first combat.” He glanced sheepishly to one side.
“I, meanwhile, have stood upon the hills above the Crystal Empire as Sombra's armies marched in dreadful pace,” said Luna. “I have clashed horn-on-horn with narwhals. I have led marches, rallied charges, feigned retreats.” Her eyes obtained a glint of silver. “So then, Commander Gawing, what say you?”
Gawing bowed low. “I am at your full command, your highness.”
“Very good,” said Luna. She started walking toward the front gates of the city. Gawing fell into step beside her, Dash and Twilight bringing up the rear. “This is not a battle on a neutral field, however. We shall be under siege. That presents us with some advantages, but it also puts us out of sorts in some respects.”
They walked below the cloudy arch and surveyed all the city, laid out in the pegasi's ancestral style. There in the distance was the acropolis, where most trade was transacted. Broad avenues were lined with cloudy towers, while open fields of cloud showed public spaces filled with ponies. Rainbows arched in bands of color high above their heads, while further still above the sun beamed down upon the city, showering the clouds with light that made their fluffy surfaces seem ever more entrancing.
Luna sighed. “Such a lovely place. Pity it must see violence.”
A slight hitch in the breath of one guardspony caught her ear. She turned and saw the green pegasus who'd huffed. He strove to keep from shaking as she drew in front of him.
“Hast thou an opinion, master pegasus?”
“Permission to speak freely, your highness?”
Luna nodded. “Granted.”
“We won't let Cloudsdale down,” the guard said firmly. His eyes wavered. “Every pegasus from every part of Equestria thinks of Cloudsdale as a second home. We'll all die before we let it fall.”
Luna smiled. “I like thy spirit,” she said. “What is thy name?”
“Spearmint, your highness.”
“Where didst thou graduate in thy class at Starpoint, Sir Spearmint?”
“Near the top, your highness,” Spearmint said, standing all the straighter.
“He just joined the guard last week, your highness,” said Gawing. “He's very young, still.”
“Youth is needed when activity is required,” said Luna. “Too many old hooves breed too many old ways. I expect to see thee acquit thyself well in battle, Captain Spearmint, and to lead the ponies under thee with skill and courage.” She flapped her wings and rose just off the clouds. “And all you mares and stallions! Do you agree with your new captain?”
“Will you strive to protect this city that you love, even to your dying breath?”
Now Luna grinned. “Let nopony say there is no stiffness in the necks of Equestrian folk. You are dismissed! Report to the Cumulus Fields at daybreak tomorrow for drilling!”
The pegasi broke apart, flying off in clumps or by themselves. Fluttering back to the cloudy ground, Luna turned to Gawing. “Come fly with me, Commander Gawing. You as well, Rainbow Dash and Princess Twilight Sparkle. We must survey the city so as to better plot out its defense.”
Twilight flinched away. “I... I can't really fly very well, princess.”
“We must correct that before long,” said Luna, horn aglow with silver light. Twilight lifted off the ground. “For now, though, thou wilt be in my care.” She fluttered off the clouds, Twilight close beside her, while Dash and Gawing followed in her stead.
The moon was quite enormous at this height, Twilight reflected. Staring at it from the window of the tower where her room was situated, she reflected that this was of course quite true- the higher up she was, the closer she became to the moon as it rotated round the Earth. It would seem larger at this height, wouldn't it? That however was a question for some other time. She shrugged, and went back to her books.
“Hoo!” cried Dash, bursting through the door. “I'd forgotten how much fun it was to party with other pegasi! No offense, Twi, but nobody lives it up like us.” She chuckled. “Heh, though I guess you're a pegasus now, sort of. So you're welcome to join in.”
“Thanks for the offer,” said Twilight, glancing over her shoulder. “You know, it's funny. I've been to Cloudsdale once before, but it's more... comfortable now, for some reason.”
“It's because of the cold, duh!” said Dash. “When you got your wings you picked up a pegasus pony's protection from cold.”
Twilight's eyebrows rose. “Oh my gosh, you're right! That's what's different! It's like...” her eyebrows lowered, “like I can tell it is cold, but it doesn't bother me. It's so strange!”
“Just how pegasi are,” said Dash. “It makes lying in clouds super comfy, if you ask me.”
“I wish I could do that,” said Twilight.
“What are you talking about?” Dash asked. “Come on, we'll go now! We can just fly-”
“But I can't fly, Dash!” said Twilight. “I can barely hover!”
“Oh,” said Dash. “Hmm,” said Dash. A smile suddenly broke out on her face. “Okay. We're gonna have to fix that right now.”
“What?” said Twilight, scooting up against the cloudy wall of the tower. “What do you mean, fix it right now?”
“I mean it's time you learned to fly,” said Dash. “And who better to teach you than the greatest flier in all of Equestria?”
“Oh, Dash, thanks for the offer, but I really-”
“Don't have time? That's what you always say. That's what you've said every single time I've offered to teach you.” Dash advanced on her, rose-hued eyes lit up. “But now we're less than two days away from a battle, a battle where you'll need to fly if you wanna survive! It's now or never, Twilight. Pony up!”
“But... but I need to keep working on the density modifications!” Twilight stammered. “The clouds need to-”
“Twilight, you're the smartest, most amazing magician I've ever known,” said Dash. “I completely believe that you can make those modifications in no time. I've got some faith in you. Now have some faith in me.”
Twilight stared deeply into her friend's eyes. Dash looked back firmness, but support as well. Twilight took a fateful breath. “Okay,” she said. “Let's go.”
Dash was kind enough to carry Twilight nearly all the way unto their destination. It wasn't far from Cloudsdale- a bank of clouds that drifted gently in the silver shimmer of the moonlight. Settling Twilight on her hooves, Dash touched down right next to her, beginning next to canter back and forth. “Okay, newbie! Wings are- hey, when did you get taller?”
“Never mind. Anyway, wings are like legs!”
“Uh, actually, they're not,” said Twilight. She raised a hoof. “In fact, wings are so totally unlike legs that most paleontologists believe that pegasus evolution is the most radical example of natural selection in the world. It must have been an amazing mutation, a freakish one! A pony born with an extra set of oddly jointed legs upon its back, of all-”
“That's not what I meant!” Dash stomped her hoof. “What I'm trying to say is that wings are like legs because they're natural. A pegasus- or an alicorn in your case- has wings, like, wired into their system! Just like most ponies have legs as a natural part of them. Which means that, deep down, you already know how to use them.”
“Yep!” said Dash. “So the first step is to get those wing instincts to kick in.”
“I... suppose that makes sense,” said Twilight. “How do we do that, though?”
A wicked grin now parted Dash's lips. “Remember the story I told you girls about me and Firefly?”
“How could I forget?” Twilight said. “It was such a beautiful story. But I don't see what it-” her eyes bulged- “no, Dash, WAIT-”
Dash swiveled around. Her back legs cocked like flintlocks, and before Twilight could move another muscle she had bucked with all her might. Twilight was kicked hard in her right side, sending her careening off the cloud into the open sky. She hung there for a minute- and then fell.
“AAAAAAAAA!!!” Twilight screamed, the night air rushing cold and vicious all about her. The darkened countryside below was coming at her, its increasing closeness melding with the coolness of the atmosphere to send watery tears out of her eyes.
“You can do it, Twi!” said Dash, diving fast beside her with a rainbow streak, wings pulsing at blinding speeds to outrun gravity. “You've got it in you! Fly!”
“I c-can't!” yelled Twilight. The ground was now visibly closer.
“Yes you can!” said Dash. “Just reach deep inside you and find those instincts!”
Twilight fought against her blinding panic. She tried to banish all her thoughts, purifying her mind's function until all that remained were basic instincts. But she couldn't! She wouldn't! She would fail and fall and die and it would be for nothing! All because she lacked-
Will, there came inside her head Fëanor's voice.
Will, she thought, now with her own mental speech. Fëanor had taught her just the other day the power of will. Will alone made magic work, and she, as wielder of the Gift of Magic, possessed will unlike most creatures. Anything was possible for her, Fëanor had said so! She dug into her heart and found the same unceasing will that had possessed her on the night before. Twilight dug into her soul, willing her deep thoughts to float into the moonlight, forcing the most primal urges of her mind to come out. She was falling! She needed to survive! She would fly! She would! She willed it, she was forcing all her strength-
As if a wall had manifested just in front of her, her falling ceased. Indeed, she pulled back upward in the air, rearing back first swiftly, then more slowly, inching up until she finally halted. She looked around. She hung above the ground that lay yet still so far beneath her. The air was blowing gently on her face. She looked back over her shoulder. Her wings were beating, swinging in great circles to hold her in place.
“Atta girl,” said Dash, coming up beside her. “Knew you had it in you.”
“I... I did it,” Twilight said. The most enormous smile spread across her face. “I did it!” Her wings beat hard and sent her soaring, commanded by a part of her she hadn't even known existed, but, as Dash had said, was definitely there. “Woohoo!” She flew harder, faster, streaking ever upward, bursting through the clouds and she was hanging, feeling gravity pull down on her but she defied it. It was the most breathtaking thing she'd ever known, so much unlike her magic levitating, because now she did it with the muscles and the blood of her own body. “Ha ha ha!” She looped and spiraled, ever rising, ever climbing, soaring high into the starry, silver night.
“Wooooo!” roared Dash, climbing up beside her, flying now at her right side.
Twilight's heart was racing, her spirit soaring higher even than her body on her newly useful wings. She kept on climbing, kept advancing in her altitude, piercing cloud and moonlight as she moved closer toward space. When the air became too hard to breathe, when all the stars seemed bright like diamonds amid the blackened curtain of infinity, she tucked her wings and fell, diving in a streak of lavender and dusky purple, arcing back towards Cloudsdale with Dash hot on her hooves.
The moon saw all of this, and from her royal chambers, enmeshed amid the maps and charts that laid out avenues of danger, Princess Luna took a moment to lift up her head, and smile.