• Published 8th Apr 2014
  • 1,144 Views, 46 Comments

Where They Understand You - Loganberry

Rainbow Dash moved to Ponyville on her birthday. This is the story of how – and why – it happened

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4. Its Shadow from the Sky

"Hmm, I'm quite impressed," said the yellow-vested foremare. "It's been quite a while since we had a new recruit who could do that straight off."

Rainbow Dash preened. "Hey, yeah," she said. "Of course you're impressed. But it was nothin'. I knew I could do it first time: I'm Rainbow Dash, and I'm–"

"And you're still on probation here. Yes, you did well with the stratocumulus, and I'm not going to tell you otherwise, but you still have a long way to go before you can call yourself a pro. You might want to remember that."

The foremare moved away, leaving Rainbow to her task. In all honesty, she felt, there wasn't a great deal that was too interesting about the cloud creation process. The intricate flight moves to whip up the clouds into just the right consistency for a particular cloud form were cool, but that was only a small part of her job. Mostly it was just a case of watching the funnels from which clouds emerged and checking that the automated processes were doing what they should. That was really, really boring.

She turned to one of her two partners, a somewhat slow-witted orange stallion several years her senior but with nothing like her athletic prowess. He wasn't a pony Rainbow would have chosen as her team-mate, but you didn't get much say in the matter as a newbie. At least her other colleague, a white mare about her own age, seemed to have a bit more alertness about her. Still not in my league, she thought smugly. Who is?

"Have you always been able to do that?" asked the stallion in the near-monotone Rainbow had already come to know and hate. "You're a pretty good flier."

Dash rolled her eyes. "Er, yeah." She turned away, not wanting to waste any more of her time on this idiot, and was startled to catch a glance that passed between him and the other mare. Oh Celestia, don't tell me they're... please no... I've gotta get out—

Suddenly, on a whim, Rainbow took off as powerfully as she could, leaving the others too startled to say a word in her wake. She headed straight for the rear of the facility, where a semi-permanent training course had been laid out. Her features crinkled into a truly evil grin as she approached the start line and set herself for the perfect run.

Effortlessly, Dash eased herself into the first bend, taking the apex so tight that the tips of her feathers brushed the dots of cumulus that marked the inside edge of the course. Her co-workers, her foremare, the Weather Factory, the whole of Cloudsdale melted away into inconsequential nothingness. None of it mattered now; indeed, nothing existed any more but Rainbow Dash, the training course and that transcendent freedom that so few ponies ever knew, that came only with true mastery of the skies.

Rainbow weaved smoothly in and out of the closely-set vertical barriers that made up the next obstacle. It was one of the more straightforward parts of the course, but nopony was immune from making a mistake. Even the best, as one of the Wonderbolts' more self-deprecating sayings went. Even me. The thought flitted across Rainbow's mind almost idly, though her filling heart refused to so much as acknowledge the sentiment. Her smile had settled now, no longer that wicked grin but something more akin to joy.

As she came out of the obstacle, almost at once the track took a sharp jink and fell almost vertically. This was her favourite section, though Dash felt it somehow wrong that it came so early in the course; she had been flying for no more than eight or nine seconds. If – when – she had a say in recruitment, she would make sure that the last obstacle would be something truly awe-inspiring; something that only those with the true Wonderbolt spirit would have the stomach and the wings to take on and beat.

It was odd that so many non-pegasi thought that flying fast, straight and level was an achievement. Other than keeping a practised flyer's eye out for ambient hazards, there was really nothing to it. Even pushing straight up wasn't too much of a stretch for an accomplished flyer. With the powerful wings of a born racer, gravity and air resistance were almost her playthings, though she ached to one day see if the stories were true that if you went high enough, the blue sky shaded to black and the very stars could be seen at noon.

Flying downwards, though... now that was something else. Ground-bound ponies could never understand that. For unicorns and, even more so, earth ponies, the ground was home. The notion of leaving it far behind was anathema to their souls. Pegasi, though, lived in – and for – the skies. The further up a pegasus went, the more space she had, and that freedom was something every such pony craved. When she flew towards the ground at speed, the unyielding surface rushing up to meet her as she threw away the habits of a lifetime and made gravity her ally, that was an alien feeling indeed. The adrenalin rush that came with knowledge of the obvious danger of a miscalculation was thrilling, but perhaps even more so was the sensation that you were stepping outside the bounds of pegasine normality.

The vertical drop was almost straight, but with just enough kinks and inconsistencies to force the young pegasus to keep her cerise eyes open, in spite of the onrushing wind and her lack of eye protection. Dash cursed mildly as motes of fine dust stung her eyeballs. Even a generation ago, the Wonderbolts had eschewed the goggles entirely as a matter of pride. Things had changed, but only slowly and painfully: there remained a lingering feeling among some traditionalists (including Rainbow's own grandfather, she recalled suddenly) that wearing goggles was somehow unsporting. And even now, they were usually not worn in competition: the entrants for the Best Young Flyer contest would fly with eyes naked to the air.

Rainbow was no hidebound traditionalist. Impulsive as she was, she had a surprisingly practical bent to her when it came to protective gear. She valued her superb vision as she did the lithe, agile body that made her such a fast flyer; she knew well the value of staying in shape and what she longed for right now was a pair of top-of-the-range, hoof-made goggles from Eagle Eye. Still, there was no going back from here. Stopping at this point wasn't even on her radar. Seeing the bottom of the plummet rush up at her, she threw her body around in a wrenching yet strangely graceful curve for the steep, ascending corkscrew bend that made up the the next obst—

"What in Tartarus are you playing at up there, filly!?"

Dash's concentration wavered for a fraction of a second. It was enough to send her smashing into the harder, slate-grey stratus that lined the sides of the track here, making it seem almost like a tunnel. She lost control as a wing-tip crunched against the unyielding surface, then barrelled diagonally downwards and out of the course entirely, landing with a dull flump on the floor of the factory. Rainbow buried her head and moaned for a few moments, then raised it a couple of inches to see...

...a Wonderbolts uniform.

She sprang upright in an instant, her senses alive, suddenly feeling every tiny waft of air through her crumpled feathers. Rainbow almost feared to raise her gaze to meet the newcomer's own, but as she did so, she realised just who it was that had witnessed her impromptu training run. Out of the sides of the unmistakable lightning-striped blue flight suit sprang two powerful yellow wings, and above her eyes – still goggled, Dash noted without surprise – was a shock of startling yellow-orange hair. There was only one pony she knew with a mane like that.

Rainbow Dash had just made a spectacle of herself in front of Spitfire. The youngest captain of the display team in a generation. A mare some knowledgeable observers were already mentioning in the same breath as the great Firefly, the team's legendary founder. A pony Rainbow had idolised for years; one she yearned to emulate and, in time, surpass in fame. This is my chance! she exulted inwardly, but her excitement lasted only a moment as her train of thought was again rudely derailed.

"That isn't some foal's playground, you idiot!" The voice hadn't lost much of its volume or anger. "You could have been seriously hurt!"

Dash finally found her voice and her resolve quickly hardened, a defiant look coming into her eyes. "I wanted to test myself, Spitfire. I'll be flying with you some day. I'm gonna be a Wonderbolt. I'm not going to get anything out of a public course any more. I need more. I need a challenge. I need this. I know I can do it. I can beat this course. I've... I've done a sonic rainboom—"

"Yeah," interrupted the flame-haired mare. "I know. I'd imagine everypony in Cloudsdale knows how you got your cutie mark. And believe me, I was impresssed when I heard about that race. But have you ever done it again?" Rainbow Dash was silent. "No. Yes, you're a pretty decent flyer for your age, and you have a lot of potential. A lot. But right now, that's what it is. Potential."

"But," protested Rainbow, "but I can beat anypony in a straight race, right now. Anypony. I don't lose, period. I bet I could even beat you. Ma'am," she added after a moment's thought.

Spitfire laughed harshly. "Oh, girl, do you really think that being a Wonderbolt is all about how fast you can fly? That all that matters is who you can beat?" She shook her mane and spoke bluntly. "We're not just a race team. Ever heard of discipline? Respect? Common sense? Some things you earn. And let me tell you right now, you have a long way to go before you earn enough that you can afford to spend it, little filly."

Rainbow Dash had always believed – no, she'd known, deep in her being – that one day she'd be having a conversation with Spitfire beside this very training course. This was... not quite how she'd imagined it would go. She lowered her head, ears flattened against its sides, and looked at the ground, pawing at it randomly with a front hoof and hoping desperately that Spitfire would just fly off without a word and leave her alone.

She felt much, much worse when she finally looked up to realise that the Wonderbolt had done exactly that.

"I think," came the quieter, but no less wounding, voice of her foremare as she trotted up, "that you'd better take the rest of the day off, Rainbow Dash. You're in no shape to work safely right now. I'll see you tomorrow morning at sunrise, sharp. And I do mean "sharp". Don't sleep in this time. You really don't want to lose any more pay than you already have."

* * *

Fluttershy was pottering about in the garden of her new home, apparently making some sort of enclosure. She was singing softly to herself; Rainbow Dash hung back from making her landing for a moment and listened to her friend's song. It was no more than a meaningless collection of la-la-las, but nevertheless Rainbow was enchanted. The simple purity of Fluttershy's voice reminded her inescapably of the freedom she herself felt up in the open skies. All at once, she felt overwhelmed with emotion and had to blink several times to... to get more dust motes out of her eyes. Yes. That was it. Understandable this close to the dusty ground. She really would have to see about getting herself those flight goggles.

Rainbow Dash didn't like crying. It was silly and fillyish and didn't get anypony anywhere. She couldn't remember the last time she'd wept openly; it had probably been back when she was a barely-weaned foal. Whenever she'd seen Fluttershy crying, she'd had to bite back the urge to tell her friend to toughen up a bit. She hadn't always succeeded, even though it had generally only made matters worse when she hadn't.

Dash hit the ground with a thud, causing Fluttershy to squeak and jump. Not the ideal landing, Rainbow. Fluttershy recovered herself and came across to her newly-arrived friend. She was still holding a hammer and some nails in her mouth, their metallic sheen making a contrast with the softness of her face that was faintly disturbing.

"Whatcha up to now, 'Shy? Gonna try for the Equestria Games hammer-toss team this year?" Rainbow got no further before dissolving into a full-blown giggling fit, rolling around on the grass wildly.

Fluttershy set the implements down carefully on a large stone and waited for the gales of laughter to subside before replying, "Hello, Rainbow Dash. I haven't seen you in a while."

Her words were mild, but there was something in her tone of voice that awakened uncomfortable thoughts within the other pony's head. It was true: Rainbow's weather job had meant she now had little time to travel away from Cloudsdale – and what spare time she did have tended to be taken up with flying practice. Dash got to her hooves and fought back a sudden urge to get away from here, to fly as far up into the sky as she dared and stay there for as long as she could.

"Heh-heh, I've just been sooo busy in Cloudsdale." Rainbow knew that Fluttershy would have detected the forced laughter in an instant, but she pushed on. Pushing on was what she did. What else could she do? "You know I got the job in the Weather Production Team, right?"

"Oh yes, Rainbow Dash. I'm very happy for you and I'm sure you're already really good at it. I expect everypony knows your name by now. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the Wonderbolts got to hear about you soon."

Another unconvincing chuckle. "Yeah, I... yeah. But, but anyway, you know what's crazy awesome? I got the rest of the day off!"

"Oh, that's wonderful, Rainbow Dash. But how come you aren't training or racing today? I know how much you love to fly fast. You can't be very interested in anything around here."

Rainbow staggered back as though she'd been struck. Her mouth worked soundlessly for a few seconds before hanging open. She stared at Fluttershy, but saw nothing more in those great, soft eyes than her own reflection and an expression of kindly concern.

"Oh, goodness, Rainbow Dash—"

"Do you really have to keep doing that?" interrupted Rainbow. "I know I messed up. I know I should have come to see you more often. I'm sorry, okay? I don't know what else I can say. Just... just stop doing that. Please?" There was a desperate, pleading edge to her voice now.

Fluttershy looked confused. "Stop doing what, Rainbow Da—"

"That!" screamed Rainbow. "Calling me 'Rainbow Dash' every single time. Call me 'Rainbow' or 'Dash' or whatever. Or... or maybe 'Dashie'?" Her eyes, briefly wide and hopeful, half closed and her voice fell to a whimper. "Okay, never mind. I don't care what name you use; whatever you wanna call me, that's great. I just want you to like me again."

Fluttershy's eyes widened for a moment, then fell as she looked at the ground. She scuffled at the earth with her front hooves and bit her lip. At length, without raising her gaze, she said, "I'm sorry." A pause, then she added, "Rainbow." There was another pause, and this time it didn't seem that it would come to an end.

Impulsively, Dash reached out a wing and rested it on Fluttershy's shoulder. Now Fluttershy did look up. She gave Rainbow a small smile – not the sunrise smile, but a smile nevertheless – and said, "Have you seen the Cloud House?"

Rainbow was taken aback. "Er... yeah? I live in one. So do – did – you. What do you mean, 'Shy?"

Another small smile. "Oh, I'm surprised you didn't see it. The one on the edge of Ponyville. Right over there." She pointed into the sky and Rainbow's gaze followed. She gasped as she saw it. How had she managed to miss that? She must have been even more wrapped up in herself than usual when she came down here. Had she treated Fluttershy like that all through these last few months? She guessed she had. Now it was her turn to hang her head, though only for a moment as the astonishing sight drew her back

Fluttershy, apparently oblivious, continued. "I read a local history book in the Ponyville library. It said that the Cloud House was found floating free about fifty years ago. It had either never been occupied or been abandoned long ago, as there was no sign of life. Princess Celestia tried to find out who owned it, but even she had to admit defeat. Nopony in Cloudsdale claimed it, anyway. So it was allowed to stay here."

"Who... who lives there now?" breathed Rainbow. She was only half-listening, all her senses screaming at her to fly up to this incredible palace in the air with its pillars of purest white and rainbow falls cascading off outcrops to evaporate in sparkly splendour many feet below.

"Oh, it's still empty," said Fluttershy. "The mayor says that the best thing would be to send it up to Cloudsdale to be broken up as scrap for recycling. I do rather agree with Rarity that it would be a bit of a shame."

"A bit of a shame?!" echoed Rainbow, incredulously. "That, right there, is the greatest house I have ever seen. It's probably the greatest house in Equestria after Canterlot Castle! And that's me, a Cloudsdalian, saying that. They can't break it up! It would be like... like... like something really great and amazing and awesome being destroyed! Wait... who's Rarity?"

"She's a unicorn. She runs a boutique in town." Seeing Rainbow's blank expression, she added, "A clothes shop."

"Oh, right," said Rainbow, mentally marking Rarity down as somepony she could safely ignore. "But you know what? I am going to make it into the Wonderbolts. And when I do, I'll have a house built, and it'll look just like that. No way am I letting something that awesome just disappear into the clouds again. Nopony should! Awesome things need to be looked after!"

Fluttershy smiled again, and this time there was a hint of approaching dawn about it. "Oh, I agree with you, Dashie," she said.

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