• Published 22nd Mar 2015
  • 7,940 Views, 1,376 Comments

The Breaking of the Storm - moguera

Deadly threats loom ever nearer for Dawn Lightwing and those close to him.

  • ...

The Coming End

Chapter 1: The Coming End

“Well now, I thought I would find you here.”

Terra Heart’s ear barely flicked in acknowledgement of his leader’s voice. He had been expecting to hear from Morning Star sooner or later. However, he hadn’t been entirely expecting to have the soft-spoken unicorn come for him in pony, even if Morning was one of the few who could actually reach this spot on his own.

If there was a pony who could be said to embody the very definition of what it meant to be an earth pony in physical form, it would be Terra. His dark-brown coat, which evoked an image of the freshly-turned earth of a field ready for planting did nothing to cover up the solid, heavy muscles that stood out beneath it. Terra’s physique looked as though it had been carved from the side of a mountain. It was solid, unyielding, invincible-looking. His muscles seemed to strain against his skin and coat, as though they could barely contain the rumbling power within him. His pale-green mane swirled in the wind, looking almost like a row of freshly sprouted wheat when they were drawn upright by the drafts whirling around the two ponies.

Terra’s eyes, which had been closed before, slowly drifted open, revealing a pair of impassive gray orbs, which he slowly oriented on Morning Star.

The unicorn met Terra’s stoic gaze with an expression of faint amusement in his cyan eyes. His rosy-pink coat, accompanied by a mane that washed through different shades of orange to a sunny-yellow at the tips, stood out against the featureless white of the snow all around them. However, the off-white color of his horn was difficult to make out, given their surroundings.

Neither pony seemed to notice the whirling maelstrom of snow and ice that surrounded them. The icy blasts of wind made neither pony shiver or flinch. They both stood, completely unbothered by the inclement weather, as though they were chatting under the warm sun of a fresh spring day. Anypony who might have seen them would have been shocked by the sight. Fortunately, it was highly unlikely that anypony would stumble upon them at this place. In the spot they were standing right now, it could be said that the ponies who would be able to reach that spot and survive numbered less than twenty in the entire world…well without assistance, at least.

The mountain, ensconced deep within the range that sprawled across the country of Neighpal was known by many names, Chomolungma being one of them. Some people referred to it as the sacred “Tentpole of the Sky,” and old myths described the mountain as having been raised from the base earth to hold the tapestry of the sky in place. It stood as the highest mountain in the world, its peak punching up into the air, well beyond the height of even the highest pegasus cloud cities. Even amongst the pegasi, there were a scant hoofful that could reach this altitude without assistance and still fewer that could remain at said altitude for any length of time, much less indefinitely.

Up at this altitude, the air was exceedingly thin, without enough oxygen to support the average pony. On top of that, what air was present was often a deathly cold wind, driving snow that could freeze an unprotected traveler solid in just a few minutes. Winter was even worse, when the temperatures were at their lowest and the snows at their deepest. The powerful gusts of wind could knock an unprepared pony over. They'd been reputed to even simply lift up lighter ponies and toss them down the sides of the mountain or into crevasses, never to be seen alive again.

For the average pony, simply climbing to the summit was a life-threatening ordeal. Warm layers, several of them, were required, along with either the spells or equipment to supplement the oxygen needed to function at higher altitudes. Climbers moved in expeditions with upwards of ten members, not including guides and porters to carry valuable, life-saving equipment. Reaching the top of this mountain was an accomplishment that represented an enormous investment of time, money, and determination beyond the scope of ordinary ponies.

Terra Heart had not needed money and determination, at least. He'd simply climbed to the top as though he'd been taking an afternoon stroll through a summer field. He carried no equipment, no spells to aid his breathing, not a single stitch of thread against the cold. He stood at the peak, naked to the elements, unaided, unsupported, and unbowed.

Terra had been in this spot for at least two months, give or take a week or two, Morning Star figured. As soon as Morning Star had declared that Terra was to see to the colt, Dawn Lightwing's extermination and set a timeframe for when the event would take place, Terra had left the temple, traveled across the seas to Saddle Arabia. From there, he'd navigated his way to Neighpal, on the borders of Pachydermia, and climbed the mountain. Then...he'd waited.

Morning knew that Terra hadn't had a bite to eat since he'd headed up the mountain all those weeks ago. Nor had he drunk anything. Terra hadn't even bothered to swallow some of the abundant snow as the source of moisture that most ponies needed. Terra didn't need to. A master of the Mountain Root could sustain himself with the power of the earth alone. Terra's magic hardened his flesh against the elements, sustained him in this airless environment, and even eliminated his need to subsist on food and water. At this moment, Terra Heart seemed less a creature of flesh and blood and more a being of pure spirit, powered by his will alone, sustained by the endless magic of the world itself.

He'd spent weeks in this spot, endlessly honing that power, building upon it, preparing himself for his expected battle. It was a sign of just how seriously Terra had taken Morning's directive.

"It isn't yet time," said Terra calmly, regarding Morning Star.

Morning Star smiled at his second-in-command. Like Terra Heart, Morning Star stood naked upon the peak with no visible signs of protection against its severe conditions. Rather, he was instead sporting a more interesting feature. A pair of wings, almost like those of a pegasus, extended from his shoulders and curved outward around his body. The wings seemed to create some break in the wind so that it and the snow it drove ahead of it swirled around Morning without touching him. Those wings seemed to enrich the air in the unicorn's immediate vicinity as well, allowing Morning to breathe without difficulty.

The presence of wings on a unicorn's body would have normally served to mark Morning Star out as an alicorn, but these wings were different. Their off-white color, which matched the color of his horn, clashed harshly against the natural color of his coat. Also, while they were attached to his body, the muscle and bone structures normally present to support wings and their motion were absent from Morning's physique, giving the appendages a disconcerting, alien appearance when contrasted with the rest of his body. They looked less like actual body parts and more like replicas that had been tacked on as an afterthought. Terra knew for a fact that those wings were not composed of any mundane matter known to mortal ponies, but rather, matter of a higher order. Morning Star could do things with those wings that completely defied the laws of the world as ordinary, and even extraordinary, ponies understood them.

"I'm aware that it isn't time yet," replied Morning Star, "I merely came here to check with you on your plans for the whole affair. It will take some time for you to return to Equestria, much less reach Ponyville from this point. We are talking a journey of over a month, at least. If you leave it until too late, you might miss the ideal time to strike."

"Worry not," replied Terra cooly, "I know when I need to leave. Once I do, I will make straight for Ponyville. The Rolling Stone does not stop until it reaches the mountain's base."

"Of course," said Morning Star, "That...seems like overkill."

"I cannot take enough care," replied Terra Heart simply, "This colt has already shown himself to be dangerous, both directly and indirectly. I will take no chances. I will bring all of my strength and ability to bear in order to kill him."

Morning nodded. The Rolling Stone was a technique, if it could be called that, particular to the Mountain Root. It was the ultimate expression of one's determination to seize victory by destroying one's opponent. The technique was born from a proverb regarding a stone rolling downhill, which did not come to a stop until it had reached the base, its destination. Until then, it only continued to gather speed and inertia, building up its momentum with each successive bounce and turn. It was, in essence, a pilgrimage to the site of battle. Starting from this distant peak, where he had spent the past weeks and would continue to spend several additional ones to build and hone his power, Terra would descend and walk as straight a path to Ponyville as the journey allowed. He would walk day and night, not ceasing his journey until he reached his destination...and his target. Only after Dawn Lightwing's corpse lay upon the ground, would Terra's journey be completed.

It was aspects such as this that set the Mountain Root apart from the other Three Pillars. The Gale King might have been more versatile and mobile. The Still Way might be endlessly diverse with countless potential approaches and applications, depending on the wielder. But, of the Three Pillars, the Mountain Root was unmatched in sheer brute power and destructive strength. When Terra Heart finally began his descent, he would be nothing less than an unstoppable juggernaut of destruction. There would be no obstacle that could impede him, no pony that could waylay him, until he had fulfilled his mission.

Morning Star had no doubt, once Terra reached Ponyville, Dawn Lightwing would be dead. It's a shame really, he thought, I think he's much more useful alive. But...the die has been cast. There's nothing to be done about it now.

"If that's the case, I wish you luck," said Morning Star, "I suppose that we will speak once again after the deed has been done."

Terra nodded curtly. "Your will shall be done, Holy Father."

Morning's smile became an amused grin. "Good hunting then."

Morning Star's wings dissolved into a mass of swirling feathers that enveloped the unicorn in a whirling cyclone that dispersed the snow around him. A second later, the feathers scattered, leaving no trace of the unicorn that had been standing amidst them.

Terra's eyes closed once again as he sank into the deathly silence of the mountain's peak.

The town of Ponyville shined white beneath the sun. A thick, even layer of snow lay spread across the town, covering yards and roofs alike with several inches of the white powder. Its uniformity was broken by the occasional hillock made from snow piled from shoveled walks and cleared streets, as well as the presence of the occasional snowpony and other, even more outlandish snow sculptures.

Even though Hearth's Warming season has passed and the new year had arrived, the festive atmosphere still hung about Ponyville, evinced by the countless decorations that still hung from trees, lampposts, and the sides of houses. Most ponies wouldn't bother taking their decorations down until shortly before Winter Wrap-up. School was still out, so there was plenty of time for the foals to frolic and play in the snow before they were expected to assemble for classes once again.

From her postition, soaring above the snow-covered houses of Ponyville, Rainbow Dash drew in a deep breath of the crisp winter air, savoring it as it briefly chilled her lungs before exhaling it back out to watch it condense into mist in front of her. I'm going to miss this. She sincerely doubted that this would be the last time she spent winter in Ponyville, but it would be her final one as the head of Ponyville's Weather Team. Once Winter Wrap-Up was completed, Rainbow would be off to join the Wonderbolts full-time. She wasn't entirely certain what her full duties as a Wonderbolt would entail. Of course, there would be the shows and flight demonstrations that had enthralled her as the filly. But the Wonderbolts were a high-level emergency response team, responding rapidly to and handling the worst of natural disasters. At some point, it was even expected that they would have to follow their leader, Spitfire, into battle.

Because of all that, Rainbow expected to be moving to Cloudsdale permanently. She would, of course, drop by Ponyville to visit all her friends when she got the opportunity, but those opportunities promised to be limited and for short durations. Her time as a resident was almost done.

Shaking her head, Rainbow chased the melancholy thoughts of leaving Ponyville behind out of her head, taking the advice of her coltfriend, Soarin', to savor the good times as much as possible, rather than dwell on the fact that those particular good times were coming to an end. She had the rest of the season to spend with her friends and the ponies closest to her.

Speaking of friends, Rainbow had a promise to keep. Taking another deep breath, Rainbow tilted her wings and banked into a turn that would take her on a leisurely course to the old quarry just outside of town proper. As the town drifted away beneath her, Rainbow's sharp ears pricked upwards as she picked up a low popping noise coming from her destination.

The old quarry outside of Ponyville had not been used as an actual quarry since long before Rainbow Dash had moved to town, long before any of her friends had been born, in fact. There was nothing particularly mysterious and ominous about the place. An enterprising business had moved in some time ago to carve stone from the ground for shipment to nearby cities. Sadly, the placement of the quarry had been less than ideal. Though the stone harvested from it had been of good quality, it wasn't the pristine white marble favored by the masons and builders of Canterlot, the closest city with a high demand for stone. All the other nearby cities tended to have convenient quarries of their own that had scooped this one for business and Ponyville simply didn't have many buildings that required quarried stone for construction.

So it had closed down, the equipment had been removed and its owners had gone off in search of greener, or rather rockier, pastures. Fortunately, the open shape of the quarry precluded it being too much of a hazard for anypony that might have wandered through it, which was just as well. The other residents of Ponyville had found other uses for the quarry in the meantime. The ambient magical currents that swept through the ground seeded and produced a steady supply of high-quality gemstones, which were especially useful to ponies like Rarity and the local jewelers. Said gemstones had also had the unfortunate side effect of attracting a colony of diamond dogs in the past. Fortunately, the dogs had left after being introduced the incredible weapon that was Rarity's whining voice.

Now, the quarry served a different purpose altogether. For the past few months, Dawn Lightwing, Fluttershy's adopted son, had been taking Scootaloo out here in order to train her in the pegasus martial art, the Gale King. With its out of the way location and its level terrain, the quarry served as the perfect place for Dawn and Scootaloo to hold their practice sessions, which could potentially level buildings if they'd dared to do it in Ponyville proper. Even more recently, Dawn and Scootaloo had been joined by Storm Front, one of the mercenaries hired to help protect the town from the fallout caused by Dawn's presence, and Rumble, one of Dawn and Scootaloo's friends. The two of them were also training out in this area as well.

With the onset of winter, Dawn and Scootaloo had spent less time in the quarry, the chill air and deep snow making the prospect of hard practice uninviting while the season progressed. Still, the Gale King was not exactly made to be practiced indoors. While Dawn and Scootaloo could work on their forms and meditation in a sufficiently roomy house, actual practice was out of the question anywhere but the great outdoors.

Another popping noise, louder this time, sounded from somewhere in front of her. Rainbow's ears swiveled to pick up the sound's point of origin and she carefully angled her flight in its direction. She had no idea what Dawn and Scootaloo were working on, but she didn't want to get smacked by some technique that hit her because the two younglings hadn't seen her coming.

Another pop sounded, this one even closer than before. This time, Rainbow heard a calm voice accompanying the sound. "Again."

She recognized the voice, as soft as Fluttershy's, but deeply resonant, making it both audible and understandable even though it was at such a low volume. However, it was louder and slightly harsher this time. Rainbow recognized this as Dawn's "instructor mode" voice, the tone he used whenever he was working with Scootaloo on the Gale King. They might have been coltfriend and fillyfriend outside of training, but out here, Dawn was the teacher and Scootaloo was the student, roles that both of them respected.

At the sound of Dawn's voice, there as another pop, this one faintly softer. As Rainbow pushed through the low clouds that were blocking the vision of her descent, she saw what was happening.

A substantial portion of the ground in the quarry had been swept clean of snow. Rainbow would have been impressed, had she not already known that it was foal's play for Dawn, who had probably cleared the space with a few relatively gentle gusts. The two young martial artists stood on the flat ground, which, in addition to being cleared of snow, had also been cleared of the rocks and boulders that had originally littered the quarry grounds. This was hardly new. In the process of practicing the Gale King, the powerful winds generated by the style had smashed most of the larger stones in the vicinity and swept the smaller ones away.

Dawn Lightwing didn't look all that different from most foals his age. His ebony coat stood out starkly against the snow around him, less so the ground beneath him. His mane and tail were a light, silvery color that stood out against his coat. Though the mane wasn't particularly long, it was smooth and flowing in a way that made Rainbow wonder if Dawn was unconsciously borrowing aspects of his mother's hairstyle, though his mane wasn't nearly long enough to look totally like hers. His flank was yet unmarked by any kind of cutie mark, which was rare for a pony his age, although less rare around these parts, given the ponies he associated with.

Without question, Dawn's most captivating feature was his eyes, a pair of vivid turquoise orbs. The color wasn't all that remarkable in and of itself. What truly stood out were his pupils, which were catlike vertical slits in the center of each iris. They gave Dawn's gaze a disconcerting, unnatural quality that, the first few times Rainbow had seen them, had sent shivers down her spine. It was these eyes that were the main source of the many problems that had followed Dawn into Ponyville, namely their resemblance to the eyes of Nightmare Moon, Princess Luna's power-mad persona that Rainbow and her friends had bested at one point.

The Eyes of Nightmare, as they were known, were viewed by many ponies as unnatural and freakish. However, the real problem lay in the fact that they figured into the folklore of particular group called the Order of Celestial Light, better known to Rainbow and her friends as the Cult Solar, a group of crackpots that worshipped Princess Celestia (against her will, no less). According to the lore of the Cult Solar, ponies with the Eyes of Nightmare were actually demons, sent by Nightmare Moon (aka Princess Luna, which the Cult Solar did not bother to differentiate between) to do her bidding. Dawn's manifestation of the condition was especially unique. Whereas most ponies with the condition only manifested the Eyes during times of great emotional distress, Dawn's eyes seemed perpetually locked in their altered state, possibly since birth. This had only caused him additional problems as, wherever he went, those eyes drew trouble to him like lightning to a metal rod.

Rainbow turned her attention from Dawn to Scootaloo, Rainbow's honorary younger sister. Scootaloo had always been a rambunctious tomboy of a filly, as evinced by her constantly mussed and ruffled fuchsia mane, which showed only the barest attention to its care and maintenance.

As Rainbow came in for a landing, she noticed that Scootaloo was panting hard, sweat matting her bright-orange coat. She'd put on a lot more muscle lately, all of it compact and supple, the muscles of a martial artist. Seeing Scootaloo having grown from a small, almost runty filly, into the hardened athlete before her made Rainbow smile. Scootaloo's wings, which had once only been capable of buzzing and best served as a means of propulsion for her scooter, looked more well-developed and powerful. From what Rainbow had heard, Scootaloo's signature scooter now lay in her room, gathering a layer of dust, now that she no longer needed it.

From her position, Rainbow could easily see the newest and most significant change to Scootaloo's features. Decorating her flank was a single white swan, its wings arched and its neck curved in a posture that Fluttershy had referred to as busking. Scootaloo had recently acquired her cutie mark when demonstrating her passion and dedication to learning the Gale King. Rainbow still remembered the moment in exacting detail, quite fondly.

As Rainbow came in for a landing, she watched as Scootaloo sank into a crouch. Just as Rainbow's own booted hooves touched down on the ground, Scootaloo kicked off, lunging forward and kicking back with all four legs. At the same moment, her wings blurred in a sweeping motion that started out in front of her before whipping around in tight arcs across her sides. At that instant, her body blurred and she shot forward across the ground. Her acceleration was so swift and sudden that Rainbow briefly lost track of her and had to quickly turn her head to see Scootaloo flaring her wings out like parachutes as she reared up to kick all four hooves out in front of her, bringing her body to an abrupt halt.

Scootaloo settled back on the ground, panting and shaking. Her legs were quivering beneath her and Rainbow could see the tremors working their way through Scootaloo's entire body. Even her partially extended wings shook a little as she folded them back in. How long have they been at this? Rainbow wondered.

"Is it time already?"

Rainbow jumped at the sound of Dawn's voice. While she had been looking at Scootaloo, he had come over to stand almost directly in front of her. It took Rainbow a second to settle her nerves at having the colt unexpectedly standing so close to her. "Yeah," she said, "It's time for you two to call it a day. Scootaloo and I have plans."

"A-awesome..." said Scootaloo, her voice sounding like a relieved moan.

"You gonna be okay?" asked Rainbow, looking around. The snow had been cleared from the ground, but that didn't change the fact that the air was still cold. Already, she could see the tired tremors of Scootaloo's worn-out muscles give way to the shivers of a filly who'd just realized it was cold out. Looking around, Rainbow suddenly spied a set of saddlebags resting on the ground. She could see the end of a scarf protruding from one flap.

As she watched, Dawn trotted over the bags and opened the flap of one of the other one. He pulled out a rolled-up towel and tossed to Scootaloo, who quickly took it and used it to gratefully wipe away her sweat. As she worked, a happy sigh escaped the filly. "Oh that feels good," she moaned, "Twilight's warming stones are so awesome."

Rainbow blinked and looked back at the saddlebags again, realizing that the stone must be hidden inside to keep things warm while the foals practiced. Twilight had invented the stones, which were enchanted to absorb heat, store it, and release it later. Rainbow hadn't realized that Twilight had apparently gotten them to work so well already. It would certainly make things easier for Scootaloo and Dawn with regard to their practices. Rainbow was willing to bet that, after Scootaloo finished toweling off, her winter layers would be waiting inside one of the other saddle bags, already nice and toasty warm.

A couple of minutes later, Rainbow's guess was proven right as Scootaloo walked up to the bags and pulled out her winter jacket, as well as her scarf and a set of boots, all of which she put on with relieved groans as the warmed garments settled on her still slightly damp coat. At the other set of saddlebags, Dawn was doing likewise. Rainbow noted that he hadn't needed to towel off after the session, which suggested that he hadn't been working as hard as Scootaloo had been. She admired his resilience to stand around in the cold, even if he hadn't been exercising himself as hard as Scootaloo had been.

"You ready squirt?" asked Rainbow, grinning at her younger sister.

"Y-you bet," stammered Scootaloo, the quiver in her body finding its way into her voice, giving Rainbow pause for a moment.

"You gonna be able to fly there?" asked Rainbow, eyeing Scootaloo carefully.

"Y-yeah," said Scootaloo.

"She should be alright," added Dawn, coming up behind Scootaloo and slipping her own saddlebags over her before doing the same with his own, "An easy flight should also work as a cool-down exercise, so I'm recommending it."

Scootaloo nodded without protest and spread her wings. Rainbow raised her eyebrows, but decided that she didn't need to try and dissuade the filly yet. So long as they took it easy and didn't try to pull any fancy moves on the way to Rainbow's cloud house, they should be fine. She watched as Dawn and Scootaloo shared a gentle nuzzle before Scootaloo leaned in to peck her coltfriend on the lips.

Waving goodbye, Dawn took to the air himself, winging his way back to Ponyville and back to the home he shared with his mother and her coltfriend. Turning back to Scootaloo, Rainbow grinned down at the bright-orange filly. "Let's head out, kiddo."

"Okay," said Scootaloo, a little weakly, but with plenty of enthusiasm. She returned Rainbow's grin and the two of them lifted off.

It was a slow, easy flight back to Rainbow's cloud house...Well...It wasn't exactly Rainbow's anymore. Legally, the cloud house actually belonged to Scootaloo now, though the deed was being held by Scootaloo's mother until the filly came of age. With Scootaloo's permission, Rainbow was allowed to continue using the place for the remainder of her stay, until the time came for her to leave for Cloudsdale. Rainbow figured that that kinda made Scootaloo her landlady.

"You excited about this?" she asked as the two of them angled towards the hovering mass of white clouds in the distance.

"Oh yeah!" said Scootaloo with a cheerful grin.

Now that Scootaloo was technically the house's owner, Rainbow was taking this opportunity to give the orange filly a rundown on using and maintaining the place once Rainbow was gone. Scootaloo wouldn't actually be permitted to live there on her own until she'd come of age, but she'd still be taking care of it and would have free access to the building otherwise.

Seeing that Scootaloo was a little wobbly in the air, Rainbow resisted the urge to just swoop below the filly and carry her the rest of the way. "So what were you and Dawn working on?"

"He's teaching me that cool...super-speed skip...thingy...that he does...You know what I'm talking about, right? That thing where he looks like he's teleporting?"

Rainbow nodded at Scootaloo's words. She knew exactly what the filly was talking about. One of the skills Dawn had acquired from the Gale King was a trick that allowed him to rapidly accelerate over a short distance and come to a stop just as quickly. At times, the colt could make it look like he was teleporting, or even look like he was in two places at once. Rainbow herself was no slouch in the speed department, considering that she was rated as one of, if not the fastest flyer in all of Equestria. But even she couldn't achieve that kind of sudden acceleration, even if she was much faster in the long run. "That didn't quite look like what you were doing," she pointed out. What she'd seen Scootaloo doing had looked nothing like Dawn's trick.

"That's 'cause I haven't finished working on it yet," Scootaloo pointed out, "Right now, Dawn's just trying to get me used to pulling off the start. Then he'll have me work on making the stop smoother. It's tricky because you have to use your hooves and wings together and everything needs to be done in the right sequence or it doesn't work properly."

It went without saying that Scootaloo hadn't exactly gotten the sequence down yet. In fact, she'd made the same observations Rainbow had when Dawn had first been walking her through the maneuver...

"But that doesn't look anything like what you do," Scootaloo pointed out as Dawn's hooves settled back on the ground.

"Because it isn't," Dawn said, "In a sense, you could say that this is the beginner's version. Right now, we're working on getting you used to the mechanics of the technique."

"But you hardly move your wings at all," Scootaloo pointed out.

Dawn nodded. "The more familiar you become with the technique, the more compact and easier your movements will become. Start out large and work your way small."

"O-okay," said Scootaloo nervously. The principle behind the move was surprisingly simple. Using all four of her hooves, she would kick off the air, using her pegasus magic. At the same time, the sweeping motion of her wings would guide the air in front of her around her body to reduce her drag almost to nothing, allowing her to accelerate rapidly without having to worry about wind resistance. In practice, it wasn't so easy to do those things all together in a single technique, even though Scootaloo had practiced with each component separately.

"Alright, go ahead and give it a try," said Dawn, clearing out in front of Scootaloo, "Work on going directly forward for now. Once you have that down, we can work on the other directions."

Swallowing nervously, Scootaloo nodded and crouched slightly. As she pushed off with her legs, sending out her pegasus magic to push off against the air itself, she thrust the tips of her wings forward before sweeping them back in tight arcs, launching herself straight ahead.

For an instant, Scootaloo thought she'd hit a brick wall that broke across her face. Her eyes stung as she forced through and the resistance slammed into her shoulders and chest as well. Less than a second later, it was gone. Her wings flared out, causing her body to rear up. On reflex, Scootaloo kicked ahead of herself with all four of her legs, sending out bursts of wind that slowed her down and allowed her to drift back to the ground. At the same time, her ears caught the sound of a loud pop behind her.

"Not bad for the first time," remarked Dawn, coming up to stand by her, "Can you tell me what you think you did wrong?"

"My timing was off," said Scootaloo, "I started with my wings too soon and the air resistance returned before I was all the way through the move."

"That's part of it," agreed Dawn, "However, there is another issue."

Scootaloo blinked. "There is?"

Dawn nodded. "You are still thinking of your wings as a means of propulsion. For this technique, that is not their purpose. In order to do this, you have to rely on your hooves and legs to provide the drive. The purpose of your wings is to guide the air around your body so that you accelerate smoothly. Otherwise, you simply hit the air further ahead. At the same time, rapidly leaving your original position leaves a sort of vacuum, which creates drag, which slows you further.

"When done correctly, the air that you move out of your way ahead of you fills the space behind you so that the vacuum doesn't pull you back. That's why it's important that you keep the arc of your wingstrokes tight."

Scootaloo nodded. "Okay," she said.

"Ready to try again?" asked Dawn.


"Then begin."

Now that practice was over, Scootaloo's muscles ached fiercely. Using her legs to push off so sharply had quickly begun to hurt after several repetitions and she felt the strain all the way through the muscles around her core. Her wings were sore too, given that Scootaloo wasn't used to moving them in such tight, close motions. Spreading them out to slow her down after accelerating hadn't helped either. From her perspective, Scootaloo's entire body was a mass of aches and pains.

So it was with a grateful sigh that her hooves came to rest on the packed clouds of Rainbow's front porch. Rainbow put a hoof to her mouth to stifle a chuckle when she noted that Scootaloo looked about ready to face-plant on the porch, right then and there.

"Come on squirt, let's get you inside. It's a lot warmer in there."

Scootaloo mumbled a wordless agreement, mostly in the form of noncommittal grunts and managed to get her hooves all the way back under her and walk the rest of the way to the door. When they got inside, Rainbow took their jackets and scarves, while she left the boots on the mat inside the door. When one lived in a house made of clouds, one had to make sure that there was a way to make sure non-cloud objects that weren't buoyed up by pegasus magic didn't immediately fall through.

One solution was skysteel, which was steel with cloud worked in via pegasus magic during the forging process. It was expensive and having furniture made of skysteel was usually a sign of wealth and status. For ponies with less money available to them, one had to get creative. Even if skysteel furniture was out, one could easily buy legs and supports made from skysteel to hold them up, but even those were a pretty penny and Rainbow didn't have many such accouterments. Instead, she used the same trick that most cloud-dwelling pegasi did, one that was free, but that required a fair bit of effort and commitment to maintain.

For surfaces like tables, counters, the mat that the boots rested on, the hooks that the saddlebags and winter layers hung from, Rainbow had sculpted and compacted cloud well past the usual standard for cloud furniture. Under normal circumstances, the packed cloud would precipitate. But by putting her magic into the compacted cloud, Rainbow kept it from doing so, fueling the cloud and keeping it in its current state by feeding it a stream of pegasus magic until it couldn't contain any more. Items made that way could maintain their solidity for up to six months. If Rainbow didn't recharge the magic in them by then, they would revert back to their state as highly concentrated moisture and simply rain out, dropping whatever was resting on them in the process.

Rainbow had always made sure to recharge her surfaces every two months. Under normal circumstances, a pony like her, who was usually less than well-organized, could easily lose track of the different surfaces in different rooms that had to be fixed that way. But Rainbow had a few advantages, the same as any other pegasus. Even a beginner-level cloud handler could sense the consistency and density of a cloud, just by touching it. Furthermore, the solid-state surfaces, as Rainbow called them, had been shaped and moulded into flat, smooth surfaces that stood out against the lumpy, puffy texture of normal clouds. Finally, when said surfaces were nearing the limits of their magical charge, they took on a grayish tint, like a building storm cloud. With those indicators, Rainbow had only missed recharging a surface a couple of times in the course of her ownership of the house. It also helped that Rainbow had built nearly the whole place with her own hooves, including the solid-state surfaces.

Scootaloo obviously wouldn't have those advantages when she moved in, so she'd have to learn where all the important surfaces were, how to keep track of them, how to recharge them, and figure out how to remember where they all were and made sure she got to all of them in time. Note to self: make sure Scootaloo doesn't keep anything important here until she's got the hang of that.

But that could come later. It was one of the many things that Rainbow would be teaching the filly about being the owner of a cloud house, but some things were more important than others.

"S-sooooooo..." Scootaloo's attempt to speak was cut off by her yawn. "What are we doing first."

"Right," said Rainbow with a wry smile, "The first thing I'm gonna teach ya, squirt, is how to use the shower."


Rainbow chuckled. "I bet your body hurts something fierce." At Scootaloo's nod, she chuckled. "A nice warm shower will help relax those muscles so that they don't cramp up on you. Plus, it'll feel good after being out in the cold like you were. You've already done your cool-down exercises, so it'll be good for you."

Scootaloo nodded eagerly, liking the idea. "Okay."

Rainbow led Scootaloo to the bathroom. She showed the filly how to operate the shower and set the temperature. The shower stall itself was a square space, carved from the cloud walls with a raincloud hovering overhead. Said raincloud was connected to a thunderhead, which regulated the water's temperature as it rained down on the pony in the stall. It was an intricate piece of work, one few items that Rainbow had not made herself when building the house.

Leaving Scootaloo to enjoy the shower, once they'd found the right temperature for her, Rainbow headed into the kitchen and began to root around in the icebox, looking for the right stuff to fix a growing filly's post-workout meal.

Rainbow was in the midst of grating a block of cheddar when Scootalo came ambling into the kitchen, practically glowing after her shower. There was still a slight sag in the filly's posture, an indicator of just how tired she was. But she was clearly eager for more instruction about living in a cloud house.

"What's next?" she asked.

"I'm glad you ask," said Rainbow with a laugh, "Let me show you how to use the stove."

"The stove?" Scootaloo blinked and stared at her idol in stupefied amazement for a moment, "I didn't know you could cook, Rainbow Dash."

Rainbow couldn't help herself. She gave Scootaloo a flat look. "Yeah, of course I can cook. I'm not a three-star chef, but I can whip up a decent meal."

"Um..." Scootaloo blushed and grinned sheepishly. "Sorry."

Rainbow sighed. "Sorry about that. I've had ponies make those kinds of assumptions about me before. But I can cook. You kinda have to if you want to be an athlete, much less a Wonderbolt. You've gotta learn to take care of your body, which includes taking care of what you put inside of it."

Rainbow showed Scootaloo how to turn on the stove, how it worked and set a frying pan on top of one of the electrical burners to heat up while she worked. Rainbow turned to the counter and picked up one of the four eggs she'd gotten out of the icebox and cracking it on the counter. She opened it into a separator that she held over a copper bowl, setting the yolk aside in a separate vessel. She did the same with a second egg. Then, taking a whisk, she whipped the egg whites into a heady froth.

Taking the yolks, Rainbow used a fork to beat them into a light, creamy consistency before quickly folding them back into the whipped egg whites. She then quickly poured the mixture into the frying pan, swirling it about as the curds began to coagulate in the heat, forming a thin, solid layer along the bottom and sides of the pan. She then tossed the filling onto the egg curds; the grated cheddar, a few sliced artichoke hearts, and some smoked salmon. Using a spatula, Rainbow folded the eggs over so that the fillings were completely enclosed and then slid the completed omelet onto the plate.

"Whoa!" exclaimed Scootaloo as Rainbow set the omelet on the table. It looked a little different from the omelets her mother made. As she watched, Rainbow topped the whole thing off with a generous helping of salsa and a dollop of sour cream.

"There you go," said Rainbow triumphantly, "Eat up before it gets cold."

"Okay!" shouted Scootaloo eagerly, picking up her fork and diving in. The omelet was delicious. The whipped egg whites gave it a fluffy texture, almost like a soufflé. The fillings weren't Scootaloo's personal favorites, but she had to admit that they tasted really good, especially the smoked salmon. She devoured the whole thing with a gusto before settling back with a satisfied sigh, finishing just as Rainbow took a seat at the table with an omelet of her own.

"That was awesome," said Scootaloo, patting her stomach.

"Thought so," said Rainbow with a giggle, "It's good meal for after a workout. Eggs and salmon both have plenty of protein, so they're good for helping build up your muscles after you've exercised them."

"Where'd you learn to cook like that?" asked Scootaloo.

"From my dad," said Rainbow, "This was my favorite food growing up. He always made these omelets for breakfast on the weekends. We used to have fun experimenting with all the different things we'd put into them."

"Why'd you stop?" asked Scootaloo.

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. "I moved out. As much as I like dad's cooking and as much as he may have loved cooking for me, I don't think he wanted to fly to Ponyville every Saturday to make me breakfast. And, while his cooking was good, I don't quite think I'm up to flying out to him every weekend either."

That got an embarrassed chuckle from the filly. "Oh..."

"Ya gotta learn to take care of yourself, kiddo," said Rainbow, "Your mom's not gonna be able to do it forever and she shouldn't have to."

"Right," said Scootaloo, "But couldn't you just get stuff from one of those fancy health-food stores that are all the rage right now?"

Rainbow's wing extended, all of her primaries folded over, save for two. "Two things," she said sagely, "First off, eating like that is expensive. It's not the kinda thing to try on a weatherpony's budget unless you're really high up the chain. I don't know what job you'll end up with, but chances are that you aren't gonna start out at a level that'll let you eat like that regularly." The inside feather folded down. "Secondly, even health food stuff can have some questionable ingredients in it. When you make your own food, you're in full control of what goes into what you cook. That's good for a lot of reasons."

There were a lot of particulars to that last statement, but Rainbow didn't feel like going into the nitty gritty details at the moment. That could come later. She finished her omelet at a more sedate pace, watching as Scootaloo's eyelids began to droop. The filly had just finished a hard workout, taken a nice warm shower, and had a good meal. Now it was all beginning to catch up to her as her body relaxed from its previous exertions.

I guess it's a good thing I got Melon's permission for this, thought Rainbow as a fond smile played across her lips. It'd been a while since the last time she'd had Scootaloo all to herself. It'd been even longer since she'd had Scootaloo for a sleepover of some sort and never at her house before. Rainbow dearly wished she'd taken more advantage of all the opportunities she'd gotten to spend time with her little sister. But she was determined to make the most of the time that she had left.

"Alright," said Rainbow, setting down her own fork before letting out a loud belch, "Let's get this cleaned up and get ready for bed."

"Huh?" yelped Scootaloo, jerking out of her tired daze, "B-but what about the house?"

Rainbow chuckled. "I'll teach you some more about it tomorrow," she said, "We've got plenty of time, so there's no need to cram. Besides, you look like you could use some sleep."

"I guess I should head home soon," said Scootaloo, her ears drooping.

"Nope," said Rainbow proudly, "I checked with your mom earlier. You're good to stay here for the night."

The filly's ears shot back upright. "Really?"

"Yep," replied Rainbow, "So come on. Let's get this cleaned up."

It was relatively simple to show Scootaloo how the sink worked and how to clean dishes in the cloudhouse. The important part was not to let anything small slip into the drain, or it would be a straight drop to the ground for the unfortunate item. The filly fumbled a couple of times, as much from tiredness as her unfamiliarity with cloud appliances, but managed to help with the cleaning.

After that, it was back to the bathroom, so that they could brush their teeth and get cleaned up for bed. Rainbow led Scootaloo to the bedroom and helped her into the bed.

"Thanks for everything, Rainbow," said Scootaloo.

Rainbow climbed in next to the filly and pulled the covers over both of them. "You're welcome, squirt. You're the best little sister I could ever ask for."

Scootaloo wriggled around until she'd snuggled up against Rainbow, who wrapped a foreleg and wing around her. There, draped in the warmth of the clouds, the two of them drifted off to sleep.

Author's Note:

And so it begins again. I'm sorry it took so long for me to get this up. Look to my blog if you're wondering why.

Anyhow, I figured to get things started with a hefty dose of WAFF before getting to the really serious stuff. Once again, this was one of those stories that continued to grow as I wrote it, which means that the final product ended up being much longer than I'd originally planned, which is just as well, given that we're approaching the climax of the series.

Next chapter: Twilight plays hostess.