• Published 18th Apr 2015
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Forward - 621Chopsuey

Lightning Dust must prove to her peers she can control herself and work co-operatively. However, as a free spirit whose pride has been damaged, it won't be easy.

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Put One Hoof in Front of the Other

Yesterday would have been my last here.

And it was all thanks to the tornado Rainbow and I spun up during the cloudbusting exercise. Okay, more me than her; she just got sucked in for the ride. And man was that the straw that broke the camel’s back. Long story short, the tornado went wild, everypony was saved, and I got a mouthful from Rainbow about pushing one’s limits.

Short story long, Spitfire was pretty pissed off too, having heard the news of my competitive antics getting out of hoof. She cashiered me, which is the military’s fancy way of saying ripping off my lead pony badge and expelling me from the Academy. I obviously wasn’t very happy about it. It was my dream to be in the Wonderbolts, and to see that dream utterly crushed via stripped-of-trainee-status by my role model herself was a serious blow.

Fast forward an hour or so later. I was in the barracks, packing up my things. It was all over. A chance at the most radical stunt flying team in history; gone, all because I didn’t pull in the reins on my competitive nature. All I could remember thinking to myself was, What do I have to live for now? What other options did I have? There was the military, but I never saw myself playing soldier. The idea of it didn’t sound as thrilling as stunt flying, and it wasn’t exactly a glamorous choice of career, either. My brother could vouch for that.

Next thing I knew, Rainbow walks in and tells me Spitfire was offering me a second chance. At first, I wasn’t convinced in the least. It had to be a cruel joke rubbing salt in the wound. I know now it wasn’t, but hey, I was experiencing a bad moment, so I had my reasons for doubting her. It took Spitfire showing up behind the newly-christened lead pony to convince me that a second chance was on the table.

Following that was a good old fashioned negotiation between the three of us and one of the ponies from the balloon, who turned out to be none other that Celestia’s one and only faithful student herself. To be honest, it was tense sitting in the same room with the noble I just about scattered to the winds, but she was diplomatic about it, thank Luna.

In the end I was allowed to resume basic training at the Academy. Spitfire couldn’t afford to let such raw talent slip through her metaphorical fingers. In return, I had to accept demotion to wing pony status. I could live with that deal. Yeah, I wasn’t all that thrilled about being knocked down a peg, but at least it guaranteed my spot in the squad. Saved on the load of tedious paperwork Spitfire would have needed to fill out and file too.

However, there was a catch to keeping my spot on top of that demotion.

Since I was primarily responsible for generating the tornado, I had to pay for a portion of the damages done to the Academy grounds. And the bill wasn’t going to be cheap. At least I wasn’t going at it alone. Even though I did kind of force Rainbow into it, she wasn’t an unwilling participant either, so she had her share of the bill to pay as well. Needless to say, neither of us were all too thrilled to hear how much we owed the Academy. Even with the bill divided up, my share of it was still too damn high. It would be a while before I could be liberal with my spending again.

On the plus side, it got a priceless reaction out of Sparklebutt. Poor thing looked like her was about to end up a writhing mess on the floor. Being the crap pilot who pulled off a pretty dumb move entering the premises without authorization and during a live fire exercise, it stood to reason she would have a substantial amount to fork out. Princess Celestia did put a lot of value on the Wonderbolts, financially as well as sentimentally.

“You sure you’re gonna be okay with this?” asked Rainbow Dash.

The question pulled me from my thoughts. The eight of us were on the Academy tarmac, Rainbow and I a short distance away from the rest of Hawk Squad. We were waiting for our drill sergeant to arrive. Something about a scrimmage exercise with another squad. I don’t know; I was a bit occupied thinking over what happened over the past eighteen hours.

“I was out of control up there.” I replied tonelessly, while looking out into the vast morning sky. It was beautiful, fitting for a new day and a new beginning. Don’t get me wrong, I was more than glad I was able to stay and resume training, but sacrificing some of my competitiveness for it kind of left me feeling conflicted over the situation. “You did what you were supposed to do—let somepony know about it.”

“Well, yeah, I had to. I couldn’t leave you hanging like that. It just wouldn’t have sat well with me, y’know?”

I huffed a short laugh and shifted my gaze to Rainbow. “Take a good look at me, Rainbow. You’re talking to the pony who nearly turned the Academy into a ground zero. All I wanted was to be the best, to prove that I wasn’t some second-rate chump. Instead, I screwed up. Badly.” Speed and stunts were my life. Not only was I good at both, but I craved the rush I’d get from ripping through the sky or doing barrel rolls in hazardous weather. Being my special talent, it made me unique. It gave me purpose. Through it I felt confident, invincible, alive.

It also led me to be irresponsible. To have my own abilities nearly crush my dreams of becoming a Wonderbolt, all because I let my ego get the best of me, was a moment I would have to live with forever. Things could have gone very differently had Rainbow not reacted like she had... or if I hadn’t been so big-headed from the start.

“The more I think about it, the more I question whether or not I really deserve this.” I looked down at the wingpony pin on my uniform, the silver metal reflecting the sun’s light. Did I deserve a second chance of being a Wonderbolt, even if I was knocked down to number two? Did I even deserve to be Rainbow’s wingpony? “I was over-confident, selfish, and careless, and look how much good that did. I put the lives of others on the line. All of that, just to show everypony I was the best.”

Rainbow’s hoof laid itself on my shoulder. “Lightning, you don’t need to prove you’re the best. It doesn’t matter if you’re an awesome flyer or a weak one.”

“Yeah.” I replied dryly, pushing her hoof aside. “You told me back in the barracks, and I get that. But you’re missing the point. It still doesn’t excuse me for the damage I’ve done.”

I accepted responsibility for my actions, but the repercussions were what I was more concerned about. With the way I acted, was my friendship with Rainbow endangered? Deep within, I begged to know. I didn’t want to lose somepony who shared so much in common with me.

Dare I say it? I was afraid.

I went on, somehow managing not to scream any of this in Rainbow’s face. The strain in my voice was evident, though. “For Luna’s sake, Rainbow, I almost killed civvies with a tornado. And not just any civvies, but your friends who happen to be the motherbucking Element Bearers. You made sure they were fine, but what did I do? I didn’t give a damn.” Granted, I was high off the adrenaline rush from that disaster, but still, my reaction to the situation could’ve been better handled. “You’re telling me you’re just going to look past that and start over?”

“Yeah.” Rainbow said simply.

Bewilderment took over. “That’s it? Even after all that crap you had to put up with, you say ‘yeah’?” It sounded way too good to be true.

“Well... yeah.” Rainbow let out an annoyed sigh. “Look, you really need to stop sweating this. I was pissed off back there ‘cause I had good reason to be; you did almost demolish my friends with a tornado.” No shit, why else was I sweating it? “I was just sc—concerned with their safety. You would be, too, if they were your friends.”

I didn’t have many friends, but I’m sure I would have been openly scared had any of them were at risk. They did mean a lot to me.

“Like you said, though, everypony was fine in the end.” Rainbow stated. “We already forgave you for the whole thing. Hay, even Pinkie Pie gave you a cupcake off the bat.” She chuckled at the mention of her freakishly flamboyant fillyfriend. “I know it sounds crazy, but to Pinkie that means you’re totally cool with her.”

It was nice to know that, and it eased my burden somewhat. Now if only I could figure out how the hay a pony I never met knew my favorite flavor was lemon...

Rainbow’s tone remained light, but it held a slight firmness to it. “So stop sweating it and put it all behind you. We all make mistakes, but it’s no use moping over every one. We gotta learn from them and keep on moving forward.” She again placed an equally firm, yet oddly comforting hoof on my shoulder. This time, I didn’t brush it off. Our eyes met. “You got a good strong pair of wings, Lightning Dust. Get up and use them.”

The words took time to sink in. At last the message hit home. “Yeah… you’re right.”

“Damn skippy I am.”

What reason did I have to remain so worrisome over it? Well… maybe one. As much as Rainbow’s words touched me and may have been blatantly obvious in meaning, I needed to know: we’re we still friends?

“So… we’re cool?”

She grinned confidently. “Duh. They don’t call me the Element of Loyalty for nothing. We’re still a team, and that means we always have each other’s back, no matter what.” Rainbow then leaned in close, her grin slipping into sly territory. “Even if you’re still a reckless speed junkie.”

Her wayward expression was infectious. “Shut up.” I shot back with a shove, eliciting a duet of laughter. “Seriously though, Rainbow. Thanks. That means a lot, knowing you have my back.”

“S’nothing. It’s how I roll. I’m awesome like that.”

It felt good to have a forgiving friend like Rainbow Dash. As for the rest of the Hawk Squad, however… “Now if only I can gain back their trust.” I said to myself with a fleeting glance at them. Smart-mouthing Spitfire on day one was a stupid move and the first of many to erode away whatever trust they had in me. I was a total skunt, that I won’t deny, and because of that I desperately wanted to make up for my abrasiveness.

Hopefully the gang was as equally forgiving as Rainbow Dash. Especially Cloudchaser. Having been friends since our fillyhood days in Cloudsdale, we were pretty tight, despite my competitive antics. Then came the Academy and experiencing the first taste of my lifelong dream. I was so focused on surpassing Spitfire’s expectations, I left Cloudchaser in the dust. And I didn’t give a flying feather. Hanging out with Rainbow more than her didn’t help either. After the way I treated Chase, never mind the others, apologizing wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. I was afraid that friendship would be over. I didn’t want to lose the friendship we’d nurtured for practically our entire life.

Like Rainbow said, I had to move forward. Standing around and moping wasn’t going to help. I had to act, to make amends and maybe, just maybe, everything will be totally fine. Maybe we’ll be back to being a badass squad of Wonderbolt cadets.
After a calming breath and a mental prayer for strength, I faced the other cadets. “Guys?” I called out nervously. All of them were instantly staring me down with varying levels of scrutiny, almost fully nixing my resolve. Apologizing was not my thing, and adding their intense disappointment to the mix made it much more difficult.

Dear Celestia, shoot me at the moon.

“Guys… I screwed up badly and risked your lives needlessly. I put my interests first and was ignorant of everypony else’s. And I’m aware of that now. I’m...” I really hate saying the ‘s’ word. “I’m s… I’m sorry. I hope you all can forgive me.” My gaze fell to the tarmac, as did my confidence. I couldn’t bear to look at them. “Probably don’t deserve it anyway, so I’ll understand if you choose not to put this whole fiasco behind us.”

For a few seconds, there was silence. My ears wilted. I did say they didn’t have to forgive me, but it still left me with an aching heart when none of the others spoke up. Not even Cloudchaser.

Whatever opportunity they had to accept my apology or not, it came and went like a flash of lightning. A tune blared out from a nearby bugle. We looked to the barracks to find Spitfire walking towards us, Soarin’s Aegis Squad accompanying her. Flanking the lot were Spitfire’s two associates, the mustached one tucking the trumpet under his wing.

Thunderlane rapped out an order. “Squad, form up! Officers on deck!”

I sighed. Guess the matter would have to wait until after whatever Spitfire had cooked up for us.

We quickly formed a straight row and stood at attention. When the drill sergeants arrived and made their way to the tarmac’s center, the escorts stayed a meter or so to the side. Aegis Squad formed up on the opposite end of the tarmac and faced us.

While Soarin remained stationary, Spitfire slowed her pace and studied each of us with intense scrutiny behind tinted aviators. I couldn’t help but feel unsettled at the hostile looks from both sets of cadets on top of that. It was as if this were the opening to some twisted form of a court martial, and I imagine the real thing is just as humiliating. I was the defendant, they were the jury, and Spitfire was the judge.

Before arriving at the Academy, I found Spitfire’s presence intimidating in the sense of her being a hero of sorts. She was a role model, an icon of inspiration, practically like a goddess. Now that I’ve been through a few days of basic training, that intimidation warped into one of fear. She certainly lived up to her name when she had maggots like us at her mercy.

Witnessing two sides to Spitfire was creepy. Very creepy.

By now she had stopped in front of me. If I was shaking in my boots day one, which I totally wasn’t, it paled in comparison to how feeble I felt now. With what had happened yesterday, I was definitely getting a lot more of Spitfire’s fiery glare than the other cadets. It didn’t help I was the last in line, either.

A moment that felt like an eternity passed, and at last, the moment of judgement had arrived. Spitfire shifted her attention to the rest of the squad. “At ease.”

I about fell over, letting out breath I didn’t realize I was holding.

Spitfire paced steadily back and forth. “Today, you will be competing against Aegis Squad in a relay race,” her gruff voice barked. Wait, what? Did she just say a race? “This exercise will include the hazard course earlier in training and yesterday’s cloudbusting. Your goal is to work with your team and traverse the course. Once you’ve reached the end, clear out your designated sector of clouds.”

So it was a legit race. Ironic, considering I turned every exercise Spitfire threw at us into a competition. If I didn’t know any better, I bet this particular exercise was made to test my self-control in addition to the whole team building objective. A trial of restraint. Spitfire, you devious little bucker.

“The same rules from the previous exercises apply, plus you may use any methods necessary within reason to accomplish the cloudbusting task.” Spitfire stopped and faced me again. Her voice went low. “That means no tornadoes.”

Way to be subtle, sarge.

“Remember, this will not only test your speed, agility, and endurance, but your ability to act cooperatively with your squadmates. I want to see some teamwork out there, otherwise I will be disappointed and pissed, and you will not like it. Do I make myself clear?”

“Ma’am, yes ma’am!”

The drill sergeants proceeded to choose who would handle which legs of the race. As fate would have it, Rainbow and I were the lucky cadets to tackle the final objective. Figures. If I was going to stay, I had to show them I had what it took to be a team player. I didn’t plan on disappointing anypony.

Goggles secured in place, we flew up to and hovered in our positions in the cloudbusting range as the rest of cadets dispersed to theirs. Thunderlane and Raindrops met with their opposites at the tarmac’s center, where Spitfire’s clean-shaven associate stood following our dispersal. He pulled out a marshalling wand and signalled for the lot to prepare for takeoff. They did so and, when the whistle blew, shot off into the sky.

The run through the first leg of the course proceeded better than the last time. Thunderlane and Raindrops effortlessly dodged the numerous pink-tinged lightning clouds with precision and grace. It was as if they were synced harmoniously, knowing what the other thought and instantly reacting in unison to impending danger.

“Well if it isn’t Rainbow Crash.” Rainbow and I whirled at the voice. Between the colt with the sheepdog mane and the mare with hers done up in a bun, it didn’t take a genius to figure out who dissed Rainbow. “Whatcha doing this time? Hanging out with the hotshot who trashed up the place?”

Rainbow’s eyes narrowed. “Can it, Dumb-Bell.”

My gaze darted between the two of them a couple of times. “You know this guy?”

“Yeah… he’s just a jerk who doesn’t know how to take a hint.”

“I can take a hint, but can she?” Dumb-Bell retorted cockily, gesturing to me. His smug gaze soon followed. “What’s your name again? Lightning Dust? More like Lightning Bust.”

I crossed my forelegs over my chest, unamused. Did he really believe some punny name-calling was going to psych me out? Pathetic. He was a complete idiot. Even Pizzelle flanking him was an idiot for giggling at such a lame excuse of an insult. I had an arsenal up my sleeve to oh-so-satisfyingly blow his cheap talk out of the sky.

“Real original.” I deadpanned. “You gonna bark all day little doggy, or are you gonna bite?”

Dumb-Bell rambled on. “You want my advice? Give up. If you think you got another chance at the ‘Bolts, think again, loser. Sooner or later, you’re just gonna feather up again because that’s all you’re good for: feathering things up. And not just for you, but everypony else, too.”

Urge to maim, rising. It took a lot of effort to refrain from beating this guy to a pulp, the only force keeping me from it was the fact that I’d receive a one-way ticket out of the Academy if I did. If only there was a spell or something that would reset time the moment I slugged him. Nopony would know but yours truly. Sucks that magic is more of a unicorn thing.

Fantasy aside, I began to have my doubts. I wanted to believe what that idiot said was a load of horseapples. Behind the tough girl act, however, I couldn’t help but feel a nagging fear somewhere in the back of my mind telling me that maybe Dumb-Bell was right.

My jaw clenched tightly in suppressed anger. “Shut up.” I growled. “I learned my lesson and I plan to stick with it.”

Rainbow piped in supportively, raising her hooves as if she were about to box. “I’m not afraid to teach you lesson if you don’t quit it, Dumb-Bell.”

Dumb-Bell either ignored the threat or was dumb enough to push our limits. His lips curled as he said cruelly, “You’re like the Bermuleda Triangle, Lightning Bust. Empty space nopony wants to be around ‘cause it’s full of nothing but bad luck.”

That’s when I faltered. Normally, I wouldn’t be so quick to crack, but with what I had been through in the past eighteen hours or so, that blow effectively hit the nail on the head. The lingering fear within began to eat away at my resolve, and it totally wasn’t in the form of unshed tears.

And credit where it’s due, for an idiot that was a well-played comeback.

In the distance I heard Rainbow say something that was probably on the snarky side and defensive, but it was nothing but noise to me as my mind remained centered on Dumb-Bell’s words. What if I was nothing but bad luck? What if I screwed up again? What if I allowed myself to lose control and cause more harm? If I failed, my chances with the Wonderbolts would be shot to Tartarus. My parents would be disappointed. Flash would be disappointed. Cloudchaser would break off our friendship. And little Fi… he’d never see me as the cool older sister again.

Nopony wants to be around such a loser. How could I possibly live with that?

You got a good strong pair of wings, Lightning Dust. Get up and use them.

We’re still a team, and that means we always have each other’s back, no matter what.

I felt a fire flicker within at Rainbow’s echoing words. No. I was stronger than this. I wasn’t going to let a load of trash talk tie me down and cast doubt on the future. I could do this. Rainbow Dash was my leader; she would be there to guide me in the right direction if I strayed and I would be there to do the same. She was my friend and I hers, thus we were each other’s strength.

Together, we could do anything.

In my peripheral vision, I saw two pairs of shapes coming up from the stretch of wind generators. They were Cloudchaser and Bulk Biceps, followed closely by… I think their names were Medley and Luminary. A slow, steady breath left me, as did my worries. This was it. No more screw-ups, no more delusions, no more excuses. From this moment onward it was all for one and one for all.

It was time to move forward.

I called out to Dumb-Bell, gaining his attention as well as Pizzelle and Rainbow. “You like to talk, right? Show me what else you can do with that mouth of yours.”

Dumb-Bell’s brow furrowed. At least, I think it did. it was hard to say beneath that sheepdog mane of his. “Like what?”

I flashed him a wicked grin. “Like eating my dust.” On cue, our teammates arrived. My hoof made contact with Cloudchaser’s and, for an incredibly brief moment, our eyes met. Having been friends for years, we could read each other like an open book. It was pretty cool how much of an impact the bonds of friendship had on ponies.

Cloudchaser gave a simple nod that said, You can do this.

I nodded back, inwardly elated my best friend forever still had confidence in me. There was hope yet that our friendship could be salvaged. With that invigorating thought in mind, I blazed into the cloudbusting range alongside my lead pony.

Without missing a beat, we tore away at the cluster of clouds with efficiency like a perfect shot in a pinball machine. They didn’t stand a chance. Neither did Dumb-Bell and Pizzelle. For every cloud they took out, we followed up with three. Rainbow and I were just too much of a radical force to be reckoned with for them to compete.

It didn’t take long for us to hit the home stretch. We were in a zone, our faces hardened in determination, our spirits burning fiercely, our limbs crashing through the cumuli like a train through snow. I was so absorbed in the task at hoof, my ears barely registered the cacophony of voices emanating loudly from below. Only when somepony shouted “Go Lightning!” did I take a glance downward.

It revealed to be Cloudchaser and company, all of them having flown from their checkpoints on the obstacle course back to the tarmac. And they were cheering. It was positively surreal, so much I questioned whether or not it was my ears playing tricks on me, or if this was all a dream. But no, this was definitely real.

“You hear that?” Rainbow called out as she flew past. “They’re cheering us on.”

“Nah, pretty sure it’s all for me.” I joked. “I’m the radical one.”

“Well, I’m the more awesome one.”

“Look who’s showing off.”

“Look who’s talking.”

“Heh. Touche.” I concieded lightly.

A quick scan of the range indicated only a few clouds remained in our sector. Dumb-Bell wasn’t far behind, which I found surprising. I expected him to be all talk and lag miserably behind, but apparently I underestimated him and Pizzelle. Then Rainbow and I noticed their remaining clouds were closely knit, while ours were scattered to a couple of corners.

We slowed to a hover and I threw out my arms in annoyance at the straggling clouds. “Ugh, how did we even miss those?”

“Guess some of the ones we hit broke up instead of dispersing. It happens.”

“We’re weather ponies. We can so do a better job than that.” If I still lived in Cloudsdale or Canterlot, the head honchos in weather management would have had my skin for a sloppy job. As far as cloud dispersal went for them, ‘nitpicky’ would be putting it very mildly.

“Oh, we can.” Rainbow smiled knowingly. “And we totally will.”

I glanced at her. “You got a plan, boss-man?”

She indicated the other straggling clouds behind us. “Just grab those over there and follow my lead.”

I nodded and complied without question. As lead pony of this duo, Rainbow was the one who called the shots. Plus, she deserved the ego boost. Four days as a wing pony wasn’t exactly fun for her. I flew up and rounded up the cluster of clouds, compacting them into a manageable mass about a wingspan or so large. A glance down at Rainbow showed she had done the same, her compacted mass a tad larger. She motioned to toss mine. I did so and she followed suit. The twin conglomerates collided into one another to form yet another mass.

Rainbow Dash and I pressed upward above our masterpiece. Once we reached a satisfying height, she gave the command to fold in our wings. For a moment, it was as if we were weightless. The sensation of my innards moving up arose as we started falling, but receded just as quickly when we faced the earth and dropped like hailstones towards our target. Goddess, I bucking love that feeling. The wind rushing past my ears, the feeling of gravity taking me… this is what I lived for.

“Let’s slice and dice this thing.” We spread our wings as soon as we reached the cloud and cut through it like a hot knife through butter. One pass was all we needed to sever the cloud into three chunks that in a moment’s time poofed out of existence.

A whistle blew from below. “Hawk Squad has completed the objective.” Spitfire announced.

“No!” Dumb-Bell shouted in anguish, beating his frustration into one of the leftover clouds. Said frustration sent Pizzelle cautiously back a few wing beats. “You’ve gotta be kidding me!”

I couldn’t help but savor the victory with some gloating. “Aww, were we too fast for you?” I cooed with laced mockery as we passed by the pair. “I feel so bad. You made it sound like you were up to snuff.”

“Better luck next time, Dumb-Bell.” Rainbow followed up we hoof-bumped. We descended to the tarmac and graced Spitfire’s presence with ours. The drill sergeant’s lips were curled in a satisfied smile, though it was dulled with the professionalism required of any authoritative figure.

“Good work out there, you two.” Spitfire complimented. “Looks like I made the right decision in keeping you paired up. Excellent leadership up there, Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow could barely contain her elation at the praise as she saluted. “Thank you, ma’am.”

“And Lightning Dust…” My chest tightened. “ ...keep it up.”

I copied Rainbow’s motion. “Yes, ma’am.”

“At ease.” Spitfire turned to rest of the cadets. “Alright, squad. While we oversee the preparations for the next exercise, go ahead and take a few. Limber up, though. This one will not be so merciful.”

We chanted the appropriate response and with that Spitfire departed. Meanwhile, Soarin remained behind with his squad. We watched as he gave Dumb-Bell and Pizzelle a mouthful for their inability to perform to his expectations, laced with a few choice phrases none of us thought he would ever use. Soarin then proceeded to bark off a command of a seventy-five wing ups from each of his trainees. Needless to say, they didn’t take it very well.

To us fans, Soarin came off as one of the more laidback and kinder Wonderbolts. But this was a totally new side to him, all mouth and wing. I guess this was the case for every ‘Bolt, or at least the ones who split their time between performances and training recruits.

Thunderlane broke the silence. “How did that guy even get into the Academy?” he asked to nopony in particular.

“Dumb-Bell? He was captain of the varsity hoofball team back in high school. Probably used that as his ticket in.” Rainbow explained with copious annoyance.

“For a jerk, he fits the bill for lead pony.” I admitted. “I thought he was all bark and no bite, but Dumb-Bell sure as hay proved me wrong. He was practically neck and neck with us through the whole cloudbusting bit.”

Rainbow reluctantly nodded in agreement. “They about had us by bringing their clouds closer together. Not a bad plan.” A smile brimming with pride appeared. “Too bad Dumb-Bell didn’t have my kind of speed and charisma to pull it off quick enough. Or awesome enough. He woulda had it in the bag.”

I shrugged “Oh well. Like I said before, only the best of the best can be Wonderbolts, right?”

Starry Eyes tapped at his chin in thought. “Darwing had a phrase appropriate for such words. What was it again?”

RULES OF NATURE!!” answered Bulk with a deafening bawl, which got a few surprised looks from the ponies outside Hawk Squad. It’s amazing how much he can send a mane flapping back with that kind of voice. Imagine if that guy was a drill sergeant here at the Academy. If Bulk wasn’t so much of a soft-shelled pansy, he’d have every trainee quaking in their boots.

“I believe the proper term is ‘survival of the fittest’, but yes.” Starry Eyes clarified. “Rather evolutionist, but it is relevant. As the more adequately prepared unit, we rightfully emerged victorious.”

Thunderlane seemed to get the gist of Starry’s summation and went on to serve up a round of wing fives. “Yeah, what he said! Great work, team! Way to work together!” We wing-fived. “Especially you, Light. We had our doubts--”

“--but in the end we knew you could prove yourself.” Cloudchaser finished for him cheerfully, following up with a wing five.

My cheeks began to redden at the praise. Normally I’d be basking in the ambience of such praise, but instead I felt a bit overwhelmed and embarrassed at it all. Guess it didn’t feel right to just take it like I usually do. “Thanks, but don’t go putting the spotlight on me.” I said modestly. “Rainbow deserves it, too. I couldn’t have done this without her guidance. None of us would have.”

Rainbow hovered in a laid back position. “Well, Spitfire did say I make a good leader.”

“Just don’t let it get to your head.” I ribbed. If Rainbow were to get as big-headed as I was with that lead pony pin, Spitfire would rip it off and poke whatever Wonderbolt dreams she had into oblivion. Obviously the gang knew Rainbow better than that, but it didn’t hurt to poke a little fun at her with the idea. I grinned slyly. “I’d hate to see you lose your gold status to me again. Though I wouldn’t mind taking it back if you did get the boot. Maybe your Element of Harmony, too, if you turn into a real jerk.”

“Dream on, Lightning. It ain’t gonna happen.”

“Too ironic?” Cloudchaser quipped. That got a laugh out of us. Me? The new Element of Loyalty? When Tartarus froze over, maybe. I knew better than to believe I could be as loyal of a pony as Rainbow Dash. That didn’t mean I couldn’t try, though. Speaking of loyalty...

I turned to my foalhood friend. “Hey, Chase?”


“We’re still cool, right?”

She took a moment to ponder before she answered. “We are. I was upset about the way you acted, and even more so with that tornado, yeah, but I can’t be mad at you forever. Besides, it looks like you managed to turn yourself around.”

I felt relieved, as if a weight had been lifted from my chest. “Thanks. Look, about what I did--”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Lightning Dust,” softly cut off Wild Flower, who smiled with maternal gentleness. “Nopony is supposed to be perfect. You’re only equine, so you will always make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them, nor deserve a second chance.” She looked to the rest of Hawk Squad expectantly. “Isn’t that right, everypony?”

Bulk agreed immediately with his usual “YEAH!!”, while most of the others gave a simple nod.

I blinked in surprise. Wild Flower, soft-spoken Wild Flower of all ponies, had to be the one to set aside flaws first. As for the rest of the squad being so quick and willing to follow her example, it was positively surreal, like they had already decided to voice their grace beforehand and were all waiting for somepony to make the first move. I guess today’s performance paid off.

That, or living in a small town with the Bearers of Harmony turned them soft.

My mouth ground back into gear again. “Wait. Your forgiving me? Just like that?” True, Chase and Rainbow already did, but being my best friends, there was a legit reason for them to be quick to forgive.

“Of course. Forgiveness is the best policy,” replied Wild Flower with a gentle smile. “We know how much this means to you, and trust me, we are just as excited to have a chance at the Wonderbolts--”

“Not excited as me.” Rainbow piped up.

“--and maybe would be just as crushed if that dream were to be taken away all because passion clouded judgement. Not forgiving you for what you love would be a heartless thing to do. Besides, I believe that performance on the obstacle course was a sign of you willing to make up for your mistakes.”

“I... wow. Thank you.” I wiped my eyes. That kind-hearted angel about drove me to tears.

Rainbow nudged my side. “Glad Spitfire decided not to give you the boot. Not having a wingpony almost as awesome as I am for the next few days woulda gotten kind of depressing.”

“I don’t know, Rainbow” Cloudchaser said, bearing a wry smile. “You and Lightning have plenty of ego in an ass cheek to dwarf anypony else’s. One of you is more than enough to give me a headache. Two… I don’t think I can survive the next few minutes.”

That got an amused snort out of me. “Some ponies can’t handle high levels of radicalness, Chase.” I quipped, feeling my self-esteem building itself back up. It was true, though. I totally had an ass full of ego.
Cloudchaser rolled her eyes. “Kinda hard to handle if we’re spinning out.”

“What can I say? Can’t help it if it sends other ponies reeling from the Lightning.”

“Shocking,” deadpanned an unamused Raindrops.

Thanks for the buzzkill, I thought with a frown as I shot a glare at her. Funny how her full name was Sunshower Raindrops. That meant she was supposed to be just one big feathering ray of sunshine, right? Because ever since arriving at the Academy, I always found her in a crappy mood, seeing the negative side of things. She was a Wonderbolt-in-training for crying out loud! What’s not to be happy about?

Geez, even thinking about it was killing the mood even more.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Raindrops started. “You rubbed me the wrong way since we got here. I had the feeling at one point or another during training, you’d make things more difficult for us. And you did. Your recklessness more than once nearly sent a few of us to the medbay.”

That sure as hay explained a lot. I wanted to snark back, but held my tongue. Doing so wouldn’t have done anything to help better the matter.

“But,” she emphasized, “I’m not a complete pessimist. I understand this was something important to you, so I’m willing to forgive you. Just don’t pull off another stunt like that tornado again. Are we clear?” Raindrops held out her hoof, waiting for me to meet her halfway.

Huh. She was willing to look past my faults. I’d definitely be showering her with respect from now on. I obliged Raindrops and shook her outstretched appendage. “Crystal.” Then a thought crossed my mind. Hopefully it’d appeal to her and dissolve more of the tension between us. “And as a bonus, I’ll by you a panini sandwich after this. Any place, any make.”

Raindrops stopped her hoof and eyed me cautiously. “Don’t bribe me.”

“Not a bribe, Dropsy. Think of it as a peace offering.”

She took a moment to consider it. I could guess what her answer was when a hint of a smile soon drew itself on Raindrops’ muzzle. “Alright. I’ll hold you to it.” The smile disappeared in an instant. “And never call me Dropsy.”

I nodded. “Fair enough.”

The lot of us were drawn again to the piercing shrill of a whistle. By now it was pure reflex for us to form up and stand at attention at the approach of our drill sergeant and her lackeys. “Alright, Hawk Squad.” she said gruffly. “You better like caves, ‘cause for the next exercise you will be joining Torrent Squad on the Cavern Course. I hope you brought your brown pants; I kid you not when I tell you this one will be intense.”

Caves? Intense? My lips curled up at what sounded like a danger zone, though more likely than not it wasn’t. The Academy would have magical buffers and barriers utilized to prevent any serious injury to anypony. Hey, I might be toning down my need for speed for mine and everypony’s benefit, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t crave some adventure and excitement. Besides, no force on Equestria or Tartarus will get me to give up that part of me; I just wouldn’t be my totally radical self, would I?

“Now let’s move out!” Spitfire blew her whistle. “Hop to!”

As ordered, we flew behind our instructor. Maybe it was my imagination, maybe it was something else, but with every wingbeat I felt lighter. Obviously, that what’s supposed to happen when anything with wings takes off, but this felt different. Whatever it was, it was a good, uplifting feeling.

A freeing feeling.

It was over. I had absolutely nothing to worry about. The whole ordeal with the tornado was in the past. My heart beat stronger and the confidence I had in both myself and the others was greater. The squad had forgiven me for my reckless behavior, and I still had a shot at the Wonderbolts. Sure, I was paying for my sins with a demotion, a bill, and a morsel of humiliation, but it was a price worth paying.

For me—for us—it was a big step forward.

Together, we truly were a team.

Author's Note:

Finally got around to writing a story for best pony, and maybe the first entry of more related stories to come.

Many thanks to Chengar Qordath, JaketheGinger, Web of Hope, Dusk Watch, Ponibus, Rodinga, and BB-K for taking the time to check this over. I know I can be difficult and a bit of a procrastinator, but it means a lot. I really need to say thank you more often. So...

:pinkiehappy:THANK YOU!!:pinkiehappy:

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Comments ( 3 )

I was gonna make a snarky remark about 'ewww lightning dust, flash sentry worst pone' or some such, but I just watched the teaser of Sweetie Belle on stage in front of Vinyl and Octavia end up being a dream(S5E4 spoilers, tread with care), and not even worst ponies can top that disappointment

Very nicely done!

5878058 That was a disappointing moment. At least Scoots got to legitimately fly, even if it was a dream. Overall, that was a pretty wacky episode. I'm still geeking out about the whole twittermite infestation dream; having written something similar six months prior and then see that?

Man, what a moment.



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