• Published 24th Jun 2012
  • 12,144 Views, 377 Comments

LOYALTY - Crowne Prince



Rainbow Dash and Soarin's friendship turns out to be one heck of a wild ride and a whole lot more.

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9 - Fleetfoot steals a pun

Rainbow Dash's wings flared out. She’d had enough of this. “That's it, Soarin! I'm gonna take you down.“ She snorted furiously, something she’d learned from the buffalo, and scraped a hoof deliberately across the cloud. It cut an angry furrow.

"Downtown for apple pie, maybe." Soarin' looked so sure of himself. He didn't even bother to keep his eyes open for her attack.

"Not a chance." She raised her hoof with menace. It slammed down on the table, jittering the pieces. "Cloud nine, again."

Still with his eyes closed, Soarin' dipped his head to the board and removed his weatherpony. He picked up a red peg and stuck it on the same square with smoothness and nonchalance.

Now she just had to get all his other pieces, except the bumble bee. She'd been lucky and stung that earlier. She decided to shift her seagull one space to the right.

Soarin’ looked thoughtful. “Sky six.”

"Sea Ponies!" Rainbow Dash cursed, flicking her seagull back into the box.

"Woo!" Soarin' threw his hooves in the air. Gradually he tipped backwards, farther and farther until he fell over the edge of the cloud and disappeared. A second later he came flying back up. "Now that we both know who the true Battlecloud king is, how about some flying?"

She hadn't won a single game that day, not with the Wonderbolt house rules. Flying sounded like a good change of pace. "I'm warning you Soarin’, you better keep a close eye on your crown. I don't plan to lose next time."

Even though her house was off the beaten path, Soarin’ evidently had plans to practice elsewhere. She followed his blue tail out over the orchards of Sweet Apple Acres, now peppered with apple blooms. Based on their flight path, ‘elsewhere’ was an even more remote flight zone than her home. Dark treetops blanketed the distance. Even in the warm, sunny weather with chirping birds and a basket of Fluttershy bunnies, the trees looked ominous. Rainbow Dash gulped.

“Soarin’, you know that’s the Everfree Forest, right?”

He looked back over his shoulder at her. His face went in and out of view between the fan of his wings. “Yeah. We won’t have to worry about hitting any innocent byflyers out here. Plus, there’s tons of cloud material to work with.” Disobedient cloud material, but Soarin’s carefree tone said he knew what he was doing. He could also be crazy. Rainbow Dash contemplated this possibility.

The shadowy woods swallowed the last stretch of safe ground. Everything below was unfamiliar territory, and the skies looked strange, full of blotted puffs. It wasn’t her favorite flying area, to say the least in as sarcastic a way as possible. The clouds here were sticky. It took exacting control of pegasus magic to deal with them: too much and they stuck to you like gum; too little and you’d slip right through them.

Rainbow Dash scoured the ground below, but it was hard to see anything through the thick canopy. “What if we run into banished ponies out here?”

“Banished ponies?” Soarin’ pulled up beside her for a moment. “Heh, RD, ya know the Princess doesn’t banish ponies.” He snapped his teeth together. “She chops their tails off.” He flew ahead with a burst of speed.

“And then she banishes them! Wait, which Princess are you talking about?”

Even off-color jokes did nothing to lessen the disturbing presence of the forest. She snorted down at it disrespectfully.

They stopped far above a creepy clearing near one of the river tributaries that ran through the woods. The only thing in the clearing was grass. Mist floated across the strangely empty meadow, obscuring the ground from view where it passed.

Soarin’ looked down. “I was wondering if I could find this place. The fog can get so thick down there you’d never know it was a clearing at all.” He reached into one of the soupy clouds and drew out a gob of pinkish fluff bigger than a pony. “I’d tell you to show me everything you got, but I already know. Fleetfoot told me all of your moves.” He slashed his tail at the cloud gob, cleaving it cleanly in two. A passable gap separated each half.

Rainbow Dash knocked one forehoof against the other decisively. “So somepony has been spying on me! I knew it! I can’t wait to tell Twilight I’m not some paranoid spy fanatic.” I can't believe I thought it was her at first. Twilight would make a terrible spy.

Soarin’ crafted more of the weird empty sandwich clouds and then plopped down on a flat cloud further off. She joined him. Her Wonderbolt friend said, “We’re going to start with the basics. You fly through those clouds over there while I eat this cherry fritter.” He held out a rectangular, crispy golden baked good to show he was serious.

“The basics,” Rainbow Dash whined, “I want to learn the hard stuff!” Her friend held the pastry to his nose. Fritter-moustache Soarin’ gazed patiently at her with large green eyes, combating her complaining with silence. “Fine! Let’s get this over with.”

When she took a second to look at the task, she realized it wasn’t easy at all. The cloud balls were spaced apart in a straight line. It was a tight pass through every cloud, and the gaps between each gradually mimicked a 360° rotation; a single, perfect barrel roll. It would’ve been challenging just to fly through the tiny gaps without turning. Soarin’ wasn’t taking her lightly.

Hmph! Watch this.

She leapt up to give it a shot and fell flat on her face. The gummy cloud surface was sticking to her feet. It had snapped her right back onto the cloud, and now it was on her face, too. She peeled herself off the treacherous thing and spit out pieces of cloud puff.

Okay, now watch this.

Rainbow Dash rushed up to the sun and plummeted down to Soarin’s hoofmade clouds. She needed enough momentum to not have to flap. Slightly pink-tinged clouds rapidly grew in size, filling her vision. Her wings splayed flat open and she whisked neatly through the goal, willing her body to rotate for the next one. She was through it already. Voom voom voom – the closeness of the clouds echoed in her ears as she rushed through them. The world tilted on its side.

Her wingtip snagged on something. Everything around her went out of control. No, she was the one out of control. Through the spinning she could see rainbow wisps of her tail, or was that her mane? She managed to grapple one of the many passing clouds and bring herself to a stop.

Soarin’ yelled down at her with added emphasis, “MMM, This cherry fritter is SO good!”

Rainbow Dash growled and pulled herself off the safety net. If I can’t make it the first time, I better make sure my technique is perfect before I try that again. She glared at the traitorous feather, which was now but a blue speck on the checkpoint she’d hit. Unless I want my wings to be bald.

On the next few passes, rather than attempt the cloud rigging again, she flew beside it and did the slow barrel roll until she thought she had it right. Now to try arrowing through the course again.

Bam! Whoosh! She’d messed up again. At least this time she’d let her cloud magic set properly, so she didn’t lose any feathers. She was tempted to concentrate and turn the magic off, but if she did, Soarin’ would notice her floundering failures for sure when she touched the cloud and it was whipped away by her wings passing through it. Grr.

“Hey Dash, that’s enough for now!”

“But I haven’t even done it yet!” He waved her over anyway.

Soarin’ nodded when she got there. “That’s why you should come here and practice every other day until next week. I want you to set different courses, too. What I put together today will be gone, and it’s going to be too easy anyway.” Soarin’ stood and cracked his wings. “Alright! I’m tired of sitting here. You see that cloud over there?” He pointed to a cumulus darkening a swath of the forest. “Let’s fight it.”

“Pfff, that?” The cloud was massive. It would take a pegasus hours to clear it on their own, if it were a normal cloud outside the Everfree forest. “I can handle that myself.”

Soarin’s mane swayed to and fro. “That’s not the point. You think I couldn’t handle it myself?” She hadn’t thought of that. “So tell me what to do.”

Rainbow Dash shrank. “You want me to tell you, a Wonderbolt, what to do?”

“Well yeah, sure,” Soarin’s eyes betrayed a flicker of surprise. Had he forgotten what he was? “Don’t think of me as a Wonderbolt; think of me as a teammate. You can start by considering what I’m good at, and then tell me to do it. Admit it: there are some things I’m more specialized at than you are.”

The turquoise mare shoved him lightly. “As if,” she said noncommittally, or rather muttered because she wasn’t thinking about the jest. Instead, her thoughts were trained on what she knew about Soarin’. He seems to be unusually good at cloud shaping, even though I didn’t know that about him before. What else? She traced hours of joyful – and perhaps not pointless after all – magazine reading and fan-based research and observation. Twilight must be rubbing off on me. Cloud manipulation, cloud tricks, lightning, competitive speed, and the entire arsenal of Wonderbolt maneuvers. Oh, and teamwork. He doesn’t do many solo performances. But all of the Wonderbolts must have sharp team sense, or how else would they fly together so perfectly?

Her eyes shifted to Soarin’. She was starting to see what he was getting at. “Do a grid pattern and slice that thing into pieces that big,” she pointed at a nearby cloud she knew she’d be able to clear with a little extra effort. “I’ll follow behind and start kicking the pieces to mist. After you’re done you can join me.”

Soarin’s focus clicked, and she knew she’d done the right thing. He nestled into a competitive takeoff position. “I’ll bet we can’t get it done very fast.”

She lined up and spread her wings. With a grin, she knowingly took the baited comment. “Oh yeah? I bet we get it done in an hour. Go!”

Soarin’ flashed ahead of her and scored lines in the cloud from top to bottom, side to side, breaking it into chunks. Rainbow Dash broke a sweat bucking the heavy, resistant clouds. Sometimes it took two or three kicks. Mist plastered her mane to her neck, colors flowing off her like runny paints. The water vapor slowly descended to the ground below.

They finished in just over an hour. “Bad luck,” said Soarin’. His waterlogged mane flopped over his eyes, making his goofy smile even more absurd. Actually, they probably both looked equally silly. “Anything you would do different?”

Rainbow Dash peered through clumped strands of redorangeyellow, ignoring the slight ache in her tendons. “Yeah, make you do all the work.” She looked down at the Everfree Forest clearing, which was now completely obscured by a blanket of fog rising to the treetops. “Congratulations Soarin’, we officially made this place creepier than it was when we got here.”

Soarin’ stretched. “Good work today. Now all you’ve got to do is clear the rest of this sky.”

She didn’t flinch. It went without saying that this was an insane task. “Why?”

“Because it’s dirty.” He paused. “No really, it will get your strength up. Every day after you run the cloud mazes, clear the whole sky here. It’s a lot to ask, so if you can’t handle it…”

“I can handle it!” she interrupted quickly, banishing her inner mind before it could protest over the loss of sleep and soreness that would come as a result of the self-confident remark.

Soarin’ checked the position of the sun. “Don’t stay out here after dark.”

“No need to tell me that. This place freaks me out.” They waved goodbye, and Soarin’ headed for Canterlot, leaving Rainbow Dash with a bunch of lumpy clouds. She kicked one.

“Dumb cloud.”

- - -

Rainbow Dash ground her teeth at the slow, purposeful wing strokes it took to get over Ponyville. Everything aches, but if I keep thinking about it, it’ll only ache more. I have to focus on something else, come on, anything. I wonder what Fluttershy’s been up to? She feeds Angel a lot, so maybe she did that all week. Even my cutie mark is sore. No – now I’m thinking about it again!

As she approached the restaurant, Rainbow Dash saw five distinct ponies seated around one of the umbrella-shaded tables. It looked like this was the first time in a while everypony was able to make it at the same time. She swooped right over the fence and landed directly on an open, short-legged stool at the table. It rocked forward a little with the sudden occupant.

Rarity was the first to notice her smooth entrance. "Rainbow Dash, it's so good to see you. I'm glad you could make it."

"Yeah," said Pinkie Pie, peering over a menu. "We were all about to share our Hearts and Hooves day stories, and I'm super duper curious about where you were all day last week." Her eyes narrowed with detective mischief. "So where were you last Tuesday, at about half-past sunhigh and two shakes of a ponytail?"

"It was nothing special. I just ate lunch and did some flying and stuff," she evaded.

Pinkie Pie snapped to cheerfulness and was about to let Dash off the hook when a certain gossip guru pushed the earth pony's menu in front of her nose, effectively muffling the "okay." "Oh come now, surely you did not eat lunch by yourself?" Rarity inquired. There was no escaping her keen eye when it came to pony relations.

"No," Rainbow Dash begrudged. "I didn't want to tell you because you'd think it was a date, and it totally wasn't. I went with Soarin' so he could train me for this year's Wonder Trial. I did the first training exercises yesterday." The whole table ooo'ed. "Guys!"

Rarity’s long, dark eyelashes fluttered. "If you ask me, I think he likes you. Why else would he be assisting you?"

Rainbow Dash rolled the bottom of her empty water glass on the table. "Probably some weird bet with Spitfire." Rarity ignored the snide remark and smiled like she knew something Rainbow Dash didn’t.

Their server took Pinkie Pie's order for pink lemonade and went around the circle, taking other requests. Twilight asked for a daisy sandwich before turning the conversation. "What about you, Rarity?"

"Me? Why, naturally I turned down all the invitations I received. I had an order straight from Canterlot that I simply could not ignore."

Twilight nodded. "I completely understand. I had a book I couldn't put down! Literally!" Nopony seemed to pay particular attention to the last bit. “No, seriously girls, it was stuck to my hooves.” Her tone turned sour. “Ssspike,” she managed to hiss and growl at the same time, “put some kind of glue on it. It took me a whole day of research to figure out how to get it off.”

Rainbow Dash imagined Twilight clomping around the library with her forehooves pasted to a book.

Applejack's attention had been caught by a stiff menu sitting at the seat next to her. "Hey sugar cube, ya know we can still see yeh’re here even if you keep holdin that fancy bit o paper in front of you like that, right?”

Even the waiter pony knew better than to try to take the menu from the yellow mare's grasp after she'd ordered an iced tea. Not with the way her hooves clenched it.

"Okay," Fluttershy said, lowering her barricade. "I didn't want to interrupt, so please go on."

The five put pressure on her by not saying anything.

"Well, um, my Hearts and Hooves day was very nice." A practically imperceptible pink tinged her cheeks. "The pony I spent it with was... nice." She avoided making eye contact with anyone.

After a prolonged silence, Pinkie Pie asked, "Arent' you gonna tell us who it was?"

"Uhm." Fluttershy sank in her chair. "No."

Laughing, Applejack gave the startled pegasus a hardy smack on the back. "Well good fer you Fluttershy. Ah might be a mite jealous of you. The pony I wanted to spend time with is already taken, so I ain't giving you no block of salt when I say don let the good ones slip away."

Rarity raised her elaborate drink. "I’ll toast to that."

Spike's head popped up at the table as he snuck into an open seat by Twilight. He slid a glass of juice onto the table. "I'll say. We're all adults here."

Rainbow Dash elbowed the purple dragon and said sarcastically, "Well, most of us are. To friends!"

"To friends!"

~~~

The first thing that muffled into Soarin’s mind after he woke was the way Rainbow Dash had pulled away when he’d tried to get her to take lead during yesterday’s training. I forgot that she still sees me as a Wonderbolt.

Soarin’ rolled out of bed and fiddled semi-lucidly with the covers while he waited for the blackout from the sudden morning movement to go away. He was impatient, but after flopping head over heels in the hallway months ago, he decided to live with waiting five seconds for the black vision and fuzzy-mindedness to go away. In the winter, this made a great window of opportunity to make the bed, a task he thought was pointless and stupid but did anyway. This morning he made the bed to take his mind off the next round of Rainbow Dash’s training, which was running through his thoughts like the Equestrian Express – or rather, the ponies that pulled it.

Soarin’ slowly made his way to the common area to start planning the upcoming air show. Though not in uniform, the Wonderbolts were waiting for him when he got there. His teammates suddenly got quieter and the conversation died down. They looked at him purposefully. “What’s this all about?” he asked.

A frosty white mane travelled through the herd and Fleetfoot stepped forward. “Soarin,” she began seriously. Was he in trouble? “We wanted to give you these.” Fleetfoot pulled out five tickets to the air show in two weeks.

“But guys, these are your extra tickets.” Each Wonderbolt got one ticket they could give away. If they ever wanted to let a couple or group come as a gift, they had to combine their extra tickets.

Spitfire said, “We thought you might want the chance to let Rainbow Dash invite her friends. It’s definitely better than anything we could do with the tickets ourselves.”

Surprise bounced in. “Not with the next show being in Ponyville.”

Ponyville? When did we make that decision?

“That’s not all,” continued Fleetfoot. “We want you to take the lead role on this one. I think it’s time somepony saw a real light show.”

“Hey,” High Winds complained, “that was my pun."

The realization of what was going on hit Soarin’ like a pie, and he shot an exasperated look at Spitfire. It was too early in the morning for this. “Spitfire, I can’t believe you suggested that move. It’s too dangerous! You know that!”

“It wasn’t her idea,” a low voice came from the edges of the crowd. A gray pegasus materialized from the shadows of the other Wonderbolts and locked eyes with Soarin’. “It was mine,” Rapidfire said boldly.

Fleetfoot turned her head from Rapidfire to Soarin’. She paid no attention the blue pegasus’ mix of surprise and utter confusion. “Rapidfire’s already figured out how to place the audience so they won’t be at risk of getting hit. We’ll be able to bring clouds from the Everfree Forest over for the performance, as long as we’re careful to remove all of them after.”

So that’s why they changed the show to be in Ponyville. Soarin’ shook his head. “Even so, I don’t think it’s worth it. All of you are candidates for fried ponies if you’re in the arena with me. Do you even know how to fly in a lightning storm?”

“Show us.”