• Published 26th Jun 2012
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Earth & Sky - Warren Hutch

Sequel to Windfall, set three years after. Twilight & Rarity invent artificial wings!

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Part 13 - Connecting Flights

The rich velvet curtains by the doorway rustled imperceptibly, parting and falling closed as the princesses settled themselves on an elegant divan and motioned Twilight, Rarity, and their companions to make themselves comfortable on the richly brocaded cushions scattered about the opulent lounge suite reserved for the royal sisters and their guests.

Princess Celestia gave her prized student an encouraging smile and gave a bob of her tapering horn. "Now, Twilight, what is this matter that you and your friends would like to bring to our attention?"

At her side, Princess Luna sat with a look of guarded interest on her dusky face. "Yeah, lay it on us."

The scholarly unicorn mare smiled back, and her violet eyes began to gleam as her horn sparkled to life. "I'd like to start by thanking your Highnesses on behalf of myself, Rarity, and the employees and friends of Harmony Aeronautics, a new company that we founded under town charter in Ponyville to develop a breakthrough in applied spellcasting that will allow all types of ponies to enjoy the benefit of winged flight. We present to you, the Harmony Aeronautics Personal Flight Harness."

With that, a glittering spark floated off the tip of her horn and drifted between her and the royal sisters. It began to draw a glowing outline of a pony in the air, filling the room with a cool, bluish light. Once the equine profile was completed, the gleaming dot, which looked like a firefly but moved with crisp purpose, traced out a schematic of the wings and harness around it. The spark then moved on to trace out a series of magical equations and diagrams in the air beside it.

Twilight's voice took on a discursive quality as she continued. "The basic principle originates with a spell authored in the third century A.R.C. by Princess Ascendia the Ever Hopeful. By deconstructing its component elements, I was able to isolate the animation and control sub-spells, update them to a modern standard, and apply them to a pre-constructed wearable apparatus, replacing Ascendia's spell woven membrane and arcano-biological interface."

Rarity stepped forward and sparked her own horn to life, sending a wave of thrumming glitter toward the diagram. As soon as her silvery blue magic touched the outline, it produced a small pop as it became a three dimensional representation of a pony, taking on something of Pip's likeness. The wings it wore began to beat steadily, raising the little figure up off its hooves to circle through the air in a lazy figure eight.

The elegant, alabaster mare cleared her throat and gave the sister sovereigns a winning smile, batting her sapphire blue eyes at them. "We were rather hoping that we might obtain a Royal Charter for our company to further develop this idea. Properly funded, and with your Highnesses' support, we feel that our flight harness will be nothing short of transformative for Equestrian society."

She conjured more tiny, illusory ponies over their heads, a flock of pegasi hovering above a small herd of earth ponies and unicorns. One by one, winged harnesses appeared on the ground bound ponies, and one by one they took off and rose up to join the pegasi in the air. Soon all the little flying ponies were happily playing together in the domed vault of the chamber beneath the crystal chandelier.

Rarity drew herself up, her mannered tone replaced by a rising, oratory flourish. "No longer will ponies of different sorts be stranded apart from one another. No longer will the pegasi be all alone in the skies." A pair of smaller pegasi flew in close to a tiny pink mare in her illusion, nuzzling her cheeks as tiny hearts popped into existence over the little family.

The elegant unicorn's voice cracked slightly as she concluded. "No longer will the mothers and fathers of winged foals be forced to remain grounded as their children play overhead, out of their reach." She pulled a silk hoofkerchief from among the layered folds of her stole and dabbed at her glistening eyes as a hush fell over the royal salon.

With a slight wave of her horn, Princess Celestia summoned one of the tiny, flight harness wearing illusions closer, examining it with interest. "Well, this is certainly an intriguing proposition, girls. The wing design is definitely clever."

At this, Rarity drew herself up proudly. "I made a small contribution to the current harness' overall aesthetic, but the majority of the credit goes to our ingenious chief engineer, Apple Bloom."

A muffled growl sounded from behind the curtains, unnoticed by everypony in the room, as the young handymare gave a halting bow of her elegantly beribboned head to the princesses. "Aw shucks, yer Highnesseses, I ain't no in-genius. I was just puttin' stuff together how it made th' best sense. Twilight's th' one who came up with th' idea n' cast th' spells, n' Rarity's our big picture gal, in addition t' makin' the wings that go on my framework."

Her blush flickered redder as she glanced over at her handsome escort, who gave her a jaunty smile. "And y'all gotta give Pip here his due testin' 'em out."

At this, Princess Luna gave the young stallion a wry grin with a twinkle in her eye. "Why Pip, that sounds terribly risky! Didn't I give you enough thrills and chills on Nightmare Night all these years?"

If the moon princess noticed Apple Bloom's eyes flaring and her ears laying back, she didn't deign to show it, perking her indigo ears attentively as Princess Celestia directed a question at the young mare's elder sister. "So, Applejack. What is your part in this venture?"

The blonde farm mare met her sovereigns' eyes with a frank gaze. "I reckon I'm th' voice o' reason, which is the whole reason Twi n' Rarity asked me along."

She cast a brief, blush tinged glance at Soarin', before continuing with a grave expression on her face "I ain't completely convinced a pony that ain't been born with a set o' wings can come t' much but trouble n' tears by strappin' on a set o' fake ones n' takin' t' th' sky."

The honest farmer gave the lavender unicorn a pained look. "I watched Twi test out this watchamacallit o' theirs and I was plumb afeared that she was gonna break her neck if it weren't for a bit o' good luck and a pile o hay bales. I reckon if more ponies get their hooves on this thing, there's gonna need t' be a lot more hay stacks 'round Equestria."

The princess of the sun raised a hoof to silence Rarity and Twilight's protest, as she kept her benign gaze on the blonde earth pony. "So you think what your friends are doing is dangerous? Too dangerous to continue? Do you think this "flight harness" is too dangerous for a pony to use?"

At this, Applejack gave a shrug. "I can't honestly say, yer highness. Twilight's th' smartest pony I ever did meet, n' Rarity n' Apple Bloom are pretty durn sharp as well. I reckon I trust 'em to work it out such that these wingdings o' theirs work pretty good. Still, I think it's wise t' consider that ponies that ain't so sharp get into plenty o' trouble with their four hooves on the ground. What'll it be like if'n th' same pony folk took t' th' air?"

Soarin tentatively cleared his throat, drawing the others' attention. "If... uh... if I could interrupt for a second, your royal highnesses..."

Princess Luna gave him a nod. "Please do, Lieutenant Soarin. My sister and I would be interested in getting a pegasus' perspective on this."

The sky blue stallion ruffled his wings. "Well, I guess I'll add that being born with wings doesn't keep a lot of pegasi from taking the occasional dirt dive." He tugged at the collar of his tux with a pained look on his face. "As a certain... uh... recent incident at the Fillydelphia Hippodrome might tell you, even the Wonderbolts aren't immune to it."

A wry smile flashed across Applejack's freckled face. "I reckon that's true. Even Rainbow Dash used t' take th' occasional header into the hillsides n' such."

Princess Celestia spoke to him with a searching gaze. "So do you approve, or disapprove of what Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, and Apple Bloom are doing?"

Soarin raised his head slightly as he replied. "Oh, I definitely approve, because of something Miz Rarity said a minute ago."

He met the princesses' eyes with a level gaze. "You see, your Highnesses, I'm what the pegasi in Cloudsdale call a threebee, a balloon basket baby. I was given up for adoption by my parents, probably 'cos they couldn't fly. Odds are they were earth ponies like the Apple sisters here."

At this, Applejack laid a gentle hoof on his shoulder. "Not like us, sugarcube. We Apples don't cast away kin so lightly."

He gave her a fond smile, before he turned again to face the princesses with a tentative shrug. "Maybe my parents didn't want to deal with a kid who'd always be out of reach. Maybe they just wanted me to grow up among my own kind. I dunno."

He turned to give Rarity and Twilight a nod. "But if this invention of theirs makes more earth ponies or unicorns with kids like me think twice about givin' 'em up, I'm willing to give it the high hoof."

Princess Celestia met the sky blue stallion's gaze with bottomless warmth radiating from her smile. "We appreciate your candor, Lieutenant."

She shifted in her seat and shared a wistful look with her dusky sister. "I'd wager poor old Clover would have given anything for a set of these when she was looking after the two of us, eh Luna?"

The moon princess let out a chuckle of nostalgia. "That, or some filly sized lead horseshoes."

The regent of the sun smiled in shared mirth. "I think Cookie might have suggested that once or twice."

Her expression became calm and businesslike. "So, getting back on the topic of a charter for this enterprise, what do you think, my most royal sister and co-ruler?"

The regent of the moon tapped her hoof on the arm of their divan with a thoughtful expression. "I think I'd like to see this device in action before I give my full approval."

Her elder sibling gave a genteel nod. "I agree. I think a demonstration is in order. Could you possibly have one prepared for us in... say... a week's time?"

Rarity drew herself up with a toss of her luxurious mane. "But of course, your highnesses."

Twilight held up a hoof. "Wait a minute, Rarity..." She looked at the princesses with a small furrow of concern in her brow. "Begging your hignesses' pardon, but what sort of demonstration are you expecting?"

Princess Celestia gave her former protege a fond smile. "You never disappoint me, my faithful student. It's always better to find out the question before providing an answer."

She cocked her head in thought for a moment, before giving the principals of Harmony Aeronautics a nod. "I suppose we could start with the basic pegasus F.A.T. and then see some performance tests for things like speed, maneuverability... and safety, of course..."

Twilight nodded eagerly. "Of course. Yes, I think we can furnish a demonstration by then. What do you say, Chief Engineer Apple Bloom?"

The young mare tore her eyes away from darting anxiously between Pip and Princess Luna and replied to the lavender unicorn with a distracted nod. "Oh... uh... yeah, I reckon we can be good t' go by then."

The red headed handymare's expression darkened as the regent of the night spoke up. "Excellent, I'm looking forward to seeing Pip go through his paces. I'm sure it will be quite a show."

Princess Celestia smiled up at the chandelier above their heads as it dimmed three times to signal the end of the intermission was fast approaching. "And speaking of shows, it's time we got back to our seats. Come along, my dear ones..."

With that, they all stood and filed out of the salon. Princess Luna hung back a few hoofbeats, sidling up to Apple Bloom as they headed down the plushly carpeted hall.

She waved Pip away with a bob of her horn. "I'm gonna borrow your filly for a minute, okay Pip?"

The young stallion cocked a curious eyebrow, then gave a bow and trotted off to join the others. The princess of the night draped a wing across the red headed mare's stiffly bunched shoulders and leaned in to whisper in her laid back ear. "Quite the fine hunk of stallion, isn't he?"

Apple Bloom went pale, then red. "Uh... I... Uh... I ain't sure that's uh... proper for me t' be discussin' with y'all, yer highness..."

Princess Luna gave her a gentle squeeze and continued with a warm smile. "Well, to me he'll always be the same little colt in a pirate costume I met just a decade ago. You could stand to chill out a little, Miss Apple, I'm no cradle robber."

The young earth pony's ears drooped. "I... I'm sorry, Princess. I didn't mean no disrespect..."

The dusky sovereign let out a silvery chuckle. "No harm done. We're cool. Just remember that jealousy gets you nowhere." She gave Apple Bloom a wink. "I should know."

The red headed mare nodded solemnly to her. "I... I reckon y'all're right, Princess. I guess I got a li'l worked up 'cos of th' looks all th' mares have been givin' him."

Princess Luna smiled fondly at her. "The same looks you should be giving him at point blank range, sweetheart, instead of watching all those other mares who didn't make it across home plate. My nights are much better when they're shared with one pony rather than a whole roomful."

The princess of the moon bobbed her horn toward Pip. "Now why don't you run along and catch up with your gentlecolt, the stars are right for romance tonight."

She paused, tapping her hoof on her chin thoughtfully. "That is, if I remembered to point Sagittarius in the right direction..."

Apple Bloom grinned and bowed her head in a curtsey. "Thank y' kindly, Princess. I think I know why yer Pip's favorite. I reckon y'all're mine too."

Princess Luna smiled fondly as she gave the young mare a courtly nod, releasing her to canter back to her handsome escort's side. The dusky sovereign of the night's smile widened as the red headed earth pony leaned in to whisper in Pip's ear, causing a blush to appear on his coltish face.


Back in the royal salon, the velour curtains moved as if blown by the wind, and the muffled sound of a young mare's voice could be heard, tinged with dawning horror. "Oh horse apples. Horse apples horse apples horse apples horse apples."

The drapes flew aside, to the sound of galloping hooves across the thick carpet and out into the hallway, gaining speed as a steady undertone murmur of "Horse apples horse apples horse apples." sounded out.

Midway down the dimly lit corridor there was a startled cry and the sound of a pony stumbling, and a gold sequined horseshoe with a crimson bow materialized out of the air. The galloping resumed, now a bit uneven, along with the undertone cursing, and made its way down the hall toward the stair, leaving the shoe behind.

The disembodied hoof falls clattered at the marble steps, accompanied by a loud whoop of alarm and dismay which was followed by a series of bonks, smacks, and thuds that proceeded down the sweeping staircase. "AGH! HORSE APPLES! HORSE! OW! APPLES! HORSE APPLES! OW! OW! OW!"

At the bottom, an usher in his red velvet vest and black tie was bowled over as if he'd been tackled low across the shins. A shriek of indignation rang out as he flailed on the ground, entangled with something unseen. "YEEK! Watch those hooves, mister!"

The hapless unicorn's skull rang with a blow that left a hoof shaped welt on his cheek, and he slumped insensate to the floor with tiny pegasi mares wearing horned helmets and braids orbiting his head as his eyes swirled in a daze. The sound of hoofsteps, now weaving a bit erratically, continued toward the curtained archways leading to the box seats. "Horse apples horse apples horse... ow... apples..."


Blueblood sat with a bored look on his aquiline face, immensely enjoying the company of his wife's empty seat. He cast a sidelong glance toward the royal box as the princesses and this evening's retinue of ponies returned to their places and settled in for the third act. He'd had a pinch or two of salt, a couple very dry martinis, and was well braced for more Wagonerian bombast.

He pursed his lips as his gaze lingered a moment on Rarity, shining like a star sapphire at Princess Luna's side. He'd never really liked her, since that unpleasant incident with the cake and the yelling and the squirrels, although he was more than willing to feign a genteel smile in her direction as she'd risen to prominence in Canterlot's high society. It was the princely thing to do, to shrug off slights to his person and appear detached and benevolent to all of lesser status. That, and he had a sneaking feeling that if the elite of Equestria were forced to choose between inviting him and his wife or inviting Rarity to their social functions, he would be stuck at home with Diamond Tiara a lot more than his sanity could probably take.

He suppressed a slight sigh. Recently he'd begun to feel an inkling of a new emotion whenever he saw the alabaster unicorn mare lighting up a soiree with her pristine looks and ready charm, an emotion he was unused to feeling: regret. If only he'd known years ago what he knew now, he could have had her for a bride instead of the shrieking, gold plated harpy his penury had forced him to SWEET CELESTIA'S SADDLE STRAP SOMETHING WAS TRYING TO BITE HIS EAR OFF!

The occupants of the surrounding boxes, including the princesses and their companions, all looked over as the expectant hush of the auditorium was broken by Prince Blueblood letting out a loud, strangled squawk. He jerked upright and did an odd kind of clumsy tumble over the back of his seat, vanishing from his box just as the lights went down. The onlooking crowd all exchanged puzzled glances, shrugged, and turned their attention toward the stage as the orchestra struck up for the overture.


The blonde unicorn stallion suppressed a gleeful grin as if his life depended on it, which indeed it did, as the sparkles of his magic faded to reveal Diamond Tiara standing unsteadily on three horseshoes, bruised and battered in a torn and tattered dress, her ruined coiffure hanging tangled and disheveled over her glaring eyes.

His lips tightened as he greeted her dryly, knowing full well he'd come to regret his choice of words and deciding it was more than worth it. "So... did you have fun with your little friend?"

A scowl that would send a chill down a windigo's ephemeral spine washed across the pink mare's features. "Apple Bloom can go get bucked with hobnailed army boots, we've got bigger problems."

Blueblood blinked at her, his brow furrowing at the intensity on his wife's face. "When you say "we" are you using the royal "we" or do you mean you and us both?"

The young mare let out a growl of frustration and grabbed him by his lapels. "I mean us, chowderhead, as in we're up to our necks in manure if we don't do something about what Celestia's pet nerd and that bedazzled clotheshorse you're always mooning about are up to."

A mild twitch fluttered at the unicorn stallion's eye as he replied in a small, shaky voice. "What... what are they up to?"

She pushed away and started limping out of the alcove. "Only putting the Royal Blue Airship Line in a deeper hole than when you were running it, dear. Now come on, we're going home. I need to think, and all that yodeling in there isn't doing my headache any favors."


The Royal Opera House exploded with the happy noise of a rearing ovation as the cast assembled on stage for the curtain call. The volume rose markedly, centered on the occupants of the royal box, as "Princess Celestia" stepped up to take her place in line.

Sweetie Belle beamed as waves of applause washed in from the audience like a thundering tidal surge of adulation. It would take the young opera singer a while to realize that tonight was the night where she had become an opera star with her unorthodox performance, but for now she was flush with satisfaction and a feeling that the ponies in attendance had genuinely enjoyed the show.

She looked up through the shower of blossoms and bouquets that were raining on the stage, and saw Equestria's beloved princesses smiling and laughing and clomping their gold and silver shod hooves, while at their side her dear sister Rarity stood looking ever so proud, dabbing at her eyes with a hoofkerchief. Her heart leapt with joy as she saw Apple Bloom and her big sister enthusiastically applauding as well, along with Twilight, the mare to whom she owed her inspiration for tonight's take on the libretto.

The earnest young mare turned toward the royal box, full of her favorite ponies stomping their hooves and cheering for her, and gave a deep bow.

Then promptly tipped forward onto her face in a rustling cascade of colorful gossamer and white samite.


The driving rhythm of the Ponyville Express' wheels on the tracks and the soft chugging of the engine added a soothing, metronome like cadence to the dimly lit, largely unoccupied train car. The quiet was like a cool drink of water after a long hot day playing in the sun to the Apple sisters and their escorts, who had excused themselves from the lavish cast party to return home to Ponyville on the last train of the day.

Rarity and Twilight had elected to stay behind in Canterlot, the former to savor the night's triumph and bask in the praise for her costume design, and the latter to spend more time with the princesses, both her beloved mentor and the longtime friend she'd found in the moon's mistress. This decision had given Applejack a considerable amount of relief, for while she was honest, she was still reluctant to admit to Rarity what she was about to admit to Soarin.

She pawed lightly at the bench she shared with the sky blue pegasus, a shy smile settling on her freckled face. "Y'know, I really liked that show tonight. All them monsters n' heroes n' magic rings n' whatnot. And the singin' was right purty. Sweetie Belle's always a treat t' listen to, but fer some reason I 'specially took a shine to that... that love song betwixt that earth pony hero feller with th' magic sword and that pegasus valwhatsit..."

Soarin gave her a wry smile. "Valkyrie."

The blonde mare nodded. "Yeah, that. I woulda never thought I'd enjoy oprey music so much."

She paused, glancing at the seat ahead of them, where Pip sat smiling contentedly out the window as the mountains whisked past, while Apple Bloom leaned against him, sound asleep and looking quite lovely in the moonlight with her tousled red mane cascading down his shoulder.

Applejack turned back toward Soarin, a faint blush blossoming on her cheeks. "And I also had a lot better time steppin' out all gussied up with y'all at my side, Mister Soarin."

The pegasus stallion smiled, his eyes tired but happy as he sat with his bow tie hanging loose and his mane slightly mussed. "I'm glad you did, Miss Applejack. And I gotta say, for a mare who says she doesn't go in for this sort of thing, you sure made it look like you were an old hoof at it."

She looked over at him with a wan expression. "I reckon y'all're used t' that sorta hifalutin' shindig, ain't ya?"

The pegasus stallion gave a noncommittal shrug. "More or less. I usually just hung around the buffet between photo ops. I was always just another Wonderbolt, nothin' but a set of wings in a blue and yellow suit."

The blonde earth pony rolled her eyes. "Just another Wonderbolt, he says. That's like sayin' a diamond's just another rock."

Soarin gave her a wry grin. "I'm kinda gettin' the impression you're a fan."

Applejack replied with a chuckle. "Well, hangin' out with Rainbow Dash all those years like I did... If'n y'all stand under a tree long enough some o' th' fruit's gonna drop on ya, so t' speak. So yeah, I reckon I'm a fan. Not on quite th' level o' memorizin' stats n' whatnot, but enough t' appreciate what y'all can do."

The sky blue stallion gave a sigh. "I guess that's why you were so disappointed when you met me for the first time."

The freckled mare cocked an eyebrow at him with a gentle smile. "I think yer forgettin' that the first time I met ya was at that Grand Gallopin' Gala, when a handsome rookie Wonderbolt was th' first and only pony t' buy one o' my cart full o' apple treats. That was th' high point of th' evenin' for me."

She leaned over and gave him a playful nudge. "I mighta had my doubts after meetin' ya again later, but seein' how nice ya clean up I think I did a li'l jumpin' t' conclusions."

Soarin smiled back. "Well, I never doubted for a moment that you're an amazing mare, I'm just having trouble believing that I was lucky enough to get to go out on a date with you tonight."

Applejack met his gaze, green eyes looking deep into green eyes, as her voice came low and sweet like honey and cider. "Believe it, darlin'. It's th' honest t' goodness truth."

They leaned in toward one another, their eyelids drifting shut as their lips came closer and closer together. The train entered a mountain tunnel the moment they touched, plunging the passenger car and the whole world away into darkness and leaving mare and stallion alone together.

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