• Published 3rd Jul 2012
  • 3,506 Views, 16 Comments

Dusty Roads - KrisSnow

Rainbow Dash earns her life's dream, but Soarin isn't sure she really wants the job.

  • ...

Chapter 1

# 1. #

The first thing I remember is feeling clouds under my hooves. My parents had scraped together the bits to let us visit Cloudsdale together. I was too young to know better than to wander off. So while they were sightseeing, so was I, on my own. Clouds and rainbows everywhere. They're the buildings, they're the streets.

You have to be from dirtside to appreciate how different it is to get up into the sky. I meet people who've spent almost their whole lives in Cloudsdale or Las Pegasus or Griffin Keep, and they just don't get the feeling. You go from solid dirt clacking underhoof, to fluffy cumulus that squishes however you want. It's like a dream. Even as a foal you instinctively know how to stomp right through a cloud, or trot on it like a road, or sink in and go "beep beep, I'm a cloud!", or leap as high as you can and belly-flop onto it like the best pillow in the world. I did all of those in the minute or so my parents weren't paying attention. I was so caught up in playing that I fell out of the sky.

I was too young for my wings to do anything. Ended up being a late bloomer. That morning I let myself sink too far until I saw only wisps around me. I had just enough time to yelp and flail before I started falling. Flipping tail over head, spinning out of control. One moment I'd see the cloud city and the next the whole green world below. Beautiful. My wings flapped and I went spread-eagled until I'd righted myself, but that just meant I was going to die with less spinning. I was screaming the whole time, of course.

Go ahead and laugh. I try to tell this story the funny way sometimes, but it really wasn't. I remember thinking, I never got to fly.

You know how in stories like the Daring Do serials, somepony's always about to fall to their death? And some hero saves them by swooping in and slamming into them sideways, just before they hit the ground? That totally doesn't work. It's physics. So what happened was that a tan blur whooshed down past me, and missed, and then matched speeds so he could start slowing me down. And he went, "Hang on, kid!" and I was too startled to keep yelling.

We hit the ground just hard enough to hurt. The blur and I tumbled in a heap of feathers and hooves. When I could stand up I saw him, a bruised pegasus with a dust-grey mane. He looked like he was going to clock me with his left forehoof for being so dumb. I could tell he was trying not to swear, too. He finally said, "Have you thought about starting with a scooter instead of trying to fly at your age?"

I glared up at him. I was angry at the stallion who'd just saved my life. "I wasn't trying to fly! I was just looking around and fell through a cloud!"

He shook out his mane and tail, then spread his wings. His feathers were the same tan as his coat. "Next time, hold your wings out like this." He curved them a little. "You had the right idea with stabilizing your spin, but what you want to do is an emergency glide if you can't generate enough lift." Suddenly the strange pegasus grabbed me, flew up, and dropped me out of the sky!

We were high enough that I'd at least break some bones if he didn't save me again. I'd just stopped being terrified and now I was on my own, falling, with dinky wings. All I could do was throw my wings out to either side, trying to curve them the same way he'd done. The ground rushed up at me. I crashed and tumbled and clutched the ground as though it'd get away from me again.

And the pegasus was already in front of me, nodding. "Good enough," he said.

I stood up on shaking hooves. "What? What the...?" I was afraid to say things like "What the buck?" or "In the name of Celestia why?!"

He said, "I've seen a pegasus or two that had one bad fall, and was timid about flying for the rest of their life. Now you know you can handle yourself if you do fall again, so you're not going to panic and have your wings lock up like you've seen a dragon."

I was still angry at him, but I could see the logic. I had bruises all over, and some of my off-white feathers were lying in the grass. I craned my neck way up to look at the city of clouds and rainbows. My parents were probably as scared as me, and praying to Celestia that they wouldn't see me on the ground in more than one piece. They'd be here to save me any minute.

"Fine!" I said, and stamped one hoof. "Let me try that one more time."

This time it didn't make my heart pound quite so hard. My rescuer took me off of the nice safe ground and dropped me from midair. I still couldn't really fly, but I could stretch my wings and glide down without hurting myself much. I ached all over. Still, I felt stronger. Faster. Better.

The pegasus gave me a curious look. "You know, your mark is a lot like mine."

"Huh? But I haven't got..." I quit looking at the clouds and turned to stare backwards at my own off-white hide. There should have been blank, boring hair on my hip, but it had changed. Instead, a mark like a winged lightning bolt had appeared! I was magically labeled for life. I did what any colt my age would do when he got a mark that awesome: bounce around like an idiot and shout, "Aww YEAH!"

The older pegasus grinned. I spared him a glance and saw the mark on his own flank: a trail slashing through clouds of dust. "I'm gonna go. I don't need the attention and those look like your parents coming down." He put a hoof on my head to get me to quit hopping for joy and pay attention. "Practice your flying, okay, kid? You've got potential. But don't forget to work out your brain too."

"YEAH!" I told him. "Wait, mister. Who are you?"

"You don't know? Heh." He turned away and spread his wings for takeoff. "Dusty Roads. I do a stunt flying show with some friends. Look us up sometime. And good luck with those wings. What's your name?"

"Soren!" I said.

Dusty Roads grinned and pronounced it wrong. Not "SOH-ren," but: "More like Soarin', right?"

My jaw came loose. Everything had come together. My name really did mean something after all, what with the mark of wings. I looked up past the approaching shadows of my parents, past the cloud city, and into the pale blue sky. Up there was where I belonged.

# 2. #

Years later, I was standing on a dark grey nimbus cloud that was itching to rain on somepony.

Spitfire shook me out of my thoughts. "I don't feel right about it. She's one fast filly, all right, but can she handle being with the team?"

I poked at the cloud under my hooves, thinking we should push it over that big apple orchard. The more fallout that part of Equestria got from the rainclouds, the better the harvest. Spitfire had hassled me for months about my supposed obsession with apple pie. I said, "You did test her."

"On the Moonspire Run, yeah." Spitfire had taken our proposed recruit out for a little race, and had picked the craziest place for it. Ever since then we'd been lobbying Their Royal Highnesses to get that place re-opened, even though it's as dangerous as Tartaurus. "But even being good enough to out-fly me doesn't make her a good candidate."

I said, "She eventually took that orange pegasus kid under her wing. That's the right instinct. Join up, and start looking for the one that'll beat you someday." My thoughts wandered off into the clouds.

Spitfire laughed at me. She does that a lot. "I know what you're thinking." She leaned in close to me with her firey orange mane tickling my nose, and switched to a sultry voice. "You, my little pegasus, are fantasizing about just barely losing a race to Rainbow Dash."

I reared back, stammering some kind of denial. Without my flight suit I can't hide a blush nearly as well as Spitfire with her blazing gold coat. "Oh, sure, like you didn't enjoy getting to match wings with somepony who can do the stunt we thought was impossible?"

"In a slightly different way than a stallion might like it," she said, grinning.

"You're merciless. You know that?" I nudged her with a forehoof. "So, what's the problem with inviting her to start training with us? We don't have to commit yet."

Spitfire sashayed past me and pointed down from our cloud. "That. Ponyville." The town filled half of the valley, with the Everfree Forest to the south and Canterlot up on the mountain to the north. "She wants to join the team, but she's already got a great set of friends. What happens if we start demanding all of her time?"

I stepped forward, with my brow furrowed. There ought to be no question about it. "You don't turn down an invitation to the Wonderbolts!"

# 3. #

I was sensitive about that, because I almost had. I knew I belonged in the sky, but I wanted to have more than speed, agility and guts going for me. That meant studying math and science so I could understand things like aerodynamics and weather and pegasus magic. Tearing through clouds is a blast, but it's even more fun if you understand why you can do it. It seems like a lost cause explaining this to people, though. They watch our shows and just think it's all about going fast.

And that's what I'd thought, for years. Dusty Roads had a "barnstorming" show where he'd do these crazy stunts like skimming along the ground at top speed; dodging past the quarray eels of Ghastly Gorge; pretending to fight a dragon that was just unicorns in a low-budget costume; or buzzing through the Tannhauser Gate. Silly stuff. I was focused on studying and working out.

But Dusty was ex-military, too. That's what impressed me when I learned more about him. Served at Stalliongrad on Doe-Day. Some people say actual fighting just shouldn't exist, anywhere in our world, but that's an ideal rather than a fact. Someone has to be willing to keep the peace. Dusty Roads was one of the willing ones. I admired that so much that I flew to Canterlot one day and talked to a recruiter.

But halfway through the interview, a familiar face looked into the office. Dusty was there, and he nickered for attention. "Mind if I have a word with this colt, sir?"

The recruiter saluted and marched out of the office. A clipboard and pen floated along behind him. Dusty snagged the clipboard with one wing and tossed it onto a podium, where he could read the notes. He shut the door and looked me over. "Soarin, right? Haven't seen you in years!"

I ducked my head. "I've seen you, sir. Saw your show once here in Canterlot and once at Fillydelphia." I'd never gotten the chance to speak with him at the performances, though. There were always people mobbing him and his two sidekicks. Ponies, griffins, even a few zebras.

"What're you doing here, son? You didn't strike me as a fighter." He glanced at the clipboard and raised one eyebrow. The recruiter had tested my wing power and everything. "Though you have the raw numbers for it."

"I want to help defend the country, sir. And you were right about flying being my talent." It'd been easy to get people to say my name like Dusty had, once my wings were full-grown. Soarin.

"Don't you have a family to look after? Friends? Pet turtle?"

My ears drooped. "A family near Fillydelphia. But they told me they don't mind me flying off for something as important as the army."

"Got a marefriend?"

"Haven't found the right one."

"Hmm. Want to take a quick flight outside?"

My eyes widened. "With you? Yeah! I mean yes sir!"

We did. Dusty marched me out of the army office and launched himself into the afternoon sky without a word to me. I tried to keep up. It was easy at first, but I realized he was speeding up. The wind whipped through my mane. He smashed into a cloud, kicked it, and used it to flip around to another direction. Too fast for me! I glided until I could spot him. He was above, so I wheeled straight up until I stalled. There's a moment of silence when you do that, when you're falling without actually moving yet. It's frightening, yet peaceful. Dusty was still overhead, so that it seemed like I could never reach him. But I used the stall to streak down, build up speed, and arc forward and up and around. I was so far up, the air grew thin in my lungs. Celestia's sun warmed my feathers without burning them. Far, far below we could see the castle.

I strained my wings to slow down and hover, there at the edge of reality. Where'd he go?

Dusty called down from above and behind me. "You were born to fly, son. But that doesn't mean you have to do it in the toughest, most regimented way possible."

"But I want to get better at what I do, and accomplish something useful with it."

"Do you think fighting is the only useful thing a stallion can do? Come on; look at those wings of yours!"

I looked back at them while hovering. My wings seemed as blue as the sky, like I was only an outline, a blur. Like part of the wind. The elder pegasus was watching me from above, with folded forehooves.

Dusty said, "It's a sad way to look at the world, to think that you need to be grim and dutiful and part of a regiment to make your life meaningful. Be happy. Do what you're best at."

I hadn't come to Canterlot for life lessons. I'd had a goal in mind, a plan for my career. And my old hero was tearing that down. I spun and pointed a hoof at him, glaring. "That's great! But drifting through the clouds doesn't pay, and weather duty is boring. Do you want me to use my talent to carry mail or something?"

"No. I want you to join the Wonderbolts."

We both drifted lower to where the air was thicker, easier on our wings and lungs. It gave me time to think. "But that's..." I didn't want to insult him, to say it was just entertainment. As fun as the shows were to watch, they didn't accomplish anything. "I thought you were basically doing the air shows because you'd retired from the military."

"Retired? Ha! The Wonderbolts started out as an army squad for inspiring talented pegasi to sign up. But it's being phased out of the military, into more of an auxillary unit, and me with it. We can do more good as a business that goes where it pleases. I need a couple of teammates for an expanded show. More stunts and formations. How are you in front of a crowd?"

Dusty was plowing ahead like he just assumed I wanted this. I hovered close to him. "I'm fine in front of crowds. You know why? Because I don't care what anypony thinks of my flying! I don't go around hoping to catch the sunlight and have herds of admirers marvel at me. I fly because I want to know what I'm doing is great, not so that others can tell me how special I am."

Dusty grinned back at me. "That's my attitude. Didn't I tell you our marks are a lot alike? Let the unicorns worry about becoming popular and having people fawn over them. You already know what you are."

The veteran pegasus turned away and drifted lazily over Canterlot. "The best thing about being a pegasus is that you should never have to worry about falling. Not really. Between wings and flying magic and egghead unicorn healers, you can pull whatever wild stunts you want and bounce back. And you can do stupid, crazy things and not give a flying feather what anypony thinks. If anyone asks why you're following your heart instead of doing the obvious, sensible thing, you can let 'em think you're an irresponsible daredevil, a hopeless romantic, or whatever."

His words hurt. Serving the nation was the reasonable thing to do for someone with my talent. I could see myself as the hero of some sort of epic pony war. Or more realistically, being bored out of my skull doing guard duty on the griffin border. Was I being too practical? There was a weight on my back from trying to do what I thought people expected of me. I flopped onto a cloud and stared out at the mountains.

And then I figured out the answer. I could probably be an okay soldier, sure. But mediocre was all I'd ever be. It wasn't practical to do something I wouldn't be my best at. I'd only stand out at the thing I thought was just a fun hobby. And since I could do it well, maybe I could make it meaningful. I said, "What would joining up with you involve?"

"Kicking your flank back and forth across the sky until you're one of the best fliers in Equestria. Then flying for an audience." Dusty circled me, looking carefully. "Can't promise you the job without seeing if you really fit in, but so far I think you will."

I stood on the cloud, lost in thought. I could take whatever training he dished out. "I'll do it."

Later, my parents would ask if I was nervous or overjoyed or what. But that moment with Dusty wasn't anything like that for me. If anything, it was relief I felt. I was good at this, and if I didn't make the cut, I could go do something else. Nervousness was for situations where I wasn't in my element, where there was a big chance I'd fail.

Dusty said, "No 'Yipee!'? No 'Aw, yeah!' like the day you got your mark?"

I shrugged with my wings. "I'm good enough to survive falling off a cloud, anyway. Let's see if I have what you're looking for." I was curious to find out, now.

"All right." Dusty started making lazy loops, getting ready for some real speed. "One question before your tryout, though. Are you going for 'cool customer', then? Or 'irresponsible daredevil'?"


"Your excuse for doing what you love, of course."

I laughed and hopped off of my cloud, to follow Dusty Roads. "What's yours?"

"Get your own excuse! Now follow my lead with this move..."