• Published 21st Jan 2017
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The First Wonderbolt - Essay Jay

When an unnatural phenomenon sends Rainbow Dash back in time, she must adapt to an Equestria at war while all the while looking for a way to get back home.

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Issue 2.8 - A Tasteless Montage

Rainbow stood at attention, alongside numerous other well-toned and healthy-looking stallions. Any other mares in the line were scarce, making Rainbow a spectral oddity… even more than she was just standing in line with all of them.

When she had arrived at camp, they had immediately told her to get her uniform and seized her belongings to be placed in the barracks. With just enough time to get in her uniform, they gave her a helmet, dogtags, and told her to get in line for roll call. Since she couldn’t really do much in the department of arguing, already feeling out-of-sorts as a walking skeleton, she obliged.

Standing at attention, their names were called, one by one. Ordered around to stand in alphabetical order by last name, she found herself somewhere near the start of the line.

“Alright, maggots!” said their supervisor. “You can stand at ease for the time being while I go fetch people that are above my paygrade. Don’t go wandering off or you’ll be kicked off the compound before you could say ‘pas de cheval’!” With that, the lanky, red-faced stallion marched off, leaving all the new soldiers to begin chatting up the others. As Rainbow observed all the other ponies hustling around the camp grounds and training and conditioning, she listened in to the conversations around her.

“So, you excited?”

“For what? Winning the war? Hay yeah!”

“I dun reckon that they’ve got some sweet victory hidden in them cellars of theirs, huh?”

“I wish!”

“How ‘bout shootin’ up some shadow ponies, eh? Eh?”

“I heard they’ve been able to free some of them mind-controlled ones! Makes you think twice about throwing the bullet, hm?”

“Sure, but it doesn’t mean I can’t!”


“Hey, what’s a scrawny runt like you doing in a line of full grown mares and stallions like us?”


“Looks like you could snap your limbs in half!”


At this point, Rainbow realized they were talking to her. Gritting her teeth, she sighed and found a thought flashing through her mind. What would Pinkie do…?

“Hehe…” Rainbow said, “Yeah, but I’m here, aren’t I? Same as all of you, just, uh, doing my duty to the country and all… hah!” And practically committing suicide, Rainbow added, being as… a-as sick as I am…

“I’m sure they’ll find use for you in scrubbing the toilets,” one particular stallion sneered, “Especially somepony as skinny as you.”

“Heh, imagine that! Hehe…” Rainbow laughed nervously.

“I wasn’t joking.”

Rainbow blanched. Clearing her throat, she faced forward and chuckled lightly, shakily. “Hah! Hehehe…” Nice work, Pinks, Rainbow said in her mind, audibly sighing. At least it helps keep the ‘ghosties’ away…

“Recruits!” a voice suddenly called, causing all heads to swivel towards the approaching mare and uniformed soldier. “Attention!” The sense of authority in her voice was enough to cause everypony in the line to snap into place.

As she began to pace in front of the soldiers she nodded to the soldier behind her. “Fillies and gentlecolts, I am Agent Russet. I supervise all operations of this division.”

“What’s with the accent, Princess?” The stallion who had sneered at Rainbow just earlier now smiled sweetly at the agent. “I thought I was signing up for the Equestrian Army.”

With a narrowing her eyes, Agent Russet deadpanned and then primly smiled. Proceeding to walk back in front of him, she raised both her eyebrows and eyed him up and down. “What’s your name, soldier?” she asked.

“Bowler Hills, your Majesty,” Hills said.

“Step up, Hills.”

Smiling and glancing at those around him, he trotted forward and faced her up.

Pursing her lips, she nodded. “Put your right hoof foreward.”

“Ooh,” Hills grinned, “Are we gonna do wrassle? ‘Cause I know some moves I know you’ll like.” He winked.

Squaring him up, wordlessly, Russet nodded before giving him a powerful right hook. Teetering backward, he fell flat on his back. Brushing her hooves on her uniform, Russet grinned wryly. “Hm!”

Rainbow suppressed a laugh, along with many other soldiers in line, now holding a clipboard with forms, among other things.

“Agent Russet!” another, baritone voice called, appearing with a passenger wagon. “I can see that you’re breaking in the new candidates. That’s good!” Behind him, Goldheart stepped down, smiling and nodding at Rainbow as he caught her eye. Rainbow nodded back.

“Colonel Bellum!” Agent Russet said, turning around and saluting quickly. He nodded and squinted at Hills on the ground.

Eyeing him, the commanding voice of the decorated stallion ordered Hills. “Get your flank up, out of that dirt and wait in the line of attention until somepony comes and tells you what to do.”

“Yes sir!” Hills quickly said, getting up and wiping a foreleg on his bleeding muzzle.

Nodding, Bellum began to pace forward to the start of the line, looking at the ground.

“General Boltstrike has said that ‘Wars are fought with magic but they are won by stallions!’ We are going to win this war and free the Crystal Empire because we have the best-” The Colonel did a double take at Rainbow’s figure and blinked. Quickly casting a suspicious gaze at Goldheart, Goldheart smirked at him before looking straight. “-men.” Sighing a little, he continued.

“And because they are going to get better. Much better!” Walking down the line, he continued to pause and go, relating his speech to all recruits who could hear.

“The Allied Intelligence Movement is a combined effort made up of the best minds in Equestria and beyond. Our goal? To create the best army in history! But every army starts with one soul. At the end of this week, we will choose that soul. They will be the first in a new regiment of super-soldiers…”

Finally finishing his line, he stood beside Goldheart and Russet, squinting expectantly at the entire line.

“...and they will personally help the Princesses banish King Sombra to depths of Tartarus.”

“It won’t be easy…”

Rainbow gulped as she approached the rope walls with raspy breath, struggling to take in air. She cursed her damned existence as she began her ascent, grasping at each coiled piece of twine weakly.

“We’ll see how you do without the magic you’ve loved all these years just to see how you react in worst case scenarios…”

She shouted with anger and disappointment as she got tangled halfway up the first side of the rope wall. She winced as she could already hear her supervisor in the distance shouting at her and berating. Sighing, she lay there limply, dangling by her hindlegs.

“In sickness or in health…”

Rainbow inched ever so slowly under the barbed wire, some mane hairs getting stuck in the barbs. She winced and gritted her teeth as the air blew from her lungs faster than she could take in and she threw one foreleg after the other. Clutching the foreign weapon in her arms as tightly as she could without letting go of it or letting it touch the mud, she moved ever so slowly.

“In trial or error…”

Hills glanced backward at the sick, gangly body of Rainbow Dash. With an evil grin, he kicked at one post holding up the barbed wire nearest her. In no time, it had fallen, trapping Rainbow under the swathes of steel points.

Dash!” the supervisor screamed, “Get that rifle out of the mud!”

Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth, looking up at the wire and shaking her head before inching even slower, trying to avoid being stabbed innumerably.

“Your state of mind...”

“Faster! FASTER! Double time, let’s move! RUN YOU SISSIES! MOVE! AND SQUAD HALT!

It was the last day, and they had just run kilometres upon kilometres of running. As they neared a flag post, the main group came to a slow shuffle behind the supervisor in charge of their troop.

Rainbow Dash, on the other hoof, found herself sweating so hard her fur matted everywhere. The sun beat down especially hard for her, with a special spell having been placed on all of them to suppress any magic that day so as to test their durability. With such things, she felt her energy draining with each new step, each new breath, and each new thought.

Her helmet was the only reprieve, and it too began to heat up. As she came to a slow stop behind the main group of runners, she collapsed to her belly, gasping for air.

“That flag” -the supervisor pointed his hoof up at the tall skinny flag post that held the name and years as well as the motto of the camp- “only means we’re at the halfway point!”

Rainbow breathed hardly as she lazily, tiredly glanced her eyes at the supervisor, almost hearing the whines of the main squad (though if there truly were any, a froshing would have been in session). Glancing up at the flag, she clenched her eyes shut and focused on breathing.

“First anybody to bring it to me, gets a ride with Agent Russet back to base!”

As soon the words were heard, the entire body moved with one accord, rushing to the base of the pole and attempting to climb the white post.

“Move. MOVE!

Rainbow merely opened her eyes at the mention of a ride back and rubbed her pounding head. Glancing at the group of trying-and-failing recruits trying to climb it, she immediately knew she herself would not be able to accomplish it.

“If that’s all this army’s got, then we’re in trouble!”

At least not normally.

What would Twilight do without magic? Rainbow wondered tiredly, watching Hills begin to make some progress.

“Come on, Hills!” shouted the supervisor. “Get up there! Get your flanks up there! Nobody’s gotten that flag in 21 years!”

The group almost mutually made a circle of space for Hills to fall in, giving Rainbow view of the base of the flagpole.

Something egghead-y, probably… Rainbow thought, her eyes drifting to the base. With almost ghostly resonance, Rainbow could hear Twilight’s voice in her mind, shaped by her perception of her.

“Well, blah blah blah, pins and stuff hold things together! Blah blah blah! By taking the pin away and removing the axle, blah blah, it can fall and stuff, blah!”

Rainbow struggled to get back to her hooves, but nevertheless, found herself shakily brushing dirt off her uniform. “Heh… hehehe…” Rainbow giggled to herself, smiling at her own thoughts. “Nice one, Twi,” Rainbow whispered. Her eyes focused on the pins. “Pins…”

Hills slid down the pole, and the supervisor shook his head before growling. “Now fall back into line. Come on! FALL IN!” He waved the troops on as they resettled on the packed dirt road. “Let’s go! Get back into formation!”

Rainbow hobbled towards the pole, now free all to her lonesome. Her eyes were centered on one thing only. The base.

As the supervisor headed to the front of the group, he noticed one of his soldiers missing. With a snarl, he shouted at Rainbow. “Dash! I said FALL IN!

The whole group’s attention was on her now, including the motorized wagon that housed Agent Russet and the driver.

Wordlessly, Rainbow found herself at the flagpole. Grabbing the smaller pin, she bit onto it with her tongue before using both hooves to wiggle the large axle pin out. As soon she to removed it, the flag post groaned… and came crashing down.

Spitting the pin to one side and throwing the axle to the other, she shuffled over to the flag that was now readily available on the ground, untied it, and handed it to the supervisor.

He looked in jaw-gaped silence, the entire troop looking at Rainbow with stunned and flabbergasted expressions.

With a salute, Rainbow smirked and hopped into the carriage.

“Hey,” Rainbow breathed, resting on the edges of the wooden motor cart. Agent Russet smiled, and the car left the squad in it’s dust.

“Are you seriously considering choosing this… Rainbow Dash?

Goldheart glanced at Colonel Bellum’s serious face and he continued to walk beside him. “I am more than considering. She is the clear choice.”

“When you brought an incurable patient onto my base, I let it slide!” Bellum said. “I thought ‘What the hay, maybe she could be useful to you, like a gerbil.’ I never thought you would actually pick her.” As they came to a stop in a shaded area beside an munitions truck, they faced the troop that was currently doing conditioning.

“Faster, fillies!” Agent Russet shouted, “My granny had more spirit in her, Celestia rest her soul.” Seeing them at the same pace, she barked. “Move it!”

He sighed. “Stick a needle through her leg, it would go right through her. Seriously, Doc.”
Rainbow struggled to push up, much less let herself down, and her muscles betrayed her in more ways than one. She could sense herself become sicker with each strain, each push. She growled through the pain, but it could only do so much.

“Look at her,” Colonel Bellum said, watching as they now switched to four-hooved jumping jacks. “She’s making me cry!”

“I am looking for qualities beyond the physical, Colonel,” Goldheart explained. “She is more than anything I have ever sensed or felt in my time here on this base and in my studies abroad, not to mention a great trial run for her injury alone-”

“Do you know how long this took to set up? With the board of Wartime Activities? With the Princesses?

“...yes, I know,” responded Goldheart with a nod.

“And all the asking and forms I had to do for the Council of Eclipse?”

“I am well aware of all the effort put into this,” said Goldheart.

“Then don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” Colonel Bellum said. “Hills passed every single test. He’s quick, obeys orders! He’s a soldier at heart.”

“He’s a bully. I hate bullies. She can’t stand them either and she’s still here.”

Bellum sighed, turning away before looking at the boxes piled in the truck next to them. “You don’t win wars with being nice, Doctor,” he said, before shoving open a box of training grenades and unpinning one. “You win wars with guts.”

He threw it into the middle of all the troops.

“Grenade!” he exclaimed with sudden urgency. In a flash, all the troops had run for cover, finding space to hide from the shrapnel of the explosive ball.

“Move move move!” Hills had yelled.

Rainbow Dash, however slow her body had become, still had her acute mind on the case. Hearing the word grenade, she watched it bounce in slow motion, seeing everypony else sluggishly move away from it. Her breathing hitched, and a flash of memory went through her mind…

As she dodged one more spell, the pony she had pinned to the ground seized hold of her foreleg, before a sick yellow light began to pulse from his armour. “You… will… die… with me!” he announced, and Rainbow immediately felt something off.

The flora beneath the crystal pony began to blacken and wither, their luscious greens and vibrant petals falling and dying. The spread of influence grew and the pony himself shrivelled up, causing Rainbow to widen her eyes. Just then, the dark magic drew back into itself, and Rainbow realized...

The bulbous mass that had begun to glow… it looked just like it. She had to make a decision.

“Forgive me,” Rainbow whispered, and she ran towards it instead of away. Maybe if she stopped the explosion, she could stop the gas or whatever damage this particular one would have made.

“GET AWAY!” Rainbow yelled, jumping towards it and huddling around it. She motioned her hoof and braced for pain. “Please! GET BACK!”

I’m sorry, Firefly…

I’m sorry, girls…

I’m sorry...

As she waited for oblivion… nothing happened.

With heavy breaths, Rainbow cracked open an eye and found she was still there, in one piece, not shrivelling up and dying. With a shaky glance at the grenade pressed closed to her chest, she prodded it and watched as everypony else peeked out from their hiding places. Trying to calm her adrenaline-filled veins, she took a deep breath and faced Colonel Bellum and Doctor Goldheart.

“Is… I-Is this a test?” Rainbow stammered, nearly choking on hidden sobs.

Russet only stared at Rainbow with wonder while Goldheart smirked at Bellum.

Bellum turned back to Goldheart, deadpan.

“She’s still skinny, and a mare.”

With that, he walked off.

“May I come in?”

Rainbow Dash looked up from the tattered uniform she was examining in her hooves. Hugging it closely so he couldn't see, she nodded. She quickly stuffed it back in her suitcase be the doctor could see it, but she continued to look into her cracked goggles intently, forlornly.

Surrounded by folded mattresses, Goldheart placed a bottle down on Dash’s suitcase for a moment, unfolded the bed, and prepared to sit on it.

“Can’t sleep?”

Rainbow shook her head, the brief memories of her time on the field returning to her, as well as the loving faces of the friends she had disappeared from. “I just… too much… and… heh, and scared...”

“Me as well, Fraulein, me as well,” Goldheart murmured. “Too much curiosity, too many variables, too little time…” Grabbing the bottle, he settled himself on the edge of the mattress and faced Rainbow.

“Can I ask you a question?”

Goldheart flicked his ears. “Just one?”

Rainbow looked up from studying her hooves. “Why me?” her voice cracked. “I’m literally a nopony right now… sick, dying, and… and useless.”

Goldheart sighed, making an ‘of course’ face and nodding. “I guess… that’s the only question that really matters, isn’t it?”

Rolling the bottle on his hindleg, he studied it. “You know this is from the Crystal Empire, once known as the Crystal Kingdom?” He closed his eyes. “So many ponies and griffons and dragons and zebras and other kin alike forget that the first place Sombra invaded was his own home.”

He opened his eyes to look at Rainbow. “We were living in peace and harmony, you know? It was almost as if there was no bad that was willing to disrupt what we had going. Loving families, friends…”

He closed his eyes as he thought once more. “Sombra, he… I knew him before The Fall. He was kind. He loved Radiant Hope. Where she is right now… Anyways, something twisted him. He spread darkness through the hearts of our kind. Fear. Malice. Those who did not comply were… and are being enslaved and brainwashed. It is no different for souls found on the battlefield.”

Rainbow blinked as she realized she was finally getting knowledge about the war… but in a completely different way than she had expected.

“In any case, he reaches out to me from abroad… he tells me ‘You! You will help me succeed. We will rule in order and peace.’” Shaking his head, Goldheart waved the bottle. “I said ‘I’m not interested’. So he sends a head of his shadow magic division, HYDRA. Still listening?”

Rainbow nodded.

“A crystal pony by the name of ‘Insomnia’. Insomnia was brilliant. He was smart, intellectual. He is a part of Sombra’s inner circle and he shared a similar passion of Sombra’s… and that is, occult powers and strange myths. While Sombra thirsts for them merely to give incentive to those who’d listen to his words, Insomnia does not think it as fantasy of the like. To him, it is real. And he thinks that there is a higher power left here by those from ancient times to help balance harmony in the world, waiting to be seized by a superior being.”

Rainbow blinked again, instinctively putting a hoof to her neck before remembering once more that the time for necklaces had disappeared long ago, replaced with some crazy rainbow power. Nevertheless, Rainbow widened her eyes, wondering if she and Goldheart and Insomnia were thinking of the same thing.

“So when he hears of me and my synthesised formulas… he can’t resist. He must become that superior being.”

Rainbow frowned, the thoughts processing in her head. “So he took it? Did it make him ‘superior’ or whatever?”

Goldheart shook his head with a dark smile. “Yep! But it was not ready yet. There were other effects.” He looked at Rainbow with softened eyes.

“But what’s more important is being. The serum- it amplifies everything that is inside. Good becomes great! Bad… becomes worse.”

Rainbow inhaled sharply, and a silence lingered.

“This is why you were chosen.”

Rainbow glanced back up at Doctor Goldheart, having dropped her eyes to stare at her hooves. “Huh?”

“A strong mare who has known power all her life may lose respect for that power… but a weak mare knows the value of strength… and knows compassion.”

Be kind… Rainbow felt a voice echo in her head, and nodded, sighing deeply. “I… I just don’t know I’m all you’re cracking me up to be, Doc. What if I’m not the pony you’re looking for? You’ve supported me all week, but…”

“Rainbow Dash,” Goldheart said, “Though I see the arrogance you portray, you are more than that. I’ve seen it. I know it.” Pulling two glasses from his jacket, he put them by his sides and brought up the bottle.

"And doc, will this help heal me?" Rainbow whispered. "This... this whatever that I have? Will it cure me?"

"And then some," Goldheart nodded, before contemplating silently. “Rainbow, whatever happens tomorrow, promise me one thing,” he murmured.

“Sure,” Rainbow said.

“You do not have to be a perfect soldier… or a perfect anything,” said Goldheart. “But always have your good heart. Always be the good mare you are.”

Rainbow breathed in deeply, slowly, processing the words. With surety, she nodded. “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my- OUCH!” Rainbow rubbed her eye before smiling sheepishly at the interested doctor. “I, uh, Pinkie Promise.”

A shiver went down both of their spines.

“Hm…” Goldheart hummed, passing a glass to Rainbow. He then poured two glasses of a sweet scented drink, and Rainbow almost recognised it.

“Is this… is this apple cider?” Rainbow asked, eyes misting.

“Why, yes it is! Straight from the crystal farms, a staple drink, might I add.”

Rainbow’s muzzle stretched into a grin, bringing the sweet cup of heaven to her mouth. “It… even smells like home… mm…” Just as she was about to sip, Goldheart reached out and took it from her.

“Aiyah!” cried Goldheart. “What am I doing? You have a procedure tomorrow! No fluids!” He poured her glass into his and set the spare aside.

“Awwww…” Rainbow moaned, whimpering as she pawed lamely in the air at the apple cider. With a comical sniffle, Rainbow felt a tear fall from her eye. “A-alright, we’ll drink it after!”

“What do you mean?” Goldheart frowned. “I don’t have a procedure tomorrow. ‘Drink it after’? I’ll drink mine now.” He quickly downed it and smiled toothily at Rainbow.

“Hmmmmmmmm!” Rainbow sniffled, trying her best not to cry. “Why is it always the cider?!

Author's Note:

Edited: Some dialogue to better fit continuity.