• 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 3.6 - When The Path Parts Ways

Rainbow stared into her shield’s reflection, it’s surface gleaming brightly in the fresh coats of paint she had insisted putting on. It now glowed with two crimson rings and a center painted blue so it looked like there was a silver star in the center. Rainbow had chosen to forgo her actual colours, as she had realised it didn’t actually make for good colour theory. Something she was remembering from her time just hanging out with Rarity.

However boring it seemed then, it was something she longed for desperately now. Alas, she knew it was an impossible dream. If she told others of this, they might just suggest going to said friend. They didn’t know that being thrust over a thousand years back in time crushed any hope of doing so.

She sighed, her eyes sadly looking back in the shield. If Rainbow looked hard enough, she could’ve sworn she even saw her friends’ eyes in the shield, but she knew it was nothing more than wishful thinking. Here, in a world at war and no sign of a quaint little town called Ponyville, all she could do was think. She had a lot of time to do that now.

Of course, missions helped. Missions like this, where she was sent to help labouring nations survive the onslaught of Sombra’s forces. It helped take her mind off of things. It gave her a purpose where she thought she really had none. Zebrica was certainly a step in the right direction, helping one of their more advanced nations. She was making friends. But nopony could replace her originals.

All she did now, she did to ensure the future she knew to be true. A world that one could live in without fear of war. Without fear of some penultimate cataclysm. A world where only the Elements of Harmony were needed, and not an army of soldiers that would die from a simple command: “Protect.”

She didn’t know if these thoughts were after effects of Insomnia’s spell. She wasn’t really sure if they were because of just being alone in an environment that was alien to her, more so than it already was. Maybe it was just her troubled mind as it was. In any case, her memories, her trains of thought, always led back to her friends.

A knock at the door brought Rainbow out of her musings. Setting the shield beside her tattered uniform, goggles, and old shield, she brought her hooves together, closed her eyes, and breathed. After a second, she sighed and nodded softly. “Yeah, what is it?”

Ember Wing poked his head in, smiling as he did so. “We’re just about ready to leave, Dash. The platoon has packed everything up, and we’re just waiting for your go.”

Rainbow nodded, allowing herself a total moment of calm. “Sweet. Uh, why don’t you go ahead and prep everyone for departure. I just have one last matter to deal with. Shouldn’t take too long, especially if they’ll be sending us off as well.”

Ember found this an acceptable answer, and he started closing the door. However, just as it was shut, he opened it again and looked at Rainbow, concern written in his eyes. “Hey, Rainbow, you okay?”

“I’m fine, Ember,” Rainbow said. “I’m just… thinking about a lot of things. Home. Friends. Things like that.”

“You know I’m here if you need me, right?” Ember remarked. “The team is here too. Don’t beat yourself up when we can share the pain, alright?”

Rainbow sighed, gently grabbing her beat-up shield and looking over it with melancholic distaste. “Some things are meant to stay hidden.”

“All the more reason to share them,” Ember said. “Just don’t forget. Oh, and Firefly has been asking how you’ve been too. She really looks up to you, you know?” When Rainbow didn’t give a response, Ember slipped away, and the door shut behind him.

“I won’t,” Rainbow promised, grabbing a writing tool off the side table and staring at the faded script on her old shield. “I won’t forget.”

Rainbow wandered the halls of the royal palace, using her memory to retrace her steps. She knew where she was going. She just wasn’t sure about her action.

She had finally left her room only minutes after Ember had informed her, and she was fully dressed in her uniform. In all honesty, it was probably a violation of Equestrian regulation since her tattered show suit didn’t actually protect her from anything. The only things that could remotely protect her were her helmet and her shield— well, her two shields. That would soon change, however.

Proudly displayed on her back was her new round shield, gleaming brightly and proudly as she walked past smiling Wakandans. They all regarded her with a nod and noted the shield, saying their thanks for helping protect Wakanda. She could only shake her head and say that it was “the right thing to do”, because it was.

Strapped to her leg was her old shield, the punch delivered by Insomnia still fresh in Rainbow’s mind. She glanced down at it, still marvelling at how the battle had turned out. Would she be able to face him off again in the future? Would she hesitate to do what needed to be done?

Rainbow Dash shook her head, knowing that these thoughts would only deepen the trench she was digging for herself. Instead, she focused on what the shield would and was going to represent: Peace, safety, and a promise between two nations. Politically, it was an exchange for the shield Rainbow had gotten, to equate the gifts and strengthen the relationship. Personally, it was for a plan she was forming. A plan that, if it worked, would benefit her in the long run. More specifically, it would benefit her friends in the far future. That, and she felt real bad accepting a gift and not giving something in return.

She only hoped it would work. The first step in a long game.

Stepping up to the doors to the Hall of Panthers, or so the throne room was called, she was blocked by two zebra guards. They wore tribal robes, adorned with multiple coloured bands and special metal rings that set them apart as the royal guard and warriors. Rainbow nodded to them, and they looked at her with a glint of respect and acknowledgement.

“Captain Rainbow Dash,” the left guard said. He raised an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t you be preparing to leave Wakanda?”

Rainbow nodded, understanding the confusion. “They’re ready to depart,” Rainbow said. “I would just like a word with the Queen before we get out of dodge. It’s something important.”

The other guard turned to Rainbow, adjusting his grip on his spear. “Are you certain you can’t wait until Queen Zokara addresses your platoon personally? She plans on appearing to you before you truly depart.”

Rainbow blinked at that, but stayed firm in her decision. “If it doesn’t bother her, then yes. I would still like to talk to her.”

“Very well,” the right guard said. “Just know that she is talking with her eldest daughter right, and may not like the intrusion.” With that, both guards slammed the ends of their spears into the ground and the doors slowly opened.

A voice Rainbow knew began to fill the air, increasing in volume as the doors opened more. “Mother, please, I beg you. You said to follow my heart. You know I’ll be fine with all the training I’ve gone through and the schooling I’ve gotten!”

The doors fully opened, slowing to a halt with a soft hum. “Deseret, I’m trying to say that leaving so soon after returning is something you should consider carefully. We’ve missed you. And with the war going on, how do we know that our time is not short if you were to leave? What if you don’t come back?” At that, Zokara finally acknowledged that the doors had opened, and regarded Rainbow Dash with a soft conflicted smile.

Rainbow Dash bowed. “Queen Zokara. Deseret.”

“Rise, Captain,” the Queen mused tiredly, her tone of voice changing ever so slightly. “We don’t actually do that here. How has your stay in Wakanda been?”

Rainbow smiled. “Great! Really great. Every zebra is real nice, and the hospitality is great.”

“Oh?” Zokara said, “Then what brings a mare like you here? You know I plan to address you later, and say farewell with good cheer?”

“As I’ve been told,” Rainbow said. “I just wanted to talk to you for a bit. It’s very important to me.”

“Important, you say, but your tone speaks wonders. Tell me, what could bring your emotions to sunder?”

Rainbow Dash, for all that she had prepared, now stood conflicted. She glanced down at the badge-shaped shield on her foreleg, bringing up the memories of all her friends and family. Closing her eyes and breathing, trying to focus, she heard Deseret’s voice pipe up.

“Come now, Captain Rainbow Dash. We are your friends, and as friends, to betray you would be rash.”

“Yeah, y-yeah, okay,” Rainbow started, before she gulped and composed herself. “I really, really appreciated the shield that you gave me. It’s definitely made of some sturdy stuff… but I wanted to ask a favour in return with a gift of my own. You see, I… well, I’m not from around here, and…”

Zokara nodded. “Take your time, Captain. We will not judge you for the pain you contain.”

“I want to give you my old shield,” Rainbow said. “I know it’s nothing compared to what you gave me, but it has some value for me to it. I know it’s dented, and I know it’s heavy, but it’s what I used to protect you and others for the short time it’s seen action.”

Queen Zokara smiled at that, trotting forward to get the shield and turn it over in her own hooves. “Rainbow Dash, of course we are not offended, such a gift in return is more than our own could be said. What is the favour, though, if I may ask? Surely otherwise you would not have come here to burden yourself with such a task.”

“I want you to take good care of it, as best as you can, and pass it down when your family line continues. Let your children and your children’s children bring it wherever they settle and watch over it until such a time comes where it is asked to be seen by another.”

Queen Zokara nodded, accepting all the terms Rainbow Dash set. “I see, a family heirloom it shall become,” Zokara clarified. “A testament to the bond we and the country have shared, to weathers of time it shall never succumb. A favour as easily doable as this, but I believe carries far more weight, though I have half the mind to ask and all the mind to wonder at this rate.”

“It’s because I’m…” Rainbow began, pausing before nodding to herself. “Well, I’m not from this time. I’m from, from the future And… I know my friends will be missing me. I just want to give them something to remember me by, to let them know that I lived and that I was happy where I was.”

Zokara and Deseret blinked at Rainbow Dash for a few seconds before they both recovered. “The future, you say? Might it be so, that the world does not stay this grey?”

“Yeah,” Rainbow said, quickly understanding what the Queen was implying. “Where I’m from, war hasn’t actually happened since… well, since this war.”

“Then that is favour enough,” Zokara affirmed, a glad smile on her face. “Conflicted, though, as I may be, I now know we will get through these times so rough. If that is all, I shall see you at the borders, Rainbow Dash. We will be there to send you off in a short flash.”

“Actually,” Rainbow said, “I have two more questions.” When Queen Zokara hummed, Rainbow continued. “Does royalty really have to rhyme in front of everyone? Cause I heard you talking to Deseret normally before you started talking to me.”

Zokara winced slightly, but paid her own antics no mind. “Yes,” Zokara said. “Rhyme breeds the creativity and life of the universe. Without it, the royalty would have no inspiration to guide the nation, and thus we match our words in verse. Among ourselves, the spell is broken, for between each of us, we are able to expand the words between us that are spoken.”

“Whoa,” Rainbow said. “That’s actually pretty cool.”

Deseret huffed a little, a small smile tugging at her lips. “Cool and necessary, both are true, but annoying? Well, you really haven’t got a clue.”

“I bet,” Rainbow giggled softly.

The zebra queen smiled at the interaction, waving a hoof lightly to get their attention. “And one more question, you said you had. Allow us to take it, it shouldn’t be that bad.”

“Why aren’t you letting Deseret come back with us?”

The question took both of the two zebras aback, neither of them having expected the query. Deseret’s expression quickly turned from one of surprise to one of longing and pleading as she directed it to her mother. Zokara somehow returned to her stoic figure, but it wavered with the thoughts running through her mind. All of this, Rainbow could see from the one question she had asked. In all honesty, she was somewhat confused, as she tried to process the excess information she was receiving.

“Yes, mother, why would you not?” Deseret asked. “These ponies I’ve gotten to know, they are a good lot!”

“Silence, daughter, remember your place!” Zokara boomed, causing Deseret to flinch and stumble back in surprise. Rainbow couldn’t help but wince, her ears folding back protectively. “I’ve met them too, I know their case!”

Another silence dominated the hall as Zokara sighed heavily. Deseret and Rainbow watched as her breathing calmed her composure faltered, hooves going to her head to massage her temples. “Deseret… I-I’m sorry. It’s just… when you left, all we could do was worry. If I could’ve helped it-”

“Mother, you spake of this, and I already know,” Deseret comforted. She moved to hug her mother, draping a hoof over her shoulders and nuzzling her. “But you know just as well as I that it was an experience that helped me to grow.”

Zokara nuzzled her daughter back, holding her dearly. “I love you so, my dear Deseret, and the thought of you gone is what ails me in your stead. Please consider my words, for I cannot handle the thought of-of you dead.”

“I’d stay safe in the company of my platoon,” Deseret tried. “And if I were to help, we could end this war that much more soon.”

“Can this old mare not convince you otherwise? To stay with your family, instead of the chance of your demise?”

Deseret paused for a moment, eventually shaking her head and hugging Zokara tightly. “As much as I love you and the family, mother,” Deseret said, “I cannot stand to sit idly by while the everyone around us suffer.”

The Queen and Chieftess of Wakanda looked into the eyes of Deseret, staring into the determination and the fire burning within her. With a defeated sigh, Zokara nodded her head. Hugging her tightly and her eyes glistening, she turned towards Rainbow. “Very well, Deseret. Your wish shall be granted. Rainbow Dash, I must now ask you as you did me, a favour among friends not wasted.”

Rainbow nodded quickly, seeing where this was going. “Of course, Queen Zokara. Anything.”

Zokara smiled and shook her head lightly. “There is no place for formalities between good friends. Would you take care of Deseret for me, and help protect her until the world’s end?”

Rainbow Dash felt a grin tug at her lips, a faint echo springing around in her mind. Straightening up, Rainbow saluted. “I Pinkie Promise.” Doing the motions, she could feel something bind her down, and the tension in the room dissipated, the wind sounding like the gleeful laugh of a pony who knew what had just happened. “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

Zokara smiled and nuzzled her daughter, cherishing her for as long as they were still together. “Whatever you just did, the promise you made, I believe you will hold true. I do not know where you learned such an oath, but I know that it will do.”

“It was something my friend always did,” Rainbow said, a wistful feeling overcoming her as her memories of Pinkie Pie played. “It was unbreakable, and she made sure to let everypony— sorry, everyone knew that.”

“She sounds like a pony worth knowing,” Deseret giggled.

Rainbow’s sad smile was all they needed. “She sure loved meeting new ponies.”

A silence fell among them as they each pondered the words spoken. When enough was enough and the silence grew strained, Zokara nodded to herself and sighed, getting to all four hooves. Rainbow watched as Deseret helped her, but she was capable of doing so on her own. Composing herself and putting on a winning smile, Zokara hugged Deseret one more time and nodded to Rainbow.

“Come along now, Captain,” she said. “I believe there is one more matter we must attend.”

“Well,” Jaydock said, clapping Rainbow’s back ineffectively against her shield, “You look weary.”

“You would be when you’re trying to think about everything that’s just happened,” Rainbow huffed. “I have my own problems to deal with too, you know.”

“Hey, hey, no harm done. Just wanted to know if you’re alright.”

Glancing up at him and her squad, she sighed. “Well, yeah, I guess. Just a lot of things happening so quickly, and on my first mission too. Do you know if we lost anyone?”

“That really isn’t a question you’d ever want to ask, you know,” Ember said darkly, trotting closer to Rainbow Dash. “Even if we escaped with, at most, serious injuries that have already been treated.”

“I need to know,” Rainbow Dash muttered. “I can’t— no, I won’t leave anyone behind.”

“What you say is impossible, Cap,” Puff remarked. “Even the best generals know when casualties are inevitable.”

Rainbow scowled, closing her eyes. “I can do my best.”

“Then your best is enough,” Puff said. “So, any word on Deseret?”

“Last I heard, the Queen said she wouldn’t be letting Deseret come with us,” Goldeneye said. Everyone, Rainbow Dash included, turned to look at her. “It’s not exactly secret when I can find a vantage point to watch them talk in that hall of theirs.”

“Then you didn’t see me talk to them then?” Rainbow asked, prompting the attention to return to her. “Because I was able to convince her to let Deseret come with us.”

“Wait, really?” Puff asked.

“Sounds like it, Puff. Aren’t you listening?” Guffin jibed, grinning. “Keep up, ya old coot!”

Puff growled. “Shut it, Guff.”

“Hey, you basically admitted to being an adoptive father. You can’t fault me for making some jokes about that.” Guffin waved a hoof, glancing to the whole squad. “Eh? Eh?”

Puff huffed. “I’ll make a joke out of you if you keep talking about it right now.”

“So, later then?”

“Why you-”

“Hi, Puff!” A voice called from behind Rainbow Dash, who smirked as she stepped aside and looked behind her. Deseret was trotting jovially towards them, waving a hoof. “Hey, everyone. Looks like we still can get together and have fun!”

“Hey, Deseret,” the squad chorused in unison, their smiles widening as a member of the group was welcomed once again with open hooves.

“How’re you holding up?” Jaydock asked, being the first to hug her. “We know how much you missed your family and vice versa. Everything alright?”

“Never better, Jaydock,” Deseret smiled brightly. “Even though my mother was as stubborn as a rock.”

Guffin was next in line, mussing up Deseret’s mane with a headlock and a noogie. He chuckled as he let go and Deseret huffed with indignation and embarrassment. “Queen giving ya a hard time?”

“She is my mother, she only wanted to protect me… though she eventually let me go free.”

“Provided we take care of you, huh?” Ember asked, a playful grin dancing on his muzzle. They pulled each other close and hugged each other with one foreleg.

Deseret nodded. “Of course, Ember. Otherwise, it would’ve been the end of my adventure!”

“And we couldn’t have that, now could we?” Goldeneye grinned, holding her legs out in open invitation. “Come here, you striped rascal!” They proceeded to glomp each other, both mares giggling to themselves.

Rainbow watched carefully when the zebra let go of Goldeneye and confronted Relda, who had thus far remained the most silent. She watched Deseret grow a soft smile as she trotted forward and held a hoof out, which Relda took. Deseret muttered something softly to Relda, who nodded with a prim glad smile of her own, before they hugged each other. When Relda noticed Rainbow watching them, Relda cast her eyes down, blinking rapidly as she adjusted her headband and hid behind Jaydock.

Finally, Deseret faced Puff, who was looking elsewhere before the zebra hugged him. “I know you had your worries, Puff,” Deseret began, “But we still have so much to do, so much stuff!”

“Ah, you know me,” Puff said, glaring at Guffin who gave smiled sweetly and waved. “I can’t stop worrying about my friends.”

“Well, now I’m here, so stop your worrying,” Deseret ordered. “From now on, we’ll all fight and sing.”

“Of course, Des,” Puff said. “‘Sides, we got your mother to listen to now before we leave.”

True to his word, Rainbow Dash turned around to see Queen Zokara standing on a small rock outcropping that stood above the platoon, her guards surrounding the base of the rocks. Rainbow watched as her gaze fell upon her daughter first, conflict still showing, before it steeled upon Rainbow and they nodded to each other. Finally, Zokara looked out among the rest of the platoon, raising a hoof to catch their attention.

“Equestrians of all shapes and sizes!” Her voice carried from her perch, reaching all the ears listening. “Our tribe thanks you for helping protect our beloved land, and know that your aid was a prize so grand. This, we bless you with success in your endeavours, as you leave and proceed in the most perilous ventures.

“Depart with good intent and strength, that tomorrow your will shall never be bent.” At those words, she paused, looking down once more to catch the eyes of both Deseret and Rainbow, her muzzle twitching with a wistful smile.

“Stay safe, my friends, for the days grow long, and as we grow weary, pray we stray from doing wrong.”