A troubled young pegasus struggles with her self esteem, until she gets a little help from the most unlikely of tutors.
Things haven't been going well for little Snow Bolt. She's always in trouble at school, her father is always yelling at her, and the bullies at school pick on her relentlessly. But just when she thought things couldn't get any worse, she's kidnapped by a dragon, who plans to bake her into a pie. Can Snow Bolt escape from the monster's lair before it's too late?
“Alright then, here we are.” The conductor opened the door to the train car, and Snow Bolt followed him aboard. “Won’t be too many passengers on this trip, so I think you’ll mostly have the car to yourself. There’s a bathroom at the rear of the car, and the snack bar is two cars ahead of you. Any questions?” The little white filly shook her head and offered the conductor a sad little smile. “Alright then. Find a seat, and I’ll be around to check on you once we get going.” With that, the conductor stepped back off the train and trotted out of sight.
With a sigh, Snow Bolt surveyed the cabin. There were only a few other ponies in the car with her, a group of teenagers near the front who were all chatting excitedly to each other. She found a seat near the rear of the car, as far from the others as possible. The ten-year-old filly was in no mood for any sort of cheerfulness.
Snow Bolt brushed a lock of her blonde mane aside and looked out the window. It was still early in the morning in Vanhoover. The snow had just started to fall, but a good number of ponies were braving the weather, waiting to wave at their loved ones from the platform as the train departed. Her father, Coal Bolt, was not among them. Why would he be? she thought to herself. The other ponies, they were going to miss their loved ones. They would count the days until they returned, and when their train rolled back into the station, those same ponies would be there to see it arrive. There would be hugs and tearful reunions as soon as the doors opened. It would not be so for Snow Bolt. She knew her father would not miss her. In fact, she was sure he was glad to be rid of her.
As the train lurched forward, she thought back to that night, only a week ago, when her father told her she was going be leaving Vanhoover to go live with her uncle on his rock farm in Dodge Junction. She had been sent home from school again, this time for mouthing off to her teacher. She had sat on the couch, staring at nothing, while her father paced in front of her, yelling and screaming like he always did.
“Again, Snow Bolt? Again?! This is the second time this week. Are you trying to get expelled? Is that what you want?”
Snow Bolt crossed her arms and looked the other direction.
“Well? What you have to say for yourself?” he asked.
Snow Bolt muttered under her breath.
“Excuse me, what did you say?” he said.
She turned and glared at him. “I said I wish it was you who died instead of mom!”
Coal Bolt stopped in his tracks, looking as if he had just been slapped in the face. He opened his mouth and closed it again. Snow Bolt merely stared at him with the same, icy glare. There was not even a hint of regret on her face.
“Go to your room,” Coal Bolt said softly. She obeyed, trotting off to her room with her head high, making a point of slamming the door when she got there. She knew she had hurt his feelings, but she wasn’t sorry. She had meant what she said.
Coal Bolt had called her down a few hours later and informed her of his decision to send her to Dodge Junction. She had listened impassively as he delivered the news, then returned to her room to resume her brooding. She may have felt the tiniest twinge of regret, then. She wondered for an instant if she had perhaps taken it a step too far this time, but the feeling quickly passed. Good, she thought to herself. If he doesn’t want me here, then I don’t want to be here either.
Truth be told, she liked the idea of living with her relatives on a rock farm even less than she liked the idea of living with her father. She had met them only once or twice at family reunions, and she had never gotten along particularly well with her cousins. She and her mother were the only pegasi in the family of earth ponies, and though though her aunt and uncle had always been nice enough to her during her visits, she couldn't help but feel like an outsider.
Now, as she sat on the train, she took one last look out the window at the town where she had grown up, the only home she had ever known. The snow began falling harder as the train wound its way up the mountainside, and she got one last look down on it before the train entered a tunnel and the cabin was plunged into darkness.
Snow Bolt was alone with her thoughts as the train clattered along. She had brought some books for the trip, but she didn’t feel like reading. The conductor came by several times to check on her, but Snow Bolt politely refused his offer of food and drink each time.
Two hours into the trip, her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of boisterous laughter coming from the car ahead of her. She looked up, and saw three earth pony colts jostling and pushing their way through the doors that separated the two train cars, each of them holding a caramel apple.
Snow Bolt’s heart sank as she recognized the three voices. Oh no. No no no…
The only bright side about Snow Bolt’s forced relocation was that she was also moving away from three particularly troublesome bullies from her school. They were always picking on her, making fun of her legs, or her inability to fly, or her lack of a cutie mark, or anything else they thought would get under her skin. What are they doing here? she thought to herself. Snow Bolt shrank in her seat, hoping that she might go unnoticed.
“Oh, hey!” one of them called. It was the leader of the pack, a big ruddy colt named Rusty Spur. Snow Bolt closed her eye for a moment, hoping to make the three disappear by sheer power of will. Instead, she felt her seat shake as the three of them took the seats across and beside her.
“Heya, Slow Dolt,” Rusty Spur said, a wicked grin spreading across his face.
Snow Bolt glared at him. “What are you three doing here?”
Rusty blinked innocently. “Who, us? Why, me and my friends here are going to be staying on my family’s plantation in Dodge Junction over winter break.”
Snow Bolt squinted her eyes closed. Oh no, please no. Not them. Anypony but them.
Rusty continued. “But what are you doing here, Slow Dolt? Oh, that’s right…” In the seats across from her, the other two snickered. “Your daddy sent you away because he doesn’t want you anymore, right?”
The other two burst into laughter, but Rusty maintained his charade, pouting in mock sympathy. “Oh yeah, we heard all about that. Everypony at school was talking about it. Tough break, Slow Dolt.”
“Yeah, tough break!” Rocks echoed. The most idiotic of the bunch, Rocks rarely did anything but parrot whatever the other two said.
“That’s not what happened,” Snow Bolt said, failing to convince even herself.
“Well, can you really blame him?” said Smokey Ore, Rusty’s right-hoof lackey. “After all, who would want a little cripple like you?”
Without thinking, Snow Bolt drew her forelegs underneath her body. Deformed from birth, they both turned too far inward. Walking for long distances was difficult for her, and the sound of her hoofsteps had always been conspicuously irregular. At school, these three never let her go too long without reminding her of her deformity.
“Plus, a pegasus your age who can’t fly?” Rusty shook his head sadly. “Positively shameful.”
“You can’t fly either, numbskull,” she retorted.
“But I’m not supposed to fly,” Rusty said. His voice was patronizing, like a parent explaining something to a foal. “I’m already doing what I’m supposed to be doing. The question is, what are you doing?”
“Not flying, that’s for sure!” Rocks chimed in. “She’s just a try-fly!” The rhyme elicited a burst of laughter from the others.
“Don’t forget blank flank!” Smokey said.
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot!” Rusty said. Slow Dolt, cripple, blank-flank, try-fly!”
The others erupted in laughter, and began to chant. “Slow Dolt, cripple, blank flank, try-fly! Slow Dolt, cripple, blank-flank, try-fly!”
For Snow Bolt, it was too much. She burst into tears, pushed her way past the three and galloped towards the rear of the train as fast as her twisted legs would allow. “Hey Slow Dolt, where you going?” Rusty called after her.
“Bye-bye, try-fly!” called Rocks.
At the rear of the train car, she threw open the doors and ran into the next car, drawing quizzical looks from the other passengers. She kept running until she reached the rear of the train. Throwing open the last door, she was greeted by frigid air and swirling snow. She stepped out onto the platform and draped herself over the guard rail, sobbing uncontrollably. It was just too much. Knowing that they would be there at Dodge Junction too, to ridicule her and mock her misfortune every step of the way; it was just one thing too many.
It was snowing even harder now, and the sound of Snow Bolt’s sobs were lost in howling wind and the clattering the train’s wheels. She could not bear the thought of going back to her seat on the train with those bullies, let alone spending winter break with them in Dodge Junction.
Snow Bolt looked up, at the landscape racing past her on all sides. In that instant, she made a decision. Without hesitating, she lifted the safety chain on one side of the platform and stepped off. For a few dreamy seconds, she seemed to float. Then her hooves met roughly with snow-covered earth, and she tumbled head over heels down a steep embankment. Though the snow mostly cushioned her fall, her body and limbs met with at least a few rocks and branches before she came to a stop in deep snow. Head spinning, she stared up into the gray winter sky for a moment, watching the snowflakes fall around her. It was only then that she stopped to ponder the consequences what she had just done.
Though her head was still spinning, she forced herself to sit up. “Hey!” she shouted, waving frantically in the direction the train had gone. Though she could still hear its clattering on the tracks, the train itself was long since out of sight, lost in the swirling snow. It was hopeless, of course. Even without the snow, there wouldn't have been anyone outside the train to hear her.
Snow Bolt painfully got to her hooves and looked around. The train tracks stretched ahead and behind her until they vanished into the falling snow. To one side there was a dense forest, on the other only flat emptiness as far as she could see. She considered her options. She knew that only two trains ran between Vanhoover and Dodge Junction per week, so there was no chance of another train coming along anytime soon. Walking on the tracks after the train was one option, but by her estimate she was still much closer to Vanhoover than to the first stop along the way. But she had been riding on the train for close to two hours before the bullies started harassing her, how long would it take her to walk that distance? Days?
Snow Bolt looked to her right, across the empty plain. She squinted hard, and for just a split second she thought she could see the familiar outline of the hills that bordered Vanhoover to the east.
She stood there for several moments, looking again and again in all directions, unsure of what to do. None of the options before her looked very promising. Eventually, the biting cold of the wind prompted her to move, and she found herself trudging through ankle-deep snow eastward across the plain, towards the hills that lay beyond.
Snow Bolt walked at the best pace her twisted legs could manage, still in shock and not entirely grasping the gravity of her situation. Her sadness was gone, replaced for the moment by the single-minded necessity to keep moving, her only defense against the wind’s chill. She had scarcely gotten half a mile before she started shivering. She redoubled her pace, hoping the extra exertion would help to stave off the coldness, but it was no use. She could not gallop or even trot through the deep snow, and trying to push through the snow at a faster pace only served to tire her faster.
On and on she walked. The snow was now nearly up to her flank and piling up fast, and keeping a good pace was becoming more difficult. Now that the snow was in direct contact with her body instead of just her hooves and legs, she was shivering uncontrollably. Her legs were so numb that she couldn’t feel them at all. But with no other options available, she pressed on through the wind and snow, not knowing when she would reach her goal, or if there was even a goal within reach at all.
Several hours passed this way, though Snow Bolt could not say how many. She knew she was approaching the limit of her endurance, but she also thought she had a reason to hope. The ground was slowly starting to slope upwards, and every once in a while the falling snow would clear just enough for her to make out the outline of a row of foothills rising up ahead of her. If she was right, and these were the foothills that bordered Vanhoover to the east, then she was nearly home. The blizzard had not abated, and the pain in her limbs was extraordinary, but Snow Bolt forced herself onwards and upwards, climbing the slope with renewed vigor.
The snow was deeper on the slope, up to her neck in some places. Every place her coat came in contact with the snow burned like a hot iron, and the pain was enough to make her cry out with every step. Up and up and up she went, willing herself onward with fierce determination. She told herself that once she reached the top, the walk down would be much easier.
Halfway up, Snow Bolt began to weep. The full weight of her predicament had finally settled on her, and she wallowed in self pity. Though she had largely come to grips with her mother’s death in the past year, she was now overcome with longing for her. She remembered how her mother used to make hot chocolate for her on cold days like this when she came home from school. She would wrap a blanket around her and sit her by the fire and ask her about her day.
Snow Bolt did her best to push these thoughts to the back of her mind and focus on the task at hoof. She had lost track of time, but thought she ought to be reaching the top of the foothill soon. Every step became a battle as she willed herself to put one hoof in front of the other. Just a little further, almost there, she told herself, repeating it over and over again like a mantra. At long last, she felt the slope start to level off, and when she looked up, she could see the top of the hill. She did not rejoice, however. She was so tired and so cold that it was all she could do to focus on getting up the last few steps to the top of the hill.
At long last, Snow Bolt made it to the top. Panting and shivering, she struggled up the last few feet, until she saw the ground start to slope downward sharply. She stood there for a few long moments, squinting through the falling snow, but at first she could see nothing. Then, all at once, the winds shifted and her view became clear. She looked down from the foothills, but instead of seeing the earth pony town of Vanhoover below her, she saw only an empty valley, and another foothill rising up on the other side, one of hundreds more just like it, stretching off into the distance as far as the eye could see.
Her stomach sank. “No. No no no…” she said aloud. She looked around in every other direction, but there were no signs of civilization anywhere, only snow-covered hills and plains. She collapsed down into the snow and screamed. She doubted she could take another step, let alone traverse however many more miles separated her from any sort of civilization. And how would she even know she was going in the right direction at all?
She spent several long minutes crying and screaming, the sound of her sobs carried away by the wind, scarcely audible to even herself. After that, a strange calm came over her. She lay down in the snow and curled into a ball. Her shivering had stopped, and a sudden tiredness overcame her.
I'm dying, she thought to herself sleepily. It’s just as well. Nobody will miss me. Snow Bolt closed her eyes, and was only dimly aware that the falling snow was covering her tiny body like a blanket. She no longer felt cold, and to her surprise she found that the snow was starting to feel warm and comfortable. She remembered the way her mother used to tuck her in at night when she was a little filly, just before she drifted off to sleep. Yes, Snow Bolt thought. Sleep. Time to sleep. Maybe mama will be there when I wake up.
With that one last, sleepy thought Snow Bolt closed her eyes, and all was dark.
Gradually, little Snow Bolt regained consciousness. When she first opened her eyes, she was confused by the mess of twisted rocks high above her. Then darkness took her again, and she slept. She could not say how long it was before she woke again, but it felt like a long time, many hours at least.
She was laying on her back, looking up at ceiling made of rock with sharp, stony protrusions hanging down from it in places. Blearily, she sat up, and saw that she was in what appeared to be a large cave. It was as big across as the Vanhoover’s market square, and higher than its town hall. In one corner of the cave there was a bubbling cauldron, as big as the little cottage she grew up in. It was heated by a fire fed by several full-grown trees, leaves and all. Arranged around the cauldron were several more trees, pulled up by the roots and stacked neatly, and several stone bowls as wide across as her kitchen table. In another corner, a steady trickle of water ran down from a stalactite and collected in a small pool beneath.
“Wha…? Where am I?” Snow Bolt wondered aloud. She tried to stand, but her legs were still sore and stiff from cold. Laying with her back to the ground, she slowly stretched them out. When she could extend them fully, she painfully made her way to her hooves.
She explored her surroundings. She went first to the fire, and let its heat warm her aching limbs for a few moments. Then she went to the pool, and took a long drink. In the adjacent corner, she discovered a pile of gemstones as big as a house. She could see rubies, diamonds, emeralds, and a few more exotic stones she didn’t recognize. Nearby was a wide bookshelf, filled with neatly-ordered books on every subject. On the wall adjacent from the pool, there was a few crack in the wall that the wind whistled through. Looking through it, she could see the snow still falling, and every now and then, a glimpse of a snow-covered river valley far below. She guessed that this cave must lie on a mountain face somewhere.
Snow Bolt walked a short ways back into the cave, collapsed to the rocky ground, and began to weep. She didn’t know where she was or how she got there, but she still missed her mother and her home just as much as before. Now, things were even worse. She was in some monster’s lair, probably about to be boiled alive and eaten.
Suddenly, the entire cave wall she had been standing at only a moment before her lifted and rolled away, and a freezing wind whipped past her, instantly chilling her to the bone again. A few seconds later, an enormous red dragon ducked low through the mouth of the cave, carrying a bundle of full-grown trees under one arm. Snow Bolt shrieked and scampered backwards a few steps before tripping and falling onto her back. She could only watch in amazement as the dragon calmly stepped into the cave and rolled the enormous boulder back in place behind it. Turning, the dragon spotted Snow Bolt lying on the ground, still staring up at it in amazement.
“Oh, good. My dinner is awake,” the dragon said. Snow Bolt could tell by its voice that this dragon was female. Her voice was low and sultry and incredibly loud, echoing back and forth through the cave for what seemed like an eternity. Without slowing down, the dragon walked straight over Snow Bolt, who could only watch in awe as claws and scales passed over her. The dragon then calmly began stacking her armload of trees next to the fire with the others.
“Now then. How do you suppose you taste, my little pony?” the dragon asked, without turning around. “Is it mostly corn you eat? Oats, perhaps? I mostly prefer oat-fed ponies, but I've been known to enjoy a nice corn-fed earth pony every now and again. But you know, I don’t think I've ever eaten a pegasus before. You’d probably be more dark meat, wouldn’t you think? I was thinking of putting you in a nice pot pie, with sapphire and a little bay spruceling for seasoning. Doesn't that sound nice?”
Snow Bolt collapsed to the floor again, her fears confirmed. She buried her face in her hooves and sobbed loudly.
At this, the dragoness turned. “What’s this, now? Your recipe doesn’t call for brining, little Pot Pie. Stop that this instant!”
“No, it’s alright.” Snow Bolt said through her sobs. “You can eat me if you want. I don’t care anymore.”
“Ugh,” the dragon said, rolling her eyes. “You’re not depressed, are you? I do hate it when my dinner’s depressed. Spoils the flavor.” The dragon sighed her annoyance, and a great puff of steam escaped from each of her giant nostrils. “What’s a pony like you got to be depressed about, anyways?”
“What have I got to be depressed about? What have I got to be depressed about?!” Snow Bolt shouted at the dragon, rising to her hooves. “Oh, I don’t know, let’s see…my mom died, everyone at school makes fun of me and my stupid legs that don't even work right, and –” All the frustration, anger, and sadness that had been building inside Snow Bolt since her mother’s death finally erupted. She just couldn’t keep it all to herself anymore. It didn’t matter that the only audience to her outburst was this giant, uncaring beast. “— and my dad is always yelling at me and sent me to go live with my stupid uncle on his stupid rock farm, and…and these bullies on the train were making fun of me and so I ran away, and now I'm about to be eaten by a dragon and I DON'T EVEN HAVE MY CUTIE MARK YET!" She stopped as her words devolved into sobs, and she sank to the floor. Trembling and crying, her sobs slowly trailed off. “Just eat me,” she whispered. “I don’t care anymore. Just eat me.” She began to shiver uncontrollably.
The dragon regarded the sobbing filly for a moment, then sighed again. “Depressed, and still half-frozen. Well, I guess I’m not eating you tonight, my little Pot Pie. You’re all cold in the middle; you wouldn’t cook evenly. Here.” The dragon scooped her up in one massive claw and set her down by the fire. “Hopefully you’ll thaw out by morning. Get some sleep, little Pot Pie, and perhaps I’ll eat you for breakfast.” With that, the dragon went around to the other side of the fire, yawned, and slumped to the ground hard enough to shake the floor and walls of the cave.
Snow Bolt was still sobbing, cold, and in complete shock from the day's events. But despite all this, a sudden tiredness took her again, and before long she cried herself into a deep, dreamless sleep.
* * *
When Snow Bolt woke again, there was a brief moment when she wondered if the strange events of the night before had actually transpired. But when she opened her eyes again, she found herself still in the same enormous rocky cave as the night before. She no longer felt too cold, and was actually feeling a bit too warm from the heat of the enormous fire.
She groaned and rolled over, stretching her aching limbs. There was no sign of her dragoness captor; Snow Bolt supposed that she must have gone out again. The little filly was thirsty and hungry, having not eaten anything since breakfast the day before. She went to the little pool in the corner of the cave and drank until her thirst was sated. The rumbling from her stomach was still not satisfied, but there was nothing edible to be found in the cave.
For lack of anything more productive to do, Snow Bolt wandered the perimeter of the cave. She went to the pile of gems in the far corner and pondered her haggard, multifaceted reflection in an emerald. When she went over to the boulder that seemed to serve as the door to the cavern, she observed that the gap between the boulder and the cave wall seemed larger than yesterday. New snow had fallen through the crack and made a little pile on the cave floor.
Snow Bolt realized that this might be her chance to escape. Digging with her hooves, she cleared away the fallen snow as fast as she could. When the gap was fully exposed, sunlight came streaming in from the outside. Peering through, she could see all the way down to the snow-covered valley below. Eyeing the gap again, she decided that it was just big enough to squeeze through.
She bit her lip and thought for a moment. Should she try to escape? Would her captor be angry with her? Would she punish her? After a moment’s consideration, she decided that whatever punishment the dragon could dole out could hardly be worse than being baked into a pie. Her mind made up, she set about trying to squeeze through the gap.
She put her head through the gap and started to squeeze and wriggle her way through. The gap was smaller halfway through than she had thought, and there was a moment where Snow Bolt found herself stuck by her middle; unable to push off anything with her hind legs and unable to grasp anything with her forelegs. She panicked for a moment, but after a bit of experimentation, discovered that she could brace her wings against either side of the gap and painstakingly scooch her way along.
Before long, she was through, and she came tumbling out of the hole and into a snow bank. She picked herself up and surveyed her surroundings. She did indeed seem to be on the upper reaches of a tall mountain. Before her, far below, she could see a broad river valley winding its way off into the distance. Behind her, she could see a wide, saddle-shaped precipice towering high above. At the moment, she was standing on a sort of ledge at the entrance to the cave, perhaps two hundred feet from one side to the other. She walked to the edge and looked down. Below the ledge there were a few hundred feet of shallow slope that could be traversed without too much trouble, but below that the slope dropped off sharply, much too steep to walk down.
Snow Bolt turned to the north and began to walk around the mountain to see if she might find a safe way down. The snow was nearly up to her neck in places, and it was very slow going. After nearly an hour of trudging, she was nearly back where she had started. When she got around to the south side of the mountain, however, she thought she may have found a spot where the slope might just barely be shallow enough to traverse all the way down. She peered over the edge nervously, biting her lip. It was still very steep. If she did attempt to go down it, the best she could hope for would be a controlled slide.
She looked around. There was no telling when the dragon would be back, and she would probably not make the mistake of leaving a gap in the door again. If Snow Bolt wanted to escape, it was now or never.
Snow Bolt's heart beat fast in her chest as she carefully crawled over a rocky lip and rolled onto her back. She spread her arms, legs, and wings in the snow to give herself the best chance of being able to slow her descent, then slowly began to scooch her way down.
It went alright at first, though her hooves, wings, and backside quickly became numb from the cold. Soon though, she began to pick up speed, and even digging in with all her limbs at once, she could only just prevent herself from accelerating out of control. Soon even that was not enough, and it became clear that Snow Bolt had no hope of controlling her descent at all. Faster and faster she went, the dry snow pack clouding up around her and making it nearly impossible to see. Then her hoof caught a rock, and she began to tumble, over and over again, completely out of control. After a few gut-wrenching seconds, she managed to right herself again, just in time to see the ground drop off completely before her, and she plunged off a steep cliff.
Snow Bolt screamed as she fell into the open air. She flailed her arms and legs helplessly as she hurtled towards the valley floor below. She had time to scream once, take a breath, then scream again. After that she simply closed her eyes and resigned herself to her inevitable death. But then, over the noise of the wind, she heard a great whoosh of leathery wings, and found herself grasped roughly around her middle.
Snow Bolt grunted from the impact. Opening her eyes, she saw that she was being grasped tightly in the clutches of a familiar red dragon.
“Honestly,” The dragon muttered to herself as she flapped her great wings. “I turn my back for one minute to run a few errands, and my dinner tries to tenderize itself.”
Snow Bolt, still frazzled from her terrifying descent, could say nothing. The dragon rolled the boulder at the mouth of the cave aside, tossed Snow Bolt inside like a set of keys, then stepped inside herself and rolled the boulder shut behind her.
“What I can’t figure out…” said the dragon, turning back to face her, “Is why you didn’t just fly away when you had the chance.”
Snow Bolt, who had landed on the cave floor awkwardly, was just righting herself. Sitting up, she stared at the ground, ashamed. It wasn’t enough that this dragon was going to eat her, it seemed it was also going to humiliate her first.
“I can’t fly,” Snow Bolt muttered.
“What was that? Speak up, Pot Pie.”
“I said I can’t fly, okay?!” Snow Bolt shouted.
The red dragon cocked her head to one side, mulling this over. “Can’t…fly.” She shook her head, as if such a thing was inconceivable. The dragon reached over and picked up Snow Bolt by one wing, examining it closely.
“Hey! Ow! Put me down!” she said, flailing helplessly.
The red dragon ignored her, stroking her chin as she examined the filly's wings closely and muttered to herself. “Well, I mean…I suppose they’re a little on the small side, but the wings could certainly support the weight, it’s not like she weighs that much…” The dragon turned Snow Bolt in mid-air to look her in the eye, and addressed her directly. “Pot Pie, why exactly is it that you ‘cannot fly?’”
“Look, my legs don’t work, okay? See?!” Still dangling sideways by one wing, Snow Bolt held up her inward-turned forelegs for the dragon to see.
The dragon brought Snow Bolt close to her face. She looked at the legs carefully, stroking her chin, then looked Snow Bolt in the eye, then looked back at the legs. The dragon then shook her head, genuinely confused. “Pot Pie, what exactly do your legs have to do with flying? Your legs may be misshapen, but your wings look fine to me. If you were a young dragon, you’d be flying loop-de-loops by now.”
Snow Bolt crossed her arms and made an indignant face, but she also considered the dragon’s words. The truth was, she had been so ashamed of her wings for so long, she hadn’t actually given much thought to flying since her mother died.
“Bah.” The dragon tossed Snow Bolt to the floor again. She made an exasperated noise. “Of all the ponies in Equestria, I had to get the one pegasus that can’t fly. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s the taste of white meat.” She huffed, and regarded Snow Bolt, who was sprawled out on the cave floor again. “Alright then, little Pot Pie. I shall teach you to fly. Then, when your flight muscles are strong enough, I will eat you.” The dragon nodded to herself, then walked away. She apparently did not require her meal's consent in the matter.
Snow Bolt watched the dragon walk to the far side of the cave, shove a handful of gems into her mouth, and begin humming to herself as she fussed with the fire. Snow Bolt thought that the dragon’s behavior seemed very unusual, but then again, she had never met a dragon before. For all she knew, this was all perfectly normal behavior for their kind.
“What’s your name?” Snow Bolt asked, her head cocked to one side.
“Hmm?” The dragon seemed to have already forgotten Snow Bolt was there. “Oh. I am called Scarlet. Scarlet Redscale.”
“I’m Snow Bolt,” she said instinctively, and immediately felt silly for doing so. The dragon called Scarlet Redscale probably didn't care how her dinner called herself.
“Hmm.” The dragon weighed the name carefully, stroking her chin. “Snow Bolt. Snow Bolt. No, that won’t do at all. I shall call you Pot Pie.”
The next day, Snow Bolt was awakened by the floor shaking as enormous, taloned feet walked around the cave. She did her best to ignore the sensation and get back to sleep.
“Pot Pie. Wake up, Pot Pie. Time for your first lesson,” said a voice.
“Mmm.” Snow Bolt rolled away from the voice.
“I said wake up!” the voice boomed. She found herself roughly scooped up and tossed a short ways, which did a good job of rousing her from her sleep. She landed on her side a few paces away with a soft grunting noise.
Rubbing her the last of the sleepy out of her eyes, Snow Bolt saw that Scarlet was already rolling aside the boulder at the cave entrance. The dragoness looked back at Snow Bolt and beckoned for her to follow. “Come on, little Pot Pie. I haven’t got all day.”
Snow Bolt begrudgingly obliged, muttering to herself as she limped towards the cave’s mouth. A part of her wished this dragon would just eat her already and be done with it, and spare her this humiliation. “Why are you doing this again?” Snow Bolt asked.
“I am teaching you to fly, Pot Pie, so that you won’t taste quite so...suburban when I eat you."
"Even assuming you can teach me to fly, what’s to stop me from flying away once you do?” Snow Bolt quipped.
Just outside the cave, Scarlet chuckled and patted the little pegasus on the head as she passed. "I suppose there may be a few ponies in Equestria that have the speed to outfly a fully-grown dragon, but you're not one of them, little Pot Pie. We'll cross that bridge if we come to it.”
“I’m hungry,” Snow Bolt complained, and it was true. The night before she had eaten only leaves from the trees Scarlet had brought into the cave for firewood, which were unsatisfying to say the least. Now her stomach was grumbling in protest and would not be silenced.
“If you display satisfactory progress today, I shall feed you. If not, you go hungry.” Scarlet plopped down on the snowy incline to one side of the cave entrance, looking somewhat bored. “Alright then, my little pony. Show me what you can do.”
Snow Bolt rolled her eyes and sighed. She spread her wings and gave a few halfhearted flaps.
“Come on, Pot Pie. You’re not even trying. If you want to eat today, I expect you to do much better than that.”
Snow Bolt glared at Scarlet, then gritted her teeth and redoubled her flapping. A few wisps of snow wafted up from the ground, but her hooves remained solidly planted. Snow Bolt even attempted a little hop in an effort to get airborne, but failed miserably. After a moment, her flight muscles tired and she stopped, panting.
Scarlet nodded to herself. “That was absolutely pathetic, Pot Pie. I think I’ve seen cows fly better than that. It’s like you’ve never even tried to fly before.”
Snow Bolt glared at Scarlet with absolute contempt, then looked down in sadness. "I didn't have anypony to teach me, okay?"
"Oh, here we go with the pity party again,” Scarlet said, rolling her eyes. “'Oh boo hoo, my mother died, boo hoo, my legs are crippled, boo hoo, I'm going to be eaten by a dragon.' I really do grow tired of your whining, Pot Pie."
Snow Bolt stamped her hoof in anger. "Look, it doesn't matter how hard I flap, I'll never be able to get off the ground. My wings are too small, you can ask anypony."
Scarlet threw up her claws in frustration. "Look, I don't know how ponies fly, but I do know how dragons fly. And by dragon standards, your wings are more than large enough. Personally, I don't see why you ponies always feel the need to go flapping around all the time anyways; it looks absolutely exhausting."
Snow Bolt was about to make an angry retort, but she was suddenly intrigued by what Scarlet had said. "You mean...dragons don't flap their wings when they fly?"
"Not if we can help it, anyways. Once we get up to altitude, we mostly use rising air currents instead. Sometimes it’s necessary, of course. We have to flap a lot while hunting, or when it’s necessary to prevent one’s dinner from tenderizing itself prematurely.” Scarlet patted her belly. "We dragons are heavy with all this armor, you see. Flapping is a lot of effort."
Snow Bolt tilted her head to one side as she considered this. "But how can you fly without flapping?"
"It's called soaring, Pot Pie, and it's the first thing a young dragon learns. You just find a place where the air rises upwards. Like right here." Scarlet pointed away from the mountain, to the west. "The wind is blowing from that direction. When it hits the mountain, it is forced to rise. If you were flying across this mountain, you would rise with it. Understand?"
Snow Bolt was not at all sure that she did. Seeing her look of confusion, Scarlet rolled her eyes and got to her feet, making a big show of just how much effort this required. "Just watch me, alright? And pay close attention, I don't want to have to show you more than once."
Snow Bolt watched as Scarlet walked over to the edge of the shelf, towards the windward side of the mountain. There was a noise like a sail unfurling as she spread her leathery wings, then Scarlet walked off the edge of the shelf. She glided into the wind a ways, then let herself drift backwards and upwards, until she was hovering directly above Snow Bolt, about fifty feet in the air.
"See, Pot Pie?" Scarlet called down. "No flapping required. If the air here were still, I'd be gliding downwards and forwards. But since the wind here is flowing upwards and backwards, I can hover here if I wish. Understand?"
With her neck craned upwards, Snow Bolt nodded. She thought she understood, but she was actually much more interested by the sight of Scarlet's massive wings stretched wide above her.
"Good," said Scarlet. "Now you try." Suddenly, Scarlet folded back her wings and dove towards her. She shrieked and tried to scamper away, but it was no use. Scarlet scooped up the little pony in her enormous claws and glided back into the wind, as Snow Bolt screamed and struggled in the dragon's grasp.
"Stop your squirming, Pot Pie!" said Scarlet, as she tried to keep the wriggling filly from slipping through her claws. "Do you really want me to drop you?"
Snow Bolt looked down and froze. They were already a few hundred feet above the face of the mountain, which was itself impossibly high above the valley floor. She gasped in terror, stopped her squirming, and instead wrapped all four legs around Scarlet's massive index finger.
Scarlet sighed in exasperation. "You won't learn to fly like that, pony. Now come on, I haven't got all day," she said, prying Snow Bolt from her finger. "Look, just stand in my claw, will you? I promise, no harm will come to you. Stand!"
She was set on her hooves in the palm of Scarlet's right claw, but her legs felt like jelly beneath her, and she promptly collapsed. At Scarlet's command, she stood again, and this time remained upright. She whimpered as she looked down at the empty expanse of air separating her from the valley floor below.
"Now spread your wings," Scarlet commanded.
Snow Bolt did her best to obey, but her wings simply refused to unfold. "I can't!" she shouted back to Scarlet, tears rolling down her terrified face.
"Oh for the love of…" Scarlet said, exasperated. The dragon grabbed each of Snow Bolt’s wings in a pincer grip and manually pried them out until they were fully extended. She was now holding the young pegasus by the wingtips, as one might hold a necklace. To Snow Bolt, the sensation only compounded her terror: in part because there was no longer anything supporting her hooves, and in part because she knew the enormous dragon would have no trouble ripping her wings from her body if she so desired.
Snow Bolt was screaming in fright, but Scarlet ignored her. "Now, I'm going to let you go," the dragon said.
"No! No, please!" Snow Bolt pleaded.
"Keep your wings out, Pot Pie. Here we go." And with that, the dragon released Snow Bolt's wings, and the young filly screamed. But instead of plummeting towards the valley floor below, she felt herself drop only a few feet, then hold position in mid-air. Snow Bolt stopped screaming and gasped in shock. The sensation was like nothing she had ever felt before. She felt as if she were a marionette, suspended by her wings from an invisible puppeteer above. Behind her, Scarlet said something, but Snow Bolt was so distracted that it took her a few seconds to realize that she had been addressed.
"What?" Snow Bolt shouted, not turning her head for fear of disrupting the delicate balance she had with the air.
"I said, what are you doing with your legs? Tuck them under you!"
Snow Bolt realized that she had been furiously flailing her legs beneath her, as if she were running on an invisible patch of earth. She did as Scarlet commanded and tucked her legs beneath her body.
A curious sensation overtook Snow Bolt as she hovered there. Time seemed to slow down, and she suddenly became keenly aware of the sound of her own breath in her ears, the sensation of wind on her face, and most importantly, the feeling of being supported by her own two wings, held aloft by the rising wind as it rushed to go up and over the mountain. She became aware of the delicate equilibrium that existed between her wings and the air to hold her in place.
I'm flying! I'm actually flying! No sooner than she had the thought, however, a slight shift in the wind disrupted the delicate balance, and Snow Bolt lost control. She gave a little shriek as she spun away, but she was quickly caught by Scarlet's claw.
Still hovering in the air herself, Scarlet brought the little pegasus up to her face. She regarded Snow Bolt with one giant, ruby-colored eye. "Enjoyed that, did we?" the dragon asked. Instead answering, Snow Bolt turned and looked back into the wind.
"Shall we try again?" Scarlet asked. Snow Bolt looked back and nodded emphatically.
* * *
Scarlet spent the next few hours teaching Snow Bolt how to hover in place. She hovered just behind the young pegasus, her claws poised to catch Snow Bolt if she lost control and spun out. As the morning wore on, this happened less and less often. Early in the afternoon, Scarlet decided that Snow Bolt had made enough progress to warrant a small lunch break. The dragon used her hot breath to melt a patch of snow not far from the cave door, revealing a patch of minty mountain grass for Snow Bolt to eat. Snow Bolt quickly finished her meal, then sat and stared at Scarlet patiently while she finished hers, eager to get back in the air.
Learning to fly in this way seemed completely foreign to Snow Bolt. There were virtually no pegasi in Vanhoover, but her mother had told her about how she had learned to fly when she was a filly. Snow Bolt gathered that most pegasi learned to fly by simply standing in place and beating their wings. When their wings grew to the requisite size and strength, they would simply lift off the ground under their own power, and that was that. The way Scarlet was showing her, the way she gathered all dragons learned to fly, was a completely different approach. As far as she knew, it was completely unknown to ponykind.
By mid-afternoon, Snow Bolt was almost completely comfortable with hovering in-place, and had even learned to take off and land from the shelf on her own. By subtly shifting her weight and wing position, she learned maintain a balance with the air under her wings, and keep from spinning out. When Scarlet was satisfied that Snow Bolt would not lose control and pulverize herself on the rocks, she allowed the little Pegasus to fly solo. Scarlet, meanwhile, kept one eye on her from the shelf below, idly munching on gems from an enormous golden bowl while reading a book that seemed microscopic in her enormous claws.
The sun was low on the horizon when Scarlet finally insisted that the little pegasus come in for the evening.
"Aww!" said Snow Bolt. "Just five more minutes?"
Scarlet put her claws on her enormous hips. "Well, well!" she said. "It seems my little Pot Pie has found that flying agrees with her. Is this the same pony that was insisting just this morning that her wings were too small to fly?"
Snow Bolt's pride was not wounded. She would gladly admit that her dragon captor had been right and she had been wrong; that was no longer important to her. The only thing that mattered now getting back in the air, by any means necessary. Snow Bolt stared up at Scarlet, her eyes begging.
Scarlet chuckled. "Alright, little Pot Pie. Five more minutes. Then I expect you to come into the cave on your own, without my having to come fetch you. Understood?"
"Yay!" Snow Bolt galloped to the edge of the shelf, spread her wings, and leapt off. Scarlet, meanwhile, went back into the cave to resume her dinner preparations.
Despite Snow Bolt's promise to return to the cave on her own, fifteen minutes later Scarlet was forced to come and fetch the young pegasus. Standing on the edge of the shelf, she reached up and plucked Snow Bolt out of mid-air like apple from a tree. "Such a disobedient little Pot Pie," Scarlet said, tossing her into the cave. Instead of landing roughly on the ground, Snow Bolt spread her wings in mid-air and glided gracefully to the floor. She turned and grinned a smug little grin at Scarlet.
"I suppose you're feeling pretty proud of yourself, aren't you little Pot Pie?" Scarlet said, rolling the boulder back in place at the mouth of the cave. "It may interest you to know that young dragons learn to soar only a week or two after they're born. Your flying skills, as of now, do not even equal that of an infant dragon."
Scarlet's derision did nothing to hamper Snow Bolt's euphoria. She pranced and danced and reared around the cave. She galloped from one side to the other, wings spread wide, making little zooming noises as she went.
“Dinner's nearly done, Pot Pie,” Scarlet said after a while. “See if you can find a bowl or something to eat out of in there.” She gestured at the large pile of gold and gems in one corner of the cave. Snow Bolt did as she was told, and after some rummaging managed to find an enormous golden goblet. The bowl part was almost large enough for her to fit in, but it was the smallest she could find. Scarlet took one last sip from her enormous spoon and, satisfied with the flavor, took the goblet from Snow Bolt and filled it to the brim with a still-boiling stew. "You'll have to eat around the gems, I imagine," Scarlet said, setting the goblet back down in front of her.
Snow Bolt sniffed at the brew suspiciously, then made a face. "Eat up, Pot Pie," Scarlet commanded. "I'll not have my meat getting stringy." Snow Bolt had no spoons, so she took a sip from the lip of the enormous goblet with a small slurping noise.
"Mmm!" Snow Bolt said aloud. Scarlet's stew, whatever it was, turned out to be delicious, at once sweet and savory. Snow Bolt took another swig, awkwardly tipping the goblet towards her with one hoof as she drank.
Before long, both dragon and pony had had their fill. They both leaned back and rubbed their full bellies contentedly.
Scarlet yawned and scratched. "What did you think, Pot Pie? Any good?"
"Mm-hmm." Snow Bolt said, her eyes closed and a little smile on her lips.
"Would have been better with young pegasus though, don't you think? Give the broth a bit more bite?"
Snow Bolt only shook her head. Scarlet's constant threats of consumption could only be taken seriously so many times before they started to lose their weight. And anyways, today Snow Bolt had flown. Even the imminent threat of being devoured could not damper her mood.
Scarlet picked up her book again and went back to her reading. After Snow Bolt was feeling not quite so full, she resumed her zooming around the cave floor. As the fire under the cauldron burned down to coals, Scarlet's yawning became more and more frequent.
"Alright then, little Pot Pie, time for bed. I may decide to eat you for breakfast, so try not to stay up too late, alright?" And with that, Scarlet carefully put her book away, flopped down next to the fire, and was snoring just a few minutes later.
Snow Bolt, however, was not ready for sleep. She continued sprinting back and forth across the cave. Galloping at top speed, she discovered she could just barely get enough wind across her wings to allow for brief, leaping glides. She kept this up for fifteen whole minutes, but it was only when she tried to climb up the dragon's pile of gold in order to glide off that she finally awoke Scarlet from her slumber.
"Pot Pie!" The dragon bellowed. "What in the world are you doing? Scurry, scurry, scurrying around all over the place! Why, I have a mind to gobble you up right now. Go to sleep!"
Snow Bolt slinked away, wearing a sheepish grin like a filly who'd been caught with her hoof in the cookie jar. Reluctantly, she found her little bed of grass by the fire and lay down, giggling to herself all the while. When she eventually dozed off, she had the first flying dream she'd had in a long, long time.
The next day, Snow Bolt woke mid-morning to find the boulder at the mouth of the cave had been rolled away. Suddenly remembering the previous day's adventure, she scrambled to her hooves and ran as fast as she could towards the mouth of the cave and the shelf beyond. As she approached the ledge, she spread her wings and leapt off.
"Woo-hoo!" she shouted triumphantly. She had expected the rising wind to catch her wings and hold her aloft. Instead, she found herself falling like a stone towards the rocks below.
She flailed in mid-air for a moment before crashing on the steep, scree-covered slope below the ledge. She bounced a few times and slid a short distance before coming to a stop on her face.
"Ow," Snow Bolt groaned. As she awkwardly twisted herself around and got to her feet, she heard boisterous laughter coming from above her. Turning, she saw a great, scaly face smirking down at her from the ledge.
"Were you trying to zest yourself for me, Pot Pie? How thoughtful."
Snow Bolt muttered under her breath and examined her injuries. She was scraped and bruised in places, but no worse for the wear. She painfully began making her way back up the slope.
"As you may have noticed, there is no wind today," Scarlet said.
"You don't say?" said Snow Bolt sarcastically, grunting as she hoisted herself back up onto the ledge.
"...and no wind means no lift, and no lift means no soaring practice for little Pot Pies." Scarlet patted Snow Bolt on the head derisively, then went back to her sweeping. Scarlet was using a full-grown willow tree to sweep the night's snowfall away from the cave's entrance.
"The winds may pick up in the afternoon. You'll just have to find some other way to entertain yourself until then." she called over her shoulder. "There's plenty of stew left over for breakfast, help yourself."
Snow Bolt didn't feel like having breakfast. Instead, she turned her back to Scarlet and began hobbling around to the back side of the mountain's peak to sulk.
It took her the better part of an hour to trudge through the snow to the opposite face of the mountain. There was only one tree hardy enough to survive on the mountain peak that was Scarlet's home, a lonely old oak tree that sat on the slope opposite the cave, sheltered from the worst of the wind and snow. The ground beneath the tree was free of snow at the moment, so Snow Bolt sat down beneath its branches and leaned her back against its trunk.
She closed her eyes and sighed. Now that she had had a taste of flying, it was all she wanted to do. Being grounded by the lack of wind was so frustrating.
She growled and roughly rapped the back of her head against the tree. A second later a pile of snow fell from the tree's branches above, completely covering her from head to tail.
Snow Bolt groaned. She did not move from her bed of snow, content to wallow in her bad luck for a moment. Then an acorn fell from above and bounced off Snow Bolt's head, then another. At first she did not react, but then she heard a strange, high-pitched noise coming from somewhere above her. She looked up just as a terrified, squealing brown squirrel landed on her face, amid a shower of a half-dozen more acorns. Startled, Snow Bolt shrieked and stumbled backwards, out of her bed of snow. The squirrel similarly squeaked in terror, leaped off Snow Bolt's face, and scurried around to the other side of the tree, out of sight.
All was silent for a moment as Snow Bolt recovered from the shock, catching her breath. After a long moment, a small brown face peeked out from around the tree and stared at Snow Bolt curiously.
Snow Bolt felt bad for dislodging the poor little squirrel from its perch in the tree. "Hi there, little friend. Are you okay? I'm so sorry!"
Nervously, the squirrel rounded the tree, coming into full view.
"Well hi there little fella," said Snow Bolt.
The squirrel put its claws on its hips, furrowed its tiny brow, and proceeded to sass Snow Bolt in a rapid, high-pitched chitter. Snow Bolt could not decipher its speech, but its body language was easy enough to understand. "Oh! You're a girl. I'm sorry," she said apologetically. The squirrel nodded and crossed her tiny arms, apparently not entirely forgiving Snow Bolt for the insult.
"I'm Snow Bolt," she offered. "What's your name?"
The squirrel chittered incomprehensibly for a moment. Snow Bolt shook her head. "I'm sorry, I don't speak squirrel," she apologized again.
The squirrel looked annoyed for a moment, then looked around. She grabbed a few of the acorns strewn around the base of the tree. These she shoved a few in her cheeks, until they stretched and bulged from their cargo. The squirrel turned back to Snow Bolt and spread her arms wide, as if this gesture was supposed to answer Snow Bolt's question.
Snow Bolt cocked her head to the side, confused. "Your name is Acorn?" she asked.
The squirrel shot Snow Bolt a look. Then the squirrel patted her engorged cheeks with her tiny claws. "Your name is uh... Hungry? Greedy?" The squirrel shook her head and pointed to each of her cheeks individually. "Uh...cheek?" The squirrel made a circular motion. "Cheeks? Cheeky?” Ecstatic, the squirrel jumped up and down, one paw touching her nose and the other pointed at Snow Bolt. "Cheeky, that's it!" Snow Bolt giggled. It was such a fitting name for a squirrel. With the need for visual aids over, Cheeky unceremoniously spat all the acorns back onto the ground.
"Well, it's nice to meet you, Cheeky."
Cheeky smiled, then gasped as a thought suddenly occurred to her. She looked from Snow Bolt to the branches above, then back again. She knocked her claws together as she considered something, then hopped up onto the lowest branch and beckoned for Snow Bolt to follow.
"You want me to come with you?" Snow Bolt asked. "I'm really not much good at climbing trees." Cheeky looked down at Snow Bolt and put her claws together, a pleading look on her face. "Oh...alright. I can try, anyways." Snow Bolt said.
The oak tree's first branch was not very high off the ground, and by walking up the mountain's slope a short ways, Snow Bolt was able to jump atop it. Her hooves felt unsure on the branch's slick bark, but she carefully made her way back to the trunk. Cheeky had hopped up to the next highest branch, and beckoned her again. Snow Bolt eyed the jump for a moment uncertainly, but eventually she decided she could make it. She stood on her hind legs, hooked her front hooves over the branch, then put one hoof in a knot in the trunk and pulled herself up. Cheeky applauded, then scurried up to the next highest branch and beckoned Snow Bolt again.
"Higher? Gosh, I dunno..." Snow Bolt looked down at the ground. The branch she was on now was on now faced the downard slope of the mountain, and was actually quite high off the ground. A fall from this height would almost certainly result in a nasty sprain, if not a broken leg. Plus, the distance between the second and third branches was higher than the first and second branches had been, and would require a jump.
Cheeky made another pleading gesture, then held her claws a small distance apart, to show that it was only a little further. Snow Bolt eyed the branch, bit her lip, and decided to go for it. She squatted low, checked her footing, and leaped up with all her strength. She managed to hook her forelegs over the branch, and for a terrifying minute she dangled there. Then her hind hoof found purchase against the trunk, and she managed to heft herself onto the branch. Breathing hard, she straddled the branch and gave a sigh of relief.
"Alright." Snow Bolt addressed the squirrel, who was perched just in front of her on the branch. "Now what exactly did you bring me up here for?"
Cheeky scurried around Snow Bolt to the main trunk of the tree. Just above the branch where Snow Bolt was sitting, the trunk split into several large branches. It was into the crotch of the branches that the little squirrel was now pointing. Snow Bolt stood on her hind legs and peered down at what Cheeky was indicating. In a little pocket formed by the tree's splitting branches, a pool of water had accumulated and apparently frozen over. And beneath the ice, Snow Bolt could just make out a large cache of acorns.
"Oh! Your acorns!" Snow Bolt said. The little squirrel jumped up and down on the ice a few times to demonstrate the problem, then looked up at Snow Bolt, a pleading look on her furry little face. "Well, I can't make any promises, but I'l see what I can do." Snowbolt said. She tapped experimentally at the ice with her hoof, then pounded harder and harder at it. Finally, the ice gave way, and Snow Bolt brushed the shards of ice away.
Cheeky squealed in delight, and greedily started stuffing her cheeks from the cache of acorns. When her cheeks could hold no more, the little squirrel scurried off to the edge of the branch, only to return a second later to give Snow Bolt's ankle a lingering embrace.
"Aww, no problem little friend!" Snow Bolt said with a smile.
Cheeky scurried out onto the branch again, gave one last acorn-filled smile, and then leapt off the branch and into the open air. Snow Bolt was concerned for a moment, until she saw the little squirrel spread her arms and legs, revealing hidden folds of skin that allowed the little squirrel to glide gracefully down the slope.
Snow Bolt stared, slack-jawed, as she watched the flying squirrel glide out of sight. "Show-off," she muttered to herself, then set about climbing back down the tree.
* * *
Despite Snow Bolt's most earnest wishes, the winds did not pick up that afternoon. The little filly spent the remainder of the day on the westward side of the mountain, resting her head in her hooves. At every faint gust of wind she would perk up hopefully, only to be disappointed again as it died again. As the sun set, Scarlet returned from gathering firewood to find the little filly still sitting in the spot where she left her.
"Come inside, Pot Pie. I'll be closing the door soon." Scarlet said. Snow Bolt only sighed in response. "Well, stay out here, then. You'll probably keep better frozen, anyways." Snow Bolt rolled her eyes, then begrudgingly followed the dragon inside.
There was stew for dinner again that night. After their meal, Snow Bolt entertained herself by sprinting back and forth across the floor of the cave and making short, jumping glides. Scarlet, meanwhile, was reading from a novel, delicately gripping the tiny thing with her claws while she munched on handfuls of gems.
After a while, Scarlet stopped reading and rubbed her eyes. "You there, Pot Pie. Can you read?"
Snow Bolt came to a stop. "Of course I can read," she said, offended that Scarlet would even ask.
"Good," Scarlet said. "Come and make yourself useful." She held out the book for Snow Bolt to take. "Be careful not to lose my page."
Snow Bolt carefully took the book from Scarlet's grasp. The title read: Dusty Cornshucker and the Quest for the Fairy’s Gold. The cover depicted a young earth pony colt in medieval peasant garb, holding a wooden sword and a shield made of woven hay.
Snow Bolt opened the book again, and began to read, dubiously.
“’Thank you for finding my lost lamb, Dusty,’ the filly said to him. ‘No thanks are necessary, m’lady, for as a knight I am sworn to…’”
"Speak up, Pot Pie!" Scarlet plucked Snow Bolt off the ground in a pincer grip and placed the little pony on top of the pile of gold and gems, near the dragon's head.
Snow Bolt was still not accustomed to being pony-handled by an enormous dragon, and was a little unsettled by the trip. She tentatively found her place again and resumed.
“Uhh… ‘No thanks necessary, m’lady, for as a knight I am sworn to help all those in need.’ ‘Nevertheless,’ the filly continued, ‘your bravery should be rewarded. Is there anything I might do to repay you?’ ‘M’lady,’ Dusty replied, ‘I say again that my duty is its own reward. However, I am now at this time on a noble quest to recover a sacred artifact which is said to be hidden around these parts.’”
Scarlet laid with her back reclined against the pile of gold and gems, folded her claws over her stomach, and closed her eyes while she listened to Snow Bolt read. Snow Bolt read for several hours, until she was interrupted in mid-sentence by a yawn from Scarlet.
"Alright, Pot Pie. That's enough for tonight. Bookmark that page so I can find it tomorrow, then put the book on the bookshelf over there."
Snow Bolt carefully placed a gold coin from the pile in between the book's pages, then slid down the pile and put the book away on the bookshelf. She turned to Scarlet, who had already rolled over and seemed to be trying to settle for sleep.
"Tomorrow can we practice soaring some more?" Snow Bolt asked.
"If the winds pick up," Scarlet said through a yawn, "and I don't decide to eat you for breakfast. Now go to sleep, Pot Pie."
Snow Bolt found her spot next to the enormous fire and lay down herself. Before long, she was fast asleep.
Snow Bolt was awakened by a nudge from one of Scarlet's enormous toes. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, while Scarlet made her way to the mouth of the cave. As she rolled the door aside, a brisk winter wind whipped all through the cave, blowing a small flurry of snow with it.
"Yes!" Snow Bolt cried, and galloped outside. She stopped at the lip of the ledge and looked out across the snowy valley, smiling as she felt the brisk winter wind on her face.
Scarlet was still by the mouth of the cave, unfurling some large piece of fabric. Snow Bolt realized that it was the canopy of a hot-air balloon, and from the say she was carrying it, Snow Bolt surmised that Scarlet used it as a sort of purse. "I'm going out, Pot Pie. If you think you've got the hang of hovering, you can experiment with soaring back and forth across the face of the cliff. If you display satisfactory progress, I shall feed you again tonight. And don't try to fly away while I'm gone, or I'll grind you into a sausage."
"I won't!" Snow Bolt called back, already preparing to launch herself off the ledge. As Scarlet flew off to the south, Snow Bolt backed away from the ledge until she had room for a running start. She scraped each hoof on the ground, then sprinted headlong into the wind and leaped off the ledge. As she spread her wings, the wind caught her and gently held her aloft, and she squealed with joy at the sensation.
After gaining some altitude and hovering in place for a moment, Snow Bolt was ready to do as Scarlet suggested and try gliding back and forth across the cliff. She was somewhat unnerved at the prospect, and hovered for several minutes more while she gathered her courage. When she was ready, she took a deep breath and dipped her left wing ever so slightly, and she slowly veered southward. It seemed to be going well at first, and she started a slow, easy glide along the mountain's face. But she found her turn was not stopping after she was parallel to slope face, and her course was now taking her uncomfortably close to the mountain. In a panic, she tried to steer back into the wind, overcorrected, and found herself upside-down and plummeting straight downwards.
Snow Bolt squealed as she struggled to regain control. After much flailing and twisting, she managed to right herself and open her wings, but not soon enough to avoid colliding with the snow-covered slope of the mountain. She landed roughly, rolled and slid down the slope a short ways, then came to a stop flat on her back in the snow. She did not try to rise right away, but instead stared upwards at the clouds and waited for them to stop spinning.
Presently, she heard a small scampering sound in the snow, coming from beside her. She turned her head to see a familiar brown squirrel making her way through the snow toward her.
“Cheeky!” Snow Bolt said, smiling.
The squirrel’s tiny face showed concern. She chittered worriedly at Snow Bolt.
“Oh, I’m fine,” Snow Bolt said, slowly raising herself to a sitting position. “I’m just learning to fly, as you may have noticed.”
The flying squirrel chittered affirmative.
Snow Bolt narrowed her eyes, feigning suspicion. “Were you spying on me?” she asked.
Cheeky put her tiny claws behind her back and nodded abashedly. Snow Bolt laughed and waved her off. “It’s alright, I don’t mind. I imagine I’m probably pretty entertaining to watch. Have any pointers for me?”
Cheeky nodded, then scurried over to Snow Bolt and stood on one of her hooves. The squirrel made a gesture with her claws that looked like she was tossing something straight upwards.
“You want me to toss you?” Snow Bolt asked. Cheeky nodded and turned to face the wind. The filly was worried about hurting her new friend, but she supposed the little squirrel knew what she was doing. She took Cheeky in both hooves and tossed her straight upwards. Cheeky spread her arms and legs at the top of the arc, and the rising air caught the membrane between her wrists and ankles, and the little squirrel came to a hover directly above where Snow Bolt was sitting. Then Cheeky veered to the left and soared along the slope for a short ways, then turned back and soared to the right. She looked down at Snow Bolt for a moment before repeating the maneuver, this time more slowly and deliberately so Snow Bolt could observe.
After repeating the move a few more times, Cheeky landed in front of Snow Bolt and demonstrated the turn on the ground, perched upon a rock with her flying flaps outstretched. Snow Bolt watched carefully as the little squirrel mimed a roll and turn, and more critically, a counter-turn. Cheeky turned back around, miming that the young pegasus should imitate her, which she did. Cheeky mimed a turn to the left, then froze in that position. When Snow Bolt was in the same position, Cheeky turned and held both her tiny paws out, indicating that she should freeze. Cheeky considered Snow Bolt’s posture for a moment while she stroked her tiny chin, then scurried up Snow Bolt’s leg and onto her back.
Snow Bolt giggled as the squirrel’s paws tickled her hide. Cheeky promptly scurried to the top of her head and leaned far over to look Snow Bolt in the eye, chiding Snow Bolt for her outburst.
“Right!” Snow Bolt forced herself to suppress her giggles. “Okay, I’m sorry.” She resumed her previous stance, with her wings outstretched and angled to the left. Cheeky scurried back onto her wings. She hopped up and down on Snow Bolt’s left wing, and Snow Bolt lowered it to a position about ten degrees down from horizontal. Cheeky then went to the other wing, grabbing the feathers on its outer tip and prying them upwards until Snow Bolt lifted it to a position just short of vertical. Cheeky then scurried back down Snow Bolt’s leg and back down onto the rock, considering Snow Bolt’s posture again. Apparently satisfied, Cheeky then turned around on her rock and mimed a turn to the right. Snow Bolt followed suit, and Cheeky again scurried onto the pony’s back to adjust her wings to the correct position.
Snow Bolt thought she understood where she made her mistake the first time. She had dipped the wing of the side she was steering to, but from Cheeky’s corrections she gathered that it was better to instead raise the wing on the opposite side. After scurrying back down to her rock, Cheeky made Snow Bolt demonstrate the posture for both left and right turns in quick succession until the moves became second nature. Once satisfied, the little squirrel crawled atop Snow Bolt’s head. She grabbed a lock of the filly's mane in each claw, which she apparently meant to use as reins. At Snow Bolt’s hesitation, Cheeky shook the locks gently and made a noise that resembled “giddap.”
Snow Bolt giggled. “Well, okay. So long as you know what you’re in for,” she said. She galloped into the wind, leapt off, and came to a hover as she had before. Atop her head, cheeky leaned over to look Snow Bolt in the eye, then chittered a question.
“Ready if you are!” Snow Bolt replied. With that, Cheeky gave Snow Bolt’s mane a firm tug to the left, and Snow Bolt adjusted her wings to the posture Cheeky had shown her on the ground. She banked left, and she found herself drifting to the left along the cliff’s face. Just a second or two after, Cheeky gave Snow Bolt’s mane a firm tug to the right. Snow Bolt adjusted her wings to the opposite position until she was level again, and she found herself drifting steadily along the cliff’s face.
“Yeah!” Snow Bolt shouted, but with a quick spur of her heels, Cheeky made it clear that it was not yet time to celebrate. They soared south, following the face of the slope. After a time, Cheeky tugged Snow Bolt’s mane hard to the right, and they turned back to the north, steering and countersteering in turn. Soaring perpendicular to the wind’s direction proved to be more challenging that flying headlong into it, and many small corrections from Cheeky were needed to keep from losing control. After a few more passes back and forth across the slope, however, Snow Bolt began to get the hang of it, and little by little Cheeky let her impromptu reins go slack. Some time later, she jumped off of Snow Bolt’s back completely and soared alongside Snow Bolt as she flew.
They flew all morning and into the afternoon, until Snow Bolt decided to take a break for lunch. After the pair landed on the ledge, Cheeky mimed that it was time for her to go.
“Okay, little friend! Thanks for all your help today!” Snow Bolt said. With a final chitter and wave, Cheeky leapt off the ledge and began her glide back down to the valley floor.
Snow Bolt stopped only long enough to eat a few mouthfuls of grass she dug out of the snowy mountainside with her hoof, then resumed her practicing. As the hours wore on, her confidence grew, and she was now gliding back and forth across the face of the cliff with ease.
She was still practicing when Scarlet returned late in the afternoon with a full balloon-purse. “Hi, Scarlet!” Snow Bolt called and waved as she passed over the ledge. The progress Snow Bolt had made that day had left her in a very good mood.
Scarlet landed on the ledge and watched Snow Bolt for a few moments. “Well, aren’t you just the delicate butterfly,” Scarlet said. “Is that all you’ve done today? Just float back and forth like a bit of rubbish caught in a breeze?” Scarlet shook her head sadly. “That barely qualifies as progress, but I suppose I can expect no more from a mere pony.”
As Scarlet turned to go inside the cave, Snow Bolt stuck her tongue out at the dragon’s back. Scarlet’s criticism was not without sting, but there were few things that could really bother Snow Bolt while she was flying. Snow Bolt practiced gliding back and forth across the cliff for another hour or two, until Scarlet called her in.
After dinner Snow Bolt read more Dusty Cornshucker to Scarlet from atop the mound of gold and jewels. After an hour of reading, Snow Bolt came to a part of the story where Dusty was missing his home.
“Dusty curled up under his blanket and tried to get to sleep, but he could not help but think about home. He thought about what his parents must be doing right now. His mother would be reading his little brother a bedtime story. His father would be just coming from his workshop, where he spent most of his nights repairing the farm’s various machines and tools. In that moment, Dusty didn’t care about his adventure or his quest, or fortune or glory. He just wanted to be back at home, so he could help his mother put his little brother to bed and help his…father put away his tools…”
Snow Bolt’s voice caught in her throat, and she sniffled and wiped away a tear. She found herself overcome with a sudden longing for her father, who was also a tinkerer and spent most evenings in their garage repairing various household gizmos.
Scarlet made an exasperated noise and sat up. “By the goddess, Pot Pie! Just when I thought your little voice couldn’t get any more pathetic. What in Equus is wrong with you?”
Snow Bolt glared at the dragon and wiped another tear from her face. “I miss home, okay? You did sort of kidnap me, remember?”
Scarlet snorted a blast of hot breath. “Oh, here we go with the Pot Pie pity party again. I might remind you that you would have never been kidnapped if you hadn't run away in the first place.”
“I miss my daddy, okay?” That opened the floodgates completely, and Snow Bolt began to sob. “I miss him, and he’s probably worried sick about me.”
Scarlet yawned. “I really find it difficult to believe that anyone could miss a pathetic little morsel like you. Can’t fly, forever complaining…” Scarlet gave a little chuckle. “If I were him, I should think I’d be happy that you’re gone.”
Snow Bolt sprinted down the pile of gold and gems and charged towards the enormous dragon, stopping just short of her big toe. “That’s not true!” she shouted.
“Oh really?” Scarlet folded her arms. “Didn't I hear you say that he was the one who sent you away in the first place? If he loves you so much, why would he do that?”
Snow Bolt was indignant. “He only sent me away because he thought it would be best for me! I know it hurt him, but he wouldn't have done it if he didn't think it was for the best. I know he really loves me, and I…” Snow Bolt’s voice faltered. Her anger was swiftly replaced with sadness, and she sat down on the cave floor and closed her eyes. “…and I love him too.”
Snow Bolt sobbed softly to herself for a moment, while Scarlet silently looked on. Finally, Scarlet sighed and turned away. “Pot Pie, of all the ponies I’ve eaten over the years, you are by far the most dramatic.” Scarlet lay down on the cave floor and rolled away from her. “That’s enough reading for now. Do try not to cry too much tonight, won’t you? I may decide to eat you for breakfast, and tears will make your coat all bitter.”
Still sobbing, Snow Bolt curled up by the fire. She thought about home, and about her father, and how worried he must be about her. She thought about her mother too, and how much she missed her. For the first time she also thought about what her father must have felt when she died, and what he must be feeling now that he thought he his only daughter was dead too. Eventually, she sobbed herself into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Snow Bolt was feeling better in the morning. She still missed her home and her father, but the sadness was under control, at least. The knowledge that another day of soaring practice lay ahead of her improved her mood significantly. She saw that the door of the cave had already been rolled away, and outside the winter sky was bright and clear.
Stepping outside, she saw Scarlet was already at work sweeping away the night’s snowfall from the ledge. “Good morning, Pot Pie,” Scarlet said without looking.
Snow Bolt was still a little upset with Scarlet for what she had said the night before. “Good morning,” she said flatly.
“The winds are a little lighter this morning than they were yesterday,” Scarlet said, “but it should be enough to fly in, and should pick up more in a few hours. You seem to turn well enough, so today you should focus on improving your speed.”
Snow Bolt nodded, then sprinted off the ledge and into the brisk morning wind. She first hovered for a moment to get her bearings, then turned to the south and began soaring back and forth across the face of the slope. She tried her best to gain more speed, but after experimenting with several different wing positions, succeeded only in flailing awkwardly in mid-air.
Below, Snow Bolt heard Scarlet groan at her efforts. “Absolute rubbish. Come here, Pot Pie. Watch me.” Scarlet reached up and snatched Snow Bolt out of the air in mid-flight. She held the little pony up at eye level in her claw. “Pot Pie, you are not so much flying as floating,” Scarlet said. She raised her wings above her so that they formed a right angle with each other. “Right now, you are gliding like a butterfly. Soaring with your wings high like this makes you more stable in flight, like a pendulum. But it's also much slower. You must learn to fly with your wings more level.” Scarlet leveled her wings to the horizon to demonstrate. “And here,” Scarlet then wiggled the trailing edge of her wings up and down. "You fly with your wings tilted too far back. Your wings cup the air like a... like a spoon. Instead, your wings should slice through the air, like a knife." Scarlet leveled her wings and whipped them forward to demonstrate. "Understand?"
Snow Bolt nodded.“I think so,” she said. With that, Scarlet turned Snow Bolt around, tossed her into the wind like foal's paper airplane, then went back to her sweeping.
Snow Bolt soared back and forth a few times to get her bearings again, then tried to implement what Scarlet had said. Instead of flying with her wings upwards at an angle, she brought them downwards until they were almost level with the horizon. She immediately noticed a loss in stability, but her soaring practice from the days prior had accustomed her to making small adjustments and keeping herself from rolling over. In just a few moments, she had adjusted to the change, and she was definitely to be making the trip from one side of the slope to the other in much less time.
Next she tried tilting her wings downward, changing her “angle of attack” as Scarlet had called it. But when she tilted the leading edge of her wings downward to be more level with the horizon, the lift beneath them seemed to give out all at once. Each time she tried, she found herself plummeting downwards until she panicked and put her wings back to the old position.
Snow Bolt tried this a few times more, growing more and more and more frustrated each time. Scarlet, who had stopped sweeping for a moment to watch her, called out to her. “Do not doubt your wings, Pot Pie!"
It took Snow Bolt a few moments to understand what Scarlet meant. She used the next few passes to gain as much altitude as she could, then took a couple more to steel her nerves. After completing a turn to the north, she took a deep breath and tilted her wings downward.
She plummeted downwards toward the snow-and-scree covered slope as before, but this time she forced herself not to panic and kept her wings at the angle Scarlet had shown her. Then, just as she was sure she was going to crash into the slope, something remarkable happened. She once again felt the familiar sensation of lift underneath her wings, and her trajectory leveled out. She was once again soaring northwards along the face of the slope, but now she was going fast.
“Whoa!” Snow Bolt said aloud. She had covered the distance from the north side of the slope to the south one in only a fraction of the time it had taken her before, and it was already time to turn. She banked left the way Cheeky had taught her and steered around until she had reversed her course, all the while keeping her wings in their new orientation. She had barely finished her turn when she found herself already at the opposite end of the slope, and had to repeat the process again.
After a few more passes, Snow Bolt began to understand. With the leading edge of her wings high, the rising wind from the slope could only just hold her aloft, like a parachute. But with her wings more level, her wings would only support her if the wind were moving across them at great speed. Thus, when she shifted from one position to the other, she dropped lower and accelerated.
Compared to the speed she had been flying at before, gliding in her new posture seemed positively breakneck. It took Snow Bolt several dozen passes before she began to feel comfortable with it. She was at first confused by the strange sound from just behind her as she flew, until she realized that it was the sound of her own wings whooshing through the air. Before long, she was enjoying herself immensely.
“Yee-haw!” Snow Bolt whooped as she banked through another turn. Scarlet, who had finished her sweeping and was now lounging with a book near the mouth of the cave, looked up and watched her for a moment. Knowing Scarlet as she did, Snow Bolt interpreted her lack of derision as a compliment.
Snow Bolt did not want to stop for lunch, but eventually the burning in her flight muscles forced her to land. She set down on the ledge and gingerly stretched and folded her wings back against her side. Gliding at high speeds, and turning in particular, required much more exertion than the gentle floating she had been doing before.
Scarlet had finished her sweeping and gone back inside the cave. Snow Bolt could have joined her inside and had some soup left over from dinner last night, but instead simply cleared a small patch of snow with her hoof and munched on the minty grass beneath while she enjoyed the view.
Her thoughts were interrupted when a familiar brown squirrel scurried around the bend towards her. “Cheeky!” Snow Bolt said, and rushed over to meet her new friend She scooped Cheeky up with one hoof and brought her up to eye level. As she did so, Cheeky hopped excitedly and nuzzled Snow Bolt's nose in greeting.
“Guess what, guess what!” Snow Bolt said. “I can fly so fast now! Scarlet showed me how!”
Cheeky made a high-pitched gasp and clapped her paws together, then scurried up Snow Bolt’s arm, up her back, and mounted atop her head. She spurred her mount excitedly as she tugged on Snow Bolt’s mane.
“You want to see, huh? Alright, let me show you.” Snow Bolt got a short running start, spread her wings and leapt into the wind. At first she assumed her old flight posture, soaring gently back and forth a few times until she gained enough altitude. “Okay, hang on tight,” she said, then she dove and assumed the new posture. Atop her head, she could feel Cheeky squeak in panic and tighten her grip on her mane as she hurtled towards the slope below. Cheeky’s grip did not relax until Snow Bolt had leveled out and completed a few turns, at which point Cheeky began to squeak excitedly.
The two of them flew together for the better part of an hour, with Cheeky riding atop Snow Bolt’s head. After some time, Cheeky dismounted Snow Bolt’s head in mid-flight and tried to fly alongside her. The flying squirrel was no longer able to keep up with Snow Bolt, but by keeping to the inside of every turn while Snow Bolt swung wide to the outside, the two found they were still able to fly alongside each other in a fashion. The pair spent the next hour practicing flying in formation together, and also matching their courses so Cheeky could mount and dismount Snow Bolt’s head in mid-flight.
Some time later, while sitting atop Snow Bolt’s head, Cheeky peered down over Snow Bolt’s brow to look the young pegasus in the eye. “What?” Snow Bolt asked. In response, the squirrel leaned over and very deliberately touched Snow Bolt’s nose before leaping off her head and gliding away in the opposite direction.
“Oh, you want to play tag, eh? You really think you can outrun me?” with that, she banked and dove after the little squirrel. She was just about to snatch the little thing with her hooves, when the little squirrel banked, completely reversing direction almost instantaneously. “Wow!” Snow Bolt said, changing direction to follow.
The two spent the remainder of the afternoon playing tag. Though Snow Bolt had the advantage in pure speed, Cheeky’s smaller size meant she had an enormous advantage in maneuverability, and the two proved to be an even match. They chased each other back and forth across the slope all afternoon and into the evening, until the sun touched the horizon and Scarlet called Snow Bolt inside. Pony and squirrel landed on the ledge and said their goodbyes.
Snow Bolt held the little squirrel in her hoof and smiled broadly. “Goodbye, little friend! I had fun today. Can we do this again soon?”
Cheeky nodded enthusiastically, and turned to leave. After a moment’s hesitation, the little squirrel instead turned back and gave Snow Bolt a hug, wrapping her tiny arms around Snow Bolt’s muzzle.
“Aww!” Snow Bolt said. The two nuzzled for a moment, and with one last wave, Cheeky leaped out of Snow Bolt’s hoof and glided down the mountain, down to wherever her home was on the valley floor below.
Snow Bolt winced as she folded her wings and walked back into the cave. The fun she’d had playing with Cheeky that afternoon had temporarily made her forget the pain in her flight muscles, but she was certainly feeling them now. She did not mind, though. The pain she felt was a righteous one, the type of pain that comes with building oneself. She decided that she liked the feeling.
That night Snow Bolt read to Scarlet again, as she had the previous few nights. Neither of them spoke of the unpleasantness from the night before, and any remaining resentment Snow Bolt held for Scarlet had vanished in the day’s excitement. As she curled up to sleep that night, Snow Bolt dreamed of flight, flying impossibly fast high above the clouds and watching all of Equestria pass beneath her.
* * *
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, life for Snow Bolt fell into a regular, if completely absurd pattern. She woke in the morning, and if the winds were favorable, she would practice gliding back and forth across the face of the slope. She would stop only briefly for lunch, taking only as much time was necessary to gobble up a meal before returning to her practice in the afternoon. About every other day or so Cheeky would join her, and the two of them would show off the latest tricks they had learned, or play tag or some other game they made up. In the evenings, Snow Bolt usually read to Scarlet until the great dragon fell asleep, and in the morning she would do it all again.
Scarlet seemed to take only a passing interest in Snow Bolt’s practicing, mostly in the form of a jeer or backhanded insult as she loitered on the ledge by the cave, reading her books and munching on precious stones. She still made casual promises to eat Snow Bolt the next day, or as soon as her meat got a little less stringy, but so far Scarlet had not made good on these. There were times that Snow Bolt wondered if Scarlet ever really intended to eat her at all, but she decided it would be best not to bring up the subject herself, lest she goad the dragon into doing just that.
All the while, she was becoming more and more competent in her soaring. She learned how the angle of the rising air steepened over each of the mountain’s folds and fingers, and she learned to pump and dive over these for extra speed. She became so familiar with the mountain’s wind patterns that she could literally fly back and forth across it with her eyes closed with complete confidence. The slope became a canvas, and Snow Bolt was the artist.
Each day her turns grew sharper and tighter. Eventually she learned to bank so far over in a turn that she was completely upside down, then dived and looped around until she was flying in the other direction. She then taught herself the reverse maneuver: performing a half-loop until she was upside-down and flying in the opposite direction, then making a half-roll to right herself again. From there, Snow Bolt knew the next logical progression was a full loop-de-loop.
One afternoon, she and Cheeky decided to go for it. The young pegasus soared back and forth across the slope until she had gained as much altitude as the winds would allow, then turned turned to face the wind and came to a hover.
“Are you sure you don’t want to let me try the first one on my own, Cheeky?” Snow Bolt asked the little squirrel perched atop her head. “I’m not really sure what will happen.”
Cheeky chittered bravely in Snow Bolt’s ear, then gripped the pegasus’ mane tightly.
“Alright then, if you’re sure. Here we go!” With that, Snow Bolt tucked her wings and began a dive.
She was going much faster than she had ever flown before, and before long the sound of rushing air in her ears was deafening. Atop her head, she could feel Cheeky hunkering down, making as small a cross-section as possible. Snow Bolt dove for a full ten seconds, and when she thought she had enough speed, flared her wings out and pulled up.
“Whoa!” Snow Bolt had been unprepared for the amount of strain trying to pitch upwards at that speed would put on her wings. It took all of the strength she possessed in her fledgling flight muscles to even keep her wings outstretched, but she managed. Pony and squirrel leveled off their dive, then continued to pitch upward until they were pointed skyward. Their speed slowed as they approached the apex of the loop, and Snow Bolt panicked for a moment and began to flail. A quick spur from Cheeky steeled her resolve, and she maintained her pitch until she was upside down, then diving once more towards the slope below. They then leveled off, completing the loop.
“Yeah! We did it!” Snow Bolt cheered. Atop her head, Cheeky also cheered and patted the filly between the eyebrows in congratulations. “Wanna go again?” Snow Bolt asked. The little squirrel chittered affirmative, and Snow Bolt began another dive.
The pair spent hours performing loop after loop in the higher reaches of the mountain that was Snow Bolt's new home. They experimented with performing fast, tight loops; straining Snow Bolt’s small wings to their limit. They also made big, lazy loops across the sky, and these Snow Bolt liked best of all. She would sometimes close her eyes at the top of each loop and relish the momentary weightlessness of free-fall.
When she thought she had gotten the hang of that, Snow Bolt decided to spice it up a bit. “I’m gonna try something Cheeky! Hold on tight!” Snow Bolt dove until she had the requisite speed, then pitched upwards and climbed. This time, however, when her trajectory was just past vertical, she tucked her wings in and arched her back, slowly tumbling backwards head over heels. After completing a full backwards somersault, she opened her wings again and continued her loop. Both she and Cheeky let out a mighty whoop as they completed the maneuver, and Cheeky spurred Snow Bolt repeatedly as if to say, “again, again!”
“Want some more, do you? Okay, here we go!” and Snow Bolt repeated the maneuver. They performed several more loops with a backwards somersault at the top, then several more with two back flips instead of one. At she rounded the bottom of another loop, Cheeky spurred her three times.
“Want to try to three, huh?” She took a moment to visualize the maneuver in her mind, then decided she could just manage it if she got up enough speed. “Alright, let’s give it a try.” She pitched downward into a dive again, this time for a full fifteen seconds, then pitched upwards as hard as the strain on her little wings would allow. When she was just past vertical, she again quickly rolled backwards, tumbling end over end over end, this time tucking herself into as small of a ball as possible. She watched ground and sky tumble around her one, two, three times. After the third, she un-balled herself and opened her wings, and found herself streaking straight downwards, already dangerously low to the mountain’s slope.
“Eep!” Snow Bolt and Cheeky squeaked together. Snow Bolt pulled up as hard as she could. Her flight muscles screamed in agony from the strain. Slowly, too slowly for comfort, she pitched upward, practically scraping the slope, but did barely manage to avoid a collision.
Snow Bolt and Cheeky cheered, but Snow Bolt’s flight muscles were also in agony after the extreme maneuver. “Ow ow ow,” she said, steering back towards the ledge and landing somewhat more roughly than usual. “Oh goddess, I am going to feel that tomorrow,” she said, gingerly folding her aching wings back against her side.
Cheeky scurried down into Snow Bolt’s hoof, looking concerned. “Oh, I’ll be fine, Cheeky. Don’t worry.” The little squirrel looked relieved, then seemed to look over Snow Bolt’s head to something behind her.
“What? What is it?” Snow Bolt asked.
In response, Cheeky grabbed a tuft of fur on top of her own head. “Oh. My mane? What’s wrong with it?” She walked over to a small overhang on the slope, where a pool of meltwater had collected. Looking down at her reflection, she saw that her mane had been blown backwards from the wind, and was now styled very much like some of the Wonderbolts' she had seen in the newspapers.
“Haha. Wow.” Snow Bolt carefully probed her new manestyle with a hoof. “You know what, Cheeky? I think I like it.”
Snow Bolt’s wings were too sore to fly for the rest of that day, and the day after. When she woke up the third day, she noticed immediately that her wings felt different. The pain was now gone, they felt stronger, and if she wasn’t mistaken they had lengthened by at least an inch or two since last she checked.
I wonder. Snow Bolt spread her wings wide and high, then beat them downward once with all her strength. As she did so, she felt her hooves lift off the cave floor for just a split second. She gasped in surprise. She raised them again, then beat them down three times in quick succession, and her hooves lifted off the cave floor several inches before dropping again. She tried a third time, and this time resolved to beat her wings as hard as she could for as long as she could. She spread her wings wide, gritted her teeth, and flapped with all her strength. Her hooves lifted off the ground as before, and this time they stayed airborne. Snow Bolt was hovering under her own power.
The sensation was incredible, but Snow Bolt suspended her jubilation. She beat her wings as hard as she could for a full 20 seconds, grunting and breathing hard from the effort. Though she was flapping as hard as she could, she could not seem to get more than a foot off the ground. When her wings finally tired she relaxed and fell to the ground again.
“Ha ha!” She said triumphantly. She galloped outside to find Scarlet and show off her latest skill. She found the dragoness sweeping the night’s snowfall off of the ledge, as she did every morning.
“Scarlet, Scarlet!” Snow Bold cried. “Look what I can do!” She spread her wings wide, flapped hard, and again came to a hover a foot off the ground.
Scarlet smiled wide. “Oh my! Well done, my little pony! I must say, I had my doubts about you, but you’ve made remarkable progress.” Snow Bolt could hardly believe her ears. She wasn’t sure she had ever received any direct praise from Scarlet about anything. Snow Bolt’s heart swelled with pride. “Yes yes,” Scarlet continued, turning back to her sweeping, “It won’t be long now before you’re meaty enough to be eaten.”
Snow Bolt’s spirits quickly fell, and she dropped to the ground again. It had been quite some time since Scarlet had reminded Snow Bolt she was only keeping the little pegasus around so that she could be eaten when her flight muscles had developed enough. The elation Snow Bolt had felt in discovering she could now fly under her own power was immediately dampened by renewed awareness of her own imminent death.
Not knowing what else to do, Snow Bolt crossed the ledge to the face of the slope, her head hung low and her ears folded flat against her head. She heard a familiar squeaking noise as she approached the edge, and looked up to see Cheeky waving at her.
“Oh. Hey, Cheeky,” Snow Bolt said, her voice betraying her sadness.
Cheeky, sensing her gloominess, made several gestures in the sort of miming sign language that Snow Bolt was beginning to get the hang of. What’s wrong? The squirrel’s gestures said.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Don’t worry,” Snow Bolt lied.
Cheeky scurried up Snow Bolt’s foreleg and onto her shoulder, then hugged the filly around the neck as best as her tiny arms would allow.
“Aww.” Snow Bolt smiled a little in spite of herself as she nuzzled the little squirrel. “Thanks, Cheeky.”
Cheeky smiled back, then made a zooming gesture with one claw. Snow Bolt shook off her melancholy and nodded. “You bet!” With that, Cheeky mounted Snow Bolt’s head and the two sped off into the wind.
* * *
Snow Bolt’s troubles were soon forgotten as she and Cheeky lost themselves in the excitement of soaring. They looped and dove back and forth across the mountain slope, alternately chasing each other and working on new maneuvers.
They were near the upper reaches of the mountain, and Snow Bolt was practicing chaining several wing-rolls together into one continuous maneuver, when she accidentally came out of a roll too late. She veered backwards behind the slope into the windless, leeward side of the mountain. Without the continuous stream of rising air to keep her aloft, she found herself in free-fall towards the mountain’s shadowy eastern slope.
Pony and squirrel both cried out in a sudden panic. Snow Bolt quickly pitched downwards into a dive to control her descent. Not knowing what else to do, she banked left and upwards, back up towards the ridgeline, hoping that she had enough momentum to carry her back to the windward side of the slope. She zoomed uncomfortably close to the snow-and-rock covered mountain for a few mane-raising seconds, but her course did indeed carry her up and over the ridgeline and back into the wind.
As Snow Bolt passed back over the ridgeline again, something strange happened. Snow Bolt had expected her wings to catch the wind and merely hold her aloft. Instead, the instant her wings met the wind she rocketed straight upward a full fifty feet, well above the ridgeline now.
“Whoa!” Snow Bolt said. Atop her head, Cheeky seemed equally surprised. Snow Bolt hovered for a moment, then glided her way down to the cave’s ledge.
When Snow Bold landed, Cheeky jumped down and looked up at Snow Bolt. Pony and squirrel stared at each other for a moment, then their gazes turned upwards to the top of the ridgeline, high above them. “Cheeky,” Snow Bolt said softly, her brow furrowed in concentration. “What the heck was that?”
“What is it, Pot Pie?” Snow Bolt jumped a little as she realized that she and Cheeky were not alone. Turning, Snow Bolt saw Scarlet in her usual spot, leaning against the slope to one side of the cave, a book in one hand and a handful of gems in the other. She was looking at the little pony boredly over the pages of her diminutive book.
Snow Bolt looked at the dragoness, then up at the ridgeline high above, then back again. “Well, I… we accidentally flew back behind the mountain, and when we came back over, it was almost like… I was going faster than I was before.”
“Ah yes,” Scarlet said around a great, toothy yawn. “That’s the Gra’aken tha’akets.”
“Graka–whatsis?” Snow Bolt said. The word Scarlet said used consonants and vowels Snow Bolt was entirely unfamiliar with.
Scarlet thought for a moment. “Let’s see – in your tongue, that translates to something like ‘wind-bouncing,’ and it works just as you say.” Scarlet popped another handful of emeralds into her mouth. “When you dive from the windward side of a slope to the windless side and back again, you gain a bit of speed each time. We dragons use it when migrating.”
Snow Bolt pondered this for a long moment. She heard the words Scarlet had said, but she could not wrap her idea around the idea. Her experience with slope soaring thus far had given her intuitive knowledge of wind and how the rising air worked to keep her aloft, but what Scarlet was saying seemed to fly in the face of everything she had learned so far. It seemed to defy the very laws of physics.
Eventually, Snow Bolt spoke. “How does that work?”
Scarlet looked annoyed. “How does it work? Why does it work?” Scarlet mocked, rolling her eyes. “Pot Pie, it is what it is because it is. If you’re so curious, go up there and find out yourself.”
Snow Bolt thought about this a moment longer, then decided that Scarlet was right. If she wanted to find out how this new mysterious wind energy worked, she was just going to have to find out herself. She looked down at Cheeky. “What do you say, little friend? It could be dangerous.” In response, Cheeky scurried up Snow Bolt’s leg and perched atop her head, pointing bravely at the ridgeline high above.
“Alright then. Let’s give it a go.”
* * *
It took Snow Bolt and Cheeky a few minutes of soaring back and forth across the slope to gain enough altitude to climb to the mountain’s saddle-shaped precipice. They continued climbing until they were about a hundred feet above it, then Snow Bolt turned into the wind and came to a hover. This was far higher than she had ever flown before. She took a moment to survey the mountain, the clouds, and the broad snow-covered valley impossibly far below her.
Snow Bolt gulped. “Last chance to change your mind, little friend.”
Cheeky chittered in the negative and gave her a reassuring pat between her eyebrows. Then the little squirrel positioned herself far back on Snow Bolt’s head, where she’d be largely out of the wind, and Snow Bolt felt her latch tightly onto her mane.
“Okay then, let’s try it,” Snow Bolt said. With that, Snow Bolt turned left, parallel to the ridgeline, and began a shallow dive to pick up a bit of speed.
“Alright, here we go!” She shouted back to Cheeky, who spurred in acknowledgement. Snow Bolt had reached the end of her run, where she would normally turn to the right. Instead she banked down and left, passing over the ridgeline and into the still air on eastern side of the mountain.
She felt a shudder she passed into the windless lee of the mountain, then she plummeted in near free-fall down the shadowy side of the slope. The tree where she and Snow Bolt had first met was rushing to meet her much faster than she was comfortable with, but at the last second her wings found purchase. She turned up and left, back up the slope and towards the ridgeline. She again felt her wings shudder as she passed back into the wind, and just as before she found herself rocketed upward at a speed that was altogether unexpected. When her upward momentum ceased she came to a hover, but she now had a full hundred feet more altitude than before.
“Wow,” Snow Bolt said incredulously. “That was…”
Atop her head, Cheeky was already spurring her excitedly.
“Alright, alright. We’ll go again. I was just thinking.” Snow Bolt surveyed the ridgeline below her for a moment. “If the first loop goes okay, you want to try to go straight into the second?” Cheeky chittered affirmative.
Snow Bolt dropped, soared south along the ridgeline a ways, then dove behind the ridgeline as before. Her wings shuddered, she accelerated, then turned back up and over the ridgeline. She again felt the sudden, unnatural acceleration as her wings met the wind. Instead of riding the extra energy upwards, Snow Bolt continued her turn without banking, more than halfway upside-down at the turn’s highest point. Her arc carried her back behind the ridge, and she again felt a shudder as she crossed the boundary layer, this time accompanied by a soft wump sound. She went down through the bottom of the arc, then up over the ridgeline and back into the wind, and there was a distinctive, somewhat more crisp crump sound as she did so.
Snow Bolt was now flying faster than she could have ever thought possible. She doubted she could have achieved such a speed even in a full dive. It was terrifying, yes; but it also exhilarating. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before. Her wings ached and threatened to be ripped from her body at every moment, but still she continued, completing a third, a fourth, and a fifth loop, gaining more and more speed each time. By the sixth loop, she could hear a distinct whistle her as her wings sliced through the air. Behind her, Cheeky was whooping in her high-pitched voice, but Snow Bolt remained reserved, completely focused in athletic concentration.
After ten revolutions, her wings could bear no more. Snow Bolt broke from her loop and shot straight up and away from the mountainside, higher than she had ever flown before. She glided around aimlessly for a few moments, just below the cloud base, but she seemed to be barely slowing down at all. Eventually, she discovered that by turning sharply and flying sideways, she could scrub off speed, like an ice skater performing a hockey stop. It took her a full thirty seconds to scrub off enough speed, and after that it took a full five minutes to fly back down to the mountain’s ledge. When she and Cheeky finally landed on the shelf, Scarlet was just where Snow Bolt had left her. This time she was making a big show of being interested only in her book and gems.
Snow Bolt beamed a grin at the dragoness. “Well, Scarlet? Aren’t you going to tell me how much worse my flying is than a dragon’s?”
Scarlet only glared at the young foal, then returned her attention to her book, muttering under her breath. Snow Bolt turned away from Scarlet to face Cheeky, and the two bumped hoof to paw in victory.
The dragon word for the maneuver Snow Bolt had discovered was almost unpronounceable by a pony tongue. She dubbed the technique wump-crumping, so named for the sounds made as she crossed between the air masses. From what Scarlet had told her, dragons only used the maneuver during long migrations: diving in and out of the lee of mountains in order to soar without flapping. For all Snow Bolt knew, she was the first pegasus ever to use such a technique.
After that first day, Snow Bolt practiced the technique exclusively whenever she was able. She only reverted to the other, less exhausting maneuvers when her aching wings could bear no more. Gliding at such high speeds while maintaining turning authority proved to be the most strenuous activity Snow Bolt had yet experienced, even more strenuous than flying under her own power.
This went on for several weeks more, and each day Snow Bolt felt herself growing stronger and stronger. Each day she was able to complete more and more loops in succession, achieving higher and higher speeds each time. Her flight muscles ached constantly, but she didn’t care. After seeing how hard Snow Bolt was pushing herself, Scarlet had warned her. “Don’t fly too hard, Pot Pie," the dragon said. "You’ll hurt yourself, and bruising makes meat all chewy.” Snow Bolt had rejected Scarlet’s advice completely, of course. Speed was Snow Bolt’s addiction, and nothing else mattered.
After Scarlet went to bed each night Snow Bolt would also spend an hour or so every night practicing powered flight. As her wings grew stronger, Snow Bolt found that she was able to maintain a hover under her own power for longer and longer periods, and at higher and higher altitudes each day. After a few more weeks, Snow Bolt was able to fly around the cave as if she had been doing it all her life. She was now a fully-flighted pegasus pony.
Just a few months ago, Snow Bolt would have regarded this as an unbelievable, incomprehensible achievement, but now that she had done it she did not celebrate it at all, for two reasons. One, she wanted to hide the fact that she could now fly under her own power from Scarlet, lest the dragoness suddenly decide that her meat was now fit for eating. Two, Snow Bolt now had her eye on a different prize.
Ever since she had first discovered wump-crumping, Snow Bolt could sense an invisible…something, as she flew, always just out of reach. She would not have been able to describe it to anypony if she tried. Whatever it was, it was always driving her to fly faster, always faster. She felt closest to it when she was flying her fastest, in the lower arc of a wump-crumping loop, but no matter how close she got it was always just out of reach. It both beckoned her and taunted her, but no matter what Snow Bolt tried, she could not grasp it. Just as she could sense her prize, just out of hoof's reach, she could also feel a barrier keeping her from it. Her flight muscles always seemed to give out just when she was just about to fight her way through, refusing to hold her wings outstretched for even a single second longer.
Snow Bolt was still resigned to the fact that she would eventually be eaten by Scarlet, but more than anything she wanted to achieve her goal, whatever it was, before she died.
* * *
Three weeks had passed since Snow Bolt had first discovered wump-crumping, but Snow Bolt and Cheeky were taking a respite from their breakneck maneuvers and enjoying a friendly game of tag. They were unperturbed by the dark clouds that slowly moved in from the west, eventually darkening the entire sky, nor by the thunder and lightning that flashed from them. By mid-afternoon, however, large hailstones began to fall, and the two were forced to take shelter in the cave.
“You’re not bringing that flying rat in here,” Scarlet said darkly, eyeing Cheeky with scorn.
“Oh, but it’s awful out, Scarlet!” Snow Bolt pleaded. “We can’t send her out in this weather! She’ll be no trouble at all, I promise. You won’t even know she’s here.”
Scarlet eyed pony and squirrel for a long moment, then groaned. “Oh, alright. But if I find any acorn shells or any other sort of mess on my floor, I’ll roast you on a spit and use your friend there as a garnish.”
“Thanks, Scarlet.” Snow Bolt said, resuming her trot into the cave. Cheeky simply stood staring up at the dragon, looking absolutely aghast at what she had said. Turning back, Snow Bolt scooped the squirrel up in one hoof. “Oh, don’t mind her, Cheeky. She’s always saying stuff like that.”
Scarlet and Snow Bolt had an early dinner that night, and the little pegasus fed Cheeky a few nibbles from her own meal. After dinner was cleaned up, Snow Bolt read to Scarlet from her perch atop the dragon’s horde of gems and gold, as was their evening custom. Cheeky made herself a little nest in Snow Bolt’s mane, and listened contentedly as Snow Bolt read more of the adventures of Dusty Cornshucker.
Snow Bolt stopped reading when she heard a low, guttural snoring coming from Scarlet, and a gentle, high-pitched one coming from Cheeky. Being careful not to disturb the little squirrel, Snow Bolt slid down the pile of gems, put the book in its place on the bookshelf, and lay down next to the fire. Cheeky woke up just long enough to sleepily crawl down from Snow Bolt’s head and onto her back, where she curled up and immediately went back to sleep. Snow Bolt smiled at her sleepy little friend before letting out a yawn herself. She lay her head down in her hooves and almost immediately fell asleep to the sound of thunder and wind howling outside the cave.
* * *
Scarlet was already bustling around the cave by the time Snow Bolt awoke the next morning, humming to herself as she fussed about her kitchen. From gap left by the cave wall where the boulder did not fit flush, Snow Bolt could hear the storm still raging outside. Snow Bolt lifted her head from her hooves and stared at the gap. Something was different today, but she did not know yet what it was.
Still curled up on Snow Bolt’s back, Cheeky was awakened by Snow Bolt’s stirring. The little squirrel yawned and stretched lazily, giving Snow Bolt a sleepy wave as she rubbed her eyes.
“Hey, little friend,” Snow Bolt offered a small smile, then turned back to look at the gap in the cave’s door. Cheeky followed Snow Bolt’s gaze, then turned back to Snow Bolt with a quizzical look. “I…I’m not sure,” said Snow Bolt, answering Cheeky’s unspoken question. She gently placed the little squirrel down on the cave floor, then stood up and walked over to the gap.
Peering outside, Snow Bolt could see snow was still falling heavily outside, and her view was intermittently obscured by clouds that raced up the mountain's slope. The wind was positively howling, and another crash of thunder shook the very walls of the cave around her. Thundersnow. The word came unbidden to her mind. She had read about it at school, but had never experienced such a thing herself. She knew it was a rare phenomenon, especially around pony cities, where weather was carefully monitored and controlled by pegasi.
In a sudden epiphany, Snow Bolt saw what it was she had to do. “Scarlet?” she turned and called to the dragon. “Will you open the door for me, please?”
Scarlet turned from her kitchen, and looked over at the little pony as if she were crazy. “In this weather? What in the world for, Pot Pie?”
“I’d like to practice my soaring,” Snow Bolt said matter-of-factly.
“Soaring? In the middle of a snow storm? Pot Pie, you can’t be serious.” Scarlet chuckled and returned to her fussing, but when she looked back Snow Bolt was still staring at her. “You’re serious?” Snow Bolt nodded. Scarlet shook her head and walked over to the mouth of the cave. “Well, I suppose if you smash yourself to bits on the rocks you’ll save me the trouble of having to mince you.” Scarlet rolled the boulder aside, and immediately a gale of wind whipped through the gap, nearly blowing Snow Bolt off her feet. “After you, Pot Pie,” Scarlet said, bowing sarcastically. “This I have to see.” Snow Bolt ignored her sarcasm and pushed her way through the wind and out onto the ledge. Cheeky looked at her friend curiously, but followed her outside.
Though it must have been around mid-morning, the sky around the mountain was almost as dark as night. The wind that blew from the west was positively frigid, much stronger than anything Snow Bolt had flown in before. It whipped up snow from the lower reaches of the mountain and carried it across the shelf. The dark thunderclouds overhead were shedding wet, mushy snow at a frightening rate. Lightning flashed somewhere in the clouds overhead, and the crack of thunder that followed was only a split second behind.
“Are you sure about this, Pot Pie?” Scarlet asked. Her sarcasm seemed to have been replaced by genuine concern, something Snow Bolt had never seen from her. Snow Bolt looked at her briefly, then looked back up at the sky. She was sure. She didn’t know how or why, but she knew absolutely that this was something she had to do, and she was not afraid. She looked back at the dragoness and nodded.
Snow Bolt felt a tug on her ankle, and looked down to see Cheeky with a grave look on her face. She regarded Snow Bolt for a long moment, then scurried up Snow Bolt’s leg and took her place on her head.
Snow Bolt shook her head and put the little squirrel back on the ground. “No, not this time, little friend.” Snow Bolt looked again at the sky. “I…I think this is something I have to do alone.” Even as she said the words, Snow Bolt did not know how or why she knew. “Stay here. I’ll be back in a little while.”
Cheeky still looked concerned, but did not protest. She offered Snow Bolt a brave little smile, then made two signs with her paws. Good luck.
Snow Bolt returned her smile, then turned and began walking towards the ledge, struggling to push her way through the wind and snow. When she reached the brink, she took a long look around, surveying the mountain, the storm, and the dark clouds above. I sure hope I know what I’m doing, she thought to herself. She spread her wings experimentally, and was immediately carried backwards by the strong wind, tumbling head over heels.
With a grunt, she landed roughly in the snow, slowly coming to a stop on her back. She righted herself, and looked back to see that Scarlet was laughing at her, though she could not actually hear the sound over the howling wind. Beside the dragon, Cheeky was looking more concerned than ever.
Snow Bolt stood, shook the snow from her coat, and approached the ledge again. She took just a moment to compose herself, then galloped towards the ledge as fast as her crippled legs would allow. She leapt off the ledge and let herself sink for just a moment before she unfolded her wings. The gale-force winds caught her like a sail, and she found herself rocketed upwards and backwards. In just a few seconds, the ledge, Scarlet, and Cheeky were just distant specks far below her, then they were lost completely in the swirling snow. A few seconds more, and Snow Bolt found she had crested the top of the mountain. She came to a hover about three hundred feet above the mountain’s peak, where the lift generated by the wind striking the slope began to fall off.
To maintain a hover in the face of the wind’s extreme speed, Snow Bolt found that she actually had to assume a downwards posture that would have meant a steep dive in stiller air. Even then, she was only just able to penetrate the wind, and she knew that if the wind picked up any more, she would find herself tossed behind the mountain. At best, that would mean a few hour’s walk back to the cave.
Lightning flashed from above her, and Snow Bolt knew she could not dawdle any more. She banked to the south, glided just a short distance, then turned low and left behind ridgeline.
Her wings shuddered as she passed into the lee of the slope. Snow Bolt dropped and accelerated downwards, past the tree where she and Cheeky had first met, then back up again. As she flew back up towards the ridgeline, she could see the snow being blown off the mountain’s crest like a long mane blowing in a breeze. As she splashed through a spray of snow, her wings shuddered again, and she accelerated upwards with a speed she would not have dreamed possible.
“Wow!” Snow Bolt said. The wind’s power was like nothing she had experienced before. She made a few quick adjustments in her head: she shifted her loop slightly lower down the back of the mountain, so that she could come back up into the wind at a shallower angle. She continued her turn down behind the mountain a second time, and began her third loop.
As she passed over the ridgeline the fourth time, Snow Bolt could feel it. The intangible, invisible thing that taunted her, that tormented her, beckoned her ever farther, ever faster: it was there. Snow Bolt was closer to it than she had ever been before. It was just ahead of her now, and this time she knew she was going to get it.
Two loops more. Snow Bolt tried to estimate how fast she was going Two hundred miles per hour now? Three? Four? Snow Bolt knew she should be freezing from the cold and high wind, but for some reason she did not feel the ice’s sting. Her wings hissed and sizzled as they sliced through the frigid air like a knife through rice paper. The snow was falling harder now, reducing her visibility to almost nothing. Snow Bolt panicked for a second, until she realized that she did not need her sight. She knew this mountain and its air currents like the back of her hoof, and in her mind’s eye she could see its every detail in perfect clarity. She could have performed the maneuver with her eyes closed with perfect safety, and for several revolutions she did just that.
Each wump and crump grew lounder and louder the faster she went. No longer a soft mushy sound, each pass through the boundary layer now sounded like a drum, resonating in her chest cavity in time with her heart. The thing was getting closer, but the barrier that kept her from it was pushing back with all its strength. Snow Bolt pursued it with all the fearsome determination and patience of a hunter stalking her prey. She knew it would not escape her, not this time. The wind was too powerful, and the shear layer was too thin, and her wings were too strong. Though Snow Bolt had not known it before, she realized now that her entire life had been leading up to this moment, and she knew she would not fail.
She chanced a brief glance behind her. Her wings were screaming through the air like a banshee. They drew sharp contrails through the air, and in her wake was left a conspicuous vacuum of snow. The thing was just ahead of her now, seemingly just in hoof’s reach, and she could feel the barrier begin to give way. A strange crackle of electricity or magic began to build around her hooves and wings. Then, just like that, she was through.
She felt the invisible barrier explode, and Snow Bolt knew she had done it. There was a sound like thunder, louder than anything Snow Bolt had ever heard before, followed by a crystalline ringing sound, like a spoon striking a goblet. Then Snow Bolt heard nothing. She felt herself accelerate upwards at an unfathomable speed. A few seconds later she was blinded by an impossibly bright light coming from directly in front of her. It took Snow Bolt’s eyes a few long seconds to adjust, and when they did she realized that the light ahead of her was none other than the bright mid-morning sun, shining down on her from an infinite blue sky.
What happened to the clouds? she thought to herself. She looked around to orient herself, and she saw the dark thunderclouds slowly rolling away from her in all directions, and the snow had stopped completely. Looking down, she realized that she was also incredibly high above the mountain. In fact she was still climbing, gliding upwards at a speed that should have been impossible. She barely felt any drag on her wings at all; it was as if the normal laws of lift and drag had been temporarily suspended.
Snow Bolt had never imagined that she could feel so happy. What she was feeling was pure unadulterated joy. In that moment Snow Bolt realized what it was she had been pursuing all these weeks. It was purpose, her purpose. She knew now: she had been born to fly. She had been meant to fly, and always had been.
“Woo-hoo!” Snow Bolt whooped loud and long, pumping her hoof in the air. She looped over and over again, her eyes watering from the wind, and still her wings felt no drag. Her mind idly marveled at this new state of flight, and she laughingly wondered if she could even slow herself if she wanted to. After brief consideration, she decided it would be perfectly alright if she never slowed down, and lived the rest of her life at this speed.
Eventually, she did slow, and when her speed dropped below a certain threshold, the normal laws of flight she was familiar withresumed She was still flying incredibly fast, so she began to descend back down to her mountain home below, where Scarlet and Cheeky would be waiting. The mountain, which dominated over the surrounding valley, seemed like only a tiny pinpoint from this altitude. She began her descent, slaloming like a skier to scrub off speed as she did so.
It took her a full fifteen minutes to descend back down to the mountain. Scarlet and Cheeky were right where Snow Bolt had left them, standing near the mouth of the cave. But instead of standing in the middle of a blizzard, the two were now standing in the bright, mid-morning sun. The thunderclouds that had previously covered the landscape in every direction were now nothing more than dark spots far off on the horizon. Big, hoof-sized snowflakes were still falling from the cloudless sky.
Scarlet and Cheeky did not move as she landed, they just stared at her with their jaws agape. Snow Bolt casually folded her wings and brushed a bit of snow from her shoulder, but could not hide her grin. “So, Scarlet,” she said casually. “I suppose a maneuver like that would be child’s play for a dragon.”
“Pot Pie,” Scarlet’s voice was soft, and contained not a hint of derision or sarcasm. “I don’t think anyone, pony or dragon, has ever flown like that before.
Snow Bolt beamed with pride. Suddenly, Cheeky gasped and began gesturing frantically at something behind Snow Bolt. “What is it, Cheeky?” Snow Bolt asked.
“Oh,” Scarlet said solemnly, apparently having spotted the same thing. “Uh, Pot Pie, you have a uh… oh, what do you ponies call it? A rump-stamp.”
Snow Bolt cocked her head in confusion. “What?”
“It’s a, um…” Scarlet snapped her fingers a few times, searching for the right term. “A pretty-spot.”
Snow Bolt turned to look over the valley, trying to see what the dragon was talking about. “A what-what?”
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Pot Pie! Look at your backside!”
Snow Bolt turned her head, and finally saw what the two were talking about. Adorned on her flank was an emblem. It was an indigo snowflake, truncated and styled into the shape of a lightning bolt.
It was a cutie mark. It was her cutie mark.
Snow Bolt slowly gasped, her eyes growing wide. She looked at the dragon and squirrel, then back to her flank, then back again. “It’s a cutie mark! It’s my cutie mark! IT’S MY CUTIE MARK! WOO-HOO!” Snow Bolt pranced around in the snow, whooping and dancing around, then took to the sky, looping over and over again. “Cu-tie mark! Cut-ie mark! Cu-tie mark!” she chanted, zooming all around the ledge, a literal whirlwind of celebration.
Cheeky looked happy for her friend, but seemed confused by this over-the-top show of jubilation. Scarlet simply remained still, watching incredulously. After a few moments, Scarlet leaned over to Cheeky and said in a low voice, “These ponies get excited over the most peculiar things, don’t you think?” Cheeky nodded,without taking her eyes off the prancing pegasus.
That night, Snow Bolt curled up by the cave’s fire and stared at her own cutie mark until he could not hold her eyelids open any longer. Once asleep, she dreamed that she was flying up and up through a sapphire blue sky, into the black night sky above, past the moon and straight on to the stars.
She was awakened the next morning when Scarlet called to her. “Wake up, Pot Pie. It’s morning.”
Snow Bolt woke from her dream still smiling and rubbed her sleepy eyes. “Good morning, Scarlet.”
Scarlet seemed uncharacteristically chipper morning. Snow Bolt could see that she had been up for a few hours, working on something in the corner of the cave that served as the kitchen. The floor of that part of the cave was evenly coated in flour.
“Today’s the big day, Pot Pie. I think we’ve put it off long enough, don’t you? I’ve got the crust and the filling all ready for you.”
Snow Bolt’s sleepy brain did not immediately understand what Scarlet meant. As the realization dawned on her, her smile froze in place and slowly turned to horror. “You… you’re going to eat me?” she asked softly.
Scarlet was using a log to roll a lump of dough flat, but stopped to glance over at the young pegasus. “Well don’t sound so surprised, Pot Pie. You knew this day was coming, didn’t you?”
Snow Bolt’s breathing quickened. She turned to flee, but realized that the cave door was closed, and of course she had no hope of budging it aside. She could not run, and she certainly could not overpower the dragon. She was stuck. She was going to die.
“But…I…” Tears began to roll down the filly’s cheeks.
Scarlet had finished rolling out the enormous lump of dough and carefully laid it down in what looked like a large, above-ground swimming pool she meant to use as a pie pan. Her task finished, she dusted the flour from her claws and approached the little filly.
“But…but…” Snow Bolt again considered making an attempt to flee, but she knew that it would be pointless. “But I can fly now!” she protested.
Scarlet nonchalantly picked the young filly up by her tail and began carrying her over to the kitchen. “Yes, Pot Pie. That was the whole idea, don’t you remember?” Snow Bolt did not struggle. Hanging upside-down from the dragon’s grip, she began to weep quietly. “Now now, Pot Pie, let’s keep the blubbering to a minimum, shall we? I’ve gone to great trouble to get the seasonings just right, and I’ll not have you oversalting my meal. And anyways, weren’t you the one who said you didn’t care if I ate you or not?”
She did remember, but so much had happened since that day when she had first awakened in Scarlet’s cave. Then, it had felt like her life was over, but now she realized that her life, her real life, had just begun. It was only yesterday that she had discovered what she was meant to be, and the future had seemed to stretch out in front of her forever, bright and promising like the dawning of a new day. Had she really come this far, earned her cutie mark and all, only to be ground to bits for a monster’s brunch the very next day?
Scarlet set her down on the granite slab that served as the dragon’s kitchen counter, holding her in place with one claw. The dragon grabbed a great metal knife which may have once been a streetlamp and began sharpening it on a stalactite, idly chatting as she did so. “Well I must say, Pot Pie, you’ve certainly been a nuisance at times, but I rather think I’m going to miss having someone to read books to me in the evenings. All in all, you have not been an entirely unpleasant houseguest. Plus, I think you’ll be rather delicious.” Scarlet finished sharpening her knife and turned to Snow Bolt with a little smile. “Well, goodbye then, Pot Pie. I’ll try to make this quick.”
Snow Bolt clenched her eyes shut tight and waited for the pain. I hope it won’t hurt much, she thought to herself.
Snow Bolt clenched her eyes shut for a few long seconds, but the pain never came. “Wait a minute…” Scarlet said. Snow Bolt heard her put the knife down, then Snow Bolt was lifted from the slab by her tail.
Snow Bolt glared at the dragon with tearful eyes. “What is it now?”
Scarlet was slowly turning Snow Bolt, getting a look at her from all sides. “No, no, no. Oh, this is dreadful, just dreadful!”
“What is dreadful?” Snow Bolt repeated, wishing Scarlet would just get the thing over with.
Scarlet groaned and met the pony’s upside-down gaze. “Pot Pie, the only thing I hate more than white meat is meat that’s too gamey. Look at these flight muscles!” Scarlet twisted her around by the tail and put a finger between Snow Bolt’s wings. “There’s no tenderness here at all! Hard as a rock. Bah!” Scarlet tossed Snow Bolt over her shoulder. Reflexively, Snow Bolt twisted in mid-air, spread her wings, and landed softly on her hooves. She looked back to face the dragon, confusion and pain on her tear-streaked face.
“I can’t eat you now. You’d be all chewy and stringy and – bleh.” Scarlet walked straight over Snow Bolt and over to the cave door, grumbling to herself as she went. “Do you have any idea how long it took me to collect three tons of flour? And don’t even ask me how long it took me to get four tons of corn. Ugh, well I suppose I could stop by the Everfree Forest and grab a few rockodiles this afternoon, perhaps I could do something…” Scarlet trailed off as she reached the mouth of the cave and rolled the boulder aside. “Alright then, my useless little Pot Pie. Off you go.”
Snow Bolt stopped her sobbing, looking from Scarlet to the open mouth of the cave and back again. “You…you’re letting me go? I can go home?”
Scarlet stamped her foot impatiently. “Yes, Pot Pie. Fly a half a day west, until you find the train tracks. Follow them north and you should find that pony hometown of yours. Now go!” She gestured again at the open door with her massive claw.
Snow Bolt tentatively took one step towards the door, then another, watching Scarlet all the while. Scarlet stared down at her, her face unreadable. Snow Bolt kept walking until she was outside.
It was a beautiful day. Looking out across the valley, Snow Bolt saw that the snow on the valley floor was starting to melt in places. The distant sounds of a few songbirds drifted up on a warm, gentle breeze. It was nearly spring.
Looking out across the valley, Snow Bolt gasped as a thought suddenly occurred to her. Scarlet...she brought me to this cave, saved me from falling when I tried to escape...that conversation about my father, and now…
Mouth agape, Snow Bolt turned back to Scarlet. “You…this whole time! You never actually planned on eating me, did you?”
Scarlet snorted and waved her claw dismissively. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Pot Pie. The only thing I ever wanted from you was a bit of pony meat. If I had known then that you were going to be so much trouble…”
Snow Bolt interrupted the dragoness by flying up to her chest and hugging her around the middle, or at least as best as their relative sizes would allow. She nuzzled her face into the dragon’s scales, tears of joy streaming down her face. After a moment, she felt the dragon’s claws gently cradle her.
“Thank you, Scarlet. Thank you. I owe you everything,” Snow Bolt said into the dragon’s scales. After a moment, Scarlet pulled her away and held the little pony up to eye level, a little smirk on her massive dragon face. With all the precision of a seamstress threading a needle, she reached up and touched the pony’s nose with one great, taloned finger. “Such a disobedient little Pot Pie," she said.
They hugged once more, then Scarlet set her down on the ledge. “Now go! You’ve wasted enough of my time.”
Snow Bolt smiled, then turned and walked to the ledge. She heard a soft chittering off to one side, and turned to see Cheeky emerge from between a few rocks. The little squirrel had apparently been watching the whole scene. She now smiled at Snow Bolt sadly and gave a little wave with one paw.
“Oh, Cheeky.” Snow Bolt went over and picked the little squirrel up in one hoof. “I guess I’m leaving now, little friend. Thanks for everything.” She brought the squirrel up to her face, and the squirrel wrapped her tiny arms around Snow Bolt’s muzzle.
They stayed like that for a long moment, then Snow Bolt set Cheeky down on the rock, turned, faced the ledge, and spread her wings.
She made as if to take off, but then stopped and slowly folded her wings again. She turned back to Cheeky. “Say, uh, Cheeky…” Snow Bolt shrugged nonchalantly. “You uh… you don’t want to come with me, do you?”
Cheeky gasped, bringing her little paws up to her mouth, then scurried down the rock faster than Snow Bolt had ever seen her move. She ran up Snow Bolt’s leg and hugged her again around the muzzle. She then took her place atop Snow Bolt’s head, grabbed a lock of mane in each paw, and pointed bravely to the west.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Snow Bolt giggled. She trotted off the ledge, and with a few beats of her strong wings, was airborne. She circled once to gain altitude, and with one final wave to Scarlet, turned westward.
* * *
Scarlet watched the young filly fly off, until she was only a bright white speck in the distance. When she heard hoofsteps behind her, she turned to see none other than Princess Celestia herself walking up to the ledge to join her.
“Your Highness,” Scarlet said, giving a little bow.
Celestia smiled. “Come now, old friend. There’s no need for any of that.”
Scarlet shrugged with a smile of her own. Together, they turned to look after the white speck on the horizon. Celestia nodded in the direction Snow Bolt had flown off. “Will she be alright?”
Scarlet nodded. “She’ll be more than alright.”
“Good,” Celestia said. “I can’t thank you enough for this, Scarlet. I owe you one.”
Scarlet turned to face the sun goddess. “One? Unless my memory is fading in my old age, I believe that’s two you owe me, Princess.”
Coal Bolt stepped out of his humble little house, a hardhat on his head and carrying a lunchbox on his back. He looked up at the clear, late winter sky and let the sunlight hit his face for a few moments with his eyes closed. He looked to one side of his snow-covered lawn, at the swing set he and his late wife had built for Snow Bolt all those years ago. That was back before Summer Heart got sick, back in the good times. Snow Bolt had loved that swing.
Coal Bolt stared at the old swing, now long unused and covered in snow. He closed his eyes and felt a lump well up in his throat as he recalled the memory of his little Snow Bolt laughing as he pushed her. Higher, higher! she cried. He could hear her voice now as clearly as he had all those years ago.
He took a deep breath and choked back his tears. No, he had spent enough time mourning. His wife was gone, his daughter was gone, and he was just going to have to live with it. He had spent an entire month searching for Snow Bolt, combing the area of Equestria where she had last been seen, long after the Royal Guard had given up its search. He had spent another month in mourning, scarcely eating or leaving the house. But the plant manager had called the other day, and said that while he was sorry for Coal Bolt’s loss, if he didn't return to the plant within the week they would have no choice but to find a replacement for him.
So he wiped away his tears, swallowed the lump in his throat, and took a few deep breaths. He walked across his front yard and out the white picket fence, deliberately avoiding the swing set with his eyes. He turned right down the sidewalk, and began the long walk to the plant.
Coal Bolt mostly stared at the ground while he walked. The neighbors he passed on his way mostly gave him a wide berth. To the ones that did stop and greet him, he could only manage a weak smile. To him, it was a farce. In the space of two years, he had lost everything he cared about. He had watched his once beautiful wife wither into a hollowed, tortured shell of her former self, and held her hoof as she died in agony. And now, to lose Snow Bolt, the only thing he had left of Summer Heart, was entirely more than he could bear.
But the worst part, the question that had kept him up nights since the day he first learned she was missing, was whether it had been his actions that had caused her to run away in the first place. When his wife had died, and Snow Bolt had first started to act out, was there more he could have done? He had tried his best, but he just wasn’t as good with Snow Bolt as her mother had been. Looking back, just about the only interactions he could remember with her after her mother died was him yelling at her for something or other. He still loved her of course, but had he ever told her that? Had he ever really taken the time to remind her? Sending her away to live with his brother on the rock farm had seemed like an extreme step, but at the time he was willing to do anything to stem her bad behavior. He was so desperate that he had sent his only daughter to go live with strangers instead of living with him. Is that why she had run away? Would she still be alive if he hadn't?
Coal Bolt stopped in the street, hung his head, and shut his eyes tight. He was almost at the plant now. Could he really go inside and watch the gauges, and pull the levers, and eat his lunch and chat with his coworkers as he had before? As if his life had any meaning any longer, as if he could recover and ever be anything but a shell of the pony he had once been?
All around him, ponies bustled about to and from their morning errands. A few muttered things like “move it, buddy!” as they pushed around him, but Coal Bolt did not care. He doubted he would ever care about anything ever again.
Coal Bolt stared at the ground, at the dark spot on the sidewalk his tears were making. He was only vaguely aware of all the hooves passing around the periphery of his vision. He shut his eyes tight for a moment, and when he opened them, he saw that a pair of hooves had stopped in front of him. They were small, white, and turned too far inwards.
“Hi papa,” said a small, familiar voice.
Coal Bolt slowly raised his eyes. A young filly stood there, looking up at him with a little smile and soft, sapphire-blue eyes.
It was Snow Bolt.
Coal Bolt could only stare, his mouth agape, at the apparition before him. “Snow Bolt?” His mouth formed the name, but no sound escaped his lips. “Snow Bolt?" he said again, his voice ragged. "Is it really you?"
Snow Bolt’s eyes were brimming with tears. “Yes, papa. It’s me.”
Hoof trembling, Coal Bolt reached out to touch his daughter, afraid that she would vanish the second he did so. Snow Bolt reached out, took her father's hoof in her own, and put it to her cheek.
Coal Bolt’s heart soared. “Snow Bolt! My Snow Bolt! It’s you, it’s really you!” He rushed towards her and lifted the filly off her hooves, crushing her in his embrace. “My daughter, my only daughter, she’s alive!”
Snow Bolt was also crying. “Papa, I’ve missed you so much. I’m so sorry.”
“No, Snow Bolt, I’m the one who should be sorry. I should have never sent you away. I’m so sorry for everything.”
The two of them sank to the ground, their arms wrapped around each other and weeping uncontrollably. Coal Bolt was dimly aware that he was causing a scene, but he didn’t care. After a few long moments their sobbing slowed, and Coal Bolt held Snow Bolt at arm’s length.
“Where have you been, child? What happened?” he asked.
“Oh papa, it’s a long story. I’m not sure you’d believe me anyways.”
“Is that… oh my gosh, is that your cutie mark?!” He spun Snow Bolt around to have a look. “Snow Bolt, you have a cutie mark! Oh, and your hair is… wow, and look at your wings, they’re so… can you fly now?!”
Snow Bolt giggled at her father’s stammering. “Yes, yes, papa. I have a lot to tell you. But don’t you have work?”
"Hah!" Coal Bolt took off his hard hat, set it gently on the ground, and then turned and bucked it clear into the next town. “No, Snow Bolt. Frankly, I don’t think I’d care to work another day of my life, not there when there are so much more important things to tend to. Come on, let’s go home.”
* * *
“Come on, Jackpot. Quit holding out on us. Just give us what we want and it’ll be over.”
Rusty Spur was holding a young earth pony upside-down by his hind legs. The foal was struggling to squirm free, but the big colt’s grip held firm. “I…I don’t have any lunch money. My mom started packing my lunch!”
“Aw gee, that’s too bad,” Rusty said. Rocks and Smokey laughed as they looked on from the mouth of the alley. “Well if you don’t have any money for the toll, I guess I’m just going to have to impound your face.”
“No, wait!” Jackpot cowered as Rusty raised his other hoof to strike.
Smokey Ore, who was serving as the trio’s lookout, turned as he heard distinctive, irregular hoofsteps approaching. A moment later, a familiar, yellow-haired pegasus came into view on the other side of the street. “Hey rusty,” Smokey Ore said, squinting through his glasses across the street. “Isn’t that Snow Bolt over there?”
“Huh?” Rusty turned to look. Jackpot used the momentary distraction to wriggle free. He hit the pavement running, and was halfway down the block just a few seconds later.
“I thought she was...dead?” Rusty Ore asked. Snow Bolt appeared to be having a lively conversation with a small, brown squirrel perched atop her head.
Just then, Snow Bolt happened to glance over. Seeing the three earth ponies, she smiled and crossed the street over to them. “Hey guys!” she called, giving the three a wave. “How’s it going?”
Each of the three bullies looked at Snow Bolt, the squirrel, then to each other. They were not quite sure what to make of the friendly and confident pegasus filly that stood before them. She bore little resemblance to the skittish, timid foal they had last seen on the train to Dodge Junction months ago.
Atop her head, the squirrel appeared to be asking Snow Bolt a question. “Yes, Cheeky,” Snow Bolt answered cheerfully. “These are those friends I was telling you about.” The squirrel crossed its little arms and glared at the three.
Rusty quickly recovered. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t our favorite little blank fla—wha?”
Snow Bolt had turned to one side and casually stretched her wings, making sure to give the three a good long look at her new cutie mark. She looked back at it, as if pretending to notice it as well. “Oh, that’s right! You guys haven’t seen my cutie mark yet, have you? What do you think?”
“Pretty!” Rocks blurted. Without looking, Rusty gave him a swift kick in the chest.
Rusty was still staring at the cutie mark, and a touch of envy crossed his face. “Yeah well…uh…you mean you waited all that time for your cutie mark and it’s just a stupid snowflake thing? I hope you kept your receipt.”
Snow Bolt smiled knowingly at him. “Aw, it’s not all that bad. I kinda like it.” Her words were modest, but her face was beaming with pride.
Smokey Ore circled around Snow Bolt as if to get a better look at her cutie mark, but once he was out of her sight, kneeled down low behind her. Still in front of her, Rusty smiled evilly.
“Well, I have to say, Snow Bolt, you've really come along. You've got your cutie mark now and everything. Maybe you’re even cool enough to hang out with us. But then again…” Rusty casually took a step towards her. “You are still just a try-fly!” Rusty lunged at Snow Bolt, meaning to push her so she’d topple over Smokey, who was positioned behind her. Instead, Snow Bolt darted directly upwards with one flap of her wings. The move caught Rusty completely off-guard, and he found himself toppling over Smokey instead. The two collapsed to the ground in a tangle of limbs.
Hovering above them, Snow Bolt giggled. “Whoops. Watch your step there, guys. Oh! I guess you haven’t seen me fly yet either?”
Rusty and Rocks groaned in Unison
She giggled again. “Well, it’s been fun catching up fellas, but I’ve gotta run. I’m meeting my dad downtown for ice cream. See ya later!”
As she flew off, the squirrel turned around and blew the three a loud raspberry from the top of Snow Bolt's head. Rusty sputtered as he tried to think of a witty retort, but he ultimately came up empty. That didn’t stop Rocks, though. “Bye-bye, try-fly!” he called, then winced in pain as Rusty smacked his head from behind.