Scootaloo has always been a filly with big dreams, but can they all come true?
Scootaloo has always been a filly with big dreams, but can they all come true? At the very least, she can always follow in the hoofsteps of her hero, right?
(For an amazing follow-up/side-story, please read Shine by The Descendant.) ( Muffinz has written an awesome instrumental track here: EQBeats Page. Check it out!) (Another great song here written by Fifths89 over on Youtube: Tiny Wings. Give it a listen!)
“Finally,” the rainbow-maned mare said in mock-exhaustion. “Sky all cleared. That was a tough one today. Almost took a whole thirty seconds.” She laughed quietly to herself as she made a beeline for the only puff of white left in the sky: a single, pony-sized cloud floating over the hills just north of Ponyville. “Celestia, I love this job!” she told the sky as she perched on her makeshift hammock.
“Alright. Just a quick nap, then I should have at least three or four more hours of daylight for some practice.”
With a loud yawn, she put her hooves behind her head, closed her eyes, and smiled as she began drifting off to sleep...
Reflexively, one of Dash's ears rotated toward the source of the sound. A small scowl began to form on her face as she tried to pull a wad of cloud over her head.
“Oh, come on...” Rainbow Dash grumbled.
She rolled over and tried to bury her head into the cloud a little more. Though slightly muffled, the buzzing still found its way to her increasingly agitated ears.
Rainbow Dash's eyes shot open.
“Okay, what the hay is that noise?”
Reluctantly, she peeked out over the edge of her impromptu bed. The sound seemed to be coming from a small hill nearby. Squinting, she could see a sizable cloud of dust was rising into the sky creating a long, brown cloud just beyond the crest. Was it... moving?
Yes, it was definitely moving, and moving right towards her at considerable speed. Rainbow Dash tensed up slightly as the mysterious cloud approached the top of the hill.
As the buzzing grew louder, Rainbow Dash crouched on her cloud with an angry scowl on her face.
“This thing better have a really good reason for interrupting my nap.”
A small object shot over the crest of the hill, trailing dust and crossing directly in front of the mid-afternoon sun. Rainbow Dash blinked and threw up a hoof to shade her eyes as the object skidded to a stop beneath her.
“Huh?” the mare said as she stuck her head down through her floating platform to meet the familiar little voice. “Scootaloo?”
The little orange filly was jumping up and down next to her scooter wearing the biggest smile that Dash had ever seen. “You know, kid, it’s really hard to get any sleep with you buzzing around like that all the time. What do you want?”
Scootaloo didn't answer and simply continued to grin. She had stopped jumping and instead seemed to just be vibrating rapidly in place. Her eyes were wider than the mare could ever remember seeing them but they were unfocused and watering slightly. Something was definitely off. Rainbow Dash slipped through the bottom of her cloud and landed next to the odd filly.
“Uh, Scoots? You okay? What's going on?”
The sheer force of the filly's incoherent scream blew the rainbow mane back like a gale-force wind and threatened to knock Dash off of her hooves entirely. Her desperate attempt to cover her throbbing ears provided only mild relief. After a few seconds, the mare worked her jaw to pop her pounding ear drums before turning to the grinning child.
“Yeah, so 'Ow,'” she quipped sarcastically. “Let’s try that sentence again, only this time make it a bit slower and a whole lot quieter, okay?”
Scootaloo gave a quick nod but held her ecstatic smile.
“Right, so, nice and easy, what d’ya want?” Rainbow Dash squinted and braced for the inevitable verbal explosion.
As expected, with only a slight reduction of speed and perhaps even an increase in volume, Scootaloo screamed her message. Perhaps the repetition helped because this attempt came through much more clearly than the previous one.
“I GOT MY CUTIE MARK!!!”
Taking a few moments to recover from the second sonic onslaught, Rainbow Dash was finally able to process the content of the shout. She craned her neck to one side to confirm what she had heard. Sure enough, where just yesterday there had been only bare orange fur, a shining cutie mark now sat, still shimmering with residual magic. It depicted a stylized racing wheel with two small, white wings sprouting from either side that practically screamed ‘speed.’
“ISN’T IT AMAZING! IT’S SO COOL! WHAT DO YOU THINK, HUH?!?!” the filly shouted as she spun in circles eyeing her flank. Her grin continued to threaten the structural integrity of her cheeks.
Any annoyance she felt for her lost sleep was instantly forgotten as Rainbow Dash congratulated the little filly. “Hey, way to go, Scoots! I knew you could do it! Gotta say, that's probably the second-coolest cutie mark I've ever seen. You know, right after mine,” she said with a smirk. “So what are you waiting for, huh? You gonna tell me how you did it?”
“What?” Scootaloo had to force herself to look away from her long-awaited cutie mark. “Oh yeah! It was so awesome, Rainbow Dash! We had just gotten out of class and I was just riding my scooter through town like I always do when I see this giant board leaning up against this cart out in the middle of the street. Usually, other ponies get mad at me when I try to do jumps off of their stuff, but this ramp was just too perfect to pass up and nopony was around to see me so I went for it. I got going as fast as I could, probably faster than I’d ever been before, then I hit the ramp and flew so high! I could see over the tops of the houses! It was so crazy! But then it turned out that the cart was supposed to be like, a roadblock or something 'cuz they were doing a bunch of digging and stuff in the street on the other side. Of course I didn't see any of that until I was zooming over it all at like, a hundred miles an hour! I-”
“Whoa there, kiddo. You just jumped straight into a construction site? What have I told you about looking before you leap?” Dash interrupted with a stern look.
“That plans are for ponies too slow to think on their hooves?” Scootaloo responded by rote, slightly confused.
“Exac- Wait, did I really tell you that?”
“Yeah, you say it all the time! You said it just the other day when that chimera wandered into town! I even used it as my quote for the yearbook last year!”
Rainbow chuckled nervously.
“Heh, heh...” She rubbed a hoof against the back of her head. “Yeah, okay. I guess I do say that sometimes, but it was still dangerous to just go jumping off of things without checking the other side first. At least not before you can fly.”
“But I haven't even told you the best part yet! See, there was this big barrel full of nails and junk right in font of me. I thought I was gonna crash! I totally panicked and just started flapping my wings as hard as I could, and guess what?” The filly paused to catch her breath.
Scootaloo's face lit up again as she hovered a few inches above the ground in excitement. She landed again a few seconds later, breathing more heavily but no less energetic.
“I’m not sure you could call that ‘flying,’ Pipsqueak. That's more like... hovering,” Rainbow Dash stated matter-of-factly.
Scootaloo deflated slightly at this but quickly rebounded.
“Okay, so maybe I hovered but it was the farthest and the fastest I've ever hovered before! I just barely made it over the barrel and landed on the other side. It was so awesome! My heart was beating so fast and I was sweating like crazy and I almost jumped into a bunch of rusty nails but I loved every second of it! Then there was a big flash and my cutie mark just appeared!” The filly squealed with glee as she bounced in place again.
“Wow, Scoots, that's a pretty cool story. I guess Ponyville has a brand new daredevil pony now, huh?” The mare wore a sly smile as she leaned in close to the filly. “So what kinds of amazing feats do you have lined up?”
“F-Feats?” Scootaloo stopped bouncing, a nervous grimace snaking across her face. “I-I don't know. This all just happened a few minutes ago. I haven't planned anything yet. Wait! Does this mean everypony is going to want to see a show now? What should I do? I don’t even know any tricks! I need to go see the other crusaders. Maybe they can help me build some ramps and things and-” The blue hoof tussling her mane cut her off.
“Aw, I'm just kidding with ya, Scoots. There'll be plenty of time to show off your new-found talents. Right now I think it’s time for a celebration. Come on, hop on.”
Scootaloo's eyes went wide again as her hero crouched down beside her.
“You mean... you’re gonna give me a... ride? Like on your back?” she said in astonishment.
“Consider it a Cuteceanera present. I figure that a little daredevil like you is gonna need to get used to high speeds pretty quickly. Plus, we need to get you to Sugarcube Corner as fast as we can so you don’t miss your party.”
Scootaloo's jaw nearly dropped off.
“There's gonna be a party? For me?”
“What? You think I'd let my number one fan off without a Cutie Mark party, did you? No way!” she said with a dramatic wave. “Now did you want that ride or not?”
Still slightly in shock, Scootaloo quickly folded up her scooter, threw the strap across her chest, and hopped up onto her mentor’s back.
“Alright, Squirt. Hold on tight!”
Scootaloo scrunched up her face as the wind buffeted her, but she forced herself to open her eyes. The whole world became a blur of unimaginable colors. Once familiar landmarks became both twisted and beautiful as they passed at a velocity that she could only have imagined moments ago. Her mane whipped in the wind with such ferocity that it stung her neck wherever it made contact.
“You doin' alright back there?” Rainbow Dash called back over her shoulder, her voice barley registering over the sound of the air being torn.
Scootaloo just nodded her head as best she could before burying her face in the rainbow mane. If anypony asked later, she would say that the tears in her eyes were caused by the speed.
When the two ponies reached Sugarcube Corner, it was clear that a party was already in full swing. Balloons and streamers adorned the door frame along with a large banner with the words 'Congratulations Scootaloo!' written in a silly, rainbow-colored font. Scootaloo rubbed the moisture out of her eyes before marveling at the decorations.
“B-but how could- You're the only pony I've told so far. Where did all of this-”
A bright pink blur burst from the doorway of the bakery and was upon the two pegasi before either could blink, speaking as quickly as her lips would allow.
“You finally made it. Oh, I've been waiting soooo long for you two to get here which is weird because Rainbow Dash is usually so fast and all and I didn't want all the treats I made to go bad because I made so many! I've got cakes and pies and tarts and muf-"
Rainbow Dash stuffed a hoof in Pinkie's mouth to interrupt the cascade of words and casually glanced at the fully-operational party headquarters, taking her time to see everything.
“Wow, Pinks, you've really outdone yourself! The place looks awesome! Right, kid?”
“B-huh?” she stammered in confusion. “How did she know that-”
Pinkie broke free of Dash's hoof, still clearly excited but noticeably calmer.
“Oh, that's easy. See, I was bouncing through town a few hours ago because I really love bouncing! I just don’t get why everypony walks everywhere when bouncing is so much more fun! But I was also there because Mr. and Mrs. Cake had sent me out to get some more flour from Mr. Grindstone’s mill cause he makes the best flour in all of Equestria! Even I don't know how he does it! But it's just perfect for making all kinds of things like-”
Rainbow Dash cleared throat. “Can we cut to the chase here, Pinkie?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah! Anyway, I was almost back when I felt my left nostril get really cold, and then my right ear got really hot. So I ran inside and started baking and decorating and here you guys are!”
“Your nostril? What does that have to do with anything?” Scootaloo asked, casting a confused look at Rainbow Dash. The mare just shrugged as Pinkie tried to explain.
“Well, duh! A cold left nostril and a hot right ear means that one of my friends’ sister's friends just earned their cutie mark! It's one of my most favoritest combos of all even though I've never actually gotten to feel it before, but any combo that lets me throw a big party has to be pretty high on the list, right?”
Rainbow Dash simply laughed at the way Scootaloo’s mouth hung open.
“You haven't spent much time around Pinkie Pie, have you kid? Just go with it. You don't want your cake to go bad while you’re out here thinking, do you?”
The mention of cake seemed to snap the filly back to reality as she smiled and quickly ran inside the bakery followed by the two mares. As expected, the party was already roaring with what seemed like most of Ponyville in attendance. Scootaloo spied the other two crusaders standing over in one corner and quickly made her way to them, ignoring the various congratulations she received from the other townsponies along the way. Through many exclamations and dramatic re-enactments, Scootaloo recounted the adventure that led to her cutie mark for her friends. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle did their parts by adding surprised gasps and cheers where appropriate.
“...and that's how I got my cutie mark!” finished Scootaloo with a smug grin.
“That’s AMAZING, Scootaloo! Ah always knew yah'd get yer cutie mark doing some kind of awesome scooter trick. Ya really are good with that thing, like that time you jumped over that huge log while you were pullin' us in the wagon! Ah'd never gone that fast before!” Apple Bloom recalled.
Scootaloo rubbed her neck with a forehoof.
“Yeah, I remember that. I guess it was pretty cool, huh?”
After a brief pause, a spark of realization flashed through her features.
“Oh yeah, I totally forgot! I was supposed to meet you guys at the clubhouse after school, wasn't I? I guess I got a little distracted...”
“It's alright, Scootaloo. You had a good reason,” Sweetie Belle said happily. “Plus, it gave us some time to get your present ready!” The little unicorn smiled brightly.
“You guys got me a present?” she said excitedly.
Scootaloo's eyes lit up expectantly as she watched her friends retrieve a long cardboard tube that had been leaning against the wall in the corner of the room. She eagerly nosed open the cap with a satisfying 'pop' and pulled out the large roll of paper inside. She had to bump a few of the ponies mingling nearby out of her way as she tried to unroll the gift on the floor, but she eventually cleared enough space to see her present in full.
Two dozen ponies looked back at her, all wearing bright blue and yellow uniforms with shiny golden goggles. The Wonderbolts! Her friends had somehow bought one of the limited edition wall posters that she had tried so hard to get for herself last year. With all the shows that they do all over the world, it was very unusual for the whole team to be in one place at one time, which made these kinds of souvenirs some of the rarest and most cherished by collectors. Scootaloo's smile faded considerably, however, when she noticed that there were dozens of small scribbles all across the poster in what looked like black permanent marker, some even cutting across the faces and bodies of a few of the ponies. She looked at her friends uncertainly.
“Wow... uh, thanks, guys. This is really... cool.”
Her forced smile was clearly not working as well as she had hoped. The other crusaders looked at each other in shock and confusion before turning to their friend.
“What's wrong, Scootaloo? I thought ya loved the Wonderbolts?” Apple Bloom asked.
“Well, yeah, I do... And it's a really cool poster, I just-”
Sweetie Belle moaned sadly. “And after we went through all the trouble of getting it signed, too.”
Scootaloo's eyes shot back to the poster. “Signed?” she repeated. Sure enough, each scribble was paired with a Wonderbolt and, on closer inspection, some letters were clearly legible. Non-unicorns had never been known for their penmanship. Her breathing increased as she scanned the poster, mentally cataloging each scribble. She dropped to her haunches as she concluded that it had truly been signed by every single active member of the squadron.
Scootaloo could only manage to make a few incoherent noises as the true value of the item before her settled into her mind. Slowly, her shock began to wane, being replaced by a wide smile. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle exchanged another quick glance before immediately returning to their previous elation.
“You really do like it!” Sweetie Belle cheered.
“I love it! I can't believe that you got all these signatures! The Wonderbolts are always on tour all over the place! How... How in Equestria did you get this?” she asked in bewilderment.
“Well, we are sisters of two a' the most famous ponies in Equestria. It was nothin',” Apple Bloom said as she rubbed her chest nonchalantly.
Sweetie Belle cocked an eyebrow at her friend.
“And by nothing, I suppose you're talking about how we asked our sisters to talk to the Princess for us and how we asked Spike to send the poster to Canterlot whenever the Wonderbolts were in town, right?”
Apple Bloom deflated a bit.
“Uh, yeah... right...ah guess we had a little help...” she said with an embarrassed smile. “Anyway... We were saving it for yer birthday, but this seemed like a good time, too.”
Scootaloo continued to stare at her gift in amazement.
“Wow, girls. I-I don't know what to say. This is easily the best present I've ever gotten. I love you, guys.”
Scootaloo was enthralled with the poster. As she tried to soak in every detail, she didn't notice her two friends exchange sly smiles.
“What was that, Scootaloo? You what us?”
Scootaloo's head whipped up in panic.
She began to slowly back away from her friends as they advanced on her.
“Heh, heh... Come on, girls. You know what I meant. You don't have to-”
“HUG!!!” screamed the two crusaders as they tackled their friend into a giant bear hug.
“WHAA-ugh...” Scootaloo groaned as she found herself staring at the ceiling, her two friends firmly latched to either side of her body. Trapped, she growled and closed her eyes to wait for the hug to end.
“Uh, hey, Scoots. Am I... interrupting something?” a familiar voice said, only just stifling a laugh.
Scootaloo opened her eyes to see the inverted face of Rainbow Dash standing over her. In an impressive show of humiliation-based strength, she managed to break free from her friends and roll over to meet Dash's gaze.
“Oh, uh, hi Rainbow Dash! I was just... see, uh, they gave me-”
Scootaloo was cut off as Rainbow Dash gave her a playful pat on the head.
“Don't worry about it, kid,” she said before turning to Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle who were just managing to stand after being flung from their embrace. “Hey, why don't you two go grab some cake. I need some one-on-one time with your buddy, here.”
“Oh, okay...” said the farm filly. “Race ya to the cake, Sweetie Belle! ReadySetGo!”
“Huh? Wait! I wasn't ready!” the unicorn yelled as she galloped after Apple Bloom.
Scootaloo watched her two friends run screaming and giggling through Sugarcube Corner’s eating area. Her cheeks burnt red as she turned back to her hero.
“Well, that was embarrassing.” She forced out what she hoped was a casual laugh.
“Aw, I'm just messing with you. You three are actually pretty cute. Sometimes.”
“Yeah... cute. Just what I was going for.” Scootaloo cringed slightly at the description. “Anyway, what did you want to talk to me about?”
“Well,” the mare said, “I just figured, this being your big day and all, that you deserved a little something special.” She added a wink to really spur the filly’s imagination.
Scootaloo’s eyes lit up once more in anticipation. Rainbow Dash had given her a few small token items during their occasional meetings but they had all been spur-of-the-moment gifts, and never something to mark a special occasion like today. “Ooo, what’d you get me? What’d you-”
She stopped almost instantly when Rainbow Dash pulled a small, folded piece of paper from her mane and held it out to her. Scootaloo eyed the paper skeptically. The bright pink color was only offset by a simple pattern of black lines in the shape of a cupcake. It took only a moment for her to recognize it as one of Sugarcube Corner’s signature party napkins. She glanced sideways to a table where literally hundreds more were placed in large stacks waiting to be wiped with food and thrown away without a second thought.
“What is this?” she asked, poking it cautiously with her hoof. It was just a normal-looking napkin. There wasn’t even any kind of lump to suggest that an object had been folded up inside.
“What? You've never seen a napkin before?” the mare said upon seeing Scootaloo’s confusion.
“You're giving me... a napkin?”
“This isn’t just any napkin. This was my napkin” Rainbow Dash said with a proud smile.
Scootaloo nodded her head slowly as she reached out to take the unusual gift.
“Uh, thanks?” she said, still very confused.
“Well?” Rainbow Dash leaned in close, smiling in a way the filly had never seen before.
“Aren't you gonna open it?”
“O...kay.” Rainbow Dash’s odd grin was starting to creep her out just a little bit but she decided to go along with her for now. As expected, the napkin’s inner folds were empty.
“What’s going on? Are you pranking me?” she said as she looked around the room expecting to see another pony waiting in the wings to unleash some gag while her attention was occupied by this silly conversation.
The edges of Rainbow Dash’s smile quivered slightly. Her famously limited patience was just about tapped. “Just flip it over, Squirt.”
As Scootaloo flipped the napkin over, she saw that somepony, likely Rainbow Dash herself judging by the roughness, had hastily scribbled something on the other side. Underneath a crudely drawn picture of a flying pegasus with a lightning bolt cutie mark, a single sentence was written:
One coupon for free flight lessons from the world-famous Rainbow Dash!
Scootaloo froze. Only her pupils moved as she read that line at least ten times, each time more slowly than the last.
“Uh, Scootaloo?” said Rainbow Dash as she tapped her hoof on the catatonic filly's head. “Hello? You awake in there? You okay?”
“Come on, kid! Snap out of it!” she said a bit louder along with a slight push.
Scootaloo only blinked twice, very slowly, not moving a muscle.
“Y-you're going... to... fly... me... like you...” she stammered, eyes still locked on the napkin.
“That’s... close... I guess,” Dash said with a confused look. “But, yeah, I'm gonna teach you to fly! I figure Equestria's newest stunt performer's gonna need to be trained by the best! Especially if she wants to be a Wonderbolt someday! Gotta start as soon as you can, right?”
Rainbow Dash raised a hoof to her chest and flared her wings. The slight gust of wind caused the napkin to waft out of Scootaloo's grip. She didn't seem to notice, however, as she continued to stare catatonically at her now empty hoof.
“Alright, kid, you're starting to scare me now,” Rainbow Dash said. She leaned in close to Scootaloo's head and yelled directly into the small orange ear.
Rainbow Dash hadn't noticed how loud the party had been until it suddenly went silent. Everypony in the room was staring at her, wide-eyed. She stood up and laughed nervously. Screaming at the guest of honor was certainly unusual at one of Pinkie’s parties and the other guests wore expressions ranging from confusion to disgust in response.
“Heh, hey, everypony...” she said with an awkward smile. “How's it going? Cool party, huh? Have you tried the punch?” She tried to casually nudge a nearby stallion but he backed away from her touch. “This... this thing... isn't what it looks like,” she said as she gestured toward the filly. “I was just trying to- GAH!!!”
Rainbow Dash nearly jumped out of her skin as she felt something small and fuzzy attach to her back leg. Whipping her head around, she saw a small ball of orange and purple gripping her leg as tightly as possible, her head buried in the hug.
“Dang, Scoots. Don’t do that.” Her look of shock quickly receded into a calm smile. “I see you're okay now.”
Scootaloo only nodded her head, burying herself even farther into Dash's leg.
“So what do you think? You wanna learn to fly?”
Scootaloo lifted her head to answer but quickly had to hide her face again before making eye contact. She sniffed loudly and tried to wipe her eyes with the back of her hoof. Rainbow Dash looked concerned for a moment before she noticed that Scootaloo was smiling. Dash gently wiggled free of the filly's grip and turned around to face her, giving her a small, knowing smile. She rubbed her hoof through Scootaloo's mane.
“I think I'll take that as a yes?” she said as she leaned down to Scootaloo who was still trying to avoid meeting Dash's eyes as a few tears managed to break free and slide down her face.
Scootaloo suddenly leapt forward, burying her face in Rainbow's chest and giving her the biggest hug her small hooves could manage. Rainbow Dash hesitated for a moment, surprised by the contact, before happily returning the hug.
“...thank you...” Scootaloo said quietly between sniffles. “...thank you so much...”
Rainbow Dash’s eyelids twitched as a thin beam of sunlight peeked through her window, casting a harsh glow across her face. Scowling, she tried to roll away but no matter how she twisted and turned, the persistent rays would always find their way to her eyes. With a groan, she glared at the window and rolled onto her hooves. She made her way to the offending opening and looked out over the still, silent silhouette of Ponyville.
“Ugh... Really, Celestia? You had to put it right there?” she muttered to herself. “You couldn’t have raised it over there somewhere?” She waved her hoof in a vain attempt to push the sun back below the horizon.
“GOOD MORNING, RAINBOW DASH!”
Rainbow Dash recoiled from the sound as it echoed through her head. Clamping her hooves over her ears she began trying to find the source in the soft morning light. It took a few seconds of blinking for her eyes to adjust, but she soon spotted a small orange filly sitting in the grass beneath her cloud home.
“Aw, Jeez, kid. Do you know what time it is? What do you want? I'm tryin' to sleep up here,” the mare grumbled.
“But it's the first day of spring vacation!”
“Good for you. Have fun with that,” Dash dead-panned. “Now I'm going back to bed.”
Scootaloo jumped to her hooves as Rainbow Dash turned away from her window.
“B-but what about my lessons?” Scootaloo yelled in desperation at the now-empty window. “We were supposed to have the whole week!”
Rainbow Dash paused, the wheels of her mind turning slowly in her sleepy haze. She glanced over at her calendar on the wall. Sure enough, today's date had a large red circle around it with the words “Start Scoots' Flight Training” written next to it. The rest of the week had similar, though smaller, notes indicating that she had already promised her whole week to this endeavour. Dash sighed and turned back to the window.
“That was today, was it?” she asked, defeated.
“Yep! I can’t wait to get started!” Scootaloo said enthusiastically.
Rainbow grumbled. “Do we have to start now? Seriously, I don't think I've ever seen the sun this low. Come back in a few hours.” She tried to wave the filly off.
Scootaloo’s ears drooped sadly. “Well, okay, I guess. I can wait a little longer for you to be ready.” The filly turned in a small circle before lying down and putting her head in her hooves. With a disappointed frown, she began absentmindedly running a hoof through the grass in front of her as it swayed in the wind. She watched half-heartedly as the blades wiggled in time with her soft breathing. A lone ant distracted her for a few seconds as it crossed her field of vision before disappearing behind a small mound of dirt. Side show over, she returned her gaze to the grass. Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow.
A disturbing thought suddenly crossed through Rainbow’s imagination. “How... long have you been out here?” she asked hesitantly.
Scootaloo's head perked up a bit. “Oh, just a couple hours now. I wanted to get started as soon as possible.”
“A couple... hours...” Rainbow Dash repeated.
“Yuh-huh” Scootaloo nodded.
“Yeah...” Rainbow Dash grimaced slightly at the thought of the filly sitting outside in the dark, staring at her bedroom window while she slept. “That’s not creepy at all,” she muttered under her breath. “Are you just going to sit there until I come down, then?”
“Well, yeah, I guess,” said the filly as if the answer should have been obvious.
Rainbow Dash finally relented with a heavy sigh. This was just too painful to watch. “Alright, alright. I'll be right down. Just... just gimme a minute.”
Scootaloo immediately bounced back to her hooves and began hopping in place and giggling in excitement. Rainbow Dash couldn’t help smiling at the sudden reversal in mood before turning back into her room. She slowly moved to an empty corner and, with another deep yawn, she bucked the ceiling above her head. The cloud rumbled before releasing a brief but powerful torrent of rain, instantly soaking Dash from tip to tail. Shower over, she stepped outside and took a deep breath of morning air. The scent of baked goods was strong this morning; Pinkie must have gotten an early start today. Feeling a bit more invigorated, the mare took off high into the sky above her home. Pausing for only a moment to take in the spectacular view, she turned and fell into a steep dive, rainbow trail following her path through the air. The ground came up quickly but she flared her wings with practiced grace and skidded to a stop directly in front of the small filly on her lawn. Scootaloo's jaw dropped.
“That...” she said, stunned. “That was awesome! What do you call that trick?” she asked.
“Trick?” she asked, looking around in confusion. “Oh, what? You mean what I just did? I was just drying my hair.” Rainbow Dash ran her hoof through her mane to straighten out a few stray hairs. “No biggie.”
Scootaloo's adoring look didn't falter. Rainbow Dash cast a glace back up to her porch before smiling back at the filly. “Wow, I guess I’ve forgotten what it's like to be grounded,” she said with a laugh. “Don’t worry, I'm gonna show you how do way cooler things than that. That's just beginner stuff.”
“That's... beginner?” Scootaloo's smile faded as her teeth clenched anxiously.
“Hey, don't worry.” The mare gave her a reassuring pat on the back. “We'll start slow until you get the hang of it. Even the easy tricks take practice when you're just starting out.”
Scootaloo's smile returned, less confident than before but just as eager, as she looked up at her new teacher.
“Okay. I'm ready! How do we start?”
“Well, first we should... uh, first...”
Rainbow Dash's mind raced as she realized that she had forgotten to prepare any kind of training regimen. Scootaloo just stared at her curiously.
“Okay. First, um... first, I think I need to see exactly what I'm dealing with here.” She gave a confident nod, figuring she had bought herself a bit of time. “So, show me what you can do already, then I should be able to see what you need help with.”
Scootaloo clearly had not been expecting this. She quickly broke eye contact, choosing to stare down at her hooves shuffling nervously in the dirt.
“You want to see me... fly? Now?” she asked as she kicked a small rock.
“Well, not fly yet, I guess, but just do what you can for now.” Dash gave her most supportive smile. “I’m out here to teach you, so I’m not exactly expecting you pull off a rainboom or anything.”
Scootaloo swallowed. “Okay, but I'm not very good. All the other ponies in my class make fun of me about it...”
Rainbow Dash put her hoof on Scootaloo's chin and lifted her head until their eyes met.
“I’ve got plenty of experience with bullies, believe me.” She rolled her eyes. “I don't want you thinking about those jerks right now. It doesn't matter where you're starting. You're getting professional training now. With a bit of my help I know you'll be able to kick all of their flanks in no time. Then we’ll see if they’re still laughing.”
Scootaloo's enthusiasm returned. “Yeah, I’ll show them!” She gave a quick nod and took a few steps back to give herself some room. “Okay, here I go!”
Scootaloo held her breath and contorted her face in concentration as her wings began to give off their familiar buzzing sound. With a burst of effort, her hooves left the ground. She floated there about six inches off the ground, flapping with every ounce of energy in her small body. Ten seconds in, her cheeks were glowing red and the strain in her face was apparent. She finally released the breath she was holding and collapsed onto her belly gasping for air.
“So...h-how was... how was that?” she asked wheezing. Despite her exhaustion she wore a weak but proud grin.
“Wait? Is that really all you can do?” Dash asked in a surprised tone.
Scootaloo shrunk back at the unexpected criticism. “I... I told you I'm not very good, yet,” she said sadly. “What am I doing wrong?”
Rainbow Dash had her work cut out for her. Scootaloo was still using a technique that most foals had given up on long before reaching this age. “Well, I think your main problem is that whole... 'hummingbird' thing you're doing. You're flapping way too fast.” Rainbow rose into the air to demonstrate proper wing technique. “See? You really only need to flap this fast.” The mare’s wings pushed gently and evenly against the air as she hovered in place comfortably. “Going faster will just make you too tired too quickly.”
“But I've tried to do that! If I go any slower I can't take off at all!” She stamped a small hoof to emphasize her point.
“Hey, you’ve gotta learn how to do it the right way eventually, so you might as well start now.” Rainbow Dash crossed her hooves and waited.
“Fine,” the filly grumbled, “but it won’t work.” Despite her objections, Scootaloo was determined to give this her best effort. She closed her eyes tightly, crouched, and flung herself into the air as powerfully as her legs would allow. Her wings swooped slowly once, then twice. Her eyes opened just in time to slam shut again as her face connected with the ground not two feet from where she had jumped.
The teacher unsuccessfully attempted to muffle her laughter.
“Hey!” the student protested as she wiped the dirt from her nose. “Quit it! I told you that wouldn’t work!”
“Okay, okay, sorry, sorry. They do say that before learning to fly, you have to learn to fall but I don’t think that’s quite what they had in mind.” Rainbow Dash tapped a hoof to her forehead. “Hmmm... Alright. I guess we’ll just let you do it your own way for now. Can't really do much about that. At least not until after we actually get you in the air. But if you have to flap that quickly all the time, you'll need to be able to do it for as long as you possibly can. So, I think the first thing we need to have you work on is endurance.”
“Yup. Pretty basic stuff. You just need to push yourself as hard as possible for as long as you can. If you keep practicing, you should get stronger and be able to stay airborne longer. It’s all about building muscle.”
“That sounds hard...” said the filly, looking hesitantly at her already strained wings.
“Well you've definitely got a few long, tiring days ahead of you, but there aren’t really any shortcuts here. We need to make you stronger first before we can do anything else. No time like the present, so get to it. Float for as long as you can and after you land, try to take off again as soon as you feel like you can.”
“Alright... here we go...” she said as her wings buzzed into action.
Scootaloo landed heavily, panting for air. “How long... was... that?”
Rainbow Dash looked at the stopwatch bemusedly.
“Fifty-four seconds, kid.”
“Cool! That's my best time so far!”
“Yeah, good job,” Rainbow replied without much enthusiasm.
Scootaloo gave her a confused look. “Hey, is everything okay? You’ve been kinda weird these last two days.”
Scootaloo had been training with Rainbow Dash every day for a week now and while she had shown some improvement, she still couldn't maintain flight for more than a minute. Rainbow Dash was having a difficult time hiding her frustration at this point.
“Yeah, you're doing fine,” she answered with a sigh. “I just didn't think it would take this long to get you off the ground. I'm thinking we might need to try a different approach.” The mare tried to think for a few moments. She scrambled for an idea, anything to break the crushing monotony of endless strength training. “Maybe we could get you some experience higher up. Some short flights to work on actual movement and accuracy instead of raw power.”
The excitement on Scootaloo's face was apparent. Truthfully, she too was getting tired of the endless strength training and had been hoping for a change of pace. “Sounds cool! So what should I do?”
Rainbow Dash looked around and spotted a small, dense cluster of about twenty or thirty trees nearby. Her eyes lit up as she formulated a plan.
“How 'bout I carry you up into those trees?” She pointed off into the distance. “You just try to fly through the leaves and junk as best you can. It will teach you how to maneuver around obstacles and through areas of low visibility, but there are plenty of branches so you can land whenever you need to take a break. Think of it a bit like an obstacle course. It should be a lot more interesting for you than just hovering, that's for sure.”
Scootaloo seemed slightly apprehensive. “Do you think I can do it? Those trees look kinda... high.”
“Aw, is the widdle baby scared of the big, mean trees?” the mare said as she gave the filly a playful noogie. “Did’ja forget? I'll be right there with you. All you have to do is yell and I'll swoop in to save the day!” Rainbow Dash struck a heroic pose to punctuate her assurance.
The filly's excitement returned in an instant. “Alright! Let's do it!”
“That's what I like to hear! Grab on!”
Rainbow Dash extended a hoof to her student. Scootaloo held on tightly as she was flown up into the canopy of the small forest and placed onto a wide bough on one of the outer-most trees. She peered into the thick tangle of leaves, twigs, and branches that stood in front of her. The foliage was thicker than it had appeared from the ground. Finding a path through this mess would truly be a challenge.
“So here's the plan, squirt.” Rainbow Dash floated above her and used her best coaching voice. “You make your way through here as fast as you can. It looks like it’s only about 40 yards across or so, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble doing it is less than, say, three minutes? I'll be flying above you, so if you need any help just give me a shout and I'll be down in a flash, 'kay?”
Scootaloo nodded. She faced forward into foliage and buzzed her wings in excitement.
“Alright then. Ready...”
The filly crouched down and put on her game face.
Scootaloo growled at the trees, baring her teeth and bristling with anticipation.
“RAH!” Scootaloo practically roared as she dove into the canopy, determined to overcome this new challenge. Luckily, it seemed like she may have caught a bit of a break. Though the trees were thick, she could see a small path of sorts leading deeper inside. For any normal-sized pony, it would have been far too small, but she found that she could squeeze herself through without much discomfort. She continued in this way as best she could, hovering from branch to branch as quickly as her wings would allow. After about ten yards, she reached a dead-end. Thick vines of ivy snaked between all the nearby branches creating a solid curtain of impenetrable green. Scootaloo paused for a moment.
“Rainbow Dash?” she called up through the leaves.
Two seconds later, the rainbow-maned mare burst through the foliage directly above Scootaloo. She looked around quickly before cocking an eyebrow at the filly.
“What's up, kiddo? You taking a nap or something?”
“No,” Scootaloo said defensively. “But there’s no way past this stuff. Could I start over? I think there was another way through a few branches back that way.” She turned to head back into the trees from where she had just come.
“Oh, come on, Scoots. You can't give up that easily,” Dash said with a smirk. “They're just trees. If you can't see a path, you make a path, alright? That's all part of the test. You’ve got to be able to adapt to new situations and deal with unforeseen obstacles. Someday, you might find a situation where you can’t just turn back. Now get to it, and I expect to see you on the other side soon, okay?” Rainbow Dash gave Scootaloo a quick noogie before jumping up and out of the clearing.
Rainbow Dash resumed her casual floating over the tree tops. She couldn't see Scootaoo from where she was, but the filly's loud buzzing allowed her to keep track of her easily. A couple of seconds later, that buzzing resumed followed by some rustling noises. It seemed that Scootaloo had forced her way through the blockade and was continuing her journey. Rainbow Dash smiled proudly as she calmly tracked her student from the air.
Rainbow Dash reacted instantaneously. She dove down through the trees, following the sound of snapping twigs and rustling leaves. She couldn't see anything ahead of her but she soon felt a hoof brush against her outstretched foreleg. She grabbed it securely and slowed to a stop just as the two falling ponies exited from the bottom of the canopy.
Rainbow Dash closed her eyes with a haughty smile. “What'd I tell ya? I got-”
Rainbow Dash stopped short when she noticed that the weight in her hooves was substantially greater than what she remembered from carrying the little filly earlier. Her jaw dropped when she opened her eyes.
“F-Flutter-? But w-”
Rainbow Dash's heart nearly stopped at the sound from behind her. She spun in a panic to see a pile of leaves and branches lying at the base of a nearby tree. A small orange leg could just be seen sticking out from under the jumble of broken plant material. Fluttershy yelped as she was unceremoniously dropped, a rainbow trail streaking straight to the filly. Rainbow Dash started frantically throwing the branches, some quite large, off of her fallen student.
“Scootaloo! Oh, horseapples, Scootaloo! You okay, kid?” she said as the last of the branches was removed. In her panicked state, she didn't even register Fluttershy's voice behind her.
“Oh, thank you so much, Rainbow Dash. I was just feeding some of my bird friends when something knocked me right off of my hooves,” she explained while removing a few leaves from her mane. She began to trot over to where Dash sat with her back to her.
“I sure am lucky that you were here. If you hadn't caught me, I- Oh my goodness! What happened?” she exclaimed as she came up next to her friend and noticed the little filly on the ground for the first time.
Scootaloo was lying on her left side, breathing heavily but otherwise not moving. There was a sizable cut above her right eye that was bleeding substantially and had already begun to swell. Rainbow Dash lightly shook the filly with her hoof.
“Come on, kid. Get up, get up, get up...” she pleaded softly.
Scootaloo groaned and swung her hoof weakly, instinctively trying to bat away the annoyance. When the poking persisted, she was forced to return to consciousness. The swelling prevented her from opening her right eye, so she just squinted with her left one as she slowly turned her head to look at Rainbow Dash. The pain in her face was clear and accented by stream of blood flowing from her forehead.
“Oh, Geez, kid. I'm so sorry! I-I-I...” She struggled to find any words. “Are you okay? Does anything hurt?” Dash rambled quickly.
“Oops.” Scootaloo coughed before releasing a small laugh that came out as more of a gagging noise. “I guess I missed the branch, huh? That was pretty dumb.” Her words were slow and pained but she tried to smile. “I'm okay. J-Just give me a sec.” She shakily rolled onto her hooves and tried to stand. She wobbled wildly and nearly side-stepped into a tree before she managed to come to a stop. She took three very unsteady steps to approach the two mares.
Rainbow Dash was unable to speak. She could only stare as the filly limped toward her. For once, it was Fluttershy who found her voice first.
“Oh, my goodness! Scootaloo! What happened to you? Are you okay?” She gasped. “Oh, no! W-Was that you up in the tree? I'm so sorry I got in your way! This is all my fault! Here, let me help you!” Fluttershy moved to support the shaky filly.
Scootaloo tried to wave the mare away and nearly lost her balance again. “Nah, it's alright. I'm fine. Just a little fall, right Dash?” she said, wincing as she lowered her hoof again. “All part of being an amazing daredevil!” Scootaloo turned and started hobbling away.
Rainbow Dash was about to speak but as she looked up at the filly, the air caught in her throat. Scootaloo's left wing was dangling limply at her side looking more like a ragged old feather-duster than anything that belonged on a pony. With every step, it would swing and slap against her side causing a noticeable bolt of pain to shoot up her spine.
The filly looked back over her shoulder, her teeth clenched and sweat forming on her brow as she tried to ignore the messages her nerves were sending. “Come on. L-let's get b-back up there. I wanna try to... to f-... finish...”
Rainbow Dash snapped out of her stupor just in time to catch Scootaloo as she fainted mid-sentence. With her senses returned, she sprung into action. “Come on, Fluttershy! We've got to get her to the hospital!” she yelled before quickly but gently placing Scootaloo across her own back and lifting off. Fluttershy squealed and followed a few feet behind.
Rainbow Dash had to fight her urge to fly as fast as she could out of fear of causing even more damage to the filly during the trip. Because of this restraint, Fluttershy had no problems keeping pace with the much stronger flyer.
“Oh, no, Rainbow Dash. I’m so sorry! I didn’t see her there and then when I fell I-I-I got scared and I couldn’t fly so you had to catch me... This is all my fault. I shouldn’t have been there.” The yellow pegasus was on the verge of tears.
“No, Fluttershy,” Rainbow Dash responded without looking back. “It’s my fault. I knew she couldn’t fly but I stuck her up in those trees because... well, because I was bored.” She scoffed at her own actions. “I’m so stupid! I was bored so I threw her into a situation she couldn’t handle and now...” Her voice trailed off, unable to complete the thought. They flew in silence for a few more seconds.
“I-is she going to be okay?” Fluttershy asked quietly.
“I... I d-... I don't know,” Rainbow Dash forced out. She cast a glance at the unconscious filly on her back. “I-I screwed up and I'm just praying to Celestia that she's not paying the price.” With effort, she forced herself to look away from her passenger and back to the horizon ahead. “Look, let's... let's just get there, okay?”
Fluttershy lowered her head and fell back behind Rainbow Dash. They flew the rest of the way to the Ponyville hospital in silence. When they arrived, Fluttershy led the way through the hospital's double doors, holding one side open to allow her friend to enter.
“Um, excuse me, Nurse. We need some help over here if-if you’re not too busy, that is,” she called meekly into the waiting area.
The white nurse pony at the front desk lowered her magazine to peer at the two mares in front of her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. What can we do for you today?” she replied in a professional tone.
“GET OVER HERE!” Rainbow Dash screamed causing Fluttershy to dive for cover behind a nearby row of chairs.
The nurse jumped out of her chair, her magazine flopping to the ground beside her. A hint of annoyance broke through her otherwise calm facade as she rounded the reception desk. “Excuse me, Miss, but we do have patients trying to sleep so if you could-” She stopped her lecture as she noticed the small filly draped across the mare’s back. Her training kicked in immediately as she ran to their side and began quickly examining Scootaloo’s battered form.
“Tell me what happened,” she said, her professional tone returning.
“I-... She fell out of a tree. I th-think her wing...” Rainbow Dash found herself unable to actually say the words that she was thinking.
Her preliminary check complete, the nurse nodded before whistling loudly toward the back of the hospital. “We need a gurney out here!” she yelled. Within seconds, the rattling of wheels on tile could be heard as two large earth ponies dressed in white robes rolled a gurney through the swinging doors at the back of the room and up next to Rainbow Dash. “Get this filly back to a room. Watch the cut on her head and be careful on the left side. We might have a broken wing, here.”
Rainbow Dash winced at the words, but she bit her lip and forced herself to stand still as the orderlies slowly lifted the still-unconscious Scootaloo onto the gurney. She could only watch as all three medical ponies quickly wheeled her away through the double doors at the far side of the room. A second later, the nurse poked her head back out and pointed.
“Ma’am? There’s a restroom right over there that you can use.”
By the time Rainbow Dash was able to respond, the nurse had already disappeared into the depths of the hospital. “Res- what?”
“Um, Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy squeaked. Rainbow turned to look at her friend who was staring right back at her, eyes full of worry. “I-I think...” She trailed off as she pointed to the other mare’s back.
Stiffly, Rainbow craned her neck to see, though she immediately wished she hadn’t. Her normally pristine blue coat was marred by a sickening splatter of red. Small trails of blood flowed down her sides with more sizable patches forming on the flatter areas of her back. The most disturbing part, though, and what the mare could not tear her gaze away from, was the roughly filly-sized patch of clean fur right in the center. She swallowed.
“Uh, r-right... Restroom...” she mumbled. “Fluttershy? I could- Could you help me out with... this?”
Fluttershy nodded somberly and the two mares made their way into the nearby restroom. While Fluttershy began moistening some paper towels, Rainbow Dash could only stand and stare catatonically at her own hooves. She didn’t move once as her friend began wiping her clean, only choosing to shut her eyes when small pools of the re-hydrated blood began forming on the bright white tiles beneath her.
“All done...” the shy pony said a few minutes later.
Rainbow Dash didn’t move.
Fluttershy put a hoof on her friend’s shoulder. “She’s going to be okay, Rainbow Dash. The doctors here are... really good.”
Rainbow Dash found it difficult to pull her gaze from the floor. “I... I know. I just... I just need to go sit down or something,” she responded finally turning around to reenter the main room.
Fluttershy led the way over to a pair of couches in the corner of the hospital's waiting room. The two mares sat down and just stared at the floor for a few minutes, neither one able to think of anything to say.
Ponyville was a small, typically peaceful town so it was not uncommon for the emergency room to be empty which is exactly how they found it today. The abject silence only served to intensify Rainbow's worry. When she could not longer take it, she slammed her face down into the cushions and let out a frustrated groan.
“Ugh! I'm so stupid! Why did I take her up there? What the heck was I thinking? I knew she couldn't fly yet. I should’ve known something like this would happen! Great job, Rainbow Dash,” she began talking to herself sarcastically. “Total teacher of the year, you are.”
Fluttershy tried to speak up. “I-It was an accident, Rainbow Dash. Try not to be so hard on yourself. It was mostly my fault, anyway...” She seemed to be on the verge of tears. “You did a really good job getting her here, so she'll be... fine” she finished quietly.
The uncertainty in Fluttershy's voice only worsened Dash's mood. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat before groaning and rolling off the couch and onto her hooves. Fluttershy just watched sadly from the corner as Rainbow Dash began nervously pacing the room, occasionally glancing at the clock ticking loudly above the nurse’s desk.
Three hours had passed since Scootaloo's accident, and other than the nurse coming around to offer water once or twice, the waiting ponies hadn't heard anything. Fluttershy was still curled up on one of the waiting room couches but Rainbow Dash had resorted to slowly but ceaselessly flying back and forth across the room. Neither mare had spoken to the other in over an hour, though a steady stream of self-directed insults were being mumbled by the airborne pegasus.
Suddenly, the crushing silence was broken by the sound of hooves on tile. The steps were loud and quick; somepony was running. The two mares heads shot up, Rainbow Dash quickly landing, to stare at the double doors that led further into the hospital. The sound slowly grew louder and louder. A few moments later, the double doors burst open as a small orange filly ran into the room at full speed.
“Rainbow Dash!” she cried happily as she galloped to her mentor.
Rainbow returned a weak smile, mostly for the filly's benefit than any genuine happiness. Though she was clearly in high spirits, Scootaloo still bore the marks of her injuries. Each of the gauze bandages that covered half a dozen cuts all across her body was tinged with red, the largest being from the cut over her eye. Most notable, however, was the bright white cast that encased Scootaloo's left wing making it stick out awkwardly to her side. Rainbow Dash's eyes lingered on the cast even as Scootaloo began nuzzling against her chest.
“H-hey, Scoots... so, how ya feelin'?” Dash asked awkwardly.
Before she could answer, the double doors swung open again, grabbing everypony's attention once more. This time, they revealed a pegasus stallion wearing a bright white medical coat. Rainbow Dash tensed up slightly. She had never liked doctors much and a doctor with a blood red mane like his only made her feel more uncomfortable. He approached the only other ponies in the waiting room and placed his clipboard on a nearby table. He took a moment to clear his throat and adjust his collar before speaking.
“Good afternoon, ladies. My name is Doctor Stitch and I was in charge of patching up little Scootaloo here today.” He smiled warmly at the filly who smiled back while nuzzling further into Rainbow Dash's side. “You two must be Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. I've heard quite a lot about the two of you over the last couple of hours, especially you Ms. Dash.”
Rainbow Dash gave a small awkward chuckle. She knew about Scootaloo's tendency to ramble when she was the subject of conversation and based on the way the filly was blushing, she knew it too.
“So, down to business.” He moved to read the long chart attached to his clipboard. “First of all, we cleaned up all the little cuts and scrapes. They should heal within a day or two, no problem. The big one on her head needed a couple stitches and there were signs of a small concussion but there doesn't seem to be any significant damage so she should be fine if she takes it easy on the ol’ noggin for a while.” He playfully tapped a hoof against the side of his head to illustrate.
The doctor’s effort to lighten the mood seemed to be working for two of the ponies, at least. Fluttershy and Scootaloo were both smiling happily, even laughing slightly at the doctor's upbeat demeanor. Rainbow Dash, on the other hoof, had grown even more tense. She glanced at the bright white cast again.
“Yeah, yeah, Doc. How's... What about her wing?”
Dr. Stitch's face grew darker as he spoke. “Yes. Well, as you might have guessed, her left wing was broken. It was a relatively simple fracture so we were able to set it without any complications. The cast should take care of the rest. The magic in there should have that bone patched up within a couple days.”
“So we can restart my flying training in just a few days?” Scootaloo interrupted with a hopeful tone. She had clearly been expecting a much longer hiatus.
The doctor released a heavy sigh. The cheerful gleam in his eyes had completely disappeared now, replaced by a stoic visage that came from years of work in medicine. Any levity in the room was lost immediately. The other three ponies looked at each other nervously before focusing on the still silent doctor.
“Doc?” Rainbow Dash asked slowly, her voice full of worry. “W-what's up? Is her wing okay?”
Dr. Stitch took another deep breath before answering.
“As far as the injury goes, yes. Her wing was set well and should be right back to its previous condition within the week.”
Scootaloo perked up a bit at this point but seeing how Rainbow continued to glare at the doctor caused her to deflate again. Stitch collected his thoughts for a moment before asking his own question.
“Tell me, have any of you heard of a condition known as pennae vegrandis?”
Fluttershy gasped sharply, quickly shrinking back and hiding her face behind her mane. Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo exchanged confused looks before slowly shaking their heads at the doctor.
“Let me explain. During the examination, I got to talking to Scootaloo about her accident and she mentioned that you had been teaching her to fly, Ms. Dash.” The mare nodded silently. “Now, as I’m sure you know, it is rather uncommon for a pegasus of Scootaloo's age to still have such difficulty flying. Earning a cutie mark before achieving even marginal flight is even more unusual. This made me... a bit curious, so I had a couple quick blood tests run while I set her wing, just as a precaution.” He breathed.
“One came back positive.”
Fluttershy squeaked behind her mane while Scootaloo simply looked confused.
“What's he mean... 'positive', Rainbow Dash?” she asked.
Rainbow Dash didn't break eye contact with the doctor. She swallowed roughly.
“So... what's this 'penny verandis’ thing?”
“Pennae vegrandis,” he repeated. “and it is a rare genetic disorder more commonly known as-”
“Wing Dwarfism” Fluttershy said quietly. In any other venue, her voice would have gone unnoticed but in the empty waiting room, her words were enough to stop the conversation dead. Rainbow Dash could feel herself shiver slightly while Scootaloo continued to look between the two older mares with growing confusion.
“What's she talking about? What's dorfism?” she asked in a slight panic at the sight of the concern in everypony else’s faces.
“C-cut to the chase, Doc. What are we dealing with?” Dash said through clenched teeth. She asked the question though she was sure she already knew the answer.
“Your friend is right. Basically, it means that Scootaloo's wings are not developing correctly. They are already far below the average growth rate for her age and, with her condition, it is unlikely they will ever make it to anything resembling full-size. Obviously, without full size wings, no pegasus can displace enough air to generate the lift needed to counter their own weight. According to these numbers,” The doctor locked eyes with Rainbow Dash who visibly braced herself.
“I’m very sorry, but she’ll never be able to fly.”
Rainbow Dash clenched her eyes closed as the words confirmed her fears. Fluttershy could be heard sobbing softly behind her mane. Scootaloo's head continued to whip back and forth between the other two, tears welling in her eyes as the reality of what had been said started to sink in.
“H-He doesn't... I can st-... no...no....no, no, no, nononono...” she stammered. She looked into the doctor's eyes in terror. Out of instinct, she took a few steps backward as the tears began to flow.
Rainbow Dash, fighting her own tears, turned to the filly and swept her up in a tight embrace. Scootaloo seemed to not even notice. She continued to stare straight ahead, even after Dr. Stitch quietly excused himself and exited the room. Fluttershy moved herself closer to the other two pegasi, choosing to simply lie next to them in silence.
“It- it's not.. t-true, right? It can't be...” Scootaloo managed to say between sobs.
“I... don't know, Scoots. I just... don't know...” said Rainbow Dash before tightening her hug on the filly once more.
“F-Fluttershy?” The yellow pegasus raised her head to look into Scootaloo's pleading eyes. “You know what he was talking about, don't you? Is it really... like he said?”
“Well, I think, kind of,” she began haltingly. “See, when I was growing up, one of my doctors told me that I might have had pennae vegrandis, too.”
Rainbow Dash gave her friend a confused glance. Despite growing up together in Cloudsdale and all their recent adventures, Fluttershy had never mentioned this to her before. The fact that she had kept it a secret all this time only made her worry more.
Scootaloo's eyes, however, lit up. “B-but you can fly now, right? Does-does that mean I-I'm gonna be okay?” Her voice was full of hope and excitement.
Fluttershy had to turn away slightly before continuing, more quietly than before.
“Um... well... maybe. I was always a weak flyer, but eventually my wings did grow in, so yours could, too, I guess.”
“You guess? Come on, what is it Fluttershy? What aren’t you telling us?” Rainbow Dash prodded, slight anger creeping into her voice.
“Well,” she resumed, quieter still, “my doctor always said that I had a very mild case. He said that m-most other ponies who have it... really can’t fly. He kept telling me that I had been really lucky.”
Scootaloo's face fell as her eyes started to water once more. Panicking, Fluttershy quickly tried to recover.
“B-but, it's not so bad. I never really liked flying much anyway, so I'm sure you'll be just fine even if you do have to stay on the ground.”
“NO!” Scootaloo screamed. She wrestled her way out of Rainbow Dash's grip and pushed her face toward Fluttershy. Her tears were flowing freely again though her face was contorted in rage, not sadness.
“No! I'm not gonna be stuck down here! This...this isn't right! I can still-” Her voice caught in her throat. Her anger broke, she began sobbing uncontrollably. Fluttershy reached out to her but Scootaloo batted her hoof away. With a cry, she turned and ran out the hospital doors as quickly as she could in her current state.
Rainbow Dash rounded on her cowering friend.
“Not so bad? What were you thinking, Fluttershy?” she yelled in disbelief.
“I-I-I...” the yellow pony squeaked as she tried to sink into the hospital floor.
“Have you heard how much that kid talks about the Wonderbolts? She even makes me tired of it sometimes! Me! And you go and tell her that flying doesn't matter? That she’ll be ‘just fine’ if she can’t fly?” The mare was fuming now. Fluttershy had her head on the floor with hooves over her eyes. Shaking under her friend’s verbal barrage, small, twin rivers of water began trickling down her obscured face. Dash let out a frustrated groan as her rage passed. Shaking her head, she slowly backed away from the yellow mare.
“Come on” she said emotionlessly, turning to the door.
The change in tone allowed Fluttershy to slowly peek out from behind her hooves. “W-where are we going?” she asked meekly.
“We're going to go find her. She's still hurt and scared and we need to make sure nothing happens to her.”
“...o-okay...” the mare whispered, her voice still quivering.
The two mares flew out of the hospital's front doors and into the cool evening air. Fluttershy stayed low while Rainbow Dash flew high, scanning the street of Ponyville for any sign of the filly. Unfortunately, the setting sun cast the whole town in a harsh silhouette making it impossible to decipher any details from this distance. Rainbow Dash dropped back down, defeated.
“I don't see her anywhere, Fluttershy. Where could she have gone? Maybe if we split up we-”
“Umm...” Fluttershy said as she poked Dash's side. Rainbow Dash looked at her friend and then followed her eyes to a nearby bush not more than twenty feet outside the hospital doors. There Scootaloo sat, head down, shoulders heaving with sobs. The two mares approached slowly. Scootaloo's many bandages had each turned a slightly darker red, and her face was flushed. Even the short run out of the hospital had been too much for her already battered body to take.
“Scootaloo?” Rainbow Dash said quietly.
The filly slowly turned her head to see who had addressed her, not even trying to hide her tears anymore.
“I... I can't even run away right... I just...” She broke down into another fit of sobs before she could continue. Rainbow Dash quickly wrapped her up in another hug, this time feeling the filly weakly returning the gesture as she cried into the older mare's chest. Rainbow waited a few moments for the crying to subside before she even attempted to speak.
“Hey, kid,” she began softly, “why don't you come spend the night at my house tonight? The clouds should be a lot easier on that cast than any bed down here and... I want to make sure you get a good night's sleep, okay?”
Rainbow Dash knew that under any other circumstances, Scootaloo would have been ecstatic about visiting her home, but now all she did was nod, never relaxing her embrace.
“Alright, Scoots. You... just let me know when you're ready to go,” she said before turning to Fluttershy. “It's getting late. Why don't you just head on home, Fluttershy. I think...” She glanced back at the trembling filly. “I can handle things here.”
“I... Okay...” the other mare said reluctantly. “Good night, Rainbow Dash. Please feel better, Scootaloo. I’m so sorry...”
Fluttershy slowly flew off toward her home, leaving the others embracing in the quickly fading sunlight. Rainbow Dash held as tight as ever, tears finally escaping her eyes in the quiet of the evening.
After a long while, Rainbow Dash felt Scootaloo's sobs ebb and her grip loosen. She looked down at the filly whose face drooped toward the ground.
“...okay,” she said in a whisper.
Without a word, Rainbow Dash gently lifted her onto her back and began slowly flying toward her cloud home. She flew very slowly and stayed low over the houses too avoid any extra forces from speed or winds. All the while, she was desperately trying to come up with something, anything, to say. Nothing came. When they were about halfway there, a small noise caught Rainbow Dash’s attention. The filly had sprawled out across her back and fallen into a deep but fitful sleep. Her limbs twitched softly but erratically causing small winces of pain whenever a wound was disturbed.
Rainbow Dash attempted to glide as much as possible, using the occasional updraft to gain altitude, afraid that any unnecessary flapping could disturb her rider. After a few more minutes of flying in silence, the blue mare approached her cloud home floating near the edge of town. The flight took far longer than her usual commute but she hoped it had been much smoother.
Foregoing the front door, she decided to enter through her bedroom window, landing gingerly on her large bed. More than ever, she was glad that she had taken the extra time to gather the softest clouds that she could find when she had built it. After a quick check of her positioning, she used her hooves to slowly burrow her way through the surface, eventually emerging in the room below while gently depositing the filly on the bed above, no lifting required. She smiled to herself for being so clever as she flew around the long way to check on her guest.
As planned, her maneuver had removed the filly from her back without disturbing her slumber, however Dash’s pride was cut off as Scootaloo continued to twitch and roll, her brow furrowed in pain. The mare found only small consolation in the fact that the near-ethereal softness of the clouds would at least prevent the filly from disturbing her injuries any more than necessary. Unable to do anything else for her tonight, she closed the door with a sigh and made her way to the couch downstairs.
The instant her face hit the cushion, the exertion of the day caught up to her. Her legs felt like lead weights had been welded to them and her body lacked the strength to even attempt to find a comfortable position. She was asleep in moments.
Rainbow Dash groaned. She opened her eyes halfway, conjuring a deep yawn before she rolled off of the couch and onto her back. She stayed there on the floor of her living room for a minute, simply staring up at the ceiling in a drowsy daze. The bright light filtering through the vaporous walls indicated that it was likely past noon already. Eventually, with a groan from her stomach as much as her mouth, she righted herself and went to get some food.
The mare went through her typical routine robotically. First, she found her supply of bread, removed a slice, and placed it on the counter directly beneath a small, black cloud that floated in the center of the kitchen. One swift buck later, the cloud rumbled and fired off a sizzling bolt of electricity. Rainbow Dash picked up her toast and wandered back to the couch to eat.
“Rainbow Dash?” came a small voice from the top of the stairs. Scootaloo stood just outside the bedroom door, rubbing her eyes. “What’s going on? What was that noise?”
“Oh, crud. Sorry, kid. Didn’t mean to wake you up. Kinda forgot you were up there for a sec. I was just making some breakfast and I guess it got a little loud,” she said, gesturing to her still-smoking toast. “Did you want anything?”
The filly just nodded as she let out a loud yawn. She stumbled slightly on her way down the stairs, her knees hampered by the bandages still covering much of her body. Eventually she made her way to the small table in the center of the room where she sat to wait for her host.
Thunder rumbled through the walls a few more times followed by Rainbow Dash emerging from the kitchen with a whole plate full of toast. For a few minutes, the only sounds were those of crunching toast and gnashing teeth, both ponies awkwardly avoiding eye contact as they ate. Eventually, Rainbow Dash tried to break the uncomfortable silence.
“Sooooo,” she said, dragging out the syllable, “how are you feeling? Any better?”
Scootaloo stopped chewing and simply stared down at her half-eaten meal.
“What he said yesterday,” she spoke in a near whisper, “the doctor. He’s wrong, right?”
“I... I really don’t know, kid.” The mare scratched the back of her head while trying to think of something, anything to say. “I don’t know much about medical... stuff like that. Fluttershy seemed to think he might be right but-” She stopped abruptly when the filly’s head sunk even lower toward the table. “B-but she also said that it might not be!” she quickly tried to recover, the gears of her mind spinning frantically. “I know,” she said as she spotted the familiar shape of a tree through the window. “Let’s go talk to Twilight. She’s not a pegasus, but she has books on just about everything you could ever think of and she’s a huge nerd! I bet she’s way smarter than that doctor. Plus, she knows some crazy magic! I’ll bet she can figure out what’s going on.”
“You really think she can help?” the filly asked hopefully.
“You bet! Hurry up and finish your breakfast-” Rainbow Dash glanced out the window again. “Uh... late lunch... and we’ll get going, okay?”
Scootaloo nodded happily and took another large bite of toast. “Fankf-” She swallowed. “I mean, ‘Thanks.’ Twilight’ll prove that dumb doctor wrong!”
“Yeah...” The mare attempted enthusiasm. “She sure will.” Looking back at the library off in the distance, though, she whispered, “...I hope...”
“...and so, through significant experimentation, we have been able to make many interesting conclusions about the possible composition of celestial bodies,” Twilight dictated as her quill worked busily beside her, glowing with magic. “When examined through a large enough telescope we can see tha-”
“Hey Twilight! We need your help!”
Twilight's quill jumped nearly as much as she did, leaving a dark, jagged squiggle through most of her earlier writing.
“Rainbow Dash! Haven't you ever heard of knocking?” she said as she spun to see her friend hovering above her.
“Uh, how can I knock on an open window? There isn't anything there,” Rainbow Dash said defensively.
“Well, you could try using the door sometime like everypony else.”
Rainbow Dash glanced at the small entryway in the side of the tree and raised an eyebrow.
Twilight sighed in defeat. “Just... just forget it. Was there something you needed?”
“Well, yeah, there is.” The hovering mare set down on the floor allowing Twilight her first glimpse of the small pony riding on her back. She gasped in shock as she recognized the filly encased beneath the mounds of gauze.
“Oh, my goodness, Scootaloo? Are you okay?”
Scootaloo jumped to the ground, wincing as one of her legs bent awkwardly. “Yeah... I’m fine. I had a bit of an accident yesterday. Nothing I can’t handle,” she explained while trying to strike a tough pose.
“Don’t worry, Twi. The kid’s a real trooper,” Rainbow Dash said, mussing up the filly’s mane. “Uh, hey, kiddo. Why don’t you start looking through those books over there while I talk to my friend,” she said, directing Scootaloo to a bookshelf on the far wall of the library.
“Alright, Rainbow Dash,” she answered happily before trotting away, favoring one hoof gingerly.
“We did have a question for you though,” Rainbow Dash said as she turned back to Twilight. “We were hoping you could look up this... disease in one of your books. You know, to see if there's a cure or anything.” The rainbow maned pony’s face grew much more serious.
“A disease?” Twilight asked, suddenly very concerned. “What's going on Rainbow Dash? Is somepony sick?”
“No, not really. Well, I guess, kinda,” Rainbow Dash stammered, unsure of how to explain without being too obvious. She paused for a moment to think, but finding no solution, she gave up. Flying close to Twilight, she continued in hushed tones.
“Okay, look. It's about Scootaloo, but please don't tell anypony, for the kid's sake,” she pleaded.
“Uh, sure. I promise” Twilight answered quickly, stunned by her friend's unusual secrecy. “What's wrong?”
“See, she had an... accident yesterday. I-I screwed up and she got hurt pretty bad,” Dash continued, casting a glance to the smiling filly who was busy pulling random books off of a low shelf. “While they were fixing her up, the doctor said they found out she has this disease thing called 'wing dwarfism.' Twilight, he said she'll never be able to fly.”
“That's... that's horrible...” Twilight found herself staring at the seemingly up-beat child across the room. She shook her head to regain her focus. “How has she been taking the news?”
“Well,” said Dash as she rubbed the back of her head, “she puts up a tough front, but not good. You should have seen her last night. I mean, she was just told that she’d never be able to fly. I can't even imagine what that feels like.”
Now, it was Rainbow Dash’s turn to sympathetically watch Scootaloo nose through a rather large tome that she had wrenched free from the shelves.
“Anyway, that's why I came to you. You've got all these books,” she said, gesturing to the shelves around her, “I was hoping that you could find, like, a spell or something that could, you know, fix her.”
“Oh,” Twilight was taken aback. “Well, I guess I can try. I've never really studied medical spells, but I know I've got a few books about them around here. Let me see what I can find.”
Twilight walked to a nearby shelf as her horn sparked into action. Soon she had half a dozen books floating around her in a dance that only she could understand. She immediately dropped into full study mode as she skimmed book after book, creating a small stack of those with useful information beside her while tossing any others aside. Rainbow Dash tried to peek over Twilight's shoulder to see what she was reading, but the mare's scanning head was too quick and continually moved to block her view.
“You guys should probably take a seat,” came the voice of Twilight’s dragon assistant from the top of the stairs. “She’s ‘in the zone’ so it’s definitely going to be a while,” he said, rolling his eyes.
“Oh, uh, thanks, Spike,” the mare said.
“Hey, no problem. She does this all the time. Just give me shout if you need anything,” he added as he returned to sweeping the upper balconies.
Unsure of what to do, Rainbow Dash soon spotted a board on one of the library’s tables.
“Hey, Squirt!” she called to Scootaloo who was blinking at an open page of a large book with a bewildered expression on her face. The mare waved her over. “Captain Egghead over there is on the case but she said it might take a while, so why don’t we play a game to pass the time?”
“Sure, what do you want to play?” asked the filly. She raised an eyebrow when she was directed to the table. “Checkers? You... want to play checkers? Isn’t that a little... slow for you?”
Rainbow Dash put on her best confident face. “What? Don’t think you can beat me?”
“Oh, you’re on!” she replied with a smirk.
“King me!” Scootaloo shouted happily.
The whole board jumped as Rainbow Dash’s forehead collided with the table. She groaned. “How do you keep doing that? This is the fourth game in a row!”
“You’re just really bad at this,” the checker champion giggled.
“Hey! I’m... just...” Rainbow’s eyes darted from side to side. “Letting you win! Yeah! So, don’t get so cocky. I’ll-”
The mare’s rant was interrupted by a tap from behind. She turned to see Twilight, mane a mess and bags under her eyes.
“Can I talk to you for a minute? Over here?” She gestured toward her study area.
“Uh, yeah. Sure, Twi.” Something about her friend’s tone worried her but she tried to keep a straight face. “Why don’t you make my move for me, Scoots. I’m gonna go talk to Twilight for a minute.”
Scootaloo nodded with a smile before spinning the board around in front of her and concentrating on defeating her own pieces. Meanwhile, the two mares walked over to a large stack of books where they could talk privately.
“Uh, Rainbow? Do you remember what the doctor called that disease you were talking about?”
“Well, he called it 'wing dwarfism,' but he used some kind of weird science-y words, too,” she said, scrunching her face up in an attempt to remember.
“It wasn’t pennae vegrandis, was it?” Twilight asked with a grimace.
“Yeah, that sounds right. Did you find something?” Dash asked hopefully.
Twilight sighed. Confirming that Scootaloo was out of earshot, she whispered to her friend.
“That's what I was afraid of. Yes, I found it, but according to all my books on the subject, it's not a disease. It’s a genetic condition.”
“So, what's the difference? You can still fix it, can’t you?” Rainbow asked with a shrug.
“Well, medical magic is all about purging foreign organisms like bacteria or viruses, or fixing ponies’ bodies back to their original state. But ponies are born with genetic conditions. They actually are a part of their natural state. As far as I can tell, there's no way to change it.”
Rainbow Dash sunk. She had known that this idea was a long shot, but she couldn't help being disappointed.
“So there's nothing you can do?”
“I'm really sorry, Rainbow, but a pony's genetics are at the core of who they are. Even Princess Celestia wouldn't risk trying to modify somepony's DNA. It's just way too dangerous.”
Rainbow Dash just sighed.
“Yeah, I guess if you say so. Thanks, Twi,” she conceded, turning to leave. “Hey! Wait a minute!”
Rainbow Dash spun back around, a new hopeful gleam in her eye.
“What about that wing spell? I know you can cast that one! If you can just cast it on Scootaloo then-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Twilight spoke over Dash's plotting. “You mean that one I used on Rarity? Are you crazy? You of all ponies should know why that's a bad idea! Rarity almost died last time! I don't think I ever want to cast that spell again!” Rainbow Dash's disappointment returned. Twilight gave her friend a kind smile. “Look, Rainbow. How about I do a little more research? I'll look through a few more of my books and see if I can find anything, okay?”
From her face, Rainbow Dash knew that Twilight was only humoring her. Clearly, she didn't expect to find anything new. Still, Rainbow Dash smiled at Twilight's gesture.
“Thanks, Twilight. That would be great. I just... really want to help the kid out. I know it's not my fault or anything but I still can't help feeling guilty. Like maybe if I hadn't been showing off around her so much she wouldn't have started following me and she wouldn't have been so obsessed with flying. I-I don't know...” She turned her head to watch as Scootaloo slid another checker across the board.
Twilight reached out to comfort her friend.
“It's okay, Rainbow Dash. You didn't do anything wrong. Sometimes things like this just... happen. I’m really sorry. All we can do is try to be there for her right now. I’ll keep looking for more information, but please let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.”
“Yeah, I will,” she said sadly. “Thanks again, Twi. I think we’ll get out of here for now. It’s getting late and I wanna make sure the kid gets enough sleep. I’m pretty sure she has school in the morning.”
Rainbow Dash flew back to the other side of the library. Seeing her approach, Scootaloo jumped down from her seat and watched her expectantly.
“So what did she find?” she asked eagerly.
Rainbow Dash found it hard to meet her eyes. “Well... nothing yet,” she lied, “but she’s gonna keep looking and let us know as soon as something turns up.” Seeing the look of disappointment in her eyes, she tried to quickly change the subject. “So, I, uh, guess you’ve got school tomorrow, right? How’d you like to just finish out the weekend at my house, and I can drop you off in the morning?”
“What?” she filly squeaked in shock. “It’s Sunday already?” She muttered to herself as she tried to reconstruct the last week in her mind. “Wow, I guess with all that’s happened, I lost track.”
“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash laughed. “Time sure flies, doesn’t it?” She immediately regretted her word choice. “Crap! I mean... uh... sorry.”
“It’s okay...” Scootaloo waved off the apology though she still frowned. “Let’s just go back to your place.”
Rainbow Dash decided not to risk talking again, instead choosing to allow her passenger to board in silence. Soon, they were soaring over Ponyville while the sun set in the west. The return trip was quick with neither pony able to think of anything to say. Finally, they arrived at their destination where Scootaloo jumped off onto the puffy white clouds surrounding the floating mansion.
“Uh, Rainbow Dash?” She pulled on the mare’s tail to get her attention. “Could I stay out here for a little while? I... haven’t really gotten to be up in the clouds very often... or ever, so I just want to, like, check out the view and stuff.”
Rainbow Dash smiled at the innocent request. “Sure thing, Scoots. You take as much time as you want. I’m gonna head inside to grab something to eat so just call if you need anything, okay?” With that, she entered her home, leaving the filly alone in the quickly darkening night.
Flying to the kitchen, the mare took the opportunity to pound a hoof against her forehead. “‘Time sure flies?!’,” she mockingly repeated. “Real smooth, Dash. Let’s just remind the kid that she’ll nev-”
The blood-curdling scream nearly stopped her heart. She blasted back outside, vaporizing her door in the process, and spotted Scootaloo instantly. She was about twenty feet from the large platform that made up the house’s foundation, dangling from a small wisp of quickly disintegrating cloud.
Not wasting a second, the mare scooped the filly just as her hoofhold dissipated in the wind. Though she tried to be as gentle as possible, she could see Scootaloo’s small eyes tear up as the high-speed rescue sent bolts of pain through her already battered body. Rainbow Dash circled around and landed back on her front porch. For a few moments she could only manage to make bewildered, angry noises, but she soon found her words.
“What the hay were you doing out there?” she shouted. “Do you know what would have happened if-” She shook her head violently to clear her mind of that thought. She wanted to try to subdue her rage. Maybe there was a good explanation. “Look, it doesn’t matter. What happened?”
“I WAS FLYING!” Scootaloo screamed back. “If I can’t get off the ground the normal way, why can’t I ride around on a cloud? I could just-”
“Are you crazy? It takes years to learn how to control clouds! You might as well have just jumped out of the clock tower!”
Scootaloo shied away. She had never seen her mentor so angry. In an increasingly small voice she tried to explain herself. “Well, I-I just thought that... that flying would be a little easier if-”
“YOU CAN’T FLY!” Rainbow Dash’s voice exploded. However, her rage collapsed as the filly’s eyes filled with tears. “Oh, Jeez, I didn’t mean-”
“Just leave me alone!” Scootaloo cried as she galloped through the hole that used to be a front door. Without hesitation, she continued up the stairs and into the bedroom. For a moment, Scootaloo wished that cloud doors could slam because the faint fwump that they did release when closed quickly seemed wholly unsatisfying.
Rainbow Dash just stood on her stoop for a while in stunned silence. Eventually, she crept inside and up to the bedroom door. “H-hey, Scoots?” she called inside. There was no response. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that you- You just scared me, okay? You’re already hurt and I just don’t want anything to happen.” Slowly, she pushed the door open with her nose. “Can I just-”
“GET OUT!” the filly screamed through sobs. The mare quickly backed off.
“Alright, alright. I’ll just... I’ll be right downstairs. Let me know if you need anything, okay?” She paused. “I’m sorry.” Slowly, she shuffled back to her couch and dropped her face into it. For a time, she thought she would just lie there in silence, mentally kicking herself until she fell asleep. Unfortunately, one disadvantage of a house made of clouds is the rather poor sound-proofing that the material provides. After a few minutes, the mare’s face contorted as the unmistakable sound of a child sobbing her heart out made its way to her ears. Rainbow Dash rolled onto her back and fought the urge to cover her ears.
“Nope,” she told herself. “You did this, you idiot. You have to listen to it.”
For what seemed like an eternity, the sobbing continued into the night. Eventually, the sound faded for a time before stopping entirely. Rainbow Dash continued staring at the ceiling, hoping that the filly had finally been able to get some rest. She didn’t even remember falling asleep.
Rainbow Dash awoke early the next morning despite getting very little actual sleep. Before even opening her eyes, she felt her whole body shiver. Her home had never been exceptionally warm being so high in the sky, but this was a new level of cold. Every muscle had painfully contracted, forcing her limbs to lock up uselessly. Very slowly, she stretched her sore legs one by one causing the burning cold to be replaced with a gentle numbness. She rolled off of the couch and quickly located the cause of her problems. With all that had happened last night, she forgotten to fix her front door. The gaping hole that she left during her rescue had become a wind-tunnel funneling frigid air directly into her home. Groaning all the while, she made her way to the hole and used a large chunk of her patio to patch it as well as she could with her still limited mobility. It was only a temporary fix and it left her without an actual door, but it would do for now.
Her immediate task complete, Rainbow tried to prepare herself for next duty. Cracking her knees, she took a deep breath and slowly climbed her stairs. For a moment, she wondered why she had even bothered to build stairs in a house only accessible by flight but these thoughts were quickly pushed out as she approached the landing at the top. Never before had seeing a door carried with it such a feeling of dread. She swallowed then lightly tapped on the door.
“Right,” she whispered. “Can’t really knock on a cloud.” Out of options, Rainbow slowly pushed open the door and peeked inside. To her relief, Scootaloo was still asleep in the center of the bed and better yet, seemed to be resting much more peacefully than the night before. Rainbow Dash just watched the small filly breathing for a few moments before giving her a very gentle shake on an uninjured shoulder.
Slowly, Scootaloo's eyes fluttered open in the early light. She looked up at Rainbow Dash drearily before slowly turning to look at her own body. The bandages and cast were still there. The filly’s face fell. It hadn’t been a dream. “What do you want?” she grumbled as she dropped her face into the cloud.
“Look, I just wanted to say... about before... you know, I’m...” The mare trailed off. Her throat was suddenly very dry. The fact that Scootaloo was refusing to even look at her was only making it harder. “Hey, you hungry?” She unceremoniously changed the subject.
Scootaloo didn’t move.
“Sure you are! Gimme a minute. I'll be right back” the mare said before flying out through her bedroom window.
Scootaloo waited until the sound of ruffling feathers faded before raising her head and watching as the multi-colored pony grew smaller and smaller in the distance, eventually disappearing entirely against the bright blue sky. She sighed and poked her hoof into the clouds beneath her, feeling the semi-solid springiness of the material. She made sure to stop the instant she heard the sound of wings flapping nearby.
A few seconds later, Rainbow Dash reappeared carrying four freshly picked apples. She tried to laugh casually but it came out as something far more unsettling. “Here ya go, kid. I’m sure AJ won’t mind treating us to a little breakfast. We can make it up to her later... probably.” She forced herself to smile as she rolled two across the bed in front of Scootaloo. The filly just stared at the fruit listlessly, Rainbow’s attempts at humor clearly having no effect.
“Come on, Scoots. You've gotta eat something.” The mare tapped one of the apples a little closer. “Remember, school starts in an hour or so. If you're feeling up to it, I really think it will do you some good to get back in the game and see your friends, you know? Try to have some fun?” she offered hopefully.
Scootaloo didn't respond, simply taking a small bite out of one of the apples and swallowing it roughly. She took three more bites, eating about half of the fruit, before pushing it away from her. The second apple remained untouched. Rainbow Dash ate her own breakfast in silence before giving her plan another try.
“So, how are you feeling? Do you think you can try school, today?”
“...yeah, I guess...” Scootaloo grumbled without enthusiasm.
Rainbow Dash did her best to smile.
“Okay, good. Yeah, this is good,” she said, trying to convince herself as much as Scootaloo. “You'll see. I'm sure you'll be fine once you get back into the swing of things again.”
The rest of the morning passed in relative silence with only one or two small grunts of pain being emitted by the filly when Rainbow Dash convinced her to let her change some of the more ragged of the bandages. Afterward, Rainbow Dash flew the filly to Ponyville's schoolhouse, dropping her off a short distance away.
“Alright, kiddo, here we are,” she said, trying to keep her voice as upbeat as possible though it was clearly having no effect on her target.
Scootaloo gave a quiet 'Thanks' before slowly walking into the building, staring down at her hooves the whole way. She didn't even react when Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom ran up to her in the hallway outside of the classroom.
“Whoa, Scootaloo! What the hay happened to you?” the red-bowed filly exclaimed.
“I... I don't want to talk about it right now, girls,” she responded without looking up or breaking her stride.
“But... Are you sure you’re okay?” Sweetie Belle asked as Scootaloo passed slowly in front on her.
Not receiving any further response, the two friends just watched as Scootaloo took a seat at her usual desk and proceeded to stare at a point on the floor, her face unreadable. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle exchanged concerned glances before taking their own seats as the bell rang to begin the day.
The first two hours of the day passed quickly. Cheerilee was trying to show the class a few new trick for solving their math homework, but Scootaloo wasn't paying attention. She spent most of her time staring down at her spot on the floor, looking up only when Cheerilee addressed her directly. She gave a couple unenthusiastic responses, not even caring to hear whether they were correct, before returning her gaze to the floor.
When class was dismissed for morning recess, Scootaloo slowly trudged out the door, head hanging as low as ever. She didn’t really have a destination in mind. She just wanted to get away so she wouldn’t have to talk to anypony. She could probably-
She came to an abrupt stop when the top of her head bumped into another filly who Scootaloo hadn't even seen until they had made contact. The filly jumped in surprise before rounding on her.
“Oh... sorry,” Scootaloo said without looking up.
“Well you should be sorry! Why don't you watch where you're going?” came the familiar grating voice of Diamond Tiara.
“Yeah,” Silver Spoon chimed in. “Just because you can't fly doesn't mean you can't walk, does it?”
“Oh, I don't know, Silver Spoon. Look at her,” the first filly said, her voice full of mock concern. “What'd you do, Scooty-poo? Fall down and hurt your widdle wings?” Diamond Tiara said through comically pursed lips.
“Nah, I bet she just put that cast on herself so ponies would stop asking her why she can't fly yet.” Silver Spoon cleared her throat to prepare her best Scootaloo impression. “I can totally fly. I just got hurt so I can't show you!”
The two fillies leaned into each other, their mean-spirited mirth becoming too much for their legs to support individually.
Scootaloo’s hoof scratched a thin line in the dirt as her whole body tensed up under the barrage of derisive laughter.
Silver Spoon's giggling stopped abruptly as Scootaloo's hoof smashed into her oblivious cheek. Her large-framed glasses flew from her face, one of the lenses cracking as it hit the ground a short distance away.
Diamond Tiara stumbled as her support suddenly shifted away from her. “Whoa! What the-” Confused, she looked up into Silver Spoon’s stunned eyes.
“You... Y-you hit me...” Sliver Spoon raised her hoof to her cheek and stared in shock at the small smear of red that had appeared on it as she brought it back down.
“Hey! What's your problem?” Diamond Tiara yelled as she placed herself between the attacker and her friend.
Scootaloo's shoulders heaved as she let out a savage growl, eyes still focused on the ground at her hooves. A single tear escaped her eyes and fell into the dirt before she lunged at the bully with a loud guttural scream.
Diamond Tiara, surprised by the ferocity of the sudden attack, took a futile step backward. An orange shoulder connected with her muzzle, flipping her onto her back and allowing Scootaloo to take a position sitting on her stomach.
Without hesitation, Scootaloo brought her hooves down on the face of her enemy. Diamond Tiara did her best to dodge and block, but being pinned to the ground left her with very few defensive options. Several solid blows found their way through, bloodying her nose and warping her signature headgear. Silver Spoon tried to intervene, but without her glasses she was easily brushed aside by another swift hoof to the cheek.
“GIRLS! STOP THAT THIS INSTANT!”
Cheerilee galloped to the brawling fillies and quickly pulled Scootaloo up and off of her target, nearly earning a black eye for herself in the process as the filly thrashed wildly in her grip. Diamond Tiara righted herself and wiped the blood from her nose with a snort. Despite the state of her face, it seemed that her pride was hurt more than her body. She glared daggers at her assailant, now separated from her by their teacher’s larger frame.
“Now what in Equestria is going on here, girls? Why are you fighting?” Cheerilee asked sternly.
“I don't know!” Diamond Tiara yelled. “We were just talking to her and she freaked out! She broke Silver Spoon's glasses and then she attacked me! She’s nuts!”
Cheerilee turned to the other filly. “Is this true, Scootaloo?”
Scootaloo looked up into her teacher’s eyes, blood still boiling. “No! I-... She...” she stammered angrily. She growled and tried to dive at Diamond Tiara again but Cheerilee was too quick. The teacher blocked the strike causing the filly to fall back onto her rump.
“Scootaloo!” Cheerilee exclaimed in astonishment. “What has gotten into you today, young lady?” From her new position behind the authority figure, Diamond Tiara took the initiative to stick her tongue out at her rival.
For a few seconds, Scootaloo whipped her head around looking for some way to reach the obnoxious bully but with Cheerilee’s full attention now pointed in her direction, it was futile. Shaking with another frustrated growl, Scootaloo turned tail and ran back into the schoolhouse, ignoring her teacher’s cries to stop.
Scootaloo sniffed as she unlocked the door of the stall. After her fight, the restroom had been the only place she could think of where she could get away. With a few loud yells, she had released the rest of her rage into the wall. She had even managed to crack a few of the thin ceramic tiles before her hooves began to burn, forcing her to stop. With the adrenaline now slowly leaving her system, she could finally feel the intense pain shooting through her whole body. Her legs tried valiantly, but failed to support her weight as she tumbled to the floor in a heap. Lying on her side, she clenched her jaw as tightly as she could until the fire in her knees ebbed back into a dull ache.
Most of her scabs had reopened in the scuffle leaving small trails of blood running down her legs. Her own blood, however, was not the focus of her attention. Instead she found herself drawn to the crimson stains on the undersides of her forehooves, blood from the two ponies she had just viciously attacked. Sure, she had always wanted to teach those jerks a lesson, but actually doing it? Her stomach rumbled, threatening to regurgitate what little it contained from her meager breakfast. The fear of vomiting was enough to push her into moving again as she limped over to the sinks and desperately tried to scrub the red away. Finding only marginal success, she soon gave up with a sigh and stared into the large mirror in front of her.
Slowly, she looked herself over for the first time since the accident two days ago. It was not a pretty sight. A few of her bandages were dangling uselessly by their adhesive strips but most of the others had been lost completely. She noticed for the first time that her forehead had begun bleeding again, little crimson rivers flowing around her eye. Her mane was scruffy, tangled, and full of dirt from the rumble just minutes before. However, these were only minor irritants when compared to her most notable injury.
Her gaze lingered on the cast covering her left wing. It was scuffed slightly with a few frayed pieces of gauze where it had scraped along the ground outside, but overall it seemed to be in good shape. The stark whiteness hurt her eyes but she couldn’t blink or look away. As she stared, she felt a new kind of rage building, boiling deep in her chest. She gritted her teeth at her reflection. It was wrong.
In an instant, she whipped her head around and chomped down on her cast as hard as her jaw would allow. Layers of gauze frayed as her teeth penetrated the outer surface before being abruptly stopped by the rigid plaster below. The pain shooting through her mouth forced her to release, but she had accomplished her goal. She smirked back at her reflection, her cast now as damaged as the rest of her.
Her other wing twitched unconsciously.
Her anger flared again as she spun around and mounted a similar attack on the unprotected wing. Her eyes watered; partially from anger, partially from pain, but her jaw only tightened. The tears began to flow as she tasted the bitter tang of blood.
“Are you in here, Scootaloo? Miss Cheerilee-” Sweetie Belle stopped mid-sentence, open-mouthed, in the doorway.
“W-what are you doing?” she asked in shock at the sight of her friend.
Scootaloo slowly released her wing, a small trickle of blood falling from her mouth as she turned to face her friend. Without a word, she charged.
Sweetie Belle reflexively jumped away from the incoming pony, though her haste did nothing to help her coordination. Tripping over her own panicking hooves, she tumbled backward into the trash can. A flurry of used paper towels filled the air as the can fell and deposited its newly acquired pony clumsily onto the bathroom floor. Wincing as she hit the ground, the little unicorn opened her eyes just in time to she a purple tail disappear through the front doors of the schoolhouse.
Scootaloo sprinted for as long as she could, but after a block and a half, she found herself wheezing uncontrollably from the exertion. Her head was pounding and she couldn’t stop the tears from forming as her injuries again caught up with her. She looked over her shoulder and wiped her vision clear. Nopony seemed to be following her so she slowed to a trot, staring at the ground and not really paying attention to her direction. Most other ponies were in school or working at this time of the day so the wide streets of Ponyville were all but deserted, much to the filly’s relief. She really didn’t want anypony trying to talk to her right now.
She wandered aimlessly through Ponyville's winding alleys, being sure to avoid approaching any of the occasional ponies that walked by. After what seemed like hours, Scootaloo dodged another bystander by diving into a small bush. Once they had passed, she climbed out and grumbled. Her legs were exhausted. She knew that she couldn’t keep wandering around for much longer, not without running into somepony. She needed a place to hide. Taking in her surroundings, she realized that she was all the way on the other side of town from the schoolhouse, right on the border of Sweet Apple Acres. With a new destination in mind, she trudged off down the street before squeezing painfully through a small gap in the apple farm’s wooden fence.
The Cutie Mark Crusader clubhouse was located a good distance from any other buildings in town and had a thick wall of trees blocking it from sight from the main road. She slowly pushed the door open and scanned the room, confirming that it was empty, before entering and sitting down in the center. The small tree-house that she and her friends had planned so many adventures in felt strange and distant in the mid-morning light, as if she hadn’t seen it in years even though it had only been a couple weeks since her last visit. In fact, she had been here on the very day that she earned her cutie mark.
She remembered scheming with Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle to leave the party at Sugarcube Corner early. They found the perfect opportunity to sneak away while everypony else was distracted watching Pinkie Pie try to eat an entire seven-layer cake in one bite. Scootaloo had wanted to show off her newly confirmed scooter skills so she had hitched up their trusty red wagon and given her friends an exciting ride back to the clubhouse. Being the central hub for so many of their adventures, the crusaders figured the clubhouse would be the perfect place to hold a more private celebration, Crusaders only. Over much excited discussion, they had decided that each crusader, upon receipt of their cutie mark, would be duty-bound to improve the clubhouse in some way.
Now, sitting all alone, battered and bruised, Scootaloo looked up at her contribution. The extra-large, signed poster of the Wonderbolts filled nearly one entire wall of the small tree-house with the smiling faces of two dozen pegasi dressed in striking blue and yellow jumpsuits. Many had their large, muscular wings outstretched. They all seemed so happy , but Scootaloo's eyes were drawn to one face in particular near the center. Spitfire was one of only three Wonderbolts who were in flight when the picture was taken. Scootaloo could see the ripples in her orange mane caused by the force of her flapping. Her face was even happier than the rest; in fact... she was laughing! Just floating there having the time of her life and laughing!
'What was she laughing about?' Scootaloo thought, her vision becoming blurry with a new bout of moisture.
“WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT?!” she screamed as she jumped and threw herself at the wall.
Rainbow Dash was finding it very hard to focus on her weather duties this morning. After dropping Scootaloo off at school, she had been assigned to watch the skies on the border of the Everfree Forest to stop any rogue clouds heading toward town. On any normal day, this was her favorite post because despite the uncontrolled nature of the forest, very few of the effects ever made it anywhere near Ponyville. With so little to do, she would usually use all this extra time to practice her routine or just take nice long naps, but today she couldn’t bring herself to do either. Lying on her back at the top of a tree, she found herself just staring up into the clear blue sky, her mind replaying the events of the past week over and over.
Looking for anything to distract her from her thoughts, she grabbed another apple out of her nearby bags. She had packed a decent amount of food for her lunch that morning, but in her current state, she had already eaten almost all of it before her first break. The mare tossed the fruit back and forth in her hooves for a minute or two before taking a large bite despite not being even slightly hungry. With no better use for it, she placed the remaining portion on her forehead, resolving to see how long she could balance it there while she otherwise tried to relax.
She grumbled as a small branch, blown by the slight breeze, scratched against her folded wings. She tried to shift her weight but this only released the twig to poke directly into her spine. Fed up, she dropped her apple and rolled over to find a new place to lay. Suddenly, she saw only pink.
“GAH!” Dash yelled as she nearly tumbled backward off of her branch.
“Hehehe! I got you gooooood that time, huh? I was like 'Hiya, Dashie!' and you were like, 'GAH!' and I was like 'Hehehe,'” she said while performing an elaborate pantomime of the events that had taken place seconds ago.
“Yeah, I was there, Pinkie.” She took a few deep breaths to calm herself. “You, uh, really got me there,” Rainbow Dash said dryly.
Pinkie's showed a slight bit of concern. “What's going on with you today, Dashie? Usually, I have to try a lot harder to sneak up on you but that was easy as pie which is pretty easy for me 'cuz I work in a bakery and all. I can make pies, like, super fast. Maybe even super-duper fast! There was this one time where I ate a whole batch of chocolate-chip cookies so I couldn’t fall asleep because every time I tried, my head just said ‘Nuh-uh, Pinkie! You’re gonna stay up all night!’ So I figured I could use that time to try something new! I baked six pies all at the same time: one for each color of the rainbow. The eggplant one didn’t taste very good but all the others were yummerific!” The pink pony licked her lips loudly. “Wow, just talking about all that pie really made me hungry! Hey, I know! We should totally go get some pie at Sugarcube Corner! Wanna come? Huh? Do ya?”
Rainbow Dash blinked. It was always a good idea to be sure that Pinkie had finished before trying to speak. After a couple seconds of silence, Dash took her chances. “Eh, sorry, but not today Pinkie. I've... I’m just not really in the mood today.”
“Not in the mood?” Pinkie repeated in genuine shock. “But you never turn down a chance for pie!” She moved closer, squinting suspiciously into the mare’s rose eyes. “Are you sure that you’re really Dashie?” She looked her friend up and down, trying to find any unusual features. “Tell me something that only the real Dashie would know.”
“Pinkie,” Rainbow groaned, “What are you talking about? What kind of-”
“When was my last party?” the pink pony barked.
“Wha-” Rainbow Dash tried to use her hoof to block the flashlight that was suddenly shining in her eyes. “Pinkie, what the hay...?” The serious expression on her friend’s face told her that there was no getting around this. “Last Friday,” she relented with a sigh. “You wanted to celebrate that new tree that AJ planted.”
“You are the real Dashie!” Pinkie squealed as she pulled her friend into a huge hug. The fact that the entire town had also been invited to that party didn’t seem to cross her mind. “But if it’s really you, why are you acting so mopey-dopey today?” Her face showed the maximum concern that the perpetually perky pony could manage.
“Well,” she droned, not really wanting to give details. “I’ve got this... friend. She’s not feeling so hot right now. She seemed a little better this morning but...” Rainbow furrowed her brow in frustration. “I don’t know. Something still felt wrong.”
“Somepony needs cheering up and you didn’t come to me?” Pinkie said, taken aback. “You should know I’ve always got just the thing for turning frowns upside-down!” She spun around and in the blink of an eye produced a large pink-frosted cupcake balanced perfectly on her head. “Just give your friend one of these and I guarantee she’ll be all smiles again in no time! Ponyville’s premiere party pony promises!” Pinkie struck a dramatic pose, her neck extended toward Rainbow Dash.
“Uh, thanks, Pinkie,” the blue mare said as she took the confection, inspecting it closely. “This actually looks pretty good! I’m sure she’ll love it.” She looked up at the bright rising sun. “You know what? They should be at recess right about now. I’ll bet she could use a little pick-me-up. I don’t think she ate much this morning. See ya later, Pinkie!” Grabbing her bags, the pegasus lifted off and began heading back into town but stopped suddenly after traveling only a few yards.
Sure, her position was pretty boring most of the time, but her boss had really been cracking down on her lately. He didn’t mind her flight practice so much as long as she stayed in her assigned area, but her rather frequent bouts with sleeping or wandering off altogether had begun to threaten her prospects for continued employment.
“Or... on second thought, maybe I’ll just wait until my lunch break. It should only be another few... hours...” she said with a grumble.
“Hey, don’t worry about your job! I’ve got it covered for you!” the happy pink pony offered.
Dash reluctantly returned to her tree. “Um... Thanks for the offer Pinkie but I don’t think you can really help me out this time. You’re not exactly equipped for this job,” the pegasus said matter-of-factly.
“Yuh-huh.” Pinkie nodded.
“My job... controlling the weather?”
“... you’re an Earth pony, right?” Rainbow Dash cocked an eyebrow at her seemingly oblivious friend.
“So... you know, clouds and stuff?” She gestured to the sky hoping Pinkie would catch her meaning.
“You do know what I do for a living, don’t you?” Pinkie was a little slow sometimes but this was starting to get weird.
“Of course I know what your job is, Dashie, and that’s why I brought this!” From her tail, the party pony managed to retrieve a large paper fan which she unfolded in her mouth. As usual for Pinkie’s various possessions, it was a blindingly bright shade of pink and adorned with a number of balloon and cupcake symbols. Waving it a few times to test its wind generating abilities, she smiled happily at her skeptical friend.
“O...kay...” Rainbow Dash examined the fan uncertainly, but finding no obvious fault with it finally relented. “Uh, thanks, Pinkie, I guess. I’ll try to be back as soon as I can, alright? If anypony comes by just... pretend you’re a pegasus or something, okay?” She waved dismissively as she turned to leave once more.
The pink mare yelled to her quickly departing friend. “No problemo, buddy-bud! I’ll stop any mean old clouds for you or my name isn’t Pinkamina Diane Pie! Now you go spread some smiles!”
It was only a short flight to the schoolhouse from her post on the outskirts of Ponyville. As Rainbow Dash passed over the playground, she could see many young fillies and colts running about but was unable to locate the particular filly that she was looking for, at least not from this height. She did find the next best thing, though: Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle. The two ponies were standing under the yard’s large tree apparently lost in conversation with the little unicorn energetically waving her legs as she recounted some story to her friend.
“...and then she just ran right out- Rainbow Dash? Where did you come from?” Sweetie Belle said as the mare suddenly dropped from the sky.
“Hey, girls. Sorry to interrupt your thing there, I was just looking for Scoots. You guys know where she is?” Rainbow Dash asked, still scanning the playground for any sign of the orange filly.
Sweetie Belle looked over to her farm-filly friend.
“Actually... no, not really. I was just telling Apple Bloom about it.”
“No? What do you mean? I dropped her off myself just a couple hours ago. She’s gotta be here somewhere.” Getting only shifting glances from the two fillies, Rainbow pushed for information. “What’s going on? What happened?”
Sweetie Belle grimaced. “Now, don’t get mad, but I think she ran away.”
“Ran away?! What are you talking about?”
“See, Scootaloo was acting really weird this morning and she was all covered in bandages and stuff, but she wouldn't talk to us about it,” the unicorn explained as quickly as she could. “Then, just a little bit ago, some of the other foals said that she got in a big fight with Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara. I didn’t see it happen but just look at them!”
She pointed to where Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara sat against the side of the schoolhouse, the former seeming nearly catatonic as she stared at the shattered remains of her once-stylish glasses lying at her hooves. The latter was desperately trying to bend her signature headgear back into shape and failing miserably. Her frustration turned to panic as the thin, overly stressed metal finally gave way, snapping one whole side of the tiara’s frame cleanly off. The accompanying scream could have shattered glass.
“See!” Sweetie Belle continued, her voice cracking as her worry resurfaced. “I was really scared because Scootaloo’s never hurt anypony like that before! Miss Cheerilee said that Scootaloo ran back inside afterwards, and since I was her friend she asked me to go check on her. But then...” Sweetie Belle bit her lip. “She was... like, I don’t know, attacking her own wings or something, but when-”
Sweetie Belle jumped as, for the second time in the past few minutes, a pegasus charged straight at her.
“Wait, what do you mean 'attacking her wings?' What happened?” Rainbow Dash asked forcefully.
The filly took two nervous steps backward.
“I-I don't know. I w-walked in and she was just k-kinda... like, biting her wing really hard. I think it was bleeding...”
“Where did she go?” the mare asked, pushing the filly back another step.
“I-I don't know. When she saw me, she ran at me! I thought she was going to attack me or something but she just knocked me over and ran away! Rainbow Dash, what's going on? Why's Scootaloo acting like this?” The little unicorn looked to be on the verge of tears.
Rainbow Dash suddenly realized how loudly she had been yelling at the child and tried to wrestle her voice back under control.
“Look, girls,” she said much more calmly. “Scootaloo's going through some... tough stuff right now. She just found out that she... well, that she can't fly, okay?”
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle looked at each other with equal parts confusion and concern before the former spoke up.
“Huh? But, we already know that she can’t fly. Last week she couldn’t stop talking ‘bout how you were supposed to be teaching her.”
“No girls, I mean permanently. Like, her doctor said she would never fly. Just imagine if somepony told you that your horn would never work, Sweetie Belle. Or, Apple Bloom, think about if you... uh... lost... your... bow?” Rainbow Dash had wandered into that sentence without really thinking it through ahead of time, but the look of shock on the fillies' faces confirmed that her choice of examples had been sufficiently effective.
“That's awful! Is that why she's been acting so crazy today?” asked the farm filly while clutching her hairpiece like a giant security blanket.
“I don’t know but I think it might be,” Rainbow Dash said, the urgency rising in her voice. “And that's why I need to find her and fast!”
Sweetie Belle stepped forward. “Okay! I bet if we split up we can-”
“What?” the mare interrupted. “Oh, no way girls. Sorry, but you two need to stay here while I look. I’m sure your teacher isn’t very happy with Scootaloo right now and I sure don’t want you two getting in trouble, too.”
Apple Bloom scowled as she stepped up next to Sweetie Belle. “No way! She's our friend and we want to help!” Sweetie Belle nodded sternly in confirmation.
“I know you do but I can find her a lot faster than you guys can and I need you to stay here in case she comes back on her own. I promise; if I find her, you'll be the first to know about it, okay?”
Rainbow Dash darted back into the sky before the fillies had a chance to react. Their shouts of protest were ignored as she flew to the front steps of the schoolhouse and began her search. Now that she thought about it, she really didn’t know much about her little protege. Dash had never thought to ask where Scootaloo liked to go when she wasn’t following her around. For a moment, she tried to determine how difficult a town-wide search for a single filly would be, even for a mare as fast as she was.
Just as she was preparing to begin, a small glint caught her eye. Something shiny was partially buried in the dirt at the base of the schoolhouse’s stoop. She walked up to it and sniffed: blood. Rainbow's heart rate quickened. She looked around frantically and spotted another small streak of crimson further up the street. She had a trail! She struggled to keep her speed in check as she followed it, realizing that she could easily lose track of the faint marks if she went as fast as her wings were urging her to fly. She brimmed with hope every time she was led around a corner only to be met with another empty road and new disappointment each time. After what felt like ages, she stopped over a substantially larger puddle in the middle of one of Ponyville’s most distant back-alleys. Obviously, Scootaloo had stopped here for some amount of time.
“Now what in Equestria would she be doing all the way out- The clubhouse!” she said to herself as she realized her proximity to Sweet Apple Acres. Dust flew and plants swayed in her wake as she rocketed through the trees, her wings finally able to release their nervous energy into one burst of speed.
The small red spot outside the tree-house door confirmed Rainbow Dash's suspicions. Suddenly nervous about what she could find, she swallowed and slowly opened the door which responded with a jarring creak that sent a shiver down her spine.
The inside of the clubhouse was a shambles. The small table in the corner had been upended, every chair had been toppled, and there were odd scraps of torn paper floating all around making the whole scene look like a dilapidated snow globe. Rainbow Dash hesitated when she saw Scootaloo leaning with her forehead against the far wall. Over her head, about three yards apart, were two push-pins each holding a small triangle of roughly torn paper.
One of the scraps landed on Rainbow Dash's face. As she shook it off, she noticed that one side seemed to have some colors on it. Wonderbolt Blue. She stared in shock at the hundreds of similar pieces floating around the room, the evidence of what had occurred here assembling in her head.
The filly turned her head just far enough to identify the intruder in her peripheral vision. “What do you want?” she asked darkly.
Rainbow Dash shook herself back to attention. She took a step forward but stopped short when she realized that, once again, she had charged into a situation without any kind of plan. “Uh...,” Her eyes darted around the room, to the ceiling, over her shoulder- “Oh, yeah!” she exclaimed as she found her ice-breaker. “I was just in the neighborhood and I was, you know, wondering if you wanted a cupcake?” She retrieved the treat from her lunch bag and held it up to the filly’s turned back.
The sweet smell coaxed Scootaloo away from the wall for just a moment, her mouth watering subconsciously, but she quickly forced herself to look away. “No, thanks,” she muttered unconvincingly. “Just... Just leave me alone. I don’t want anything.”
“Aw, come on, kiddo. It’s one of Pinkie’s specialty cupcakes! Doesn’t it look good?” The outstretched confection moved to one side and closer, the mare making it dance just inches from Scootaloo’s nose.
“Leave me alone!”
Pink frosting splattered across the overturned table on the other side of the room. Rainbow Dash stared at her now-empty hoof in surprise. If she had been worried before, that feeling had now intensified. Nopony ever turned down a Pinkie Pie cupcake, ever. Slowly, she reached out and placed a hoof on the filly’s shoulder. “Hey, ar-”
In a flash, it was slapped away. “DON’T TOUCH ME! LEAVE ME ALONE!” The filly spun around, tears in her eyes. “JUST GO AWAY!”
Rainbow Dash pulled her hoof back. “Hey! I’m just trying to help here! And I’m sure as hay not going anywhere until we do something about that wing of yours!” Though it had slowed somewhat over the past hour since the self-inflicted injury, the filly’s bleeding wing was still releasing shiny red droplets quite frequently.
“NO!” cried the filly as Rainbow took another step forward. “Don't touch me! Just go away!” Scootaloo's voice grew weaker as she tried to back away. However, her rump quickly connected with the wall and, unable to flee, she just crouched and bared her teeth.
Rainbow Dash flashed a confident smirk. “Oh, what now? You gonna try to chase me off? Guess what? I’m the element of loyalty, kid. You’ll have to do better than that to get rid of me. Now are you going to stop this so we can get that wing fixed?”
“FIXED?!?!” the filly spat. Scootaloo's scowl contorted her entire face as the tears began to flow more intensely. “Why should I bother ‘fixing’ anything? What's there to fix?” She was practically screaming, her tone approaching astonishment. “You said it yourself! I can’t fly! I’m never going to fly! What’s the point in even having wings? They’re just useless... things and they... grrrRAAAH” Rainbow couldn’t suppress her gasp as an orange feather wafted by her snout. The filly was violently tearing at her exposed wing once again, little droplets of blood dotting her face as she growled in rage.
Despite her shock, the mare didn't waste a second. She dove on the distracted filly, pinning her to the ground and immobilizing her head. Scootaloo thrashed wildly on her stomach, her damaged wing leaving new streaks of crimson on the floorboards. “LET ME GO! LET ME GO! GET OFF!”
“Sorry, kid, but no can do. This is for your own good. Plus, I’ve got my own reputation to think about here, too. No friend of mine is allowed to run around town bleeding on everything. You’ll make me look bad.” Rainbow Dash winced as she plucked a small bundle of feathers from the underside of her right wing. “Mao, quift moofing,” she mumbled.
As she did this, the mare suddenly felt Scootaloo stop struggling entirely. She hadn’t actually expected asking her to stop to work, but she wasn't one to question her luck. Rainbow Dash took advantage of the compliance and quickly applied her bundle of feathers to the smaller orange wing. Mixing with the steadily flowing blood turned the makeshift bandage to a sickly shade of brownish-purple but also helped to keep it firmly matted over the wound. It was certainly a hasty patch-job, and not a very good one at that, but it would at least stop the bleeding for the time being.
Her immediate task completed, Rainbow Dash stepped back but Scootaloo remained unmoving for a few moments even after being released.
“...f-friend?” The filly raised her head slightly. “You... c-consider me a friend?”
“You kidding?” the mare replied with a scoff. Sensing the abrasiveness of her response, she quickly continued. “I mean, of course you're my friend! You think I would be here if you weren’t?” The irony of declaring her friendship so soon after pinning the filly to the floor did not escape her for long. She rubbed the back of her head with an embarrassed chuckle. “Let’s just ignore the whole ‘tackling you’ thing.”
Scootaloo sniffled and turned her head back to the floor. “But why would you want to be friends with me? I'm useless...”
“Hey!” Scootaloo felt the hoof on her chin before she saw it, as it pulled her nearly nose-to-nose with Rainbow Dash. The mare’s rose eyes burned. “I don't ever want to hear you say that again!”
Scootaloo wrestled her head free dropping her chin to the floor sadly. “But I am useless! I'm a pegasus who can't fly! I can’t do the one thing that every pegasus can! What good am I? I should just go-”
The filly recoiled, partially from the yell, partially from the blue hoof slamming down inches from her face. Wide-eyed, she looked up at the stern face above her.
“You think you’re useless? Really? What's that then?” The mare pointed a hoof just over Scootaloo’s shoulder and held it there.
The filly’s purple mane bobbed as she spun her head, trying to follow the hoof. Scootaloo's eyebrows arched as she turned back to the mare.
Rainbow Dash sighed and placed her hoof on the filly's flank.
Scootaloo sniffed. “Huh? My... my cutie mark?” The symbol that had been her obsession for so long was barely recognizable now. One whole quarter was hidden underneath a bandage and the parts that were visible were streaked with blood and dirt.
“What? Did you forget that you had it?” the mare asked with a scoff. “It hasn't been that long has it? As far as I’m concerned, anypony with a cutie mark has proof that they aren’t useless stamped right on their butt.”
Scootaloo’s eyes turned to the now-grinning mare. “But what does that prove? I got that before I even knew about my wings. That thing is just as pointless as I am. Which makes sense, I guess.”
“‘Pointless?’ Cutie marks are never pointless, kid. That thing would never have appeared if you hadn’t finally realized what you love to do. Took you long enough, too. Heck, I think I knew your destiny before you did. I was mostly just sitting back and waiting for you to figure it out.”
“Oh, so you knew I would grow up to be a pathetic loser who can’t fly?” the filly grumbled.
“No, dummy.” The mare ran her hoof through Scootaloo’s mane. “I knew you would be awesome! I’d never seen a filly who could do the things that you could do on that scooter. You were the coolest little kid I’d ever met.”
“You... you thought I was... cool?” Scootaloo wiped her nose with a loud sniffle.
“Well, of course I did! I’ve watched you on that scooter of yours and believe me, what you can do definitely qualifies as ‘cool,’” the blue mare said with a proud smile .
“But my scooter was just... I always thought that I would be able to fly eventually. I wanted to be like...” Scootaloo’s eyes shimmered as she raised her head. “Like you someday. Now I can never...”
The filly moved a hoof to her eyes, wiping at the new tears forming. Rainbow Dash moved up next to the sobbing filly and wrapped a wing around her shaking shoulders.
“Hey, come on now. Why in the world would you want to be like me?” the older mare asked with a laugh.
“Why would- Because you’re amazing! You’re the fastest flyer in Equestria! You did a sonic rainboom! Twice! Why wouldn’t I want to be like you?”
“Well, yeah, I guess those are some good reasons,” Rainbow Dash said with a chuckle. “So, let me guess. You wanted to do a rainboom someday, too?”
The filly just nodded sadly.
“So your big dream was pulling off somepony else’s signature move?”
Scootaloo nodded again, less certain.
“But where’s the fun in that?” Scootaloo pulled away, the shock apparent on her face. The mare just laughed.
“Don’t get me wrong, kid. I love the attention, but the whole point of being an athlete and performer is to come up with your own tricks. You’ve got to show the world something that they’ve never seen before!”
“My own... But I can’t even get off the ground. How can I do anything new?”
“Do you know what most pegasi do before they can fly?” The filly shook her head at this rather odd change of subject. “Well, they just walk around like every other pony, waiting for their wings to grow in. You were the first filly I’d ever seen, that I’d ever heard of, who didn’t just wait. You went out there and found a way to satisfy that need for speed without flying. And you got your cutie mark because of it. If that isn’t proof that you’re unique, I don’t know what is.”
“Yeah, I can join the circus freak show as The Amazing Grounded Pegasus. I’m sure everypony will want to come out to see that,” she filly said with a sarcastic wave of her hoof.
“So that’s it, is it? You’re just going to hide away from everypony for the rest of your life just because you might not be able to fly?” The look of confusion Rainbow received pushed her to elaborate. “The way I see it, you’re scared. Scared of being useless, scared that your talent will be rejected by other ponies, scared to get back out there and do what you love.”
Scootaloo seemed about ready to object but caught herself. Flight had always been her dream despite her long struggles against the ever-persistent force of gravity. It was true. She was terrified of being seen as a freak, a poor broken little pony to be pitied. She tried to speak again but realized that she couldn’t find the words to describe her feelings. Lacking any kind of response, she resigned to staring at her hooves.
Rainbow Dash tightened her wing around the filly. She paused, took a deep breath, and paused again.
“Did I ever tell you why I moved to Ponyville?” the mare asked, her eyes on the ceiling.
Curiosity broke Scootaloo’s depression momentarily. “Why you... what?” She searched her memories. She had always made a conscious effort to absorb and retain every morsel of information about her hero, but now she was drawing a blank. Was this a test? Or some kind of trick question? “I... don’t think so...”
Rainbow laughed. “Well, of course I haven’t! Truth is,” The mare’s smile wilted. “I haven’t really told anypony. Ever. Not even my other friends, though they’ve never actually asked. Kinda surprising now that I think about it. No pony seems to be curious why an aspiring Wonderbolt and Cloudsdale’s greatest flyer is living down here in some back-water Earth pony town.”
The sudden change in Dash’s tone caught the filly’s attention. She stared up in wide-eyed anticipation as her mentor continued.
“Obviously, everypony knows that I grew up in Cloudsdale. Went to Summer Flight Camp, Junior Speedsters, the whole shebang. Shocked the whole city when this tiny little filly created a legendary sonic rainboom. After that, they knew I was something special. I knew I was something special. I craved the speed, the thrill, the danger: all of it.” She laughed again. “I’ll admit it. I got a little obsessed. For weeks after earning my cutie mark, I would go out every single day, for hours at a time, and try to do it again. I just needed to feel that... rush again.”
The small smile on her face that had built up during her story inverted as she moved on. “I had actually been getting pretty close, but I just couldn’t get the last little bit right. I kept trying, harder and harder, starting off higher and higher, pulling up later and later, but nothing was working. Then, one day, I pushed myself a bit too far. I was trying to hold the dive for as long as possible and I sort of lost track of my altitude. I waited too long to pull up and basically slammed into the ground at something close to the speed of sound. Not a good feeling, believe me. Didn’t do much to help that stupid ‘Rainbow Crash’ thing either.” She tried to smile at Scootaloo but the look of shock staring back at her made this difficult.
“Anyway, when I woke up in the hospital, the Doc was pretty mad at me. Apparently, I hit the ground so hard that I left a crater the size of a train car. Oh, yeah, and I had broken a whole ton of bones, too.” Rainbow tapped her chin. “I think it was two thighs, about half-a-dozen ribs, and my left hip if I remember right. The concussion made the whole thing a little fuzzy.” With a shrug, she gave up. “Doesn’t really matter that much, I guess. Main thing was that I had managed to break almost every bone in both of my wings, too. They said I was lucky that they hadn’t been ripped right off of my back.” The mare grimaced as she absentmindedly rubbed the base of one of her wings. The tiny scars crisscrossing the skin beneath the feathers always itched whenever she thought about that day.
“Parents were pretty mad, too. I guess they didn’t like the idea of their daughter almost killing herself by smashing head-first into a field. Even after I got my casts off, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house for weeks. No classes, no friends, definitely no flight school. Not that I really wanted to do any of that anyway.” Rainbow Dash bit her lip. “Almost killing yourself has that effect on a pony, I guess. Flight became just... terrifying. Every time that my hooves left the clouds, I would see that field, that long grass, those little pebbles, all coming straight at me...”
Rainbow Dash trailed off. Her eyes were unfocused, staring at some point in the air in front of her and at the same time, at nothing at all. Her ears were flat against her head and she seemed to be sweating profusely. Scootaloo couldn’t think of anything to say, choosing instead to snuggle herself deeper into the mare’s side.
Dash started at the sudden pressure. “Heh, sorry ‘bout that, kid. Bad memories. Just... just forget it.” She laughed awkwardly. “So, where was I now?”
“Oh, right. Cloudsdale. So, as it turns out, when you live in a city made of clouds, being too scared to fly is a major problem. Oh, my folks had me talking to all kinds of doctors and trainers and therapists, but I didn’t want to hear any of their psycho-babble junk. As far as I was concerned, I never wanted to fly again, period. Eventually, I got so bad that I refused to even leave my room. Wouldn’t go to school, wouldn’t eat, I would just sit paralyzed in the corner, too afraid to do anything. The clouds just felt wrong or... weak. Like I would just tumble through them if I tried to move. After about a week or so of that, Dad put up the ‘For Sale’ sign.”
“Even after we moved down here to Ponyville, I was still too scared to use my wings. My dad even had to make sure our house only had one floor because I wouldn’t go up stairs. It wasn’t until-”
Scootaloo couldn’t quite stifle her giggle. “You were afraid of stairs?”
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, Squirt,” Rainbow Dash said, cracking a smile of her own. “I’m not afraid to say it. I was a bit of a wreck back then. Went a full year without leaving the ground. But do you know what finally snapped me out of it?”
“The Wonderbolts?” Scootaloo interjected.
“The Won-... uh, right, I guess that was kinda obvious, huh? So, yeah, my parents took me to one of their shows when they passed through town to try to, I don’t know, motivate me or something. They thought that seeing strong, confident pegasi would help convince me that flying was safe again.”
“So the show was really that good?” Scootaloo asked, the excitement in her voice completely drowning out her despair from just minutes ago.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“You said the Wonderbolts made you like flying again so the show must have been really cool, right?”
“Oh, well... not really. It was going okay for a while. Most of the standard tricks and stunts. Lots of fireworks. They were making it really hard to frown but I wasn’t going to let my folks win that easily. Then, during the big finale, a crosswind came out of nowhere and threw Thunder Clap... uh, he was the old captain of the team back then, straight into the wall of the bleachers right in front of us. There was a huge crash and a bunch of ponies started screaming. My parents faces...” Rainbow laughed. “Oh, they went so white. Their little plan had fallen apart right in front of them. I just curled up into a ball and told them that I definitely hated flying now. It wasn’t just scary, it was downright stupid.”
“But you said that the Wonderbolts helped you,” the filly blurted out when Dash paused. “That sounds like it just made everything worse.”
“Well, it did,” she added with a smile, “until Thunder Clap got up again and finished the show. That’s what really caught my attention.”
“He wasn’t hurt?”
“Oh, he was hurt alright. Two broken legs and a fractured collar bone if I remember right. The paramedics were all Earth ponies and unicorns though, so all they could do was yell at him from the ground. After they finished, I... I just had to go see him. The whole team was signing autographs and he was right there at the end of their table as if nothing had happened. One of the doctors kept trying to get him to go to a hospital but he just stood there signing poster after poster. When he got to me, all I could say was ‘Why?’ I guess he knew what I meant because he laughed so hard. He had such a great laugh...” Rainbow recalled dreamily. “‘For the fans,’ he said. ‘All these ponies paid for a flying show and, by Celestia, I’m not going to be the one to ruin it for them.’ He had risked his life just to avoid disappointing his fans and from that day on, the Wonderbolts were right at the top of my ‘heroes’ list.”
“So you tried flying again after that?”
“Hold your horses there, kiddo. I’m getting there.” She tussled the filly’s mane, smiling at the giggle she received in return. “But, no, I didn’t. At least not right away. I actually started writing letters to Thunder Clap whenever I could. I knew he got tons of fan mail but I felt like I had to. I was pretty amazed when he wrote back to me the first time. But then it kept happening. Every time I wrote to him, he wrote back. He sorta turned into my pen-pal for a while. At first I was just asking questions about his life: where he grew up, how he became a Wonderbolt, you know, all that stuff. I did, oh, probably a dozen school reports about him. But eventually he started to ask about me. I told him all about my sonic rainboom but I totally left out everything after that. I probably should have mentioned it, though, because he kept asking if I was interested in a special flight school where I could learn stuff way more advanced than the stupid Junior Speedsters, but I kept turning him down. I think that really got him curious. He sent so many letters trying to figure out why I wasn’t ‘using my Celestia-given gifts,’ as he would say, that after a while I couldn’t ignore him any more. He was just so...”
“Persistent?” Scootaloo offered.
“I was going to say ‘annoying,’ but let’s go with that. So, I wrote a big letter all about my crash and how I had vowed to never fly again, the whole story. It wasn’t very detailed or anything. I mostly did it to get him to stop bugging me but that kinda backfired.”
“What? He wrote to you even more?”
“Well... no. Actually, a couple days after I sent the letter he just showed up on our doorstep.”
“You got to hang out with a Wonderbolt when you were little?” The filly could hardly contain her joyous envy. “That must have been so cool!”
“We didn’t really get to 'hang out' much. He was just passing by on his way to a show when he got my letter and decided to drop in. I was in my room when the doorbell rang. When I peeked out, there he was, just standing there talking to my parents. I’m not sure what he told them but after a minute they called me down and he told me to hop on his back. That was a little weird but Mom and Dad seemed okay with it so I did it. He just turned around and carried me outside. I was glad he let me ride because there had been a big thunderstorm scheduled earlier that day and the ground was still all muddy. I thanked him but he just looked at me. His eyes... They were so serious. Almost like he was mad but just kinda... strong.”
“So what did he want to talk about, Dash?” Scootaloo asked.
“Now, that... I’ll never forget that.” Rainbow Dash said dreamily. “He asked me how bright the sun was.”
“Huh?” The filly scrunched her nose in confusion. “He went that far out of his way to ask about the sun?”
“Yeah, he did.” Rainbow’s brow suddenly furrowed in thought. Scootaloo stared in confusion as a smirk slowly grew on the mare’s lips. “In fact, that gives me an idea.” She hopped up from her position next to her little friend and began walking toward the door. “Hang here for a sec. I’ll be right back.”
Without another word, the mare took off into the sky over the Crusader club house. Scootaloo stayed seated on the floor for a moment, more from dumb-founded confusion than obedience. Rainbow Dash’s story had distracted her quite well but now, in this unexpected solitude, she couldn’t help but remember the events of the day so far. She frowned as she shuffled her hooves through a small pile of the remnants of her Wonderbolts poster, pieces of which were littered all around her. The closest ones were even speckled with tiny drops of her own blood. Something in her chest ached whenever she looked at them and she could feel the moisture building in her eyes once again.
Desperate for a new distraction, she stood. She looked away when an accidental flap of her good wing sent a few papers wafting through the air in front of her causing her gaze to fall on the overturned table in the corner. Slowly, she approached as if the piece of furniture might hold some grudge against the little pony for so savagely upending it. She ran her hoof across the rough wood, feeling the area that had splintered slightly under the force of her enraged bucking. Being careful to avoid touching her bandages, the filly wedged her hip under the table and righted it with one quick push. As she did, her flank slid through something cold and squishy causing her to recoil slightly. The smear of bright pink goo that now adorned her side confused her for a second until she spotted the remains of the large pink cupcake splattered against the wall nearby.
Scootaloo eyed the ruined confection. It had hit the floor frosting-side down leaving the cakey underside poking into the air relatively undamaged. She really hadn’t eaten much today and after all that had happened so far this morning, she was feeling pretty hungry. Her stomach chose that moment to rumble painfully, confirming that fact. Glancing around to make sure that she was still alone, she leaned in and took a bite. It was still pleasantly moist and spongy but without frosting, it lacked the usual punch of a Pinkie Pie treat. An idea floated through her mind. The frosting on the ground was certainly unappealing but what about...?
Despite being a little warmer than usual, the frosting on her hip still tasted great as it mixed with the pastry in her mouth. She closed her eyes and savored every moment of the treat, reveling in its sugary tang. She could practically hear the food bouncing off the empty walls of her stomach. Pinkie had always bragged that it was impossible to frown while eating one of her cupcakes and that claim went uncontested by the filly. Her glee was only interrupted momentarily when she had to dig a few stray hairs out of her teeth and spit them on the floor. With one final gulp, the finished off the only palatable portions and sat back with a satisfied sigh.
Her contentment didn’t last long. Scootaloo’s eyes shot open when she heard a faint snort coming from the doorway. There stood Rainbow Dash, hoof over her mouth, her whole body shaking in barely-contained laughter. Eye contact was the final straw. The mare burst out laughing so forcefully that she had to fall to her haunches and hold her sides to suppress the pain.
“You must be if you’re eating food off of your butt!” Rainbow Dash howled as another fit of laughter overtook her. Her body rolled wildly despite the filly’s repeated objections. “Sorry, sorry, sorry...” Rainbow Dash said, practically hyperventilating.
Scootaloo grumbled and tried to change the subject. “Didn’t you have a story to finish or something?” she yelled over the noise.
“Yeah, yeah, snrrk. Just gimme a hehe sec.” Rainbow Dash got back to her hooves still fighting the occasional giggle. “I’m okay, I’m okay.” She took a deep breath to calm herself. “Whew! That was good!” she exclaimed with a grin before seeing Scootaloo’s face glaring back at her. “Oh, don’t look at me like that, Scoots. You go and do something that hilarious and you’re gonna get mad at me for laughing?” Scootaloo continued to glare. “Alright, alright, how about this? Let me finish my story, then I’ll get you some lunch to make up for it. What d’ya say?”
Scootaloo’s expression softened. As much as she tried to stay angry, even she had to admit that licking frosting off of her own flank was pretty funny. Finally breaking her stance, she giggled to herself as she walked across the room. “Okay, deal! I wanna see where you were going with that story. You just took off right in the middle.”
“Yeah, I had something to do,” Rainbow Dash said as she glanced out the open door. “Now where was I?”
“Uh, that Thunder-guy picked you up at your house?”
“Oh yeah! Here, hop on. I figured it would be more fun to show than tell this part,” the mare said, lowering one side to allow the filly to climb up onto her back. Confused but intrigued, Scootaloo quickly trotted over and leapt up. Once her passenger had found a comfortable position, Rainbow trotted outside into the warm midday breeze.
The first thing Scootaloo noticed was the darkness. Despite still being around eleven-o’-clock in the morning, the outer balcony of the club house was shrouded in a heavy unnatural shade. A quick glance up revealed the reason. In the sky directly overhead sat a large, circular bundle of clouds about twenty yards in diameter. The individual components of the formation were all different sizes and shades, some light and puffy, others dark and filled with rain, creating an odd grey-scale patchwork quality in the mass of vapor. Rainbow Dash must have collected every spare cloud she could find in town to assemble this... thing.
“So,” said Rainbow Dash. “Can you tell me how bright the sun is?”
“Uh... pretty darn bright?” Scootaloo said pointing to the surrounding landscape. Everywhere other than their small circle of shade, the sunlight was shining pleasantly on another warm spring day. The apple trees were full of brand new green leaves and little bird could be seen darting in and out of their branches singing cheerfully.
Rainbow Dash’s hoof met her face. “Just go with me on this, kid. I told you that my story was on an overcast day. This is the best I could scrounge up on short notice so just... I don’t know, use your imagination or something.”
“Oh, uh, okay...” Scootaloo mumbled as she reconsidered the question. “But wait. Even if there were a lot of clouds, the sun would still be bright wouldn’t it?”
“Alright. Back on track.” She cleared her throat and began speaking almost as if she were reading from a script. “But how do you know that the sun is bright if you can’t see it?”
“Huh? Cuz I’ve seen it before? It’s not like the sun goes out just because it’s behind some clouds.”
“Exactly.” Rainbow crouched. Her passenger figured out why just quickly enough to grab hold before the two ponies took off into the sky. In seconds, they broke through the manufactured cloud cover and felt the warm rays from the sun on their faces. Rainbow Dash flew higher and higher until all of Ponyville could be seen stretching out below them. She coughed as Scootaloo’s grip tightened around her neck for a moment. She had never taken her this high before. “You doing okay back there?” she squeezed out through her clenched windpipe and breaking her more serious story-telling tone.
Scootaloo released Rainbow’s neck, though she continued to stay crouched as low as she could get herself. The filly peeked over her ride’s shoulder to try to get her bearings and immediately regretted the decision. Individual features on the ground were almost impossible to see at this height. After some searching, she found the clubhouse that they had just left, now only looking like a small dot on the massive expanse of green that was Sweet Apple Acres. She trembled and pulled herself back to the center of Rainbow’s back, looping her hooves through the rainbow-colored hair in front of her as best as she could. The high-altitude winds buffeted against her haunches but she held tight and leaned further into the mare’s shoulders. Scootaloo blinked rapidly, trying to stop, or at least slow, the spinning feeling in her head. Swallowing hard to settle her stomach, she was finally able to nod in response. “I-I think s-s-so...”
Rainbow Dash slipped back into character. “Now you can see it clearly, little filly. Celestia’s sun is burning brightly just like it always has. No matter how big or how dark the clouds may get, don’t let them convince you that the sun has gone forever. It is always there, just waiting for the opportunity to shine over the whole world.”
The mare turned to lock eyes with the filly cowering on her back. “Kid, you’ve got one heck of a light in you. Saw it from the moment I met you. That spirit of adventure, that passion for performance. I knew you were destined for great things. Now these last couple days have been bad, I know. Really bad. And I can’t even begin to imagine how hard all of this has been for you, but I know that somewhere in there is that same awesome little filly just waiting to shine.”
“You really think I can... shine? Even without flying?” she asked through the lump in her throat.
“Kid, you already shine. Bright as anything. You just need to... clear the clouds away to let everypony see it.”
“B-But it can’t be that easy, can it?” Scootaloo asked as she felt the tears building again. “I can’t just... clear the clouds away just like that. I’m just-” She was cut off by a blue hoof softly landing on the tip of her nose.
“Well,” Rainbow Dash said with a warm smile, tears beginning to form in her eyes, as well. “I guess it’s a good thing you’ve got Ponyville’s number one weather pony here for you then, isn’t it? I’m pretty much the expert on clearing clouds.”
Scootaloo slid herself forward and wrapped her small hooves around her friend’s neck, giving it the tightest hug that she could muster. “T-Thank you, Rainbow D-Dash...” she squeaked out through a new fit of sobs.
“No prob, Scoots,” the mare said as she leaned her head back to nuzzle the filly. The pair floated there in their embrace high enough that any tears that may have been shed would evaporate long before reaching the ground below.
After a few minutes of silence, Scootaloo slowly pulled away. She wiped a hoof across her eyes, a small, quivering smile on her face, and stared up toward the noonday sun. “Hey, Rainbow Dash?” she asked softly. “Do I have to go back to school today?”
The mare laughed. “Well, I did promise your little buddies that I’d tell them when I found you... Tell ya what. Let’s go get that lunch I owe you and we can talk about it, okay?”
Scootaloo sniffled and nodded, a new contented smile appearing as she folded herself down into rainbow mane of her hero... and friend.
“Welcome, fillies and gentlecolts!” Apple Bloom’s country twang rang out over the loudspeakers. “It’s been over six years in the makin’ but me and my friends wanna welcome y’all to the grand opening ceremony for Crusader Park: Ponyville’s first and only full-service outdoor entertainment emporium!”
The young mare had designed the stage from which she now spoke to handle everything from small school functions to performances by the Royal Canterlot Theatrical Society so that now, all by herself, she couldn’t help but feel very tiny. Nevertheless, it gave her the perfect vantage point to look out over the rest of what she and her friends had created. All around the outer edges of the property, new grass had been planted along with trees and flowers to transform the rather plain fields that had once bordered Ponyville into exceptionally beautiful gardens perfect for picnics, stargazing, or just about anything else a pony could think of. Inside of that, they had designated fields for every popular sport, even making four hoofball courts to allow for tournament-style championships. A few custom-built playgrounds, complete with all manners of slides and swings, made sure that ponies of all ages would have a place to play.
The centerpiece of the whole project, however, had to be the skate park that, as far as the three friends had been able to determine, was the largest of its kind in Equestria. The design was mostly concrete and metal with all sorts of ramps, pipes, rails, and ledges, though the occasional wooden structure found its way in where appropriate. The true eye-catcher was a massive wooden ski-jump style ramp, twenty yards tall and featuring a nearly vertical drop transitioning into a perfect launch angle.
With a proud smile, Apple Bloom turned her attention back to the ponies in front of her. Ponyville had never been a very large town so the crowd was relatively sparse even though almost everypony was in attendance. Despite this, the roar of applause that washed over the stage could have rivaled any of the Princesses’ royal addresses. Apple Bloom soaked it all in, patiently waiting for the ruckus to subside before continuing.
“Thanks, everypony! We’re gonna get this show goin’ in just a couple a’ minutes now so y’all should make your way over to the stands over there and get yourselves ready for the performance of a lifetime!”
Stomps of applause surged again for a few moments as the gathered ponies began filing into the sturdy bleachers set off to one side of the nearby skate park. Excited murmurs rippled through the crowd as everypony slowly found their seats.
Far above the park, an orange mare in a blue helmet stood on a small cloud, staring intently down at the largest ramp. Her tiny, filly-sized wings twitched in anticipation.
“Okay,” she called over her shoulder. “Now just a couple inches back. No, that’s too far! Go back! Almost... Little more...”
Rainbow Dash’s head popped up over the edge of the cloud. “Don’t you start this again. Just tell me where to put the thing and be done with it.”
Scootaloo chuckled. “Sorry, Dash. I just want to make sure everything goes perfectly. This is my first real show in front of a crowd this size.”
“Ah, I’m just razzing you,” the rainbow pony laughed as she flew up to stand next to Scootaloo. “You’re not nervous are you?” She jabbed a playful hoof into the younger pony’s ribs.
Scootaloo giggled. “Nah, not ‘nervous’ really. More... anxious, I guess. I just want to get going!” She eyed the shuffling crowd below eagerly. “And what about you? Are you ready?”
Rainbow Dash scoffed. “Kid, a Wonderbolt is always ready!” She struck a pose to accentuate the striking colors of her jumpsuit. To almost nopony’s surprise, the mare had finally succeeded in joining the famous flying squadron a couple of years ago and had rarely taken off her uniform since. Despite the heavy use, the normally rough-and-tumble mare had taken special care to keep it in extraordinarily pristine condition.
“Well, I sure hope so. I appreciate your help and all but if you had come out yesterday, we could have at least practiced your part once or twice. You read all my notes, right? Cuz I‘ve got this thing all planned out. You need to hit your marks just right or it won’t work.”
“Hey, who do you think you’re talking to here?” Rainbow puffed her chest in fake indignation.
Scootaloo backed off. “I know, I know. I trust you, it’s just... doing it for the first time in front of a crowd seems a bit... risky.”
“Risk is all part of the job,” the mare said with a smirk. "And this way, you get to be as impressed by my performance as the audience will be.”
“Or as impressed with you as you are,” she said in a loud whisper.
“Hey!” the Wonderbolt barked in mock-anger. “At least I’ve done my trick before. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you use those... things before.” She lightly tapped one of the twin cylinders strapped to either side of the little blue scooter lying on the cloud next to them.
Scootaloo quickly waved the other pony off. “Don’t go poking at those! Apple Bloom said they should be pretty stable but I don’t want them going off early!”
With an exaggerated gasp, Rainbow Dash dove dramatically through the air and took cover under a tuft of cloud. Slowly, she peeked over the top. “Is... Is the gigantic explosion over?”
“Ha ha ha. You done?” Scootaloo dead-panned.
“Yeah, I think so.” The mare wiped a few wisps of cloud off of her uniform as she rejoined her friend.
Rolling her eyes, Scootaloo peered down over the edge of her cloud where she could see Sweetie Belle and her band doing last minute sound checks behind the stage’s curtains. As she watched, the curtains rose and a powerful crash of cymbals marked the start of the show.
“That’s your cue, Squirt. You ready?”
“Oh yeah.” Scootaloo lowered her goggles into position and hopped onto her waiting scooter. “Just make sure you hit your mark, okay?”
“You just worry about your part. I’ll be there.” Rainbow Dash lowered her own eyewear and took off into the sky, quickly disappearing from view.
Scootaloo turned and listed intently to the beat rising from below. She counted out the measures, bobbing her head in time, before taking a deep breath and diving off the cloud just as the electric guitar rang out its opening chord.
An expectant silence had fallen over the bleachers when the rock-and-roll anthem had begun blaring over the speaker system. However, after a few moments without any noticeable activity, some of the ponies had started idly chatting with one another or singing along to the music. All this stopped immediately when one pony pointed to the sky and screamed.
“Oh, Celestia! That pony is falling!”
Scootaloo couldn’t hear the collective gasp of the audience over the roar of the wind in her ears, though. Her tiny wings buzzed, making slight corrections to her trajectory as she fell, as she aimed herself directly toward the largest ramp. Seconds later, the wheels of her scooter contacted the wood with a satisfying clunk. She crouched as low as she could and braced herself. The g-forces as she hit the curve were substantial, but she maintained her balance and launched off the end of the ramp without losing any noticeable amount of speed.
The assembled ponies, slowly realizing that the show had actually begun, cheered loudly as the orange, purple, and blue blur proceeded to perform a dizzying series of back-flips and twists as she soared over the entire length of the park. At the last moment, she pulled out of her spin and hit the small landing ramp dead-center.
“Perfect!,” she muttered to herself. “That’s the first big one down. Should be smooth sailing for a while.”
Wheels still screeching with the momentum of her fall, she fired herself off of a nearby quarter-pipe. More rapid-fire rotations actually nauseated a few observers, but Scootaloo remained in control with practiced ease. Sparks flew as she slid her scooter across one of the long metal hoofrails leading her into a large wooden loop. Her world inverted, giving her a momentary glimpse of the bleachers. The gathered ponies’ faces wore strange mixtures of excitement, shock, and fear: exactly the reactions she was hoping for. She tried but failed to control the smile growing on her face.
The little mare buzzed her way through the rest of her set, being sure to utilize as many of the fixtures as possible. This was a grand opening ceremony, after all. She had to show off what they had built. Eventually, her momentum finally waning, she lined herself up for the finale. She hunkered down a bit more and pressed the shiny red button that looked like it had been hastily screwed onto her handlebars. The scooter’s twin rockets fired, the sudden burst of speed nearly sending her into a nearby wall. With a small shriek, she corrected her course and successfully found the ramp that would launch her straight back up into the sky.
Higher and higher she flew, the small rockets powering her ascent before sputtering to a halt over thirty yards above the ground. Moving quickly, she pulled her scooter up and threw the strap over her shoulders. She raised her forehooves high over her head and closed her eyes just as she reached the peak of her arc. “Come on, come on, come on...” Her stomach rolled as the weightlessness faded and a momentary panic shot through her mind before the impact. In the blink of an eye, she was soaring vertically into the stratosphere, her hooves locked tightly around the jumpsuit-clad legs of a Wonderbolt.
“‘Bout time you showed up, Dash!” she yelled over the rushing air. “What happened to the whole ‘A-Wonderbolt-never-misses-her-mark’ thing?”
“Yeah, yeah, keep your horseshoes on. I caught you, didn’t I?” She flicked a quick salute to her passenger. “All part of the show!”
Scootaloo just rolled her eyes as the clouds rushed by her face. Her chest was heaving after her performance and the thin air up here was certainly not helping. Closing her eyes, she took a few deep, slow breaths to try to relax. It was no use. The excitement and anticipation was too much for her. She opened her eyes and marveled at the scenery. In the short time her eyes were closed, the pair had risen another hundred yards into the calm blue sky. The flightless filly had never before been so high. She could even see the curvature of the planet from up here. For a moment, she almost wished that she could stay for a while, but she had more important business to take care of first. She looked down and searched for her target: a tiny gray circle against a largely gray background.
“Top floor!” Rainbow Dash called, slowing her ascent. “Last chance to back out, Squirt. What d’ya say? You ready for this?”
Scootaloo took one more glance at the earth so far below before returning her ride’s confident smirk.
“Let’s do it.”
“Now that’s what I like to hear!” Her blue wings flared as she began to dive, momentum building slowly but steadily. “Oh, yeah!” She practically had to scream over the turbulent air. “You’re probably gonna want to keep your mouth closed!”
Scootaloo just shook her head and laughed as she pulled her scooter off of her back. She had to get ready now because in a few moments she would be out of time.
Far below the two plummeting mares, the gathered ponies were chattering away. Confusion seemed to be the most common theme of the discussions as ponies tried to determine what was happening, or rather, not happening. Minutes ago, while in the middle of an impressive display, the lone performer had suddenly been swept up into the sky by a strange blue blur with no evidence of their intent. A single pony had begun applauding slowly but stopped when those around him hesitated to join in. Some faces showed signs of worry, perhaps wondering if this turn of events had been planned at all. As time passed, and with nothing else to do, the conversations grew louder and more causal.
“Did you see that part where she did that loopy thing?” an excited colt asked his group of friends. “That was so cool!”
“That really was an odd way to end a show,” a mare whispered through the side of her mouth to her husband. “Where do you think she went?”
“You know foals these days,” he said back, a disgruntled frown growing on his face. “So many of them have such awful definitions of ‘entertainment.’ I remember back when I was a colt, nopony would just disappear like this in the middle of a show. A performer would always close with a finale, a flourish. Ponies had class back then. Not like these little-”
The sky exploded with a blinding flash of light. Dozens of blood-curdling screams rang out from the bleachers, many of the ponies instinctively starting to run from the source of the tremendous noise. Those that remained, frozen in shock, were treated to one of the most stunning displays of color that Ponyville had ever seen. A massive ring of light, consisting of all the colors of the rainbow, was expanding rapidly across the sky, clearing every cloud and bathing the park in a warm, golden glow. From the epicenter of the blast, two mares descended at an astonishing rate, a rainbow trail following behind them.
Even with the goggles on, Scootaloo’s eyes were watering. She had done it! A sonic rainboom! Well, technically she had just been along for the ride while Rainbow Dash did it, but the exhilaration was no less intense. She held her breath and promised to celebrate later. For now, she had to concentrate on her part to play in all of this. She had spent weeks working out the precise moves on paper but Dash’s rather ‘inconsistent’ practice schedule had kept her from doing any kind of practical test. She braced herself for impact as the Wonderbolt released and sent her hurtling directly toward the skate park’s largest semi-spherical pool. Right on target.
As she contacted the lip of the pool, she quickly wrenched her handlebars to one side. Her scooter’s wheels screamed as the force of the supersonic turn threatened to split the admittedly cheap plastic. Luckily, her equipment held and Scootaloo was able to redirect herself into a spin around the circumference of the pool without losing any appreciable speed. The wind whistled ominously for a moment before coalescing into a small funnel cloud around the rapidly rotating pony. Scootaloo felt herself become lighter and lighter as tornado slowly gained enough power to lift her over and out of the pool she had used to form it.
Just as she had calculated, her entry velocity had ensured that the whirlwind would accelerate and grow to immense proportions. In no time at all, she was in a flat spin at the top of a fifty-foot tall tower of twisting turbulence. More screams came from the stands as any small unsecured objects took flight to join the show. Popcorn, pretzels, sandwiches, and at least a few hats swirled into the ever-expanding funnel of air.
Scootaloo gritted her teeth as the g-forces climbed. She could feel the blood being pushed out of her head. Her vision was shrinking into a narrow tunnel of darkness. Unable to see much anyway, she closed her eyes and fought against the urge to slow down. She just needed to hold out for a few more seconds.
Suddenly, that signature rainbow trail reappeared in the sky above the raging torrent of wind. Rainbow Dash dove straight down, falling through the eye of the storm, to connect directly with the heart of the tornado. A blinding flash of white light followed by a rush of wind exploded outward, washing over the bleachers and knocking everypony that had managed to stand right back into their seats.
As the dust settled and their eyes readjusted to the mid-afternoon light, the audience got their first view of the cause of the disturbance. Where a tornado had thundered moments before now stood two mares, hooves high in dramatic poses. Slowly, the shocked ponies began to realize the magnitude of what they had just seen.
Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo stood in silence except for their heavy breathing. Their eyes darted from pony to pony looking for any reaction but they received only blank stares in return. After an uncomfortably long wait, the sound of a single pony stomping his applause broke through. Slowly, the sound built, more and more ponies joining in, until the performers had to shield their ears from the raucous cheering.
Scootaloo sighed. She looked over to Dash and mirrored the smug grin she was wearing. “Well,” she said, still slightly out of breath. “I guess we did it, didn’t we?”
“Oh, you bet we did!” Rainbow gave a little kick to the smaller mare’s side. “Great job, kid!”
“Heh, thanks, Dash.” Scootaloo was unsuccessfully trying to hide her blush as a yellow earth pony and a white unicorn came running toward them through the crowd.
“Wow, Scootaloo!” Apple Bloom cheered. “Ah had no idea you could do anything like that! What the hay was it? Some kinda... Sonic Rainboom... Tornado... Explosion, uh, thingy?”
Sweetie Belle shook her head at the farm pony. “Okay, we are really going to have to come up with a better name than that. Anyway,” she turned back to Scootaloo. “That really was a great trick! I think you scared the audience half to death but it sure was a memorable performance.”
“Yeah, maybe we should move the stands a little further back next time...” she said as she pulled a rogue nacho out of her mane. “I’m just glad everything else went to plan. I still can’t believe it worked!”
“Neither can I. That was quite a show you put on there,” came a new voice from behind.
The three friends turned to see a bright orange pegasus mare approaching them accompanied by an entourage of at least a dozen ponies all grouped behind her. “Uh, thanks... Miss, uh...” Scootaloo stalled, hoping these unfamiliar ponies would take her hint and introduce themselves.
It was Rainbow Dash, however, who did the honors. Swooping over, she gave the mare a playful nudge. “Don’t mind her. I think her head is still a little scrambled from all the spinning,” she said in an exaggerated whisper. After giggling at Scootaloo’s reaction, she stepped between the two mares. As they each raised a hoof to shake, Dash made the introductions. “Scootaloo, Spitfire. Spitfire, Scootaloo.”
Scootaloo immediately wished that she had had all four hooves on the ground at that moment. She tipped and stumbled to one side, nearly bowling over Apple Bloom in the process, before finding her balance. She couldn’t keep the blush out of her cheeks as she heard the results of her fumble.
To her credit, Spitfire at least attempted to restrain her amusement though Rainbow Dash had no such inhibitions. The blue mare rolled on the ground attempting, but failing, to say something through her fits of laughter.
While Scootaloo waited for the laughter to subside, she was able to get a good second look at Spitfire. Having previously only seen the famous performer in various souvenir photos and once from a distance at Rainbow’s initiation to the Wonderbolts, it was understandable why she had not recognized the team’s captain. She was out of uniform. Without the jumpsuit and goggles, she looked like an entirely different pony: almost normal even, though certainly far more trim and fit than the average pony. In fact, all of the ponies with Spitfire seemed to be in exceptional shape. She scanned a few more faces before the realization finally hit her.
“A-Are you all W-Wonderbolts?” she fumbled out through her slack jaw.
Rainbow Dash popped up off the ground. “Wow, you catch on quick, don’t you, Scoots?” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “Say hello to Equestria’s greatest flying team!”
Various greetings and congratulations were offered by the crowd of celebrities, with Scootaloo only able to manage a tiny ‘hi’ in return.
Rainbow Dash smiled proudly. “Yep, they all took time out of their busy schedules to come down here just for your show! Isn’t that cool?”
Spitfire cleared her throat loudly. “As I recall, you pretty much begged us to come down here, Dash.”
“Well, okay, maybe I had to talk them into it at first, but it was worth it, right guys?”
A powerful roar of assent was issued, with the occasional whistle or cheer added on top of the noise. Scootaloo was taken aback at seeing such a positive reaction from ponies that she considered far above her own ability.
“In fact,” Rainbow addressed Scootaloo directly. “The team and I got you something to mark your first big show.” This earned a raised eyebrow from Spitfire. “Or... I guess I got you something for your first big show. But they helped! Just bring it out guys!”
Two Wonderbolts, who Scootaloo identified as Soarin’ and Fleetfoot, approached with a large roll of paper that they quickly unfurled between them. Even before it was fully unrolled, she knew exactly what she was seeing.
“Rainbow Dash got all of us to sign it for you,” Spitfire said, coming around to the front of the massive Wonderbolt team poster. Just like her previous present from the day she earned her cutie mark, it displayed every member of the current squad with their signatures, this time including Rainbow Dash wearing one of the smuggest grins that Scootaloo had ever seen. “After she told us what happened to your first one, we figured we could help out a friend of a friend and replace it for you.”
Scootaloo’s ears drooped. “She... told you about that?”
“Oh, yeah,” Spitfire said cheerfully. “We were just glad to hear that nothing else was damaged in that fire.”
Scootaloo shot a glance to Rainbow Dash who offered a smile and a wink in return. “Yeah... fire. That was... um, really bad... Uh, anyway,” She quickly regained her thankful tone. “This... this is amazing! Thank you all so much! I can’t believe you all came down here for me! I really- Wait... Did you say Rainbow Dash talks about me? To you guys?”
Spitfire chuckled. “We can’t get her to stop talking about you. You’d think she was your mother! Every day it’s ‘Scootaloo is awesome!’ and “You guys should see my buddy, Scootaloo!’ Frankly, we thought she was overselling you.”
Rainbow Dash flew down between the two mares, glaring at Spitfire. “Hey! You’ve seen her for yourselves now, right? You just try to say that I was ‘overselling’ now.”
“Calm down, Dash.” Spitfire pulled the mare down out of her hovering position. “If you had let me finish, I would have said that we were quite pleasantly surprised. You’ve got some real moves, kid!”
“Aww, t-thanks, S-Spitfire,” Scootaloo stammered. “I’m just trying to do my best, I guess, and you guys have always been my heroes.” She could no longer look any of them in the eyes so she resorted to kicking a small rock at her hooves. “I just hope I can be half the performer you guys are someday.”
“Well, don’t be too modest there,” Spitfire said with a smile. “Like I said, you’ve got some real talent. You could probably show some of us a thing or two.”
Before Scootaloo could even attempt to articulate her gratitude for such praise, she was once again cut off by her friend in blue flying up to block her view of Spitfire.
Rainbow Dash grabbed her captain’s shoulders, forcing their faces uncomfortably close. Spitfire didn’t even pull back, apparently having become used to Rainbow’s lack of boundaries. “So, does this mean...” she practically squealed.
“Go ahead...” Spitfire rolled her eyes as if she were allowing a foal one last piece of candy before bed. Rainbow’s reaction followed suit. She whooped and pumped her hooves with a loud ‘Yes!’ before disappearing in a shower of excited giggling.
“Uh... what was that?” Scootaloo asked, her star-struck nervousness temporarily drowned out by raw confusion. “Where’d she go?”
Spitfire simply smirked and looked back over her shoulders at the rapidly returning pegasus.
Rainbow Dash landed with a thud and dropped a small square package on the ground in front of Scootaloo. It was about four hooves long on each side and only a few inches deep and, as with any present prepared by the mare, it had none of the trimmings most ponies would expect on a present: no bow, no ribbon, not even wrapping paper. It was just a plain white box. It even had a few dents in the corners where it looked like it had been dropped.
Scootaloo cocked an eyebrow at the gift-bearing pony but received only an ecstatically goofy grin in return. Clearly unable to get any clues from that expression, Scootaloo said a quick ‘Thanks’ before nosing the lid off.
Blue. Inside the box, there was nothing but a bright, striking shade of sky blue. Taking a closer look, she could tell that the object was made of some sort of fabric with very tightly woven strands of fiber. She was greeted by an odd, stretchy texture when she grabbed it in her mouth. As she lifted it up, a part of the back side unfolded revealing a longer run of blue fabric, this section lined with a jagged yellow pattern. If she didn’t know better, she could swear it almost looked like-
The cloth fell into the dirt. Scootaloo stared at it, wide-eyed, unable to move her mouth, or anything else for that matter. In some distant part of her mind, she did register the sounds of uproarious laughter but even that could not pull her from her stupor.
After a long while, the laughter died down, many of the ponies wiping their eyes as they regained their composure. A few elbows were thrown to alert some of the more oblivious by-standers. Slowly, the jovial disposition turned to slight concern as everypony noticed that the object of their mirth remained still as a statue.
“Oh, not this again,” Rainbow Dash sighed. “Come on, Scootaloo,” she said as she knocked on the mare’s head. “Don’t do this thing again. Come on back. Equestria to Scootaloo! Come in, Scootaloo!”
“Th-th-this... It’s... But...” Her mind was racing, frantically trying rationalize what lay before her. Every possible reason flashed through her brain, most being immediately dismissed as ludicrous. Then again, this was ludicrous. Eventually, she settled on what seemed to be the most likely reason behind this unexpected gift.
“A s-souvenir?” she squeaked, an almost pained look of confusion on her face.
“Nope!” Rainbow Dash quickly replied, the smile on her face widening. “Are you kidding? They don’t make those as souvenirs! Come on. I’m sure you’ve got a better guess than that, right?”
“O-one of your spares?”
“One of my- ha!” Rainbow Dash let out an exaggerated laugh. She was enjoying this almost too much “No way. Got your measurements from Rarity. Should fit like nothing you’ve ever worn before. Come on, try again.” She rested her chin in her hooves, eagerly awaiting the next guess.
Scootaloo had exhausted her reasonable scenarios. The only ones left were too ridiculous to fathom. Her jaw fell open uselessly. Unable to form words any longer she just stared at Rainbow Dash, her eyes pleading for an explanation.
“Aw,” she said with a pantomime frown. “Done already? Fine, I’ll give you a hint.” She flew over to whisper in the orange pony’s ear.
Those two words seemed to snap Scootaloo back to reality. She stumbled backward, shaking her head and mumbling. “Nonononono, i-it can’t- I can’t- How can-?” She swallowed roughly. “A W-W-Wonderbolt?”
She stared at the jumpsuit in disbelief. There was no mistaking it. The colors, the pattern, the material, all perfect matches to the outfit worn by her mentor just inches away. The gears of her mind felt like they were spiraling out of control with nothing rational to latch onto.
This was impossible. She had figured that out years ago. It hadn’t been quick or easy, but she had gotten over her dreams of flying with the Wonderbolts, relegating them to the same place she put her desires to use unicorn magic as a foal. A far-fetched fantasy that, while fun to imagine, had no place in reality. And yet, here it was. Right in front of her.
Rainbow Dash continued to grin madly. Indistinct chatter could be heard from the assembled performers, the occasional muffled laugh providing the only evidence of their mood. A sudden thought popped into Scootaloo’s head. Her bewilderment progressed through disgust before landing on an odd, unconvincing smile.
“Oh, you jerk!” She playfully pushed at Rainbow Dash who spun in the air before reorienting herself. “You actually went through all this just for a prank? Wow! You... You got me good! You really got me.” Scootaloo laughed a bit too loudly, quickly fading into silence when nopony else seemed to follow her lead.
“A prank?” Rainbow Dash scratched her chin as a devious smirk crept across her face. “You know, now I almost wish this was a prank. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before. Ponyville has plenty of pegasi. I bet if I get a few extras I could-”
Spitfire stepped forward. “Oh, don’t you even think about it, Rainbow! The last thing we need is to have you handing out fake uniforms all over Equestria.”
Rainbow pouted. “Aw, you’re no fun, Spitfire.” Her mood quickly rebounded as she landed next to Scootaloo and gave her a gentle bump with her shoulder. “Anyway, yeah, it’s no joke, kid. You’re a Wonderbolt now. Welcome to the club. Try not to be intimidated by how awesome I am. There’s still plenty of room for everypony else.”
“But... how?” Scootaloo’s attention drifted to her own wings that, as predicted, had failed to grow much beyond the size they had been so many years ago. “Why would you want me? I can’t even fly...”
Rainbow Dash sighed and rolled her eyes. “I think I’m well aware of your flying abilities. But, really, that’s the best part! You don’t need to fly! Princess Celestia is letting us start up a non-flying wing- uh, branch, sorry- of the Wonderbolts! Just for you!”
“Dash...” Spitfire interrupted. “I think there’s a little more to it than that.”
“Yeah, whatever,” she said dismissively. “As long as Scoots is in, who really cares?”
Scootaloo’s curiosity was not so easily satiated, however. “What does she mean?” she asked. “Why would you want to have Wonderbolts who can’t fly? Doesn’t that defeat the whole point of being a Wonderbolt?”
“You might think so, but we’ve actually been kicking the idea around for a while now,” Spitfire said. “We wanted a way to...” She drifted off and scrunched up her muzzle in thought. After a brief pause, she started over. “Our motto, the Wonderbolts’ motto. Do you know it?”
“Uh, no, I don’t think so,” Scootaloo answered, slightly surprised that such a topic had never come up before despite her long-held interest in the team.
“To Entertain and Inspire.” Spitfire’s voice took on a lyrical quality, clearly practiced from hundreds of recitations. “We may have a few other official functions, but those are our two primary goals as an organization. And, up until now, we’ve been failing at that for too many ponies.” She took a slow, almost sad, breath. “Sure the ‘entertain’ part is easy. Everypony likes a good show, but how could we really ‘inspire’ ponies who could never, ever, hope to be one of us, all based on how they were born. If you’re a unicorn or earth pony, we could only ever fulfill half of our creed for you.”
“... or a pegasus who can’t fly,” Scootaloo added sheepishly.
“Exactly,” Spitfire said. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to talk to a little unicorn foal when they come up for an autograph and ask if they can join the team?” General low murmurs came from the other Wonderbolts indicating that this was at least a semi-frequent dilemma. “So, we’ve been talking to the Princesses for some time now about expanding our ranks to include all types of ponies. You know, get some members that anypony can look up to. Thing is, progress has been a little... slow. Turns out that it’s a kinda hard for a team of pegasi to find non-flying performers. They don’t exactly come out of the woodwork to find us so we usually have to do a bit of digging.”
“Wait,” Scootaloo threw up a hoof. “How many other ponies have you found so far, then?”
“Well...” Spitfire rubbed her neck. “One? You know... uh, you?”
“W- I’m the only one you’ve asked?” Scootaloo’s surprise seemed to be over-ridding her paralyzing shock now. “Why? Why me?”
“I think you’ve got Dash to thank for that.”
At the mention of her name, the mare puffed up proudly. “Yeah, I’m pretty famous around Canterlot. All I had to do was ask, and these guys were more than happy to give you a shot.”
“Oh, sure, Dash!” came Soarin’s voice as he released his side of the large poster. “Your stories are getting more ridiculous by the day. Next, you’ll be telling her that you won that race in Fillydelphia last week!”
“Hey!” she snapped back. “I beat you fair and square, Snorin’! Maybe if you laid off the pie once in a while you’d be able to keep up!”
“Oh that’s it!” Soarin’ yelled as he took to the air.
A faint cry of “Horseapples!” was all that could be heard as the two ponies blasted through the clouds in playful pursuit.
“So...” Scootaloo said as she pulled her eyes away from the aerial chase. “How did this really happen?”
“Really?” Spitfire shrugged, still watching her teammates. “She’s been begging us for weeks to come down here to see you perform. We finally just had enough of her whining and agreed.”
Scootaloo’s face fell despite Spitfire’s laughter. “Oh... so, you don’t really want me? It’s just to get Dash to stop bothering you?”
“Huh?” The orange mare snapped back to attention. “Oh, no, no, no. It’s not what you’re thinking. Sorry, we just really thought she was lying, to be honest. Or at least exaggerating. In case you haven’t noticed, Dash isn’t exactly above spinning a tall tale or two. Don’t worry. We wouldn’t have offered you the job if you hadn’t really impressed us. And believe me, you definitely did.”
“So you guys really want me?”
“Sure do! You and Dash really showed what kind of shows we can do with non-flying members. I’m pretty interested to see what other tricks you’ve got in-”
A bolt of lighting crackled through the air just feet away, a familiar giggle following soon after.
“Rainbow Dash!” Spitfire yelled into the sky. “Cut it out and get back down here!”
Rainbow’s signature mane poked out over the edge of a nearby cloud. “Geez, Cap, you need to relax. It’s Soarin’s fault anyway. If he would just stay still I would have hit him instead of almost getting you guys. Why don’t you go yell at- WAH!” Her accusation was interrupted by the cloud beneath her suddenly evaporating. She fell several dozen feet before the shock wore off enough to allow her to extend her wings. She looked up and scowled at the stallion hovering where her cloud had been, his tongue sticking out mockingly. “Oh, now you’re gonna get it!” She lunged upward but felt herself suddenly pulled backward. As she spun through the air she saw her tail in Spitfire’s mouth yanking her away from her attack.
“I think that’s just about enough of that, Rainbow,” Spitfire said sternly through her teeth. “You don’t want to ruin your buddy’s big day, do you?”
“Oh, crud,” the mare said sullenly as she returned to land next to Scootaloo. “Sorry, kid. Guess I got a little carried away.”
“No, that’s fine, Dash,” Scootaloo said with a laugh. “I’m still having trouble believing all of this. I mean, what do I do now? Now that I’m a... a Wonderbolt?” She was unable to hide the joy she felt at saying those words for the first time.
Rainbow Dash threw a leg over her friend’s shoulders. “Well, there’ll be a lot of training and hard work, but we’ll get to those later. First things first, I think it’s time for-”
“A PARTY!” Pinkie Pie screamed as she leapt from the now empty box in front of the two ponies.
Within minutes, the celebration was in full swing. Cakes and pastries of all shapes and sizes lined large, colorful tables while balloons and streamers fell in a near-constant cascade of colors. Sweetie Belle and her band had retaken their places on the main stage, providing most of the music, while ponies danced together across the sizable open spaces of Crusader Park.
The party raged for hours, continuing on long after the sun had fallen below the horizon, the stage and surrounding fields now lit by an array of lanterns hung from specially made poles. Scootaloo was reasonably confident that every single one of Ponyville’s residents had come to congratulate her at some point but the crowd had become such a raucous mob that she couldn’t be sure. Her front hooves were so sore from the near-constant shaking that she now found herself barely able to stand.
Despite this, the newest Wonderbolt recruit could have continued all night, but eventually the guests had begun filing away into the darkness. Most spoke of work or school the next morning, though quite a few had to be forcefully dragged away from the festivities by their friends and family. After a time, only a dozen-or-so ponies remained, most of whom had split into small groups milling about on the grass.
Scootaloo smiled as she surveyed the remnants of her party. Confetti blanketed to ground like sparkling snow except where the now-empty tables of food had blocked their spread, leaving odd rectangles of bare field. Despite the fact that most of the guests were choosing to strike up casual conversations with one another rather than dance, Sweetie Belle was still singing, though her songs had grown much slower and quieter over the course of the evening. Scootaloo let out a contented sigh just as Rainbow Dash stumbled up from behind her.
Scootaloo couldn’t help but laugh at the state of the mare after what had clearly been a very busy evening. The Wonderbolt’s hood had been lowered at some point during her activities and her goggles sat crookedly across her forehead. Small bits of confetti and cake frosting were dotted through her mane and tail giving her a thoroughly disheveled appearance, though, amazingly, her jumpsuit was still completely spotless. Despite all this, Rainbow seemed as energetic as ever, if a little wobbly.
“Woohoo! Great party, Squirt!” Scootaloo’s ears folded back subconsciously to protect her from her friend’s excessive volume. “Did you see that crazy jelly bean cannon that Pinkie brought? She was like ‘Betcha can’t get all of them before they hit the ground!’ And I was like ‘You’re on!’ And I totally did it! That last one was close but no stupid beans can out-fly The Dash!” Rainbow Dash held her proud pose for a few seconds but had to peek when she didn’t receive any adoring responses. Slowly, she cracked one eye open to see Scootaloo still staring out across the park, seemingly oblivious to the mare beside her.
“Alright... What’s on you mind, kiddo?” Rainbow asked, lowering her voice and stepping closer.
Though the question was much quieter than the previous speech, the sudden change in tone was enough to break the younger mares concentration. “Huh? Oh! Sorry, Dash. I don’t know... I guess I’m just wondering... what’s next, you know? This whole Wonderbolt thing... I don’t really think it’s sunk in yet. It all still feels like some kind of weird dream. But I know that it’s real and in the morning I’ll have to... do... something. There’s going to be so much pressure, so many expectations. What if nopony wants to see a Wonderbolt who can’t fly? What if I ruin a show? I don’t think-” She was cut off by a soft hoof on her shoulder.
“Shut up, Scoots,” the mare said with a smirk. “You’ll do fine. No... You’ll do better than ‘fine.’ You’ll be great. You’ve already proven that you’ve got the chops. Now it’s just a matter of showing them to the world. Don’t worry so much.”
“Thanks, Dash,” Scootaloo said, only slightly reassured by the vote of confidence. “If it weren’t for you, I’d never have had this opportunity at all, so thanks... for everything really.”
“Hey, don’t mention it!” Rainbow Dash said with a firm pat on the back. “It’s the least I could do for you!”
Scootaloo began laughing at her mentor’s usual flamboyance. “‘Least you could do?’ That’s rich. You’ve done so much over the years. You were always there when I needed you and now you’ve helped me achieve something that I never even thought was possible! What in the world could you possibly owe me?”
“There you go again, squirt. Always selling yourself short. Don’t you get it?” Rainbow saw the other mare cock her head at this but continued on, looking to the stars contemplatively. “Kid, I’ve always needed you. Over all these years, you’ve been the one pony I could count on to always have my back, no matter what, even when you probably shouldn’t have. Just knowing you were there, always in my corner, always cheering me on... well, it meant way more than you might think. Any time I was nervous before a show-” She caught the other mare’s quiet scoff. “Oh, it happened more than you might think! But all I had to do was find you out there in the crowd and... I guess, in a lot of ways, I wouldn’t be here either if I didn’t have-”
A cymbal crash interrupted her thoughts. The two mares turned to see Sweetie Belle bowing politely as the few mingling ponies stamped out their applause before quickly returning to their activities. The young singer trotted off stage toward a nearby water cooler, taking a quick break before packing up for the night. She only managed one gulp before Rainbow Dash was upon her.
Scootaloo did a double-take. She hadn’t even seen Dash leave the ground before she was suddenly on the other side of the field and striking up a conversation with her friend. She couldn’t hear any of the discussion from where she stood, but it was certainly a quick one. Only a couple sentences were exchanged, followed by quick nods and smiles from both ponies. In no time at all, Rainbow Dash was back at the newest Wonderbolt’s side.
“What was that all about?” Scootaloo asked though Dash’s devious smile implied that she wouldn’t get a straight answer.
“Oh, nothing,” came the obvious lie. “Just come over here.” Rainbow led her to the area directly in front of the now-darkened stage and motioned for her to sit. Still confused, she obliged and slowly took a seat in the soft grass. Rainbow Dash sidled up next to her, wrapping a comforting wing across her shoulders just as she had done so many years ago. A moment of silence passed before Dash spoke again.
“Look, Scootaloo. It might sound a little weird but if I didn’t have you there, I probably- No, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t be who I am today.”
“Oh, it was nothing, Dash. I didn’t-”
“It’s not nothing!” the mare interrupted. “And I wanted to show you that. I’m not exactly the best with... stuff like this so I asked your little friend to sing a song I picked out.”
“A... song? I never took you for the musical type.”
“Hey! I can sing just fine! I just thought... well, I wanted to be here when you hear it.”
Scootaloo was very curious now, but from the look in her eyes, Rainbow Dash was having enough trouble expressing herself that pushing the issue seemed cruel. Instead, she just nodded silently and turned to the stage.
Through the darkness, a single, stark spotlight clicked on to illuminate the small white unicorn. After a beat, a quiet but distinctive piano melody rang out through the night. With a small gasp, Scootaloo recognized the tune. It was an older song, not exactly her usual type of music, but she had definitely heard it once or twice before. It was one of those songs that everypony knows whether they like it or not, just because of its ubiquitous place in society. It took a few moments to pull the the lyrics from the annals of her mind but when she did, she immediately understood. Before Sweetie Belle had sung the first word, Scootaloo felt the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. She could only offer a soft ‘Thank you’ before resting her head on her mentor’s shoulder.
Rainbow Dash laid her own chin down into Scootaloo’s purple mane, nuzzling affectionately.
“Thank you, Scootaloo.”
The two Pegasi sat in the calm glow of the stage lights as the small unicorn began singing.
It must have been cold there in my shadow,
To never have sunlight on your face,
You were content to let me shine, that’s your way.