Flying by Fire Wire
By Conner Cohen
With proofreading by Brony2.0 and Vimbert (Thanks guys!)
* * *
“Ah'm tellin' ya'll, this is a real help t'getting this order done on time,” Applejack shouted over her shoulder to her two friends as the trio trotted their way into Ponyville from the direction of the farm.
She meant it, too. Twilight and Rainbow Dash had offered to help carry some of the surprise orders of apples to the post office for delivery to buyers abroad. She'd had to call in some help from the rest of the Apple Family to deal with the large order. Her friends were carrying the full baskets to the post office, so that the veteran applebuckers could keep up the pace in the orchard instead of wasting time delivering.
“Hey...no problem, Apple...phew...jack.” Twilight was finding herself struggling under the weight of the two full saddlebags of the large fresh apples. “You've helped us...often...enough.”
Not for the first time, she envied Applejack's strength to carry almost twice her own load with no apparent effort. Twilight was beginning to regret her assertion that she would carry the apples the earth pony way, to study how earth ponies worked. That jealously extended to Rainbow's apparent ease to carry the same load as herself...while supporting her own weight in flight. Indeed, the pegasus pony was currently circling around gracefully in the air above them. As they passed into the light wood and thatched streets of Ponyville, she veered between chimneys and homes like a restless foal in the air before swooping back towards them with a rush of air.
“Besides!” Dash crowed, “You let me put that giant storm cloud above the farm to clean all the apples ready for sending out! I love making those things! Thunder crashes! Lightning bolts! Aw YEAH!”
She punctuated her excitement by spinning on the spot in mid air before sharply back flipping out of sheer unrestrained adrenaline. The sudden movement snapped the saddlebags already strained pocket latch, sending a good amount of apples flying from her overstuffed saddlebags, propelled by her trick across the roofs of Ponyville at great velocity.
* * *
Across Ponyville, one unfortunate older pony finished his daily chores to his beautiful garden, setting his hoe down gently. Content in the knowledge that he could rest back with a good book and...
Without warning, small thuds and splatters signalled the invasion of his cottage's garden by dozens of bombarding apples. They splattered across his shed, knocked plant pots from walls and ruined the pristine windows of his home.
With a sigh, he turned slowly and trotted back to his gardening tools once more.
* * *
Biting her lip, Dash turned back to Applejack after watching the apples soar.
“Heh...new delivery method?” she offered, with a nervous grin.
Applejack and Twilight only tilted their heads, eyebrows narrowed.
“Ok! Ok! I'm sorry, just got a little carried away,” Dash finally admitted, huffing slightly, “I don't get to make awesome storm clouds that often...”
Applejack sighed a little, letting any annoyance at wasted produce flow out of her before smiling thinly back at Rainbow Dash, at least respecting her honest apology.
“Ah understand, sugarcube. But don't ya go an' forget t'clean that big cloud up,” she chided, obviously a little concerned at the storm cloud still lurking over her orchard. “Last thing ah need is us trampin' through mud to buck them trees later today if that cloud starts rainin' again.”
They were moving into the town proper, Twilight heard Rainbow's casual “yeah yeah” of agreement and assurance of she wouldn't leave Applejack hanging when it came to something that big. However Twilight's attention was focused elsewhere. The street ahead of them was almost empty. The post office looked deserted; its double door swinging lightly on the wind. The area up ahead, much closer to the town hall, was crowded in the distance with a huge amount of ponies clustered together.
“Now what in the hay is goin' on down there?” Applejack dropped her apples off at the post office as some melodic sounds wafted their way through the crowded sounds towards them...singing. Twilight, with relief dropped her own apples as Rainbow Dash landed and watched the crowd up ahead as the musical sounds of someone singing began to...
Realisation drifted to them all simultaneously.
“Everypony in one place?” said Applejack,
“Faint noises of singing?” added Rainbow Dash,
“Utterly spontaneous?” finished Twilight.
The three glanced at one another...before galloping off up the street towards the crowded area to see just what Pinkie Pie was up to this time.
* * *
The flat ground around the Ponyville town hall was bustling with ponies, all massed around one central point slightly off to the side of the great wooden hall itself. The crowd were all grinning happily, many laughing or whooping. Above the group, they could sometimes see the top of a bouncing pink mane prancing around somepony in the centre of the crowd. Clearly, they had arrived mid-way through one of Pinkie's increasingly regular songs.
Explore all you want!
So don't be shy!
Just go have fun!
And make the time fly!”
Rainbow galloped on the ground alongside Applejack and Twilight up to the edge of the crowd. The air above was far too crammed with other pegasi to take flight. Straining to see whatever the commotion was that had set Pinkie off. It could be anything from a big event to a tiny triviality these days. She even had a “Twilight got a new book” song now.
It had gotten old fast.
“Cos Ponyville welcomes you, honest and true,
And trust me when I say, we won't ignore you!
Everypony arriving here brings joy to our lives,
And when they leave we're always sad till another one arrives!”
Twilight, Applejack and Rainbow had almost pressed their way to the front. By now Pinkie was leaping high above the crowd on each high note, thriving on the excitement of the crowd.
“So welcome, again, to Ponyviiiiille!
Where we'll turn any frown upside doooown!
We're so glad you're here, so once again...
Welcooome...to our tooooooooown!”
The crowd erupted in cheering, hooves stamped on the ground and several small flowers were flung towards the centre.
“Hey! Hey, hey!” came the inevitable shout from Pinkie, leaping up and down still as she spotted her friends moving through the massed ponies, “Push on through! We've got a visitor! Come say hi-de-hi!”
Rainbow Dash was indeed pressing to get through, her natural curiosity piqued to see just who had arrived. Eventually spotting a gap, she gently nudged her way past.
“So! Who's decided to pop into my little neck of the woods?” She wandered through the crowd to face the visitor. “I'm Rainbow Dash, greatest flier...in all...Equ...es...”
Rainbow's face seemed to lose all of its colour on the spot as her voice died and her expression locked into one of absolute shock. Twilight and Applejack, coming up either side of Rainbow, turned their heads simultaneously to their friend in confusion. After a second, Applejack pointedly prodded her with a hoof.
“S...S...S...” she stammered, eyes locked open and competing with one another see which could open the widest in shock.
“What's that?” Twilight asked gently.
“Spi...Spi...Spi...” managed Rainbow Dash, regaining the use of her mouth a little.
“...come again?” Twilight cast a quick glance to the new pony nervously, not having time to really welcome them herself yet.
“Oh would ya just spit it out already!” Applejack shouted as she raised a hoof and gave her friend a sharp jolt on the back of the head. The words finally exploded from Rainbow's mouth at a pitch loud enough to make every pony in the near vicinity wince.
Blinking, Twilight and Applejack turned to face the same direction as their friend. In front of them, standing beside the obliviously happy Pinkie Pie, was the pony who had indeed come to town. A bright yellow coat and fiery coloured mane stood out from the crowd; the travel saddlebags over her back were embossed with symbols of a winged thunderbolt.
* * *
Applejack looked back and forth between the Wonderbolt and her fanfilly friend. Rainbow, even after blurting out the name was still rock still, her legs locked and mouth open. Spitfire, meanwhile, simply stood at ease, as though patiently waiting for someone else to speak.
“Uh...Rainbow?” Applejack whispered.
If Applejack had been a pony to put people down, she might have just laughed. Instead she just chuckled quietly and reached forward to manually close Rainbow's mouth before the pegasus ended up drooling and tapped her on the head, before turning to Spitfire. The Wonderbolt, to her credit, had taken the odd scene without so much as a strange look on her face.
'That's them celebrities for ya, thought Applejack to herself as she trotted forward, reaching out a hoof to Spitfire. “Mighty fine of ya to drop by in our quaint little town.” She tipped back her hat to be more visible. “What brings you all the way out here, partner?”
With a step forward and a smile at the welcome, Spitfire shook hooves without hesitation. She spoke just as politely, if informal in tone, a chilled and relaxed attitude that was filled with easy confidence.
“Not much, really. Just on my way to Cloudsdale after visiting some distant relatives. Flew all night, so I figured I'd drop in to give my wings a rest.”
“Well you're certainly welcome here,” pipped up Twilight, “Sorry if our friends can be a little overwhelming...”
She angled her horn towards the happily bouncing Pinkie Pie. Any worries Twilight may have had were cast off as Spitfire just laughed lightly, casting off all worries.
“Really, it's cool. Honestly, it's quite nice to get such an energetic little welcome. And to see some familiar faces in here too...” She let her gaze fall through the crowd to the still rock-like immobile form of Rainbow Dash before continuing. “Didn't know you came from down here in Ponyville. Maybe we'll actually get a chance to talk this time, eh?”
She smiled calmly, only to be followed with a small silence as Rainbow didn't offer any sort of coherent response. Fortunately, covering for her friend until her senses returned, Applejack spoke up instead.
“Well, been great t'meet ya, Spitfire, but I'm afraid ah gotta gallop. Them apples ain’t gonna buck themselves now are they?”
With a friendly nod, Applejack started to head off, stopping only briefly when alongside Rainbow.
“An' just remember, Rainbow...we need them clouds of yours cleared by noon or it's gonna drench the whole orchard. You'll remember it...right?”
“Ah'll take that as a 'Yes, Applejack, I'll be there.' See ya at the orchard then. Remember, by noon or there's no way we'll get these orders done in time.”
As Applejack galloped away to Sweet Apple Acres, Rainbow finally managed to shake herself out of her stuck mindset, almost literally judging from the firm throwing of her head she gave herself before stepping up to Spitfire. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Pinkie happily bouncing on the spot beside Twilight, both giving her the space to talk to one of her heroes. She silently thanked them for the consideration...even if she secretly envied Pinkie's confidence.
Wait...confidence? She was Rainbow Dash! She didn't need any confidence to have a proper chat...expert flier to expert flier. Talking at the Gala was fine, she remembered. Time for some truly cool speech that would blow away that song.
'Great start, Rainbow,' her sarcastic side told her.
Mentally, she kicked herself even as Spitfire smiled and shook some sleep from her eyes too.
“Night flight, still a bit woozy myself anyway,” Spitfire said, easily and confidently. “So what is it you do around here when you're at home, weather patrol?”
“Yup! In fact, I lead the weather patrol these days.” Rainbow was beginning to feel her usual confidence beginning to return after the sudden shock of a Wonderbolt appearing in her town from no-where. “When we're in the sky, there ain't no worries at all!”
Briefly, she could hear Twilight sighing and muttering something about 'double negatives.'
“Hah! I used to do the same back where I grew up before I joined the Wonderbolts,” came the smooth reply from Spitfire, before she seemed to shrug a little. “So anyway, what're you up to today, Rainbow Dash?”
The question caught Rainbow completely off guard. Her thoughts started doing back flips madly enough to make her feel like her brain was physically moving while she wracked her head for the best answer possible.
'Oh gosh! A Wonderbolt asking me what I'm doing! That totally means they want to spend some time! Maybe flying? Maybe talking tricks? Maybe a race? What if she's come here to talent scout? Are they watching me? Is this is a surprise audition?!'
From the side, Twilight stepped forward slightly, a sudden worry on her face.
'Or maybe she's waiting on me to suggest something, show initiative! Maybe I should ask her to my cloud, show her my awesome home? No! Way too personal, this has to be even cooler! Maybe offer to teach her to do a Sonic Rainboom? No! That's too arrogant. Even for me...'
Pinkie Pie joined Twilight, her gleeful face cancelling for sudden concern,
'Aha! I know! This is a chance to show them that I can do all their tricks too! And better! I'll just do some of them above Ponyville and they'll know they want me! If those work, she'll invite me on the spot to travel back to Cloudsdale!'
The frantic marathon of her thoughts were brought to a halt and wrenched back to the present by Spitfire's voice joining her friends, after a brief chuckle.
“Hey, Rainbow Dash, you do know you're saying all that out loud...right?”
For the second time that day, Rainbow Dash's jaw was locked open as she felt the colour drain once more from her horrified face.
* * *
Rainbow Dash paced back and forth in front of her friend, she had done this so repeatedly she'd started to put a slight indent on the ground beneath her within the last half an hour. Her mind raced, panic and embarrassment filled her thoughts.
“I can't believe I blew it! Acting like a stupid filly!”
Pinkie, thankfully, had chosen that awkward moment earlier to grab Spitfire and drag her off on the Grand Pinkie Tour of Ponyville. The Wonderbolt had seemed more than willing, if only as a polite gesture to appease the frantically bouncing pony. Since then, Rainbow Dash had been ranting to Twilight. The unicorn had paid what attention she could while trying to enjoy the summer sun with a good book, but finally had to sigh, get to her hooves and stomp the ground to get Rainbow's attention. She spoke firmly, determined to help Rainbow get over her panic ridden state, even if she had to be a little hard about the method.
“Come on, Rainbow! Spitfire clearly wasn't worried about it, she probably understands.”
“Yeah! Understands that I'm just a dumb fan who can't even control her own mouth!” Rainbow's voice was snappy. With a slight huff, her head twisted to face Twilight, as though half contemplating taking out her frustrations verbally upon her friend.
“Because clearly a pony who saved her life will go down in her expectations for just making a mistake,” Twilight replied, finding herself unable to contain the overwhelming surge of temptation to throw as much sarcasm as she could into her sentence. Chiding herself for being as blunt, the unicorn let out a calming breath before continuing. “You'll get another chance, besides, actions speak louder than words...even if those words are pretty embarrassing.”
Rainbow Dash stopped where she was, glancing over her wing at Twilight, swiftly countering Twilights early sarcasm with a sardonic reply of her own.
“What? You read that stuff from a book?” she quipped with a low voice, suppressing a snigger.
“Yes, in fact,” came the smart reply as Twilight raised her head proudly. “Social Interactions and Applied Relations, Volume Two. I found it very helpful to learn how to treat individual social situations. A book can solve anything, provided you are willing to hunt through them.”
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to laugh, the word “Egghead” had almost left her mouth before, with a sudden start, she closed it again, thinking intently. Her eyes crept open with dawning clarity as a plan took shape within her vivid imagination.
“Come on, Twilight! You just gave me an awesome idea!” Without waiting for Twilight's approval or response, she grabbed her friend and took to the sky with a quick whipping flap of her wings, the ferocious rush of air whistling past them as she gained altitude rapidly.
“Rainbow!?” Twilight almost screamed at the uninvited invasion of her walking rights as she felt her hooves leave the ground for the free air. “What are you doing? Let go of me!”
“May not be the best idea right now, Egghead.” Dash motioned downward with her eyes, hinting Twilight to spot that they were already well above cloud level. “Besides, we need to go to your library!”
“...when you need to go to the library, I always worry.”
“Ah, don't fret! I promise, I won't mess anything up this time!”
* * *
Within the Ponyville Library, Spike had the run of the place to himself. He liked that. It gave him peace to get his duties done without Twilight, for all he loved her company, taking more and more books every few minutes from his organisation. Sometimes he swore she did it without even thinking about what she was picking up. Just last week he had confronted her about finding a book on “Calculated Chariot Spotting” lurking on the floor near her lectern. Twilight had adamantly denied it.
Naturally, Spike didn't believe this for a second.
But today, her heading out to help Applejack had given him the time and space to properly finish cleaning up after last weeks incident with the exploding banana and a rampant chimera. His mind and dreams still reeled at that rather unusual and weird day.
Moving to the balcony, Spike opened the door to air the library. Hopefully the banana's fruity stench would leave soon with enough airflow. As he cast a glance over Ponyville (not unconsciously in the direction of the Carousel Boutique) the young dragon spotted a blip in the sky...a couple of blurred outlines...moving fast...moving fast this way...moving very fast this-
“Rainbow! Slow down!” He heard Twilight cry,
Spike sighed and stepped aside, regrettably resigning his pristine library keeping to its inevitable fate once again.
“I told you! I can easily stop from this speed!”
“Yes, you can, but what about-”
Rainbow Dash, roaring down from the sky on a high speed glide, screeched to a halt, her wings flared to either side as she cut her speed and skidded her hooves along the balcony to dramatically flourish while halting on the spot. Perfect. Stylish. Cool. Just as always.
Twilight Sparkle, however, had no such stopping mechanism. The velocity she was travelling at found her torn from her grip on Rainbow's back and hurled headlong through the open balcony door into the library itself. Spike could only grimace as he heard the tell-tale sounds of shelves being smashed, books flying, paper ripping and the cacophony of a thousand items falling into what could not be described as even vaguely approaching the Dragon Decimal System of book organisation. He glared at Rainbow Dash with a look that could, while perhaps not kill outright, at least cause some severe discomfort or minor itchiness at worst. Paying the dragon little heed in the wake of Twilight's momentous ejection, Rainbow Dash trotted past him into the library and surveyed the collateral.
Every. Single. Book. Had somehow come free and been upset by the unicorn's impact. Even the ones in locked chests. The shelves were toppled, tables upturned and ornaments flung all over the interior room. In the middle of it sat a very dizzy...very angry looking unicorn, half buried under books, her head lolling around in uncertain arcs. She was clearly not so much seeing stars as entire constellations.
Dash could only nervously giggle.
“Heh...ah...well...I did promise that I wouldn't break anything, right? Heh...now!”
She trotted into the library, hopping lithely over the mass of fallen books to hover beside the half buried Twilight. Briefly, she considered laughing at the fact she had been crushed by the medical books of the library, before the imagery of uncontrollable telekinetic take off raced through her mind to force a reconsideration. Behind her, Rainbow overheard Spike sighing in resignation as he plodded back into the room.
“You know I'm fairly sure my complete library tidying time has halved since you started 'visiting' the library,” Spike muttered with a level voice, picking up the first book he came to. “The Idiot's Guide to Book Organisation.” He scowled bitterly and dropped it back on the pile.
“You're welcome, Spike!”
“Not quite what I meant...” Spike deadpanned. The dragon lowered his eyes, sighed once more and set to work with a heavy heart. As he went to locate the stepladder, Twilight finally shook herself from her stupor induced by the avalanche of books, glancing angrily at Rainbow Dash the moment her eyes could focus on one object.
“You better have a good reason to drag me here so...uncontrollably, Rainbow Dash,” she said, almost dangerously.
“I've got a better than good reason!” Rainbow cried while never ceasing her flitting around the library, examining the occasional book for only a second at a time, cover reading.
Picking herself up from the pile and dusting off her coat with a hoof, Twilight narrowed her eyes, doubting the truth of that statement.
“Really? And what might I ask is better than a good reason?”
“An awesome reason!”
“...right, of course.”
Rainbow stopped briefly in mid air, glaring around with predatory eyes before diving headlong into the mountains of spilled books. Individual volumes began flying out of the mass as she dug around within them, clearly hunting for something in particular. Twilight simply shared a glance with Spike as the pair wordlessly felt the same exasperation at the antics of their friends in Ponyville sometimes.
“No...that's not it...” Dash muttered from under the entire library's selection. “No...no...aha! Wait...no. Oh come on, where is it?!”
She exploded out of the top of the mountain to hang in the air, as stray books flew across the room to knock over the solitary shelf Spike had finished reorganising, spraying its books once again upon the floor with one or two taking a detour to pelt an unlucky dragon on the skull while en-route. Clenching his fists and letting his little body shake as he fought the urge to make “breathing fire” not become a literal response for him, the baby dragon instead just screamed a cry of frustration and stormed out of the room entirely, slamming the door behind him. Twilight watched her companion's display sadly, but controlled her own anger down to a more simmering curiosity of just what had her friend in such a careless mood.
Well, a more careless one than usual.
“Rainbow, perhaps it would help if you'd tell me what you are trying to find? A book on the Wonderbolts? A book on tricks? Just what are you planning anyway?” She tried to keep her voice level as she witnessed the library in pieces around her. The unicorn's eyes tracked from side to side as she watched the obsessive searching of her library's invasive guest. “Besides, what could you possibly not know about the Wonderbolts?”
“I'm not looking for a book of anything like that, I don't have time to read anything,” Dash quipped as she hovered from fallen shelf to fallen shelf, her eyes peeled, before eventually lighting up with delight as she darted forward to grab a gigantic tomb. Struggling under its weight, she unsteadily flew back towards Twilight who, with a slightly deliberate ease, magically plucked it from Dash to settle the gigantic book before her on the floor.
“'Celestial Encyclopedia of Equestria, Fifth Edition?' Rainbow, what could you possibly want with this?”
“Simple! It's got this huge double page spread picture of Cloudsdale in it somewhere, right? I needed a reference picture for what I'm planning!” The pegasus let her voice lift, her mind clearly picturing something already.
“Dare I ask?”
“A scaled replica of Cloudsdale above Ponyville itself! I'm gonna grab tons of clouds, wrap em all up into shapes and make a little Cloudsdale to the same layout as the real one. It'll be like a model, only floating!” she chattered. “And then? Just as Spitfire comes back into the centre of town after Pinkie's tour? I'll soar over my masterpiece and top it all off with an awesome rainbow! I'm sure to impress a Wonderbolt with that!”
Rainbow Dash had mimed every motion of her planned building, cloud gathering and soaring inside the library itself, the whoosh of passing air fluttering pages back and forth, including the Encyclopedia. On her last pass, the large book's pages were blown to land on the page of the aforementioned Cloudsdale painting. Landing proudly behind it and stomping a hoof near the pages, Rainbow only grinned to her friend. Twilight, however impressed she might be by the concept, was not sold on the idea.
“You do realise it might be easier if you just went up and talked to her, right?”
“Which wouldn't have involved an incredibly complex series of cloud building tasks?”
“And wouldn't have wrecked the library?”
Dash simply sighed. She hated being lectured, especially by Twilight. At least she used words that were understandable this time. With a hoof she closed and picked up the Encyclopedia, fully intent on her task. Even if it wasn't the easiest, it was undoubtedly the coolest. How better to get on with a Wonderbolt? They loved fancy pegasus tricks more than anypony!
Dragging herself from her imaginative fantasy of being awarded a team slot for her work, Rainbow Dash turned her head to see Twilight looking decidedly dispassionate.
“Look Twilight, sorry about the library, ok? But this is big to me and I know I can pull it off,” she said, letting her voice drop a little, before raising it again, letting her confidence soar just as high as she could. “Besides! Ponyville could do with an awesome new landmark! I gotta get to work, cos this is gonna take me hours. See ya!”
Before Twilight could utter a word, Rainbow had lived up to her name and dashed through the door. Her wings flickered madly to offset the book's weight as she gained altitude and banked around the library once before rocketing off toward the town centre at great speed. Despite her annoyance, Twilight sighed and tried to put on a weak smile, at the very least she understood this was related to Dash's dreams, perhaps it would all turn out good in the end.
Besides, it's not like it could really hurt anypony, right?
* * *
Away from Ponyville, across the nearby hilly range, Applejack stood amongst her orchard, supervising the Apple Family's great efforts to shake down enough apples before the day was out to fill the unexpected short notice orders. Taking a sip from a small bucket of water hung from a nearby branch, she glanced upwards at the black storm clouds covering the orchard, wondering where Rainbow Dash had gone to miss her time to clear them, she could swear she'd felt a small drip of water on her tail.
Dismissing it, Applejack turned back to the most stubborn tree of the orchard to keep up the bucking, its branches taunted her skills with their solidly attached apples.
Rainbow wouldn't let her down, she never left her friends hanging, after all. Never.
* * *
A few hours later, Rainbow Dash was discovering the arduously harsh reality of her task. The predicament confused her, she'd made her own house without a hitch and it looked cooler than anything else in Ponyville (by her own foalproof and unbiased opinion, of course) so why was this so problematic?
“Urgh...come on, this looks nothing like Cloudsdale!” bemoaned the pegasus to herself as she looked upon the mish-mash of cloud and strangely shaped buildings. Sure the rough outline was there, but none of the detail had settled in right. Rainbow thought back to making her house, it had taken a few days of hard work. And yet here was this significantly greater task with which she had only few hours? Rainbow moaned again, wondering how could she have ever thought this would be possible in the time she had. With a swift retraction of wings she dived to the ground, the Encyclopedia resting upon a rock below her. She flared her wings as she came near the grass to cut the descent and rounded off to land all four hooves down, one quickly grabbing the page to stop it turning from her rush of wind.
“Maybe if I just did the Junior Flight Camp instead...” She began turning the pages quickly to locate a picture she knew from experience was in here somewhere. Her filly life had been spent longingly gazing at the picture until she'd been old enough to go, after all. Eventually, near the back she located the image. A wave of nostalgia passed through her head as she recalled lying with her mind dreaming of attending the school. Tangentially, she also wondered why it wasn't nearer the Cloudsdale section of the Encyclopedia...perhaps a question to ask Twilight later. Or not, she'd only go on about monotonous book organisation. That stuff always bored Dash.
Her eyes cast a glance over the Camp, the floating airstrip, hangers and classroom clouds didn't seem too complex. Craning her head closer down to the book, Rainbow tuned everything out, trying to memorise every strand of cloud, to save her having to duck back down here every few seconds. Right...this should be possible...with a minor miracle. But hey, she'd made the impossible happen before, why not th-
“Why do pegasus ponies need a runway?”
The sudden and endlessly joyful voice from three inches in front of Rainbow's nose made her leap back defensively, shocked from surprise, her wings flared instinctively. In front of her, Pinkie Pie sat on the grass, looking at the book upside down from, as suspected, literally inches from where Dash had been sitting, up until now, alone.
“Pinkie!” Chided Dash.
“They don't need a runway for me, silly-filly, I'm not a pegasus. Unless I am and I just missed my wings all this time!” She made to check her sides.
“Don't do that!”
Pinkie returned her head to the front, grinning ear to ear. “Nope! Still an earth pony! So why do they need a runway anyway? I mean, you take off from the spot all the time, so do the little fillies and colts around here. Maybe it's for the dragons? Do dragons visit Cloudsdale a lot?”
Rainbow sighed, rubbing her forehead with a hoof before trotting over and pointing closer at the picture, pulling Pinkie's head down to see the chariots they sometimes pulled for visitors and royalty sitting in the hangers.
“We pull chariots, remember?” Rainbow spoke lowly. She was pleased her friend was here, truth be told, but not appreciating the loss of time she could be spending making her work of cloud art.
“...oh yeah! I remember them now! Going all 'WHOOSH!' and 'ZOOM!' through the air! Like Spitfire!” A sudden chill realisation fired its way down Dash's spine. Of course! Pinkie had been taking her on a tour.
“Pinkie, where is Spitfire? You didn't wander off did you? You left a Wonderbolt lost on her own?” Her voice was tinged with accusation, before even she realised how silly it sounded as she noticed she'd pressed her face close to Pinkie's. If the pink pony took wind of any offence, she didn't show it. Instead, Pinkie just shook her head hard.
“Ooooh no! The Grand Pinkie Tour of Ponyville leaves no-one unsatisfied! I showed her everything, from the tops of the hills to the bottom of the lakes! Although she didn't really follow me into the water, maybe I need to offer free goggles, cos I know my eyes get really stingy underwater sometimes and-whoabal!”
Her voice had been cut by finding Dash's hoof in her mouth to cut her off. The gesture was a mutually accepted quirk to keep a conversation on track, before Rainbow's more panic induced expression appeared in front of her.
“Where is Spitfire, Pinkie? I'm trying to make something really cool to show her and it's not done yet! If she could turn up any time...”
“Whoobabalhaggnaah!” Pinkie replied. Rainbow, with a slightly embarrassed grin, retracted her hoof to let her speak. “You don't have to worry about that, Dashie. She's gonna go buy some stuff from town first, she said. Maybe about an hour or so, but I thought, that's a long time to take over shopping for just a few things. Well, unless it's really a lot of things...”
Rainbow Dash felt panic rising. An hour to complete a full model? Impossible, even for her. Maybe if she just waited on a cloud and did her biggest trick again? Nah...she couldn't be seen as a one trick pony.
“...or maybe if you had a really hard time deciding to buy, I mean I know I get really caught up on the sweet sensational strawberry sundae or the juicy jelly jackpot when I go to get dessert, because they're both some of my favouritist favourite things on my favourite list of favourites from one of my favourite shops...”
Then what could be done in an hour? Rainbow's mind raced faster than it had before, her hooves flicking through the Encyclopedia. Nothing fancy enough appeared that would impress a Wonderbolt. She just wanted to scream.
“...or maybe she's like Rarity when shopping? I went shopping with her once and it took all day! It was so much fun, she hadn't known I was coming! So I kept singing songs to keep her entertained and decide a lot easier. But she kept talking about loans and wanting me to leave her them. Not quite sure what she meant by that, what a crazy pony...”
In fact, screaming felt like a very suitable thing to do right now.
* * *
It was perhaps half an hour later when Twilight Sparkle came across the pair near the town hall. She had witnessed Rainbow ripping back and forth across the sky, madly grabbing every cloud she possibly could from all over town. In the summer heat, the lack of cloud cover was beginning to tell as Twilight felt the baking sun upon her back and brow the moment she had left the safely air regulated confines of her beloved library home. She also could have sworn she'd heard a crack of thunder from somewhere and, thus, decided to investigate. Trotting into the town centre, accompanied by Spike riding upon her back, she spotted Rainbow indeed whizzing around a giant shapeless mass of clouds. Her movements were maddened, jerky flight paths crossing with frequent unintelligible shouts of instructions to herself. Below on the ground, Pinkie sat on her own, her mouth chattering away.
“Or! Perhaps she had to go and do some quick jobs to earn money to buy what she wanted! That's what I do when I feel the need for more baked goods or more party supplies. It's so much fun, so perhaps she had that idea and it's why it's taking her so long?”
Twilight only rolled her eyes and trotted past her to look up into the sky, her mane flicking back and forth from the whizzing of the pegasus above.
All things considered, the pair's antics were not the strangest things she had witnessed from her friends during her time in Ponyville.
Spike hopped off her back, before putting a hand to his chin in thought. “You know Twilight, if I didn't know better, I'd still say that just looked like nothing more than a big ball of cloud.”
Twilight didn't reply, being too focused on her friend in the sky. The pegasus's panic was more than obviously concern that needed dealt with.
No reply. She took a deeper breath.
The pegasus stopped for just a second to look down and spot Twilight staring upwards at her “handiwork.” A rictus grin of false confidence rung on her face as she waved stiffly with one hoof and turned to her creation.
“H-Hey Twi-Twilight, look at what I made!” Rainbow's grin only increased in its awkwardness. “Great isn't it? Spi-Spitfire will be so impressed! It's...it's...”
She turned to look at her own creation, clearly having to think for some long moments about what it was herself. Eventually, she reached her conclusion.
“It's just a big hunk of CLOOOOOOUDS!” Wailed Rainbow Dash, the voice carrying all over Ponyville as she dramatically threw up her arms and drifted to the ground. Spike wandered over to beside Twilight once more, looking not quite sure of what to say, despite his inner frustration at Rainbow Dash wrecking his own work in the library earlier.
“I just can't do it, I tried something way too tough!” moaned the pegasus, “Now I've got nothing to show for it.”
Twilight opened her mouth to speak, her prepared statement on the tip of her tongue, but was beaten to the punch by her own assistant.
“Why don't you just make a quick message in the sky?” asked the dragon, clearly thinking along the lines of Twilight's letters to Princess Celestia all the time through himself...literally.
“Just a short little thing to catch her eye? It's what I do for Rarity all the time with little notes just to let her know someone appreciates her...”
Twilight sighed, about to debunk Spike's idea on the basis of the precise amount of success it had attained for him thus far. She hated to do it, but really, Rainbow had to realise the simple truth was just to-
“Great idea, Spike!” Rainbow cried, spinning on the spot, before flying up into the air once more, disappearing into the mass of cloud before circling and banking in frantic circles, streaks of glimmering rainbow obscuring her work. Twilight could almost dread what would come out of the fearful pegasus' mind right now. Behind her, she heard Pinkie humming happily to herself as she pranced in circles towards Twilight, her ramble apparently done for now. Landing beside the unicorn, she made an impossibly large and welcoming smile.
“Hiya, Twilight!” she bellowed, “Hiya, Spike! You come to watch Dashie be awesome as well?”
“I guess so, Pinkie,” Twilight muttered half-heartedly as she awaited the inevitable.
Above them, the rainbow streaks began to fade as Dash herself swept down in a grand arc, twirling on the spot before landing beside them proudly, all fear gone as she looked up, waiting for the final work of her effort to come into view.
“And now...witness my awesome message!”
The leftover clouds parted and floated off, leaving a few words hanging magically in the air made of differing shades of cloud. Three words hanging like a beacon, visible to the entirety of Ponyville and probably most of the surrounding countryside as well.
“WONDERBOLTS! THERE AWESOME!”
Proudly awaiting her friends to applaud madly at her awesome work, Rainbow turned, her rather frazzled mane losing almost all that was left of its shape as she did. Instead she just found Pinkie looking up with a gaze that betrayed confusion whilst Spike just looked dejected. Twilight was lying down, face covered by her hooves, muttering something about contextual homophones and basic grammar. Not quite the reception Rainbow had hoped for. All around the town centre, ponies were wandering over to gaze with ever growing curiosity at the curious message left above them. She even spotted the Mayor poking her head from the town hall window to glance upwards at the source of the commotion. Most just looked like they didn't quite get a non existent joke, or wondered exactly why their cooling cloud cover was stripped to create this, letting the sun sear its heat down onto Ponyville.
Twilight groaned and slowly got to her hooves. “Perhaps I should have just given you a dictionary, Rainbow,” she muttered, looking up again at the offending message. “I think your worries are getting to your head.”
Rainbow cast a gaze skywards too, squinted her eyes against the sunlight and focused upon her message before her mouth slowly drooped.
“How could I miss that?”
“I know! I never noticed how if you look directly at the sun it makes my eyes go all silly and funny either!”
The assembled group of ponies glanced back at Pinkie, finding her indeed sitting staring at the sun with rampant giggles as she blinked to watch, to her mind, the funny shapes. Eventually, Twilight shook her head slowly, the days exasperations taking their toll. It was turning into one of those days again. Even as they talked, the letters from Rainbow's message began to drift apart on the wind to instead say, “SAME WOE ROB! THREE LETDOWNS!” She put a hoof on Rainbow's shoulder.
“Look, I'm sorry, but I didn't come here to talk about your clouds, Rainbow,” she began, carefully. “I came to ask, didn't I hear Applejack talking to you earlier about something to do? I didn't hear too closely but you've been here all day. Maybe you should check in on here?”
“Ah' might claim it's a little bitty late for that, Twilight.”
Twilight started, before turning her head over her shoulder, Rainbow peering out from behind her. A sorry sight trotted into the town centre. Leaving a trail of water in her wake, a rain soaked Applejack made a rather deliberate beeline towards Rainbow Dash. Her hat drooped from the fabric being soaked through and her mane and tail hung heavily down from being drenched. A few twigs and leaves were stuck among them. Mud caked her sides and hooves. Despite the earth pony's best efforts, it was clear she was still shivering slightly. But worst of all was the expression, a horrible mixture of anger and disappoint that only the honest worker in her could possibly bring out more than anypony in the town when in a bad mood.
“An' just what do ya think you've been doing lazin' off, Rainbow Dash?” Her voice was low and dangerous. “You promised me you'd have them big ol' storm clouds cleared by noon. We've been workin' our hooves off through an applepickin' thunderstorm to get them apples bucked!”
She stopped less than a foot from Rainbow Dash, who could only recoil with a pang of guilt, sudden and horrible realisation setting in.
“I...I...” she began, before Applejack cut her off sharply, tilting her head and narrowing her eyes.
“D'you have any idea how much business you probably just cost us? It's takin' us four times as long t'get this done and we needed to be finished today! What the hay do you think you're playin' at, Rainbow?” She was now seething, tinged with genuine hurt that one of her friends had let her down.
“But...well...this was really important to me and I kinda...”
“Important? Ah tell you Rainbow! Ah've got nuthin' but respect for your dreams o' flying high with them pegasi, but you've let it get in the way of your real responsibility! You're supposed to be the Chief Weather Pegasus and you can't even get rid of one measly storm cloud that you put up?”
Rainbow seemed to start, affronted by words aimed at her ability and skills. She stepped forward, stomping a hoof on the ground. Twilight felt a real bad feeling go through her gut as she saw the two most stubborn ponies in Ponyville stepping up in argument. Even Pinkie had wandered over, unusually silent.
“What do you mean by that?” countered Rainbow Dash. “Those storm clouds wouldn't last a minute against me!”
Applejack fumed, stomping a hoof significantly harder and louder than Rainbow had, lowering her face towards the subject of her anger. “Then why didn't you use them 'mighty fine skills?' Or did your silly little obsession come first before a promise you made to a friend?”
“Obsession? Silly? It's a dream! And just what would you know about dreams then, eh, farm girl?”
Twilight, Spike and every pony around of the dozens who had borne witness to the confrontation simultaneously bit their lips or planted a hoof to their forehead...this couldn't end well. There was a pregnant silence as Applejack digested what had been said, before the two butted heads, Applejack splashed water from her drenched coat every time she moved, some of it pattering onto Rainbow Dash. Applejack finally spoke, her voice low.
“Care to explain what that means, Rainbow?”
“It means you don't have any! Every day you work that farm, same thing year in and year out! How you can put up with that boring life is just...well...there's no way you could understand what it's like to have a dream to shoot for the stars! To be something more!”
Applejack visibly had to control her temper as the harsh words were spoke, her words came through gritted teeth. “You think ah got nuthin' t'live up to? Maybe ah just managed t'outgrow silly filly dreams of things that actually take some proper honest workin' and responsibility.”
“Are you saying that you don't think I'll ever be good enough to be a Wonderbolt?”
“Not if you can't get past your lazy attitude t'hard work you sure won't!”
A brief pushing contest began, as each spoke they would push forward from their butted heads to make a point.
“And why should I listen to someone who's never had any real dreams?”
“Y'all gotta learn sometime we can't all be big time celebrities!”
“Sounds to me like you're just too afraid to even try!”
“Maybe ah just...you know what...forget it! Ah don't have time t'argue with a pegasus who's got her head stuck in the clouds. Ah still got acres of apples t'buck in a storm that you made! Hope yer happy.”
With that Applejack span on the spot, knocking Rainbow away lightly before trotting off out of the town centre, muttering angrily to herself. Rainbow Dash, catching her balance, remained still with wings flared downwards and eyes narrowed as she watched the earth pony leave. The town centre was quiet. Dead quiet. A pin could be heard drop, before the pin salesman was quickly shushed for his clumsiness. Eventually, carefully, Pinkie trotted forward, raising a hoof towards Rainbow.
“...Dashie? Don't you worry your wings, we'll get it all sorted and-”
Without a word, Rainbow just sighed, looked sadly at her friend and with a short gallop, soared off, around the town hall and away in the direction of her cloud home at top speed, not a word coming from her.
The entire square was left silent before a few muttered comments began to disturb the hushed atmosphere in the wake of the argument. Eventually, the stillness was shattered as gossip and hub-bub broke the ice between the residents of Ponyville. Looking around himself, Spike sighed, before taking a deep breath, producing a small stick to hold as he climbed onto Twilight's back to announce to the crowd.
“So once again, Rainbow Dash and Applejack have had an argument! I've got 4:1 odds that it'll all blow over in an hour! Bonus odds if you add in that they'll settle it via competition! Come on, who's first up this time?”
Twilight looked to her assistant with shock, before shushing him quickly by pulling the stick away with her magic quickly,
“Spike! This isn't like the small squabbles those two have...this is serious. Right...Pinkie?”
“Pinkie? Pinkie where are you?” Twilight called, looking left...no Pinkie. Looking right...no Pinkie. Perhaps she-
Turning back to face the direction she had started, the pink pony was indeed standing right in front of her. Without even bothering to wonder, Twilight quickly outlined her plan.
“Look, you and Dash get on well, go and see how she is. Do...well...whatever it is you do to just try and cheer her up. Get her to come down and meet Applejack if you can. I'll go settle things at the orchard...hopefully. You can borrow my balloon.”
“Wahey! I love that thing! It's purple, which is almost pink! My favourite colour! Bet you never guessed that!” Before any reply could be made, Pinkie darted off to retrieve it. Despite the carefree nature, Twilight knew Pinkie would try her best, she may be somewhat unpredictable, but Pinkie could be relied on for this. She turned to Spike.
“Spike, can you round up some pegasi to help try and clear those storm clouds?” she asked, leadership beginning to show beneath the unicorn's usually quiet demeanour.
“I dunno, Twilight...I think I've used up all my favours getting them to cover the sun from my bed to let me sleep in...” he muttered.
“Just try, Spike.”
“Well, ok. But if I owe them...you owe me.” He waddled off himself towards the town’s weather headquarters. Twilight was left to herself in the town centre. With a disheartened sigh, she turned and saw the big black clouds over Sweet Apple Acres thundering down in the distance. Mentally, she prayed that her storm shield spell was up to snuff for tackling such a heavy downpour. She knew she didn't have the same tough resistance as the ponies on the farm to withstand the weather and a cold would not be welcome. With a heavy heart and rehearsing what to say to Applejack in her mind, she galloped off towards the orchard.
Sitting atop a building by the side of the town centre, a pegasus with a flame coloured mane watched the entire scene. Gently, she got to her feet and swiftly disappearing into the sky, veering toward the direction of the orchard herself.
* * *
Rainbow Dash buried her head in the clouds. Or rather, she buried her head in her bed. It was, essentially, the same activity anyway, given her bed's material of construction. She was angry in a good number of ways. At Applejack for shouting down her dreams so brutally. At herself for not remembering to help Applejack out. But really? Most of all she was angry at what she knew would happen now. The inevitable worry over who would be the first one to speak to the other and risk further confrontation. She had tried going for a flight into the higher cloud banks to let her mind settle, but it hadn't worked. If anything, it only reminded her that clouds had created this problem in the first place and so, she had just come back home to try and nap it off.
No luck with that either it seemed.
“Who does she think she is saying stuff like that to me?” she shouted to the distant horizon. “I know I promised, but...this meant so much. 'Silly little obsession'...she just...just doesn't get it!”
The horizon, unfortunately, did not know what to say to the troubled pegasus, and refrained from responding.
She sighed, trotting over to get something to eat, maybe that would cheer her up, a nice early dinner of-
“Hey, Dashie! Rainbow Dash! Are you in? Are ya? Huh, huh?”
The unmistakable voice of Pinkie Pie woke Rainbow from her hazed annoyances and bad mood, if only briefly as she brought her head up and looked towards her perpetually open front door. A huge purple object, quickly recognisable as Twilight's balloon, floated majestically up. It swept away a small portion of her front porch as its mass shifted and whirled on the wind to bring the basket up level with the cloud. Rainbow quickly galloped out onto the front entrance of her grand home as she saw her pink friend leaning over the basket's edge without any thought of safety or balance to press her nose closer to Dash.
“Hiya, Dash! I knew you'd be home! I totally called it!” Pinkie bellowed at the absolute top of her potential voice range as she spoke, excitedly knowing that she had no problems about volume so far up in the air to worry about any complaints. Not that she ever cared for that anyway. “I got so sad when I saw you go off all alone and I thought, 'Hey why don't I go give her some company so she's not sad anymore?' So I did!”
Rainbow Dash just bit her lip, unsure if she really wanted this or not. She loved her friend's insistence to remain happy and confident, but right now...
Her eyes went wide as Pinkie leapt from the basket towards the clouds, to get out of the balloon.
She spread her wings to dive after her friend, earth ponies couldn't walk on clouds! What was she thinking?!
Pinkie landed with a soft flump and immediately began bouncing on the fluffy soft clouds Rainbow Dash constructed her home from. With a sigh, Rainbow let her adrenaline lower and her wings retract.
“Oh...of course. You got Twilight to cast a spell again to walk on clouds...” Rainbow muttered under her breath.
“Nah, I just had a light lunch.” Pinkie replied with a wink, before skipping off into the house itself.
Rainbow didn't even bother to let her mind attempt contemplating that, before glumly trotting off after Pinkie. She was to be found in the front room, already pulling balloons from her saddlebags and blowing them up in great singular breaths. Tying the strings to small strands of clouds, Pinkie turned back to face Dash, grinning ear to ear, almost literally.
“So I figured, why not come up here and make a little party! Just to help cheer you up, so it's just a small one until things get better. That's when the big one starts! I got some balloons, I brought some cake and we can put on some music too! How does that sound? It'll help turn that frown around faster than you can fly!” She wheeled around, spinning on one hoof and speaking as though it were the happiest time in the world. Rainbow wasn't quite sure how to respond. Yes, it meant a lot to her that a friend would go to the trouble but...well...
“Look, Pinkie I know you're trying but...really, maybe not quite right now. I don't feel like celebrating. So..uh...maybe tomorrow?” She did her best to keep things civil, she didn't need a second argument in one day.
“Who says you need to celebrate? You just gotta have fun! Put a smile back on that face and then when things get better you'll be all better.” Pinkie was unstoppably optimistic and surprisingly convincing. Dash sighed, eyes closing as she tried to figure how to word this.
“And now the party has come to you, Dashie!” Her voice was ecstatic, less than a foot from her ear. Eyes springing open, Rainbow turned from her reverie to spot Pinkie pulling the knot tight on a big rainbow coloured balloon...tied to her left hand wing. Concentration broken, she stared at it floating back and forth before bobbing to the side, revealing a face as happy as a filly getting the exact cutie mark she wanted waiting behind it.
“See? It matches your mane and tail! Isn't it great? Just a little gift to make you happy again!” she squeaked, but Dash had made her decision.
“Pinkie...I get what you're trying to do. But not...now...” She let the last two words extend themselves between clenched teeth as she wandered away towards the balcony on the rear of her house.
“Aww, why all down in the dumpsie whumpsies? Yeah you've had a bad day, but just have fun and that'll stop! That's what I do! Laughter's the best medicine! That's why I give people with a cold a joke book!”
Rainbow attempted to stomp a hoof to signal that she was done here. Unfortunately, being on a cloud didn't particularly lend it much dramatic impact, so she just took off and hovered.
“Sorry, Pinkie. Just not right now! I'll be back to have fun later, I promise...that is if you still believe in any promises I make any more!” seethed Rainbow, more in anger at herself, before rocketing off at such a pace that even Pinkie couldn't get a word in. With a little resignation, Pinkie was at least pleased Rainbow had taken the balloon on her wing with her.
Turning back to the balloon and flipping out a small journal, she looked across the days. Out of the fourteen on this page, at least twelve had “PARTY” written in them, with one other reserved for pranks. With a grin she scribbled in “Surprise Party for Dash” on at least three occasions over the next two weeks just to make up for this one.
Pleased with her plans, Pinkie turned back to the cake she had brought. It was a shame Rainbow wouldn't get to taste it...but why let it go to waste?
As she began to devour the sugary treat, Pinkie gave at least one thought out to Twilight, hoping she'd had more success than her party.
* * *
Sweet Apple Acres was anything but the calm and tranquil orchard it usually was.
No...not like normal at all.
Twilight Sparkle fought her way up the path towards the farm. Before the great black clouds even passed above her the ground had become soggy and threatened to trap her hooves on every step if she wasn't careful. Up ahead she could see the localised thunderstorm heaving water down upon the poor farmers with occasional rumbles of thunder and sheet lightning cascading across its surface. Applejack hadn't been kidding about how this would affect work.
She approached the edge of the rain cloud, only taking a second to consider the strangely immediate point with which the rain began. Rainbow was nothing if not precise with her work, that was for sure. Above her, she could see some pegasi repeatedly swooping in large graceful arcs and ramming the side of the cloud. Without fail, they seemed to ricochet from it, flipping madly out of control in the air until their comrades caught them before hitting the ground. As one, the group glowered at the thick storm clouds. Their leader, Dash's second in command of the weather team, turned to begin gliding down to land beside Twilight. Much to her annoyance, the unicorn found she couldn't remember the pegasus pony's name yet despite her time in Ponyville.
“We got Spike's message, Twilight. For all the good we're doing.” the pegasus complained.
“Why? What's wrong? I've seen you ponies clear clouds with no problem before.” Twilight glanced upwards at the storms above the orchard that stopped so suddenly before the hills.
“That's one of Dash's clouds. She stuffs those things so well and tightly that none of the rest of us can even make a dent! Applejack asked her for a thick quick storm earlier to clean the apples so she made it denser than usual to get things done fast.” responded the team leader, glaring with dirty looks at the cloud itself, as though wishing she could make it evaporate from hate alone. “Simply put, Twilight. We can't remove this without her.”
Twilight mulled over the concept in her head. Without Rainbow Dash back on the job, Sweet Apple Acres was doomed to enough storms over the next few days to utterly ruin Applejack's orders. She began to see a justification behind some of Applejack's foul mood earlier.
“Is Applejack in the orchard?”
“Yeah, she went back in,” said the leader after a second of hesitation, “although if I were you, Twilight? I wouldn't get in her way right now...”
With a flash of her horn, Twilight cast a storm shield spell, enveloping her entire body with a slight glow to ward the rain away from her coat as she made her way through the orchard. It wouldn't stop the mud below her, but it was something. Taking a few breaths, she galloped off into the orchard, listening for the tell tale sound of hooves smacking into trees over the crack and roar of the storm above her.
* * *
It didn't take long to locate the Apple Family within the orchard itself, there were enough of them to guide her towards Applejack's location fairly easily. The working conditions were atrocious. Under the premature darkness of complete cloud cover, every member of the family was out trying to buck enough apples into buckets. However the wind kept knocking them over, losing apples in the mud or simply making trotting around a nightmare in the thick morass. Indeed, Twilight herself was having trouble in some areas just moving at all through the slippery thick gloop that now consisted of the ground. The harsh rain sheeted around them all, annoying eyes and drenching manes over faces. She witnessed more than one earth pony bucking the wrong tree, a bucket or, worst of all, another pony due to slipped failures. The entire area was dreary and worn of all true colour, a far cry from the orchard's more common bright atmosphere. Eventually, with a bit of luck and guidance, she spotted her friend's hat through some trees nearby to her big brother. The pair were giving it all they had, Applejack actually putting dents in trees as she did her work.
“Hey, Applejack!” she cried out, trying to raise her voice over the storm, but if Applejack heard, any reply was lost on the wind. “APPLEJACK!”
The orange earth pony turned from her baskets, a foul look on her face. A gust of wind hurled through the trees, lifting her hat and blowing it at some speed away. Quickly, Twilight grabbed it with her magic, steadily working her way across the mud towards Applejack, trying not to fall, before floating the hat back to the farmer. Relief at the retrieval of her hat defusing the instant annoyance in the earth pony's face.
“Thank ya kindly, Twi!” Applejack shouted towards her ear to be heard. “Thought that hat was a goner there for a second.”
“You're welcome!” Twilight had half her mind concentrated on keeping the storm shield spell going properly against such a horrid beating. Applejack clearly looked a little envious of it, but frankly...Twilight wasn't going to drop it for no good reason. “I came to check on you! That was pretty bad earlier, I was worried!”
Applejack's face twisted into a frustrated anger briefly, before softening, her anger wasn't with Twilight. (Although a dozen trees with gigantic dents in them around her betrayed that taking her anger out on things was not beyond her capability) She paced back to the tree, turning and quickly smacking it with both rear hooves. A few dozen apples dropped, some pulled off course from the wind, only half going in the baskets, the others landing in the mud.
“Oh...horseapples...” she seemed to mutter, her words not entirely audible above the wind. Eventually she simply turned back to her visiting friend's ear to speak again. “Look Twilight, ah know why yer here, but this ain't the time right now, sugar!”
“On the contrary! This is the most important time!” responded Twilight, speaking up as well, “The pegasi told me only Rainbow Dash can clear these clouds! And I'm sorry, but there's no way you and your family are going to finish in time at this rate!”
Applejack seemed to bite back a snappy comment about just how good she and her family were, but frankly...Twilight was right. Even Granny Smith and Applebloom were lending a helping hoof. The former cleaning the muddy apples and her lil' sister climbing into the trees to toss some down, getting into them when Applejack pulled the tree closer to the ground for her. Even then...it wasn't enough.
“Ah'm afraid you're probably right, Twi...” she seemed to reluctantly admit, before spotting her sister dropping from a nearby tree and fighting her short legs through the mud over to her. Twilight's heart went out to to the tiny pony, the poor filly's beloved bow was caked with mud.
“Ready for the next tree, big sis'!” Somehow, Applebloom was still smiling through all this. Applejack nodded, before lassoing the next tree and tugging...hard. Twilight was forever amazed at her earth pony friend's strength as the tree actually bent, being pulled closer to the ground before the little form of Applebloom hopped onto the closest branch and disappeared into the tree itself. Applejack held the tension by placing the rope under her front hooves as her sister located a safe place to sit in. Even as she held the rope, her eyes turned to Twilight, narrowed as she sensed an opportunity to vent a little.
“Ah still can't believe the nerve of Rainbow to just abandon a promise like that!” she ranted as her hooves held the rope. “Way ah was brought up, if you make a promise, come rain, shine or hayseedin' storm you keep that promise!”
Twilight felt a little uncomfortable, both her friends had hugely set in their way expectations of life and she didn't want to take sides...only help resolve this.
“I'm really sorry this had to happen, Applejack...” Twilight muttered, before repeating it louder as the storm whipped up around them, splatting her flank with mud. Cringing, she fought down the urge to run off and clean to instead remain with her friend. “But I'm trying to fix this...I think you and Dash should talk...”
“Ah'll talk when she's done clearin' these clouds, Twilight!” was the furious reply, “Right now ah got mah business on the line!”
“But maybe if you talk this could be resolved faste-”
“Ah don't have time to talk, Twi!” The genuinely angry reprimand was accompanied by a glare as she whirled around on the unicorn. The moment she moved...the rope slipped from under her hooves. Released of its tension the tree sprang back at a ferocious elastic rate and catapulted most of it's apples into the distance...along with one very surprised Applebloom.
“AAAAAAAAAPPLEJAAAACK!” came the gradually fading cry as the little filly disappeared over the hills of the orchard like a little yellow blur.
“SORRY, APPLEBLOOM!” Applejack shouted, her voice muffled by the dank grey atmosphere as she watched her sister being sent on a rather unexpected sudden trip. “Ah shoot...that was pretty silly of me...”
“Eeyup,” was the low response from somewhere behind her.
“And you can jus' shut yer bit as well.”
“Eeyup,” The repeated reply, a little more clipped, before the sound of applebucking resumed.
Twilight sighed, looking around. “Well, it's clear I'm not going to be convincing you to leave so...can I lend a helping hoof? My magic won't be as effective in this weather, but I could help...one tree at a time?”
Applejack looked ready to deny the offer but, especially with the loss of a worker, she couldn't find it in her to turn down the aid, and nodded. “Fine, sugarcube. But let me get one thing straight, Twilight. Ah am not gonna continue this talk about Rainbow any further. She can learn her lesson and come back, but ah'm not goin' beggin' for her t'come fix this.”
Stifling a frown, Twilight nodded as she prepared herself to stay in the murky depths of the orchard in this weather. She hoped Pinkie had had more success or this wasn't going to end well at all.
* * *
Applebloom soared past the edges of the storm clouds into the open sunny expanses of the hills surrounding Ponyville. Reaching the top of the arc in her flight, a sickening feeling within her stomach announced that the descent was beginning. Briefly, she contemplated whether being launched into flight when she wasn't a pegasus could qualify for a special cutie mark, before more immediate concerns reminded her of their presence...like that giant field that she was heading towards. Oh dear...this was going to hurt, she tried to cry for help.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!” Was all she managed, her mouth feeling incapable of anything but terrified screaming as the ground raced towards her. Applebloom closed her eyes, subconsciously planning on rounding up her friends for a revenge prank on her sister soon after she recovered.
A jolt startled her...far earlier than the ground would have. Feeling her direction change, Applebloom began to wonder instead whether gravity had changed in Equestria, before logical thinking took over once more and she opened her eyes to see she had been caught by a pegasus. Her front hooves wrapped around Applebloom's body, having caught her mid dive to pull up and soar in a semi circle towards a hilltop. Amazement surged through Applebloom, she'd only ever been this fast when Rainbow had carried her once before! Twisting her head, Applebloom found a yellow mare grinning back down at her, before being set down on the grass again.
“Now...” said the pegasus, her flared mane wafting in the high winds as she drifted with incredible grace and a suggestion of high levels of agility to the ground. “I think I can help out with this little problem, what do you say we talk, kid?”
Applebloom nodded, thankful for her saviour, but as she looked up at the taller pony, she winced as she saw the remainder of the apples flung with her off the tree arc over towards Ponyville itself...
* * *
Finally, everything was sorted. It had only taken the old gardening pony a few hours to sort the mess those apples had made of his garden that morning. Now they were safely tucked into one large bucket or thrown on the refuse heap where they couldn't hurt his garden any more. Happily, he laid down the rake, old joints creaking as he turned, trotting towards his bench where his book awaited him.
He hadn't gotten five paces before the second siege of his garden began as even more apples than before hammered from the skies, coating both him, his bench, his book and the entire garden and cottage in good tasting and particularly juicy shrapnel.
Looking around at the second wave of destruction, the old pony's head dropped, muttering about “the weather these days” before scooping up the rake once more.
* * *
Rainbow Dash had a place she sometimes went to just get out of everypony's way. Whether it was to practice a trick without fear of anyone seeing her blowing it or simply to take a restful nap that no-one, not even Pinkie Pie, could reach to disturb her from. She called it “Rainbow's Retreat.” Truth be told, she was thinking of changing the name. For one, why would she, Rainbow Dash, ever retreat?
But then, wasn't that what she was doing right now?
Her “Retreat” was actually just a small cloud above a giant mountain range not too far from Ponyville. It sat just below the top layer of clouds and had a stunning view of the entire surrounding lands of Equestria. Even the top cloud layer was thin today, given the summer weather, allowing her cloud to sit alone above the mountains in an isolated void of light blue, any other cloud whisping by was only a thin see-through layer that, upon passing, would curl about her own thicker cloud like a soft mist. It was virtually inaccessible to pegasi who didn't have serious skills in the air, due to severe currents of the wind and dangerously sharp gusts from the mountains on the way up that could knock a lesser pegasus from the sky. Naturally, Rainbow chose it for that explicit reason. Most of Ponyville knew she spent time up here, but only she could access it. Perfect for a get away.
Right now she lay with her front hooves hanging off the cloud, the multiple thousand foot drop beneath not fazing her as she gazed off into the vista before her eyes. The silent heights were slightly comforting after the panic ridden noise of her day, the sparkling of rivers and lakes below affording a relaxing view. But in the distance, the harsh black cloud over Sweet Apple Acres rocked with lightning flares once in awhile, always visible to her, each one set off a pang of guilt in her breast. How could she, the most loyal of friends, have forgotten that? It was only a good mile wide!
Part of her wanted to soar down, clear it and then clear off, just help her friend and then run again. But what would that do except make her feel even worse for not facing her friend? Would Applejack even want the help? Probably not from her. Probably not ever again. That fact hurt. It hurt bad.
Briefly, she heard a flutter nearby to her followed by a soft gliding of wings. Somepony who had a light effect on the air around them and little impact when landing on a cloud had touched down a few metres away. Rainbow didn't even turn around.
“Fluttershy...I don't even want to know how you got up here, but you're just wasting your time if you think-”
“Fluttershy? Hah...interesting name, but not mine I'm afraid, Rainbow Dash.” The voice was entirely different. Easy, chilled and confident. She knew that voice. Whirling on the spot to face the intruder on her isolation point, Rainbow found she was unexpectedly facing one of her heroes once again.
She should have known...a Wonderbolt would have no trouble reaching this difficult area!
“Spi...Spi..” She felt her mouth once more attempt without success,
“Spit it out?” quipped the Wonderbolt, before grinning and trotting over the cloud to stand nearer to Dash and retract her still flared wings from the flight.
“Spitfire! What are you...I mean, why?” Rainbow spluttered, still not quite believing a Wonderbolt had seen fit to track her down to this place. “And how? You don't know this is my hiding...I mean, my secret training area...yeah!”
“Let's just say I had a little chat with a local who clued me in,” replied Spitfire. “So what's up? You've been pretty strung out all day, not quite the confident speedster I've met before. Nice balloon by the way.”
Briefly, Rainbow's mind soared at the compliment, before blinking and raising her wing to see Pinkie's party balloon still firmly attached. She sighed, before trying to untie it. While doing so, her mind began entering an argument. Should she admit her problems to a Wonderbolt? What if they looked down on her for knowing her mistake?!
Spitfire seemed to read her expression,
“Don't worry, Rainbow. I'm not here as a Wonderbolt. Just one flier looking out for another, y'know?”
'Yeah...fine...' thought Dash, (being very careful to keep it internal this time) as she found the balloon's knot impossibly complex and well tied. Giving up, she just sighed, lying down. “If you really wanna' know, I messed up big time. I was so concerned with...with trying to impress a Wonderbolt that I forgot a promise I made to a friend. Now I've ruined that friendship and ruined her work.”
She cringed, feeling her entire future go down in flames as she admitted such a thing in front of one of her heroes so blatantly. Perhaps this was just punishment for her mistake, maybe she deserved to have to go through this.
“Just wish I knew how to fix it, is all,” Rainbow finished, before burying her head in the cloud to hide her embarrassment. Behind her, to her surprise, Spitfire laughed lightly, not insulting, just one of mild amusement at something else...
“Hey Rainbow Dash, you would not believe me if I told you some of the stuff our members have done wrong even when they're in the Wonderbolts. Someday when we have more time? Remind me to tell you the story of the newest mare's audition for the team. Just don't mention it to Soarin', he's not quite gotten over it yet,” Spitfire joked lightly. Her tone was informal, attitude tinged her words. She wasn't speaking down to Rainbow or lecturing her. If anything, hearing the voice of someone as comfortably confident as herself was pretty helpful.
Rainbow looked up at her, more than a little interested at Spitfire's words. “So you...don't think I'm a stupid filly making every mistake in the book?”
Once again, Spitfire chuckled, sitting further across the cloud and glancing sideways at Dash as she watched the view, her eyes finding the storm clouds.
“Hey, I didn't say you hadn't made a mistake, sure you did. Trust me, if you were a Wonderbolt, the entire team wouldn't let you forget it for months, they're kind of without mercy that way.”
She saw Dash go a little pale.
“See...” Spitfire quickly interjected, turning to face Rainbow once again. “We have to know mistakes happen. You've gotta learn to get past them. Besides, you think you're the only mare who ever got a little obsessed with joining the Wonderbolts?”
She smirked on the last line, Rainbow found it pretty obvious to see who she was referring to.
Sudden clarity washed over her. That one little line felt like it had lifted some serious weight of worries and pressure from her shoulders. But furthermore...the Wonderbolts made mistakes? News to her. She allowed a small smile to creep onto her face.
“Thanks, Spitfire,” she muttered, a little too quietly for her normal attitude, but finding the advice coming from someone she respected so highly had really struck a nerve deep down inside her.
“But what am I meant to do about Applejack?”
Rainbow felt a little embarrassed, asking for social advice from a Wonderbolt, wondering if she'd pushed too far. But Spitfire just stared down towards the storm clouds again.
“Well...I happened to, you might say, 'run into' someone close to her. From what I hear, Applejack would be willing to talk if that big cloud was to...disappear. So...what'dya say, Rainbow Dash?”
“Huh? What do I say to...what?”
“Think we should show that cloud what some real fliers can do?” she spoke with real attitude, her wings flaring as she let just a hint of self-assuring arrogance similar to Dash's own tinge her words. “I used to run Weather Control back where I come from too, I think I still have the tricks.”
Rainbow found herself feeling about ready to wake up and be disappointed any second. A chance...to fly weather control...with a Wonderbolt?! Reality made her shake the thoughts and as she stood up herself, a little uneasy from lying down for so long.
“No...you don't have to go to the trouble of digging me outta' my own hole.” she said, not wanting to feel like she was guilt tripping Spitfire into anything.
“Hey, I insist. Remember, I still owe you one for...oh I dunno...saving my life?” Spitfire rolled her eyes briefly as she spoke, before raising an eyebrow to await Rainbow's answer.
She won this round, it seemed.
Rainbow grinned sheepishly before shaking herself into working order, wings flaring and game face on. With a final try at the balloon, she managed to slip it off her wing and instead tie it to the cloud before leaping to her hooves.
“Well alright then!” Her confidence felt like it had come surging back to her. Flying wingpony with a Wonderbolt! How could she not enjoy this, despite the circumstances? “Let's show that cloud who's the real masters of the sky around here!”
“That's the spirit, Dash! C'mon!”
The pair dived from the cloud, sweeping wings and hooves in close to their bodies in order to hurtle directly and vertically downwards at a frighteningly breakneck pace. Shrieking air parted around them as they made free fall for a good thousand feet before, as they hit a wind current sweeping from a sharp gulley, their wings opened. Catching the flow, and with a great roar of displaced air, the pegasi pair swept up from the dive and rocketed on the huge momentum of their free fall towards Sweet Apple Acres at top speed.
* * *
Apple harvesting, Twilight decided, was not for her.
She had long ago been forced to drop her storm shield spell in order to stay focused on just lifting the apples from the trees without them blowing away on the gale force winds that assaulted the orchard itself. She was freezing, soaked through and pretty sure she'd have a cold by the next morning. Her mane, like every other pony in the Apple Family, had been ruined from the sheet rain and static in the air from the lightning that coursed through the black clouds above. They had all fallen multiple times, making individual ponies not exactly too recognisable from the splattered mud that covered them all. When she had arrived, Sweet Apple Acres had been a grey-tinged, weary form of itself. Now however, it was just a near muddy swampland beneath their hooves, the murky ground coating anything nearby. The air remained tight and wet as sheets of rain lashed at the orchard.
Pulling a tree's worth of apples in the air, Twilight directed them to a bucket, only for the bucket to blow away on the wind before she could. Tauntingly rolling away down a hill on it's side. At that moment, the winds changed direction and whipped rain into her eyes. Biting back anger and fighting the urge to simply hurl the apples in rage, she used her front hooves to set another bucket up in the mud to lower the fruit into, before turning to Applejack behind her.
“This isn't getting anywhere!” Twilight shouted. Her friend was, more than anypony, throwing every ounce of strength she had into trying to save her order of apples. She was filthy from the effort. If Twilight hadn't known the earth pony was orange beforehand, the mud from the area could have fooled her.
Applejack only nodded sadly, even her determination couldn't rule out the business mind she possessed realising that they were way too far behind schedule to catch up now, despite their heroic efforts.
“Ah'm afraid so, Twilight...ah shoot...and ah was just startin' to think if ah had seen Rainbow again, ah might have just apologised to help get by these things.” The confession had come, seemingly, out of no-where. Twilight hazarded an internal guess that her honest nature couldn't hold a grudge for very long. She saw Applejack sigh as she looked at the Apple Family in the trees around them. Most were putting up with it and just trying their best, but the progress just wasn't there. Volunteers from Ponyville had tried, but not many of them could keep up the pace, indeed, the only reason Twilight remained was her powerful magic allowing her to not expend as much energy as the others.
Stomping her front hooves down, Applejack looked up at the storm clouds as though contemplating a way to buck them all the way from her farm into the horizon. Trotting somewhat unsteadily over, Twilight considered putting one hoof around her friend, but refrained, Applejack had enough mud coasting her without Twilight simply adding more from her hoof.
“I'm so sorry, Applejack,” she began, still having to speak the words loudly to be heard as the wind tugged at them, before pausing as a roll of thunder sounded, “I just wish I knew how to fix-”
A great spear of sunlight lanced through the cloud cover from above Applejack and Twilight as a loud BAMF sounded across the entire orchard. The sound echoed off the hills, passing by them multiple times. The incandescent light almost blinded the pair as one shaft of warmth seared down as a hole in the cloud opened.
“What in tarnation?” bellowed a somewhat confused Applejack, covering her eyes, before opening them, her jaw dropping slowly soon after. Twilight cast her eyes up and squinted, before gasping herself.
The hole hadn't formed by itself, it had been broken through. Small black puffs of cloud were still disintegrating around the circumference of the gap. But more noticeable were the two trails that arced downwards into the storm, lighting the dark world beneath them, one rainbow coloured and the other a fiery orange. Following the line of travel, the sources were easy to spot. Twilight felt her face leap into a joyous grin as she heard the sound of pegasi in fast flight upon the air.
Above the orchard flew both Rainbow Dash and Spitfire, having dive-bombed the cloud from a good thousand feet up to break its dense centre. The pair split as they rocketed through, each banking to one side with a shriek of rushing air and glistening trails following them to announce their arrival. Each was more a blur of motion than an identifiable pony, flying at speeds unreachable by most pegasi across all of Equestria. It was time for a masterclass in weather removal.
Whirling off in their separate directions, wings flapping madly to gain speed once more, the pair speared in and out of the storm cloud. Lightning flares following them as the surging storm fought to resist the disruption. With deft flying, the pair remained safe as they hurtled to and fro, causing the cloud to burst around the two pegasi. In and out, a dozen times more as Rainbow and Spitfire darted high and low, striking the cloud from every angle until it was punctured in a good hundred places. Twilight could hear the sounds of them tearing through the air as she watched Rainbow soar down low over the trees, bank onto her side and rocket upwards to join Spitfire, who instead was diving through the cloud from above. Each began to corkscrew as they flew, creating cascading currents of air around them that picked up small pieces of cloud from all around, dragging them into the centre. Each pegasus' flying gave off a distinct whooshing sound that echoed just as much as their arrival had.
In one death defying moment, they crossed paths, up and down, within a foot of one another. The separate spirals of wind catching and meshing into a cyclone of sheer pegasus power that sucked in huge volumes of the storm. Twilight felt her mouth hang open as she watched two ponies doing the work of twenty...and in half the time! She didn't even fully understand the mechanic of the wind that drove the whirlwind of power they were creating, but its sight was magnificent, not just to the unicorn either.
The beautiful sight of the rainbow and flame funnelled cyclone had caught the eyes of everypony who hadn't already begun staring at the daring aerial display. The pair of pegasi circled their creation a few times, trails tailing off, before reigniting as they began to break up the remainder of the clouds. Between their cyclone and their cloud bursting dives, sunlight began to streak down onto the orchard everywhere, each small hole growing and joining other gaps to clear the sky. Rainbow and Spitfire were long from finishing as, flying side by side and maintaining a simple formation, they battered through the remaining lumps of the storm. They either rammed through them with combined bursts of speed or circled around one another to let the rushing air behind them rip the clouds into lesser shapes that the natural wind would blow away on its own.
No area of storm was safe on this day, it seemed. For every cloud they busted from the air, another was immediately in their sights. Breaking their dual formation, Rainbow and Spitfire both banked on their sides, upside down before righting themselves and going their separate ways to hunt any clouds that had slipped by them. Rainbow was throwing her top-level game into it. Even from the ground Twilight could now see the steely determination on her face to live up to flying alongside one of her heroes. Her flight path was rigid, zigzagging madly to catch every cloud in an aggressive, fast and daring manner that saw her dropping to fly between apple trees to come up from below larger chunks of cloud, breaking her ascent with a retraction of one wing to spin in mid air to face another.
Spitfire meanwhile showed the practised, professional and utterly natural talent as befitted her career. Her movements were that of huge arcs, hitting two or three clouds in one sweeping surge of speed at a time, the flame coloured trail seeming to evaporate them to Twilight's eyes, even though she knew it was just the air flow behind the Wonderbolt. Controlling her wing angles, forward momentum and using a keen mindset, she made turns and breaks in directions Twilight hadn't even known was possible for a pegasus to achieve. Every time she passed by, Twilight could hear the roar of her flying speed. Quickly, her respect for the aerobatic team grew by some degrees.
Eventually, only the cyclone's big clump of storm remained. Pulling a synchronised immelmann turn, despite being over half a mile from one another, the pair whipped around to hurtle across the sky at full speed from opposite directions. Twilight could see the vapour cones forming in front of each of them before they struck, the thundercloud on either side with enough force that the cloud hurtled off into the horizon with a great last clash of thunder. They roared past one another, twisted in the air to pass underside to underside by mere inches. They flipped to face the right way and as the cyclone they had created began breaking up around the two pegasi they, with a small rush of air, spun down in a loop toward one another before coming to a halt and hovered as the contrails of their flight paths drifted and faded around them.
All over the farm, earth ponies let out a cheer, stomping hooves in mud or leaping for joy. Whether it was for the performance in the sky or the disappearance of the cloud was unknown. Perhaps both. As the pegasi softly lowered to the ground, the Apple Family, Twilight and all the Ponyville volunteers galloped across to join meet them on their descent en masse. Pushing to the front, Twilight looked up, a smile grafted onto her face despite the mud caking her, to see Rainbow Dash softly sink to the ground, completely out of breath and looking a little shaky from the adrenaline. Above her, still hovering, Spitfire seemed fine.
“Rainbow!” Twilight happily galloped over to throw her front hooves around her friend, uncaring for the fact that it shared the mud onto the pegasus. “I knew you'd come back!”
Her eyes travelled upwards, meeting Spitfire's. “And thank you, too. You didn't have to help out. Thank you.”
The Wonderbolt just nodded that she was welcome, before backing off slightly, allowing Rainbow her space...for she saw from above exactly who was trudging through the crowd to face the cyan pegasus. Indeed, with a carefully blank face still, Applejack trotted through the mud up to Rainbow, Twilight stepping back slightly, keeping a careful distance between the two. There was a brief moment of silence as the crowd, mostly consisting of Apple Family, awaited what was to be said. They had all heard about the argument in the town centre.
“I...uh...” Rainbow Dash began, scratching the back of her head with a front hoof, discovering it to be muddy from Twilight's embrace.
“Listen...Rainbow...” Applejack muttered at the precise same moment, they both cut their sentences before another awkward silence fell upon the moment.
Quickly, Rainbow gathered up what energy and courage she had left from the flight to help boost herself into speaking first.
“Look, I'm sorry I...forgot about the promise I made. I just lost it when something really important to me came up. I shouldn’t have just ditched and forgotten things to go after it. You were...”
She paused. Especially in front of so many ponies, she didn't particularly like admitting things, but forced herself through with it.
“You were right about responsibility and that I kinda...ignored it,” she said quietly, looking up to her friend, who's face could only soften with a somewhat relieved sigh at someone taking the first trot to get this dealt with.
“Well...ah'm sorry too, Rainbow, ah guess ah was a little harsh on ya down in the town,” Applejack muttered, not enjoying her family's presence to this either. “Ah guess, maybe ah could do to understand what drives you a lil' more as well.”
“Same in return I guess...” Rainbow said in return. The pair seemed to avoid one another's gaze for a few seconds. “Sorry...about assuming you didn't have your own dreams just because they weren't the same as mine. If I can make it up to you...”
Applejack looked to the sky, basking in the hot sun that now beat upon the orchard, beginning to dry the top layer of mud. She nodded appreciatively.
“Seems t'me you just did. Fancy flying work, maybe them Wonderbolts ain't such a silly dream for y'all after all. You sure kept up with Spitfire up there.”
Rainbow seemed to blush on the spot, glancing quickly back to the Wonderbolt behind her quickly with a nervous grin, “Uh...yeah...I guess I did, hah! Yeah, but...that's me right?” she said, feigning more confidence than she truly had at the moment to try and help lighten the mood and, gratefully, was rewarded as Spitfire dropped down, grinning.
“Good to see you two making up. Just glad I could help...Applejack was it?” Spitfire asked, before seeing the earth pony nod. “But now I've really gotta fly...see I kiiinda promised Soarin' I'd meet him an hour ago in Cloudsdale. Guess none of us are perfect, eh? Hey Dash, if you've still got anything left in you, race to the edge of Ponyville?”
She grinned, a competitive streak emerging as Rainbow recoiled a little. A chance to actually race a Wonderbolt? If she could beat Spitfire, then surely they’d...
She stopped her thinking, before turning and looking around her at the masses of apples still on the trees...
“I'd love to,” she said quickly, turning back to Spitfire, smiling pleasantly. “Really, I would. But...I've gotta help out a friend right now, to get these apples down.”
Behind her, Applejack smiled, the first real smile since that morning as she trotted up to Rainbow's side. “Thanks, partner. But you don't have to.”
“I insist, besides, you look like you need the help of the best flier in town,” quipped Rainbow in return, a spark of their normal conversation returning, to which Spitfire just laughed loudly, flapping her wings to rise higher above the trees,
“Best flier in town, eh? Only until I pass the border, Rainbow Dash!” Her voice held a challenge within it. “See you around!”
With a whoosh of air, Spitfire soared off over the hills, leaving the ponies of the farm and their helpers standing. Rainbow and Applejack cast one more glance to each other, before slapping hooves, a final little signal that things were cool between them once more. Twilight watched, having stayed silent as it all played out, but now smiled gratefully to herself at seeing two of her best friends end their conflict. Especially given how hard as it must have been for them to admit their wrongs in front of so many people. Really, it made her feel happier than ever she could count them among her circle of friends. Turning back to the orchard, she heard Applejack began barking orders and more optimistic encouragement for the family. They had a lot to do still, but with a bit of hard work...it might just be possible.
As they trotted back into the trees, Applejack glanced over the horizon, stopping Rainbow briefly.
“Uh...Rainbow...not t'throw anything at y'alls hooves right now but...just where did you two kick that storm off to anyway?”
Twilight wandered closer, her mind beginning to wonder on the same matter.
“Oh...” Dash replied, seeming to try and wonder for herself about its trajectory, before just settling for a shrug. “I dunno...not like it can hurt anyone anymore. I mean, it's tiny now, what are the chances of it landing anywhere troublesome?”
* * *
“Dear Princess Celestia,”
Twilight directed the quill with her horn's magic. She had been training to use it faster, to allow Spike some more time to his other duties around the library, especially in the wake of today...
It was later that night. Thanks to everypony's help, the apples had been sent off to the mailing office just in time. It had been close, Twilight still felt sore from the efforts, but they had done it. Barely.
“Today I learned a valuable lesson about friendship, one that can be very difficult to understand or find a solution to. I discovered that even the closest of friends can have very different opinions on what is most important to them and that if they ever get in the way of one another then things can get pretty nasty.”
She glanced behind her. Books were still scattered all over the library from earlier. Where was that dragon anyway?
“Spike?” Twilight called. No response. Raising an eyebrow in confusion, she went back to her letter.
“But in the end, I learned that as much as our dreams might mean a lot to us, a promise to a friend can have terrible consequences if you forget or ignore it to pursue your own life's dreams. Whether it's a normal responsibility or not, once you go back on even one promise, it can be hard to get that trust back.”
She stopped again, turning.
“SPIKE?” she shouted, louder. This time there was a response. The dragon burst from the top floor, running down the stairs as fast as his feet could carry him. He was wearing his suit from the Gala, a small present under his arm and frantically trying to ensure his spikes were straight in a hand mirror. Her hand mirror, Twilight noted.
“Spike...what are you doing?” she asked, standing in front of him.
“I gotta head out! Rarity said I could accompany her to a fashion show in the town hall on tour from Manehattan to help carry her bags! I even went out and bought her this new mirror as a gift!” Spike rambled, excitedly trying to run past Twilight, who stepped from one side to the other to block his path.
“You mean my mirror?” Her question was almost as deadpan as Spike normally could be.
“What?” Spike just looked confused. He looked from Twilight to the mirror in his hand. “No! This one!”
He held up the gift, it's packaging of white and purple with a red heart shaped label was hardly subtle in intent.
“Fine, but you do remember you promised to help me clean this library up tonight, Spike. What would Princess Celestia think if she came to visit and found it like this?” Twilight intoned sternly. It was true as well, she often got no warning about her mentor's visits. “I'm sorry, Spike.”
“Aww...” Spike moaned. “Come on Twilight! This is like my dream coming true! I get to accompany Rarity to a show! By her side! Please, Twilight, this means a lot to me!”
Twilight was about to open into a lecture on what she had learned from today about promises...but stopped herself and smiled a little, stepping aside.
“Go have fun, Casanova,” she chided him with a grin. “I'll do what I can, I'm sure it won't be tomorrow morning she arrives anyway.”
“Thanks Twilight! You're the best!” shouted the ecstatic dragon, before he ran on his stubby little legs out the door into Ponyville. Twilight watched him go from the window, before turning back to her lectern, picking up the quill with her magic once more.
“But at the same time, sometimes it's important to realise that a dream can be ever so important to someone and you have to be able to support them in doing what they want, even if it might seem a little crazy to you. The balance between responsibility and dreams is a hard one, but a little understanding can go a long way to help find a good compromise that can help everypony in the end.
Your faithful student,
* * *
Finally the old pony had finished what he had started so many hours ago that morning. The only thing driving him by now was the knowledge that cleaning the garden of all those apples that had laid siege to him would be worth the effort. To at last sit down and enjoy a new book amongst a tidy and beautiful back garden of his cottage still settled as his hope, even if only a couple of hours of sunlight remained.
The refuse cart was overflowing with smashed apples and the rake was almost bent from overuse. But now...now he could relax at last as he settled on the bench and pulling the classical book over to him. The first page's words, however, suddenly darkened, as did everything around him.
'Just a cloud,' he thought, waiting for it to pass.
Instead, there was a roll of tiny thunder before the heavens opened, the tiny storm cloud centred on his house alone after having hurtled in from across town and slowing to stop above his cottage specifically.
Soaked instantly through, the old pony stared straight forward as raindrops dripped off his ears and muzzle.
“You know what?” he muttered, glancing up at the tiny cloud that had tumbled to a stop above his home. “Just forget it.”
He shut the book with a wet slap, stood shakily and wandered to his cottage instead, slamming the door behind him.