It was a lazy afternoon in Ponyville, at the height of summer, and most sensible ponies were taking refuge from the sweltering heat inside their homes or favorite shops. The lake south of town and the ice cream stand outside the Hayseed Cafe were doing brisk business, but otherwise the streets were conspicuously empty of traffic. Apart from the twittering of birds and the buzz of insects, the town was remarkably quiet, content to bide its time until the sun dipped toward the horizon and the cool breeze of evening could come to the rescue.
The pennants atop the Carousel Boutique hung limp in the thick air, looking like streamers from a certain pink pony's parties. Inside, undisturbed by the heat but panicking over an upcoming order of summer dresses for the Canterlot Homecoming ball, a white unicorn with a frazzled expression and mane fed bolts of the finest cotton through an old-fashioned hoof-powered sewing machine (the electric machine was on the fritz, contributing greatly to the pony's taut nerves). To judge by the abundance of cotton bolts in the workshop and the lack of summer dresses, she had a ways to go before resting.
Across the street Sugarcube Corner, Ponyville's finest confectionery, was looking a little worse for wear. Somepony had thrown open all the windows, which had the agreeable effect of filling the town square with the tantalizing scent of bread, muffins, cupcakes and pies in various states of completion. Through those open windows, though, the occasional passer-by could just barely make out the shapes of Mr. and Mrs. Cake slaving over hot ovens and stoves, filling tray carts with steaming-hot desserts, and pausing occasionally to take long gulps of water from a tankard near the sink. They looked, to put it mildly, rather hot, but nevertheless neither showed any sign of slacking off before the day's orders were done.
Similar scenes of quiet industry played out across the town. Nopony with any choice in the matter was outside, and the buzz of cicadas was the only conversation to be heard. It was peaceful. It was quiet. It was good.
Of course, in every town there are ponies who cannot stand peace or quiet. Indeed, they seem determined to seek out and destroy peace and quiet wherever they may be found. Perhaps it's genetic; perhaps their parents raised them that way. Perhaps it's just more fun.
And so amidst the peace and quiet of Ponyville two loud, enthusiastic voices could be heard carrying on a conversation in the most unlikely of places. They were practically shouting in their excitement at the one spot in town that should have been quiet at all hours: the Books and Branches Library.
“Alright, preflight checks!” the larger of the two, a cyan pegasus with a garish rainbow mane barked. She was perched on the railing of the library's balcony, the highest point in Ponyville reachable by stairs. “Flightplan?”
“Check!” shouted the other, a tiny orange pegasus. She grabbed in her mouth a loose leaf sheet of paper pilfered from the library's stores, on which was hastily scrawled the words:
Origin: Library Balcony
Destination: Ground beneath Library Balcony
Est. Duration: Two seconds
“Great! Weather?” Rainbow Dash asked next, her eyes looking up to the cloudless sky.
“Blue! Er, check! I mean, clear!” Scootaloo answered, trying to remember the appropriate Weather Patrol terminology.
“Right! Emergency supplies?”
“Check!” Scootaloo tapped a mound of assorted gear with her hoof. Visible in the disorganized pile were signal flares, saddlebags stuffed with unknown contents, a solid week's worth of food, and multiple medical kits.
“Ya know, Dash, it was really nice of you to agree to teach Scoots to fly,” said Twilight Sparkle, who had been observing the exchange from the back of the balcony and was now eyeing the pile of supplies with professional distaste.
“Yeah, well, when you're the greatest flier in all of Equestria you get requests like this all the time,” Dash responded. “I like to think I have an obligation to help other pegasi become just as awesome as I am.”
“Uh huh,” the unicorn responded. “How many other fillies have you taught to fly, again?”
“Um,” the blue pegasus deflated slightly, but quickly rebounded. “Technically none, but I've inspired plenty! That's the same thing.”
Between the two adult ponies Scootaloo waited patiently, her wide, adoring eyes locked on her hero.
“Riiight,” Twilight Sparkle said, her eyes narrowed. “Tell me, why do you need three separate first aid kits?”
“Well, each kit only comes with two splints and two tourniquets,” Dash answered. “So you need three kits to have enough for all your limbs!” She paused a moment, then added, “They really should make special kits for new fliers, come to think of it.”
Twilight Sparkle spent a silent moment in cognitive dissonance, torn between reassurance that Dash had actually planned ahead to have enough medical supplies, and deep unease that Dash, of all ponies, thought medical supplies might be necessary.
“Okay, enough talk, time to fly!” Dash said, taking advantage of Twilight's momentary silence. “Get up here, squirt.” She grabbed the tiny pegasus' mane in her teeth and hauled her up on the railing.
Scootaloo's wings buzzed as she tried to keep her balance on the railing while peering over the edge to the ground below. For some reason it seemed much further away than she remembered.
“This is kinda high, Dash...” she started.
“I know, isn't it great!?” the blue pegasus cut her off. “Remember, the point is just to float to the ground. Don't try anything fancy yet.”
“Nothing fancy, got it.” She took a few deep breaths to steady herself. Then a few more. Then some more. “Okay, on the count of three. One... two...” she paused for some more deep breaths. “Two-and-a-half...”
“Three!” Dash shouted, giving the younger pony a shove to the rump with her muzzle and knocking her clean off the railing.
“AAAH!” she screamed, falling a few feet before her frantically flapping wings slowed her to something resembling a hover. “AAAH AaaAAaaa! H-hey! Hey! I'm doing it! I'm flying! Dash, look, I'm flying!” The orange filly managed to stay in place for nearly a second before she started to sink again, vanishing through the branches with a series of crashes followed, a few seconds later, by a muffled thump.
“Great job, champ!” Dash shouted over the railing. She turned back to the shocked Twilight with a huge smile on her face. “Oh, I am such an awesome teacher!” she said, then leapt over the railing with a flap of her wings, diving to check on her student.
For her part, Twilight Sparkle stared at the empty space where only moments before two pegasus ponies had perched. Finally, with a sigh, she levitated one of the medical kits and started toward the ground floor, using the stairs like a sensible filly.
“Twilight! Twilight! Did you see me?!”
“Yes, Scoots, I saw you,” the unicorn replied, pushing her way past a circle of concerned ponies who were gathered around the young pegasus. She set the medical kit next to Scootaloo. “Are you okay?”
The pegasus tested her wings, flapping them so fast they blurred into an orange smear. “Yep!”
“I mean, the rest of you?”
“Oh.” Scootaloo, who was still sitting awkwardly on the ground, held up her right foreleg. “My hoof hurts.”
Twilight sighed, looking around for Scootaloo's erstwhile teacher. She finally spied Rainbow Dash talking animatedly with a group of concerned looking ponies.
“...and then I said, 'Three!' and shoved her off! Wasn't it awesome?”
Twilight rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Scootaloo, who was trying to get to her feet. “Hold on a second, let me see that leg.” She took the limb with her hoof and gently palpated the cannon bone and ankle, causing the young pony to wince.
“Looks like you twisted it,” she said, popping open the medical kit and levitating out an elastic bandage, which she proceeded to wrap around the joint.
“Twilight! I was flying!” Scootaloo said, her voice filled with wonder. “I was flying!”
“It was awesome, Twilight! I was like, 'Aaaah!' and then I was like, 'I'm flying!' Did you see me-- ow!”
“Sorry,” Twilight said, not actually feeling very sorry at all. With another twist she finished off the wrap, securing it with a pair of butterfly clips. “Alright, no more flying until--”
Whatever time limit she meant to impose was lost as a rainbow mane suddenly shoved its way into her field of view, followed by the rest of an excited pegasus pony.
“Twilight! Twilight! Did you see that?!” Rainbow Dash blurted, sounding nearly as excited as her student. “That was So. Freaking. Awesome!”
“Yes, Dash, I saw her,” Twilight responded, a bit archly. “And frankly I think you two might be moving a bit fast. You know, there are several good books in the library about flying. If you wanted we could check a few out, and set up a study schedule for Scootaloo. I'd be happy to help drill her and proctor tests. A good grounding in aerodynamics and flight mechanics is much more logical than just jumping off of balconies. Come to think of it, that has to be one of the least efficient... hey, where are you going?” She finally realized she was talking to thin air, as both pegasus ponies were already walking back into the library, one limping, the other nearly levitating with excitement.
Twilight sighed and started after them, not even bothering to pack up the medical kit. No point in lugging it up all those stairs just to carry it right back down again.
Thirty minutes and four “flights” later, Scootaloo was none the worse for wear. Her flying, it should be said, had not much improved, but her landing skills were far more advanced. By the fourth flight they had even managed to attract a small crowd of ponies who applauded appreciatively after each attempt.
In fact the only pony who seemed to be suffering any ill effects was Twilight Sparkle, who was beginning to regret opening her library and balcony to flying lessons in the first place.
Never one to let a chance to be passive-aggressive slip by, Twilight had taken to reading loudly from an introductory flight manual hastily recovered from the library's “Life Skills” section.
“Hey, it says here that young fliers should start by jumping from small objects like tables or chairs,” she said, her horn glowing as she levitated the open book over to Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo, who were doing their best to ignore her. “You know, I have lots of tables and chairs downstairs. We could go down there and--”
“Uh, yeah, thanks Twilight,” Dash cut her off. “Anyway squirt, you're doing great! This time you're going to try for a little forward momentum on the way down. Just angle your wings a tad back, like this,” she demonstrated by stretching her own wings out to their full extent, tilted into a normal flight profile.
“But won't I fall faster if I do that?” the filly asked, torn between absolute acceptance of anything Rainbow Dash said or did and the reality of the 50 foot fall to the ground.
Her teacher shook her head emphatically. “Nope. Right now you're generating lift with the downward pressure of your wings, which lets you hover but is very inefficient. In true flight you only flap your wings to move forward – all your lift is generated by the airflow over your wing surface.”
“Oh,” said Scootaloo. “Uh, okay.” She craned her head over her shoulder and flapped her wings experimentally, trying to get a feel for tilting them like Dash said.
For once Twilight had nothing to add, in shock from hearing Rainbow Dash use such technical terminology.
“Got it? Okay, let's see what you can do!” Dash jumped up on the balcony and tapped the railing next to her with a hoof. Scootaloo climbed up with a bit more effort and significantly less elegance, making sure not to put any weight on her injured hoof.
“Remember, push back with your wings, not just down.”
Scootaloo nodded, stretched her wings out as far as they would go, and jumped before Dash could push her.
Twilight Sparkle stood with her forelegs draped over the railing to watch the flight. The orange pegasus seemed to be doing well – she was actually gliding forward instead of just falling, helped by the occasional flap of her wings.
“Yeah! You got it!” Dash shouted beside her. “Now, turn a bit away from that house! No, don't flap! Turn! Tilt your left wing to catch more... oooh...” she trailed off as Scootaloo crashed into the side of a nearby house with enough force to rattle the windows, followed a second later by the ground.
“So, turning.” Twilight observed. Below them a circle of concerned ponies had gathered around the dazed pegasus.
Grumbling something under her breath, the cyan pegasus jumped from the railing and soared effortlessly down to her student. Twilight watched the spectacle for a few minutes from the balcony, then turned with a quiet huff to head back down the stairs.
“I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier. It just makes so much sense!”
Rainbow Dash was in a particularly good mood. Nearly a week had passed since Scootaloo's last flight, and Nurse Redheart had reluctantly cleared the young pegasus for more lessons. Scootaloo hadn't even been hurt after that crash, really, just a little sore. And she certainly wasn't blaming Dash for not teaching her how to turn.
Unlike some ponies, anyway. Dash peered over the edge of the cloud at the beach below, searching for the dark purple unicorn whose cutie mark should have been a lectern. She loved Twilight, she really did, but sometimes that pony could be an aggravating little...
Aha! There, near the water's edge, a spark of sunlight was reflecting off a pair of binoculars held in front of a certain filly's face. Feeling smug, Dash waved down at the pony.
“Hey! Twilight!” she called. “Thanks for coming out to help!” She held a hoof over her mouth and snickered. As if Twilight could be of any help from down there.
Behind her on the cloud Scootaloo was having the time of her life. It was a thin cloud, and the young pony was stomping holes in it with her hoof to peer down at the lake below.
They were much higher than the balcony. The cloud Dash chose for their exercise was at least a thousand feet above the lake, drifting slowly away from the beach in the gentle summer breeze. Below them ponies were splashing in the water or lounging on the beach.
The balcony was a good start, but it lacked two important components, Dash had realized one night. First, it wasn't very high. Second, it was over the ground; hard, unforgiving ground.
The lake, on the other hand, was much softer. You still didn't want to slam into it at full speed, as Dash had learned years before, but it definitely beat running into the ground. Or trees. Or houses.
And so, on the first day Scootaloo was allowed to fly again, Dash carried her to a cloud high above the lake, to review what they had learned.
“I am such an awesome teacher,” Dash said quietly, looking down at the beach.
“Huh?” came the curious voice of Scootaloo, right behind her.
“Ah!” Dash jumped into the air and spun, hovering a few feet above the cloud. “Ahaha, just talking to myself. Anyway, are you ready?”
“Okay, what are the four forces of flight?”
“Uh, lift, gravity, drag, and... uh...” Scootaloo screwed her face into a squint, trying desperately to remember their lessons.
“Hm, close enough. Now, it's a hot day with the sun out. What's that mean for the air?”
“It's thinner, so I'll need more speed to generate the same amount of lift as a cold day. It also has less oxygen, so I'll get tired faster.”
“Right! Now, winds?”
Scootaloo looked up at the higher clouds. “Light, generally from the west, but blowing from the lake onto shore down near the surface.”
“Good. Flight plan?”
“Big circles over the lake. Only flap for thrust. Try to maintain altitude as long as possible. Land in the shallow water near the beach. Oh, thrust! Thrust is the fourth force, not speed.”
Dash grinned. “Not bad. I'll be on your wing, and remember, this is a long flight. If you try to hover you'll just wear yourself out, and then it's a long way down.”
The young pegasus gulped audibly, then nodded. Together then stood at the edge of the cloud, staring down at the lake far below. Neither moved.
Several minutes passed. From below the two were visible only as tiny dark dots on the edge of one of the lower clouds, unless one had binoculars, in which case they were slightly larger blue and orange dots on the edge of the cloud.
Dash glanced at the filly beside her. Scootaloo was trembling ever so slightly, her wings held stiff and frozen out to her sides.
“You know,” the blue pony said quietly, “Not many ponies here know this, but the first time I tried flying I hurt myself very badly. It was a month before I could even walk again, much less use my wings.” Beside her Scootaloo had stopped shivering, and appeared to be listening as she stared at the water.
“The next time my parents tried to take me to fly I was terrified,” she continued. “I didn't even want to try jumping from trees, like most young pegasus ponies do. I figured I could just spend the rest of my life on land, like a unicorn or earth pony.”
She laid down on the cloud, her forelegs and head draped over the edge. “Finally one of my friends, who hadn't started flying yet, asked me for help. He said that if I could survive a crash like that, then I must've learned something important.”
“Is that why they call you 'Rainbow Crash?'” Scootaloo asked quietly, now also lying down beside her.
Dash scowled at her. “How did you... ugh, nevermind. Anyway, even after seeing what happened on my first flight, he still wanted to fly and trusted me enough to help him. So we both went to the edge of one of the clouds in Cloudsdale, closed our eyes, and jumped together.”
Scootaloo stared at her, eyes wide as saucers. “And? What happened to you?!”
Dash stretched her legs and wings and stood back up. “That doesn't matter, squirt. What matters is that we jumped.” She gave the young pegasus an expectant look.
Scootaloo thought about that for a moment. Then, without further hesitation or doubt, she stood, trotted to the edge, and leapt into the sky.
Behind her on the cloud, Dash grinned. “I am such an awesome teacher.”
And then she jumped as well.
A thousand feet below, peering at the cloud through her binoculars, Twilight saw the tiny orange dot leap from the cloud and fall nearly a hundred feet in just a few heart-stopping seconds. Just when she was starting to panic, the dot (now a bit larger) began to turn, slipping sideways through the air with surprising speed. It was joined a moment later by a rainbow-colored smear that followed as it began to trace a large circle around the lake.
“Oh my, she's going very fast,” said Fluttershy from beside her. The yellow pegasus pony had passed the time accumulating a collection of turtles, ducks and even snakes from around the lake, but was now staring just as intently as Twilight up at the two fliers.
“Is that safe?” Twilight asked.
“Oh yes,” Fluttershy assured her. “Young fliers are usually safer when they fly quickly. It's less tiring to stay up than trying to hover.” She paused, then added, “Of course, it can make landings a bit more difficult.”
Scootaloo had never expected flying to be so loud. The roar of the wind past her ears was like thunder; her mane was whipping like a flag in a tornado, and her legs were shaking so hard she thought she might lose the feeling in her hooves.
“Tuck your legs in, champ!” called a sudden voice to her side. Sparing a quick glance to the left she spied Rainbow Dash. The blue pony's flight was so steady she might as well have been ice-skating.
She duly pulled her legs up under her body and was rewarded with a suddenly calmer flight. The wind was still loud, but she found she could ignore its roar. Her wings were still a tad shaky compared to Dash's, and she was constantly trimming her pinions to try and stay level, but she was flying! She was flying!
“Look down!” Dash called beside her. Scootaloo did, and saw that the edge of the lake was rapidly approaching below them. Tipping her left wing slightly to catch more air, she began a wide turn to stay over the water. Dash mirrored her movements, not moving even an inch relative to the younger pegasus.
“You've got energy; trade it for height!” Dash yelled, before suddenly soaring up with a slight tilt of her wings. Scootaloo took another look at the lake below, then gave her own wings a slight twist, feeling them grab the air and shove her higher while also slowing her down.
“Doing good, squirt,” Dash said from above her. Now that she was slower they could have something resembling a normal conversation. “Remember to flap occasionally to keep your speed. Oh, and breathe!”
That was good advice. She hadn't realized she'd been holding her breath nearly the entire flight. It also made talking easier.
“Dash! I'm flying!”
“I know! Isn't it awesome!”
It was indeed.
The two stayed in the air for nearly twenty minutes before Scootaloo's wings began to tire. Not wanting to risk a rough ending to an otherwise fine day of flying, Dash took them down to the water in a low, sweeping arc that terminated with a hundred-yard-long skid across the water's surface, sending up twin fans of water that doused dozens of nearby ponies.
The two were still splashing each other when Twilight finally reached them, trotting on the surface of the water as though it was solid earth.
“Well, you two look like you had fun,” she said. “Dash, you really are an awesome teacher.”
“Well, duh! Nice hat, by the way.”
Twilight glanced up at the pith helmet she wore whenever spying on people, which was a surprising amount of her time. But then, Celestia had never told her how she was supposed to learn about friendship.
“Thank you,” she responded dryly. “And Scootaloo, you looked fantastic up there.”
“Simply amazing,” said Fluttershy, who was hovering above all three of them.
“Aw, it was all Dash's work,” she replied, blushing.
Dash waved a hoof dismissively. “Yeah, right. All I did was tell you to jump. You did the rest.”
“Well, let's get you two back to shore,” Twilight said, ever practical. “I hear Pinkie's already planning a party to celebrate your first real flight.” She grabbed Scootaloo's mane in her mouth and lifted her out of the water, and began trotting back to shore with the squirming bundle.
With a bit of help from Fluttershy, Dash managed to get out of the water and into the air. Thanking the other pegasus, she turned back to the cloud high above.
“Still awesome,” she whispered, then raced to catch up with her friends.