There is Always a Way
by Jay Bear
* * * * *
I guess there’s enough moonlight to see where I’m going, Rainbow Dash grumbled as she soared towards a sliver of a moon in the cloudless sky. She’d have to practice during the day at some point to make sure she caught the light just right, but for now she needed to practice the stunt itself. To fly up to the sun, stall in front of it, have her rainbow trail follow, and blanket the crowd below in an amazing multi-colored glow. She could get to the right altitude, but she still couldn’t hover long enough without flapping her wings, disrupting her trail and ruining the glow effect.
For it to look right, Rainbow had to keep her wings motionless as she stalled, while hanging in the same place for a few seconds. She had seen that kind of hover before, but never by a pegasus: Princess Celestia did it during the Summer Sun Celebration, and Rarity had done it at the Best Young Fliers’ Competition.
Of course those magic mares can pull it off. Just cast some kind of spell, and you don’t even have to know how to flap your wings. She sighed and pushed past that thought. Others might have it easier, but she could do it better.
And being better than them, even without a horn, is the whole point of doing this!
Well, scratch that. It’s just part of the point. Rainbow also needed more moves like this for her Wonderbolts audition routine. She had tons of stunts that showed off her speed and power – the Super Speed Strut, the Raincloud Double Back-Flip, maybe even a totally face-melting Buccaneer Blaze or third Sonic Rainboom – but tricks like this were good for contrast. Right after a Triple Cloud Spin, she could do something like this, giving the crowd a chance to catch their breath before her next death-defying dive. Plus, it was a chance to show off her technical skills, so the Wonderbolts knew she could do more than just fly fast.
Her plan was to start with a nose-dive, turn up, and near the peak of that climb, spread her wings flat to act as an airbrake. When gravity began to overwhelm her momentum, she’d angle her wings down and cup her feathers together so they would work like a parachute. At the very last moment before she fell, she’d twist the tips of her feathers, giving her an extra second or two of lift while keeping the rest of her wing stationary. Altogether, it would last maybe five seconds, but it’d look like an eternity to anypony watching from the ground.
If only she could stop screwing it up. For the past two weeks, she had practiced at night so other ponies wouldn’t see her fail so much. Twilight Sparkle always stayed up late, and Rainbow couldn’t tell if the bookworm was watching the stars or just reading. To be safe, Rainbow would wait until all the lights in the library went out, and only then start her practice. The library had gone dark early that night—just a little past midnight—giving her plenty of time to try this stunt.
She ran the math in her head. Assuming ten to fifteen minutes for each attempt, she could get in four to six tries at the move an hour. It’d be about six hours until it started to get light, so she could practice about 30 times tonight.
If I had practiced 30 times a night over two weeks… two weeks is 14 nights… plus tonight is 15… thirty times ten is 300, times five is 150, add them together… so it’d be 450 attempts by now?
Her actual number of attempts wouldn’t be that high – she hadn’t tried 30 times every night – but it would still be in the hundreds. Rainbow didn’t mind that. You had to take your time with new things. She might have to practice a thousand times, but it’d be worth it to get this move right. Like the legendary pegasus Amelia Air Heart had once said, "Nothing is ever easy, but there is always a way!"
Rainbow took a deep breath and held it. She was up pretty high now, and the air was so thin that it was getting hard to flap her wings. Despite the freezing gusts of treacherous wind upsetting her balance, she was starting to feel a little giddy.
Kind of dangerous up here. She exhaled. Not many pegasi would go this high, even during the day. She grinned. Time to dive. She stretched her wings out and pushed her angle of attack low, feeling an alluring weightlessness as she dropped, head first, her wings keeping her stable for an angled descent. Now Rainbow had to focus, stop thinking about Princess Celestia and Rarity, and count the seconds as she fell. That was an old griffin trick she had picked up in flight camp: counting seconds so you couldn’t distract yourself with other thoughts.
One Celestia, two Celestia, three Celestia, four Celest... oh, that was smart.
Rainbow shook her head, trying to forget the antipathy towards Celestia and Rarity. It isn’t even worth getting upset at them anyway, not when there are way more annoying ponies out there.
Like Pinkie Pie.
Rainbow felt herself getting flustered just thinking of the bubblegum-colored earth pony, constantly hopping into situations where she wasn’t welcome. Rainbow tried to be pleasant around Pinkie, and she pulled it off sometimes. However, if they spent more than a minute or two together, Pinkie would get on her nerves, and Rainbow would have to leave or risk saying something really hurtful.
It was always something Pinkie said or did; like on the train to Appleloosa, when Pinkie and Twilight started teasing Rainbow about her Fluttershy joke. Rainbow was a tough pony, and could put up with harmless joshing among friends, but her mood had soured as soon as Pinkie called her “Dashie.” The memory still made Rainbow’s cheeks flush.
Nopony gets to call me Dashie. No. Pony.
The pressure in Rainbow’s ears pulled her attention back to the dive. She reflexively chewed the air, helping her ears pop, and looked down. It was too dark to make out any landmarks below, but she’d have to be pretty low if her ears were popping already. She decided to dive for about 15 seconds more before turning up.
Eye on the prize, Rainbow. No time to think about that dolt Pinkie. Besides, it’s not like she’s a bad pony. She just does dumb stuff sometimes.
All the time.
The only time the two had really connected was the day they spent pranking other ponies around town. The best prank was painting the apples on Applejack’s farm - all those hours coloring each fruit, just joking and laughing together, capped by seeing AJ’s face when she walked out of that dusty old barn.
When Gilda showed up that next morning to hang out, Rainbow couldn’t believe how great the week was going. She never imagined that it would end with one of her best friends leaving forever. Rainbow sometimes had dreams about that party, where everything seemed to be going fine until Gilda slipped in the cake on the floor and Pinkie started making fun of her. Rainbow always woke up after Gilda flipped out and shouted, “C’mon Rainbow Dash, we’re leaving!” It was a relief that she never dreamed about saying those painful words again. But sometimes she wished she could keep dreaming, and say something different.
Or follow Gilda out.
Usually, dealing with Pinkie Pie was like having a bee buzzing in her ear. Losing Gilda as a friend felt like being stung in the face.
Rainbow looked down at Ponyville. She could easily see the houses now, and they were much larger than she had expected.
Oh, horse apples, I’m way too low. That’s what you get for not paying attention. She twisted her wings up, catching the air and jerking herself out of the dive. A jolt of pain shot down her wings as she flew up, and she struggled just to keep herself level.
Great, now you can’t even do a nose-dive without screwing it up. She was still climbing, but had lost so much energy on the botched turn up that she was crawling compared to the speed she expected. By all rights, she should abort at this point. She could just take another gentle climb and try the nose-dive again, or even take a break to give her wings time to rest for a bit. Or just go home.
She felt herself slide for a second, letting the air pass through her feathers and her momentum seep away. But the wind had other ideas, warm air suddenly blowing from below and keeping her rising. A thermal like this was rare in Ponyville. Gotta take that as a sign!
Rainbow started to flap, slowly, but with more force on the downward stroke. With each push, she was getting faster and faster, rising higher and higher, making it easier to ignore the throbbing ache in her wing sockets. The wind was like a faithful friend, pushing her to greatness, giving her the energy she needed, and filling her with a confidence that could never come from a simple cheer.
Almost there... The disastrous nose-dive had turned into an ascent that Rainbow had never felt before. Now, in the cold, thin, air, she knew all the parts were in place. The wind below her began to die, and she tucked her wings close to her sides, sucking in a groan as her right wing folded into place. Rainbow was almost at her zenith, and after so many failures, she was ready.
Air Heart's words rang through her head: “Nothing is ever easy...
“but there is always...
Everything was silent, save for a tiny whistle of wind in her ears. She felt the pull of the earth fade as her body held still, the weightless strands of her mane surrounding her head. Moonbeams suspended each one, creating a thousand faint stars around her, all glowing different colors of the rainbow.
The wind was getting louder...
A shrieking blast of air rammed into her at that moment, snapping her wings against her back and knocking her off balance. Rainbow yelped as she tumbled down, head over hooves over wings over rump.
Not good. She was starting to spin faster.
“YEEOOOUCH!!” she howled as lightning bolts of pain shot down both her wings and into her wing sockets. Even though the pain was intense, it didn’t overwhelm her. That was a good sign – her nervous system was intact, and her brain was in control.
Rainbow tried to flex her wings and stop her tumble to regain controlled flight. Her left wing moved, in agony, but her right just shuddered uselessly by her side. Without both wings, there was no way to glide, much less fly.
Don’t panic, Rainbow Dash, you’ve trained for this. At this altitude, she would have at least a minute of free-fall. One wing was disabled – maybe a sprain or dislocation – but she still had one functional wing. That was enough for the three Cs: Control, Chute, Cushion.
The voice of her emergency flight instructor barked in her head.
Control: use your good wing to stop any spins. Then, lean into your injured wing, so that the good wing acts as a rudder.
Rainbow half-extended her left wing, focusing on stopping her roll and pitch. As she began to slow her spin, she pushed her wing further out and up, correcting her yaw. Then she leaned to her right, leaving her left wing dragging behind her. In a few seconds, she had control.
Chute: gently lift your good wing until it’s perpendicular to your back, causing you to fall hooves first. Then, extend your legs to your sides to increase drag.
She raised her left wing, wincing as the wind rattling through her feathers felt like needles prickling her skin. When her belly was pointed at the ground, she stretched out her legs and felt herself slow down.
Cushion: choose a landing zone that is safe for both you and everypony on the ground. If there is a practice mat out, that is your first choice. Steer towards it, and brace for impact.
Rainbow scanned the ground of Ponyville for a practice mat - square air-filled bladders that pegasus parents and coaches would put out when their foals were learning to fly above a safe height - but saw none.
The next best choice was piled hay, like on a farm or used as roofing material. There she was in luck: a lot of the houses in Ponyville were roofed with hay thick enough to break her fall. Sure, she’d wreck the place on the way down, but she’d live to pay for the damage, and there was no risk of injuring somepony on the ground, since they’d all be out of the house and at work or school...
No no no NO! It’s nighttime, they’ll all be home sleeping. Everypony in the house she landed on would be at risk. Even after breaking through the roof, if she directly struck one of them, she’d be going fast enough to cripple a full grown pony. Or kill a young foal. Like Scootaloo...
Buildings were not an option, and she saw no hay carts or anything else that could be safe for her. She had no choice: she was going to slam into the ground of Ponyville, stamped rock-hard daily by a thousand pony hooves.
There was no hope of her surviving that.
No, please, I don’t want to die! Rainbow begged as her stomach twisted into a knot and her heart began to race. Tears welled up in her eyes and began to stream past her face. The “pegasplat” joke from Junior Speedster Flight Camp crept into her mind, suddenly far crueler than she remembered it ever being. What do you call a pony with two wings, a six-pack of hard cider, and...
Quit it, Rainbow.
There’s nothing that’ll change what’s going to happen to you, so stop thinking about it. But you’ve still got a choice to make, one that’s going to have consequences, whether or not you’re there to see them. Wherever you land, somepony nearby is going to find you, and she’ll have to tell your friends. You can still steer, so you control where you land, and who finds you.
She might be able to reach the edge of the Everfree Forest, and try to hide what happened, but that would be stupid. With Twilight’s magic, it was certain that the crash site would be discovered, perhaps weeks or months later, but still while the anxiety of her disappearance was fresh. Until then, the other ponies would worry, the uncertainty eating at them.
Rainbow wanted her friends to find out as quickly as possible: the sooner they could start grieving, the sooner they would stop. She didn’t want any of them to find out from a stranger, or by overhearing a rumor. And she didn’t want any foals to see her on the ground. That was the kind of image that would scar a kid in ways that couldn’t be seen. Or healed.
One of her friends had to be the first to find her. I have to choose one of them, and try to reach her before...
Rainbow thought of Applejack first, but there was no way she could get to Sweet Apple Acres in time. At best, she’d land midway on the road to AJ’s farm, where one of AJ’s customers could find her and be too distraught to buy anything. Or the Cutie Mark Crusaders might see her on their way to a club meeting.
That crazy tree fort of a house that Fluttershy called home was in reach. But she’s useless.
Rainbow didn’t mean that. It’s like the others say, she’s so sensitive. There’s no way she’d be able to tell them without breaking down. And she should learn what happened when all her friends are there to support her.
She barely considered Rarity. After she saw me, she’d need a whole army of masseuse ponies to work the stress out of her. Plus, so many image-conscious ponies visited Carousel Boutique now; the mere rumor of a tragedy near her shop could be disastrous for Rarity’s business.
Egghead… no way. Twilight had so much faith in her magic, if Rainbow landed in the library’s front yard, that shut-in would blame herself for not catching the falling pegasus… which would be impossible at this speed. And what if Spike saw you on the ground first?
It had to be Pinkie Pie – she was the only pony left. But even as Rainbow searched for Sugar Cube Corner below, her mind filled with all the mean things she had said to Pinkie, and the brutal things she had wanted to say.
I’m so, so sorry Pinks, Rainbow prayed as her heart filled with remorse. There’s no way I can repay you, or even deserve your help, but you’re the only one who can do this. Please, be strong for our friends, help them understand. And move on.
She stretched her left wing out, angling herself to hit near the storage sheds behind Sugar Cube Corner. That way, Pinkie would see her before any customers got to the shop for their morning muffins. Maybe the sound of impact would be enough to wake her, and she could deal with Rainbow before the crash disrupted Sugar Cube’s business.
Rainbow felt her breathing slow down, and she began to think about Pinkie. For a pony whose special talent was parties, Pinkie was much tougher than she ever let on - who else had her own song about laughing at horrible sights? She might not be able to laugh when she saw what happened, but she’d get over it faster than the others could, and then she’d start cheering their friends up, Pinke Pie-style.
Pinks will probably be pranking them next week, or baking them all cookies. First thing she’ll do, though, is take their minds off of everything by throwing a killer party after...
The air caught in Rainbow’s throat and the knot in her stomach threatened to twist her in half. The ground was rushing towards her, only seconds away, and any inner peace she had built up was shattered by the fact that these would be her last seconds alive.
What do I do? What would a brave pony do now? A brave pony like... like...
Like Pinkie Pie.
The idea made her giggle. And guffaw. And crack up, and whoop it up, and chortle, and snortle.
Rainbow closed her eyes as the sound of roaring wind was replaced by the peals of her own laughter. In these very last seconds, she focused on the memories of the friends she loved so much, instead of the purple orb that had suddenly appeared in front of her.
* * * * *
Rainbow heard a snort, followed by a familiar giggle.
So, is this supposed to be my life flashing before my eyes? she wondered. I didn’t think it would be so... random.
“Ohmygosh Rainbow Dash you were going so fast my tail just started going crazy and then shooooo-bam! you hit my balloon and all the air blew out and at first I was like whoa! but then we were both falling down and I was like wheeee! and now let’s do it again! Oooooooh,” Pinkie’s voice was suddenly much closer, “that’s a cool trick with your wing. How do you get it to go backwards like that?”
Rainbow opened her eyes. The purple fabric of a mostly deflated hot air balloon surrounded her. Large bulges of trapped air seemed to roll underneath it, occasionally wobbling in reaction to Pinkie’s frantic movements besides her. There were smaller bulges too, these on top of the balloon, each shaped vaguely like the letter S with one end thicker than the rest and a thin stake protruding from the bottom. And they’re pink.
She lifted her head and turned, hesitantly, to look at her right side. Pinkie was standing over it, her nose almost buried in Rainbow’s twisted wing. It still hurt, but now the rest of her body was so sore that the throbbing pain in her wings felt less important.
“It’s, uh, not supposed to bend that way.” Rainbow pushed herself up with her forelegs to sit on her haunches. “Sorry about crashing into you like that. I guess you were making a late night baked goods delivery?”
“Oh, no, silly, nothing like that! You see, yesterday I was walking around the whole town counter-clockwise to find out if I saw more ponies that way than when I walk around town clockwise, or if clocks have nothing to do with seeing ponies, unless you’ve got an appointment, then you want to be sure your clock is wound up good, but you don’t want to get wound up because then you’ll be a meanie...”
“Pinkie Pie!” Rainbow snapped, red in the face. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“So, you were walking around town.”
“Oh yeah!” Pinkie smiled. “Then I happened to walk under your house, but this time I took a good hard look up at it and realized there was something missing!”
A part floated away, and I didn’t notice? “What?”
“So I went right to the bird statuette shop and got all these plastic pink flamingos! See?” Pinkie picked up one of the S-shaped bulges in her teeth and tossed it in front of Rainbow. The blue pony craned her neck to examine the shape more closely, noting grooves on the surface that could pass for eyes, a beak, and wings. It definitely looked flamingo-ish.
“I figured I’d pack them all into Twilight’s balloon and then tonight fly up to your house and decorate it while you were asleep. Wouldn’t that be exciting? No way it’d be more exciting then when you crashed into the balloon, but still!”
“That’s a neat gift, I think. Thanks.” Rainbow felt tired, but she didn’t want to leave yet. She sat still and thought. There’s something else I’ve gotta tell her, but...
Wait a minute.
Rainbow gave Pinkie a puzzled look. “Why would you do it while I was asleep?”
A mischievous smile played at the corners of Pinkie’s mouth, and she tapped her front hoof against the ground. “Well, it wasn’t exactly a gift...”
The strength vanished from Rainbow’s forelegs and she sank to the ground. She tried to laugh, but only sensed water welling up at the bottom of her eyes. Must be the pain...
“Oh, I’m so sorry Rainbow Dash, did I hurt your feelings? I didn’t mean to! I just thought it’d be a fun prank!” Pinkie was by her side, placing a comforting hoof on her back.
“No, it’s not that...” Rainbow wiped tears from her eyes. She searched for the right thing to say, but the words she needed just didn’t seem to exist. Moments ago, she would have given anything for a second chance like this. And now I’m blowing it.
She lifted her head to meet Pinkie’s eyes. “It’s a great prank. Best prank ever.” Rainbow tried to smile, but as she felt her tears return, she lunged for Pinkie, wrapping her forelegs around Pinkie’s neck and burying her face in her friend’s fluffy pink mane. Pinkie cooed and patted Rainbow on the back.
“This- this isn’t a hug,” Rainbow stammered, pulling her face out of Pinkie’s hair. “I’m just, uh... I think I may have injured my back legs in the fall. So, I shouldn’t put any weight on them. How about carrying me to the hospital?” She nodded to one of her hind legs and wagged it limply.
“Okey dokey lokey!” Pinkie leaned down and helped the pegasus climb up. It was awkward, but Rainbow could steady herself on Pinkie’s shoulders and nestle her body into Pinkie’s back.
“And when we’re done at the hospital,” Pinkie said, springing into the air, “you can help me make cupcakes!”
Rainbow cringed. “Please, Pinkie, no hopping. Just walk slow and gentle, ok?”
As Pinkie began to walk, inexplicably reciting a list of all the different kinds of cupcakes in Equestria, Rainbow laid her head down on the earth pony’s neck. At this rate, it’d be half an hour before they reached the hospital - or more, if Pinkie had to take a break. Rainbow didn’t mind. They could take their time.