After her brief stint on Pinkie's copter, sleep had eluded Rainbow Dash for the rest of the night. She had landed back on solid ground, and made her way back to the couch to grab some shut-eye.
But as she lay on the couch, listening to the sounds of Fluttershy's sleeping critters, she realised that her short flight, rather than helping fill a void, had in fact made it wider. After weeks of being grounded, she'd gotten the barest whiff of her craving.
And she wanted more. So much more. Rainbow Dash closed her eyes, not to sleep, but instead to get a better picture for her memories. She tried conjuring up every instance of flight, trying to recall what she had felt during those times. The ghost of a smile tugged at her lips. Her entire life revolved around flying. She had a lot of memories to go through. So many, in fact, that she didn't even notice as Fluttershy returned home, briefly pausing next to the couch to watch her.
Fluttershy stifled a sigh. As much as she felt the need to talk to her fellow pegasus, as she had done with their farmpony friend, she didn't want to wake Rainbow. She probably still needs to cool off, she thought as she headed up the stairs to her bed. It could wait until morning.
Oblivious to her host's presence, Rainbow Dash continued wandering through her thoughts, conjuring up her numerous tricks, running them through her mind over and over again, as she usually did when not actively trying them out. She even let her imagination loose, adding the Wonderbolts to her tricks, the adulation of fans...
Rainbow Dash shifted on the couch in an attempt to get more comfortable, and flinched. The feeling of the fabric touching her sides directly was a sharp reminder that she sorely lacked a key component for being a Wonderbolt. Desperate to escape the reminder, she turned back towards tangible memories, rather than impossible fantasies.
Her thoughts inevitably turned towards what was possibly her greatest moments: the Sonic Rainboom. Her feat was still unmatched by any other pegasus, and she would go down in history as having performed what many thought of an old mare's tale not only once, but twice. Her earliest display had even been as a young filly, causing a revelation of a love of speed, and had been the source of her cutie mark.
Not only hers, as she'd later learned, but of all her friends. All six had earned their cutie marks within hours of each other, creating a bond that they wouldn't discover until much later. The thought caused her to smirk, being reminded of another set of fillies desperate to get their own cutie marks, instead creating a bond not too dissimilar to Rainbow's own. She'd even tried to help them occasionally, which had turned out to be quite useless.
Her eyes suddenly snapped open as she remembered one such attempt. That's it. That's it!
She closed her eyes, relaxing for the first time in days. She knew exactly what she was going to do.
She was going shopping.
The following afternoon, Rainbow Dash trotted out of the Ponyville bank with a sack of bits in her mouth. She normally kept her cash at home, but that was currently inaccessible, forcing her to dip into her savings, the existence of which would probably have shocked most of her friends.
After the best night's sleep she'd had in ages, Rainbow Dash had snuck away from Fluttershy's cottage, intent on her goal. Thinking about the three fillies that tended to terrorize the town had made her remember the younger Apple's desperate quest for a cutie mark before the cute-ceañera. Rainbow Dash had attempted to help in the best way she knew: try everything possible as quickly as possible.
One of the things she'd made Applebloom try was hang gliding. It was such a simple solution to her problem, she didn't know why she hadn't thought of it before. It was basically like gliding with wings that weren't your own. How hard could it be?
With a determined spring in her step, she marched into the Ponyville sports shop, an establishment she had visited more than once for her various sports equipment and apparel needs. This was, however, the first time she'd be getting anything directly flight related. She glanced to the ceiling, from which half a dozen different gliders were hanging.
As she took them in, a pegasus stallion approached her from the counter. "Need help with anything?" He asked. He wore a shirt colored after the shop's logo, his cutie mark showing off a tennis racket, a bowling pin, and a baseball bat leaning on each other. She'd seen him on previous visits; it was the shop owner.
Rainbow Dash spat out her bag of bits and held it in her hoof. "Yeah, I want the best glider you have. Bits are no issue."
Had she been looking at his face, she would have seen the stallion's eyes light up in glee. "You're in luck, we've just gotten a new shipment. See that one?" He asked, pointing towards a blue glider with a familiar yellow thunderbolt symbol. "That's an official Wonderbolts-endorsed glider right there! Top of the line. They're the best flyers around, you know?"
Rainbow Dash nodded, a grin playing on her face. "Believe me, I know." She said, before frowning. "But wait... why would the Wonderbolts need a glider? They're pegasi!"
The owner's ears flopped downwards as his face betrayed a vague worry. "Well, I..."
"And for that matter," Rainbow continued, ignoring the stammered attempts at an explanation. "The colors are wrong. The blue is darker than that, and the logo's the wrong way around!"
"T-tell you what," The owner said, after clearing his throat. "I'll give you a discount on it, if you don't tell anyone about all that?"
Rainbow Dash snorted. A discount was tempting, but... she paused as she spotted a glider nearly hidden away amongst the rest. It was sleek, and looked like it could cut through the air like a knife through butter. The entire thing was a bright orange, with hints of gold flames on the wings, ending in red wingtips. It looked... awesome.
She pointed a hoof towards it, and grinned. "Gimme a discount on that one and we have a deal."
She left the shop a few minutes later, pulling a cart the owner had generously decided to donate to her, her purchase sitting within. She glanced around, and sped out of town, heading to the hills.
She was going to need plenty of height for this.
Fluttershy blinked as she stepped out of her kitchen. She had spent a few minutes preparing breakfast for her animals, having left the sleeping Rainbow Dash on the couch. But as she returned to dish out the meals, she noticed the sudden absence of her fellow pegasus.
Her brow furrowed in consternation. Oh dear... she thought, where did she go? She didn't even have breakfast! For Rainbow Dash, skipping breakfast was like asking Pinkie Pie to not organize a party. It was nigh unthinkable.
Yet here she was. Or rather, wasn't. Fluttershy sighed in frustration. After the mess Pinkie had caused, Fluttershy thought she had managed to get through to Applejack. The words and the presence of the farmpony's brother had certainly helped, and even with the abrupt closure of the conversation, Fluttershy believed that some of her words had struck home. At least, she hoped they had.
She had wanted to talk to Rainbow Dash as well, but hadn't wanted to wake her up... and now, the pegasus had vanished. Sighing, Fluttershy turned back to her animals, who had started jumping in impatience. She quickly bent to the floor, having forgotten the bowl in her mouth, and looked out of the window as she straightened.
She has to come back eventually... she thought, turning back to her chores. Whatever Rainbow Dash was doing was clearly important enough to skip breakfast. Fluttershy would wait for her friend to return.
Rainbow Dash sat back, her haunches on the ground as she beheld her hoofwork. She wasn't one for building or crafts, and following directions bored her to tears, but she felt she could be proud of what she had made.
She pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes, and stared at the glider's design. The glider stood proudly on its struts, the metal gleaming in the sun. It looked solid, ready to take on every trick she planned on putting it through. The wings' orange fabric stretched taut across the frame, spanning the entire fifty hoof wingspan, wrapping itself over and under the metal, creating the aerodynamic shape that would cut through the air.
She grinned, and would have patted herself on the back if she could. Rainbow, that's a job well done. She was especially glad she had not gone for the lame attempt at a Wonderbolt glider. She was the first to admit she was totally gung-ho about anything related to them, and had nothing else been available, she would have given in and bought it, but...
The golden yellow flames spreading from the glider's nose, stretching across the orange material, and ending with the bright red wingtips... the entire thing had caught her attention and hadn't let go.
Finally ready, Rainbow Dash stood up, and began strapping herself into the glider. Time to get serious. Time for action.
Time to fly.
"Ah'm telling you, this is silly!" A voice grumbled, as a trio of young ponies made their way through the Whitetail Woods. "What kind of cutie mark do you get for stalkin' anyway?"
"It's not stalking, Applebloom! It's tracking!" Scootaloo replied as she pushed her scooter along, and glared at her friend.
"Ah don't see the difference..."
"That's easy," The young pegasus replied. "The difference is... uh... Sweetie Belle, help?"
The third member of the group answered as they moved through a bush. "Stalking is following ponies around, and tracking is following their hoofprints!"
"... Still don't see the difference." Applebloom muttered, glancing at the sky. The light was starting to dim, the day starting to draw to a close. "We should probably head back girls; it's startin' to get late!"
Scootaloo smirked at her fellow crusader. "What, are you scared of the dark?"
Applebloom's ears flattened on her head as she glared. "No, Ah just don't want Applejack yellin' at me for stayin' out late." She said, before being interrupted by a growl. "And Ah'm hungry."
"But we're almost there!"
"How could you possibly know that?!"
"Because the tracks are... um.. getting deeper?" Scootaloo grinned sheepishly, pointing at the tracks. Applebloom looked at them, then back at her friend, raising an eyebrow.
"Y'all have no idea what that means, do you."
Off to the side, Sweetie Belle's voice attempted to interrupt the two arguing fillies. "Um, guys..."
"I do too!" Scootaloo retorted, glaring at the farmfilly.
"Guys?" Sweetie Belle repeated, attempting to get a word in edgewise.
"Do not! We're lost again, aren't we?"
"I know exactly where we are!"
Applebloom snorted. "Yeah? So where are we?" She said, waving a hoof at her surroundings.
"We're right on target!"
"WHAT?!" The other two yelled, rounding on the interruptor.
"The tracks lead up this hill, and there's something on top of it!"
The argument temporarily forgotten, the three charged up the hill, intent on discovering just what they had spent their day following. Arriving first, Applebloom looked around at the objects strewn all over. "So we came all this way for a cart, some tools, and a box?"
Scootaloo shook her head in confusion. "I don't understand, somepony must have pulled it here! Keep looking for tracks!"
"There's nothin' here, Scoots!" Applebloom said, exasperation evident in her tone. "We're on a cliff and there's no sign of anythin' else here!" She poked a hoof towards the box, checking the packaging exterior. "Just some box for a... hang glider?"
As one, the three fillies looked up, starting to scan the darkening sky. Eventually, they spotted a large object skimming under the clouds, gracefully riding the air currents only it could feel. Applebloom squinted, attempting to make out who the pilot could be. "Who is that?"
"It's Rainbow Dash!" Scootaloo enthusiastically replied, her sharp eyes picking out more detail than either of her friends.
"Do you think she sees us?" Sweetie Belle asked, keeping her eyes trained on the flying pony.
Scootaloo shrugged. "I don't know. Let's ask her!" She said, drawing a deep breath. But before she could yell at her idol, a hoof lodged itself in her mouth. She turned on its owner, utterly confused.
"Don't..." Applebloom answered the questioning look. "She hasn't felt very good lately."
"What do you mean?" Scootaloo asked, after spitting out the yellow hoof.
"She had a big fight with my Sis." Applebloom explained, looking down at the ground. "And she seemed pretty down 'fore that." She looked up, staring at Scootaloo. "Ah think we should leave her alone."
"But..." Scootaloo replied, conflicted. "We could cheer her up?"
"Hey guys..." Sweetie Belle interrupted. "Is that normal?"
Three sets of eyes locked onto the glider, which was no longer soaring through the air. Instead, it was spinning, the nose pointed downwards in what looked like an uncontrolled freefall. The fillies could only stare as the glider kept falling towards the earth, picking up speed the whole time.
"Pull up..." The young pegasus whispered, unable to look away. "Pull up pull up pull up..."
Unfortunately, her whispers landed on deaf ears, and the glider plunged into the mass of trees below the cliffs. They gasped in shock as the snapping of branches were heard, followed by a resounding crash and the sound of breaking metal. The three fillies glanced at each other in horror, then sped down the hill in the direction of the crash.
It took them longer than they would have liked to arrive at the scene of the accident, as the thick woods hid the crash from view. As they arrived, they gasped in shock at the sight. The glider was on its side, one wing twisted at almost a right angle, holes torn throughout the fabric. Rainbow Dash lay on her side on the ground, still strapped into the glider, and wasn't moving. The three fillies rushed forwards, yelling the older mare's name.
"Dash! Rainbow Dash!" Scootaloo yelled, frantically looking for a way to undo the straps. For a moment, despair filled her as there was no reply, until she heard a groaning sound from her idol. "Rainbow! Are you okay?!"
"She just crashed, Scoots! Of course she ain't okay!"
"M'fine..." Rainbow Dash mumbled, cracking an eye open. "No need t'yell..."
Scootaloo blinked away tears of relief as she heard the older pony talk. "Rainbow!"
"Tha's me..." Rainbow replied, opening her eyes and lifting her head. She looked at the three fillies staring at her, then ran her gaze over her surroundings, ending on the glider's pitiful state. "Aw man... I just bought this thing..."
Sweetie Belle cleared her throat, drawing Rainbow's seemingly wandering attention. "Um... do you need help?"
Rainbow Dash shook her head, weakly struggling against the straps. She winced as she tried to move her forelegs. "Eh... maybe a little help..." She said, closing her eyes. She still felt a little groggy from the impact. They opened once more what felt like moments later, as the straps holding her loosened their hold.
"Okay, you're free!" Scootaloo said, stepping back. "Do you need help getting up?" She asked, as Rainbow Dash struggled to rise.
"I'm okay..." The older pony replied, lifting herself on three legs. The fourth hung limply, dragging on the ground.
"Are you sure?" Applebloom asked, eyeing the leg in question. "That don't look so good..."
"Yeah!" Rainbow replied, wincing as she lifted the leg up. Gently, she lowered it to the ground to put some weight on it. "See, all gooAAAGH!"
The three fillies jumped as Rainbow yelled, watching her collapse before they had a chance to move. Scootaloo rushed forward, the scene having scared her badly. "Rainbow? Rainbow?!"
"She passed out..." Sweetie said. "She must be hurt bad!"
"Scootaloo!" Applebloom said as she saw the pegasus run off. "Where you goin'?"
Scootaloo stopped running, lifting her scooter off the ground. "I'm gonna get help! You guys stay here!"
"It's getting dark! You can't leave her alone! And don't let her move again!" She said, before speeding off in the direction they had come from, intent on one goal: the Ponyville hospital.
Behind her, the two fillies stood guard above the fallen pony.
For what felt like the fiftieth time, Fluttershy lifted her eyes from the novel she was reading. She just couldn't concentrate on the words, nor on anything else. Every hour after she had noticed Rainbow's absence had just made her increasingly distracted. She'd almost ruined her animals' dinner not too long ago due to not paying attention, and only a nut launched at her head by Angel had snapped her out of it.
Fluttershy sighed, shaking her head. Rainbow will come back when she wants to come back, there's no point in getting worried... Her train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a knock. Momentarily startled, she picked herself off the couch and headed to her home's front door. "Oh Dash," She chided as she opened it. "You know you don't have to kno- Oh!" She paused, eyeing the decidedly non Dash-like pegasus at her door. "Hello... can I help you?"
"Are you Miss... Fluttershy?" The pegasus asked, after consulting a clipboard he had handy. She blinked, nodding at the stranger who seemed to know her name. She then noticed the white smock he was wearing, and the name tag from the Ponyville hospital.
Her nervousness suddenly became intense worry. "Oh my... has something happened?"
The orderly glanced up from his clipboard. "Ma'am, you are listed in our records as the next-of-kin for a certain Miss... Rainbow Dash. She's currently in the hospital after an accideACK!"
The poor pegasus' words were cut off as Fluttershy launched herself into the air like a rocket, bowling him over. He blinked in confusion at what exactly had just happened. He blinked again as he heard a muted "I'msorryI'msorryI'msorryI'msorry!" from the pegasus that had knocked him over as she came back and helped him up, before flying off once more, making a beeline for the hospital.
Fluttershy took a deep breath as she landed in front of Twilight's library, attempting to calm her breathing. She'd been in a mad rush since leaving the hospital, after having briefly visited Rainbow Dash in her room. Once she was certain that Rainbow was in good hooves, she'd left the hospital, intent on informing all their friends as fast as she could. The Cutie Mark Crusaders had stayed behind, planning on guarding Dash's door until somepony could bring them home, or the hospital staff chased them away.
Fluttershy had already been to Sweet Apple Acres. No matter how the two felt right now... Applejack had to be told. Unfortunately, she hadn't been home. Instead, Fluttershy had found Applejack's brother.
"Howdy, Miss Fluttershy... what's got you all worked up?" The stallion asked as he eyed Fluttershy's slightly disheveled mane.
"Where's Applejack? Rainbow Dash got hurt!" She said, pacing around in a panic.
"Calm down... How bad is it?"
"She's in the hospital right now... I've already told Rarity and Pinkie..." She suddenly stomped a hoof in frustration. "Oh, where is Applejack! There's only her and Twilight left!"
The stallion blinked at the uncharacteristic display from the normally quiet pegasus, before regaining his normal unflappable attitude. "She's out trainin' again."
Fluttershy heaved a sigh of relief. "Oh, I'll just fly there and tell her then." She said, turning around, but paused as she felt a large hoof on her foreleg.
"Not that way. She's been trainin' on a different hill since the fight. Ah think you can guess why." He let his hoof drop back to the floor as he continued. "You go see Miss Twilight. Ah'll go tell her." He said, as he trotted out of the farmhouse.
Fluttershy walked up to the door, briefly wondering why the library was dark. It wasn't that late, and Twilight generally stayed up until all hours of the night anyway. But then Fluttershy spotted the note hanging from the door. She quickly scanned it, her ears drooping as she read the contents. Of all the times to not be home, Twilight had picked this... Fluttershy sighed as she turned around, lifting off into the air once more.
Minutes later, she landed at a small cottage. An extra trip had been in order; she couldn't wait until Twilight's return, whenever the unicorn decided that would be. Since Spike was also absent, there was only one way to get a message to her. She gently knocked on the door, hoping she wasn't waking anypony up. Fluttershy knew Derpy's job could be fairly exhausting, so the mailmare could already be asleep. The lights shining through the window gave her hope, however.
The door promptly opened, giving Fluttershy a momentary shock as no one seemed behind it. She then glanced downwards, spotting the small shape holding the door open. "Oh! Hello Dinky, is your mother around?"
The young filly nodded before speaking. "She's asleep though..."
"Oh..." Fluttershy replied, at a loss. "Um... can you wake her up? This is pretty important."
Dinky shook her head. "I'm sorry... She's impossible to wake up once she goes to sleep."
"Oh dear... can you take a message then? This needs to be sent as soon as possible!"
The filly nodded, rushing into the house, and returning moments later with a quill and some paper. Fluttershy nodded gratefully, and sat down to write a letter to Twilight. She just hoped it would reach her soon.
"Ah told you guards have to be quiet!" Applebloom hissed at Scootaloo, as the Cutie Mark Crusaders sat in the waiting room under Rarity's watchful eye. They had volunteered to guard Rainbow Dash's room, which an eye-rolling nurse had allowed them to do. The nurse, however, had come to regret this decision.
Instead of quietly standing in front of the door, as any normal guard would do, the three fillies had become a whirlwind of motion, grabbing any loose piece of furniture or object not bolted down. Within a few minutes, they had constructed what could only be described as a fort in front of the door to Rainbow Dash's room, complete with guard posts and a rotating shift.
It had taken all the nurse's self control to not shout at them, and they had mercifully been spared any punishment by the arrival of Pinkie Pie, who had distracted the nurse with her pleas of direction towards Rainbow Dash's room. Shortly thereafter, Rarity had walked through the door. The two had stayed with Rainbow a while, but had since left the room. The nurses had informed them that Rainbow Dash was under sedatives, and would not be waking up for some time yet, but she would be informed of their visit upon waking. They were now just waiting for Fluttershy to return, as she'd promised.
"Yeah well, that pony looked suspicious!" The young pegasus retorted, crossing her forelegs.
"It was a patient goin' to the bathroom!"
"How could I know that?!"
"Girls!" Rarity interrupted, glaring at them. "Please be quiet. There are ponies resting here!" Before she could berate them some more, Fluttershy walked through the front door. Rarity caught sight of her and trotted over to her friend, where she and Pinkie Pie, who had appeared out of nowhere, talked to the pegasus quietly. The fillies strained to hear what was being said, but they were too far to make out anything past the occasional glance in their direction.
Eventually, the three mares split up. Pinkie headed out of the hospital, while Fluttershy and Rarity made their way to the Crusaders. "Girls!" Rarity said, beaming at them. "How would you like a sleepover at the boutique?"
"Huh? Can't we stay here?" Sweetie said, eyeing her sister suspiciously.
Scootaloo nodded in agreement. "Yeah! We want to be there when Rainbow wakes up!"
"Now, now." The fashionista replied, shaking a hoof. "It's getting late and you three need to get in bed soon!"
"But-" Applebloom started, confused.
"Don't you worry, Applebloom. I'm sure your family will be fine with this. Now come on, visiting hours are almost over. Let's get you home."
Rarity gathered the three complaining fillies and herded them out of the hospital, giving Fluttershy a final nod. The pegasus would remain here until Rainbow Dash woke up, visiting hours be damned.
Big Macintosh slowed to a leisurely pace as he approached Applejack's training spot, wondering again why his sister was still attempting flight. It had started out as a desire to impress the grounded pegasus, to make her happy, but since the fight... He'd have thought that the reasons would have vanished along with Miss Dash's presence. But no, his sister was still here, every day. Stubborn to a fault, that one.
He caught sight of her, halfway up the hill. She must have just made another attempt, if the scratches and scrapes he saw on her were any indication. He sped up, catching up as he called out to her.
The wings on her back fluttered momentarily as she turned her head to face him. "Big Macintosh? What're you doin' here?"
"Ah'm bringing you some news, that's what."
"Well then spit it out!" She said, as she kept walking up the hill.
"Miss Dash was out flying a glider, and got into a nasty crash."
Applejack pace froze for a second, a hoof remaining in the air before she kept walking forward. She snorted in response. "Ha! Let me guess, tricks and stunts with no supervision, right?"
This time, it was Big Macintosh's turn to stop in shock. "Applejack!" He cried, the force of his voice giving her pause. "Ah'm surprised at you. Miss Dash was sorely hurt!"
Applejack frowned, eyeing her brother suspiciously. "What the hay are you talking about? It's Dash. She's never hurt. She blew up our old barn without getting hurt!" She pointed at him angrily, trying to make sense of his words. ""She spent a single day in the hospital for a break that would'a put anypony else down for weeks!"
"Well, something went wrong. She's laid up in the hospital again. And even if she weren't hurt, since when have you laughed at the misfortune oh your friends? Pa didn't raise us like that." He glared at her, something he didn't do often, and didn't like doing. "Ah'm disappointed in you."
At the mention of their father, Applejack's angry expression simply melted away, replaced with shame as her brother's words washed over her. He's right. What the hay am Ah doin'... she thought, staring at the ground. Laughin' at my friend's' expense. She squeezed her eyes shut. That ain't me. Ah can't keep this up.
Big Macintosh remained silent, wondering if he'd been too harsh. It was true, however. He'd never expected Applejack to react like she had. That was not how she was. But before he could think of anything else to say, she abruptly looked up, a determined look on her face. She grabbed her hat and flung it at him. He caught it in his teeth by instinct, not having had time to think.
"Hol' on to that for me, will you?" Applejack asked, looking away as he nodded. "There's somethin' Ah've got to do."
Big Macintosh watched as his sister charged down the hill, galloping at full tilt. She raced down to about halfway down the hill, and then... lifted off. Big Macintosh smiled, lifting the hat to his head as he watched the sight.
She didn't jump. She didn't glide. She just flew.