"I just need to take care of something in Ponyville." Rainbow Dash said the following morning. "I'll be back later."
"You sure you don't want some company?" Applejack asked, wary at the suddenness of this errand's arrival. She remembered how Rainbow Dash's mood seemed to dip in the past few days. She had gone from an enthusiastic ball of energy to glum and glowering, which confused Applejack all the more since the flying practice had been the pegasus's suggestion in the first place.
From all the time and effort spent trying to convince Applejack to go along with the idea, Rainbow Dash had made it sound like it would have been the best thing ever, short of getting the wings back herself. Seeing her like this made Applejack worry to no end. She had put her all into this training, hoping that Rainbow Dash would see and appreciate the effort. She'd even gotten some of Rainbow's favorite food for dinner, which seemed to work, but its effect had not lasted past the dinner itself. She couldn't think of what else to do, and the worry gnawed at her.
"Nah," Rainbow Dash answered, putting a grin on her face. "I'm a grown mare, I can handle it on my own. Plus Fluttershy will be waiting if you don't head out yourself."
Applejack frowned. Even she could see that the grin was forced, yet her friend had made a good point. Fluttershy was likely already waiting on the hill, ready to help out with further flight coaching. She couldn't just leave her standing.
And so Rainbow Dash found herself staring at the Library door. For the merest moment, a sense of unfamiliarity presented itself to her, as she considered that she rarely seemed to use the door, and normally using the windows instead. But that was currently impossible, so she simply raised a hoof and knocked. Moments later the door opened, revealing the shape of a baby dragon.
"Hey Dash!" Spike grinned. "What's up?"
"Heya Spike," she answered, giving him a friendly noogie. Unlike most, he actually enjoyed them, as it scratched the occasional itch between his scales. "Is Twilight in?" she asked as she let him go.
"Yup, she's busy reading." He rolled his eyes. "Not that that's new."
Dash laughed, for what felt like the first time in days. She walked into the Library, aiming towards the stairs to Twilight's room, but paused as she caught a glimpse of purple out of the corner of her eye. There stood Twilight, nose buried in a book, in the middle of the library proper. She hadn't noticed that a guest had arrived, still intent on her reading.
"Hey, Twilight!" Dash said, but got no reaction. She cleared her throat, and tried again. "HEY, TWILIGHT!" She yelled, causing the unicorn to cry out in surprise.
"What in the hay- oh, Dash!" Twilight relaxed at the sight of her grinning friend. "You almost scared my horn off."
Rainbow Dash stared at Twilight in utter confusion. "Scared your... is that even possible?"
"No!" Twilight paused a moment, thinking. "Well.. no, at least I've never read about it! It's just an expression. Don't you pegasi have something like that?"
"Uh..." Rainbow wracked her brains. "Oh! Yeah, scaring the feathers off your wings," she said, flaring her wings for emphasis. Or trying to, having momentarily forgotten her situation.
Twilight's ears drooped, noticing the shift in her friend's attitude. "Um. Sorry... anyway! What are you doing here?" she asked, tilting her head. "You're always at Sweet Apple Acres lately. I haven't seen you in days!"
"Well..." Rainbow started, her hoof rubbing the back of her head. I am spending all my time there, aren't I? She then caught herself. "Wait. Back up, why aren't you in bed?!"
Twilight glared at Rainbow, sighing loudly. "Oh please. I've been in there almost three weeks now. I'm fine." she said, holding a hoof up to stop Rainbow's interruption. "I've been fine for a few days now. Even went to the clinic yesterday. I've recovered. Clean bill of health!" She stared at the pegasus, as if daring to be contradicted.
Rainbow Dash perked up at this. "So this means you can do magic again?" she asked, a hopeful tone creeping into her voice.
Twilight remained silent, and instead simply let her horn do the talking. Rainbow yelled in surprise as she was lifted off the ground and spun upside down. She looked around, finally noticing the purple glow around her hooves, which disappeared as she was spun upright again and gently set on the floor. "Does that answer your question?"
Rainbow Dash nodded emphatically. "Good, 'cause I wanna ask you something."
"Well.. I kinda need a favor." She glanced down at her hooves.
Twilight waited, watching her friend. Why was she being so hesitant?
"I... I need you to help me fly." She said, looking up at the unicorn.
Twilight shook her head. "I can't, Rainbow. You know I haven't figured it out yet. You'd be the first to know if I did."
"Not that," Rainbow answered, shaking her head. "I just... need to fly." she said, a wild gleam in her eye. "Can't you magic something up?"
"Well, there's always Tank's machine. You could wear that as a hat!" Twilight's grin faltered as she saw the expression on her friend's face. She continued after clearing her throat. "Well, I could levitate you again but that wouldn't last long; you're heavier than you look."
"No, not like that. I need to get higher!"
"How about my balloon? That'll get you plenty high!"
Twilight struggled to think of solutions. "Uh... Pinkie's copter?"
"No!" Rainbow snorted. "I need... the wind in my hair. I need the adrenaline." she said quietly, a manic tone in her voice. "I need wings!"
Twilight frowned. "I just told you I haven't figur- oh!" she said, as realization struck her. "You... want magic wings."
"Yes!" Rainbow Dash replied, almost shouting the word. "I need to fly, Twilight. You don't understand how it is after all these weeks!"
"Actually... I kinda do, Dash." Twilight pointed towards her horn.
"Oh. Right." Dash grinned guiltily, then stared at Twilight again. "So, can you get me wings?" she asked, her face lighting up with an eager glow.
"Cool, thank-" the pegasus paused as her brain caught up with her ears. "What?" She sputtered, now yelling at full volume. "Why in the hay not?!"
"Rainbow, I've already messed you and Applejack up enough with that teleportation accident. Even if the nurses say you're fine, I'm not risking it until I've figured out how to reverse this! I have no idea what the consequences would be if I tried adding even more magic."
Rainbow Dash sat still, shell-shocked at the refusal. "But you just levitated me..."
Twilight shook her head. "Not the same. Levitation just moves your body around; the wings actually connect to where your real wings used to be." She looked at her friend, pity in her eyes. "I'm not going risk crippling you for life, Rainbow."
"Crippled, Rainbow." Twilight repeated, now glaring. "That means no flying. Ever again. I'm not willing to risk that!" Her voice softened as she saw Rainbow cringe. "Please. Just give me time to figure this out..."
The blue mare's ears drooped as she gulped "I'll... okay. I'll wait."
The pair sat in silence for a minute, one pony staring dejectedly at the floor while the other watched her. Eventually, Rainbow Dash stood up, clearing her throat. "Thanks, Twilight." She said quietly. "I... I guess I'll see you later?"
Twilight nodded. "Sure... And I'm sorry, Rainbow. Really."
The pegasus just nodded, then turned away and left the library.
Rainbow Dash wandered aimlessly through town, unwilling to return home just yet. The prospect of returning to the farm did not entice her, her brain barely registering the fact that she had not thought of her cloudhouse as home, but of Sweet Apple Acres. Instead, her mind was too focused on the storm of emotions she was feeling. Dejection was foremost, as her best chance at scratching her itch, her need to fly had been shot down. She did accept Twilight's reasoning, and understood the fact that Twilight was, truly, looking after her.
Yet she still couldn't help a simmer of anger from bubbling up. Twilight being as smart as she was, why couldn't that egghead find a solution? Why was Rainbow forced to wait this long? Why, for that matter, wasn't Princess Celestia helping out with this? She had saved the town from Twilight's doll with what seemed like a wave of a hoof. This... this wouldn't take more than a few minutes for the Goddess to fix.
But no. Instead it had been turned into... a lesson. A ponyfeathering lesson. For Twilight. Why always Twilight? What made her so special, huh?
Her anger reached a boiling point, and she acted on impulse, bucking the nearest hard object. Her hooves connected solidly with a tree, resulting in a crack that rang through the street. Shocked at its volume, Rainbow looked at the tree, gaping at how it now leaned at a precarious angle. She quickly made her escape as doors and windows started to open, startled ponies poking their heads out in an attempt to trace the source of the noise.
Slowing down as she reached the park, Rainbow angled towards a bench, and draped herself onto it. Calm down, she thought. Property damage was not a good way to vent. Not that she should have had the need to vent. Some Element of Loyalty I am. Blaming my own friend.
Even if Twilight was, truly, the cause of her current situation, she was also trying her utmost to fix it. And Rainbow, for all that she called Twilight an egghead, had faith in her friend. She'd get to the bottom of this. Rainbow just wished Twilight would manage to do so sooner, rather than later.
She took a deep breath and sighed, stretching out on the bench. Maybe a nap would help.
Rainbow Dash quietly closed the door behind her, as she exited one of Manehattan's tallest buildings. Over time, she had worked her way up the company ladder, each greater position earning her new responsibilities and titles, as well as a new office on a higher floor. It worked well as a motivation for pegasi, as the more important you became, the closer you got to the sky where every pegasus belonged.
Plus, the view from her office was pretty awesome, she had to admit. She had one of the keenest eyes in the business, able to glance at the sky and formulate a work plan for the weather ponies in moments. Her coverage of Manehattan had increased as her view expanded ever higher, and had she still been able, she would have managed entire cities and regions.
But she wasn't able, was she? She understood that, and understood as many promotions that should by rights have been given to her were instead handed to other ponies. She certainly understood it.
But it still hurt.
She angled towards her home, amongst the innumerable apartments dotting the city. She walked into the shopping district, stores lining both sides of the road with every kind of product, restaurants vying for attention with countless different aromas wafting from their kitchens.
A splash of color caught her eye, attracting her gaze to a toy shop's display. The Wonderbolts had a new plush toy added to their list, to commemorate an important event, the promotion of a new captain. Spitfire had retired many years before, along with Soarin' and many of the members Dash had been familiar with. These days, the wonderbolts were young ponies she did not recognize nor know the names of.
Except the captain. The young filly had trained long and hard, devoting years of her life to the goal. It had taken her several tries, and thus several years worth of waiting, but she had eventually been accepted into the ranks of the elite fliers. And she had worked even harder after that, a testament to her skill and determination. Her plush stood proud, the purple mane looking windswept, purple eyes staring straight ahead, the dark orange coat visible around the edges of the Wonderbolt uniform. She sure had graduated from that little scooter of hers.
Rainbow Dash couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy, but she had lost her chance long ago. She gazed at her reflection, thinking how her chance had never really existed at all. The reflection stared back. The blue coat still had its luster, but the chromatic mane was becoming faded. The years had taken their toll. She was old. Wrinkly.
Gasping for breath and biting back a cry, Rainbow Dash jolted awake, almost falling from the bench she had been lying on. She looked around, trying to recover her bearings. She blinked as the sun shone in her eyes, the Ponyville park stretching out before her. She'd apparently slept away half the day.
A dream, she thought, shuddering in relief. It was all a dream. But it had shaken her, badly. It had been so vivid, felt so real. Sliding off the bench, she started walking back to Sweet Apple Acres. She needed someplace familiar, someplace welcoming. She needed the sanctuary of home.
Meanwhile, Twilight continued to busy herself around the Library. As much as she had found the weeks quarantined in her bed annoying, she felt no desire to be outdoors. Her talk with Rainbow Dash had reinforced this, sending Twilight diving back into her books in an attempt to fix her mistake. She'd even requested numerous references on teleportation from the Royal Canterlot Archives, which had arrived during her convalescence. Unfortunately, they had not helped at all. She had gleaned a few snippets that filled some blanks in her knowledge, but nothing that was of use to her.
Sighing, she cast her magic towards one of the tomes, preparing to read it once more in the vain hope of finding something she had missed, but was interrupted by the sound of her front door crashing open. Startled, Twilight dropped the book, and spun around to face the invader.
A pink blur sped towards her, causing Twilight to instinctively teleport away. As she reappeared a few feet away, she surveyed the damage that had resulted from her avoiding none other than Pinkie Pie.
Books were piled in a heap, entirely covering Pinkie until her head popped out of the mount, grinning at Twilight. "Twilight! I heard you were better! Are you better? You look better!" she asked in her usual cheery manner.
Twilight couldn't help but smile at her friend. "Yes Pinkie, I'm fine. Though I'm still working on-"
"Yay!" the party pony shouted as she leapt at Twilight. "This calls for a party! A 'Twilight's not sick anymore' party! Oh I gotta invite everypony!"
Twilight shook her head. "That's nice Pinkie, but I've really got to work on this... I've got to help Rainbow Dash and Applejack get better too."
Pinkie gasped, shocked. "Why, are they sick too?!"
Blinking, the unicorn tilted her head in confusion. Sometimes she truly did not understand how Pinkie's mind worked. "Uh, no? I mean Dash's wings..."
"Oh yeah!" Pinkie exclaimed, then shrugged. "Maybe a 'Twilight's not sick anymore and is going to solve the problem' party?"
Twilight smiled, unable to help it. As much as Pinkie confused and sometimes even annoyed her, she truly embodied the Element of Laughter, and was always able to make her grin. "I'll think about it, Pinkie. Just give me a few days."
"Oki doki loki!" Pinkie bounced up, then paused in mid-air as she looked around the Library. "Hey!" she said as she landed. "I just noticed something!"
"What?" Twilight asked, wondering what her friend may have noticed.
"This place doesn't have several walls!" The pink pony said, pointing around. "Look! It's all just one big round wall!"
Twilight had certainly not expected that. "And you've been here how many times now...?"
"Silly, I was just wondering where I'd have to drill a hole for my party cannon! I've got to find the best angle after all!"
"Drill a..." Twilight started, then facehoofed. "Pinkie, there's a door. Why would you have to drill... a hole in a wall..."
Twilight's voice faltered as she stared at the walls in realization. She sat there, thunderstruck at an idea that weeks of study and research had not produced. Her horn started glowing, levitating a quill and parchment, on which she furiously started scribbling. I have to do a bunch of tests, but.. this could work. This could work!
Pinkie stared at Twilight, wondering what had set her off. "Twilight?" she asked, confused.
The unicorn spun around, momentarily startled at Pinkie's presence. She had completely forgotten about her. "Oh, Pinkie! You're a genius!"
"No I'm not!" Pinkie grinned happily. "I'm a pony!"
"Yes you are! And I've made up my mind! Let's get a party going!"
"But... in a few days, if possible." She asked, hesitant. She didn't know how long these experiments would take.
"Still yay!" the pink pony shouted, then bounced out of the library.
As the quiet once more filled the Library, Twilight shook her head, and set to work.
"Applejack! Are you okay?"
The orange pony shook her head, attempting to clear the numbness that the impact had caused. She had just completed her longest glide yet, her control near perfect throughout its duration, until a sudden gust of wind sent her off target. Unable to correct her trajectory, she had drifted into a tree, getting tangled in the branches and knocking her head on the trunk. Momentarily stunned, her eyes locked onto Fluttershy as her vision cleared. "Am ah on the hay?" She shouted, her ears still ringing. "Ah don't think so! Ah'm in a.. tree?"
Ignoring the confusing reply, Fluttershy put her forelegs around Applejack's midsection, and gently lifted her out of the tangle of branches. She flew back down to the ground, setting Applejack on the grass under the tree, and inspected her friend until Applejack's wits returned. Thankfully, none of the branches had caused any significant damage. A few scrapes here and there, but on the whole the bump on Applejack's head was the worst injury. "Are you okay?" Fluttershy repeated, as she watched Applejack relax.
"Ah think so," Applejack replied, lifting a hoof to her head. She hissed in pain as it brushed the bump. "Though ah'll probably have a headache for a while." She took a deep breath, and started to trot back up the hill.
"Uhm.. Applejack?" Fluttershy asked quietly, causing the other pony to pause. "Why are you going back up?"
Applejack stared in confusion at the yellow pegasus. "Ah'm lining up for another try! That one didn't end too good, now did it?"
"Oh no, no no no..." Fluttershy said, rushing over to Applejack's side. "You need to rest after a crash like that!"
"But ah feel fine!" Applejack insisted, flaring her blue wings for emphasis. "See?"
But Fluttershy would not be swayed, and gave Applejack a stare that had made a dragon back down. "No! You need to put some ice on this and cool it down! It's a big bump."
Being much smaller than a dragon, Applejack had little chance of resisting The Stare. Gulping, she nodded frantically, wincing as that made her head ache. "Yes ma'am! Ah'm going! Ah'm going!"
Insisting that she could manage the walk home on her own, Applejack bade Fluttershy goodbye, and made her way back to the farm, the watchful eye of the yellow pegasus following her until she disappeared behind a hill.