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Similar Deviations

Part 5 - Getting In On The Ground Floor

Apple Bloom perched on a step ladder, articulating the wooden spars of the flight harness' redesigned wing, which now bore as much resemblance to the fins of a fish as it did the wings of a butterfly. Satisfied that the hinged attachment points were solid as well as moving smoothly, she gave Twilight a confident nod and climbed back down the ladder, folding it up and flipping it onto her back to move it out of the way.

The lavender unicorn stood on a square platform occupying the center of one of Sweet Apple Acres' hay barns, which had been partially cleared out to give Twilight, Rarity, and Apple Bloom someplace to work. A stout rope connected the harness to a pully, with Applejack holding the other end as a safety measure.

Since they'd arrived on her farm with this new project, the blonde earth pony had been watching their progress with an air of detached bemusement, but when time came to test the latest iteration of the wings she was adamant about handling safety. She gave a couple of tugs on the rope and nodded. "Okay, looks like yer hitched up proper, Twi. Now lets see if this contraption of yers can actually do what y'all say it can."

Twilight gave her a stern nod in return, then waved a hoof to Spike. "Sparkle/Belle/Apple Personal Flight Harness, Mark Three, Test One. Casting the spell."

A purple glow bathed her forehead, shining beneath the peaked crest of her crash helmet and reflecting off of her goggles. The scintillating light coursed along the radiating spars of the wings, and faded.

She smiled over to Apple Bloom and Rarity, who stood next to Spike. "I have a good feeling about this one!" She set her face in concentration. "Attempting to fly."

The wings creaked faintly in the expectant silence, and started to beat the air with greater and greater speed, throwing up a cloud of dust and particles of hay. Twilight began to rise, floating upward toward the vaulted roof of the barn as a wide eyed Applejack backed away, carefully taking up the slack of the rope so that if the wings gave out the hovering unicorn would only drop a couple hooves at most.

The freckled farm pony intoned through clenched teeth as she held the rope steady. "Land sakes, if'n I didn't see it with my own eyes I wouldn'ta believed it."

Rarity started to jog in place, completely ignoring the bits of cast up hay and dirt that were settling on her coat. Her sapphire eyes gleamed behind her goggles. "It's working! It's working!"

Apple Bloom kept her eyes trained on the harness and its occupant. "'Course it's workin'. We built 'em right this time."

Twilight's breathless voice echoed down from the rafters. "Initial results encouraging. Applejack, give me some slack, I'm going to attempt to move up and down a couple times."

The blonde earth pony traded a glance with her younger sister, who gave her a nod. She started walking forward again, allowing the rope to sag into a loop over the lavender unicorn's back. Apple Bloom held up a hoof. "That's plenty, AJ. Don't wanna git tangled in th' wings." She called up to the flying mare. "Okay! Ya got about twenty hooves o' play, start with that."

Twilight Sparkle nodded, an ecstatic grin plastered on her face. "Okay, going down." She lowered a few hooves, the flapping of the artificial wings decreasing in frequency, then rose an equal distance by willing them to beat harder. "Going up!"

She went up and down a few times, and called out to Spike with untrammeled glee on her voice. "Ascent and descent successful. I'll now attempt lateral movement."

Her smile faded as a puzzled look settled on her face. "Um... Attempting... Hmmm."

Apple Bloom lashed her tail. "Whats th' matter, Twilight?"

The lavender scholar looked around uncertainly. "Uh. I'm not completely sure how to do that."

Applejack took up some of the slack on the rope, and looked over at Rarity. She called to the alabaster unicorn out of the side of her mouth. "Rarity, do y'all remember how it was done? You seemed to take to them fancy wings Twi gave ya purty quick. You were even dancin' with 'em come the Young Flyer's Competition."

The fashionista's brow furrowed. "It... It was kind of instinctive. The wings just took me where I wanted to go and did what I wanted them to do."

Twilight brought one of her dangling hooves to her chin. "Hmmm. Maybe the physical connection component had more significance than just a structural one. Maybe if I translate some of those sub-dweomers into telekinetic patterns and transfer them to the control sequence, we could..."

Apple Bloom looked thoughtful. "Y'know, I don't rightly remember much of the couple o' hang glidin' lessons I took from Rainbow Dash when I was a filly, but I do kinda recall y'needed t' just lean in th' direction y'wanted t' move t' steer."

Spike nodded, tapping the tip of the quill against his chin. "Yeah, Sir Concord tells me to lean into my turns too."

The hovering unicorn gave a shrug and attempted to shift her weight toward the right. "Well, it's worth a WHOAAAA"

She banked sharply to the left and started spinning faster and faster. Applejack let out a surprised grunt and dug her hooves in as the rope suddenly pulled taut in her teeth. As Twilight circled, one of her wings clipped the rope leading from the pully to Applejack, causing her to break into a wild, shrieking backspin as she whirled crazily through the air like an out of control  yo-yo.

Rarity rounded on Spike and stamped a hoof in wild eyed urgency. "Spike! Get ready to catch her on my mark. Three, two, one. GO!"

She glared up at Twilight and her horn flared to life with an intense blue glow. Matching sparks burst across the harness, as every buckle released at once, throwing the lavender unicorn mare loose from the flapping, spinning contraption and sending her tumbling through the air, her legs limp like a rag doll's and her eyes spiraling in a daze.

Spike backpedaled furiously, flapping his wings as he fell backwards over his own tail with a look of horror on his face. He hit the floor with a heavy thud, lurching desperately up to a sitting position just in time to have Twilight bounce off of his face and crash into a pile of hay bales. Tiny lavender colored unicorns with fluttering wings circled the adolescent dragon's vibrating cranium, and he slumped to the floor in a daze.

The vacant flight harness went limp overhead, spiraling to the floor of the barn on its rope as all of the ponies still standing rushed forward to help the unconscious dragon and unicorn.

***

Twilight Sparkle let out a whimper and dug her hooves into the improvised mattress of hay bales, hoping that if she just held on hard enough the room would stop spinning. Vertigo was the least of her problems, however, for as soon as she had proven to be awake and largely unharmed, she found herself faced with the formidable tag team of Applejack and Rarity.

The blonde farm pony stomped a hoof. "You are not gonna go up in that confangled flapdoodle of a thingamajig again, even if'n I have t'find th' biggest tree on this farm and tie y'all down to it. I ain't never seen anythin' so dang foolhardy in all my born days."

Apple Bloom snorted and called out from the sidelines. "Y'all never hung out with the Cutie Mark Crusaders on a Saturday afternoon." Applejack turned and cast her sister a glare as the red headed mare flicked her tail and assumed a look of exaggerated innocence.

Rarity gave the freckled earth pony a sidelong glance and looked Twilight in the eyes with an earnest gaze. "I quite agree with Applejack. In practice, if not in principle. Those amazing brains of yours are far too valuable to risk dashing them out in some horrible mishap." She gave Spike and Applejack a look. "Plus it strikes me that with your magic you'd be much more effective on safety detail."

Twilight quailed under her friends' onslaught. "But... But if not me, then who?"

Apple Bloom spoke up again "I'll do it."

She reared back, cowed, as Rarity and Applejack both turned and shouted at her in unison. "ABSOLUTELY NOT!"

The blonde farm mare's green eyes narrowed as she stared her little sister down. "If'n you think I'd let any member o' the Apple family within' twenty hooves o' that thing, you got yerself another think comin', missy."

Rarity rolled her eyes. "Once again, I find myself agreeing with Applejack, and for the same reason why I think it's a bad idea for Twilight to be testing the harness. Your skills as an engineer are too valuable to this enterprise to risk losing them in a test gone bad." She drew herself up and let out a breath. "There's no way around it, we simply must hire ourselves a test pony."

Applejack rounded on her with flaring eyes. "Now just a durn minute. I ain't gonna just sit by while y'all put some other poor soul at risk."

Rarity turned to face her, her sapphire eyes solemn and earnest. "Here's where we diverge, darling. Risk is hoofmaiden to progress. Would we even be standing in this barn if your Grandmare didn't venture alone into the Everfree looking for seeds?"

The blonde earth pony hiked her tail and ground her hooves. "Yeah, and she durn near got et by timber wolves when she did."

The pale unicorn raised a hoof and pointed out the wide open door of the barn, toward the fragrant acres of blossom festooned apple trees covering the rolling hills. "Look around you, Applejack dear, look what she grew with those seeds. If she'd stayed home worrying about timber wolves, this would be nothing but wilderness."

Applejack stuck out her lower lip in defiance, trying in vain to come up with a counter argument, then let out a sigh as she hung her head in defeat. "Y'know, I sure hate it when somepony whups me with th' truth."

She fixed Rarity and Twilight with a stern gaze. "Okay, I won't stand against y'all, but I'm gonna make sure whatever guinea pig y'all get is gonna know what they're gettin' into, and I'm gonna make sure y'all play fair by 'em."

Rarity drew herself up, clearing her throat. "Rest assured, darling, whomever we hire will be generously compensated for the risks they'll be expected to take."

Apple Bloom spoke up again. "Does that mean I can expect a some bits comin' my way too?"

She flinched as Rarity and Applejack rounded on her again, but relaxed as she saw a smiles on their faces. The alabaster fashion designer nodded sagely. "Of course, darling. When I say your skills have value, that means in bits just as much as it means in importance. Although if we're going to turn this into something official we're going to have to back it up with more than... ahem… saliva on our hooves."

She let out a tiny shudder before continuing. "We'll need to write up a partnership contract for Twilight and I and file for a business charter with the Mayor. For now I can hire you on as a contractor to my current business. I presume you're operating on a freelance craftspony's license and haven't filed for a charter of your own quite yet."

Apple Bloom nodded. "Eeyup. Still savin' up for a business charter, so contractin' would suit me just fine. Even if it don't work out it'd git me that much farther towards bein' able to set up a proper storefront instead o' just doin' odd jobs and piece work."

The fashion designer beamed. "Excellent!" She furrowed her brow in thought. "I suppose we could classify our test pony as a 'model' of sorts, although they'd be working on a whole different kind of runway."

Applejack rubbed her chin with a hoof. "Y'all got the bits t' be takin' on more hired hoofs, Rarity?"

The elegant mare gave her a guarded smile. "Well, I had some measure of success with this year's Spring Collection, and the advance orders on the Social Season are starting to pick up, so I think I can manage some venture money. A little bit of calculated risk is involved, but I was sold on the potential reward as soon as Twilight explained her idea to me." She gave her fellow unicorn a wink. "Being in on the ground floor of something so transformative for ponykind is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

The elder Apple sister took a slow look around the barn and scratched the back of her head. "Well, if'n it'd help y'all out, I'd be happy t' keep lettin' ya use this ol' barn, provided you keep plenty o' hay bales stacked around." She gave a shrug. "And heck, dependin' on whether there's zap apples this year, maybe the Apple family can slip a l'il extra seed money to ya."  

Twilight met her friends' eyes with a pensive gaze. "Perhaps it's time we approached the Princesses with our preliminary findings. Perhaps I can repurpose some of my current research grants under their auspice."

Rarity's eyes lit up as she stood on the tips of her hooves. "Even better darling, if we could obtain a Royal Charter, then we'd really be cooking with dragon fire! And we could attract investors from all over Equestria."

Twilight nodded. "I'll write a letter requesting audiences."

The pale unicorn let out a chuckle. "No need for that, darling. We'll be in the audience with both of princesses next weekend, and I daresay from what I recall you telling Sweetie Belle, they'll be in quite the jovial mood too."

The lavender scholar's eyes twinkled as she shared a grin with her partner to be. "That's brilliant! It'll definitely save us from having to leap a few bureaucratic fences if we have their Highnesses' preliminary approval. Rarity, you're a genius!"

The alabaster fashionista tossed her elegantly curled mane with a preening smile. "No, dear, you're the genius, I've just got a mind for business to go with my eye for beauty."

Applejack rolled her eyes and pointedly cleared her throat. "Well, now that y'all got th' jump on congratulatin' each other, maybe we oughta set about gettin' th' ball rollin'. I reckon th' next order o' business is t' head on down to the town hall to get all the forms and whatnot y'all need, and then I suppose we oughta see about findin' some durn fool to play tetherball in yer wingflappin' watchamacallit."

Apple Bloom stifled a grin at her sister's usual bluntness and stepped forward. "Since it's just about lunchtime anyhow, what say we knock off and head into Ponyville? We can swing by the town hall after we eat."

Spike gave a small flap of his wings as he got to his feet. "Now we're talkin'!"

Rarity favored the two earth ponies with a warm smile. "Trust the ever practical Apple sisters to keep us on track. Yes, I'm a bit peckish now that you mention it, and we can also stop in at the Carousel so that I can get you both fitted for dresses for the opera."

At this, Applejack and Apple Bloom both exchanged a puzzled glance, and the elder sister's eyebrow arched dubiously. "Do what now?"

The alabaster unicorn met their questioning gaze with glittering sapphire eyes. "Well, if we're going to approach the Princesses with this endeavor, it will strengthen our case immensely to have the Element of Honesty weigh in, as well as getting Apple Bloom's input as our chief engineer."

She gave the younger sister a wink. "And Sweetie Belle will be ever so thrilled to see you at her grand debut, darling."

Applejack lashed her tail nervously. "Now just an apple pickin' minute. Aside from the fact that I know about as much about opry type music as a fish knows about tap dancin', I ain't exactly what y'all would call sold on this here project. Not by a long shot."

Twilight climbed down off of the hay bales with Spike's careful assistance, a thoughtful look on her face. "No, I think Rarity's right, Applejack. It's easy enough for her, Apple Bloom, and I to gush about the potential that the flight harness represents, but when considering the applications of research it's important to face the cons as well as the pros."

She winced, but stood patiently as Rarity produced a comb and began to telekinetically run it through her disheveled mane. "I won't be so presumptuous as to say I know how the Princesses' minds work, but I do know that they respond much more favorably to an issue posed to them from multiple perspectives than they do to a hard sell, based on what I've seen at court."

Applejack took another glance at her sister, who didn't try very hard to suppress a smirk at her elder sibling's discomfort.

She reached up and adjusted her battered old cowpony hat, and let out a heavy sigh. "Okay. It's against my better judgment, but I'll agree to it." She fixed both unicorns with a hard glare. "But I'm drawin' the line right here before y'all try to smooth talk me into strappin' into that flutterin' doohicky o' doom and goin' for a spin." She jabbed an emphatic hoof at the empty flight harness lying like a huge, squashed insect on the platform, and punctuated her tirade with a twirl of her fetlock.

Rarity let out a silvery laugh as they set out. "Oh Applejack, you shouldn't knock something until you've tried it. You might enjoy yourself." She gave the hard working farm pony a sly grin. "At the opera, I mean."

Applejack huffed and cast a nervous look over her shoulder at the barn as they walked through the sun dappled orchards toward the road into Ponyville.



The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> [link]

Part 5 - Getting In On The Ground Floor

Research and development continues apace in Ponyville, as the project begins to fledge.

Part 6 -> [link]
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Part 1 - Necessity Is The Mother

Clouds of steam from the engine mingled with the fine mist of a drizzly spring morning as passengers disembarked from the express train from Canterlot.

Among them, a lavender coated unicorn mare paused to savor the pervasive scent of apple blossoms that hung in the air, smiling up at the familiar hoof carved sign hanging over the station house proclaiming her destination: Ponyville. She cast an apologetic glance over her shoulder as the passenger behind her irritably cleared his throat, and hastily stepped down onto the hoof scuffed concrete of the platform.

When she'd moved a bit out of the way of the milling crowd of earth ponies and unicorns, she paused again to properly stow the book she'd been reading, which had been hovering at her side like a dutiful companion since she'd exited the train. She pulled an umbrella from her saddlebags and opened it over her head. There it floated in a cloud of sparkling purple magic, its shaft balanced like the point of a top on the tip of her horn. It spun lazily on its axis as she set out, trotting down the quaint streets of her home away from home.

She hadn't gotten very far when a cheery voice called out her name. "Twilight! Hey, Twilight! Twilight Sparkle! What brings y'all down t' Ponyville?"

The lavender unicorn looked around with a quizzical expression, then looked up to see if a pegasus was calling her. Up on the roof of a nearby building a bright yellow earth pony mare with apple red hair was waving to her enthusiastically with a wide grin on her face. She wore her mane in a tight, braided bun underneath a pink bandanna, and a sturdy canvas harness both secured her to the roof with stout ropes and served as a place to hang an eclectic array of tools and pouches that almost obscured her hammer and half apple cutie mark. Both the young mare and her gear were damp from working in the soft rain.

Twilight peeped out from underneath her umbrella with a smile of her own. "Apple Bloom? What are you doing up there in this weather?"

The yellow earth pony replied in a matter of fact tone as she gestured at a newer looking patch of shingles beneath her hooves. "Fixin' a leak. Y'never know they're there 'til the rain's comin' down."

She plucked up a hammer in her teeth and slipped it into its loop on her harness, and then gave the unicorn an eager smile. "Speakin' of comin' down, I was just 'bout t' knock off. Perhaps y'all'd care t' join me for a cup o' joe down at Sugarcube Corner."

Twilight's stomach rumbled a bit, and she called up to the young handymare with a faint blush on her face. "That sounds fantastic! I was in a hurry this morning to catch the express so I missed breakfast."

Apple Bloom nodded and started to carefully pick her way up toward the peak of the roof where she'd anchored her safety harness. "Well then if'n that's th' case we oughta get a move on. Granny always says y' can't think on an empty stomach, and y'all're the thinkinest pony I ever met. Gimme a second and I'll be right down."

The lavender unicorn let out a chuckle tinged with a bit of nervousness as she watched the young earth pony untether herself from the roof. "Don't rush on my account, Apple Bloom. You're awfully high up."

The red haired mare tossed her head as she made her way across the wet rooftop toward a ladder down to the street. "Pfft. This ain't nothin'. Our ol' barn down at Sweet Apple Acres is a whole 'nother story, and sometimes it feels like I'm up there all the WHOOP!"

Without warning Apple Bloom's back hoof slipped sideways on the slick wooden surface, causing her to tumble onto her side and start rolling down the steep incline. Twilight Sparkle's pupils shrank to pinpricks as the young mare dropped over the edge into empty space, plummeting toward the street. The handymare cried out in terror, as the sound of tools striking the cobblestones rang out below her.

Her scream died in her throat, leaving only silence aside from the thundering of her heartbeat in her ears and a silvery thrumming that it took her a moment to recognize as the telltale sound of a unicorn's horn at work. Her muscles unclenched, no longer bracing for the expected impact that was far too late in coming, and she opened her eyes to see the billowing grey clouds above, with a haze of purplish sparkles floating all around her.

Apple Bloom turned her head, realizing that she was hanging upside down with her hooves pointed skyward, and saw Twilight Sparkle standing below with her legs splayed and tail hiked, her horn glittering with her magic over an expression of utter panic that was dissolving into one of relief.

The young earth pony's voice came out with a shaky laugh as she was gently lowered and rotated so that her hooves touched down on the cobblestones among her scattered tools. "Th-thank you most kindly, Twilight. I was happy enough to see ya when I was up there, now I'm twice as glad to be seein' ya down here."

As soon she was on the ground the unicorn mare surged forward and took her into a hug, her own voice shuddering as all the possible alternate endings to what had just happened flashed through her mind. "First Spike and now you. You kids are gonna give me a streak of grey in my mane if you keep this up."

Apple Bloom let out a chuckle as she disengaged and gave her rescuer a wry smile. "Y'all sound like my big sister."

Twilight shook her head and slowly let out her breath. "That's because your big sister is usually right about these sorts of things."

She looked up at the dangling ropes of the safety harness hanging from the peak of the roof. "That sort of aerial work really seems like it would be a safer job for a pegasus." She reached out with her magic to retrieve her hastily tossed aside umbrella and reposition it over her head.

The young handymare let out a snort as she set about gathering up her tools and replacing them in her harness. "Hey, yer talkin' to a gal who spent a lot of her fillyhood fallin' outta things tryin' t' get her cutie mark. If'n there was a pegasus who could do the job they'd be welcome to it."

A pensive look settled on her youthful features as she checked over her gear. "Y'know it ain't in my nature to belittle a pony, but havin' the big sister I got it really ain't in my nature t' lie neither. I ain't met a pegasus yet who knew a durn thing about buildin' stuff. I can't fault 'em fer what they can do with clouds and such, a lot of it's right nice, but when it comes t' good solid materials like wood, stone, and plaster they don't know a nail from their tail or a plank from their flank."

She caught herself and shot the older mare a sheepish look with a slight blush adorning her cheeks. "Pardon my Fancy talk."

Apple Bloom shrugged and looked skyward. "I don't rightly blame 'em. Not much call t' know how t' fix a roof when y'all live on top o' th' rain clouds."

They set out toward Sugar Cube Corner, with the unicorn edging her hovering umbrella over so it covered both their heads.

Twilight pursed her lips, not quite willing to concede her point. "Even so, if you're gonna work so high up you should have a pegasus or unicorn watching to make sure you're safe."

Apple Bloom shook her head sadly. "I ain't been in business long enough t' hire ponies just t' be spotters, Twilight. And anyhow, there ain't many unicorns 'round these parts who can catch a full grown pony outta th' air like you can. Only one I can think of with that sorta hornpower is Snails, but t' tell the truth he's the last feller I'd want lookin' out for anypony's safety."

The young mare gave an exasperated roll of her eyes. "As much time as that colt spends in Froggy Bottom and the Everfree, I don't think he cares a whit fer his own."

A thought struck her, and she turned to look at Twilight with a raised eyebrow. "Speakin' o' reckless colts, what's Spike been doin' that's got ya all in a flutter?"

Twilight let out a weary sigh, accompanied by a wry smile. "Good choice of words. His wings have gotten big enough to support his weight for short glides, so now it's all I can do to keep him from climbing every tower in Canterlot and jumping off. I think I'm neck and neck with Canterlot University's Head Custodian in a race to see who's going to have a nervous breakdown first."

Her ears drooped and she rolled her violet eyes as she repeated the point and counterpoint to an argument she'd been having with herself for months. "Intellectually, I'm well aware that Spike is nigh indestructible, but every time I see him launch off a high ledge my heart stops for a few seconds."

The younger mare clucked her tongue sympathetically. "I'm still a mite surprised that he's even got wings. That one time he got all big on us he didn't have 'em. I always kinda reckoned that was how he was gonna turn out when he grew up."

The unicorn sadly shook her head. "Well, the thing you need to understand about dragons is that as magical creatures their growth and development is tied to their desires. If a dragon wants wings, they'll grow wings. There are documented cases of them growing extra legs, or gills. There's even one record of a dragon who lived on the trackless plains of Obscuria who grew a second head so they could have someone to talk to. The reason Spike got so large in that unfortunate, greed driven growth spurt was because on a subconscious level he wanted to be big and strong enough to take and hold everything he laid eyes on, and got into a sort of feedback loop with his innate draconic nature. Being able to fly didn't cross his mind."

A rueful look crossed her pensive features. "That idea he got out of those stupid "Thunderpony" comics that I should never have let him read."  

Apple Bloom gave her a grin. "Well, if he's the reason you've gotten good at catchin' critters outta th' air, me n' my family owe him as much thanks as you."

Twilight shook her head with another mournful sigh. "I gave up trying to catch him or teleport him down after the first couple times. You know how willful he can be. All it meant was that he started sneaking off without me knowing. It was worse finding out about it the next day from irate custodians whose buildings he'd damaged."

Her ears and tail drooped. "Finally, Princess Celestia stepped in. She assigned a couple of really nice pegasi from her personal guard to instruct him in proper flight procedures." She gave Apple Bloom a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. "He's starting to make real progress now. At least he's not crashing into walls in the middle of the night anymore."

The athletic young earth pony beamed at her companion. "Ah, good deal. Problem solved, then."

Twilight looked away, suppressing yet another sigh. "Yes. Problem solved."

Apple Bloom cocked her head. "I ain't nowhere as sharp about these sorta things as my sis, but it sounds t' me like somethin' is still eatin' ya. That's three sighs and countin'."

The lavender unicorn shook off her melancholy and gave her youthful companion a more genuine smile. "It's nothing. Really.  I've been under a lot of stress recently, between getting my research published and grant applications and both academic and courtly politics and my dad's arthritis and now Spike turning the campus into a hardhat area."

She cast a fond glance around the quaint environs of Ponyville, which exuded cheeriness despite the grey weather. "I just needed to come back here to center myself. Talk to Applejack, get some quiet time with Fluttershy, have a laugh with Pinkie, see how all the foals are doing."

At the mention of the pink party pony's name, Apple Bloom's brow furrowed. "Well, I can guarantee you'll get the first two down at Sweet Apple Acres, along with as much apple cobbler as y'all can handle, but I gotta warn ya that poor Pinkie hasn't been in much of a state fer laughin' lately."

A look of concern washed over Twilight's face. "Oh no. She's well into her third trimester by now. She's not having complications, is she?"

The younger mare shook her head gravely. "Not of the medical variety, no. Doc Muffin says she's fit as a fiddle." She gave a sigh and a shrug. "Long story short, it ain't the foal inside her that's givin' her trouble. It's Tootsie."

She nodded toward Sugarcube Corner as it came into view. "I hope for your sake and hers Pink's havin' one of her good days today, but all the same ya better brace yerself in case she ain't."

Apple Bloom turned her amber eyes back toward Twilight as the unicorn pondered her words. "I think Pinkie Pie has finally met her match."

***

A short walk in the misty rain later, the two mares were coming through the door to Ponyville's favorite sweet shop. As they entered to the merry jingling of the bell, Twilight was instantly struck by the tension in the air, made palpable by the muffled sound of a shrill voice raised in anger in the back room. The other participants in the seemingly one sided argument were only audible as a calming, conciliatory tone, as the indistinct shrieking gave way to wails and sobs.

Apple Bloom let out a sigh and shook her head. "Aw dangit. Bits t' donuts Caramel forgot t' lock all th' windows again."

Both mares looked up as a harried looking blue earth pony with white streaks in her rosy pink mane poked her head out of the double doors, allowing the sobbing hysterics in the back room to spill into the normally cheery storefront. "Welcome to Sugarcube Corner, how may we help..."

Her maroon eyes widened in surprise as a smile lit up her face."Twilight Sparkle! You wouldn't believe how good it is to see you, dearie!"

The lavender unicorn raised a hoof in greeting as she closed up her umbrella and slipped it into a stand by the door. "Hello, Mrs. Cake, it's good to see you too." Her brow furrowed with concern. "What's going on?"

The sobbing in the back room subsided, and a shaky voice choked out a querulous response. "T... Twilight is here?"

A moment later the other side of the double doors swung open and a muted pink pony came shuffling out, her cheeks streaked with the tears that were dripping down from her watery, red rimmed blue eyes. Her mane and tail hung limp and listless in a tangled mess that wasn't so much energetically frizzy as it was hopelessly frazzled. In addition to a general air of puffiness about her face, she was also very, very pregnant.

Without a word she carefully made her way around the counter and crossed the tiled floor of the sweet shop to where Twilight was standing, sniffling and letting out small sobs as she waddled purposefully forward. She came to a stop in front of the lavender unicorn, her lower lip quivering as her bloodshot eyes seemed to focus on a point somewhere in the distance.

Twilight could scarcely believe what she was seeing. She'd never seen her normally bubbly friend look so worn out. She spoke up with a tentative voice. "Pinkie, I..."

That was all she got out before the pink earth pony surged forward and pulled her into a tight hug, burying her face in the scholarly mare's shoulder. She sat heavily down on her haunches and proceeded to blubber a fountain of tears and snot into her old friend's lavender coat, rocking back and forth as she did so.

Twilight let out a sigh and eased herself from an awkward half crouch into a seated position as well, throwing her forelegs around Pinkie Pie's trembling shoulders. She looked up toward the counter to see a haggard, rather sheepish looking Caramel walk into the room to stand by Mrs. Cake's side. As soon as he laid eyes on Twilight he gave her a nod in greeting, not wanting to interrupt his wife's reunion, or draw her attention, having just narrowly escaped her wrath.

Presently, Pinkie's mournful, cracked voice arose from the vale of sniffles and sobs. "It's my little snuggly wuggly sugar dot. She took off again and I don't know where she is."

The pink mare started to tremble. "For all I know right now she could be down a mine shaft or trapped in an old refrigerator or stuck on a raft in a rip-tide or kidnapped by parasprites or down a quaray eel's gullet or encased in amber or packed in a steamer trunk bound for the Far East or fleecing tourists in Los Neighgas in a crooked poker game."

The despondent pink mare hugged her old friend tighter. "She's too little to know how to play the flop effectively, Twilight! She'll lose her shirt and she's barely out of diapers! She'll have to start knocking over convenience stores to cover her losses and wind up doing a nickel in the big house!" She let out a wail and buried her copiously leaking snout deeper into the nonplussed unicorn's shoulder.

An awkward silence descended on the scene once more as the precision wheels in Twilight's head spun, trying to find a gentle way to assure Pinkie Pie that her three year old daughter probably wasn't running an illicit gambling operation.

Before she could come up with a proper reply, the sob filled stillness was broken by the jingle of the shop's bell and the flutter of wings. Twilight suddenly found herself slammed sideways onto the floor as Pinkie Pie tossed her aside, her distended belly barely clearing the prostrate unicorn as she landed with a heavy clatter of hooves and rushed forward.

After a moment of disoriented thrashing the lavender mare collected her wits and rolled over to see the pink earth pony crushing a little chocolate brown pegasus filly to her chest and smothering the squirming foal with kisses. Her tiny wings buzzed like a hummingbird's, and her frizzy pink tail lashed behind her in agitation as she squinched up her little face at this onslaught of maternal affection. A bedraggled looking doll made in the likeness of a cyan pegasus pony wearing a yellow and blue flight suit with a rainbow mane and tail hung from the filly's dainty little muzzle.

A stocky beige pegasus colt with a shock of dark brown mane curling over his forehead landed beside mother and daughter with a clunk, his lip twitching a bit in disgust at the unbridled kissy-face as he gave it a wide berth.

He met his own mother's eyes with a nod as he stepped forward to help Twilight to her hooves. "She was out at Sweet Apple Acres playing with Windfall, just like I said she'd be."

Mrs. Cake gave him a nod and a proud smile. "Good boy, Pound. I think we can declare your punishment over."

At this, the colt ruffled his wings and gave a small sigh of relief. He turned his attention to Twilight as she used her tail to dust herself off. "Hello, Dr. Sparkle. Pumpkin's gonna be really happy to hear you're in town."

The lavender unicorn raised a hoof to ruffle his curling mane. "It's good to see you, Pound." She stepped back to look him over as he bashfully smoothed his forelock back into place with a faint blush. "Let me get a look at you. You're getting so big!"

It was true. Every time she saw him he seemed to double in size, looking like a colt half again his age, even though he was only as old as Apple Bloom was when Twilight had first met her. His hooves were almost comically large, contributing to his naturally heavy tread, and promised that when he reached his full growth he'd possibly be even taller than Big Macintosh. She pursed her lips slightly as she noticed the young pegasus was sporting a faded black eye. She also noticed that he'd gotten his cutie mark since she'd last seen him: a silver horseshoe with a red heart at its center, enveloped by a pair of white wings.

She gave him a smile. "You're gonna have to tell me about getting your cutie mark." She cocked a wry eyebrow. "And how you got that shiner."

Pound Cake blushed a bit hotter as he rubbed the back of of his neck with a broad hoof. "It's all the same story, and it really isn't that cool..."

Before Twilight could press him, she was distracted by Pinkie Pie's stern voice suddenly replacing the sounds of kissing. "Tootselina Margaret Esmerelda Gummy Pie !"

Pound took his opportunity and pushed off from the tiles with another emphatic clunk, zipping out of the room in a flutter of wings before the scholarly unicorn could react. Mrs. Cake gave her an apologetic shrug as the double doors flapped behind her.

Twilight turned back to see the pregnant mare holding her pouting firstborn out at foreleg's length, pinning the filly in a piercing, blue eyed glare. "What did I tell you about flying off without telling mommy or daddy?"

The pink maned foal crossed her little hooves in front of her and mumbled a reply through the doll clamped in her mouth.

Pinkie's eyes flared and she lashed her tangled tail behind her. "Don't you try bamboozle me with all your smooth talk, young lady."

She let go of her daughter and planted her hooves on her balloon marked hips, leaving the tiny pegasus hovering in midair in front of her. Tootsie's demeanor went from defiant to abject under her mother's angry gaze, and she muttered through her doll in a woeful little voice.

Pinkie let out an exasperated breath and ran a hoof through her frazzled mane. "Oh, you forgot, huh? Well you can forget about any dessert tonight."

At this, the chocolate colored filly's deep blue eyes went large and watery, and Twilight could almost swear she heard a tiny, sad violin playing somewhere nearby.

Pinkie's eyes widened in turn, and a shudder ran through her as she quickly averted them. She jabbed a shaking hoof toward the stairs. "N-none of that! Room! Now!"

Tootsie Pie huffed and wiped a tear from her eye with a tiny hoof, and did as she was commanded, her little body taking on the classic pose of a disgruntled pegasus: hanging like a sack of resentful flour from her fluttering wings as her legs dangled down limply. She cast one last reproachful look over her shoulder and buzzed upstairs.

Pinkie slouched forward with her hooves over her eyes, and had soon melted into a blubbering puddle of misery right there on the floor.

A look of resolve settled on Twilight's face, and she enveloped her friend in a gentle cloud of sparkling magic, lifting her limp, weeping form up into the air. She turned to Apple Bloom and gave her a nod, floating a small sack of bits out of her panniers toward the young earth pony. "Get us something to go, and meet us at the spa."

***

Soon, Twilight and Pinkie were settled in a large steaming tub of jasmine tinged water, with the lavender unicorn gently working a comb through the pink earth pony's mane.

The expectant mare let out a sorrowful sigh, her eyelids heavy in the soothing atmosphere. "That kid... She's running me raggedy, Twilight. One minute she's there and the next she's halfway across Ponyville getting into Celestia knows what. I can't keep up with her. Not on foot. Not like this."

She cast a frown down at her belly as she gently rubbed a hoof across it. "I look like a balloon but I feel like a sand bag. And to think I used to be able to get the drop on Dashie when I felt like it."

Twilight nodded sympathetically as she paused to pick apart a tangle without tugging too hard on Pinkie's scalp. "Well, to be fair, you were ten years younger, and you weren't carrying an extra passenger."

Pinkie shuddered, slumping her shoulders. "Y'know, this one's gonna be a pegasus too. I couldn't take the suspense anymore, so I had Doctor Muffin cast a See the Foal spell. She's gonna be a beautiful little pink filly with a golden brown mane. Caramel and I are gonna call her Pudding."

She let out a small sob, trying to keep her emotions in check. "The only part of me that still moves fast is my brain. Too fast. Every time Tootsie goes off on one of her little adventures I imagine a million zillion ways something bad's gonna happen to her, and I know I can't get there in time to protect her. What's it gonna be like when I've got two little tornados going in every direction at once?"

Twilight felt her own throat starting to tighten up, and she laid aside the comb and just put her forelegs around her old friend, craning her neck to nuzzle the pink mare's cheek.

Pinkie's voice became thicker as she kept talking. "I... I keep having dreams about being knee deep in taffy, and it's not awesome... it's... it's just terrible because all my... my sweet little babies are flying away and I can't get to them. And the ones where they're laughing and happy and playing together are worse than the ones where they're being chased by storm clouds or pterodactyls. Because I can't join them."

Her voice came out tiny and sad as she dragged a foreleg across her snout. "That one's already coming true. Do you know what Tootsie said to me the other day? I was scolding her. Again. All I seem to do these days is yell at her and at Caramel and at the Cakes and their sweet kids or anypony else who comes in earshot. I haven't been so bad for business at Sugarcube Corner since the days when I ate three cupcakes for every one I put in the case."

She choked out her next words over a lump in her throat. "T-tootsie told me that I wasn't any fun anymore."

Twilight hugged her dear friend tighter, feeling an echo of the lance that doubtless plunged through Pinkie's heart upon hearing that. "Oh Pinkie, I don't know what to say..."

The pink mare let out a weary breath and reached back to stroke the unicorn's cheek with her hoof. "N-nothin' y' can say, Twilight. It's a problem that's as old as Equestria, since pegasi started marryin' earth ponies and unicorns."

After a long, pensive silence Pinkie spoke up again. "Mrs. Cake knows what it's like, raisin' a kid in three dimensions. She's been a big help, and so has Pound, bless his little heart. He's such a good colt. He chases Tootsie down for me all the time without a peep of complaint." She gave her companion a fragile hint of a smile over her shoulder. "At least my friends stick by my side..."

Twilight had been thinking deeply as they sat together in the warm water. "There has to be a solution. That's what problems are, just solutions waiting to happen."

Her eyes went wide as one of the ornate lotus shaped lamps adorning the bath chamber flickered on. "Say... what about that flight spell I cast on Rarity?"

Pinkie sat up, blinking her limpid blue eyes, before breaking out in gales of bubbly laughter, flopping back against Twilight and churning the scented bath water as she helplessly kicked her legs.

Her voice came out as a throaty chortle as she wiped fresh tears from her cheeks and turned to give the nonplussed unicorn a shaky grin. "Oh Twilight, all I could think of when you said that was me floating around like a big pink blimp with butterfly wings. M-maybe I could rent out advertising space on my sides and fly over hoofball g-g-games." This set her off again, and swept Twilight up as well as the pregnant mare's Element of Harmony reasserted itself.

Pinkie was gasping for breath when it finally subsided, slumped in her lavender coated friend's hooves with a smile brightening her face. "Ohhhh, that laugh felt good. I love you so much, Twilight."

Twilight tried to shake off the giggles. "I'm serious, Pinkie."

The pink mare stuck out her lower lip and furrowed her brow. "You do remember what happened, right? The flameout and thousand foot fall?"

The lavender unicorn huffed. "Well, sure, but that's because Rarity wasn't operating her wings within proper tolerances. She flew too high and too flamboyantly."

Pinkie shifted and peered over her shoulder at her. "And I also seem to remember you sayin' it was super hard to pull off. While you were casting it I thought your horn was gonna pop off your head like a bottle rocket and then we'd have to run and catch it before it put somepony's eye out and they'd have to wear an eye patch and find a parrot willing to work cheap and learn a bunch of songs about treasure chests and rum. I miss rum. I can't drink anything stronger than carrot juice with a bun in the oven. Well, I don't miss drinking rum so much as I miss being able to make Bananas Foster whenever I want, but still..."

Twilight grabbed the opportunity to cut in, refusing to be dragged into a tangent. "Well, yeah it was tough, but I'm a lot more proficient than I was back then."  

She tapped her dripping hoof on her chin as her mental wheels started to turn. "Plus perhaps if I looked at the underlying theory maybe I could simplify it somehow. I'll have to dig that spellbook out at Books and Branches while I'm here. Then I could probably cross reference its source notations with the codices on file at Canterlot U. Maybe there's a base principle that could be updated for a modern Incantation System that would..."

She was interrupted by the sound of a gentle snore coming from the pink mare slumped in her embrace. Twilight tsked and nudged her. "Pinkie!"

The pregnant earth pony jerked awake. "Nuh! Foopnarple!" She blinked into full consciousness and looked over her shoulder at Twilight with a sheepish grin. "S-sorry, Twilight. You were saying?"

The unicorn rolled her violet eyes. "That's not important. The important thing is that even if it's still a tough spell I'd be willing to put out the effort if it'd make you happy, even if it's just for a little while."   

Pinkie sniffled, her eyes brimming again with tears. "It... it's nice to cry with happiness for a change too, Twilight. I... Ooh!"

She looked down at her belly with widened eyes. "Puddin' just kicked!" She pulled one of the lavender unicorn's hooves forward and carefully placed it on the curve of her belly. "Feel that?"

Twilight felt the stirring of Pinkie's foal and caught her breath, speaking in a hushed tone. "Now that is magic."

Pinkie gave her a gentle smile. "I think she likes you too."

The warm silence was broken by the sound of Twilight's stomach rumbling loudly. The lavender unicorn started blushing while Pinkie succumbed to a fit of giggling. "I guess we're both getting messages from our tummies."

The scholarly mare cleared her throat sheepishly. "I'm beginning to wonder just where Apple Bloom got to."

Right on cue the door to the bath chamber swung open and a the red headed earth pony poked her head in. "Did I hear somepony callin' my name?"

Twilight helped Pinkie ease herself to a more upright position and turned to face her with a cocked eyebrow. "Apple Bloom, where've you been? I'm starving."

The young handymare gave her a sly grin. "I went back t' the farm to gather up some Apples."

With that, she stepped aside, and her elder sister and sister-in-law came in with their faces lit up by broad smiles. Applejack carried a bushel of apples on her back and Fluttershy bore a picnic basket on hers.

The two mares set their burdens down on the large tub's catwalk and reared up to lean on its edge, where they were greeted by a warm, albeit sopping wet, hug from Twilight Sparkle. Being already damp from walking across town in the rain, they didn't mind at all.

Applejack gave Pinkie a wave with a solicitous look on her face. "How y'all doin' Pinkie? A.B. here said y'were havin' a bit of a rough day today."

Twilight let loose of the blonde mare's shoulders and settled back into the tub while accepting a juicy looking apple from Apple Bloom.

Fluttershy spoke up, her sweet voice taking on an apologetic tone. "I'm so sorry about what happened, Pinkie Pie. We would have sent Tootsie straight home if we'd known she'd come over without your permission."

Pinkie settled back against the side of the tub with a sigh. "It wouldn't have done any good anyway, she would have just gone someplace else and gotten into even more trouble. At least when she's with you I know she's with someone who can handle her."

The soft spoken pegasus ruffled her wings self consciously, not quite managing to hold back all the pride on her voice. "Windfall wanted me to tell you that she's sorry too."

The pregnant pink pony slouched down a little, not even trying to conceal her jealousy. "You get all the breaks, Flutters. You got the wings to keep up with your kids, but they're so well behaved you don't even have to."

The butter colored mare fidgeted a bit as a blush blossomed on her face. "Oh... Believe me, they can be a hoof full, especially now that the twins are fledging."

She let out a dainty sigh. "For what it's worth, I kind of know how you feel. Big Bunny is such a good father to them, but he's in the same pickle that you are. It just breaks my my heart seeing him down there watching us while we're up playing kites or dragonfly tag or riding thermals. He says he doesn't mind, but... well..."

Applejack chimed in, giving her younger sister a nod that set Apple Bloom rummaging in the picnic basket. "Ol' Macintosh ain't no better a liar than he is a flyer. Me n' Bloom feel th' same. It'd be right nice t' play with our nieces n' nephew, but once they get them l'il wings workin' all they wanna do is go up."

She looked gravely at Pinkie as the pink earth pony began to sink down into the tub with her face clouding up, and decided to try to redirect the conversation before she broke down again. "Anyhow, I believe somepony mentioned pickles somewhere in there. Lookit' what we got for ya, Pink, straight outta Boca Del Fuego down in Mexicolt. A couple buddies o' mine on the rodeo circuit owed me a solid and sent 'em up."

Apple Bloom gave Pinkie a wide grin as she produced a jar full of deep purplish red, positively sinister looking chili peppers tightly packed in a murky liquid. The pregnant pink mare sat bolt upright with her blue eyes taking on a glazed, manic focus. "Those... those aren't... Oh, you guys are the best!"  She reached out with trembling hooves. "G... Gimme!"

Twilight obligingly floated the jar over to her, idly chewing her apple as the everything she'd heard and discussed started to slowly churn in her mind, pieces of a puzzle looking for a few gaps to fill in.

Her concentration fled as Pinkie snaffled the lid off of the jar and greedily dug in to its pungent contents. All of the other mares in the room found themselves starting to tear up in the cloud of stinging vapors that suddenly filled the air.

***

Later that afternoon, Twilight bid farewell to the Apple sisters and their graceful sister-in-law, promising to avail herself to Sweet Apple Acres' hospitality for the duration of her stay in Ponyville, and escorted a greatly rejuvenated and refreshed Pinkie Pie back to Sugarcube Corner.

They'd scarcely made it through the door and called out a greeting to Mr. Cake, who stood behind the counter, when a loud squeal and a clatter of small hooves sounded on the stairs, and a pale orange unicorn filly with a curly, carrot colored mane barely contained in a pair of pigtails came galloping down. She narrowly avoided taking a header when she reached the bottom, and her thick glasses flew off of her excited little face, only to be caught out of the air in a cloud of whitish blue sparkling magic. The errant spectacles fell into formation with a shoal of hovering pony dolls all decked out in fancy dresses and suits that followed in the filly's wake.

She skidded to a stop in front of Twilight, hopping up and down as she gazed up at the unicorn scholar with wide blue eyes. "Miss Twilight! Miss Twilight! Lookit! I can make 'em do a gavotte!"

With that she floated her glasses onto the bridge of her snout and screwed her face up in concentration as the hovering dolls paired off and started to spin through the air in a complex dance, trailing blue sparkles as they moved.

They all came to a sudden stop and tumbled to the tiled floor of the sweet shop as Mr. Cake's gently exasperated voice called out. "Pumpkin... What rules are you breaking?"

The suddenly abject filly hung her head, dutifully replying. "No playing with my dolls in the shop."

The lanky stallion nodded. "Right. And?"

Pumpkin dug her hoof. "No running inside, expecially on the stairs."

Mr. Cake nodded again. "And?"

The little light orange unicorn's tone became meek and quiet. "Use my inside voice."

A wry smile plucked at the corners of her father's mouth. "That's the hat trick, sweetheart. Now why don't you say a proper hello to Dr. Sparkle and Mrs. Pie, and then maybe if you ask Dr. Sparkle nicely, she'll want to see what you've learned how to do since she last visited."

Pumpkin Cake drew herself up and bobbed her stubby little horn to both mares. "Good afternoon, Miss Twi... Dr. Sparkle. Good afternoon Missus Pie. Dr. Sparkle, would you like to see some of the new magic tricks I can do?" They both suppressed a chuckle at the filly's elaborate decorum.

Twilight gave the young unicorn a fond smile. "Of course, Pumpkin. I'd love to see what you've learned."

The pink earth pony leaned in and spoke in a loud whisper to the filly as she cast a shifty glance toward her father. "You can just call me Pinkie, gumdrop, no matter what your papa says. Mrs. Pie is my mama."

She gave Pumpkin a broad wink, then turned to nuzzle Twilight's cheek. "You two have fun. I'm gonna go find Caramel and apologize for all the bite marks I left on his rump this morning. And then I need to bake a cake for Tootsie."

With that, she set out at a careful walk across the sweet shop floor, a bit of her old spring creeping into her step as she went. Twilight gave her a final wave before sparking her horn to life to help Pumpkin gather up her dolls.

***

Soon the two unicorns had removed themselves to a patch of fresh green lawn out back behind the sweet shop, which rustled softly in a gentle breeze while the pegasus weather crew hauled the clouds away overhead to let Celestia's cheerful springtime sun shine brightly over Ponyville. The elder mare knelt on the cool carpet of grass as the young filly stood with her legs braced and her curly tail hiked, making her assortment of fancy dressed dolls loop and whirl in intricate patterns across an invisible dance floor above their heads.

Twilight complimented her with an earnest note of pride on her voice. "You've got remarkable control, Pumpkin. I don't think I could keep half as many objects up when I was your age, let alone get them to do the waltz."

The filly grinned from ear to ear as her horn sparkled. "Thanks, Miss Twilight. Those workbooks you loaned me really helped. Plus it's fun!"

Twilight let out a fond chuckle. "Yeah, it is. I can't think of anything I'd rather stay up all night doing besides magic."

She sheepishly cleared her throat. "Don't you stay up all night doing it, though. Not 'til you're a lot older, you hear me." Pumpkin rolled her deep blue eyes and nodded.

The elder unicorn cocked an eyebrow as one of the dolls caught her attention, hovering over the rest. She bobbed her horn toward it. "Who's that fellow up there? Doesn't he get to dance?"

Pumpkin responded hesitantly as she kept her attention locked on the dancers. A blush was beginning to show on her light orange cheeks. "He's a brave knight. He looks out for the others and doesn't let anypony pick on them."

Twilight reached out with her own magic and pulled the little stuffed pony down to eye level. It was a light colored pegasus with a dark mane, decked out in a soft grey cuirass and a helmet adorned in red, yellow, and blue yarn.

A pensive grin stole across the lavender mare's face as she noted that the felt wings kept flapping even when telekinetic control passed from Pumpkin to her. "You put a Make It Move spell on the wings. Very clever."

The wheels that began to spin in the unicorn scholar's head went still again as she turned the tiny pegasus knight sideways and noted his cutie mark, drawn on his flank in magic marker. "This is your brother's cutie mark."

A couple of the stuffed dancers bumped into each other, but recovered as the blush deepened on Pumpkin's face, and she shifted a little, such that the lenses of her glasses shielded her eyes with reflections. "Yeah. He didn't want me to put it on there, but I did anyway."

Twilight dug a hoof in the grass, proceeding carefully. "I think that's very sweet. I guess he doesn't want his friends to tease him, huh?"

Pumpkin shook her head. "No way. Nopony teases my brother. He's the toughest, bravest colt in our grade. Even the big colts don't mess with him. Or anypony else, as long as he's around." The dolls started to drift toward the ground, settling in the grass as the little unicorn slouched her shoulders. "He's just kinda... I dunno. He feels... bad about what happened when he got his cutie mark."

The lavender mare allowed the little pegasus knight to settle in among the other dolls, its cloth wings still softly beating the air. "He said he got it the same time as he got that black eye, but I haven't heard from him how he got either."

Pumpkin edged closer to the older mare and lowered her voice to a whisper. "He doesn't like telling the story. I can tell you, but you gotta promise not to tell him I told you."

Twilight nodded solemnly and made an X across her heart with a hoof, then tapped it lightly against a closed eye. The unicorn filly edged even closer, nudging her glasses up a bit higher on her nose. "Okay. Well, the thing is, he got the cutie mark and the black eye when he got into a fight with a couple of his friends."

She looked away, hanging her head. "And the reason he got in the fight in the first place was over me. We were headin' home after school was over, and Sparrow and Arrow Dart wanted to go play kites, and Pound said he didn't want to ditch me and then Zephyr Breeze said who cares I was just... just a dumb ol' pinhead nerd and that all I did was slow Pound down."

She sniffled and dragged a hoof across her nose. "And then Pound gets real mad and tells him to take it back and Zephyr laughs in his face and shoves him and calls him ground pounder and says he should just turn in his wings and go make mud pies with all the dumb ol' dirt ponies and next thing I know Pound knocked him out of the sky."

Her voice became small and distant. "Then the Dart brothers jumped on him and it was like this cloud of hooves and wings and tails and then they're on the ground with Zephyr and they're all beat up and Pound is up there with his eye all swelling up and blood coming out of his nose and he's saying that they better apologize to me right now, and if he ever catches them picking on earth ponies or unicorns again he'd make mud pies out of their faces."

She gave a small shake of her head. "And the way he said it wasn't yelling or mean or anything, it was so calm it made me kinda scared to hear him talk like that. Then Zephyr and Arrow and Sparrow all start crying and say they're sorry and promise they'll be nice to ponies who can't fly and he says okay and tells them to go home."

Pumpkin raised her glistening blue eyes to meet Twilight's concerned gaze. "And when they're gone then he starts crying and I start crying and he walks me home and he had a long talk with Mom and Dad and then they sent him to his room while they talked it over, and I went and said I was so sorry for everything and he said it wasn't my fault and..."

She faltered, letting out a tiny sob. "... and that I was his twin sister and he'd never leave me behind just 'cos I can't fly and if his pegasus friends didn't like earth ponies or unicorns for something so stupid then he didn't wanna be friends with 'em anymore. Then he said he wished that ponies could just be friends without caring about that sort of thing. And that's when his cutie mark showed up."

Twilight broke the pensive silence that followed. "Well... On one hoof, I'm sorry to hear he let words, as wrong and mean as they were, provoke him into hurting somepony..."

The little filly sighed, fidgeting in the grass with her dainty hooves. "Yeah. That's why he feels so bad about it. I think it hurt him inside more than it hurt his friends on the outside when he saw what he did."

The lavender mare laid a hoof on the young unicorn's shoulder. "On the other hoof, it's a very brave thing to stand up to your friends when you think they're doing or saying the wrong thing. While I can't condone of his actions, I approve of his motives. You can be proud of him for that."

Pumpkin nodded, nudging the little pegasus doll. "I am. That's why he's my knight. He doesn't like to talk about stuff like this, but he knows how important my dolls are to me, so this is how I show him I'm proud of him."

The lavender unicorn reached out with her magic and gently picked up the heroic little figurine, examining the cutie mark. "So what happened with his friends?"

The filly shrugged. "He went around to their houses the next day and apologized for what he did, to them and to their mommys and daddys. The Dart brothers forgave him pretty much right away, but it took a couple days before Zephyr would even look him in the eye. They made up too, though. That made me really happy, 'cos Pound loves flying and I'd feel terrible if he didn't have anypony to fly with."

She let out a wistful sigh. "I wish I could fly. Pinkie tells me when I was really little I used to be able to do it with my magic, but these days I can't lift anything bigger than a bag of sugar."

She looked up at Twilight with a hopeful look on her little face. "Do you know any magic spells that let a pony fly? And if you do could you teach me?"

The scholarly mare gave a little shake of her head. "I know a couple, but they're kind of tough to pull off, even for a grownup unicorn."

Pumpkin pawed at the ground and hung her head with a look of disappointment settling on her face. "Awww."

Twilight reached up and tousled the filly's curly orange mop, the wheels in her own head beginning to turn again, as she slowly spun the knight doll around in a shimmering cloud of purple sparkles, watching while its cloth wings kept steadily beating.



The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> warrenhutch.deviantart.com/art…

Part 1 - Necessity Is The Mother

Twilight Sparkle returns to Ponyville for a little rest and relaxation, and encounters a problem that starts the wheels in her head turning to try and solve it.

Part 2 -> warrenhutch.deviantart.com/art…
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Part 7 - Grounded

The impromptu birthday party started to break up as the sun began to creep toward the horizon. Fluttershy gathered her brood, wished her heartfelt blessings on the new arrival and proud parents, and set off toward Sweet Apple Acres.

Caramel kissed his wife good night and left soon afterward with Tootsie in tow, smiling fondly as his eldest rattled off an ever growing list of things she wanted to do with her brand new baby sister, whilst internally bracing himself for the herculean task of getting the hyperactive filly to settle down to sleep for the night single hoofed.

Rainbow Dash took off with Soarin to pick up their saddlebags at Sugarcube Corner and then go find her old house among the drifting cloud banks over Ponyville. The rainbow maned pegasus bid a cheerful farewell to all of her old friends, save for Applejack with whom she only exchanged a terse, awkward nod before leaving. Soarin cast a lingering glance over his shoulder at the blonde earth pony as they vanished down the hall in a fluttering of wings.

Applejack left soon after, muttering about being behind on her chores around the farm. Her distracted expression only warmed up briefly as she paused to wish Pinkie her congratulations and plant a kiss on the sleeping foal's forehead. With a few clipped goodbyes to the others, she was gone.

This left only Twilight, Rarity, Apple Bloom, and Spike, who all bid Pinkie and her newborn a fond farewell and departed just as the diminutive night nurse was coming by to shoo them out.

As they walked down the hall Apple Bloom's weary voice broke their pensive silence. "Whoosh. I'm beat, and we didn't even get t' half o' what we wanted t' get done today."

Rarity replied with a shrug. "Well, as setbacks go I daresay this was one of the better sort. I suppose we'll just have to be there bright and early when the Mayor's office opens tomorrow."

Twilight flicked her tail impatiently as she swerved to avoid a patch of wet floor being swabbed by an orderly. "I just wish we could continue work on the flight harness. I'm all for getting the proper paperwork filled out, but there's not much more progress we can make until we find a test pony."

The three mares and their young dragon companion paused as an earnest voice called out behind them. "Excuse me, ma'am. Did I hear you properly when you said "flight harness" and needing a "test pony"?"

They turned to see a young earth pony stallion with a brown and white spotted hide leaning on his mop with a raffish smile on his handsome, coltish face. A shock of darker brown mane was contained under a white handkerchief knotted at its four corners, and his drab orderly's smock was rolled up at the elbows, revealing a light cast on the cannon of his left foreleg. His cutie mark depicted a mountain peak with a flag planted atop it.

Twilight's face lit up in recognition. "Pip Squeak? Is that you?"

He hastily reached up and doffed his headgear with a slight bow. "Why, if it isn't Ms. Twilight Sparkle, Ms. Rarity and Miss Apple Bloom. Indeed it is I, Peregrin Algernon Horatio Squeak, at your service."

Spike flared his wings and lashed his tail in annoyance as he sized the young stallion up. "That's Doctor Twilight Sparkle."

Pip bowed his head apologetically. "Ah, forgive me. Doctor Sparkle. I should have known a mare of letters such as yourself would have attained a P, an H, and a D by now."

He gave the young dragon a nod and a wink in greeting. "And jolly good to see you too, Spike. Smashing pair of wings you've got there."

He turned his attention back to the three mares as the young dragon preened at the compliment. "Begging your pardon for interrupting your conversation, but I couldn't help but overhear as you passed by, and in addition to what you were talking about sounding rather interesting, I also got the impression that you dear ladies were in need of some assistance, which as a gentlecolt I am honor bound to offer to the best of my humble abilities." He finished with a smile that seemed to throw off a glittering spark as it caught the light.

Rarity stepped forward with a twinkle of her own in her sapphire blue eyes. "My my, such a gallant offer!" She gave a bob of her horn to the mop the young stallion held in his hooves. "But I can't help but notice that you're already employed, darling."

Pip blushed a bit and nodded toward the cast on his foreleg. "Well, this is more about working off some medical bills than pursuing a career in the janitorial field, Ms. Rarity. Although far be it from me to impugn the brotherhood of the mop and bucket for the vital work that they do."

Apple Bloom cocked an eyebrow as she looked him over, the faintest hint of a blush appearing on her cheeks as well. "How'd y'all hurt yourself?"

The white and brown earth pony chuckled, stretching his cast bound foreleg. "Took a bit of a tumble off of a ladder, I'm afraid. Landed on a table and broke all four legs."

Rarity raised a hoof to her mouth. "You broke all four of your legs?"

Pip shook his head. "Not at all, ma'am. T'wasn't my table."

He cleared his throat with a rueful smile. "Which is why I found myself a bit short of funding after having to pay for it and the skylight, and for cleaning all the glass and soot off of a fine damask table cloth."

Twilight's eyes widened. "You fell through a skylight onto a table and they made you pay for the damages?"

At this the young stallion drew himself up. "I insisted. Only proper, don't you know. I was just glad that I managed to bring their kitten down from the roof none the worse for wear, although I daresay the poor thing probably didn't fancy the bath she needed afterward."

He shrugged. "Not much could be done about that. A fair bit of soot is par for the course when you find yourself in the hooves of a chimney sweep."

Apple Bloom's face lit up in realization. "Wait a minute, I've been seein' this cute.. ahem... I mean this new black stallion up on the roofs from time to time, always wavin' to me like he knew me. But I never did see him 'round town. Are you tellin' me that was you?" Her blush intensified as she cleared her throat and looked away.

Pip gave a chuckle as the young mare fidgeted. "Indeed it was, my dear. Me and a day's worth of soot from sweeping chimneys. I don't blame you at all for not knowing it was me. Me own Mum and Pop barely recognized me when I'd come home at night. Took a good soak in the tub before I was back to the old patchwork, so to speak."

The red headed mare shuffled her hooves self consciously as she took the chance to redirect the conversation. "Well truth be told I wouldn't have expected it t' be you in the first place. I thought ya left Ponyville t' see th' world, like ya decided t' do when y'all got yer cutie mark."

She nodded toward the image of the mountaintop pennant on his flank, her gaze lingering a bit before she pulled it away to meet Rarity's wryly sparkling eyes and knowing smirk. The young mare's blush became even hotter as she hastily redirected her attention toward the ceiling.

Pip let out a sigh as he replaced his kerchief and sloshed his mop in the bucket. "Yes, well, that all hit a bit of a snag, I'm afraid. To be honest, it's the other reason I wasn't too eager to show my face around Ponyville without a layer of soot covering the blush on my cheeks. I did rather make a show of setting out to make my mark on the world, only to come back with the world's mark on me, in the form of hoof prints on my backside, if you'll pardon the metaphor. Rather dents the old pride."

He gave a small shake of his head as he slapped the mop back onto the linoleum. "I signed on as a deck hoof with the Royal Blue airship line, and saw a fair bit of Equestria as I worked my way up to assistant steward on the T.M.S.S. Cumulous, but then the company started cutting their hospitality staff, and I was back on the ground with barely enough in my last paycheck to buy a train ticket to Ponyville."

The piebald stallion began to sweep the mop head back and forth as he gave them a wry grin. "It's ironic, really. If I'd just stayed a swabbie I'd probably still be sailing the airways. You see more from the steerage of an airship than you do from the tallest spire of Canterlot Castle. Of course, you don't get as good a view of the lovely ladies on the upper decks."

He cleared his throat and tugged at the collar of his smock as a blush flitted across his cheeks. "But here I am rambling. If you lovely ladies would excuse me, I've taken up enough of your time, and I've got several more hallways to mop."

Pip made an eager flick of his close cropped tail as he gave them an earnest grin. "I would rather like to hear more about this position you're seeking to fill. I'm quite keen on anything having to do with flying, so if you're going to be interviewing I'd be most grateful if you dropped me a line. I'm living at my parents' place on Pony Lane between the barber shop and the fire station."

Rarity glanced at Twilight and Apple Bloom before favoring the young stallion with a magnanimous smile. "That won't be necessary, darling. You're hired."

***

The moon was just beginning to crest over the horizon, a semicircle of silver against the cooling purples and deep velvety blues of the twilight sky, as two pegasi touched down on the terrace of a rather decrepit looking cloud manor with sun faded rainbow fountains and several years of haze clinging to the columns.

Soarin cast a dubious look over at Rainbow Dash as the chromatic maned mare took in the damage that time and neglect had done to her old dwelling. She gave a nervous laugh and tried to smile encouragingly to her companion. "Heh... Here we are, home sleet home."

She caught herself, blushing with embarrassment before hastily amending. "I mean home sweet home. Sweet! Heh heh."

The blue stallion raised an eyebrow, as Dash kept talking. "I mean, yeah, sure it looks kinda rough around the edges right now, but with a little work it should be nice and cozy. Come on inside and I'll give you the grand tour."

Soarin shrugged and gave a sigh. "Sure... Beats sleepin' in a cardboard box anyway."

He took two steps forward and let out a yelp as a patch of cloud gave way beneath his rear hooves. Rainbow Dash spun around with a cry of alarm to see the hapless stallion halfway wedged in the fluffy surface, his wings flared and his eyes wide in surprise, his girth bulging out over the edge of the hole.

His expression of shock and dismay faded to one of sullen indignation as Dash raised a hoof to her mouth to try to stifle a laugh. "You... you need some help there, S-soarin?"

He huffed and crossed his hooves over his belly, icily avoiding her gaze. "A little, yes..."

She set her saddle bags down and stepped up, a wry expression on her face. She locked her fetlocks with his, then flapped her wings and dug in her rear hooves as she pulled him loose.

Dash gave the sulking stallion a grin as she used her tail to brush away some stray wisps clinging to his haunches. "You gotta learn to look at the top side of the cloud, Soarin. Now that we know about that sky-rot, we can get some cloudcrete and fix it before the hole gets any bigger."

The blue pegasus gave another sigh as his gaze shifted from the damage he'd done to the terrace to his paunchy middle. "Yeah... Fix it before it gets any bigger..."

Dash blocked him as he reached for his saddlebags, hastily shouldering them onto her back with her own. "Uh... better let me carry those for now..." She gave another uncomfortable chuckle as he assumed a deadpan expression. "You're... um... you're my guest until I sign over the deed, and guests don't have to carry their own bags. Yeah..."

She fidgeted under his gaze as he pursed his lips. His voice came out flat and dry as he cocked an eyebrow. "You want to maybe hop check the floors inside before I go in? Just to be safe?"

The rainbow maned mare nodded sagely. "Oh yeah..." She blinked as she realized what she was saying and suddenly shifted gears, vehemently shaking her head. "I mean NO. The thought never even crossed my mind."

She gave him a shaky smile. "But I do want to straighten up the place a little so you get a better first impression than you've gotten so far. So just wait right here, okay?"

With that, she zipped inside, leaving him alone on the porch with a rapidly fading rainbow contrail. Soarin shook his head as he carefully took a seat on the spongy white surface, shifting a bit uncomfortably at the faint groan coming from the cloud deck. He rolled his eyes as the springy sound of a pegasus mare frantically testing the integrity of her floors came from the doorway.

***

Later that night, as the moon continued its journey through the twinkling night sky at the behest of its darksome princess, a lone earth pony mare counted softly to herself as she galloped a serpentine course around a row of barrels in a paddock at the edge of the main compound of Sweet Apple Acres.

Aside from the dim light of the half moon, the barrels each supported a firefly lantern, which illuminated them with a soft glow. One of the lanterns bobbled a bit as the blonde pony brushed against its barrel, cursing under her breath. She ran the rest of the course and skidded to a stop, lashing her tail in irritation as she looked back over her shoulder at the course.

She cocked an ear as a well known, sandy voice sounded out overhead. "Not bad, AJ. Not bad at all. That nudge cost you a couple seconds, though."

Rainbow Dash touched lightly down on the top of one of the barrels, the lantern at her hooves casing a glow on her cyan colored belly, neck, and chin that offset the soft gleam of her maroon eyes. "You'd probably get a better time if you had a full night's sleep. Just sayin'..."

Applejack shrugged diffidently. "Truth be told I was havin' a little trouble sleepin' tonight. Figured I'd take a couple turns at the ol' barrel run t' see if'n that'd help." She looked away from her old friend toward the dark, rustling shapes of the apple trees covering the hills of her farm. "I don't reckon you'd normally be up this late neither, what with your Wonderbolts trainin' schedule and whatnot."

Dash shrugged. "I'm on vacation right now, so I can break training a little. I just felt like going for a little night flight over Ponyville after I got Soarin settled in."

She fluttered her wings as she leapt lightly down from the barrel to the dusty ground, advancing on the blonde farm mare. "And speaking of settling things, maybe you'd like to tell me what exactly set you off today in the hospital waiting room. That wasn't exactly the sort of Ponyville welcome I've been talking up to Soarin, ya know."

Applejack snorted. "And the whinin' I was hearin' outta him ain't exackly the sorta thing I expected t'be comin' from a Wonderbolt. Y'all're s'posed t'be better'n that. Y'all're s'posta be th' best there is."

Dash was silent for a moment before she responded, a slight edge on her voice. "And you're supposed to be honest, so I guess you're callin' it like you see it, but you don't  usually buck the tree so hard that the bark comes off."

The blonde mare drew in a breath, and let it out slowly with a chuckle at her pegasus friend's use of an earth pony idiom. "Yeah, I reckon you're talkin' straight t' me as well."

The tension in the air began to abate as she sat heavily down in the dust, looking ruefully at the row of illuminated barrels, and the dim watch lights of her farm beyond. "I guess all his talk about bein' washed up and a has been and whatnot kinda struck a nerve."

The chromatic maned pegasus sat down beside her and cocked her head incredulously. "What the hay is that supposed to mean?"

Applejack sighed, turning her gaze to the sky. "It means a lotta stuff, RD. Time's rollin' forward and things are a'changin'. I ain't gettin' any younger, neither."

Dash gave a snort. "You only just turned thirty, AJ. I'd hardly call you an old grey mare."

The blonde farm pony shook her head. "Yeah, but I still ain't what I used t' be. Do ya know how long its been since I pulled down a blue ribbon on the rodeo circuit? A couple years, and the competition gets younger and fresher every year. I'm runnin' against fillies half my age sometimes."

The pegasus mare shrugged. "So you do your best with what you got and have fun at playing the game. Last time I checked, you were a professional farmer, not a pro rodeo pony."

She wrapped a wing around her friend's muscular shoulders and gestured toward the trees rustling in the darkness.  "And look at what you've done with your farm. Every time I come back to Ponyville it seems like there's a few more acres covered in apple trees with more and more farmhoofs workin' em. That's gotta count for something."

The earth pony mare nodded gravely. "Oh yeah, it counts fer somethin', it counts plenty, but sometimes I gotta wonder who I'm gonna pass it all on to. Like I said, I ain't gettin' any younger..."

This caused Rainbow Dash to pause, and she flicked an ear as she gingerly shifted her wing across Applejack's shoulders. Her discomfort was palpable. "Um... I don't think I'm qualified to chart that flight path, AJ. I mean, don't get me wrong. I love all the colts and fillies who come out to see the 'Bolts perform, but I'm nowhere near ready to have one of my own, let alone advise anypony else about that kinda thing..."

Applejack let out a laugh as she reached over and pulled her old friend tighter to her side. "Oh Rainbow, I ain't expectin' ya t' have an answer t' that particular question."

Her voice became wistful in the soft darkness. "Yer out livin' yer dream, leavin' hoofprints across th' sky as y' blaze that trail y'all were destined t' follow since y'all were born. Twi n' Rarity are th' same, shootin' fer stars we ain't even seen th' brightness of yet. As for me, I just seem t' walk in th' same ruts year after year, tending my crops like I always have. But what am I doin' it for?"

She turned her head to gaze at the sleeping farm house in the distance. "Three generations of Apples have worked this land. My brother's raisin' a fine family with Fluttershy, so there'll be more generations t'come, I reckon, but every new foal that comes into th' world makes me feel kinda like a tree that ain't borne any fruit."

Dash gave her a squeeze with her wing. "So I guess Pinkie's new baby was as much a part of your storm front as Soarin's moping, huh?"

Applejack nodded ruefully. "If'n y'all woulda told me ten years ago that Pinkie Pie would be raisin' a family that wasn't made up entirely of balloon animals, I'da told ya t' lay off o' the loco weed."

The cyan pegasus let out a chuckle, then became serious, reaching up with a hoof to gently pull the blonde earth pony's face around so that their gazes met. "Listen, Applejack. I don't know much about starting a family, but I do know about competition and I'm fairly certain you know a thing or two about it as well. And what little I know about raising a family is that it isn't a competition. You can't fly a race in somepony else's lane, and you only get yourself across the line flapping your own wings. Y'know?"

The orange farm mare slouched against her friend with a sigh. "Yeah, I know. I know. It ain't just me drivin' that wagon, though. Granny Smith..."

Dash rolled her eyes. "You aren't the only gal with a family, AJ. My mom and grandma are the same way. Some of the hints they drop when I go visit 'em are so big you'd need a full flight of weather ponies to land 'em properly. If they couldn't get me to do something trivial like take out the trash or clean my room, why should they have any pull about something as life changing as having a foal?"

Applejack gave a shake of her head. "Y'all don't understand. Granny's been really slowin' down lately. She tries t' make out that she's feisty as ever, but I can see signs she's wearin' out, fadin' like a photograph that got hung up in the sun for too long. Some days it's almost like I can look right through her. But she told me after Bud n' Blossom were born that she's made a vow not t' go to her final rest without gettin' t' meet every single one of her great grand babies before she does."

The rainbow maned pegasus sat and thought for a moment, then gave her friend a nudge, a wry grin on her face. "That really sounds more like your little sister's problem than yours, AJ. Apple Bloom doesn't really seem to be in a hurry to hitch up and build a nest."

The blonde mare set her jaw. "That's 'cos I ain't told her 'bout Granny's vow. T'ain't fair t' burden a young gal just startin' out that way."

Rainbow gave her another squeeze with her wing. "And it's fair to burden you? Listen, I'm gonna be as direct as a lightning strike here, I think you have a thing about taking on burdens whether you need to or not, like the world isn't gonna move unless you load it into a bushel basket and carry it on your back."

She laid a foreleg across Applejack's back alongside her wing. "I think Granny Smith was tryin' to reassure you, not lay some kinda weird guilt trip thing on you. Sounds to me like she wants to stick around as long as she can so she can enjoy whatever comes, not because you're somehow forcing her to. She wants to be there for you no matter what. That's what I call loyalty."

The earth pony mare sniffled and wiped the back of her hoof across her eyes, then pulled her rainbow maned companion into a heartfelt hug. "I really miss havin' ya around, Rainbow. Y'always know just the right way t' lift my spirits."

Dash let out a chuckle as she returned her old friend's fond affection. "Hey, I'm a pegasus. We know a thing or two about how to lighten up."

After a few minutes they disengaged and got to their feet, dusting off their flanks with their tails. Applejack met the pegasus' gaze with an earnest look. "I reckon I owe yer buddy an apology, huh?"

The rainbow maned mare's expression became thoughtful. "Probably, but I think more for how you said it than for what you were saying. Maybe it's the sort of thing he needs to hear right now. Just try not to hurt him is all I ask."

Applejack nodded. "Well, I reckon we can start fresh on a new day. I'll try t' be a little more patient with the poor fella."

She looked up to the moon, now farther along in its travels. "But unless either of us wants t'be standin' here jawin' when th' sun comes up, I reckon the both of us oughta skedaddle on t'bed."

Dash nodded. "Yeah. I'd better be gettin' back. If Soarin' falls through the floor again I ought to be there to help him get unstuck."

She paused, and gave Applejack one more brief hug. "I'm glad we talked this over. There's nothin' worse than bein' mad at one of your best friends."

The farm mare nuzzled her neck. "Yeah. Sure ain't. I'll see y'all tomorrow, RD"

The rainbow maned pegasus gave her a grin as they disengaged. "See ya, AJ."

With that, she lifted off and flew into the soft night sky, as a smiling Applejack made her way along the line of barrels, releasing the fireflies from the lanterns to drift away on the gentle breeze that rustled the apple trees.



The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> [link]

Part 7 - Grounded

A test pony steps forward.
Soarin settles in.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash have a talk.

Part 8 -> [link]
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Part 4 - Hard Landings

Soarin let out a cry of pain as he slammed into the lockers, then sank to his knees with a low, miserable moan, the wind knocked out of him.

A younger pegasus stallion with a dusky purple coat and a white mane stood over him, eyes wild, wings flared, and teeth gnashing in rage. Between his bandaged forehead, the multicolored stains of assorted fruits on his yellow and blue flight suit, or the bits of glass clinging to his disheveled hair, he appeared to have plenty of reasons to be angry.  "Just what did y'all think y'were doin', y'overstuffed feedbag? I coulda broke my consarned neck!"

The sky blue pegasus looked up at his teammate with wavering eyes, wheezing as he struggled to push himself upright. "I... I'm sorry. I don't know what happened."

The angry stallion got in Soarin's face. "I'll tell ya what happened, ya sorry sack of oats." He reached out a hoof, jabbing him in the gut to emphasize his words. "The load shifted in flight, that's what happened."

The sharp crack of a hoof caving in a locker echoed harshly in the enclosed space, and both pegasi looked up, startled, to meet the smoldering glare of a lean, blaze yellow pegasus mare with a bright orange mane. In contrast to her fiery appearance, her voice was as cold and implacable as a glacier. "Shootin' Star, stand down before I make you fall down. Go get cleaned up."

She shifted her piercing gaze to the miserable stallion who slouched against the lockers. "Soarin. Come with me."

***

Rainbow Dash banked sharply around the corner and sent sparks flying with her hooves as she galloped along the wall for a short stretch before righting herself and hurtling down the corridor toward the Fillydelphia Hippodrome locker rooms. Her multicolored mane was disheveled and sweaty, as was her Wonderbolts uniform. Her sandy voice held an undercurrent of panic as she galloped along muttering to herself. "Ohmygosh. Ohmygosh. Ohmygosh."

She spotted one of her teammates making her way down the hall in the opposite direction, a pale blue pegasus mare with her short, frosty white mane still damp from a recent shower and a pair of saddlebags slung over her back. She cocked an ear at Dash's approach, and nimbly sidestepped as the rainbow maned Wonderbolt flared her wings to stop and went into a backspin, narrowly avoiding crashing into a display case full of hoofball and baseball trophies.

The cyan pegasus rushed up to her and grasped her by the shoulders with her maroon eyes wide with urgency. "Fleetfoot! What happened? Is everypony okay?"

The light blue mare's ears drooped and she shook her head sorrowfully as she let out a sigh. "Cap bounced Soarin off the team."

Fleetfoot let out a gasp as she found herself alone in the hallway again, her damp mane rustled by the wind as a rainbow contrail vanished behind her.

***

Rainbow skidded to a stop in the dimly lit locker room, slightly winded from her rush. She let out a mournful sigh as she laid eyes on the huddled, slightly pudgy blue form who sat with hanging head and drooping wings on the end of the bench in front of an open locker. Without a word she hovered over and settled down beside him, gently laying a foreleg across his slouched shoulders.

He started slightly, and let out a small sob. "I... I guess word got out, huh?"

The cyan mare responded in a solemn tone. "I'm so sorry, Soarin."

The stallion shook his head. "I'm the one who should be sorry. I screwed up. I let the team down, so now they're letting me go." He buried his face in his hooves as his shoulders started to shake. "I... I don't know what I'm gonna do, Dash. The Wonderbolts were all I had."

Rainbow Dash gave him a gentle shove with a hoof on his shoulder. "Hey, you still got the Wonderbolts, and I'll buck anypony who says otherwise into the stratosphere. Just 'cos you're off the active roster doesn't take away twelve awesome years of flying."

Soarin let out a rueful chuckle. "More like three years of awesome, seven years of okay flying, and two years of mediocre drifting to bad flying. I know I was losing my edge, breaking training, getting soft."

He looked at her with haunted, weary eyes.  "I'm tired, Rainbow. My heart isn't in it anymore. I don't have Spitfire's passion or Shootin' Star's ambition or your love for the fans. I only hung on 'cos I don't got anyplace else to go." He gave a shuddering sigh. "Now I'm officially out to pasture, but I don't even know where that pasture is. I'm like a feather in a hurricane."

He sniffled, and was on the edge of breaking down again when Dash spun him to face her, grasping him firmly by the shoulders with her fore hooves, blinking back the tears that were starting in her own eyes. "Okay, listen to me and listen good, when I say you're part of my team for good you're part of my team for good. I am not gonna leave you hangin', okay?"

With that, she abruptly lifted off and coasted toward the door with a look of determination on her face. She cast a glance over her shoulder as Soarin watched her go, his expression hovering somewhere between hope and despair. "Just sit tight and don't do anything else stupid. I'm gonna go talk to Spitfire."

***

Dash let out a sigh as she approached the Wonderbolts' office trailer, noting the hat rack protruding from one of the shattered windows, and the scattered office supplies and memorabilia laying on the asphalt amidst the shards of broken glass. She walked up the steps and tentatively knocked on the door with a hoof.

A broken voice coming from inside barked out a harsh reply. "Scram! Our manager's stayin' at the Mareiott, go nag him!"

The rainbow maned pegasus set her jaw and shoved the door open with her forehead, pushing aside a pile of scattered papers and broken furniture. At the center of the destruction sat the Wonderbolts' team captain, her fiery mane even more tangled and wild than usual, her blaze yellow wings drooping down at her sides over a uniform that was ripped and torn.

A deadpan expression settled onto the cyan colored mare's face. "I love what you've done with the place, Cap."

Spitfire rounded on her with red rimmed eyes flashing in her tear stained face, then let out an exasperated growl as she realized who it was. "Oh great. I was wondering when you were gonna show up to buck this cyclone and start more hailstones falling."

Rainbow Dash sighed, a solicitous look on her face. "Looks more like rain than hailstones, Cap."

She picked her way carefully over the wreckage of the office and sat down without ceremony next to the fiery maned mare. "I woulda been back sooner but I had to pull a little more wing to wing than normal with all the kids after todays little tap n' tumble."

Spitfire's brow darkened and she rolled her eyes. "Oh big hero, facing down the thundering herd of adoring colts and fillies and setting their itty bitty hearts at ease."

The chromatic pegasus nodded matter-of-factly. "Needed to be done. A lot of 'em were kinda shook up by what they saw."

Her blaze yellow companion snarled, smacking her hooves together for emphasis as she spoke. "Meanwhile I'm back here getting my flanks gnawed by the stadium owners, the owners of that luxury box, our own general manager, and even that doofus who ran the loopty loopin' fruit cart. And then when that's done I gotta... I had to... I..."

Her angry expression wavered, and collapsed into abject misery as she fell into Rainbow Dash's embrace, her lean body racked with sobs as she wept into the cyan mare's shoulder. "Sweet mercy of the sisters, Dash. I f-f-feel like I just s-sawed off one of my own wings."

The multicolored pegasus gently nuzzled her fellow stunt flyer, rocking her as her sandy voice cracked with emotion. "I know... It's hard... Shhhh. I know."

Spitfire's face contorted as hot tears squeezed out of the corners of her eyes. "That... that idiot. I tried so hard to get him to straighten up and fly right. I warned him. I threatened him. I almost got down on my belly and begged him. I covered his rump so many times as the screw ups started to pile up. I did everything I could for that stupid... sleet headed... numb skulled..."  

Dash stroked the blaze yellow pegasus' back, speaking softly into her laid back ear. "You did what you had to do, Spitfire. You did your best, which is what the Wonderbolts are about, right? Sometimes stuff falls, and you can't do anything about where it's gonna land."

She wiped away one of Spitfire's tears with a hoof tip as the blaze yellow mare sniffled and reluctantly met her eyes. The rainbow maned pegasus' face became serious. "Listen, I think I can do something for Soarin, give him a place to land, or at least a shot at one. My old place over Ponyville is still mostly in one piece, and the local weather patrol always has room for more cloudbuckers that close to the Everfree."

She gave her teammate a wry smile. "And I know for a fact that they've got some of the best chow in Equestria. He'll be happy as a duck in a rain puddle."

Spitfire wiped a hoof across her snout as an arch expression furrowed her brow. "More like a hog in a mud puddle, if I know that pie seeking missile. He's gonna look like a flippin' dirigible next time I see him, isn't he?"

Dash let out a chuckle. "Don't worry, I got some friends who I can sic on him to keep him on the straight and narrow. Emphasis on the narrow. A word from me and they'll run him so hard his rookie flight suit will be baggy on him."

She cleared her throat tentatively. "And while we're on the subject of my friends in Ponyville, I wanted to ask you about takin' some time off. My pal Pinkie is comin' due with another foal soon and I wanna be there without having to set off any rainbooms on the way. I can take Soarin with me, show him around, help him get settled. It's really good timing, when you think about it."

Spitfire huffed, a bit of the fire returning to her eye. "Except that you're leaving us with not just one but two gaps in the roster, one of which is our headliner." She sullenly slouched and crossed her hooves in front of her, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Yeah, that's just updrafts all the way."

The rainbow maned stunt flyer gave her companion a lopsided grin. "You could give Shootin' Star his big shot at center stage."

Spitfire snorted. "If that self absorbed cactus sitter was half as good at flappin' his wings as he is at flappin' his mouth, I might consider it. If I thought you were even a little bit serious about suggesting it and not just trying to get a laugh out of me."

After a moment's sulking, she threw up her hooves. "Fine. Go ahead. I'd sign off on it but I don't think I'll have much luck finding a pen in all this." She shrugged as she cast a wan glance around the trashed office trailer.

Dash grinned as she helped Spitfire to her hooves. "Thanks, Cap."

She pulled the blaze yellow mare into a quick hug. "Okay, I gotta go hose off, pack up, and make sure Tank is tucked in. Could ya tell Gaffer Tape to make sure the roadies change his food and water every couple days while I'm gone?"

Spitfire rolled her eyes and nodded. "Sure thing, Dash. I'll mention it to him while he's bucking my rump for trashing the trailer again."

The two compatriots separated and gave each other a salute. "Clear skies, Cap."

The fiery maned mare waved her star team member off. "Clear skies, Rainbow Dash. Fly safe."



The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> [link]

Part 4 - Hard Landings

Meanwhile, among ponies who's ancestors already perfected equine aeronautics, a long career over the clouds and roaring crowds is coming to an end, with some hope of a new beginning offered by a teammate who'll never leave a friend hangin'.

Part 5 -> [link]
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Part 3 - Research, Experimentation, Testing, More Testing

Over the following week, the usual sketches and fabric swatches of high fashion dress designs that lined the walls of the Bijou Boutique's workroom were rapidly covered over with a profusion of diagrams and drawings of different wing shapes. A chalkboard filled with magical equations stood in the corner, with disused ponikins shoved behind it looking as if they were taking shelter.

Twilight Sparkle reached up to pull a pair of goggles down over her eyes and skimmed over her notes for the umpteenth time, calling out to the adolescent dragon stationed in the corner with a quill and clipboard in his claws. "Okay Spike, lets start recording the proceedings now." She cleared her throat, assuming an official tone of voice. "Sparkle/Belle Personal Flight Harness, Mark One, Test One."

She stood on the turntable platform, decked out in a stripped down version of the Princess Celestia costume comprised of the basic harness attached to a considerably simplified pair of wings made of muslin in the fashion of a butterfly or moth, that draped down to either side of her onto the floor.

Spike nodded as he jotted down the date and time. "Okay, go ahead Dr. Sparkle."

Rarity, Sweetie Belle, and the elder sister's three assistants Bangle, Bobbin, and Snap looked on with perked ears and hiked tails as Twilight responded. "Allright. I am proceeding to cast the spell."

With that, she closed her eyes and concentrated, sparking her horn to life with glittering purple magic. The luminous glow spread out along the limp material draped from her harness, and then faded.

Twilight spoke up in the expectant silence. "I will now attempt to fly."

She furrowed her brow in concentration. The muslin wings twitched, and a shudder ran down their length.

As they began to move, the onlookers let out a cry of excitement that quickly died back down to nonplussed silence, then mutterings and exclamations of alarm, as the spans of cloth started to wildly twist, flutter, and warp as if they were caught on a clothesline in a hurricane.

The lavender unicorn to braced her legs as she was violently tugged from side to side by their attachment to the harness. The wings thrashed harder and harder, kicking up a gale that rustled the papers on the walls with greater and greater force until several started to tear free and float in the clouds of dust that were being shaken loose.

Twilight let out a shriek over the din, desperately trying to command the errant wings. "Ahh! Stop! STOP!"

Rarity's voice rang out in response. "MY HAIR!"

A moment later a loud ripping noise filled the air, as the wings exploded in a burst of shredded muslin.

Twilight's strained cough broke the silence as she stood on the platform with loose papers and bits of cloth fluttering down all around her, her mane and tail both hopelessly tangled and sticking in all directions. The ragged tatters of what little remained of the wings bristled out from the harness in similar fashion.

The assembled ponies who had gathered to observe looked like they'd been in a tornado as well, standing stiff legged with stunned looks on their faces.

Rarity spoke up, her right eye twitching as her voice took on a bright, vivacious tone with a palpable underpinning of tightly suppressed hysteria. "Well! Back to the drawing board, eh? If you'll all pardon me I'm going to go lie down."

***

Twilight was back on the platform a couple of days later with a look of renewed determination on her face. "Sparkle/Belle Personal Flight Harness, Mark Two, Test One."

The wings were now made of sturdy canvas, and braced with wire along their leading edge. Rarity stood off to the side next to Spike with her hair bound up in a scarf and goggles over her eyes, as were her younger sister and shop assistants. The drawings on the wall had all been secured with extra tacks.

The looming young dragon scribbled the date and time and nodded to his guardian. "Ready when you are, Twilight."

Twilight nodded and sparked her horn to life once more, enchanting the improved wings. "I am now casting the spell."

She cleared her throat after the glow of her magic faded. "All right. I will now attempt to fly."

She closed her eyes and concentrated. A moment later she let out a startled cry as the wings tore themselves off of the harness with a single flap, rending the air with the harsh sound of ripping canvas.

Rarity met Twilight's chagrined expression with a wince, as the detached wings settled on the workroom floor like falling leaves.

***

Rarity stepped down from the platform after checking and double checking the reinforced attachment points for the canvas wings. She crossed over to stand next to Spike, Bobbin, and Snap, and gave her old friend an encouraging bob of her horn.

Twilight responded with an obstinate nod. "Sparkle/Belle Personal Flight Harness, Mark Two Point One, Test One."

She cast the spell without even bothering to announce it. When the purple glow had diffused along the wings, she braced her hooves and hiked her tail. "I will now attempt to fly."

A moment later it looked to the assembled witnesses like Twilight had suddenly performed a prodigiously acrobatic backflip with a single beat of the artificial wings, which sent her arcing head over hooves through the air. She cleared the blackboard and landed among the ponikins behind it with a loud crash.

Rarity and the others rushed over to the tangled pile of cloth dress forms, with a set of lavender hooves sticking up out of them. A shaky voice sounded out from beneath the wreckage as one of the forelegs feebly jabbed at the air. "E-eureka! They work!"

***

Twilight tightened the straps on her crash helmet. "Sparkle/Belle Personal Flight Harness, Mark Two Point One, Test Two."

Rarity exchanged a worried glance with Spike, who gave her a helpless shrug and started jotting notes. "Ready."

Twilight gritted her teeth and nodded, the purple glitter of her magic blossoming around her horn and flowing across the wings. "Casting spell now."

She stomped a hoof. "Attempting flight."

The wings beat, then again, then again, in a steady rhythm, again, again, again, picking up speed as a soft breeze off the platform fluttered some stray papers and sent them dancing across the floor. Twilight began to rise into the air, her legs braced against nothing as her hooves hung limp beneath her.

Rarity drew in her breath, trading a look of hopeful elation with the adolescent dragon at her side. Her voice came in an excited whisper as she turned to face her friend once more. "Twilight! It's working! You're flying."

The lavender unicorn allowed her eyes to open a crack, which slowly widened to reveal her violet irises and dark pupils sparkling with wonderment. A soft, giddy laugh escaped from her. "I am. I'm doing it!"

She cleared her throat and tried her best to assume a serious expression. "All right, encouraging. I will now attempt to gain some altitude."

Her brow furrowed, as the wings began to beat a bit harder. She began to rise higher and higher, with a smile that grew wider the closer to the ceiling she got.

Twilight's smile turned to a grimace of alarm as the left wing suddenly bent in half with a loud creak, sending her tumbling toward the hard wood floors far below.

Spike's own leathery wings flared as he tossed aside the clipboard and launched himself toward her, spinning on his long axis as he hurtled through the air so that when he arrived under the unicorn mare's plummeting form she landed on his padded chest as his serrated back spines cut a furrow in the wood of the platform. He folded his arms and wings around his guardian as they skidded across the floor, slamming into the opposite wall with enough force to cause the entire building to shake.

The other ponies galloped over to his side as the purple dragon popped open a green, slitted eye and looked around. He looked down at the unicorn cradled in his claws. "Y-you okay, Twilight?"

The lavender mare let out a groan and stirred, shaking her head to clear it and then looking ruefully down at the bent wing on her harness. She cast about for his clipboard and quill, and when she spotted them she levitated the writing implements over to him. "Spike, take a note. We're going to need something more rigid than wire supporting the wing structure."

A small gout of black smoke puffed out of the dragon's nostrils as a cross expression settled on his face. He grudgingly grasped the pen in his dextrous claws and wrote on the clipboard. "Gotcha. Anything else?"

Twilight gave him a fond smile as she let out a chuckle, stroking a hoof across his chest. "Yeah, thanks for catching me. Thunderpony's got nothing on you, my number one assistant."

The adolescent dragon's expression softened with a bashful grin, as he helped his guardian gently down to the floor.

Rarity stepped forward and gave Spike a kiss on the cheek. "That was very heroic, Spikey Wikey."

She found the resulting blush that blossomed on the young drake's features so adorable that she withheld any comment about the deep grooves his dorsal spines had carved in her floors.

The alabaster unicorn turned her attention to the crumpled wing hanging limply off of the lavender mare's harness, looking it over with a critical eye. "This is the heaviest gauge wire I have in stock, darling. I suppose we could try steel corset stays, but I think we'd run into the same problem."

She met Twilight's gaze. "I'm afraid we're moving out of my area of expertise. Aesthetics is my specialty, not building things."

The scholarly mare sparked her horn to life and undid the buckle on her crash helmet, levitating it off of her head and setting it down on Spike's chest. She gave Rarity a canny smile. "I think I know just the pony who can help us."

She raised a wry eyebrow. "What do you say to moving this operation to Ponyville?"

The alabaster fashion designer gave her partner a sly grin of her own. "Only that it was bound to happen sooner or later."

***

A week later the two unicorn mares were standing in a modest woodworking shop at the edge of Sweet Apple Acres' main compound, where the sweet smell of wood shavings and sawdust, the acrid tang of paint and varnish, and a subtle hint of sweat mingled in the air into an overall scent of productivity and honest labor.

Apple Bloom, the shop's youthful proprietress, scrutinized the diagrams and sketches that Rarity and Twilight had laid on her workbench, as well as the damaged prototype of the winged harness. The unicorns fidgeted nervously as the red headed earth pony pursed her lips and furrowed her brow, thoughtfully waving her braided tail behind her and idly rolling a well chewed pencil back and forth on the scarred boards as she pored over their work.

Finally, she looked up from the plans and shook her head. "Y'all're nuttier than a bucket o' cashews."

She held up a hoof to forestall their protests as their faces fell in disappointment, and she gave them a grin. "I can't wait t' get started."

Twilight smiled broadly as she extended a hoof. "In that case, I'd like to officially welcome you to the team, Chief Engineer Apple Bloom."

The young earth pony let out a chuckle and spat into her hoof, extending it to the lavender unicorn. After a moment of awkwardness, Twilight withdrew her hoof, spat into it, and brought it together with Apple Bloom's.

They both looked over at Rarity, whose lip curled back in revulsion. "Eeeeuhew! Why do you ponies always do that?"

She let out a weary sigh, then spat daintily into her own hoof and brought it into fleeting contact with the young handymare's as a shudder coursed up her pale foreleg and down the length of her whole body. She forced a smile as she withdrew her hoof and held it as if she wasn't intending to walk on it anytime soon.

Twilight and Apple Bloom shared a chuckle as the lavender unicorn passed Rarity a clean hoofkerchief from her panniers.



The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> [link]

Part 3 - Research, Experimentation, Testing, More Testing

Twilight and Rarity get to work on making the scholarly unicorn's inspiration a reality, with mixed results. It soon becomes clear that they have need of a certain other pony's expertise.

Part 4-> [link]
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Part 9 - Obsolescence

Big Macintosh bounced lightly on the tips of his hooves, his deep, gentle voice coming out in a singsong rhythm to the giggling accompaniment of his son Bud, who sat perched on the massive stallion's broad back fluttering his tiny apple green wings. "This the way the ladies trot, so do we, so do we..."

He shifted his tempo to a more strident hop, which in turn caused the little orange maned foal to escalate from giggling to cackling. "Here comes a country colt, hobbledy gee, hobbledy gee!" He finished the rhyme with an emphatic bounce on his hooves.

The huge red stallion stopped and looked over his shoulder, blinking in consternation as he suddenly realized that Bud was no longer sitting on his back. He cast his panicked gaze around the barnyard of Sweet Apple Acres, looking over to Fluttershy, who sat on a rocking chair on the porch with Bud's twin sister Blossom cradled in her forelegs contentedly drinking from a bottle. The butter colored pegasus gave her husband a fond smile and nodded skyward.

A sandy voice sounded out from overhead. "Hey squirt! Look at you work those little flappers! At this rate you'll be ready to try out for the Wonderbolts any day now."

Big Macintosh looked up to see his baby colt steadily working his way up into the air to meet a hovering, rainbow maned mare, buzzing his tiny wings like a determined little bumble bee.

A smile crossed the hulking stallion's freckled face as he raised a wide hoof in a wave. "Howdy, Miz Dash! What brings y'all out t' Sweet Apple Acres today?"

Rainbow Dash gave a casual shrug as Bud began to orbit her, his amber eyes wide in curiousity. "Well, I just wanted to hang out and maybe mooch a little dinner if that's okay."

The giant earth pony nodded cheerfully. "Y'all're always welcome at our table, Miz Dash. AJ's got a couple eggplant casseroles in th' oven along with some baked apples fer dessert. We got plenty o' company tonight anyhow, what with Doc Twilight and Miz Rarity workin' on their big project with Apple Bloom."

He waved a hoof toward a barn visible beyond a wide swath of orchards. "Them n' Spike are out at the northwest hay barn with that young feller they just hired on as a test pony."

The colorfully maned pegasus gave a nod in return and threw him a salute as she turned to fly away. "Cool! I've been wondering what they've all been up to. I'm gonna go and check it out, okay?"

He gave another amiable wave. "Sure thing. Y'all will hear the dinner bell a' ringin' when it's ready."

Dash called back over her shoulder. "I'll be listening for it. I'm hungry enough to eat a... uh..." She stopped with a braking beat of her wings as she realized that little Bud was following her.

Big Macintosh gave a small lash of his tail as he called up to his tiny son. "Bud! Y'all come on down now!"

The little pegasus colt ignored his father's call, catching hold of Rainbow Dash's tail and cramming it into his mouth, where he proceeded to happily gum it while a look of dismay washed across the chromatic stunt flyer's face. She gave her tail a tentative tug, but it wouldn't come loose from the little foal's surprisingly strong grip.

The huge red stallion's brow furrowed, and he stomped a hoof. "Bud! Come on down, y'hear? Let loose o' Auntie Dash's tail and come when your daddy calls ya!"

He turned and gave a helpless look to his wife, who cleared her throat softly and called upward. "Bud?"

At the sound of Fluttershy's voice, the tiny pegasus colt turned, his little ears laying back as he met his mother's gaze. She had closed one eye and flared the other in a pointed stare up at her wayward son. Dash's tail dropped out of his mouth, trailing a line of drool that drew taut and snapped as he fluttered down in a spiral flight path toward his father, who sat on his haunches with his fore hooves spread to receive him.

The big red earth pony gave an apologetic shrug to the hovering pegasus mare, who's lip curled in mild disgust as she wrung out the tip of her tail. "Sorry 'bout that, Miz Dash. Y'all know what they say 'bout youngun's. 'Out of reach, out of earshot.'"

Dash grinned down at him and gave a flick of her tail. "Don't worry about it. I just hope I didn't spoil the little guy's dinner. Speaking of which I'll see you guys when the bell rings. Later!"

With that she rocketed away, leaving a colorful contrail in her wake.

Big Macintosh gathered Bud up in his huge hooves as the hovering colt came into reach, a pouting look on his little face. The massive stallion cocked an eyebrow at his son. "Now ain't y'all just a naughty l'il balloon? Looks like somepony better let the air outta y'all before ya float away again."

Before Bud knew what was going on, his father had pulled him in and proceeded to blow a raspberry on his little round tummy, causing him to kick his tiny hooves and flutter his wings as he cackled with glee. Fluttershy smiled beatifically from the porch at her husband and son's antics, as she set aside the bottle and raised her tiny, daffodil colored daughter to her shoulder to burp her.

The gentle pegasus mare looked over as the door swung open and Applejack poked her head out, her usual cowpony hat replaced by a kerchief and an apron while she worked in the kitchen. She cocked a wary ear. "Was that Rainbow Dash I heard just now?"

Fluttershy nodded to her sister in law as she gently tapped her little daughter's back between her tiny wings. "Yes it was. She's going to be joining us for dinner. Big bunny just sent her to the hay barn to see what the girls are up to."

The blonde farm pony pursed her lips as a guarded expression washed across her freckled face. "She... uh... she didn't seem... uh... mad at all, did she?"

The pale yellow pegasus shook her head as a soft burp sounded at her shoulder. "Oh no, she was the same happy go lucky Dash she always is."

She let out a mellow chuckle. "Well, um... the tip of her tail was a little damp after Bud got done with it, but she didn't really seem to mind."

She cocked her ear curiously as she released Blossom to flutter over and join in the horseplay going on between Big Macintosh and her twin brother. "Why would she be mad? I thought you two talked things over last night and made up."

Applejack nodded hastily. "Oh yeah, that we did."

Fluttershy raised an eyebrow. "So why would she be mad today? Didn't you apologize to Mr. Soarin and..."

She fell silent as the blonde mare interrupted her. "Whoop! Better go check on the biscuits. Why don't y'all go upstairs and see if Windfall n' Granny Smith are awake from their naps yet." With that she made to hurry back inside.

The freckled earth pony stopped as the yellow pegasus' gentle voice called out to her, and she looked back to meet the gaze of a pair of suspiciously narrowing aquamarine eyes. "Applejack... There better not be any more yelling after I get the foals down for the night, or so help me I will buck both your backsides so hard you'll need a telescope to see your cutie marks. Okay?" The eldest of the Apple sisters could scarcely believe that such sweet, velvet soft tones could carry such implicit threat.

The farm mare only laughed nervously and gave her sister in law a weak smile, which the soft spoken pegasus returned cheerfully with a tiny squeaky toy noise. She vanished back inside the farmhouse as Fluttershy huffed and blew a strand of her pink mane out of her face, muttering to herself as she headed inside after Applejack and made for the stairs. "It's always something with those two..."


***

Twilight Sparkle adjusted her goggles with her telekinesis as she called out to Harmony Aeronautic's Chief Engineer with a slightly annoyed tone. "Apple Bloom, I think you've gotten the harness properly adjusted by now, don't you?"

The young earth pony gave a start, letting go of the strap she was tightening, and cast a sheepish look over her shoulder at the lavender unicorn. "Oh, uh... yeah... everythin's just dandy... we're go for haunch... I mean launch! Launch! Go for launch."

Rarity let out a soft chuckle and gave the hotly blushing handymare a sly grin as the redheaded pony stepped down from the platform. "I'm sure Pip appreciates your thoroughness, darling."

The spotted stallion gave a confident nod, reaching up a hoof to lower his goggles into place with an eager grin. "Indeed I do, Miss Apple Bloom." He turned to admire the harness, its wings hanging loosely down at his sides with newly applied Harmony Aeronautics logos on the canvas between the wooden spines, and gave an experimental shake of his withers. "Snug and tight and ready for flight, as the old sky skippers say."

Pip drew himself up with a toss of his head. "I daresay I'm ready when you are, ladies."

Twilight gave a nod to Spike, who stood poised with quill and parchment. "All right. Begin taking notes, Spike."

She cleared her throat, an avid grin appearing on her face. "Harmony Aeronautics Personal Flight Harness, Mark Three, Test Two."

Her horn began to glow with purple magic as she stepped up onto the platform and touched it to one of the wings. "Casting the spell."

As the sparkling aura suffused the harness and subsided, the lavender mare stepped back down and turned to face Spike with a bob of her horn. "Make a note that I will not be guiding, levitating, or otherwise influencing the motion of the harness in any way, save in the event of an emergency in which case I will use my telekinesis to assure the test subject's safety."

As the adolescent dragon complied with a scribbling of ink across the page in his clear, angular handwriting, she turned her attention back toward the pinto stallion with a businesslike expression on her face. "All right Pip, the harness is now enchanted to follow your subconscious commands. All you need to do is think about what you want it to do, and it will do it."

Pip lashed his tail in anticipation as he crouched to make a leap. "Jolly good! Lets see what these things can do, shall we?"

Twilight pursed her lips and pointedly cleared her throat. "Why don't you start out with a simple ascent, say twenty hooves or less?" She gave him an apologetic smile. "Lets learn to walk before we start galloping, eh?"

A slightly crestfallen look flitted across the young stallion's face as he stood to attention and gave a salute. "Right-o. Up I go."

The wings hanging at his sides shuddered, and moved slowly up and down, rising and falling in a faster and faster cycle until they began to beat in a steady rhythm. He let out a laugh as he began to rise up toward the rafters of the barn. "Oh, that's cracking that is! Absolutely top shelf!"

Twilight nodded in satisfaction. "Okay, now bring it back down."

Pip swished his tail with a pleading look on his face. "Must I?"

The lavender mare rolled her eyes. "Yes. I'd rather find out you can land now than find out you can crash later, okay?"

The young stallion gave a chuckle. "Quite so, I suppose what goes up must come down." He lowered gently to the platform and touched down with a soft tap of his hooves.

Twilight flicked an ear with a wry grin. "That's what Haystack Neighton said."

Her expression became serious again, although her eyes were gleaming with excitement. "Now go back up to about forty hooves, and try to fly in a clockwise circle."

Pip lifted off, hovering in midair for a few moments before turning and banking into a slow, circular flight pattern over their heads. He looked down with a broad smile on his face as a giddy, trilling laugh bubbled up from Rarity. She began to dance from hoof to hoof. "It's working! It's working!"

The lavender unicorn gave a slight nod. "We'll see... Pip, please stop circling, hover for a count of five, and then fly in the opposite direction."

A slightly nonplussed expression washed across the young stallion's face as he did a few more revolutions and finally drifted to a stop, losing a bit of altitude as his coltish face hardened in concentration. A few moments later, he rotated himself to face the other direction and started flying another circular path.

His voice was grave as he furrowed his brow. "Hmmm. Bit slow to react, I'm afraid. Took a few more laps than I intended there." He pursed his lips. "And I'm feeling a bit of resistance, like the wings are a bit on the heavy side."

At this Apple Bloom spoke up, her eyes riveted on the harness rather than it's occupant for a change. "Ya reckon maybe I built 'em a little too sturdy, gals? I could start lookin' at ways to decrease the weight..."

Twilight tapped her chin with a hoof. "Maybe. The original spell was calibrated for gossamer and morning dew, maybe I need to increase the motivating force a bit."

The red headed earth pony turned to glance over the blueprints and notes lying weighted down with stones on a nearby table. "I guess we're gonna need to do a l'il back n' forth with that, Twilight. Don't wanna crank up the force so much the wings can't stand up to it." She looked back to Rarity and Twilight. "And on the other hoof, we're definitely gonna want to see what we can do to lighten the whole rig up anyhow. Right now it's kinda like yer strappin' a gazebo onto yer back."

Rarity chimed in, settling down from her happy dance as her fashion designer's instincts took over and caused her to stare up at the harness with an appraising, sapphire gaze. "I quite agree. They could be much more elegant, although I'll let you girls work out magic versus mass before I start styling."

She smiled up at their circling test pony and batted her eyes. "That being said, you do cut quite a rugged figure in this set, Pip darling." The alabaster unicorn cast a sidelong glance and a wink at the red headed earth pony mare. "Don't you agree, Chief Engineer Apple Bloom?"

The young handymare blushed and opened her mouth to reply when a sandy voice called out from the barn's wide doorway. "Hey guys, what's... up?"

They all turned to see Rainbow Dash hovering just outside with her eyes wide and jaw hanging open.

Pip let out a chuckle and brought himself to a stop, rotating to face her as the artificial wings beat steadily, keeping him aloft. "I am, at the moment. Jolly good to see you Miz Rainbow Dash. Lovely day for flying is it not?" His raffish grin gleamed with a small spark as he cocked an eyebrow.

The chromatic maned pegasus didn't answer, flying slowly forward with the same stunned expression on her face.

Rarity broke the awkward silence that ensued with her silvery voice. "Rainbow Dash, allow me to present the Harmony Aeronautics Personal Flight Harness. It was all Twilight's idea, with Apple Bloom and I providing the wings and harness for her to enchant. Once its perfected, it will be an easy way for any pony to soar among the clouds."

Twilight stepped forward. "It uses the same spell I cast on Rarity when we came to cheer you on at the Young Flyers Competition. Only this time, the wings are much more durable, hopefully obviating the need for a pegasus rescue."

She cocked her head as Dash continued to stare with shrinking pupils and iris' at the hovering form of PIp, who's smile was beginning to fade into a look of mild discomfort at her continuing scrutiny. The scholarly unicorn flicked an ear as she looked up at her old friend. "Um... Dash? What... what do you think?"

The rainbow maned pegasus' head snapped toward her as her eyes flared and her lip curled back in a snarl. "What do I think? I think it's TERRIBLE!"

The stunned expression that Rainbow Dash had been wearing settled on the faces of all four ponies and their dragon stenographer as their ears laid back and their tails drooped in shock.

Twilight found her voice with considerable effort as the precise wheels in her mind simultaneously spun wildly and locked up. "Wh... what?"

Dash reared up, waving her hooves over her head. "What? WHAT? Can't you see what you're doing? You're ruining everything! You just took your little magical unicorn horn and stabbed the entire pegasi race in the back!" Tears began to pool at the corners of her eyes. "How... how could you?"

Before anypony could reply, she wheeled with a ragged sob and rocketed skyward, leaving her stunned friends staring at her rapidly fading rainbow contrail.

***

Soarin found himself being roughly shaken awake, and rolled over to see Rainbow Dash standing over him, the cyan hair on her cheeks streaked flat by tears. He blinked the sleep out of his eyes and sat up with concern on his face. "What... what's th' matter, Dash?"

She turned away, lashing her tail behind her. "Pack your saddle bags, Soarin. We're leaving."

The sky blue stallion scrambled to his feet, nearly stumbling into the pegasus shaped intentation he'd left in the floor of his room as he followed her with his ears laid back on either side of his sleep tousled mane. "What? What do you mean? Where are we going? I can't leave, I have to report for work tomorrow."

Dash replied with a growl as she disappeared inside the door to her room. "That doesn't matter. We'll all be outta work soon anyway. Might as well get used to it."

Just as the puzzled stallion opened his mouth to further question his fuming host, a soft voice came from the doorway to the outer terrace. "Rainbow Dash? Are you here?"

He turned to see a pale yellow pegasus with a flowing mane of pink hair, which she instinctively ducked behind as she met his gaze. "Oh, M-mister Soarin. I'm sorry if I disturbed you with all my yelling. Is Rainbow Dash here?"

She was answered by a crash from the inside of Dash's room that caused both her and Soarin to flinch. A moment later the cyan pegasus mare came stomping out and gave the newcomer a hard glare. "What do you want, Fluttershy?"

The butter colored mare ruffled her wings and took a tentative step forward. "I wanted to talk to you." She paused for a moment, then drew herself up a bit. "Actually, we all want to talk to you. Rarity and Twilight are just beside themselves right now."

Dash scowled. "And you're beside them too, I bet." She huffed angrily, her lip curling with disdain. "Of course you are. I guess you of all ponies wouldn't have a problem with what they're up to."  

Soarin raised an eyebrow. "What are they up to?"

The rainbow maned stunt flyer threw him a glare. "Only making you and me and every pegasus pony obsolete, that's all. Just taking away the only thing that sets us apart and makes us special."

At this Fluttershy's wings flared, and she softly stomped a hoof on the spongy cloud floor beneath her. "Rainbow Dash, if you think flying is the only thing that makes you, me, or any other pegasus special than I think you're doing us a bigger disservice than Twilight and Rarity ever could."

Dash bit her lip and angrily averted her eyes from the soft spoken pegasus' earnest gaze. "I don't expect you to understand, Fluttershy. You spend so much time on the ground you're practically an earth pony anyway."

The pink maned mare began to advance on her cyan colored friend, who quailed at the intensity suddenly radiating from her aquamarine eyes. "All right. Since you're the expert, maybe you can explain to my babies the difference between a pegasus and an earth pony. Maybe then they'll understand why their daddy can't go everywhere they can. Maybe you can explain to Pinkie Pie's daughters why their mommy can't play with them up in the clouds, and why she cries herself to sleep every night because of how badly she wants to."

Dash's voice cracked as she looked away, casting a pleading glance at the sky blue stallion who stood watching the confrontation with a furrowed brow. "Soarin, b-back me up here. You... you fly for a living just like I do."

The heavyset former stunt flyer slowly shook his head. "Sorry Dash, I'm with Mrs. Fluttershy on this one. If there were a way for earth ponies to fly then... then maybe my parents would never have given me up."

Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash both looked at him in shock, as he sniffled and dragged a foreleg across his snout, fighting to maintain a stoic expression. He looked back at his former team mate with glistening eyes. "Yeah, that's right. I was a balloon basket baby. I wasn't lucky enough to have parents like the Cakes or Pinkie Pie and her husband. My folks sent me off to an orphanage in Cloudsdale with no return address, and from there I spent most of my foalhood bouncing from foster home to foster home. The Wonderbolts were as close as I ever got to having a family."

Dash sat heavily down on her rump, her maroon iris' flicking rapidly back and forth as she took this in. Her voice came small and shaky. "You... you never told me you were a threebee, Soarin."

The stallion gave a halting shrug. "Not the kind of thing that comes up in casual conversation, Dash. The only reason I bring it up now is because if your friends are coming up with something that makes further editions of my life story less likely, then yeah, I'm all for it."

The rainbow maned pegasus turned back to Fluttershy with watery eyes as the soft spoken mare took a step toward her, holding out a wing. "Rainbow Dash, you said that these are what set us apart, but I think that being apart is no way for ponies to be."

She sat down in front of Dash and drew her into a hug, speaking gently into her laid back ear. "Do you remember how isolated you felt when you thought you were gonna make a foal of yourself at the Young Flyers Competition? Do you remember how it felt when the girls found a way to be there for you?"

Dash screwed her eyes tightly shut, trying to hold in the tears. "Y-yeah." She gave a halting shake of her head. "But... but I also remember how it felt to have Rarity showing me up with those fancy wings Twilight gave her."

At this Soarin chimed in, his voice even and earnest. "I was kinda bucked out during the exciting bits, but I seem to recall that you were the one that took the tiara that day, and the gal with the fancy fake wings was the one who needed rescued." He cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck as a faint blush appeared on his cheeks. "Not counting the three professional flyers who needed you to pull their tails out of a terminal as well."

Fluttershy reached up with a wing tip and wiped away one of Rainbow's tears. "Mr. Soarin raises a good point there, Rainbow Dash. Do you really think a pony wearing a set of artificial wings would ever be able to replace one who was born and bred to fly? I'm a pretty good swimmer with a snorkel and flippers, but you'd never mistake me for a fish."

She gave her oldest friend a smile. "The important thing is the snorkel lets me visit my little friends in the lakes and rivers, just like Twilight and Rarity's wings will let earth ponies and unicorns spend more time with their pegasus friends." She cast a gentle gaze toward Soarin. "Or their families."

The rainbow maned pegasus returned Fluttershy's hug, and sat back with a fragile smile on her face. "When you put it that way, I guess it's the same as that whirly thingamajig I had rigged up for Tank so he could play with me, isn't it?"

The butter colored mare nodded, her smile widening. "That's right, and I know for a fact that none of the birds ever thought he was going to replace them."

She cocked an ear as a wry expression tweaked at the corner of her mouth. "Well, the poor falcon was disappointed that he didn't get to be your pet, but he was a gentlecolt about it, and I eventually found him a good home with Archer and his family."

Dash let out a sigh and looked at her two companions with a contrite expression on her face. "I think I better get back to Sweet Apple Acres and tell the girls I'm sorry."

***

Rarity and Twilight came tumbling out the front door of the farmhouse, their manes disheveled and their eyes red rimmed and wet with tears, and fell into Rainbow Dash's embrace as soon as her hooves touched the ground. All three of them babbled out heartfelt apologies and stammered explanations before subsiding to sobs and the wordless mutual warmth of forgiveness.

Soarin and Fluttershy touched down shortly after Dash, both a bit out of breath from trying to keep pace with her. The blue stallion stood watching the three old friends' reconciliation with a lopsided smile, while the butter colored mare quietly made her way around them up to the porch where her towering husband stood. She gave him a tender kiss on his freckled cheek and took her place at his side with a sweet smile on her face.

Three more earth ponies soon joined them, as the Apple sisters and Pip stepped out onto the porch. Applejack met Soarin's gaze and gave him a terse nod, which he returned with a guarded expression and a bob of his head, neither of them wanting to mar the tender scene with any issues they may have had with one another. Apple Bloom let out a fond sigh at the sight of the two unicorns and the rainbow maned pegasus sharing a group hug and leaned against Pip's side. The young stallion drew himself up, momentarily startled at this unexpected contact, before giving the red headed mare a genteel smile and turning his attention back to the scene that unfolded in the barnyard.  

As Celestia's beaming sun crept toward the horizon and painted swaths of red and purple the vastness of the sky, all was right, for now, on the ground below.


The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> [link]

Part 9 - Obsolescence

Rainbow Dash comes to Sweet Apple Acres for dinner, but leaves suddenly when she sees what the girls at Harmony Aeronautics are cooking up.

Part 10 -> [link]
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Part 8 - Contact

Mayor Mare took a moment to throw open the windows in her office and breathe in the fragrant morning breeze that always blew through Ponyville this time of year. It was subtle, compared to the sweetness that pervaded the air when the apple orchards were in full blossom, but to longtime residents it was at once ever present and comfortingly in the background, the smells of grass being cut, of attics being aired out, of mist being brushed off of the cloud homes of the local pegasi.

For a town known for more than its share of tomfoolery and shenanigans, sitting so close to the unpredictable wilderness of the Everfree forest, very little actually changed in Ponyville from year to year, and that was just how the aging public official liked it. The Mayor's heart beat in time with the slower beat of days, weeks, months, and years, her love for her home town unchanging as she'd gone from dyeing her mane grey to hide the pink to dyeing it a pale pink to brighten up the grey. Of course, there were marriages, births and deaths, new ponies coming to town and old friends leaving town, the odd monster rampage or out of control baked goods incident, but even those were pretty much part of the rhythm when you looked at the big picture.

She adjusted her spectacles with a hoof and raised an eyebrow as she noted something different on the cobblestone streets below. A long, winding line of ponies was waiting patiently outside, many of them a fair bit younger than the usual daily visitors to the seat of Ponyville's civic life. She noticed a high percentage of them were sporting hats or tee shirts or waving pennants of blue and yellow with a distinctive lightning bolt motif. Why was there a line of Wonderbolts fans at city hall?

A knock on the door put that train of inquiry temporarily on hold, and she turned towards it with an ear cocked. "Yes?"

Her secretary's voice came from the other side with unaccustomed loudness. "Doctor Twilight Sparkle and Ms. Rarity Belle here to see you, Ms. Mayor!"

The grey haired earth pony crossed the carpeted floor with an expression of piqued interest on her face. "By all means, Paper Clip, let them in. Why are you shouting?"

The thick oaken door swung open ahead of a tumult of excited chatter echoing in the vaulted atrium beyond that swept into the Mayor's office like a wave of water pouring through a floodgate. Her secretary stood outside with a slightly strained look on his face, in contrast to the eager smiles of the two unicorn mares who accompanied him.

Twilight Sparkle stepped forward and proffered a hoof. "Hello, Mayor Mare. It's been too long. You're looking well."

Rarity stepped up beside her, a frilly cravat and suit collar accenting her alabaster coat with deep indigo and silver pinstripes. A briefcase emblazoned with her trademark cursive R hovered in close orbit, surrounded by a cloud of pale blue magic. She extended her manicured hoof to shake as well. "We're ever so grateful that you could spare us a moment of your time."

The Mayor nodded absently to their greetings as the cacophony from below filled the air, making it hard for her to focus. "Yes yes, always a pleasure to speak to you, Rarity. It has indeed been too long Twil... er... Doctor Sparkle." She walked past them with an apologetic nod. "If you ladies would pardon me for a moment."

With that she stepped out onto the gallery that overlooked the town hall's atrium, rearing up to hook her forehooves over the railing and craning her neck for a better look. There below she saw the usual que of ponies waiting their turn at the various bureaucratic offices housed on the first floor. The anomalous line wound parallel to this, and terminated halfway along the usual waiting line at a pair of blue pegasi who stood chatting, signing anything presented to them, and posing for photos. The mayor's brow furrowed as she noted the distinctive rainbow colored mane and tail of the female member of the duo.

She pushed back from the rail and made her way toward the stairs, huffing with annoyance. "Of course… Some things really don't ever change..."

She called back to Twilight and Rarity over her shoulder as she stalked away. "Please go in and make yourselves comfortable! I'll be back with you shortly!"

***

Down in the atrium, Rainbow Dash signed a Wonderbolts pennant with practiced ease, speaking out of the side of her mouth as she deftly worked the quill between her lips. "...stay awesome, stay cool, stay in school, your pal, Rainbow Dash."

The teenaged pegasus colt rose into the air with a giddy grin on his face as he examined the freshly signed autograph, complete with a simplified version of his heroine's tricolor lightning bolt cutie mark. "Oh wow! You're the best pegasus ever! Thanks so much!" He glanced over at the pudgy blue stallion standing at Dash's side. "Oh, and thanks for your autograph too, Mister Soarin."

The older pegasus gave the younger one a weak smile. "Just call me Soarin, kid. I don't warrant a 'Mister'."

Before the teenager could respond, a trio of school fillies behind him with autograph books at the ready pointedly cleared their throats. With a grateful bow the happy young lad took his leave.

The chromatic maned pegasus chuckled and nudged Soarin as the colt fluttered away on a cloud of excitement. "Heh. Cute kid. A lot more polite than some of the colts we run into out on tour. That's what I'm talkin' about when I say Ponyville's a friendly..."

Her expression changed to one of wariness and alarm as she caught sight of the Mayor marching across the atrium in their direction. "Uh oh, crosswind alert, incoming at seven o' clock low. Just let me do the talking."

The grey haired mare lashed her tail imperiously as she approached. "Rainbow Dash! Just what do you think you're doing here?"

The brightly colored stunt flyer dug a fore hoof on the ground. "Well, I'm just here with my team mate Soarin..."

The sky blue stallion muttered despondently. "Former team mate."

Dash cast him a glare and continued. "I'm here with my team mate Soarin to help him fill out an application for the Weather Patrol."

The Mayor gave the gloomy pegasus stallion the barest of glances before turning her attention back toward his chromatic companion. "That's all well and good, but you're disrupting business here in the town hall. Please do something about this crowd or I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

Soarin laid a hoof on Dash's shoulder. "These fans are really here to see you, Dash. I can wait in line by myself. Why don't you take this crowd someplace outside where they won't bother anypony?"

The cyan mare glanced between him and the frowning Mayor uncertainly. "But... I don't wanna leave you hangin', Soarin."

The stallion shook his head with a sad smile. "I'm in line at the Bureau of Weather Scheduling. Hangin' is what you do here... I'll be fine. Go."

Rainbow Dash gave Soarin a reluctant nod before turning toward the line of waiting fans and lifting a short distance into the air with a beat of her wings. She raised her hooves wide for attention. "Hey kids! I'm thinkin' it's kinda stuffy here in town hall." At this she threw a pointed glare at the Mayor. "So how about you all follow me to Ponyville Park. I feel like doin' a few quick stunts before I sign the rest of your autographs, okay?"

An exuberant cheer went up from the line of Wonderbolts fans that reverberated in the normally quiet office complex. They followed the rainbow maned pegasus out the front door in a thunderous drumming of hooves and beating of wings.

As the dust settled, the Mayor gave a strained cough, straightened her cravat, and spun on her heel to return to her office with a brief nod to Soarin. The noise level in the atrium had dropped back to its usual staid calm, with only the scattered hoofbeats of stragglers fading out through the doors.

The sky blue stallion gave a small sigh and settled back into his place in line. He gave a start as he looked toward the space recently vacated by the line of fans and saw a lone blonde earth pony mare standing there looking at him expectantly. A small, round basket with a red and white checkered cloth covering its contents sat perched on her back, and she held her battered cowpony hat cocked in the crook of a foreleg.

When his green eyes met hers she took a step forward. "I reckon it's finally my turn. Howdy, Mister Soarin."

The pegasus forced his wings back down into a neutral folded position with effort as he took a moment to gather his wits. "Oh! Uh... Miss... Miss Applejack. H-hello." He cleared his throat self consciously. "Uh... What... what brings you to the town hall this morning?"

The orange farm pony took another step forward, pawing at the ground with a hoof. "I just wanted to apologize to ya fer bein' so ornery with y'all last night. T'weren't no call fer me t' be so harsh with a fella who's goin' down a rough patch o' road right now."

Soarin' gave a halting shrug. "N-no, that's okay. You uh... you gave me a lot to think about."

Applejack craned her neck to pluck the basket off of her back, unaware that the brief smile she gave him before she did so sent a shiver down the hapless stallion's spine that split at the base of his tail and shot down his flanks to his knees, causing them to liquify. He sat heavily down on his rump as she turned back and set her cargo down in front of him.

He blinked out of his stupor as he studied the basket. "Uh... What's this?"

The blonde mare gave him another smile, which this time safely grounded itself in the atrium floor with the barest twitch of Soarin's tail. "Aw, just a l'il somethin' t' say I'm sorry and t' welcome y'all t' Ponyville." She reached down and caught the checked napkin up in her teeth, pulling it back to reveal the golden, flaky crust of an apple pie.  

Soarin's eyes went wide, and he felt his forelegs go loose as well, collapsing him onto his belly and bringing him down to nose level with the pastry. He inhaled a deep whiff of the pie's scent, reaching forward with shaking hooves. "Sweet Celestia's pinfeathers! It's the pie. It's the pie."

Applejack drew herself up proudly and casually crossed a foreleg in her trademark pose of satisfaction. "Eeyup! That there pie is the pride o' Sweet Apple Acres, made with my Granny Smith's special recipe from genu-wine Sweet Apple... Acres... apples?" She trailed off and looked nonplussed down at the prostrate stallion as he grabbed the basket in both hooves and unceremoniously shoved his face into the pie, chomping and slurping it down with gusto.

The blonde mare reared back in dismay, tearing her gaze away from the flakey, syrupy carnage at her feet to glance with reddening cheeks at the other ponies in line who stood stunned and staring at the spectacle of a heavyset blue pegasus demolishing the contents of the basket like it was a condemned house and his face was the wrecking ball.

She shuffled her feet as the pin drop silence of the hall echoed with his grunting and smacking lips, and tentatively cleared her throat. "Uh... Mister Soarin. Y'might wanna... I didn't think y'all would just dig in right here."

She reached out and nudged at the basket. "Could ya maybe, uh... maybe slow down a tad there..."

Her green eyes flashed as she set her legs, raising a fore hoof to bring it down sharply with a loud klonk on the top of his head. "Cut that out before ya choke on the flippin' pie tin, ya goldurned, slackjawed slob!"

Soarin reared back, startled and then abject as he met the blonde earth pony's sharp gaze. She lashed her braided tail behind her. "What th' hay is wrong with y'all? Were ya raised by timberwolves or somethin'?"

The pegasus stallion looked down at the splattering of pie filling and crust that dribbled down his chest, and his lower lip began to quiver. "I... I'm s-sorry. I didn't mean to..." He halfheartedly reached up and wiped his hotly blushing face off with a hoof. "This is... I'm.. I'm sorry. I..." He was cut off as the checkered napkin flew into his face, momentarily filling his vision with red and white squares.

He could hear Applejack's voice, brimming with disapproval. "Sorry is right. I ain't one t' stand on social graces, but it's clear t'me that yer mama never taught ya any manners at all, or self control fer that matter."

By the time he'd pulled the cloth down from his eyes, he saw the earth pony mare trotting away from him with the basket handle in her teeth and her nose upraised, her ears laid back beneath her hat and her tail hiked disdainfully behind her.

Soarin launched himself into the air with a grunt, momentarily dithering between following after her and holding on to his spot in line. He hurriedly wiped the rest of the pie wreckage off of his face and chest and cast the checkered cloth aside, launching into an arcing trajectory that carried him over the farm mare's head and spun him around so that he landed facing her with a heavy thud of his hooves. His green eyes were lit with a glare of determination. "Will you at least let me explain?"

Applejack rolled her own leaf colored eyes and made to move past him, speaking snidely out of the side of her mouth as her teeth clenched tighter on the basket handle. "What's to explain? I've slopped enough hogs t'know one when I see one."

Soarin threw out a wing to stop her. "Hang on there, lady. Nopony talks that way to me withou... ow ow ow ow."

The sky blue pegasus stallion found himself forced face down to the floor, as the blonde mare dropped the basket and lunged forward to grasp the shank of his extended wing in her teeth, then proceeded to twist the feathery limb into an uncomfortable angle against his back. After a moment of squirming uncomfortably on the floor he felt the tension release, and his wing sprung back to it's full extension with its feathers splayed across the polished stone surface.

He felt a hoof pushing down on his withers as a simmering voice sounded in his ear. "Y'all better shape up mister, or else y'can get used to hearin' folks talk to ya like that."

With that, she gave a final downward shove and released him, scooping the basket back up as she trotted away. "Except for me. I ain't got nothin' else t' say t' y'all."

Soarin struggled back to his hooves, his eyes blazing and his teeth grinding. He flared his wings angrily, wincing as the one that Applejack had placed in a half lock cramped up, and shouted after her. "Thank you VERY much for the loopty loopin' PIE!"  

The freckled earth pony flicked her tail dismissively and was out the door without another word. The fuming pegasus snorted twin jets of steam from his nostrils, and turned away with a growl. His face fell as he saw that his place in line had been filled in, the ponies in the que making a pronounced show of minding their own business with averted eyes and softly cleared throats.

Soarin's ears levered back and his tail and wings drooped, as he shuffled to the back of the line. A tiny black cloud coalesced over his head as he slouched his shoulders and braced for the wait.

***

A tiny black cloud floated over Applejack's head as she sat tapping a fore hoof on the ground out front of the Carousel Boutique. Apple Bloom sat at her side with a look of growing irritation on her face.

Eventually, she turned to her sister with a huff. "So just what is eatin' y'all today?"

The elder sibling gave a snort and muttered under her breath. "Hmph. Eatin' is right..." She scowled petulantly and avoided her sister's gaze with a scrunched up nose. "Nothin'."

The red headed mare rolled her eyes and changed the subject, well aware of the impenetrability of that particular inflection of "nothin'" coming from her sister. "Y'know we don't gotta sit out here on th' doorstep. Snips said we could wait inside for Rarity n' Twilight t' show up."

Applejack sat up straight with her nose in the air. "I'm fine right here. Y'all can go right ahead if'n ya want."

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes back the other direction and slouched into a sigh. Her gaze fell on the empty basket at her sister's side. "So did y'all give Mister Soarin his apology pie?"

The blonde farm pony scrunched her nose up even further into a grimace. "Yeah. He got th' pie all right. He got it good. Poor thing never stood a chance."

The young handymare cocked an eyebrow and flicked an ear as a wry smirk crept onto her face. "Now why do I get the feelin' yer gonna be bakin' another one real soon."

Applejack gave her own roll of the eyes to that. "Yeah, 'cos that's just what that overgrown foal needs is t' cram more pie down his gullet." She stuck out her lower lip as the little cloud over her head darkened. "That and a durn fire hose t' wash off afterward."

Before Apple Bloom could press her sister for any more details a silvery voice called out to them from a pair of approaching unicorns. "Yoo hoo! Hello there, my lovelies!"

The Apple sisters stood as a beaming Rarity and a pensively smiling Twilight Sparkle walked up to greet them. The pale fashion designer's sapphire eyes were sparkling with excitement as the briefcase hovering at her side flipped open and disgorged a sheaf of parchments in a cloud of shimmering blue magic.

She rustled them in the air with a flourish."You two are currently basking in the glorious presence of the brand new owners and operators of Harmony Aeronautics, Ltd." A business charter hovered before the two earth ponies' eyes, adorned with a red wax seal bearing the town crest of Ponyville and signed and stamped with Rarity and Twilight's cutie marks.

The lavender unicorn let out a chuckle and gave her partner a sidelong grin. "I thought I was the one who got excited over paperwork, Rarity."

The alabaster coated fashionista replaced the papers in her briefcase and returned her fellow unicorn's smile. "When that paperwork is going to let me fill the very skies of Equestria with my designs, as well as help my dearest friends be closer to their families and potentially make us a fortune, you bet your star spangled derriere I'm excited."

She turned her attention to the Apple sisters, looking them over with a suddenly analytical eye. "Now, my dears, on the subject of my designs, lets get the two of you kitted out for our soiree at the Royal Opera, shall we?"

Apple Bloom came forward with a bright smile on her face and fell into step beside Twilight as the door to the boutique glittered with more pale blue sparkles and swung open to let them inside. Applejack grimaced and flicked her tail in irritation, her whole body heaving with a weary sigh as she worked up the will to follow them.

A knowing look washed across Rarity's pristine face, and she stepped up to her old friend and pulled her into a gentle hug. "Darling, this means so much to Twilight, your sister, and I, and it will mean ever so much more to Pinkie and your dear brother as well if we play our cards right. You do know we appreciate it, don't you?" She blew away the little black cloud hovering over Applejack's head with a gentle puff of breath.

The blonde mare gave her a squeeze in return before the two disengaged, a resigned smile flitting across her face. "Yeah yeah, I know it."

Her dour expression returned a moment later. "And I hope y'all know that aside from my family there ain't nopony else on who's account I'd go thru spendin' a night trussed up in a fancy, frou-frou dress listenin' t' fat ponies caterwaulin' in Neightalian."

Rarity huffed and rolled her eyes. "Someday I'd like to find the pony who taught you the term "frou-frou" and give them a piece of my mind. What do I always say when we inevitably come to this point in the conversation?"

Applejack sighed and hung her head in exasperation. "That what y'all do with fancy duds and hairdos is just the same as when I take a cloth n' a li'l spit t' polish up an apple real shiny. Y'all're just takin' a little bit o' extra time n' care t' bring out the natural beauty that everypony has, even me."

The alabaster unicorn shuddered a bit at the mention of saliva, but pressed her case. "Especially you, darling. Someday I'll get it drilled through that thick skull of yours how attractive you can be if you gave a little more thought to your appearance. And don't even get me started on your wild misconceptions about opera. For one thing, the opera is in Germane, not Neightalian. For another opera music is exquisite and full of beauty and emotion even if you don't understand the lyrics, and to call it caterwauling is frankly an insult to the composers, musicians, and singers who devote their lives to it."

Her attitude became a bit more confrontational as she stamped a hoof for emphasis. "And on that subject, while my sister may not be as toned as Apple Bloom she is most definitely not fat!"

Applejack recoiled a bit from Rarity's tirade and held up a conciliatory hoof. "Okay, okay. Ease up, sugarcube. I didn't mean no slights, to Sweetie Belle or anypony else. I'll try t' keep an open mind."

The pale fashion designer let out a breath and reengaged her charm. "That's all I ask from the Element of Honesty, darling. Now come inside so I can start polishing some Apples."

Applejack gave her a wry grin as she passed. "As long as y'all ain't gonna spit on me..."

Rarity made a face eloquent of disgust as she followed her farm pony friend inside. "Eeeugh. Perish the thought, darling."

***

A couple of hours later the earth pony sisters had been measured from stem to stern and Applejack had departed, eager to catch up on the daily tasks that awaited back at Sweet Apple Acres. She gave her old friends and younger sibling a terse nod of farewell and was gone.

This left Apple Bloom, Twilight and Rarity together in the alabaster unicorn's "inspiration room". The pale fashionista sat eagerly at her drawing board, horn rimmed glasses perched on her snout, as markers danced a waltz of creativity across her sketch pad to the tune of her dulcet humming. The lavender scholar had her tomes and papers laid out on a cleared off section of workbench, poring over the runes and figures while beside her the young earth pony engineer sat scribbling notes with a pencil on a copy of the flight harness' blueprints. The three mares spoke not a word, but deep down were glad of one another's company in a genial atmosphere of productivity.

The busy hush was broken by a soft knock on the door, and a round faced unicorn stallion with a neatly parted orange mane appeared with a genteel dip of his horn. "Pardon me for interrupting your design session, Ms. Rarity, but you have a caller."

Rarity turned, levitating a marker to push up her glasses. "Who is it, Snips?"

The blue green tailor gave his employer a smile. "Mister Pip Squeak, ma'am. He says he's here about employment."

The elegant alabaster mare shared an expectant look with her companions, and then floated a cap onto her marker as she glanced at an ornate clock hanging on the wall. "Excellent! Right on time! Tell him we'll be down shortly."

Snips gave a nod and shimmered away as the three mares disengaged from their work. Twilight and Apple Bloom rolled their eyes and shared a wry glance as Rarity produced brushes and combs and proceeded to primp all three of them simultaneously.

The pale unicorn mare caught their exchange and tsked. "You two may not be used to the idea, but we're all executives now. It never hurts to make a suitable impression on our employees."

With that, she set aside her implements, tightened her cravat, and beckoned for them to follow her with a flick of her horn.

As the three mares descended the stairs, Pip Squeak drew himself up and gave a jaunty salute, grinning from ear to ear. "Pip Squeak the pilot, at your service!"

He cut quite a dashing figure, clad in a sharply tailored uniform jacket in white with deep blue piping. A buff canvas flight helmet with its chin strap unbuckled sat on his head, a shock of his rich brown mane poking out from beneath the curve of a set of highly polished brass goggles that ran across his forehead. His pinto coat had been brushed to a high gloss, and his hooves gleamed in the light.

Rarity stopped short with a smile of her own spreading across her face, totally oblivious to Apple Bloom stumbling and nearly pitching headlong down the stairs past her save for some quick magic from Twilight. The pale unicorn's voice came out in a giddy trill. "Celestia have mercy! Could you be any more adorable?"

She traipsed the rest of the way down and began to circle the young stallion, stopping to call up to Twilight as the lavender unicorn helped Apple Bloom regain her footing. "And here you thought I'd been a bit hasty in hiring him. Just look at him!"

The young earth pony mare did just that, nearly missing the bottom step as her pale yellow face became almost as red as her mane.

Pip blushed modestly and pawed at the ground. "This is just my old steward's togs from the Royal Blue Line. Seemed like the appropriate thing to wear on my first day." He nodded toward one of his shoulders, where the faint outline of a missing shield shaped patch could be seen. "I had me mum take off the patches, of course, seeing as I work for you lovely ladies now rather than that bunch of bit pinchers."

At this Rarity stopped short in her orbit of the handsome young stallion, a dawning look of elation on her face. "Ooh! Ideeea! I'll be right back!"

Twilight stepped forward as her partner galloped from the room, her violet eyes looking over the earth pony with a much more analytical air. "Well, I suppose it falls to me to give you an official welcome to the company, Pip."

After the two exchanged a brief hoofshake, the lavender mare started pacing back and forth as the pinto stallion settled into a parade rest stance. "I'll start by explaining that your job will be to test a succession of experimental, and very possibly dangerous devices. Every effort will be made to ensure your safety, but there is still the very non-trivial possibility that you might suffer grievous bodily harm in the course of your duties."

Pip gave her a raffish grin. "Well, ma'am, danger would be my middle name if me uncle Algy hadn't taken precedence." Another glint of light sparked briefly across the whiteness of his teeth.

The scholarly unicorn gave him a curt nod. "Fair enough. Now, I trust you're in good health, no pre-existing medical conditions we should know about?"

In response the young stallion shook his head. "No ma'am. Fit as a fiddle with all strings in tune. I can readily provide my release papers from Ponyville General, or my health records from Royal Blue if you can wait for the post." He turned a bit to give them a better view of his side and flank. "Or if you like I'd be happy to submit to a full physical examination by..."

Pip trailed off as a soft thud sounded on the carpeted floor behind Twilight Sparkle. Both the earth pony stallion and the unicorn mare turned to see Apple Bloom shakily pulling herself to her hooves. "I... I'm okay... just missed that last step..."

Twilight cocked an eyebrow at her. "Weren't you already all the way down?"

The young mare only scrunched up her face and averted her amber eyes in response, her face almost glowing bright red.

The lavender unicorn shook her head and continued her questions to her new employee. "Further medical examination won't be necessary, Pip. If you're fit for service on an airship you're fit for our purposes."

She flicked her ear as Apple Bloom's slightly husky voice sounded behind her. "I'll say..."  

Twilight's horn glimmered as she met Pip's eyes. "There are a couple of magical tests I'd like to perform with your permission."

He gave a slight bow of his head. "At your pleasure, ma'am."

A cone of coruscating light shot out from the unicorn mare's horn and washed across his face. "What color are you tasting right now?"

Pip smacked his lips curiously. "Um... blue?"

Twilight nodded thoughtfully. "Good." Her magic narrowed into a pulsing beam. "Now turn your head and say your name."

The young earth pony complied. "Pip."

The scholarly mare pursed her lips. "Hmm. Say it backwards."

He raised an eyebrow. "Er... Pip?"

She nodded in satisfaction as the beam winked out. "Excellent!" She gave the young pony an earnest smile. "Well, I think Rarity was right about you, Pip. I'd be willing to say you're an ideal candidate for the job of test pony."

All three ponies turned to the sound of cantering hooves as the alabaster unicorn returned, a pair of flat circular objects trailing behind her in a glow of magic. "Of course I was right. And look here, I have just the thing to make it all official. I'll make some more of these and put them on windbreakers for the rest of us."

She floated the hoof sized shapes over to where Pip was standing, laying them against each shoulder of his uniform where they affixed themselves in a flash of magic. The young stallion turned his head to look, as Twilight and Apple Bloom stepped forward to see as well. Each patch was a vibrant purple, with the words "Harmony Aeronautics" in white encircling the outline of an ascending gold pony with white butterfly wings over a pink six pointed star flanked by a blue diamond and a red apple.

Pip let out an appreciative whistle. "I say, that's just smashing!"

Twilight took the young stallion's hoof in a firm hoofshake while her partner preened. "I think you're right again Rarity. This does make it official."

The pale unicorn let out an urbane chuckle. "It's about time we made it official that I'm right, darling."

Twilight gave a roll of her eyes and met Pip's gaze with a confident smile. "Welcome to Harmony Aeronautics, Testing Officer Pip Squeak!"

***

The sun was rolling toward the western horizon, glinting off of Rainbow Dash's cyan wings as she touched down on the terrace of her decrepit cloud manor, a tinge of weariness about her face as she schlepped across the fluffy clouds toward her doorway and went inside.

She perked up an ear at the sound of intermittent grunts and gasps coming from one of the doorways off of her living room. Following the noises, she craned her neck to peer through the ornate, swirl festooned arch. There before her, his sky blue hide slicked down with sweat, was Soarin, alternating between doing pushups with his forelegs and his wings.

The rainbow maned mare lashed her tail and called out to him with an edge of indignation on her voice. "There you are! I've been looking all over Ponyville for you!"

The sudden intrusion on his concentration caused the heavyset pegasus to lose traction with his hooves and belly flop onto the spongy cloud floor beneath him, embedding him slightly in the fluff. He pushed himself up to a sitting position, dragging a hoof across his forehead to get his sodden forelock out of his eyes as he turned to face her. "I've been here since I left the Weather Bureau."

Dash flicked her tail and cocked her head. "Oh yeah? How'd that go?"

He gave a shrug. "Had a long wait in line, but otherwise it went fine. I got the job. Orientation's at nine o' clock tomorrow."

The cyan mare flared her wings with a wide grin. "That's great! Good goin'!"

She cocked an eyebrow as the smile faded from her face. "You seem kinda mad about something, tho."

Soarin gave a brief shake of his head. "I'm fine."

She looked at him with searching maroon eyes. "You uh... you sure."

The sky blue stallion's lips formed a tight line as he avoided her gaze. "No. I'm fine."

Dash rustled her wings. "Oookay. So you want to maybe get cleaned up and go get some chow?"

Soarin gave another terse shake of his head. "I already ate."

The chromatic maned mare shuffled her feet, kicking loose a couple wisps of white fluff. "Oh... Okay, I was thinking I was gonna go by Sweet Apple Acres and see what Applejack is cookin' up." Her voice took on a singsong quality as she rocked back and forth on her hooves. "Maaaybe there'll be some of her totally awesome apple pieeee."   

Soarin winced, his wings flinching slightly, before his face settled into a grim smile. "That is good pie. The best I ever had."

His team mate's face fell as he turned away from her and settled back down onto his belly. "I'll pass. I've got a few more reps to do, then a quick shower and bed for me. Got my work cut out for me tomorrow."

Rainbow Dash blinked in shock, staring at him in confusion as he started alternating wing and fore hoof pushups again. She hesitantly turned away from the archway. "O- okay, Soarin. Don't... uh... don't strain yourself too hard or anything. I'll... I'll send your regards to Applejack."

He grunted a reply as he switched to pushing up with his wings. "Yeah, you do that."

She dragged her hooves as she walked away, her cyan face eloquent of confusion. "Okay. Have a good night, buddy."

Soarin puffed as he pushed up with his hooves. "G'night".

Dash shook her head and headed back out to the terrace, launching into the late afternoon sky with a powerful beat of her wings. She looked over her shoulder at her receding manor with a furrowed brow as she flew toward the sweeping groves of apple trees in the distance.

Back in his room, Soarin's forelegs shook as he heaved himself up off the spongy cloud floor one more time. He let out a yelp of surprise as the fluffy white surface suddenly gave way beneath his hooves, causing him to sink in up to his withers. He spat out a mouthful of mist and strained to free his engulfed limbs.

After a moment he went limp in weary defeat, slumping back into the floor's pillowy embrace with an exasperated growl. "Aw sleet and hailstones..."


The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> [link]

Part 8 - Contact

Twilight and Rarity apply for their charter.
An apology with pie goes awry
Pip reports for duty
Soarin has his work cut out for him.

Part 9 -> [link]
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Part 12 - High Notes

The new Royal Opera House was a tour de force of monumental Equestrian architecture, one of the most striking features of the Canterlot skyline. It rose over the domes and cupolas of the city, a row of concentric, horseshoe shaped arches with almost perfect acoustics anywhere within its cavernous interior.

Beyond the performance and appreciation of the finest pony music from ancient folk tunes to classical operas and symphonies to jazz and big band combos to rock and roll to the latest in cutting edge magilectronica and wubstep, the grand structure served a secondary purpose as a stage for the Equestrian elite to parade and perform for one another in their own esoteric dramas of social status and ostentation. For many of the creme of Canterlot culture, the show that went on among the marble pillars of the entry hall was the main event, while whatever lavish performance went on on the actual stage inside was merely the pretense for it.

Central to it all, as they were to the very rhythm of life for all of Equestria, were the Princesses, and while the arts of music and song (and the elite's jostling to appear the most cultured) would have flourished without their patronage, their interest and occasional presence truly made the scene come to life.

Celestia dearly loved all forms of music, as every note resonated with the happier refrains of her life's eternal song. She relished each new performance as a parent relished the sound of their children's voices singing anew the tunes they remembered from their own childhood. It was here, more than at court or in the halls and archives of the palace, where she truly felt in touch with the minds and souls of her little ponies.

Luna's interest in the performing arts was much more personal, and in the years since her return from exile she'd become an even more avid patroness than her elder sister. The darkened theater or concert hall were places where ponies had come to understand and appreciate the magic inherent in her night, walking home afterward under her stars and the lights of the cities, their heads filled with the waking dreams they had seen and heard on stage. Her delight in the culture that had arisen and flourished in her absence, and the night life that had developed because of it, were things that she treasured as only an immortal can.

Thus it was with wings flared and genuine smiles of joy and expectation that the co-rulers of Equestria alighted on the special dais reserved for their arrivals on the steps of the opera house and ascended to the entry hall side by side, followed by a quartet of honor guards. As was their custom, the royal sisters chose to go unadorned in anything but their usual raiment of tiara, torque, and horseshoes, their ethereally glimmering manes and tails flowing in the winds of magic that suffused their everlasting being.

Their guards, a pair of snowy white pegasi and a pair of dusky grey, bat winged negasi, were decked out in tuxedoes at Luna's insistence to better suit the occasion. This was a concession on Celestia's part, a compromise wrought years ago to assuage her younger sister's disappointment at their policy of only appearing in their traditional regalia rather than dressing up in the latest finery.

The regent of the sun had long ago come to understand the effect she could have on Equestrian fashion. If for some reason she'd decided to shave off her mane and crop her tail, the floors of salons all across the land would be hock deep in the multicolored tresses of a million mares. She much preferred to let her little ponies exercise their own creativity, and set and follow their own trends, and was happy remain unchanging as the sun, to sit back and watch the pageantry with a bemused twinkle in her eye.

Luna adored change, as the phases of her moon and the movement of her stars attested, and it was with great reluctance that she agreed with Celestia's position on the matter.

That, however, didn't stop her for commenting on what other ponies were wearing in a relentless stream of sotto voce asides to her elder sibling as they moved through the reverently genuflecting crowd. "Will you look at that? Either bustles are coming back into vogue or somepony needs to cut back on the cheesecake. Lets hurry past so the poor dear doesn't have to keep waving that thing in the air all night."

The sun princess rolled her eyes and muttered out of the side of her mouth. "Now Luna... 'If a pony doesn't have anything nice to say...'"

The regent of the moon gave her sister a wicked grin. "'... then they can come and sit next to me.' Stay cool, sis, you know anything I say is for royal ears only. I'd never dream of actually hurting a pony's feelings, whether they deserve it or not..."

Her expression became benevolently regal as she bobbed her horn at the subject of her acerbic observations. "You look fabulous tonight, Duchess Eclair. Like a full moon gracing the night sky."

Celestia rolled her eyes in the other direction with the faintest sigh as Luna gave her a wink. It took most of her considerable self control not to start whooping with laughter when her sister got on a roll.

She felt the night princess' dusky wing brush against the tip of her own. "Speaking of huge royal rears, look! Here comes Blueblood and his trophy wife." She pursed her deep indigo lips. "Although whose head is mounted on whose wall is pretty clear when you look at them."

The couple in question pushed their way through the crowd to make a show of bowing with a grand flourish to the Princesses. As Prince Blueblood approached, the impression he gave from across the room of a large, handsome white unicorn stallion with a flowing golden mane was undercut by a general puffiness about his face and physique, the faint yellowing of his coat, the creeping thinness of his locks accompanied by the signs of extensive work by mane stylists to keep up the illusion of his rapidly receding youth. His faded blue eyes were a bit bleary, a bit sunken, his smile a bit more affected and his charm a bit more unctuous as the years and a lifestyle whispered about by Canterlot's gossips began to take their toll.

His wife was half his age and in her prime, a pastel pink earth pony mare with a lavender mane streaked with pearl colored highlights. She was bedecked in a crimson gown with golden stockings, tastefully adorned with a constellation of jewels and gold lamé ribbons. She would have been rather attractive, if her face hadn't given the impression that she could and would spit poison at the slightest provocation. She lowered her cold, calculating eyes and deployed an obsequious smile as she shouldered her husband aside and bent her knee in a curtsey.

Princess Celestia smiled a smile of impartial warmth toward them. "Ah, Prince Blueblood. Princess Tiara. A pleasure to see you this evening."

At the solar regent's use of the word "princess" to address her, the young mare looked as if she'd just taken a mouthful of the most delicious candy in the entire history of confectionery after prying it from the hooves of a tearful foal. The faintest sneer could be detected on the unicorn stallion's face if somepony observant had cared to look.

Princess Luna's expression was much more ambiguous. "Our night is brightened by the sight of such a charming couple."

The two mortal ponies exchanged a glance tinged with self absorbed smugness and bowed a bit deeper to their sovereigns.
The pastel pink earth pony spoke first, cutting her husband off and leaving him glaring at her with barely suppressed loathing. "You honor us, your highnesses."

Blueblood cleared his throat pointedly, working to keep his expression smooth and even. "Your kind words shine upon us like your sun and moon, and brighten the glow of our wedded bliss, your highnesses." Diamond Tiara surreptitiously rolled her eyes and stuck her tongue a little way out in a gagging motion that both royal sisters pretended not to notice.

A thin smile tweaked the corners of Luna's mouth. "Truly it can be said that you two richly deserve one another."

With that, the princesses' gave a parting bob of their long, tapering horns and moved on, leaving the dissolute unicorn and his chilly eyed bride to exchange another preening glance before they turned their attention to carefully watching who might approach the royal guardians of the sun and moon next. Both sisters let out a faint sigh of relief as they walked away.

Luna leaned in to murmer to her sister. "You know, I heard a rumor that a changeling had infiltrated those two's manor house."

Celestia cocked a regal eyebrow, a look of concern putting the slightest furrow on her pristine forehead. "Oh really?"

A tiny smirk tugged at the corner of the moon princess' mouth. "Yes, the poor thing staggered out a week later and threw itself on the mercy of the city guards, claiming that it was on the verge of starving to death. If that were any more a marriage of convenience they would have had to find a chapel with a drive thru window."

The sun princess allowed the tiniest snort to escape, suppressing what could have been a loud guffaw with the same amount of effort it took for her to restrain solar flares on the surface of the sun. A faint wisp of smoke trailed out of one of her delicate nostrils and quickly dissipated, unnoticed by all present but her sister.

The moon princess cast about the ornate chamber for something else to comment on, wondering mischievously if she could get hot plasma to shoot out of her elder sibling's ears at some point in the evening. Her turquoise eyes lit up with genuine happiness as they settled on a familiar group making their way across the ornate, red carpeted foyer.

Luna got her sister's attention with another gentle flick of wingtip to wingtip, gesturing with her horn in their direction. "Oh look, sis! Now there are some ponies you and I are always happy to see." She gave a nod of approval. "And so help me you they are all just working it tonight."

Rarity absolutely lived for times like these, making a grand entrance in a stunning new creation, lighting up the crowd with her very presence. She was the pony that everypony should know, one of the shining stars in high society's firmament, from Canterlot to Manehattan to Mareis and beyond. Tonight she scintillated in a gown of crystalline blue with diamond accents, her stockings a faintly metallic silver, her luxurious mane bound by cascading midnight blue ribbons studded with tiny sapphires. She made her stately way across the crowded room, all genteel smiles and ready charm, making remarkable progress for as often as she stopped to exchange pleasantries or acknowledge a greeting.

Applejack, on the other hoof, felt like a fish out of water that had just been asked to take hold of the rudder and steer the boat, but she held her head high and kept an even expression. She'd been to her share of hifalutin' shindigs through the years, but she still didn't much care for dressing up fancy and behaving "properly", especially since her definition of "proper" behavior was antithetical to the aloof, judgmental pretension that most of the ponies around her were practicing.  

The blonde farm mare took a bit of comfort in the easy, relaxed manner with which Soarin carried himself as he walked along at her side. Thanks to Snips' skillful tailoring he was looking quite dapper in his tailcoat and tie, his normally unruly mane swept back in a smooth wave. He was an old hoof at working crowds from his years as a Wonderbolt, and took it all in stride.

Apple Bloom and Pip followed close on their heels. The spotted stallion's smile flashed like the highlights of a diamond, as he responded gallantly to the appreciative looks he was getting from several of the mares in attendance. The youthful handymare was looking a bit on edge, as she met those same flirtatious glances with a sharp glare that said in no uncertain terms that if any of them tried anything they would get a face full of size five horseshoe.

Twilight Sparkle's expression had been one of happy detachment. She enjoyed going to live performances for the sake of the show itself, particularly when she'd read the script or libretto and could compare the opera or play as staged to the text, but had little interest in the posturing of Canterlot's elite. As far as she was concerned, there were only two ponies in the crowd besides her friends whose opinion mattered to her, and even the elite looked up to them. Her face lit up expectantly as she saw them approach.

Princess Celestia's voice radiated warmth as she greeted them. "Good evening, my faithful ponies. We're so glad that you could join us tonight."

Her regal sister Luna gave a nonchalant wave of her hoof and a casual grin as the group gathered around. "Hey there kids, what's shakin' ?"

Princess Diamond Tiara watched as intently as she could while attempting to appear utterly disinterested, as the co-rulers of Equestria glided through the crowd like a pair of swans to warmly greet the group of newly arrived ponies. Her eyes flared in recognition, blinked in disbelief, and then narrowed venomously as she recognized a pale yellow earth pony mare with bright red tresses among them. The object of her ire was looking annoyingly beautiful in her bronze colored evening gown, with an insultingly handsome young stallion at her side, and seemed unforgivably friendly and relaxed with their royal highnesses as she shamelessly exchanged pleasantries with them.

She sneered with bitter distaste. "What is that... that peasant doing here?"

Blueblood idly flicked an ear at the sound of his wife's voice and muttered under his breath as he scanned the nearby crowd. "That is what we wonder to ourselves every morning when we come downstairs for breakfast."

The pastel pink princess turned and hissed at him. "Better than wondering if you can even afford breakfast, hubby dearest, and don't you ever forget it."

She snapped her tail across his flank, causing him to almost rear up in indignation and then fix her with a sulky glare. She jerked her head toward the tall, elegant forms of Celestia and Luna as they proceeded with the group from Ponyville toward the stairs to the box seats. "Now come on, we've got to keep an eye on them."

The off white unicorn rolled his eyes. "Why, pray tell?"

The earth pony mare's lip pulled back in a snarl that made a cold shiver run down the unicorn stallion's spine. "Because shut up and do what I say, that's why."

With that, she reapplied her genteel mask, gave a toss of her pearl streaked mane, and stalked off through the crowd. Prince Blueblood heaved a heavy sigh and fell into step behind her.

***

Diamond Tiara had sulked all through the first act, simmered during the interlude, and was positively seething by the close of the second act, completely ignoring the glittering costumed spectacle of gods, dragons, and heroes unfolding on stage. The sweet taste of high society success at obtaining a box seat adjacent to the Princess' royal box had turned to ashes in her mouth as she watched her red headed foalhood rival blithely sitting in the immortal sisters' resplendent company as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

For his part, her husband Blueblood maintained his air of regal hauteur, strained though it was by the spectacle of Celestia and Luna leaning on one another and utterly failing to hold back their uncontrollable giggling, which had begun shortly after the young unicorn mare who was portraying the sun princess in the opera had made her grand entrance, lowering down from above the stage in a resplendent costume of white samite, gold lamé, and colorful gossamer.

Her voice was impeccable, he was forced to admit, as clear as a crystal glass and sweet and rich like a bronze bell, but the royal unicorn stallion had found her stage performance a bit... indecorous. She'd even had the gall to give Princess Celestia a broad wink in the midst of her soaring aria in the second act, which to the shock of almost every pony in the audience had caused both of the regal sisters to burst out in gales of cackling laughter that soon had them rolling on the floor of their box and kicking their hooves in the air. The mares and stallions sharing the box with them merely looked on with amusement, joining in on the laughter like peasants at a barn dance.

It was a tribute to the professionalism of the dove grey earth pony mare who was conducting the orchestra that they had managed to continue playing despite this loud disruption from the royal box, which only seemed to egg the young singer on while the other performers on stage did their best to keep the show rolling. It wasn't long before the cast had all warmed up to the princesses' unrelenting mirth, and soon the audience was being treated to the most broadly comic, undignified performance of Wagoner's grandiose magnum opus that had ever hit the stage.

An uneasy hush had fallen over the theater as the curtain fell for intermission, which was shattered as Celestia and Luna leapt to their hooves and unleashed a clattering wave of stomping accompanied by cheers of "Bravo! Bravissimo!". Having no other option than to follow the lead of their sovereigns, the rest of the audience joined in, filling the echoing hall with a thunderous ovation.

Twilight Sparkle rose and turned to her immortal mentor as the lights went up for intermission. "Princess, I hope the two of you don't mind, but there's a bit of business that Rarity and I, as well as our friends here, would like to discuss with the both of you in private."

Celestia was still chortling, wiping a tear from her eye with a tip of her wing as she replied to her student. "Ah,Twilight Sparkle. Normally I wouldn't want to mix business with pleasure, but I am in such a good mood right now that a little bit of business would hardly spoil it. I would be happy to hear you out."

Luna gave her sister a smirk. "Yes, and perhaps afterward you can 'arise like a heavenly lover at the dawn to kiss the faces of all thy adoring subjects'." This caused her elder sibling to let out a long snort that exploded into another gout of laughter, leaving her propped up against the snickering regent of the moon with her snowy wings tightly held to her sides.

The solar princess gasped with hilarity. "S-stop it, Luna! I c-can't... My royal ribs..."

She composed herself and stood to her full regal height. "All right, we only have a few minutes before the curtain rises again. Please come with us to the royal salon where we can have our little chat."

Her darksome sister nodded in agreement. "I must admit, I'm almost more interested in what you all have to say than what Wagoner's got in store for us in Act Three."

Celestia bit her lip to stifle another giggle as they headed out the curtained archway.

As the group from Harmony Aeronautics fell into step behind the stately princesses, Diamond Tiara pushed back from the polished brass railing of her box, where she'd been listening intently with a craning neck and highly pricked ears. She stumbled over her gown's trailing hem as she hurried to her husband's side. He was just making his way down to the lounge to get a pinch of salt when she caught up to him.

She reached up and clamped her teeth on his ear, dragging him aside behind a velvet curtain before he could protest with much more than a strangled yelp. Her eyes were flashing with urgency as she spoke to him in a desperate whisper. "Blueblood! I need you to cast your invisibility spell on me."

His ears levered back and he blinked in poorly feigned innocence. "Wh-what? What invisibility spell? Ow!"

She gave him a swift kick in the shin and a grimace of frustration. "The invisibility spell you always use to sneak out of the house and go hang out at the Polo Club with your cronies.That invisibility spell."

The sunken eyed stallion sniffed in strained indignation. "We have no idea what you're talking about."

The pink pony princess grabbed him by his lapels and started to shake him. "Make me disappear right now or I will make you disappear piece by piece starting with your crown jewels. Capisce?"

Blueblood let out a bitter sigh as his horn sparked to life. "Those disappeared the moment we signed the pre-nup. Now hold still."

He leaned forward and touched the tip of his horn to the bridge of her snout, which vanished in a wave of glimmering unicorn magic that washed across her, leaving empty space in its wake.

He stepped back with a frown as her disembodied voice sounded in the alcove. "Good boy. You've earned your allowance for the week. Try not to blow it all at the track."

As the muffled sound of her high heeled horseshoes receded down the thickly carpeted hallway, Blueblood rolled his slightly bloodshot eyes and muttered to himself. "If only I knew a spell to make her inaudible as well..."


The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> [link]

Part 12 - High Notes

A Night at the Opera.
Our plucky band of aeronauts turn out for a night of high culture.
Celestia and Luna crack up.
Trouble waits in the wings.

Part 13 -> [link]
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Part 2 - Falling Into Place

Sweetie Belle wobbled a bit on her gold painted platform horseshoes as she struggled to keep her balance on the slowly rotating dais that dominated the center of her sister's workroom at the Bijou Boutique, the crown jewel of Canterlot's high fashion scene.

The elaborate headdress and wig she wore was threatening to pull her forward onto her primrose white face, and probably would have succeeded in doing so were it not for the weight of her billowing gown and the sweeping pair of swanlike wings that adorned it. The young unicorn mare wasn't the most coordinated pony in Equestria, and the tightness of the harness that underpinned her costume was making her a little light headed, which wasn't helping.

Rarity gazed at her sister with a critical eye over her horn rimmed glasses, smartly tapping a hoof on the hardwood floor to signal to the shop assistant who was hitched to the windlass downstairs. The turntable came to a sudden stop, causing Sweetie Belle to lurch sideways with a chime-like cry. Her elder sister drew in a sharp breath, expecting her to topple to the floor in a heap of white samite and multicolored gossamer, but with a grimace of effort, the younger mare shifted her weight in the other direction, precariously righting herself.

The unicorn tossed her elegantly curled violet mane and gave her a smile. "Bravo, Sweetie! Well corrected!"

Her younger sibling grinned triumphantly as she wove a bit under the burden of her finery. "The choreographer's been having me rehearse with saddlebags full of sand and dumbbell weights on my horn. She says I gotta get used to big costumes if they're gonna keep giving me these big parts."

Rarity let out a chuckle as she started walking around the platform. "Well, it would hardly do for the Princess to go pitching rump over teakettle in the middle of the stage, now would it?" Not wanting to burst Sweetie Belle's bubble, she bit back a comment about her little sister already being prone to doing so without the expedient of a large costume.  

The alabaster unicorn's face became serious as she went back to evaluating her work. "Hmm. The body line isn't quite right. Hold still, darling."

Her horn sparkled with shimmering blue magic, causing the laces on the gown's girdle to tighten. Sweetie let out a melodious squeak as her cheeks bulged out and her soft green eyes went a bit crossed. As Rarity completed a circuit around the platform, she reared back in alarm as she looked into her sister's flushed, pleading face. "Oh dear! I don't think Princess Celestia's supposed to be that color."

Sweetie drew in a huge, gasping breath as the laces on her girdle loosened again. She glared at her sister with a frown creasing her open brow. "Sheesh, Rarity! I need air to sing, ya know! The straps on this harness are tight enough without you cinching up the corset too."

The elegant fashion designer lashed her violet tail. "Well I'm not loosening those straps, sister dearest, no matter how much you complain. I'm worried enough about you falling down at stage level. I'm not going to take any chances with the wire work. It would be dreadful for both our complexions."  

She turned and bobbed her horn to one of her assistants, who stood next to a hoof cranked winch. "Speaking of the wire, Bobbin dear, would you be so kind?"

The earth pony set his hooves on the pedals and started turning the winch, lowering a cable down from the rafters. The line terminated in a split, with a pair of metal clips solidly spliced to the ends. These Rarity caught with her magic and attached to a couple of carefully concealed steel rings protruding from the rump and withers of Sweetie Belle's costume.

Her slightly miffed expression softened as she met her sister's gaze. "You ready?"

The younger unicorn nodded, a slight tinge of nervousness on her primrose face. Rarity, in turn, gave a nod to her assistant, who dutifully threw his back into cranking the winch and raising Sweetie Belle into the air.

The elder unicorn tsked and called up to her sister as she signaled for the winch to stop. "Darling, I'm fairly certain that Princess Celestia doesn't do much flying with her eyes closed."

Sweetie's voice came out strained and shaky. "Workin' on gettin' 'em open. Gimme a minute."

Rarity blew a stray curl out of her face. "You used to do things like this all the time with Scootaloo and Apple Bloom when you were a filly."

Her younger sister made a clipped reply as she gently swung back and forth like a pendulum. "What do you think I'm flashing back to right now?"

The alabaster coated mare lashed her tail in annoyance. "Sweetie, I think between the two of us, I have much greater cause to be afraid of heights than you do, and I'm telling you this is nothing. You're only twenty hooves up for Celestia's sake."

Her elegantly coiffed head whipped around as an awestruck voice sounded from the doorway. "Oh wow, Rarity! Sweetie Belle looks amazing! You've really captured the Princess' essence!"

A fond smile spread across the fashion designer's face as she saw a lavender colored unicorn with pink and purple streaks in her slightly disheveled violet mane standing there, a delighted expression on her face belied by the dark bags under her eyes.

Rarity beamed with pride as she walked over to greet her. "Twilight dear, so glad you could come. Coming from you I take that as a considerable compliment to both of us."

Sweetie Belle managed to pry an eye open and gave a small wave. "Hi, Miss... uh, I mean Dr. Twilight."

Rarity gave her friend a quick hug, planting a kiss on each cheek before she held her at foreleg's length with a raised eyebrow. "If I may be so bold to say, darling, you're looking a bit rough around the edges. I thought your trip to Ponyville last week was supposed to relax you." She plucked a brush off of a nearby table and started to work it through Twilight's mane without a missing a beat.

The lavender unicorn submitted to her friend's ministrations without protest, knowing it wouldn't do her any good to do otherwise. "Oh, it was. Everypony sends their love, by the way."

She let out a wry chuckle. "No, I just got caught up in a little problem and have been burning a few extra candles trying to puzzle out a solution, in addition to my regular research."

Rarity tsked. "Well, I'm hardly one to scold you about that, seeing as I've been pulling more than my share of late nights getting the costumes done for the Royal Opera."

She set the brush aside and led Twilight over to the side of the platform. "And on that note, come take a good look at our rising star here, or rising sun, as it were." She let out a little chuckle at her own joke, then continued. "Since you know Princess Celestia as well as anypony, I wanted to get your studied opinion on my work, and I'm sure Sweetie here wouldn't mind a few tips on carrying off the part."

Twilight smiled up at the sequin and samite impersonation of her mentor, admiring her friend's handiwork. "Well, like I just said, I think she looks marvelous." She called up to the younger mare. "I bet you never thought you'd grow up to be the ruler of Equestria, did you Sweetie? You look wonderful! Very true to life."

Sweetie Belle let out a nervous chuckle, like a glissando of silvery bells, and beamed at the compliment. "Thanks, Twilight. I just hope the Princess herself enjoys my performance."

The scholarly mare's eyes twinkled. "Just relax and do your best. I happen to know that "Ring of the Neighbelung" is one of her Highness' favorite operas."

She leaned forward and raised a hoof to the side of her mouth in a conspiratorial stage whisper. "Although she once told me that she thought Wagoner laid it on more than a little thick with her dialogue and lyrics, so don't take it the wrong way if she starts cracking up during your big solo in act two. She said that's as long as she can usually hold it in. Just remember, it's not you, it's the libretto. I think part of the reason the Princess likes it so much is it gives her a good laugh."

A bit of the tension drained from Sweetie's posture as she let out a giggle. "Well, I did used to think that comedy was my special talent."

She gave the older unicorn a fond smile as she rocked gently back and forth on the cable. "Thanks, Twilight. I was beginning to get a little bit of my old stage fright thinking about performing for an immortal demigoddess, but if she's going to enjoy the show either way then I can stop worrying about that and just concentrate on singing as good as I can."

Rarity gave her sister a wry smile. "As well as you can, Sweetie, which is very well indeed." She followed with a wink. "And if all else fails, just try to visualize everypony in the audience without any clothes on."

Sweetie Belle traced a couple of slow arcs through the air as a puzzled look settled on her open face. "Uh... Rarity, ponies don't normally wear..."

Her sister cut her off abruptly as she clacked her hooves smartly on the floor. "Anyway, lets get you down from there, darling. It's getting on toward lunch time and there's this positively fabulous little sushi place that just opened on Farrier and Main that I've been simply chomping at the bit to take Twilight to."

The lavender mare grinned. "Sounds great."

Sweetie tossed her head with a mock imperious expression on her face, lapsing easily into the Royal Canterlot Voice. "THIS DOTH PLEASETH YOUR PRINCESSETH AS WELL! LOWER ME, BRAVE SIR BOBBIN, SO THAT I MAY PARTAKETHETH OF YONDER FOODETH!"

She punctuated her booming speech by throwing a hoof skyward with a grand flourish. Her heavy soled platform horseshoe came loose and launched into open space, arcing over the young mare's shoulder. Rarity and Twilight's pupils shrank to pinpricks as time seemed to slow down, and they watched the gold painted hoofwear spin as it followed its predestined trajectory toward the head of the earth pony assistant stationed at the winch.

Time returned to normal with a coconut-like klonk sound, as the heavy shoe bounced off of the stallion's skull. A multicolored constellation of stars appeared around his head, accompanied by bells and cuckoo noises as he staggered away from the mechanism with wobbly, stumbling legs and wildly spinning eyes. Sweetie let out a perfectly pitched shriek as the unponyed winch started unwinding, sending her plummeting toward the floor.

Just as suddenly she jerked to a stop, the wings of her costume bobbing up and down as she stopped bouncing and came to rest, her eyes clenched shut and her legs tucked up tightly to her body.

Rarity shook away her shock and heaved a sigh of relief as she saw a shimmer of purple magic around the pedals of the winch, holding it steady.

She turned to the lavender unicorn beside her with a grateful smile. "Excellent catch, Twilight. That was..." She cocked an eyebrow as she noticed that her scholarly friend was staring raptly at her sister. "Um... Twilight?"

Twilight Sparkle didn't answer, her violet eyes wide as her head bobbed up and down in time with the diminishing oscillations of the wings on Sweetie Belle's costume.

Her brow furrowed, and she looked across the platform at the winch. With a surge of her magic, she cranked it, raising the young unicorn up a few hooves, then let her drop back down a short distance, staring raptly at the motion of the wings once again. Sweetie let out another shriek, kicking her hooves and losing another shoe.

Twilight let out a gasp. "That's it!"

Eyes sparkling in fascination, she started winding the winch back and forth, causing Sweetie to bob up and down in a steady motion. A smile began to creep across the lavender scholar's face, a note of exultation on her voice. "That's IT!"

The young opera singer's cheeks bulged out, and she swallowed hard, muttering with a thick voice. "I... I think I'm gonna barf..."

Rarity rounded on her old friend with her sapphire eyes flashing and stamped a hoof. "Twilight! If you are quite finished playing with my little sister like a yo-yo..."

This snapped the scholarly mare out of her reverie, and she looked up at the younger unicorn with dawning horror and chagrin. "Oh no! Sweetie I'm so sorry."

With that she gently lowered her to the platform. Sweetie Belle tottered on her half shod hooves and collapsed, spiraling to the turntable's surface with a rustle and a thud.

***

In short order, Rarity had everything sorted out. Sweetie Belle was laid out on a fainting couch with a warm washcloth over her eyes. Bobbin was propped up on some cushions in the break room with a bag of ice atop the swelling bump on his forehead. One of the interns was en route to the sushi restaurant for takeout. The Celestia costume was arranged on its ponikin awaiting triage and repair. Everything was back in its proper place. Now there was only the odd behavior of her guest to account for.  

When she returned to the workroom the pale unicorn mare found Twilight scrutinizing the wings, and gently moving them with her telekinesis while a heavily bookmarked tome bound in royal blue hovered nearby.

She gave a guilty start as Rarity cleared her throat behind her. "All right, Twilight Sparkle. Perhaps you'd like to tell me what this is all about? It's happened to me enough times for me to know inspiration striking when I see it."

The lavender unicorn rounded on her with an eager gleam in her eye. "I think I've figured out a way to let ponies fly."

The alabaster colored fashion designer favored her with an arched eyebrow in an otherwise deadpan expression. "Yes. I think I've heard of it. It's called being born a pegasus. Perhaps you've met a few of them?"

Twilight shook her head, her friend's sarcasm sailing past her. "No! I mean earth ponies and unicorns!"

Rarity huffed in growing exasperation. "This is also not news. You cast that spell on me the first time we all went to Cloudsdale."

The lavender unicorn nodded enthusiastically. "Yes! Exactly! But the problem was that it was very hard to cast, and ultimately extremely unreliable!"

The fashion designer rolled her eyes with a pained expression crossing her pale features. "It certainly was, although I suppose one could say that was hardly the spell's fault."

Rarity suddenly found herself pulled cheek to cheek with her studious friend, as Twilight levitated the book over to float before their eyes. "I've been analyzing that spell, taking it apart at its basic principles."

She ran her hoof across the complex sigils and charts that covered the mouldering parchment. "It breaks down into three main components: the physical generation and connection of the wings to the subject, the animation and control of the wings, and an aerodynamic factor that mimics the intrinsic flight magic of pegasus ponies in regards to generating thrust and countering gravity."

Twilight paused, giving Rarity a slightly manic grin. The elegant fashionista could only muster a puzzled shrug in reply. "So?"

The scholarly mare rolled her eyes so hard it made her horn trace a small circle in the air. "So, since these components are discrete, they can be removed from the incantation without compromising the other components, and by removing the hardest component, i.e. the conversion of ambient mystical energy to a physical solid with anatomical interfaces to a living being, the bulk of what makes the spell difficult is removed. The remaining two components are so simple even a unicorn of relatively modest skill could perform them, as they're very closely related to the basic telekinesis that we all can do."

Rarity's brow furrowed pensively as she tried to sort through the wall of jargon that had just been thrown at her. "Sooo... you leave out the part where you create the wings... But, if you leave that part out, what's the point?"

Twilight dragged her friend around to face the Celestia costume, reaching up with a hoof to rustle one of the wings. "The point, my dear Rarity, is why conjure a pair of wings out of gossamer and morning dew, when you can sew a much sturdier pair out of fabric? One that a pony can keep in their closet and put on anytime they wanted to go flying!"

The alabaster unicorn's face went paler, as her sapphire colored eyes grew wide and started to sparkle, the glimmers in the depths of her widening pupils resembling the shine of gold coins. "Sweet Celestia's unbridled overbite! We're going to be rich!"

The Bijou Boutique suddenly echoed with the loud, giddy squeal of two unicorn mares.



The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> [link]

Part 2 - Falling Into Place

Twilight returns to Canterlot with the problem of giving flight to the flightless weighing on her mind. During a visit to Rarity's boutique, inspiration strikes like a heavy, gold plated platform horseshoe.

Part 3 -> [link]
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Part 13 - Connecting Flights

The rich velvet curtains by the doorway rustled imperceptibly, parting and falling closed as the princesses settled themselves on an elegant divan and motioned Twilight, Rarity, and their companions to make themselves comfortable on the richly brocaded cushions scattered about the opulent lounge suite reserved for the royal sisters and their guests.

Princess Celestia gave her prized student an encouraging smile and gave a bob of her tapering horn. "Now, Twilight, what is this matter that you and your friends would like to bring to our attention?"

At her side, Princess Luna sat with a look of guarded interest on her dusky face. "Yeah, lay it on us."

The scholarly unicorn mare smiled back, and her violet eyes began to gleam as her horn sparkled to life. "I'd like to start by thanking your Highnesses on behalf of myself, Rarity, and the employees and friends of Harmony Aeronautics, a new company that we founded under town charter in Ponyville to develop a breakthrough in applied spellcasting that will allow all types of ponies to enjoy the benefit of winged flight. We present to you, the Harmony Aeronautics Personal Flight Harness."

With that, a glittering spark floated off the tip of her horn and drifted between her and the royal sisters. It began to draw a glowing outline of a pony in the air, filling the room with a cool, bluish light. Once the equine profile was completed, the gleaming dot, which looked like a firefly but moved with crisp purpose, traced out a schematic of the wings and harness around it. The spark then moved on to trace out a series of magical equations and diagrams in the air beside it.

Twilight's voice took on a discursive quality as she continued. "The basic principle originates with a spell authored in the third century A.R.C. by Princess Ascendia the Ever Hopeful. By deconstructing its component elements, I was able to isolate the animation and control sub-spells, update them to a modern standard, and apply them to a pre-constructed wearable apparatus, replacing Ascendia's spell woven membrane and arcano-biological interface."

Rarity stepped forward and sparked her own horn to life, sending a wave of thrumming glitter toward the diagram. As soon as her silvery blue magic touched the outline, it produced a small pop as it became a three dimensional representation of a pony, taking on something of Pip's likeness. The wings it wore began to beat steadily, raising the little figure up off its hooves to circle through the air in a lazy figure eight.

The elegant, alabaster mare cleared her throat and gave the sister sovereigns a winning smile, batting her sapphire blue eyes at them. "We were rather hoping that we might obtain a Royal Charter for our company to further develop this idea. Properly funded, and with your Highnesses' support, we feel that our flight harness will be nothing short of transformative for Equestrian society."

She conjured more tiny, illusory ponies over their heads, a flock of pegasi hovering above a small herd of earth ponies and unicorns. One by one, winged harnesses appeared on the ground bound ponies, and one by one they took off and rose up to join the pegasi in the air. Soon all the little flying ponies were happily playing together in the domed vault of the chamber beneath the crystal chandelier.

Rarity drew herself up, her mannered tone replaced by a rising, oratory flourish. "No longer will ponies of different sorts be stranded apart from one another. No longer will the pegasi be all alone in the skies." A pair of smaller pegasi flew in close to a tiny pink mare in her illusion, nuzzling her cheeks as tiny hearts popped into existence over the little family.

The elegant unicorn's voice cracked slightly as she concluded. "No longer will the mothers and fathers of winged foals be forced to remain grounded as their children play overhead, out of their reach." She pulled a silk hoofkerchief from among the layered folds of her stole and dabbed at her glistening eyes as a hush fell over the royal salon.

With a slight wave of her horn, Princess Celestia summoned one of the tiny, flight harness wearing illusions closer, examining it with interest. "Well, this is certainly an intriguing proposition, girls. The wing design is definitely clever."

At this, Rarity drew herself up proudly. "I made a small contribution to the current harness' overall aesthetic, but the majority of the credit goes to our ingenious chief engineer, Apple Bloom."

A muffled growl sounded from behind the curtains, unnoticed by everypony in the room, as the young handymare gave a halting bow of her elegantly beribboned head to the princesses. "Aw shucks, yer Highnesseses, I ain't no in-genius. I was just puttin' stuff together how it made th' best sense. Twilight's th' one who came up with th' idea n' cast th' spells, n' Rarity's our big picture gal, in addition t' makin' the wings that go on my framework."

Her blush flickered redder as she glanced over at her handsome escort, who gave her a jaunty smile. "And y'all gotta give Pip here his due testin' 'em out."

At this, Princess Luna gave the young stallion a wry grin with a twinkle in her eye. "Why Pip, that sounds terribly risky! Didn't I give you enough thrills and chills on Nightmare Night all these years?"

If the moon princess noticed Apple Bloom's eyes flaring and her ears laying back, she didn't deign to show it, perking her indigo ears attentively as Princess Celestia directed a question at the young mare's elder sister. "So, Applejack. What is your part in this venture?"

The blonde farm mare met her sovereigns' eyes with a frank gaze. "I reckon I'm th' voice o' reason, which is the whole reason Twi n' Rarity asked me along."

She cast a brief, blush tinged glance at Soarin', before continuing with a grave expression on her face "I ain't completely convinced a pony that ain't been born with a set o' wings can come t' much but trouble n' tears by strappin' on a set o' fake ones n' takin' t' th' sky."

The honest farmer gave the lavender unicorn a pained look. "I watched Twi test out this watchamacallit o' theirs and I was plumb afeared that she was gonna break her neck if it weren't for a bit o' good luck and a pile o hay bales. I reckon if more ponies get their hooves on this thing, there's gonna need t' be a lot more hay stacks 'round Equestria."

The princess of the sun raised a hoof to silence Rarity and Twilight's protest, as she kept her benign gaze on the blonde earth pony. "So you think what your friends are doing is dangerous? Too dangerous to continue? Do you think this "flight harness" is too dangerous for a pony to use?"

At this, Applejack gave a shrug. "I can't honestly say, yer highness. Twilight's th' smartest pony I ever did meet, n' Rarity n' Apple Bloom are pretty durn sharp as well. I reckon I trust 'em to work it out such that these wingdings o' theirs work pretty good. Still, I think it's wise t' consider that ponies that ain't so sharp get into plenty o' trouble with their four hooves on the ground. What'll it be like if'n th' same pony folk took t' th' air?"

Soarin tentatively cleared his throat, drawing the others' attention. "If... uh... if I could interrupt for a second, your royal highnesses..."

Princess Luna gave him a nod. "Please do, Lieutenant Soarin. My sister and I would be interested in getting a pegasus' perspective on this."

The sky blue stallion ruffled his wings. "Well, I guess I'll add that being born with wings doesn't keep a lot of pegasi from taking the occasional dirt dive." He tugged at the collar of his tux with a pained look on his face. "As a certain... uh... recent incident at the Fillydelphia Hippodrome might tell you, even the Wonderbolts aren't immune to it."

A wry smile flashed across Applejack's freckled face. "I reckon that's true. Even Rainbow Dash used t' take th' occasional header into the hillsides n' such."

Princess Celestia spoke to him with a searching gaze. "So do you approve, or disapprove of what Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, and Apple Bloom are doing?"

Soarin raised his head slightly as he replied. "Oh, I definitely approve, because of something Miz Rarity said a minute ago."

He met the princesses' eyes with a level gaze. "You see, your Highnesses, I'm what the pegasi in Cloudsdale call a threebee, a balloon basket baby. I was given up for adoption by my parents, probably 'cos they couldn't fly. Odds are they were earth ponies like the Apple sisters here."

At this, Applejack laid a gentle hoof on his shoulder. "Not like us, sugarcube. We Apples don't cast away kin so lightly."

He gave her a fond smile, before he turned again to face the princesses with a tentative shrug. "Maybe my parents didn't want to deal with a kid who'd always be out of reach. Maybe they just wanted me to grow up among my own kind. I dunno."

He turned to give Rarity and Twilight a nod. "But if this invention of theirs makes more earth ponies or unicorns with kids like me think twice about givin' 'em up, I'm willing to give it the high hoof."

Princess Celestia met the sky blue stallion's gaze with bottomless warmth radiating from her smile. "We appreciate your candor, Lieutenant."

She shifted in her seat and shared a wistful look with her dusky sister. "I'd wager poor old Clover would have given anything for a set of these when she was looking after the two of us, eh Luna?"

The moon princess let out a chuckle of nostalgia. "That, or some filly sized lead horseshoes."

The regent of the sun smiled in shared mirth. "I think Cookie might have suggested that once or twice."

Her expression became calm and businesslike. "So, getting back on the topic of a charter for this enterprise, what do you think, my most royal sister and co-ruler?"

The regent of the moon tapped her hoof on the arm of their divan with a thoughtful expression. "I think I'd like to see this device in action before I give my full approval."

Her elder sibling gave a genteel nod. "I agree. I think a demonstration is in order. Could you possibly have one prepared for us in... say... a week's time?"

Rarity drew herself up with a toss of her luxurious mane. "But of course, your highnesses."

Twilight held up a hoof. "Wait a minute, Rarity..." She looked at the princesses with a small furrow of concern in her brow. "Begging your hignesses' pardon, but what sort of demonstration are you expecting?"

Princess Celestia gave her former protege a fond smile. "You never disappoint me, my faithful student. It's always better to find out the question before providing an answer."

She cocked her head in thought for a moment, before giving the principals of Harmony Aeronautics a nod. "I suppose we could start with the basic pegasus F.A.T. and then see some performance tests for things like speed, maneuverability... and safety, of course..."

Twilight nodded eagerly. "Of course. Yes, I think we can furnish a demonstration by then. What do you say, Chief Engineer Apple Bloom?"

The young mare tore her eyes away from darting anxiously between Pip and Princess Luna and replied to the lavender unicorn with a distracted nod. "Oh... uh... yeah, I reckon we can be good t' go by then."

The red headed handymare's expression darkened as the regent of the night spoke up. "Excellent, I'm looking forward to seeing Pip go through his paces. I'm sure it will be quite a show."

Princess Celestia smiled up at the chandelier above their heads as it dimmed three times to signal the end of the intermission was fast approaching. "And speaking of shows, it's time we got back to our seats. Come along, my dear ones..."

With that, they all stood and filed out of the salon. Princess Luna hung back a few hoofbeats, sidling up to Apple Bloom as they headed down the plushly carpeted hall.

She waved Pip away with a bob of her horn. "I'm gonna borrow your filly for a minute, okay Pip?"

The young stallion cocked a curious eyebrow, then gave a bow and trotted off to join the others. The princess of the night draped a wing across the red headed mare's stiffly bunched shoulders and leaned in to whisper in her laid back ear. "Quite the fine hunk of stallion, isn't he?"

Apple Bloom went pale, then red. "Uh... I... Uh... I ain't sure that's uh... proper for me t' be discussin' with y'all, yer highness..."

Princess Luna gave her a gentle squeeze and continued with a warm smile. "Well, to me he'll always be the same little colt in a pirate costume I met just a decade ago. You could stand to chill out a little, Miss Apple, I'm no cradle robber."

The young earth pony's ears drooped. "I... I'm sorry, Princess. I didn't mean no disrespect..."

The dusky sovereign let out a silvery chuckle. "No harm done. We're cool. Just remember that jealousy gets you nowhere." She gave Apple Bloom a wink. "I should know."

The red headed mare nodded solemnly to her. "I... I reckon y'all're right, Princess. I guess I got a li'l worked up 'cos of th' looks  all th' mares have been givin' him."

Princess Luna smiled fondly at her. "The same looks you should be giving him at point blank range, sweetheart, instead of watching all those other mares who didn't make it across home plate. My nights are much better when they're shared with one pony rather than a whole roomful."

The princess of the moon bobbed her horn toward Pip. "Now why don't you run along and catch up with your gentlecolt, the stars are right for romance tonight."  

She paused, tapping her hoof on her chin thoughtfully. "That is, if I remembered to point Sagittarius in the right direction..."

Apple Bloom grinned and bowed her head in a curtsey. "Thank y' kindly, Princess. I think I know why yer Pip's favorite. I reckon y'all're mine too."

Princess Luna smiled fondly as she gave the young mare a courtly nod, releasing her to canter back to her handsome escort's side. The dusky sovereign of the night's smile widened as the red headed earth pony leaned in to whisper in Pip's ear, causing a blush to appear on his coltish face.

***

Back in the royal salon, the velour curtains moved as if blown by the wind, and the muffled sound of a young mare's voice could be heard, tinged with dawning horror. "Oh horse apples. Horse apples horse apples horse apples horse apples."

The drapes flew aside, to the sound of galloping hooves across the thick carpet and out into the hallway, gaining speed as a steady undertone murmur of "Horse apples horse apples horse apples." sounded out.

Midway down the dimly lit corridor there was a startled cry and the sound of a pony stumbling, and a gold sequined horseshoe with a crimson bow materialized out of the air. The galloping resumed, now a bit uneven, along with the undertone cursing, and made its way down the hall toward the stair, leaving the shoe behind.

The disembodied hoof falls clattered at the marble steps, accompanied by a loud whoop of alarm and dismay which was followed by a series of bonks, smacks, and thuds that proceeded down the sweeping staircase. "AGH! HORSE APPLES! HORSE! OW! APPLES! HORSE APPLES! OW! OW! OW!"

At the bottom, an usher in his red velvet vest and black tie was bowled over as if he'd been tackled low across the shins. A shriek of indignation rang out as he flailed on the ground, entangled with something unseen. "YEEK! Watch those hooves, mister!"

The hapless unicorn's skull rang with a blow that left a hoof shaped welt on his cheek, and he slumped insensate to the floor with tiny pegasi mares wearing horned helmets and braids orbiting his head as his eyes swirled in a daze. The sound of hoofsteps, now weaving a bit erratically, continued toward the curtained archways leading to the box seats. "Horse apples horse apples horse... ow... apples..."

***

Blueblood sat with a bored look on his aquiline face, immensely enjoying the company of his wife's empty seat. He cast a sidelong glance toward the royal box as the princesses and this evening's retinue of ponies returned to their places and settled in for the third act. He'd had a pinch or two of salt, a couple very dry martinis, and was well braced for more Wagonerian bombast.

He pursed his lips as his gaze lingered a moment on Rarity, shining like a star sapphire at Princess Luna's side. He'd never really liked her, since that unpleasant incident with the cake and the yelling and the squirrels, although he was more than willing to feign a genteel smile in her direction as she'd risen to prominence in Canterlot's high society. It was the princely thing to do, to shrug off slights to his person and appear detached and benevolent to all of lesser status. That, and he had a sneaking feeling that if the elite of Equestria were forced to choose between inviting him and his wife or inviting Rarity to their social functions, he would be stuck at home with Diamond Tiara a lot more than his sanity could probably take.

He suppressed a slight sigh. Recently he'd begun to feel an inkling of a new emotion whenever he saw the alabaster unicorn mare lighting up a soiree with her pristine looks and ready charm, an emotion he was unused to feeling: regret. If only he'd known years ago what he knew now, he could have had her for a bride instead of the shrieking, gold plated harpy his penury had forced him to SWEET CELESTIA'S SADDLE STRAP SOMETHING WAS TRYING TO BITE HIS EAR OFF!

The occupants of the surrounding boxes, including the princesses and their companions, all looked over as the expectant hush of the auditorium was broken by Prince Blueblood letting out a loud, strangled squawk. He jerked upright and did an odd kind of clumsy tumble over the back of his seat, vanishing from his box just as the lights went down. The onlooking crowd all exchanged puzzled glances, shrugged, and turned their attention toward the stage as the orchestra struck up for the overture.

***

The blonde unicorn stallion suppressed a gleeful grin as if his life depended on it, which indeed it did, as the sparkles of his magic faded to reveal Diamond Tiara standing unsteadily on three horseshoes, bruised and battered in a torn and tattered dress, her ruined coiffure hanging tangled and disheveled over her glaring eyes.

His lips tightened as he greeted her dryly, knowing full well he'd come to regret his choice of words and deciding it was more than worth it. "So... did you have fun with your little friend?"

A scowl that would send a chill down a windigo's ephemeral spine washed across the pink mare's features. "Apple Bloom can go get bucked with hobnailed army boots, we've got bigger problems."

Blueblood blinked at her, his brow furrowing at the intensity on his wife's face. "When you say "we" are you using the royal "we" or do you mean you and us both?"

The young mare let out a growl of frustration and grabbed him by his lapels. "I mean us, chowderhead, as in we're up to our necks in manure if we don't do something about what Celestia's pet nerd and that bedazzled clotheshorse you're always mooning about are up to."

A mild twitch fluttered at the unicorn stallion's eye as he replied in a small, shaky voice. "What... what are they up to?"

She pushed away and started limping out of the alcove. "Only putting the Royal Blue Airship Line in a deeper hole than when you were running it, dear. Now come on, we're going home. I need to think, and all that yodeling in there isn't doing my headache any favors."

***

The Royal Opera House exploded with the happy noise of a rearing ovation as the cast assembled on stage for the curtain call. The volume rose markedly, centered on the occupants of the royal box, as "Princess Celestia" stepped up to take her place in line.

Sweetie Belle beamed as waves of applause washed in from the audience like a thundering tidal surge of adulation. It would take the young opera singer a while to realize that tonight was the night where she had become an opera star with her unorthodox performance, but for now she was flush with satisfaction and a feeling that the ponies in attendance had genuinely enjoyed the show.

She looked up through the shower of blossoms and bouquets that were raining on the stage, and saw Equestria's beloved princesses smiling and laughing and clomping their gold and silver shod hooves, while at their side her dear sister Rarity stood looking ever so proud, dabbing at her eyes with a hoofkerchief. Her heart leapt with joy as she saw Apple Bloom and her big sister enthusiastically applauding as well, along with Twilight, the mare to whom she owed her inspiration for tonight's take on the libretto.

The earnest young mare turned toward the royal box, full of her favorite ponies stomping their hooves and cheering for her, and gave a deep bow.

Then promptly tipped forward onto her face in a rustling cascade of colorful gossamer and white samite.

***

The driving rhythm of the Ponyville Express' wheels on the tracks and the soft chugging of the engine added a soothing, metronome like cadence to the dimly lit, largely unoccupied train car. The quiet was like a cool drink of water after a long hot day playing in the sun to the Apple sisters and their escorts, who had excused themselves from the lavish cast party to return home to Ponyville on the last train of the day.

Rarity and Twilight had elected to stay behind in Canterlot, the former to savor the night's triumph and bask in the praise for her costume design, and the latter to spend more time with the princesses, both her beloved mentor and the longtime friend she'd found in the moon's mistress. This decision had given Applejack a considerable amount of relief, for while she was honest, she was still reluctant to admit to Rarity what she was about to admit to Soarin.

She pawed lightly at the bench she shared with the sky blue pegasus, a shy smile settling on her freckled face. "Y'know, I really liked that show tonight. All them monsters n' heroes n' magic rings n' whatnot. And the singin' was right purty. Sweetie Belle's always a treat t' listen to, but fer some reason I 'specially took a shine to that... that love song betwixt that earth pony hero feller with th' magic sword and that pegasus valwhatsit..."

Soarin gave her a wry smile. "Valkyrie."

The blonde mare nodded. "Yeah, that. I woulda never thought I'd enjoy oprey music so much."

She paused, glancing at the seat ahead of them, where Pip sat smiling contentedly out the window as the mountains whisked past, while Apple Bloom leaned against him, sound asleep and looking quite lovely in the moonlight with her tousled red mane cascading down his shoulder.

Applejack turned back toward Soarin, a faint blush blossoming on her cheeks. "And I also had a lot better time steppin' out all gussied up with y'all at my side, Mister Soarin."

The pegasus stallion smiled, his eyes tired but happy as he sat with his bow tie hanging loose and his mane slightly mussed. "I'm glad you did, Miss Applejack. And I gotta say, for a mare who says she doesn't go in for this sort of thing, you sure made it look like you were an old hoof at it."

She looked over at him with a wan expression. "I reckon y'all're used t' that sorta hifalutin' shindig, ain't ya?"

The pegasus stallion gave a noncommittal shrug. "More or less. I usually just hung around the buffet between photo ops. I was always just another Wonderbolt, nothin' but a set of wings in a blue and yellow suit."

The blonde earth pony rolled her eyes. "Just another Wonderbolt, he says. That's like sayin' a diamond's just another rock."

Soarin gave her a wry grin. "I'm kinda gettin' the impression you're a fan."

Applejack replied with a chuckle. "Well, hangin' out with Rainbow Dash all those years like I did... If'n y'all stand under a tree long enough some o' th' fruit's gonna drop on ya, so t' speak. So yeah, I reckon I'm a fan. Not on quite th' level o' memorizin' stats n' whatnot, but enough t' appreciate what y'all can do."

The sky blue stallion gave a sigh. "I guess that's why you were so disappointed when you met me for the first time."

The freckled mare cocked an eyebrow at him with a gentle smile. "I think y'all're forgettin' that the first time I met y'all was at that Grand Gallopin' Gala, when a handsome rookie Wonderbolt was th' first and only pony t' buy one o' my cart full o' apple treats. That was th' high point of th' evenin' for me."

She leaned over and gave him a playful nudge. "I mighta had my doubts after meetin' y'all again later, but seein' how nice y'all clean up I think I did a li'l jumpin' t' conclusions."

Soarin smiled back. "Well, I never doubted for a moment that you're an amazing mare, I'm just having trouble believing that I was lucky enough to get to go out on a date with you tonight."

Applejack met his gaze, green eyes looking deep into green eyes, as her voice came low and sweet like honey and cider. "Believe it, darlin'. It's th' honest t' goodness truth."

They leaned in toward one another, their eyelids drifting shut as their lips came closer and closer together. The train entered a mountain tunnel the moment they touched, plunging the passenger car and the whole world away into darkness and leaving mare and stallion alone together.


The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.

A My Little Pony - Friendship Is Magic Fan Fiction.

This story is set three years after the events described in Windfall -> [link]

Part 13 - Connecting Flights

A pitch is made
A fall is taken
A crisis is recognized
A performance is applauded
And the best part of the evening comes afterward

Part 14 -> [link]
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