Dawn was fast approaching in Ponyville, with everypony still asleep... except for one.
In a clearing not far from Sugarcube Corner, Pinkie Pie stood next to a large contraption while leafing through a hard-bound book. Eventually, she found what she was looking for, and closed it, reading the title on its cover once more: "Winged Species of Equestria."
It would serve her well. Then again, most the books she borrowed from Twilight usually did.
After placing the book inside the contraption's side basket, she hopped on its seat, placed her hind hooves on its pedals, and used them for their intended purpose. The contraption's wheels turned, allowing her to roll, as she steered straight ahead with her front hooves, first along a smooth meadow, and then down a speed-yielding hill.
Once she was satisfied with her acceleration, she made sure the path before her was clear, and then moved one front hoof from the vehicle's secondary controls. With a pull of levers, the adjustments she had recently made to the machine shifted into action. Rotor blades on the top and tail spun, giving her lift, and soon, she was airborne.
Now, for the final test. Another shift of levers... and she was able to turn to her heart's content. Left, right, down, higher still... no angle, no direction, was denied her.
Pinkie Pie sighed in relief, her first destination already clear in her mind.
"All systems go," she whispered to herself. "Just you wait, Dashie. I'll save you..."
With a gleeful cackle, she flew off into the sunrise.
Later that morning...
Rarity dashed in as soon as Twilight Sparkle answered her door, and clutched her in her forelegs. "I came as soon as I got word! Are you all right? Emotionally, I mean, it didn't sound like you were physically attacked, or-" She stopped and froze. "Oh my gosh, were you?"
Twilight gently pulled back and giggled. "Rarity, I'm fine. It's not nearly as bad as all that." She looked at the small crowd of ponies that Rarity had just joined. "Okay, I think that's everyone. Let's take roll. Applejack?"
"Don't call me "'m", I'm hardly old enough. Rarity?"
"Ready and waiting, Mademoiselle Sparkle!"
"Errr... wow, thanks. Fluttershy?"
"Oh! I, um... I-"
"Got it! Aaaaand Pinkie Pie."
"Pinkie?" asked Rarity.
Twilight nodded. "She wanted in. Says she's been having problems even predating yours."
Rarity did a double-take. "You don't say? Color me curious, then! I do so wonder what could offset her..."
"Oh, hang on, I just remembered," said Applejack. "Pinkie left this in my mailbox this mornin'. Envelope said to give it to you when I got here."
"Let's see it." Twilight took the letter from Applejack's offering mouth, magically unwrapped and unfolded it, and read.
"Dear Twilight: I got your call for the meeting, but I have something really really Really Really REALLY REALLY important to take care of! I promise I'll be there as soon as I can, but please, start without me! In my place, I've already made your house as totally festive as possible, so it'll feel like I'm there even when I'm not! Kisses and Smiles, Pinkie Pie."
Twilight looked up from the letter. "'Festive?'"
All ponies present looked above and around themselves, and were greeted with balloons and streamers completely spread around Twilight's living room.
"Um... how long have those been there?" asked Fluttershy.
"I... I don't know," said a bewildered Twilight. "I... for crying out loud, I live here, how did she-"
"S'just Pinkie bein' Pinkie," said Applejack. "Best not to pay it no mind. You'll go loopy otherwise."
Twilight sighed and motioned for everypony present to sit. "I guess you're right. Okay, so, secret meeting. I'm sure you already know why, since this was originally Rarity's idea. Simply put, strange things are happening in Ponyville, and I want to put a stop to it."
Twilight's eyes narrowed.
"Which means we've got to figure out what to do... about Rainbow Dash."
Rarity smiled as she put the finishing touches to Rainbow Dash's weekly Pegasus Special--a full intense grooming of her mane, tail, coat and wings. "All done, Dash! You can get up now." She became slightly giddy when she saw Rainbow Dash smile--Rarity had learned that this was the part her clients loved the most.
"Really? Awesome, thanks Rarity!" Rainbow Dash rose to all fours, went to the mirror, and examined herself. Seconds later, her face twisted into a small frown. "Hmmm..."
Quick as a shot, Rarity noticed that something was amiss. "Something the matter?" she asked her friend.
Dash continued to hem and haw as she slowly spun around in front of the mirror. Finally, after some time, she said, "You missed a spot on the left part of my mane. Buuuuuut I'll make do."
Rarity gasped in shock. "Oh, did I? Curses! Hang on, then, I shall correct the error posthaste!"
Instead of walking back to Rarity, however, Rainbow Dash flew towards the door. She looked back at the boutique's central grooming station with slanted eyebrows and a sneer that Rarity had hardly ever seen on the blue pegasus. "Nah. With me, you only get one chance. See ya."
Rarity blinked, taken slightly aback. What? What was all this, now? "Then won't you at least say 'thank you' as per common courtesy before you leave?"
Dash's sneer persisted. "I only give out thanks for one hundred percent jobs. Stuff that's as perfect as I am. And that's if I'm in a good mood. You want someone to shower you with kisses?" She nodded her head towards a corner of the house. "Talk to your cat!"
At that, Rarity cast a sideways glance at Opalescence, who hissed, instantly nipping such thoughts in the bud. She looked back at Rainbow Dash, her perspective of the young flyer quickly changing with each passing second. Her muzzle turned towards the ceiling. Challenge Rarity in the art of indignance, would she? She knew not what she was getting herself into! "Hmph! Well then, perhaps I will simply begin charging for my services from this point onward."
"Do what you gotta." Dash took a cursory look around the boutique, and snickered. "Then again, from the sloppy looks of this place, I'm betting you need my charity."
Rarity gasped, placing her hoof to her heart in genuine offense! "Well, I never!..."
Dash outright laughed. "Exactly your problem, I'd say! So long, sister!"
And she zoomed off, leaving Rarity at the peak of frustration. Rarity galloped to her window, calling out after her.
"Dash! Rainbow Dash, you come back here right now, you... you..." She stopped yelling, defeated. "I swear! You think you know a pony!..."
"And you say this was a couple of weeks ago, right?" Twilight asked as she took notes in a pad.
Rarity nodded. "Yes, nearly. We've avoided each other since. She didn't show up for what would have been last week's appointment. I suppose that was a relief--I'm somewhat wary of a future conflict."
"Well, I sure wouldn't mind gettin' into one with her," Applejack said, slamming a hoof on the floor. "Y'all know what she did just last week?..."
"Aaaaand... there," Applejack said as she finished putting the last of the icing on the cake she'd been baking at Sugarcube Corner. "So glad Mr. and Mrs. Cake had those extra ingredients in stock. Everypony's gonna love the special spices in this one!"
"Hey, Applejack!" A smiling Rainbow Dash flew in through a nearby window, then focused on the cake. "Oh, wow, I've been following that smell from halfway across town! I've been herding clouds all morning and I need calories! Let me at it!" Seconds later, the cake was in her hooves.
Applejack quickly held up her hoof in denial. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Sorry, Rainbow Dash, no can do. I need that cake for today's Apple Family Gathering."
Rainbow was nonplussed. "So make another one."
"Th-that'll set the party back an hour! And even then, you'd have to pay for the stuff that went into it!"
"What? Pinkie Pie rarely pays, if ever!"
Applejack chuckled. "Oh, c'mon now, sugarcube. You and I both know she does. Just with cheap labor, s'all..."
"What, and I don't?"
Applejack found herself forced to step back as Rainbow Dash abruptly got in her face.
"After all I've done for Ponyville since I got here? Managing the weather, using my speed to save ponies from danger more times than any of us can count, helping to save the world..." Rainbow Dash scowled. "Shoot, I've even had to give up part of myself for you guys, haven't I? Otherwise I just wouldn't measure up to Ponyville's niceness standards. Now tell me, where's the fairness in that?"
"Wh-..." Applejack gasped, clearly having been thrown for a loop by the sudden outburst. Her response, however, was soft, muted, almost... hurt? "Rainbow... darlin', I don't think that's quite fair to say. Is something wrong?"
Applejack stared at Rainbow Dash, waiting for a response, and for a second, those words seemed to reach her. Dash's face softened. Her eyes widened. Applejack met them, trying to find some rhyme or reason for the events currently taking place...
...and then Angry Dash was back.
"Pfft. I don't want this stupid cake anyway. Pretty sure it's terrible. You want it?" With the cake in one hoof, she reared back. "Go fetch!"
"Rainbow Dash, no!" Applejack cried out as the cake sailed out the window and landed on the grass, unsalvageable. Two seconds later, she saw red. "All right, now see here, little missy, that was downright uncalled for! I don't care no more what your issues are, it's time somepony taught you the ins and outs of re-"
It took her that long to realize she was speaking to an empty room.
With a tearful growl, Applejack galloped off to Rarity's.
While the "secret meeting" continued below, Pinkie Pie was still high above Equestria, fighting the fatigue inherent in the practice of wingless flight.
However, she knew she couldn't give up now. She reached into her basket, pulled out a triple-decker-icing cupcake, and gulped it down in one go. Almost immediately, she gained her fifth wind, and soared higher as her pedaling hooves brought her back to cruising speed.
Just then, overhead, she heard a confident screech from another flyer, soaring over her, moving faster than her, doing loop-de-loops every so often... probably just to taunt her.
"Show-off," Pinkie said, continuing to pedal.
Still, she let it be, because that flyer's presence served to reassure her that everything was going according to plan...
"In all my days livin' here, I ain't never seen Dash get that uppity!" Applejack took a few moments to calm down, then said, "Still, if I saw her again, I wouldn't knock her out straight away. She seemed a bit... I dunno... disturbed. An' I wanna know why." She looked towards Twilight Sparkle. "What about you, Twilight? Y'all didn't agree to this meeting until today."
Twilight Sparkle sighed. "I know. but I didn't see enough evidence that something might be really wrong before. One bad day can happen to anypony. Two warrants keeping a close eye on her. But... last night..."
"'Last night?'" Rarity echoed, cocking an eyebrow.
"Well, yes." Twilight's eyes took on a cold, faraway gaze, her body shivering as she prepared to recollect something she really didn't want to--at least not so soon. But she had no choice. "I'd invited Rainbow Dash on one of my stargazing balloon rides..."
The moon shone high as Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash shared a leisurely ride in the former's balloon. As far as Twilight was concerned, the skyscape was absolutely perfect tonight, with millions of celestial bodies dotting anywhere and everywhere one could look in the distance. And here she was, prepared to capture glimpses of them all with her basket-mounted telescope.
Wait... was that a shooting star? No, it was... several of them, all in different directions! Twilight was on cloud nine... or failing that, she was pretty sure she could see it from this height.
She only hoped Rainbow Dash was having as much fun right now as she was.
"...this is so slow. Why'd you even bring me on this again?"
"Remember when you took me through that thunderstorm? That was one of the most interesting things that's ever happened to me. It was dangerous, but... fulfilling and educational. So I wanted to share with you what makes me happiest."
"Oh, okay." Rainbow Dash paused. "So... when does the 'interesting' part start?"
Twilight stiffened a bit, but resolved to keep her optimism. "Right now," she said. "This is the real reason I brought you up here..."
Twilight pointed in a direction, and soon enough, shining waves of color appeared in the sky for miles around. They sported nearly all the hues of the rainbow, but instead of keeping static, they danced in the sky, moving across it as if professionally choreographed. By itself, the display was enough to make both present forget all about the rest of the sky's wonders for a good minute.
"I give you... the aurora borealis," said Twilight, as the two ponies gasped at the sight.
"Oh, wow," said Rainbow Dash, now remembering. "You've been keeping up on Cloudsdale's schedule! They haven't made one of these for almost a year!"
"That's right. We've never seen one this close to Ponyville, so when I got word of it, I knew I had to bring you." She turned to face Dash directly, and met her eyes, intoning softly. "A rainbow in the night, beautiful and bright..."
"I..." Rainbow Dash fought her blush as best she could, but failed miserably in the wake of the violet unicorn's smile.
Satisfied, Twilight turned her gaze back to the phenomenon before them. "I envy you pegasus ponies sometimes. You have the option to slow down every once in a while and appreciate the wonders above, wherever and whenever you find them."
"It gets old faster than you'd think," said Rainbow Dash after a few moments.
That did it. Twilight was officially concerned and annoyed at the same time. "Look, Rainbow, I've heard you've been having some problems lately. If you want to talk about it, I'm here. I set up this ride because I felt like doing something nice for you. You're the one who said we could 'hang' any time I gave you a call, right?"
"Y... yeah," said Dash, "it's true. And I appreciate you remembering that. But... look, things were stacked against you from the beginning. It's not your fault."
"What's not my fault?"
"It's just..." Rainbow Dash was visibly fighting for the right words. "I've realized something since a few weeks ago. You're slow, Twilight. Way too slow for me. Everyone in Ponyville is! I can't hang. Not anymore."
"Exactly! That's just it! I can't be 'Dash' around anypony here!" Her statement made, she sighed, and flew out of the balloon. "I can only be 'Rainbow.'"
And before Twilight could protest, she was gone.
"Oh, Twilight," Rarity said with a gasp. "No wonder you summoned the rest of us. Something deeper clearly lies at the core of all this. Still, you must be as beside yourself with frustration as we are!"
"Actually, no, I'm not mad at her. But just the same, that..." Twilight exhaled sharply. "...sort of came out of nowhere. Anyway, before confronting her, I think we should first analyze her words, to try to find out what she meant by-"
A knock was heard at Twilight's door just then, with a letter slipping through the mail slot.
"-huh?" Twilight grabbed the envelope. "It's addressed to the four of us. From Pinkie. She says she's figured out what was wrong with Rainbow Dash--and she did it all without decimals. She wants us to meet her at the edge of town!"
"Well, that's just great," said Applejack. "Would it have killed her to explain things just a mite more there?"
"'P.S.: Sorry, AJ, no time,'" Twilight said, finishing the rest of the letter out loud.
"Celestia-danged certifiably-crazy party-pony..." Applejack muttered under her breath.
"Come on, everypony," said Twilight in her best leadership voice. "We've got no time to lose! And we should probably also think of our own plan, in case whatever Pinkie's is fails!"
It was now late afternoon, and dark, rumbling clouds surrounded Rainbow Dash's castle in the sky. Said castle was also floating far higher above Ponyville than usual.
Probably to scare ponies away, Pinkie Pie thought to herself as she landed her vehicle on the cloud mass connected to the estate. She gingerly placed one hoof on the cloud, making double-sure it would support her before fully getting out.
No sooner had she done so, though, than a voice from inside the castle shakily shouted, "Wh-who's there?"
"Special delivery," said Pinkie Pie, taking out a sheet of paper. "I've got one order of smiles here for a 'Dash, Rainbow.' Know if she's around?"
"...no!" said the voice, which was clearly Rainbow Dash's--still, Pinkie decided to humor her. She'd had a feeling this would happen.
"'Kay! Well, I'll just stay here until she shows up, if that's all right with you."
"No, it's not. Go home alr--wait, Pinkie Pie? You're not a pegasus. How are you even here?"
Pinkie Pie patted the flying machine she'd arrived on. "Pinkie Flyer, Version 2.0. Made a few improvements. Twice as sturdy, holds three times as many snacks! And we're both here because Twilight's cloud-walking spell lasts way longer than we all thought it would."
Silence for a few seconds. Then Rainbow Dash flew out of a window to get a look. She looked quite the worse for wear; her mane was disheveled, her coat not much better off, and she wore an ever-present stern look on her face. After looking Pinkie and her Flyer over, she said, "Well, I can still eject you the old-fashioned way. So go home before I do! I've got sleep to catch up on." She flew back in the house.
Pinkie Pie waited for a while, then, once she was sure there was no other way, reached for the book she'd brought with her. She opened to a bookmarked page, and began to read as loud as she could:
"'Winged Species of Equestria, Chapter 6: The Griffon. Of all of Equestria's flighted beings, the griffon is one of the most powerful, and by far the most aggressive. Its makeup of lion and eagle, kings of both the land and sky, give it an air of arrogance, unrivaled in scope, and impossible to tame! Because of this, and due to conflicts throughout Equestria's history, friendship bonds between civilized ponies and primal griffons are said to be impossi'--whoa!" Pinkie Pie cried out as she found herself being airlifted by a now very angry pegasus.
"Pinkie, what are you doing?" said Rainbow Dash. "Why are you reading me that tripe?"
"What?" said Pinkie, smiling to mask her fear. "You don't like brushing up on social studies?"
"No, I don't!" shouted Rainbow Dash, and the storm clouds above rumbled again in accompaniment. "Not like that! That book's got it all wrong! They're not all like that! And if it weren't for you, I'd still be able to prove it!"
"Funny thing," said Pinkie, fighting off the slightest twinge of guilt. "Here's your chance."
"What are you--gah!" Rainbow Dash found herself struck hard from the side, and she fell to the cloud mass beside her castle, dazed. Meanwhile, Pinkie Pie was still being airlifted, but this time by a set of talons rather than hooves. She was shuttled into the castle, and placed safely on Rainbow Dash's bed.
"Thanks," said Pinkie, looking up at the griffon who'd just saved her.
"Don't bother. You're a moron, you know that?" said the griffon. "Way too many of you ponies are. I can't believe you let Dash get to this point after a whole month!" She stretched a wing towards outside, where the storm had finally begun to grow stronger and more intense.
"Look, we can all chew each other out later," said Pinkie. "But can you help now?"
"Tch. I'll do what I can, but no promises!" The griffon flew outside to where Rainbow Dash was just regaining her senses, and waited for her to rise to her level.
Once Rainbow Dash did so, and saw who had blindsided her earlier, she could barely believe her eyes. She flew a little closer, just to make sure she was seeing straight:
"Yep," said the griffon. "It's me. I told you to come see me again. Why didn't you? Were you really that serious about dumping me for Ponyville?"
"Gilda," Rainbow Dash slowly said again, a toothy grin appearing across her muzzle as lightning flashed overhead. "Finally. You. Me. Now."
"Dash? What's gotten into... whoa, it's worse than I thought."
Gilda braced herself. If her words weren't reaching Dash, then that meant there was only one way to communicate with her now. Something they'd done before, but only in desperate times. Only when it was really called for.
Only when they'd had the worst of arguments.
"All right, Dash. We both know what you need." Gilda spread her wings in beckoning. "Think you can finally take me? Then come on, girl! Let's see what you've got!"
As she flew towards Gilda with her strongest cry and one hoof outstretched, it was clear that Rainbow Dash intended to do just that...