Rainbow Dash screamed as she flew in a vertical line, directly upwards from the center of Ponyville's town square. Once at the correct height--and out of earshot of everypony else--she kicked at every cloud in her path, shouting in frustration each time. Every cloud she came in contact with popped instantly, yielding a loud CRACK! in the process.
One thunderstorm; hold the storm.
"All... of these ponies... are CRAZY!"
A griffon who had been watching from some distance away flew to meet her, and grinned. "That's my motto. What's gotcha down, Dash?"
"Just... all the ponies. The ponies in this town! This Ponyville place! They're crazy, and I can't take it!" From high altitude, she pointed one hoof toward an expanse of greenery. "There's one pony who thinks her farming is more important than what I do, just because she's been here longer!" She pointed to the local boutique next. "There's a unicorn who thinks she's Celestia's gift to ponykind even though all she does is play Dress-Up and Makeover Queen every day!" Finally, she gestured towards the bakery. "And then there's one more--this pink one--who's just... just crazy! Seriously, I don't know how Fluttershy manages to deal with any of them! They're driving me insane!"
As Rainbow Dash screamed again, she closed her eyes and barreled through the rest of the fluffy white patches in the sky, once again bringing loud thunderclaps to the nicest of days. When she re-opened her eyes and surveyed her handiwork, she realized that her frustration had proven been more effective than planned. "Well, at least cloud-clearing's done for the afternoon."
Gilda snickered. "Yeah. I can tell you're doing a bang-up job."
Rainbow Dash groaned. "Oh, no, G, no. Please. No puns. I get enough of those from the pink one."
"I'm serious, though." Gilda looked down at Ponyville, which seemed to have hardly noticed Rainbow Dash's tantrum. "It looks like you've got a good thing going here, especially given how little I see you now. But, if you want, if you think it's to much for you, you can always leave." Gilda turned her gaze towards the western sky. "We can go back to what we used to do. Follow the sun, sleep on clouds... go where the wind takes us." While she was still smiling, part of her voice belied a certain wistfulness about it. "Just you and me, Dash..."
"Yeah, I hear you. That's... wow, has it already been two weeks since I took the weather pegasus gig here?"
"By my calendar, yep."
Rainbow Dash gave it some thought, then shook her head. "I... thanks for the offer, G. It's tempting. But as much as I complain about a few ponies here, there's just something about Ponyville as a whole. Something about it that says I belong here. Even if they are... kind of weird, everypony's just so nice. Nice in spite of me."
Gilda raised an eyebrow. She hoped this wasn't going where she thought this was going. However, as she witnessed Rainbow Dash's expression become progressively sadder, she knew she was about to be disappointed.
"Any other town probably would have kicked me out as fast as any flight academy by now, especially given who I am, what I've done... and what I've failed to do. I'd still be Rainbow Crash anywhere else. But at least here, even if nopony ends up actually liking me, I can still be useful. I... I think I'm willing to settle for that." With a heavy sigh, she looked to Gilda for a reply, and was surprised to see that she wasn't there. "Huh? G? Where'd you go?"
She felt a huge splash of cold wash over her seconds later--literally.
Rainbow Dash sputtered and spat as she found herself dripping wet and shivering seconds later. Soon, in front of her, was Gilda, holding a giant just-emptied bucket.
"What'd you do that for?" Rainbow Dash cried out in her shrillest voice.
"Sorry, had to check if your cutie mark was wash-off." She looked at Rainbow Dash's flank, and saw that it was still there--if now a little messy now due to the wet fur. "Nope. Guess not. So how about you start living up to it?"
"-no! You don't get to argue this! You're Rainbow Dash, and you always will be! The day you start believing all those lame-os who've been harassing you is the day you let them win. And I didn't spend all those years coming to your defense for you to start feeling sorry for yourself anyway!"
Rainbow Dash spun in place, causing a personal tornado to form around her and dry herself off. "You're right, G. I know you're right. It's just that sometimes..."
"I know," said Gilda, wrapping the pegasus pony close in one wing. "Look, Dash. Being angry at life is fine. It happens to all of us, and when it does, I'm there for you. But I draw the line at weeping. Only losers do that."
"That's fair," Dash said as hoof and talon met.
"Glad we agree. Cause I've got a challenge for ya'."
"Looks like there's a forest not too far from here. How about a tree slalom, the whole way through? First one to bonk themselves buys dinner. And pep talks always leave me with a huge appetite."
Rainbow Dash looked towards the Everfree Forest. Ponyville's populace had constantly warned her never to go there.
But she was Rainbow Dash. And she always would be.
With a huge smile, she looked back towards Gilda, smacking her hooves together.
"Come on, everypony! We've got to get to Pinkie and Dash!"
Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Fluttershy and Rarity galloped (or in Fluttershy's case, flew) towards the Ponyville town limits, where Rainbow Dash's home could just barely be seen hundreds of feet up.
What could also be seen surrounding it were thick, foreboding gray clouds, slowly spreading outwards and darkening the land around them. The rest of the town quickly shuttered themselves inside their homes, fearing the worst. Twilight knew, however, that she and the others with her had no such luxury at their disposal.
"My word," said Rarity with a gasp. "Are all of those clouds Rainbow Dash's doing?"
"I'm pretty sure I don't like the looks of this," said Applejack as the four arrived at their destination. "Those storm clouds look like they could flood Sweet Apple Acres three times over!"
"You think you don't like it?" said Pinkie Pie, galloping up to meet the rest of them. "Try being in the middle of it! Actually, better idea: don't. You do not want to be up there right now!"
"Pinkie," said Twilight, "what's going on?"
"Search me! Old pegasus custom? Or maybe griffon? I-I-I don't really know!"
"G-... griffon?" said Fluttershy, shivering.
Twilight concentrated, and a second later, her telescope was in front of her, mounted and ready. "I think it's explanation time, Pinkie."
"Well, um, okay! You all remember Gilda, right? Rainbow Dash's griffon friend? Party, pranks, argument, ended badly? Right. Well, not too long after that, Rainbow Dash started avoiding me again. Then she started ignoring me! Like she didn't even care if I showed up around her or not!"
"Truth be told, I was downright appreciatin' the break from all them pranks," said Applejack.
"Ignoring that," Pinkie shot back. "Anyway, I thought I'd just managed to make her really mad! I wanted to go talk things out with her, but then I heard about what happened to Rarity, so I backed off. Then I heard about Applejack, and I started getting curious. Then I-"
"-started asking me for books on flying species," said Twilight. "Under the guise of making a new flying machine?"
"'Guise', nothing! I made the machine," said Pinkie, pointing to her Pinkie Flyer. "But yeah, that book also helped me with some other things. And not a moment too soon, after hearing what happened to you! Can you see them up there?"
Twilight adjusted her telescope, swiveling it in all directions, until she excitedly stopped at a single point. "There! ...no, now they're over there... now over there! Oh, this is making me dizzy..."
"Let me take a look, sugarcube," said Applejack, taking the telescope. "I've put up with so much of Dash's zippin' around it don't even bother me no more." She looked through the eyepiece. "Yyyyyyyyep. Uh-huh. Hoo boy, that be them, all right. Rainbow Dash, and that Gilda griffon gal, plain as day! Well, I'll be..."
"What is it, Applejack?" asked Twilight.
"That's the most energy I've seen Dash with all month. And from the looks of it, there's a good ol' fashioned slobberknocker takin' place as we speak!"
"They're fighting up there?" gasped Twilight and Fluttershy in stereo.
"Tch. It does happen," said Applejack with a snort and mischievous grin. "If y'all knew how many colts I humiliated back when I was a schoolfilly... well, just be glad I only use these legs to buck apple trees now. Anyway, given what we know about those two, are you really that surprised by something like this?"
Pinkie Pie shook her head. "Nope. But you know what is weird?" she asked, her voice now uncommonly serious.
Pinkie looked back up at the sky, where two streaks could barely be seen amongst the clouds. "When I found Gilda? She looked just sad as Dash did. But don't tell her I said so--she was trying real hard to hide it."
Lightning flashed and thunder roared around both griffon and pony. Rain came down in what would normally be a drenching sheet--but so fast were the two flying that very little of it actually touched them.
Actually, correction: one of them was flying. The other, Gilda, was dodging for all she was worth. Between the manic expression and constant collision-course darting, it was easy to see that Rainbow Dash had it in for her; the tough part was making sure she didn't receive a subsonic kick for her troubles.
Fortunately, Gilda knew Rainbow Dash's flying style as well as Dash knew it herself: elegant and flowing, rainbow-trailed, full of arcs and twists, but with the occasional bullet lunge thrown in to keep things fresh. She used all of this knowledge to stay out of harm's way. As time passed, Gilda's patience began to pay off.
"Grr... get back here!" the angry pegasus yelled.
"Sorry, girl," taunted Gilda. "You know the rules: you gotta earn me."
More rushing, more dodging. Even during the times when Dash tried sneak attacks from cloud cover, Gilda's heightened hearing saw her through.
"You're getting reckless, Dash! I remember when you could actually keep up with me! What happened--all those daytime naps make you soft?"
"Oh, I'll show you soft!"
Once more, however, it was the same song and dance. With each dive or lunge, true to Gilda's words, Rainbow Dash became sloppier, more predictable, and finally slower as a result. Soon enough, the adrenaline she so prided herself on was sapped, leaving her forced to hover in one spot to catch her breath.
Gilda flew over, slowly lowering her guard. "Yep. Guess you showed me. You ready to talk now?"
Dash looked at Gilda, opened her mouth as if to do so... then closed it again, and took off in the other direction. With an annoyed grunt--honestly, all of this "patience" was trying her patience!--Gilda gave chase, and the two zoomed through the murky sky.
"Come on, Dash, this is getting old! I'm here 'cause I'm worried about you! Your pink pal told me you'd gone off the deep end, and I ain't seen you do that in years!"
Rainbow Dash kept flying... but after ten seconds that seemed like an eternity, finally slowed down a little, and replied. "Why'd you let me, huh? Where've you been this whole time?"
"Waiting for you! Duh."
"Are you kidding? Like I'll believe that! You don't 'wait' for anypony, Gilda!"
"I do when they throw me out of their town!" growled Gilda, catching up. "Out of their lives! In front of an audience! Or have you forgotten everything about me that quickly?"
"Never! But I didn't have a choice! You... you set yourself up at that party, G!"
"No more than you set me up! So you decided to gang up on me, and then just let things hang there? I thought I was worth more than that, Dash!"
"I..." Rainbow Dash slowed down even more, and in turn, Gilda caught up with her. Their flight paths were now in sync, with only a couple of yards between them.
"If you'd given me two seconds," Gilda said, "maybe we might've worked something out. Instead I had the whole Saddle Squad coming down on me. 'Cause once again, a griffon just doesn't measure up!"
Rainbow Dash flew closer, her temper and voice rising. "Oh, there you go again with the 'griffon' thing! You always play that card at times like this!"
Gilda did the same. "What else am I supposed to think? Okay, so I wasn't the best guest Ponyville ever had, but you still turned your back on a longtime best friend without giving them a chance to make up for it! Tell me, Dash," she said, glowering, "what's your precious Element of Loyalty have to say about that?"
"I... but that..."
For a few seconds, Rainbow Dash simply hovered, dumbstruck. Then on the fourth second, Gilda was caught completely unawares by two hooves slamming into her face.
"That's not fair!" she barely heard Rainbow Dash yell through the ringing in her ears.
From then on, it was all Gilda could do to stay aloft as Rainbow Dash, having doubled her speed, buzzed past her again and again, bolting through clouds while landing glancing blows in the process. The sky further darkened around her as a result...
...then, as Dash cried out in anger, lightning fell from the heavens with as much fury as the rain, which had itself gotten even stronger.
"Oh. Right," Gilda spat as she observed the dangerous skies around her. "Weather pegasus."
Fine, then. It was time Rainbow Dash remembered--she'd a picked a friend who never, ever backed down from a challenge.
Redoubling her efforts, Gilda flew straight into the now literal lightning storm, fighting the wind, the water, the bolts and crashes... because she knew she still had one chance.
One chance to reach Dash, literally and figuratively. And if she could, it'd all be worth it.
"'Not fair,' huh?" Gilda said, navigating as best she could through the torrent of electricity. "I kept saying that to myself the past few weeks!"
Even with her expert flying skills and aerial instincts working in harmony, a stray bolt managed to strike the edge of her wing, lightly scorching it. Gilda fought through the sting, her mind fixed on one single purpose...
But guess what, Dash? You're still my best girl, whether you like it or not! So you want some tough love? Then that's what you're about to get!
With a roar, Gilda flew head on at Rainbow Dash... who, once again, mirrored her movements.
Full throttle. Maximum speed. All limiters, thrown to the wind.
From ground level, as she and her friends used trees as shelter from the elements, Twilight Sparkle looked through her telescope and watched in horror as a blinding and deafening explosion took place the second Dash and Gilda met. The storm died down quickly after that, but when they could see again, Twilight had to react quickly:
"Guys! They're falling!"
"Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh..." a flying Fluttershy chanted until she made sure Rainbow Dash was safe in her grip. As for Gilda...
"SUPER PINKIE TRAMPOLINE, GOOOOOOOOO!" cried the pink pony, carrying and unfolding the toy she'd packed into her flying machine's cargo basket on a hunch.
One two-point landing later, the two flyers were unconscious, bruised, and even singed in some places... but still breathing. Still alive.
Applejack shook her head as she looked over them. "Y'know... I sure hope all that was worth it."
"Ewwww, Fluttershy, stop poking her! Who knows where she's been?"
"Oh, c'mon, now, Rarity! She's a griffon, she touches dirt less than any of us!"
"Come on, girls! We should give her some space!"
"I think it's working! She seems to be coming to..."
"WHAT? But I... can I still use this water bucket?"
Gilda opened her eyes to see four multicolored ponies she barely recognized... and a pink one she'd come to know all too well. She groaned. "Aww, no. Not again."
"Um..." The violet one stepped forward. "Hi. Gilda, right? I'm Twilight Sparkle."
Gilda searched her memories, her talks with Dash... "'Twilight Sparkle?' Twilight, Twilight... where have I heard that--oh, right. The Princess's Pet."
Twilight Sparkle did a double-take in surprise. "What?"
Gilda simply grinned, and nodded towards the still-unconscious Rainbow Dash, currently in another cot close by her own. "Not my words. How were those all those air rides Dash gave you, by the way? I taught her those. You're welcome."
"Look," Twilight said, fighting a blush with all her strength, "we just want to talk to you. It's about-"
"-Dash, yeah. Look, I already told Pinkie Pie. You ponies are just lame! Have been since the start. I don't know what she sees in you-"
"-and I don't know what she sees in you!"
Amidst murmurs from the others, Fluttershy stepped forward from the crowd, anger written across her face as she stared directly into the griffon's eyes.
"I've been friends with Rainbow Dash longer than anyone else in this room. But last night she came to me talking about nothing but you! 'I never should have turned Gilda away. Gilda was the only one I could really talk to. I'm too scared to look for her now!'"
"Fluttershy..." began Twilight, but the yellow pegasus pony would have none of it.
"I tried to hug her, I tried to tell her everything would be all right, I tried to be her friend, but she broke away from me. And when she did... she didn't look at all like the Rainbow Dash I know. What have you done to her?"
Gilda blinked, then gaped as she realized something. "Hold up. 'Fluttershy?' That's your name?"
"Seriously? You're Fluttershy? You're the one Dash never shuts up about??" Gilda's laughing soon echoed throughout Ponyville's infirmary.
"What's so funny?" said Fluttershy, her anger finally seeping into her voice.
"Oh! Sorry, the irony's just killing me right now."
"Irony?" asked Rarity.
"Buckets of it! You're saying this is all my fault, Fluttershy? You're saying this is because of me? I've got news for you, sister, so listen close." She leaned towards Fluttershy with a determined stare of her own. "You're where this all started."
Amidst more murmurs from the gathered ponies, Fluttershy shrank back with a shocked squeak.
"I..." she whispered, "...I'm what?"