"How's this?" I asked, extending out a long grey wing before me and spitting a few stray pieces of down that had collected on my muzzle.
"Not bad, not bad at all," Rainbow Dash commented after a moment's consideration of my outstretched wing. "Now just do the other one and we can get started."
"What exactly is the plan here, Rainbow?" I asked and started working over my still chaos-infused right wing. "You already hammered in basic gliding pretty much the day after we moved back here, against Celestia's wishes I might add."
Preening, contrary to my initial suspicions, was actually a relatively simple process with minimal headache and time required, especially with the aid of magic. My hooves worked over the disjointed and disheveled primaries of my right wing, bringing them back into proper alignment. The leading edge of my wing received a gentle yet firm ring of telekinesis as my magic ran down its length. The downy fluff protecting the bone, which was a lot more pillow than insulation at the moment, flattened back down into a proper covering as my magic passed over it. Every few inches or so the down refused to flatten under my power, requiring me to dig my muzzle into the fluff to remove the obstruction. All in all it's a process that takes only a few minutes and causes only slight discomfort when I inevitably pluck a feather or five from my wings.
"We're here to learn," Rainbow scoffed at my less than enthusiastic response and swept a foreleg in the air around her. "Like it or not you've got pegasus blood in you now, and if you want to lead my Silver Knight pegasi, then you better act the part. I'll have my wings plucked I let before you meet them on solid ground again."
"I'm pretty sure the blood thing doesn't work that way," I tried to retort back at the overeager pegasus, but owing to the fact that I was muzzle deep in grey feathers, my words came out as little more than muffled grunts. While my teeth were busy trying to get at what I'm pretty sure was a leaf buried in my down, I resorted to passive aggressively diverting my eyes to look over my surroundings.
We were situated on one of the larger hills, or smaller mountains depending on your viewpoint, within easy hiking distance of Ponyville. We had a completely unobstructed view for miles around, the top of Rainbow's chosen hill cresting well over the tallest of the nearby trees or any of Ponyville's structures. While the view was beautiful to say the least, it was a slightly unnerving perch. The side on the hill facing the town in the distance had apparently earned Mother Nature's ire and was cleaved off quite some time ago. What was left was a landmark that was half tall grassy hill, and half cliff.
It was in fact the same hill where Rainbow had taken me before to master gliding after moving back to the modest town. On her instruction, I would fan my wings out and carefully make my way down the hillside with my hooves a good foot or two in the air the whole way. If my hooves touched anything but the top of the hill or the base, she would shout jibes or challenges at me until I tried again. While using my pride in my ability to run away against me was effective, it didn't really endear her to me.
"Pdthhpt!" I spat as I tore away some debris and some small grey feathers from my wing. My right foreleg drew across my muzzle to clean it off before moving to point at the two chaperones we had picked up. "If we're here for me, then what are they doing here?"
Twilight Sparkle, and her personal assistant Spike, had arrived on the top of the hill only a few minutes into my preening, and quickly set up what looked to be a small picnic site but with stacks of books and paper in place of food. Twilight eagerly waved a foreleg towards me at my gesture, while Spike merely dug around in a small bag at his feet.
"Twilight only got her wings yesterday," I scolded Rainbow, who seemed only mildly interested that we had a small audience. "I don't mind going through a few more gliding exercises, but give her a little time to get used to them at the very least."
"Don't worry, Harry," Twilight offered and snatched up some paper and a quill with her magic. "I'm just here to take notes. Usually it takes weeks or even months for newborn pegasi foals to learn how to use their wings in the most basic ways. I'm curious to see how a grown pony deals with the learning process."
I grumbled slightly at the idea of being a test subject, but didn't challenge her desire to analyze such an alien situation. Instead I shot a quirked eyebrow at the small dragon which had just snatched a small ruby from his bag.
Spike met my gaze and let out a small laugh. "You kidding? I'd pay good money to watch Rainbow go drill instructor. That business with her shooting water into Cloudsdale was hilarious."
A small growl rose in my throat but didn't quite travel far enough to let the dragon hear my displeasure. Twilight stood in for me however and shot a disapproving glare down at her assistant and thwaped him once on the back of his head with one of her new wings.
"I'll get to her in due time," Rainbow stated and waved a dismissive hoof at Twilight, though not before offering Spike a small smile at his remark. She took a short moment to look over the rest of my preening work, and after a short grunt of approval, Rainbow turned to stride over to the cliff's edge. "Come here Harry, I want to show you something."
I spat out the last little bit of fluff that clung to my muzzle and hesitantly followed after her. In the long stretch of land beyond the cliff, Ponyville's residents hustled and bustled about their happy little lives. I could just make out some of the individual ponies dragging carts through the town square. Off to one side, in the clearing adjacent to Fluttershy's cottage, was the skeleton of our Silver Knight's headquarters under construction. Even from this distance and at such an early stage of construction, it was still clearly being done up as a smaller version of Canterlot castle, minus the pristine marble. The portion of the town closest to Rainbow's hill were the gargantuan fields of Apple family apple trees. It was all very small from that hill, it was hard not a feel a certain giddiness at looking down over it all.
"You see all of that?" Rainbow asked and swept a blue foreleg across the scene. "All pegasi see the world like this. The freedom our wings give us is an important part of all pegasi, and is crucial to our way of life. If you want the respect of the Silver Knight pegasi, it has to be important to you to."
I quirked an eyebrow at the mare and paused for a good second or two at the unexpected speech. "Rainbow, that was… oddly poetic of you."
Rainbow merely shrugged and turned around to trot away from the cliff edge. "Everypony has to be passionate about something. You eggheads have your magic, I've got flying."
And back to normal, I chuckled to myself and turned back to survey the relatively small town I called home.
"While that may be, I am unicorn first and pegasus second." The stubborn tone of my voice was undermined somewhat by my wings automatically stretching out beside me, traitorous appendages that they were. "I'm not saying the ability to bolt away from danger in any direction isn't extremely useful, but I'm just going to need to warm up to the idea of being suspended a hundred feet in the sky by nothing but a bed of thin air."
I heard the cyan pegasus let out an exasperated sigh somewhere behind me before asking, "Harry, are you familiar with how momma birds teach their kids to fly?"
"Rainbow, I'm flattered, but I'm not really into roleplay," my mouth replied automatically as my brain was a little preoccupied trying to pinpoint what few of Ponyville's structures I actually knew.
"Well too bad, 'cause Momma's mad," Rainbow almost shouted, and much closer than she was a moment ago.
Immediately after those words met my ears, something hard and felt a lot like a pair of hooves impacted with my flank. I had a brief moment where my head snapped around just in time to see Rainbow's hind legs drop back to the ground from her buck, and a smile that was half smirk half apology. Behind her, Twilight shot up to her hooves, a look of disbelief clear on her face, while Spike was laughing himself silly at his caretaker's hooves. That moment passed soon enough as the force from the blue athlete's buck hurled me forwards over the cliff's edge, and into open air.
A steady and colorful stream of expletives poured from my maw as wind raced past me, whipping my wiry mane about in a frenzy. While my panicked mind was busy trying to apply a lifetime of ground-based instincts to control a freefall, my body overrode control and snapped my long grey wings flat out beside me. My descent slowed dramatically and an interesting tension collected in the joint muscles where the wings met my barrel.
I dared to cast a nervous glance downward, and found the collection of trees crowding Rainbow's hill zipping along behind me, as opposed to racing up towards me. I reflexively tucked all four of my legs against my barrel, streamlining a form and easing what little turbulence the limbs offered. I wasn't moving along very fast, I'd need to actually flap to get more force going, but I was at least stable in the air. I dimly noted that the form my wings defaulted to was the same I used when gliding down the opposite side of the hill, although the ground now was significantly more than two feet from my hooves. However, my attention was quickly drawn from my wings when I distinctly felt the air pressure shift around over me.
Rainbow flew a few feet behind and above me, her slightly smaller wings cutting through the air with practiced ease. A wide smile was stretched across her face and her chest shook with barely repressed laughter. Behind her, a clearly panicking Twilight danced at the edge of the cliff we had just abandoned, her lavender wings fluttered about her as though she was unsure if she should run for help or jump and see if she could follow after us. Thankfully she chose option 'C' and levitated a length of parchment over and began scribbling on it with her quill.
"Pretty good form, Newbie," Rainbow jested, her head cocked to one side as she inspected me. "Though you may want to flap your wings, the goal here is to actually fly not just glide."
My throat nearly tore as a solid wave of panic and adrenaline hit my system like a wrecking ball. "I WILL SEND YOU TO TARTARUS MYSELF!"
I was understandably irritated.
Rainbow's smile grew just a little bit and her eyes narrowed, giving her a supremely smug look. "So you're saying you don't want me to show you how to land?"
That shut me up. I chewed on my lower lip and tried to analyze how I might be able to both land safely and wreak untold vengeance upon Rainbow. After a few seconds of fruitless brainstorming I hung my head in defeat, it also didn't help that the muscles of my wings were starting to ache. My anger towards Rainbow abated slightly and turned into a begrudging respect.
"I suppose I could be persuaded to accept a truce."
"Just follow me and try to do exactly as I do," Rainbow chuckled and sped forward to position herself a couple of feet in front of me. "There's a clearing in Sweet Apple Acres that I use a lot."
Operating under the assumption that a hundred feet off the ground wasn't the place to be confrontational, I watched Rainbow carefully and tried my best to emulate her. My wings folded against my barrel for a split second before arcing up in the air and flapping back down as we both gained altitude over the trees below. My right wing angled upwards while my left lowered to allow me to bank left towards the rapidly approaching field of apple-laden trees. Ahead of me, Rainbow flipped up in a small loop-the-loop, which left me going off in a small spiral before I could stabilize myself. I wasn't very graceful, but it was exhilarating nonetheless.
I had always been a guy that loved to unwind by going out for a long jog. Too many people forget the simple joy that we all had as kids running around as fast as we could. I took great pride in being able to outrun, or at the very least, avoid most any supernatural baddie, wizard, or Girl Scout troop that came knocking at my door. Flying was another ballgame entirely. The wind was rushing past my face so much faster than it ever had on the ground, and the ability to move in three dimensions as opposed to two just magnified the whole experience. The weariness of my untrained wing muscles faded to the back of my mind as a resurgence of adrenaline entered my system and I shot forward through the air. My irritation with the competitive pegasus evaporated as I gained a new appreciation for her craft.
"Whoa hey hold up a second, Dresden!" Rainbow cried as we crossed into the apple farm and neared a small clearing in the trees. "Something's off."
Rainbow came to a halt and hovered a good dozen feet or so over the apple trees below us. I flared open my wings and beat them about in a clumsy imitation of Rainbow's smooth halt, but still managed to bring myself to a successful hover beside her. My wings were truly burning now, the basic flight drills I had just gone through had done their number on me and the feathered limbs were eager to let me know that fact. Despite the aches however, I could feel the air shifting about my fur and feathers again. It felt similar to the air pressure change when Rainbow flew up behind me, except it seemed to come from everywhere at once. While this was little more than an odd curiosity to my inexperienced mind, the sudden shift meant much more to Rainbow.
"Oh pony feathers, it's a gust!" Rainbow craned her head around until her wide eyes found me. "Harry, quick, you need to op-"
Whatever she was going to say next was lost to my ears as a Canterlot-sized pillow of wind impacted with the two of us and sent us spiraling out of the sky. Rainbow, with her years of flight expertise and training, took control of the gust and rode it up into the sky. Her wings stretched out as far as possible without flapping and caught all the air she could while gracefully soaring the sky like a kite on a breeze. I had no such skill.
Instead I fell back on my practiced wizard instincts of matching force with force. Once faced with the gust of wind, I flapped my tired wings as hard as I possibly could. Almost immediately the grey feathered limbs told me this was a bad idea and burned with the strain to keep me airborne. In only a few seconds my wings lost their strength and folded themselves against my barrel, despite my frantic commands to keep beating.
"I blame you, Rainbow!" I shouted into the air as gravity retook control of my body and hurled me towards the apple trees below.
Power surged through my horn, and through the silver shield charm at the base. Half a breath later a semi-large sphere of swirling red energy popped into existence around me. I hit the treetops like a great red cannonball, and with roughly the same effect. Tree limbs and apples shattered against my shield, leaving an interesting trail of splinters and mush in my wake. Thankfully I managed to avoid any of the tree trunks that might have otherwise sent me ricocheting around and instead just hit the ground with a resounding thwump.
"Ooooww," I groaned from within my newly made crater.
The aura of red around me dispersed and I shakily crawled my way out of my crash site, several of my joints popping in the process. I swept my head around to survey whatever damage I caused, and was pleasantly surprised to find a lack of my usual property damage. There was a sizable hole in one of the tree tops I had crashed through and a significant amount of shredded plant matter around me, but none of the trees were uprooted and there was absolutely no fire. All in all, it was one of my better accidents.
"Oh my goodness, are you okay mister?!" cried a very high pitched southern drawl from right behind me.
I quickly spun around, and was faced with something I wasn't really wholly prepared for. Three little fillies stood only a few feet away, each with a look of complete astonishment on their faces. One was a yellow earth pony with a large red bowtie holding back her equally red mane. Another was pure white unicorn who wore a curly mane of pink and purple. The last was an orange pegasus with a deep purple mane set in a ragged style similar to the pony that had bucked me off a cliff. One thing that these fillies shared however, was that each of them were void of their cutie marks.
"Applebloom," I muttered, more to myself than anypony else, and point a hoof at each filly in turn, "Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo, right? My friends told me a bit about you three."
Each of the little fillies' eyes somehow got even wider as my hoof swept over them, their pupils taking up significantly more of their faces than should be physically possible. Applejack's little sister was the first to break out of her stunned stupor and practically exploded like a little ball of excitement.
"You're that new prince fella that moved into the library!" Applebloom exclaimed and bounced on her hooves, followed quickly by her friends.
"Were you just flying with Rainbow Dash?"
"Are you Twilight's special somepony?"
"I heard you fought off a bunch of monsters! Did that really happen?"
"Were you really just flying with Rainbow Dash?"
An extreme unease swept over me as the fillies advanced on me, firing question after personal question. My hooves automatically backpedaled me away from the foals, right up until my flank hit the same tree I crashed through mere moments ago. The girls apparently lacked any and all ability to read body language and just pressed forward until they surrounded me, their wide expectant eyes staring up at me.
What's going on?! I just wanted to say hi! I inwardly screamed and quickly began looking for possible escape routes. Don't know how to pull off Twilight's teleport yet, maybe I could try to fly away?
That particular thought was banished from my mind when Scootaloo reached out a hoof and pulled at one of my very sore wings in an effort to inspect it. "Do you fly a lot or just walk everywhere?"
There is no escape. I am doomed, I concluded solemnly and resigned myself to endure their questioning. My only hope was that my tiny captors would exhaust themselves quickly. I still blame Rainbow for this.
Several heavy and echoing hoof beats thundered over the fillies' questions, silencing them and drawing our collective gazes back over towards where the foals originally came from. A truly gargantuan example of an earth pony crunched his way over to us and stopped short a few feet away. In terms of build he easily matched some of the heavier armored ponies I had come in contact with in Equestria's military. Although judging by his large apple cutie mark, deep red coat and orange mane, and the work horse collar around his neck, he earned his physique slightly differently than the soldiers and guardsponies.
"Girls," the titan of a pony said, soft enough to not be angry, but loud enough so that it couldn't be mistaken as anything but a command. "Manners."
The three fillies immediately backed off and retreated to stand by the red stallion and spoke in almost complete unison, "Sorry, Big Mac."
With that done, Applejack's elder brother turned to cast his steady gaze over the pony that was held captive by his youngest sister and her friends. If he was surprised by my presence, he didn't really show it. His eyes stopped for a fraction of a second longer on my wings than the rest of me, but moved on quickly enough until he drank in whatever details about me he felt he needed. Without saying a word, Big Mac broke his study of me to point his muzzle upward. I followed his gaze until we were both staring at the small hole in the branches I created while "landing", through which I could vaguely make out a blue blur somewhere off in the distance.
"Yeah," I groaned and sheepishly rubbed my forelegs together, a sudden feeling of genuine guilt washing over me. "I'm sorry about that, beginner flyer and all. I can repay you for the, uhh, tree."
"Nnope." Big Mac shook his head slightly and shot me a small smile. His eyes traced back over my various cuts, bruises, and very disheveled wings, a look of concern growing on his face. "You okay?"
"I'm alright, really. My pride just took a bit of a beating." I shot another glance upward and dimly noted that Rainbow's blur was getting closer.
My ears automatically swiveled to focus on the blue comet. While still very far away, I'm fairly certain I could hear a mare pleading with herself, "Oh please don't be dead. Please don't be dead." Almost immediately, my mischievous side reared its head and whispered into my ear.
"Hey, would you guys mind if I asked for a favor?" I asked a little bit louder than I probably needed to in order to drown out Rainbow.
"Of course!" Applebloom practically shouted and jumped back in front her brother, followed quickly by her friends. All three of the fillies adopted a saluting stance very similar to the guardsponies I had encountered thus far. "The Cutie Mark Crusaders are at your service!"
Big Mac and I exchanged a quick look, after which he just chuckled and nodded his head toward the fillies by his hooves. While enjoying my own good natured laugh, I decided to humor Applebloom and her friends and stood up to my full height, as though I were about to address my Silver Knights.
"There's a large hill in that direction," I nodded my head in the direction of where I originally met up with Rainbow Dash and Twilight. "It has a large cliff on one side of it. I'm still learning the pathways around here and would appreciate a guide back to the hill. I'd prefer to stay under the canopy as well."
"You got it!" Scootaloo cried out and bolted past us, laughing while she galloped.
Both Applebloom and Sweetie Belle took off after her, one of them laughing along with the young pegasus while the other shouted at the top of her voice, "Wait up, Sootaloo! Don't get too far ahead, he needs to see to follow us!"
I let out a small sigh and began trotting after the overexcited foals while simultaneously running waves of force over my disheveled wings. The feathered limbs stretched and flexed out beside me automatically as I straightened them out. Big Mac quickly fell in line beside me and kept pace, more likely to keep an eye on his sister than anything else.
Once we started moving, Big Mac shot a glance upward at the leaves blocking our view from the sky and then back towards the my crash site. Even with the laughter of the Cutie Mark Crusaders ringing ahead of us, Rainbow Dash's distant shouting could still be heard as she searched for me. Mac let out a low rolling chuckle and offered me a small knowing smile.
"What?" I feigned innocence to his unspoken accusation. "I need to get back to that hill and keep cool at the same time, shade is good for that."
He grunted and turned his attention to the three bouncing fillies leading our way.
"Hey, you're the guy that makes that cider the princesses special order right?" I asked, a sudden thought springing to mind.
"Eeyup." Big Mac held his head a little higher.
"Why don't you bring by some of your cider by the library later? I could call over Pinkie, and by extension the rest of my friends, and make a night of it."
Mac thought over the offer for a few seconds before smiling and grunting in the affirmative.
"This ought to be interesting," I laughed and hurried after the retreating tails of Applebloom and her friends. My aching wings brought to mind one more important question. "How do you feel about serving your brew cold?"
His only response was to snort angrily and stomp his hooves on the ground a little harder as we moved.
"Alright, alright," I said with a placating gesture of my wings. "I can take a hint."
Somewhere far behind us, Rainbow Dash's piercing voice cried out over the treetops, "Where the heck are you?!"
"How long do you think until Rainbow realizes I wasn't vaporized by a thirty foot fall?"
"A while." Big Mac let out a thoughtful grumble before adding, "Determined, that one."
"If she takes more than an hour or two, set aside a small personal barrel of cider for her." I cringed slightly at what Rainbow might do to one up her momma bird stunt. "I'd prefer not to have her too angry with me. I'll cover whatever amount of bits you need."
Bic Mac's laconic grunt of approval, was undercut slightly by what I could only assume was Rainbow diving in and out of the distant treetops like a dolphin in the ocean. I enjoyed my simple revenge and just continued following the trail of laughing children in front of me, and fleeing from the panicking Rainbow Dash behind us.