"I don't want to."
"I know you don't, but I'm afraid 'not wanting to' doesn't get you off the hook that easy, hunny."
The pegasus filly stomped her front hooves down in defiance- her face doing its best to look determined, unyielding, and angry all in one. But the flustered blush on her cheeks and the tears welling in her eyes gave away her pain and childish stubbornness with ease.
"W-Why do I even have to go! I already know how to fly!"
"Of course you do!" The older, pink coated pegasus mare smiled at her daughter- clopping closer despite the youngster's glare that was quickly falling apart. "But a mother knows what's best, don't you know? You have so much talent. You're not going to waste it here doing chores."
A look of horror crossed the little filly's face- her little blue wings flaring out. "But.. I don't mind doing those things! I never have!"
"I know you don't." The mother's smile never wavered, but it was a sad smile all the same. "You've been a wonderful help for your mother these past few months. Cooking and cleaning and making my bed for me every morning. I don't know what I would've done without you."
"Then why..?" The fight was gone- the young pony slipping down upon her flank, eyes wide and brimming with tears. Looking guilty, not betrayed. "Why are you sending me away..?"
The smile faded then, and the mare knelt down to pull her daughter into a tight hug- which was returned with a fierce and passionate squeeze. A tender sob from the cyan coated filly muffled by her mother's equally cyan mane.
"I would never.. ever.. send you away.." She whispered, nuzzling into the little shaking filly's ear- her eyes, closed as they were, let their own tears trail silently down her cheek. "I only want the world for my baby girl.. I want you to spread those wings and fly- and not like just some pony, but like your mother did back in her day. Back when I still could."
The sobs didn't stop, but the mother remained strong. Cradling her filly. "You're an amazing young girl, and you're going to grow and become even more amazing every day. I'd never forgive myself if I didn't give you every opportunity to be the best filly you can be.."
"W-What are you going to do while I'm gone?" She still clung to her cyan mane, digging her muzzle in deeper. Refusing to let go. For as long as she could. "H-How are you-"
"Shh.. shh.." The soothing strokes along her back began- and her wings shivered at the touch. Her whole body did. It instantly silenced the sobs wracking her speech. Made her grow limper in her mother's gentle embrace. "I'll manage.. your mother still has her legs and don't count these old wings out just yet."
The hug unraveled- and one look into her daughter's eyes told the elder that the argument hadn't been won. Not even slightly.
"You have to grow up and become your own pony. Your own mare." A hoof cupped her cheek, and the filly only sniffled and leaned against it. Her cheek swelling as still fresh tears trickled down. "Your mother will always be here. Ready to make you a home cooked meal when you're hungry and give you a warm bed when you're cold and tired.. but you know what else?"
She shook her head slowly, while the mother only smiled brighter than ever.
"I'm always with you. Right here." Her hoof traced down to the filly's chest- pressing gently against the cyan fur. "And whenever you need me, you can always talk to me. Tell me all you need to tell me, whenever you need to tell me, no matter how much it hurts or how far away you might think I am."
A warmth flowed back through the filly's face, and a spark ignited in her eyes. There was the briefest hint of wonder in her young expression, and a glance down to where the hoof was pressed to her chest seemed to be all the proof the filly needed to believe her mother's soft words without question.
"W-Whenever I need you..?"
A smile and a nod. "-Whenever- you need me."
Her young hooves reached up, holding the large hoof that was so softly pressed against her- and the warmth of her tears tickled along her face. But the young pegasus, with one final sniffle, allowed a grin to take over. Her violet eyes returning to her mother.
"... I love you mommy.."
"I love you too Rainbow. So very much..."
There was so much sadness in her eyes as she looked down upon her filly, but years of practice made hiding it from her so distressingly easy. A gentle smile and a soft gaze were all that were required, but even now with withering strength, she could see the facade starting to crack to her ever growing baby girl.
The mother's eyes turned, glancing out the open door- to the evening sun that lit up the clouds that formed their walls, their ceiling, their floor- even their furniture.
Then her gaze fell back upon her daughter. Her beautiful, wonderful daughter. Who's smile slowly faded..
"But... it's time for you to go now."
The warmth on her cheeks would be the first thing she'd slowly wake up to.
The second thing she felt was a smothering warmth that squeezed at her chest, making every breath a laboring effort that grew from mildly irritating to painful as feeling slowly made its way through her limbs. All this happened before she truly even awoke- her mind slowly restarting from its restless slumber. A slumber that was, for lack of a better term, not slumber. She didn't feel rested and restored. She just felt drained.
Rainbow Dash's eyes creaked open, a flurry of blurred images filtering through her senses. Almost instantly she winced, squeezing her barely cracked eyes shut. There was very little brightness in the room, but it was enough to sting and make her hiss in reply. She moved her hoof up to her face to rub the sleepiness away.
Or, well, she tried to anyways.
Her leg hadn't moved. She barely recognized the faint feel of her foreleg tingling as if it'd long since fallen asleep from some uncomfortable position, but it was most assuredly not because of that. The confusion that dawned on her made her breath catch. It wasn't until then that she even noticed that she had no idea where she was or how she got here.
She turned her head, feeling a warm pillow brush against her cheek- pulling on her pinned mane. Try as she might, her foreleg would not rise. Nor would her wings flare. Or her hind legs kick. Her caught breath began to turn into a panicked pant- and a weak whimper was all she could mutter instead of a frustrated scream.
Where am I?
She felt the exhaustion tighten, and her struggles ceased- a shaky breath giving away her fear- and on cue there was a foggy noise from across the room. Rainbow's eyes cracked open once again, and the light was still blinding- but all at once that faded. A darkness surrounded her, and a brief relief was interrupted by confusion within seconds.
The voice sounded so distant, but all the same so close. Like someone was speaking to her from behind a thick door. Their voice muffled and distorted, but deep and baritone.
"It's alright Miss Dash. You're safe. Safe and in good hooves."
A small glimmer of light illuminated a face in the dark- a pony's face complete with a horn atop his head. The obvious source of the glow. The image danced for a moment, fading in and out of focus, but it gradually retained its solidity. Till she could properly make out the cyan maned stallion's features.
"Much better, yes..?"
She swallowed, attempting to speak, but all she could give a a muttered groan in reply.
"Good.. Don't worry yourself.. You just need some water."
Another thing floated into her vision- a glass complete with sloshing cool water- which magically lifted from the glass and snaked towards her in a slow arch. It was almost beautiful to watch, even now.
"Open your mouth for me?"
She complied after just a moment, closing her eyes. She felt the refreshing drink lose its magical suspension within her jaws- splashing upon her tongue. A few mouthfuls later, she felt an instant relief. She'd been incredibly thirsty.
"There we go." She opened her eyes again and found that floating head a bit further away- a smile stretched across his face. "I'm going to turn the light back on now Miss Dash. Are you ready?"
She fought with her sore throat and her uncooperative tongue. "N-Not.. r-really.."
Regardless, the light flooded the room- and she instantly hissed and snapped her eyes back to a close. Wondering why anypony would even ask such a question if they were just going to bucking do it anyways!
"I'm sure you're probably very confused right now." The voice was closer, and she felt compelled to open her eyes again- even as tears blurred at her hardly perfectly focused vision. The brighter than bright room beginning to take shape. "I'm doctor Lighthorn. You're in Ponyville Emergency Care."
She blinked away stinging tears, her eyes flittering about the plain white room for a few moments before centering on the unicorn- a doctor alright, by the looks of him- scribbling about on a clipboard Rainbow hadn't noticed him carrying before.
"You were out in the storm, remember?" His eyes were on whatever it was he was writing, but he quickly finished and flashed her the smallest of fake smiles. "You do remember the storm, don't you Miss Dash?"
For a moment, she was beyond confused. But the memories of the day- which seemed so long ago to her now- began to surface. Cold and painful rain swirling around her thanks to an equally unforgiving wind. Howling, monstrous vortexes eating land, trees and farms. Sweet Apple Acres.
"I... I do.."
"Good to hear." His quill made a swift stroke against the page. "Tell me more about what happened to you Rainbow Dash."
She blinked, her eyes dropping back to the bed. To the thick cotton sheets tucked almost painfully tight around her body. It was difficult to breath.
"There.. There were... tornadoes.." She swallowed, no longer thirsty- but finding the words hard to grasp all the same. "I was.. I tried to.. to stop them..?"
Another stroke. "Yes, and you did... Please, don't worry yourself. This is common." He must of noticed the panicked look on her face. She was faintly aware that she was beginning to pant.
She coughed, wanting to push herself up from the bed- but once again felt like she was restrained. Her eyes scanned for her legs, for whatever was holding her down, but she couldn't see anything thanks to her choking bedspread.
"W-Why can't I move..?"
He trotted up to her side- his paperwork hovering up above the two of them. "It's just a spell. We needed you to be still while you rested. Give me just a moment and we can work on removing it properly." He paused, after resting a hoof on the lump where her arm was beneath the covers. Rainbow couldn't feel it. "Alright?"
She didn't like this. Not one bit. Her mind swam with what she wanted to yell.. but she merely nodded, dropping her head back against the warm and comfortable pillow. It took too much effort to yell.
"Now.. Can you tell me more about what happened?" Down came the quill and clipboard. "What was one of the last things you can remember?"
She closed her eyes from the bright light above her- struggling inside her mind to recall just what happened to her. What brought her here.
"I was flying.. inside the funnel.." She heard the doctor actually pause in his writing, but she didn't know why. "S-Something.. Something must of hit me.. I remember falling.."
"Do you remember where you were Miss Dash?"
It took her a few seconds before her eyes snapped open- the light forgotten. "A-Applejack..!"
Lighthorn was quick to intervene. "-Is fine. All of your friends are fine."
Rainbow blinked, staring at the unicorn for a few uncomfortable seconds. "S-She's okay..?" Her eyes watered, and not from the light. "They all are..?"
He nodded, that hollow sympathetic smile back on his face. "Indeed. Your friend Twilight Sparkle had to be admitted to the hospital as well, but merely due to exhaustion. She's already awake and most likely ready to be out of bed by now."
Rainbow felt... light headed. She moved her lips, but didn't form any words. The images of Sweet Apple Acres in shambles ran through her head, then the outlines of those twisters making their way across the countryside for Ponyville- full of unready and unprepared friends and neighbors.
"B-But the storm.. How did.. I don't.." She blinked, tears breaking down her face as she realized a happy ending just wasn't possible.. -Shouldn't- be possible. "I don't understand.."
"The storm is gone Miss Dash. The princesses saw to that, so I've heard." He patted her numb leg with that hoof before scribbling something quickly onto his seemingly important paper. "Ponyville is safe, you're safe, and all your friends are safe. Please, try to relax.."
She attempted to- Celestia knows she did- but her heart still hammered in her chest. She could still feel -that- at least.
"What happened..?" An even better question came to mind.. "How did I end up here..?"
"Your friends Twilight Sparkle and Applejack found you out in the Sweet Apple Acres' orchard.." He seemed to hesitate there, as if unsure of the story himself. "I'm.. admittedly having trouble piecing together what happened after that. Your friend Miss Sparkle doesn't seem to be very cooperative on her account of your rescue."
Her confusion didn't go unnoticed. "Seems you were in quite the bad way when they found you.. I believe Miss Sparkle put her tutoring to good use." The last part was said with barely contained snootiness- which even now brought annoyance to poor Rainbow Dash.
"I was hopeful that you would remember something- anything at all- of the spells cast upon you. Even unconscious, the caliber of spells Miss Sparkle must of used on you would leave quite an impression."
Rainbow Dash looked down at her bed again, processing the information given to her.. Twilight Sparkle had saved her? Found her beaten body out in the middle of some field and used her egghead knowledge of magic to bring her back from the dead? Even for Twilight, that seemed like something beyond her abilities. Or maybe it was because of it being -her- that was saved. Inches away from death only to be brought back and... seemingly unscathed.
Or.. well.. so she thought.
"Miss Dash..?" Her doctor lowered his head into her vision- making her snap her eyes back upon him. "Is there.. anything at all you can remember? An image? A dream? Anything?"
"Why the hay does it even matter..?"
A look of surprise crossed his face, and that fake smile of his dropped almost instantly. Rainbow was glaring, and she didn't care. She may not be the Element of Honesty, but she could tell when a pony was lying through his teeth- or poking somewhere he didn't belong.
"Twilight Sparkle will tell you... Whatever you need to know."
A few more seconds passed before the quill suddenly stroked across another section of the page it'd been scribbling upon- and the paper suddenly flipped to an entirely different page.
"Of course." Fake smile. "My apologies."
A small flare of his horn later and she felt a tingle run up her legs- starting from her hooves and ending all at once when they centered on her chest. Slowly, her body awoke from its restrained numbness- and with a shaky breath she felt her hoof move.
"Please refrain from moving too much Miss Dash." Lighthorn moved to the other side of her bed- not even watching his paper as his quill filled out lines of text. "I need you to work with me for just a moment, then we can see about completely removing the spell and letting you sit up. Okay?"
Again, she just nodded. Actually nodded this time. She was glad to find she could breath easier now. There was a flash as a glittering aura surrounded the sheets of her bed, and slowly peeled it back. At first, her breath caught in her throat- afraid at the state of what she might find her body in.. but released that breath when she found herself almost completely fine.
Around her hooves were clean, even white bandages- as well as around her midsection- pulled tight, but not seemingly so tight as to be unbearable. She'd probably be able to tell better when she could better feel exactly what her limbs were telling her, but she could already breath better; testing it by taking a deep breath.
Besides the bandages.. she didn't see anything wrong. Her coat was clean and seemed evenly brushed, if a bit rough from being in bed. Even her tail seemed in order. Clean of tangles or mud or anything. Had Twilight really done all that?
"We cleaned and dressed your injuries after you arrived." Could all unicorns read her mind now? "Minor cuts and some bruises under that coat of yours, but you've mostly got a clean bill of health. There were just.. concerns."
Rainbow blinked, -turning- her head to him. "Concerns..?"
He just nodded, tilting his head- his horn- towards her hind legs. "A great deal of your injuries had been internal." She felt a sudden jolt- and the muscles in her right hind leg tightened. Then another in her left hind leg- which earned the same reaction. Whether that was a good sign or not, Lighthorn wrote quickly upon his paper. "Miss Sparkle did most of our work for us it seems, but we cleaned up after her a bit. Our main concern after that was focused on your spine."
She twitched, another jolt making her legs nearly kick. It wasn't the most comfortable sensation- but she recognized it as reflex testing- unicorn style. "My spine?"
"Your spine." He answered dully, passing over her hind legs and towards her front. She felt the magical pressure build in her right foreleg- eliciting a similar reaction. Making her stretch it out. "There was some potential bruising along your spinal column that was seemingly overlooked. Not outright life threatening, but there's always the risk of paralysis."
Rainbow's heart skipped a beat. "Paralysis..."
Another jolt, this time to the opposite foreleg- and again Rainbow stretched the leg out on reflex. "Not to worry though.." He spoke quietly, his eyes on her. "You seem to be recovering fine.. The magical science of spinal repair is an.. iffy one. An unexplored field, one might say. Hold still please?"
She felt the awkward feeling of something brushing through her body- like a wind blown rope lazily rolling with the wind, only this moved with a purpose. For some reason, she felt compelled to shudder, but managed to hold herself stable until the alien feeling retreated to where it came from.
"Doing alright Miss Dash?" He went back to writing again- seemingly uninterested in her answer. And she really didn't feel interested in giving him one either. "No jarring muscle pains? Awkward numbness?"
She shook her head, wondering if she was safe to sit up yet.. "Not that I can really tell.."
As if on cue, the bed itself seemed to move. Or at least half of it. The top half tilted upwards- lifting her slowly into a sitting position. Two pillows quickly levitating from the other side of the room and filling in the gap to keep her nice and comfortable.
He checked another section off on his paper. "Now we come to your wings~"
Rainbow froze. My wings..
She glanced over her shoulder slowly, unsure what to expect.. but found her wing bound by the same white bandages that were wrapped around her hooves. Tuffs of feathers were squeezed around the tightly pulled white bands- but it seemed mostly intact. A quick glance over her other shoulder confirmed that it was exactly the same as its twin.
She couldn't contain a sigh of relief..
"A few missing feathers and some scrapes.." The doctor was unwrapping her right wing gently- the straps unraveling like one giant ribbon. "Imagine Miss Sparkle is to thank for that too."
Twilight.. Rainbow's eyes softened as she looked down at her hooves, rubbing them across her bandaged midsection.. Just how much do I owe that bookworm..
The doctor finished with removing the thick cotton bandages and seized her wing within his magical grasp- stretching it out in a slow and careful manner. Sure enough, plumes of her flight feathers were missing. The occasional spot of bare flesh visible- but all things considered, Dash should be counting her blessings. She'd almost seen her wings in worse conditions... Trick flying was a hazardous hobby.
"How was that?" The doctor muttered, still looking down at his paper.
Rainbow blinked, torn from her thoughts. "Hmm?"
The unicorn looked up from his clipboard at her, before glancing to her wing again. A second or two passed. "How was that?"
Rainbow.. didn't follow. "How was what?"
The doctor's eyes widened the slightest bit.. and Dash's followed suite- except on a grander scale. His paper levitated away from him as he moved up to the head of her bed, and this time she watched him. Her wing was still outstretched, surrounded by the magical aura of Lighthorn's manipulation- but his horn sent a small strand of purple lightning right into the base of her wing.
… Nothing happened.
"Alright.." He murmured, but Rainbow's body was already freezing. "Do you feel anything at all?"
She wanted to say she did, but another jolt from his horn and it confirmed that she didn't feel a single thing coming from her unwrapped wing. In fact, her whole body was tingling- save for her two feathered appendages, who refused to answer her calls for action. Refused to twitch, to flare, to do anything.
All at once, the magical energy surrounding her wing flickered out- and it simply dropped, anything but graceful, into the awaiting hooves of the doctor. His horn sweeping over the blue feathers in one long lazy arch. Rainbow felt nothing but a faint pressure where his hooves tugged the wing against its socket.
"Well.. No need to panic, Miss Dash." The magical glow returned, flexing the wing before retracting back into its dormant state- fresh bandages floating from across the room to wrap around her... unresponsive appendage. "We'll give you some time to rest and try again later. Perhaps there's some... residual swelling."
Rainbow could only nod, staring down at her hooves. Her tears bristling in her eyes unwilling to fall just yet.. "Are.. you sure..?"
He stepped back, and Rainbow felt her wing brush along her flank. She eased against the bed, feeling the warm pillows contour against her back in just the right ways, but offered little in the realm of actual comfort. Not now, at least.
"Honestly Miss Dash..?" He leveled his gaze with her's, scribbling away on his paper once again. "Only time will tell."
It had been roughly two hours after her friends left the hospital that Twilight Sparkle woke up once again. By that time, even Spike had taken his leave- returning to the Library, no doubt. It had been a little depressing to wake up to a cold, dark, and empty hospital room, but Twilight found it gave her ample time to just lay there and think. She thought about Celestia, about Luna, about the storm, about Applejack. About Rainbow Dash..
She should have been happy; ecstatic even. Her friends were all safe, even if they weren't all unscathed by this. Applejack's farm was almost completely destroyed, and Rainbow Dash's state was mostly unknown but at least stable. The fear of her lively pegasus friend being paralyzed had dampened most of that happiness- but she couldn't deny that she would rather have her friend alive than dead.
But at the same time, why did she feel so guilty?
When the nurse came in to check on her and found her to be wide awake, the light was turned on- removing the darkness of the night sky and painting the plain, boring room its stark white colors. Few words were exchanged between the nurse and her, but she learned that Rainbow was going to wake within another hour or two. She chose to politely decline the advice to get more rest. She was tired of sleeping.
Before she left, the nurse opened one of the drawers to the bedside table and produced a single scroll. When Twilight asked what it was, the nurse informed her that the little dragon that had been in here before had "burped it up" just before he left the lobby. She had kindly promised to deliver it once the unicorn finally woke up again.
After that, Twilight was left alone. She stared at the letter for a long moment or two, absentmindedly examining the royal wax seal that kept the scroll in its bound shape. When she finally decided to break it and unwrap the parchment across her lap, she was a bit surprised to find there were actually two other pages amongst the bundle. The writing was the first thing that stood out to her- elegant and smooth, perfect in every detail and without comparison to anypony in Equestria.
"To my dearest student, Twilight Sparkle.."
She released the breath she didn't realize she was holding..
As the dawn began to rise from outside her window, Twilight still didn't feel tired. Her briefest attempts to levitate her glass of cool refreshing water from her bedside to her lips were met with a pounding headache and wet covers- so she had, by then, figured her magic was (temporarily, she hoped) unusable. She'd never pushed herself as far as she had the day before, so she had very little experience with magical exhaustion of this scale first hoof. She'd just a book on the subject. A bunch of books on the subject. Typical Twilight.
The musings of her exhaustion were really among the last things on her mind, however. Her eyes were still going over the three pages that were still splayed out in front of her. The first page had been a heartfelt and touching letter from Celestia, explaining that she was alright and that she'd heard word of Twilight's hospitalization (somehow) and was relieved to know she was okay. If it hadn't requested for her not to send a letter straight away and to conserve her strength till later that afternoon, she would've penned one that instant and insisted someone wake Spike to mail it.
The second two pages? They were hardly personal. They detailed the start of the disaster to its very end. How Princess Celestia was interrupted in the middle of her court by the rumbling the likes she'd never heard before, followed by hell on Equestria as the sky itself opened up to unleash terror upon Canterlot. The only thing that spared Canterlot from collapsing down the mountain side within those first surprising minutes were the sheer number of enchantments Celestia herself had in place to protect the capital, but even those gave way within the first hour.
It explained how the most magically gifted unicorns ponykind had banded together to shield and protect the city in one massive effort, as others sought the correct counter spell that would stop the disaster at its source. It took almost two and a half hours before it was ready, but by then Celestia was mostly the only one holding the enchantments in place. It fell upon Luna, the only other pony capable of disrupting the storm. The rest of the story had been pretty much broadcast to every Equestrian citizen.
But what they didn't know was that the storm wasn't -just- your average accident. While most in Canterlot were still searching for clues, a royal investigation had already uncovered enough within that first day to make an arrest with more pending. "It will not be publicly announced for some time.", Celestia had wrote. "Eventually, they will be told, but not until all the facts are found."
But Twilight's privileged close access to the Princess earned her a sort of trust. She gave her the name of the pony responsible, and the only request the Princess had made was that Twilight keep this information from her friends. It was no small request, but Celestia knew that. She also knew that the pony in question was one Twilight had first hoof experience with before.
And it made her sick to her stomach to think about him for more than a few seconds at a time..
She was midway through her third rereading of the letter when nurse Redheart tenderly knocked on her door and entered only when Twilight gave the go ahead. The scroll safely wrapped up and tucked beneath the pillow she'd laid it out upon.
"Excuse me Miss Sparkle. I was just checking on you.", she grinned- making Twilight wander how a pony who'd been up all night could possibly look so chipper. "You seem to be up and about already!"
Twilight returned the smile without even thinking, "Ah, yes. Mostly, anyways."
"Is there anything I can get for you dear? I see you could use some more water."
Twilight glanced over to the glass, then back at the nurse with a more sheepish smile than before..
"That's.. alright.. I was actually hoping to hear if there was any news on Rainbow Dash."
At that, the nurse looked even more happy- her smile widening even further. "Oh! Yes! She's been awake for nearly a hour now. Undergoing an examination by Doctor Lighthorn, I would guess."
That pony? Twilight's scowl must of caught nurse Redheart's eye, as she gave the smallest of nervous chuckles..
"He's.. an interesting character, I know. Just came here from Canterlot himself. His heart is in the right place... He just takes some getting used to."
Twilight knew the unicorn's type. It didn't take much for her to guess he was from Canterlot either. The way he carried himself, spoke to her last night, fished for info on a spell taught to her by Princess Celestia herself- it easily reminded her of the old professors at the academy. The bitter ones who treated her with ill contempt simply because she was in a position they'd give their two front hooves for in a heartbeat. Doubly so to of been her age when she was signed on as the alicorn's star apprentice.
And considering the letter she'd just received, that sort of Canterlot pony was the last thing she wanted to deal with right now.
"I'd imagine so.." Twilight was dismissive about it- even as she wiggled out of the covers and dropped off the bed and onto her hooves. "Anyways, I'd like to see Rainbow, if it's possible."
The mare smiled and gave a nod- trotting to the side of the door to allow Twilight to leave. She only cast one look back at her pillow where the scrolls were safely tucked underneath. She didn't plan on being long.
The trip through the hospital was mostly uneventful. The few staff that were on duty were mostly speaking of the storm in a hushed whisper, casting glances her way as she trotted along. She hardly paid anypony any mind. She just wanted to see her friend. To say it was nerve racking to imagine what sort of state Rainbow could be in after what Twilight saw of her would be an understatement.
Before she even knew it, she was at her hospital door. Miss Redheart had led her here, so she once again tenderly knocked on the door and waited for an answer from inside- but instead the door swiveled open and Twilight came face to face with the somewhat surprised Doctor Lighthorn himself.
"Ah, Miss Sparkle. I wasn't expecting to see you up so soon." He looked a bit more haggard than the nurse standing beside her- but still managed to act polite. "I'm not sure you should-"
"Oh don't worry about me~" She didn't pay much mind to his tone as he looked her over- choosing instead to give him a fake smile of her own and move to step right on inside. "I'm quite alright, but I'll be better after I see-"
She turned her head, halfway through the door- finding a lone bed with a lone cyan pony reclined against a small mountain of pillows, her multicolored mane as perfect and even as it'd ever been. And she was smiling at her, tears already in her eyes and on her cheeks.
Twilight whispered her name, blinking as a smile spread across her face. Her friend.. was fine. Bandages were crossed over her chest and along her two forelegs, as well as wrapped around both her wings, but Rainbow was right there. Quite alive.
"Doctor.. Could you.. um.." Nurse Redheart piped in from just outside the door- clearing her throat after a moment.
He thankfully got the hint, and stepped wordlessly from the room- bringing the door to a close behind him. Leaving the two of them alone with one another.
It only took a moment for Twilight's own tears to roll down her face, as she sprinted across the floor and up to the side of the bed- pushing herself to wrap her forelegs around her friend in a careful embrace, but Rainbow Dash didn't hesitate to squeeze her till she could barely breath.
Twilight couldn't believe it. She almost didn't think this was real, but the soft sobbing of Rainbow over her shoulder brought about her own soft crying- and she realized it wasn't a dream at all. Rainbow was alive and well, more than she could even hope for, and was hugging her tight. As tight as she ever could.
"Oh Twilight.." Rainbow sniffled, still not letting go. "You have no idea how happy I am to see you.."
"Ditto.." Twilight squeezed back.
She held onto Rainbow for as long as the pegasus wanted her to, which was a mere minute or so, but felt like eternity to Twilight. By the time Rainbow did let go, Twilight's shoulder felt wet with tears, and Rainbow's cheeks were red.
"I-I'm sorry.." She brushed her cheek with a hoof, flashing a smile amidst a shaky laugh. "It's.. been an interesting morning."
Twilight couldn't help but smile back, giggling at her friend in a similar manner- wondering if she was in nearly as bad a shape, tear wise. "No kidding?"
It wasn't particularly funny, but Rainbow laughed anyways- wrapping her forelegs around herself as she flopped back against the pillow seat she had going on. Twilight got a chance to steal a look at her hooves all wrapped in tight white linen. Same as those around her waist and her wings. No trace of blood, which amazed her. There had been so much of it.
"The doctor.. The doctor said that.. that you saved me.." Rainbow fumbled for breath, groaning as she slumped back into her bed. Twilight felt the oddest impulse to grab the covers and slip them over Rainbow's legs and torso- so she did just that, earning a small thankful nod from her bedridden friend.
"I guess I did.." Twilight felt her own cheeks warm up- prompting her to finally wipe them clean. "I wouldn't of imagined it being this... perfect, though. I've never gotten a chance to try my hoof at magic that advanced before.."
Rainbow tugged the covers up a bit higher, clearing her throat. "I must have been pretty roughed up.."
"Y-Yeah.." Twilight swallowed.. "You weren't in the best shape."
Rainbow merely blinked, obviously getting some of the hint. "Was I.. awake at all..?"
"No.. Thank Celestia.." Twilight hauled herself up onto the bed, staying near the bottom. It was big enough for her to curl up and sit comfortably at its foot. "You don't remember anything?"
Rainbow shook her head, her face taking on something akin to a scowl. "I had to let that snooty doctor know that too. He seemed really interested in whatever happened out there."
Why am I not surprised?
"You don't remember anything though? Not even when I was talking to you?"
"Talking to me?" Rainbow tilted her head, "I thought I wasn't awake?"
Twilight nodded, shifting in the slightest. "Well.. My spell was still active. I was trying to keep you calm while.." She faded off, eying some unease in Rainbow's stare. "It.. wasn't anything terribly important. I was just curious if you heard me."
"That spell? But, I thought it canceled out after my rainboom.." Rainbow glanced down, searching her mind for an answer, but could only offer up a light shrug of her shoulders. "I just remember falling.. then uh.. dreaming some.. then I was here."
"Maybe the rainboom distorted it or caused some interference.. It was still there when I found you, though weak.." Twilight had managed to see a hint of pain in Rainbow's eyes, but it went unmentioned.
"If it's all the same to you Twi.. I think I'll keep my mind to myself from. That spell was kind of creepy."
Twilight's smile dimmed, "What? Mind syncing? It's the most efficient means of communicating over distance. Even more than dragon mail!"
"Yeah, and the whole sharing emotions thing is awesome and all, but.. uh.." She shivered, but couldn't bring herself to elaborate any further- just fixing Twilight with a playful stare. "No."
Twilight rolled her eyes and relented the argument there and then. No reason to banter about the spells usefulness. It.. was the tiniest bit unnerving.
"Are all the others really alright?"
"Yes. The others are all fine. Applejack got a little knock on the head, but she's as good as ever." Twilight paused for a second. "Well.. Maybe not as good as ever, considering the farm, but she's coming around."
Rainbow breathed a deep sigh of relief, her eyes even going so far as to drift closed. "I thought.. After what I saw.. I thought she must've been -in there- Twi.."
"Who knew Sweet Apple Acres had a cellar, huh?" She had to resist the urge to hold the pegasus again. "I dug them out and got Applejack to help me look for you. Hay, she's the one that actually tracked you down out there."
Rainbow looked up at her in surprise. "S-She was?"
Twilight nodded in affirmation, carefully deciding what she should mention on this for now.. "Yeah.. We split up to go find you. I think it was just us.. Big Macintosh had to take care of Applebloom.. When Applejack found you I took over and she ran back to Ponyville for the doctor."
Rainbow Dash sat there, looking a little stunned. She eventually blinked, gazing down to her bandaged hooves deep in thought. Before Twilight could ask what was wrong, she looked back into her eyes.
"How... bad was I?"
Twilight stared at her for a moment, her mind running a million miles a hour before she mentally told herself to stop.
"I don't think you really want to know Rainbow.."
Rainbow opened her mouth like she was going to argue, but seemed to think better of it. She settled back into the bed, glancing away..
"Yeah.. Maybe not.."
Twilight found her eyes wandering a little too, glancing towards the bright window off to the side of the bed. Dawn was in full swing by now..
"The others should be here soon, I imagine.. They really wanted to see you last night too, but you were still under sedation."
A gentle scoff later and Rainbow was staring back at her again- and smile returned to her face. "Good. I've got to let em all know I haven't bit the dust just yet."
Twilight found herself smirking, imagining how their friends would probably react. The others would be fine, she was sure. Applejack? Applejack would possibly faint.
"I don't think Pinkie Pie doubted you'd be okay for a second."
"Ahah.. Yeah." Rainbow leaned back into her pillow seat with a soft snort, a wide grin across her face. "That's Pinkie Pie for you though. I don't think we'll ever understand that pony."
"I'm still in shock myself.." Twilight grinned, squirming atop the bed where she sat. "I heard what the doctor said.. but.. wow.."
Rainbow seemed to shrink against the bed again, glancing off to the side.. "Yeah.. Sounds like I'm pretty lucky."
The voice surprised them both; Twilight and Rainbow Dash both turning their wide eyed faces to find Applejack herself standing just past the door- minus her stetson. Her hair undone and mildly unkempt, falling partially over her big green eyes absolutely brimming with tears.
"Y-You've got to be the dumbest.. most reckless.. most foalish fool of a pony I-I've ever met."
And in much the same fashion as Twilight had earlier (only much quicker), Applejack sprinted to Rainbow Dash and latched herself on for dear life- instantly erupting into a fit of tears like Twilight had never seen before. The moment of shock on Rainbow's face melted away as the cycle began anew, and Twilight could only watch the two friends cry together.
Celestia's morning was almost routine, but even the Princess herself couldn't shake the unease that permeated through the castle as she trotted through the long, wide corridors that bristled with shaken and exhausted aides that all still somehow managed to bow as she passed. All she could manage was a sympathetic nod here and there. Smiling, however, was a bit beyond even her means with the godly headache that was pounding just behind her eyes.
Yesterday's events had taken their toll on just about everypony- and she was no exception. She could hardly remember a time where she exhausted so much of her magical power, save for one painful night a little over one thousand and one years ago. Had she not been the ever-prepared and benevolent ruler she prided herself on being.. she imagined the storm would still be brewing and spreading across her lands. Across her ponies' lands.
The thought actually infuriated her.
"Princess Celestia." One of her assistants before her, a tan coated mare with a vibrant pink mane, spoke before bowing in respect- kneeling to the floor. "The court is assembled and ready to begin at your earliest convenience."
"Good." She stated simply, albeit politely. "There are other matters that need attending to first. If you'd be so kind as to let the nobles know to reconvene in a hour's time."
Not surprisingly, the mare blinked- glancing up from her bow with a look of shock, before nodding quickly and standing to her hooves. "O-Of course, your majesty."
Celestia didn't doubt it unnerved the mare. There had not been a delay in the near daily court Celestia held in hundreds of years- never in her lifetime alone. This time she was able to flash a quick and painful sympathetic smile before allowing her to leave.
She turned to the two guards standing at attention by the large ornate doors leading to the thrown room. They didn't even blink. "Bring him to me now."
With respectful nods, the two moved off without a moment's hesitation- and Celestia's magic opened the heavy stone doors wide, stepping through with her head held high. The expansive throne hall was lit up by the dawn outside the stain glass windows far above and lined against the walls. The marble floor reflected this perfectly, and the entire room radiated with every bit of sunlight that broke the horizon.
More guards stood at attention around the sides of the room, and no less than two dozen nobles were spread about- their posh manes and expensive formal attire hastily arranged, no doubt. This was supposed to be a busy day, and she doubted many of them got much sleep either.
All at once, their (slightly argumentative) conversations died as all eyes turned to her- shock evident on their faces before they dropped low to bow their respects to their princess of the sun. Unlike before, Celestia wasted no time.
"Please clear the hall." Her voice was soft, but carried an authority that these ponies knew all too well. "Return in a hour's time- but not a moment sooner."
Not even a murmur came from them as they, one by one, rose from their kneeling to quietly and quickly trot from the room en mass. The guards, of course, remained- with only the less experienced allowing their eyes to follow the procession with uneasy glances.
With her magnificent hall clear, and with her throne- a wide platform of cushions that still didn't compare to the comfort of her bed- beneath her hooves, Celestia allowed herself to slump down upon her belly, curling her legs beneath herself. A tired and weary sigh escaped. Sometimes it hurt being such a morning pony.
The doors were left open, and for the next few minutes she waited in silence- letting her thoughts take up her attention. She recalled her letter to Twilight Sparkle, sent just before she left her chambers before the dawn, detailing what she knew at the moment. Word had reached her (as it always managed to) of her student's ordeals the day before and she was relieved to hear that she was alright. Worrying about her prized student had been difficult during Luna's impromptu night, but upon the rise of her sun, she'd felt her student's life was safe.
She knew little else beyond that however. Luna had been quick to take up the control of the night's affairs shortly after the natural day ended, and Celestia thanked the stars she was able to retreat to her quarters to promptly fall into a slumber unlike any other. It hadn't lasted long, but it saved her from probably feinting before her subjects. Not something she'd ever be keen on doing.
Thinking of her sister only reminded her, painfully, that she had yet to manage to speak to her. Despite waking up earlier than needed in order to send Twilight a letter, Celestia had only managed to speak with one of the night's aides- who detailed their findings from the afternoon till then. It confused her, but Luna had chosen to send one of her dignitaries- who she rather despised in private- than come see her personally. Perhaps she was as exhausted as her older sister, which Celestia could certainly understand..
The noises outside her doors grew louder, shocked gasps of aides still in the hall and servants who dropped their carried wares in surprise. Celestia steeled herself, her eyes narrowing and her horn raised high- taking a moment to enforce the glow that surrounded the ivory instrument.
Her guards turned the corner and proceeded into the hall, and between them trotted a single unicorn stallion- his light blue coat and golden laurel wreath cutie mark shining against the light from the floor. She noted that his graying mane seemed even more so than she last remembered it- even with it being as unkempt as it was. She could understand why, she hadn't spoken to him personally in almost a year and a half.
Around his forelegs were a single pair of shackles that rattled with the chain that clinked and slid across the throne's red carpet. Even with the sudden clang of the door behind him closing, he still did not lower his head from staring straight at her- eyes equally narrowed. His horn, she noticed, bore a single ring around its base. No doubt enchanted to disrupt his admittedly impressive magical powers.
The trio stopped just shy of the stairs that led up to her throne platform, and Celestia glowered her gaze down at the stallion as her two guards respectfully bowed and stepped away. Leaving the lone pony to give a bow of his own- finally breaking eye contact with Equestria's most powerful alicorn for one show of false respect and dignity.
Celestia felt a pang of anger. She remembered this pony quite well. He had never been one to be even the slightest bit intimidated by her presence, which was something she usually admired in ponies. However, he seemed to treat her more with contempt and distrust. Very few managed to do that in the several thousand years she'd ruled. It never did sit right with her.
Of course, she didn't want him to know that. "Please, Bastion. Rise."
Bastion Yorsets, former administrator of Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, rose from the floor. Elegantly so, despite the clatter of his hoof chains. Try as the unicorn might, his forced smile betrayed his true feelings.
"I'm rather surprised you decided to do this before your court." He glanced around dismissively, "You've never been one to delay royal duties for anything."
"I'd like to say that this matter is rather important." She kept her malice in check- right along with him. "I'm sure that you.. considering your past stations.. would understand the severity of the situation."
The small spark of remorse at the mentioning of his now former standing resonated in his eyes, and Celestia admittedly felt the slightest bit of guilt for the blow.
"Ah.. I suppose I would."
She turned her gaze down to the shackles around his forelegs.. "I trust you were treated fairly during your arrest, yes?"
He looked down at his hooves before nodding. "After assisting in shielding Canterlot from the storm, I would hardly say I was in any condition to resist. Not that I would have regardless."
She nodded, crossing her front hooves over one another. "So I've heard from my captain-"
"And- give him my regards, would you? I'm glad it wasn't made into a larger spectacle than it had to be."
Celestia raised a brow, "I think the ponies here in Canterlot were a bit preoccupied to notice."
He gave an exasperated sigh, but said nothing for a few moments, before pipping up again- "Did he deliver my letters to you?"
Celestia's horn angled to the side with a nod, and a swirl of magical aura glowed for but a second before a large scroll materialized out of thin air; stretching itself out to reveal its contents.
"A signed letter of resignation dated just yesterday. As well as a complete and detailed confession for your crimes against the kingdom." She only allowed her eyes to trace over a few select lines. She'd already read the letter more than once before now. "If I didn't know any better, Bastion, I'd say you wrote this in advance."
He barely tried to contain his scoff, his eyes glancing away from hers when she glanced down at him again. "The spell was not crafted in a day, Princess. I've had a great deal of time to prepare what I would say upon its discovery."
Celestia allowed herself to frown, turning her eyes back to the letter for a moment. "Yet I don't see a reason written here."
"I'm a pony of magical science, your majesty." He made a move to raise his hoof to his chest, but was stopped by the lack of slack in his chain. "I don't believe a reason is needed to explore and test the boundaries of magic as it's understood. The potential benefit from the experiment, I believed, far outweighed the potential consequences of the act."
"The consequences, Bastion?" Celestia's tone turned the slightest bit sour. Her brow furrowing. "For yourself or for Equestria? Did you not see the havoc you unleashed yesterday? Or the danger you put my subjects in?"
He hesitated in answering. "It.. was an unintentional accident. An error on my part, that I'm willing to take full responsibility for."
"How noble." She allowed the letter to roll back into its scroll and disappear in a flash- safely tucked away back in her quarters. "I expected so much better of you."
She could tell the words stung, but he did a valiant enough job in keeping it hidden from plain view. A mere twitch that would go unnoticed by most anypony else but her. "Is there anything else required of me, your majesty?"
"Yes, actually." She made sure to watch his every telling move. Something he most likely knew she was doing. "I've opened a royal inquiry into your department, Bastion. Just what should I be prepared to find?"
"Nothing, Princess Celestia." He was quick to answer. "This has been my only project for the past year and a half." It didn't look to be a lie.
Celestia stared him down a few more moments while he indignantly stared back, then shook her head. Motioning to the guards with a single hoof. "You may take Bastion back to his quarters now."
The two guards gave their customary bows- and so did Bastion, who turned afterward without so much as a single glance up to her thrown. With only the rattle and clink of his shackles, the three ponies left as quickly as they entered. This time the doors shut behind them.
Celestia slumped just as they left, bringing one hoof up to rub against her pounding head. This was going to be a long day of listening to damage claims from nobles and reports from elsewhere in the kingdom on just how bad the storm had struck. All in all, nothing she was in the mood to listen to.
Bastion Yorsets was a stubborn, but clever pony. She'd even go as far to say that the stallion was brilliant. She wouldn't of left her school in the hooves of your average pony, after all. The thought that he'd do something like this wasn't a completely surprising turn of events, but the power of that storm hinted to something more..
Bastion had a talent for lying to her and nearly getting away with it, but she was determined to get to the bottom of this. One way or another.