"...the flying world was taken by storm today, when, in an unprecedented move, Miss Rainbow Dash announced she would be taking an unplanned leave of absence. Her stunt team, the up-and-coming Thundercolts, were tipped to win the championship, but Rainbow Dash's announcement has the pundits guessing. Most, however, agree that the team will have trouble maintaining their current position with their captain absent. CloudSport's racing correspondent Cirrus Mane has this to say..."

I tossed the newspaper away with a huff. Stupid pundits. Never knew what they were talking about. I mean, if they were as good at flying as me, maybe I could give them some credit, but most of them were just pretenders. Just because I was taking a little time out, it didn't mean the team was doomed. They could pull it off without me. Maybe. I carried on packing my bag. It was going to be a long flight.

"Hey, Captain. You're still here?"

I turned and grinned. It was only Oddy. He was a little stallion, with a funny coppery brown mane and an off-white coat. His cutie mark was kinda weird- a quill between two clouds. He slouched all the time when he wasn't in the air, which, to be honest, I'd been giving him a hard time over lately. But he was my second-in-command, and he should look just as confident as I did. Pity he was one of the least threatening ponies I'd ever met. Even Fluttershy could have ripped on him.

"Oh, sorry. Do I look like I'm gone? I think I woulda noticed if I'd disappeared," I teased. He flashed me one of his mollified looks.

"I just thought you'd have bolted already. You're not exactly the type to hang around,"he said, too casually to be natural. He opened his mouth to say something else, thought for a moment, closed it again.

In the end, he just said "We'll miss you, Captain," with his eyes closed and a funny look on his face.

"Hey, that's Rainbow Dash to you, buddy- least while I'm away. I'll be back to claim the top spot so fast your head'll spin. And don't look at me like that. I know you've been waiting to take a shot at being Captain."

"Nah. You know me. I like poetry most of all. Flying's just something I happen to be good at," he shrugged, laughed a little. He had one of those laughs you can't pin down, one that goes all through the octaves.

"And poetry's just something you happen to not be good at," I smirked.

"Ouch. Everypony's a critic," he said, making a good act at being mortified.

"What can I say? Your rhymes are a crime."
"And you say my poetry's bad..."

We laughed for a little bit, and then there was a silence. I realised I was supposed to say goodbye right about then. I didn't want to. I didn't wanna leave at all. They were my team. My friends. I didn't wanna leave them, but I didn't really have a choice.

"...Get going, Dash. How's it going to look if the fastest flyer in all Equestria gets to Ponyville late? The team'll manage without you," he said. His eye twitched, but I knew he was lying even before I saw it.

"Yeah, I know," I lied back. "Try and go for the championship if you can. I'll only be gone for a little while."

He shook his head, like he didn't believe me. Not surprising, really. I was having a hard time believing me.

"A little while is still too long, Captain," he said, closing his eyes again, and began to trot away towards the training field. "Good luck, whatever it is you're doing. Send me your address down the line. Otherwise, I won't know where to forward your fan mail."

I nodded, knowing he wouldn't see. I sorta didn't want him to. I mean, maybe I was getting a little emotional, just maybe, and it wouldn't do either of us any good for him to see me like that. I tossed my bag onto my back, wrestled with the straps a little until it was good and on. I sighed despite myself, and took a slow walk out to the exit, the bag's weight strange on my back. Stuffed at the very bottom of it was the letter, the one I'd ripped up and still didn't know why.

The sun's crowning the mountains, throwing an amber shawl over the snowbound peaks. The grass is damp with dew, and it's got that fresh smell you only get out in the countryside. Somewhere, quite a while away, I can hear the sounds of the forest collectively waking up and smelling the coffee. It's a nice scene, and I'd stick around and enjoy it, but I'm in a hurry.

Except, I don't quite know what to do.

Geography was never my strongest subject, but I know Ponyville's just behind the peaks. I flew the skies around here enough when I was young to know the landscape by heart. For all intents and purposes, I'm already there.

To be honest, though, I don't want to be.

Ponyville was a good place. I have a lot of fond memories of it. Maybe it's just nostalgia talking, but it was more awesome than any other town I've been to since, and not just because it had me in it. I used to like the way the smell of green tea drifted down the high street in the morning, mixed with the smell of fresh baked bread from the bakery. Or how, just for a little while each day in the morning, the sun used to hit the clouds just right and the whole town would be lit in this ethereal pink. Horse-apples, I used to like it so much I'd get up early and give the clouds a little nudge in the right direction. I wonder if Ponyville's still like that?

But still. I left this place for a reason: to make a totally awesome flying team. And I did it, too. But this is the place where my old life was. Where an old me used to live, a different me. It feels like, I dunno, I'll be taking a step backwards if I go back, back to the little filly that used to dash around the streets and jump on rain-clouds to soak anypony stupid enough to stand underneath 'em. And maybe I won't wanna leave again. I mean, it was hard enough the first time.

I stop for a second, and take a deep breath. I can't believe I'm hanging about like this. I'm Rainbow Dash, for goodness' sake. I've flown inches from the ground and at the very top of the sky, where the night reaches down to you and the air grows thin, and quiet. I can do anything, because I'm just awesome that way. I'll get through this.

I take off as quick as possible, give myself less chance to think. Even after all this time, I still love flying. There's nothing like it. That feeling, when your eyes are watering and your wings ache, when every muscles is straining desperately against gravity, when you're just about to crash but somehow you make it out at the last second? That's what I live for. And then the relief when you realise you've won, the sheer elation that washes through you until you can't walk straight and you can't talk because you're so happy? Now that's winning. Until you've tasted that desperation and that triumph, you can't begin to know what flying's like.

I'm up and over the mountains in seconds, and far below me I can see the grass, still fluttering from the downdraught. I smile without even meaning to. As I crest the mountains, I think for just a second about making a big entrance. There's a slight tailwind, not too much cloud cover- perfect conditions for a Sonic Rainboom. But on the other hoof, I've still got my bag, and it'd probably get ripped off at that velocity- never mind what it'd do to my aerodynamics. I decide against rainbooming. Maybe another time.

Effortlessly, I'm off. On a moment's whim I decide to dive, feeling the air rush through my mane and the sounds rush together in my ears, before swooping up just at the root of the mountains so I can fly over Ponyville fast and low. The gravity pulls at my stomach, tears at my wings, but compared to what I'd get in some of my tricks, it's nothing. Like a bullet, I approach the outskirts of Ponyville.

I'm disappointed when I can't smell bread baking.

The town looks a little smaller than when I left, but just as colourful. You don't get that in the big cities, where every house is painted the same. I guess it's because we had our fair share of weird ponies, who weren't afraid to, say, dump a few random cans of paint over their house. Oh my gosh, Pinkie Pie. I honestly thought I was going to die laughing. I almost did.

Even with the technicolour houses to cheer it up, the town seems a little duller than it used to. Like the life's been washed out of it, a little. It's kinda worrying, but I guess it's just my eyes. I tend to get a little closer to the sun than the average pony. You get used to the weird little coloured spots on the back of your eyelids. Eventually.

Even if it isn't as colourful as it used to be, I can still hear the town waking up, everypony dragging themselves out of bed and rushing around, just like they used to. I can feel myself smiling, but I don't really know why. But after a while, the smile drops from my face, and I huff another sigh. I should probably stop messing around.

Time to go and see Twilight.

When I set down outside her door, I find it's open a crack. That's a problem. I wonder idly whether I should, y'know, knock, or just stroll right in. I've never really been good at this kind of stuff. After a few seconds, I figure I should be okay walking in. I mean, we know each other, and she's expecting me. She probably left the door open because she knows how much I hate formal stuff. It's pretty nice of her. Even though she's a bit of a dork, I've always liked Twilight- enough not to take advantage of the fact her name can be shortened to 'Twit', anyway.

As soon as I walk in, I'm hit by the musty smell of books. I guess it's to be expected. Twilight was always going on about (or 'waxing poetic', as that nut Oddy would've said) how the smell of a well worn book was one of the joys of life. I don't really buy it, myself. I mean, I'm not exactly allergic to libraries (not as badly as Applejack was, anyway), but they still weird me out a little. Especially since it feels just the tiniest bit dead in here.

"Ah, Rainbow Dash! Glad to see you! I see the letter arrived on time. That makes a change. Our mail pony keeps going in the wrong direction."

I might have jumped, just a teensy bit. Twilight had decided to pop out from behind the door, her book floating in a magical vice grip somewhere above her shoulder. She's blatantly trying not to giggle. It's probably the first time she's pranked me instead of the other way around.

"Hey, Twilight. You're, uh, looking good," I say. I almost said 'hey Twit.' It was a close call. Probably closer than it would've been if she hadn't jumped out at me.

"Thanks. You too," she says, returning the compliment dutifully.

In all fairness, she has actually gotten quite pretty over the years. Her legs are a lot longer than I remember them, although she's still got absolutely no muscle on her. Still, it's weird. When she moves, I can't help but be reminded of Princess Celestia- although, with that purple coat, Twilight looks more like a young Luna than anything else. You can just tell she's dangerous, even when she's not doing anything. A pretty good pony to have around.

"It's been a while. I saw your flying team in the newspaper. You're doing really well," she grins, and I grin back. Oh, yeah. Nice to hear my fame's hit home.

"Well, y'know. It was hard to find ponies almost as awesome as I am, but I managed it."

"And managed it twice, huh?" she goes on, shooting me a quizzical look. I'm a little confused, and whatever she wanted to see on my face, she isn't seeing it. "Oh, come on, Rainbow Dash. Don't you remember the first group of 'awesome' ponies you met? Rescued the Elements of Harmony, banished eternal night, saved Equestria from certain doom? Ring any bells?"

"Oh, yeah. You guys were pretty cool too, I guess," I joke, and she rolls her eyes. Like old times.

"...It's good to see you again, Dash," she says, but she's interrupted by an ominous rumble from my stomach. "Wow, did you not have breakfast this morning or something?"

"Are you kiddin'? I flew the whole night through after I got your letter. What did I always say about leaving ponies hangin'?" I tease. The truth is that I forgot to pack breakfast. I get a little...preoccupied before a big flight.

"Have an apple," she says, and her horn illuminates in a haze of magic. A bowl of apples whizzes towards us on cue, flying effortlessly.

"Don't mind if I do. A hard-working pony like me has to keep her strength up!"

"Hard-working? Are you sure you're the same Rainbow Dash?" she asks sarcastically. I give her a mock-glare.

"Hey, hey, hey. Being a Captain is pretty tough, y'know."

"Hm. I'd imagine," she says more seriously, setting the apple bowl down on a table she'd flown over when I wasn't looking. Magic's sneaky like that. "Oh yes, I almost forgot. Why did you call your team the Thundercolts? I mean, isn't a little bit too much like the-"

"Wonderbolts, right? Blame Oddy. He said it'd be full of irony, or something like that. I told him, iron-knee is what Granny Smith needed after her hip replacement," I grumble. It's not the first time I've been asked this question, and it's not the thousandth. I haven't listened to anything Oddy's said since.

"Talking of Apple Acres, guess where the apples are from? They send a few up every now and then. Not too many, or else their profit would take a hit. They're already a little in the red this year," Twilight goes on. She's right about the apples- I was thinking they were a little sweeter than what I got in the city.

"What? How? Wouldn't have thought Applejack'd let it happen," I say, ignoring the fact there's apple in my mouth and looking at Twilight to see if she noticed. She noticed.

"Well, about that..." she says awkwardly. "Well, let's just say your old house smells nice and apple-y right about now."

"What? They're using my house as storage?" I spit.

"Well, they sort of had to. About a year ago, when you and the Thundercolts started getting famous, everypony and their mother was trying to buy your house. You did just leave it vacant, after all. Applejack bought it, because 'ah ain't lettin' just anypony mosey into Rainbow Dash's homestead while she's away! Where's she gonna sleep when she gets back, huh?'" Twilight giggles, in between breaking bad news and absolutely murdering Applejack's accent.

"Whoa there, pardner! That was awful. Did you take faking accent lessons from Spike or something?" I ask her, before noticing for the first time that Spike's not about. "Where is he, anyway? I like a dragon that can appreciate my awesomeness."

She lowers her head a little, and her eyelashes come down. I realise that I've Said The Wrong Thing.

"W-well, um, he...went. To go and experience life with other dragons," she says. She's trying not to sound too sad, but she doesn't manage it and defaults to awkward. Except, she has that special brand of awkward which is either really cute or really touching depending on the situation. This was Pattern B.

"...Whoa. How'd they even use my house for storage anyway? Last I checked, it was made of clouds," I say, looking desperately for a distraction. I don't especially want Twi to start bawling on the one day I visit Ponyville. I cross my hooves, and hope desperately she's in the mood for some rationalisation.

"AJ had to pay a team of five pegasi to take them up there in boxes. You remember the spell that makes earth ponies float on clouds, right? Well, there's a spell that makes inanimate objects work the same way. It's a lot simpler, luckily, so I only have to recast it once every few weeks," she says, a little more calmly. She can't help intellectualising, or explaining her method. I swear, that mare should take up teaching. But something's a little wrong with her account.

"Wait, 'luckily'? You're the best magician Ponyville ever saw, Twi. You don't need luck," I say, scoffing a little. I've given the 'you don't need luck' speech to my team so many times before, they know all the words.

"W-well...I, u-uh," she hesitates, before finally finding her tongue. "There are a lot of apples up there, and it's harder to cast it on lots of objects at once, right? And I didn't have anyone to help me at all. I was a little disappointed with how hard it was for me."

"W-well, at least you still have everypony else to cheer you up," I say quickly, then realise my mistake. "Apart from me, I mean, but I bet Pinkie's keeping things so interesting you haven't even got time to be lonely, right?"

"Oh, Pinkie's never less than interesting," she says ruefully. "But she's not here any more. She got summons from Princess Celestia a while ago. She's currently working as Temporary Ambassador for Equestria."

"You have to be kidding me. Are we talking about Pinkie here? As an ambassador? Is Princess Celestia cuckoo or something?" I laugh, partly because I can't believe it and partly because I can imagine the faces on those stiff-saddle diplomats when they meet Ponyville's personal Chaos Butterfly.

"Oh, she's actually doing pretty well. I mean, let's face it, the whole point of an ambassador's job is to throw and attend parties, and make sure everypony's as happy as possible, right? Though, that said, I'm told Canterlot got very lively indeed after she arrived. Even Princess Luna is coming out of her shell," Twilight says, her eyelashes dipping again, and paws the ground with her front hoof. I get the feeling she's jealous.

"...Only just? It's been years- how long does it take a Princess to build up her confidence?" I ask, arching an eyebrow.

"Well, we are talking about a mare who spent a thousand years in the moon. I imagine time works a little bit differently for her," Twilight ponders. I wonder about that, too. I mean, she doesn't look a thousand. Although, that would make Princess Celestia a thousand years old, too, and she doesn't even have the 'I was in the moon' excuse. Whoever makes her anti-wrinkle cream, I want a pot.

"What about Rarity? She's still about, right?"

"Wrong. While you were getting famous as a flyer, she was getting famous as a fashion designer. She moved to Canterlot too, to 'get closer to the pulse, darling'," Twilight says, butchering Rarity's accent just as badly as she did Applejack's. They don't even sound that different. "She's still looking for her stallion, of course. She's got her eye on one of the guards, although he hasn't noticed her yet. I should know. She sends me a letter every time he so much as says hi to her."

I laugh, a little uneasily. Wow. I didn't expect we'd all spread out so much.

"So, I was on my travels, Rarity and Pinkie are in Canterlot, Spike's with the dragons...That just leaves you, Applejack and Fluttershy," I summarise, and she nods. "How is Fluttershy, anyway?"

Her neck dips again and she shrinks back a little. I get the feeling it's a good job she put those apples down, or she'd be dropping them right about now. I've said the wrong thing. Again.

"Well, about that...She was the reason I sent you the letter. Fluttershy's...had an accident."

There aren't many words in the world worse that 'Fluttershy's had an accident'. They're right up there with 'sorry, your house is on fire' and 'hey, actually, I'm a colt.' (Long story about that last one.) The point is that whenever you hear those words, your heart just sinks. Of all the ponies that don't deserve to have accidents, Fluttershy is one-hundred-and-twenty percent top of the list.

"What happened, Twilight?" I ask, and some part of me wants to ask a few more questions, too, like "Why weren't you there?" and "Why didn't you stop it?" I don't, though. I'm not that much of a jerk.

"We don't even know. She just went missing for a few days and then turned up in a forest covered in mud. I was really scared for her," she says sadly. My hooves begin to itch.

Truthfully, I'm pretty terrified. And angry. Not all for the right reasons. I mean, I'm angry nopony was there to stop Fluttershy having an accident. I'm scared because she might be hurt really badly. But I'm also angry because this means I'll have to hang around, and I'm scared because I might miss the championship. I guess somewhere deep down I was hoping this was just a social call, that Twilight was just really lonely and she needed somepony to yap at for a while before I could get back to the important stuff. I'm pretty ashamed for having thought of it, but she doesn't need to know that.

"Well, what are we waiting for? We'd better go and see her!" I say sharply, in the same voice I use when I'm trying to get the team to do something they don't want to. She doesn't jump to attention like they do, but she gets the message.

"Of course. Hold still. I don't know how well this is going to work," she grimaces, a ball of white light building up at the very tip of her horn, and somehow I think this is going to end badly-

-and suddenly the ceiling is the sky and there's ash in my mouth and my left hind leg tingles and what in Equestria was that?

"Oops, sorry. That always used to happen to Spike, too. It's been a while since I tried teleporting somepony else," Twilight says apologetically. I don't pay too much attention, mainly because a small fire has broken out in my mane and I'm sorta focused on that.

As soon as I've snuffed it out, I take a better look around and find we're outside Fluttershy's house. I have to give Twilight credit for getting us here so quick, although I could have, I don't know, flown here and arrived without setting myself on fire, but whatever.

Of course, Fluttershy basically lives in a tree. I'm not a huge fan of trees. Trees have branches, and as I've learned from a few too many low fly-bys, branches are hard to avoid when you're flying at near Rainboom speeds. They're also painful, and there's the very real possibility that they contain bees, who have a very real possibility of being angry. I do not care what Fluttershy says, bees are psychopaths and should be treated as such. I hate bees, and I don't trust trees. Simple.

But, even if it is in a tree, Fluttershy's house hasn't changed at all. Which is more than I can say for her garden. Or, her forest. What used to be a pretty ordinary stretch of ground was now a super-huge mass of trees, with all sorts of different colours poking out from under the branches. There are plants I've never seen before, and plants I'd seen before but not nearly so big and colourful. Weirdly, though, there are a bunch of common-or-garden weeds growing near the hoofpath to her house. I would have thought she'd take care of those, but I guess she can't bring herself to harm any living thing- not even a weed. Somehow, the tree-ness of her house makes it blend in with the forest behind it.

"We should be quiet when we go in, Rainbow Dash. She's probably resting. Now, listen-" Twilight says to me. I nod absently.

Then, I take a huge gulp of air, and yell "Fluuuuuuuuutershy! We're hooooooooooooome!" as loud as I can. There's a small but distinct 'thump' from inside, as if an easily-frightened pony has just jumped about ten feet in the air and landed. Twilight groans and presses a hoof to her forehead. Something tells me she knew I was going to do that.

We open the door (safe in the knowledge that she knows we're here, due to my awesome early-warning system) and walk in. Something's changed in her house, although I can't say what it is. Then, I have a bit of a double take as I realise there's a new door built in to one of her walls, with a couple of weird buttons next to it. I distinctly remember there not being a door on the outside, or any rooms that the door could lead to, or anything.

"Twilight, where does that door lead?" I whisper.

"Honestly? I have no idea," she says, and looks less than pleased about it. "Fluttershy says it goes to the eighth floor."

"Eighth? Have you even seen her house, Twi? She can't have an eighth floor. The laws of physics say no,"I hiss.

"Apparently, some pony with an hourglass cutie mark built it for her a year or so back. Called himself The Doctor, whatever that means. Said that things being bigger in the inside isn't all that big a deal. He told her he wanted going to put a swimming pool in my library, then he went off and nopony's seen him since. If it wasn't Fluttershy saying it, I'd have thought she was making fun of me," Twi shrug.

Before I can ask her what she's going on about, there's a soft 'ding' and the door opens with a jet of purple mist, revealing- Fluttershy. All I can say is, wow. I mean, living away from Ponyville, it's easy to forget Fluttershy's brief fame as a fashion star, but geeze, it shows. She's grown up a lot, too, a real mare. Long, graceful legs, a fine mane, a coat that looks like brushed silk. Even Twilight looks bad next to her, and Twilight's actually quite pretty. Then there's me, all muscles and a rainbow mane.

Of course, I'm not just standing there gawking at one of my best friends like she's the prettiest, most adorable pony I've ever seen in my entire life. I'm also eyeballing her for any obvious injuries. It's a trick I learned early into my flying days, and I'm pretty good at it, obviously. From what I can tell, there's nothing wrong with her.

"Fluttershy! It's been, like, years and years! You're looking great. How've you been?" I ask. I'm too glad she isn't hurt to wonder why Twilight lied about her being in accident. Fluttershy looks at me, then looks at Twilight. Then opens her mouth, and closes it again.

"Well, you're as quiet as always. What, don't I even get a 'yay'?" I grin. Twilight kicks me in the hind leg. Hard.

"What's your problem?" I whisper back at her furiously.

"Ever since the accident, Fluttershy...well, hasn't been able to speak," she whispers back.

"What?" I yell, before I realise I'm yelling. "And you didn't think to tell me before?"

"I was going to just before we got into the house, but you went and yelled you were here before I had a chance!" Twilight says slowly and patiently, fixing her gaze on Fluttershy. It takes me a second or two before I realise we probably shouldn't be arguing in front of her, and then I apologise.

"Oops. Sorry. And, uh, sorry about saying you were being quiet. I mean, I didn't know."

Now that I notice it, Fluttershy's eyes are a little droopier than they used to be, a little sadder. She's always looked like she's on the brink of tears, but I get the feeling she really is these days. Being away sucks.

"Look, Rainbow Dash. I hate to spring this on you, but we kinda need your help. Can we talk outside?" Twilight asks abruptly. Somehow, this feels bad, but I nod.

As we leave, Fluttershy watches us. Even though she doesn't say a word, I still feel like she's talking to me, if only I could understand.

"What?" I ask, and I don't mind saying I'm a little bit in shock. Things are moving a little too quickly, even for me.

"Fluttershy runs an animal sanctuary, Rainbow Dash," Twilight explains slowly, from the beginning. "She calms animals with her voice."

"Well, duh. She's basically a big hippie, right?" I say, and realise I'm saying the wrong thing again. When I get flustered I immediately lose the ability to speak without being insulting.

"With her voice, Dash. Which she doesn't have!" Twilight shouts, and rubs her hoof to her head again. "Weren't you listening?"

I almost snap at her but decide not to. After all, she's probably having a hard time, too.

"And, what? Because of that, you want me to handle her sanctuary? Am I right so far?"

"Yes. There's nopony else we can ask. Applejack's busy with Apple Acres every day, and Pinkie and Rarity are off in Canterlot," she says, genuine desperation written across her face. "Everypony has commitments."

"What, and I don't?" I growl, and my voice sounds just like it does when I'm chewing out the team for a poor day's flying. "What about the championship? What about my team? Who knows how long it could take for Fluttershy to get her voice back? I mean, yeah, you're my friends and I love you guys, but my team are my friends too, y'know, and all their dreams are riding on this, and so are mine, and they'll never do it without me!"

Twilight doesn't say anything. She just bows her head low, and her eyes sparkle as if she's about to cry.

"And, and, what about you, huh? You live around here! You've got magic! You'd be way better at calming animals down than me! What makes you think I can do it, anyway?" I go on, but there's a strange, shrilly edge in my voice, a desperate one, and I realise that at this moment the last thing I want is for Twilight Sparkle to break into tears because I'll be next.

"W-well...To tell you the truth, my magic hasn't...hasn't been so good, lately. Not since Spike left," she says, and I stop looking at her because if I do I'll see how lonely she is and give in, just like that.

"So, so, what you're telling me is that Fluttershy's gone mute, everypony's left and the Element Of Magic can't do magic any more. Any other bad news? Lemme guess, Applebloom's fallen down a well and a bear ate Princess Celestia?" I ask, and it strikes me quite hard that I am being a complete and utter jerk about this, and that I'm getting it all wrong. This is one of those times where you're supposed to come through, be the one everypony can rely on, that kind of thing. And I'm failing, badly.

"I'm..I'm sorry, Rainbow Dash. If I could fix it by myself, I would. I didn't want to ask you, but it was a last resort. I shouldn't have sent the letter," Twilight says at last, and if her voice was a puppy it'd be the last one in the shop. I fight the urge to scream, let out all my breath instead. In. Out. In. Out. Calm. Like before a big show. Calm. I already came all the way out to Ponyville as soon as I got the letter, dropped my dream at a moment's notice. It must mean something. I must be doing something right.

"...Don't worry about it, Twilight. Don't worry about any of it. I'm here now. Fluttershy needs me. Heck, you need me. I'm meant to be the Element Of Loyalty, after all. Wouldn't look good if I abandoned you. What'd my fans think?" I joke at last, although it feels hollow. My heart feels a lot lighter, but it feels like all that weight's sitting in the pit of my stomach now. It's a strangely disconnected feeling.

But as soon as I see Twilight's face, I realise I've done the right thing. It's like somepony's turned a lightbulb on behind her eyes, all lit up from the inside. Relieved, happy. She looks better that way. We all do.

"Thanks, Rainbow Dash. I knew it. I knew you'd help us," she says. I get the feeling she had doubts, though, if only for a second, because she looks just the tiniest bit ashamed as well.

"...Come on. I'd never leave my friends hangin'," I grin, despite the fact I very almost did- despite the fact I was leaving my team hanging as we spoke.

"I wish you'd tell that to Applejack," she says ruefully. "I'm going to have to talk her into letting us use your old house again."

"Oh, well! I can leave if it's too much trouble for ya," I tease, and she laughs weakly.

"I'm sure Fluttershy will let you stay for a few days. I mean, it's Fluttershy after all. Let's go and tell her the good news, shall we?"

I smirk and point her to the window, where Fluttershy is watching us anxiously. I get the feeling there's still a real danger one of us three will end up crying today, but this time it'll be for the right reasons.

Dear Oddy,

Sorry if my writing's a little scruffy. Can you read this okay? Geeze, it's been ages since I've had to write a letter. Must've gotten out of practice. I hope the mailponies deliver this quick. If not, I'll deliver the next one myself. Rainbow Dash, fastest mailpony in Equestria!

Anyway, the reason I'm writing is to tell you the news I got in Ponyville. It looks like an old friend of mine is pretty sick, and can't handle her job at the moment due to the illness. So, it looks like good ol' Rainbow Dash has to step in and fill her horseshoes for a while. Chances are, I won't be back in time for the championship. You're Captain whilst I'm away, so if we lose I'm blaming you!

I'm staying at her house for a while whilst my old one's getting fixed up, so I'll forward you her address. It's actually a pretty nice place, once you get used to being under a ton of dirt all day. The blankets are pretty soft too. Maybe she made them herself. I'm glad to see her again, and all my other friends too. I know you need me too, but I can't leave them hanging. You understand, right?

I hope you and the rest of the team are okay. Keep practising- you'll be able to do a Sonic Rainboom one of these days!


Rainbow Dash

A/N: After some thought and some comments, I decided that the perspective wasn't really giving me what I wanted from this story. So, I changed it a little. I personally feel more pleased with it, although once again it's hard to really get started on the interesting stuff in the prologue. For those who liked the previous incarnation, don't worry; although I intend to keep using the current set up for the rest of the story, I'll probably post the first draft as a sort of 'bonus chapter' at the end.

As with the previous notes: yes, I have an OC in here, out of necessity. His role is minor, so don't worry too much. A little trivia: his full name is Oddy Cloudhoof, or Oddy C. (Spot the pun.)