Dashes, Dots, and Pegasus Spots
It was past noon when Twilight Sparkle finally finished her latest report to Princess Celestia. It was a list of all the new games she had learned to play while in Ponyville, complete with rules, diagrams of the various boards or playing fields, and drawings of the pieces used. She was particularly proud of her pictures of chess pieces and, when the final line was drawn, she released the magic manipulating her quill pen with a satisfied sigh.
"All done?" her small assistant Spike asked. The baby dragon put away the last two books he had been reshelving in the library they shared as a home and joined her at her desk. "Hey, nice! I like how you make Princess Celestia into the king piece—though if you ask me, you don't really need to suck up to her. You are her favorite pupil, you know."
"Ha ha, very funny." When the ink had dried, she rolled the parchment into a scroll. "Please deliver that, Spike…then we can go and get some lunch."
"Excellent! I'm starving!"
Twlight Sparkle's belly rumbled suddenly and she gave the young dragon a rueful grin. "Me too. Sorry I made you wait so long, but I was really into my work."
"That's okay…as long as you make it up to me with a nice, big ruby or sapphire." Picking up the scroll, Spike belched a thin streamer of green flame into the air. The flammable parchment instantly ignited and vanished, magically transported through the air to Twilight's mentor, Princess Celestia in Canterlot. "There, all done! Lunchtime!"
He hopped up onto Twilight Sparkle's back and the young unicorn trotted from the library out into the brisk coolness of an early autumn day. She paused at the doorway to enjoy the sight of all the trees taking on the first glimpses of their fall colors, but her grumbling tummy cut her appreciation short.
"Alright, Spike, where should we go for lunch? A pastry over at Sugar Cube Corner?" She turned her head right. "Or a salad at the café?" She glanced to the left and grinned brightly when she spotted a familiar blue figure lying in the shade of a nearby tree. "Hey, look, it's Rainbow Dash. I haven't seen her for days…I think AJ said she was off in Manehattan or something. Let's go say hi."
"But what about lunch?" Spike asked plaintively.
"Oh, well…we'll just ask her to come with us. If she's been to Manehattan, I'm sure she's got some interesting stories."
The lavender unicorn trotted to the tree, calling out to her friend as she did so. When Rainbow Dash didn't reply, Twilight paused briefly, one hoof off the ground. Maybe she was wrong and had mistaken some other pony for her friend…but no, that was definitely Dash's rainbow-colored lightning bolt cutie mark she saw on the pegasus's flank.
"Hey, Rainbow Dash…did you hear me?"
This time, the cyan pony raised a wing halfheartedly in answer, but she didn't come rushing up to Twilight with the stories of her amazing adventures bubbling on her lips as she normally would have. In fact, she didn't even turn around.
"Huh, rude," Spike complained.
"No…no, I don't think so, Spike." Something was not right about Rainbow's attitude, or even her posture. She was slumped on the ground, her forelegs stretched out before her, her hind legs splayed to either side of her body. Concerned, Twilight took a few steps closer and tried again. "Rainbow, are you alright? I heard you'd gone to Manehattan…Spike and I wanted to know if you want to join us for some lunch and tell us about it."
"No thanks." Rainbow Dash's voice was listless and dull. "I'm not hu—" The young mare broke off as she fell into a harsh fit of coughing. Her hooves scrabbled at the ground as the fit shook her slender frame. Twilight gasped, for it looked as painful as it sounded.
"Ow," Rainbow Dash whimpered when the coughing abated. She pressed her hooves to her temples. "My head!"
"My gosh, Rainbow…that sounded awful! Are you getting sick?"
"Sick?" Rainbow repeated, her voice now tinged with scorn. "I don't get sick! I have a perfect consti—" She sneezed rapidly three times and moaned again.
"Rainbow, that doesn't sound good." Twilight walked around beneath the tree to face her friend. "Maybe you should go see—oh my Celestia!"
"Whoa!" Spike exclaimed, tumbling off Twilight's back in his shock.
"What?" Rainbow Dash asked anxiously. She wiped her hoof under her nose. "Something green?"
"N-no! Something pink!" Spike said
The Pegasus flinched back slightly, looking confused. "Huh?"
Before Twlight Sparkle could explain what had startled her and Spike, another voice rang out sweetly, "Hellooo ladies! Fancy meeting you here—I just finished up a large order and was on my way to a late lunch. Would you both like to—my goodness, Rainbow Dash! What in Equestria has happened to your face!" Rarity the unicorn stopped in her tracks and quailed, raising a hoof over her eyes.
Now Rainbow Dash looked thoroughly perplexed and frightened, as well as utterly exhausted. Eyes wide, she touched her face. "What is it?" she demanded, her voice breaking off into another fit of coughing. "Tell me!"
"Well, it's…it's hard to explain," Twilight began, but rarity quickly nudged her out of the way and flipped open the saddlebags she was wearing. Using the magic of her horn, she levitated a small hand mirror.
"It's probably better if we show you, dear." She exchanged a worried look with Twilight as she edged the mirror forward to float before Rainbow's face.
"Oh my gosh!" the pegasus squealed. She leapt to her feet, swaying unsteadily. "What…what happened to me? I didn't look like this before! I'm…I'm…"
"Spotted," Spike supplied for her.
Rainbow Dash's pretty, pale blue coat was mottled by dozens of bright pink dots, which crisscrossed her face, body, wings, and legs like freckles. They were quite vivid and it was only due to the tree's shade that Twlight hadn't noticed them when she'd first seen the pegasus.
"What is this?" Rainbow asked, looking at her friends pleadingly. "What's happening to me?"
"I'm not sure. It's all very odd." Twilight stepped closer to nuzzle her friend comfortingly, but she hissed when her nose touched Rainbow's cheek. "Dash, you're burning up. You have a fever."
Rainbow Dash's rose-colored eyes suddenly swam with tears. "Okay, I'll admit it…I haven't been feeling well since I got back from Manehattan yesterday. I came down from home to see if I could get some tea or something, but I was so tired I couldn't even make it to the café."
"Why don't you come into the library and sit down then—Rarity, could you please run for Nurse Redheart?"
"Oh, well, Twilight dear, I would gladly, but she's not in Ponyville right now. I heard she got called to Canterlot to help with a badly sprained hoof." The white unicorn rested a hoof briefly against Rainbow's flank and nodded seriously. "Oh, she is right, darling. You definitely have a fever. Come along."
Normally Rainbow Dash would have bristled at being bossed around by the prissy seamstress, so it was a show of how terrible she really felt when she meekly followed Rarity to the library, her head hanging so that her rainbow forelock fell into her eyes. As she walked, she began to cough again violently and shivered from nose to dock.
"Poor dear," Rarity crooned, leading her towards the sofa in Twilight's reading room. "Come on, you lie down right here. And don't you worry…even with the nurse gone, I'm sure Twilight will be able to find out what's happened to you in one of her books.
"Right. I'm on it." Twilight cantered through the library, pulling books off the shelves seemingly at random. Spike followed her closely, catching the books she tossed over her shoulder and piling them up on the sofa by Rainbow Dash. The stacks were soon taller than the baby dragon and Rainbow Dash tilted her head to read some of the titles.
"A Modern Compendium of Common Ailments. Dr. Fetlock's Encyclopedia of Equine Illness. 101Perfectly Easy to Find Herbs for Illness. The Medical Manual of Mare Maladies?"
"There's got to be something in one of these that will explain your symptoms." Twilight joined them at the sofa and sat on her haunches. Using her horn, she levitated a book before her eyes and started flipping rapidly through the pages. "Now, let's see…you have a fever, a cough…"
"Don't forget that she's trembling like a leaf in the wind," Rarity pointed out. "You wouldn't have a spare blanket about, would you, Twilight?"
Twilight had her nose buried in a book, but pointed over her shoulder to the balcony loft where she and Spike slept at night. "In the trunk at the end of my bed." While Rarity trotted upstairs to fetch a blanket, she continued, "And pink spots spreading randomly. Now, Dash, you said you started feeling sick after you got back from Manehattan?"
"Uh huh. I was really tired on the flight back, but I thought it was just the distance…though a long flight has never really bothered me before. And when I got home I noticed that my throat felt scratching, but I figured that was just the dust."
"Oh, so a sore throat too. You didn't say that."
"You didn't ask…and if you want a list of everything, my head feels like an outraged dragon is stomping through it."
"Hey!" Spike protested. He was perched on one of the stacks of books and was busily flipping through a thick, green encyclopedia. Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes at him.
"My legs and wings ache too." She lifted her feathered wings and frowned at the way they shook."And they feel all weak."
"Hmm…now that is interesting. How about your appetite? You said a few minutes ago that you weren't hungry. Have you eaten anything today?"
"Uh, no…and come to think of it, I didn't eat anything yesterday either. Not since I left Manehattan. But I'm not hungry at all."
The pegasus nodded as Rarity returned with a pink and white striped afghan, which she tucked in around her friend.
"Okay…" Twilight went on, her eyes still riveted to her books. "Now, why were you in Manehattan?"
"Oh yes, how thrilling!" Rarity burbled. "Did you get to go shopping? All the fall fashions should be out by now."
"No. Some big shot scientist there discovered a new way to distribute snowflakes so they fall more evenly and keep their designs better. I was sent for the Weather Patrol to take his class."
"Did you notice if any of the other ponies in the class weren't feeling well?"
"Well, now that you mention it, my roommate in the dorms was coughing, but I didn't see any spots on her." She gasped suddenly. "But she was as pink as Pinkie Pie, so maybe I just didn't notice them."
"I think that's exactly what happened. You must have caught whatever this is from your roommate and it took until you got home before you felt any of the symptoms."
"But what is this? I've never heard of a pony breaking out in pink spots before." She paused, biting her lip, and her eyes watered again. "You'll be able to find a cure, won't you? It's not…I mean, I'm not going to…"
"Oh, nothing like that, darling," Rarity quickly and kindly assured her. She raised a corner of the blanket to dab away the cyan pony's tears. "I'm sure it's nothing serious."
"Actually…it kinda is," Spike suddenly spoke up. "According to this," he held up the Medical Manual of Mare Maladies, "you have a bad case of pegapox."
"Pegapox?" Rainbow Dash squeaked.
"Let me see that, Spike." Twilight took the book from her assistant and rapidly scanned the text. "He's right…aches, fever, upset stomach, coughing…and bright pink spots." She glanced up at the pegasus, whose spots seemed to have multiplied in the few minutes since they'd been inside. "It says it's rare, but highly contagious once the spots appear."
"Contagious?" Rarity backed up a step, but quickly returned to Rainbow Dash's side, her expression contrite, when the pegasus glanced at her in surprise. "Sorry, Rainbow. Instinct, if you will."
"It'll be alright, Rarity. You and I are in no danger. It's called pegapox because it is only caught and carried by pegasi. Unicorns and earth ponies aren't affected at all. Rainbow, when was the last time you spoke to any other pegasi here in Ponyville? In Weather Patrol?"
"No. Since I took the snowflake class, I got a few days off. I didn't even check in when I got back. I just went straight home."
"Not even Fluttershy?"
"She's been busy with a family of chipmunks that moved in with her. That storm last week knocked down their tree," Rarity supplied.
Despite her illness, Rainbow Dash clucked her tongue scornfully. "Never would have happened if I had been in charge of the winds…"
"But that's good, right?" Spike asked. "Not the chipmunks, I mean, but the fact that nopony's had the chance to become infected here in Ponyville. All we have to do is make sure Rainbow Rash stays away from all pegasi for…" He glanced over Twilight's shoulder at the book. "…two to three weeks until the disease runs its course."
"Excuuuussse me? Rainbow Rash?"
"Pretty good, huh?"
The pegasus narrowed her eyes at the dragon, then chuckled. Her eyes suddenly squeezed shut and she moaned. "Oh, my head. I'm gonna feel like this for two to three weeks?"
"Not this badly, I'm sure," Twilight advised. "The majority of the symptoms are just like the flu…you've had the flu before, so you know how it progresses. The first few days are always the worst. This says that the spots will turn purple and then blue within a week, maybe ten days, and after that, you won't be contagious anymore, though you'll probably be weak and fragile for the full three weeks."
"Fragile? Ugh, fine…then I guess I'll just go home and sleep." She slid miserably off the sofa, the blanket falling from her withers, and slunk towards the door.
"Are you sure you have enough supplies in your house?" Rarity asked. "Because, dear, you're going to need plenty of juice and soup to keep your strength up and, as you know, none of us earthbound can easily get to your door without the balloon. And we won't be able to get a pegasus to deliver anything."
"Sure, I've got lots of…uh…ah, darn it!"
The pegasus pushed the door open and winced at the light in her eyes. "Ow," she murmured. "Well, guess I'll go to the market first and…" She lifted her trembling wings and flapped them, rising off the ground.
"Whoa!" Rainbow Dash's wings wilted when she was only six feet in the air and she plummeted to the ground in a flurry of slender legs and feathers. The two unicorns hurried to her side, helping her up as she spat out a mouthful of dirt and grass. "What just happened? My wings totally gave out on me!" She raised them again, staring at them in confusion as she wriggled the feathers.
"I'm sorry, Rash—oh, I mean, Dash! You didn't let me tell you…pegapox affects your wings too. Now that the spots have appeared, you won't be able to fly until they turn blue and fade."
"Oh horse apples!" Rainbow swore. "You're saying I'm grounded? For two weeks?" She began to march rapidly in place, stomping her hooves in a mini tantrum. "This. Is. Not. Fair!"
"Well, fair or not, there's no way you're going to be able to fly up to your house." Twilight stepped up behind the little pegasus and gently pushed her back into the library with her head. "You're going to have to stay with one of us—at least we can help take care of you."
"Who?" Rainbow wanted to know as Rarity took charge from Twilight and nudged her back onto the sofa, using her horn to pull the blanket over her.
"Well, Fluttershy would have been my first thought, but you can't go anywhere near her while you're spotted pink or she could catch it too...maybe you should just stay here."
"No, she can't do that, Twilight," Rarity said with a shake of her mane. She carefully smoothed the wrinkles out of the blanket. "You live in the public library—ponies are always coming and going for books. She won't get any peace or quiet, especially on that balcony you call a bedroom."
"Oh, I suppose you're right…though I do have Spike and Owlowicious to help out…um, how about Pinkie Pie. She loves to have company and I'm sure she—"
"Not Pinkie Pie!" Rainbow Dash yelped, her voice breaking. When the two ponies and Spike stared at her in shock, she hung her head over the edge of the sofa and amended in a lower voice, "Don't get me wrong, Pinkie is great and all. She's one of my best friends…but if I stay with her she's going to want to throw me some kind of I'm-Sorry-You're-Sick party, and then a Get-Better-Soon party, and when my spots finally go away an I'm-So-Glad-You're-Well-Again party. With the way I'm feeling right now, I can't deal with all those parties."
"I guess that's probably true," Rarity agreed. "And you don't need so much excitement. Right now you just need lots of rest and quiet, so I think…"
"I suppose Applejack and the Apple family would—"
"Absolutely not, Twilight! She's in the middle of her, uh, applebucking, as it were. If you would let me finish, I was about to say that Rainbow Dash will come stay with me."
"You?" Twilight and Rainbow asked in unison.
"Why of course, darlings. It makes perfect sense. It's just me and Sweetie Belle, and she's in school all day. The boutique is usually quiet and my living space is separate from the shop, so she will have plenty of quiet privacy. You can take Sweetie's room, Rainbow. She won't mind, she'll just stay in with me." The unicorn clapped her snow-white hooves together, then put an arm around her ill friend's neck, hugging her gently. "And I will play nurse. Don't worry, Rainbow Dash, with me taking care of you, you will be back on your wings in no time!"
Rainbow Dash managed to smile gratefully, but Twilight Sparkle couldn't miss the glint of utter horror in the blue pony's eyes. It was going to be a long three weeks.