"Though I fly through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil. For I am eighty thousand feet and climbing."
- Sign at Kadena AFB in Okinawa, Japan
How long had she been falling?
There was no telling how much time had passed, or how much time was left. The roar of the wind as it blasted over her face gave no answers.
It was her own fault really, that much she understood. Too caught up in her curiosity to see the clues. Too stubborn to stop for an answer that she'd missed.
That wasn't true. She didn't miss the answer. She simply refused to see it. She didn't WANT to see it. Too absorbed in her own ego, when the answer was presented to her not once, not twice, but three times, she refused to acknowledge it. Because she didn't WANT that answer.
So stubborn, so full of pride.
And in the end, Rainbow Dash had to learn the hard way... That's just the way it was. Learn to fly by crashing, learn to do the sonic rainboom by trying, over and over again, only to succeed when her mind was on other things. Rainbow Dash learned her limits, and how to push them.
And now, she'd found a new limit. And this one was going to teach a painful lesson when she finally ran out of sky to fall through.
A little odd though, the sky talking...
"Wake up Rainbow Dash."
And... And why is she falling face-first? Didn't she go into a spin?
"Wake up RainbowDash..."
The darkness parted, a blast of wind immediately stinging and drying her eyes out in an instant. The burning sensation made Rainbow Dash jerk her head, clenching her eyes shut on reflex before slowly opening them to a squint.
Her body jerked forward slightly, the intensity of the wind picking up just as it had begun to drop off. It was a strange sight before her. The sky was below her, lay blue haze stretching to the horizon, where it met... Where it met the night sky, stars twinkling mischievously above her.
Her nose burned, the air seemed to force its way into her lungs as if it were actively trying to reach down her throat. Breathing out was a little more work than expected.
"Wake up Rainbow Dash," the voice called again.
Dash blinked away some of the stinging, realizing that something wasn't right. She wasn't falling. Something... Something had her, holding her by the shoulders and hind-quarters, tight and secure.
"Wha-..." she found her throat dry, talking difficult.
Dainty Dish's head popped down into her view. Upside down for all of one second before she quickly jerked it up.
"You're okay," Dainty's voice sounded clearer than anything she'd ever heard from the pony. "Just relax and breathe."
"What?" Dash blinked again. "What's going-"
Rainbow Dash looked down, spotting the clouds far, far below them.
"Keep your head UP!" Dainty's voice snapped over the wind in a very strong, very clear tone.
Dash jerked her head up, surprised the action made her dizzy.
"Keep your mouth open and face the wind," Dainty continued in that same, disturbingly strong tone. "If you look down for more than four seconds, you'll get dizzy. More than six, and you'll pass out... Again."
They jerked forward again. Rainbow Dash took a moment to think about where she was, her mind slowly collecting the last few minutes she could remember. Climbing, climbing, endless climbing. How high had they gone? They were above the sky itself so it seemed. Clouds faded into view across the edges of the haze, and slowly crept past.
Sucking in a breath, she risked a quick glance down, silently counting to three as she watched Equestria roll by before snapping her head back to the wind, already feeling light headed.
"Whoa..." she stated after feeling her lungs thank her. Aside from the burning sensation across her nose, it almost seemed like just another day, cruising along the clouds. Only she could feel the nip of the air where it swirled behind her ears, colder than anything she'd ever experienced in the winter. But yet, she wasn't cold.
Dash recognized what the sound was now, catching Dainty's wings as they snapped like a whip, propelling them across the top of the world.
Head a little clearer now, she looked around for a brief moment, taking in mixed day and night sky, how it all blended together so perfectly. It was a beauty she'd never seen before. After a moment, she worked up enough courage to speak.
"Where, ARE we?" she asked.
"Cruise Altitude," Dainty responded curtly. "At least, that's what I call it."
"This is AMAZING," Dash came back, turning her head in awe. "It's like you can see forever."
"Keep your head forward," Dainty warned again. "You have to be VERY careful up here."
Dash did as instructed, watching the distance ahead of them melt away into a blue haze, and remembered to keep her mouth open as well.
"How did YOU manage to get up here?" Dash continued, curiosity getting the best of her. "You could barely last two minutes in our race."
"I told you," Dainty's voice softened. "I'm good at climbing. And that's ALL I'm good at. It's the only way to get away from all the stuff I'm allergic to."
"Climbing?" Dash suppressed a slightly crazed laugh. "This is beyond climbing. This is... This is something else."
"It's what I'm good at," Dainty replied. "And it's the best place for photography."
"And what's with your voice?" Dash continued to bombard her carrier with questions. "You sounded different on the ground."
"This is what I really sound like," Dainty replied, her voice taking on a happy chirp. "I'm so stuffed up on the ground... Ugh... I HATE it. Up here... The wind dries it all out and I can breathe. It's so nice."
Then the darker pegasus paused before continuing.
"You feel it, right?" she asked. "Like a blast of heat right on the tip of your nose?"
"Yeah," Dash went cross-eyed to look at her nose, but saw nothing. "Like fire and sand yet without either one."
"Best feeling in the world," Dainty's voice almost seemed to swoon. "If I could, I'd live right here, at the top of the sky."
"Sorry, lost more speed then we wanted..." Dainty continued, her tone becoming business-like once more. "You have to keep the wind on your face JUST right, or you start to sink, or the burning gets too intense. Normally I'm up here by myself, so there's nothing to distract me."
"No kidding," Dash smirked, glancing around again before looking forward. They were silent for about a minute before Dainty spoke again.
"By the way," she began. "I believe it's seven."
"What?" Dash looked up.
"I noticed you counting when you ran into things," Dainty replied. "Wouldn't this be number seven?"
"You remember THAT?" Dash blinked. "Why would you-?"
"Force of habit," Dainty replied.
Dash remained silent for another minute. It just felt so awkward. Being carried along by a pegasus she'd been so unintentionally mean to, all because...
Dash lowered her head, sighing, then remembered to keep it up so she didn't pass out.
"Look," she began. "About the whole flying to Seaddle thing... I... I'm sorry."
Dash sucked in her pride and continued.
"I was so caught up with myself that I just couldn't believe you got there and back so soon. I've never seen or heard of any pony doing that before. I didn't mean to call you a liar... Or a fake. And certainly not a thief. That was my bad. I just couldn't think of any possible way for it to happen... Except one. One I couldn't accept despite what everypony was telling me."
"And the reason was because, quite simply..." Dash took a deep breath, inaudible over the roar of the wind. "You're faster than I am. WAY faster... Impossibly fast. I didn't want to believe it. And I'm sorry for not believing them... Or you."
There was moment of silence, punctuated mid-way through by yet another snap of Dainty's wings before the darker pegasus spoke, some confusion in her voice.
"We're... not going all that fast."
"Huh?" Dash's face screwed up. "Don't be silly. You outran me every step of the way."
"We can't be going that fast," Dainty countered. "Feel for yourself. We're going slower than when we were racing."
Dash closed her eyes for a second, her face getting even more confused. It felt like they were going at what Dash considered a lazy pace, less than half speed. That... That wasn't right. Something was wrong, very wrong.
"No," she opened her eyes. "Something's not right. I SAW you breach the barrier. You did a sonic rainboom back during that short dive. I'd know that feeling ANYWHERE."
"But," Dainty's voice, while clear, was starting to sound unsure again. "It didn't feel like that during the race. I never even got CLOSE to going fast enough for a sonic rainboom. And, and you just outran me so easily!"
"And you were so tired so fast," Dash frowned. "But the higher you go, the faster you go, and it just seems easier for you as-"
"Wait a second..." Dash started to grin. "The higher you go, the EASIER it is to go fast!"
Then she waved her hooves around.
"And WHERE ARE WE?"
Dainty blinked, realization dawning on her features.
"We're so high," Rainbow Dash continued dramatically. "That if you can get up here, it's EASY to go SUPER FAST! In fact, in order to get this high, you HAVE to go super fast!"
"R-really?" Dash couldn't see Dainty's face, but the pegasus was gaping in shock.
"Dainty Dish!" Rainbow Dash shouted as everything fell into place. "You. Are. AWESOME!"
Dainty's heart skipped a beat. Nopony had EVER called her awesome. Her pictures, sure. But her?
"And... AND... AND!" Dash continued in excitement. "If you can get to Seaddle and back in four hours what takes me twelve to go both ways... Then, you're... You're three times FASTER than I am!"
And the last part of the Cutie mark clicked into place.
"And if that's me pushing the speed just below what it takes for a sonic rainboom, then... you're three times faster than that. Sonic Rainbooms happen when we're going about as fast as the sound from a yell..."
Dash started to laugh.
"You're over three times faster than the speed of sound!" she crowed. "That's it! I know what your cutie mark means!"
Dainty almost dropped out of the sky in shock.
"Y-YOU DO?" she shouted back.
"YES!" Dash hollered triumphantly. "It all makes sense! ALL of it!"
If it weren't for the wind blasting her face, Dainty would have had tears streaming out of her eyes. Her cutie mark, that weird diamond of confusing stripes and triangles. Somepony had figured it out! That was... was...
"Uh," Dash's voice came up to her ears. "You okay? You haven't, cracked the whip or whatever it is you do with your wings in a while... I think we're dropping."
Dainty glanced around, focusing on the sensation on her face-WHOA... Way too slow.
"HAHA!" Dash shouted up to her. "That's more like it! Now can you make a turn back to Ponyville? We've got to tell the others!"
"Executing a one-hundred and eighty degree left turn," Dainty called back. Then she rolled and began to drift slowly left. For just a moment Rainbow Dash frowned at the lack of speed in the turn. But stopping to feel the sensation in her body, she could tell, that traveling at three times the speed of sound, this was a FAST turn.
"Hah," she laughed. "I'm being carried by a pony with a turning radius of a hundred miles! And it's SO AWESOME!"
Dear Princess Celestia,
Their friends were waiting for them in the drizzle outside Fluttershy's house upon their return. The first thing anypony noticed was that both Dash and Dainty were flying side by side, smiles on their faces.
I'm not entirely sure what happened today, as I wasn't there for everything. But I think Rainbow Dash learned a lesson we should all take to heart.
"That was amazing!" Spike was the first to speak as they slid to a stop in the mud. "You two flew so high we couldn't even see you!"
"What happened?" Twilight asked.
"Oh," Dash laughed. "You're going to LOVE this. And AJ...?"
"Yes ma'am?" Applejack asked.
"You were right," Rainbow Dash admitted. "So right it's not even funny."
It's good to have pride in yourself and your abilities. That's what makes each and every one of us unique. But sometimes one's pride can get the best of them, blinding them to things they would normally see.
"So what happened dear?" Rarity asked. "Don't keep us waiting. It's not your style."
"Well," Dash put a hoof to her mouth. "How about we start by explaining the meaning of Dainty's cutie mark."
"Ye' know what it means?" Applejack asked in surprise.
"Yep!" Dash grinned. "Figured the whole thing out after Dainty caught me."
"CAUGHT YOU?" Rarity gaped. "My stars, WHAT happened?"
"One thing at a time!" Dash laughed. "Now, listen..."
Sometimes, the very things that make us unique can lead to adversity, and from that adversity, we often substitute our own beliefs and answers to problems that come up, even if those answers are wrong.
"I knew it," AJ grinned after hearing what Dash said about the cutie mark. "I knew it had ter do with a camera."
"But the rest," Rarity blinked. "My word... That's simply fantastic, almost TOO fantastic."
"I know!" Dash grinned. "Isn't it AWESOME? I can't believe I didn't realize it sooner."
I saw this today, watching Rainbow Dash struggle to come to terms with a pony who's abilities we couldn't understand. We each came to numerous conclusions, some of them silly, some that were almost cruel. But none of which were correct.
"Oooh! So that's what the skyline this afternoon was!"
"Pinkie!" Dash jumped in shock. "Where'd you come from? Didn't you head home?"
"I skipped on ahead," Pinkie Pie commented, earning a confused look from her friends to which she replied. "You think I'm going to miss the climax AND everything after it? HECK NO! That's when all the best parties are held!"
"Heh," Dash shook her head, not knowing what to think. "Pinkie Pie, you're just so random sometimes."
"I know," Pinkie smiled. "Are you guys ready to party?"
"Uh," Rarity looked around. "Now? Here? In the MUD?"
"Of course," Pinkie smirked. "There's no dust because of the rain, so it's perfect for Dainty! Isn't that right?"
Dainty Dish glanced around, confused.
"Uh..." she began.
"A party right here is just fine," Rainbow Dash hooked a hoof around her neck and dragged her closer. "If we need to wash off, I'll just drop a monsoon on us. No sweat."
Dainty just smiled weakly while Rarity sighed, finding Dash's methods still wanting.
It's important to remember that sometimes, even when somepony seems to be false, they can still be just as mistaken as the rest of us. And as such, it's best not to accuse them of wrong doing just because things aren't adding up. Sometimes, the answers you find will amaze you beyond your wildest dreams and show you things you never thought possible.
Your Faithful Student,
I ran the math I did on Dainty Dish's flight three more times. I'm sure of it now. Dainty Dish's cruising speed is Mach three point three four. And based on one of the individual photos from the 'Atlas of Captivating Cartographic Captures', and knowing what kind of camera was being used. I calculated that the photo was taken from eighty-one thousand, two hundred feet above the ground. If I'm not mistaken, and numbers don't lie, that makes her the fastest, highest flying pegasus in Equestria.
Glancing away from twilight's letter, Celestia levitated a spectacular photo showing the shadows of Canterlot off the mantle. It was signed in very clear letters.
'Blackbird 420, Dainty Dish'
'Equestria Land Survey Group'
Celestia lowered the photo and levitated a cup of tea and took a sip.
About that moment, there was a small thump that caused the tea to ripple, prompting the princess of the sun to glance out the window. High in the sky, she could see a single string of cloud stretching out to the horizon and the sunset. The front of it was already stretching away to the east, getting longer by the second as if somepony were up there with a paintbrush, gently drawing a single, dainty white line.