"Are you sure you want to do this?" Only a twitch of her ears let Princess Celestia know that Rainbow Dash had heard her.
The two had spent most of the night enjoying each others' company, telling stories, laughing, crying and working to repair the breach than had come between them. Dawn had came and went before the two of them had finished. It was afterwards that Rainbow Dash had built up the courage to tell Celestia of her future plans.
She nodded, after letting shaking off some stray thoughts. "Yeah, I'm sure." The young pegasus said at last. "I mean, this isn't going to be forever! It's not like I can't come back and visit, maybe sleep over sometimes—if that's okay with you, I mean."
"Of course it is." Celestia walked over and gently nuzzled Rainbow's cheek. "You will always have a place, and a home, in Canterlot with me. You needn't ever ask."
"Heh, thank you." Rainbow smiled back. "Ponyville's just a short flight away…besides, I figure you and Luna need some time alone to reconnect as sisters and stuff. Probably be easier if I wasn't there."
"I think you underestimate yourself, but it is your decision to make." Celestia looked up at the city of Canterlot, clinging to the mountain side. "On the other hoof, I imagine that between you and Luna, the two of you would drive my long suffering staff and guards to mutiny." They shared a chuckle.
Rainbow laughed. "Don't worry. I'll be sure to stop by and teach Luna some modern-day pranks." She gave a wink that had any of Celestia's servants, staff or guards been there to see it, they would've fainted dead away.
For her part, Celestia affected a look of mock-horror and made as if she were trembling in her horseshoes. The sight was so comical it sent Rainbow Dash into peals of laughter, which made the Princess smile and chuckle herself.
Turning serious for a moment, Rainbow walked up and gently rested her head against Celestia's side, not pulling away when the alicorn's wing draped itself over her back and drawing her in closer. "Please don't feel sad. I just want to build up my reputation on my own for a bit. Go my own way. Work on my routine out here in the wide open air without worrying about clipping a wing on a tower or banner. Make sure that when the Wonderbolts start looking my way they do it because I'm, you know, Rainbow Dash not because…"
"…not because of your connections to me." Celestia supplied. "I understand."
Dash gave her an encouraging grin. "It's a pegasus thing." She shrugged "Wanting to leave the nest and fly solo for a while..."
"…but they always come back." Celestia smiled, feeling buoyed by the thought. "It's fine Rainbow Dash, truly. I am so glad that you were able to make such wonderful friends here in Ponyville. Have you given any thought to where you will stay though?"
"Let's see…between Applejack's farm, Fluttershy's cottage, and Ditzy's house, I think I have choices to spare. At least until I can put together a sweet cloud house of my own."
Celestia nodded. "I can arrange for your things to be brought to you, once you're settled in. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
Biting her lip, Rainbow nodded. "Yeah…remember Fancy Pants' offer? About watching the Wonderbolts from his box? I was thinking that maybe my friends and I could stop in now and again to watch….and maybe even invite Tiffany and her crew: Serena, Starburst, Royal Blue, that lot." She looked like she had swallowed something decidedly unpleasant that was trying to crawl back up and out of her mouth.
"That sounds like a wonderful gesture." The princess nodded in approval. "I am very proud of you."
"Well, don't go expecting me and Tiffany to become best friends or anything. I just figured that I guess I should try to make up for…you know. If she still thinks I'm 'not worthy' or whatever, it's no feathers off my wings."
"At the very least, I'm sure Fancy Pants will be grateful for your company." Celestia said diplomatically.
Rainbow Dash nodded vaguely. "It just stinks that Twilight will be back in Canterlot while the rest of us are out here." She mumbled. "I don't want to leave her alone either but…"
"You don't want to leave the rest of your friends either." Celestia nodded understandingly. "I think I may be able to be of some assistance."
Looking up hopefully, Rainbow smiled eagerly. "Really?"
"Oh yes. You see, while I may approve of you living in Ponyville that does NOT mean that your studies will be allowed to slacken. Since I will be remaining in Canterlot it will be cumbersome for me to try and remain your teacher on a day to day level. However…" she smiled toothily, making Rainbow Dash gulp nervously. "I may be able to delegate some of my duties to somepony else: a bright, talented, studious unicorn for instance, who I am sure will be acing her final examinations at the School for Gifted Unicorns in a matter of days." Celestia tilted her eyebrow upwards. "I think Twilight Sparkle would make for an excellent teacher's aide and tutor for you while you're in Ponyville. Don't you agree?"
"All right!" Rainbow somersaulted in mid-air, delighted at the chance to keep the gang together…even if part of her groaned at prospect of having the brainy unicorn put in charge of her studies.
Celestia smiled. "I am glad you feel that way. In addition to your normal studies, I would ask that you keep me posted about any findings you make as you and your friends explore the magic of friendship."
Rainbow Dash nodded. Then paused. "Um, are you sure Twilight will say yes? I really don't want you to force her to go if she doesn't want to and I'm sure she'll miss her folks…and Shining Armor." More softly, she added. "I know I will."
"It's all right. I will not make Twilight Sparkle choose something that she has not decided for herself. I am merely opening a door for her. The decision to go through will be hers and hers alone. That said, I am rather confident that she will say yes. Having finally made friends after going so long without any, I am sure that Twilight will not want to lose her friends anymore than you did." Celestia paused. "In fact, if memory serves the Ponyville Golden Oaks Library is currently un-staffed. Something, which I suspect might be the cause of its rather…confusing shelving system. I am sure I can arrange something with the Mayor to give Twilight a home and position in the library. Which reminds me…" The princess gave Rainbow Dash a gentle look. "If you wish to live in Ponyville, you must be a contributing citizen. I cannot simply drop you off with a bag of bits."
Rainbow Dash groaned. "Get a job? On top of my training and my studies?"
She nodded. "Those are my terms."
"Fiiiine…." Rainbow Dash sighed. Then her eyes lit up. "Can you do me one last favor? It's actually not even so much for me…"
Celestia listened as her student explained. She smiled widely. "Done."
A sudden knock at the door caught Ditzy Doo in the middle of serving Dinky breakfast (three guesses what it was).
When she saw who it was, her eyes lit up. "Rainbow Dash, hi! Come on in!"
"Hey Ditzy. Hey squirt." She smiled breezily as she stepped in.
"Hmm hmmbuh mss!" Dinky said around a mouthful of breakfast, waving happily before reaching for a glass of milk.
Ditzy smiled. "Care to join us?" Rainbow nodded and sat down. "What brings you by?" She asked as she shut the door.
Rainbow Dash just smiled enigmatically. "Turns out I'm gonna be staying in town for a bit longer than expected. Celestia's cool with me living in Ponyville."
"Yaay!" Dinky cheered. Her mother had told her that Rainbow Dash would be her godmom and the little filly was delighted. "You're staying, you're staying!"
Ditzy smiled. "That's great news Rainbow!"
"Yeah, and I got some more great news!" The blue pegasus beamed. "Ditzy? You're fired."
"Hoora—wait, what?!" The poor mare was thunderstruck, both by the news and the cheerful way in which her friend delivered it.
Rainbow winked. "Yep!" Her smile was downright cherubic. Ditzy's face fell. "I'm going to be new weathermare for Ponyville. Heh, I hear Cloud Kicker's on the weather team, that right? Haven't seen her since flight camp." She shrugged. "Oh well. I guess the only thing left for you to do will be your mailmare stuff…oh and your new position in the weather office."
The poor gray mare looked even more confused than she normally did, blinking in puzzlement. "M-my new position? In the weather office?" That…that was actually a step up from her old job. She was getting a promotion?
"Oh yeah." Dash shrugged nonchalantly. "They need somepony to be in charge of the paperwork: requisition forms, weather reports. Pretty boring if you ask me, but I guess that's why it pays better than simply pushing a cloud around all day."
"It…it does." Ditzy nodded numbly.
"Yeah, like what? Two, maybe three times as much?" Rainbow tapped a hoof against her chin. "Sounds about right to me. As long as the paperwork gets done you can practically make your own hours." Ditzy's jaw dropped. "Normally you'd still be out in the field, but I think we can swing it that I can cover most of your field work—more training and pay for me—without it cutting into your own paycheck. That is, if you think you'd be interes—OOF!" She found herself knocked the ground by the impassioned glomp of Ditzy who was on the verge of tears, thanking her profusely.
"Thank you thank you thank you!" Ditzy wrapped Rainbow Dash up in a mammoth hug that threatened to smother the younger pegasus. Dinky meanwhile had leaped from her seat at the table and landed on her mother's back, adding to the pile with a giggle. Rainbow Dash smiled, but groaned under the weight. If this sort of thing kept up, it'd totally ruin her reputation and her spinal column. Oh well. Maybe this wouldn't become a thing.
"RAINBOW DASH! Thank you!" Twilight squeed in delight as she embraced her.
"Gurk!" Rainbow Dash replied eloquently as the air was forced from her lungs. It was a few days later. Celestia's offer to Twilight, who had—as expected—aced her final examinations, had been gleefully accepted. Twilight's stuff was being delivered to the her new home and place of employment: the Ponyville library. The rest of their friends were waiting just off to the side for them, Pinkie Pie bouncing in place as she finished setting up a 'Welcome to Ponyville and House Warming Party for Their Newest and Most Awesomest and Fantabulous Friends: Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash!' party.
Shining Armor was there to see his little sister off. As happy and proud as he was for her, anypony watching could tell that he was struggling not to tear up and hug Twilight tight and never let her go.
The older unicorn smiled at the sight of Twilight jumping up and down for joy as she hugged Rainbow Dash around the neck, the latter's tongue lolling out as she gasped for breath. "I'm so proud of you Twiley. And you too Dashie." He beamed proudly at the two younger ponies. "I knew the two of you would hit it off…I'm just glad you both managed to make some friends and get out of your ruts." A small hitch worked its way into his voice and he coughed to clear it out before it grew into something bigger. "Twiley, make sure to write. And I know you'll be tempted to just hole yourself up in your new library-house, but just remember to put down the books and get outside now and again, okay? Remember to exercise and stay in shape…not simply live off of coffee and donuts like you did when you were studying and remember not to drink too much water before bed and…"
"Arrrmoooor!" Twilight stamped her hoof adorably, blushing even as she tried not to cry at the prospect of saying goodbye. "I'm not a little filly, I'll be okay!"
"I know…I know. Just take care of yourself." He mussed Twilight's mane. "And keep an eye on this one for me?" He nodded to Rainbow. "Who knows what sort of mischief she'll get into when I'm not around to save her rump?"
Rainbow Dash snorted incredulously, which prompted Twilight to giggle at her friend's put out expression. "I will." She promised, hugging her brother. "Love you B.B.B.F.F."
Shining Armor leaned down, their horns touching as he hugged her back. "Love you too. SO much." He said, tightly holding her. Finally, he forced himself to let her go and turned to Rainbow Dash. "You take care Dashie. When you make it big, remember not to forget about us little ponies, alright?" He winked. "Remember, me and the guards will be rooting for you. Always."
"Thanks Shiny…" Dash was touched as she walked over and hugged him. "L-like I told Celestia, this isn't goodbye! I'll be back all the time! So you better watch your back!"
He laughed. "I'll make sure to do that." A small but proud smile worked its way across his muzzle. "I better go before I ruin my Captain of the Royal Guard vibe in front of everypony…but I want to say it again: I am so proud of both of you. Keep in touch, be there for each other and…well, nopony could ever ask for a better sister. Or pair of sisters." He added, smiling warmly at Twilight and Rainbow. He gave Twilight one last hug and gave her a kiss on the forehead. Then he gave Rainbow Dash a hug as well…just as she practically melted into his fierce hug, her guard down, Shining Armor took the opportunity to plant the biggest, wettest, sloppiest kiss he could manage on her cheek, prompting a loud squeal from the startled pegasus.
Rainbow Dash entire face lit up in a blush that went from pink, to red, to dark red, to practically Twilight-colored purple as she was torn between saying 'eww!' and exploding in delight. Her friends laughed at the delightful expression on her face. Shining Armor laughed gently and winked before Rainbow could decide whether to kiss him back or pummel him and made a quick retreat with his magic.
Applejack, still chuckling, walked over and tossed a hoof across her back, steering Dash to the library. "C'mon sugarcube, let's get you inside where it's nice and cool 'fore you have yourself a heatstroke." She winked at her. "Brothers—ain't nothing they like doin' more than embarrassing their little sisters and her friends, am ah right?" AJ raised her voice to make sure Big Macintosh—who had helped Twilight move her stuff in—heard her.
The big red stallion chewed his wheat sprig, thought about it and then nodded. "Eeyup!" He nodded to Rainbow Dash, adding. "Don't you be letting Applejack get under your skin."
"What her? As if!" Rainbow's tone was dismissive.
Big Mac just shrugged languidly. "At any rate Miss Dash, welcome to Ponyville. If you ever need anythin' feel free to stop by the farm, ya hear?" She nodded numbly, a little surprised to find the normally taciturn pony saying so much to her at one time. It was almost like…she blushed at the possible implications. She was just imagining things, right? Stupid Shining Armor putting such thoughts in her head.
With one last nod, Big Macintosh started back to Sweet Apple Acres. Despite herself, Rainbow Dash found herself watching him walk back until he turned a corner and was lost from sight. She turned back to her friends…only to find herself face to face with Applejack, a wicked gleam in her bright green eyes. "What?"
"Ah saw the way you were looking at mah brother." She laughed lightly. "First Twi's brother now mine? Shoot, if ah'd known you were angling to become part of the family all you had to do was ask!"
"WHAT?!" Rainbow Dash felt a familiar hot flush as her face heated. "Oh come on that is totally not true!"
"Sure darlin' whatever you say." AJ agreed, her tone clearly not believing. "Ah'm sure there's a perfectly good reason why you were watching mah brother's backside."
"Quitit!" Rainbow shushed her, looking around to make sure nopony was listening.
"So it IS true!" The farmpony snickered. "Now ah GOT to tell the gals! Twilight can put it in her letter for her brother!" She darted for the library.
"What? C'mon AJ-!" Rainbow Dash pleaded before quickly zooming off, tackling her before she got inside. The two started rough-housing, but they were both laughing as they did.
It was left to Rarity, chiding them for their 'tomfoolery' who insisted on them coming inside and cleaning up before joining the party. Rainbow Dash and Applejack rolled their eyes but came inside. It was a really great party. There was music, balloons and streamers, games and treats. Rainbow Dash had been to a lot of parties in Canterlot, much fancier and much larger than this small, simple gathering of six ponies in a library in a hollowed out tree, but she couldn't think of a single one that was more enjoyable than this.
Everypony was delighted that she and Twilight were now permanent residents of Ponyville and eagerly talked about all the things they could do now: Rarity gushed that they could all go to the spa together as Fluttershy suggested that it might be nice to go on picnics to watch the birds and the animals (if that was okay with everypony else). Applejack challenged Rainbow Dash to numerous games and challenges, all of which she eagerly accepted. Twilight gleefully proposed forming a book club and Pinkie Pie talked of, of course, even more parties!
At one point, Rainbow Dash found herself idly sipping some punch and reclining on the couch. It was there that she noticed something: it was the book Celestia had planted in the library for her to find and had pulled out during their talk, The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide. Then all at once it felt like a glamour had fallen away as Rainbow Dash realized that in all the excitement, chaos, and tension that she had somehow completely forgotten something, or rather, somepony. Strike that, somezebra. Zecora. She hadn't seen the cryptic zebra since Nightmare Moon's defeat and the return of Princess Celestia.
If Celestia's plan had been for them to find the book, then that meant that she had NOT sent Zecora to help them…even though it was nice and cozy in the library, Rainbow Dash felt an icy chill run down her spine. If that was the case…then how did Zecora know about everything: Nightmare Moon, the Elements of Harmony? Rainbow's eyes widened. Not only did Zecora know things that she had no conceivable way of knowing, but she had managed to carefully guide them all along the way—without Princess Celestia ever even knowing she was involved.
Just who the hay was she?
Deep in the Everfree Forest, in a homey if oddly decorated (by pony standards) hut, the mysterious zebra known as Zecora carefully caressed the cover of a book. It was truly a remarkable work. It was the oldest text in the world…and it hadn't even been written yet.
She found herself idly flipping through it, ancient words and hoof-drawn sketches littered throughout. She stopped on one particular picture: one of Nightmare Moon being brought low by six mares engulfed in magical light, one of those mares having a rainbow mane.
Zecora sighed. The book before her was truly unique, a priceless relic of her kind. It spoke of the past, the present, and the future…all written down in black ink. She knew what was coming in the days ahead, the challenges and trials that the Elements of Harmony would face and their ultimate fates. She knew how they would all die. How she herself would die. A most heavy burden, but one she bore because she knew it was necessary. She had a role to play and she would see it through.
The elders and sages who had safeguarded it saw it only as a way to better the lot of the zebras; a tool to better gain knowledge and insight. Zecora however, wasn't content with merely seeking to understand the world—she wanted to change it: to help it along, improve the lives of all—zebras and ponies and beyond. She had stolen the book and fled. She had journeyed all over the world until she came here. To Equestria, to the one place where nopony or zebra would ever trouble her, the Everfree Forest.
Until Zecora, the book had only been read by the sages and shamans—and even they didn't know where the book had come from. Legends spoke of a mysterious pony who had given it to the zebras in the distant past. Even for myths and legends, the pony seemed too implausible. The pony who came and went in a blue box…
A/N: And here we are-we've finally made it to the end! Geeze, what a ride! This was a lot of work but a tremendous lot of fun too. Thank you everyone for reading and responding, for giving your input and-I hope-for enjoying the story.
Big thanks to Aldea Donder and Fairy Slayer, and to RainbowDoubleDash for all the inspiration and suggestions and taking the time to answer some questions I had for them. Big inspiration from this story came from them and from other authors whose stunning portrayals of characters really inspired how I wrote for them...these authors include CLAVDIVS CAESAR, SoundofRainfall, the shared stories and alliance of Comma-Kazie, Chengar Qordath and Kavonde, as well as so many others.
And of course, huge props to Lauren Faust for creating this show which obviously is (c) to her and Hasbro, not to me, no copyright infringement is intended nor is any profit being made from this story.
Thanks again all. Until next time!