Light the Sky on Fire

"All my life, I've wanted to fly
But I don't have the wings, and I wonder why
I can't break away..."
Most pegasi figure out flying easily enough. Heck, most of them figure out how to do it before they even get their cutie marks.
But not me. I couldn’t do it, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t even hover. Not for more than a few seconds, anyway. And not even Rainbow Dash, the greatest flier in Equestria, could seem to help me. We tried everything, and I failed every time. Day after day, I tried – and day after day, I failed, until finally I was ready to just give up. I’d never be able to do it. Nopony would ever be able to help me to fly...
...until one day, somepony did.

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1. Light the Sky on Fire

 

 

—— Light The Sky On Fire ——

 

 

 

The grass is cool and damp under my hooves as I trot towards Saddle Lake.  The early-morning air is clear and crisp, with only a small scattering of thin, high clouds in the sky to reflect Celestia’s sunrise.  Cirrus uncinus clouds, also known as “mares’ tails” because of their thin, curved shape and feathery edges that look like the loose horsehair of a pony’s tail blowing in the wind.  A warm front must be approaching out of the Everfree, causing these bands of ice crystals to form way up in the troposphere ahead of it.  There’s only a few mares’ tails in the sky right now, so probably not a very strong front yet – but some inner sense, a tickle in the back of my mind, tells me that more are trying to form.  If the front gets stronger, and the Weather Patrol here in Ponyville leaves everything to itself, we just might get some rain this evening, depending on how the front moves.

Of course, if we don’t want the rain right now, the Patrol will just make the clouds go somewhere else.  Applejack’s orchards can always use a little extra around this time of year, though, and probably most of the other farms too, so the Patrol may just let this one go through if it doesn’t get too strong.  But either way, that won’t be anything to worry about until much later today.  Right now, it’s perfect flying weather.

Thanks to Twilight Sparkle’s tutoring, I know all of those facts with barely a moment’s thought, now.  As a pegasus, I could alwaysfeel the types of clouds; through Rainbow Dash, I learned how to touch them... as Twilight’s student, I know their names.  I know why and how they form, what makes them hold together, what each kind means.  I can read them like a book, and I know what they’re made of.

But today... the clouds are gonna know what I’m made of.  The clouds are gonna know my name.

I am Scootaloo.  I am the honorary “little sister” of Rainbow Dash, the greatest flier in Equestria... and I am the personal student of the Element of Magic, Princess Twilight Sparkle.  Together, they taught me to fly...

...and together, Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash are the reason I’m here, now, awake with the dawn, trotting off toward the open field around Saddle Lake.  I’ve been studying and practicing this for days now, every chance I got, and today I’m ready to put myself to the test.  Because I’ve made up my mind that today is the day I’m going to do it.  Today is the day I’m going to make my teachers proud.

Today is the day I’m going to light the sky on fire.

 

    

 

 

— — === — —

 

 

    

 

It’s still funny to me how I ended up being Twilight’s student too, as well as Rainbow’s.  If you’d told me, six months ago, that I’d turn myself into a bookworm, visiting Twilight’s library three or four times a week, studying textbooks every night, sitting and listening to her lecturing me on aerodynamics and biology and basic magic theory, meteorology and mathematics, and all that other stuff...  taking testson all of it... and that I would do all of that willingly?  That on top of having to spend five days a week in school, that I would volunteer for even more school?  Do more homework, take more tests, listen to more lectures, until my brain felt like it was about to melt right out of my ears from trying to cram so much knowledge into it?  That in my desperation to finally, somehow, grasp the secrets of flight that had always been so frustratingly just out of my reach no matter how hard I tried, I would grind away, night after mind-numbing night, at Discord-accursed subjects like “basic algebra” and “geometry” and “physics”, until I just wanted to scream?

If you’d told me that six months ago, I would’ve laughed in your face.  Books are going to teach me how to fly like Rainbow Dash?  Tests are going to teach me how to reach the clouds?  All that... “egghead stuff”, as Rainbow calls it, is going to teach me to command the air and sky?

A bookworm librarian who hadn’t even had her own wings for a whole two weeks yet... she was going to teach a pegasus who wasborn with wings how to fly?

Well... yeah.  She was.  And she did.

I always wanted to be like Rainbow Dash.  I admired her... I idolized her, and more than anything in the world, I wanted to fly like her, racing through the skies faster than the eye could follow, clearing the clouds in ten seconds flat...  She could fly rings around any pegasus in Ponyville, she brought home the gold from the Young Flier’s Competition... she did her first Sonic Rainboom when she was myage, for Celestia’s sake!  And me?  I could hardly get more than a couple of feet off the ground, for more than a few measly seconds, before crashing into a mud puddle or ending up covered in leaves and tree sap.  Every attempt, a failure.  She made it look so easy, and I could never understand why it was so hard for me...

She made it look easy because for her, it was easy.  Rainbow’s innate pegasus magic (heh – listen to me, using words like “innate” now.  Twilight, I’ve learned so much from you) is so strong, so deep in every muscle and bone and cell of her body, that she bends the air to her will just by being in the air, without even having to think about it.  She understood the sky from the moment she first stretched out her wings and touched her first cloud.  Most pegasi do.  It’s just our nature.  It’s what we are.

But not me.  I get that now.  For whatever reason, it just doesn’t work that way for me.  Me... I have to think.  I have to know... andknowledge was what I was missing.  I’d always had the power to fly.  I’d had it all along.  I’d always had that pegasus magic inside me, just waiting to be used.  What I didn’t have, what I never had, what I never even realized I was missing, was... understanding.  For me, the magic was locked inside a puzzle box I didn’t know how to open... and worse, like a yearling foal who’d just been given their first-ever Hearthwarming gift, I didn’t even know I needed to open that box.  I thought the bright, shiny box with the colorful wrappings was the gift, not what was inside it.  I thought just being a pegasus was enough.  And maybe for most pegasi, it is.

But not me.  Me, I was like a baker trying to make a cake without understanding that when the recipe said to “add eggs”, that meant you were supposed to crack open the eggs first, and add what was inside the shells to the recipe.  And without understanding... withoutknowing... I just kept tossing in the whole egg, shell and all, and expecting the cake to just come out right somehow.  I was trying to eat an orange by biting into it whole, then never understanding why it was so tough and bitter when it was supposed to be juicy and sweet.

No wonder I always failed.

But now... now I know.  Now I understand.  Rainbow Dash showed me what pegasus magic was, and what it could do when the box was opened; Twilight Sparkle taught me that there was a box, and that the tools I needed to use the magic were inside it, just like the juicy sweetness of that orange is hidden away inside the rind until it’s peeled.  Rainbow showed me what the tools were for, and how to use them; Twilight taught me why the tools worked, and how to get them out of the box.  

And together, they showed me how to touch the sky.

 

    

 

 

— — === — —

 

 

    

 

I trot out into the open field by the lake, and make my way to what’s become our favorite spot for practice flights.  The natural trail heading down to the waterfront bends off to the left, so most ponies out for a day at the lake will go that way; the spot we use for flight practice is off to the right, and you have to go off the trail and around a big patch of tall switchgrass to get to it.  That’s what made it so perfect for us; it’s out of the way, so Twilight and I could practice takeoffs and landings without bothering anypony – or worse, accidentally landing on top of them.  (Twilight nearly did that a few times herself, so I don’t feel too badly about my own near-misses, but it’s still embarrassing to screw up a landing that badly.)  Neither of us has messed up a flight like that in a while, but still... it’s just “our spot.”

Shrugging off my saddlebags, I start going through some limbering-up exercises, stretching out my legs and wings.  With what I’m planning to do today, the last thing I can afford is an unexpected cramp in mid-air, so I make sure to go through the whole routine, testing myself, alert for any sign of stiffness or spasms as I bend and stretch each leg, flex the wings, arch my back and neck, then bend and flex and arch some more.  Just like I’ve done every day for the last five or six months now, every morning and evening without fail, just like Rainbow Dash taught me – and she made feathering sure I did it, too, even on days when I was battered and bruised from a dozen out-of-control crash landings and all I wanted to do was drag myself into bed and sleep for a week.  There were days when I was sure she was trying to kill me by slow torture, and hated her guts for it...  and she just laughed, and made me do it anyway.

Of course, she made Twilight do those exercises, too – and clamped a magic inhibitor on her horn, so she couldn’t cheat.  Ha!  If looks could kill, Dash would’ve been flash-fried into charcoal the first time she made Twilight wear that thing...  I’m pretty sure Twilight thought Dash was trying to kill her with all those workout exercises, too.

I’ve done this warm-up routine so often, I don’t even have to think about it anymore.  Alone with my thoughts in the early dawn hours, I think about the times that brought me to this moment...

 

    

 

 

— — === — —

 

 

    

 

“Why?!  Why?!  Why can’t I fly?!  WHY?!

That was me, six months ago.  I was so tired of being the “dodo”, the “chicken”, the “flightless wonder”, and after a whole summer of having to watch from the ground while all the other pegasus foals my age were playing games in the air, I’d finally had enough.  I’d made up my mind that, by Celestia and Luna and the Great Maker Herself, I was gonna learn to fly even if it killed me.  Somehow, even if it was the last thing I ever did, I was gonna fly.

I tried everything.  I tried running starts, I tried crouch-and-jump takeoffs, I tried just standing still and trying to take off straight up.  I tried building a ramp and launching myself into the air with my scooter.  I tried flapping my wings in slow, broad strokes like an eagle; I tried buzzing them like a hummingbird.  I watched the others fly, studied everything they did, and tried to imitate them.  I even volunteered to spend some time helping Fluttershy with her animals, just so I could have an excuse to watch her fly, because everypony knows she’s one of the weakest fliers in Ponyville, and surely I could at least manage to do whatever it was she did, right?  I could at least learn to hover for more than a few seconds, couldn’t I?  Even Fluttershy could do that much...

Nothing worked.

Rainbow Dash did her best to help me, too.  I know she did.  She took me under her wing after that camping trip, adopted me as her honorary “little sister”, and tried to teach me.  She started me on wing exercises to try to build up my strength.  Since I couldn’t get off the ground on my own, she carried me into the air, riding on her back, so that I could see up close how the wings were supposed to work, feel the movements in her muscles and joints as she rose and fell, riding the air currents.  I tried to copy what she did, trying to mimic her every move on the ground and in the air...

Nothing worked.

Dash even took me up to her cloud home and let me walk on the clouds, just to prove that I was a true pegasus.  But that just made me feel even worse.  I could walk on the clouds... so why couldn’t I reach them?  Why?

On days when Dash wasn’t there to teach me, I tried launching myself into the air by jumping off the diving rocks around the lake, so that I’d just fall into the water and make a big splash, instead of smacking into the ground or crashing through trees.  If anypony saw me, I could always pretend I was practicing fancy diving stunts, instead of pathetically failing at flying.

I did all that... and still I failed.  Failure after failure after useless failure.  Even on those rare times I did manage to get more than a foot or two off the ground, it never lasted for more than a few heartbeats before I’d plunge into the lake or come crashing back to earth, with nothing to show for it except another scrape or bruise, another cramp in my wing-joints, another day of going home covered in dirt and broken twigs and tree sap.  Another day of failure.

Until finally, one miserable day, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  One miserable day, I just... snapped.

“Why?  WHY?!”  I screamed, my eyes filling with tears as I slammed my hooves against the ground in rage and heartbreak, after yet another afternoon of failures had left me face-down in the dirt and fallen leaves, battered and bruised and aching all over from plowing into the ground again, and again, and again.  “Why...!  Can’t...!  I...!  Fly?!  WHY?!”  I hated myself for being so weak... so useless...  I’d tried so hard, and nothing I did was ever good enough...  I wasn’t good enough...

“Scootaloo?”  I heard a voice behind me, but I didn’t bother to look up.

“Scootaloo, what’s wrong?”  The voice came closer, and I felt somepony’s hoof touch my withers, trying to get my attention, but I ignored it.  I just lay there in the dirt and sobbed, screaming “Why?  Why!?” over and over again, like maybe I thought the dirt might answer me if I just yelled at it loudly enough.

“Way to go, Twi!  Now you’re getting it; you rode that updraft almost as good as – whoa!  What happened?  Is Scoot okay?”  Rainbow Dash’s voice, and now my humiliation was complete.  Not only was I a useless, flightless failure, but my idol – the pegasus who was everything I dreamed of being – was going to see just how weak and useless and pathetic I really was...

And worst of all... I didn’t even care.  I wasn’t worthy of being her “little sister” anymore.  Even the greatest flier in Equestria couldn’t teach a failure like me how to fly.  I just wasn’t good enough.

I wasn’t good enough for anything.

“I don’t know, Rainbow, I just found her here like this.”  I felt somepony kneel down on the ground beside me, spreading a comforting wing across me.  “What’s the matter, Scootaloo?  Are you hurt?  What happened?”

“I’m useless...” I sobbed.  The mare sitting next to me tried to draw me in closer, and at first I resisted.  I didn’t want to be comforted.  I just wanted to rage and scream and lay in the dirt.  But she drew me in close anyway.  I felt her forelegs wrap around me, I found my face buried against her shoulder, and I couldn’t help it.  I couldn’t keep it in anymore.  I didn’t even know who it was that was holding me... and I didn’t care.   I just fell apart and cried.  “I’m a... f-failure!”

“Hey!” I heard Rainbow’s voice saying.  “C’mon, Scoot, you’re not a failure.  What –”

I am!” I bawled like a yearling foal.  “I’ve tried... so h-hard... a-and I... still... can’t... fly!!”  I wrenched myself away from the comforting embrace and threw myself back into the dirt.  “I-I’ve done... everything... a-and these... s-stupid, useless wings...!!”

I felt that comforting wing settle across my withers again... and then another wing on top of that one, and a pair of familiar hooves pulling me closer, wrapping me up into a tight embrace while her wings covered me, sheltering me from the world.  Rainbow Dash, trying to comfort me, even though I’d completely, totally failed her.  I buried my face against her sky-blue coat and sobbed while she held me, rocking me gently back and forth...

At least she didn’t say anything.  The last thing I wanted to hear was my idol trying to tell me it would be all right, when we both knew that was a lie.  It would never be all right.  She’d taken me under her wing, and all I’d done was waste her time by failing, again and again...

Eventually, my sobs turned to quiet sniffles as I cried myself out, and I could hear the other mare and Rainbow Dash speaking softly to each other.

“...okay now?” the other voice was asking.

“No,” Rainbow sighed.  “No, she’s not.  You... you wouldn’t understand, Twilight.  To a pegasus, flying is everything.  It’s what wedo.  It’s what we’re born to do, and Scoot...  can’t do it.  Poor kid’s tried so hard, and she just can’t do it...”

“I thought you were teaching her?”

“I have been, Twi!  Trying to, anyway.  But it’s just... I dunno.  It’s not working, somehow.  She can hover a little, now, she can even glide all the way across the lake if I take her up and launch her off my back ... but that’s not enough.  She wants to fly, Twilight... She wants...  and...  and I’ve tried everything, Twi!  Everything!”  

I heard her voice catch for a moment, like she was choking on the words.  Rainbow Dash, on the verge of tears?  Over myfailures?  Now I really felt like dirt.  “I just...  I don’t get it, Twi!” she said.  “All the stuff we’ve tried?  It worked for me, when I was learning to fly... it works for other pegasuses learning to fly... it even works for Fluttershy, for cryin’ out loud, so why won’t it work forher?  Why... why can’t I help her, Twilight?  What am I doing wrong?”  I felt her chest rise and fall in another heavy sigh.  She was as defeated as I was, and I hated myself for it.  “You’re... you’re so smart, Twilight.  You know, like... everything.  Tell me what I’m doing wrong.”

You’re not doing anything wrong, I thought miserably.  It’s me.  I’m the failure.  I failed, not you...

...wait.  Something in my brain suddenly clicked.  “Twilight?”  As in, “Twilight Sparkle”?  As in...?

I forced myself to stand up on shaky legs, wiping my tears away with a hoof, then peeked out from behind Rainbow’s wings to see none other than... oh, horseradish.  Princess Twilight Sparkle, sitting right there in front of us with a sad, sympathetic look on her face.  Great.  Just bucking great.  Bad enough to be crying my eyes out in front of my hero; I’d just bawled like a baby in front of Equestria’s newest royalty, too.

She gave me a little smile as she saw me peeking out, but instead of cheering me up, it just made me feel even worse, if that was possible.  I’d totally embarrassed and humiliated myself in front of my idol and an Equestrian Princess.  Without thinking, I tried to salvagesome shred of dignity by pulling free of Rainbow Dash’s embrace and bowing deeply to Twilight Sparkle, lowering my head all the way down to my hooves.  “P-Princess Sparkle...  I’m s-sorry, I didn’t know it was you...” I started to apologize.

“Scootaloo, please,” Twilight groaned.  “Don’t do that.”

“Wh... huh?”  That wasn’t exactly the reaction I’d expected.

Rainbow chuckled and nudged me.  “She means don’t bow to her, Scoot.”

“But... she’s a Princess now...?” I said, confused.  “Isn’t that... what you’re supposed to do when you see one of the Princesses?”  Looking back on it, I guess it does seem kind of weird that I even cared about that at all, just then, but I did.  I guess maybe my brain was just desperate to grab onto anything that would give me something else to think about besides my own failures, or how I’d just had a total screaming breakdown in front of the one pony I’d never, ever wanted to see me looking so weak and worthless...

“What, just ‘cause she’s got wings and a fancy tiara now?  Big deal,” Rainbow laughed.  “She’s still the same old Twilight, Scoot.”

“That’s right,” Twilight chuckled as well.  I felt her hoof under my chin, lifting my head up to make me look at her.  “Scootaloo, I’m a Princess in the same way Blueblood is a Prince.  It’s mostly just an honorary title.  It’s not like I have any real authority or anything.”

“Huh?” I asked, still confused.

“Yeah, you know, like how I call you my ‘little sister’ even if we’re not really sisters?” Dash explained.  “It’s kinda the same thing.  When grownups think somepony’s extra-awesome, we give ‘em titles so everypony else knows how awesome they are.  Right, Twi?”

“Something like that,” Twilight laughed.  “All it really means is that now I either have to attend all kinds of boring social and diplomatic events, or figure out how to get out of them without offending anypony,” she said, rolling her eyes at that.  “I can come and go from Canterlot Castle whenever I want – which I always could anyway, really... and Ponyville will get a bit of extra prestige from having a Princess-in-residence, for whatever that’s worth.  That’s all, Scootaloo.”

I pushed myself back to my hooves again, then sat down, sighing heavily.  “Great...  so I guess I screwed that up, too,” I mumbled.

“Oh, don’t feel bad,” she said kindly, waving it off with a hoof.  More kindly than a screwup failure like me deserved, that was for sure.  “The coronation was only a week ago; it’ll take time for everypony to get used to... this,” she added, flapping her wings a little.  “Great Maker, I’m still getting used to it!  I had no idea having wings was so... complicated!  I keep rolling over onto them in my sleep, and I’m still having to get Dash or Fluttershy to help me preen them because I have no idea what I’m doing half the time...”

“You gotta admit though, Twi, being able to fly is pretty cool,” Dash said.

“Oh, definitely.  At least twenty percent cooler,” Twilight agreed with a mischievous smile.  They both chuckled together at that, so I guessed it was a private joke – but I didn’t feel like laughing, so I didn’t bother asking them to explain it.

Twilight lifted my chin with a hoof again, as she sat down in front of me, still smiling.  “Anyway.  No matter what crazy rumors you’ve heard, I don’t suddenly have awesome cosmic powers, Ponyville isn’t going to be the capital of a new empire... I’m not immortal, I don’t rule anypony, and I don’t want to.  I’m just a unicorn who’s got pegasus wings and some earth-pony magic in her now, too.  That’s all.  Inside, I’m still the same pony I was before, and that’s all I want to be.  My friends still get to call me ‘Twilight’... and my friends do not bow to me, Scootaloo.  I don’t want anypony bowing to me.  Okay?”

“...Okay,” I said quietly.

“Now... both of you, start from the beginning, tell me everything,” she said, lifting a blank paper sheet and quill from her saddlebag, “and let’s see if we can figure this out scientifically.”

“See?  Told ya.  Same old Twilight,” Dash laughed, settling her wing around me again.  “Got a problem to solve?  Step one, make a list.  Step two, check ‘make a list’ off the list.  Right?”

Even as low as I felt, I had to giggle slightly at the sight of an alicorn Princess sticking her tongue out at Dash.  “Seriously, though,” Twilight said.  “There’s got to be a logical answer for why she hasn’t been able to fly.  Tell me everything you guys have tried, what the results were...”  She smiled and put a hoof on top of mine.  “And one way or another, Scootaloo, we will figure this out.  I promise.”

 

    

 

 

— — === — —

 

 

    

 

“When you get right down to it, we shouldn’t be able to fly at all.  And technically, we can’t.”

I remember staring in shock at Twilight as she said that.  It was a couple of days after I’d had my screaming, sobbing breakdown, and we – me, her, and Rainbow Dash – were sitting in that underground “laboratory” level of Twilight’s library tree.  I’d never been in that part of the library before, and ordinarily I would’ve been fascinated by all the stuff she had down there.  Crystals glowing with magic, tables full of equipment that I hadn’t the foggiest idea what it was or what it did, some kind of calculating machine taking up most of one wall, and something that looked uncomfortably like a medical exam table that a pony could be strapped down onto.  There were a dozen different books spread out across two tables, and a huge chalkboard filled with diagrams and equations that made my head spin just to look at them.

At the moment, though, Twilight Sparkle had my complete attention with what she’d just said.  It took Rainbow Dash by surprise, too.  “What d’you mean by that, Twi?  Of course we can fly!”

“Only because of your magic, Rainbow.  Sorry, I guess I should say our magic, since I have it too, now,” Twilight added with a chuckle.  “Still getting used to that...  anyway.  Scientifically speaking, pegasi – and alicorns – simply should not be able to fly.  We shouldn’t even be able to get off the ground.  Our bodies are too large and heavy, in proportion to  the size of our wings – and that’s true ofevery pegasus, Scootaloo.  Your wings may be a little bit smaller than average for your age, but...  well, here.  Look at Owlowiscious.  See how large his wings are, compared to the size of his body?  Owlowiscious, would you spread your wings out for a moment, please?”

Twilight’s owl opened one eye when Twilight said his name, then hooted once and opened up his wings.  I was startled to realize just how large they were; spread out all the way like that, they looked even bigger than Princess Celestia’s!

“There, see?  His wings are over twice the size of yours, right?  And yet his body is smaller than yours.  Now, imagine if his body was the size of mine, or Rainbow Dash’s.  His wings would reach halfway across the room!  Thank you, Owlowiscious.”  He hooted again and closed his wings, going back to sleep.  “So even if you had wings the size of Princess Celestia’s, that still wouldn’t be enough to let you fly the way a pegasus does, if it was only about wing size.  You see?”

“Yeah, and you know that bodybuilder, Snowflake?” Rainbow Dash cut in.  “Big, huge, muscle-y guy, even bigger than AJ’s brother, Big Mac?  Ever looked at his wings?  They’re smaller than yours, even, and he flies just fine.  And look at Fluttershy, squirt – back when we were in flight school, for a while her wings were bigger than mine, and she was still the weakest flier in our whole class.”

“I guess...” I admitted.  “But then why–?”

“Because it isn’t just your – our – wings, Scootaloo,” Twilight insisted.  “It’s pegasus magic that makes it happen, not just our wings.  Each of the three pony races has their own kind of magic inside them, in every cell of their body... um... has Miss Cheerilee taught you about cells and biology yet?”

“Kinda,” I said, nodding.  “A little, anyway.”  Not that I remembered a whole lot of it.

She frowned slightly and made a note on a scroll.  “Okay, we’ll come back to that a little later.  Anyway, it’s that magic force inside our bodies that allows each pony race to do the special things they do.  It’s what gives earth ponies their increased strength and endurance, and their special connection to the natural world – plants and animals, and even the rocks in the ground; it’s what allows unicorns to move objects, create illusions, and alter the physical world around them by casting spells through their horns... and it’s what allows pegasi to walk on clouds, to control the weather, and to fly.”

“Okay... so?”

“So the first thing you need to do, Scootaloo, is stop worrying so much about your wings.   I mean, yes, wings do matter; sending that magic out through our wings is how we fly, and we do use them for steering and flight control – ”

“– yeah, ‘we’ had so much flight control on ‘our’ coronation day, Twi,” Dash interrupted with a snort of laughter.  “Sorry, Twi,” she added as Twilight gave her a dirty look.  “But oh, Celestia, you should’ve seen it, squirt!  There we were, standing on top of the castle balcony, and all of a sudden she thinks she can fly just ‘cause she’s got wings, so she launches herself right off the balcony and tries to pull a loop-de-loop around the castle... next thing you know, she spirals out of control, and WHOMP!” Dash laughed, miming the action with her hooves.  “Flanks over withers, right into the royal vineyards!  Total wipeout.”

I clapped a hoof to my mouth at that image, trying not to laugh out loud.  “How bad?”

Twilight gave an embarrassed sigh.  “Well... let’s just say it’s really, really hard to get grape-juice stains out of a coronation dress.”

I couldn’t help it.  I had to giggle at that, and the giggles gave way to laughter as I imagined the newly-crowned princess, still wearing her fancy coronation dress, plowing a trail of purple destruction through the vineyards.  Rainbow started to laugh as well, and even Twilight finally gave in and laughed along with us.  Somehow, knowing I wasn’t the only one who’d done a spectacularly embarrassing wipeout like that, and that even an alicorn princess was having some of the same troubles I was, made me feel a little better.  Not much, but a little.

“Anyway.  You see what I mean, Scootaloo?” Twilight finally said once we’d managed to stop giggling.  “I have that pegasus magic inside me now, so technically, yes, I can fly – but I don’t really know how to use that pegasus magic yet.  That’s what we were doing out there in the field the other day.  Dash is teaching me how to fly properly, too.  She wants to teach both of us to fly.”

“Oh...”

“And the more I think about it, Scootaloo, the more I think maybe you have the same problem I do.  You’ve got the magic, you just haven’t figured out the right way to tap into it and use it, yet.”

“How do you know I’ve got it at all?” I asked.  “What if I’m just... I dunno, defective, or something?”

“Hey now, Scoot!” Rainbow Dash started to say.

“Because you can walk on the clouds, Scootaloo,” Twilight said, interrupting Dash.  “Only a pegasus can do that.  Oh, sure, there’s cloud-walking spells, if you know a unicorn powerful enough to cast one on you.  But yesterday, when we went up to Rainbow’s place?  You hopped off her back and walked on that cloud as naturally as the rest of us walk on the ground.  And I saw you playing with the clouds, too, molding shapes with your hooves while we were sitting there talking and eating, and you definitely can’t do that if you don’t have pegasus magic way down deep in every cell, just like I said.  No, Scootaloo,” she said, shaking her head firmly.  “There’s no doubt in my mind, you’ve got it.”

“Heck, a lot of pegasuses can’t cloud-sculpt like that, Scoot!” Rainbow agreed.  “Push ‘em around, sure – but pinch off pieces of them and roll them up into little balls and blocks, stack ‘em up, and make little sculptures out of ‘em like you were doing?  Uh-uh.  And you weren’t even really thinking about it, you were just sitting there cloud-sculpting as easy as... well, as easy as Twilight reads books.  Trust me, squirt – you’re a natural at it.”

Dash actually seemed impressed by that, and that did make me feel better.  It’d never occurred to me that being able to play with cloud-stuff in my hooves was anything special...

“So... if I have all that magic in me, how come I can’t fly?” I said, still doubting.

Twilight smiled and put a hoof on mine.  “That’s what we’re going to find out.”

“Right!”  Dash agreed, putting her hoof in as well.  “But you gotta promise me one thing, Scoot...”

“What?” I asked.

“All that stuff about being useless, and a failure, and ‘defective’, and all that?”  She narrowed her eyes a little as she leaned in closer, looking straight into mine.  “Don’t you ever say that stuff about yourself again, you hear me?  Twilight’s gonna help us figure this out... and I’m never gonna give up on you, Scoot.  Ever.  Element of Loyalty talking, here.  You’ve never disappointed me, you’ve never failed me, you’re not useless, and I’ll go all the way to Tartarus to find a way to make you fly if that’s what it takes.  ‘Cause one day, my totallyawesome ‘little sister’ is gonna crack the sky.  You got that?!

I smiled.  “Got it... ‘big sister’.”

She smiled back and poked me with her hoof.  “And don’t you forget it, squirt.”

 

    

 

 

— — === — —

 

 

    

 

There are surprisingly few books on how pegasus magic works.  Did you know that?

I didn’t.  And believe it or not, neither did Twilight.  Even I thought it was kind of weird.  There’s tons of books out there on unicorn magic, some of them even written so that earth ponies and pegasi can understand the basics of it, even if we can’t use it.  But pegasus or earth-pony magic?  It seems like hardly anypony’s ever really studied them, and not even Twilight could find much that explained how touse them if you didn’t already know.

All she could really find out for sure was that I wasn’t the only pegasus who’d ever had this much trouble learning to fly.  It had happened before; there were several known cases of pegasi – not many, but some – who hadn’t figured out flying until their teens, or even later.  But there was hardly anything written down about how they’d finally figured it out.  They were just “late bloomers”, and nopony had ever really bothered to find out why that was.  Not every earth pony found their connection to the earth right away, either – and again, nopony knew why, and hardly anypony had ever seriously tried to find out.

What it all seemed to come down to was this:  if you weren’t a unicorn, you were pretty much on your own as far as figuring out how to make your kind of magic work.  Trial and error, sifting through well-meaning (and as often as not, completely inconsistent) advice from family and friends, until you finally found something that worked for you.

And none of it was working for me.

Well... Twilight took that as a challenge.  She had all three kinds of magic now, and she wanted to know how her new pegasus and earth-pony magics worked... and if she couldn’t find out from a book, then by Celestia, she’d find out for herself how they worked, and she’d do it scientifically.  One thing I quickly learned about Twilight Sparkle, from spending so much time around her over the next few months, was that she loved doing research and solving problems – and this was a doozy of a research problem, one she could really sink her hooves into.

And it darn near killed me.

Okay, not really, but between Rainbow Dash making me do wing exercises every morning, running me through training drills to build up my strength and endurance and teach me finer control over my wings, then spending half the day being poked and prodded by Twilight while she tried all kinds of different ways of mapping the magic flows in our bodies, then more exercises in the evenings... Just a week of that was enough to drive me bananas, and we’d hardly even gotten started.

And oh, yeah, I found out exactly what that “exam table” was for, too.  So did Rainbow Dash, and you’d better believe she didn’t like being strapped down for what Twilight called “baseline magic-flow mapping” at all!  But she put up with it, for my sake.  (Dash, you really are the best big sister ever.)  It wasn’t really bad... it didn’t hurt or anything.  It was just uncomfortable, and kinda awkward.  But I didn’t care about that.  I’d spend every day strapped to that table if I had to, if it’d help me to fly...

It didn’t come to that, but it did get crazy for a while, especially when she started asking some of her other friends to get “mapped”, too.  I think they thought she was losing her marbles again.  But my friends, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle, didn’t hesitate for a second to be “Cutie Mark Crusaders Research Assistants!” if it would help me, so their sisters couldn’t exactly refuse either.  My friends were especially valuable to Twilight, she said, because they were only just learning to tap their own special magics too, so they ended up on that “exam table” almost as often as I did... and never complained once.  “Scoot, Ah’d dance a slow waltz with Diamond Tiara, if it’d get you flyin’,” Applebloom said to me once.  I couldn’t ask for better friends than that.

Summer ended, and the work got twice as hard.  Workouts with Rainbow Dash in the morning, go to school, Twilight’s library every other evening, homework at night.  Not just Miss Cheerilee’s homework, but homework from Twilight, too.  I had to study so hard... harder than I’d ever imagined, harder than my worst nightmares sometimes!  Little by little Twilight was cracking the riddle of how pegasus magic worked, and I had to learn enough math and science to keep up with her.  I had to.  She was working so hard, doing so much to try to help me, and I was not going to just be some impatient filly pestering her for answers when I didn’t even know enough to ask the right questions.  I wanted to be useful, and I was sick of not knowing why I couldn’t fly, why nothing had worked for me even though it worked for everypony else...

So I asked her to teach me everything.  To explain it all to me, and help me to understand why.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I asked her for that.

But oh, horseradish, did I find out.  I had no idea it was all so... complicated!  Math, physics, biology, meteorology, aerodynamics, thaumaturgy (I had to look those last ones up just to spell them!) and so much more...  and it all weaves together like a spider’s web.  Like those funny wooden dolls from Stalliongrad where you open up one and find another one inside, and then there’s another one inside that, and another, and another.  Every answer just led to another question...

And Celestia help me... I started liking it.  I wanted to know more.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t kidding when I said it felt like my brain was melting out of my ears half the time.  I had crazy nightmares about being lost in endless mazes made out of books; or of being turned into a book and being chased by writing quills trying to scribble all over me; or that I was trapped inside the schoolroom with a zillion clones of Twilight Sparkle and Miss Cheerilee outside, trying to give me tests, and the only way I could escape was to solve some huge complicated math problem that filled the whole chalkboard – and every time I tried to read one part of it, the other parts would change while I wasn’t looking at them, and I had to keep starting all over again...

(Yeah... in hindsight, watching The Thing From Another World while chowing down on a whole bag of Flaming-Hot Cheezy Haycrisps just before bedtime?  When my brain was already fried from one of Twilight’s math lessons?  Bad idea.  Just... trust me on this.)

But then there would be that moment when I would finally get my head around something she was trying to teach me, and I’d see that look of pride on her face when I could finally show her that I got it, that I finally understood what she was talking about... and those moments would make all the brain-melting nights worth it.  Twilight was proud of me.  Dash was proud of me.  You can’t imagine how awesome that felt.  After all the screw-ups, all the failures... I was finally doing something right.  Maybe I wasn’t flying yet, but at least I was doing something right...

Yeah, that’s right.  I admit it.  I found out I actually liked learning things.  I liked knowing stuff.  It’s actually pretty wicked cool to be able to look at things and be able to say to myself, “I know why that works.  I know why that happens.  I know why you hear the thunderafter you see the lightning, and never the other way around.”  It feels pretty darn awesome, actually, to able to build a stunt ramp for my scooter, and get it right the first time because I know, now, why it has to be this long, at this angle, if I want it to send me this high, and thisfar, and that if I build it any other way, it won't work...

Who would’ve ever thought somepony like me would have an “inner egghead”, huh?

But you know what?  It’s okay to know stuff.  Just knowing stuff doesn’t turn you into some kind of boring, know-it-all nerd.  Justlearning all those things didn’t make me any different than I was before...

Well, okay, it kinda did – but in a good way.

‘Cause learning all that stuff is what finally taught me how to find the magic inside me and let it out.   Learning all that stuff finally taught me how to unlock the box...

 

    

 

 

— — === — —

 

 

    

 

“Come on, just one more time?”

“Ugh!  Come on, guys, I’m really getting hungry!  Aren’t you guys hungry by now?  Lunch was, like, forever ago!”

“You’re always hungry, Dash,” Twilight chuckled.

“Hey, pegasuses have high metala-whatevers, and stuff,” Dash shot back.

“Metabolisms,” I said, feeling a warm glow at the proud look Twilight gave me for knowing that –  holy horsefeathers, when did I turn into Sweetie Belle?  I thought she was the walking dictionary around here... – and giggling a little to myself at the way she always winced whenever Dash said “pegasuses” instead of “pegasi.”  Sometimes I think Dash does that on purpose, just to annoy her.

“C’mon, Twilight, just one more?” I pleaded again, turning to her.  “I almost had it that time, I know I did!  I felt it!  That little thread of fire inside, just like you said?  I felt it, right down in here... I caught it, and I could feel it starting to push out to my wings, Twilight!  I know I did!” I said urgently.  A couple of weeks ago, while the three of us had been preening our wings together after another hard day’s practice, she’d told me all about the first time she’d used her magic – her unicorn magic, that is – and had tried to describe how it’d felt when she’d caught hold of it for the first time.  A little thread of fire inside, she’d said, and if you could catch it and guide it to just the right spot, like touching a match to the kindling in a fireplace, the flame would catch, and then it would spread...  and then you would just sort of imagine yourself pushing that “magic flame” where you wanted it to go, and if you could keep it held tight in your mind, and push it in just the right way...

Well, you know Twilight.  That thought sparked another, and another, and next thing you know, she had another blackboard full of equations and whole new theory she wanted to test.  Ever since then, we’d been trying to see if maybe I could feel anything similar inside me, and catch my “pegasus magic” the same way.  More afternoons lying on that table, wired up to some crazy gadget, using something called “bio-feedback” to try to increase my awareness of what was going on inside my body as I tried to find that thread.  At first, it didn’t seem like it was going to work any better than anything else we’d tried – but I kept at it anyway, and after a while, I discovered that I couldmake the little lights and dials on Twilight’s machines blink and wiggle on command, if I concentrated just right.  That might not seem like much... but it was something, and it was more than I’d gotten out of anything else we’d tried so far, so at least it gave me some shred of hope that maybe – just maybe – there was something there that I could actually use, if I could just figure out the secrets those lights and dials were trying to tell me whenever I searched for that thread of fire I hoped was somewhere inside me...

...And today, somehow – darned if I know how – I was sure I was finally on to something.  All afternoon, I’d had the sense that I’d found... something.  I wasn’t quite sure what it was, at first, but there was something inside me, something I was getting closer and closer to each time.  Something I couldn’t quite see, something just barely outside the reach of my hoof or wing, but I knew it was there... and over the last few practice runs, diving and gliding over the lake, I’d suddenly realized what it was I'd found.  It was that little thread of fire, just like Twilight had described it.  Like a funny kind of itch in the back of my mind that seemed to get itchier whenever I pushed a certain way... and I’d almost caught it this last time.  I was sure of it.  I was so close to it, I could taste it.

Twilight looked at me for a moment, then finally nodded.  “Let her try it one more time, Dash.”

Rainbow Dash grumbled a little, but I knew she wasn’t upset with me.  She was just really hungry.  “Okay, one more time, squirt,” she said.  “But that’s it, all right?  Seriously, Scoot, I’m about to start munching on my saddlebags here!”

“Okay, okay!” I said, already setting myself into position.  I was getting tired and hungry myself, but darn it, I was so close...  I’d almost had it on that last try, I just needed to find the thread one more time...

“Ready...”

This time, I’m gonna do it...

“Set...”

I almost had it last time.  This time...

“GO!!”

I took off galloping, stretching out my wings, pumping them in broad strokes...

...and there it is again.  Feel it?  That little thread of fire, way down deep inside?  That funny itch in your mind that you can’t quite scratch?  That’s the magic.  It’s got to be.  All you need to do is catch it, Scoot... carefully... focus, don’t let it go, catch it and push it out to the wings, that’s it, just a little more... just a little more... you almost had it last time, just catch it... you’ve almost got it, just keep it tight in your mind, don’t let it go, push it outwards, you’ve almost got it, Scoot, you’ve  –

“Scoot!  You’re doing it!  You’re doing it!!

I snapped back to reality as I heard the excitement in Dash’s voice.  I’d galloped right off the edge of the low cliffside overlooking the lake, pumping my wings as hard and fast as I could while trying to grab that thread of magic and force it out to my wings, just like a hundred times before, and...

...Oh... my... gosh...

...the water wasn’t getting closer and closer – it was getting further away!  Every pump of my wings was taking me up, not down!  I was going up!  I was flying!

You could’ve heard my squeal of joy all the way back to Ponyville.

I rode the air, laughing, flying higher and higher – flying! – with my “big sister” right beside me, sharing my victory.  Okay, I probably didn’t get much higher than fifteen, maybe twenty feet above the lake, at most – but to me, it was the top of the world.  I stretched out my wings to glide, letting myself descend until my hooves barely skimmed the surface of the lake, then pulled up and started pumping my wings again, banking into a turn at the top of my ascent, ready to head back to the cliff edge...

...and then I lost it.  The thread snapped, and I was falling again.  Dash quickly dove under me, and I landed on her back, riding her back down to earth, just like a hundred times before...

But this time was different.  Because just for a moment, I’d had it.  I’d tasted it.

Just for a moment... I’d been free.

And I knew I could do it again.  I knew it.  I’d finally found the key that unlocked the box...

We landed next to Twilight.  “Did you see it, Twi?” Dash cried happily, as the three of us hugged and laughed and slapped each other on the backs with our wings.  “Did you see it?  She did it!  She did it!”

“I... I did it...” Suddenly, I could hardly believe it myself.  “I really did it...”

“You sure did, squirt.  I’m so proud of you!  I always knew you could do it.  How did it feel?”

“It felt... awesome!  It was like... like...”  I couldn’t even find the words.

Dash grinned and nodded.  “Yeah... it’s totally like that.”  She hugged me tightly again, nuzzling the top of my head.  “Welcome to the sky, ‘little sister’.  You did it.”

Twilight gave me a nuzzle as well... then suddenly let go and stepped back a few paces, with a mischievous look in her eyes.  She spread her wings wide... and bowed, stretching her forelegs out in front of her and bringing her head all the way down to her hooves.  “Well done, my faithful student,” Twilight said, giving me that proud smile she always gave me when I finally got it.  And I knew she was happy for me.  “Well done.”

 

    

 

 

— — === — —

 

 

    

 

I’m so proud of you, Scootaloo... Well done.

That was the best, most awesome, proudest moment of my whole life.  I’ve flown dozen and dozens of times since then, getting better every time, until now I can take off, fly, and land at will.  I can fly up to the clouds, move them around, and walk on them.  I even know how to do some of Dash’s flashy stunt maneuvers – the simpler ones, anyway – almost as well as she can do them.  But nothing has ever been more awesome than that one short flight over the lake, that moment when I finally got it right, and saw the pride and happiness for me in their eyes...

I can hear them coming up behind me now.  Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash, their hooves rustling through the grass behind me, chatting about something.  I bet they’re surprised to see me already here ahead of them like this.  Well, they’re in for an even bigger surprise today.

“Oh, good morning, Scootaloo!”  Twilight’s voice calls out to me, warm and happy.

“Hey, morning, squirt!  Ready to do some serious flying?”  Rainbow, cocky and brash, always up for a challenge.

Without even looking back, I set myself into launch position, braced on all four hooves, wings extended.  “I was born ready,” I reply, matching her cocky attitude.

“That’s the spirit, Scoot!  How about we warm up with some – whoa!!”  I hear her cry of surprise as I suddenly take off galloping and launch myself into the air like a fireworks rocket, my wings buzzing furiously as I angle myself upwards to climb hard and fast, heading straight for the clouds.  I’ve launched myself into the air a hundred times now, just like this, since my first flight... and it still hasn’t lost the thrill of victory, that sense of pure freedom, as I leave the ground behind.

After being grounded for so long... I, Scootaloo, can finally fly.

And today, I’m gonna do much more than that.

They launch themselves into the air after me, and I can already sense Rainbow Dash coming up fast behind me, gaining on me.  In just a few heartbeats, she’s right alongside me, her powerful wings pumping the air as she turns to give me a challenging grin.  Twilight Sparkle is well behind Dash, and it takes her longer to catch up to us.

“Gonna be like that, huh?” Dash calls out, laughing.  “Fine!  Race ya to the clouds, guys!  Last one to five thousand buys lunch – and make sure you get my daffodil sandwiches with extra mustard on rye bread, you slowpokes!”

“Oh, it... is... on!” I hear Twilight laughing behind us.  Twilight and I may not be able to pull the kind of high-speed stunts and fancy trick moves Dash does, but thanks to all the weeks of practice and training exercises Dash has made both of us do, we can at least do pretty respectably in a purely straight-line race now.  I might not be able to beat Dash – yet! – but on a good day I can make her have to work for it a little if she wants to win, now.

And today is a good day.  I don’t say anything, I just keep pumping my own wings, higher and higher, feeling the magic surging through them as I gain altitude and speed.  Dash starts to pull away, and on any other day I’d crank up the wingpower and try to match her.  But today, I’ve got a bigger goal than daffodil sandwiches in mind, so I pace myself, enough to keep ahead of Twilight, but not pushing myself to the limit too fast or too soon.  I’ll be pushing my limits soon enough.

At five thousand feet, Rainbow Dash slows to a hover, laughing at her victory as Twilight and I catch up to her... then whinnies in surprise again as I rocket past without stopping or slowing down.  Five thousand isn’t nearly high enough for me; by my calculations, using the math and science Twilight taught me and my own estimates of what I can do from my practice flights, I need at least ten.  Twelve would be better; fifteen thousand feet, more than enough.  So that’s where I’m going.  Fifteen thousand feet straight up.

I really must have caught them by surprise; I make it almost all the way to fifty-five hundred feet before they give chase, and nearly six thousand before they catch up to me again.  “Hey, Scoot!  What gives?” Rainbow calls out.

“I’m going for it,” I say, calmly.

“Going for what?” Twilight asks me.

“Yeah, going for...”  Out of the corner of my eye I can see Rainbow’s expression change as she catches on.  There’s only one “it” I could possibly mean.  The “it” I’ve been longing to do ever since they started teaching me to fly; the “it” I’ve dreamed of doing ever since she’s known me.  The “it” that will prove once and for all that I, Scootaloo, do command the sky, just like my hero.  “Whoa.  Seriously?”

Seven thousand feet.

“I’m gonna do it, Dash,” I say.  No hesitation, no uncertainty, just a statement of fact.

“What’s she talking about, Rainbow?”

“Are you sure, Scoot?” Rainbow Dash asks, ignoring Twilight.

Seventy-five hundred.

I glance over at Dash, and for a second our eyes meet.  She’s worried about me, I can tell.  Worried that I’m pushing too hard, too soon, that I’m about to do something reckless and foolish.

Maybe I am.

But I’m still gonna do it.

“Dash!”  Twilight calls impatiently.  “Scootaloo!  What’s going on?”  She doesn’t know.  It would never occur to her to do something like this.  She’d make a zillion-point checklist in triplicate, analyze it down to the smallest detail, and schedule it six weeks in advance before she’d even think about doing it.  She just doesn’t know what it is to dare yourself, to push yourself to the limit, to risk it all just because you need to prove to yourself that you can.

Eight thousand.

I see Dash’s expression change.  She gets it.  And she knows she won’t be able to talk me out of it.  Whatever it is she’s seeing in my face right now – stubbornness, iron determination, or just the recklessness of a young filly who’s eager to prove herself to her mentor – she knows I’m not gonna change my mind.  She’ll have to throw herself in front of me to stop me.  And I know she won’t do that, because she understands me.  She knows I have to try, give it everything I’ve got, push myself right to the edge...  

She understands... because that’s what she would do.

“You sure you want to do this, Scoot?” she asks me, just barely loud enough for me to hear.

I just keep flying, without saying a word.  She already knows the answer to that question, no need to waste breath saying it out loud.

Eighty-five hundred.

Dash suddenly gives me a big grin and a nod.  “Then go for it, squirt.  Crack the sky.”  And just like that, she breaks off her pursuit and peels off in a slow, lazy arc back towards the ground, motioning for Twilight to follow her.  “See you down on the ground!  C’mon, Twilight!”

“What?  But... what about Scootaloo?  We need to be up here with her!” Twilight says.

“She’ll be fine, Twi...”  Their voices fade into the distance behind me.  I don’t worry about them.  Dash will get Twilight to follow her back down to the ground one way or another.  Dash understands.  Twilight doesn’t, yet, but she will.

Nine thousand feet, and I push on alone, heading for the clouds.

Ten thousand.  I could start my run now, and by my calculations, by Twilight’s math and science, it should be enough.  Dash would cut it as close as possible, of course... but I’m not Rainbow Dash.  Not yet.  So I keep going.  I’d rather play it safe than risk failing.  I’ve had enough failure to last me a lifetime, and I will not fail today.  

Eleven thousand.

The air is getting thinner with every wingbeat upwards, and I can feel my lungs laboring as I pump my wings, driving myself upward, higher and higher, towards my goal.  I feel the magic inside me adjusting itself to keep me going, to keep me alive, keep me flying to even greater heights in a place where no pony should be able to do what we do, and no other ponies can do what we do.  Only a pegasus can go this high.

Twelve thousand feet.

I can’t help feeling a little nervous as I continue to climb.  I’ve never been this high before on my own.  Even with Dash, I’ve only been here a few times.  Part of me wishes she and Twilight had kept following me, just so I could hear their voices – but I know it’s better this way.  This is something I need to do on my own.  That’s why Dash turned around and took Twilight with her, instead of following me up.  She gets it.  She understands...

...and better still, she believes I can do this.  I know she does, because she’s the Element of Loyalty, and she would never have turned back and left me alone if she had any doubt that I could do this.

I concentrate on that thought, forcing any lingering doubt or uncertainty out of my mind.  Rainbow Dash, my hero, my “big sister”, the Element of Loyalty and the greatest flier in all Equestria, believes that I, Scootaloo, can fly...  She believes that I can fly to the top of the world, and that I can crack the sky.

And I believe it too.  I can... and I will.

Thirteen thousand...

It’s cold up here.  Funny how that works.  Most ponies don’t understand how it could be colder, higher up.  It doesn’t make sense to them.  You’re closer to the sun up here, they think, so shouldn’t it be warmer?  Even a lot of pegasi don’t really know the reason for it, they just know that’s the way it is, the way it’s always been.

But I know why.  Twilight’s books taught me.  It’s because the air is like layers of blankets on a winter’s night, keeping the world toasty-warm underneath it.  Going high up in the air is like kicking off the blankets.  With fewer and thinner blankets between you and the winter, you feel colder.  Egghead stuff.  But because I understand it, I have no fear of it, even as the air grows colder and colder around me as I keep going higher...

Fourteen thousand...

It’s windy, too.  Up here, the air is alive with cross-currents and jetstreams, all pushing in different directions.  Almost as if the air senses what I’m about to do to it, it tries to catch me with a vicious crosswind, trying to divert me from my course, and it takes every bit of the flight skills Dash drilled into my head to read the changes in the air and ride them out.  One wrong move up here could wrench my wings, knock me off course, send me tumbling out of control in a dozen directions.  It’s not safe here, this high up.

Fifteen thousand feet.  Nearly three miles in the air.  Three times as high as Cloudsdale.  The highest I’ve ever flown.

I should be worried.  I should be nervous, flying so high, alone...

But I’m not.  Because I am a pegasus, and this is where I belong.  Where every pegasus belongs.  To a pegasus, the cold, the wind, the thinness of the air – air which not even the hardiest and most well-conditioned of earth ponies or the most powerful of unicorns could survive in for even a minute without strong magic spells to protect them – means nothing.  Because to us, the air is our element.  Our magic.  Ours to command.  We fly higher, farther, faster than almost any other creature.  We shape the clouds to our design, we call forth their rain and lightning at will, and we control the skies like no other creature of Equestria can.

And here, now, as I hover at the top of the world... I know, deep in my heart, down in my very soul, that today the clouds, the sky, the air itself, are mine to command.  Not will be, or might be, or could be...  They are.

I hold onto those thoughts, keeping them tight.  Holding them even tighter than I used to hold my favorite blanket when I was little.  There can be no room for doubt, now.  Not with what I’m about to do.

I am Scootaloo.  I am a pegasus.  I command the sky, and the air is mine...

And today I, Scootaloo... the pegasus who couldn’t fly... will light the sky on fire.

I hold those thoughts tight as I begin my dive.  Within moments, the air is whipping past me at tremendous speed, faster and faster, pulling at my wings, my mane, my tail... fighting me.  Resisting me.

Not today.  Today, the sky is mine, and the air will obey me.

I feel the pressure starting to build, and I focus my mind on the task in front of me.  I’ve spent night after night studying this, my nose buried in books while I struggled through the math and science of it, trying to wrap my brain around the secrets.  I’ve spent days –weeks – practicing this, trying to put the secrets to use, to feel the box within me opening up to release the flows of magic when I want them.  And I feel that power spreading across my wings now.  The magic of the pegasus, which bends the air to our will, enables us to fly, to command the skies to do our bidding, to do the impossible in flight as easily as a unicorn levitates a teacup or an earth pony grows a carrot patch.  I feel it... a sensation of power, an energy spreading across my wings like warm sunshine, except the warmth is coming from somewhere deep inside me, like the glow of an oil lamp after it’s been lit, burning brighter and brighter as the flame begins to catch on the wick...

feel it... and I know, now, why it happens.  I sense the magic in the box by instinct, but I understand it through knowledge.  Through understanding, comes control; and through control, comes the ability to open the box, to send the magic where I need it to go.  Along the edges of my wings, out to the tips... through the primary feathers... and now comes the tricky part.  Grasp the magic with my mind, and visualize myself pushing it outwards... forcing it into the air itself, in a very particular way...

A bubble of air around me begins to hum with power, and then to glow, charging itself with the magic of a pegasus in flight – mymagic, streaming off my wings under my control, channeled and harnessed, to be stored up and released in one glorious burst...

“Blasting, billowing, bursting forth, with the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes...”

Now where did that silly-sounding thought come from?  Something from a foal’s nursery rhyme?  From Miss Cheerilee’s class, when we were doing poetry assignments last month?  That trippy music Vinyl Scratch plays?  (Surrealistic?  That’s the word Twilight Sparkle would use.)  Some random comment Pinkie Pie said once?  Yeah, that sounds like something she would say.  It’s goofy and totally random, completely ridiculous... and it fits perfectly.  I like it.  Ten billion butterfly sneezes, and every one of them at my command...

I let myself have a slight chuckle at the randomness of my brain – or Pinkie’s brain, more likely – and then dismiss it, driving that thought out of my head along with all the rest as I build up speed, pulling myself into the outstretched, minimum-drag position I’ve practiced day after day after bone-weary day until I could do it in my sleep.  I think of nothing else.  There must be nothing else at this moment.  Just me, and the air, the magic streaming off my wings, and the pressure wave forming just off the tips of my outstretched forehooves as I lock my body into position...

...mine to command...

The wave becomes a cone, narrowing, condensing, tightening, crackling as pegasus magic pours into it, forcing the air to shape itself to my needs, to give way to me, to do as I command it to do, rather than what Twilight’s books on natural laws say it should.  Using the magic of the pegasus to bend the sky... because now that I know why it works, I know how to make it work.  I know.

...the sky is mine...

It hurts.

Oh, Celestia, it hurts.  The air is resisting me, fighting me.  I’m forcing it to do something it doesn’t naturally want to do, and so it’s trying to make me back off, force me to give up, by hurting me.  The pressure cone is on fire with the energy pouring into it, and my forehooves feel like I’ve just dunked them into boiling water.  My wings are burning with the strain as the hurricane-strength wind blasting past my body threatens to dislocate the joints if I make a single wrong move, my tail feels like something is trying to pull it out by the roots, and at these speeds even the dust in the air stings my body like a whole hive of angry bees.

And I understand why.  I understand the forces tearing at my body and straining my wings, the reasons for the vicious pulling at my tail because of the gap of emptier-than-empty space I’m leaving in my wake as I dive faster than the air can follow, and the reasons why the compressed magic at my forehooves feels like holding on to red-hot coals even though it’s not really burning me at all... and because I understand them...

...I have no fear of them.  I control them.

The air is mine...

I hold that thought tight and push through the pain, accepting it as the price of what I’m demanding from the outraged air, then dismissing it.  There’s no room for it now.  No matter how much punishment, how much pain, the air inflicts on me as it tries to resist me... the air will not win.  It will not win.  I won’t let it.  Not this time.  I, Scootaloo, will win this battle, and the air will yield to me, and I willcrack the sky.

Hold that thought.  I will...!  There is no place for anything else.  Not now.  No place for failure, no place for “almost.”  No place for “maybe next time.”  Not today.

The air burns.  It glows, until it’s almost too much to look at, nearly blinding me as I channel more and more power into it, forcing the pressure cone to tighten still more.  The ice-cold fire of crackling magic trying to escape from the cone strikes the leading edge of my wings with angry lightning bolts as I force the air to bend to my will, charging it with pegasus magic, then overcharging it, supersaturating it, pushing us both to the breaking point...

But I will not be the one who breaks.  Not today.

I summon up every bit of physical and magical strength I’ve got, driving myself to go even faster still.  Reaching for the speed of sound, something which Twilight’s books say no living creature can attain naturally...  reaching for the impossible, holding tightly to one thought, focused on one goal...

...the sky is mine to command...

Blasting...

The pressure cone is eye-searing brightness, like staring into Celestia’s sun...

...and it will obey me...

The lightning-bolt crackles of magic, the hurricane-force wind cutting through my coat and mane, the ache of every muscle, every bone, every nerve strained to the limit, makes my body feel like it’s on fire...

..billowing...

Freezing, burning, ice-cold, boiling-hot pain, burning me alive, as I blaze across the sky...

...the sky is mine...

The pain is excruciating... and the pain means nothing to me, because...

...I am Scootaloo...

...bursting forth...

...reaching for the impossible...

...the air is my element...

twist the magic in my hooves...

...and at my command...

...with the power of ten billion butterfly sneezes...

...the air...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...shatters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a glass Hearthwarming-tree ornament falling on the floor...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like a snowball hitting the side of our clubhouse...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like striking a slab of peanut brittle with my hoof...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...the air shatters around me as the searing pressure cone at my forehooves finally gives way, splitting open, ripping a hole in the sky.  In less than a heartbeat my body slips through the jagged gap I’ve torn into the burning air, and a massive thunderclap explodes right behind my hindhooves as I clear the gap with barely a horseshoe to spare.  The surge of exploding magic sends a strange, tingly shock all the way down to my bones, and I can already sense the blast wave coming after me.  Chasing me like a hungry timber-wolf, like an enraged manticore, coming to shred my wings with its savagery, to tear me apart and devour me, if it catches me...

But it won’t.  Because I am Scootaloo.  I’ve had the two best teachers a pegasus filly could ever ask for.  I am a true pegasus...  I am in my element, I command the sky...

...and I’ve already won.

Even as the leading edge of the blast wave touches the tip of my tail, I’m rocketing away with a magic-fueled burst of speed I’ve barely even dreamed of before, the whole world smearing into a blur of colors flashing past my eyes far too fast to see.  Instinct and reflexes take over now, as the ground rushes up to meet me.  Leveling off, rushing headlong in a mad dash for safety, dodging every treetop, every boulder, every obstacle as it flashes past before I’m even aware of it being there at all.

The raging fury of the exploding air behind me has no chance.  It never did.

Even so, I don’t dare look back.  I want to.  I want to look back and see what I’ve done, see if I really pulled it off...  but I understand, I know, that I mustn’t do it.  At the incredible speed I’m pulling right now, any sudden disruption in the flow of air and magic around me could do in an instant what the shattered air behind me failed to do.  Break my legs or my back, tear my wings from my body in a heartbeat, break my neck, if I don’t stay in the “minimum-drag position” that, thanks to Twilight’s patient lecturing and testing and Rainbow’s endless flight drills, I now understand the critical significance of.  And if I slow down enough to turn around, the shockwave could still catch me if I’m not far enough away from it yet, and I have no way of knowing if I am since I don’t dare look back to see if I’ve left it behind...

Instead, I force my aching, stinging, strained body to pull up, rocketing towards the clouds once more.  I know the shockwave expands as a sphere, like blowing up a balloon or a soap bubble.  Twilight taught me this.  Miss Cheerilee taught us this too, in one of her science lessons  – but Twilight made me understand the significance of it.  Made me learn enough of that wretched, mind-numbing, brain-melting “algebra” and its doubly-cursed evil sibling, “geometry”, to know.  I keep a picture of that expanding bubble in my head as I seek safety in altitude as well as distance, steering the escape course that will keep me outside of it.

Except that it’s not really a bubble.  It’s more like an expanding cloud of steam, getting cooler and thinner as it... as it dissipates.  That’s the word.  The larger the area it has to fill, the less substance it has.  The Gas Laws say so.  For any given amount of gas – or air – Pressure times Volume is a constant named k.  PV=k.  If the amount of Volume it occupies increases, its Pressure mustdecrease.  Basic magic theory (and I’ll bet you won’t find very many pegasi who know this!) says a ball of compressed magic force, detonated, follows the same rule.  And since geometry – that evil nightmarish thing that made my brain hurt for weeks – insists that the expanding sphere of the shockwave is an ever-increasing volume, then algebra – geometry’s even more evil twin brother – demands that the pressure of the explosion inside that sphere must be decreasing.

Egghead stuff.  Twilight taught me all of these things, made me learn them... and thanks to her, I understand what it all means.  It means the raging demon I’ve let loose behind me can only chase me so far before it no longer has the strength to harm me.  That what can shatter windows and knock ponies off their hooves at ten feet, becomes no more than a stiff gust of wind at a hundred, and a mere butterfly sneeze at a thousand...

Finally, some inner sense tells me that the magic-charged airburst’s burning rage has spent itself, the expanding cloud has cooled and dissipated.  The demon has lost its strength.  I feel it, because I am a pegasus in my element, at one with the sky and the air... and I know it, because the math and science Twilight poured into my head tells me so.  I’m safe.  I’ve won.

I’ve won!

I finally allow myself to slow down, pulling into another vertical quarter-turn that has me flying back the way I came, executing a one-eighty degree roll to make the whole world swing around me until I’m flying right-side up again.  A perfect Immelmare “roll-off-the-top” turn, the first stunt-flying maneuver Rainbow Dash ever taught me.  Then, and only then, do I turn my head towards the blast point, to I see that I...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...I didn’t make the Sonic Rainboom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made something else.

The patch of sky I ripped apart is blazing with twin rings of light, one inside the other, boiling with every shade of orange and purple there is, like an... like an exploding sunrise.  I can’t think of any other words for it.  Everything from rusted iron to fresh carrots to orange-smoothie ice cream, fresh lavender flowers and raspberries and royal purple velvet, all of them shining like Celestia’s sun.  Their outer edges burning with shades of orchids and tangerines as rich as one of Pinkie Pie’s quadruple-chocolate hot-fudge brownie sundaes, fading to tints of thistles and peaches as pale as Sweetie Belle’s coat at the center...  all of those shades and more, shimmering across the morning sky in an ever-expanding double ring of colored fire.  And radiating from the trailing edges of my wings all the way back to the blast point, two perfectly-formed ribbons of pure orange and violet light, as bright as lightning, throwing firefly sparkles of gold and amethyst everywhere.

It’s not a Rainboom...

...but it’s still the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

Because it’s mine.

After all these months of trying... after all the hard work, all the practicing, all the studying... all those years of being taunted as the “flightless wonder”, the “dodo”, the pegasus filly who couldn’t fly...

I, Scootaloo, have lit the sky on fire.

 

    

 

 

— — === — —

 

 

    

 

“That... was... awesome!  Rainbow Dash is shouting, laughing, as she scoops me up into a congratulatory hug the second my hooves touch the ground.  “I knew you could do it, Scoot!  I knew it!  Didn’t I tell you she could do it, Twi?”

Twilight is just sitting there, staring in amazement at the twin rings of fire still blazing across the morning sky, their shimmering colors only just now starting to fade.  And centered on the blast point, a looped ribbon of light, forming a figure-eight lying on its side.  The awesome explosion of colored fire was for Dash... the sideways figure-eight loop, the symbol of infinity, is for Twilight.  My “thank-you” gift to both of my teachers and mentors, for making my dream come true at last.  For helping me to fly.

I slide free of Rainbow’s embrace, and trot over to wrap my hooves around Twilight’s neck, hugging her gratefully.  She blinks and looks down at me, with astonishment and pride... and gratitude.  She knows that symbol of infinity in the sky is for her.  “You did it, Scootaloo...”

“I couldn’t have done it without you, Twilight,” I say honestly.  “All that stuff you taught me...”

She wraps me in her wings, holding tight...  and then, as some other ponies come galloping up the trail from Ponyville to find out what the horseradish just happened out here at the lake, she suddenly gets that mischievous look in her eyes again.  She lets go of me, and takes a couple of steps back...

...oh no, she wouldn’t...

Yes, she would.  Just like that day when I flew for the very first time, she spreads her wings wide... and with a playful wink, she bows to me, bringing her head all the way down to her hooves.  “Well done, my faithful student,” she says, loudly enough for everypony coming up the trail to hear.  “Well done!

Dash grins and gives her a playful punch on the shoulder.  “Oh, knock it off, ‘Princess’,” she laughs.  “You’re embarrassing her.”

Yes, she is.  It feels like I’m blushing all the way to my wing-tips!

But I don’t mind.  I did it for them, after all.

“I knew you had it in you, Scoot!” Dash says, laughing easily as we wrap each other up in our wings again.  “Didn’t I tell you you’d crack the sky one day?!”  She hugs me tight, nuzzling my head.  “I always had faith in you, ‘little sister’.  Always.  I knew you could do it.”

“I kinda wonder why it didn’t make a rainbow, though...” I say uncertainly.  “I thought I had it all worked out.  Maybe I should’ve had you check my figures, Twilight... and I can’t believe I just said that,” I add with a wry chuckle.  Horseradish, I’m turning into more of an egghead than I thought.

“That’s... actually a good question, Scootaloo,” Twilight says thoughtfully.  “I wonder if it has something to do with differences in your magic signatures?  Different unicorns have different aura colors when they use their magic, after all, so it seems like a reasonable hypothesis that pegasi and earth ponies might have different-colored signatures too.  We just don’t actually see them most of the time, because of the way they express their magic, but when you or Dash do something like that...  Ooh!  That adds a whole new set of variables I hadn’t even considered!  Chromatic variations in pegasus and earth-pony magic?  Who knows what implications that might have?”

Dash and I just look at each other, chuckling to ourselves, as Twilight lights up with enthusiasm at the idea of having another puzzle to solve.  Another mystery of the universe to pry into.  She lives for those, just like Dash and I live to fly.

“Aw, don’t sweat it, Scoot,” Dash says, giving me a nudge.  “What you did is twenty percent cooler than a Rainboom, anyway.”

“Really?” I ask, surprised.

“Absolutely!  Y’know why?  ‘Cause it’s yours, Scoot.”  I have to smile, as my hero confirms what I’d thought to myself a moment ago.  “That’s your special trick.  The Scootaloo Skyblaster.  And I hate to admit it, but... well...”  She pauses, and rubs the back of her head with a hoof.  “All that egghead stuff Twilight crammed into your brain?  At least it won’t take you ten years of trying before you figure out how to do it again.  You could go right back up there and do it again tomorrow if you wanted to.  That’s pretty darn cool all by itself, squirt.”

“The ‘Scootaloo Skyblaster’?” I can’t help it, I have to giggle at that.  “Seriously?”

“Ehh... we’ll work on it.”

“So... the student surpasses the master, Rainbow Dash?” Twilight asks, teasing Dash.

“Ha!  You wish!  You guys’ll have to get a lot better at stunt flying before – Whoa!”  Rainbow suddenly pushes me backwards, staring at something just behind me.  “Check it out!”

“What?  What is it?” I gasp, startled.

Twilight follows Dash’s gaze... and smiles that proud smile again.  “Look behind you, Scootaloo.”

No... It couldn’t be...

Slowly, I turn my head to look at my flank...  and there it is.  My cutie mark.  A brilliant orange figure-eight lying on its side, surrounded by bright purple flames forming the shape of outstretched wings.  Telling the whole world who I am.  

Telling the whole world that I am Scootaloo.  That I am full of potential...

...and the possibilities are infinite.

 

Author's Note:

Would you believe, this originally started out as just a short vignette to illustrate how to combine 1st-person past-tense and present-tense narratives in a story, the next time that question came up in one of the writers' forums?  Somewhere along the way, it kind of... grew.  What can I say, I have a soft spot for the little orange tomboy.

And yes, I know that as of "Rainbow Falls", Snowflake's official name is now Bulk Biceps.   Snowflake's funnier, though, so I'm not changing it. 

 

—credits—

 

• The title comes from a Jefferson Starship song.  The song has nothing to do with the story itself, or even with flying as such... but I liked the way it sounded, so I stole  borrowed the title anyway. 

• The song "Breakaway" by the Australian rock group Big Pig, from their debut album "Bonk", basically jump-started this whole story. ("All my life, I've wanted to fly / But I don't have the wings, and I wonder why / I can't break away...")

• The line about "ten billion butterfly sneezes" is from the poem "Higher and Higher", which opens the Moody Blues album "To Our Children's Children's Children".

• The vector art of Scoot hovering with that "determined badass" look on her face is originally from this image by Danmakuman, composited against a photograph of a blue sky.  And yes, I asked, and he's cool with it. 

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