Chapter 3: Thinking of Others
Well, so this was a ways back, right, when me and Flutters were still living up in Cloudsdale. I'd been out practicing as usual, and was working on high-speed terrain following just outside of Ponyville. As I was dodging through trees and skimming over rivers, I started to get pretty hungry. You do not want to be going as fast as I do and hit a tree, so I can't afford to be distracted by hunger.
Anyway, not too long before then, I'd found these awesome apple trees out on the edge of town and I'd often stop by there and borrow a couple of apples for a snack. And yeah, I probably owe AJ a few crates of apples, now that I think about it. At the time though...
Well, I won't say I didn't know any better, but who was gonna miss a couple of apples out of a whole orchard, right?
So yeah, I zoomed through all the rows of trees across the farm and snagged a few apples to snack on, then set up shop in a tree for a nap. When I woke up, it was late afternoon and I knew I had to be back in Cloudsdale for this evening class I was taking. And before you say anything, yes, I was taking classes. Even somepony as awesome as me can't join the weather team without knowing at least a little bit of meteorology and stuff.
Anyway... I was feeling pretty groggy after my nap, so I took the scenic route past the edge of Ponyville rather than zooming straight back to Cloudsdale. On the way I smelled, like, the most awesome thing ever. I slowed down and tracked it to these cupcakes sitting out on a window ledge. It was sticking out the back of this building in town, and so I pulled into a hover and went down to check it out. Turns out, it was a bakery—that old one before the Cakes remodeled— and since I had a few bits to spare, I thought I'd get something, and the sugar rush could help keep me awake during class. Besides, my stomach wouldn't let me pass up a smell that good. I set down and walked around to the front of the place, ready to go in, but the sign on the door said "Be back later." I was all set to leave, but right as I dusted off, the breeze shifted and the smell of those cupcakes shot directly into my brain. "It's a bakery," I thought. "Who's going to miss one cupcake?"
Now, I realize I should've left a couple bits to pay for it or something, but I didn't think of that at the time. Instead, I just snatched one and took off. Not wanting anypony to see my free snack, I shot straight for Cloudsdale, figuring I could eat in peace once I set down on campus.
From the angle I came in at, the first thing I hit in Cloudsdale was the park on the edge of campus. It's kinda shared with the town, so there're swing sets and stuff for foals as well as a lot of benches and other grown-up park stuff too. It looked as good a place as any to eat a cupcake, so I landed and sat down on a bench near the swings. I was just about to take a big bite when I saw Fluttershy. She was over in the area usually meant for foals, and making something in the cloudbox. Oh right... so that's kinda like a sandbox, but for pegasi. It's filled with specially sifted cloudstuff that holds a shape way better than most normal clouds. That makes it easier for foals to sculpt and build things with it.
I was about to shout to her, but then I saw that she was looking sad. Well, even more sad than usual. You guys didn't know Flutters back then, but she had it pretty rough from the other foals when we were little, and, well... It got better after she got her cutie mark, but still... With her shyness, you can imagine she wasn't exactly miss popular in college either. Anyway, point is, she was looking even more sad than she usually did in those days. I may not have been the most honest pony back then, but I like to think I was still the most loyal. I couldn't just leave her like that, and I did have a cupcake in my hoof, so I thought super quickly and realized I needed a unicorn.
I saw a visiting professor walking across the far end of the park, so I zoomed over to him and asked him to relight the candle on the cupcake for me. He looked at me like I was a mad mare for a second, but then just shrugged and a spark leapt from his horn to the candle. I zoomed back towards Fluttershy, and... yeah, so there's like one thing not awesome about being so fast. Anyway, he was nice enough to light it a second time as well, and then I walked carefully back across the field to Fluttershy.
"Hey Flutters, want a cupcake?" I said.
She jumped and screamed. Well, quietly sorta kinda screamed. You know how she is. I guess I'd come up directly behind her, and with how awesomely careful I was being, I hadn't made any noise at all, so she hadn't realized I was right there until I said something.
"Here," I said, shoving the cupcake toward her face. "Make a wish!"
She said that it wasn't her birthday or anything, but I was all "When you know a pony as awesome as me, you don't have to wait for your birthday!"
Yeah, I know, that's pretty cheesy, but it's the thought that counts, right? Anyway, she blew out the candle and pretty much wolfed down the whole cupcake before I knew it. We talked for a couple minutes and she seemed to cheer up, which made me feel better too, even though I didn't get any of the cupcake. Then I realized I was late for class, so I told her bye and took off. And that's pretty much it.
"What do you mean, that's it?" Scootaloo said, flabbergasted. "That still doesn't explain anything about me!"
"Umm..." interjected Fluttershy. "Maybe I should tell my part now. If you, umm, if you all want to hear it."
"Of course we want to hear it!" Scootaloo shouted as she put both her front hooves on the table, leaning as far as possible toward Fluttershy. The filly's eyes were wide with determination, even though her voice sounded like it was about to give in to more sobs at any moment. "I've got to know what happened!"
Fluttershy's ears laid down and her pupils contracted as the obviously stressed little pegasus invaded her personal space. She quickly regained her composure though, and started recounting things from her angle.
Well, umm... you see... it was like Dashie said. I was having a really rough day. My history professor had told me she was going to have to fail me since I'd been absent too many times. I tried to tell her that I'd never missed a class, and that maybe I may have been too quiet during roll call, what with so many other ponies around, so she probably didn't hear me. She told me that was my own fault then, and went back to her paperwork. I wanted to argue, but I couldn't bring myself to actually say anything. She looked up and wanted to know if there was anything else, and... I just mumbled "thank you" and backed out of her office. Inside, it made me so angry. I'd thanked her when she was failing me unfairly and even being rude about it. I hated myself for being so timid, but still I just hung my head and walked away.
After that, I'd been late to remedial flight training, and it didn't go very well either. The coach yelled at me in front of everypony as soon I flew into the gym, and then that made all of them look right at me. I couldn't stand them staring like that so I looked away, but then I couldn't see where I was landing and ended up tripping over my own hooves and falling over. Even in a class full of bad fliers, they still all laughed at me. Then even the coach, asking why I was late, called me "Miss Cluttershy" and I just couldn't take it anymore. I burst into tears and went galloping out of the gym. I didn't care if I failed that class too at that point, I just had to get away from everypony looking down at me, so I ran to the biggest open space I could find, which was the park.
It was the middle of the day, so there weren't any foals around, but there were college students and faculty using the trotting paths and such. I ended up in the playground because it was the farthest I could get from everypony. I wasn't in any mood to swing, so I just sat down in the cloudbox, crying softly to myself.
After a while, I started tracing my hoof around in the cloudstuff, making little repeating patterns, watching it fall off my hoof when I held up a clump, and just doing anything to take my mind off all the mean ponies. I'm not sure exactly what led me to start building something, but I think it was mostly just something to occupy my hooves and mind. Before I knew it though, I'd formed a crude little cloud pony. I started talking to it, or really to myself I guess. I told it about the things that always went wrong for me, and how I hated being so timid, and a bad flier. The interesting thing was that it... well, it umm, kind of started to help me feel a bit better.
As I continued putting details on it, I started thinking how nice it would be to have a real friend that I could talk to, one who was like me. So as I modeled the cloud pony more, I started adding details. I decided she should be a pegasus, like me. She'd be lonely too, feeling outcast like I was. I gave her really small wings as well, because she'd be bad at flying like me. I thought that if I had someone just like me, they'd really understand all the problems I had, and I was making an imaginary friend to match. Then Rainbow Dash snuck up behind me and I nearly jumped out of my skin!
When I finally caught my breath, she was standing there beside the cloudbox, looking a bit embarrassed, and holding out a cupcake in one hoof. It was pink, covered in frosting, and had a single, lit candle on it. Then Dash told me to make a wish. I was really confused, as I had no idea why she'd give me a cupcake like that. I thought maybe she thought it was my birthday, and tried to apologize if I'd told her the wrong date. That's when she said, "When you know a pony as awesome as me, you don't have to wait for your birthday!"
I, umm... I know you think it sounded cheesy Dashie, but it really touched me when you said that, though it took a moment for it to sink in. I almost just blew out the candle right away, as I didn't want to disappoint some pony being nice to me, and after everything I'd been thinking for the past few hours there in the park, I had a wish pretty much ready to go too. But then my thoughts finally caught up to my ears and I really heard what Dash had just told me. I didn't need some new, imaginary friend. I already had friends, and knew ponies who cared about me, including one who really was awesome enough to bring me a cupcake, even when it wasn't my birthday.
When I thought about it like that, I felt guilty for being so self-indulgent. I knew lots of ponies had it so much worse than me. My thoughts went to a conversation I had with my mom a few weeks before that when I'd visited home. We'd been up late talking over tea, and she was telling me how awful she felt for one of her coworkers. The poor mare and her husband had been expecting a foal for months, and they'd both been so excited. Mom told me how she'd go on and on about the nursery they were adding, and about names she was thinking of. Then, about a week before Mom and I were talking... well, oh it makes me cry again now just thinking about it, but she'd had a miscarriage. To make it worse, the, umm... the doctors told her she'd probably not be able to have another foal again either. Mom was crying as she told me this, and of course I started crying too. It was just so sad.
So there I was, a couple of weeks later, feeling sad for myself just because I might fail a class or tripped in front of a couple of ponies who laughed at me. How could I possibly even think of wishing something for myself when my life was so good compared to so many others? Tears started to form in my eyes as I held that cupcake, and Dash was looking impatient, so I took a deep breath to blow out the candle. Like the others I'm not sure exactly what I wished for, I just know that in that moment, I just wanted that mare and her husband... that broken family... I wanted them to be happy.
"Wow," Rainbow said. "You never told me all that before. When I asked you what was wrong that day, you only told me about the teacher trying to fail you, and I told you I'd help you sort it out."
"Well, I ummm..." Fluttershy started to answer.
"And you wolfed down that cupcake in like two seconds, what was that about?"
Fluttershy blushed a bit, "I think, that umm, with all the moping, I may have skipped lunch that day."
"Classic!" Dash said, leaning back and laughing, causing Fluttershy to blush even more.
As she calmed down, Pinkie suddenly became the center of attention. "I knew it!" the pink mare proclaimed, one hoof high in the air, grinning. "I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you!" she said, dancing around on her hind legs, pointing at each of the other ponies in turn.
"Told us what?" Twilight asked.
"That's how you get aunts!"
"Do what now?" Applejack said, as confused as the rest.
"I told you, you never leave baked goods on a window sill, because that's how you get ants, and that's how you get aunts!"
"I'm still not followin' here, sugarcube."
"Scootaloo's mom's sister is an aunt, and Scootaloo doesn't have any brothers or sisters, so her mom's sister wasn't an aunt before, but now she is, because Fluttershy made a wish on a cupcake that Rainbow Dash stole because I left it on a window sill because..." Pinkie finished her proclamation on two knees in the center of the table, forehooves raised to the sky—or rather ceiling—and shouting quite loudly, "That's how you get aunts!"
Several seconds of silence followed, wherein Pinkie nonchalantly returned to her seat, apparently quite satisfied that she'd made her point.
"Well," Twilight spoke up. "I think that actually all makes sense... in a Pinkie sort of way." Most of the ponies in the room chuckled slightly at that, including Pinkie, who never passed up a chance to laugh, even at herself. There was one pony that didn't though.
The sniffling sounds coming from the filly beside her made Twilight turn and look down at Scootaloo. The pegasus had tears in her eyes and was trying to wipe them away with an already soaked fetlock.
"What's wrong, Scootaloo?" Twilight said, once again putting her wing around the filly to comfort her. Scootaloo batted it away and slid herself away from Twilight.
"That," she said, pointing at Twilight's wing. "That's what's wrong!"
"Whatever do you mean, darling?" Rarity said, now the closest pony to the filly.
"I... I can't fly," the filly choked out between sobs, then pointed an accusing hoof at Fluttershy. "I can't fly because she wanted a friend that was bad at flying!"
Fluttershy was taken aback by the accusation, the possible truth of it knifing straight to her heart. "I... I never meant..." Fluttershy stammered out.
"But you said it!" Scootaloo yelled at Fluttershy. "You said you gave me small wings so I'd be bad at flying! Just so you could feel better about yourself! Now look at me!"
At that, the orange filly reached back and pulled a wing out to full extension with her mouth, demonstrating how stunted it was, then let it slip from her teeth. "I hope you're happy!"
By then, Fluttershy was also in tears. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I... I never meant it like that at all."
Rarity stood up and spoke loudly. "Of course you didn't, dear! No pony is blaming you for anything."
She then turned to Scootaloo, just as the filly was about to insist that, yes, she was blaming Fluttershy.
"Come here, my dear," she said softly, and pulled the filly into a long hug. "Now," she continued, placing her own face level with Scootaloo. "Whatever gave you the idea that small wings would keep you from flying?"
Scootaloo looked confused, but the confusion was better than tears, so she took the bait and explained how all the foals at school had bigger wings, and could already fly.
"Oh darling, it's not just about wing size," Rarity said.
"But, what about..."
"Shhh... Just listen for a minute, let me explain. Now, who do you think is the better flier here, Rainbow Dash, or Fluttershy?"
"Ummm..." Scootaloo thought this had to be some sort of trick question, but answered anyway. "Well, Rainbow Dash. Duh!"
"I see..." Rarity said, cryptically. "And how about between Twilight and Rainbow Dash?"
Scootaloo actually snickered. She'd seen the newly ascended alicorn fall on her face several times as Dash had been giving her flight lessons. "Dash, of course."
"Interesting..." Rarity said, walking over to a set of drawers in the corner of the room. "Twilight, may I?"
The aforementioned alicorn thought she knew where Rarity might be going with this, and nodded. With that, Rarity levitated a rolled strip of cloth out and walked over to Twilight. By then, most of the other ponies in the room were nearly as confused as Scootaloo.
"Now dear," Rarity said, addressing Twilight. "If you'd be so kind?"
Twilight smiled and stood up, before stretching out her wings to full extension. Rarity unrolled the strip, revealing it to be a tape measure, and took measurements of both the overall span, as well as the length of each wing, making small ticks on the tape to record things. She, of course, already knew these measurements quite well, as she'd tailored several new dresses for Twilight's coronation. This show was merely for the benefit of the now wide-eyed pegasus filly. With the measurements complete, Twilight folded her wings and sat back at the table.
"Fluttershy, would you please step over here for a moment?"
The yellow pegasus demurely trotted around the table and spread her wings as well, though she was afraid to look Scootaloo in the eye, the accusations the filly had leveled still burning fresh in her mind.
"Thank you, dear," Rarity said, finishing her measurements and turning to Scootaloo. "If you look here, you can see that Fluttershy's wings are only an inch or so shorter than Twilight's. As Twilight's an alicorn though, that's actually quite impressive. Still though, I think we can all agree that they are both... well, no offense dearies, but less-than-stellar fliers, yes?"
Rarity knew she was probably hurting Fluttershy's feelings slightly with that remark, but it was for the greater good, and she'd make it up to her later.
"Ha, I know I certainly am!" Twilight said.
Rarity smiled, glad to see Twilight taking the attention off the shy pegasus.
"And of course," Rarity continued. "We all know Rainbow Dash is at least—I believe it's 'twenty percent cooler'—correct?"
Applejack snickered at the subtle jab, but it went right over Scootaloo's head, so she just responded, "Yeah, at least twenty percent cooler!"
"So then, I imagine we should expect her wings to be at least twenty percent larger, yes?"
Scootaloo, to her credit, was starting to catch on to where this might be going. Her own stubbornness—and unwavering adoration of Dash—won out though, and she wasn't going to back down this far in.
"Umm, sure," the filly said, then amended. "If you, umm... also take like weight and stuff into account."
Rarity laughed, actually pleased to see the filly thinking a bit more critically now. Well, that and a certain mental image that, by the fearful look in her eye, Twilight had as well. Rarity realized she probably could make it happen too. None of the winged ponies in the room would dare say no while she was trying to help a scared filly, but... no. Pranks like that really belonged more to Pinkie, and this wasn't the time anyway.
"Don't worry, girls," she said, looking especially at Twilight. "I'm not going to put you all up on scales!" The relief on Twilight's face was quite evident, and Rarity knew the librarian had been feeling rather shy and awkward about her new alicorn related growth spurt.
"That said," she continued. "I can assure you that Fluttershy does weigh less than Rainbow Dash, without going into details. So weight shouldn't be a concern, yes?"
Realizing Rarity was waiting on her approval, Scootaloo nodded agreement.
"Right then," Rarity said. "Dash, darling, if you'd step this way, please?"
Rainbow trotted around the table to the clearing. For her part, she wasn't exactly sure about this either. She'd never been self conscious about the size of her wings before, but now that Rarity was making a fuss over it, she really didn't like the idea of being compared to her friends. From the way Rarity was acting, she knew her wings probably couldn't be as big as Twilight's alicorn wings. That was okay though, wasn't it? Nopony had wings as big as the princesses, so they didn't really count. But Rarity also said Fluttershy's were almost as big, and that was probably bad. There was only, what, a one inch margin between the other two for her to fit in? And she couldn't have the largest wings, unless she was completely misunderstanding the point Rarity was trying to make to Scootaloo. But what if she was wrong and...
Her thoughts were interrupted by a polite cough from Rarity. Rainbow looked up, and saw the unicorn nodding at her still-folded wings. Oh, right, have to actually open them, she thought. As she did so, she wondered what the results would be. She didn't want to lose, but this wasn't something she could just try harder at.
"Relax dear," Rarity said. "It's not a contest."
Rainbow Dash realized her wings were actually twitching as she strained and stretched them as far as possible, and forced herself to just stop thinking about it and relax.
A few moments later, Rarity was done, and Dash returned to her seat.
Rarity held the tape out in front of her, presenting it to Scootaloo for inspection.
"So as you can see, not only are Dash's wings not twenty percent larger than Fluttershy's or Twilight's... they're actually around ten percent smaller."
At that, Dash looked almost more surprised than Scootaloo, stretching out one wing and turning her head to start at it in disbelief. Seeing this, Rarity turned to Dash. "As I said, it's not a contest." She then turned back to Scootaloo and continued. "And as I was trying to explain to you, a pegasus's wing size has very little to do with their ability to fly. Much more important—as Rainbow Dash clearly demonstrates—are things like determination, skill, finesse, and practice. It's all about how you manipulate the air around you. There are fully grown pegasi with wings smaller than yours are now, and they are able to fly just fine. You just have to have patience. You'll get there eventually, I promise."
At this, she put a hoof around the young filly and drew her into another hug, which Scootaloo eagerly returned.
"So, I'm not... broken?" Scootaloo said.
"No darling, I promise you, you'll be just fine."
"So your wings are small," Apple Bloom chimed in, trying to cheer her friend up as well. "So what? At least you're not a mud monster."
"Yeah," Sweetie Belle added. "Or a robot with glowing blue goop for blood."
"Wait a minute," Rainbow Dash interjected. "Your blood glows blue?"
Sweetie wasn't sure where this was going, and hesitantly responded, "Umm, yeah. It does."
"That... is... so... awesome!"
"Umm," Sweetie replied, still confused. "Thanks, I guess?"
"I can't really speak to 'awesome,'" Twilight said. "But it is definitely fascinating. Would you mind if I, well, took a small sample?"
"Of my blood?"
"I promise you'll barely feel it. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo too, so I can compare things properly."
The Cutie Mark Crusaders looked at Twilight with more than a little apprehension.
"Please girls," Twilight said, begging. "For science?"
"Okay, I guess." Apple Bloom was the first to give in, then Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo nodded affirmations shortly afterwards.
"Oh thank you thank you. I'll be right back," Twilight said, speeding off to the basement and returning a moment later with a set of vials and needles.
The alicorn librarian quickly took small samples from each of the young fillies. Everypony in the room “oohed” and “awwed” at the blue glow from Sweetie's sample. Only Twilight seemed to be equally enthused by the mud and water-like samples from the other two.
"Wow, this is fascinating," Twilight said, as she scanned and probed the samples using her magic. "All three of these are full of latent magic at a level I've never seen."
She turned to Sweetie and continued. "Now, this one is the most obvious. It's unicorn magic, and that makes perfect sense given that you are both a unicorn, and that, if the story is correct, the original clockwork was made by a talented unicorn as well. The other two, well..."
Twilight then turned to Apple Bloom. "I may completely have missed this one even last year before I got my wings. Earth pony magic is very subtle, and I've only learned to properly sense and use it since I became an alicorn. That said, it's still very, very strong. It seems to literally be made of earth itself."
"You mean mud?" Apple Bloom said.
"I guess you could call it that, but it's so much more too. Now Scootaloo," Twilight said, turning to the pegasus. "Your blood is similarly charged. In fact, it looks like some thaumaturgical component even behaves as a clotting agent. Absolutely fascinating! Probably essential too, given that otherwise the sample appears to be nothing but water."
"You're saying my blood has magic in it?"
"Oh yes, its amazingly dense with latent pegasus magic!"
"But," Scootaloo said. "How can that be? Pegasi don't have magic."
"Of course they do," Twilight replied, somewhat confused how a pegasus could not know this. Rarity simply put her hoof to her forehead and sighed, before bending down once more to eye level with the young pegasus, who was looking more confused than ever.
"Oh darling, that's the point I was trying to make earlier. Pegasus flight isn't based on wings or their size. It's a pegasus's inner magic—the same thing that lets them walk on clouds, resist lightning strikes, control the weather, and build things like Cloudsdale. That same magic is what lets a pegasus fly as well. No pony's wings would ever be big enough to even lift them off the ground without it."
Scootaloo looked skeptical, and Twilight, not one to pass up a chance to enlighten, jumped in.
"It's true. Look at butterflies, or birds and... Wait just a second." Twilight turned and trotted upstairs, returning a moment later with a rather groggy looking owl perched on her back.
"Owlowicious, would you please spread your wings for a moment?"
"Hoo," was all the bird replied.
"You, and yes I know you're tired, and I'm sorry for waking you, but this will only take a moment."
The owl opened one eye a bit wider, as though he was considering another word, but thought better of it. The sooner this was over, the sooner he could go back to sleep, so he spread his wings wide. Beneath him, Twilight did the same.
"As you can see, his wingspan is not much less than my own, but his body is much, much smaller and lighter, as it has to be to fly without any magic."
"Yeah, I guess that makes sense," Scootaloo said. "I mean, that one time we tried hang gliding, the glider was way, way bigger than any pegasus wings, and we still crashed."
Twilight laughed a bit nervously. How exactly did these fillies keep getting into such outlandish—and often dangerous—scenarios? That was a problem for another time though. For now, she dismissed the owl and continued.
"So you see, a pegasus's control of their inner magic is the most essential thing to flight. This only comes with practice and discipline, as they learn to manipulate the air around them in conjunction with their wings."
"Wait a minute..." Rainbow Dash interjected, something just now occurring to her. "Why are the two unicorns the ones telling a pegasus how to fly when you've got the best flier in Equestria right here?"
Rarity felt her ire raise instantly, and before anypony could blink she had turned, pointed a hoof directly at Dash, and through gritted teeth was sputtering, "Because you..."
Realizing she was about to become even louder if she didn't control herself, the white unicorn forced herself to take a couple of deep breaths, and waited for her eye to stop twitching with frustration before she continued.
"Because you," she said, this time in a much more civilized tone. "Have apparently failed to do so."
"What do you mean?" Dash said, confused. "I've been taking Scoots out to flying lessons all the time."
Rarity took another calming breath. "Yes," she said. "Then I suppose you've explained this all to her? How she needs to find and center her magic, focus on the air around her wings, make it denser in places, thin it in others, synchronize that in pulses that match with wing beats, and deflect the rest around her body to lower drag?"
"Umm..." Dash said, perplexed. "You don't have to do all that. You just have to push off, flap your wings, and just kinda feel the air around you."
"And if that doesn't work?" Rarity said.
"Well, you just have to try harder."
Rarity sighed. "Try harder? Is that all you've been telling her at those flight lessons?"
"Well, I showed her a lot of cool tricks, and the moves in each one. Oh, and we went through the rules for like all four of the main racing leagues!"
Rarity just glared at the cyan pegasus, who at least had the sense to look abashed at her attempted excuse.
"She's right, squirt," Rainbow said, looking down at Scootaloo after she couldn't face Rarity's gaze any longer. "Maybe I'm not the best teacher. I mean, it's all just instinct for me. I never had to properly learn it, I just did it."
"But..." Scootaloo said. "You're the best! You're like the only pony ever that can do a Sonic Rainboom!"
"Heh, yeah," Rainbow said, rubbing the back of her head. "But, uh, I don't even know how I do it. I just 'try harder' like Rarity said."
Rarity started to smile, glad to see Dash understanding and acquiescing a bit.
"That reminds me," Dash said, turning to the unicorn. "How do you know so much about pegasus flight?"
"Curiosity, dear. Twilight's not the only one that reads books, you know."
"Hey," Rainbow said. "I read books!"
At this Twilight and Rarity both smirked.
"I do! You've seen me! I read, like, all six Daring Do books that came out this year!"
Twilight and Rarity just grinned wider, as did the rest of the mares in the room. Scootaloo, however, looked positively shocked.
"Wait," she said. "You like books?"
Realizing she was bragging about something she'd openly mocked only a couple years ago gave Rainbow pause, before even she herself appreciated the irony of the situation and started laughing.
"Heheh, yeah... yeah, I do actually," she admitted, both to herself and Scootaloo. "But seriously, Rares. What made you read a book about pegasus flight?"
"Well," Rarity said. "If you must know, it was while I was dating this handsome pegasus stallion. I asked him one time, what it was like to fly, and, well, he was not much one for words. The next time I saw him however, he loaned me a book on it. Quicksilver's Feathers and Flight I believe it was."
"Spike!" Twilight yelled. "Where did we put..."
"Already on it," the young dragon said, his much more civilized volume still easily heard as he left his spot only a foot away from the alicorn. After a quick climb up the shelves, Spike returned with the mentioned tome.
"Thank you, Spike," Twilight said. "And sorry for the yelling. I didn't realize you..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Spike said, waving a dismissive claw. The slight grin on his face betrayed the otherwise offended tone of his voice. "No pony ever notices the noble, ferocious, fire breathing dragon mere inches from their hooves."
Twilight giggled softly as she placed the book on the table and leafed through a few pages.
"Yes," she said. "I think this may be the best introduction. I reread it a few months ago myself. Obviously I'm no expert, but it did help me get off the ground."
"So," Scootaloo said. "You're telling me you learned how to fly from a book?"
"Have you met Twilight?" Rainbow said jovially. "Of course she did. She probably learned how to breathe from a book!"
"Yes, ha ha, Dash," Twilight said. "But in all seriousness, I found it very helpful. I'm not saying it made me an expert, but it let me know what I needed to work on at the very least."
"Yeah, squirt," Dash said, her voice taking on a more encouraging tone. "You should listen to her and Rares on this. They might be eggheads, but they usually know what they're talking about. Besides, once you figure out the basics their way, then I can really show you some awesome tricks!"
"Really?" the filly said, still uncertain that her athletic idol was trying to get her to read a book.
"Really, really! I mean, after everything we just figured out, it turns out I'm kinda like the stork that dropped you off after all, and I can't let any pony that close to me be anything less than totally awesome!"
"But reading an entire book?"
"You're not gonna let one measly book stand between you and the skies, right?"
Scootaloo knew she was trapped now. Of course she wanted to fly, more than pretty much anything, but her... reading a book that wasn't forced on her by school? On the other hoof, if even Dash liked books now, it couldn't be that bad, right?
"Okay," the filly said. "I'll give it a try."
"Excellent!" Twilight said, clapping her forehooves together. "Now, let's see. Do you have a library card? No... well no matter, let me just get the right forms over..."
"Twilight!" Applejack said.
"Yes, AJ?" Twilight said, oblivious.
The farm pony "coughed," nodding down at the once again hesitant filly.
Twilight realized what Applejack was suggesting. It violated every aspect of what library procedure should be, but she knew her friend was right. It was just a book. She didn't have to be a stickler for the rules all the time, even if it was painful to break them.
"Umm, you know what," Twilight said. "Never mind all that. You just take the book and bring it back when you're done, okay?"
At this, Scootaloo nodded.
"Hey," Rainbow Dash said, nudging the filly with one wing. "What do you say?"
Scootaloo sighed, but dutifully replied. "Thank you, Miss Sparkle."
Twilight smiled. "You're very welcome, Scootaloo. And if you have any questions, you can always come talk to me, or—and I don't think I'm speaking out of turn here—any of the girls here."
"Yes, darling," Rarity added. "We'll be delighted to help anyway we can."
"That goes for you two as well," Twilight said, nodding towards Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom. "I know you both have sisters here, but if you ever need help practicing your magic or anything, I'm here."
"Thanks, Twilight," the fillies chorused in monotone, though they were actually all smiling by this point.
"You're welcome, girls. Now, would anypony like..." Twilight's sentence faded out as she caught sight of Pinkie once again vibrating up and down, and grinning ear to ear again.
"Umm, Pinkie... something you want to share... again?"
"I'm just so happy!" The pink blur said. "I gave away three wishes, and now there's like nine ponies and a dragon in this room alone all happier because of it. And then of course there's Scootaloo's parents and aunts who all smile more having her in their lives, and the big humongous Apple family all laugh more often because Apple Bloom is around, and of course Sweetie's parents, and their family can't help but be happy whenever they hear her sing. And then there's all their friends, and friends of friends and their friends and even that one mailpony they helped that time and whoever got their letter instead of having it lost has got to be happier and so out in the big wide crazy amazing world there are dozens and dozens if not hundreds and hundreds or even thousands and thousands of more ponies whose lives are happier! See! I told you wishes are unlimited! You just have to give them away and then they multiply everywhere! Knowing that so many other ponies are happier is the most bestest thing ever! I don't think there's anything that could possibly make me happier than I am right now!"
"Well," Twilight said, smiling deeply, both at the amazing selflessness of her friend, but also because she spotted a weakness she knew she could exploit. "I was about to ask if anypony would like another round of cocoa before heading out..."
And for once, Pinkie Pie was finally proven to be wrong about something. Smiling as she licked foam and a miniature marshmallow off the tip of her nose however, she didn't seem to mind too much.
Later that evening, Applejack was escorting her sister back to the farm.
"So," Apple Bloom said. "I, ah, didn't bring it up back there, as Scootaloo was so upset, but ah still don't think I understand what earth pony magic's supposed to be. Do all of us have it?"
Applejack thought for a moment, as the two continued along the road. "Well, ah course we do. Us earth ponies... it ain't flashy like with unicorns. There's no glowy levitatin' and big spells or nothin'. It's just, like Twi said, subtle."
"Watcha mean by that, exactly?"
"Well, take apple buckin', for instance. Most ponies might watch an' think it's all about strength. They think I just kick a tree really hard. Now, ah course I do kick mighty hard, but ya can't just knock every apple outta a tree in one go with brute force."
"Well, ah suppose with enough force, ya could do almost anything. But it's... well, there's a connection with the trees 'emselves. Ya can kinda sense it, knowin' where to put yer hooves, and the angles and all that. When you hit the trunk, it's almost like ya make a connection with the tree itself for a moment, and it knows you want it to let go of all the ripe apples it's been holdin' for ya."
"So that's why I can't get all them apples out like you do!"
"Heh, well sugarcube, yer still mighty small too. It ain't all about force, but it does take a fair bit of it, even with the finesse."
"So how did ya learn to do that fine-ess stuff?"
"It ain't just about buckin' things, Bloom. It's about all the earth pony stuff. Plantin' and growin' things especially. You know that feelin' ya get when you walk along a creek bank in spring? How everything just feels like it's ready to explode into life?"
Apple Bloom pondered this a minute. "Yeah, I think ah know what you mean."
"Or when ya walk past the trees in winter, you can feel a bit a life comin' from each. It's almost like ya know they're sleepin' and waiting for the warmth to come back."
"Ah always thought that was just in my head or somethin'."
"Heh, well, it is in a way, but it's also a real thing in the world. As I said, it's a subtle thing. You can learn to pay more attention to it though."
"Really? Can ya teach me how?"
"Easy there, sis. I mean, there ain't that much to teach. As much as I hate soundin' like Rainbow, it's just kinda somethin' ya have to feel for yerself."
Apple Bloom looked dejected at this. "Well then," she said. "How's an earth pony ever supposed ta learn this stuff?"
"Just work on it. Let yerself be aware of the life around you. Think about it when ya walk past flowers and fields, try to feel it more. It'll come ta ya. There ain't an Apple been born yet that didn't find a strong connection with the earth 'neath her hooves!"
Apple Bloom sighed, hanging her head.
"What's a matter? Not the answer ya were lookin' for?"
"Not really. I mean, come on, sis. That all sounds like a bunch a hokey folky junk."
"Would ya like it better if I told ya you could gain all yer earth pony magic if ya just dance around a maypole five times on a full moon while chanting an ancient earth pony rite?"
"Really?" Apple Bloom said, looking up with excitement.
Applejack laughed. "No, sorry there, AB. There ain't no shortcuts like that in the real world. Ya just have to work at it like every other earth pony has since the start of time."
"But I ain't a normal earth pony!" Apple Bloom objected.
Applejack looked at her little sister, unsure exactly how to respond to that at first, but eventually decided to keep the mood light.
"Well," she said. "There's a couple a poles for the old tent in the barn if ya really feel like dancin'."
Apple Bloom just snorted and rolled her eyes.