Melius tarde, quam nunquam.
Rainbow Dash rolled back and sank into the soft, fluffy cloud, the only one in the skies over Ponyville. With a contented sigh she closed her eyes. Despite her misty resting spot the sun's heat had no trouble permeating her sleek body on that hot day. The slight breeze was only the barest whisper in her ears, drowned out by the calls of cicadas and occasional chirping birds. The only other sound was the soft and nearly continuous grating of Big Macintosh's plow tilling the soil directly below.
It was one of the easiest days ever. All she had to do was move a big enough cloud over part of Sweet Apple Acres, shielding the workhorse from the blazing sun while he tilled and seeded the land. Afterwards, she'd give her resting spot a good hard kick so it would water the newly planted crops below.
It felt like the sun was caressing her entire body. Happy feelings of being nuzzled and cuddled as a tiny foal flooded her whole body. Then that weird new feeling crept into her mind. Weeks earlier it had been a softly glowing spark appearing in her dreams, and later on the feeling had become brighter, fuller, and it could even overtake her when wide awake if she wasn't paying attention.
It was neither hot nor cold, painful nor pleasurable, yet it always gave her a certain sense of awe. She couldn't help but wonder what, if anything, would come of it. For now, however, the sunshine, the softness, and especially the spark were all that she felt, all that she needed. Surely those feelings would follow her into the deep slumber embracing her. That peculiar falling feeling didn't disturb her in the least as she lost consciousness.
Until she hit the ground.
Rainbow Dash's screams and screeches terrified everypony as Big Macintosh galloped into town with her on his back. She was trussed up with her legs tied together under his belly. She furiously struggled to free herself and was scraping him raw; he had to keep his head low as her wing kept landing blows against the back of his head.
Applejack ran from the market to see what the commotion was and she couldn't believe her eyes. She knew her brother wouldn't hurt a mouse, but seeing Rainbow Dash tied around his body and shrieking forced her into action. She charged her brother while barking, "What in tarnation...!" He bumped her aside. Applejack was stunned when she realized that, under her friend's horrific screeching, Big Macintosh was yelling for help too.
Apple Bloom skidded to a stop in front of her big sister, gasping for air. The filly's face was streaked with tears and she could only stare up at her sister and try to speak through pained breaths. Bloom gave up after a few seconds and turned to follow her brother again, but her frail body couldn't take any more. She collapsed with her legs spread out in all directions.
Applejack nearly pounced and started nuzzling her. Though many ponies had followed Big Macintosh and Rainbow Dash, a small crowd formed around Bloom too. Daisy rushed over with a bucket of water and slowly poured some over the overheated little filly's body.
As her breathing steadied Apple Bloom started pushing herself onto her feet. Applejack told her to stay down until the nurse came, but the child refused to listen and got back on all fours while trying to say something. At everypony's insistence she finally agreed to take a sip of water; she found herself gulping down all that was left.
Then she turned to her sister with fresh tears. "C'mon! Hurry!" she yelped. Applejack resisted her instinct to grab Apple Bloom's tail and make her explain first. Instead the two ran to the infirmary.
As they approached they could hear Rainbow Dash's screams of pain punctuated by high-pitched whiny gasps. Big Macintosh and two others struggled to hold Dash in bed as she flailed and kicked them. Every time she managed to free one of her forelegs she'd immediately start smacking herself viciously on top of her already bloodied head. "It hurts! Make it stop! Make it stop!" she yelped between screeches of agony.
"Put her on her stomach!" the nurse shouted. Applejack helped the others turn her over. The nurse had them leave her head hanging off the edge of the bed while she put an empty bucket underneath, just in case. The others began tying the pegasus' legs to the bedposts while Applejack subdued and tied up her friend's flailing wings. When she realized what she'd just done she felt nauseous and thought she'd have to use the bucket herself.
Applejack tried to nuzzle Dash but she wouldn't stop struggling. The farm girl felt even worse when she had to put Dash in a headlock for the nurse, who then quickly snipped off Dash's rainbow colored forelock and began cleaning the pronounced wound above her forehead.
The crowd automatically opened a path as Twilight Sparkle rushed up to the bed. "What happened?"
"She fell," Big Macintosh choked out, and a few tears escaped his eyes. It was so unexpected that the unicorn almost didn't notice all of his rope burns and bloody scrapes.
Apple Bloom jumped in and yelled over Dash's non-stop screams of pain, "And she kept hollering that her head hurt and wouldn't stop hitting herself no matter what so we had to tie her up!"
"What the hay!" Applejack snapped when she saw the nurse carrying a bridle with a hard rubber bit.
Though she cringed at first, the nurse insisted that it was the only way to make sure she didn't bite off her own tongue. They started arguing, screaming as loud as the patient until Twilight pushed herself between them.
"That's enough!" Then Twilight looked at Applejack, pleading, "We can't let Rainbow Dash hurt herself, okay? Just until we know what's going on." Applejack turned her head aside for a moment and then reluctantly held Dash's head again. Twilight used her powers to hold the pegasus' mouth open until the nurse had fitted the restraint. Applejack couldn't bear to look at Dash anymore and instead busied herself tending to her big brother's wounds.
Though Rainbow Dash continued to struggle and squeal everypony felt a little sense of relief. The nurse thanked the other ponies but had them leave and give her patient some space, now that the situation was 'under control.' But even after carefully examining Rainbow Dash's head and then the rest of her body the nurse had to admit, "Except for what she did to herself I can't find any other injuries. I'm afraid she must have hit her head and is having some kind of seizure. But they never last anywhere near this long! We have to stop it somehow before it causes any more brain damage."
"Any more brain damage"? Applejack threw up and went into the dry heaves as she sunk to the ground.
Twilight nearly jumped out of her own skin, but after the initial shock she took charge. "Take care of Applejack and I'll see what I can do," she ordered the nurse, who hesitated but then did as she was told.
The violet unicorn then moved in close, trying to get face to face with her struggling, crying friend. As Twilight leaned in to nuzzle Rainbow Dash her friend's head smacked the unicorn's muzzle. Dash suddenly stopped jerking and looked up at Twilight, her teary eyes desperately pleading for help. Then she went back to struggling, much more weakly, but even extreme physical exhaustion made her no less determined to break free.
That tortured look sent a chill down Twilight's spine. She hunkered forward, leaned her head down and closed her eyes. Her horn began to glow softly, gradually brightening as she probed deeper into her friend's head. She started trembling as she felt just a fraction of the agony herself, but no matter how hard she tried Twilight couldn't find anything 'wrong' with Rainbow Dash apart from the cut.
Even still, Twilight concentrated harder and summoned up a healing spell, using all of her might. She trembled and groaned in pain. Her horn seemed to glow white-hot as she mustered every ounce of magic she could. But it was no use. The pegasus continued to moan and whimper and jerk at her bonds. Twilight finally had to stop. She wobbled and staggered until the room stopped spinning. When she opened her eyes she found Pinkie Pie standing in the doorway.
The pink pony's saddlebags were stuffed with candy, flowers, a giant get well card, plus she was holding a huge bunch of balloons by her teeth. But the always-perky pony was now frozen in place, eyes wide as saucers as she took in the horror of Rainbow Dash's suffering. Pinkie's jaw fell open and the balloons shot up, spreading across and covering the ceiling in a way reminiscent of Applejack's vomiting.
"Apple Bloom!" Twilight snapped, more out of her own fear after her magic had failed. "You and Pinkie Pie go get Zecora. Now!" Apple Bloom jumped and rushed to the incredulous Pinkie Pie. The little filly had to nip her hock to get her attention, but then Pinkie quickly dropped her saddlebags and the two raced off for the Everfree Forest.
Twilight looked around and tried to get her bearings again. The nurse had returned to Rainbow Dash and was cleaning up fresh bleeding on her forehead. The farm filly had pulled herself up off the floor and wiped herself off. Spike was there now, helping Big Macintosh clean up Applejack and her mess.
When Applejack saw Twilight staring off into the distance she approached. Applejack's voice quavered, "What's wrong, Twilight?"
"I couldn't do it. I tried with all I got but couldn't heal her."
"Don't blame yourself sweetie. It's not your fault, and on the inside we're all shaking like a cow 'bout to be milked by Dr. Claw." Applejack briefly nuzzled Twilight. "Maybe you have another spell? You did put that Ursa Minor out like t'weren't nothin'." An exaggeration might restore the unicorn's confidence.
"Good idea!" Twilight shouted as she leapt back to Rainbow Dash. The silvery glow of her horn washed over her friend's entire body. The pegasus slowed down and her cries softened to whimpers. Her eyes fell half closed. Applejack pushed another bed over for Dash's head to rest on, leaving a little gap for the bucket. Twilight removed the bridle from Dash's head. The pegasus still writhed, whimpering and weeping, but she wasn't fighting anymore.
"Weird. She should be completely out."
The nurse let out a sigh of relief. "At least she's doing better."
The patient twitched and murmured. She rubbed her face on the mattress, as if trying to nuzzle it, and started crying softly. "Mommy. I'm scared Mommy. Mommy?..."
Applejack's sniffle was interrupted by Twilight suddenly bumping noses with her. "Do you know where her parents are? We need to get them!"
"I'm sorry, sugar cube, but her parents passed away years ago."
"That's terrible," Twilight gasped. "How'd it happen?"
"Natural causes," Applejack answered, "They were already gettin' on in years when she was foaled." She tried and failed to repress her tears. "If she doesn't remember then is she really, you know, brain damaged?"
"No." Applejack was startled by Twilight's confidence. "I couldn't sense anything wrong in her head besides the pain and the cut."
"Cut? That's more than a cut..."
"That's the strange thing. All I felt was the torn skin. If my spell hadn't worked I wouldn't have felt anything. And I really don't know why I couldn't at least heal that."
"Then what ever the heck's going on?"
"I don't know. And it scares me."
Fluttershy came as soon as she heard but she waited outside for a long time, cringing at the sounds of Dash's pained crying. Twilight finally went outside to reassure her. The moment she looked Fluttershy in the eyes, before saying a word, the yellow pegasus went inside. She pushed another bed up alongside Rainbow Dash's then climbed up next to her. She put a foreleg across her friend's back and nuzzled her gently.
Rarity brought her most gorgeous blanket for Rainbow Dash, plus the nicest, softest pillow she had — her favorite. Rarity didn't care if it got blood or anything on it as long as it made Dash feel better. The pegasus didn't object to the blanket, and it even seemed to calm her down. But trying to lift her head for the pillow proved too painful. Rarity left it on the bed and then started telling Rainbow Dash that she'd make her some hair extensions for her missing forelock, either from her tail or maybe try out some new colors. "Or a hat perhaps! Yes, something aerodynamic and chic!"
It was nearly dark by the time Pinkie Pie and Apple Bloom returned with Zecora. Then Big Macintosh had to practically drag Apple Bloom home after he and Applejack insisted she get some sleep. As all precocious foals do, she whined about their hypocrisy. That stopped cold when the nurse said that her arguing would make Rainbow Dash feel worse.
Zecora had no idea what was wrong. She tried various salves and was going to force her to drink some herbal potion, but much to Applejack's relief Rainbow Dash was actually anxious to try it. Anything to stop the pain! Zecora gave her only a little and then took the bowl away. Rainbow screeched that it wasn't working and demanded more, but the zebra said that it was dangerous in large doses. Dash's renewed ear-shattering cries made everyone cringe. Suddenly the bowl flew from Zecora's hooves and smashed against the bedpost, shattering. Rainbow started sobbing again as the potion seeped into the floor.
"What just happened?" Applejack asked Twilight.
Twilight looked over at Rarity, who only stared back in confusion. "I don't think Rarity would ever do something like that. I never thought I would either, but..." Twilight stopped herself. She was afraid to admit that in extreme situations her magic could take over by itself.
Zecora was completely unperturbed and didn't waste a moment wondering, never mind blaming either unicorn. She mixed up more of the potion and gave the nurse strict instructions. Then, despite the late hour she left to search for more plants that could possibly help.
Meanwhile Pinkie Pie was whispering to Dash, very softly, about how she'd be better soon and she'd throw her a party and set up a race series for her and the other pegasi... Applejack told Twilight she wanted to make Pinkie Pie leave Dash alone, but the nurse said that anything that distracted her from the excruciating pain was a good thing. The joke was obvious, but at that moment it wasn't funny.
After hours of pacing and long chats with the nurse, Twilight said she'd go back to the library and research medical conditions. She left, and once she could no longer hear her friend's suffering pleas Twilight was overcome with guilt. She hadn't lied about why she was going home, but part of her desperately wanted an excuse to get a break from Dash's unrelenting cries. At that moment, not being there only made Twilight feel worse.
She stopped outside the library to take a few more breaths of fresh air, but she buried her face in her forearms and cried like never before. When Spike got there he took her inside and made her take a nap. Then he started pulling medical books and making stacks for her.
Divinum sedare dolorem.
"Dearest Princess Celestia,
Over these past few months I've learned that friendship is one of the greatest gifts in the world, but today I learned that it can be the most painful thing in the world too. When one friend is suffering we all feel it, and I'm ashamed to say that sometimes I wonder if I hurt more than the friend in trouble. I've never known any pain as bad as this before and would do anything to make it stop. Anything but give up on my friend, that is. Even with all the worry, the guilt, and the helpless fear, losing her is the only thing that would be even more painful than what I'm feeling now.
Since I moved to Ponyville I have really tried to become more independent and capable of taking care of myself and others. However, I must ask of you, my dearest teacher, to help me now. My good and loyal friend Rainbow Dash is hurt very badly and no one can figure out how to make her better. She fell from the sky and has been screaming and crying in pain non-stop since. There's a wound on top of her head that won't heal no matter what we do. Medicines, both modern and mystic, and all of my magic can do little more than keep her from thrashing about and hurting herself even more. As she cries she also keeps calling out for the comfort of her mother, who sadly is no longer with us. Our hearts are breaking.
I beg you, dearest teacher and Princess, please help her.
Your Faithful Student,
UNDER ROYAL SEAL OF PRINCESS CELESTIA:
"My Most Faithful Student,
What you describe of Rainbow Dash's condition has baffled my entire court and counsel, but that is not to say that I am completely ignorant as to its origins. Go back to your friend and comfort her, with your presence if nothing else. Apply neither medicine nor magic upon her, no matter what! Instead give her only your unconditional love. It may not relieve her physical pain, but it will mend your hearts.
You need not beg ever, my beloved student, and more importantly you need not despair. As surely and swiftly as the first rays of dawn kiss the earth, I will be in Ponyville upon the sunrise."
Even with Princess Celestia's assurances it was a tough night for everypony. There was no small amount of fretting and crying. Fluttershy let Applejack take over stroking and comforting Rainbow Dash, who still cried non-stop and begged for relief — and her mother. Nopony thought it would be possible, but most were able to catch a quick nap. Even in their short dreams they could only see and hear Rainbow's torment.
Applejack was so exhausted that she fell asleep while holding their sick friend. Twilight climbed into the bed to cuddle and comfort Applejack, though she didn't get a moment's rest herself.
When the first glow of dawn peeked through the windows Twilight Sparkle leapt up and opened the door. She stood in the threshold, anxiously awaiting her teacher yet not daring to step outside and "disobey her orders." She stared at the horizon as the brushstrokes of pinks, reds and oranges appeared.
The first lick of sunlight over the mountains exploded into a brilliant ball of light, forcing the unicorn to shield her eyes. When she looked again there was Princess Celestia in all of her radiant glory. Yet she was without coach or guard, and the goddess incarnate couldn't hide the weariness in her eyes.
Before Twilight could speak Princess Celestia was already upon her, giving her a quick nuzzle. The violet unicorn felt a sudden excitement and hope as she scampered back inside, quickly followed by the princess. Pinkie Pie jumped off the bed and they all bowed to her, but Celestia quickly said, "Arise," while rushing to Rainbow Dash. In an instant the straps holding Dash in place snapped free and her body slid back onto the middle of the bed. The other bed in front shot back to its proper place.
Princess Celestia immediately started licking Rainbow's face then, with special attention, the wound on top of her head.
"Mommy? Is that you, Mommy?" Rainbow whimpered.
Princess Celestia climbed onto the bed then started nuzzling and hugging Rainbow Dash. "Yes, Mommy is here for you."
Everypony else thought they were trapped in some bizarre dream. But the haze broke when the nurse let out an agonized squeal and began sobbing. Twilight rushed over and nudged her while whispering, "What's wrong? Princess Celestia's here. She'll take care of everything!"
"No," the nurse said as quietly as her sobs would let her, "You don't understand. She wouldn't pretend to be her mother unless... she's dying!"
The room started spinning around Twilight and her body went cold. Before she could collapse her teacher's teary voice set the world right again. "No, she's not dying. Rainbow Dash will be fine." Celestia then rested her muzzle over the sky-blue pegasus and took a second to gain her composure. "And I am not pretending." She nuzzled Dash's face, pushing it up so she could look the filly in the eyes. She sucked in a deep breath and released it noisily before admitting, "Rainbow Dash, I am your mother."
Not even the princess knew if Rainbow Dash knew what she was saying, not that the other fillies were sure they understood the sounds coming from Celestia's mouth.
"What the br...!" Applejack cried out, cut short by Twilight Sparkle's telekinetic muzzling.
Pinkie Pie didn't hesitate to say, "You know, I guess it's kind'a obvious now that you mention it. Seriously guys, they both have that whole Rainbow Brite thing going on with their hair..."
Pinkie Pie stopped short when Princess Celestia cleared her throat. "Come round, my good subjects. I shall tell you a story. It's about a secret that's been kept for far too long."
They sat on the floor before she continued. "You see, years ago a certain earth pony had business in my court. On the outside he seemed normal enough and, like most ponies, was good at his trade. However, he had this way about him. At first his charm wasn't apparent. His mannerisms were a bit 'unusual,' and I couldn't help but snicker as he was pleading his case. His eyes lit up and from that moment on then he did everything he could to make me laugh. It wasn't long before everyone, the guards, the courtiers, and even myself were laughing uncontrollably. It had been nearly a millennium since I'd felt so joyous, better than at any time since imprisoning my sister. Anyway, I was so desperate to make the feeling last that I insisted he stay for dinner. He was anxious to return home to his wife and newborn foal, but he finally agreed. After dinner, a few bottles of wine and then several hours of conversation we... we had an 'indiscretion.'"
Applejack's draw dropped and Rarity gasped. It took Twilight Sparkle a minute to figure out what the princess meant. It was that icky sex stuff she had to learn in middle school. Fluttershy covered her face to hide her intense blushing.
"You go girl! Woo!" Pinkie Pie shouted while waving a hoof in the air. However, she quickly noticed her friends' angry glares and stopped. She put her hoof over her mouth and slowly laid back down.
To everypony's surprise, Princess Celestia chuckled before continuing. "He felt terrible afterwards, but I insisted on taking full responsibility for my actions. I altered his memories and sent him back to his family. A few months later, before I began to show, I went into seclusion. 'To study and meditate in private,' with only my most trusted servants to help me through my pregnancy. I also used that time to decide how I would explain my foal's arrival without causing scandal. Total honesty, less the father's identity, seemed like the best choice."
Celestia paused to nuzzle and lick her girl. "Then you were born, my sweet Aurora. I was overjoyed, and so very anxious to announce your arrival to all of Equestria. Even if my foal was not a unicorn I was still proud as ever. Though alas, I was in denial. My advisors wisely made me admit the truth: she'd never be fully accepted in the Court of Canterlot. I'm ashamed to even think it, but if she had been born a unicorn then it wouldn't have mattered as much, but I knew that my little one would face all kinds of teasing and bullying from the other youngsters; even the adults would scoff at the idea of her being in my court. Not openly of course, but what is whispered in the back stalls can be just as devastating to a society."
The Princess sighed and wiped away a few tears. "I was told of a pegasus mare who was recovering at John Hockins University Hospital, near Canterlot. She and her husband were older, but it was well known that they had desperately wanted a foal of their own for all their years. The moment I met them I knew that they would love my Aurora with all their heart. They didn't know whose child they were adopting, and they gladly swore to raise her to believe they were her true parents. When they returned to Ponyville they were to say that her illness had in fact been a complicated pregnancy. Then I used my magic to send my breast milk..."
"T.M.I.!" Fluttershy squeaked.
The princess brought a hoof up to her mouth. "Oh dear, yes!" she giggled.
Applejack used the pause to speak up. "But beggin' your majesty's pardon, but what does all that have to do with Rainbow Dash getting hurt?"
Rainbow Dash suddenly clutched Princess Celestia with all four legs and started huffing, "Mommy! What's happening? I'm scared!"
"There there, everything is going to be fine. Mommy will take care of you," the princess told her daughter. Then she answered Applejack, "You are about to witness it for yourself."
Rarity muttered, "Well that was very convenient timing."
Celestia licked the wound some more and then cuddled Dash's head. The little pegasus let out a soft high-pitched whine that they thought would never end. She sucked in a deep breath and began trembling all over. Celestia had to use her magic to keep her child from hitting herself. Then Dash suddenly thrust her head back and her eyes crossed as she tried hard to look upward. She struggled to hold her breath, letting out a short squeak every so often as every muscle in her body strained to the breaking point.
Then, with everypony's eyes glued on the spot, a bump erupted from beneath the gash on her head. It kept rising, twisting, and after several excruciating seconds a four-inch horn had grown out of her skull!
Rarity fainted and Fluttershy tended to her. Applejack couldn't stop staring. Twilight Sparkle crossed her own eyes to look up at her own horn and compare sizes. "That's why I couldn't find anything really wrong with her, and her not sleeping and the bowl must have been her own magic," she said mostly to herself.
Pinkie Pie jumped up with one foreleg on the bed to support herself; with her other hoof she reached towards the new horn. "Aww, it's so keyuuute!"
"Don't touch," Princess Celestia said in a kindly voice, but it was enough to make the excitable filly immediately back off.
"I love you, Mommy," Rainbow Dash sighed before laying her head against her mother, looking more contented than anypony could remember. "And you guys better not tease me about any of this or else," she added before finally falling into a peaceful sleep.
Princess Celestia whispered, "While we let her sleep all of you must get some rest as well." The others looked at one another and shifted nervously. "What? Oh dear, I do not mean that you have to leave. There are plenty of beds right here after all." After sharing her pain all night, everypony was delighted they could share in her peace too.
The nurse climbed onto her cot and was fast asleep in moments. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy crawled into one of the beds, the latter falling asleep quickly even with Pinkie half-consciously chewing on her mane. Twilight curled up behind Celestia and pressed herself close. The princess laid a wing open over her faithful student. Both smiled as the violet unicorn quickly fell into safe dreams.
Applejack and Rarity contemplated the only remaining bed and then glared at each other. But after looking back at Rainbow Dash, sleeping peacefully, they made a wordless agreement to get along.
Just before falling asleep Rarity suddenly jumped up out of bed. Celestia raised her daughter's head, allowing the white unicorn to slip her favorite pillow under the new alicorn's still-tender noggin. When Rarity went to get back in bed with Applejack she accidentally kicked Pinkie and Fluttershy's bed.
Pinkie Pie stirred. "Princess Celesta, your honor?" she mewled.
"Yes, dear Pinkie Pie?"
"Are you going to give Rainbow Dash presents for all her birthdays you missed?"
"Why, I suppose I should," Princess Celestia laughed. "And your father can pay all of her back child support too."
Everypony except Dash snapped awake, all but one of them gawking at their princess in utter disbelief. But Pinkie Pie instantly leapt out of bed and started hopping around the room, calling out in sing-song, "I have a sis-ter! I have a sis-ter!..."
Princess Celestia tucked her head to hide her very guilty smile. "Oops."