Night Flight

Whenever she visited her friend in Canterlot, she always liked to take one last opportunity to fly over the city on her way back home. It was always more fun to time it just when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna started to bring the day to an end. The way the setting sun shone across the golden spires of the city and made them glitter was enough to take the breath of any pony. She would always be a Cloudsdale pony at heart, but there was no denying the beauty of Canterlot. Especially from the sky, where she could get the best glimpse of all the white towers glowing pink in the light of the sunset.

She took a look back to make sure her saddlebags were safely closed before she wheeled off in a northwesterly direction and settled in for the evening flight back home. She wasn’t the fastest flier by a long shot, but she knew she had enough endurance to make it back to Cloudsdale in a single night. If she was lucky enough to find a few of the last thermals before everything cooled off for the night, it would be a cinch.

Pushing herself wasn’t her idea of fun, though. She would often tire out before getting home and she’d need to stop and camp out for the night. Preferably on a cloud. Being involved with the weather team, she knew the area was scheduled to have a clear night, but there were always stray clouds floating around that she could use. Not only that, but there wasn’t any wind, which meant giving the cloud a little push before settling in could have it floating her most of the way home while she rested.

 

But it wasn’t nearly late enough to worry about that, yet. The moon was barely raised at that point, and the skies were still a bit active. She had been watching some pony’s yacht in the distance slowly try to make its way back to its moorings before nightfall. It was no doubt an upper class pony doing his best to entertain his guests. Just that day, she and her friend had the opportunity to have lunch at a restaurant that was built on one of the larger airships. They were lucky enough to have been given a day where it was scheduled to take a tour of the city.

It was when they were drifting around the palace that her friend changed the subject they were on and suddenly asked, out of the blue, what it was like to fly for real and not as an earth pony on a flying boat. The question had taken her off guard. It wasn’t a question she’d ever been asked. Her mind went completely blank and she’d stumbled around trying to collect her thoughts before her friend laughed and changed the subject just as quickly as before. She wasn’t the best at keeping up with normal conversations, so she was convinced her friend threw her odd questions just to see her confused expressions. Still, the question kept coming back to her. She could have tried making a point and simply asked her friend to try to explain what it was like to walk, but now she was curious.

 

What is it like to fly, huh? She suddenly wanted to take the time to figure out exactly how it felt so she could put it in a letter for her friend. There was a lot to that question. She could just answer what it was like to fly, or she could answer what everything else was like when you could fly. She closed her eyes to think. That wasn’t something she usually liked to do in flight. It wasn’t so much that she’d lose her direction, it was that she started feeling dizzy when she couldn’t use the horizon to keep herself level. But she closed her eyes anyway so she could concentrate on things like the sound of the wind while flying. Right now, it was the familiar yet annoying whistling whenever she would just glide along. Pinning her ears back helped a little with that, but it was still irritating. What she loved was the exhilarating sound of the roaring wind whenever she pushed herself to catch a runaway cloud. It was like being in the middle of a storm you were building, only you didn’t have to worry about the lightning.

The feel of the wind was far better than the sound of it. It would blow through your mane and tail, pulling them back to flow behind you, and it would rustle the feathers of your wings as they worked to keep you in the air. The way the air interacted with your feathers would be as much informative as it was anything else. Any pegasus that flew regularly would know how their feathers felt while they were flying, and if anything was out of place, they would sense it immediately. As often as she flew, she could sometimes tell the moment she lost a feather in flight. It wasn’t dramatic, but there would be a change in how the lift felt. It was never a good feeling when something about your stability shifted when you were high off the ground.

The concept of lift was going to be harder for her to explain. The only way she could think to describe that feeling under her wings was to equate it to floating in the water, except it was your wings that kept you floating and not your body. She tried to get her mind off that subject, though. She didn’t like to think about how the only thing keeping her in the air was a bunch of feathers, especially while flying so high over the forest below Canterlot’s mountainside perch. Despite being a pegasus, she didn’t like thinking about heights.

On top of all that, there was the smell of flying. She knew how odd it would be to put that line in the letter, but the air high above smelled entirely different from the air on the ground. It would be different as the day went on, as well. There was always moisture in the air when you were on the cloud level, even if there was a clear sky, so there was always a hint of that funny metallic smell that you’d get when walking through a fog.

Anypony living in Cloudsdale got used to that smell very quickly, but if you visited the ground for any amount of time, you would get a reminder of just how sharp the scent of clouds was in your nose. It was quite the opposite from how they looked and felt. Feather beds had nothing on clouds. She would have to remember to write about what it was like to sleep on the stuff, or even to have an entire city built out of it.

 

As she got distracted by thinking about how nice it’d be to just start riding a cloud back to Cloudsdale, she sensed a change in the air. Opening her eyes with a start, she was met with the sight of the late-approaching yacht bearing down on her. It was clearly moving faster than she realized and she was already face-to-face with the bow. In a split second, her instincts made the decision to tuck her wings and plummet into a steep dive that had the wind roaring that familiar sound in her ears as she darted underneath the large boat. Hopefully, anypony who happened to be looking out a window would just think she was having a bit of fun and wasn’t narrowly avoiding a mid-air collision with what was literally the only obstacle in the sky.

She clenched her eyes shut again and braced herself before trying to stop her free fall. She hated that feeling of having the floor drop out from under her, however fleeting it was. Whenever it happened, she always had to keep herself from instinctively spreading her wings in a panic. If you caught yourself early, it was never a problem, but at this velocity, if you weren’t careful about opening your wings, you would only end up hurting yourself. There was something to be said for doing wing push-ups. The need to catch your entire weight on them came up more often than you’d think.

She inched her wings out slowly, trying to sense the precise direction of the rushing wind so she would swoop out of her dive instead of come to a dead stop. It was another one of those moments where she had to let her instincts work it out, because she would screw up if she over-thought it. Luckily, before that had a chance to happen, she felt the wind start to lift under her wings again and, in the next moment, she’d swooped safely out of the fall and and was back on course. For the most part. It was always hard for her to realize how far a dive could take her in so short a time. She was level with the horizon again, for what it was worth, but she was now far below where she was supposed to be if she wanted an easy trip. Gaining altitude by pure wing power was a pain when there weren’t any thermals to help out. The cloud ride idea was sounding better all the time.

 

She spent several minutes darting about, but she wasn’t able to find one of the thermals before they gave out for the night. Taking off from Canterlot had a unique advantage: It was on the side of a mountain. She already had the altitude she needed for an easy flight home to Cloudsdale. The less actual flying to do, the better. Always let the wind do as much of the work as possible. Canterlot also had something of a disadvantage: The terrain around the mountain was mostly covered in forest. That meant there were only a few spots of open ground to find those convenient columns of rising air. The rest of the ground was cooled by the trees and wasn’t any help at all. She gave a sigh and swooped down even farther. She wasn’t about to spend all of her energy to fly back up, so she might as well enjoy speeding over the moonlit forest and kicking the tops of the trees as they raced by.

Flying after the sun was lowered wasn’t always the smartest thing to do, but she loved seeing Equestria at night. When it was fully dark, you could even just barely make out the twinkling lights of Cloudsdale in the distance if you had a clear shot of the northwest sky. What she was really looking forward to, though, was the full moon. By now, all that was left of the sun were the faintest traces of pink and orange clouds on the horizon. The moon was already beginning to climb high in the sky, and it was bright enough to illuminate the countryside for her. There would be plenty of light once her eyes adjusted.

 

There was one particular river she liked to follow most of the way home. From high above, she could see it winding through the countryside and see all the small farms and houses built along it, each one with windows shining brightly in the night. But when she was this low to the ground, there was only one thing to do. The river wasn’t particularly wide, but it was slow-moving and had few rocks or anything to disturb its glassy surface. It was also free from overhanging trees that would threaten to knock a careless pegasus out of the sky. She cracked a smile and made a break for the middle of the river and started putting all her strength into speeding forward. Her beating wings split the mist forming over the water and had it curling into the air as she left a trail of unmasked water that glistened in the moonlight.

She loved racing over the top of lakes and rivers, if they were calm enough, and just barely dipping her hoof into the water. It was a little dangerous, if only for the contents of her saddlebags. More than once she’d accidentally put too much of her leg underwater and the drag threatened to pull her out of the air. But the chance of crashing was never enough to discourage her from drawing on the water, as she liked to call it in her mind. It was just too much fun to be the only thing leaving a wake on an empty river.

Dragging your hoof in the water was one thing, but on hot days she’d learned to put her front legs out in front of her and fly as absolutely close to the surface as possible. When she managed to do it right, she’d send a spray of water into the air and over the top of her. It would completely drench her and make her look like she was burrowing through the water. If she was good enough to keep herself steady. She would have to be so low that her wingtips would be brushing against the water, so if at any point she leaned one way or the other, she would go from flying to swimming in a heartbeat. At one point, she’d also tried using all four hooves to sort of skate over the waves, but she stopped trying that after she found out what it felt like to do a faceplant into the surface of a lake at high speeds. At least nopony saw it. She wasn’t going to write that down for her friend.

 

The mist was starting to turn into something more like fog and it was getting difficult to tell if the river was clear, so she pulled back into a steep climb and looked back to see how much wake she left. She had just managed to focus on the cut she’d been making in the fog before she smacked head-first into a stray cloud and everything she saw turned grey. The cloud was thick enough to bring her to a quick stop without hurting her, but she quickly scrambled to the top in order to get her bearings. At least she didn’t have to go hunting for one to sleep on now.

The cloud was a little chilly, which probably meant some pony had let it escape from a storm before it rained itself out. That would explain why it was heavy enough to stop her. Clouds were a little unpredictable. Sometimes you’d fly through. Sometimes you’d bounce off. You’d never really know until you hit it. She would have to write something about clouds, too. If her friend thought it was funny that she couldn’t explain in thirty seconds what flying was, then she would give her friend more information than she could ever want.

 

In the meantime, that was enough playing around in the dark. By now, she probably hadn’t even made it halfway to Cloudsdale and she’d spent a lot of energy looking for thermals and playing with the river. When she hit the cloud, it already started drifting in the general direction of home, so she just flopped onto her stomach and watched the riverbank slowly shrink into the distance as she moved out over some pony’s pasture. She didn’t have a quill and paper with her, so she laid there trying to file everything mentally for her letter. She had a few things to say about flying after she thought about it for a while. That’s how it always was with her.

The only thing left was to perhaps explain what it was like to look over the land when you were the only thing keeping yourself in the air. It was a little different to see the world stretched out below you when you weren’t standing on an airship. Her trip didn’t go entirely as planned, but maybe the next night she would try to stay up high and be able to describe what she saw: the entire landscape darkened, with just enough moonlight to make out major landmarks while also seeing the lights of villages and homesteads before every pony went to bed.

Except there’s no way she could do it justice with words. She wasn’t that good of a writer. She would probably have to borrow an airship or a balloon so her friend could see it for herself, if she wanted to know what it was like. Seeing the real extent of Equestria from the clouds was better than any enchanted map. But a letter would have to do for now. After some sleep. She would probably have to deliver the letter herself next weekend, though. There was no way she was going to go through all the trouble of writing it just so air mail could lose it.