"Are you...sure about this, Rainbow Dash?" Twilight asked, worriedly
"Sure thing, Twi, I've checked every inch of this bad baby out and I cannot possibly make it any cooler."
"But it's a bomb. It goes boom, and you want to strap yourself to it."
"Not all at once! Trixie explained all about it..."
"You went to Trixie over this?"
Rainbow looked guiltily away for a second. "That's only 'cause I didn't want to bother you, Twi, you've always got your nose in those books and... and I'm sure you could build one just as good..."
"Better..." mumbled Twilight under her breath.
"It's just Trixie's been using rockets and flares forever, and to get the thrust I'm going to need, I need a boost."
The machine in question was a long, long track of wood which had taken many weeks of back-breaking labour to build and a large, oversized rocket on runners to go along it. Ever since her amazing sonic rainboom at the Young Fliers competition, Rainbow Dash had dreamt of flight. Not just any flight, for every pegasus could fly, even one like Fluttershy who spent most of her life on the ground, but flight beyond flight. She'd got it into herself to fly higher and faster than anypony ever had before, and to get there she'd need some extra special help. She'd found Trixie, still plying her trade, though a good deal more restrained these days since the debacle in Ponyville. Trixie had been suspicious at first, but then became enamoured with the thought of taking part in something like this.
Rainbow was going to fly higher than the sun and further than the moon... and hopefully live to tell the tale. There had been stories, vague, old, perplexing stories of the summer lands, where it was eternally summer, somewhere beyond Equestria - but these stories made it clear that the summer lands were well beyond Equestria. Rainbow was prepared to go find them.
"Well... I can see your mind is made up, and I'm here, so what do you need of me?"
"I... I don't know if I've made it powerful enough, Twilight. This rocket I mean. Nopony's done this before, ever."
"Or at least they've never lived to tell the tale."
"Don't remind me. What I want is for you to make me, us, the rocket and I, lighter. As light as you can. Not levitate, but lighter, with your magic. I want it to last as long as possible, I don't know how long - maybe five or ten minutes?"
"I... I think I can do that. It's a variation on the cloud-walking spell, and it shouldn't be too hard."
Rainbow clambered on, setting her hooves into the prepared slots where she could hold fast. Some quick work with ropes and belts tied her down and a final adjustment of flight goggles, and she was ready.
"Twilight, whenever you're ready, light the fuse and lighten me up."
"Don't you want to get the others? I mean... just in case?"
"Twilight, what could possibly go wrong? I'm the best flier in Equestria, even Celestia agrees. Besides," Rainbow looked worried for a second, "I don't want them here if anything does go wrong. You can teleport away. The others?"
"I... I understand. Good luck, Rainbow Dash." Twilight gave her friend a hoof-salute, and concentrated. Her horn glowed faintly at first, then bright, brighter - and suddenly with a great flash it went out.
"Woah... woah! You got it Twi! Hit it! Light the fuse!" Rainbow was now fighting with the rocket to keep it level as it bobbed in the slightest of breezes like a feather.
Twilight, trying to avoid bumping the now almost-weightless rocket and rider, shot a small spark at the fuse, which started burning brightly and fast. Even this small amount of pyrotechnics sent the rocket drifting forwards.
"Er, you sure you got it, champ?" asked Twilight, worried.
"I got this... wings out and back, tail straight... resist the urge to flap, be the rocket, just guide it... let it flow..." Rainbow was talking to herself, steeling herself for the moment, the sudden, explosive moment, when the rocket would shoot forwards with a thunderous roar and a cloud of smoke.
When it did, Twilight had to cover her eyes and turn away from the flash, smoke and roar. She blinked the spots away and shook her head. When her vision had cleared, there was nothing in front of her. Fearing a moment for the worst, she ran around the launch platform looking for pieces of the rocket, and her best friend... but there were none. The smell of brimstone was powerful and as she glanced down the track, a long white plume of smoke could be seen, the rocket was working! She yelled ecstatically in spite of her fear, for far, far off in the distance, she spotted the bright glorious sight of the third-ever known sonic rainboom, streaking all the way across the sky and up, and up, and up.
The feeling of speed was incredible. With the aid of magic, the huge rocket was massively more powerful than it otherwise would have been. They broke the rainbow barrier in what felt like moments, Dash's wings as far back as she dared put them, acting only as rudder and lift controls. It curved up smoothly, faster and faster, burning for several agonizing minutes of blasting wind and painful turbulence... and then suddenly the furor petered out to nothing. Silence. Dash realised that although the rocket was still burning as fiercely as ever, there was almost no sound. She could feel the huge engine, but couldn't hear it. In fact, she couldn't breathe. She was taking breaths, but there was no air. This could be trouble, she thought to herself, as with a sputtering lurch the rocket's powerful push stopped and they coasted on pure momentum. Rainbow unhitched herself and pushed herself away from the rocket, which fell tumbling out of view. She flapped her wings, but horror of horrors found no purchase. With a death-mask of fright she could do nothing but watch as the now-tiny sun and moon fell away behind her and she rose into the inky blackness, the sky now losing its usual blue colour and turning the rich, dark black of night. The stars came out one by one and as she started to tumble she looked back at her home, all that she knew. Vast as it was, she was seeing more lands, rivers, lakes and seas than she had ever seen before or ever would again.
There was a heavy drumming now in her head as she gasped for breath, it sounded like hooves. Is this it? she thought. Is this the shadow-ponies coming for me?
She choked silently, a shooting blue and rainbow comet heading to the heavens, far further and faster than any pony ever before her.
Even with her vision fading to black she noted the stars were brighter, harder and more beautiful than she had ever seen them, but even the tapestry of those eternal diamonds faded from her mind as she was suddenly given a vision so glorious that if her tears hadn't been stolen from her cheeks in moments by whatever dragon had stolen her air, she'd have been blinded. For there, below her, was the edge of Equestria. The end of everything she knew... and beyond it... beyond it were the summer lands! They had to be! Islands of blue and green floating around a beautiful golden globe so bright and hot that it hurt to look at, so like the sun that rose and set above her home in Ponyville, and yet... it couldn't be, for that mere pinprick of light was so far behind her now she couldn't see it even as Equestria tumbled into view.
The islands held her attention, thousands of them, millions, further than the eye could see! Equestria, all that she had ever held dear and more, her entire world, was but a drop in an ocean of Equestrias, and it was astounding.
She felt at peace having discovered the secret, such beauty, even as she was struck dumb by the implications. In the whole wide cosmos, her own little slice of heaven was one amongst so many others, teeming with life. She felt sure there were other ponies out there, leading their lives, living, loving, discovering - and she had this sight all to herself. In the midst of all that vastness, she suddenly felt very, very alone.
As Rainbow Dash felt her mind slipping away into euphoria, she noted she really was far further up and out than any pony ever before her.
With achingly beautiful rainbow-coloured wings, Celestia came galloping out of the night, and she breathed on the little lost pegasus, breathing light, warmth and life back into the cold body.
"Come now, little one, so brave to travel so far - I do not believe your story has ended yet." Celestia's voice resonated somewhere inside Dash's head as the winged unicorn nudged her back towards Equestria, her magical powers keeping the sucking breath-dragon that lived in the deep dark at bay. "You will have quite the tale to tell of this adventure."
Gasping for breath as the strength returned to her, Rainbow Dash was still too weak to move and could only float passively as Celestia galloped with her through the lonely starry heavens back to the light and life of Equestria, a pale dot that grew larger moment by moment, until it finally blossomed into pastel hues of green, brown, white and gold, features becoming distinct as they neared their destination. Rainbow was home. She passed out, exhausted, as they alighted just outside of town.
Her friends discovered her there in the morning, sleeping soundly yet unharmed, and it fell to Fluttershy to take the pegasus in. Rainbow Dash was subdued the next day, seemingly lost in reverie, but the following morning she looked up at Fluttershy from her makeshift bed with a warmth that the softly spoken yellow pegasus had never seen before from the brash flier, and she spoke from the heart, tears in her still-red eyes. "Fluttershy, have I ever said how much it means to me that I have all of you as my friends?"
"Why... no, Rainbow Dash, but thank you. I think you should tell Twilight if you've learnt something about friendship, whatever you were doing out there sleeping in the field yesterday, it's kind of her job you know."
Rainbow gave Fluttershy a peck on the cheek as she got her hooves under her and wing-hugged the shy pegasus. "I'll tell you more one day, but just know this, Fluttershy," and Rainbow thought back to all that vastness and about what it could all mean, "my life is way more than twenty percent cooler because you're all in it."