Part 24 - Turbulence
Twilight cut a fine figure in a plum colored party dress adorned with glittering silver sequins that swept like a comet's tail from a large moonstone clasp at her neck, and Spike for his part was looking quite dapper in his tuxedo jacket and sparkling tie, but few if any of the attendees for the Grand Pegathalon's Opening Ceremony took notice of them. Tonight, while the competitors, race officials, reporters, and VIP spectators arrived, Twilight was intent on doing the noticing, and recording her observations for her and Rarity's benefit.
Shortly after the delegation from Harmony Aeronautics had arrived at Maddie's, an exclusive club occupying most of the upper tier of Madison Mare Garden, the lavender unicorn had sent Apple Bloom and Pip off to mingle with the crowd, and took Spike with her to stake out one of the candlelit booths with a good view of the velvet roped main entrance.
As soon as the waiter had dropped off their drinks, and a basket of pan roasted agates for Spike, Twilight opened her hoofbag of handiness and set out some parchment, quills, and ink for her number one assistant and stenographer, followed by her Pegathalon fact file, a thick, spiral bound notebook made even thicker by countless newspaper clippings and other haphazardly collated scraps of information that she'd gathered in the intervals between making preparations for the race. Now she was ready to get down to business.
She took a sip of her ginger ale and cleared her throat as her horn sparkled in the semi-darkness, casting a Between You and Me spell so that she could be heard clearly by Spike over the din of the nattering crowd and the big band stylings of Tiny Horsey and his Orchestra. "Okay Spike, are you ready to get all this down?"
The dragonet nodded with a slight air of petulance as he flicked an agate into his mouth and dipped his quill into the inkpot. "Yeah, but I'd rather be getting down on the dance floor."
She pursed her lips and gave a slight flick of her horn. "Plenty of time for that later, now pay attention."
She watched a shoal of blonde maned, sun bleached pegasi swagger in. "There's the top team from Los Pegasus and their dates, I'd presume. In the lead is Golden Bay with his marefriend and partner Granola Bay, and their wingponies High Tide and Gnarly Curl. I don't have any data on those two other mares, but they don't look like professionals."
She pursed her lips. "Professional flyers, at least."
Twilight's ears perked up as another group entered. In the lead, a large, reddish brown feathered griffin with touches of deeper red in his crest and wingtips strode confidently into the room, resplendent in black tie and tails. A jagged pink scar stretched across his face from behind his left ear to the tip of his beak, and a monocle glinted coldly in his right eye as he scanned his surroundings with a hawk-like gaze. Following dutifully behind him with expressions of unflappable calm on their faces were two more griffins, a male and female, clad in dark tunics with red sashes.
The lavender mare's voice dropped to a whisper as she spoke out of the side of her mouth to Spike. "Oh, and here's the first non-pony competitors to arrive, Baron Gerhard Von Redtail and his servants Gunther and Greta, from the griffin aerie in Clawstadt. He's apparently got something of a reputation as an aerial duelist."
She flipped through her fact file as she spotted two more pegasi enter, a pair of burly stallions with buzz cut manes and tails. They both wore ill fitting plaid suit jackets that looked like they probably smelled like moth balls. Twilight nodded to herself as she found her entry. "Ah, that would be the leading team from Cloudsdale, Air Hammer and Ice Tongs. They both work in the weather factory during the winter season, and compete in Iron Pony competitions across Equestria during the summer. The Pegathalon is the high point in their schedule."
Three more well groomed pegasi stallions brushed past the Cloudsdale ponies with their snouts raised disdainfully. Their dove grey suit jackets were immaculate, each bearing a crest on the lapel of a tall mountain flanked by a pair of wings. Twilight pursed her lips as Air Hammer surreptitiously extended a hoof to trip one of them, nearly sending him careening into one of his companions. The trio glared daggers and stalked past with dismissive flicks of their tails and ruffled wings as the burly stallions broke into braying guffaws, leaning on one another for support and slapping each other on the back with their wings.
Spike tipped the feathery end of his quill at the well dressed pegasi and spoke before Twilight could. "I know those guys, they're from the Zenith Sporting Society in Canterlot. Sir Concord told me all about 'em. Bunch of hoity toity pegasi gentry with too much time on their hooves. Tried to get me and Destrier thrown off the sky track once." A scowl crossed his face. "Said there were 'No pets allowed', if you can believe that. Des was out of uniform and they didn't realize they were trying to play high horse with a royal guard."
A grin spread across his scaly face. "They changed their tune once he set 'em straight."
He scribbled some notes as the lavender scholar sized up the team from her hometown. When they'd disappeared into the crowd, she turned her attention back to the club entrance, her eyes widening as a large, shaggy shape filled the entryway.
A massive, reddish brown buffalo brave stood surveying the room full of ponies with solemn grey eyes, a huge pair of speckled brown and white wings folded along his sides. He wore a headband adorned with elaborate beadwork, with similar bands around the roots of his gleaming black horns, and carried a satchel rattling with more beads and decorated with silver conchos slung across his humped back. The hulking ungulate stepped aside to allow a rangy blue-grey pegasus stallion in a white stetson and a bolo tie to step up beside him.
Twilight leaned over to breathlessly dictate to Spike "That's the winged buffalo."
The young dragon rolled his eyes. "Wow, nothin' gets past you, Doc..."
She cast him an annoyed glare. "They call him Flies Like Thunder. He's a buffalo shaman who acquired his wings by magic on a solo stampede in the San Palomino desert. His sidekick there is Long Range, a pegasus from Appleloosa who Flies Like Thunder rescued from bandits. They've been best friends ever since."
She flipped to a news clipping in her notebook. "The Appleloosa Picayune says Flies Like Thunder considers the Pegathalon his destiny, to go on the greatest stampede any buffalo has ever gone on."
Twilight let out a sigh as the buffalo and pegasus made their way into the club. "I'd love to find out more about buffalo shamanism, there's so much ponies still need to learn about other... species'... magic..."
She trailed off as an unearthly figure came floating through the doorway, hovering a couple hooves above the floor. It was roughly the size and configuration of a buck deer, with cloven hooves that gleamed like gold and iridescent scales of peacock blue and purple edged with silver. Long, coruscating plumes of silky gossamer billowed from the creature's shoulders and flanks, and a mane that floated and flowed on an unfelt wind in tones of pale lavender, gold, and peach ran down its curving neck, with a matching tuft at the end of a sinuous scaled tail. It wore intricate ornaments of jade around its perlescent antlers and strung in its mane and beard. A large orange and red phoenix perched on the newcomer's withers, preening a fiery wing.
The crowd went silent as he entered, but the lavender unicorn's voice was so hushed that Spike would never had heard her without the Just Between Us spell. "Lulong the Kirin. Now there's somepony I would love to talk to about magic..."
Both she and Spike blinked in surprise as the hovering creature cast a wry smile in their direction, an ethereal voice like a lute chord played in a minor key sounding in their ears. "Ah, what a clever spell! Perhaps we shall have time to chat after this most interesting competition has ended, o one horned magical pony mare."
The unicorn and dragon gaped at him as the gleaming bird on his back folded its wing and chirped into one of his tapering, tufted ears. The voice took on an apologetic tone. "It was a pleasure to make your honorable aquaintance, but now my companion Pheng desires to sample your Equestrian baked goods. I also am most curious to try these cakes in cups that I have heard about. My humble apologies for intruding upon your conversation."
With that the kirin drifted into the room towards the buffet as Twilight and Spike stared after him. The young dragon was the first to shake off his reverie. He nodded his crested head after the mysterious creature, his voice low with amazement. "Is... is that phoenix his wingpony?"
The unicorn mare replied with a shrug. "Yeah, I guess as long as it can fly it's legal." She watched as Lulong's antlers glimmered with whitish gold magic, levitating a foil wrapped cupcake up to his avian partner, who dug its beak into the pastry with relish. "This Pegathalon is definitely unconventional."
Spike nodded as he jotted down a block of notes. "You can say that again. If I'd have known phoenixes were allowed maybe I could have entered this thing with Pee Wee as my sidekick."
Twilight rolled her eyes and shook her head. "I think they'd draw the line at immature phoenixes, especially ones who haven't gotten over their pranking phase."
She let out a slight huff. "And I don't think that's gonna happen anytime soon since Philomena's taken him under her wing."
The lavender scholar flipped to a page with a stapled parchment written in Manederin. "My sources say that Lulong's phoenix is over seven hundred years old."
She gave him a smile. "Anyway, I'd rather have you on our team, Spike."
He met her gaze with a brief grin, then nodded toward the entry. "Oh look, some more griffins."
Twilight nodded as she flipped through her fact file. "Yeah, they're late entries from the north country, Gillaume, Gervais, and Gaston LaFish. Not much info on 'em, aside from the fact they normally work as freelance scouts for griffin fishing flocks."
The griffon brothers were thicker set than Baron Redtail and his servants, with speckled white, black, and greyish brown plumage on their avian front halves and thick, buff beige fur on their leonine posterior halves. They wore red plaid bandannas around their necks topped by necklaces of shark and whale teeth interspersed with dark wooden beads. Their harsh, grating laughter sounded as they ambled into the room, elbowing one another and flapping their wings as they traded good natured jabs.
The next flyer to enter was cool and reserved in stark contrast to the griffon brothers' boisterousness, a tall, lanky negasus with a pale greenish coat and a grey streaked dark mane that came to a peak above his lambent yellow eyes. He wore a dark purple silk tunic and a heavy, midnight blue cloak that hung between his leathery bat wings, the silver clasps at his lapels set with red and gold gemstones.
Spike cocked a spiny brow ridge as he scribbled down more notes. "I thought negasi hated being out in the sun. Is that guy gonna compete?"
Twilight nodded. "Yes. His name is Fleidermaus, and he comes from the cave colonies outside Hollow Shades. Apparently he and his wingpony will be fitted out in special sunproof flightsuits and helmets. I saw a blurb about them in one of Rarity's 'Clotheshorse' magazines."
The dragonet pursed his lips in concentration as he wrote. "So who's his wingpony?"
The lavender mare discretely pointed a hoof toward a second bat winged pony who loomed in the door behind the first. He bore a strong family resemblance to his companion, insofar as they shared similar coloration and facial features, but rather than being slim and stately, he was thick limbed and brutish, nearly rivaling Big Macintosh in size. His reddish black mane stuck up in ragged spikes and his tunic and cloak were just short of disheveled.
Twilight could almost feel his hoof falls through the floor as he walked, and she gently reached up and nudged Spike rousing him to start writing again. "His son, Fleidermaus Junior. Word from the palace is he's a potential recruit for Princess Luna's Night Guard."
She winced as the oversized young negasus turned to whisper in his father's ear, carelessly extending a wing that swept a whole tray of glasses to the floor in a tinkling crash. As he spun to apologize and assist the startled waiter his beefy hindquarters collided with a unicorn reporter and sent the hapless pony tumbling head over hooves into the Canterlot pegasus he was interviewing as his notebook and pencil went flying and landed in a bowl of bean dip and a passing mare's hairdo, respectively.
The scholarly mare gave a sidelong glance to her draconic stenographer. "He still needs a few rough edges filed off, though..."
Twilight's ears perked up as three more pegasi entered the room, the very picture of poise and discipline in their electric blue and yellow formal dress uniforms. At their lead was the unmistakable figure of Spitfire with her blazing orange mane and tail, and at her side the even more unmistakable figure of a cyan pegasus mare with all the colors of the rainbow in her mane.
Spike turned to his guardian with a smile. "Oh hey look, it's Dash!"
He was met by a joyous squeal and a burst of white light that left him seeing spots and starbursts. He shook his head to clear his vision, giving a mild huff as he watched Twilight reappear next to the newly arrived Wonderbolts.
The chromatic stunt flyer gave a start as her old friend popped into existence beside her. "Rainbow Dash!"
The pegasus mare recovered quickly, accepting the lavender unicorn's hug with a chuckle. "Hey Twilight! Great to see ya!"
The scholarly co-founder of Harmony Aeronautics pushed back to look excitedly in Dash's eyes. "Are you going to be flying in the Pegathalon?"
At this Spitfire leaned in with a smirk on her face. "Well, I told the princesses we're going to bring our best, so I brought our best."
The cyan pegasus gave Twilight a cocky grin. "Best hoof wrestler too, that's really how I beat the other 'Bolts out to get this slot in the race."
The scholarly unicorn disengaged and turned to extend a hoof to the blaze yellow pegasus mare at Dash's side. "Hello, Captain Spitfire. As I was saying to my assistant Spike, this is certainly turning out to be an unusual race."
A strained smile crossed the senior stunt flyer's face. "Yeah, you could call it that, Doctor Sparkle."
The third pegasus, a dusky purple stallion with a pale blue mane and a comet tailed star for a cutie mark snorted bitterly and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, thanks a heap fer nothin'."
A tense moment passed, and then Spitfire beckoned him to come forward. "I don't know if you've ever met Shootin' Star? He's been with the team for about four years now."
Twilight turned to him and extended her hoof, which hung awkwardly in the air and then drooped as he made no move to take it. He gave her a terse nod. "Ma'am."
With that he turned a cold shoulder and strode into the club. "I'll be in th' saloon if'n y'all need me."
Dash scowled after him, her wings tensing across her back. "That sleet head. If he keeps this up I swear I'm gonna body slam him through a table."
Spitfire ruffled her wings and gave Twilight an apologetic look. "I'm really sorry about that, Doctor Sparkle, some members of my squad aren't quite thrilled about what's going on with the Pegathalon."
The lavender mare raised an eyebrow and cocked her head inquisitively. "And what do you think about all this, Captain? You definitely didn't seem happy either at Moonrise Court last week."
The blaze yellow pegasus gave a thoughtful nod. "Well, I'll admit when I first heard about it I was ticked off. You'd think a professional stunt flyer wouldn't mind a new wind blowin' in, but the truth is we tend to like things to stay in their place so we don't crash into 'em unexpectedly. It takes us a while to adjust to a new routine."
She gave a wan smile to Dash. "You might not know this about me, but when I get ticked I tend to snap off like a super cell, and all it usually gets me is a face full of hailstones. I earned that public flank spanking that Princess Luna gave me for shootin' off my mouth at court, but it was really Soarin and Dash here who helped me get to the eye and see daylight."
At this the rainbow maned mare stepped forward, scanning the crowd. "Speaking of Soarin, where is the big lug? I've got a lot to talk to him about myself."
Twilight gave her an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Rainbow. He gave the opening ceremony a pass so he could get in some last minute training. He's been working like a plow horse ever since he signed on with us."
Both Dash and Spitfire's eyes went wide and their jaws dropped. The rainbow maned mare shook off her stunned expression first. "Wow, now I've heard everything. Soarin would never pass up on a party to train when I was working with him."
The blaze yellow pegasus nodded her agreement with a rueful sigh. "Yeah, he was pretty dedicated the first few years, but as time went on he'd skip out on drills at the drop of a donut."
The cyan stunt flyer gave her old friend an awestruck look. "Wow, he must be really serious about this."
Twilight nodded solemnly. "Indeed he is. I think you both can be proud of him."
Spitfire shared a genuine smile with the lavender mare. "Believe me, we are."
Rainbow casually examined the shine on the laquered horseshoe on one of her hooves. "So... Twilight... What's all this I hear about him finding a marefriend in Ponyville?" She gave her old friend a searching look. "Do I know her?"
A quizzical look settled on Twilight's face, and she cocked an eyebrow. "I thought Fluttershy wrote you every week, didn't she tell you?"
Dash gave a diffident shrug and rubbed the back of her rainbow maned head. "Well, mail service gets kind of dodgy when we're out on tour, so most stuff is routed to our main office, sorted, and forwarded with a monthly mail drop. Long story short I probably didn't get that letter yet. Plus you wouldn't believe how often the PR interns drop 'Shy's letters in with the fan mail by mistake. She really needs to stop putting little bunny ears on her o's."
A sly grin appeared on Twilight's features as she realized the opportunity she'd been given. She leaned forward and beckoned the cyan pegasus forward to whisper in her ear, half expecting PInkie Pie to drop from the ceiling on a bungee harness and shout "FOREVER", despite not having made a Pinkie promise about spilling this particular morsel of gossip.
Rainbow Dash launched twelve hooves into the air with her eyes flared in amazement. "NO WAY!"
She raised her hooves to her mouth as a giddy squeal escaped her throat. "OhmygoshOhmygoshOMYGOOOOSSHH!"
The hovering pegasus mare paused, looking around the room at the sudden silence that had fallen as all eyes turned to her. Her cyan face flushed red and she sank back down with a sheepish grin on her face. A few beats later the band and the general party chatter struck up again.
The rainbow maned stunt flyer pawed at the ground as a look of pure mischief settled on her face. "Oh those two are really gonna get it when I see 'em. Especially AJ."
Her face fell as she met Twilight's scowl. "Oh... hey, don't get me wrong, I'm really happy for 'em! I'm not gonna do anything to embarrass 'em... I mean, not too badly..."
The lavender mare's expression softened for a moment as she raised a hoof to pat her old friend on the shoulder. "Oh, not you, Rainbow." Her brow darkened as she looked past the cyan pegasus' shoulder. "Them..."
Spitfire and Dash turned to see the scrawny, severely dressed figures of Professor Destiny and Doctor Insanity enter with their heads haughtily raised and their green eyes narrowing as they caught sight of their rival.
Twilight brushed past the pegasi mares with a parting nod and approached the brothers, hiking her tail defiantly as she confronted them. "Hah! Appropriate for the pair of you to arrive last."
A sneer caused one side of Destiny's mustache to arch disdainfully. "Not that it's any of your business, my dear Miss Sparkle, but my brother and I were unavoidably detained."
A snow white pegasus in a splendid royal guard dress uniform stepped up beside them, with only the slightest curl of his lip betraying anything but cool decorum. "You mean arraigned, don't you?"
A puzzled look settled on Twilight's features. "Sir Paragon? I thought Sir Paladin was going to escort this pair of..."
Doctor Insanity interjected with a smug grin. "...geniuses." He shared a satisfied nod with his brother as the lavender mare rolled her eyes dissmissively.
The muscular pegasus stallion cleared his throat and ruffled his wings, then cast a glare at the sallow unicorns, who quailed a bit from his gaze as he replied to Twilight with a courteous bow. "Her royal highness Princess Celestia has appointed me to replace my colleague, who is... indisposed at the moment, and won't be flying in the Pegathalon."
His dark eyebrows lowered slightly as he muttered through his teeth. "Or doing much of anything until the body cast comes off, thanks to these... individuals."
The younger of the two brothers huffed and glared over his dark spectacles at him. "Look, we told you, just like we told her highness, it was all an unfortunate accident that could very well have been avoided if the miserable lout had simply kept his hooves off of our equipment."
Sir Paragon pursed his lips. "Yes, and it is a tribute to my everlasting lady's boundless forbearance that she graciously accepted that explanation and didn't have you both clapped in irons and tossed in the dungeon."
His brow darkened. "I wonder what poor Paladin would have to say about the whole business if his jaw wasn't bandaged shut."
The royal guard pony leaned toward them, a dangerous edge on his voice that caused them to lean away skittishly as he flared one of his steely blue eyes in their direction. "But make no mistake, I've got my EYE on you clowns."
Doctor Insanity gulped loudly and tugged at his collar as Professor Destiny drew himself up with a manic gleam in his eye and a crack in his voice. "All of Equestria has their eyes on us, sirrah. Our fantastic B.A.T. Nineteen is poised to make history! Mark... my... words?"
He trailed off as he noticed his voice was echoing in a hush that had fallen over the room, and that all eyes, including Sir Paragon's, had focused on the doorway behind him. He turned to find himself face to face with a dragon, gazing quizzically at him with a pair of slitted, amethyst purple eyes set in a slender face with amber scales that reflected the lights of the club like burnished gold. Destiny let out a whicker of alarm and leapt into his brother's fore hooves, forcing the bespectacled stallion to fall back on his haunches.
The reptilian creature spoke with a honeyed, feminine voice as it ruffled its folded wings, a flush of coral and pink appearing between the golden spines. "I do beg your pardon, sir, but if y'all would be so kind as to make way for a young lady, I would be ever so grateful."
Destiny and Insanity scrabbled back against the potted palm trees by the wall as the other ponies stepped aside to let the dragonette through. Two pegasi stallions in suit coats and ties followed closely in her wake, scanning the crowd with the mien of bodyguards, although the assembled ponies parted readily as she made her way into the club. Twilight looked her over as she passed, noting details with her keen observer's eye.
She was roughly three pony lengths from snout to tail, clearly young for a dragon, perhaps only a few years older than Spike. Her body was long and sinuous, and she moved gracefully, almost daintily, for a creature of her size. Her tapering neck and gently undulating tail were adorned with a princess' ransom in jeweled necklaces and gold chains, while a glittering fringe of earrings hung from the finlike projections trailing from the sides of her head.
Twilight wheeled and trotted back to her booth. She found Spike chewing absently on his pen with an agate in his clawed hand, his green eyes riveted on the female dragon's stately progress through the ponies around her with genteel nods and careful maneuvering of her wings and tail.
The lavender mare slid into the booth and began to hastily rifle through her fact file. She let out a tsk of mild frustration as she came to a newspaper clipping from the Cloudsdale Sentinel. "Now here's an competitor I have next to no information about. All I know is her name is Quillina, and that she paid her entry fee with gold coins dating five centuries ago."
Spike murmured the name softly to himself. "Quillina."
He spat out the shreds of his pen and turned to Twilight with a gleam in his emerald green eyes. "If you want, I could go talk to her. Find out more about her, y'know. Maybe she'd be willing to share her story with a fellow dragon."
The lavender scholar's brow furrowed and she tapped at her chin uneasily. "Well, I... guess that's a good idea."
The young drake snatched up a clawful of agates and slipped them into his pocket, then slid out of the booth. He paused to smooth back the spines on his head and straighten his tie, steeled himself, then strode out across the club toward the gleaming dragonette.
Twilight watched him go, wondering why she was feeling the same flip flop in her stomach as she did when he'd started unfurling his wings and leaping off of rooftops.
Pip gave a bow as he proffered a graceful unicorn mare a flower and lace festooned hoofkerchief. "Pardon me, luv, but you seem to have dropped this at my hooves as you passed."
A look of mild disappointment flickered across the attractive filly's face as she accepted it. "Ah, thank you, sir. I would have hated to have lost it."
The young stallion's grin widened with a gleam. "I can tell, since you've very prudently got your name and address embroidered on it Miss... Wisteria."
Apple Bloom edged closer to Pip's side, her amber eyes gleaming like coals. "I reckon that'd come in right handy if'n they found ya all worked over in a ditch someplace."
The unicorn cast the red headed mare a nervous look, then batted her eyes at her spotted companion as she floated the kerchief from his hoof and tucked it beneath the ruffled hem of her satin brocade saddle above her flowery vine cutie mark. "Best of luck in the race, Mr. Squeak. I'll be rooting for you." With that she turned and made her way into the crowd with a lingering backward glance.
Pip gave her a jaunty salute. "Such a nice young lady, and rather attractive, I daresay."
He flicked an ear at the sound of teeth grinding at his side and he gave Apple Bloom a sidelong glance. "Are you all right, luv? You seem rather on edge tonight. Bit of nerves about the race?"
She gave him a flat stare. "No, I'm just gettin' sick o' stoppin' every two or three steps t' pick up somethin' some... mare has dropped in front o' ya..." She gave an irritable flick of her beribboned tail as she muttered under her breath. "If'n it keeps up I'm gonna drop somethin', or somepony more like..."
The young stallion nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, it does seem that the ladies of Manehattan are a bit careless with their personal effects, but they do seem to show a similar practical streak to the lovely Miss Wisteria in labeling them."
He gave her a broad smile and wink, nodding toward the overflowing pockets of his tuxedo jacket. "Well, don't trouble yourself any further, my dear. We'll take everything to the lost and found afterward. I'm sure they'll make short work of reuniting the poor things with their wayward hoofkerchiefs, ribbons, and garters."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Although it eludes me how a mare could lose the latter and not realize it. Seemed to happen a lot when I was a steward on the Cumulous too, now that I think of it..."
Apple Bloom let out a weary sigh and brought a hoof to her forehead. A moment later her ears perked up as the band stopped the stately waltz they were playing and switched to a blaring fanfare.
Pip nudged her. "I say, sounds like the Ceremony is about to get under way. We should find some seats."
He cast about the room for a moment, then reared up with a broad grin and a wave as he spotted a table near to the stage. "Oh, there's a spot of luck! That lot there have a couple of empty chairs they seem willing to share with us, and they're right up front."
Apple Bloom's eyes narrowed dangerously as they focused on the bevy of mares who were beckoning her handsome companion with sloe eyed smiles on their faces. She let out a low growl as she fell into step beside him. "Up front is right..."
Once the audience had settled in and the lights had lowered, an aged pegasus mare clad in a simple black evening gown and a white lace shawl adorned with a colorful panoply of medals and insignia stepped onto the stage to the thunderous sound of hooves on hardwood. Her pink coat had faded, and her once blue mane had mostly gone white, but her eyes were bright and clear and her steps surefooted and strong. She held her head high as she surveyed the crowd of ponies and other creatures and raised a hoof for silence, giving a wry nod to a bit of exuberant whooping coming from the Wonderbolts' table after the main applause had died down.
Once its rainbow maned source had settled back into her seat with another faint blush on her cyan cheeks, the elderly pegasus stepped forward to the microphone and cleared her throat. "Mares and Gentlecolts, it is my considerable privilege to welcome you all to this celebration of an athletic competition with a long and storied history. Tomorrow, when the flag goes up, it will fall to this year's brave competitors to write the next chapter. You will face the dangers of the airways, the elements, and your own limitations, in hopes of conquering them and earning yourself a place next to the legends of the past."
A smile spread across her weathered features as a twinkle appeared in her eye. "But for tonight, let us all enjoy the calm before the storm, and the camaraderie of those who will strive to rise above the humdrum of the herd and grasp greatness in your hooves. Tonight, may you eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you fly!"
She raised her hoof again to still the surge of clattering applause. "And now, in the spirit of the evening, we present for your entertainment 'The Dance of the Winds'." The elder mare gave a courtly bow and proceeded off stage to more heartfelt stomping of hooves and cheers as dark clad stagehoofs cleared away the microphone stand.
A hush fell over the crowd as the curtains parted to a sparely decorated stage, and a lone spotlight fell on a svelte young pegasus mare who stood with her head bowed, her short magenta mane woven with a corona of white feathers. Her wings and tail were festooned with long, opalescent streamers, and her lean, pale orange body was dusted with glitter, with the thickest concentration of sparkling dust nearly obscuring her butterfly cutie mark.
She rose with the music, lightly launching skyward as the woodwinds trilled triumphantly, the gleaming ribbons trailing in her wake as she executed a breathtaking series of loops, twirls, and spins.
Soarin stood on the edge of the balloon hangar's roof, ears perked as he gauged the wind blowing across Manehattan harbor. A thin coating of perspiration was already slicking down his sky blue coat after an extended bout of calisthenics, and he shivered a bit as the breeze blew cool beneath his company's patroness' rising moon.
With a nod, he lowered his goggles into place and leapt, launching skyward with a beat of his wings.
The dancer was the ponification of grace, the sheer joy of a pegasus' defiance of gravity radiating from her tawny body as she capered and pirouetted in the glare of the spotlights, moving with the rise and fall of the music as the trailing ribbons eddied and drifted in counterpoint to her movements, enveloping her like a cyclone one moment and breaking open like a cocoon releasing a glittering butterfly the next as she drew them rustling behind her like the tail of a comet.
All eyes in the audience were riveted on her dance, their hearts leaping as she leapt, and easing as she drifted to the stage like a dandelion seed.
Soarin's face set in a grimace of effort as he sailed high over the darkened waves of the harbor, pouring on the speed with powerful thrusts as he tucked his forelegs tightly to his chest. He banked and wove between random tufts of cloud that were drifting in from the ocean, straining his whole body to maneuver while flying faster and faster through the whistling torrent of a headwind.
The sky blue pegasus' eyes narrowed as a grim smile curled the sides of his mouth. With a grunt, he pushed himself onward, pumping his wings against the thickening atmosphere as the clouds around him darkened, trading sporadic salvos of lightning in his wake as he shot past, scarcely hearing the sullen rumbling of thunder behind him as he picked up speed.
His ears laid back as he felt the headwind start to coalesce into a cone of hardening air, and he extended his fore hooves in front of him, forming his body into a lance. He winced as a crack split the right lens of his goggles. He flicked them away into the screaming vortex around him as he pushed himself onward, attempting to break through the incredible pressure building in front of him through sheer force of will.
He bellowed his defiance at the top of his lungs as the mach cone strained against his face and hooves, tears streaming from his eyes as the wind whipped and stung them, almost forcing them shut. A roar like the birth of the world exploded around him, and all was tumult and confusion as he found himself pitching and tumbling head over hooves with no sense of up or down.
The rapt crowd of ponies and non ponies alike gasped as the dancer's maneuvers became more daring and bold to the increasing tempo of the music, the poetry of her movements now backed with power as she painted the air with her glittering trail of ribbons. Eyes widened, wings flared, and breath was held at each flourish of her glittering flight path.
A black storm cloud loomed ahead of Soarin as he tucked his legs, wings, and head into a tight ball, his instincts forcing him into a crash position as he sailed toward the ominously swirling mass of atmospheric fury. Feeling its surface at the last moment, he thrust his legs out, pushing against the dark, inky vapors and rebounding as a crackling burst of lightning lit up the turbulent air. Raggedly gasping at the effort, he unfurled his wings, straining every muscle to reorient and right himself as he plummeted.
Finally, after a seeming eternity of falling, he leveled out, his hooves dashing against the surging waves as a stinging rain fell, telling him unequivocally that up was up and down was down once more. With a few more pumps of his aching wings, he cleared the rain zone of the thundercloud and sailed into cool night air, where he skidded to a stop, panting for breath.
A grin split Soarin's face as the towering black cloud rumbled admonishment for his audacity. His ragged breathing evened out, as a chuckle grew to a laugh. He threw the thunderhead a salute, wheeled in a long, lazy arc, and made for home.
The graceful dancer touched down, panting slightly as the ribbons on her wings made a corona on the stage around her. She bowed deeply, as the club exploded with cheers and applause.
Apple Bloom sat with her chin on her hoof and a grim frown on her face as Pip affably chatted up the other mares at the table, who peppered him with flirtatious questions and cooed over his looks and charm. A tiny black cloud hung over the young mare's head as she stared across the dance floor, despite the upbeat jazz piano solo provided by Spike while the band took a break.
The young dragon sat at the keyboard expertly tickling the ivories with his jeweled tie loosened and a large, fruity umbrella drink at claw, with the sinuous, golden figure of the dragoness Quillina looming at his side, her neck arched intently as she watched him play.
The red headed earth pony was shaken from her gloomy reverie by a chipper voice at her side. "Apple Bloom! Hey! A.B.!"
Her head whipped around to see the flushed, beaming face of Scootaloo. Her mane was darkened with wet and slicked back with traces of glitter still clinging to her locks, and she wore a light party dress of slightly clinging gold and pink fabric. She ruffled her still damp wings and reared up as Apple Bloom leaped up to hug her. "Scootaloo! That was amazing!"
The orange pegasus mare blushed. "Thanks! I'm totally psyched that you were here to see it."
Apple Bloom gave a chuckle as they disengaged. "Well, ya coulda knocked me over with just one feather when I saw ya up there on th' stage."
A nostalgic smile spread across her face. "Between you n' Sweetie the Cutie Mark Crusaders have sure come a long way since that first school talent show, huh?"
Scootaloo grinned back, giving the red headed earth pony a chuck on the shoulder. "Speaking of coming a long way, all the stuff I've been hearing about this flying harness thing you've been working on is amazing! What I wouldn't have given for one of those things when I was a filly."
The young engineer rolled her eyes with a wry grin. "I dunno 'bout that. I think Ponyville had enough t' look out fer when y'all were tearin' around on yer scooter."
A fond expression crossed her pale yellow features. "And anyhow, I think ya done a lot better buildin' up yer own wings, when all's said n' done."
The magenta maned pegasus gave a slight wince as she worked the joint on her left wing. "Yeah, I guess so. I'm still gonna feel tonight's routine in the morning, in spite of Zecora and Madame Pas De Cheval's best efforts."
Both mare's turned as Pip's voice sounded beside them. "And speaking of best efforts, Miss Scootaloo that was a smashing performance. My eyes were positively riveted on you the entire time."
With that, he took the svelte pegasus' hoof in his own and gallantly kissed it. The young dancer let out a gasp as her wings snapped up, batting across Apple Bloom's snout and causing her to flinch back with a clipped cry.
A flush of pink appeared beneath the scattering of glitter on Scootaloo's orange cheeks. "Sweet breeze across the knees, is that you Pip!?"
The young stallion favored her with a gleaming smile as he drew himself up with a nod. "It is indeed me, my dear." He gave her a wink. "At least that's what they say in the newspapers."
A lopsided grin spread across the pegasus mare's face as she batted her eyes at him. "So I've seen, but the photos just don't do you justice. RrOWrrr."
Apple Bloom rubbed the tip of her muzzle with a hoof and let out a growl, and rounded on her old friend with her amber eyes flashing. "Yeah, just so y'know, me n' Pip are goin'..."
She was cut off as the band, freshly returned from their break, struck up with a flourish of brass and driving tom toms. Scootaloo's ears perked up, and she gave a little bounce on her hooves as she stepped closer to the young stallion. "Hey, you wanna dance, handsome?"
Pip gave her a bow and proffered a hoof. "I'd be delighted."
A look of outrage washed across Apple Bloom's face as she planted her hooves and hiked her tail. "Now wait just a darn minute!"
Scootaloo gave a breezy toss of her mane as she allowed Pip to lead her out onto the dance floor. "We'll catch up after this song, A.B. Just sit tight."
The red headed earth pony stood with her face aghast, her eyes smoldering, as the spotted stallion and the tawny pegasus bounded onto the shiny expanse with other couples and began to circle one another in a lively pasodoble, trading lead effortlessly as the band filled the air with energy and rhythm.
The tiny dark cloud reappeared over Apple Blooms head, thickening and blackening into a plume from an unseen smoke stack as green flames flared in the young mare's pupils. She stomped out onto the dance floor and made a bee line for Pip and Scootaloo, giving the tawny dancer a rough shove that threw her momentarily off balance.
She rounded on Apple Bloom with a look of angry incredulity on her face. "Hey! What's your problem?"
The earth pony mare jabbed a hoof at Pip. "Yer dancin' with my beau, ya painted hussy, that's my problem!"
Scootaloo jerked her head toward the spotted stallion. "He doesn't seem to have a problem with it."
Pip lashed his tail nervously as he raised a conciliatory hoof. "Er... Ladies, there's no need to..."
Apple Bloom cut him off with a snarl and got in the pegasus mare's face. "He's mine! Keep yer grubby trotters off."
Pip chimed in with a fairly nonplussed note to his voice. "I say, Apple Bloom, I don't think..."
Scootaloo ground her hooves as she met the earth pony's amber eyed glare. "If he's yours, how come you weren't dancing with him?" Her lip curled in a sneer. "Oh yeah, now I remember, you dance like Karate Colt after he's taken a few too many kicks to the head."
Apple Bloom leapt at the furious dancer with a shriek of anger. "I'll give YOU a kick t' the head."
The two young mares rolled into a boiling cloud of kicking, biting, and hair pulling as the revelers around them came to a stop and stared with shock and dismay. Pip lunged forward to try to separate them but was sent stumbling back clutching at his eye. He landed on his back with his hooves curled to his chest, staring up at the disbelieving face of Twilight Sparkle as she shouldered her way out of the crowd.
She looked at him with wide, incredulous eyes. "What the everlovin' hay is going on, Pip?"
He looked up at her with a helpless shrug, his eye already beginning to darken and swell. "T-terribly sorry about all this bother, ma'am."
The lavender unicorn's brow furrowed angrily as her horn flared to life. "Well it stops RIGHT now."
In a quick succession of magical bursts, Twilight, Pip, and the two brawling mares had vanished from the dance floor, leaving the crowd blinking in stunned confusion at the empty space.
A short time later Twilight lashed her tail as she glared at a sniffling, despondent Apple Bloom. "It's an understatement to say that I am shocked, angered, and extremely disappointed in your actions tonight, young lady." She fixed the red headed earth pony with a cool, analytical glare. "But most of all I'm deeply confused. What possible rationale could you have for starting a hoof fight with one of your oldest friends on a crowded dance floor?"
The young mare sat huddled on the end of a deck chair on one of Madison Mare Garden's terraces, shivering slightly in the cool night breeze in the tatters of her party dress, sniffling from tears as well as the small cone of paper napkin that was wedged in one of her nostrils to stop the bleeding. She let out a shuddering sob. "I'm... I'm s-sorry, Twilght."
The lavender unicorn's voice rose sharply. "I KNOW you're sorry, Apple Bloom. Now say something else, expand on that premise."
She stomped her hoof on the concrete patio. "You've caused me, Harmony Aeronautics, and I'm sure, when they hear about this, your family considerable embarrassment because of tonight's little riot. If I didn't respect your intellect, your expertise, and your handiwork, I'd fire you on the spot. Now stop prevaricating and explain yourself."
Apple Bloom's face contorted in misery, and she seemed on the verge of breaking down when a soft, sandy voice sounded beside them, causing both mares to look over to meet the grave maroon gaze of Rainbow Dash. "Ease off on the filly a little, Twilight. She wasn't thinking with her head, so you'd probably have a tough time understanding even if she could explain."
She turned and gave a nod to Scootaloo, who stood at her side with a hangdog expression on her bruised face, her dress as tattered as Apple Bloom's and her wings, mane, and tail disheveled. "Why don't you say what you gotta say, squirt, while your friend gets herself together a little."
The tawny young pegasus' eyes welled with tears as she stepped forward. "I'm so sorry, Apple Bloom. I didn't know Pip was your steady coltfriend, and I didn't mean for it to look like I was putting the moves on him. I just thought a dance with a cute colt would be fun. That's all. That's all. "
Her face began to cloud up as she met Apple Bloom's tearful gaze. "I'd never hurt you like that, you're... you're my best friend. I... I owe you so much... I wouldn't even be here if you didn't get Zecora to help me with my s-stupid stubby wings... I... I'd never try to take away something... or especially somepony you cared about. I'd never break your heart after... after you helped f-fix me."
She dragged a hoof across her eyes with a hiccuping shudder and looked away as Dash patted her gently on her shoulder. "Good job, Scoots."
She fixed Apple Bloom with a glare. "I know how you Apples can get when you stake out your territory, but maybe you oughta think about who you're leaving out in the cold when you throw up that fence?" She gave a nod toward Pip, who sat by the terrace's railing with a bag of ice over his eye. "Or who you're penning in. Check before you wreck, huh kid?"
A pensive silence fell over the four mares, punctuated by sniffles and soft whimpers from the younger pair. Twilight opened her mouth to speak, her eyebrow cocked in confusion, but fell silent at a brush of a cyan wing across her side and a shake of the head from Dash.
Apple Bloom surged to her feet with a wail, dragging Scootaloo into a tearful embrace. "I'm s-s-sorry, Scootaloo. Please forgive me for bein' such a terrible, jealous, low down ornery varmint n' treatin' ya like a timberwolf t' be run off."
As the two younger mares wept into one another's shoulders, Dash gave a nod of satisfaction and patted Twilight on the shoulder as she passed. "Okay, that's good. Keep an eye on these two while I go talk to Mister Perfect over here, okay?"
The lavender scholar blinked at her in consternation, and then huffed and bunched up her shoulders with a sigh. "Fine. I guess I'm just not cut out for employee relations..."
The rainbow maned pegasus walked across the terrace to where Pip sat, watching the little conclave of mares with a furrowed brow as he held the bag of ice over his eye socket. He got to his feet as Dash approached, setting it aside to reveal the swelling purple bruise disfiguring his handsome face. He gave her a short bow. "Lieutenant Dash..."
She reared up and cuffed him across the ear with a fore hoof. "What in Hurricane's hailstones is wrong with you?"
He stumbled back, sitting down hard on a deck chair and setting a nearby umbrella table rocking back and forth. An indignant look furrowed his brow as he reached up to shield his face. "I say, steady on there!"
The cyan pegasus got in his face. "Shut your twinkle hole and listen good." She jabbed a hoof at Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. "That filly is so stupid crazy about you that she's ready to go casco a casco with one of her best friends just for dancing with you. I ain't sayin' that's right of her, but you sure as sleet weren't helping just letting her sit and stew all night while you flew loops with whatever swishing tail drifted up on your wing."
Pip drew himself up with a mix of confusion and indignation on his youthful face. "I beg your pardon?"
Dash let out an exasperated huff. "Every time I saw you two at the party you were flashing those chompers of yours at a different mare and kissing her hoof while poor Apple Bloom stood there watching with a storm cloud gettin' blacker and meaner over her head." She rolled her eyes before fixing him with her gaze. "Tell me you're not so numb in the noggin that you didn't notice."
The young stallion pawed at the edge of his seat with a defensive note sounding in his voice. "W-well I did notice she seemed out... out of sorts, but I put it down to pre-race jitters." He jutted out his chin. "But what would you have me do, ma'am? Ignore the others? Turn a cold shoulder to a friendly greeting? A gentlecolt extends his courtesy to all ladies equally!"
The rainbow maned stunt flyer rubbed the tip of her hoof on her temple as she lashed her tail. "Yeah, great, awesome, but when you decide that somepony's extra special to you, you can't just treat 'em like everypony else. They gotta take priority, or what's the gosh darned point?"
The spotted stallion blinked at her as a blank look spread across his bruised, coltish face. His brow furrowed pensively as a frown tightened his lips. "Oh dear..."
After a moment he met her eyes with a grave expression on her face. "I see that I need to set things right. Thank you, Lieutenant Dash."
She gave him a terse nod. "Yeah. That'd be a good idea, sport. Glad you saw the light."
Pip rose to his hooves and walked across the terrace to where Apple Bloom and Scootaloo sat, still hugging while they sniffled and hiccuped fitfully on one another's shoulders. He had to clear his throat a few times before they disengaged, with the orange pegasus stepping off to stand beside Twilight and Dash as the young stallion took the tearful young engineer's trembling hoof in his own.
He met her puffy eyed gaze with his own mismatched eyes and gave a formal nod. "Miss Apple, I regret to say I've done you a great wrong in not considering or properly reciprocating your affections. It is a point of honor for me to never mistreat or ignore a lady's feelings, and in that I have failed. For that lapse in character, I humbly apologize."
Apple Bloom smoothed back a lock of her frayed red hair. "Oh... well... I reckon I forgive ya, Pip."
He gave her a bow. "You have my thanks, dear lady. The shame of my dishonor will rest lighter on my shoulders."
A smile started to blossom on the young mare's face. "Aw shucks, you don't gotta..."
She trailed off as he cleared his throat. "Please, Miss Apple, this is difficult for me, and I must beg you to let me finish. Since I have proven unworthy of your affections, I feel it is my duty, and in our mutual best interest, to terminate our romantic relationship, and only continue on a professional basis as fellow employees of Harmony Aeronautics. I am quite sure a mare of such excellent qualities and plentiful charms as yourself will find somepony both well suited and worthy of your heart. You have my warmest wishes for such a happy occurrence, and I shall always look back fondly on our brief time together as more than friends."
A stunned look descended on all of the mares' faces as he drew himself up in a rigid posture. "Now if you all will excuse me, I ought to head back to the hotel and get to bed. Quite the big day tomorrow, I daresay." He gave them each a deep, formal bow. "I'll see you bright and early at HQ, Doctor Sparkle, Miss Apple. Lieutenant Dash, good luck in the race and clear skies. Miss Scootaloo, it was a pleasure. Good night."
With that he turned and strode purposefully to the door with his head held high and his tail hiked, pausing to let out a sigh with the tiniest slouch, and then stepping through and disappearing.
Twilight, Dash, and Scootaloo where startled out of a slack jawed stare after the young stallion by a heart wrenching wail from Apple Bloom. The young pegasus zipped across to catch her fillyhood friend in a tight embrace as the red headed earth pony slouched forward with fountains of tears spilling down her anguished face. She rocked her fellow Crusader and cooed apologies and words of comfort in her ear as best she could.
The lavender unicorn let out a long, shuddering sigh and rubbed her throbbing temple with a hoof tip as Dash pawed at the ground with a nervous chuckle. "Eh heh... Not... Not quite how I thought it would play out... Sorry..."
She fell uncomfortably silent as Apple Bloom blubbered a torrent of tears and snot onto Scootaloo's faintly glitter dusted wings.
The characters depicted in this fiction are copyright and trademarks of Hasbro, Inc. This is a work of fan fiction, and the author makes no claim on Hasbro's copyright or trademarks.