Part 26 - Barnstorming
The start of the race had been a giddy, terrifying thrill for the Harmony Aeronautics team aboard the Friend Ship. Twilight and Apple Bloom had crowded to the forward rail and watched in alarm as the race course filled with thick black smoke from the B.A.T. 19s' rocket engines, placing all the other racers in grave danger as they suddenly found themselves flying blind.
The lavender unicorn mare had breathlessly ordered Spike to pour some extra flame into the envelope, raising the balloon higher as she grasped the forward mounted telescope and peered at the vapor choked race course. She was only dimly aware of Apple Bloom rearing anxiously beside her with a pair of binoculars clenched between her hooves.
After what seemed like an eternity of wondering what was happening inside the cloudy trail, all three occupants of the pink and purple airship whooped and cheered, pumping hooves or clawed fists as they spotted the rainbow contrail breaking through the wall of smoke at the head of a vortex cone that disgorged the brightly winged forms of a pack of pegasi as it dissipated like a flock of birds from a magician's hat.
Twilight had breathed a shaky sigh of relief as she spotted the purple wings with white crescents of the Luna Moth, with the sky blue figure of Soarin in his tan jacket and purple scarf flying in tight formation. Her mood had been slightly dampened by Apple Bloom muttering something about being glad the harness made it through undamaged, before pushing off from the railing and slouching back into the enclosed cabin claiming that the smoke was stinging her eyes. She'd disappeared through the hatch with a flick of her tail before Twilight could note that they were currently too high for the vapors to even remotely affect them.
The scholarly unicorn had given a sigh and a shake of her head, and then set about the task of taking stock of the rest of the field with Spike recording her observations in the log book.
Due to their speed and the terrible smoke screen, Harmony Aeronautics' despicable rivals had taken an early, commanding lead, although their royal guard escort was conspicuously absent.
The negasi from Hollow Shades was trailing a distant second, soaring through the clear sky with the sun reflecting off of their protective grey suits.
Lulong the kirin was rapidly overtaking and passing the pack of racers after punching through the smoke screen with some kind of shield spell, his phoenix partner hot on his gilded heels.
All three Wonderbolts were present and accounted for, although the rude young rookie Shootin' Star seemed to be having some trouble correcting his flight path after the sideclone maneuver.
The Cloudsdale team was still in the race, but the Los Pegasus and Canterlot teams each seemed to be down a member. Several other teams of pegasi were completely absent.
Both griffin teams were intact at three apiece, with the sun glinting off of peaked steel helmets revealing that Baron Redtail and his lackeys were ahead of the LaFish brothers.
The large, ruddy brown shape of Flies Like Thunder was visible in the distance with his blue grey pegasus partner, as was the rose winged, golden figure of Quillina, who'd landed on a Manehattan Harbor pier and seemed to be engaged in an animate discussion with her pink suited pegasi escorts. Eventually they had all taken off again, the draconic heiress pumping her broad wings to catch up to the pack with her hirelings in tow.
Twilight had been startled out of her observations, nearly poking herself in the eye with the telescope eyepiece, at the sound of the trumpets blowing the all clear for launch signal for the various teams' support craft. With brisk, businesslike efficiency, teams of orange vested pegasi from the Manehattan Municipal Weather Authority had finally cleared away the last of the smoke trail, revealing the carnage and confusion on the streets and buildings below as ponies clustered around crashed pegasi racers, rendering first aid and clearing debris as emergency carts dotted the course with flashing red lights.
High above, a clarion horn call from the massive silver shape of the T.M.S.S. Ambrosia answered in reply, the vast airship's turbines spinning up as it began to ease itself majestically forward in pursuit of the racers. Down below, the smaller dirigibles, balloons, and pegasus drawn wagons had begun to trundle forward. Twilight had hurriedly wheeled away from the railing to help Apple Bloom and Spike activate their own craft's magically driven propellers and get underway.
Had she known what it looked like or cared to search for it, she would have noticed that the black dirigible flown by Otto Bomb on behalf of Professor Destiny and Doctor Insanity was nowhere to be seen among the support craft for the race.
The stunted hench-pony squinted skyward from beneath his sloped cap as his ears pricked at the sound of sputtering rocket motors overhead. Setting aside his heavily annotated and bookmarked chemistry textbook, he took the wooden shaft of a bright red flag in his teeth and scurried out from behind the hog shed that currently concealed his employers' skull and bat festooned airship from south west bound eyes.
Casting a wary glance about for the farm's owners, the dwarfish earth pony began to leap up and down and wave the flag to signal the bat winged shapes that were rapidly approaching. The porcine denizens of the hog shed's attached pig sty watched him impassively as he huffed and puffed and hopped and spun.
He spat out the flag and frantically scampered for cover as the gangly legged unicorns screamed out of the heavens toward him without any sign of slowing. Doctor Insanity finally managed to angle his wings such that his hurtling descent was slowed, skipping, stumbling, and finally digging in his hooves as he cut two erratic furrows across the barnyard. He screeched to a stop and flipped onto his back with a tremendous smack. For long minutes he stared blankly at the sky, looking like a gigantic dead insect, as he curled his legs to his chest and belly and let out a long, tremulous wheeze, the air knocked out of his lungs.
Professor Destiny howled in alarm as he drifted in over the pig sty, trying in vain at the last moment to stop by catching the fence with his rear hooves. This only served to send him tumbling forward into the noisome mud, where he dug an impromptu ditch with his face and chest while the pigs squealed and scattered.
After a few dazed moments he pushed himself up, his flight suit, chin, and mustache dripping with acrid, filthy sludge, and wiped the splattered mud from his goggles. After a cursory glance had assured him that his wings were undamaged and largely unsoiled, he reared up with a triumphant laugh and jabbed a hoof skyward in the general direction of Manehattan. "HAH! Lets see the great Doctor Sparkle try THAT on for size!"
Doctor Insanity finally caught his breath and started to thrash in his harness. "Enough! Quit messing around and help me up, you addle pated horsefly! Otto! Where in blazes are you?"
The stubby legged earth pony galloped forth to assist as Destiny painfully hauled himself and his half of the B.A.T. 19 out of the muck of the pig sty and over the fence. He staggered over to his brother's side with a broad grin on his soiled face as Otto helped the clean shaven stallion to his hooves. "Your turbocharged rockets were a resounding success! That was glorious, was it not... my brother?"
Insanity gasped, pushing up his goggles with a shaking hoof to reveal a bit of moisture glazing his wide, green eyes. "You... you called me your brother..." His voice hitched slightly as tremulous wonder spread across his sallow face. "Have you f-finally... does.. does this mean you... you've forgiven me?"
The mustachioed unicorn reared back and spread his fore hooves wide. "You're forgiven... brother."
His younger sibling let out a sound somewhere between a sob and a laugh as he leapt to embrace him. "Oh brother... I'm so..."
A moment later he blinked, his nostrils flaring as a look of disgust spread across his narrow face. "... so disgusting! Gah, get off of me!" He shoved the Professor back with a scowl as he looked at the stinking brown muck now splattering his flight suit as well.
He gave a toss of his head and barked sharply to their assistant. "Otto! Bring us each a fresh set of rockets and be quick about it. Time is of the essence!"
The dwarfish pony nodded and scurried over to a stack of red and black striped phlogiston motors, taking one in his teeth and hurrying back like an eager dog with a stick. Doctor Insanity turned and proceeded to detach the spent rockets from Professor Destiny's harness with his magic as his angrily frowning sibling did the same to his, tossing the empty shells aside with a clatter.
As he accepted the first replacement motor from his lackey, Destiny cocked an eyebrow and fixed the stunted earth pony with a bloodshot, questioning gaze. "So Otto, did you have time to prepare our little... surprise for Harmony Aeronautics last night?"
The low slung henchpony gave a nod. "Yeh, Bozz. Found a nice corn field about a mile back. Rigged 'em up good and set da detonator just like ya said."
As their flunky wheeled and scurried off to get another motor, Doctor Insanity fixed his sibling with a suspicious glare. "This is a surprise to me too, brother. Just what, exactly, is Otto blathering about?"
Destiny let out a chuckle as he levitated the rocket toward the bracket on his harness. "Just a few magic seeking missiles..."
Insanity wheeled with eyes wide in alarm and batted at his brother's horn with a flailing hoof, causing the green sparkles of magic to abruptly cut off as the unicorn it was attached to grimaced in pain. "Agh! My sinuses!"
The phogiston rocket thudded to the ground in a puff of dust, its nose cone crumpling slightly.
The bespectacled pony lashed his close cropped tail as he gripped his sibling's harness and dragged him close to stare wildly into his eyes. "Great Hurricane's ghost! Are you really that much of a thundering numbskull? After what happened the last time you tried using one of those infernal devices?"
The Professor shook his head to clear the ringing out of his ears and cast a glare at Otto, who set another rocket down with an ingratiating smile and wheeled on his hooves to retrieve another. "Well, apparently somepony's a dirty little snitch."
He met Doctor Insanity's gaze and batted his hoof away with a sneer. "Calm yourself, brother. We're far enough away that we're in no danger." He picked the rockets up and levitated them onto the brackets on his harness, snapping the fasteners shut as he strode toward the gondola of the black dirigible.
His brother followed him, unconvinced and spluttering as Otto chased him with another rocket in his mouth, eagerly wagging his stubby tail. Doctor Insanity brought a hoof to his forehead in a paroxysm of incredulity. "But... but we flew over miles of cornfields! Phlogiston is distilled, concentrated magic! Either we were tremendously lucky, which given our track record thus far I highly doubt, or your rockets are all duds."
Destiny ducked his head inside the dirigible's open hatch, coming out a moment later with a brass cone trailing wires sitting on the tip of his horn. He gave Doctor Insanity a smug grin with a maniacally raised eyebrow. "Well of course they're duds, I haven't activated them yet."
His eyes went slightly more glazed, and a green glow pulsed beneath the cone as he spoke out to nopony in particular. "Arm rockets!"
An earth pony mare let out a contented sigh as she leaned affectionately against a burly earth pony stallion. The pair lay sprawled in the shade on a checkered tablecloth, a picnic basket and a pail full of ice with two sarsaparilla bottles sitting ignored off to the side as all around them the drooping leaves rustled in the late summer breeze from the tall, green cornstalks.
She playfully nuzzled his neck. "Oh Plowshare, it's so peaceful out here."
The a blush appeared on her beau's cheeks. "Yeah, Miss Honeysuckle. I s-sure am glad we could get away. Just... just the two of us. Alone..."
After a pregnant pause he nervously cleared his throat. "Y'know, I... I've got somethin' I've been wantin' to say to ya for a long time."
The mare's face brightened up as she met his eyes, batting her long eyelashes at him. "Yes?"
The stallion gazed back, screwing up his courage. "Well, Miss Honeysuckle, I... I..."
She melted toward him. "Yes?"
He swallowed hard. "I... I really... Well. I..."
Her lips edged towards his. "Yes?"
He opened his mouth to reply, but drew back, blinking in shock as somewhere nearby a bell raucously jangled, startling them both. Their widening eyes darted about nervously at the sound of motors engaging, as lethal looking, finned cylinders with grinning, shark faced, coned ends rose up on struts all around them. The two ponies sat stock still, terrified to move, as the lower ends of the rockets began to pulse with an ominous, expectant green glow.
Professor Destiny gave his brother a grin as he flicked the cone off of his horn into the cabin of their support craft. "There, now the rockets are primed to head for the strongest source of magic passing overhead."
He gave his sibling a wink. "I'm sure it'll be quite the spectacle, complete with popcorn, but sadly we'll be well on our way to Fillydelphia by then."
A manic smile spread across Doctor Insanity's face as they shared a gloating, sinister laugh.
The bespectacled unicorn gave a brisk nod as he levitated his replacement rocket motors into the brackets on his harness and locked them in. "Well, on that note, we'd better get going then."
The corners of his mouth angled downward and his lip curled in disgust as he turned to look his elder sibling in the eye. "I'd appreciate it if you flew downwind from me for the time being, brother."
Before Destiny could reply, a harsh voice startled both unicorns and their hench pony. "Hey. Whatter ya doin' behind my hog shed?"
They wheeled to see a grizzled earth pony in a straw hat with a pitchfork clenched in the fetlock of a fore hoof. He cocked his head to clamp it in his teeth and advanced on them menacingly.
Otto dove for the hatch of the airship, crying out in his gravelly voice. "Cheeze it, it's da heat!" He slammed the door shut behind him with a clank.
The sight of an angry farmer armed with any sort of cultivating tool turned weapon is an image that invokes primal terror in the psyche of a travelling con artist. Galvanized to flee, the unicorn brothers whinnied with fear and set off at an awkward gallop under the burden of their bat winged harnesses, frantically sparking their horns to life with green magic as they desperately struggled to light the rockets.
Doctor Insanity leapt skyward with a yelp as the tines of the fork found his flank. With a whoosh of green flame and a billowing explosion of black smoke, he ascended, wild eyed and flailing. As the smoke dissipated, the stunned figure of the farmer was revealed seated on his haunches on a patch of scorched grass, his wide eyes blinking in a face stained black with soot as flames flickered on the brim and crown of his hat. The pitchfork's charred handle crumbled into charcoal shards between his teeth, as the metal tines clattered on the ground.
Professor Destiny gave a mocking laugh over his shoulder as he ran. "Ha! Better luck next time, hayseed!"
A moment later his rockets ignited as well, sending him hurtling into the sky on a parallel path with his brother. His gleeful cackle faded as he began to veer, the motor with the dented nose cone sputtering to stillness.
He let out a ragged shriek of dismay as he began to spiral, careening toward a large chicken coop on the edge of the barnyard next door. A torrent of white feathers and panicked birds exploded from the windows of the low slung structure as he slammed through the doorway with a tremendous crash. A few moments of raucous clucking and more smashing and cracking later, he rocketed out the other end, trailing feathers and eggshells along with the black smoke as he wobbled crazily through the air and made for the western horizon.
Soarin and Pip coasted easily over the rolling fields of barley, wheat, alfalfa, and corn, the sun at their backs and the boundless blue sky stretching before them over the gentle curve of the horizon.
The pack of racers had spread out as the morning had gone on, settling into an easy, energy conserving pace to preserve their strength for the more difficult stages of the race that were yet to come.
In the far distance, the gleaming blue and gold shape of Lulong could be seen skipping majestically on the thermals in great bounding arcs, a bright blaze of orange revealing the gliding flight path of his phoenix companion.
The Wonderbolts were visible in the nearer distance, flying in a relaxed formation with Rainbow Dash in the lead with Shootin' Star at her side, refusing to let up against a mare who was universally known as one of the fastest flyers in Equestria. Spitfire trailed behind them, her blaze yellow wings flashing in the sunlight.
Golden and Granola Bay were flying side by side at Harmony Aeronautics' four o' clock position with Gnarly Curl lagging behind his comrades, while the blue and white suited Cloudsdale team steadily pumped their wings at nine o' clock, maintaining a steady forward pace with grimly determined looks on their faces.
A glance over the shoulder showed rest of the pack were in a loose flock at their six, with Baron Redtail and his servants several hundred hooves higher than the others, surveying the field with their hawk eyes. The bulky forms of the various support balloons and carts, lorded over by the vast shape of the Ambrosia, were vague, blue hazed outlines in the far distance.
Pip was startled out of a solemn faced reverie by Soarin's slightly out of breath call. "Hey kid! How ya holdin' up?"
The young stallion blinked and gave his companion a smile. "Well enough, old bean! Then again these wings of mine are running on magic, not muscle. How about you, mate? Say the word when you want to touch down for a bit of a rest."
The sky blue pegasus gave him a rueful nod. "Yeah, I could use a breather. How about once we get past that corn field up ahead."
Lulong floated along like a kite without a string, humming to himself as he bounded through the skies with his faithful phoenix companion at his side. The tassels on his hat fluttered in the breeze in tandem with the tassels on the corn plants far below.
He took a deep breath through his nostrils as he sailed over the rolling field of grain. "Ah Pheng, Equestria is a most beautiful country of many rustic charms once you are out of the cities. I do believe I shall compose a poem regarding these fragrant green fields and how magnificent it is to fly over them on a most beautiful day."
The fiery bird chirped in uncertainty as a wave of rockets launched into the air trailing green flame and black smoke, arcing unerringly toward the kirin like long black claws with leering, eager shark faces at their tips.
Lulong's yellow and green eyes lit up. "Ah! A most excellent display of fireworks! How fortuitous for us!"
The mixed pack of pegasi and griffins drew up short as the black smoke trails converged and blossomed into an explosion of orange flames like a gigantic, globular jack o lantern in the sky. A loud WHUMP followed on in a radial wave, blowing at the tassels of the corn in expanding ripples as debris rained on the flattened plants directly below. As the orange of the flames ablated to black, a soot coated, smoldering figure with loosely splayed legs dropped out of the cloud and plummeted to the ground, landing among the corn plants with a thud.
While the other racers fanned out to evade the explosion's dissipating smoke cloud, Pip and Soarin exchanged a nod, and angled their wings for a rapid landing. Ahead of them, the Spitfire and Rainbow Dash were doing the same, as the blaze yellow captain of the squad called angrily after Shootin' Star, who gave a toss of his head and flew on.
They touched down at the edge of a circle of broken corn plants to find the blackened, smoking, deer like figure of Lulong lying on his back with his legs stiffly in the air like the legs of an overturned table. Soarin and Dash were the first at his side, with the cyan mare laying her head on his chest to listen for a heartbeat. She leaned back with a startled expression on her face as a low moan escaped from the stricken kirin's throat.
Dash glanced back at Spitfire and PIp incredulously. "He's alive!"
Lulong started to feebly stir, muttering under his breath in Manedarin. A moment later he began to thrash, pulling himself up to a seated position on his haunches as Soarin called out in alarm. "Hey buddy, you shouldn't be moving like that. Let us get help."
Spitfire trotted up and laid her hooves on the struggling creature as well. "Keep him steady!" She leaned in to speak urgently in the kirin's floppy ear. "Calm down, pal! You're gonna hurt yourself worse if you don't keep still."
Lulong froze, his gold and green eyes popping open in the black silhouette of his soot coated face. His pupils shrank to pinpricks as he looked down at his fore hooves, pulling them up out of the rich, loamy soil and staring at them as his jaw dropped.
He began to shake all over, then suddenly startled the ponies around him as he let out a loud wail and started shrieking what sounded very much like curses to their uncomprehending ears. Tears began to roll down his cheeks, leaving trails of iridescent blue green in the black.
After a few moments of this, Spitfire huffed and smacked him on the back of the head. "Hey! Speak Equestrian! We can't help you if we don't understand what your problem is."
Lulong sobbed and proffered a cloven hoof to her as he winced and rubbed the back of his head with the other. "Aiyah! Oh most calamitous woe has befallen me, o rude yet kindly competitors! My hooves have touched the lowly ground, and now I cannot fly for a thousand and one days. Oh lamentable botheration, oh tragic inconvenience upon my poor heartbroken personage. I cannot continue the race." He hunched over despondently and brought his hooves to his eyes, his copious tears washing them clean to reveal that instead of gleaming gold, they were now a dull, iron coloration.
Soarin cocked an eyebrow. "So, uh... so are you hurt at all... I mean... otherwise?"
The soot coated kirin slumped and gave him a mournful look. "The sublime scales of my heavenly dragon ancestors protect my body from harm." He let out a sniffle. "But now they're all dirty."
They all turned their heads with a start as Pip gave a cry of alarm. At his hooves a small pile of ash had burst suddenly into flame, then as they watched it exploded in a small sunburst to reveal a dazed phoenix, weaving slightly in an awkward, slouching seated position with his wings and clawed feet splayed and his ember like eyes spiraling in opposite directions.
Soarin, Dash, and Spitfire helped Lulong unsteadily to his feet. He let out a mournful sigh. "It is going to be a most long and arduous journey back to the Five Mountains of Purest Jade, I can tell you that much without fear of contradiction. Come along, Pheng. No time for lollygagging."
As the phoenix pulled himself to his feet and hopped across the broken corn stalks, flapping his fiery wings and launching into the air to land on Lulong's withers, a rustling at the edge of the flattened circle of plants drew their attention. Two soot stained earth ponies, a stallion and a mare, staggered into the clearing with a disoriented stare on their faces and their popcorn flecked manes blown back as if they'd just been through a hurricane.
The burly stallion spoke up after tentatively clearing his throat. "Uh... Would... would any of you folks have any idea of what's goin' on here? Somepony left a bunch o fireworks in my field and gave me n' my gal an awful turn when they went off."
Pip's eyes narrowed as he shared a glance with Soarin. "Dirty pool! With a capital D, and that stands for Destiny. "
Soarin nodded gravely. "Yeah, we'd better be on our guard, kid. Looks like they're playing for keeps."
Spitfire's eyes flared angrily. "Those finks! When I get my hooves on them I'm gonna wring their scrawny necks for draggin' this race down into the gutter!"
Dash scowled and pawed at the ground. "You'll have to get there before me, Cap."
The blaze yellow mare reared up and smacked her hooves together. "Well they've gone too far this time. When I get to Fillydelphia I'm gonna contact the committee and have 'em disqualified, royal patronage or no royal patronage."
Soarin ruffled his wings and looked skyward as a succession of fleet winged shapes whisked past overhead. "Well, we'd better get a move on then, we're still in the race."
He cast an apologetic look at Lulong, and then gave a nod to the puzzled earth ponies who stood nearby trying to figure out what anypony was talking about. "Excuse me, folks. Is there a farmhouse nearby where this poor fella and his pet bird can get cleaned up and maybe get a bite to eat and a place to bed down for the night? He's got a long walk home ahead of him."
The earth pony stallion gave an uncertain nod. "Uh, yeah. I reckon I can put 'em up."
Lulong walked over to join them with a courtly bow of his antlered head. "You are most kind and welcoming to a wayfaring stranger in your abundant land, o tiller of the fertile fields."
He glanced between the stallion and mare as his antlers scintillated with a glow of white magic. "Your house shall be blessed with many children of strong limb and fair aspect, who shall each in turn have a gift for decoupage, statistics, square-dance calling, geography, and badminton."
Plowshare blinked at him. "B-badminton..."
Honeysuckle's eyes lit up. "Children!"
She leaped up to throw her forelegs around the burly stallion's neck, planting kiss after kiss on his sooty cheek.
The three pegasi and the young earth pony decked out in artificial wings all nodded to one another, and took to the air as the stunned farmer finally toppled sideways under his bride to be's onslaught of affection.
Lulong let out a sorrowful sigh as he watched the flying ponies recede in the distance, turning with a wistful smile at his phoenix companion as Pheng cooed and gently nuzzled him behind his ear. "Ah well, such is life. Better luck next time."
After several hours of being cooped up in the tiny space of the Friend Ship's gondola with Spike and Apple Bloom, Twilight Sparkle was quite ready to scream. Long, loud, and incoherently.
Once they'd gotten underway and set their course, there hadn't been much to do beside keep the tiller straight and take occasional readings with the clock and astrolabe. To fill the time, the lavender scholar had broken out her fact file and asked Spike to fill in the rest of his report on Quillina.
She soon found herself regretting even broaching the subject, as the young dragon held forth with a torrent of, to her mind, extraneous or highly subjective information about such diverse topics as the way the dragonette's scales gleamed like 24 karat gold, the delicate shading from rose red to peach on the membranes of her wings, the clear, crystalline amethyst color of her eyes and the way candle light danced in their depths, the bubbly, ready nature of her laugh, and how much she liked the old jazz standards Spike had played for her on the piano, along with much dubiously pertinent speculation as to whether she'd enjoy "Thunderpony" comics or donuts topped with tourmaline shards.
This, in turn, had prompted Apple Bloom to begin to bitterly enumerate Pip's qualities in such a way as to convince the listener that his wit, charm, glittering smile, good looks, and classically sculpted, almost museum quality flanks were all insidious ruses meant to draw hapless fillies in to have their hearts ruthlessly crushed under hoof, combined with darker speculations as to how far the spotted stallion's detached head might fly if and when her big brother were to buck him like an apple tree, or how sparkly his smile would be after her older sister separated him from a few of his teeth.
The young handmare was about to embark on a mane raising conjecture of what unspeakable vengeance Granny Smith would inflict on her granddaughter's behalf when Twilight abruptly stood up with her hooves set on the corners of the small writing table, flicking the book closed with her horn.
She turned to Spike and gave a terse nod toward the hatch onto the terrace. "Spike, why don't you go stretch your wings a little? Make sure you wear a safety tether so you don't get separated from the balloon, okay?"
The adolescent dragon's slitted green eyes flicked warily between his guardian and Apple Bloom, but he knew an implied order when he heard one. He got to his feet, grabbed a harness from the tack locker, and stepped through the hatch onto the terrace.
Twilight rounded on the younger mare after slamming the hatch shut with her magic. "Apple Bloom, I have listened to you snarling and spitting venom like a basilisk all morning. So much so that I am honestly having trouble believing you ever really loved Pip at all."
The earth pony's amber eyes flashed as she drew herself up, a mixture of rage and shock on her face. "What!? O' course I loved that sorry, no account, heart buckin' varmint."
The lavender unicorn flicked an ear and cocked an eyebrow. "Did you? Really? You could have fooled me."
Apple Bloom gave a dismissive toss of her head. "Feh. What all would ya know about love anyhow? Y'ain't never had a durn coltfriend in yer whole life, and all yer friends are despairin' that ya never will."
Her eyes narrowed as a cruel smirk curled the side of her mouth. "Or maybe ya reckon ya got all th' smarts y'need outta some ol' book."
Twilight rapped a hoof on the table to silence her, her voice coming out level and controlled as her gaze bored into the young mare's glistening eyes. "Books are information, information is gained from experience, experience is gained from observation. I have eyes in my head, Apple Bloom. I have ears. I've observed love in all its forms. Between my brother and Cadance, between your brother and Fluttershy, between Pinkie and Caramel, between Mr. and Mrs. Cake, between my parents, between a whole herd of others. Maybe I don't have the deep understanding of romantic love that my sister in law does, but I've experienced it in other forms. Love between siblings, love between parent and child, love between friends. I think I've seen enough to draw some conclusions and be able to make some comparisons."
She held her hoof up as Apple Bloom was about to protest. "All I see out of you now is jealousy and anger and selfishness. The last time I saw anything like that from you was on that terrible day when I inflicted that Want It Need It spell on you and your friends. You describe what attracted you to Pip in the most superficial terms. His looks, his charm, his teeth, his flanks."
Twilight let out a sigh as she shook her head. "Here you are a full grown mare and you're still throwing a tantrum over a doll."
The anger fled from Apple Bloom's face, shattering before a wave of stunned disbelief as she reached up and dragged the skull patterned kerchief off of her head and cast it to the floor. Her shoulders began to shake as a sob racked her body.
Twilight crossed the cramped space in an instant, taking the young mare to her breast and rocking her as they both silently wept, with nothing further to say for some time.
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.