PART 30 - Fly By Night
Pip blinked in wide eyed disbelief, almost losing his grip on the tray of sewing notions he'd been holding in his hooves. "You... you mean to tell me that by dropping these... er... these tokens at my hooves that they wanted m-me to... to..."
Rarity paused from carefully stitching up the tears in one of the Luna Moth's cloth wing membranes, looking at him over her horn rimmed glasses. "Yes, my dear colt. Quite enthusiastically so, from what I've seen of the looks they were giving you."
A wry smirk compressed one of her alabaster cheeks. "Believe me as a professional with some knowledge of how elastic works when I say that a garter does not just slip off of a mare's leg unless she wants it to."
She gave a slight roll of her eyes as she turned her attention back to reinforcing the stitching. "Although that sort of behavior is almost criminally forward, in my opinion. A proper lady should be able to charm a colt without hurling her underthings at him."
The young stallion stared into space. "Good heavens... This... This certainly puts a number of interactions I've had with mares in the past into a completely different context."
Rarity gave him another sly glance over her glasses. "Having some regrets, darling? Some opportunities lost, perhaps?"
Pip glanced over his shoulder. Up the beach, Twilight and Apple Bloom were busy with the Luna Moth's wooden framework, splicing breaks in the structure through combined hoof work and magic. In the distance high overhead, Soarin and Spike were flying some sky cavalry warmup drills in the early afternoon sunlight.
After giving the red headed handymare a lingering look, he turned his gaze back toward the pale unicorn and shook his head. "No ma'am. Not in the least. Any of those encounters in the past would have just ended up getting in the way now."
He smiled quietly to himself. "If it's time for the scales to finally fall from my eyes, I'm glad they did so for the sake of the right filly."
Rarity chuckled to herself. "Darling, in a truly just world saying things like that would be the reason for mares to cast their lacy invitations at your hooves, rather than your good looks and admittedly finely sculpted physique."
She gave him a warm smile as she batted her sapphire eyes at him. "How lucky for dear Apple Bloom that she'll get to see the part all those superficial fillies can't."
The alabaster mare cocked a wry eyebrow. "Maybe I ought to make her some garters for her to toss in appreciation." She gave him a wink. "The ones I make wouldn't miss their target, darling."
She broke into a silvery laugh as Pip's cheeks flushed bright red.
Twilight checked her heavily annotated scroll and sparked her horn to life. "Casting the spell now."
Pip stood quietly as sparkling purple magic coursed across the freshly repaired wings of the Luna Moth, washing over the purple cloth membranes with their tracework of double stitched scars and running along the length of the mended wooden spars. When the spell's glimmering had faded, the lavender scholar's horn began to pulse with a different rhythm as she scanned the harness from stem to stern.
Finally she gave a nod. "All right, looks like we've got things patched up. Pip, if you'd kindly run the standard test pattern for us."
The young stallion snapped to attention and gave her a jaunty salute. "Jolly good, Doctor Sparkle. Taking her up."
With that, he dusted off smoothly, rising skyward where he hovered for a moment, before flying in circles and X patterns to evaluate the wings' responses to his mental commands. The rest of the team gathered below, watching with hopeful smiles on their faces as he completed the exercise and touched down among them.
Apple Bloom reared up, kicking her fore hooves with a whoop. "Yee haw! Harmony Aeronautics is back in th' race!" She turned and gave Pip a kiss on the cheek, causing him to smile at her and blush.
Twilight gave a glance to Rarity and then nodded. "Yeah. So lets huddle up."
She looked in each of her employee's eyes as they drew in closer. "All right. Now because we spent the better part of the day on repairs, we're a fair bit behind by now. We're definitely not going to make Appleloosa by nightfall. According to my calculations that leaves us two options."
Her lavender horn sparked with magic as she caused a glittering mote of light to leap from its tip and draw a crude illusory map of the southeastern corner of Equestria. A tiny yellow sun arced over the map and went down past the western edge as a line was drawn from the coast of Horseshoe Bay to a point somewhere just beyond the upper reaches of the Haysead Swamp. "Pip and Soarin can fly to the other side of the swamps and camp out, and we'll catch up with them after sundown if we fly Friend Ship wide open. Then they'll move on to Appleloosa, and we'll rendezvous there by early afternoon."
A tiny illusory balloon traced the line, coming to the end as the little sun rose over the map's eastern edge. She cast a glance around the circle of ponies and their attendant dragon, then rewound the sun, balloon, and flight path to their current time and location. "Or, we can stay together and press on toward Appleloosa. In all likelihood we'll touch down sometime tomorrow morning."
Soarin looked over the map with a thoughtful gaze. "Hmm. I'm okay with night flying, and we'll be able to get a bit of rest in Appleloosa in prep for the San Palomino leg of the trip. I'd say we go for it."
Pip chimed in. "I'm keen to get back into this race, so I'd be game to do the all night flight."
Apple Bloom nodded. "If'n that's what we wanna do I'll get the lights rigged up. They're all fully charged, so they oughta last 'til mornin'. I reckon I'm all set t' pull th' all nighter."
Rarity interjected at this point. "Well, I'm fully prepared to support whatever you darlings decide, since I'll be on the Ambrosia and won't be sharing the burden of making the trip."
Twilight pawed at the ground as she gave her partner a sheepish look. "Um... I'm really sorry Rarity, but I'm afraid I won't be able to return you to the airship from here."
The alabaster unicorn's face somehow went paler as her ears levered back. "W-what?"
The lavender mare shook her head regretfully. "I have no idea of the Ambrosia's current location. If we were foolish enough to try winking on a guess we might end up hundreds of hooves up in open air. The only reason I was able to accurately determine where you were this morning was because we were in direct horn to horn contact over the 'phone."
Rarity's pupils shrank to pinpricks as a horrified look swept across her face. "But... but... all of my luggage is in my state room. My clothes. My hats. My toiletries. My make up. My combs and brushes."
She brought a hoof to her mouth. "Sweet Celestia's coruscating croup, my toothbrush is back there!"
Apple Bloom gave a shrug. "Y'can borrow my brush if'n ya like."
A shudder of profound revulsion coursed down the alabaster unicorn's spine as she closed her eyes tightly and shook her head. "No! Er... n-no thank you, darling. I..." Her cheeks bulged out for a moment before she choked back on her gorge. "I... I wouldn't want to impose..."
The red headed handymare rolled her eyes skyward and tsked. "I meant my hair brush, silly..." She muttered under her breath. "And they call yer sister a dingaling..."
Rarity ignored her as she slumped to a seated position with a heavy, dramatic sigh. "I suppose I'll just have to soldier on. It's good that we've got sewing supplies and some spare canvas on the balloon. I'll be able to make a fetching cloak and bag for my head by the time we arrive somewhere somepony might see me."
Twilight surreptitiously rolled her eyes at her old friend's theatrics. "Well it sounds like we've got three so far for pressing on all night. What's your official vote, Rarity?"
The pale unicorn's eyes glistened as she took a lock of her curling, violet tail and gently stroked it while muttering to herself. "Oh this is just going to be murder on my complexion. I'll need a whole bushel of cucumbers to get the bags out from under my eyes."
Her lavender partner cleared her throat and shifted her gaze to Spike. "Okay, I'm gonna call that four votes... Spike? What about you."
The adolescent dragon shrugged. "All night's okay with me. I can see in the dark just fine."
She cocked an eyebrow. "Really? Since when?"
He ruffled his leathery wings. "Since I started doing late night practice flights off of Canterlot U's bell tower. It got a lot easier to miss the Student Union when the night vision kicked in."
Twilight gave a small sigh and nodded. "Okay. Well, I guess I'll make it unanimous."
She drew herself up with a grin and extended a hoof into the middle of their huddle. "All right Harmony Aeronautics, lets take off! Next stop, Appleloosa!"
The young dragon and most of the other ponies gave an enthusiastic shout and extended their own hooves, or claws, for a group hoof bump, save for Rarity who stirred herself petulantly and gave a half hearted tap.
With that, they leapt into action and took to the clear blue sky shortly afterward.
The sun was stretching the shadows eastward from the neatly built facades of Appleloosa's buildings as an impressive figure of a stallion stood in the middle of the dusty street. He was dressed in a fine black frock coat and an embroidered vest, with a high starched collar and a bolo tie with an apple shaped clasp that matched his red apple cutie mark. His long, golden mane flowed down his shoulders from beneath a white ten gallon hat, and he sported a handlebar mustache and a jutting goatee.
The latter he stroked pensively with a hoof as he squinted up at a broad banner being stretched between the town hall and the bakery. "'Appleloosa welcomes the Grand Pegathalo'? Now just a durn minute, that ain't right!"
The scrawny pegasus helping to hang the sign cast a sheepish look down at the imposing town official. "We're powerful sorry, Mayor Braeburn. I reckon we plumb just run outta space."
The golden stallion heaved a heavy sigh as he brought his hoof to his face. "Consarnit, Fluke. How in tarnation are we gonna show Equestria that we're the up n' comin'est town on th' frontier if'n we can't even get a goldanged welcome sign t' fit properly in th' space allotted?"
He averted his eyes from the sign with a scowl. "Them cherry pickers over in Dodge would laugh their dang horseshoes off if'n they heard about this."
Braeburn jerked a hoof toward the banner. "Take that down n' redo it! We ain't got much time before..."
He was cut off as the clock tower on the town hall struck five tolling bells. He hastily fished his watch out of his vest pocket and held it cupped in his hoof as he double checked the time. "Scratch that, we ain't go no time at all. They oughta start arrivin' any minute now."
The imposing earth pony pocketed his watch and started calling out orders. "Fluke! Leave that up! Go see if'n y'can find a hunk o' cardboard and a lick o' paint and make an N!
He pointed to a burly stallion hanging bunting on a porch. "Bushel! Go rustle up th' Chamber o' Commerce!. I reckon they'll mostly be down at th' Grange hall, and those what ain't will probably be down at th' Salt Lick, and you tell them what are there that they better not show up with any salt on their collars or them n' me will be havin' a frank exchange o' views later on!
He gave a nod down the street to a mare in a floral bonnet. "Fritter! Go n' tell th' gals from the Sewin' Circle t' get th' flowers ready, and then take Prairie n' see 'bout th' band and th' photographer!"
He lashed his tail as a throng of ponies in a variety of western hats galloped in every direction. "Go on! Yah! Giddyup, y'all!"
A greying pony in a frock coat with a silver star for a cutie mark that matched the one on his lapel ambled up to him from the porch of the general store. He gave the younger stallion a nod as he tipped his dark colored stetson. "That was some mighty fine delegatin', Mister Mayor. Mighty fine."
The golden maned stallion gave his mentor a smile. "I had a mighty fine teacher, Sheriff Silver Star."
The grizzled law pony scanned the eastern horizon, his salt and pepper mustache cocking to one side in a thoughtful smirk as he let out a chuckle. "Ya always were a feller fer talkin' things up, Braeburn. I just hope them ponyfolks flyin' th' race ain't been havin' too much trouble. Been gettin' reports over th' wire of all sorts o' shenanigans n' goin's on this year."
Braeburn's brow furrowed under his ten gallon hat, as he joined the Sheriff in gazing eastward. He drew himself up as a large, honey brown shape appeared out of the shimmering heat, casting up a cloud of yellow dust in its wake. The ground rumbled beneath their hooves as it drew closer and closer. A fond smile spread across the Appleloosan mayor's face as he raised a hoof to wave in greeting. Moments later, the massive form of a towering buffalo cow loomed over them, regarding them levelly from her deep blue eyes.
Both stallions respectfully tipped their hats as the golden stallion stepped forward. "What's th' word on th' plains, Strongheart? Have yer scouts spotted anypony yet?"
She jerked her head toward the east. "Runs Faster Than Rumor spotted the first racers over Little Flat Top Mesa."
A grin flickered across her otherwise impassive features. "One of them trails a rainbow behind her."
Braeburn's eyes flickered, and he reached up to adjust his tie. "R-rainbow Dash?"
He smoothed back his flowing locks and straightened his lapels, muttering out of the side of his mouth. "Do... do I look okay, Sheriff?"
The weather beaten stallion chuckled. "Ya sure do, kid. Very lifelike..." He shook his head, his mustache curling in a wry grin as he moseyed back to the shade of the general store's porch.
Strongheart allowed a look of concern to crease her broad, shaggy brow as she gave him an earnest look. "A wise brave does not dam the river of truth, especially when it flows from his heart."
The golden maned stallion straightened his hat. "I... I dunno what ya might mean by that, Strongheart. I just want t' put my best hoof forward on behalf o' this here town when a celebrity like Rainbow Dash comes t' call. Appleloosa's all there is in my heart, and I'm purty much goin' steady with her."
The honey brown buffalo cow let out a sigh and shook her massive head. "A fine teepee may house your calves, but it cannot bear them for you, old friend."
Braeburn lashed his tail and fidgeted with the weights on the end of his tie. "Ah heh. No, y'don't understand, darlin'. I ain't actually married t' the town. I was just bein' all metaphorical like."
Strongheart rolled her eyes. "Yes, and you certainly know a metaphor when you hear one, Mister Mayor."
Before he could reply, a voice yodeled from overhead. "They's a-comin'! Th' first o' th' racers is a-comin'!"
The golden maned mayor looked up to see Fluke the pegasus hovering next to a hastily scrawled cardboard sign bearing the letter N in green tacked onto the end of the red lettered banner. The scrawny young stallion was pointing to the east with one hoof and waving his cowpony hat with the other.
A rapid rumble of hooves surrounded Braeburn as he wheeled and circled in flustered confusion. As if from nowhere a delegation of townsponies decked out in their Summer Sun best surrounded him, the stallions from the Appleloosa chamber of commerce wearing broad red ribbons across the lapels of their suit collars, the mares in their fine bonnets bearing bouquets of flowers. A small but determined brass band tuned up and started belting out "Home On The Range" while a gangly unicorn in a top hat used his magic to set up a box camera on a tripod in a suitable spot to get the whole assembly on film.
Appleloosa's mayor came to a disoriented stop, facing the rapidly approaching trio of pegasi as one of the chamber of commerce stallions tossed a ribbon over his shoulders and shoved a large gold key decorated with the town's apple and horseshoe crest into his hooves. Sheriff Silver Star made his casual way back out into the street to stand next to his former deputy, squinting at the oncoming racers from beneath the brim of his hat. He gave a nod. "Yep... Mighty fine delegatin... No doubt 'bout that."
The crowd of ponies let out a cheer and stomped their hooves in the dusty streets and porches as the trio of Wonderbolts flew overhead, trailing a rainbow contrail flanked by trails of lightning clouds. They executed a loop in the air overhead, then touched down through a cloud of whooping adulation and flying hats, panting for breath but smiling and waving.
Spitfire drew herself up proudly despite the sweat running down her brow and staining her blue and yellow flight suit, snapping them all a sharp salute. "Hello, Appleloosa! The Wonderbolts salute you!"
Shootin' Star's hooves only touched the ground for a moment before he floated up, waving his hooves over his head proudly. "Howdy y'all! It sure is good t' be home in th' best l'il ol' town in Equestria!"
The townsponies struck up another cheer and stomped more dust into the air.
A wide grin spread across Rainbow Dash's face as she gave a casual wave to the golden maned stallion and huge buffalo cow at the front of the welcoming delegation. "Hey Braeburn! Hey Strongheart! Great to see you guys! How's it goin?"
Galvanized into action by a surreptitious nudge from his Sheriff, Mayor Braeburn cleared his throat and stepped forward with the large gold key cradled in the crook of his fore hoof. "Howdy, y'all! On behalf of the great n' growin' city o' AaAaAppleoosa! I officially welcome y'all as th' first..."
He trailed off as a deep, frantic voice echoed from the scrubland to the east. The townsponies went silent, murmuring quizzically among themselves as the large, dark, shaggy shape of a buffalo brave came thundering out of the dust clouds. "Moo! Moo moo moo! Moo moo moo MOO moo moo! Moo moo! Moo MOO!"
The hulking, even-toed ungulate skidded to a stop next to Strongheart, who snorted and addressed him in a chiding voice. "Gets Excited Easily! Speak in the tongue of the ponies so that all may understand your news."
The buffalo brave gave her a bow. "Ahem... I am sorry. Word comes from the red hills of the south. A brave of the eastern tribes sighted the great silver sky wagon of the ponies headed south into the the poison land of the black shell masks."
Sheriff Silver Star's eyes grew wide. "Th' Ambrosia headed into th' Badlands?" He gave a rueful shake of his head and spat on the ground. " Tarnation... First th' griffin attack n' now this. If'n it ain't one thing, it's another with this here race."
Braeburn cleared his throat. "Um... okay. Appleloosa will o' course lend whatever hoof they can, but first I got this here key t'..."
Spitfire raised her hoof to silence him, casting a pointed glare at the grizzled lawpony. "What's this about a griffin attack?"
Silver Star met her gaze with a laconic nod. "Seems that one crew with the fancy flyin' contraption got jumped over Horseshoe Bay by a bunch o' no account sidewinders fixin' the put 'em outta th' race. The culprits are coolin' their claws in th' pokey in Baltimare."
Rainbow Dash was in his face faster than her multicolored contrail could fade. "What? What happened to the ponies that got attacked?"
The sheriff shrugged his shoulders. "Dunno. No word on 'em, and they ain't turned up here yet."
The cyan pegasus mare turned to look at her captain. "Cap, we gotta go find 'em!"
The blaze yellow stun flyer nodded, then turned to the Silver Star. "Sheriff, if you've got a map of the area we'd like to give it a look, and maybe if you could spare us a couple canteens of water. We're kinda parched."
She turned and cast a sharp glare at Shootin' Star as a bitter sigh escaped his lips. "You got somethin' to say, rook?"
He stuck his chin out defiantly for a moment as he looked her in the eye, then averted his gaze. "No, Captain."
Spitfire scowled as she gave a satisfied nod. "That's right you don't. Any MORE belly achin' outta you and I'll bounce your tail off the team for insubordination. Got me?"
He gave a sullen nod as a murmur went through the young stallion's hometown crowd. "Yes, Captain."
Sheriff Silver Star set out at a canter toward his office. "C'mon, folks. I got th' maps yonder."
Mayor Braeburn stammered out a plaintive call after the Wonderbolts as they fell into step behind the grizzled lawpony. "But... but... I got this here key t' th' city t' present t' y'all!"
Strongheart gave him a conciliatory smile as she laid a cloven hoof on his shoulder. "Perhaps you will have a chance to give it to them later. I must go take council with my people, farewell for now, Mister Mayor."
With that, she galloped away with Gets Excited Easily in tow, their massive, humpbacked shapes vanishing in the dust.
Braeburn's ears laid back as he looked uncertainly around him, the crowd murmuring with dismay and disapproval hanging in the air. He let out a sigh and adjusted his hat, then turned to address them.
Before he could speak, Fluke the pegasus called out again. "There's more comin yonder!"
The golden maned city official spun about to see two grey, bat winged figures flying erratically toward them. The larger of the two, who seemed to rival his cousin Macintosh in size, hit the ground with his four broad hooves, staggered a couple steps forward, and topped onto his belly with his leathery wings splayed on either side of him and his tongue lolling out of the small mouth opening in his mask. The smaller, slenderer member of the duo landed unsteadily on his hooves, then collapsed to his knees.
The larger one groaned, panting like an overworked dog. "Father! Hhahhh. Hhhahhh... I cannot breathe! Father!"
The thin limbed negasus dragged himself over to his son's side, rubbing his back with a hoof as he turned his steamed up, black goggled eyes imploringly toward the crowd of Appleloosan's "P-please, the heat is too much for us in these suits. Ve beg you, take us someplace vhere there is shade and give us vater."
Braeburn blinked at them in amazement. The slender negasus let out a strangled gargling sound and rolled over on his back with his legs jutting skyward, his right foreleg twitching piteously.
The earth pony mayor shook his head to clear it and gave an urgent nod toward the stricken cave dwellers. "Criminitly! Somepony take these poor fellers t' Morton's place and get 'em some water, pronto!"
With an urgent rustle a detachment of stallions came out of the crowd and lifted the two negasi onto their backs, the quintet carrying Fleidermaus Junior grunting under his weight, and bore them away.
The mayor was left with an unhappily muttering crowd around him as he cast a rueful look at the large golden key in his hoof. With a dragging gait he brought himself around to address them again.
Fluke's voice sounded over their heads before he could begin his conciliatory speech. "More comin! Look!"
Braeburn turned, a scowl furrowing his brow as a tawny pegasi couple in sunset red and tie dye flight suits came in for a landing. He looked them over, and held out the key to the city with a forced smile and a forceful hoof. "Welcome t' Appleloosa. Here's th' key to th' city!"
Golden Bay cast a nervous look at his life partner Granola then held up a hoof of his own. "Woah. Bad vibes, dude. Nopony's gonna wanna hang here if you're gonna harsh their mellow as soon as they land."
The beleaguered mayor snorted a puff of steam out of his nostrils and shoved the key at them with a growl. "Are you two hippies gonna take this here key off o' me, or are we gonna have t' throw pies at y'all?"
The pegasus stallion ruffled his feathers and cautiously craned his head forward to take the shaft of the key in his mouth. As soon as he had it, Braeburn grabbed them both in a double headlock and swung them around toward the patiently waiting unicorn behind the box camera, his horn making a peak in the black hood. The photographer held the shutter bulb in his teeth and called out in a cheery voice. "Shay cheeshe!"
The earth pony mayor barked at him. "Just take th' goldurned picture!"
He gave a glaze eyed, rictus grin as the flash powder went off, causing Golden and Granola Bay's eyes to swirl in a daze, with the large golden key hanging loosely in the pegasus stallion's teeth as a dumfounded expression settled on his mare's face. They both intoned in unison as they stared at the shimmering spots before their eyes. "Whoahhh."
A strained smattering of applause filled the air as the blue smoke from the flash dissipated beneath the banner with its mismatched letter N. The resulting photo appearing in the Appleloosa Picayune would later be the source of considerable mirth in Dodge Junction.
Harmony Aeronautics activated their battery powered lights as Celestia's golden sun disappeared over the horizon in a stunning display of turquoise, violet, red, gold, and orange. Pip and Soarin each wore one of the bluish white lamps on a special collar around their necks while two more were mounted on the platform of the Friend Ship while a cheery yellow glow filled the cabin beyond. To make extra space for Rarity, and to elude her probing questions about Quillina, Spike had opted to fly rather than ride, his dark, leather winged shape soaring over the dusty plains in formation with the sky blue pegasus and spotted earth pony.
Twilight took up a watchful position on the terrace, peering skyward with her telescope as the first stars of the evening came out. A flickering of multicolored light on the western horizon caught her attention, and she cocked her head quizzically as it seemed to grow larger and brighter. She shifted position to the bullhorn, activating it with a flick of her horn. "Heads up, guys. There's something approaching from the west!"
Soarin wheeled off from the point of the triangle formation of Harmony Aeronautics flyers and looped back to take a position next to the Friend Ship's railing. He gave a nod toward the growing glimmer of colors. "I'll bet you a Bloomburg apple when we get to Appleloosa that that's Dash out lookin' for us. Odds are word's gotten around about the attack."
The lavender mare shifted back to the telescope, squinting as she peered through it. "I never take bets with that narrow a probability spread, but I'd be glad to buy you a Bloomburg anyway."
She gave him a smile, then wheeled to duck her head into the cabin, giving Apple Bloom a nod. The young handymare was at the wheel, a cup of strong coffee with a bendy straw in hoof. Rarity was curled up uncomfortably beneath a wool blanket on the fold down cot beneath the storage cabinets, her mane and tail frazzled as she slept fitfully with the occasional twitching of her hooves or muttered complaint. Twilight sparked her horn to life and carefully opened the drawer containing their stock of signal flares, floating a cardboard cylinder out and just as carefully closing it.
She showed it to Soarin as she rejoined him on the terrace. "I'll send up a flare to let her know she's found us."
The scholarly unicorn touched the tip of her horn to the fuse sticking out of the bottom, then floated it away from the balloon. It burst forth a hissing, whistling streak of flame that ascended skyward, exploding into a six pointed star when it hit its zenith, then shifted into a diamond, then an apple, then an arrow pointing toward the Friend Ship.
A moment later the distant spot of coruscating colors flickered, then exploded in a radiating ring of rainbow hues. Soarin and Twilight shared a knowing grin, as a the thunderous roar of a sonic rainboom followed close on the heels of the dazzling light show.
The sky blue stallion barely had a chance to let out a startled squawk as something very fast, a blur of cyan blue trailing a rainbow in its wake, caught him around the middle and carried him into the balloon's cabin with a loud crash, a shout of alarm from Apple Bloom, and a warbling cry from Rarity followed by the thud of a pony tumbling out of a cot and landing on the wicker floor of a balloon gondola.
Twilight let out a sigh and brought a hoof to her face as a sandy voice talking a mile a minute sounded out from inside. "SOARINareyouguysokayohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshIheardyouguysgotattackedIwassoworriedaboutyouguyswhathappened."
Soarin's dazed voice interrupted her. "We're okay, Dash. We're okay. Ow..."
Rarity's petulant mutter could be heard in response. "Speak for yourself..."
The following morning, as the rosy dawn of the southern deserts touched the crowns of the apple orchards that encircled the town, the early train from Ponyville pulled into Appleloosa station with a hiss of steam and a clatter of hooves on planks as the doors of the passenger cars were pulled open one by one by the conductors.
A blonde earth pony mare with her mane done up in braids beneath a white stetson hat edged in green and gold with a gold filigree and ruby hat band stepped down onto the platform with an anxious look on her freckled face. She shifted her withers to settle her lightly packed saddlebag across her back over a red and white checked gingham dress edged in white lace, self consciously pawing the ground as she cast her gaze around the sleepy denizens of the burgeoning settlement. Working ponies setting about their days work, they fell silent, many of the stallions tipping their hats, as she passed. She smiled thinly and nodded in return, not quite comfortable at that sort of treatment from that sort of ponies.
She muttered under her breath as she adjusted her fancy hat down over her eyes. "'Pinchy hip' my achin' flanks... I ain't one t' question Pinkie Sense, but this is takin' th' whole thing a mite too far..."
She paused on the steps leading out of the station onto the broad, dusty streets of the frontier town, her gaze fixing on a point high above the rooftops, past the orchards being watered by a growing population of pegasi wielding carefully cultivated clouds, over the commanding hill with its single, massive apple tree. She saw the bulbous outline of a purple balloon bearing the crest of a butterfly winged pony, and a quintet of winged shapes flying in a V formation ahead of it. Her apple green eyes widened, and she let out a gasp as she broke into a headlong gallop.
Harmony Aeronautics and The Wonderbolts team touched down on a stretch of scrubland on the outskirts of Appleloosa, wearily stretching their legs and wings as Spike helped the earthbound mares in the Friend Ship disembark.
Rarity's plaintive voice sounded as the looming dragonet lifted her gently down to the gravel strewn path that emptied onto the main street. "Do be careful, darling. The very last thing I need right now is to chip a hoof."
Shootin' Star ruffled his wings and turned with a flick of his tail, stalking away toward his hometown. "Now if'n y'all will excuse me, I'm gonna go catch up on that night's sleep y'all cheated me outta..."
Apple Bloom tsked and cast a glare after him as she stepped up to help Pip out of the Luna Moth harness. "Speakin' o' chips, that feller's got a mighty big one on his shoulder. What all is that colt's problem anyhow?"
Spitfire scowled after her receding team mate. "A boot in the rump is gonna be his problem one of these days."
Soarin gave a chuckle as he patted her across the back with an outstretched wing. "Ease off, Cap. I don't blame him for being cranky. You guys didn't have to go so far out of your way lookin' for us."
Rainbow Dash stepped up, cracking her neck with a grimace before giving him a smile. "Hey, we did this as much for ourselves as for you. I wouldn't have been able to keep my head in the race worrying about you guys."
She cast a look in Shootin' Star's direction. "Mister surly there's still got a lot to learn about bein' on a team. He still thinks it's all about him, when the secret to bein' a good formation flyer is knowing where your squaddies are at and makin' sure they're safe."
The rainbow maned mare gave Soarin' a wink. "And once you're on my team you stay on my team, even if you don't happen to be in the same formation as me anymore."
Before the sky blue stallion could reply, a loud voice called out from up the path accompanied by galloping hooves on gravel and a cloud of dust. "SOARIN!"
He looked up, a dumbfounded expression spreading across his face as his green eyes went wide. "A-applejack?"
In a few short bounds the tearful earth pony mare was on him, rearing up to throw her hooves around his neck and drag him into a passionate kiss that made his knees go weak and his wings go rigid.
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.