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Aces High 19: Live To Fly.

Mandroid Feb 8th, 2015 414 Never
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  1. =Aces High 19=
  2.  
  3. >It’s weird the things you find yourself noticing during stressful times.
  4. >Here you were, minutes before the biggest race of your life, casually rolling deodorant under your pits before you put on your suit.
  5. >You weren’t thinking about the track or who your mystery opponants would be or even that the Princesses, foreign dignitaries, the press, and the entire kingdom would be watching.
  6. >No, instead it was how nice your BO smelled.
  7. >Around you Soarin and Streak both suited up and mentally prepared for the big race.
  8. >Big Race.
  9. >Last chance.
  10. >Moment of glory…
  11. >…You gulp.
  12. >A bang comes from the door “Everyone out! It’s showtime, people!” Fancy says.
  13. >You slip on the top half of your uniform and secure your pack as you grab your goggles.
  14. >Okay…you got this.
  15. >Every moment this season, every moment of your career, your entire life was leading towards this moment.
  16. >…No pressure.
  17. >You close your locker and follow the others.
  18.  
  19. >Fancy has the rest of the team in a huddle which you join.
  20. >Your manager looks contemplatively down at the floor, considering every word he was preparing to say in the hopes of inspiring you to greatness.
  21. >Or just telling you not to fuck it up.
  22. >”Team…” he begins.
  23. >The team takes a collective breath.
  24. >”I don’t have to tell you what’s at stake. Our team, our names, our careers. No matter the outcome of this race, I want all of you to know that you are the finest airmen I’ve ever had the pleasure of serving with.”
  25. >Fancy smiles and steps back, raising his hoof to his forehead in salute.
  26. >The five of you mirror his action.
  27. >”Let’s give them hell.” He says, turning on his heel and marching out.
  28. >You’re about to follow when you feel someone tug at your leg.
  29. >You turn around, Spitfire is holding you back.
  30. “Uhh…something up, partner?”
  31. >”Need a minute Anny, wanted to talk to you.”
  32. “What’s up?”
  33. >Spitfire looks down like a sad pony and kicks at the floor.
  34. >”Maybe…after all this…if like, you wanna…”
  35. “Yeah?”
  36. >”You and I could...take it easy, for maybe a season. Sit one out and see how the world spins without us.”
  37. >You take a half-step back and rest your hands on your hips.
  38. “Finally taking what I said to heart, huh? You’re awful slow for a speedster.”
  39. >Spitfire playfully throws a hoof. “Scheduling was never my thing. I’d be late to my own funeral if they let me.”
  40. >The two of you laugh a bit.
  41. “…Yeah, I could stand for a break after this. Either to let the press die down if we win or for the shame to go away if we lose.”
  42. >”Maybe I’ll figure out how you’re so damn bubbly all the time.”
  43. “I’m just bubbly, it’s part of my appeal.”
  44. >“I thought it was your fingers and weird alien dick.”
  45. “Well you can tell all the world about my “weird alien dick” later, for now I think we have a race to win, eh?”
  46. >Spitfire walks past and slaps your rear with her wing. “Damn straight.”
  47.  
  48. >The roar of the crown in Wonderbolts Stadium was such that you swore they could hear it in Elysium.
  49. >”Aaaaaand here they are! Your Wonderbolts!” the announcer says.
  50. >Fancy had made a big deal about this being on the radio live this time, had spooked you for a bit. But ultimately it was just a wider audience.
  51. >As the six of you walk out, soaking up the fame, you each bow your respects to the Royal Box where the Stellar Sisters look down in anticipation for the race.
  52. >Or for the inevitable crash and burn, but who was thinking about that?
  53. >”And your challengers! Hailing from all corners of the globe…The Shadowbolts!”
  54. >Wait what.
  55. >That name was-
  56. >You spin your head around so fast you hear the air break and scan over the opposing team. Two dragons, a bat pony, a griffin, some mint colored Pegasus an-
  57. “What the-DASH!?”
  58. >You shake your head but the vision stays the same, which was Rainbow Dash leading the opposing team.
  59. >It was sometimes customary for teams to meet in the center to exchange pleasantries, so no one batted an eye when you marched up to Dash.
  60. >If they’d heard you talk, however…
  61. “Dash what the hell-ass-balls is this? What are you DOING here?!”
  62. >Dash rolls her eyes and snorts, the other Pegasus talks over her shoulder. “This guy giving you trouble, boss?”
  63. >”No ‘Dust, I can handle him.”
  64. >Oh hell naw.
  65. “Handle” me? You’re a captain now?”
  66. >Rainbow Dash smirks and extends a wing to her comrades. “Eeeyup, put a team together and everything. Finally found a crew who won’t ditch me and stab me in the back.”
  67.  
  68. >”Oh buuuullshit.”
  69. >The two of you turn, Spitfire trots up behind you. You hear Dash mumble “Oh great, you…” over the roar of the crowd.
  70. >Spits apparently did too. “Yeah, me.” She said.
  71. >Rainbow Dash, to her credit, stares down her once-hero. “This the part where you tell me you’re unimpressed again “coach”?”
  72. >Spitfire remains stoic. “I’m impressed…just disappointed.” She says with a small frown.
  73. >Dash buckles just a tad.
  74. >”You coulda flown with the best, RD, if you’d given it a bit more. Now you’re with this crew and you’re gonna go down on national radio.”
  75. >That’s a cue if you ever heard one.
  76. >You wince.
  77. “Ooooohhhh…”
  78. >”Come on Annie, let’s get set to jet.”
  79. “Aces out.”
  80. >You and Spitfire turn and leave Dash grinding her teeth over your otherwise corny diss.
  81. “Are we that confident?” you ask walking.
  82. >”Not a fuckin’ chance, Anon.”
  83. >But it felt good to say.
  84.  
  85. -Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJqxt543gdc -
  86. >10, 9, 8...
  87. >Seconds tick down like minutes, a feeling of hyper-awareness coming over you as the anticipation grows in your gut.
  88. >7, 6, 5...
  89. >Each second seems to stretch longer than the last, drawing the wait out ever more.
  90. >4, 3…
  91. >Your gaze flits to your opposition, both every bit as tense as you and surely feeling just the same.
  92. >2…
  93. >Your attention shifts to your partner and for the barest of moments you lock eyes with Spitfire, that fraction of a second conveying more between you than words could hope to achieve.
  94. >1…
  95. >Time seems to come to a stop, the silence pressing in and weighing heavily on your shoulders as you become acutely aware that the entire crowd is collectively holding its breath. It’s such a strange thing to imagine that so many people gathered together could be so quiet.
  96. >Oddly you find yourself fixating upon a moth that’s fluttered just in front of you, its wings moving with an almost surreal slowness.
  97. >The crack of a gunshot tears through the silence, but is cut off midway, the roar of turbines and the howling of wind moving in to replace it as the starting line vanishes behind you. Idly you note a sharp pain on your left cheek.
  98. >The world dissolves into streaks of white and gold as you carve through the air, the buildings of Canterlot rushing by blurring and running into one another.
  99. >At such speeds thought becomes impossible and impractical, reaction and twitch responses alone guide you through the maze of buildings whipping by.
  100. >Every so often you catch a glimpse of Spitfire or one of the others as your paths intersect, only to immediately lose sight of them once again as the cityscape swallows them up.
  101. >Left, right, right, left, right, left, left; the actions are all completely unconscious, each snap judgement made in the span of milliseconds and based on nothing more than intuition.
  102.  
  103. >With one last hairpin turn the city streets vanish to be replaced by open sky, Canterlot disappearing behind you and the entirety of Equestria stretcheing out before you.
  104. >The vast green expanse that makes up White Tail Woods stretches out across the land, starting just beyond Ponyville and reaching to a gorge on the horizon. That is your path.
  105. >One by one the other racers emerge from the city behind you, streaking out into the sky hot on your tail.
  106. >They cover the distance separating you in little time and suddenly you’re all neck and neck, the small village rapidly approaching.
  107. >Spitfire enters your periphery and for a moment you find your attention wandering over to her.
  108. >That brief second of distraction, though, is enough for you to be caught off guard when something moving very fast passes inches in front of your face.
  109. >You veer wildly through the air and just barely miss another of the objects, straining to maintain your course through the air.
  110. >Out of the corner of your eye you notice Spitfire and the other team behaving in much the same way, each of them also caught off guard by the sudden assault.
  111. >Another deft movement sees you safe from another missile, but as you fly around this one you catch a glimpse of it.
  112. “Skeets?” you mutter to yourself, the word instantly stolen by the wind.
  113. >Indeed, a few more near misses reveal them to be what are unmistakably clay pigeons whizzing by.
  114. >As you draw nearer to Ponyville the density of the skeets increases dramatically and soon the sky is filled with the things.
  115. >With the air so dense skeets begin smashing together around you, a pair colliding inches ahead of you and spraying your face with dust and shrapnel.
  116. >With your flight goggles on your eyes are at little risk from such detritus, but the action is unconscious and leaves you vulnerable.
  117.  
  118. >When you open your eyes you realize your mistake as Lightning Dust unexpectedly barrels into your path in her own attempts to navigate through the barrage.
  119. >A sharp twist downward carries you safely beneath her, but right into the path of an oncoming skeet.
  120. >The clay disc takes you in the back as you pass beneath Lightning, jerking you upward slightly and throwing you off course.
  121. >Another one strikes your shoulder and spins you roughly around, thoroughly disorienting you.
  122. >You cut the power to your pack and allow yourself to corkscrew through the air, hoping to slow your rotation.
  123. >By some stroke of luck you manage to avoid further collisions and slowly you regain some stability.
  124. >As Ponyville passes beneath you a streak of rainbow passes you by. Your eye follows your adversary off into the distance where she suddenly erupts into a chromatic nova, a shockwave of shattered sound and light ripping through the air and tearing apart every nearby skeet with its intensity.
  125. >In an instant the sky is cleared, though your spin hasn’t yet slowed enough to take advantage of the situation.
  126. >Once again the ground fills your gaze, but this time it stays, your rotation coming to an abrupt halt with a sharp jerk.
  127. >The feeling of pressure beneath your arms draws your attention where you find Spitfire’s hooves locked tightly around you.
  128. >With a mighty flap of her wings she propels the two of you forward at a terrific speed, the very land turning to a blur beneath you.
  129. >Soon she puts enough distance between you and the town to get you safely out of range of the skeet shooters.
  130. >The danger now passed, Spitfire finally allows herself to lose some of her speed and you can feel her panting from the effort above you.
  131.  
  132. >The situation seeming to be finally in control, you give Spitfire a thumbs up and she releases you.
  133. >Clenching your fists tightly you will your pack to life, flames roaring out from the engines and carrying you onward to the canyon ahead.
  134. >Trees pass quickly by, becoming ever sparser as your next objective approaches and you angle yourself slightly downward to begin your descent.
  135. >The forest fades and the earth splits apart, a great canyon consuming the landscape and as one the four of you dive down into the earthen maw.
  136. >Scanning the rent in the earth you espy dozens of gold rings held aloft by magic set along its length.
  137. >However interspersed throughout the rings are hot air balloons filled with spectators; yet another aspect to the challenge.
  138. >Spitfire, Rainbow, and Lightning fall in around you, the four of you jockeying for position as the first ring comes up.
  139. >At the last second Rainbow and Lightning pull ahead, passing through the ring mere feet ahead of you.
  140. >The four of you scatter immediately after, all corkscrewing away to avoid colliding with a balloon only to converge again in time for the next ring.
  141. >Soon you slip into a rhythm; coming together for a ring and then breaking apart and scattering through the crowd of airborne spectators.
  142. >After a few rings you notice your opponents taking longer and longer routes through the balloons, the temptation to show off for the crowd evidently proving too great for Rainbow and Lightning.
  143. >The few times you’re able to catch sight of them lend credence to your assumption, both of them seemingly constantly in the middle of some needlessly complex maneuver for the crowd’s benefit that will assuredly put them further and further behind.
  144. >The two of you suffer from no such desires.
  145.  
  146. >Resolving to capitalize on the situation you make every attempt to make your paths between rings as direct as possible, Spitfire picking up on your intentions and mimicking you perfectly.
  147. >The two of you find yourselves frequently passing within inches of the balloons as you carve through the canyon, leaving yourselves little room for error.
  148. >It’s not long before your decision begins to pay off and your team finds itself with a full two ring lead.
  149. >Inch by inch, foot by foot, slowly but steadily you and Spitfire take the lead, the other team apparently oblivious to the situation as they bask in the crowd’s admiration.
  150. >What makes the situation all the better is that you don’t have to worry about Rainbow pulling any tricks, a sonic rainboom being impossible with so many bystanders grouped together.
  151. >Rings and balloons blur together in your single-minded state and before you know it you’re coming up on the halfway mark; a fork in the canyon.
  152. >Fortunately the decision of which way to go is made for you by a great red door blocking off the left path. Whatever it hides remains a mystery to you, though you refuse to dwell on it even as the fork and the door quickly vanish behind a wall of balloons.
  153. >With the greater part of the canyon as well as your competition at your back you can’t help but indulge in a brief moment of optimism.
  154. >It’s no secret that you had your worries coming into this race, your competition are some of the most accomplished fliers in Equestria.
  155. >At this point, though, your chances of winning seem to be steadily increasing with Rainbow and Lightning giving more and more ground.
  156. >It may still be early in the race, but you feel there’s sufficient reason to hope, that hope becoming even more pervasive as you glimpse the end of the canyon ahead, the walls of the canyon closing in more and more giving the impression that the earth is trying to swallow you whole.
  157.  
  158. >Right now your thoughts only extend as far as the next ring in a mirror of the tunnel that your vision has become.
  159. >Faster and faster you push yourself, ring after ring you pass, balloon after balloon you deftly avoid. You become so intent on your next ring that everything between becomes blurred and irrelevant.
  160. >Soberingly quickly yet startlingly slowly the final ring approaches and by now it is the very center of your attention, all else fading into so many streaks of color.
  161. >You sail through the final ring with Spitfire at your side, angling yourselves upward as you prepare to depart the canyon.
  162. >However it’s now that your narrow vision is finally punished as you’ve failed to take the balloons’ mobility into account, one of them having drifted into your path as you clear the ring.
  163. >Spitfire dodges the obstacle nimbly, twisting through the air and avoiding the balloon by centimeters.
  164. >The feeling of hyper-awareness returns and you angle yourself upwards a fraction, passing just over the basket, the ponies within gazing up at you with eyes wide with awe as you clear the narrow gap between the basket and the burner.
  165. >For a fraction of a second you make eye contact with one of the ponies in the basket and time slows to a crawl.
  166. >An unconscious smile crosses your face as you pass over them and add a sharp twist for no other reason than to add a little flair to the maneuver.
  167.  
  168. >Having cleared that final obstacle your course to the next leg of the race is completely clear, Spitfire returning to your side just as the canyon comes to an end.
  169. >A quick glance behind you reveals that your opponents seem to have realized their situation, twin streaks of rainbow and lightning driving through rings and around balloons with frightening speed as they try to recover the ground they’d given.
  170. >Allowing yourself a small smile at the lead you hold, you raise a hand in the air to catch your partner’s attention, and as she glances over you clench it into a fist.
  171. >A sonic boom rips through the air, you and Spitfire lancing over the land on a contrail of broken sound.
  172. >Your relentless pace blurs the passing land into a carpet of solid green, the mountain range in the distance growing larger and larger.
  173. >The range before you curves sharply eastward, arcing around Ponyville and the Whitetail Woods back north towards where Canterlot stands as the last and greatest of its fellows.
  174. >As you climb through the air the temperature begins to steadily drop, your flight suit barely managing to hold the frigid air at bay.
  175. >Likewise as you climb the wind grows ever fiercer, occasional gusts tearing at your suit as though trying to pull you from the sky.
  176. >Soon the first snowcapped peak of one of the outlying mountains passes beneath you, it’s taller brothers looming menacingly.
  177. >Passing into the range proper the wind intensifies, escalating from a nuisance to a real hindrance.
  178. >The wind is such that you’re unable to maintain the blistering pace you’d set coming in, the erratic gusts forcing you slower and slower as you fight to keep control over your path.
  179.  
  180. >As frustrating as it is to be losing so much of your momentum, you are consoled by the knowledge that your opponents will fare no better than you.
  181. >And though important speed may be, navigating the peaks for more favorable paths is a much more pressing concern.
  182. >But even reduced you still carry a speed to make the disparate peaks pass by so swiftly it seems as though only meters separate them.
  183. >Maintaining a stable heading is next to impossible under such conditions and it starts becoming overwhelmingly evident that taking the most direct route the mountains will not be a possibility, the howling wind making it too hazardous.
  184. >Spitfire breaks from your course, signalling you to follow along which you waste no time in doing.
  185. >The wind relents some as you alter your heading and opt for a more circuitous route through the mountains, hugging the white peaks as tightly as possible to seek what shelter you can from the howling gales.
  186. >Rather than diving headlong through the center of the range as you had been, your course now leads you every which way in an almost zig zag pattern as you seek out the paths of least resistance.
  187. >It results in more distance to cover, yet allows you to cover that distance at a much greater rate than previously.
  188.  
  189. >Oftentimes you pass within perhaps a dozen or so meters of mountain faces, the gale you yourselves kicking up sometimes being great enough to destabilize the snow covering them and sending great avalanches thundering down through the valleys below.
  190. >You’re sure it would be a magnificent sight if you stuck around long enough to watch, but as it is everything is passing by so quickly that there’s no time to enjoy the scenery.
  191. >Perhaps after the race you and Spitfire can return and enjoy it at a more leisurely pace, she’d probably like that. Or perhaps she’d enjoy a more tropical climate. Either way, after this race the two of you are going to need a vacation.
  192. >In your moment of introspection you nearly miss Spitfire diving into a narrow pass between two peaks.
  193. >As you adjust yourself to follow along a sporadic gust from behind catches you off guard.
  194. >The unexpected tailwind takes you by surprise and accelerates you far faster than you’d intended and strips you of any semblance of control.
  195.  
  196. >With no real options available you roll backwards, bringing your legs up in front of you and angling yourself away from the mountain face and set your pack to maximum burn in the hopes that it’s enough to keep you from finishing the race as a red smear across the snow.
  197. >Pure white filling your vision, all you can do is brace yourself and hope for the best.
  198. >As luck would have it you collide a snow drift at such an angle that it sends you skipping away as a rock over water, cartwheeling through the air as you go.
  199. >A controlled burst from your pack halts the spinning and rights you in the air, but you don’t dare any more than that being as disoriented as you are.
  200. >You manage to get your feet under you just before you hit the ground again, but between your momentum and the slick terrain, it does nothing to arrest your erratic advance and you find yourself skidding down the slope.
  201. >It takes a moment for you to orient yourself and realize that you’re still alive, but an ominous rumbling suggests that this may not be the case for much longer.
  202. >A glance over your shoulder reveals an implacable wall of white thundering down the mountainside in your wake.
  203. >Wrenching your attention away from the white tide behind you, you’re met by yet another obstacle; a sheer drop into open air rapidly approaching.
  204. >Caught as you are between two shapes of impending doom it takes a moment before you remember that neither of them pose any real threat.
  205. “Oh right, I can fly,” you mutter to yourself, feeling a bit foolish for having forgotten that bit of information.
  206. >Crouching low to minimize wind resistance, you gun your engines and speed forward down the slope, putting as much distance as you can between yourself and the encroaching avalanche.
  207.  
  208. >In no time at all the ground beneath your feet disappears and the sky embraces you once more, wings of fire carrying you safely away from an icy demise.
  209. >Passing over the sheer drop that would have otherwise been your end, you spy Rainbow and Lightning fighting their way through the wind towards your position.
  210. >For a moment you marvel at how they’ve managed to regain so much ground taking such a difficult route, it would seem you may have underestimated your opposition.
  211. >However when the wave of snow plunges over the cliff you’ve just vacated something quite interesting happens.
  212. >The ever present gale scatters the uncountable tons of snow into the air, whipping it up into a veritable blizzard and carrying it down the very route your opponents are taking where it promptly swallows them whole.
  213. “Huh…” you say as the air turns white.
  214. >You can’t really decide on whether to feel guilty or glad over the development, but decide it doesn’t particularly matter. It’s not as though you intended to crash into a mountain.
  215. >Putting such thoughts from your mind, you concentrate your efforts on returning to Spitfire and continuing on with the race
  216. >Spitfire spares you the trouble as she pulls up beside you, evidently having looped back around the mountain when she noticed your absence.
  217. >She casts a questioning look your way and you wave her off, not wanting to waste any time explaining.
  218. >With a nod of assent she speeds ahead and you fall in behind her, the two of you speeding away to leave your opponents to struggle through the blinding white.
  219. >Again you and Spitfire snake through the mountains, avoiding the headwinds wherever you’re able as you capitalize on your opposition’s misfortune.
  220. >You redouble your efforts, blazing to and fro between the towering peaks as quickly as the fickle winds will allow.
  221.  
  222. >One final mountain disappears behind you and all at once the wind dies, a great gap in the mountain range opening up before you spanning perhaps a kilometer before the mountains rise up again in the distance.
  223. >At the base of the nearest mountain is your destination. A length of train tracks coming in from the east forks in the gap, one way heading off towards Ponyville in the west and the other burrowing straight through the mountain range towards Canterlot in the north and allowing you to bypass a significant portion of the range.
  224. >Here you take the lead, pulling ahead of Spitfire as the two of you angle yourselves downward towards the tunnel.
  225. >Having been at the mercy of the wind for so long this respite is more welcome than you can say and you savor this brief moment of open sky.
  226. >Then far too soon the moment ends and the mouth of the tunnel swallows you up, the dim light of magical lanterns making you feel as though you’ve gone nearly blind.
  227. >It doesn’t take long for your eyes to adjust and all the better for it as the tunnel begins to take an almost serpentine route through the mountains above.
  228. >There may not be obstacles to dodge or wind to fight, but the twists and turns of the tunnel before you offer a challenge all their own.
  229. >Odd angles, blind corners, and hairpin turns make you wonder how any train could possibly navigate such a tunnel, but then you remember any train passing through would be moving at a fraction of the speed you are now.
  230.  
  231. >This stretch is made all the more difficult by the passing lights which, though in fact quite distant, at your speed results in a strobing effect which requires your undivided attention to deal with. Wandering thoughts won’t be so easily forgiven in this place as they were in the mountains as the only thing here to cushion the fall is the hard rock walls of the tunnel.
  232. >Though you do your best to focus on the task at hand, you can’t help the niggling voice in the back of your mind that wonders at what might happen if you were to encounter a train.
  233. >In such a confined space you have little room to maneuver, such an encounter at this speed would be a challenge if nothing else.
  234. >With effort you silence the voice, drowning out any distraction that may hinder your efforts as you speed through the twilit tunnel.
  235. >Then after you clear one final turn you glimpse a point of daylight, a beacon in the dark, a subconscious desire for open sky urging your towards the literal light at the end of the tunnel.
  236. >Not a moment too soon you break free of the claustrophobic confines of the tunnel and emerge out into daylight.
  237. >You and Spitfire waste no time returning to the sky while the train tracks beneath you meander lazily around the remaining mountains on a more direct route to Canterlot.
  238. >The path before you, however, lays among those white-capped spears of rock that pierce the heavens in a pale mimicry of the grandeur that is Canterlot Mountain.
  239. >An unconscious sigh escapes you while relief floods your being at the sight of blue sky before you; beneath the ground is no place for those who make their home in the clouds.
  240. >As the two of you enter the final stretch of your first lap you’re greeted by a pleasant lack of wind, the only challenge here being the seemingly increased density of mountains.
  241.  
  242. >Though in comparison to navigating the streets of Canterlot this feels to you many degrees easier.
  243. >But before you’re able to relish the relative ease of the challenge before you an explosion of sound from behind you catches your attention.
  244. >Rainbow Dash explodes out of the tunnel trailing that familiar chromatic streak of hers, and without the interference of an adoring crowd or howling winds she seems to be gaining on you with a frightening speed.
  245. >With an almost contemptuous ease she passes you and Spitfire, darting like lightning between the rocky peaks.
  246. >Being nowhere to be found. Lightning’s absence alleviates your concern somewhat, but Rainbow’s lead provides enough motivation to prevent you from being complacent.
  247. >Oddly enough Rainbow doesn’t press her advantage, seeming content to linger ahead of you rather than pushing forward.
  248. >The possibility that she only has enough energy to pull as far ahead as she did crosses your mind and spurs you on. Rainbow can sprint to be sure, but whether or not she’s capable of maintaining her lead is another question entirely.
  249. >The three of you bob and weave through the mountains, avoiding peak after peak as you each jockey for position, your every intent being to put as much pressure on Rainbow as possible in the hopes that she’ll eventually wear out.
  250. >As of now, though, she shows no signs of tiring and she matches you move for move, maintaining her lead as Canterlot grows ever closer in the distance, the great mountain towering over its lesser siblings.
  251. >The mountain city continues to approach and before you know it the roar of the crowd fills your ears, the whites and golds of Equestria’s capital rushing by as the three of you blaze a path through the streets once more.
  252.  
  253. -Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HF-U9VYALAQ -
  254. >Lap two begins and it feels like an eternity since the race began, but in actuality it could only have been a matter of minutes.
  255. >Breaking free of the confines of the city streets for the final time, you find yourself facing the town of Ponyville for the second time.
  256. >However this time you’re ready for whatever may come. You won’t be taken unawares as you were in the first lap.
  257. >As the small town grows steadily larger you can’t help but wonder at what will be thrown against you this time. They wouldn’t recycle the same obstacles, whatever they have in store this time around will likely be a far sight more challenging.
  258. >Almost as if on cue your thoughts are immediately answered in the form a high pitched whistle.
  259. >You recognize the sound, but you can’t quite place it.
  260. >That is until terrific crack splits the air and a dazzling burst of stars fills the sky.
  261. >Fireworks? That’s certainly a step up from clay pigeons.
  262. >One by one a succession of fiery starbursts light the sky, each one so brilliant they seem to challenge the sun for dominance.
  263. >This time you’re ready, making sure to maintain enough distance from the other racers so as not to have a repeat last time.
  264. >The three of you twist and juke through the air, diving around erupting fireballs and whizzing rockets in your mad dash through the skies.
  265. >One such rocket passes within a meter of your position in almost a perfect mirror of your first lap, but any worries you may have had remain unfounded as it soars harmlessly past.
  266. >What really catches your attention about that particular bit of ordinance, though is the small pink horse riding it off into the sky, shrieking with glee the entire way.
  267. “God damn it, Pinkie.”
  268.  
  269. >At least now you know who’s responsible for the dazzling fusillade being launched against you.
  270. >Searching the sky for any sign of your partner, you locate Spitfire just in time to see her disappear into the heart of a truly massive explosion that would have been far more impressive had it not just engulfed your partner.
  271. >The sight is enough to make your heart skip a beat, but the moment that follows sees your worry transformed to awe.
  272. >Spitfire explodes out from blinding light show, corkscrewing with such speed that the erupting fireball is sucked along into the current she creates.
  273. >Faster and faster she spins, and as she goes yet more rockets are drawn into the expanding cyclone where they themselves explode and add to the brilliant corona about her.
  274. >In what can be only seconds the cone of fire grows so large that every firework streaking through the sky is drawn in to add to its magnificence.
  275. >As awed as you are by the sight you retain the presence of mind to not let the opportunity Spitfire’s provided you go to waste.
  276. >After a moment’s hesitation you fall in behind her, riding the contrail of pyrotechnics like a turbine powered Apollo through the skies over Ponyville.
  277. >And when at last Ponyville fades into the distance and the danger is gone Spitfire flares her wings wide, halting her rotation and dispelling the flames in a single motion.
  278. >It doesn’t take long to get over the wonder of the spectacle you just beheld and wasting little time you form back up alongside Spitfire.
  279. >Remembering that Rainbow had pulled a similar maneuver in the first lap, you can’t help but wonder at what she thought of the display. In the end, though, it doesn’t particularly matter.
  280.  
  281. >Spitfire casts a glance in your direction and you respond with a thumbs up, the normally banal gesture carrying a weight of gratitude and respect that words could not possibly hope to convey.
  282. >Again the canyon in the distance approaches and you dive headlong into the earth’s hungry maw.
  283. >This time it’s suspiciously absent of the rings and hordes of airborne spectators from last time, instead it’s a straight shoot to the very end.
  284. >Until you reach the fork, of course.
  285. >The red door you observed in the first lap now obstructs your original path, leaving only the road less traveled as your only option.
  286. >Without missing a beat the three of you blaze through the new course.
  287. >An ominous rumbling foreshadows this path’s perils, and out of the corner of you eye you note the dozens of holes pockmarking the walls of the canyon.
  288. “Oh dear.”
  289. >It’s all you have time to say before a gaping maw filled with teeth like longswords erupts from the hole nearest to you.
  290. >The quarry eels that evidently infest this route sense the prey in their midst burst from their burrows along the canyon, snapping and biting at the perceived meal.
  291. >Up and down, left and right you dodge the hungry monsters as they seek to snap you up, all the while wondering if the race coordinators have any failsafe if one of you proves too slow for the great beasts.
  292. >Not that you need a backup plan of course. Terrifying though they may be, the monsters are slow and cumbersome. A trifle for one of your skill to avoid.
  293. >The inclusion of the quarry eels serve as less of a threat than a hindrance to fliers of your skill, each deft maneuver increasing the distance to the end of the canyon, making them more of an annoyance than anything.
  294.  
  295. >As you twist away from the jaws of one of the behemoth serpents, you use the next as a springboard to launch yourself further along.
  296. >Evidently Spitfire and Rainbow regard the monstrosities with the same disinterest as you, neither of them seeming even the least bit worried about their safety as they are with their position in the race.
  297. >Over and downward you deftly avoid horrors that would still a lesser man’s heart, soon leaving behind those monstrous serpents.
  298. >Exiting the canyon you’re once again greeted by the sight of that mountain range that caused you such grief in the last lap.
  299. >Arching eastward through the mountains you’re met by the same howling winds that sought to dash you against the earthen peaks before.
  300. >This time you dip low through the gales, passing as closely to the mountains a possible in your attempts to minimize the effects of the winds as much as possible.
  301. >The blinding snow you kicked up in your last pass now acts against you, your vision deteriorating significantly as you fight to maintain control.
  302. >This time, rather than fighting her way up the center through the howling headwinds, Rainbow follows your course and seeks out the least resistant avenues along the fringes of the range.
  303. >When at last the wind dies away and you plunge once more unto the breach in the range Lightning Dust makes her appearance, joining Rainbow once more as the four of you dive towards the tunnel through the mountains encroaching on Canterlot..
  304. >Passing again into the twilight of the train tunnel, you’re unable to overcome the feeling of claustrophobia that presses in upon you. The dim lighting and the confined spaces providing an optimal route for Rainbow’s team through the mountains.
  305. >Then, as though in response to your deepest fears a howling note reverberates through the tunnel: the sound of a train horn. Your own fear come to life.
  306.  
  307. >You and Spitfire hug the sides of the tunnel as the train passes beneath you, Rainbow’s carelessness carrying her further along through the passage as she presses herself against the roof of the earthen mouth.
  308. >When the train passes by and you and Spitfire fall in behind the other team, you watch as Lightning passes the two of you to take up her position by Rainbow.
  309. >The darkened way finally gives ground to the light, a telltale glimmer at the end giving you hope as you speed along the tunnel’s length.
  310. >The tunnel disappears behind you and only a small stretch of mountains separates you from the finish line.
  311. >As Canterlot approaches a rumbling overtakes your world.
  312. >A shockwave of broken light rips through the atmosphere as Rainbow initiates another sonic rainboom grasping tight to Lightning Dust so as not to lose her again.
  313. >Borne of desperation, a path opens up before you.
  314. >Your jetpack’s maximum speed is artificially set by governor mechanisms within, preventing you from exceeding speeds that would otherwise tear the fragile mechanisms apart.
  315. >Thrusting a hand out, you direct Spitfire ahead to provide you with a slipstream.
  316. >Without question or hesitation she flies forward and you follow behind, disengaging the governor pylons within your pack as you do so.
  317. >Closing your eyes, you relish this, that which may be the last time you ply the air with Spitfire.
  318. >One by one the governors disengage, the roar of your turbines growing all the greater as you carry on.
  319. >At last there is nothing limiting your potential. Following in your partner’s trail you clench your fists tight and demand everything from the miraculous machine on your back that it can provide.
  320. >It gives back a thousand times more than you could have ever asked, propelling you forward at a terrific speed to challenge even Rainbow Dash.
  321.  
  322. >Closer and closer Canterlot draws, and soon you outstrip even Spitfire, grabbing tight to your steadfast ally as you fly past in the likeness of your rival.
  323. >Foot by foot, inch by inch you gain on Rainbow and Lightning, and for a while your two teams are neck and neck.
  324. >Canterot grows closer and closer as your fiery wings grow all the greater, sparks starting to fly free from the machine within as the power it generates exceeds its limits.
  325. >Both you and Rainbow reach out, taking advantage of every inch of reach your bodies provide you with.
  326. >As one the four of you soar over the finish line, you and Rainbow reaching forward as though trying to grasp victory from the other.
  327. >Time slows, your heart pounds in your ears, and a flash shines from your right side.
  328. >And then you notice the ground coming a bit too fast your way. You rotate your body and fall on your shoulder, going limp and hugging Spitfire close as you skid along the ground.
  329. >Your pack, however, has different ideas and snaps the straps off your back and skips along the raceway like a rock on a pond.
  330. >A sonic boom a second later kicks up a storm of dust and sends you into coughs.
  331. “Shi-*COUGH* Spits, are you okay!?”
  332. >”Still in one piece, Anny!” you hear among the roar of the crowd.
  333. >”IT LOOKS LIKE A PHOTO FINISH, EVERYPONY!”
  334. >Whoawhat?
  335. >That fast?
  336. >That hadn’t happened in-
  337. >Both you and the crowd go silent as the image taken by what you guess was the source of that flash is sent to the big screen.
  338. >Come on come on…
  339. >Both teams hold their breath. The screen flashes to show you, Spitfire, Rainbow Dash, and Lightning Dust crossing the line.
  340. >With your hand extended a solid two inches ahead of the opposition.
  341. >Then the stadium explodes.
  342.  
  343. >Oh. Well shit.
  344. >”WONDERBOLTS WIN! WONDERBOLTS WIN!” the announcer booms over you.
  345. >Still in disbelief, you point at the screen.
  346. “Hey Spits would you look at tha-GAH!”
  347. >What you were saying dies in your throat as Spitfire throws her hooves around you and chokes the life out of you. “OH I –KNEW- I RUTTED THE RIGHT MONKEY!” she cries.
  348. >You almost have her peeled off when you look towards your pit area and see the crew galloping towards you.
  349. “Nonononononon!Shit!”
  350. >You’re barreled over by your friends, confidants, and teammates offering their congratulations.
  351. >”You did it, you big idiot!”
  352. >”Good show, old boy!”
  353. >”The academy will need to make new records for you!”
  354. >You shake hooves with each of them and let their words set the reality of the situation in.
  355. >Holy shit…
  356. >YOU JUST WON THE CUP!
  357. >HOLY SHIT!
  358. >You catch Spitfire looking around. “Hey…where’s Rainbow Dash?”
  359. >Eyes to the sky, you search over the roar of the crowd, but find no trace of the cyan Pegasus.
  360. >That’s…not unsurprising.
  361. “Eh…she’ll show up again. She’s a sore loser.”
  362. >”Yeah it shows.”
  363. “Be nice.”
  364. >”No.” Spitfire answers.
  365.  
  366. >”Anonymous? Anonymous!” another voice cries.
  367. >You look past the herd of horses around you, a smaller pony in a lab coat is running up to you dragging your pack.
  368. “Bunsen?”
  369. >”Anonymous…I’m sorry.”
  370. “Sorry for-oh.”
  371. >Beaker pulls your pack forward and elicits a gasp from Spitfire. The exhaust vents had exploded, and the pressure gauge cracked. Bulbous protrusions in the tanks near the top indicating combustion in the reserves stuck out right behind where your head would have been.
  372. >”You’re lucky you disengaged when you did, my friend. Another few seconds could have been…bad.”
  373. >You pat your now dead pack.
  374. >”I am sorry, Anonymous.”
  375. “Eh…don’t be. I’m sure you can fix her.”
  376. >Bunsen’s face lights up.
  377. >”Really!?”
  378. “Can’t think of anyone better, champ. And I’m in a generous mood right now.”
  379. >That ought to brighten up his lifetime.
  380. >You look down at Spitfire.
  381. “I might need a ride home…”
  382. >She playfully punches you in the arm.
  383. >”Anonymous? Wonderbolts? Someone else chimes in.
  384. >Oh who NOW?
  385.  
  386. >The Princesses, that’s who now.
  387. >You wipe the annoyed expression off your face and stand up straight.
  388. “Your Highness’s.”
  389. >You bow, as does your team.
  390. >Celestia, graceful as ever, giggles and waves a hoof. “Rises, racers. For we are here this day to honor you.”
  391. >From a box held by an advisor, Celestia floats the royal cup. Solid gold, featuring fliers of all shapes and sizes swirling near the bottom of the base and ending in two crossing thunder bolts near the top.
  392. >”We award this trophy to you, The Wonderbolts, Equestria’s own as evidence of your determination, coordination, comradery and…”
  393. >”Going fast!” Luna chimes in.
  394. >Celestia chuckles. “Yes, chiefly that.”
  395. >For a change, A Princess bows to you as she floats over the cup.
  396. >You hoist it high over your head and bask in the cheers of the crowd. Even the visiting nations, teams who’d been knocked out, and citizens of other realms were unified in their celebration of a great race.
  397. >”What will you do now, Anonymous?” Celestia asks, rising.
  398. >You’d really not given that much thought…what was there beyond racing?
  399. >You shrug.
  400. “I dunno…go to Whinny World?”
  401.  
  402. -Epilogue: Six Months Later-
  403.  
  404. >Spitfire and you soar leisurely through the air together.
  405. >”Did you remember to lock the door?”
  406. “YES I remembered to lock the door.”
  407. >”I don’t want the mailman to deliver our mail on out table again, it’s fucking creepy.”
  408. “YOU were the one who forgot to lock that time, Spits.”
  409. >”…Still creepy.”
  410. “I thought things were supposed to get less weird after two people move in together.”
  411. >”Not in our lives, Anny. That’s the price of fame.”
  412. >Spitfire falls back a bit and comes up on your side. “How’s the new pack treating you?”
  413. >You flex your fingers and compensate as the rockets on your back follow your instructions.
  414. “Responsive but…I don’t think she’ll be as fast as the old one.”
  415. >”Give it some time, eh? Break her in a bit. Everyone knows the best gear only becomes the best after six broken bones at least.”
  416. “I’d like to think I don’t need to break the sound barrier in our new profession.”
  417. >Spitfire laughs. “I dunno, those recruits can get aaaaawful antsy.”
  418. >The two of you break through the cloud layer and lay eyes on Wonderbolts Academy, now expanded and experiencing a boom of activity. Everyone was trying to enroll with the championship under your belt.
  419. “What do you think our illustrious captain is making them do?”
  420. >”Who, Soar? Maaaan, that guy’s probably still getting used to finally having a position that warrants a head as big as his.
  421. >You roll your eyes.
  422. “What would you be doing at this hour with them?”
  423. >”Making them run laps while I shook off a hangover.”
  424. >You roll your eyes even harder.
  425.  
  426. >Spitfire touches down on the ground at the academy a second before you and flashes a grin back. “Ha! Beatcha.”
  427. “Yeah? Well I won the cup for you.”
  428. >Spitfire furrows her brow. “That excuse is gonna run thin one of these days, loverboy.”
  429. “Psssh. No it’s not.”
  430. >You smooth out your dress blues and walk with Spitfire over to lines of ponies, gryphons, dragons, and other fliers standing in the center of the main academy track.
  431. >The new blood.
  432. >”Aces on the field, ten hut!” one of your assistant instructors calls out.
  433. >A staccato of hooves and claws striking the ground as every recruit stood at attention echoed out.
  434. >Hmm…not bad timing.
  435. “Alright maggots, for todays agenda we-“
  436. >”Anon.”
  437. >Dammit Spits-
  438. “Today’s agenda is-“
  439. >Spitfire pulls you aside a bit.
  440. “WHAT?” you yell-whisper.
  441. >Spitfire nods her head towards a cyan and rainbow shape waiting by the bleachers looking awkward.
  442. >…Oh piss.
  443. “…Let me handle this.”
  444. >”If she hits you, Imma clock her.”
  445. “Just let me handle it.”
  446. “Hold here, class.” You say as you walk over.
  447.  
  448. “Look what the cat dragged back from the dead…”
  449. >”H-hey Anon…” Rainbow Dash says
  450. >You cross your arms.
  451. “Hey Dash. What are you doing here?”
  452. >Rainbow Dash closes her eyes and gulps, kicking at the ground. ”Iwannaenroll.”
  453. >You blink twice.
  454. “Come again.”
  455. >”I…want to enroll.” She says with a sigh. “I wanna give it another shot.”
  456. “You.”
  457. >”Yeah.”
  458. “The ex-head of the opposing team who almost beat us at the championship.”
  459. >”…A-huh.”
  460. “My ex.”
  461. >A nod.
  462. “Want to enroll here.”
  463. >…A weaker nod.
  464. >You tap your foot a few times.
  465. “Why?”
  466. >Rainbow looks up at you but keeps her head down. “I may have gotten far on my own but…I didn’t get far enough. Not to beat you or satisfy myself. You did. You gotta know something I don’t and…I wanna be better. On and off the track.”
  467. >Mhmm…
  468. “What makes you think we’d take you?”
  469. >Rainbow looks up at you almost broken, she was probably expecting to you tell her to go jump off the edge.
  470. >You were considering it.
  471. >But…
  472.  
  473. >You sigh.
  474. “You think you can leave that idiot ego on the ground and actually listen to what people have to teach you?”
  475. >Rainbow Dash nods like a happy dog.
  476. “And you’re not gonna scream and be a bitch about not going fast enough?”
  477. >An equally enthusiastic shake.
  478. “…Fine. Go inside and grab a suit. Your ex-teammates already joined up last week, you’ll have to work through lunch to catch up.”
  479. >Rainbow’s face lights up like her namesake and she flutters into the air. “You won’t regret this, coach!”
  480. >And then with a boom and rainbow trail, she flies off towards the main building.
  481. >You turn and walk back towards Spits.
  482. >”What was that about?”
  483. “I’m too nice a guy, probably why I spend time with you.”
  484. >Spitfire rolls her eyes. You blow your whistle.
  485. “Recruits!”
  486. >”Sir!” you get in unified response.
  487. >Now…what pain could you inflict on these poor sods.
  488. >…Screw it.
  489. “Take a lap.”
  490. >The next generation of Wonderbolts takes to the field, and Celestia help the racing community with you at the wheel.
  491.  
  492. -End.
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