I shuffled back and forth on my hooves, seeming to do a little dance. The air was bitter today. Nippy, unpleasant…but, I figure I should get used to it, where I’m going.
“Keep movin’ about like that,” Evergreen said from my right, pulling my gaze from the wood paneling to his face, “And all that gear’s gonna fall off your back.”
He had to remind me.
All at once, the weight returned to me. The weight of sleeping bags, outerwear, tons of climbing gear, cooking supplies, a small book, an oxygen tank, and, of course, goggles made their presence known to me. The strain got heavier on my back. I needed a distraction before I completely collapsed. Again.
Looking at Evergreen wasn’t really helping. His mint green build held up the same amount of gear with no trouble at all; like he was destined to climb. Actually, in a way, he kinda was – his cutie mark was a hiking stick crossed over a mountain.
His sunglasses hid his eyes fairly well, but anyone who knew Evergreen well enough knew what he was looking at: all the mares walking to and from on the platform. Mostly, just the swing of their back legs. You could tell by the way he stared off into “nothingness”.
The mare in front of us spoke for the first time in what seemed like ages. “When’s your, um…airship coming?”
“Any minute now,” I retorted, glancing at the clock, and remembering what it said on the ticket, “Should be any minute and we’ll be off.”
I gazed a bit longingly over my flank, to the empty platform. The wooden structure was built into one of the skyscrapers of Fillydelphia, and there was one on each side of the structure. The South and West “terminals” (if you could even call them that) were designed for strictly Equestrian travel. The North and the East (the one where the three of us stood) were designed for the longer, international travels.
The mare in front of us sighed. She didn’t have on any gear; ‘course, she wasn’t accompanying us, either. “You have all your things?”
“Well, I do,” I told the mare, “You know I always do, Blossomforth.”
“Okay, then…” her tone sounded that of a mother whose son had just been enlisted, “Evergreen, do you….Evergreen!”
“Huh? What?” The stallion beside me suddenly jerked around and faced my pegasus friend. “What’s up, Blossomforth?”
“Firstly, stop staring at that mare over there.”
“What?” he asked accusingly, “What are you talking about? I wasn’t – “
“Evergreen. You’ve got a wingboner the size of Cloudsdale.”
Red invaded his cheeks as the pegasus smiled sheepishly, and moved a hoof to lower his extended wings. I snickered. Being an earth pony means you didn’t show that kinda stuff that blatantly. You just get to watch others do it.
“Y-y-yes, Blossomforth,” my climbing buddy said, stammering, “I have all my things.”
“Okay then,” Blossom replied, “And your tickets?”
“Yes, ‘Forth,” the stallion said again.
“How about your – “
“Yes, Mother!” His mocking tone almost pulled another chuckle out of me, and actually planted a smile on Blossomforth’s face. “Don’t worry so much; we’ve got this covered.”
“I know, I know…” She trailed off, and she took on a pained expression. “I’m sorry. I know you’re a good climber, Evergreen. But, Fourleaf’s never really been…”
I piped up now. “I’ve climbed before! I hiked up Mt. Rushmare before.”
“Fourleaf, that’s a tourist attraction,” ‘Forth stated, matter-of-factly, “Everypony’s hiked up it who’s been there.”
I looked at the ground. She was right.
She went on. “I just…I don’t know about this. I hate to sound discriminatory, but…but…she is an earth pony. None of them have ever summited Violet before. It’s gonna be extremely hard for her without wings…or any sort of magic…”
“Relax,” Evergreen crooned, “She’ll be alright. She seemed confident enough, and confidence will fuel anypony to victory. Besides, if we’re able to do this, her life will be awesome! She’ll be able to open up that…that…”
“Record store,” I stated.
“Right, right. Record store!”
It was true. While my name did happen to be Fourleaf Clover, my cutie mark didn’t exactly fit my name. My family tended to be pretty lucky; we were well-known around Baltimare for it. A lot of good things tended to happen to us. So, naturally, when it comes to naming their firstborn daughter, my mom names me Fourleaf, in hoped that my name might end up being my cutie mark.
But, no. My cutie mark was a spinning record. Why? ‘Cause I loved music. Not making it, just listening to it. Music is the life that flows through us. The fire that keeps us warm. The smile that lies on happy faces. And, with that philosophy in mind, I want to share that with other people. So, naturally, I want to open a record store.
Only problem? Cash. Money. Bits. I don’t have it. Just ‘cause my name’s Fourleaf does not mean I win the lottery every time I play (believe me, I’ve tried.) And, it’s been my dream to open up one. Baltimare doesn’t seem to have one, and, to be fairly honest, Baltimare isn’t the cheeriest of cities, either.
So, Evergreen, a friend of mine from high school, suddenly steps back into my life, newly fresh from his own daredevilish expenditures. Promises me fame, notoriety, a new level of endurance – all stuff I don’t want. Except for the money. Equestrian Athletics is sponsoring a competition – their new climbing gear, they acclaim, should be able to put an earth pony on the summit of Mt. Violet, the most dangerous and tallest mountain in this hemisphere. Something that hasn’t been done before.
The rules seemed simple: there may be climbing groups, but a team (the ones who split the money and everything) must consist of three ponies: a unicorn, a pegasus, and an earth pony. They can represent anything from a city, to a business, to whatever name you came up with.
Evergreen, myself, and his foreign unicorn friend (who I hadn’t met yet) had formed our own team: Team Hoofboots.
No, I’m not kidding. That is our legitimate name.
The idea is (since EVERYPONY who climbs wears hoofboots) is that there’s a specialized “HB” on ours – and even as I think this, I take a look at my blue boots, the only piece of outerwear that I’ve chosen to wear today. Sure enough, in white lettering, there it is – an “HB” encased in a mountain.
I’m not sure why Evergreen picked me to climb with him, considering I have zero climbing experience. In fact, when I thought about the whole situation, I considered I might actually still have the luck gene my family has – where else would I get an opportunity like this to win so much money?
And so I took it. Call me a foal.
“…and the gear should keep her alright,” Evergreen was wrapping up as I lazily drifted back into the conversation, “After all, Equestrian Athletics doesn’t lie about that kinda stuff. They’re professionals.”
“I guess so.” Blossomforth sighed again. She was taking this kinda hard. “But, I still worry. I’ve heard all the horror stories of what happens on Mt. Violet – and I don’t like it one bit. Ponies freezing to death, falling off the face of the mountain, cannibalism! Evergreen, what have you gotten yourself and Fourleaf into?”
“’Forth.” Evergreen’s tone lost all playfulness and became incredibly serious. “It’s under control. If something happens to Four, we drop everything and come back. I may be in it to win, but not at the life of the mare who I went to all the dances with.”
I blushed. “Not all of them.”
“You get my point. And besides, ‘Forth, she’ll be around my buddies. Ponies who have been climbing for years like I have, ponies who know what they’re doing and are professionals. We don’t share a love of watching other ponies fail; we all share a love for climbing.”
“It’s a bit of a terrible love, if you ask me,” Blossomforth muttered under her breath.
“Nothing.” Then, pointing a hoof out past Evergreen, “Is this your flight?”
I turned around in unison with Evergreen. Sure enough, a red, covered airship began floating towards the edge of the platform, two terminal ponies clearing the landing while another directed it down.
A P.A. system boomed over the crowd of tourists, average ponies, and climbers like myself and Evergreen. “Attention passengers, your flight to Manechuria is just about docking. Give us another minute or two and we should start boarding momentarily. Thank you all for waiting.” A click sounded as the system turned off.
My friend looked longingly at the two of us. “Oh, dear, that’s a long flight.”
Evergreen shrugged. “It’s what it takes.”
Blossomforth nodded. “Alright, I – I should let you guys go. It’s going to be a crowded flight. Please be careful?”
“Always,” the stallion said, and lifted his sunglasses as he leaned over to give Blossom a hug. The embrace lingered for a bit, while I stood awkwardly off to the side as other ponies began walking their way towards the airship.
Once they released, I moved in. I saw a strange twinkle in Blossomforth’s eye – was that a tear? Was she crying?
She pulled me into a tight embrace, and whispered, “Please, please be safe, Fourleaf. I – I don’t know what I’d do if something happened – “ Her voice cracked and broke off.
“I’ll be fine, Blossomforth,” I whispered back, “I’ve got Evergreen and all the other climbers watching me, and I’m a tough mare. Don’t you forget that.” A pause, then: “If you don’t stop, I think I might cry.”
My friend gave a teary laugh. “Oh, Four. You always know how to cheer me up. I expect news from the mountain.”
“If I can, I’ll mail a postcard.”
“Ooh!” She let go of the embrace, fairly quickly, and in one swift motion reached into her saddlebag with a wing and pulled out a device with a strap. The device was a small thing, no bigger than a quill but kind of boxy.
“This,” she began, moving it around with her hoof, “Is a tape recorder. Do me a favor and do some sort of chronicle or report at the end of all the climbing days. You could make a book. Even if this, you know, doesn’t work, you could – “ She sniffled, still recovering from her bout of crying. “ – you could sell a book.”
“Oh, thanks, ‘Forth!” I said enthusiastically, as she put it around my neck, “This is awesome! I’ll be sure to, don’t you worry. I think I’ve used one of these before, too.”
“All aboard to Manechuria!” yelled the conductor over everypony, “All aboard!”
“Fourleaf, we gotta go,” Evergreen said.
“Right,” I replied, and then immediately pulled Blossomforth into another tight hug. She had been my best friend since I began attending Baltimare Political, coming all the way from Ponyville to take the classes. I’d definitely miss her the most.
Before I let go, I whispered into her ear, “As soon as I land, I’ll send you a postcard.”
“You better!” she said back as we let go. I backed up a bit, hoping to keep her gaze just a bit longer before I was forced onto the airship. She called after us, “Be safe! Have fun! I’ll miss you!”
“Miss you, too!” I called back, “I’ll be sure to write! Goodbye!”
“’Bye, ‘Forth!” called back Evergreen barely half as enthusiastically.
With that, we turned around and began trotting to the airship, a medium-sized, covered carriage tied to a massive red balloon that held it aloft hundreds of feet above Fillydelphia.
Evergreen reached into his own saddlebag and pulled out our two tickets, giving them to the conductor. After giving them a once-over, the conductor nodded sharply. “Welcome aboard.”
With that, we trotted across the gangplank, doing my best not to look down and set off my minor acrophobia (something I felt would not be helpful to me on this mountain.) Soon enough, we were inside the confines of the airship, and up there, while a floor held me in place, it seemed to me that I had none under me. I wasn’t falling, but there was no support.
Evergreen led me down the aisle to a small door, which he opened and with no difficulty tossed all his climbing gear. Me, not so much. I think five or ten minutes had passed by the time I had slipped all of the crazy stuff off my hard-working back except for my saddlebag full of stuff to do on the ride over and the tape recorder around my neck.
We had just barely gotten back to our seats when a voice boomed,
“Attention passengers, we are now about to begin our journey to Manechuria. It’s about a 15-hour flight, so sit back and relax – you’re gonna be awhile."
Evergreen let me get the window seat while he put on his sunglasses and began “scouting” again, unbeknownst to all the poor mares walking up and down the aisle of the airship. Typical Green. Always the “mare’s stallion” as he liked to proclaim.
I noticed Blossomforth on the platform, simply staring with a slight smile on her face at the airship. I held a small hoof up and began waving to her, hoping she’d see it.
She did. We locked eyes and waved to each other, beaming widely. Even when the airship began to move forward. Even when she was just in the corner of the window.
Until she had completely disappeared from my sight.
Now, nothing but clouds rolled by. Thankfully, the airship was covered and heated – all the nippyness that came with this morning’s dawn was now unable to reach me. Thank Celestia.
I moved around in my seat a bit, trying to find the comfort level as I thought of the mountain a bit. But, soon enough, all those thoughts got pushed to Blossomforth. I felt tinges of sadness begin to creep in.
In order to cure myself of those, I turned to Evergreen, who was now wearing, along with his stylized hoofboots and sunglasses, a wry smile. “Evergreen?” I asked.
Without moving, “What’s up, Four?”
“Have you ever been to Mt. Violet?”
“Once,” he said, “Didn’t make it to the summit. Vanderlyle and I – we got close, I suppose. Checkpoint Five is pretty darn close, if you ask me. But, some…stuff came up, and we just couldn’t do it.”
I disregarded his awkward pause. “Who’s Vanderlyle?”
“My other climbing buddy.” He turned to me, still wearing a smile. “The third member of Team Hoofboots.”
I nodded. Vanderlyle. Interesting name, I suppose.
I gave that some thought as I pulled from my saddlebag the book I planned to read, still trying to rid myself of depressing thoughts about leaving my best friend.
A fifteen hour flight, huh?
Books, please, don’t fail me now.