Wings churning, forehead burning, and sweat running, you push yourself to your absolute limits. It was for good reason, of course.
You were digging your way deeper and deeper into the Foul Field. The word 'foul' doesn't even come close to doing the field justice. Dark storm clouds and high winds comparable to a hurricane bombarded you from all directions. The rain pelted against your face in a nonstop torrent, and your eyes were burning from the abuse.
Any sane pegasai would have simply high-tailed it out of here. Though you consider yourself relatively stable, the crowd of ponies giving chase to you argued otherwise. After you had entered this hell-hole, you noticed the group of pegasai behind you had shrunk slightly. Perhaps they wanted to keep what shred of sensibility they had.
Even then, the crowd hadn't exactly dissipated all that much. At least a hundred ponies were still on your tail, if not more. Some of them were competitors you had to deal with at least once. That mare who was eliminated first, the raging hulk of muscle Roid Rage, and a few others. Though you couldn't hear much, there wasn't any doubt in your mind that Roid had been yelling his trademark phrase this entire time.
To your left is a CloudCam. It still perplexed you as to how this thing could keep up with you, especially in this gale. They weren't kidding when they said it was crafted by the finest. Either way, it wouldn't let up as it silently observed the chase. How does a camera like that function in this storm?
You quickly bring a hoof up to wipe the excess water from your eyes. Your mane was absolutely soaked at this point. The extra weight from the water was tiring, but it didn't slow you down more than any of the ponies flying behind you. Even with the added weight, you were still ahead of them.
You figured Rainbow Dash had followed you in here, but she was lost in the midst of the crowd. You glance back every now and then to try and spot her, but no luck. She's completely swallowed up. Even a pony as colorful as her doesn't stick out in the mass of bodies.
One colt, however, did stand out.
"I'll crush you!"
Even with the storm, you could still hear him. Thunderlane was still in the lead of the herd. He almost had a sort of bloodlust in his eyes. Even if every pony else dropped out, he would go out on a limb to make sure you didn't defeat him, for whatever reason.
Your flag whipped around wildly on your back. It was being tossed all directions by the winds. Even in this cloudy inferno, the flag was easy to see, thanks to its unnatural glow. Its bright light cut through the clouds and made you stand out among the darkness.
Your wings are burning feverishly, crying out for you to stop flying. If only the pony who was the second to last to be eliminated could have held on for at least five more minutes. Maybe you could have gotten some substantial rest. You grit your teeth and fight the pain, determined to hold on until the end.
You crane your head around. Behind you, you see several contestants were beginning to drop out, not wanting any part of this madness. You don't blame them. Heck, you would like to join them but you can't, not quite yet. Turning your head just a bit more, you attempt to read the timer on your flag. You can't read it perfectly, but you manage to see that you've lasted for roughly three minutes at this point. Okay, four minutes longer, c'mon...
You turn your wings and twist your body all around, avoiding every incoming obstacle. Not only would crashing into any clouds here mean certain flag-removal, but it would also mean a free bath. As pleasant as that may sound, you weren't exactly in the mood for an impromptu shower.
All the wind was making it rather difficult to steer. You had nearly crashed several times simply because the wind forced you a certain direction. You considered using the wind to your advantage and help you steer, but you quickly discarded the thought. These winds almost seemed to have a mind of their own, trying to sabotage you. Instead, you had to work alone.
Alone. That's how you felt right now. With that entire crowd against you, you were a lone wolf. Your only ally in this was Rainbow, and even then, she was against you now too. Even if it was against her will, she was fighting against you. You felt horrible, having to force her into this. Especially after your little...engagement, earlier.
Your mind couldn't stop jumping back to that. Every time you thought of her, you thought of that moment. Perhaps it was just a male thing, but you couldn't help but feel it wasn't. You did enjoy it rather profusely, and she even admitted she did too. And she did say she would talk with you about that later...
You shake your head. This is the last wall of defense, the final round of the fight, the end of the line. There's no time to think about that. Such distractions will cost you the game if you let them get the better of you. Looking ahead again, you gracefully weave your way above, below, and around the clouds, attempting to get as far ahead of the crowd as you can. With losing them out of the option (you can thank your flag for that), you had to rely on endurance and speed.
"You won't beat my record, punk!"
You roll your eyes a bit. No time to turn back and respond to his comments, you focus only on not crashing. The wind shifts again, attempting to push you to your right. With the wind, a few clouds are thrown into your path as well. You quickly pulse your wings downward in an attempt to dodge them, and narrowly avoid two of the fluffy projectiles.
Another cloud is tossed in your way, and you barely manage to steer yourself out of its path. Your hooves scrape against its surface, taking a bit of its fluff with you as you pass. You correct yourself in midair, trying to realign yourself with gravity. Staving off a fit of vertigo, you continue your mad flight into the vortex.
Looking forward again, you find that the field is beginning to change. As much as you've prayed it would change for the better, it did not look like it was going to. The clouds were growing even darker, almost to the point of being pitch-black, and the rain was beginning to fall more heavily. This entire area almost seemed...unnatural. It was growing out of control...
Were you even in the Foul Field anymore?
Wondering if this was a bad idea or a terrible idea, you look back. The horde of ponies following you had greatly diminished. Only a few stragglers were still following, and you could even see Dash!
One by one, the ponies broke off and stopped giving chase. As the crowd continued to shrink, Thunderlane began to look back. Noticing his horde of helpers devolving, he begins to look incredulous.
"What the hay are you all doing!?" He shouts over the wind. "We need to stop him!"
The ponies ignore his pleas, and continue breaking away. He grits his teeth in anger, and his cheeks even begin to turn red with rage.
"Thunderlane!" A voice calls from above him. The two of you look up to see Rainbow flying overhead. "We need to stop! This is getting crazy! You know we shouldn't fly in this, it's not safe!"
"Not until I have his flag!" He yells back. She just rolls her eyes and continues chasing. "Just give me your flag, you punk!"
For a brief moment, you consider taking him up on that request. This was clearly becoming far more dangerous than it should be. This wasn't just the Foul Field anymore, it was a wild zone. An untamed and unconstrained patch of clouds. No pegasai was responsible for creating this area, and it simply manifested from the edge of the Foul Field. The longer you stay out here, the greater risk you have of getting seriously hurt.
You look back to Thunderlane and look right into his eyes. Right as you do, you see it. You know you can't back down now.
He had that look in his eyes. That same hunger that he had all those years ago.
Even under such insane circumstances, Thunderlane was too blind to realize what was happening around him. He only cares about his record, about standing above the rest. If you back down now, who knows what kind of pony he could turn into. If he wins, there might be no bringing him back.
At that moment, a bolt of lightning comes crashing down near you. Recoiling slightly, you look to where it struck to find the CloudCam that was following you had been utterly destroyed. It let out a strange sound before careening away and promptly exploding.
Not counting your blessings for having nearly lost your life, you keep going. With the gale-force winds slamming you from all directions, your wings are beginning to go numb at the strain on them. You also notice that you developed a migraine at some point.
You risk another glance at your flag. You find it is at six minutes and nineteen seconds. You're almost there! If you can only hold for just a little longer...
"Stop, please!" That voice...It sounded so weak and helpless. Was that Thunderlane? Looking back, you see his eyes are full of despair all of the sudden. "You don't get it!"
"What are you talking about!?" You say, not looking ahead.
"I need this record! It's the only reason he still cares about me!" Was that rainwater in his eyes, or...tears?
"What!? Who!?" Dash yells, still following close behind.
"My father! He thinks I'm worthless, okay!? This is all I have to show him I'm worth something, worth being his son! Please!" His voice was beginning to crack...was he serious?
He claims his father is behind this. You've heard of stories like that before, a child proving to their parents that they should be proud of them, but...were his claims genuine? This entire game, he's put you down, manipulated others, and has been an all-around jerk. Did he really feel that way?
Was his tough guy attitude just a mask? A way to hide his true reasoning behind this? If his father really did think that of him, it could explain why he was bitter. Yet he had that hunger in his eyes...Or did you misinterpret it? Looking into his eyes, you see nothing but fear. A fear so deep, it gives you chills. It wasn't a rational fear, like being afraid of this weather. It was something far deeper. Something incredibly close to his heart.
He wasn't lying. But you had to ask yourself: Would letting him win really help him?
If he was this afraid of his father's approval, perhaps it wasn't for the best that he won. His fear of losing and over-protectiveness of his record would drive him to madness one day. Similar to...him. If he won, what good would it do him in the long run?
You turn your head to look at him. "Sorry Thunderlane, I can't do that!"
His eyes widen a bit. "What!? Please! I'm begging you!" Even Rainbow Dash looks surprised at your decision.
You turn forward and ignore his pleas. Trying to filter out his constant yelling, you focus on not getting hit. By clouds or by lightning, everything was an obstacle for you. Looking up, you can see where lightning was about to strike, as a formation of light would manifest in certain spots in the canopy of clouds overhead. With a light formation growing directly ahead, you roll to your right and barely dodge a bolt in time.
The three of you dance around all the hazards and dangers of the stormy inferno, each trying to avoid losing the game, losing their record, or losing their life. The storm seemed to go on for miles, as far as the eye can see. There is seemingly no safe way out of this. If you were going down, you were going down fighting.
Looking over to Rainbow, you see that she is struggling just as much as you are. You desperately wanted her to get the hay out of here. She has no reason to be following you now. With the CloudCams no longer following you (or rather, no longer able to follow you) she doesn't have to follow you. You wanted her to get out of here, to find somewhere safe. She's risking herself over nothing, she doesn't have to be here!
Why would she continue this mad chase, knowing how dangerous it is? Is she only doing it to make sure you win, or is she concerned with your safety? Either way, as much as you wanted her out of here, that look of determination in her eyes said otherwise.
You narrowly dodge another cloud, and continue flying forward. Looking up, you spot another bolt about to strike just in time. Lifting yourself up, you stop just in front of it, as it flashes right before your face. You squeeze your eyes shut out of reaction, and your ears are ringing due to the loud boom following the bolt. Rubbing your eyes, you blindly fly forward. Your pause in midair had stopped all your inertia, and you needed to get moving. With no idea how much time you had left to go, you didn't want to stop at all.
Opening your eyes again, you're greeted with the worst obstacle possible.
Before you get a chance to react, he tackles you in midair. Losing all sense of direction, you have no control as he promptly grabs your flag, and tears it right from your back.
Silence. No pony says a word. Other than the vicious storm surrounding you, not a sound is to be heard.
Rainbow stops in her tracks, roughly thirty feet from the two of you. She looks at the two of you, a strange mixture of shock, fear, and intrigue on her face. She can't bring herself to speak as the three of you simply hover in the air.
Thunderlane bears a wicked smile on his face. Your flag glows in his hoof, as he chuckles slightly. "Well now," he says, the cockiness in his voice having returned. "What did I tell you! You can't beat me, you only got," he pauses, and takes a very quick glance at your flag. "Seven minutes and twenty-three seconds!" He begins cackling like mad. All that fear he possessed mere moments ago, gone.
"I...lost..." You say, crestfallen.
"Of course you did! See for yourself!" He thrusts the flag to you, which you reluctantly take. All that work, putting yourself at risk so many times, all worthless. None of it came to fruition.
Looking down at the flag in your hooves, you suddenly felt confused. "Uh...Thunderlane?"
"What?" He asks in an uncaring manner.
"I think you might have read this wrong." You feel your spirits rise ever so slowly.
"What!?" He asks in a much more caring manner.
Lifting your free hoof, you wipe the excess rainwater off the flag. The numbers were no longer obscured, and now read:
He flies over to meet the object of your attention. Your face lifts, and his falls.
With that, the flag dissipates in your hooves. As its last few bits blow away with the wind, Thunderlane bears an expressionless face.
"I...lost." He repeats. "I...I can't even...He'll be..."
"Thunderlane..." You say, putting a hoof on his shoulder.
"You broke the record!?" You and Thunderlane look over the interrupting voice. You see Dash bears a dumbstruck look on her face. You give her a simple nod, confirming your victory. Her eyes practically begin to glow.
And so do her wings, and her mane, and...
You look up. Directly above her, a ball of light was forming.
"DASH! LOOK OUT!"
"Huh?" She looks up and finds the ball crackling. Letting out a yelp, she pulses her wings and flies back. She's not quick enough, however, and the bolt makes contact with her left wing. Accompanying the crackling boom was a bloodcurdling scream.
Once your temporary blindness wears off, you look down to see Rainbow Dash plummeting.
"RAINBOW!" You yell out. "Thunderlane, c'mon!" Without pausing, you immediately begin to give chase to the falling pegasus. Looking back, you see Thunderlane is flying in the opposite direction.
You curse him under your breath, and focus only on helping Dash. She was falling rather fast, and you could tell she was fighting to stay conscious. Her wing was an unsettling shade of black, and she fruitlessly tried beating it to slow her descent.
Her futile attempts at flying only resulted in a pained look on her face. After a short period, she stops flailing, and looks to you, a desperate look in her eyes. She reaches up to you, begging for help.
No way in Tartarus would you let her die this way. You kick it up a notch and put even more strain on your already battered wings. Rain pelts your face and clouds fly past you as you plummet with her.
You notice the clouds around you taking a different shape. No longer were they in your way, but formed a tunnel around you. You're flying right into another vortex.
Lightning begins to bolt in from all directions. You fly all directions, trying to avoid each bolt. The vortex was pulling you every which way, trying to throw you off course. Dash was lucky she hasn't been hit again, and you can only pray that her lucky streak continues.
You notice all your dodging was only bringing you farther and farther from her. If you kept this up, you would lose her. You had to think fast! How could you speed up?
Looking around, you see the current is spinning towards the direction Rainbow is falling. If you could use that to your advantage...
You change course slightly, and fly towards the edge of the vortex. You realign yourself with the wall of clouds and begin flying like mad. Immediately, you could feel yourself gaining speed.
Though you could hardly see out of the clouds, you knew you were moving much faster now. Tears are brimming on the edges of your eyes from the forces on your body, and your wings are burning from the speed.
Slowly, you turn your head towards the inside of the vortex. You can barely see the shape of Rainbow as she grows near. You need to time this just right! If you miss...
You shake your head. No time to think about that! Giving it your all, you speed up even more, and slowly gain a bit of lead on Rainbow. Making sure you can line yourself up, you prepare to launch.
This is it, your only shot. You wait, just for a brief moment. Once you were about five feet ahead of her, you let loose. Pulsing your wings, you shoot out from the wall of the cloud. Turning upside-down, the world begins to move in slow-motion as she falls right towards you. At some point, she had managed to turn herself to face you. You open your forelegs, and right as the distance closes, you wrap around each other and dart out of the vortex.
Flying at mach speed, you quickly find yourself growing further and further away from the storm. The crackling of lightning and torrent of rain slowly died down as the two of you escaped the abyss.
With aching wings and a soaked mane, you breathe heavily to catch your breath. Looking down to Dash, she has almost a lustful look in her eyes.
"Thanks..." She whispers. She then closes her eyes and wraps her forelegs around you a bit tighter, pressing her head against your chest.
You simply smile in return, and continue the flight home.