A good story isn't measured by how long it is, but by how long it stays with you.
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Sweat and pain marked the following days. Late-night practices blended with morning flights and the dream-state crusades between. Scootaloo pushed herself harder than ever to master her tornado, the one that would make Rainbow Dash proud. Draining it was, but worth the light at the end of the tunnel—the smile on Rainbow Dash’s face. And before she knew it, the day arrived.
“You ready?” Tyco asked when she entered the kitchen from the hallway. He stood over the sink, washing a pan he had used to cook the vegetable stir-fry sitting on the bar table beside her saddlebags. Scootaloo beamed. Dad always knew how to make any day start out great.
Scootaloo hopped up on a stool and eyed her breakfast with delight. “You bet.”
“Heh, good. I would hope so after all that hard work you’ve put in. Just wish I could come watch.”
Scootaloo blew on the vegetables to cool them, eyes up at her father. “Well why don’t you?”
He walked over and sat across from her. “Well, you know, work is work...”
“And it’s kinda hard to get into Cloudsdale without flying.” She regretted her words the instant a wince shot across his face.
He sighed, then spoke, his words tinged with regret, ears flattened and eyes lowered. “Yeah, well, I’m true to my word. Some things are just that important to ponies. When you grow up, you’ll understand.” A smile spread over him. Scootaloo smiled back, glad her father could put aside what she had said to see her intention, and took a bite of her stir-fry. Delicious as always.
He chuckled in response. “You know, I cooled them off before you got in here so you wouldn’t burn your mouth again.”
“Hehe. I could tell.” She shoveled spoonfuls into her mouth. The earlier she got to Cloudsdale the better.
Elbows propped on the table, Tyco watched. His mouth was hidden behind clasped hooves, but its corners poked out on either side in a smile, his eyes alive with what could only be a memory of days he hadn’t mentioned. Not a word came from him. Odd but nothing to worry over, especially if it meant not being yelled at for bad table manners. That didn’t happen often.
“Done?” he asked when spoon clattered to plate.
Scootaloo wiped her mouth with a foreleg. “Mhmm.”
“Alright. Let’s get you goin’ then.” He stood to head for a paper sack on the far counter by the sink. “I packed you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Cut the crusts off, just the way you like it.”
He returned with it and set it in her saddlebags. “Didn’t have time to get more of that soda stuff you like, but I threw a juice box in there for you.”
He flashed a knowing smile. “What kind of father would I be if it wasn’t?”
Scootaloo giggled. “You’d still be the best in all of Equestria.”
“Heh, I’d hope so... C’mon, saddle up.”
Scootaloo was way ahead of him. Saddlebags already draped over her, she pulled the belt tight and notched it. Quick as a whip, she was out the door and into the sky, a farewell in her wave and a skip in her heart; Rainbow Dash was at the end of this flight.
It went quickly, the walls of sky and atmosphere that made up Cloudsdale’s Cloudiseum growing in the distance before she knew it. A grin crossed her face, and she sped toward it.
Pegasi flocked to it like pigeons for seed. Thousands crowded the entrance hall, all clamoring for entrance. Scootaloo glided over the them, eyes peeled. There had to be a competitor’s entrance somewhere.
Sure enough, a scarlet banner hung over a smaller arch that came into view as she started to wrap around the building. “Competitor’s Entrance,” it conveniently read in golden block letters. Fewer pegasi stood outside this gate, some of which looked familiar from her many track and flight meets. She smiled. None of them stood a chance.
She landed at the gate to obtain her competitor number, thirteen, and then walked through the gates into a large foyer. Two staircases flanked a large closed gate, and a small pole sign beside the left handrail read “Competitor’s Waiting Room.” An arrow beneath it pointed right, down the side hallway.
A short walk brought her to a room filled with other fillies and colts her age. Some milled about, eyes down and teeth clenched—the easily beaten—others posed and smiled and laughed, happy as can be—the overconfident and care-lessers. The remaining few chatted with one another, calm and collected. They were the ones to watch, to study. Rainbow Dash’s keen eye had rubbed off on her.
“I was wondering when you’d show up.”
Scootaloo jumped at the familiar voice. She turned to see Pyra, her ever-present grin and blazing mane as fierce as the first day she saw her. Had she been here the whole time? Maybe her keen eye wasn’t so keen.
“You look ready to win,” Pyra said. She shifted her weight to one side, her head cocking to the other, grin doubling.
Just as casual, too. Scootaloo matched her grin. “I am. And I will.”
Pyra laughed, melodic like the ringing of a bell. Long enough not to be contemptuous and short enough not to be spiteful. It was innocent, as was the smile her grin became. “We’ll see about that.”
Scootaloo held her grin, but faltered inside. Pyra’s words were simple. Neither hatred nor jealousy twisted them. She knew something Scootaloo didn’t.
Pyra looked to a sheer curtain of mist at the far end of the room, through which the obscured forms of ponies and stands and sky could be seen. “I heard your trainer made it into the Wonderbolts. That’s pretty sweet.”
At this, Scootaloo nodded. “Uh huh. And today I get to show her how hard I’ve been working on the trick she taught me.”
Pyra looked back, and her smile broke to let her brows rise high, neck back and head forward in interest. “Oh? Sounds cool.” The smile returned but was curled in a manner that hinted at teasing. “But you better watch out. I’ve been working on my own stuff, too. Ever since you beat me that day like two months ago, I’ve been waiting to even the score.”
Scootaloo giggled. With how hard she had been working this last month? Unlikely, but fun to think about. It was odd, but having Pyra as a sort of rival felt exciting. Her simple confidence and matching skill made for a challenge unlike any other. Good and easy-going was unseen in many fliers.
A door opened behind Scootaloo. Through it stepped a pasty-white mare with a curly orange mane that reminded Scootaloo of Twist. She held a clipboard up to her eyes and adjusted her glasses, then spoke in the most nasally voice that ever existed. “Okay, contestant number one, you’re up.”
A white colt perked up at the mention of his number and darted for the curtain, an excited smile plastered on his face. Though she knew the number thirteen was stuck to her flank, Scootaloo looked back at it anyways.
“Hey, would you look at that,” Pyra said. “You’re right before me.” Scootaloo looked at her flank to see the number fourteen covering her cutie mark, its yellow wingtips visible around the edges of the sticker. “Better give me something good to beat.” Her grin was back. A little snarky, yet still innocent.
Scootaloo held back the words she wanted to say and instead turned to watch the first contestant through the curtain. Her tornado would speak louder than anything she could have said.
Contestant after contestant left through the curtain as their numbers were called. Their forms flicked and fluttered back and forth on the other side, like ghosts chasing shadows. Number twelve was called, and Scootaloo felt a sudden knot form in her stomach. In a few moments she would be out there showing the world what she was made of—showing Rainbow Dash what she was made of.
Weightlessness jittered in her hooves. She shook them out the way she always did before a race, one hoof at a time. Her heart felt like it was caving in on itself.
“Your turn, contestant number thirteen,” the nasally pony said.
As if those words held magic, Scootaloo’s heart leapt to her throat. Breaths constricted while legs leadened, making her steps heavy and unwanted.
“Hey. Kick some flank.”
Scootaloo turned to see Pyra smiling. She smiled back, then turned back and took a deep sigh before nosing through the curtain. As if a switch had been flipped, the crowd’s cheers assailed her. A sea of color and wings and shouts and leaps of excitement abounded every way she looked. She shrank away from the thousands of eyes that bore into her.
And then she saw Rainbow Dash.
She wore yellow goggles around her neck, and the flight suit’s balaclava hung back over her nape. Her tail spilled over the edge of the cloud balcony on which she sat, it and mane brilliant and bold against the blue of her Wonderbolts uniform and those around her. A grin on her face, she held her head high, eyes aflame with expectation. It flowed into Scootaloo, straightening her shoulders and raising her head. She was invincible.
With not a doubt in her mind, Scootaloo launched into the air. She blasted through cloud rings that drifted above, the force of her backdraft rending them apart. Columns smeared back and forth across her vision as she weaved through them. A loop beneath and over the Cloudiseum brought her to where she needed to be.
Far above the awaiting crowd, she gauged her next move. Strands of cirrus wisped here and there—nothing of concern. The wind itself was nonexistent. One, single cloud sat in the middle of the arena—her target. Scootaloo grinned.
She dove for the cloud, falling much faster than expected in the high atmosphere. The familiar cone enveloped her, and she opened her wings to spin with its force. Like foam in a whirlpool, the strands of cirrus were sucked in behind to dance in the ever-growing swirl. It made her spirit soar, but something still wasn’t right. The tornado itself—it felt... weak.
Scootaloo gritted her teeth. Weak wasn’t good enough.
Between split seconds of holding her wings fast for spin, she began beating them for more speed. Below, the cloud grew terrifyingly quick. Wind slipped through the outline of the cone, cutting and tearing at its twisting. It began to shrivel away as its wounds grew, and Scootaloo’s eyes went wide with its sudden, uncontrollable wobbling.
Like a lead brick through tissue paper, Scootaloo ripped through the tattered remains of her cone and tumbled screaming into the cloud. It caught her, soft and gentle, but she didn’t dare move. Uncounted moments passed as she lay there, head spinning. Slowly, she pulled herself free of the cloud’s plush to look around.
All eyes were on her. In the unbearable silence, her heart sank as if trying to return to hiding within the cloud, and her shoulders went with it. Embarrassment would have been the only thing in her stomach if not for the look on Rainbow Dash’s face. It was blank, mouth slightly open—surprised, shocked, unbelieving. She cast her gaze downward.
At that moment, Scootaloo wished she had never existed. Ashamed, she fluttered toward a balcony where the other competitors sat. She took her place amidst them, eyes down at her hooves.
Everything had gone perfectly. Nothing felt out of place until the last moment. What happened? Was the air not thick enough?
Barely raising her head, Scootaloo looked up at Rainbow Dash, who still looked down at her own hooves. A wonderbolt beside her nudged her with an elbow. His mouth moved to form unheard words and a smile. Rainbow Dash shied away from him.
The sight brought tears to Scootaloo’s eyes—Rainbow Dash embarrassed. Sinking into the cloud and disappearing forever felt like a wonderfully acceptable thing to do right about now.
“Ladies and gentlecolts,” announced a suave stallion in sunglasses, jumpsuit and headset. “Put your hooves together for our last, but not least, competitor of the day, contestant number fourteen!”
Pyra burst from the curtain, its vapors dissipating into nothingness, and sailed beneath the cloud in the middle of the arena. She raised it to bring it into better view of the crowd and then blasted into the heavens.
Up. Upward she flew. Once a speck upon the endless blue above, she stalled. She tilted her head back to return in a backward swan dive, wings folded against her sides. Scootaloo held her breath.
Seconds above the cloud Pyra lifted her hooves over her head. Puffs of vapor spat from the hole she punched through before it swelled in an instant like an overinflated balloon. It suddenly caved in on itself, the sides exploding outward in a flood of steam. Through it, Pyra burst from the underside and twisted upside down. Time seemed to slow as she clicked her hind hooves like a rock to flint amidst the contrails of vapor, which ignited like gasoline and surged toward the cloud.
Scootaloo shielded her eyes from a blinding light and searing heat. She dared a glance through squinted eyes and beheld the balled inferno that was once a cloud. It spun a slow, violent dance within the arena, casting everything in an orange and yellow so supermassive that it darkened the sun.
Chunks of vapor broke off to float into a blackened sky like blazing demons to spread their chaos to all corners of the earth. Sweat beaded on Scootaloo’s brow and trailed down her face, some into her slack-jawed mouth.
As quickly as it happened, it burnt away to leave the stadium in a slowly growing rumble of excitement and sweat-chilled air. Pyra landed on the far side of the balcony. Scootaloo shrunk and looked away.
She glanced up at Rainbow Dash, who still gazed down at her hooves. Had she even noticed what Pyra did? She looked as if she hadn’t even blinked, only stared in silence as the world around her cheered until their throats went hoarse.
Scootaloo could take no more. Her hoofsteps were quiet in her retreat from the balcony. Over the back ledge she leapt to glide alongside the wall and to the blank, white below. It accepted her as silently as the crowd’s cheers had become. A soft wind swept around the bend.
Murmurs of city life floated on its back to reach her ears in little ebbs. Pegasi flew like colored specks in the distance. Clouds drifted after them, slow and inexorable. Life went on without a care.
Scootaloo sat on her haunches, back leant against the Cloudiseum wall. She closed her eyes. The arena sat far below, and the wind tore at her face when she dove for the cloud in its center. It burst into hellfire, an all-powerful blaze that blinded and amazed. Scootaloo opened her eyes.
She had lost.
Above the sun shone, brilliant, mocking—a small, frail thing that could only hope of dreaming to become what many had witnessed within the arena.
Scootaloo looked down at her hooves, the afterimage of the sun dancing in the center of her vision. Pyra had set a cloud on fire. It made her shiver.
Shadows passed over Scootaloo. They flew far away along the cloud, like fish just beneath the surface of waves, to join with their owners: Rainbow Dash, a Wonderbolt, and Pyra. Rainbow Dash walked forward, alone.
Her steps were slow and weighted, commanding and purposeful. The sun flashed off the goggles dangling about her neck, and shimmered in her mane.
A deep bass pounded loud in Scootaloo’s ears and chest. She leaned forward, a hoof raised for stepping, and for a moment became a statue, eyes wide and locked, mouth slightly agape. A short gasp escaped her, betraying her stillness, and a tiny unbelieving smile cracked the very edges of eyes and mouth.
Scootaloo cast aside all the pain, misery, and embarrassment of the morning and ran to her master. Love put spring in her leaps and bounds, and tears in the corners of her eyes. The warmth of Rainbow Dash’s embrace flowed through her veins at the thought—that long-lost, cherished gesture, that soft, comforting fur. Her heart tremored.
Laughter bubbled forth from her lips, which stretched from ear to ear. She blinked away tears of happiness to see Rainbow Dash had stopped halfway to await her, head held high. Closer and closer she came to the figure that stood tall for everything she admired—loved with all her heart.
“Go home, Scoot.”
Scootaloo stopped. All thought washed away into silence. She looked up at Rainbow Dash. No love did she see in those eyes that sat cold in a face of stone; no embrace of soft fur did she feel against her coat. There was only the towering shadow of a pony she could not understand.
“Go home,” Rainbow Dash repeated. “You aren’t good enough.” She slowly turned to leave. A step, a pause, and a turn of the head—down and aside. “You never were.”
Rainbow Dash spread her wings and took to the sky. Pyra and the Wonderbolt followed.
A ringing in Scootaloo’s ears accompanied the silence and chill around her. The figures shrank into the distance, and, slowly, they blurred. Quietly, Scootaloo slumped down to her haunches and wept.