Canterlot was remarkably small for the capital of a world power.
With an area of about seven square miles, and growth limited by the city's location on some weird mountainside platform thing, the population led a rather tight-knit existence, which had the effect of creating a noticeably strong community spirit. The tragedy of one was, in many ways, the tragedy of all, just as individual joy had a way of spreading and coalescing amongst the wider whole.
As such, there was a palpable air of excitement on the day of the Wonderbolts Derby. Team banners and Equestrian flags fluttered from windows and lampposts, and even the most reserved nobles couldn't help but indulge in the patriotic fervor, proudly sporting armbands and lapel pins. After all, the Wonderbolts were Equestria's finest flyers, paragons of ponykind and living examples of the heights one can achieve through hard work and skill—what self respecting pony wouldn't celebrate them?
It was this ethos that greeted Anon and Summer as they got off the train, and the two couldn't help but be awed. Coming from quiet town out in the boonies, the sheer spectacle and intensity of the city was nearly overwhelming. Lost in the opulence of their surroundings, they made their way through crowded streets, taking the time to gawk at the sights and stop by vendor stalls, excited observations passing between them.
The populace, for the most part, reacted with a sort of restrained curiosity. Many passed him off as a deformed minotaur. Others, having before seen foreign ambassadors and the like, believed Anon to be a representative of some recently discovered species, and paid him little more than a passing glance. Those familiar with the show were largely confused, a few assuming him to be a disturbingly elaborate cosplay, and stared for a bit before returning to their business. There were no crazed fans, no overzealous guards, and no lynch mobs—all in all, Anon was pleasantly surprised.
Before long, they reached the Canterlot Amphitheater, a massive edifice of marble and sandstone that dominated the city center. Ticket lines branched out from cavernous entryways, and crowds milled about under fluttering banners, the dull roar of conversation drowning out their thoughts.
"Anon, Summer! Hey!"
Rainbow touched down on the cobblestone with an audible clop.
"Oh, hey!" Anon reached down to bump her hoof. "How's life treating you?"
"Good enough." She grinned. "How about you?"
He shrugged. "Same here, nothing to complain about."
Summer and Rainbow did that horse neck hug. "It's been pretty quiet, but I figure that's a good thing."
"Heh, better quiet than busy." Rainbow moved to one of the side entrances and beckoned with a wing. "Come on, we got a box and everything!"
Anon chuckled. "A box, eh? Really going all out."
"I need to use that Reservist discount for something. Besides, I figured that you two would like it more than the stands, less public and stuff."
He snorted. "I'd object to that, but you're probably right."
Summer flashed him a grin, and trotted towards Rainbow. "Well, no reason to stand around on ceremony. Onwards!"
Anon followed and shook his head, seeming annoyance betrayed by a smile. "Seriously though, Dash, you didn't need to do this for us."
"It's no skin off my back ... or teeth ... I'm not really sure how that expression goes, but you get the point. I mean, sure, Rare's the generous one, but I like doing stuff for my friends." She chuckled. "You two are pretty cool, and that means a lot coming from me." Rainbow puffed out her chest and extended her wings, her face plastered with a smug grin. The display, though reeking of bravado and arrogance, almost seemed self-depreciative, and Anon couldn't help but find it endearing.
Waved through by a suited stallion, they walked through the trophy-lined corridors of the VIP section. The box was up some stairs and past a lounge, and provided an exceptional view of the track. Anon plopped down on a couch and Rainbow took one of the stadium chairs, while Summer rummaged through the mini-fridge.
"So, how does this event work, exactly?" He pointed to the betting machine in the corner. "I don't think you'd need something like that for an aerobatics show."
"Well, first the B team does some stunts, then the A team has this big race." She drew a circle in the air with her hoof. "The B team does some more stuff, then the A team finishes off with some stunts of their own. The race is the big event, everything else is pretty much just decoration."
"Huh. How long does it usually go for?"
"The race itself is only 30 minutes, but the whole thing lasts about two hours." Rainbow leaned back and rested her head on crossed forelegs. "Not like I'm complaining, the Wonderbolts are always awesome."
He stroked his chin, the thin bristles of a day-old beard tickling his hand. "So are they part of the military?"
She wobbled a hoof. "I mean, kinda. They’re technically a private company, but they get a lot of money from the government, and all members are part of the Equestrian Army, at least on paper. They get called up whenever there's a war or something, and do airshows and first responder stuff when there's nothing else going on. I heard that they do mercenary work sometimes, but I wouldn't know."
Summer joined Anon on the couch, draping a wing around his shoulders. She passed him some horribly unhealthy soft drink, and took a sip of her own. He still couldn't understand how ponies held things with their hooves, but never bothered to ask, knowing that the answer would probably be ridiculous. "My parents took me to one of their shows when I was a filly, and I still think that it was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen." She happily sighed as Anon began to scratch her mane. "Thank you for inviting us, Dash, honestly."
Rainbow glanced at the couple, and her eyes were filled with no small amount of longing. "Heh, no problem."