“Gentlemen, this is your first Hop. The jets you are flying against are smaller, faster, and more maneuverable, just like the enemy MIGs. The clock is ticking, and as of now, we are keeping score.”
- Jester, Top Gun.
While most of the storm had been blown away by Rainbow Dash two hours previously, the Canterlot pegasus team was still hard a work cleaning up the leftovers. It was mostly just low hanging scud and some temperamental flurries that just refused to die out, but it was enough to keep the team fully engaged as they zipped to and fro around the castle. However, this time around the team had been making steady progress. Sunlight gleamed brightly off the mounds of snow that clung to the mountainside, turning everything into a blinding white display.
Twilight Sparkle grimaced as she trudged along, squinting through the glare as she looked about for Rainbow Dash. On her back, sitting sideways, Spike let out a puff of vapor as he too tried to see around them.
“Brrr…” he shuddered. “It’s too cold to be outside, and bright. I’m not made for this kind of weather.”
“It’s not that bad,” Twilight glanced over her shoulder at her assistant. “I agree it’s a little chilly, but at least the wind’s not blowing anymore.”
Spike just puffed out another cloud of vapor and rubbed his hands together.
“You can talk,” he shivered. “You have fur. If I’d known you were going to drag me out here this morning, I’d have brought my blanket with me.”
Then he glanced down and blew into his hands, producing a small gout of flame as he did so. However it promptly went out, leaving the young dragon to scowl impotently at the puff of smoke that had been left in its wake.
“A blanket, and some sunglasses,” he continued after a moment. “It’s a holiday. I should be sleeping in. Preferably curled up next to Rarity with a nice warm fire and a bag of gems…”
Twilight rolled her eyes.
“Wishful thinking much?” she asked.
“Hey,” Spike turned his head to face forward. “A guy can dream. Or at least, try to dream if somepony would let him sleep like he wanted.”
“It’s not healthy to oversleep,” Twilight advised her assistant.
“Twilight,” Spike began, the chagrin in his voice plainly audible. “I’m a dragon.”
“You’re a BABY dragon,” the pony pointed out. “I have to make sure you keep proper sleeping habits so you can grow up healthy and strong.”
Spike just crossed his arms and grumbled as he gazed back at the castle, his mind lazily imagining the other ponies that were back there, enjoying the warm fires and comfy beds. Meanwhile, he was out here… In the cold, crunchy snow, and blinding light.
Suddenly, they were both interrupted by a loud, shrill whistle that cut through the chill air like a knife. Both pony and dragon jerked their heads up towards a section of the mountain above them. There was a section of flattened ridge a little ways from the road that acted as a formation point for the pegasus guards. However, there was a distinct lack of said guards, but an even more distinct pony in their place. She was sporting a large blue whistle, a vest with the letters ‘PVWT’ on it, and a strange brown hat that only barely covered the multi-colored mane on her head.
The sound coming to a stop, rainbow Dash dropped the whistle from her mouth and took a deep breath.
“FALL IN!!!” She shouted at the top of her lungs.
Twilight looked around, wondering who Dash was talking to, then turned and worked her way up the incline.
“What’s with that hat?” Spike asked in a near whisper. “She looks ridiculous.”
Twilight halted and shot Spike a brief glare before continuing their climb.
“Hey Rainbow Dash,” she announced once she got level with her friend.
“Hey Twi,” Dash returned with a brief glance. “Come to watch us prove you wrong?”
“Us?” Twilight glanced around again. “Uh…”
“Yep,” Dash commented. “”You said we couldn’t do it, you laughed about it. Now we’re going to show you otherwise.”
“I didn’t mean to laugh,” the unicorn shook her head as she approached. “I just thought the very idea of teaching some random pony to catch a pony you can’t even catch was hilarious. But if you want some he-“
“STOP!” Dash snapped, a strong glare leveled on her.
“Wh- what?” Twilight looked taken back.
“Back up,” the pegasus commanded.
“Wha?” Twilight gazed her friend in confusion.
“BACK UP,” Dash stated more forcefully as she turned to look at Twilight.
The unicorn carefully paced back a few steps.
“Little more…” Dash nodded at her.
“Rainbow,” Twilight continued as she shifted back further. “What are you-“
A sudden sharp hiss cut her off guard, and then something gray and blue slammed into the snow directly in front of her with an audible ‘PWOOMPH!’, kicking the white powder up in her face in the process.
Twilight, completely caught off guard by the impact, reared back, dumping Spike overboard. Immediately after that, she lost her balance and dropped onto her haunches.
When the cloud of powdered ice cleared, Mikoyan was standing proudly in front of them, eyes locked forward, shoulders rigid, wings erect. Pinkie Pie, a hat identical to Dash’s, sat straddling his back, her mane stretched out from under the brim and a huge grin on her face.
“What happened?!” Spike popped up out of the snow, eyes wide in from a combination of cold and surprise. “Are we under attack?! I have to warn you, I’m a vicious fire breathing dragon!”
Twilight and Dash turned their eyes on the dragon as he leapt to his feet and began shadow-boxing in an attempt to look more threatening than he really was. Unfortunately for the baby dragon, it only served to cause them both to roll their eyes in exasperation at his antics.
“Oh Spike,” Pinkie laughed from Mikoyan’s back. “You’re so silly.”
The pink pony then turned and hopped off Mikoyan’s back into the snow. However she barely had time to ‘eep’ when she plunged right through it until the only thing left was the hat on her head.
“Pinkie!” Twilight blinked in surprise.
The brown hat with a pair of pink ears sticking out of it said nothing, turning this way and that for a few moments before it began tracking around, leaving a line of upturned snow in its wake. It quickly tunneled its way around the group until it smacked into a rock outcropping, a ‘thud’ resounding from it in the process.
“Ugh…” Rainbow Dash sighed, bringing a hoof to her face. The hat continued to wander around in a now erratic pattern until Dash stomped her hoof on to the ground and shot a glare at it.
“Sergeant Pie!” she snapped. “Quit goofing around!”
One of the ears sticking out of the hat turned towards the pegasus and waggled twice. Then the hat tracked its way up next to her and stopped. Then Pinkie burst from the snow and lined up next to her friend. Rainbow Dash just looked at her, then at the hole she popped out of.
“I don’t even want to know,” she sighed, turning back to Mikoyan.
In the stallion’s credit, he hadn’t so much as flinched once the entire time, his features remaining as frozen as the landscape around them.
“Now,” Dash continued. “Welcome to Camp Awesomecool-“
“Awesome-cool?” Twilight screwed her face up.
“I am your drill instructor,” the pegasus ignored Twilight’s interruption and pointed to Pinkie. “This is my assistant drill instructor, Pinkameanie ‘Deathclaw’ Pie.”
“The Pie stands for PAIN!” Pinkie bubbled.
Twilight turned her head as Spike tapped her lightly on her foreleg.
“Deathclaw?” he asked. “And Pinka… meanie?”
“NOW,” Dash spoke in a slightly louder tone that overpowered any response Twilight might have had. “I suppose you know why you’re here?”
She took a step forward, tilting her head.
“Yes!” Mikoyan replied quickly.
“Do you?” she asked. “What’s your name?”
Mikoyan’s posture broke and he glanced at Rainbow Dash, confusion on his features.
“Is you not already knowing Mikoyan’s na-“
“WHAT IS YOUR NAME, PRIVATE!?!” Dash interrupted with a snarl. Mikoyan visibly jumped back at the outburst from the smaller pegasus.
“My name is being Mikoyan Ivanovich Gustaav the Thirty First!” he quickly responded.
“Mig huh?” Dash leaned back. “Okay… from now on, you are Mig, you got that?”
Mikoyan was just about to nod when Dash suddenly stopped.
“On second thought,” she continued. “Mig is too good for you. You’ll get that name IF, and ONLY if you can survive my training camp. For the time being, you’re just number thirty-one. We clear?”
“I SAID ARE WE CLEAR?!” she snarled.
Twilight and Spike turned a glance at Pinkie Pie, who returned a shrug to them as Mikoyan quickly answered an affirmative.
“Good,” Dash continued. “Now tell me, number thirty-one. Why are you here?”
“Mikoyan is being here for to be learning how to go faster,” he replied.
“Why?” Dash asked.
“So he can being catching Dainty Dish,” the stallion responded.
“WHY?” Dash asked a little louder.
“Because he wants to be meeting Dainty Dish,” Mikoyan returned with a slightly surprised tone.
“WHY?!” Dash increased her volume.
“Because Dainty Dish is best pony!” Mikoyan resisted the urge to step back.
“Because she is being pretty and cute like, and also being amazing and strong?” Mikoyan’s cheeks flushed slightly.
“WHYYYYY!?!” Dash snarled in his face.
“I- eh… Mikoyan does not know!” the stallion took a step back, desperately trying to figure out what Dash was asking.
Rainbow Dash just stepped back, casting a sidelong glance at Pinkie Pie. After a few moments of silence, they both nodded to each other.
“You don’t know,” Dash turned her head back to the stallion, her voice barely a hiss. Then suddenly she turned and started trotting around in the snow.
“WELL,” she continued. “By the time I’m done with you, you WILL know…”
“Uh…” Twilight tried to interrupt. “Rainbow I thi-“
“A GREAT MANY THINGS,” Dash drowned her out. “Things you didn’t know about. For example.”
She whirled on Mikoyan and got so close to his face the brim of her hat poked him.
“Did you know that Dainty Dish is allergic to apples?” she asked.
“Uh…” Mikoyan blinked. “No.”
Dash kept her gaze level.
“Did you know she’s allergic to hay?” she asked again.
“No.” Mikoyan replied.
“Do you know ANYTHING about what she’s allergic to?” Dash asked.
Mikoyan just stood there, doing his best to look like he was thinking. After a moment, Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes.
“Just say no,” she sighed in her normal voice.
“No?” Mikoyan piped up.
“SO…” Dash turned away again, resuming her spot next to Pinkie Pie. “You mean to tell me that you don’t even know that bringing the girl some flowers stands a good chance of putting her in the HOSPITAL?!”
She continued without even giving Mikoyan a chance to reply.
“You claim to be a stallion?” the pegasus asked, turning back to him. “You don’t even bother to learn about the mare you want to meet! What kind of pony do you think you are? SPEED DRILL! CELESTIA’S TOWER AND BACK! THIRTY SECONDS, GO!”
Mikoyan blinked at Dash and turned to look at the direction she was pointing, only for her to leap forward and get right in his face, causing him to stumble backwards.
“GO GO GO GO!” she snarled. “MOVE IT NUMBER THIRTY-ONE! HOP TO IT!”
Mikoyan stumbled again as he turned, kicking up the snow and spreading his wings before taking off for the tower in a blur. Dash then spun to Pinkie Pie.
“Sergeant Pie!” she snapped. “Follow!”
“ON IT!” Pinkie saluted, then took off after him.
Twilight Sparkle did a double take then raised her hoof, pointing in the direction they left.
“But Rainbow Dash,” She began. “How-“
Dash just held up a hoof, silencing the unicorn.
“Sergeant Pie’s methods are her own,” Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Don’t question them.”
“But,” Twilight turned, looking where she was pointing. Then she sighed, dropping her head in exasperation.
“I know,” Spike soothed, patting her on the side. “I know…”
“So what exactly are you doing?” the unicorn suddenly snapped her head up.
“Oh, nothing too serious,” Dash replied, pulling the brown-round off her head. “I’m just going to get an idea of what he can do already. Find his weaknesses, gauge his strengths. That sorta’ thing. Then we’ll put him through some exercises.”
“So what’s with the hat?” Spike asked.
“This thing?” she replied. “Well, I passed Commander Stratos on the way here, and he asked me what I’ve been up to. After he found out what I was doing, he laughed and gave me these. Said that if I’m going to be training anypony, I had to be legit.”
“I don’t see how that hat can help with training,” Twilight tilted her head to the side. Rainbow Dash just shrugged.
“I don’t either,” she agreed. “But they kinda’ look cool. Plus when I put it on, I feel a bit tougher, meaner... More intimidating if you will.”
Then Rainbow Dash paused, placing the hat back on her head.
“I thought I said thirty seconds,” she frowned.
Twilight turned, looking out towards the castle. Rainbow Dash was right. It had been over thirty seconds and-
“Hey,” Spike tugged on her mane. “Twilight?”
The dragon pointed up above them.
“Is that who I-“
Twilight followed the dragon’s claw up, then yelped and dove aside as Mikoyan slammed into the snow bank, his body surrounded by a familiar midnight glow.
“Tsk tsk tsk…” Dash shook her head. “Over fifteen seconds late.”
A second later, the larger form of Princess Luna settled on the snow bank next to them, Pinkie Pie on her shoulders.
“Doth this belong to thee?” Luna indicated Mikoyan to Rainbow Dash. “It started us from our nap when it smashed through the window.”
Twilight and Dash visibly cringed as Pinkie hopped off, this time landing right on top of the snow with no ill effects. Mikoyan, now that they got a good look at him, looked like he’d been violently…-
“We are afraid that… well, when he startled me, I sort of… bludgeoned him with a marble pillar.”
Luna dropped her ‘Royal’ face, allowing her guilt at the action to leak through. Rainbow Dash just gaped.
“How-“ she quickly yanked her hat off. “HOW THE HAY? That was only forty-five seconds!”
“He’s pretty quick,” Pinkie pointed out, pulling her own hat off and making it whirl on her hoof. “But he’s nowhere near as agile as you.”
At their feet, Mikoyan groaned, rubbing his head where a good-sized lump had formed.
“Mikoyan said he was not being turning very well,” he commented in a daze.
“No kidding,” Dash frowned, then quickly put her hat back on. “Now on your hooves. You don’t want to look bad in front of the princess do you?”
While Mikoyan wobbly pushed himself to a standing position, Princess Luna calmly stepped over to where Twilight was looking on.
“So what exactly are they doing?” she asked.
“Training,” the unicorn replied. “I think. I’m not quite sure WHAT you call this. It looks more like verbal abuse than any training I’ve seen Dash do.”
“Interesting,” Luna regarded the three ponies in front of them for a second. ”Wouldst thou mind if I watched?”
“Aren’t you tired?” Spike interrupted. “I thought you were sleeping.”
Then the dragon yawned as if to emphasize his point.
“I know I am.”
Luna smiled, hiding a slight chuckle at the baby dragon’s antics.
“I’m afraid there’s a bit of a draft in my chambers at the moment,” she provided. “And it will probably remain that way until the window gets fixed.”
“You can always use my room,” Twilight offered. “After all, your sister gave us some of the best suites in the castle.”
“It is okay Twilight Sparkle,” Luna tore her eyes from the display where Rainbow Dash was busy explaining to Mikoyan all the flaws of his existence in excruciating detail. “I’ve gone without sleep for far longer periods than this. I’m hardly tired.”
“Suit yourself then,” Twilight shrugged.
“Of course I will,” Luna nodded. Then the princess promptly sat down on her haunches, causing the snow to crunch loudly around her. Spike glanced at the display for about one second before he quickly turned away, shuddering with imaginary chills at her apparent disdain for a freezing cold flank.
Rainbow Dash, in the mean time, paid spectacle no mind as she continued giving Mikoyan the third degree.
“You’re going to have to be faster,” she instructed as she paced back and forth. “Much, MUCH faster. Because there’s no way I’m carrying you up like your pal ‘Ursa’. And you’ll need more thrust, because normal pegasus power just doesn’t cut it going that high, that fast.”
“Oh! But then what are we going to do to make him faster?” Pinkie Pie asked. Then she remembered she was still whirling her hat around her hoof and quickly stuck it on her head. This time when she spoke, it was in a much more gruff (for Pinkie Pie) tone.
“After all, if regular pegasus power can’t cut it, there’s no way he’d EEEVER succeed.”
“We’ll just have to teach him this little trick Sergeant Pie,” Dash replied. Then she raised her wings and with only a minor look of strain, whipped them down in such a way that they curled and cracked, producing a distinct snapping sound that could be felt as much as heard.
Mikoyan’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Oh!” he voiced. “Mikoyan is being knowing this trick!”
“Interesting,” Luna spoke up. “What does that do?”
Rainbow Dash turned to the princess, pulling her hat off.
“The wingcrack?” she asked, glancing back at her wings. “Well, as far as I can tell, as we go higher and faster, we tend to lose power because there’s not enough air for our wings to push off. But if you curl your wings and snap them like a whip during a flap, the tips go fast enough that it produces a kind of mini-sonic rainboom.”
“Wow!” Twilight voiced from Luna’s side startling her. Then the princess realized the younger pony had produced a parchment and quill from somewhere and was writing furiously on it. “So the supersonic motion of your wingtips forces a cushion of air across the wing and restores your thrust! I’ve been wondering what that was for the first time Dainty did it in front of us!”
“Er…” Dash eyed her friend’s scribing. “Yeah, you could say that. Stupid name though… I wish I could come up with something better.”
Then Dash turned back to Mikoyan.
“How do YOU know how to do that anyway?” she asked. “I learned that trick from watching Dainty myself, and it took me MONTHS to get it right.”
The stallion shrugged.
“Mikoyan was watching Dainty as well,” he explained. “Noticed trick too. Was not easy for Mikoyan, but he figure out.”
Then he shook his head.
“Is being crazy trick though,” the stallion continued. “If being whipcracking too much, wings be catching fire.”
The sound of scribbling stopped as she looked up.
“What?” she asked. “Catching fire?”
“FIRE?” Dash interrupted, this time hovering up into the air and into the stallion’s face. “What do you mean catching fire?”
“How you think Mikoyan was being on fire this morning?” the stallion asked. “Is being no source of ignition that high up last he check. He is being going too fast and using too much whipcrack. Was funny though. Wings were not being burning too bad until after Mikoyan had stopped.”
“So it’s kind of just burns after you stop?” Pinkie asked. Her hat was currently spinning around, this time on her tail. A few seconds later, Twilight’s ears suddenly shot up in response to Pinkie’s comment.
“Hey!” she snapped. “That’s perfect!”
“What is?” Dash asked in genuine curiosity.
“A name for that trick of course,” she pointed out. “Burn-After!”
Rainbow Dash pursed her lips in confusion, letting her eyes drift back as she mulled on it.
“Burn-after?” she continued after a second. “Okay, I admit stuff on fire is pretty cool… but no offense Twi. That just sounds weird.”
Twilight Sparkle frowned, crossing her hooves.
“I dunno,” Spike spoke up. “I kinda’ like it. Sounds fierce. Like a dragon, like me!”
“Sure it is short stuff,” Dash smirked. “But it’s kind of awkward to say.”
“Maybe,” Luna began, but then stopped. “No, never mind.”
“What’s up princess?” Twilight asked.
“Well,” Luna tilted her head to the side. “Have you thought of just moving the words around?”
“Like what?” Dash asked. “Reversing them?”
“So, After-burn then?” Pinkie asked. Dash stopped, looking at the pink pony. She was about to tell her friend that was just as bad. But after a moment to think about it, she began to smile.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “YEAH! After-burn! Or really, just make it one word. Afterburn… After-BURNER!”
“Oh, now THAT rolls off the tongue,” Spike commented pointedly. “Afterburner.”
“Ye-heah!” Rainbow Dash laughed. “It’s PERFECT! Good thinking you guys! AFTERBURNER!”
Dash snapped her wings, the newly dubbed ‘afterburner’ technique causing a loud crack that pushed the snow around her away with a blast of air.
“Nice save Princess Luna,” Twilight smiled up at the larger pony next to her.
“I’m glad I could help,” Luna smiled back. Immediately Dash turned toward her, stars in her eyes.
“Hey you don’t think you can use that princess authority or whatever it is to make it official could you?” she asked. “That would be SO COOL!”
Luna laughed at the pegasus’ enthusiasm.
“Perhaps…” she replied her voice taking a much louder tone than she’d been using. “We shall endeavor to make thy term official in the eyes of all of Equestria.”
“SWEET!” Rainbow Dash all but squealed. Then she began practically spinning around like a top as she turned to each of her friends in turn, almost looking like she was chasing her tail.
“Awesome, awesome, AWESOME!” she continue to squeak, her voice cracking as she danced in place. “I got to name an actual technique! A REAL pegasus technique! And I got to name it!!!”
Rainbow Dash continued to celebrate for a moment longer as her friends shared amused smiles.
“Sheesh,” Spike commented quietly. “She’s more wound up than Pinkie Pie.”
“You can’t blame her,” Twilight returned quietly. “Getting to name that technique would be like me getting to name a new important spell.”
“AWSOME!” Dash blurted out again, coming out of her spin and looking slightly dizzy. After a few seconds to regain her balance, she suddenly came to a halt. The reason being the rather odd look on Mikoyan’s face.
“What?” she asked. “Don’t like it?”
“No, is not problem,” the stallion shrugged. “Mikoyan is proud to know comrade has made mark. But Mikoyan is confused. What is word having doing with training?”
“Training?” Dash smirked, slapping her hat back on. “Oh I’ll give you training. AWESOME training.”
Rainbow Dash stopped and straightened herself out, having had her mane and tail become a bit of a mess during her loss of self-control.
“In fact,” she continued. “By the time I’m done with you, they won’t have a word to describe how awesome you’ll be.”
Then she whirled on Mikoyan.
“But it won’t be easy,” she glared. “My training regimen is hard, and so am I. And because my training is hard you will not LIKE me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn.”
Then Rainbow Dash folded her wings back and tucked them down, trotting circles in the snow.
“I will be tough, I WILL BE CRUEL! I will make you endure such hardships that you will want to fly home crying to your mommy like the scared little maggot you are!”
Then Dash paused dramatically.
“Any questions?” she asked.
Mikoyan pursed his features, looking as if to think. Then with only the slightest trace of a smile, he replied.
“Is just being one.”
“And that is?” Dash asked. Mikoyan ‘s expression remained neutral.
“Why is mouth moving instead of wings?” he asked. Rainbow Dash blinked.
“Oh a brainy mule are you?” her voice dripped with sarcasm. “I know how to deal with ponies like you. Just you wait.”
Rainbow Dash learned back as Mikoyan continued to keep his face even.
“Mikoyan is not being afraid of Comrade,” the stallion deadpanned. Dash frowned at his response, then grinned back, getting in his face.
“Oh don’t worry,” she stated in a near hiss. “I may not be Twilight. But I know a thing or two about Stalliongrad ponies. I’ve got your number pal.”
Then she turned to Pinkie.
“Did you get what I asked for?”
“Sure did!” Pinkie Pie spun to retrieve an item.
“Excellent,” Dash turned a sinister smile back on Mikoyan.
“Now… ” she began, motioning to her right. “This, is TOM.”
Pinkie Pie deposited a boulder twice as large as she was next to Dash, startling Mikoyan and also confusing the stallion as to where the pink one had been hiding this particular object the whole time. The large gray stone glistened slightly in the sun, its sides seeming to have been cut to smooth facets as if somepony had mistaken it for a precious crystal. At first glance it looked easily to be at least a couple hundred pounds. Both Spike and Twilight shared an equal look of shock, having thought they’d never see that stone ever again.
“He will be helping you train,” Dash continued to Mikoyan. “And trust me. He’s good at what he does.”
“Is being rock,” Mikoyan pointed out with a hint of chagrin in his voice.
“And he is VERY good at being a rock,” Dash glared at the stallion. Then she turned and paced around the boulder, tracing a path in the snow as she went.
“Tom here is everything you have to overcome if you are going to catch Dainty Dish,” she continued. “He is gravity. He is drag. He is fatigue. He is PAIN. You will respect him in these areas of expertise. Because if you do not respect him, he will CRUSH you like the weak pathetic foal you are.”
Dash ground her hoof into the snow, producing a crunching noise as she did so.
“And now,” she turned. “He is your new best friend.”
“Is not being serious,” Mikoyan laughed. “Is big huge rock being impossible for anypony to carry while flying unless they being comrade Ursa.”
Rainbow Dash just let her face speak for her. Mikoyan’s eyes widened in shock as he looked at the boulder.
“Is not joking?” his voice was astonished.
“You will not go anywhere; you will NOT do anything without Tom,” Rainbow Dash continued while ignoring the stallion. “When you are working, he will be there. When you are sleeping, he will be in bed with you. When you eat, you will try to feed him as well. Tom is now your everything. You will care for him the same way you would care for Dainty Dish. Are we clear?”
“Is bighuge silly thing!” Mikoyan protested in shock. “Tom is being just big rock! Mikoyan cannot be treating rock like pony!”
“You will NOT be treating the mighty Tom like a pony,” Pinkie Pie suddenly jumped in. “He is a ROCK. You will respect him as such! Or do I need to get his cousin Rocky to teach you a lesson?”
Mikoyan blinked at Pinkie’s sudden outburst, surprised that the, until recently silly pony, had taken such a tone so suddenly. Likewise, Twilight, Spike, and Rainbow Dash were all giving her funny looks.
“What?” Pinkie asked. “You’ve met Rocky before.”
“I-…” Dash opened her mouth to speak, then quickly shut it, turning to cast a confused, pleading glance at Twilight.
“I don’t EVEN want to know what this one’s about,” Twilight raised her hooves in a warding gesture.
Rainbow Dash sighed, shaking her head for a moment before mustering the strength she needed to continue. Turning back to Mikoyan, she threw up a poker face.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, drawing the stallion’s attention back to her. “Are you scared?”
Mikoyan froze stiff, a large frown crossing his features.
“Mikoyan fears nothing!” he snapped in determination. “Mikoyan would stare down Discord to prove himself!”
“Then why are you afraid of a rock?” Dash asked.
“Mikoyan is not being afraid of rock!”
“Really?” Dash asked.
“Is being real,” Mikoyan shot back. Rainbow Dash reared back on her hind legs, crossing her hooves across her chest and using the extra height to glare down at the stallion.
“Prove it,” she ordered.
Mikoyan stepped forward and learned up as close to Dash’s face as he could without rearing back himself, glaring into her smirk just short of making contact with her hat.
“What is being first task?” he demanded.
TASK ONE: Field of Screams
OBJECTIVE: Improve heart and lungs for high altitude flight.
DIFFICULTY: Two parasprites.
Twilight looked up from her parchment as Pinkie Pie finished tying a rope to Mikoyan.
“Listen up number thirty one,” Dash snapped, standing firmly on her hind legs. “If you want to keep up with Dainty, you’re going to need to perform a lot better than any other pegasus out there.”
Mikoyan glanced at the rope currently tied to his midsection.
“For this exercise,” Dash continued. “You’ll need to learn to stretch a lung full of air much further. If you can’t breathe, you won’t keep up. READY?”
Mikoyan nodded as Dash as she picked up her whistle.
“INHALE!” she instructed. Mikoyan sucked in a huge breath, making his cheeks puff out.
“Now get Tom across the field!” she commanded. “”GO!”
Mikoyan narrowed his eyes and rushed forward, only to immediately pitch forward into the snow from Tom’s weight.
“What was that?!” Dash snapped. “Let’s GO thirty one!”
Mikoyan immediately pushed to a stand and began to slowly work his way forward, dragging the boulder behind him. Once it was moving, it was a little easier to walk. However, the stallion quickly discovered that hard work doesn’t quite agree with a pony holding one’s breath. Not even half way across, and he could already feel his lungs burning.
“When you reach the end, you will shout ‘YAY!’ as loud as you can before going back,” Dash commanded.
Mikoyan barely stumbled to the end of the field, much bluer in the face than he normally was. The stallion felt like his lungs were about ready to burst.
“YAY!” he shouted as hard as he could.
Unfortunately, it came out as a choked cough that sounded more like a toad.
“You call that a yell?” Dash glared at him. “Fluttershy cheers louder than you. Go again!”
Mikoyan turned around and repeated the process across the field, feeling even more out of breath the second time around.
“Yay.” He managed to choke out.
“I’m not convinced,” Dash frowned. “AGAIN!”
The stallion repeated the process.
“Yay!” he only barely managed.
“LOUDER!” Dash ordered, sending him back.
Mikoyan dragged himself to the end of the field and tried to cough out a ‘yay’, but only managed the cough.
“Let’s go number thirty one!” Dash tapped her hooves impatiently.
“Perhaps he needs a little instruction,” princess Luna stepped forward.
“Uh, what do you have in mind princess?” Dash asked.
Luna walked up to where Mikoyan was gasping for air, taking on her most regal bearing.
“In order to produce the proper amount of commune,” she began. “Thou must project from the diaphragm… Like this.”
Then Luna took a slow, deep breath. Immediately Twilight Sparkle’s ears shot up and her eyes widened in panic. Then she and Spike immediately dove into the snow.”
“YAY!” Luna boomed in the ‘traditional Royal Canterlot’ voice. The snow in front of the princess instantly turned into a frosty white cloud in the wake of her report.
“See?” she asked. Then she paused, noticing that her audience had suddenly vanished. “Er… Hello?”
Mikoyan could be found, half-buried upside-down in the snow several hundred feet away, the rope he’d been tied to Tom with snapped.
“Oh dear,” Luna looked a bit sheepish as she covered her mouth.
“Too much commune,” Spike grumbled from his drift.
TASK TWO: Tank Krush
OBJECTIVE: Improve resistance to G forces experienced at high mach
DIFFICULTY: Four parasprites
“When traveling at high speed,” Dash instructed the stallion, his mane a touch disheveled from the sound blast he’d recently received. “The smallest movement subjects the body to incredible stress. At the speed Dainty travels, even the slightest turn will resort in your body receiving crushing force.”
“What?” Mikoyan asked.
“For this exercise!” Dash continued in a louder voice. “You will lift Tom using only your neck and shoulder muscles! You must get Tom ABOVE your head and hold him there!”
Rainbow Dash growled, glancing at Pinkie Pie.
“Sergeant Pie?” she asked.
“On it!” Pinkie chirped, producing a stick and drawing a series of lines in the snow. In under a minute, she produced a rather elaborate diagram showing what Rainbow Dash wanted done. Mikoyan stared at the diagram for several seconds before he suddenly turned to his instructor.
“Oh!” he nodded. “Why is you not being saying so?”
Rainbow Dash just frowned.
Mikoyan made his way over to Tom, the stone saying nothing as it sat there looking heavy. After eyeing it for a moment, Mikoyan turned to Dash.
The blue pegasus nodded for him to begin.
Mikoyan turned and bit into the rock. Or rather, tried to bite into it. However rocks have a high resistance to being bitten as he quickly discovered.
Mikoyan released Tom, stepping back to eye it curiously. Then he stepped forward again, trying to bite it several times in such a way as to get leverage on it. Unfortunately, every attempt was met with his teeth simply sliding right off the smooth facets. The grinding sound was much like what Spike’s claws could do on Cheerilee’s chalk board.
“Uh, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight asked her friend in concern. “Are you sure this is such a good idea? He can’t hear your instructions at the moment after all…”
Luna said nothing to draw attention to herself, but eyed the ponies around her as if expecting blame any second.
“He’ll manage,” Rainbow Dash replied.
Mikoyan, in the mean time, finally found leverage along a corner and managed to fix his teeth on it. With signs of strain, the stallion began to slowly heave on the rock, tilting it slightly as he went. However he very quickly got stuck, his neck visibly straining as he tried to get Tom all the way off the ground.
“What’s taking so long thirty one?” Dash asked. “My pet tortoise can lift a boulder four times that size. You’re not impressing me here.”
Mikoyan said nothing, his mouth full of rock, and his ears full of ringing. Yet slowly, but surely, he started to get Tom off the ground, his neck shaking as he slowly raised the oversized false gemstone higher and higher. After several seconds of strain, and slowly multiplying beads of sweat, Mikoyan managed to lift Tom level to, and then above his head.
Then slowly he continued to raise it higher, rearing back on his hind legs so that he could lift it straight up. Said legs wobbled dangerously as he did so, but after a little more effort, the stallion raised Tom above his head.
“HAHAAA” the stallion crowed through his clenched teeth.
“Very good,” Dash nodded. “Now hold it there for a minute and a-“
Dash winced in sympathy as Mikoyan disappeared beneath Tom. Twilight instantly covered her mouth in horror, the action mimicked by both Spike and Princess Luna.
“Oh boy…” Rainbow Dash frowned at the two legs sticking out from under the boulder. Pinkie Pie wandered past her a moment later, pulling her brown-round off her head and replacing it with a white nurse’s cap.
“I’ll get the first-aid kit,” she informed the pegasus.
TASK THREE: Stairway to Heaven
OBJECTIVE: Improve endurance of heart and lungs with a continuous drop in pressure and resistance of climbing a steep incline.
DIFFICULTY: Eight Parasprites
“Let’s pick up the pace thirty one,” Dash frowned at the stallion next to her. She was flying alongside Mikoyan as he did his best to gallop his way up a flight of stairs despite having his back legs and neck wrapped in bandages.
“We’ve got a long way to go still,” she continued. “Move faster. Dainty Dish can climb to altitude in under twenty minutes. Your buddy Ursa isn’t here to carry you this time, which means you have to do all that work yourself. So if you want to get up there and still have energy for the chase... That means cardio! Lots and LOTS of cardio!”
The particular set of stairs they were using for this task was actually an old, crumbling set of stairs that wound its way perilously up the mountainside above Canterlot. Princess Luna had mentioned that they hadn’t been used in centuries because it was too dangerous, and nopony desired to go to the summit anyway. As a result they had seen the better part of two hundred years of neglect.
Mikoyan had to watch where he was stepping carefully in order to keep from tripping over fallen stones, or slipping on crumbling steps. Already he’d almost plunged to his doom twice due to patches of ice.
The stallion was breathing heavily and sweating profusely. His legs burned from both exertion and pain as he continued to race his way up the winding steps.
“Left right left right left right!” Dash bobbed her head back and forth in time with the cadence she snapped off. “Don’t slow down on me…”
“Hey Rainbow Dash!”
The blue pegasus looked off to the side as the majestic form of Princess Luna climbed up to meet her. Spike was on her back, carefully maintaining his balance.
“Hey,” he continued again. “I got a question!”
Rainbow Dash trimmed her wings to drop back alongside the princess.
“Me an’ Twilight were just kinda’ wondering,” the dragon continued. “Have you ever… you know. Done this before?”
“This?” Dash glanced back at Mikoyan as he barely missed tripping over a large rock. “Hah! Of course not! I’m an athlete, not a soldier.”
“What?!” Luna gasped, turning her head. “Dost thou mean all of these methods hath been made up on the spot?!”
“Of course not!” Dash crossed her hooves and looked away indignantly. “These techniques are genuine exercises developed by Commander Hurricane himself!”
“You mean that crazy pegasus from the pageant?” Spike looked uneasy. However it was Luna who cut him off.
“Surely thou dost realize that Commander Hurricane was one of the most demanding military commanders in pegasus history,” she warned. “Many of his techniques were considered desperate and inequine.”
“Desperate times call for desperate techniques,” Dash smirked back. “Mikoyan wants to catch somepony as extreme as Dainty, then his training needs to be just as extreme. Besides, he’s already proven he can take some serious punishment. It’s not like he can-“
There was a sudden yelp, and the sound of rocks coming loose. The three of them quickly turned their attention back to Mikoyan just in time to see the pegasus topple right over the side. Within a few seconds, it was impossible to see him amidst the flying rocks and snow as the entire mess tumbled right down the mountain.
“Oh boy,” Spike sighed. Rainbow Dash just slapped her face in exasperation.
“Maybe this IS a little too much,” she shook her head.
“We shall inform Miss Pie to have the bandages ready,” the princess stated.
“You do that,” Dash rolled her eyes as Princess Luna banked away from the mountain. “I better find him…”
TASK FOUR: Wings of Fire
OBJECTIVE: Improve wing strength to sustain power during Afterburner
DIFFICULTY: Sixteen Parasprites
“This one shouldn’t be so dangerous,” Rainbow Dash examined the rope as Pinkie double-knotted it. Mikoyan was sporting several more bandages and a black eye at this point. Yet the stallion continued to present himself in a manner that seemed almost proud of the beating he’d been receiving.
“I can’t believe you were using Commander Hurricane’s methods,” Twilight shook her head. “That pegasus may be famous, but he was also infamous.”
“Yeah yeah,” Dash fanned herself with her hat for a moment despite the cold. “My mistake. This one’s all my own. No problem.”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Spike muttered. Rainbow Dash shot the baby dragon a sour look before she turned to Mikoyan.
“The afterburner is not easy to keep up,” she advised the stallion. “So we’re going to build a little wing strength. I want you to give it everything you’ve got. And when you get tired, just go harder, and faster. Ready?”
“Wings only!” Dash reminded him, then raised her whistle to her mouth.
Mikoyan snapped his wings, producing the now familiar whip-like sound.
“Again!” Dash ordered, and blew her whistle.
“Keep going!” the blue pegasus snapped.
‘CRACK! … CRACK! … CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK-CRACK-CRACK!’
“Come on!” Dash snapped, getting right up next to Mikoyan’s ear. “MORE POWER! Tom wants to go for a sled ride! Are you going to disappoint Tom?”
Mikoyan grit his teeth and increased his wing-beats.
“Come on slacker!” Dash snapped, hovering around in front of him. “What are you here for?”
“Grrrt!” Mikoyan grunted.
“I’m sorry,” Dash held a hoof to her ear. “What was that? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of wimpy wing beats.”
“GRRRRTTT!” Mikoyan grunted louder, increasing his flaps to a low thrum. “M-k-yan… Is here… to…”
“I can’t HEAR you!” Dash shouted.
“To…” he growled. “Catch… Wonderful, beautiful… Gorgeous… RARRRGH!!!”
The thrumming increased in intensity to a significant hum, sounding like an oversized bumble bee as Mikoyan snarled around the burning sensation of his muscles.
“COME ON!” Dash snapped at him. “COME ON! TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT NUMBER THIRTY ONE! WHAT MOTIVATES YOU!?”
“MIKOYAN!” He snapped. “IS BEING MOTIVATED! TO MEET… TO CATCH DAINTY DISH!”
“IS THAT TRUE?!” Dash asked. “ARE YOU MOTIVATED?”
“YOU DON’T LOOK MOTIVATED!” Dash yelled in his face. “DO YOU WANT THIS?”
“THEN GIVE ME MORE POWER!” she snapped. “LET ME HEAR SAY YOU WANT THIS!”
“MIKOYAN WANTS THIS!” The stallion shouted, the sound from his wings picking up even more intensity,
“DO YOU WANT THIS?!” Dash asked again.
“MIKOYAN WANTS THIS!”
“LET ME HEAR YOU SAY YAY!” Dash shouted.
Mikoyan roared as loud as he could, pouring every last ounce of effort into this scream until his face started turning red with exertion. The sound of his wings quadrupled in intensity until nothing but a tumultuous roar drowned out the more organic noises of the others.
Rainbow Dash glanced back and was shocked to see that the sheer force of the blast was wiping the snow and ice clean off the rock surfaces behind them. And even as she watched, Tom the rock was slowly sliding forward, scraping a gash in the exposed bedrock it had been sitting on.
“Whoa…” she laughed inaudibly. The roar was so loud that all others present had done their best to plug their ears.
“YEEEEEEEAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!” Mikoyan continued to Roar, the red in his face slowly fading to blue, sweat forming on his features. The roar increased even more if it were at all possible. And she started to notice she was slowly sliding towards the wings as the airflow tried to suck her in.
Stepping back and planting her hooves, Dash grinned insanely and joined Mikoyan in a huge motivational scream. The stallion reciprocated the act, his face now devoid of color.
Off to the side, Spike started to panic as his light frame was caught by the blast, his body slowly lifting into the air.
Twilight quickly reacted, snagging him in a levitation field. Only a moment later she found herself losing traction as well as the wind started to pick her up.
“EEP!” she yelped.
Pinkie Pie quickly spun to assist her friend, and just as quickly found herself in the same predicament.
Princess Luna watched the spectacle unfold in rapt fascination up to this point. A single pegasus specimen producing hurricane force winds with only his wings. Truly a marvel she was happy to be free of the darkness to witness.
“Uh… Miss Princess,” Pinkie’s nearly inaudible voice interrupted her thoughts. “We might have a teeny problem!”
Luna turned her head and was shocked to see Pinkie Pie desperately trying to keep her grip on a half-buried rock, while at the same time, keeping her hold on Twilight and Spike as they dangled helplessly in the air. With little more than a thought, she caught them all with her own levitation magic, surprised to find it took a little more effort than she expected to anchor herself. The half-melted snow was not helping the situation, making the ground slick.
Then the princess blinked. What was melting the snow?
“YOU ARE A ROCKET!” Dash shouted over the din into Mikoyan’s face. At this point, the stallion looked exhausted, but refused to quit.
“THE STALLION IS ON FIRE!” Luna’s magically amplified voice boomed impossibly over the roar.
“HE SURE IS!” Dash laughed.
“FOAL!” Luna’s voice boomed again, this time with supernatural force that shook the very ground they were on. “WE MEAN HE HATH LITERALLY COMMENCED WITH CONFLAGRATION! THE STALLION HATH IGNITED! HIS BODY IS ABLAZE! MIKOYAN HAS CAUGHT FIRE!!!”
Rainbow Dash’s train of thought came to a screeching halt as she quickly glanced past Mikoyan’s face. Glowing hot sparks were flying off the stallion’s wings and the snow and ice piled up a ways behind him was melting away and kicking up clouds of steam. The side of Tom facing them was being blasted with superheated air and slowly burning away at-
“THE ROPE!” her eyes dilated.
Rainbow Dash spun in place, pulling her hat off to scoop at the snow.
“MIKOYAN!” she shouted. “S-“
The rope gave out.
Mikoyan shot forward out of control, hurling head-first into a snow drift several hundred feet away and crashing into it with a force rivaling his landing that morning. Almost immediately the roar and blast died out, dropping the others on the ground as a cloud of smoke and vapor cast a shadow on them.
“OW!” Spike snapped. “I much preferred falling in the snow.”
“Is Mikoyan okay?” Twilight sat up in alarm.
“I-“ Rainbow Dash began. “I don’t-“
“YEAHAHAAAA!!!” Mikoyan’s head burst up through the snow, melting it slightly around him. “IS BEING MORE LIKE IT!”
Rainbow Dash just stared in shock, the stallion seemingly unfazed by what had just happened. Glancing down at her hat, she then shrugged and plopped it back on her head. Only to realize she hadn’t dumped the snow out yet.
“He appears to be unharmed,” Luna trotted up next to her.
“Yeah,” Twilight’s own tone indicated her exasperation and disbelief.
“HAHA!” Mikoyan jumped out of the snow bank, steam still coming off his wings. “What is being NEXT task?”
Rainbow Dash stared for a few more seconds, her look of shock slowly drawing upwards into a smirk. Then she canted her hat and wiped the snow off her face.
“You want it?”
TASK FIVE: Lunch
OBJECTIVE: Refuel the Body’s natural reserves.
DIFFICULTY: One Angry Dragon
“You GOT it.” She frowned.
Mikoyan grit his teeth as he flexed his forelegs to complete another pushup.
“Just because we’re stopping for lunch, doesn’t mean we have to stop training,” Rainbow Dash lectured the stallion around a bite of a sandwich.
“Is very, strange exercise…” The stallion growled, slurping at some soup as he lowered his face to the bowl below him.
“If you have time to talk, you have time to work,” Dash admonished the stallion. “UP! DOOOOWN… UP! DOOOOWN…”
Mikoyan forced his forelegs to obey in time to Dash’s cadence, groaning as he did so but showing firm control as he slowly lowered himself back down to his soup for another slurp. Then he pushed himself back up, shaking as he went.
“Don’t let Tom beat you,” Rainbow Dash prodded him on. “Tom’s not THAT heavy. From what I heard, even RARITY could lift him. So could Twilight. And they’re about as far from athletic as you can get.”
“Hey,” Twilight looked up from a dandelion sandwich. “I came in FIFTH for the running of the leaves, thank you very much.”
“Are you going to let a pair of stay-in-doors mares beat you?” Dash continued without so much as acknowledging Twilight’s response.
Mikoyan forced himself up again, the boulder on his back rising with him.
“Come on! You can do it!” Pinkie Pie giggled excitedly, tapping him in the side from her perch right on top of Tom. Then she stopped when she noticed Dash looking at her in an unamused fashion.
“Er…” she exaggerated a frown. “I mean… COME ON! DON’T QUIT ON ME MAGGOT!”
“Mikoyan refuses to be quitting,” the stallion growled.
Pinkie Pie giggled again as she reached up to grab another snack cake from the floating levitation cloud next to her.
“I shtill canch beweeve woona’s kept these fwoatink fo sho wong,” she spoke around a mouth full of crumbs.
TASK SIX: Twitchy Tail of TORMENT
OBJECTIVE: Increase ability to handle heavy loads while airborne.
“Remember what I said about Tom being gravity?” Rainbow Dash circled the stallion as Pinkie Pie once again checked on yet another length of rope. “Well here’s where we don’t just say it. We prove it!”
Twilight frowned as her friend explained the latest method of practice. Mikoyan was to fly straight up, Tom attached to him as always, as fast as he could. Then he would gently lower the boulder back to the ground. It was simple.
“Get ready number thirty one!” Dash instructed.
With a blast of her whistle, the stallion leapt into the sky, rope pulling taut in seconds. Mikoyan kicked in the afterburners, blasting the ground with air as he pulled the rock skyward.
“Yes…” Dash grinned wildly. “YES!”
“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight wandered up to her friend. “This is really dangerous and you know it. You have to stop before somepony gets hurt.”
“No pony’s getting hurt so long as they pay attention,” Dash replied. “I’ve got this all under control.”
“Don’t give me that!” Twilight retorted. “Mikoyan’s already been bandaged up numerous times. You’ve got to stop before something permanent happens.”
Rainbow Dash glanced down at her friend.
“HE, asked for this,” she snapped. “If he wants to quit, he can do so any time he wants and then I’ll just get back to bed. Until that happens, we keep going.”
“UGGGH!!!” Twilight dropped her head.
“Speaking of which,” the pegasus continued as she looked up. “You should be going too…”
“What?” Twilight’s head came up.
“I would suggest you move,” Dash frowned at the sky. “Now.”
Twilight followed her friend’s gaze, only to see something large and gray descending on her at high speed.
“EE-“ she began, but then found herself quickly yanked away as Tom slammed into the ground where she’d been standing. Mikoyan slammed into Tom a moment later and tumbled into the snow.
“Thou should take thy friend’s advice without question,” Princess Luna admonished the bookworm. “It would upset us greatly to find you flattened.”
Twilight let out a series of nervous laughs as the princess set her down.
“Fire!” Pinkie Pie yelled in alarm. “He’s on fire again!”
Princess Luna quickly levitated a large clump of snow and dropped it on Mikoyan, extinguishing the blaze.
“Mikoyan is thanking you,” he coughed.
TASK SEVEN: Rocks fall, everypony dies!
OBJECTIVE: Improve total agility, speed, and endurance through the use of high stress maneuvers.
DIFFICULTY: Psycho Spar-
“Pinkie Pie!” Twilight shouted in agitation. “Would you STOP rewriting my notes?!”
“But it’s just so much fun!” the pink one chirped. “And all your notes are so SERIOUS.”
“They’re SUPPOSED to be serious,” Twilight snapped. “I’m documenting.”
“Come on, cut it out guys,” Spike waved his claws in front of Twilight. “They’re about to start.”
Twilight frowned as she turned to where Dash was still standing in that ridiculous two-legged pose.
“I REALLY don’t think this is a good idea Rainbow Dash,” she tried to reason with her friend. “Nopony has ever tried anything even remotely close to this.
“The princess says she’s up to it,” Dash shrugged. “I’m not turning an opportunity like that down.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Twilight looked at Mikoyan as he adjusted his hooving. “It’s just-“
“Now now,” Rainbow Dash waved her hoof, then turned and shouted.
“Are you ready princess?”
“WE ARE READY!” Luna boomed in the Royal voice.
“On your mark,” Dash turned to Mikoyan.
“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight tried one more time. “Please think this one through.”
“Get set!” the pegasus ignored her friend and just raised her voice. Mikoyan dug his hind legs in and braced.
“Princess Luna has the power to move the MOON!” Twilight continued anyway. “She’s already shown to pack a little to much power into-“
“GO!” Dash snapped. “Go thirty-one! GO! GO! GO!”
Mikoyan shot forward, catching air with his wings and taking off into the sky. Twilight snapped her mouth shut, growling inwardly that her friend was being so stubborn.
“Wait for it,” Dash could be heard muttering to herself. “Wait for it…”
High above, Mikoyan hit the top of his climb and turned left. Rainbow Dash spun, shouting to the princess.
“PULL!” she snapped.
Luna lifted Tom effortlessly with her magic, then the stone ripped forward with a loud thump as if it were shot out of pinky’s cannon, rocketing into the sky.
“Oh I can’t watch,” Twilight squeezed her eyes shut.
Mikoyan glanced over his wing as he flew, spotting the incoming rock. The very FAST incoming rock. The stallion spun in the air, twisting as he changed direction with a grunt, lining himself up with Tom’s trajectory.
Stretching out his hooves and flying backwards, he rolled onto his back.
“Oo…” Twilight heard Pinkie Pie wince. “He’s gonna’ feel that one.”
Twilight, opened an eye, chancing a look to the sky, and sighed.
“That does it,” she turned, reaching up and yanking the hat off Rainbow Dash’s head.
“Hey!” Dash snapped. “What do you think,”
“AT EASE!” Twilight snapped, depositing the hat on her own noggin. “This has gone on long enough! At this rate you’re going to do more than just hurt that Stallion, you’re going to kill him. I can’t let you do that Rainbow Dash. It ends now!”
“But,” Dash began. “We’re not FINISHED! I told you we’ll stop if he deci-“
“NOW!” Twilight snapped with a strong air of finality. “No more!”
“Hey hey hey!” Pinkie suddenly started jumping. “Lookit! LOOKIT!”
Both arguing ponies turned and looked up. In the distance above them, Tom was hovering strangely in the air. Behind the boulder, Mikoyan was straining, barely managing to keep both himself and the glorified rock in the air.
“EEEEYEEAARRRGHHH!!!!!” he snarled, fighting to support the weight.
Then with a heave, the stallion managed to lift Tom over his head, take a flying start, and hurled it back the direction it had been fired from.
“INCOMING!” he shouted.
“PRINCESS!” Twilight turned, noting Luna had not so much as flinched as the boulder came flying back at her. Then suddenly, it came to a dead stop just feet from impact, held in the princess’ magical aura.
Twilight just gaped for a moment before the logic of what she’d previously said caught up with her. When it did, she just sighed in defeat, lowering her head.
“Now, THAT’S what I’m talking about,” Rainbow Dash yanked her hat off the unicorn’s head.
“SHALL WE HAVE ANOTHER GO?” the princess’ voice boomed.
“YAY!” Mikoyan snarled, spinning in place and galloping across the field. Twilight watched in silence as the Stallion made half a dozen laps with almost no effort.
“That’s a GO!” Rainbow Dash snapped. “Now show tank how it’s down.”
Mikoyan planted his hooves firmly and began wedging Tom into the air.
“It’s not possible,” Twilight blinked. “He can’t think he can-“
The stallion hefted the rock up and balanced it on his head, careful not to drop it.
“GO!” Dash nodded.
When it came time to hit the Stairs, Mikoyan was like a beast. The stallion rocketed up the stairway; his wings firmly folded the entire time. When he came to the point where he’d fallen before, he leapt the gap without so much as glancing.
“Another Go!” Dash nodded from nearby. “But don’t you keep stopping! I’ll se you at the summit!”
A lock of Twilight’s hair was refusing to settle down by the time Pinkie started strapping Mikoyan down for another afterburner test. This time everypony was smart enough to stand strictly out in front and to the side.
“Water ready!” Dash snapped.
“WATER IS READY!” Luna boomed enthusiastically. Behind her, a snowball the size of a house was floating in place.
“Alright thirty-one!” Dash turned to the stallion. “Give it EVERYTHING! We’ll make sure you don’t catch fire this time.”
The roar of air that resulted from the next five minutes rattled windows all the way up to Celestia’s chambers.
“It’s... not possible,” Twilight openly gaped.
When Mikoyan tried lifting Tom with only his wings once more, Twilight was astonished not only to see him pull it off successfully, but stop between flights, set the boulder, AND Princess Luna on his back, and knock out fifty pushups.
“This doesn’t...” Twilight Sparkle lost a little more composure.
“Definitely two GOs for that one,” Rainbow Dash nodded. “Now one more test!”
Luna levitated half a dozen boulders into the air and set them orbiting about her body as Mikoyan shot up into the stratosphere.
“PULL!” Dash ordered.
Six stones thundered into the sky, aimed directly at the distant speck.
Mikoyan saw them coming, and roared a challenge. With a jab, the first rock that reach him crumbled, the second one he evaded followed by the fourth. The fifth and sixth quickly met the fate of the first.
“Throw him a curve ball!” Rainbow Dash waved.
Luna nodded, smirking as she lobbed Tom into the sky at nearly the speed of sound.
Mikoyan turned, ready to shatter the stone. However, upon identifying the approaching rock as Tom, he quickly spun, rolling with the bolder as it struck. With a deft twist, he spun a complete circle in the air and sent it hurling right back at Luna just as fast as she’d sent t up.
“That’s a GO!” Rainbow Dash clapped as Luna effortlessly brought the rock to a halt. “Excellent work!”
“Impossible,” Twilight gaped.
“No such thing,” Rainbow Dash turned to her friend.
Tom landed next to them with a loud ‘thud’, Mikoyan settling down a moment later. The stallion sported many bruises and cuts, but Twilight quickly noted that he was looking a lot more muscular than she had noticed before.
Mikoyan kept his face neutral as he inhaled deeply, making himself look even larger and stronger. A flash of lightning lit up the stallion’s features, followed by a crack of thunder.
“Whoa!” Spike took a step back. “He’s got his own effects!”
“Sorry!” One of the pegasi from that morning zipped in and grabbed the small piece of storm cloud. “That one kinda’ got away from me!”
Spike watched the weather-pony go before he sighed in relief.
“False alarm,” he wiped his forehead.
“I think,” Rainbow Dash tilted her head to the side. “We’re ready.”
Twilight Sparkle just gaped at the stallion for a moment, then to her friend. Then she blinked and looked back at Mikoyan. What-?
“I- I don’t get it!” Twilight snapped. “You’ve only been at this for a few hours! There’s no possible way he could have had any kind of benefit from that training in such a short time!”
“I guess it just goes to prove the value of Commander Hurricane’s methods,” Rainbow Dash trotted up, a smug grin plastered on her face. “He was tough, but he was good at what he did.”
“No no no no NO!” Twilight stamped a hoof. “You don’t GET it! There’s no possible way he could have built up any kind of muscle in such a short time! Not only was it too short a time, but he also didn’t consume enough protein or water to make up for the added mass!”
“What appears to be thy problem?” Princess Luna asked as she rejoined the group. “Twilight Sparkle, this tantrum is most unbecoming for a pony such as thee.”
“I’m not having a tantrum!” Twilight snapped defensively.
“She’s SO throwing a tantrum,” Spike muttered to the princess. Luna bent her head down to the dragon.
“Is Twilight often like this?” she asked. “I don’t remember her being so easy to upset.”
“Eh,” Spike shrugged. “She usually gets like this when something doesn’t make sense. Frankly it really DOESN’T make sense but...-”
“SEE?!” Twilight turned, her mane frazzling as she looked towards the baby dragon. “Even Spike agrees with me!”
“Whoa,” said dragon raised his hands in the air. “Let’s not drag me into the middle of this.”
Luna nodded in seeming understanding, a hint of a smirk forming on her features.
“Shall we have the guards fetch the royal straitjacket?”
“No,” he glanced up at the winged unicorn. “No, she’ll get over it in a little bit.’
“Very well then,” Luna nodded regally.
“Why don’t you guys take this seriously?” Twilight frowned as she exchanged glances with the group. “Can’t you see there’s something seriously WRONG about what just happened?”
The unicorn was all but in a panic as Pinkie Pie, removing the hat from her head, started to giggle uncontrollably.
“What?” Twilight turned on her. “WHAT?! What’s so FUNNY?”
The pink pony fell over, now completely in the throws of laughter.
“WHAT?!” Twilight shouted again.
“Oh Twilight,” Pinkie managed to comment through a laugh. “You’re so silly.”
“WHAT?!” Twilight’s voice was getting frantic.
“Haven’t you learned ANYTHING from those books you read?” the earth pony continued through suppressed giggles.
“WHAT?!” Twilight’s mane was now completely disheveled, and she looked about ready to panic. “Answers! NEED THEM!”
“Okay,” Pinkie stood up, resting a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “Okay... Remember those books about the earth ponies who knew all that fancy kung fu stuff?”
“Huh?” Twilight asked.
Pinkie waved a hoof around them in a broad, sweeping gesture.
“Hostile training environment,” she explained. “Rigorous, BRUTAL training methods that would kill any normal pony.”
Then she pointed her hoof at Rainbow Dash.
“And of course, we can’t forget the hard driving trainer.”
Rainbow Dash just grinned slyly.
“I...” Twilight blinked, then her face went serious.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Pinkie continued with a grin. “We were doing a training montage.”
“WHAT?” Twilight’s features bordered on disgust.
“Those ALWAYS work!” Pinkie winked.
Twilight Sparkle stood there, her mouth hanging open as she cast a long, sweeping gaze at those assembled. Each and every one of them, even the princess, had this knowing smile on their faces as if they’d figured the whole mess out long before. The unicorn tried to work her mouth, but in all honesty, she couldn’t find words.
Finally, with a huff, she turned away, heading back toward the castle.
“Come on Spike,” she called back. The dragon quickly scrambled after her.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
Twilight’s mane visibly twitched this time, her voice coming unhinged once more.
“Some place where the universe hasn’t yet broken,” she informed her assistant. “Like the castle library.”
The others watched Twilight and Spike retreat down the hill towards the road. Finally, after a few minutes of staring, Mikoyan was the first to speak up.
“Mikoyan is liking new comrades,” he announced.
He raised his hoof, and it was met in the air by the hooves of the three mares next to him.