Standard disclaimer: This is a not for profit fan work. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is copyright Hasbro, Inc. I make no claim to any copyrighted material mentioned herein.
Chapter 3: The Equestria Games
Blue Seas and Sea Star headed to the pool after a light breakfast. Though not far past dawn, three others were already in the pool, the trio of half-seaponies from Fillydelphia.
“I thought you said they weren’t coming in until today?” Blue Seas asked.
“That’s right.” He called out to them. “Hey, guys!”
The three ponies finished their laps and pulled themselves out of the pool. “Hi, Sea Star. Good to see you again, Blue Seas,” Wave Crasher said. “By the way, you might want to step back.”
“Huh?” Blue Seas replied, just before finding himself getting soaked. He was in range as Roller, the tall earth pony, shook the water off his coat.
“That’s lesson one in swimming with us,” Azure Spark said with a laugh.
Blue Seas wiped the water off his face. “When did you get here?”
“About five thirty,” Azure Spark replied.
“And you came straight here? Off an overnight train?”
“There’s no better way to freshen up,” Roller commented.
“Yeah, we came here,” Wave Crasher said. “All except Coach, who whined about wanting to shower first.”
“I snagged his whistle and watch,” Azure Spark said.
“How about a little race?” Sea Star suggested. “Backstroke, 200m. Since you’re equipped, Azure Spark, you get to time us.”
“Fine,” he said.
Blue Seas took his position on the starting block along with the other three. He focused on Roller and Wave Crasher. They had just gotten off an overnight train, an experience that would leave anypony feeling tired. Maybe he would have a chance this morning.
The whistle sounded, and Blue Seas dived off the starting block, twisting his body into the proper form. As the momentum from his jump faded, the first stroke of his legs propelled him through the water. He mentally tracked his pace and counted his strokes. He tapped the wall and turned into the second lap.
After the final lap, Blue Seas pulled himself out of the pool. He looked, and his heart sank. He came in last.
“Cheer up, Blue Seas,” Azure Spark said. “You swam well.”
“I lost,” he muttered.
“No, you swam better than almost everypony in Equestria could. Do you want my honest assessment?” Seeing Blue Seas nod, he continued. “You’re a natural in the water. Your form was excellent, and you executed the turns perfectly. The only thing I noticed this race is you were a little slow off the block.
“Blue Seas, you will medal in the Equestria Games. It may not be this year, but you will. If you swim to the best of your ability, everypony watching you will be proud. And you should be proud as well.”
“Enough with the sappy speeches,” Roller interrupted. “How about some more swimming, and then some lunch?”
As the Fillydelphia ponies hadn't had much for breakfast, they broke for an early lunch. Though still late in the morning, the cafeteria was filled with hungry ponies. Quite a few were coming off their own morning training. Blue Seas wasn’t attacking his sandwiches and salad with the same vigor as the athletes around him. He kept thinking back to the results of the morning’s practice.
A hoof on his withers interrupted his thoughts. He looked up to see who it was, recognizing Open Water. “Hey, Coach,” he said, without much enthusiasm.
“Good to see you again, Blue Seas. How’s the training going?”
“Okay, I guess,” he replied.
“Look. Sea Star talked to me, and.... Well, I’m taking a group of my current and former swimmers to the pool after lunch for drills. I’d like you to join them. They need the competition, and I’m sure Sea Star and the others will be fine on their own.”
“Let’s walk to the pool together,” Open Water urged.
Once away from cafeteria, Open Water addressed Blue Seas. “How have you handled learning about your heritage?” he asked.
“Actually, I haven’t had much of a chance to deal with it,” Blue Seas said. “I’ve told a few ponies, and they’ve been really supportive, but I can’t explore my heritage when I’m practicing for the Equestria Games.”
“That’s a common complaint among the half-seaponies I’ve coached,” he replied. “It’s worse for those who live in the ocean, and have to move to dry land to practice.” He paused. “Blue Seas, you know you’re a good swimmer, right?”
“I found out I was the best in Ponyville, but....”
“You do realize that Wave Crasher is the best swimmer I’ve ever seen? Azure Spark, Sea Star, and Roller are in the top twenty. They’ve told me that you will grow to be better than them. And from what I’ve seen, I agree with them. When you’re practicing today, I hope you’ll see that.”
Blue Seas hadn’t felt good going into lunch, but after resting and talking with Open Water, he felt refreshed. The smell of chlorine as he approached the pool further urged him on. The ponies now at the pool, mostly earth ponies, were unfamiliar to him; Blue Seas thought he recognized some from the trials in Fillydelphia, or perhaps from the dormitory.
“Good afternoon, everypony,” Open Water announced. “This is Blue Seas; he’ll be joining the practice. Make sure you give him a challenge!
“Since most of you just got back from lunch, take some time to limber up, and then we’ll do some short races, starting with the 100m freestyle.”
Blue Seas stretched and swam a few practice laps. When Open Water was ready, he blew his whistle. Ponies lines up at the starting block, Blue Seas among them, with a second group queuing up behind them. With another blast of the whistle, he dove into the water.
It was the shortest race length in the Equestria Games, just one trip down the lane and back. Blue Seas sprinted the length of the pool, tapped the wall, and swam back. He pulled himself out once he made it back to the start. Looking around, he saw that he finished third.
Throughout the afternoon, Blue Seas practiced with this larger group of ponies. He did much better than when he raced against his fellow half-seaponies; he even came in first on some of the drills. There was also plenty of time to socialize, and Blue Seas found it easy to get along with his fellow swimmers. They all looked happy to be here, and he realized he was back to feeling happy himself.
Blue Seas trotted over to one of the other swimmers, another unicorn. He finished last in the drill he had watched, and Blue Seas remembered that he was normally one of the slowest swimmers. Yet he was always smiling and laughing, and had just clapped hooves together with Open Water after his last race. “You seem pretty happy,” Blue Seas said to him.
“That was my fastest time yet,” he replied. “I’m Glint, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you, Glint by the way,” Blue Seas joked. “Blue Seas, from Ponyville. What city are you representing?”
“Appleloosa, if you’d believe it.”
“You don’t mind when you, uh....”
“Don’t win? Hey, someone has to lose, right? I love the water, and being a unicorn from Appleloosa, I’m doubly out of place. This has been the best week of my life! And even if I place last in every event, I get to watch my little sister carry the flag for Appleloosa.”
“That’s great,” Blue Seas said. “Unfortunately, I can’t say the same. My youngest sister tried out for flag carrier, but somepony else won.”
“Will she be watching you from the stands?”
“Yeah. My entire family is coming, along with half of Ponyville.”
“Then make your little sister happy and be the best swimmer you can be,” Glint said.
“I will. Thanks for giving me some perspective, Glint,” Blue Seas said.
Following dinner, Blue Seas again joined the other half-seaponies at the pool. His relative performance wasn’t any better, but Blue Seas tried to put it out of his mind. His efforts weren’t successful, but he continued to smile as he drilled in preparation for the Games.
Afterward, Blue Seas and Sea Star headed back to the dormitory. “I’m glad to see you’re in a better mood,” the older pony told Blue Seas.
“I’m still bothered about swimming against you, but at least I can compete,” Blue Seas said.
“Every time you swim, you’re competing against somepony, even if it’s just yourself. And if you’re ever upset, just think back to that time when you were swimming, and realized it was your special talent.”
“That’s pretty deep,” Blue Seas replied. “No pun intended, of course.”
Sea Star laughed. “Thanks, but I can’t take credit for that. It’s what Open Water told me when I was your age. It took me years to medal, you know.”
“I think it’s time to turn in,” Blue Seas said.
“You nervous about tomorrow?”
“Not really. I mean, the first swimming event is not for another two days.”
“But you’ll be stepping into the arena for the first time tomorrow. Trust me, you don’t forget your first opening ceremonies. The pageantry, the crowds, it’s something.”
“Really? Do you have any advice, then?”
“Drink some water before, but not too much. Trust me on that one.”
The next morning, every athlete gathered on the university quad. Scores of volunteers in their blue collars worked to organize them.
“Attention, attention everypony! Please gather around the volunteer holding your city’s flag,” one unicorn announced, his voice magically enhanced to carry over the murmuring of the crowd. “You will be given two numbers. The first is for the carriage that will take you to the stadium. The second is your row number.”
Blue Seas moved through the crowd, finding the pony with the Ponyville flag. As the waiting time increased, the murmuring of the crowd grew louder.
An image appeared in the air, showing a rough floor plan. Everypony looked up, though many continued to chat with their neighbors. “When the opening ceremonies begin, squads will enter by city, in alphabetical order within groups,” the same unicorn instructed. “You will enter thirty seconds after the flag carriers. Equestrian cities, except for Baltimare, will be first, and will gather in the two large areas marked in red. A low row number means you will be closer to the center of the stadium. Following the Equestrian cities will be the cities in the deer, donkey, zebra, griffon, llama, camel, and horse lands; you will go to the center area in green. Pony cities from nations beyond Equestria will then enter, filling in behind them in the area marked in blue. Finally, the athletes from Baltimare will enter, standing in the front center area marked in orange. Again, please stay with the volunteer with your city flag at all times. They will give the signal when your group will enter.”
The line for the carriages was long, but moved quickly. Blue Seas boarded one with five other athletes from Ponyville. He knew them mostly by reputation; they were competing in other events. Nopony was very talkative; nerves and excitement led them to focus on looking out the windows, watching as they neared the stadium.
Once he arrived, Blue Seas looked for where the Ponyville contingent was gathering. The first thing he noticed was the trio of rambunctious colts, the flag carriers for Ponyville. They were already roughhousing, and Blue Seas wondered how long it would be until they started scuffling. One of the other Ponyvillains wisely held the flag while they waited.
The volunteer urged the town’s athletes to stand in order. “There are thirty-seven of you, so you will take up an area of five columns by eight rows. I want you to enter by row number when your town is called.”
The athletes formed up, but the formation quickly lost cohesion as they continued to wait. Finally, they noticed the contingent from Appleloosa walk through the front gates of the stadium.
This is it. It’s finally happening.
Blue Seas shuffled around, shifting from one hoof to another, as he waited the twelve minutes for Ponyville to be called. He fell in line, walking into the dark interior of the stadium. Just when he got used to the darkness, he walked through the massive interior gate, into the bowl of the stadium. He had a hard time focusing on walking to his destination as he beheld the sight of tens of thousands of ponies in the stand.
He watched the flag carriers perform their routine, ending with the three colts balancing atop each other, the pegasus at the top of the pile waving the Ponyville flag. He walked to his place in the second row, and once everypony from Ponyville was present, he looked up.
So many ponies. He tried to find his family in the crowd. Blue Seas knew they would be cheering for him and waving, but so was everypony else in the stands. The only ponies who could be clearly identified were the five princesses. There were other large boxes in front of them, with what looked like foreign dignitaries. But beyond that, there were ponies, too many ponies.
Blue Seas didn’t have to worry about being rushed. He searched the entire stadium, in vain, because he had plenty of time to do so. First, all the other athletes had to enter the stadium. Then came the speeches. The mayor of Baltimare started, with a long-winded speech praising his city and the many ponies who contributed to running the games. Some unicorn prince from Canterlot came next, praising the athletes and calling good sportsmareship a shining example of the harmony of Equestria. Most of the athletes around Blue Seas looked rather bored. A few others shifted back and forth, looking like they wanted nothing more to run to the bathroom.
He was glad he had listened to Sea Star’s advice.
Finally, the older athletes started to murmur in approval as an elderly mare took the stage. Blue Seas recognized Miss Harshwhinny, the head of the Equestria Games, and from the orientation meeting, he remembered that she would be announcing the start of the game. It seemed everypony else remembered, too, as they all started cheering loudly.
“Greetings, athletes, volunteers, Princesses, dignitaries, and ponies and beings from Equestria and beyond. Welcome to the 1492 Equestria Games. Baltimare and all of Equestria welcome you in the name of friendship and harmony. Let us battle this week, not as enemies, not as adversaries, but as competitors, united in sportsmareship.
“And now, to light the torch, three time gold medalist from Baltimare, Red Arrow.”
A brick red pegasus stallion stepped forward, accompanied by a volunteer, a unicorn mare. The stallion carried a bow in his mouth. He stood at the edge of the stage and braced the bow, like the ice archers he had seen practice. The unicorn passed him an arrow, the tip wrapped in cloth. Red Arrow nocked the arrow and drew back. With a spark of her horn, the unicorn lit the arrow on fire. Red Arrow steadied himself, pulled, and released.
The arrow sailed through the air in a gentle arc, landing in the center of the torch. Flames erupted, and ponies cheered.
“Let the games begin!” Harshwhinny cheered.
Most of the athletes departed following the opening ceremonies. A few had events at other venues in town. But most, including Blue Seas, had nothing to do but practice. He returned to the practice pool with a large contingent of other swimmers. After enduring the lengthy speeches from the two blowhard politicians, it was unbelievably refreshing to get back in the water.
“How did you enjoy your first opening ceremonies?” Sea Star asked him.
“It was incredible, but long. Five minutes into the mayor’s speech, I was wishing I were here instead,” Blue Seas commented. “And thanks for the advice about not drinking too much.”
“You’re welcome. That advice came from my personal experience at the Games in San Caballo four years ago.”
“Ready to practice again?”
Blue Seas returned to the athletes’ village for dinner. It was clear from watching the crowd who had done well in their events today. It was even clearer who had done poorly. He sat with the Ponyville athletes, offering encouragement to Silver Spirit, a hurdler who failed to qualify in his first race.
Blue Seas finished his meal and walked around the campus. He noticed moods had improved noticeably following dinner, and many ponies were heading away from the athletes’ village. He spotted Sea Star; the stallion, who Blue Seas had always seen looking like he just stepped out of the water, had his mane combed and was wearing a collar. “Why are you dressed up?” Blue Seas asked him.
“Party.” Upon seeing Blue Seas’s confused expression, he elaborated. “There are small events every night, hosted by the various nobles, dignitaries, and companies that support the Equestria Games. They invite the athletes to meet with their guests. If you haven’t checked our room, you’ll find some invitations waiting for you.”
“Wow. I had no idea there’d be anything like that going on!”
“It’s one of the perks of being an athlete in the Games. And, frankly, you should go. We all need something to decompress. Just don’t overdo it, and don’t stay out too late. If you do, you’ll regret it tomorrow.”
“Thanks. I’ll look into it,” Blue Seas said.
Sure enough, there were three envelopes in the box outside the door to Blue Seas’s room. He opened the invitations and read them. One caught his eye. “Barnyard Bargains?” he said to himself. The well-known retailer headquartered in Ponyville was hosting a party in one of the nearby hotels. It included a personalized letter, inviting him to join all the athletes from Ponyville in celebrating the town.
The invitation indicated the party would run from 7:00 to 11:00, and since it was already past seven, Blue Seas hurried. He quickly brushed his mane and threw on a collar, and dashed to the carriages. Blue Seas joined the steady stream of ponies departing the village.
The Baltimare Hayatt hotel was a lot larger than any inn in Ponyville. Even as the town grew, it avoided massive buildings like this one. It was even taller than the Princess’s palace! The hotel was well-organized, and Blue Seas had no trouble finding the ballroom.
Blue Seas stepped into the ballroom. A worker checked his invitation, and passed it to an elderly earth pony stallion. The stallion shook his hoof. “Filthy Rich. Nice to meet you, Blue Seas. How have you fared so far in your swimming events?”
“My first one is tomorrow. I’m ready to give a good showing,” Blue Seas replied.
“Go out and make Ponyville proud!” he said encouragingly.
Blue Seas nodded and headed inside, but not before being given a gift bag. He saw many of the town’s athletes mingling with the crowd. He recognized a few celebrities. The other guests were mostly unfamiliar; Blue Seas suspected they were top Barnyard Bargains employees from across Equestria and key business partners.
“Hey, Blue Seas!” a voice called.
“Hi, Long Stride,” Blue Seas replied. The earth pony marathon runner was around his age, and he remembered him from school before seeing him again at the Games. “Did Silver Spirit make it?”
“He decided to get in some more practice.”
Blue Seas nodded. He suspected the hurdler was more upset about his race. “I think I’ll look for a party like this one tomorrow, no matter how I do. Somepony who’s been here before told me about the importance of decompressing.”
“Hear, hear!” Long Stride replied, lifting his glass into the air.
Blue Seas’s eyes widened. “Is that what I think it is?”
“Cider from Sweet Apple Acres,” he replied with a smile. “You can get a glass over there. There’s nothing better than sipping cider and pony-watching.”
Although Blue Seas’s family had an unofficial rivalry with the Apples, they were there in line, like everypony else in town, when cider season rolled around. He accepted a glass and sipped it; it tasted as fresh as the day it was made. It took some magic, and a lot more willpower, to keep Sweet Apple Acres cider on ice for ten months.
He took his glass, and a small plate of appetizers, and rejoined Long Stride. Together, they pointed out prominent ponies in attendance as they spotted them. The town’s most important resident, Princess Twilight Sparkle, wasn’t there, but there were plenty of other big names. Diamond Tiara, Filthy Rich’s daughter and Ponyville’s most eligible bachelorette, attracted attention wherever she walked. The mayor and the captain of the Dusk Guard were both working the crowd. Rainbow Dash, Wonderbolt and former Element, and apparently well into the keg of alcoholic cider, was loudly telling everypony about how she led Ponyville to the total medal championship in the 1476 Games.
Later in the party, everypony’s attention was drawn to the door of the ballroom. Several ponies were carefully carrying an enormous cake into the room. Blue Seas had never seen a cake like it before, but he knew exactly what it was. “It’s the MMMM!” he whispered.
“The what?” Long Stride replied.
“The Marzipan Mascarpone Meringue Madness cake. It’s a legendary cake from Sugarcube Corner!”
“Cool. Filthy Rich must be going all out in bringing the best of Ponyville to this party!”
Blue Seas was so intently focused on the cake that he didn’t notice somepony slip behind him and put her hooves over his eyes. “Guess who?” she said. “Here’s a hint.” He felt a kiss on his cheek.
Blue Seas spun around. “Pumpkin Cake!” He embraced his marefriend and shared a kiss. “You came to see me?”
“I came to the Games to watch you compete,” she replied. “I came to this party, at the request of Filthy Rich, to save you all from awful hotel cake.”
He gazed up at the delectable cake. “You made this all by yourself?”
“Yes. I’ve helped Mom and Dad make the cake before, but it’s the first time I’ve done it solo.”
“It looks delicious,” Blue Seas said, struggling not to drool.
“Then get in line. I’ll be cutting it soon.”
Blue Seas turned, and saw that almost everypony in Ponyville was in line for dessert. He hurried to secure his place. Even though Sea Star warned him not to overindulge, he wasn’t going to miss a chance to have a slice of MMMM. The guests from across Equestria were going to have to wait.
Filthy Rich tapped his glass with a spoon. The crowd quieted and turned to him. “Thank you all for coming to this celebration of Ponyville,” Filthy Rich began. “We’ve brought a selection of the local goods we showcase at each of our Barnyard Bargains locations, plus a few special foods you can’t find anywhere else. And now, we have a very special treat, and it’s quite appropriate for this party. For our athletes who will be winning many medals this week, we have a five time medal-winning cake, straight from Sugarcube Corner, the Marzipan Mascarpone Meringue Madness cake!”
The crowd stomped their hooves in applause. Pumpkin Cake blushed and cut the first piece. She passed it to Filthy Rich, who offered it to the first pony in line.
Five minutes later, Blue Seas experienced true bliss as he bit into his slice of cake. Sweet meringue, tart mascarpone, chewy marzipan, and fluffy yellow cake played across his taste buds. The room grew quieter as more and more ponies tried the cake, and found themselves speechless.
Blue Seas finished his slice, and was able to focus on a wonderful sight—Pumpkin Cake, smiling as she watched ponies enjoying her cake. It was heartwarming to see his marefriend enjoying what she was born to do. Was she feeling like he felt every time he swam?
“Want another slice?” Blue Seas was jolted out of his reverie with Pumpkin Cake’s words. She was holding her knife and spatula in her aura expectantly.
“No, thanks. I don’t dare eat another slice when I’m swimming tomorrow morning. But do you think you could sneak some cake back to my family?” Blue Seas requested. “I don’t know about Mom and Dad, but I think Cirrus and the others have never tried this cake.”
Pumpkin Cake smiled. “I sure can. We’re in the same hotel, you know.”
“Really? That’s lucky. Say hi to them for me.”
Pumpkin Cake sliced a chunk of cake, wrapped it, and set it aside. “Will do.”
“It was great seeing you. But I’m going to have to get some rest soon,” Blue Seas said.
Pumpkin Cake looked over to the stage, where a string quartet was setting up. “Do you have time for one dance?”
“I can think of no better way to end the evening.”
While Blue Seas regretted only spending a short time with his marefriend, waking up early the next day, refreshed, was more important. He spent two hours on drills before breakfast, and then headed to the natatorium. The building housing the swimming pools wasn’t as large as the main stadium, but there were still three thousand ponies in the stands.
He scanned the crowd, looking for his family. With ponies of so many colors, it was hard to spot the coats of his family, until he noticed a little blue bundle hovering in the air, waving. He smiled and returned Cirrus’ wave, and spotted the rest of his family near her.
The first event of the morning was the 100m freestyle, and Blue Seas was swimming. He headed to the board, looking to see what heat he drew—the first heat.
A horn sounded, and ponies trotted to the pool. He took his spot in Lane 6 and donned his horn blocker. He glanced over and nodded to Roller, in position in Lane 7. The announcer’s magically amplified voice identified the race details for the viewers.
Blue Seas’s heart pounded. First race, first heat. No pressure; it would only set the tone for his entire Games. He repeated the mantra. The pool is the same size. The race is the same form. He’d done this many times before. He could, no, he would swim well.
The next thing Blue Seas noticed, he had jumped into the pool. While he was thinking, the whistle had blown. Getting off the block was mostly instinct by now, but he briefly cursed himself for not paying more attention. It might only be a fraction of a second, but the lost time could mean the difference between advancing and not.
But he stopped thinking about what-ifs, and focused on the race. The water, the strokes, the form. Three more strokes, two, one, touch. Twist, turn, and stroke. He poured all his energy into the home stretch, legs kicking, his body pushing through the water. He placed one hoof on the wall, hooked his other foreleg over the edge of the pool, and pulled himself out of the water.
A panel on the starting block showed the four digits that would define his fate. 50.83. The number of seconds it took him to complete the race. To his left, he saw 48.55 in Roller’s lane. The well-toned earth pony came over and shook his hoof, following it with a fraternal embrace.
“Good job,” Roller said.
“I could have done better,” Blue Seas replied.
“Fortunately, you only needed to do good this time. You have the semifinals to do better.”
“Do you think my time is good enough?” Blue Seas asked. He watched as the times for the eight racers in the first heat were posted on a large board. Despite magic being used to time the swimmers, this step was still done manually. Blue Seas was third of the eight, and he needed to be among the top sixteen to advance to the semifinals.
“It should be good enough,” Roller observed. “You need to swim well to qualify for the semifinals. Then you need to swim better to make the finals. And in the finals, you need to swim even better.”
“I don’t think I’ll have a chance of beating you,” Blue Seas said.
“Don’t get yourself down. This is my best event. My earth pony heritage really shines here.”
Roller and Blue Seas stepped to the sidelines as ponies gathered for the second heat. In less than a minute, each of the ponies finished their race. But that minute felt a lot longer.
“Are you feeling nervous?” Roller asked.
“Always. Even when I’m in the top slot, I worry.”
Blue Seas couldn’t see the times of the swimmers from where he stood, but he had a clear view of the board with the results. He watched as the results from the second heat were posted. His own ranking slid from third to fifth.
The swimmer from Ponyville started pacing nervously. With each heat completing, he dreaded seeing the results. But he couldn’t turn away.
After the seventh heat, Blue Seas was in thirteenth place. The final heat included only six swimmers, but one of them was Azure Spark. Roller, Sea Star, and Wave Crasher jumped to their hooves, cheering and shouting encouragements to their friend.
He stood up as well. “Go for it, Azure Spark!” he cheered.
Azure Spark made short work of his competition. As soon as he was out of the water, he tore off his horn blocker and trotted over to his friends. “How’d you do?” Roller asked him.
“You’ll see,” he replied with a smile. Roller was still atop the standings, but for now, only Azure Spark knew if he swam faster.
The results from the final heat were posted. Azure Spark’s name was placed second; Roller smirked. Blue Seas watched as his name was moved to the fourteenth slot. The scorekeeper had another name marker in his hoof. He moved it to the board, and put it in the sixteenth slot.
“Results for the first round of the 100m freestyle swimming race are now final,” the announcer called.
Blue Seas released the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding.
“Are you doing anything tonight?” Sea Star asked.
Blue Seas shook his head. “I need the rest.” He stretched out on his bed and flipped through a notebook. A glass of water rested on the nightstand, amidst a sea of souvenirs and gift bags.
“Agreed,” Sea Star replied.
It was the evening of the fifth day of the Equestria Games. Tomorrow was the finals for all the swimming events, and Blue Seas had made the finals of two events.
“What are you looking over?” Sea Star asked.
“It’s a logbook of all my times from the Games, practice as well as events. I’m trying to see if I even have a chance.”
“Of course you have a chance,” Sea Star said. “We don’t just give out medals, we swim first.”
Blue Seas just sighed and flipped a page.
“Let me try again,” Sea Star said. “You came into the Games thinking you couldn’t beat me, right?”
Blue Seas nodded.
“Well, I’m in the finals of six events tomorrow. That means I’ll be watching from the sidelines for six other events that I competed in. And that includes the 200m breaststroke.”
Blue Seas nodded. That was one of his two finals tomorrow.
“I fell out of rhythm in the semifinals, and I was punished for it. Tomorrow, I’ll remember to not lose focus. Just remember, nothing is guaranteed. Except for Fillydelphia in the relay tomorrow.”
Blue Seas chuckled. The Fillydelphia relay team, which featured Wave Crasher, Azure Spark, Roller, and an earth pony swimmer who was impressive in his own right, had an insurmountable time advantage over their nearest competitor in their first race.
“I’ll need to be my best,” Blue Seas said. “Maybe better than that. I swam a personal best in the 100m butterfly, and still didn’t make the semifinals.”
Sea Star looked over Blue Seas’s withers, checking out the times he had recorded. “Your best time was about six seconds slower than your best time in the freestyle?”
Blue Seas checked the numbers. “Yeah.”
“That’s a differential you should be able to close with practice. Try for three to four seconds.”
“I will. Problem is, I need to work with an experienced swimming coach.”
“Open Water. I’m sure you can work with him.”
“Yeah.” Blue Seas started thinking about the details. Would Open Water be available for lessons? Could he find the time, with all his work at home? Could he afford it?
“Just do your best tomorrow. I’ll be cheering for you when I’m not racing you,” Sea Star said.
“Likewise,” Blue Seas said.
“And try to get some rest.”
As chance had it, Blue Seas’s finals were the first and last event of the day. The 200m freestyle didn’t go well for him. He was slow off the block and lost focus before the third turn. The only reason he finished seventh is because one of the other swimmers withdrew with an injury.
Throughout the day, Blue Seas cheered on his fellow swimmers. He watched as his fellow half-seaponies collected several medals, and by the fourth race, he could hum along with the Fillydelphia anthem.
Finally, the final event was announced. Blue Seas trotted over and checked his draw—Lane 6. He took it as a sign; he advanced to his first semifinals in this lane. He watched the competition. Azure Spark was in Lane 2, Wave Crasher was in Lane 3, and their relay teammate was in Lane 8. And while he had only met them in passing, Blue Seas recognized the other four to be talented swimmers.
Focus. He imagined the perfect dive into the pool. He would start with a smooth entry into the water and kick, breaking the surface. He pictured the movements of his legs, the rules that must be observed to avoid disqualification. Through muscle and will, he would fight the drag of his body in the water and reach the opposite wall. He envisioned the perfect turn.
The announcer spoke, and Blue Seas focused. He heard the whistle, and dove into the pool.
Everything went perfectly. He quickly traversed the length of the pool, turned, and returned. His lungs burned. He adjusted his speed for the third leg so as not to wear himself down. He wanted to go all out on the last leg.
Focusing only on his own lane, Blue Seas tapped the wall and turned into the final leg. He kicked his legs in the froglike movement of the breaststroke. He poured as much speed as he could into his legs. The wall approached. One more kick, and he slammed his front hooves onto the wall.
Blue Seas pulled himself out of the water and looked around. Wave Crasher and Azure Spark had both bested him, but there were two others who had exited the pool at around the same time. He checked his time. 2:14.58. It was his best time by three seconds. But looking over at the other lanes, there were four times faster than his.
He went over and shook hooves with Wave Crasher. “Congratulations.” He turned to Azure Spark. “You too.”
“You as well,” Azure Spark replied. “You did very good. I have no doubt you’ll win soon.”
“Yeah. Maybe I’ll get the gold later, but you’ve earned it today. Go on.”
For the last time that day, Blue Seas watched from the sidelines. The routine was familiar. At the far end of the natatorium were the risers. The three swimmers walked over and climbed into position. The flags were hoisted. The anthem played. The dignitary arrived with the medals. The unicorn prince levitated the medals onto the victors’ necks, and nodded in approval.
At this distance, he couldn’t make out any details. But he could picture himself standing there one day.
“Where are your medals, Sea Star?”
Back at the room, Blue Seas noticed something absent. There was no sign of the gold medal and two bronze medals Sea Star had earned.
“The ones we were given are temporary. We go offstage, so to speak, and return them. The real medals come later, with your name and the event inscribed on them.”
“Oh.” Now that he mentioned it, Blue Seas recalled something like that from orientation. “I’m beat.”
“Agreed. I’m going to sleep twelve hours tonight. But tomorrow.... Do you have your formal wear?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, I have a tuxedo that Rarity made me,” Blue Seas said.
“Rarity? Isn’t that a big name designer?”
“Yes, but she’s still one of Ponyville’s seamstresses. And when she learned that, for some reason, athletes needed formal wear, she insisted on giving me a tuxedo.” He shrugged. “Seems like a waste. Next year, I won’t be able to fit in it.”
“Giving?” Sea Star sputtered.
“Yeah. Even after passing on her Element, she’s still generous to a fault.”
“Mine’s rented,” Sea Star mentioned, motioning to his closet. “Have you been wondering why you brought it?”
“Now that you mention it, yes. There were all those little parties, but none of them were very formal.”
“Tomorrow’s the best day of the Equestria Games,” Sea Star said. “There’s just the one event, the marathon. Then there are the closing ceremonies, and after that, we’re free to mingle with the crowds. And then, in the evening, there’s the real party.”
“I’ve heard ponies talking about it. What’s it like?”
“It’s awesome. Very fancy, like the Grand Galloping Gala. Great food and drink. Every athlete is invited, and there’s a very select guest list. And since no one’s competing the next day, you can party all night.”
“I guess that’s why my train home leaves at 2:00 PM, right?” Blue Seas said with a laugh.
The morning sun shined gently over the stadium on the final day of the Equestria Games. Blue Seas stood with the other athletes from Ponyville, positioned much like they stood during the opening ceremonies. But this time, they flanked the finish line of the marathon.
The stadium was filled nearly to capacity. The crowd murmured in anticipation. Finally, the pegasus spotters flew into the stadium, signaling the arrival of the runners. The crowd cheered. Blue Seas joined his fellow athletes in stomping their hooves.
Blue Seas craned his neck, looking out the stadium’s gate. Soon, the first runners could be seen running up the road, a pair of exhausted-looking earth ponies. They might have been ready to collapse, but they refused to do so before crossing the finish line. They strained, giving it their all, but one of the stallions crept ahead. He was the one to feel the ribbon cross his chest. A third runner approached, ahead of the rest of the pack, to claim third.
After several minutes of cheering and stomping, the crowd was growing tired. But they resumed whenever one of the remaining runners neared. It took nearly an hour for the last marathon runner to cross the finish line, and everypony supported him as loudly as the victor.
The final medals were delivered, and the total medal counts were revealed. Cloudsdale took first for the third time in the last six Games, their domination of the aerial events continuing. Fillydelphia was second, largely thanks to the efforts of Wave Crasher and friends. Vanhoover claimed third.
Next time, Blue Seas would help Ponyville earn one of the top three spots.
The closing ceremonies started with a few more speeches, but soon gave way to something worth watching. Performances by a dance troupe and a popular Baltimare band were followed by an artistic aerial display by a squadron of pegasi, their contrails augmented with unicorn magic. It was a fitting spectacle to conclude the best Equestria Games yet.
Once the applause died down, the crowds began to depart. On the stadium’s surface, volunteers were moving among the athletes, giving directions. “Carriages to the athletes’ village are available outside the south gate. If you want to meet the public, we are asking you to gather in the designated spot for your town. Look for your flag. There are also maps here and here that will direct you.”
Blue Seas joined the exodus, and searched the air for the familiar flag with two ponies rampant surrounding a heart. He spotted it, and he also spotted his little sister, hovering in the air and keeping watch for him.
He waved, and she flew straight for him. He embraced Cirrus, and she didn’t let go. He awkwardly walked on three legs to join the rest of his family.
“Congratulations,” Golden Harvest said.
“You did well, son,” Golden Grain added.
“But I didn’t get a medal,” Blue Seas protested.
“Did you swim your best?” his father asked.
“Did you cheer the other swimmers and congratulate the winners?”
“Well, yeah, but....”
“Then you’ve won in my book.”
“Thanks, Dad.” There was no reason to continue protesting when he had a family to greet. A large family meant plenty of hugs to go around.
“Are you heading back today?” Blue Seas asked.
“Yes, dear. My carrots miss me,” his mother said.
“A week away from the farm is a lot, but it was worth it,” his father added.
“I’ll be back late tomorrow. Guess I’ll have a lot of chores to catch up on.”
“Don’t be silly, son,” Golden Grain replied. “We’ll give you at least a few hours to rest once you get back.”
“There’s something else,” Blue Seas said. “I’ve been talking with the other swimmers I met, and I think I might want to visit them one day. Go under the water with them. Just for a visit.”
“Maybe some time in winter,” his mother suggested hesitantly.
“I understand,” Blue Seas replied.
He saw Pumpkin Cake approach. He met her with a quick nuzzle. “Are you heading home too?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “I’m so glad I got to see you swim.”
“And I’m happy you came. And also happy I got to try your MMMM cake.
“Yeah! That was the best cake ever!” Cirrus interjected.
“Cirrus!” Blue Seas yelled.
“Cirrus, stop eavesdropping on your brother,” Golden Harvest warned. “But you’re right. That was the best cake ever.”
Blue Seas smiled. “You should make that cake more often.”
“Make it your wedding cake!” Cirrus suggested.
Golden Grain pulled his daughter out of the air and away from the two unicorns. Pumpkin Cake smiled. “She sure is energetic!”
“Yeah. And a total hoofful. I’ll be back tomorrow evening. See you at the train station?”
Pumpkin Cake kissed him. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Dressed in his new tuxedo, Blue Seas had to admit he looked sharp. Rarity’s expert tailoring accented his physique and drew the eye to his toned barrel. He finished brushing his mane and looked over to his roommate.
“Are you finally done?” Sea Star asked. “I never thought somepony who lived on a farm could take that long to get dressed.”
“We’ve still got.....” Blue Seas glanced at the clock. “One minute. Let’s go!”
They had planned to meet Wave Crasher and the others at 6:30 to catch a carriage. The three of them were waiting, along with the earth pony who made up the fourth member of the Fillydelphia relay team.
“Wellspring, this is Sea Star, from Baltimare, and Blue Seas, from Ponyville,” Wave Crasher said.
“Nice to meet you,” Wellspring said.
Blue Seas looked at the swimmer; he was not much older than him. “Was this your first Equestria Games?”
“Yes. And it showed. I did terribly except when these guys carried me.”
“You earned your place on the relay team, Wellspring, and you didn’t let us down,” Roller said.
“Let’s get going,” Azure Spark urged.
The six of them hopped into one of the larger carriages, pulled by two ponies. It was a long trip; the tall buildings of Baltimare faded into the distance as they headed to a more sparsely settled part of the region. Blue Seas also noticed to smell of the ocean growing more prominent.
Soon, the road wandered up a hill. The carriage paused at a gatehouse; a wrought iron fence stretched in both directions. From where they sat, no home was visible.
“This place has got to be huge!” Roller commented.
After the pony at the gate checked them in, they proceeded. They finally saw an enormous estate appear. Four stories tall in places and broad, the estate easily dwarfed the largest home in Ponyville, the Rich manor. Several pavilion tents were set up on the front lawn of the estate. To the right, the road led down to the shore and a boathouse; several yachts were moored there.
“Sometimes they have these parties in a hotel, and that’s boring,” Wave Crasher said. “It’s a lot more fun when it’s held in some noble’s or rich businesspony’s home.”
“Whose place do you think this is?” Blue Seas asked.
“I love what you’ve done with the place,” Prince Blueblood told Full Sail.
“Thanks,” Full Sail replied. “Father is enjoying retirement, sailing his yacht around the Mareibbean Sea. And as soon as he gave me the estate, I decided to remodel to suit more modern tastes.” The filly at Prince Blueblood’s side snorted; the mare flanking her gave her a look. “But we can do the grand tour after introductions.”
Full Sail took his visitors to a private parlor, where a sturdy earth pony mare, dressed in an elegant aqua gown, waited. Blueblood recalled Full Sail’s wife from their wedding, but he hadn’t seen her since.
“Marina, you remember my good friend, Prince Blueblood, and his wife, Lady Capella. And this is their daughter, Princess Bluebell. Blueblood, Lady Capella, Princess, my wife Marina.”
“Charmed,” Marina replied.
“It is lovely to see you again,” Capella said.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Bluebell replied formally. She turned to her father. “I wish to mingle, and let you two catch up with your friends. Father, may I be excused?”
“Of course, dear,” Blueblood said.
Bluebell bowed and departed. Once out of earshot, Blueblood spoke to Full Sail. “She’s getting to the age where she likes to challenge me. And to make matters worse, she’s starting to notice colts. Can you make sure your servants keep an eye on her, and keep her out of trouble?”
“Of course,” Full Sail replied.
“I’d like to thank you again for hosting this celebration,” Blueblood said to his friend. “I say this in both my official capacity as nobles’ representative to the Equestria Games and as your friend.”
“Since you decided to start caring about something beyond your own house, supporting athletics was an excellent choice. I do recall how poorly the average noble family in Canterlot regards sports. And as an athlete myself, I’m happy to lend a hoof. Did I ever tell you about the time I scored four goals in the Academy hoofball championship?”
Blueblood rolled his eyes. “Only every chance you get.”
“There I was, representing Canterlot Academy against our arch-rival, The Manehattan School. Manehattan’s star defender towered above anypony on the field....” Full Sail stopped when he felt everypony in the room glaring at him. “Yes. Well, I suppose you’ve heard the story.”
“How is business going?” Blueblood asked.
“Splendidly. Trade with Bitaly, Prance, and the Bittish Isles continues to be the bread and butter of High Seas Trading. But we’ve recently opened trade routes with the camels of Mareocco. The rug you’re standing on? A hoofmade Mareoccan rug.”
“Lovely,” Capella said. “But I prefer the styles of the Zebrican lands.”
“If you convince enough of your noble friends to create a demand, then perhaps we shall sail there,” Full Sail replied.
“So how about the grand tour?” Marina offered.
“This place is incredible!” Blue Seas said.
“Stunning,” Azure Spark agreed.
“I believe we are in the home of the richest stallion in Baltimare,” Sea Star noted.
The wealth of the estate’s owner was ostentatiously displayed on its walls. The artifacts on the wall were exotic; Blue Seas did not recognize the style, but they were clearly from beyond Equestria’s shores.
“He’s not a noble, right?” Blue Seas asked.
“No, just obscenely wealthy,” Sea Star said.
“You guys can keep gawking. I’m hungry,” Roller said.
No matter where one stood in the large ballroom, some station with food or drink was visible. Small tables were positioned through the room, encouraging ponies to gather and chat over drinks and appetizers. Blue Seas spotted sandwiches and salads, but he went looking for something different. He took a plate in his magical aura and started browsing.
From one table, Blue Seas found something that was called a salad, but was just a thick slab of tomato topped with mozzarella cheese and basil. He added a potato puff and a fruit tart.
He noticed a lacquered screen set up near one corner of the room, blocking something from easy view. He trotted over, and first spotted a leonine tail. Several griffon athletes were in this corner, and a griffon wearing a chef’s toque stood, knife and fork in his talons. On this station was a food Blue Seas had never seen before. But he was positive it was chicken.
“They really do have everything here,” he muttered, heading to a table near where he had separated from the others.
The half-seaponies gathered. Sea Star was the last to return; he was smiling. “They have everything here! Come on!”
“What? What did you find?” Wave Crasher asked.
“Just come on! You too, Blue Seas.”
Curious, Blue Seas followed his friends. Sea Star pointed to a table with plates of something he didn’t recognize. The food items were small rectangles with two layers. The bottom looked like rice. The top was... pink. The whole thing was wrapped with a thin slice of something deep green.
“What is it?” Blue Seas asked.
“Sushi,” Sea Star mumbled around the two pieces he had popped into his mouth.
“It’s a Neighponese dish made with rice, seaweed, and any of a number of other ingredients,” Azure Spark explained.
“What is the pink stuff?” Blue Seas asked.
“Looks like tuna,” Roller said. He popped a piece into his mouth. “Yes, tuna.”
“Tuna? Isn’t that a fish?”
“Yeah,” Roller replied.
Blue Seas felt a little queasy, just like when he spotted the chicken.
“Blue Seas, just what do you think seaponies eat?” Wave Crasher said.
“We do eat some kelp and seaweed, but most of our diet is fish and other marine animals,” Wave Crasher said. “If you want to visit the seapony lands, you’re either going to eat fish, or you’re going to starve.”
Azure Spark levitated a piece of sushi onto Blue Seas’s plate. “Try it.”
Blue Seas stared at the mystery food. It had an off smell to it, like the ocean, but wrong.
“You don’t need to be a seapony to enjoy sushi. Ponies from Neighpon eat it all the time,” Azure Spark said. “Look.”
Blue Seas followed where Azure Spark was pointing. A group of ponies was gathered around one table, happily eating fish. They spoke in an unfamiliar language, and possessed cutie marks that were black pictographs, rather than pictures.
“A swimmer like you couldn’t possibly be afraid of a little fish, could you?” Roller taunted. He tapped a hoof on Blue Seas’s plate.
“Try it,” the others chorused.
Blue Seas gulped and picked up the piece of sushi in his telekinetic aura. He closed his eyes and moved it into his mouth. He took a deep breath, and bit down on the strange food.
It tasted like... not much. He mostly noticed the textures. The rice was a sticky mass, but otherwise felt like cooked rice. The tuna was soft but held together, something like an overcooked mushroom. It felt strange when ground between his molars.
“So?” Roller asked.
“It was... not bad.”
The others cheered. “Your first seapony meal!” And before he could react, Blue Seas’s plate was loaded with many more varieties of sushi.
“I can’t believe I ate all of that,” Blue Seas moaned. A dozen plates littered the small table, along with a number of small ceramic cups that once held warm rice wine. Blue Seas couldn’t even get through a small piece of chocolate cake after his meal.
“At least you can say you’ve sampled most of the fish eaten in Atlantis,” Wave Crasher said.
“What was that one that felt like chewing rubber?”
“Squid? Yeah, you really want seapony teeth before eating that,” Wave Crasher noted.
“Now what?” Roller asked.
“Looks like dancing,” Sea Spark said. A band, more than a string quartet but not a full orchestra, was setting up their instruments on stage.
“I say we go to the tent outside,” Azure Spark suggested. “I spotted a DJ booth there.”
Blue Seas’s stomach rumbled. “I’ll join you later. I’ve got something else to attend to.”
“Take your time,” Wave Crasher said with a laugh.
Blue Seas felt bad about using the facilities in the palatial estate. Sure, it was what they were designed for, but everything was so clean and beautiful and... and large! He hated to upset the scent of perfume and fresh flowers. But some matters just couldn’t wait.
By the time he finished, the band was close to performing. He spotted two couples working the crowd, one earth pony and one unicorn. The unicorn couple was closer. He recognized the white coat and blond mane of the stallion; it was the prince who was working with the Games. He was dressed in a fine tuxedo, with a distinctive red rose boutonniere. He spoke briefly with the athletes, getting their name and city, and thanking them for representing their hometown in the Equestria Games.
There was something familiar about this stallion. Now that he was closer, his eyes were drawn to his muzzle. The angles were familiar.
Blue Seas saw them in the mirror every day.
The stallion approached him and offered his hoof. “A good evening to you, young stallion. What is your name, and from where do you hail?”
Blue Seas held his breath as he looked at the stallion’s cutie mark. It was something he had seen only in an image, but that image was burned into his mind. A compass rose.
Blue Seas gasped. “Father?”
The stallion’s eyes widened. “Blue Seas?”