• Published 24th May 2013
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Like a Pegasus in a Pottery Shop - Fifths



A world-renowned flight master is passing through Ponyville, and Rainbow Dash wants to score some lessons from him. He's going to need a favor before he'll teach her or anypony else, however.

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Chapter 2

II

By midmorning, Ponyville’s market was at full bustle with stalls of harvest goodness stocked and open for business. There were strawberries and sweet corn, cucumbers, parsnips, pickled beets, and parsley. There was a warty, yellow stallion selling warty, yellow squash, and outside Sugarcube Corner, the Cakes’ stall groaned under the weight of pies, muffins, cheese breads, bagels, and scones studded with raisins and walnuts. The sound of haggling was constant, but the rains had been kind, so it was all good-tempered enough. Well, mostly; a sweet, old grandmother who had come to the market to sell her knitting found herself moderating a small but violent bidding war over her last pumpkin stamped quilt.

Standing at a stall overflowing with fresh apples of red and green, whistling a few bars from some old country diddy was Applejack. Applejack loved market day; there was nothing quite so satisfying as watching the fruit of her hard work going to feed the families of her friends and neighbors… and the bits were pretty nice, too. Applejack saw a thin, little stick of a pegasus colt come trotting through the marketplace, his yellow backpack bouncing as he half-galloped, half-fluttered down the path towards the schoolhouse. He seemed familiar, and Applejack thought she might have seen him hanging around Apple Bloom and her friends a time or two. The colt paused at her stall and took a whiff of the fruit’s pleasant aroma.

“Morning there, kiddo! You hungry?” Applejack asked. “Have an apple. They’ll help you become a big, strong flier.”

The colt looked up at her. “Think so?”

“Know so! My one friend eats these apples all the time, and she’s the best flier I know, heck, probably one of the best in Equestria.”

He cocked his head and squinted. “Hmm, you mean it?”

Applejack opened her mouth to answer, but stopped dead as she saw what must have been a few dozen pegasi come rounding hard out of an alleyway and down towards the market. Applejack squinted to see what had them in such a rush, but all she could make out was a tiny, shimmering blur of gold leading them on. It took them over the rooftops, lacing through rain gutters and around chimneys, before dropping down to knot around the buildings and stalls. The golden thing went soaring over the market and made a sharp turn that caused nearly a third of the pegasi trailing it to spin out in the attempt to follow. They recovered from where they had crashed into roofs and treetops, grunting and shaking their heads, and went chasing off after the others.

When the flock came by for a second pass over the market, Applejack noticed at the head was none other than Rainbow Dash, teeth gritted and nostrils flared. Dash was perpetually catching up to the mysterious golden thing, but every time her hooves came close to nabbing it, her quarry would lose her by making another tight turn or flying through a squeeze that Dash would have to detour around.

Applejack watched Dash and the other pegasi fly up, up, up, and then slip into a steep nose dive after the golden blur. Dash was getting closer… closer… closer… but so was the ground. She was less than a hoof’s length away from the gold thing when it flipped, passed right through Dash’s outstretched forelegs, and escaped by flying under her. Dash began to turn after it, but she was too close to the earth to stop all the momentum she had built. Applejack winced as Rainbow Dash bowled straight into Golden Harvest’s stall. A dull thud resonated as the stand collapsed and sent carrots flying everywhere. The other pegasi behind her had enough space to avoid the same fate and went tearing after the golden blur as it whizzed off towards the country.

“Uh… tell you what, kid.” Applejack took a green apple and popped it into the colt’s mouth. “On the house.” She left the young pegasus happily chewing and trotted over to her disheveled friend.

“Sparrow,” Rainbow Dash groaned, shaking a carrot out of her ear. She got slowly to her hooves and gazed dazedly at Applejack. Then her eyes suddenly snapped back to awareness.

“SPARROW!” she said, spreading her wings and taking to the air.

“Hold on there, sugarcube!” Applejack leaped and bit onto Dash’s tail to keep her from zipping off. She tasted sawdust and plaster in the hair, and Applejack could have sworn there was even a hint of powdered cement; Golden Harvest’s stall must not have been first thing Dash had crashed into today.

“Let go, Applejack! I gotta catch him before the others do!” Dash tried to pull away, but AJ planted her hooves and held fast.

“Keep this up and the only thing you’re gonna catch is another trip to the hospital,” Applejack mumbled through her clenched teeth. “Now just set down a minute and tell me what’s going on.”

“No time to explain,” Dash grunted, fighting against her anchor. “I need to catch that sparrow!”

“Sparrow?” Applejack said. “So that thing you were chasing was some kinda bird?”

“Well he sure wasn’t a fish! I need to catch him so I can get flying lessons from Gerard Goldenwings.”

“Gera-what now?” Applejack asked. Then she remembered the strange newcomer she’d glimpsed early that morning when she was carting into town. “Oh, you mean that griffin fella with the funny-lookin’ scarf?”

“No!” Rainbow Dash gave up the fight and landed. Applejack cautiously released her tail, but slipped a hoof over it just in case. “I mean Gerard Goldenwings, one of the greatest flight masters the world has ever known! He told us a couple hours ago that he would give flying lessons to whoever caught his bird, so–”

“Hold up a minute,” Applejack said. “Are you telling me that you’ve been chasing that little fella all morning, and you still haven’t caught him?”

Dash scowled and turned away.

“Hahahaha!” Applejack couldn't help herself. “Well shoot, Rainbow! I never thought I’d live to see the day they found a critter that could outfly you! What’s wrong, you finally startin’ to slow down on me, old girl?”

“Of course not!” Dash snapped, a very faint shade of pink blooming under the blue of her cheeks. “I’m faster than ever! That bird wouldn’t stand a chance against me in an open stretch! I’m sure of it! It’s just… you know… he’s got all these fancy tricks and maneuvers…”

“Right, right, I get it.” Applejack managed to reign in her laughter, but she still had a lopsided smirk. “You’re not slow, you were just outsmarted by a bird.”

“Yea! Wait wha-? no... what I... no... you...” she mouthed a few more indignant squeaks and syllables that grew in pitch and volume until she finally overloaded with a frustrated snort.

Applejack burst into another bout of laughter at that and gave Dash a pat on the shoulder. “Oh, don’t feel bad, Rainbow, I do get it. Critter-corrallin’ can be pretty tough for the uninitiated. But hey, listen up: promise me you won't go pulling any more dangerous stunts, and maybe I can give you a few tips.”

Dash had a sour expression, but it evaporated as her eyes lit up with a devilish gleam. “I’ve got a better idea! Why don’t you help me catch him? There’s no way that sparrow will stand any chance against Ponyville’s two greatest athletes!”

Applejack crossed her hooves. “You know I ain’t gonna help you cheat, Dash.”

“Cheat? Who said this was a contest?”

“What else would you call a bunch of ponies racing against each other for a prize?”

“No no no no no no no,” Dash said sweetly; much, much too sweetly. “We’re not racing, we’re just helping Gerard get his pet back. It’s not like this is some secret test or something silly like that.”

Applejack arched an eyebrow.

“Here, just come on. I’ll explain on the way,” Dash said as she began to push a reluctant Applejack along.

“Hey!” a voice shouted after them. The pair turned to see Golden Harvest galloping over to where she had left her stall. She stomped about the wreckage, jaw grinding open and shut and orange mane bouncing.

“What the– how did–” she stuttered, hooves tripping over scattered carrots. “AND WHO’S GOING TO PAY FOR THIS?!” She turned on the two nearest ponies she could find, Applejack and Rainbow Dash, the latter of whom still had some carrot leaves tangled in her mane.

Rainbow Dash and Applejack exchanged looks.

“Uh…”

“Excuse me, madame.” The three looked and saw none other than Gerard Goldenwings walking through the market, a basket tucked under one of his powerful wings. Dash gasped and started wordlessly poking Applejack and pointing at him.

“I see him, sugarcube,” Applejack said, taking a step away from her.

Golden Harvest gaped at the big creature approaching and instinctively shied back when he took a sweeping bow before her. “I am so sorry about your stall. My friend was only doing me a favor when she crashed into it, so I believe the fault is mine.”

“He called me his friend!” Rainbow Dash squeaked. Applejack suppressed a groan.

“Allow me to recompense you your damages.” Gerard unfolded his left wing and took his basket. Rainbow Dash shuttered to see the burgundy and gold feathers spread and gleaming in the sun. “Will three hundred bits cover it?” Gerard asked, pulling a fat purse from the basket.

Golden Harvest’s eyes darted between the fearsome griffin and his money as she tried to find her words. “Oh no, that’s much too much,” she stammered.

“Nonsense, you work hard.” Gerard placed the purse in her hoof and gathered up some of the scattered carrots into his wicker basket. He kept one to snack on and began to walk away to tour the rest of the market.

“Ferris is quite elusive, eh Rainbow Dash?” Gerard snapped a bite out of the carrot as he strode smoothly past her and Applejack. “Are you sure you can catch him?”

“Oh, I’ll get him, sir. Don’t you worry.” Dash brought hoof to forehead in salute. Once Gerard was out of earshot, she turned to Applejack and said, “Alright come on, let’s go.”

Applejack planted her flank down. “Well ain’t you something else, Rainbow? That griffin goes out of his way to save your rump, and you go and thank him by cheating at his contest.”

“It’s NOT a contest!” Dash cried. “Me and those other ponies are just trying to help out Gerard. Just because the winner—uh, I mean the best helper—gets to learn some awesome new flight tricks doesn’t make it a contest.”

Applejack gazed at her in silence.

“Look, he didn’t say it was a contest so it isn’t one, okay?” Dash said. “Now are you going to help me or not?”

“Still seems kinda fishy…”

Rainbow Dash looked ready to argue further, but instead she just sighed. “Alright, fine, I get it,” she said. “You know, Applejack, if you don’t think you can do it, you can just say so.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“I know the real reason you won’t help,” Dash said. “You don’t think you can do it, do you?”

“Don’t be silly, of course I-”

“No, stop. I won’t make you lie to me anymore, Applejack. Just remember what we told you outside Dodge Junction, okay? You’re still our friend even if you aren’t any good at the rodeo stuff.” Rainbow Dash began to slowly march away. She turned to glance expectantly back at Applejack every few steps.

Applejack narrowed her green eyes. She knew she was getting baited, but she didn’t care. “You want your bird, you’re gonna get your bird.” Applejack spat and pulled her hat down tight over her head. “That sparrow might’ve been able to outpace you, but there ain’t never gonna be no critter that can outfly my rope. Now come on.”

Applejack lay in wait in a meadow just outside of Ponyville, her rope held taut between hooves and jaw. On its face, the plan was very simple: Rainbow Dash would chase the sparrow out this way and herd him down towards AJ on the ground. When the bird was in range, Applejack would snag him with her lasso. She wasn't sure how all the other pegasi were going to factor in however, and any plan involving Dash meant you were playing with a deck packing at least a few wild cards.

Just as Applejack began to suspect Rainbow might have hit a snag, she heard the rustle of flapping wings coming from behind. She looked back, and sure enough, the flock of pegasi with a fleck of gold at their nose came flying towards her. As they drew close, AJ could begin to actually make out some of the bird’s features like the shape of his body and his beak, but the wings remained a shimmering, golden blur. Applejack began to gallop as she worked her rope into a spinning lasso.

Rainbow Dash let another pegasus take the lead following directly behind the sparrow while she maneuvered herself to bear down on him from above. Rainbow Dash looked down and caught Applejack’s eye, and the two nodded at each other. Rainbow Dash began to descend, forcing the sparrow to fly down as well.

“Closer, closer,” Applejack muttered, waiting for the right moment. Finally when the bird was perfectly in line, she sent the rope flying. The sparrow dove, and the lasso’s knot caught only air before falling limply to the ground.

“What’s that earth pony doing?” one of the pegasi called out. “Is… Is she trying to catch the sparrow?”

“Hey down there, are you nuts? Leave Gerard’s reward for somepony who isn’t married to the dirt.”

“Yeah, isn’t there a plough somewhere that needs pulling? Get outta here.”

Applejack ignored them, already readying her lasso for another shot at the bird. She released again, and this time the sparrow managed to playfully loop through and around the enclosing snare twice before gracefully escaping its grasp. Applejack jerked the rope back and worked it into another lasso. Third time’s a charm.

“Bug off!” One of the pegasi dropped out of the flock and skidded his legs across the earth, kicking up a cloud of dust to obscure Applejack’s vision. He was too late, however, as Applejack had already released the rope and set it on its trajectory. The lasso disappeared into the dust cloud and pulled tight around something.

“Ha!” Applejack barked in triumph and dug her hooves into the ground. The force behind the rope almost threatened to pull her along, but she held steady. As the dust began to clear, however, Applejack saw the flock of pegasi racing off westward with the golden fleck still leading them on.

“Shoot!” Applejack said. She was sure she had it there! But if the sparrow escaped, then...

AJ’s eyes followed her rope up into a nearby tree where it was bound around an upside down Rainbow Dash’s midsection, her limbs spread and held at awkward angles by the branches. Applejack took off her hat and covered her muzzle.

There ain’t never gonna be no critter that can outfly my rope,” Rainbow Dash mocked in a bad country accent. She struggled to get free of the branches, but they had her bound up tight.

“Yeah, looks like I might’ve been wrong about that.” Applejack walked over to the base of the tree and gave it a good, solid buck.

“Ahhhhhhh!” Dash fell from the tree in a mockery of her usual aerial grace and hit the ground with an oompf.

“Guess it can still outfly you, though,” Applejack said as she undid the knot around Rainbow Dash. Dash gave herself a shake when she was free, ridding herself of the twigs and leaves stuck in her coat and mane.

“That thing’s too quick, Rainbow Dash,” AJ said, coiling the rope around her foreleg. “I’ve never seen anything move like that before, and I don’t think he’s even taking this whole thing seriously. He’s just playing with you. There’s no way anypony’s gonna catch that bird, let alone keep hold of him.”

“No!” Rainbow Dash said, grinding her hoof in the dirt. “I just need to try harder!” She spread her wings and flew off after the others.

Applejack frowned after her friend. “Best of luck, sugarcube,” she said and started back to her stand in the marketplace.

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