• Published 29th Oct 2014
  • 3,825 Views, 267 Comments

Better than the Best - BronyDad

Rainbow Dash convinces Twilight to enter a flying pairs competition with her.

  • ...

Pressure Building

Chapter 4

Pressure Building

Her blood running cold, Twilight looked down to see that the lift had stopped and was swaying precariously. Rarity, Applejack, and Pinkie were lying on their stomachs and desperately clinging to the platform.

"Don't panic," Overwatch quickly instructed. "Remain still and help will be here shortly."

Just then two Griffons rushed toward the lift. The first hovered over the platform while the second positioned himself behind it. The three mares collectively sighed with relief as the platform steadied.

"You girls all right?" the Griffon asked from above.

As the mares affirmed that they were, the two Griffons began to push the lift along the wire.

Suddenly, Twilight felt Fluttershy begin to shudder.

Due to the excitement beneath them, Fluttershy had opened her eyes and was now staring at the ground far below in horror. As Twilight watched, Fluttershy began to whimper piteously, and then she unexpectedly squeezed Twilight's hoof so tight that she winced.

"You're going to be fine," Twilight coaxed through gritted teeth as she moved in front of her friend to block her view of the ground. She pointed to the ledge that the lift was quickly approaching. "Just watch that ledge and don't look down. I know you can do it."

Fluttershy swallowed hard and nodded. Turning her gaze toward the ledge, she stared at it determinedly and began to move forward.

"You're doing awesome, Fluttershy," Rainbow said. "Just a little further."

When they reached the ledge, Twilight and Rainbow helped Fluttershy land gently before coming down beside her.

"Great job, Fluttershy!" Rainbow exclaimed, holding a hoof into the air.

While Fluttershy bumped Rainbow's hoof, Twilight stepped forward and nuzzled her affectionately. "I'm so proud of you."

Fluttershy smiled sweetly as her cheeks began to glow, but then she turned at the sound of the lift landing behind them. The Griffon that had been holding the platform steady held out a clawed hand as the three mares stood.

"Oh, uh...thank ya kindly." Applejack smiled as she allowed him to help her off the lift.

As the Griffon helped Pinkie and Rarity down, the other landed before Twilight and bowed deeply. "I'm terribly sorry for the fright that we have caused your friends. Unfortunately, the cranks sometimes stick and we have to move the lifts manually."

"It's okay," Twilight replied, staring at the back of the Griffon's head and wishing that he would straighten. "You can't control when something like that will happen, and you got there quickly enough to avoid any harm coming to them."

The Griffon stood and smiled, but as he turned his attention to the ambassador, his smile faltered.

"You heard the princess," Overwatch stated. "Due to her grace, you will not be reprimanded, but this had better never happen again."

"Yes, sir. Of course, sir." The Griffon bowed to Twilight once again. "Thank you, Your Majesty."

The two hastily returned to the lift and started pushing it back toward the opposite side.

"I must apologize for this inconvenience as well," Overwatch said with a bow. "I am veritably embarrassed. This platform is the personal lift of the governor, and is supposed to be serviced regularly."

"It's okay," Twilight repeated. She was beginning to feel uncomfortable with the situation. How many times did they need to bow and apologize?

"Oh, please don't worry yourself so," Rarity chimed in.

"Yeah," Applejack added, "we're just plum grateful that help came so quickly."

"It was probably because Applejack makes such a great damsel in distress!" Pinkie giggled.

"I do not!" Applejack snapped, throwing a nasty look at Rainbow as the Pegasus suddenly burst out laughing.

"Oh, come on, A.J.," Rainbow teased, wiping a tear from her eye. "You were screaming louder than Rarity!"

While the others laughed at Applejack's expense, Overwatch straightened and slowly shook his head. "You girls truly are something special." He met Twilight's gaze and smiled. "Governor Gideon will most certainly enjoy your company."

Heartened by Overwatch's words, Twilight returned his smile. They were getting along just fine with the ambassador, and if Governor Gideon was anything like him, maybe this breakfast wouldn't be so bad after all.

Ahead of them was a large cave opening. Inside was a long blue rug with gold trimming that ran the length of the cave, and several stone statues of various Griffon figures were lined along both sides. As Twilight trotted between the statues, she noticed that each one had the Griffon's name etched onto a bronze plaque, and realized that they must have been carved in honor of the past governors. The blue rug ended in front of an enormous statue of a Griffon standing on his hind legs with a drawn sword, the tip of the blade resting on the base. With his two clawed hands resting casually over the hilt, he gazed intently down the hall, as though judging if all who passed below were worthy of proceeding. A large detailed crown sat atop his head, completing the majestic feel of the piece.

Applejack stared up at the regal piece, her mouth hung open and eyes wide in wonder. "Who do ya reckon he is?"

Pinkie hopped forward and read from the plaque. "Prince Zephyr."

"Oh yes," Rarity nodded. "He is the ruler of the Griffon Nation."

Applejack frowned. "I think I've heard of him..."

"I'm sure you have," Twilight told her. "He's ruled the Griffon Nation for nearly as long as Princess Celestia has ruled Equestria."

"He's really that old?" Rainbow asked.

Fluttershy smiled at her friend. "He is. He is also said to control the winds, most specifically the west wind, of the Griffon Nation, much like Princesses Celestia and Luna control the sun and moon."

Rainbow lifted off and hovered in front of the statue's face. "So, does he control the weather too?"

"He has for as long as the Griffon Nation has existed," Overwatch answered. He indicated a staircase carved into the rock on their right. "Governor Gideon awaits us upstairs."

The stairway was very long, and broad enough for two of them to walk side by side. Sunlight streamed in from several small circular openings cut into the rock wall on their right, and a pleasant sea breeze wafted through Twilight's mane.

Pinkie suddenly shoved her head through one of the openings. "Hey, I can see the ocean!"

"We must be around the backside of the mountain then," Rarity mused.

"Uh oh," Pinkie said.

"What's 'uh oh'?" Fluttershy asked, looking at her friend with concern.

"My head's stuck."

Applejack laughed. "Hold tight, sugar cube. I'll get ya out of there lickety-split." After a few hard tugs, she frowned. "Dang girl, you really are stuck."

Twilight pointed her horn at Pinkie. "Everypony, step back."

As her horn began to glow with a magenta aura, Pinkie abruptly disappeared in a flash of light and reappeared two feet to the left. Disoriented, she stumbled, but was held steady by Rarity and Fluttershy.

Pinkie rubbed her neck and smiled sheepishly. "Thanks."

Twilight chuckled. "You're welcome, Pinkie." Glancing over at Overwatch, she saw that he was grinning as well.

Encouraged by the fact that they were amusing the ambassador, Twilight continued up the stairs.

Her friends were so great. Twilight couldn't help but marvel at how they were taking such a stressful situation and making it fun. She was so glad that they had decided to come, and she knew that this breakfast would be a breeze with them by her side.

Up ahead, Twilight saw that the staircase curved around a corner, and as she rounded it, she came to a halt in front of a thick black cloth draped over the landing.

"You can go on in," Overwatch told her. "There is no need to announce yourself. Griffons are well known for their hospitality."

"Really?" Rarity blinked. "You can just walk right into their homes?"

"Indeed." Overwatch nodded. "Griffons not only welcome guests, but are delighted to receive them. In fact, our usage of doors baffles them."

Although it didn't feel right to just enter unannounced, Twilight knew that she could trust the ambassador. She pushed the curtain aside and stepped into what appeared to be a living area.

The room was so well furnished that it was difficult to believe that they were still in a cave. A plush, woven carpet that was adorned with intricate designs covered the floor, and a large golden chandelier fitted with several candles illuminated the room nicely. Several pieces of Pony art were displayed on the wall, and in the far corner of the room stood a small stone sculpture of a Pegasus in mid-flight.

As she gazed at the room around her, Twilight's eyes fell upon a large bookshelf. Scanning the numerous books, she discovered that it was full of Pony story books, novels, and every installment of the Daring Do series.

"Ah, Princess Twilight Sparkle! Welcome to my humble home!" a loud voice spoke from behind.

Twilight turned to find a Griffon with a black feathered face smiling pleasantly. He wore a finely tailored silk shirt and pants, and a thick gold necklace from which hung a small silver shield embellished with two swords.

"Um..." Twilight hesitated, unsure what she should say. "Hello, Governor Gideon. Thank you so much for inviting us to your home."

Governor Gideon bowed deeply. "It is my pleasure, Your Majesty."

"Ooh, so comfy!" Pinkie suddenly exclaimed.

With an inward groan, Twilight looked over her shoulder to find Pinkie rolling around on a padded couch.

"Pinkie!" Twilight cried, appalled. "Stop that!"

Pinkie hopped off of the couch and beamed brightly at Gideon. "I love your decor! It's so pretty!"

"Forget the decor! Your outfit is simply marvelous!" Rarity proclaimed.

"Why, thank you," Gideon replied, smiling at the two of them. He then indicated the stone archway behind him. "If you'd like to take a seat at the table, the food shall arrive shortly."

The dining room was huge, with a long table made of beautifully polished wood and surrounded by twenty chairs dominating it's center. Along the walls were more paintings, various expensive urns and vases, and a bust of Prince Zephyr. Behind the head of the table hung a large tapestry depicting the prince smiling warmly down upon a crowd of Griffons.

As Twilight paused to admire an earthenware vase with the flawless image of Princess Celestia painted upon it, Gideon stepped beside her. "If you haven't noticed yet, I hold a distinct fascination for Pony culture. Especially your art and literature."

Twilight smiled. The governor was proving to be as kind and agreeable as Overwatch. "It had crossed my mind, but I couldn't tell for certain." Watching Gideon chuckle softly at her remark, Twilight began to feel comfortable enough to lower her defenses.

Just then, a Griffon wearing golden armor and a blue cape entered the room. He studied them all with a stony gaze before silently taking a seat directly beside the head of the table.

"Ah, Ambassador Hans!" Gideon grinned. "Please meet Princess Twilight Sparkle. Princess Twilight, this is Ambassador Hans. He represents the Griffon Nation."

Remaining in his seat, Ambassador Hans slightly inclined his head. "Princess."

Twilight noticed the look of outrage on Overwatch's face. Quickly, she placed her hoof on Overwatch's shoulder, and gave him a pleading look.

After holding her gaze for a moment, Overwatch pulled a chair out for her. "Please, Your Majesty. Have a seat."

Twilight smiled as she sat and allowed him to push her chair in. She was touched by his willingness to defend her honor, but was very grateful that he hadn't caused a scene over it. Overwatch took his seat beside her, and straight across from Hans. On her other side sat Rarity and Fluttershy, and across the table sat Rainbow, Applejack, and Pinkie.

Twilight noticed that Hans watched her friends as they seated themselves with a scowl. Slowly, he turned his head toward her. "You certainly keep an...interesting entourage."

Although she felt a stab of indignation at his words, Twilight managed to keep her tone causal. "They're not my entourage. They're my friends." She looked at each of them in turn. "The best friends anypony could ever ask for."

"Well," Hans stated, leaning back in his chair, "you do seem to have all of your bases covered."

"And what, pray tell, is that supposed to mean?" Rarity asked heatedly.

Twilight patted her friend's leg under the table in the hopes of calming her. As she did so, she noticed Applejack catching Rarity's eye.

"Oh, just that no one can accuse her of favoring one Pony race over another since she claims to be such dear friends with ponies of all three races, and then she totes them around with her and places them on display as proof of her neutrality."

As she heard her friends begin to shout their protests, Twilight was unable to do anything more than stare at the ambassador.

Overwatch slammed his hooves against the table as he stood. "How dare you speak to the princess in such a way?!"

With a smirk, Hans crossed his talons over his chest. "Why don't you let your princess defend herself?"

At his words, Twilight's hooves began to shake as she felt her heart quicken. She had never been in a situation like this before, and didn't know how a princess was expected to react.

Should she defend her friendships, or should she just let the insult slide? Would she anger him and cause more strain on the relationship between Equestria and The Griffon Nation if she argued? Would she appear weak if she didn't defend herself? But then she noticed the smug look on Hans's face as he watched her, and a wave of anger suddenly swept away her anxiety. She would not allow him to insult her or her friends.

Twilight straightened her back and held her head high as she met Hans's gaze evenly. "The six of us were best friends long before I became a princess," Twilight replied. "I owe everything I have to them. In fact, I wouldn't even be a princess if it weren't for them."

"Ah, yes, Ambassador Overwatch mentioned that," Gideon said as he took his seat at the head of the table. "You were a simple Unicorn until just recently. You must be very gifted."

Caught off guard by the sudden compliment, Twilight stammered, "I-I don't know about gifted...I just studied very hard."

"And may I ask how your friends helped you achieve this?" Hans pressed.

"Princess Celestia sent me a book that contained a spell that Star Swirl the Bearded had started but was unable to finish." Twilight indicated the others with a sweep of her hoof. "To make a very long story short...the love of my friends gave me the inspiration that I needed to complete the spell. Without them, I don't think I would have ever finished it."

"How extraordinary," Gideon spoke softly.

"Look at the obvious pride her friends hold for her," Overwatch interjected. Turning, Twilight found that the others were all beaming at her. Overwatch glanced toward Hans. "I'd say their friendships are undeniably genuine."

"Perhaps," Hans replied as several Griffons entered the room carrying large silver platters.

Twilight stared in amazement as the servants placed platter after platter on the table. She had never seen so much food before. Not even the few royal banquets she had attended in Canterlot had presented this much.

There were steamed vegetables and fried potatoes covered in melted cheese, parfaits containing various fruits and whipped cream served in large glass goblets and stacks of waffles topped with blueberries, strawberries, and apples. An enormous platter placed in the center of the table held an impressive green bean and artichoke casserole, and smaller platters of assorted cheeses and breads were strategically placed around the table.

"I do hope that you enjoy your meal," Gideon said with a warm smile. "I instructed my chef to try his claw at Pony cuisine, but I'm afraid he hasn't a lot of practice in your culinary tastes."

"Well, it certainly looks delightful," Rarity commented as they began to fill their plates.

"I have always been fascinated with Star Swirl the Bearded," Gideon told Twilight once they had gathered their first helping. "I actually have several books that he wrote in my study. They were gifts from Princess Celestia."

"Really?" Twilight replied, perking up in her chair. "I'd love to see them."

Rainbow slowly shook her head and smirked. "We don't have time for that, Twilight. Remember?"

Twilight sighed. "You're right." She knew very well that if she entered Gideon's study and started looking at Star Swirl's books that she would spend the entire day there, and she couldn't afford to do that. As Rainbow had pointed out on the train, she still needed to practice before the competition began.

Hans studied Rainbow for a moment before turning to Twilight. "This is proving to be quite an unorthodox visit. Never before have we received word that a princess of Equestria was coming, but given no reason why." Hans cocked an eyebrow as both Gideon and Overwatch gazed at her questioningly. "Why have you come to Mt. Aerie?"

Her ears drooping, Twilight set aside the parfait that she had been about to start as her cheeks began to burn. "I'm so sorry. It never occurred to me that my presence here would be so confusing to you all."

"Please do not be sorry, my Princess." Gideon favored her with an amiable smile. "It is a pleasure having you here."

Twilight returned his smile, but then noticed Hans's impatient glare and responded, "My friend Rainbow Dash and I plan to compete in The Annual Flying Pairs Competition."

As she spoke the words, she noticed Hans's features darken.

"My granddaughter has traveled from The Griffon Nation with her father to participate in this competition," Hans told Gideon. "She is very excited. I will be most displeased if she isn't given a fair chance here because a princess of Equestria feels the need to enter."

Without warning, Rainbow was on her hooves. "Just what in the hay is that supposed to mean?"

"Easy, now," Applejack whispered as she placed her hooves on Rainbow's shoulders. "Just settle down."

"I would never expect the judges to favor me just because I'm a princess," Twilight stated as Rainbow reluctantly returned to her seat. "Rainbow entered this competition with her father when she was a filly, and has always wanted to enter it again. That is why I agreed to enter with her this year." Twilight gazed steadily at Hans. "It's as important to her as it is to your granddaughter."

"I don't know if you've noticed, Ambassador, but she isn't wearing her crown," Overwatch pointed out. "That should be proof enough that she wants everyone to be treated equally."

Twilight nodded. "Yes, I don't want to be treated like a princess. I want to be judged the same as every other Griffon and Pegasus."

Hans studied her for a moment before turning to Gideon. "I demand that you forbid Twilight from entering the competition."

"You can't do that," Overwatch objected. "The competition is all about equality."

"And that equality will be negated if we allow a princess to enter!"

"Enough!" Gideon shouted. Once the two ambassadors quieted down, he asked, "Princess Twilight, is it truly necessary that you compete?"

"It is," Twilight answered determinedly.

"And your other Pegasus friend couldn't compete in your place?" Gideon inquired as he gestured toward Fluttershy.

At his words, Fluttershy gasped and shrank back to hide behind Rarity.

"She is very timid," Twilight explained. "She doesn't like performing in front of others."

"And she's afraid of heights," Overwatch chimed in.

"I see..." Gideon tapped a clawed finger against his beak for several moments. Finally, he turned back to Hans. "When our ancestors first came to Equestria, Princess Celestia was kind enough to give them this land to live on. She also sent an ambassador to help them cope with the new customs and cultures they found themselves surrounded by. This ambassador quickly befriended their leader, and one of their favorite activities was their daily flights. Soon after, they founded The Flying Pairs Competition in the hopes of inspiring others to befriend those of different races.

"As Overwatch pointed out, this competition has always been about equality. As a result, no competitor has ever been denied admittance in the nearly three hundred years we've been hosting it. And I will not be the governor who starts such a dreadful decree."

"I see," Hans replied darkly as he rose from his chair. "I've never understood your infatuation with these ponies, but now it's becoming a problem." Abruptly, he turned and stormed out of the room.

After sharing a look with Gideon, Overwatch glanced at her and rolled his eyes. "He certainly has a flair for the dramatic, doesn't he?"

Although Twilight offered him a small smile before returning to her food, she couldn't help but worry that she had made some sort of mistake.

But what could she have done? Backing out of the competition wasn't an option; it was too important to Rainbow. She wondered if she could have handled the situation a little differently, but quickly came to realize that Hans hadn't really given her much of a chance.

"You seem upset," Overwatch observed after several long moments of silence.

Twilight shook her head. "Not really. I'm just worried about Hans." Noticing the confusion on his face, she elaborated. "I know that there is some tension between The Griffon Nation and Equestria, and I'm concerned that I may be making things worse."

Overwatch placed a hoof on her shoulder. "It is admirable that you would worry over such a thing, but please do not fret. Ambassador Hans really can't do anything."

"Ambassador Overwatch is correct," Gideon agreed. "As ambassador, Hans's responsibilities lie in trade with Equestria and ensuring that all who travel here from The Griffon Nation are treated equally."

"If I may, Your Highness," Overwatch said, "I feel that you handled yourself very well."

"Yeah, you were totally awesome, Twilight," Rainbow added.

Twilight felt her face begin to burn as the others began to voice their agreement.

Personally, she didn't feel that she was deserving of the praise. After all, she hadn't done anything more than simply answer Gideon's questions truthfully. Still, it was nice knowing that her friends, and even Overwatch and Gideon, were willing to support her.

As they finished their meal, Gideon stood and beamed at them. "Thank you, all of you, for attending this meal. It was a great pleasure meeting all of you. Especially you, Your Highness."

"Thank you for inviting us," Twilight replied. "I really enjoyed your company. I'd love to visit again." With a sudden grin, she added, "And I'd really love to get a chance to look at those Star Swirl the Bearded books."

Gideon laughed. "We will have to arrange such a visit, then!"

In the living area, Twilight found Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy admiring the flying Pegasus sculpture that she had noticed earlier.

"Please, feel free to stay and enjoy my decor as long as you like," Gideon said. "They don't get nearly as much attention as they deserve."

"This carpet is simply divine," Rarity stated as she ran a delicate hoof over the fabric. "It feels as though I'm walking on soft grass."

Twilight left Gideon and Rarity to their carpet talk and made her way toward the bookshelf where Rainbow was sitting.

"He's got every single Daring Do book," Rainbow pointed out as she drew near.

"Yeah, I noticed," Twilight replied.

The two of them studied the books in silence for a moment, and then Rainbow said, "Hey, Twi? I'm sorry that you've got to deal with so much pressure just to enter the competition with me. I know what happened in there was exactly why you hesitated to agree in the first place, and it kinda feels like it's my fault."

"None of this is your fault, Rainbow," Twilight assured her. "It's just...stupid politics."

Rainbow shrugged. "I guess." Then she flashed her a grin. "But it was really cool how you stuck up for us back there. I couldn't believe that Hans insulted our friendship like that, but you held your own." With a playful punch to her shoulder, she said, "I'm proud of ya."

Unable to help herself, Twilight returned the grin. "Thanks, Dash."

Hearing somepony approach, Twilight turned to find Overwatch smiling at the two of them.

"You should be proud of her," he told Rainbow, "she handled herself excellently." Quickly glancing behind him at Gideon, he lowered his head and whispered, "Off the record, I really hope you win the competition." With a wink, he concluded, "It would infuriate Hans to no end."

As Rainbow burst out laughing, Twilight replied. "In that case, we'll do our best."

Without warning, Hans burst into the room and loudly announced, "I will allow Twilight to enter the competition, but only under one condition."

Gideon sighed, and Twilight could clearly see the annoyance on his face. "And what would this condition be?"

Hans gazed at Twilight with a nasty sneer. "I want to join the judges on the panel."

"That's preposterous!" Overwatch exclaimed. "The judges have already been selected. There is no need for a fourth."

"On the contrary, a fourth is needed now more than ever," Hans retorted. "The judges were selected before we knew that a princess would be entering the competition. We need to be sure the panel is prepared for the pressures that will inevitably follow their decisions."

Overwatch rounded on Gideon. "This cannot be allowed!"

Gideon seemed not to hear Overwatch's outburst as he studied Hans with a frown. Finally, he asked, "And how would your presence on the panel help?"

"No matter how much the princess carries on about wanting to be treated equally, there will be those that accuse the judges of being biased. As I represent The Griffon Nation, I have no reason to show any partisanship for or against her. My presence will help to negate any accusations that her judgment is debauched."

"Yes, except that you have a granddaughter in the competition," Overwatch argued, "and you don't want to see her lose to a princess of Equestria."

"Are you suggesting that I am trying to sabotage the competition?" Hans countered.

Before Overwatch could answer, Gideon placed a claw on his chest. "Please, ambassador, remain silent." Turning his attention to Hans, he said, "I will allow you to become the fourth judge."

"But, governor! You know that—" Overwatch began.

"I told you to remain silent!" Gideon said sternly. When Overwatch bowed his head in obedience, Gideon continued. "Hans is correct. No matter how the judges rate the princess, there will be those that will take offense. Hans's presence on the panel will help support our cause of neutrality." Gideon's eyes narrowed. "That is the purpose of the competition, is it not?"

Overwatch sighed. "It is."

"Then it is settled!" Gideon announced. "Hans, I will leave it to you to discuss these changes with the judges."

"I will do so at once," Hans replied with a large grin. As he made his way toward the stairs, he paused in front of Twilight. "I will see you at the competition, Princess."