• Published 26th Apr 2015
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Wonderbolt Trials and Tribulations - White Comet



Rainbow Dash finally gets the opportunity of a lifetime; a chance to join the Wonderbolts and fulfill her lifelong dream. She presumes that from this point on, it'll be smooth sailing. She was wrong...

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Chapter 21

Dash’s ears folded back as she heard the brain-rattling wake up call of a bugle being played. The light coming from beyond the door showed that the bugle was not wrong. It was definitely morning. Too bad she wasn’t much of a morning pony. She groaned as she rolled over, intending to help herself up. Instead, all she found was a more comfortable side of her bed.

Suddenly, it all clicked together in her brain. Her eyes shot open as she remembered what day it was. She quickly bought herself up and sat at the side of her bed, rubbing her face to help her wake up.

Today was the day.

Today was the final day of this stage. And yet another test she had to pass in order to stay in. She had to be a step ahead of everypony today, no matter what. And it started with getting out of bed.

“Ugh...Torque, Riptide, would one of you turn the lights on?” Dahlia’s voice requested, but apparently fell on death ears, as she got no response. “Torque…?” She asked again.

Dash hopped to her feet, trotting over to the door where the light switch was. But as she did, she immediately saw something was wrong. Torque and Riptide were gone. Definitely something that required their attention right away. But first, she should probably shine some light on the subject.

She flipped the switch, revealing the empty beds of Riptide and Torque. Neither of the beds were made though, so they obviously left in a hurry.

“They’re gone?” Dahlia asked, rolling over and hearing some paper crunch as she did. “Huh?”

“Looks like it,” Bright Skies agreed, rubbing her eyes.

Dash looked over at the two beds, but immediately noticed something obvious. “Riptide’s stuff is still here. So I’m guessing he’s still around...somewhere. But Torque’s stuff is...gone…” She started putting the pieces together…

“As in gone-gone?” Comet asked through a yawn, then noticed Dahlia reading a letter in her bed. “What’s that Dahlly?”

“It’s...It’s a letter...from Torque…” She replied vaguely, but a smile on her face implied that it wasn’t all bad news.

“Is he okay?” Bright Skies asked, stepping out of bed.

“Yeah...I think he’s fine…” She replied, folding the letter up.

“Aren’t you gonna read it to us?” Dash asked, walking over to Dahlia.

“Maybe later…” Dahlia asked, putting it to the side. “But he’s fine. After losing it at Riptide, he realised that he was meant for better things. He just couldn’t bring himself to tell us directly…”

As Dahlia explained, Dash noticed a small red tint creeping across her cheeks. Something told her that they did a bit more than hug and talk things out last night. Either that or that letter contained something a little more...saucy. She wasn’t usually one to pickup on things like this, but she seemed to be a little more in-tune with it ever since she had been together with Soarin. Perhaps this happens to everypony in a relationship…

“And what about Riptide?” Comet asked.

Dahlia shrugged, “His stuff is still here. Something tells me he’s just ahead of us today for whatever reason.”

“Or for good reason,” Bright Skies added, “Maybe he’s after an edge to pass today.”

“Perhaps. Anyway,” Dahlia suddenly started moving towards the bathroom door, “Only four ponies to get through the shower. Should be quick.”

As Dahlia said, the four of them managed to quickly make their way through their morning routines and get themselves dressed in their flight suits and ready for action. Dash was tempted to try and have a read of the letter Torque left. But she saw that it was specifically addressed to Dahlia. As curious as she was, she respected Dahlia’s privacy enough to not have a peak. And she was sure everypony else had the same thought.

They headed down to the canteen to get their breakfast. Everypony seemed to get more than their fair share. Probably something to do with the fact that the number of ponies had significantly dropped off since day one. They could probably even all fit down one row of tables if they wished.

Dash quickly ate her breakfast. She knew she would need the energy for the day ahead. And she was trying her best to get herself psyched up. After leaving her plate to be cleaned, she headed straight outdoors.

Dash walked down the steps to the side of the runway, the usual congregation place for the day start. Except this time it was different. No more teaching. Lessons were over. From here on out, it was all tests. To decide the best of the best. And she was determined to be one of them.

Ponies were pouring out, but Dash was doing her best to ignore them and their small talk. All she wanted to do was mentally prep herself. She would not allow this opportunity to slip through her hooves. As much as she liked to tell herself that it would be a fly in the park, she had to reign herself in to make herself understand that she was in a very serious situation. Nevertheless, her attitude towards not seeing failure as an option had got her this far. She would simply apply the same logic again.

“So what do you think we’ll be up against?” Bright Skies asked, appearing beside her.

As much as she wanted to just have her thoughts to herself, she knew from experience that talking about it with friends helped just as much. “No idea. Something tells me that there will be some sort of twist somewhere along the line though.”

“I think you’re right,” A familiar voice added...but in an unfamiliar tone…

Dash looked to her left to see Riptide approaching her. “Glad somepony finally decided to show his face,” She replied, smiling.

Riptide nodded in response, “As long as we keep our guard up, I’m sure we’ll be fine.” He spoke in an emotionless tone, then looked straight ahead.

Dash raised an eyebrow at his...behaviour. She looked over at Bright Skies, who simply shrugged in response also. This wasn’t like Riptide at all. Was he...taking it seriously?

“Good, we’re all here,” Dahlia chimed in as she flew down, Comet not far behind her. “I’m feeling confident...but to be honest, I’m a little nervous too…”

“I’m in the same boat,” Comet replied, “But I feel a lot more in control of it than, say, back when we started.”

“Yeah, we really have gained a lot of skills since then haven’t we?” Bright Skies questioned.

“We’ve all improved. And it’s all boiled down to this. We need to stay focused,” Riptide commented.

Dahlia immediately looked up at Riptide with a confused expression on her face. “That’s an odd thing for you to say. Especially so seriously.”

Riptide didn’t even smile. “Maybe I just need a little inspiration.”

Dahlia suddenly started piecing it together. The facial expressions, the stoic responses… “Okay, if you’re trying to be the new Torque now he’s gone, it won’t work. Just be yourself.”

“I am,” Riptide replied instantly, “I just need to prove something to myself…”

“CAPTAIN ON SITE!” Rapidfire’s voice bellowed out to them. He was wearing his full flightsuit.

Everypony suddenly twisted in the direction of his voice, standing up straight and saluting like they practiced what felt like a million times now.

Spitfire slowly stepped out of the door, in her flightsuit. “At ease,” She commanded, still getting herself into full view. The other Wonderbolts also in their flightsuits seemed to be following her and stepping to the side to create a line.

As she reached the first step on her way down to the runway, she took flight and hovered in full view of everypony.

“So, you’ve made it this far huh? Well done. No average pegasus would have ever made it here.” She begun, “But there can only be so many ponies that we take through to our final round. Sixteen to be precise. And there’s seventy nine of you here. Which means we’ve got to wave goodbye to sixty three of you by the end of today. The two tests we have in store today will determine the sixteen of you that will be invited back for the final. The first will take place in a section of land behind Canterlot we’ve got access to this morning that’s normally used exclusively for the RTA. Get yourselves in formation on the runway and standby. I’ll explain the rest when I’m there. Dismissed.”

Dash turned and headed in the direction of the runway, keeping pace with everypony else.

“Whoa…” Dahlia said as they walked, “A Royal Training Academy facility? As in, the same place they train the Canterlot Royal Guards? How exciting is that?”

Dash smiled, “I guess it’s something different...but Spitfire said it was just an empty field. I doubt there’s much to get excited about.”

“I guess,” Dahlia replied, shrugging. “But still, we might get to see the Royal Guards training. Some of those Unicorns can perform seriously good magic...but I guess you’ve seen it all already…”

“Ehh…” Dash kept her answer vague, knowing that Dahlia was referring to Twilight.

They took their spot on the runway, in position amongst everypony else. It took some fine tuning at the last minute to work out their spot, because when ponies dropped out, they had to tighten their formation to compensate. Fortunately, they’d done it enough times now to have it worked out in a matter of seconds rather than minutes.

Dash zipped the head of her flightsuit up and waited patiently as all the Wonderbolts took position in front of them. She noticed Fire and Lightning Streak carrying bags on their backs. What were they carrying? Would it have something to do with the test they were about to undertake? She would get her answer soon that’s for sure.

She kept her eye on Spitfire as she took flight in front of them, slowly moving away.

“Follow the Captain’s lead, box formation! Launch!” Rapidfire ordered as him and the other Wonderbolts took off.

Dash slowly flapped her wings and raised off the ground, keeping herself in sync with the pony in front of her. Formation flying was something they’ve been practicing brutally, and she was pretty good at it by now.

Despite the cloudy weather today, Canterlot was quite easy to spot within minutes of the flight. It didn’t take long for Dash to pickup the castle pushed right up against the mountainside, with the city all around inside the walls.

They flew past the city on its left side and continued onward. As Spitfire hinted at, there was a lot of empty land. Whilst it was relatively flat, trees of varying density scattered the land. Whilst it wasn’t in sight, Dash knew that if they continued flying, they would spot a river. Whether it originated from the Crystal Mountains or Neighagra Falls was still being debated even to this day.

But as they flew deeper, they began to realise who they were rubbing elbows with. She saw companies of would-be Royal Guards doing various things, some equivalent to what they had been doing. Marching drills, magic training, combat training. Some even seemed to be doing mini wargames.

Out on the horizon, she saw many airships of the Royal Equestrian Airship Force. Too far away to be heard, but they were definitely visible. There appeared to be everything from smaller corvettes to larger ships. She wasn’t very clued up on her combat airships, so she couldn’t be sure what they all were. All she had been told was that when they did fire their cannons, the sound can be heard for miles. And the shockwave can even destabilize pegasi flying nearby.

She reached a hoof out into her vision and put it at legs length. She moved it over one of the ships then back again a few times, comparing the size of them from where she was standing now. Whilst she was still able to cover most of them with her hoof, she knew that they would be a lot bigger up close.

“Okay, here we are. Land,” Spitfire ordered, beginning to descend.

Dash maintained formation as they gently descended onto the grass below, landing gently in place.

Spitfire turned around to address them. “Okay, get into groups with your roommates.” She ordered.

Dash quickly found Dahlia, Riptide, Bright Skies and Comet without much effort. With fewer bodies to wade through, the process was a whole lot easier.

“So the rules of this test are fairly complicated, so pay attention,” Spitfire begun explaining. “Fire and Lightning Streak are walking around handing you a belt with some velcro tags on them. Some are red, some are blue. These are your teams. Blue will start here, and red will start somewhere over there,” she gestured with her hoof. “On the basis, this will sound rather straightfoward. Each blue group will select somepony to go over to the red side to be ‘captured’. Their job will be to ‘rescue’ them and bring them back over to the blue side. Red team, your job is to stop that happening.”

As Spitfire was explaining the rules, Dash saw Lightning Streak approach them. “Take one,” He spoke as he presented a bag full of belts and tags to them.

Dash and her roommates picked up a belt each. The belts had two velcro tags on either side of them. And it appeared that they were on the blue team.

“If you pull one of somepony’s tag off, they must return to their starting location. For reds, you have a ‘cooldown’ period of two minutes before you may re-enter the game. Blues, once you tag your ‘captured’ partner, they must make their way back over to their side for you to win. If the pegasus escaping loses one of their tags, they may still continue, but not under their own steam. They must be carried or otherwise assisted back to the starting point. And there will be a time limit for blues to rescue their partners. What that time limit it? Well, if I told you, that would be too easy. Any questions?”

Spitfire waited briefly before deciding that nopony was going to raise their hoof. “Good. Blue team, you’ve got two minutes to decide who you’re gonna rescue. Reds, follow me to the starting position.” Spitfire finished by taking flight and heading up the plains. Everypony with red tags followed suit.

Dash and her roommates looked around at each other, as if they were waiting for somepony to start the conversation.

“So,” Riptide begun, shuffling around to form a circle, “I was gonna say Bright Skies should be the one. She’s so light that if she loses a tag, we’ll be able to carry her back no problem.”

“Hmm…” Dahlia rubbed her chin, “True, but if we go with Dash-” She pointed at her, “-then the moment we tag her she can fly so fast that nopony on the red team would be able to catch her.”

“But at the same time, she’ll be flying so fast that I doubt any of us will be able to keep up to help defend her,” Comet pointed out.

“That’s true, but if she’s too fast for us, then I guarantee anypony on red will have trouble keeping up with her too.” Dahlia theorized.

“Yeah, I can see that happening.” Riptide chimed back in, “Although Comet-” he looked over at him, making Comet also meet his gaze, “-You’ve got good spatial awareness. Your twists and turns would throw anypony off trying to grab your tags.”

“If we’ve made it this far, then they won’t be stupid. Were the teams even evenly matched?” Dahlia asked.

“Uhh,” Bright Skies popped her head up and looked around them, muttering under her breath as she looked around everypony still on their side. “Thirty six. That means there’s forty three on the red side. We’re outnumbered, basically,” she observed.

“Only by seven,” Dash replied. “But Dahlly’s right. They’ll be smart enough to figure out they can just outnumber somepony.”

“But if Comet darts all over the place, we might be able to pre-emptively place ourselves to stop them before they get to him.” Bright Skies added.

A short silence fell around them before Riptide huffed. “I’m still either for Dash or Bright Skies.”

“Me too,” Dahlia asked. “Anypony got a bit to flip?” She asked, tapping her flightsuit to check her pockets. Causing everypony else to do the same.

“Here,” Riptide held a bit out on his right wing. “Heads for Bright Skies, tails for Dash.” He flipped it with his wing and caught it, dropping it on his hoof.

“Alright, times up. Selected ponies, make your way over now,” Wave Chill ordered, motioning with his hoof.

“Heads.” Riptide announced the result, showing it to everypony in the circle. “Guess you’re up Skies.”

“Right,” Bright Skies nodded, then took flight and headed in the direction everypony else was going. It was only as they looked at Bright Skies leaving that Dash realised the amount of sky between them and the other side. Everypony was barely a speck in their vision that far away. But as Dash examined the terrain, she noticed it gave them various ways to approach. The Wonderbolts lined the outside edges of what she presumed would be the game boundaries, in the shape of a rectangle. There was plenty of clouds to play with, and the fact that they were so far away meant that it was easy to lose sight of somepony. An element of stealth could be used here.

Speaking of stealth, the boundary also included a section of densely packed trees that led up to the other end. Theoretically, somepony could sneak up through there. But it would take a long time to do it unseen. And time wasn’t something that was on their side by the sounds of what Spitfire said earlier.

Dash lined up with everypony else. There was no set start line, but she presumed it was in this general area. She flew up onto a cloud and started to think about her approach.

“When Spitfire blows her whistle, that means go. It might be faint, so pay attention.” Wave Chill instructed, moving back behind everypony and flying upwards into a good observation position.

Dash took in what he said and concentrated forward, pulling her goggles down over her eyes. She looked at all the pegasi that were just faint dots in her vision from this distance. She couldn’t tell which one of them was Bright Skies, but she would soon find out.

She suddenly heard the faint sound of a whistle in the distance.

“GO GO GO!” Wave Chill suddenly called out behind them.

Everypony seemed to rush off, but Dash maintained a steady pace as she headed forward. She was still deciding the best way to approach and get the drop on some ponies. Maybe she would need to coordinate with her teammates.

“So what’s the plan?” Dahlia asked to her left.

“I was just thinking,” Dash replied, glancing over at her before looking back straight ahead. “I think we need to keep darting between the clouds to try and throw them off.”

“Isn’t everypony else doing that?” Dahlia asked.

“Yeah, but it’s our best shot. Let’s go,” Dash pumped her wings and accelerated towards the middle. She noticed the pegasi with the red tags were slowly becoming a lot bigger in her vision. Some were obviously accelerating towards them too.

Comet appeared next to Dahlia and Dash. “Okay, you guys keep doing what you’re doing. I’ve got an idea,” He advised, but didn’t stick around to explain anything. He immediately started flying faster and gaining altitude.

“What’s he doing?” Dahlia asked.

“I think I know, but he doesn’t seem to be the only one.” Dash pointed out, motioning at the other ponies around them climbing.

By this time, they were beginning to get into engagement range with the other team. Pegasi of various altitudes were coming at them. Dash quickly glanced over all the clouds between them and tried to weigh up her options. The clouds were all of various shapes and sizes. Some of them wouldn’t do much, yet others were great for hiding behind and out-maneuvering others. She quickly formulated an idea in her head.

“Okay, stick with me to that cloud.” Dash told Dahlia, pointing with her hoof at a particular cloud. “And keep your eyes up.” She looked up as she said that to see some other pegasi from the team eyeing them up.

“Okay, so at the very last second, I want you to dive over me to the right, whilst I go under you to the left. That way we’ll throw ‘em off. After that, dive around and try and lose them whilst you’re heading for Bright Skies.”

“Got it,” Dahlia nodded in agreement.

Dash kept her eyes forward, counting the distance to the cloud, then looked up to see two pegasi were beginning to dive for them.

Dahlia went to speed ahead, but Dash caught her leg and pulled her back. “No don’t. They’ll be expecting us. Go at the last minute.”

Dash said nothing more and simply concentrated on the cloud they were flying towards, occasionally glancing up to see how close the pegasi coming down on them were.

She counted in her head down to the cloud...three...two...one…”BREAK!” She yelled, spinning around and underneath Dahlia as she went around.

She pumped her wings and darted for another cloud quickly, picking up speed and glancing behind her. Confirming that there was still a pegasus in pursuit of her.

She went over the top of another cloud and looped down and back on herself underneath it, catching her chaser out. She continued in the wrong direction, but managed to catch a glimpse of her pursuer catching his bearings and picking her up. She flew between two clouds and pulled off around to the left. But instead of flying around the other side, she grabbed the side of the cloud and used it to bring herself to a full stop.

She looked over her shoulder and waited for her pursuer to fly past. Much to her predictions, he did, but he stopped for a little while to search. Dash planned to fly off to get away, but then remembered that the tag system worked both ways.

A smile crossed her face as she let go of the underside of the cloud and flew for him. He had his back turned to her and no idea she was coming. It was perfect.

“Gotcha,” she called as she yanked one of the tags off his belt. He huffed and took it back off Dash, flying away back to the start.

That out of the way, and one less pony to worry about for a few minutes at least, she resumed her course for Bright Skies. All around her were pegasi chasing each other. Some trying to outsmart their chasers using stealth, others simply trying to outmaneuver them. A lot of them were shouting at the top of their voice, trying to overcome the sound of the wind rushing past their ears as they flew through the sky trying to coordinate their moves. The scene reminded Dash of the dogfight scene in a Daring Do book she read where Daring Do got sucked back in time to the last Pony-Griffon war.

Her daydreaming really hit home when a pony suddenly appeared out of nowhere above and in front of her, diving down trying to take her tags. She quickly pointed herself downwards to increase speed and make the angle difficult for him to grab her from.

When she heard the whoosh of him flying behind her, she quickly altered course to climb upwards, glancing left and right to make sure nopony else was on her tail. After confirming, she quickly flew straight again and picked up all the speed she could. She glanced back at the pegasus chasing her before keeping her eyes on what was going on in front again.

Whilst she was almost certain that she could outfly almost anypony here in a straight line, she had a nagging feeling in the back of her mind telling her that it wouldn’t just be that simple. Otherwise she would have already made it to Bright Skies right now.

Her progress didn’t appear to go unnoticed by the other team. She saw three pegasi converging on her from in front. She glanced behind again to confirm that the pegasus behind her was still giving chase. Her head quickly darted around as she tried to look for a resolution. She couldn’t go forward, or directly back. But maybe she could out-maneuver him and get some of her teammates to take the heat.

With that in mind, she sharply banked left and into a patch of clouds, darting around one before stopped and landing on top of another. She kept her wings spread and took a few steps towards the front. She kept an eye on the pegasus approaching her, and glanced over her shoulders back and forth to keep an eye on the ones approaching behind her.

Once they got close enough, she hopped off the cloud and hovered in front of it, giving it a good kick to send it backwards. She didn’t hang around to find out whether it worked or not, she gunned it and headed, once again, in the wrong direction trying to avoid them.

She managed to time her speed just right to skim underneath the grasp of the same stallion once again. If anything, she learned that he wasn’t very good at calculating his angle of attack.

Her eyes quickly scanned the sky as she flew, looking for any of her teammates. She quickly found White Comet flying around some clouds, but he was actually doing a fairly decent job of out maneuvering them and getting their tags off.

“Hey, a little help!” Dash called down to him as she flew overhead.

Comet stopped accelerating and looked up, glancing at Dash, then at the ponies chasing her. He nodded and started climbing upwards, hoping to slip through without being seen.

Dash saw what he was doing and thought she worked it out. She flew in a straight line and waited, counting down from a random number in her head. She knew that she could easily outpace them in a straight line, but she had a feeling she knew what Comet had in mind…

Once she reached zero from the number she was counting down from, she quickly arched upwards and climbed higher into the sky. She looked behind her again to see the pegasi chasing her had immediately switched to an intercept course with her new direction. But she saw Comet fly down between them. She heard the rip of the two pieces of velcro becoming detached from somepony’s belt.

She twisted her wings and pulled herself over through a loop. The ponies chasing her had dispersed in the confusion of Comet diving onto them. This gave Dash the opportunity to pick them off using her speed.

She quickly dived towards one of the mares, hoping to catch her off guard. But she managed to spot Dash coming and quickly tried to fly away. Unfortunately for her, her speed was no match for Dash’s, and Dash quickly managed to catch her and grab one of the tags off her.

Dash couldn’t resist putting a smug look on her face as she handed the mare back her tag. She didn’t even want to make eye contact with Dash as she took it and started the long flight back to her starting position.

As Dash looked around to get her bearings again, a pegasus suddenly appeared in her vision closing fast. She suppressed a gasp and quickly pumped her wings, barely moving out of the way. She spun around once she was clear to see the pony that tried to get her. He slowly came around as he picked up on where she flew to.

Without a second thought, she flexed her wings and picked up speed, heading towards him. Her eyes focused on the stallion that was just chasing her. She was hoping that she could use her speed to get one of his tags off him. Although her plan looked like it was going to be a lot harder as the stallion started flying towards her on a collision course. He was obviously trying the same thing as her.

Dash grinned as she kept her eyes locked on her closest tag to her whilst also formulating a plan in her head to stop him from getting hers. They accelerated towards each other and at the last possible second, Dash quickly flexed her body to move her hips out of his reach. But it seemed as if he had the same idea, since he did the exact same motion.

Their forearms clashed then bounced off each other, each drifting in their respective directions. Dash quickly stopped herself using her wings and re-focused on him. He did the exact same. She looked down at his tag, then back up to his eyes. One look and it was obvious that they both had the same idea.

Well, sort of. Dash didn’t want to give it away by twitching her head to look, but she saw somepony making his way down in her peripheral vision. She had a feeling she knew who it was. All she had to do was stall the stallion she was having a stare down with.

She kept her eyes on his. As much as she wanted to initiate trying again, she kept herself perfectly still in the stand off. She wouldn’t move unless he did. And he seemed to be keeping himself perfectly still also.

“Huh?” He suddenly wisped himself around as Comet neared, but it was too late. Comet already had a hoof on his tag, and his twisting action only helped rip it off.

“Got ya,” Comet stated, presenting his tag to him.

He glanced over at Dash with his jaw dropped. He was clearly processing what had just happened. He smiled then looked back at Comet. “Well played,” he replied before taking his tag and flying back towards his starting position.

Dash flew over to Comet, who pointed upwards with his hoof and started flying in that direction. She followed him. He was obviously just trying to get them out of the firing line of anypony else who might like to get them.

“Got anything in mind?” Comet asked.

“I was about to ask you the same question,” Dash replied, levelling out her flight and looked back at the destination she had to reach. She noticed a few ponies who had managed to get ahead of her, but they were still getting harassed from various other pegasi from the red team.

“Head for Bright Skies,” Comet suddenly spoke. “Fly as fast as you can. I’ll do what I can to either counter-tag them, or draw them away from you. You’re fast, nopony will be able to keep up.”

She looked over at him, “But you’ll probably end up getting tagged out. What happens if I get caught?”

“I’m not much slower,” Comet replied, winking. “But if I can draw their attention, I can at least keep them on the edge of their hooves for a little while whilst you get Bright Skies. Then the two of you can help me.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Dash replied, her situational awareness making her look around to make sure that nopony was charging towards them. “I’m gonna go then. Follow me,” She instructed, flapping her wings hard in the direction of Bright Skies.

She concentrated on nothing else but her speed. Maneuverability wouldn’t matter so much as long as she stayed out of the clouds. But that was also one of the pitfalls of this strategy. No cloud cover meant she had no backup plan if she got cutoff.

She picked up speed as fast as she could. It was the only advantage she had. At this altitude, everypony who looked up was sure to spot her. As she accelerated, her predictions were true. Some pegasi from the red team moved upwards in an attempt to block her. But she was either flying fast enough to continue on her course before she got there, or make minor adjustments to sneak through.

She honestly didn’t think it was going to work, but she soon found Bright Skies making her way into her vision amongst the sea of other pegasi awaiting their ‘rescue’. She glanced around in front of her. There was nopony from red to be seen. She took a glance back to see if anypony was following her. There was somepony, but he was far back. Giving her plenty of time to tag Bright Skies in and figure out what they wanted to do.

She slowed as she approached Bright Skies. Bright Skies was already looking at her because it wasn’t exactly hard to not see her coming.

“SURPRISE!”

Dash suddenly felt somepony land on her back not long after she heard the stallion’s voice above her. Her quick thinking sprung into action and she immediately twisted herself upside-down. She felt the weight fall off her back, but it wouldn’t be long for him to come back.

She didn’t even check how far he fell, she just raced straight towards Bright Skies, tapping hooves with her as briefly as she could. “Fly!” She barked, quickly darting out the way and presuming Bright Skies would go another way.

She immediately looked around her, spotting the stallion flying up below her. She dived towards him as he flew up, locking hooves with him. She grunted a little as the force of their forelegs interlocking had more of a shock to it than she imagined.

“BRIGHT!” She called as she wrestled with him. They both had the same goal in mind, their their hooves kept getting occupied whenever they reached for each others tag.

The stallion saw Bright Skies approaching and moved his left foreleg to hold her at a distance. Which wasn’t too hard considering the size difference between them, but he found it hard to keep both Bright Skies and Rainbow Dash off of him using only one leg for each of them.

Dash managed to knock his grip off and rip one of the tags off his belt. She sighed as she presented it to him, glad that struggle was over.

“Pfft,” The stallion huffed as he snatched it out of her hoof and simply held it above his head. He was already more or less in his starting position, so he didn’t really have anywhere to go. He simply flew upward.

“Fly through the clouds,” Dash advised, “it’s your best bet.”

Bright Skies nodded and flew back in the direction. Dash climbed up above her, but remained behind her. Hoping to give herself a good view down in case anypony tried to get her. She noticed a few ponies from her team had started to break through and make it to their teammates. Along with a few from red being returned to their starting position.

“Did you get Skies?”

Dash turned her head in the direction of Riptide’s voice to find him flying alongside her. “Yeah, I did.”

“Good job,” he replied, “I’ll cover her, you keep an eye out from up here.” He didn’t wait for an answer and immediately started descending down towards Bright Skies.

Dash raised an eyebrow, not expecting him to begin barking orders at her. “Uhh...sure thing, boss.” She joked to herself. He sure woke up with a weird personality this morning. Perhaps some of what Riptide said to him yesterday really did dig deep.

Bright Skies maneuvered between the cloud, making hard for Dash to keep her eyes on her. It didn’t help that she was such a tiny pony that keeping an eye on her from a distance was hard enough already, yet alone with her popping in and out of clouds all the time. Not to mention the confusion of all the other seventy nine ponies doing their own thing.

Dash kept her head on a swivel, constantly trying to keep an eye on everything that was going on around here. She didn’t want to get jumped on herself. She saw a couple of ponies coming up from behind, but none of them seemed to be going for her. Dash presumed they were heading for Bright Skies and other ponies below her.

She watched the ponies from the red team fly underneath her. She counted three. She couldn’t tell if they were heading for Bright Skies, but they were certainly heading in her direction. Good enough reason for her to do something about that.

She looked around again to confirm that there was nopony gunning for her before she looked down at her targets and smiled. “Works like a charm…” She said to herself as she pointed herself downwards into a dive towards the three ponies in front of her.

She perhaps got the easiest catch of tags so far. She swooped down without them even noticing and managed to rip two of them at the same time. The third flew off whilst Dash was in the process of handing them back their tags, and Dash left the pursuing of him to Riptide and the others.

She flew back up ahead, noticing that there was a blockade starting to form in front of them. A plan immediately formed in her head, but she would need to speak to her teammates to get them to work with her on it. She looked around and saw Dahlia and Comet discussing something. They might be having the same idea. She checked to make sure the coast was clear then flew down to them. Luckily, they saw her coming. “Have you seen all those ponies at the end of the clouds?” She asked.

“Yeah, that’s what we were just talking about,” Dahlia replied. She glanced behind her before looking back at Dash. “We were gonna say that since it’s gonna take a while for the pegasi behind us to get here, we were gonna fly ahead of Bright Skies and take ‘em all on.”

Dash smiled in response, “That’s what I was gonna do. Let’s do it!” She extended her hoof to them.

They quickly tapped hooves with each other. “Relay it to Riptide if you see him,” Comet asked.

Dash nodded before flying back upwards. There was no doubt that they were going to see him coming. But hopefully between the four of them, they would be able to cause enough of a distraction for Bright Skies to slip through and make it to the end.

She counted how many stood at the end of the complex of clouds. Seven. And there was four of them. She glanced behind her in both directions. Nopony else from their team was around to give them any help. And chances are they weren’t gonna be fooled by their trick. It would be tough...but it wasn’t impossible.

She maintained her current course. She could see them looking at her. She had been spotted. But they remained in place. That pretty much confirmed that they were planning to ambush Bright Skies or somepony else trying to make it back. Dash only hoped that they would be able to buy enough time from throwing them off for Bright Skies to make it.

She began her descent, diving towards them and picking up speed. They saw her and seemed to move a little in preparation, but Dash wasn’t going to be that straightforward with them.

Just before she came within a legs reach of them, she sharply turned to the left, going back on herself a little to stop them simply moving forward to grab her. Once she passed the last one, she sharply turned to her right, still maintaining her speed. She tried to reach somepony’s tags, but they were smart enough to turn around and cover themselves off. But Dash wasn’t trying to get their tags anyway. She was just trying to be distracting.

She did one full circle around them before going up into a climb. She glanced behind her briefly to see one pegasus following her. That was fine by her since she had an idea in mind.

She flew upwards for a few more seconds before giving one final pump of her wings and folding them to her side. She leant backwards as she did, only keeping the tips of her wings slightly extended to help her control herself.

Gravity started slowing her ascent. She didn’t look back, but kept a mental image in her mind of the stallion closing on her and how much faster than her he would be going at this point. She closed her eyes to help her picture it and counted down to just the right moment…

She suddenly opened her eyes and exhaled sharpy, feeling her weight collapse over the top of her and pull her backwards. The effect was such a sharp direction change that the stallion chasing her just plain missed his target and overshot her.

She wasted no time in extending her wings again, flapping them hard to increase her speed. Her eyes set on the pegasi of the red team below her that were potentially blockading in order to stop Bright Skies. However, whilst she was dealing with her pursuer, it appeared that Comet, Riptide and Dahlia had all appeared to help distract them. And with all this speed she was gaining, if she timed it right, she might be able to catch somepony by surprise.

She saw somepony chasing Dahlia. Chances are she wouldn’t see her coming. She continued to pick up her speed and aimed for the pony. She misjudged her approach a little, but she was still within an arms reach to just skim one of the tags and hear the satisfying riiip of the velcro.

Dash spun around and let inertia carry her until she eventually came to a stop. With a grin on her face, she waved the tag of the pegasus she had just caught at him. He rolled his eyes and took the tag back with a huff before flying off.

Riip

Dash gasped as she felt somepony grab her from the side and the noise she was all too familiar with. She quickly spun around to find somepony had manage to tag her whilst she was distracted.

“Never let your guard down,” the stallion advised her with a hint of smugness as he passed her her tag back.

Dash groaned and held it up in the air, keeping her eyes on Bright Skies as she flew back to her starting position. Although at this rate, she wasn’t gonna get back in the game before Bright Skies either got caught or made it. All she could do was cheer them on.

She flew straight back, quickly passing by everypony and waiting at the end. Her roommates were doing an amazing job of defending Bright Skies, despite being one pony down. Plus with more and more of her team starting to make their way back, they were starting to get their hooves full in more than one way.

She saw Dahlia take a hit for Bright Skies, tagging somepony from the red team out but also getting tagged out herself. Whether that was a smart move or not she would only find out if and when Bright Skies reached the end.

“When did you get tagged?” Dahlia asked, approaching Dash.

“Not long before you,” Dash replied. “Guess we timed it wrong. They look pretty busy now.”

“Yeah, but I reckon Comet and Riptide can hold it down until Bright Skies gets here.” Dahlia encouraged.

It took longer than she anticipated, but Bright Skies managed to dodge everypony and cross the line. Although only by an inch. Somepony caught her tag, but she was already across the line by the time they did.

“Skies, you did it!” Dash cheered, racing towards her.

Bright Skies landed on a cloud then flopped onto her belly, completely exhausted after being hunted like a sheep to wolves. “I did...didn’t I…” she said through breaths.

“And looks like you were the first one to do it too.” Wave Chill commented, writing on his clipboard. “Congratulations.”

Dahlia helped Bright Skies pick herself up. “So you were saying about pushing yourself?”

Her comment made everypony chuckle as they embraced in a group hug. As Dash withdrew from the hug, she looked back on the course. Seeing everypony still racing their way towards the finish and trying to defend themselves and their partners from the other team. A few ponies were starting to land on the cloud at their end.

It took several more minutes, but eventually, Spitfire called time with her whistle. Some ponies had unfortunately failed to make it back. Dash wasn’t sure what the full plan for the day was, as they hadn’t been told, but she was hoping that wasn’t the end of it.

Spitfire flew into the middle of the group as everypony congregated around her once again. “So, how did you find that?” She got a few vague comments and mumbles as she looked over the sea of faces in front of her.

“Have fun?” She asked again, getting a few vague yes’s and mumbles once again. “Good. Now do it again. This time reverse team positions.”

Dash blinked. She wanted them to do it all again? It was exhausting enough the first time around, but how long would it go on for? Best of three? Five? Ten? A hundred?

“QUICKLY!” Spitfire yelled, blowing her whistle afterwards. Everypony scarpered to take their respective positions, remembering where they had to go now the teams were switched. Dash started flying over to the other side to take positions to start another match. This could be a long morning...


Dash gathered around the Wonderbolts with the other trainees, eager to hear what Spitfire had to say. It didn’t go perfectly for her, but she was proud of her performance nonetheless. Not to mention she was also looking forward to a little bit of a break, even if it was just for lunch. The concentration and planning required combined with actually completing their test missions was exhausting. But she wouldn’t let that get in her way.

She had lost count of how many times they played the same scenarios over and over again. Definitely more than twenty times though. She felt ready to collapse, especially since some of the last matches got a bit physical.

She raised an eyebrow at the pieces of paper the other Wonderbolts kept handing in to Spitfire. She had noticed that they were flying around keeping an eye on them. Were they reporting as well?

As High Winds handed over her last papers to Spitfire, she turned to address the trainees. “Okay, so,” Spitfire hovered into the sky, shuffling the papers with her hooves to make them nice and neat. “Mist Dew,” She spoke somepony’s name then flicked to the next paper, “Peppermint.”

One by one, she read out the names that were handed into her. Dash kept her ears pointed in the direction of Spitfire’s voice all the while. She didn’t know what it meant, but she just wanted to know if her name was in this list or not.

“And...Starfly.” Spitfire read the final one before pulling the chunk of papers out and putting them at the back of the rest of them on her clipboard. “I’m gonna be blunt here; you were all caught cheating. Go home.”

Despite it not even being aimed at her, Dash felt the stab that Spitfire’s words must have put in someponies’ hearts. That being said, it was their own fault for cheating. She told herself and Soarin right at the beginning that she was going to win her spot fair and square, regardless of what was necessary.

She heard a few sniffles and groans as she saw some ponies spin around to head back towards the HQ and collect their belongings.

“Excuse me.”

Her attention turned to a stallion that had flown up to Spitfire.

“What did I do?” He asked bluntly.

“Coal Dust you were…” She looked through her papers and bought one to the top, “Caught sneaking out of bounds.”

“When?” He asked again, in a snappy manner.

“Eleven-O-seven, by Fire Streak. He was overlooking the area with the trees, and saw you moving through the trees. You went too far out and strayed out for too long, taking advantage of the fact that there was nopony around to move forward.”

“B-but...if he saw me, why didn’t he say anything?”

“Because it’s YOUR responsibility to make sure you keep to the rules. You should’ve have realised your mistake and turned back or admitted to going out of bounds and forfeiting.” Spitfire explained to him.

“But it’s...it’s hard to see when your in the trees.” He pleaded.

Spitfire shrugged, “Maybe you should’ve have gone into the trees then. Or took better note of where the limit was. Anyway, we’ve got a lot to get through. So that’s all Coal Dust.” Spitfire ended the conversation there and turned around, slowly flying away.

“B-but...th-that’s…--”

“Not fair?” Spitfire finished his sentence for him as he seemed to be babbling. She turned around again to face him. “Everypony else was under the same conditions and played to the same rules. It was YOUR actions that got you disqualified.” Spitfire pointed at him to emphasize. “Think about that on your flight home.”

“Ugh!” He pounded his head with his hooves and turned, flying back towards the Wonderbolts HQ.

Dash took one last glance at the ponies leaving them then back at Spitfire. It was always disheartening to see ponies get the boot, because she always felt it could always happen to her anytime. But the fact that they were being removed due to cheating was a relief. Dash knew that she would never have an issue with that. She would win her spot fair and square.

All the while, Dash had been keeping her eye on the airships making their way towards them. She had noticed them getting closer and closer during their final matches. They were now extremely close. And their direction indicated that they were heading straight for them. She was trying to keep her head in the game as much as possible, but a potential chance of seeing one of those ships up close was kind of exciting for her.

Spitfire spun around, looking up in the direction of the airships. She pulled the stopwatch up around her neck, then nodded to herself as she let it drop back down, supported by the string around her neck. “Right on time,” she commented out loud intentionally, hovering into the air.

Dash looked back at Spitfire as she spoke...was this part of their test?

Spitfire stopped in the air, then spun around to address the trainees. “Looks like the final part of today’s test has arrived,” she began. She paused to let the trainees take in the awe of the size of the vessels approaching them. “Say hello to the REAS Canterlot and Trottingham.” She motioned her hoof at them as she finished speaking. “And they’re actually here today because they’ve got some tests of their own that they want to do. Something to help improve their own training. But I’ll let Admiral Swift Sprint explain that part.”

Dash’s ears perked up as Spitfire mentioned the name. Swift Sprint? Wasn’t that Torque’s father?

“If you were to successfully become a Wonderbolt, the basics of operating and working with the crew onboard an airship would be part of your training. You’ve probably heard it too many times these past few weeks, but I’ll say it again anyway. In times of conflict, we are a military force. And there may come a time where it be necessary for you to assist in the functioning of one of these ships. Normally we’d reserve this training for those who successfully become Wonderbolts. But when Admiral Swift Sprint contacted me and explained that he had something new that he wanted to test with us, I decided that it would be more beneficial for them for you all to try it. But like I said, Admiral Swift Sprint will explain that all to you...after lunch.”

Oh yeah, that was a point. Dash was so focused on not failing that she had completely forgotten how empty her belly was feeling right now.

“The chefs on the REAS Canterlot have been kind enough to offer to cook for us. After lunch, you’ll be directed to a location where you’ll receive further instruction.”

Dash hovered into the air, hoping to get a better look at the ships as they slowly approached.

“I’ve never seen one of these up close,” Dahlia commented. “One of my old school teachers used to be in the REAF though, he told me a bit about them.”

“They’re massive, like floating cities encompassed in steel and guns.” Bright Skies added.

“And getting them to fly with all the armour and guns is quite difficult to. They’re impressive feats of engineering.” Comet also added.

Dash looked around as her fellow trainees began to fly to towards it. “I hope they’ve got good food. I’m starving,” she commented.

“Fly up to the Canterlot and somepony will direct you from the decks. They’ll be welcoming, so don’t be shy. Just act as if you’re already a Wonderbolt and I’m sure they’ll respect you.” Spitfire commented.

That was all Dash needed to be told. She pumped her wings and flew towards one of the ships. Although she couldn’t tell which was which from this distance. She looked behind to see everypony following her.

As she closed in, she began to make out the smaller details that she couldn’t previously make out. She saw a plaque with ‘Canterlot’ written on it on the side of the ship on the right. She slowed as she approached the ship, giving herself more time to take in the features. Obviously the biggest thing that stood out where the guns mounted flat on its deck. Two turrets that she could see with three cannons on each. The barrels looked big enough to fly down from her perspective. The ship itself was rather streamlined at the sides, probably for an aerodynamic purpose. But there was also some turrets mounted vertically on the side of the ship. Most likely for firing above and below them. But one of the biggest differences she noticed when compared to a civilian airship was the balloon of gas. In normal airships, the balloon and the crew compartment were usually separate pieces, connected only by rope or metal. In these warships however, the balloon looked like it was integrated into the ship itself. And it was heavily armoured. She heard that the gasses used can be highly flammable, so it was probably heavily armoured for a reason.

As she approached the deck, she saw somepony waving at her from the deck and motioning with his hoof for them to come down. Dash waved back at him and began to descend down towards the deck.

“Welcome, welcome,” the pony said, continuing to motion with his hoof. “Please proceed straight down those stairs and follow your nose.” He instructed.

“Got it,” Dash replied, nodding. She walked forward, taking note of his uniform. Whilst they weren’t what you would call ‘formal’ uniforms, they were far more formal than the flight suits they were wearing. Although they were both blue, so they blended in well.

Dash walked down the metallic stairs down into the innards of the ship. The crew pony told her to follow her nose, but all she could smell was an oily-metallic smell. And he didn’t tell her how far down she should go. Should she just keep walking? She could hear hoofsteps as she continued walking down the stairs, meaning everypony was likely to just follow her.

As she made it down below the first level, she starting picking up the smell of spices on her nose. So that’s what he must’ve meant when he told her to ‘follow her nose’. She walked more confidently down the stairs until on one of the landings, she saw an open door to a hall, with bench tables lined around the room. Similar to the setup they had at the Wonderbolts HQ. She noticed that there was a few members of the crew already in there eating.

She stepped through the door and was immediately greeted with a much stronger smell of the food. She licked her lips as she took in the smell. The room itself was surprisingly humid, but that was probably a side effect of being buried so deep in machinery and metal. Plus there was presumably a kitchen next door, which contributed to the heat.

“Good afternoon,” a voice immediately caught her attention. She turned to look at an opening like a canteen setup, with a pony standing behind it in an apron and a manenet looking ready to serve. “I hope you’re hungry.”

“I am,” Dash replied, walking over to the hole in the wall and picking up a tray. She collected her food and sat on the first available bench she came across. Whilst she wanted to be polite and wait for her roommates to arrive and start eating with her, her belly was telling her otherwise. She immediately started tucking in.

“It’s good to finally see some food after that long morning.” Dahlia commented, sliding onto the seat next to Dash.

“I know right?” Dash replied, “It only hit me during the last hour or so how hungry I was though. And then again when Spitfire mentioned it at the debrief.”

“I’m just glad they know how to cook,” Comet added, appearing on the opposite end of the table. “Nothing beats a good old fashioned fry up.”

“Yeah...but I’ve never known mashed potato to be fried before…” Dahlia replied, pawing at it with her fork.

“No?” Bright Skies asked, sitting next to Dahlia. “When we fry it, we normally flatten it and add cheese in my family. Tastes fantastic.”

The talk of food only made Dash devour hers more greedily. Her plate didn’t last long, but she was even happier when she was told she was allowed seconds. Which she didn’t hesitate to take up.

“So how did you guys find it? Do you think we did well?” Dahlia asked.

“Not as well as we could have. But hopefully enough.” Riptide’s voice suddenly sounded, causing everypony to look at him. He had taken a seat next to Comet. It wasn’t that much of a surprise, but what was odd was that he was being surprisingly serious and honest today...not like him at all.

“Well, I’m exhausted. You guys made me fly up and down that damn path so many times,” Bright Skies commented. “And then obviously Dash blitzed it a few times when we had her replace me.”

Dash chuckled, “Only because you guys were good enough to put yourselves in harm's way for me. I would’ve got caught otherwise.”

She felt a nudge in her side, prompting her to look over at Dahlia. Dahlia leant over to her. “Looks like you’ve got some admirers…” she whispered then craned her head over to motion to Dash to look over there.

Dash looked and for a brief second, saw some ponies from the crew looking at her before immediately looking away to look like they weren’t looking at her.

Dahlia let out a few giggles. “I guess you’re more widely known than you think. The blue colt on the back left looks like a cutie, you should go talk to them.”

“Yeah, let me think; no.” Dash replied bluntly, then stuffed her mouth full so she couldn’t talk back.

“C’mon, they could be fun. Besides, who says they’re trying to court you? You’re pretty famous, they might just want to know you.” Dahlia examined, nudging her in the side again.

Dash swallowed, “Maybe later. We’ve got more important things to worry about right now.”

“Oh have some fun Dashie. It’s not everyday you get to hang around some...nice handsome young REAF officers.” Dahlia continued trying to convince her.

Dash smirked, “You mean you want to meet them yourself and want me to be your wingpony?” Dash flipped the discussion around in Dahlia’s direction. “Or you be wingpony to me.” The discussing was causing a few giggles from Bright Skies and Comet.

“N-no, I...well, maybe, but...I’m just keeping my options open. I’ve got...somepony else in mind…” she couldn’t help but blush as she spoke her last sentence. But then her eyes immediately locked on Riptide. Who didn’t even seem to be looking at them. “And what are you pondering? You’ve usually fired off about a dozen euphemisms at this point.”

Riptide looked up at Dahlia. “I’m just trying to concentrate on making it through. I don’t have time for this.”

Dahlia blinked as she computed his words. She didn’t know it was even possible for Riptide to come across as so serious. She didn’t know what was really going on inside his head, but she was sure that Torque’s berating put a good idea in his brain.

Dash and her roommates soon finished eating. Dash was tempted to go up for thirds, but she knew that she was full enough to perform at her best. Anything more would just be excess weight. Something she didn’t want in her belly if she had a lot of moving around to do later.

She patiently waited and continued chatting with her roommates about what they thought the plans might be. Thinking about it, she vaguely remembered Spitfire mentioning something about it when she was getting a scolding for fighting with Thunder Flash. She couldn’t recall that any details were mentioned though. Only that the REAF were going to be involved. So what it involved them doing on some air-battleships was anypony’s guess.

A whistle chime suddenly caught everypony’s attention. Dash looked to her left, leaning back to look past some of the bigger ponies sitting on the bench next to her. She saw Spitfire gently hover into the air to address them.

“Did everypony enjoy their lunch?”

Dash didn’t hesitate to answer yes to that question, along with several other trainees.

“You can thank the Admiral Swift Sprint for that, he convinced the chefs to do that for you. Anyway, it’s now time to begin our next and final test for this phase of the trials. Follow me up to the decks.”

The sound of benches screeching as they were pushed back as many ponies tried to scrambled towards the staircase overwhelmed the sounds of everything else in the room. Dash picked herself up to her hooves, but didn’t try to barge her way through. She remained patient. Mostly because she wanted a moment to gather her thoughts. She didn’t know what they were going to be up against, but they were about to find out...

Author's Note:

Damn, this chapter had a lot of fast-paced action. Something I always find somewhat of a chore to write. I struggle to not be repetitive as well as get the level of detail that I need.

So...this chapter was originally meant to be one big chapter. But I couldn't get it finished in time, and I wanted to get something out before the new year. So I split it off here to be finished next chapter. As it implies, chapter 22 is well underway and will probably be completed soon after this one. That being said, my January is very packed, so I'll have limited time to to work on WTAT. But I can guarantee chapter 22 will be out in January at some point. :rainbowdetermined2:

Progress has been good so far, and a pretty good chapter to finish the year off on. Have a great new year guys, be sure to get drunk enough and then drink some more :rainbowlaugh: 2019 is feeling like it will be the year WTAT will finally be completed...

Thanks for reading! :twilightsmile: