• Published 26th Jan 2012
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Transcendence - Corejo



Scootaloo learns the wonders of flight.

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IV - The Missing Piece

The Missing Piece

The rest of Scootaloo’s week crawled on at a slow but bearable pace. Her tapered practices did well to balance with Mrs. Meter Stick’s insufferable nagging, and both her posture and voice vouched for her relative abundance of energy, a relic of her pre-flight days.

It was with this energy that Scootaloo awoke Friday morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. On the scent of sauteéd vegetables she glided through the hallway, toward the kitchen, and onto a stool that sat on the living room side of the kitchen’s wrap-around bar table. She leaned forward, breathing deeply of the sizzling stir fry, then releasing it.

From where he stood before the stove top, Tyco looked over his shoulder at her and smiled. “You’re up early. Excited?”

Scootaloo nodded her head, eyes fixed on the skillet. “Uh huh.” She licked her lips.

“Heh, thought so. I took an hour off this morning to cook you up a good breakfast for your big day.” He took the skillet of vegetables off the heat and scooped them onto a plate, which he then set at her hooves.

Scootaloo paid no mind to the steam wafting from it and dove into the vegetables as if in an eating contest. Quicker so did she cough them out and wave a hoof over her tongue.

“What the hay’d you expect? I just took them off the stove,” Tyco said, brow raised. Undeterred by her blunder, Scootaloo blew on the vegetables. Tyco laughed. “Heh, well at least you learn from your mistakes.”

The steam dwindled to a tiny wisp before Scootaloo tried again. Her tongue unburned this time, she devoured her breakfast, strapped on her saddlebags, and took flight for school. “Thanks, dad!” she called over her shoulder, having almost forgotten to do so in her excitement.

She saw him wave his farewell from the doorstep before she turned back to the sky. Her flight to school felt instant, just as she hoped the day would. Through the front door she flew, landing just outside her classroom, a big smile on her face as she stepped inside.

To her surprise, Mrs. Meter Stick also wore a smile as she sat behind her lacquered desk. It curled deviously to one side, and Scootaloo felt her own fade as her teacher spoke, “Hello, Scootaloo.”

“Uh... good morning?” Concerned that the old hag would ever speak to her so politely, Scootaloo eyed her as she trotted to her seat. She immediately turned to her friends. “What’s with her?”

“I dunno,” Applebloom said, “she’s been like this since I got here.”

“It’s kinda creepy,” Sweetie Belle added.

That was a fact Scootaloo could get behind. She nodded her approval before saying, “It is. We need to get—”

The school bell rang, and Scootaloo rolled her eyes. It was like it always knew right when she was about to speak.

“We need to get to the bottom of it, fast,” she whispered before Mrs. Meter Stick cleared her throat to begin the day. The trio shared a nod, then bided their time for lunch—which didn’t take long thanks to Mrs. Meter Stick’s bubbly new attitude.

Applebloom slammed her glass of milk on the lunch table, spilling its contents everywhere, and wiped a milk mustache from her lips. “I don’t get it, why’s she so neighborly all of a sudden?”

Sweetie Belle shrugged. “Ahmnno.” She swallowed the mouthful of daffodil sandwich she had been chewing. “I don’t know.”

“Well...” Scootaloo looked down at the spaghetti she had been idly twirling with her fork, head rested on a hoof. “Besides Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, she knows everypony in class hates her.” She raised her fork and tilted it to let the spaghetti plop back onto the plate. “Maybe she’s trying, like, reverse psychology or something.”

“Trying what?” Sweetie Belle asked, brow raised.

Cross, Applebloom leaned over the table at Scootaloo. “Mrs. Meter Stick actually tryin’ to be nice? I don’t believe it.” She sat down and thumped a hoof on the table. “She’s up to somethin’, I just know it.”

“But what?” Sweetie Belle asked. Neither Applebloom nor Scootaloo answered, and after a moment, they collectively sighed.

The bell rang.

“Well, I guess we should just enjoy it while it lasts,” Scootaloo said before tossing her fork on her lunch tray to take to the garbage bin.

“However long that is,” Applebloom replied.

The laugh that escaped Scootaloo was contagious, spreading to the others and following them to class. In their seats with smiles on their faces, they looked forward to what was in store. As Scootaloo expected, it went well. Mrs. Meter Stick was still as charming as she was that morning, and the hands of the clock seemed to race each other about its face to the ever-beautiful three o’clock because of it.

The bell rang to much celebration, Scootaloo being no exception. Into the air she leapt with a shout of joy before gathering her things to speed out the door on the heels of her peers. But before she crossed the threshold, a soft, sweet voice that she almost didn’t recognize as Mrs. Meter Stick’s called out to her.

“Scootaloo, would you wait a moment, please?”

Scootaloo’s face tensed in worry as she looked up at Mrs. Meter Stick’s ever-present smile. “But I have to—”

“Scootaloo, this is important. And I’ve put it off for far too long.”

Scootaloo bit her lip. She hadn’t done anything wrong, not that she knew of anyway. Whatever the reason, it was making her late for Junior Speedsters.

A chuckle escaped Mrs. Meter Stick. “Is something wrong?” She stepped out from behind her desk, eyes lidded, her devious smile again curling the side of her lip.

Scootaloo gave her a disheartened frown. “It’s just, why do you want me to wait? If I stay too long, I’ll miss out on Junior Speedsters.”

Mrs. Meter Stick let out a single laugh. “Then maybe you should have thought about that before making a mockery of your education. I’ve taught for many years, Scootaloo, and I’ve taught many a filly and colt. Some are like your two friends, polite and respectful. Others are like Twist, eager to learn and be the bright future of Equestria.

“And then, there’s your kind.” Her eyes narrowed to slits behind her glasses. “I know your type when I see it. No interest in academics, no potential for contributing to society.” She stepped before Scootaloo so as to tower above. “I became a teacher to make sure that foals like you grow up properly, and if that means taking something special away from you, then so be it.”

She turned about for her desk. “I sent for your father not long ago. He’ll be here to discuss the matter shortly. He is a stallion of dignity, and I’m certain he will know what to do about your... gross misbehavior.”

“But...” was all that came forth from Scootaloo’s gaping mouth. A trembling worked its way down her legs, and she felt a lump form in her throat. Nothing more sinister had she ever heard or seen than a pony taking something special from another. Being the victim made it worse. The thought of losing what she had trained so much for day in and day out cut deep. The trembling became tension, her gaping mouth, gritted teeth. She glared death, but Mrs. Meter Stick smiled all the more.

The sound of hooves on tile echoed in from the hallway, and Tyco burst through the door, panting heavily. His eyes landed on Scootaloo, then on Mrs. Meter Stick, confused. “Scoot, you alright?” he said hastily, trotting up to inspect her, then looking to Mrs. Meter Stick. “What happened? I just got your letter. It sounded like an emergency. What’s going on?”

“No, Tyco, Scootaloo is fine. But there is the matter of her delinquency.” She cleared her throat, and Scootaloo couldn’t help the shudder that ran through her. “Scootaloo has been tardy over ten times this quarter, and I’ve caught her sleeping many times during class.”

“Wha-what?” He blinked, the confusion on his face magnifying.

“I said—”

“Yeah, I heard what you said. But what you’re telling me is that you sent an urgent message today, to tell me to leave work three hours early without notice, and sprint here for a... a parent-teacher conference?” He stepped forward, glaring. “Why didn’t you just have Scoot tell me to stop by so I could give the mayor some warning before I dropped everything and made a complete fool of myself?”

Mrs. Meter Stick retreated a step, her eyes momentarily betraying her composure. “I assure you, the reason why I have called you this way is important to teaching your daughter how to beha...” She trailed off at the sight of his inattentive gaze.

A moment passed before Tyco blinked back to reality and set her with a level stare that set even Scootaloo on edge. His voice was calm, but dangerous. “Does this have to do with Junior Speedsters?”

The gulp in Mrs. Meter Stick’s throat was practically audible. “Y-yes. I believed that you would understand—”

“Oh, I understand.” Tyco strode forward, backing her into her desk, all remaining courage fleeing as he pressed his nose against hers. “And you understand this. My daughter’s been working a lot harder outside of class than your simple mind could ever comprehend. She hasn’t had any problems with her schoolwork since we moved here, yet you want to take away something she’s been working for for months because you think she’s lazy? We came to Ponyville to get away from elitist shit like you, and I won’t have you persecuting my daughter on some crusade for your twisted view of ‘proper.’ Even my father would be turning in his grave. If you even fucking think about harassing my daughter again, I’ll take this to the board of education and have your ass mounted on a wall.”

Both Scootaloo and Mrs. Meter Stick’s jaws dropped to the floor.

Tyco rounded on his heels for the door. “Come on, Scoot, we’re leaving.”

Scootaloo complied without hesitation. No way in Equestria was she going to be on the wrong side of that.

Mrs. Meter Stick’s squeaky voice came from behind. “H-how... how dare you speak to m-me like that. You-you’ll be hearing from the committee about this!” Her voice cracked on the last word, and Scootaloo couldn’t help but giggle.

In the doorway, Tyco shot a cross glance back at her. He outstretched his hoof toward her, a slight bend at the elbow. “Sit on this.”

What his words meant was beyond Scootaloo, but the horror on her teacher’s face was priceless. She smiled, but faced it away from her father as they left the building, nervous of what he would think at the sight of it.

Outside, she dared a glance at him. He was deep in thought, his eyes cross and ears flat on his head in the usual manner when something bothered him. Rarely did it ever happen, but always greatly. Still, she wanted to know what his final words meant, enough to ask when he seemed calm enough.

“Hey, dad, what does ‘sit on this’ mean?”

Tyco shook his head and blinked back to reality before looking to her and giving a quick smile. “Don’t you have a race to win?”

“Huh? Oh! Oh my gosh!” Scootaloo leapt into the air at the realization. In a blur, she took off for Fillydelphia.

“Good luck!” she barely heard her father call. He was lost in the distance, as was all of Ponyville in a timely manner—though not too timely, as she needed to arrive ready to race. Forests and plains quickly followed, and Fillydelphia grew on the horizon. Just north of the city a fairground was bustling with life. She sped toward it with the hope she wasn’t late.

As she neared, a small blue speck raced toward her, which she soon realized was Rainbow Dash, who tackled her at full speed. They tumbled through the air for a moment before Rainbow Dash gathered her balance to hold Scootaloo at hoof-length and stare her full in the face, exasperated. “Where have you been!?”

Scootaloo barely had a chance to shake the dizziness from her head. “I—”

“No time—track, race, go!

Before she knew what was going on, Scootaloo felt herself launched toward the track below, only realizing after the fact that Rainbow Dash had thrown her. She regained her sense of control and flew toward the check-in desk, where many other fillies and colts were gathering, and landed to await obtaining her number. The mob dwindled quickly, as there were many workers sorting and distributing and shouting. They all looked so busy. It was enough to make Scootaloo clench her wings against her sides.

“Name?” asked a smiling young mare behind the table. “What is your name?”

“Huh?” Scootaloo shook her head, realizing the mare was talking to her. “Oh, me? Scootaloo.”

The mare looked at her sheet. “Team?”

Scootaloo cocked her head. “Team?”

“Yes, your team name.” The mare flipped through her papers.

“I don’t have a team.”

On the last page, the mare stopped. “Oh, here you are. ‘Scootaloo, unattached.’ Your number is twenty-six.” She tore two stickers with the block numbers “26” off a roll and passed them across the table. “One on each flank, please. Have fun!”

Scootaloo took them in her mouth and trotted aside. It took some effort, but she managed to peel them off and stick them on each flank, just below where her cutie mark should be. She smiled.

A loudspeaker crackled to life. “Third and final call for the filly’s eight hundred meter run. Third and final call for the filly’s eight hundred meter run.”

Scootaloo’s heart did a backflip, both in surprise at how late she was and excitement. Her first race of the day! Her first race ever! To the starting line she flew. The track’s cinder ash crunched beneath her hooves in a way that reminded her of gravel. Fillies and colts of all colors and sizes ran and raced and flew about, while others lay or stretched their legs.

“Alright,” yelled a gruff, portly stallion with greying mutton chops, a red hat, and sunglasses. “We will begin the eight hundred shortly.” The crowd gathered around him. “There’s enough of you that we’ll start two to a lane, so come up to the line as I call your names.” He set a clipboard on the track, pulled a pen from the chest pocket of his white polo, and began calling off names, pointing to the starting line. “Quickhoof, Sunny Smiles, lane one.”

Scootaloo couldn’t help the butterflies in her stomach as he called off names. What lane would she be in?

“Blitz, Scootaloo, lane five.”

Scootaloo jumped without meaning to at her name, then walked to her place, head low, legs wobbly. She looked over her shoulder at the other fillies in their staggered lines behind her, while others filled those ahead in the outer lanes. Beside her, a filly with a bright yellow coat and mane smirked at her.

“Try not to trip.”

The insult made Scootaloo blank in surprise, then face forward, determined. She knew who she wanted to beat.

“You are to stay in your lanes until you pass the first turn, where the orange cones are. After that, you will collapse into lanes one and two. Any questions?”

The runners were silent. The official nodded. He trotted aside, where a tall wooden pole stood with a bell atop it. “On your marks...”

Scootaloo fidgeted in her place, unsure of what sort of stance to take.

“Seeeet...”

Her heart beat wildly in her chest as she focused on Rainbow Dash’s advice: first lap hard but relaxed, the second, everything left. She licked her chapped lips.

The bell rang.

Scootaloo surged herself forward, feeling the cinder ash give beneath her hooves. Cheers burst from the stage of spectators as she raced around the first turn and took a small lead on her lane partner. Orange cones separated each lane from the other at the one hundred meter mark, which a filly from lane eight passed and cut inward. Not a second later, Scootaloo passed the cones and followed hot on her heels, making sure not to trip on anypony behind her.

The thought of how exhilarating racing was passed through her mind, but was fleeting; running was much harder than flying, her legs burning with the fire of exertion. At the second turn she drew back, and two others passed. She gritted her teeth. Keep it together!

More clearly could the cheers of the crowd be heard on the home stretch, Rainbow Dash’s easily picked out from the ruckus. “C’mon, Scoot! One more lap! Keep it up!” She stood at the finish line, a serious look on her face.

Scootaloo grinned as she passed and leaned into her charge of the third turn. Four hundred to go. One of the runners ahead began slowing, and she kicked when she overtook him at three hundred left. Around the final turn she sprinted, letting loose everything she had left. First place was almost halfway down the straightaway, but second not even five paces ahead, clearly winded. Scootaloo wheezed through the pain, inching nearer as they dashed down the final hundred.

The filly turned her head to see Scootaloo with surprise before redoubling her sprint. Scootaloo cut into the other lane to try and pass, but she hadn’t enough time. She finished less than a length behind, immediately collapsing into the cinder ash. She looked over her shoulder at those still finishing. The snarky yellow one staggered across the line before toppling onto the field inside the track. Scootaloo laughed through her wheezes. Served her right.

“Great race, Scoot, you got third.” Rainbow Dash stood over her, smiling. “Two-fifty-six is a pretty fast time.” She lifted Scootaloo to her hooves and brushed off her coat before laughing. “You’re lucky these meets never run on time or they’d already be running the fifteen. C’mon, lets get you ready for it.”

Rainbow Dash leapt into the air, looking back at Scootaloo. The hint was quickly understood, and Scootaloo followed.

“How d’you think you did?” Rainbow Dash asked as they took an easy pace toward a grassy field to the south.

Scootaloo shrugged. “I dunno. Okay, I guess. It kinda hurt, though.” She rolled her shoulders instinctively.

“You’ll wanna stretch out some when we land.” Rainbow Dash poked her in the shoulder. “You might not think it, but lots of your running muscles are attached to the ones you use for flying.”

Her statement wasn’t much of a surprise to Scootaloo. Every beat of her wings felt like weights had been tied to her legs, but Scootaloo forced a nod. It would do no good to have Rainbow Dash think she was tired already.

A minute passed before the two found themselves amidst other pegasi on the open field.

“Second call for the filly’s fifteen hundred meter flight. Second call for the filly’s fifteen hundred meter flight,” came the crackly loudspeaker.

Rainbow Dash laughed and gave Scootaloo a smirk and elbow jab. “We’re a little early this time.”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes, then trotted for the check-in desk. Much easier than before, she obtained her number, “6”, and returned to Rainbow Dash. She started to peel one of her old numbers off, but Rainbow Dash held a hoof up to it.

“Just put it on over it. No reason to yank all that hair off three times.” She gave a knowing chuckle.

Scootaloo’s eyes traced a line to the number on her flank, then the one in her hoof. Complying, she patched the new one atop the old.

Now,” Rainbow Dash said, “remember the fifteen is different than the eight.” She scrunched her face. “Well, I mean besides flying and all—you get what I mean. It’s hard to describe, but it’s like the first lap of the eight for the first half, then building into the last half. Fast all the way through, but still kinda controlled. Seeing it for yourself is the best way to understand.” Her gaze drifted over Scootaloo’s shoulder. “Should be about ten minutes ‘til they call you up.” She readied her wings for flight. “I’m gonna go look at the seeding chart. You stay here and stretch out, psyche yourself up.” Her grin complemented the peppiness of her voice, then to her namesake, Rainbow Dash was off for the boards propped against the side of a tent.

Scootaloo took her advice and began stretching—front legs, back and hind legs in religious order. While doing so, she observed the other competitors. Not many looked like racers—distance, anyway. Some were larger than the sport favored—a rather harsh assessment, but true. It wasn’t like she fared much better, her size in question. She would have considered herself the runt of the litter if not for the few smaller than her.

It boiled down to guts—who wanted to win more. On that front, Scootaloo had no doubt it was her. None of the others looked in any way, shape, or form as focused as she, except ones here or there with racing-centric cutie marks. But they were much older. She grinned. Time would prove the true victor.

Rainbow Dash landed beside her. “They’ve got you in the second heat of the fifteen. Some kid named Shadow’s seeded eight seconds ahead of what I entered you as.” She smiled. “Should be a good challenge for you.”

“Third and final call for the filly’s fifteen hundred meter flight. Third and final call for the filly’s fifteen hundred meter flight.”

“There they go,” Rainbow Dash said, watching those in the first heat fly up through a large white cloud directly above. “Should be about six minutes before you go up.”

A bell rang, and Scootaloo saw the racers take off toward the distant horizon, a dark-orange one in the lead. She noticed Rainbow Dash watching with particular interest, her mouth open ever so slightly, ears swivelled forward.

“Rainbow Dash?” she asked.

Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Hmm? Sorry, squirt, just watchin’ that one up front. I wanna see this ‘cause she was seeded five-oh-three. There hasn’t been anypony that fast in her age group here since, heh, well... me.” She brushed a hoof on her chest, grinning.

Scootaloo looked back at the racers. As Rainbow Dash had said, the one in front was indeed fast—the clear winner before even reaching the halfway loop.

“You better get up there, the others are already going,” Rainbow Dash said. “Good luck. You’ll see me up there cheerin’ for you.” With a smile, she took to a spectator cloud in the distance.

Scootaloo smiled, comforted by the thought of Rainbow Dash’s cheers. After a deep breath, she followed a few racers heading for the cloud above. Atop the cloud, not many were yet present, but her new vantage point gave her an excellent view of the finishing race.

The dark-orange filly crossed the finish line with no nearby competition. “Five-twenty-six,” a lanky, white stallion called out.

Scootaloo couldn’t help her eyes widening in disbelief. Though it wasn’t the time Rainbow Dash had said, such speed was incredible; though the filly didn’t seem to agree—or think anything of it at all. She breathed heavily, but wasn’t gasping for breath. A mild workout it seemed she thought of it, simply trotting past the official and then diving through the cloud. How a pony could be so comfortable after a race Scootaloo couldn’t understand.

“Five-fifty-eight, five-fifty-nine,” the official called for the next two racers to finish.

Scootaloo shook her head. Such a lead was beyond ridiculous. The thought both cowed and humbled her.

The last of heat one’s contestants crossed the finish line, each in their own manner of exhaustion, as those of heat two climbed up through the cloud to take their place around Scootaloo.

“That makes twelve,” the lanky stallion said. “Gee, we’ve just been having wonderful attendance today, haven’t we, Sky? All these bright, smiling faces.” A cheerful grin swept from ear to ear beneath bright yellow eyes.

“Hmm...” grunted an older, plumper stallion beside him, checklist in hoof.

“Okay, so how many of you are excited to fly today?” the lanky one asked as he raised a hoof into the air. He looked between the silent faces, awkwardness seeping into his own. “Oookay, then. Well, today, we’re—”

“You’re gonna fly to that cloud marker and back,” Sky cut in. His words were like sandpaper. “Any questions?”

Scootaloo snickered at the lanky one’s admonishing glance at his partner. They were an odd pair.

“You’ll fly to the marker on the right side and loop around it to come back on the left,” the lanky one clarified, still looking at Sky. Sky raised an eyebrow, a smile forming beneath his bushy mustache. Whatever the implication was, the lanky one flustered before shaking his head and forcing a smile at the group. “Are we ready to fly?”

Scootaloo rolled her eyes. She could have been there and back in the time they had been bickering. Racing was what she wanted to do, and only one other participant looked up to snuff—dark-blue coat, black mane and tail.

Flight races seemed much less organized in comparison to those on a track. No lines or boxes or lanes separated Scootaloo from the others at the starting line, which was also unstaggered. They all huddled to the line. Scootaloo could smell the hot breath of the fillies beside her.

“On your mark...” the lanky stallion called. “Set...”

Unlike the first race, the official rang the bell almost instantly, catching Scootaloo off guard. The dark-blue filly took off in the blink of an eye to take a big lead in the starting dash. Scootaloo wouldn’t have it.

She dashed after her, wings pumping like engine pistons to make up for lost distance, the wind howling in her ears. She knew from the get go that it would be between the two of them—the others already falling far behind. Cheers came and went from the stands as she passed them by, Rainbow Dash’s still easily heard above. “Focus, Scoot! It’s not a sprint! Take her on the home stretch!”

The dark-blue filly glanced over her shoulder and scowled. She again looked ahead and surged forward, and Scootaloo took the bait. She pumped her wings for speed as she was taught, forceful and rhythmic, not an ounce of energy wasted. Her cadence was what mattered, the goal of first place an afterthought to efficiency.

Sure enough, when the dark-blue filly rounded the loop and passed by, Scootaloo could see the strain in her face, drawing a grin on her own. She looped about the cloud marker and leaned further into her turn, slim as an arrow.

The wind blew hard in her face to slow her down, but she knew it did so for the filly ahead and pressed on. Tears formed in her eyes due to its abrasiveness.

Again she passed the stands, Rainbow Dash’s voice cracking with the fervor of her shouts. “Right here, Scoot! Right here! Go get her! Push it now!”

That was all she needed to hear. Now only a few lengths behind, Scootaloo could hear the filly’s hoarse wheezing, and smell her foul breath. She gutted out the last two hundred to overtake the filly. As she passed, the filly forced herself ahead in a last-ditch effort to win, but Scootaloo held fast. She crossed the finish line a full length ahead and promptly collapsed into the cloud.

“Alright, Scoot!”

A hoof shook her shoulder, prompting her to look up into Rainbow Dash’s smiling face.

“You won the heat!” Rainbow Dash continued. “Nice work.” She sat down beside her, and Scootaloo rolled onto her side to suck wind.

“Thanks... That was... Hard,” she said between breaths. Something about that moment struck Scootaloo. The way Rainbow Dash smiled down at her, hoof on hers, felt comforting in the most basic sense.

“Heh, I bet it was—like it should be. You raced that smart.” A moment passed in silence. “Come on, you gotta stay loose for your last race.” At that, Rainbow Dash fell through the cloud. Scootaloo waited for a second, lingering on the closeness she had felt.

Rainbow Dash poked her head up through the cloud. “You comin’?”

“Mhmm.” Still dwelling on the thought, she followed down through the cloud to where Rainbow Dash stood observing the dark-orange pegasus out of the corner of her eye.

“See her?”

Now that she wasn’t an orange blur across the sky, the filly’s figure was much clearer. Poised, confident, she stood chatting with a colt. Her mane and tail sprouted and curled like gouts of flame that would burn her if she got too close. Likewise, her cutie mark was of yellow wings unfurling about a raging fire. Assumably four years older, age gave her the calmness of her stance, her experience, ease in a charged atmosphere. She was a true flier.

“You saw her in the heat before yours,” Rainbow Dash continued. “Her name’s Pyra. She won the fifteen overall and beat your time by sixteen seconds.”

Scootaloo could hear the warning in Rainbow Dash’s voice, but kept her eyes glued to Pyra. There was something about her that set Scootaloo on edge, something that told her to never look away for fear of danger.

“She’s fast, Scoot. And she’s in the 5K with you.”

Scootaloo’s skin crawled. She was going up against her? That pony didn’t win the fifteen; that pony destroyed it—without even trying! And she had to race her!?

“Hey,” Rainbow Dash said. Her face held a grin—a sly grin—one only mischief or absolute certainty could produce. “You’re gonna beat her.”

Belief welled within Scootaloo, the likes of which she couldn’t understand. Rainbow Dash knew. Nothing else mattered. She set a keen glance upon Pyra, then grinned.

Rainbow Dash nudged her shoulder. “That’s what I like to see. C’mon, let’s keep you loose.” Ever the peppy flier, Rainbow Dash leapt into the air, an expectant smile on her face when she turned, but Scootaloo didn’t immediately follow.

She remained where she was, eyes fixed upon Rainbow Dash. What was it that made her so trustworthy? Her smile certainly was comforting, but only the surface of what made her so—the tip of the iceberg. An energy hid within, vivacious and plentiful in a way Scootaloo couldn’t make out, and was directed at her, channeled into her. Even the thought of that smile—those eyes—had impact. And knowing she didn’t understand what it was forced a sigh from her lips. She then followed Rainbow Dash skyward, eyes glazed.

She could hear Rainbow Dash speaking, but didn’t bother listening, instead trying to wrap her head around the puzzle. There were many pieces in place, but the picture they made wasn’t clear without the rest—what she didn’t know.

Since the beginning of her training, Rainbow Dash had become increasingly relaxed around her. She smiled more—that was for sure—despite how the ringlets beneath her eyes grew more pronounced each day, today much more so. Nothing but training seemed to occupy her life—that and Scootaloo’s. Which was odd since Rainbow Dash used to be infamous for her naps. Knowing she had renounced them for her sake made it all the more confusing. Why would anypony do such a thing to themselves?

Perhaps she simply wanted to see Scootaloo improve, or like she said on their first day, it would be “awesome.” Maybe she felt obligated, compelled by something deeper, more instinctive. If so, was that natural?

Why did she herself want to be here? She had learned to fly, under the wing of the one she most admired. Only Rainbow Dash’s smile kept her here and pushing through pain she would rather avoid. It didn’t make sense, but it felt so right.

“Helloooo. Equestria to Scootaloo.”

Scootaloo shook her head. Rainbow Dash had an eyebrow raised.

“Were you sleeping?”

“What? No, I was just...” Scootaloo averted her eyes. They flew a moment in silence.

“First call for the filly’s 5K flight. First call for the filly’s 5K flight.”

“That’s our cue,” Rainbow Dash said before banking toward the field below. Another sigh escaped Scootaloo, and she followed without a word.

On the ground Rainbow Dash turned to her, seriousness in her eyes. “Don’t forget... Pyra is the one you want to beat. She flew the fifteen easy, meaning she knows how to pace, and her actual speed is much faster than we’ve seen. Don’t try and outrace her. You’ll lose if you do. Fly your own pace, but stay aggressive.” She looked aside, her eyes fixed on something behind Scootaloo. “Stay with her, and your race’ll be in the last eight. It’s gonna hurt, but I know you can do this.” She smiled with certainty at Scootaloo.

“Second call for the filly’s 5K flight. Second call for the filly’s 5K flight.”

“They have the cones out, so they’re gonna do a ground start to the cones.” She snickered, her eyes closing as if recalling a memory. “Get out quick. You don’t wanna be in the middle of everypony else when you take off. These things never start off how they plan them—but that’s not the point.” She shook a dismissive hoof, the gravity of the situation wiping the smile from her face. “What is is that you fly smart. You’ve got your target. Keep with her. And remember, when you think you’ve got nothing left, you do.” She ruffled Scootaloo’s mane. “Dig deep. Fight hard. I’ll be out there cheering for you.”

In a rush of wind she was off to the skies, leaving Scootaloo among her gathering peers. The race imminent, Scootaloo went to the check-in desk to obtain her race and box number. She applied the “10” to her flank before heading for her box. Once there, she started to kick out her hind legs, to shake away the fatigue that had crept in. It didn’t help much, but it occupied her, kept her focused.

Without thinking, she turned her head to where Rainbow Dash had looked during her speech. Pyra stood chatting with others in the coming race—teammates assumably. She looked so calm, so collected. Scootaloo hadn’t noticed the scowl creeping onto her own face until Pyra looked her way. Immediately it fled at her gaze, at the deceiving simplicity of it.

Pyra’s eyes fell upon her, emotionless, but not thoughtless. On the surface they merely glanced; within, they analyzed. Calculations of size and weight, wingspan and posture, confidence and willpower hummed in the fiery yellow of her eyes for no more than a second. She then looked away without so much as a second glance.

How a simple glance could affect her so, Scootaloo didn’t understand, but her scowl returned. She had her work cut out for her.

A whistle blew, and Scootaloo turned to see the portly official from the eight hundred standing a ways beyond the starting blocks. He beckoned the crowd toward him.

“Since we have so many competitors today, we’ll start this race with a traditional ground run,” he said once they had gathered around him. “At two hundred meters, by the orange cones, you’ll take off and begin the flight portion of the race. That’ll lessen the confusion at the start.” His gaze swept across the crowd. “After that, just stay inside the cloud markers. Any questions?”

The racers were silent, and he nodded with a grunt. “Good luck to you. And have fun.” He headed for the bell while the crowd trotted to the line painted in the grass.

Scootaloo took her box and looked about at the others and their pre-race rituals. Some stretched their wings. Others bounced on their hooves and did run-outs. They all looked much older than her, excluding a few.

A feeling of doubt crept up from the bottom of her stomach, could she really win this? She saw Pyra’s bright mane of fire at the far end of the line.

You’re gonna beat her.

Her worries dissipated as quickly as they had formed.

“On your maaaark,” the official called out, drawing Scootaloo’s attention to the stretch of grass ahead. She kicked her hooves out subconsciously, shaking out the lingering stiffness from her previous race. “Seeeet...” She leaned forward, prepared to launch.

Silence reigned during the grossly long pause, and anxiety filled the open air, suffocating and intolerable. The raucous clang of the bell finally released the tension, the competitors bursting forth in a stampede of adrenaline, like an invading army upon the unsuspecting landscape.

Scootaloo charged to the head of the pack to keep pace with a brown filly. She turned her head to search for Pyra, determined to keep her in check, and was surprised to see her toward the middle of the herd.

At the orange cones Scootaloo put the thought aside and shot a beeline for the first cloud marker, a pair of small clouds with orange flags atop them. She heard the chaos of those behind her, those entangled in their efforts to take flight, and giggled as Rainbow Dash’s prediction came true.

Marker after marker passed by as those behind her slowly caught up in an attempt to recover lost ground. Pegasi of blues and greens and browns sped past, which goaded her to pursue.

Fly your own race.

In complete disregard of instinct, she resisted the urge as the course climbed high into the clouds. Even if she wanted to keep pace, elevation quickly took its toll. She slowed to match her previous strain, only to be disheartened further as more trickled past.

“Aren’t you a little small to be in this race?” a kind but disbelieving voice huffed over exertion. Scootaloo looked over her shoulder and saw Pyra slowly gaining headway.

There she is. Just stay with her. Scootaloo gritted her teeth and picked up her pace to match her target. The two reached the peak of their ascent before banking leftward into a dive. Wind blasted in her face at the speed. A twinge in Scootaloo’s sides started to form, but she ignored it and powered downward. She kept a solid pace with Pyra, slowly gaining territory over the other racers.

The dive levelled out just above the cinder track, where the cheers of excited spectators came and went in an instant. The course banked upward.

Using her momentum, Scootaloo careened up and around a marker in relentless pursuit. Pyra shot a quick glance over her shoulder, and Scootaloo saw the confused agitation on her face. With an audible grunt, Pyra kicked up her pace.

Though the twinge in her sides grew, the high of competition compelled Scootaloo onward. She could do this.

Unable or unwilling to continue, large pockets of racers fell to the wayside as she and her rival barreled toward the next marker. Their breathing and wheezing filled the air as Scootaloo passed, and she would have smiled if not for the pain in her sides.

Another dive brought them low over a nearby forest, and Scootaloo brushed the treetops, tearing leaves up into the air to dance into the distance. Given voice by the wind in Scootaloo’s ears, Pyra’s tail flailed about like a roaring flame, harassing her with its wild dance as she passed the 3k cloud marker and more quickly fading cheers.

Scootaloo’s mouth became dry and pasty. She hacked up a mouthful of phlegm, but the undesirable substance stuck in her mouth. She spat it out at the expense of another precious breath and began to suck wind as the mucus trailed down the side of her neck. Just keep breathing...

Scootaloo and Pyra quickly overtook the last of their competition, striking out ahead to vie for gold.

Pyra’s vibrant tail ahead rose further into the air, and Scootaloo followed it with her eyes. A wave of dread washed over her. Oh, Celestia, not again.

Scootaloo felt as if she was on death’s door. Her muscles screamed beneath the torture, and the pain in her sides erupted into fire. Her heart pounded wildly, crying out for mercy. She watched her rival make the gradual climb to the finish line in the clouds, slowly outdistancing her.

I can’t do this. It hurts... it hurts too much. I... I can’t.

A sudden movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention. The displaced vapors of the final cloud marker evaporated to reveal Rainbow Dash righting herself from landing.

“Eight hundred meters, Scoot! She’s right there! Go!”

Her heart gave a flutter, and her pupils widened in response to the surge of adrenaline. The strain of fatigue melted away as her breathing became full-bodied. Rainbow Dash’s cry resounded in her ears, its magnitude rushing through her mind like a flood of cold water.

Rainbow Dash.

Her smile—the happiness embodied by such a simplistic expression, the very idea of being something Rainbow Dash could be proud of—filled her.

Scootaloo accelerated in an explosion of energy, every muscle firing her forward like overcoiled springs. A wry smile streaked her face as the dancing flame came nearer by the second. Three lengths.

It whipped in the wind, almost within reach. Two lengths. Pyra’s breathing was loud, almost raspy. She dared a glance back, and in her eyes Scootaloo saw disbelief swell like a tidal wave. Scootaloo’s grin doubled, then was lost to a gritting of teeth to wring out every last drop of energy. One length.

The wind of Pyra’s wing beats warped the air between them as Scootaloo came abreast for an instant, the finish line not twenty meters ahead. She dared not turn to look her opponent in the eyes but could feel the desperation radiating from her like waves of heat; she was spent. Squinching her eyes against the pain of her final stroke, Scootaloo crossed the finish line and fell to the cloud, its vapours scattering in her rolling stop.

The cloud’s fluff was a beautiful feeling, like soft blankets that wanted only to ease the daggers in her sides and the swimming in her skull. Her muscles were like gelatin. She could have lain there forever.

Suddenly, something gripped tight about her shoulders and pulled her up into a warm body. She squirmed for a moment before turning to see Rainbow Dash on the verge of tears.

“You won! I knew you could do it!” Rainbow Dash said, choking on her happiness.

This was her prize—not the endless clamor and praise of spectators, nor the knowledge that she had bested dozens of older pegasi. It was the warmth of Rainbow Dash’s breath, the joy in her eyes, and the soft colorful strands of mane that brushed against her forehead. She felt like butter melting in the loving warmth of Rainbow Dash’s embrace. She returned the gesture, treasuring the moment.

≈≈≈×≈≈≈

A bronze and two gold medals dangled about Scootaloo’s neck as she and Rainbow Dash flew leisurely home on a tailwind. They flew in silence, Scootaloo preferring her thoughts of the 5K and her internal dialogue over speaking.

So confident she felt at the start, despite everything Rainbow Dash had said. She cursed herself and the uncertainty she felt near the end—her surrender at the final stretch. Rainbow Dash had won it for her. Scootaloo looked to her, then down to the medals clanging together against her chest. She was the reason there were two golds instead of one.

She was the reason there were any medals at all.

Indeed, Scootaloo raced for Rainbow Dash, for her admiration and affection, but why still eluded her. A greater force was at play, something instinctive. She sighed, and her heart sank at the prospect of yet another unsolved mystery.

A farewell reached Scootaloo’s ears, but barely registered. Rather than returning it, she flew straight home, intent on asking her father a question that had always bothered her.

She landed on her doorstep but paused before entering. Why she did so wasn’t clear to her, though she looked down at her hooves, mouth curled in an apprehensive frown. After a slow sigh, she opened the door.

The living room sat in dreary silence, and the orange sunset flooding in from the windows gave the earthy décor a sober appearance. Tyco walked in from the hallway and smiled upon seeing the medals about her neck. He approached, congratulation in his eyes, but stopped short at the sight of her frown. Scootaloo looked up, and their eyes met.

“Dad... where’s mom?”

[Author’s Note: Special thanks to Belligerent Sock for his review of this chapter.]

[Onward and Upward!]