Wonderbolt Trials and Tribulations

by White Comet

First published

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...

After many years of trying, Rainbow Dash finally gets the opportunity she's been waiting for all her life; an invite to a Wonderbolts trial with the prize being admittance into their unit. She presumes that it'll be easy now that she's got her hoof in the door, but she couldn't be more wrong. Battles will be fought, rivalries will be made, some settled, some not, all for the big prize. And to top it all off, love has its way of throwing in further complications to the mix. Will she prevail?

Chapter 1

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The cold morning wind rushed through Rainbow Dash’s fur as she flew through the skies on the outskirts of Cloudsdale. The altitude providing a fresh scent, coupled with the breeze, cleared her sinuses well. Luna’s moon was only just beginning to make way for Celestia’s sun. Rainbow Dash had left early, way too early, but she had good reason to.

When her lifelong dream was the reason, there was no such thing as too early. All these years she has spent countless hours, and accomplished so much in the process. She had graduated from the Wonderbolt Academy, and also managed to secure herself a spot in the Wonderbolts reserve. Now, she had been given the opportunity of a lifetime.

A chance to get into the Wonderbolts full time. When the invite came through her letterbox months ago, she had to dart around the different rooms in her house a few times before she could even open it. She hasn’t been able to shut up about it to her friends ever since she got it.

She flew over a cloud and there it was. She remembered the route from when she went to the Wonderbolt Academy. Although this time, the tests will be A LOT more intensive. When it was over, there was only going to be 3 winners. She didn’t know how many would be turning up, as it was an invitation only event, but she’s heard stories about previous years where there was over a hundred.

She touched down on the entrance to the complex and pushed through the double doors. She was already familiar with the inside. It was a very large room that acted as a waiting room as well as reception. The theme for the building was very ‘blue’, obviously with it being in the sky and the fact that the Wonderbolts main colour scheme was blue.

She walked over to the reception desk where there was a pony with glasses sorting through a lot of papers. She noticed Rainbow Dash walking towards her as she was only a few hooves away. “Can I help you?” She asked. She was slightly older than middle-aged, and it showed in her voice.

Rainbow Dash shook her head as she returned to reality. The shock that she was actually here doing this was still catching up to her. “Um, I’m here for the Wonderbolts tryouts,” she said, still looking around and not at the mare.

The mare smiled and picked up a clipboard. Rainbow Dash’s attention turned back to her and she noticed paperwork, which she presumed that she would have to sign. She groaned under her breath as the mare went through it. There was loads of sheets of paper on that clipboard, would she have to read them all?

The mare flicked through to just before midway. “Rainbow Dash, isn’t it?” She still remembered Rainbow Dash from the Wonderbolt Academy. You don’t forget a rainbow mane with an attitude like hers too easily.

“Yeah, that’s me.” Dash replied, grinning as she felt a bit warm that she remembered her.

The mare ticked a box on the paper then put down the clipboard. “Alright, you’re signed in. I just need you to go through this paperwork then sign at the bottom for me.” She said as she drew out a bunch of papers from an open drawer at the bottom of her desk. It only appeared to be about 10 sheets or so.

Rainbow Dash pulled the papers towards her, but something hit her mind just before she wrote. That list on the clipboard was just the list of pegasi who were going to be here? There must be at least 200 pegasi invited if that’s the case.

She started reading through the papers. Most of it was just the standard waiver stuff. Health and safety and all that, nothing that Dash really cared about. It was common practice for her to toss paperwork to the wind.

As she neared the bottom of the final page, there was a line break and then in big bold writing it said ‘PLEASE RETURN TO RECEPTION’. As she passed it back to the mare on reception, she managed to read the first thing that she had to read the first thing she had to mark, which said ‘confirmation that candidate’s luggage is within established parameters’.

As the mare took it, she took a peak over the desk at what Rainbow Dash was carrying. She was wearing a saddle bag with a bag that went over each side. The mare was quite surprised to not see a suitcase, but she didn’t question it.

It took her less than a minute to sign everything else off, then went off into the backroom to get Rainbow Dash a few things. She emerged with a towel, a water bottle, and, the thing that caught Rainbow Dash’s attention the most, the flight suit. It was a genuine Wonderbolt flight suit instead of the trainee one she had at the academy. She was also handed a key for the room she was assigned to. It was just a key with a wooden keyring with the number ‘13’ engraved into it.

She walked down the corridor to drop her stuff off. The corridor was very long and ran near the edge of the building. There were doors on either side, odd numbers on the left, even numbers on the right. She walked down until she reached number 13, where she unlocked the door and walked in.

Inside, there was 8 beds, split in a 4 by 2 fashion up the room. There was a couple of meters clearance between each bed. Each bed was accompanied with a nightstand with a desktop lamp on it. She noticed that each bed had 2 pillows on it. Not a luxury they had the last time she was here. She patted her hoof on the pillows on the bed closest to her, and they were extremely soft. She did the same with the bed and the mattress. They had definitely made more of an investment in their cadet’s living spaces.

She slowly trotted down the middle of the room, eyeing up the beds and deciding which one she would like to pick, seeing as there was no obvious claim to any other bed. She walked down to the end of the room and examined the last bed on the left. She thought about it, but decided it was too close to the bathroom, so she went for the last bed on the right instead.

She threw her saddle bag onto the bed to claim it as hers and walked out of the room. She didn’t bother unpacking yet, as she didn’t really have anything to unpack. She always travelled lightly.

She walked back to the waiting room and…well, waited. She had lots of time to kill. There was a few ponies in the room, engaged in conversations, and there was a slow line beginning to form at reception, indicating things were picking up.

Rainbow Dash, however, was in her own world, thinking about the prize she’d always dreamed of and what she needed to do to achieve it. She knew that this would be no walk in the park, but she wasn’t sure how far from it it would be. They were going to be given trials that include training routines that the Wonderbolts use on a daily basis. Although she was psyched that they wouldn’t be holding anything back, there was still something bothering her that was lingering in the back of her mind. Sure, she was Rainbow Dash, radiator of pure skill and awesomeness, but bottom line, she’d never attempted anything officially licensed by the Wonderbolts before. Sure, she’d tried some of the things that she’d heard them talk about before, even on the rare occasions where she’s been able to speak to them, but there would be trials in there that she’d never even seen before, since they don’t keep everything about their training public. They wouldn’t be the best if they revealed their secrets after all.

“This seat taken?”

She was suddenly broken out of her deep thought by the voice of a stallion close by, that sounded like it was being directed at her. She looked to her left to see a cobalt blue stallion with a teal coloured combed-over mane standing next to her. He appeared to be younger than her.

She motioned with her hoof to the chair next to her, “knock yourself out.”

The stallion sat down next to her and extended his hoof, “Frostbite.”

Rainbow Dash smiled and bumped her hoof against his, “Rainbow Dash.”

Frostbite laid back in his seat, “So where you from, Rainbow Dash?” He spoke in a very carefree tone.

“Born in Cloudsdale, moved to Ponyville,” she replied. “You?”

“Born in Canterlot, lived there my whole life. Hopefully living here once this is over and I’m declared the winner.” He suddenly switched to a very egotistical tone on his last sentence.

Rainbow Dash was about to respond in a similar manner, but since he hadn’t questioned her ability, she decided to leave it be. She wanted to let her actions do the talking, and save the trash-talking for when it was needed. “Well, good luck to ya.”

The clock continued to tick as more and more ponies entered. Sometimes, Rainbow Dash would hear conversations suddenly turn when a well-known Pegasus entered the room. There was only about 10 minutes to the 9AM time they were told to meet at. Rainbow Dash overheard a lot of ponies change their topic of conversation. As she put the pieces of all the different ones she heard around the room together, she could hear that they were talking about a stallion. There seemed to be a little more chatter about this stallion this time though.

She turned her head towards the reception desk and saw the stallion in question walking over. He had a white coat and a black swept back mane, and his cutie mark was 2 chequered flags crossed over. He didn’t look like anything special. He seemed to ignore everypony else and just went to sit down.

As the clock entered the last minute, the anticipation was slowly getting to the better of Rainbow Dash, causing her to fidget in her seat. Although nopony really noticed as they all felt the same. The conversations had almost come to a complete stop by now.

“Well, I guess there’s a first time for everything.” A voice that Rainbow Dash recognised all too well entered the room. Out of a corridor straight in front of her stood Spitfire, followed by Soarin and Fleetfoot. “Looks like a full house. This is the first year we’ve had everypony we’ve sent an invite to turn up…”

She began walking through the aisles of the sat ponies. Dash had got a front row seat, and as their eyes locked, she almost wanted to greet Spitfire like they were old pals, but she thought better of it. She simply gave a small smile and nod.

Spitfire smirked back at her. “Well, good to see some old faces again. This program is mostly comprised of cadets and reservists anyway…although we have sent out some more invites to those we considered worthy. Let me be the first to say welcome aboard for a wild ride.”

She marched across the left side of the room, then as she saw a certain pony, she stopped in her tracks. A second later, her stride became a lot more casual as she walked up to the white Pegasus. “Well, it only took you 4 years to respond to our invitation, Comet.”

The Pegasus, who Spitfire identified as Comet, stood in front of her, chuckling as he stood up, a slight smile forming across his face. “It’s not my fault you time it so badly every year. I’ve been busy when you’ve been running it for the past 4 years.”

Spitfire chuffed, “if you weren’t, would you have come?”

He flicked his head away, “probably not.”

Everypony was in absolute shock about how casually he was taking this, especially Rainbow Dash. He must’ve known the Wonderbolts previously, it’s the only way he could be talking to Spitfire so casually. And he was invited 4 years in a row and didn’t go to a single one? Rainbow Dash would trade her soul for this opportunity, and he just batted it out the window like it was nothing? The mere thought of it made her tense up, but she didn’t know the reason he was busy, so she didn’t hold it against him for too long.

Spitfire tilted her head. “Why not? Why now?” She questioned.

Comet looked back at Spitfire, taking a deep breath as he turned his head. His brow furrowed, taking on a more serious look. “I just want to make this clear to you now that my intention in coming this time around is not to join the Wonderbolts. All I’m here to do is better my technique as a flyer. Whether you offer me a position on the Wonderbolts or not at the end, it doesn’t bother me.”

Spitfire chuckled, “some things never change, huh Comet? You always talk about technique, but if you spent more time with your head in the sky rather than in the books, you’d probably would’ve already been a Wonderbolt.”

“Although it would be a personal accomplishment for me, I feel like I cannot progress to the Wonderbolts until I have completed my current goals.”

“Oh, so you haven’t gotten bored of flying around in circles all day yet? There’s only so much racing you can do, Comet. Racing is completely different from air shows and combat, which is what we’re going to be specializing in here, so I don’t know what you would gain if you don’t intend to join.”

Racing? Rainbow Dash was suddenly able to put a name to his face. His name was White Comet, and he was quite a well-known racer, but not the derby types of races that were all official and had all the sponsors. His style of racing was circuit racing, which was rapidly gaining more of a following in Equestria. The main difference being it had turns that went right as well as left, and it had altitude changes. They are still considered controversial, as the racers normally move cloud formations around to make the tracks, which has been known to screw up the weather patterns in Equestria on a number of occasions.

A small smirk quickly formed across White Comet’s face, as if he’d just found the perfect response, then he returned to his straight face. “The reason you don’t know is the reason you’ll never beat me, Spitfire.”

If Rainbow Dash’s jaw could drop off her face and hit the floor, it would. She almost fell off the edge of her seat. Everypony else was also in shock from what they were witnessing. Even Soarin’ seemed to be taken aback by his comment. Rainbow Dash knew what was coming up, as she'd seen it firsthoof at the Academy of what happens when you trash-talk Spitfire.

The room remained silent for about 10 seconds before Spitfire responded with a “humph.” She sharply turned around 180 degrees, almost flicking White Comet with her tail in the process. “Touché,” she said as she walked back towards the front.

Wait…Spitfire was AGREEING with him!? Rainbow Dash couldn’t believe this. She’d seen Spitfire’s ‘on duty’ personality before and she wouldn’t take this kind of crap from anypony. Who was this stallion?

“Alright, let’s get down to business.” As Spitfire spoke, Soarin’ and Fleetfoot joined her by her side. “I just want to remind you again that this isn’t one of our regular tryouts. This is the biggest tryout we have ever held, and the prize is not something we hand out easily. There’s 200 odd of you, and only 3 spots available. We’re slowly going to wear those numbers down week by week until we have ourselves a top 8. Those fortunate enough to make it that far will battle it out for the 3 positions, then we will pick who joins us. We’ll thin the numbers out slowly each day. I bet by now you’re wondering why this process is taking so long when these tests could be completed in a matter of days. Well, you’re right. We could easily do this in a matter of days. But we’re looking for consistency. We want to make sure that what you do isn’t just a one-off stroke of luck. Don’t worry, they’ll still be some variety in the schedules. The last thing we want you to do is get bored and your performance suffers.”

She paused for a moment, examining the faces of the ponies she was speaking to, making sure everything she was saying was sinking in. “I guess that just about sums up everything I wanted to say. For today, we advise that you use it to become familiar with the facilities. Those of you that have been here before will probably recognise it, but there has been some changes since last time. You’re also going to be allowed access to areas you weren’t previously, meaning you’ll most likely bump into us on your travels. Feel free to approach us and ask us anything you want…within reason…that’s all I wanted to say, so be sure to think about what I said. Dismissed.” She turned to the corridor with Soarin and Fleetfoot in tow and disappeared down it.

Everypony stood from their seats and resumed talking to each other. Rainbow Dash didn’t take any notice of anypony else, as no one approached her. She just had her mind set on following Spitfire’s instructions. She already knew her way around roughly, so her plan was to just walk around to build up a mental picture.

She took her time walking around. She walked down the corridor where her assigned room was and continued down it until she came out the other side. There, she came to a junction with one arrow pointing right and one pointing left. The one pointing right said ‘GYM’ and the one pointing left said ‘MESS HALL’.

She headed right towards the gym. She pushed through her double doors into the gym. The gym was an incredibly large open-planned area. Various exercise equipment was placed down the right side of the gym, and there was an extremely large sports hall at the back. There was also an area sectioned off with a sign above the door that said ‘POOL’.

‘That’s new,’ Rainbow Dash thought to herself. She didn’t consider herself a very strong swimmer, and it was one of the last things she expected to be doing during her time here.

She took a quick glance inside, the scent of chlorinated water hitting her nostrils as soon as she opened the door. It was a very large pool, and it looked quite new. It had 3 diving boards at the deep end. There was a couple of Jacuzzi’s around the left side of the pool for relaxing in. Rainbow Dash tried to estimate the size, but found her answer as her eyes scanned across a sign on the left hand wall.


‘That’s pretty deep…’ she thought to herself, wondering if she’d be asked to do any swimming. A few Pegasi barged past her to take a closer look themselves, a couple of them messing around and pretending to shove each other into the pool.

Dash chuckled and continued on her way through her own little guided tour she was making herself. She proceeded back the way she came and went to the mess hall. It looked pretty basic, much the way she remembered it. Cheap plastic chairs and wooden rectangular tables that held a max of about 8 per table. The kitchen was behind a shutter where the food would be served during their meal times. A fair few ponies had congregated in the area, exchanging stories.

She gave herself a quick once-over of other areas she was unfamiliar with, then returned to her room, noticing that it had been unlocked. She pushed through and stepped into it. Inside, she found that all the beds had been occupied.

“HEEEEY!” Two male voices that sounded almost identical sounded from either side of her in the first two beds.

She glanced at the one on the left, then the other on the right. There were two stallions sitting on the edge of each bed. The one on the right had a grey coat with a lime green scruffy-looking mane.

“I’m Horizon!” She suddenly heard in her left ear, causing her to look that way. The stallion from the left had moved to within inches of her without her even noticing. He had orange fur and a turquoise mane. He had the same scruffy look to his mane, but his bunched up and poofed out more.

“I’m Crash Dive!” A voice suddenly bellowed in her right ear. She noticed that the other stallion had just done the same thing, only inches away from her.

“Umm…hey there…” She replied, feeling slightly uncomfortable. “Name's Rainbow Dash.”

“Called it!” Crash Dive announced and gave a sly look to Horizon, extending his hoof.

Horizon sighed and rolled his eyes. “Fine, you win,” he said as he tossed some bits into Crash Dives extended hoof.

“Wait, you guys were betting on my name?” Rainbow Dash said with a slight chuckle.

“Sort of. I said you name would have ‘Rainbow’ somewhere in it--”

“But I didn’t,” Horizon added,

“so we had a little bet. And I won!” Crash Dive announced as he punched their air in victory, taunting Horizon with his bits.

Dash chuckled nervously. “You two seem to--”

“finish each other’s--”

“sentences?” Crash Dive then Horizon replied.

“Uhh…yeah.” Rainbow Dash replied. ‘What the hell is up with these guys?’

“We get that a lot.” Crash Dive replied, shrugging.

“It’s what happens when you’ve got the best duo in the world right here!” Horizon said proudly, then grabbed Crash Dive with his wing and pulled him over to him, striking a pose. “Brothers in arms…or wings, at the moment…”

“That’s what I’m talking about, bro! We’re gonna knock this one outta the park!” Crash Dive replied as he shifted into his own pose like Horizon.

“Fuck yeah,” Horizon replied as he looked at Crash Dive. “Do we look cool?” He whispered.

“Totally,” Crash Dive replied as he raised his hoof up.

“Boo-yah,” Horizon replied in a gruff tone as he bumped his hoof against Crash Dive’s.

Rainbow Dash was struggling not to snicker from the cheesy ‘performance’ they just put on. “So, you guys are brothers?”

“Twins actually,” they both replied at the same time.

“Although not sure how Mom pushed your fat ass out.” Crash Dive commented.

“You what!?” Horizon scowled at his brother whilst grabbing him around the neck. “Dem’s fightin’ words!” He suddenly dived onto him as the two of them got in a scrap on the floor.

Rainbow Dash chuckled as she walked around them. “Oh boy…this is gonna be a riot…it’s like watching a Pinkie Pie double act…”

She walked on, looking at the 2nd line of beds. On her left, she saw a stallion with a copper coat and a spikey navy blue and ruby coloured mane, with each spike switching colours. He was unpacking his things.

She continued her trot down the aisle before stopping directly in front of his bed, but still remaining in the middle of the room. “Hey there,” said in a friendly tone.

The stallion did not acknowledge her greeting and continued about his business.

Her smile quickly dissolved into a frown. She moved a few steps closer to his bed and tried again. “My name is Rainbow Dash. What’s yours?”

“I heard,” was the only response she got in a deep, gruff voice. “Call me Torque.”

“Kinda ironic for a pony who doesn’t ‘TALK’ very much!” Crash Dive suddenly appeared to sprout from his bag with his forelegs open wide and mile-long toothy smile stretching from corner to corner of his mouth.


Rainbow Dash, along with her roomates, covered their ears at that sound. She was pretty sure that most of the adjacent rooms heard it too. She looked over her shoulder to find Horizon sitting at a drum kit. She could still see the cymbal vibrating.

‘Where…where did he get that drum kit…?’ Dash quickly let the question leave her mind, as she learned not to question the randomness from being friends with Pinkie Pie for a number of years.

Torque gave Crash Dive a death stare. “You have exactly 3 seconds to leave my space.” He maintained his stare as he moved it onto Rainbow Dash, “you too.”

’Wow…rude…’ Rainbow Dash wasn’t even in his ‘space’. She was standing at least a pace away from the end of his bed.

She suddenly felt two hooves grab her around the chest. “Don’t worry, Babe, I’ll save you!”

All of a sudden, she was yanked backwards hard and into the air, the breath being forced from her lungs. Her natural reaction was to extend her wings, but whoever was grabbing her prevented her from doing that.

She landed on something surprisingly soft. It didn’t take her long to realise that she landed in the bed opposite to Torque. She looked to her left to see an orange stallion, about a shade darker than Scootaloo, with a long brown mane that covered his eyes slightly. It looked like something you’d expect from a problematic rebellious high school teenager, but not from a fully grown Stallion. Dash had to blink to confirm that she wasn’t imagining his size. He was huge!

“Welp, looks like Riptide saves the day again!” He announced, then looked down at Dash, glancing back and forth down to the bed, then up at her. “Well, looks like you ended up in my bed. You’re one lucky mare…whaddya say we give our roomies here a show, huh?” He wiggled his eyebrows and his mouth slowly formed a grin.

“Yeah, how ‘bout no,” Rainbow Dash replied bluntly as she deliberately pushed off him to get herself out of his bed. ‘Great, my knight in shining armour…’ she thought sarcastically.

“You got it babe! It takes two to tango,” He said and winked at her, but she wasn’t looking anyway.

‘Creep…’ She walked along to the bed next to hers to find a grey mare with a blue mane. It was a very bright blue, and it looked very strange on her dark coat. She had it combed over so that it covered her right eye. Her cutie mark was an eye with a puzzle piece as the pupil. She was writing in a book. It just had a black cover and nothing to really identify what it was.

“Hey there,” Dash introduced herself to the mare that she would be sleeping next to.

“Hey.” She replied in a flat, emotionless tone.

“Uh, my name is Rainbow Dash,” she was trying her hardest to keep the conversation afloat.

“That’s nice.” The mare replied in the same flat tone.

‘Not another one…’ Rainbow Dash could feel herself cringing, but kept a straight face. “What’s yours?”

“Bright Skies.” She replied in, yet again, the same tone.

“Oh. Nice…” ‘Kinda ironic considering her colours…’ Rainbow Dash noticed the book she was writing in. “Uh, nice book you got there. What you writing?”

“A book.” Was all that Rainbow Dash got in response.

She felt like facehoofing and walking away, but Rainbow Dash didn’t give too easily. “Uh, what kind of book?”

“A story.”

“Oh, so you’re an author? That’s awesome. Can I take a read?” Rainbow Dash didn’t really want to, but she felt like she had to do something to try and get her to come out of her shell. Besides, she remembered the last time she tried to read a book, and that didn’t turn out so bad.

“Sure,” Bright Skies replied, but just continued to write.

Dash extended her hoof, expecting her to hand her the book once she finished her sentence. But she just stood there for about 10 seconds. She tilted her head in confusion. “Um…can I read it?”

“Sure. When it’s published.” Bright Skies replied.

The frustration of trying to talk to this mare eventually got to Rainbow Dash, and she let a forced exhale leave her nose, causing a faint hiss as she exhaled.

“Well, you got further than I did.” Another mare’s voice came from behind Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow Dash turned and began slowly trotting over in the direction that the voice came from. On the bed opposite Bright Skies, a mare was sitting on the edge unpacking her things. She had a coat like Twilight’s, but more purple than lavender. Her mane was styled like Dash’s, but cut a lot shorter. She had a red and white striped mane, with the stripes running along in the direction of her body. Her cutie mark was a tornado.

Rainbow Dash chuckled nervously as she approached her. “Yeeeaahh…”

She stopped organising her things to face Rainbow Dash. “I’m Dahila, I’m from Fillydelphia. Nice to see some competition here, Rainbow Dash. I heard about your little Sonic Rainboom stunt.”

“Oh, that,” Rainbow Dash batted her hoof at the comment, “that’s nothing. I’ve got plenty more where that came from.”

“I bet you have. I’d watch, but it’s difficult watching ponies lagging behind you.” She said as she raised her head high.

“Haha. Hahahaha.” Dash let out a few sarcastic chuckles. “I like your style, Dahila. You can talk the trash, but can you put your wings where your mouth is.”

Dahila stood up and fired a competitive glare straight into Rainbow Dash’s eyes. “I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.” She extended her hoof.

“Oh, it’s on alright!” Rainbow Dash replied as she bumped her hoof against Dahila’s. She did a sharp 180 degree turn and flicked Dahila’s cheek with her tail. “Hope you like this view, ‘cause it’s all you’re gonna see.”

“Sweet, I love that view!” Dash got an unexpected response from Riptide, who was sticking a few small A4 sized posters up to the wall behind his bed. They were of a Wonderbolt photoshoot, where Spitfire, Fleetfoot, Surprise and Misty Fly had been modelling bathing suits. They all had the wet mane look to them and were staring into the camera with bedroom style eyes. As he stuck each one up, he paused for about 10 seconds to admire them.

‘Dream on…’ Dash shook her head as she made her way over to her bed. She grabbed her saddle bag and started to unpack her things. As she was unpacking, she looked over at the bed opposite of hers. Sitting on the side of the bed was a certain white stallion with a black mane. He had put on a pair of glasses and was reading a book.

Rainbow Dash decided that now was just a good a time as any other. She paused what she was doing and walked over to him. “Hey, there’s a few things I wanna ask you?” She didn’t even introduce herself. She noticed that he was reading a physics book.

White Comet stopped reading and looked up to his right at her. “What is it?”

She walked on over next to him, “How do you know Spitfire so well? And why did you decline the other offers you’ve had in previous years?”

He put the book down and took off his glasses, folding them up and placing them on top of the book. “Spitfire and I lived on the same block growing up. Although we shared the same dream of flight, it went in different directions. I’m only interested in pure speed and efficiency in getting from A to B. She was more interested in the stunts and combat side of things. We didn’t talk to each other for quite some time when we went to separate ways, but now I’m starting to get more and more pegasi interested in circuit racing, we’ve been talking some more.” He spoke in a very clear and concise manner, indicating that he was confident in what he was talking about.

“If it’s only racing that interests you, why are you here trying for the Wonderbolts?” This was a question that Spitfire already asked, but Rainbow Dash was seeking a more meaningful explanation.

“My interest here isn’t in joining the Wonderbolts. My reason for being here is simply to improve my flying technique. Whether I become a Wonderbolt or not at the end of it is irrelevant. All my aim to do is to make it to the end of this course, and I believe that I will have more refined technique by the end of it. I know it all sounds a little confusing, but as I said to Spitfire, if you never understand it, you’ll never beat me.”

“Uhh…that’s cool…I guess…” ‘Too many big words…my brain hurts…’ “I’m a weather pony in Ponyville, and I know that ‘racers’ like you screw up our weather patterns more often than not to make your courses. Do you think you can carry on like that? One day you’re gonna screw up the weather so badly you could get somepony killed.”

White Comet shrugged, “you’re standing beside me at the moment getting ready to undergo a test to become a Wonderbolt. Don’t try and tell me you don’t love the sensation of adrenalin.”

Rainbow Dash had no response to that as it was true. She loved the adrenalin rush she got from flying fast, and she could see where he was going with this.

“Until somepony designs a solution, we’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing.”

“Well…I guess I can’t argue with that…” Rainbow Dash replied. “I can’t wait to see what you’re capable of tomorrow, Comet.”

“Likewise, Rainbow Dash. I’ve heard great things about you. I wanna see everything you’ve got.”

Rainbow Dash grinned, “then you won’t be disappointed.” She held her hoof up to him.

White Comet bumped his hoof against Rainbow Dash’s. “If you’d like a demonstration, I’d be more than willing to show you later on, since we have nothing better planned.”

A smirk suddenly crossed Rainbow Dash’s face. “Is that a challenge, White Comet?”

White Comet returned her smirk, “I don’t consider this a challenge. Merely a friendly competition and a chance to learn something before the real competition begins.”

‘If he’s gonna put it so damn politely, how can I refuse?’ Dash thought, “alright, I’m in. What about right now? We’re not doing anything, and won’t be until tomorrow.”

White Comet picked up his book and glasses. “Well, I would like to finish reading, then sleep. How about 4PM, just before dinner?”

Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but let out a snort. “Sleep? Really? I know we had to be here early, but you don’t look that tired.”

White Comet tapped his head, “a machine only works as fast as its slowest component. Something I’m sure you’ll understand soon enough.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t understand what he was trying to say, so she just nodded and went along with it. “Heh. Alright, I’ll see you there. The outside training ground right?”

“Of course,” White Comet replied.

“Great,” Rainbow Dash said as she turned around. She headed back to her bed and to her things. She didn’t really take a lot with her. She had the latest Daring Do book with her in case she found herself with nothing to do. She had a small amount of wing care products, but she wasn’t really one to cover her wings in massive amounts of products, no matter what wonders they did on her feathers. She was happy to stick with the basics, and good old fashioned preening. She had bought along a framed picture of her and her friends for motivation. She placed it atop the nightstand. She had a few more things, but nothing major.

She did another tour of the building before heading down to the mess hall for some lunch. After grabbing herself a plate, she went and saw some of her Ponyville friends sitting in a table. Derpy immediately noticed her and motioned for her to come and join them.

Not being invited to any other table, Dash walked over and took the last free seat alongside Derpy and Thunderlane. “Hey guys,” she began.

“I must’ve missed you earlier, Dash.” Thunderlane said as he went for another bite.

“I guess we must’ve passed each other at some point without even realising it.” She said with a chuckle. “I didn’t see you earlier either, Derpy.”

“Oh.” Derpy looked away and brushed her mane. “I kinda messed up my timings a bit. I was signing in just as Spitfire started talking.”

Rainbow Dash nodded in acknowledgement, this being something that she would expect from Derpy.

She didn’t even know that they were coming, so she was quite surprised to see them. They had a good discussion about what had happened so far, exchanging stories about their roommates and other things. Since they hadn’t seen each other for a while, they discussed what was going on back home prior to them coming here.

After lunch, Rainbow headed back into her room. Apart from Torque and White Comet, everypony else was out. Torque was lying on his bed, looking very mopey, but in deep thought. Although his posture didn’t show it, his eyes looked wide awake. Dash tried to talk to him, but he just grunted and turned the other way. ‘Seriously, what’s this guy’s problem!?’

She walked to the end and, as he said, White Comet was sleeping. Pretty soundly at that, since he wasn’t snoring. Or at least she presumed it was soundly, as he obviously wasn’t awoken by somepony drawing on his face. In a black marker, somepony, or someponies, had crudely drawn a moustache and a monacle around his right eye. Although the crème de la crème of the whole artpiece was the giant penis they had drawn on his forehead. Rainbow Dash let the beginning of a snort escape, but quickly covered her mouth with her hoof to prevent herself from waking him up.

There was a yellow post-it note stuck between his eyes. Dash lent in to read it.

Don’t worry, it washes off with water.

-Horizon and Crash Dive
-Hey, don’t drag me into this! It was all you!?
-Shut up, you were the one that drew the dick!
-Oh, come on!

Dash could see that the argument went onto the other side of the note, but she couldn’t bring her head down at a low enough angle to read it. At least not without it looking awkward and creepy.

She smiled and shook her head, deciding to let him rest and walked over to her bed. She still had difficulty getting her head around the fact that a pony could sleep so nonchalantly in the middle of the day. Sure, she took naps for around half an hour to an hour now and again, but this guy was committed to sleeping for hours! Rainbow Dash had far too much energy for that long of a nap.

She headed down to the gym about an hour prior to their little competition to prepare. She didn’t do much, as she didn’t want to tire herself out. Mainly, she just wanted to experiment with the equipment they had down there. She considered going for a swim, but thought better of it, as it would take too long to clean afterwards. She didn’t want to be flying around stinking of chlorine.

She took extra care not to tire herself out too much, and eventually 4PM came around. She headed out the back towards the outside area. To get to it, she had to walk down a short corridor which had locker rooms for mares and stallions on either side. When she pushed through the door on the other side, she was greeted by the lowered sun, due to it being late in the afternoon. The area didn’t seem to have any limits, since it was the sky after all, but there was a big long billboard that said ‘configurations’ at the top, and showed different designs of the track that were available.

“I thought that was you walking past.” A familiar voice said behind her.

Rainbow Dash turned around to face him. “So you were waiting in the locker room?”

“I was just doing some light reading whilst I was warming up to get my head in the game. This should be a fun experiment for us, Rainbow Dash. Before we start, I want to make it clear that I don’t consider this a race. This is for fun only. Agreed?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Rainbow Dash replied. She didn’t need to be told what type of ‘race’ it would be, all she needed to know was who she needed to beat. “So which one of these configurations are we using?”

“This one right here,” he pointed at the forth one down on the list. “It has a nice altitude variation and a mix of low and high speed turns. Something that should exploit our strengths and weaknesses fully.” He smiled, “and according to this, this is the layout it’s currently set to, and I don’t really feel like rearranging clouds.”

Dash smiled in response, “I agree with ya there. Alright, let’s get to it.” She hopped into the air, reaching the peak altitude her legs could provide, then extending her wings. White Comet held back a smirk, then followed her.

They flew other to the start line. The track was setup in a point to point type race, with cloud barriers on either side and a small line of clouds above and below to form a line to help them see when the altitude changed.

“Ready to eat my dust?” Rainbow Dash shot at White Comet as she took her position on the start line.

“We’ll wait and see,” he replied as he took position to the left her. “It depends if you can stay within eyesight of me.”

“Eyesight? Dude, I’ll have you within the first four corners!” She threw right back at him.

“Alright,” he knelt down into his starting position. “Whaddya say we let out wings do the talking? Since it was technically me that challenged you, you can go ahead and do the honours.”

Rainbow Dash looked straight ahead and her eyes narrowed as she imagined her start. “Three.” She knelt down to give herself a better push off. “Two.”

White Comet sighed as he relaxed into his position. He had his eyes closed, but his right ear was primed and pointed in her direction, waiting for her command.


His eyes slowly opened up as he braced himself for the oncoming command.


They both shot off the line, leaving a big breeze behind them. Rainbow Dash took the leading heading into the first corner, a long sweeping right turn. She didn’t have to adjust her speed too much, but still entered it cautiously, as the last thing she wanted to do was head into the outside wall.

Coming out of the turn, she still had the lead. At the exit of the turn, the course began to head upwards. Rainbow Dash pumped her wings harder to compensate for gravity trying to pull her back down.

She glanced back for a second to see that she was pulling away, but didn’t have too long to think about at as she was rapidly approaching the next corner. A left hander. She wanted to attack at full speed, but she wasn’t familiar with this course. She was worried that it might turn out to be a tighter turn that she expected. But then again, this course was also new to White Comet. He was probably thinking the same thing as her.

With that in mind, she took another quick glance back before beginning her deceleration for the corner. She angled her left wing downwards slightly to make herself list a few degrees to the left. This compromised her speed slightly, as she had sacrificed a bit of upward force for a bit of turning force. However, she would be able to maintain a higher speed through the turn thanks to this.

She rounded the turn, which turned out to be a 90 degree left hander, and accelerated back out. She levelled off then took another look behind her. She was still pulling away from White Comet. She looked back forward and shook her head, smirking slightly.

She ran a few more corners before the course started to level out. Since they were no longer climbing, she relaxed a little bit, since she didn’t need as much force to propel herself at the same velocity. She looked back at White Comet, who had maintained a distance behind her of about 10 meters. Either he picked up the pace a notch or she had just relaxed on the level section since she could afford to. She was still in the lead either way, so she didn’t put too much thought into it.

After the next 2 corners, the course began to descend. ‘We’re going downhill, so this must be the final section.’ Knowing that the end was near, Rainbow Dash gave her wings a pump, but she couldn’t quite make the same power output due to her fatigue.

She attacked the first downhill corner head on, knowing that she didn’t have far to go. She almost ended up with a face full of cloud, brushing her body gently against the outside wall.

As she straightened herself out, she felt a change in back pressure behind her. She glanced back to find White Comet so close behind her he could almost bite her tail. Her eyes went wide as she saw him, then she looked forward again to concentrate on the course. ‘Crap, he’s right on my ass! How the hell did he cover that much ground so quickly!?’ She pumped her wings as hard as she could, but her energy was fading. ‘And since this section is downhill, the difference in wing power doesn’t matter as much…crap…I’m starting to get the feeling I flew right into a trap the moment I took the lead at the start…’

Since this part was downhill, she could vaguely see what was coming up. ‘A slight right followed by a sharp left, I’m gonna need to slow down big time for this one, otherwise that swing back around for the left is gonna throw me right into the clouds.’’

Rainbow Dash tried to get the widest entry possible to save her energy. She spotted her braking point and began decelerating, her muscles complaining as the force of the wind against her feathers strained them.

She looked right to turn it, but then all of a sudden, a dash of black and white flew past her vision. ‘What’s he doing!? There’s no room between the exit of this corner and the entry to the next! If he doesn’t slow down now, he’ll be into the clouds!’

As he passed her, she noticed that he was doing something weird with his legs. He was pointing his hind legs towards the outside of the corner, and his forelegs towards the inside. It almost looked as if he was flying sideways.

As they came out of the right and into the left, Rainbow Dash saw his wings flare out in the normal braking fashion. She prepared to watch him eat cloud. ‘That idiot! There’s no room to slow down, he’s going straight into the cloud barrier!’

Suddenly, he pulled his front hooves over to the left whilst throwing his hind legs out to the right. His body rolled to the left at an almost 90 degree angle.

“Woah!” Rainbow Dash almost lost her composure at the move, since she wasn’t expecting it. All she had to do was blink and he’d already cleared the corner. ‘What the hell was that!?’

She turned the corner herself and saw that White Comet was at least 5 meters ahead of her by the time she had cleared it. She pumped her wings to try and catch up, but she couldn’t accelerate as fast as she would’ve liked ‘Dammit, I’ve got nothing left…’

They turned a few more corners, but the gap just kept getting wider and wider. ‘I…I can’t close the gap…’ Rainbow Dash couldn’t believe it. She had lost. She had fallen into a trap of some description, but couldn’t put her hoof on what it was. Although her defeat was inevitable, she wouldn’t give up so easily. She pushed herself as hard as she could to try and catch up, but to no avail.

At the finish line, with a clear victory of about 4 seconds, White Comet perched himself on the edge of the barrier, catching his breath. He wasn’t left thinking about too much, since everything planned out exactly the way he planned it. Although his thoughts were more on Rainbow Dash rather than the race itself.

Rainbow Dash landed next to him. “You…got lucky…” she said as she panted. She was still trying to get her head around what just happened, but she blamed it on the lack of oxygen in her brain.

“No…it was skill.” White Comet replied.

Rainbow Dash furrowed her brow and narrowed her eyes at him. Who does he think he is, telling her she lacks skill?

Before she got a chance to give him a piece of her mind, he continued to speak. “The only reason you were in the lead for the first and second part was because I let you. I let you run off with the lead to wear yourself out, whereas I was sitting in your draft and conserving my energy, waiting for an opportunity to arise. When it did, I passed you, and since I had plenty of energy remaining, I just went all out in the last section. Something you couldn’t do as you were fighting to keep me off your tail. There’s nothing more to it than that. Just pure logic, tactics, strategy, and skill.”

He stood up and slowly began to walk back towards the locker rooms. “I hope you learned something from this, Rainbow Dash. You were extremely fast. I don’t doubt your technique, you just need to back it up with some sound theory. And when you learn that, you’ll be unstoppable in the skies.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t know how to react, as her brain was still taking it all in as she sat there. Although she didn’t understand it at first…everything he said was true. He was absolutely right. It just took her a while to see it. She was still in a world of her own thinking about it as she followed him towards the door. “So, you think I could’ve beaten you?”

He pushed through the door, “well, you’re only the third pony alive who was able to give me a run for my money without even thinking about it. Put it that way.” He turned to go into the locker room.

Rainbow Dash almost followed him into the stallions locker room without even realising it. She had so many more questions that she wanted to ask, but they were for another time.

“Talk to you later, Rainbow Dash.” He called through the door.

“Yeah, later,” Rainbow Dash felt the strong chill of the air conditioning inside the locker room, and decided to step hoof inside the mares locker room to use it to cool off. They were pretty basic rooms. Minimal lighting, lockers around the left and right edges, with a big communal changing area in the middle with some private ones backing it up at the back. There was another walkway at the back right which led off to the shower room. It looked very much like a bunker out of an old war film, except with a few modern touches, like the air condition. Rainbow Dash could get used to this. Although she wasn’t too sure if it would be as nice after stepping out of a nice warm shower.

After she let herself cool off for a few minutes, she glanced at the clock before she walked out. It was now 4:30, and she was beginning to feel slightly hungry. Not enough to eat yet, but she was getting there. She was sure that there were others getting ready to eat, so she decided to head back down to the Mess Hall to get herself a seat. Hopefully she would meet either her friends or roommates there too. Or both.

As she walked through the corridors, the sound of voices got louder as she got closer to it. This only confirmed her thoughts. She proceeded down the corridor, knowing that she had to take the next right to reach it. She suddenly heard a large number of voices amplify, and they mostly sounded female. It made Dash wonder what was going on, but she was pretty sure it was just some lame girly thing, fangirling over some stallion or something like that. Not something she really cared about.

As she approached the turn, she slowed her pace and eventually came to a stop as she heard something moving around in the ceiling above her. As she heard it, the sound of the voices instantly dropped. The sound of the something in the ceiling slowly moved towards her. She tracked the rough position of the sound with her eyes, but she wasn’t quite able to pinpoint the exact position.

The sound moved above her head, and Rainbow Dash saw that she was standing directly underneath a vent. Quickly putting 2 and 2 together, she gave a quick flap of her wings to thrust herself backwards, just in time as the sound of whatever was in there came straight out of it, revealing a light blue stallion with a dark blue blown back mane.

The stallion immediately pressed himself against the right wall, and almost jumped when he saw Rainbow Dash, but immediately settled down after recognizing her. “Oh, hey Rainbow Dash.”

“Uh, hi there, Soarin.” Rainbow Dash replied uneasily, not sure as to what was going on.

Soarin poked his head around the corner. “Damn fangirls, probably would’ve taken a cut of my mane and tail if I stayed any longer.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled, “well, at least you can trust me.” She replied. Since she had met him a few times before, she was a lot more relaxed around him. Or maybe it just got all the fangirling out of her system.

Her thoughts were interrupted as a loud growling sound came from Soarin, making her giggle. “Well, thanks for reminding me how hungry I was getting.” She started walking back towards the mess hall. “Aren’t you gonna get something to? Or do you have your own, like, VIP section or something?”

“Nah, we get our food from the same place.” Soarin replied, turning his head to look at her. “We have a different room at the back of the mess hall to eat in, but we all have to get food from the same kitchen. And there’s no way I’m going back in there until all the mares calm down.”

Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but snicker. “You seem to get all the mares, huh?” It didn’t surprise her too much, as he was the Wonderbolts 2nd in command after all.

Soarin popped a smile at her comment, “you could say that…” his voice trailed off, sounding like there was another side to it.

“But…?” Rainbow Dash egged him on to spill the beans. She could tell from the way his voice trailed off that there was something funny going on.

“Well, most of ‘em only fangirl over the position, not me. If I swapped position with sompony like Wave Chill, I wouldn’t get…NEARLY as a much attention.” He had to think carefully about what he was going to say, since he knew that although the levels of it varied, they still got a fair amount of attention because of the uniform. “Those kind of fans just give me the creeps…”

“I see what you mean,” Rainbow Dash replied.

His stomach complained again, and he gave it a gentle thump along with a rub. “Screw this, I’m gonna go get some decent food instead.” He started heading straight on instead of turning right. “You wanna come along?” He asked casually, seeing as she was the only one bar the other members of the Wonderbolts that was treating him normally.

Rainbow Dash felt the force of the question almost knock her back. Did a Wonderbolt really just ask her to join him for dinner? Okay, he may have done it casually, but still. “M-me?”

“Well, I don’t see anypony else here.” Soarin looked around to emphasize his point. “I’m going with or without you, Rainbow, so take it or leave it.” He wasn’t trying to be rude or anything, but he was getting hungry, and that made him impatient.

She thought it over for a minute. The food would probably be nicer at wherever they went, but that’s one of the things that concerned her. “I’d love to Soarin, but I don’t think I could afford any of the restaurants you probably eat it. I don’t have a lot of bits on me.”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s on me. Think of it as a welcoming gift from an old friend.”

Soarin really considered her a friend? Although they had seen each other a couple of times before, Rainbow still felt like she didn’t really know him, and she presumed vice versa. She glanced away as she thought, flattening her ears and trying her hardest not to blush. She almost felt honoured that a Wonderbolt considered her this way. “Alright…I guess…” If he was going to be so friendly about it, how could she say no?

Soarin picked up the uncertainty in her voice, but he chose to ignore it, as he knew that it would go away quickly. He just put her on the spot all of a sudden, which probably threw her off. “Great, let’s go!” He headed over to a window on the corridor and opened it up. He then turned, stood aside, and bowed his head down. “Ladies first.”

“It seems like you’ve done this before…” Rainbow Dash said suspiciously as she flew out the window.

“Maybe…” Soarin replied with a smirk as he followed her and closed the window up. “Follow me. I know a nice place on the edge of Cloudsdale.” He started accelerating at a low rate, since there was no need to go fast. Rainbow Dash instantly matched his acceleration.
Rainbow Dash flew alongside him. She had not only just been invited to dinner by a Wonderbolt, but he was also offering to pay for it too. And he considered her a friend. Good thing she was slightly behind him, so he couldn’t see the goofy grin she had on her face. There was only one word she could use to describe it. And it was a word she lived by.


Chapter 2

View Online

Soarin and Rainbow Dash flew side by side along the outskirts of Cloudsdale. There were a few ponies out and about, but not as much as on the weekends. The sun had lowered, but not begun to set yet. They were flying with the sun behind them, so it didn’t affect their vision. The weather had warmed up earlier, but now that the sun was lower, it was beginning to cool again.

“So where is this place?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“You’ll see,” Soarin replied, “it’s one of my favourites.”

They turned a corner and Soarin pointed to a small cottage-looking structure made out of cloud in the distance. “There it is.”

Rainbow Dash thought she knew Cloudsdale quite well, but this was a place she had never visited. Her parents rarely took her to this side of Cloudsdale as a filly.

As they approached it, there was a sign on the front of the building aboive the door that read ‘Trickshots Diner’

Soarin pushed through the door and held it open for Rainbow Dash. Inside, it looked like a typical diner, with red fabric bench seats around the tables on the edge, and some normal tables backing them up in the centre. It didn’t seem too busy at the moment, with at least three quarters of the place free. There was a bar along the left side of the room with a pony behind it wiping the counter. He had a beige coloured coat with a cherry red mane.

“Hey Tricky!” Soarin called over.

The stallion looked up, “oh hey there, Soarin.” He put the cloth down and walked out from behind the counter. “Didn’t expect to see you again so soon. You here for the usual.”

“Not this time, Tricky,” Soarin shook his head, “I’m dining with a friend tonight.” He placed his hoof on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder.

“Oh, I see.” He angled his face so Rainbow Dash couldn’t see and winked back at Soarin. Before Soarin could respond, he dashed off behind the counter and grabbed some menus. “This way.”

He seated the two of them at a table in the back of the room, giving them a good buffer between the few other ponies that were around. Once they had taken their seats, he placed a menu in front of them. “Can I get you any drinks? The usual Soarin?”

“You know it, Trick.” Soarin casually replied.

“One mango juice coming right up.” He turned to Rainbow Dash whilst he was scribbling the orders on a notepad. “And for the lady?”

“Um, do you have any apple juice?” She asked, feeling slightly strange for being called ‘lady’.

“We sure do,” Trick Shot replied as he scribbled it down, “coming right up.” He put the notepad on his belt and started walking back behind the counter. Rainbow Dash noticed that his cutie mark was a basketball as he walked off.

“Trickshot and I go way back.” Soarin said to start the conversation.

“I can tell,” Rainbow Dash replied as she picked up the menu and started reading. As she read the descriptions, the meals sounded good, but the price…well…it wasn’t unreasonable, but it was more than she wanted Soarin to spend on her. “Uhh…what’s my budget here?” Dash felt awkward asking him, but she felt that since he was paying, she should stick to some sort of limit.

Soarin chuckled, “don’t worry about it, Dash. Seriously, it’s on me. Get what you want.”

“A-are you sure?” Rainbow Dash didn’t feel comfortable with any stallion buying her dinner, yet alone a famous one.

“Sure am,” Soarin replied, “although I wouldn’t recommend getting too much. Don’t want you fattening up before the tests begin,” he joked.

Dash smirked at his joke, then looked back down at the menu. After spending another 5 minutes deciding what she wanted, she put the menu down, but left it open so she could glance at it from time to time. “So…what’s the first test gonna be?” She asked casually, deciding that she should try and use this situation to her advantage.

“I’d love to tell ya,” Soarin put his menu down, “but I really don’t know myself. Spitfire organised the 1st one herself. Most of the tests are going to be organised by one or a team of us, changing on a day to day basis.”

“I see…” Rainbow Dash replied as a though popped into her head.

“One apple juice for the lady,” her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Trick Shot setting a glass down in front of her, “and one mango juice.” He placed Soarin’s mango juice in front of him.

“Thanks, Trick,” Soarin replied as he took a long sip from the glass.

“Are you ready to order?” He asked as he picked up his notepad and pen.

“Yeah, sure, you ready Dash?” He glanced over at her.

“Yeah, go ahead,” she replied, “I’ll have the pesto risotto please.”

“Ooh, nice choice,” he commented as he wrote. As he was writing, he turned to Soarin. “And I presume you’ll have your usual pasta salad with extra mushrooms?”

“You read my mind as usual, Trick Shot.” Soarin replied with a smirk.

“Coming riiight up.” He said as he finished writing and walked away.

“So…you don’t get any… ‘extra credit’ with Spitfire?” Rainbow Dash asked, resuming where she left off.

Soarin snorted so hard, mango juice almost came out of his nose. “Haha, those rumours have been around for years!” He wiped his mouth and blinked a few times. He then looked Dash in the eyes and put on a more serious expression. “Spitfire and I are not an item.”

“Oh!” Rainbow Dash suddenly perked up, her ears shooting up. “Sorry…”

Soarin chuckled, “even you believe the fan rumours despite knowing us the best from the outside, eh Dash?”

“I guess so…” She replied. “So…if you don’t mind me asking, is there anything between you and Spitfire?”

Soarin shrugged, “we’re just friends, and that’s it really. We dated in the past, but it didn’t lead to anything. Simply because we chose not to, in case it unbalanced our team relationship.”

“I…see…” Rainbow Dash wasn’t an expert on relationships, but she vaguely understood what he meant. “Did you…ever think you and Spitfire could be something?”

Again, Soarin shrugged, “the fuel for the fire is there, I guess. But neither of us are willing to ignite it. If she were to try, then…I dunno…” as he trailed off, he suddenly realised something. “When did this subject come about anyway?”

At his question, Rainbow Dash suddenly realised that she was delving into his love life. She blushed at the thought of her questioning this type of stuff. She wasn’t interested in all this lovey-wuvey mushy stuff. That would completely spoil her image. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked…”

Soarin smiled and chuckled, batting his hoof at her. “Don’t worry about it. I prefer talking about something more normal for once to be honest, Dash.”

Rainbow Dash looked back up at him. “What do you mean?”

“Well, the other Wonderbolts are the only ones that I can talk about stuff with. Anypony outside the Wonderbolts only wants to talk to me about the Wonderbolts. It’s nice to have somepony on the outside I can talk to.” He shot a smile at her. “But I bet you won’t stay on the outside for long.”

She smiled back at him. “You bet! I’ll have you regretting you didn’t take me on earlier!”

Soarin chuffed, “well, you’ve gotta prove it first. Think you can score the highest?”

“Well, what are you scoring us on?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Everything.” Soarin’s reply was flat and blunt.

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow, “uhh…what do you mean?”

“I mean EVERYTHING,” Soarin empathized, “not just your flying, but the way you act outside the tests as well. Basically, as long as you’re in that building, you’re been judged. We watch everything, see everything, hear everything, judge everything.”

His words suddenly threw Rainbow Dash into a deep thought. If they were really gonna be that thorough about screening them, would it be a wise idea to adjust her personality? She was starting to believe her overconfidence would be her downfall. Was she really the type of Pegasus the Wonderbolts were looking for?

“Spitfire will explain all this to you tomorrow anyway before the first test. They’re pretty basic from what I hear, just general tests to measure your current capability.” He picked up his mango juice as he said the last few words.

“Like our speed and stuff like that?”

Soarin nodded as he took a sip.

They chatted some more about what was coming up during the tests, but Soarin was pretty limited on what he could reveal. Not only because there was some things that he genuinely didn’t know, but because if he gave anything away to her, he could be accused of being biased in his judgement. A little while later, the food arrived.

“I saw that little race you had with that stallion earlier.” Soarin commented as he took a bite.

“Oh.” Rainbow Dash slumped slightly. “You saw that huh?”

“No need to be ashamed, it was a good race.”

“Yeah…” Rainbow Dash glanced away, “but I lost…”

Soarin shrugged, “can’t win ‘em all. White Comet’s pretty fast anyway from the little of what Spitfire told me.”

That caught Rainbow Dash’s attention. She looked back at him. “Fast? He wasn’t that fast.”

“But he still managed to beat you right?” Soarin shot right back at her.

“Uh…well…” Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth searching for an answer, but she was unable to find one.

“His type of speed is different than the one you and I know. His wingpower is probably equal, if not lower than ours, but he makes up for this by not only being lightning fast in the corners, but by playing his cards strategically. He deliberately let you in the lead, so you would--”

“Tire myself out.” Rainbow Dash finished his sentence. “I’ve heard this all before.”

Soarin could tell from the bitterness in her voice that it didn’t sit well with her. “Don’t worry about it Rainbow, you’ll get back at him. If anypony can, you can.” He replied, hoping that some motivation would cheer her up.

Rainbow Dash smirked at his compliment. “So what went on between Spitfire and him anyway? They seemed to know each other quite well at the introduction.” She picked up some more of her food on her spoon.

“They were big rivals back in their high school days. That’s all I know,” Soarin said.

“Hmm…I can see why Spitfire is interested in him then…” Dash went into thought as she continued eating.

“Fleetfoot’s acutally pretty keen to see what he can do as well. Since she is the most into racing out of all us Wonderbolts.”

“I gathered from all the derby trophies in the waiting room that said ‘Fleetfoot’ on them.” Rainbow Dash joked in response.

“Those are actually just replicas used for display. Fleetfoot keeps the real trophies herself.” Soarin replied as he took another bite.

“Thought so,” Rainbow Dash replied, “how’s she feeling anyway? Knowing that there’s someone in the building that could rival her on the track?”

“Fleetfoot? She’s fine. Fleetfoot is like Spitfire, but a little less uptight.” Soarin suddenly smirked, “but if you fire her up, then boy does she become the life of the party.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled in response.

“She’ll even pop a joke from time to time, but she’s not even half the joker that Blaze and Surprise are.” He smiled to himself as he thought about his teammates.

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow. “I’ve not actually met them before, what are they like?”

Soarin looked back at her, “well, Blaze is actually Spitfire’s younger sister, but they’re complete opposites of each other. That’s what makes it so funny. And Surprise…well…you’d need to see it to believe it.”

Rainbow Dash smirked at him, “Go on…?”

Soarin shrugged, “I don’t wanna say anything, because...well, I can’t describe her. Nopony in Equestria could describe her. I guess the word ‘random’ comes to mind, but that’s seems like an understatement.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled, “I know somepony similar, don’t worry. I think I get the gist.” As she said the last part of the sentence, she thought about some of the best memories she had of the randomness of Pinkie Pie.

In a combination of being hungry and having food in front of her that was so damn good, Rainbow Dash finished her plate rather quickly. Soarin was very much the same. He called for the bill once they were all over.

As Trickshot put the bill on the table, Soarin immediately scooped it up, not wanting to let Dash know what the total came to.

“How was it?” Trickshot asked as he cleared the table.

“Amazing as always, Trick.” Soarin replied, a smirk stretching across his face as he thought of something. “Hey Trick,” he tapped him on the shoulder, casing Trickshot to freeze and look at him. “Show her your…‘Trick’.”

Trickshot chuckled and shook his head, “this never gets old.” He gathered up their napkins, rolled them into a ball, and used it to wipe the excess off the plates. When he was done, he nonchalantly chucked it behind him, but still managed to get it to land in a trash can behind the counter.

He then proceeded to take their plates that were now wiped semi-clean. At least in a clean enough state so excess wouldn’t fly off them if they were to suddenly…increase in velocity…

With a flick of his hooves, and what seemed to be no care in the world, he threw them in opposite directions. The plates bounced off the cloud structure, and across the whole diner. Other guests ducked under their hooves in the expectation that they might accidently land on their heads.

As the plates bounced around, they began to lose momentum, before landing on a part of the structure behind the counter and seeming to stick in the cloud wall. Then they slowly became unstuck and rolled across the floor, up a bump in the cloud, and directly into a dishwasher that another pony who worked there opened up for him.

With the madness over, the guests all put their hooves together for Trickshot, who bowed in response.

“Showoff,” Soarin commented.

“And you aren’t?” Trickshot threw right back at him.

“…Touché…” Soarin replied as he pulled some bits out. “That should cover it, plus some more.”

“Thanks Soarin, appreciate it.” Trickshot replied as he picked up the bits and put them in a bag that he had over his side. “See ya round.”

“See ya when I see ya.” Soarin replied as he got up.

They both got up and walked towards the door, Soarin opening the door and holding it open for Rainbow Dash. Once they were both out the door, they took flight. “How did he manage to do that thing with the dishes?” Rainbow Dash questioned.

“Parts of the building are made out of a different type of cloud, making them springy. That’s how he guides them around.”

“B-but…that must’ve taken years to perfect!”

Soarin chuckled, “well, they don’t call him Trickshot for nothing.”

“I guess…” Rainbow Dash replied, “thanks for footing the bill by the way. I owe you one big time.”

“On the other hoof, I think you’ve already repaid it, Dash.”

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow, “come again?”

“I guess it’s my turn to say thanks for coming along with me. You’re genuinely fun to hang out with. I can talk to you like I can my teammates, and it’s nice to have someone I can do that with on the outside.” He scratched the back of his and looked away. “Sorry, I’m no good with words for this type of stuff. It’s been a while, but what I’m trying to say is that we should do this more often.”

Rainbow Dash felt herself blushing, and her immediate reaction was to look in the opposite direction. “Yeah…maybe…” She wasn’t really sure how to respond to that, so she just said whatever came to mind first…which wasn’t much…

“Maybe?” Soarin smirked, “more like definitely.”

They made it back to the Wonderbolt HQ and went through the main entrance. “Well, I’m gonna go see if there’s anything I need to do before this evening. And Spitfire’s probably gonna complain about me taking you out.” He chuckled, then patted her on the shoulder. “See ya tomorrow, Rainbow Dash.” He started walking down a corridor on the right. “Good luck, not that you’ll need it.”

Even though he wasn’t looking in her direction, Rainbow Dash still oddly waved goodbye. She was still a bit in shock that a Wonderbolt was so casually willing to hang out with her. She didn’t even get to say anything as he left, as he walked pretty quickly. She felt as if she should be thanking him, but she’d already done that a million times already.

She proceeded down the other corridor to make her way back up to her room. She could still here some faint commotion coming from the mess hall, meaning that there must still be some ponies down there. She would probably go and catch up with her other friends later.

As she walked through the door, she noticed that there was only three of her roommates in there. White Comet was laid back on his bed reading a book. Dahila was looking pretty bored, resting her head on her hoof, and Torque was still moping, nothing new there.

As she walked up, she saw that Torque was looking at her as she continued to walk. Her eyes briefly met hers before locking onto her bed again. Occasionally she would glance back at him to confirm that he was still watching her.

By the time she neared his bed, he was still watching her. Since she had the time, she made an adjustment to her course to go and confront him. She walked up directly to the side of his bed, only a few feet away. “Alright, you can drop the attitude. What’s your problem with everypony?” She put bluntly. She’d tried the friendly and subtle approach, so the only other option was the blunt way.

Torque huffed, “I’m not droppin’ anything…” He said as he rolled over to the other side, now facing Dahila.

“Apart from the ‘G’ in ‘dropping’!” Crash Dive’s head suddenly popped out of the draw in the nightstand. Without hesitation, Torque reached his hoof over and slammed the draw shut. Crash Dive’s head was still caught between the gap, and as the draw hit it, his head popped like a balloon and deflated before touching down on the ground in front of Dash’s hooves in a mangled mess of torn rubberyness.

Rainbow Dash didn’t even try to comprehend what just happened, but returned straight to what she was just talking about with Torque.

Dahila suddenly stepped down from her bed and walked towards him. “Seriously, we’re trying to help you out here, Torque. We’re trying to be you’re friend. We all want to be friends here.”

Torque huffed again and laid on his back, looking straight up. “And that’s the reason you’re going to lose.” He put bluntly, “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win. The last thing I want is more distractions.” He turned his head to either side simultaneously to look at Rainbow Dash and Dahila. “Are we done?”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes went wide at what she was hearing. ‘Wow…and I thought I was competitive, but this…this is almost unsporting.’ With nothing left for her to say, she started to walk back over to her bed, Dahila catching her just before she did.

“I swear before the end of this course, I’ll give him a piece of my mind.” She whispered into Rainbow Dash’s ear.

Rainbow Dash smiled and suppressed her giggles the best she could, “you and me both.”

Dahila motioned for Dash to walk with her. They walked over to behind Rainbow Dash’s bed, since it was the furthest they could get from him. She leant up to whisper in Dash’s ear. “Do you think what he told us is his genuine reason? Or do you think something else?”

Rainbow Dash simply shrugged, “don’t know, don’t care. We tried to be nice, but he didn’t play along. It’s his problem now.” Not really wanting to divulge any more, Rainbow Dash sat on her bed. She hated having to give up like this, but she barely knew the guy, and didn’t want to start making presumptions straight away.

Dahila lent with her to keep within whispering range. “I don’t think that was his actual excuse though, I think there’s something else on his mind.”

Again, Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Whatever you say, but personally, I think you’re wasting your time trying to get it out of him.”

Dahila let a drawn out sigh escape. As much as she wanted to help, Rainbow Dash was right. His word count barely reaches triple figures a day, and most of those were just him dodging questions and being rude. Although the odds were against her, she was determined to get to the bottom of it. She would just have to go about it a bit smarter…

As Rainbow Dash watched her walk away, she began to think about the conversation she just had. On the contrary, she felt that Dahila also had a point as equal as hers. Even though he was a lot of effort, maybe there genuinely was something bothering him that was causing him to behave like that. Something they could help with. Even if that was the case, getting it out of him seemed easier said than done…

With plently of time to kill, she laid back in her bed and bought out the copy of Daring Do she bought along for some light evening reading. She was hoping that Daring’s adventures would get her pumped up for tomorrow.

“Was that really necessary, Soarin?” Fleetfoot asked.

“What?” Soarin replied whilst reading a newspaper.

After his little outing with Rainbow Dash, Soarin retired to the Wonderbolts recreation room for a little evening relaxation and chat among his fellow teammates. They had a well kitted out rec room, with a ping pong table, a pool table, an air hockey table, and a few desks along the wall for anything that might be required. There was a few small coffee tables and a slightly larger one that were the same height as the cloud couches that were in the centre of the room. There was a larger dining table at the other end, used for informal meetings or anything else that might require them to gather round a table informally. There was a smaller room at the back which acted as a sort of kitchen. Although there were no real cooking facilities other than a fridge and a small oven that was mainly used for warming food rather than cooking it.

Soarin was laid out across a couch whilst reading a paper known as the Cloudsdale on Sundays. He didn’t get a chance to read it yesterday, so he was just catching up. Fleetfoot had folded one end of the ping pong table up and was hitting a ping pong ball against it for practice, since she had no one else to play with. Soarin declined her offer, saying he didn’t want to get too fired up before tomorrow. Which he knew would happen if he riled up Fleetfoot too much and they got overly-competitive.

“We already know a lot about Rainbow Dash. Was it really necessary to use your little scouting technique on her?”

Soarin glanced up at Fleetfoot, “you know as well as I do that we’re looking for more than just flying skill. This is my way of getting to know a few select recruits a little better, help me make my call on judgement day.”

Fleetfoot chuckled as she used her wings to help her do a backflip as she returned the ball. “You always like to bend a rules a little, don’t ya?”

“Oh I’m sorry, where in our rulebook does it say that we’re not allowed to have friends?” Soarin replied sarcastically as he turned the page.

“Friends is one thing,” Fleetfoot sighed as she didn’t quite manage to reach the ball in time and it fell to the floor. “But taking mares out on dinner dates is another.” She walked over to where it landed and grabbed it.

“Oh come on, it’s not like that!” He said whilst chuckling.

“Yeah, totally.” Fleetfoot sarcastically replied as she started her volley again.

“It’s not!” Soarin pleaded.

“C’mon Soar, I’m just yanking your chain,” Fleetfoot admitted. “Besides, you know you can tell me anything, right? I may be serious, but I’m not a total stick in the mud like Spitfire.”

Soarin chuckled in agreement, “can’t argue with that.”

“So, who you dating tomorrow?” She asked in a sarcastic manner.

“I dunno…” Soarin deliberately played along with her sarcasm, mimicking her tone. “I might try swinging the other way. That stallion in the first room looked quite cute.”

Fleetfoot tried her best not to laugh at his sarcasm, but she was unable to contain herself, causing her to almost miss her return shot. Even though she knew he was being sarcastic, he was so convincing that he was telling the truth, and it always made her laugh.

Soarin turned another page of the paper, but his mind wasn’t really focused on it. As much as he wanted to try and relax, his mind was going through all kinds of probabilities of what could happen over the coming weeks.

Chapter 3

View Online

“RISE AND SHINE, SLEEPING BEAUTIES! WE’VE GOT A LOT TO GET THROUGH THIS MORNING, AND I DON’T TAKE KINDLY TO TARDINESS!” Spitfire bellowed down a megaphone from the beginning of the hallway, the floor underneath her vibrating from all the synchronous groans that came from the rooms. “CUT THAT CRAP OUT AND GET YOUR ASSES IN THE SHOWER!”

Rainbow Dash sat up in her bed and flung her head backwards, deliberately hitting it against the bedframe. She rubbed her eyes and looked over at the clock on the wall above the door. The sunlight that was just about breaking through enabled her to read that it had just hit 6AM.

She groaned as she rolled over and out of her bed, her hooves almost giving way under her semi-confused state from Spitfire’s rude wakeup call.

“I’m calling first shower!” Horizon declared as he slammed the door to the bathroom behind him.

“Second!” Announced Crash Dive.

“Third!” Riptide and Dahila called at the same time.

Riptide looked over at Dahila and they crossed eyes. Riptide raised an eyebrow and lowered his head slightly towards her. “Well, I don’t mind sharing…”

Dahila narrowed her eyes, “bite me.” She had a gruff voice since it was still early in the morning.

“Kinky…” Riptide replied whilst wiggling his eyebrows.

Dahila broke eye contact and shook her head. “Whatever…forth.”

“I hate to say it, but you kinda walked right into that one.” Crash Dive admitted to her.

“You think!?” She barked back at him, making everypony flinch at the sudden loud noise, when their eardrums were still sensitive.

‘Wow, she’s really not a morning pony…’ Rainbow Dash thought. “Fifth.”

“Sixth,” Torque said in a grumpy tone, but nopony could tell whether he sounded like that because he was tired or not, since that’s what he always sounded like.

“Seventh,” Bright Skies said in the middle of a yawn. She was already sitting on the edge of her bed in a perfect posture.

White Comet shrugged, “guess I’m last. Just leave some warm water in the tank from me.” He reached over and grabbed his glasses and a book from the nightstand and started reading, flicking to where he left his bookmark.

Just watching him read made Rainbow Dash want to go back to sleep. How can somepony’s mind instantly jump into life like that after just waking up? It completely bewildered her.

“How can they even store that much hot water for 8 ponies to shower in anyway?” Dahila questioned.

“They’re using a centralized cloud boiler system that utilizes the advantages of being able to lower the atmospheric pressure inside the system, meaning the water boils at a lower temperature. Because of this, they’re able to get the water to where it needs to be at extremely high speeds. It then condenses in a tank in each individual room and is ready for immediate use.” At her words, all eyes turned to Bright Skies. With all eyes on her, she looked in the opposite direction towards the wall, shying away as if she said something wrong. In reality, everypony was just quite shocked as she was quite a quiet and reserved pony, but all of a sudden just burst into life to explain something.

The others looked around the room and shrugged at each other. It was obvious that Bright Skies was just shy, so they decided the best thing to do was leave her be. Although she had now made it known that she had quite a bit of knowledge sitting in her head.

Torque got out of his bed and started walking down the room and out towards the mess hall. He didn’t say a word as he left, but everypony just presumed that since he was way down the list for the bathroom, he was going to get breakfast first.

Once she had showered and got herself ready, Rainbow Dash headed down to the mess hall for breakfast. Now that she had woken up a little bit, she was starting to get her head in the game. She grabbed a bowl of oatmeal and took the nearest seat possible. She wasn’t bothered with finding her friends at the moment, she was getting herself fired up for the first test.

She cast her mind back to what Soarin told her yesterday. These tests were going to be pretty basic tests just to mainly see where they’re at already. Though he didn’t disclose what testing methods they were going to take. Her mind was hoping that it was just a lot of single-run challenges against the clock, but her heart was hoping for a lot of competitive challenges against other Pegasi to get her adrenaline pumping.

She took a spoonful of oatmeal, its bland dust-like flavour not doing anything for her, but she didn’t mind. She saw a lot of other potentially tastier breakfasts there, but she didn’t want to start experimenting with the food combinations yet in case she accidently ate something that didn’t agree with her. Better safe than sorry.

As she ate, she looked up and around. The place was absolutely crammed to the walls, with at least 12 pegasi trying to squeeze round each table. She found herself sandwiched between 2 other random ponies. She noticed her friends dotted around the place, as well as some of her roommates. But the one that stood out most to him was Soarin. He was sitting in one of the tables in the corner of the room, with a load of other pegasi around him. He just seemed to be having a casual conversation with them, even laughing at some of the jokes they were cracking.

‘That’s odd,’ Rainbow Dash looked at a door on the other side of the room where she saw a few more Wonderbolts go in. ‘That’s their private room. Much roomier than this cramped place. Why is he here?’ Rainbow continued to look at him, trying to figure out his logic for a few minutes.

“Uh, Rainbow Dash?” She heard a familiar voice say to the left of her.

She looked to her left to see Frostbite sitting next to her. She had not spoken to him in almost exactly 24 hours. “Hm?” She questioned as she continued to eat.

“You do realise you’re just shovelling air into your mouth, right?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.

Rainbow Dash glanced downwards to find her bowl empty. In those few minutes that she was lost in thought, she didn’t even noticed that she had finished. “Uhh…hehe…” she scratched her head, “I do now.” She admitted as she stood up, picked up her bowl and took it to the counter to hand it back to the kitchen staff for washing up. There was a bit of a que forming, since there seemed to be some disorganisation amongst the cleaning team. They obviously weren’t used to having to do this much washing up at once.

“Alright recruits, listen up!” Spitfire didn’t even her megaphone with her, but her voice was still loud enough to cause eardrums to rattle around in eveypony’s ears.

Rainbow Dash looked up at her. Spitfire was flying near the exit. “It all starts here! Breakfasts over! Get suited up and meet us in the outside training grounds in 5!” Despite her instructions, the activity didn’t seem to pick up. “HOP TO IT! COME ON, LET’S GO!” She clapped her hooves hard in hopes that it would help get her point across.

Rainbow Dash just dumped her bowl on the counter and left it, gently running back to her room. She didn’t want to push herself too hard, as she would be doing that in a minute, but more importantly, she didn’t want to accidently bring breakfast back up.

She grabbed her flight suit and goggles then proceeded to run down to the mares changing rooms. She was one of the first few. Seeing that a particular section of the bench was free, she immediately went and snagged it. The reason for this was because it was in front of a mirror, and she was about to put on an official Wonderbolts flight suit. Something that she had been dreaming about since she was a filly, and it was finally about to happen.

She positioned herself up in front of the mirror so that she could see herself put it on. She snuck it on from the back first, putting her tail through the hole and getting her hind legs in. She then put her forelegs in next, pulling them up to pull the nomex snugly around her body. She rolled her shoulders a few times to give it some slack to do the zip up. As she reached down between her legs to do the zip up, she noticed that it was double-zipped. ‘I guess that’s so I don’t have to take the whole suit off to go to the bathroom...’ she thought as she pulled the top zip up around her chest.

Now for the final piece to the puzzle; the headpiece. She pulled it over the back of her head and threaded her mane and ears through. She pulled the bottom part down to get her muzzle through and the headpiece sat snugly on her cheeks. Finally, she did the zip all the way up to just behind her chin. It tickled her slightly, but not too much. She would get used to it.

She stood frozen in place. The look was complete. No more fantasizing, this was actually happening. Her heart felt like it was about to jump out of its chest. Thankfully, she had enough self-control to stop herself from trembling in delight. She started posing in front of the mirror, as if she was posing for a serious self-portrait that would be going on her record. Her poses got more and more relaxed until it was eventually just her grinning from ear to ear at the sight.

“You done now?” A mare’s voice came from the right side her. “Some of us would like a go.”

Rainbow Dash looked to her right to see a small que beginning to form to check themselves out in the mirror. “Hehe…right.” She squeaked as she moved out of the way.

With that over, she headed to the outside training ground. It was a moderately cloudy day, but nothing that should affect them. There was a huge crowd beginning to form on the cloud of all the recruits. Spitfire was going through a few things with Soarin and Fleetfoot before they began. Rainbow Dash noticed that they had also got into their flight uniforms. They must’ve done it pretty fast, because it looked like they’d been going over things for a few minutes.

She looked out towards the training grounds to see what was in store from them. She saw a lot of red poles about 20 feet high sticking out from the cloud. There was a fair few of them laid out in a line. The gap between each one seemed to narrow as they went on, but she was unable to tell from this angle. ‘A slalom test. It must be. This is gonna be easy…’

At her thought, Spitfire flew down and hovered above the recruits. “Alright, this is where the fun begins!” She said in a sarcastic manner. “Before we get started, I wanna run you through our scoring system. Basically, as long as you’re on site, you’re being judged, and its affecting you score. We judge everything, and I mean EVERYTHING. We will be using a points system to evaluate you. And the best part? We’re not going to tell you your current score, how to earn points, or how to lose points. By doing this, it means that you can’t play the system to try and earn more points. So basically, all you can do is try your best and not fuck around. Any questions on the system?”

Nopony raised their hoof, because Spitfire had made it pretty clear-cut what they were aiming for and what the purpose for this was.

“Alright, with that out of the way, let’s get down to the first test.” She flew backwards slowly towards the poles, stopping a few feet in front of the first one. “This is a little thing we like to call apex hunter. Your task is to slalom through these poles as fast as you can.” She proceeded to do so, backwards, but very slowly. It was just a demonstration after all. “As you pass each pole, you need to get as close to each one as possible without bumping it. Bumping it results in the end of your test. The gap between each pole gets narrower as the course progresses, making it harder to clear at speed. It’s impossible to clear this course, so don’t worry about not finishing it. You will eventually hit a pole. The only way to get past the end is to slow RIGHT down to walking pace, but don’t expect it to give you much credit. Any questions?”

A single stallion raised his hoof. Spitfire pointed at him, “shoot.”

“When you say no bumping, does that mean we can’t touch it at all, or what?” He asked.

“A minor scrape is fine. We don’t call it apex hunter for nothing. But if you bump it hard enough to shift its foundation in the cloud, that’s when we’ll consider it a disqualification. Anypony else?” Spitfire scanned her eyes across the sea of recruits in front of her. With nopony else asking questions, she decided to get on with it. “Alright, do we have any volunteers to go first, or do I have to use my version of eenie meenie miney mo?”

She looked around, but wasn’t seeing anypony volunteering. They all seemed to be looking around at each other, hoping somepony else would volunteer. “Alright, fine,” Spitfire huffed, raised her hoof, “eenie meenie miney – YOU!” She suddenly bellowed and randomly flew her hoof out into the crowd, causing half the recruits to jump.

She was pointing at a lime green stallion with a charcoal coloured mane. “Hop to it Slick, we don’t have all day!”

The Stallion gulped, pulled his goggles over his eyes, extended his wings, and took his position on the starting line. Fleetfoot had taken up position about midway down to help see if he bumped any of the poles.

“Oh my command,” Spitfire instructed. The stallion nodded and got himself into a ready position. “3. 2. 1. GO!” On her last word, Spitfire bought her hoof down, striking it against the cloud.

The stallion shot off the line towards the first pole. She positioned himself slightly left to make the right turn to begin the run. He passed the 1st one, and tilted left to prepare for the 2nd one. He made it through the next 5, but they were beginning to tighten up. He made it through the 8th, but going into the 9th, he miscalculated his closing speed, and didn’t leave enough time to manoeuvre. He ended up clipping his wing, causing the pole to shift. Good thing the cloud supporting it had some give in it, otherwise that would’ve hurt.

“Nice try, rookie.” Fleetfoot commented as she moved the pole back into position. Spitfire wrote a few things on her clipboard as the stallion made his way back.

Rainbow Dash watched the ponies go through as Spitfire randomly selected them. Some ponies did well. Others…not so well. Luckily it was nopony she knew until she saw Torque take position at the startline. Despite his attitude, he was actually a pretty good flier. He made it to the 18th pole before he got knocked out. It looked to her like he was going too fast towards the final section, but she wasn’t sure.

“His line was good, he just didn’t utilize all the forces available to him efficiently.” Well, it looked like she was about to get clarification on what happened to him now.

She turned her head to the left to look at White Comet, “was he going too fast?” She questioned.

White Comet shook his head. “His line was slightly flawed, which caused a chain reaction of events that lead to his failure.

“Care to tell me why, or would that be giving away your secrets?” Rainbow Dash joked, not actually expecting him to say anything.

White Comet smirked, then his face returned to his serious expression. “He tried to take too narrow a line, meaning it didn’t give him time to setup his angle of attack. That’s why he hit the pole.”

“Alright genius, since you seem to know all about it, how about you get your flank down here and give us a demonstration!?” Spitfire called to him.

Without hesitation, White Comet took a brief journey into the skies and landed on the starting line. On Spitfire’s command, he shot off the line like a cannonball and headed towards the slalom.

Rainbow Dash analysed his line from what he just told her. He was taking the turns slightly wider than most of the competition, but from what she could see, his speed was slightly higher to compensate. On top of that, since it required him to roll to the side more, he was able to take tackle the slalom at the much better angle. It also meant he carried extra inertia, making the turns easier. He managed to keep it all the way to the 20th, where he clipped his flank against the pole. It wasn’t hard enough to move it from its foundations though, so he was allowed to keep going, but unfortunately he caught the 21st in his shoulder.

Spitfire raised an eyebrow, “Impressive, but I can’t say I didn’t expect it from you, Comet.” She said as she wrote on her clipboard.

Spitfire picked Horizon next to tackle the course. He took to the sky and did a quick loop-de-loop before landing on the start line. “Bring it, baby.” He muttered as a grin formed across his face.

Spitfire gave her command, and with a thrust of his wings, he pushed off the line and sped towards the first pole. He did a heavy roll as he clipped the apex, leaving the corner…and continuing to roll…and roll…and roll.

Rainbow Dash couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He was doing a barrel roll out of each corner. ‘This guy’s insane…’ Everypony else watched in awe as he did. Unfortunately insanity is a bit of a wild card. Sometimes it can be lucky, sometimes it can’t. In this instance, it wasn’t. After clearing the 12th pole, he careened head-first into the 13th, pulling it out of the foundation completely. It would’ve fallen if Fleetfoot wasn’t there to catch it.

“An unusual technique, but each to their own.” Spitfire shrugged as she wrote. When she was done writing, she randomly threw her hoof out at the crowd. “You!” She called.

Riptide smiled as she pointed to him. “Aye aye, ma’am…” he sounded more than happy to take her orders. He took his place on the starting line and got into position.

As Spitfire readied for the countdown, he turned his head towards her and smiled. “Oh hi there. You looking at something you like?” Since he was slightly haunched over, his plot was sticking in the air slightly, and he wiggled it at her.

“I will be if you fuck this up.” Spitfire replied nonchalantly as she lifted the stopwatch hanging from her neck and raised her hoof, ready to give the off. She was pretty sure that she didn’t need to make herself any clearer.

“A punishment? Oh my…” Riptide was clearly enjoying this too much, his smile growing wider, revealing some teeth.

“Recruit,” Spitfire dropped the stopwatch and let it hang around her neck and bought her hoof back down, letting Riptide know that she was serious. “If I were to punish you…” she thought carefully about what she was about to say, as he managed to turn the last the last thing she said into an innuendo, which she presumed meant that he would be able to do it with pretty much anything she said. “…I would get a stallion to tie your wings down and make you run 500 laps ON HOOF. Do I make myself clear?”

Seeing that things were quickly going in a direction he didn’t want to go in, Riptide gulped. “Crystal clear, ma’am.”

“Good.” Spitfire picked up the stopwatch and sent Riptide on his way.

Despite the fact that his mind always seemed to be elsewhere, he was pretty good. Although the technique made Rainbow Dash raise an eyebrow. His size meant that he definitely was not agile, but he was still taking the tight line that would be taken by a light, small, nimble Pegasus. “How is he doing that?” Rainbow Dash thought out loud without even noticing.

“He’s compensating for his line by using weight distribution. Riptide’s a big pony, so he has lots of weight to chuck around. He’s using inertia to throw his weight to either side between each corner.” Even though the question wasn’t directed at him, White Comet still gave her an answer. She did ask after all.

This guy seemed to be able to impress Rainbow Dash with each sentence. How was he able to tell so much about somepony’s flying style just from watching them? His ability to analyse situations in an instant was astonishing to her.

“However,” he continued, “that’s going to be his downfall right…about…now.”

At his words, Riptide tried to pull himself around the 14th pole, but he carried too much speed into the turn, and clipped his hind legs on the pole, knocking it out of place.

“You may be a jackass, but you’re technique is pretty intriguing.” Spitfire commented as she wrote.

A few more ponies went by, including some that Rainbow Dash recognised, like Thunderlane, Derpy, Flitter and Cloudchaser. They all did alright, apart from Derpy, who didn’t make it past the 8th. Although Rainbow Dash couldn’t say she was too surprised, as accuracy wasn’t exactly her strong point…

Finally, it was her turn to take to the course. As she moved onto the cloud to the start line, she formulated the perfect strategy inside her head. In fact, she’d been thinking about it for a while, from all the information that she had formulated from what White Comet had been telling her. The basic idea was that she would combine both his and her techniques to form the ultimate strategy. It sounded easy in her head, but would it be easy to perform?

As Spitfire gave the send-off, she shot off the line, leaving faint rainbow trails in her wake. As she approached the first set, she kept her line tight, taking the shortest distance possible and efficiently weaving in and out between the poles. It looked like she was a needle that was being threaded. Her technique worked until it started to tighten up. This is where she implemented White Comet’s technique on taking a wider line into the turns. She switched her exit coming out of one of the turns in order to take more of a sweep in. As she ran the first 2 using this technique, she was beginning to understand the advantages. The idea of travelling further than was necessary raised alarm bells in her head, but the advantages more than offset that.

As she passed the 19th, she realised that she could be competing with White Comet, but the turns were beginning to get tighter and tougher. She was trying her best not to scrape off speed, but it was getting difficult with the little room she had to manoeuvre.

She barely made it past the 20th without touching it. ‘This is it! The pole that Comet got to. All I need to do is make it past this point.’ She flung her body around and pushed her wings hard, trying to set herself up for a wider entry into the 22nd and hopefully giving her a shot at the 23rd. She brushed her back against the 21st as she passed it, but not enough to move it. “ARGH!” She grunted as she threw herself into a roll with all her might, but she didn’t make the move in time and pushed herself out too wide, altering her trajectory. She pulled her forehooves up over her head as she flew straight into the pole headfirst. She knew it wasn’t going to hurt, but she just did it out of natural response.

She bought herself to a stop and looked back at Spitfire, who had a small smile on her face. “Impressive, RD. Keep it up.” Was the only comment she made, but Rainbow Dash knew that it was her job to only give praise where it was necessary. Still, getting recognition for that was something worth feeling proud of in her opinion.

As she made her way back, she saw that Spitfire had a strange look on her face as she wrote on her clipboard. She looked reasonably happy a moment ago, but now she almost looked…angry? Why? Was it something she did? Rainbow Dash had no idea why, but she wasn’t in a position to question it. She just let it slide and presumed that she had something else going on in the background that was bothering her.

Next up was Bright Skies. Although she didn’t appear to be the strongest of fliers, she was pretty small and thin, meaning that she wouldn’t have much trouble with all the sudden direction changes. She made it up to the 17th pole before hitting it.

Rainbow Dash watched the other Pegasi make their runs and eventually they had all made their run. A few had made it to 21, but nopony had touched 22. She couldn’t believe it. In the first test, SHE HAD RANKED TOP! She almost punched the air in victory, but the sight of Spitfire approaching them stopped her from doing so.

“Good job out there, everypony.” She addressed. “There was some good runs out there for your first time. Now we’ll let you relax a bit, because we need some information from you before we can begin our next test. Follow me to the gym, then go get some lunch after this part is finished. I’ll explain it when we’re there.”

Spitfire moved towards the corridor, causing everypony to follow. It wasn’t really an organised que though, more like a hoard trying to fit through a 10 foot wide corridor.

“You pick up things quite quickly, Dash. Impressive.” White Comet said as he walked alongside her down the corridor.

“Uh, thanks,” Rainbow Dash didn’t mean for her thanks to sound quite so awkward, but a question entered her mind as soon as he spoke to her, which derailed her train of thought. “Why did you tell me all that anyway? You’re better off keeping your secrets to yourself if you wanna win.”

“Well,” he smirked, “I already told you. I’m only here to improve my own technique. I’m not bothered if I become a Wonderbolt or not at the end. I think that since it doesn’t bother me, I might as well share my knowledge with a few select ponies to help them out.”

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow, “who are these ‘select ponies’?”

“There’s only 2. You and my brother.”

“M-me?” There was only 2 ponies that he shared his knowledge with and Rainbow Dash was one of them? She’d only known him for a day. What made him pick her? “Why me of all ponies?”

“Back when you raced me yesterday, you were able to keep up with me without thinking about it. You have natural flying talent. Me? I have to analyse every little thing I do when I’m up in the air. I can’t just jump out of bed and fly fast effortlessly, no matter how easy I make it look.”

“And I’m guessing your brother is the same?”

White Comet nodded, “yeah. It’s an impressive feat for anypony, yet alone a fourteen year old.”

“Heh…wait, FOURTEEN!?” Rainbow Dash almost shouted. “And he’s as good as me!?”

White Comet shot a mischievous smile at her. “I didn’t say he was good as you. All I said is that he can keep up with me using the same technique and thought patterns you do. You can interpret that however you want.” As he said the final 3 words, he winked at her.

‘Great, more mind tricks…’ Rainbow Dash thought.

As they walked into the gym, all the other Wonderbolts had gathered inside with what looked like…tapemeasures?

“I told you this one would be easy.” Spitfire commented as she hovered into the air to address the recruits. “We’re here at the moment to take some information about you. What we’re going to be taking is your weight, wingspan, height, and wingpower. Doesn’t sound like a tough job, but there are a lot of you to get through. So after all your measurements have been taken, you can head down to the mess hall for lunch.” She pointed down to the start where there was 4 groups of 2 Wonderbolts with tapemeasures and scales, and then more in the distance next to some wing power measuring devices. “Now let’s get on with it. Once you get the all clear, take off and fly as fast as you can for your wing power measurement.”

Everypony tried their best to form 4 orderly lines the best they could. Luckily the gym was big and there wasn’t much of a problem, the occasional pony complaining about jumping the line.

The que in front of Rainbow Dash eventually dwindled and it was finally her turn. She took a pace forward and stepped onto the scales, looking down as she was curious as what it was about to tell her. She had Misty Fly and Fleetfoot by her side, ready to measure her wingspan and height.

160 pounds. That was heavier than when she last weighed herself, but she had gained a bit more muscle since then, so she presumed that the extra weight just came from muscle mass.

“Wings.” Fleetfoot ordered, giving her a slight jab for encouragement. Rainbow Dash complied and extended her wings as far as they could go. Fleetfoot extended a tape measure across the length of one of her wings.

“4 foot 2 height,” Mistly Fly commented as she wrote down on a clipboard next to her.

“3 foot exactly wingspan,” Fleetfoot added. “Alright, go ahead for your wingpower test.”

Not needing to be told twice, Rainbow Dash shot off the scales, eyeing the small fan in front of her that was going to measure her wingpower. She flew past is as narrowly as she could, not even taking notice of the Pegasus that was sat next to it ready to take the measurement.

As she flew past it, she began decelerating with the help of her hooves along the floor, making a screeching sound as she came to a stop.

“Nineteen point nine. That’s pretty good, Dash.” A familiar stallion’s voice said behind her.

She turned to see Soarin writing down her score on a clipboard. “Thanks, Soarin!” She replied as she started heading back to the mess hall. However, she froze as a thought hit her. She should’ve address Soarin as ‘Sir’, not ‘Soarin’.

She looked over at him, biting her lip as she realised her mistake. She was expecting some backlash for it, but all Soarin did was wink at her and motion with his hoof for her to run along.

And with that, Soarin shot to the top of the list in the order she ranked her favourite Wonderbolts in. She was on a NAME basis with Soarin. In a PROFESSIONAL environment. She wasn’t even a Wonderbolt yet and this was happening. It made her feel all warm inside, knowing that someone that she looks up to considered her such a good friend.

She took off the head portion of the flight suit and let her goggles hang around her neck as she made her way to the kitchen area of the mess hall to find out what they were serving. As fancy as they tried to make it look, at the end of the day, it was just a collection of fruits and vegetables. Rainbow Dash grabbed what she wanted and took a seat on a table. She wasn’t feeling that hungry, but it didn’t stop her tucking in.

“Hey Dash, nice job on getting the top score.” Dahila said as she took a seat next to her.

“Thanks, Dah. You did a pretty good job too.” Rainbow Dash replied after swallowing.

“I was 2 behind Bright Skies,” she commented as she picked up an orange and started to peel it. “Speaking of Bright Skies, she did pretty good didn’t she?”

“Well, she is small and light, which is what that test was all about it you think about.” Rainbow Dash replied as she bit into an apple.

“I suppose so. What do you think of Bright Skies anyway? Shy or just socially awkward?” Dahila pulled one of the orange sections out and popped it into her mouth.

“Hard to tell, it’s still early days. Give it some more time and we’ll see what happens. Got nothing against her though.”

“Nah, me neither. I saw you talking to White Comet a lot. Is he really as good as they say he is?”

“I think that’s an understatement. He’s able to predict so far into the future that it’s almost like he has a superpower. The guys got brains, no doubt about it.”

“But you still beat him to the top spot!” Dahila declared as she held out her hoof.

Dash chuckled and bumped her hoof back. “I gotta admit, I did kinda steal one of the techniques he was telling me about. But the fact that I managed to get to the 22nd was a fifty-fifty combination of technique and luck.”

“Hey,” Dahila shrugged, “if it worked it worked. Don’t knock it.”

“Agree with ya there,” Rainbow Dash commentated as she picked up a banana.

After they’d had lunch and taken a bit of a break to let it go down, they went back into the gym to see what else the Wonderbolts had in store from them for the first day. When they got there, they found the Wonderbolts adjusting some of the exercise machines, giving everypony a good idea of what was coming up. Rainbow Dash heard a moderate number of ponies begin to talk about the test. Mostly complaining about certain parts. Even though she surely wasn’t going to be very strong in certain points, she would make up for them in others.

“Welcome back to your final test of today. The reason this is the last one is because this test is going to be brutal, so you’re going to need the remainder of the day to recover.” Spitfire instructed as she hovered into the air to address them. It almost looked as if she had a slightly sadistic grin on her face. “One and a half mile run on the treadmill, 50 wing-ups, and then 6 lengths in the pool, one after the other. No catch, no special rules, no nothing. Just do it as fast as you can. There’s 3 different tests, so 3 different timings, and there’s 15 of us here to time you. So 5 at a time should do it.”

The treadmill? It would just be like a miniature version of the Running of the Leaves, Dash could cope fine. The wing-ups? Piece of cake, she practiced them daily. But the pool lengths… “Fuck…” Dash muttered under her breath. She knew it would come up at some point, but she was hoping it wouldn’t be so soon. She’d barely done any swimming in her life. She was certain that she was going to fail at that point, but she didn’t have a choice. She’d have to suck it up and hope her fitness would pull through for her.

“Any questions? Nope? Hop to it.” Spitfire didn’t even wait for an answer, because there was nothing to answer. This test was as straight forward as it got. She waited a few seconds, but nopony moved towards the treadmills, waiting for somepony else to hop on. There were only 5 treadmills available, so there were going to be ques anyway.

Spitfire chuckled at the sight. “You rookies really haven’t thought this through have you? Think about it, it’s the last test of the day. The sooner you finish, the sooner you can go relax.”

And with that, the gym produced as much noise as a clearance sale at a supermarket. Everypony started pushing and shoving to get to the treadmills first. After some little tussles, a few pegasi started their runs.

Of all the ponies, Rainbow Dash only recognised Riptide on the treadmill. He was prancing overdramatically with each stride, striking a smile as if he was posing for the cover of a magazine. He had the treadmill deliberately turned up the highest of the 5, so he stood out the most. He would occasionally break his concentration to bounce his eyebrows at a few mares.

Rainbow Dash smirked as she realised what would happen if he kept this up. Since he was doing it so overdramatically, he was consuming a lot of energy, which he would suffer for later on.

Unsurprisingly, he finished first out of 10. He was pretty much gasping for breath as he came off the treadmill though and headed over to a gym mat to begin his wing-ups. As he laid flat on the floor and began his wing-ups, this was the first time that Dash had seen his muscles. He was pretty well built, almost like a tank. Although Rainbow Dash presumed that he only looked like that to attract mares.

After he’d finished his first 20, 3 more stallions joined him on the mat. They picked up speed quicker than he did, but they also looked a lot lighter, which probably had something to do with it. Rainbow Dash took a quick glance at the treadmills to see if there was anypony she knew on there. After confirming that there wasn’t, she looked back at Riptide. He was beginning to grunt on every other wing-up.

After he finished his wing-ups, 2 of the other stallions had caught up to him and finished their own wing-ups within 5 seconds of him. Riptide tried to fly towards the door that was the entrance to the pool, but his wings throbbed as he tried to take flight, causing him to run as he didn’t want to lose time.

‘Boy, I bet he’s feeling that now…’ Rainbow Dash thought as she looked back to the treadmills. She saw that Bright Skies had gotten on a treadmill, although she wasn’t sure how long she’d been on it. Bright Skies didn’t look to be a particular strong pony, but she was small, so hopefully her lightweight body would mean she’d have less to push along.

She looked as if she had a really slow setting on the treadmill at the moment. At first, Rainbow Dash wondered why she would turn it down, but then thought back to the 2 reasons White Comet beat her.

Tactics and strategy.

Was she running slower so she could save her energy for the final 2 challenges? She’d probably need all the muscle she had for the wing-ups, and she was pretty sure swimming would cost her quite a bit of energy as well, seeing as swimming was a utilization of most if not all of your muscles.

As much as Dash tried to sugar coat it, it wasn’t looking good for her. ‘Sorry Bright Skies, but looks like this one isn’t yours…’

A few ponies went by and she saw White Comet and Torque get on next to each other. Now, Torque was definitely the fitter pony, but he lacked White Comet’s brain. Although this test was pretty much about brute strength and endurance, she was almost certain that White Comet had some sort of strategy tucked away in the back of his mind.

Torque was definitely running faster than White Comet, but maybe Comet was pacing himself like Bright Skies was? In fact, it would make perfect sense for him to do that, since that’s how he beat her after all.

Torque looked like he was pushing himself pretty hard on the treadmill. Not showing off like Riptide was, it looked like he was genuinely pushing himself for the sake of pushing himself. As he finished his run on the treadmill, he went over and began his wing-ups.

White Comet joined him about 30 seconds later. By then, Torque was about 15 wing-ups ahead. But the interesting thing seemed to be that although Torque definitely had more strength, White Comet was doing wing-ups at a much faster rate than him. Either White Comet was picking up his pace, or Torque was slowing down. Was he saving energy? Or was he genuinely running on fumes?

Due to the speed difference between the 2 of them compensating for their different start times, they both finished at the same time and dashed off to the pool. They both tried to use their wings, with Torque’s buckling, but White Comet was able to get himself a few feet off the floor. Rainbow Dash took that as some sort of sign that he was overexerting himself.

She glanced back at the treadmills and saw that there was one free. Not seeing anypony stepping up to it, she didn’t hesitate to step onto it herself.

She hopped on and pressed a few buttons to get it going. She set the speed to 11 miles an hour and began to run, hearing one of the Wonderbolts click a stopwatch above her head as they started timing her.

She remained at the same speed for a minute, letting herself get into a rhythm. She was beginning to feel her blood pumping, getting her active. She felt like she could go faster, but she knew that she had to keep her pace in check in order to make sure she had the energy for the final challenges.

Then an idea hit her like a tidal wave. Her initial plan was to save energy for swimming, since she wasn’t a good swimmer. What if she reversed that plan? What if she spent most of her energy at the first 2 challenges to exploit her strengths to compensate for the poor swimming time? It would be risky, since she didn’t have much time to think it over…

…Then again, she took a risk on the previous test and it paid off.

With that in mind, she upped the speed on the treadmill to 15 miles per hour and, living up to her name, started dashing in place. She was now clearly the fastest pony on the treadmills by miles.

Around the halfway point, she was beginning to regret the decision. She was sweating like crazy underneath the nomex flight suit, but thanks to the nature of the material, it aided in the evaporation of moisture, helping her to keep cool. But no matter what type of suit she was wearing, nothing really compensated for the fact that she was pushing herself so hard. She panted at each stride, her legs begging for her to take it easy. But she soldiered on, knowing that this could make or break her run.

When she finished the treadmill run, her legs shook as she tried to walk. She had to use her wings slightly to keep herself from falling. She pretty much dropped herself onto the mat and lifted herself up with her wings, commencing her series of wing-ups. Her already exhausted body complained as she pushed it even further, but luckily she hadn’t been using her wing muscles in the last challenge.

About halfway through her wing-ups, she saw Crash Dive appear next to her. He had obviously started at a similar time, but she was too busy concentrating on running to see him. With each of his muscle contractions and extensions, they made a squeaky sound like an old rusty spring. Rainbow Dash shrugged it off as one of his jokes and continued on her own.
45…46…47…by this point, she was almost completely spent in terms of her muscle power. If she hadn’t run so hard, she would’ve been done by now. Despite her fatigue, she pushed on as hard as she could.

48…49…her wings began to shake on the last push. ‘please don’t give, please don’t give, please don’t give…’ she begged her body…50!

As soon as she finished the last one, she bought herself to her hooves as quickly as she could, groaning slightly as she lifted herself up. She slowly started to walk towards the door to the pool, getting her bearings before turning it into a run.

She burst through the doors and saw a couple of ponies in there doing their lengths. She yanked the zip on her suit as hard as she could and pulled it off herself, kicking it to the side and out of the way along with some of the other flight suits, but taking note of where she kicked it so she could pick it up later.

She didn’t even bother testing the temperature of the water first, she just jumped straight in. The temperature was a bit colder than she anticipated, shocking her for the first few seconds, but then giving her a soothing feeling as it washed away the sweat.

Not wasting any more time, she started rolling her forelegs in a windmill motion and kicking hard with her hind legs. She tilted her head from side to side now and again for breath. She pushed and pushed and pushed…and barely moved anywhere.

‘I knew I’d be slow, but this?’ She compared her speed to some of the other ponies in the pool with her. Whilst everypony looked like they were struggling, she was definitely going slower than what she should be. ‘Come on…dig deeper…’ she pounded the water harder, causing it to splash back in her face at each stroke.

With more effort than she anticipated, she made it to the other end of the pool, tapping it with her hoof to signal that she had made it. ‘One down, five to go…’ She took a deep breath and pushed off the wall to start her 2nd length. This time, she tried a variety of different swimming techniques, but none of them seemed to be making any difference for her, so she just stuck with what seemed like the easiest to do, as she was running on fumes.

After what seemed like an eternity to her, she made it over to the other side. She was starting to think that she was getting the hang of this, but then remembered that she was only just halfway. ‘Oh come on!’ She internally screamed as she started her 3rd run. She was pretty sure that the water was taunting her at this point due to her slowness. The thought only made her pound it harder.

She more or less had her head permanently to the side now, gasping for breath. As she stared to the right of her, she saw a pony swimming past her in a very off fashion. She was able to just about make out that it was Crash Dive through the water in her eyes. He was swimming very calmly, looking as if he was atop the water with only his legs submerged. He had his next bent in a weird S shape and his head held high…he looked like a swan.

The sight caused Rainbow Dash to laugh, although incredibly muffled by the water getting into her mouth. She wasn’t sure if this was one of his jokes, or if he genuinely swam like that. She quickly regained her concentration however as she realised that laughing was making her short of breath, which she really couldn’t afford right now. She also realised that although Crash Dive was probably just joking around with the whole swan thing…he was still swimming faster than he was.

Rainbow Dash growled in the water, making bubbles appear in front of her eyes. How was she this bad at swimming? Sure she’d only done it less than 10 times in her life, so she had a big lack of experience in swimming, but she wasn’t exactly unfit either. Was there something she was doing wrong? Or was she genuinely a bad swimmer?

Whatever the reason, she can’t figure it out right now, so she pushed it to the back of her mind and continued to swim as hard as she could with her dwindling energy supplies. She pushed off the wall to start her 4th length, barely able to see where she was going as her mane drooped down from the water in front of her face.

She made it to the 5th length, barely even pushing off the wall. It looked like she just leaned outwards in zero gravity and let the force of physics take her. Although she continued to propel herself forward using what remained in her legs.

When she started her final length, she didn’t even push off. She just turned herself around in the water and plodded along on her final length. She felt her flank begin to submerge towards the end as her hind legs were unable to maintain her buoyancy. She was more or less doggy-paddling to the finish.

When she reached the end, she put her forehooves over the edge and used the remainder of her strength to pull herself up and onto her back. She had done it. Not well, but she done it. Although she felt pretty dead. She could barely concentrating on anything other than breathing. Her heartbeat rang out like a drum in her head, feeling it throb in time with the beats. She lied in a heap on her back for a few minutes to regain her breath.

After she had regained enough of her breath to bring herself to her hooves, she grabbed her flight suit and slowly trotted her way back, fearing that if she tried to go any faster, she would break something.

“Not necessarily the fastest of runs, but full marks for effort, recruit!” The Wonderbolt timing her at the side of the pool shouted to her.

Rainbow Dash looked over her shoulder at him. “Thanks…” she weakly replied. She saw that it was Wave Chill who was timing her. After the brief feedback, she continued on her way out. She really just wanted to go straight into the shower, wash all the chlorine out of her eyes and let her muscles come back to her.

She went to her room, grabbed her towel, and walked back into the mares changing rooms and chucked her flight suit into a basket marked ‘cleaning’. She didn’t look to confirm whether she managed to get it in the basket or not, but she presumed she did. She was focused on her other goal.

She went into the shower room where a few mares were already showering themselves off from completing their runs previously. The showers were basic showerheads pointing directly over the place where she would be standing. There were 2 knobs, one to control pressure, the other to control temperature. She set the pressure to the highest it would go to and set the temperature to slightly lower, seeing as she felt like she was melting.

With the cool fresh water running over her, she let out a sigh of relief, the feeling returning to her body. She picked up a bar of lemon-scented soap and ran it across her body, trying her best to rid herself of the smell of sweat.

When she had finished washing herself, she grabbed her towel and dried herself off, not worrying about the state her mane was in. She normally did minimal styling with it anyway, so it didn’t bother her.

She left the mare’s locker room and started walking back down to her room. “DUDE, COME ON! THAT’S FUCKING GROSS!” She heard a young stallion’s voice bellow through the walls of the stallion’s locker room, feeling the vibrations in her hooves. She chuckled gently to herself as she imagined some of the shenanigans that could be doing on in there, but she felt like she was probably better off not knowing.

As she entered her room, everypony looked pretty much as dead as her. Torque was stretching himself out, Dahila was applying some sort of cream to her forelegs, Riptide had his towel over his shoulders and was rummaging through his drawers for something. As she walked up, Horizon came out of the bathroom, his mane drooping down long past his face from where he had taken a shower back in the locker rooms. Because his mane was usually bunched up, the fact that it was wet made it look incredibly long, bringing it almost halfway down his legs.

White Comet was already asleep on his bed, in his normal napping position with his forelegs crossed over his chest. Rainbow Dash didn’t blame him, as that’s what she felt like doing right now.

Rainbow Dash collapsed on her bed, letting her limbs droop over the edges. She breathed a sigh of relief as she was finally able to take the weight off her legs. She rolled over and leaned back against the bedframe.

“I didn’t even know I had muscles in these places, yet alone I could make them ache.” Dahila joked in an exhausted tone.

“That was…pretty hard,” Rainbow Dash unwillingly admitted, but seeing as everypony else felt the same way, she felt that she could let it slide. “I didn’t expect to be thrown into a pool so quickly.”

“Not a swimmer huh? My mom loved swimming, but I was too scared as a filly to go anywhere near water.” Dahila replied with a chuckle.

“Well, I’ve swam, but…never in competition.” Dash replied, massaging the back of her neck with her hoof.

“I like swimming, it’s easy. I’m not the fastest, but I could go at it for hours.” Riptide spoke up, dropping his towel by the side of his bed.

Dahila glanced over at Rainbow Dash. “Wait for it…” She quietly spoke. “Wait for it…”

“Besides,” Riptide chuckled, “that’s not the only--”

“Thing I can go at for hours on end.” Dahila finished his sentence. “Called it. This whole innuendo thing you’ve got going on is getting way too predictable, Riptide.”

“Pfff,” Riptide batted a hoof at her, “you’re just being boring.”

Dahila shook her head and looked over at Torque. “What about you, Torque? What did you think?”

“…It was…interesting…” his response was very minimal. He didn’t particular want to reply at all, but he was starting to understand that if he wanted to stay here, his roommates wouldn’t give him a choice.

Dahila sighed, knowing she wouldn’t get much more out of him. Well, she could, but it wasn’t worth the effort. “If this is just day one, what’s it’s gonna be like from here on out?” She asked out loud to the rest of the room.

“Like going through hell.” Rainbow Dash replied as she sat up.

Dahila smirked, looking slightly sadistic. “Just the way I like it…” she chimed.

Rainbow Dash returned her smirk, “I’m glad we think on the same page.” She replied as she extended her right wing and started preening.

As she was preening, she glanced over the end of her bed a few times at White Comet. She was curious to hear what he had to say, but wasn’t probably going to hear it until later. She knew what it was like to be woken from a nap, and given the exhausted state that they were all currently in, she thought she’d give the poor guy a rest for now.

The small remainder of the afternoon rolled on and soon enough it was time for dinner. Dash and her roommates walked down there together, although Dash was more interested in catching up with her other friends. As they were walking down there, they saw a large board just to the left of the entrance to the mess hall. It was a large, rectangular blackboard in a portrait orientation with ‘knockouts’ written at the top of it. There was a small piece of paper bobby pinned to the wall below it, but they had to move in closer to see it.

‘I can’t put this kindly, so I’m just going to say it. Whoever see’s their name on this board is to pack their bags and leave. They will be published at the end of each day. There will be none for today. If we didn’t think you could pass our basic tests, we wouldn’t have even picked you in the first place.

With everypony satisfied by Spitfire’s written explanation, they proceeded to gently trot towards the entrance to the mess hall. “I know they said that there wouldn’t be any for today, but I wonder who’s first on the list…” Dahila questioned out loud. She wasn’t asking anypony in particular, but she aimed her voice to her right to ask the stallion that was walking alongside her. Although she wasn’t getting a response. She looked over her shoulder and saw that Torque wasn’t walking beside her anymore. She stopped and looked behind her. Torque was still staring at the knockout board. He hadn’t moved. “Yo Torque, you coming?” She called to him.

Torque didn’t acknowledge her voice. He didn’t even blink. He was just concentrating on giving the knockout board a stern look. What was he contemplating? Dahila wanted to press the issue, but with the smell of food gently wafting through the door, her stomach said otherwise. She batted her hoof at him (even though he wasn’t looking), and continued on her way, pushing through the door and having everypony else follow her.

A fair few ponies were already occupying the tables. Dash noticed as she walked in that some of her friends were already here. They didn’t see her, so she planned on going to meet them after she got her food.

As she neared the front of the line, she was given the choice of either steamed vegetables in some sort of soup, or quiche. With her tongue leaning towards something savoury, she chose the quiche, putting some on her plate, and headed off towards the table her friends were sitting at.

Thunderlane greeted her with a nod as he saw her approaching. Rainbow Dash returned the nod with a smile as she took a seat. “So, how did you find the first day?” She asked as she began to dig into her dinner.

Thunderlane looked as if he had had a pretty rough time. His mane was fuzzier than normal, and it was all over the place. Like Dash, he probably didn’t care too much as he got out of the shower. “Hard would be an understatement…” his reply was gruff and tired.

“Well, it never was gonna be a walk in the park, but I never imagined this on the first day. It makes me worry about the rest…” Cloudchaser commented.

“I hear ya,” Thunderlane replied, “but I hope they’re not as…intensive.”

“I think today was just a general basic test to see how we would handle it.” Rainbow Dash said, thinking about what Soarin told her yesterday. “Tomorrow comes the real stuff that they’re gonna be judging us on.”

“I thought that when I saw the note underneath the chalkboard at the entrance.” Thunderlane added.

As they spoke, out of the corner of her eye, Rainbow Dash saw Torque enter through the doors. He had been standing outside looking at the board all this time? What did he see that got the gears turning in his brain? Whatever it was, she would probably never find out. At least not from his mouth.

“I saw you friending up White Comet earlier.” Thunderlane drew her attention, causing her to look at him. “Looking for some moves to steal are we?”

“Uh, well, hehe. Not…directly…” Rainbow Dash replied uneasily with a hint of hesitation in her voice.

“We know your game, Dash,” Cloudchaser added, narrowing her eyes and putting on a grin that said it all.

“Okay, maybe I am looking for a teeny tiny bit of help,” Rainbow Dash admitted, “but he’s actually a pretty cool guy. Seriously, some of the things he comes out with could make Twilight blush.”

“How did he react to you beating him?” Thunderlane questioned.

“He was pretty cool with it actually.” Rainbow Dash looked up and away as she thought about it. “That’s just the thing with him though. He doesn’t seem too bothered about his performance or results. He said he only wanted to come here to improve his technique, which he can only learn by pushing the limits. So either he’s holding a lot back, or…he’s not as good as ponies say he is…”

“Or you’re just so good, you can keep up with him.” Cloudchaser regretted that just thinking about it, as she knew how much Dash liked having her ego stroked. But they were theorizing, and it was a theory after all.

Dash grinned in response, “I like that one. We’ll go with that one.”

Cloudchaser chuckled and rolled her eyes, “there’s a long was to go yet, Dash. Perhaps he’s just waiting for the right moment to catch you napping.”

At her words, Rainbow Dash giggled a little bit as a joke popped into her head. “I think I’m the one who’s caught him napping. A few times actually.”

Thunderlane and Cloudchaser raised an eyebrow. “Uhh…what?” Was all Thunderlane could respond with.

“Oh, it’s nothing. He just likes to take a few naps occasionally.” She briefly explained. “What about you Derpy?” Dash asked whilst turned her head to face her. “How are you finding it so far?”

“It’s…interesting.” Derpy had a slight sound of uncertainty in her voice. “It’s been hard, but…I think I’m enjoying it.”

“How did you do on that last test?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Not…very well. I just about managed the run, but I can’t do wing-ups very well. It took me a few minutes to get those done. And…I can’t swim.”

Dash chuckled, “join the club. I thought my heart was gonna burst out of my chest after that swim.”

“No, as in…I can’t swim. At all.” Derpy looked away to the floor. “The Wonderbolt timing me had to save me. I jumped in without even thinking about it and couldn’t stay afloat. I would’ve drowned if he wasn’t there.” She admitted, then hung her head in shame.

“Oh…” Dash knew from the beginning that Derpy was going to have a pretty hard time. Her poor eyesight already put her at a disadvantage. Although her general fitness was about average for a young Pegasus mare, she lacked knowledge of more advanced techniques that would put her in a competitive spot.

After Rainbow Dash had finished her dinner, she handed her plate back for cleaning and walked back to her room. “C’mon, there’s gotta be more to it than that?” She heard the familiar voice of Dahila through the door.

Rainbow Dash pushed through to try and find out what was going on. Crash Dive and Horizon seemed to be planning some sort of shenanigan on Horizon’s bed, Riptide was reading a mare’s fitness magazine…although he probably wasn’t looking for advice on how to shave a few pounds…White Comet hadn’t returned yet, Bright Skies was working on her book, and Dahila was having some sort of argument with Torque, who had a grimacing look on his face from being forced into a conversation.

“I told you, I have no interest in giving away information to my enemy.” Torque huffed, avoiding eye contact with Dahila.

“But I’m not your enemy. None of us are. We’re your competitors, yeah, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.” She explained, radiating a warm smile in the hope that it would sway his opinion.

“Unfortunately the feelings not mutual,” Torque turned his head to look at her. “I have no problems with your acquaintance, but we don’t need it to go any further than that.” He spoke bluntly, wanting to end the conversation as quickly as possible.

“Well, I hope we don’t get put together for any team events.” Dash commented sarcastically, chuckling slightly as she walked towards the 2 of them. “Seriously though Torque, would it hurt you to be even slightly friendly? Or at least not rude?”

Torque glanced away, “I guess we’re all stuck in this together…” He said quietly under his breath.

“What?” Dahila said, turning her head so her left ear was pointing in his direction so she could hear better.

Realizing what he said, Torque’s eyes grew wide temporarily before they narrowed as he furrowed his brow. “Grr…” he gritted his teeth, “I’ve said too much.” He suddenly hopped out of his bed and started heading towards the bathroom.

“Hey, I’m not done talking to you!” She demanded as she followed him. “Where do you think you’re going!?”

He stopped and glared backwards at her. “I’m relocating beakfast!” He raised his voice at her and slammed the door behind him. “And probably lunch…” he added from beyond the door.

“Eww!” Dahila cringed heavily as she banged her forehooves against the door. “WAAAY too much information, moron!” She shouted through the door, then headed back over to her bed, where Dash was waiting for her. “Seriously, what’s up with that guy?”

Dash shrugged, “you know as much as I do, but did you hear what he said back there?”

Dahila raised an eyebrow, “ ‘we’re all stuck in this together’.” She mimicked his grumpy, depressed tone. She gasped as she realized what the key word was in the sentence. “Stuck? What does he mean by stuck?”

“I dunno, but…” Rainbow Dash began, but felt like she didn’t need to, since Dahila seemed to be able to tell what she was about to say.

Dahila nodded in agreement at what she presumed Dash would about to say. “It’s clearly a touchy subject that he’s sensitive about, so let’s take it easy on him.” She said what was in her head for clarity.

“AAH!” Riptide’s scream made everypony jump and look at him. He had dropped the magazine he was reading onto the bed and was pressing back up against the wall.

“Oh thank!” Crash Dive popped up next to him and laid his hoof on one of the pages, “I was looking for that!” He ripped the page out, a perfectly clean rip. As he held it up, he briefly revealed to everyone what it was. It was him, wearing underwear, and in a…lude position. He took the picture and stuffed it in his nightstand.

Riptide gulped and, with his hoof trembling, closed the magazine. His face looked like he’d just seen a ghost. “How good are the surgeons here?” He asked quietly, “because I want the part of my brain responsible for engraving that image into my eyes removed please…”

Everypony in the room immediately fell into fits of laughter at Riptides displeasure. Riptide didn’t pay much attention to the laughter directed at him, since he was still struggling to get the image out of his head. After she finished laughing, and seeing that the big guy was still in distress, Dahila walked over to him.

“Well, that was pretty dramatic…” she spoke in a deeper voice than usual. She perched herself on the side of his bed. “I guess you’re gonna need somepony to help you…take your mind off things.” She ran her hoof around in circles on his matress.

Everypony gawked in awe at what they were just witnessing. Was she…coming onto him? In front of everypony?

“Well…” Riptide almost immediately regained his composure, colour being restored to his face. “Now that you mention it like that…” He grinned and narrowed his eyes as he slid a hoof over his shoulder.

Suddenly, Dahila nonchalantly slipped out from underneath his foreleg and trotted off. “Good luck finding somepony,” she chimed as she walked off.

Rainbow Dash held a hoof to her mouth, trying to hide her smile. ‘That was harsh…but funny.’ She admitted as she tried to supress laughs.

Of course, the first 2 to burst into laughter were Crash Dive and Horizon, rolling around on the bed at Dahila’s joke.

Riptide looked over to them and raised an eyebrow as a thought about what caused all this to occur popped into his head. “Say Crash Dive, why does a picture of you like that even exis--”

“NO DON’T!” Horizon waved his hooves around in the air to draw his attention as he shouted. “You don’t wanna ask that question. The story goes on for hours…” he grimaced and shuddered as he recalled it, making his pupils shrink. “I saw the white light that evening…I should’ve walked into it…”

Rainbow Dash could barely hold her smile back at the things she just witnessed. Dahila is a competitive, friendly, jokey pony, Riptide is a ladies-stallion who thought he was all that, Crash Dive and Horizon are basically a Pinkie Pie duet with wings, Torque is a grumpy jackass who’s actually an amazing flier, Bright Skies was a reserved pony who actually had quite a lot of brain sitting in her head, and White Comet is somepony who she had recently developed an unstoppable burning desire to beat, and he was only sleeping a few feet away from her.

This was a recipe for…well, it’s a recipe for a lot of things, but the main thing was the thing she cared about the most; a good time.

Chapter 4

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Rainbow Dash stirred slightly as she woke naturally. She blinked a few times and looked around, double checking to make sure that she was the only one who was sleeping. Apart from Riptide snoring away, it still seemed to be quiet. Nopony was calling for them to get up. She was pretty sure that natural waking would be impossible after that intense last test she was put through yesterday. The room was getting slightly brighter, meaning is must still be the early hours of the morning. With some time to kill, and her pillow calling her to fall back down, she rolled over onto her other side and closed her eyes.

Although she wasn’t able to get back to sleep, she still found the rest to be very relaxing, hoping her prepare for another hard day ahead. About 15 minutes later, she opened her eyes again, the room yet again brighter. The light wasn’t coming from outside the hallway or from the light in the ceiling though, it was breaking through the clouds. It had a slightly golden glow to it. She was pretty sure that the sun didn’t move that quickly. She saw a few of her roommates begin to stir, but she kept her head down, feeling that it was best not to talk about it incase they woke anypony else in the room who wasn’t awake yet.

After another 15 minutes, the room was pretty much in daylight, with the light slipping through the clouds. Rainbow Dash had been around clouds long enough to know that this wasn’t normal. What was going on? Her roommates were now all beginning to liven up, looking around at what had been going on around them.

“What’s with all the trippy lighting effects?” Riptide asked as he rubbed his eyes.

“You’re guess is as good as mine,” Dahila replied, sitting up and onto the side of her bed.

“Looks like magic to me,” Bright Skies commented, looking around at the walls. “Natural light can’t break through this type of cloud, so it must be some sort of magic.”

Rainbow Dash looked up at the clock. It was 7AM. Compared to yesterday, they had been given a lie-in. But where they supposed to be getting up yet? Even if they weren’t, they certainly weren’t going to get anymore sleep with this amount of light on them.

“I take it that we are all awake now?” The voice of a stallion with a similar accent to Rarity called from the corridor. He had a loud voice, but he wasn’t bellowing at everypony like Spitfire was.

As Rainbow Dash watched her roommates move towards the door to identify who this mystery Wonderbolt was, she proceeded to do the same. As she found some room in the doorway that 7 other ponies were trying to stick their heads out of, she saw that the doors of the other rooms were doing the same. Everypony was awake. So it wasn’t just them who were getting the strange light treatment.

She looked further down the corridor to see a stallion standing at the end of it. He was already in his flight suit, and he had a grey coat with a curly mane which was coloured a much lighter shade of grey and white. She recognised him as Silver Lining. She had actually met him before briefly when she won the Cloudsdale Young Fliers Competition.

He looked around the corner briefly and gave a nod. A second later, all the light coming from the cloud seemed to disappear, and returned to its normal lighting conditions.

“Thank you, Gentlestallions,” Silver commented as a few Unicorns wearing Wonderbolt dress uniforms stepped out from around the corner. Bright Skies had said that it seemed like some sort of magic-based intervention, which they were obviously providing. Rainbow Dash had heard about the Wonderbolts using Unicorns as supporting staff. It made sense considering the amount of possibilities magic could provide.

“Natural light; the most efficient way to wake up.” Silver chimed as he walked down the corridor. “Go get yourselves showered, get some breakfast, then we shall begin today’s series of trials.”

At his words, everypony quickly started shouting their positions for the bathroom. Over all her roommates, Rainbow Dash managed to snag herself the 3rd spot. They were always allowed to use the locker rooms’ showers if they were struggling for time, but Dash really didn’t feel like walking all the way down there.

After she had showered, she went down to the mess hall to get herself some breakfast. Feeling a little more adventurous this morning, she got herself a selection of different fruits. After getting some on her plate, she got herself a seat near the door and watched the others piling in.

As she ate, she watched again how Soarin was not entering the Wonderbolts private room, but continued to socialize with the recruits. She didn’t know his reason, and probably never would, but it was still interesting for her to watch. Besides, she was more focused on getting herself pumped for the next day, wondering what challenges lay ahead. From Silver’s refined accent, she gathered it would be something a little more…intellectual…

After she had finished her breakfast, she walked back to her room and found a woven box sitting just outside their door. Some of her roommates had beaten her back and were already inspecting it. Torque opened it up to find it was their flight suits, back from cleaning. They were identified by the initials written on the labels written inside of them. Torque chucked the one that had ‘RD’ written on the label to Rainbow Dash, not giving her any warning, and barely any time to react. She only just managed to grab it before it hit her face.

“Hahahaha…WC…” Crash Dive laughed before holding it out to White Comet.

“I used that this morning,” his brother added.

“Harr Harr Harr," White Comet fake-laughed, "original joke, guys.” He said sarcastically before snatching his suit out of Crash Dive’s hoof.

Rainbow Dash let out a chuckle as she walked into her room to grab her goggles from the nightstand by her bed. Once she had got them, she proceeded down to the mare’s locker room to get herself changed.

She slipped herself into the suit and manoeuvred her head in, letting her goggles dangle around her neck as she walked outside into the training grounds for the next test.

It was pretty breezy this morning, but not that it would affect her that much. She saw that a large circle formation of billboards held high on poles, about half a mile in radius, with 3 clouds in a line after each billboard. She saw a white Unicorn with a blonde mane standing in the middle of the circle.

“This test is very straightforward, but I’ll let your peers arrive before I begin my explanation.” Silver explained, looking through the crowd.

It only took a few more minutes for everypony else to arrive. Once he had confirmed that everypony was here, Silver took to the skies. “Welcome to your 2nd day. Nice to see that none of you have decided to run off yet. My first test for you this morning is a nice little brain teaser to get the blood flowing through your cranium in the morning.” He flew over to one of the billboards. “Each one of these billboards will display a question,” he looked over to the Unicorn and nodded. The Unicorn nodded in return and shot the billboard with his magic, making bold red writing appear that spelt ‘1+1’.

Silver flew down to the 3 clouds in front of the billboard, “and on these clouds will display the potential answers.” As he finished his sentence, the Unicorn shot the 3 clouds with his magic, and the numbers 1, 2, and 3 appeared on them from left to right. “To pick your answer, you simply fly through the clouds. If your answer is correct,” he slowly drifted into the middle one which said ‘2’, and it dissipated as he travelled through it, “then the cloud will disappear and you carry on to the next question. If your answer is wrong,” he did the same with the cloud to his right, but instead of going through it, he just bounced off it, “then that will happen. And trust me, it hurts when you fly at full speed into clouds this dense. Your target is fifty questions answered correctly, and they will progressively get more difficult. Speed is the aim of the game. The quicker you answer the fifty, the better. However, keep in mind that if you fly too fast, it gives you less time to think about the upcoming question. The aim of this test is to test your ability to think on your wings. Something a Wonderbolt will be expected to do often. Any questions?”


Rainbow Dash looked over at the stallion asking the question.

“are all the questions going to be math?”

Silver chuckled, “not quite, there will be some variety. But be careful what you wish for. It may be a subject that you’re better or worse at. Anypony else?...no? Okay then. One last thing. The questions get very difficult towards the end, so just passing the test will be an accomplishment. However, the faster you can do it, the better.” He gave a nod down to the Unicorn, who began to setup all the other questions, then looked back at the recruits. “Let us begin. Who wishes to volunteer to break the ice?”

With nopony volunteering, Silver picked the pony closest to him and let him go.

As Rainbow Dash watched the stallion fly, she began to think about the test herself. There was no sort of strategy that they would be able to implement for this one. This test was not only about knowledge, but it was also about reaction times. How quickly one would be able to think of the answer. Rainbow Dash’s confidence in this test was dwindling by the minute. She was no egghead, she would probably fail before she even got into double figures. Her math skill was very basic, and her other subjects were the same, if not worse. If her questions were to do with the Wonderbolts or flying, she would probably be alright. Otherwise, no way.

She watched a few more ponies make their runs before Frostbite stepped up to the mark. She had the feeling that he was in the same position as her. Although he looked a lot more confident. Perhaps he had more faith in his brain than she did. It was a simple case of the smartest pony wins after all. Of course, there was the timing element to it, so they had to fly fast, but the times were irrelevant if they couldn’t make it to the end.

Frostbite flew at a fairly fast speed. Dash could tell from where she was standing that he wasn’t flying at full pelt, which she wasn’t planning to either. He managed to make it to question 20 before he hit a solid cloud, making a loud ‘thump’ echo through the air as he went in headfirst.

Lots of ponies went on by, but none of them made it to the end. A few of them made it into the 40’s, but that was it. Dash looked back to the start line, where she saw Bright Skies lining up on it. She didn’t seem in any particular hurry on her take-off, but she slowly built up speed as she graced through the cloud. Before Dash knew it, she was already past question 10. Then 20. Then 30. Then 40. Slowly creeping her way up to 45. Dash could see the hesitation in her face. She could tell that she wanted to go faster, but by going faster, it would give her less time to think about the questions, which by now, were among their hardest.

She pushed through question 46. Then 47…then 48…

“Whoa, hang on, she could actually do this!” Dash heard Dahila’s voice to the right of her. Turning her head to face her, she saw Dahila start pumping her hooves into the air. “Go on, Bright! You can do it!” She cheered.

Seeing a few other ponies around her begin to cheer, Rainbow Dash joined in herself. “C’mon Bright!”

Hearing her name being cheered from behind her threw Bright Skies off temporarily, but she regained her composure and scored the right answer for the 49th question. She didn’t have much time to think about the last question however, as in her sudden rush of adrenaline, she accidently picked up her pace, and therefore, decreased her thinking time.

She looked towards the final billboard, but…there was so many numbers. She didn’t have time to work out the entire sum. With the clouds fast approaching, she had to do something quickly. She did a quick calculation of everything that she could in the short time, and she came to the number 4895. With that in mind, she looked ahead to examine her options.




She gulped, ‘Well, this is the closest number to mine. Here goes nothing!’ She thought as she tilted left to head towards the answer of 4154. She pushed her wings as hard as she could and held her forehooves in front of her face for an impending impact. She braced as the cloud approached and closed her eyes. She felt herself impact…and fall straight through.

Her jaw dropped as she glided to a halt. She spun around and looked behind her. That was it. All 50. Cleared. She heard a few cheers from some of her fellow recruits, mostly the ones she knew. As she flew back towards them, catching her breath, she saw Silver approaching her.

“I do believe that you are the first recruit we’ve ever had to actually clear this test. Congratulations, that’s something to be proud of.” He said with a smile and patted her on the back.

Bright Skies was still trying to comprehend what she had just achieved, so she didn’t really have a response for him. All she did was grin stupidly.

As she flew back down to the cloud, she was getting hoofbumps from every other pony she walked past. “How did you do that!?” A stallion from somewhere behind the crowd of ponies in front of her called.

She looked in the general direction the voice came from. Although she wasn’t quite sure who said it, since she couldn’t see. She felt herself tensing up, as she absolutely HATED being the centre of attention. Although she wasn’t gonna lie, the praise she was getting was very warming, keeping her confidence high. “I read the question, figured out the answer, and went through the right cloud. Repeat.” Her response was very flat, but most ponies laughed, interpreting it at as sarcasm by the fact that she was making it sound so easy.

With the brief celebrations of Bright Skies’ accomplishment over, White Comet was the next pony to take the challenge. Although he was pretty smart, he still wouldn’t consider himself the smartest pony out of the few hundred odd pegasi he was competing with. He didn’t fly too fast as he went about the test, but it was obvious from the way he flew that he was confident in every answer he chose. He picked his line a long way before the clouds, and didn’t appear to be panicking every time one of them appeared. Although his overconfidence could have been his downfall, as he answered incorrectly on the 39th question, making a loud thud as he impacted on the cloud.

He flew back down and landed next to Dash, who had a smirk on her face. “Not quite as smooth sailing as you thought it would be?” She jeered.

“I never paid much attention in history class,” he replied. “Besides,” a smirk flew across his face, “I’d like to see you do better first.”

Rainbow Dash’s ears shot up at his words, as she didn’t have a response for that. Sure, she would probably do… ‘alright’…but she was by no means as smart a pony as White Comet was. In fact, White Comet’s in the top half of the scorers. He had been for the past few tests. He’s been very…

Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth as she thought of the word.


White Comet seemed to be able to perform consistently across the board. More consistent that many other ponies. Most ponies like herself have managed to remain consistent from a combination of fitness and natural flying talent. White Comet was definitely nowhere near as fit as her, but oh Celestia, did he have flying talent. Thinking about it made Rainbow Dash interested to hear what his wingpower was when they had it measured yesterday, but she would probably have to ask about it later. She didn’t want to give herself anything more to think about other than the test at hoof. Her thoughts liked to dance around inside her head, but she pushed them aside. She HAD to concentrate.

She watched Riptide begin to perform his run. He managed to make it up to question 22. She kinda gathered that she wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed either.

As he hit the cloud, Rainbow Dash heard a chuff from her left side. “Loser,” she heard a familiar voice comment.

She looked to her left to find that Torque had somehow managed to make his way over to her. Probably from all the shuffling that tended to go on within the crowd, due to the coming and going of ponies and the competition for the best view.

When Silver looked around for the next volunteer, Torque immediately threw his right forehoof into the air and hovered a few feet off the ground. A toothy, enthusiastic smile forming across his face. Something that Rainbow Dash was yet to witness from him. No, something that anypony was yet to witness from him. As he flew towards the start line, Rainbow Dash saw the fire in his eyes as he accelerated. Something had definitely fired him up, but what?

As he took his marks, his eyes narrowed towards the first question. It wasn't going to be displayed until Silver said go. Only then would the Unicorn make the words and answers appear.

Rainbow Dash thought as he began his run. What could've possibly got his blood boiling? The test is exactly the same, the only difference was…the pony? Did he have a problem with Riptide? Is there some sort of friction between them? Sure, Riptide could be a bit of a douche at times, but this sounded like it was more than that. Something was fishy here, but now probably wasn’t the best time to ask either one of them. Any attempt to talk to Riptide usually ended up with him trying to flirt with her (and failing miserably at it), and any attempt to talk to Torque…well, Torque didn’t talk. Period.

Torque managed to make it to the 31st question, which was a pretty respectable position to make it to. He even looked slightly smug as he returned to the group.

Rainbow Dash watched with interest as a few more ponies took their turns. There was a lot of variation in results. Maybe if she didn’t do so well, she wouldn’t stand out like a sore hoof after all.

‘No!’ She mentally cursed herself. ‘That’s not the way to think, Rainbow. You heard was Soarin said. We’re being judged on everything…I’ve just gotta do my best…that’s all I can do…’

She watched Horizon do his run, and he seemed to be making last second decisions. Literally down to the last millisecond. He would look as if he was heading for one of the clouds, then all of a sudden dart off into a different one. Was he being indecisive? Or was he just…being Horizon.

Despise his odd approach to the challenge, he still managed to make it up to 31, a pretty high score. However, his bubble was soon burst when his brother Crash Dive got up to 32. As he flew back down towards Horizon, he assumed his smug face and began to taunt his brother. In a joking way of course.

Whilst the 2 were throwing trash talks at each other, Rainbow Dash looked up towards Silver, who was scanning for the next volunteer. She looked around. Nopony was raising their hoof. Now that she’d had a chance to observe how it’s done, she decided that now was as good a time as any. She raised her hoof into the air, and Silver called for her to get up.

She took her place on the starting line, feeling herself tense up slightly. This test was way out of her comfort zone. Sure, she was able to think on her wings, but her general knowledge? Pass. She tried her best to not let it dent her confidence. Her brain was pretty quick to react, so she should do alright.

“GO!” Within milliseconds of Silver shouting, Rainbow Dash had already shot off the line, but she made sure she didn’t accelerate too hard, as she needed to be able to read and think about the questions as well.

The first 5 questions were nothing too taxing, although the 6th question threw her off quite a bit. It read ‘What is the 5th letter in Canterlot?’ As Rainbow Dash was counting the number of letters into the word, she forgot that the clouds were rapidly approaching. She only just managed to get the E as she manoeuvred herself to push through the cloud on the right. Her hooves raised up to cover her face as she wasn’t one hundred percent sure that she was right.

She breathed a sigh of relief as she headed onto the next question. She didn’t find the questions to be taxing her brain too hard until about question 15. Even then, she was still able to think up some answers. Perhaps she was smarter than she thought. With this sudden boost to her confidence, she began to pick up the pace as the questions got harder. Although she cleared the next few questions at a much faster speed, she didn’t have as much time to think about the questions, and was now beginning to rely more and more on luck as she passed though each question.

On the 22nd question, she flew head first into a cloud. Although she had already expected it, so she had slowed down and covered her head with her hooves. ‘I never liked chemistry anyway…’ She thought as she pulled herself out of the cloud and made her way back down.

As she watched the next pony take his course, she felt as if there was something she could’ve done differently? Was it the speed? Or her method of thought? Whatever it was, it left her unsatisfied with the way her test turned out. She felt like she could’ve done better. Way better.

She watched the remainder of her competitors take their runs. The majority of them did better than she did, but she was still lingering just below halfway. Not a completely unrecoverable position.

“Well now, that concludes this test.” Silver said as he flew back down to them. He looked at his clipboard as he continued to speak. “There’s an extremely large variation in the results. Some of you did exceptionally well. Others…not so much. But don’t worry, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.” He scanned through the crowd until his eyes locked on Bright Skies. “And congratulations to you again, Bright Skies. What you did this morning was a great achievement, something that nopony has done before on their first go. Let me tell you now, it has most definitely not gone unnoticed.” He ended his sentence with a wink.

Bright Skies blushed slightly, but luckily it wasn’t visible beneath her suit, and rubbed her leg with her hoof, glancing downwards to break eye contact.

“Now, onto the next test. Follow me,” Silver turned and flew off to the right. Everypony else followed him.

They flew over to the other side of the training grounds where they found 2 poles like the ones from yesterday in a different layout. There was about half a mile between them, and one of them looked to be a couple of feet further forward than the other.

“Right then,” Silver grabbed a dust cover and gave it a hard yank, revealing a massive chalkboard that had been designed to be seen by ponies far away. Obviously, since there was a lot of them, something like this made sense, as there was bound to be some pegasi stuck at the back.

“This is a test of precision flying. Ponies will be put into teams of three for this test. Each one of these poles represents a ninety degree corner. You will fly towards the corner in a broad formation. When you take the corner, you are to knife through it, with the ponies on the side moving above and below the pony in the middle. This all has to be done whilst maintaining the knife.”

Knifing whilst changing altitude? Rainbow Dash knew from experience that that was pretty hard to do without lots of space, as you were likely to veer all over the place. Then again, she’d seen the Wonderbolts do it in formation plenty of time, so it wasn’t impossible. But would she be able to pull it off?

“Once you are out of the corner, the edge ponies are then to switch positions, essentially spinning one hundred and eighty degrees around the middle pony. Then repeating the same process, but reversed going into the next corner. After you have cleared both corners, you are then to complete a loop to finish your test. Side ponies, it is essential that you are able to accurately perform the actions without deviating your course towards the middle pony. Likewise, middle ponies, you will need to keep yourselves centered at all times. Go slightly too far left or right and you might bump into one of your teammates.”

Everything he had just talked about was shown on the blackboard for a visual reference of what he just explained. The 2 combined made it pretty clear-cut of what needed to be done. Although Silver made it look easier said than done…

Silver ducked behind the blackboard and pulled out a few caps. They were Wonderbolts baseball caps, most likely left over from last year’s merchandise. They all had little bits of torn up paper in them. “Your teams are going to be randomized, and I will select them by pulling names out of the caps.” He proceeded to do so, getting 3 names, and waiting for them all to get together before speaking again. “You can take a little time beforehoof to form a strategy and who’ll be taking what position. You can also do a test flight by flying in circles just above our heads beforehoof. This will help you set a speed and how close you can fly to each other.”

Rainbow Dash watched the 3 ponies that went ahead of her. They did pretty well, holding their formation tight. Although they were struggling with the knifing aspect, but that was expected. It was difficult to fly without your wings generating much lift.

She watched a few more ponies go by, a few of them failing by bumping into each other, causing a chain reaction that took them out of the skies. Rainbow Dash began to question the difficulty of the test. She was pretty sure that she would be able to handle it, but from the ways the ponies were dropping out of the air, would her teammates be able to handle it?

“Rainbow Dash!”

Her train of thought was suddenly interrupted as she heard her name being shouted. She hovered a few feet into the air to let Silver know that she heard him. Although it was pretty hard not to. Now that it was her turn, she just needed small, lightweight teammates to give her more breathing room.

“Bright Skies!”

Rainbow Dash breathed a sigh of relief. She had managed to at least get one teammate that was tiny, but now all she needed was –


“…Shit.” Rainbow Dash muttered. The last thing she wanted was a big pony like him, but it looked like she didn’t have a choice. Although she did have a plan in mind.

The three of them flew towards each other and met in the middle. “Sorry big fella, looks like you’re the one in the middle. It’ll be easier for me and Bright to move around you.”

Riptide shrugged, “hey, not the first time I’ve had mares either side of me.”

Rainbow Dash let out a snort as she covered her mouth, stopping herself from laughing. “Okay, that one was actually pretty funny,” she admitted.

“Well, I do try…” Riptide rubbed his hoof against his chest.

“Anyway,” Rainbow Dash looked over at Bright Skies, “do you want to be on the right or left, Bright?”

Bright Skies shrugged, “I don’t mind, whatever suits you best, Dash.”

Rainbow Dash copied her shrug in response, “guess I’m on the left then.” She took her position beside Riptide. “Let’s do a few laps before taking the dive,” she said as they took off. “Set a speed and find out how close we can get to Mr. Goliath Wingspan over here.”

The 3 of them did 2 laps around to check their speed and positioning, and then did a quick sharp turn to find out how hard Riptide could corner before he started to push.

Heading into a 55 degree dive to pick up speed, they began their run. They levelled out about 50 feet above the cloud to prepare for the corner.

Rainbow Dash marked her approach, counting down to make her move. 3…2…1…now! She dived underneath Riptide and tipped 90 degrees to the left. She already felt the force of gravity trying to pull her to the ground as she no longer had the lift she had a second ago. She tried her best to maintain her height from the turn. She didn’t want to deviate and accidently bump into Riptide, and take them all out, but the point of the test was to keep a tight formation, so she couldn’t float away from him either.

She weaved a bit through the air as she tried to maintain her line. She was trying to minimize the weaving as much as possible, but getting rid of it completely was impossible due to the nature of the manoeuvres they were performing.

They came onto the short straightaway between the 2 corners. Rainbow Dash levelled out and moved to her right to complete the transition. As she took her place on Riptide’s right hand side, she looked over him to see how Bright Skies was holding up. She appeared to be doing fine from Rainbow Dash’s point of view. Well, she was keeping up and didn’t crash. That was about it. Although she was so tiny, if she bumped into Riptide, he’d probably barely feel it.

Rainbow Dash turned her attention to the upcoming corner. ‘Just like last time, just the opposite.’ She told herself. As she watched her approach, she took one last glance to her left to make sure that she was a suitable distance away from Riptide. Once she confirmed it, she began her manoeuvre, lowering herself below him and putting herself on the knife edge by tilting 90 degrees to the right. She pushed as hard as she could to try and maintain her altitude, barely holding herself close to him as they rounded off and returned to their starting positions.

Now for the final part of the test; the loop. Rainbow Dash and Bright Skies simply followed Riptide’s lead on this one. He began to pitch upwards slowly, taking a wide arc. Rainbow Dash followed on with Bright Skies running parallel to her.

As they were nearing the apex of the loop, Riptide suddenly decided to increase his pace. Rainbow Dash, not knowing what else to do, did the same, although she didn’t agree with it. Bright Skies also followed. As they climbed, Riptide pulled away slightly, due to his larger wingspan and wingpower, but once they reached the apex, it started going downhill, where wingpower wasn’t as big as a factor. Rainbow Dash and Bright Skies matched him nose to nose as they finished the manoeuvre and completed the test.

“Elegant, precise, and fast. Excellent work you three,” Silver commented as he began picking names for the next team.

“Getting a little carried away there were you, Riptide?” Rainbow Dash said as she extended her hoof to him.

“Maybe a little…” He replied as he bumped her hoof back. “But I get that a lot.” He said as he bounced his eyebrows.

The 3 of them exchanged some brief feedback with each other about their work before they went to watch the next team perform. Rainbow Dash watched a few teams go by, the rate of passes to fails was about fifty-fifty. Maintaining altitude at such a pitch angle was a hard thing to do, yet alone keep a formation whilst doing it.

Rainbow Dash watched with interest as White Comet and his partners were selected. They appeared to be having some sort of argument about something. Not very loud, it sounded like they were just having some sort of disagreement. It only took a few seconds however, as they then proceeded to start their test flight. Rainbow Dash recognised Frostbite on the left hand side and White Comet on the right hand side. She didn’t recognise the pony in the middle of the formation, but he appeared to be slightly smaller than Frostbite. There wasn’t much in it, if anything at all.

They approached the first corner to start their test. White Comet began his manoeuvre to get above the pony in the middle, but Frostbite continued to accelerate towards the corner. It didn’t seem like anything was wrong at first, it just appeared that he was trying to go a little bit faster. It looked problematic when he didn’t appear to be adjusting his approach for the manoeuvre.

At the last possible moment, he sharply rolled 90 degrees and tried to go underneath the pony in the middle. Everypony saw his eyes almost pop out of his goggles as he realized that he was going too fast. He tried to correct it, but due to the tightness of the formation, there was no room. He ploughed straight into the stallion in the middle, who pushed into White Comet, sending them all out of control and into the cloud.

As they got up, Frostbrite immediately broke into an argument with the middle Stallion, but White Comet just walked away as Silver just shook his head with a stern look on his face as he went to pick out names for the next partnership. White Comet didn’t look too depressed, but it appeared that he was trying not to let it get to him.

‘Poor Comet…’ Rainbow Dash thought, ‘this test was about precision, something that was right up his street. It wasn’t his fault that they crashed. I really feel bad for the guy…’

Rainbow Dash watched a few more teams make their runs before she saw Crash Dive and Horizon step up to the mark. She presumed that it was a pure coincidence that they got chosen to be in the same team. Either that, or they did some sort of ‘rearranging’ in the hats to make sure that they got picked together.

Rainbow Dash smirked to herself as she saw the stallion in the middle dive down and begin their run. He had no idea what he just got himself into.

As they came out of the 1st corner, Crash Dive and Horizon moved into their respective positions…but they didn’t stop. They kept going and going until they were doing barrel rolls around the middle stallion. He was looking all over the place, trying to figure out what was going on, but then refocused on the upcoming 2nd turn.

“Reverse!” Crash Dive suddenly shouted as they held their positions above and below him during the turn, but then started doing barrel rolls in the opposite direction during their loop. When they finished the run and landed, their pupils were spinning around in their eyeballs for a few seconds before they returned to normal and hoofbumped each other.

Rainbow Dash watched the conclusion of the test. Silver didn’t really give any indication as to who performed well and who didn’t. Although she thought she did pretty well, so she had nothing to worry about.

As they were walking off to get some lunch, Rainbow Dash noticed that White Comet still looked a bit mopey from the fall. “Hey,” she called to him as she walked over, causing him to perk his ears up. “It wasn’t your fault, you know.”

“I know,” he replied flatly, “it’s just frustrating when something stops you from performing to your full potential.”

“Yeah, I know how that feels. Why did Frostbite try to do that anyway?”

“He’s very enthusiastic, but he lacks experience. A lot of experience. We originally planned to have him go in the middle, but he protested against it, saying that he wanted to be on one of the outside positions. I presume that since it looked like the outside positions were doing more, Silver would take more notice of him.”

Rainbow Dash chuckled, “he sure took notice alright.” She said sarcastically.

White Comet smiled, “I suppose that wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. Frostbite’s got potential, but he’s punching way above his weight at the minute. I wonder how long he can keep it up…”

As Rainbow Dash ate her lunch, she thought ahead to the next test. Given the nature of the previous 2 tests today, it would surely be something else to tax her brain…

Chapter 5

View Online

Rainbow Dash dropped her plate off at the canteen then proceeded to walk out of the mess hall after she had finished dinner. As she pushed through the door, she noticed that the blackboard had been updated with who was eliminated today. She paused and scanned through the list, not taking any notice of anypony on it unless she knew them. She didn’t bother checking for her name, she knew she would be kept in. Why wouldn’t they keep her in? She was Rainbow Dash. Okay, she had a few hiccups on some of the test, but who could flaw her awesomeness? Thankfully, no one she knew was on her list.

She continued back to her room to take a short rest after dinner. As she approached the door, she passed a pony with a saddle bag strung around his back, walking towards the exit. The sight gave her an uneasy feeling in her chest, knowing that she could very well be next. Although she only had to think about it for a second before her confidence took over. She was Rainbow Dash! No way was she going to fail!

When she walked in, she saw that Torque was reading a magazine and White Comet was reading a book. She understood Torque’s reading, as it was nothing too taxing, but how White Comet could read a physics book after a day of mental strain never failed to amaze her. Normally, she would go and grab her Daring Do book and relax for a little while, but she was feeling too mentally drained after the 3rd and final test. The whole test was basically a riddle that sent them back and forth across the grounds for the rest of the day.

As she neared Torque, she saw that he was reading a magazine about airships. She chuckled at the sight, briefly catching his attention before he returned it to his magazine. “I guess that’s gonna be your first purchase on a Wonderbolt’s salary?” She joked as she moved towards him.

Torque’s lips formed a small smile in response. He was starting to lighten up to his teammates, but he still didn’t feel the need to converse unnecessarily. “I…suppose…”

Rainbow Dash chuckled awkwardly at his response, still finding his lack of communication a bit difficult to circumvent. “So…” there was only her and him in the room, besides White Comet, but he looked too focused on his book to be paying attention to them. Now as a good a time as any to ask him. “You seemed pretty…enthusiastic when you went after Riptide in that test.” She had to be careful with her choice of words. He wasn’t exactly the cooperative type when it came to conversations, but if she worded it in the right way, maybe she could get something out of him.

He chuffed in response, “I guess…” his tone implied that he wasn’t getting what Dash was trying to get at. Just the way she wanted it.

“Did you…want to beat him?”

He stopped reading and looked over at her, raising an eyebrow. “Isn’t that the point?” He replied, still not getting the point.

“Well, yeah…” Dash rolled her eyes, “what I mean is, out of all of us, who do you want to beat the most?”

“Grrr…” Riptide gritted his teeth as he searched for an answer.

‘Gotcha!’ “It’s Riptide isn’t it? I saw that look on your face when you went after him.”

“…Fine,” he huffed, “so what if it is?”

“You seemed to get pretty fired up when you got the opportunity to go after him. Do you have a problem with him?” Seeing as she couldn’t beat around the bush any longer, Rainbow Dash threw a more direct question at him.

“No, no, of course not,” he replied sarcastically, a half smile on his face. Rainbow Dash had to double-check that it was him that just said that. It sounded way too energetic and enthusiastic to be Torque’s voice. “Why wouldn’t I have a problem with that…that…” his voice suddenly turned gruffer as he gritted his teeth. “That talentless sack of shit that thinks he can use daddy’s money to buy his way into everything he ever wants!” He growled.

Rainbow Dash took a sharp step back and flattened her ears at his sudden outburst. “Care to explain what happened?” She carried on as best she could, but was still partially in shock as his sudden outburst.

He suddenly put his magazine over his face. “I don’t wanna talk about.” He quickly said as he rolled onto his side and covered the other half of his face with his wing.

Rainbow Dash released a heavy groaning sigh and walked away. Torque sure was hard work, but at least he was starting to warm up to his roommates, despite his opinion of them merely being his competitors. However, it was clear that he had a problem with Riptide. What that was exactly, however, would have to wait for another time.

She glanced at White Comet as she walked over to her bed. “You looked pretty good out there today.” She called to him as she sat down.

He lowered his book and peered over the top of his glasses at her. “I was aiming higher, but what I got will have to do I guess.” He replied with a smile.

“You’re not the only one thinking that,” Rainbow Dash replied as she started preening.

After she was doing preening, she laid back on her bed, resting. She closed her eyes, but she didn’t take a nap or sleep. She was just enjoying the feeling of not having to move. Her body was feeling pretty worn out, but after a bit of rest, it would be ready to get active once again. Her mind, however, was almost completely kaput. She’d never had to do so much thinking in one day in her whole life. Being unable to think too hard about anything at the moment, it was almost like she was sleeping.

About 45 minutes later, she felt a familiar itch in her legs and wings. They were bored. They wanted to be doing something. Her mind tried to convince them otherwise, but they were having none of it. She had plenty of free time this evening, so it was worth doing something. The only thing she could think of that she needed to improve upon right now was swimming. Well, there was nothing else she had to do.

She rolled off her bed and slowly walked towards the door. Her 2 other roommates were too engrossed in their book and magazine to notice her walk out. She didn’t want to break their concentration, so she just walked out unannounced.

The sun was setting, but it was still reasonably light. Even so, the lights inside the building were still turned on. As she reached the gym, she saw some recruits and Wonderbolts training on some of the equipment. Apart from the Wonderbolts, there was nopony she recognised, so she just carried straight on into the pool area.

The pool room was empty, not a pony in sight. She had the whole thing to herself. Although she was glad that nopony would be around to see her failed attempts at trying to swim better, it still had a strange spooky aura to it. The pool had lights underwater, illuminating it from the bottom up.

Rainbow Dash walked over to the edge of the pool at sat down. She was in no rush this time, so she decided that she could take things nice and slow. Besides, after today, she needed to slow it down a notch.

She slowly dipped her hind hooves into the water, taking in the slightly cooler temperature. Once her body had adjusted, she slowly edged herself forwards until her hind legs were completely suspended in the water. Feeling satisfied that she was ready for the temperature, she dropped herself off the edge and into the water, her head only slightly bobbing above the surface, but she was still able to stand.

She walked out a bit further until she got to a depth where she couldn’t stand. She floated around for a few minutes, getting used to the feel of the water and how she could use it to propel herself. After she found herself what seemed like a good technique, she put it into practice, and started swimming towards the deeper end of the pool.

Despite it feeling like she had improved since she was tested on it the other day, she still felt really slow.

She admitted defeat after she reached the end, and started doggy paddling in the opposite direction, since it required less effort and let her think for a minute. ‘I guess I really need somepony to train me. There’s gotta be something I’m doing wrong…’

Her train of thought was suddenly interrupted when she felt something grab her hind hooves. Before she even had a chance to react, she was yanked and dragged underwater. Once she was underwater, whatever grabbed her had released her, and she started flailing her limbs around widely in a desperate attempt to get to the surface. In her unpreparedness, she hadn’t taken a breath, and was desperate for air. She spun her head around a few times to try and see if she could see what got her, but her vision wasn’t very clear underwater. She could barely make out anything in the blue.

As she broke the surface, she took a big gasp for air, and rubbed her eyes to clear her vision. She brushed her mane back, as the weight of the water made it droop over her eyes. She glanced to the left and right, but she didn’t see anything around her that could’ve grabbed her.

“Boo,” a familiar stallion’s voice came from behind her.

Rainbow Dash spun around 180 degrees to face the direction the voice came from. “Soarin?”

“Hey Rainbow,” he greeted, smiling.

“What the hell was that all about?” She demanded, “there’s better ways to make an entry, you know.”

“Just testing you,” he replied with a wink. “What brings you here anyway?”

She shrugged, “I just thought that since this was something I needed to work on, I thought I’d come down and practice. What about you?”

“Meh,” Soarin shrugged, “I just like to randomize my schedule a bit sometimes. Swimming’s pretty good for the whole body.”

“Yeah…” Rainbow Dash looked away and sighed, “except my body never wants to cooperate.”

“I’m sure its just a technique thing. If you don’t do it that often, of course you’re not going to be that good at it.” He explained, “when I first joined the Wonderbolts, I wasn’t that good either, but look at me now!” He suddenly dove underneath Rainbow Dash and surfaced the other side of her, making a big splash that Rainbow Dash got caught in. “See?”

Rainbow Dash didn’t look too amused as her mane slowly drooped over her face. “Oops. Sorry, hehe…” he chuckled.

Rainbow Dash smirked as she brushed her mane out of the way, then pounded the water with her hoof, causing water to splash up in his face. “Hey, C’mon!” He laughed as he splashed back at her.

The 2 of them spraying water at each other caused them to propel themselves in opposite directions until they were out of range of each other. They then swam back towards each other. “Jerk,” Rainbow Dash said sarcastically.

“Hey, you started it!” He replied with a chuckle. “Anyway, I think you’ve been doing pretty good these past few days.”

“You think!?” Rainbow Dash suddenly beamed at hearing she was getting praise from her idol.

“Well, yeah,” Soarin replied, “remember when you did the apex hunter the other day?”

Rainbow Dash nodded, “mmhmm.”

“You really made Spitfire turn her head then. You know why?” As he said that, he put a cheeky grin on his face.

She raised an eyebrow, slightly confused at what he was getting at. “Why?”

“Because you just accomplished something that she couldn’t do; beat White Comet. And boy was she pissed.” He couldn’t help but laugh at his last sentence.

Rainbow Dash’s jaw opened up slightly as she looked away to think about it for a second. When she was done thinking, she looked back at him. “So that’s why she looked slightly angry when I walked past her as I completed the test.” With Soarin’s explanation, it suddenly made sense to her. "Although I don't think it counts, seeing as I didn't beat him at his own game..."

"Own game or not, beating him is beating him." Soarin replied, “we were teasing her about it for most of the day. Boy it was a lot of fun. You not only got Spitfire to notice you, but you also managed to get Fleetfoot turning her head, as she’s the one most keen on White Comet at the moment.”

“Wow…” Impressing 2 Wonderbolts in 1 day? That was an awesome day in Rainbow Dash’s book.

“Now,” he smiled, “all you need to do is impress me more than you already have.” He suddenly did a sharp turn, “race you to the other side!” He said quickly as he pounded the water and raced towards the other side.

“Hey, no fair!” Rainbow Dash complained as she started moving herself.

It didn’t take Soarin long to put a big gap between them. As he was nearing the finish, he looked behind. She was still WAAAAY back, there wasn’t even any competition. Instead of carrying on, he just floated still and waited for her.

“I guess you really are struggling with this aren’t you?”

“Told you I was bad,” she replied, “I came down here to see what I could do to improve.”

“Well, I can spot 2 things for starters,” he replied as he got into a swimming position to show her what she was doing wrong. “You need to extend your legs as far as you can. I can see that you’re still keeping your legs bent as you stroke. That's what's restricting your speed. By extending them fully, that’ll help you get more power out. Also, don’t try and make another stroke right after finishing one. Let yourself glide for a while, you’ll get much more out of it.”

Rainbow Dash quickly took in what Soarin was telling her, smirked at him, then started using what he just taught her to head off in the opposite direction.

After getting about halfway towards the other side, she noticed that she was travelling considerably faster. Soarin’s advice helped a lot. “Now you’re getting the hang of it!” His voice suddenly appeared left of her.

She glanced over at looked at him, “yeah, this is much faster. And less tiring too.”

Soarin smirked, “now all you gotta do is catch me!” He suddenly accelerated hard and pulled away from her. Dash put more effort into her strokes, but he still slowly pulled away. He was the clear winner by about a pony length when they reached the other side.

“Nice going there, Dash.” Soarin said as he pulled himself up and out of the pool.

Rainbow Dash, seeing what he was doing, instinctively wanted to follow him. She put her hooves out and pulled herself up, getting halfway there before her hooves slipped. But instead of falling back in, Soarin reached out and grabbed her, using his waterlogged wings as balance, and pulled her up and out.

“Hehe, thanks,” Rainbow Dash looked away, a little embarrassed by her slip-up.

“Hey, I didn’t see anything.” He replied with a wink and started walking around the right side of the pool. Rainbow Dash followed him.

“So, what’s Fleetfoot got in store for us tomorrow?” Rainbow Dash asked nonchalantly, but was certain of his answer.

“You know I can’t say anything, Dash.” He replied with her predicted answer. “However…”

As his voice trailed off, Rainbow Dash’s ears perked up.

He looked over at her and smirked. “It’s Fleetfoot. You don’t have to use too much of your head to make some guesses.” He said with a wink.

He was right. She didn’t have to think too long about that. “…Something to do with racing?”

“Hey, how should I know? You know I can’t tell.” He replied sarcastically. “Good guess though...” he made a sudden turn to head towards the hot tubs. He walked over to the closest one and turned it on, messing around with 2 or 3 of the settings before stepping his hooves in.

“Well, you know how fast I am. Fleetfoot’s gonna be practically begging me to join after tomorrow.” Rainbow Dash spoke sarcastically. She didn’t need to trash-talk in front of Soarin, he saw firsthoof what kind of speeds she was capable of.

Soarin sat himself down before he replied, “well, I’ll be sure to watch and see how that goes.” He let out as a relaxing sigh as the water jets massaged his body. He looked over at Rainbow Dash, who was just standing there awkwardly. “Are you just gonna stand there, or are you gonna get in?” He questioned as he motioned with his hoof for her to join her.

Rainbow Dash was taken aback by his question. A Wonderbolt, more specifically a male one, just asked her to get in a hot tub with her “Uhhh…” was the only word to get past her parted lips as she felt the heat rise in her cheeks.

Soarin raised an eyebrow. “…Well…?”

“Uhh…well…” Rainbow Dash looked away and rubbed her leg with her hoof whilst chuckling nervously.

“Ooh…” Soarin looked away himself, understanding what he had implied. “Look, I’m not…y’know, trying…” he blushed as he tried to reason with her.

“That’s okay,” Rainbow Dash suddenly perked up. She was still blushing slightly, but she put on the best smile she could as she moved forward to step inside. She was very quick to forget what just happened because she valued her unique friendship with Soarin. Because she didn’t treat him like she was just another fangirling mare, he treated her like she was an actual friend. It had nothing to do with the fact that he was a Wonderbolt.

She stepped into the water and sat in the seat opposite him. The warm water a nice contrast to what she was just swimming in. Because she had just gone from one extreme to another, the effect of the temperature change was amplified.

She sighed as she relaxed back in her seat and closed her eyes. “Relaxing, isn’t it?” Soarin said.

She opened her eyes up, “sure is,” she replied. “I like stuff like this from time to time. I just don’t like the whole spa treatment, y’know.”

“Oh, tell me about it,” Soarin replied with a chuckle as he rolled his eyes. “Although the masseuses here give one hell of a massage…”

“So when are we getting tested by you?” Rainbow Dash questioned.

“I don’t know yet,” Soarin replied. “It was gonna be me tomorrow, but Fleetfoot almost begged me to swap with her, so…maybe the day after tomorrow. Providing nothing else happens…” He sighed, “I haven’t even thought up a plan on what I’m going to test you guys on.” He closed his eyes and rested both his forelegs just on the edge of the hot tub, brushing the control panel slightly. He gently began to lower himself until his shoulders were submerged in the water, with just his head poking out above the bubbles. “Guess I’ll just wing it.”

“Wing it?” Rainbow Dash questioned, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I’ll make something up the night before. If I can’t think of anything between now and then that is.”

“Oh,” Rainbow Dash replied, nodding, then smiling. “I guess that stops me trying to pry what’s happening next out of you, eh?”

Soarin chuckled in response, “I bet you’ll still try.”

“Oh, no doubt about it!” Rainbow Dash laughed at the joke they shared, then looked into the water as she noticed something. “Did the water just get hotter?”

“Not unless you just pee’d. I sure didn’t.” He replied nonchalantly.

Rainbow Dash giggled at his choice of words. "Wow, what a gentlestallion," she said sarcastically. “You really don’t give a shit what you say most of the time do you?”

“Well, when the situation requires it, like when I’m on duty, I can be more restrained. But when it’s casual, I just let my mouth run wild. Got me into trouble plenty of times.” He opened his eyes suddenly as he noticed the temperature change Dash was just talking about. “Wait,” he raised an eyebrow and looked over at the control panel. In his relaxation, when he put his forelegs over the edge, he accidently twisted the temperature gauge. He put it back down to what it was previously.

“What kind of trouble?”

“Hmmm…” Soarin rubbed his chin and glanced upwards, “what’s the best one…oh, I know.” He smiled as he looked back at her. “Almost 2 years ago at our last show in Manehatten, we gave out VIP tickets to our after party. One of the mares started talking to me at the bar. She started talking to me a bit about her sister, then a few seconds later, speak of the devil, she appeared. Turns out her sister was my ex from a while back…yeah, it was awkward. Anyway, her sister left, and we started talking again. She then asked me ‘what’s the best thing you’ve ever done’ or something along those lines…” he took a pause to snicker… “Apparently…” he snickering interrupted his sentence, so he started again. “Apparently ‘your sister’ was the wrong answer.” He couldn’t hold it in anymore and burst out laughing at his final word.

Rainbow Dash joined him in bursting out laughing, splashing about in the water slightly. When their laughter died down, she looked back at him. “Nice to see where your sense of humour sits.”

“Oh, there’s plenty more innuendos where that came from.” He replied in a proud sounding voice. “Trust me,” he said with a wink.

“I’m glad we share the same sense of humour,” she said with a laugh. “So what happened next?”

“Well,” he rubbed his cheek, “that slap’s still reverberating,” he laughed and glanced up at the clock on the wall at the deep end of the pool. “Welp, I’ve got things that need to be done. It was fun to hang out with you again, Dash.” He said as he pulled himself out of the water.

“Uh, likewise,” she replied, blushing a little. Although it wasn’t exactly headline news, she was still struggling to comprehend the friendship she had with Soarin. He was a Wonderbolt. He had other friends who were also Wonderbolts? And he chose to hang with her? Surely other Wonderbolts would be way more awesome than little old her…okay, she took that back. They were equally awesome, but surely he’d prefer to hang around with his regular friends rather than her?

Her thoughts suddenly popped a question into her head. “Hey, I keep seeing you hanging around with other ponies during breakfast and such in the mess hall instead of going to your VIP area. Why do you do that?” She asked as she walked out with him.

Soarin shrugged, “I just wanna learn a bit more about our candidates. We look for more than just flying skill you know, Dash. Something you’ll figure out quite quickly if you make it past the first part.”

Rainbow Dash’s raised an eyebrow, “why’s tha--…nevermind.” She quickly remembered that his lips were sealed, and that he wouldn’t tell her a word.

“In times of conflict, we are a military force. Remember that. That will be something you’ll be trained and tested on after we’ve thinned you out.” He playfully covered his mouth and rolled his eyes. “Woops, I’ve said too much,” he said sarcastically.

Rainbow Dash prodded him in the side, “you big tease. I bet you love stirring up trouble really.”

“Hehe, guilty as charged,” he admitted sarcastically, then turned into the stallion’s locker room. “I had fun this evening, Dash. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, see ya tomorrow,” she replied as she headed into the mare’s locker room herself.

She went straight for the shower and washed the remainder of the chlorinated water off of her. Mostly trying to get it out of her mane and face, as lingering chlorine around her face had a tendency to make her eyes water.

Once she was washed to her satisfaction, she headed back to her room. As she walked through the door, she saw Crash Dive and Horizon sitting in the middle of the room, appearing to be setting up playing cards. “Oh, just in time, Dash!” Crash Dive called. “Wanna play?”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I guess…” She wasn’t expecting this to be dropped on her so quickly, but she didn’t want to say no either.

“Great! Who else!?” He asked around.

“I’m in,” Dahila replied as she hopped off her bed and walked towards them.

“Depends on the rules…aw screw it, I’ll play,” Riptide replied as he joined them.

“Well, we all know what rules you’d play with…” Dahila grumbled as she rolled her eyes.

“Comet, you in?” Horizon looked over to him and asked.

White Comet looked away from his book and over at Horizon. He thought about it for a moment, then shrugged, “why not?” He said as he closed his book and walked over. He kept his glasses on though. He only ever seemed to wear his glasses for reading. Rainbow Dash came to the quick decision that she would question him on it in a minute.

“Bright, you playing?” Dahila asked.

Bright Skies looked over at her, but then glanced downwards.

“Brighty?” Dahila questioned again.

Bright Skies mumbled something, but it wasn’t very loud, so she could barely hear.

“Didn’t quite catch that, say again?” Dahila replied.

She groaned slightly, but then took a breath. “I…don’t know how…to play…” she spoke quietly, but just loud enough for them to hear. She flicked her head to bring her sky blue mane over the right side of her face.

“C’mon Bright, we don’t mind teaching you for your first time.” She looked over at the others, “right guys?”

“No problems this end,” Crash Dive replied.

“The more the merrier,” Horizon added.

“I haven’t played that much myself, so the feelings mutual.” White Comet chimed.

“See, c’mon!” Dahila motioned with her hoof for her to get down there.

Bright Skies brushed her mane back so she could see and hesitantly walked over to him.

“Is it even worth asking Captain Grump?” Crash Dive asked.

Dahila rolled her eyes, “Torque, you playing?”

“No.” His answer was short and snappy.

“Not at least once? You might like it.” Horizon tried to persuade.

“No.” He said in the same tone as before.

“C’mon dude, we--”

“No!” He was particulary blunt as Riptide tried to speak to him. Rainbow understood why, but now wasn’t the best time to talk about it.

“Have it your way, Grumpy McGrumpass.” Crash Dive said as he started dealing the cards to all the players. Horizon helped him out by grabbing a silver square-shaped suitcase containing the chips. As they were dealing, Dahila started explaining the rules to Bright Skies.

With nopony else to talk to, Rainbow Dash looked over at White Comet. “What’s up with the glasses? I never see you with them during our tests.”

He looked back at her, “that’s because I only need them for reading. My vision is actually perfectly fine. I just struggle to read. I’m alright for the first few minutes, but any longer, I start getting headaches. By wearing these,” he tapped the frame of his glasses, “it stops me getting headaches.” He slipped them off his face to examine them. They were rimless, and had an extremely thin frame. They almost looked invisible. That was probably the idea behind the design.

Which popped another question into Rainbow Dash’s head. “Those look expensive…”

White Comet chuckled, “they are. But my Dad’s an optician, so he got me them at the most reasonable price in the world; free.” He smirked as he slipped them back onto his head.

“Lucky you,” Rainbow Dash replied, “My Dad works in the weather factory in Cloudsdale. I’ve sorta followed in his hoofsteps up to now…” Rainbow Dash reminisced. The talk of parents made her think about her own. They wouldn’t stop going on about how proud they were that they finally got accepted into the tryouts. She didn’t know who she’d disappoint more if she lost her lifelong dream. Herself or her parents.

“My Dad’s a biologist,” Dahila chimed in. “That’s how he met my mom. She’s a florist.”

“I had a funny feeling that would have something to do with the reason you were named after a flower,” Riptide added. “It’s a beautiful flower, I can see why they chose it for you.”

Rainbow Dash felt her insides turn inside-out at the mush that just spewed out of Riptide’s mouth. Dahila made a similar barfing motion, along with a “bleugh” sound. “That was exactly the opposite of what you normally come out with, except just as bad.” She fed back to him.

Riptide shrugged and held up his hooves, “What? You thought I was all one-liners and innuendos?”

“Well, yeah,” Rainbow Dash replied, joining in the conversation. Her lips formed a smile that couldn’t stop getting wider as a joke popped into her head. “What set of lips are you trying to get between anyway Riptide? Because you don’t seem to be very good at either.”

At her joke, everypony in the room burst out laughing and rolled onto their backs. Crash Dive dropped the cards he was dealing and the force of his snort blew them across to the other side of the room. White Comet was unable to draw in more air from his laughing, so once he was out of breath, he just made a wheezing sound and pounded the floor. Even Bright Skies couldn’t resist a hearty laugh. Riptide heavily blushed as his face scrunched dumbfoundly.

It took a good few minutes for the laughter to die down. Riptide just sat there stupidly, embarrassed beyond belief from being at the receiving end of the joke. “You done?” He grumbled.

“Just about…” Dahila replied with a few snickers. “Anyway, we all said a little bit about ourselves. What about you, Rip? What are your folks like?”

He shrugged, “my Dad runs a business. That’s about it.”

“Really, what business?” Dahila continued to question.

“Can’t quite remember the name…it’s something he and Mom setup. She designs horseshoes and other hoofwear, and Dad does the making. Dad and his team can churn ‘em out pretty fast though, which is why it makes more money than your average brand. Uhhhh…Lakeside? I think that’s the name of the company, something like that.”

Dahila’s jaw pretty much hit the floor at the mention of the company name. “Your folks OWN Lakeside!?” She exclaimed.

“Uhh…yeah…” he replied casually, a bit taken aback by Dahila’s reaction. He didn’t expect it to come as such a shock.

“B-b-but…t-that…that makes you a millionaire!?” She said in a snappy way, her brain struggling to search for words in her shock.

“Well, my parents are…” He chuckled and brushed his mane nervously.

Rainbow Dash wasn’t very up to date on her fashion, but she knew of the brand. Rarity had mentioned it quite a few times as one of her preferred suppliers. If it was good enough for Rarity, then that was a deal sealer. She remembered that she tried to sell a pair at a discounted price to Applejack once, but she described them as being 'too poncey'.

She heard a few grumbles come from the edge of her hearing range. She deduced that they were coming from Torque, as she was sitting nearest to his bed, and he was the only pony behind her to make the noises. She didn’t look at him, but he caused her to think about why Torque disliked Riptide so much. Was Torque jealous of Riptide? That could potentially be it.

She thought about it carefully. Riptide came from a wealthy family, so Torque…possibly the opposite. Even if that was the case, it was still a petty thing to get in such a feud over, right? She mentally sighed, as the fact was, without hearing Torque’s side of the story, she simply wouldn’t know.

“What about you, Bright Skies?” As she picked the conversation back up, it had already moved on, with Dahila now asking Bright Skies.

“Well…” she looked to the floor, “I’m actually an orphan…from Baltimare…”

“Oh…” Dahila suddenly felt a little awkward as an eerie silence filled the air. “Do you...wanna talk about it?” She treaded carefully, not wanting to push the wrong button in Bright Skies head.

Bright Skies shrugged, “I don’t mind…there’s not much to say…” she half smiled, but still had a deflated look in her eyes that implied she didn’t want to talk about it.

“So…” Dahila didn’t know an appropriate question to start off with, so she looked around everypony else to see if they had anything. Rainbow Dash, White Comet and Riptide shrugged, whilst Crash Dive and Horizon were too busy sorting out the cards and chips to notice. “Uhh…” She scratched her head as she thought of a question. “What…when…” she struggled to word what she wanted to ask correctly. “When were you…taken in?”

Bright Skies stared down to the floor, “Immediately after.” Her answer was short, and pretty direct, but didn’t really give enough context.

“Immediately after…what?” Dahila tried to continue, but regretted the decision straight away after she realised that she was probably crossing the line.

“Immediately after…I was born…” Bright Skies spoke quietly. She sighed and closed her eyes, continuing to keep her face pointed to the floor. “I was a…unwanted child…”

Alarm bells suddenly went off in Dahila’s head as the awkwardness in the room continued to expand. She had crossed the line, she had DEFINITELY crossed the line. She needed to get off this topic quickly.

“How about you two knuckleheads?” Riptide quickly came to her aid and broke the ice at the same time by moving the questioning to Horizon and Crash Dive. Dahila relaxed slightly as the pressure was off.

“Las Pegasus, born and raised,” Horizon replied proudly.

“Where else do you think I got all these sweet tricks?” Crash Dive chimed as he tossed the cards around in his hooves, making them do all kinds of crazy tricks and shapes.

“So I’m guessing that one of your parents works at the casino for you to have deck shuffling skills like that?” Dahila asked.

“That would be Dad. He basically spent so much time in there that they offered him a job as a dealer.” Crash Dive said as he distributed the chips.

“He and Mom never told the story of how they met. And it’s pretty strange too, now I’m thinking about it…” Horizon tapped his chin, “he always worked indoors, and Mom was a weather pony, so she was always outdoors. It just doesn’t make sense…”

“Kinda like you then?” Dahila replied nonchalantly.

“Yeah, actually,” Horizon agreed. Well, at least he admitted it. As he set down the final hand of cards and handed them off to his brother, he bought his hand into his hooves as he pushed out the chips to each player that his brother had assisted him in counting. “Alright, let’s get started.” He announced as he examined his cards.

Dash thought about the events that unfolded today as she looked at her cards. Whilst some mysteries were solved, they only made way for more…for Dash, this was proving to be one hell of a ride…

Chapter 6

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“UP AND AT ‘EM LADIES AND GENTLESTALLIONS! THE FIRST PONY I HEAR BITCHING ABOUT THE TIME GOES HOME!” Fleetfoot’s voice, with the assistance of a megaphone, echoed throughout the halls.

Rainbow Dash groaned as she lifted herself up. Her groan was one of hundreds that came from the surrounding rooms. She saw that it was still dark. Very dark. So dark the lights in the hallway hadn’t been switched on yet. She tried to read the time, but it was too dark for her to even see that. She rubbed her eyes as she moved into a sitting position on the edge of the bed.

“Didn’t hear me the first time!? Alright, let’s make this interesting…” Fleetfood said, then cleared her throat as she held the megaphone to her mouth. “THE LAST PONY TO MAKE IT TO BREAKFAST GOES HOME!”

With that, the whole academy exploded with the sound of hooves hitting the ground. Rainbow Dash didn’t even have to blink to register what Fleetfoot had said. Even though her vision was still slightly disorientated, and her wings weren’t fully optimized, she took flight and bee lined it for the door. Although as soon as she took flight, she heard the lock click. Somepony had beaten her too it. She cursed herself as she changed course and headed for the exit into the main hallway. If she couldn’t use the shower in their room, she would have to use the one in the locker rooms.

She bumped into 2 of her roommates on the way there, but she couldn’t see who they were, due to a combination of it being so dark, she wasn’t paying attention, she was moving too fast to notice, and they were also too tired to give any kind of vocal response to her shove.

As soon as she got to the main hallway, she got hit by a backdraft of other pegasi trying to fly their way to the showers. Since there was loads of pegasi who’d obviously had the same idea as her, and the narrow hallway provided a great tunnel to direct the airflow, it was giving her a huge workout. Not the first thing she was ready for at stupid O’clock in the morning, but that meant that the other pegasi were feeling the same way. They were all in the same boat. No excuses, she would just have to flap harder.

She eventually made it to the showers, where she spotted a gap through the crowd of mares and dived right through it into the shower rooms, only bumping a few more mares on the way in. Once she was inside, most the mares that had already made it in were fighting for a free shower. She saw Dahlia next to her try to turn it on, but as she reached out to the tap, she was shoved out the way by another mare. Dash expected as much, but what she didn’t expect was Dahlia’s reaction.

Dahlia raised her hoof, and gave a powerful right hook to the cheek of the mare that just barged her out the way, sending her to the floor. Dash’s eyes, along with the eyes of some other mares who saw the tussle, went wide at the sight. She knew Dahlia wasn’t a morning pony, but wow, she was definitely not a mare you’d want to get on the wrong side of.

With that over, Rainbow Dash started frantically looking around for a free shower again. When she spotted one, she pushed off, but slipped on the wet floor. But she managed to take flight just in time to prevent herself faceplanting. She dashed for the free shower and yanked it up all the way when she got there, quickly dousing herself with water. She felt a few mares try to push and shove their way into her spot, but she wasn’t budging. She didn’t bother with soap, as she was only going to be getting hot and sweaty by the end of today anyway. Plus, the situation didn’t really give her time for soap.

About a minute later, once she was clean enough for her standards, she stepped out of the shower, with some mares immediately dicing for the position as soon as she left. She took flight and used her speed to dry, flying back to her room where she grabbed her flight suit and goggles from the cleaning box. She didn’t care that she wasn’t getting changed in the locker room, she didn’t have time. She saw that Crash Dive, Hoizon and Riptide were all getting changed as she raced in. She landed by her bed and quickly started throwing the suit on, throwing any processes and procedures for putting it on out the window and pretty much just diving her body straight into it and wiggling around to get it to fit.

“YYEEEOOOWWWW!” A sudden scream emanated from Crash Dive, making Dash jump and spin, but not making her lose her focus as she put the headpiece on.

“Oooooohhhh…” Riptide cringed, “Getting it caught in zip is the most painful one.” He shuddered just thinking about it.

Rainbow Dash cringed and looked away, thanking Celestia that as a mare, she would never experience that pain. She finished pulling her headpiece on and let her goggles dangle around her neck. She was ready. Not needing to confirm it twice, she took off and headed straight for the mess hall, practically bursting through the doors where she found…barely anypony. Despite all of her rushing around to try and beat everypony else, she still had a massive buffer gap, and was one of the first few ponies in there.

She saw Fleetfoot waiting for them in one of the seats, she had already grabbed herself some breakfast. With a few minutes to spare, Rainbow Dash looked up the clock. Now that her adrenaline was pumping, and her eyes had adjusted, she could see clearly.

It was 3:30 AM.

Her legs almost deflated as they saw the time. Why so early? Fleetfoot would probably explain it in a minute, but still…WHY?

Rainbow Dash shook her head to wake herself up a bit more as she headed to the canteen. She would probably have been better off not looking at the time, as it just made her feel even more tired. She trotted over to the canteen to grab herself some breakfast. She didn’t even pay attention to what she was getting, she just grabbed whatever was in hooves reach and dragged it onto her plate. When she was done, she went over and sat in whatever seat came first and started to eat, face-down in her drowsiness, not paying attention to what was going on around her. The commotion of everypony rushing around trying to not be last becoming like white noise to her.

She sloppily shovelled food into her mouth as the minutes flew by. Lots of ponies came and sat with her, but they didn’t speak. They were probably feeling the exact same way she was, and couldn’t be bothered.

“GOOOOOOOOD MORNING SLOWPOKES!” Fleetfoot suddenly shouted using the megaphone, causing the walls to vibrate.

Rainbow Dash choked on her food, causing her to spit it out onto her plate, coughing as she did. Luckily, everypony around her was surprised just as much, if not more than her, so they didn’t notice.

"Sorry, didn't catch who the last pony was, so I guess we'll just ignore I ever said that." She said with a shrug, but still with a slight smile on her face. It was obvious that she wasn't really going to kick the last pony ready out from the start, she just said something to make them get ready faster.

“We’re starting so early because when you’re fatigued, it gives you less control over how hard or not hard you’re pushing yourselves, which is something I wanna see.” She addressed without the megaphone. She was just using the megaphone to get their attention, but spoke without it for the rest. “Get yourselves a couple of gallons of black coffee and get ready to rumble.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t need telling twice. She was already drinking a small cup of coffee herself, but she didn’t like to drink too much. She used it as a pick-me-up every once in a while, but she knew she couldn’t have it all the time, otherwise she’d build up a dependency on it, which is not something she wanted.

After finishing breakfast, and feeling a little more energised, she followed the crowd to the training area outside the complex. It looked pretty ominous walking down the corridor, as there was no natural light like she was used to.

When they reached the outside, she was expecting to see something that Fleetfoot had setup, but she saw…nothing. It was still dark, with the clouds forming overcast weather. Something Rainbow Dash had become used to identifying from her many years of working on the weather team.

They all lined up on the cloud as Fleetfoot descended to greet them. “Alright, let’s have a fun little warm up for the first test, shall we?” She said with a slight smirk on her face as she twisted around. “Race from one side of the compound to the other. That is all.”

From one side of the compound…

To the other…

That’s it? That was barely anything. She got them up at 3:30 to do THAT? Rainbow Dash internally groaned at the thought, but she was thinking more about the task they had been given more than anything. There was no way it should be that simple. Was there some sort of catch?

She didn’t have much time to think about it though, as she saw a few ponies take flight in front of her. To prevent herself being left behind, she took to the skies and followed them. She pumped her wings hard to catch up. She was closing the gap, but then faintly saw something coming from above her. She made a sharp turn up to avoid it, only missing it by a split second. Her rivals below her, however, were not so lucky, and got hit with a soft ‘poof’. The sound it made when it impacted indicated to her that it was some sort of cloud.

“Oh yeah, and I might’ve forgot to bring in the pressure changing devices we use for our training from yesterday. And I might’ve left them on…” Fleetfoot chimed in a sarcastic manner. “Have fun dodging clouds!”

It all suddenly slotted together in Rainbow Dash’s head. They had to make it from one side to the other whilst dodging clouds. And in the dark, it made them harder to see as they came towards you. That was Fleetfoot’s plan all along.

She narrowly dodged a cloud coming from below her whilst lining up to dodge another coming from her right, but somepony bumped into her from the left, throwing her off course. She gasped and quickly regained control, but the cloud clipped her on her hindquarters, sending her into a little spiral.

When she felt her wings bite the air, she quickly glanced around to make sure she wasn’t going to run headfirst into a cloud. After confirming, she gave a powerful pump of her wings to put herself back on the right course…

…Only to have somepony bump into her from the right side. ‘OH COME ON!’ She internally screamed as she regained control. She gritted her teeth at the frustration of ponies constantly bumping into each other.

As she flew and dodged some more, she began to realise why she was getting bumped into so much. It was simply because there was no other choice to avoid clouds amongst the loads of pegasi racing each other to get to the other side first. If you couldn’t find a space, you would have to make one.

Rainbow Dash saw a cloud fast approaching her from her 2 O’clock. She checked to her side to see a Pegasus male much larger than her. There’s no way she would win that battle. She glanced back at the cloud, then around her to see if there was anywhere else she could move, but there wasn’t. At least not without being intercepted by another cloud.

With no other option, she drove into the stallion beside her with all her might. Luckily, she had caught him off guard, and he yelped and moved out of her way with ease. However, it only too him a split second to realise what had just happened and launch a retaliation attack on Rainbow Dash. Since she now had room to move, she just moved out of the way into another available space where she wouldn’t get hit by a cloud.

She briefly met up with Bright Skies mid-flight before they dodged their separate ways. Bright Skies being the small pony she was made her very nimble and agile. She managed to squeeze herself into whatever space that was available to her with ease, no matter how tight it was.

She climbed over the top of a cloud and then plunged into a dive to level out her altitude, and to give herself more momentum and inertia to throw around in the event that she needed to make a split second manoeuvre. She saw Riptide below her driving his way past the clouds. He was so big that he could pretty much steamroll anypony that got in his way. Nopony really challenged him when he demanded space…well, nopony apart from Torque. Torque pushed with all his might to resist Riptide, but knew it was a losing battle, and yielded, taking another path around the cloud.

She didn’t have much time to watch the 2 of them tussle as she had her own objects to dodge. She pushed into another pony below her to dodge clouds coming at her from all directions, accidently throwing the pony into the path of other clouds. It wasn’t intentional, but it was all she could do.

All was going smoothly as she steadied herself out, until she felt something land on her back, only slightly destabilizing her. She looked up, but the last thing she saw was the hind hooves of a pony, who proceeded to kick her hard in the head.

The shock temporarily made Rainbow Dash forget that she was flying. It wasn’t until she felt herself going into a spin that she realised that something was wrong. She tilted her wings and stabilized herself the best she could, blinking a few times to try and see through her googles, only to get hit by an oncoming cloud.

Rainbow Dash grunted as she stabilized herself yet again. She looked around briefly to see if she could see the pony the kicked her, but to no avail, she continued racing towards the end, the other side now in sight through the fast flying clouds.

‘That moron!’ Rainbow Dash thought. The nature of this test meant that you couldn’t exactly play fair, but that was just downright playing dirty. Rainbow Dash could feel a bruise forming on the side of her head, but she was sure that it wouldn’t distract her too much. Her suit was protecting it from harm anyway, she would just have to make sure that she didn’t fly into anything headfirst, as it would double-hurt.

“Ignore her Dash, you’re doing fine,” the voice of Horizon suddenly appeared to her left. She glanced over and looked at him.

“Yeah, you’re holding up better than most other ponies behind us.” Crash Dive added from her right, which caused her to glance that way.

“STEEP DIVE!” Crash Dive suddenly bellowed as the 2 of them broke away from Dash. Realising that they were heading straight for a cloud, Dash followed them a split second later.

“Cloud incoming bearing three-four-zero degrees!” Crash Dive yelled with military precision.

“Bank right, thirty degrees!” Horizon replied with the same precision as the 2 of them veered away from Dash.

Dash chuckled at their antics before regaining her concentration. Those 2 were always so random...

The remaining distance was hard, but Dash held her pace, dodging and barging her way through the best she could. She didn’t like having to dump ponies out of the frying pan and into the fire just to make her way around, but she was smart about it. She didn’t try and pick on anypony bigger than her, which she saw quite a few ponies do in desperation, and fail miserably at.

She landed amongst other ponies at the finish line on the other side of the compound, where Fleetfoot was waiting for them. She panted as she caught her breath, still waiting slightly for the early hours to catch up to her.

“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!?” She heard the familiar voice of a certain ladies-stallion.

She spun around and saw Riptide with his eyes big and angry, teeth gritted, and shoving his face right into Torque’s.

Torque shoved him away. “You got in my way. I got you out of my way. Simple as that.” He replied calmly and precise.

“Could you have done it WITHOUT shoving me into a cloud!?” Riptide yelled in response.

“There was miles of space around you, you chose to go into the cloud!” Torque retorted, closing the gap to Riptide. Dash could sense that Riptide was beginning to piss him off. “If you had even an ounce of talent in that talentless thick brain of yours, you could’ve figured that out!”

“ooooooh,” a couple of ponies chimed in response at the insult Torque just threw at him.

Riptide grunted in frustration, then raised up his right foreleg. “TELL ME IF YOU STILL THINK SO AFTER THIS!”

He laid his right hoof into Torque’s lower chest, but Torque didn’t budge, merely wheezing as the air was forced out of his lungs. He bought his left foreleg up and landed a shot right on Riptide’s chin.

Dash watched the 2 of them tussle as Fleetfoot approached them. She was amazed that Torque was holding out so well. Riptide was a huge pony in comparison to him, but he seemed unfazed every time Riptide landed a blow.

“Easy there, fellas.”

But what Fleetfoot just did topped it. She stood between the 2 of them and pushed them apart with her forelegs. Given the way these 2 were going at each other, nopony dared to get between them, in the fear of getting something broken. But Fleetfoot just waltzed on in there like it was business as usual. She was also holding them back at the same time, which was even more impressive.

“Are you two lovers gonna make up and kiss, or do I have to send both your asses home?” She put bluntly.

Torque just huffed and walked away, losing interested now that that was settled.

“Hehe, sorry ma’am,” Riptide straightened himself out and gave his mane a quick brush-through. “We got a bit rough there. Sorry you had to get in the middle of it. You didn’t hurt anything that I can help with did you?”

Fleetfoot rolled her eyes as she picked up on his tone, which implied that he was hitting on her. If it was any other mare in the Wonderbolts, they would’ve chewed him out right there and then. But her? She liked to make things interesting…

She smirked, “actually, I think I did pull a muscle near my wings, sort of in my back. Can you massage it for me?” She turned her back to him and spread her wings.

“With pleasure, Ma’am!” Riptide replied with plently of cooperation in his voice. His smile grew as he laid his hooves into Fleetfoot’s back. “Right there?”

“A little lower,” Fleetfoot commented as she smirked to herself, thinking about her plan.

Riptide lowered his hooves to just above her plot. “Better?”

“Almost. Lower still.”

Riptide was now essentially almost rubbing her butt. His face was just above the base of her tail. The amount of saliva gathering in his mouth caused him to swallow, and his eyes were wide on the prize. “Is that it?”

“Oh yeah…” Fleetfoot replied. “Right…” She bought her hind legs forward and bent them slightly. “THERE!” Her hind legs suddenly sprung from their position and bucked Riptide hard just below the neck, causing him to tumble backwards. It took him by surprise, meaning he wasn’t really able to react. He was still trying to piece it together in his mind as he lay in a heap on the cloud.

Fleetfoot turned and trotted towards him. “Thanks Sweetie, I feel better already.” She said cheerily as she ruffled his mane, then walked off to collect her clipboard to continue writing her comments about the recruits.

Dash really hoped that she wouldn’t be the first one who would fail to hold in her laughter. And her wish was answered as everypony else around her seemed to burst into fits of giggles at Riptide’s misfortune. She watched as Riptide picked himself up and rubbed his neck. He looked like he’d learned his lesson that hitting on famous mares that have probably heard it all before produces some…interesting results…

“Nice going there, Comet,” Fleetfoot commented as she approached him. “You seemed to predict those cloud movements pretty well.”

White Comet shrugged, “it’s not that hard. All I need is the cloud course, wind speed, wind direction, estimate of cloud size and weight, inertia, surface area--”

“Alright, I get it,” Fleetfoot interrupted. “You seem to know what you’re doing,” she said as she wrote, “and you can do it on the fly as well. That’ll be useful later on.” She started to walk off, “keep it up…”

“Well,” Riptide slipped in next to him. “She seemed to like you, eh?” He nudged him with his elbow. “Ehhh?” He bounced his eyebrows at him.

“More than you, knucklehead.” Comet replied, causing more laughs from various ponies after his words were combined with what just happened to Riptide.

“Grr…” Riptide backed off, gritting his teeth as he had no comeback for that.

Dash watched as her fellow cadets finished their runs against the clouds. Some of them looked pretty beat up from being shoved around so much.

“Well, hope that got you worked up this morning, ‘cus there’s plenty more where that came from!” Fleetfoot announced. “This test made you think on your feet at a time where your brain isn’t fully functional yet. That’s the whole reason I got you up this early. To test how you operate with only a bit of your brain working.” She turned around, “follow me, next test!”

Fleetfoot took them back over to the other side of the training grounds, where she appeared to have an obstacle course laid out in the sky, with clouds, rings, and other things that they had to work around.

“So here’s the next test,” she motioned her hooves towards the obstacle course. “You’ve got to complete this obstacle course…”

Nopony spoke, as Fleetfoot’s tone implied she was pausing for dramatic effect…

She suddenly pulled 2 black discs out from behind her back. “Blindfolded!”

A few gasps escaped from some of the ponies in the crowd. An obstacle course blindfolded? Impossible! What was the point?

“Here’s how it works,” Fleetfoot moved into a more central position so they all got the best view of her. “You put these discs in the slot between the lenses of your goggles so you can’t see,” she demonstrated with her own dangling around her neck, “and then you’ll have a partner who has to guide you around the obstacle course as quickly as possible. Partners will be randomized by drawing names out of a box. Any questions?”

Questions? This test raised a lot of questions for many ponies, but seeing as the instructions were pretty clear-cut as to how it needed to be handled, everypony kept quiet in fear of asking a stupid question and lowering their score.

“Well then, let’s get started.” Fleetfoot announced as she flew down to a set of 2 boxes she had put there in hindsight. One contained the names, the other contained the black lenses that the cadets would need to slip into their goggles.

Fleetfoot started calling names for the recruits to pair up into. Dash listened closely to the names that were being called out and who they were being paired with. She wanted to know the chances of getting paired with somepony she knew, so at least she could have a bit more reliability in her partner. Or unreliability, as it could potentially be.

“Rainbow Dash!” Fleetfoot called, causing Dash’s ears to prick up and look around, getting ready to spot her partner. She raised her hoof so her partner could easily identify her when Fleetfoot said his or her name.

“Strider!” Fleetfoot added.

“Right here!” A young stallion’s voice replied as Dash saw something take to the sky. He was a navy blue stallion with a short front bit of his mane, but the back part had been entirely shaved off. His mane and tail was a dark green colour that matched the shade of his fur.

As Fleetfoot continued to pair up the remaining ponies, Dash prepared to take off to meet him, but it appeared that he beat her to it. He shot over in a flash and landed about a foot away from her.

“Hey, how ya doin’?” He introduced himself.

“Uh, a little tired, but great,” she replied, not expecting him to be so energetic. But then again, he did look younger than Frostbite.

“So, first things first, we need a plan. A strategy. Like, a translation guide so we understand what each other means when we direct each other.”

Dash simply nodded in response, as he hit the nail straight on the head with that answer. She couldn’t have put it better herself. Well, she probably could’ve, just without as many words…

“So, when we saw ‘down half’ or ‘up half’, that means a forty five degree tilt. Agreed?”

“Sounds good,” Dash replied. She liked the sound of this system. It sounded nice and simple, which was the way she liked to keep it.

They went through and agreed on what each of their signals would mean. Dash noticed that Strider really did seem to be on the ball with this. However, she did get the sense that he was a little over-enthusiastic.

“Well, that’s that sorted,” Fleetfoot said, “make two lines. Flyers on the left, spotters on the right. When you complete your run, rejoin the line, but in swapped positions.”

Dash looked at Strider, “who first?”

“All you!” Strider replied, then bit his lip awkwardly at his sudden outburst. “Uhh…please?”

Dash simply nodded and headed for her place in the right line. ‘Well, at least he’s enthusiastic…’

Since Dash and Strider happened to be near the front at the time, they managed to snag quite a forward spot in the lines. They were behind a few ponies, but not many.

Dash watched as the ponies in front of her took their turns. No matter how much planning that seemed to go into this, it wasn’t as simple as it looked. Most of the ponies bumped into something which caused a chain reaction of events, or simply flew too slowly in order to avoid everything, causing them to take forever.

When Dash got to the front of the line, and got the all clear from Fleetfoot to start her test, she picked up a few of the black lenses and slid them into her goggles, rendering her vision completely blank.

She slowly took off and flew in a straight line. “Dive halfway in about three seconds.” Strider’s voice instructed above her.

Taking into account what he said, Rainbow Dash waited 3 seconds then gently tilted herself into a dive. Since she was unable to see what she was doing, it made her feel a little dizzy, but it was nothing she couldn’t handle.

“There’s a left-right corkscrew down, then level out.” Strider continued to instruct her.

Rainbow banked left, at an almost 90 degree angle. She wouldn’t have normally gone that far, but there was a reason for it. When she felt her wing begin to brush across the cloud, she switched into a right hand turn.

“Alright, you’re coming out of the turn, level out.”

Rainbow did as she was instructed and resumed a stable flight. She picked up her speed a little, trusting her partner to warn her of anything incoming or whether she would need to do anything else.

“Incoming cloud on your ten O’clock! Barrel roll left!”

Rainbow Dash pulled up and began turning left, feeling the breeze of the cloud as it brushed past her back. She completed the roll and flew straight again, although she couldn’t tell if she was still flying in the exact same direction. She could tell that she was going in roughly the same direction, as the wind felt the same, but she didn’t know the specifics. But if she was doing something seriously wrong, Strider would’ve called it out to her, so she just proceeded like it was business as usual.

“There’s a up and down slalom coming up, about ten yards between each gap. I’ll tell you when to pull up.”

Against her will, Dash trusted his voice. She only met him a few minutes ago, so wasn’t entirely confident in his judgement. However, she didn’t exactly have a choice when she couldn’t see. She accelerated towards what she presumed was going to be the start of the slalom.

“Okay...annnnnd...pull up now, part way!”

Dash simply tilted her wings to adjust her angle of attack. She pictured in her head what he said about the slalom. It went up and down, with separations of about 10 yards. That was a pretty wide berth she had, so she didn’t have to sacrifice too much speed to make it through.

“Is this alright?” She asked as she moved through it. She presumed the answer would be ‘yes’, but she wanted to make sure. The last thing she wanted to do is faceplant and screw up her whole test.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Strider replied, “in fact, you could probably speed it up a bit.”

Not needing to be told twice, Rainbow pumped her wings to give herself some extra thrust. She compensated a tiny bit by turning tighter, but she presumed from what Strider was telling her, she didn’t need to do that.

The slalom went on for what seemed like forever, until “you’re clear, level out!” Strider instructed. “There’s a long straight here. Fly fast, then in about a mile, we’re gonna get to a spiral turn, turning left and up, for six revolutions. I’ll alert you when you get there.”

‘This guy seems to know what he’s doing, but...something just doesn’t feel right...’ Dash thought as she accelerated in a straight line across the sky. She picked up a lot of speed. The sensation, coupled with the fact that she couldn’t see, and could fly at potentially fatal speeds into something, gave her goosebumps.

“The corkscrew is coming up in about fifteen seconds, slow up.” Strider called down to her.

Dash obeyed and gracefully began slowing down. 15 seconds, in her mind, was plenty of time, so no need to rush.

“You need to start banking left…...now!”

Rainbow immediately put herself on a knife edge, facing left. Her head naturally looked to where she would be going, but of course, she couldn’t see anything.

“Turn in, turn in.”

She began the turn, throwing herself into the turn and hoping for the best.

“You’re going too fast, slow down!” Strider called.

Dash felt her heart stop at his words and instantly held her hooves out below her to try and push herself off of whatever she might bump into as she attempted to slow down. She grazed her hind hooves along something that felt like cloud, and tried to push off it, only for it to give way under her hooves. The sudden realization that she had nothing to bounce herself off made her panic. She switched tactics, banking some more and trying to pull up. It worked her wings hard, but she managed to pull herself away.

“That’s good, hold that position right there!” Strider praised.

“Roll back right and straighten up.”

Rainbow obeyed and levelled out her flight. The feeling of being out of control...the feeling of not knowing your fate...it made Dash’s heart go wild. She’d never experienced such a feeling before. It got her adrenaline flowing by the gallons, and she loved it.

“There’s a couple of rings ahead, about ten of them. They’re moving side to side out of sync with each other. They’re in sync for a split second, but that’s all I can do. There’s nothing much I can do for you here, Dash. You’ve just gotta fly as fast as you can. I’ll help you adjust your approach, but you need to start accelerating hard now!”

Rainbow hesitated at first at what he just explained. Chances are, she was going to hit something. And he was telling her to go faster. She strongly disagreed with the approach, but since she couldn’t see the situation, she just went with him. Besides, he’d got her this far.

“Come slightly to the right.”

Rainbow Dash tilted as little as possible in order to move herself slightly to the right.

“That’s it, you’re good!”

At his command, she stopped moving sideways and concentrated on heading straight on.

“Uh, Rainbow? On closer inspection, it looks like they’re slightly ovular shaped, and easier to fit through if you flew on a knife edge. Can you do that?”

“Uhh, sure!” Dash replied. Flying on a knife edge was no problem for her, but she just couldn’t get her concern for the approach out of her head, making her slightly uneasy. “Tell me when I need to do it.”

“Alright, you’re closing in. I’ll count you down. On the count of three...one...two...three knife!”

Rainbow swung herself around and into a 90 degree bank. She tried her best to hold her course and altitude, but there was some minor deviations which she couldn’t control.

“Alright, you’re going in...now!”

She gritted her teeth at his words and closed her eyes, even though it didn’t make any difference. She was just bracing herself for the worst. She heard the ‘whoosh’ sound of the metal as she screamed past at ridiculously high speeds.

She went so fast she lost count of which ones she was passing. But since there were only 10, she knew she was near the end. The tip of her wing suddenly brushed against one of the hoops. She yelped in surprise, causing her to shift position slightly. It didn’t hurt that much, it just startled her.

Suddenly, on what she thought was the last hoof, she felt her right hind leg catch on what must’ve been one of the lower sections of the hoop. It acted as a pivot and completely redirected her.

Without hesitation, her sense of balance sprung into action. She tilted her wings in an attempt to generate upforce and keep herself going, twisting her body to try and redirect herself. She managed to get her head facing upwards, which was good enough for her. With that, she gave some huge powerful pumps of her wings as she tried desperately to pull herself out of it.

“You’re fine, keep going, you’ve still got this!” Strider encourage as he watched her fight the spin.

As she stabilized, she nosed-down slightly to make sure she didn’t over-correct. “Which way, which way!?” She shouted in desperation to Strider. She didn’t want to sacrifice any speed in order to compensate for her screw-up.

“Pull up about fifty degrees, then level out after about four seconds!” He replied, picking up on the urgency in her tone. “There’s a narrow, square cloud tunnel that goes around in a loop. Careful Dash, it’s really narrow. This is the final part of the course though.”

“How’s my approach!?” She asked as she levelled out.

“Good, good. You’ll be entering the start of the loop in about five seconds. I’ll tell you when to start pulling up.”

Rainbow Dash counted down in her head. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.

She was in. She immediately felt the air pressure change. She was definitely in some sort of narrow space.

“Start banking back gently, a couple degrees at a time.”

As Rainbow followed his instructions, she felt like she could go way faster. So, throwing caution to the wind, in what was probably one of the dumbest things she’d ever do in her life, accelerating down a narrow tunnel blindfolded, she pounded the air hard with her wings and began to accelerate.

“Dash, watch out! You’re gonna hit the cloud if you’re not careful!”

She ignored the words of her spotter, since it was a loop and didn’t change. When she felt herself begin to pass the 90 degree mark, she held her hooves under her chin in an effort to protect herself from what she predicted was about to come. She felt her belly begin to slightly graze the side of the clouds. She took note of it, but was still committed to pushing as hard as she could in the final section.

Gravity helped her out substantially after she started rolling over. It more or less pulled her to the ground, away from the cloud she was brushing against, meaning she could fly harder.

“Heads up Dash, there’s a sharp incline at the exit of the loop. Be careful.”

“Got it,” she barely managed to slip past her lips as she was trying so hard to go as fast as possible.

She felt herself begin to level out. She held her breath and cautioned her speed slightly as she prepared for this sudden change of incline at the exit. She counted down in her head to the point where she would be flying level again. 3...2--

“OOOF!” Rainbow huffed as she hit the cloud belly first a bit harder that she would’ve liked. It threw her off slightly, but nothing that didn’t stop her continuing.

She flew straight for a bit longer until she felt the pressure return to normal. She was out. She had done it.

She gently slowed down until she was only hovering, panting as she was still catching the breath that was forced out of her lungs when she hit the cloud. She reached up to her goggles and pulled out the black pieces blocking her vision, revealing the skies around her. Since it was still relatively dark out, it didn’t hurt her eyes too much when they returned to normal lighting levels.

“An aggressive attack you had there, Dash. Do you normally dive into things you can’t see head on?” Fleetfoot commented as she wrote on the clipboard.

“Well...hehe…” Dash weighed her hooves up as she thought about it. “Not usually…”

Fleetfoot smirked, “well, at least it paid off this time.”

"Nice recovery you had at the end," she heard her partner say as he dropped down next to her.

"Yeah, I do that a lot...anyway, your turn next." She said with a smile.

Strider smirked in response, "Well, at least I've got a target to beat." He replied with a wink.

"Ha. Think you can beat me? Good luck with that one!" Dash's ego kicked in to full blast.

The pair of them joined the back of their respective lines. Much to Dash's dismay, she couldn't see the course being so far back in line. However, she could hear the voices of the ponies that were being directed around the course. She also heard, as they progressed, all the bumps and bangs that came from various ponies misjudging what their spotters told them or the spotters miscalculating and resulting in a collision.

She watched the ponies go ahead of her in line as she thought about the course that she had just ran. She was trying to picture in her mind what it should’ve looked like and combined it with the instructions given to her by Strider. By combining the 2, she hoped that she would be able to form her own instructions to guide Strider with. She found Strider’s instructions, whilst clear, were slightly long-winded, so she was trying to think of a way to shorten them.

She watched the ponies on their way back to rejoin the lines. Some of them looked like they’d taken a few knocks. It really did stress how hard this stress really is. Communication is vital. If you fail to get the required info to your partner in time, they’d crash. It was as simple as that.

The lines got shorter and shorter until Rainbow and Strider were both at the front again. Strider put the black plates in his goggles then raised a hoof at Rainbow Dash to signal that he was ready to go.

“Take off when you’re ready,” Rainbow instructed as she took flight and hovered above him to monitor where he was going.

Strider blasted off the line, much faster than Dash had anticipated. However, since she had the altitude advantage, she didn’t have to fly much faster.

“Half dive coming up, about three,” she instructed. “That leads into the corkscrew that starts left, then goes right. Level out after that.”

Strider simply nodded in response, then started marking his approach. Once he reached his mark, he turned down aggressively, harder than Dash was expecting, but still on target.

He accelerated as he approached the corkscrew...and accelerated...and accelerated…

“Whoa Stride, check up, you’re going in too hot!” Rainbow called to him as she tensed up, waiting for the impending impact.

If Strider heard, he didn’t acknowledge it. He ploughed straight into the corner at full attack, turning in early and clipping the inside cloud. It didn’t seem to affect him too much, but it sent him in the opposite direction towards the other cloud, which he ran his back along all the way up until the exit, leaving an indent in the cloud. There was already a few indents from where other ponies had hit it, but he just ploughed straight through them all and left one big indentation.

“Level out, level out!” Rainbow Dash called, ignoring what just happened and continuing, just like he was.

Strider acted like it was business as usual and continued to accelerate towards the slalom.

“You’re coming up to the slalom!” Dash called as she flew to catch up to him. She didn’t expect to be flying this fast, but it wasn’t exactly a challenge to keep up with him either. “You’re gonna need to ease up a notch. I’ll tell you when to start slaloming. Up first.”

Strider nodded, but he didn’t seem to follow her instructions. He just carried on towards the slalom.

‘Well, I tried to warn him...’ Rainbow Dash. Part of her wanted to try and convince him, but on the other hoof, he got to these trials the same way she did. He was just as capable a flier as she was. If he felt like he could make it, then he probably could. Although the last time was a bit of a scrape…

“Okay...pull up...now!”

Strider reacted immediately to Rainbow Dash’s voice. He lurched upwards, then prepared to move downwards to move between the clouds.

As he passed through them, Dash could hear a few “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” come out of him as he bumped against the clouds. She presumed it was due to the speed he took it at.

He came out the other end of the slalom very quickly, clearing a bit of cloud off his muzzle.

“Alright, we’re onto the fast bi--Whoa…” it appeared that Dash didn’t even have to remind him, as he just sped off without waiting. Dash accelerated after him. She seemed to be playing catch-up most of the time, since she wasn’t expecting this much speed from him.

“You’re gonna be on top of the corkscrew in about twenty seconds. You’re gonna need to slow up big time.” She instructed, feeling as if she was just talking to a brick wall again.

But in fact, he did slow down, which surprised Rainbow. Although, she went faster than he suggested on her run, so maybe he’d picked up on that and was being a bit more cautious.

“Bank and turn in...now!”

Strider banked left and did the tight turn whilst climbing. The whole manoeuvre itself was very demanding, because of the requirement to turn at such high speeds, meaning heavy banking, meaning not a lot of force left to climb with. It was a big test of wingpower, and Dash was pretty sure that Strider was down on her in that department.

After the 2nd revolution, Strider pushed a bit harder and started pushing himself through the cloud like Rainbow did. On noticing this, he immediately slowed down, but it caused him to move onto a tighter line and scrape the inside wall instead.

“You’re too tight, speed up or turn less!” Rainbow called to him.

Strider immediately accelerated, but over-corrected and threw himself way outside the course, pushing himself through the cloud.

“Now you’re off course completely, slow right down, I’ll guide you back in.”

“No you won’t, I’ll just add on a time penalty. Guide him to the final portion.” Fleetfoot called over to Rainbow as she wrote on the clipboard.

Rainbow looked away from Fleetfoot and back at Strider. Even from this distance, she could see that he was gritting his teeth, obviously pissed off that he fucked that up.

Dash sighed, “alright, fly in the opposite direction, and halfway up. I’ll tell you when to level off.”

Strider hesitantly complied. Part of him was screaming to push on and try and recover the turn, but the majority of him went with his brain on obeying Fleetfoot’s orders. He flew in the direction that Rainbow put him in and ascended at the rate she set.

Rainbow waited until she got a better eye on his course and rate of ascent before issuing her next orders. “Bank left, about thirty degrees for four seconds. You’re coming up on the loop, the final bit.”

Strider accelerated hard, much harder than he did in any previous attempt. Rainbow almost felt like facehoofing at the sight. He’d tried this before and he screwed it up. What made him think he could do the same thing again, yet alone faster?

“Level off, then correct a bit to the right!” She called down to him.

Not having to fight the force of gravity anymore, he was free to flap his wings as hard as he wanted to get to his top speed plus some.

“You’re on target,” Rainbow called. And with that, she didn’t have much more to say. She had guided him as much as she could, but the rest was up to him.

She watched him fly into the tunnel, and called to him to tell him that he was in and started ascending. Now he was on his own.

Rainbow tracked with her eyes the rough position he should be in. Because the clouds that made up the loop fully enclosed him, she couldn’t see where he was. She just tried her best to predict where he was based on his speed when he entered.

She didn’t hear anything happening, which was good. That meant he must be doing alright. But then suddenly, she heard the sound of a ‘THUMP’ followed by an “OW!” that came from his voice.

She heard a few more “ooh’s” and “ow’s” as he eventually appeared in a heap at the exit of the loop. She presumed that he pushed too hard and clipped the cloud, causing a chain reaction. She was probably about to get a more detailed explanation. Or maybe not, considering how pissed off he looked.

Strider removed the black plates from his goggles and huffed as he flew slowly back towards Fleetfoot. He was almost hanging his head in shame, but he didn’t quite have that look to him. To Dash, it looked as if he was too frustrated to think of anything else.

“A strong attempt…” were the only words that left Fleetfoot’s mouth as she wrote some notes.

“Hey,” Dash landed next to Strider as they walked off, having now completed the test. “What happened?”

“I pushed too hard,” he huffed, “went straight into the upper wall.”

“Oh…” Dash wasn’t really sure how to respond. He’d just guided her through the same course, very precisely, and telling her when she needed to calm it down. She also warned him of the same things when they swapped places. To see him make the mistakes that he warned her about...it just didn’t add up.

“I try too hard,” he spoke up, breaking Dash out of her trance. “The Wonderbolts are looking for the best. I’m trying to be the best, but…” he lowered his head and sighed, “I’m just not…”

Dash had to do a double take on what she was listening to. This was the very same pony that was all enthusiastic and happy go-lucky before the test began. Now he was the complete opposite, all mopey and depressed, completely devoid of life. It made her think about what she would feel like if she wasn’t at the top like she was. This meant a lot to her, just the same as him. To simply not be good enough...it made her want to cry.

“When I was spotting for you, you were actually pretty fast at times. You were just...pushing yourself harder than you needed to. You heard what Spitfire said at the beginning, one-hit-wonders aren’t gonna cut it here. Aim for consistency.” ‘Whoa, did I really just give advice like that? Damn Rainbow, you should’ve taken up flight tuition. That felt like I took a page out of Comet’s book...’ It did sound like something he would way.

Strider huffed again, “whatever,” he said then walked off.

‘Well, I tried...’

Rainbow waited around for the rest of her competitors to finish. She was curious as to how her friends got on. Given the nature of the test, it took quite a while for them to get through. The sun had arose by the time the last pair had gone.

“So much natural flight instincts this year…” Fleetfoot commented as she wrote her final notes on the clipboard. “This is gonna make today's eliminations tough…”

She flew up above them to get into speaking distance of them all. “That rounds up this half of the tests. Since we got up early, I’m gonna let you go to lunch early. Be sure to fuel up good, because the final tests we have are all gonna be focused on racing. First, an endurance race round our practice derby track. After that, we’ll finish the day with a couple of head-to-heads. Now go get fed up then get ready for some real competition!”

The tone in Fleetfoot’s voice said that she’d been waiting quite a while for this moment. Dash remembered Soarin telling her that he was supposed to take them today, but Fleetfoot asked her to swap. She was itching for something, but for what?

Dash followed the crowd towards the entrance back to the locker rooms. Her stomach produced a faint rumble, which was unusual, as she didn't normally get hungry at this time. But then again, they did have breakfast early, so it made sense. Although eating Lunch at what was probably around 8 AM would probably screw with her body clock later.

She was about midway in the line going into the canteen. The room sounded a lot more lively, now that everypony has woken up. When she reached the front of the line, she examined her options and started to shovel them on. She felt a bit fat for choosing a slice of pie, but at the same time, she felt like she deserved it.

She found a free seat and took it, her belly immediately thanking her for putting food into it. As she ate, she noticed a Wonderbolt dart into their private room. She didn’t look in time to catch who it was, but it appeared that everypony was up and at it now.

“You have great natural instincts,”she heard the voice of White Comet say. She looked to her right as he took a seat next to her.

She shrugged, “just something I’ve developed over the years I guess. Who were you paired with by the way.”

“Bright Skies,” he replied as he took a drink of water, “she’s very detailed and accurate, but I could barely hear her voice. But when I could hear her, she was pretty much saying exactly what was going through my head.”

Rainbow chuffed, “if Bright Skies had your initiative, she’d be unstoppable.”

“I think she does, she’s just afraid to use it.” Comet picked up some food on his spoon. “Guess it’s just a matter of time…”

The 2 of them, along with some other ponies who sat on the same table as them, conversed about the 2 tests they had just taken. They compared their mental notes on what went right and wrong and what the test tested them on in general. Hearing lots of ponies complain about how hard it was made Dash feel slightly cocky, since she didn’t find it that hard at all...alright, she spun out, but she recovered and still made it to the end in decent time.

“Okay, whilst we’re having lunch, I’ll explain the rules for the next test.” Fleetfoot said with her mouthful as she took the last bite of her apple. She tossed the core into a bin a few feet away from her.

Dash leaned forward and listened tentatively. Fleetfoot sounded a lot more enthusiastic about this next series of tests. This was gonna be good...

Chapter 7

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“As I said, the second to last test will be an endurance race around our test derby track. The teams are going to be your room assignments. Because I’m lazy and can’t be bothered to put you in teams,” she unashamedly admitted.

“If you’re one of the rooms unfortunate enough to have already lost a pony, speak to me, and I’ll get you sorted out with a little bit of rearranging. Your room number is going to be your race number, which will be on the vest you’ll be given. The Pegasus wearing the vest will be the pony on track. When you want to change Pegasi, you land at the entrance to the pits and proceed on hoof to your teams stall, where you change the vest to the new pony. When in the pits, remain on hoof at all times. You can only start flying again when you leave the pits. Let’s see,” Fleetfoot looked up at the clock on the wall, “it’s eight AM now. so we’ll go for an eight twenty race start. That’ll give you time for bathroom breaks and thinking up a strategy. The race will be eight hours long. Eight ponies per team, so you should get an average of around an hour of flight time each. Although I’m going to say that each pony only has to do half an hour minimum, to throw some strategy into the race...yeah, that should just about do it. Wow, that’s the quickest I’ve ever planned a whole race off the top of my head!”

It probably wasn’t Fleetfoot’s best call to explain all that over food, as she wasn’t the main area of concentration. Everypony had mostly blank looks on their faces, as if they were struggling to take in all of what she just said. “Don’t worry, it’s pretty simple. There’s signs explaining the track rules anyway, you’ll be fine.” She headed for the door, “there’s signs to the track. Meet me out there when you’re ready.”

Rainbow finished up the last of her lunch then followed the signs out to the track. Fleetfoot was right, it was easy to find. There was signs leading them all the way too it.

The track was a big oval. She was amazed at how she missed it. As was everypony else. It was basically 2 long straights connected by very long, linear turns at either end. It had a cloud floor, with cloud barriers around the outside and inside edges, with an opening on the beginning and end of the far straight for the pits area. There was a large, open structure with multiple garage doors that opened upwards. On top of it were lots of cloud huts where ponies could sit and watch from. Around the track, there was a small row of seating, that only went 3 rows high. Since this was a training facility, it isn’t expected to have any spectators at all, so it was only designed for a minimal crowd.

She saw Fleetfoot with a few ponies standing in the open infield area on the inside of the oval. She flew down there and landed, with a continuous flow of ponies behind her.

“Grab the vest with your team number on it,” Fleetfoot instructed as she pointed to a box to the side of her.

Dash walked up and grabbed the vest with the number 13 on it. They were simple white vests with the numbers on them in bold red writing, making them stand out and easy to identify.

Dash turned and waiting for her team. White Comet and Dahlia had already arrived, and it didn’t take long for Crash Dive and Horizon to show. Torque appeared next, followed by Riptide.

As Riptide landed, Torque huffed and flicked his head away, scowling away from him team.

“Hey,” Riptide tapped him on the shoulder, “no hard feelings, bro. It was just the heat of competition, I would’ve done the same.” He held out his hoof for Torque to bump.

“Is this Riptide…” Crash Dive started,

“Being sincere…?” Horizon finished.

“Riptide…” Crash Dive said.

“Sincere…” Horizon added.







“Those words,” Crash Dive suddenly bought a dictionary out of no where, “is it even possible to use them in the same sentence?” He said as he flicked through the pages.

Dahlia let out a chuckle as she watched them both.

Torque looked back at Riptide, “I don’t have to accept your apology. But that doesn’t mean I can’t work with you either.” He replied, calmly and precisely. Puffing his chest out with pride.

Riptide held his hoof out for a bit longer, but after it became obvious that Torque wasn’t going to bump it back, he put it down.

“Let’s go into one of those huts, it’ll give us somewhere to discuss strategy more privately.” White Comet suggested, but didn’t wait for a response. He just flew off into the nearest one, and seeing as they didn’t have a choice, the rest of his team followed him.

The hut itself looked like it was only designed for about 4 ponies, so it was pretty cramped, but they were only gonna be in there for a little while.

“Alright, Bright Skies, you’re starting us off. Dash, pass Bright the vest.” Comet opened the conversation with.

“Wh-what!?” Bright Skies would’ve jumped back if it weren’t for the lack of room. Her eyes went wide and she bit her lip. “I...I can’t...why?”

“Because I want somepony with a brain to start us off. Also, you’re so small, you’ll be able to dart between all the tight spaces they’ll be at the start, since I don’t know what position we’re starting off in.”

“I-I dunno...I’m not good with crowds…” She hung her head down, her mane flicking over and covering her face.

“Bright…” Comet took the vest from Dash’s hooves and held it out in front of Bright Skies. “I saw firsthoof what you were capable of when you guided me blindfolded through that last test. You were able to calculate the tiniest gaps at the highest of speeds. You may not think it, but you’ve got an incredible brain sitting above your shoulders. I trusted you in the last test, now I need you to trust me.” He moved the vest closer to her so it became visible in her peripheral vision. “Can you trust me?”

Rainbow sat in awe at the motivational speech Comet just gave to Bright Skies. She thought her talk with Strider after his attempt at the blind obstacle course test was pretty good, but Comet’s blew hers out of the water.

Bright Skies brushed her mane back so she could see. She kept her head facing the floor, but slowly moved it up until she was staring at the vest Comet held in front of her. All of sudden, a smile burst across her face as she snatched it up. “Alright, I’ll do it!” A load of enthusiasm was suddenly kicked into her voice, “thank you!”

“Thank me? I should be thanking you,” Comet replied with a chuckle.

“Oh no no, it’s just that...ah...nevermind, carry on.” She said, wiping her left eye.

Dash caught her as she wiped her eye...was that a...tear? Why on Equestria was she tearing up? This wasn’t Dash’s forte as such, so she was probably better off leaving it to somepony else. But that didn’t stop her being curious. However, now was neither the time nor place.

Comet looked over at Riptide, “okay Riptide, you’ve got the biggest wingspan and most wingpower of us all. However, since you’re so big, that’ll make overtaking difficult. You’ll go out when we’ve got a space with mostly clean air to try and make up some ground.”

“Aye, Captain,” Riptide replied with a wink, causing Comet to smirk.

“Hey, who made him Captain!?” Horizon asked, sitting next to Comet.

“Well, I don’t see you taking command…” Crash Dive replied.

Horizon looked to his right at Crash, “oh how supportive of you, brother.” He chimed sarcastically.

“Dahlia, Dash, Torque, you three are agile and quick. You’ll go out when we’ve got some traffic to negotiate. Hope you like a bit of squeezing and shoving.”

“You bet it do!” Dahlia replied. She immediately saw a grin form across Riptide’s face, and shot him a disapproving glare, knowing he was about to come out with some sort of innuendo.

“I can handle anything, bring it!” Dash added, confirming that she was satisfied with Comet’s strategy.

“Fine,” Torque replied. Comet knew that ‘fine’ was the happiest he got, so he didn’t bother to push for anything else.

“Horizon, Crash Dive,”

“Jawohl herr kaleun?” They both replied in sync in a funny accent whilst sitting in what looked like a position of attention. They were doing a pretty good job at it too, not moving a muscle.

Comet raised an eyebrow, “just...be yourselves…”

“Oui, mon Kapitan!” They replied in a completely different accent, both doing a salute, causing everypony to laugh.

“What about you? What you gonna do?” Dahlia asked Comet.

“I’ll go out when things get complicated.” He replied with a smile.

“What kind of complicated?”

“As in when advanced strategy is required. Something that I cannot effectively explain, as you have not experienced it for yourself.”


“Looks like that’s your call, Bright. Good luck.” Comet chimed as he squeezed himself out of the hut. He was getting way too cramped, and just wanted to get out of there.

Bright Skies put the vest on over her flight suit then put her goggles over her eyes as she proceeded to the pits. The rest of her team stood behind the wall separating the pits from the large structure to the side of it to watch. Either side of them, all the other teams were lining up, getting ready to watch.

“Line up in two lines in numerical order, odd numbers on the left, evens on the right.” Fleetfoot ordered from a box that was sitting on the wall above the start/finish line. “Lead ‘em on for me, will ya, Lightning?”

“With pleasure, Fleet!” A pale blue stallion with a cream and faded orange mane appeared from behind Fleetfoot and flew over to take a position in front of the pegasi lining up in the pits. Most ponies immediately identified him as Lighting Streak, another one of the Wonderbolts.

Bright Skies took her position on the inside row, since she they were an odd numbered team. Despite the huge amounts of support she was given from her team, she was still sweating with nerves. Being put on the spot like this made her feel like she was going to explode with all the pressure.

As Lightning Streak began to fly, the rest of the cadets behind him followed on, beginning the pace lap.

Fleetfoot watched from the box as they flew slowly around the track, going through the first 2 turns, then down the backstretch, and finally out of turns 3 and 4.

As Lightning Streak pulled off into the pits, she watched the cadets slowly make their way down. She got the green flag ready in her hooves, and leaned over the edge of the box to get a better view. She waited a bit more, testing their reactions. Then, once they were close enough, she waved the flag up and down over the edge. “GREEN FLAG, GO GO GO!” She called over the PA.

Bright Skies gulped, tried her best to keep an eye on what was going on in front of her, and accelerated along with the rest of the pack. Going into the first turn, she was boxed in on the inside, but she held her position. After they had finished the first lap, a few gaps started to reveal themselves. Not massive gaps, but for a small pony like her, they were plently big enough.

Around the 4th turn, she darted between 2 ponies making it 3 abreast going into the 1st turn. She used her lightweight, and therefore betting cornering ability, to her advantage. Even though being in the middle, she was forced to take a longer way around than the pony in front, she could compensate for it through her speed. She managed to brush past him as they left the 2nd turn.

Bright managed to dart her way around the field with ease, despite having a wingpower disadvantage over the others. She made up for it by not only being faster in the corners, but by being able to squeeze through gaps other ponies couldn’t.

From the pits, everypony was cheering their respective teams on. Apart from Torque, all of team 13 were cheering Bright Skies on, giving her as much of a confidence boost as they could. She really was helping them out a lot, going from 13th to 6th place within the first 20 minutes.


Dash looked around to try and find the pony with the vest that said 42, but she couldn’t see him or her, so she turned her attention back to Bright Skies.

“Hey Comet,” She said, drawing White Comet’s attention. “Do you think Bright’s getting tired? She doesn’t exactly have mega amounts of wingpower like we do, and it looks like she’s been pushing herself extra hard. Do you think we should maybe get her to do her minimum of thirty minutes then send somepony else out.”

White Comet raised an eyebrow, “Hmmm…” He looked out towards the track. “You do raise a good point, Dash. We’ll see how it looks. How would we call her in anyway? Just shout to her?”

“With this I guess,” Dahlia jumped into the conversation, finding a board with interchangeable letters and numbers on it that they could put over the pit wall to get messages to her. It was a back background with white lettering on different cards that just slotted into it.

“That works,” Comet replied, then smiled. “If we’re calling her in early, then I’d like to see if she could last till about forty five minutes.” He looked back out to the track, “the fields starting to get pretty spread out, but if there’s still traffic we need to negotiate, one of us can go out. If we get clean air, we’ll send Riptide out. You okay taking on the extra load for Bright Skies?”

Rainbow shrugged in response, “no problems this end,” she replied. In reality, she was hoping that she would get the extra load, as it was more of an opportunity to shine in front of Fleetfoot, and therefore, earn herself more points.

“What about you Riptide?”

“I can go all night long…” He replied in a deep, low, gruff voice as he was leaning against the pit wall. Everypony knew what he meant, but went along with it anyway.

“Well, we have...some sort of a plan.” He said contently.

“Hey, you’re the racing genius here. If that’s what you’re telling us to do, we’ll do it.” Dahlia replied, “we sure don’t know anything better.”

They continued to watch the track carefully, analysing everything they could to make sure that they were making the right decisions in terms of strategy. Of course, it was impossible to predict the future, but the whole aim of the game was to try to do it the best you could. Dash was beginning to understand why Comet liked this so much. There was a lot of thinking and planning to do...but it was all for a big reward at the end.

“Thirty minutes into the race, and the first pit window is open! Strategies can be made or broke here, so pick your points wisely!” Fleetfoot called from the commentary box.

A small number of teams started flagging down their ponies in order to make changes, but not a lot. As expected, the majority of teams were going for the most logical route. 8 ponies, 8 hours, 1 pony per hour. But strategy didn’t always make that possible.

About 20 minutes later, Dash noticed something. “Comet, the fields spreading out because of all the pitting. If we get Bright in now, we could send Riptide out to make up a load of ground in the free air.”

“I agree,” Dahlia added.

Comet smiled, “good call, Dash. Riptide, you’re up!” He motioned with his hoof for Riptide to get ready to change over. Dahlia got the sign ready and changed all the letters around, so when she held it over the pit wall, it read:


Bright Skies rounded off the last turn, then saw the board in the distance with her name on it. Acknowledging the order, she came down the slip road onto the pits and landed, still maintaining her pace and running as fast as she could towards their stall.

When she got there, she attempted to pull the vest off, but it was a fidgety old thing to get off. With Riptide’s assistance, who was more than happy to ‘undress’ her, she got it off, and Riptide flung it on and started running down the pit straight.

Bright Skies caught her breath as she used her wings to help her hop over the pit wall. She had been pushing herself harder on the straights than most other ponies were, so it put a lot of strain on her wings.

“Nice job out there, Bright!” Comet praised as he patted her on the back.

“You were amazing out there!” Dahlia added as she embraced Bright Skies in a hug, only to instantly regret it after feeling how sweaty she was.

“You put us in a great spot, Riptide’s gonna be able to gain some serious ground with all that clear air. I’ve not seen anypony who can weave between traffic better than you!” Comet praised as he looked out onto the track. The pack had broken up into smaller, less tight packs which were much easier to navigate. The extra clean air gave Riptide a chance to use his massive wingspan to its full potential.

Rainbow watched him struggle his way past a few packs for the first 10 minutes of his run. Although they got him out with as little traffic as possible, it wasn’t unavoidable. He usually was able to be patient and pass them on the straights, but did manage to pass in the occasional corner as well. Although not as effectively as Bright Skies.

Speaking of Bright Skies, Dash wasn’t exactly sure where she got to. She looked around, but she was nowhere to be seen. She was pretty sweaty, perhaps she went to clean up? Although that would make much sense as there’s still a test left to go after this. Either way, nopony else seemed particularly worried about it, so why should se be? She probably said where she went, but Dash wasn’t listening.

For the next 45 minutes, Rainbow watched in awe as Riptide blew the competition away, literally in some cases as the smaller Pegasi had to fight his backdraft. His acceleration out of the turns made it look like the competition was still standing. He easily turned what was miles for the other teams into yards.

She wanted to watch his display of straight line speed some more, but her bladder told her otherwise. “I’ll be back in a sec,” she told her team, but didn’t get a response. She presumed that they heard her anyway. she turned away from the pit wall and started walking around the infield area.

It wasn’t very well signposted, but then again, it was rarely used for any events outside of practice, so there was no reason for it to be. Although, after a little while of wandering, she managed to find some signs that pointed her in the right direction.

She went through the doors with ‘mares’ written on the front of it. It was pretty dark, with only the natual light coming through. It didn’t smell as bad as she first anticipated, probably because it was hardly used.

She went into the first cubicle she laid her eyes on. They were reasonably clean, because they rarely got used, but because of the fact that they rarely got used, they weren’t exactly kept in top notch condition either. She reached out to lift the seat, but as she heard a sniffle come from the cubicle next to her, she stopped dead in her tracks. Although no words were spoken...it sounded familiar.

A faint sob followed it up, confirming her suspicions. “Bright Skies?” She knocked on the right hand wall between the cubicles, “it’s me, Rainbow.”

She heard the sniffles again, followed by a faint voice. “H-hey…” Bright Skies forced out, then sniffed again.

Rainbow left her cubicle and approached the door to the right of the one she was in, noticing that although the door had been fully closed, it was left unlocked. “Can I come in?” She hesitantly questioned. She could hear that Bright Skies was upset, but was unsure about what she could do to help. Did she want comforting? Or did she want to be left alone?

If it was her, she would want to be left alone, but this wasn’t Dash. Getting no response, Dash went with the former and gently pushed the door open. Bright Skies was sitting on the toilet with the lid down, the head part of her uniform undone and her goggles around her neck. There were a few sheets of toilet paper lying around from what she’d been using to wipe her eyes. The whites of her chocolate brown eyes had reddened slightly, indicating that she had been crying for a while.

“What’s wrong, Bright?” Rainbow asked in a caring tone, trying to calm Bright Skies. She unzipped the head of her uniform and let it rest of her shoulders above her goggles.

Bright sniffed again then broke eye contact, dropping her head down and making gravity pull her bright blue mane down to cover her face.

“Bright…” Rainbow hesitantly trotted closer, one hoof at a time. She took the fact that Bright Skies wasn’t talking to her as red flags, but she couldn’t just leave her.

When Rainbow had got close enough to her, Bright just let herself collapse forward onto Rainbow’s shoulder, burying her eyes into her and hugging her tightly. “I don’t want it to end…” she whispered between sobs.

“Don’t want what to end?” Dash questioned, hugging her back.

“Th-this,” she stammered, “I’m scared, Rainbow. I’m scared of failing. Not because I’ll lose the opportunity to be a Wonderbolt, but because I would have to say goodbye to all of you. All my life I’ve been searching for somewhere where I’m welcome, and I finally found it. You, White Comet, Dahlia, all of you. You all wanted me, you’re all such great friends. I’ve never felt that my entire life. And if I don’t make it into the Wonderbolts...that’ll all go away…” she sobbed a bit more before speaking again, “and all that praise you gave me after I completed that first run...I’ve never had anyone praise me in that way before. It felt so special…”

Rainbow Dash exhaled slowly as she thought about what Bright Skies said. She knew about her unfortunate upbringing, but she didn’t know this is how she had felt all her life.

“Bright...I’m scared too.” Dash surprisingly easily admitted. She wouldn’t normally reveal any weakness, but with Bright, she felt like she was able to. “Joining the Wonderbolts has been my dream my whole life. And now I’ve got a chance to do it. I’m not gonna lie, I’m nervous as fuck…”

She paused for a moment to let Bright Skies take in what she was saying. “But I’m sure no matter what happens over the next few weeks, we’ll all still be friends...well, apart from Torque and Riptide maybe.” She chuckled as she finished her sentence, feeling Bright Skies chuckle with her. “And you know something?” She felt Bright Skies’ ears pop up as she asked the question. “Things like that, what you just described. Growing up, I’ve always been told that if you really want something, and work really hard to get it, you’ll get it. All you need is the will and the desire. I’ve seen your will, it’s very strong. With a desire like that to match it, how can you fail?”

Her sobs began to die down, making understanding her easier. “You...you really think I can do it?”

“I think you can if you keep up what you’ve been doing. All you need to do is get out there and prove it.” Dash encouraged.

“Do you even...think I can beat you?”

Dash chuffed at the comment, “that’s the spirit!” What she actually wanted to say was something along the lines of ‘aim high, but don’t aim for the impossible’. But she didn’t want to ruin the moment. “Seriously, you’re a real asset to this race. We can’t have you sitting around moping in a bathroom for the rest of the 6 hours. We need you. Not only for support, but to maybe take another run. Are you up to it?”

Dash felt like all she needed to say was said. She just remained silent and waited for Bright Skies response. She continued sniffling softly for another 30 seconds, then began to loosen her grip. Rainbow released her and she sat upright. “Better?”

“Mmhmm…” She nodded, and grabbed a strip of toilet paper to wipe her eyes. “I really needed that. Thank you Rainbow Dash.”

“Hey, what are friends for?” Dash replied, smiling.

Bright Skies hopped off the toilet and Dash backed up to let her out.

“I suppose I should head back.” Bright Skies said as she walked towards the exit.

“You go on ahead, I’ll catch you up.” Dash replied as she headed back into the cubicle. “I came to the bathroom for more reasons than to stalk you, you know,” she joked.

Bright skies laughed as she walked out of the bathroom.

Dash did her business then returned to the trackside, where she found the pack to be flying considerably slowly, whilst behind Lightning Streak like they were for the parade lap.

“What happened?” Dash asked as she landed next to Comet. She noticed that Comet had got an awful lot of stopwatches and he’d started drawing in the cloud in front of where he was sitting.

“Couple fliers connected behind us. Didn’t look like anypony was hurt though. We’re going back to green this lap.” Comet replied.

“What position are we in?”

“We’re in sixth at the moment. A good position with such a long time to go, but we’re bunched up again. Riptide’s gonna have a problem getting through the pack.”

“Yeah…” Dash sighed as she looked out as they came round the final turn. “On the other hoof though, first through fifth places aren’t that far away now.”

“I guess that’s one way of looking at it,” Comet replied, raising an eyebrow as he thought about it. “He’s already caught them, all he has to do is pass them.”

“And is that easy? I presume you’ve been watching the competition more than you have us,” Rainbow joked at him.

Comet smirked, “It’s a bit more difficult than that with this style of racing. Since the racer is constantly changing, their pace and tactics also changes. For example,” he picked up one of the stopwatches around his neck,” the mare in first place at the moment has an average lap time eight tenths of a second faster than Riptide’s.”

Rainbow was intrigued by his data and statistics, but she had to ask another question first, otherwise she’d never forget about it. “Where’d you get all those stopwatches?” She pointed to the roughly dozen stopwatches hanging around his neck.

White Comet motioned his left hoof towards Crash Dive and Horizon, who she overhead were discussing gambling odds.“I asked, I got. Don’t ask me how,” he replied.

Dash shook her head,“say no more…” She replied as she watched the race go back to green. “So Riptide has the potential to go a lap down if the leaders carry on like this?”

“If this carries on, then yeah,” Comet replied. “But they could drop their pace as they tire. Also, Riptide could find some speed somewhere. And Riptide’s endurance is a big factor aswell. If he tires towards the end, it could make things interesting.” He looked at some more of his stopwatches, “The top fourteen seem to be within a second of each other pace-wise so far. If it remains that way for the remainder of the run, it’ll be tough on Riptide…”

“Ugh,” Rainbow dropped her head against the wall, only make a ‘poomf’ sound on the cloud. “my brain hurts…”

White Comet chuckled, “I guess you’re now appreciating the work I put into beating you?”

All Rainbow Dash did in response was extend her left wing and bend all her feathers bar her middle one at him, causing him to laugh more.

Riptide was trying to make up time for Bright Skies’ shorter run. However, that plan hadn’t worked out so well, since he was now all bunched up again in a pack. It was difficult to break away from a pack because you didn’t have to slow down a lot in the turns. Also, with a wingspan as big as Riptide’s, it produced a bigger draft, allowing more pegasi to keep up with him.

The group of ponies in front of him started pulling away, but then their distance started maintaining. White Comet calculated that they were getting tired by this point, and that Riptide should now start catching them. But as he spoke, he saw the majority of the leaders pull into the pits.

“Damn,” He stomped the floor, “there goes that plan.” He looked over at Rainbow Dash, “looks like you’re gonna have to fight them on track. I’ll call Riptide in in the next few laps.”

“Alright, I’ll do my best,” Dash replied with a smile,

“Just pace yourself, and you’ll do fine. You’ve got to do an hour remember.”

“Sure,” Dash said with a nod.

They let Riptide do a couple more laps, then brought him into the pits. Although he offered assistance to help Rainbow put the vest on, she was adamant that she could do it herself.

Rainbow ran down the pits, and when she reached the exit, she used the momentum she had gathered with the run to help her take flight. She used the 2nd turn as a measurement of how far she could push in the turns. Which, given the nature of oval courses, turned out she could push quite hard.

With that settled in, she got up to speed along the backstretch and started racing her opponents. They were in 6th on the restart, got up to about 3rd before Riptide pitted, and were now back down to roughly 8th. She had a lot of work to do, but she had her technique on her side. She was pretty nimble in the corners, and was already able to fly fast in a straight line, so this should be a piece of cake.

As she wound down the laps, she kept glancing along the pit straight every time she passed by. White Comet was using the board to communicate to her, relaying her position, gap to next pony for position, and the gap between her and the pony behind her.

A few laps later, she noticed that another pony was getting closer and closer to her. When he got less than half a second away, she took a glance behind her down the front stretch, where she saw a stallion looking like he was setting up to pass her.

She looked back in front of her and gritted her teeth, ‘If you think I’m letting you past easy, think again!’ She pumped her wings harder to try and increase her speed. She had been trying to catch 7th place anyway, but was about even pace with them and was about 8 seconds behind. By her calculations, she should now catch her if she pushes harder.

She passed a lap down pony and then got herself some clean air. She now had nopony holding her back. She inhaled deeply and continued to fly ever harder.

She checked back behind herself again next lap. The stallion had now gotten to within striking distance of her, despite her efforts. As she passed the pits, she saw White Comet motioning a few things to her, but couldn't quite work out what he was trying to say. He was shaking his head and waving his forelegs at her, so it looked like he was telling her not to do something...but what?

She didn't have much time to think about it, as heading into turn 1, she felt a change in air pressure behind her. She didn't have to look back to deduce that the stallion was now right behind her.

She tried to pull away from him coming off of turn 2, but the pressure differences he was causing hindered her acceleration out of the turn. 'Damn, he's got me...' She cursed herself as she looked to her left to watch him fly past. He came by a lot slower than she expected him to, but still passed before going into turn 3.

As she flew behind him, she noticed something. It was easier to fly behind him in his draft. It was like she was getting a tow.

It suddenly hit her. Was this what Comet was trying to tell her? Is this what he wanted her to do?

On the pit straight and looked for her teams board. She saw Comet holding it up, but instead of the usual info about her place, he had wrote 'work with him'.

'So that's what he was trying to tell me,' Rainbow thought. She was about equal speed with this stallion, and if she could hang around in his draft, she'd be able to follow him to the front. 'Thanks Comet,' she thought as she took a better position inside one of the vortex drafts being produced by his wings.

It helped her in the long run as well since she didn't have to work quite so hard in order to keep up with him. She was able to just hang back and let him tow her to the front...at least that was the plan.

She managed to snag an extra 20 minutes in his draft. Miraculously, he didn’t appear to be slowing down. Either he had lots of endurance or wasn’t pushing quite as hard as Dash was. Dash didn’t like the thought of him being quicker, so she immediately went with the former.

She watched ahead in front of him as 2 pegasi were flying side by side with a 3rd trailing behind them. She switched her vision to the board White Comet was holding as she flew past the pit straight. She had made her way up to 5th. 6th was a good few seconds behind her, but she still had about half a lap she had to make up in order to reach 3rd, 2nd and 1st, who were battling it out.

She watched as going into turn 1, the mare behind the other 2 ponies in front of her tried to make her way through the middle. Rainbow’s eyes went wide as she noticed that their wings were gonna touch. She immediately backed off, seeing trouble ahead.

The mare’s wings caught on the wings of the stallion on her left, and they both got pulled towards each other, falling towards the outside wall and collecting another pony in their path.

Rainbow made an adjustment to her course to avoid them, as she had given herself time to react, but as for the stallion she was drafting, he tried to move out the way, but since he had less time to react, he moved very suddenly, destabilizing his flight and handing the position to Rainbow as he tried to regain control, putting her up to 4th.

“OHHHH! Caution!” Fleetfoot called over the PA as she waved the yellow flag from her box. “Anypony feeling tired? ‘Cos I’m sensing a few strategies being switched around here…” she hinted.

Rainbow followed the pack back around, maintaining her position as they caught up behind Lightning Streak, who was doing the pacing. They finished the remainder of the lap at a cruising speed and as she came around the last turn, there was a flurry of boards going across the pit wall, but it didn’t take Rainbow too long to spot it. She was told to ‘stay out’.

She didn’t feel too tired, she could definitely do more, but she was also past her best. However, if it was Comet’s calculation, she wouldn’t question it.

She watched as 1st place pulled into the pits...and 2nd...and 3rd…

...wait, 3rd!?

She glanced ahead to see Lighting Streak ahead of her. With those ponies in front of her pitting, it meant she had jumped to the lead. She grinned as she closed the gap to Lightning Streak. She was in the lead, much earlier than expected. All she had to do now was keep it.

2 more laps went by and she had got herself rested up a little bit. Ready for the rest of her stint. She was just hoping that she'd have enough left in her to race against these fresh pegasi.

Lightning Streak headed down the pits, essentially handing control over to Rainbow. She switched her sight over to Fleetfoot in the marshals box above the start/finish line. She let them fly a few more yards before waving the green flag over the edge.

Not wasting any time, Dash flapped her wings and accelerated hard, the rest of the competition in tow. It felt great to be leading, as she had no one holding her up. All she had to do was keep the competition behind her.

She double-checked her position before turning into turn 1, making sure she wasn’t going to cut anypony up. When she was sure, she made her move inside, moving towards the apex and then efficiently accelerating out.

For the first few minutes, she was actually holding out a pretty good lead. It was probably because the ponies behind her also did not pit like she did, and as such, had the same disadvantage she had. She only had about 15 minutes left of her run anyway.

She could feel herself tiring as she entered what she presumed were her final few minutes. As she passed the pits straight and saw her timing board, her eyes widened at the rate at which the pony behind her was catching her. Comet also left her a notice saying ‘push hard’.

Which is exactly what she’s been itching to do all race, but she was smarter than that. However, now she was given permission, she didn’t hold anything back. But she didn’t increase in speed quite as much as she would’ve liked due to her tiredness.

The gap continued to close, but not as much as it was before. However, Rainbow had no answer for the pace of the pony behind him, due to her own fatigue. It didn’t stop herself pushing as hard as she could though. Even though the odds were 100 percent against her, she didn’t give up. She just kept pushing and pushing, knowing that she would be able to endure the pain for the final few minutes.

As she came down the pit straight, she saw a notice telling her to pit the next time she came by, and the gap between her and 2nd place was now down to half a second.

She looked back behind her to see a stallion closing in. Although she didn’t have long left in the sky, she was determined not to let him past before she got the pits. She covered off the inside doing into turn 1, stopping him taking her down the shortest route. If he was gonna pass her, she was gonna make him work for it and take the long way round.

Which he didn’t seem to have a problem doing. He flew around to the right of Rainbow, getting his head just in line with her rear as they came off of turn 2. “Damn…” Rainbow growled as her exit onto the back straight was compromised, and she couldn’t accelerate as hard as she would’ve liked. This gave the stallion the advantage as he was able to close the distance so they were neck and neck going into turn 3.

Rainbow didn’t concentrate too hard on him at this point, as she was more focused on spotting her entry to the pits. She counted down to the point where she could start decelerating. Once she hit her mark, she flared her wings out and used the aero drag to slow them down. Due to her fatigue, she wasn’t able to push against the wind quite as hard as she first thought. Her eyes widened as she realised she was gonna overshoot her landing point.

She continued trying to decelerate the best she could as she neared the yellow line which marked the point she had to be on the ground by. Once she got near it, she just gulped and drew her wings in, dropping herself to the floor. As she hit the cloud, she bent her legs slightly to cushion the blow. Although being on cloud, the landing wasn’t ever going to be too rough, but at the speeds she was going, it could’ve hurt. She was prepared to roll, but luckily, she managed to maintain her balance as she began striding towards her team’s stall.

Once she got there, she stopped as Dahlia jumped over the wall and got ready for Dash to chuck the vest at her. Dash spared no time grabbing the vest and whipping it over her head, deliberately losing grip as she whipped it, so it flew in the direction of Dahlia. Dahlia caught it in her hooves and proceeded to put it on as Dash jumped back over the wall “Good luck!” Dash called as she hopped over.

Dahlia started walking behind another pony who had also pitted at the same time as them. Dash saw it as either a good battle about to occur, or a drafting teammate that Dahlia could use to get back to the front.


Dash looked over at the number 38 team and then back at hers. The mares and stallions of the 38’s all stomped their hooves and started arguing with each other over whose fault it was. Dash’s team seemed to all be subtly punching the air as they gained a spot without even doing anything. All apart from Comet, who raised an eyebrow in suspicion, and then closed his eyes as he went into deep thought.

Dash raised her own eyebrow at him, but then decided that it was best not to disturb him. He was the one doing all the calculating for their strategy after all.

She watched as Dahlia completed her outlap and come onto the frontstretch. They had dropped back to 12th place, thanks to that caution a few laps ago that bunched the pack back together. However, Dahlia seemed to have found quite a few partners to work with. The more ponies, the bigger the draft, meaning greater speed gain.

The time wound down and Dash noticed that Comet had been thinking for a while now. She approached him and sat next to him on the pit wall. “What’s up?” She asked.

“Our pace has been somewhat inconsistent. The fluctuations are making it hard for me to calculate a perfect strategy.” He admitted, “also, I don’t mean this to be rude, but...we’ve got 2 wild cards on our team.” He subtly hinted by tilting his head at Horizon and Crash Dive. “They’re flying style is erratic. Whilst I’m not going to bash something that works, I’m just concerned that it might get them into trouble. If we crash, and tumble to the back of the grid, it’s game over.”

Dash gritted her teeth as she didn’t want to be reminded of that fact. Crashing was always going to be hard, but there was no doubt about it that they had got lucky so far. Getting involved in somepony else's crash was always a wild card that nopony could avoid. “How do they tell the position you rejoin the pack in once you crash anyway? From the past few I’ve seen, not all ponies went straight to the back.”

Comet pointed out to the track. “See that yellow line about halfway down the track?”

Dash looked where he was pointing, “yeah?” She replied as she identified it.

“When a pony falls below that line under caution, the other ponies behind him are allowed to pass. When he gets back up above it, he stays in the position he rejoins in.”

“And what if it’s a tight pack and it’s too close to call?” Dash questioned.

“Then’s it’s up to the marshall to decide, and her word is final,” Comet replied. “Hmm…” he closed his eyes again, “If there’s a caution during a pit window, we could get aggressive and force our way to the front…” he suggested. He wasn’t really speaking to her at this point, he was just bouncing ideas around out loud.

His words suddenly popped an idea into Rainbow Dash’s head. “Aggressive, eh?” She grinned slyly as she thought about it. “Leave that to me, Com. I’ll be right back,” she patted him on the shoulder as she walked off. He opened his eyes to see her walking off. Since she didn’t explain what she was on about, Comet just ignored her and went back to thinking of scenarios and strategies.

“Yo, Riptide,” Dash called, drawing Riptide’s attention. She motioned for him to come over to her. He smirked, nodded and headed over to her.

“What’s up?” He started with.

“I’ve got a plan,” she whispered, “basically, we need aggression when the next pony takes over from Dahlia. I need you to fire up Torque, if you know what I mean…” she pointed over to him.

“Aw, c’mon…” Riptide shook his head. “I’ve got no problems with the dude, but...he’s real hard work, y’know.” He whispered back.

“C’mon Rip, we need this. You 2 have friction. Use it to your advantage.”

“I dunno…” he sighed, “alright, I do it. But only if you do something for me…”

Dash instantly frowned. “If it involves me making contact with you in any way, then the answer is no.” She said bluntly, glaring daggers into his eyes.

“Oh, no, no, no…” He shook his head, and waved his hoof. “Just a little something…” he lined himself up so he was parallel with her. “Come closer…”

She quietly groaned and shuffled closer to him.

“A little more…”

She got fed up of protesting and just fully closed the gap on him, waiting for him to get to the point.


Dash yelped as she felt something hit her plot at a very high velocity.

“I’m on it!” Riptide announced as he bounced off in the direction of Torque, looking rather pleased with himself.

“Did...he just…” Dash went red with rage as she rubbed the point where he spanked her plot. “He is unbelievable...I’ll get him back for that one…” Luckily, pain was quite easy to inflict on a certain spot with stallions. But right now, she let it slide. She was more concerned about winning a race that counted towards whether she got to be a Wonderbolt or not than some stallion slapping her butt.

As she walked back towards Comet, she watched Riptide approach Torque. "Problem is solved," she announced as she pointed towards the pair of them.

Comet looked in the direction she was pointing. As soon as Riptide started speaking, Torque immediately had a look of disgust on his face.

Comet chuffed and smirked, "you're so evil...but I like the way you think," he held his hoof out to her.

"I do try," Dash replied as she bumped his hoof.

Dash watched as Dahlia continued to make her way around the track. She was gaining some good ground, and doing it very strategically. No doubt she was doing exactly what Comet had told them to do. Her hold-backs and passes were very precise. She was very good at predicting what was going to happen ahead. However, even she could not fight the enemy that was fatigue. With less than 15 minutes remaining in her run, it was beginning to show. She dropped off the pace significantly, much more than expected in fact. She had obviously been pushing hard for the last 20 minutes or so.

Comet sent her a message via the board telling her to hang back and remain in the draft to try and extend her endurance as much as possible.

A couple of laps later, they made the strategic decision to bring Dahlia in early, to try and get an advantage on their competitors. That, and because Riptide and Torque were about to go at each other’s throats…

Dahlia came into the pits in 7th position. She trotted over to the stall and started getting the vest off.

“And remember, you actually need to go fast in order to win,” Riptide chimed as he reminded Torque.

“Oh, piss off!” Torque hissed as he jumped over the wall.

He snatched the vest out of Dahlia’s hooves without warning, causing her to flinch slightly. She would’ve flinched harder if she wasn’t so tired. She saw a fire burning in Torque’s eyes, a combination of determination and anger…

A winning combination.

She smirked as she hopped back over the wall, not saying anything to distract him.

Torque ran down the pits and immediately took off at the end, picking up speed rapidly. He flew very aggressively, cutting a lot of ponies up and weaving in and out without a second thought.

Which bought another question to Rainbow Dash’s thoughts. “Won’t he use up all his energy if he flies this hard?” She asked Comet.

“Yes,” Comet replied, not being able to sugar coat it. “Now we just have to hope that luck’s on our side…”

Dash looked out to the track and sighed. ‘I hope so too...’

The laps wound down and Torque continued to fly hard. His main strength seemed to be not only aggressive cornering, but also accelerating out of a turn. Looks like he really did live up to his name in that department. He showed a distinct lack of care in his run, which is exactly what they needed at the moment in order to gain places. However, as was predicted, he started quickly, and his performance started dropping exponentially.

“How long ‘till he reaches his minimum time?” Dash asked.

Comet picked up one of his stopwatches, somehow managing to find it in the sea of them that were dangling around his neck. “Six minutes,” he replied.

‘Well, that’s not so bad, but...’ “So what’s the plan?” She asked.

Comet sighed and looked behind him at Crash Dive and Horizon. “Just go like hell from this point onwards. These guys need to do at least forty five minutes each. I’ll do the final hour and a half.”

Dash blinked and looked back at him. “Hour and a half? That’s a long old stint. I know you know about all this stuff, but that seems a little long even for you. Please tell me you have a plan?”

Comet shrugged, “my plan is to hang back in their draft, conserve as much energy as I can, and hope I can beat them at the end with superior tactics,” he explained.

“Do you really trust your knowledge and instincts that much?” Dash questioned, which sounded so hypocritical coming from her.

“Well,” he smirked, “I didn’t think I could beat you back when we raced, but I managed to do it using my tactics. If I can beat you, I’m pretty sure I can beat anypony.”

Dash chuffed. She really wanted to say something snarky, but she cared about the result of the race just as much as he did, and didn’t want to spoil the mood and, more importantly, his motivation.

Despite getting tired, Torque was still holding out a pretty good pace. He was coming up behind a pair of pegasi who were a couple laps down. However, they were battling for position.

Torque tried to pass them on the outside going into turn 1, but one of the stallion’s, in an attempt to pass the other, moved into his path. But instead of correcting him, Torque just flew between them, making slight contact with the stallion who was now on his outside

The stallion flinched as the sudden appearance of another competitor, causing him to make a sudden movement towards the outside. The whole movement threw him off and sent him straight into the outside wall. He bounced off, appearing unharmed, but collected another pony in his wake.


Comet suddenly beamed, “a caution! And we’re in fifth! This is perfect!” Not wasting any time, he grabbed the board and started arranging the letters to get Torque into the pits.

As Torque came around, he saw the sign telling him to pit. He wanted to protest, but in the back of his mind, he knew that he wanted to win just as much as them. A win for them was also a win for him, right?

As he started coming into the pits, with a few other ponies in tow, Comet looked over at Horizon and Crash Dive. “Horizon, you’re up.”

“Sure thing, boss-pony!” He saluted in a casual way.

“I’m not exactly what kind of advice to give you, as I’m pretty sure that screw that you’ve got loose up there would just let it all out anyway.” He tapped his forehead, making the others around him let out a few chuckles and eye rolls. “The only thing I’m going to tell you is that we’ll need you to last a minimum of forty five minutes. That’s goes for you too, Crash Dive.” He looked over at Crash, then back at Horizon. “I’m not gonna lie, this isn’t going to be easy. Good luck. Now get out there,” he motioned to where Torque was pulling into the pits.

Torque stopped in the pit stall and pulled the vest off as Horizon hopped over the wall to take it. Without warning, Torque just threw it at Horizon’s face. Horizon blinked as it came towards him, but then just jumped, dived into it, and emerged with it somehow fitting him perfectly. He started heading out of the pits in what was probably the fastest stop of the race.

Horizon rejoined in the same place Torque left. They completed another lap cruising around before Lighting Streak ducked off and let them get on with it. Fleetfoot waved the green flag and Horizon accelerated in line with the pack.

Dash thought Torque’s racing was erratic, but Horizon’s...well, she didn’t know it was possible that, in such a narrow course, it was possible to pass above and below as well as left and right. But apparently it was, because it was happening right in front of her. It even left Comet filled with amazement. Going under left you with a disadvantage, because you’d have to climb back up, which hindered your acceleration. And going up was not only a longer way around, but climbing cost you speed, which you needed to make the pass. But somehow he made it work.

As his run progressed, he appeared to be racing cleanly, although erratically. His lap times were incredibly inconsistent, but it still averaged out to be roughly where he should be.

“Do you think you should maybe rethink your finishing strategy?” Rainbow questioned White Comet.

“What do you mean? Horizon’s right on point...although I do question the way he got to it…” he replied, taking a look at his stopwatches and raising an eyebrow.

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Dash replied, shaking her head. “I’m talking about you doing the final hour and a half on your own. I know you’re good at this stuff, but even you can’t do that.”

“I know,” he admitted, “but I don’t want the ending to be out of my hooves...it’s not that I don’t doubt Horizon and Crash Dive’s flying or anything, but…”

“This dude’s either insane or a genius,” Dahlia interrupted, watching Horizon passing another pony. “He can pass from ABOVE other ponies...ABOVE! That’s the long way around, yet he still maintains speed.” She shook her head at her inability to figure out how he did it. “Anyway, I see what you’re saying Comet, but I still think we should maybe stick to the basics and have them spread the time evenly. It means there’s less pressure on you.”

“I know, but I’ve done the calculations, and I don’t think we can win. In order to find a way, I need to be out there.” He replied.

“They’ll be nothing to win if you pass out before the finish!” Dahlia replied.

He sighed as Dahlia joined the argument. The argument was pretty much over at that point, because she was so damn stubborn. That, and she had a temper that he really didn’t want to ignite.

He looked out to the track, “we’ll wait and see what happens. If his laptimes start dropping off...we’ll call him in.” He pointed to Crash Dive, “at that point, you’re up Crash.”

Crash nodded in response, doing a few warm ups to get himself ready. Although it would be a while until he would need to fly.

He passed his 45 minute stint, but since his times showed no indication of dropping yet, the team made the call to leave him out until they eventually did. Although he looked like he was getting tired, he still had enough energy in him to keep going.

“I’M SEEING MORE AND MORE MOVES BEING MADE IN DESPERATION! I WONDER HOW THOSE WILL TURN OUT…” Fleetfoot pondered. highlighting a few more battles over the PA.

About 10 minutes later, Comet saw on his stopwatch that Horizon’s times were beginning to drop off too much to the point where he would no longer be gaining time on the leader. “Alright, that’s it. You’re up this time by, Crash.” He said as he arranged the letters on the board to tell Horizon to pit.

Horizon saw the sign as he came back around, and acknowledged it with a nod as he decelerated whilst turning towards the entrance of the pits. He stopped at the yellow line and started jogging towards their stall.

As soon as he entered the stall, Crash Dive jumped over the wall. The 2 of them gave a quick blast of their wings and collided with each other with a hard thump. Somehow, in the mist of it, they managed to swap the vest over. Horizon headed back over the wall and Crash started running down the pits after completing what was probably the quickest pit stop of the race. When he reached the end, he took flight and rejoined the race.

Crash’s flying, like Horizon’s, was completely erratic, inconsistent, and made no sense at all. However, he still managed to get the overall average lap times that they needed in order to make it to the front.

Crash managed to make it up to his 45 minute mark. Now all they had to do was wait until he started losing pace.

Suddenly, Dash heard a few cries from behind her. She spun around and hovered into the air to see what was going on. When she got a view, all she saw was a bunch of ponies piling into each other. Easily 10 plus, then more kept getting added in as they raced around, eventually containing half the field.


White Comet breathed a sigh of relief, “looks like the god of the yellow flag is on our side once again. Hold this,” without hesitation, he passed the board to Dash and got her to hold it over the wall as he got ready.

“You’ve gotta complete about an hour and a quarter now. Are you sure you can manage it?” Dahlia asked as he was warming up.

“Under regular circumstances, no,” Comet replied, “but I’ve got a strategy.” The way he spoke so precisely implied that he knew what he was talking about.

Dahlia rolled her eyes, “of course you do…”

As Crash came down the pits, so did pretty much the entire field. This was a very good opportunity to make a strategic decision and not have to stop the rest of the race, which a lot of teams appeared to be taking advantage of, with the top 6 pitting. This somewhat relieved Comet, as that meant he would be going out with ponies as fresh as he was, meaning that they would be on equal ground. Unless they decided to change late in the race that is.

He swapped the vest with Crash and headed out of the pits, rejoining in 5th position. He smirked. This is exactly where he wanted to be. This was perfect for his strategy.

Lighting Streak stopped pacing them around, Fleetfoot waved the green flag and it was back to racing, for hopefully the final time. Everypony on team 13 watched with speculation over what Comet had in mind, since he didn’t really talk about what his ‘strategy’ was.

However, Dash noticed that something didn’t quite seem right. Back when he raced her, he was extremely calm and relaxed. But right now, he didn’t look that way at all. He looked incredibly focused, maybe even to the point where it was stressing him out. This race must’ve really been making him feel the heat. However, he was the one who’d been coming up with strategies for the whole team for the past 7 hours. Dash wasn’t surprised if he was feeling a bit overwhelmed. She would struggle to come up with a strategy for herself, yet alone herself plus 7 other ponies.

As the race entered its final stages, Comet held his strategy well. His plan had been to remain in the draft to conserve his energy, and then take the lead late in the race. That plan was working well at the moment, as he was sitting in 3rd place with 2nd and 1st running single file in front of him. Although it definitely wasn’t easy. As much as it pained him to admit, his team were right. He was a little optimistic with this long stint. He had been feeling the strain for quite a while now.

As he came down the frontstretch, he saw the board that Dahlia held up from the pits. She didn’t need to tell him how far ahead the ponies in front of him were, as he could see them in plain sight. And 4th place and below were all a lap down because they had to pit to change to their last pony. A late strategy like that costed them a lot of track position, but whichever pony they chose to run the remainder of the race would be able to push as hard as they liked, since endurance wasn’t really a problem at this stage on fresh wings. Dahlia also told him that there were 25 minutes left in the race.

He gritted his teeth. 25 minutes was gonna be a long time, but he would have to hold out. With everypony else more or less out of the running, unless they were able to make up at least 3 or 4 seconds a lap on them, it was pretty much going to be a 3 pony race.

As the time continued to dwindle, he remained as close as he could to them with minimal effort. The closer he got to the pony in front of him, the better the draft was, making it easier for him. But in order to get closer, he had to push harder, which required more effort. It was a catch-22 situation in which he wasn’t sure which would benefit him the most.

His train of thought was interrupted as he noticed the pony in front of him in 2nd started moving towards the outside between turns 1 and 2. He’d gone in too fast and was pushing out.

Not going to waste a perfect opportunity to gain a position, Comet ducked to the inside and banked about 50 degrees to his left, passing swiftly and cleanly on the inside of the other pony, then accelerating out of the corner, rejoining behind 1st.

He breathed a sigh of relief. He had made it up to 2nd. Providing that he could hold on to this spot, he would be in a prime position to make his move at the end of the race.

The race headed into its final 5 minutes. Comet was still sitting right behind 1st place, pretty much chewing his tail. He knew that he had to start thinking about the pass soon, so started examining his situation. He was right behind the leader, ready to pounce. 3rd place was a little further back, but still posed a threat. 4th and below were catching fast, but they had too much ground to cover in order to get anywhere near enough to challenge them. And there was going to be roughly 8 or 9 laps remaining.

He narrowed his eyes as he began spotting lines to see where he could overtake as he began pushing his wings harder. His endurance no longer mattered, he had to give it everything he had. It was now or never.

Over the next 2 laps, he examined the speed difference between the 2 of them. He was able to accelerate a little quicker out of the turns, but then a few seconds later, the stallion he was racing for the lead with would just blow him out of the water in terms of straightline speed. If he was going to pass, it would have to be either in a corner or on the way out of the last corner.

There weren’t a lot of laps left, he would have to do something. The stallion was covering the inside well, to prevent Comet from ducking underneath him, which ruled out a regular overtaking manoeuvre. He would have to come up with something fancy in order to pull this off.

He glanced behind him to check the position of 3rd. He was about 1 and a half seconds back. As long as either him or the leader didn’t screw up too badly, 3rd place shouldn’t bother them too much.

With that in mind, he looked back ahead and started spotting his entry into turn 3. He went a little further past his normal braking point and went around onto the high side. He was able to get about halfway around the stallion, and then on the exit of turn 4, he was able to use his acceleration advantage to get neck and neck with him across the line. But the superior speed of the stallion ment he pulled away on the entrance to turn 1.

‘I’m good enough to get neck and neck with him halfway down the straight, which is also where the finish line is...it’s close, but will it be enough?’

Now that he knew what he needed to do, or rather, the only thing he could do, all he had to do now was time it right. Too early, and he would leave himself vulnerable for a counterattack, too late, and he wouldn’t have enough time left in the race to make the pass.

As they rounded off turn 4, he saw Fleetfoot waving the white flag in the air. ‘This is it! The last lap! I’ve got to do it now!” He swallowed, narrowed his eyes, and concentrated on his entrance to turn 1. He would have to brake as late as possible, and swing around the outside.

The stallion moved to the inside, indicating that he was feeling the pressure from White Comet behind him. Because he was on the inside, and therefore, the tighter line, he had to decelerate earlier that he would’ve liked.

Comet waited until the last possible moment to start decelerating. Using his advantage of the wider line, he turned in later and was able to take a higher speed through the corner.

Rainbow leaned over the pit wall to watch the final moments. Everypony else on the team were biting their hooves in anticipation. Apart from Torque, who just started with contempt at Comet.

Comet pulled around the corner and managed to get neck and neck at the exit, briefly taking the lead from his better acceleration. Once again, the stallion stuck to the inside line to prevent Comet from stealing it from him.

Comet braked going into turn 3, once again, as late as he could. Suddenly, he saw a dash of the blue of the Wonderbolts uniform as the stallion screamed past him on the inside. He gasped as he realised something. ‘He screwed up, he’s going in too fast!’

Comet turned in and watched the stallion in front of him, who had made up about a pony length in front of him thanks to his kamikaze braking technique. However, what he failed to calculate was what Comet was going to use to his advantage.

He was now going to fast to make the apex, and pushed out wide going into turn 3. Comet angled his apex much later and, grunting as he tilted into a 90 degree angle, pulled all his weight into making the turn, crossing his line with that of the stallion’s and passing underneath him.

Dash watched as Comet made the move. She grinned from ear to ear as she watched him come out of turn 4 in the lead a few pony lengths ahead of the other stallion. He also had an extremely large smile across his face, as he saw Fleetfoot waving the chequered flag.

“It’s over...we won!” Dahlia cheered as she jumped into the air.

“Hell yeah!” Riptide exclaimed as he took to the air and embraced Dahlia. Dahlia hugged him back, she didn’t even care that it was Riptide, she was just so happy that they won.

The whole team started celebrating with cheers and hugs as they formed one massive hug circle. Horizon and Crash bought party poppers out of nowhere and managed to shower the team in confetti.

“I can’t believe we did it!” Bright Skies exclaimed, unable to stop herself smiling.

“Heh, piece of cake,” Dash replied and winked at her.

“Don’t ya think we should go see Comet?” Dahlia suggested, “he is kinda--” her eyes widened as she noticed something. “Riptide,” she growled and glared at him, “hoof off my butt before I shove it up yours!”

“Woops sorry,” he chuckled as he moved his hoof up around her shoulders, “didn’t realise it was down there. Heat of the moment, y’know?” He winked.

“Yeah right…” she muttered under her breath whilst breaking eye contact.

White Comet panted as he decelerated down the frontstretch, holding his wings out and letting himself glide. When he got to a low enough speed, he stalled and gently glided to the cloud. He landed gently, most of the impact on his front hooves. He breathed a sigh of relief and turned around to look back and see all the ponies clapping their hooves and congratulating him. A slight smile formed across his face as he heard all the cheers. He didn’t care that they were competing for the same job as him, all he cared about was the fact that they were showing real sportsponyship.

With a brief rest, he pulled his goggles down around his neck and unzipped the head of his flight suit as he flew over to his teammates, who immediately shared their congratulations and were quick to strangle him with hugs, despite the fact that all of them were covered in sweat. Well, some of them had dried off from being standing around for a while, but the majority were still sweaty. Everypony else from the other teams came to congratulate him, as well as the stallion he raced at the end. They exchanged nods and hoofbumps.

“Now THAT was one hell of a finish!” The familiar voice of Fleetfoot appeared. She had flown down from the marshal’s box and landed in front of White Comet. “You’ve sure got some skills up there, ain’t ya?” She commented as she tapped his forehead with her hoof.

“Uhh…” were the only words that could escape past his lips, as his mouth remained ajar and his eyes focused on hers.

Dash blinked as she double-checked what she was seeing was true. She’d never seen Comet so speechless before. In fact, she was pretty sure he looked...starstruck?

“Don’t you play that game with me,” she nudged him and winked, “I saw you going all crazy with the strategy calculations.”

“Uhhhh…” he responded with again, his face remaining locked onto hers, as still as a statue.

She got her clipboard and began to write, “I guess you really are as good as they say you are..”

“Uh, well...hehe…” he grinned nervously as scratched the back of his head, a small blush spreading across his cheeks, but clearly visible due to his bright white coat.

Dash saw Riptide hold a hoof to his mouth to prevent himself from laughing, as did Dahlia. She did the same herself, but motioned her hoof at her teammates to signal for them to cut it out.

Fleetfoot stared back at him, “what’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”


This was getting so awkward so fast. Rainbow almost felt the need to step in for him, but she feared that if she did, she wouldn’t be able to contain her laughter, and she held too much respect for him to laugh at him.

Fleetfoot raised an eyebrow, “sorry, my telepathy is a little rusty…” she said as she rubbed her temple with her right hoof.

Her joke caused Riptide to snort, but Dahlia reminded him not to laugh by giving him a gentle kick with her hind left in side. Horizon and Crash Dive seemed to be the ones holding up the best, keeping mostly straight faces. But Dash could see past their expressions and could tell that they were holding back. Considering their normally humorous personalities, they were probably used to holding back in certain situations.

Dash had to squint her eyes as she tried desperately to hold in her laughter at her dumbfounded teammate. She found it so hard to believe that the same pony who was normally so calm, cool and collected went all speechless and bashful when receiving praise from what she presumed was his idol.

“Well,” Fleetfoot extended her wings, “I’ll speak to you later when you get a voice.” She took to the skies, taking a look around her, and prepared to address the cadets.

Comet scrunched his face and his blush grew a deeper red and spread across his nose, which only made the situation funnier for the rest of his team.

Fleetfoot took in a deep breath, “about half of you did well. The rest of you, I saw some stupid mistakes being made out there that could be easily avoided. I hate saying this, as I like trying to keep your morale up by saying something like ‘good attempt, but keep trying’ or something along those lines. But I can’t. Mistakes in situations that are easily avoidable are completely unavoidable. Of course, as Wonderbolts, we expect you to take risks. But don’t be downright stupid to the point where it gets reckless.” Whilst she tried to tell them in as much of a relaxed manner as she could, she still had a stern tone.

Fleetfoot spun around and hovered in the other direction. “Rant over. Onto the final test, which the other ‘Bolts are probably still putting together. Take a short break, then meet me over the other side.” She instructed as she flew off.

Dash and the others waited for a few moments until she had flown a few yards out.


Dash was the first to fall to the floor in heaps of laughter, despite how little she wanted to. The rest of her team soon followed.

“Smooth bro,” Riptide said sarcastically as he playfully swatted Comet on the shoulder, “real smooth…”

“You should’ve seen your face!” Horizon exclaimed as he presented a picture of Comet’s face to him, “it was priceless!”

“Wait,” Bright Skies interrupted, still chuckling a little, “I didn’t see you holding a camera…”

“You mean this one?” Crash Dive asked as he immediately snapped a picture of Bright Skies with a camera he had in his hooves. “Not my fault they leave their equipment lying around unattended!” He tore the picture off the film as it printed out the front of the camera and gave it to Bright Skies.

Bright Skies took it, saw that it wasn’t developed, and slid it into one of the inside pockets in her flight suit.

“Alright, if winning wasn’t a spirit booster, that sure as hell was!” Dahlia announced as she took to the skies, still laughing slightly. “Anyway, onwards.”

“Right behind ya!” Riptide called as he took off in tow.

“Yeah,” she glanced back at him with an unamused expression, “for all the wrong reasons…”

“Oh come on! Do you think that’s on my mind ALL the time?” He exclaimed, holding his hooves out.

“Hmm…” Dahlia rubbed her chin for a second, “...yep.” She said bluntly with a slightly smug smile.

The 2 of them continued to argue as they flew off towards the other side of the training grounds.

Comet sighed as he brought himself to his feet and got ready to take flight. All his teammates sped off before him and he decided to lag behind. Mostly so he could take an extended rest from just finishing the race.

“Hey,” Dash glided down to his side, “what was that all about?”

He groaned as the last thing he wanted to do right now was talk about it. “It’s...nothing…”

“Nothing?” Rainbow raised an eyebrow, “it didn’t seem like nothing…”

“I really don’t know, Dash...it was just like... you know...she is who she is, the Wonderbolt with the reputation of being the derby champion, and I am who I am...I just feel like she expects big things from me, and it makes me really nervous around her…”

“But you spoke to her fine earlier, what’s the difference?” She questioned, raising a good point.

“When I spoke to her earlier, she was asking me questions that I easily knew the answer to, or could easily explain...she put me on the spot a minute ago, and I couldn’t think of anything…”

“White Comet unable to think?” Dash chuckled, “now I’ve heard everything…”

Comet couldn’t help but smirk at her sarcasm. “I know...I guess she just really makes me feel on edge.”

“You and me both, she’s by far challenged us the most out of the last few days.” She replied. She took a moment of silence to think about it, then sighed. “This next test is your speciality anyway, ain’t it?”

“I...well, I wouldn’t call it a speciality as such, but--”

“Oh, don’t bullshit me!” She exclaimed as she prodded him with her hoof. “Think we’ll get a chance for a rematch, eh?” she elbowed him and narrowed her eyes, “there’s no way I’m losing to you twice.”

He smirked in response, “sorry in advance to disappoint you then.”

“That’s the Comet I know! C’mon,” she accelerated past him, “we don’t wanna be late.”

“Heh,” Comet chuffed as he caught up to her. He didn’t push too hard, since he’d just been doing that, and was about to do it again.

'My speciality...I sure hope so...’

Chapter 8

View Online

Dash was pretty familiar with the area Fleetfoot told her to head to. It was the location where she raced Comet back when they first got here. However, she was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be in the same place.

It wasn’t hard to spot, due to the fact that there was a checkered start/finish line, and everypony was crowding around it. As Dash neared, she noticed a few more Wonderbolts standing with Fleetfoot. When she was close enough, she was able to identify them as Spitfire and Soarin.

There was a pillar either side of the start/finish line with a bridge across the top that the Wonderbolts were standing on. They were discussing a few things amongst them, along with a couple of boxes they had which appeared to have giant displays on them. Dash couldn’t tell what they were, as she wasn’t close or high enough, but she just managed to see what looked like ponies names on the top of the displays.

She flew across to the pillar that everypony was crowding around. When she got there, she saw that something had been stuck on the pillar that everypony was reading. She gently pushed her way through until she was in reading distance. When it was in view, it appeared to be a map of the track. It was very poorly drawn, but it gave her a rough indication of what the track would be like. Although it wasn’t very helpful that it didn’t show the ascents and descents of the course.

“Well Spitfire, today sure was interesting…” Fleetfoot deliberately spoke loudly, grabbing the recruit’s attention.

“It sounded like it, your voice on the PA woke us all up.” Spitfire said as she put the clipboard down and turned to address the recruits. “Seeing as I’m here now, I might as well be another set of eyes on this test.” She to the recruits, then glanced over at Fleetfoot. “But I guess you still want to do the honours?”

Fleetfoot smirked and took to the skies, hovering a few yards in front of the bridge. “Welcome to your final test of the day. I’m sure you’re all pretty much ready to pass out after waking up so early. This test is another race, but instead of a derby, we’re gonna be doing something that’s rapidly gaining popularity across Equestria, albeit with a lot of controversy. Circuit racing!”

White Comet could feel a few eyes shift to him as he watched Fleetfoot as she spoke. He wasn’t normally one to snap under pressure, so they didn’t intimidate him. However, it was Fleetfoot that he was concerned about. He was almost certain that she would be expecting big things of him in this. The last thing he wanted to do was screw it up…

“The race will be 3 laps around the course on a 1 V 1 level. The competitors will be drawn randomly from the list of names I have in these boxes behind me.” She motioned to the boxes with her hoof. “Let’s get to it!” She announced as she flew towards the boxes. She didn’t even bother asking for questions, as it didn’t get much simpler than this. It was a race. You’re either in 1st or last

She randomly selected one of the displays and pulled it out of the box. “Strider!” She announced.

Dash saw the pegasus that she was partnered with earlier make his way over to the starting grid. She could see the eagerness on his face, wondering if, once again, it would be his downfall, or if he’d learned his lesson.

“Aaaannndd…” Fleetfoot did ‘eenie-meenie-miney-mo’ in her head as she randomly selected another display. “Valiant!” She announced the name.

A silver-coloured stallion with a blue mane made his way over to the start line to join Strider.

Fleetfoot then proceeded to mount the displays on 2 mounting points across the bridge. It suddenly all made sense to Dash as to why she had the names written on such big boards. Underneath the name, we’re the stats they collected when they first started the trials.

Height: 3’ 9in
Wingspan: 2’ 8in
Weight: 155lbs
Wingpower: 19.2

Height: 4’ 5in
Wingspan 3’
Weight: 190lbs
Wingpower: 21.4

Strider and Valiant got to see each other’s stats as they lined up on the starting line. As they were taking in the info, Dash was also thinking about it. This info made it possible to come up with some sort of strategy for handling the opponent. This test just got a whole lot more interesting.

As the race began, Dash managed to catch a glimpse of Strider pulling away from a standstill faster than Valiant, but Valiant was subsequently able to use his superior wingpower to take the position back on the straightaway.

By the time they came round to complete the first lap, Strider had a huge lead. In Dash’s mind, there was no way that Valiant could catch him. Hell, even she would have a hard time doing that from that far back. Not that she would admit it.

“Valiant will pass Strider on the backstretch on the last lap.” A familiar stallion’s voice came from her left hand side.

She saw White Comet standing next to her, but it’s not like she didn’t expect him. What she wasn’t expecting was his statement. Valiant passing Strider? “I dunno…” Dash looked back at the course, “I just don’t see it happening…”

The 2nd lap went by and onto the 3rd and final they went. Comet was right, Valiant had caught up. Either he picked up his pace, or Strider was slowing. Although the results didn’t really matter much to Dash, she was still secretly rooting for Strider, as she felt like he had potential, and she’d hate to see it go to waste.

They couldn’t see the backstretch from where they were standing, so she didn’t bother trying. Even the Wonderbolts standing on the bridge would be having some difficulty. Although her jaw almost dropped when she saw Valiant come across the line ahead of strider. He had somehow managed to pass, but did he pass in the spot Comet said he would?

She remained in her spot and watched the races with Comet. If she needed anymore proof that this was his speciality, then this was it. He was somehow able to predict every move the Pegasi made out on the track. How he did it though escaped her. She couldn’t even begin to imagine how she would play it out, yet alone another pony.

But it did get her thinking… ‘Is that his weakness? He’s able to predict so far ahead that he can plan for everything. But what if you’re flying unpredictably? What does he do then?’

“Rainbow Dash!” Fleetfoot called her name, interrupting her train of thought. Her ears perked up and she looked over at Fleetfoot, who was pinning her stat board to the cloud.

Dash almost snorted at her words. Thunderlane? Last time she checked, she had more wingpower than him, and he wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed either. She had both fronts covered. This would be a walk in the park.

She flew over the crowd to the starting line along with Thunderlane, who was coming over from the other side. As she landed, she looked up at their stats.

Height: 4’ 2in
Wingspan: 3’
Weight: 160lbs
Wingpower: 19.9

Height: 4’ 6in
Wingspan: 3’ 5in
Weight: 180lbs
Wingpower: 11.6

She thought to herself as she looked at Thunderlane’s stats. He had gotten a little better since she last raced him, but not enough to make a difference.

“Ready!” Fleetfoot called.

Dash lowered herself into her start position as she thought up a strategy in her head. She had the superior wingpower, and was lighter, giving her the advantage in both the straight and the corners. However, Thunderlane had a bigger wingspan, giving him greater endurance, since his wings generated more natural lift. But since keeping up with him wouldn’t be too hard, she should be able to stay behind him, and use the 1st lap as a scouting lap, working out where he was the slowest on the course, and then passing him on that spot in the 2nd lap. She should run away with it after than, and this race would be hers.


With her strategy in mind, Dash relaxed a bit, as she would have to let Thunderlane take the lead. Something she hated doing, since she loved being in the lead, but for the sake of the race, she would have to. Besides, the only reason he was going to be in the lead is because she was letting him. And that feeling that she had the race under her control and him wrapped around her hoof made her feel full of confidence.

She glanced over at Thunderlane, who was glancing back at her. This was a pretty familiar position for them, and they were looking each other with the same glare of competition they had for a long time.


Both Pegasi blasted off the line, not wasting any time at all. Dash was clearly accelerating faster than Thunderlane, but she eventually let off to let him go ahead in front. She slotted in behind him on the left to line herself up for the first corner.

As she followed him around the course, she noticed that his cornering was very aggressive, almost challenging her. Whilst it was making him faster, she was sure that he wouldn’t be able to keep it up, as it looked tiring.

The course went down then levelled out again. The downhill made their difference in wingpower less significant, but it didn’t matter, as she saw her passing point in the distance. The backstretch was all uphill. She would use her superior wingpower to pull past him, as wingpower was more important when in a climb.

She managed to get right up behind him as she came about halfway up the backstretch. She could pass him now if she wanted to. She considered it, but wasn’t convinced. So far, sticking to the plan and taking risks were about even in terms of whether they paid off or not. And she could see that Thunderlane was pushing quite hard at this point. No doubt that it was because he could feel the back pressure that she was producing from being behind him. With that in mind, she decided to stay behind him and wait until the next lap to pass.

Not having much of a challenge for it, she did exactly that. In fact, Thunderlane didn’t seem to challenge her at all for the remainder of the race. She flew across the line with ease, feeling a bit short of breath, but nothing out of the usual.

She glided to a halt as she came across the line, then spun around in the air to see Thunderlane picking up the rear and crossing the line behind her. She chuckled as she flew over to him, “just like old times, huh?”

Thunderlane was panting and wheezing like crazy for a few seconds before answering her. “Sh-shut up,” he said sarcastically, chuckling himself. He was pretty used to this by now, so to him and Dash, it was just another day, another friendly race. He knew what was on the line just as much as Dash did, but he didn’t care. As much as it pained him to admit, Dash was simply better than him.

She watched Thunderlane fly back over to his friends as she flew back over to Comet. “Smart…” Comet said simply as she landed next to him.

“Well, I am picking up a few tricks from a certain somepony’s book.” She replied as she nudged him in the side.

“I saw…” Comet replied with a smile forming across his face.

Time ticked on with Comet once again predicting the movements of the different Pegasi around the track. Dash also got to watch the remainder of her friends and roommates race. Torque, Bright Skies, and Riptide all managed to win. Dahlia lost, but apparently, due to a ‘dirty’ move with the mare she was racing blocking her. Dash was pretty sure that after that argument, Dahlia’s voice would be reverberating in the Crystal Empire for weeks.

Horizon and Crash Dive had some interesting races, and nopony was quite sure who won, as they went right down to the wire. When Dash saw their stats, they had wingpower rivaling hers. And she remembered that Crash Dive always made jokes about his brother being slightly on the heavier side. And he wasn’t kidding. Horizon, according to his stats, weighed 275lbs. He certainly didn’t look that heavy. He looked a bit chubby, but not that much.

“White Comet!” Spitfire called out from the bridge. They were about 2/3rd’s of the way through the cadets, and the grounds were starting to thin about, as most ponies spread out since they didn’t need to pay attention anymore.

“Aanndd…” She shuffled her hooves through the boards.

“Whoa, hold on a second there, Spit.” Fleetfoot said as she put her own hooves in the way of Spitfire’s to stop her. “I’m just gonna make some teeeeeeeeensy tiny adjustments to the course. You mind giving me a hoof moving the clouds?” She looked over at Soarin. “Could use your hooves too Soarin.” She said as she started flying away.

Spitfire looked over at Soarin and raised an eyebrow. Soarin simply shrugged as he took flight and followed her.

It took them around 15 minutes to make Fleetfoot’s ‘modifications’. They couldn’t really see what she was changing, but the only thing they did noticed was that it seemed to go more up and less down than before. Fleetfoot flew over to the left pillar on the bridge, where the track map was placed, and got the red pen that she was using to write on her clipboard. “The track now looks like…” she made some rough sketches over the top of the original layout “This!”

Dash heard a gulp come from Comet. She looked over to him and saw him biting his lip, the look of concentration that was once in his eyes was now replaced with concern.

“And for your competitor…” She started flicking through the boards. “Let’s see…” Fleetfoot flicked through them, but not at random, she took a look at the stats of everypony as she went through. She was cherry-picking an opponent!

“What’s up?” Dash whispered to him as all eyes laid upon him and Fleetfoot.

“She’s got rid of some of the corners, which is where I’m my quickest. That, and coupled with the fact that the track goes up more than it goes down now, makes wingpower extra important. I have a reasonable amount of wingpower, pretty much the same as you, but that doesn’t mean I can accelerate uphill without tiring myself out quickly.”

Dash took in everything he said. And he was absolutely right. Fleetfoot had modified the track in order to push his comfort zone. She knew what he was already capable of, so she didn’t need to see that. What she needed to see was something he was yet to accomplish.

“That, and I bet she’s gonna choose somepony with huge amounts of wingpower compared to me,” Comet added.

“Aha!” Fleetfoot pulled out a board. “Wind Tunnel!” She announced as she looked around for the pony and pinned the board to the bridge.

“Well,” Comet sighed, “here goes nothing,” he said as he left Dash and flew over to the starting board, taking a look at their stats as he arrived.

Height: 4’ 4in
Wingspan: 3’
Weight: 175lbs
Wingpower: 19.4

Height: 5’ 10in
Wingspan: 4’ 8in
Weight: 265lbs
Wingpower: 43.5

The odds really where stacked against him. Sure, he had weight on his side, but there was no corners on the track where he would be able to utilize it. This was almost unfair.

He looked over at his competitor. Wind Tunnel. A light grey stallion with a messy cream coloured mane and tail. Comet could see his toned, muscly texture underneath the nomex of the Wonderbolt flight suit. He lifts...he definitely lifts…


Wind Tunnel spat, then glared an intimidating glare at Comet. “You ready, Pipsqueak?” He growled as he extended his enormous wings.

Comet didn’t respond other than looking over at him as he extended his own wings.


They locked eyes for a split second, before Comet returned his focus to the track ahead. But he couldn’t get the picture of his eyes out of his head. His right eye was green, but his left eye had a grey-white coloured iris and pupil...was he...was he blind in one eye?


The pair of them wasted no time in jumping off the line, leaving a blast of wind in their wake. Comet noted how easily he was accelerating away from Wind as he flew down the frontstretch, but towards the end of it, Wind blew him out of the water with speed. The wake left by his wings almost destabilized Comet.

‘That’s some incredible wingpower. Somepony’s been hitting the weights and wingups maybe a little too hard. And with a wingspan like that, he’ll be able to maintain it too...hmmm...’

As they approached the first turn, Comet blinked as he saw how early Wind started braking and how slow he was through the turn.

‘But all that weight comes at a cost,’ he thought as he approached the turn himself, not even decelarating that much, and pulling a much higher speed turn. He briefly was faster than him out of the turn, but the straight line speed was just too much.

‘I’m faster in the turns, no doubt about that. But his incredible wingpower means I never get an opportunity to attack. If Fleetfoot left the course the same, I would’ve had plenty of opportunity at some of the twistier chicanes. But now there’s barely any slowing down required at all...at this point, I don’t have a plan. I’m just going to have to do a scouting lap to figure out my position.’

As they completed the first lap, Wind had pulled out a lead of at least 10 pony lengths over Comet as they crossed the line. Comet began to lose concentration as his eyes widened in disbelief. ‘I’m pushing my logical limit and I still can’t catch him...there’s nothing I can do...I’m...I’m gonna lose...’

He rounded through the middle part of the track, which was all downhill after he came off the long right hander 3rd corner. This was where he made up the most time, since it was downhill, and the most twisty, technical part of the new course.

‘There’s nothing else for it, I’m gonna have to throw logic to the wind and go all out!’

Comet forgot all about his conservationist methods and simply pushed his wings as hard as they would let him and then some more, using his cornering advantage to his full potential. As he went downhill, into the 1st slight left, he managed to spot Wind decelerating heavily. He spotted his own entry, where he found a gap to the outside of Wind. He dived right into it, pulling a heavy bank into the left hand turn, able to get beside Wind.

He was easily not making the 50% rule, with only about a quarter to a third of him making it around the outside of Wind. Nevertheless, Wind chose to give him room, not using all of the outside to maximize his acceleration, but instead holding his line to provide Comet with space.

Comet blinked as he hesitated to accelerate again. ‘The brute races cleanly. That’s the last thing I was expecting...’

He held his outside line, heading into the next slight left, but braked early so make an undercut on Wind, moving to his left side as they came out of the turn. Using his acceleration advantage, he managed to get pretty much neck and neck with Wind as they entered the smooth 90 degree right hander.

Comet was certain he was approaching his breaking zone, but because the big brute was blocking his view into the corner, he couldn’t judge it correctly, so he entered the corner cautiously to compensate.

He remained along the outside through the turn, but as he exited, Comet just saw a huge blob of blue closing towards him, until it eventually collided with him. “Woah!” He yelped as he slammed on the brakes.

Comet managed to slide out before Wind fully ran him over, breathing a sigh of relief as he managed to avoid disaster, then stopping again as an idea suddenly hit him. He didn’t have long before the next right hander, and his acceleration had been compromised, so he’d have to think fast.

‘His left eye, the one he was blind in...is that the reason he didn’t see me…?’ His already thundering heart just got a kick into a higher gear as a controversial idea formed in his head. ‘If I can’t win through speed, I could win through disqualification. It’s low, but...I really don’t want to lose...’

He saw Wind begin to decelerate for the next turn. ‘Ah, screw it!’ He dived around the outside. ‘This is gonna hurt!’

He held his own around the outside, matching almost neck and neck to Wind as they left the exit. Once again, Comet saw Wind begin to cut him off. He was definitely within the 50% rule, so it was Wind’s fault if contact was made, not his. With that in mind, he kept his wings in it.

Wind gave Comet a forceful shove and pushed him out of his way. “ARRGH!” Comet yelled as he was squished into the cloud.

Wind gasped, and tried to react, but by the time his brain had only just began processing what was going on, it was too late. Comet already had his front half stuck in the clouds.

Fleetfoot saw what was going on and immediately blew her whistle to grab their attention. “HEEEEY! STOP, STOP, STOP!” She yelled as she flew down there, Spitfire and Soarin in tow. They were confident that Fleetfoot could handle it themselves, but they were just going down to check that everypony was alright.

Wind Tunnel used his big wings to drag himself to a stop, and turned around to see Fleetfoot stopping mere inches away from him. “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE!?” She yelled full force straight into his face. She was quite a bit smaller than him, but was still easily as intimidating. “YOU JUST STRAIGHT UP RAMMED SOMEPONY OFF THE COURSE! ARE YOU BLIND OR SOMETHING!”

He suddenly stopped breathing and his eyes went wide. “Uhh, nope. Not me,” he replied nervously, his voice a lot higher pitched than what it was earlier.

A small smirk cracked onto Soarin’s lips. He always found it funny when the big, tough, trash talking guys submitted to a figure of authority.

“Well it sure didn’t look like that!” She inched her face closer to his, so their noses were only about an inch apart as she continued to rip him out. “You think you--wait a minute!” She looked at his left eye, noticing the discolouration. “You are blind! Literally!”

“Uh,” he lifted his goggles up and placed them on his forehead, “it’s a...genetic thing…I can still see….” he said weakly, lots of hesitation in his voice. “...Kinda…” he mumbled so quietly that nopony could hear.

Fleetfoot raised an eyebrow, and left her eyes locked with his for about 10 seconds. Afterwards, she huffed and backed off. “Whatever…” she grumbled as she headed over towards Comet. “You’re disqualified for intentional wrecking.” She instructed.

Wind Tunnel grunted in response, but accepted his disqualification. It was a fair judgement, as since Comet was more than 50% over him at the time, that meant it was his responsibility to avoid him. He didn’t agree with it, but rules are rules...

Comet had managed to pull himself out of the cloud, shaking his head to get the cloud out of his mane. Although it looked nice and fluffy on the outside, hardened cloud like that really hurt when you crash into it at full speed.

“Are you alright?” Fleetfoot asked as she landed on top of the cloud barrier next to him.

“Yeah, I--” his voice froze as he realised who he was speaking to. He lifted his goggles up and looked up at Fleetfoot. “Uhh…”

Fleetfoot smirked, “got something on my face, or have you still lost your voice?”

“Err, no, I just, uhh…” he glanced away, scratching his head.

Fleetfoot held her smirk, and rolled her eyes. “Looks like you’re still gonna have to wait ‘till later…” her smirk slowly dissolved into frown as she looked down, rubbing her left foreleg with her right hoof. “I mean...if you still want to that is…”

“Uh, sure! Yeah!” Comet had no clue what made him magically find words, but he managed to crack a smile at his success.

“Great…” not needing to say anymore, Fleetfoot took off and headed back over to the start/finish line, with Comet also bringing himself to his hooves and preparing to take off.

Soarin raised an eyebrow at what he just witnessed as he flew back up. He’d never seen Fleetfoot behave so passively before. Even if it was just for one sentence. What was that all about? He’d have to quiz her about it later…

Dash flew over to Comet as he arrived back on the cloud that held the start/finish line. “Nice win, there!” She praised and held her hoof out to him.

“Hmm…” He glanced away, “yeah…” he said softly, as he gently bumped her hoof back, no heart in it at all.

Dash raised an eyebrow, “what’s the matter?” She asked.

“Nothing…” he replied as he turned his attention to the next set of fliers that Fleetfoot was calling up, so Dash did the same to watch the competition. She could sense some discontent in his voice, but she couldn’t quite put her hoof on the reason behind it. He won. What’s there not to be discontent about? A win was a win right?

After the last few ponies had gone, Fleetfoot wrote her final few notes on her clipboard before turning to address the cadets. “We really did separate the eagles from the turkeys today. Now we can finally call it a day. I’ll post my eliminations up on the board outside the mess hall around the usual time. Now go get yourselves some rest,” she praised.

Everypony turned and started walking in the other direction. Dash didn’t really pay attention to what was going on around her, as the only thing she had on her mind at the moment was hitting the showers, getting something to eat, then having a nice long rest on her bed.

“Hey Rainbow,” a familiar voice said behind her.

Her response was a little delayed, due to her tiredness, but she still stopped and turned around. “Oh, hey Soarin,” she replied.

“So…” he began, “what you got planned for tonight?” His question sounded slightly forced, but still believable.

“Eat, rest, sleep,” Dash replied. “That’s basically it,” she said with a chuckle.

“Ah, right, yeah…” He replied casually. “So I guess that means you wouldn’t be interested in hanging out with me again then…?” He wasn’t expecting her to in the first place. If he had to wake up that early, he wouldn’t want to either.

Dash raised an eyebrow. “Well...I guess I could…” as much as she would like too, she was concerned that she would just tire herself out more and it would affect her performance tomorrow.

Soarin smiled, “what if I changed the ‘hanging out’ to ‘chilling out’?”

That sealed the deal. Dash looked back at him and smiled, “that sounds more like it.”

“Great,” Soarin said with a lot more life, instantly looking more perked up. “Meet me here at seven.” Before Rainbow could react, he was already flying off. “I’ll bring food,” he called as he flew off.

“Uhh...sure?” She still said even though she was out of his hearing range. That was one of the quickest plans Dash had ever made. Even if it was vague.

She pushed it to the back of her mind as she resumed her walking. One thing at a time. First things first, shower…

“I was certain that big stallion was gonna hold his own over that mare when I lead them off after that third caution,” Lighting Streak said as he, Soarin and Fleetfoot were sitting in their rec room discussing the results from today.

“That’s because you’ve got no concept of pacing,” Fleetfoot replied as she finalized her list of knockout cadets.

“Pffft, whatever,” Lightning replied as he rolled his eyes. As he did, a loud growl came from his stomach, causing him to smirk. “Sounds like it’s dinner O’clock,” he announced as he stood up. “Catch you ponies later,” he started walking out towards the mess hall.

Soarin checked the time, and confirmed that he still had time to kill before he met with Dash. With that in mind, he turned back to Fleetfoot. “Say, Fleet, can I ask you something?”

“Depends. What is it?” She replied flatly as she wrote on her notepad.

“Uhh...gee, now you mention it. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like I’m implying something…” he rubbed his chin with his right hoof, “...but...when Comet crashed with that other stallion in the final race, and you started talking to him...your personality...you went a lot more...passive…”

Fleetfoot kept her eyes peeled to her notepad, and her mouth shut, but Soarin could clearly see her gritting her teeth through her mouth.

“It’s...it's nothing…” she replied.

“You sure?” Soarin questioned again. “Because I don’t see you act like that very often. In fact…” a smug smile formed across his face as a memory surfaced, “the last time I saw you act like that...you were pretty blitzed, and I was quite drunk myself too--”

“If you want to keep your ability to reproduce, I suggest you shut up now.” She interrupted aggressively.

Soarin chuckled in response, “alright. Anyway, what was it all about? And don’t just say nothing again.”

Fleetfoot sighed, dropped her notepad and pen on the coffee table, and rolled her eyes. She leaned back in her seat. “It’s...well...it’s silly…”

“Hey, you know I won’t judge.” Soarin replied, motioning with his hoof for her to continue.

“Well...it’s just...you know he’s got that reputation with circuit racing, and I’ve got my own reputation with derby racing...he feels more like a rival to me than a cadet. And it makes me nervous. Like, really nervous…” she painfully admitted, forcing the words out.

Soarin shrugged, “well, I can understand that. But given the way he seems to freeze up when he speaks to you, it would seem that the feeling is mutual.”

“I know, but…” she sighed, and looked him in the eyes. Her concerned purple eyes meeting his relaxed green ones. “Promise you won’t tell anypony, okay?” She asked sincerely.

“Well, you’re not exactly making it subtle--”

“Soarin!” She cut him off. She knew that he was joking, but she wasn’t in the mood for jokes.

“Alright, I’m sorry, I was just kidding. You know everything’s safe with me. I’m not Blaze.” He replied, winking at her. Blaze wasn’t one to spread rumors, but she would probably tease Fleetfoot at every opportunity.

“Yeah…” Fleetfoot stood up, leaving her pen on the coffee table, but taking her notebook with her. “Thanks, Soarin…” she said as she walked out the rec room.

She walked down to outside the mess hall to the chalkboard to write up her eliminations. Her eyes bounced back and forth between her notebook and the chalkboard as she wrote. When she was finished writing she went to drop her notebook in her room and then headed back downstairs.

She walked down the corridor which housed the cadets’ rooms. A few of them made some comments to her as they passed by, probably heading to the mess hall, as it was about time for dinner. They were of the simple ‘good evening, ma’am’ variety, which Fleetfoot kindly accepted.

She continued down the corridor until she made it to room 13. She remembered the number from the vest he was wearing in the race earlier. She could hear the conversation coming from inside. She pushed through the door and stepped in. She didn’t wait for their attention, she just continued walking straight down between the beds.

Horizon and Crash Dive immediately dropped their game of Blackjack and shot into a position of attention in front of Horizon’s bed. “Good evening, Ma’am!” They said in unison as they saluted.

Fleetfoot batted her hoof at them, but didn’t look at them. Her eyes remained forward. “As you were,” she said casually as she continued to walk.

She looked left at Torque, who was reading a magazine about Airships. He didn’t even to acknowledge her presence. Not that she was complaining or anything, it wasn’t him she was interested in. However, it wasn’t quite the reaction she was expecting from him. He did seem to be a no-nonsense pony from the start…

“Well, hey there,” a familiar voice chimed as she rolled her head to the right. She saw Riptide drop his magazine and roll onto his belly, resting his chin on his forehooves. Fleetfoot noticed the poster of her stuck up behind him and raised an eyebrow. “Are you here to...return the favour from earlier?” He asked, bouncing his eyebrows at her.

His almost cringeworthy display forced Fleetfoot to break eye contact with him, returning her head to a central position and shaking it. “Not anytime soon. Better keep wiping the stains off that poster…” she replied flatly, hearing some laughs echo from all around the room.

Riptide grumbled as his face grew red before he retreated to lying on his back, staring at her over the top of his magazine.

Fleetfoot looked at Bright Skies, who didn’t even seem to be bothered by her presence, and continued writing in her book. She got a friendly hello from Dahlia, perhaps even a little too friendly. She expected it from Dash, but not from her. She would’ve shot her down if she didn’t have other things on her mind.

Fleetfoot turned to start moving towards the front of Comet’s bed. She saw him shuffle his book slightly above his head. Was he trying to hide from her? Nevertheless, she stood directly in front of his bed, waiting for him. But he didn’t seem to move. His head remained hidden behind his physics book. “AHEM,” Fleetfoot cleared her throat in the hopes that it would make her presence more pronounced.

Comet gingerly lowered his book, but kept his face straight, peering over the top of his glasses at her. Fleetfoot could see from his expression that he was concentrating, which looked a lot better than his usual starstruck look whenever they spoke. However, she could still see his nerves through his eyes.

“So,” she began, speaking flatly. “Found your voice box yet?” Despite her flat voice, she still managed to sound somewhat cheery. She rubbed the base of her neck, “it’s somewhere around there.”

Comet managed to let out a little chuff at her sarcasm. “I...yes…” was all he could say. Well, it’s all he knew what to say. She didn’t exactly give him much to work with, and he didn’t want to question her just yet. He was smart enough to know that the last thing he wanted to do was backchat the pony judging him.

“Well good, looks like we can finally speak.” She smiled, a smile that somewhat relieved Comet. “You had a good win out there today.”

“No, I didn’t...” Comet broke eye contact with her and started at the ground to the side of him.

This perked Dash’s interest. She’d been wondering what had him bummed out earlier. Now it would seem that she was about to find out.

“What do you mean? You won. That’s the end of it.” Fleetfoot encouraged.

“No, that’s not the end of it,” he replied, then sighed. “I knew I couldn’t win, and I saw that the pony I was racing had a problem with his vision in his left eye. He looked blind to me. I used it to my advantage, and exploited it by going along his left side out of the turn, using the fact that he couldn’t see me to let him run me into the barrier, resulting in his disqualification, as it looked like he just plain shoved me into the cloud.” He explained.

It didn’t take much for Dash to put some thought into that. She would feel exactly the same way. That wasn’t a win, that was just abusing the misfortune of another pony.

“...Nice,” Fleetfoot replied after giving it some thought.

Of all the possible responses Dash was expecting, that was not one of them. How was that getting him praised?

“You managed to identify a weakness in such a short space of time. I don’t even know of any Wonderbolts that can do that apart from me. Good job,” she encouraged with a smile, causing Comet to smile and blush slightly as he heard those words come out of Fleetfoot’s mouth.

Just as things were getting interesting, Fleetfoot's grumble let out a loud growl that echoed throughout the room, causing her to grit her teeth. She had been putting off her hunger whilst she compiled her list of knockouts, and wanted to get this done before dinner. But it seems her stomach was committed to making sure that didn’t happen. “Well, it looks like this is gonna have to wait,” she groaned as her stomach churned again.

She took a few steps then stopped. “Unless…” a faint shade of pink sneaked onto her cheeks. “you want to...talk over food…” she started walking again, “if you want to that is…” she continued until she was out of the room, closing the door behind her.

“DUUUDE!” Riptide was the first to break the awkward silence that had fallen upon the room. He shot up from his bed and shot over to Comet’s. “A Wonderbolt just asked you out to dinner. A WONDERBOLT! What the hell are you sitting around here for!” He grabbed Comet by the forehooves and yanked him up.

“Hey, get off me!” He exclaimed as he pulled himself free, now standing up. “She didn’t ‘ask me out’. She simply...requested...to…” he struggled to find the words, as he couldn’t think of an alternative to what Riptide suggested.

“Oh yeah right!” Riptide rolled his eyes as he got behind Comet. “She’s totally into you! Go talk to her!” He started pushing him towards the door.

“But it’s not even like that…” Comet complained as he blushed slightly from his roommate's’ actions.

“Oh, now you’re just trying to make me mad!” Riptide yelled. “I hate to admit it, but I’m so jealous of you now, Comet. You’ve got an opportunity that would make every stallion in this building drool. Don’t you dare waste it. Now get in that mess hall and stay there for as long as you can!” He said as he finally managed to convince Comet to step out the front door.

“And remember to wear protection!” He added as he slammed the door shut.

Comet rolled his eyes and hoped nopony in the other rooms saw that. A quick look around confirmed that nopony else was in the corridor and all the doors were shut. He sighed and started walking down towards the mess hall…

“I’m sure ponies have told you this before, but you’re a real dick sometimes, Riptide.” Dahlia stated bluntly, having watched the whole charade. Dash smiled at Dahlia’s bluntness. Although she was a very friendly pony, she had no fear in telling somepony how it was, no matter how much it hurt.

“What?” Riptide shrugged, “the guy just needed a bit of encouragement. Who else is better suited for the task than me?” He said as he hopped back onto his bed, feeling contempt with himself.

“Oh I dunno, how about anypony else in this room but you?” Dahlia suggested.

“Ouch!” Riptide grimaced, “low blow there, Dahlly.” He chimed as he sat back down on his bed and picked up his magazine.

Rainbow snicked from behind her Daring Do book as their antics went on. So far, her roommates had always found a way to make her smile every day.

As she reached the final page, her stomach began to growl, indicating its desire to be filled with food. She glanced up at the clock. It was almost time for her to sneak out and meet Soarin anyway. Well, there was no sneaking required, she was simply walking to somewhere else in the building, as many other ponies do. Her only concern was that if she was caught ‘hanging around’ with Soarin, it might make other ponies think she was getting some ‘extra credit’. Which was the last thing she wanted. If she was going to win this thing, she was going to do it on the same ground as everypony else.

She finished the chapter and put the book down. As gripping as it was, making her want to get onto the next chapter right away, she had other things to attend to.

She gave her legs and wings a stretch, checking their fatigue. She was definitely still tired from this morning, but she felt a little bit refreshed. Enough for now anyway.

She got off her bed and trotted out of the room, none of her roommates questioning where she was going, which was pretty normal. She walked for a little bit more before she made it outside. There was nopony around, not even Soarin. But she was maybe a little bit early. She sat herself down as she waited for him, contemplating where he was taking her. He said he’d bring food, but where would he be getting it? Also, how was he getting away with hanging out with her so much without the other Wonderbolts noticing? Had they already noticed and didn’t care? Or had they noticed and was paying some sort of penalty for it? The possibilities were endless.

“Boo,” a familiar voice that had sneak up behind her spoke softly.

Dash grinned as she put the voice to a face in her mind. “You really do like to sneak up on me, don’t you?” She asked as she turned her head.

“Well, I just can’t help it when you give me so many opportunities,” Soarin joked in response.

Dash chuckled in response. “So, where we going?”

Soarin shrugged, “find a nice cloud, eat, relax...that’s pretty much it.” He motioned to a saddle bag he had over his back. It was just like a regular saddle bag, but with a Wonderbolts logo over it.

“Simple...I like it.” Dash replied, smiling. “Welp,” she extended her wings and took to a hover, “lead the way.”

Soarin nodded in response and flew up and out, with Dash in tow.

They flew for about half a mile before Dash started pointing out potential clouds that they could rest on.

“Nah, I wanna get further away from the compound.” Soarin stated as he continued flying.

Dash raised an eyebrow. He didn’t give a reason, which she found slightly strange. But nevertheless, she trusted him as a friend, and didn’t let it get in her way.

They flew for what seemed like miles until Soarin finally settled on a cloud. They both landed and sat down on the fluffy cloud. Soarin dropped his saddle bag onto the floor of the cloud and laid back against it.

“So, what’s on the menu of the restaurant of Soarin?” Dash asked, her hunger making her impatient.

“Well, I hope you don’t mind being a bit on the unhealthy side tonight, Dash.” Soarin replied as he started to undo the tabs on his saddle bag.

“At this point, I’m not that bothered. Anything will do,” she said with a chuckle.

Soarin smirked as he reached his hoof in. “Well, here’s a beauty that I got from my favourite bakery after we were woken up this morning.”

Out of his saddle bag came a pie...a big pie...a huge pie. It was so big that it was the only thing that fit in his saddle bag.

He took the tin foil off the top to reveal its pastry. Soarin licked his lips in anticipation. “Come. To. Papa…” he said through gallons of saliva as he pulled a knife out and started cutting.

He pushed the knife through, revealing the filling; blueberries. Dash licked her lips as she watched him line up the 2nd cut to complete the slice.

Soarin pulled the generous slice out and balanced the base on the knife and stopped it from falling off with his hoof. “Excuse the hoof,” he said as he passed it over to her.

“Don’t worry about it,” Dash replied. She was pretty certain that Soarin’s hooves were clean anyway. Not that it bothered her. As long as it hadn’t been spat in or dropped on the floor or had anything else that could’ve tampered with it, it was clean enough for her.

“So, how was today?” Soarin asked as he cut himself a slice.

“Fun, actually,” Dash replied, taking another bite. “I like these type of competitions where we’re actually competing against each other head on.”

“Yeah, I saw you racing at the derby practice track. You were pretty good.” He reached into the other side of his saddle bag, revealing a big bottle of some form of fruit juice, and some glasses. “You thirsty?”

“Not just yet, but I will be soon,” Dash replied. “And yeah, I did feel like I did good today. Although pretty much all the thinking was done by Comet.”

Soarin poured himself a glass. “Thought so,” he took a long swig from the glass. “Fleetfoot sure has some funny feelings about him.”

“Really?” Dash raised an eyebrow. “What makes you say that?”

“I saw her acting funny around him earlier. I asked her why, and she said that it was because she thinks of him more of a rival than a cadet, and it makes her nervous.” He shrugged as he finished explaining. “Don’t ask me why, that’s just the way she sees it.”

Dash’s eyes widened in realization. “He told me that he feels nervous around her because he thinks that she’ll expect big things from him. I guess the feelings mutual…” she began to snicker as she put more thought into it. “The two of them must be like watching a bad rom-com in the mess hall right now,” she said laughing.

“Haha, yeah -- wait, mess hall?” Soarin raised an eyebrow, catching up one of the little details Dash had mentioned.

Dash stopped laughing when she realised Soarin was speaking to her seriously. “She came into our room as started speaking with him, but then went to get some dinner in the mess hall, inviting him.” She explained.

Soarin took a moment to take in the information. After a few seconds, he looked at Dash, raised an eyebrow and smirked. “The rumors are gonna start spreading like wildfire,” he joked.

“They already are!” Dash replied, laughing, “Riptide immediately started giving him ‘advice’.”

“Riptide?” The name ringed a bell to Soarin. “Fleetfoot told me that a stallion tried hitting on her earlier, so she bucked him in the chest.”

“Yep, that’s the one!” Dash replied, “he thinks he’s such a ladies-stallion. Far from it though...”

“Oh yeah,” Soarin replied, rolling his eyes. “I know a couple…”

“So, what have you got in store for us tomorrow?” She asked, taking another slice of pie.

“Well, I’d love to tell you, but you know I can’t.” He said with a smirk as he took another slice.

Dash pouted, “not even just a little?” She chimed as she gave him the puppy dog eyes.

“Nope,” Soarin ran his hoof over his lips to make a sealing motion, “rules say I can’t say a word. No matter how cute you go on me.”

Dash almost choked as he said his last word, but managed to swallow to get it out of the way of her voice. “Cute? Don’t EVER call me cu--...that…” She growled aggressively as she leaned over to him.

“Don’t say it!” She almost shouted as she covered his mouth with her hoof. After she was certain, she pulled her hoof away.

Soarin held his expression for a few moments, then blinked and smirked. “I think I’ve just found your trigger word, Dash.” His smirk grew into a wide toothy grin.

Dash groaned as she rolled her eyes, feeling the heat in her cheeks rising. “You’re never gonna let me live that one down, are you?”

“Nope,” Soarin said proudly. “Don’t worry though, your secret’s safe with me.” He said with a wink. “Cute...” he whispered, just to wind her up.

Dash let out a long groan and lowered herself belly first into the cloud. Despite her awesomeness being compromised, she still has a question that arose because of it. “Do you mean it?” She tried her best to force it out, but she wasn’t able to get it any louder than a grumble.

Realising that the conversation had taken a more serious tone, Soarin put on a frown and raised an eyebrow. “What?” He questioned.

Rainbow sat back up and looked away from him, breaking all facial contact. “Do you...really think...I’m...y’know…” she was pretty sure that a couple of pegasi would be heading for her any minute, as her face turned into a bright red beacon.

Soarin breathed slowly to stop himself tensing up. He knew that Dash hated when her image was compromised, especially in front of a pony she’d consider her hero. He’d have to tread carefully. “I...guess you are…” he gritted his teeth and cringed, closing one eye as he expected an earful in response.

Rainbow remained silent for a few seconds, then sighed as she returned to her normal sitting position. “Thanks,” she said contently, “it’s just something I needed to know…” she opened her eyes and started off into the distance.

A sense of tense awkwardness filled the air, giving Soarin the impression that he just ruined their outing. But if he didn’t have the perseverance to try and recover, then he wouldn’t have the perseverance to be a Wonderbolt. “So, that black pegasus you raced in the final test. You totally blew him out of the water!” Changing the subject and feeding her ego at the same time was a sure fire winner in Soarin’s mind.

Dash smirked, “oh, Thunderlane? Yeah, he hasn’t a hope in hell in keeping up with me.” She bragged, her mood instantly picking up. “Good guy, but lazy as hell...”

“Well, they do say the laziest know how to get the job done the quickest with the least effort,” Soarin replied, taking a drink.

“I’ll remember that excuse,” Dash joked with a wink as she laid back against the cloud and poured herself a drink.

The 2 of them conversed about random things as they finished off the pie between them. Nothing too taxing, as Dash’s brain wasn’t up for it.

“The sun’s gonna be setting soon, we should head back.” Soarin suggested as he started packing things away.

“Probably a good idea,” Dash agreed as she stood up and streched, letting out a yawn as she did.

After Soarin had put everything back in his saddle bag, they took flight and headed back to the Wonderbolts HQ.

“I really like hanging out with you, Dash. Regardless of the outcome, we should do this more often. One way or another.”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Dash agreed, a little hesitation in her voice. “I’d love to introduce you to my friends at some point.”

They landed on the cloud just before the back door. “Well, I’ll see ya tomorrow, Dash.” Soarin said as he started to walk, but stopped just before he placed his first hoof. “Oh, one more thing.”

Dash hadn’t started moving yet, so she just remained in place and looked at him.

Soarin straight away shot a cheeky smirk at her. “Cute.”

“Oh shut up!” Dash laughed as she playfully shoved him, causing him to laugh with her.

“Never, Cutie!” He replied, pushing her off his shoulder.

“Shhh!” She put her hoof on his lips to silence him. “I don’t want everypony to hear.”

Respecting the fact that she had an image to maintain, Soarin calmed down and pushed through the door.

“If you were anypony else, I’d knock your teeth out right here, right now.” She commented as they entered the corridor.

Soarin snickered and rolled his eyes. “You can try,” he replied casually.

As the corridor split, they both went their separate ways. “See ya tomorrow, Rainbow.” He called as he walked off.

“Right, see ya,” Dash replied as she went in the opposite direction.

Soarin walked up to his room along the back of the facility. His room had a plaque on it that said ‘CDR SOARIN’ on it. He pulled out the key and began twisting it, waiting for the lock to bite so he could enter.

“Well, isn’t this interesting...”

Soarin felt a faint grumble escape his throat as he picked up the voice of his teammate. “What is it, Blaze?” He cut straight to the chase and threw his question out there.

“Wow, rude,” Blaze replied, closing the distance between her and Soarin. “Why do you always greet me like that? I know I sorta appear unexpectedly, but sheesh.” She was trying her best to suppress a smug smile.

Soarin rolled his eyes as he felt the lock bite, he pulled the key out and got ready to push through, but not without finish his conversation with Blaze first. He knew that Blaze didn’t leave until she was satisfied, and there was nothing he could do about that other than play along. “Were you spying on me?”

“Wow, again with the accusations,” she continued to taunt, rolling her eyes. “I was just curious...” her smug smile returned, “I know you like to get to know the cadets more than what we see in the training, but this is the...third time I think? Yeah, the third time I’ve seen you with Rainbow now...”

“If you’re implying what you think I’m implying, then the answer is no.” He put bluntly. He was normally pretty happy to play along with Blaze’s obvious attempts at trolling, but when she started prodding at something that could jeopardize his credibility, not to mention Dash’s chances in the trials, it made him get a little more edgy than usual.

“Oh really?” She said, a faint chuckle emanating from her. “I could’ve sworn I heard you call her ‘cute’ and ‘cutie’...”

“It’s nothing like that, okay?” He took his hoof off the door and turned his body towards her, looking her in the eye. “That’s just a joke we have between us. It doesn’t mean anything...”

“Sure it doesn’t,” she rolled her eyes again. “You definitely sure there isn’t any chemistry between you two? Because I see it.” She figured that if she kept asking the same question but in a different way, she would get the answer she wanted.

“We’re friends...and that’s it.” He said simply. Because to him, that’s it. That’s all he and Dash were. Friends. Albeit good friends. Very good friends.

“If you say so...buuuuut,” she leaned into him, onto his chest and looked up. She was a smaller pony than Soarin, so it wasn’t too bad for her. Soarin, however, had to shift his back legs to take her weight. “Let’s make up a hypothetical situation.Let’s say that, hypothetically, Dash takes your ‘friendship’ as something else, and starts developing feelings for you. How’d you react then, big fella? Hypothetically of course.”

“I...” Soarin froze as he thought about the question. “I, uh...” He broke eye contact with her as a blush formed across his cheeks.

“Awwww!” Blaze bought her hoof up above his head and gave him a noogie. She was able to get the rest of the answer from Soarin just from the way he reacted. “Soarwin wuvs Wainbow,” she teased him in a high pitched voice as if they were a filly and colt in a school playground.

“Hey,” Soarin used his foreleg to get her hoof off his head, shaking his head slightly to get his mane back in order. “I don’t, but...if she felt that way...then I’d give it a try.”

Blaze took herself off Soarin, looking up at him and smiling. “So you do like her then?”

Soarin stopped a groan coming out as he thought about. She was making it sound way more serious than it actually was, but in reality, she was partially right. “Well...yeah. I guess I do. A little...but I’m not actively seeking it. If it happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. There, you happy?” He felt stupid telling Blaze all this, but as nosey as she was, she was a pony he could trust to keep a secret and take it to her grave. Despite the fact that she could be a little immature...

Blaze took her own weight, sighed and shook her head. “I’ll never understand how a stallions brain works...” she said quietly as she looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. “So you like her, but...don’t like her?”

“What? No! I mean yes! I mean...ugh,” Soarin shook his head, “sort of...kinda like...” he sighed again. How could he explain it in a way the Blaze would understand? Or at least a way that would get her off his back? “I...I like to keep my options open. Does that sound better?”

“Hmm...” Blaze tapped her chin and her eyes looked upwards as she pondered Soarin’s answer. “I guess that makes sense. However, keeping your options open for what? Is there somepony else you’ve got your eye on?” She asked as she wiggled her eyebrows up and down at him. Despite her immaturity, she was a difficult one to get rid of until he said what she wanted him to say.

Seeing as he got her taking the bait, Soarin smirked as he formulated a sarcastic response. “Well, I’ve dated Spitfire in the past...me and Fleetfoot are pretty close...even you and I know each other quite well now, eh Blazey?” Feeling like he now had the upper hoof, he felt safe to call her by her pet name. Which was usually only a privilege Surprise got away with.

“Don’t call me that!” She snapped at him through gritted teeth. She sighed as she shook her head and brushed it off. Despite the fact that it was an easy nickname for her to obtain, she absolutely despised being called by it. “I can respect that, I guess...but word of the wise, hold your cards too close to your chest, and it becomes harder to let them go.” With her last words said, she turned and began to walk away.

Soarin raised an eyebrow as he watched her walk off. “Did you, Blaze, actually give me MEANINGFUL advice?”

“I’m just being a good friend and that’s the response I get? You’re welcome, Asshole.” She replied sarcastically as she turned a corner and went out of sight.

Soarin chuckled as he finally was able to push through the door into his room. Although Blaze was just trying to yank his chains, it still gave him more to think about that he would’ve liked. And he was still trying to work out what that last bit of ‘advice’ she gave him was all about, as he didn’t understand a word of it. He had a lot to think about...

Chapter 9

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Dash's eyes fluttered as she awoke. She blinked a few times, seeing the room slightly lightened, indicating that it was morning. She immediately shut her eyes again, not needing to take anything else in. They hadn’t been told to wake up yet, and that’s all she needed to know. She sighed and pushed her head back down into the pillow. Right now, there was nothing stopping her getting the precious few extra minutes of sleep she cherished…

...Or at least nothing apart from Riptide’s obnoxious snoring. She’d woken up to that noise pretty much every day since she started. She was starting to get fed up with it. No, scratch that, she was fed up with it. She had to do something about it, and now.

She suppressed a groan as she slowly raised herself around to sit on the edge of the bed. She didn’t want to get out of bed, but sorting out Riptide’s snoring was a good enough reason for her. Plus, she needed to go to the bathroom, so she was only delaying the inevitable anyway.

She blinked a few times whilst rubbing her eyes with her hoof as she discreetly trotted over to him, taking note of what was going on around her. Although not much, as everypony was still asleep.

The noise intensified as she pressed on through the low light until she reached the side of Riptide’s bed. He was generally sprawled out all over his bed, with his left hind leg outside the duvet, and his right foreleg hanging over the edge. When he let out his mini tornado of an exhale, it made his fringe flutter above his head, and when it fell back down, it brushed against his snout, making his nose scrunch. It looked like his mane was tickling his nose slightly.

Dash so just wanted to hit him or something to get him to shut up. But she wanted to do something creative. She looked around his space to see if there was anything she could use. He had his mare’s fitness magazine on his nightstand that he likes to ‘read’. Apart from that...he had barely anything out that she could prank him with. She attempted to open his drawers, but the squeaking noise it responded with made her think better of it.

With no immediate plan obvious, and with her body’s call for the bathroom becoming more pronounced, she gave up and trotted her way over to the bathroom.

She silently skulked her way into the bathroom, taking great care with the door and lock to make sure she made as little noise as possible. She wasn’t usually one for subtlety, but she knew how much she hated getting woken up, and didn’t want to inflict it on the other ponies in her room. Plus, if she wakes Riptide, that’s prank opportunity over. Can’t have that!

When she finished her business, she walked over to the sink and began washing her hooves whilst looking at herself in the mirror in front of her. Her eyes still felt heavy, but they didn’t look it. It was probably due to her only waking up a few minutes ago. But on the other hoof, her mane looked like a rainbow spaghetti factory exploded. She couldn’t help but smirk to herself at her wild hairstyle, as she moved her head around in various different poses to see if it suited her. Ultimately, her opinion was no.

She looked down at her forehooves. In her distraction with her mane, she had been repeatedly tapping the spring nozzle on the soap, which had slowly formed a huge white ball of foam that bulged outside of her hoof. Seeing this, she instantly got inspiration.

Riptide’s hoof...snoring...twitch...foam...yeah, she had something. Something good. She grinned a devilish grin as she quickly finished up washing her hooves, and proceeded out of the bathroom, taking the container of soap foam with her…

She creeped back up to Riptide’s bed, finding him unmoved from the position she found him in a few minutes ago. She double-checked her surroundings to make sure nopony was watching. Although she’d probably be encouraged more than anything, she wanted it to remain a surprise.

As she thought, everypony was still out cold. She could only just hear their quiet inhales and exhales over the airhorn rivalling decibels of Riptide’s snores. She looked ahead to double check Horizon and Crash Dive.

“Marco…” Crash Dive whispered on his exhale.

“Polo…” Horizon did the same.





Dash rolled her eyes and shook her head at their display. Was it a coincidence, or were they genuinely sharing the same dream? Given the random things they were capable of, she wouldn’t doubt them of it…

She raised the soap container up to Riptide’s hoof and gently squeezed the first drop out onto his hoof. She paused briefly, making sure he wasn’t reacting. She did this for the first few squirts, but after confirming that he was completely out, she just squeezed on as much as she could without it dribbling down his foreleg.

She was about to call it quits there and then, but another bolt of inspiration struck her when she saw the posters he had stuck up behind him. Although the light was faint, she could only just make out their details. She took a step forward, making sure she wouldn’t bump anything, then leant out and placed her hoof on it. She could feel under her hoof that it was laminated, confirming that she could use it to add to her prank.

Using both forehooves, she gently peeled each one individually from the blu tac that was holding them to the wall and placed them on top of his duvet. Once they were all there, she squirted a couple of squirts over them. Since they were laminated, the soap wouldn’t damage them.

When the look was complete, she took a few steps back to admire her handiwork. Him, the bed, the posters, the creamy white stuff...yeah, it looked perfect.

“Heh heh heh…” she silently chuckled to herself as she crept back to the bathroom, put the soap back, then climbed back into her bed. All she had to do now was wait and hear for her prank to unfold.

Thinking back on it, she did think that she was maybe being a little too brutal on the guy...but then again, he did slap her butt. What goes around comes around. Almost literally for Riptide…

Dash wasn’t able to get back to sleep again. She was getting excited about the day ahead and what Soarin had planned for them. She was able to rest her eyes for the next hour or so, but that’s about as far as she got.

“AHHH, WHAT THE - pffff!” Riptide’s voice echoed throughout the room, causing everypony to spring up from their slumber. Crash Dive hit the light switch to illuminate the room, making Dash cover her eyes slightly as her eyes hadn’t adapted to the light.

It only took a second for Dash to confirm that had done exactly what she predicted he would. His mane tickling his muzzle had caused him to try and rub his face, but he ended up throwing the soap all over himself.

Prank successful.

It didn’t take Dahlia too long to put together the pieces. He was in bed, with his posters in front of him, covered in white stuff. “Oh wow, got a bit excited in the middle of the night there, Riptide?” She said through laughs that couldn’t be contained.

“Oh god,” even Bright Skies was losing it, “it’s everywhere!” She pulled her duvet to her face to wipe her tears.

Riptide felt his face flush so hot that it probably could melt all of...whatever this stuff was. The smell was a dead giveaway to let him know that it was actually soap. “Alright, very funny,” he grumbled as he wiped his face, trying to avoid getting any in his eyes. “Own up, who was it?” He asked as he spat out the remaining soap.

“Well, payback’s a bitch, ain’t it?” Dash replied, hoping that he would understand what she was implying.

Riptide recalled his actions from yesterday that involved Dash, and realised what she was paying him back for. He sighed a heavy sigh, knowing that he had it coming to him. Although he was very relaxed about it all. He had to hoof it to Dash, it was a pretty good prank.

Dahlia sighed as her laughing ceased and sat upright in her bed. “Well, I’m now awake. What do you think they’ve got in store for us today?” She asked out loud to nopony in particular.

“More action, I hope,” Dash replied. To be honest, it was all she ever hoped for. Action, action, and more action with a slice of action on the side. She hated all the games that made her tax her brain, she just wanted to fly fast. Although she knew that she’d need to do more than that to make the cut.

“Or maybe something completely different,” White Comet added, thinking the exact opposite of Dash. But he was a much more logical pony, so it made sense.

“Something testing our brains would be nice…” Bright Skies added into the conversation, but was so quiet that nopony really picked up on it. Partly due to her shyness, but also partly due to the fact that she was still waking up slightly.

The time continued to go on, but they weren’t getting a wakeup call. The clock went past 8AM. Then 9AM. Then eventually 10AM. Not that anypony was complaining, because it meant extra time in bed, but Dash was starting to feel a little hungry.

“What do you think’s going on? We should’ve been called up by now.” Dash questioned as she stood up from her bed to stretch her legs.

“Dunno, but I ain’t complaining,” Dahlia replied, sitting upright, but with her forehooves behind her head and leaning back against the bedframe with her eyes closed.

“Do you think they’ve given us a day off and they forgot to tell us?” Horizon said sarcastically.

“Ha! You wish,” his twin brother replied, moving onto the edge of his bed.

“Do you think maybe we missed the call? That would be embarrassing if we were the only room left…” Bright Skies suggested.

“Well, considering how loud they normally wake us up, I doubt we missed it.” White Comet replied, raising a good point.

“Do you think somepony should go out there and check?” Dahlia suggested, not moving from her relaxed position.

“Why, thank you so kindly for volunteering, Dahlia,” Horizon replied as he suddenly appeared next to her, attempting to pull her out of bed.

“Uhh, nope,” she pushed him away as he tried to pull her up. “You’re already out of bed, you go do it.”

“Nah…” Horizon trotted back to his bed. “It’s all the way out there…”

“You could use the exercise,” Crash Dive commented from the bed opposite.

“Pass,” he replied before resting against the bedframe with his eyes closed.

“Oh for crying out loud!” Torque exclaimed as he got out of bed. “I’ll do it.”

He walked in what could almost be considered a stomp to the door and swung it open. He glanced either side, to see that nopony was around. However, at the end of the corridor, he saw a piece of paper with some writing on it. However, he couldn’t make it out at the distance he was.

He started walking down the corridor to the piece of paper. Intrigued as to what got him walking, Dash walked over to the door of their room as some other ponies joined her. As she watched him walk down, a few more doors opened to the sound of the hoofsteps of his particularly loud walking. He wasn’t exactly a subtle pony. But seeing that there were other ponies up, it confirmed that they weren’t the only ones confused by this.

Torque walked up to the piece of paper at the end of the corridor and read it.

‘stand back’

His mind immediately interpreting the note as some form of test, he darted backwards as quickly as he could, using his wings to assist him. His sudden movements made everypony else who was watching him jump.

A second later, a stallion appeared from what appeared to be out of the ceiling, landing on all 4 hooves. “Finally, somepony decided to take the initiative. Bonus points for you, cadet,” Soarin announced with a smile.

Torque smirked at his accomplishment, looking up at the same time. He saw a vent with the grate hanging by its hinges. He immediately put 2 and 2 together to figure that Soarin was waiting in the vent until somepony ‘took the initiative’. And that somepony was him.

Soarin walked past him to address all the cadets that had gathered in the corridor. “As a Wonderbolt, you won’t always have somepony holding your hoof through everything telling you what to do. You’ll have to take initiative and figure it out for yourselves. Now get yourselves ready and meet me in the mess hall for breakfast.” He ordered, sternly and precisely, then dissapeared off. Presumably to the mess hall to wait for them.

Dash did a double-check on what she just saw. She’d met him both outside and inside these trials, and he’d never spoken so seriously, precisely, or with authority before. The sudden twist completely threw off her image of him. He’d suddenly become more of a commander that she would expect in something like the Royal Guard, or the Equestrian Royal Airship Force. Not the goofy, carefree stallion that took her out to dinner the other day.

Despite his sudden change in personality, she had just been given a job to do; get ready to rumble, then get some breakfast.

Her and her roommates took turns in the shower, then once she was suited up, she went to the mess hall to get her breakfast. She kept her breakfast basic, but still very nutritious. Besides, she had a sweet tooth for fruits anyway.

“Well, today's already looking interesting…” Soarin said as everypony was just finishing breakfast and getting ready for the day ahead. “Today’s test is going to be a very unique one in terms of the way it's judged. But it’s also very relevant to the Wonderbolts. You’re going to pair up in teams of two and design and perform your own aerobatics show.”

Dash’s ears perked up at his instructions. A chance to do her own routine? A chance to show her own personal moves to the Wonderbolts? What better opportunity was there to prove she was the best? She smirked at yet another challenge that would prove to be a piece of cake. But her joy was short-lived as she remembered a crucial piece of information. She’d have to be paired with somepony else. Her excitement died down at the thought of who she’d be paired with. Hopefully somepony good…

“The show can be whatever you want, but it must be no longer than five minutes. Your partner will be whoever you choose. Or whoever you’re left with in some circumstances. You have two hours to come up with something, then perform it. Get on with it,” he said his final words before taking his leave. His instructions were pretty clear, they could do anything they wanted.

Dash watched as the mess hall lived up to its name and started turning into a mess. Everypony was walking or flying everywhere to try and get to somepony to form a pair. She wasn’t entirely sure who she’d pick as her teammate, so she wasn’t that quick to get up. She could think of a few advantages and disadvantages of each pony that came to her mind, but it was all a bit too complicated to her. She’d still try and find somepony, but it would be much easier if somepony came to her.

She went through her teammates to see whether they would be able to match her or not. Crash Dive and Horizon, as predicted, had already grabbed each other and were off to planning. White Comet wasn’t in sight. Torque was sitting on his own, unmoved from his previous position. He was obviously expecting somepony to come to him. A few ponies asked Riptide, but he ignored them. However, when a mare asked him, he was very quick to say yes. That’ll be the biggest mistake she ever makes…

Bright Skies was also sitting on her own. It looked like her shyness was preventing her from talking to anypony to get herself paired up. Dash felt really bad for her, as she could sympathize from being friends with a similar pony for so long. She really wanted to do that right thing and go offer her the opportunity to pair up with her, but Dash felt like Bright Skies wouldn’t be able to handle some of the things she had in mind…

Dash suddenly stopped looking for other ponies as she reconsidered Bright Skies. A pony behind her bumped into her at her sudden stop. She apologised without paying much attention and stepped to the side, out of the way of one of the main walkways between the rows of tables and chairs.

A thought had hit her like a tidal wave. Why wasn’t it obvious before? Bright Skies was an author. She was writing her own book. Admittedly, Dash had no idea what it was about, or how good it was. Hell, it could even just be a cover-up for her diary. But it was more than she could ever do. Authors had to be naturally creative, right? So Bright Skies must have a pretty good mindset when it came to creativity. That, and she was also very smart, rivaling Twilight’s IQ in Dash’s opinions. Creativity and intelligence...their combination could produce some amazing moves.

Selling herself the deal, Dash made a U-turn and trotted up to Bright Skies. “Hey, Bright,” she chimed, hoping to radiate a positive vibe. “Wanna team up?” She asked nonchalantly.

Bright Skies hesitated before responding. “Umm...sure!” She agreed, but her flat expression implied she had another question on her mind. “Are you sure?”

“Wouldn’t ask you if I weren’t!” Dash replied before turning. “Come on, let's go practice!” She announced as she trotted to the exit.

Bright Skies was hesitant at first, but instantly warmed up to Dash’s friendliness. She followed her out of the door and to wherever Dash was going. Presumably outside, as that the was the only practical place to practice flight moves.

As they arrived outside, Dash already saw some pegasi practicing or discussing flight patterns. But she didn’t want anypony eavesdropping as much as she could help it. She looked over her shoulder at Bright Skies. “Let’s find a cloud a bit further away, stop other ponies from eavesdropping,” she suggested as she spread her wings. Bright Skies simply followed Dash.

Dash found a cloud that still kept them in sight, but far enough away that they wouldn't be able to be heard discussing their routines. “So, have you got anything you wanna put out there before I start rambling? ‘Cus I’ve got a lotta stuff up here,” Dash said with a chuckle at the end whilst she tapped her forehead.

“Uhh...well...y-you go on ahead,” she hesitated, “I’ll add in when I feel like it.”

Dash didn’t have any problem with that. After all, Bright Skies said it, not her.

“Then a loop-de-loop after the Sonic Rainboom and BAM!” Dash punched the air to further reiterate her point. “The grand finale. Whaddya think?” She beamed as she immediately sat herself back down a little in front of Bright Skies to hear her feedback.

“Well…” Bright Skies stared off to her left and downwards. “I like it, but...can we change the ending?”

“Change? The Sonic Rainboom? My Signature move? Are you nuts!? That’s what’s going to blow everypony’s minds!” She exclaimed, probably a little louder than she should’ve. The mere thought of leaving the Sonic Rainboom out of a performance that she’d be challenged to give her best at made her want to tear her mane out in confusion.

“Not remove it, just change it a little bit…” Bright Skies said a little louder over her outburst.

...Or she could’ve just overreacted.

She plopped herself back down and raised her right eyebrow. “Go on…” She held her forehooves together as she listened.

The way Dash was staring her down made it feel like she was the one judging her. But everything was clear-cut in Bright Skies’ precise, logical mind, which made it easier to speak. Plus, Dash had become one of her good friends over the past few days, which also lowered her nerves.

There was also another determining factor. She interpreted Dash’s controlling nature of this exercise to be very intimidating. However, there was a substantial flaw with her plan, which made her want to fight her fire with her own fire.

The edges of her mouth curled up ever so slightly as she took a deep breath to begin her explanation.

“The delivery of the Sonic Rainboom is flawed. It is flawed in the way that you achieve the velocity to perform the Sonic Rainboom and then perform the turn. To perform a turn at that speeds, the circle would have to take a very wide arc. Which would be fine if we were at least double the altitude, but we’re not. And don’t just say that you can take the turn tighter, because even if you could withstand the G-forces without breaking bones, the G-forces would just knock you out anyway. In order to overcome this problem, you need to initiate the turn before hitting supersonic speeds. That will require less initial force to begin the maneuver, and therefore compensate for the tight radius of the turn. However, this does leave us with another problem. Since you will be turning somewhat, you will be unable to fully utilize your wingpower to create the Sonic Rainboom. To compensate for this, you’re going to have to use a combination of wind and gravity. We’ll set up beforehoof to make sure that we’ll be downwind at the end.”

Bright Skies spoke with much more energy than Dash had previously seen. It was like she had some sort of fire burning inside her waiting to be released. And this was the way she did it.

Dash managed to keep up for the first few words, but the rest might as well have been radio static for her. “I…” she tipped her head to the side, “think I get it…” she raised an eyebrow. “But just in case, could you explain that all again, just in Equestrian this time?”

Bright Skies sighed at the thought of having to repeat herself. But at the same time, she was feeling a warm, tingling sensation in her chest from the feeling of outsmarting somepony who she considered a better flyer than her.

“You can’t Sonic Rainboom and then turn. You need to turn and Sonic Rainboom at the same time, using the wind and gravity to help you get speed.” She said as nonchalantly as she possibly could, hoping her tone would help relay to Dash how simple this really was.

“Ooooh!” Dash chimed as all the pieces of the puzzle slotted together in her head. Why couldn’t have she just said that in the first place? “I get it.”

Finally clearing that up, Bright Skies could move on to the next order of business. “Also, I would like to rearrange a few things. They’re good stunts, but they’re just too...predictable. I think it would have a better effect if we changed a few things around to leave the audience, in this case Soarin, to wondering what’s going to happen next?”

Damn...Bright Skies had a very good point. “So what did you have in mind?” Dash asked, reconsidering her options with her stunts.

“Well…” Bright Skies lowered her hoof into the cloud to engrave into it. “Something like this…”

“Hmm…” Dash rubbed her chin, “so our moves will naturally move the clouds into place as were doing them?”

“That’s right,” Bright Skies replied. “Since the audience will be distracted by our performance, they won’t notice.”

“Subtlety with power…” Dash’s lips slowly formed a grin, “I like it.”

Bright Skies silently breathed a sigh of relief at the reception of her ideas. She was starting to run out of words to explain them to Rainbow Dash. “So, do you want to do some practicing?”

“I know all the moves already, I just need to practice stringing them together like that,” Dash replied, the first thing that she could confidently say she fluently understood in this whole conversation

“Alright, well, I guess we should arrange some clouds and get started,” Bright Skies suggested. “I’ll go look over here,” she said as she flew off.

“Cool, I’ll do the same,” Dash replied as she flew in the opposite direction. As she went on her search, she saw the other cadets gathering their required number of clouds for whatever it was they were doing and practicing their flight manoeuvres. Dash attempted to look around to see if she could take some inspiration for manoeuvres of her own that she could bring back to suggest to Bright Skies. But much to what she expected, nothing was anywhere near as awesome as her moves. At least in her mind anyway. Soarin’s mind might be an entirely different case though…

Their routine didn’t require a huge number of clouds, but the type and consistency was key, which Dash and Bright made sure of as they gathered them.

“Okay then, everything appears to be ready,” Bright Skies said as she made one final adjustment to the positioning of one of the clouds.

“Gotcha,” Dash replied, “this intro sequence is kinda tricky. I wanna get this dialled in.”

“Just don’t fly into each other,” Bright Skies replied, moving onto one of the clouds to begin practicing.

“Sounds like a plan…” Dash added as she did the same.

‘Alright, gradual turn to keep the speed,’ Dash banked around slowly into a dive, picking up her speed but controlling her rate of turn so she took a wide arc. ‘Can’t turn too tight, I need speed for a Sonic Rainboom.’ She wasn’t planning to actually perform the Sonic Rainboom on her practice run, but she wanted to get as close as she could for a more realistic practice.

As she continued the circle, she saw an air cone begin to form around her, indicating that she was nearing supersonic speeds. She held her speed and predicted when she would hit the Sonic Rainboom if she were to continue accelerating, using her past experience as a reference.

She did a few circles before Bright Skies popped out of what seemed out of nowhere, but it was actually what they strategically set up with the clouds in order to make it look like that. She dived towards Rainbow Dash, and at the last minute, they locked their forelegs together and started spinning in a really tight circles. A few grunts escaped them as the G-forces caused by the sudden swing forced the air out of their lungs.

The speed at which they were turning in such a narrow circle starting creating a force that pulled all the clouds towards them and made them all clump up underneath them, forming a floating pedestal. As the energy of the spin eventually died down, they both let gravity take them gently onto the cloud. Dash landed on her back with her hind legs crossed and her forehooves behind her head. Dahlia landed on her belly with her head supported by her forehooves on her chin.

“See...piece of cake…” Dash declared through wheezes as she caught her breath. That bit was maybe a little harder than she first anticipated.

“If this doesn’t...give me a heart attack...I’ll be surprised.” Bright Skies joked through her own wheezes.

Dash bought herself to her hooves and looked around, noticing that there was less ponies than there was before. “How long have we been practicing?”

“Well…” Bright Skies looked at the big clock on the outside of the building. It was used so those who were training outside were able to tell the time. It read 12:30 pm. “Do you think Soarin called us in and we missed it?”

“Nah, we’ve just been practicing for a while. Everypony else probably took a break…” Dash presumed.

“Oh…” Bright Skies contemplated, “maybe we should do the same?” She suggested. It didn’t sound like a bad idea, considering how much they had been training.

“Perhaps,” Dash replied as she took off. “Lets go see what’s going on.”

Bright Skies followed her forwards back towards the building. Much to what Dash presumed, there was a large number of cadets that were just talking amongst their pairs, either discussing the details some more or just simply taking a break from practicing.

“Do you wanna take a break?” Dash asked Bright Skies. She had a thought in the back of her mind that suggested that maybe Bright Skies did, but was too shy to ask

“Uhh...I would like too…” Bright Skies replied, “but if you’d like to keep practicing, that’s fine too…”

“Nah, we could use a little break. Besides, it’s probably nearly time for lunch anyway. Soarin will probably come and call us inside in a minute.” Judging by the time, Rainbow presumed that anyway.

The slower pace as they descended to the cloud in front of the building helped cool them down from all the intense maneuvers they were just performing. Although it would probably double in effort when they did it for real.

They glided down and gently landed on the cloud with a few other ponies. “Well, now we’re thinking about it,” Dash sat down on the cloud, “is there anything else you can think of?”

“Nope, we’re pretty much covered,” Bright Skies replied with a smile as she took a seat next to her.

“So, how’d you find my moves back there?” The egotistical voice of their overly-flirty roommate came from their right side.

“Oh, you had me hanging at every turn,” the voice of a mare replied.

Dash and Bright Skies turned their heads to take a look at what was going on. Riptide was sitting next to a mare with a violet coat and light faded pink center parted mane.

“I bet I did. But there’s plenty more where that came from,” he said whilst leaning back and towards her slightly.

“Like?” The mare asked.

Riptide wrapped his wing around her and gently leaned in. Dash and Bright Skies could see from his mouth moving that he was whispering something. The mare’s pupils dilated and a very visible blush formed on her cheeks. “Well...that sounds like...fun…” her last word had a deeper sound to it.

“Save it for later, after the judging,” Riptide added.

Bright Skies would be lying if she said her jaw wasn’t even slightly parted. “Did...that just happen?” She asked Rainbow Dash.

“Hold on, let me check,” Dash replied as she raised her right hoof as high as it would go then bought it crashing down on top of her head. “Ow!” She groaned as she rubbed the spot on her head that she just hit. “Yep, this isn’t a dream. That definitely just happened.”

“...Wow…” Was the only word that could escape Bright Skies lips. “How d--”

“No idea,” Dash replied, deliberately interrupting as nothing more needed to be said.

As if right on cue, the door to the HQ opened, revealing Soarin. “I’m seeing a lot of interesting things here...” he spoke as he slowly took one step out away from the door. “...but fancy moves will only get you so far.” He said slowly and seriously. “Hope you’ve got something special lined up, because you’re about to prove it. We’ll get lunch now, but we’re performing straight after lunch.” He turned back on himself towards the door. “Let’s not waste time. Come on,” he didn’t bother holding the door open, as there was about to be a load of pegasi behind him coming through behind him anyway.

“Well, I don’t plan on performing on an empty stomach,” Dash said as she stood up and followed her competitors towards the door.

“Agreed,” Bright Skies added as she followed Dash.

As Dash ate lunch with Bright Skies, they tried their best to talk about their routine, but that proved a challenge for Dash with food in front of her. The adrenaline was kicking in and causing her to eat faster and harder than she usually would, to the point where it would almost be considered bad manners. She’d be lying if she said nerves weren’t a factor, but it was mostly adrenaline. It would be the first time that she got to perform HER OWN routines for the Wonderbolts...well, her’s and Bright Skies...but mostly hers...sort of…

Dash almost choked on her last bite, but reached for a swig of water just in time before she joked, successfully unblocking the bit of bread lodged in her throat.

“Lunch over, it’s time! Ready or not!” Soarin shouted as he motioned towards the door.

Dash slowly inhaled and exhaled to calm herself slightly as she got ready to do nothing but her best. Anything less would be unacceptable. This was the moment she would wow them and earn herself the most points. She could feel it.

She walked so fast she was almost dragging Bright Skies with her. Bright Skies was trying her best to keep up with Dash, but her legs were shorter than hers. That, and Dash was pushing past ponies to get to the front. Bright Skies didn’t feel comfortable doing that. Was was the rush anyway? They would all get their fair chance.

“Line up with your partner's, first come first served! I’ll give you a few minutes to get prepped.” Soarin instructed as he unfolded a chair and took a seat, clipboard and pen in hooves.

"Aww yeah! Our time to shine, Bright!" Dash exclaimed as she raced towards the front, but hesitated after the first few steps as she didn't get a response. "Bright?" She looked over her shoulder.

"Ooh sorry, pardon me, sorry, sorry, ooh, sorry." Bright Skies was getting swamped by the stampede of pegasi trying to form a somewhat orderly line. Whilst Dash had a more aggressive approach when it came to getting a place in line, Bright Skies was simply too modest to do that. She was more than happy to get in whatever place she ended up in. They would all have a fair chance after all.

Dash groaned a little under her breath as she hovered a few feet into the air to avoid the pegasi she would otherwise be walking against. "C'mon Bright!" Dash groaned as she grabbed her hoof and pulled her through. Her logic was the more she pulled Bright Skies out of her comfort zone, the more confident and assertive she would eventually become.

Dash sighed as the rush finally halted. They were a lot further back than they wanted to be (or rather Dash wanted to be), but on the bright side, she would be able to watch a few performances before them, so she could get a judgement on how good the competition was.

Over the course of the few ponies in front of them performing, some of them actually had really good routines, full of all types of tricks. Some of them didn’t do much more than flybys, which was...well, to Dash, it was almost depressing for her to watch. They had been given all this time to come up with a flight routine and all they could come up with was a lousy flyby? It looked cool, if you had nothing to prove...but...that’s kinda the reason they’re here…

Dash squinted as the sky in front of her just became a lot clearer. A pony was blocking their view, but he had just gone. Meaning...they were now at the front of the line! Dash rolled her shoulders a little to relax herself. Her brain started going through a solution to every problem it could think of. The anticipation sure was getting her adrenaline pumping.

“Nervous?” Bright Skies squeaked out. If anything, she was the exact opposite of Dash. Nervous as hell, her tension so thick it could be cut with a knife. But she found making conversation eased the pressure in these situations, which is why she started talking to Dash.

“Nah,” Dash shrugged off, “just excited.”

They paid close attention to the pair that were performing in front of them. Despite the usual flying tricks, one thing stood out most of all; either one or both of them were REALLY good at cloud art. Making all different shapes and sculptures in the midst of their routine.

“Nice, nice…” Soarin was being a stallion of few words today. Dash was almost certain that it was all an act. He did say that he was serious when needed to be though. This could be what he meant. She just didn’t expect his personality to take such a huge swing in the opposite direction.

After he had finished writing, he looked at Dash and Bright Skies and flicked his head to tell them to step forward. Rainbow and Bright complied and took a few steps forward until they were only a few feet away. Rainbow did her best to hold a straight face. She had to remember that at the moment he wasn’t her friend. He was her judge. An obstacle she would have to overcome to reach her dream.

“So, Rainbow Dash and Bright Skies?” He began, writing on his clipboard. “Let’s see how this goes…” he finished writing and looked up, “You’ve got ten minutes to prepare. Show me what you’ve got.”

Bright and Dash nodded and took off in unison. They arranged the clouds in the patterns that they had agreed on. After telling Soarin they were ready, he instructed them to go on their mark.

Dash calmed herself even more as much as she could before beginning. She’d done it plenty of times before, but the thought of being judged by Soarin was bringing her nerves to the surface. She could NOT afford to screw this up.

Dash and Bright flew besides each other in unison towards the onlooking crowd. As they reached them, Dash suddenly pulled a huge climb whilst Bright continued on her path. She pumped her wings hard to fight gravity as much as she could. But she knew she would eventually stall. That was her plan.

As her speed slowly decreased before she eventually reached a standstill in midair, she released the tension on her wings and let herself glide down, angling her wings so they would deliberately start putting her into a spin. She span towards the ground under gravity's own will, picking up speed.

As the audience was captivated by Dash’s display, wondering how and when she would recover from the spin. She had plenty of altitude, and it wasn’t the hardest stall in the world. A foal could get out of it. But why wasn’t she? What was she planning?

Whilst all thoughts were on Dash, Bright Skies appeared from below them and raced upwards towards where Rainbow was falling from. She maintained her spin and Bright passed right through her center of rotation. With that part of the routine now out of the way, Dash narrowed her wings and recovered herself from the spin, picking up some more speed before flowing down to the cloud and flying just a few feet from their heads, trailing a strong breeze that ruffled everypony’s manes behind her.

The two of them separated in opposite directions but into a series of clouds that made up a course that was mirrored on either side. As they begun going through all the twists and turns, they did their best to keep an eye on each other. The technique to making this look good was to do it as perfectly in sync as they could. It was very difficult, but if they pulled it off, it would represent their incredible skill in synchronised flying.

As they came out of the final turn, they headed towards each other, but with about half a pony’s width gap between them. As they closed to a couple of feet, they extended their right forelegs and locked them with each other, using their centrifugal force to change direction. Since Dash was a much bigger pony than Bright, it had less of an effect on her and more of an effect on Bright. Whilst Dash started heading upwards, she sent Bright downwards towards the ground, rapidly gaining speed.

Bright Skies flew down and underneath the cloud the audience was standing on. However they didn’t bother themselves too much when Bright went out of vision, as they just shifted their attention to Rainbow Dash above them, climbing high.

‘Okay, time to go,’ Dash thought as she turned herself around so her back was facing the ground, then began a gentle turn to prepare for her circular Sonic Rainboom.

She continued to accelerate and turn at the same time and in what seemed like no time at all, she saw the air cone starting to form around her. She had a brief look around to see if she could spot Bright Skies. However she didn’t pay too much attention as she had her own things to concentrate on.

The wind resistance pushed against her, but she pushed harder, determined to break through it no matter what. With a final flap of her wings, she briefly saw her forehooves past through its apex before it flew right by her, emitting a loud sonic boom and leaving a trail of rainbows in her wake.

Dash clenched her right foreleg briefly before realising that she still had the vertical circle manoeuvre to hold. Completing the Sonic Rainboom always left her with a feeling of satisfaction. She had to push herself so hard to get herself to supersonic speeds, but when she finally did, it was like a parachute holding her back had just been cut, letting her run free.

She performed another loop before Bright Skies came into her peripheral vision at a rapid rate. She couldn’t quite figure out the closing distance, but not taking any chances, she extended her forehooves to give Bright Skies something to latch on to.

Bright Skies locked forehooves with Dash and, using each other’s centrifugal force, starting spinning around at incredibly fast speeds, using their wings to change the orientation of the spin from vertical to horizontal. The resulting suction force of creating a mini tornado pulled all the clouds they had previously been using towards them, forming a big pile of cloud beneath them. As their inertia slowly began to wind down, they eventually lost enough to prevent them from staying airborne, and plopped down onto the cloud beneath them.

The cloud didn’t form evenly, and therefore had an uneven surface to it, making their landing a bit awkward. But they still managed to pull off the positions they practiced, with Dash on her back with her hind legs crossed and her forehooves behind her head, and Bright Skies landing in front of her on her belly with her head supported by her forehooves. They held their finishing position as they looked at Soarin sitting in front of them.

Soarin held his expression as he started writing on his clipboard. “So that’s the Sonic Rainboom that I was knocked out before I could see last time.” Despite his serious expression, he spoke in a very friendly manner.

Dash chuckled, immediately picking up that he was referencing the incident at the Young Fliers Competition. Glancing below her briefly, she saw that Bright Skies was looking up at her with a confused look. “Tell ya later,” she said quietly as her focus returned to Soarin, waiting for him to finish writing.

“Nice going you two,” Soarin said as he finished writing and looked into the line. “Next,” he instructed as the next pair of Pegasi walked up to him.

Dash and Bright Skies gave the clouds a few kicks to disperse them, then got out of the way of the next pair preparing.

“Yaay!” Dash suddenly felt a set of forelegs wrap around her neck. “We knocked that one outta the park, don’t ‘cha think Dash?” The volume at which Bright Skies spoke, combined with her mouth’s proximity to Dash’s left ear, made it feel like her eardrum was going to rattle out of its mountings.

Judging by the way Dash’s body froze up when she pounced on her, Bright Skies immediately presumed the obvious. “Oh. Right…” she slowly backed off and looked away. “Too soon? Too close?”

“Nah, no problems...I just wasn’t expecting it at all…” Dash explained. She seriously wasn’t expecting such an exciting response from Bright Skies. In fact, she was probably the last pony Dash would’ve expected to react like that.

“Oh...hehe…” Bright Skies nervously chuckled whilst covering her face to hide her blush, despite the flight suit doing a good job of that already. She just did it out of habit.

They took their places to the sidelines to watch the remainder of the airshows. A good half of them actually impressing Dash, which was quite a feat in her book. There was a number of screw-ups, but to Dash, that was just the amateurs trying to impress, and failing at it. How Soarin would see it, however, was up to him. As it did show that they were trying to challenge themselves.

They even got a musical duet from Crash Dive and Horizon. Dash wasn’t sure what she was least expecting. The fact that they did a musical air show, or the fact that they were actually AMAZING singers.

“Welp, that’s the last of ‘em.” Soarin said as he stood up from his chair. “Some good performances, some not so good,” he commented as he folded the chair back up. “Go get some rest. I’ve got some math to do.” He finished as he started walking off with the chair under his wing.

Dash followed the crowd into the shower, tossing her flight suit into the basket. She walked into the first shower unit avaliable, feeling quite proud of her and Bright Skies’ performance.

“Well, they say seeing is believing, am I right? That looked great!” The familiar voice of Dahlia appeared to the left of her.

Dash brushed her mane back to look at Dahlia, still trying to process what you meant. “Uh...what?” She replied with.

“The Sonic Rainboom,” Dahlia assisted.

“Oh!” Her words made Dash recall what she said when they first met. She’d heard about the Sonic Rainboom, but not actually seen it. “Yeah. Pretty cool, huh?”

“Pretty cool? You made a rainbow explosion out of thin air. ‘Pretty cool’ doesn’t even come close to it!” Dahlia continued to praise. “Hey, did you see that mare with Riptide earlier?”

Dash snorted as Dahlia bought it up. “I thought the exact same thing,” she replied, knowing that she wouldn’t have to give any context, as they both clearly knew it already.

Dahlia casually pointed over her shoulder, as if she was trying to make it not seem obvious that she was pointing. “She’s over there.”

Dash looked in the direction Dahlia was pointing. She had just turned the shower off and was getting ready to leave. She obviously wasn’t keen on wasting any time in here. But despite all the bashing they were going to give to Riptide… “she actually looks…”

“Respectable,” Dahlia finished off for Dash. “I know. I was expecting somepony who looks as scruffy as him with the brains of him.”

“I don’t think they exist,” Dash joked with her. “But seriously, they were getting kind of...close…” She said for lack of a better word.

“Yeah...I hope Riptide doesn’t do anything stupid…” Dahlia said.

“Well, I hate to disappoint ya, but…” Dash didn’t need to say anymore, as Dahlia easily finished the joke in her head, making them both chuckle. “Were you expecting that song from Horizon and Crash Dive?”

“To be frank, I wasn’t expecting that at all.” Dahlia replied, “we need to find out how they got such good singing voices.”

Dash shrugged, “you’ll never get a straight answer. I’ve already figured that out.”

They both exchanged a few more words before they finished in the showers and headed back to their room. Where they found Crash Dive, Horizon, Torque, Bright Skies and White Comet waiting for them.

“Alright, so how did you two get such good singing voices?” Dahlia asked as she walked over to her bed.

“We’ve always been good at it,” Crash Dive added.

Dash chuckled as she walked by Torque, who was preening. “Didn’t see you giving us much eye-candy out there, Torque.” She questioned, referring to his flight routine with his partner.

Torque spat a feather out before speaking. “I have no interest in showing off,” he said simply before returning his attention to his right wing.

“Well...isn’t that...kinda what the Wonderbolts do?” Dash replied, confused by his answer. Although she wouldn’t say the Wonderbolts showed off. They definitely had the skills to back it up. As did she, whenever somepony accused her of ‘showing off’.

“I know,” Torque mumbled with his mouthful.

Yet another confusing answer for Dash. She decided to leave it be before her brain started hurting too much. “Right…” was her last word before she headed off to her bed, seeing White Comet opposite her as she took her seat. “You like twisty things, don’t ya Comet?” She said as she laid back on her bed.

Comet was just finishing off his preening as he looked at her. “Well, it shows my precision. I thought that would impress Soarin. And that’s all I thought about really. It took a little explaining to my partner, but he agreed.

“Heh…” Dash chuckled. “When you put it like that, I guess it does sound pretty easy…”

Her thoughts trailed off about the conclusion of today. She was by far left with the most satisfaction she had ever felt so far about her days at the Wonderbolts trials. She got to design and perform her own routine. What more could prove her worth?

Her thoughts were interrupted at the sound of her stomach growling. She looked over at the clock, confirming it was almost dinner time. She would just have to wait a little while…

Soarin had finally finished compiling his list of knockouts for today, which was a lot easier than he anticipated. If he was judging their overall performance over the past few days, then it might’ve been a bit harder, but since it was just for his test, it made it a lot easier. Simple fly-by’s just aren’t gonna cut it. Some even crashed on their attempt, completely blowing it.

Soarin ripped the page out of his notebook and left his office, locking the door behind him. He wrote all the names on the chalkboard, then scrunched up and discarded the paper in a bin on his way to the canteen to get his dinner.

The chilli con carne being served tonight, despite looking like it had been left out for a few days, actually smelled really good. And to top it off, apple pie for dessert! He sure had hit the jackpot tonight. After dumping some of the crimson coloured gloup on top of a pile of rice, and a an extra generous slice of apple pie to boot, he made his way over to the private dining area for the Wonderbolts.

“So Soarin, how did today go? It sounded great,” Fleetfoot said as Soarin took a seat next to her.

“Well,” Soarin began, placing his tray on the glazed wooden table in front of him. “Better than I expected. WAY better.”

“I was watching out of my office window taking notes,” Lighting Streak added in. “No, seriously,” he said as he revealed a notebook sitting on his lap full of doodles and notes, making a few of his teammates laugh.

“It did appear to be a lot more relevant to what we are seeking,” the refined tone of Silver Lining added.

The conversation carried on around Soarin without the need for his input. They were all free to see his notes anyway, so he just presumed that most of his teammates had already read them.

Although he wasn’t really paying attention to that part of the conversation. In fact, he wasn’t really paying attention at all. His mind was far away from all the Wonderbolts. The conversation felt like one he’d had a million times before. Not that he was complaining about that, since these were his best friends in the whole universe, and he wouldn’t change their company for anything.

But that’s just what had him confused. He couldn’t quite put his hoof on what exactly it was, but for the lack of a better explanation, it was almost like he was bored of the company of his teammates. Or at the very least, seeking a change. A change in what? He wasn’t sure. The ponies? No, not at all. These ten ponies around the table with him pretty much were his life. He’d happily follow them through hell and back, probably laughing and cheering all the way. The problem definitely wasn’t them.

Which only raised more questions. He’d only started noticing this feeling ever since the start of the trials. Something happened to diminish the spark...or at least move it somewhere else...what was it…?

“Hellllloooooo! Equestria to Soarin!”

“Ahh!” Soarin jumped so much at the sight of Surprise’s face only inches away from his he almost dumped his dinner all over his lap.

“You were off in another world there, bro. Everything okay?” Lightning Streak asked.

“Yeah, yeah, sorry, I was just...thinking…” Soarin replied. “Uhh…” he tried to recall the conversation, but...he had nothing. Just how long had he been out of it? “Who was...asking what?” He asked awkwardly to bring himself up to speed.

“Keep up, Soarin!” Spitfire snapped at him, “I asked what you thought of Dash’s Sonic Rainboom as you were passed out last time it happened?”

Rainbow Dash? Just the very mention of her name made Soarin feel a hell of a lot more interested. “It looks amazing as we were told. A rainbow explosion across the sky. Except she managed to pull it off this time whilst maintaining a perfect circle. Which considering the amount of G’s she must’ve been pulling is a huge feat. It says a lot about her fitness…”

“Hmm, yes, I’m sure taken extra details about her fitness, haven’t you, Soar?” Blaze said, causing a few snickers from her surrounding teammates.

Soarin chuffed at what she was implying. “Hilarious,” he replied sarcastically.

“I am, aren’t I?” Blaze said with a smug grin whilst rubbing her chest.
“So Blaze, what have you and Surprise got in store for them tomorrow?” Soarin changed the subject. Despite the other things he had on his mind, he would have to do his best to keep up with the conversation. He didn’t want to be caught daydreaming again.

Chapter 10

View Online

Dear god what was that ungodly noise? Dash, along with her roommates, held her ears shut at the ear-bleeding high-pitched sound of what she quickly figured out was an airhorn.

The screech flooded the room for a good ten seconds before it finally subsided, making Dash breath a sigh of relief.

“WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT!?!?!” Dahlia screamed as she jumped out of bed. If looks could kill, this one would commit genocide. The look of pure rage on her face was almost laughable.


“Find out way out?” Crash Dive questioned as he moved towards the door and raised his hoof up to the doorknob. “What kind of challenge is--” his sentence was cut short as the doorknob didn’t budge. “Locked?” He tried twisting it again multiple times, each time harder and harder. But it just wouldn’t turn.


If there was one way Dash would describe Surprise’s voice, it would be like an angry Chihuahua. She was trying so hard to sound threatening, but she just didn’t have the depth in her voice to match it.

“So how do we get out? Tunnel through the clouds!?” Horizon questioned, starting to do what he just suggested, pushing through the cloud with his hooves and shovelling it out the way.

“We don’t know the layout of this room,” Bright Skies replied. “For all we know, you could tunnel straight into a--”


“YEEEOW!” Horizon rocketed directly vertical from his position, colliding with the ceiling with an almost equally loud volume to his scream. He extended his wings for the fall to glide himself back to his bed.

“...electrical cable…” Bright Skies finished her sentence that she didn’t get to finish, because Horizon did exactly what she was about to warn him about.

“Guys…” Dahlia said in disbelief. She reached over to her nightstand to grab something. “Keys,” she said as she hopped up and walked towards the door, presenting the key they were all given when they arrived.

“Ohhhhhh…” Horizon, Crash Dive and Riptide said in Unison. Torque was just being Torque and trying his best not to engage in any social activity whatsoever. Dash, Bright Skies and White Comet just stayed quiet out of suspicion.

‘It can’t be that simple...’ Dash thought. Whilst Dahlia’s suggestion was very logical...it just wouldn’t make sense. Why would they lock them in if the key they were all given on arrival just unlocked it? That would be much of a challenge.

Dahlia placed the key in the lock and twisted it…

...and it snapped in two. The other half sticking inside the lock.

“YOU’RE PAYING FOR THAT!” Surprise bellowed from the bottom of the corridor through a megaphone.

Dahlia cringed as her ears still hadn’t properly adjusted from being exposed to loud noises minutes after waking up. “Geez, it didn’t even make that much of a noise…”

There was a split second of static from the megaphone as it sounded like it was changing hooves. “OH, SURPRISE HEARS EVERYTHING!” Another voice, which was easy enough to presume as Blaze shouted through it. It then made the static noise again.

‘Guess we’re up now...’ Dash thought as she rolled herself out of bed and onto all four hooves. She stretched a little as she tried to think of a way out. What other way out was there? It had to be something to do with the door. There was no other entry or exit route after all. Unless there’s some sort of clue or secret that they were completely missing.

“Hmmm…” White Comet hummed gently, “I think I’ve got an idea.” He stepped out of his bed and trotted over to the door. Dash slowly followed behind him, catching her interest as she was completely drawing a blank.

Comet looked at the door, but not at the side that it opened from. He was looking at the opposite side, where the hinges were.

“Hmm…” he looked closer at the hinges, kneeling to get a better look. “Somepony pass me one of the lamps from their nightstands…”

“Here you go, Boss,” Crash Dive popped up from underneath him, balancing the lamp on his nose.

Comet flinched backwards, causing him to stand upright. “Uh, thanks,” he said as she took the lamp, then Crash Dive disappeared from underneath him again. He hadn’t known the two brothers for very long, but he knew enough as to not question anything they did.

He took the lamp shade off, revealing the bulb and a rectangular shaped wire that was holding the lamp shade in place. He did a quick examination on the sides of the lamp to see that the wire holding the lamp shade in was only slotted into place. He gently prised it apart to ping it out of its slots, then lined one end of the wire up with the bottom of one of the hinges. “Perfect fit,” he commented as he gently placed the lamp on its side on the floor, being careful not to smash the glass bulb, then picked it up again, but this time, holding it upside-down. He pushed the tip of the wire as close as he could to the bottom of the hinge, then started tapping the bottom of the wire with the base of the lamp.

After a few hits, everypony could see what was happening. The pins were rising up out of their housings, essentially making the door fall inwards. Comet repeated the process on the top hinge, placing the lamp back down after the final pin had popped out. “Moment of truth,” he said as he tried to find the best point of leverage to lift it from. Since there was nowhere sticking out other than the doorknob, he gave it his best shot from there. Although it was quite counterproductive, as that was the exact opposite to the side that had just been freed of the things holding it in place.

It was visually clear that the door was less sturdy than it was, but Comet just couldn’t seem to get it to open. “Uh, Riptide, push on that side whilst I try and lift it,” he asked.

“You got it,” Riptide replied as he walked over to the door. He placed his forehooves on the hinge end to try and get some lifting power on it. But since he couldn’t get a grip, he struggled to get any leverage. “Can’t see it moving,” he commented as he kept trying to lift in sync with Comet.

“Surprised you can see anything under that birds nest of a mane…” Dahlia quietly mumbled to herself.

Everypony gave it their suggestions and shots, but despite the door being loosened, it still didn’t want to move. “There must be something holding it on the other side,” Comet sighed as he finally gave up and stepped back. Everypony had crowded around the door except for Torque, who was still being his grumpy old self. Nopony even bothered to ask him why he wasn’t helping, as they knew what his answer would be.

“Oh well…” Bright Skies sighed. “Good idea though…”

‘There has to be some other way...’ Dash thought as she pondered what else could be holding the door…

Or maybe...possibly…

“Hold on,” Dash blurted out as she spun around and headed to the back of the room towards the bathroom. Since she blurted it out in an aura of silence whilst everypony was thinking, all attention turned to her.

Dash swung the bathroom door open to take a look inside. She looked at the walls and the ceiling. There, on the back walls, she saw it. “I’ve got it!” She exclaimed as she rushed into the bathroom.

With no better ideas floating about, everypony moved towards her.

Dash flew up to a vent at the back of the bathroom wall. She’d done it! She’d found a way out! All she had to do was tug at the grill…

...and nothing happened. She tugged at it again, harder, but still it didn’t move an inch. “Okay, maybe I haven’t got it…” she sighed in disbelief. So close…

“Is it welded?” Horizon asked as he pushed next to Dash to take a look and try to remove it for himself. Seven ponies in a bathroom was...cramped, to say the least.

“No, there’s no weld marks,” Bright said as she hovered above them. She had the advantage of being the smallest pony, so it wasn’t as bad for her.

“Then how is it stuck down?” Dahlia asked.

“Screws?” Comet suggest.

“But there’s no screws either,” Horizon retorted.

“Geeeeeez,” the morning gruff, grumpy voice of Torque exclaimed. Making everypony jump. “Outta the way, outta the way,” he demanded as he pushed his way past everypony, with no care as to what happened. They were in his way, and they needed to be out of it, one way or another. That’s all he cared about.

When he was finally to the front, he leaned in closely and examined the grill. “Aluminium,” he said emotionlessly. He quickly turned his head to look at the corner. “Rivets.”

With no warning, he quickly spun around, slapping everypony to the left with his tail. He pushed his way back through towards the exit, ignoring the complaints. “Steel, steel, steel, steel…” he mumbled to himself as he made his way out.

“What the hell is your prob--mmm,” Dahlia tried to shout at him, but quickly got her mouth covered by Dash.

“He seems to know what he’s doing. Let him do it.” Dash said as she lowered her hoof from Dahlia’s mouth. “Besides, you got any better ideas?”

“Ehh…” Dash had her there. She crossed her forehooves. “He didn’t have to be so rude about it…” she said quietly.

Torque scurried towards the front of the room to the lamp that White Comet disassembled but hadn’t reassembled yet. He picked up the wire that was holding the lamp shade on that Comet used to dislodge the pins. “Perfect,” he said as he turned around to face Horizon’s bed. He lifted Horizon’s bed and put the tip of the steel wire underneath the right foot of the bed. He took a final look at the steel wire before turning around. “About a quarter inch thick. It’ll have to do…” he mumbled as he bought Crash Dive’s bed over so it lined up with the over end of the wire.

He lifted the bed with his forehooves. Once he had enough clearance underneath it, he turned around whilst continuing to hold it and ducked her rear half underneath the bed. As he turned around, he noticed that everypony had moved towards him and was watching him closely. Not that he cared. After he was sure of his positioning, he gently set the bed down so it was supported by his flank.

Now he had all the tools, all he needed to do was perform the actions he had in mind. He twisted the wire over the other way. He was trying to bend it into another shape. He wouldn’t be able to do that with his hooves, it would’ve just sprung back. He needed strength, and weight. Which is what he just had. He used his hooves to hold the wire in its twisted position, then lowered himself down so quickly he was practically dropping the bed on it. He then lifted the bed again with his flank, and twisted it again. Repeating the same process.

Dash watched him repeat the process over and over and over again. She didn’t see it at first, but after a while, she saw a spiral shape begin to take place on the ex-flat wire.

He did a few more until he was satisfied that it was enough, lifting it out from under the foot of the bed. He picked it up in his right hoof, examining the tip. He then jammed it into his left foreleg a few times, chuffing at the results. “Bluntest drillbit in Equestria…” he commented. “But it’ll do.”

He took the makeshift drillbit and walked back into the bathroom. “Anypony preened recently? ‘Cos I’m gonna need feathers.” He asked bluntly as he grabbed everypony’s toothbrushes from the back of the sink. “Some Steryo or sumin’ like it would be good as well.”

“I’ve got a tub,” Dahlia said as she left for her nightstand.

Torque opened up the cabinet with a mirror on it to take a look inside. The Wonderbolts had pre-stocked them with a few basic medical supplies, for things that could be taken care of easily by themselves without having to see the doctor.

“Pff,” he scoffed at the lack of useable items. “These’ll have to do…” he pulled out a pack of band aids. He held the drillbit in his left hoof whilst arranging the toothbrushes and applying a band aid to the bottom of each one. He picked them up one by one and started wrapping them around the drillbit, pulling the band aid as hard as it would go so it would provide the tightest fit.

“Got it,” Dahlia called as she re-entered with a white tub with purple writing that read ‘Steryo wing ointment’ on it, with a little comment at the bottom that said ‘perfect for after preening’.

“Right, we need feathers, so get preening.” Torque instructed as he finished taping the toothbrushes. Whilst the others were preening, he went over to the toilet and started rolling all the toilet paper off the roll. When it was all off, he took the cardboard tube out of the holder and tried the best he could to do a neat rip. Once he had ripped it all the way, he wound it up to make a tighter cylinder. He did it up until it was only just wide enough to fit the drillbit through, with the toothbrushes sticking out at the back of it. He took a towel off the rack and set it in preparation by the side of him as he started preening himself with the others.

Dash had stepped just out of the bathroom door in order to give herself some room, as there wasn’t a lot of room in there for eight pegasi to begin with, yet alone eight pegasi with their wings spread.

As she preened, she made a small pile of feathers that she removed in order to optimize her flight. She kept her hoof on top of them to stop them blowing away.

Once Torque had built himself up a little pile of his own feathers, he decided to use them as a test for his theory. He applied some of Dahlia’s wing oil across the back of one of the toothbrushes, then started to layer up his feathers, making sure they provided an almost perfect seal. After the first layer, he applied some more oil to the back of the feathers, then started another layer.

He did this for all eight toothbrushes. After they had all given their feathers to him and he had applied them, he tested it by holding his contraption by the toilet roll shaft and blew on it gently, watching it spin.

“Good,” he put it down, “but not good enough. We need more feathers. Looks like we’re all gonna have to sacrifice some.” He extended his wings and started examining them, looking for feathers he could sacrifice for the purpose of his plan.

As she chose her feathers, Dash could see what was talking shape. The slightly sharp-edged steel bit, with the propulsion at the back of it. Was he making some sort of drill?

She passed her feathers that she could spare over to him, along with everypony else. He patched up all the weakest points, then tested it again. “That’ll do,” he said contently as he gingerly stepped up onto the sink to bring him up to the height. He took his time with each hoof placement, making sure he wasn’t going to slip.

“You want me to do it,” Riptide asked, as he demonstrated that, if he stood on his hind legs, he could reach the vent with ease.

“I’m fine,” Torque huffed as he recalculated his hoof placements. He tried to get his right hind hoof in the sink, but he was struggling to get it at the right angle that he could do it without slipping.

“You sure?” Riptide asked, moving towards him with his forelegs extended to offer him some balance support.

“Yes,” Torque grunted as he kicked Riptide away with one of his hind legs.

“Alright,” Riptide admitted defeat, huffing in response. Besides, if he was stupid enough to do it, he might as well let him.

Torque got himself into a position where he got the best support. He lined his contraption up with the bottom right rivet, then looked around, scanning the ponies he called his roommates. He briefly glanced over each one and stopped at Dash. “You have the most wingpower. Get over there and flap.” He ordered, motioning his head to the far side of the bathroom.

“Uhh...oookaay…” Dash walked over to where he mentioned and extended her wings. She looked over her shoulder back at him. “Uhh...what do I do?” She asked, feeling like an idiot. Was there something plainly obvious that she was missing? Judging by the confused faces on her roommates, she presumed not.

“Just flap your wings to make a gust. As strong as you can.” He explained.

“Okay...but...how do I do that without flying?”

Torque lowered his shoulders and his lips parted as he flicked his head upwards. “You push against the wall.” He said bluntly, as if he was stating the obvious.

“Alright,” Dash retorted, placing her forehooves on the wall. “Geez,” she sighed to herself in response to Torque’s attitude.

She gently hovered off the ground and placed her forehooves onto the cloud wall. She got into position, then slowly built up the speed of her wings, not wanting to take it too fast.

As the wind speed increased, the contraption in Torque’s hoof started spinning faster and faster, making a slight rubbing noise as it was rubbing on the inside of the toilet roll. Whilst it built speed, he started wrapping the towel around his right hoof.

It continued to build up speed until it was just a blur. Their feathers acting like a sail, pushing it around like a windmill...an extremely fast windmill…

Torque placed his right forehoof just behind the back of it. The reason he wrapped his hoof up became clear now. If he were to do it bare-hooved, then the pressure would hurt. The towel wouldn’t do much, but it would at least alleviate some of the pressure.

He lined it up with the bottom right rivet and pushed into it, making a loud grinding noise in response. As expected, with all the pressure on one point on his hoof, it was painful, but tolerable. Although his drill wasn’t doing much apart from making a grinding noise… “Faster Dash!” He barked, pushing as hard as his hoof was letting him.

Dash wasn’t really flapping her wings that fast to begin with, and it was already spinning pretty fast. So she took it as a signal that she was free to drop the hammer. She put a lot more force into her wings, causing an even bigger gust.

The small filings of metal that were bouncing against his face and chest indicated to Torque that it was starting to work. He didn’t have either hooves free to cover his eyes, so he squinted as much as he could to shield his eyes whilst still being able to see what he was doing.

He kept going until a faint ‘pop’ was heard and almost all resistance against his push dropped. He pulled the drill away and opened his eyes fully. He’d done it. The rivet was out. All he had to do now was push it through the remaining three.

Dash maintained her flapping at the highest rate she could without grinding herself into the wall. The force was really putting the pressure on her forehooves, as she would normally be moving and not have to deal with this. Nevertheless, Torque’s idea was working, and for that reason, she soldiered on.

Once the final rivet had been popped, Torque simply dropped his contraption and gripped his forehooves either side of the vent. Giving it a bit of force, the grille popped right off.

“Yeah! Nice going, Torque!” Dahlia cheered.

“Not bad bro, not bad,” Riptide added.

Torque simply dropped the grille where he stood and clambered his way into the vent. He didn’t give anypony any indication on what was next. Why would he need to? It was pretty obvious what they needed to do.

Horizon tried to follow him through, but “nope,” Crash Dive grabbed him by the flank and pulled him away. “This vent is already probably gonna stink of your ass, so the last thing I want is to be behind it,” he said as he scrambled into the vent. “That’s if you even fit,” he added, his voice echoing as he was inside the vent.

“Hey!” Horizon added as he waved his hoof at the vent.

“Ahem,” Riptide cleared his throat as he stepped to the side and waved his hoof at the vent whilst looking at Dahlia. “Ladies first…”

Dahlia gave him a push towards the vent. “Stallions just before,” she said smugly in response.

“And this is what I get for being a gentlestallion?” Riptide shrugged, “some mares are hard to please…” he said as he raised his forehooves up to start climbing in.

Dahlia rolled her eyes. “No, you just want me to go in front of you so you can stare at my butt whilst I crawl along.” She stated, feeling as though she read his mind exactly.

Dash couldn’t help but laugh, as there wasn’t any doubt that that was EXACTLY what Riptide was thinking about.

Bright Skies, Dahlia and White Comet all clambered in before Dash, with Crash Dive taking up the rear.

As soon as she was inside, Dash could barely see anything as it was so dark. She just listened to the sound of her roommates hooves against the steel frame of the vent as they crawled along, hoping for the best.

“Gee, it smells worst than I thought…” Dahlia complained.

“Well, think of all the other bathrooms it has to ventilate for as well,” Bright Skies added. Although nopony really wanted to think about it.

“Let's just concentrate on getting out of here as quickly as we can. This smell is gonna make me sick…” Comet stated.

The narrow, dark tunnel seemed to go on forever. No breaks, no turns, nothing. They didn’t appear to be making much progress, but due to the narrowness of the vent, they weren’t able to move their legs much more than baby steps.

“Hey, do you hear that?” Horizon asked.

Everypony stopped to try and pick up what Horizon was talking about. A faint whurr was coming from behind them, but that was it.

“Yeah…” Bright Skies replied, “it sounds like the vents...about to be...activated…”

A faint breeze accommodated the whurr as its volume increased. Horizon began to feel it on his flank. He didn’t think much of it, but it did slowly pick up speed. They continued to walk, but the breeze kept getting stronger. He suddenly felt it get underneath him, making him feel light on his hooves.

He knew immediately what was coming, but...why not try and have a little bit of fun out of it? His eyes went wide and he spread his wings. They immediately acted like a sail and lifted him off, straight into Rainbow Dash.

“Horizon!? What the hell-ooof!?” Dash yelled, but was cut short as she was pushed straight into White Comet, who pushed into Dahlia, who went into Bright Skies, into Riptide, into Crash Dive, and finally, into Torque.

“WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” Horizon yelled as they were propelled along as tremendous speeds thanks to the draft.

“WOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO!” Crash Dive chimed in with him at the same time, putting his forehooves in the air as much as he could.

Dash had to admit, although it was somewhat unexpected, she was having a whale of a time. She felt like she was on a rollercoaster ride...except she was in the middle of a pony pile flying through a tunnel barely three feet across at high speed.

She was trying her best to stay in the middle as much as possible, because whenever a corner came up, they had no ability to turn, so they tended to just bounce off the inside of the vent. And whoever was on the outside of the impact took the force of it plus the weight of seven other ponies. It hurt...a lot…

“I SEE LIGHT!” Dahlia called over the sound of the wind rushing past them inhibiting their hearing, despite the fact that they were so close to each other.

Dash saw it briefly, in her cycle of light - dark - light - dark - light - dark and the occasional bit of colour as she spun around in the pony pile.

She suddenly saw light in her peripheral vision, as well as feeling a lot lighter, as if she was flying. As she span, she saw the brief silhouette of a pony, coupled with a flash. Her natural instinct told her to extend her wings and get control of her flight. But seven other ponies within inches of her all trying to do the same ended with them getting...tangled.

Before she knew it, she landed with a loud thud on a cloud. A loud, combined groan emanated from all of them as their homemade roller coaster ride came to an end. Dash blinked a few times to get her bearings.

“Everypony okay?” Dahlia asked groggily.

“Mmmhmmm…” everypony replied weakly.

“BWAHAHAHAHAAAHAAA!” The sound of two mares killing themselves laughing echoed from a few feet in front of them.

Dash sat up to see Blaze and Surprise rolling around on the cloud, laughing their flanks off and trying to keep their sides from splitting.

“Oh...oh geez…” Blaze caught her breath and wiped the tears from her eyes. “We gotta do that more often, Surprise…”

“Hold on, I’m…” Surprise couldn’t resist a few more giggles, “waiting for the photo to develop…” She said as she waved a photo in her hooves.

“Ugh! Riptide, get your butt out of my face!” Crash Dive said as he gave Riptide a shove in the flank, causing him to roll off to the side. He sat up and looked at everypony.

“You guys should’ve seen your faces!” Surprise laughed, “oh wait, YOU CAN!” She threw a small square piece of what looked like paper towards them.

The picture landed within a hooves reach of Dash upside-down. She picked it up in her hooves, flipped it over, and feasted her eyes on…

...easily the funniest thing she’s seen in her time here yet.

“Pff!” Dahlia held her mouth with her hoof to stop her laughing as she saw the photo. Although despite her efforts, a few still escaped.

However, Crash Dive and Horizon weren’t quite so subtle. Rolling onto their backs in fits of laughter.

Dash looked around her at her teammates. Bright Skies was breaking into small chuckling fits herself. Riptide was laughing his ass off with a deep chesty laugh. Even the corners of Torque’s lips were curled upwards. He looked like he was suppressing chuckles, or at the very least silently sneaking them out, so that his teammates didn’t hear.

Dash felt her mouth unwillingly open. It didn’t respond to any attempt to close it. All she could do was release her own laughter.

She quickly stretched and flung herself backwards, releasing all the giggles she’d been trying to contain.

“Oh, geez...haha...haha…” Blaze managed to subside her giggles to let herself speak. “We’ve never had anypony take that route before, so we couldn’t resist the opportunity to have some fun.” She admitted as if it was nothing. “How did you do it anyway?” Her tone changed to a more intrigued level. As she genuinely had no clue how they managed to get into the ventilation system in the first place.

“Torquey here’s the one responsible for that!” Crash Dive announced as he hugged Torque tightly around the neck with his right foreleg.

“Don’t touch me,” Torque said bluntly as he shoved Crash Dive away. Crash Dive just seemed to float away at his touch, like they were in space.

“Hmmmm…” Blaze leaned in close to Torque and their eyes met. Blaze gave him an intrigued stare, whilst Torque just radiated a blank, uninterested look. “How did you get through the vent? It’s pinned to the wall.”

“I removed it,” he said bluntly.

“Well, duh,” Blaze rolled her eyes, “but how?”

“I drilled through the rivets,” he replied bluntly again, making it sound as if Blaze was stupid.

“Drilled? With what?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.

“With a drill,” he replied, in yet again, the same blunt tone. He sounded like a broken record.

“Ughhh,” Blaze groaned through gritted teeth as she spun herself around, “forget it.” She moved into a position where she could address everypony. “That was pretty good, however Brain-dead over here did it,” she said, motioning to Torque. “But that’s not the way to escape that we had in mind. You might as well go get suited up and ready. Your competitors that might’ve managed to get out by now are probably wondering where we got to.”

“I’m gonna need to take that,” Surprise said as she took the photo out of Dash’s hooves. “Don’t worry...you’ll get a copy…” she said in a very suspicious tone as she flew away.

“I’ve got a feeling today's gonna be one of those day already…” Dahlia commented as she took off and followed Blaze and Surprise back in.

“You said it,” Riptide replied, rubbing his back. “That landing did a number on my back.”

“Why don’t you just go ask your new fuckbuddy from yesterday to massage it out for you?” Dahlia teased, greatly overexageratting their relationship. If you could even call it one.

Riptide scoffed, “yeah, whatever…” he mumbled.

As they turned the corner into the corridor with all the rooms in it, Dash saw latches on the outside of the doors, preventing them from opening.

“So all we had to do was flick that off, huh?” Horizon questioned out loud.

“Seems like it,” Dahlia replied, “not sure how to get to it though. We tried pulling the door from the other side. That didn’t work.”

“We couldn’t get enough grip as the handle was on the other side.” White Comet added.

“Fuck this,” they head from behind one of the doors, causing them all to turn their head to the third door in front of them on the right.

A second later, a loud BANG echoed through the corridor, along with a few splinters of wood and dust. It wasn’t much, so it settled quickly to reveal Wind Tunnel and some of his other roomates, who looked like they’d just been scared shitless from Wind Tunnel’s heavy-hoofed move.

“You’re paying for that,” Blaze ordered, completely unfazed.

Wind Tunnel shrugged, “you said we needed to find a way out, and I did.”

“...I’ll have to dig through the paperwork on that one…” Blaze queried to herself as she rubbed her chin. She remembered there being something about damage on the waiver, but she couldn’t quite put her hoof on the details. She didn’t exactly read all the paperwork anyway.

As they made it back to the outside of their room, they all proceeded to grab their flight suits from the basket by their door and headed to the changing rooms.

“I guess we should let out all the losers who haven’t figured it out by now.” Blaze suggested.

“Ehhhhh,” Surprise shrugged, “we can let them struggle for a little bit. Besides,” she suddenly dashed off, leaving a trail in her wake. “More mushrooms for meeeeee!” She called.

Dash and the rest of her teammates got into their suits and and went to get breakfast, where they joined the line of other ponies that have managed to escape. Probably the right way. Luckily they got there at the time they did, as Blaze proceeded to unlock all the doors of all the recruits that didn’t managed to solve the puzzle, which made a huge backlog in the line.

After breakfast, Blaze and Surprise lead them to an open cloud which they had setup with a small two foot high wall about a hoofball pitch apart.

“Okay, now that little brainteasers over, let’s get to something a little more...practical.” As Blaze said the last word in the sentence, a devilish smile crossed her face. “I’m going to presume you all played Bulldog when you were school fillies and colts?”

Dash cast her mind back to those years to remember the game. The aim of the game was to get between two points without being tagged by the ‘bulldog’. When you were tag, you became the bulldog yourself. However, she seemed to remember a certain variation a bit more…

“Well, this is a little version that we like to call Takedown Bulldog. It’s like regular Bulldog, but instead of tagging each other, you have to drag each other to the floor instead, using whatever means necessary.” There was no doubt in her tone in what she was implying by ‘any means necessary’. “You can fly as high or low as you want, but no higher than ten feet off the cloud. Me and Surprise will be the judge of that.”

Dash heard a few mumbles through the crowd. The thought of being able to tackle to living daylights out of each other was obviously enough to get them riled up.

“Okay, so…let's see…” Blaze’s eyes narrowed as she rubbed her chin whilst she examined the crowd. “I think...we’ll pick…”

“YOOOUU!” Surprise rocketed over the heads of the crowd, doing multiple barrel rolls. “ANDYOUANDYOUANDYOUANDYOUANDYOUANDYOUANDYOUANDYOUANDYOUANDYOUANDYOU!” She screamed whilst throwing her hooves wildly in random directions at other ponies.

Blaze shrugged, “thanks, Surprise.” She replied in what the cadets took as a surprisingly calm manner, considering the way Surprise just acted. “Those of you that Surprise just pointed out. you’re the starting bulldogs. Get in position somewhere and get ready to go. You ALL go on my whistle, no matter what.” Blaze held her whistle up to illustrate her point. “Any questions?”

“Yeah,” a stallion raised his hoof, “why are we playing a schoolpony’s game? What’s the purpose?”

“Figure out it,” Blaze put bluntly. “Anypony else?”

His questioned raised a good point with Dash. What was the point exactly? Knowing the nature of the things she’d experienced so far, she’d find out soon enough, she was sure…

The high pitched noise of the whistle suddenly bought her to attention. “GO!”

Dash dived her way through the sea of ponies. She didn’t want to be right at the front, as she’d bear the full front of the force, but she didn’t want to be skulking around the back of the pack either, in fear of not only being seen as slow, but easy to pick off.

Dash made it through the first wave, not taking any notice of anypony else around her getting caught. She only cared about getting herself through. When she reached the other end, she took a quick glance around to see if she could estimate who got caught.

As they were readying for the second run, she saw something that made her suddenly understand what the test was all about. The bulldog ponies were huddled around in a circle, discussing things that Dash could barely hear.


That’s the first word that popped into her head. That’s what was key to succeeding at this test. It would be impossible for them to take everypony on one on one due to the simple sheer size differences. They would have to gang up using teamwork and strategy to win. Or lose. And that’s what turned this from a simple schoolyard game into a much more complex strategy game.

As soon as the thought hit her, it was barged out of the way by another one that was triggered at the sound of Blaze’s whistle. She raced off the line with the rest of the crowd.

Somepony tried to tackle her, but she quickly darted left to avoid. She bumped into somepony else beside her, but by the way she seemed to ricochet off him or her, she presumed that they would be alright. She didn’t have time to look.

When she reached the other side, she once again consolidated. She saw that a few more ponies had been taken out, but she was lucky enough to make it this far.

The intervals between Blaze’s whistle blows seemed to be getting shorter and shorter. Dash barely had time to catch her breath before it sounded again. She brushed it off and powered through on what she had.

Another stallion tried to grab her from the front, but she used her cat-like reflexes to dive over the top of them before rolling over to reduced her altitude to stay within the ten feet limit.

On the next run, she darted to the right to avoid somepony trying to get her, but in turn ran into somepony else's path. "Eep!" She yelped as she tried darting to the left to avoid him, but he managed to just grab her hind leg

“I gotcha!” A mare’s voice said from behind her as she felt something slot under her forelegs, followed by a sharp tug, pulling her free of the grip of the stallion.

Dash tried her best to suppress the impression of her relief, not wanting to show any signs of weakness. “Thanks,” she said sincerely as she took herself back onto her own wings.

“Don’t mention it,” the mare replied before bolting off in another direction.

“Uhh…” Dash didn’t dwell too long on what just happened, as she still had ponies trying to get to her. But she was far enough away that she could just fly in a straight line to the other end. Although she was still baffled by the random act of the mare who just helped her.

In the next run, Dash flew straight on as fast as she could, hoping that her speed would be able to keep her ahead of the competition. But as she saw multiple ponies closing in in front of her, she suddenly realised that she forgot to factor in the possibility of them being strategically placed ahead of her to intercept.

She dived over one pony only to run almost face-first into another, she darted to the left, then to the right again to avoid another. She saw somepony flying straight at her, and two coming from either side. The only place she had to go was back. She tried to turn as hard as she could, but she was simply going too fast, and therefore not providing herself enough of a turning circle to escape their grasp.

She got caught just under the wings by a stallion who dragged her down. His weight compared to her seemed to be enough. She put up a strong fight, but when another mare also grabbed onto her, she had no choice but to fall.

“Oof!” She landed in the cloud with a grunt, taking a few seconds to consolidate. After the reality of what just happened caught back up to her, she punched the cloud in frustration. How could she be so reckless? Flying as fast as she could in a straight line like that. The ponies weren’t exactly invisible. She was perfectly capable of seeing them. Why’d she make that mistake?

“Good job…” she grumbled sarcastically to herself as she bought herself to her hooves. Despite being in a position she didn’t want to be in, she could still play well and perhaps claw herself back some points.

She took up position with the other pegasi. They huddled around in a circle and discussed various tactics and placements that they were going to use in order to maximize their area to catch as many ponies as possible.

Dash took up her position as Blaze blew her whistle. She matched the closing speed of her teammates to form the thickest wall they could. Although they were only a couple dozen up against at least a hundred, so they wouldn’t get everypony anyway, no matter how hard she tried.

As Dash dived for somepony, she saw that she wasn’t quite coming in at the right angle to get her forehooves hooked around her, so she adjusted her course to try and get the pony behind her instead. As she moved, Dash noticed something out of the left corner of her eye. She turned her head whilst remaining on course to take a look.

There was a pony flying behind her. Through the part of her muzzle that was exposed, Dash could see that she had a dark genoa coloured coat with a blown back mane with orange and violet stripes in it. She looked familiar, but Dash couldn’t quite put her hooves on it…

She retracted her forelegs and used the stallion she was previously going to take down as a wall, boucing off of him. She made a tight turn towards the mare, and managed to get her forelegs hooked around her torso. But becasue she had lost so much momentum from the turn, she simply didn’t have the force required to take her down. She held her grip and tugged for a little while, but the mare was a much stronger flyer than she anticipated, causing her to let go.

“Nice try,” a familiar voice commented as as she consolidated with her teammates.

She turned her head to see Strider flying next to her. “Who was that mare?” She asked. She didn’t mean to, but since it was on her mind, she just let it roll of her tongue without even thinking about it.

“Who, Thunder Flash?” He replied, then shrugged. “Dunno. Just some mare. She’s really full of herself, but when she hasn’t got her head shoved up her ass, she mostly keeps to herself. I’m sharing a room with her, and she just tries her best to avoid conversation.” He explained.

“Like somepony else I know…” Dash replied, looking around to see if she could see Torque, but he wasn’t in sight.

“Why’d you ask?” Strider questioned.

“Oh,” Dash shook her head, “just...curious.” She replied with a smile.

Strider blinked and shrugged. “Alright…”

Dash didn’t really listen to their plan. She was more focused on trying to figure out who that mare was. She looked really familiar. She kept turning her head every now and again to make sure she knew where she was.

Once they were done talking, they barely had any time to get into position before Blaze blew her whistle. As Dash closed in with the pack, she was lucky that the mare was looking around and not at her. It gave her somewhat the element of surprise.

A sly smirk formed across Dash’s face. ‘Payback time…’

Dash flapped her wings harder, making her close faster. She extended her forelegs to grab her. Thunder Flash only just saw Dash rapidly approaching her, but it was too late for her to react.

Dash rammed into her, her shoulder impacting on Thunder’s chest. She felt a click of her shoulder, but it wasn’t too painful. “Gaa!” Thunder exclaimed as the rainbow battering ram took her down.

Dash heard a few more cracks as she landed with a thump. She grunted as she almost collapsed under the force being pushed upon her legs. She stood up, still standing over the top of Thunder. “I guess what comes around goes around, huh?” She said in a smug tone.

Thunder rolled her shoulders in their sockets, causing them to make clicking and popping noises. Dash almost cringed, but she couldn’t say she didn’t expect it. It was a big hit that she delivered after all.

Suddenly, she spat in Rainbow’s face, causing her to grimace and release her grip from Thunder.

“Rainbow Douche…” she commented as she casually strolled away.

“Say what!?” Dash challenged as she finished wiping the phlegm from her face. Thankful that she had her goggles on.

Thunder did a sharp turnaround on the spot. “You heard me!” She growled through gritted teeth, lowering her head as she marched towards Dash.

“Fight! Fight! Fi--mmph!” All attention shifted to Surprise’s cheering, but she was quickly silenced as a hoof crossed her mouth.

“Not yet, Surprise,” Blaze whispered in her ear through gritted teeth.

Dash had no intention of throwing the first punch. She was better than that. But if Thunder Flash tried anything, she wouldn’t hesitate to respond. She had a reputation to upkeep.

“Alright ladies, break it up,” Blaze casually strolled between them and quickly extended her wings to put them both back. “If you’re gonna fight, at least wait until we’ve got the camera.” She said her last words before she took her position back on the sidelines to spectate.

Dash did her best to try and avoid confrontation for the remainder of the warm up test. All it would do was paint a bad image on her if the two of them were just seen to be constantly bickering. It was just another one of the many mysteries that she would just have to wait to get to the bottom of…

Predictably, Wind Tunnel was the last pony standing. And it took nearly everypony else to take him down. He was a big old beast. And not very subtle about it either.

“You guys put on a great show. I should just let you beat the crap out of each other for the next few hours.” Blaze chimed whilst relaxing on a cloud she had rearranged. She was lying on her back with her hind legs raised up upon a cloud.

She let herself slowly droop off the cloud and used her wings to level herself out to land on all four hooves, lazily but still somewhat elegantly. “Honestly, I’d love to do that. But I can’t. Something about ‘my job’ and ‘testing you properly’ or some shit like that…” she said sarcastically.

“Hope that got you moving!” Surprise suddenly burst up from the cloud beneath her. “Because the next test takes place!...” She dashed off and flew over the edge of the cloud. Then just casually folded her wings to the side and began to freefall “ON THE GROOUUUUUUUUNNNNNNDD!” Her voice got quieter and quieter as she fell.

Everypony galloped to the side of the cloud as to them, if they didn’t know she had wings, it looked like she’d just attempted to commit suicide.

“Dammit Surprise! Wait for me!” Blaze did a quick, wing-assisted hop over the crowd to dive over the edge of the cloud and fell herself. “Woo! Freefall!” She called as she spun around in the air. “What are you waiting for slowpokes!?”

“Whoevermakesthebiggestholeinthegroundwins!” Horizon yelled as he jumped and curled up into a ball.

“Not much of a competition for you then,” Crash Dive retorted as he followed him.

Dash chuckled as she gently hopped off the edge. She liked doing freefalls from time to time. It wasn’t quite the same as flying as fast as she could, but it got her blood pumping in the same way.

The wind pounded against her as the force of gravity pulled her ever faster towards the ground. She eyed the treetops and began to plan her next maneuver.

She continued freefalling far past points that other pegasi wouldn’t even dare to cross. ‘Three...two...one…’

Her wings sprung from her sides and instantly helped her gain altitude thanks to all the rushing over them. The G-forces were so intense Dash felt like she was about to tear a ligament in her wings.

She did a loop to reduce her speed before dropping down into the clearing where everypony else was gathering.

She performed a gentle landing and caught her breath. She looked around, expecting to see Surprise and Blaze, but she couldn’t see them. She remembered playing around the outskirts of this forest when she was a filly, but she’d never been this deep into it. The conifers were thick and tightly packed, blocking vision and creating a lot of obstacles. But thanks to their nature of narrowing off at the top, it didn’t affect the lighting too much.

She suddenly heard some rustling in one of the trees nearby, drawing everypony’s attention. She could see a few colours pop in and out of its green leaves.

“Hey, its not my fault it’s so deep,” Blaze’s voice added.

Dash heard a few giggles come from the crowd. And she wasn’t gonna lie, she was one of them. No matter how stupid or immature the innuendo was, it always set her off.

“How did you take this many anyway?” Blaze asked.

“I didn’t ask for this-- OW!” She suddenly chirped. “Oooh, that’s better…” she sighed.

“I’m gonna need you to get this one out afterwards,” Blaze added. “How did this one get stuck in both of us?”

“How’d you expect me to tell with your hoof in my face!?”

At this point, there were ponies rolling around on the floor laughing. But Dash was doing her best to contain herself from doing that.

“Ow, ow, that hurts!” Blaze complained.

“Whoa, how’d you get two in there!?”

“I dunno, you were the one watching me!”


A crack sound was heard followed by the sound of something tumbling down from behind the tree trunk. A couple of “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” came from the hidden pair of Wonderbolts.

Surprise slowly made her way out from behind the trunk, a branch sticking out of her tail. She didn’t notice it at first, but noticed the extra weight when her tail moved. “Hey Blaze, can you get this one out? Is that the last one?”

Blaze also emerged from behind the tree trunk. She took a hoof and navigated the stick out of the mangled mess that was Surprise’s tail, then threw it to the side. “That’s all of them.”

“Geez, I HATE getting things stuck in my mane.”

“The twigs not so much, it’s the little green bits that annoy me.” Blaze replied. She glanced over the cadets that were beginning to recover from their laughter. She couldn’t help but crack a smile, seeing as how easily it was to interpret their words.

She cleared her throat deliberately loudly to catch everypony’s attention. She waited a few seconds to make sure that all eyes were on her. “Over to you, Surprise.”

“Thanks, Blazey!” Surprise replied as she flew over the top of Blaze to take the centre of attention. A visible frown formed across Blaze’s face. She hated the pet name Surprise had given her, and hated it even more when she used it in public. But there was no stopping Surprise. She’d had better luck arguing with a brick wall. At least a brick wall could stay on topic.

“Alright everypony! This next test is super fun! It’s basically flag hunt and tag combined! Red team and Blue team will both have starting positions on the exits of either side of the forest, and each team must nominate somepony to hide their flag somewhere in the forest! Then when the game starts, you need to find your flag super-duper quickly! Well, that, and you also need to get it back to your starting place! That’s what wins! Oh, and here’s the catch! You can tag each other by tapping them! And when you’re tagged, your out! So you can win in two ways! Tagging everypony out, or capturing the flag! Your choice! Oh, and before you start, you have to designate whoever’s gonna be the flag capturers or taggers! Taggers are the only ponies who can tag! But they can be stopped! You just have to remove the ‘taaag’!”

Surprise chuckled at her joke. “Geeet it!? Taag!?” She looked at the confused faces of many ponies. Most of them got the joke, but they were still trying to process the instructions she was throwing at them at a million miles an hour.

“Pfff,” Surprise batted her hoof. “Tough crowd. Anyway! When your tag has been removed, you need to find it again before you can tag other ponies! Make sense!? Who am I kidding, of course it does! Any questions!?”

Everypony took a moment to take in everything Surprise had said. She spoke really fast, so it took a while. Although Surprise didn’t acknowledge the glazed faces staring flatly at her. Or if she did, she didn’t show it.

“Great! Now, let’s get started!” She backed up to the tree and gave it a kick with her right hind leg. The tree barely budged, as if nothing happened. But it seemed that Surprise still managed to make it drop…

...a cannon?

“The vest that lands on you is yours!” Surprise blurted out before slamming her hoof on the cannon.

A loud BOOM followed by her vision getting blanked almost knocked Dash over. She pulled the vest off her head, acknowledging that she was going to be on the red team, and a flag capturer.

“Red team follow Blaze, blue team follow me!” Surprise bounced into the air and turned around, flying up over the trees.

“I ain’t waitin’ around,” Blaze said as she was already flying away. Dash wasted no time in throwing the vest over her flight suit and followed Blaze.

Blaze took them to the entrance on the other side of the forest. It was just clear plains on the other side.

“So, who wants to plant the flag?” Blaze asked holding a red flag in front of her.

Instantly, a load of ponies tried to argue their point and take the flag, but Blaze simply flew into the air to avoid their grasps. Dash’s younger self would tried as well, but being with her friends for a number of years taught her a thing or two about modesty. Not much of course.

“How about you actually discuss instead of all being glory hunters?” Blaze suggested, raising an eyebrow at them all whilst waving her pen in the air, implying what would happen if they continued.

“Uhh, well, I uhh…” a stallion stammered trying to justify it.

“How about me?” Another suggested, hovering into the air, just smiling and looking at his teammates, looking as if though nothing more needed to be said.

Dash got prepared to give her argument, but out of the corner of her eye, she saw a certain roommate of hers. She gasped as an idea hit her and she flew towards him.

“This guy!” She grabbed Horizon’s hoof and raised it into the air. “This guy’ll do it!”

“I will?” Horizon questioned.

“You sure will,” Dash told him as she pushed him towards Blaze. Given the nature of his normal antics, she had a feeling that he’d be pretty good at this. Hell, she was pretty sure that he’d be able to hide it in a parallel dimension or something.

“Guess you are,” Blaze replied as she threw him the flag. “Hide it anywhere in the forest.”

“Wish me luck,” was his last comment before taking off into the forest.

After he had vanished out of sight, Blaze looked over at Dash. “What made ya choose him exactly?”

“You haven’t lived with him for the past couple days…” Dash replied. But as she thought, she realised something. If he was here, but Crash Dive wasn’t, that meant Crash Dive was on the other team...oh boy...this could get...interesting…

“Wait for the whistle, that signals the start!” Blaze called to instruct everypony before she flew off and over the forest.

Dash got herself primed and ready for the whistle. She didn’t have a clue of how long Horizon would get to find a hiding place. She just presumed that it was down to Surprise’s discretion.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the whistle echoed from somewhere on the other side of the forest. Dash jumped into the air and flew high above the treetops, her logic being that the extra altitude could help her see better.

She could see a swarm of ponies ahead of her. She knew that she would have to keep the opposing teams taggers off of her team’s flag capturers, but at the same time, she had to go after the other team's capturers too. She couldn’t let herself get bogged down.

As she got closer, she saw that they were all the opposing team’s taggers were looking down at the capturers, not at Dash and the ponies with her, who were heading straight for them. Dash immediately saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of. She gained some altitude and got right above them. Then, as she lined it up almost perfectly, she went into a steep dive towards them.

She flew swiftly over a few ponies backs, ripping some of their tags off. A smug smile formed across her face as her tactic worked just as she planned.

Although there was one thing she wasn’t expecting, and that was that she would suddenly be holding so many tags. Holding so many could only mean…

She looked behind her to see lots of ponies starting to chase after her. After all, they needed those tags, in order to be able to tag themselves.

“Uh oh,” Dash dropped down into the forest itself, hoping that she would be able to use the trees as obstacles, and as some sort of camouflage. Although it was quite difficult to camouflage a rainbow without mane dye.

Eventually, she came to the decision to just drop them to get the ponies off her back. She dropped them strategically between some branches so that they would have to spend some time getting them.

She maneuvered through the higher branches to keep herself low enough to give her some sort of cover through the treetops, but high enough to maintain her visibility. She spotted somepony below her, on her hooves, trying to sneak around without being spotted.

‘Look’s like your lucks just run out,’ Dash thought as she smiled and dropped into a dive. She didn’t flap her wings, she just let gravity take her. She was trying to stay as silent as possible.

“Gotcha!” Dash declared as her hooves landed on the mare.

“Dammit!” The mare exclaimed and punched the ground, slowly climbing into the sky, accepting her defeat.

‘First blood for Rainbow Dash!’ She thought as she climbed back into the air and started the routine again.

She flew straight ahead and scanned the skies around her. She was trying to pick out targets of opportunity. However, none were presenting themselves. So with nothing else clear to her, she continued to gain altitude. At least if she had that on her side, it would be a whole lot easier.

“Well, you know what they say, Dash.”

Before she could react, a heavy weight fell upon her back, causing her flight path to wander. However, she did recognise the voice.

“If you fly in a straight line, then you’re a dead duck.” The end of the sentence was punctuated by the classical RIIIIP of the velcro pulling from the back of her vest. Dash looked behind her to the left to catch Crash Dive flying almost vertically towards the ground. With no other option left, Dash put herself in a dive and gave chase.

He flew into the forest at top speed. Dash was hesitant, but did her best to follow him. Though she was cautious, as the last time she did this, she ended up clipping her wing.

“Over here!” She heard his voice again, seeing his stupid grin peeking over a branch. She raced towards it and landed on it. But when she looked over it, nopony was there.

“You death or something!? I said over here!”

Dash looked behind her back, seeing him waving the tag at her. She dived towards the tree behind her, but he once again managed to disappear before.

“Wrong again, deafo!”

“Grrr…” Dash gritted her teeth as she looked to her right to see him sitting on top of a tree. ‘No way he can get out of that one!’

She flew upwards as fast as she could, but as she neared the top, he just seemed to fall backwards off the top of the tree.

Dash changed her flight path to go around the tree instead of over it, hoping to catch him mid-fall. But when she got there, he had once again vanished. She looked around, but couldn’t see any trace of him. She waited a few seconds for him to call her again, but she got nothing.

She flew upwards to the treetop where he was sitting and found her tag. “That was...random…” she said to herself as she picked up the tag and stuck it back on her back. She felt as though it wasn’t straight, but it wasn’t something that bothered her too much. She didn’t have time to faff around with it.

“I got it, I got it!” Dash heard a pony call from down below. She looked near the horizon to see a pony in the distance with a red vest like hers carrying the blue flag. But she also saw almost everypony from the blue team converging on him.

“Ughhh…” Dash facehoofed so hard she almost knocked her goggles off.

“Looks like our job just got a whole lot harder,” a random stallion said as he flew past her.

“You said it,” Dash groaned in response, flying in the direction of her team member who had got the flag to provide cover. It was great that she found it, but it also made her feel like knocking out the part of that mare’s brain that was responsible for blindly blurting out her position.

Dash raced towards to provide cover. Since she had an altitude advantage, she saw two stallions from the opposite team down below her. Seizing the initiative, she dived towards them, briefly skimming across them and snatching the tags from their backs.

She quickly did a loop to head in the opposite direction. She took a look behind her as she held the tags tightly in the hooves. The stallions were most definitely chasing her. She had to avoid them quickly.

She dived down into the trees, slaloming between them to try and shake them off before bursting out from the trees, ascending rapidly. A quick glance behind her confirmed that she managed to confuse one of them, but not the other.

She took a sharp turn to the left and spotted one of her teammates. As she did, an idea popped into her head. “Yo, Red!” She shouted at the stallion, drawing his attention. Since she didn’t know his name, she just yelled his mane colour out and hoped for the best. “Catch!” she threw one of the tags at him. She didn’t hang around to confirm whether he caught it or not.

She plunged herself into a dive, going beneath the treeline, dropping off the tag, then using the momentum she gathered, she launched herself back into the air in a directly vertical climb. She looked around for the stallion that was chasing her, and once he was in her vision, she simply stopped in midair and put on a smug grin whilst holding her hooves out to show that she didn’t have it.

The stallion stopped and stared at her confused for a second, but it didn’t take him long to figure out what she did. He dived back down the way Dash just came.

Suddenly, Dash saw something come out of the sun straight in front of her. She didn’t have enough time to react, and her tag got ripped straight off her back.

“Keep the sun behind ya, Dash. That ones a basic,” the familiar voice of White Comet faded off into the distance.

“Damn…” as Dash gave chase, she saw the way he moved made him seem like a blur. A white blur with his mane and tail providing a black background...like a comet…

“ANNNNNND THAT’S GAME!” Surprise flew into the middle of the sky and blurted out over the megaphone. The vibrations were enough to make anypony freeze up.

But the bigger question was, who won? Red team’s pony with the flag was still trying desperately to avoid getting caught. So that could only mean…


Dash let out a groany sigh. She had a feeling it would have something to do with that.

Surprise lowered the megaphone, “good game though, wish I was playing myself!”

“pfff,” Blaze batted a hoof, “you wouldn’t last five minutes against some of these guys.”

“And you wouldn’t last two seconds!” Surprise immediately retorted, sticking her tongue out at Blaze.

“Ladies, please…” Crash Dive popped out of nowhere from behind Blaze, hovering upside-down beside he. “Everypony knows you can’t move like me…”

“You mean like this?” Surprise suddenly popped up on top of Crash Dive, making him jump.

“Ah!” His wings froze up and he landed with a soft poof on the cloud.

“Nice,” Horizon spoke up, “but you’ve gotta be a little more like…” He dashed off so quickly, nopony really saw where he went.

“This!” He popped up from under the cloud, expecting to see Surprise, but only saw Blaze with her hoof extended.

“Touche!” Surprise popped out from the cloud like he did, bumping her hoof against Blaze’s.

“...Good game…” Horizon said in a suspicious tone, that implied he was done for now, but he wouldn’t give up.

“Anyway, next test!” Blaze announced as she pointed in the direction she wanted them to move.

“Ughhhhh…” Dash groaned as she opened the door to their room. “I’ve got a really random friend, just like Surprise, but...today has just turned my brain into mush…” She explained as she dragged herself onto her bed.

“I know right? I mean, just look at it.” Horizon raised his hoof up to his ear and pulled an already inflated balloon out of it that had the shape and texture of a brain. But as soon as he pulled it out, it made a high-pitched squeaking noise as it deflated. But compared to some of the stuff they had seen today, that was pretty tame…

“Anypony got any problems with me putting this on?” Dahlia reached into her nightstand and pulled out a portable radio. “Nope? Good,” she pressed a button and left it atop her nightstand. It started playing some music before it gently faded out.

“Sounds like it needs new batteries,” Bright Skies commented.

“Nah, it always does that,” Dahlia replied as she slammed her hoof down on top of it, and as if by magic, it started playing again.

Dash chuckled as she laid her head back on her pillow and listened to the jazz music that was playing on Dahlia’s radio station of choice. Today had not been the most physically challenging day that she’d ever had, but it was most definitely the most mentally demanding. Well, sort of. It was just so random and confusing.

“It’s six-thirty PM and here’s the latest headlines,” the radio host began. “Over in the Griffon Kingdom, Prime Minister candidate Achille holds a conference in his home town of Dalelry, as part of his campaign for what is being dubbed the biggest political shakeup in Griffon history, as they move away from a monarchy and move to a democracy system…”

“Ugh, politics…” Dahlia moaned in disgust as she rolled over onto her other side to face away from the radio.

“You gotta admit though, it does sound intriguing. Giving regular citizens more of a voice about how their country is run.” Bright Skies suggested.

“Meh,” Dahlia shrugged, “Princess Celestia and co have ruled over us for over a thousand years now, and there’s never been any major problems. Well, none that haven’t been solved anyway. The most recent being solved by Rainbow and her friends over there,” she pointed at Rainbow Dash, which Dash could only respond with a smile.

“Eh, it’s nothing,” Dash replied casually whilst batting a hoof.

“My point is, they shouldn’t trying to be fixing what’s not broken.” Dahlia finished off with her point as she rolled onto her back with her forehooves behind her head.

“I dunno, I think the Griffon’s are onto something,” Crash Dive spoke up, shifting everypony’s attention to him. “They get to choose their leaders, rather than it all being set in stone.”

“It’s a little too obvious, don’t ya think?” Horizon questioned. “I mean, why now? Why only just now? I mean, will they even know if it’ll work?”

“Guess we’ll have to wait until three years time to find out,” Crash Dive responded with a shrug. “Though it’d be cool to see the outcome of our trade agreements. Bet we’ve got a few things they’d like to get their talons on.”

Horizon sat up and stared across at his brother, “Or they declare war on us and march right in,” he suggested.

“Pfft, we’ve already beat them four times in different wars since the beginning of time.” Crash Dive replied. “That would be pretty stupid of them to make the same mistake again for the fifth time.”

“I dunno…” Horizon pondered as he rubbed his forehoof with his chin. “The gains they could potentially reap from Equestria has grown a hell of a lot since that. That would probably give them more motivation to actually win…”

“Am I the only one listening to this?” Dahlia asked out loud to the room in disbelief.

“Nope, it’s actually happening,” Comet confirmed, not reacting to her words and leaving his eyes closed with his head on his pillow, lying on his back.

“Yep,” Bright Skies also confirmed, but not moving her eyes away from the book she was writing in.

Dahlia shook her head, “The two s--...silliest ponies,” she changed her words out of the respect she had for Crash Dive and Horizon, “are talking about politics. I’ve been expecting the unexpected all day today, but that is WAAAY far out on the list of things I would’ve expected.”

Dash chuckled to herself as she watched the two to the left of her converse between themselves. They didn’t seem to be taking any notice of everypony around them staring at them. Which only made it all the more amusing.

Dash relaxed as she thought back on the day that she had just completed. To her, it felt like a whole week with Pinkie Pie compressed into a few hours. Which felt like it was going to make her brain explode. At a few of the challenges, she felt herself getting very frustrated from all the mind games that Surprise was playing on her. But, like she would with Pinkie, she persevered.

Although her concentration was occasionally broken by the antics going on between Surprise and Blaze. The two of them really were best friends. Dash could only imagine the things they get up to outside of the Wonderbolts. She got the impression that they were the last pair she wanted to get on the wrong side of, because otherwise a retaliation prank would be coming her way in a matter of moments.

Their…’unique’ training methods, despite not seeing their purpose beforehoof, highlighted some of the things that she would need to improve upon, including--

She skidded to a halt as she realised that she had missed a turning. Luckily, there was nopony around to see, so she just darted back around the corner and went down the corridor she meant to go down.

She shook her head as her train of thought was interrupted by the sudden change in her surroundings. It appears that whilst she was thinking, she had began walking somewhere. But where?


Was she...seeing…


Has seeing Soarin become so natural to her now that she thinks nothing of it? Did it just come as natural as flying to Sugarcube Corner, or Twilight’s Castle?

“Ugh…” she moaned quietly to herself. ‘I’m not seeing him...I’m...hanging out…’ She corrected her mind.

She looked around to once again confirm that nopony was about other than her, then blinked and shrugged. ‘I’m out here now, might as well see what he’s up to…’ She concluded as she walked down the corridor.

Chapter 11

View Online

Dash sighed as she sat down around a table with her friends and tucked into her dinner. For once, she could say it was something she genuinely enjoyed. It just looked like plain old spaghetti when she got it, but now that’s she's actually sank her teeth into it, the flavours came alive in her mouth.

Their test today was done with Rapidfire. He definitely had the most military-like mindset. He was very...shouty. And didn’t tolerate any bullshit. If you weren’t keeping up, you got left behind. Period. Dash was certain that she saw some ponies on the verge of tears from the type of things he was asking of them. But she, however, remained strong and plowed through. Just hoping she did well enough for his seemingly impossible to reach standards…

As she left the mess, she stopped to take a look at the eliminations list on the chalkboard, her eyes quickly scanning through the names. Although she had to pause several times because, contrary to her belief, she actually found somepony else who had worse hoofwriting than hers.

...nopony she knew...nopony she knew…


“...Damn…” Dash shook her head and sighed. Although she couldn't exactly say she didn't see it coming at some point. Riptide was good, and he had speed and strength on his side, but he just wasn't doing anything to catch anypony’s eyes. Or at least not in the way he wants to…plus the fact he tended to just do whatever he wanted, regardless of what he was asked or ordered to do. He lack discipline. A lot of it.

She walked along the corridor back down to her room. “Has he gone?” She asked as she pushed the door open, but got confirmation for herself when she saw that all his stuff was still there.

“Nah,” Dahlia spit out some feathers, “probably having one last shot trying to bone that mare of his.” She said nonchalantly then went back to preening.

Dash couldn’t help but smirk at Dahlia’s suggestion. And there was no doubt among anypony that it was a pretty good guess. However, even so, she still felt the need to say goodbye.

She got on with her own devices on her bed whilst she waited for Riptide. However, she was wary of the time as she had her own things to attend to. She waited and waited but still no Riptide. Hell, she managed to get through a whole chapter of her Daring Do book. She’d probably finish the story before he’d get back.

A little while later, the sound of hooves coming from the back of the room came to her ears, causing her ears to twitch in the direction and she peered over the top of her book. She watched Comet walked down the aisle of beds and out the door. ‘He’s obviously had enough waiting…’

Dash read a little more but she kept getting interrupted by her continuous glancing at the clock. She quietly sighed in submission as she closed the book and put it back in her nightstand. She was late enough as it was. She slid off her bed and trotted towards the door.

“Where exactly are you going?” She heard Dahlia questioned just before she got to the door.

Dash felt almost every muscle in her body freeze as she got asked that question. Of all the days she’d been here, this was the first time she was getting questioned about it...and she hadn’t thought up an excuse…

“Oh...I, uh…” She chuckled nervously as she scratched the back of her head. “I’m, um, going, for a…” she looked back at Dahlia, “a quick evening flight...hehe…” she tried her best to put on a convincing smile.

“Ooo...kayy…” Dahlia furrowed her brow, “even though that's what we've been doing all day?”

“Uhh, yep!” Dash retorted, still sounding a little edgey.

“Aren't you all tired out? I sure am.” Dahlia continued to question.

“A little, but...not enough…” Dash groaned in her head. She didn't sound anywhere CLOSE to convincing.

Dahlia thought for a moment before finally ending with a sigh. “Suit yourself…” she lied back down as she said her final words. She sounded more like she couldn’t be bothered to question Dash more than she sounded like she was satisfied with the answers she was given.

Dash walked out of the door, and after hearing it close, she let out a big sigh of relief. ‘That was too close…’ she thought as she walked down the corridor and then out. As soon as she left, she found the pony she was waiting for. Or rather, he was waiting for her.

“Have a little trouble?” Soarin questioned as he saw Dash walk out the door.

“My roommate got eliminated today, so we were waiting to say goodbye to him. We've got no clue where he is though.” She said with a slight bit of frustration in her tone. But it subsided once she realised that it was now in the past, and it would do her no good worrying about it. “Thanks for waiting though. I could've sworn you'd take off.”

“Sorry Dash, you can't get rid of me that easily.” Soarin replied sarcastically, playfully patting her on the shoulder.

“I'll keep that in mind,” Dash responded with a smile. “So, where to tonight?”

“Pff,” Soarin shrugged, “didn’t really make any plans. Just...chilling really, I guess…”

“Well,” Rainbow hovered into the air, “lead the way with whatever you have in mind.”

“Wherever the sky takes us,” Soarin replied, flying in front of Dash. “Told you you’d have fun with Blaze and Surprise yesterday, didn’t I?” He said whilst looking back at her, smirking.

“Yeah, hilarious…” Dash replied sarcastically. “I’m surprised my brain didn’t start bleeding out of my head later in the afternoon. Are those two usually like that?”

“If Surprise and Blaze are in the same place, it’s almost guaranteed,” Soarin explained, pitching their flight path up and taking them above the clouds. “Those two are pretty much inseparable.”

“I guessed,” Dash replied with a chuckle, bringing a thought into her head. “Oh, do you know--”

She was cut off as Soarin suddenly screeched to a stop on the cloud they were flying over and extended his left foreleg to hold her back. Dash wasn’t expecting it, so she just casually flew into it and was stopped dead in her tracks. She wasn’t expecting Soarin to be so strong…

Without even waiting for her to ask what was going on, Soarin pointed with his hoof over the edge of the clouds to show what he was looking at. She saw Fleetfoot flying through the sky at a very high speed, with White Comet in tow only a couple of seconds behind her.

Soarin couldn’t help but let out a quiet chuckle at what she saw, drawing Dash’s attention.

He looked over his shoulder at her, “They’ve been a...point of interest, shall we say…” he explained mischievously.

“Oh yeah,” Dash rolled her eyes, “I’ve heard the rumors passing around as well.”

Soarin finally lowered his leg. “And to be honest, Fleet’s probably not that interested.” He said truthfully, then slowly lowered himself off the cloud and into a glide, presuming Dash would follow.

“What makes you say that?” Dash questioned. She didn’t really care, but in a strange way, she was interested in Soarin’s take on what Fleetfoot thought of Comet.

“Well, for as long as I’ve known Fleet, she’s never been interested in hooking up with anypony. I’ve been on a lot of nights out with her, and no matter who or what kind of stallion talks to her, as soon as they start coming onto her, she just completely shuts off. Loses all interest,” he explained to Dash.

“Pfft, don’t blame her,” Dash replied, rolling her eyes. “I'd do the same.”

“Oh yeah?” Soarin questioned, raising an eyebrow and curling one side if his lips up. “What makes you say that? Has a stallion ever found what makes you tick?” He said in combination with a wiggle from his eyebrows to help imply what he meant.

“...Well...no…” she mumbled through gritted teeth. She hesitated admitting it, since she didn’t want to bring up her past experiences. “I mean...I barely know him…”

“But even if you did, would you?” Soarin asked genuinely.

“Naaah,” She replied nonchalantly, batting her hoof, “I doubt there’s any stallion in Equestria that could take me on a ‘date’ that I would even consider enjoyable.”

“Challenge accepted!” Soarin said quickly whilst at the same time, hooking his left foreleg around her right and tugging her off towards Cloudsdale.

“Soarin! What are you doing!?” Dash almost yelled in confusion as she stabilized herself in the air so it didn’t feel so much like she was been dragged along.

“Taking you on a date,” he said bluntly, but jokingly. Like he always did. “And I guarantee you’ll enjoy this one!”

“Wait? Date!? What!?” Dash exclaimed, feeling the heat rising in her cheeks.

“You heard me!” Soarin replied, then started flying even faster with their forelegs still attached. “C’mon, we’ve got plenty to do!”

“Soarinnnn…” Dash whined as she covered her burning red face with her other free forehoof.

“Oh, so it is dating now?”

Sitting on a very high cloud way above the Wonderbolts HQ, Blaze had been observing them for some time. She was lying on her stomach with her head rested on her forehooves watching down below her. She held a pair of aviator sunglasses in her hoof, occasionally popping them off and on. It was turning into the evening, and the sun was beginning to set, causing it to shine straight into her eyes. But at the same time, because it was evening, it was getting darker, and putting sunglasses on made it hard to see anything.

“It must be official, you said it Soarin”

“He said what now?” Surprise’s voice suddenly spoke up beside her.

Blaze calmly looked to her left just to confirm that she had acknowledged Surprise’s presence. Surprise was sitting up next to her.

Blaze barely showed any response to Surprise’s sudden appearance. She didn’t bat an eye to however she manage to get up there without her seeing. She knew that there was never a clear answer with Surprise. It was Surprise. She just rolled with it.

“Oh, nothin’,” Blaze replied casually, not wanting to say anything just yet. “However, look down there,” she said and pointed with her hoof.

“Hmmm…” Surprise looked in the direction Blaze was pointing, “what’ve we got here?”

“Well, I probably don’t need to spell it out for you, but I will do anyway. That’s White Comet and Fleetfoot. Again.”

“Hold on,” Surprise bent around the edge of the cloud at what looked like seemingly impossible angles, but it didn’t shock Blaze because over the past few years she’s got to know Surprise, she learnt quite quickly that she had the flexibility of a rubber band.

Surprise sprung back up from her bend, box of popcorn and a drink carton in her hooves. “Go on,” she said, looking intensly towards Blaze.

“There’s those two, and there’s these two,” Blaze pointed over to the horizon whilst using her other hoof to steal some of Surprise’s popcorn. She didn’t even bother wondering how Surprise got that in the middle of the sky. Again, it was Surprise. Any answer would just lead to a brain implosion.

“Is that Rainbow Dash?” Surprise asked, shielding her eyes from the sun.

“It shure ish,” Blaze replied, her mouth still full. A mischievous smile forming across her face as she thought about her next sentence. She swallowed before speaking, “and he just asked Rainbow out on a date.”

A long, high-pitched gasp burst from Surprise that lasted at least five seconds. “B-but...that’s...that’s…” She was so shocked that she was struggling to get the words out.

“That’s a lot of things,” Blaze chimed in a very relaxed fashion. “But the best thing it is is an opportunity...see where I’m coming from?”

“Well yeah, but…” Surprise rubbed her chin with her hoof. “If Spitfire found out, she’d be soooooooooooooo super angry…”

“But I’m not Spitfire, I’m her WAAAY cooler sister,” Blaze declared. “And we’re not ratting him out,” she quickly clarified, eager to get that point off her chest. “He seems dumb and ignorant enough to do that himself anyway. It’s just an opportunity to tease him endlessly about it…” Her last sentence had a sadistic tone to it as she rubbed her hooves together. “I'm gonna have a field day with this…”

“But Blazey, do you really Soarin’s doing the right thing?” Surprise questioned.

“Pff, he’s stallion,” Blaze shrugged, “I gave up trying to understand ‘em ages ago.”

“ ‘Cos if he, like...goes through with it, that...makes things complicated.

“Meh,” Blaze shrugged again, “I can agree with ya there. But it shouldn’t stop him really. I just hope he knows what he’s doing…”

“Does he?”

“Pfff!” Blaze snorted instantly fell onto her back. “NOPE!” She exclaimed before bursting into fits of laughter. Surprise couldn’t help but join in.

“You really don't have to do this…” Rainbow Dash said for what felt like the millionth time.

“Too late! You shouldn’t have said anything,” Soarin replied smugly.

“Yeah...tell me something I don’t know…” Dash grumbled and rolled her eyes.

Soarin dropped down to the cloud that made up the streets of Cloudsdale. The sun was in its final stages of setting, and night was closing in. There were a fair few ponies around, but not enough to completely clog the streets. The wind had a cooler evening breeze to it, and multiple lights from the streets and building lit up the cloud-based city.

“Welp, here we are,” Soarin motioned with his hoof towards the building they were standing outside. They were standing outside the entrance of what looked like a really posh restaurant.

“But I’ve already eaten…” Dash reminded him.

“So have I,” Soarin replied, “I’m not eating much, just a little. May I?” He asked gracefully, extended his hoof out to her.

Rainbow glanced away for a second to let out a silent sigh. It wasn’t a joke. Looks like he was really going through with it. She REALLY didn’t want to, but...he’d gone through all the trouble to dragging her out here…

“I guess…” she replied as if she had no other choice, taking hold of his hoof.

As they joined the line, Dash felt the warm of Soarin’s hoof. But she also felt something else. It felt like it was vibrating slightly. Was he...trembling? Was he nervous about this whole thing? Dash could’ve sworn this whole thing was just him joking around. She found it incredibly surprising especially considering that he probably had much more… ‘experience’ in the subject than she did. Or maybe her presumption was wrong…

As they got in line, Dash noticed that everypony around them seemed be dressed up in very formal attire. And the building itself looked very posh as well. The cloud had been moulded flat so it looked more like a regular wooden or brick building. Not a quick or cheap job to do, as she found out when she tried it on her own house. This definitely wasn’t a place she would find herself under regular circumstances, nor would she expect anypony to pay for her at a place like. But it appeared somepony had the intention of doing just that…

As they quickly reached the front of the line, one of the pegasus waiters turned to greet them. He had a white coat with a well-groomed dark green mane. But his eyes immediately went wide upon sighting Soarin. “Oh no…” he spoke in a refined accent. “Ohh noo…” His hind legs shifted backwards as if he was getting ready to turn and run.

Soarin chuckled nervously, “Don’t worry, it’s just me and Rainbow Dash here tonight looking for a quiet meal.” He took his hoof off of Dash’s and instead wrapped his foreleg around her shoulders, pulling her gracefully towards him.

Dash immediately blushed, and blushed hard. She was sure that would be it, and they would get turned away. Once again, she didn’t doubt that Soarin was more experienced than her (not that she would admit it), but she couldn’t help but doubt this tactic of his. He was goofing about in what was obviously a very fancy restaurant, which already has a problem with him to begin with. Speaking of which, what was the background to that anyway?

The waiter raised an eyebrow at Soarin, “Hmmm…” His eyes narrowed as his glare continued to pierce through Soarin.

Soarin just remained silent and stood there. The only move he made was smiling a little harder and wider. Which Dash wasn’t even sure if that was a good move or not, as it only made him look crazier.

“...Very well…” The waiter spoke softly, then turned around. “This was please.”

Soarin took his foreleg off Dash’s shoulders and left his hoof out for Dash to hold as they walked through the restaurant. She still couldn’t help but feel awkward for them being the only pair not dressed up.

The waiter led them over to a table by the wall. It was a fairly busy restaurant, but it had a few spare tables.

“So...what was that all about?” Dash asked as they sat down opposite each other.

“Well…” Soarin smiled as he thought about it. “This was the site of the Wonderbolts Hearth’s Warming party last year...it got pretty messy…” He let out a few chuckles as he finished his sentence.

“Oh…” Dash smirked and chuffed at the thoughts of what went on. Although she wouldn’t know until she asked. “What happened?”

“Well…” Soarin looked around, “I’ll tell you later. There’s ponies around us eating…”

“Ohhh…” Dash immediately identified what he was implying, “that messy, huh?”

“Ye--...yeah...and no…” Soarin hesitantly explained.

Dash chuckled, “right, right…” she was starting to get thoughts of the type of things that went down. She picked up the menu and started reading what was on offer. Not only were the dishes called all different fancy things that she barely understood...but the price was almost enough to make her puke.

“Soarin, a decent meal here is easily a hundred bits per pony. Do you really want to go through with this?” She asked him. He’d already paid for quite a bit for her. She really didn’t want him to pay anymore than he needed. That, and she would struggle to pay this amount of money back.

“Don’t sweat it,” he replied casually. “I can afford it. Besides, I wouldn’t be much of gentlestallion if I expected you to pay, would I?”

Dash chuffed in response, “Alright…” She started scanning the menu to try and find something she liked. Or at least, try and identify what the titles of some of these dishes meant. She didn’t even recognise half the words in the descriptions. At least they were only sticking to starters, as they weren’t that hungry.

Having dined there before, Soarin didn’t have a problem ordering. But Rainbow was certain that she made a complete ass of herself trying to pronounce what she thought would be hers. Soarin pretty much corrected her every word.

The waiter took their menus and in exchange, placed two glasses on the table and filled them up with water from a jug, then left the jug on the table between them.

“So…” Soarin picked up his glass, “how you finding it?” He asked before taking a sip.

“Yeah, great…” Dash replied, looking away, “going great…”

Soarin couldn’t help but feel a slight tinge of awkwardness in the air around them. Had he pushed Dash too far out of her comfort zone? She did have a big objection after all. But it wasn’t only Dash, he was feeling something different about himself. He’d never been so concerned about his appearance in front of a friend before. Was it nervousness? Anxiety? Whatever it was, it was confusing the hell out of him.

When their food arrived, Dash finally got to figure out what she ordered. Since she didn’t really know, she just went for something reasonably priced, for Soarin’s sake. It was...some sort of potato salad? Or so she thought. Everything was laid out so neatly and decorative. Not that it would stay that way for long.

“Anything else?” The waiter asked.

“No, thank you,” Soarin replied, but looked at Dash to make sure that there was nothing else. Dash just shook her head to confirm it.

The waiter did a swift turn on the spot. “Enjoy,” he said, then left.

Dash took a big bite into hers and it immediately made her regret her choice of eating earlier. She’d have rather waited and had this instead. The food was absolutely amazing. The flavours made her tastebuds tingle, and she felt like she could just drift away in a sea of flavour.

“It’s good, right?”

She blinked as Soarin’s voice broke her out of her trance. She swallowed before answering, “Amazing.”

“It’s not in the list of top five restaurants in Cloudsdale for nothing. You get what you paid for.” Soarin replied as he tucked into his food.

“How did you guys end up here for a Hearth’s Warming party anyway?” Dash asked in-between bites. She was enjoying her food so much, she struggled to find time to speak. She considered it pretty normal for a high-ranking organisation to go to a high-ranking restaurant But from what she’s seen of the Wonderbolts, they don’t seem like the fancy dinner party type...

“We operate on a rota each year on who’s gonna organise it. It was Spitfire’s turn last year, and all she said was that her mom recommended this place. And the rest is history…” he began to chuckle, “hilarious, filthy, blurry, destructive history…”

“You seriously need to tell me this story at some point,” Dash replied with a smile.

“When you’ve not got food in your stomach…” Soarin said with a wink, then noticed something. “Uh, you got a little bit…” Soarin pointed to the position on his cheek where he saw Rainbow had some excess sauce on hers.

“Huh?” Dash picked up her napkin and tried to wipe the area she thought Soarin was pointing to.

“No, to the right,” Soarin instructed.

Dash moved her hoof to the right, but still couldn’t feel anything.

“No wait, my right,” Soarin corrected.

Dash moved her hoof in the opposite direction, hoping that got it.

“Not quite,” Soarin informed before picking up his own napkin and leaning across the table. His hoof slowly moved towards her before he gently placed it on her cheek and wiped off what she missed. “There we go.”

Dash immediately froze as soon as the napkin on Soarin’s hoof made contact with her cheek. She felt the place he rubbed get hotter, and the heat slowly spread outwards across the rest of her face. She wasn’t expecting him to do that at all. She was pretty close to getting it anyway? Why did he do that? Unless...he wanted to?

Dash quickly pushed that thought to the back of her mind. There was no way that Soarin was trying to pull something like that...right?

Although her memory didn’t take long to put two and two together and recall someone who would. “Thanks, mom,” She replied sarcastically.

“To be honest, I was contemplating having a laugh watching you try and get it yourself, but..” Soarin responded to sarcasm with more sarcasm, then shrugged. Causing them both to chuckle.

Dash’s only regret was not arranging this sooner, so she could’ve skipped dinner back at the Wonderbolts HQ. The food here was so good. Although for that price, she’d damn hope so. Just the price of a starter here would be the price of a full meal anywhere else.

Soarin paid the bill and led Dash out of the restaurant and back onto the streets of Cloudsdale. “Fancy coffee or anything?” He asked. He didn’t really have anything planned. He was just rolling with the punches based on what Dash wanted to do.

“Nah, I’m good,” Dash replied casually, then smirked as an idea entered her head. “But I’ll race you back!” She shot directly upwards from the spot, trying to get above the height of the city to give her a clear run.

“Hey, that wasn’t a fair start!” Soarin complained as he followed her upwards.

Dash cleared Cloudsdale and marked the Wonderbolts HQ. All she had to do was fly as fast as she could in its direction. The only obstacles were some of Cloudsdale’s higher structures.

She pumped her wings hard and accelerated as fast as she could. Relishing in the slight euphoria that she just outwitted a Wonderbolt. However, the feeling didn’t last long as a white blur whooshed over her head.

“Gotta keep up!” Soarin yelled as he zoomed past her.

“Don’t doubt it!” Dash replied as she chased him. Using some of the knowledge she had obtained from being around White Comet, she pulled up and into the up-wash air circulations he was producing in order to make herself fly faster.

When they started turning corners, Dash could plainly see the amount of experience Soarin had compared to her. He was so smooth and stable through the corners compared to her. That didn’t mean she wasn’t fast however. He just seemed to be doing it a lot easier.

As they flew downwards, she saw a slow right followed by a sharp left, which had so much similarity to a scenario she faced before, it triggered a memory. ‘I wonder how Comet did it…’ She thought as she accelerated towards the corner.

Soarin slowed for the corner, but was taken by surprise when he saw Dash race past on his right side. His eyes widened and his lips parted at the sight of her about to take the corner at the speed she was going to. The question was, how would she do it?

‘So he held it to the right…’

Dash went through the steps in her head as she tried to replicate what she saw Comet do. She pulled her forelegs to the right, trying to hold as much of her weight on the right side as possible.

‘And then threw it all to the left!’

She eyed her approach for the left turn that was coming up. She marked her entry, then made her move, flinging all her weight across to the left side. Rather than feeling her flank stepping out, she felt the exact opposite; her front half being pulled around. It felt like she was being pulled around the corner on rails. She started to see how this trick could come in handy.

Or she would, if she didn’t start to feel herself rotate more than she wanted. She felt her body pitch past ninety degrees and keep rolling over, and she kept yawing around to the left. The brief feeling of speed was replaced by a feeling she knew all too well. She was spinning.

She tried her best to correct herself, but she didn’t have much time to react before she landed in the cloud with a moderately loud POOF. “Ughhh…” She moaned out of a combination of frustration and exertion.

Soarin would be lying if he said he didn’t see it coming, but a part of him honestly though Dash was going to make it until he saw her start to spin. He gently slowed down and landed on top of the cloud to help her. “You overcooked that one a little bit, didn’t ya?” He said as he offered a hoof out to help her up.

“Pff,” Dash spat some cloud out of her mouth, “don’t remind me.” She said angrily, looking away. Her face lit up like a match in a dark room, she was clearly embarrassed from screwing up in front of somepony who was meant to be judging her on her flying ability.

All Soarin could do was chuckle at the situation and say something that he was ninety-nine percent sure that he was about to regret. “You know, you’re cute when you blush like that.” That was it. He was sure that was a death sentence right there.

“Hey, you know I hate being called that…” Dash moaned in response as she looked towards him.

Soarin felt a smile involuntarily creep across his face. Since she wasn’t going crazy at him over it, he just saw it as a sign that he could prod further, and just reverted to the way he would respond to any other situation; serious sarcasm.

“I know,” he replied as he hovered into the air. “That’s why I say it. Cute…”

“Stop it!” Dash said as she playfully tried to tackle him, but Soarin managed to move up a few feet before she reached him.

“I would, but you’ll have to catch me first!” He declared before shooting off into the distance.

“Oh, I’ll catch you alright!” Dash retorted as she immediately gave chase on the final stretch towards the HQ.

Soarin had built up quite a bit of a lead, but Dash was in his wake, doing her best to catch up. Since she had a slight altitude advantage, gravity was on her side as they descended towards the HQ.

Dash didn’t concentrate on the HQ however. She only watched Soarin. She was determined to get him. Even if this was just a joke, she was defiantely taking it way too seriously. She knew she was, but she didn’t care. Besides, Soarin always gets away with his sarcasm always sounding so serious. Why can’t she do the same?

She was slowly closing on Soarin, but all of a sudden, Soarin started slowing down. Why? Whatever the reason, Dash would use it to her advantage. She didn’t slow down at all. She maintained her speed as she got to within tackling distance of Soarin.



Dash only celebrated her victory for a second as she only just noticed the reason Soarin was slowing down.

They were near the HQ.

Quite near to the HQ.

Very near to the HQ.

As in only a few feet from tapping their hooves down on the cloud outside the HQ.

Since Dash saw this one coming, she used what little time she had to brace for impact. “OOOF!” They both landed hard on the clouds with a loud POOF and rolled a few times before coming to a stop.

“Ughh...two times in one night?” Dash complained as she rubbed her head. “Not good…”

“Well, that was the last thing I was expecting.” Soarin commented as he blinked a few times and got his bearings himself. He tried to move, but his hooves were trapped under something. It was only then that he noticed that he was awkwardly placed on top of Rainbow Dash. “Uhh, Dash…?” He implied, feeling himself starting to blush.

“Huh?” Dash felt something moving on her back as Soarin spoke. She looked down to see Soarin lying on top of her with his torso pressed into hers. “Oh! uhh…” she extended her wings and pushed herself and him up a little bit, just enough for Soarin to free his hooves trapped under her.

Soarin took his hooves back and pushed himself up and off Rainbow Dash. He took a step back then offered Rainbow a hoof up. Rainbow grasped his hoof and pulled herself up. Since Soarin was obviously strong, he had no trouble in helping her up.

“Hehe...sorry…” Soarin apologised, feeling his blush intensify. He looked away and scratched the back of his head with left forehoof.

“Don’t worry...i-it was my fault...hehe…” Dash responded nervously as she did the same.

“Ahem,” Soarin cleared his throat and looked at her, “So...guess that’s the end. Did you enjoy it?” Soarin asked.

“Huh?” Dash looked back at him, wondering what he meant.

“The date, I-I mean…” He clarified awkwardly.

“Oh! Uhh…” Dash never thought she would say this about a date. “It was...fun…” she admitted, sounding as if she was quite speechless. Never in a million years she thought she would’ve used ‘date’ and ‘fun’ in the same context.

“Oh? Good, good…” Soarin replied, smiling. “Would you...like to do it again sometime?”

Normally, Dash would have a pretty clear-cut answer for this. However, she found herself leaning away from that answer. “Uhh…” she had to really think about it. Normally, somepony as awesome as her would never even consider something as uncool as this. But that aside...she actually enjoyed being with Soarin. She enjoyed spending time with him. And he was an awesome stallion, right? He was a Wonderbolt for crying out loud. A WONDERBOLT! But a con would be that, according to Soarin, they would both get in trouble if they were caught. It could be interpreted as Dash trying to score some ‘bonus points’ with one of the judges, and get her disqualified. Not to mention it would put Soarin’s credibility with his fellow Wonderbolts into question. But part of her liked the thought of the secrecy. It made it sound slightly more daring, and got her adrenaline pumping.

And with all that in mind…

“Yeah...yeah, I would.” She answered Soarin.

“You would!?” Soarin almost jumped for joy. “Great! Um...I’ll...let you know when we can hang out next. But, uh…” his speech became more broken down and awkward. He sounded as if he was shocked by her response. “But we’ve gotta get back now. D-Don’t wanna tire you out for tomorrow.”

“Yeah, haha…” Dash replied, the same awkward tone in her voice. “Well…” she turned towards the door, “see ya tomorrow, Soarin.”

“Yeah, see ya,” Soarin replied before turning around to go back the way he came. He would walk a path around the outside of the HQ to go through a back door that led up to all of their private rooms a lot quicker.

He thought about all the events that transpired tonight, and the reality of what just happened slowly caught up with him. The weight of it slowly built up as he walked along, as as he neared the door, it all suddenly dropped on him.

“Wait...did...I just…” he looked around in confusion, not looking for anything in particular, but hoping it would help him think straight. “Am I…”

“♫Soarin and Rainbow sittin’ in a tree… ♫” A familiar high-pitched girly voice sang above him before breaking out into fits of giggles.

Soarin groaned quietly to himself as his train of thought was derailed. Well, not derailed, but rather the cargo it was carrying suddenly doubled in weight. “Oh great, my stalker has shown her face…” Soarin replied, not even bothering to look up to confirm who it was.

Blaze glided down from the room and landed in front of Soarin, still giggling. “Don’t be so grumpy, Soarin,” she playfully swatted his shoulder. “Everypony likes somepony at some point. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I don’t ‘like her’ like that,” he retorted unconvincingly, looking away from Blaze.

“Sure ya don’t, sure ya don’t,” Blaze responded sarcastically, rolling her eyes.

“I don’t!” Soarin exclaimed with what sounded like desperation at her. “We’re good friends...that’s it,” he clarified.

Blaze kept her goofy grin, but raised an eyebrow at Soarin. “Your sarcasm is so good, I can’t tell if you're being serious or not.”

“I’m dead serious, Blaze.” Soarin said in a lowered tone, implying he was done messing around.

Blaze chuckled softly, “You really don’t see what’s happening do you?” She questioned.

“See what?” Soarin asked, shrugging.

“Awwwww…” Blaze cooed, before throwing her arms around Soarin’s neck and pulling him into a tight hug. “You’re soo cute when you’re clueless!” She chimed and gave Soarin a noogie at the same time.

“Thanks,” Soarin replied, definitely sarcastic this time. He didn’t even try to return the hug to Blaze, as he had nothing to return. “Can you get off me?” He asked bluntly.

Blaze complied, returned to her own four hooves, and let out a few last chuckles. “Alright, joke time’s over. Serious advice time.” She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly to calm herself before looking back at Soarin. “Soarin, if you don’t have those feelings, that’s fine. But have you ever stopped to consider little Dashie’s feelings, hmm?”

Soarin opened his mouth to respond, but...he couldn’t. Annoyingly, Blaze had raised a good point. As usual. Blaze had a habit of toying with poor ponies for a few minutes beforehoof and not actually giving them the advice she wanted to give until she’s had her fun.

He flattened his ears and looked towards the ground as he contemplated. Here he was, struggling to comprehend what he was up to himself, but he never once stopped to consider how Dash was reading his actions. Could it be possible that she was taking them as meaning something more than just the friendship Soarin was convinced was all they were? Nah, surely not Dash. Of all ponies, Dash doesn’t seem like the type to fall in love like that. But it was still a possibility. Or maybe she just liked hanging around with him a lot? All these possibilities...but not enough time to consider them all...

“Thought so,” Blaze replied, and swiftly turned around. “Oh, and Soarin?”

Soarin’s ears perked up and he looked up at Blaze.

“I know you’d usually get in big trouble for this, but don’t worry, your secrets safe with me.” Blaze replied with a wink.

“Yeah, so you can use if for gossip later,” Soarin clarified, a slight smile easing across his face.

“Hey, I don’t gossip,” Blaze retorted, “I keep it all up here until the time comes where I can use it to my advantage.” She tapped her forehead to show what she meant. “You’re confusing me with High Winds.” She started to walk back presumably the same way Soarin was going.

“Oh, so you can blackmail me with it instead?” Soarin replied sarcastically.

“Pff, what kind of pony do you take me for? I’m always giving you advice, and all you ever do is shoot me down.” Blaze explained. “At least you didn’t confuse me for my sister.”

“Well, I usually hear you before I see you. That kinda gives it away...” Soarin explained as he pushed the door open into the HQ…

Dash walked down the corridor back into the HQ. She heard a few conversations, but not many. Most ponies had probably gone back to their rooms at this point in the evening anyway. All the lights were still on though, there was no sign of the Wonderbolts beginning to close up shop.

As she reached the mess hall, she took another look at the eliminations board. It all looked the same, apart from one thing; Riptides name had been taken off the board. Dash could see the smudge marks left from where it had been rubbed off.

“What the…?” She said to herself as she tried to imagine what happened. Had Rapidfire changed his mind? Was Riptide trying to do something clever? Whatever it was, she was about to find out.

She walked hastily down the corridor down to her room. Once she was there, she pushed the door open and saw Riptide sitting on his bed reading one of his magazines.

Not bothering to say anything else to any of her other roommates, she marched straight up to Riptide’s bed. “Riptide, what’s going on?” She straight-up asked.

“Hm?” Riptide looked up from his magazine.

“Your name was on the eliminations board. But now it’s not. How did you do it?” She continued to question.

“I dunno Dash, the ‘Bolt’s must’ve just changed their mind,” he commented in his usual carefree tone combined with a shrug.

No, that definitely wasn’t convincing for Dash. She knew firsthoof how difficult it was to change the mind of a Wonderbolt.“But...how? There’s usually no changing their minds. Did you speak to somepony?”

“Nah, it must’ve just been my charm,” he replied nonchalantly as he bought his hoof up to rub the base of his neck.

“Same story we’ve all got,” Dahlia suddenly butted in.

Dash glanced at Dahlia before glancing back at Riptide. She thought for two seconds, but then decided to give up. “Pff, whatever…” Dash stopped trying to get anything else out of him and walked back over to her bed. Given the way Riptide’s mouth tended to run though, she could tell he would spill out how he did it eventually anyway.

“Say Dash,” Dahlia’s words made Dash stop in front of her bed. “You were out a little longer than your ‘quick flight’ suggested.”

Dash immediately turned to look at her. Her eyes were slightly wide from being caught off guard, but she tried to keep as straight a face as possible.

“What exactly were you doing?” Dahlia asked the exact question on her mind as if it was just a regular old question.

“Oh, I uh,” Dash’s eyes darted all over the room as she rummaged through her brain for semi-believable answers. “I, just...fly...and stuff...around town…hehe…” she scratched the back of her head and focused back on Dahlia. “I uh...had to...pick a few things up. Run a few errands…y’know…”

Dash so just wanted to climb into her bed, crawl under the covers and pretend she didn’t exist for a little while so everypony would forget that she just said that. How would anypony believe that?

A half-smile formed on Dahlia’s face and her eyes narrowed. “Fair enough,” she said contently, then bought up a magazine and shifted her focus to that instead.

Dash could read that look a mile away. She knew. She defiantely knew. She might not know exactly, but she definitely knew that something wasn’t right. Dash could only hope that she didn’t know the full story. But even if she did, Dahlia seemed like a trustworthy pony. She seemed to care enough about everypony else. Maybe that’s why she didn’t say? Was she waiting until she could speak to her in private about it? Or maybe she wouldn’t say anything at all? All these possibilities, but Dash would just have to tackle them when they came.

For now, she needed to focus on one thing; the challenges that she would face in tomorrow's tests...and Soarin.

Wait, no, not Soarin...okay, maybe a little Soarin, but mostly tomorrow’s tests...but she just couldn’t get Soarin out of her mind. She’d made a great friend out of him, but he somehow had made an imprint in her brain that she was struggling to get rid of. And what was this strange feeling she was getting whenever she thought about him? It was a weird combination of excitement and anxiety. Something that she only really felt whenever she was showing off a new trick. But when she did that, she normally felt the adrenaline first before that. With Soarin, there was no adrenaline. It was like she felt completely calm around him, yet that feeling of anxiety still kept her on edge.

Anyway, tomorrow’s tests...

Chapter 12

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“Ya know, you never did explain how you’re still here,” Dahlia implied to Riptide as they and everypony else walked back inside the HQ. They had just finished their trials for the day, and were heading to the showers.

“Really?” Riptide tapped his chin, “I swear I did…” he pondered.

“Nope,” Dahlia punctuated. “Well, apart from the whole ‘I didn’t do nothin’, the ‘Bolt’s changed their mind because of my sweet talkin’ ‘ thing.” She said whilst imitating his voice and swinging her head from side to side dramatically.

“Well,” Riptide shrugged, “that’s all there is to it then. Like I told you.”

“And as I said before, I don’t believe you,” Dahlia said in a snide tone, narrowing her stare.

“And as I keep replying, that seems like your problem, not mine. Honestly Dahlly,” He wrapped a wing around her torso and pulled her towards him, “I thought you’d trust me a lot more by now.”

“Eww, ewww, you’re all sweaty, eww!” She whined as she pushed off of him, flailing her forelegs about.

Dash chuckled watching them from behind. In all honesty, she was as curious as Dahlia as to what actually went down. But she wasn’t as stubborn as Dahlia. Not that that meant that she believed what Riptide told them. Because she didn’t. She would just wait and find out another time.

She groaned a little as she walked into the shower run, tossing her flight suit into the nearby basket. Today’s test got a little rough after it started involving physical contact with other ponies. And she had a few run-in’s with Thunder Flash. A few? More like a lot. Dash didn’t know why, but she was certain Thunder Flash wanted her dead...okay, maybe that was a little overdramatic, but still...something bad…

And she still didn’t know what Thunder’s beef with her was. To her, it was just random acts of aggression. Sure, she might not be a friendly pony, but that wasn’t a reason to just randomly pick on one specific pony. She seemed to behave herself around other ponies. Well, she wasn’t exactly polite, but she didn’t lay her hooves on anypony else. She just turned into a bit of an ass. She was basically like a female version of Torque.

Dash skulked into the shower and made her way to the first one that wasn’t occupied. She turned it on and let the semi-warm water drench her, feeling it wash away the sweat that had accumulated from today. She let herself relax for a few seconds then picked up a bar of soap from the rack and began properly washing herself. Just water might have made her feel better, but it didn’t stop her from stinking.

Suddenly, she felt a shove come from her left side. She had her eyes closed to stop the soapy water getting in them, so she didn’t manage to get a sight. Her hooves slipped, but she managed to maintain her footing. She quickly wiped her face so she could open her eyes.

“You’re in my spot,” an all-too familiar voice said.

Rainbow opened her eyes, but didn’t need to as she recognised the voice. Thunder Flash took her place in the shower and continued on like nothing happened. Although she had many eyes from showers around her looking at the two of them.

“Excuse me!?” Dash exclaimed right back at her. That move was the final straw for her. She’d been pushed around enough. There was no time to beat around the bush any longer, it was time for her to do what she did best; confront the issue head on.

She took a step forward to position herself closer to Thunder, who simply turned around carelessly to face her. “Listen filly,” she began through slightly gritted teeth, “if you’ve got a problem, fight me. But you seriously don’t know what you’re getting yourself into…” she growled as she stared at her with narrowed eyes, trying to make herself appear threatening.

Dash almost laughed at her cringeworthy attempt at intimidation. It didn’t phase her at all. In fact, she took it as more of an invitation. ‘If you’ve got a problem, fight me.’

“Ugh,” Thunder rolled her eyes and began to turn around to get back to showering, “piss off…”

Suddenly, Dash grabbed her on the shoulder with her left hoof and spun her around, then using her other hoof, piled it on to her right cheek, throwing it out of the shower. Thunder slid in the water, but maintained her footing by balancing the slid and just rolling with it.

Numerous “Oooooh”’s echoed from the mares surrounding them. Dash didn’t hesitate for a second to take the initiative whilst Thunder was recovering from the shock of being hit in the face. She charged straight at her, determined to lay another punch. But Thunder recovered just in time to parry Dash’s attack and hit her back in the gut.

“OOOF!” The air was forced out of Dash’s lungs as she pretty much launched herself into Thunder’s hoof. But she recovered quickly enough to notice that Thunder had grappled her around the torso and was about to throw her.

Dash let her do it, but as soon as she was released, she thrust her wings out to act as an air brake. The resulting force of the air movement threw water up everywhere. Mares around them complained and whined as soapy water got in their eyes.

‘She’s strong…’ Dash thought as she glided through the air, using everything available to her to slow herself down. She wasn’t expecting to be thrown that well. Thunder Flash definitely packed more muscle than she displayed.

Once she had stopped, Dash immediately charged back at Thunder, who took off herself and charged back at Dash. The resulting force of both pegasi’s wings forcing air around threw all the water away from them and made a dry patch about a meter wide where they collided. They immediately locked forelegs in a grapple and fell to the floor. The pair of them span around in circles as they kicked at each other with their hind legs whilst trying to strangle each other with their fore. Thunder easily forced Rainbow’s hoof outwards to give herself an opening.

Thunder released the grip on her left hoof to try and hook Rainbow in the cheek again, but Rainbow saw it coming and turned her face so she only just skimmed her cheek.

Rainbow saw an opening and used her hind legs to kick Thunder off her “Ghh!” she chuffed as her hooves landed on Thunder’s torso. It felt like she was kicking a brick wall. Thunder was well built…

Thunder fell backwards hard onto a shower pipe, tearing it from its railings and spraying a powerful jet of water everywhere. She groaned as she stroked the back of her head, feeling blood on her hoof. But she chose to ignore it after she saw Dash diving straight for her.

Dash gritted her teeth and readied herself for the collision. She had a chance, and she knew she needed to use it. As she neared Thunder, she lowered her head, closed her eyes and counted down to the impending collision.

“ARGH!” She felt the impact, but not in the way he expected it. She felt two powerful points of pressure on her shoulders, which caused them to make cracking noises upon impact. And Thunder’s body felt farther away than she expected.

She opened her eyes and looked up to see what was going on. And when she did, she was unsure what to think. Thunder had pressed her back up against the wall and stopped her with her bare forehooves. There was no doubt in Dash’s mind now...and she hated to admit it...but...Thunder Flash was stronger than her…

Before she had any time to think further about her next move, she saw Thunder’s head flinch upwards. She tried to react, but her reaction times weren’t quick enough. Thunder bought her head down and headbutted Dash right on the top of her nose. She was probably aiming for the head, but Dash only just moved out of the way in time to prevent that.

“ARRGH!” Dash was knocked back a few feet by the blow. She maintained her footing, using one hoof to clench her nose, which was starting to flow with blood like a waterfall. Her nose seriously hurt, she was wondering if she’d broke it.

But her pain suddenly dropped in priority when she felt a hoof grab her and twist her on her shoulder. She prepared to counter another blow from Thunder Flash, but she didn’t need to as somepony else did it for her. Spitfire pushed Thunder away from her at the very last second.

“Ladies, I think that’s enough!” Spitfire demanded, putting herself between the two of them as a precaution.

A tense silence fell upon the room, the only sound being the hiss of the water coming out of the broken pipe. It lasted for a few seconds before Spitfire broke it. “Get yourselves cleaned up and meet me in my office in twenty…” she said calmly as she did a swift turn and walked towards the exit.

Well...at least she didn’t seem that mad…

“EVERYPONY OUT, SHOWERS BROKEN, WE NEED TO FIX IT!” Spitfire suddenly yelled at the top of her voice, waving her hooves towards the exit, making a few ponies yelp at the sudden boom of her voice.

...or not…

Rainbow made a quick dash to the bathroom to grab some toilet paper before she left to try and stem the flow of blood from her nose. Luckily, her and Thunder Flash avoided anymore encounters upon exit.

“What was that all about?” Dahlia pulled alongside Dash to ask the question.

“Ask Thunder Bitch, she’s the one who started it,” Dash replied, still with a little bit of anger in her voice.

“Are you hurt? She was pretty strong…”

“I’m fine,” Dash simply replied. She was not in the mood to talk. By the tone in Spitfire’s voice a few minutes ago, it was implying that this was the end of the road for her. She felt like packing her bags now. Would save her the time....

When Dash got back to her room, she luckily saw the bathroom door open, implying that it was free. She got a few looks of concern from the twins, Bright Skies and White Comet as she walked through, but she didn’t have time to fill them in. Dahlia would probably do that for her anyway. Torque didn’t seem the slightest bit interested. As predicted.

She used her towel to finish drying herself off, which proved extremely difficult when trying to hold some toilet paper to your nose with one hoof and using the other to dry yourself. A brief moment where she could see the advantage of being born a Unicorn.

When she was a clean as she could get herself despite the circumstances, she took a look in the mirror. She gave her mane the quickest brush she could, but didn’t spend too long on it. Not because she didn’t have time, but because she didn’t usually care. That, and she had other things on her mind besides how good her mane looks.

She held her head up for a few minutes to further stem the bleeding. Over and over she swapped the sides of the tissue to a clean side so she could check when it stopped bleeding. Once she had confirmed it, she threw the tissue in the toilet and flushed it before walking out, mentally preparing herself to meet Spitfire about the incident.

She didn’t say anything or look at anypony as she walked out, she simply hung her head low. There was no such thing as painlessly in a situation like this, so the next best thing was just wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible.

As she approached Spitfire’s office, she noticed that Thunder Flash had already got there. As soon as Thunder noticed, she glared at Dash and flared her nostrils.

Dash, in no mood to argue pointlessly, simply broke eye contact and gritted her teeth to suppress her growl. “Let’s not do this now,” she tried to reason with her.

“Whatever,” Thunder replied, flicking her head away. “Knock,” She ordered.

This time, Dash couldn’t help but release a low growl. But she did her best to make it unnoticeable. She bought her hoof up to Spitfire’s door and knocked loudly three times. Louder than she had intended, but she didn’t care.

“Enter,” Spitfire sharply responded.

Dash could tell from the harshness in her voice that she wasn’t happy at all. She could only fear the worst. Which is what she was fearing already. But Spitfire’s reaction only further confirmed her presumptions.

She attempted to go through the door first, but Thunder barged her way through to beat her. She simply huffed and followed afterwards.

Inside Spitfire’s office, it looked essentially the same last time she had been here in the Wonderbolt Academy. Her desk was at the back of the room in front of multiple big windows that gave her the best view of the area surrounding the Wonderbolts HQ. Her desk itself had multiple pieces of paper scattered across it. Nothing too crazy, but it was enough to tell that she was being kept busy.

“Sit,” Spitfire motioned her hoof to one chair and then another that were sitting opposite her desk, not stopping from her slow walk.

Rainbow and Thunder simply complied, hopping onto the chairs respectively.

Spitfire took position on her office chair behind her desk, wheeling it forward and leaning on top of her desk, cupping her hooves together. “Before we begin, is there anything either of you would like to say?”

Rainbow’s ears perked up at the question. Looks like she was going to get a chance to explain herself. She might weasel her way out of this just yet. “I was under one of the showers and Thunder just pushed me out the way, demanding it was hers.” Dash explained, feeling as if that’s all she needed to say.

Spitfire looked over at Thunder and raised an eyebrow. “Is this true, Thunder Flash?” She questioned.

Thunder Flash looked away from both Spitfire and Rainbow Dash, looking to her right and down towards the ground. “Yeah, but R--”

“Enough,” Spitfire cut her off, tapping her hoof on her desk to punctuate her point. “No ‘yeah but’ ‘s. I can tell this is just gonna turn into a typical schoolyard argument, and my time is extremely valuable, so we’ll discuss it no further.”

She stood up from behind her desk and turned to face the window. Dash could sense what was coming. And she was cursing herself because of the way Spitfire put it. They got into that huge fight and damaged that pipe all over a shower when there were plenty others around them free? Even though Dash had every right to stand up for herself, it still seemed like a stupid thing to sacrifice everything for.

Spitfire closed her eyes and slowly exhaled, slowly opening them again on the inhale. “You will be docked a considerable amount of points...and if we get a bill for the repair of that pipe, expect to get half each through the mail...that will be all…”

Dash’s face suddenly shot upwards and her ears turned towards Spitfire. Was that it? Really?

“That’s it?”

“That’s it?”

Thunder and Rainbow asked at the same time. They took a brief look towards each other because of the coincidence, but immediately returned their attention to Spitfire.

“No ‘don’t do again’ ‘s? No tellings off? No nothing?” Rainbow questioned, genuinely underwhelmed by Spitfire’s reaction.

“What do I look like? Your mother?” Spitfire snapped quickly, only turning her head slightly to the left to direct her voice towards them. “I don’t think I need to explain what will happen if I catch you again. Now leave, before I change my mind…” she ordered, moving back behind her desk.

Taking the hint, both Rainbow and Thunder stood up and left Spitfire’s office, making sure the door was fully shut behind them before they looked at each other. Dash glared daggers into her face, and Thunder also returned the disapproving look. Although nowhere near on the intensity Dash was.

Thunder Flash blinked and broke eye contact, turning around and heading down the corridor.

“Well?” Dash questioned.

“Well what?” Thunder questioned with another question.

Dash turned so she was facing the direction Thunder was walking in. “What was that all about?”

“I’d drop it if I were you. You heard what Spitfire said…” She replied firmly with confidence.

“Not gonna work,” Dash snapped back. Thunder tried to dodge the question, but she saw right through it. “What’s your problem?”

“We have nothing more to discuss,” She replied flatly. “Now piss off.”

Dash growled a little, but chose not to press further. It was like talking to Torque but with more swearing. But it had the same point as talking to Torque. As in it was pointless, because she didn’t get anything out of either of them.

As she walked back to her room, she actually felt a smile creeping up on her face. Despite what just happened, she somehow managed to dodge getting dismissed. She was still in the game. Although the bill for that pipe better not be expensive…

But then again… “Heh heh…” She chuckled at her realisation. On a Wonderbolt’s salary, she probably wouldn’t even notice that the money had gone missing. Just another incentive for her to get this right…

As soon as she stepped back into her room, all eyes immediately laid upon her. Well...almost all eyes…

“So what happened?” Dahlia immediately probed, but took note that Dash looked slightly happier than before she went to Spitfire's office. “Is that it?”

Dash chuffed and smiled, shaking her head. “Nah, I managed to get out of it with a warning,” she explained.

“So you’re staying? That’s great!” Dahlia exclaimed, though she quickly fell silent as there was another issue still to be dealt with. “So what was all that about with Thunder Flash?”

“Pfff, like I know,” Dash replied, rolling her eyes. “She doesn’t want to talk. All I’ve figured out is that she really doesn’t like me for some reason…”

“Yeah...we kinda got that part…” Horizon chimed into the conversation.

“I wanna rip her apart so badly,” Dash complained, clenching her hooves. “But I don’t wanna get myself kicked out either…”

“Hm...the innocent victim,” Comet identified. “That’s a tough one.”

“I guess your just gonna have to play it passively for as long as you can…” Dahlia suggested, although what she was saying was a bit obsolete as she’s seen firsthoof that Thunder Flash has always been the instigator.

“Yeah…” Dash sighed and laid back on her bed. “Easier said than done…”

Spitfire sighed and rested her head in her hooves on her desk. “Alright, you can come in now. Whoever you are…” She said in a semi-careless voice, different to her usual mood. Mainly because there was a lot of thoughts clouding her mind. Although she had still sensed that there was somepony standing outside her door.

However, after a moment of thinking, her ears perked up as she noticed that nopony had entered yet. “Come on, I’m waiting,” she said a bit more seriously, still confident that there was somepony there and she wasn’t just talking to a wall.

The door creaked open to reveal a certain Alice blue pegasus with a blue mane. “Oh, hey Soarin,” she began upon seeing him, but raised her head to look at him as she noticed something. “It’s not like you to wait for permission to enter.”

“Well, I heard what was going on in here a moment ago.” He began, talking in a more serious voice than her. Which was an extremely rare occasion.

Spitfire rolled her eyes, “So I presume you know what happened?” She asked, bringing her hooves behind her head and leaning back in her seat.

Soarin moved closer towards her desk, “I think we should have at least told Rainbow Dash about her first. It might have prevented...that.” He explained, cutting straight to the chase.

“Or just made it happen sooner,” Spitfire also suggested. “It’s not in our jurisdiction to disclose the history of one cadet to another. Be it either professionally or, in your case, personally. That information is classed as confidential, and we could get sued for disclosing it.”

Soarin tilted his head and raised an eyebrow, “What do you mean ‘in my case’?” He questioned.

Spitfire leaned forwards and met his eyes with her. Soarin wasn’t going to lie, she’s always had an intimidating stare that can go from innocent to death in a millisecond.

“You don’t think I’ve noticed? Or any of the other ‘Bolt’s noticed?” She implied.

Soarin immediately knew exactly what she meant, but decided to play dumb. “Noticed what?” He questioned back.

Spitfire leant forward again, back onto her desk with her forehooves lying parallel to each other. “You and Rainbow Dash. Getting a bit… ‘friendly’ aren’t you?”

Soarin let out a frustrated sigh, “It’s not like that.” He immediately defended.

“Hate to break it to you Soarin, but you’re not very convincing,” Spitfire replied. “And I hope I don’t have to remind you about the penalty for fraternising with the cadets…”

“I know, I know…” Soarin moaned, more frustrated than anything. “But...we’re just friends...that’s all…”

Spitfire finally relaxed her shoulders, noticing Soarin’s frustration. She liked keeping up her captain persona, in order to help her exert her authority and to make sure her words got through loud and clear. But Soarin had been her friend for a very long time, and he was one of the few she felt she could be lenient with.

“Listen Soarin, as your CO, I should be telling you to stop this right now. But as your friend, I’m not going to stop you. But ONLY on the condition that it won’t cloud your judgement. You’ve damaged your credibility with me enough already as it is. I don’t want that sinking any lower.”

“My credibility?” Soarin raised an eyebrow, “You don’t trust me?” He asked in disbelief.

“Not as much as I did,” Spitfire admitted, although not as willingly as she wanted to. She sighed before continuing talking. “Soarin, I know you care a lot about Dash, but--”

“I care about her as much as I do any other cadet,” Soarin immediately interjected, feeling a need to defend himself. He could sense that Spitfire was trying to point the conversation in a different direction.

“Oh really?” Spitfire picked up on his attitude and raised an eyebrow. She could tell he was on the defensive, and that’s all the evidence she needed. “So why are you here?”

“I’m here to--...” Soarin stopped himself as he realised where she was going with this. He tried to formulate an answer, but he couldn’t get one together in time.

“See what was going to happen to Rainbow Dash?” Spitfire finished for him, “Thought so.”

Soarin mumbled to himself, trying to think of any other responses. But there wasn’t any. “I...guess there's...potential…” He admitted, blushing ever so slightly.

“That’s for you to figure out, not me,” Spitfire replied. “Do what you think is right, but keep it to a limit. I don’t think I need to remind you, but I’m going to anyway. If the other cadets found out that you and Dash were getting friendly, not only would they start losing respect for you, but they’d also start judging Dash, thinking she’s getting an unfair advantage. And I’m sure if rumor of the results being rigged gets out, we’ll face a lawsuit quite quickly.”

“I know, I get it,” Soarin punctuated his understanding once again. Something that Spitfire didn’t seem to be taking notice of.

Spitfire huffed and remained silent for a few seconds, thinking things through. “Alright,” she said calmly, then kicked with her hooves and twisted her chair one hundred and eighty degrees, so she was now looking out the window. “It’s up to you now, Soarin. Make the right decisions. For the love of god, please make the right decisions.”

Soarin didn't say anything. He simply turned and headed for the door.

"Soarin?" He heard Spitfire's voice just before he bought his hoof up to leave. He turned around and looked at her.

"Please don't take it personally. I don't want...well, I don't want anything creating a barrier between us. I value our friendship, and I'd hate for professional decision to damage that..."

"I know, Spitfire," Soarin confirmed, pushing the door open, "I do too..." He finished off, closing the door behind him. Spitfire’s words, whilst understandable, had left a very sour taste in his mouth. He was still struggling to comprehend the fact that this has damaged his trust with Spitfire. He never even considered it. He was pretty sure that him and Dash would never be more than just friends...but over the past few days...he wasn’t so sure anymore…

“So what are you gonna do about it?” Bright Skies asked, picking up her knife and fork to start dinner.

“I’ll wait ‘till this is all over, then beat the crap outta her,” Dash said nonchalantly, taking a sip of juice. She really desperately wanted to get another round in with Thunder, but at the same time, she didn’t want to jeopardize her position with the Wonderbolts more than it already had been.

“Sounds...exciting…” Bright Skies replied, not entirely sure how to respond to Dash’s choice of words. Everypony else at the table was thinking the same thing.

Dash looked around for somepony inparticular, but he didn’t seem to be showing his face. She came to the conclusion that Soarin wanted to socialize with his fellow Wonderbolts instead. Not that it bothered her, as she’d be seeing him later anyway…

“Did you see the eliminations today?” Comet asked.

“Yeah, tough break for Strider,” Horizon replied, “kid looked like he could burst into tears at any moment. I tried to cheer him up, but he just ignored me.”

“Do you blame him?” Dahlia replied, “If my dreams just got crushed, I’d feel the same way.”

Again, another reminder for Dash as to what could happen. After her encounter with Thunder Flash, a minor slip-up could now cost her her dream. Something that she wouldn’t allow to happen, no matter what.

But first, food. Food now, worry later. She was starving…

“And then she tried to throw me against the wall, but BOOM!” Dash almost thrusted her wings into Soarin’s face as she mimicked the move. “And it created a shockwave cone around me and sent water everywhere, it was awesommeeee…”

“I bet it was…” Soarin replied, rolling his eyes as Rainbow Dash had told him this story a million times already.

The 2 of them sat down on a nearby cloud. They didn’t have any plans on what they wanted to do, it was just an impromptu meeting.

Dash sighed, “If Spitfire hadn’t stepped in…” she leant back against Soarin’s side, “I would’ve had her…”

Soarin flinched a few millimeters as he noticed Dash lean on him, but he held his position and let her do it. He tried his best to resist a blush, but it was hopeless as he wasn’t expecting the close contact. Her fur wasn’t as soft as he was expecting, which also took him by surprise. Then again, Dash wasn’t the type of mare to smother her coat in creams, lotions and other products.

They remained silent for a few seconds, with Dash leaning back against Soarin’s right foreleg, the back of her head resting on his shoulder. She had known for a while that something was up, since the way he was speaking to her was less relaxed than it normally was. But the stiffness of his body she felt against her back only confirmed it.

“Hey Soarin, you feeling alright?” She asked, looking up at him.

“Huh?” Soarin shook his head. He was off in deep thought, and Dash’s voice interrupted it. “Yeah, I’m fine…”

Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t sound less convincing if he tried. “You sure about that? You’ve been pretty out of it this whole evening…”

Soarin smirked a little bit before sighing. “Well...truth is, Spitfire and I had a little talk after she spoke to you and Thunder Flash…”

“Yeah?” Dash spoke quickly, pulling away from Soarin so she could sit up and pay attention. Unfortunately, Soarin was leaning into her, and with her pulling away, he suddenly had nothing to support himself.

“Whoa!” Soarin immediately reached out with his forelegs and right wing to try and grab her, but she hadn’t finished getting up either, so all he did was drag her down with him as they fell next to each other in the cloud.

Dash smirked, with Soarin’s face only inches away from hers due to the way they landed. “We seem to be in this position a lot, don’t we?” She said slyly, a slight blush visible across her nose.

“Yeah,” Soarin agreed, breaking eye contact and quickly bringing himself to his hooves, looking away in the hopes that Rainbow Dash wouldn’t notice his own blush. “Anyway, Spitfire had a word with me because she noticed that you and me like to...hang out…”

Dash nodded in response. She presumed that would be the case. If her roommates were getting suspicious, then no doubt Spitfire would. It was only a matter of time. “What did she say?”

“She said she wants me to...remain more...professional, for lack of a better word,” Soarin explained.

“Professional?” Rainbow continued to question.

Soarin nodded, “It was a polite way of saying, uh...stop getting personal on the job…”

“But we’re just friends, what does she care?”

“Well, for a start, I could be biased in my opinions and it could affect the scorings. There’s also…” he slowly bought his face up to get to eye level with her, “the other thing we're implying…”

“What other--...” Dash cut herself off as she realised what he meant. “...Oh…” her ears drooped down and she blushed. “Well…” Dash didn’t have the words to continue her sentence. She was just caught so off-guard with the route the conversation suddenly took a turn down.

“Well…” Soarin tried to pick up where she left off. He had something to say, but he was taking a big risk saying it. “I was...just...kinda taking it slow…” He reluctantly admitted.

To Dash, there couldn’t have been any better words for her. “Uhh...I was kinda gonna say the same thing…” she chuckled nervously and scratched the back of her head.

“Oh, really?” Soarin chuckled in response, “I didn’t wanna say anything in case you took it the wrong way…”

“I just froze up for the same reason…” Dash replied, then sighed. “This is my...first time doing this…” she reluctantly admitted, looking down towards the ground. She was ashamed to admit it, but she felt like now was the best a time as it was ever going to get.

“Oh?” Soarin’s brain didn’t take long to process her disclosure. “Then you go at whatever pace you want, and I’ll stay with you,” he stated with a smile. Although to the experienced, there was a huge problem with his suggesting. However, he was hoping that since Dash just said that this was her first experience, she wouldn’t even notice it.

Rainbow’s smile grew larger, feeling like a weight had just been lifted from her shoulders. “Thank you, Soarin,” she said sincerely. She normally didn’t like showing signs of being slow, weak or inexperienced...but for Soarin...she felt like she could. She felt like she could trust him more than anypony.

“Ey, what are friends for?” Soarin replied with a wink, pulling her closer to him with his wing. “But in all seriousness, I’ve got some stuff to do tonight, so we should head back.”

“Yeah, sure. I should probably be practicing a little bit anyway,” Dash replied, opening up her wings.

As she took flight, Soarin gently took off next to her. Since they were higher than the HQ, they simply glided back down to it with minimal effort.

“Spitfire’s got an annou--” Soarin cut himself off. Dash looked over at him, confused about what he was about to say. “Nothing…” Soarin corrected, looking away. He was going to give Rainbow Dash a heads up about tomorrow, but at the very mention of Spitfire’s name, he was reminded about what thin ice he was on.

“Well, see ya tomorrow, Soar,” Dash called as she made her way back inside.

“Yeah, see ya,” Soarin replied, waving quickly, even though she wasn’t looking. He turned and made his way round the back route, because it was a quicker way for him to get back to where he needed to go.

But then he remembered what happens when he normally does this. He stopped round the corner a few feet from the door. “Okay Blaze, you wanna come offer me ‘advice’ like you usually do?” He spoke out loud.

He suddenly felt a weight land on his back. He braced to take it, but it turned out not to be as heavy as the initial impact implied it to be. “This is WAY more fun than starting an argument between Fire and Lightning Streak.”

“I’m sure,” Soarin replied sarcastically, rolling his eyes and getting ready for Blaze to have the best entertainment of her life at his incompetence.

“Although…” she rolled on top of Soarin so she was resting with her back against his. “Are you sure you want to let her take the lead? If things don’t work out, it means things’ll hurt more. For both of you…” Blaze spoke quite seriously, using her normal habit of being able to switch between crazy and serious in a matter of milliseconds.

“I only did it so I could have more time to think…” Soarin replied.

“Think about what?” Blaze questioned. She had a pretty good idea, but she just wanted to hear Soarin say it.

“Well...I…” Soarin looked down, “just...want to...consider it…” he struggled to get out.

“Awww…” Blaze rolled over and wrapped her forelegs tightly around his neck, almost making Soarin choke. “You actually think you might like her? You’re sho cyoot!” She cooed whilst giving him a noogie.

“Blaze, c-c-can’t b-breathe…” Soarin choked out, kicking up from his back legs and using the inertia to fling Blaze off of him.

Blaze used her wings to spin around in the air and land on her hooves.

“Please don’t say that again…” Soarin asked, feeling himself starting to blush. “Spitfire’s already on my ass about it.”

“Ah, that old chestnut,” Blaze replied, rolling her eyes. “Trust me Soarin, you’ve got nothing to worry about. You’re too much valuable to Spitfire to do anything that might make impact your performance. Although she probably wouldn’t appreciate it very much, so...be prepared to get on her bad side. I feel like I’m on it permanently…”

“But you’re her little sister, isn’t it kinda your job?” Soarin joked.

“Little?” Blaze questioned, standing up as tall as she could and looking Soarin in the eyes.

“Well...yeah,” Soarin did the same, and Blaze’s forehead only just reached Soarin’s nose.

“Alright, you got me…” Blaze relaxed, looking away, muttering a few things under her breath.

Soarin blinked, and temporarily smiled before letting it subside. “But seriously, I’ve known Spitfire since high school. She's one of my best friends. And I want to keep it that way. And I’ve got a feeling that ‘I told you so’s’ won’t go down too well with her.”

Blaze smirked and couldn’t hold back a snort, “You’re taking relationship advice from Spitfire of all ponies?” She asked, laughing a little to herself.

Soarin shrugged, “Well...not necessarily advice, but...warnings…”

“Soarin,” Blaze rolled her eyes as she started her sentence, “you do realise that even you’ve had more experience than Spitfire. Spitfire’s never even had a single coltfriend. She probably doesn’t even know what love is.”

Before Soarin could react, Blaze reached over his shoulders and pulled him to her. “Seriously, you’re better off listening to ‘little’ Blaze here.” She advised with a smug tone, reminding him of the prod he made at her size earlier by squeezing him a little tighter. She felt him squirming a little, but nothing more than she was used to.

“However…” her voice suddenly took a much less upbeat turn to it, “I can only give you so much advice. At the end of the day, it’s entirely up to you. It’s your decision, nopony can make it for you. And as much as I try, I just can’t help you with that. Nopony can. But I can promise you that if you think long and hard about it, you won’t make the wrong one…”

“Mmph, mmphm.”

Blaze looked down at Soarin, who was beginning to turn a darker shade of blue. “Oops, sorry,” She released him and Soarin gasped for breath, “Got a little carried away with my explanation there.”

“Ya think?” Soarin replied mid-gasp. “Do you always have to be this dramatic?”

“Oh come on, life’s too short to be that boring,” She happily replied, playfully swatting him on the shoulder. “Seriously, don’t be so borin’ Soarin.”

Soarin chuffed as he held his hoof to the door to push it open. “I would say I’ll tell you how it goes, but you’ll probably see it before you hear it.”

“Probably, unless you really make ‘em scream,” Blaze replied, bouncing her eyebrows up and down.

Soarin just sighed and shook his head, breaking eye contact at Blaze’s innuendo. He let Blaze giggle her way down the corridor as he deliberately lagged behind to give himself some time to think.

“That’s if she’s even here for much longer after Spitfire shakes things up tomorrow…”

Chapter 13

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‘DAMMIT!’ Dash internally cursed to herself. She was falling behind, and fast. She needed to do something about it, but her wings weren't complying. The wind fought against her diagonally from the left, but she pushed through it, no matter how hard it was.

She eyed her next corner. An acute right. Looking ahead, she saw that Comet was already slowing for it. She'd have to do the same, but she needed to try and gain some ground. Time to push the limits.

She looked behind to check for others behind her, where Dahlia and Bright Skies were trailing. She had a good gap of at least three seconds between them. This gave her plenty of room to move about.

She pulled as far left as she could in order to get the best turn-in possible. She waited until the last possible moment to throw her wings out to begin slowing down, holding her breath to give her extra leverage under the G forces.

When she reached her turn-in point, she extended her right wing slightly more to give herself more resistance on the left side, hoping it would give her a better turn in. As her weight transferred, she attempted to level herself out as she headed towards the apex so she could accelerate away cleanly.

She tilted herself into the corner to pull extra G’s through the turn. Once she felt her back brush against the apex, she bought her wings back up to speed to chase Comet down the straightaway.

This straightaway was longer. And she was clearly faster than him in a straight line. She could easily catch him by the next corner. All she needed to do was setup the attack.

She looked forward towards the next corner. A long to medium left. Could potentially be tighter than it looks, but she didn’t have an opportunity to play it safe.

She managed to keep with him up to the entrance to the corner, she was almost close enough to bite his tail off. She kept her eyes on his wings, determined to only slam on the brakes when he did.

...But he didn’t…

Dash occasionally glanced towards the corner as they approached it. Since they were still accelerating hard, they were only getting there faster. Given the speeds that Comet seemed to be intending to take through the corner, she started doubting her ability to pass him. But she soon shoved those thoughts to the back of her mind and gritted her teeth. ‘If he can do it, so can I!’ She convinced herself.

He suddenly threw his wings out, slowing down hard. Since she was anticipating it, she was easily able to do the same without slamming into the back of him. But he only seemed to do it for a few seconds before he got back on the power. “Huh?” Dash wondered as he tilted to take the corner. Blocking out any thoughts of going too fast, she powered on through and followed him.

She tilted in unison with him, but saw that he was constantly flailing his wings out to produce drag to slow himself down, as if he was trying to do some very minimal braking...did he make a mistake? It was unlike him to make a mistake through a corner.

She saw an opportunity as she carried greater speed through the corner. He had the inside line covered off, but she was carrying more the enough speed to pass around the outside.

She gradually moved to the outside, able to get her head alongside his flank just around the corner, but then she noticed that the corner was getting tighter. ‘Crap, wasn’t expecting that…’ She threw her wings out, slowing down a lot more than she would’ve liked to, whilst Comet appeared to be...accelerating?

‘WHAT?’ She asked herself. ‘How is that even possible!?’ She flapped hard, trying to regain some ground, but she found herself almost grazing the cloud wall, giving herself no choice but to continue slowing down. “NO!” She cursed herself as she accepted her fate and slowed until she could clear the corner.

By the time she had cleared the corner, he was miles away. She sighed, accepting that there was no way she could catch him now.

She kept up her pace to maintain a second place finish when she crossed the line. But she was at least ten seconds behind by the time she reached it…

She landed on a cloud at the finish, gathering her breath. Comet was doing the same, meaning he must have been pushing hard as well. The two locked eyes briefly, before Dash looked away. “You wanna start bragging?” She said sarcastically, knowing full well that wasn’t his style.

“You actually did pretty well, up until that corner…” He commented in response.

“Care to tell me what went wrong? As in why you took it at a super crazy speed and I barely kept my head out of the clouds?” She asked. She was used to this by now, she knew exactly what to expect.

Comet simply turned away, preparing to walk. “Instead of seeing it as one corner, try thinking of it as multiple corners. You might find it works a lot better…” He suggested, walking away.

Dash simply raised an eyebrow at his answer. She looked in the direction of the corner, visualising it from both the point of view from which she could see it now and what it looked like when she was entering. “Three corners? Four corners…?” She said to herself, “I just don’t get it…”

“Wooooo, that was fun!” Dahlia skidded to a stop beside Dash, perching just beside her and gasping for breath. “You’re so fast...I can barely...keep you in sight…” she said through gasps.

“Yeah, haha…” Dash replied, but still had her mind focused on the fact that she once again lost to White Comet. There was obviously a lot of pegasi there that rivalled her, but he was the only one that stood out on multiple occasions. She was clearly faster than him in a straight line. But she somehow kept losing ground in the corners.

“I’m gonna go burn off what’s left in the gym before dinner,” Dash stated before beginning to walk.

“Oh great idea,” Dahlia followed, picking up on the fact that it was still bugging Dash as to how she kept losing. She wanted to do something about it. “I wouldn’t mind seeing the sights in the gym myself...if ya know what I mean…”

“Ugh, spare me,” Dash rolled her eyes in response, knowing EXACTLY what Dahlia meant.

“Aw c'mon Dash,” Dahlia chuckled and lightly tapped her on the shoulder, leaning in closer so she could speak more quietly. “There’s gotta be some stallion here that makes your wings pop.”

“Nope,” Dash replied plainly, pushing through a door and holding it with her hind leg so that Dahlia could follow her through.

“Pfff,” Dahlia rolled her eyes, “Amatuer evasion, Dash. Seriously, I won’t tell anypony. I’ll just be between you and me.”

“I’m telling you the truth. I’ve got nopony,” she once again gave the same answer shrugging, but decided to expand on it to make it seem more convincing. “I came here to get a spot in the Wonderbolts, not a boyfriend.”

Dahlia chuffed, “Fair enough,” she replied, rolling her eyes once again. Looks like she’s going to have to switch to a different method.... “I’m not suggesting anything here, but you do seem to spend a lot of time away doing god knows what…”

Dash suddenly inhaled sharply and her pupils went narrow. “Well, I-I uh--”

“Gotcha!” Dahlia interrupted before Dash could say anything “So who’s the lucky stallion?”

“N-no, there’s no stallion,” Dash stammered, trying to maintain her composure.

“Oh, so...you’re into mares then?” Dahlia made a different observation.

“NO!” Dash almost screamed, but covered her mouth with her hoof to suppress the volume, her cheeks starting to turn a crimson red. “There’s nopony, I just...need...to do...things…” she moved her hoof from her mouth to cover her face, even more embarrassed from her lame excuse.

“Things eh?” Dahlia questioned, then realised, “Oh,” she gently chuckled to herself as she understood what Dash meant (or at least what she thought she meant). “When things start getting hot down there, you could always take it to the bathroom you know…”

“No, that’s not the reason,” Dash shook her head, “And you think I’d do that with seven of you outside the door? Who does that?”

“Well…” Dahlia looked away, “Me actually…” The tiniest of blushes formed on her cheek as she spoke.

“Gee, thanks!” Dash covered her mouth again as she cringed hard, expecting that she might accidently blurt out words too loudly again. “Thanks for putting that in my head. Now I’ve gotta think about that next time I’m in the bathroom. Appreciate it…” She replied sarcastically.

Dahlia giggled, “C’mon Dash, it’s not a problem as long as you...ya know...clean up.”

“I don’t wanna know,” Dash emphasized, looking around the corridor leading up to the gym to make sure nopony overheard their conversation. Because it was way too awkward to explain.

“Relax, there’s nopony around,” Dahlia informed, seeing what Dash was doing, “You think I would’ve said all that with ponies around?”

Dash chuffed and smiled, “Wouldn’t put it past ya sometimes…”

“Hey!” Dahlia complained and pouted at her.

“You walked right into that one,” Dash explained as she held the door for the gym open for Dahlia.

Dahlia rolled her eyes as she entered, “Yeah I guess, but even so, what--pffff!” She suddenly covered her mouth to suppress her laughter.

Dash raised an eyebrow as she followed her. “What’s so--” She was cutoff as Dahlia nudged her in the side to shut her up, then pointed to the source of her laughter. “Pff!” Dash had to do the same when she spotted it.

Lying on a gym mat a few feet in front of them was Thunder Flash. She was lying on her belly, with her head supported by her hooves under her chin. She had a light blush on her face and a goofy grin that stretched from ear to ear. Dash panned her eyes up to what she was looking at. And off over the other side of the gym was Wind Tunnel, doing some bench presses with... A LOT of weight…

Dahlia leant her muzzle into Dash’s ear to whisper. “♫Someponys got a cruuuussssh♫” Dahlia whispered, then they both silently giggled with each other. “That’s what you look like when you come back from your ‘trips’.”

Dash shook her head, “No I don’t,” She whispered back, “...do I?”

“Mmmhmmm,” Dahlia gave her a firm nod. “You should totally go and flirt with him just to piss her off.” She suggested.

“No way,” Dash pulled her head away. Never in a million years would she think about Wind Tunnel that way...and flirting wasn’t really her thing...the idea just made her want to vomit…

“Oh come on, it’s just a prank,” Dahlia insisted, giving her a few nudges.

“No, I’m not doing it,” Dash replied stubbornly.

Dahlia rolled her eyes, but then a smile quickly reappeared on her face. “Well if you won’t, I willllll…” She trailed off as she started walking towards Wind Tunnel.

Dash watched as Dahlia approached Wind Tunnel, who looked to be struggling with the weights now. She noticed that Dahlia put a little bounce in her step. Probably to shake her plot around more.

She couldn’t hear from this far back, but she could see that Dahlia had fired up a conversation with Wind Tunnel. She then made a quick turn to the left, and in doing so, brushed her tail underneath Wind’s chin. Probably intentionally…

She examined the weights for a few moments before bending down to look at a certain set in similar detail. Dash wondered why she was kneeling down so close, surely her eyesight wasn’t that bad. But when she looked back at Wind, her reasoning suddenly became clear. Wind’s face had started to form a grin on it, because by bending down, Dahlia had given him a perfect almost point-blank view of her posterior.

“Hfff!” Dash’s attention turned back to Thunder as she forced air out of her nostrils. Her muzzle wrinkled up and a very stern frown and furrowed brow made its way onto her face. Her cheeks grew redder and redder in colour.

“Pff--,” Dash tried her best to hold in her giggles, but she almost let one escape, which she muffled with her hoof. She decided it was probably best to move away at this point. If she couldn’t contain it, at least Thunder wouldn’t hear.

She made her way towards the door that lead to the pool, standing beside it and turning so she could see Dahlia. Dahlia had selected some weights and was now showing Wind Tunnel what she could lift. Dash couldn’t see the numbers on what she was lifting, but they looked pretty small. Dahlia appeared to be struggling, but Dash had a sneaky suspicion that it was all just for show.

She stopped for a few moments to speak to Wind. After exchanging a few words, Wind leant down to her and appeared to be helping her with the technique, giving her a bit of a demonstration. Dash was certain that Dahlia was just giving him an opportunity to lay his hooves on her…

After a few more reps, Dahlia put the weights down and rolled off the bench. She exchanged a few more words with Wind before heading off. She looked around for a bit before realising Dash had moved, and made her way over to her.

“She looked like she was gonna explode,” Dahlia said before letting out a few laughs.

“I know right?” Dash replied, laughing herself, “It was great…” she trailed off as a thought popped into her head. “But you do know he’ll probably start advancing on you now?”

“Hey, I’ve got no problems saying no,” Dahlia replied with a shrug.

Dash chuffed before responding, her smile dying down somewhat. “You’re so evil…”

“I know,” Dahlia giggled, “But in all seriousness…” she smiled and her cheeks reddened a tiny bit, “He’s not much to talk to, but even you’ve gotta admit that he’s quite the piece of eye-candy. I wouldn’t mind taking that for a ride…”

“Great, another image you’ve permanently stuck in my head,” Dash rolled her eyes and cringed. “I’m gonna go swimming to try and take my mind off that.”

“You can try,” Dahlia replied with a wink, before heading off on her separate way.

Dash made her way into the pool room. There was only about a dozen ponies in there. Which was good, it meant she had a fair bit of the pool to herself…

...and there was less ponies around for her to embarrass herself in front of with her pathetic swimming…

Her swimming...well, it still sucked. But she was hoping that it wouldn’t be part of the final test. They would be doing more air-based things right? So swimming should theoretically not be a part of it? Still, she knew she had to keep in practice, as she would probably be bought up on it further down the line. She was only as strong as her weakest link after all…

After her swim, Dash headed for the showers, and by the time she had finished showering, it was time for dinner. She made her way down to the mess and got in line. She couldn’t tell what the food was, but it smelt good. When she got to the front, her thoughts were confirmed. Looks like they were even being kind with their food for their day off. She took herself a big grilled sandwich with cheese leaking out the sides along with some hay fries. Taking her food, she found her roommates and set down to eat.

“Can’t believe they actually fried something for once,” Crash Dive commented as he tucked in.

“Well technically, it’s grilled…” Dahlia corrected.

“Oh, check out little Miss Zesty Gourmand wannabe over here,” Horizon waved his hoof over at Dahlia.

“Oh,” Dahlia raised an eyebrow, “And have you ever cooked anything better?”

“Well, uh...not exactly…” Horizon admitted, “But have you?” He instantly replied back with.

“Actually, yes,” Dahlia replied, “I think I’m pretty handy in the kitchen…” she turned her head to look at Riptide, “And don’t get any ideas, you!”

“Oh, I got plenty…” Riptide responded with a wink.

They all tucked into their food and got some good conversations going

“Well, looks like you’re enjoying our little treat,” Spitfire commented as trotted into the mess, immediately attracting all eyes to her. She walked into the middle of the Mess, “Well, now seems as good a time as any to announce the big test that’s coming up in two weeks…”

Everypony looked at each other, confused as to what she meant. There was something bigger? And they weren’t even CLOSE to the final stages…

“The test…” Spitfire pulled a load of paperclipped papers out from under her wing, “Is literally a test!”

And she got exactly the response she was expecting to get; mixed groans. She had to suppress a smug smile she wanted to put on.

“That’s right. You didn’t think it would all be this practical did you? We’ve gotta make sure you’ve actually got a brain driving those wings of yours. So here’s how it’s gonna work. So far, we’ve worked by eliminating the lowest ten or so of you each day. Well, that’s getting a one of change for this te--...hmm…”

Spitfire tapped her chin and thought for a second, “I suppose you could call it more of an exam than a test...but they’re basically the same thing, just in written format. Anyway,” she continued, “the exam will be marked out of two hundred possible marks. Anypony below one hundred, or fifty percent, is out.”

A mixture of gasps and stunned silence filled the room. Dash just gulped, knowing full well that this was a serious threat to her. She hated written exams. She always either shaved through by the skin of her teeth, or failed miserably. If she wanted any chance of staying in, she would have to study, and study hard…

“Well, that’s it. Just wanted to give you some time to prepare. It’s two weeks on Monday.” She turned to leave the mess, slowly chuckling to herself. “And to some of you, all I can say is, good luck…”

When she had finally left, Dash looked at her roommates, seeing that they were in equally as much shock as her.

“Well great, now what are we gonna do?” Crash Dive questioned his brother.

“I dunno,” Horizon replied, shrugging, “I didn’t think there would be any sort of written test much past the application.”

“Guys,” Dahlia interrupted, “We don’t even know what type of exam paper it’s gonna be. Maybe it’ll be multiple choice, and you won’t have to write a word.”

“Even worse!” Horizon exclaimed.

“Whaaa…?” Dahlia raised an eyebrow, “How is that harder? The answers are already on the paper for you. You just gotta pick the right one.”

“Because sometimes they all look so similar and if I don’t know it fully, then I don’t know which one to pick.” Horizon continued.

“Guys,” Comet batted a hoof at them, “Relax. Honestly, I’ve never seen you two so stressed. Just study a bit and I’m sure you’ll do fine. You got through High School right?”

“Nope, we’re dropouts,” Crash Dive admitted without hesitation.

“Wow, really?” Dahlia asked, “I didn’t expect that. How did you even get in here?”

Horizon shrugged, “Obviously did something to catch the ‘Bolts attention.”

“Probably made ‘em laugh,” Crash added, also shrugging, “usually works everytime.”

Dahlia chuffed, still stunned. “I wasn’t convinced I would even get in, and I went to college.” She looked over to Comet sitting next to her, “How about you? Bet you’ve got some sort of degree…”

“Nope,” Comet admitted, “Just college. I studied maths and physics.”

“Hm. Kinda expected you to have at least a foundation degree…” Dahlia replied.

“Same here,” Dash added.

“Ehhh…” Comet shrugged each shoulder simultaneously, “I did a bit of research, and the potential salary increase for whatever job I got with the degree didn’t really offset the cost of studying it. So I decided not to do it.”

“Huh. I suppose…” Dahlia looked over at Dash, “What about you Rainbow?”

“Me?” Dash responded, “I didn’t do anymore studying after high school. Still ended up as leader of the Ponyville weather team though, so…” She shrugged, “Not bad I guess.”

“Leader? Nice,” Dahlia replied with a smile, “I’m guessing you had a bit of experience before you got there?”

“Not really,” Dash replied, scratching the back of her head, “The original leader quit a few days after I started, and I just...sorta took her place...nothing to it, just like that…”

“And her paycheck too?”

“Oh yeah,” Dash added.

“You must be rollin’ in it for your age,” Dahlia commented, “Twenty two years and I’ve barely earned more than minimum wage.”

“What, you’re twenty two!? No way!” Dash replied, eyes widening.

Dahlia raised an eyebrow. “Uhh, yeah. You’re older than me, aren’t ya?”

“No, I’m twenty,” Dash replied.

“Seriously? Wow,” Dahlia replied, looking over at White Comet. “You’ve gotta be older than me, right?”

Comet shook his head and shrugged, “Nope, I’m also twenty.”

“Get outta here,” Dahlia replied, looking over at Riptide, “I’m not even gonna hold my hopes on you. You’ve gotta be what, nineteen, eighteen?”

“Seventeen,” Riptide correct.

“WHAT?” A collective gasp came from everypony else at the table.

“You’re not even old enough to walk into a pub and buy a pint of cider, and somehow you’re here?” Dahlia asked, “What were you even doing before you came here?”

“I was an intern at my folks’ business. I was able to put that on hold for this though…”

“Pfff,” Torque scoffed, rolling his eyes, “Wish I could do jack for a living.”

Riptide was about to respond, but then he felt something cold and wet on his head. “The hell!?” He used his wings to push himself out of the way before he got any wetter. After shaking the majority of it off, he looked up to see Horizon with a jug of water. “What the hell was that for?”

“I was applying cold water to the burned area,” Horizon replied with a smile.

Everypony on the table immediately burst out laughing, much to Riptide’s displeasure.

“You had that one coming to ya,” Dahlia commented through chuckles, “Your mane could use a wash anyway.”

“What ya talking about?” Riptide said as he corrected his mane. “Is this ‘everpony talk shit about Riptide’ day?”

“That’s everyday, Sweetie,” Dahlia replied with a smirk, then turned to Horizon. “Well go on then, spit it out.”

Torque simply looked away, “If it makes you feel any better, I’m twenty two as well.”

“Yes!” Dahlia punched the air, “I’m not the oldest one. When’s your birthday?”


“Goddammit,” She hit the table, “Mines February. What about you Bright?” Dahlia asked, looking over at her.

“Umm, I’m...nineteen…” Bright Skies replied, hesitantly.

“Dammit,” Dahlia replied, then huffed.

“Oh don’t look so glum,” Crash Dive replied, patting her on the back. “We’re twenty five,” He said, bouncing his hoof between him and Horizon.

“Twenty five!?” The whole table, minus Riptide, exclaimed.

“Then what were you doing before you came here?” Asked Dahlia.

“Comedy,” Crash and Horizon replied at the same time.

“We’re a practical stand-up team,” Horizon elaborated.

“Well, you sure are a dynamic duo,” Riptide commented.

“Yeah, we’ve never done anything big. Only small stuff. But hey, we enjoy it and it pays alright,” Horizon explained.

“I guess,” Dahlia replied, “Still...twenty five. Don’t you guys ever feel your age puts you at a disadvantage?”

“Well, we’ve beaten other ponies this far, so,” Crash Dive shrugged, “I don’t think so.”

“He’s got a point,” Comet added.

“Hmm,” Dahlia rubbed her chin, “I suppose…”

Dash finished her dinner as quickly as she could with as minimal conversation as possible. Despite the initial shock diminishing, she was still clueless as to what she was going to do about the exam. There was no way she could pass it. And there was no way she would be able to hit enough books in time in just two weeks. She needed to find something to do…

Upon finishing her meal and leaving the mess, she knew exactly who to seek help from; Soarin. The only problem was finding him. And hoping he was available to answer her questions. Anyway, first things first, she needed to find him.

She walked down the hallways and through the corridors to the office. Most of the lights were off this time in the evening, so the lighting was fairly minimal. She made her way down the offices to the one with Soarin’s name on the front of it. She tapped with a fair amount of force with her hoof and waited for several seconds. No answer. After giving the door handle a yank, she confirmed that it was locked and he obviously wasn’t in there.

“Hmm…” she hummed quietly to herself as she rubbed her chin. Where else could he be? Unless he was still eating. But she didn’t see him around. Maybe he was out training? But if he was, he would’ve missed dinner, since it’s all served at the same time. But then again, they probably kept some warm to suit the ‘Bolts personal schedules. Perhaps he--

Something suddenly covered her eyes, “Guess who?” A very familiar voice asked.

“Oh not him again,” Dash replied sarcastically, pushing his hooves away and spinning around to see Soarin standing behind her.

“Well, you we’re obviously looking for ‘him’. What can ‘he’ help you with?” Soarin joked, grinning slightly and chuckling at this joke.

Dash chuckled with him in response. “Well, I was…” she rubbed up and down her left foreleg with her right hoof, “I was hoping you could...help me...with something…?”

“I can try. What’s the problem?” He replied, his grin fading slightly, but maintaining his cheerful persona.

“Well, you know the upcoming test Spitfire just told us about?” She began, knowing full-well in the back of her mind that he’d probably been sworn to secrecy about it. Presuming he knew anything at all of course.

Soarin suddenly became straight-faced, “What about it?” He asked.

“Well…” she looked away, “I’m gonna fail. I just know it. I suck at written tests. I might just scrape through if I…’studied’, but…” she used the word lightly, since despite all the techniques she learned from Twilight, it still wasn’t even close to being one of her strong points, “but I don’t want one little thing to cost me the opportunity I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”

She sighed, then looked up at him. “Is there anything you can do to help me?”

Soarin withheld a sigh, not wanting to put Dash off. This was such a perfect example of what Spitfire was talking to him about yesterday, and it was presenting itself as a perfect opportunity to either further his friendship with Dash, or to cost both her a shot at her dream, and for him to be discharged from the Wonderbolts.

But either lucky or unlucky for him, he could do nothing but be brutally honest with Rainbow Dash. “I don’t know anything about it. Spitfire told us it was happening right at the start, but she’s kept all the details sealed tight. I’m not really sure what I can do…”

Dash simply sighed in response. “Welp, I’m screwed.”

Soarin couldn’t help but chuckle in response, which obviously only irritated Dash, unaware of the reason why, as for her it was probably the worst possible time to chuckle. “What’s so funny?” She asked sternly.

“I just find it funny who you go from a can-do-anything attitude to a defeatist one in the blink of an eye. You really think you stand that little of a chance?”

“Nope,” she said bluntly, “I’m done for.”

Soarin smiled and raised an eyebrow, “Fifty percent isn’t that hard ya know. You don’t HAVE to get one hundred percent, although it would be awesome if you did. Even if you scrape through by the skin of your teeth, you’re still in. And didn’t you get one hundred percent on the Reserve's history test? Just do the same thing you did for that and you’ll be fine, I’m sure of it.”

Dash thought for a moment, “Ya know…when you put it like that...it does sound...possible…” she mumbled off.

“That’s the spirit,” Soarin replied with a smile, “Now you better hit those books hard, there’s not a lot of time.”

“I guess I should…” Dash trailed off, looking towards the door. “I made it this far. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

“Exactly,” Soarin replied rather smugly, “Seems like you were the one making mountains out of molehills.”

“Shutup,” Dash replied snidely as she prodded him in the side, earning a chuckle from Soarin.

“Did you just tell your commanding officer to shut up?” Soarin asked sarcastically.

“What if I did?” Dash replied, a smile forming on her face and her eyebrows raising, “Will Commander Soarin have his way with me?”

“He might if you don’t pass the exam,” Soarin replied, maintaining his level of sarcasm as he bumped his side against Dash.

Dash was caught a little off-guard not by the fact that he bumped her, but with the amount of force he put into it. It didn’t look like anything to him, but to her, it managed to drive her back a few feet and make her bump the wall. He was very strong, a lot stronger than he came off as. And he wasn’t even the biggest Wonderbolt there. Which made her wonder what the bigger ones were like…

“Anyway, I better go hit the books,” Dash said quickly before pushing the door open. “Later, Soarin.”

“Good luck, Dashie,” Soarin replied, making sure the door was closed once she left. He then turned around and walked back into his room. “Wait,” he suddenly stopped, “Did I just call her Dashie?” He questioned, looking up at the ceiling, staring at it for a few seconds. “Ehh,” He shrugged it off, getting back to what he was doing.

“And that helped exactly…” Dash spoke to herself as she closed the book on flight dynamics, “Zilch. Nada. None...” She rambled away under her breath with other ways she could say zero.

Dash sighed as she laid her head on the desk. She lost track of time, all she could tell was that it was late. The sun had gone down and it was pitch black outside. Behind her, she could hear the clicking of lights in the library as everypony was packing up and getting ready to go back to their rooms. Since it was an extremely small room, coupled with the tall bookshelves around, it made for some interesting echo noises.

“It...it doesn’t happen overnight…” A familiar voice sounded beside her.

Dash picked her head up and looked over to the left to see Bright Skies sitting next to her. “Bright? How long have you been there?”

“For a while. Studying, like you,” She replied.

She’d been there for a while? Why didn’t she say something? ‘Well, libraries aren’t meant for idle chatting. And she is kinda shy…’ Dash put together in her head.

Dash leant back in her chair and let out another sigh. “I’m not convinced I’ll still be here in 2 weeks, Bright. I like to think I will be, but I doubt it.” She finished by flattening her ears.

“Doubt is half the battle, I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Bright Skies replied with a smile. “In the short time I’ve known you Rainbow Dash, you’ve taught me something quite important.”

Dash’s left ear raised up and pointed in her direction. “What’s that?” Dash asked.

“It’s that if you believe in yourself, everything is possible,” Bright Skies replied, then giggled a little. “We’ve switched places a little bit. I used to think that if I kept my head stuck in books for every hour of the day then I’d be a master at everything. But was surprised when I was still struggling with a lot of things. Then you came along and showed me something that really switched my thinking around; believing in myself. Now I find that if I convince myself I really can do it, I can do it. And you’re the one that showed me that. You proved to me that self-confidence goes a long way, and it looks like I just needed some friends to push me in that direction.”

Dash couldn’t help but chuff at her words, “You really sound like somepony I know…”

Bright Skies’ smile only grew in response. “Well, I think you can pass it. Just do it...well, the Rainbow Dash way.”

“Ha,” Dash replied, “If only it were that simple…”

Bright Skies furrowed her brow, then cleared her throat. “Why do we prefer to fly in colder weather?”

“Huh?” Dash lifted her head up and looked at Bright Skies.

“I asked you a question,” Bright Skies responded, taking on a sudden assertive tone.

“We don’t get worn out as quickly and we don’t sweat as much,” Dash simply answered the question.

“Aaaannnd?” Bright Skies added.

Dash just shrugged in response. Bright Skies decided to help her out a bit by tapping on the book Dash was just reading.

Seeing the title made the gears turn in Dash’s brain. “Oh, colder air is more dense, so it’s easier to fly in.”

“Right!” Bright Skies replied. “See, you do know what you’re doing.”

“Hehe, I guess I do…” Dash replied, brushing the back of her mane. “I guess I really will be fine…”

“Wouldn’t consider yourself safe yet, but you’re not as bad as you think you are.” Bright Skies explained.

“Hehe...guess I’m not…” Dash said to herself, forming a smile on her face.

Hearing the door swing close once again as ponies made their way out, they both looked over in its direction and then back at each other. “We should probably get going before somepony chews us out.” Dash suggested, rising from her seat and picking up her book.

“Agreed,” Bright Skies replied, picking up her book and looking for the relevant shelf to put it back on.

After returning their books, they both made their ways down the dark, dimly lit corridor back to their room. Bright Skies’ words gave Dash a lot to think about. She was certain that she wouldn’t be able to pass at her current knowledge level, nor at a level which could only be obtained in a matter of weeks. But Soarin and Bright Skies seemed to think differently. Was she really underestimating herself that much? Well, she would soon find out in an exam that could make or break her dream...

Chapter 14

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It had come down to this. Two solid weeks of not only making sure she had the knowledge required to pass this exam, but also making sure she kept herself afloat during the practical tests. Both her mind and body were exhausted. Rainbow Dash had taken herself to the limit both physically and mentally. Her body was giving her a-many thanks that there was nothing practical going on today and that she was just sitting at a small desk in the gym, which had been converted into an exam hall by squeezing just enough desks in to allow them to do so.

Dash didn’t look anywhere else other than her paper and the questions in front of her. The black text as she flipped the pages ingraining itself in her vision. The only sounds she heard were from the sound of other ponies tapping their pens and pencils on the desk, and the hoofsteps of some of the ‘Bolts walking down the rows between them.

The Wonderbolts continued to show their diverse scrutineering methods, with no two pages taking the same approach to the questioning. They had everything from simple multiple choice questions, to near enough full-blown essays that spread across two pages. There was even a section where they were required to draw diagrams. Dash was just hoping that they weren’t judging ponies for their artistic prowess.

As Dash completed her final answers, she looked up at the clock hanging high on the wall in front of her. Her eyes went a little funny because she’d been concentrating on something so close for so long and how she had to concentrate on something so far away. But it didn’t take long for them to refocus. Fifteen minutes remaining. Just enough time for her to look over her answers. She took a deep breath and flipped her paper back to the beginning.

There was a very tense atmosphere in the air. The repetitive sounds was enough to drive anypony insane. And the Wonderbolts weren’t helping much either, patrolling up and down seemingly every minute, each hoof making a solid sound as it landed on the wooden floor of the gym. Although they would stop at random intervals from time to time. It was as if they were looking over somepony’s shoulder. Not checking as to whether they were cheating or doing anything wrong, as if they may have been silently judging them. Fortunately not a concern for Dash, as she hadn’t looked over her shoulders once the entire exam. In fact, her neck was starting to give her complaints from looking down so long, as was her right wrist from all the writing she’d been doing.

She skimmed over the answers she was certain of and only concentrated on the answers that she knew she wasn’t one hundred percent sure on. Although there was always the possibility that she was right the first, she just couldn’t be sure for certain. Although at this stage, she had a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right. She would just have to hope she guessed right.

Suddenly, an alarm blared through the room, similar to the style that woke her up in the morning. “Aaaand that’s time!” Spitfire announced, ceasing the alarm. “Pens down everypony!”

Dash simply dropped her pen in place. Well, she’d soon find out whether she was right or wrong…

“You’ve given us all a joyful day of marking. Thanks,” Spitfire said somewhat sarcastically. “As you’ve probably guessed, this will take us a long time to mark. Expect the results around six PM. In the meantime, entertain yourselves. Those who don’t meet the one hundred marks required will unfortunately leave us. But those who have made the cut; congratulations. Regardless of your results, you are welcome to join us for a meal and then we’ll be taking a two week break in order to let your minds and bodies rejuvenate.”

Spitfire almost went to start picking up some papers, but then stopped. “Oh, and no fighting over the door please. You’ll all get through it eventually…” She stated, then proceeded to walk to some of the front desks.

Dash let out a sigh then picked herself up from the desk like everypony else was doing. She headed towards the door where all the commotion was happening. Ponies conversing with one another about the exam whilst trying to squeeze through the door. It was a double-door, but still, probably didn’t have this many ponies in mind when it was put up...

“How’d you find it?” A small familiar voice beside her asked.

Dash looked to her left to see Bright Skies walking next to her. “We’ll find out,” Dash replied. “Soon enough…”

“Do you feel confident that you made it through though?” She questioned again.

Rainbow Dash took a moment before answering the question. “Ya know what? I think I do.” Dash replied, smiling a little. After all that work she put in, she had to have done good enough…right? “How about you?”

Bright Skies simply shrugged in response. “It wasn’t easy, by anypony’s standards. But I think I did well.”

“Great,” Dash replied. Coming from a pony as smart as Bright skies, that wasn’t very reassuring…

She opened the door to their room, seeing that Dahlia had already returned before them. “Hey Dally, how did you find it?”

“I tried my best, and in a way, I sort of feel satisfied that because of that, the result will be the right one,” She replied with a smile, but then her face went straight again. “But they could’ve told us it was gonna be half a day long. I almost wet myself.”

“I know right? I don’t think I’ve had to stay in one place for so long before. I thought for sure that every joint in my body was gonna crack when I got up.” Dash proceeded to stretch herself to see if what she just described would happened. Funnily enough, a few of her joints did make popping noises. Some more than she would’ve liked, causing her to cringe a bit.

Suddenly, their door swung open, making them all jump. Crash Dive and Horizon staggered through, looking like they were hungover after a heavy night out and just had to get up for work.

“Brain. Mush.” Horizon staggered to his bed and fell face flat on it, releasing a heavy sigh into his pillow.

“Eyes. Burning.” Crash Dive did the same.

“Back. Aching.”

“Neck. Seized.”

“Wrist. Cracking.”

“So you guys had fun then?” Dahlia asked sarcastically. “How do you think you did?”

“Appallingly,” Crash Dive replied, rolling over onto his back. “But enough to pass. I've learnt to never expect to pass anything, and you always seem to get through. And if you don't, your expectations are so low that even if you do fail, it doesn't feel as bad. So it's a win-win.” He explained.

“That’s…” Dahlia’s expression dropped, “Pretty depressing actually…”

“It’s not a bad way of looking at things to be honest. It’s worked for us for most of our lives,” Horizon explained. Either way, it appeared that they weren’t too bothered about whatever way the results could swing... “Anyway, this could be our last time together for some of us. We should organise somewhere to go drink ‘till our wings drop off!”

“Pff,” Crash Dive rolled his eyes, “Where isn’t there a place to drink in Cloudsdale?”

“Careful guys,” Dahlia moved off her bed towards Riptide, “There’s a child present,” she teased as she grabbed his cheek.

“Hey,” Riptide pushed her off, “I’m not THAT far off eighteen.”

“Still fresh lookin’ enough to get ID’d at the bar, Sweetie,” Dahlia replied, sticking her tongue out at him.

Riptide huffed in response and rolled his eyes.

“Still, if you behave, I might act as your courier,” Dahlia replied with a wink.

“Why thanks,” Riptide replied, smiling, then released a long sigh. “Can’t wait to get that exam out of my head.”

“Me too,” Dash added, lying down on her bed. “But I don’t think I’m forgetting about it that easily, especially with the results later.” She stared at the ceiling, still seeing some of the writing on the paper flashing up. Staring at the same paper for hours seemed to have done that for her.

“Oh yeah. The results…” Dahlia sighed and she punctuated the point that was on everypony’s mind. “As Horizon said, this could be our last time together.”

“Which is why I’m saying let's make it a night to remember by letting alcohol make us forget it!” Horizon added. “Trust me, once you’ve heard some of my deadly concoctions, you’ll be wanting a go.”

“Oh no…” Dahlia held her hooves to her face just thinking about it. “Go on…”

Dash couldn’t help but laugh as he proceeded to babble off some of his crazy ideas. But she still couldn’t take her mind of the fact that what he said earlier was correct. This could well be the last they see of each other tonight...and it could well be her that’s leaving. The thought was heavy on her mind, but there was nothing she could do about it now. What’s done is done. All she could do was wait to hear the result…

Unsurprisingly, many ponies had arrived to see the results early. Dash stood in with the crowd, just as eager as everypony else. But she couldn’t shift the certain sense of tension there was in the air. For some, this may be the last time they step within this building. She just hoped she wasn’t one of them…

She shimmied her way towards the front. The chalkboard was under a big dust cover, and Spitfire’s tail was just poking out the bottom. Considering they were early, she was probably still writing down the final results, and put the cover up so nopony could get a sneak peak.

Speaking of which, Rainbow Dash considered herself lucky that she decided to be one of the few that arrived early. Space at the front was really limited. She could almost sense the fear and anticipation from the ponies around her just from the way they were breathing. So much so that she could barely concentrate on herself.

“Confident?” Dahlia pushed her way through to appear on the left of Dash.

“Ya bet,” Rainbow put on the best ‘confident’ voice she could muster. In reality, she could barely contain herself over the possibility of a negative result.

“Wouldn’t expect anything else from you,” Dahlia replied, nudging her with her shoulder and winking, then looked over to her left. “How about you, Smartass?”

Dash looked over her to see Comet standing nearby. “Of course,” he responded flatly, seemingly unfazed by the name Dahlia just called him by.

“Yeah yeah,” Dahlia rolled her eyes then back at Dash. “Despite what they say, I think everypony here is crapping themselves. Good thing we’re at the front eh?” She winked, nudging her.

“...Yeah…” Dash replied, trying to shift that image out of her mind…

Spitfire finished her last few lines then appeared out from under the dust cover. She looked around at everypony, whilst they all looked at her expectantly. “Hmmm…” She looked down at her wristwatch. “We’re a little early. Look’s like everypony’s here, but we’ll wait for any stragglers,” She instructs.

Much to everypony’s presumption, their wait seemed rather excessive. There was nearly nopony left to wait for, save for the hoof full that were running on time.

“Alright, that’s definitely everyone.” Spitfire spoke up, catching everyone’s attention. “Well done to those of you that made it this far. Although our vetting process is very thorough, so I expected nothing less. Whilst the list I’m about to show you is very promising, there are some of you that haven’t made it through. Don’t take it the wrong way though, it’s been hard to make it this far. And as a token of recognition, whenever we host another one of these expansion trials, we’ll re-invite everyone that didn’t pass today no questions asked. Not even any preliminary joining tests.”

Well, that was something. Although it seemed like such a little thing, Dash hated paperwork.

“Once we’ve done this, those of you that have made it through will have a two week break before the next stage begins. And the timing couldn’t have been better, because the food we’ve got won’t keep two weeks. So be sure to eat it all.”

Spitfire rotated around and placed her hooves on top of the cloth. “And now, let me be the first to say congratulations to those of you to the left of that red line.” Spitfire gave the cloth a tug and pulled it off, revealing the list of names. As she said, there was a red line just to the right of the halfway point of the chalkboard. All the names written on it were written in tiny writing, just to be able to fit them all on.

“No pushing or shoving, you’ll all get your turn.” Spitfire immediately gave a quick, hard flap of her wings to push herself out of the way.

“OOF!” Dash immediately got compressed between two ponies that tried to beat her to it. And before she knew, she was getting pushed from behind towards the board.

Ponies all around her were trying to work out where they were. She heard screams of joy, as well as screams of anger. But she blanked them all out, as she concentrated on scanning the board, determined to find her place.

And the first thing she noticed was a name written in the top left corner in yellow.

Bright Skies - 100%

Bright Skies had managed to score one hundred percent? That was even possible? Rainbow Dash was still considering herself lucky if she made it through. Bright Skies really was a good as she made herself sound.

But quite quickly, she had other things to worry about, as Dash didn’t see herself in the top ninety percent. But she expected that, since there was definitely ponies around here that were more booksmart than her. But given the amount of effort she put in, she’d expect at least eighty percent…

...But she wasn’t there either…

She bit her lip and started skim-reading in panic. She was nowhere to be found in the seventy percent bracket either. She kept skimming and skimming until finally.

Rainbow Dash - 62%

She breathed a sigh of relief. She was in. Not by much, but she was in. And that’s all that mattered for the time being.

“Damn, only fifty nine percent? I knew it was hard, but jeez…” Dash turned to look at Dahlia. Speaking of which, what percentage did all her friends get?

“Hey, at least you made it through. I’m only sixty two here.” Dash replied.

“It’s still annoying being that low,” Dahlia continued.

“True, but if it was that easy, everypony would be up there with Bright Skies.” Dash replied with a wink.

“Haha, yeah. Speaking of Bright Skies, does she know?” Dahlia looked around, trying to locate their friend.

“I haven’t seen her since we’ve got here. I’m sure she’ll see soon enough,” Dash replied.

“I hope so, I don’t want to ruin the surp--OOOF!” A pony shouldered Dahlia in the face. He quickly apologised before letting himself get absorbed in the board. “Let’s get out of the way before we get trampled.”

“Agreed,” Dash replied, flapping her wings and flying above the ponies trying to get to the board.

“So, looks we made it!” Dahlia picked back up, putting her left foreleg around Dash’s shoulders.

“It sure does,” Dash gave an extremely relaxed response. Even the amount Dahlia was squeezing her shoulders didn’t matter to her at the minute. She was just so overwhelmed that she managed to make it through.

They walked down the hallway to further distance themselves from the commotion.

“Did you catch anypony else’s scores from our room?” Dash asked Dahlia.

“Nah, apart from Bright Skies. I was too focused on looking for me.” She replied.

“Yeah, same here,” Dash agreed. “Not everypony in our room is that stupid though. I think we did alright.”

Dahlia snickered and simply said “Riptide.”

Dash smiled in response, “As long as he thought with the right head, he’ll be fine.”

Dahlia laughed in response, with Dash also not being able to resist laughing at her own joke.

“Let’s get back to the room. I’m sure everypony will find us.” Dahlia suggested. Rainbow Dash agreed, following her.

When they arrived back, they saw Crash Dive and Horizon already there. They were packing their bags. Dash was picking up a certain sense of disappointment from them, which was highly unusual considering the type of ponies they normally were. She wasn’t expecting good news…

“♫ Guess who just made it throughhhh...♫” Dahlia chimed with a high bounce in her step, using it as a boost to propel herself into the air and fly forwards towards her end of the room. The positive energy she was radiating really made Dash want to pump her wings and join her.

“Not us.” Horizon said bluntly.

“What?” Dahlia questioned, thrown a little off-guard.

“We were below the cutoff point,” Crash Dive explained. He made a slicing motion with his hoof across his throat, then got back to packing his things away.

So it looks like they wouldn’t be casualty-free. Dash couldn’t imagine what they were thinking right now. As glad as she was that it wasn’t her, the thought of not making it this far was putting her brain into overdrive. All the ‘what-if’ scenarios wouldn’t stop playing around in her head. It was lucky that these two brothers weren’t taking it anywhere nearly as badly as she would’ve done.

“That’s...jeez...I don’t know where to start…” Dahlia began. “I’m so sorry guys...and the two of you as well...I don’t believe it…”

“No need to apologise, it wasn’t your fault.” Crash Dive replied with a smile. “Besides, we came here operating on a hope and a prayer anyway. We’re still going for that drink though right?”

“Oh yeah, of course!” Dahlia replied.

Crash Dive turned his head to Horizon. “Hear that? That means you too.”

Horizon just grumbled in response without even breaking concentration on what he was doing.

Crash Dive shook his head. “He’s a bit down about it. Give him till this evening, he’ll be fine.” He reassured.

Their conversation was interrupted by the opening of the door. Through it stepped Comet, Riptide and Torque. All of them seemed to be...well, acting no different than normal really. Dash couldn’t tell whether they had passed or not just from the way they were behaving. Guess it was time to talk to them…

“So how did you get on guys?” Dahlia beat her to the punch. As usual…

“You kidding? It was easy,” Riptide wasn’t fooling anyone as he rolled backwards onto his bed.

Even Comet looked right and raised an eyebrow. “I’m pretty sure you weren’t on the list. In fact, I think you were on the cutoff?” He questioned.

“You must be mistaken,” Riptide replied. “Should’ve worn your glasses,” he teased, winking.

“...Hmm…” Comet paused to reflect for a second, then continued walking.

“And what about you Comet?” Dash asked.

“I passed. So you’ll be seeing me in two weeks.” He replied, sitting down on his bed. “And I couldn’t be more relieved. How about you?”

“You bet I’m through!” Dash replied, punching the air.

“Me too!” Dahlia added. She was expecting a response from either Crash Dive or Horizon, but none came. She didn’t question it too much though. “What about you Torque?” She asked, as he hadn’t said anything.

Turns out he had already begun packing. “I only got thirty nine percent. So I’m out.” He spoke flatly.

“No, you too? Damn…” Crash Dive spoke. “That just...sucks…”

Torque shrugged in response. “I’ll be fine,” He replied, then continued packing. He wasn’t really that much more talkative that when they started.

Dahlia wanted to question him somewhat, but another idea sprung into her head. “Guys, listen up,” she spoke, grabbing everypony’s attention. “When Bright Skies gets back, I want all of us to really compliment and praise her. She’s really shy, so it will mean the world to her.”

“Yeah, one hundred percent is impressive. I wonder how many of the current Wonderbolts even got that?” Comet questioned.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if she was the first. She should be a Wonderbolt right now. “ Dahlia replied.

“That better be worth extra credit,” Dash added, flopping down on her bed. “We’ve worked so hard to get just half that. That can’t have gone unnoticed.”

“I know how you feel. I’ve got a nice two weeks of sleeping.” Riptide replied, yawning as he finished his sentence.

“Don’t you do a lot of that anyway?” Dahlia teased.

“Hey, this look requires a lot of beauty sleep,” He replied with a wink directed at her. Dahlia simply shook her head in response.

Dash chuckled a little at her exchange, then turned around to pack her things. Not only had these past few weeks been thoroughly enjoyable for her, she was also relieved that she made it through to the next stage. And for once, she was actually agreeing with Riptide. A lot of sleep was in order.

As she was packing her things, she heard the door open behind her. And there was only one pony it could be.

“And here comes the mare of the hour!” Dahlia commentated as Bright Skies entered. Dahlia immediately flew over to her and embraced her. “I wish I had your brains, you did so well! You must be the first to get a perfect score. How in Equestria did you do it?”

Bright Skies shrugged humbly and semi-smiled, hugging Dahlia back. “I just...cram as many answers in my head as I can...I guess…”

Dahlia shook her head and sighed. “I wish it were that simple for the rest of us…” She released Bright skies from her grip.

Bright Skies dropped her forehooves back down to the floor, briefly looking downwards before looking back up. “I don’t really have any special techniques or anything. I just study-study-study until it sticks in my brain.” She explained, walking towards her bed.

“Pff,” Dash snickered, “Only you could make it sound that easy…”

“Just had more practice I guess…” Bright Skies started packing her things as she replied. Whilst her responses were still minimal, she had warmed up to her roommates over time. They had slowly eroded her shyness towards them over the past few weeks. Her lack of confidence in herself and towards others was still evident though.

“Anyway, I smell the grub they got going,” Crash Dive sniffed the air a few times before launching himself in the direction of the door. “Sorry guys, I ain’t waiting around.”

“ ‘Waiting’ implies I won’t catch you!” Dahlia replied, turning and running towards the door herself.

“You guys go on ahead,” Rainbow Dash added, turning towards the bathroom, “I’ll catch you up in a bit.” She didn’t wait for a response and just headed into the bathroom. Everypony else made their way out the door.

Once she was done in the bathroom, Rainbow Dash left their room and started heading for the mess.

“Well, congrats on making it through I guess,” a familiar voice appeared behind her.

Dash smirked and instantly spun around to see Soarin. “Did you ever doubt me?” She replied.

“Heheh...no…” Soarin replied…

...and silence fell between them…

Soarin was secretly hoping that Dash would pick up, but she was looking away nervously. He couldn’t tell whether something was bothering her, or if she was just desperate to get to the food. Either way, this wasn’t unfamiliar ground for the pair of them.

“So…” He started up again, “Two week break huh?”

“Y-yeah…” Dash replied hesitantly, glancing down towards the ground then back up. “So...guess I won’t see you for two weeks…” She said, flattening her ears.

“Well...maybe here, yeah…” Soarin glanced over his shoulders, then back at Dash. “But there’s nothing stopping us meeting up. In Cloudsdale or Ponyville?”

Dash’s ears raised up again and she grinned. “Really? You’d do that for me?”

“Of course!” Soarin replied, “You’re a really great...a great pony, Rainbow Dash. I love hanging out with you.” He gritted his teeth slightly as he lost his words mid-sentence.

“Heh…” Dash looked away and scratched the back of her head. A slight crimson tint rose on her cheeks. “I guess...the day after tomorrow works well for me.”

“Great, I’ll meet you in Ponyville,” Soarin planned. “Whereabouts? Or should I come to your place?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. My place is the only cloud house in Ponyville anyway. Shouldn’t be hard to find.” Dash replied, chuckling.

“Great,” Soarin started blushing a tiny bit. “See you there. Now go get some food before it all goes. Congratulations on making it through again by the way.” Soarin extended his hoof.

“Ha,” Dash returned his hoof shake. “Did you ever doubt I wouldn’t?”

“All the time,” Soarin joked back, winking. “Go get yourself something to eat. I’ll see you on Sunday.”

“Hoping you’d say that, I’m starving.” Dash turned around, walking away. “Later Soarin!”

Soarin watched Dash walk away until she’d gone through the doors. He then relaxed, letting out a sigh as he thought things through.

“You’re playing with fire here, Soarin.” A familiar voice said behind him, nudging him in the side.

“I know, Blaze. I know…”

Blaze walked to a position where she could see and talk to him. “Sooo...what’cha gonna do about it?”

“I wish I knew,” Soarin replied, looking down at the ground.

“Good thing I’m in the mood to be helpful today.” Blaze chuckled, “Let’s get the basics out of the way first. Do you like her? As in...really like her?”

“I...I do, but…” he slowly raised his head up. “As you said, I’m playing with fire. Fraternization is a career ending offence here.”

“Exactly,” Blaze continued, “And she’s not exactly the first mare you’ve dated. Any other mare and we wouldn’t even be having this discussion, you would have already made your decision. What makes her so special?”

“We just...click. I get her because I’ve been in her position before. Although I’ve been much more fortunate to be where I am now. I sympathise with her because I imagine myself in a similar position had I not been so lucky all those years ago when I made it into the Wonderbolts. She’s got a real spirited and competitive nature around which just lifts me up like a feather in a gust of wind. And we make each other laugh. I can’t remember the last time I made someone laugh until they were breathless. Over the past few weeks, we’ve really got to know each other, and she remembers almost everything I say. And I can remember her words to. We’ve got a habit of cheering each other up when we’re having a bad day. Don’t ask me what we do, it just seems to be whenever we’re around each other, things just seem to--”

“Yo Loverboy, ponies are staring.” Blaze made a spinning motion with her hoof.

“Wait, what!?” Soarin’s head immediately spun around in both directions, quickly looking for other ponies in the corridor. His face turning bright red. But as he looked around, there was nopony aside from him and Blaze…

“BWAHAHAHA!” Blaze immediately burst out laughing, grabbing her sides with her forehooves and leaning against the wall.

Soarin rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth as he, once again, became the butt of Blaze’s jokes. “Alright, real funny,” He said sarcastically.

“S-Sorry, but…” Blaze was still trying to catch her breath without dropping herself on the floor. “I really...really didn’t ex...expect that to work...so well…” She took some deep breaths and wiped away the tears from her eyes. “Seriously though, you were starting to drone on a bit…and your face is as red as the runway lights right now.” She couldn’t help but smirk at her final remark, only making Soarin blush more.

A short silence followed before Soarin spoke up. “So anymore genius advice?” He asked, partially sarcastically. Although Blaze liked to joke around, he greatly appreciated her advice. Although he struggled to take it seriously sometimes.

“Well in all honesty, you could just wait until this is all blown over. Then you don’t risk anything.” Blaze suggested.

“That’s a double-edged sword,” Soarin counter-replied. “If she becomes a Wonderbolt, that works great. But if she doesn’t, she’ll never want to speak to me again. Her life essentially revolves around getting into the Wonderbolts. She’ll be heartbroken if it doesn’t happen, and more than likely want to erase any reminder of what might have been.”

“...Good point,” Blaze acknowledged, rubbing her hoof on her chin. “Hmm...that is a toughie…”

“I know. I’ve been losing sleep over it this week…” Soarin admitted.

“...Well...here’s what I think.” Blaze put her hoof on Soarin’s chin and tilted his head up so they could look each other in the eye. She put on the most serious face she could muster (something quite difficult for her).

“Any other mare in the past, you’ve always chosen your career as a Wonderbolt over your love life. You didn’t even think about it or question it. The answer has always been Wonderbolts, and you choose that answer instantly without even giving it a second thought. This is the first mare that’s making you think about your choice. If she’s capable of doing that to you, then she’s definitely worth it.”

Soarin’s ears perked up. “You really think so?”

Blaze nodded. “Personally, I’d go for it,” she said, shrugging. “But I’m not you. I can’t make decisions for you. I’ve given you all the advice I can give you, but it’s up to you to decide what to do.”

“...Yeah...it is…” Soarin replied, sounding a little more confident. “I...I think I got it.”

“Hope so,” Blaze replied, winking, “Because I’m starving. Let’s go get something to eat and you can think about it later.”

Soarin smiled as he followed her. She was right. Blaze really had cleared a lot of things up for him. But ultimately, it was his call to make. He was putting the pieces together. The question is, did she feel the same way? Soarin was almost certain, but there was only one way to find out for certain…

“Last one there buys everypony else a drink!” Crash Dive challenged as he took off and flew away.

“Hey, no fair! Some of us pack heavier than others!” Dahlia complained as she lugged her bag through the sky, trying to offset some of the weight with her hooves to make it easier to fly with.

Dash laughed at the ponies that had been her roommates for the past few weeks. There she was with only a saddle bag over her back.

“Did you even use every single item in that bag?” White Comet asked, flying alongside her. He too was also only carrying a saddle bag over his bag.

“You’re stallions; it’s different!” Dahlia protested.

“Well you don’t see Dash with that problem,” He pointed out, tilting his head in the direction of Rainbow Dash.

“Y-yeah, well…Dash is different!” Dahlia stumbled for a response.

“Pff,” Dash rolled her eyes, “I just bought enough to keep me alive and to stop me smelling like Riptide.”


“What did you bring?” Dash asked.

“Well quite simply, I always want to look my best. You never know what stallion’s you might encounter out and about.” Dahlia explained herself fluttering her eyelids in an alluring way.

“You’ve been in a room full of ‘em,” Torque butted in.

“Pff,” Dahlia snorted and was about to laugh, but the realised who said it. “Wait....Torque...was that a joke? From you?”

“No, it was sarcasm.” He replied monotonously, then looked straight ahead.

That only confused Dahlia more. “So...wait, was that sarcasm?...or...was what you said before sarcasm? Gah, this makes my head hurt!” She pounded her temples and everypony else bar Torque laughed at her pondering.

After a short flight with much attempted banter, they finally made it to a bar in Cloudsdale. A very traditional bar with an open-wood fireplace. The atmosphere was filled with the jolly conversations of the patrons, and the faint aroma of alcohol lingered in the air.

“Over here,” Riptide quickly spotted an empty long rectangular table along the wall. He immediately went for it, knowing everypony else would congregate to it.

Everypony sat around, but when Dahlia went to take a seat, Riptide held his wing out to stop her. “Dahlly. Sweetie, baby, honey. Mind doing the honours of the first round?” Riptide asked, winking.

Dahlia sighed with a slight smile, dropping her bags off. “Guess so, since I’m up. Bits?” She held her hoof out.

Everypony else started rummaging through their bags in search of bits, but Riptide remained laid back in his seat. “Bits? I’ll give you a kiss instead?” He offered, closing his eyes, leaning forward and pouting his lips.

“Maybe,” Dahlia said sarcastically, slowly moving towards him.

Dash had a laugh at Dahlia’s sarcasm, but she slowly stopped when she realised that Dahlia was slowly moving closer to Riptide...and closer...wait, she wasn’t actually going to kiss him was she?

Suddenly, she stopped and pulled away slightly, aggressively tapping his chin with her right hoof. Soft enough not to hurt, but hard enough to make him notice.

Riptide flinched at the impact. “Ow! I bit my tongue!”

“Don’t push your luck next time. Seriously, bits.” Dahlia held her hoof at him.

“Fine, fine.” Riptide reached into his bag with his wing and pulled out a few of the gold coins. During which time, everypony else was laughing at his misfortune.

Dahlia walked off to the bar to get the drinks whilst everypony else calmed down. “I totally thought she was gonna do it as well.” Dash commented.

“Me too, she’s a great actor,” Bright Skies added.

“Hey, I thought it was a reasonable offer. Apparently not.” Riptide rolled his eyes before looking over at Dash. “Hey Dashie, how--”

“Dream on.” Dash replied, raising her middle feather before Riptide even got the chance to finish his sentence.

“Damn,” Riptide flopped back in his seat, “Really gotta work on that.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to think about it when you lose next time around.” The corners of Torque’s lips curled upwards ever-so-slightly at his retort.

Dash was glad that Dahlia hadn’t returned with her drink yet. Because if she was sipping it, she would have just spat it all over Bright Skies sitting opposite her. Everypony else joined in her laughing at Torque’s comeback. It wasn’t so much the joke, it was more to do with the fact it came from the last pony of the group they would expect.

Riptide simply huffed then smirked. “That’s funny, coming from somepony used to that sort of thing.”

Dash once again bounded into fits of laughter. Riptide smiled stupidly, as if he was trying not to laugh at his own joke.

“Holy--wow, that’s savage.” Crash Dive replied, a bit lost of words at Riptide’s retort. He looked over at Torque. “Hope the cider comes with ice, ‘cause you’re gonna need it for that burn.”

Torque simply rolled his eyes, “Yeah, real funny. Excuse me for a minute,” he slid off his chair and whisped his jacket over his back. He walked and put it on at the same time.

Bright Skies laughter began to die down as she took note that Torque perhaps didn't find it that funny. Dash also picked up on it and slowly forced her laughter to die down.

“Alright, what did you guys do?” Dahlia asked as she returned to the table, placing a tray of cider mugs. “One of you said something to annoy him.”

“Who knows? He’s always grumpy,” Riptide palmed off, swiping a mug of cider into his hoof.

“I think your...joke was a little too close to home for him?” Bright Skies suggested.

“Well how the hell was I supposed to know? I barely know the guy.” Riptide was all of a sudden starting to sound very defensive.

“Calm down Rip, nopony’s blaming you,” Dahlia replied, “Although he seems to know you a fair bit. Any idea what that’s about?”

Riptide shrugged in response. “I’ve never really met him before. He looks familiar, I think I might have bumped into him a few times in college.”

“College? Isn’t he like, five years older than you?” Dahlia continued to question.

“My parents put me on some accelerated courses. What a waste of time that was. It’s hard for places like that to admit that you’re too good…”

“Geez, I’d rather just ask Torque himself than listen to your ego pissing contest you’re having with yourself.” Dahlia said, rolling her eyes. “Anyway, moving on.” She raised her glass to the table, “A toast.”

Everypony else raised their glass with her. “We all put in the best we could. Unfortunately, not all of us made it. But regardless, I hope we all remain friends when this is all over. Cheers everypony!” She slowly moved her glass forward, making everypony else do the same until they all ‘clinked’ together in the middle. Then with one graceful swing, they bought the glasses back to their mouths and took a generous gulp of the sweet apple cider.

Riptide side then rested his glass on the table, eyeing up the lonely pint. “If Torque doesn’t hurry back, he might find his drink has...mysteriously disappeared…”

“No he won’t, because I’m taking it to him.” Dahlia replied, taking the other glass in her free hoof. She then slowly raised herself onto her hind legs, then into the air with her wings.

“Oh, I get it. ‘Taking’ it to him…” Torque raised an eyebrow then made fake kissing noises over at Dahlia.

Dahlia simply shook her head in response. “Funny,” she shot back as she twisted her back to him, flying towards the door.

“Remember to take it slowly!” Riptide gave his final piece of advice, which fell on death ears. He chuckled to himself as he thought about it. “Wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a one-hit-wonder…”

Dash couldn’t help but shake her head. “It’s scary to think how smart you would be if your heads swapped places…”

“Nah, then he’d just be an orange yeti with a dick on his head.” Crash Dive immediately added.

His brother snorted so hard that cider came out of his nose. Everypony immediately burst into fits of laughter, almost bringing them to tears at the image. The pub wasn’t busy, which almost made for certain that all eyes were on them and their mad cackling, but Dash didn’t care. That was just too damn funny.

Riptide grumbled a little then went back to nursing his drink.

Dahlia pushed through the double-doors and took a step onto the street. The sun was gradually getting lower in the Sky, and pegasi were on the street, signing off from work for the week and getting ready to celebrate their Friday night.

She glanced around, taking note of the few ponies mingling. It didn’t take her long to spot Torque. He sat with his back to the glass window of the pub, appearing to be deep in thought whilst smoking a cigarette.

Dahlia scoffed then slowly approached him. “Ya know,” she said a tad louder to initially catch his attention, “I hear ponies say that those things are bad for you. You could’ve been faster.”

Torque made eye contact, blowing out of the side of his mouth so he didn’t blow smoke in Dahlia’s face. “I don’t believe in superstitions. Give me some numbers, then I’ll think about it.”

“Hm. Fair enough,” Dahlia pushed the cider towards him, pushing it so close to his chest that he had no choice but to take it. “Cheers.” Torque held his cigarette between his feathers and took the glass around the handle in his hoof.

Dahlia motioned in to clink her glass with his, but he made no effort to return the favour. She simply pushed hers slightly further forward to compensate, making the clink, then taking a swig from the glass.

“I’m sorry about your results...really, I am...but I think there’s something else bothering you. Wanna talk about it?”

Torque sighed then took a small sip of his cider, staring down into the fizzing orange liquid. “Listen, Dahlia...I appreciate the cider. I also appreciate your concerns… and I’m sorry I have to put it bluntly like this, but I’m not looking for friends.”

Dahlia raised an eyebrow, then sighed. “I can understand wanting to bury bad memories and experiences, such as your loss here. But you can’t let that impact the friendships you’ve made whilst you’re here.”

“If you really want to be my friend, then you can start by forgetting all about me. Because after tonight, you’ll probably never see me again.” He raised his glass to his mouth then paused. “My patience is running out,” he advised before taking another drink.

“...Fine.” Dahlia admitted defeat. “But can you answer one question?”

“What?” Torque replied in a harsh tone.

“Why did you come for trials at the Wonderbolts in the first place? You don’t seem to like it very much, and a pony with your knowledge can do whatever he wants. I’m confused…”

As Dahlia finished taking, Torque finished the final draw on his cigarette. He exhaled slowly, then took another small breath to reply. “It’s not like this was my first plan. It’s quite a few down the list… but it’s my last resort…”

“Last resort?” Dahlia replied, somewhat frustrated. His answers to her questions just lead to more questions.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Torque raised his wing up and threw the butt of his cigarette into the street. He stood up and proceeded to start walking towards the door.

“Thanks for the insight,” Dahlia replied somewhat sarcastically as she followed him.

They pushed through the door at the same time and returned to the warmth, heading back to their table. Where they found...sixteen glasses of cider?

“What have we missed?” Dahlia asked, examining the cider. Luckily, there appeared to be some untouched glasses. She presumed they were for her and Torque, but awaited confirmation.

“Well now, I was just explanin’ how much of a prick Rapidfire was.” Bright Skies “I mean, I was standin’ in outside during the trainin’, mindin’ my--” she hiccuped violently, but continued without skipping a beat, “own business. And he just struts right up and yells ‘You ain’t becomin’ a Wonderbolt by standing around like that, now get ya ass back in that sky!’”

Dash and Riptide started laughing in unison as Bright Skies impression of a deep male shouty voice somehow ironically made her voice higher-pitched. The fact that she was relatively shorter than everypony else only amplified the effect.

Dahlia looked over at Riptide, Dash and White Comiet sitting in a row on one end of the table and raised an eyebrow. “What did I miss?”

“Well basically, she absorbs cider like a sponge. She couldn’t wait and pre-emptively bought everypony another round. Although she’s almost finished that one…” Comet explained, pointing his hoof at her cider glass.

“And those two tried to keep up. Big mistake…” Dash added on, pointing at Crash Dive and Horizon. Who were leaning back in their seats, hooves on their stomachs. The expression on their faces looked pretty painful, with their eyes barely noticing what was going on around them.

“Are you guys OK?” Dahlia asked.

“How can such a little pony chug that fast…?” Crash Dive asked in disbelief.

“I can drink, but not that fast. Geez…” Horizon added. “I can’t keep going like that.”

Bright Skies tipped her head all the way back and lifted the glass exactly vertical, chugging down the little bit that remained then finishing with a sigh as she bought her head and glass back down. She placed the glass on the table, but then titled it towards her and looked in the bottom, intrigued. Her face was very flustered, clearly showing several patches of red under her grey fur. “You ever wondered what would happen if some apple seeds got left in the cider, and you drunk them and an apple tree started growing inside of you? Scary stuff…”

Dahlia rolled her eyes, “I need more booze for this…” she immediately bought her glass to her lips and took a big gulp.

The clocked ticked by, but nopony seemed to care. Despite that half of them received not-so-good news earlier, the atmosphere was relatively relaxed. They didn’t talk about the Wonderbolts or the results either. Probably because no one wanted to bring any awkwardness to the table.

“And then this bonehead of a stallion comes up to me and says the cheesiest pickup line I’ve ever head. ‘My life could be yours’ or something along those lines.” Dahlia continued telling a story, her face slightly rosy from alcohol consumption. “And I replied ‘I’ve seen half of it, and I’m not impressed.’ The look on his bro’s faces were priceless!”

As the final word rolled off her tongue, Dahlia bought her glass to her lips and finished the last of her cider off. However, her drought was shorted-lived, as one of the bartenders appeared at the side of their table, carrying a tray filled with glasses of cider. Enough to last them all for a while except Bright Skies, who seemed to finish a pint off in less than three gulps.

“Uhh...thanks?” Dahlia said, confused as to why he was bringing them instead of Torque.

“You’re welcome. Courtesy of the gentlecolt who just left,” The bartender explained as he distributed the drinks.

“Wait, Torque? Orangey-brown fur, red and blue mane and tail?” Dahlia described.

He nodded in response, “He paid for the drinks and asked me to bring them over to you before he left.” With his job finished, he picked the tray back up and headed back to the bar.

“...Huh.” Dahlia was lost for words. “Not even a goodbye…”

“So what? Not like he cared about anypony riiight? Hope his stubborn ass gets what's comin’ to it!” Bright Skies punched the table with her hoof. Her face was very red, and she didn’t look very well.

“Damn Skies, I love the drunk you.” Dash replied, raising her glass.

“I love drunk me too!” Bright Skies added, clinking her glass against Dash’s.

“But...isn’t anypony concerned about Torque?” Dahlia asked.

“Not really. Ya can’t really feel sorry for a guy who closes himself off like that,” Riptide replied.

“But he did open up occasionally,” Dahlia argued, “Maybe he’s just shy? Some ponies are like that. Either way, there was definitely something else bugging him. I dunno, maybe I just felt like we could’ve helped him more…”

“Dahlly, Sister,” Dash pulled Dahlia closer to her with her wing, “Me and Twilight and my friends have done the whole ‘redemption’ thing a million times.” She bought her wings out in front of her to use her wings to count. “ ‘Lean who you really are’, ‘What you’re doing is bad’, ‘We can show you the way’, ‘You need to face your fears’. We’ve done it all. And from what I’ve seen, all you can do it put a pony on the right path, and the rest’ll sort itself out… most of the time.”

Dahlia chuffed, “Well, I guess that’s good advice, coming from a personal aide of the Princess of Friendship. And I did give talk to him a little bit...maybe it’ll give him time to sink in…”

“That’s the spirit!” Dash exclaimed, holding her glass up, “Now drink! Cheers!”

Everypony clinked their glasses together again, but Dahlia couldn’t help but look out the window, leading to the pathway where Torque would’ve walked as he left....

As the eight of them finally stumbled their way out of the front door, the bartender closed it behind them and locked it up. He turned and looked at the state of the ponies in front of him. “She gonna be alright?” He asked, pointing to Bright Skies. Currently resting her head on Dahlia’s shoulders whilst being supported by both Dahlia and Rainbow Dash.

“She’ll be fine,” Dahlia said, somewhat reassuringly. “I’m sorry she--” she hiccuped, but continued, “threw up on your floor.”

The bartender shook his head. “Don’t worry, I’ll let it slide because I’m actually impressed how such a small pony drank so much cider. Where did she put it all?” He asked, scratching his head.

“Shhh, the baby’s sleeping,” Dahlia loud-whispered and stroked Bright Skies’ mane.

The bartender gave them one last smile before extending his wings. “Safe journey, ponies,” he said as he flew off.

“Did...did aanypony catch where sh-she lived?” Dahlia slurred.

“Pfft, I dunno,” Dash shrugged aggressively, but forgot she had Bright Skies straddled over her shoulders. She caught her before she fell to the ground, but much to their amazement, she barely noticed. It did cause a few chuckles though.

“Out like a light,” Comet commented.

“I’ll say,” Dahlia replied. “Hey, where’s Riptide?”

“Hurling in the trash can,” Comet replied, pointing his hoof over to the start of an alleyway. Riptide held his head over the can and occasionally some grunts of pain came his way.

Despite feeling somewhat sympathetic, Dahlia couldn’t help but laugh at the situation they were all in. “Alright...Dash, where you living again?”

“Pon *hic* Ponyville.” Dash tapped her chest with her hoof a few times to try and suppress heartburn.

“Ain’t that the way you’re going Comet?” Dahlia asked.

“Yep,” Comet grabbed both Crash Dive and Horizon in his wings. They were completely out of it. One eye was looking in a different direction to the other. “I’m taking these two to Ponyville train station and wishin’ ‘em good luck.”

Dahlia nodded, then looked over at Bright Skies. “Guess I’ll take her back to my place then. I can manage her on my own.”

“You sure?” Dash asked.

“Positive,” Dahlia replied, “But can you help me put her on my back? Think I’ll need to get into the air first, I ain’t takin’ off with this much weighing my down.” She pointed with her hooves to Bright Skies, her own luggage, and Bright Skies’ luggage.

“We’re wasted; you sure that’s a good idea?” Dash questioned.

“Well unless you’ve got any better ones,” Dahlia replied, extending her wings and prepping to take flight. “Up we go.”

Dash and Dahlia slowly hovered into the air and supported Bright Skies body between them. Bright Skies seemed oblivious to what was going on, occasionally making some sort of noise or babbling incoherent nonsense.

“Grab her hind legs and pull her onto me,” Dahlia instructed.

“Nah, I don’t wanna hurt her. I’ll push her up,” Dash placed her free hoof under Dahlia’s body.

Dahlia groaned a little. “Fine, but not too hard. She could still have more in there, and I’m right underneath her if she chucks up again.”

“...point taken,” Dash replied, taking Dahlia’s advice into consideration and replaced the position of her hooves to hopefully places a little less pressure on her stomach.

She pushed with one hoof and pulled with another until Bright Skies was lying on her stomach on Dahlia’s back, and straddled her legs either side of Dahlia. “Great, now get our bags.”

Dash and Comet worked together in bringing their bags to them.

“That’s the last one,” Dash handed it to her.

“Great,” Dahlia found some free space on her shoulders. “Damn, this is heavy.”

Bright Skies wrapped her hooves around Dahlia’s neck, pulling herself forward and nuzzling her head into the right side of her neck. “I love you…” She drunkenly mumbled.

“Awww, I love you too,” Dahlia replied somewhat sarcastically and rustled her mane. But then she immediately cringed and pulled her head away. “Or at least I would if your breath didn’t stink of barfy-cider.” She wafted her nose a little with her hoof.

“Alright, I guess we should go…” Dash suggested. As she finished her sentence, she noticed Riptide coming back over. “Feel better? Gonna make it back to Canterlot okay?”

“I-I should be fine. Should make the last train from Ponyville...anyway, group hug?” Riptide jumped into the air and hovered, holding his hooves out wide. Dash found it funny that his wings were flapping out of sync, making him wobble a bit.

Dahlia sighed, “Bring it in everypony,” She held her arms wide.

“Oh what the hay,” Dash agreed, being too drunk to care. She pulled herself in with everypony else as they formed a circle out of each other's embrace. Although it became a bit awkward with all their bags around their shoulders and with Bright Skies on Dahlia’s back.

But one thing became more obvious than that. “Hey, where’s Crash Dive?”

The sound of something falling over and possibly breaking around the corner quickly caught their attention. “Hey, get back here and clean that up!” An angry stallion voice bellowed.

“Guess we should move quickly now.” Dash suggested.

“Yeah. Horizon, it’s been great knowing you, and I hope to see you again soon. Good luck with--”

His brother was quickly appearing in her peripheral vision. “Shitshitshitshitshitflyflyflyfly!” He whizzed passed them with little concern for anything else.

“What did you do--oh there’s no time,” Dahlia looked back at Horizon, “pass what I said onto him. The rest of you, see ya in two weeks!” Dahlia turned to fly away whilst waving her hoof. “Say goodbye Skies,” She reminded Bright Skies, giving her a nudge with her shoulder.

“Mmm,” Bright Skies made a groany sort of sound and flopped her left wrist at them.

“Better dash, Dash,” Comet advised, flying the direction Horizon had bee-lined it for.

“Yep,” Dash didn’t disagree with him there, following suit. As much as she’s flown drunk in the past, she was never any good at keeping herself level. But given the awkward situation, she didn’t have much of a choice but to fly fast. She couldn’t help but find herself laughing hysterically at the situation along with Comet, Horizon, Crash Dive and Riptide.

She was so pleased to be heading home on top. Heading home with a sense of pride, that she was one step closer to becoming a Wonderbolt. It made the relief much sweeter knowing that she earned her two weeks worth of rest and relaxation, and some quality time chilling with her friends and…


Dash couldn’t quite put it together in her head. During her first week, she was looking forward to spending time with her friends after the Wonderbolts. But towards the end, she couldn’t seem to take her mind off of Soarin. It’s as if he had something for her that her friends didn’t. Some sort of...attraction…

‘What’s happening to me?’ She started questioning herself as she flew. She sighed as she thought it over more. Maybe she really was denying herself some other feelings. Or at the very least suppressing them to prevent them from hindering her performance. Maybe he was more than just a friend...problem is, the realisation of it couldn’t have come to her at a worse time...

Chapter 15

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Rainbow Dash walked through the doors of Sugarcube Corner, hearing the bell chime as she walked through. To her surprise, it was empty. Although given the nature of her visit, she preferred that anyway. The smell never failed to drive her stomach wild whenever she walked in.

“I’ll be there in a moment!” She heard the muffled voice of Mrs. Cake call from the kitchen.

She walked over to the counter, leaning over it to look into the kitchen. There, she saw Mrs. Cake, appearing to be in the final stages of preparing some sort of mix. She could feel the heat radiating from the kitchen, they obviously had a lot of the ovens going.

Rainbow Dash didn’t say anything to announce her presence. She would rather wait until Mrs. Cake was less distracted by whatever she was preparing. Eventually, she became torn from her mixing to take a look over at the shop. “Oh, Rainbow Dash!” She quickly put the mixing bowl down and headed towards the shop.

“Hi there Mrs. Cake. How are you?” Dash asked.

“Oh, I’m doing very well, thank you for asking. But Pinkie’s been very eager to see you for quite some time.”

“Uh, actually I’m in a bit--” Dash didn’t have time to make her excuses before the pink pony appeared between them. Her sudden appearance on top of the counter startled the pair of them.

“Rainbow Dash!” Pinkie launched herself at Dash, grappling her forelegs around Dash’s neck. “Where have you been? I’ve missed you so much…”

“I-it was only a f-few weeks,” Dash gasped for air through the strength of Pinkie’s hug, “Pinkie, too...too tight…” She did her best to push Pinkie away.

“Oops,” Pinkie released her grip. “How was it? Did you have fun? Did you win? Are you going back? Did you fast? Why’s the sky blue? Did you make new friends?” Pinkie continued to bombard Rainbow Dash with questions. Some less...relevant and more...random than others…

“Uh...it was...good?” Dash responded plainly, getting a bit overwhelmed by the questions. Although she was used to it by now.

“Great!” Pinkie replied, smiling from ear to ear. “I’m glad you’ve come to spend time with me. We’ve got so much to catch up on.”

“Actually, I’m…” Dash’s eyes darted around, checking her surroundings before proceeding. “I’m just here to...run some errands…”

“Oh, I get it,” Pinkie rolled her eyes, “You’re a little busy, but you just have enough time to pick up the same specially-made cupcakes you always like hand crafted by my own fair hoof,” Pinkie leaned under the counter and re-emerged a second later with a red box, placing it on top of the counter and opening it. “A dozen of your favourite cupcakes with extra-sweet icing.” Pinkie leaned across the counter, “It was a baker's dozen, but it couldn’t resist…” She whispered through gritted teeth.

“Oh...thanks…” Dash wasn’t expecting it, but she certainly wouldn’t deny it. “I’m actually after a few other things…”

“Of course, anything for you Dashie. What can I do?” Pinkie asked, staring at Dash patiently.

“Well, I was hoping that you could...put together some treats… enough for two ponies…Just typical stuff...” She tried to ask in a way that she wouldn’t arouse suspicion. Luckily for her, Pinkie wasn’t the type to read too much into things.

“I can indeed. What type of things would you like?” Pinkie pulled over a pen and pad the Cakes kept by the till for taking orders.

“Eh, play it safe. Chocolate. And a pie if you’ve got one going.” Dash tried to say casually.

“Pies? Hmm…” Pinkie dived under the counter again, only her tail waving around slightly showing.

“I’ve got lemon meringue, raspberry meringue, key-lime, banoffe, rhubarb…” As she rattled off the names of the pie, she tossed them onto the counter without looking. Miraculously, they all landed the correct way up and in perfect alignment with each other.

Dash looked over each one, not really sure what she was looking for...or rather, not really sure what Soarin liked… “Uhh...rhubarb?” she chose.

“Sure thing,” Pinkie grabbed a box from the side of the counter with her tail and slid it along. Afterwards, she lifted the pie into the container. “I'll just whip you up a few treats, come through if you want.”

Dash followed Pinkie into the kitchen. Pinkie really didn’t waste time when it came to baking, running rings around Mrs. Cake, who seemed to also be preparing something. Pinkie didn’t appear to be breaking a sweat, despite the speed at which she moved. Not to mention the heat coming out of the kitchen at the moment.

“This isn’t like you, Dashie. What’s made you order all this?” Pinkie suddenly froze in her tracks. Only her next twisted so she could look eye-to-eye with Rainbow Dash. “You aren’t...planning a party without me are you?”

Dash had just had to dodge a similar line of questioning from Twilight, so she should already have answers rehearsed. It’s just that Pinkie can be a little more...erratic in her reasoning than Twilight…

“I, uh,” Rainbow’s eyes darted around the kitchen, confirming that there was nothing to draw Pinkie’s attention. Looks like she had some explaining to do. Only Mrs. Cake was around anyway, and she didn’t appear to be paying any attention to the two of them. “I’ve...got a friend over, from outside of Ponyville. From the Wonderbolts tryouts…”

Well, she wasn’t exactly lying…

Pinkie’s body twisted around to face Rainbow Dash, and she continued to glare at her. Pinkie took her parties very seriously, and Dash all of a sudden knew what she was in for. “How well do you know them?”

“Well, he -- I mean she, he, I--argh,” Dash shook her head and coughed as she tripped over her own words. “We shared a room with many other ponies. She’s just dropping by.”

“Sounds great. I’d love to meet her,” Pinkie replied with what to anypony else would appear to be a devilish smile. But Rainbow Dash knew that that was just Pinkie Pie being Pinkie Pie.

“Uh, actually, she’s just passing through. She’s on her way to...Los Pegasus…” Dash just said a place name and hoped it would be believable.

“Oh wow, that’s a LONG way to fly. I better pack extra!” Pinkie returned to baking. She was moving so fast it was almost like she was using all four hooves and her tail.

“Y-yeah..endurance training...and all that…” Dash agreed, brushing her forehead with her hoof. She dodged a hit there. Time to change the subject whilst she had the chance. “I met with Twilight this morning. We had a lot to catch up on.”

“Wow, Twilight found the time to talk to you? She’s been so busy with princess business lately. Spike was out of Ponyville yesterday, and nopony was answering the door, so I had to go through the roof to get into the castle…” The method Pinkie proceed to explain would be considered breaking and entering if she tried it to anypony else.

“Haha, lucky Twilight doesn’t keep guards around her castle like Princess Celestia or Cadence do. Can you imagine what they’d think of that?” Dash joked.

“Oh, there’s a guard around. Just one,” Pinkie rubbed her chin with her hoof, “Now you mention it though, Twilight does spend a lot of time with him. He’s been at the Castle basically every day since you left.”

“Really? Huh. Maybe Twilight’s planning something,” Dash shrugged.

“Yeah, I guess. She keeps mentioning a bunch of Princess stuff whenever I ask her about it,” Pinkie replied.

Dash kept the remainder small talk to a minimum, trying to avoid to the best of her ability the topic of what she was doing this evening. As fun as spending time with Pinkie can be, she was nervous enough about later without having to think about somepony dropping in.

The smell of the baked goods eventually began to fill the air, indicating that they were almost ready. “Smells good,” Dash commented.

“I know they will be. Try the icing,” without waiting, Pinkie poked the tip of the icing pen onto Dash’s lip and gave a good squeeze to push out the vanilla icing.

Not having much choice in the matter, Dash gave her lips a good lick. She never doubted Pinkie, and her trust never fails. It was a delicious flavor that would go perfectly with whatever Pinkie had prepared for them.

The oven pinged and Pinkie took all the treats out, placing them onto the cooler try before taking them back out to the shop counter. She placed them in boxes, alongside some other things that had already been made and had been sitting on the counter.

“There you go,” Pinkie placed a basket on the top of the counter, “I hope your friend is hungry when she gets here.”

“Oh he will be,” Dash replied, taking the basket by the handles, and then realising… “...She. She will be.” She smiled awkwardly as she corrected herself.

Pinkie didn’t even seem to register the mistake. She just had the same happy smile plastered on her face that she always had. “Happy to help Dashie! Don’t worry about the bits, we can sort that out later.”

Dash turned towards the door, “Thanks Pinkie!” She called as she headed out, taking to the sky the moment the door closed behind her.

The tryouts had put a lot more strain on her body than she thought. Her wings felt tired, even though she barely used them when she was...recovering yesterday. She never imagined it to be a fly in the park, but even she was starting to question whether she was underestimating it...

She flew back to her house on the edge of Ponyville. She walked through the front door and dropped her basket off on the counter in the kitchen. She walked back out towards the stairs, taking a look at the clock before heading up. Two thirty. Soarin would be there soon…

She wandered up into her bedroom. She still hadn’t really unpacked since she got home. Not that she really had a lot to unpack in the first place…

She wasn’t really sure what to do in preparation. She was just looking around her bedroom for inspiration. It was semi-messy, but in no more of a state than it was normally in. She had Wonderbolts memorabilia plastered all over it. Posters, tickets and programs from old shows, all the way down to action figures of old Wonderbolts that she had when she was a filly.

She walked over to her dresser and picked up one of the old tickets on it. The ticket had a picture of Spitfire, Fleetfoot and Soarin in one of their signature formations. Dash ran her hoof over Soarin in the picture, then placed the ticket back down.

She walked over to the side of her bed, where she saw some...magazines. She wasn’t usually one for these type of mares gossip magazine, but the particular issues she had had pictures of certain Wonderbolts in them…

‘Can’t have him seeing those,’ Dash blushed at the thought and shoved them deep into the bottom drawer of her nightstand. Even though the chances of him ending up in her bedroom were miniscule…

She walked into her ensuite bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. She glanced side-to-side, as far as she could whilst still keeping her eyes locked on the mirror. Yep, she looked like...plain old Rainbow Dash.

She felt as if she should be doing something special. Putting more effort in than normal. Thing is, Soarin liked plain old Rainbow Dash. She didn’t want to do anything that could contaminate that image...Although, as she thought about it, she was putting in extra effort her whole time at the Wonderbolts tryouts, and it paid off…

‘Guess I could at least have a shower…’ Rainbow Dash opened up the cabinet above her sink. The items on the front rows were all nice and clean, but the rest didn’t get used too much, so it was a bit dusty in there.

She knew Rarity keeps buying her gifts in the form of various beauty products. Perhaps it was time to finally put them to use? Providing that they didn’t have expiry dates…

She reached in and pulled out a white bottle with all sorts of fancy flowing art on it. She didn’t understand most of the words on the bottle, but she knew that ‘conditioner’ had something to do with mane and tail.

She put the conditioner to the side and reached back in. This time, she bought out a pink bottle with a spray on the top. She knew that this would be some kind of perfume, having seen Rarity use it before.

She blew the dust off the bottle to reveal the writing. Once again, there was all sorts of fancy beauty-related words that probably meant something to somepony that cared. Although there were big bold letters on the front that said ‘make your stallion swoon’.

“Bleugh,” Dash cringed and almost dropped the bottle in the process. She may be in love with him, but that doesn’t mean she wanted to make a drama theatre production about it…

She put the perfume down and picked up the bottle of conditioner. She read the instructions as she headed towards her shower.

The instructions told her to start by washing her mane and fur normally. Simple enough. Given the situation, she used a possibly excessive amount of her regular shampoo and lathered her entire body in it. After rinsing it off, she read the next instruction.

Take majority of water out of mane and tail, but DO NOT allow to dry.

Dash shrugged. This was turning out to be simpler than she thought. She gave her mane and tail a few squeezes and presses with her hooves, then shook her whole body a little. She got her towel, wrapped it over the toilet lid and sat down, leaving her body to drip-dry for a few minutes. Whilst she was doing that, she took the time to read the rest of the instructions.

Apply product to mane and tail and leave to set. The longer the better. If desired, lather small amount through fur for similar effects. (Warning: excessive amounts can cause skin irritation and too frequent use can cause ‘yak fur’ effect.)

Rinse with water as cold as you can comfortably handle, removing all product. Avoid blow dry if possible. Brush mane after drying.

“...Huh.” Rainbow was surprised. That’s all there was to it? It was basically just showering twice. Rarity really makes a meal out of if it’s that simple...that being said, Dash was hoping it wouldn’t have that effect on her. As much as she didn’t mind looking nice, she didn’t want to upset her image…

She proceed to follow the instructions to the letter. Although she found herself quickly getting impatient with the ‘the longer the better’ part. She had no idea how long long enough was. She eventually decided that twenty minutes was enough.

She dried herself off then hung her towel back up. She picked up her brush and once again looked at herself in the mirror. Her mane was a little frizzy from her aggressive drying with a towel. She wasn’t sure if all this stuff meant she had to brush her mane differently. Instead, she just went with the natural flow of her mane, like she always did.

She finished lining up the colours in her rainbow then looked at herself in the mirror again…

“...Whoa…” Dash’s jaw hung ajar slightly at what she was looking at in the mirror. Her fur and mane colours looked so much more vibrant and deeper than usual. It had really made a different. Instead of her mane fluffing up a bit like it would normally, it laid a lot flatter and straighter. Whilst she was impressed with the results that more than surpassed her expectations, she still had this lingering feeling in her mind. She felt...too pretty.

“Grr...I’m not meant to be cute and cuddly…” She mumbled to herself and repeatedly tapped her hoof on her sink in annoyance. Not sure what to do...but then again, Soarin was always joking about her being cute just to wind her up. Maybe this wasn’t a bad idea after all…

Anyway, no turning back now. Although she did wonder if the perfume was going a bit too far? Dash picked up the bottle and read it over again. She sighed, not really knowing what to do. However, she knew that if she didn’t use it now, she probably never would.

She aimed the nozzle at her hoof towel and sprayed some on so she could test the scent. She leant in and took a sniff, expecting some sort of overpowering flower scent…

...But to her surprise, it was actually a nice scent. A scent she liked. A very sweet scent, with a hint of cinnamon.

Well, she liked it, but did that mean she should use it? Maybe just a tiny bit. Just to take the edge off…

She pointed the nozzle at her chest, not really sure where to spray it. She aimed just above the centre of her chest and tentatively sprayed the tiniest amount she physically could. She immediately put the bottle down. She couldn’t bring herself to use anymore.

She stepped out of her bathroom, feeling like a million bits, even alongside the feeling that she was overdoing it. She didn’t really have anything to do now but...wait?

She sat on the edge of her bed. The anticipation was getting to her. She was visualizing loads of different scenarios in her head as to how this would play out. Some...not so good as others…

Her thoughts were interrupted where she heard a knock at the door. She gasped and flew as quickly as she could towards her front door, stopping inches before it. She froze, taking in a deep breath and slowly exhaling. She ran a hoof through her mane before opening the door.

Standing in front of her door was Soarin. He didn’t look any different than usual, but Dash wouldn’t have it any other way. “Hey...Dash…” He greeted, looking a little surprised, his jaw hanging ajar slightly.

“Hey Soarin,” Dash replied, smiling sheepishly. Soarin still appeared to be shocked and...slightly blushing? “Uhh...Soarin?” Dash tipped her head.

“Oh,” Soarin shook his head a little, “Sorry, but...well, don’t know if you’ve done anything differently, but you look stunning. Although you’re a great piece of eye candy to begin with,” Soarin replied, winking.

“Oh stop it,” Dash giggled and blushed, rubbing up and down her left foreleg with her right hoof.

A brief silence fell between them, but not falling into that trap again, Soarin broke it. “So...can I uh, come in?” He asked.

“O-oh, sure,” Dash replied, stepping back to let him in, just remembering what was going on. “I got us a few things. Let me grab them and we can get going,” Dash wandered off to the kitchen to grab the treats she got from Pinkie Pie earlier. “Hope you’re hungry,” Dash said as she returned from the kitchen.

“Famished,” Soarin replied, looking at the Wonderbolt statue she had in the entrance to her house. “Big fan then huh?”

“Yeah, my parents surprised me with that one as a housewarming gift. Pretty awesome right?”

“Yeah, I can totally picture you practicing a salute in front of this,” Soarin said, performing a Wonderbolts salute to the statue.

She was only just recovering from blushing earlier, but her cheeks puffed out and she blushed some more as Soarin pretty much hit the nail on the head of what she practiced occasionally. “Hehe...yeah…anyway, I’m starving. Lets go.” Dash moved along to the door.

“Go where?” Soarin asked, following her.

“Just a cloud somewhere, whilst the weather’s nice.” Dash stepped out of the door, waiting for Soarin to move out as well so she could lock the door behind them.

Soarin stepped out and took a few steps forward before turning around. Rainbow Dash closed the door behind him and locked it. “Guess we’ll just go wherever we can find a decent cloud.” Dash took off and started looking around...preferably somewhere high and far away…

“Bet I can find one first!” Soarin suddenly shot off northbound.

“Hey, no fair! I’m carrying stuff!” Dash called out as she went in pursuit, but at the same time, didn’t want to turn the food to mush.

She flew as level as she could, but she was at a serious disadvantage. Eventually, she caught up to Soarin, who was already sitting on a cloud and morphing it slightly to better suit them.

“Hope you’re faster than that in a few weeks,” Soarin said with a smirk.

“That wasn’t a fair race, I had all this to carry.” Dash sat down and set the basket between them.

“Haha, alright. Good excuse,” Soarin admitted.

Dash pulled out the pie she got earlier. “So, how much of this do I have to feed you in order to get some hints for two weeks time?”

“Sorry Dash, my lips are seal-okay maybe a little…” Soarin had a quick change of mind once the scent of the pie reached his nose.

“Smells good doesn’t it? My friend Pinkie Pie baked this for me.” Dash set it down and plunged a knife in, ready for the first slice. “Dig in.”

Soarin didn’t hesitate and quickly cut himself a generous slice and took a bite. “Mm, rhubarb…”

“Told you,” Dash replied, going to take a slice for herself. But Soarin quickly whisped it over to his side.

“Uh-uh, you’ve gotta be on top form for stage two. No unnecessary calories,” Soarin teased, winking.

“You’re a real comedian sometimes,” Dash went and stole the pie back, cutting herself a slice. This was going much better than planned. She felt herself growing more confident by the second.

She took out more of the baked treats she acquired from Pinkie and started setting them all down like a picnic. “Anyway, what is going on in the second stage?”

Soarin swallowed, looked away, then back at her, then shrugged. “I can’t reveal too much. All I can say it don’t expect the hotel style treatment you got last time…”

Dash raised an eyebrow, “That doesn’t explain much…”

“It sort of does if you think about it. Besides, I’m not allowed to say anymore...no matter how hard you try,” Soarin replied with a wink.

“Alright, I supposed I’ll be surprised.” Dash settled with the answer.

Soarin chuckled softly, “You’ll be surprised alright,” he said, implying that he knew more than he was letting on.

“Hmm,” Dash’s brow furrowed and she pouted as she tried to think of a better way to get any information he might have out of him. Although he seemed pretty stubborn about disclosing it. It was his job after all. Something that he would probably like to keep.

“So, Ponyville here is where Rainbow Dash and friends save the world huh?” Soarin extended his hoof out towards the direction of Ponyville.

“Yep. Twilight’s castle is about the only thing you can make out in Ponyville from here though.” Dash explained and pointed her hoof and Twilight’s castle. It was the most obvious structure, being comically taller than anything else in Ponyville.

“I hear there’s a magic map in there that can call you through your cutie mark.” Soarin commented.

“That’s right. That thing’s determined to send us to all corners of Equestria solving friendship problems, haha,” Dash chuckled.

“Well, you sure made friends with someponies,” Soarin began with a smile. “I heard about the little… ‘argument’ you got into with that other mare in the showers. Thunder Flash was it?”

“Yeah, I dunno what that was about,” Dash rolled her eyes and took another bite from a doughnut Pinkie had packed them.

“I’m still counting the calories you know,” Soarin teased, winking.

“So am I,” Dash joked with him. “I’m sure I’ll find a way to burn ‘em off. Anyway, I have no idea what Thunder Flash’s issue is with me. She’s been at me since she saw me. Where did you even find a pony like that?”

Soarin shook his head, “Even if I knew, I wouldn’t be able to tell. We’re legally obliged to protect personal information of all the pegasi we bring in.”

“Of course…” Dash continued, “It’s almost like she wants revenge for something. Although I’ve never seen her before in my life.”

“Maybe that map of Twilight’s sent you on the wrong booty call once,” Soarin teased, winking and brushing his wing against her cutie mark.

Rainbow froze a little upon the contact, but immediately relaxed, albeit blushing slightly. She just wasn’t expecting it. Luckily it was Soarin there. Any other stallion would’ve received a hoof to the face...

“You can be real funny sometimes,” She replied sarcastically.

“Sometimes? More like all the time,” He continued.

“I wouldn’t go that far. Some ponies just prefer to laugh AT you instead,” Dash retorted.

“I laugh at me too. Sometimes I just need a professional opinion.”

Dash couldn’t contain herself any longer and started to laugh. Soarin had a way with words that just seemed to make them roll off his tongue in a manner that could appeal to anypony.

They continue to chat about anything and everything as time rolled on. Just as Dash was starting to get more comfortable, she could feel some sort of...pressure or anxiety building within her. She knew what she had to do relieve it...but she didn’t know if the time was right. She was new to this completely. Should she be waiting longer? Should she be slowly building up to the reveal or just come all out with it? If she did the wrong thing, it could make Soarin panic and do something wrong also.

The only thing that gave her some sort of sanity was that the way Soarin was acting had changed from earlier as well. Implying similar thoughts were going through his mind.

There was more silence between them than there had been for a while. For whatever reason, they just seemed to not be able to keep their conversations flowing. And when they did speak, there was an err in their voices that prevented them from speaking so confidently like they were earlier.

Dash kept herself occupied by cleaning things away back into the basket. After that was done, she laid on her back on the cloud. Soarin sighed and mimic’d her.

Dash’s thoughts were running wild. This silence was just too awkward for it to continue. She had to do something. But she just didn’t know what to say. She needed to know the truth, but was now really the right time to ask for it?

Her thoughts were cut short as a breeze sent a chill down her spine, “Brr,” she muttered, shivering slightly.

Soarin smirked awkwardly, “Chilly breezes in the afternoon this month right?”

“Y-yeah,” Dash responded quickly and shivered again.

Soarin saw the opportunity and took it. They had been waiting for a while, and a better opportunity hadn’t presented itself. He quickly calculated the risk, and decided that it would be better to take what he had instead of waiting in the hopes of catching a bigger fish that never presents itself and flying home with nothing.

He extended his wing around Rainbow Dash and gently embraced her. “This will keep us warmer.” He slowly closed his wing and slid Dash and him closer together, till their sides touched.

They looked over at each others eyes. Soarin smiled sheepishly, hoping Dash would take the hint. However, she turned her head away. Soarin did his best to suppress a huff as he looked in the other direction.

For a few minutes, they were sat in silence again. Although Soarin secretly didn’t mind, he knew that couldn’t stay in this cuddle limbo forever. Although he didn’t even know where to start on how to advance from here…

...Or maybe he didn’t have to.

He felt a hoof running along his upper foreleg. He tried his best to keep himself from freezing up, but he still couldn’t bring himself to look. Dash’s hoof slowly ran down his leg until their hooves paired up together. They held hooves for a few seconds before they slipped past one another and their wrists intertwined.

That was it. It’s now or never.

“There’s something I--”
“There’s something I--”

They both flicked their heads over at the same time. However, they were in such close proximity, their noses touched. Both their eyes widened as they locked on each others narrowing pupils. Soarin felt like Dash wanted to back off, but was hesitating.

Oh screw it, nothing to lose now.

Soarin quickly moved his head forward and encompassed her lips in his. All his tension and anxiety suddenly popped like a bubble. He closed his eyes and savoured the moment to the best he could. His body felt like a massive weight had just been removed from it. And when he felt Dash’s hoof tightening around his, it just made it all the more sweeter.

Dash couldn’t be more relieved about what was happening. However, she still had her doubts. Was she doing it right? Was it special enough? How long to kisses normally last for? Should she be doing anything? She knew ponies used their tongues when kissing sometimes, should she be doing that? Soarin wasn’t doing it, so she should probably just follow his lead.

Whilst the kiss felt more like two fluffy statues, to them, it meant the world. It lasted for almost a minute, and Soarin eventually broke it off. He let out a slow, relieved sigh as he reopened his eyes. He saw Dash lying next to him, her mouth still ajar and still with the shocked look in her eyes. He smiled lovingly, waiting for her to respond…

...But she didn’t…

Soarin’s smile started to fade away. “Uhh…” He didn’t really know where to begin from that...hence the reason he was waiting for Dash to start…

“Um...err…” Dash also seemed lost for words. “A-a-a-are y-you...do you need to go?”

“Oh,” Soarin cleared his throat awkwardly and sat up, realising what she was trying to say. “Uh, yeah, I better...get going…” He scratched the back of his head with his hoof.

“Y-yeah, me too...gonna...gonna be late...late for...that...thing...thing, that I’m gonna be late for...that I need to do…” Dash stumbled over her words as she sat up and picked up the basket. She more or less rolled off the cloud. Soarin heard the whistle of the wind as she flapped her wings.

He did the same and flew off as fast as he could, grunting as he took off. He pushed hard with his wings, flying as fast as he could to a pack of clouds fairly far away. Once he got there, he started slamming his hooves into them in frustration. “Stupid, stupid, stupid…” he thumped one with both his hooves, making it seemingly disappear into thin air. “UGH!” he grabbed the back of his mane between his hooves and pulled hard, deliberately trying to cause pain. He pulled as hard as his pain threshold would allow, then held it there for a few seconds.

He let his limbs dangle down then let out a frustrated sigh. He slowly let himself fall onto a cloud below him and land on his belly. How could he let this happen? Some stallion he was, failing to meet Dash’s expectations. Was he too early in making his moves? He was certain Dash felt the same way from the hints she was dropping. Maybe the way he did it was just too shocking for her? Whatever it was, it didn’t matter anymore...

“BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA oh this it poetic!”

The familiar voice made him let out a groan and roll his eyes. “Piss off Blaze, I’m not in the mood.” He said bluntly then stuck his head in the cloud so he didn’t have to see her.

“Wow, feisty. Did your tantrum make you feel better?” Blazed teased, landing on the cloud behind him.

All she earned in response to her comment was a muffled huff from inside the cloud.

“Okay, okay, jokes aside, I have to say...that was pretty damn adorable. You and Dash I mean.”

“Oh, decided to spy on us did you?” Soarin replied.

Blaze chuckled, “Actually, I was flying somewhere and saw you en-route. I thought I’d check up to offer my advice as usual. Don’t worry, I only saw the last twenty minutes or so. Nothing else.”

“Great, your in-depth analysis is just what I need right now,” Soarin replied sarcastically.

“Actually, it is. You still love her don’t you? And either way, you’re going to try again aren’t you?” Blaze deducted.

She waited for a few seconds, but got no response.

“Thought so,” she moulded a small wall into the cloud so she could sit down and rest her back against something. “No more jokes. I’m being serious now.” She advised, also getting no more response.

“Let’s analyse this logically for a second. The hints both of you were dropping definitely showed that you have feelings for each other. No doubts there. You’re the stallion, and older, so it also makes sense for you to initiate it. However, she seemed to reject you for some reason…”

“Gee thanks, I didn’t notice,” Soarin replied sarcastically in an angry tone.

“Hey, I’m trying to help. I can leave you to sulk in the cloud and not get anywhere if you like.”

Soarin thought about it for a few moments, then sighed. As frustrated as he was that he blew it on the first attempt...he really did want to make amends.

He dragged his head out of the cloud and turned around to face Blaze. The first thing he noticed was that Blaze was wearing a red dress. “What’s with the get-up? And isn’t that Spitfire’s?”

Blaze looked down at her dress, smiled, then back at Soarin. “Friends birthday. And yeah, Sis wore it once years ago. It’s been gathering dust ever since. Anyway, back to Little Dashie…” Blaze put a hoof on her chin as she thought. “The way she acted was sort of contradictory to the hints she was sending to you. It’s as if she wasn’t expecting it…”

Soarin’s ears dropped down and he looked down at the cloud.

“Now, she clearly was expecting it. She clearly has the same feelings you do. The only way she would have been shocked...was if that she wasn’t expecting it...and the only reason I can think of why she wasn’t expect it was because she didn’t know what to expect.”

Blaze smiled in the hope that her hint would make Soarin think. However, he didn’t appear to be catching on.

“You in there Soarin?” She asked, tapping her temple with her hoof.

“Yeah, I’m listening...I just don’t really know what to make of what you just said…”

“Well, think about it. How would you not know what to expect out of something?”

Soarin shrugged, “Because you didn’t see it coming?”

“Or…” Blaze spun her hoof in a circle to encourage him.

“Or…” Soarin thought about it hard. He wasn't really sure where Blaze was going with this, so he just thought about random related things. “Or you didn't know what to expe--...” It suddenly all clicked in his head, “That's it!” Soarin beamed. “She's hinted in the past that she's never been in a serious relationship with anypony before. After I kissed her, she was confused. Confused because she'd never been in that situation before. If anything, it probably scared her somewhat. That combined with the fact that she has the kind of personality that doesn't like to show affection in public meant she probably panicked and flew off in fear of doing something wrong.”

“Eureka, he finally gets it!” Blaze punched her forehooves in the air and then sarcastically clapped them together. “But there has been a benefit to all of this. After all that, all cards are on the table and all bets are off. You can pretty much speak your mind when you go to talk to her. Which you should go do right away. Tell her you love her. Hold her. Buy her flowers.”

“Flowers?” Soarin raised an eyebrow, “Don't think she's the type that appreciates flowers.”

“That's what they all say,” Blaze winked, “A gift of affection will mean so much more than you think, regardless of whether she likes it or not. Do it. You won't regret it. “

“Alright, I'll give it a shot. Thanks Blaze, I owe you one.” Soarin smiled and opened up his forelegs, moving for a hug.

“You owe me a couple actually,” Blaze corrected, smirking, then leaning into his embrace. She hugged him shortly before pushing him away. “Don't waste it on me. Go find your Dashie. Quick.” Her voice sounded like it was almost ordering him.

“Already on it,” Soarin saluted, then rolled off the cloud, flying away.

Blaze walked to the edge of the cloud, noticing the direction he was flying. “Uh, Ponyville’s that w--”

“IKNEWTHAT!” Soarin called as he rushed past. This time going in the opposite direction.

Soarin touched down in the middle of Ponyville, hoping he wasn’t going to attract attention. “Flowers, flowers, where do I find flowers…?” He quietly talked to himself as his eyes scanned the town.

There was a few market stalls in the town square. Although the majority appeared to be starting to pack away now. It would take him an age to go through them all, yet alone find one that was still open.

Time wasn’t something he had to spare. Looks like he would have to find somepony who can give him directions. Problem was, he wasn’t a common face around here. He didn’t want to draw too much attention.

He looked around, trying to find somepony isolated who he could talk to without drawing attention. To his left, he spotted a mare on her own. Not really walking with too much intent, it appeared that he would be able to ask her.

Soarin trotted up the mare. She was a middle-aged looking pegasus, with a celeste coat and a burgundy mane and tail. “Excuse me Miss, I was wondering if you could help me,” Soarin called as he approached, catching her attention.

The mare turned to Soarin. “I’m looking for a shop that sells, flow-ah,” Soarin could tell from the astonished look on her face that she knew who he was, “Aheh, hey there. Soarin, the Wonderbolt.” He extended her hoof out to her.

“Nice...to meet you…” She replied, shaking his hoof. “What brings you to Ponyville?”

“Actually, long story. But long story short, I need flowers urgently. Do you know anywhere that’s still open?”

“There’s a mare called Roseluck that normally has a good variety. But she closes soon, so you better hurry. She’s other side of town that way,” The mare pointed with her hoof.

“Thank you so much, I’ll get there quickly.”

Before he could go, the mare placed her foreleg out to stop him. “Would you mind doing me a really big favour? It’s my son’s tenth birthday in a couple of days, and I’ve bought him tickets to your next show in Canterlot. It would mean the world if you were to sign them?” She bought the tickets out of her saddle bag and presented them to Soarin.

“Now that I can do,” Soarin took the tickets and a pen that was also presented to him afterwards. “What’s his name?”

“It’s Wind Whistle. His friends just call him Whistle.”

Soarin nodded, dictating was he was writing on the ticket to her. “ ‘Hey Whistle. The big One-O eh? Enjoy it. Your pal, Soarin’.” Soarin finished it off by putting his signature underneath.

“Oh perfect,” The mare thanked Soarin before taking the ticket back. “Now hurry, I’m not sure how much longer she’s open for.”

“Thanks for your help,” Soarin replied, taking a few steps before taking flight.

He flew over to the area of town the mare described, trying his best to remain out of sight. Although somewhat difficult when flying, he was always able to blend in with the rest of the traffic.

He landed around a section of stalls that looked like they were just starting to pack away. His eyes scanned over them until one stood out. There wasn’t any signs or stands around it, but it seemed to have plenty of flowers.

He walked up to it, happy to see that the pony in question was still there. Or so he hoped… “Excuse me, are you Roseluck?” He asked.

The mare put down what she was holding and turned around. “I am. How can I help?”


“Let me guess, ‘I made a big mistake and need an apology for my marefriend’?” She immediately bought a bunch of flowers from under the ground. “It’s thirty five bits.”

Soarin’s jaw dropped as he started at the bouquet of flowers she held in her hoof. Although he was no expert on the subject, they sure looked pretty. Although he was more interested in how she knew.

Roseluck giggled, “That look never fails to make me laugh.”

“Uh...how did you know?” Soarin asked.

“Oh, you’re not the only one that turns up around about now,” She replied, batting a hoof at him. “I can read a pony’s face a mile away. I keep a few lying around for this reason.”

Soarin reached over and grabbed the bouquet at the base, where a plastic bag was tied around the base of the stems. It felt like it had a bit of water in it. “I’m sorry, I don’t have any bits. Could I send you a cheque in the post? Or bring it next time I’m here?”

“Hmm,” Roseluck rubbed her chin, “Normally I only do that for ponies I know. However, I’m sure I’ve seen your face before…” She raised an eyebrow.

Soarin sighed quietly. He hoped that she wouldn’t make a scene… “Do the Wonderbolts ring a bell?”

All of a sudden, it clicked in Roseluck’s head. “S...Soar...in?” She tried her best to guess his name.

“That’s me,” He replied, winking.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me, I’m not a Pegasus, so I’ve only heard of you. Wow, what’s somepony like you doing in someplace like this? Oh wait, I’ve worked it out…” She held the flowers up and looked at them slightly, then looked over at Soarin with a knowing look in her eye. “She must be pretty special to drag you all the way over here…”

“Hehe, yeah, she is…” Soarin rubbed the back of his head and looked away, “She means the world to me…” Despite his best efforts to suppress it, he felt his cheeks start to tint a little.

Roseluck smiled, “Well, she’ll know that when you give her these.” She extended her hoof to him, “Don’t worry about the money. I trust you to get it to me.”

Soarin took the flowers in his hoof. “Thank you so much. I owe you.”

“Don’t mention it. Now go get her.” Roseluck shooed him away.

Soarin took off and set course back to Rainbow Dash’s house. He looked at the flowers as he flew. There was a nice variety of colours in them. They almost reminded him of Rainbow Dash because of all the colours in her mane.

‘Geez, that’s two ponies here I owe favours to now. And that’s not even counting all the ones I owe Blaze…’

He touched down on the cloud that lead up to Rainbow Dash’s house. He sighed and tucked the flowers under his wing, doing his best to hide them so he could surprise her.

He knocked on her door and waited. It didn’t take long for him to hear hoofsteps coming from behind the door. Although they paused when it sounded like they neared the door, but nothing happened. There was just...silence…

He sighed, “Rainbow, it’s me. We need to talk. Please let me in.” He asked sincerely.

He waited a few seconds before he heard the door start to open. It was barely wide enough for Rainbow Dash to poke her head through. She stared at him, then down at the ground. “Come in,” She instructed, walking through.

Soarin pushed through the door, closing it behind him. He wasn’t sure what to make of her. Her voice sounded sad, but he couldn’t pick anything else out.

He followed her through to the living room. She sat on one end of the couch. Soarin took a seat on the other end. “So...Can I start?” He asked.

He got nothing in response. Guess that give him his answer. “Okay. Rainbow Dash, I haven’t really thought this through, so I’m just gonna say it as it comes. I love you. You’ve given me something I’ve always felt like I’m missing. Ever since we started hanging out more frequently when you first started the trials, I’ve been a much happier pony. And earlier, when our noses touched, I had a feeling that was it. Hence the reason I jumped at the chance. Although it obviously didn’t go as planned… I’m sorry it went that way. I just really wanted to show you how much you meant to me. Please accept my apology…” At his final sentence, Soarin presented the flowers from under his wing.

The two sat frozen for a few seconds, with Soarin’s wing extended with the flowers in them and his face slowly burning.

Eventually, Dash smirked. “I’m glad you said all that instead of me,” She said calmly. She looked over at the flowers, taking them from him. “It’s a nice thought, but you didn’t have to go through all that trouble.”

“T-trouble? Nah, haha,” Soarin did his best to maintain his composure.

Dash put them down on her coffee table then looked over at Soarin. She shimmied over to Soarin and rested her head on his shoulders. “I love you too, Soarin. Truth is, I’ve never been in that situation before. It was all too much, all to intense. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, but after it was over...I just didn’t know what to do. I felt like all the pressure had been put onto me to do the right thing. I didn’t want to do anything that might’ve cost me the chance. So...I flew away. In fear...I’m the one who should be sorry…” She wrapped her wing around him.

Soarin returned her hug and held still for a few seconds before letting out a relieved sigh. “All that drama...over a simple misunderstanding…”

“Well in my defence, I wasn’t expecting you to engulf my face.” Dash replied. “Nopony’s ever kissed me like that before. It took me off guard. I didn’t know what to do…”

“Heh, it was just a kiss. Nothing about it,” Soarin explained, planting a light kiss on her cheek to emphasise.

“Yeah, but...well…” Dash looked around, then back at him, “I’ve...never kissed a stallion before…or anyone really…”

Soarin could only smirk and chuff. Dash pushed him in response, “Oh don’t laugh,” Dash blushed furiously.

“I’m not laughing, I’m just finding the situation humorous,” Soarin explained. “Besides, there’s always time to learn. And whatever you think constitutes ‘good’ doesn’t matter if you enjoy it.”

Before Dash could even respond, Soarin leaned in and planted another kiss on her lips. He pushed himself over, letting Rainbow fall onto her back onto the couch with him on top of her. She felt his tongue enter her mouth. An unusual experience, but she just followed what he was doing. She repeatedly pushed her tongue against his, battling for dominance between them.

Soarin maintained the kiss for a while before he needed to stop to take a breath. As he caught his breath, he looked down at her, their eyes locking. “Did you like that?”

Dash looked away and pouted, her face bright red. “Y-yeah...but don’t you dare tell anypony…”

Soarin smirked again, “Is the rough, tough Rainbow Dash embarrassed by the fact that she now has a boyfriend?” Soarin teased.

“Hmmm,” She gritted her teeth, “You’re heading in the right direction for a slap.”

“God, you’re so cute when you’re embarrassed…” He ran his hoof through her mane.

“Yeah, well you know what I’ve got a great chance to kick right now?” She asked, emphasizing her point by gently tapping her rear leg against the inside of one of his rear legs.

Soarin’s eyes went wide as he noticed what she was implying. “Point taken. Shutting up.” He pushed himself off Dash and laid himself in the corner of the couch.

Dash pulled herself up with him and sighed. “Okay, maybe I liked it a little…” She admitted.

“A little? You love it secretly,” Soarin explained.

“Alright, maybe I do…” She admitted again, lying into his chest. “You make a comfy pillow. Stay there for a while.”

“Sure thing,” Soarin sure wasn’t gonna deny an offer like that. As she snuggled up to him, he gently massaged her mane. He rested his head against the armrest and looked out the window, watching the sun starting to set.

Despite not going so smoothly, everything worked out how they wanted it to in the end. However, Soarin knew that new challenges were about to prevent themselves. He sighed at the thought.

Dash opened her eyes in her half-nap state and saw the glum look on his face. “Are you alright? You don’t look very happy.”

Soarin curled the corners of his lips up on hearing her voice. “Things worked out in the end, and I’m over the moon. I couldn’t be happier with you by my side,” He ran his hoof down her side and gently massaged her. “But the circumstances we met each other in aren’t exactly easy…”

“What do you mean?” Dash questioned.

“Well...it won’t be long before the other Wonderbolts find out. Spitfire was already suspicious that I was starting to fall in love with you. So we can’t exactly keep it a secret. I’ll just have to do my best to make sure I don’t hurt your chances…”

Dash sat herself up and lied against the back of the couch, “What do you mean hurt my chances?”

Soarin sighed again, “Well, luckily enough, our tests are more results driven than vote driven. But if I’m forced to vote for somepony for whatever reason, it’ll be a tough choice…

Dash snorted, “Yeah, me and me is a tough choice right?” She replied sarcastically, batting her hoof.

Soarin looked over at her. “That’s just it though. If I pick you, I’ll be accused of being biased. Something that doesn’t go down too well…”

Dash blinked, “So you...wouldn’t choose me?”

“Well...my hooves are kinda tied…” Soarin shrugged, not knowing how else to respond. Dash’s ears flopped down and she looked down at the floor. “You seem disappointed…”

Dash shrugged, “A little, I guess. I would’ve hoped you’d have my back at all times…” There was a short silence before Dash’s ears perked up again. “Although I understand that you’ve got a job to do. I won’t hold it against you.” She rested her body onto him again, “Besides, it just gives me more motivation to do better.”

Soarin chuckled in response, “The fact that you let nopony put you down is one of my favorite things about you.” Soarin put his foreleg around her shoulders and pulled her in, kissing her on the cheek.

“I’ve been trying for so long. I’m not gonna give up anytime soon,” Dash replied with a smile.

“And in the meantime, I can find out where you’re ticklish,” Soarin dipped his head down and planted a kiss on her neck, holding it there for a few seconds.

“S-Soarin,” Dash giggled at the initial sensation for a few seconds before she got used to it. “Don’t think I won’t do the same!” She jabbed her hoof into his side.

“E-Oh geez,” Soarin burst into laughter as his pressure points were pressed against by Dash’s hooves.

“I’m gonna know all your weaknesses at this rate,” Dash attempted to climb on top of him, but Soarin pushed forward and fell on top of her.

They playfully wrestled each other for a little while before settling down and watching the sunset.

Soarin slowly stood off the couch, “Well, I should probably be getting home…” he said, stretching.

“Sure…” Dash agreed, “Today’s been...one of the best days of my life.”

Soarin finished stretching then looked over at Dash. “It only gets better from here.” He started walking towards the door, Dash in tow. He put his hoof on the doorknob and waited a moment. “So...are you free tomorrow?”

“As if you even have to ask,” Dash replied. “Same sort of time works for me.”

“Great,” Soarin pushed the door open and stepped outside. He turned around to see Dash in the doorway. “See ya later then,” He leaned in to kiss her.

“Wait,” Dash held her hooves up to stop him. Soarin paused mid-lean. She glanced from left to right, then extended her wings and held time either side of her and his heads, creating a barrier. Only then did she lean in to return the kiss.

After they finished kissing, Soarin couldn’t do anything other than chuckle. “Still embarrassed?”

“I don’t want anypony seeing us…” Dash replied, blushing profoundly.

“Yeah, guess that could be a problem. Can I suggest a solution?” Soarin asked.

Dash raised an eyebrow. Knowing the tone of voice he was using, he was about to make some sort of joke. “What’s that?”

They stood still and in silence for a few seconds. Then suddenly, Soarin’s head lurched forward and he planted the quickest kiss Dash had ever experienced on her lips. Before Dash even had a chance to react, Soarin took off. “Bye Dash!” He called, giggling to himself as he flew away.

Dash cringed and looked in all directions. Thankfully, there was nopony about to see them. She quickly closed her door and sighed, taking a moment to calm herself. She then headed back to her living room and sat on her couch to have a moment with just herself and her thoughts.

She looked at the flowers Soarin had bought her and smirked. The water in the plastic bag tied around their base had bulged out and made a sort-of sack that was holding them upright. She didn’t even have a vase to put them in. Whilst she didn’t like flowers...she appreciated the gesture. Any gift from Soarin was a gift worth taking.

She rested back in her seat as she reflected on the events of the day. Whilst it didn’t go as smoothly as she’d hoped, everything worked out in the end. And that was all that mattered. Whilst it felt like a major step forward for her, it still left her with a feeling of uncertainty.

Soarin said that he wouldn’t be able to back her up should she ever need it during the trials. Whilst that wasn’t the answer she was hoping to hear, she completely understood that Soarin had a job that he worked his whole life for. If they swapped places, she would be saying exactly the same. At least it gave her a motivational boost to perform during the trials. If she failed, it would be nopony else’s fault but her own. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Wonderbolts trials aside, she still wasn’t sure what she was going to do about everything else. She would have to break the news at some point, whether she wanted to or not. She tried her best not to think about that, as she had enough on her plate already with the Wonderbolts trials, but it was something that would eventually creep up, and she couldn’t shake the thought.

Soarin sure didn’t have any problems showing affection in public. And as she thought about it more, neither did she really. The problem that she had was that she could never maintain her composure when Soarin gets all lovey with her. That in turn made her lose her cool and made her all blushy and stuttery. That coupled with her rough tough image she was trying to maintain meant it wasn’t the best look for her.

She sighed again as she thought the issues through. Maybe this wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if she had more experience with boyfriends beforehoof instead of just jumping right in to having Soarin as her first. But as she thought previously, her nature never really made her think of stallions like that. That and no stallion has ever taken her breath away quite like Soarin has.

She smirked and shook her head at her thoughts. She could spend all day and night here thinking about it, but she had more important things to worry about. She was sure it would all sort itself out on its own anyway. Besides, she wasn’t a thinking pony. She was a doing pony. She pushed these issues to one side and started thinking ahead to her next time at the Wonderbolts…With hints of Soarin in-between...

Chapter 16

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Dash landed on the cloud leading up to the Wonderbolt HQ. The weather was clear and she was brimming with confidence. Any doubts she had over the past two weeks had quickly been pushed to the back of her mind. They were still lingering there, but she had been given a new source of confidence that let her overcome them.

And that confidence came in the form of Soarin.

Despite him being openly honest about him being unable to help her should the need for it arise, that only spurred her on more. If she failed, it would only be her fault. Nopony else’s. She was hoping that she would get some opportunity to spend some quality time with Soarin, but she wasn't counting on it. She had to keep their relationship under the radar, even if it meant sacrificing some of the time they had to spend together.

It was an odd feeling, being so close yet so far away. She seen him almost every day on her two weeks off. It even had some of her other friends around Ponyville questioning her where she was. Nevertheless, she would find a way…

She pushed through the doors to the HQ, seeing a few ponies there already on the benches in the waiting area. She was far from late though, so she had no reason to worry. She trotted up to the reception desk, seeing the mare she saw last time.

“Rainbow Dash,” She spoke confidently as she approached the desk.

“I wouldn’t forget you,” The mare replied, pulling the typical forms out from the side whilst completing some other paperwork of her own. Dash signed it no questions asked, then returned it to her. “Please have you bag ready…” She paused for a second, as if something caught her eye, but then continued, “for inspection.”

‘That’s new,’ Dash thought as she walked over to the seating area. It was all the same it was last time, lines of benches waiting to be filled. She glanced over, trying to find an available seat. But then she noticed the purple coat and candy-patterned mane. She smiled and walked over to her, hoping that she could surprise her when she got there. But unfortunately for her, Dahlia looked in her direction just as she was about to sit down.

“Long time no see, stranger,” Dahlia joked, extending her hoof out to Dash.

“Great to see you to,” Dash replied, bumping her hoof against Dahlia.

“I’m surprised I didn’t see you earlier…” She paused again, looking at Dash funny. A similar look the mare from the reception desk gave her. “I can usually see those seven colours from miles away.”

Despite the brief pause, Dahlia continued with no break in her speech. Dash brushed over it, not seeing anything out of the ordinary. “Funny, cuz that’s how I spotted you, Candy Cane,” Dash replied, emphasizing her point by flicking Dahlia’s fringe with her hoof.

Dahlia laughed at her joke, but it was obvious by the stifle in her laugh that she had heard that joke plenty of times before. “What did you do with your time off?”

“Sleep,” Dash joked, “And catch up with my friends. Things tend to get lost quite quickly when you’re away for as long as we are.”

“I bet,” Dahlia replied, “Take it you didn’t have to save Equestria with Princess Twilight during your time off?”

“Pff, only two or three times,” Dash joked in response, batting her hoof. “But hopefully we won’t have to do that too soon. I’d rather say here as much as I can.”

“Same. How much do you know about what’s coming up? Bet you managed to use your position with the Princess to use some friends-of-friends favours…” Dahlia suggested with a smile.

Dash shrugged in response, “I tried, but nopony was talking. They keep secrets very well here.” Dash explained, trying her best not to go into too much detail. Specifically, the pony she got it from.

“Hmph,” Dahlia glanced down and thought quickly, “I’m expecting a challenge...I hope I’m up for it…”

“Me too…” Dash replied in agreement, her mind beginning to drift off to the challenges ahead.

“Ah, my two favourite mares. Don’t worry, you can both hug me,” A familiar voice appeared behind them, then both Dash and Dahlia felt a hoof around the shoulders. The orange stallion in question suddenly slid in-between them on the bench seat and pulled them into him.

“Hello Riptide,” Dahlia replied monotonously, not even putting up any resistance to his hug, but not hugging him back either.

“Seems you made it home alright after we went drinking two weeks ago then?” Dash replied, pushing herself away from his hug. She didn’t usually have too much of a problem with hugs, she just happened to know what Riptide’s intentions were with it…

“Even better. I was about to pass out when I got off the train, but as I walked out of the station, some pretty mares picked me up in a carriage and took me to a hotel. Best part was I didn’t pay a thing. And I felt much better afterwards. It was amazing…” Riptide had a glisten in his eye as he recalled his evening.

“That was an ambulance, Riptide. They took you to a hospital.” Dahlia explained his story in a more believable format.

“It was? Oh...that explains the cute outfits…” Riptide put a hoof in his chin, “Anyway, I woke up all better. One of them was a bit rough for a nurse though. Left me with a black eye…”

“That generally happens when you touch mares in places they don’t want to be touched,” Dahlia replied, rolling her eyes.

Riptide shrugged in response, “Dunno, can’t really remember it…how did you get home with Bright Skies on your back anyway Dally?”

“Oh don’t,” Dahlia asked, holding her head in her hooves. “I’m pretty sure Bright Skies almost fell to her death a few times on the way back.”

Despite the description of the situation being anything but funny, Dash and Riptide could only laugh at the thought of a drunk pegasus trying to rescue another drunk pegasus. “Hey, it may be funny for you, but I was the one with the weight of responsibility on my shoulders! I was scared out of my skin!”

Her description only seemed to make everypony laugh harder. Dahlia huffed at the response, but she could see why they would find it humorous. “Just don’t mention it too much. She was quite embarrassed about it the morning after. Whilst I think she enjoyed it, I think she’d appreciate it if we left out some details.”

They continued to mingle amongst themselves for a short while before Dahlia saw White Comet and Bright Skies walk up to reception. They obviously met each other at some point en-route. They both signed in one by one, then Dahlia waved them over, making space on the bench. Everypony was starting to arrive, and whilst it wasn’t limiting bench space, it was starting to get a bit more crowded.

“So, how are all you guys feeling about this one?” Dahlia asked.

“I’m confident. I spend my time wisely during the two weeks off, and now I feel ready…well, technically I spend the first day recovering,” Comet added with a smirk.

“I know what I need to do,” Bright Skies chimed in also, sounding oddly confident for her. Spending time with them seemed to bring her out of her shell some more.

“Good to hear we all feel the same way. We’re all friends now, but when it comes down to it, I won’t take it easy on you just because of that,” Dash told them all, winking.

“Pfft, you’ll be the one chasing me,” Dahlia gave Dash a playful shove.

“I’ll hold you to that,” Dash retorted with a grin on her face and deliberately holding her head up high.

Dash started thinking to herself as her friends started conversing between themselves. She was mentally preparing herself for whatever was about to be thrown at her. Like Comet and Skies, she was also confident and knew what she needed to do...mostly. She had to prove to the Wonderbolts that she was the best.

“Oh, walk proudly boy!” A loud voice echoed throughout the room, interrupting her train of thought. Dash turned her head in the direction of the voice. The source was coming through the door.

She was surprised to see Torque walk through the door, not looking very happy and just staring down. He appeared to have bought a bag with his belongings with him. His face was slowly turning red. Whoever that stallion who was with him was, he was making him very embarrassed.

Speaking of the stallion, he looked very similar to Torque. His coat was a shade lighter and slightly losing its colour, probably due to age. His mane was the same blue as the blue found in Torque’s, but he lacked the dark red found in Torque’s. He had the same buzz-cut mane that Torque had, but his tail was a lot shorter and cut similarly. He was wearing a green uniform, with the insignia of the Airship Force on the shoulders of his shirt. He also had a few medals pinned to the front of his shirt, along with an insignia on the collar of his shirt that presumably represented rank. He took big strides with his back straight and chest out, looking like the very definition of self-confidence.

“Oh come on, straight back, head up!” He ordered, poking Torque with his wing to encourage him. “Be proud, Son!” The volume of his voice was attracting attention, much to Torque’s dismay. Whilst he didn’t look happy, his voice didn’t sound angry either. Just dominant.

Torque complied and held his head up, but not without cringing and trying his best to avoid eye contact with anypony. He seemed to be doing his best to try and walk with his eyes closed.

They walked straight past the waiting area and headed towards the door that lead to the corridors.

“Whoa...is that Torque’s dad?” Dahlia asked out loud, holding her hoof over her mouth.

Dash looked over at her, “Sounds like it. But who is he?”

“That’s Admiral Swift Sprint. Chief Marshal of the Airship Force. One of the best Equestria has to offer.”

Dash’s eyes widened as Dahlia explained...somepony like that was Torque’s father? With that much authority to throw around, Torque could do practically anything he wanted. Which only raised the question; why was he here when he didn’t want to be? Or at least implying that he didn’t want to be…

“Oh, I remember now,” Comet continued the discussion, “I remember vaguely reading something about him. Way before we were born, and when he was still young, there was a new type of airship, a prototype designed to be a lot more agile. It gained a bad reputation for being hard to handle, but Swift Sprint insisted it was a problem with training, not the design. Nopony believed him, so to prove his point, him and a few others stole the prototype and flew it flatout through the canyons of the Smokey Mountains to set a new record. Only then did they re-evaluate their training.”

“Wow, he sounds awesome,” Dash replied, rubbing her hooves together.

“Only because that’s something you would do Dash,” Dahlia replied, swatting Dash’s shoulder.

“Haha, if only I knew how. I think I’ll stick to my own pair of wings,” She replied, waving them slightly. Her mind couldn’t even comprehend trying to steer one of those behemoths around.

The speculation continued over Torque’s and his presumed-father’s mystery appearance. Although the same thought was on everypony’s mind; it sounded like his father had arrived to exert his authority to get Torque back in. Did he really have that kind of power? Dash knew the Wonderbolts, Airship Force, and Pegasi units worked closely together, but surely they couldn’t order each other around like that?

The speculation came to a close when Torque and Swift Sprint returned from the corridor. They stopped over by the entrance. Torque appeared to have some sort of verbal exchange with Swift, but Dash was too far away to hear. Although judging from the aggressive ways their mouths were moving, it wasn’t a typical ‘good luck’...

Swift walked out the building shortly after and Torque found some free space somewhere. Dash thought about calling him over, but thought better of it. He probably wasn’t in such a good mood. And the fact that no one had done it yet suggested that everypony else thought the same way.

“Mares and Stallions!” Spitfire suddenly appeared from out the same corridor, gathering everypony’s attention. Some of the other Wonderbolts trickled through the corridor as she continued her speech. “Welcome back, and congratulations once again for making it this far. But if you think it’s going to be as easy as last time, think again. This time, nopony will be your maid. You will be responsible for your living arrangements and making sure that they are up to the standard we expect from the Wonderbolts. Those of you that have always had Mommy around to help you will be in for a world of shock. Those of you who have somewhat grown up and moved out will also be shocked by our standards. We will go into that more so during these first few days. I’m not gonna sugar coat it; this first day or two are gonna be hell for some of you.”

Whilst she was sort of expecting it, Dash couldn’t help but feel herself cringe a little. What Spitfire was describing sounded more like chores. This must be what Soarin was trying to imply that day. It was no longer like a cheap hotel and more like a military boot camp.

“Further details will be in your rooms. The room assignments are the same as last time. Now, we will form orderly lines where you will present your bags to one of us for inspection. Take this opportunity to remove anything embarrassing before it gets called out. Stallions, that means any saucy magazines. Mares, that means any ‘toys’ you may have bought.”

A few snickers echoed from around the room. Dash only rolled her eyes at the thought. Luckily, she didn’t bring anything of the sort. Although she noticed a few faces that looked unsure…

“Now line up one-by-one. Please use your brains and pick the shortest line. Anypony caught not using their brains will be sent to get some.”

Dash smirked slightly at Spitfire’s joke. Although through the harshness of her tone, it was hard to tell if she was joking or not. Maybe she was just very good at sarcasm...or she was serious…

Dash pulled herself off her seat and headed towards the crowd of ponies, picking the shortest line she first laid her eyes on. A lot of the pegasi continued to chat idly amongst themselves in the line. She was more focused on what was up ahead though.

She looked over to see the Wonderbolts doing the inspections. She appeared to be in line for Fire Streak to check their bags. She glanced at all the other lines until she finally saw him. Soarin. She was going to be within an arms reach most of the time they were here, yet they were both mostly sworn to secrecy for both their sakes. It would be hard...but the one thing that stood out to her was that Soarin seemed to be the only one wearing the Wonderbolts uniform. He wore it in the proper fashion too, tie done all the way up and well-fitting. All the other Wonderbolts weren’t even wearing their flight suits. She couldn’t work out the reason he was wearing it…

“Bags please,” A familiar voice broke her out of her pondering. She had made it to the front of the line, and now Fire Streak was asking to see her bag. Having nothing to hide, Dash simply placed them at his hooves. Fire Streak was very thorough in his search, leaving nothing unturned. But nevertheless, he found nothing of interest in her belongings. He handed her back the bags and told her to proceed.

Dash made her way back down the corridors she’d barely forgotten. She eventually found her room and it was all the same layout it was left in. Aside from the fact that all the bedding had been stripped and there seemed to be a booklet of some description on the mattresses.

Dash walked over to it and picked it up, setting her bags down by the front of the bed. She sat on the edge of the bed and and started reading. At a similar time, she saw Dahlia enter.

“What are these?” Dahlia asked, approaching her bed.

“Some sort of guide of what’s expected of us I think,” Dash replied, flicking through the pages, “Cleaning, cooking, ironing, bed making. Geez, the standards they want us to go through are insane.”

“Let me see,” Dahlia picked up the copy of her booklet and flicked through it. It didn’t take her long to be surprised. “Holy crap...this really is like enlisting in the Royal Guard…”

“Guess the Wonderbolts are a military force during wars. It makes sense that they’d at least put us through our paces with stuff like this,” Dash suggested, working out what was going on.

“Yeah…” Dahlia agreed, closed her booklet, then looked up at Dash, “Anyway, since it’s just me and you here for now…” She started trotting over to Dash.

Dash stopped reading and looked up, confused. Dahlia stopped opposite her, then glanced left and right, then gave Dash a cheeky smirk. “Who’s the lucky stallion?”

Dash felt her cheeks puff out and her eyes widen at the question. “I, uh...dunno what you’re talking about,” She replied, looking away and doing her best to suppress a blush.

“Oh don’t hide it, I just wanna know how you of all ponies met a stallion who showed you so much affection in these past two weeks,” Dahlia replied, an eager smile on her face.

Dash turned to face her, “How do you know he was that affectiona--” She covered her mouth with her hoof as she was caught off guard by Dahlia’s conversation and let it all slip.

“Aha, I knew it!” Dahlia replied, prodding her with her wing, “So who is he?”

No matter how Dash tried, she couldn’t suppress her blush now. “He’s...nopony.” Her answer was anything but good, but she was desperately trying to avoid Dahlia’s line of questioning. She didn’t want to let anymore slip...

“Pff,” Dahlia batted her hoof, “Sompony to leave you like that isn’t just ‘nopony’. Come on, I won’t tell,” She wrapped her wing around Dash’s shoulders, pulling her closer.

“Leave me like what?” Dash asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, that--” Dahlia paused as the realisation hit her. “Oh, you haven’t noticed yet.” Dahlia slowly broke into a laugh and released Dash. “I’ll let you find out on your own first.” She turned away to go back to her bed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dash asked, even more confused. And not sure whether she should be embarrassed or not…

“Nothing, nothing,” Dahlia replied, trotting away with a mischievous bounce in her step. She looked at Dash before turning her attention back to her things. “But for the record, whoever it is, I’m jealous. You’re a lucky mare, Dash.”

Dash couldn’t help but smile at her compliment. If only Dahlia knew who ‘he’ really was... and Dash couldn’t agree more. She was the luckiest mare in Equestria to have ‘him’.

As Rainbow started unpacking her things, White Comet, Bright Skies and Riptide made their way in. Everypony seemed to go to the same beds they were in last time, not seeming too bothered about shaking things up.

“Huh...this could be tricky…” Comet commented about the booklet, scratching his head as he read.

“That’s worrying, coming from somepony like you,” Dahlia replied.

Comet shrugged, “Well, I still live with my parents. Guess taking on all this by myself is kinda new to me.”

“So do I. I mean, I could move out, but I do it purely because it makes work easier. It’s so much easier when all you need to do to go to work is drift into your back yard...but I guess the only ponies in this room that might do alright are Bright Skies and Dash, since they live on their own.” Dahlia pointed over at them.

“Yeah...just because I live on my own, doesn’t mean my housekeeping’s that great,” Dash admitted. “It can’t be THAT big of a deal as this book makes it out to be though can it? Being able to make a bed and wash your uniform doesn’t make you a great flyer.”

“I dunno Dash, I’ve heard of ponies being discharged from Royal Guard training for less than that…” Comet replied.

Just as they were starting to discuss it, Torque appeared. He just came through and went straight over to his bed, not making eye contact with anypony.

“Well, look who made it through in the end!” Dahlia exclaimed, trying her best to sound cheerful despite the odd circumstance. Although Torque didn’t respond to any of it.

Dahlia glanced over her shoulders with a perplexed look on her face. She looked back at Torque. “Hey, Torque...was....was that pony your Dad?” She asked, not really sure how to word the question. It clearly wasn’t an easy one for Torque.

Torque took a quick pause, “...Yes.” He reluctantly answered then resumed his unpacking.

Dahlia waited patiently for a more elaborative answer, but eventually shrugged, knowing she wasn’t going to get one. “So...are you gonna tell us what happened?”

“No.” He once again said bluntly. He quickly picked up the booklet, flicked through the pages, then threw it up his bed towards his pillow.

“...Alright then…” Dahlia was unsure how to continue the conversation for now. Something had clearly upset him, but he wasn’t letting onto what. However, one thing she did catch was the precision and care he used when laying out his things. It was as if he’d done this before...

“Anyway, I’m heading to the fitting rooms.Want to make sure I get something in my size before they all go.” Comet explained, leaving his things behind and heading towards the door.

“That’s a good call,” Dash immediately agreed, looking for a quick excuse to diffuse the awkward situation...by leaving.

“Right behind you,” Bright Skies added, obviously getting the same idea.

Dahlia shot daggers at her roomates as they started leaving. She had a slight scowl as they walked past her. Dash deduced that it was because they were leaving whilst she was trying to continue to try and figure out what’s wrong with Torque.

Dash quickly walked out of the room and followed the signs to the back offices where they were to pick up their flight suits. Once again, she was part of the first group of pegasi to arrive. She imagined that most ponies were still processing the hell that they’d signed up for.

She followed the flow of pegasi and wound up in what appeared to be some sort of store cupboard. Outside the double-doors stood Rapidfire with a notepad. She recalled the exercises she had with Rapidfire. From the volume of his shouting combined with his surgical precision and attention to detail, she was certain that he had a background in the Royal Guard or military of some description. These next few weeks would sure bring out the best in him.

“Skydance,” He addressed the mare that reached him first, flicking through the paper on his clipboard. “You were a size M last time. Did that fit okay?” He didn’t lift his eyes from his clipboard as he scribbled.

“Well, I think--”

“Yes or no?” He suddenly snapped, looking up at the mare, making direct eye-to-eye contact.

“N-n-no.” The yellow mare with the purple mane was caught off guard and didn’t no how to respond to the bluntness of Rapidfire’s questions.

“Stand aside,” He replied, motioning with his hoof. “Next!”

He quickly dwindled the line down. Presumably, those that weren’t happy were gonna get refitted. Dash quickly found her way to the front of her line. He recited her name from memory as well. Then again, her name was probably one of the easiest to remember.

“Size M. Still okay?” He asked.

“Yes,” Dash replied confidently.

“Then go get one,” He motioned to the door.

Dash pushed through the door. It was dimly lit, but there was enough suits here for everypony. The sight of the suits made her cringe though. They weren’t neatly folded or packed in the way when she was first given one. They were creased and looked like they’d just been thrown in. Some of them had a few stains on them, but nothing serious. And there was no bad smells emanating from them. It was as if they had been washed, but with little to no effort.

Dash rummaged through them. Luckily, they were dry to the touch. Although some of them made some interestingly disgusting sounds as they seemed to be moved for the first time in two weeks. She eventually found a label with M written on it. She pulled it out and held it up to the light to examine it. A small stain on the right hoof, looked like food. Other than that, it looked fine. No holes, no tears, no smells. She double-checked it for stains, specifically around the crotch area. She remembered the looks on some of the faces of ponies two weeks ago, and they weren’t pretty…

Satisfied, she took it away and headed out, back to her room. She laid it out flat on her bed. It was very creased. Looks like it was gonna need ironing as well. Other than that, everything was in order. Both zips worked both ways.

“Ack, that was awful,” Dahlia said in disgust as she walked in, “At least half of the suits have traces of skidmarks in them. And I even think this pony dumped coffee all over his or her lap at some point,” She held her uniform up to show the stains on the thighs of the suit.

“Eh, it’s faded for the most part. Should wash out,” Dash guessed, shrugging.

“Even the colours of them look faded,” Dahlia followed on, “Chances are these suits are a few years old and are only used on occasions like this.”

“Sounds about right,” Dash agreed, seeing Bright Skies walk through the door, Comet behind her.

“At least there’s an advantage of being one of the few XS’s here,” Skies explained as she unravelled her suit. “Almost spotless. And I think I can sort of see my initials faded on the label. I think this was the same suit I had last time.”

“That’s lucky. A quick wash will sort that out fine,” Dahlia explained, continuing to organize her things. She took a few of her toiletries into the bathroom.

“I dunno what everypony’s complaining about. Mine’s mostly fine,” Riptide explained as he walked in, laying it out on his bed. “Are they really gonna be that uptight about how clean we are?”

“Probably,” Comet replied, “And it’s easy for you to say when you’re one of the few XL’s. You didn’t have to wade through loads of uniforms in limited time to find the best one.”

Everypony continued sorting through her things. Dash had almost done it according to the guide, but she was nowhere near the quality they required. Her plan was to get everything initially in roughly the right place and then neaten it up later. Just as she was reading the booklet and deciding what it was she needed to do, she saw Torque enter. His uniform didn’t look in very good condition.

“Damn, did somepony go swimming through mud with that?” Dahlia joked, but got no response from Torque.

“Yeah, dude. If that were me, I wouldn’t even bother with that. It’s a lost cause,” Riptide agreed.

“Then you’re not trying hard enough,” Torque replied plainly, not losing a beat from organizing his possessions.

“Pff...good luck dude…” Riptide left it at that.

Despite the fact that he appeared to be very frustrated at the moment, Dash couldn’t help but shake the feeling that he somehow knew what he was doing. He moved so fluidly and purposely, compared to the rest of them that stumbled or stopped to think. Something was telling Dash that he had a plan in his head…

As the others moved out to go to find somewhere to wash their uniforms, Dash headed to the bathroom. All she really bought was her toothbrush, toothpaste and comb. That was all she really needed. And it would appear some of her roommates thought the same way. However, somepony, once again, bought...more than necessary, to say the least. She had a good feeling she knew who it was…

After using the toilet, she looked at herself in the mirror as she washed her hooves. The mirror was much bigger than the one in her bathroom at home. Coupled with the fact that it was further away let her see a lot more of herself.

“Hm?” As she looked down her face, she noticed a slightly pink spot on her neck. Was she getting a spot? She hadn’t had one of those in a while... she ran her hoof over it. It wasn’t sore, nor did it feel any differently under her hoof. Could it be a bug bite? No, it would be painful and bumpy if it was one of those. She tried to recall what she’d been doing to perhaps contract something like. The only thing to really touch her there was…

...Then it hit her. She remembered the other night. Her and Soarin had a rather...passionate night. He was showing her some...alternative kissing methods. She remembered him going for her neck quite aggressively. He must have given her a lovebite.

Dash cringed at the realization. She suddenly understood how Dahlia knew that she had a special somepony she’d been smooching. And this is probably what ponies noticed on her face. She suddenly felt the heat rise all the way to her ears. She felt so embarrassed that she was unknowingly flaunting something she probably shouldn’t have been, given her and Soarin’s current situation.

Her attention immediately turned to see how she could cover it up. However, no solutions immediately presented themselves. Only thing that might be possible is that in one of Dahlia’s makeup sets, she might be able to borrow something. But she didn’t want to go rummaging through Dahlia’s stuff without permission. Not to mention she wouldn’t have the slightest clue what she was looking for...

She shrugged it off, knowing that it was out there now and nopony seemed to really be bothered about it other than Dahlia. Plus, most of the time, she would be wearing the flight suit that would cover it anyway.

She left the bathroom, picked up her suit, then went to find somewhere to wash her suit. Luckily, the area was mostly signposted and easy to follow. She walked into some sort of utility room. There was rows upon rows of sinks and other appliances dedicated to cleaning and maintenance. At the end, there was a door that had ‘kitchen’ written on it. The fluorescent lamps on the ceiling provided a lot of light. Perfect for something that required a lot of attention to detail.

Dash found an empty sink and immediately got to work. The sink was huge, more than enough for her to wash her suit in. She identified some detergents and other various products sitting on the edge of the sink. After confirming the plug was in, she poured in an overly generous amount of the detergent into the sink and began filling it by turning on the tap.

After filling the sink up enough to submerge her suit, Dash lowered it in, being careful not to splash herself in the process. She took a quick glance left and right to see what the ponies beside her were doing. Her eyes caught a glimpse of Thunder Flash as she was looking. Somepony who wasn’t on her list of ponies to meet again. Nevertheless, she seemed to be minding her own business for now. No need to worry about her yet. Not getting much help from seeing what everypony else was doing, she simply started swirling it around in the water, giving it a good drench to help loosen the stains.

She swirled it around for a good few minutes before taking to it with the sponge on the side. As she ran it across the surface of the suit, it felt quite abrasive. So much so that Dash thought that she might accidentally damage it by washing it. She looked at the surface of the sponge to see if she could do any better, then tried again, this time gently. But no matter what she tried, she just couldn’t overcome the nerve that she might catch an opening in the suit and rip or tear it.

“Uh, Dash...you do know that’s a dish sponge...right?” Dahlia’s voice appeared behind her.

Dash twisted her head around to see Dahlia, who had taken to using a sink behind her. “Uh, yeah...I knew that, haha,” She smiled sheepishly, putting it down. “I usually have a friend that’s good with clothes if I never need any serious cleaning though.”

Dahlia shook her head, “Okay, instead of using the sponge, rub the fabric between your hooves like this,” Dahlia dove her hooves into the water in Dash’s sink to illustrate her point, picking two pieces of the nomex together and rubbing it between her hooves. “And that water is way too hot for nomex. Make it lukewarm,” She advised, turning the cold tap on.

“Thanks Mom,” Dash joked in response. The way Dahlia came about telling her sounded slightly patronizing, leading to her feeling a little embarrassed. But she was really grateful that she had such a caring roommate and friend come by to show her how to do it properly. Despite the fact that they were directly competing.

As she washed it, it started coming up...surprisingly well. Okay, the colour was never gonna get restored to its former glory, but it was looking much better than when she first got it. Satisfied, she pulled the plug on the drain and pulled the suit out, rinsing it down with the cold tap then wringing it out the best she could so it wouldn’t drip all over the floor.

She turned to see if she could ask Dahlia what she should do next, but by the time she did, Dahlia had already left. Dash shrugged and presumed she would catch her up back at their room, so started heading back.

Her theory was confirmed when she found Dahlia in their room. Bright Skies had also come back. Although her suit was pretty clean to begin with, so it probably didn’t take long.

Before she could enter conversation with Dahlia, Dahlia started walking towards the bathroom. Dash stopped at her bed, thinking Dahlia was wanting to use the toilet, but it turned out that she was just hanging her suit up to dry. Dash continued her stride and stuck her head through the door. “Hey Dally, would you…” She looked behind her before asking, “Would you be able to show me how to iron properly?”

“Sure,” Dahlia replied, “But not with your suit drenched like that. Trust me, it won’t end well. I tried it once, and the singed look isn’t in fashion right now. Hang it up in here with mine and I’ll show you later.”

“...Yeah, sounds good…” Dash replied, really showing how oblivious she was to any of this. Although whilst they were here, it bought another thought into her head. “Oh, that...makeup you got there?” She pointed with her hoof.

“Yeah?” Dahlia tilted her head, intrigued.

“Does it hide...spots?” Dash tried to ask as indirectly as she could, but didn’t really know how to word it.

Dahlia shrugged, “To a certain degree it does, yeah. Why? Notice something?” She asked with a grin on her face, wiggling her eyebrows.

Dash smiled sheepishly in response, rubbing the back of her head with her hoof, “Uh, yeah...haha. I think I got something on my neck. Some kind of rash...” She pointed to the spot on her neck after awkwardly trying to explain the cover up story of how she got it.

Dahlia winked, but quickly went back to being straight-faced. “Unfortunately, I don’t think I have anything in your colour. I think purple would make it worse...would highlight the purple in your rainbow though,” She suggested.

“Heh, I’m alright thanks. I just wanted to see if you had anything. Don’t worry,” Dash ended, finding a hanger to hang her uniform up on and finding something to hang it on. The railing at the end of the shower seemed good enough.

“Although if you can find something in your colour, I can show you how to apply it. To help with…’future breakouts’...” She spoke with extra emphasis on her last two words, making Dash blush with what she was implying.

“Heheh...thanks…” Dash quickly walked away, back to her bed to see if there was anything else she could do.

As she turned around, she noticed that Torque had returned at some point during the time they had been talking. And his suit looked...spotless. It was one of the biggest messes of them all when he first bought it in. But now it was one of the cleanest. Torque had DEFINITELY done this before.

“Whoa…” Dahlia walked over to Torque, who paid no mind to her. “That thing was disgusting when you first got it. How did you get it like this in such little time?” Dahlia questioned, seemingly completely bewildered.

Riptide reached into his bag with his wing and pulled out a box of matches, “I’m a smoker.” He said plainly, then used his wings to light a match and ran it over the edge of his suit, quickly pulling it away after not even a second of the flame making contact. At first, Dahlia thought he was insane, but she quickly realised what he was doing. He was removing loose threads without creating more. It wasn’t a method she had seen before…but it was clearly effective, judging by the speed he was going about it.

“God, this is like slave labour,” Riptide moaned as he walked in, his suit...less than clean. But better than it was at least.

Dahlia rolled her eyes at his complaint, “If I ever meet your Mom, first thing I’m gonna say to her is sorry.” She replied, noticing the condition of his suit. “And you’re meant to wash the soap out of the suit after washing it.”

“Really?” Riptide questioned, looking at his suit, “I mean...why?”

“Oh geez…” Dahlia walked over to the closest wall and banged her head against it. “Celestia help me…” She bought her head off the wall and looked over at him, “I’m probably gonna regret this, but...do you want a hoof?” She forcefully asked.

“That’s kind of you to offer Dally,” Riptide replied, but the grin on his face meant he clearly heard a different interpretation of what came out of Dahlia’s mouth.

“Um, if I could make a suggestion…”

Everypony turned to the quiet voice of Bright Skies, who was reading through the booklet. “The book has a lot we need to do for cleaning the room. It’s pretty clean at the moment, but I think if we worked together, it might make it a little easier...if you think…” She put her thoughts out there.

“That makes sense, since it’s something we’ll all be judged on.” Dahlia backed up Bright Skies’ point further.

“I agree, it’s something we’ll all be judged on after all…” Comet added.

Dash sighed, “Welcome to the Wonderbolts. They need to be good maids apparently,” Dash joked, rolling her eyebrows.

“You say that Dash, but I think you’d look good in one of those maid outfits…”

All Dash could do is scowl at Riptide for that comment. But then thought of a comeback. “I think you’d wear it better…”

Riptide shrugged, “Wanna bet on that?”

“I’m betting on Dash,” Comet immediately interjected, flowing with the joke.

“Not you too,” Dahlia whined, then shook her head. At least she wasn’t been involved in this.

Riptide shrugged again, then a smirk appeared on his face. “I dunno, I think if all you mares walked around in those outfits, the floor would be stained with more than just--”

“TMI!” Dahlia pressed her hooves against her temples and groaned, “Can we get back to the subject of cleaning?”

Dash chuckled at the conversation and moved closer to her roommates so they could all talk a bit easier and see what they needed to do.

Soarin closed the door to his quarters behind him, walking past his workspace into his little home away from home. Whilst there were some Wonderbolts that preferred to leave home at home, some preferred to bring as much of it as they could with them. He was one of the latter.

He took off his uniform that he was wearing, letting it drop lazily to the floor as he unbuttoned it. He went over to his chair and sat down, letting out a long sigh. Today had been busy, and it had gone mostly as planned. Despite understanding the circumstances, he was still disappointed that he didn’t get the opportunity to talk to Rainbow Dash all day. And there was nothing he could do about it.

His thoughts were suddenly interrupted when he heard his door begin to open. It initially startled him, but then he trusted it to be one of the few ponies that he didn’t mind entering unannounced. And his trust was placed correctly.

Spitfire entered through the door to his room, a serious look on her face. She took a few steps in before stopping in front of him, staring at him for a few seconds. A rarity for Soarin, he actually found it hard to make eye contact with her. Mainly because he could sense where she was going to be going with this.

“So that’s why you wore your uniform today,” Spitfire began.

Soarin looked at her, realizing what she meant. She pointed with her hoof to a spot on her neck, whilst staring at that same spot on his neck.

Soarin couldn’t help but grin a bit as he rubbed the slightly pink spot on his neck.

“Rainbow Dash gave that to you didn’t she?” Spitfire got straight to the point, not liking to mince words.

Soarin nodded slowly, feeling a blush begin to rise in his cheeks. There was no point in hiding it now, especially from Spitfire.

“I can’t imagine this being easy for you…” Spitfire continued.

“It’s not,” Soarin replied, “I just want to pull her aside every so often so I can...talk to her…”

“Amongst other things I’m suret,” Spitfire replied, a hint of other implications in her voice. She sighed and sat down with Soarin. “I’ve been through the Wonderbolts’ stance on fraternization with you over a dozen times these past few weeks. I’m not gonna repeat it again. I just wanted to remind you to think of others as well as yourself and Dash.”

Soarin raised an eyebrow, “What do you mean?”

“Well, if you do end up making a mistake, you’re gonna give me a hard choice. My job, or my best friend,” She visualized her choices using her hooves to represent a balancing act, “I want to back your corner at every opportunity I get. But I want to be crystal clear that I’m not gonna put my career on the line for it. If you bend the rules too far, they’ll eventually snap. And if that happens, I won’t be able to help you.”

Soarin shook his head, taking in what Spitfire was saying. “I understand perfectly…”

“Good. Just wanted to clear that up…” Spitfire stood up, “Luckily, we’re gonna be in our flight suits for the most part now. Which will hide that,” She pointed on her own neck where Soarin had the mark. “Although I’m not sure what Dash is gonna do. You didn’t think that far ahead when you were...expressing your love, did you?”

“No, I didn’t. I just sorta...did it.” Soarin replied, shrugging and smiling sheepishly.

“Well, I hear they heal quite quickly anyway…” Spitfire replied, turning to leave. She opened Soarin’s bedroom door to head out, but paused. “Please for the love of Celestia make the right choices, Soarin. I don’t want a professional decision coming between our friendship.” She spoke her final words before leaving.

Soarin got up and moved himself over to his bed with a sigh. He didn’t feel too tired, but it helped him think. He laid flat on his back, thinking about what Spitfire had just said. She was right though. He’d never thought to consider Spitfire and how it would affect her. It must be adding a lot of stress on top of her already extreme workload. She basically had to choose her career or his. Considering the bond between them, it was a tough choice.

Then there was Rainbow Dash herself. Soarin wanted nothing more but to give her help and advice every step of the way. But he knew that that would immediately get him reprimanded. He was walking a fine line. Spitfire would only back him up so much until he was on his own. Unless she went further and put her own career on the line. And if he didn’t back up the mare he loved so dearly, she would be heartbroken at the end.

It all resolved about Dash’s performance. If she manages to sail through and complete the tryouts by becoming a Wonderbolt, then none of this would matter. If for whatever reason she didn’t make the cut, however, that’s when things started to get tough.

Does he choose to side with Dash to maintain their relationship, at the cost of his career?

Does he side with the Wonderbolts, knowing that it’s a professional decision at the end of the day, and leave Dash heartbroken and probably never wanting to speak to him again?

Does he go to Spitfire to ask for more assistance, knowing full-well that if she denies, it could seriously hurt the friendship between them? Or worse, get herself wound up in all of this, costing her her own career? Or worse than that, all three of them?

It really was all food for thought...

Chapter 17

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“I still think giving them the wake-up call on only their second day is a bit harsh,” Misty Fly commented, resting back on the cloud couch in the Wonderbolts recreation room.

“It’s the way it’s always been done. We’ll have to trust three of these ponies to save our lives one day. If they can’t even do house chores right, we’re as good as dead.” Rapidfire gave his two bits on the subject before going back to writing something. He was always very straight and to the point with his opinions.

“Still, we’re not normally military. We shouldn’t need to be as ‘in your face’ as the Royal Guard, or Royal Navy, or Airship Force.” Soarin also chimed in, trying to remain neutral on the subject.

“Want to tell that to Spitfire?” Rapidfire questioned, once again, looking up from his paperwork, then back down at it. “If war were to be declared, we’d be expected to take up positions equivalent to that of commanding officers. Some of the kids out there would still probably get Mommy to pack their lunch and wipe their ass if they could.”

“What’s that got to do with it?” Misty questioned.

Rapidfire looked over at Misty, this time not looking away. “You might be able to get away with that as a performer. But as a soldier? Them and everypony under their command would be dead in a matter of moments.”

“I’ll remind you of that when a street performer draws the obsessive fans away from you like in Fillydelphia last year,” Soarin reminded him, winking.

“Oh yeah, and if I recall, you looked a bit dissapointed,” Misty added, playfully rubbing her chin with a smug smile on her face.

“Disappointed that I didn’t get to do any ‘crowd-control’,” Rapidfire replied. He waited a second, then huffed and rolled his eyes. He finished writing a final sentence with an emphasized final tap of his pen. “And that’s Rapidfire closed for the day,” He dropped his pen at the table he was working out then stood up and moved to the table over from him. Fleetfoot, Lightning Streak, Fire Streak and High Winds were sitting around playing cards. “Deal me in, Fleet,” Rapidfire ordered, pulling a chair up using his wing.

Fleetfoot started shuffling with her wings, “Five card draw, Ace is high,” She explained as she dealt some cards to him. “Anypony else want in whilst they’ve got the chance?”

“Sorry,” Soarin replied, getting up and stretching. “I’ve got stuff I need to do tonight,” He explained casually, heading towards the door.

“I’m up for a few rounds Fleet,” Misty agreed, heading towards the group of the Wonderbolts.

Soarin left them to their devices inside the rec room. He looked out the Window he walked past on the way back to his room. The sun was almost down, and the HQ was staring to pick up a more serious tone to it. Despite how relaxed he could be sometimes.

Rapidfire, having come from the Airship Force, was a firm believer in the ‘shock and awe’ aspect he went through. And whilst Soarin agreed that it worked, most pegasi that came here weren’t expecting it at all. At dinner, he noted how many of them looked close to tears. Some of them were in tears, just doing a good at hiding the sniffling.

Again, he wasn’t going to deny that it didn’t work. But to successfully get through it, a pegasus would need a do or do not attitude. Some just can’t handle it. Some manage to do everything perfectly. But the vast majority just had to endure. And they either eventually become unable to endure any longer, or they were rewarded for the efforts. And that led to a question that kept bugging him.

Would Rainbow Dash be able to endure it?

He sighed and continued walking to his room.

Rainbow Dash and her roommates were all half-heartedly walking back to their room. It was a very tiring day of marching drills for all of them, and Rapidfire seemed determined to work them to the bone. At least whatever room did the cooking today made them a damn decent meal.

As Rainbow Dash opened the door to their room, all she could think about was flopping down on bed for a few minutes…

...But unfortunately, it looked like that wouldn’t happening.

“What the…” The sight of their room left Dash and her friends in pure shock. Belongings strewn all over the place, mattresses flipped over. Even the bathroom had a few things lying on the floor.

Dahlia ran towards her space. “What the hell was this for? Who does something like this?” She moaned, picking up her things. A combination of tiredness and anger isn’t good for anypony’s sanity.

“Somepony we’ve pissed off at some point, that’s for sure.” Riptide flipped his mattress back onto his bedframe and simply flopped down. “So do we go find out who did it and retaliate?” He suggested, punching his forehooves together.

“Not tonight...please…” Bright Skies replied, pausing to yawn, then started picking up her things again. Even if she did have the intention to follow through with Riptide, she was simply too tired to be concerned with that now.

“It wasn’t just some random ponies,” Comet explained, picking up his things. “It just the Wonderbolts’ way of telling that it wasn’t good enough.” He picked up a rectangular case, opening it to confirm that his glasses were still intact. “That’s a relief.”

“But what did we do wrong?” Dash asked, pushing her mattress back onto her bedframe.

“Most likely, nothing.” Torque’s voice suddenly sounded. He ate by himself at dinner, and the way he was going around trying to separate himself from everypony, they all acted as if they forgot he existed briefly. He must have been following them very quietly to sneak up on them like that. Although what shocked them the most is that he seemed to have made quick work of cleaning up his bed and surrounding areas. He looked almost done.

“This obviously means something. We obviously did something wrong,” Dahlia protested, raising her voice and holding her forelegs out to emphasize her point.

“You probably did nothing,” Torque raised his voice to match hers, closing his locker door. “It’s a standard scare tactic. They tell you everything’s wrong to make you try to do it better. Since you have no other choice, you do better. And over time, it simply becomes a standard. The Royal Guard have done it for decades.” Torque didn’t take time for questions at the end of his explanations and got back to cleaning.

“...Huh…” Dahlia reluctantly agreed with his point of view. Oddly, everything he said makes sense, and sounds like a reasonable explanation. Although if it were that easy to understand, wouldn’t the Wonderbolts know that too?

Dash let out a big sigh, “Guess we better clean…” She said disheartedly, not really knowing how else to respond to the situation but to say and do the obvious. She sweeped all her belongings off the floor using her wings. She dropped them onto her mattress so she could start organising them.

Within a matter of minutes, they had at least got their sections of the room looking somewhat presentable. However, there was plenty of fine tuning still to do. Dash, however, started heading straight to the door when she got things in somewhat the right order.

“Aren’t you gonna finish setting up your bed area?” Dahlia asked.

“Nah, I’m gonna leave it ‘till the morning when I can concentrate better. Or a little later,” Dash replied, noticing a certain pony in the bed by the door. “Torque’s got the right idea.” She pointed with her hoof to Torque, who was lying flat on his back with his head on the pillow. His eyes closed and hooves down by his side, barely making a peep with his breathing.

“Yeah, but he has superpony skills with this kind of stuff from somewhere,” Dahlia shrugged, “That ain’t a fair comparison.”

Dash chuckled a bit as she opened the door. To be fair, Dahlia wasn’t lying. All of Torque’s stuff seemed to be in position and a by the book example. She couldn’t tell how clean it was from the distance, but she didn’t doubt that it was up to scratch.

Dash walked out of her room and down the corridor. She didn’t really have any particular location in mind, she just wanted to...walk.

Okay, she wasn’t going to kid herself. What she was hoping for was an opportunity to perhaps bump into Soarin on her way. She knew she couldn’t go directly to his bedroom in case she aroused suspicion. And at the same time, Soarin couldn’t come to her for the same reason. Any meeting between them would have to be purely coincidental.

It was starting to get late, and there wasn’t many ponies around. Unsurprisingly, most of them were wiped out by today's drills. Dash felt the same, but she had her motivations to keep going.

She wandered into a recreational area just off from the main canteen. There was a few ponies conversing in there, but not many. There was also a demonstration stand of what was expected of them with regards to keeping their bed area neat and tidy within their rooms. Dash gave it a once over, picking up some pointers, then continued on her walk.

She ended up in the gym. Again, a hooffull of ponies were in there. Her body was edging her towards trying to do some sort of exercise, but her mind was just too tired to agree with it.

She walked past the gym and headed up a staircase, stopping on the level where the Wonderbolts quarters normally were. Again, her mind kept teasing her with the thought of just going to see Soarin now. Just knocking on his door and acting normal. As sweet of a thought that was to her, she forced it to the back of her mind and pulled herself away, continuing up the stairs. She hadn’t really walked past this point before, and was curious to see how high the stairs went. She wasn’t even sure if she was allowed up here, but her curiosity let her continue. Better than her alternative curiosity anyway...

When she finally reached the top, she pushed the door open and stepped outside. It didn’t take her long to realise that she was standing on the roof of the building. The breeze coupled with the lowering temperatures as they headed into the night made for a chilly experience. Dash walked on nevertheless, over to the railings that lined the edge of the building. She rested her forehooves on them and looked over at what she could see.

Cloudsdale was still very much awake, seeing various lights in room and pegasi flying around it. Down in the distance she saw Canterlot and it’s bright lights that never seemed to stop. And in the opposite direction, she saw Ponyville. Twilight’s castle seemed to be just a spec from up here, but it was still very noticeable. Not many lights were on in Ponyville.

Dash looked up at sky. It still had a hint of blue in it, but the stars and moon were just starting to peak through. She looked at the stars and sighed. “I’ve come this close...don’t screw it up now…” Dash spoke to herself. She was stepping ever closer to her dream, but the more steps she took, she more likely she was to trip...

“It’s a nice view isn’t it?” The voice she’d been waiting to hear for so long spoke behind her.

Dash flicked her head around to see Soarin standing behind her. She smiled and turned around fully to face him.

“Oh, and the stars aren’t bad too I guess,” Soarin added, winking at her.

Dash simply shook her head at what he was referring to. “I bet you were look at me the whole time throughout those drills.” She slowly trotted up to him.

“I tried my best...I do kinda have a job to do though,” Soarin replied, chuckling a little.

“Yeah yeah, I saw you looking,” Dash stopped just short of him, shivering. “It’s colder than I thought it would be up here.”

“The top of the building is always exposed, so the wind makes it feel colder than it actually is. C’mon,” Soarin spun around, “Let’s go back to my room.”

“...What?” Dash asked, raising an eyebrow. If he meant it how he sounded…

Soarin sighed, “I didn’t mean it like that,” He rolled his eyes, looking over his shoulder. Then grinned back at Dash, “Although I won’t deny it if you’re offering…”

“Dream on,” Dash replied, shaking her head. “What were you suggesting anyway?”

“I just wanted to talk,” Soarin turned around to explain himself. “Follow me a few lengths back, that way if anypony spots us, it won’t look like we’re together. I’ll leave my door unlocked.”

“Wait, what do you--” Before Dash had anytime to ask questions, Soarin already pushed through the door. It made a very faint creak as he stepped his first hoof through.

Dash bit her lip and followed slowly. She wasn’t sure why she was feeling so on edge about the whole thing. Perhaps it was the fear of getting caught. Nevertheless, this is what she went for a walk to find. Looks like her request was answered. It would be stupid not to go with it now.

She stepped in behind Soarin, letting him take the first two flights of stairs, then started walking herself. She had to continually modulate her pace to keep sight of Soarin. If she lost track of him, she was a hundred percent sure where to go.

She came off the stairs and into a corridor. The corridor itself was still well lit, but it was rather deserted. Just as she hoped it would be. As she turned the corner, she just caught a glimpse of Soarin turning another. She picked up her pace to remain in sight. About halfway down, she saw Misty Fly emerge, walking in the opposite direction towards her. The sight made her hesitate in her step slightly, but she did her best to make sure it wasn't visible.

As they neared, Misty nodded at Dash in acknowledgement. Dash simply smiled awkwardly then broke eye contact. They walked past each other, but Dash kept her posture just in case Misty looked back at her. She kept her ears twisted in her direction just in case.

After what seemed like an eternity down a never-ending corridor, Dash finally got to her turning and pulled off. She sighed in relief then lowered her head. She followed Soarin down another corridor before eventually coming to a door with his name on it.

Well, he said he was leaving it open…

She pushed the handle and sure enough, the door opened all the way. The first sight she laid eyes on was Soarin sitting in an office chair. He immediately motioned with his hooves to close the door behind her, which Dash did so.

“Took you long enough,” Soarin joked.

“Don’t, I almost thought I blew it when I walked past Misty…” Dash started lazily walking over to Soarin. “She’s bound to be suspicious of that surely? Does she know?”

“About us? No,” Soarin confirmed, shaking his head, “And don’t worry about it. You blended in pretty well, walking quietly behind me. She wouldn’t have known where you were going, and judging by the fact she didn’t question you, she didn’t care. Now, if we were walking side-by-side holding wings, that would’ve been a different story.” He explained with a chuckle.

Dash laughed herself before she placed her forehooves on his chair either side of his head, then proceeded to climb on top of him and lazily flop onto him, resting her chin on his shoulder.

Soarin didn’t say anything and just let her...lay there. It wasn’t particularly comfortable for him, but just the feeling of her embrace was more than enough to compensate. He remained silent for around two minutes before he chuffed, “That bad huh?” He questioned.

Dash groaned as she lifted her head up. “I feel like I’ve done a years work in a matter of weeks,” She explained, then let her body go limp again.

“Welcome to Wonderbolt life. You’ll get used to it,” Soarin explained, but couldn’t help but let out a slight chuckle at her misfortune. It always came as a shock to everypony who walked through those doors as to how much effort they actually had to put in to be a Wonderbolt. “You’re doing well though. Better than some.”

“Yeah, it’s only been a matter of days and I’ve already seen ponies packing their bags,” Dash mentioned.

“Being the best of the best isn’t for everypony. And those that are leaving us are understanding why,” Soarin continued. “Come on,” Soarin slid his forelegs underneath her and leaned forward.

Dash was prepared to stand for herself for a second, fearing that she would fall to the floor. But it seemed that Soarin held onto her tightly enough that she didn’t fall. He stood onto his hind legs and started walking, carrying Dash towards a door and opening it with one of his hind legs. He carried Dash through his room and carefully laid her next to him on his bed, supporting both their weights with his right wing as he did so.

Dash simply laid there blushing at what just happened. Whilst she wasn’t expecting it...it was a nice feeling to have somepony literally carry you around…

“Heh, see something you like?” Soarin asked suddenly, breaking her out of her trance and jokingly flexing his muscles slightly. Dash blushed even more when she realised that she was contemplating how strong he was and was looking down at his body...his sleek, toned, sexy--

Dash shook her head and looked up at him, smiling as she thought of a comeback. “Can you blame me? I need my...motivations…” She replied, rubbing her hoof over his chest, “Besides, it’s only fair. I bet you stare at my butt all the time when we’re out there.”

“Well…” Soarin rolled his eyes, “Not ALL the time.” He pulled her closer to him with his wing whilst she was giggling at his comment. “But yeah...You’d be surprised how hard it is for me to stop my wings popping up when I see you in that suit…”

“Amongst other things popping I bet?” Dash asked, raising an eyebrow whilst looking up at him.

“Now THAT you’ll have to find out for yourself,” Soarin winked as he replied.

“Nice try,” Dash replied, jabbing him in the side. She caught Soarin off-guard, causing him to wheeze. “Although this,” Dash rubbed the spot on her neck, “Was very funny.” She said in a serious-sarcastic way with a stern look on her face. Luckily, the lovebite had almost faded now. And looking at Soarin’s neck, she could see that his was the same.

“Hehe, sorry about that…” Soarin awkwardly apologised, “But you did the same to me as well,” He added, rubbing the spot on his neck also.

“I didn’t even know it was possible,” Dash continued, “Guess we just got a little bit…”

“Excited,” Soarin finished for her, a grin on his face. “Guess that’s just a taste of things to come...literally.”

Dash snorted at his joke, “As long we’re not walking around waving huge flags that signal to everypony that we’ve been doing...that,” She blushed trying to think of words, “I’m fine.”

“Agreed,” Soarin replied, nodding, “I wore my uniform to cover mine up, but it quickly aroused everypony’s suspicion because I was wearing it when I wouldn’t normally. It would make life much easier if we just...took it easy for a little while.”

Dash chuckled at this explanation as she snuggled up to him. Soarin, not really knowing what to say, just laid there in silence. He realized his mistake in doing that as he noticed Dash beginning to nod off. “Don’t fall asleep on me Dashie,” He said softly, shaking her slightly by rocking his body, “You’ve probably got stuff to do. And there’s no hiding from it if you sleep with me overnight.”

Dash sighed in frustration as he was a hundred percent right. Despite the fact that she knew that full well too. She pushed herself up the bed to sit upright on the frame. “I know I’ve made it this far, but...everything I do...just doesn’t seem to be good enough.” She explained.

“You’ll get that feeling a lot. But trust me, if there was a problem, you wouldn’t even be here right now.” Soarin explained to her, then smirked. “Harder than it looks isn’t it?”

Dash nodded, “The flying part is easy. Everything in between is hard.”

“Well, we’re the best of the best for a reason,” Soarin replied, “And things will get more interesting. Believe me.”

Dash smiled as he spoke. She rolled onto her side and off the bed, stretching her legs and yawning as she got ready to walk again. Soarin did the same, walking ahead of her and opening the door, holding it open for Dash with his hind leg.

“Part of me wishes that this could just all be over soon so we don’t have to be so careful.” She explained.

“I know, but…” Soarin wrapped his wing around her shoulders, “You wouldn’t choose me over the Wonderbolts would you?” He teased.

“I might,” Dash joked back in response.

“Of course, I know when I’m not wanted,” Soarin replied sarcastically, fake-sniffling and pretending to wipe tears from his eyes with his wings, making Dash giggle in response. Soarin sighed and smiled upon hearing her. “That giggle of yours is so damn adorable.”

He timed his speech so well that Dash had just stopped giggling by the time his final word rolled off his tongue. Dash just scowled at him for his choice of words.

“What? I meant it,” Soarin replied sincerely.

“Jerk,” Dash joked, prodding him with her wing, right in a pressure point on his side, causing him to wheeze. She knew that he knew that it wound her up when he called her cutesy things, which is why he was doing it. But he was so sincere about it that it was hard to tell. Then again, she didn’t mind the complement…

Soarin walked past her over to his front door. He gently opened it up, poking his head around it to make sure that nopony was around to see Dash leave his room. Anypony seeing that would be able to put two and two together in less than a second... He motioned with his hoof for Dash to come along.

Soarin pushed the door open wider and stepped to the site to let Dash through. She walked through and out into the corridor, then spun around to face him. “Thanks for that, Soarin. I...I needed it…” Dash felt almost embarrassed to admit that as she got her words out. Luckily, nopony else was around to hear it.

“Anytime Dash,” Soarin replied with a smile, then looked serious again, “Seriously though, we’ll try and do it more often. I can’t make any promises though,”

Dash nodded, “I understand. Well…see ya later Soarin,” She replied, smiling and waving her hoof, preparing to walk off.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Soarin suddenly spoke up just before she could place her first step.

Dash looked back over at him and raised an eyebrow. Soarin only grinned in response, “Mwuh,” He mouthed.

“Ugh, really?” Dash replied, rolling her eyes.

“C’mon, you know how much you love it really.” Soarin replied, pouting and giving Dash puppy eyes.

Dash glanced to either side to confirm that it was still just the two of them, then back at Soarin. Without warning, she took a step forward and planted her lips on his. Soarin closed his eyes and wrapped a foreleg around the back of her neck, caressing the back of her head with his hoof.

Whilst she tried her best to be aware of her surroundings, Dash couldn’t deny to herself that this had been a long time coming. She’s been waiting for a good moment to have some downtime with Soarin since she got here, and she finally got it. She enjoyed the soft, loving feeling of his lips.

Dash eventually broke the kiss and the first thing she did was glance over her shoulders to make sure that nopony had appeared suddenly. Thankfully, nopony did. Which was good, because if Soarin was anything like her, he would have had his eyes shut too.

She looked forward at Soarin, feeling the heat in her cheeks rising. “Thanks, Soarin. I’ll see you tomorrow…” She leaned in again slightly, “I love you,” She whispered

“Love you too, Dashie,” Soarin whispered back, winking at her.

Dash smiled and turned to walk back, hearing his door close behind her. Whilst she was walking herself physically, her mind was still wandering with thoughts of Soarin. She desperately wanted to be with him, and wanted this to all be over so they could drop the act of having to pretend they didn’t know each other bar from what they’ve known of each other whilst they’ve been here.

Dash’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted as she heard some hurried hoofsteps coming from the direction she was walking, sounding like it was from around the corner. Why was somepony in a hurry? Who was it? The only reason she could think of was…

...Oh no...was somepony spying on them!?

Dash suppressed a gasp and used her wings in a quick burst to propel herself forward quickly, landing with a slight skidding sound coming from her hooves. Unfortunately for her, it seemed that she wasn’t quick enough, as the sound of hooves moving quickly remained.

She did the same again and propelled herself down the corridor, not letting up until she made it all the way to the end. She looked in all directions, still nopony in sight, and the stairs to go back down were now there.

She stood still as a statue, only twisting her ears to try and see if she could pickup on the hooves again. But they appeared to have vanished. She continued to stand still, trying to pick up anything, absolutely anything. Her head remained locked in the direction of the stairs, only twisting her eyes and ears to see what she could see and hear.

After a few seconds, she sighed in defeat, realising that whoever it was, they must have got away. Either that, or…

‘Must be my mind playing tricks on me…’ Dash deduced in her head. On top of the stress of the Wonderbolt trials, she was already very paranoid about being caught with Soarin. Beside, the only other ponies around this end of the building were other Wonderbolts. And they would’ve been quick to confront her and Soarin about it rather than run away.

She sighed and proceeded to walk down the stairs, back to her room. On her walk back, she was half-expecting somepony to burst out of nowhere and confront her about it. But fortunately, nopony did. She slowly opened the room to her door. Luckily, everypony appeared to be winding down, and didn’t seem to take much note of her entrance. She followed suit by not saying anything and heading straight over to her bed. She guessed it wouldn’t hurt to double-check her bed area for inspection...triple check...quadruple check...

Chapter 18

View Online

The days were starting to become routine for Rainbow Dash and her roommates. The repetitiveness of having to prepare herself and her belongings up to a standard was starting to ingrain itself into her, giving her a sense of responsibility. And the constant bellowing of the Wonderbolts meant that she was slowly starting to get everything pieced together in her head. Although she was still struggling to get some of the voices to stop shaking her brain around inside her skull.

After they had completed their morning training exercises, Rapidfire had ordered them into the gym. As per what was slowly becoming the norm, Dash held her position in the march. The movement was slowly becoming muscle memory, although she wouldn’t want to try it with her eyes closed...yet…

As she neared the doors, she started to hear activity other than the rhythmic pounding of hooves against the cloud. She could hear thuds and grunts. Almost as if some ponies were fighting…

They went through the doors and started spreading out, forming a broad line so everypony could see what was going on. A large section of open space in the gym had been squared off, approximately thirty by thirty feet. On each corner of the square, there were clouds floating about ten feet in the air, indicating some sort of reference point. There were other areas setup alongside each other of the same dimensions. Inside, she saw two pegasi in some sort of padded armour. They were wearing helmets, with pads along their bodies, legs and hooves.

Dash wasn’t an expert, but she was already piecing together what their next task was going to be. And she would be lying if she said she wasn’t looking forward to picking a fight with somepony...

She identified Fire Streak and Wave Chill beneath the armour by the colours of their manes. They really seemed to be going at it. Throwing punches and grappling each other through the air. Dash had seen this type of competition before, but wasn't completely sure of the rules.

“Nice of you to give us a demonstration,” Rapidfire commented as he positioned himself in the air to address all of the candidates. “Now this will be a real test of your ability. It will also serve as a reminder that whilst we are performers during times of peace, we are also soldiers during times of war. A soldier's job is to protect. But first, you’ve gotta protect yourself.”

As he finished his sentence, an audible thud came from behind him as Wave Chill managed to force Fire Streak to the ground on his back. A few short moments of silence followed before Wave Chill took a step back and extended his hoof to Fire Streak. Who took his offer and pulled himself back up and onto his hooves.

“As you just saw, this type of fighting contest can be won by two ways. The first, and most common, is to force your opponent out of the arena. The second, as Wave Chill just demonstrated, is to force your opponent to land on anything other than their hooves.”

Everypony remained quiet, as if they were expecting some more instructions from Rapidfire. But he just hovered there, not saying anything…

“Easy, right? Well it could be, depending on who you’re up against. There’s enough protective gear of all shapes and sizes to fit everypony. Now go and try your best against each other. What’s fair play is up to me. Now hop to it!” He finished by blowing his whistle, causing everypony to trot towards the arenas. “Sometime today would be nice!” He added for ‘encouragement’, clapping his hooves together.

As she lined up to get some gear on, Dash took note of the ponies that went before here. There were some great ones, and some that looked too scared to even do anything as their opponent swatted them out of the sky like a housefly. Rapidfire had some very choice words to say to some of them.

“Why are we even wearing these?” Riptide’s voice suddenly drew her attention to him, as he was putting on one of the gloves. “They are basically padded mittens. You’re not gonna hurt a fly with these.”

“Is that so, young Riptide?” Rapidfire caught him offguard as his voice sounded from behind. Dash saw him around, so she wasn’t as shocked.

Riptide turned around to meet Rapidfire. “Yeah, that’s right…”

Rapidfire’s eyes narrowed as he picked up on a very important detail Riptide missed. “Yes...what?”

Riptide cleared his throat and stood up straight, “Yes sir.” He answered, correctly this time. When he stood up straight, him and Rapidfire were about even in height.

Rapidfire held his stern stare into Riptide’s eyes for a few seconds, then blinked and shrugged. “I guess you’re right,” He took one of the gloves from Riptide and started putting it on, “Tell you what; lets go at it, you and me. I’ll wear gloves, you don’t have to. Then you can prove it to me.”

Riptide’s eyes widened at his proposal, “I, uh…” He wasn’t doubting his ability to take on Rapidfire, but he wasn’t expecting the sudden challenge.

“C’mon, I’ll even let you take the first punch.” He finished putting the gloves on then stood up straight, exposing his head and chest to Rapidfire as much as he could. “Go on boy, you know you want to…” Their little spar was staring to garner some attention, but Riptide wasn’t taking notice.

Riptide inhaled deeply, mentally preparing himself for what he was about to do. He wasn’t sure if it was right, but he had been given permission to do it. He drew his right hoof up high and closed his eyes. Then, exhaling with the breath he was holding, bought his hoof down onto Riptide’s face. The sound of shocked gasps filled the air around him.

But not even a split second later, he felt something jab him hard in the sides, causing him to wheeze. It also hit a pressure point, causing his muscles to suddenly contract and spasm and lose his footing. Before he had even started to fall, he received another powerful blow to the top of his head before finally falling flat on his stomach.

“Ouch, that looks like it hurt. Luckily it’s just an illusion, as nopony could hurt a fly with these gloves on eh?” Rapidfire waved his gloved hoof in the air as his sarcasm caused various degrees of laughter to erupt around them. He took the gloves off and dropped them in front of Riptide.

“Hope that was educational for you,” Rapidfire said his last words as he continued his patrol around all the candidates.

Dash couldn’t help but laugh at Riptides misfortune either. She saw it coming a mile away, but Riptide didn’t seem to. She knew better than to challenge a Wonderbolt to what was essentially a straight-up hoof fight.

“What did he even do?” Riptide groaned, picking himself up off the floor.

“He didn’t do anything. You just bit off more than you could chew,” Dash answered his question. Although she couldn’t talk too much, as she had a habit of doing that herself on occasion…

Riptide put the glove over his hoof, “Sounds like you’re asking for a contest,” he suggested, lightly tapping Rainbow on the shoulder.

“You’re on! But I won’t go easy on you.” Dash replied.

They didn’t get much of a chance to better iron out their plans as Riptide got pushed along due to already having some of the limited gear. After getting the rest of it on him, he was pushed into the arena. It looked a little tight on him, but he was a bigger than average pony…

Dash did her best to suppress her chuckles at him and his opponent going at it. The ponies around them were doing a much better job, but Riptide and his opponent were drawing a crowd just by sheer comedy value. The constant random flailing looked to be defeating them both through exhaustion rather than knocking each other out.

Riptide managed to outlast his opponent before he forfited, dropping to the ground. Dash wasted no time in taking his place so she could have a shot at Riptide. She got geared up hovered into the middle of the arena, staring eye-to-eye with him. Having already watched him, she had already formulated a strategy in her head. Whilst she wouldn’t say she was a professional, she had her fair share of fighting experience to know what to do.

After somepony started them off, Riptide headed straight for her. Just as Dash predicted, she allowed him to make the first move. His strikes were so predictable, she simply moved out of the way as if she was on a relaxing Sunday flight. However, whilst he was recovering from the unexpected miss, she immediately retaliated.

She hit Riptide in between his wings, forcing him to lose balance and fall a few feet. But he caught his fall and stopped before he touched the ground. He immediately expected Rainbow to follow him though, as was prepared when she charged at him.

Their forelegs interlocked briefly, but Dash knew challenging a pony much bigger than her to an arm wrestle probably wouldn’t end too well for her. She immediately disengaged and used Riptide’s slow reaction times to her advantage, jabbing her hoof into his side. This time, it did cause him to drop onto his hooves.

Dash prepared for another attack, but she miscalculated her landing and put herself within striking distance. Something Riptide wasn’t slow to pickup on. She synchronised the throw of his hoof with her hooves tapping down on the floor, his hoof landing straight into her chest.

“Oof,” Rainbow grunted as she was forced backwards, along with some of the air out of her lungs. She didn’t have much time to catch her breath as Riptide immediately followed up, propelling himself forward using his wings to give himself extra force.

Dash met him head on to stop the advance. This time, being fully prepared for the blow, she took it in her stride (although it did hurt a fair bit). She landed another punch to Riptide’s shoulders, but he shrugged it off and retaliated. He appeared to be aiming for her head, but she moved fast enough that it only just caught her shoulders.

Again, he didn’t leave her any time to think about it as he continued pressing the attack. Dash kept quickly dodging out of the way, slipping backwards after each repeated attack. She was trying to formulate a counter in her head, but the way he kept throwing punches at her never gave her enough of a chance to think about it. She was pushed back so much that she had to fly upwards and do a somersault over him to prevent herself from being pushed out of the arena.

...That though was enough for an idea to pop into her head and begin to take shape. The sweat beading off Riptide showed how much he was throwing himself into the attacks. If she could just line herself up the correct distance away...that’s it!

She moved herself forward and threw a punch at Riptide, not necessarily for effect, but to help him take the bait. After he retaliated in response, she moved quickly to dodge his blows, and moved back a little further than usual. She held her head in place but used her eyes to try and judge her distance to the edge of the arena without looking too obvious what she was doing. She couldn’t really tell without having a proper look, but she gathered it would be enough.

She flared her wings out in sync with Riptide, gathering that he was getting ready to propel himself at her at full force. With a huff, Riptide pushed himself towards her, using his wings to increase his speed. Dash didn’t dare to blink and flung herself far to the right at the very last minute, feeling the edge of his gloves ever so slightly graze her shoulder.

Her hooves tapped back down on the ground and she heard a resounding thump behind her. “Game!” Dahlia’s voice called out behind her. As Dash turned around, she confirmed what had happened. Riptide had managed to fly himself out of the arena, thus handing the victory over to her. He was resting on his stomach, seemingly exhausted.

Dash chuckled to herself in victory as she paced over to Riptide. “So remember what I was saying a minute ago about biting off more than you can chew?”

All she got in response was a frustrated groan from the otherwise lifeless body of Riptide. Dash continued to chuckle to herself as she started pulling the safety gear off herself.

“You made that look easy,” Dahlia commented, taking position for Dash to hand the equipment over to her.

“Guess I’ve got experience,” Dash joked, referring to the many times she and the other Elements of Harmony have been involved in fights that determined the fate of Equestria, “But it’s easy against somepony as predictable as Riptide.”

After Dahlia got herself all suited up, she flew herself into the arena along with some other random mare. Dahlia was quick on her wings, making it easy for her to dart around the other mare as they exchanged blows. Dahlia was flying rings around this mare, but she also didn’t give up easily. They appeared to be of equal strength, but Dahlia managed to get above the mare and force her down. Once she landed on the ground, Dahlia made a quick jab to the side, forcing her to tumble down and lose her footing.

“Yeah!” Dahlia punched the air with her victory. Although her legs immediately flopped down to the ground again after feeling her exhaustion. “Geez, that’s intense for such a short period.”

She was about to exit the arena to let somepony else have a go, but then she saw Torque flying in all geared up. “Oh yeah, I’ve been waiting a while for this,” She said as she reversed back into the arena. Despite how intense her last fight was, she wasn’t gonna give up the chance to go against Torque.

“Don’t expect me to take it easy on you.” Torque commented as he took up position. He didn’t seem particularly bothered about Dahlia’s enthusiasm about attempting to kick his ass.

“Hey, I expect nothing less than your best.” Dahlia retorted, getting herself into position. “Count us in Rainbow.”

Dash stood at the edge of the arena and looked up. “Okay. Three, two, one, fight!”

Dahlia raced towards Torque as soon as the final word rolled off Rainbow Dash’s tongue. Although it confused her that Torque didn’t mirror her action, she didn’t question it and continued, ready to place to drive her hoof right into him.

Moments before impact, Torque’s hoof suddenly shot up to meet Dahlia’s. Dahlia groaned heavily as she felt like she’d just punched a brick wall, but Torque took no notice. He grabbed her hoof and used it as a pivot point to launch himself above her, then used the momentum to deliver a kick in between her wings, sending her to the ground.

Dahlia tried her best to regain control to prevent herself from touching the ground, but it was all happening so fast. She wasn’t expecting this kind of pace from Torque at all. She managed to resync her wings and slow her descent, but before she could even think about the situation, she felt something big and heavy drive into the side of her, forcing the air out of her lungs.

She landed on her left side on the ground, feeling a little confused about what just happened, and short of breath. Torque landed in front of her seconds afterwards. He looked back at her as he started taking his gear off, “Told you I wouldn’t hold back.” He dropped the helmet on the ground where he stood and started taking the rest of it off as he walked.

Dahlia got her bearings and slowly stood up, taking note of all the ponies surrounding them who were looking over at her. Or more specifically, Torque. “What...happened?” She asked Rainbow Dash.

“You completely got your ass handed to you in a matter of seconds,” Rainbow Dash replied somewhat sarcastically.

“Well yeah,” Dahlia rolled her eyes, “But how? It all happened so fast, I didn’t really get a chance to figure anything out.”

“Torque just moved very fast. And I dunno what he’s made out of, but your punch didn’t even make him flinch,” Dash explained, then looked back over at Torque, who had once again, walked away from everypony. However, he appeared to have Rapidfire following him quite eagerly.

“Tough guy huh?” Rapidfire called to him as he approached, “You better hope so, because I’m sure I can find somepony in this group of wannabe Wonderbolts that can give you a run for ya bits.”

Torque didn’t respond to Rapidfire’s words, which only made him ramble at him more.

As much as Dash would’ve enjoyed listening to the choice words Rapidfire had for Torque, she was too busy feeling bad for Bright Skies. The gear was clearly too big for her in the first place, but she was up against a huge stallion.

‘They’re really should be better matching for who goes up against who…’ Dash thought to herself as she watched Bright Skies curl up as soon as the stallion came towards her. She more or less dropped straight to the ground. Good thing Rapidfire was busy, or he might have had some choice words for her too. Something about guts and bravery most likely…

White Comet didn’t fare much better either. Although he didn’t back down at all, it was clear that he’d never had any experience in fighting or martial arts. He was up against somepony that appeared to be of equal build to him, but the pony he was up against appeared to be of much better skill. Whilst Comet put up an admirable fight, he was eventually forced outside of the ring, signalling his defeat.

Dash and her roommates simply waited patiently whilst their other competitors finished their matches against randomly selected opponents. It was more a case of whoever happened to be standing next to them at the time. But as they learned, it led to some very...uneven matches. It seemed like they were going to be matched up against certain ponies next though.

“Geez, looks like we’ve got a lot of work to do…” Rapidfire groaned and rubbed his face as the final pair finished their spar. He looked down at his clipboard, “Take five,” He ordered quickly and sternly, motioning with his hoof whilst his other hoof rubbed his forehead, as if he was about to go into deep thought.

Dash used this time to quickly go to the bathroom. She splashed some water on her face from the sink to freshen herself up, then looked in the mirror. She looked at her surroundings, confirming nopony was in the bathroom with her, then looked at herself. There she was, awesome as usual. But was it intimidating enough? She knew that the Wonderbolts had to be combat ready at all times, but was she really as well cut out for it as some of the other ponies she was competing against? Torque had just showed himself off as if he was made of Iron. He just straight-up lifted his hoof and blocked Dahlia’s strike with all her weight behind it like it was nothing. There was no way that she would be able to do that. Would she be expected to match that?

Knowing that she could only do her best, she left the bathroom and walked back down the corridor promptly. The last thing she wanted was to be late back from the five minutes they were given.

As she turned a corner around the corridor, she almost bumped into something. Although she was more than happy when she saw who she bumped into. “Soari--”

She was cutoff as Soarin put her hoof on her lips. He had a very stern, almost angry looked on his face. “The pony you’re about to fight intends to beat you up to the point where you’re injured so badly that you can’t continue the competition. Feel free to retaliate as you seem necessary. Don’t hold back, and don’t hesitate.”

Before Dash even had a chance to respond, he walked straight past her and continued about his business.

Was...was this a warning? She’d never seen him so focused and intense before. Something had him wound up. However, she didn’t have long to think about it. She had a schedule to keep to.

She arrived back at the gym. Rapidfire had tidied up and rearranged the protective gear, and ponies were starting to arrange themselves in a group around him, awaiting instructions. Rainbow Dash simply merged into the group so that she would be able to hear the instructions. Although she didn’t doubt that she’d be able to hear anyway, Rapidfire had a voice that could be heard in Los Pegasus…

“So, now that we’re all here,” Rapidfire hovered into the air to address his instructions. “I’ve now seen what you all are roughly capable of. Long and short; some of you are almost at our standard. But most of you are disgraceful. So I’ve arranged some sparring partners for all of you based on ability. You’ll be evenly matched with someone, and we’ll go through progressively until we’re through all of you. So I’ll call out some names for each arena, and we’ll get started.”

He flew to the front of each arena and called out the names of the pairs to start off. Thankfully, Rainbow Dash didn’t hear her name in any of these. So it gave her further time to think over Soarin’s advice. Somepony was out to essentially take her out of the competition? He didn’t even mention if it was a mare or a stallion she should be looking out for. Although she could make a few guesses quite easily…

She also noted his final words; ‘Don’t hold back, and don’t hesitate.’ Does this mean she could have free reign over how she handles the situation? She didn’t want to do anything that might compromise her eligibility for the competition. She didn’t want to get sent home for something stupid and out of her control. Not to mention that if she followed Soarin’s advice to the letter, and somepony found out that it was him giving her advice, it would compromise his position too. God this was complicated. What should she do?

Her thoughts were distracted for a moment as she noticed Comet actually seemed to be winning his fight. When matched against an opponent of equal skill, he appeared to just have an endurance edge over them. Whilst they both looked like drippy heaps of sweat from where she was standing, Comet just seemed to have that sheer willpower and determination to push ahead of his opponent. The other stallion eventually gave up, allowing Comet to push him out with ease.

Dash felt like she wanted to clap her hooves, but something told her that it would make her stand out like a sore hoof. She kept it to herself, but made a note to talk to Comet about it later.

Watching Bright Skies, Dash had to try and suppress her laughter. Although the ponies around her failing to do so was making it tough for her. It was like watching a small angry dog trying to fight another small but shy dog.

“Rainbow Dash!” Rapidfire’s voice suddenly called.

Unfortunately it looked like she wouldn’t get enough time to fully take Bright Skies’ situation in, as she was now about to be put up against her opponent. She took the gear off one of the mares leaving the arena that she was about to fight in and started getting herself geared up.

“Thunder Flash!” Rapidfire’s voice confirmed the name of her opponent.


Dash quietly sighed and just concentrated on getting ready. Looks like this is what Soarin was trying to warn her about. If it was anything like their last encounter, things were gonna get ugly. But this time, they would also be different. No sneak attacks, no back-alley tricks. Just a good old fashioned straight up hoof fight.

She hovered in her starting position, just as Thunder made her way in as well. She ascended to be level with Dash and their eyes locked. Dash heard the murmurs from the crowd reminiscing about their last encounter, but that didn’t bother her for now. All she had to do was beat Thunder before she beat her.

Thunder held an emotionless face whilst her eyes stared daggers into Dash’s. Dash returned the favour. They both knew what was about to happen, but they didn’t let their faces show it. Dash was more than happy to let her actions do the talking for her.


As soon as the command allowing them to go was sounded, the two of them wasted no time in piling towards each other. Dash drove her hoof right into Thunder’s chest, with her mirroring the action. Dash hissed in pain as they made contact. She forgot how tough she was, neither of them budging an inch.

Thunder reacted quickly, knocking Dash away which allowed her to wrap her hooves around her shoulders and then simply dropped to the ground, attempting to pull Dash along with her. Dash flapped her wings had and managed to break free of Thunder’s grasp, but Thunder didn’t exactly leave time for Dash to think about it much further than that. She delivered a hoof right into Dash’s chest, making her cough. If it weren’t for the protective gear, Dash was certain she would’ve just thrown up her breakfast.

Dash blocked Thunder’s next blow and countered it with one of her own, landing it on the side of her head. It didn’t seem to faze her though, as she just continued piling on the blows. This style was very similar to what she witness to what Torque used on Dahlia. Torque simply used lightning speed to confuse Dahlia to stop her being able to retaliate effectively. And Dahlia couldn’t think quickly enough to see through it. Dash was a bit smarter than that though…

Dash grabbed Thunder’s attempt at delivering a right blow with her left hoof, but instead of deflecting it away, she pulled it towards her, then aimed her other hoof for her face. The technique worked, delivering a blow to her forehead. Not wanting to leave anytime for Thunder to think about it, she pushed off her body to get Thunder behind and underneath her, then delivered a powerful blow with her hind legs.

Dash wasn’t able to see behind her, but from the “oooh” ‘s the crowd replied with, it sounded like it looked painful. Not only for Thunder, but for her. Every blow she landed felt like punching a brick wall.

Dash spun around quickly to notice that Thunder had already recovered and had climbed rapidly to try and gain an altitude advantage. She also noted the speed she was flying at. For a split-second, she thought about using the same trick she used against Riptide, whereby she tricked him into using his momentum to get him to fly out of the arena and hand victory to her. Something told her that Thunder Flash was a little smarter than that though…

Not given enough time to properly think about the situation, she charged upwards towards Thunder. She didn’t want to try and attack from underneath, as it was common knowledge that a ponies hind legs were stronger than their forelegs. But also being common knowledge, she knew that Thunder would try and use it to her advantage too. She would have to play it by ear.

Dash pumped her wings hard to allow herself enough momentum that she could simply glide up and match Thunder’s altitude. But before she could do anything else, she suddenly heard a whistle blow.

She turned to look in the direction of the whistle. There appeared to be tension between two pegasi, which broke out into a fight, which lead to a commotion of around a dozen ponies getting involved. Rapidfire was trying to break them up, yelling loudly at them.

Suddenly, Dash felt a sharp blow between her wings. It was a harder hit than she’d felt before, it made her yelp as she felt herself falling to the ground. She tried hard to regain control of her fall, but the blow had left her with a pins and needles feeling in her wing. She couldn’t get her wings to flap in sync, but at least she could slow her decent.

She landed on her back with a thud, grunting as she hit the floor. “Shit,” She cursed herself as she realised what landing on her back meant; she lost. Without even thinking, she lifted herself up to a sitting position. Thunder Flash landed in front of her, chuckling as a grin slowly formed on her face. “Now lets make things interesting…” She said as she unfastened one of the gloves.

Dash blinked and shot to her hooves as she understood what Thunder meant. She glanced behind her to take a look. Rapidfire was still trying to get the rest under control. She looked back at Thunder, who was getting all the protective gear off her.

She still had no idea what she did to cause Thunder’s aggression towards her. All she knew what that she was serious. And there didn’t seem to be any quick way out of it this time. She could seek help, but Dash felt like that would be running away. She didn’t do running away. Looks like there was only one way to go.

“Alright Thunder,” Dash started taking her gloves off too, “Let’s settle this.” She said confidently. Although she was still very unsure what ‘this’ was.

Thunder wasted no time in accepting Dash’s invitation and charged towards her, throwing all her weight into a punch and not even giving Dash barely enough time to take her gloves off. Dash knew full-well that Thunder could punch harder than she could block, so instead of trying to block her, she dodged out of the way and locked her forelegs under Thunder’s forelegs. She then kicked off the ground and took flight, lifting Thunder with her.

Thunder held her own weight once she realised what was happening and tried to wrestle herself free of Dash’s grip. Dash suddenly let go and stopped flying, leaving Thunder temporarily confused as she glided upwards through the air. Dash immediately pumped her wings and used the distraction to land a punch on Thunder’s chin.

Thunder grunted, but didn’t let the move phase her. She couldn’t see, but there was definitely blood coming from her lip. She could feel it and had a slight taste of iron in her mouth. She caught up quickly enough to see Dash coming in for another blow. She moved her head out of the way to allow Dash’s hoof to brush past her shoulder, then locked her right foreleg around it and pulled Dash in, whilst going for her wing with her left. She threw her left hoof downwards and landed a blow on Dash’s wing, causing her to yelp rather loudly.

Thunder quickly kicked Dash off with her hind legs, hoping that she would fall to the ground again. But Dash shrugged off the pain and regained control of her flight, charging upwards to meet Thunder again. Thunder instead flew straight upwards, high up to the roof of the gym. Although she didn’t anticipate Dash would catch her so quickly, and only figured that out when she felt something grab her left hind hoof.

Dash used a combination of her upper body strength to both pull herself up and drag Thunder down to her, and her wings to propel herself upwards. They both met at head height and immediately engaged in a grapple. Thunder backed off, but immediately used to the space to land a soft but quick blow to Dash’s head. The confusion allowed her the time to land a more powerful one to her chest. Although luckily, Dash didn’t have the time to take her chest protector off. It was untied and loose, but staying put.

Dash grunted as the air was forced out of her lungs, but she remained strong. This fight was starting to get to her. Both physically and mentally. She was fed up of the constant push and pull that seemed to be going on and on for no rhyme or reason. She wanted to end it, but she wasn’t confident that she’d be the one that came out on top if she started pushing on the offensive…

She noticed that Thunder was starting to sweat a lot, and her breaths were getting deeper and deeper. If nothing else would come of this, at least she knew that she was a better flyer and had much better endurance than Thunder. Something useful to note in the future…

She charged with both her hooves at Thunder, intending to try and pull her into a lock. But to her surprise, Thunder actually pulled her forward when they got within an arms reach of each other. But a split second later, Thunder’s forehead made contact with hers.

Dash wasn’t even sure what to do. All she knew was that the pain was almost unbearable. Everything was telling her to try and take a break or back off. But she knew Thunder would have none of that. She began to feel dizzy, and felt a queasy feeling in her stomach. Her wings allowed her to float backwards, but she only did the bare minimum to catch her fall.

Just as predicted, Thunder appeared straight in front of her as she was only just getting her bearings back. How Thunder seemed to take a hit on her forehead and shrug it off like that, Dash didn’t know.

Dash bought her hooves up to meet Thunder’s, but Thunder’s hooves actually went blow and jabbed Dash in her sides. The pressure was applied just at the right point on her sides to make her muscles contract and close her wings.

Thunder made some quick jabs in her armpits and her chin, then suddenly pulled her hooves away and went for the protective vest Dash was wearing. All whilst following Dash into the fall. She twisted it ninety degrees left then placed her forehooves on Dash’s chest and started pushing.

It didn’t take long for Dash to realize what she was trying to do. She tried to open her wings to stop it, but only her left one would extend. Her right one had been blocked off by Thunder twisting her protective vest. And she was applying pressure on it to stop Dash moving it back out the way.

Dash glanced back and grimaced at the speed she was heading towards the floor. “Thunder wait!” She started flailing, desperately trying anything she could to prevent her from hitting the ground that hard.

Thunder suddenly kicked off Dash with her hind legs, giving her one final propulsion towards the ground.

Dash closed her eyes and held her breath, bringing her hooves together around her...this was gonna hurt...a lot…

She hit the ground with a loud thud, almost bouncing. She held her breath until she came to a complete stop, where she slowly exhaled. “Owwww…” She groaned as she unclipped the protective vest that stopped her opening her wing and breaking her fall. She then spread her wings out and let her limbs go limp to the side of her. “That’s gonna leave a bruise…” She said to herself as she opened her eyes.

She felt something press down on her left wing and some mischievous laughing. She looked and saw Thunder had landed and stepped on her wing. Thunder has a nice line of blood trickling from her lip. She tried to get up, but the combination of Thunder’s weight on her wing and the pain in her back made it difficult.

“Well I have to say, that was the most fun I’ve had here so far,” Thunder started conversing, placing her other forehoof directly in front of her previous one on Dash’s wing. “But I suppose all good things must come to an end…” She looked down at Dash’s wing as she lifted her previous hoof up and took another step forward one hoof in front of the other. “You showed so much potential, Rainbow Dash. It’s a pity that you will unfortunately not complete the trials due to an...unexpected wing injury…” Her final three words put a particularly evil smile on her face.

Dash wasn’t gonna lie, she was scared. But not because of the world of pain Thunder was about to put her in if she was about to do what Dash thought she was doing. Wounds heal. She was scared about the fact that she was about to lose everything she’d worked so hard far...She couldn’t-no...She WOULD NOT allow that to happen.

She started pushing and pulling with every muscle she could find, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. She was still slightly in shock after falling to the ground so hard.

“Fitting really,” Thunder continued, her hoof now at the base of Dash’s wing. “Destroying the dream of the dream destroyer.”

Dash stopped and looked up at her, “What’s that supposed to mean?” She questioned, raising an eyebrow.

Thunder scoffed, “The villain always likes to plead ignorance,” She replied, rolling her eyes. She slowly began to lift her hoof up. “Goodbye, Rainbow Dash. Maybe you’ll have better luck next-OOOF!”

A flash of brown suddenly shot into Dahlia and Dash felt the pressure on her wing immediately relieved. She heard the gasps from the crowd as somepony intervened.She turned her head over to try and see what was happening.

Thunder had been floored next to her...by Torque? Of all ponies, Dash wasn’t expecting him to come to her aid. And he wasn’t holding back either. He was pressing his right foreleg horizontally into Thunder’s throat whilst jabbing her in the stomach with his left hoof...repeatedly…

Dash just laid there, confused by what she was seeing, but happy nonetheless. Although Torque just didn’t want to stop punching. He was like a machine, throwing quick but powerful punches. And Thunder just laid underneath him choking on the spasms her lungs were being forced into by his blows. He showed now intentions of stopping. Did he even intend to?

Mercifully, after a few more seconds, he eventually stopped and released his grip on Thunder’s neck, leaving her lying in a coughing spluttering mess next to Dash. He immediately turned his attention to Dash and exhaled at the same time. “Are you alright?” He asked.

Dash cleared her throat, “Well...I’ll be alright,” She answered. “A little confused, but...I’ll take it.” Looking at Torque, he didn’t seem to have a very welcoming heroic expression on his face that Dash was expecting. He just had his normal expressionless face on.

Torque was about to offer his hoof to Dash, but then he suddenly felt something on his foreleg. “Y-you bastard,” Thunder spluttered between coughs. “You ruined everything!” She started picking herself up using Torque’s leg as leverage, “Next time you butt in like that, you’ll be sorry that you ever--”

Torque suddenly whipped his foreleg away very quickly, causing Thunder to lose balance and fall on her stomach. He then bought all the weight of his hoof crashing down on Thunder’s nose. Dash cringed and could barely keep her eyes open as she heard the crack, also earning some gasps from the crowd.

Thunder hissed in pain and covered her muzzle with both forelegs. But Torque grabbed her by the mane and yanked her upwards, lowering his head at the same time to bring them level so he could look her eye to eye. “You have two hundred and sixteen bones left that can still be broken...don’t make me.” He threatened, letting go of her mane. Her head lowered slightly before she took the weight and looked up at him.

Torque left her be and looked over at Rainbow Dash. Still wearing a monotonous expression on his face, he simply offered his hoof out to her.

Dash wasn’t going to deny the help and took his hoof in hers and used it to pull herself up. She felt a little stiff, but it didn’t feel like anything that wouldn’t heal with time. Besides, these last few days had left her aching similar at the end of the day anyway. This evening would just feel a little more painful, but she would shrug it off.

“Torque…” Dash began, standing up straight. She wasn’t even sure where to begin to start. But the figure of Rapidfire appearing in her field of view immediately drew her attention, and he looked the exact opposite of pleased…

“Happy?” He snapped sarcastically. “Good. You,” He pointed at Torque, “Wait outside. You two go to see the nurse, then wait outside Captain Spitfire’s office.” He ordered, then spun around. “That doesn’t mean the rest of you can slack off! Back to work!” He bellowed, ordering the remainder of the class that wasn’t involved and stomped his hoof.

Torque started walking towards the door. Dash quickly caught up and walked beside him. “Torque...thank you…” She continued what she was trying to say a moment ago. Although she wasn’t really sure what to say. If he hadn’t intervened when he did, Thunder would have broken Dash’s wing...rendering her out of the competition…

“Don’t mention it,” He replied, once again, with a monotone voice and a straight face.

Dash chuffed, “I mean, you didn’t exactly--”

“No, really. I didn’t do it for you. You literally have nothing to thank me for.” Torque shot her down before she could even finish.

“...Oookayy?” Dash replied, raising an eyebrow. This whole scenario already had her very confused, and his responses weren’t exactly helping her. She looked over her shoulder at Thunder, who was cringing as she was trying to get up, earning no sympathy from Rapidfire. Dash couldn’t help but feel a smile creep onto her face. “She won’t be sleeping on her belly for weeks…”

They rounded the corner out of the gym and split off. Dash headed off to see the nurse whilst Torque continued straight to Spitfire’s office. Dash felt like she could walk it off, but nevertheless, Rapidfire ordered her to go and see the nurse. And orders and orders. Besides, she’d broken enough rules for one day…

Her visit to the nurse was very straightforward. As she suspected, she had no suffered any contest-ending injuries. But she was going to have severe bruising in several places on her body. The nurse applied some plasters over some of her cuts and grazes, and gave her some tissue to help stem the flow of blood from her nose. Dash just ended up scrunching it up into a ball and shoving it inside her nose.

She continued to do what she was told and headed straight to Spitfire’s office afterwards, her flight suit slung over her shoulders. As she approached, she noticed that Torque was still standing outside. Had he still not been taken in yet for a formal scolding? As she got closer, she heard the voice of Spitfire already giving that honour to somepony else. It didn’t take her long to deduce who that would be…

She sat down by Torque and sighed. Whilst she was looking at him, he made no attempt to look at her and just continued to stare straight at the wall. Dash copied him for a few moments as she listened to Spitfire’s muffled voice from inside her office.

She glanced to her left then right before looking at Torque, “So why did you do it Torque?” She questioned, the long silence eventually getting to her.

“You’re the Element of Loyalty; you figure it out.” He shot right back.

Dash raised an eyebrow, thinking about it for a minute… “But...I thought you didn’t care that much?”

“No, I don’t. But the Wonderbolts don’t know that.” His answer was quick and concise.

“But then why…” Dash stopped speaking as she started to piece it together in her head. “Oh. You did it just to make yourself look good…” She answered her own question with a sigh.

Torque didn’t acknowledge whether she was right or wrong, but Dash didn’t need any. She knew full well that it was about that. Whilst he played along cordially, he alreadys seemed to know what he needed to do to be one step ahead of the game. She knew that to him, it was just an opportunity that was well seized. But still, she’d seen him warm up to her and their roommates in the past. Whilst he wasn’t showing it, she was certain that it wasn’t the only reason he did it.

Suddenly, the door to Spitfire’s office opened. A very sore and slightly limping Thunder Flash stepped out, not bothering to make eye contact with anypony. She held her head down low and simply walked past the pair of them. Torque didn’t make any attempt to look at her, but Dash did. Although Thunder didn’t looked back.

“You, as you were!” Spitfire stood in the doorway and ordered, pointing at Torque.

“Yes Ma’am!” Torque responded by the book, flying the salute they had practiced time and time again. He walked off, leaving just Dash and Spitfire.

Spitfire pointed with her hoof into her office. Dash didn’t say anything and simply followed Spitfire’s directions.

Spitfire closed the door behind her. “Sit,” She ordered as she made her away around to her desk.

Dash took the seat in front of Spitfire’s desk. Spitfire sat on her chair and rested her forehooves on top of each other, looking straight at Dash in the eyes. Dash wasn’t desperately to look away. She could feel what was about to be said, and she almost felt like Spitfire was deliberately making it more painful.

After a few seconds, Spitfire exhaled and spun around on her chair to look out the window. “Are you hurt?” She asked softly.

“Uh, I-I’m a little bruised, but nothing I can’t shake off.” Dash replied, caught completely off guard by the question.

“So you’ll be able to continue the rest of the trials without a problem?” Spitfire continued.

“Yes Ma’am,” Dash said with a lot of confidence in her answer.

“Good…” Spitfire continued, twisting back around to face Dash. “I got a rough idea of what happened from Rapidfire. You were lucky to have Torque come in to save you, otherwise you might have a broken wing around about now.”

Just as Dash predicted, Spitfire had the exact reaction Torque knew she would have. Which made him look like the hero…

“Yes Ma’am,” Dash replied again, trying to maintain a professional air in her tone.

Spitfire relaxed back in her seat, resting her hoof on a stack of papers on her desk. “A little surprise I’m preparing for one of the final rounds...so long as the ERAF plays ball…” She said nonchalantly. The amount of paperwork surprised Dash. She was obviously planning something fairly substantial...but that was the least of her worries at the minute...

Dash was surprised as how...relaxed she seemed. She didn’t seem angry at all. Had she...had she gotten away with it? No, she couldn't think like that. It was obviously just another test. Spitfire was probably luring her into a false sense of security. She couldn’t fall for it.

Spitfire suddenly leant forward and looked at Dash. “You’ve put me in a difficult position here, Rainbow Dash. I have every piece of evidence and power I need to dismiss you both…”

Dash’s ears folded down and she glanced to the floor, not anticipating that she was going to like what she heard next.

“However,” Spitfire spoke sharply, drawing Dash’s attention and causing her ears to perk up, “There is other evidence for this case that could say otherwise,” She said as she rose from her desk.

“W-what evidence Ma’am?” Dash asked, looking for any escape route she could get at this point.

“And that’s where we hit the crossroads,” Spitfire explained, walking around her desk. “By standard, I could tell you that you have one more chance with Thunder Flash to settle your little ‘disagreements’ without violence. And if that fails, both of you will be out of here. And you could accept that, leave my office and carry on as normal…” Spitfire suddenly looked at her in the eyes again, “Would you take that?”

Dash hesitated slightly at the question, “W-what’s my other option Ma’am?”

“Basically the same thing. Except I could give you some advice. A little bit of a heads up. Something that could help you settle things in a non-violent way.” Spitfire explained.

Dash could see what Spitfire was beginning to get at, but kept a straight face. “What’s the catch, Ma’am?” She asked.

“The catch being the information I would have to give you is highly confidential. If ears that were not meant to hear it heard it, then even I would get in trouble. So what I’m basically saying is, the moment I catch wind of somepony not meant to know knowing about it, you’ll be outta here faster than a sonic rainboom.”

Dash took a moment to process her instructions, then nodded.

“So Rainbow Dash; what’s your choice?” Spitfire asked, getting right up to her face.

Whilst a final warning was a pretty safe and standard bet, Dash knew how Thunder behaved. She didn’t have any reason or rhyme. So chances are, things would just go the same way they have been going. However, with that logic, even with the information that Spitfire was going to give her, there was no guarantee she would listen to her. But Spitfire did say it just needed to be known amongst the ponies that needed to be involved, and no more. Thunder clearly was a pony involved, so if it was just her and Thunder, there theoretically shouldn’t be a problem.

“What do I need to know about Thunder?” Dash asked Spitfire, making her decision.

Spitfire exhaled and slowly walked back to her desk. “Even though I’m already breaking several rules, there’s still several things I’m restricted from telling you. But just to reiterate, none of this leaves this room. This is between you and me. Got it?”

“Yes Ma’am,” Dash replied without hesitation.

“Good,” Spitfire sat down on her chair and leaned onto her desk. “You’ve obviously worked out that Thunder Flash has a grudge against you, and wants you pretty much dead because of it. Whilst I can’t tell you exactly what it is, I can confirm her anger towards you is well-founded. It’s very much something serious and not just some stupid or menial foal tantrum.”

Dash nodded and she took in what Spitfire was saying.

“However, she’s also on the last straw at this point too. So chances are, she might play along if you try to talk it out with her. Not to mention she won’t be wanting to fight back, since Torque’s punches really did do a number on her. I recommend that you use this opportunity you’ve got to settle things quickly and peacefully before I have to do something we both regret.”

Dash once again nodded in understanding, knowing full well what Spitfire’s implications meant. “Yes Ma’am. But I do have one question…”

Spitfire raised an eyebrow as Dash spoke.

“What exactly did I do to hurt her?”

Spitfire’s eyebrows lowered and she blinked slowly. “You didn’t hurt her directly...but...you hurt somepony very close to her. Hence her anger towards you.”

Dash tried her best to process that last bit of information as quickly as she could, but...nothing immediately sprung to mind. Although it was giving her plenty of ideas based on the few pieces of info that Spitfire had given her.

“Do you understand?” Spitfire asked.

“Yes Ma’am,” Dash replied, thinking that she had all the answers she needed. She didn’t know anymore questions to ask anyway.

“Good. As you were,” Spitfire finished by waving her hoof, then looked down at some paperwork on her desk.

Dash quickly saluted, then turned to leave her office. “And Dash?” Spitfire’s voice stopped her just as she was reaching for the door. “Remember, you tell anypony about this, that’s it. Just a reminder.”

Dash nodded without saying a word, then opened the door and walked out, closing it behind her. She quickly changed back into her flight suit in the corridor. Confirming that her nose had stopped bleeding, she discarded the tissue and went back to her training. When she made it to the gym, she noticed that Rapidfire was tutoring ponies individually to help them improve, whilst everypony else was just exercising in general. Upon her return, she was immediately greeted by her roommates.

“Are you alright?” Dahlia asked, trying to resist hugging Dash. “You took such a beating. I’m surprised you can still walk, yet alone fly.”

“Yeah I’m fine,” Dash shrugged off, “You should’ve seen Thunder though.”

“I saw this guy pummel her,” Dahlia replied, laughing as she lightly tapped Torque on the shoulder. “Bitch deserves it for the way she’s treating you.”

“Yeah, what’s up with that anyway Dash? What did Spitfire say?” Comet questioned.

“She didn’t say much, she just said that we were both on our final straw,” Dash answered, shrugging and remembering what Spitfire had told her, “So hopefully, no more fighting.”

“You’re getting the blame despite the fact that Thunder instigates the attack every time? That’s no fair at all…” Bright Skies deduced.

“They’re working it out based on witness reports, so they can’t be a hundred percent sure. So they just share the blame to discourage everypony from doing it again I guess,” Comet deduced the best he could, although he wasn’t quite sure of the process either.

“That...sort of makes sense I guess…” Dahlia replied in agreement, rubbing her chin with her hoof.

“THAT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE TRAINING TO ME! NOW DOUBLE-TIME IT!” Rapidfire’s voice suddenly bellowed, making them flinch and stop their conversation.

Dash immediately took to some free weights to occupy herself and make it look like she was doing what Rapidfire wanted. She had become so used to the exercise rituals of the Wonderbolts, she could almost do it in her sleep. Although it gave her mind time to wander.

She knew that she would have to confront Thunder Flash at some point soon. But how would she even approach the subject? Thunder was going at her like somepony had put a price on her head. Whilst she could attack at any point, she was selective about her opportunities. So it wasn’t mindless...did she have some sort of point to prove?

Nevertheless, as Spitfire said, the injuries she sustained would put her off fighting for a little while. But not substantial enough to cause her to quit. That coupled with the fact that she was also on her last straw meant that she would probably think twice before throwing a punch. Spitfire’s suggestion was a good one, but the opportunity would only be around for a short while. Dash would have to act quickly...

Chapter 19

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Rainbow Dash splashed some water over her face in the bathroom, freshening herself up a bit after her day of training. She wasn’t going for a full shower, as she intended to go to the gym in a little while. But she wanted to at least make her face feel a little better. She took a look at herself in the mirror. She was still a little bruised from her fight with Thunder Flash, but they seemed to be healing alright. Better than Thunder Flash was doing for sure.

She thought deeper about the incident as she left the bathroom into her room, her flight suit over her shoulders. She looked around at everypony else in her room. There wasn’t much conversation, nor was anypony else looking at her. Looks like it would be a quiet evening.

She threw her suit over her bed, intending to wash it later. She sat on the end of her bed and sighed. It had been three days since her fight with Thunder Flash. She was yet to take action on Spitfire’s words of advice. She had been mulling over what to do in her head, but she decided that she would do it when an opportunity presented itself rather than try and force it. But she was running out of time…

Her thoughts were interrupted as she started hearing hoofsteps walking up from outside the door. The hoofsteps were enough to make everypony freeze in place, as they knew what it meant. The Wonderbolts has introduced a new tactic to breaking bad news to anypony to receive it. Instead of passively leaving a note, they knocked on the doors and told ponies that they were out. And the hoofsteps passing up the door always made everypony on edge as they echoed throughout the room. It was almost as if they were deliberately thumping the ground to make their hoofsteps echo. And the two empty beds at the front of the room only made it more terrifying.

“Rain Frost...pack your bags, you’re out!” A voice bellowed from down the hall. A voice that was easily identifiable now as Rapidfire’s. He sure loved using that voice of his. Ponies weren’t even sure if that rasp was natural or if his voice was just strained from shouting all the time. Or if he was even aware he was only addressing a single room, not the entire hallway...

The hoofsteps continued, the clink noise slowly getting louder and louder as they made their way up. Everypony remained frozen on the spot as they approached the front of their door...and then relaxed as they walked past.

Dash flopped down on her bed as she heard somepony else further along the corridor than them receive the bad news. As much as she felt sorry for that pony, it was better them than her…

Now that that was over and done with, Dash could finally head to the gym. She slowly left out the door without saying a word to anypony and headed there. Normally she would ask if anypony wanted to join her, but she didn’t this time around in case she decided to...alter her course on her way back.

As she entered the gym, she briefly scanned her eyes around her. There was less than half a dozen ponies in there, and the lights had been flicked on since the sun was going down. She smiled, knowing that she more or less had the place to herself. Or maybe it was because there was just less ponies here in general than before…

She stopped in place as she noticed somepony in particular on one of the treadmills. Thunder Flash. Dash was even shocked to see her here. She’d barely been scraping through in practice. She was pretty sure she was getting sympathy points for the beating she took from Torque though. She was on a treadmill, on a very low setting, cringing with every step she took. Dash couldn’t be certain, but it was almost as if she wanted to give off the appearance that she was fine.

Dash looked around. Spitfire’s words were coming back to her again. She wanted to act, but she just seemed to be putting it off. Dash could tell that it was going to be a sore subject. Most of the reason she was avoiding it. On the other hoof, she was obviously in no state to fight back. Maybe this could work out better for her. Nevertheless, she had to do it sometime. And now seemed a good a time as any.

Dash sighed again and slowly trotted over to Thunder, trying to deliberately approach in a way that wouldn’t look like she was sneaking up on her. She came in from the side, stopping outside of a hoof throws distance from her. “Hey,” She started nonchalantly.

Thunder simply rolled her eyes and looked away. Not the reaction Dash was expecting, but better than what she had in mine nonetheless. Although that didn’t mean it was gonna be easy.

“Listen Thunder...we’ve gotta talk,” She began, “I don’t know what your problem with me is, but I want it to stop. I’ve never known you, so I guess I’m just curious what I did to make you like this.”

Once again, she got no response. Dash furrowed her brow as her next move jumped into her head. She had to progress this conversation one way or another.

She stepped forward and quickly jabbed the stop button on the treadmill.

“Hey, I was using that!” Thunder blurted at her, her pace slowly dying down with the treadmill.

“You don’t need to keep hurting yourself like that just to prove you’re invincible. It’s plain your hurting, everypony can see you cringing with a tear in your eyes every time you pick up the pace.”

As the treadmill came to a stop, Thunder realised that she had no way out of this one. “What do you want?” She spat.

“I want us to stop fighting. Just tell me what you want from me and I’ll see what I can do to help,” Dash explained.

Thunder stepped backwards off the treadmill, “You think you can suddenly make things right just by saying a few words?” She turned around, “You’re even more deluded than I thought. For starters, you’re not even a Wonderbolt yet. Your words hold no bearing on anything. Second of all--eep.”

Thunder suddenly took a step back, eyes wide and whimpering. Dash looked over her shoulder to see Torque approaching, and smiled as she realised the extent of Thunder’s reaction. She held her hoof up for Torque to hoofbump as he approached, but he ignored her. Not even making eye contact with her.

He appeared to be walking somewhere else, but stopped in his tracks next to Thunder, turning his head to look at her. He remained silent for a few seconds before suddenly lurching his head forward and growling loudly. Thunder jumped backwards and let out a loud yelp. Torque simply continued walking, going back to whatever he was doing.

Dash’s cheeks puffed out as she tried her best to hold back a laugh. Torque had her cowering and whimpering like a puppy being scolded by its owner. The role reversal was absolute comedy gold. But she could laugh about it later. She had important things to discuss with Thunder, and she may be less willing if she humiliated her further.

“You were saying?” Dash spoke up to restart the conversation.

Thunder cleared her throat and stood back up. She looked like she was about to retort with something snarky, but when her mouth opened, no words came out. She held her mouth open for a few seconds before she let out a frustrated sigh and banged one of her hind hooves on the floor. “Fine. You win.” She snapped and sat down in place. “Interrogate away.”

“W-what?” Dash wasn’t expecting her to suddenly submit like that, “O-okay...how about telling me what I did to you to make you so mad at me?”

“You didn’t do anything to me...but you ruined the life of someone very dear to me..." She began explaining, “All my sister ever wanted was to be a Wonderbolt. She worked and trained so hard to get her chance, ever since she was a little filly. She had a dream. A dream that burned brightly. And when she finally got her chance, YOU took it away from her!” She pointed her hoof at Dash. “She was simply being the best she could be. Doing nothing wrong. But you twisted the system to turn it against her to get her removed from the Wonderbolts Academy. It’s your fault, Rainbow Dash.”

As Thunder spoke the words, the memories started piecing themselves together in Dash’s mind. “Wait, so your sister is--”

“Lightning Dust.” Thunder finished her sentence.

Dash was beginning to understand Thunder’s bitterness towards her. But it didn’t explain why she practically wanted her dead. “What did she say to you?”

“When I found her, she told me everything. Everything about you and the way you turned the Wonderbolts against her.” Thunder explained.

“Oh come on, it was nothing like tha--...Wait, what do you mean found her?” Dash asked, her thoughts catching up with her brain. Past experiences, reading sessions with Twilight, and some of the challenges here all combined to teach her the importance of looking for specific words.

“That day, whatever day it was, when she was kicked from the Wonderbolts Academy...she never came home.”

That explanation hit Dash deep. She knew that Lightning Dust was obviously upset at the decision, but she never know it would cause her to essentially run away and vanish into thin air. But it did beg the question…

“It wasn’t until I started getting my letters to her sent back to me in the mail telling us that she was no longer at the Wonderbolt Academy. Me and Mom gave it a while before realising that she wasn’t coming back anytime soon. We tried to get the police to help us search, but they wouldn’t do anything. One of them even told Mom ‘She’s a big girl now, I’m sure she can look after herself’.” She said whilst mimicking the voice of the pony.

Dash felt her face cringing as Thunder told her the story. She had no idea that she caused this much heartbreak. It was being made worse by the fact that she was actively beginning to feel guilty about it, despite the incident being way behind her.

“It wasn’t until I found her one day, in Las Pegasus. Sleeping rough. She didn’t even want to see me. She was too ashamed of what she’d become. But she eventually spilled the beans and told me everything you did to her. And then she told me to go away. She wanted to be left alone. She felt humiliated just talking to me. Her own sister. And it’s ALL. YOUR. FAULT.” She pointed her hoof at Dash, waving it back at her each time on her final three words.

Dash was completely lost for words. As much as she wanted to clarify a few things with the version of events Lightning Dust had told Thunder from her point of view, she could tell that being such a sensitive topic, it wouldn’t go down well. She needed to work with Thunder on this, not against her. “T-Thunder...I…” Although that didn’t help her pick out words.

“I came along because I thought I could win this competition and become a Wonderbolt myself. Then I could use my rank to give Lightning another chance to get back in. But when I saw you, I knew that it would be a tougher task than I first thought. I tried to do whatever I could do to see if I could get you kicked out. But that’s not gone very well…”

Dash remained silent for a moment, letting all the talk settle in before she formulated a response. Although she was still speechless from what she was hearing. But she had to say something… “Listen...I’m sorry I put your family and Lightning Dust through that--”

“Gee thanks,” Thunder interrupted sarcastically, crossing her arms.

Dash continued unhindered, “And I know you’re gonna struggle to believe me right now, but for the record, I just wanted to tell you that I didn’t use any underhoof tricks or bending of rules to get her kicked out. The ‘Bolts did that on their own. I played no part of it.” She explained, partially lying, but she believed it was the only way to get Thunder listening to her. “I want to make this right. Whether I end up becoming a Wonderbolt or not, I’ll help you find Lighting Dust and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it up to her. But until then, neither of us will be Wonderbolts if we continue the way we’re going now. Spitfire put me on my final warning. We can’t keep fighting over the same goal. We’re on the same side Thunder Flash. And you have my word as the Element of Loyalty that I won’t try and pull any funny tricks like you think I played on your sister on you. That same word goes for me helping you to help your sister.”

Dash held her hoof out to Thunder Flash, hoping that she would accept it.

Thunder thought for several moments, looking away from Dash. “It’s true...you are the Element of Loyalty.” She looked up at Dash, “And Spitfire put me on my final warning as well. Guess we’re both in the same boat...Alright, I agree with you. I’ll be..cordial until we both get out. But if we both lose, you’re all game, Dash.” As she finished her last sentence, she bought her hoof up to meet Dash’s and gave it a firm shake.

Once they finished shaking hooves, Dash let out a relieved sigh. “I still feel terrible, but I’m glad we got that squared away.”

“Yeah, it’s one thing off your plate at least. Your ass is grass if you’re caught smooching your boyfriend though.” Thunder replied.

Dash froze and her eyes flopped down as she heard Thunder mention that word. “Wh-what? H-how did you--”

“You slide under the nose of everypony else Dash, but not me. But I guess now we’re on even terms for the time being, I can stop stalking you now.” Thunder shrugged as she spoke her last sentence.

Dash felt her face turning red as she spoke, “S-shut up!” She blurted back at her.

“Relax, I won’t tell anypony. Besides, those bed springs squeak so much I won’t have to anyway.” Thunder teased.

“H-Hey, we weren’t doing that!” Dash retorted, not expecting the conversation to swing this way at all.

“Sure, whatever you say,” Thunder replied, rolling her eyes. “Like I said, so long as you keep up your end of the deal, I ain’t telling anypony. And now I got nothing to prove, I’m going to rest.” She walked past Dash, not saying anything more. But she could feel Dash’s eyes glaring at her from behind. She paused and looked behind her. “But I still want to make one thing clear. My sister is living as if she’s in exile, and I still blame you Rainbow Dash. You better hold up your end of the deal, otherwise we’re gonna fight again. And next time, you won’t have your personal bodyguard to come to the rescue.” She said her final words then continued walking.

Dash sighed and looked straight ahead again. “That would be a mistake…” She whispered to herself. She looked up at the gym equipment, the primary reason she came here. But after all that, she didn’t feel like exercising at all. She felt so tense, so on edge. All she wanted to do was relax. And considering she wasn’t far from the hot tubs in the pool area, it suddenly seemed like a very attractive idea.

Her hooves slowly started trotting towards the door on their own accord without much input from her brain, and before she knew it, she was walking through the door to the pool room. Her eyes scanning over the area, she quickly realised that she was the only pony in there. Much better for her.

She made her way over to one of the hot tubs sectioned off away from the pool. She pulled a lever and it started whirring into life. The gentle hum of a machine buried deep under the floor somewhere and the sound of flowing water met her ears.

She gently lowered her hooves in, sighing as the warm water that was only getting warmer made contact with her fur as she lowered herself further in. Eventually, she was up to her neck and closed her eyes. Putting herself in the perfect relaxed space for her to think things over.

Was this agreement she made with Thunder Flash add more weight on her shoulders to alleviate the load? At least it meant that there would hopefully be no more spats between the two of them. But she had effectively signed herself to making up with Lightning Dust. She hadn’t seen her since that fateful day, but it sounded like they weren’t going to simply shake hooves and make amends. Had she just sealed her own fate? And even if she were to become a Wonderbolt, would she even be able to use her rank to pull any favours for Lightning Dust, considering what she did?

Dash gritted her teeth, realising she may not be able to keep certain promises she made. Nevertheless, she was put in a tough spot, and this was the only way out of it. And breaking promises wouldn’t exactly hold her true to her Element of Loyalty title. It seemed like regardless of the outcome, she was gonna be in for a tough time either way…

Her thoughts were interrupted as she heard hoofsteps coming towards her. She didn’t even hear the door open, her mind must have been really far away from the rest of the world. She opened her eyes to see who had come to see her, and she was pleasantly surprised. “Soarin?”

“Fancy seeing you here,” Soarin replied, in his usual tone. Dash couldn’t tell whether he was being sarcastic, or whether their meeting genuinely was coincidental.

Soarin slowly slid into the water alongside Dash, but unexpectedly, he didn’t get any feedback from her. She didn’t even look at him. “Dash?”

“Hm, what?” Dash quickly snapped back to reality after noticing that his voice was much closer than it was a second ago.

Soarin chucked, “In another world there Dashie?”

Dash shook her head, “It’s nothing, I was just...thinking...about something…”

Soarin waited, expecting her to expand on her answer. But she once again just went silent. “Nothing I can help with is it?” He asked.

Dash sighed, “I dunno. I’ve just been talking to Thunder Flash. She finally revealed everything...Her sister is Lightning Dust, the pony that caused all the damage when I was in the Wonderbolts Academy.”

“Oh, you finally worked that one out?” Soarin picked up.

“Yeah I--Wait,” Dash finally looked over at Soarin, “You know about it all along?”

“Yeah, I did. But I wasn’t allowed to say anything. My hooves were tied,” Soarin replied, shrugging. But noticed Dash’s eyes narrowing at him. “But you did a pretty good job in figuring it out without my help anyway it seems.”

“Yeah, but it would’ve been useful to know BEFOREhoof. So I could’ve handled it better,” Dash clarified, sounding a little angry at Soarin.

“Hey, when you join the ‘Bolts, beforehoof is a word from a different language to some ponies. You’ll get better at managing it over time.”

“...I guess…” Dash thought for a moment before she responded, then sighed and let herself submerge down to her chin in the water.

“Besides,” Soarin smirked, “Don’t try and use it as an excuse for losing the fight against her--OW!” He was surprised how much an underwater jab could hurt.

“Jerk,” Dash semi-sarcastically replied.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Soarin teased, splashing water in her face. To his surprise, she didn’t show any further reaction. “Seriously though, what’s up Dashie? I thought you had it all figured out.”

“I did,” Dash replied, “But then I stupidly put myself in an unwinnable situation,” She replied with a groan, slowly sinking her head into the water until her groaning was replaced by bubbles rising to the surface.

Soarin raised an eyebrow, then slipped a wing behind her and pulled her closer to him, letting her rest on his body. Her head reappeared on the surface as he did this, her mane now dropping down over her eyes. “Unwinnable scenarios? I’m pretty good at those. Tell me about it.” He requested, resting a hoof on her head.

Dash thought about the best way to explain it for a moment before she began talking. “I finally got Thunder Flash to tell me why she's been trying to practically kill me all the time. As you already knew, she’s the sister to Lightning Dust. She blames me for Lightning Dust never coming home and basically exiling herself into homelessness.”

“That would make sense I guess. Did Lightning Dust really take it that hard? I thought we handled it pretty well when we dismissed her.” Soarin questioned.

“Yeah. So as a compromise to stop Thunder interfering with me during the tests, I promised to help her find Lightning Dust and set things right, regardless of whether I become a Wonderbolt or not. Problem is...I don’t think I can do that.” She admitted.

“Do what? Find Lightning Dust?” Soarin asked.

“Nah, finding her is the easy part. The setting things right bit is the hard part. I doubt she’ll just drop everything and forgive me. Plus I could only influence…” She noticed the rubbing pattern on her head had been repeating itself for quite some time. “Are you...petting me?” She asked, glaring up at up.

“What? Nooooo, nonono...okay, maybe a little.” He admitted, rubbing the back of his head with his other hoof as Dash huffed and started to blush. “You were sad and pouty. It was too cute an opportunity to pass up.” He continued, moving his hoof off her mane and down to his side.

Dash sighed and picked herself up, resting her head on his shoulder as she continued the story. “Anyway, I would only have an influence if I managed to become a Wonderbolt. Maybe I could have a say if we wanted to give her another shot. But that’s only if I get one of the spots. If I don’t, I’m basically just going to find her and apologise. But something tells me she won’t accept my apology. And unless I can do something, Thunder will probably never let me live it down…”

Soarin took a moment to think over her explanation. “...Huh. That is a tough one. What were your exact words to her when you made this agreement?” He asked.

“I said ‘Whether I end up becoming a Wonderbolt or not, I’ll help you find Lighting Dust and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it up to her.’” Dash recalled.

“Damn, you kinda worded that poorly,” Soarin analysed, “ ‘Whatever it takes’ could be anything. Especially if she's as uncooperative as you think she’ll be…”

“I know. That’s the problem,” Dash added.

“Buuuut...I do kinda have an idea…” Soarin began, causing Dash’s ears to perk up. “And it’s not really a good one, but it’s an idea.”

“I’ll take anything right now,” Dash replied.

“Alright, well...My thought was that at the end of the day, you can’t directly force her to apologise. You can try, and I’m sure you’ll try hard, but you can’t simply force her to change her thoughts and feelings. All three of you are ponies with your own emotions, and I’m sure even Thunder will understand that. She won’t be expecting you to suddenly bow down and hang on Lightning Dust’s every word. As long as you try, that’s all you can do. And you can walk away having held up your part of the deal. I know it isn’t exactly how you want it to end, but...that’s the only thing I can think of.”

Dash thought over Soarin’s idea. He was right, it would leave a bitter taste in everypony’s mouth. Thunder Flash had compromised on something with her in anticipation of results at the end. If Dash couldn’t deliver, it didn’t reflect well on her. But Soarin was right. There was only so much she could do. If Lightning Dust was going to be stubborn, then she wasn’t exactly a miracle worker…

“I guess you have a point...but that’s more of a backup plan than an idea.” Dash commented on his ‘idea’.

“Well I don’t see you coming up with any better ideas,” Soarin replied in a semi-snarky tone.

Dash looked up and pouted at him, then smirked. “Brave words for somepony with his hoof on my flank.”

“No it isn’t,” Soarin quickly responded.

Dash noticed that before he’d even finished responding, she felt the thing touching her flank suddenly stop. She shook her head whilst still looking at him, “Yes it was.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Yes it was.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Yes it was.”

“No it wasn’t.”

Dash suddenly backed away from him and stood up in the tub. She looked over at the entrance to make sure there was nopony around and the door was still closed. After confirming that, she looked back at Soarin with the same smirk, a slight blush forming over her face as she thought over her idea. “Yes it was.”

“No it--”

Dash placed a hoof on his lips, stopping him mid-sentence. She lowered herself back into the water, letting her body hover over the top of Soarin. “But that doesn’t mean I didn’t mind…”

This time it was Soarin’s turn to blush. Dash giggled as she watched his face turn red. She looked up at the door again just to confirm that they were definitely still alone, then slowly moved her face towards Soarin’s until their lips touched.

She closed her eyes and savoured the moment, feeling Soarin’s forelegs around her back embracing her. She had been waiting for a moment like this for a while, and considering everything that just happened, his embrace was nothing short of therapeutic for her. She finished the kiss by resting her head on his shoulder and rubbing the side of her head against his.

Soarin chuckled, “You weigh nothing suspended in water,” He commented and followed up by letting himself slip off the seat and glide into the middle of the tub on his back. Dash laid on top of him, but he let go of her, letting her float naturally on the top of him. But he wasn’t quite buoyant enough to float the weight of both of them, and his head dipped underwater. He quickly moved himself upright, placing both of them upright.

Dash brushed her mane out of the way as the water was making it droop over her eyes. “I would’ve thought I weighed nothing to begin with,” She replied, sticking her tongue out at him.

“I’m serious. Try and lift me,” He suggested, raising his forelegs to give her something to grab.

Dash shrugged and simply placed her forehooves on his side and gently tried to raise him a few inches. To her surprise, he was right. She could still feel some weight, but it was as if something was helping her lift him. “Woah. Never noticed that,” She agreed.

“Cool huh?” Soarin replied as she put him down. He looked over at the door again before looking back at her. “But we should probably get going soon. Don’t want anypony finding us like this.”

As much as she wanted to stay a little longer, Dash was forced to agree with him. “Yeah, good idea…” As she thought about it, she realised that she had forgotten something rather important. “Uh...did you bring a towel? Because I didn’t…”

Soarin pointed with his wing over towards the wall, where a towel was lying on the floor. Dash presumed he dropped it off over there before he snuck up on her. “And yes, you can borrow it,” He confirmed before she even had to ask.

Dash sighed and she stepped out of the water. “I’ll try not to make it too wet,” She said, walking towards it.

“Don’t worry about that, I’ll be fine,” Soarin replied, following her and pulling the lever to turn the machine off as he stepped out.

She looked over her shoulder back at him, “But how will you--”

He answered her question before she even had to ask, shaking the water off himself and splashing Dash a bit in the process. Dash couldn’t help herself to giggle a little as his mane spiked up slightly from the action.

“Yeah it can do that,” Soarin commented, flattening it down with his hoof.

“You should wear it like that sometime,” Dash joked, picking up the towel and wrapping it around her shoulders.

“I do sometimes, although not intentionally,” Soarin joked back, laughing. He noticed that Dash had just finished drying her mane and was straightening it out with her hooves. “And yours looks...no different. If anything a little neater,” he continued to jest.

“Wow, rude,” Dash replied, knowing that he was joking. Causing them both to chuckle a little. She started drying her body, but noticed Soarin was still staring at her. “Uh, Soarin, would you mind maybe...turning around?” She asked politely. For a moment, she was convinced that she sounded like Fluttershy.

Soarin raised an eyebrow, “What?”

“You’re making me feel nervous drying off in front of you…” She admitted, blushing.

“Don’t you do it all the time in the locker rooms?” Soarin continued to question.

“Yeah, but...it’s all mares in there…” She replied.

“...Oh I get it, you think I’m gonna start eyeing you up as you rub the towel over your body. Gee, you could’ve just said,” Soarin rolled his eyes and spun around on his hooves to face the exact opposite direction. “Is this okay?”

“Perfect,” Dash replied, feeling a lot more comfortable now and continued drying herself off.

“It’s not like you haven’t seen me doing it before,” Soarin teased her, whilst keeping an eye on the door.

“Yeah but you’re a stallion, it’s different,” Dash replied.

“But it’s the same concept, we’re still just as exposed. Speaking of which, we don’t exactly wear clothes all the time like some elite moneybag living in Canterlot, so it’s not like you’ve got anything to hide,” He explained.

Annoyingly, his logic was overcoming Dash’s current thinking speed, as her mind was still preoccupied with thoughts about what to do with Thunder Flash. After she finished drying, she simply chucked the towel in Soarin’s direction, making it land on his back. “I guess you’re right…” She reluctantly agreed.

“Of course I am. I mean, come on, can you honestly say you don’t enjoy the view from time to time?” He asked, bending his body from side to side and lifting one of his forelegs up so he could flex his muscles.

Dash’s cheeks burned bright red and her ears flattened as she...watched...she remained silent, trying to formulate an answer. But it was hard to find one. Because if she was being honest...she didn’t mind… “I-I guess...maybe?” She tired to remain as neutral as she could, but the sight in front of her was a bit...distracting…

“See, you can’t deny it,” Soarin said with a chuckle, walking next to her and hugging her with his wing.

“I guess I can’t,” Dash reluctantly admitted with a smile as they walked towards the door together. “Thanks for being here Soarin. I really needed somepony to talk to about what to do.”

“No problem Dash, you know I’m always here for you. And it’s been a while since we’ve gotten some decent...alone time…” Soarin responded.

“It has...but hopefully we can do it more often soon. Seeing as I’m gonna be a Wonderbolt before you know it,” She said confidently, looking up at him.

“That’s the spirit,” Soarin replied, “Now you better get going. We shouldn’t leave together, it’ll look suspicious. You go on, I’ll leave a little while later,” He suggested.

“Good idea,” Dash agreed, “Guess I’ll see you another time.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Soarin replied. “I love you, Dashie.”

“Love you too, Soarin,” Dash replied with a smile. Sharing those words together always made her feel warmer inside. She raised her head and gave him a quick kiss on the lips before pushing the door open.

She made sure it swung closed before she started walking away back to her room, with a lot to think about as she was walking. At least she now had a contingency plan in place if she couldn’t figure anything else out, but at least it was something. But it didn’t exactly leave a good taste in her mouth. Nor did it hold true to her title of Element of Loyalty. It sounded like she would have to do some more digging on his another time...

Chapter 20

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Dash held her position in the march, systematically landing each hoof with a little bit of extra force as she made her way down the runway. The weather was particularly chilly today, but she wasn’t going to let that make her shiver or shake. She had to maintain her composure. Although she was starting to feel tired from the tests she had today, she was still ready to go. Every ounce of her being told her to just take it for now. She was so close, she couldn’t afford a screw up.

Tomorrow would mark the final day of this stage of the trials. Anypony who passed would proceed to the final stage, where the top three would officially become Wonderbolts. And she was not about to let a little tiredness let her drop that opportunity.

She didn’t know exactly how many pegasi were left, but there was definitely nowhere near as many. Her guess would be somewhere near a hundred, if not less. If they had made it this far, they had obviously proven that they weren’t just a typical pegasus. They had some skills under their wings. Dash had to keep reminding herself that she may not quite have the edge over some of these guys that she liked to think she had before.

“Squad halt!” Rapidfire’s voice boomed as the suddenly came to a stop in front of the HQ runway entrance, a few hooves screeching on the tarmac.

“ATTENTION!” Rapidfire bellowed again.

Dash immediately stood upright into the position of attention. Hooves together, back straight, head up, eyes locked. She froze in the position and held it as if her life depended on it, remaining still until she received another order.

“At ease,” Rapidfire ordered, in a still-loud voice, but at a level that didn’t make everypony’s eardrums rattle.

Dash exhaled slightly and spread her hooves apart to a more comfortable standing position.

“That doesn’t mean fall asleep!” Rapidfire suddenly bellowed again at them.

Dash held her head up and her ears pointed in his direction. Her eyes remained focused on Rapidfire.

He cleared his throat before he spoke. “So, as I’m sure you’re aware, tomorrow is the final day of this stage of the trials. Tomorrow will be a pass or fail situation. Those of you that pass will join us for the final stage, and be competing for the big prize. So from now on, there will be no more training that you will receive from us. It will be all drills and tests from here on out. We’ve given you what we think is the minimum knowledge you require, it’s now up to you to build on those skills. So make sure you’re ready for a trial by fire. Literal fire in some cases. Dismissed.”

Everypony broke formation on Rapidfire’s final word. She sighed and unzipped the head part of her flight suit as she started walking towards the changing rooms.

“Literal fire?” Bright Skies asked as she appeared beside her.

“Nah, they’re probably just trying to scare us I bet,” Riptide replied, appearing alongside and draping his wing over Dahlia, “Although I’ll be there for you when you need saving Dahlly.”

Dahlia shooed his wing away with her own, “In your dreams. I’ll probably be the one saving you.”

Dash chuckled at the exchange. The banter was coming along almost second nature to them now.

She left her flight suit aside in the changing rooms before getting under a shower. She was contemplating skipping the shower, as she was about to go and do some extra training. But she knew she made the right choice as soon as the refreshing feeling of the water washed over her, cleaning her body of the accumulated sweat that’s built up over the course of the day. It may have been cold, but she was working hard.

She took her towel and started walking back to her room. “Dash,” Her name being called behind her in the corridor made her stop and turn.

She saw Thunder Flash not far behind her. It had been weeks since they had their discussion, but she hadn’t really spoken to her since. Apart from the occasional remark. “Hey Thunder, what’s up?” She opened casually, trying to do anything to avoid confrontation at this point. They were on their last warning, and didn’t want to do anything to upset that.

“So, we’ve made it this far it seems,” Thunder began.

“Y-yeah…” Dash agreed, but was confused. Thunder appeared to be...friendly with her?

“If we both make it through to the final stage, we’ll both be directly competing. Whilst I won’t forget the promises we made to each other, I won’t forget the competition, and I won’t hesitate to go against you should I have too.”

“Hey, same here. I expect nothing but your best,” Dash replied with a smile. Whilst she was hoping that it would’ve been a given, Thunder probably just felt it would be best to clarify it before it started. But was wasn’t expecting Thunder to be this...sporting about it. “And I hope your injuries are healed enough to give your best.”

“Eh, after the break, I’ll be fine,” Thunder replied, thumping her chest a few times. “See ya in the sky Dash…” She said and waved as she started walking away.

“See ya…” Dash replied, turning to go back to her room. That conversation was...actually rather polite. Not something she was expecting at all from Thunder Flash. Maybe she really meant that she would try and be friendly back when they made their promises to each other. Maybe she was being genuine. Dash had always presumed that she was faking it.

Only Comet and Torque had beaten her back to their room thus far. She laid her flight suit out on her bed to examine it. But then she managed to remember a key detail Rapidfire told them. “Oh yeah, no more inspections,” She said out loud, throwing her suit up in the air as she remembered.

“Thank God for that,” Comet replied, leaving his over the end of his bed.

Dahlia walked through the door, with Bright Skies and Riptide behind her. “So who’s excited?” Dahlia asked.

“You bet I am,” Bright Skies replied with confidence, “I feel so ready for this.”

“I can tell. You were so timid when we first met, but you sound as confident as anypony now.” Dahlia commented

“Eh,” Bright Skies blushed a little, “Only around you guys. I’m no Rainbow Dash,” She compared, pointing at Dash.

“Heh, I try,” Dash replied with a smile.

“It’s great to see that we’re all confident. Almost makes me sad that I’ll have to beat all of you in the final stage,” Riptide commented, laying down on his bed.

“YOU beat ME?” Dahlia replied, “Is it always opposite day in your head?”

Riptide shrugged, “Never tried role reversal, we can try it sometime babe,” He replied, winking. Causing a few snickers from some of his roommates.

“Sorry, but you walked straight into that one,” Dash commented.

“Yeah, I seem to have a good habit of doing that…” Dahlia replied, scratching her head.

“I guess all we can say is; may the best pegasus win,” Comet added to the conversation, “Although we could still all technically get through the next round.”

“Yeah, that’s something at least,” Dash replied, but Comet’s words also gave her an idea. “I was gonna go to the gym tonight anyway to prepare for tomorrow. How about we all go? See if anypony can keep up with their trash-talk.” She glared at Riptide with a smile, her last comment specifically aimed at him.

“That’s a good shout,” Comet replied, standing up from his bed. “Not exactly much we can teach each other in the collective few weeks we’ve been here for though.”

“Ugh, I just finished training for today though,” Riptide moaned.

“You’ll regret it when you leave tomorrow then,” Dahlia replied.

“Oh come on,” Riptide sat up, seeing everypony bar Torque looking at him. “Ugh, fine. Haven’t I proved that I’m better than you in the times before though?”

“Absolutely not.”

Riptide chuckled and rolled his eyes at the concise answers he got from Comet, Bright Skies, Dash and Dahlia respectively.

“I think a last-minute shakedown just before the big day is a great idea too. Count me in,” Dahlia agreed.

“I consider myself the weakest pony in here, so a comparison would be nice. I’m in,” Bright Skies also agreed.

“How about you, tough guy?” Dahlia directed at Torque, who had remained quiet this whole time.

He just appeared to be laying on his bed, one forehoof behind his head with another supporting the newspaper he was reading. The front cover had something about the political situation in the Griffin Kingdom written on it. “...I guess.” He quietly spoke up.

“All right,” Dahlia punched the air, “Let’s get going. If everypony else is eating, it’s probably dead in the gym. Meaning we can have the place to ourselves and eat later.”

“But I’m hungry…” Riptide whined, reluctantly getting himself up onto his hooves.

“Just think of the even bigger appetite you’ll have afterwards,” Dahlia replied, trotting towards the door, “Besides, it almost sounds like your going back on word that you could beat me. Chickening out?” She teased.

“Alright, alright, I’m coming,” Riptide agreed, walking alongside Dahlia.

Dash chuckled as she followed suit. If anything, the exchanges they had in their room made her more excited for tomorrow.

They walked as a group through the corridors, noticing that everypony else was heading to the canteen for their dinner. Further proving Dahlia’s point. She had it confirmed when they reached the gym and found that nopony was there.

“Wow. When I said nopony will be here, I didn’t think literally…” Dahlia said as they walked in, “It’s almost spooky…”

“Well, what we gonna do to warm up?” Dash asked, stretching her hind legs and loosening her wings by stretching them and flapping a few times.

“I say we do what we like, then meet in fifteen for some contests,” Dahlia suggested, “I’m gonna have a gentle run though. You’re welcome to join me.”

“If we’re having contests, how about a little boxing Torque-O?” Riptide suggested, pretending to punch Torque in the shoulder, “Afraid of these guns?” He added, flexing his muscles besides Torque.

“Pffft,” Torque rolled his eyes and said nothing more. He just continued to walk.

“Oh c’mon,” Riptide moaned, following him, “I promise I’ll go easy on you…”

Dash chuckled as Torque simply continued to walk away, heading towards the door to the pool. As annoying as she found Riptide’s gloating, it was amusing when she saw him harassing somepony else. He didn’t even seem to attempt to respond to Riptide. Chances are Riptide would join him anyway. Whether Torque wanted him too or not.

Her attention was drawn by a tap on her shoulder, making her turn her head and look over at Comet. “Wanna cat and mouse it on the track for a few minutes?”

Dash smirked in response, “Now that’s my kind of warmup!” She replied, opening her wings...although she knew that between him and her, it would probably turn from a simple warm up exercise into a full-blown no holds barred race.

“I know how this is gonna go, so let’s make this simple. We do a couple laps, say, ten, and whoever's in the lead at the finish line wins.” Comet suggested.

“Works for me,” Dash replied, “Now race ya to the track!” She suddenly took flight and bolted it towards the outside facing door of the gym.

“Hey,” Comet replied, hastily following her.

Bright Skies looked around, seeing everypony had already made their own ways. But she saw Dahlia on a gentle jog on one of the treadmills. “...I...guess I’ll go join Dahlia…” She said to herself, not knowing what else to do as she trotted over.

Dash rounded the final corner of the final lap. She knew Comet would practically be chewing on her tail, so she didn’t even try to look back. She just closed her eyes and pumped all she could into her wings.

Her flew in as much of a perfectly straight line as she could and counted down in her head towards the finish line. She didn’t open her eyes, she just wanted to concentrate on flying as fast as she could. She could feel herself flying faster than she would’ve done back weeks ago when she just started. Perhaps all this brutal training was paying off…


She opened her eyes, and the finish line came and went in the bottom of her vision. She had timed it perfectly. “Yeah!” She yelled as she pulled up sharply and looped around. “Better luck next time Comet,” She said as she caught her breath, hovering down to the cloud.

“I don’t...think so…” Comet replied, landing next to her. He sounded way more out of breath than her. “You were fast...to start with...but...now it’s like...you’ve been shot out of a cannon…”

Dash chuckled, “So much for a warmup exercise…” She joked. They both knew exactly how this was gonna turn out before she started anyway. “And I’m pretty sure I won.”

“I beg to differ. I was a hoof in front of you at the finish,” Comet objected.

“No, I swear I was in front of you,” Dash responded. Although she couldn’t exactly prove her point since she had her eyes closed...but…

Comet chuckled, “As you said, so much for a friendly warmup exercise.”

Dash scoffed and shrugged, “Guess we’ll call it a draw for now,” She replied, turning to go back into the gym.

“I guess,” Comet agreed, following her, “But the way you pick up speed is insane though. I’ll admit, it takes all of my strength to keep up.”

“But the way you go through turns is what amazes me,” Dash replied, “You’re like you’re on rails, like a rollercoaster. At that left downwards turn on the fifth lap, you just flew underneath me like it was nothing,” She mimicked the motions with her hooves as she explained it.

As Dash pushed through the door, she noticed Bright Skies and Dahlia just finishing up. She trotted over to meet them, still breathing a little heavier than usual.

“You sound like you got warmed up alright,” Dahlia joked as Dash and Comet approached.

“Yeah, just a little,” Dash jested in response. “Colder in here than it is out there though. Good enough for me.”

As they conversed, the door to the pool room opened and a dead-faced Torque walked out, followed by Riptide. It was funny, Torque didn’t seem to have even kicked up a sweat. Yet Riptide was breathing rather heavily. And Torque seemed to dry off much better than Riptide. Probably because he had a buzz-cut mane compared to Riptide’s, who would probably be tripping over it all the time if it didn’t curl.

As he got closer, he didn’t even appear that wet. And Riptide looked like he was still sort of drip-drying.

“You look fresh. How did you dry yourself that quickly?” Dahlia asked.

“I dried myself,” He responded plainly, in his usual emotionless voice.

Dahlia raised an eyebrow…”Oooo...kayyy…” She didn’t press it too hard, she knew by now that he was a tough one to get multi-word sentences from. “Did you show him the ‘guns’?” She joked at Riptide, noting his breathlessness.

“Yeah, I almost had him,” Riptide replied smoothly before taking another breath. “I’ll give it to him though, he swims like a damn submarine. I’ll let him have that one,” He finished his final sentence giving Torque a tap on the shoulder.

Torque gave a disapproving glance at Riptide then took a step to the side, out of hooves distance.

“So...what first?” Dahlia asked.

“I kinda wanna see how many wing-ups these guys can do after their flying ‘warmup’,” Riptide suggested, pointing with his wing at Comet and Dash. “As many as you can in a minute?”

“Alright, but only if we can see how many pull ups you can do after your swimming ‘warmup’,” Comet replied with a smirk, using the same tone Riptide just used.

“Deal,” Torque interjected without even waiting for Riptide’s opinion. He didn’t look at Riptide, but Riptide’s cheeks puffed out slightly as he held his tongue.

“Let’s do it,” Dash said, lowering herself to the floor and putting her wings to her side.

The others formed a circle on the floor and did the same. “Okay. Three, two, one, go!” Dash counted in, immediately pushing off with her wings.

She was immediately greeted with more resistance than she anticipated. Maybe wearing out her wings on the ‘warmup’ wasn’t such a great idea after all. Although she was able to continue despite the difficulty. Something she was sure she wouldn’t have been able to do back when she first started.

She counted herself as she continued going. Four. Five. Six. And even more surprising, she was able to keep going.

She wasn’t sure if anypony else was keeping track of time as she was, but at least she could remind everypony should she have to. It was weird, there was never any formal training in how to keep track of more than two things at once, but it just seemed to be one of those things she picked up as she went along...must’ve been something they passively taught her, as it most certainly was a skill that would be required.

She counted the final few digits out loud, “Three...two...one…” She strained, letting herself drop onto her belly not long after saying her final word. Everypony else doing the same apart from Torque, who hopped straight back onto his hooves.

She rested for a moment to catch her breath. Whilst she did better than she was expecting, she was still surprised that the race with Comet took so much out of her. “Anypony beat thirty two?” She asked, bringing herself to her hooves.

“Forty Five.” Torque responded plainly.

Dahlia’s mouth was wide open, but she wasn’t sure if it was out of shock of Torque’s answer, or her own breathlessness. “How do you do that?” She gasped as she picked herself up, “I only got twenty nine.”

“Same here,” Riptide added, “I told you he’s like some sort of machine that never stops.”

“Thirty here,” Comet added in his score.

“Umm...nineteen…” Bright Skies reluctantly admitted. Even though that she’d convinced herself that she’d always be the smallest and therefore weakest of the group by now, she was still sort of embarrassed to always come last in most of these types of contests...

Dash looked up at Torque, “How do you even do this? There’s been tons of times I’ve noticed these past few weeks where even when everypony else collapses exhausted, you only just seem to start to break a sweat…”

“Then maybe you should train harder,” Torque shot right back at her.

“Daaaaamn,” Riptide responded before Dash even got a chance, “That’s some fighting words right there.”

Torque immediately looked over at him. “You were saying about the pull ups?” He said sharply, turning around before even waiting for a response from Riptide and began walking towards a wall with some bars suspended on it.

Everypony began to follow him, but Dash was interrupted when a purple wing appeared in front of her. “Have you noticed it?” Dahlia whispered.

“Noticed what?” Dash whispered back, looking over at Dahlia.

“Torque seems a little pissed off about something…” Dahlia suggested.

Dash rolled her eyes, “So? He’s always grumpy,” Dash replied, continuing to walk.

“As in more than usual. I’ve noticed it building up over the past week or two. Something’s definitely up.” Dahlia continued to explain.

Dash gritted her teeth as she held back what she really wanted to say. As much as she agreed with Dahlia, she was pretty sure Torque didn’t want to talk about it. And she’d only recently got on top of one mystery which caused her no end of pain and headaches, she didn’t want to get involved in another. Especially with the final test for stage two approaching. “Okay, so what do you wanna do about it?” Dash asked, stopping again.

“I don’t know, but Riptide seems to be pretty good at getting a response out of him. I know they had history in the past, but Torque never says much about it. And Riptide is...well, y’know, Riptide…”

Dash snickered, “Yeah, I bet Riptide would’ve payed more attention if Torque was a mare.”

Dahlia laughed in response, “Maybe, but something tells me they would’ve got on a lot better...or worse. Anyway, I think we should keep an eye on it. I might even poke Riptide into winding him up…” A mischievous grin crossed her face as she suggested the very idea.

“You do that,” Dash replied, quickly separating herself from the conversation by walking forward quickly again.

When she caught up with the others, Riptide was already attempting to show everypony how it’s done...or not done in some cases. Bright Skies was counting for him, but his shaking forelegs showed that he was struggling.

“Three...two...one...time.” Bright Skies counted him out.

Riptide immediately let go of the bar, dropping down onto his plot with a loud thud.

“Whew,” Riptide wiped the sweat off his forehead with his hoof, “How many was that? Twenty? Thirty?”

“Eight.” Comet responded plainly.

Riptide immediately burst out laughing, “Okay, that’s funny. Really, how many?”

“Eight.” Comet replied again, in the same tone.

Riptide furrowed his brow and pouted, “Y-yeah, well...I’ve just been for a swim. My legs are tired,” he made excuses as he moved out of the way of the pull up bar.

“Right, right…” Dahlia sarcastically agreed, looking over at Torque, “So the same excuse for you then tough guy?”

“Absolutely,” Torque replied, walking over to bar. The emotion in his voice never changed, so nopony was really sure if he was being sarcastic or not. Dahlia just presumed that he was being sarcastic based on the amount of time she knew him by now.

Torque reared up and placed his forehooves over the bar, looking over at Bright Skies and nodding.

“Okay...go!” Bright Skies announced, tapping her right forehoof on the ground for effect.

Torque immediately started pulling, lifting his head up high and over the bar, and gently lowered himself back down...and repeated it again...and again...and again…

“Welp, he already beat you Riptide,” Comet informed with a grin.

“Yeah, well...maybe.” Riptide stammered, causing everypony to laugh.

“I think you need to get back at him, Mr Macho,” Dahlia egged him on, doing fake jabs in the air to emphasize her point.

Riptide smiled, “Oh I will, I’m sure.”

“Geez, and he’s only starting to feel it now…” Dash commented, noticing the faster breaths Torque was taking as well as the beads of sweat forming on his head.

“And he hasn’t got long left either,” Bright Skies added, still counting the time in her head. “Five...four...three...two...one...time.”

Torque gasped for air and dropped from the bar, but landed on his hooves unlike Riptide.

“Twenty two. Almost triple you Riptide,” Comet observed.

“Yeah, yeah...well, it’s one thing to have the strength, but it’s another to know what to do with it,” He quoted a quote that Rapidfire had said to them once during their training, following it up with a few jabs in the air in front of him.

“And you do? Could’ve fooled me…” Torque quickly retorted.

“Ouch,” Riptide fake-winced and put a hoof on his belly, “Low blow bro…”

“I’m just gonna take my turn if you guys are just gonna have a testosterone pissing contest,” Dahlia said bluntly, rolling her eyes taking her place on the bar.

“He started it,” Riptide quickly defended, raising a hoof at Torque. Torque simply huffed and rolled his eyes.

“Anyway,” Bright Skies looked over at Dahlia, “Ready?”

Dahlia nodded in response.

“Alright...go!” Bright Skies replied, tapping her hoof on the ground again.

Dahlia was already using all her strength to try and pull herself up. She kept twisting her hooves to try and get the best leverage over her body as she could. She was able to manage a couple, but she knew that she was doing nowhere near as good as Torque was. “T-this is harder...than I recall,” she said through breaths, letting her body fall to the length of her forelegs after completing another.

Riptide chuckled, “I’ve heard somewhere that mares do have less fore-body strength than stallions.”

“Wanna test that theory?” Dash quickly asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

A smug grin quickly formed on Riptide’s face, “Well, if you’re offering so kindly to show me your strength...you can try to pin me…preferably on a soft surface…” He suggested, repeatedly raising his eyebrows suggestively.

“Yeah, let me think. How about in your dreams?” Dash retorted.

“But you’re already in those…” Riptide replied.

“Eww, didn’t wanna know,” Dash cringed and facehoofed, feeling the temperature in her cheeks rising. She really didn’t need to know that she was in one of Riptide’s fantasies inside his head. She quickly tried to think of something to distract her of the fact. “But a hoof-wrestle, I could do.”

“Alright, you’re on,” Dash replied, extending her hoof for a hoofbump. Riptide quickly tapped his hoof against hers to seal the deal.

“Time!” Bright Skies called, signalling the end of Dahlia’s minute of pull ups.

Dahlia dropped down onto her hooves, shaking as she landed and gasping for breath. She looked like she was about to turn into a puddle of jelly. But she still managed to barely walk away.

“Eleven,” Comet declared.

“Alright...I beat Riptide…” She said between gasps for breath, raising her forelegs high in the air and almost let herself fall over.

“Only just…” Riptide commented, sitting down and crossing his forelegs.

“I put everything into that...just to beat you…” Dahlia replied, just starting to get her breath back, but losing it again through a few chuckles.

“Guess I’ll give it a shot then,” Dash said, taking up position on the bar. She wiped off a bit of the sweat left behind by Dahlia first, then gripped it. “Ready when you are Skies.”

“Alright...Go!” She instructed, tapping her hoof on the floor as usual.

Dash almost opened her wings out of instinct, but managed to remind herself just in time that it would be cheating if she used her wings. She went for the first one and found it...surprisingly easy...she was definitely stronger than she once was. Maybe she should check herself out in the mirror soon...or get Soarin to do it for her…

Okay, maybe she overestimated her ability a little bit. Each pull took a bit more out of her. She didn’t realise how much effort each one required. She wasn’t keeping count, but she was definitely feeling like she was doing well. She just closed her eyes and soldiered on.

“Three...two...one...time.” Bright Skies counted her down as she did for everypony else.

Dash dropped from the bar onto her hooves. As hard as it got towards the end, she actually found it fairly easy. She felt like she could’ve gone for more. Nevertheless, her minute was up.

“Sixteen. Pretty good,” Comet told her.

“Thanks,” Dash replied, turning to him, “Now it’s your turn. I’ll count.”

Comet smirked and nodded, taking his step up towards the bar and placing his hooves up on it.

“Okay, ready?” Bright Skies asked, getting a nod from Comet in response. “Alright...go!” She said, tapping her hoof.

Like Dash, Comet seemed to be doing alright in the beginning, but his performance seemed to drop off a lot quicker than Dash. But he soldiered on, fighting as much as he could. Fore-body strength clearly wasn’t his strong point. His wings flared out at one point, but he almost instantly retracted them. Almost as if he had the same instincts to fly as Dash had, but that would be cheating.

“Three...two...one...time.” Skies counted him down.

He dropped to his hooves and immediately lowered himself down to sit, wiping the sweat off his forehead as he caught his breath.

“Twelve. Not bad,” Dash told him.

“Yeah, but not as much as you,” He added with a smile.

“Heh, not quite. But I guess you make it up by being…” Dash paused, thinking about her choice of words, “...Just as good a flyer as me.”

“Gee, thanks for the compliment,” Comet replied sarcastically, earning a chuckle from the pair of them.

“Um, I guess it’s...my turn now…” Skies said quietly.

Dash looked over at Bright Skies then up at the bar. The problem was obvious. She was simply too short to be able to reach it. And it didn’t look like it raised and lowered depending on the height of the pony using it.

“Uhh…” Dahlia tapped her chin, looking around for something that Skies could step onto.

“Don’t worry,” Skies replied, stepping up to the bar. Instead, she simply flew up to the bar and let herself dangle from her forelegs once she got a grip.

“Okay, go!” Dahlia said quickly, not wanting Skies to wait in that position for too long. It didn’t look very comfortable, and she wanted to make sure she had a fair chance.

Dash did her best to keep a straight face watching her, but it was...very painful to watch, to say the least. There was no denying that Bright Skies would be the weakest one, as she was the smallest and skinniest. She was really struggling. But it didn’t stop Dahlia cheering her on and trying to give her some support, which egged Dash on to do the same. It was unclear how much it helped, but they really hoped it did…

“Three...two...one...time.” Dahlia called.

Bright Skies let go of the bar and caught herself with her wings, using them to hover herself down to the floor and proceeded to collapse in exhaustion on it. “I hate those things…” She said through gasps for breath.

“Well, you managed to do six. Which isn’t much off Riptide when you think about it…” Dahlia suggested, trying to throw a positive twist on the fact she got the lowest score.

“I guess…” Bright Skies replied, pulling herself away and over.

“Well, I guess you win Torque. Although that was easily predictable…”

Torque shrugged, “It was fine I guess...although…” He looked over at Riptide, “I’ve just been for a swim. My legs are tired.” He repeated the exact words that Riptide had used earlier. Except in his usual plain, blunt voice.

Riptide’s cheeks puffed out at the obvious statement about the vast difference between the two of them, besides being under the same circumstance. “Y-yeah, well...me and Dash are gonna do some hoof wrestling. I’ll beat you at that for sure!” He said surprisingly confidently.

“Very well,” He said simply before starting to walk, “I suppose a bench will do.” He pointed to what he meant then trotted in that direction, everypony else following.

They went over to a bench over by some free weights. Obviously normally used for the users of the weights. But when they sat on the floor, it was the perfect height for them to hoof wrestle on.

“Well, are you gonna put up or shut up Riptide?” Dash asked, resting her foreleg on the bench in a ready position.

“Ha, you have no chance Dash,” Riptide replied with a smug smirk, sitting on the opposite end of the bench and locking his hoof on hers. “Count us in will you Dahlly?”

“Alright, ready...go!” Dahlia announced, tapping her hoof on the bench to help signify it.

Unexpectedly, Dash encountered a lot less resistance than she expected when she put pressure on Riptide’s hoof. It didn’t take her long to push him onto the defensive. But for some reason, whenever she got to the last few degrees she needed to lower his hoof by, he suddenly found strength from somewhere. She tried again, but the same thing happened. It was like some sudden burst of strength from him that then vanished as fast as it came. Riptide must have had some sort of trick or technique for it to stop him being able to lose.

Still, it didn’t mean she was out. They both had limited endurance, and given the fact they’ve just done a few pull ups each, both of them were struggling somewhat. She pushed as hard as she could with just her foreleg and eventually, Riptide’s hoof gave way.

“Yeah!” She yelled, punching the air with her other hoof and taking flight with a quick burst of her wings, doing a few twirls as she found her way back down to the ground. As she landed, she made eye contact with Riptide and pointed her wing at him, bending all her feathers bar her middle ones. “So mares have less fore-body strength than stallions eh?”

“T-That was just a fluke. My legs are still tired from the swimming and pull ups,” Riptide pulled the same excuse out again, chuckling slightly as he finished his sentence.

“Then we both have the same handicap then,” Torque added his observation, taking a seat opposite Riptide and laying his foreleg on the bench.

“Y-yeah, just...gimme a minute…” He replied, rolling his shoulder around, “Need to just get my strength back.”

“Then I’ll take that offer whilst you wait,” Comet added in, walking into Riptide’s seat. Riptide shimmied out of the way for Comet to take up his position. They locked hooves and no other words needed to be spoken, other than Dahlia counting them in.

“And...Go!” She tapped the bench again for effect.

To absolutely nopony’s surprise, Comet was down and out within seconds. His hoof tapped down and he sighed as he stopped straining to fight back against Torque. “Damn, you’ve got some incredible muscles,” Comet commented, moving out of the way and gave Riptide a pat on the back. “Good luck,” He simply said, pushing Torque forward.

Torque simply replaced his hoof in the starting position and waited for Riptide. Riptide bought his hoof up, but was interrupted when a loud gurgling came from his stomach. He looked down at his belly, then back at Torque. “Let’s make this a quick victory,” He said with an overly-smug face, “I’m starving. Dhally, do the honours.”

“Okay. And...Go!” She said, tapping the bench.

Riptide managed to put up a slightly more impressive fight than Comet did...but the results were still the same. In less than half a minute, his hoof was on the bench.

He simply grunted in frustration, “Can we go get dinner now?” He asked, standing up. “I bet we’ve missed all the good stuff. And it’ll be cold.”

“One more, I’m curious of something,” Dahlia replied, stepping round to his side of the bench. “Skies, you go up against Riptide.”

“M-me?” Bright Skies stammered. She sat down in front of Torque. “But there’s no way I can--”

“Now, you two lock hooves,” Dahlia interrupted, taking a seat besides Dahlia.

Torque and Bright Skies put their hooves together, but then Dahlia put her hoof on the back of Bright Skies’. “Now lets see if this evens the playing field.”

Torque nodded, “Let’s do it. Count us in Rainbow Dash,” He requested.

“Alright, three, two, one, go!” Dash counted, tapping her hoof on the bench like Dahlia did.

Dash honestly thought that Torque would still hold an advantage over the two of them, even with the advantage. But to her surprise, it seemed rather even. They remained in the middle for several minutes, with neither side budging.

“Alright, guess I need to help give an advantage,” Dash said, leaning in next to Dahlia and placing her hoof on the back of hers. She wasn’t sure if the tower would be able to maintain a steady grip, so she pushed gently at first. But that’s all they needed.

Torque’s hoof slowly started to twist away, gritting his teeth as he tried his best to maintain his defence. Whatever trick or technique Riptide had used to give him sudden bursts of strength to stop his hoof tapping the bench, Torque appeared to be doing the same thing. Dash realised that it wouldn’t simply be the case of adding her strength.

It took several minutes, but Torque’s hoof eventually gave way and tapped down on the bench. “All right!” Dahlia held her hooves up to Dash and Bright Skies, which they responded by tapping then tapped their hooves between each other.

“Heh. Well done,” Torque simply congratulated.

“It doesn’t hurt to show a little emotion once in a while ya know,” Dahlia retorted at him, “But thanks.”

“Hmm,” He groaned to himself as he stood up.

“Great. Now can we get dinner?” Riptide asked.

“I wanted to do a little more, but...I guess it can wait till later…” Dash suggested. She agreed with Riptide on one thing though; she was starving.

“Yeah, I suppose,” Dahlia agreed also, standing up. “Let’s go eat.”

They started walking as a group towards the gym door to walk out, turning down the corridor to go towards the canteen.

“Well, I thought I did pretty good,” Riptide did his normal gloating. “I mean, considering the circumstances…”

Everypony simply sighed and rolled their eyes...all apart from Torque.

“Sub-par,” Torque suddenly answered.

“What?” Riptide asked, looking over at him.

“Mediocre,” Torque downgraded his previous rating.

“Wow, way to hit the team moral there,” Torque replied sarcastically, “I think I did alright.”

“Well I think you did poorly,” Torque replied, slowing his pace a little.

“Ouch, you’re really going below the belt today aren’t you?” Riptide replied, slowing to match Torque’s pace. “And what, you think you did amazing did you?”

“Compared to you, yes.” Torque replied again, his answer causing a few snickers from his roommates in front.

“Haha, funny. I guess if that helps you feel good, then go for it,” Riptide replied, again sounding sort of sarcastic, but it was obvious there was a hint of irritation coming through in his voice.

“That’s hypocritical, considering that’s what you do on a daily basis,” Torque retorted, stopping in his tracks. “The only difference is I have actually accomplished something when I’ve said it.”

Riptide suddenly stopped and turned to face directly at Torque. “Oh that’s it. You wanna go, tough guy?” He marched over to Torque, “Got something to prove? I can’t help it if I’m simply better than you at every--”

“OH SHUT UP!” Torque suddenly yelled loudly, causing everypony to flinch and spin around to see what’s going on behind them.

Torque grabbed one of Riptide’s forelegs and yanked him forward, then pushed himself forward with his rear legs. Their foreheads collided in midair, causing Riptide to fall to the floor, but seemingly the very thing that Torque wanted.

Torque stood over Riptide’s body, his hooves holding him down by the shoulders, and leaned into his face. “You prance around acting like you’re automatically better than everypony else, despite being proven time and time again that you’re not! And even when somepony goes out of your way to help you, you’ve got your head so far up your own ass that you don’t even listen! You shouldn’t even be here, you didn’t meet the standard in phase one. But when mommy and daddy requested that their ‘precious little colt’ ” -he ruffled his mane like a mother would to her child- “be allowed another chance with a few cheques attached, here you are!”

He took a quick breather from his yelling. He looked over at his roommates briefly, who were looking at the two of them in a state of shock, then back down at Riptide, who had a similar look on his face. Torque continued his glare, feeling his eyes becoming misty and grinding his teeth.

“There are ponies here who have worked themselves to the bone every day their whole lives for this opportunity! And you don’t even care about the Wonderbolts! You’re just looking for another title to aid you on your never-ending quest to get your dick wet! Or do Mommy and Daddy think you’re so worthless that sending you here keeps you out of their manes for a few weeks!?”

Torque took another pause, but didn’t shift his glare from Riptide. Riptide’s mouth was partially ajar, as if he wanted to say something, but the words just couldn’t come out of his mouth. He didn’t dare blink, Torque was almost nose-to-nose with him. And his aggressive breaths weren’t helping him think.

Torque huffed, “Not even a response. Pathetic,” he stood up and took his hooves off Riptide’s shoulders. “You don’t have the skills nor desire to be a Wonderbolt, and you don’t even appreciate their history and respect what they stand for. You’re just after self-gratification and a title that comes with a free sex card. You’re nothing more than a naive, apathetic, selfish, egotistical, lazy, careless little colt who doesn’t even know he’s born!”

Torque stepped off Riptide and turned, facing the opposite direction which they were just walking. But he didn’t walk away immediately. He sighed and looked behind him and down at Riptide, who was still lying on his back. “And if any of us were born with even half the length of the silver spoon you’ve got shoved so far up your ass, we’d all be doing much better than you…” He spoke his final words, walking away from everypony.

Dash didn’t know how to react to the whole situation. She just remained focused on Torque walking away, with her jaw hanging ajar. Well, Dahlia was right about one thing; Torque was upset about something. Although his attack on Riptide made it seem like he was the problem, it didn’t seem that simple.

She looked down at Riptide, who also seemed to still be in shock himself. Dash didn’t blame him, everypony thought it pretty much came out of the blue. He bought himself up onto his plot, sitting upright and rubbing his eyes and face.

“R-Riptide?” Dahlia spoke up, gently walking towards him, “Are you okay?” She asked.

“Y-yeah,” Riptide hesitantly replied, his face starting to turn slightly pale. “I-I’m...I’m fine…” He added, walking forwards whilst rubbing his forehead and ignoring Dahlia.

He just walked past everypony without making eye contact. Dash still simply remained in place and watched him walk on, still trying to process everything that just happened.

“Anypony else confused?” Dahlia stated the obvious, walking back towards the group.

“I don’t know what to say…” Bright Skies replied, “Although...the stuff he said...wasn’t necessarily wrong…” She deduced.

“Yeah, but...kinda harsh for criticism don’t you think?” Dahlia added, “You guys go check on Riptide, I’m gonna find Torque.” She asked, turning to head the way Torque went.

“I could come with you?” Bright Skies suggested.

Dahlia shook her head, “I doubt he’ll be happy just to see me, yet alone a lot of us. Best I go talk to him on my own. He might be more willing to talk and clear some things up,” She explained, then began to walk down the corridor back in the direction Torque went.

“Okay...I guess we just...carry on?” Comet suggested, looking back down the opposite direction of the corridor.

“I guess,” Dash replied in agreement, beginning to walk in that direction herself. She had no clue what that was about, but Dahlia seemed to be onto something. Maybe it would be better just to let her see if she could figure it out herself.

The three of them made their way down to the canteen, hoping that Riptide would’ve gone that way too…

Dahlia walked at a quickened pace, hoping to find some trace of where Torque might have got to. She checked their room, but it was empty. He could’ve gone anywhere. Maybe someone saw where he went? No, everypony was eating. Although he was shouting so loud, they probably heard him from the canteen.

She continued to walk back down towards the front of the HQ building. Not really too sure where to look. She checked the obvious places, like the gym. She even checked the stallions bathrooms, seeing as nopony was there at that end of the building at the minute to catch her. But he was nowhere to be found.

She made her way over to the entrance, but still didn’t find him. But her eyes locked with the eyes of the receptionist mare. “Are you looking for that fella that left here in a hurry?” She asked.

Dahlia nodded quickly, “Yeah I am,” she replied.

She pointed her hoof up at the door, “He ran out that way in quite a--”

Dahlia wasted no time in hearing the full story, quickly moving towards the door. “Thanks,” she called as she neared it.

She pushed through the door and looked around...Nothing. Cloudsdale was off in the distance, and the view stretched as far as the horizon. One thing she did notice was the abundance of clouds this evening. Chances are he could be perched on one of those. It would make a good place for some alone time. Plus, since she saw all of his stuff still in their room, it’s unlikely that he had left for good.

She opened her wings and took flight into the sky, flying directly vertical. As she flew, she took note of how chilly it was getting, seeing as the sun was on its way down.

Hovering at a moderate height in the sky, she quickly glanced over the clouds. His brown fur against a white cloud should be fairly easy to spot, but she wasn’t having any luck. Although there was still clouds above her.

She continued flying upwards, looking around her as she did to check the clouds. She wanted to fly above all the clouds to give herself the best view. However, out of the corner of her eye, she caught a hint of brown spread at the top of a cloud as she continued to climb. She paused her climb and hovered to confirm that it was Torque. He was perched atop the cloud, resting on his belly, head on his forehooves.

Dahlia slowly flew towards him, knowing that it was pointless trying to sneak up on him. As she approached, their eyes locked, but Torque didn’t seem that bothered about it. “Hey,” Dahlia opened.

Torque huffed and turned his head over to face the other way.

Dahlia suppressed a sigh and perched herself to the right of him on the cloud. She wasn’t going to take no for an answer, but he didn’t offer any resistance to her anyway…

Dahlia looked at him for a while, but he wouldn’t turn his head back around to see her. Her mouth opened a few times, but she just didn’t know how to start the conversation. But suddenly, an idea popped into her head, making her smirk. “You really laid down the facts with him there. A little funny in a way…” She said, trying to start the conversation on a positive.

“He always been getting on my nerves. It’s about time somepony told him…” Torque replied softly.

“You ain’t the only one sweetie. But he seemed to tick you off particularly. Wanna talk about it?”

A short silence followed before Torque sighed, pushing himself up onto his plot into a sitting position. “It’s just the way he takes everything he has for granted. It...really hits home for me…” He explained, a slight glisten in his eyes from his tears.

“Why’s that?” Dahlia asked.

“Well…” Torque sighed, “It’s a long story…”

“And I’m here to listen,” Dahlia reassured him with a smile.

Torque finally looked in her direction, looking her in the eyes.

Dahlia nodded and smiled back, “This is what friends are for,” She emphasized, putting a forehoof on one of his.

Torque smiled at her, but differently...this one seemed more genuine that his regular stoic or slightly smug expression he normally wore. “Well...you probably gathered that I tried to join the Airship Force like my father right?”

Dahlia nodded, recalling if he ever talked about it. But after she saw his Dad, it was obvious he may have tried. But the more she thought about it...Torque never talked about himself. Was he opening up to her?

“Well, I’m not sure if you know your REAF history but my Dad is--”

“Admiral Swift Sprint, Chief Marshal. I’ve heard about him. I doubt you’d get away with stealing a prototype airship nowadays.” Dahlia explained, chuckling at the end. Torque chuckled along with her, which amazed her even more...he was laughing...he seemed happy. Maybe he just really needed somepony to talk to?

“Yeah...so I’ve always wanted to join the REAF like my Dad. And so I actually went through it and did, for quite a while, but…” He sighed again, his expression turned grim.“It’s so tough being in the shadow of somepony so great. Everypony expects great things for me, and at the same time, my own Dad expects me to EXCEED him. To top it all off, he never cuts me any slack or does me any favours. In fact, I’m pretty sure he deliberately makes it more difficult for me sometimes.”

Dahlia’s expression on her face finally dropped as the gloomy atmosphere clouded them. She noticed the tears beginning to bead down from his face.

“All the pressures and expectations made me give up on the REAF and tried to find a normal life. I decided I wanted to try and be an engineer of some sort, but Dad went crazy when I told him. He told me I was giving up too easily, and said I’d failed to live up to his expectations. Told me I was a failure, a dissapointment.”

Dahlia’s heart sank as he continued to tell the story. But at the same time, she was starting to piece together what was going on. Riptide not only had parents that were willing to support him in whatever he did, but they were multi-millionaires and didn’t seem to mind sharing their wealth with him. A stark contrast to Torque, who sounded like he didn’t get such privileges. And Riptide didn’t seem to have any reservations about shoving it in everypony’s face. No wonder Torque got so hacked off with him.

“This opportunity to become a Wonderbolt appeared. It wasn’t top of my list, but it was definitely something that would keep my Dad happy. I took the opportunity and came here, hoping I could make something of it. I’m not gonna lie, in some of the tests and training, I could’ve done better...but part of me deliberately didn’t do well. Part of me wanted to fail. I think that if I do badly enough, then I might just close off the doors until I only have one path left to take...my path. When I failed back in the first attempt, I thought that would be it...but then my Dad managed to use his influence to have me reinstated... “

“Well that clears up that mystery. I’ve been wondering how you managed to get back here,” Dahlia replied.

“But...now I don’t know what to do…” Torque finished by looking down, feeling a lump in his throat and watching the droplets fall from his eyes onto the cloud below.

The view in his vision was suddenly replaced by something pink. He looked to his right to see that Dahlia had rested her body against his, wrapping her forelegs around him. “Wh...what are you doing?”

“I’m giving you a hug,” Dahlia explained plainly, “You sound like you need one.”

“Errr…” His ears flopped down and he felt a fire ignite in his cheeks.

“You can hug me back too ya know,” Dahlia offered.

“Y-yeah,” He quickly wrapped his forelegs around Dahlia in the same fashion she was doing with him. “S-sorry...I haven’t hugged anypony for a while…”

“Then you can hug me all you want,” Dahlia replied with a smile. “Besides, you’re nice and warm. I’m not letting go even if you demand me to.”

Torque chuffed and rested his head on her shoulder, rubbing his head against her soft fur. He couldn’t put his hoof on it, but somehow he found it...soothing. Comforting. He actually felt somewhat relaxed. So much so that he didn’t want to say anything else, he simply wanted to savour the moment. He sniffled a few times and swallowed, trying to supress the lump in his throat.

“There’s no shame in crying Torque. Cry if you want to…” She comforted, feeling like he wanted to.

She heard a few stifled sobs and felt him grip her tighter. She felt a slight wetness on her shoulder. "That's it..." She moved one of her hooves up to run through his mane. She let him take a few moments to let it out. It sounded like he really needed to. But it didn't take long for him to begin calming down.

Dahlia remained still for a few moments, letting him hold her. The silence let her take in her other senses, feeling his heatbeat on the side of her head. Whilst she was enjoying it, she was sort of expecting him to continue the conversation. But he didn’t seem to be. It appeared as if it was up to here to continue. “Ya know, I can kind of relate to how you feel,” she spoke, but didn’t move an inch. “My Mom always wanted me to take over her shop and garden. It’s always been at the back of my mind that I’m disappointing her by doing something different…”

“So what made you make your decision to come here then?” Torque asked.

“Well, I talked it over with Dad, and he told me that the shop wasn’t going anywhere, so I should at least try. So here I am,” She pulled her head back and up to look at Torque. “I think what he meant was that we shouldn’t spend our lives wondering ‘what if’s’ when it doesn’t bar you from something else. There’s a lot of possibilities; I could become a Wonderbolt and take Mom’s place when I retire, I could only make the reserves and be a Wonderbolt part time. Hell, I might not even become a Wonderbolt at all. I could fail. But at least I’ve still got something to look forward to if that happens.”

Torque was beginning to see where she was going with this. “So...what do you think I should do?”

Dahlia glanced down at the cloud floor for a moment, then looked back up with a smile. “I think you’re a very...strong, tough, smart pony…” She placed his hoof on his cheek, gently turning it to make eye contact. She suppressed a giggle as his face lit up like a Hearth’s Warming tree. “I watched you continue flying when everypony else was exhausted, beat up Thunder Flash like it was nothing, and perfect everything down to a T. You could do absolutely anything you want to Torque. And you’ve got the sheer willpower to soldier on and do it. And if somepony tells you not to do it, ignore them. It’s your life, not theirs. And if they completely give up on you because of it, prove them wrong.”

Dahlia saw her words getting through as Torque’s smile grew, and he looked up at the darkening sky.

“So what’cha gonna do? Stay here, or try again and stick it to your old stallion?” Dahlia asked.

Torque held his smile for a few more moments, but it slowly faded into a frown. “I...don’t know. I guess I’ll have to think about it.”

“Of course. But don’t think about it too hard, it’s gotta come from here,” Dahlia replied, putting her hoof on his chest.

She didn’t get an answer back from Torque. His gaze into the distance confirmed that he was off in the world of his own, thinking over everything they’ve just been talking about. As much as she told him to go with his heart, she didn’t know what was really going on inside his head. It may be a more difficult decision that it appears to be on the outskirts…

“I guess you just need some time to think about it. Don’t think about it too long though, you really worried everypony with your outburst. Riptide looks like he’s scene a ghost though, it’s pretty funny actually.” She slipped her hind legs over the edge of the cloud, getting ready to drop off.

“Y-yeah, sure...hey, Dahlia?”

“Hm?” She looked over her shoulder at his enquiry.

Torque sighed, but the smile on his face said he looked relieved. “I guess I just needed somepony to talk to and help to guide me. I’ve tried to open up before on a few occasions, but nopony really seems to understand me. And even though you sort of do, our situations are vastly different. But even then, you manage to speak to me on my level and persuade me otherwise.”

“Hey, my door is always open,” Dahlia replied, winking and spreading her wings.

“And one other thing,” Torque quickly shimmied over closer to her. “I...don’t want to sound weird or anything, but…” He looked away and scratched the back of his head. At the same time, he slid his wing underneath Dahlia’s and pulled her towards him. “Thanks for the hug. I didn’t realise how much I needed that either. I know it sounds stupid, but...I haven’t had a hug like that since Mom left…”

“Oh…” Dahlia realised what he was implying, returning his embrace. “I’m sorry to hear that...is she...like, gone-gone or…”

“Oh no no no, she’s not dead,” Torque quickly reassured, a half-smile on his face. “Mom and Dad...just haven’t been together for a while…”

“Oh. Well, better than what I was going for... but still, that’s terrible…” She wrapped her forelegs around Torque again and squeezed him tight, “But you’re always welcome to hug me whenever you want.”

Torque smiled, “Thank you...I really appreciate that.”

“Really anytime,” Dahlia replied, moving away again as he let go. “As I said, I’ll give you some time to think it over. Come find us later,” She said before finally dropping off the cloud and hovering in place with her wings.

“Sure,” Torque replied as she set off back into the HQ building.

Torque looked up at the stars and went back to his deep thoughts. Dahlia had made him feel good...really good in fact. He felt like all the answers were slowly coming to him. Although it wasn’t all good news. It now meant he had to make a choice. Did he want to stay and at least try to become a Wonderbolt? Or did he want to resume his original goal and ‘stick it to his old stallion’ like Dahlia said?

As tempting as the first idea sounded...he had made some good friends here. Friends that he definitely didn’t want to give up. What should he do?

He sighed as he came to an answer. An answer that he didn’t like, but he knew it was correct. As Dahlia said, the decision had to come from his heart. “I know what I have to do…” He said to himself as he spread his wings and slowly took flight back down towards the HQ building. “But it doesn’t mean I have to like it…”

Torque stirred as he felt himself wake up. His eyes were welded shut, but he slowly convinced them to open by blinking repeatedly until he could keep them open. It was pitch black in the room, but he could vaguely make out the silhouettes of objects thanks to the fact he’d had his eyes closed for a couple of hours.

His urgent need to use the bathroom proved that his strategy for waking himself up during the night without waking anypony else up by drinking a lot had worked. He raised his head, trying to work out if anypony else might spot him. Riptide’s snoring definitely ruled him out of the question though.

He slowly sat himself up, trying his best not to make a sound. He lowered himself onto the tips of his hooves. He glanced over his shoulders once again before putting his jacket on and pulling his saddle bags he’d packed earlier over his shoulders with his wing.

Feeling ready to go, he walked over to the end of his bed. Once again, he looked over everypony, making sure no one was awake to spot him. But then his eyes landed on a certain pink-purple Pegasus…

Every logical part of his being was telling him to just get going. But he couldn’t stop his heart making him tip-hoof towards the edge of Dahlia’s bed.

He stopped by her bed, and watched her for a moment. Sleeping peacefully, her chest rising and falling gracefully and in rhythm with each breath she took. She had one hoof under her pillow.

Torque looked down and closed his eyes, doing his best to suppress a sigh. “I’m sorry…” He mouthed, deliberately not wanting to speak to make sure he didn’t wake anypony.

He reached into a pocket in his jacket with his wing and pulled out a piece of paper. He placed it by the side of her, slightly under the duvet, which was resting around her barrel. He then creeped his hooves under the duvet and gently lifted it, pulling it up over the paper and resting the duvet just above her shoulders.

He ears folded back as he contemplated his next move. Luckily it was too dark to make out his burning red face. He gently leaned in and gave her the lightest, quickest kiss on her cheek he could muster. “Thank you...for everything.” He mouthed his final words before turning around.

He tip-hooved towards the door and used every ounce of his patience to open it as slowly as he physically could to eliminate the chance of it squeaking. Once he stepped out, he held the handle down so he could close it again without the latch making a click.

The hard part out the way, he slowly trotted down the hallway as he thought about his next step...

Chapter 21

View Online

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 throug