Higher Flier: Mach Two

by AdmiralTigerclaw

First published

Dainty has been followed, who is this stallion?

Dainty Dish: The official record holder of the highest sustained speed and altitude over a recognized flight course in Equestria. As well as the holder of the time to climb record for a given altitude. There is no pony in Equestria who can match her abilities.

However, one stallion from from a far off place is determined to catch her. And in a brash attempt to prove himself worthy of her affection, gives chase. Only to fail spectacularly even with months of preparation. So on Hearth's Warming Day he enlists the help of Rainbow Dash, Equestria's foremost expert on speed to help him learn all there is to know about the art of going fast.

Can the mighty Mikoyan Ivanovich Gustaav the Thirty-First catch his dark angel? Or will he be too much stallion for Rainbow Dash- for Equestria to handle?

Prologue: MISSION FAILED

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Go here: Higher Flier OR My Little Blackbird


Dawn...

Canterlot, Equestria: December 25th 6:58 AM

The sun broke the horizon at Celestia’s command unseen behind a wall of ice on the morning of the most joyous day of the year. The anniversary of the founding of Equestria.

Hearth’s Warming Day

And while the ponies of Canterlot awoke to their breakfasts all snug within’ the confines of Canterlot’s castle walls, the vicious winter storm that had raged on overnight continued to whip the banks of snow it piled up into blinding sheets of white. Any pony reluctant enough to be near a window shivered that morning at the mere thought of Windegos after the pagent the night before stirred up their imaginations. It had grown so cold in the hours before sunrise that a trek into the blinding nightmare beyond the safety of the castle’s stone walls was considered suicidal. Any pony who would dare the weather would be considered insane.

("Are you sure she'll be here? No pony from here would dare fly in this weather.")

Sanity, as is well known by the locals of Seaddle, is a one-trick pony who lives on Fifth and Mane, and makes balloons for little fillies.

("She'll be here. She's flying over the weather like us, not in it.")

However, no matter how bleak the weather may look to an observer. A different perspective often sheds new light on the situation. Violent as a storm may look, when seen from above in the early morning light, the tops of clouds could shine with all the colors of the rainbow, and the ferocity contained below them had no power.

60,000 feet above mean sea level

Two pegasi, well aware of the weather conditions below them shot along in the light of the dawn, the freezing winds of high altitude whipping through their manes. Their breath puffed out in clouds that instantly froze as it left their nostrils, pulled away into the distance behind them. It was a strange sight to behold. While both were pegasus, one was carrying the other.

("I still say you are crazy chasing her over Equestria.”) the words that one spoke were not recognizable by most Equestrian locals. (“Why not go home and just have them send her again? You are heavy.")

("Hold your tongue,”) the other spoke in an equally alien voice. (“And hold on to me. If I cannot catch her with my bare hooves then I am not worthy of her affections.")

The stallion doing the carrying rolled his eyes at the one below him.

("I still say you are cheating to have me carry you up here.")

The stallion being carried reached up and lightly conked the side of his carrier’s head in irritation.

("I cannot loiter up here all day.) he admonished. (“It would not be a fair challenge to finally give chase when I am tired. I must be fresh for this.")

("Whatever,”) the first shook his head. (“Just remember, you owe me.")

(“Comrades!”) a third voice suddenly crackled from seemingly nowhere. (“The Dark Star is sighted! One minute and counting!”)

(“I like these new ‘rodeos’,”) the carrier commented with a chuckle. (“Our work will be more enjoyable.”)

(“Yes,”) his friend replied. (“They are quite nice. Now get ready. She comes!”)

The pegasus doing the carrying grit his teeth and accelerated while his comrade looked back, squinting his eyes at the distance behind them. High in the sky, higher than he thought possible, the sunlight glinted off a star that seemed to be moving much faster than its other, more stationary counterparts. It left a gleaming white trail behind it as it ripped along, closing with the two so fast that one might be afraid it was a meteor heading right for them. But he knew better.

(“Thirty seconds!”) the call crackled in his ear.

(“I have the Dark Star,”) the pegasus turned to his carrier, his face becoming a hard mask of determination. (“Ready to drop.”)

(“You have only a small window,”) the other replied as he panted for more speed. (“Make it count!”)

(“I will,”) the passenger tucked his legs in and prepared his wings. (“And I will see you back at Milliways by this evening. Count on it.”)

(“Good luck!”) his carrier advised, then let go of his living cargo.

The bottom dropped out of the world for the second pony, gravity taking over instantly as he fell away from his carrier. Then with a quick stretch, his wings unfurled, catching the air and slowing him down enough that the pegasus above him moved ahead a bit.

(“I am clear!”) he announced. Almost immediately, the first pegasus rolled hard and peeled away, leaving only a parting shout.

(“GO! GO! GO!”)

The pegasus grit his teeth and cranked his wings. One beat, two beats, three... He started to pick up speed as he caught the air, then rapidly increased his rate until the wind on his face almost blinded him with its intensity.

(“Looking good!”) his comrade’s voice crackled. (“Ten seconds. Climb!”)

(“Dark Star just blew by!”) the first voice crackled.

The stallion set his jaw and threw everything into his wings as he leaned back and started a hard climb. The window to catch the Dark Star was only five seconds. He had to be there, right when she was there. And he had to clear twenty-thousand feet to do so.

Angling his wings back, he changed his rhythm. The Dark Star had some kind of snapping trick that gave her power. They had learned of it only recently, but it was worth a try. With a crack, he brought his wings down, curling the tips so that they snapped like a bullwhip, then quickly brought them up again, snapping them once more. It was an odd sensation, but strangely satisfying when it produced the same kind of power he was used to getting closer to the ground.

Speed climbing, he intensified the rhythm, producing several loud snaps a second as he continued to climb. His wings started to ache, but that was of little concern in the short term. He could deal with being tired later.

Suddenly, the snaps of his wings were drowned out by an enormous crack like thunder.

Looking up in shock, he realized he was a few seconds behind as above him, a dark gray pegasus trailing twin trails of white, freezing vapors slipped past, less than a hundred feet away. Her magnificent wings rose gently, then came down so fast they seemed to merely change places without actually moving, producing a loud crack that made his own copycat attempts seem like feeble impersonations.

And then he was above her, trajectory originally intended to flit past her to get her attention. Instead, the stallion now found himself dropping back as he arced lazily over the top of her frozen ice trail, black body pulling away into the sunrise.

(“I MISSED!”) he snapped in irritation as he peaked in his climb. (“Two seconds behind!”)

(“Abort and come back down,”) his comrade’s voice crackled. (“We can try again later.”)

The pegasus glanced ahead, frowning. He had yet to cease pushing himself, and she was only about two hundred feet ahead at this point. He could almost reach out and touch her.

(“No,”) he responded after a brief moment’s hesitation. (“I have a good angle. I will dive and gain speed. I only need to get back a few seconds.”)

(“What is this insanity?”) his comrade crackled. (“Crazy Ivan! Do not be doing it!”)

The pegasus just ignored his friend and aimed for a spot below and ahead of his prey, wings cracking twice as fast as he dove for it. He just needed to catch her eye for one second. If his wings were sore the next day, it was worth it.

He was below her ice trail in an instant, speed climbing again as he made for his imaginary mark. The pressure on his face was incredible, and the sensation of sand and fire grew with every passing second. Even his wings felt like they were flying through a sand dune.

(“Dark Star has already gained too much ground!”) his comrade’s voice crackled again. (“Drop back! She is in Canterlot airspace!”)

He was closing the distance...

(“It is only Canterlot airspace below cloud level,”) the stallion retorted between labored breaths. (“I am not giving up yet.”)

Risking a glance up, he’d regained the distance and was almost directly below her now. Her wings were strangely large, but now he understood their beauty. Her form was small and light, but powerful. It was almost heavenly.

One of her powerful down strokes sent a wave of shivers right to his bones. Such POWER. He just needed to get a little more speed before he climb up to her, or he’d just miss like before.

The pegasus look out in front, setting another imaginary marker and aiming for it. Just get to it before her, then twist up and zip above her where she could see him, and that would be that. No problem...

He felt his wings gain more power as he descended into thicker air. More power would be more speed. And while his wings started to protest their treatment in earnest, he simply ignored the pain and took a deep, calm breath to make sure he didn’t pass out. It was all about pacing up here.

(“Miki!”) his friend crackled in his ear again. (“You are going too fast! Break off!”)

There was no such thing as ‘too fast’.

(“I am not giving up now!”) ‘Miki’ snapped back. (“I am too close.”)

(“Mikoyan!”) the voice had jumped in urgency. (“You do not understand! You are on FIRE! Abort!”)

Fire?

Mikoyan risked a sideways glance at his wing, noting that, indeed, the burning sensation was less about fatigue, and more the fact that there was smoke and sparks of orange coming from his wings due to the friction. Sparks that would burst in to flames the moment he chose to slow down enough that the wind didn’t simply blow them out.

(“A little fire never killed any pony,”) he replied nonchalantly. Then looked up and frowned. The Dark Star was gaining ground again, accelerating. No. Not yet. He just needed a few more seconds...

(“Are you crazy?!”) his comrade’s voice crackled again. (“Abort! You hear me? ABORT!”)

The angelic pegasus above him continued to gain more ground as she sped up even more. The seconds he’d gained were starting to drop away little by little.

Wait, she wasn’t speeding up, he as slowing down! Glancing at his wings again, Mikoyan realized bits of feather were flaking away as they burned, sapping that power he so needed to keep up as they slowly lost the ability to grab air.

(“Miki ANSWER ME!”) his friend’s voice was starting to break up. Something hot and wet dripped past his ear, searing it. The pegasus made one last desperate gambit to dive for all the speed he could get, screaming into thicker and thicker air where his disintegrating wings could grab more, only to find out too late that it only slowed him down more and made the burning worse.

(“Mikoyan!”) the voice, barely recognizable at this point crackled. He ignored the shouting and dove for the clouds below. If anything, a snowstorm could put the fire out.

(“MIKOYAN!”)

The crackling suddenly died.


Sing a song of sixpence.
And turn your head up high...

Four and Twenty Blackbird
races through the sky...

Ernest 'Admiral Tigerclaw' Hart Presents

When the wings are open
the air will make you free...
Wasn't that our Dainty Dish
who went and hit mach three?

A 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic' Fanfiction Production

The mares were all in Canterlot
keeping snug and warm...
Castle walls of hard stone
Keeping out the storm...

Far away a stallion
was fighting with the snow...
When came our little blackbird
and caused his heart to glow!

Higher Flier: My Little Blackbird, Mach 2

Act One: From Stalliongrad With Love

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" Don't worry, is all part of plan. We are professionals. Hey! Get that out of your mouth! "
- Dr. Jumba Jookiba, Lilo & Stitch


“I can’t believe you guys!”

Rainbow Dash slammed into a cloud bank at high speed, scattering it as she went. From there, she careened at an oblique angle towards a blinding sheet of falling snow as the wind sent icy chills right up her spine. The azure pegasus looped a sharp turn around the highest spire of Canterlot Castle before rocketing upward to punch a hole in the cloud above it. A half-a-dozen other pegasi followed in her wake, panting hard as they tried to keep pace with the clouds that needed corralling as they went.

“Look at this mess!” she continued to shout. “You should have had this storm cleared away half an hour ago! The dawn schedule for this place was clear skies by seven-O-clock! Not seven-fifteen. Not seven-o-two... SEVEN, on the dot! Princess Celestia had a photo over flight planned for this morning, and if the pony taking it is who I think it is you’ve already botched it up by being so SLOW! Never have I ever seen the weather this far out of control! Has working Canterlot made you LAZY?”

Dash was furious. After a long hard night of partying and general merry-making, she had been woken up by Twilight in a near panic over something about the weather.

As it turned out, the pegasus team on duty had not managed to clear the storm at all. It wasn’t the fact that she had to come out in the cold and work on what was supposed to be a day off that bothered her. It wasn’t even the short notice that sent pangs of fury bristling through every fiber of her being. She could handle having to lend a helping hoof if it was needed.

Rather, it was the fact that despite having a six-pony weather team scheduled exclusively to deal with Canterlot ALONE, it seemed like they hadn’t made any progress. In fact, it was more like they were moving BACKWARDS. Above them, the weather seemed to put an emphasis on the point as the hole she’d just punched through the clouds started to close up. Never, NEVER would Ponyville have been allowed to deteriorate to this level. Not even Winter Wrap Up had ever been this much of a mess.

“Let’s go!” she yelled over her shoulder. “Pick up the pace!”

“It’s COLD!” one of the pegasi trying to keep up panted.

“You think I’m not cold?” Dash snarled back. “I had to get out of a nice warm bed at the castle and come out here in this blizzard to help you! Now hurry it up! The faster you move, the warmer you’ll be! Snap to it!”

Dash turned her attention back to a winter storm that was determined to fight back, mind simmering over the thought of whichever genius had the bright idea to schedule a bunch of lightweights like this to handle a weather configuration meant for veteran teams. This storm cell should have been isolated, broken down into localized chunks, and made ready to dissipate hours ago. Instead it had been allowed to gain momentum and develop into quite the formidable force of nature. One she wasn’t exactly experienced in handling, not that she would tell a bunch of rookies that. But if the conditions got any worse, she’d have to use her authority as the most senior weather pegasus out here in this mess and declare it Wild. At which point maybe Celestia could just give it a good clearing zap.

“Ma’am!” One of the newbies called.

“No excuses!” Dash snapped over her shoulder. “Either keep up, or quit!”

“Not that ma’am!” he shouted and then pointed with a hoof. “Look!”

Dash followed the rookie’s outstretched hoof towards a bank of cloud that was glowing orange from the inside. It was a little hard to see through the sheets of blowing snow, but it was definitely not rare, but amazing winter lightning. It was the wrong color for that.

“Meteor?!” One of the pegasi following her asked with a shout.

“Too slow!” Dash called back.

Whatever it was, it was on fire. That much was obvious when it finally broke the lower surface of the cloud, flames and smoke trailing it as it fell.

“Stay in formation and keep Canterlot in sight!” Dash called back. Then she broke away from the group, ripping forward in a Technicolor blur. The distance was easily covered as she forced her way through the ferocious winds.

As she got closer, she realized the shape at the center of the blazing ball of fire looked, rather like a pegasus.

Then it clicked.

It WAS a pegasus, on FIRE!

“Oh my-“ she began in a shocked tone. What to do, what to DO! Catch a falling, burning pegasus? That’s… that’s crazy talk! But she couldn’t just let whoever that was smack into the mountainside! That would be like… so uncool. Steeling herself for the insane, Rainbow Dash mentally prepared a maneuver that would allow her to catch the victim, and then take them both into the nearest snow bank as fast as possible without dashing their insides (Rainbow grimaced at the unintended pun) all over the cliff faces. It would probably hurt, but there was no time for anything less risky.

“HANG ON!” she shouted, ripping into a dive. All she needed was a good path, a nice bank of snow, and a good lead on the-

“NO!” the fireball suddenly screamed at her. “STAY OUT OF WAY!”

“What?!” Dash screeched to a halt in mid air.

“DO NOT GET IN WAY!” the fireball screamed once more. “MOVE IT PUNY PONY!”

“Puny?” Dash blinked for all of a second.

“MOVE!” the flaming equine snarled again. “MOVE NOW!”

Dash spun and dove sideways just in time for the burning pegasus to zip past her, blinding her for a moment with his trail of smoke and flame. After coughing to clear her nostrils of the acrid smell of burning feathers, she watched in muted horror as the fireball made a screaming bee-line for the currently impassible roadway below.

For ten helpless seconds, she sat there in shock until with a loud ‘thoomp’ sound the fireball struck the mountainside, kicking up a blast of ice, steam, and smoke in its wake. Dash continued to stare for several more seconds after impact, just watching the cloud expand until the wind caught it and whipped it away before she finally began to react to what happened.

“Oh… my… gosh…” she began. “Oh, my…. gosh… Oh, my, gosh...”

Dash started to drift toward the crash site.

“Oh my gosh… oh my gosh. Oh-my-gosh. Oh-my-gosh…”

In a blur, she shot forward, racing down where the snow was whipped up by the wind into a nearly blinding wall of white death, already starting to cover up any evidence that a pony had come down there at all.

“OhmygoshOhmygoshOhmygoshOhmygosh!” she panted in near panic as she started scrabbling at the snow.

“Please be alive,” she dug at the snow bank forming around her. “Please don’t be dead!”

The wind immediately buried her attempt to dig, causing the pegasus to silently curse the fact that the team on duty was inexperienced. A veteran team would have had this storm cleared already. A veteran weather team would already be down here helping her dig this guy up!

Another blast of wind dumped more powder over the hole she was trying to dig. Dash felt a twinge of desperation as she attacked it again. But every time she did so, the wind just covered it back up.

“Hello?” she began, fear starting to creep up on her. “Are you here?”

Hope was already starting to fade. The snow looked all the same now, and if she risked leaving for even a few seconds, she’d lose the spot.

“HELLO!?” she began louder. “Can you hear me?”

No answer aside from the howling wind.

“More importantly…” the desperation and frustration in her voice started to climb. “Are you ALIVE?”

Rainbow Dash silently kicked herself.

“Should’ve asked that first…”

Still no answer.

Rainbow dash glanced around. Everything looked the same now. She wasn’t even sure if this was where he had hit the ground. In minutes it would be too late to find this pegasus and it would be all over for him.

One more try and then she’d tornado this place if she had to. Nopony was going to freeze to death on her watch.

“CAN YOU HEAR M-“ she began. Then suddenly she found herself being thrown backwards as something rose right up under her hooves.

A moment later the head of a stallion popped up through the snow.

“HAHA!” he shouted as if he’d just won a race. “I am ALIVE AGAIN!”

Rainbow Dash quickly scrambled up, lest the next gust of wind bury her in a drift.

“Are,” she began, panting. “Are you okay?”

The stallion looked at her as he started pulling himself out of the snow. There appeared to be some kind of small contraption wrapped around his head, though it seemed like it had melted or burned.

“I am fine puny pony!” he replied, reaching up and wiping his face. Then he stopped, grabbing the strange, half-melted device off his head and examined it with a frown. “This however, not so much.”

“A-are you sure?” Dash asked, hesitating again at the word ‘puny’. “I mean, you just-“

“Is no problem,” the stallion continued, tossing the blackened item away into the snow. “Is more important to ask, where is place?”

Rainbow Dash examined the larger pegasus for a second. Gray and blue seemed to be his color scheme as far as she could tell. Though, the gray of his body had just the slightest blue hint to it. She couldn’t tell if that was natural, or because he was colder than he suggested.

“Canterlot,” she answered at last. “We’re just down the mountain from the castle.”

“Ah,” the stallion nodded as if to say ‘of course’. Then he glanced around with a frown.

“Raging snowstorm,” he commented in a seeming casual tone. “Is reminding me of home. It is normal for weather of Canterlot is being like this?”

“Uh…” Dash pondered what exactly the stallion asked for several seconds.

“Say again?” she asked.

“Apologies,” he smirked. “My Loshad is being better than my Equestrian. I rephrase. Is snowstorm normal?”

Dash blinked. Oh… OH!

“No!” she snapped, mind going back to the actual reason she was out in this mess. “Is NOT normal! Some genius put a bunch of rookie ponies on weather duty this morning, and it’s getting out of control. I have to get back to work if we’re going to clear it up.”

“Oh…” he looked up at the sky for a moment, spotting a flight of six pegasi circling, just visible through the blinding white curtain. “You is needing help then?”

“Yeah,” Dash had turned to take off but stopped. “But only if you’re certified. I’m already babysitting six at the moment. If you don’t think you can handle it, just go wait at the castle.”

“Hah!” the Stallion barked a gruff, loud laugh. “Is being lucky for you then. Mikoyan has six years experience on weather team in Stalliongrad. Puny pony need not worry. If wings can be working, he can be helping.”

Dash twitched at another repeat of the word ‘puny’ while ‘Mikoyan’ examined his wings. The edges were blackened and a good number of feathers were charred, most likely from when he’d been diving for the ground. How he had caught fire in the first place was beyond her. But any help was good help at this point. After a moment, the stallion tested his wings by taking flight in a hover.

“Is good enough,” he nodded. “Might have lost power, but can fly.”

“You better be able to fly fast,” Dash warned as she picked up off the ground. “I’m not waiting for you-”

“Puny pony is still talking?” the stallion blinked, interrupting. Dash glared daggers back at him and just turned.

“Just TRY to keep up,” she growled, and bolted into the sky.

Mikoyan quickly took off after her, catching up a moment later as she cleared the blowing snow and rose up to meet the weather team currently orbiting above them.

“Alright pay attention!” she snapped once they were close enough. “We’ve got a veteran here to help! So I expect you to follow his instructions as well as mine. Got it?”

“Yes ma’am!” the team chorused.

Mikoyan just nodded in greeting to the group as they took in the burnt patches of fur he had in a few spots, and his slightly charred wings. Some of them obviously weren’t sure if it was a good idea to let him help them. However, none of them dared to argue.

“Alright!” Dash continued. “Let’s give this one more try. We’ll use a center radius expansion on this monster!”

Mikoyan blinked in surprise.

“Start above Canterlot Castle,” she continued. And then work your way outward. And don’t give me any more excuses. Just give it everything you’ve got. Ready!”

“Wait!” the newcomer shouted.

“WHAT NOW?!” Dash snapped. “I don’t have all day!”

“Storm is too big for Radius Expand,” Mikoyan explained. “You just waste time!”

“Too big?” Rainbow Dash yelled back. “What are you talking about?”

“Storm has grown,” Mikoyan turned to face the wind. “Radius Expand only poke hole in storm. Hole then get closed over in minutes. Do not be wasting time.”

“Well,” Dash cocked her head to the side. “You said you were from Stalliongrad, how do you deal with winter storms?”

“You is having to think BIG,” the stallion advised.

“What?” Dash asked.

“You work Local weather team yes?” Mikoyan asked.

“Yeah,” Dash nodded. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Is main problem,” he pointed out. “Is not local, is regional. Winter storm this big is powered by large scale polar vortices, not moist updrafts. Unlike local storm which can be breaking down directly, you have to break up wind flow first. Otherwise you just flailing at clouds like imbecile. Is great way to stop storm if you want to keep busy until spring.”

“Right!” Dash turned to the weather team assembled. “Then we’ll head upwind and start taking the storm apart at the source. Once we cut it off, we can start breaking it u-“

“NO!”

Dash growled, turning to Mikoyan again.

“You is not understanding scale of storm,” Mikoyan warned. “Is regional as Mikoyan said. Local mechanics not work on it.”

“Look!” Dash shouted over the wind. “Do you want to be in charge? I could be sleeping right now! If you want to take the reigns on this one, be my guest.”

“You wanted Mikoyan’s help,” the stallion replied. “He help, but only if you listen. Winter storm easy to lose control. Is created by low pressure region. Wind circles around it over big huge area. If puny pony-“

Dash very visibly twitched this time, causing the other pegasi to back up.

“-want to stop storm. She must be finding low pressure center first.”

“And just how do you do that?” Dash shot back, some sarcasm in her voice.

“Is easy!” Mikoyan pointed out, rotating in the air. “Wind always flow counterclockwise around storm. So you put back to wind and look down left wing. That always lead to center of winter storm. That is target.”

Rainbow Dash snorted and glanced in the direction the stallion had indicated. She hadn’t even known this pegasus five minutes and he was already infuriating her beyond what she'd been experiencing before. That’s all she needed, a team of rookie incompetents topped off with a know-it-all nobody from Nowheresville.

But if she wanted to get this done some time TODAY…

“Alright,” she turned to the Canterlot weather team. “You six, get back to the castle. Take a break, grab some breakfast and be back by eight.”

“Yes ma’am!” they chorused, then quickly turned, making a bee line for the castle.

Dash then turned to Mikoyan.

“You,” she pointed. “Follow me.”

Dash took off in a spectral blur, surprising the stallion with her agility.

“I be doing that!” he shouted, tearing after her.

A few minutes later, both pegasi rocketed through the storm, icy winds and blowing snow lashing them as they dove deep into the heart of the monster. They emerged from a near whiteout conditions into a section with strong winds, but much lighter snowfall.

The first thing Rainbow noticed as they crossed into the center was the change in wind direction. It was a gradual shift, but enough to be noticeable enough to prompt her halt in mid-air.

“Is this it?” she turned to Mikoyan, who was glancing around suspiciously.

“Is place,” he confirmed after a moment.

“So how do we break up the wind flow?” Dash continued impatiently.

Mikoyan glanced about again then indicated above them with a hoof.

“Storm is powered by low pressure circulation,” he explained again.

“I got that much,” Dash crossed her forelegs. “How do we STOP it?”

“Mikoyan was getting to that,” the stallion rolled his eyes. “Low pressure circulation spins counterclockwise and sucks in air as it travels. Is like whirlpool in sky. In order to stop, center of whirlpool must be disrupted. Normally it is done with weather team making big disturbance in air.”

“So we just need a loud bang?” Dash asked.

“It is being something like that,” the other pegasus shrugged. “But now seeing it, I am thinking we are needing bigger team. Vortex is far too large for-”

“I’ve got this,” Dash turned, racing to the center and looking up.

“You!?” Mikoyan gave chase. “Do not be wasting time. Is minimum five pony team.”

“And I want to go back to BED!” Dash snapped. “Now watch and learn!”

Rainbow Dash took a deep breath then pumped her wings, rocketing skyward into the cloud bank above them.

“Ahhh!!” Mikoyan rolled his eyes in frustration and moved to climb after her. “Stupid Equestrians... They think they do anything.”

Dash continued to climb, surprised at the depth of the clouds as she fought through layer after layer. She’d learned about winter storms, of course. That was required to make the cut for any weather team. And she had also managed her fair share of winter systems. Winter Wrap Up was a particularly busy day. But the rule was that beyond a certain size, a winter storm just wasn’t worth the effort to contain and control for a local team. Usually they’d just be declared ‘wild’ and handed off to either a special regional team, or a powerful unicorn.

Of course, now that the annoying know-it-all had explained to her how a regional team handled it, she knew just what to do. Wait until that guy got a load of this…

With a burst of sunlight, Dash broke through the highest cloud bank into the dawn. The air below her was gray from horizon to horizon; deceptively calm despite the raging winds deep within.

Arresting her climb, Dash drifted lazily into a summersault, enjoying the brief moment of weightlessness before she took focus on the clouds once more. Angling her wings, she set up to do her all-time favorite stunt.

“Sonic rainboom mark TWO!” she announced to nopony in particular. Then with a snap, shot earthward.

As she picked up speed, she adjusted her wings and gave them a careful, but heaving ‘crack’, snapping them like a bullwhip. It had taken her three months to figure out how to do it correctly. But with the newfound ability she was able to push her speed to its extremes much faster than ever before.

Mikoyan paused in his climb as he heard the snap, guessing, but not quite certain what he just heard. Then suddenly, a rainbow blur ripped by, diving dead vertical for the ground, only just missing him by a wing’s length. The whistling sound she made as she did so left the stallion’s ears ringing.

“What is doing?!” he began in a shout, glancing down.

Dash of course, didn’t hear, and didn’t answer, just picking up more speed until she felt that familiar pressure on the tip of her nose.

With one final snort, the pressure reached its peak, and in her mind, one thought registered.

‘Now!’

Her wings rose, curled, and-

‘CRACK!’

“BOOM!”

The clouds lit up with every color imaginable as bright as the noon sun on the longest day of the year. The concussion, not hindered in the slightest by mere snow, ripped the heart out of the storm as it tore a hole in it the size of a small town. In an instant, the ferocious beast that had been giving Rainbow Dash such a hard time had been exposed to the warming rays of Celestia’s sun and began to die, winds collapsing as they were blasted outward in an ever expanding ring of luminescent waves.

High above, the stallion that had followed her into the heart of the storm barely managed to stay in the air. He watched in shock as the blast decimated what had been, less than a minute ago, a force of nature that would have taken an entire team of experienced pegasi to get control of. After a few seconds, the shockwave faded into the distance, scattering the clouds it came into contact with until the former storm had been shredded down to just a few scattered low clouds.

With a brief surprised laugh, Mikoyan glanced down, spotting where Rainbow Dash was now standing on an outcropping of rock, looking rather proud of herself. Then he shouted, dropping into a dive.

“That!” he called as he came flying down. “THAT! Was most stupid, imbecilic, insane move Mikoyan has ever had pleasure to not believe is being happened!”

Dash tried to understand what had just been said as the larger pegasus landed next her. Somehow she had the feeling that the stallion had managed to both praise and insult her intentionally at the exact same time.

“Uh...” she blinked, her smugness evaporating as fast as the clouds as he glared right in her face. Then, just before she thought it might be a good idea to run, he suddenly grinned almost from ear to ear.

“I am liking!” he announced, reaching out with a hoof and yanking her into a hug. “Comrade is being having more guts than entire team back home. Why, if Mikoyan had not seen with own eyes, he would not have believed it! He was thinking Equestria had nothing but puny, spoiled ponies who is having easy lives. But Puny Pony is having proved Mikoyan wrong!”

“Okay!” Rainbow Dash suddenly cut in, ducking out of his grip. “Just what is it with you and calling me PUNY?”

“Eh?” Mikoyan suddenly looked confused. “Is problem? Pony is smaller than Mikoyan. Puny is correct word yes?”

“I don’t think you quite know what it means,” Dash sighed, rolling her eyes.

“Then how about comrade?” Mikoyan asked. “After what Mikoyan has seen, he is being very impressed with fellow pegasus. After all, she is having done what entire team is needed for.”

“Comrade?” Dash asked.

“Is you being preferred ‘Puny Pony’?” Mikoyan asked.

“No! no...” Dash quickly waved her hooves. “Comrade’s fine... uh... ”

She frowned.

“What’s your name again?”

“Oh?” the stallion blinked. “OH! How is being rude of me. I am not introducing self like is polite. I am Mikoyan Ivanovich Gustaav the thirty first. You may call me comrade, or Mikoyan, or Miki, whichever you find is more easiest.”

Then he turned his head to the side and gave her a questioning glance.

“And what is name of you?” he asked. “So Mikoyan may know who is new comrade.”

“Heh,” Dash rolled her eyes. This guy was going to be a big male version of Pinkie Pie, she just knew it.

“Dash,” she shrugged at last. “Rainbow Dash.”

“Ah, is good name,” Mikoyan nodded. “Rainbow D-“

Then he stopped, glancing at her twice, his eyes getting very large.

“RAINBOW DASH!?”

“What?!” Dash jumped back. “What’s wrong?!”

“Wrong?!” Mikoyan matched her by stepping forward. “Is not wrong. Is very good! Mikoyan is very fortunate to meet famous Rainbow Dash at time like this!”

“Why?” Dash absentmindedly shifted into a takeoff posture.

“Is hard to explain,” Mikoyan looked off to the side. “Mikoyan is kind of embarrassed to admit it... but.”

He then locked both eyes on Dash.

“I is having problem.”


“BWAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”

Rainbow Dash fell over laughing, getting the attention of several other guests in Canterlot Castle’s dining hall as she did so. After hearing the stallion had a problem only she could help him solve, she’d decided it would be best to talk about it over breakfast. Mikoyan seemed delighted at the prospect, and had been admitted to the hall as her guest. The stallion had quickly devoured a plate of treats before he’d begun his story. When he was finished, Dash could only be amused at what he desired to do.

“You-" she began, fighting chokes of laughter. “You want to CATCH Dainty Dish? How hard did you hit that snow bank?”

“You is making fun of Mikoyan?” the stallion let his eyes wander to a pair of snobby looking unicorn mares as they trotted past. Upon making eye contact, he smirked. In response, they ‘hmphed’ and stuck their noses in the air, picking up the pace. Mikoyan snorted a quiet laugh before turning back to Dash.

“Oh no no no...” Rainbow Dash waved her hooves as he did this. Then after a pause she fell down again laughing. “Okay I am! But seriously...”

Dash managed to sit up, wiping tears from her eyes.

“You think you could ever even HOPE to catch that girl?” she continued. “Let me tell you something pal. I’ve seen her flying first hand. You can’t catch her. I can’t even catch her. In fact, the only ponies in Equestria who might be able to are the princesses. And THAT is with magic.”

“But Mikoyan thought Comrade Dash was fastest-”

“Listen,” Rainbow Dash interrupted. “The way she flies is different from every other pegasus in Equestria. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like she skips across the top of the sky. Down low, she’s actually not all that fast. We can go much faster than her easily in fact. But once she starts to climb...”

Dash paused, her gaze growing distant for a few seconds before she suddenly snapped back to reality.

“Look,” she crossed her hooves. “It’s just not happening. It’s something about how big her wings are.”

The stallion sitting across from Rainbow Dash tilted his head to the side. In the mean time, Dash stuffed a coffee cake in her mouth, secretly loathing the fact that she wasn’t going to be getting any more sleep this morning.

“Mikoyan thinks he can do it,” the larger pegasus frowned. “He came close this morning but fell short.”

“Cheh,” Dash scoffed between bites. “Like, how close is close?”

“He is missed timing by two seconds,” Mikoyan informed.

Dash choked on her cake and started coughing. Several ponies dining nearby looked over at the two as she did her best to clear her airways.

“T-Two?!” Rainbow Dash commented through a hack. “Ho-HOW did you-“

Dash stood up and paced for a moment, finally managing to dislodge the offending crumb.

“How did you manage that?” she turned back to the table.

“Intercept,” Mikoyan shrugged. “When is knowing where fast pony going, is easy to be getting in path.”

Dash sat back, rubbing her hoof against her chin thoughtfully. The stallion’s explanation made sense. But that still didn’t answer how he got that high in the first place.

“How did you manage to get all the way up there?” she asked suspiciously. “I ran myself ragged and passed out.”

“Mikoyan had help of comrades,” the stallion informed her. “Manestay and Tupohoove were with him. Comrade Tupohoove is very strong. We call him Ursa he is so strong. But not very fast. He carry Mikoyan for many hours to get here. You should have heard him complain. Was non-stop all the way just, blah blah blah… You heavy Mikoyan. Blah blah blah… why you pick so long flight Mikoyan? BAH!”

Mikoyan snickered for a moment, getting a few out of Dash as well.

“If Mikoyan was listening to Tupohoove’s complaints, Stalliongrad would be buried by storm. He is being very strong, but also being very whiny comrade at times.”

“Wait a second,” Dash cut in. “You went down in a FIREBALL this morning. Where were your so-called ‘comrades’ when that happened?”

“Eh…” Mikoyan shrugged. “Is not concern. Comrades flew twelve hours and were tired. Is no way they could handle storm. Mikoyan was being expecting it.”

“Talking about dropping the ball,” Dash grumbled, crossing her hooves.

“Do not be worrying,” Mikoyan advised.

“Rainbow Dash!”

Both pegasi turned to see Twilight trotting up, a look of relief on her face.

“Hey Twilight,” Dash smirked.

“I just wanted to say that was a really good job out there this morning,” Twilight smiled brightly. “I was so worried the weather was going to be too much even for you.”

“Hah!” Dash laughed. “No weather is too much for the great Rainbow Dash. You should have been there! I took it out with a sonic rainboom with EASE.”

“Hahah!” Mikoyan followed with his own laugh. “She is being telling truth you know. Mikoyan saw whole thing first hoof.”

Twilight glanced at the stallion at the table with a look of confusion.

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Oh him?” Dash aimed a hoof at the larger pegasus. “Just somepony who helped me out this morning. No biggie.”

“You is too modest,” Mikoyan began before twilight could get a word in edgewise. “Mikoyan gave no actual help with storm. Comrade Dash takes all credit.”

“Comrade Dash?” Twilight turned back to her friend in surprise.

“It beats ‘Puny Pony’,” Rainbow shrugged.

“I am still not seeing what is being wrong with word,” Mikoyan frowned. “Is meaning offensive?”

Twilight Sparkle laughed lightly at the stallion’s comment. Of all the strange ponies and creatures her friends knew, this pegasus was certainly different. With an accent that thick, the stallion must be from some place far off.

“Puny,” Twilight adopted an intelligent look. “Is a word that means small-“

“I is being knowing it!” Mikoyan interrupted.

“But it is used mostly in a derogatory manner,” Twilight continued, having become used to such interruptions from her friends. The pegasus frowned back at her, seeming lost.

“Mikoyan is not understanding word,” he began. “What is being: ‘D-rog-A-tree’?”

“Derogatory,” Twilight corrected.

“Is being what I said,” Mikoyan blinked. Twilight just rolled her eyes in a smile before continuing.

“Bad,” she simplified. “Derogatory means bad. So when you called Rainbow Dash ‘puny’, you weren’t just calling her ‘smaller’, you were calling her a weak, pathetic little foal completely incapable of taking care of herse-“

“Hey hey HEY!” Rainbow Dash leaned forward. “No need to go that far. I think he gets it.”

“Yes, Mikoyan understands,” the stallion agreed. “He is being sorry to Comrade Dash for D-rog-a-tree-“

“Derogatory,” Twilight corrected again.

“Is what I said,” Mikoyan frowned. “But yes, he is sorry for that. In Stalliongrad, we do not be talking bad about our comrades.”

“Stalliongrad?” Twilight seemed to brighten at the mention of some far off place. “I’ve read all about it! What did you say your name was? Mikoyan?”

“I is sorry,” the pegasus stood up. “Name is Mikoyan Ivanovich Gustaav the thirty first. Stalliongrad fifth storm control team, second in command after comrade Berkut.”

Rainbow Dash frowned. He hadn’t told her what weather team he was on.

“Is pleasure to be making acquaintance,” Mikoyan continued, laying on a rather heavy smile. “And what is being name of pretty purple pony?”

Dash blinked in surprise at that one as her friend immediately blushed and took a step back.

“I-uh… Twilight Sparkle,” she answered, though not without hesitation.

“Ohhhh…” Mikoyan continued, his voice growing almost husky. “Is very pretty name for pretty pony. Tell Mikoyan…”

The pegasus glanced past Twilight for a second, then smiled and leaned his face down close to hers.

“Do you really sparkle in evening as name suggest?”

Twilight Sparkle about choked on thin air, stammering to find something worth saying as her blush deepened to the color of one of AJ’s finest apples.

Then, without any warning, there was a breath of warm air on her neck, and another, gentle voice added.

“Be careful with this one, he’s shameless.”

Twilight let out a loud squeak that once again caught the attention of those eating nearby and jumped a good two feet in the air. She landed facing the other direction, her face fixed with a look of mortified shock as she recognized her mentor, Princess Celestia, standing right in front of her smiling pleasantly. Behind her, Mikoyan burst out laughing.

“P-p-p-p-p-p-Princess!” she stuttered. “You scared me!”

“Good morning to you too, Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia greeted her student with a barely suppressed giggle. Then she raised her head and glanced at the stallion that had been messing with Twilight.

“And good morning to you,” she continued. “Is that really you Mikoyan?”

“Celestia!” Mikoyan boomed, but then paused, glancing around. Several of the unicorns that had been disturbed a moment before just stared in shock.

“Stratos is busy,” the princess drew the stallion’s attention back to her in reassurance. “Though my guard must be slipping if rascals such as you can get into my castle without notice.”

“Is not hard when snowstorm blind them,” Mikoyan shrugged. “Plus, being guest of famous Rainbow Dash can only be helping.”

Celestia turned her smile on Rainbow Dash, who glanced left, then right as if she’d accidentally done something wrong. Then she nervously raised a hoof and waved to the princess.

“I see,” the Celestia nodded. “And I see that you haven’t changed at all. No sooner do you get in than you start hitting on my most faithful student.”

“Pretty purple pony is student?” Mikoyan looked at Twilight in surprise, who was still blushing but managed to beam with pride. “Mikoyan is impressed. He did not realize you were teaching beauty. But then again, student has wonderful teacher.”

“You see?” Celestia lowered her head next to Twilight. “Shameless…”

“Mikoyan is having good teacher as well,” the stallion shrugged. “You would know.”

“I would,” Celestia laughed.

“Uh, Princess?” Twilight asked, her blush fading as she settled down. “How exactly do you know him?”

Celestia laughed again, turning a smile on the stallion.

“Mikoyan?”

“Oh! Is very good story,” Mikoyan turned to the two fillies. “It go like so… Five years ago when Mikoyan was still colt new to weather team at Stalliongrad, comrade Manestay is being invited by his older brother Sentry to Celestia’s Grand Galloping Gala.”

“Oh I can tell where this is going,” Dash rolled her eyes.

“Is being getting better quickly,” Mikoyan turned his attention to Twilight, who was now practically hovering right under the Princess’ wing. “Mikoyan had always wanted to see big huge Gala, but never got invitation. Comrade Manestay, is very great comrade by the way, agreed to sneak Mikoyan in.”

“You SNUCK into the Gala?” Twilight blinked.

“Yes!” Mikoyan laughed. “But was funny thing, it be seeming too easy. Was very strange. But anyhoof, Mikoyan try best to keep quiet whole time. But then something crazy happen.”

“Crazy?” Dash asked.

“Mikoyan is talking comrade. Please listen close like.”

Dash crossed her hooves and settled into a reclining hover.

“Just when he is thinking he get away with it,” the pegasus continued. “Mikoyan is making mistake, and ask who he thinking is Sentry where little colt’s room is being. Problem is, was not Sentry, was Big Biff Stratos, head of guard. Stratos chase Mikoyan all over hall, and make big huge commotion.”

“So how’d you meet the Princess?” Dash asked, a smirk forming on her face. “Did Big Stratos catch you and haul you in front of her?”

“Is best part!” Mikoyan threw his front hooves in the air. “Mikoyan was so busy he not really looking where he going. He crash into what he is thinking just another unicorn on accident.”

Both Twilight and dash covered their mouths in realization.

“But he soon discover mistake,” the stallion continued. “To Mikoyan’s horror, unicorn have wings.”

“You CRASHED INTO THE PRINCESS?!” Twilight gasped.

“Mikoyan is not best at turning,” the stallion rubbed the back of his head. “Much like you, much like Stratos, he thought was last mistake he ever make. But is being funny thing… Princess starts laughing like it biggest joke in world.”

Rainbow Dash’s hoof fell from her mouth, the look of horror on her face quickly replaced by one of confusion.

“What?” she asked.

“Mikoyan was thinking same thing,” the stallion nodded. “Princess Celestia stops Stratos from breaking Mikoyan’s wings and makes him guest of honor, saying it was most fun she have in many years. Mikoyan is confused of course, but is later told by Manestay and Sentry all guards but Stratos being ordered to leave Mikoyan alone before hoof.”

Celestia let out a small laugh.

“Then Mikoyan realize,” he continued. “Was big huge practical joke between Haywax brothers and Celestia. Was very funny once Mikoyan stopping hyperventilating.”

“I didn’t expect him to crash into me though,” Celestia added. “The look on his face was priceless.”

“As was look on your face when you thought Mikoyan was being suffocating,” he returned. “So comrade is being warned. Princess is most greatest prank master in world.”

“But she’s already the princess,” Dash protested suddenly. “How can she be a prankster too?”

“What? You is thinking princess always be nice?” Mikoyan blinked. “Get up, raise sun, take nap, talk to snobby unicorns, take nap, reflect on universe, take nap, lower sun, go to sleep… Wake up next day and be doing again. Is very boring job. You try doing it for thousand years. You find need for entertainment too!”

Mikoyan sat back, pausing to take a bite for the meal he’d had sitting in front of him.

“Mikoyan spent next week in castle,” he continued after swallowing. “He learn many things from princess as guest. Was very fun week. Mikoyan learned to appreciate beauty at time.”

“Perhaps I taught you a little TOO well,” Celestia smiled. “I’ve heard stories about you in the last few years.”

“Is likely being truth,” Mikoyan returned. “Mikoyan has putting things he being taught to good use.”

“Oh?” Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Have you now?”

“Would be big huge waste not to,” the stallion nodded. “As we say in Stalliongrad. Work hard, and party harder.”

“Did somepony say PARTY?” a voice piped up.

All heads turned to see Pinkie Pie come trotting up, mouth partially stuffed with a large coffee cake similar to the one Dash had yet to finish. She was carrying a decent sized stash of additional cakes and assorted breakfast treats as well, looking like she’d just raided the buffet line.

But that was just the beginning.

Directly behind her, even more treats and cakes were held in the grip of levitation. Such a feat may have seemed odd for the earth pony. But luckily the explanation was a little more normal, as Princess Luna brought up the rear, a half-eaten cake floating next to her.

“Hey Pinkie Pie!” Rainbow Dash waved to her friend. “Good morning Princess.”

“Good morning Princess Luna,” Twilight joined in, a smile growing on her features. “It’s nice to see you again.”

Luna paused, swallowing the bite she was working on, then regarded the small group that had formed with a regal, but pleasant smile. One covered in crumbs.

“A very good morning to you as well Twilight Sparkle,” she nodded. A previously unnoticed handkerchief rose up from her side and dabbed at her face. “And happy Hearth’s Warming Day.”

“You’re up late sister,” Celestia smiled. “Decided to enjoy the festivities with us?”

“We were hungry,” Luna turned to her elder sibling. “So we decided to partake in some of the breakfast items available before resting for the morning.”

She then turned to Pinkie, her posture dropping.

“I ran into my arch nemesis while I was at it,” she continued. “The leader of the screaming children herself.”

Celestia stifled a laugh at Luna’s description of the earth pony next to her.

“She was eating a slice of cheesecake right from the buffet table,” Pinkie ribbed Twilight. “I caught her red-hoofed. Not even her own plate. She was like-…”

Pinkie Pie made her eyes big and stuffed a cake in her mouth, making sure to scatter crumbs all over her face in the process. The goofy look made the other ponies laugh slightly at her antics.

“I did NOT look like that,” Luna denied. “And it was the last slice on the tray anyway. I do not see why you make such a big deal out of it.”

Pinkie Pie swallowed and shot a devious grin at the younger princess.

“She’s just upset I caught her,” the pink pony winked.

“Am not!” Luna snapped, a hint of red in her cheeks. Then she raised her head again, returning to her regal posture. “We saw no harm in taking the last cake from the line. We levitated it after all, so it was perfectly clean.”

“Excuses,” Pinkie winked again. “But I figured I’d let her get away with it.”

“For a price,” Luna eyed the many sweets in her levitation field. “We did not think it possible for one pony to consume so much and yet retain one’s lithe figure. ‘Tis enough to make us jealous.”

With a blink, she spotted a breakfast sweet she had yet to try and plucked it from the group, lowering it down to her mouth to give it a bite. Pinkie Pie frowned disapprovingly at the theft of one of ‘her’ treats. In response, Luna glanced back and forth to make sure nopony was really paying attention before closing one eye and sticking her tongue out. Celestia giggled at her sister’s antics during this exchange.

“At least you seem to be getting along with Pinkie Pie,” Twilight joined in. “I almost didn’t think it was going to work out last time.”

“We must admit that seeing her did make us a bit…” Luna paused, glancing at Pinkie, whose frown flipped into a grin. “Nervous.”

After another bite of the treat she’d procured for herself, Luna continued.

“However,” she spoke. “Miss Pie has impeccable taste in sweets. Thou MUST try the blueberry. ‘Tis DIVINE.”

“It sounds like I missed the fun,” Celestia commented.

“Indeed,” Luna regarded her treat once more. She was just about to take a bite when her eyes drifted to Rainbow Dash.

“Oh,” Luna stamped a hoof lightly. “That reminds us…”

She lowered her treat, turning to face the pegasus.

“Commendable job this morning handling the storm,” she began. “Normally conditions around Canterlot wouldn’t be allowed to reach such levels. However we weren’t aware of the inexperienced nature of tonight’s shift when we mandated some minor changes to the weather schedule.”

Then Luna glanced around again before lowering her head and speaking in a quieter tone.

“I must apologize actually,” she stated. “I wrote little Pipsqueak a few weeks ago and promised I’d come to play today. I wanted to make sure there would be LOTS of snow for the snowball fight I wanted to partake in.”

Then Luna’s cheeks turned red again.

“Unfortunately I’m still a little rusty on large scale storm systems and that one got away from me. To be honest, moving the moon around is a lot easier than trying to micromanage two sky streams, an upper-level low, a cold front, and a surface low all at the same time. My sincerest apologies for making you clean up my mess.”

“Naw… It was nothing really,” Rainbow Dash stuck a hoof behind her head and tried to pretend she didn’t enjoy the praise. “It’s my job after all.”

“Comrade is trying to be modest again when she is no good at it,” Mikoyan interrupted. This time he reached out and swatted her on the back, causing her to tip forward with an ‘oof’. “Be enjoying praise. You is having done very extra special good job. Worthy of praise from very pretty princess.”

Celestia hid an amused smile behind her normal poker face as her younger sister glanced at the large stallion as if noticing him for the first time, a surprised blush forming on her cheeks yet again.

“And who might thou be?” she asked after taking a moment to regain some semblance of stoic features.

“Mikoyan Ivanovich Gustaav the Thirty-First,” the stallion responded, matching the haughty posture Luna was using. “Stalliongrad fifth storm control team. Is being pleasure to be making acquaintance of great and beautiful Princess Luna.”

He then turned his head to the side slightly.

“Mikoyan was not aware she was so lovely as Celestia. Or he would have brought flowers.”

Luna blinked in surprise and Celestia just barely kept from giving away a smile.

“Charmed,” she said at last, casting her older sister a questioning glance.

Celestia took that as her cue to let her smile grow slightly as she stepped forward, nodding at the pegasus.

“Little sister, I believe you recall the story about that stallion that crashed the Gala a few years ago?”

“It seems familiar,” Luna frowned, then her eyes widened. “Was it the one you spoke of where the stallion had pushed you down in his excitement?”

Celestia closed her eyes, her smile widening.

“Why yes, I believe that was the one,” she nodded. “That night was anything but boring.”

Luna cast a glance back to Mikoyan, the red on her cheeks deepening. Noticing that, Mikoyan glanced at Celestia, a smile forming on his features.

“Was very much fun time once princess let Mikoyan catch his breath,” the stallion added. Celestia blinked at the statement in surprise. Luna’s head whipped back, the red on her cheeks increasing a little more. The elder princess quickly hid her look of shock behind an innocent smile as she countered.

“As was the entire week after,” Celestia’s smile was almost too innocent. “Mikoyan was simply wonderful.”

Luna’s eyes widened in scandal. However before she could say anything, Mikoyan spoke again.

“He was taught many wonderful things,” the stallion returned in a tone that seemed to be almost playful. “Was very pleasurable experience.”

Luna’s expression was priceless. Between the words spoken by this foreign stallion, and the seeming blithe admittances of her sister, she couldn’t seem to make her mouth work adequately. In front of her, Rainbow Dash stared in mute shock at the exchange. A glance at Twilight Sparkle showed her to be in a similar state, her cheeks betraying her own thoughts.

Pinkie Pie seemed completely unfazed, and was in fact watching the whole exchange in rapt fascination while munching on a snack cake.

“Perhaps beautiful princess would be liking to enjoy company of Mikoyan for few hours?” the stallion continued, a sly grin on his features. “Would only be fair to offer.”

Luna took a step back in surprise, her face now practically glowing.

“What is problem?” Mikoyan asked. “Is princess afraid Mikoyan is being too much stallion to handle?”

Luna attempted to work her mouth but was unable to find words. Mikoyan in the mean time, eased back turning his sly gaze on Celestia.

“Mikoyan remembers being very much to handle at time,” he continued. “Was maybe too much for Celestia too?”

Pinkie almost choked at the statement, barely controlling a laugh that was lost to everypony. The look on Princess Celestia’s face was one that shouted ‘Enguard!’ around her now completely open smile.

“I remember differently,” she said.

“Mikoyan is not being sure of that,” he grinned. “Perhaps is being better if he spend time with princess Luna. Maybe he teach what he learned from Celestia. Or maybe being that he is so much stallion, only princess of night can handle him in darker form.”

This time Luna backpedalled a good three steps, her face changing from embarrassment to a haunted look. Even Celestia’s warm smile faded.

“Speak not of such things,” the lunar princess warned. “We doth not wish to be remembered for such dark deeds.”

There was a long silence in which the lighter tone evaporated. The stallion simply eyed the princess for several long moments before he let a knowing smirk cross his featured.

“Is afraid…” Mikoyan turned his head to the side.

“Am not!” Luna protested, stamping forward again.

“Is so!” Mikoyan fired back, his grin returning. “But is nothing to be ashamed of. Many are the rumors of the great Nightmare Moon.”

And then the sly look returned again as he let his eyes drift.

“Many also are the rumors of her dark beauty,” he continued in a lower voice. “Mikoyan sees it in Luna’s eyes. The hunger he was told consumed the princess a thousand years ago. A hunger she could not satisfy with a hundred Equestrian stallions who pitched themselves at her hooves. Is perhaps that hunger was not for night eternal, but perhaps other things.”

Mikoyan stood up, creeping around the table, and got right up next to the princess’ ear, and all but whispered.

“Is perhaps maybe princess wanted night to fulfill her own dark dreams.”

Luna’s face went right to the color of an apple. At the same time, there was an odd choking sound as Celestia finally cracked, unable to take it anymore. The princess of the sun stifled a laugh as she turned away.

“I’d better check on the weather team,” she commented around a partial giggle. “We wouldn’t want to make Rainbow Dash have to go back out there again.

With that, Celestia wasted no time in quickly trotting away, leaving a now thoroughly red-faced Twilight Sparkle where she’d been standing under her wing, completely lost in her own overactive imagination. Luna in the mean time, releasing a breath she didn’t realize she was holding until her sister had left, inhaled sharply and cast a withering glance at the Stallion in front of her

“Where,” she began, trying to fight down her blush. “Where hast thou learned such bewitching words so as to work us up thusly.”

Mikoyan shrugged.

“As Mikoyan has being told you,” he smiled. “He is having good teacher.”

“We see,” Luna nodded, another deep breath to control her color.

Then suddenly, she stopped, blinking in confusion. After a moment, her eyes half-lidded and she turned her head. Then with a start, she began trotting after the receding form of Celestia at a rapid pace.

“Sister!” the lunar princess raised her voice to project across the room, an undertone of scandal in it. “What manner of debauchery hast thou been implying that we partaketh in!?”

For several seconds, there was nothing but a stunned silence between the three remaining fillies. Finally Rainbow Dash, face screwed up in disbelief, found her voice while Mikoyan began chuckling to himself.

“What,” she began. “Just happened?”

Pinkie Pie finished swallowing the remains of the latest cake she’d been eating.

“Isn’t it obvious?” the pink pony asked. “Miki just hit on both the princesses at the same time, AND got away with it.”

“I- I get that!” Dash turned to her friend. “I mean, how… WHY?”

Mikoyan just laughed louder as he returned to his seat.

“Is funny no?” he asked. “Was good fun, and good laugh.”

“Y- YOU’RE INCORRIGIBLE!” Twilight snapped in shock as she remembered her own voice.

“Mikoyan is not knowing meaning of word,” the stallion frowned.

“It means you have no SHAME!” Twilight snapped.

“But of course,” Mikoyan took a bite out of his cake. “Was you not being listening to Celestia?”

“Eh?” Twilight blinked. “But…”

“But what, pretty purple pony?” he asked.

Twilight turned beat red again at the compliment.

“Hey hey hey!” Dash reached out and waved a hoof in front of Mikoyan’s face. “That’s my friend you’re hitting on! Just what do you think you’re doing?”

“Is called flirting,” Mikoyan replied. “Is problem? Perhaps comrade Dash should try some time.”

“Problem?” Dash snapped back. “I thought you wanted to meet Dainty Dish? And here you are flirting with the princesses and my friends. What’s the matter with you?”

“Was joke for fun,” Mikoyan seemed taken aback by Dash’s hostility.

“Fun?” Dash blinked. “FUN? You were making passes at Princess CELESTIA-“

“Was comrade not being listening to anything Mikoyan has been saying this morning?” Mikoyan interrupted, crossing his hooves. “Celestia is most biggest prank master in world. Entire thing was being joke. Did comrade not notice setup?”

“Setup?” Dash stopped.

“Setup?” Twilight recovered from her blush.

“Was telling Mikoyan what doing with eyes,” the stallion nodded. “Was playing joke on little sister as big sisters are liking doing. Mikoyan only playing along.”

“I noticed!” Pinkie grinned. “I saw it coming a mile away!”

“Hahah!” the larger pegasus laughed, turning to the pink pony. “So Mikoyan is seeing. And what is name pink pony?”

Pinkie stopped, standing up on her hind legs and taking on a formal air similar to what Luna had been using.

“Pinkamena Dianne Pie,” she announced in a mock regal tone, then she dropped back to all-fours and continued in her normal hyperactive voice. “But you can call me Pinkie Pie, or just Pinkie like my friends do, or even ‘PINKIEEEEEE!’ Like Twilight does sometimes when she gets mad.”

“Hah!” Mikoyan laughed again. “Is funny. Mikoyan is liking Pinkie pony.”

“So you just hit on any cute filly you see?” Twilight asked. There was a hint of disgust in her voice at the thought.

“Is very fun if pony can relax,” the pegasus shrugged. “Mikoyan obeys very strict rule. Look, but no touch. Is fair no?”

“I- I guess,” Twilight looked away in embarrassment. “It’s just kind of awkward and all…”

“Mikoyan understand,” the pegasus let his tone soften a little. “Flirting is being like teasing for fun. Flirt with wrong pony, and make them very angry. Mikoyan learn hard way many times.”

Mikoyan absentmindedly rubbed his chin with one hoof as he reached over to one of the cakes on his plate and picked it up, handing it over to Twilight. The gifted unicorn accepted it hesitantly.

“OH! OH!” Pinkie bounced up and down. “Hit on me next! ME! ME!”

“Eheh,” the stallion chuckled. “It work better if you catch off guard,” he turned to Pinkie. “Target must be unprepared, unsuspecting. Like delicious prey for predator.”

“WAIT a second…”

The three turned their eyes to Rainbow Dash, who was hovering in the air, forelegs crossed and a displeased look on her face as she glared at the larger pegasus.

“So why weren’t you flirting with me if it’s so much fun?” she asked. Then she fluttered forward, glaring right in Mikoyan’s eyes. “Is there something I should know about? Is something WRONG with me?”

“Eh,” Mikoyan shrugged. “Is nothing wrong. Is just other rule Mikoyan be having.”

Dash blinked, but maintained her glare.

“And that is?” she asked. Mikoyan returned the glare with an even gaze of his own before saying…

“Mikoyan does not flirt with comrade. Ever.”

Dash just stared for a moment, hoping to see if the stallion rescinded on the comment. But after a moment, it was clear he meant exactly what he said.

“Rats,” she sighed, dropping back into her chair. A moment later she grabbed up the last of her coffee cake and stuffed it in her mouth. Bed was starting to sound nice again. And there was this luxurious four-poster up in the castle guest suite just screaming for her to come back to it.

“Oh Rainbow Dash,” Twilight rolled her eyes. “It’s not really that important.”

“Yeah,” Dash nodded, speaking through her chewing. “I know…”

“Is Comrade Dash upset she is left out of fun?” Mikoyan asked. “Is not big huge loss. Mikoyan has other ways to have fun with comrades.”

“Like what?” Dash asked, swallowing her cake.

“Mikoyan still wonders if you can be teaching him what he needs to know to catch Dainty Dish,” the pegasus tilted his head to the side. “He never got final answer.”

Dash sighed.

“Look,” she began. “I already told you that catching her is impossible and there’s no way we’re going to-”

“Wait,” Twilight interrupted. The two glanced at her.

“Did he say ‘Dainty Dish’ just now?” she asked. “As in, mach three, eighty thousand feet Dainty Dish? THAT Dainty Dish?”

Mikoyan and Dash nodded silently.

There was a pause. Then suddenly Twilight started laughing, falling on the floor in her mirth and continuing to giggle out of control.

“Why is unicorn laughing?” Mikoyan glanced at Dash. “Is difficult Mikoyan knows, but is really that funny to be wanting to try?”

“I’m- sorry,” Twilight continued to laugh, fighting to regain her feet. “I don’t mean to- But there’s no way you could do it even with Rainbow Dash’s help.”

Dash frowned.

“After all,” Twilight wiped a tear from her eye. “Dainty schooled her so bad…”

Twilight broke out in a fit of giggles again. Dash’s frown deepened.

“And Applejack,” she laughed. “Applejack wouldn’t let you go two days without hearing about it for a MONTH!”

Rainbow Dash’s frown reached a record low as she glared at her friend, rolling on the ground again. After a few more seconds, enough was enough.

“You know what?” she stomped a hoof. “I’ll have you know that my ‘comrade’ here got within’ two seconds of catching her.”

Twilight stopped laughing, still breathing heavily as she blinked at Rainbow Dash.

“So you know what we’re going to do?” she continued. Then she turned to the stallion who was watching the exchange with a confused look.

“You,” she snapped. “Finish eating, grab a shower, and meet me in the palace courtyard in thirty minutes.”

Dash then turned and stuffed one last cake in her mouth, chewing it quickly before swallowing it and hovering into the air towards the exit.

“We’ve got training to do.”

Twilight Sparkle crawled back to her hooves as her friend went. A moment later, Mikoyan caught up with what was said and quickly started stuffing his face with everything left on the table. It was as if he’d never eaten before.

A sudden tap on the shoulder alerted Twilight to Pinkie Pie’s continuing presence as she turned a grin on her.

“Challenge, accepted,” the pink pony enunciated. Then she reached out into the hovering stack of treats and plucked a slice of chocolate cake out of it, then began to munch on it as she continued to eye Twilight. After a moment, she paused, glancing at the glowing levitation magic.

“Wow,” she blinked. “Luna’s got range.”

Act Two: Boulder Dash

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“Gentlemen, this is your first Hop. The jets you are flying against are smaller, faster, and more maneuverable, just like the enemy MIGs. The clock is ticking, and as of now, we are keeping score.”
- Jester, Top Gun.


While most of the storm had been blown away by Rainbow Dash two hours previously, the Canterlot pegasus team was still hard a work cleaning up the leftovers. It was mostly just low hanging scud and some temperamental flurries that just refused to die out, but it was enough to keep the team fully engaged as they zipped to and fro around the castle. However, this time around the team had been making steady progress. Sunlight gleamed brightly off the mounds of snow that clung to the mountainside, turning everything into a blinding white display.

Twilight Sparkle grimaced as she trudged along, squinting through the glare as she looked about for Rainbow Dash. On her back, sitting sideways, Spike let out a puff of vapor as he too tried to see around them.

“Brrr…” he shuddered. “It’s too cold to be outside, and bright. I’m not made for this kind of weather.”

“It’s not that bad,” Twilight glanced over her shoulder at her assistant. “I agree it’s a little chilly, but at least the wind’s not blowing anymore.”

Spike just puffed out another cloud of vapor and rubbed his hands together.

“You can talk,” he shivered. “You have fur. If I’d known you were going to drag me out here this morning, I’d have brought my blanket with me.”

Then he glanced down and blew into his hands, producing a small gout of flame as he did so. However it promptly went out, leaving the young dragon to scowl impotently at the puff of smoke that had been left in its wake.

“A blanket, and some sunglasses,” he continued after a moment. “It’s a holiday. I should be sleeping in. Preferably curled up next to Rarity with a nice warm fire and a bag of gems…”

Twilight rolled her eyes.

“Wishful thinking much?” she asked.

“Hey,” Spike turned his head to face forward. “A guy can dream. Or at least, try to dream if somepony would let him sleep like he wanted.”

“It’s not healthy to oversleep,” Twilight advised her assistant.

“Twilight,” Spike began, the chagrin in his voice plainly audible. “I’m a dragon.”

“You’re a BABY dragon,” the pony pointed out. “I have to make sure you keep proper sleeping habits so you can grow up healthy and strong.”

Spike just crossed his arms and grumbled as he gazed back at the castle, his mind lazily imagining the other ponies that were back there, enjoying the warm fires and comfy beds. Meanwhile, he was out here… In the cold, crunchy snow, and blinding light.

Suddenly, they were both interrupted by a loud, shrill whistle that cut through the chill air like a knife. Both pony and dragon jerked their heads up towards a section of the mountain above them. There was a section of flattened ridge a little ways from the road that acted as a formation point for the pegasus guards. However, there was a distinct lack of said guards, but an even more distinct pony in their place. She was sporting a large blue whistle, a vest with the letters ‘PVWT’ on it, and a strange brown hat that only barely covered the multi-colored mane on her head.

The sound coming to a stop, rainbow Dash dropped the whistle from her mouth and took a deep breath.

“FALL IN!!!” She shouted at the top of her lungs.

Twilight looked around, wondering who Dash was talking to, then turned and worked her way up the incline.

“What’s with that hat?” Spike asked in a near whisper. “She looks ridiculous.”

Twilight halted and shot Spike a brief glare before continuing their climb.

“Hey Rainbow Dash,” she announced once she got level with her friend.

“Hey Twi,” Dash returned with a brief glance. “Come to watch us prove you wrong?”

“Us?” Twilight glanced around again. “Uh…”

“Yep,” Dash commented. “”You said we couldn’t do it, you laughed about it. Now we’re going to show you otherwise.”

“I didn’t mean to laugh,” the unicorn shook her head as she approached. “I just thought the very idea of teaching some random pony to catch a pony you can’t even catch was hilarious. But if you want some he-“

“STOP!” Dash snapped, a strong glare leveled on her.

“Wh- what?” Twilight looked taken back.

“Back up,” the pegasus commanded.

“Wha?” Twilight gazed her friend in confusion.

“BACK UP,” Dash stated more forcefully as she turned to look at Twilight.

The unicorn carefully paced back a few steps.

“Little more…” Dash nodded at her.

“Rainbow,” Twilight continued as she shifted back further. “What are you-“

A sudden sharp hiss cut her off guard, and then something gray and blue slammed into the snow directly in front of her with an audible ‘PWOOMPH!’, kicking the white powder up in her face in the process.

Twilight, completely caught off guard by the impact, reared back, dumping Spike overboard. Immediately after that, she lost her balance and dropped onto her haunches.

When the cloud of powdered ice cleared, Mikoyan was standing proudly in front of them, eyes locked forward, shoulders rigid, wings erect. Pinkie Pie, a hat identical to Dash’s, sat straddling his back, her mane stretched out from under the brim and a huge grin on her face.

“What happened?!” Spike popped up out of the snow, eyes wide in from a combination of cold and surprise. “Are we under attack?! I have to warn you, I’m a vicious fire breathing dragon!”

Twilight and Dash turned their eyes on the dragon as he leapt to his feet and began shadow-boxing in an attempt to look more threatening than he really was. Unfortunately for the baby dragon, it only served to cause them both to roll their eyes in exasperation at his antics.

“Oh Spike,” Pinkie laughed from Mikoyan’s back. “You’re so silly.”

The pink pony then turned and hopped off Mikoyan’s back into the snow. However she barely had time to ‘eep’ when she plunged right through it until the only thing left was the hat on her head.

“Pinkie!” Twilight blinked in surprise.

The brown hat with a pair of pink ears sticking out of it said nothing, turning this way and that for a few moments before it began tracking around, leaving a line of upturned snow in its wake. It quickly tunneled its way around the group until it smacked into a rock outcropping, a ‘thud’ resounding from it in the process.

“Ugh…” Rainbow Dash sighed, bringing a hoof to her face. The hat continued to wander around in a now erratic pattern until Dash stomped her hoof on to the ground and shot a glare at it.

“Sergeant Pie!” she snapped. “Quit goofing around!”

One of the ears sticking out of the hat turned towards the pegasus and waggled twice. Then the hat tracked its way up next to her and stopped. Then Pinkie burst from the snow and lined up next to her friend. Rainbow Dash just looked at her, then at the hole she popped out of.

“I don’t even want to know,” she sighed, turning back to Mikoyan.

In the stallion’s credit, he hadn’t so much as flinched once the entire time, his features remaining as frozen as the landscape around them.

“Now,” Dash continued. “Welcome to Camp Awesomecool-“

“Awesome-cool?” Twilight screwed her face up.

“I am your drill instructor,” the pegasus ignored Twilight’s interruption and pointed to Pinkie. “This is my assistant drill instructor, Pinkameanie ‘Deathclaw’ Pie.”

“The Pie stands for PAIN!” Pinkie bubbled.

Twilight turned her head as Spike tapped her lightly on her foreleg.

“Deathclaw?” he asked. “And Pinka… meanie?”

“NOW,” Dash spoke in a slightly louder tone that overpowered any response Twilight might have had. “I suppose you know why you’re here?”

She took a step forward, tilting her head.

“WELL?!”

“Yes!” Mikoyan replied quickly.

“Do you?” she asked. “What’s your name?”

Mikoyan’s posture broke and he glanced at Rainbow Dash, confusion on his features.

“Is you not already knowing Mikoyan’s na-“

“WHAT IS YOUR NAME, PRIVATE!?!” Dash interrupted with a snarl. Mikoyan visibly jumped back at the outburst from the smaller pegasus.

“My name is being Mikoyan Ivanovich Gustaav the Thirty First!” he quickly responded.

“Mig huh?” Dash leaned back. “Okay… from now on, you are Mig, you got that?”

Mikoyan was just about to nod when Dash suddenly stopped.

“On second thought,” she continued. “Mig is too good for you. You’ll get that name IF, and ONLY if you can survive my training camp. For the time being, you’re just number thirty-one. We clear?”

Mikoyan blinked.

“I SAID ARE WE CLEAR?!” she snarled.

Twilight and Spike turned a glance at Pinkie Pie, who returned a shrug to them as Mikoyan quickly answered an affirmative.

“Good,” Dash continued. “Now tell me, number thirty-one. Why are you here?”

“Mikoyan is being here for to be learning how to go faster,” he replied.

“Why?” Dash asked.

“So he can being catching Dainty Dish,” the stallion responded.

“WHY?” Dash asked a little louder.

“Because he wants to be meeting Dainty Dish,” Mikoyan returned with a slightly surprised tone.

“WHY?!” Dash increased her volume.

“Because Dainty Dish is best pony!” Mikoyan resisted the urge to step back.

“WHY!!?”

“Because she is being pretty and cute like, and also being amazing and strong?” Mikoyan’s cheeks flushed slightly.

“WHYYYYY!?!” Dash snarled in his face.

“I- eh… Mikoyan does not know!” the stallion took a step back, desperately trying to figure out what Dash was asking.

Rainbow Dash just stepped back, casting a sidelong glance at Pinkie Pie. After a few moments of silence, they both nodded to each other.

“You don’t know,” Dash turned her head back to the stallion, her voice barely a hiss. Then suddenly she turned and started trotting around in the snow.

“WELL,” she continued. “By the time I’m done with you, you WILL know…”

“Uh…” Twilight tried to interrupt. “Rainbow I thi-“

“A GREAT MANY THINGS,” Dash drowned her out. “Things you didn’t know about. For example.”

She whirled on Mikoyan and got so close to his face the brim of her hat poked him.

“Did you know that Dainty Dish is allergic to apples?” she asked.

“Uh…” Mikoyan blinked. “No.”

Dash kept her gaze level.

“Did you know she’s allergic to hay?” she asked again.

“No.” Mikoyan replied.

“Do you know ANYTHING about what she’s allergic to?” Dash asked.

Mikoyan just stood there, doing his best to look like he was thinking. After a moment, Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes.

“Just say no,” she sighed in her normal voice.

“No?” Mikoyan piped up.

“SO…” Dash turned away again, resuming her spot next to Pinkie Pie. “You mean to tell me that you don’t even know that bringing the girl some flowers stands a good chance of putting her in the HOSPITAL?!”

She continued without even giving Mikoyan a chance to reply.

“You claim to be a stallion?” the pegasus asked, turning back to him. “You don’t even bother to learn about the mare you want to meet! What kind of pony do you think you are? SPEED DRILL! CELESTIA’S TOWER AND BACK! THIRTY SECONDS, GO!”

Mikoyan blinked at Dash and turned to look at the direction she was pointing, only for her to leap forward and get right in his face, causing him to stumble backwards.

“GO GO GO GO!” she snarled. “MOVE IT NUMBER THIRTY-ONE! HOP TO IT!”

Mikoyan stumbled again as he turned, kicking up the snow and spreading his wings before taking off for the tower in a blur. Dash then spun to Pinkie Pie.

“Sergeant Pie!” she snapped. “Follow!”

“ON IT!” Pinkie saluted, then took off after him.

Twilight Sparkle did a double take then raised her hoof, pointing in the direction they left.

“But Rainbow Dash,” She began. “How-“

Dash just held up a hoof, silencing the unicorn.

“Sergeant Pie’s methods are her own,” Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Don’t question them.”

“But,” Twilight turned, looking where she was pointing. Then she sighed, dropping her head in exasperation.

“I know,” Spike soothed, patting her on the side. “I know…”

“So what exactly are you doing?” the unicorn suddenly snapped her head up.

“Oh, nothing too serious,” Dash replied, pulling the brown-round off her head. “I’m just going to get an idea of what he can do already. Find his weaknesses, gauge his strengths. That sorta’ thing. Then we’ll put him through some exercises.”

“So what’s with the hat?” Spike asked.

“This thing?” she replied. “Well, I passed Commander Stratos on the way here, and he asked me what I’ve been up to. After he found out what I was doing, he laughed and gave me these. Said that if I’m going to be training anypony, I had to be legit.”

“I don’t see how that hat can help with training,” Twilight tilted her head to the side. Rainbow Dash just shrugged.

“I don’t either,” she agreed. “But they kinda’ look cool. Plus when I put it on, I feel a bit tougher, meaner... More intimidating if you will.”

Then Rainbow Dash paused, placing the hat back on her head.

“I thought I said thirty seconds,” she frowned.

Twilight turned, looking out towards the castle. Rainbow Dash was right. It had been over thirty seconds and-

“Hey,” Spike tugged on her mane. “Twilight?”

The dragon pointed up above them.

“Is that who I-“

Twilight followed the dragon’s claw up, then yelped and dove aside as Mikoyan slammed into the snow bank, his body surrounded by a familiar midnight glow.

“Tsk tsk tsk…” Dash shook her head. “Over fifteen seconds late.”

A second later, the larger form of Princess Luna settled on the snow bank next to them, Pinkie Pie on her shoulders.

“Doth this belong to thee?” Luna indicated Mikoyan to Rainbow Dash. “It started us from our nap when it smashed through the window.”

Twilight and Dash visibly cringed as Pinkie hopped off, this time landing right on top of the snow with no ill effects. Mikoyan, now that they got a good look at him, looked like he’d been violently…-

“We are afraid that… well, when he startled me, I sort of… bludgeoned him with a marble pillar.”

Luna dropped her ‘Royal’ face, allowing her guilt at the action to leak through. Rainbow Dash just gaped.

“How-“ she quickly yanked her hat off. “HOW THE HAY? That was only forty-five seconds!”

“He’s pretty quick,” Pinkie pointed out, pulling her own hat off and making it whirl on her hoof. “But he’s nowhere near as agile as you.”

At their feet, Mikoyan groaned, rubbing his head where a good-sized lump had formed.

“Mikoyan said he was not being turning very well,” he commented in a daze.

“No kidding,” Dash frowned, then quickly put her hat back on. “Now on your hooves. You don’t want to look bad in front of the princess do you?”

While Mikoyan wobbly pushed himself to a standing position, Princess Luna calmly stepped over to where Twilight was looking on.

“So what exactly are they doing?” she asked.

“Training,” the unicorn replied. “I think. I’m not quite sure WHAT you call this. It looks more like verbal abuse than any training I’ve seen Dash do.”

“Interesting,” Luna regarded the three ponies in front of them for a second. ”Wouldst thou mind if I watched?”

“Aren’t you tired?” Spike interrupted. “I thought you were sleeping.”

Then the dragon yawned as if to emphasize his point.

“I know I am.”

Luna smiled, hiding a slight chuckle at the baby dragon’s antics.

“I’m afraid there’s a bit of a draft in my chambers at the moment,” she provided. “And it will probably remain that way until the window gets fixed.”

“You can always use my room,” Twilight offered. “After all, your sister gave us some of the best suites in the castle.”

“It is okay Twilight Sparkle,” Luna tore her eyes from the display where Rainbow Dash was busy explaining to Mikoyan all the flaws of his existence in excruciating detail. “I’ve gone without sleep for far longer periods than this. I’m hardly tired.”

“Suit yourself then,” Twilight shrugged.

“Of course I will,” Luna nodded. Then the princess promptly sat down on her haunches, causing the snow to crunch loudly around her. Spike glanced at the display for about one second before he quickly turned away, shuddering with imaginary chills at her apparent disdain for a freezing cold flank.

Rainbow Dash, in the mean time, paid spectacle no mind as she continued giving Mikoyan the third degree.

“You’re going to have to be faster,” she instructed as she paced back and forth. “Much, MUCH faster. Because there’s no way I’m carrying you up like your pal ‘Ursa’. And you’ll need more thrust, because normal pegasus power just doesn’t cut it going that high, that fast.”

“Oh! But then what are we going to do to make him faster?” Pinkie Pie asked. Then she remembered she was still whirling her hat around her hoof and quickly stuck it on her head. This time when she spoke, it was in a much more gruff (for Pinkie Pie) tone.

“After all, if regular pegasus power can’t cut it, there’s no way he’d EEEVER succeed.”

“We’ll just have to teach him this little trick Sergeant Pie,” Dash replied. Then she raised her wings and with only a minor look of strain, whipped them down in such a way that they curled and cracked, producing a distinct snapping sound that could be felt as much as heard.

Mikoyan’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Oh!” he voiced. “Mikoyan is being knowing this trick!”

“Interesting,” Luna spoke up. “What does that do?”

Rainbow Dash turned to the princess, pulling her hat off.

“The wingcrack?” she asked, glancing back at her wings. “Well, as far as I can tell, as we go higher and faster, we tend to lose power because there’s not enough air for our wings to push off. But if you curl your wings and snap them like a whip during a flap, the tips go fast enough that it produces a kind of mini-sonic rainboom.”

“Wow!” Twilight voiced from Luna’s side startling her. Then the princess realized the younger pony had produced a parchment and quill from somewhere and was writing furiously on it. “So the supersonic motion of your wingtips forces a cushion of air across the wing and restores your thrust! I’ve been wondering what that was for the first time Dainty did it in front of us!”

“Er…” Dash eyed her friend’s scribing. “Yeah, you could say that. Stupid name though… I wish I could come up with something better.”

Then Dash turned back to Mikoyan.

“How do YOU know how to do that anyway?” she asked. “I learned that trick from watching Dainty myself, and it took me MONTHS to get it right.”

The stallion shrugged.

“Mikoyan was watching Dainty as well,” he explained. “Noticed trick too. Was not easy for Mikoyan, but he figure out.”

Then he shook his head.

“Is being crazy trick though,” the stallion continued. “If being whipcracking too much, wings be catching fire.”

The sound of scribbling stopped as she looked up.

“What?” she asked. “Catching fire?”

“FIRE?” Dash interrupted, this time hovering up into the air and into the stallion’s face. “What do you mean catching fire?”

“How you think Mikoyan was being on fire this morning?” the stallion asked. “Is being no source of ignition that high up last he check. He is being going too fast and using too much whipcrack. Was funny though. Wings were not being burning too bad until after Mikoyan had stopped.”

“So it’s kind of just burns after you stop?” Pinkie asked. Her hat was currently spinning around, this time on her tail. A few seconds later, Twilight’s ears suddenly shot up in response to Pinkie’s comment.

“Hey!” she snapped. “That’s perfect!”

“What is?” Dash asked in genuine curiosity.

“A name for that trick of course,” she pointed out. “Burn-After!”

Rainbow Dash pursed her lips in confusion, letting her eyes drift back as she mulled on it.

“Burn-after?” she continued after a second. “Okay, I admit stuff on fire is pretty cool… but no offense Twi. That just sounds weird.”

Twilight Sparkle frowned, crossing her hooves.

“I dunno,” Spike spoke up. “I kinda’ like it. Sounds fierce. Like a dragon, like me!”

“Sure it is short stuff,” Dash smirked. “But it’s kind of awkward to say.”

“Maybe,” Luna began, but then stopped. “No, never mind.”

“What’s up princess?” Twilight asked.

“Well,” Luna tilted her head to the side. “Have you thought of just moving the words around?”

“Like what?” Dash asked. “Reversing them?”

“So, After-burn then?” Pinkie asked. Dash stopped, looking at the pink pony. She was about to tell her friend that was just as bad. But after a moment to think about it, she began to smile.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “YEAH! After-burn! Or really, just make it one word. Afterburn… After-BURNER!”

“Oh, now THAT rolls off the tongue,” Spike commented pointedly. “Afterburner.”

“Ye-heah!” Rainbow Dash laughed. “It’s PERFECT! Good thinking you guys! AFTERBURNER!”

Dash snapped her wings, the newly dubbed ‘afterburner’ technique causing a loud crack that pushed the snow around her away with a blast of air.

“Nice save Princess Luna,” Twilight smiled up at the larger pony next to her.

“I’m glad I could help,” Luna smiled back. Immediately Dash turned toward her, stars in her eyes.

“Hey you don’t think you can use that princess authority or whatever it is to make it official could you?” she asked. “That would be SO COOL!”

Luna laughed at the pegasus’ enthusiasm.

“Perhaps…” she replied her voice taking a much louder tone than she’d been using. “We shall endeavor to make thy term official in the eyes of all of Equestria.”

“SWEET!” Rainbow Dash all but squealed. Then she began practically spinning around like a top as she turned to each of her friends in turn, almost looking like she was chasing her tail.

“Awesome, awesome, AWESOME!” she continue to squeak, her voice cracking as she danced in place. “I got to name an actual technique! A REAL pegasus technique! And I got to name it!!!”

Rainbow Dash continued to celebrate for a moment longer as her friends shared amused smiles.

“Sheesh,” Spike commented quietly. “She’s more wound up than Pinkie Pie.”

“You can’t blame her,” Twilight returned quietly. “Getting to name that technique would be like me getting to name a new important spell.”

“AWSOME!” Dash blurted out again, coming out of her spin and looking slightly dizzy. After a few seconds to regain her balance, she suddenly came to a halt. The reason being the rather odd look on Mikoyan’s face.

“What?” she asked. “Don’t like it?”

“No, is not problem,” the stallion shrugged. “Mikoyan is proud to know comrade has made mark. But Mikoyan is confused. What is word having doing with training?”

“Training?” Dash smirked, slapping her hat back on. “Oh I’ll give you training. AWESOME training.”

Rainbow Dash stopped and straightened herself out, having had her mane and tail become a bit of a mess during her loss of self-control.

“In fact,” she continued. “By the time I’m done with you, they won’t have a word to describe how awesome you’ll be.”

Then she whirled on Mikoyan.

“But it won’t be easy,” she glared. “My training regimen is hard, and so am I. And because my training is hard you will not LIKE me. But the more you hate me, the more you will learn.”

Then Rainbow Dash folded her wings back and tucked them down, trotting circles in the snow.

“I will be tough, I WILL BE CRUEL! I will make you endure such hardships that you will want to fly home crying to your mommy like the scared little maggot you are!”

Then Dash paused dramatically.


“Any questions?” she asked.

Mikoyan pursed his features, looking as if to think. Then with only the slightest trace of a smile, he replied.

“Is just being one.”

“And that is?” Dash asked. Mikoyan ‘s expression remained neutral.

“Why is mouth moving instead of wings?” he asked. Rainbow Dash blinked.

“Oh a brainy mule are you?” her voice dripped with sarcasm. “I know how to deal with ponies like you. Just you wait.”

Rainbow Dash learned back as Mikoyan continued to keep his face even.

“Mikoyan is not being afraid of Comrade,” the stallion deadpanned. Dash frowned at his response, then grinned back, getting in his face.

“Oh don’t worry,” she stated in a near hiss. “I may not be Twilight. But I know a thing or two about Stalliongrad ponies. I’ve got your number pal.”

Then she turned to Pinkie.

“Did you get what I asked for?”

“Sure did!” Pinkie Pie spun to retrieve an item.

“Excellent,” Dash turned a sinister smile back on Mikoyan.

“Now… ” she began, motioning to her right. “This, is TOM.”

‘K-THUD!’

Pinkie Pie deposited a boulder twice as large as she was next to Dash, startling Mikoyan and also confusing the stallion as to where the pink one had been hiding this particular object the whole time. The large gray stone glistened slightly in the sun, its sides seeming to have been cut to smooth facets as if somepony had mistaken it for a precious crystal. At first glance it looked easily to be at least a couple hundred pounds. Both Spike and Twilight shared an equal look of shock, having thought they’d never see that stone ever again.

“He will be helping you train,” Dash continued to Mikoyan. “And trust me. He’s good at what he does.”

“Is being rock,” Mikoyan pointed out with a hint of chagrin in his voice.

“And he is VERY good at being a rock,” Dash glared at the stallion. Then she turned and paced around the boulder, tracing a path in the snow as she went.

“Tom here is everything you have to overcome if you are going to catch Dainty Dish,” she continued. “He is gravity. He is drag. He is fatigue. He is PAIN. You will respect him in these areas of expertise. Because if you do not respect him, he will CRUSH you like the weak pathetic foal you are.”

Dash ground her hoof into the snow, producing a crunching noise as she did so.

“And now,” she turned. “He is your new best friend.”

“Is not being serious,” Mikoyan laughed. “Is big huge rock being impossible for anypony to carry while flying unless they being comrade Ursa.”

Rainbow Dash just let her face speak for her. Mikoyan’s eyes widened in shock as he looked at the boulder.

“Is not joking?” his voice was astonished.

“You will not go anywhere; you will NOT do anything without Tom,” Rainbow Dash continued while ignoring the stallion. “When you are working, he will be there. When you are sleeping, he will be in bed with you. When you eat, you will try to feed him as well. Tom is now your everything. You will care for him the same way you would care for Dainty Dish. Are we clear?”

“Is bighuge silly thing!” Mikoyan protested in shock. “Tom is being just big rock! Mikoyan cannot be treating rock like pony!”

“You will NOT be treating the mighty Tom like a pony,” Pinkie Pie suddenly jumped in. “He is a ROCK. You will respect him as such! Or do I need to get his cousin Rocky to teach you a lesson?”

Mikoyan blinked at Pinkie’s sudden outburst, surprised that the, until recently silly pony, had taken such a tone so suddenly. Likewise, Twilight, Spike, and Rainbow Dash were all giving her funny looks.

“What?” Pinkie asked. “You’ve met Rocky before.”

“I-…” Dash opened her mouth to speak, then quickly shut it, turning to cast a confused, pleading glance at Twilight.

“I don’t EVEN want to know what this one’s about,” Twilight raised her hooves in a warding gesture.

Rainbow Dash sighed, shaking her head for a moment before mustering the strength she needed to continue. Turning back to Mikoyan, she threw up a poker face.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, drawing the stallion’s attention back to her. “Are you scared?”

Mikoyan froze stiff, a large frown crossing his features.

“Mikoyan fears nothing!” he snapped in determination. “Mikoyan would stare down Discord to prove himself!”

“Then why are you afraid of a rock?” Dash asked.

“Mikoyan is not being afraid of rock!”

“Really?” Dash asked.

“Is being real,” Mikoyan shot back. Rainbow Dash reared back on her hind legs, crossing her hooves across her chest and using the extra height to glare down at the stallion.

“Prove it,” she ordered.

Mikoyan stepped forward and learned up as close to Dash’s face as he could without rearing back himself, glaring into her smirk just short of making contact with her hat.

“What is being first task?” he demanded.

Dash’s Death Course
Full Spectrum Training

TASK ONE: Field of Screams
OBJECTIVE: Improve heart and lungs for high altitude flight.
DIFFICULTY: Two parasprites.

Twilight looked up from her parchment as Pinkie Pie finished tying a rope to Mikoyan.

“Listen up number thirty one,” Dash snapped, standing firmly on her hind legs. “If you want to keep up with Dainty, you’re going to need to perform a lot better than any other pegasus out there.”

Mikoyan glanced at the rope currently tied to his midsection.

“For this exercise,” Dash continued. “You’ll need to learn to stretch a lung full of air much further. If you can’t breathe, you won’t keep up. READY?”

Mikoyan nodded as Dash as she picked up her whistle.

‘CHIRP!’

“INHALE!” she instructed. Mikoyan sucked in a huge breath, making his cheeks puff out.

“Now get Tom across the field!” she commanded. “”GO!”

‘CHIRP!’

Mikoyan narrowed his eyes and rushed forward, only to immediately pitch forward into the snow from Tom’s weight.

“What was that?!” Dash snapped. “Let’s GO thirty one!”

Mikoyan immediately pushed to a stand and began to slowly work his way forward, dragging the boulder behind him. Once it was moving, it was a little easier to walk. However, the stallion quickly discovered that hard work doesn’t quite agree with a pony holding one’s breath. Not even half way across, and he could already feel his lungs burning.

“When you reach the end, you will shout ‘YAY!’ as loud as you can before going back,” Dash commanded.

Mikoyan barely stumbled to the end of the field, much bluer in the face than he normally was. The stallion felt like his lungs were about ready to burst.

“YAY!” he shouted as hard as he could.

Unfortunately, it came out as a choked cough that sounded more like a toad.

“You call that a yell?” Dash glared at him. “Fluttershy cheers louder than you. Go again!”

‘CHIRP!”

Mikoyan turned around and repeated the process across the field, feeling even more out of breath the second time around.

“Yay.” He managed to choke out.

“I’m not convinced,” Dash frowned. “AGAIN!”

The stallion repeated the process.

“Yay!” he only barely managed.

“LOUDER!” Dash ordered, sending him back.

“Yay!”

“LOUDER!!!”

Mikoyan dragged himself to the end of the field and tried to cough out a ‘yay’, but only managed the cough.

“Let’s go number thirty one!” Dash tapped her hooves impatiently.

“Perhaps he needs a little instruction,” princess Luna stepped forward.

“Uh, what do you have in mind princess?” Dash asked.

Luna walked up to where Mikoyan was gasping for air, taking on her most regal bearing.

“In order to produce the proper amount of commune,” she began. “Thou must project from the diaphragm… Like this.”

Then Luna took a slow, deep breath. Immediately Twilight Sparkle’s ears shot up and her eyes widened in panic. Then she and Spike immediately dove into the snow.”

“YAY!” Luna boomed in the ‘traditional Royal Canterlot’ voice. The snow in front of the princess instantly turned into a frosty white cloud in the wake of her report.

“See?” she asked. Then she paused, noticing that her audience had suddenly vanished. “Er… Hello?”

Mikoyan could be found, half-buried upside-down in the snow several hundred feet away, the rope he’d been tied to Tom with snapped.

“Oh dear,” Luna looked a bit sheepish as she covered her mouth.

“Too much commune,” Spike grumbled from his drift.


TASK TWO: Tank Krush
OBJECTIVE: Improve resistance to G forces experienced at high mach
DIFFICULTY: Four parasprites

“When traveling at high speed,” Dash instructed the stallion, his mane a touch disheveled from the sound blast he’d recently received. “The smallest movement subjects the body to incredible stress. At the speed Dainty travels, even the slightest turn will resort in your body receiving crushing force.”

“What?” Mikoyan asked.

“For this exercise!” Dash continued in a louder voice. “You will lift Tom using only your neck and shoulder muscles! You must get Tom ABOVE your head and hold him there!”

“WHAT?”

Rainbow Dash growled, glancing at Pinkie Pie.

“Sergeant Pie?” she asked.

“On it!” Pinkie chirped, producing a stick and drawing a series of lines in the snow. In under a minute, she produced a rather elaborate diagram showing what Rainbow Dash wanted done. Mikoyan stared at the diagram for several seconds before he suddenly turned to his instructor.

“Oh!” he nodded. “Why is you not being saying so?”

Rainbow Dash just frowned.

Mikoyan made his way over to Tom, the stone saying nothing as it sat there looking heavy. After eyeing it for a moment, Mikoyan turned to Dash.

The blue pegasus nodded for him to begin.

Mikoyan turned and bit into the rock. Or rather, tried to bite into it. However rocks have a high resistance to being bitten as he quickly discovered.

Mikoyan released Tom, stepping back to eye it curiously. Then he stepped forward again, trying to bite it several times in such a way as to get leverage on it. Unfortunately, every attempt was met with his teeth simply sliding right off the smooth facets. The grinding sound was much like what Spike’s claws could do on Cheerilee’s chalk board.

“Uh, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight asked her friend in concern. “Are you sure this is such a good idea? He can’t hear your instructions at the moment after all…”

Luna said nothing to draw attention to herself, but eyed the ponies around her as if expecting blame any second.

“He’ll manage,” Rainbow Dash replied.

Mikoyan, in the mean time, finally found leverage along a corner and managed to fix his teeth on it. With signs of strain, the stallion began to slowly heave on the rock, tilting it slightly as he went. However he very quickly got stuck, his neck visibly straining as he tried to get Tom all the way off the ground.

“What’s taking so long thirty one?” Dash asked. “My pet tortoise can lift a boulder four times that size. You’re not impressing me here.”

Mikoyan said nothing, his mouth full of rock, and his ears full of ringing. Yet slowly, but surely, he started to get Tom off the ground, his neck shaking as he slowly raised the oversized false gemstone higher and higher. After several seconds of strain, and slowly multiplying beads of sweat, Mikoyan managed to lift Tom level to, and then above his head.

Then slowly he continued to raise it higher, rearing back on his hind legs so that he could lift it straight up. Said legs wobbled dangerously as he did so, but after a little more effort, the stallion raised Tom above his head.

“HAHAAA” the stallion crowed through his clenched teeth.

“Very good,” Dash nodded. “Now hold it there for a minute and a-“

‘CRUNCH!’

Dash winced in sympathy as Mikoyan disappeared beneath Tom. Twilight instantly covered her mouth in horror, the action mimicked by both Spike and Princess Luna.

“Oh boy…” Rainbow Dash frowned at the two legs sticking out from under the boulder. Pinkie Pie wandered past her a moment later, pulling her brown-round off her head and replacing it with a white nurse’s cap.

“I’ll get the first-aid kit,” she informed the pegasus.


TASK THREE: Stairway to Heaven
OBJECTIVE: Improve endurance of heart and lungs with a continuous drop in pressure and resistance of climbing a steep incline.
DIFFICULTY: Eight Parasprites

“Let’s pick up the pace thirty one,” Dash frowned at the stallion next to her. She was flying alongside Mikoyan as he did his best to gallop his way up a flight of stairs despite having his back legs and neck wrapped in bandages.

“We’ve got a long way to go still,” she continued. “Move faster. Dainty Dish can climb to altitude in under twenty minutes. Your buddy Ursa isn’t here to carry you this time, which means you have to do all that work yourself. So if you want to get up there and still have energy for the chase... That means cardio! Lots and LOTS of cardio!”

The particular set of stairs they were using for this task was actually an old, crumbling set of stairs that wound its way perilously up the mountainside above Canterlot. Princess Luna had mentioned that they hadn’t been used in centuries because it was too dangerous, and nopony desired to go to the summit anyway. As a result they had seen the better part of two hundred years of neglect.

Mikoyan had to watch where he was stepping carefully in order to keep from tripping over fallen stones, or slipping on crumbling steps. Already he’d almost plunged to his doom twice due to patches of ice.

The stallion was breathing heavily and sweating profusely. His legs burned from both exertion and pain as he continued to race his way up the winding steps.

“Left right left right left right!” Dash bobbed her head back and forth in time with the cadence she snapped off. “Don’t slow down on me…”

“Hey Rainbow Dash!”

The blue pegasus looked off to the side as the majestic form of Princess Luna climbed up to meet her. Spike was on her back, carefully maintaining his balance.

“Hey,” he continued again. “I got a question!”

Rainbow Dash trimmed her wings to drop back alongside the princess.

“Me an’ Twilight were just kinda’ wondering,” the dragon continued. “Have you ever… you know. Done this before?”

“This?” Dash glanced back at Mikoyan as he barely missed tripping over a large rock. “Hah! Of course not! I’m an athlete, not a soldier.”

“What?!” Luna gasped, turning her head. “Dost thou mean all of these methods hath been made up on the spot?!”

“Of course not!” Dash crossed her hooves and looked away indignantly. “These techniques are genuine exercises developed by Commander Hurricane himself!”

“You mean that crazy pegasus from the pageant?” Spike looked uneasy. However it was Luna who cut him off.

“Surely thou dost realize that Commander Hurricane was one of the most demanding military commanders in pegasus history,” she warned. “Many of his techniques were considered desperate and inequine.”

“Desperate times call for desperate techniques,” Dash smirked back. “Mikoyan wants to catch somepony as extreme as Dainty, then his training needs to be just as extreme. Besides, he’s already proven he can take some serious punishment. It’s not like he can-“

There was a sudden yelp, and the sound of rocks coming loose. The three of them quickly turned their attention back to Mikoyan just in time to see the pegasus topple right over the side. Within a few seconds, it was impossible to see him amidst the flying rocks and snow as the entire mess tumbled right down the mountain.

“Oh boy,” Spike sighed. Rainbow Dash just slapped her face in exasperation.

“Maybe this IS a little too much,” she shook her head.

“We shall inform Miss Pie to have the bandages ready,” the princess stated.

“You do that,” Dash rolled her eyes as Princess Luna banked away from the mountain. “I better find him…”


TASK FOUR: Wings of Fire
OBJECTIVE: Improve wing strength to sustain power during Afterburner
DIFFICULTY: Sixteen Parasprites

“This one shouldn’t be so dangerous,” Rainbow Dash examined the rope as Pinkie double-knotted it. Mikoyan was sporting several more bandages and a black eye at this point. Yet the stallion continued to present himself in a manner that seemed almost proud of the beating he’d been receiving.

“I can’t believe you were using Commander Hurricane’s methods,” Twilight shook her head. “That pegasus may be famous, but he was also infamous.”

“Yeah yeah,” Dash fanned herself with her hat for a moment despite the cold. “My mistake. This one’s all my own. No problem.”

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Spike muttered. Rainbow Dash shot the baby dragon a sour look before she turned to Mikoyan.

“The afterburner is not easy to keep up,” she advised the stallion. “So we’re going to build a little wing strength. I want you to give it everything you’ve got. And when you get tired, just go harder, and faster. Ready?”

Mikoyan nodded.

“Wings only!” Dash reminded him, then raised her whistle to her mouth.

‘CHIRP!’

‘CRACK!’

Mikoyan snapped his wings, producing the now familiar whip-like sound.

“Again!” Dash ordered, and blew her whistle.

‘CRACK!’

“Keep going!” the blue pegasus snapped.

‘CRACK! … CRACK! … CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK-CRACK-CRACK!’

“Come on!” Dash snapped, getting right up next to Mikoyan’s ear. “MORE POWER! Tom wants to go for a sled ride! Are you going to disappoint Tom?”

Mikoyan grit his teeth and increased his wing-beats.

“Come on slacker!” Dash snapped, hovering around in front of him. “What are you here for?”

“Grrrt!” Mikoyan grunted.

“I’m sorry,” Dash held a hoof to her ear. “What was that? I couldn’t hear you over the sound of wimpy wing beats.”

“GRRRRTTT!” Mikoyan grunted louder, increasing his flaps to a low thrum. “M-k-yan… Is here… to…”

“I can’t HEAR you!” Dash shouted.

“To…” he growled. “Catch… Wonderful, beautiful… Gorgeous… RARRRGH!!!”

The thrumming increased in intensity to a significant hum, sounding like an oversized bumble bee as Mikoyan snarled around the burning sensation of his muscles.

“COME ON!” Dash snapped at him. “COME ON! TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT NUMBER THIRTY ONE! WHAT MOTIVATES YOU!?”

“MIKOYAN!” He snapped. “IS BEING MOTIVATED! TO MEET… TO CATCH DAINTY DISH!”

“IS THAT TRUE?!” Dash asked. “ARE YOU MOTIVATED?”

“YES!”

“YOU DON’T LOOK MOTIVATED!” Dash yelled in his face. “DO YOU WANT THIS?”

“YES!”

“THEN GIVE ME MORE POWER!” she snapped. “LET ME HEAR SAY YOU WANT THIS!”

“MIKOYAN WANTS THIS!” The stallion shouted, the sound from his wings picking up even more intensity,

“DO YOU WANT THIS?!” Dash asked again.

“MIKOYAN WANTS THIS!”

“LET ME HEAR YOU SAY YAY!” Dash shouted.

“YAY!”

“LOUDER!”

“YAY!”

“LOUUUUUUUUDEEEEEEER!!!!””

“YEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!”

Mikoyan roared as loud as he could, pouring every last ounce of effort into this scream until his face started turning red with exertion. The sound of his wings quadrupled in intensity until nothing but a tumultuous roar drowned out the more organic noises of the others.

Rainbow Dash glanced back and was shocked to see that the sheer force of the blast was wiping the snow and ice clean off the rock surfaces behind them. And even as she watched, Tom the rock was slowly sliding forward, scraping a gash in the exposed bedrock it had been sitting on.

“Whoa…” she laughed inaudibly. The roar was so loud that all others present had done their best to plug their ears.

“YEEEEEEEAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!” Mikoyan continued to Roar, the red in his face slowly fading to blue, sweat forming on his features. The roar increased even more if it were at all possible. And she started to notice she was slowly sliding towards the wings as the airflow tried to suck her in.

Stepping back and planting her hooves, Dash grinned insanely and joined Mikoyan in a huge motivational scream. The stallion reciprocated the act, his face now devoid of color.

Off to the side, Spike started to panic as his light frame was caught by the blast, his body slowly lifting into the air.

“Whoa… WHOA!”

Twilight quickly reacted, snagging him in a levitation field. Only a moment later she found herself losing traction as well as the wind started to pick her up.

“EEP!” she yelped.

Pinkie Pie quickly spun to assist her friend, and just as quickly found herself in the same predicament.

Princess Luna watched the spectacle unfold in rapt fascination up to this point. A single pegasus specimen producing hurricane force winds with only his wings. Truly a marvel she was happy to be free of the darkness to witness.

“Uh… Miss Princess,” Pinkie’s nearly inaudible voice interrupted her thoughts. “We might have a teeny problem!”

Luna turned her head and was shocked to see Pinkie Pie desperately trying to keep her grip on a half-buried rock, while at the same time, keeping her hold on Twilight and Spike as they dangled helplessly in the air. With little more than a thought, she caught them all with her own levitation magic, surprised to find it took a little more effort than she expected to anchor herself. The half-melted snow was not helping the situation, making the ground slick.

Then the princess blinked. What was melting the snow?

“YOU ARE A ROCKET!” Dash shouted over the din into Mikoyan’s face. At this point, the stallion looked exhausted, but refused to quit.

“THE STALLION IS ON FIRE!” Luna’s magically amplified voice boomed impossibly over the roar.

“HE SURE IS!” Dash laughed.

“FOAL!” Luna’s voice boomed again, this time with supernatural force that shook the very ground they were on. “WE MEAN HE HATH LITERALLY COMMENCED WITH CONFLAGRATION! THE STALLION HATH IGNITED! HIS BODY IS ABLAZE! MIKOYAN HAS CAUGHT FIRE!!!”

Rainbow Dash’s train of thought came to a screeching halt as she quickly glanced past Mikoyan’s face. Glowing hot sparks were flying off the stallion’s wings and the snow and ice piled up a ways behind him was melting away and kicking up clouds of steam. The side of Tom facing them was being blasted with superheated air and slowly burning away at-

“THE ROPE!” her eyes dilated.

Rainbow Dash spun in place, pulling her hat off to scoop at the snow.

“MIKOYAN!” she shouted. “S-“

The rope gave out.

Mikoyan shot forward out of control, hurling head-first into a snow drift several hundred feet away and crashing into it with a force rivaling his landing that morning. Almost immediately the roar and blast died out, dropping the others on the ground as a cloud of smoke and vapor cast a shadow on them.

“OW!” Spike snapped. “I much preferred falling in the snow.”

“Is Mikoyan okay?” Twilight sat up in alarm.

“I-“ Rainbow Dash began. “I don’t-“

“YEAHAHAAAA!!!” Mikoyan’s head burst up through the snow, melting it slightly around him. “IS BEING MORE LIKE IT!”

Rainbow Dash just stared in shock, the stallion seemingly unfazed by what had just happened. Glancing down at her hat, she then shrugged and plopped it back on her head. Only to realize she hadn’t dumped the snow out yet.

“He appears to be unharmed,” Luna trotted up next to her.

“Yeah,” Twilight’s own tone indicated her exasperation and disbelief.

“HAHA!” Mikoyan jumped out of the snow bank, steam still coming off his wings. “What is being NEXT task?”

Rainbow Dash stared for a few more seconds, her look of shock slowly drawing upwards into a smirk. Then she canted her hat and wiped the snow off her face.

“You want it?”


TASK FIVE: Lunch
OBJECTIVE: Refuel the Body’s natural reserves.
DIFFICULTY: One Angry Dragon

“You GOT it.” She frowned.

Mikoyan grit his teeth as he flexed his forelegs to complete another pushup.

“Just because we’re stopping for lunch, doesn’t mean we have to stop training,” Rainbow Dash lectured the stallion around a bite of a sandwich.

“Is very, strange exercise…” The stallion growled, slurping at some soup as he lowered his face to the bowl below him.

“If you have time to talk, you have time to work,” Dash admonished the stallion. “UP! DOOOOWN… UP! DOOOOWN…”

Mikoyan forced his forelegs to obey in time to Dash’s cadence, groaning as he did so but showing firm control as he slowly lowered himself back down to his soup for another slurp. Then he pushed himself back up, shaking as he went.

“Don’t let Tom beat you,” Rainbow Dash prodded him on. “Tom’s not THAT heavy. From what I heard, even RARITY could lift him. So could Twilight. And they’re about as far from athletic as you can get.”

“Hey,” Twilight looked up from a dandelion sandwich. “I came in FIFTH for the running of the leaves, thank you very much.”

“Are you going to let a pair of stay-in-doors mares beat you?” Dash continued without so much as acknowledging Twilight’s response.

Mikoyan forced himself up again, the boulder on his back rising with him.

“Come on! You can do it!” Pinkie Pie giggled excitedly, tapping him in the side from her perch right on top of Tom. Then she stopped when she noticed Dash looking at her in an unamused fashion.

“Er…” she exaggerated a frown. “I mean… COME ON! DON’T QUIT ON ME MAGGOT!”

“Mikoyan refuses to be quitting,” the stallion growled.

Pinkie Pie giggled again as she reached up to grab another snack cake from the floating levitation cloud next to her.

“I shtill canch beweeve woona’s kept these fwoatink fo sho wong,” she spoke around a mouth full of crumbs.


TASK SIX: Twitchy Tail of TORMENT
OBJECTIVE: Increase ability to handle heavy loads while airborne.
DIFFICULTY: Flutterrage

“Remember what I said about Tom being gravity?” Rainbow Dash circled the stallion as Pinkie Pie once again checked on yet another length of rope. “Well here’s where we don’t just say it. We prove it!”

Twilight frowned as her friend explained the latest method of practice. Mikoyan was to fly straight up, Tom attached to him as always, as fast as he could. Then he would gently lower the boulder back to the ground. It was simple.

“Get ready number thirty one!” Dash instructed.

With a blast of her whistle, the stallion leapt into the sky, rope pulling taut in seconds. Mikoyan kicked in the afterburners, blasting the ground with air as he pulled the rock skyward.

“Yes…” Dash grinned wildly. “YES!”

“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight wandered up to her friend. “This is really dangerous and you know it. You have to stop before somepony gets hurt.”

“No pony’s getting hurt so long as they pay attention,” Dash replied. “I’ve got this all under control.”

“Don’t give me that!” Twilight retorted. “Mikoyan’s already been bandaged up numerous times. You’ve got to stop before something permanent happens.”

Rainbow Dash glanced down at her friend.

“HE, asked for this,” she snapped. “If he wants to quit, he can do so any time he wants and then I’ll just get back to bed. Until that happens, we keep going.”

“UGGGH!!!” Twilight dropped her head.

“Speaking of which,” the pegasus continued as she looked up. “You should be going too…”

“What?” Twilight’s head came up.

“I would suggest you move,” Dash frowned at the sky. “Now.”

Twilight followed her friend’s gaze, only to see something large and gray descending on her at high speed.

“EE-“ she began, but then found herself quickly yanked away as Tom slammed into the ground where she’d been standing. Mikoyan slammed into Tom a moment later and tumbled into the snow.

“Thou should take thy friend’s advice without question,” Princess Luna admonished the bookworm. “It would upset us greatly to find you flattened.”

Twilight let out a series of nervous laughs as the princess set her down.

“Fire!” Pinkie Pie yelled in alarm. “He’s on fire again!”

Princess Luna quickly levitated a large clump of snow and dropped it on Mikoyan, extinguishing the blaze.

“Mikoyan is thanking you,” he coughed.


TASK SEVEN: Rocks fall, everypony dies!
OBJECTIVE: Improve total agility, speed, and endurance through the use of high stress maneuvers.
DIFFICULTY: Psycho Spar-

“Pinkie Pie!” Twilight shouted in agitation. “Would you STOP rewriting my notes?!”

“But it’s just so much fun!” the pink one chirped. “And all your notes are so SERIOUS.”

“They’re SUPPOSED to be serious,” Twilight snapped. “I’m documenting.”

“Come on, cut it out guys,” Spike waved his claws in front of Twilight. “They’re about to start.”

Twilight frowned as she turned to where Dash was still standing in that ridiculous two-legged pose.

“I REALLY don’t think this is a good idea Rainbow Dash,” she tried to reason with her friend. “Nopony has ever tried anything even remotely close to this.

“The princess says she’s up to it,” Dash shrugged. “I’m not turning an opportunity like that down.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Twilight looked at Mikoyan as he adjusted his hooving. “It’s just-“

“Now now,” Rainbow Dash waved her hoof, then turned and shouted.

“Are you ready princess?”

“WE ARE READY!” Luna boomed in the Royal voice.

“On your mark,” Dash turned to Mikoyan.

“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight tried one more time. “Please think this one through.”

“Get set!” the pegasus ignored her friend and just raised her voice. Mikoyan dug his hind legs in and braced.

“Princess Luna has the power to move the MOON!” Twilight continued anyway. “She’s already shown to pack a little to much power into-“

“GO!” Dash snapped. “Go thirty-one! GO! GO! GO!”

Mikoyan shot forward, catching air with his wings and taking off into the sky. Twilight snapped her mouth shut, growling inwardly that her friend was being so stubborn.

“Wait for it,” Dash could be heard muttering to herself. “Wait for it…”

High above, Mikoyan hit the top of his climb and turned left. Rainbow Dash spun, shouting to the princess.

“PULL!” she snapped.

Luna lifted Tom effortlessly with her magic, then the stone ripped forward with a loud thump as if it were shot out of pinky’s cannon, rocketing into the sky.

“Oh I can’t watch,” Twilight squeezed her eyes shut.

Mikoyan glanced over his wing as he flew, spotting the incoming rock. The very FAST incoming rock. The stallion spun in the air, twisting as he changed direction with a grunt, lining himself up with Tom’s trajectory.

Stretching out his hooves and flying backwards, he rolled onto his back.

‘WHAM!’

“Oo…” Twilight heard Pinkie Pie wince. “He’s gonna’ feel that one.”

Twilight, opened an eye, chancing a look to the sky, and sighed.

“That does it,” she turned, reaching up and yanking the hat off Rainbow Dash’s head.

“Hey!” Dash snapped. “What do you think,”

“AT EASE!” Twilight snapped, depositing the hat on her own noggin. “This has gone on long enough! At this rate you’re going to do more than just hurt that Stallion, you’re going to kill him. I can’t let you do that Rainbow Dash. It ends now!”

“But,” Dash began. “We’re not FINISHED! I told you we’ll stop if he deci-“

“NOW!” Twilight snapped with a strong air of finality. “No more!”

“Hey hey hey!” Pinkie suddenly started jumping. “Lookit! LOOKIT!”

Both arguing ponies turned and looked up. In the distance above them, Tom was hovering strangely in the air. Behind the boulder, Mikoyan was straining, barely managing to keep both himself and the glorified rock in the air.

“EEEEYEEAARRRGHHH!!!!!” he snarled, fighting to support the weight.

Then with a heave, the stallion managed to lift Tom over his head, take a flying start, and hurled it back the direction it had been fired from.

“INCOMING!” he shouted.

“PRINCESS!” Twilight turned, noting Luna had not so much as flinched as the boulder came flying back at her. Then suddenly, it came to a dead stop just feet from impact, held in the princess’ magical aura.

Twilight just gaped for a moment before the logic of what she’d previously said caught up with her. When it did, she just sighed in defeat, lowering her head.

“Now, THAT’S what I’m talking about,” Rainbow Dash yanked her hat off the unicorn’s head.

“SHALL WE HAVE ANOTHER GO?” the princess’ voice boomed.


“YAY!” Mikoyan snarled, spinning in place and galloping across the field. Twilight watched in silence as the Stallion made half a dozen laps with almost no effort.

“That’s a GO!” Rainbow Dash snapped. “Now show tank how it’s down.”

Mikoyan planted his hooves firmly and began wedging Tom into the air.

“It’s not possible,” Twilight blinked. “He can’t think he can-“

The stallion hefted the rock up and balanced it on his head, careful not to drop it.

“GO!” Dash nodded.

When it came time to hit the Stairs, Mikoyan was like a beast. The stallion rocketed up the stairway; his wings firmly folded the entire time. When he came to the point where he’d fallen before, he leapt the gap without so much as glancing.

“Another Go!” Dash nodded from nearby. “But don’t you keep stopping! I’ll se you at the summit!”

A lock of Twilight’s hair was refusing to settle down by the time Pinkie started strapping Mikoyan down for another afterburner test. This time everypony was smart enough to stand strictly out in front and to the side.

“Water ready!” Dash snapped.

“WATER IS READY!” Luna boomed enthusiastically. Behind her, a snowball the size of a house was floating in place.

“Alright thirty-one!” Dash turned to the stallion. “Give it EVERYTHING! We’ll make sure you don’t catch fire this time.”

The roar of air that resulted from the next five minutes rattled windows all the way up to Celestia’s chambers.

“It’s... not possible,” Twilight openly gaped.

When Mikoyan tried lifting Tom with only his wings once more, Twilight was astonished not only to see him pull it off successfully, but stop between flights, set the boulder, AND Princess Luna on his back, and knock out fifty pushups.

“This doesn’t...” Twilight Sparkle lost a little more composure.

“Definitely two GOs for that one,” Rainbow Dash nodded. “Now one more test!”

Luna levitated half a dozen boulders into the air and set them orbiting about her body as Mikoyan shot up into the stratosphere.

“PULL!” Dash ordered.

Six stones thundered into the sky, aimed directly at the distant speck.

Mikoyan saw them coming, and roared a challenge. With a jab, the first rock that reach him crumbled, the second one he evaded followed by the fourth. The fifth and sixth quickly met the fate of the first.

“Throw him a curve ball!” Rainbow Dash waved.

Luna nodded, smirking as she lobbed Tom into the sky at nearly the speed of sound.

Mikoyan turned, ready to shatter the stone. However, upon identifying the approaching rock as Tom, he quickly spun, rolling with the bolder as it struck. With a deft twist, he spun a complete circle in the air and sent it hurling right back at Luna just as fast as she’d sent t up.

“That’s a GO!” Rainbow Dash clapped as Luna effortlessly brought the rock to a halt. “Excellent work!”

“Impossible,” Twilight gaped.

“No such thing,” Rainbow Dash turned to her friend.

Tom landed next to them with a loud ‘thud’, Mikoyan settling down a moment later. The stallion sported many bruises and cuts, but Twilight quickly noted that he was looking a lot more muscular than she had noticed before.

Mikoyan kept his face neutral as he inhaled deeply, making himself look even larger and stronger. A flash of lightning lit up the stallion’s features, followed by a crack of thunder.

“Whoa!” Spike took a step back. “He’s got his own effects!”

“Sorry!” One of the pegasi from that morning zipped in and grabbed the small piece of storm cloud. “That one kinda’ got away from me!”

Spike watched the weather-pony go before he sighed in relief.

“False alarm,” he wiped his forehead.

“I think,” Rainbow Dash tilted her head to the side. “We’re ready.”

Twilight Sparkle just gaped at the stallion for a moment, then to her friend. Then she blinked and looked back at Mikoyan. What-?

“I- I don’t get it!” Twilight snapped. “You’ve only been at this for a few hours! There’s no possible way he could have had any kind of benefit from that training in such a short time!”

“I guess it just goes to prove the value of Commander Hurricane’s methods,” Rainbow Dash trotted up, a smug grin plastered on her face. “He was tough, but he was good at what he did.”

“No no no no NO!” Twilight stamped a hoof. “You don’t GET it! There’s no possible way he could have built up any kind of muscle in such a short time! Not only was it too short a time, but he also didn’t consume enough protein or water to make up for the added mass!”

“What appears to be thy problem?” Princess Luna asked as she rejoined the group. “Twilight Sparkle, this tantrum is most unbecoming for a pony such as thee.”

“I’m not having a tantrum!” Twilight snapped defensively.

“She’s SO throwing a tantrum,” Spike muttered to the princess. Luna bent her head down to the dragon.

“Is Twilight often like this?” she asked. “I don’t remember her being so easy to upset.”

“Eh,” Spike shrugged. “She usually gets like this when something doesn’t make sense. Frankly it really DOESN’T make sense but...-”

“SEE?!” Twilight turned, her mane frazzling as she looked towards the baby dragon. “Even Spike agrees with me!”

“Whoa,” said dragon raised his hands in the air. “Let’s not drag me into the middle of this.”

Luna nodded in seeming understanding, a hint of a smirk forming on her features.

“Shall we have the guards fetch the royal straitjacket?”

Spike cringed.

“No,” he glanced up at the winged unicorn. “No, she’ll get over it in a little bit.’

“Very well then,” Luna nodded regally.

“Why don’t you guys take this seriously?” Twilight frowned as she exchanged glances with the group. “Can’t you see there’s something seriously WRONG about what just happened?”

The unicorn was all but in a panic as Pinkie Pie, removing the hat from her head, started to giggle uncontrollably.

“What?” Twilight turned on her. “WHAT?! What’s so FUNNY?”

The pink pony fell over, now completely in the throws of laughter.

“WHAT?!” Twilight shouted again.

“Oh Twilight,” Pinkie managed to comment through a laugh. “You’re so silly.”

“WHAT?!” Twilight’s voice was getting frantic.

“Haven’t you learned ANYTHING from those books you read?” the earth pony continued through suppressed giggles.

“WHAT?!” Twilight’s mane was now completely disheveled, and she looked about ready to panic. “Answers! NEED THEM!”

“Okay,” Pinkie stood up, resting a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “Okay... Remember those books about the earth ponies who knew all that fancy kung fu stuff?”

“Huh?” Twilight asked.

Pinkie waved a hoof around them in a broad, sweeping gesture.

“Hostile training environment,” she explained. “Rigorous, BRUTAL training methods that would kill any normal pony.”

Then she pointed her hoof at Rainbow Dash.

“And of course, we can’t forget the hard driving trainer.”

Rainbow Dash just grinned slyly.

“I...” Twilight blinked, then her face went serious.

“What?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Pinkie continued with a grin. “We were doing a training montage.”

“WHAT?” Twilight’s features bordered on disgust.

“Those ALWAYS work!” Pinkie winked.

Twilight Sparkle stood there, her mouth hanging open as she cast a long, sweeping gaze at those assembled. Each and every one of them, even the princess, had this knowing smile on their faces as if they’d figured the whole mess out long before. The unicorn tried to work her mouth, but in all honesty, she couldn’t find words.

Finally, with a huff, she turned away, heading back toward the castle.

“Come on Spike,” she called back. The dragon quickly scrambled after her.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

Twilight’s mane visibly twitched this time, her voice coming unhinged once more.

“Some place where the universe hasn’t yet broken,” she informed her assistant. “Like the castle library.”

The others watched Twilight and Spike retreat down the hill towards the road. Finally, after a few minutes of staring, Mikoyan was the first to speak up.

“Mikoyan is liking new comrades,” he announced.

He raised his hoof, and it was met in the air by the hooves of the three mares next to him.

Act Three: Crushour

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“You WILL fail…”
- Robot Unicorn Attack


Ice, ice everywhere... That was the first, and most prominent impression anypony got upon visiting the rugged city of Stalliongrad. It covered everything. Every home, every street, every bridge. Nothing that held still could escape its slow creeping grip. It glistened in the sun like crystal, sparkling in a deceptive beauty that was a constant reminder to the inhabitants of the city of one important thing.

It was cold.

Of course, it was always cold in Stalliongrad. This was the city of blizzards. A place so far north that the winter months were a time of constant twilight. Celestia’s warm sun was so low in the sky that it was almost powerless to provide warmth to the citizens of this foreign city. And only then when it managed to peak through the seemingly endless onslaught of sleet and snow dumped from some of the most frightening storms on the planet. Rumors mentioned that windegos were an ever present threat and that just going outside was considered a hazard to your health. It was enough to scare any pony in their right mind so much as to avoid the city.

Of course, in such hostile conditions, one must ask WHY any pony in their right mind would dare to brave such treacherous conditions.

Many ponies would say it was greed. Greed for the rich mineral and gemstone deposits in the mountains to the north. Otherwise would say it was because it was such a secluded place and that the ponies of Stalliongrad simply didn’t like visitors. What better way to be left alone than to live in a place so openly hostile?

But if you asked any pony that lived there, they’d all tell you the same thing.

‘Stalliongrad makes you STRONG.’

Yes, pride was the driving force behind the ponies of Stalliongrad. Pride drove the first pony that settled in this place to do so because he wanted to prove his mettle. Pride that drove others to join him because they wanted to say to the world ‘we live here because we CAN’, and it was pride that that built an entire city of ponies into what it was today because they wanted to be tough.

Of course, with a little pride, comes a little stubbornness.

The city had been destroyed by blizzards and avalanches no less than five times in the last four hundred years. And every single time, the citizens rebuilt it, learning from their mistakes and coming back stronger than ever. Their weather force was renowned the world over as some of the toughest, most tenacious ponies ever known.

In this place, in this world all their own, it was mistakenly thought by many others that the ponies of Stalliongrad were cold, uncaring machines that reflected the environment they lived in. That the cold made them bitter, barbaric, and crude.

But the truth of the matter was that the ponies of Stalliongrad were some of the friendliest, most open you could ever hope to meet. No matter what your differences, you were as welcome there as anypony else. Because every pony in Stalliongrad knows, the real enemy is the cold, and only by working together could they hold it off.

This sense of camaraderie pervaded the entire city, lurking just below the surface like strong glue. You could feel it in every store, shop and pub in the cheerful singing, and hearty laughter that was the signature hallmark of a pony that grew up there.

A blast of such mirth accompanied the warm glow of lanterns as the door to one of the largest pubs in town swung open. Three large pegasus stallions quickly made their way out into the ever present snow, shutting the door so as to not let any more heat out than they had to.

“You have a good eye as always Manestay,” the largest one chuckled. The stallion was huge by pony standards. His faded brown body covered in rippling muscles.

“I would have never have thought to look here for mares like that.” He continued. “Most fun I’ve had in ages.”

“I was not the one who got them talking,” the smallest of the trio replied. His fur was as white as the snow he was standing in. But his mane was as black as the night sky. “Mikoyan did the grunt work for us.”

“HAH!” the large pegasus laughed. “Don’t go giving Ivan all the credit.”

He reached out with his wing and swatted the currently silent third member of the party on the back.

“If we let it go to his head, we won’t get to talk with any of the ladies while he’s around,” he continued. “I’m starting to think we’ll have to call him the Mare Slayer if he keeps laying it on that thick.”

“You flatter me Ursa,” Mikoyan chuckled. “But if I hadn’t said something, you’d still be staring at them from across the room right now. Honestly, is it that hard for you to talk to the ladies?”

“Hey,” Ursa frowned. “It’s not that I have a hard time talking. I just can’t find the right thing to say. I don’t want to scare anypony. After all-”

Ursa flexed his wings, kicking up a swirl of snow about them.

“This much stallion can be a little intimidating.”

“Hah!” Manestay, the smallest looked off to the side. “Intimidating is right. How many oatmeals did you guzzle down again? I can’t believe you spend most of your pay on food.”

“It’s not easy keeping this physique,” Ursa tucked his wings away again with a frown. “If I slack off for even a day I’ll spend the next three just catching up. “

Mikoyan laughed as they turned a corner.

“Ursa,” he continued. “I think you need not worry too much about catching up. You’re so far ahead there that nopony can even compare-”

Mikoyan quit speaking when he noticed that his larger friend had come to a stop, standing stiff. Likewise, Manestay had also come to a halt.

The reason for this sudden change in attitude was probably because of the intimidating glare of the black pegasus mare in front of them. Upon realizing who it was, even Mikoyan snapped into a rigid posture.

The mare inspected them for a moment in silence, her white mane drawing a sharp contrast with her body as she did so.

“Have you three been hanging out in pubs while on duty again?” she asked after a moment.

The three stallions glanced at each other, and then back to her before they broke into a chorus of ‘Us? Naawww! Not us!’ and various other statements of denial.

The pegasus mare rolled her eyes up and to the side and blew a lock of her mane out of her face as if to say ‘yeah, sure…’

“Well,” she continued again at the protesting ponies. “While you’ve been NOT in pubs, I’ve been looking all over town for you. We’ve got a major storm blowing down out of the mountains and command’s put us on containment duty.”

“Awwww… I HATE containment duty,” Ursa blurted out.

“You hate everything,” Manestay pointed out.

“But I hate containment duty even more,” Ursa reared up and crossed his hooves. He looked absolutely colossal in that posture. “All the zip-zip-zipping around. It’s more Mikoyan’s style than mine.”

“Tupohoove I don’t want to hear it right now,” the mare glared up at the stallion without the slightest flinch. “We’ve got a storm to contain, and you and I both know the storms wait for nopony. So I want you guys on station in ten minutes. Got it?”

“Yes ma’am,” the three stallions chorused.

The dark pegasus mare nodded before quickly turning to take flight.

“TEN MINUTES!” she snapped over her shoulder one last time, and then bolted into the sky.

The three stallions waited patiently until she was out of sight before Manestay cracked a grin.

“I love it when she’s bossy,” he cooed.

Ursa frowned down at the smaller pony, suppressing a retch.

“I don’t understand what you see in her,” Tupohoove shook his head. “Captain Berkut is always so SERIOUS.”

“That’s what I like about her,” Manestay shrugged. “I like a mare who knows her stuff.”

“Eh…” Ursa dropped back down to all fours. “I liked captain Term better. He knew how to have fun.”

“You and I both know the only reason we get away with even HALF the stuff we do these days is because Berkut goes easy on us,” Manestay shot back. “Commander Term would never let us hear the end of it if he’d caught us in a pub while on duty.”

Ursa just turned his head away towards Mikoyan, grumbling.

“She’s so SERIOUS though,” he rumbled.

“She’s new,” Mikoyan shrugged back to his larger friend. “She’ll lighten up in a few more months. Give it time.”

“I still don’t see how she got the position of captain over you,” the larger stallion complained. “You have far more experience than she does. If you wanted, you could take that position easily.”

Mikoyan trotted to a halt, frowning at his larger friend.

“She’s in charge because that’s what command wanted,” the blue-gray stallion chided. “She was the highest scoring student in her class. They want her to get experience quickly so they can put her on the planning board. To do that they have to give her an experienced team. There is no other way.”

Then Mikoyan chuckled as they started walking again, snowflakes starting to fall around them.

“Besides,” he continued. “Could you imagine the look on Antonov’s face if he found out ‘Crazy Ivan’ was in charge of a team?”

All three stallions laughed at that point, picking up the pace.

“APFPH!”

Three heads snapped over as one. Stalliongrad ponies were not unaccustomed to the sound of a sneeze. Colds after all, were rather common in a subzero climate. But in that city, a sneeze was often equated more to the sound of a snapping icicle for the size and strength of its residents. Yet for some odd reason this new, strange sneeze reminded the trio of a small, exploding cotton ball.

“APFPH!”

“She’s from Equestria.” Manestay piped up with certainty before the other two had even managed to find the source of the sound.

“Somepony should probably warn her not to stay out too long,” Tupohoove advised as he finally spotted her just up a side street. It was a small, black pegasus with twin stripes of red in her mane. Her dark coat immediately reminded the larger stallion of their recent encounter with their new ‘captain’, causing his mood to sour once again.

“APFPH!”

“You can do it,” the larger stallion nodded to Mikoyan. “I’m not in the best of moods all of a sudden, and I’d rather not scare the tiny thing.”

“You are never in the best of moods,” Mikoyan frowned up at Ursa.

“Eh,” Mainstay interrupted. “You have a way with the skittish ones anyway. If she’s from home, she’ll probably all nerves from the rumors. Best if you handle it.”

“Why not you?” Mikoyan asked. Mainstay quickly leaned back, holding both hooves in a warding gesture.

“You both know I can’t approach a girl to save my life,” the white pegasus replied. “I’m surprised I don’t have permanent hoofmarks on my face.”

“APFPH!”

“Bah!” Mikoyan snorted. “You two go on ahead then. I’ll catch up.”

The two stallions nodded and continued on their way down the street. Mikoyan turned, trotting over to the small mare that had the misfortune of catching the local cold.

Upon closer examination, he found that her body was totally unsuited for the weather. Her frame was light, and she looked so lithe that a strong breeze might snap her in two. The look made it seem to the stallion, that her wings might be a few sizes too large but he was certain that just her frame throwing everything out of proportion. Her mane was pushed back, the red stripes in it surprisingly smooth, as if she’d just recently brushed it back neatly.

“Hello,” the blue-gray stallion commented, switching to the Equestrian tongue. “Is being a-“

“APFPH!”

Mikoyan was cut off by another of her exploding cotton ball sneezes before she stopped and shivered. Strange how Equestrians seemed to take colds a little harder. But then again… Stalliongrad ponies were so used to colds that Mikoyan couldn’t even tell the difference between cracking ice, and hacking coughs. On the whole she seemed… Puny didn’t seem to be the right Equestrian word for it.

“Dorry,” the small pegasus replied after recovering. “I’b a lidda lod.”

Mikoyan did his best to translate, having a hard enough time speaking Equestrian normally. A pony with a runny nose was going to make this a hundred times harder.

“Is being very cold outside,” he continued he previous thought. “You should be going inside where it is being warm. Why is Equestrian pony doing in Stalliongrad?”

The small pony shivered again, glancing around at the ice covered buildings.

“I’b jud here for a liddal bid,” the smaller pegasus replied. Mikoyan thought he managed to translate that correctly. “Do you know where ciddy ‘all id? I cad fid’id.”

Mikoyan frowned and leaned down.

“Mikoyan is having hard time understanding,” he stated as clearly as he could. “Is you being saying you is looking for city hall?”

The Equestrian pegasus nodded emphatically. The action struck Mikoyan as rather cute.

“Yed,” her enthusiasm had jumped. “I god do deliber dubdig,”

Again, the Equestrian was almost incomprehensible to the larger stallion, but her nodding made up for where words failed. Mikoyan raised his head, looking up the street.

“Is being four blocks south of here,” he nodded. “Be turning left at frozen river. Is big huge domed building with statue of pegasus on top. You can’t be missing it.”

“APFPH!”

Mikoyan frowned. That cold was going to be the death of this little filly yet. From the cherry red of her nose, he guessed she’d been at it a while.

“Here,” he turned and tugged at the large scarf wrapped around his neck. “Is being dangerous to go alone, take this.”

Mikoyan reached out, wrapping the scarf around the Equestrian’s neck noting that her shivering stopped almost immediately thanks to the warmth left in it.

“Are do dor?” she looked at him, confusion written her features. Mikoyan didn’t understand a word she said. But the tone was enough to guess.

“Is being fine,” he smiled warmly. “Mikoyan cannot be wearing scarf while working anyway. Keep it, there are being many like it in Stalliongrad. You must be staying warm.”

The small pegasus blinked silently, then closed her eyes and beamed a smile at him.

‘Dank’oo.”

No translation required. Mikoyan felt the sudden urge to give the adorable little pony a big hug.

Adorable, that’s the word he was looking for.

“Best being going,” he nodded. “Is big huge storm coming.”

The Equestrian pegasus nodded and quickly turned, heading in the direction he’d indicated was city hall. Mikoyan watched her go, the feeling of having done something really nice for somepony giving him goose bumps.

Then he shivered. The goose bumps were actually goose bumps. Mikoyan realized just how well that scarf worked now that the cold air was nipping at his neck. But he quickly shook it off.

“Adorable,” he commented aloud in Equestrian. A little chill was worth a good deed. Besides, he’d be warm enough in just a few minutes.

Glancing around at the snow flakes, Mikoyan stretched out his wings, then took to the sky, quickly losing sight of the little filly on the ground below. In seconds, he was up to speed and cruising along towards the north. The others were probably already waiting.

It didn’t take long for him, maybe two, three minutes tops. The stallion dropped into formation effortlessly, and almost silently on Berkut’s left. Tupohoove and Manestay were on the right and bringing up the rear respectively.

“You were this close to being late,” the mare glanced over her shoulder, raising an eyebrow.

“Heh,” Mikoyan chuckled. “Close? Close only counts in horseshoes captain.”

“Well you’re lucky you’re so fast,” she smirked back. “I’d hate to have to write the most experienced pony on this team up for being late to formation because he was hanging out in a pub.”

“Lucky me, right?” he grinned back at her. “Today we’ll show you how it’s done.”

“Alright then,” she nodded, looking forward again. “Give me an air show boys.”

“Manestay!” Mikoyan snapped. “Give me some eyes!”

“On it!” the white pegasus replied, immediately climbing away from the formation.

“First storm cloud!” his voice called down a few seconds later. “Stringer nimbostratus! Bearing three four zero at seven thousand feet! Five miles!”

“Carrot Slicer!” Berkut called out.

“Agreed!” Mikoyan replied. Immediately they broke formation. The black pegasus zipping for a section of cloud that was sticking off from a much larger cloud bank. She came in fast and low, pulled up hard, and started looping around over and under the cloud until it curled and broke away.

In the mean time, Mikoyan accelerated and dove head first into the cloud, slashing through it in seconds before ripping out the other side. As he made to come around for another shot at it, Tupohoove flew up to the sectioned off fragment of the cloud and gave it good hearty buck, scattering it.

The trio repeated the routine, with Berkut assisting Ursa in his task until it looked as if someone were chopping a giant white carrot in the sky. The whole routine took less than two minutes.

“Good time!” Berkut called to the team. “Give me eyes Manestay!”

“Cumulonimbus!” the white pegasus called. “Bearing zero three zero, four thousand to twenty thousand! Four miles!”

“Lumberjack!” Mikoyan shouted to Berkut. She paused, glancing at the storm.

“Lumberjack!” she agreed. “Then Carrot Slicer!”

The trio attacked this latest cloud, Berkut circling near the base while Mikoyan tore through the middle just above her. The towering storm cloud quickly started to resemble a tree whose base had recently taken a beating from an ax. Ursa came along at this point higher up and struck the huge cloud in the side. A moment later, the entire stack amazingly began to tip over.

After that, the team quickly repeated the Carrot Slicer on it, reducing the once menacing storm cloud to a few stray puffs.

This routine repeated itself several more times. Manestay would direct them to the next cloud and identify it. Then Mikoyan and Berkut would quickly agree on the best plan of action, and then they would tear it apart. It was a system that seemed to be working, and the team was disassembling the blizzard with frightening ease until Manestay suddenly called out a warning right in the middle of dissecting an altocumulus.

“TRAFFIC ALERT!” he shouted. “Contact, bearing two-niner-seven! Five miles!”

“What?!” Berkut came to a halt from her task. “Nopony else is supposed to be out here!”

“Contact is climbing,” Manestay reported. “Altitude, twelve thousand…. Twelve one… Twelve two… Twelve three… wow. Heading looks to be zero two zero.”

“That’s right into the middle of the storm!” Tupohoove frowned as he coasted up next to Berkut. “We have to stop them. I don’t want to be doing a rescue mission in the mountains today.”

“Agreed,” Berkut nodded. “Mikoyan, can you catch them?”

“As good as caught!” Mikoyan snapped. “Manestay! Keep up as best you can!”

Both pegasi took off in a blur, Mikoyan easily out pacing the smaller white stallion within’ seconds. However he checked his pace since Manestay was the only pony that could see the foal getting ready to go rounds with the meanest storms in nature.

“Contact at our one-O-clock, four miles,” he continued. “Altitude seventeen thousand, five hundred...”

“Seventeen-five?” Mikoyan blinked. “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” Manestay replied. “I’ve never seen a contact climb like this. Eighteen, eighteen one... eighteen two…”

“We’ll have to climb too,” Mikoyan nodded, pitching into a sharp climb and pushing everything into his wings.

The two continued like that for a distance while Manestay counted off altitude. Mikoyan squinted, trying to catch sight of the pony or creature the smaller pegasus was tracking. But his eyes were nowhere near able to pick out what his comrade could see.

“Twenty eight thousand,” Manestay reported once more. “Starting to lose the rate of climb. Go now and you should catch them in time!”

“Going now!” Mikoyan nodded, accelerating.

The stallion quickly outpaced Manestay once more, climbing rapidly up to intercept as fast as he could.

He could see it now, barely. Just a small black outline that looked like a pony with wings in the distance ahead and above. They were somewhere around thirty thousand feet now. The air was so cold Mikoyan couldn’t even tell the difference anymore. But he ignored it, doing his best to catch up to the other pegasus as it leveled off. Most of the storm was below them, with spires of tall cumulonimbus towering up to each side and ahead, thrust up by the air currents passing over the mountains. To fly through this air was to gamble with one’s life. All it would take was one wrong decision, and a pony would never be seen again.

And to Mikoyan’s horror, such a wrong decision happened right before his eyes.

The pony, which seemed to have a rather wide wingspan for a pegasus, suddenly started to drop, turning their level flight into a dive that set them on a course for a bank of clouds below.

“No!” Mikoyan blinked. “That’s a crazy move! Even for me!”

He made for an imaginary point ahead, slightly below the hopeless foal. If he could get there first, he could stop them from making what would certainly be a fatal mistake.

Eyes back on the target, Mikoyan watched as the now slightly triangular pegasus silhouette tucked its wings back, accelerating as it descended. The stallion couldn’t help but be impressed. Guts to the point of foalishness was one thing, but the speed he was already feeling as he turned to match was astounding.

Still, the churning clouds of the storm were just ahead. And flying into the freezing sleet and snow within was suicide.

“STOP!” he shouted as loud as he could. “FOAL! TURN BACK!”

The wind of his flight yanked his voice away, never to be heard again. There was no way the pony ahead would have heard it. Mikoyan’s features fell as he watched the pegasus helplessly. Its wings rose up, curling slightly at the tips in an almost majestic manner, reaching out to scoop at the air. Then they snapped so hard and so fast Mikoyan had to think for a moment if it was really a pegasus he was watching.

The sound a loud crack reached his ears a moment later, and the creature disappeared into the cloud.

Mikoyan leveled out. There was nothing to do at this point. If the pegasus wouldn’t make it, the only job left was going to be rescue. And in this weather, those chances were-

‘PTOOM!!!’

Mikoyan almost lost control when the shock-wave struck. The cloud below and ahead of him tore open like a cheap candy wrapper by the force. A moment later, he spotted something ripping up from it, dragging a trail of cloud remains and precipitation with it as it climbed.

The stallion blinked as he recognized the shape as that which had just vanished. The pegasus he’d been chasing. It continued to climb, forcing Mikoyan to crane his neck in awe as it drew a line higher and higher into the dim starlit sky.

“Sweet Mother Losha,” he gasped, his eyes the size of saucers.

The white streak continued to stretch, climbing far over the clouds of the storm, off into the distance. Beyond a certain point, it was high enough that Mikoyan could see the light of the low hanging sun reflect off it. The leading edge was pulling away so fast that it was nothing like he’d ever se-

Everything went black as something struck the stallion in the face. No sooner did that happen than something tangled up on his left wing. Instantly he knew he was in trouble, his body rolling sideways mercilessly thanks to the obstruction. The stallion struggled to get his hooves on the offending object blinding him, but only succeeded in tangling one of those up too. Things very quickly went from bad to worse as his rolling descent turned into an out of control tumble.

“I got you!” a mare’s voice suddenly snapped.

His fall abruptly halted as hooves caught a hold of him. Then he could feel the leverage as the pony twisted, swinging him up and releasing him. A moment later, a much more firm set of hooves caught him and locked him safely in place.

“You know,” the mare’s voice continued playfully. “I could have sworn you knew better than to bring scarves with you when working.”

Mikoyan fought with his assailant a moment longer, finally managing to yank it off his face to reveal he was firmly cradled in Ursa’s hooves. The object that had struck him was little more than a simple blue scarf. An item of which could end up being a bit dangerous in this line of work for exactly the reason he’d just displayed, and why he never took one with him flying.

Of course, there was no way a scarf could just appear in the sky, and he’d given his scarf to that-

Mikoyan blinked, glancing at the scarf flapping in his hoof, then up at the long trail in the sky above.

“Wow,” Manestay dropped into formation next to Berkut. “I’ve haven’t seen a pony move like that since Rainbow Dash stole the show at the Best Young Flier’s competition in Cloudsdale. I’d say that’s a rate of climb somewhere around six or seven thousand feet a minute.”

“What was that thing anyway?” Berkut nodded into the distance.

“Not thing,” Manestay corrected. “Pony… That was a pony.”

“A PONY?!” Berkut looked aghast. “Don’t pull my tail Manestay. I’m the one who has to write the report.”

“That was a pony,” Manestay affirmed once more. “That scarf came right off him too. And good thing I saw it when it did…”

The white pegasus glanced over at Mikoyan where he sat, hanging from Tupohoove’s arms.

“Well,” the oversized stallion rumbled into the conversation. “If that was a pony, who the heck was it?”

“Horseradish if I know,” Manestay replied. “Only pony I’ve seen go that fast was Rainbow Dash. And that was not Rainbow Dash. I’ve no idea who he is, but he was-“

“She.”

“Pardon?” Manestay blinked as Mikoyan interrupted him. “What’d you say?”

“She?” Berkut asked. “Mikoyan do you know who that was?”

The stallion looked down at the scarf, turning it over to where he remembered having written his name on it in simple ink. Spotting his name staring back at him, he slowly looked back up at the fading streak in the sky.

“Mikoyan?”

“Adorable,” he breathed out the word in Equestrian.

“Mikoyan…”

“Most Adorable.”

“MIKOYAN!” Rainbow Dash shouted.

The stallion jumped.

“I agree that Fluttershy is probably the most adorable pony around here,” she continued in annoyance. “But you don’t have stand there and get all goofy looking when you say it. I mean seriously, you’re creeping me out here.”

“Oh,” Mikoyan shook his head, rubbing his hoof over his mane in embarrassment. “Mikoyan apologizes. He was being reminded of day he is being meeting Dainty Dish for first time.”

Fluttershy blinked quietly at the stallion she’d never met before, then looked over to Rainbow Dash.

“I guess you two haven’t met yet,” Dash rolled her eyes. “Mikoyan, this is Fluttershy. Fluttershy, meet Mikoyan. He’s not from around here.”

“Oh,” Fluttershy looked. “It’s nice to meet you, you must be from Stalliongrad.”

Rainbow Dash blinked, but Mikoyan spoke first.

“Oh?” he began. “The pleasure is being all mine. And how is pretty yellow pegasus such as yourself being knowing about Mikoyan?”

“Oh,” Fluttershy shrank away, blushing as her voice dropped in volume. “It’s just… I’ve heard rumors about the stallions there.”

“Rumors?” Mikoyan asked. “Tell us about these rumors...”

“Well,” Fluttershy seemed to shrink even more; her voice even more than that. “I heard the stallions are all big, and loud, and very strong… and… and….”

“And handsome?” Mikoyan leaned down, smirking as he put on his best ‘charming stallion’ gaze. Fluttershy meeped out something almost inaudible and nodded her head.

“Oiiii…” Dash slapped her face, then reached out and cranked one of Mikoyan’s wings back and started pulling him down the castle hall. “Come on lover-boy.”

“GAH!” Mikoyan gasped as his wing was bent in a direction it wasn’t designed to go. “Being careful with Mikoyan! He is fragile!”

“Bah!” Dash waved it away. “Quit being such a sissy. You got smashed by a boulder and it didn’t even faze you.”

Fluttershy blinked, her blush fading, and trotted quickly to catch up.

“Wh- What’s going on?” she asked her friend. Dash turned to her for a moment.

“Oh nothing much,” she shrugged. “I’m just heading up to grab my goggles. Then we’re going to go try and catch Dainty Dish on her next pass.”

“What?” Fluttershy asked, pausing. “I’m afraid I don’t understand…”

“Short version,” the multicolored pegasus continued. “Mikoyan here likes Dainty Dish, and he wants to meet her. But he wants to do so by catching up to her to prove himself worthy.”

“Oh!” Fluttershy stopped. “That sounds… hard. And romantic… And dangerous.”

“You bet it is,” Dash smirked. “Crazy stallion here already caught fire and crashed this morning. We’ve been training since then.”

“Could you be letting go of Mikoyan’s wing now?” the aforementioned stallion complained.

“Only if you stop flirting with every pretty mare in sight,” Dash turned to him. “I want your head in the Game.”

“Flirting?” Fluttershy asked.

“His idea of fun,” Dash frowned, then turned to Mikoyan again. “It’s kinda’ distracting though. I’ve been towing this lug all over Canterlot for the last hour trying to keep him from hitting on every mare in sight, and now he’s gone and started flirting with you…”

“Is problem?” Mikoyan asked. “Mikoyan is being telling comrade Dash that flirting was not big serious thing. Just fun.”

Dash cranked the stallion’s wing a little more, making him cringe in pain.

“Yeah,” she began. “Well Fluttershy here is MY comrade, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t flirt with my ‘comrades’ when we’ve got business to attend to.”

“It-“ Fluttershy began. “It’s okay if he wants to flirt… I don’t mind at all.”

“It’s NOT okay,” Dash frowned, dropping Mikoyan.

“If it being that much of a problem for comrade Dash,” Mikoyan shook his head and dragged himself up. “Then Mikoyan understands. He will not being flirting with cute Fluttershy anymore.”

“Good,” Dash nodded. Then she trotted over to a chamber door and pushed it open.

The suite she was sharing with her friends was enormous. Not only had Princess Celestia given them the honor of staring in the pageant the night before, but she’d ensured that their stay was as comfortable as possible. Their room had everything…

EVERYTHING.

There was a fully packed cupboard with only the finest of freshly baked sweets. (‘Was’ being a keyword when dealing with the likes of Pinkie Pie…) They each had their own four-poster bed, complete with cloud pillows straight from Mile High City. (Dash was SO stuffing one into her saddlebag when they went home…) There was even a brand new issue of Wonderbolts Weekly sitting on the bed that hadn’t been there this morning.

When Celestia wanted to show appreciation to somepony, she pulled out all the stops. The only thing missing was a fancy butler with a monocle. (Twilight vetoed that one.)

“Hey Rarity,” Rainbow Dash announced as she noticed her friend relaxing on one of the beds. Then she stopped and made a sour face once she noticed it looked like her friend had dipped her head in a mud puddle. “Ech!”

“Oh, don’t be so judgmental dear,” Rarity frowned blindly from behind a pair of cucumber slices. “You really ought to try it first.”

“But you HATE mud,” the pegasus frowned as she walked past her friend. “Why would you go and WEAR it?”

“This isn’t just MUD,” Rarity replied. “This is some of the finest imported, mineral rich soil anywhere.”

“Whatever,” Dash rolled her eyes, making her way over to her bed. Her goggles were tucked under the pillow. “But why are you in here instead of out there, hobnobbing or whatever it is with all those rich types?”

“Oh I can do that any time dear,” Rarity stretched herself out a bit. “But it’s not every day a lady can get her hooves on some of the most expensive beauty products in Equestria. If the princess wants to lavish us with this kind of hospitality, I plan to take full advantage of it. In fact, I’ve got some left over, would you like to try it?”

Rainbow Dash made a sour face once more, quickly pulling her goggles out and placing them on her head.

“Nah I’m good,” she declined. “Not really interested in that kind of thing.”

“Suit yourself,” the unicorn replied dejectedly.

Rainbow Dash trotted back to the door, stopping to glance back at her friend once, then at Mikoyan, who’d stood there silently the entire time.

Then an idea popped into her head, a wonderfully awful idea.

Grinning mischievously, Dash motioned for the stallion to lean down, and quietly whispered something in his ear.

“What was that?” Rarity turned one of her ears towards them.

“Nothing important,” Dash voiced nonchalantly. As she did so, Mikoyan took silently to the air and floated over to the bed. About that moment, Fluttershy poked her head into the chamber, and started to squeak in surprise before her best friend quickly corked her mouth with a hoof, indicating a ‘shush’ motion with the other.

Once she had done so, Dash quickly floated into the air over next to Mikoyan, who was now hovering directly above the white Unicorn.

“Actually on second thought,” Dash continued, glancing around for a moment. “Maybe it IS a little important.”

“Oh?” Rarity asked.

“Well,” Dash continued with a smirk. “I think I might need a bit of a makeover after dealing with that storm this morning. It’s kinda’ messed my mane up.”

“That normally doesn’t bother you that much,” Rarity quipped. “Or was it just that bad out there?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Dash suppressed a giggle.

“Really?” Rarity replied in curiosity. “Do tell. You didn’t get frost bite did you? Oh! Dealing with missing patches would be SUCH a pain.”

At the door, Fluttershy’s eyes shot wide as she started to understand what was going on, and quickly covered her mouth with both hooves.

“You… might have to see this one for yourself,” Rainbow Dash smirked. “It’s pretty horrible.”

“Oh, must I right this second?” Rarity asked.

“You wouldn’t want me going back out there looking like a train wreck now would you?” Dash asked.

Rarity sighed for a moment, then sat up.

“Fair enough,” she began, lifting a cucumber slice off one eye. “Let’s see what’s so terrib-“

Dash’s fur color had faded, her mane was dark blue, she had a square jaw, and it was covered in a stubble of gray-black fur.

“Hello, pretty pony,” Mikoyan managed in the huskiest tone he could muster.

Somehow, the other cucumber slice popped right off her face, bouncing and rolling on the ground until it settled like a penny.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!!!”

Rarity bolted backwards, using magic to throw the blanket up at Mikoyan.

“WHO LET A STALLION IN HERE?!” She yelped. “I can’t let a stallion see me like this! I’m not presentable! DASH! Did you let him in? Why’d you let him in? GET OUT!”

The unicorn backpedaled a bit too far and ran into one of the posts that held the canopy over the bed. It immediately crashed down on Mikoyan, who was already fighting with the blanket thrown over him. Together the whole mess came crashing down on Rarity, burying her in tumbling bedsheets.

Rainbow Dash just began to laugh from a hiding spot she’d shot over to a moment before.

“It’s not funny!” Rarity’s voice came muffled from other the sheets. “Now get this, this… RUFFIAN off me!”

“Oh but it’s hilarious!” Dash laughed back. “Right Fluttershy?”

“Oh- uh… Me?” the yellow pegasus glanced between the rolling bedsheets and her grinning friend. “Well-”

“That ya’ll’s voice I hear up here ArrDee?”

Fluttershy was saved from having to answer by the sound of Applejack coming up the hall. “Have you seen Twilight lately? I saw her a whiles ago and she looked a might bit…”

The orange earth pony trotted into the room.

“Unhinged.” She finished. “You knowin’ what’s been eatin’ her today?”

Then she took notice of the tumbling blankets and sheets that had once been Rarity’s bed as said unicorn levitated the whole mess up and tossed it aside.

“Sweet sarsaparilla!” AJ snapped in surprise. “Rarity! I dinna’ know ye’ had it in ya’! Sneakin’ a stallion up here all for y’self…”

“WHAT?” Rarity froze in place. Her mud mask now smeared everywhere and making her an awful mess. The sudden silence was so awkward one could even hear Fluttershy blushing.

Rainbow Dash observed the looks on everypony’s faces. Fluttershy was pink as her mane, Rarity looked like she could die at any moment, and AJ…? Well, AJ’s look was ‘scandalous’ as Rarity would probably describe it.

That did it.

Rainbow Dash fell right out of the air, laughing so hard she had to fight to suck in a breath between dizzy spells.

“Er… Did I miss something?” Applejack asked. One glance at the group told her she’d misread the whole situation.

“UGH!” Rarity snapped as she recovered her dignity, wiping the smeared mud with a hoof. “Rainbow Dash, that was NOT funny! Scaring me with a stallion like that was in horrible taste!”

“Oh lighten up,” Dash wiped a tear from her eye. “He never even touched you.”

“Just the same,” Rarity hovered a towel off the floor and began dejectedly cleaning herself up. “That wasn’t funny. Now you’ve gone and made me waste a most terribly expensive mud mask.”

“Weren’t you just going on about how the princess gave it to us for free?” Rainbow smirked.

“That’s not the point!” Rarity snapped, lowering her towel. “That mask was a gift from the princess. To waste it like that shows the utmost disrespect for her generosity.”

“It’s just mud,” Dash sighed. “Honestly…”

“It’s NOT-“ Rarity began, then stopped herself and took a deep breath. “Never mind. We obviously won’t see eye to eye on this, and what’s done is done.”

With practiced ease, Rarity turned to her tossed sheets, using her levitation to quickly and efficiently fold them up and deposit them in the dirty laundry basket by the door.

“So,” she continued with somewhat forced control. “Who’s this new friend of yours?”

“Eh, just Mikoyan,” the rainbow pegasus shrugged. “He’s from Stalliongrad.”

“Meek-oy-ahn?” Applejack interrupted, brow furrowing in confusion. “Come now, why is it every foreign pony has to have the most confusin’ soundin’ names I ever heard?”

“Would you prefer to be calling Mikoyan ‘Miki’ instead?” the stallion smirked.

“Tarnation?” AJ cocked her head to the side. “Cain’t you just pick a normal, pony-like name? Something sensible, like snow-fox, or something. Your cutie mark looks like a fox made of snow after all.”

Mikoyan blinked in shock.

“What is being unpony-like about Mikoyan’s name?” he asked, trotting forward. “Mikoyan Ivanovich Gustaav is being thirty-one generations old! Is proud, STRONG name. Like he is being…”

“The part where I have to try and pronounce that mess,” Applejack snapped in irritation. “I’d like to TALK to you, not practice tongue twisters every time we meet. Is it too much to ask?”

Mikoyan looked genuinely offended at that.

“Dear,” Rarity broke in. “Let’s not go overboard. Rainbow Dash already tried to cause an incident once. Let’s not offend him needlessly. He IS from Stalliongrad, and that’s just how their names are over there.”

AJ closed her eyes and heaved a sigh.

“I know, I know… I’m sorry.” she exhaled. “I dun’ mean to… It just gets my heckles in a raise when somepony starts talkin’ in words I cain’t even pronounce.”

“Heheh,” Mikoyan’s expression had recovered as he chuckled. “Mikoyan is being understanding what pony means. So perhaps feeling is being mutual.”

Then he paused, glancing AJ up and down for a moment before asking a question.

“What is being your name?”

AJ closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.

“I guess it’s only fair,” she sighed, then looked up. “Name’s Applejack, sugarcube.”

“Hmmm…” Mikoyan nodded. “Applejack Sugarcube.”

AJ blinked.

“No,” she quickly cut in. “It’s just Applejack.”

“Just Applejack,” Mikoyan blinked back.

“No it’s still not right…”

“Still Not Right?” Mikoyan asked. “But you is being saying it is Just Applejack.”

“NO!” AJ snapped. “That ain’t it neither. It’s Applejack only!”

“Applejack Only?” Mikoyan tapped his head with his hoof. “Mikoyan is getting terrible confused.”

“NO! NO! NO!” AJ snapped, her irritation growing.

“Oh boy,” Rainbow Dash sighed as she let her head drop. Then she turned to glance at Rarity. The white unicorn glanced at the quickly escalating confusion and simply shrugged in response.

“You just ain’t getting’ it are you?” Applejack’s voice had climbed in volume considerably. “What part of this here sentence don’t you understand? My name is APPLEJACK. Jus’ that one word! No other parts!”

Mikoyan sat and thought about it for several seconds before continuing.

“So name is being Applejack?” he asked.

“Yes,” AJ replied.

“Nothing else?” Mikoyan continued.

“Nothing, else,” AJ nodded slowly, unsure for a moment.

“Mikoyan understands,” the stallion stood up straight and nodded. “Your name is Applejack.”

Applejack physically relaxed.

“Phew,” she sighed. “I think ya’ finally done got it.”

“Perhaps,” Mikoyan replied. “But I is still having one question…”

“And what would that be?” the farm pony went from relaxed right to slumped.

Mikoyan trotted up to her, towering over the smaller pony before leaning down and letting a sly grin cross is features. The stallion then leaned down to almost whisper in the farm pony’s ear.

“Is it being true Applejack really tasting like apple?”

The room went deathly quiet. For a few seconds, AJ just stared, thunderstruck. The only thing indicating she hadn’t shut down completely came from one of her ears as it twitched.

Fluttershy dove under the nearest blanket she could find.

A second later, Mikoyan’s body took one of the doors to the suite right off its hinges.

“WHAT THE THUNDERATION’S THE MATTER WITH YA?!” Applejack advanced on the senseless stallion with a tone that could have made even Celestia hesitate. “YER LUCKY IT’S HEARTH’S WARMING DAY, OR I’D BE TEMPTED TO GIVE YOU A RIGHT GOOD WHIPPIN RIGHT THIS VERY INSTANT! DON’T YOU NEVER TALK LIKE THAT TO ME EVER AGAIN! OR NEXT TIME I’LL BUCK YER SORRY FLANK CLEAR INTER’ NEXT YEAR! IT’S NO WONDER TWILIGHT’S IN SUCH A STATE! I’M THINKIN’ SHE MUSTA’ MET YOU AND YOUR NASTY MOUTH AT SOME POINT!”

“Whoa!” Dash gaped as her friend verbally tore into Mikoyan. “What just-?”

“-IF MAH GRANNY SMITH HEARD WHAT YOU JUST SAID, SHE’D-“

“I think we’ve effectively found a social button labeled DO NOT PRESS,” Rarity gawked. “I’ve never seen her go off like that before… Usually she’s so… So…”

“Tolerant?” Rainbow Dash provided.

“I was going to say casual,” Rarity scrunched her brow. “But that works too.”

“AND FURTHERMORE-“

“OKAY!” Rainbow Dash swept forward and landed between AJ and Mikoyan. “Chill out Applejack! He didn’t mean anything.”

“Did ya’ not hear what that varmint said ta me?!” Applejack spat. “I may not be the most formal pony in Equestria, but there are some things ya’ jus’ don’t go sayin’ to a girl no matter how rough and tumble she may be!”

“Relax,” Dash flared her wings to try and block Applejack’s vision as the farm pony did her best to continue her verbal assault around her friend. “He didn’t mean it like that! He was just trying to flirt! That’s all!”

“Flirtin?!” AJ finally tore her glare away from Mikoyan. “Ya’ call that kinda’ trash talk FLIRTIN?”

“Yes- I mean NO! I mean-“ Dash stopped and frowned as her friend continued to glare daggers.

“Look,” the pegasus continued after taking a moment to think. “Relax, he’s not like that. He just likes to have fun with it.”

“Fun huh?” AJ growled.

“Okay poor choice of words,” Rainbow Dash reached up and rubbed the back of her head. “Look, my bad. I should have warned you that he’s a bit of a shameless flirt. It’s just kinda’ his thing really.”

“Really?” Applejack deadpanned.

“Really,” Dash nodded. “You should have seen him and Princess Celestia team up on Princess Luna. They were taking shots at each other until her face matched Fluttershy’s mane.”

Applejack paused, her eyes growing slightly larger.

“He was flirtin’ with the princess?” she asked incredulously.

Dash nodded.

“And she was flirtin’ right back?” AJ continued.

“Shamelessly,” Dash confirmed. “I’ve never SEEN Celestia act like that. I mean, he called her the Prank Master.”

Dash frowned for a moment.

“I thought ‘I’ was the Prank Master…”

Applejack’s face scrunched up as she glanced at the stallion half-buried by the door. He hadn’t moved since he’d landed and honestly it looked like he was out cold. AJ turned back to Rainbow Dash, a worried frown marking her features.

“Ya’ don’t think I overdid it then, do you?” she asked.

Rainbow Dash just looked over her shoulder for about half a second.

“Nah,” she waved it off. “He’s fine.”

Absently, Dash reached out with her back leg and nudged the stallion in the side.

“Get up thirty-one. You’re not hurt.”

One of Mikoyan’s eyes snapped open, betraying his level of alertness with the way it glanced around the room and focused on the two mares.

“Is no fooling Comrade Dash,” he began curiously. “Is there?”

“Not after what I just put you through,” Dash rolled her eyes. “Like one of Applejack’s bucks even comes close to Princess Luna hurling a rock at you at the speed of sound.”

Mikoyan stood up, the large door tossed aside as if it were made of paper.

“This is being true,” he nodded in agreement. “Puny kick is not being match for bighuge power behind giant rock.”

“Puny?” AJ twitched again.

“YEEEEEAH,” Dash increased her volume before that last exchange could go anywhere. “You get used to that too. His Equestrian’s not exactly hot stuff.”

Rainbow Dash then jabbed the stallion in the side as he walked up.

“Like what Twilight told you about ‘puny’ ponies, right?”

“Oh!” Mikoyan realized. “Of course. Mikoyan is forgetting about de-rog-ah-tree word. Is very sorry to Applejack for using it.”

“Eh,” AJ still looked a bit unsure. “I guess it’s alright. If ya’ really didn’t mean nothin’ by it. No harm no foul.”

“What is bird having to do with conversation?” Mikoyan asked curiously. Applejack raised an eyebrow, then turned to Dash.

“I think I understand,” she nodded. Rainbow Dash just rolled her eyes.

“Ah forgive ya’ THIS time,” AJ continued at Mikoyan. “But lemme warn ya’ right now. Don’t go flirtin’ like that with me. “Wise I might just start gettin’ crazy ideas ‘bout takin you home with me an’ puttin’ ya to work buckin’ apples. Big Macintosh would probably like havin’ another stallion to chat with.”

“Heh,” Mikoyan scoffed, then quickly covered his mouth. Applejack narrowed her eyes.

“What,” she glared. “Is so funny?”

“Is nothing,” Mikoyan lied.

“Bull-hockey it’s nothin’,” the farm pony glared. “Out with it! Tell me what you think is so gosh darned funny about buckin’ apples for the resta’ yer life.”

“Is nothing big,” Mikoyan again tried to suppress a laugh. “Is just that Mikoyan would probably be enjoying easy work on farm.”

“Easy?” Applejack twitched again.

“Hoboy…” Rainbow Dash slapped her face.

“Easy?” Applejack advanced, a deadly glint in her eye. “Now lemme get this straight. You think farm work is easy? Are you callin’ me lazy? Are you sayin’ I don’t work hard?”

Mikoyan took a step back, shifting his gaze to Dash uncertainly.

“Mikoyan is confused-” he began.

“We both know darn well you ain’t confused,” AJ snapped, getting in his face. “So don’t try it. Now answer the question truthful like. Do you think I don’t work hard?”

“No!” Mikoyan snapped. For once, Dash noted, he was starting to look genuinely nervous.

“But you just called mah’ work EASY,” Applejack glared. “If ya’ think my work is easy, then you must think I’m not workin’ hard.”

“No!” Mikoyan took another step back. The farm pony just followed him, refusing to allow the stallion retreat.

“But you just said-“

“Applejack,” Rarity’s voice firmly grabbed everyone’s attention. “Dear? Stop.”

“But ya’ heard how he insulted mah’ work,” Applejack glared. “I do NOT appreciate that kinda’ disrespect.”

“Well you ASKED for it if I recall,” Rarity pointed out as she carefully walked between her friend and the nearly cornered stallion. “Besides… He’s from Stalliongrad.”

“Well what’s that gotta do with-?” AJ was interrupted before she could get very far.

“IF,” Rarity raised her tone to indicate she wasn’t quite finished. “What I’ve heard about the place is true, the conditions there are simply DREADFUL. Compared to the mess he probably has to deal with… Why, Sweet Apple Acres would be a vacation!”

“Is true,” Mikoyan stated solemnly. “Bighuge winter storms are being no laughing matter. There is always being risk of getting lost and being dying of cold. Compared to that, farm work is foals play.”

“There,” Rarity raised her head deceisively. “See? I doubt you have to worry about dying on a daily basis bucking apples. So let’s not go around taking offense to everything he says. Now, I understand how you feel. After all, he’s a bit crude… But honestly, you don’t have to go getting angry at him just to hide the fact that you obviously have the hots for him.”

Applejack closed her eyes, sighing.

“Yeah,” she began. “I guess you’re-“

Then the farm pony snapped them open wide.

“What?” she turned a terrified look at Rarity. “Did you- I do NOT have the HOTS, as you put it, for him! Have you even been listening…”

Applejack halted at the absolutely smug grin on Rarity’s face. After a few bewildered seconds, in which Rainbow Dash managed to choke back a laugh, the farm pony’s face slowly began to melt into a sly look of understanding

“Oh,” Applejack deadpanned. “Oh ah see where yer’ goin with this. Yer’ gonna play dirty… Aren’tcha?”

“One shouldn’t start what they are ill prepared to finish,” Rarity stated haughtily. “And turnabout IS fair play after all.”

“Ah’ll be sure ta’ remember that next time Applejack replied warningly.

“You do that then,” Rarity brushed the conversation aside. “Now…”

The unicorn turned to Mikoyan and Rainbow Dash.

“Putting aside needing to plot my revenge for earlier,” she addressed her friend. “Perhaps you can tell us WHY you’re dragging this stallion up here in the first place.”

Rainbow Dash blanked for a moment before stomping a hoof.

“Oh yeah!” she snapped. “I was just up here to grab my goggles. Then we’re going to meet Princess Luna.”

“Princess Luna?” Applejack blinked. “What? Why?”

“Long story,” Dash sighed. “But short version is lover boy here-“

Dash jabbed Mikoyan again.

“-has his sights set on a certain pegasus you might remember named Dainty Dish.”

“Dainty Dish?” Applejack glanced rapidly between Mikoyan, who was actually blushing a little bit all of a sudden, and Rainbow Dash. “Little fragile Dainty Dish, and this huge lummox? Yer’ kiddin!”

“Fraid not,” Rainbow Dash shrugged. “He tried to catch up with her this morning… That didn’t go very well.”

“Dear,” Rarity began. “Define ‘didn’t go very well’ for me if you would.”

“He caught fire, plummeted eighty thousand feet, and smashed into a snow bank on the side of the mountain.” Dash stated in a near flat monotone.

“He done WHAT?” AJ blinked in shock. “An’ he’s still ALIVE?!”

“Yeah I thought he was done for too,” Dash laughed.

“What’s he doin’ chasing her like that?” Applejack continued. “That kinda’ suicide stunt’s not something I would expect from anypony looking to earn the affections of a mare.”

“Is challenge,” Mikoyan explained. “Mikoyan must prove his worth to beautiful pony. If pony is fast, Mikoyan must be fast too. Is being best way to express how he feels.”

There was a brief, pregnant pause. Applejack seemed to mull on what she’d just been told for several seconds as she shifted her gaze between Dash and the larger pegasus stallion next to her. Finally, she found a voice for her thoughts.

“I reckon yer’ plum nuts,” she stated frankly.

Then she turned to Dash.

“Both of you,” she continued. “And I don’t have any idea why Dainty would give a maniac like him-“

AJ pointed at Mikoyan.

“-the time’a day. ‘Specially when he does nothin’ but hit on every pretty mare in sight. Were that me, I’d not give ‘im even second thought. In fact, I’d likely buck him through a few wall jus’ on principle alone.”

“Applejack,” Rarity frowned. “Isn’t that a bit harsh?”

“I’m sorry,” AJ, turned. “But tha’s the honest truth. I just don’t approve. He smells like trouble to me, an’ little Dainty’s too fragile to be strung along by some overly-macho blowhard who’s prob’ly gonna’ get his flank killed.”

Mikoyan took a step back as if an arrow had slammed into his chest. Applejack just leveled a neutral glare at him before she began to trot from the room.

“Now,” she stated over her shoulder. “I done said my piece. Beyond that, ‘tain’t no business a’ mine to be meddlin’ his affairs. Not today of all days anyhow.”

And she was gone.

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes after Applejack’s retreating form, unable to find the right words to fire back at her friend’s cold attitude.

“Well I for one think it’s cute,” Rarity pouted into the silence as she turned to Mikoyan. “I know I’d practically kill for a stallion that showed as much chivalry towards the mare of his dreams as your story suggests.”

“So who has the hots for whom now?” Dash let a smirk touch the corners of her mouth.

If the barb had fazed her, Rarity didn’t show it.

“I’m just keeping my options open,” the Fashion designer commented idly. “After what happened at last year’s Gala, I’ve found that chivalry is a bit harder to find in the nobility than I first thought.”

Then she smiled and fluttered her eyes at the larger pegasus.

“If nobility doesn’t work,” she continued. “There’s always exotic…”

Rainbow Dash glanced between Rarity and Mikoyan, finding the sudden change in her friend’s attitude just the slightest bit annoying.

“Yeah,” she commented. “Sure… But isn’t he a bit ‘crude’, as you put it?”

“Oh that can be worked on easily darling,” Rarity turned to Dash with a lecturing tone in her voice. “Manners and culture can be taught. Nobility on the other hand is part blood, part connections. And while he’s not nobility by blood, he DOES have the princess’ favor if she’s going have an open flirt war with him like you said.”

“Why is Mikoyan getting feeling he is being compared to trophy all of sudden?” the stallion asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Dash rolled her eyes. Rarity to just shot her friend a scathing look.

“RAINBOW DASH!”

All three of them jumped in place. The sound was like a crack of thunder that echoed through the chamber, causing everypony to cringe. Fluttershy, who was only just starting to emerge from the blankets she’d been hiding under, immediately retreated again.

“WHERE ART THOU?!”

“Oh blast!” Dash turned as Rarity winced under the sonic assault. “We’re late!”

“HEED OUR VOICE!” the thundering sound continued. “SHOW THYSELF!”

Some of the windows in the room visibly rattled, and the chandelier above them started to swing threateningly.

“I better flag her down before she breaks half the windows in Canterlot,” RD worriedly began. Then with a quick burst from her wings, she jetted over to the balcony doors and threw them open.

The cold air burst into the room, causing Rarity to shiver slightly while her friend started frantically shouting and waving into the sky.

After a moment, Rainbow Dash stopped, then quickly backed away from the balcony as the strangest sounding whistle reverberated through the room.

A moment later, the sound was punctuated by a heavy ‘thud’ that shook the castle right to its foundations when Princess Luna slammed into the balcony with the force of a large boulder.

“Whoa!” Rarity jumped back a step, then quickly composed herself when Mikoyan gave her a sly look.

“That was fun!” a younger voice crowed. It belonged to the motley colored coat of the colt currently perched precariously on her back.

“Thou taketh to the skies quite well for an earth pony,” the princess commended the young one. “Our landing would have shaken Discord himself, yet thou hath proven unshakable even with a ride such as thus.”

“But of course!” the young colt snapped in a chirpy tone. “It takes more than a few bumps to shake me off!”

Rainbow Dash smirked at the exchange as the young motley-toned colt hopped off Luna’s back. He looked vaguely familiar with the eye patch and the red bandanna hat. However she was having a bit of a time placing a name with the face.

“Who’s the shrimp?” she asked.

Luna remained cryptically silent, letting her eyes drift down for a moment as the colt took a moment to catch up with the conversation, then he quickly reached around and yanked a small wooden sword out with his teeth, brandishing it in the air for dramatic effect.

“I am known as Captain Pips!” he managed to orate clearly around the wooden handle. “Dread Pirate of the Equestrian skies! Scourge of Cloudsdale! And Hero of Canterlot!”

Dash snorted and failed to hide her laugh.

“How’s a pirate manage to be a hero?” she asked through her mirth. “Aren’t they bad guys by default?”

“No,” Pipsqueak frowned, lowering his sword. “Only MEAN pirates are bad guys… I’m a GOOD pirate!”

“Oh really?” Rarity trotted up. “So you’re saying that you’re actually the dashing swashbuckler type, not of those nasty, black-hearted, scurvy diamond dogs of the seven seas?”

“That’s right!” Pip announced. “But it’s the skies, not the seas.”

Rarity gave both the princess and Pipsqueak a blank look.

“Air-Pirates,” Rainbow Dash shrugged next to her. “Probably got it from Daring Do and the Wrath of Captain Karnage. It’s more a pegasus thing otherwise.”

“Yep!” the little splotched earth pony continued. “And this is my first mate, Midnight Wing-Luna! She was once known as the evil, dread pirate princess ‘Nightmare Moon’, but I defeated her in an epic snowball duel and she became part of my crew after I spared her a frosty fate.”

At that spiel, even Rainbow Dash paused to give Princess Luna a confused look.

“Dread pirate princess?” she asked.

Princess Luna kept her gaze cool and even despite the almost blissful smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Now that she’s a good guy,” Pip continued oblivious to the sly look Dash was giving the princess. “We fly the seven skies in search of treasure, fighting evil pirates, and saying ‘YAR!’ a lot!”

“YAR!” Luna snapped with a growl at the end punctuated by her vocal powers. The entire chamber rattled in response. “Tis all true. We were once known as the dread Nightmare Moon, but the dashing pirate Captain Pips saved us from ourselves. We owe him everything for showing us mercy, and will follow him to the ends of Equestria.”

Dash hooded her eyes for a moment, then leaned down to Pipsqueak.

“So,” she began. “What about the Elements of Harmony, huh? Wasn’t it their awesome magical powers that weakened her enough for you to fight?”

For just a moment, Luna’s smile faltered as she allowed herself the time to roll her eyes.

“Well,” Pip drew out while he sat there thinking about it. “The Elements DID weaken her… But only a truly dashing hero has what it takes to reform somepony of pure evil...”

“Bah!” Dash stood up. “Just like a pirate to steal all the credit.”

“We can do that?” the colt's eyes got large.

“Of course you can dear,” Rarity interrupted. “After all, you wouldn’t be a pirate if you didn’t steal something. If you’re going to steal anything, might as well be that.”

“Hmmm…” the earth pony furrowed his brow in thought. As a consequence, the eye patch folded slightly, revealing just how flimsy the costume really was.

“Now,” Rarity continued. “I believe there’s a treasure chest in here somewhere. If you can find it, you should be able to add a few precious gems to your collection.”

Pipsqueak froze, his eyes somehow managing to grow wider than the already impossible size they had become.

“AVAST!” he shouted. “Thar be treasure in this here…”

He paused to look around, eventually drifting to Luna for ideas.

“Cave?” the princess suggested, noting the ‘cavernous’ shape of the room.

“CAVE!” the foal shouted, then raised his wooden sword up. “And where there’s treasure, there’s Captain Pips! Drop the anchor Midnight Wing! We go a treasure huntin'!”

“PERHAPS!” Rarity was rather loud, and quick on the draw. “Perhaps it would be wise to have your first mate guard the entrance?”

Pipsqueak stopped, casting a curious glance at the four assembled adults.

“Just in case an evil pirate attacks,” Dash caught on rather quick. “Like Karnage...”

The young colt’s eyes brightened.

“Of course!” he nodded. “Stay here and guard the entrance Midnight Wing!”

At that, he leapt into the room.

“I’ll find the treasure!”

While Pipsqueak began systematically scouring the room for a ‘treasure chest’, the others turned their gaze back to princess Luna, who was tracking the colt with her eyes, a barely contained smile of pure happiness on her face.

“Right,” Dash noted at something unsaid. “You’re having WAY too much fun right now.”

Luna’s soft expression solidified as she brought her eyes down to the group in front of her.

“Apologies on my distraction,” she nodded towards the colt all but ransacking the room. “But like I said this morning, I did promise him, and I’ve been waiting for this day for weeks.”

“Eh,” Dash waved it aside. “Foals will be foals, no big deal.”

“Indeed,” Luna smiled pleasantly once more. Then her gaze snapped to Rarity with an almost calculating look.

“And may I ask whom this newcomer is?” she continued.

“Oh this is Rarity,” Dash nodded to the fashion designer. “You know her.”

“Ah yes,” Luna nodded. “The Element of Generosity if I remember correctly.”

Luna then raised her hoof as if to offer a shake.

“Charmed,” she stated in a friendly tone. “It is nice to meet you in the flesh, and on less hostile terms than last time.”

“A pleasure of course,” Rarity performed a slight bow, and then to everypony else’s surprise, gently took the offered hoof and kissed the top of Luna’s sparkling blue slipper. Luna's eyes widened for a second before a soft chuckle escaped her.

“And here I thought everypony forgot how that worked,” she shook her head.

“Well,” Rarity released the princess’ hoof and raised her head. “I may not be as well read as Twilight, but I’ve learned a thing or two about classical etiquette. It’s a shame we’ve lost some of the more elegant traditions over the years.”

“Indeed,” Luna nodded. “It seems the Traditional Royal Canterlot dialect and voice were some of those casualties. 'Tis a really hard habit to break.”

“So I see,” the white unicorn nodded. “That explains the whole ‘we’ thing a minute ago. I think Twilight said something about that being dropped, what? Four hundred years ago?”

“Seven hundred,” Luna corrected. “Sister never really liked the idea of lording herself over other ponies. But then again, getting attention was never hard for her.”

“So I’ve heard,” Rarity nodded solemnly. “I bet that whole mess was just dreadful.”

“Very much so,” Luna affirmed, her voice growing just a touch curt. “But we’re past that now, thanks to you and your friends.”

“You slipped,” Rarity teased.

“Hard habit to break,” Luna shrugged with a smile.

The two shared a momentary laugh before Rarity continued.

“I just have one quick question,” she began. “About ‘Last Time’, if you don’t find it too imposing.”

“Ask away,” Luna shrugged again.

“Well when we…” Rarity began, trying to find words that held the right kind of tact. “When we ‘cleansed’ you, I seem to recall you not being so…”

Rarity looked at the princess, or rather, looked UP at the princess, biting her lip to try and find the most subtle way to finish her question without accidentally insulting her. Luna furrowed her brow for a moment, but then her smile returned when it clicked.

“Oh,” she smirked. “If you’re referring to my form…”

Luna gestured to herself.

“There’s a lengthy explanation for that,” she continued. “However, it would bore to death any pony who is not Twilight Sparkle. So I’ll just mention that after being ‘cleansed’ as you put it, my magic had been all but depleted for some time. Since my body and my abilities are so strongly linked, my body took a form accustom to the low amount of power I had at the time.”

“I understand,” Rarity nodded.

“Now I must impose,” Luna continued. “I made a visit to Ponyville back on Nightmare Night. I met just about everypony, but I don’t recall seeing you at the festivities.”

“Oh me?” Rarity laughed. “I got so wrapped up in a costume design that I never managed to get out of the Boutique.”


“Sweetie Belle!” Rarity snarled from inside the box she was stuck in. “When I agreed to dress up as a great pharaoh queen… I DIDN’T MEAN A MUMMY! LET ME OUT THIS INSTANT!”

“Sweetie Belle?"


Rarity reached up with a hoof and flicked it through her mane.

“Which was probably a good thing. All those tacky costumes would have probably caused me to throw a fit. I heard the mayor had THE most atrocious wig.”

Luna smirked for a moment as she recalled her first attempt to greet the citizens of the town, and the less than satisfactory introduction to the town’s mayor.

“It was an Afro clown wig,” she mused. Rarity mimed a gag motion. “If I hadn’t been so frustrated just trying to get everypony to relax, I would have laughed.”

“You had it that bad huh?” Rarity asked.

“It was rough early on” the princess admitted. “But Twilight was willing to give me the push needed to stick to it, and it turned out to be an enjoyable celebration in the end. Even if it DOES make fun of my… Episode.”

“If you can’t laugh at your own mistakes,” Rarity recited. “You can never learn to let them go and move on to greater things.”

“Starswirl, the Bearded,” Luna jumped in. “Actually, he said that to my sister when we were young… After a particularly embarrassing blunder handling the sun in front of a large crowd.”

“Is that who said that?” Rarity blinked. “I would have never guessed.”

“Yes,” Luna nodded. “If you want get her back for anything, you need merely mention the second summer sun celebration one thousand, three hundred and fifty seven years ago. As far as I can tell, it still bothers her.”

Rarity nodded mischievously.

“Just remember to DUCK afterwords,” Luna added. Rarity instantly frowned.

“Ugh… YAWN,” Rainbow Dash suddenly cut in. “Hate to sound bored out of my mind, but if we could wrap up this trip to dulls-ville any time soon, I’ve got a stallion here who needs to catch a flight.”

“Rainbow Dash,” Rarity turned to her friend flabbergasted. “This is PRINCESS LUNA you’re talking about. Show some respect!”

“It’s okay,” Luna smirked almost mischievously. “I’ve already become accustom to Rainbow Dash’s rather... enthusiastic behavior.”

“Yeah, and I still owe you for the lightning bolt on Nightmare Night,” Dash absentmindedly rubbed her flank with a wing. “That was a good one, but I usually stay hooves-off with that sorta’ thing.”

“Whenever you feel you have it in you,” Luna began cryptically. “Come at me whenever, and however you like. And don’t be afraid to go above what you would try on other ponies. Just be prepared to reap what you sew.”

“Oh don’t worry princess,” Dash advised. “I’ll think of something…”

Luna just continued to smirk, causing Rarity a certain level of unease.

“JACKPOT!”

All heads turned to ‘Captain Pips’ as he struggled to haul a case out from under Rarity’s bed. The case itself had a small sheet of paper on it; the words ‘Treasure Chest’ hastily scrawled on it and taped in place. Rainbow Dash had to admit, ever since Rarity had that big fight with Sweetie Belle (AJ told her all about it), she’d gotten a lot faster on little improv. stunts. Dash wasn’t even sure when she’d actually taken the time to set that up.

“This must be some,” the colt grunted around a handle much larger than the wooden sword he had. “Sewious tweasa!”

Mikoyan, watching the young foal struggle, trotted over, giving Pip a helping hoof.

“Hey, thanks mister!” Pipsqueak chimed.

“If noffink,” Mikoyan mouthed around the handle, hauling it out into the open. It was surprisingly heavy for such a small case. Not that it compared to Tom in any way, shape, or form.

“I wonder what kind of treasure we’ve got!” Pipsqueak chirped excitedly. Rarity smirked to herself and quickly trotted over.

“Why don’t you open it and find out darling?” she asked. “It IS a ‘Treasure Chest’ after all.”

“Alright,” Pipsqueak turned to the small case. “Stand back! I’m opening it.”

Despite no real ‘danger’ posed by one of Rarity’s belongings, the others played along anyway, taking a small step back.

“Da-da-da-da-da-da-da…” Pipsqueak began to hum the most curious tune to himself as he popped the latches. Then, placing both hooves on the corner, he yanked the case wide.

“DA DA DA DAAAAAAAA!!!!” he crowed, then his eyes again went wide as saucers.

“WHOA!!!”

Rarity stifled a laugh at the colt’s reaction to the pile of sparkling gems that stared back at them.

“That really IS treasure!” he announced in awe.

“Yes indeed,” Rarity reached out with her magic and levitated a bright yellow topaz from the case. The colt followed the stone with sparkling eyes before they were yanked back down by a lime-green emerald and a blue sapphire. “Now, take a close look. I’ll let you pick ONE that you’ll get to keep all for yourself.”

“Do you mean it?!” the colt whirled on the fashion designer in awe. “I get to keep one?”

“Pick wisely now,” Rarity smiled.

Pipsqueak rounded on the small case, eyes dancing over the various colored gemstones as he tried to decide which one he liked the most. So many choices!

A tap on Rarity’s back alerted the unicorn to Rainbow Dash’s presence as the pegasus sidled up alongside her.

“Uh, Rarity?” Dash began quietly. “Why exactly do you have all that?”

Rarity hooded her eyes slightly but quickly responded.

“Well,” she muttered. “I figured that if I was going to be in Canterlot for a few days, I’d try and design something holiday-themed if I found the time. So I brought along a few extra work supplies, just in case.”

“We’re on holiday Rarity,” RD deadpanned. “We’re supposed to be having fun.”

“My work IS fun,” Rarity pouted quietly. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it, now would I?”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes, glancing at Princess Luna.

“She hath a point,” the princess muttered.

“I think I like this one,” Pipsqueak’s strongly accented voice interrupted any further discussion. All eyes turned to the emerald the colt had set in front of himself.

“A fine choice,” Rarity commented as she levitated the gem up to eye-level. “I must say, it seems to suit the brown in your coat quite nicely.”

Then the unicorn floated the sparkling stone back down where pipsqueak grasped it in his mouth with a smile.

“Happy Hearth’s Warming Day,” Rarity smiled. “Be sure you don’t lose it.”

“Yeth m’m!” the colt mouthed around the stone.

With that, Rarity turned to the ‘treasure chest’ to close it up and put it away, only to find that the glittering gems had stolen the attention of another onlooker.

Mikoyan was staring at them forlornly, his mind seeming to be a million miles away, oblivious to the others around him.

He practically jumped through the ceiling when Rarity tapped him.

“Dear?” she began curiously as he slowly settled back to the ground. “Something bothering you?”

Mikoyan glanced at the open case of gems before quickly looking away from the group.

“Is nothing,” he began. “Mikoyan was just thinking about what Comrade Dash told him about getting a gift. He is reminded it is bighuge holiday, and perhaps he should be thinking about bringing pretty Dainty Dish nice thing when he is being catching up to her. But Mikoyan is being told that Dainty Dish is being allergic to great many things. He is being not knowing what to do…”

Rarity puzzled over the response for a second, her eyes drifting down to the case of gems.

“Ah,” she nodded in understanding. “I see.”

Then she glanced back at Dash, who just shrugged. Luna was busy ‘talking pirate’ with Pipsqueak about their new 'precious booty.'

“I guess a gem would be one of the better choices,” she continued after a moment. “Can’t really make a girl who’s allergic to everything sneeze with a shiny stone…”

Rarity paused and turned back to Rainbow Dash again.

“She’s not somehow allergic to gems is she?”

“I don’t think it’s quite THAT silly,” the pegasus shrugged. “Dust, certainly. But solid gemstones? Yeah… Not seeing it.”

“Good,” Rarity returned her gaze to Mikoyan. The stallion was looking at her curiously.

“Let’s take a look shall we?” she began, lifting a few stones up to inspect.

“You is not being suggesting Mikoyan-“ the stallion began. “He couldn’t want to be imposing.”

“Think nothing of it,” Rarity waved a hoof to dismiss the stallion’s worries. “I can find these by the cart load. Trust me on that. Now…”

Rarity levitated several different stones up.

“If you’re going to get her a gift like a gem,” she lectured. “You should consider how she’ll look wearing it. Dainty Dish is absolutely adorable-”

“Is exactly what Mikoyan was thinking!” the stallion interrupted. Rarity just shot him an annoyed glare and he immediately went silent.

“BUT,” Rarity continued her train of thought. “As I’ve come to realize, she’s got THE most difficult color scheme to work with out of any pony I’ve ever met. Black and gray with red stripes just doesn’t give one a whole lot of choices. I would suggest something yellow to replicate the look of a nice yellow flower in her mane, but then she’ll probably end up looking like a coral snake. And I doubt we want to send ‘deadly poison’ as the message here…”

Mikoyan just blinked silently, frowning at 'deadly poison'.

“So that pretty much eliminates yellow topaz,” Rarity continued after a moment. At the same time, she levitated several yellow gems out of the pile and dumped them over on her bed.

“Now,” she continued. “Most sapphires are right out as well. Blue may be the color of her eyes, but that’s not going to work here.”

Several blue gems joined the topaz on the bed.

“Furthermore,” Rarity continued. “I’ve also found that attempting to mix green with its complement red, while normally a good option, only ends in utter disaster with Dainty's colors. So we can get rid of emerald.”

Said stones left the case.

“And that pretty much leaves us with amethyst, ruby, kunzite, and jasper,” Rarity concluded with a certain air of finality. “Like I said, Dainty’s color patterns leave it hard to get any variety that works beyond the red hues.”

Mikoyan nodded slowly, his expression vacant.

“But, if I were to choose,” Rarity continued as one of her eyebrows went up. “I’d go with the kunzite. It’ll stand out nicely as an accessory without clashing with her normal colors.”

Rarity levitated a sparkling pink stone out of the pile and held it up where the light could catch it.

“This is probably the best choice we can come up with here. Any other color selection would clash horribly. Complementary colors in this case are-“

Rarity stopped in mid sentence. The expression on Mikoyan’s face had remained rather blank the entire time and hadn't improved much beyond frowning or smiling at what she was showing him.

“You have no idea what I’m talking about do you?” she asked.

Mikoyan shook his head.

“I am being hearing words,” he stated. “But Mikoyan is understanding nothing. All he knows is that this... kunzite, as you call it, is best gem for best pony. All other gems just look wrong.”

Rarity rolled her eyes, and let out a puff of air that blew at one of her locks. Her mane however, remained obediently in place.

“Well,” she nodded more to herself. “You have the eyes for it, if not the knowledge. I suppose you’ll go with my suggestion then?”

“Is you being sure?” Mikoyan asked. “Is very important thing to give away for pony you don’t know.”

“Dear,” Rarity’s voice took on an air of mirth. “You’re a bit rough around the edges, but I can tell a sweetie when I see one. Take it. It’s Hearth’s Warming Day, and it would be PETTY of me to refuse somepony in need after I just finished giving a gem to a CHILD.”

Luna glanced up from Pipsqueak. However, finding nothing of interest, quickly returned to their own scurvy conversation.

Mikoyan looked at the pink gem being levitated in front of him, then back to Rarity behind it, then back at the gem. After a few more uncertain intervals, he finally reached out tentatively and took the kunzite in his mouth.

“There,” Rarity began. “One step closer to- OOMPH!“

The next thing the unicorn knew, she was hauled up in Mikoyan’s forelegs; the stallion spinning in mid air as he practically squished her in a massive hug.

“Mikoyan cannot be thanking you enough,” he managed around the gemstone lodged in his teeth. “You is making him very happy at moment!”

“Yeee-“ Rarity stifled a squeak that didn't sound entirely upset. “Stallion! Strong!”

“Hey, hey, HEY!” Rainbow Dash hovered up to the pair spinning about in the room. “I thought your flirting rule was look, but no touch! What happened to that?!”

Mikoyan spun to a halt, Rarity's eyes swirling around slightly for a moment.

“What is comrade being talking about?” Mikoyan asked with a frown. “Mikoyan is not being flirting, he is giving pretty fancy pony bighuge hug of joy.”

Rainbow Dash cocked one eye.

“What?” she asked.

“Does you not being giving hugs when ponies give you gifts?” Mikoyan asked. “Is common practice in homeland. Is Mikoyan too, how is word? Touchy?”

“Hmph...” Dash snorted. “Just a little.”

“I'm not minding,” Rarity grinned silly from her spot. “Maybe a bit too tight on the lungs but...”

“Just put her down,” Rainbow Dash interrupted her friend before she could elaborate. Mikoyan obediently fluttered down and set Rarity back on all fours without argument.

“Killjoy,” the unicorn pouted silently and immediately checked her mane to save face.

“Yeah, whatever.” Rainbow shook her head. “I'm trying to keep this stallion focused, and running into every mare in Canterlot is NOT helping, yourself included. And in case Mikoyan's forgotten, we're on a schedule. And if he misses Dainty's next pass, all that training, and the pretty rock will be for nothing.”

Rainbow Dash then turned to Mikoyan, giving the stallion a very stern glare.

“Straighten out!” she ordered. “It's time to get your game face on!”

Mikoyan stiffened and quickly brought himself to attention much like a guard would.

“Good!” Dash snapped. “Princess Luna, do you have the time?”

Luna paused from distracting herself with Pipsqueak and looked over her shoulder into the sky. After a very brief moment, she snapped her head back to the group, her voice becoming stern.

“We have five minutes,” she announced. Immediately, Rainbow Dash's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets.

“We've got to move NOW!” she snapped urgently. “It's going to take that long just to get to altitude!”

“Then what are we waiting for?” Luna asked, unfurling her wings in an impressive display of majesty. “Come Captain Pips! It's time we hoisted anchor!”

“Shiver me timbers!” Pipsqueak scrambled up a wing that was offered to him and took his spot just above Luna's shoulders. “Hoist the sails! Mizt the mizzin mast! Swab the poop deck-!”

“Pipsqueak,” Luna dropped all pretence of character and looked over her shoulder. “I know I certainly didn't teach you that.”

“Sorry Princess Luna,” the colt dropped his head for a moment.

“Apology accepted,” Luna replied regally. “Now hold on...”

“W-w-wait!” Rarity chirped in. “What about me? I want to come see what you're doing.”
“Can you fly?” Rainbow Dash asked with a little more than just a hint of irritation.

“Wel- n- well, there was that competition in Cloudsda-”

“CAN YOU FLY?!” Dash put a lot of force behind her voice. For just a moment, Luna was impressed.

Rarity sighed and hung her head.

“No,” she all but pouted.

“Sucks to be you then,” the pegasus snapped. “LET'S RIDE!”

With that, Rainbow Dash snapped her wings, producing the now familiar crack and took off like a multi-hued lightning bolt. Mikoyan was hot on her afterimage a moment later.

“Apologies,” Luna commented regally as she checked her passenger one last time. “Perhaps another time when we aren't in a hurry. Today I am responsible for Pipsqueak, so I cannot help. Maybe we can talk later this evening after I raise the moon.”

The princess then turned, and with a powerful flap of her own wings, took off with enough force to leave Rarity's ears ringing from the sound it made.

After a few seconds, the entire group vanished into the sky.

Rarity took a deep breath, snorting before turning away towards the entrance.

“Don't think I'm just going to sit here and miss the entertainment,” she muttered. “Oh no... Not this unicorn. I'm going to find Twilight, and we're going to watch this.”

Rarity broke into a gallop, bounding over the tumbled door and down the hall.

After a few minutes of silence, there was a sudden motion coming from one of the beds. Suddenly, Fluttershy's head popped out from the covers she was hiding under, the timid pegasus glancing around the room warily.

“Hello?” she asked into the room. However, the room didn't feel like talking.

After a few more minutes of silence, Fluttershy slowly slid out of the bed and onto the floor. Now convinced that 'Nightmare Moon' had once more spared her, she calmly began padding her way to the entrance. Whatever she had come up here for, she'd long since forgotten in the commotion. But it was likely she'd remember it in time. For now however-

“EXCUSE ME?”

Fluttershy screamed and made an attempt to dive under a dresser. After a few moments to determine she wasn't in any kind of danger, she poked her head out from her rather inadequate hiding spot. Above her, a unicorn stallion in full armor stood, his scowl matched only by the serious looking shield cutie mark on his flanks.

“Do you think you can explain to me,” he waved a hoof around. “WHAT exactly happened to the guest suite?”

Fluttershy glanced around, noting almost immediately the fallen door. Then she also noticed the ruined bed, a chandelier barely hanging on to the ceiling, several cracked window panes, and a single long crack winding its way from one side of the room to the other parallel with the balcony.

“Well?” the guardspony asked, his tone very stern. Fluttershy shrank away in response, managing only a terrified smile and a small, almost silly squeak of fear.