My Little Pony Monthly Issue 75 (June 1, 2003)
My Little Pony Monthly
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3. From the author of the Ella stories
4. Another Baby Falling Leaves (by Tabby)
5. Do You Ever Wonder? (by Scribbler)
6. XTREME! Victory or Bust (by Barnacle)
7. Butch Returns! (by Tabby)
8. Chapter #10: Back to Bright Eyes (by Melody)
9. The Bigfoot Hunter: Rockdogs: Part 2 (by Tabby)
10. Welcome to Ponyland Part 2 (by Skye)
11. Anniversary Adventure (by Sugarberry and Tabby)
What a relief! For awhile I thought our contest entries would have dropped by half from last month, but luckily more avid readers came through! Congratulations to our eight winners!
Baby Moondreamer (Nicholley@aol.com)
Lil’ Whiskers (email@example.com)
Violet Star Shine (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The “intelligent” pony from the cartoon was Windwhistler. She was always fun, wasn’t she? Lil’ Whiskers also came up with a “bonus” answer of Honeysuckle, the intelligent Flutter Pony.
For this month...
What is the name of Bunkie’s twin?
Tell me the answer by e-mailing TabbyMLP@aol.com or entering through the form at
Happiness! I think we’ve hit a record here– four whole survey entries! How cool is that? Well, here’s how these collectors display their collections:
Baby Jedi (email@example.com) says...
I have all of my ponies on my vanity in a pretty set up with Christmas lights all strung around the top of the mirror. The Satin Slipper Sweet Shoppe is under my vanity, so it’s a nice little set up & it’s easy to reach my MLPs if I want to play with them.
Pika-Chan (firstname.lastname@example.org) says...
Right now most of them are in boxes (except for a few of my favs) until I can get the space to display them. At that point I would like to use something like a China cabinet– to keep them from getting too dusty!
Skye (SkyeSpirit@aol.com) says...
I bought a series of 7 ft. tall white shelves at walmart and put them in groups on those. I have a nicer brown shelving unit with glass covering it for rarer ponies and ceramics. I also set up some of the building on the floor or on furniture and put some ponies in or around them.
Ringlets (email@example.com) says...
I have my ponies in three main areas. I just redid my room, so it’s a little low on ponies right now. As soon as I finish, a few of my favorites can move back in, but I don’t have much room there. There are also always a few in the livingroom where they wait to be cleaned and officially added to my collection. The main part of my collection has its own corner of the basement on a ceiling-high shelves and in rubbermaid containers.
For our next survey... how about, what kind of surveys would you be most inclined to enter? You can share your thoughts on that, in addition to:
Did you group your ponies into families? Which ponies made up those families?
That URL is:
From the author of the Ella stories: Hello readers! I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve decided to discontinue the Ella stories... it’s just that I’ve been busy, plots won’t come, the characters refuse to be anything but stuff from soap operas and... well, yeah. Tons and tons of lame excuses. And now, if anyone wants, they can completely take over Ella and Evermoor and everything having to do with it and continue the series. Don’t even bother asking for permission. It’s given to whomever wants it. So... I did start a story for this month, but discovered that it was utterly pointless. I didn’t finish it, but if anyone’s interested in it, you can e-mail me at OpalStarre@aol.com and I’ll send it on over. So, I’m sorry if I’m disappointing anyone. And I’m sorry if you all will look upon me as an evil sort of traitor. Please accept my most humble apologies.
Another Baby Falling Leaves
by Tabby (TabbyMLP@aol.com)
Baby Noddins was outside staring at her small garden plot when a familiar yellow pegasus came upon her unexpectedly. “Hey, Noddins!” Baby Falling Leaves said.
“Baby Falling Leaves! What are you doing here?” Noddins demanded.
“Guess what!” Baby Falling Leaves went on excitedly. “I have a new baby sister!”
“Really?” said Baby Noddins, instantly perking up at her friends’ news. “Can I see her??”
“No, not yet; the doctors said something about her and Mom resting.” Baby Falling Leaves shrugged. “So Daddy said I could come over here and play ‘cuz I was in the way.”
“So what’s her name gonna be?” Noddins wondered. “Since you’re both girls, you can’t use the Baby Brother and Baby Sister titles. Umm, lemme think... Baby Falling Leaves Number Two? Or Little Baby Falling Leaves. And if you get another sister, she can be Littler Baby Falling Leaves, and after that Littlest Baby Falling Leaves. Oooh, and if you got a brother, you’d all have to add ‘Sister’ onto your names, so you’d be...”
“No, silly,” Baby Falling Leaves Number One giggled. “She’s Magenta Daffodil!”
“Oh,” Baby Noddins sank into silence. “Well... but how does that fit into your family’s naming tradition?”
“ ‘Cuz Mommy was called Magenta Daffodil before she married Daddy,” Baby Falling Leaves explained. “Remember? Anyway, the name never really fit Mommy because she didn’t look anything like a magenta daffodil, but it’s some old family name, so my grandparents called her that anyway.”
Baby Noddins scrunched up her nose. “Why would anyone ever want to call your mommy Magenta Daffodil? She’s all orange and fall-covered, like your dad. No wonder she married him and changed her name.”
“Yeah, well,” Baby Falling Leaves shrugged, “Mommy said she always felt silly being called Magenta Daffodil. But anyway, we’re talking about my sister! And she does look like a magenta daffodil– or at least, she’s magenta! And she’s got a daffodil symbol! So Mommy’s name can finally be used for somepony it really makes sense for!”
“Cool!” said Baby Noddins. “Is she a pegasus?”
“Yeah, but her wings are really tiny,” Baby Falling Leaves said eagerly. “Maybe Mommy will let me teach her to fly!”
“Well, when can I see her?” Baby Noddins demanded.
“I’m not sure; Daddy said they would probably have to stay at the hospital for a few days,” Baby Falling Leaves said authoritatively.
“Well, why?” Baby Noddins said. “If they’re not sick, they should be able to come home, shouldn’t they?”
“Yeah, well, you know how adults are.” The two exchanged a knowing glance.
“I was still little when Bunny was born,” Noddins said pensively. “I don’t remember much about that, and she’s older now. I want a baby sister like you! Do you think Mommy could get me another one?”
“Not sure,” Baby Falling Leaves considered. “You could go ask her.”
“Yeah!” Baby Noddins said excitedly. “Let’s go find her!!”
Alas, poor Frostflake! There would be no peace again in her life for awhile, not while Baby Noddins was on another whim.
Do You Ever Wonder?
by Scribbler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DISCLAIMER: My Little Pony belongs to Hasbro, as far as I can tell. They created the toy range, anyway, so I’m saying the whole phenomenon is theirs in the hope this little Disclaimer will somehow protect me from their wrath. I have no money, and even had to bump up the rent for the moths in my pockets. Suing me would be a waste of your resources and my time. Flames will be summarily ignored.
AUTHOR’S NOTES: This is essentially a thank-you fic for Harry Wriggle and the splenderific birthday piccy she did for my other work ‘Of Beast and Blade’. Be warned, this is my first foray into MLP territory, and I haven’t watched the show in many moons. Add to that the fact that my memory is rather lacking, and it makes for some interesting literary consequences. Basically I just took it upon myself to write some characterization for a couple of characters I feel were woefully neglected by the scriptwriters.
“Friendship is genuine when two friends can enjoy each others company without speaking a word to one another.” – George Ebers
Masquerade was, by nature, not the most happy-go-lucky of ponies. Although she wasn’t as anti-social as some, and participated in many playful pursuits, she could often be found alone in one of her ‘secret spots’, just pondering the universe and watching the world go by. It was difficult to approach her when she was in such a mood– most notably because she chose to vanish for hours on end where nobody could find and bother her. Still, there had been occasions when some had tried, and felt the sharper side of her tongue as a result.
Which was why she wasn’t best pleased to be turned out into the cold, one night, when all she really wanted to do was settle down in the attic with a new book.
The reason for her expulsion was simple. Fizzy was missing. The flighty unicorn hadn’t been seen since the previous evening and had missed all of her meals between then and now. It wasn’t like her to just disappear without a trace like that, and so search parties had been dutifully dispatched to look for her.
Just my luck I was the only pegasus within shouting distance, Masquerade grumbled to herself as she dipped and turned over the plains and fields that surrounded Paradise Estate, peering downwards all the while in the hope of spotting a telltale splash of green. Of course, it was almost pitch dark outside, which made such a colour difficult to see amongst the shifting shadows, but she ploughed on nonetheless.
It wasn’t that she didn’t *like* Fizzy, but the other pony was just so.... capricious seemed the best word to describe her. Fizzy’s voice was always so bubbly, especially at the most inopportune times, that it often made Masquerade question whether the unicorn was a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket.
Of course, her light-heartedness and oft-times foolishness made her a great favourite with most others. If ever there was a dull moment, then you could be sure Fizzy would be called upon to make some inane comment or other and revel in the peals of laughter that followed. It was just so....
superficial, Masquerade thought to herself. Fizzy was an airhead without a care in the world, but she just didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she almost seemed to take pleasure in her own stupidity. Her calling card, so to speak.
A particularly strong gust of wind buffeted the yellow pegasus, and she instinctively wheeled high to regain her composure in the air. A cloud bank appeared beneath her hooves and she tutted, skirting around the edges to a less volatile patch so that she could resume her search.
“You wouldn’t catch Windwhistler doing this,” she groused. “Oh no, Miss High-and-Mighty’s probably locked up in the library again. They’d never make *her* leave her books to go out looking.”
Her annoyed litany continued as the colossal bulk of Dream Castle rose up on the horizon, dwarfing the smattering of trees planted around its base. The trio of pennants attached to the tower spikes fluttered in the stiff breeze, and she circled around them, wondering if Fizzy had taken it into her head to go visit the Grundles.
But that wouldn’t explain why she never came back. Or why she never said where she was going, she corrected herself.
Since the inhabitants of the castle were obviously sound asleep, Masquerade decided to move on and perhaps come back to question them later, if her searching proved fruitless.
She wasn’t unduly worried about Fizzy. Not like the others, at any rate. Earth ponies were apt to get frantic at the slightest thing, and she’d long-since stopped listening to the most part of their babble, filtering out the important information needed from their verbal chaff. Masquerade had decided early on not to think the worst of situations before negative factors presented themselves. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, as such. More that she was keeping an open mind until someone closed it for her.
At least a venture like this allowed her to stretch her wings a little. Her muscles were cramped, and she soared for a few seconds to get the stiffness out of them. It could get so stuffy on the estate. No privacy anywhere. Up in the air the only things one had to worry about were birds and other pegasi, and she was doubtful many of the latter would be abroad this night with a wind like this.
Well, maybe Whizzer, but she hardly counted. Whizzer looked upon bad weather as a challenge and was more likely to be practicing loops far above Paradise Estate than actually be traveling anywhere.
Masquerade spiraled down a little as another blast of wind hit her in the face. She was nearing the eastern border of Ponyland now and still no sign of Fizzy anywhere. She’d have to turn back soon and try somewhere else. The dark bulk of the Black Mountains beyond it was a forbidding sight, and she gave a shiver that had nothing to do with the cold.
A small clump of trees reared up at ground level. Not big enough to merit being called a wood, but at the same time not small enough to really be a copse. It was one of Masquerade’s favourite places that she went to get a little privacy. The nearness of Porcina’s old lair and the strange mountainous creatures that now inhabited it made other ponies avoid coming out this far if they could help doing so. Perfect for a little downtime.
On a whim, she spiraled down towards the leafy cluster. She didn’t know why she did it. Perhaps for comfort. This was one of the places where she could be herself without anyone around to judge her. Just her, the wind and the greenery. Few ponies would be able to understand the joy of just reclining back into nature like that. They were too concerned with trivial things like clothes, parties, and playing games. Posy might, but she was so...obsessed with the aesthetic. Her ruthlessly weeded garden spoke for itself on that front. Posy had no time for imperfection, and abhorred anything she deemed ‘ugly’. One would think the incident with the Crab-Nasties would teach her, but it hadn’t taken long for that lesson to wear off. No, Masquerade preferred just letting herself go here, weeds, warts, and all.
She alighted on the branch of an overhanging oak, whose limbs dipped in rather an unnatural fashion as the result of growing under a weed patch in its youth. It made for a good landing, and the yellow pony found her feet with ease, despite the wind.
Around her the trees shushed and bristled, whispering their outrage at the weather for tearing their leaves away so savagely. Her ears flicked back and forth, listening to them.
And then she heard it.
Another sound, soft and low. One might almost have mistaken it for a trick of the wind. It wasn’t unknown to hear strange things on blustery nights that couldn’t be heard on fine days. Yet somehow Masquerade knew that this wasn’t just some manifestation of her own imagination. It was too solid, too real.
It was the sound of someone singing.
Curious despite herself, the Pegasus launched from her perch and glided down to floor level. The tree branches interlocked too closely for her to fly in here, and so she walked the rest of the way under the network of wood towards the voice.
The wind was pretty much blocked by the trees the further she went, and the singing grew louder, signaling she was headed in the right direction. Masquerade picked her way through the fallen twigs and leaves, crunching them underhoof. Sometimes twiggy fingers snatched at her face and mane, but she knew her way around this place well enough to avoid them for the most part.
It was as she was nearing the Flatstone, as she named it, that the singing stopped. The Flatstone marked the very centre of the trees, and nobody had any explanation as to how it got there in the first place. There were rumours that it used to be the marker for a coven of witches long before any ponies inhabited this land, but Masquerade, ever pragmatic, shook them off as just that-- rumours.
Even so, she froze at the sudden silence, and the hair on her withers started to rise at its eeriness.
She blinked. She knew that voice. That high-pitched, airheaded voice that was never without a laugh or a twinkle. “Fizzy?” Masquerade started forward again, pushing her way through the underbrush and into the clearing that held the Flatstone.
It was an odd name to give the huge rock, really. The Flatstone wasn’t really flat at all, but had a smooth surface that made it perfect for a little pony to sit on without falling from the impressive height. The stone itself was a good six feet high, at least, and Masquerade had always assumed that only a pegasus could actually get up there, even with wingbeats to help.
Yet atop it now crouched a familiar green form.
“Fizzy? What’re you doing all the way out here?” Masquerade pattered forwards to where she could face the other pony, and was surprised to see the unicorn’s face uncharacteristically bleak.
“Just.... thinking,” was the vague reply.
“Thinking? You’ve put the entire of Paradise Estate in an uproar by vanishing off the face of the earth and you tell me you were just *thinking*?” A note of derision crept into her voice, and she wrinkled her nose in disgust. That was just like Fizzy, doing something stupid without a thought for anybody else. Typical.
But Fizzy’s reply to her words was anything but typical. “It’s not unheard of for me to think, you know. No matter what others might think of me.”
Blink. Where did *that* one come from? Masquerade tilted her head a little. “Are you OK?”
Fizzy sighed, staring off at some spot in the distance. “Yeah, I’m fine.” She didn’t say anything more, and made no move to come down.
Masquerade bunched her legs under her and flapped her wings into a jump that got her approximately halfway up the side of the Flatstone. She clawed with her hooves a little, prising her way up until she could sit next to Fizzy. The stone was wide, wide enough for them both to rest without knocking each other off. The yellow pegasus settled herself, whipping her tail about to clear away the dead leaves and plant her rump down. Fizzy didn’t even acknowledge her, and just kept gazing at nothing. Her eyes, since they were the jeweled kind, betrayed little by way of her thoughts or emotions, but were still decidedly unfocused.
They sat that way for a while, neither saying anything nor bothering the other. It was unusual for the bubbly unicorn to stay silent for so long, and Masquerade had the feeling that it would be wrong for her to interrupt, somehow. Finally, Fizzy broke the taciturnity herself.
“Masquerade, do you ever wonder.”
Masquerade blinked, unsure of what to say. “Wonder about what?”
“About.... stuff. Everything,” Fizzy waved a hoof at the surrounding area and then let it drop. “Nothing. Do you ever wonder about us?”
“Who? You and me?”
“All ponies. All creatures. Grundles, humans, trolls, goblins– the works. Do you ever just stop and think about them, about how they came to be here? About what they’re doing right now?”
Masquerade glanced at her companion. That was deep. Deeper than Fizzy was generally wont to go, and it puzzled her a little. “Sometimes. Why? What sparked this off?”
Fizzy sighed again and drew invisible circles on the rock with the tip of her hoof. “Just something Windwhistler said.”
Masquerade frowned. Windwhistler. I might’ve known it. The knowledgeable pony seemed to take sport in making others feel small with her excesses of information and random facts that she liked spouting at odd moments. Recently she’d taken to singling out the meeker ponies, most notably Sweet Stuff and Shady, until Megan took her friend to one side and told her to stop it. Apparently she had, if only to move on to Fizzy.
“What did she say?”
Fizzy shrugged. “It doesn’t matter that much. But it got me thinking, y’know? I never actually just wondered about stuff before. I just accepted it. I never tried to figure out why ponies are here. Why this is our land and nobody else’s. Until the Grundles came to live in Dream Castle, we were the only creatures in Ponyland besides the forest animals. Even the name was kind of a warning sign, like saying ‘keep out, this patch is ours’. Ponyland. We say we’re welcoming, and that we like to make new friends, but it took almost losing our home completely before we even considered letting others move in.”
“What about the Bushwoolies?” Masquerade suggested. “They live here, too.”
“I suppose,” Fizzy was forced to concede. “But still, haven’t you ever wondered about it?”
Masquerade hunkered back on her haunches for a moment, considering the question. “I’d be lying if I said I never have,” she said at last. “But it’s never bothered me unduly. Other creatures can come and live in Ponyland if they want to. We’re not stopping them.”
“But they never want to,” Fizzy persisted. “That’s what I was wondering about too. Why don’t other folk want to live in our lands? Are they afraid of us? Of our magic?”
“Except that most ponies don’t actually have any magic,” Masquerade reminded her. “Only you unicorns.”
“So, does that mean that if there weren’t any unicorns in Dream Valley, then other races would like to live here?” Her pretty face down-turned a little. “That’s a depressing thought.”
Masquerade let the subsequent lull in conversation continue for a few long minutes before letting a breath out between her teeth and asking, “Fizzy, what’s wrong? You’re not usually this serious.”
The flash of furious jeweled eyes and grim set of Fizzy’s mouth startled her a little.
“What? The minute I’m a little astute there has to be something wrong with me?” she snapped. “I *do* have a brain, you know. Contrary to popular opinion, I’m not a *complete* airhead.”
Masquerade was taken aback. “I never said that,” she defended herself.
Fizzy turned away, obviously hurt and angry. “Yeah, well, you were thinking it. Don’t lie and say you weren’t. Everybody does.”
Clearly there was more to this than met the proverbial eye. Masquerade regarded the other pony, cocking her head to one side. She and Fizzy weren’t friends, not the same way Heart Throb and Truly were, at any rate. They were more acquaintances who just happened to share the same home. Fizzy always seemed to have a gaggle of ponies around her at any one time, whilst Masquerade, more often than not, preferred her own company above anyone else’s.
And yet.... Masquerade couldn’t help but wonder, now that she’d caught the green unicorn in a more vulnerable moment. Fizzy, it seemed, was not quite the idiot she made herself out to be; and in the light of this, her companion-of-the-moment found herself questioning just how much of her outward demeanor was actually true. How much of the real Fizzy did the little ponies really know?
“You don’t have to keep staring at me, you know,” Fizzy said without turning around. “If you want to say something, then say it.”
Masquerade’s mouth flipped shut, telling her for the first time that it had been open. “I wasn’t staring,” she said, perhaps a little too quickly. “I was just.... thinking.”
Fizzy let out a bitter laugh, quite unlike her usual light giggle. “Yeah. This place tends to make you do that, doesn’t it?” She paused for a second, hesitating, then added; “I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
Masquerade shrugged. “S’alright. No biggie.”
“It’s just that,” Fizzy went on, chewing her bottom lip as if thinking how best to phrase things. “It’s just that, everybody simply assumes that I’m some kind of moron. It’s all they ever think of me as. There goes Fizzy, resident airhead. Not a serious bone in her body. I think ‘Bubble Brain’ is my latest nickname.”
At this, Masquerade winced. She’d heard that epithet and even used it herself a few times. Fizzy, however, seemed not to notice the action.
“I know I don’t do much to stop them thinking that. I guess I kinda encourage it, even. It’s just a lot easier that way. When people think you’re just a stereotype bimbo they don’t bother you as much. You’re not a threat to them. But sometimes....” she sighed a sigh that seemed to come right from the bottom of her hooves, “Sometimes I wish I could just quit being so... so vacuous! I *do* have thoughts of my own. Just because I don’t choose to voice them all the time doesn’t mean they’re not there. I’m not wise or clever like Windwhistler, but that doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”
Masquerade listened to her outburst without a word, nodding but not interrupting until the unicorn had finished. When Fizzy didn’t seem able to say more, she spoke. “I won’t lie to you, Fizzy,” she said with her usual amount of bluntness. “You *don’t* help yourself with the way you act. Perhaps if you stopped acting like a giddy teenager all your life, people would stop *treating* you like one.” She faltered, then added, “But don’t for one minute think that just because you don’t spout wisdom from the treetops like Windwhistler that people think any less of you. *I* don’t.” And, to her great surprise, she realized she was telling the truth. She didn’t. Heck, Masquerade thought wryly, who am I to talk about putting on a disguise to other ponies? I do it. I guess I just never considered other ponies did it too.
Fizzy was quiet for a moment, and Masquerade wondered if she’d taken offence. It wouldn’t be the first time a pony had misinterpreted her words. However, her doubts vanished when the unicorn shifted around to look at her. There was watery smile on her face; thin, but genuine. Much more so than her customary grin, in fact.
“Thanks,” Fizzy said sincerely. “That means a lot to me, Masquerade.”
Suddenly struck by embarrassment, Masquerade waved a careless hoof at her and fought down a blush. “Meh,” she growled, pleasantly startled at the warm, glowy feeling her words elicited. The pegasus rose to her feet and shook herself, dislodging a few dried leaves that had settled on her coat during their conversation. “We should really head back,” she advised. “The others are all worried about you. If Cupcake sees you not turning up for another meal again, she’ll have an apoplectic fit!”
But instead of rising, Fizzy stretched out a hoof and touched the yellow pony’s foreleg. “Wait,” she murmured, her eyes wandering to the small patch of sky visible through the tree branches overhead. “Can’t we stay just a little longer. You can see the moon from here.”
Masquerade looked up, following her gaze to the splash of night sky. She felt like she should make some cutting comment to that, but the remark died in her throat, and instead she hunkered down again on the Flatstone. “Yeah. I guess we could make them wait a little longer.”
Silence stretched between them once more as they sat, staring at the sky; but it was a companionable silence, and somehow neither felt the need to say anything to the other.
Slowly, the moon rose in the darkness, and they sat together. Not quite friends; but perhaps a step more towards friendship than before.
Victory or Bust
by Barnacle (Raptor@nematodemail.com)
“Quite a turn-out, huh?”
Cliff was not the sort to be taken by surprise. After all, years of training had made him expect the unexpected; but today, wading through a sea of frantic stage hands, this little question caught him completely by surprise. He quickly spun to face the individual who had addressed him and was immensely relieved to see it was only Nikita, the team captain for one of Cliff’s rival teams, the Blade Runners.
“They say the ESL is the highest-rated sporting event since Monday Night Football,” Cliff replied, trying his best to regain his composure. Considering the hustling workers and the din of the crowd in the background, it was doubtful anyone would have noticed.
Nikita was similarly dressed as Cliff, in a protective racing suit with a helmet tucked under one foreleg. “A distant second, I’m sure but it’s still pretty cool. I hear Yanus is even thinking of adding more teams to the line-up.”
“Those two new groups he got for the pre-race entertainment are pretty good,” Cliff jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards the stadium and the crowd’s cheers rose as if on cue. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he worked them into the races.”
“The Sickle-Claws and the Grinders,” Nikita said. “It would liven the races up, that’s for sure.”
“True. I would just hope it would liven them in a good way,” Cliff replied as he scanned the crowd. “Have you seen Luge anywhere? I was kind of looking for her.”
“Saw her a getting a drink a little while ago. Oh, there she is.”
Luge came trotting over holding two icy cold drinks fresh from the refreshment stand. Like Cliff and Nikita, she, too, was decked out in her gear for the competition.
“Hey, Cliff, I got you something to drink,” Luge said as she handed him one of the paper cups. “Hi Nikita, what’s up?”
“Just having a few words with my fellow captain before the race,” Nikita replied. Then in a more quiet tone and with a glance over her shoulder, she leaned in close and asked, “Do you really think that the X-Crew is setting traps just to win the race? I know I’ve asked you, like, a million times since you told me after the last race, but here we are T-minus-thirty minutes. Are you still positive?”
“We haven’t seen anything to change our minds,” Luge snapped, perhaps just a little too harshly.
Cliff put a restraining hoof on her shoulder and replied in a more controlled tone, “And if we had, we would have told you. But as it stands now, I have no doubt that they are going to pull something.”
Nikita took a deep breath. “I knew you were going to say that, but I was hoping you wouldn’t.”
“Sorry,” Cliff said with an awkward smile.
“Thanks for at least being level with me. I know a lot of others who would have kept that kind of information to themselves.”
“You know us, just too darn good-hearted for our own good,” Luge said.
“We’re here to compete, not get railroaded by a bunch of cheaters,” Cliff added.
“Well, thanks again. I’ve got to be getting back to my own team,” Nikita said as she started to walk away. “And good luck out there today!”
“Thanks,” Cliff replied. “And you, too!”
After a brief exchange of waves, Cliff and Luge turned and headed back to their own waiting area. They continued in silence for a few steps before Luge spoke-up saying, “You know, you two did have a point; this is a competition, and we didn’t have any kind of obligation to share anything with them.”
Cliff stopped short and shot a questioning glare at his teammate, “Are you saying we should have just let them go on blindly through all this?”
“No,” Luge was quick to add. “We did the right thing, but it might have been our only advantage. The Blade Runners– and I hate to admit it, but the X-Crew, even without cheating– are both just as good as we are. If we don’t do something soon to level this playing field, we’re going to end up taking the fall on every race all the way through.”
“Are you saying we should just give up and quit?” Cliff asked. “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever done– even with the bad points– and I’d be willing to bet it’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done, too.”
“But how long can we let ourselves be made out to be losers?” Luge asked. “We’re not, and I’m not going to let the whole world think that we are.”
“We’ll find a way to set this right, but for the moment we have to stay cool and not lose sight of what’s really important. I know it’s a clique, but if we didn’t tell the Blade Runners, then we’d be doing the same thing as the X-Crew.”
“Yeah, unfortunately, you’re right,” Luge said in a somber tone. The two of them continued on their way at a slightly slower pace. “But I’m not going to stick around if this keeps up for too much longer.”
“We’ll take care of it,” Cliff said. “Shard never would have warned us if he didn’t think it would help us in some way.”
“And just where is the mysterious Shard, anyway? If he really wanted us to do well in this thing, he would have told us about more than the first trap so that we wouldn’t go crazy trying to unravel this huge conspiracy theory that we’re not even sure exists. Why do they make us wear all this gear if we’re not even going to be in the race today?” Luge suddenly tugged at her uniform in a frustrated way as if it didn’t fit quite right.
“You know they need us ready in case one of the others can’t go on. Besides, it looks good for the cameras.” Cliff pointed to a back stage camera operator who was bringing his lens to bear on the two athletes. Luge and Cliff managed to smile and wave, but in a second, the camera was gone to film something else.
“I could care less about the cameras,” Luge said as soon as it was out of range. “And I’ve put this outfit on enough times to be able to do it in ten seconds in my sleep.” Again she tugged at her collar.
Cliff just smiled and nodded. He suspected it wasn’t the uniform she was having a problem with. The concerns she voiced were felt by their entire team and each member was dealing with them in different ways. Luge kept up a brave face in front of the others, but the fact that she confided started to make Cliff realize how important his role as team captain was. It was a huge responsibility, but he had yet to realize just how huge.
Just then, his thoughts were shattered by a shrill call that sounded out above the noise filling the space. “Dude!” Jet called out as he bounded over. “Dude, we have fans! Hundred of girls just throwing themselves at me!”
“I see two girls and a fat guy bothering Blade,” Cliff said with a glance over Jet.
“Yeah, well, uh... dude, you just missed, right? They were just here but they, uh... left.”
“More like you scared ‘em off if, in fact, there were any to begin with.” Luge added, “I better go save Blade; she looks like she’s about ready to freak out.”
“Oh, Lyle’s a good guy. He’s harmless,” Jet called out after Luge. Then he directed towards Cliff, “Really, he’s cool. He’s got, like, all these comics and stuff in his parents’ basement and stuff.”
Waving his hoof, Cliff said, “I don’t need to know this; in fact, Luge might need back-up. Have you seen Mogul? Go time is less than thirty minutes away.”
“Dude, he’s, like, over, there...” Jet pointed off through the crowds. A second later he locked in on his exact position and added, “Right there, you see him?”
Mogul seemed to be talking to a young mare who was decked out with all the equipment of a camera operator. “Is that that Camera Chick?”
“Yeah, Misty,” Jet said. “He’s got a major crush on her.”
Just than Misty slapped Mogul across the face and then stalked away. Mogul looked rather dumbstruck and said something, but the words were lost due to the distance and the background noise. Whatever he said, it didn’t stop Misty in the least. Rubbing his jaw, Mogul made his way over to Cliff and Jet.
“Dude! You are so smooth!” Jet cried out in near hysterical laughter.
Mogul just sniffed as he rubbed his jaw once more. “Yeah, she’s crazy about me.”
Even Cliff had to laugh at that. “Dude, she just slapped you, we both saw it!”
“Me too!” Bungee added, suddenly popping up from behind.
“She’s just playing hard-to-get.” Mogul did not appear to be shaken even slightly. If anything, he acted like it was all perfectly natural. “Although I wish she wouldn’t have done it so hard. My black eye was finally starting to go away. It’s not swelling up again, is it?”
“No, you look great,” Cliff said flatly. “At least as good as your ugly mug can look.”
“Aw, poor baby,” Bungee laughed. “Maybe Blade should take your place in today’s race.”
“Dude, what did you say to her, anyway?” Jet asked.
“Never you mind,” Mogul replied.
“No, you gotta tell us, dude!”
“Sorry, can’t give away my trade secrets.”
As they continued their banter, Cliff caught sight of Mr Yanus making his way through the crowds. “Excuse me, ladies, I’ve gotta go have a chat with the big boss man. The rest of you stay right here until show time; I’m not gonna go track you all down again.”
“Dude! Don’t you trust us?”
“Not in a million years,” Cliff shot back with a smile as he hurried to catch up with the haughty businessman. The crowds were thick through here so Cliff was slowed by more than one pony who got in his way; but with a little quick hoofwork, he managed to get within range of Yanus in no time.
“Mr. Yanus! Mr. Yanus!” he called out.
Mr. Yanus obviously heard Cliff, because he stopped and turned around. Cliff, who was still running at top steed, nearly crashed into the well-dressed pony. Fortunately, the athlete managed to dodge at the last second and came to a halt without so much as bumping into Yanus.
“Ah, Cliff,” Yanus said dryly. “What can I help you with?”
“Mr. Yanus,” Cliff said between a few gulps of air, “I was just wondering if you’d found out anything about what we had talked about the other day.”
“The cheating?” Yanus said. “I looked into it as I said I would.” He took a long pause and for a moment Cliff almost thought he might have good news. “However, I couldn’t find any such evidence.” Cliff had been expecting this answer, but it still hit him like a ton of bricks square in the chest. “All those various pit-falls and obstacles that tripped you and your team up were entirely natural. This is an extreme sports competition, after all, and one has to content with unexpected terrain. It’s part of the game.”
Cliff couldn’t believe it. He wouldn’t let himself believe it. Something had happened on their last two races that was not simply rough terrain. He went over in his mind what Mr. Yanus had just said. He wanted to refute everything, but the calmer part of his being maintained control and he instead said, “So, you didn’t find… anything?”
“No, nothing,” Mr. Yanus said. He seemed completely cool and business-like, but was that a hint of a smile Cliff detected on his face? “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No. Nothing,” Cliff said. With a polite nod, Mr. Yanus turned and walked away. It was only then that Cliff even realized that his fists were clenched in anger. Taking a deep breath, he shook out his hooves and headed back to his friends.
Back in the Extreme Team pavilion, he found all five of his teammates waiting for him with anxious looks on their faces.
“What did he say?” one of them asked.
“Oooo, this looks heavy,” Lyle said as peaked over Blade’s shoulder. She cringed, not realizing that he was still there.
Mogul stood up from his seat on the end of one of the tables and towered over the plump, greasy pony. “Beat it, this is a private team meeting.”
Lyle held his autographed Extreme Team picture in front of him like a shield as now he himself cringed. For a moment, it looked as if he was going to protest, but then quickly scurried off into the crowds. “You were saying?” Mogul said as re-took his seat.
“He said he ‘couldn’t find any evidence,’ “ Cliff said, making it clear that he in no way agreed with that assessment.
“That’s bull!!!” Mogul cried and smashed his fist onto the table.
“So what do we do now?” Luge asked. She sounded determined enough, but Cliff could see the doubt in her eyes.
“It’ll tell you what we do,” Mogul said. “We go over there right now and lay the smack down on their–!”
Luge jumped in at that point and cut him off. “No fighting,” she snapped. “It’s not going to accomplish anything, especially if Mr. Yanus can’t even see what’s going on. It would just make us look that much worse.”
“Yeah, but it would make me feel better.”
“Why don’t we just follow the X-Crew through the course?” Bungee asked. “If they know where the traps are, we can take the same route they do and then cut them off in the final stretch.”
“Dude,” Jet nodded his agreement.
Cliff’s answer was straightforward. “No,” he said. “We don’t know where any of the traps are. If it’s in the final stretch, we’re still screwed.”
“We have to win on skill, not tricks; that’s their job,” Luge added.
“So then what?” Blade asked timidly.
“The only thing we can do is we get out there and play this thing as good as we can. Traps or no, we can still beat them,” Cliff said. That got a half-hearted agreement from them all, but it was hardly enthusiastic. “Now let’s get ready. Bungee, you’re first out of the gates in...” Cliff glanced at a clock, “ten minutes.”
“Oh, I’m ready,” Bungee replied. “I’m so ready, the X-Crew better be ready for how ready I am.”
After a thought, Cliff felt that he could reply to that, “Good, now let’s get out there and win.”
With that, they all got up and headed off to the starting location. Cliff let them all go past him before he himself followed. Luge came up beside him and put a hoof on his shoulder. “Are you okay?” she asked.
“We all know that we can beat the X-Crew, right? But can we beat them?”
“I don’t know, Cliff. I used to think that we could overcome anything; but now, with the cards stacked against us, I’m not so sure.”
“You sounded confident enough back there,” Cliff replied.
“That’s because you looked confident,” Luge said. “It’s contagious, you know.” Cliff stopped dead in his tracks and just stared at Luge. “What?” she asked. “It’s true. They all take their cue– we all take our cue– from you. I don’t know if we’re going to win or not, but as long as you look like we can, you make the rest of us believe it, too.”
For what seemed like a long time to him, Cliff was silent as he digested what she had just said. Up until then, he had never really seen himself as a leader. Sure, he was the captain on paper, and that meant that he had to play the part for the red-tape, but he never felt like it was really the case. He was just another member of the team, one among equals. However, at some point not too long ago, he had become their leader not only in name but in spirit as well.
All the members of the team had come to him with their concerns and problems in the past. He had just thought that it was to let their opinions be known, not that they wanted him to fix anything. However, regardless of the reasoning, it meant that every decision Cliff made had to be made taking into account the feelings and well-being of everyone on the team. They were not just turning to him to voice their minds but because they KNEW he was going to take care of things. It came as an even greater shock to him than anything before.
“Now is not the time to look weak,” Luge said. “We need you to be strong.”
It took Cliff a second longer to collect himself before he replied, “I should have let Mogul have this job when he wanted it.” At first, Luge thought he was serious; but a second later, Cliff let out a nervous laugh. That in turn started Luge snickering. Before long, the two of them were both laughing.
“If Mogul was captain, we never would have made it this far,” Luge said. “We would have gotten kicked out before the first race for kicking the X-Crew’s tails!”
“At least then we wouldn’t have to deal with them now.”
“We also wouldn’t be on national TV,” Luge added and pointed to a distant camera operator who was just now closing in on them. “Hi, Mom!” she said with a wave.
“Come on, we have to get going, the race is gonna start!” Cliff grabbed Luge by the foreleg and ran for the starting gate. They quickly made their way through the crowds with the help of a few security guards and stormed into the player area. It was a low pavilion-like structure that had been fitted for the starting line of the race. It was also equipped with monitors and chairs so that the team members who were not taking part in this race could watch all the action. Most of the fans were gathered at various points along the course to watch, but a small crowd decided to watch the race unfold from here.
Bungee was already strapped onto her dirtboard and was clearly ready to go. In the gate next to her was Dragon of the X-Crew, who smiled evilly upon seeing Cliff come near. He paid her no mind, though, and went straight to Bungee. He exchanged a few hushed words with her, after which she smiled broadly and took a glance at Dragon. “Oh, you know it!” she cried out loud enough for everyone to hear. Dragon looked puzzled and scowled at Cliff as he walked back to Luge and Blade with a smile of his own. The X-Crew member then shifted her gaze to Bungee, who just laughed and turned her attention back forward to await the start.
“What was that about?” Nikita asked.
“Just instilling a little confidence,” Cliff said. Behind his back, Luge smiled happily.
A second later, the gates sprang open and the three contestants shot out forward. “AND THEY’RE OFF!” Vic’s voice cried out from the microphone.
The nine members of the three teams who were not participating in the match gathered around the small television screens. X and Outré were yelling wildly at the images as if Dragon could hear them. Nikita had Trajan standing behind her, and both stood in silence as they watched. Mehira was quietly bobbing up and down as she wrung her hooves and excitedly muttered something to herself. Blade, as always, was difficult to read and stood in silence as she stared at the monitors. On the other hand, Luge was quite excited and was cheering Bungee on, albeit in a much more reserved tone than the X-Crew.
“Look, Bungee’s in the lead!” she cried out. But her excitement quickly died as a small hole opened up under Bungee’s board, swallowing its front wheel. The dirtboard stopped almost instantly and sent Bungee flying forward into the grass. Valentina, who had been close behind her, didn’t have time to dodge or avoid the wreck and plowed into it at full speed. Both the Blade Runner and her board went sailing through the air above Bungee, missing her head by mere inches. Not surprisingly, Dragon took a completely different path and shot past both of them. Cliff could have sworn he saw a vicious smile plastered on her face as she did.
“Oh, wicked nasty spill!” X said with a laugh directed towards Cliff. Cliff tried his best to ignore him and focused on the monitors.
The various members of the two fallen teams were cheering on their comrades, but neither racer needed any encouragement. Bungee had already wrestled her board out of the hole and was heading out again. Valentina was close behind her, righting her board as though it weighed nothing. Before too long, both of them were back in the race and giving it all they had. Dragon’s lead didn’t look nearly as great as it had a moment before.
Just as it seemed like Valentina was about to overtake Bungee, someone cried out from behind them, “Hey, who’s winning!?”
“What the–?” X shouted out in irritation and turned to face a newcomer to the proceedings. A reddish-orange stallion with pitch black hair bounded into the midst of the group.
“Who is this loser?” Max asked.
“This loser is Raptor!” the newcomer said flamboyantly and clapped his foreleg around Max’s shoulder. “I’m a friggin’ bird of prey swooping down on unsuspecting victims, baby!”
“Hey, get him offa me!” Max cried frantically.
“Beat it, freak!” X pushed Raptor away from the X-Crew members.
Raptor stepped backward, looking rather offended by the incident. “That’s fine, I wouldn’t want to watch with a bunch of neanderthals like you, in any case. But this fine specimen is a different story.” Raptor had now caught sight of Mehira and strode over towards her.
“We’re trying to watch here,” Trajan stepped in between the two of them.
“You’re from the Sickle-Claws, aren’t you?” Cliff asked, tearing himself away from the monitor for a second.
“Why yes, yes I am!” Raptor said and bowed low. “Raptor, at your service.”
“Yeah, it’s nice to meet you, Raptor; but maybe you could keep it down, we’re watching the race,” Cliff said.
Raptor shot forward with an energetic fluidity and put his forelegs around Cliff and Mehira, pointing both of them back towards the screens, “Then let’s watch, shall we, for that is why I am here, as well.” Oddly, he actually shut his mouth after that except to quietly ask, “So who is winning, anyway?”
“The X-Crew,” Cliff said. His voice was thick with bile, but it was not directed towards Raptor.
“But-only-by-a-second,” Mehira rambled off. “Valentina-and-Bungee-are-tied-for-second-place-right-behind-Dragon.”
Biting her fingernails, Nikita added, “And here comes the second leg…white water kayaking.”
The monitors showed the scene as Smiley started down-river just as Dragon crossed the bridge over the starting position; however, Kadin and Jet were but mere seconds behind him. With a smile on his lips, Jet let out a high-pitched howl as he crossed over a small waterfall and shot right over the head of Smiley. Though those watching on the monitors couldn’t hear what he had said, they knew well enough what it had been.
“Dude,” Cliff, Luge, and Blade all said in unison under their breaths.
Raising an eyebrow questioningly, Raptor said, “Are you sure you want him out there? He doesn’t look too stable in the head if you know what I mean.”
Cliff in turn gave Raptor a questioning gaze. Fortunately Mehira muttered, “Look-who’s-talking,” so Cliff didn’t have to.
Instead he said, “I wouldn’t want anyone else out there. Jet’s the best there is at what he does.”
“We’re still trying to figure out exactly what that is, however,” Luge added without taking her eyes off the screen.
Throughout the entire kayaking leg of the race, Jet held the lead. At one point Kadin almost managed to pass Smiley, but the X-Crew member nearly struck him in the side of the head. From the camera’s angle, it looked like it could have been an accident; but when the Cliff and Nikita glanced over at X and his goons, they were laughing hysterically at the maneuver.
“No traps on this part,” Luge spoke just loud enough so that Cliff could hear her and no one else.
“So far,” Cliff replied. “It’s not over yet.”
“Just a little further…”
“Yes!” Raptor cried out and threw up his forelegs. Turning to Cliff, he said, “Looks like your boy made it after all.” Then to Mehira, “I’m sure Gryphon will get it on the next leg.”
Cliff and Mehira exchanged a glance and then turned back to Raptor. “Just-whose-side-are-you-on-anyway?”
“Ideally it would be the Sickle-Claws’ side, but that’s not going to happen for a few weeks, so for the moment I’m on everyone’s side.” He again put his forelegs around both their shoulders and laughed. “Check it out! There goes Alex! Good job, guys,” he called out to the X-Crew. Max smiled and gave Raptor a thumbs up, but X slapped his teammate in the back of the head. Raptor laughed again and turned to Mehira. “That was worth it.”
Mogul was now out in the lead and thundering down a wooded path on his dirt bike. Alex was trailing right inside of his dust trail while Gryphon was right alongside and just a hair behind the X-Crew athlete. However, as Mogul rounded a sharp turn, his lead evaporated with a low branch across the trail that almost knocked him off his bike. He managed to regain his balance and keep moving, but it slowed him down enough so that he was now in last place with Alex in the lead.
Even over the monitors and through his helmet, it was apparent that Mogul was mad and understandably so. At first it looked like Alex had taken the turn too wide and that he was going to wipe out in the woods. Instead, he managed to find a hidden path which took him out of range of the branch and allowed him to round the corner without incident. Gryphon followed right behind Alex. Apparently he had come up with the same idea that Bungee had and was following the X-Crew’s route.
Back at the starting line, the others were visibly upset by this latest development and were no longer letting any allegations of cheating keep them quiet.
“What was that!?” Luge cried. “It’s like he knew that path was there!”
“Hey, babe, that’s what they call skills,” X sneered.
“And you don’t have to stay on the trail if you don’t want to,” Outré added. “It’s not against the rules.”
At that moment a thought suddenly dawned on Cliff. It was just clever enough that it might allow them to win the race, but it wouldn’t do them any good since he couldn’t relay it to Mogul out on the course. Cliff turned his attention back to the television sets just in time to see Mogul take another spill. This time he completely left the bike, while Alex had completely avoided the obstacle. Gryphon hadn’t been as lucky this time and was hurriedly righting his bike right alongside Mogul.