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SteelEagle

Stage Seven: Ponyville, The Home Stretch! One Last Push, Everycreature!

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Heart Shield galloped along at a fast clip as he tried to keep pace with the quickly moving pack of ponies. He had made a terrible mistake tho, he let his guard down and took his eyes off his path to talk to other ponies and sight see a little. He didn't see the rock in the path as he rapidly approached it. He was traveling along at an amazingly fast pace when his front hoof caught the rock sticking out of the ground, causing him to lose his hooving and go stumbling forward. "Wooah!" He shouted in a gasp as he tumbled over coming to halt after making a few tumbles kicking up dust everywhere. Trying to regain his bearings again Heart Shield got himself back up on his hooves as quickly as possible. The group was now off in the distance again. Annoyed at himself for not paying attention, Heart Shield shook himself off and took off as quickly as possible trying to salvage what little lost ground he could. He was a little sore from the spill, But he was determined to close the distance on the pack of ponies again. Trying to squeeze every last ounce of energy from himself he sped along trying to catch up again. It was late in the race now. He wasn't sure he could pass anypony now, but he didn't want to be the pony who crossed the finish line long after everypony else did. That would just be embarrassing. 

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As Taira raised his voice to signal everycreature that Boulder would be hosting an after-race party, Applejack chuckled, playing along with the horseplay. Joking in jest, but a hootenanny with all the chaotic fun but no cleanup? Applejack was all about that. "Yeehaw! I'll bring my entire family. It would be nice to see what kind of shenanigans the Apple family can pull off on somepony else's farm fer a change."  Just when she jabbed that remark, she noticed back as Taira did, Boulder's expression morph as if he had seen a ghost. "You alright, Boulder, we were just pokin' fun." Pinkie Pie had probably heard it, or at least sensed it. "Well, a very literal prank that is very much going to happen, but still." Applejack then watched as Boulder bolted ahead of Taira and herself. Boulder had run faster than anypony had at any point. She would express her concern that it was too early to try and drag-race to the finish, seeing as how there were several hundred pony-lengths to go before the line was crossed and he would likely burn out before he got there, but she realized it was out of spirit more than mind that he was running with such fervency. "I wonder what got his motor runnin'."

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"Ok Gummy!" Her eyes narrowed on the finish line. It could just barely be seen in the distance. "Let's do this!" The gator blinked at her, a hot pink sweatband suddenly appearing on his forehead. Pinkie as well now sported a sweatband. "Time to gooooo!"

 

A puff of dust and the pink one was off! Sprinting like mad as the crowds cheered her on! She could make out the voices of her friends and it bolstered her on to even greater speeds. She caught up with several of the front runners, her hooves pounding the earth!

 

To her side a stallion tripped and fell! "Oh no!" She glanced in his direction but he was up again in no time. "Geez! I didn't realize what a dangerous business running to make leaves fall could be!"

 

On she went, her breath starting to come in gasps but the finish line was oh so close!

 

"Just a little bit further..." She sucked in a breath. "Whew! I hope I have enough energy left for the party after this!"

 

Just then Taira shouted out about the party at Boulder's! Energy coursed through her at the mere mention of it!

 

"Woo hoo!" She took up her bouncing gait again easily catching up to the front runners. "Sounds like a plan to me!"

 

Then she noticed Boulder didn't look quite so happy about it. She wondered what was wrong with the big guy but let Taira take the lead on asking for now. 

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Boulder Dash was snapped in from state by his friends asking if he was alright and the mention of a party back on the family farm after the race.  The tears dried instantly and big grin spread from his face as he ran to match AJ and Taira's pace so as to not over do his run or risk injury. 

 

"I'm ok my friends....I just was reminded about my Pa's run from all those years back.  A little nostalgia is all and a message of support from a special some pony gets anyone all focused and emotional.  But enough of the that we got us a race to finish" he explained as he looked back spotting Pinkie Pie in the rear of him.

 

Nodding approvingly he smirked and said, "Inregards to an after party on the farm....well I say why the hay NOT!  If ya'll are fer it and Miss. Pie don't mind helping some last minute planning, I assure ya yet all welcome to the ranch when this is finished.  Yer and yourns so bring who you wish cause I know Ma will be happy to have ya" he said happily.

 

He then looked back at AJ and said, "You Apples always host a marvelous shin dig but now it's the Boulder kins turn.  Haven't had a celebration since Ma's family from Oatlahoma came out for a reunion......and that was one hay of a picnic" he explained.

 

Looking back at Taira he smiled and said, "As fer you good Suh I must say yet little announcement has peeked my interest.  If ya drink like ya run then I have a special bottle of whiskey stashed in my barn that I will sit with ya....if ya can handle it."

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Again, Taira found himself in awe of Pinkie's superior bouncing skills. Now he had to try and learn how to do that. For now though his thoughts remained on the race and the victory so close in paw. The more he saw of this party loving earthpony, the more he thought he should meet that blonde little ball of pep strumming away on the bleachers. If there was one thing he knew about Yama, it was that they loved merrymaking. "After you and Hawke-san meet up... I think I've got someone in mind for you to meet, Pinkie-san! Can't say I know whether they'll give ya those bedroom eyes,but I know they'd love to provide some music for the after-party!" 

While pinkie mulled the idea Over, Taira woudl slowly pull forward and let his mind again turn to the topic of Boulder.  When Applejack posed the very question on his thoughts, Taira almost reflexively gave a shrug. He stopped himself just in time for the stallion ahead to answer them himself! Seemed he cooled down enough that he wasn't risking burning out early, but Taira did notice a sort of calm inner focus coming off the countrystallion. His mention of a special somepony and nostalgia certainly struck a cord in Taira's heart. While he hadn't seen any apparitions, an image in his hear was pushing him forward to at least come out ahead of the spirit of chaos! A sniffle came from the kirin, this time not from allergies... or well at least not so much this time. 

 

He managed to stiffen back up once the topic of alcohol was brought, "Oh-ho! I'd certainly like to try some of the Equestrian creature! ... But only if you try a bottle of Sake at the same time, Deal?"

 

 

 

Edited by Pretzelparty
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Recovering from his little trip Heart Shield resumed galloping along at a fast pace, He couldn't let it end this way He had to catch up! Funny how its so much harder to do something again than for the first time. Luckily for him he managed to get on his hooves again fairly quickly after the fall. Had he been any slower he feared the race would be over for him, but it wasn't quite over yet so there was no time to ponder on this thought! Galloping as hard as he could Heart Shields hooves pounded the dust as he whizzed along, and when he had reached his top speed he pushed himself even harder! Closing the gap by a little he pressed on. He could see up ahead the pack of ponies neared the finish line. He had to catch up before they crossed the line! In a panic he rushed along closing in a little bit more now, he could hear the ponies talking to each other again now. He was inching ever closer. It would be a close finish for him. Keeping all thoughts of what to do after the race at bay, he focused in on his prize inching ever closer to the group again. Pulling along side the back of the group again he fixed his gaze ahead of him. A determined look on his face. Nothing would distract him this time. He wasn't quite back where was before, but it was close enough for now.

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Applejack smiled at the reflection Boulder had about his father. She herself had experiences that involved her efforts culminating from her family members who weren't there to see it. And a lot of the motivation she had growing up was based on the idea that if she tried hard enough, maybe they would notice. "Blood is thicker than water, ponyboy. Ain't nothin' gonna keep your heart from racing yer heart out!" She galloped to a formation that benefited Boulder and Taira, all able to ride within the wake of each other. When Boulder decided that throwing a party would be a reality on his end, he and Taira started making gestures involving alcohol. Applejack would not let them discuss matters of inebriation without the inclusion of the most poisonous drinkable fermentation to ever originate from an apple tree. "Count me in, ya'll. That whiskey is water compared to the private stock of apple cider I got stored in the cellar right now. We call it 'orchard's spite'. It's so potent, we only open the cork once every few years. If we survive the race, we should see if we survive that!" Applejack threw an enthusiastic hoofpump in the air as she ran with reckless abandon, her runner's high making her numb to fatigue and logic.

 

Applejack was a bit amazed at Pinkie Pie's simmered response to the party invocation. Typically, one could not mention the p-word without Pinkie summoning herself out of a seemingly unimportant potted plant while screaming excitedly, making an entrance complete with streamers and a full band playing music. Clearly even she had also reached a runner's high and was slightly impaired of the things that would normally trigger her spontaneity. Applejack shouted back just to be sure. "You alright Pinkie? We're almost there and I know you got some energy in ya!" Pinkie was behind them, but with enough effort the pink equine should have enough steam left in her demeanor to join the race leaders.

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Boulder Dash nodded approvingly to Taira as the big Kirin brought up sake.  Rice wine was a popular brew for the creatures of the Eastern mountains so it didn't surprise him that the old Kirin had a taste for it.  Having saild from one end of Equestria to the next in his Navy days he had sampled a various forms of alcohol and sake was one of them.  If Taira recommend it, he had no doubt it would be special.  The thought of him being willing to share it with him made feel a great sense of honor.

 

"Sounds good friend, but I want you to know it takes more then some rice wine to get this stallion under the table.  Hope you bring your A-game and your vocal cords.  Ma always did encourage singing at gatherings" he explained with a smile.

 

 Boulder Dash laughed at AJ as she brought up her special cider.  Like many a Ponyville resident he had his fill of the famous Apple family cider that flowed like a river from Sweet Apple Acres.  Hearing AJ bring up a special batch only made him feel a longing for it that would fill a barrel.  "If a brew that's as special as you say it is, then it would be my honor to sample it Applejack.  After all, ya'll are the experts on the Apple cider business."

 

Truth be told, Taira hadn't gotten drunk in a long while... a VERY long while. Back on the mountain in his heyday he often got special rice wine that a kind brewer in town made. Just the though of it made his mouth water, but the only way he'd get some of that would be to travel through time! Once he managed to pull himself out of the nostalgia trap in his mind again the old kirin would grin over to Boulder for a moment, "Well if I don't drink you under the table I can at least put you in your place with some songs! You wouldn't believe some of the notes I can hit!" 

 

For a second, Taira turned back to AJ, his fatigue seeming to become less and less apparent as he began to bask in his own runner's high. "Apple cider, huh? I've heard stories of it all the way in Neighpon! It'd be a tragedy to not savor every drop you're willing to give me, Friend!" 

 

That grin Taira gave earlier was looking a tad odd to any who may observe it. Was it just them or were his teeth different? They looked almost Sharper and conical...

 

Looking at Taira caused Boulder Dash to quirk and eye brow curiously.  In his Navy days he had seen a multitude of things that would surprise many a pony.  Sea monsters, Hippo Griffs, Griffons, Yaks, even Dragons.  As such the pair of fangs he saw protrude ng our of Taira's maw wasn't surprising but was a bit curious for him.  He continued to run in concert with him and AJ but still found time and focus to ask the 1000 bit question.

 

"You okay pardner?  Nightmare Night isn't fer another few weeks and not fer nothing but you can't really pull off the whole vampire fruit bat look" he said.

 

Taira quirked a brow at that question... Perhaps it was his high that was lettings his true form leak out as the stresses of the world rolled off his shoulders. "What are you talking about?" He asked with a genuine curiosity, "This is how my teeth always look!" He certainly didn't sound as if he was lying and technically he wasn't at all. 

As he continued with his steady charge forward it started to look as if the speed was wearing his coat down as that solid shade of creamy brown across him seemed to be give way to a washed out dusty beige on his back. The focus and energy he was feeling left each exhalation of breath he let loose pour out of his lungs in swirling wisps of mist. Thankfully, Boulder wasn't on the other side of the kirin as one of his eyes seemed to be changing color as well... the white portion of it darkening into a deep, dark, forest green.

 

OOC: This collaboration was brought to you by Pretzelparty industries in association with Dashman productions.  Now in 3D!

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Pinkie raced onward towards the finish line. It was getting closer and closer! At AJ's question Pinkie couldn't help but wink.

 

"Oh you know I'm alright AJ! Especially since somepony mentioned a party after the race!" She was super duper excited to party with her friends old and new, and one special griffoness too!

 

"Apple Spite huh?" She smiled. "That sounds good but make sure you keep it away from Rainbow Dash! That pony will be more than a hoof-full if she drinks too much of the hard stuff!"

 

The pink pony launched herself forward, drawing on all her excitement to party! It caused another boost in speed that catapulted her right up with the rest of the front runners! Though they were galloping for all they were worth they could still manage conversation!

 

"Wow! Almost done!" She glanced at her new kirin friend. "Ummmmm, Taira, you got something in your eyes?"

 

She playfully nudged Boulder too. "Just let me know where to drop off the desserts at your awesome after party!"

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Uggggh. Okay, Hawke was hating this. This kind of thing happened from time to time. Self-doubt and frustrations were harder than feelings of the past to escape when running at times. It didn't help she skipped breakfast this morning either. She stared up ahead towards the finish line. Towards everyone ahead of her. There wasn't even a chance of winning at this point was there? Taira and Applejack were, as everyone could see, the favourites to win. Having been neck and neck throughout most of the event. Boulder could certainly make this an upset, and even Pinkie was further ahead than she was at this point, she could pull it off as well. Hawke still stood firmly by the idea that winning wasn't everything, but it still felt nice to feel like you had a chance. And at this point that was feeling slim to none. She pumped her legs as fast as she possibly could, but there'd be no real chance of catching up. She felt so much slower on land, she hated that feeling. She hated the feeling that it didn't even matter if she could move faster, it felt moot to just keep moving when her position in the race felt as solid as stone.

 

Still though she would try. It'd be easier to just say 'Forget it' and just walk the rest of it off. Giving up was so easy! That's why she couldn't. Hawke Dreamcrest wasn't legendary for giving up, she was legendary because she kept going. And because she bested a raging dragon or ten and probably saved a civilization or two, but that was besides the point. She knew she had no one she was racing for either, so she had to race for herself. There'd be no real fanfare from a cheering section for her. Pinkie though, she'd probably cheer for her. Hawke chuckled to herself, the mare would probably cheer for everyone though and that was fine. She seemed sweet that way. The griffon sighed as she rushed along. Maybe she'd try next year, maybe then she'd be able to hold a position that felt better.

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"Hm?" He tilted his head at Pinkie as she remarked on his eye, "Really? It seems to be working fine... I can still see you after all." Like he said, his eyes were functioning perfectly well. The odd coloration was againthe result of the fatigue he was no longer feeling. He was so close to the finish line so he couldn't let the stress get to him. Even if some of his true form was starting to show he still was in the shape of a pony.  That was the wager after all: Get to the finish line first in pony shape! If he could just manage that he'd be entirely home free. 

 

With the sound of music awaiting at the finish line, the sight of his family on the other end, and the good company out and around him... It was time. The stallion started to pull ahead of the herd with a manic grin. His great wake of mist touched leaves gaining on the rest of the team along with the rest of their collected leaves and debris. Even with a running this close in the moment, Tai did feel the distinct possibility he might fall behind... and this far in the race he wouldn't put it past his chaotic rival to pull some sort of absolutely madcap trick out of his hat. Although with all the energy and excitement flooding his mind, Taira would actually welcome it!

 

He could really had to try and move quickly now! His guise was fading and now those words his friend's gave him just moments ago made a bit more sense! He had to move!

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"Ha heh, yes! I knew you got it still, Pinkie Pie!" Applejack said enthusiastically. "You're probably the only pony who will still be able to walk after this. Er, hop." Though Applejack and Taira had been the front runners and were most likely to be the two battling it out for the race win, it was still very impressive how the field of ponies and griffons were able to close the gap. There were no easy strides.

 

When Pinkie mentioned something about Taira's off appearance, it affirmed what Applejack had thought of shortly before. Taira looked stressed, but he looked so stressed that it seemed to change the shape of his muzzle slightly and discolor the look of his eyes. Even his pelt seemed to have a chameleon effect. Was he a changeling? No way, Applejack was smarted than that. "Listen Sugarcube, if you got a little rage inside you turning you into one of them niriks, I would understand. I also understand why you wouldn't want to deal with it right now and give up a chance to win the race. Just don't get any of that rage-fire on anypony else and don't burn anything to the ground, we got little ones in the stands." Applejack pointed towards a group of fillies and colts, Miss Cheerilee's class taking a field trip to see the conclusion of the running of the leaves. She assumed that no one else would know what the hay she was talking about, but Applejack was very aware of kirin tendencies as was pretty sure Taira was showing signs of having one of those emotional breakouts. "After the race, we'll see if Zecora isn't around to help us get some elixir for that anger." Applejack smiled confidently, feeling assured that everything would go well, with only one thing left to prove. "Now if'n you'll excuse me, I gotta go make acquaintances with the podium." Applejack sped up, passing everycreature and attempting to put a gap between her and the rest of the competitors. She could just make out the words on the tape. Finish.

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*inset Eye of the Tiger music here* :D

 

This. Was. It.

 

The home stretch! The final moments! The last banana? Yeah! All of those things! Pinkie's stride changed from her happy bouncing hop to a very serious gallop! She wouldn't get distracted! She couldn't get distracted. Nope...not...distracted...

 

"Ummmmm, ok? If you say so!" Pinkie couldn't help but look to the big kirin. She knew a little about his species and definitely knew they were more than what they sometimes appeared. Taira wasn't any different she figured. His minty mist roiled out around him, and even his coat took on an odd look. 

 

She decided whatever was going on with Taira he could hold himself together. If he was the General like he said, the kirin could take care of himself. Pinkie was a bit concerned as a friend of course, but she knew he would be fine.

 

The Ponk nodded at AJ's words. "Yep! You know it AJ!" She watched as the orange mare bolted ahead of her. "I'm pretty sure you'll be able to keep going too Applejack! You're the strongest pony I've ever met!"

 

Enough distractions! She had to focus! There it was, right ahead of her! The finish line!

 

"Hold on Gummy!" Pinkie ran as hard as she ever had! Leaves tumbled from the trees, debris flew about, a huge dust cloud consumed her as the racers made their last effort for the end of the race!

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"Angry?" The charging stallion was a tad confused by the accusation, "Oh I'm not angry, I'm just excited!" Truth be told Taira had never heard of the term 'nirik' before. It sounded like kirin spelled backwards and if he remembered right that was some strange affliction that was limited to a certain subset of eastern dragonponies. He couldn't afford to let his mind wander now, not when he had a pup in the stands he wanted to impress. He had hoped to respond further, but Applejack's sudden surge forward towards the finish line made the stallion's brow arch. With a delighted, sharp toothed grin he shouted, "Someone's getting a little full of themselves!" He called forward before lowering his tone and his head , bangs hiding the kirin's eyes from view. "Here I am trying to keep things interesting... can't just write me off like that, Apple-san. You're hardly older than a hill!"

 

A truly ecstatic grin came to the kirin's muzzle as he lifted his head back up, the bang on his hand being blown back by his speed. "You're just a runt, pal..." With a  truly immense surge of speed, Taira charged ahead towards Applejack and the finish line. With flowing off him more like steam than like fire and both his eyes glowing with a minty green light. "YOU'VE NO CLUE JUST HOW FAST THIS OLD DOG CAN BE!"

 

Applejack's immediate reaction was one of fear. But once the cloud of dust had faded, Applejack zoomed back into the short wake of the kirin, who she had considered a friend at this point. "Old dog huh? You ain't that old. Why, you don't look that much older than my brother Big Macintosh."

 

The galloping kirin kept up his charge, his body burning all the energy he had stored up throughout the race to push him all the way to the finish line.  "I managed to age pretty gracefully!" Even in the heat of this whole race it seemed as though Applejack's rival of the moment held no malice in his tone, "You probably would be surprised if I told you how old I really am, Friend!" If this racer was in fact experiencing a nirik's emotional outburst, he certainly hid it well. 

 

"By the way, I bet he's somewhere in the stands." Looking foward towards the spectators crowding around the finish line, Applejack could see the Apple family ponies huddled around, and could point to them individually if she so chose. "Oh look, we got a little canine friend to cheer us on!"

 

"Rarff rarff!" Winona noised excitedly several meters away, but when Applejack and Taira had approached them, she began to growl. "Grrrr..... rauf, rarf, rarf! Rawf! Rawf! Grrr... Rawf!"

 

"Wow, Winona sure is excited," Applejack said with little regard for details.

 

As they grew nearer and nearer to the finish line, Tai gave the dog a smile! Not all dogs really seemed to enjoy his company but he liked the creatures all the same. On some degree they were kin after all, "She's seems almost like she's worried!" Thank goodness he wasn't born a fox, otherwise he probably would have lost his bet with Discord there and then when he locked eyes with Winona. 

 

"Taira you got family waiting for you right? You said somethin' earlier about a son?"

 

The kirin perked up and nodded eagerly. "I certainly do, that stallion in the stands with the shamisen. That's Yamakara... or Yama for short. He's the one with the pink horns and swirling tail like mine!" The youthful looking kirin in the stands leapt up ... somehow leaving his instrument to play itself for a couple seconds before he shouted over towards the racers. 

 

"Ganbare!" He would shout delightedly, Taira chuckling as his pup seemed to forget the competitors most likely didn't speak neighponese. The galloping foreigner smiled over again to the farm mare, "That means 'Go for it' In Equestrian."

 

Applejack was beginning to sense that something was off about Taira, but she didn't know what. His mannerisms and cocky attitude seemed sometimes rude, but also very normal with his composure remaining impressively static. But there was something about the way he talked and the hidden context of which he spoke that made Applejack start to discern possible deception. But she had little time between now and the finish to be able to calculate in her mind the honesty equation dealing with the kirin running fiercely alongside her. So instead of assuming malice, she just continued their rants. "That guy looks like a swell guy." The young kirin's instrument playing by itself made Applejack double-take. She blinked a few times and then looked again, seeing them wave appropriately. She then concluded that she had tired herself so much to be able to focus on distant objects and ponies, and thought it best to concentrate more on the finish. Regaining bearings would have to wait. "Taira, it's been an honor running the leaves with you and everypony else. It looks like its gonna be one of us. I just want to say good look to you." Applejack resisted the urge to say something cocky, her more targeted demeanor taking control of her actions and words.

 

Taira was taken a back for a moment at the genuine kind words from his opponent, "They can be a bit of a prankster here and there, but he's determined to be everyone's friend, I think sometimes." He would turn for a moment to Applejack, "I'd like to think I've managed to snag a few friends of my own... You included.  I'm grateful to have had the chance  to run with you as well!" Despite the strange changes to his features in this ending stretch, that smile on his face was a genuinely thankful and earnest one.  If anyone could discern such a genuine gratitude it would have to be the element of honesty. Even though he'd spoken in half truths before... this was a whole one. "Even if I don't end up having to work on your farm... I'll be sure to visit no matter what!"

 

Applejack tipped her hat to the kirin, the very hat she would give up should she lose to her new friend. And after disregarding another sense of strangeness coming from the kirin's face that could not be described, Applejack looked forward putting herself in her own zone, and not letting anyone, including herself distract her any further.  She was going to give it her all. She could smell the finish line but she muted the cheers for the runners who stampeded around her.

 

Taira had started this whole on a wager with a god. Some might call that foolish, and to a certain degree he had to admit it most likely had been. Now as he felt the burn of nearly exhausted muscle spreading across his  body he could only really seem to focus on the finish line. But as he felt the exertion and focus empty his mind he felt something else... an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the events that had brought him here.

 

Living to be as old as Taira had came with it's fair share of troubles. Mistakes, regrets, old wounds, friends who he had long since outlived...  Even when he was worshiped on the mountain range he had always loved the contact with the short lived (mostly) race of ponies, kirin, and ryuma. When they had left he found himself... very lonely. If not for Ranu's company so long ago he might have been a very different creature.  The day he sealed off the mountain range from ponies to keep the place safe from a world he couldn't understand still weighed on him, but even then not as heavily as the day he so deeply regretted. 

 

A flash of the night when he and Niju had lost one of the pups not long after their birth. The night he let his grief and anger ravage a countryside as he tried to save the daughter he never got to see grow.  All this pain and sadness seemed to melt away as he soared towards the finish line. 

 

In the split second before he could cross his eyes wandered to Applejack, Boulder, Pinkie, Hawke and even the sure fuming Dark Strife. Two words flashed in his mind.

 

'Thank you.'

 

Applejack's gait gained perfection. Just a few more strides. Her hooves would only have to travel less than if she was running the distance from the barn to the closest buckable apple tree. As she approached the finish, everything fell silent and insignificant. Time began to lengthen. The pounding of her hooves to the dirt made muffled thumps in her ear as she galloped a rapid beat. All corners of her hooves were clogged with mud, the traversing of several provocative patches of the forest marked their territory on the relentless earth pony. A few rogue leaves were nested in her mane, which was dusted with dirt and lightly soaked in perspiration; the split ends of her hair were dancing along side her pelt, which was also glazed in sweat. And her eyes were jittery, not fixed. Her vision was blurred everywhere but goal, the four-legged friends all around becoming invisible. Her breathing set the pace for the rest of the machine, it made music that all other extremities followed, violators would cramp. The voice of reason in her head was absent, but it filled her head to the poll of adrenaline and resolve. All other features of the mare's body were numb and inconsequential, deemed null to the priority of her will.

 

What was her will? To win a race? No. To beat Taira? Not exactly. A proud, hard-working pony like Applejack surely would celebrate a victory in time. But in the moment, she could not think of anything other than finishing the race on her own terms. Nothing to the honest apple could be more important than finishing something she started with the utmost integrity, and sharing that ingredient for success with her family and her friends--of old and new. These requirements left Applejack no other choice but to give it her all for one more stretch.

 

Her terms were this: Run as fast as you can. If you can win it, win it. If you can't win it, win the hearts of those watching. Don't let up until your tail brushes the chalk. Don't trip your hooves on sticks and don't trip your thoughts on concern. Leave every ounce of energy behind you, leave a trail of integrity in the path back to the forests. And above all, use the humbling experience as your launching point for the first thing you say to the first pony you see. If these conditions were met, Applejack would be greeted with a peace of mind and a contented heart, and her life would continue to fill with the infectious nature of a pony who earns every ounce of her fruit she worked hard for, on the farm and in truth. The labor she put down here was no different than the labor she put in other places. This time, like so many other special occasions, those who looked on in excitement would see a determined little pony named Applejack putting her strength and tenacity on display to inspired those who desired to reap similar rewards in life. And her reward? Everycreature would soon find out.

 

((Pretzelparty provided Taira via chat RP.  Thank you, Pressy!))

 

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((Good luck everyone, see you on the other side))

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