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Running of the Leaves: Stage Two- Sweet Apple Acres (Closed: See OOC Topic)


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Stage 2- Sweet Apple Acres

Sweet Apple Acres' aroma of apples is oddly electrified this morning as the strange weather from the Everfree is countered by even stranger weather from the Whitetail Woods! Still, the farm provides cover from the slight drizzle that dampers the mood somewhat. Strategically placed apple juice and cider stands will help refresh the racers while the ample tree cover allows some of them to find nice napping positions. The leaves are falling but the apples cling on stubbornly, so if you want a snack, you better be prepared to buck! And who knows, maybe you'll get more than a tasty treat out of the deal...

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Things were off to a good start for Sugar Apple as she trotted through the somewhat-familiar territory of Sweet Apple Acres. As she anticipated, the pegasus was not high up in the lead, but her current position was more than enough for Sugar Apple to enjoy herself. At the very least, the pegasus wouldn’t tire herself out before making it across the finish line.

Sugar Apple might not have minded being anything other than first place, but she did feel a small bit of satisfaction seeing her earth pony cousin Applejack in the lead. Sugar Apple heard tales from her relatives of how Applejack and a pegasus friend of hers tied for dead last one time because they were too busy pulling shenanigans on one another. Well… at least last time around, AJ made it to twelfth place… and with encouragement, maybe Sugar Apple could even help her cousin win this year!

Setting herself up at a moderate pace, Sugar Apple waved hello to all of her other fellow Apple relatives whenever she passed by one of their stands. Sugar Apple neglected to get herself a bottle of water before the race, having drunk quite a bit of apple cider before she arrived at the starting line. Besides, she didn’t think she would get too thirsty in this competition… especially since she wasn’t out to win in the first place. That meant that Sugar Apple wouldn’t mind waiting in a queue if she needed a drink of apple juice; why rush when you could spend time chatting it up with a fellow runner? For the time being though, the mare merrily passed the juice stands by.

It was too bad though that this year’s Running of the Years couldn’t have taken place on a sunnier day. As Sugar Apple understood, seeing the vividly-colored autumn leaves fall to the ground as one galloped past them was one of the prettiest sights a pony could behold. In fact, that was more or less the point of the entire race… the reason Sugar Apple wanted to participate in this event for so long despite her preference for contests of aerial prowess.

Of course, the one year the pegasus joins the Running and a bunch of low grey clouds, stratocumulus clouds by Sugar Apple’s reckoning, just have to come by and produce a drizzle. This particular Royal Weather Factory employee didn’t need anypony to tell her that such clouds had a nasty habit of front-ending more treacherous thunderheads. Her visibility already limited from the sprinkling, the mare was saddened that she wouldn’t be able to completely see the Whitetail Woods in their full autumn-time glory.

Another preparation oversight soon crossed Sugar Apple’s mind as her stomach rumbled with a hunger pang. The pegasus in her morning rush to get from Cloudsdale to Ponyville only gave herself enough time to munch on a piece of a toast… and now she was paying the price. While there were no food stands around for convenient food access, the good news was that the Apple pegasus was in the middle of an apple orchard… and all apple ponies knew how to buck a tree! Giving a random tree a swift back-kick, Sugar Apple smiled as three apples fell from the tree above her. Picking them up with her hooves, Sugar Apple swallowed two apples whole while stashing the last one in her mane. Her hunger satisfied for the time being, the pegasus figured she’d give her spare apple to somepony else if they looked hungry enough......

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Speeding along at a comfortable pace and afforded some extra distance by his long legs, Clockwise was astonished to find himself doing so well. He had never made a habit of running distances much longer than that between the two ends of the Canterlot University library, but this was liberating-- exhilarating, in fact! That was the word! The scruffy stallion's heart quickened with the thrill of his gallop and the pleasure taken from the brilliance of the leaves; the steady rumble of the runners' hooves and the shivering of the branches in their wake seemed to join the rhythm of his breath and the racing of his mind. His hoards of dusty spellbooks and scrolls, the trappings of a scholar, felt so far away. Here was another kind of magic, and one that, Clockwise mused, he simply did not spend enough of his dear time contemplating.

For all of the wonder, though, Clockwise was still an aging pony, and certainly not very gifted in the way of physical fitness. His exuberant gallop soon became a yet-enthusiastic canter, which then gradually descended into a tired trot.

However, Sweet Apple Acres was a beautiful place, and not even flagging energy and a greying sky could dampen spirits that were already so high, even as raindrops settled into the purple pony's tangled mane and speckled his slipping glasses. Content to be surrounded by the quaint farmland and happily oblivious to his place in the race, Clockwise slowed all the more, the better to catch his breath and appreciate the tall apple trees and their brilliant fruit. The apples presented a strong temptation to the scrawny pony, all ripe and red; surely the Apple family wouldn't miss one or two? Alas, he certainly hadn't the strength to buck, nor the courage to try it, and everypony knows that apples don't taste as good when they're removed by any other means. In any case, perhaps it was for the best that he refrained. What if they were really good, and he just sat there and kept eating them until the storm was upon him? That wouldn't do, not at all!

The looming clouds attracted the unicorn's nervous eyes, and that was enough to cause him to pick up his pace a little, back up to a light canter. An estimate of when to expect the thick of it to overtake the course began to hammer itself out in a corner of the Timesense.

Lengthening his stride a little more, Clockwise bobbled his head in pleasant acknowledgement to a few of the ponies at the juice stands when they caught his eye, or him theirs, and flashed them each his silly teeth in a goofy, nervous smile.

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Harrington continued rushing along the course as they approached Sweet Apple Acres, galloping along in stride to keep up with the field. He was a bit flustered as he fell behind several of the racers during the first stretch from Ponyville and felt he had to compensate for it now to keep up. If he took a chance now to let up, he might not see most of the field this side of the finish line.

[colour=#ff0000]That blasted alarm clock got me into this...at least, where I put the bucking thing did...I really should arrange my wagon better next time I have something as important as the most popular annual race in Equestria...but for now, I need to focus. I might lose them and not catch up.[/colour]

He stared back ahead at the field, which started to pan out and split off into those leading the way and those following them. Watching the majority of the entrants run ahead motivated him to carry on, hope for the best and try to maintain pace with them. To the side, he noticed the orchards of Sweet Apple Acres along with the stands for refreshment and trees to take cover from the fringe of the storm that loomed over the race as it progressed toward Whitetail Wood.

[colour=#ff0000]Those clouds over yonder seem foreboding...but they said the Baltimare weather team let it drift over here. I'm from Baltimare! I'm used to its random weather. That up ahead looks like my best chance to gain ground and maybe swipe the lead. For now, though...running rather than flying has felt awkward. It's like I'm warming up for the main length of the course, but I think I should be doing better.[/colour]

He caught sight of the stands set out for the contestants and decided to take a short break from the Running for a cup of cider and shelter from the rain. He didn't plan to stay very long as the primary challenge lay ahead. An earlier start alone might help him pull ahead and position himself to brace for the storm. The sooner he started, the sooner he could get out of the inclement weather and tougher stages and onto dry ground for the final leg.

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When the skies are gray and sodden, and the ground darkened and wet, fall foliage is not the feast to the eye it ought by all rights to be. Earth Writer felt somewhat disappointed as he first started the race. The unicorn had begun at a jogging pace, first to conserve energy, and second to be able to see the trees before they were finally de-leafed. In addition to being disappointed in that respect, he was now also wet, and he knew he wouldn't be in any position to dry himself until the end of the race. For the seventeenth time, he'd regretted the mad impulse which had made him join this event.

As he approached Sweet Apple Acres, though, something changed. His other senses started to unfold, and bring sensations quite as delightful as seeing the brilliant leaves. Earth could feel the deep rumbling of hundreds of hooves that vibrated in his bones as much as the trunks of the trees; he could smell the apple-soaked electrical air, which told of Zap Apples that could only grow here in this place. [colour=#8b4513]*Ooh, that is not a bad introduction; I must remember that when I write the story.* [/colour] The editors always loved a life interest story, and Earth knew how to make a place come alive through words.

And now he was coming into the heart of the orchards, the trees tended by ponies nestled between the wilder specimens of the White Tail and Everfree Forests. There were stands here, selling beverages to ponies who were racing; but you had to wait in line to get a drink. The concept puzzled Earth Writer, and he mulled on it as he jogged past. [colour=#8b4513]*Those who'd need it the most, the hard-pushing type, would be exactly the sort not to stop for refreshment.* [/colour]Another reflection for the article, he supposed. He wondered if he ought to stop to get an interview. Ultimately, he decided against it. If he stopped now, he might lose all motivation to start again. He pushed on, and tried to put apples out of his mind.

That was a mistake. Before, simply the lightning-tinged scent of them had lingered in the back of his mind, but active pursuance of the thought soon caused it to blossom and bear fruit. He remembered his foalhood days in this town, how the apples were always the best, and everyone knew it. Firm, juicy, sweet or tart according to what kind they were, but all paragons of their name. His stomach joined his mind, growling that he had long ago finished breakfast, and that it was now time for a snack.

The tag-team did a number on Earth Writer's resolve, and he compromised, determining to snatch an apple as he passed by a likely tree. He was no Apple Family member himself; the ways of Applebucking were a mystery to him. But that was alright; it wasn't like he needed the whole tree's fruit to fall, right? Just one.

He snagged a fruit as it passed by his vision with his magic, but it held tighter than the unicorn had previously thought. There was a sudden tug, and suddenly the tan stallion had all hooves shoot out from under him, and he landed flat on his back, right next to a light purple pegasus, who had a spare apple with her. [colour=#8b4513]"Guess that shows me not to be in too much of a hurry, eh?"[/colour] He smiled weakly as he got to his hooves again to trot alongside her. "[colour=#8b4513]Er, could you spare a hungry reporter an apple?[/colour]"

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[colour=#008000]Greenshot Apple[/colour], with the number 27 on his flank, was feeling quite content since the start of the race. Trotting passed just a few ponies and even a donkey, Greenshot continued his own race. Feeling the gurgle of hunger getting to his stomach which in turn made him nearly lose concentration long enough to have hit a noticeable rock in clear sight. That could have been a racer’s worst nightmare.

Coming up to a slightly familiar path, Greenshot noticed stands giving out Apple Cider and such to the racer’s even though there were lines as well. “[colour=#008000]I can’t stop to get a drink I’ll get far behind in this race if I do that. Best to just buck an apple and eat it while I trot.[/colour]” Greenshot Apple thought amongst himself. Noticing no more stands. He saw some ponies just leaving an apple orchid and came up to an apple tree. Turning his body around and lifted his hind legs to buck the tree with his hooves. Quickly seeing an apple fall, his horn began shining to grab the falling fruit and returned to trotting at a normal pace. As the fruit came floating down to his mouth, Greenshot began to eat at it. Happy to see his cousins at the stands, he could have sworn he saw several in the race as well. Maybe they were just the ones in front of him? Either way, the view of the orchids and trees were beautiful which he was told they would be. Finishing the apple core and all, his stomach felt much better. There was no gurgling or pains and Greenshot was focused to catch on up to whomever was ahead of him.

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Sugar Apple meant to get going as soon as possible, but a particular tan-colored unicorn behind her caught the pegasus’s interest. The poor stallion thought he could levitate an apple off a tree by casting a spell without stopping. Didn’t he know that apples had to be picked with great care? To Sugar Apple’s amusement, the unicorn’s spell backfired as he lost his footing and landed on his back.

The stallion, while shaken and embarrassed, kept his spirits up from that mishap to, Sugar Apple’s relief. [colour=#800080]“Don’t ya’ worry now, hon,”[/colour] a chuckling Sugar Apple assured the unicorn; [colour=#800080]“Ah’m not in much of a hurry, either.”[/colour] Once he got up, the pegasus joined him as they continued to trot up the race path.

As Sugar Apple expected, the unicorn (a reporter to be accurate) asked for her spare apple. The mare didn’t plan on giving out her spare apple so soon… but she didn’t want to leave the reporter empty-hooved either. Coming to a stop next to another apple tree, the pegasus decided to provide a demonstration.[colour=#800080] “Ya’ see here, we Apple ponies have an ole’ sayin’,”[/colour] Sugar Apple happily explained; [colour=#800080]“Give a pony an apple, an’ they’ll eat fo’ a day. Teach a pony how t’buck fo’ apples…”[/colour] right then, Sugar Apple gave the tree behind her the mightiest buck she could summon; [colour=#800080]“…an’ they’ll eat fo’ an lifetime!”[/colour] The pegasus’s kick was rewarded with four apples dropping to the ground.

[colour=#800080]“Enjoy yer apples, hon!”[/colour] Sugar Apple hollered to the reporter as she proceeded to canter alongside a green unicorn who was passing by. Playfully teasing the tan stallion further, the pegasus then shouted behind her; [colour=#800080]“Catch me if ya’ can!”[/colour]

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Despite the inherently embarrassing situation he'd found himself in, Earth Writer felt comfortable around Sugar Apple. She had a kind of sweetness and charm about her. The stallion probably would have connected it to her name, if he'd known it. At any rate, the pegasus wasn't so focused on going forward that she couldn't stop to help a down-on-his-luck reporter.

He smiled at her as she gave out her family words of wisdom. [colour=#8b4513]"Can I quote you on that?" [/colour] He asked playfully as he paused to gather the four apples that dropped by him. Of course, he ought to have known that before, but he'd forgotten a lot of things about this place since he'd moved to Canterlot...

[colour=#8b4513]*Well, no better way to remember them to be a part of this.* [/colour] Earth thought, as he sped up to a canter to catch the purple pegasus. He found now, despite the cold dampness that promised further soaking, that he was almost thoroughly enjoying himself. Scarfing down his first apple, he stowed the others away for later, nodding at a green unicorn, another Apple family member, as he cantered past.

After a few minutes, he was in range to talk with the pegasus mare again. [colour=#8b4513]"Didn't catch your name, by the way. I'm Earth Writer. What's yours?"[/colour]

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[colour=#daa520]"Oh, great..."[/colour] Well this was a downer, Autumn Moon's previously go-getter attitude had turned sour as he now lagged behind most of the competitors, and the rise of dark clouds that brought a slight drizzle over the White Tail Woods didn't help the mood much either. Still there was some hope of winning in a descent position and pulling out the oldest trick in the book was certainly it. Save your energy until the very end, then sprint to the finish line once everypony else was tired out. Autumn gave a small huff and began to trot faster, the number sixty-nine scribbled on a slip of parchment and placed on his flank flapped in the wind.

He managed to pass a few ponies, but the real competition was still a ways off. The ground under Autumn's hooves was becoming increasingly damp as he looked around for any other ponies. Strangely enough, some were stopped at trail side cider stands and others were bucking apples from trees then promptly moving back to race. One pony in particular caught his eye; a green unicorn sporting the number twenty-seven on his flank quickly bucked a tree and trotted off with an apple levitating with him all in one motion.

[colour=#daa520]"Now that doesn't seem like such a bad idea..."[/colour] Autumn looked around for any nearby racers. Nopony was around that might be able to pass him. He slowed down to the side of the trail and lifted up his hind legs striking the apple tree with sheer force. A few apples fell and he grabbed the biggest one he could find and quickly trotted off, shoving the apple into his olive green turtle neck sweater for later.

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The steady pace seemed more than satisfying to her. Pale pink mare was initially concerned if she'd be able to keep up with all those veteran ponies taking part in this race, but her determined preparations paid off eventually. She enjoyed the run so far, even though the pesky weather worked against the participants. But Star herself wasn't capable of noticing it... She kept observing in awe... Observing the cascade of multicolored leaves falling around and behind them. To a mare who spent her entire life in cities, that magnificent view was something she was never going to forget. It was like a banquet to her artistic senses, a source of limitless inspiration and fantastic ideas. She could already feel the creative energy flowing through her.

Yet, no matter how hard would she try, she couldn't ignore the droplets of water falling from the sky. At this rate, her mane would soon start to soak. As long as she didn't mind it yet, she knew that shall this trend continue, she'd earn an additional handicap in the race. She always liked keeping her mane and tail long, but this one particular time it might have been a mistake. But as for now, she just kept moving forward. It was highly unlikely that wet mane would annoy her more than the number 'eleven' tied to her flanks though. The feeling it gave while running was most uncomfortable.

Risi didn't have a chance to study the race track maps carefully, but she remembered some details. Judging from the apple trees they kept passing by, she believed they were somewhere around the... [colour=#0000ff]"Sour apple acres? Sweet apple plains...? Celestia forgive me, I can't remember..."[/colour] - her thoughts drifted around the issue for a moment, until she noticed an apple juice and cider stand. That made her frown a little in thought. For a short moment she considered stopping by, but she quickly realized she wasn't thirsty at all. Besides, seeing how chilly the weather might become, the last thing she'd need after the race was soar throat and general illness. She shook her head brushing off this idea.

There was but one peculiar sight that caught the glimpse of her eye. Somewhere in the distance in front of her a light purple pegasus mare broke away from the group. She swiftly struck one of the half-leafless trees, forcing a few apples to fall. After gathering them, least that's what Star assumed had happened since she was too far to judge correctly, she returned to the race. Risi turned her head to take a closer look at the trees. She wouldn't mind taking a bite on a juicy apple or two... But what did she know about techniques used to force the trees into submission? With what force one had to strike? Under which angle? Was there any particular part of the tree which was more vulnerable than the other parts?

Mare gave up on the idea. She just didn't posses the required knowledge and skills. Taking a note to self to diversify her horizons, she decided that the only outbreak of events she could account for was to somepony else strike a tree and throw down more apples then initially intended. She could just grab one laying on the ground then. And this way nopony would even accuse her of thievery! After all, it wasn't her property and it would be a shame to waste tasty apples... [colour=#0000ff]"Guess I don't have any other options left."[/colour] - she thought as she made corrections to her speed, lowering it a bit. She started observing the participants carefully, hoping for her plan to be carried out somehow...

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The pace was faster than the unicorn was initially expecting, a monsoon of racers cascading down the path as they sprinted onward for glory, fame, or even exercise. The tall mare soon found her hooves tangled with other runners in the initial pack as everyone tried to stake their claim to a forward position. She managed to avoid tripping, recovering at the last moment as her free hooves kept her large frame upright. She was not sure about the other racers though, her pace slowing for only a moment as she glanced back to see an imposing looking griffon that she may have offended by crowding the running lanes. The expression on the cloaked pony's face remained the same in the face of the sharp beaked hybrid, the mare seeming either brave or oblivious to the potential outbursts of an enraged griffon.

"I apologize for hindering your running experience lady griffon, the density of participants was beyond what I had initially expected," she explained calmly in an eerie voice, the unicorn directing her words at Gilda, an athlete she had never personally met in her many years of working with griffons. The black pelted mare continued on with her usual dedication, limbs moving in perfect unison as she cantered along into the famed apple farm on the outskirts of Ponyville. The faint patter of rain filled her ears as she continued onward, her weather proof cloak slowly starting to form tiny pools of rain water on it as her form carried her through the poor weather. Her heart rate was increasing as she continued on, something she knew well enough from her many years of running. Even a seasoned runner would tire a little but from any amount of running, and she could see that clearly as a few ponies ahead of her struggled to retrieve apples from trees along the side of the road.

Before she could press on any further though, the black fur on her back stood on end, sensing the electricity in the air as storm clouds threatened to release a mixture of water and lightning upon the racers, herself included. The mare broke off into an all out Gallop as she sought out cover beneath one of the larger apple trees. Her dark hooves slid in the slowly loosening dirt on the ground as she came to a halt under her destination, a tree capable of shielding her from the rain. She had spotted other racers struggling in vain to remove apples from the trees and decided to be more careful in her own efforts to remove the fruit. A dark red glow emanated from her horn as her magic aura engulfed a half dozen of the lower hanging apples. In one swift motion, she struck at the stems of the apples in her grip with a jolt of magic, freeing the fruit from their housing as she lowered them down to ground level.

"Feel free to claim one of these apples if you require a temporary boost of energy to get your limbs churning towards the finish line. I will make sure to compensate the apple family for their effort after the race has concluded," she explained calmly, her voice staying relatively static even with a slightly heaving chest. Before she could add any further words to her public address, the unicorn saw a soaked leaf fall from the apple tree as she stood in cover from what she suspected to be a strike of lightning, as unlikely as it may have been. Her crimson eyes traced the movements of decaying light absorbers and the unicorn came to a sudden realization. The rain was here to aid in their efforts, the additional weight it brought down on the leaves only serving to weaken their grasp on the trees.

Asteria soon found her hooves moving as she marched in place beneath the tree, the unicorn deciding to keep releasing leaves with her hoof steps as she carefully devoured the one apple she kept for herself. While she was not the type to marvel in the beauty of the autumn trees, her efforts were working somewhat, leaf after leaf cascading to the ground as they prevented the ground from getting too muddy. The leaves were quite the sight to behold, the poor weather only able to partially obscure the spectacle in the large apple orchards the participants were standing in. The mare shook herself roughly, discharging the water on her cloak in every direction, as she waited for the tingling sensation in her body to subside. When she felt the electricity in the air subside to a safe enough of a degree, the mare darted off back into the race with a renewed fervor. Her gallop was much less impeded as the crowd of runners spread out over the path ahead. The famed white tail woods could be seen appearing over the horizon as she marched onward, the scarlet maned mare wondering if there were any local residents about in the poor weather that promised to get worse.

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Seeing the leaves falling from the trees as the ponies passed was a rather satisfying feeling, thought Lyra. This was what they were here to do, and they were doing their jobs well. Lyra quickly checked the path ahead of her for obstructions. Seeing that her way was clear, she took a look behind her as she ran. The ground was paved with Autumn colours, reds and orange and gold and brown. This was the best part of the season. Well, usually. The weather was kind of putting a damper on things, pun intended.

Using her magic, she attempted to form a shield over herself to act as an umbrella. Shield magic, however, was mostly taught to the unicorns serving as Equestrian royal guards and was evidently more difficult than it looked. A glowing disc appeared above her head, but was completely insubstantial; a glowing light with no substance. With a little minor change to add her sound magic to it, she was able to create a vibrating disk that shunted a few of the rain drops away from her. Not very effective, and it would probably drain her energy quite quickly. Sadly, she dismissed the spell.

Running beside her, she noticed a somewhat older unicorn, purple with red hair. His eyes were turned skyward to the dark storm clouds visable above the treeline.

[colour=#00cc99]"Looks like we'll be getting a little wet, huh?"[/colour] she spoke in a jovial tone, trying to strike up a conversation. [colour=#00cc99]"Don't worry, I'm sure there are pegasi on the way to sort it out!"[/colour]

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Some time passed while Sugar Apple cantered along the path. Glancing behind her every once in a while, the pegasus noticed the reporter unicorn’s attempts to catch up with her. The stallion made a friendly and funny companion thought Sugar Apple, who couldn’t help but giggle back when he asked to quote her on that bit of wisdom she taught him a moment ago. At least having him around would make Sugar Apple forget about the drizzle and clouds that hung over this year’s Running of the Leaves.

Slowing down her cantering pace by just a little bit, the grinning mare gave the stallion the opportunity to get back within talking range. It took a few minutes, but the reporter finally caught up with Sugar Apple and asked for her name. The pegasus was more than willing to offer it; [colour=#800080]“Mah name’s Sugar Apple! It’s a pleasure t’meet ya’!”[/colour] Remembering that she didn’t exactly answer the stallion’s question earlier, the pegasus happily continued speaking; [colour=#800080]“Feel free t’quote me on what ah said back thar. Ah’d love to be mentioned in yer story.”[/colour]

[colour=#800080]“Oh… while we’re here, where do ya’ work at?”[/colour]

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[colour=#8b4513]*It's going to be a long run.*[/colour] Earth Writer thought to himself as he shook droplets of water from his black mane and tail. [colour=#8b4513]*It's going to be a lot easier if I have someone to run alongside.*[/colour]

The unicorn was grateful, then, when Sugar Apple let him catch up. The pace wasn't so strenuous, so they could talk without it being a strain. "[colour=#8b4513]Pleased to meet you too. I take it you're one of Applejack's cousins?[/colour]" Anyone who'd spent any time in Ponyville always remembered the Apple Family reunions. They weren't always held at Sweet Apple Acres, but often enough for any inhabitants to get an impression of the size of the clan.

Having given his name as Earth Writer, the stallion went on to answer her question. "[colour=#8b4513]At the moment, I work for whoever buys my articles; I'm hoping to eventually get a berth on Equestria Geographic, or one of the Dailys that has a large travel budget. I don't just want to see the world, I want to tell everyone about what you can find in it![/colour]" He jerked his head towards the trees. "[colour=#8b4513]Like this place! Only place in Equestria that every kind of apple can grow at once, even the magical ones.[/colour]"

Thwap! A wet wad of leaves smacked Earth right in the face, and he sputtered for a bit as he ran along, trying to shake them off. "[colour=#8b4513]Leaves are coming down, alright.[/colour]" He could feel something like static electricity tingling all around him, when out in the distance a bolt of lightning came down. He gave a low whistle as he moved closer to the trees. "[colour=#8b4513]I think this may make for quite an exciting story...[/colour]"

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Having hardly expected any of the racers to be of the chatty variety, the gangly purple stallion made a surprised noise (which sounded unusually close to a hiccup) when Lyra cheerily asked him a question from somewhere to his right. The intensity of his startle caused him to hop straight up into the air like a young goat, and his glasses jumped on his nose as he hit the ground again. He landed astonishingly well, without even losing step, and awkwardly managed to resume his canter with only a little bit of bumbling on the wet leaves amid a few scattered complaints from his strained knees. All things considered, this fortuitous bit of chance seemed to shock him as much as the voice had. Eyes as wide as dinner plates, his head swung around to face the pale-maned, gold-eyed young unicorn with such speed that his dampening hat turned itself crooked on his head with a quiet little jingle.

"Oh!" gasped Clockwise. "I-I--er--y-yes! Uh, yes, pesagi! P-Peg--pegasi!" Almost as soon as he was done speaking, his ears pressed back against the brim in embarrassment. There were snatches of a gentle accent to be made out under that stumbling stutter, a lilting and rolling sort that would probably be quite pleasant to hear otherwise. Fet Loch, perhaps, though tempered out of its thickness by years spent elsewhere.

Abashed, the stallion sheepishly directed his eyes back towards the ominous sky, and then to the activity of watching the leaves and rain fall around them. Even so, his ears were quick to perk upright again, flicking raindrops, in order to swivel towards his new company, a sure sign of his attention. "I beg y-your pardon, miss, um--er... S-s-sudden... sudden sounds, you know..."

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Hoss Skybright, wearing the number 22 on his flanks, galloped along at a steady pace. He wondered if he had outdistanced the winner of the Iron pony, Gilda Griffon, but the way the knot of more agressive ponies had surged through, she might have been in that bunch.

After the initial sprint to get a good place in the herd, he looked at the others in his section of the line-up as theroad curved into Sweet Apple Acres.

He nodded politely and smiled to each as their gazes met. The ones nearest him were a purple unicorn with a tangled red mane and a slightly befuddled look on his face.

Next was a lighter colored purple pegasus mare with a pale rose mane and apple Cutie Mark and a set of features common to that family line.

Also nearby was a tan unicorn with blank mane and tail, followed by another obvious Apple family member, a green unicorn this time. Just how big was that family?!

Another unicorn, this one was a filly with a green sweater and blue hexagon diamond Cutie Mark..wait is that a colt? just try to not say anything out loud around him...

At least he was sure the pale pink unicorn over there was indeed a mare.

Hmm, a lot of Apples and unicorns in this race today, including Lyra, whom he had seen in various stops in Ponyville, and a strange black unicorn mare with a long cloak. Strange indeed!

The route from the starting line to the farm had felt heavy with damp. The leaves he shook off dropped closer to the trees from being heavy with dampness.

Hoss nodded knowingly. They would be hitting drizzle soon enough, and right as he reached the farm, there was a growing pall of drizzle coming down.

Gleefully, he skipped and bucked a little in joy at the feel of it. Just the endurance boost he would need if the race got more and heavier rain as it sounded, as it sucked the excess heat off his body.

Oddly the air, thick with the sweet scent of apples, had an almost electric feel to it. Perhaps the expected storms were going to be a whopper. -Either that, or Granny Smith had brought out some of her special cider...

Entering the farm's property, he decided to make a pit stop while he had a chance. Trotting up to a short line with a yelow filly in charge, he waited and flexed his wings to shake off the damp and dump some heat trapped under the wings.

Grabbing the apple juice and paying as needed from the pouch under his wing, he broke into a run "[colour=#0000cd]ThankYoulLttleFillyBye!"[/colour]

He drank as he ran, almost chokeing as the tan unicorn tried to snatch an apple and got yanked back when the apple did not come off. He spit the now empty bottle out into a trash barrel near one of the stands and laughed.

Hoss was still laughing as he passed harrington Sleuth taking a rest by a tree and spotted the tan unicorn get smacked in the face with a wad of wet leaves fallen from the trees. Before he sped off after catching his breath, he nodded to the resting pegasus [colour=#0000cd]"Dont rest to long now Harrington..."[/colour]

A little further down, he spotted a bunch of apples that looked especially juicy. Since the Apple clan in and out of the race seemed to be allowing it, he stopped at the tree and looked up.

Much as he wanted to try an acrobatic jump up after them, the stems seemed to be extra stubborn today and promised only swinging like a jungle lord hanging by an apple in the mouth.

Snorting for a moment, he turned his flank to the tree, cocked his right hind leg and let fly, like trying to make a small loud rain. *Smack*

the tree shook for a moment, letting several apples fall.[colour=#0000cd] "Sweet!"[/colour]

He grabbed them and tucked all but one under a wing as he began eating the biggest.

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[colour=#008000]Greenshot Apple[/colour] had noticed he was catching up to the two pony just in front of him. A tan unicorn going alongside the purple Pegasus whose cutie mark he just noticed slightly and the first name that came to his head was Sugar Apple. He had a good memory of many of the relatives in the Apple family, but there coat and mane always made it hard for him to distinguish one from the other. Thankfully, cutie marks always made the right connection. Not sure if his assumption was right and since he noticed the Pegasus or Sugar Apple slowing down for the tan unicorn decided to just, this once, speed up.

Greenshot began to trot at a more rapid pace so that he could come up alongside the two and nod his head towards them. “[colour=#008000]Howdy Do. Hope ya won’t mind me passing you two up. Nice to see you Sugar Apple?[/colour]” Greenshot Apple gave a smile and went back to looking ahead of the path to make sure no obstructions were on the road. He noticed a pony sleeping under a tree. A smirk now firming on his face, he wanted to see the competition active so his horn glowed and made his magic shake the tree’s branches which made a bunch of leaves fall on top of the sleeping pony.

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Maple gave a silent thanks to Celestia for letting her have the experience, stamina, and determination to even consider joining the race this late in the game. Her hooves were moving faster than they ever had before, even from the bed to her delicious waffles on her previous birthday, to at least find the rest of the marathoning pack. She noticed a light drizzle had proceeded her, making the grass field ahead of her obscured by silver fog. On a more fillylike note, the raindrops sounded like an ant's applause, so Maple attempted to slip a giggle into her panting, and made sure to put extra downward force on her next couple steps, both to avoid slipping on the damp pile of grass just ahead of her, and to add her own applause. Speaking of which, she had a race to run! She may be late to the party, but who says you have to start first to end first? Sure, she may not blast her way to a runaway first immediately, but that doesn't mean she couldn't have fun, and knock down a couple leaves in the process!

Maple pondered if there would be any maple trees along the way. Just in case, shehad strapped her trusty sap spigot to her hind-left hoofstrap. It wasn't particularly obtrusive to her gait, the way she had placed it, but it swung back and forth on her leg out of rhythm with her gallop. Mmm... maple syrup... She made sure to have a cupful (or two... or three... or six...) of the stuff this morning so that if her tongue found a morsel sticking to the crevices between her teeth, the mini-explosion on her tongue would allow her to focus enough to charge ahead in the race. Either that, or she was hungry.

Finally, the race was in view! Given, it was very far away. Very far away. With one final swipe of the tongue over her teeth, Maple put her pedal to the metal (or was it the grass?) and pushed her muddy hooves harder than she thought she possibly could. The other ponies were producing clouds of dust when their legs pushed off the turf. Pah! Maple had somehow managed to produce a mud-cloud large enough to re-paint her tail, failing repeated flicks. Slowly, slowly, the racers became more detailed, more lifelike, and most importantly, larger.

Maple was sweating like an apple bucker on a summer's day, a saying she had learned from her father, as she held her breath one final time, and gave her hooves a mighty leap from the ground, sailing past a few of the more fatigued competitors, and right into the fray. Eventually her gait fell in line with the others, and she gradually reduced it to a brisk canter. She had done it - she was in the Running of the Leaves! So many ponies! So many faces! Maybe she'd like to chat with one, but for now, the only thing she needed to hear were her hoofsteps, her manic breaths, and the tiny pling the spigot made. Looking around, she noticed that there was a large series of trees on the hillside, each one adorned with the juiciest, reddest, most delicious-looking apples Maple had ever seen.

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Unfortunately for her, Star didn't have many occasions to fulfill her plan. Everypony who approached the apple trees always left only after gathering them all. It seemed as she wasn't the only one who didn't want to waste the delicious treat. There was just one exception, a dark mare wearing a cloak. Although the apples were quite a sinful temptation, Risi was skeptical about the means used to reach them. The rumors said that leaves were supposed to be removed manually, not magically. But pink mare didn't know the exact details. Was the magic completely disallowed? Or only when it came down to fulfilling the traditions? She spared a bit of time for this thought before finally making a decision. An expression of determination appeared on her face as she cantered forward, partially ignoring the crimson-maned mare's generous offer.

After few seconds, she directed herself towards one of nearby trees. A quick flash of memories appeared in her mind... she was back home, in Manehattan. And discovered that her sister once again 'borrowed' her photographs, never to give them back. It was that day wh- [colour=#0000ff]"No!"[/colour] - she cut her own thoughts short swiftly. [colour=#0000ff]"I won't let this memory cripple me down again."[/colour] - she focused solely on her task and a tree in front of her. It was it or her, nothing else mattered, the moral aspects were left behind. She stopped in front of the tree, focusing not to slip on wet grass, and measured it with sight. Suddenly, she turned around and delivered a mighty strike with her back hooves. [colour=#0000ff]"Hay'yah!"[/colour] - her war cry, mighty, loud, terrifying, intimidating... all those words should never be used to describe that sound. In her mind, anypony would be scared of it. In reality, they'd probably smile in awe of her highly pitched, melodic voice.

The force she had put into the kick was tremendous! Star would never suspect herself of having so much strength, the feeling was incredible! So was the result. An unbelievable amount of TWO apples decided to surrender to her fierceness. Any regular apple bucking pony would probably laugh at the outcome. But she had won! To her, the two apples falling from the tree meant complete and utter success. Well, maybe to an extend, since one of those fell directly on her head. After a single [colour=#0000ff]"Ouch!"[/colour] exclamation, she peered down at them. A wide smile appeared on her face.

Without further hesitation she levitated them, hoping this kind of use of magic is allowed, and turned back to return to race. She was bursting with pride, as she couldn't stop herself from announcing her achievement to the runners: [colour=#0000ff]"I did it!"[/colour] - and laughing cheerily afterward. Her strong voice pierced through air. She felt like a filly, who had just completed a great challenge. Levitating one apple nearby, she took a bite at the other one while trotting steadily back towards the running group. She wasn't prepared for an explosion of its taste. It was probably the most delicious one she had ever tried. None coming from the shop could stand a chance against it. All these experiences were a great springboard from her daily routine. She didn't feel so alive in ages...

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[colour=#800080]“Eyup, ah sure am one of AJ’s cousins,”[/colour] Sugar Apple replied; [colour=#800080]“Although ah don’t do too much farmin’ ‘round these parts. I actually work at th’ weather facko’y up in Cloudsdale. I supervise the produckshun of clouds an’ sech so thet farms like this one here git th’ best quality rain!”[/colour]

Sugar Apple perked up as Earth Writer elaborated on his career aspirations. Nothing meant more to the pegasus than the freedom to visit anyplace in Equestria and experience all the kingdom had to offer. When Sugar Apple was in-between vacation time, she would religiously read Equestria Geographic and wonder what place she would visit next. The mare therefore couldn’t help but admire Earth Pony, who was able to go out and make a career out of an activity she loved to do herself. If only Sugar Apple could have been exceptionally skilled in writing.....

Joyously grinning at the reporter, Sugar Apple saw fit to give him a rousing endorsement; [colour=#800080]“Well, ah hope ev’rnthin’ works out fo’ ya’, Earth Writer! Ah love Equestria Geographic, an’ ah’ll be lookin’ out fo’ yer name if they hire ya’ as a reporter.”[/colour] Sugar Apple next addressed the stallion’s comments on Sweet Apple Acres; [colour=#800080]“Well, this hyre is th’ place that put mah family on th’ map! Eff’n ya’ wanna do a story about us Apples, ya’ can always talk wif mah Granny Smith once we finish th’ race.”[/colour]

While the unicorn stallion got his face smacked by a rogue tree branch, one of Sugar Apple’s cousins galloped up towards the two and gave a greeting. [colour=#800080]“Howdy do to ya’ too, Greenshot; don't ya' get too far ahead of yerself, now!”[/colour] shouted as the green unicorn turned his attention towards awakening a napping racer.

Away over by the Whitetail Woods, a flash of lightning emerged from the distant thunderhead. Even before the sound of rumbling thunder reached the pair, Earth Writer saw fit to seek cover under the trees rather than canter down the marked path. Sugar Apple, who helped create weather phenomenon on a near-daily basis, showed no sign of trepidation as she stayed on the path;[colour=#800080] “Oh come on hon, it’s just a li’l bit of lightnin’, that’s all.”[/colour] Beckoning the unicorn to rejoin her on the path, Sugar Apple absentmindedly added; [colour=#800080]“Hmmm... come t’ think of it, ah reckon it’s almost time fo’ Zap Apple season, judgin’ by all this mighty fierce weather. Ah’ll hafta ask Granny about it when we git back.....”[/colour]

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"[colour=#8b4513]A weather factory mare? Well,[/colour]" Earth Writer chuckled, "[colour=#8b4513]Seems your family has a hoof in all aspects of the business.[/colour]"

It made sense, of course, he thought as he finished his apple. If one wanted to grow the best apples in all of Equestria, no detail could be spared from care. In fact, the Apple family could be thought of as a huge brain trust, with experts in all different disciplines working together towards the common goal of apple farming. If the apple he just ate was any indication, the system worked very well.

[colour=#8b4513]*Pity I could never get that kind of collaboration at school. Too much intellectual primma donna-ism.* [/colour]The thought was a rueful one; the stallion hadn't much liking for group work in the first place, and that probably didn't help much.

A few sodden leaves would not be so easily dislodged from the unicorn's mane as they were from the trees, no matter how hard he stomped. Eventually, he just gave up on that, and returned to the conversation. It was always good to get endorsement from a stranger, and a little help along the way. "[colour=#8b4513]Will... do.[/colour]" He breathed in response to Sugar Apple's advice. He was glad of the break in the conversation made by Greenshot, talking and running at the same time were a little wearing to Earth Writer.

The pegasus' nonchalance in the face of harsh weather was probably understandable, though the stallion had some doubts on whether it was wise. On the other hand, she would be better informed of what best to do in this situation. "In that case," He said as he emerged back on to the path. "[colour=#8b4513]I'll stick with the expert in the field.[/colour]" He flashed a grin at her, but did not talk further. He felt like just cruising now, talking later when he had a reserve of endurance built up.

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[colour=#000000]Applejack was in the wake of air from all the ponies in front of her. The turbulent air jostled her body side to side as she paced behind them. Nothing too powerful, but enough to see how much more effort they were putting in trying to get a competitive advantage early in the race. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]What advantage? Maybe Twilight was right. Slow and steady wins the race, I can take these ponies on later when they are all huffin' and a puffin'.[/colour]

[colour=#000000]Applejack smiled as she took her time taking the first few turns, and onto the path that led back home. This was the best part of the race, the paths carved up her homeland, this was Sweet Apple Acres. A pony in this race had to be a little concerned on the territory. Getting lost in the woods was not a way to win a race, nor was it any way to take the event seriously. But Applejack knew this plot of land like the back of her hoof. At the apple orchard, getting the trees' leaves off was just as important as getting any other tree's leaves off. If anything, these trees needed special attention. They collectively made up what is the largest fruit-bearing crop in Ponyville and its outskirts. These trees were serious business for Applejack.

She started galloping swiftly down a hill towards the farm, and looking ahead into the orchard's valley, she could see the stampede of ponies towards the front of the pack still battling for that advantage. She could also see them scurrying so fast that a few trees that are not so close to the path got ignored and did not become de-leafed. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "Consarnit."[/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack rushed towards the trees. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]"Did they miss you, Dimitree?" [/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack rubbed the tree a little with her caring hoof and then proceeded to give the tree a light buck. The single pump of force knocked every leaf clean off the tree, leaving over the few apples that had yet to be harvested. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]"Heh, I'll get to those precious ones later, You." [/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack teased the tree, as if to embarrass it after what would serve as the only natural covering for a tree was erased from it's branches.

Looking ahead, Applejack could see a few ponies trailing from the head pack. It seemed like a lot of them started having the same idea of taking their time and saving their energy. But some of them decided to get their energy from somewhere else. She saw a few ponies buck some apples off the trees. And she specifically saw a brown pony stuff fruit into his sweater. Applejack was a little disappointed. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "What!? He just,"[/colour][colour=#000000] she blurted.

She yelled across the orchard, [/colour][colour=#ff0000]"I hope y'all are gonna pay for that!"[/colour][colour=#000000] She wasn't sure if they had even heard her. The yell was mostly for her own expression. This was not cool.

Applejack thought to herself about the dangers of this situation. If one pony thinks they can get away with it, then maybe all of the ponies will try to get away with it. This years race could cause a massive looting party of Sweet Apple Acres' apples! [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "Ponies cant be takin' all the apples, especially using them for energy to win a race. Ah need to do somethin' about this."[/colour][colour=#000000] So Applejack begun to go to her trees, all of them missing leaves. Her new goal was to buck all the trees near the paths clean of apples and put them in baskets behind trees so that ponies could not see them and take what they wanted.

Applejack walked up to another tree and bucked the apples off. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "It's ok, Rootley. I just need to harvest the last of your apples a bit early this year."[/colour][colour=#000000] She gathered the apples into a basket and then hid the basket from plain site. She then did the same with Branchard, Barktholemew, Stemmy, and many more. The more she bucked, the more apples she gathered, the more off path she got.

She then got to one of the younger, smaller trees. Applejack named him Clingston, for accidentally being mistaken for a plum tree at one point by an inexperienced farmer. She bucked Clingston's apples off and gathered the apples up like any other. But then she noticed something about the tree. She could practically feel the tree shaking on its own. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]"Aww, Clingy, are you cold?" [/colour][colour=#000000]Applejack gave the tree a big hug, not aware of any pony who was watching her. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]"Here, I'll make it better."[/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack took a rake by her tail and started raking leaves in the direction of the tree. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "I'll put these leaves and pile them on your roots so they can make you nice and warm."[/colour][colour=#000000] She then dropped the rake and grabbed a bedtime storybook from her emergency pale that was stationed for this area of the farm. She began to tell Clingy her favorite story she reads to all her little saplings.[/colour]

[colour=#000000]

ajbook.jpg[/colour]

[colour=#ff0000]"Once upon a time, there lived a tiny yellow birdy who was looking for a place to live. There were several tree she could choose from. Big trees, wide trees, even apple trees. But the tree the little birdy liked the most was a little tree in this huge apple orchard. She loved the little tree so much that she decided to make a nest and live on it. And she would sing her song, big and strong. But then, the falls leaves started to fall..."

"...and that's when the yellow birdy thought to herself 'Hm, I favorite little tree isn't such a little tree anymore.' So she sang her song, big and strong, and they all lived in that great big tree happily ever after."[/colour]

[colour=#000000]Applejack closed the book and gave the tree a hug as if to give it a bedtime wish. She happily exhaled and then got up and looked around. She thought to herself. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]Now what was I doin'?[/colour][colour=#000000] She tapped her chin a few times before realizing what she had forgotten. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "The race!!!"[/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack looked around and had seen that she had gotten so distracted with her trees that she was several seconds away from any path. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]"I gotta get back to the race!!" [/colour][colour=#000000] She bolted as quickly as she could to the nearest pathway. Applejack was a little frustrated at herself. If she hadn't gotten so hung up on her trees she'd still be in the race. She had just hoped that they hadn't taken down the race markers yet.

She got to the pathway and couldn't find a single pony. But then the ground started shaking. And as she looked right, she saw the front pack racing past her. Applejack sweat away a relief and then got back into the race behind the pack. Apparently, she had cut the entire orchard in her trek of apple-bucking and story-reading. Applejack was a bit ashamed of herself for having spent the time the way she did. She didn't even get to grab her juice she had stashed for herself in this race. But she thought the best thing she could do from here was to just keep running. These leaves still needed a good shake.

As the race exited the orchard, Applejack whispered to her trees next to the path. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "Take care, guys. I'll be back before you know it."[/colour]

Applejack.pngMadden.pngGranola_Gracie.pngArrow_Plain.pngMiracle.pngRemington.pngSugar_Rush-1.pngCoconut_Lime.png

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[colour=#ff8c00]Topaz's run wasn't going so well. Her bad start at the line had her near the back of the pack. Her draft pony frame wasn't meant for sprinting, but that's what she was having to do to keep up.

The race course appeared to be moving into an apple orchard. Topaz thought back to her stop at Tiny Apple Valley on the way out of Filly, and wondered if this was another Apple family farm. The family was supposed to be huge, and spread out all over Equestria. She'd have to consider making a stop here for more supplies before she traveled out of town. Speaking of supplies, ponies had set up booths along the race course with apple juice and cider. A few of her competitors had even stopped to grab a few apples from the orchard. Topaz was tempted, but this early into the race she didn't want to stop, especially when she was behind her pace.

After several minutes, she finally backed off in her pace after she made up some ground. That's when the drizzle of rain started. Rain? Shouldn't the local weather ponies have taken care of this? Not much was getting through the trees, but it was enough to leave streaks on her glasses. That could prove to be an annoyance, but the rain didn't appear to be affecting anypony else, so she resolved to ignore it. [/colour]

[colour=#ff8c00]The racers all seemed to be getting into their rhythms now. Now that she was back on pace, Topaz began to focus on her hoof falls. They were racing for a reason, after all. The vibrations coming back told her much about the orchard, and the other racers as well. She could tell by the uneven rhythm from some of the hoofbeats that at least some of the competitors weren't used to this kind of running. One of those she swore was a purple unicorn she recognized from the university, but she couldn't put a name to the face. No no, wool gathering was what got her behind in the first place. Topaz focused on her own hoofbeats, setting up a pace pattern that should propagate the vibrations effectively into the trees' roots.[/colour]

[colour=#ff8c00]The orange mare was surprised when she saw a smaller orange mare emerge from the orchard ahead of them. She appeared to be talking to the trees... As they passed, the other mare joined in at the back of the pack. She was wearing a number, so she was a racer, but why has she been so far off course? "Pardon me, miss," Topaz called out, "Are you quite alright? How did you find yourself so far off the track?"[/colour]

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Asteria's soft black ears perked up as she heard the country accent of a clearly displeased apple family member. She paused for a moment, glancing back to see the irritated earth pony making her best efforts to protect her crop. The unicorn decided to avoid physically helping her, sensing that Applejack was very particular about how she cared for her trees. "Caretaker of the grove, I apologize if my actions may have influenced ponies into stealing your apples without proper payment. I made a verbal declaration that I would deliver payment to the appropriate owners when circumstances allowed. I was under the impression that this event was used to rid the local trees of their decaying foliage, my intent was not to rob in an attempt to gain an unfair competitive advantage. I hope these twenty five bits will cover your losses, in the event that it does not, feel free to contact me at my office in Canterlot," the strange mare politely explained, doing a subservient bow before the orange earth pony as she pulled out her emergency supply of bits and a contact card. The unicorn slipped the card into the bag as discretely placed it in one of Applejack's well hidden bushels of apples as not to attract the attention of an unscrupulous racer.

And as quickly as she had started speaking, the black mare returned her focus onto the race before her. The scarlet maned mare was a bit confused as she thought over the events that had transpired during the race. She was by no means an expert in this particular race, having never ran it before, but the other participants seemed to take the offerings of the trees for granted. She even noticed a pegasus that seemed to be related to the caretaker taking apples, no doubt inspiring the other racers to join in the pillaging as well. Still though, there seemed that a communication error of some kind must have been made because she, clearly a pony foreign to this even, was the only one to actually offer payment for the goods taken. Alas, such an assertion was one that she had minimal evidence to make, and the mare could not operate on limited information, deciding to continue on down the path. The trail that the racers were on was forgiving at least, relatively flat and devoid of impediments for racers to trip over. She could only hope that the Apple Family could be forgiving of the seemingly innocent mistakes that a few racers had made on their quest for first place on this particular race.

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((OOC: Sorry for another last minute post))

It certainly wasn’t the start he was hoping for, last place. Still, it wasn’t anything to worry about yet. He had time to catch up so long as he didn’t make any more mistakes. The first leg of the race was rather forgiving for the charcoal pelted stallion in last place and he was able to make it this far easily with the nice steady pace of his canter. As a Fillydelphia native, it was Ember Heart’s first time in the race. He was called out to ponyville only a few days prior to run alongside his foalhood friend, Silvermist. He was in dire need of a vacation and something like this sounded like the perfect way to blow off some steam. Unfortunately, he was now running alone with a bunch of strangers. He was disappointed to hear, upon his arrival, that Silvermist had injured her wing in one of her elaborate stunts. Her brother must have been out of town. Otherwise, he would have nagged her back down to the ground and Ember Heart would still have his running mate. It wasn’t all bad though, this race gave him a chance to make new friends and if that didn’t happen, it gave him a chance to truly take in the scenery of Whitetail Wood. Of course, he still wanted to win.

Something squished beneath his hooves has he slowed his gait. He quickly identified the sticky brownish-white substance as a crushed apple, and it wasn’t alone on the ground. Apples of different colors were strewn about along the trail and he would tell that he wasn’t the only one that had the unfortunate luck of stepping on one. Along the side of the trail were apple trees with apples hanging ripe from the stem. [colour=#800080]“This must be part of the Sweet Apple Acres that I have heard so much about.”[/colour] He said quietly to himself. He was impressed. Word has it that all of these apples were harvested by just two ponies! He couldn’t help but admire the work that they must put into it.

The sweet aroma of the crushed apples around him only gave the barking dog that was his gnawing hunger a reason to start up again. He was now starting to regret the fact that he had skipped out on breakfast due to his tardiness. To make matters worse, the constant drizzle was mixing with the apples to create a truly lovely fragrance. He was enjoying it so much that he hadn’t even realized that he had almost come to a complete stop. There wasn’t even a runner still in sight. He tried to return to his former speed only to have his hunger return in protest. The ruby-red delights hanging from the trees certainly were tempting. Would it be a crime to take such apples? He chuckled to himself at the silly thought.

He slowly came to a stop in front of a particularly fruitful apple tree just off the trail. The apples were calling to him and he knew that he wasn’t going to go far without something sweet to eat. He looked through the lower branches, searching for an apple of quality. His maroon eyes spied a truly shiny beauty hanging from one of the lower branches. With a glow of his horn, he took hold of the apple and was ready to pluck it from its stem before the magic around his horn fizzled away. Was he allowed to use magic? He remembered the strict rules the Ponyvillians followed during their Winter-Wrap-Up celebrations. Did this follow the same rules? He wasn’t going to risk being caught, that’s for sure.

He took position near the apple tree and kicked the trunk with all his might. The trunk made a small thud but the tree failed to yield one of its apples. Ember Heart was glad that nopony was around to see his embarrassing effort. Silvermist would have had quite the laugh if she saw his attempt. He geared up for another attempt and kicked once more, this time putting his front legs into it. The ground below slipped as he made contact causing him to flop right into the slightly muddy soil with a plop. [colour=#800080]“Really?”[/colour] Two apples fell from the tree and one stuck to the tip of his horn. The other landed not far from him. He grinned as he looked up at the treat and quickly pulled it off his horn, scooped up the other apple, and sat back. It was just what he needed. He didn’t even mind the drizzle that had picked up during his silly efforts.

He finished off the second apple and continued on along the trail, now running at a faster pace than before. His stomach was no longer empty and he spirits were lifted once again. After a while, he started to hear the voices of some of the other ponies that were conversing with each other not far ahead. An open smile formed on his face as he galloped along. Soon after, one of the other runners came into view. A stand also came into view. Cups of cider were laid out on it with a few ponies removing the empty ones. It might relieve them when he tells them that he might be the last runner to pass their stand. He quickly galloped up and pulled one the cups off of the stand, thanking the ponies tending to it.[colour=#800080] “Thanks a bunch!”[/colour] The cider was nice and cool although that could have been due to the nippy weather and the drizzle. He could only hope that it didn’t develop into rain. He quickly finished off the cider and deposited the empty cup back on the stand before continuing on his way.

Another cider stand came up and as much as it tempted him to stop for another glass, he had already wasted too much time. Plus, surely, it was only going to get more difficult from here. He only stopped to wave at the ponies at the stand before continuing at a faster pace. The trail was actually quite beautiful and aside from dodging the sticky, mushy mines along the ground, it was an easy run and the cool drizzle did wonders to keep him from feeling too fatigued. The other participants were in view and he was hitting his stride. Things were starting to look up for him now. He could only wonder what was in store for him and the other runners.

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