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Running of the Leaves: Stage Six- The Whitetail Woods (Closed: See OOC Topic)


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Stage 6- Whitetail Woods

Beautiful and majestic, the Whitetail Woods is finally allowed to be itself without any other geographical feature drawing your view. The trees, the songs of the birds, it all flows around you as it has this whole time, finally without distraction. Sadly, tree sap also flows around you. Can you keep yourself centered despite the beauty of the Whitetail around you and avoid the tree sap, or will this remain a sticky situation?

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Maple had fallen out of the race for the longest time after tiring herself out with her opening charge. She wasn't a sore loser in most circumstances, and she had joined the race late after all. However, the mixture of the rain, the trembling of her legs, and a bunch of ponies too sweaty to talk to her just seemed like too much for the mare. Instead, she decided to canter back home, into the Whitetail Woods. It was quite a long journey, yes, but Maple's hooves were used to distance walking. Running, on the other hoof, had turned out very differently. With no creatures in sight a few kilometres from home, Maple jumped a bit to notice a low grumbling noise.

In all of the dashing and sweating she had done, Maple hardly noticed the repeated growling of her stomach. Without even a second thought she slid the silver spigot off its holster with a shwing, and tossed it at the nearest maple tree with dart-like precision. Once it had stopped bouncing and was thoroughly buried in the tree's bark, Maple turned tail and gave the spigot a quick but firm buck. The metallic binka-bonka of sticky maple sap droplets slowly flowing into the closed faucet only made Maple's mouth water even more. Sad thing is, you can't eat pure maple sap - it's so bland and boring it's just like drinking sticky water - so you have to cook it first. Normally, one'd pour the stuff into a bucket and put it under a low simmer for a couple of hours, but Maple was impatient, not to mention skilled, so a sly smirk crawled across her face as she mumbled, [colour=red]"But I don't have a bucket..."[/colour]

Yes, in her many years of making this sweet goo, Maple has figured out the fastest, most efficient ways to make her product without harming the quality at all. Sometimes, these techniques take a dive into the unorthodox. And right now, her hooves took a dive to pick up a hoofful of large rocks, and a tuft or two of grass. Sandwiching the blades between the stones, she began smacking them together repeatedly and rubbing, and later rather than sooner, the stones shot out a tiny spark the grass burst into a very minuscule flame. Quickly, the mare grabbed some more grass, and expanded the fire. Pressing the flaming bundle to the thin spigot, as it turns out, cooks a small amount of maple syrup in very little time. However, when things get warmer, they expand, and that means...


Just as soon as the revelation dawned on her, a pressurized stream of amber, ooey-gooey liquid began spewing out of the spigot's orifice. But, like Maple quoted, she didn't have a bucket, nor bowl, neither a Trixie cup to catch all of the maple syrup. Stupid reflexes...

Maple now has very sticky, but delicious, front hooves. Just perfect for running.

A sigh.

A gasp.

With all of the work she'd been doing, she didn't even hear the stampede coming behind her. And now it was getting closer! With wide, blue, eyes, she craned her neck around to see the herd of beasts coming towards her, to trample her. Maybe it was fear, maybe it was the syrup, but Maple seemed stuck to her spot. And that's when she saw it. A raging river of-


The Running of the Leaves, of course! It was running through all the forested areas of Equestria! The runners were certainly doing a good job - Maple noticed quite a few trees being shaken loose of their leaves - but that could only mean one thing.

She was still in this!

With one last energy-giving swipe of her syrupy hooves, she planted them down, and began to run headlong into the race. May fortune be upon dear Maple this day...

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Keeping his head on a swivel, Hoss settled into a steady pace as the trail wound around from the ravene into Whitetail Wood.

Canterlot Castle loomed closer above the trees from this vantage point.

He stamped his hooves here and there as he ran to try and shake the leaves a bit more so he can see Canterlot better from here.[colour=#0000ff]"I've seen it from above and from eyelevel while flying, but from here? It's even more impressive!"[/colour]

With the falling swirls of leaves, he thought some might have passed him by, and suddenly there was a mare ahead of him and flashing by. She had apparently stopped to tap one of the Maples still crowned with leaves for a liquid snack.

The bay pegasus waves a friendly wingtip as he passes...

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With the ravine behind him, Earth Writer and his "pack" had now come into the thick of Whitetail Woods, the brilliant reds of sugar maple leaves giving the sunlight a crimson tint before the rumbling of racer's hooves shook them to the ground. Whether it was the consistent pace they'd managed to keep up through the weather and terrain, or the clear path they'd managed to maintain through the fog without getting too lost, they were all grouped near the front of the racers, to the reporter's amusement.

"[colour=#8b4513]Gotta say,[/colour]" he remarked, as they took a gentle corner through a shower of leaves, "[colour=#8b4513]This is more like it! No storms, no rickety bridges, no flooded streams or deep ravines; just the trees, the leaves to remove, and friends to run with." [/colour]He gave an encouraging smile to all of his companions, especially Sugar Apple; given the injured condition of some of them, they couldn't exactly "run" if they all wanted to stay together, and for the tan stallion at least, that took priority over winning.

[colour=#8b4513]*What a collection of characters; I wonder if any of them will be back next year?* [/colour] Most of them, Earth Writer included, didn't actually live in Ponyville, and were in this event as guests. Probably, they wouldn't have all met under any normal circumstances, but now, after the dramatic events which had befallen them, they had all become fast-forged friends.

[colour=#8b4513]*I suppose that's the reason traditional events like these are still held even today.* [/colour]He reflected. [colour=#8b4513]*They really do bring us all closer together, and reveal strengths that we never knew we, or anypony else, had.*[/colour]

Another thought to put in the article, he supposed. In a roundabout way, it led his mind back to the events on the bridge, and he turned to Sugar Apple, asking, "[colour=#8b4513]Did you expect that little act of heroism from the griffon? I have to admit, from your account I didn't see it coming. I think I might owe her an apology when this is all said and done.[/colour]"

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[colour=#800080]~Why can’t th’ stinkin race be mo’e like this?~[/colour]

True, Sugar Apple couldn’t exactly run fast enough to make the leaves fall off, but at least she could canter through the scenic woods again without having to cope with the worst that Mother Nature and shoddy bridge upkeep could bring forth. It was too bad that rickety bridge was part of the race course this year; that would surely create a bottleneck for the main pack of racers behind them as they either dared the bridge or waited to be ferried by pegasi. That would all but disperse the giant herd that normally did most of the work of actually running the leaves off. Well… maybe the leaves could learn how fall off the branches themselves this year?

The pegasus couldn’t argue with her choice of company though… especially the tan unicorn reporter that cantered alongside her. Sugar Apple always made sure to flash Earth Writer a smile anytime she him glance in her direction. Soon enough though, the stallion referenced the climax of the events that took place over the Rearing Ravine. The mare didn’t really want to talk about it, but she supposed it’d come up sooner or later; [colour=#800080]“Well ummm… that kinda caught me unawares, too. Ah don’t know if ah kin fo’give her yet though; thet griffon may haf saved mah cousin AJ, but it don’t absolve her fo’ what she did t’poor Clockwise.”[/colour]

Wishing to change the subject, Sugar Apple figured that now was as good a time as any to ask Earth Writer more about himself.[colour=#800080] “So ya told me back at Sweet Apple Acres that ya’ traveled all ‘round th’ world!”[/colour] the mare enthusiastically begun;[colour=#800080] “What places haf ya’ gone to, and whut’cha do at them places?”[/colour] The mare was intrigued to hear about any places that Earth Writer wrote about that she hadn’t visited yet herself. In fact, maybe his input would give her an idea for where her next amazing trip would be!

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Getting flown over the Ravine and leaving it behind, Greenshot Apple and Company left the Rearing Ravine behind to enter what seemed like the area of the race that would be the rainbow after the storm. Whitetail Woods, the second to last part of the race that in his opinion, was seeming like the best part of the race where leaves actually fall from the trees as the racers come trotting past.

[colour=#282828]"[/colour][colour=#8B4513]This is more like it! No storms, no rickety bridges, no flooded streams or deep ravines; just the trees, the leaves to remove, and friends to run with"[/colour]

[colour=#000000]Greenshot heard from Writer as they came into sight of leaves falling down upon them. Leaves brushing against his face and mane. Even getting a leaf stuck onto the number 27 that was still stuck to his flank, barely. His vision ended up looking down at his hoof once again. Worried about what he should do once this race finishes. Not wanting to stay off of it to get it to heal up faster. Even worse about it was that he used his right hoof the most especially when it came to archery. He used magic to keep the archer bow up, but his body was what helped him maintain a steady shot even though, he shot more accurate at a right angle.[/colour]

[colour=#000000]Greenshot just remained silent as they all trotted along. Not much of the talking type especially around ponies he only just met in the running. Sugar Apple and Applejack were the only ones he felt comfortable talking to in the race. He just began looking over at Risi who had caused the problem back in the Ravine. He wasn't mad at her or anything. She just seemed a bit off. Wanting to ask her if she was alright after what happened, but the words just didn't want to leave his mouth and he just looked away. Many questions began to pop into his head as he looked at all the racers in the group. Not wanting to see anypony else getting hurt was his main thought of mind. With his eyes looking past at the path ahead. Ponies visible in the distance as well as tree's with sap. Buckets hanging from the trees as well that gathered it.[/colour]

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"[colour=#8b4513]Ah-*put-ptui*![/colour]" One of the leaves had gotten into Earth Writer's mouth, just as he'd opened it to answer Sugar Apple. It was sticky with sap, so it took more than a few spits to get rid of it. He smacked his lips a few times, an odd expression on his face. [colour=#8b4513]"Why do leaves never taste as good as grass? They're almost the same thing."[/colour]

He shook his head, dismissing one of the great mysteries of ponykind from his consideration. There were more interesting things to talk about. Sugar Apple didn't seem eager to dwell on the subject of the griffon, and the reporter was content to let it drop for now. He had to smile at her enthusiasm about his own work and ambitions. "[colour=#8b4513]I only just started my journalism work, remember? I haven't traveled farther from here than Canterlot, in a professional capacity. Still, that city has a lot of material for articles, but then, so does this town. I believe all places are interesting, if you look at them close enough."[/colour]

He laughed a little. "[colour=#8b4513]Non-professionally though, I've been to a lot of places. I was actually born out west, roundabout Dodge Junction, but my parents moved here to Ponyville when I was little. My family used to go on a lot of vacations, so I've seen most of the cities in Equestria. My sister's traveled more than me, in fact; had a hard time looking for a job. I think she's in Manehattan now; I really liked that city when I visited.[/colour]"

Earth spared some attention at this point for Greenshot, who seemed to be distracted with his sprained hoof. It didn't look to be hurting him, though. He asked after him anyway. "[colour=#8b4513]Feeling alright back there?[/colour]"

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Sugar Apple laughed as Earth Writer yet again got his faced smacked by a rogue tree branch; [colour=#800080]“Oh mah, ya jest don’t haf enny luck with them branches today, do ya?”[/colour] After making some silly faces, the stallion commented on the inferior taste of leaves. The pegasus mare merrily replied; [colour=#800080]“Thet’s ‘cuz we aren’t giraffes, silly! Leaves ain’t a part of our diet.”[/colour] Nobody could argue that it was a good piece of folksy wisdom.

As Earth Writer commenced talking about his work and travels, Sugar Apple paid rapt attention to his every word. The mare was a tiny bit disappointed that the reporter had yet to cover anything outside of Ponyville and Canterlot, but she’d still love to read his part features anyway. By chance, the unicorn could have found about a cool place in one of those two places that Sugar didn’t know about yet.

The pegasus was especially glad to hear though that Earth Writer had also been on numerous vacations, just like her.[colour=#800080] “Hehehe!!!”[/colour] cheered the enthused Sugar Apple; [colour=#800080]“Ah’ve been on a lota’ vacations too! As a matter of fack, this race hyar is one of mah trips too. Ev’rewhar ah go, ah love t’go take photos and…”[/colour] Suddenly, the mare’s eyes widened as she remembered something; [colour=#800080]“Shoot! Ah forgot t’brin’ mah camera along. Ah meant t’take some pictures today, but ah kinda had t’rush from Cloudsdale in a hurry t’git hyar on time.”[/colour]

Not wishing to think more unhappy thoughts, Sugar Apple got back on-topic; [colour=#800080]“Back to th’ subject, I loved visitin’ Manehatten too when I travelled thar last year. Ah hope yer sister finds a job thar; ah’m sure she’ll love it in th’ big city. Eff’n yer interested, ah’ll hafta t’brin’ ya’ some photo albums when ah brin’ over yer sugar apples!”[/colour]

Eventually, Earth Writer used a lull in their conversation to provide attention to Greenshot Apple. Meanwhile, Sugar Apple (who’d make sure to thank the tan unicorn for helping her cousin too) stayed focused on the wonderful sights before her. As she paid attention to the beautiful trees and the road, she spotted a spilled bucket of sap in time to avoid stepping on its contents. Earth Writer on the other hoof… [colour=#800080]“Watch out, Earth Writer!!!”[/colour]

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Still keeping his steady pace, Hoss was glad to see the others of the group were keeping up.

He nickered as he noticed the mare that had stopped for a snack was now among them, having apparently realized she was being passed up.

Hoss made sure to keep an eye on Greenshot with his sprained hoof to be sure he was doing ok.

Seeing the unicorn was looking somewhere other than the front, he saw that he was looking at the elegant unicorn, Risi.

She was being silent so far. was she still blaming herself for the accident at the ravine?

Well, this was a fine group of ponies to find he was becoming friends with so far. He was definitely having better luck than his sister had last year with bonding with the other racers.

Hoss suddenly came around a bend to see Canterlot looming even more majestically than at the edge of the wood.

While it was still miles away, its size more than made up for distance, making it seem like you could reach up and touch it.

[colour=#0000ff]"Oh Celestia and Luna, that is beautiful!..."[/colour]

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If there was one thing that pleased Clockwise more than anything else, it was the fact that his hooves were now on solid ground, and reasonably guaranteed to stay in conditions so favorable for the rest of the race. For a pony who spent much of his dear time in Canterlot, with its tall towers and sweeping view of the rolling land stretching away so far below the mountainside, he was not especially fond of heights (his own considerable one aside), and there had been a quite few during this race. The flight over the ravine had, fortunately, gone without any unfortunate occurrences.

Better yet, he seemed to have obtained a small collection of acquaintances, whose presence he gradually became accustomed to. Kindly ponies, all of them, with good, strong hearts and fine intentions, all things that the older pony could both spot and appreciate with utmost sincerity. Even so, Clockwise was content to simply enjoy their company and the fact that they did not seem to mind his, listening quietly to their conversations and their comments over the rumbling hooves, and making no contribution but his constant little jingle, a soft reminder that he was still there. Like some of them, the thin unicorn had slowed to a trot, only engaging in the gallop for short stints to coax the last of the leaves from the trembling trees that had only nearly been cleared by the others before him. The quiet companionship had done much to ease his frustration with the race and its slew of mishaps, encouraging him to remember what the purpose of it was in the first place.

Clockwise's ears perked and swiveled at the sound of Sugar Apple's shout, and as his eyes turned to follow, he caught sight of a not-so-new pony coming into the pack from the woods. How curious! What had she been doing out here so early? Perhaps he might have learned, if he had thought to ask.

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(Just to clarify, it's only leaves that are coming down on Earth Writer, not entire branches hitting him)

Earth Writer probably could have guessed that Sugar Apple was here on a kind of vacation; as far as he knew, there wasn't any kind of program that sent ponies from Cloudsdale to aid in earth pony methods of season change. [colour=#8b4513]*Although that's a pretty interesting idea, now that I think about it; kind of a cross-cultural exchange.* [/colour]He was sorry to hear that she'd forgotten her camera, but he saw the other side of it. "[colour=#8b4513]It's probably for the best; it's kind of hard to race and take pictures at the same time. If I come back next year to do a follow-up, though, I'll see if I can't sign you on as a photographer.[/colour]"

Speaking of photographs, it seemed the mare would like to share her own whenever she came around to visit. "[colour=#8b4513]Sure, I'd like that. I was only a small colt when I last visited, so it'd be interesting to see what I remember.[/colour]"

By this point, the reporter had pretty nearly forgotten what he was actually doing. The easy pace, the companionship, even the scenery all combined to form an impression that he was just taking a trot with some friends at the end of autumn. The ground still hummed with the sound of hooves, and the leaves still fell, but no suggestion of a race or duty was present. Perhaps that was how it all started, back in the day; the unicorn remembered Winter Wrap-Ups from his foalhood having moments like this too, though it was always kind of ruined after they ran late.

These thoughts and more kept him too distracted to notice the bucket in front of him, and by the time Sugar Apple pointed it out to him, it was too late. Earth Writer tripped and tumbled over the bucket, covering himself in the sap, just as another shower of leaves floated down and covered him. He stood there for a second, looking a little like a bush with legs, before looking up at the sky and sighing. "[colour=#8b4513]Of course, it would stop raining just when I'd need a shower.[/colour]" The stallion deadpanned. He blew out a breath, shaking as many leaves off as he could. "[colour=#8b4513]The rest will have to wait, I suppose.[/colour]" He said as he trotted along to keep up with his group.

Their attention seemed caught by a newcomer, who's sticky hooves and cutie mark seemed to indicate a syrup-maker. [colour=#8b4513]"Oh hi, I can't say I noticed you before.[/colour]" The unicorn nodded hello, still somewhat covered in sap and leaves. "[colour=#8b4513]These your buckets?[/colour]" He nodded to the sap-gathering apparati around the path.

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It took several heart-throbbing minutes (or what seemed like eternities) of nonstop galloping before the hind runner's- well, hind - came into focus. Although her vision was blurred by a stinging spray of sweat rushing down all the contours of her face, she was finally in sufficient proximity to examine, through squinted eyes, this mare's Cutie Mark - a sparkly something. Was she a gem hunter? Is that a moon in the background? Is that even a mare?

All this mental activity while her heart was struggling to keep her body oxygenated was causing Maple a serious headache, so she flipped an invisible switch in her noggin. A special switch that she had developed while trudging through the frozen journey that was her first business trip, when thinking about how cold, hungry, tired or downright bored she was would simply amplify the emotion twentyfold. This switch didn't activate any "eclecticity", no - this switch simply shut off her higher mental processes, and allowed her woodsmare instinct to take over her trembling, shivering form, and complete the goliath task undeterred. Only now she wasn't simply walking a major distance - she was running it.

With a hallucinatory click, all the echoes, panting, and whining inside the mare's head simply vanished into the swirling onyx void, and Maple barely noticed her legs' wide circular motions, or the repeated thumping of her hooves on the dusty roads. She didn't have the capability of taking in the true glory of the autumn spectrum on her home, as it once was on her birthday. Nor did she even get a glimpse of the recently-overturned silver bucket of tree sap, about to spread its sticky maw right into her path. That awkward squish followed by the sucker-like shlop shlop shlop circling around her hooves woke her out of her trance, and Maple's brain once again flooded with phantoms of her voice, her panting, and the millions of hoofsteps her fellow racers were issuing. Not to mention, her legs now had to use twice as much effort to lift themselves off the suddenly very adhesive ground. The mare looked down, but saw no mighty appendages of pearl. Instead, she saw what could only be described as an extension of the surrounding terrain, what with all the wet soil and fallen leaves that were stubbornly attached to them.

A very, very, very loud grunt exploded out of the mare's mouth, an onomatopoeic cocktail of frustration, despair, and a whole lot of fatigue. This made quite a few ponies turn their heads curiously, their eyes awash in confusion. A small pack of ponies, cantering merrily in the distant front, asked a few questions, which Maple just barely understood with the incessant numbing and ringing now consuming her senses. The first query Maple tuned the tattered dregs of attention onto which she was clinging originated from a dusk-shaded unicorn. It began with something of a greeting with a side comment the mare didn't quite catch, and then something she finally heard full on:

[colour=#8b4513]"These your buckets?"[/colour]

Miraculously, Maple managed to chisel a hole in her still-rapid breathing for a bit of a chuckle, before replying sheepishly:

[colour=red]"H-heh, these are my... b-buckets alright. I live in these h-here woods, and I was gettin' some sap for my latest b-batch of s-s-syrup!"[/colour] It was taking a disturbing amount of effort to drag out even the simplest sentences. Maybe uttering something she didn't even have to think about would help? Or maybe doing it all in one breath, to avoid the risk of panting? Why not both? [colour=red]"Hiimmaplewhatsyourname?"[/colour]

Well, at least she didn't stutter. Good enough. Eurgh, too much talking. Too much breathing. TOO MUCH THINKING!


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The awestruck pegasus looked back when he heard a clatter of metal and saw Earth Writer tumbling over in a splash of liquid and into the leaves he just bucked down.

He quickly fell back to check on him [colour=#0000ff]"Um, you okay there?"[/colour]

Hoss was suddenly nonplussed as the filly he met minutes before was the owner of the buckets and she seemed distracted, like she was in a runner's fugue(sp?).

...In fact she trotted right by him and spoke in a distracted rush to Earth Writer. and kept going. [colour=#0000ff]"I guess the wind knocked that bucket down.."[/colour]

He spun a hid leg back to flip it off the path to hang from a branch on the tree it might have fallen from. [colour=#0000ff]"Safety first!"[/colour]

Nodding in satisfaction, he broke into a sprint to catch up with Earth Writer, trying not to laugh.[colour=#0000ff] "Um, Would you like for me to grab a small cloud to wash you off at the finish line once we get there?"[/colour]

he spared a glance at the busy mare steadily chugging ahead[colour=#0000ff]. "She didnt seem rude when I passed her earlier. I guess she's just 'in the zone' you mmight say. Me and my Sister get like that doing a long distance flight and not wanting to stop.,."[/colour]

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[colour=#282828]"[/colour][colour=#8B4513]Feeling alright back there?[/colour][colour=#282828]"[/colour]

[colour=#008000]Greenshot Apple[/colour][colour=#282828] heard Earth Writer say towards him. "[/colour][colour=#008000]I'm quite alright on my end of things. I'll be sure to say something if the time arises. Just watch where your going Writer cause U do not want to see you getting hurt or else that paper won't write itself. Anything..really..could happen in a sudden notice.[/colour][colour=#282828]" Greenshot said towards Writer when the sudden shout of Suagr Apple startled him and soon enough, watching Writer trip over a sap bucket and getting himself covered in sticky sap and falling leaves. Galloping past him and coming to a short start. Looking back at Writer and back laughing softly at his bushy friend while Writer was shaking off the leaves as best he could. "[/colour][colour=#008000]Haha Are you alright Earth Bush, you seem to have gotten yourself into a... sticky.... situation![/colour][colour=#282828]" Greenshot had to sit down for a bit to clop his front hooves together. "[/colour][colour=#008000]On serious note, you are alright..right?[/colour][colour=#282828]"[/colour]

[colour=#282828]As Greenshot continued to gallop along with company, he had looked at Hoss to make sure he was still close by. Noticed just then that Hoss was talking to another pony that had not been apart of there group prior to the Rearing Ravine. He wasn't sure what they were talking about, but that was alright. Greenshot was content, but with a sneaky grin on his chin.[/colour]

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[colour=#800080]“Ah’m surprised,”[/colour] Sugar Apple teased Earth Writer; [colour=#800080]“Ya’ haven’t seen mah photos yet yet yer already seem quite keen on keepin’ me aroun’ as a photographer.”[/colour] Truth be told, the pegasus was by no means a professional at photography. She knew a few of the basics behind how to take decent pictures, but she was still an amateur compared to the masters. Nonetheless, the mare somehow liked the thought of teaming up with the reporter and coming back next year to help him cover the Running of the Leaves.

Earth Writer didn’t receive Sugar Apple’s warning in time as he wound up coated with autumn leaves and sap. [colour=#800080]“Sorry hon,”[/colour] the pegasus giggled as her bay air-worthy acquaintance joked about finding a raincloud for the unicorn; [colour=#800080]“Eff’n mah wing wasn’t busted, ah would git some rainclouds mahself. Y’all be fine though, jest as long as ya’ don’t git too… sappy on us Earth Writer, tee he he.”[/colour] Considering all the mayhem that had befallen Sugar Apple and the others back at the ravine, the pegasus really relished this chance to enjoy a good laugh or two over something silly.

Encountering an odd sticky-hooved mare, Sugar Apple more than happily revealed her name when the heavily-exhaling pony prompted her to; [colour=#800080]“Howdy, partner, mah name’s Sugar Apple! What’s yers?"[/colour]

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After everything that had happened in the previous leg of the race, Motion Paradox was glad to be away from the acrophobic horrors of the Ravine; now she understood why there were so few Ponies with a horn and wings, she certainly wouldn't be able to handle living somewhere as high up as Clouds Dale if she could fly....

The pink mare's thoughts where quickly interrupted by a slight cramp in her side, while she wasn't in poor shape she just wasn't built for the sort of mad dash she went through earlier, as she was now being reminded.Still, at least it wasn't an actual injury, which she could have easily ended up with and it wasn't too hard to fix she thought as she hobbled over the the nearest tree and leaned against it while lifting her back right leg and slowly exhaling. After doing this a few times the pain had disappeared and she was ready to continue the race, as she trotted away from the tree she heard a quiet laugh, however when she turned to look for the source of the voice she couldn't see anypony.

As the other racers came into view Motion Paradox realised that she wasn't nearly as tired as she thought she would at this point, especially after the physical and emotional strain of the previous leg....Actually she felt surprisingly good. Then again, she had heard that the air in Whitetail Woods was filled with sugar and magic, which would definitely explain why she felt so energised, she could even feel it; true, there was also the chance that it was just the placebo and the woods weren't magic enough for a Pony to feel refreshed just by walking through it, but the fact remained that she was starting to catch up and in terms of explanations she decided that she proffered the one that said the forest was magic as she continued to make her way through it

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Well, now he knew whose bucket he'd tripped over. Seeing the mare huffing and puffing right beside him, though, made it difficult for Earth Writer to be angry at her; it would have felt too much like teasing the helpless, so he tried to be as understanding as he could. This was no easy task, considering her last sentence had all run together into one one word. The reporter wasn't sure, but he thought there was some attempt at an introduction in there somewhere. "[colour=#8b4513]Pleased to meet you, Maple, was it? I'm Earth Writer, journalist.[/colour]" He decided not to task her further, she seemed to have little energy to spare.

Meanwhile, his newer, bushier look had attracted the attention of his fellow racers. Hoss, the pegasus who'd shown himself well in the rescue operations, offered to find a cloud to clean him off at the end of the race. The tan (or tan-and-red, now) unicorn gave him a grateful smile. "[colour=#8b4513]Would you be so kind?[/colour]"

The apple cousins, on the other, seemed to be on the humorous side of things. The stallion kept a straight face, as he replied to them both.[colour=#8b4513] "If you don't let up on this pun-ishment, I'll just shrub and say 'bucket,' and leaf as soon as I'm maple.[/colour]" It was with great effort that he managed not to laugh at his own groaners, but that was a newspaper pony for you. Nopony could touch them for bad puns.

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The ocean of silence... What a contradictory feeling that was. Rushing along with that vast group of racers... now also Star's acquaintances, as it seemed, she couldn't hear anything other than hoof beat and the subtle rustle of leaves falling around. She could feel some of them gliding over her body... It tickled a bit, but Risi got used to this already. Star raised her head, remaining silent and rather washed out of emotions for now. They were out of Ravine. That was most undeniable. Unfortunately, she wasn't out yet herself... Oh, of course, she had a poor start in this stage, but she caught up to the group quickly. The price she paid though was high, as her strengths were stretched to the limits... She shouldn't have rejected that generous offer of detailed examination concerning her physical status. Now she could feel her body twisting in exhaustion, but it wasn't the first time in life she'd experience that. Moving forward was the only option, although because of it Risi was a bit... absent, one would say. She felt like a doll... a hollow doll somepony threw into this stage, ordering her to run no matter the consequences. The Ravine took its toll...

Pale pink Unicorn was in her own world. It was filled with trees, leaves, some other ponies and a few obstacles she had to avoid. There was a faint taste of... some kind of syrup too. It bounced inside of Star's mind until she decided it was highest time to stop acting like some kind of tool. Mare blinked, trying to focus her sight as her hooves kept moving her forward. Upon closer inspection, she realized that she fell behind a bit. It wasn't of great surprise to her. The Ravine really was an obstacle she wasn't prepared to encounter, and now she was just paying the price for her ignorance.

The ocean of silence... was filled with voices. She could have heard them on the edge faintly, but those did not reach her. After waking up from her trance, she quickly realized these were ponies having conversations around her. Star tried focusing on words, but an awkward sight of sap flowing from trees distracted her effectively. She never yet had a chance to witness its production, so she took her time absorbing the images and trying to remember. Finally, the Unicorn managed to concentrate on others around her. Some were just talking, others... well, judging from their... 'interest' in syrup, fooling around. She even caught a glance of a mare couldn't spot earlier. And then there was that leaf monster. An unexpected appearance of tree sap and falling leaves connected with a well-positioned stallion, Earth Writer as it seemed. Yet, Star couldn't even recall if she smiled to that situation. Risi took a look around... A beautiful forest, dazzling leaves cascades, friendly ponies around, wonderful atmosphere, that feeling of job well done... The Ravine was left behind...

A spark ignited in her heart.

The ocean of silence... dried out. Risi felt the energy returning into her limbs. [colour=#0000ff]"Enough of this apathy!"[/colour] - she couldn't help scolding herself - [colour=#0000ff]"What happened to you silly filly, you're the positive spirit of..."[/colour] ...Canterlot city. It loomed somewhere above her in the horizon. And it provided a sidekick she was just in need of! A wild smile appeared on her face once more after the spark moved into her eyes. Mare felt the breeze in her mane again, heard the birds around her. The world rewarded her for perseverance, it seemed. [colour=#0000ff]"Come on everypony! We're just about there, ain't we?"[/colour] - she threw in between the group, presenting a splashy mane flip and panting slightly. She caught Greenshot's glimpse and blinked towards him, following with a friendly smile before she focused on the run again. Of course, it would seem strange for them to see her wake up like this out of nowhere, but she wasn't going to allow herself falling into that 'slumber' once more.

The whole situation sounded like a poor comedy. Her mood swings would eventually become unbearable one day... But not today!

[OOC: There were so many things I wanted to refer to in your posts, but I couldn't, given the situation that I had very limited access to web ;.; Missed on an important part... Therefore, instead of Wall of Text, I've generalized and gave a little excuse.]

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Hoss kept his pace just stready enough to keep pace with Earth Writer.

Listening to Greenshot's playful puns jabbing the reporter kept his mind off the growing fatigue in his legs.

While Sugar Apple thought he was gently teasing the reporter, her further puns made him blink in surprise and laugh.

The pun war grew even worse when Earth Writer fired a whole salvo of them in return.

Hoss' groans and laughs helped ease his legs so it was actually a good thing to hear such bad puns.

At the olast though, Rising Star came out of her funk and gave a rallying cry to cheer them on. [colour=#0000ff]"Thanks Star! That's just what I needed to forget my weary legs!"[/colour] With that he grinned and broke into a trot to shake the leaves more.

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[colour=#000000]Up ahead was a vast amount of trees. And because Applejack was trailing the large group ahead of her, practically all of the beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and brown littered the ground under the bare naked branches. Applejack saw this as an opportunity. She had to spend less time worrying about the leaves and more time pacing herself for the races end, which judging by what she remembered from the course last year, was coming up very soon.

Applejack ran faster, while maintaining an easy gallop that would not tire her out. And who would she pull up next to soon enough? Gilda. Applejack winked at Gilda as she ran next to her. She could see right away the griffon was not in the mood for mid-race conversation. But that didn't stop Applejack. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "I want to thank ya for pullin' me up on the bridge. I know you did it for your own selfish reasons, but I'm still glad you did it."[/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack smiled as she ran with the griffon. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]"You know, Gilda, I'd like to run this part of the race with you. It would let us keep pace with one another. We can run faster together than we ever could separate." [/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack was flirting with danger. But she wasn't stupid. She knew exactly what the griffon wanted. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]"And I know if you wanted you could just push me off the track and run me into a tree, but you wont do that because you want to beat me fair and square." [/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack looked at Gilda with a more evil smile, as if she knew a dark secret of Gilda's. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "And then, during the last leg of the race we can find out which one of us is really fastest. It'll be a great, honest-to-goodness sprint. I can't wait!"[/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack's competitive spirit was crossing with her death wishes. She could only try to aggravate the griffon more if she tickled her talons while running. That, of course, would only result in a nasty gash to the face. Probably.[/colour]


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Gilda was running strong, but with careful attention on her surroundings. There were now racing through the heart of the forest where the tree viscous sap flew thick. Gilda hadn't been careful with this stuff last year and had got caught in its pretty bad. It had shaved valuable minutes off her time. Looking back on the race, that was very likely the single thing that had cost her the most. Because of that, she had to be precise; she was determined not to make the same mistake and let the sap entangle her again. This was absolutely no time for distractions.

[colour=#ff0000]"I want to thank ya for pullin' me up on the bridge. I know you did it for your own selfish reasons, but I'm still glad you did it.[/colour][colour=#000000]"[/colour]

And yet here a distraction was. Gilda rolled her eyes. Thank her? She didn't quite see it as something requiring that, though she supposed it was only natural a lame pony like this would. No, she had decided to use this pony to fuel her drive. Selfish was probably right, but what of it? What point was there in serving someone who wasn't your self? Competing with this pony was going to help her come out on top. It was what she needed.

[colour=#FF0000]"You know, Gilda, I'd like to run this part of the race with you. It would let us keep pace with one another. We can run faster together than we ever could separate."[/colour]

Gilda sighed. This was getting annoying, but again Gilda could see the benefit of letting this pony stay in stride with her. With the sap about the path was tricky; if Gilda found herself stuck, this pony seemed to be enough of a sucker to pull her out too. Having her about was a good safety measure to protect her time.

[colour=#996699]"Heh. I don't need your apologies pony; save them for someone who cares. I sure didn't pull you back up onto the bridge for that,"[/colour] Gilda started, as flippant as ever. [colour=#996699]"If you want to try and match my stride here, that's your call though. That is if you can, of course."[/colour]

[colour=#FF0000]"And I know if you wanted you could just push me off the track and run me into a tree, but you wont do that because you want to beat me fair and square. [/colour][colour=#FF0000]And then, during the last leg of the race we can find out which one of us is really fastest. It'll be a great, honest-to-goodness sprint. I can't wait!"[/colour][colour=#000000] [/colour]

Gilda laughed, more amused with the ponies words than anything. She wasn't entirely sure what this Apple mare was getting at, but she was at least playing an interesting game. She smirked as her eyes narrowed. [colour=#996699]"I wouldn't push your luck too hard, pony, or I really will push you into the biggest nasty puddle of tree sap and not look back. Don't think you have me figured out."[/colour]

The griffoness chuckled again, looking as if she was enjoying herself.[colour=#996699] "Also, don't even begin to think you're going to win!"[/colour] she added with emphasis.
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