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Running of the Leaves: Finish Line- (Open to all, closes midnight December 22nd)

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The race had been hard. Long. At times, the contestants had to deal with injury, confusion, the fear of falling down not just in front of their fellow competitors but failing themselves. But they persevered and fought through it all and on a day of storms that have just cleared, a photo finish for the ages entrances all.

And in the aftermath there will be heartache, second guessing, congratulations, and respect well earned as the crowds gather around the competitors, cheering their friends and family!

THE FINAL STANDINGS:

1- Rising Star

2- Applejack

3- Sugar Apple

4- Gilda

5- Earth Writer

6- Clockwise

7- Hoss

8- Greenshot Apple

9- Motion Paradox

10- Lyra

11- Ember Heart

12- Topaz

13- Autumn Moon

14- Maple

15- Harrington Sleuth

Dozens of unnamed competitors

(OOC- This is the final topic, and it is open to all.)

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The winning post worked like a gate leading into a different dimension for Star. She remembered the events which preceded reaching it quite clearly. Remembered how she managed to leave the group behind, catch up with Sugar and eventually even draw level with that orange mare. Yet, it seemed as the Earth Pony wasn't going to simply let it go that easily. Risi remembered they raced head-to-head, sweating like stallions on the field in a warm day during tough work, until the very end. But as they've passed the winning post, everything vanished into thin air. Star could run only a few meters more, before she stopped and fought herself not to sit down. Even though she was breathing heavily and was whole wet, she started stretching herself. It was a known fact that after such an exertion it was most wise not to let yourself cool down too fast.

[colour=#0000ff]"Uh... What pushed me... Into such a reckl-"[/colour] [colour=#0000ff]"Argh...!"[/colour] - she could have sworn she pulled a muscle somewhere in her front right leg. Unicorn started wondering if it was all worth it... [colour=#0000ff]"I've picked up a challenge for Celestia knows which place... just to feed my pride... and I don't even know if I've managed to beat her. You acted like a filly, Star, like a little filly."[/colour] She observed the stream of remaining participants making their way past the winning post. There were so many of them... Nearly as many as at the beginning of the race... Or even... the same amount? Risi frowned half-heartedly on this thought. That would imply she was somewhere at the spearhead of the race. [colour=#0000ff]"Ha! Keep fooling yourself darling..."[/colour] - she rejected that idea quickly. After all, what were the chances that an outsider could win the 'annual' competition? Especially if she participated in it for the first time. Star dropped the idea and tried to massage her front hooves a bit.

She remembered something suddenly though, as she swiftly turned her head around, searching for her trusted companion. She finally found Imperio hanging above her in air, holding something in his beak. It looked like a long, wide, blue ribbon, an item she could have sworn she saw somewhere already. But she was too tired to connect a few facts together. Quite soon the area filled with loud cheers and shouts. [colour=#0000ff]"Well, it's all directed at that one, lucky pony I guess."[/colour] - she didn't spare this thought too much time. Risi was exhausted, but she felt compelled to find her race companions. If not them, she'd never make it 'till the end. And then a random stallion approached her...

[colour=#000000]"Congratulations!"[/colour] - she blinked in confusion towards him, raising an eyebrow. Of course, she finished the race, but was it really a feat worth congratulating? A few other ponies approached, cheering on her. [colour=#999900]"Good job!"[/colour] [colour=#ccff99]"Wonderful run!"[/colour] [colour=#ff0066]"Well done!"[/colour] - she stood completely dazed, unable to make a move. [colour=#0000ff]"Are they all nuts?"[/colour] - was her first impression, but it forced her to think for a moment. Now when she recalled it, she couldn't remember anypony running in front of that orange mare. A blue ribbon stopped at her nose. She raised her head and noticed Imperio maneuvering it as if he was trying to draw her attention. That ribbon... she remembered where she saw it. "[colour=#0000ff]Wasn't it stretched between the posts at the finish line?"[/colour] Star straightened up. Above the heads of few ponies around her, she noticed even more rushing in her direction. The previous idea reappeared in her mind. [colour=#0000ff]"Have I... Am I... Was I first?"[/colour] - she stuttered the question towards the first stallion who spoke to her, with an expression of pure disbelief on her face. [colour=#000000]"But of course!"[/colour] - those three words struck her like a hammer as she faltered on her legs. She couldn't believe this. After all she went through, she emerged victorious. Even though she entered mainly to take part in that beautiful tradition...

Imperio flew over and landed on her back, folding his wings and undertaking a dignified pose. She didn't mind carrying him. Somehow she got used to this already. He laid the ribbon at her back, like it was some kind of symbol. "Would you like to say something?" - she was prepared for that question when it was asked. She knew the answer far too well already... [colour=#0000ff]"Water. Cider, water, anything wet. NOW."[/colour] - with those words, Star attempted to clear her way towards the stands. Her thirst was horrible, and the crowd was becoming a nuisance slowly...

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Sugar Apple knew it wasn’t a good idea to push herself any harder than she needed to. She knew it was unwise to risk any further wear and tear on her legs and the rest of her body. Yet despite all the common sense swimming in the pegasus’s brain, an even deeper compulsion bid her to make even more of a dash, to leave cousin Greenshot in the dust and take her place among the winner’s circle. In her state of inner conflict, the pink unicorn whom Sugar tried to rescue back at the Rearing Ravine managed to dash right past the injured pegasus. Clearly, that racer was one of the smart ones who saved up nearly all their sprinting energy until the end.

Yet was only until the abrupt cessation of Earth Writer’s announcing that finally drove Sugar Apple into action. Peaking behind her to see what was up with the reporter’s sudden silence, the pegasus instead was treated to the sight of the infamous griffoness bearing down upon her. Sugar tried her very best not to let her previous encounter with the ruffian cloud her judgment, knowing that it was also the same griffon who helped out cousin Applejack. However by this point, the purple mare’s competitive fire raged out of control. Burning away the dried-out sagebrush that was her logical mind, the fires told Sugar to give the griffon no quarter. That ruffian wouldn’t get away with her Bubbling Brook shenanigans!

And so against all judgment, Sugar Apple broke off into the fastest gallop she could possibly muster. No longer aware of anything other than the sound of the roaring crowd and a blurred-out path to the finish line, the pegasus simply ran and ran. While her new-found burst of speed gave Sugar a temporary speed advantage, little did she know that it would quickly become her undoing. Before she knew it, one of the mare’s beat-up legs couldn’t handle the immerse stress inflicted upon it anymore and it gave away.

Thus did Sugar Apple tumble her way to a complete stop, not aware that she had made it in third place or that cousin AJ wound up merely in second place. All that mattered to the pegasus was that her legs were in immerse pain, the workload she inflicted on them so much that it cancelled out the prior numbing spell she received earlier. Truly, an even more expensive hospital bill (and some of Granny Smith’s homemade humble pie) was a worthy award for a reckless pegasus who kept failing tests of patience throughout the entire race…..

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Hoss panted as he kept his legs moving, trying to walk himself down to a stop after cooling down.

He definitely did not want to suffer any cramps he did not have to.

The pegasus was quickly enveloped in feathery hugs from his family and Special Somepony Jubilee.

He looked over to see the standings as they were quickly posted. That must have been Clockwise he had bumped at the last moment.

Shanna patted him comfortingly as he saw Gilda beat him after all. There would be no statue of him to grace this field, but at least it would not be Gilda's statue either.

When he saw who held the top slot, he laughed! Who would be more perfect for the honor of a statue than a famous model?

He had to trot on over to congratulate the stunned unicorn mare. [colour=#0000ff]"Great job Star! Congratulations! Your statue will represent this race for generations to come!"[/colour]

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Sugar Apple had been pulling away from [colour=#008000]Greenshot Apple[/colour] as the finish line came to view. She was leaving him in the dust as the fatigue finally caught up to Greenshot and began slowing down. Slowing down to a canter as the pain in his right hoof was beginning to get to him now. Not having realized a few more ponies trotted past him since he had been looking down at his hoof and the cheering was too loud to even here the other’s trotting. He had not seen any of the others cross the line except for Hoss who was just to the left of him and Earth Writer.

Crossing the line just after Hoss, Greenshot Apple slowed to a walk as he distanced himself away from everypony and the race line. Laying down onto his stomach as he huffed and puffed trying to catch his breath now that his Running of the Leaves race was over. Greenshot had no clue where he stood on the race standings board that was alongside the spectator’s area. He already knew he was out of the podium. Nonetheless, he was going to get his breath and energy back before he can go congratulate his new found friends.

Suddenly, Greenshot was whacked by the wing of the pegasus healer that had wrapped his hoof back at the ravine. She wanted to check and see how his hoof as well as himself to make sure he was in okay condition. Resting a cup of apple juice on the ground in front of him, the pegasus grabbed his hoof and began putting pressure on different spots, each giving a bit of pain that made him wince with every squeeze.

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It was a short battle, but she managed to make her way towards the stands. Imperio proved to be an invaluable ally in this task. In a certain moment, somepony tried persuading the crowd to throw her in air. Given her condition and today's experiences with flying, she tried to object, but her voice was lost in between all those shouts. Only Imperio saved her by advisedly reacting with a little aggression towards the strangers. That made them hesitate for just a second, but that second was enough for her to catch their attention and explain why it isn't best idea right now. Thankfully there were also some race coordinators who helped her reaching the stands by keeping the crowd away.

A Unicorn medic inquired for taking care of her, but she declined. To her surprise, she didn't have any major injuries. Shallow bruises and general contusions in addition to her pulled leg and overall exhaustion. Nothing that wouldn't heal with time and good rest. [colour=#0000ff]"First place..."[/colour] - a gentle smile crawled up to her face - [colour=#0000ff]"...silly filly and her pride. Tch, who would have thought?"[/colour] Star levitated herself a mug of fresh apple cider and started drinking it voraciously. It was simply delicious! She noticed another pony approaching her side and, to her joy, recognized [colour=#add8e6]Hoss[/colour] in him. Risi raised her hoof in a gesture through which she wanted to ask to let her finish drinking. Yet, he spoke while she was sipping: [colour=#add8e6]"Great job Star! Congratulations! Your statue will represent this race for generations to come!" [/colour]

Star's eyes contracted rapidly and eventually closed as she turned back and spit out the drink behind her. Pink Unicorn opened them again after turning towards Hoss:[colour=#0000ff] "MY WHAT!?"[/colour] - she considered it some kind of joke, until she remembered gossip floating around. Risi turned towards her pet... and all that she noticed was a wet Caracara covered in cider sitting on her back, throwing her an indignant and clueless stare. Mare presented an apologetic smile at the bird, but Imperio spread his wings and launched himself in air, flying somewhere else. She sighed and turned towards Hoss, putting mug back at table. [colour=#0000ff]"I really believed it was some kind of... I don't know, a hook to attract more competitors!"[/colour] Mare covered her face behind a hoof for a second or two before carrying on her answer. [colour=#0000ff]"But thank you. And let's be honest, if not your help Hoss, as well as the help of others in Ravine, I'd never be able to stand here now. I feel more like a representative of our whole little group."[/colour]

She smiled in mind on this remark. Probably everypony dream of a representative covered in dirt and dust, with completely messed up mane and dirtied tail. That gave her an idea. She excused Hoss for a second and turned towards nearest coordinator Pegasus.[colour=#0000ff] "My apologies, could you please find me a cloud? I need one which is extremely soaked with water. I'd be really grateful."[/colour] - after Pegasi mare left for her search, Star turned back to Hoss. [colour=#0000ff]"I'm glad to see you're all right though. I didn't have an occasion to check on other participants yet."[/colour] She confirmed her words by pretending to be searching somepony above the crowd. That reminded her of one thing that her curiosity demanded an answer for. [colour=#0000ff]"Um... Who's that orange Earth Pony mare? You know, the one with blond mane I've raced so fiercely against at the end?"[/colour] It was funny, but she also owed her position to that stranger as well. If not her, Star doubted if she'd force herself into such a mad run. She needed to gain an answer to that question. With all the possible details.

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As things had turned out, it was really a finish for the books. Not that Earth Writer had been in any position to judge the winner; his little tumble due to the popcorn box had put him at the back of a pack of 5 racers who'd pulled a length ahead of the rest, and the front two, Applejack and Rising Star, had finished up neck and neck, giving the race to the judges.

Immediately ahead of him, Gilda had pushed around from the outside, and had been fast on Sugar Apple's tail. The pegasus mare wouldn't be having with that, it seemed, and pulled ahead at the line with a burst of speed that brought her into third place.

Unfortunately, that little burst had used up more that she'd had in reserve. Earth Writer was in the perfect position to see her leg give out, and the subsequent tumble seemed to occur in slow motion. The reporter's muscle's twinged in sympathy, causing him to stumble across the finish. He knew that the aggravated injuries would be immensely painful, beyond the ability of a numbing spell to counteract.

Abandoning all other thoughts, he scrambled over to Sugar Apple, panting profusely, covered in traildust, sap, and leaves, looking like nothing civilized and not caring a straw for that. "[colour=#8b4513]Sugar, how bad is it? Can you speak?[/colour]" The stallion gave a quick look around, most of the crowd seemed to be surrounding the winner, whoever that was. "[colour=#8b4513]Hey! Can I get a medic over here? And some water, cider-*cough*[/colour]"

The dust had done nothing good for his vocal cords, and Earth Writer felt that his legs wouldn't hold much longer. As gently as he could, he set himself down next to the mare, croaking out comfort as best he could. "[colour=#8b4513]Don't worry, help's coming, I'm here.[/colour]"

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Apple Bloom had to struggle and fight just to see her sister get the race off to such a fast start, and then had immediately lost her in the crowd as she had rushed and rushed to follow but had been stymied by a slight height disadvantage. Soon, like everypony else, she had to rely on the reports from the coordinator pegasi and the announcing team and had followed every little morsel with all of her energy. She knew her big sister was going to compete for the top, but Sugar Apple as well?! Apple Bloom loved all her family but had never thought for a single moment that the pegasus Apple stood a chance. So imagine her surprise when as the race rolled on, it was Sugar who was beating Applejack!

This astonishment carried over to the end. With the final three ahead of everypony else by a small margin but ahead of by a few lengths, Apple Bloom's heart was in her throat. Would it be Rising Star, who seemed to be running like a bat out of tartarus? Applejack, who Apple Bloom could see was putting her all into it? Or Sugar Apple, who the filly could see was sweating and straining like nopony's business? They had crossed too close for most of the crowd to see. Apple Bloom forced her way throigh the now overexcited crowd, her little mane getting a little out of order as she did so. Finally, she found the three, still at a loss as to who won and who deserved the congratulations.

It was only as she finally spotted Applejack and started making her way there that she heard the results spreading through the crowd. It might be a little dissapointing, but Applejack had ran hard and well and had nothing to be ashamed about.

[colour=#ff0000]"Applejack, ya did great!"[/colour] The filly said as she launched herself at her sister, latching herself around the neck like a vice. She gave her sister a deep, impactful smooch on the check and then dropped on all fours.

[colour=#ff0000]"How was it? Any Poison Joke this time?"[/colour]

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The race had not turned out as well for Lyra as it had last year, but Bon Bon was relatively nonplussed about the end outcome. Nopony had expected her to win last year's anyway, and this year the course had appeared rough. All that she could ask for was for Lyra to return safe and sound and that desire appeared to be plenty as the reports rolled in of flooding, dangerous ravines, and excessive tree sap. While Bon Bon was an adventurous mare she didn't find the thought of having to dig her fillyfriend out of tree sap very appealing, though a flood completely destroying her hair-do might be the perfect chance to get her to see a stylist like Bon Bon was always pleading for. On second thought, she wasn't so worried about the flooding.

Still, she was more than pleased when she finally saw Lyra cross the finish line and appeared to have all of her parts.

[colour=#0000cd]"Lyra!" [/colour]Bon Bon said as she trotted to meet her, hugging her once Lyra came to a complete stop, [colour=#0000cd]"I was starting to get worried about you. Are you all right? Did you have any fun?" [/colour]She asked, producing a small bag of bon bons as an incentive. She was not above bribes.

********************************************

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Pathfinder had never seen the Running of the Leaves but that didn't stop her from wanting to race. Sadly, getting tied up in the web of the Everfree Giant Wolf Spider was one of the few things that could hold her up for many, many hours and it had just done that. She had arrived, cobwebs still on her tail(getting harder too as the magical webbing hardened somewhat harshly), just a few minutes too late. Oh well, she figured, she could at least help the coordinator pegasi out with the race, right? They weren't awesome and danger-inclined like she, so they'd need the help. Apparently though they were contractors who didn't appreciate the help and she had been forced back down to the crowd. Her ambitions thwarted for the day but her energy not close to being expended, she had decided to pick a pony to back. Or in her case, a griffon.

Gilda was the greatest griffon ever if her experience with griffons from Talinpolis were supposed to be a good indication. Of course, she was an adventurer trying to recover lost relics who had to deal with guards, thieves, and prisoners, but she figured that was likely a decent cross section to make a generalization about them all. Gilda was the best and Pathfinder was happy to see her do so well. After all, she wasn't built for running on the ground. She had to be a true badflank to do what she was doing, racing four hooved creatures with two paws and two talons. Pathfinder had followed the race excitedly and when the final stage came, Pathfinder had hovered up to get a good view of the racers.

She knew Applejack and spotted her adorable little sister Apple Bloom down below, who Pathfinder had promised an adventure with not long ago. The two she was with, however, Pathfinder did not know. Right behind them though, defying all the laws of physics, was a griffon. Pathfinder hooped, hollered, and whistled as the race came to a close. Gilda may not have won, but considering her natural disadvantages, it was amazing. Pathfinder was more than pleased with the outcome and she flew from her position above the crowd and landed right next to Gilda.

[colour=#006400]"Great job, Gilly! Who would have thought that a griffon on two paws and two claws could do so well against creatures with four hooves?! Up high, hold 'em in the sky!" [/colour]She said, hovering above her former spot and offering Gilda one hoof high.

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Hoss awwed and blushed at the praise from Rising Star for helping her and the others. [colour=#0000ff]"It was my pleasure to help everypony as I did, Star. and I believe Greenshot and Sugar Apple are over there.."[/colour] He points.

[colour=#40e0d0]"Um... Who's that orange Earth Pony mare? You know, the one with blond mane I've raced so fiercely against at the end?"[/colour]

He stretched his wings to ease a muscle [colour=#0000ff]"Oh Applejack? She runs Sweet Apple Acres. Thanks for reminding me. I need to buy more apples before I leave."[/colour]

Seeing Shanna nearby, he waved her over and asked for a small raincloud for Earth Writer, seeing as he promised a quick wash, and described the pony.

Moments later, Shanna Skybright came over to Earth Writer with a small raincloud. [colour=#008080]"Hello, Hoss said you needed a wash.. Oh something to drink? sure!"[/colour]

[colour=#008080]She puled out some bottled water she got for Hoss and tossed them over "Here you go! Let me know when you are ready for that shower."[/colour]

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Meekly rolling over to her side (the one with the uninjured wing), Sugar Apple was able to slightly ignore her intensified aches by focusing on Earth Writer, who quickly came dashing to her side. The pegasus didn’t mean to mock the gentlecolt, but seeing that the already-dirtied unicorn somehow became even more filthy during the final stretch brought laughter to her face. [colour=#800080]“It ain’t all thet bad, hon,”[/colour] Sugar weakly chuckled in response to Earth Writer’s worried questions; [colour=#800080]“Seein’ thet new gitup of yer’s brings a smile t’mah face… an’ they do say laughter is t’best medicine.”[/colour]

Sugar Apple mentally forced herself to keep her thoughts on Earth Writer as he came to lie down beside her, seeing that it did a pretty good job of blocking out her soreness. Taking notice of the stallion’s attempts to provide comfort, the mare remembered how she broke her earlier promise to finish the race together with him. At this rate, Sugar reckoned that Earth Writer would die in a few hours’ time from worry-sickness. Casting a soft grin in the unicorn’s direction, the pegasus decided to give the reporter something to distract him with;[colour=#800080] “Say, kin ya’ do me a favour an’ find out th’ scoop on who won? Yer supposed t’be reportin’ on this event, eff’n ah... heh heh, remember co’reckly.”[/colour]

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A few minutes passed by as the medical Pegasus re-bandaged his right hoof and [colour=#006400]Greenshot Apple[/colour] had drunk enough juice to feel replenished again. He wasn’t breathing hard or feeling as fatigued as he did minutes ago. Getting back onto his four hooves without needing any help, greenshot hoof shaked the Pegasus and told her once again that if she were ever in Canterlot to come visit Sweet Blintze’s Pastry for a free pastry on the house.

As the two departed, Greenshot had looked over at the crowds of ponies surrounding the racers who were most likely the winners. Greenshot’s eyes gazed towards the racers placing board. A smile forming on his face seeing that Rising had come in first, then his two Apple cousins. His left hoof went to his head with a groan knowing he was the worst Apple in the race saving to himself. “[colour=#008000]Guess I’m going to hear about this until next year’s running![/colour]” Scrolling down the board, Greenshot saw his name and the number 27 was in 8th which wasn’t a bad thing. He finished the race and in the top ten at that though his number did remind him of something. Looking to his flank and with his horn lighting up, Greenshot removed the number from his flank and placed it on his back to save it as a souvenir when he gets home to Canterlot.

Now that he was good to move about, Greenshot began to seek out the others. His eyes quickly spotting the weird looking Earth Bush by Sugar Apple, of course he would be. Greenshot trotted over to the two just missed what Sugar had said towards Earth Writer

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After everything that had happened during the race, Earth Writer wasn't all that concerned about the loss of his dignity. The last of it had been jettisoned as deadweight somewhere back in Whitetail Woods, he estimated. And if it would help Sugar Apple deal with her injuries, he'd dye his mane pink.

"[colour=#8b4513]Well, I'm afraid I don't know any good jokes,[/colour]" He said in good humor, "[colour=#8b4513]At least, any that are better than this.[/colour]" Indicating his appearance with a wave of a hoof. He'd have gone on in this vein, except that Shanna arrived at that moment, bearing water in many forms.

"[colour=#8b4513]Many thanks.[/colour]" He nodded, catching the water bottle with his magic, opening it before setting it down in front of Sugar Apple. "[colour=#8b4513]There you are, drink up, you've earned it.[/colour]" The unicorn waved at Hoss' sister to hold off on the shower for now. He'd wait until the medics arrived for that.

Sugar then reminded the journalist of his duties, which did cause him to smile. "[colour=#8b4513]Well, it wasn't exactly solicited by my editor, but I think he'll like the story nonetheless.[/colour]" Rising up, with effort, he peered at the board standings, and then burst out laughing, collapsing next to Sugar Apple again. "[colour=#8b4513]Rising Star wins first place! Wow, ain't that a headline that writes itself? Photo finish too, if I'm any judge. Your cousin Applejack came in a close second, and you right behind! How about that, eh?[/colour]"

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Despite the news from Earth Writer that she made it in third place, Sugar Apple was rather downcast; [colour=#800080]“Aww darn… ah was really hopin’ Applejack would make it in first. Well, ah suppose thet Rising Star gal did a fine good job; it’s too bad ah kin’t git up an’ congratulate her.”[/colour]

Sugar Apple stopped her moping as some medics finally arrived with a stretcher. Carefully lifting her onto the stretcher and placing Sugar on her back, a unicorn medic saw fit to cast yet another numbing spell on the injured pegasus, focusing on her legs. Her throbbing successfully subsided for the moment, she was about to be flown away by pegasi to the nearest hospital when she verbally signaled them to hold up.

[colour=#800080]“Hey uhh… Earth Writer,”[/colour] the blushing Sugar sweetly asked the reporter; [colour=#800080]“Before ah go, do ya’ promise thet ya’ll viset me at th’ hospital? Ah’d... like t’read yer articles while ah heal up.”[/colour] While waiting for the stallion’s response, one of the medics retrieved Sugar’s water bottle and helped her sloppily drink out of it; Sugar Apple couldn’t use her hooves for the time being to avoid even more wear and tear.

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At first she believed it was just her imagination, but the idea which Hoss presented her was not faulty at all. It was actually quite plausible. [colour=#0000ff]"Runs the Sweet Apple Acres?"[/colour] - Star was a bit content she was finally reminded the exact name of that one particular stage of race. [colour=#0000ff]"Applejack... I'll need to remember that name."[/colour] - she peeked over the crowds trying to locate the orange mare, unfortunately AJ was nowhere to be seen. [colour=#0000ff]"Perhaps she forgot to stop and keeps on running...?"[/colour] - she couldn't help laughing dearly on that thought. It was partially possible if latest events were considered. Still, she managed to spot a group of familiar faces in location which Hoss pointed her. The crowd wasn't helping the situation. It was just a matter of time until somepony passes through the coordinator's protection probably...

A sudden shock reflected on Stars face as she turned back to Hoss again. [colour=#0000ff]"Wait, she owns the place? That means I owe her bits!"[/colour] - the memory of delicious apples lingered above her. It was thievery after all! She wasted so much time convincing herself that's nothing wrong, since everypony did it... Thinking about this made her look a bit absent-minded for the observers. She delayed the issue until she'd have a chance for more or less private conversation with the orange mare. As Risi attempted picking up conversation with Hoss again, she found him speaking to somepony in the crowd. Still, his timing was perfect since the Pegasus mare, whom Star asked for a favour earlier, returned with a quite heavy rain cloud. Pink mare had to admit, the Pegasus did well.

Unicorn anticipated her question and asked in a kind voice: [colour=#0000ff]"Oh excellent! Could you please squeeze it out above me? I feel terrible looking like this..."[/colour] - not mentioning a brief shower would work miracles to her senses. As soon as she walked away from the table, a tiny waterfall engulfed her. The only thing Star didn't take in consideration, was that the water could be... [colour=#0000ff]"AAAH. Cold, cold, coldcoldcold~!"[/colour] - Pink mare shivered and danced under the streams, forcing herself to remain under the freezing shower. After it was finally finished, she stood in place, shivering slightly and chattering her teeth. [colour=#0000ff]"T-t-t-hank-k-k-k y-y-y-ou-u-u-u."[/colour] - her voice cracked up a bit as she stood on her back hooves, wrapping herself with front ones to gain some warmth. "Here, take this." - Pegasus threw her a white material. As Star caught it, she recognized it's a soft and vast towel. Thanks to the towel and sun, she was dry in no-time again, although her mane was in complete disarray. [colour=#0000ff]"You don't happen to have a brush and a mirror around...?"[/colour] - she inquired with completely fake hopes and didn't even give the Pegasus mare time to respond. [colour=#0000ff]"Never mind."[/colour] - her mane and tail became covered in azure aura - [colour=#0000ff]"I'll do this the old fashioned way..."[/colour] Star altered her levitation spell a bit and set her tail and mane too look a bit better. It was way far from masterpiece or the effect which 'beauty parlour' would achieve, but had to do for now.

That did the trick. Perhaps she wasn't as glamorous as usual, but now she could stand against the crowds... if she wasn't so exhausted. She still had to meet a few other ponies though. [colour=#0000ff]"Excuse me Hoss, but I'd better check out on others... Stick around!"[/colour] - she threw him a wink before turning back and heading towards the group of other participants. [colour=#0000ff]"Excuse me!; Calm down.; Hey! Hooves off!; Speak slower...; No.; Yes, I do have plans for tomorrow's evening..."[/colour] - her rants were directed towards the most strident ponies, who stood on her way between Hoss and the others. Yet, with a tiny dose of effort, she managed to reach the group currently consisting of Sugar Apple, Earth Writer, Greenshot Apple and a few ponies from the race staff.

[colour=#0000ff]"Hello! I'm sorry it took me so lo-"[/colour] - her glance landed on purple mare, what made her smile turn 180 degree 'round. It seemed that Star made it in last moment, since Pegasus mare was already ready to be transported away from current location - [colour=#0000ff]"Dear Celestia!"[/colour] - Star threw her a troubled face. [colour=#0000ff]"How do you feel sweetie...?"[/colour]. Star wondered why this certain mare remained so stubborn and decided to attempt finishing the race, given her condition. She was truly expecting that after the events in Ravine, Sugar would withdraw, what would probably force Risi to do the same. It was her fault in the first place after all, even if unintentional. [colour=#0000ff]"I see I'm really a bit late, so all I can wish you is returning to full strengths as quickly as possible, though there's a lot more I'd like to say."[/colour] She felt a bit bad not paying attention to Earth Writer or Greenshot, but she hoped they'd understand this time.

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Greenshot Apple had been looking over at Sugar Apple as she was being taken by the medical ponies. The feeling of guilt was beginning to stir in his mind knowing that if he hadn't challenged her, she probably would not be in the position that she was in. Then again, she did come in third so technically he did help her get on the podium meaning that two out of three apples placed in the top spots. Still, Greenshot was worried about her condition and was beginning to blame himself for what is going on in front of his eyes. Seeing Rising come from the corner of his eye to see what was going on, Greenshot didn't want to say anything to her since she was talking at Sugar. Sugar was an Apple though and Apples's are fighters. All she needs is some rest and quality apple cider to do the trick. Lowering his head some then looking over at Earth Writer with worry clear in his eyes as he spoke towards Writer "[colour=#008000]Did something happen to Sugar that I missed being behind ya'll[/colour]?

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In a race like this, 5th place was a proud accomplishment, let alone third and second. The front-liners had given it their all, and had earned their place on the listings. Earth Writer knew this, and felt far from downcast about how things turned out. In this vein, he tried to encourage Sugar Apple. "[colour=#8b4513]Hey, neither you nor Applejack have anything to be ashamed of, alright? It was a tough race out there, but you put yourself among the best. I won't forget that in a hurry.[/colour]"

The medicos were not long in arriving after that, along with Greenshot and Rising Star. The reporter meant well, but his hovering over the shoulder of the rescue ponies did nothing to aid them in any way. At least they didn't tell him to buzz off, though, and they didn't seem hindered, either. In short order, the pegasus was loaded onto the stretcher, about to be flown off to the hospital. But before that, she paused to ask if Earth Writer would stop by.

"[colour=#8b4513]Sure thing![/colour]" He assented. "[colour=#8b4513]I'll even bring around the first draft of my copy on this race, too.[/colour]" The stallion was blushing himself, and in that moment, something in his head went "click." Without a second thought, he leaned over, and gently kissed Sugar Apple, near the corner of her muzzle. He leaned back suddenly, conscious of what he'd just done, and his blush was now positively luminescent.

He sat back as the stretcher was hauled off, still following it with his eyes, so that the sudden shower-bath from the could above took him by surprise. "[colour=#8b4513]Ak-pth![/colour]" He shivered, shaking the cold water, along with the last of the leaves, off of himself. "[colour=#8b4513]Well, that was... right, anyway,[/colour]" Clearly eager to change the subject, he turned to the winner of the race. "[colour=#8b4513]Excuse me, but if I could have a moment of your time, could I get a few words for the paper?[/colour]"

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Sugar Apple still felt a little disappointed that Applejack ended up in second place in the Running of the Leaves, but as Earth Writer pointed out, AJ gave it all she got and thus did better in the race than any year before. Surely Sugar’s cousin had nowhere else to go next year but first place, right? As for the pegasus herself, she figured that she was pretty darn lucky to have gotten in third. Not every first-time contestant does that well on their first try, let alone first-timers who get buried in rockslides. However, Sugar Apple would make sure to check ahead next year to make sure the race course didn’t go through hazardous terrain first before entering the Running.

As the purple pegasus hoped, Earth Writer promised to not only visit her but also to bring his write-up for this year’s Running. Before Sugar Apple could thank him, the gentlecolt impulsively gave her one last parting gift... a kiss. Caught by surprise, the shocked mare’s good wing extended outwards when Earth Writer made his move. If this had been any other love-sick stallion, Sugar would have probably gently but sternly berated the poor fellow for his behavior.

That Earth Writer though... he sure had a lot of guts to do what he did. Lucky for him, he demonstrated himself as a sweet and admirable stallion to Sugar Apple throughout the entire day. Just before Earth Writer broke off his kiss, something ‘clicked’ in the pegasus’s mind too, prompting Sugar to close her eyes and attempt to return the tan unicorn’s display of affection. However the reporter leaned away right as the mare started to reposition her muzzle; opening her eyes, Miss Apple beheld a unicorn who’s blush was only just slightly brighter than her own.

[colour=#800080]“Ah’llll..... ah’ll see ya’ soo... soon Earth Writer,”[/colour] Sugar Apple nervously stuttered; [colour=#800080]“Buh-bye, hon. Tell Rising Star an' mah cousins thet ah'll be flyin' again in no time.”[/colour] Providing the reporter and everpony else around her with a weak hoofwave and a beaming smile, the pegasus nodded for the medics to haul her away. As they flew her on her stretcher towards the nearest hospital, Sugar Apple mused that she’d be telling ponies about this day for a long time to come. Whoever thought that somepony could get chased by an irate griffon over a flooding bridge, get caught in an avalanche, win third place in the race against all odds, and meet a cute stallion all on the same day?

Thanks to Sugar Apple, ponies would know that such a feat could be accomplished now.....

*Exit Sugar Apple*

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Lyra passed the finish line at full speed, huffing and panting as she went. She knew that several other ponies had already passed her, but she still wanted to move up as much as possible before then end. She looked up at the boards where the final standings were being updated. 10th place! Not as good as last year, sure, but she'd always suspected that she'd gotten lucky before. Here, she ran the race straight, got soaked by race in the process and still made it to the top ten! Despite being tired and out of breath, Lyra felt elated. Clearly she was pretty good at this whole running thing, for an amateur anyway. She briefly wondered if her adventures with Dr. Whooves had anything to do with it. There was always running with that guy.

[colour=#0000cd]"Lyra! [/colour][colour=#0000cd]I was starting to get worried about you. Are you all right? Did you have any fun?"[/colour] came the voice of Lyra's favourite pony in the whole world. Lyra smiled as she replied. [colour=#00cc99]"It was a little harder than I remember it being, but hey! I'm in the top ten! Not bad, eh? And here was me thinking I was out of shape!" [/colour]she said, moments before collapsing on the ground in exhaustion, her legs splayed out awkwardly at her sides.

Lyra took one of the offered bonbons and munched on it hungrily. Delicious and sugary; exactly what she needed! [colour=#00cc99]"Maybe... we could go somewhere a bit... relaxing for a while?"[/colour] she asked.

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[colour=#000000]Applejack had passed out.

When she awoke, she saw a fuzzy yellow and scarlet image wobble in her eyes, the echoes of her little sister's yippy was ringing in her ears. After a short moment, Applejack came to, and she successfully lifted herself from the ground. She looked down at her sister. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "Wha- what happened?"[/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack rubbed her face, which was sore from hitting the ground. She had apparently let her head kiss the grass when she fell out of her consciousness. But why?

Moments before, the race ended in a photo finish. You could try to ask Applejack what her point of view was, but she wouldn't remember. Could have been that she passed out her memory from exhaustion? No, that wouldn't make sense. Applejack might have been the most fit pony in the race. Could it have been that she was punched out by Gilda? Not according to the scoreboard, unless the griffon voluntarily raced up to the mare to hit her and then deliberately fell back to finish behind her. Wouldn't suffice. Perhaps it was the fact that Applejack slammed herself face first into a tree before the end of the race. And not just any tree, the last tree. How poetic, that the object in the way of Applejack winning her first running would be the same object that represented why the race existed in the first place. But could she blame the tree? Of course not. Especially since Applejack could have easily avoided the obstacle had she not been looking back at her competitors and getting a feel for her margin of ill-victory.

Applejack looked at the scoreboard. Second place. She looked at her sister. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "Ah'm sorry I didn't win Apple Bloom."[/colour][colour=#000000] Applejack was embarrassed. She hated losing. And yet, she always composed herself to be a good sport. The tiny bit of torture a mare puts on herself in times of competitive humility. Something a certain cyan pegasus could use for once. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "I guess I'm just not cut out to win this dern race."[/colour]

[colour=#000000]Looking up, Applejack could see the winner on the podium, with all the ponies crowding her. She could also see cousin Sugar Apple, being stretched away to the hospital. And she finished third! [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "Land sakes! What kind of race is this supposed to be?"[/colour][colour=#000000] And then finally, Gilda. Gild finished fourth. Which gave Applejack just enough to crack a smirk. She walked over to Gilda. [/colour][colour=#ff0000] "Heh, heh. Well, neither of us won, but clearly you are not as fast as you think you are. But don't worry, I wont need [/colour][colour=#ff0000]to gloat this to anypony. Alright?" [/colour][colour=#000000]Appl[/colour][colour=#000000]ejack reached out for a hoofbump, or rather a hoof-claw hybrid bump in order to congratulate an almost win finish. But before Applejack could be met with respect, Gilda turned and flew away, all with the classic tempered attitude. Applejack looked down at Apple Bloom, who just seemed to be trying to acknowledge everything that was going on. [/colour][colour=#ff0000]"Don't worry, Abby, she's just got a few nests to make."[/colour]

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