Chapter 5 - Together (part 1)
"Brittany, that's enough! You can't keep us apart like this. Nightshade and I are a couple!"
"Watch your tone, Hemlock! You know very well that what you did to me was the worst thing ever."
"Yes, and we apologized for it. We did all you wanted, all the extra training, and even accepted that you made us sleep in separate stalls. But it's been long enough. We learned our lesson."
"Well, I'm not sure you did!"
"What are you expecting from us? Are you waiting for us to cancel our contract?"
Hearing those words had an electroshock effect on the already angry Brittany. She jumped off her couch and fast-walked to Hemlock, who was standing there, wearing civilian clothes for the first time in ages. Nightshade wasn't around because she was still locked up in her stall since the unfortunate event.
"Hemlock! You took her harness and her suit off! Did you ever stop to think about what it meant to me before you disregarded one of the most sacred rules binding a pony and a driver? Do you realize the impact it will have on our performance on the track if we can’t trust each other?"
"Yes, we did. We apologized, we accepted all the punishment you threw at us without complaining... but it has to stop now."
"It will stop when I say so!"
"I don't think you understand... Nightshade and I are a couple."
"Well, good for you!"
Hemlock didn't hate Brittany. She only wished she would understand how painful it was to be kept away from her lover for so long. It was a terrible decision. It was written in the stars that if Brittany didn't allow them to be with each other soon, they would have to leave the stable. Love was more important than racing, even though racing was the next item on their priority list.
Even Paul had been useless in trying to defuse this situation. He just said that he trusted Brittany for that kind of matter and called this whole chaos "childish." From Hemlock's perspective, Brittany had lost sight of common sense and was pushing this way too far, and it made her as angry as sad.
"Yeah... What did I expect from you, Brittany? As if you know anything about love!"
Usually, Brittany never hesitated before barking insults back when someone attacked her... but this time, after hearing those harsher words, nothing came out of her mouth and a big ball of emotion jammed her throat. It was not a feeling she was very familiar with.
As her eyes welled up, she pushed Hemlock in the chest, which barely had any effect, and just walked out of the living room, unable to add another word.
"What are we doing today? Why didn't we sleep in the barn last night?"
"Ah! Today I have a surprise for you two. We are going to Dressage Center!"
When Sophie mentioned Dressage Center to Moonlight, a big question mark appeared above her head. Morning Star, who was sitting at the kitchen table, reading a racing magazine, turned her head, puzzled as well. She knew what Dressage Center was but failed to see the relevance with what they were trying to achieve.
"Dressage Center is a place where they train show ponies. I made an appointment with them, and they are going to teach you a thing or two."
"Show ponies? Like... the cute ones performing for entertainment purposes?"
"Ah! You'll see! Eat your oats so we can go."
Morning Star stood up, not questioning Sophie's motives, but was definitely apprehensive about this odd idea.
"Just be patient, okay, Nightshade? Things are bad... Brittany has never done something like this before."
"I know... But trust me. Just give me a bit of time, and I'll sort that situation out."
Nightshade had been stuck inside her stall for the past two weeks, except for her daily training. She and Hemlock had not been able to have any intimate time together since the incident. This was impossibly hard. Separating two lovers like this was beyond cruel.
Oddly enough, Hemlock was let to roam free after her workday, almost as an invitation to leave the stable. She was the one who had committed the fault, so taking away her pony time on top of preventing her from sharing her bed with Nightshade was an even worse punishment.
All she could do was visit Nightshade often and try to comfort her girlfriend through the bars of locked metal gate to which only Brittany had the key. She had not heard Nightshade's voice since then either. It was absurd.
There could be a straightforward solution to resolve this; canceling their contract and leaving. However, this would have to be the last resort. As Hemlock already stated, this punishment was beyond cruel, even for Brittany’s standards, and she suspected there was an underlying cause to this extreme reaction.
Hemlock never hated Brittany. She knew the girl was a nutcase, but she had been good to her. It wasn't easy to find a good trainer in this world of ponygirls. Finding someone bossy was easy, so was finding someone abusive; perverts were also common. But excellent trainers were rare.
The best ones right now were Sophie, Xiuying, and Brittany. Outside them, Hemlock didn't know anybody else who could take her to the next level on the race track. Sophie's manipulative style did not attract her, and Xiuying was way too by the book, super formal and all. No, Brittany was the only one she trusted to win. She was fearless, competent, and driven by an innate desire for victory.
The downside was that someone this good was bound to come with flaws. Brittany was rude, impulsive, pitiless, and on occasion, unfriendly and racist. Those traits made her the most hated professional ponygirl trainer in the field, and that even got her banned from the NRPA.
But Hemlock knew better than judging someone by its cover. On occasion, she noticed a small girl... one who was passionate, had dreams, and cared about others. That said, as soon as anybody saw this pleasant side of her and vocalized it, Brittany would close herself and fire a barrage of insults back at the offender before returning to her bitter self. It was better not to mention anything.
Nightshade, prisoner of her stall and missing physical contact like crazy, was ready to leave. If it hadn't been for Hemlock, she would have already ended her contract. Right now, she had no other option but to trust her lover and be patient; she was about to reach her limit, though. She didn't sign up to be an inmate and didn’t have any special attachment to Brittany..
The prisoner pony turned her back to the gate and back kicked it with all her strength, which sent a loud sound wave all across the barn. Hemlock stepped back and stared at the new dent in the shape of a horseshoe embossed in the metal panel, another one.
"Okay, okay... Give me twenty-four hours, and if I have not found a solution, we will leave."
"I promise! You are more important to me than this Triple Crown event. We will find another stable together if we have to."
Nightshade returned to the gate and pressed her forehead on the bars separating her from her girlfriend. She would have loved to touch Hemlock, but with her wrists attached to her waist, all she could do was to receive the caress from Hemlock's hand on her cheeks. She wanted out!
"Morning Star, Moonlight... This is Ivory, and she is going to be your trainer today!"
A stunningly beautiful small ponygirl was standing in front of the racing trio. She was wearing an ultra-white latex suit, amazing thigh high pony boots, a very expensive-looking white leather harness adorned with gold patterns. Not wearing a bridle at the moment, Ivory still had her bright long white hair mounted in a very classy ponytail.
Sophie seemed familiar with that blinding bright pony, but Morning Star was speechless, and Moonlight was puzzled at this sudden trainer swap activity. Instead of providing a useful answer, Sophie just dropped a few more equally shocking words.
"Alright! Good luck! I'll see you at 4 pm! Have fun!"
"Wait! What!? You are leaving us here!?"
"Ah, I didn't tell you? You will spend the day with Ivory, and she is going to teach you how to work as a team. You are both great runners, but if you don't learn how to work together, we have no chance of winning the Triple Crown. It happens that working as a team is what show ponies do best. They are yours, Ivory. I'll see you this afternoon."
"See you later, Sophie!"
Sophie smiled like a child, very proud of the curveball she threw at her two unsuspecting ponies. It was all planned, and Ivory knew what she was getting into, but it was almost nonsense to Morning Star and Moonlight.
They didn't want to be rude, but Ivory looked so...fragile. Racing ponies were the embodiment of power and Moonlight's leg was twice the size as Ivory's. Sure, the white show pony probably looked good on the front cover of a magazine, but her athletic traits were questionable.
On top of that, Ivory was a ponygirl. Since when did ponygirls become trainers? Yes, Morning Star was teaching Moonlight some stuff occasionally, but it was mostly by observation; she never considered opening her mouth to give her direct advice. Why did Sophie ask Ivory to train them? It made little sense.
"Hi girls, I'm so happy to meet you. Morning Star, I'm a huge fan, hehe. You are the best racing pony in the world, so this is a bit intimidating for me. My heart stopped when you had your accident. Sophie told me that you were doing so much better now. It is such a relief."
"I'm better. Thank you. Nice to meet you as well."
Moonlight never put too much thought into it, but Morning Star was indeed the fastest pony on Earth; it just never had sunk in. She knew nothing about pony racing, and she had never seen Morning Star running on a track before, and on top of that, the elite pony never acted pretentiously or boasted about her past achievements. Seeing Ivory being in such awe in front of the champion made her stomach feel strange. Had she ever misbehaved around such a legend? She had never asked herself this question until now.
"And you, Moonlight, I saw your first race and... Oops... Sorry, you probably don't want to hear about that."
The young pony realized something else; her little crash into the gate during her first amateur race didn't go unnoticed. Probably Sophie had shielded her from what people were saying about her. A story about a brand new ponygirl making such a mistake, followed by a spectacular win, would be worth printing in a newspaper.
"Don't worry... It's fine... I'm over it."
"Good. You are both amazing athletes, so I'm sure we will learn a lot from each other today. Follow me, let's go to the dressing room and get you a pair of boots, then you can show me what you've got, and we will go from there."
Ivory must have sensed a wind of distrust. Every time she talked, at least one of the ponygirls remained silent, and the other provided the shortest answer possible. She tried to stay as friendly as possible, but she didn't quite know what to do. Was it because she was smaller than they were? Was it because she was a ponygirl directing them around? Maybe her friend Sophie should have briefed them a little bit better about the purpose of this training day. But Ivory was lovely, she kept her smile on, and decided that she would try to pierce their shells at a later time.
"Okay, well, this way."
As the two racers followed the show small pony, they couldn't help but notice that Ivory had a very nicely shaped butt, but again, it lacked meat. She sure looked pretty, though.
When Ivory opened the door leading to the dressing room, a dozen of thinly shaped ponygirls were getting ready for their training. Some were wearing latex and harness, and some were downright topless, carelessly showing off their boobs.
One of them turned her head to see who was coming in and went back to doing her makeup... then... she turned her head again, this time, a shocked expression appeared on her face.
"W... wait! You... You are .... Mo ... MORNING STAR!?"
As the small show pony mentioned that name in a thunderous voice, all the other ponygirls stopped what they were doing. They all stared at the unexpected visitors for a moment, specifically Morning Star, who never really got used to her fame.
A rogue wave of cute show ponies rolled over Morning Star, who was a head taller than all of them. She quickly got submerged by touchy little hands, jiggly boobs, and cuteness, who all wanted a piece of the superstar.
Moonlight and Ivory couldn't do anything else than dodge out of the way.
"Woah! Your friends are intense, Ivory."
"She... She is so amazing!"
That was not the answer Moonlight had expected from Ivory. The glowing white pony also turned into a fangirl and struggled to contain her admiration, jealous of her friends who all permitted themselves to rush to Morning Star to absorb her magical powers, ask tons of silly questions, and make random comments.
"You are so cool!"
"Are you single?"
"Is Sophie your wife?"
"How tall are you?"
"You are so pretty!"
"Can you sign my boobs?"
"Can we take pictures with you?"
Moonlight shook her head and had no intention of rescuing her friend from this prettiness assault. Instead, she decided to move on with the training day.
"Ivory, where are those boots you were talking about?"
"She is so pretty!"
"Oh... over there... I'll... I'll meet you in a bit... Morning Star is here... I never thought..."
"Paul! I need 100$."
"What? Screw you, Hemlock! You are a ponygirl, don't be ridiculous."
Hemlock had entered Paul's office like a tornado to ask for a large sum of money. The problem with that request was that ponygirls didn't use money. In their contract, all expenses are the owner's responsibility, so Paul's flat refusal was not only an emotional response to Hemlock's absurd demand, it was also a rational one. But that was not deterrent enough not to insist.
"It's not for me. It's for Brittany."
"Then tell Britt to come to ask me herself."
"I can't do that..."
"I don't care. I won't give you a single dollar. Now, get out of here."
"If you don't give me that money, the Triple Crown won't happen."
"What are you talking about? We already registered."
"If we don't do something, Nightshade will quit because of Brittany."
"Oh, that again? Nightshade is still bitter because her previous trainer left?"
Paul never listened to anybody. He could not associate the current topic with what Hemlock explained earlier regarding Brittany's excessive punishment toward the ponies. It's not that he wasn't smart, he could run his business pretty efficiently, but he just didn't care about anything other than himself.
"Paul! That has nothing to do with it. There is a problem in your stable, and I need 100$ to fix it."
"No, and get out. I'm busy."
"So you don't care if we leave your stable?"
"No, because you are not going to do that. I'm too good to you. Plus, if there were a real problem, Britt would have told me, but she didn't, so get out!"
Hemlock was boiling inside, but a pony couldn't physically attack an owner no matter how stupid he was. That would have been even worse than taking the harness off from another pony on the ladder of terrible things to do. Such behavior would ensure she would never get accepted in any other stables later. So she just groaned, turned heels, and stormed away, dejected.
"And close that door behind you! Thank you!"
That plan didn't work well. Hemlock had a secret reason for asking for this money, but now she would need to adopt a different strategy to obtain it. Arguing with a rock would be easier than trying to convince Paul to do what was right.
"Aaah! What do I do now? I don't have time for this..."
Hemlock went downstairs and returned to her bedroom. She laid down on her bed and tried to come up with a new idea. Obtaining money was not something she was used to... At no point in her life she ever had a need for it.
"How does Paul make money, anyway? We win races for him, that brings in a sum, but I don't have time to race. He sells merch too, but I don't have merch to sell... Think, Hemlock... think."
Her bedroom was small, but it was hers. She didn't have much belongings. Paul and Brittany allowed her to have a few items, mainly to keep her morale up during difficult times. When she lost a race that she should have won, Hemlock often asked to sleep in her bedroom so she could look at the many pictures pinned on the honey-colored wooden walls.
Some photos were taken after her significant wins, some from when she accomplished something great, like when she pulled seven bricks during that promotional event. Other pictures were even more precious than the ones portraying her successes. Those were pictures of her idols, her inspirations.
The most special one was the photo of Stardust, unarguably the most famous ponygirl who ever roamed this Earth. When Hemlock was twelve, she already knew she wanted to be a racing pony, but it was just a child's dream. Her horizon had expanded when one day, her father took her to a big country fair, and they discovered that Stardust would be there for a special autograph session. That got the small girl that she was so excited that her father decided to let her go to the event.
Later that day, a massive amount of people had already gathered around the superstar’s kiosk to get a glimpse of the legend when she would show up. There were so many people that there was not a chance in the world that this little twelve years old wannabe ponygirl, stuck at the back of the crowd, could manage to see her heroine, but she was too young to realize it.
So she waited, waited, and waited. The more she waited, the more people gathered, pushing her farther away and crushing her hope to meet her idol...
...and that was when it happened. Her father had come back, had grabbed her wrist, and pulled her out of the mob.
"Come! Quick! We have to follow this lady!"
"Dad? What's going on? Where are we going? I wanted to see Stardust! I don't want to leave!"
"Hurry, you two. Her event is about to start!"
The unknown woman in front of her father was quite a runner, but he was not; he was overweight and out of breath already. He had to stop before getting a heart attack, but he spat a command to her daughter...
"Follow that lady! Don't worry about me! Run as fast as you can! You must catch up to her! Trust me. Go!"
"I said, GO!"
The young girl started to sprint through the crowd, complying with her father's wish even though she had no idea what was happening. That woman in front of her was truly running hard, and her ponytail rhythmically swung left and right.
"Lady! Please! Wait for me!"
"Hurry! It's your only chance to meet her!"
"Wait! Meet who? Wait!"
At full speed, the woman headed toward a tent guarded by two men while warning them to get out of the way.
"COMING THROUGH! Let the young girl behind me in! Just let her in!"
Not slowing down, the young girl flew between guards and entered the tent right after her fast guide, trying not to lose sight of her.
"Come on! We are almost there! Haha! You can keep up! She is going to love you!"
"Where are we going!?"
"You'll see! Can you run faster?"
"Well, yes! But..."
The lady exited the tent through another door. She then jumped over a fence before bursting out a careless all-out sprint that surely would leave her follower in the dust. To her, it was always fun to challenge the young ones.
"Where are we going?"
The runner lady turned her head and saw the young girl right next to her, keeping up. How did she do that? How was it possible that this small teenager had caught up with her that quickly during a sprint. It was a beautiful sight.
"Hahaha! You are amazingly fast! Alright, we arrived. Slow down. It's the tent over there."
"What are we doing?"
The runner lady entered the tent and immediately called someone who was about to walk away... an unexpected someone.
"Hey! Stardust! Wait! Wait! Just a minute!"
"Cassy? What's going on? Who's your little friend?"
"I was told she is your number one fan. I don't know her name, but she really wanted to meet you."
When she understood what was happening, the young girl's heart skipped a beat. In front of her, walking out of the shade and fully dressed up in her racing pony attire, was her idol, Stardust.
Her hooves made her look twice as tall as she had imagined, and her shiny jet black latex suit matched her long black hair that fell over her shoulder. Her leather harness was tight, and her bridle intimidating. She had no bit for the occasion, but her signature leather mask over her eyes left no doubt about her identity. Tremendous power and charisma emanated from her.
The champion athlete crouched in front of the young girl and placed her two hands on her arms before sliding them down to her wrists, sending a child down her visitor’s spine.
"Hey, how are you doing? I'm Stardust."
"The cat got your tongue?"
Cassy giggled, used to see young girls rendered speechless by Stardust's menacing look. She had become an expert at defusing those situations.
"Stardust, you wouldn't believe how fast this girl is... She kept up with me while I was sprinting."
"Oh, really? Do you want to become a racing pony?"
"Good... Do you have a ponygirl name yet?"
"... I don't."
"Alright, so, I'll give you one. If you like it, you can keep it. It was the name of one of my best friends. She was blonde like you, and she was also very very fast. I'll call you Hemlock. You will be fearless and resilient. You'll never give up, no matter what. Do you like it?"
"Good. You must tell everybody that it’s your name now! You will become famous! Cassy, give me a picture and a pen, please."
Knowing the drill, Cassy already had gathered what Stardust needed and handed it over to her.
"Here is a little gift for you so that you can show all your friends."
"Thank you, Stardust!"
"You are welcome, Hemlock. I have to go now, but give me a big hug before I leave."
After the firm embrace, Stardust stood up and dropped a few more words.
"Hemlock, we will meet again! I promise!"
Hemlock unpinned the picture from the wall and read the faded message from Stardust.
"Never give up. Always take care of your friends. Those are the only things that will make you a true champion. Stardust!"
"Never give up..."
While gazing at her most precious treasure and repeating Stardust’s words over and over, she remembered something else. On that day, her father had not managed to arrange this meeting by chance. He had insisted on talking to a member of Stardust’s crew. At the time, Stardust had a foundation to help sick kids, and her father had committed to donate a thousand dollars to it in exchange for providing his daughter with an opportunity to meet Stardust.
"That's it... Fans are ready to spend money to meet... me!"
She pinned the picture back to the wall and ran to the kitchen to pull out a paper map from the drawer and unfolded it on the table. Paul's stable was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and Hemlock didn't know how to drive. She could run, but she had limited time to set her plan into motion.
"This small village isn't too far. I'm sure I can make it if I cut across the land. It's scorching outside, though."
Hemlock bolted out of the house and ran to the barn. She flew past Nightshade's stall and entered hers...
"Sorry, Night, I have to do something to fix this mess. I don't have time to explain."
She quickly put her pony boots on and laced them tightly around her feet and ankles. A few minutes later, she stood up and jogged in place to make sure they were correctly attached to her feet. Not used to putting them on herself, it felt much better when Brittany was the one doing it for her.
"I'm going to the nearest village. I need some money, but Paul didn't want to give me any. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Nightshade watched Hemlock run out of the barn, leaving her puzzled inside her stall. The main question she was asking herself was, "Money? Ponies didn't use money!?" She had never seen Hemlock behaving so erratically before. In all cases, confined like this, she could do nothing about anything, so she just decided to place her faith in her girlfriend instead.
"Sorry about that, Morning Star... We are just not used to having such famous people around here."
"It's okay. I’m used to it."
"You still have some lipstick there... They really liked you."
Ivory apologized profusely to Morning Star while Moonlight used her long sleeve to wipe a red mark from her neck.
"They will be gone for most of the day for carriage training, so don't worry. We will be able to focus on your training now."
"Yes, we are regularly hired for weddings and formal events. We have to pull all kinds of vehicles ranging from small carts to large carriages with multiple passengers... It’s so fun. People love it so much."
Moonlight cocked her head to the side, a bit confused... How could those weak little ponies pull anything bigger than a cart? Her ignorance of the pony world was showing in her face.
"Moonlight? Are you okay?"
"Well... Yes, sorry, Ivory. I was just wondering... I mean... you are small... and..."
"Oh, yes. You racers are much bigger than us. Look at those legs."
Of course, Ivory took the opportunity to walk up to Morning Star, just to touch her a bit more.
"So, you are wondering how we can pull those big things, right?"
"Teamwork! And that's why you are here, actually. Sophie said that you never pulled anything together, so she asked for my help to show you the ropes."
"Well, we do pull carts already. How is this any different? Two runners pulling one cart will be even easier."
Moonlight was polite, but her questions could easily be interpreted as impatience, so it made Ivory a bit uneasy.
"Look, I know I'm just a small show pony, but I'm also a trainer. I just don't do discipline and stuff like that. I hear it is less common in the racing pony world, but it's common enough for the show ponies. Just let me get you started, okay? It will all make sense very soon. Sophie had a reason to bring you here."
"I'm sorry... I didn't mean to argue. So, what are we doing?"
"Well, first, I want to see your style. Since it's beautiful today, we will work in the outside paddock. Follow me."
The three girls headed to a side door leading outside. Morning Star and Moonlight picked at each other using low voice; they looked quite funny wearing those thigh-high boots. Morning Star had nice black ones, but Moonlight could only fit a pair of pink ones, which was rather embarrassing.
"There, Moonlight, you go first. Give me one lap, and it will give me an idea of how you run."
There was no need to ask her twice. Moonlight was more than happy to get her legs moving. She initiated an effortless sprint, showing off her unlimited power. But immediately, Ivory arm-waved and started screaming!
"Heeey! Cooome back! That's not how I want you to do it! Come baaack!"
Moonlight aborted her run and walked back to Ivory.
"What did I do?"
"Nothing, we are just not here to sprint... just a slow trot will do. Try again."
This time, Moonlight just trotted lightly, in an under challenging way. To her, this wouldn't even qualify as a warm-up session. As she slowly progressed around the paddock, Ivory observed her and took some mental notes, and also let out a surprised noise.
"Oh! I see. Okay, your turn Morning Star!"
Once more, Ivory analyzed the second runner's gait while Moonlight came back from her turtle-slow lap, inquiring about her performance.
"So, how was I?"
"She is so amazing..."
"Ivory! How was my run?"
"Oh... It was okay, I suppose..."
"Well, I didn't expect any of you two to be as gracious as trained show ponies, but you were very heavy... Morning Star is floating around in comparison."
"... Very heavy?"
"Okay, Morning Star, come back!"
Moonlight had the same expression on her face as Morning Star, who was walking back, and it was saying, "what are we doing here?" But before they had an opportunity to voice their opinion, Ivory presented them with the next weird exercise.
"Good, now hold each other's hand and do another lap at the same pace."
Ivory frowned at the lack of enthusiasm from the two racing ponies. She grabbed their wrists and forced their hands together.
"I thought you two were friends. Come on! Trot now! Don't be childish."
Moonlight didn't like being called childish, so she initiated the trot, not even asking Morning Star if was ready, which made her jerk sideways uncomfortably.
"Heeey, Moon! Relax! You almost dislocated my shoulder."
"Well, you just had to be ready!"
"Ah yeah? Are you ready for this, then?"
Morning Star easily bounced ahead of Moonlight; it was her turn to be in the lead and tug the young pony awkwardly. Ivory, watching this scene of horror, placed her two hands on her head and yelled at them with her little voice.
"Guuuys! What are you doiiing? Stoppp! That's not the exercise! This is not a competition!"
It turned out that Morning Star won the lap by a nose length because she pulled on Moonlight's arm in a way to make her lose balance just at the right moment, which made her land face first in the dirt. Morning Star, victorious, lifted her arms in the air.
"I won! Ah!"
"Let's do this again! This time you'll see!"
"Guys! It was not supposed to be a race! Haven't you ever worked together before?"
"Uh? No, but I won."
"I didn't win only because of those weird pink boots."
"Oh, my... Okay, come back here. We will try something else."
It must have been the first time that poor Ivory faced two students who had no interest in show ponies. They had no teamwork basis at all and turned everything into a competition.
"Okay, this time, you will be arm in arm, and you'll TROT. It's not a race, so stop running like maniacs. The goal is to learn to work together. I want you to trot around the paddock and stay side by side as much as possible."
"Ah, come on. Not again!"
Ivory walked to Moonlight and grabbed her wrist. She led her to Morning Star, who was still not sure about all of this.
"There, Moonlight. You'll be the outside runner and Morning Star the inside one. Come on, arm in arm... And if you turn this into a competition this time, I'll tell Sophie!"
"She is not here..."
"Come on, trot now! Don't make my life more difficult than it is."
For a ponygirl who claimed not to be a bossy trainer, she had a way to say things to show her irritation. Her two little hands pushed the two tall ponygirls' back.
Moon and Star started trotting, but it only took a second before they began whining at each other.
"I'm not! You are!"
"You are kicking me with your hoof."
"Well, if you were running straight, it wouldn't happen."
Ivory returned her hands on top of her bleached hair, shaking her head in disbelief. The regrets of accepting this job for her friend Sophie started to grow. Maybe it had not been her wisest decision to try to help with this.
The thing with Sophie was that she had an authority position. She would have never allowed this kind of tug of war between her two ponies and would have quickly resolved the matter either with direct words or her riding crop. Ivory had no such tools that she could use to coerce them to listen.
She frowned her white brows and called them back. She would need to use a different approach.
"Okay, that's enough, come back!"
"Let my arm go! Ivory said to come back!"
"Don't tell me what to do! You are the one holding me!"
When the two ponies finally approached, pushing each other, Ivory interposed her small body between the two frustrated ponies and separated them.
"Okay, that's enough! This is ridiculous. Moonlight, go sit over there for now."
"What? She was the one making this impossible, and I'm the one getting punished?"
"You are not punished. I can only work with one of you at a time. I need to make you experience something that, clearly, you have never learned, and I would go as far as saying that you don't even know existed. Go sit. I'll start with Morning Star, and then I'll do the same exercise with you. I promise."
Reluctantly, Moonlight went to sit on top of the wooden fence and just stayed silent while Ivory, who slid an arm around Morning Star's elbow, explained what they were going to do next. However, that instruction set was undoubtedly the shortest one ever.
"Just run the way you want... Don't worry about me. Just don't sprint. I can't go as fast as you, but for the rest, I don't care. Just run. It's up to you. Choose the pace and style."
Morning Star felt very strange having this little white ponygirl holding on to her arm. Ivory looked much more fragile than Moonlight, so she didn't want to do anything that could potentially hurt her. A light trot would probably be a good start.
The elite pony got her hooves moving, slowly, and Ivory started to giggle almost immediately.
"Hehe. Nothing. It's silly... I just didn't think I would ever get to do this children's exercise with the best pony in the world."
"That was before my accident. Who knows what I'll be able to accomplish now..."
"I'm sure you'll be fine, and you'll win everything again! Go a bit faster if you want. Change your speed as you like. Let's do a couple of laps together."
Picking up the pace, Morning Star was wondering if Ivory was just doing this to spend intimate time with her. The white show pony was a big fan of her, and running arm in arm like this was probably a nice fantasy fulfilled.
But then, she realized something odd. There was no pulling, tugging, pushing around her arm. She looked at Ivory, who was just there, all relaxed, matching her gait perfectly as if it was an innate thing to do. On top of that, she continued chatting as if there were nothing special going on.
"So, do you really think you can win the Triple Crown? It's very different from what you are used to."
"I... I think I can win everything I want to win, or else I would not be a good racing pony. With Sophie, I feel I can do anything! But... How... How are you doing this? How can you follow me so perfectly?"
"Just run, Morning Star, and don't worry about me. Just go as fast as you feel like going."
A bit mesmerized by what was happening, Morning Star brusquely accelerated as if to test something. She attempted to throw Ivory off-balance, but it didn't work at all. The little white pony was still clinging to her arm, and it felt as if she wasn't running at all.
"So, how fast is this compared to your top speed?"
"I'm not sure... Fifty percent, maybe?"
"What? Really? How can you go that fast? You are so amazing! I'm so jealous."
"Ivory ... How are you doing this?"
"Shhh... Let's just do two more laps, as I said, keep changing your speed as you want."
The small pony leaned her head on Morning Star's shoulder, enjoying the moment tremendously. This exercise was for learning, but to get to do this with her heroine was surely going to make her show pony friends dead jealous.
Morning star alternated from a walk to trot to gallop, and there was nothing she could do to shake off the alabaster-colored creature at her side. After their last lap, they stopped not far from where Moonlight was sitting. Ivory was all smiles and asked for feedback, visibly happy to have finally managed to demonstrate what teamwork was all about.
"So? How did it feel?"
"Incredible... You matched everything I did so perfectly."
"Good. Go sit and tell Moonlight to come here."
Still baffled by what had happened, Morning Star went to fetch her racing friend, who was staring back at her in disbelief.
"What was that about? Are you a couple or what?"
"Hehe. It's your turn, Moon. Did we look good?"
"You looked like you two did this all your life. Are you sure you didn't know her before coming here?"
"I swear... I knew her name because she is Sophie's friend, but I've never met her before. She did all the work... Go try, you'll see. It's nuts."
"I don't think it's gonna go that well for me..."
After jogging for the past hour through the arid barren land to save time, Hemlock finally arrived at the nearest village. It was such a warm day; she was panting heavily, trying to get more air inside her exerted lungs. None of the few people that had crossed her path so far had recognized her, so she started wondering if she should have put her suit and harness on before leaving the stable to be more recognizable. It certainly would have been the nail in the coffin if Brittany had found out; no, not to touch that harness without permission again was the right thing to do.
Her cheap sweat-drenched t-shirt and shorts didn't make her look too attractive, but surely some people would recognize her and give her money in exchange for a picture or a signature; that was the goal of this stunt. She entered the small village, and there were not a lot of people outside. The extreme heat forced people to stay inside their homes today.
There was a little fountain in the middle of the place, so Hemlock trotted to it; her thirst couldn't really wait anymore. She cupped some cool water with her hands and splashed her boiling face with it. After drinking enough to quench her thirst and repeating the face-splashing a few more times, she sat on the fountain's ledge to assess her situation.
"What now? Brittany would know what to do to attract a crowd. Why are they not recognizing me? The last time we did this with Nightshade, we got swarmed by a huge crowd of fans. This place is much smaller, but still. Don't they watch ponygirl races?"
This was not the same, indeed. People were sparsely walking around her, sometimes looking at her out of curiosity, but nobody noticeably reacted to her presence. After fifteen minutes of nothing, she decided to be a bit more forthcoming and went to talk to people around the village. Perhaps if she explained who she was, it would trigger the expected mass hysteria. News traveled fast in small towns after all.
She walked around in search of potential fans. Four men were drinking at a table in front of a tavern, so she chose them as her first target.
"I'm John, nice meeting you. You are all sweaty. Do you need a drink?"
They just stared at her, waiting for her next move. She didn't think of hitting a dead end so quickly. They had no idea who she was; at least it didn't look like it.
"I'm... a famous ponygirl."
Self-promotion was not Hemlock's strong point.
"... okay? Yes, the horseshoes gave, you know. Can we help you with something?"
"I... I need a hundred dollars."
"Well, there is a bank over there... It's the second street on your right."
"... T... Thank you."
She turned around in shame and looked at the ground while walking away. Why did asking for money feel so awkward? Paul and Brittany did it all the time, and they didn't seem to feel bad about it; it even made them happy. Why did she feel like shit while doing the same?
A bit farther, Hemlock spotted a small group of women chit-chatting in the street while trying hats from a stand in front of a store. She walked up to them with her best smile.
"Hello... oh... Poor you, did you fall in the water?"
"... Uh? What? Oh... No, this is just sweat!"
The women frowned and stepped back, repulsed. Hemlock was indeed not looking too fresh, and their reaction made her feel self-conscious about it. Brittany had always been the one making sure she looked good and appealing, it was a bit shameful for Hemlock to understand that a lot of her attraction power came from it.
She tried to go back to her topic, knowing it would probably not go too well after such a first impression.
"I... I am Hemlock..."
"The racing pony?"
"YES!... I mean... yes... It's me."
"Are you lost?"
"Heee... No, but ... I wondered if you'd like an autograph... or a picture?"
"That's something our husbands would like, but without the pony outfit, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't care that much."
"Well, if you give me a few dollars, I could—"
"What? Are you asking for money on top of that? If you want to get paid, at least make an effort to look presentable! Alright, girls, let's go. There is a strange smell around here."
The women just ignored Hemlock’s plea and walked away. They were not entirely wrong; who would like a picture of a ponygirl who wasn't looking like one.
Depressed, she walked back to the fountain and sat back on the ledge, trying to think of a solution to gather the money she needed for her secret plan.
"Dad! Look... Look... Is that... Hemlock?"
"I think you may be right... It looks like her."
Hemlock lifted her chin to look at the people who had seemingly identified her. It was a father and a daughter of ten or twelve years old. The young girl had such a happy expression on her face. Hemlock recognized that emotion as she has seen it on so many young girls since she became famous.
"What are you waiting for, go see her, hehe."
"Yes, one sec ..."
Encouraged by her father, the young girl placed her backpack on the ground and unzipped it. She dug out a colorful pen and a magazine... a racing magazine. The girl jogged toward Hemlock with a shy look on her face.
"You... You are Hemlock, right?"
"Yes, I am!"
"I .. I am... a HUGE fan of you and Nightshade. You are the best. You are so pretty."
"Thank you. You are beautiful too... Nice meeting you."
"Aww! Can... Can you sign my magazine?"
This was the one scene that was supposed to happen from the get go. Fans were supposed to converge to her, and it was a relief to see that the magic, even if weaker, had not entirely vanished. A young kid like this was one of the targets that Paul and Brittany would dive on like falcons to strip it from its money.
"Do you have any money?"
"... You... You need money for your autograph?"
"... I don't have money... but... I will go ask my dad... but I'm not sure he has any either because he lost his job last month."
The young girl placed her magazine and pen on the ground in front of Hemlock's hooves and started to walk back to her father to obtain currency.
Hemlock's heart sank. Her eyes landed on the magazine resting at her feet, and on its cover, was a photo of Nightshade and her sitting on a haystack. This image came from their latest photoshoot, and they looked stunning and inspiring. In bold, the big title was burning her eyes with the flames of shame.
"Hemlock and Nightshade: Role models of a generation."
"How girls and women of all ages felt empowered by the success of the two beautiful ponygirls and took back ownership of their body!"
Hemlock got hit by a wave of pain. Inside her head, the words from Stardust resonated like the bell of good luck. "You'll be fearless and resilient. You'll never give up!" She remembered those words that had changed her life. The name she had received on that day turned her into something extraordinary.
What would this small girl remember from this special day? What words would be engraved in her soul for the rest of her life? "Do you have any money?" That was so wrong and disgusting. What was this? Why did she even think this would be a good idea?
What Brittany and Paul did during all those years was to shield Hemlock from this dark side of the business. They accepted the devil's role to allow her to act genuinely with her fans without carrying the burden of shame. Now that Hemlock had tried to wear the devil's hat, it was not feeling good at all. It was a huge mistake.
"WAIT! Come back!"
"... But... The money..."
"No, no. I misspoke. I'm sorry about that, come here, can you show me this magazine? I haven’t read it and would like to see it."
"Sure! Haha! That's so great!"
The young girl rushed back to Hemlock, picked up the magazine, and sat on the fountain's ledge close to her idol. She flipped a couple of pages, showing her the pictures she liked best.
"See, this one is my favorite. It's you and Nightshade hugging Brittany. Brittany is so awesome, I think."
"She can have some good moments, yes."
"I mean... What she said to Tiantang Zhi Ma was not okay, right? And they banned her for it, right? But I'm sure she regrets it very much. I'm sure she is not a bad person, right?"
"Yes, you are right. Brittany is not a bad person. But she makes very big mistakes sometimes."
"I wish I could meet her, and Nightshade too."
This discussion was full of innocence, of course. The young girl had no idea who Brittany was or how nasty she could be, nor knew anything about Nightshade. But in her heart, it was real, and it fuelled her passion.
"I'll tell you what. Do you want to become a ponygirl?"
"Yes. I train hard already."
"Oh, you do? Hehe. Do you have a ponygirl name?"
"No... I can't choose one."
"I'll give you a name then. You can keep it if you like it. Then, when you are old enough to race, I'll go watch you. So make sure you send me letters to tell me."
"... You... You are going to give me a name?"
"Yes... Athena. You'll be intelligent and full of wisdom. You will win because of this."
"A... Athena?... I LOVE IT! THANK YOU!"
"Hehe... Let me sign this magazine now."
Hemlock felt good. She had corrected her wrongdoing and provided someone with the same goodness that she once had received.
She signed the magazine, taking one last good look at the beautiful picture of her and her lover, and gave it back to Athena.
"Thank you so much, Hemlock, you are the best!"
"Athena, can you give me a big hug before leaving!"
She didn't have to ask twice. The small girl jumped in her arm and squeezed her really hard and long... until...
Hemlock looked at the person who just took the picture, and it was not the girl's father. She let Athena go and sent her away.
"Goodbye, Athena, we will see each other again soon. I'm sure of it."
"Byyye, Hemlock! I love you!"
Hemlock stood up and turned to the man.
"You are a reporter, aren't you?"
"Yes... I didn't know it was okay for ponies to beg for money in exchange for hugs."
"That's not what happened..."
"Well, someone from the village gave me a quick call saying that a famous ponygirl was walking around asking for money. I was around and found you here, Hemlock. This is going to be one juicy headline."
"... What do you want from me?"
"Well, do you still need money?"
"I can help... I'm a huge fan of ponygirls, you know. How much do you need?"
"... a hundred dollars."
"Oh, a nice sum for a ponygirl... I'll tell you what. We can rent a hotel room, and if you are acting nice, I'll give you your hundred bucks."
"You know I can reach your head with my hoof. Would you like to have a horseshoe embossed in your forehead for the rest of your life?"
Hemlock had a lover, Nightshade. Since they were together, she was not remotely open to having sex with anybody else, and clearly, that offer was abusive. Blackmailing her wouldn't be enough to abandon her principles.
"Alright, alright, no need for violence. Don't blame a man for trying. Alternatively, I think you own something that I would love to have, and it's probably worth a hundred dollars."
"What is it?"
"Something rather exclusive... and it’s even more valuable since you ran from Paul's stable all the way here on a very hot day."
"What are you talking about? What do you want from me? I have nothing."
"Ah, Hemlock... Think hard before you say no. For the hundred dollars, and my silence about all of this, well... I want your sweaty panties."
Hemlock developed a new trauma.