Chapter 9 - The Fastest Pony on Earth, Duo (Part 3)
"That's not good…"
"Nope… Not good…"
"Not at all. Things are happening as they are supposed to."
"Meaning that life is like a raging sea at times, and we can't control it."
"Deep… but true."
Invisibly sitting in the stands among a mass of excited people, Tiantang Zhi Ma and Penny watched the small drivers guide their ponygirls to their assigned gates. As if this was a bad joke from the Gods, Sophie was given gate number one, and Brittany was given gate number two. Any other combination than this would have been preferable. The two drivers may have survived some time together in a prison cell, but here, with their competitive spirits, a spark would be enough to ignite a catastrophe.
Penny and Tiang could already tell that the two drivers were throwing invectives at each other already, but they could do nothing about it from where they were. Before the race, Penny had carefully explained to Sophie that her suspension lift was a miracle and it was critical for her to keep her mouth shut even if taunted by her harsh enemy. It was only fair to assume that Stardust had strongly encouraged Brittany to do the same.
But, as Penny had so poetically stated, life could sometimes be a raging sea.
"SCREW YOU, IDIOT!"
"NO! YOU DIE!"
Morning Star and Moonlight briefly looked at each other, almost wishing that Penny had let Ivory drive them during this last race. Ivory was noisy and a bit of an airhead, but at least she didn't bring such verbal violence with her on race days. As for Hemlock and Nightshade, even if they had seen Brittany at her worst over the years, they couldn't entirely repress the thought that running with Xiuying as a driver during the past two races had been somewhat peaceful.
But ponies being ponies, they didn't have the freedom of choice. Instead, they had to wait for the track official to give their respective drivers a substantial warning to shut up, or else they would get disqualified. The tension was so high between them that the ponies assigned to gate number three were too terrified to enter it.
It would be that kind of day again.
Even though six teams were ready to race, everybody, both on the track and in the stands, secretly knew that this ultimate competition would only be between Penny's stable and Stardust's stable after witnessing the insanity of the two past races. It wouldn't have been polite to voice it, but they knew.
And they also knew one essential detail. No teams had won the three Triple Crown races for the past twenty-five years. It was downright impossible to be this good in all three races. Winning them all in the same year would grant the victors a legendary status, meaning that they would forever be regarded as heroes. Looking at the past two races was sufficient to understand the full extent of the competitors' challenge. It could have easily gone both ways. Stardust could have won one of the two races and put a nail in the coffin of Penny's dream. The Triple Crown races were the hardest in the world for a reason.
Yet, Morning Star and Moonlight won them. Therefore, the dream was still alive. And not only that, it was the way they won as well. If it could even be called that, their racing strategy had been downright terrible and made their life so much more difficult. They started behind everybody in both races and had to sprint the whole track to win. For lack of better terms, what they did was mystical.
And the crowd knew… everybody knew…
What happened during the past two races wasn't supposed to happen, and as a side effect, people rightfully expected a repeat of the same. They were thirsty for another tight race. They were thirsty for another catastrophic start just so they could witness another miraculous comeback, one that would create a myth. In their minds, no other scenario should happen. It was as if history was already written for Morning Star and Moonlight, and if their performance were to deviate the slightest from that narration, they would get crucified and very possibly be labeled as losers for the rest of eternity.
Fortunately, the two racers were a bit clueless. Sure, Morning Star could sense some febrility in the air, but it was not that different from all her previous Super Cup Championship. She was, after all, considered the fastest pony on Earth, and her countless victories were a testament to her experience. Winning the Triple Crown would be nice and ensure Penny's stable survival, but she had so much self-control that it didn't trigger any particular emotions.
Moonlight, her, she didn't care. At the end of the day, she was here because Tiantang Zhi Ma and Xiuying had asked her to. Along the way, she had learned to keep her mouth shut and just do what she was good at. Another win wouldn't hurt, but she didn't know what was going on in the grand scheme of things.
After being scolded severely by the track official, her first and last warning, Sophie returned her attention to her ponies.
"Star, Moon, listen. We are lucky enough to have the inner lane this time, but keep in mind that this track is five hundred meters longer than the two previous ones. It's long… very long. So don't push too hard right at the beginning. If someone is crazy enough to pass us and take the lead, then it's their problem. We will deal with that later. Just do what I tell you to."
Morning Star turned her head and stared at Sophie for a moment. Something wasn't right, something that was enough to pull her out of her emotionless zone and cause anxiety.
"Oh! Don't look at me like that, Star! Put your forehead back on the gate right now."
"Would you stop! I know very well what Penny said, and I disagree with her. So, you follow my lead, and if something goes wrong, I'll be the one facing Penny later, not you. But I certainly won't let you do something as reckless as last time. You hear me?"
Morning Star returned her forehead to the metal gate, but this wasn't right.
In a stable, there was a hierarchy. The owner, Penny, managed the stable and scheduled the events, among other things, and Sophie, the driver, trained the ponies and made them race on event days. As defined and separated as those roles were, there was a clear order of things. Penny was the big boss, and if Penny decided about anything in any facet of the sport, it was absolute. Even Sophie would have to obey. Failure to do so would mean getting fired.
As a matter of fact, Penny had given such an order only a moment ago, in the stall, just before they walked to the track. She said:
"Sophie. Let them run however they want."
Morning Star didn't like this one bit. She didn't want to be in charge for the third time. She wanted Sophie to drive and tell them what to do like before. Like she was suggesting right now.
But, that command was from Penny herself. As much as she hated that directive, it had to be obeyed. And now, Sophie said the opposite and wanted to manage the race. That wasn't cool at all.
Stuck between her obedience and her desire not to be in charge, Morning Star became all twitchy. Through her black latex skin, her muscles spasmed, her hoof scraped the sand, she banged her head on the metal gate, unable to stay still and focus. Her harness felt uncomfortable, and her bit was too deep in her mouth. For one rare time, she wanted to talk about this.
But there was no time.
What to do? What to do?
The gate would open in a few seconds, and it would be too late to decide who she was siding with. Was Sophie even aware of this dilemma that she had caused?
Distress… Profound distress. Penny or Sophie? Who should she listen to? Penny's demand was extremely clear, but Sophie's doubts were fully justified.
She banged her head hard on the rusty metal gate, causing some old caked sand to fall off it, and triggering Sophie's ire.
"HEY! What are you doing!? Don't do that, Star! You'll hurt yourself!"
"STOP IT! What's wrong with you! Stop!"
Oh, it hurt. But at least, the impact on her skull prevented her from overthinking her situation. She repeated this self-torture between every number of the countdown, hoping that it would bring her some sort of clarity, or perhaps prevent it. The gate resonated so loudly that she couldn't hear Sophie's panic anymore.
At the precise moment when Morning Star smashed her forehead on the gate again, the doors slammed open, providing her with an unexpected momentum. This unplanned motion was enough to get her going. Moonlight, synchronized by this very unusual metronome, had her first career perfect start. The two black-clad ponygirls bolted forward with a head start on everybody else.
It was too late to think, so Morning Star just ran, helped by her powerful companion.
"Heeeey! Slow down! Slow down! Didn't you listen to a word I said?"
It was stupid. Nobody in the history of racing ever began the longest race in the world with a sprint. Doing so would result in early exhaustion, and no matter how big the gap created by such a foolish maneuver was, it would all be lost. It was a matter of time and how well the trailing ponies had managed their race. It was an unalterable fact.
In the current situation, it meant that if Sophie didn't get control back of her panicked leading pony soon, this race would be lost before they even reached the first turn. But it was easier said than done because Morning Star had never behaved this way, and Sophie wasn't too sure what was going on in her pony's head.
"NO! HEMLOCK! Let her go! LET HER GO! This is SO stupid!"
Sophie wasn't the only one who had problems. Brittany also had trouble controlling her ponies, but it was for a very different reason. Hemlock and Nightshade had bolted out of the gate almost perfectly, which was a good thing, but trying to keep up with that imbecile black team next to them was not the right thing to do.
Yet, Hemlock didn't do anything wrong. Actually, she was doing precisely what she was told to do, and it was Brittany's responsibility to carry. Brittany had hammered her racing strategy in her ponies' heads all week before this race. It was an ultimate race, and it was out of the question to finish second for the third time in a row. Her goal was clear. Winning, or at the very least, giving Penny's team a run for their money. Her strategy was simple; do not let Sophie and her retarded ponies take the lead at any point in the race. In her mind, Brittany knew that her ponies were very capable of keeping up with the bests. Racing this way came with some risks, as it was pretty much relying on another team's strategy to be successful, but it wasn't an unreasonable approach in this instance.
So all week, Brittany repeated the same message over and over. No matter the cost, do not fall behind.
So, no, Hemlock wasn't doing anything wrong by trying to keep up with Morning Star and Moonlight. This early sprint was unexpected, but if her enemies were capable of it, so was she. And Brittany's voice seemed to be background noise at the moment. She had been given her strategy, and what her driver was telling her didn't seem aligned with the role she needed to play.
So, despite the yells, she sprinted, and so did her companion, Nightshade. It was hard, it hurt already, but they applied what they had to do. They were not falling behind and even started to take the lead, as if a foot ahead could be considered a lead.
As expected, the rest of the competitors just didn't exist anymore, or at the very least, they quickly had fallen into irrelevance.
Unable to regain control of her racing machine, Brittany turned her hate to Sophie, who was right next to her.
"Sophie! STOP THIS! Are you stupid or what?"
"SHUT UP! It's not me!"
"What do you mean it's not you, moron? Slow down and race like a pro. You are going to make both of us look like idiots!"
There was that too.
A large number of spectators in the stands and even more watching on TV was not going to forgive this. Today, they expected to see the best. Two incredible teams engaged in merciless battle. One would fight to become a legend, and the other would become a destroyer of dreams. No matter which one would succeed, it would be satisfying. But if the two teams were to perform in an execrable manner, there would only be anger left. The crowd would feel betrayed as soon as their illusions would turn into dry sand. For Penny and Stardust, there would be nothing left in this racing world but shame.
"STAR! I SAID, SLOW DOWN!"
Seeing Sophie screaming at her elite pony felt very strange. At first, Brittany didn't believe it, but the more she heard those words that she should ignore, the more her understanding of the situation solidified.
This race would be a disaster—a representation of her entire life. A smile mixed with rage appeared on her face…
"… Alright… So be it… HEMLOCK! NIGHTSHADE! YAAAAAA! FASTER!"
This was comforting. Hemlock smiled behind her bit as her directives were no longer conflicting. Underneath her pink latex skin, her powerful muscles engaged in the most satisfying way.
The two teams began a race of life and death, one that didn't seem to head toward a good ending. Halfway through the first turn, Sophie, Morning Star, Moonlight, Brittany, Hemlock, and Nightshades were already way ahead of the competition. It was only the two teams gliding on the oversized dirt track. The sheer size of the oval made them look even smaller from afar. It was as if two shooting stars, a black one and a pink one, pierced the night sky portrayed by the black dirt.
Ages ago, a forgotten time, a legendary ponygirl had raced on this same ground. She was a woman from another era where there was no TV or even radio. It was said that she was the best, and nobody could ever break her records, even the most gifted modern-day racers. It was also said that, back then, latex suits weren't a thing and that the ponygirls were proudly racing naked, only wearing their pony gears. Hers was made of leather and ornate with pure gold. It was said that her bridle was the most beautiful ever made and that only the most worthy racers would be allowed to wear it.
That said, after the great fire of 1871, most of the written records of the ancient ponygirls, the pioneers, were destroyed. Only a few distorted elements survived the test of time until today. Nobody knew if the Golden ponygirl's track records were authentic or how they compared to today's performances.
About fifty years ago, when a random racer showed up on the Super Cup track wearing a bridle made of gold, allegedly found in a second-hand shop, the legend of the golden pony was revived. Unfortunately for the wearer, her performances were poor, proving that this special gear wouldn't grant its powers to anybody. This racer retired, and the golden bridle vanished once more and has never been seen since then.
Today, on the track, nobody wore a golden bridle. It was said that the legendary bridle would be the one finding a racer and not the other way around, and this was exactly why the spirit of the golden ponygirl had placed this precious object in the hands of the most improbable person as if to ensure it wouldn't resurface without reason.
Several weeks ago…
"What's in the box?"
"Nothing! And stop asking."
"What's in the box?"
"Aaah! I'm just curious, that's all… Your little interaction with the store owner creeped me out. That was the weirdest person I've ever met."
"Whatever! Forget it. We have your new pony gears, and I'll put you to work as soon as we get home."
"Pfff… You got me a suit with boob holes, worn-out pony boots, an old leather harness that looks manly, and a rusty bridle…"
"Well, you still seem happy…"
"Yes, because you generously bought me my cowboy hat."
"You didn't leave me a choice. You kept whining and refused to leave the store without it. You can be so annoying."
"So… What's in the box?"
Back to the present…
"Give me some room, Britt! You are going to hit us!"
"Mind your own business, Sophie!"
"Morning Star! Pleeease! Slow down!"
For the fiftieth time, Sophie implored her ponies to stop sprinting. It was already too late, though. They were halfway through the race, and even if she managed to regain control, it was unlikely that they would have enough energy to keep a decent pace until the end. That race was nothing less than over for them and also for Brittany's team, who was too stubborn and proud to give up. Instead, by their annoying presence at their side, they pushed Morning Star and Moonlight even harder.
Nobody had noticed, but something was unusual. After sprinting half this track, Hemlock and Nightshade were at their limits, and rightfully so. If one were to look at the stopwatch, he would see that both teams had crushed the previous track records for the two first quarters. Even if this feat of strength was a harbinger of bad news, it was an achievement worth mentioning. The foam at their mouth was proof that they had put all they had on the track today.
But on their left were two ponygirls wearing black latex, and even if they had achieved a similar prowess, they didn't seem to suffer as much, and it was because of one subtle element; Moonlight.
The young ponygirl didn't know better. Running all her life in a desert to escape a world that displeased her was all she knew, really. Even now, the title "ponygirl" didn't suit her very much. Sure, she loved to run, she wanted to run, but everything else was blurry in her mind. Winning, losing, what could be the difference? Yes, the goal was to save Penny's stable from an unfortunate closure, but outside that, what was all the fuss about this event? She didn't know, she didn't care. Here and now, she had promised her help and was also promised that she could accomplish anything she wanted. If she wanted to win this third race, she apparently could, as per what Tiantang Zhi Ma had explained to her while being on the verge of death in the middle of a desert. Running away from opportunities like this was possibly not a good thing.
So Moonlight was here, running on this famous track, following Morning Star's pace and trying to take as much load as possible off her. Pull the cart and follow. That was her job, and it wasn't entirely unpleasant.
It was not that hard.
Even if she didn't know how much easier she made it for Morning Star to run, she at least knew that she was doing her part, and in the back of her mind, she suspected that it might have been a bigger part. After the last two races, she had regularly heard Morning Star telling Penny and company that "Moonlight did all the work." Was this out of modesty, or did she really mean it?
On the one hand, without Morning Star dictating the pace so consistently during this race and being a role model to copy a perfect form, Moonlight knew that she probably would be lost. After all, she had caused so much trouble lately due to her inability to start the races well and her misunderstanding of what it meant to be a ponygirl. Today, it did go much better, but it hasn't always been like that, so she was very happy to have Morning Star at her side.
On the other hand, she still felt a bit puzzled as neither Sophie nor Morning Star seemed to understand what she was really capable of. So far, the most challenging activity she had done with Sophie was at the very beginning of her training when she made her pull a sleigh full of heavy concrete blocks. Dragging it around the inside paddock at Penny's stable had been pretty much the most difficult task she had performed, one that brought her down to her knees. She had wished that Sophie would have let her do it again, but unfortunately, that desire had been repeatedly quenched because "it's too dangerous for your knees" or "I need to keep Morning Star and you well balanced, or it could cause more problems." Those arguments against the intense exercise weren't void of sense, but they did feel like it was holding her back.
Moonlight wondered what would happen if she were to disobey again and give more than she was asked to. She had done it in the past, and it had led to big trouble. But on some occasions, it had led to good things, like during the first Triple Crown race, when she pulled the cart very hard during the last few seconds to secure a victory.
So far, the three Triple Crown races were the most fun because Morning Star had decided to go very fast right off the bat and all the annoying strategy portion was out the window. Moonlight could hear Sophie trying hard to slow her lead pony down for some obscure reason, which would inevitably cause Morning Star to be scolded after the race, but this confusing disobedience felt right.
If Morning Star could break the rules, perhaps Moonlight could sneak in some disobedience of her own. Because they were only halfway through the track, there was time to take time. If she were careful about it and slowly introduced some initiative, perhaps Sophie wouldn't notice.
It could work…
After all, in the grand scheme of things, Morning Star and Moonlight weren't nearly as smart as Sophie and her many years of experience on the professional circuit. The small driver had studied the ponygirl world since she was little.
Moonlight took a brief look on her left, just enough so Sophie wouldn't notice, and what she saw was different. There was some sadness in Morning Star's eye as if she had done something wrong, or perhaps it was a call for help as if she wasn't sure what to do anymore. To be fair, what Penny did to Morning Star was a bit harsh. Telling her elite pony to take complete charge of the three most important races in the world, and placing the fate of an entire stable on her shoulder, when she had been trained all her life to do the complete opposite. That wasn't very cool. Even if it had yielded dividends so far, Morning Star was probably sick of it. The fastest ponygirl in the world probably wished to return to the old ways and turn her brain off again.
Morning Star and Moonlight had this in common.
They just wanted to run.
This professional environment, where they had to manage their race, where there was a beginning and an end to their exercise, felt, at times, suffocating. Yes, winning was fun and rewarding. Knowing that they beat other powerful racers was good for the ego, and the trophies were shiny, but it was also constraining and dampened the pleasure. On a few occasions, Moonlight had seen Sophie letting Morning Star run freely in the nearby desert before dinner when the sun was going down, and she looked so happy to zigzag between rocks and kick some cactuses.
In a way, a racing track felt like a prison. There were fences on each side, the runners could only go in one direction, there were lots of weird rules, supposedly for safety reasons, and it had a limit. Everybody had to stop past the finish line, regardless of what the racers wanted. It would have been nice to trot some more for a while after a race, just for fun, just to play with the other ponies, but it wasn't allowed.
Yes, that must have been why Morning Star looked a bit sad today.
Moonlight really wanted to help in this many ways. Take the load off Morning Star's shoulders and turn this restrictive setup into an open field, a playground. Running for pleasure would undoubtedly cheer up Morning Star.
What about Sophie?
After this race, no matter the result, Moonlight was supposed to return to Tiantang stable anyway. And from that point of view, it was only logical to use this last race with Sophie and Morning Star to have fun. After that, this Triple Crown adventure would be over.
Moonlight playfully pulled on the cart, making it jerk while sending a gagged smile to Morning Star.
I want to run with you…
"HEY! Moonlight! Don't do that! We almost hit the railing!"
This time, Morning Star made the cart jerk, just to answer Moonlight's playful move, which almost caused it to hit Brittany's. The two teams were still very much side by side, and there was not a lot of room for mistakes.
"STAR! What are you doooing!? What are you BOTH doing!?"
The track turned into a desert where the two ponies could run to their heart content, the same way wild ponies did. There were no more rules, no more restrictions, no more strategy. There were just two ponies who decided to play with each other amid the most important race in the world.
Today, winning was no longer important. They had already won.
Freedom. The ultimate prize.
And then, Moonlight began pulling. And then Morning Star challenged her to pull more.
The cart's wheels rattled violently on the track, sending dirt and small stones flying, leaving a trail of dust behind it.
As they accelerated, Stardust's team began falling behind. Slowly at first, but progressively faster.
No, it wasn't Hemlock and Nightshade who were slowing down. It was Morning Star and Moonlight who were going faster and faster, at a speed that didn't make any sense.
As they entered the last turn of the race, the gap between the two leading teams increased.
One length… Two lengths… three… four…
And the separation accelerated.
"What the… Okay… I see…"
Hemlock and Nightshade had given their all and were still pushing through the intense pain that this insane race had forced them to endure. Their lungs burned, their entire body burned. They would have ripped their pink latex suit off their skin if they had been allowed to.
Yes, they had given their all, more than they should have. This punishment was beyond what was reasonable, and Brittany knew it.
As Sophie's cart pulled away from them, there was only one right thing to do.
Brittany pulled on the reins, a perfect display of sportsmanship, perhaps the most important move of her career.
"Okay.. Woah… Hemlock, Nightshade. It's over… It's over… We've lost. You can slow down now. You've done well."
Admitting an unavoidable defeat before it happened was the right thing to do.
The two exhausted ponygirls gradually returned to a more casual pace, one that would be insufficient to preserve their second place. In a moment, the trailing teams would catch up and pass them.
Finishing last would be a cruel reward for having attempted to keep up with the impossible.
Ten lengths… Eleven lengths… Twelve…
There was no more race. A speechless Sophie took a quick look over her shoulder. Brittany and her two elite ponies had given up, depleted, and far behind them, the rest of the pack catching up to them.
There was no threat anymore.
There was no order anymore.
Sophie was done yelling and was now a spectator like everybody else in the stands. She just had a front and center seat to witness what was happening.
Her ponies had unleashed themselves. She had never witnessed it first hand as a driver, but she had seen this before when a pony decided that she was done listening and thought it was better to do its own thing.
The difference here was that it happened to two of them simultaneously, and it happened that they were pulling the same cart, hers.
Usually, this led to a catastrophic result. A race without a carefully applied strategy was doomed to fail.
Fifteen lengths… Sixteen lengths… seventeen…
In this case, it was the opposite.
"Alright… I see how it is… Haha… FINE! STAR! MOON! RUN! JUST RUUUN! HAHAHA!"
The speed! The wind! The undying power!
Sophie would have been a fool not to savor this moment. It was so abnormal that her brain gave up trying to understand what was happening and instead selected the route of pleasure. She only had enough common sense left not to stand on her cart as her legs begged her to do. It would have resulted in immediate disqualification.
But she wanted to. So badly. Her voice was her only outlet.
In the last straight leading to the finish line, there was no more track, no more rules, no more strategy.
A wide and beautiful desert, and an exhilarating sense of freedom.
Twenty… Twenty one… Twenty two lengths… Still increasing…
Alone in the middle of the track was the creation of a myth.
If it had not been for all those bright camera flashes, they would never have known that they had crossed the finish line. There were no such things in the desert.
With an empty tank, Brittany, Hemlock, and Nightshade exited the last turn at speed unworthy of elite racing. Going faster wasn't an option, though, as their legs felt like overcooked noodles.
"The rest of the pack is coming. Let's move to the middle lane to give them some room to pass us."
There was no room for argument. It was the right thing to do. There would be no point in trying to interfere with the race at this point. It was already over. Brittany saw the flashes at the finish line already. There was nothing else to gain from this race. Instead, she slid down on her seat and let her thoughts exit her mouth.
"You know what… If I behave today, maybe they will invite me to return to the Super Cup circuit. It would be nice not to be banned anymore. Ah! Not going to happen… They hate me… but still, it would be nice. And you know what? I'm very proud of you. You tried hard today, and even if you didn't win, to me, you are the best. I want you two to go back to the Super Cup after your suspension is over. I'll find you some promising drivers. I identified a couple of young prospects working in the amateur circuit. You'll like them. They are arrogant and hungry for wins. I don't want to do this Triple Crown crap ever again. I'm done with this shit. It's boring. You two would be so much better on the Super Cup 800 meters tracks. You can get more fame and money that way."
As Brittany was rambling about life and the future while approaching the finish line, she noticed something strange. Nobody had passed her yet, triggering her anger once more.
"What are those idiots doing? What are they… Ghk!"
When she looked over her shoulder to see what was going on, she saw the four other teams perfectly lined up behind her, matching her slow speed.
Nobody had any intention to pass her, which was infuriating. Brittany didn't need their pity.
"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING? GO! PASS US!"
"I don't think so. You and Sophie will make history today. It was a hell of a race. You should be very proud of your ponies. They gave their all."
"WHAT!? What are you talking about! PASS US!"
"I don't think so, no."
The driver of the team right behind Brittany stood up on her cart, disqualifying herself. That was enough to make Brittany's heart skip a beat.
"What the fuck are you doing!? Are you stupid or what? You just disqualified your team! You moron!"
"Yep, I suppose we will all be part of history, now. Right, girls?"
The drivers of the three remaining carts stood up and disqualified themselves as well, and they all smiled.
"You are all stupid! You know that!… But… Thanks…"
Brittany's cart crossed the finish line. Today, there would be only two times recorded and four disqualifications. The two most courageous teams and four witnesses.
This was what racing was about.
A week later…
A pickup truck drove up Penny's stable's poorly maintained gravel driveway. Aboard, two female occupants, Brittany and Cassy. Obviously, the small unstable driver wouldn't be very welcome here, so Cassy's presence could act as a white flag. They came in peace.
Brittany never thought she would come back here one day, but it was necessary. On the back seat was a small wooden box that was still as mysterious as the day she found it in a dark corner of a dusty second-hand shop.
"So… What's in the box?"
"You'll never stop asking?"
"Nope. What's in it?"
"You'll see in a minute unless Sophie shoots me down first for being here."
"Why are we coming to see her if you know she is going to kick you out?"
"I'm not coming to see her. I came to see Penny. That old hag will at least listen to me."
"Ah right. Calling them names is the perfect way to make new friends."
"Hey, Cassy! Do you want me to make you sleep in the barn again?"
"I don't mind. It's fun."
"Oh, shut up. Ah, there is Morning Star over there."
"Do you think I can get her autograph? Remember that Triple Crown race?"
"Haha. Just kidding."
Brittany parked her vehicle behind Sophie's rusty pickup truck. After letting the dry dust cloud float away, the two women stepped out. Brittany grabbed her box from the back seat and walked up to Morning Star, who was sitting in the old wooden steps in front of the house, reading a racing magazine. She didn't seem too interested or concerned about the very odd presence. After briefly looking at them, she returned her nose to her magazine, one with a picture of Moonlight and herself on the front page.
Standing in front of her, Brittany quickly understood that she wouldn't get a proper greeting, and this is why Cassy, a much friendlier face, came along. The cute helper didn't hesitate to go sit next to the elite pony in civilian clothes.
"Hi, Morning Star."
"What are you reading?"
"A special edition about the Triple Crown. It's in color. Penny got it for me."
"Nice. Can I read it with you?"
"Sure. But I'm just trying to memorize the stats."
"That's okay. I don't mind. Hey, where is Sophie?"
"With Moonlight in the interior paddock. They are grooming it."
"Nice. And where is Penny? Brittany came to see her."
The old lady pushed the door open and stepped out on the porch. She wasn't a fan of Brittany, but she was better mannered than kicking a visitor away before inquiring about the purpose of their presence.
"Brittany… What can I do for you?"
"Well… Nothing, really…"
"Interesting. So, why are you here?"
"I need to give you something and… Ow! CASSY!"
As Brittany was about to explain what she had brought, Cassy kicked her in the leg. The improbable duo had discussed something on the way here, and clearly, Brittany was on a good path to forget.
"Alright! I get it… So Penny…"
"Congratulations on your Triple Crown win. It was… something."
"Ah, yes. Something indeed. It wouldn't have been the same without your team chasing after us, Brittany. So thanks for that…"
"Mmm… yeah… Anyway…"
Brittany looked down at Cassy to make sure she wouldn't get hit in the knee again, but she got a nod approving of her good behavior. She could now proceed with her real objective.
"So… Here… This is for you… I mean, for Moonlight… I think…"
"Yeah… I'm pretty sure you'll know what it is."
Brittany extended her short arms and handed the box over to Penny, who grabbed it and casually placed it under her arm as if she had no curiosity about what it contained.
"Thank you, Brittany. I appreciate this."
"… Uh? You aren't going to open it?"
"Because I know what it is. I wasn't born yesterday."
"You may go now. I don't think it would be good if Sophie found out about your impromptu visit. I would rather avoid the drama. Thanks for bringing this to me."
"Fine… Come on, Cassy. Let's go. We're out of here."
"But… What's in the box? I want to see."
"Aaaah! Okay! Okay! Bye, Morning Star. Bye Penny."
One year later…
"You can't be serious, Moonlight!"
"Yes. I am. I'm sorry, Xiuying. Tonight is my last race."
"This makes no sense! Why would you leave pony racing now out of all times?"
"Because it's not for me. I'll use the money I made to buy a small shop somewhere. Or maybe a small farm. There is a lot of unused land around here. I grew up on a ranch, you know. My parents were not nice, but I liked living outside the city."
"Moonlight the farmer! That would be the most absurd early retirement I've ever seen. Since you returned to us, you have won every single race on the Super Cup circuit. And now you want to retire after one year?"
"Morning Star won almost all her races before I joined. I'm not that special."
"WHAT! YES, YOU ARE! You pulverized every single track record, and I'll be long dead before I see anybody even come close to your times. Don't you realize how prodigious you are?"
"A win is a win. Anyway, as I said, pony racing is just not for me. Wearing a latex suit and a fancy harness always made me feel uncomfortable."
"Moonlight! You CAN'T retire after one year! Not when you are THAT good. It would be a crime against humanity!"
"I'm not going to change my mind, Xiu. Anyway, can we go to the track now? All the best teams are here tonight, so it's going to be hard."
"No, it won't! And you know it. As usual, you'll crush them effortlessly. You are probably the strongest ponygirl who ever lived. Come, I'll put your bridle on. But we are going to discuss this later for sure. You are NOT going to retire."
"Yes, I will."
"Crap! Moonlight is racing tonight. Are you ready to fight for second place again, Morning Star?"
"Yes. I can't beat her. She broke all my records. I have none left."
"Yeah, but I won't allow you to get lazy just because of that."
"I'm never lazy, Sophie. If I am, you'll confiscate my magazines again."
"That's right. You can count on that. Alright, come here. I'll put your bridle on. We have to go to the track. I'm sure you'll perform well to impress your girlfriend."
"Ivory isn't my girlfriend. And she isn't here today. She is performing a show."
"You still have a date with her on Thursday."
"Urgh! Moonlight is here again tonight. How are we supposed ever to win again, Hemlock? She needs a league of her own."
"She is a very fast ponygirl, Britt, but I'm just happy to race against Nightshade and Morning Star."
"Yeah, I guess you are right. We are lucky to be back in the Super Cup league. Thanks to that shrimp of yours."
"She is not a shrimp. Her name is Athena. I gave her her name. For months she ran door to door collecting signatures for her petition to get your ban lifted by the Super Cup league. You should be happy instead of calling her a shrimp."
"Yeah, whatever. By the way, I did see her first race last month."
"REALLY? And you didn't tell me?"
"No, she is not worth it. She finished last during her first amateur race. She sucked."
"Brittany! ALL ponygirls lose their first amateur race. It's normal!"
"But Moonlight isn't normal."
"You got that right. Anyway, come. I'll put your bridle on. We need to go to the race track now so she can destroy us again."
"Hi, Penny. Can I sit next to you and Stardust?"
"Hi, Tiantang. Yes, by all means."
Tiantang Zhi Ma hopped over the empty seat and sat next to Penny, looking very happy as usual.
"So, Moonlight is racing tonight? I wonder if she will break her own track record again."
"Haha. She will. She is fantastic."
"Is that why you decided to retire early?"
"Yes. I preferred to leave while at the top. Anyway, I'm getting too old for racing. Morning Star is still at the top with Hemlock, and now even Nightshade can win. I wouldn't stand a chance."
"Capable of winning… when Moonlight isn't around."
"Haha. That's right."
One by one, the ponygirls entered the track and began zigzagging around to warm up. Tonight there were eight competitors, but only seven had shown up so far.
Brittany and Hemlock almost hit Sophie and Morning Star, probably deliberately.
"Hey, Britt the turd! Watch where you are going!"
"Just move your retarded pony out of the way, crab face! Leave the track to the adults."
"We will see who is the adult when I beat you tonight again."
"Again? What are you talking about? Hemlock won the last two races."
"Well, you know what I mean! She finished second."
"Yeah… I know… I know what you mean… Stupid strong Moonlight."
"Strong is kind of an understatement."
"… I know… and… talking about the wolf… Here she comes…"
And the crowd roared.
A ponygirl wearing a fiery red catsuit, the color of the Tiantang Zhi Ma stable, a basic racing harness…
… and a very special bridle, made of ancient leather and completely ornate in pure gold.
When she entered the track, she was shining as if the sun had designated her as a single target for its light.
The race was over before it even started.
Xiuying guided her legendary ponygirl toward Sophie and Brittany.
"Do you know what Moonlight just told me? She wants to retire! Please, tell her it makes no sense."
"Retire? Well, no. That would be a GREAT idea. Right, Brittany?"
"For once, I'm in total agreement with crab face. Moonlight should retire."
"HEEEY! You are not helping! You have to tell her to abandon that idea!"
"Nope… still a great idea."
"Raaah! Fine! I'll wait for you two at the finish line, then!"
"Someone is cranky."
The racetrack was always an entertaining place to be.
One by one, the ponies and their respective drivers were called to their gate.
After a short moment, the magic numbers were heard throughout the stadium…
The gates sprung open, all the ponies rushed forward, willing to give all they got to achieve victory.
It was the thrill of the race.
… And as usual…
Moonlight was already two lengths ahead of everybody before they could even reach the first turn.
Yes, the legendary ponies were just that special.