The Elements of Gaming 7
By Ryden, Xephfyre and Krimzon_Flygon
At a single glance, life in Ponyville was the same as it had ever been. The town square bustled with movement, ponies intent on going here or there. Overhead, clouds of lightest gray pranced about Celestia's brilliant sphere, casting light shadows over the populace below; Rainbow Dash had slept in again.
As Fillies and colts filed in and out of Sugarcube Corner, ready for their after-school sugar fix, Applejack had just unpacked her cart, preparing to market her wares to those who desired them. At first glance, it was all in all business as usual.
At first glance.
While the old elements of Ponyville life were still present, something new and strange had entered into the lives of its inhabitants in the past few months. Suddenly there was something new to talk about after school, a new hobby for ponies of all ages to try and master. A new store had opened on Stirrup Street, for the sole purpose of hawking this new sensation to anypony who wished to try their hoof at it.
Video games had made their debut, and just as Princess Celestia predicted, they had taken Equestria by storm.
Classmates who had never spoken to each other before found themselves engrossed in conversations with each other about the one-in-a-million headshot they pulled in the last second of a Halo Reach match, or the epic shotgun spree they had made in Gears of War. Young schoolfillies had begun going out of their way to find odd-jobs around their neighborhood, anxiously scrimping and saving for the latest hit game.
There was no denying it: video games had changed Equestria forever.
That's not to say that it was all sunshine and daises. As with anything, this new medium presented a few problems. A few of the older citizens had shown a distrust of these strange devices and their uncanny, almost hypnotic power over their children. Cheeriliee in particular showed distaste for them: some of her students had begun to miss assignments, and their hushed, incessant chatter in class about 'Covenant' and 'Geth' had begun to seriously grate on the schoolteacher's nerves.
'I suppose it's just something that comes with the package,' thought Twilight Sparkle.
The unicorn was walking briskly down Mane Street, trying to make up for lost time. As was a bit of a bad habit, she had lost track of time at the book store browsing for the latest book of mystical secrets, and had forgotten she was meeting Rainbow Dash that day.
'I hope I haven't kept her waiting.' Twilight took a turn onto Stirrup Street, her destination coming into view.
'GameHoof' was a relatively small, unassuming looking shop, but it was utterly alive with activity. Ponies of all ages filed in and out of it, gleefully skipping in to claim their prizes and rushing out again, eager to play them. Twilight maneuvered her way through the crowd, squeezed past a pair of teenage pegasi and entered the building.
"That'll be 100 bits, Madame Octavia. I hope you enjoy it!"
The gangly unicorn sitting behind the counter levitated a sack of bits into the cash register beside him, nudging an encased game toward his customer. Twilight caught quick glimpse of the cover: Eternal Sonata, an unfamiliar title to her.
The dignified earth pony gave a short nod as she placed the game in her saddlebag, then turned and walked out the door, giving Twilight a second brief nod in greeting as she passed her in the doorway.
The lavender mare returned the greeting out of courtesy, and quickly stepped inside the shop, glancing around for the one she had come here to meet.
It wasn't very hard, in all honesty - the shop wasn't that large, the shelves weren't that tall, and even if both those things had been present, it would have been quite hard to miss the rainbow-colored mane that screamed out for attention wherever a certain cyan pegasus went.
It took Twilight just a second to spot what she was looking for, and once she found it, she quickly cantered over to the rainbow streak of colors that was weaving through the shelves of the store, seemingly searching for something.
"Come on... they said they had it!" She was muttering to herself.
"What are you looking for?"
Rainbow Dash looked up, a grin splitting her face at the sight of her friend. "Thereyou are! I was wondering if you'd forgotten!"
Twilight shrugged, a sheepish look on her face. "Lost track of time at the bookstore, sorry..." She stepped up next to Rainbow Dash, staring at the numerous, colorful cases that lined the shelves, passing by dozens of new, unfamiliar titles that she didn't recognise, like Dance Central, Mass Effect, and Grand Theft Auto. "So what are you looking for?"
"There's this awesome game I heard about from Dumb-Bell." Rainbow Dash said, turning her attention back to the shelf. "It's called Burnout: it's a racing simulator where you try to knock your opponents off the track! He said I'd be really good at it! I can't disagree: I mean, I'm top of the world when it comes to racing!"
Twilight bit back her response: she barely remembered a Dumb-Bell from her brief visit to Cloudsdale for the Best Young Fliers Competition. Something told her that the idea of Rainbow Dash being good at a game revolving around crashing wasn't exactly a compliment. On the other hoof, it was admittedly an interesting idea.
"Burnout...Burnout...here it is! Oh...yikes..." Rainbow drew a hissing breath in through her teeth as she looked at the pricetag. "60 bits..." She turned to the unicorn behind the desk. "Yo, Encode! Any used copies of Burnout: Revenge?"
The unicorn turned back to a tiny PC monitor on his desk, his horn glowing as he punched in a few commands. "Lemme check...yeaaaah, we do! About...30 bits!"
Rainbow pumped a hoof triumphantly. "Yes! I'll take it!" She tossed the case back on the shelf, flying back to the counter, pulling out a bag of bits as Encode levitated a case to her. It was identical to the one Rainbow had found: a pair of chariots barreled toward them, while a hapless third chariot, no doubt a victim of the other's reckless driving, had been tossed high into the air, flecks of chrome and vehicle parts flying in every direction.
"Awesome..." Rainbow whispered, before spinning to face Twilight, practically bouncing with excitement "Let's get the others! The sooner I can pop this baby in, the better!"
"Hold your horses there, Rainbow Dash," quipped the lavender unicorn, extending a hoof forward stop the bounding pegasus right in her tracks, her expression uterrly deadpan. "Surely you haven't forgotten where your... enthusiasm's landed you before, right?"
"Oh c'mon, Twilight..." moaned the jittery pegasus as she waved her right hoof lazily in mid-air. "This game's all about racing! The speed, the adrenaline, the wind in your mane! There's no way it wasn't meant for me!"
Turning to the counter, Twilight summoned forth a small levitation spell, procuring a small leather pouch from within the folds of her mane and quickly proceeding to empty a literal mountain of bit coins right over the Gamehoof counter.
"I'll be the judge of that, Rainbow." declared Twilight as she turned to face the light brown salespony behind the pristine glass counter. "Now... Encode was it? I'll take one copy of this... 'Burnout Revenge' game. As you can see, I've already made full payment for my purchase, and-"
In place of his usual salespony poker face, Encode's once-bright smile had literally slid off his face as his jaw hung slack, his eyes wide as he babbled incoherently before Twilight's monolithic column of coins, the mountain of money stretching as high as the ceiling.
"What?" came Twilight's reply, the ever-studious unicorn completely oblivious to the literal money mine lying right before her hooves. "Did I pay too little?"
"It's not that funny, Rainbow..." Twilight grumbled, shooting an annoyed glance over to Rainbow Dash, who was wiping a tear of mirth away. "I was in a rush and I grabbed my bottomless bank-pouch instead of my wallet by mistake. Anypony could have done it."
"Suuure, Twilight. Sounds like the egghead needs to practice her counting a bit!" giggled Rainbow Dash. Twilight's eyes narrowed.
"Yeah, yeah, keep up the sass, Rainbow...anyway, we're here." Twilight swung the library door open and stepped inside. "I'll call up the others: go ahead and set the Xbox up. But don't start playing without us!"
"Come on, come on, everypony!" Rainbow Dash was practically bouncing on the sofa as the other five filed into the room. "I've been waiting over 15 minutes to pop this thing in!"
"And you can wait thirty seconds more, Rainbow Dash." Rarity said calmly. "We were nice enough to wait for you whenever we had a game that we wanted to play. It'll be good for you to learn some patience, you know."
"I know, I know!" Rainbow Dash groaned as she fidgeted uncomfortably, bobbing about in her seat, but for the life of her she just couldn't sit still - she just had to get her hooves on some of that racing!
Even as she watched her friends amble slowly into the room, rainbow-maned filly already had a controller in her hands, so excited that she could practically taste the game just waiting to be played. Her hooves, itchy with anticipiation, anxiously pressed down on buttons at random and wiggled the analog stick around, eager to get started, to get moving.
The heavy rock track that blared from the TV speakers, and the images of a chariot zooming down the street at screen-shaking speeds didn't help Rainbow Dash contain her excitement at all.
By the time everyone had settled down, Rainbow Dash immediately hit the A button in rapid succession, twisting her analog stick here and there, and before anypony knew it, they were suddenly at the Multiplayer menu, waiting for the Start button on the second controller to get pressed so they could get the race underway.
"All right, who wants to get their flank kicked on the racetrack first?" The cyan pegasus asked eagerly, her gaze already flitting about, roving over her friends who were staring at her like she'd grown a third head.
"Geez, Rainbow, ya really gotta settle down." Applejack remarked sedately as she picked up a controller, and settled down on the couch next to her athletic rival. "Ya remember what happened 'tween you an' Rarity 'bout three weeks back? Don't count yer victories before ya win 'em."
"AJ, this is RACING! Rarity may be top when it comes to that Command and Conquer stuff but this is what I live for!" Rainbow Dash laughed it off with an excited smile, still jittery with anticipation over the upcoming race.
"All the same, maybe we should check single-player first." Twilight suggested. "We can check a few of those modes before we jump right in. If we're gonna get humiliated in a game, Rainbow, we may as well see the rules."
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Sure, whatever. No skin off my flank."
"Good idea, Twi." Applejack nodded. "That "Traffic Attack" thing sounds pretty cool."
"Ooh! I wanna see that Burning Lap thingy!" Pinkie squealed.
Rainbow was clicking her way through the World Tour menu, selecting "Harmless" as her rank. "All in due time. For now, I'll settle with a nice...raaace..." Her eyes narrowed.
"Where's the normal racing? What is this? Traffic Attack? Crash Mode? That's all I can DO? If Encode gypped me...!"
"Rainbow, RELAX!" Twilight said hurriedly: the last thing she needed was Rainbow Dash zooming off to yell at the guys at Gamehoof. "You need to work your way up to those! See?" She teleported to the TV with a popping noise, pointing at the bright red splotch with a lock insignia on the corner of an icon next to the red 'Dock Fight' option. "Once you get some medals, you'll probably unlock them."
Rainbow Dash stared critically at the screen, finally relenting with a shrug and clicking on 'Dock Fight'.
"Works for me."
The instant she did so, the screen went pitch black, before being replaced by a sight that made Rainbow sit up straight.
A rock guitar riff boomed through the room as the words 'Motor City' appeared on the screen in broken white letters, emitting what looked like the steam from beneath a chariot's tires as they spun in place. A background of metal flowed by behind what looked like tire tracks: tall skyscrapers, a low parking garage, a long freeway with blinking lights overhead...
And then as soon as it began, it was over, and a quick loading screen later, the six friends were looking at a new menu.
'CRASH',it proclaimed at the top.
'Crash as many vehicles as you can!
Crashes grow your Crashbreaker bar.
Explosions increase the score multiplier.
Crashbreakers are armed!'
Below the rules was the scoring: 1,000,000 bits worth of damage for Bronze, 3,000,000 for the Silver, and a whopping 5,500,000 bits for the gold.
Rarity stared in horror as she began to process what the mode actually entailed. "THAT'S Crash Mode? You get points for causing a horrific pileup? For discernible PURPOSE? That's utterly BARBARIC!"
Rainbow Dash leaned over the back of the couch, shooting a smirk at the revolted white unicorn. "And yet you have no problem ordering troops around to kill each other?"
Rarity tossed her mane. "Humph, I should think I DO have a problem! But at least war has some METHOD behind the madness!"
Rainbow rolled her eyes. "Uh huh, yeah. I'm starting now, if anypony wants to leave."
Rarity scowled for a second, before letting out a 'humph', and sitting down on the furthest chair away from the TV.
Rainbow didn't pay her a second glance. A tap of the 'A' button had sent the camera panning down a long road. True to the map's name they were on a dock, with chariots of all shapes and sizes driving to and fro at the t-section near the end. As the camera gave one last look at the small parking section just beyond it, it whipped back to a single chariot sitting at the start of the long road.
The camera revolved around a beat up, black junker of a chariot: the Stock C170 MID. Beside this automotive disaster was its stats: Crashbreaker Force 4, Medium Weight, and 170 Boost Speed.
"Uugh..." Rarity stared at the chariot, pulling a face. "If you insist on wrecking something, Rainbow Dash, you may just want to go with that. It's halfway to the junkyard already!"
Rainbow Dash looked critically at the chariot before hitting the 'A' button again. "Whatever. I'm just looking forward to WRECKING something!"
The chariot was in full view now, the words 'Press 'A' to start' hovering above it in yellow letters, awaiting the command to unleash its destructive power on the traffic below.
A command that Rainbow was all too eager to give. With a borderline-sadistic smile, she punched the 'A' button one final time.
The chariot spun its wheels with the screech of rubber on pavement, throwing up clouds of smoke as the engine wound up noisily. There was a loud 'BOOM!' as twin jets of blue fire erupted from the back of the vehicle, and the chariot went barrelling down the road, closing the gap in a matter of seconds...
Fluttershy dove under a chair, covering her head...
The chaos that ensued would have made Discord hang up his title in shame. The music stopped as Rainbow Dash's chariot impacted with a big rig with a horrible twisting of metal, one that mingled with Rarity's horrified scream. The big rig slid into the opposite lane, knocking a second chariot, a small red one, clean off the road. The room was filled with the screeching of rubber, as chariot after chariot slammed into each other with a series of loud crashes and explosions, a domino effect of absolute mayhem.
Twilight watched in awe as the damage counter skyrocketed. 110,000 bits, 114,000, 120,000...the numbers flicked past faster than Twilight could keep up.
A yellow sign appeared on the screen, indicating an arrow pointing up, with two silver stars next to it. 'GOOD!' the sign proclaimed, before vanishing to be replaced by a bronze tire next to the words "BRONZE METAL AWARDED!"
Trying to keep up with the madness onscreen was sensory overload, and Twilight was glad she had chosen to sit down. Suddenly, the crashes seemed to muffle as the camera zoomed in on the wreckage of Rainbow's chariot.
Rainbow blinked. "Wait, huh?"
Pinkie was bouncing in her seat. "Rainbow! Press B! Press B!"
Rainbow shifted her grip on the controller, hammering the B button as hard as she could.
The chariot was tossed high into the air as flames erupted from underneath it, the force of the blast sending wreckage flying in every direction.
"WHOAAA!" Whooped Rainbow Dash, pumping a hoof in the air. "AWW YEAAAAAAAH!"
The game seemed to share her enthusiasm, a sign proclaiming 'AWESOME!' appearing on the screen with 4 stars beneath it, followed by a silver tire.
Upward the score bar rose, 4,475,000 bits worth of damage now...
"Come on, come on! GOLD! I'm so close...!" Rainbow was on the edge of her seat, gritting her teeth in anticipation.
But the flow of traffic seemed to be slowing, the score bar not rising quite as fast now. The crashes were further and further apart, and Fluttershy had poked her head out from under her chair to take a tentative peak.
Rainbow slumped. "Ahh, ponyfeathers! I was so close!"
Pinkie pointed at the screen with a trembling hoof. "Rainbow, look!"
Rainbow took one glance at the prompt on the screen before tapping the 'B' button as fast as she could...
Fluttershy retreated back under the chair as the chariot exploded a second time, sending the score flying up to 7,638,225 bits!
"YES!" Rainbow flew into the air, pulling a series of barrel rolls. "GOLD, BABY!"
Silence fell over the room. A timer had appeared on the top of the screen, counting down from 5 in big red numbers and a series of soft beeps. As soon as it hit zero, the camera panned out, revealing the full extent of Rainbow's handiwork.
"Land sakes...!" Applejack murmured as she stared at the wrecks of the once-shiny chariots littering the road. Tires, chrome and bumpers were scattered everywhere, as a symphony of horns and alarms blared in the background. At the bottom of the screen, the total damage, a whopping 7,638,225 bits was displayed proudly.
Fluttershy poked her head out again slowly. "I...is it over?"
Rainbow was trembling with barely-suppressed excitement. "That...was the most AWESOME thing I have ever seen!" She whipped around to look at her friends, her expression absolutely ecstatic. "Did you SEE that pileup? All those tankers and minivans just slamming into each other...and then when my chariot exploded! And then, and then it exploded AGAIN!" She took a huge breath. "I...I gotta lie down for a second."
And with that, she flopped unceremoniously in a chair, dead to the world.
Fluttershy crawled out from under the chair, looking at the unconscious blue Pegasus. "She got up at 4 in the morning to clear out the clouds..."
Twilight was next to speak, a questioning hoof gesturing right at the screen.
"Just what in Equestria was that all about?"
"That, Twilight Sparkle?" Rarity pointed at the screen. "THAT was utterly uncouth, pointless destruction! Small wonder Rainbow gravitates towards it."
"Hey, don't knock it 'till ya try it, Rarity." Applejack approached the controller, picking it up. "'Sides, that was jest one mode. I wanna see what Traffic Attack is like."
Rarity turned to Applejack, who had taken a seat on the couch. "Applejack, you TOO?"
Applejack turned to the fashionista, a wry expression on her face. "Well...yeah. Don't know why Y'ALL sound so surprised."
Rarity rolled her eyes. Applejack had hit the 'A' button, and the screen had changed to display the results: Rainbow Dash had achieved an 'Awesome' rating and Gold metal: a second tap of the button showed that the rating and metal combined to make a 'Perfect' five stars, which were subtracted from the 20 stars needed for Dash to unlock the next rank.
'Well,' thought Applejack. 'Those stars ain't gonna earn themselves.'
But the awards weren't done yet. Another press of the button showed that Rainbow Dash had earned a trophy for blowing up 25 vehicles. At length the screen changed back to the World Tour menu, ready to receive Applejack's challenge.
"Awrighty. We've seen Motor City, so let's give Sunshine Keys a go!"
Applejack clicked on the image of the idyllic seaside resort town, revealing a new event menu: this one's only option was Traffic Attack.
"Wooee!" whooped Applejack. "Here I am wantin' to try Traffic Attack first, and I'm gettin' mah chance right off the bat!"
Upon selection, however, Applejack's smile wavered.
"So... Which one do ah go with?" She asked, turning back to her friends as she flicked back and forth between the two chariots on the select menu: the sleek blue Factory M-Type ST, and the fancy crimson Factory R160 ST.
Twilight shrugged. "Either/or, AJ. They're pretty much the same barring physical design."
"WHICH can make all the difference, if I may add!" Rarity piped up from the back of the room. Applejack ignored her, electing to go with the R160. A quick preview of Sunshine Keys played, similar to the Motor City one. One loading screen later, and the Traffic Attack rules were displayed.
Check traffic to beat the Score Targets!
Win Gold and earn an Awesome Rating to boost your Revenge Rank!'
Applejack nodded. "Bash into traffic, trah to git 500,000 bits worth 'o damage. Easy enough. Awright, let's get started!"
The music changed as she started the challenge, the crimson chariot now cruising down the road to a new song, this one faster paced then the one before. Rainbow Dash sat up, all the exhaustion gone from her face.
"Hey: Aponyliptica! This game's got some good artists!" She said, before flopping back down again.
Applejack paid no heed. Her eyes narrowed as her hoof clamped down all the way on the right trigger and the engine revved up...
Fluttershy realized what was about to happen and retreated back beneath the chair.
As soon as she had control, Applejack swung the thumbstick into the other lane, right into the path of the nearest oncoming chariot...
"HUH?" Applejack babbled as both chariots crumpled like a pieces of paper. "Wha...Ah HIT that darned thing, what's goin' on?"
Twilight looked up from the manual. "You can't check oncoming traffic, AJ: you have to hit them from behind or you'll wipe out."
Applejack had focused back on the screen: she was back in control again, but she had lost about five of her forty seconds to that mistake. "NOW ya tell me! Awright, let's try this again..."
AJ's face lit up as she banged into the back of a series of chariots, sending them skidding all over the road as her score bar rose. Her time was going up too: it seemed to be capped at 20 seconds, but as Applejack continued to barrel down the road, leaving a trail of totaled chariots in her wake, the time was rising faster than it could drop, flicking rapidly between 20 and 19.
"YEEEHAW! GET ALONG, LIL' DOGGIES!" Applejack cheered over the banging of metal on metal as she gained a Bronze metal and her rating rose to 'Good'.
"Applejack, hit the boost!" Pinkie shouted. "A, A, A!"
It took Applejack a second to figure out how to hit both trigger and button on the same side with one hoof simultaneously, but she finally pulled off a strange hold with her elbow that seemed to work: jets of blue flame roared from the back of the chariot, sending it roaring forward at twice the speed, other chariots flying in every direction.
118,000 bits, 120,000 bits...Nothing could stand in the way of Applejack's charge: her score counter was rising with every wrecked chariot, some flying into the opposite lane and taking out some of the oncoming traffic as well, earning her what the game called 'Trick Shots', with bonus points that gave her a Silver metal in a matter of a few seconds.
The only thing Twilight noticed was that Applejack seemed to have a bit of trouble with was, well...turning. The farmpony had clamped resolutely down on the gas and boost, and she smashed into the walls on the sharp turns a number of times. These little hiccups were quickly made up for: Applejack went right back to bashing chariots and bringing her timer up to maximum.
"Aaaaand...GOLD!" AJ cheered. "Woo!"
Just in time, too: the chariots had been fewer and farther between, and Applejack's timer was at 5...4...3...2...1...
BOOM! Applejack's vehicle exploded, flipping over and spinning out.
Her total: 952,775 bits
"WOOOOOEEEE!" The orange earth pony crowed triumphantly as she pumped a hoof in the air. "Awesome, Gold, a new event an' high score! Rainbow, ya might need ta pick up tha pace if ya wanna keep up with me!"
"Am I, now...?"
Rainbow sat up, tilting her head back and forth with a series of pops. She locked eyes with Applejack, a smirk on her face.
"So you're good at knocking lines of defenseless chariots everywhere. But let's see how you do when the chariots knock back!"
Applejack tossed the controller to Rainbow, picking up a second one from the floor. "Yer fixin' ta race, then?"
The fact Rainbow Dash missed the controller didn't seem to register with her. She picked it up, as Applejack punched the center button on hers and turned it on. "That, and break that tie we had back in the fall, AJ!"
Twilight looked back and forth between the two: gone were the two normal friends that she knew. In their place were a pair of archrivals, aching to test their mettle against each other once and for all.
"Uh, girls...?" Twilight began. "Let's not get carried away..."
Her voice trailed off as she watched Rainbow Dash select Xbox Live Quick Match from the menu, and Applejack almost immediately hit the start button on her controller before the on-screen prompt to do so had even begun to appear, already selecting and signing in with her profile.
It was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair - Applejack and Rainbow Dash were both so eager to get the race on that Twilight had glanced away for just a second, and when she looked back, the screen had suddenly split in two, the rear of a cyan-colored racing chariot dominating the upper half of the screen while another similar, orange-painted one took its place at the lower half... and flanking Dash's cyan speedchariot was a small, grayed-out box filled to the top with eight names.
A few of them seemed familiar, Rainbow Dash immediately recognizing three names in particular that had dogged her in every multiplayer racing game she had ever played. She honestly had no idea when Dumb-Bell, Score, and Hoops were going to learn their lessons, but Celestia be darned, she'd teach Dumb3ll, h1gh-Sc0re, and l00pin_h00ps a lesson in racing their one-track minds would neverforget.
"Seriously?" hoofpalmed Applejack, the orange-coated farmpony tilting her head backwards in incredulity. "What in the sam hill name is Muffin_Master?"
"Not much better than AppleSt0rm, AJ," Rainbow Dash sniggered. "I ain't gonna be the only one to tell you how corny that name is!"
The orange earth pony let out a little huff of annoyance, but decided not to reply on how Rainbow Dash's own Gamertag was hardly any better - instead, she opted to eye her list of opponents more critically, taking note of the order of the list, and just who she was up against...
"Hey wait a second!" Rainbow Dash's eyes almost bugged out as she read the last name, and she almost burst out laughing right there and then. "I think that's Scootaloo!"
"Just a minute..." said Rarity, getting up from her spot in the back. "...I thought Scootaloo was going over to help Sweetie Belle get... some... studying..."
Rarity narrowed her eyes, her lips elongating in an expressionless look of pure deadpan as the horrible, horrible truth behind her sister's constant failing grades in "Ponies and Math 101" came to light.
"Oh Girls..." sang Rarity in her usual uppercrust tone. "Do go on without me, would you please? I do believe I've got... problems to take care of. Three very hyperactive problems."
Spitting out her last few words, Applejack and Rainbow Dash could only wince as the door slammed shut with a resounding 'THUD' behind the fuming unicorn, the rage minced in her last few words echoing ominously throughout the room.
"Oh boy..." breathed Rainbow Dash, breaking the uneasy silence. "Hope that pipsqueak comes out of this one alive."
"Doubt it." chuckled Applejack, trying to stifle her laughter. "Rarity's worse than Discord on a bad day, if ya know what ah mean."
"Hey, it's starting!" Rainbow hissed suddenly. The screen had been split across the middle and the two chariots were barreling down the road of Motor City, the camera shifting to show every angle of the shiny vehicles, their engines steadily escalating from a low, throaty purr, right up to a high, ear-splitting roar as the countdown timer to the start of the race steadily dropped to zero.
As soon as she had control, Applejack swung her analog stick toward Rainbow Dash, intent on sandwiching her against the wall. The agile pegasus had other ideas, turning in a way that Applejack slid past her, struggling to get her chariot straight before it hit the wall itself.
TASTE_THE_RAINBOW TOOK THE LEAD!
"Too slow, Apple Snack! SEE YOU AT THE FINISH LI-"
The camera shifted again, showing Rainbow Dash's Chariot slam into a nearby pillar, the vehicle crumpling into scrap as the screen gained a tint of red, proclaiming "TAKEN OUT!" in the corner. A second later, the camera swung to the culprit.
Rainbow Dash blanched, her expression souring as though she had just swallowed a lemon whole. "What the-?"
'Muffin_Master? MUFFIN_MASTER took me out?'
The chariot was highlighted with a red arrow: a jet black vehicle with a green tinted windshield, lined with what appeared to be bullet holes. The entirely screen suddenly took on a bloody-red hue, and the words "New Revenge Rival!" appeared, imposing themselves over the image of the bullet-ridden chariot. A second later, Rainbow Dash had respawned, her chariot reappearing on the road, and the blue pegasus was fuming with rage.
Almost as if mocking her, the earlier statement that had just proclaimed her triumph at taking the leading position of the race now instead pasted itself over the screen in large, red block letters, this time displaying something that soured Rainbow's throat and left a bitter aftertaste in her mouth.
MUFFIN_MASTER TOOK THE LEAD!
"Oh, so that's how you wanna play it, huh?" She seethed. "FINE! LET'S FIGHT DIRTY, THEN!"
She slammed down on the gas as hard as she could with a war cry, plowing through a line of traffic - a checked minivan plowed right into l00pin_h00ps and instantly took him out, sending the wrecked remains of his chariot flying - and she violently wrestled her way past Dumb3ll in her rush to catch the pony who had DARED to take her out.
In an almost laughable display of resistance, Dumb3ll attempted to boost his chariot into the side of her own to shunt her aside, and Rainbow Dash let out a contemptuous snort right before she swung her chariot as hard as she could. The impact left her hapless opponent spinning out of control and smashing into the roadrails.
"So long, sucker!" The cyan speedster crowed out triumphantly as the rest of the speeding chariots zipped past the crumpled remains of Dumb-bell's chariot, leaving her childhood nemesis in the dust, the satisfying confirmation of his loss soon declaring itself all over Rainbow Dash's screen.
DUMB3LL IS IN LAST PLACE!
The way to her Revenge Rival finally clear, Rainbow hit the boost, closing the distance between her and her quarry in a matter of seconds. The azure pegasus rear ended the bullet-ridden vehicle, and her heart soared in triumph as she sent it fishtailing for a few seconds, tires screeching loudly... right before it straightened out as though nothing had happened.
Rainbow gritted her teeth, electing to try to slip past her foe instead, but Muffin_Masterhad other plans. The jet black chariot began cutting the pegasus off at every attempt, and Rainbow Dash was practically spitting with frustration at this point.
"Come on! Lemme by,you stupid fo-ooooaaaAAHHHH!"
Rainbow Dash's declaration disappeared in a choked scream as Muffin_Masterslid to the side, a subtle, graceful movement that would have left Rarity transfixed. As it were, it left Rainbow Dash hammering on the brakes too late as her chariot hit a metal beam.
"Later, slowpoke!" Applejack whooped as her chariot sped by the wreckage, leaving Rainbow Dash spluttering incoherently in outrage.
"Why... why that little-!" The cyan pegasus was nearly in a fit of indignation by now, and she shook her head vehemently, her jaw locking in place as her eyes narrowed and her grip on the controller tightened. "Nopony crashes Rainbow Dash TWICE and gets away with it!"
The moment she respawned, her hoof immediately hammered down on both the right trigger and the A button, sending her chariot streaking forward as azure jets of flame erupted from its exhaust pipes.
Blasting forward fast enough that her tires left behind skid marks on the road, the incensed pegasus angled her chariot right for the one who had dared slight her pride so, totally ignoring Applejack in the process.
To the orange earth pony's shock, her chariot got suddenly slammed and sent spinning to the side as a cyan blur rushed its way past her, and she was left struggling to recover her wits as Leeroy_Wingkinszipped past her as well, capitalizing on her moment of weakness.
"OUT OF MY WAAAAAAAAY!"
Rainbow Dash was howling like a madpony as she boosted as fast as she could, grinding her teeth in her focus to get back in the standings. Everypony was so transfixed by the spectacle of Rainbow Dash's rabid fervor that no one noticed at all when Scoots_Haagen_Daaz, who had been at fourth place at the time, suddenly disappeared from the racers' list altogether, a large DISCONNECTED label plastering itself over the space where her name had used to be.
The track had become a blur: even after her boost bar had been cut by a half through the two crashes, she had still managed to bring her chariot up to top speed, and was roaring down the road so fast, Twilight could only wonder how she could even see where she was going.
Turn coming up, coming up on Muffin_Master again... the lavender unicorn could only guess what was about to happen, bracing herself for Rainbow Dash's inevitable stream of expletives.
As soon as she was in striking distance, Rainbow found Muffin_Master's chariot mashed up against her own, throwing up sparks and flecks of chrome. It was a high-speed vehicular swordfight, with the two racers desperately trying to overpower each other. Suddenly, Rainbow pulled away, unexpectedly cutting the boost.
"EAT TRUCK!" She shouted, before slamming on the nitro again and ramming Muffin_Master with all the force her chariot could muster.
It was the final straw that broke the chariot's frame. Unable to get itself under control, Muffin_Master's bullet-ridden vehicle finally crumpled into wreckage, slammed violently against an oncoming big-rig by Rainbow Dash's enraged blow.
As the camera's view of Rainbow Dash's half of the screen turned to follow the brief, final flight of the remains of Muffin_Master's vehicle for just a few seconds, the bitter taste in Rainbow Dash's mouth soon gave way to the sweet, satisfying flavor of well-deserved payback as the words Score Settled! stamped onto the screen right next to her ex-Revenge Rival's wreckage, the screen taking on an approving green hue.
TASTE_THE_RAINBOW TOOK THE LEAD!
"WHO'S RAINBOW CRASH NOW, SUCKERS!" The cyan pegasus whooped loudly in triumph as the wreckage of Muffin_Master's vehicle vanished behind her, the way ahead of her now clear as she zoomed ahead to reclaim her rightful place at the head of the racing pack of chariots.
"Not so fast, Rainbow Dash!" A familiar Southern accent suddenly cut through the dizzy haze of giddy triumph the Pegasus was riding on, and all of a sudden an orange chariot came up from behind her. Applejack looked over to Rainbow Dash.
"Now that that Muffin_Master fella's out of the way, whadda ya say we get the REAL race started!"
Rainbow grinned. "Way ahead of you, AJ. See you at the finish line!"
"Ah don't THINK so!"
The sound of clashing chrome filled the room as the two rivals bashed their vehicles off each other, wrestling for first place as they roared down the road. They were in their element: the masters of racing had left the moppets behind, and now they were alone on the road, dueling to settle their score once and for all. It was just Applejack and Rainbow Dash, nopony else.
So imagine Rainbow Dash's surprise as her chariot was suddenly crushed out of nowhere, not by Applejack, not by a wide or shallow turn, but a huge hunk of bullet-ridden metal that slammed down on her from above, flipping her high into the air.
VERTICAL TAKEDOWN! Proclaimed the screen, shifting to show the black chariot, wheels spinning as it seemed to hang triumphantly in the air, designated once more as Rainbow Dash's Revenge Rival.
"Oooh..." Pinkie cringed. "That's GOTTA hurt..."
"Whoa! What in tarnation...?" Applejack sputtered as she swerved to avoid Rainbow's wreckage, the mangled remains of her rival's crushed chariot crashing by her, missing her by inches.
"M-MUFFIN_MASTER? WHERE DID...HOW?" Rainbow Dash shrieked. "How did she catch up with us? How did she get ABOVE us?"
"Ferget about that, RD! TAKE 'ER DOWN, WE'RE ALMOST TO THE FINISH LINE!"
The two rivals' efforts to take down this unexpected threat became increasingly frantic - every second that passed by, the finish line drew exponentially closer, and Muffin_Master, Nightmare Moon curse her to the moon, was still subverting their every effort to take her out!
"Sakes alive, who IS this guy?" Applejack nearly screamed in frustration as she swerved her chariot right into Muffin_Master's own battered chassis, trading generous amounts of paint, but the darned chariot just refused to budge!"Ah've NEVER seen anypony drive lahk this!"
"Just focus, Applejack!" Rainbow Dash herself had her jaw locked in concentration, teeth grinding together as her narrowed eyes focused utterly on the screen, completely tuned out from everything else around her. "Just... a few more... seconds..."
The finish line was already zooming closer to them with every passing second... Rainbow Dash's heart soared in triumph as she saw her chariot finally gain a slight edge over Muffin_Master's own jet-black vehicle, and she pressed on forward for the lead, angling in to cut off her mysterious opponent from in front...
Right in time for her to realize that Muffin_Master wasn't boosting! It was a trap!
Muffin_Master suddenly hit the boost and slammed right into the side of her chariot, turning her careful angling into a wild swerve that sent her flying right into the path of an oncoming semi - a semi that Applejack hadn't even seen coming down her lane, and without warning, smashed right into her own vehicle and turned it into a mangled mess that was left smoking on the road alongside Rainbow Dash's own crashed chariot.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Rainbow Dash let out a strangled scream, her hooves going up to her mane and her eyes opening up even wider than saucers.
As the two rivals were left behind in the dust and Muffin_Master zipped ahead to cross the finish line, followed closely by Leeroy_Wingkins. Applejack and Rainbow Dash simply just stared at the screen and let their jaws hang, utterly speechless.
Words wouldn't have done justice to the shock and surprise at the swiftness with which their defeat had come, and numb hooves worked their controllers to finish the last few metres of the race with half-hearted enthusiasm before dropping them entirely to the floor.
Applejack was the first to recover her wits, shaking her head in disbelief as Rainbow Dash continued to stare blankly ahead, unable to conceive the inconceivable fact she had just been so closely beaten, out of nowhere, by a complete stranger.
"What in tarnation just happened back there?"
"Mommy, you were AMAZING! How did you learn to drive like that?"
Ditzy Doo gave her daughter a smile. "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor traffic can keep a Mailmare from her appointed rounds. It pays to know how to...MAKE faster routes for yourself.
"Then Mommy?" Dinky Doo asked the wall-eyed Pegasus who was giving the television set before her a completely focused, one-eyed stare, her other lazy eye drifting off and looking at some other distant point elsewhere. "Who were those two other ponies you were racing with at the end? It felt like we knew them from somewhere..."
Fixing her daughter with her one free eye, Ponyville's resident mailmare could only give a mild shrug of her shoulders, a blank look etched across the Pegasus's face as she gently placed the controller on the table. Upside-down.
"Mommy wishes she knew, darling. Mommy wishes."
Giving her wings a gentle flap, the gray-coated pegasus floated over to the nearby kitchen, a gently wafting aroma of freshly baked goods enticing the mailmare forward.
"But for now..."
Gently prying open the oven door, Ditzy Doo couldn't help but drool before the baker's dozen that lay before her: all thirteen of sugarcube corner's last batch of fresh dandelion and daisy muffins, straight off the cart.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Today Rainbow Dash and I learned an important, and truth be told, humbling lesson. We learned that there's ALWAYS gonna be a bigger fish out there. While it's great to try to be Number One, it is important to remember that nopony is unbeatable, and if you let your pride get the better of you, defeat can come from unexpected places, so it's very important to keep yourself from getting a little too swollen in the head.
Your Faithful Subject,