Over in Ponyville, this particular bright day on the green grass featured a black and white game board with an array of different pieces set up on a low table. On either side of it sat two colts. The first looked studious and attentive. The other… seemed far less happy about the current situation.
Button Mash groaned.
“Pipsqueak, when you said you had a new game we could try out, this isn’t what I had in mind!”
“Come now, Rumble. If you can spend six hours at that arcade machine, you can play chess with me for a little.”
Button lifted his chin, looking at him morosely.
“It doesn’t help when you’ve already beat me three times…” he moaned, leaning his a cheek into his hoof. “I barely know the rules of this dumb game… where’d you even learn to play like this game?”
“My nana would always have board games on a shelf in her basement. My other young relatives and I would always play them together when we visited. Now come on, it’s your move,” he said, motioning his hoof in a circle.
Nearby, Spike sat on top of the white split rail fence adjacent the path leading from the school house. He bounced a small red bouncy ball up and down against the ground from where he sat, an antsy expression on his face.
“Aw come on, come on… he should have been here by now.”
Before he could continue to wonder what the holdup was, a young colt with a light brilliant orange coat and bushy, moderate azure hair galloped into view and stopped in front of him. He panted hard with his head low, as if he’d just run halfway across Ponyville.
“Well it’s about time, Base! I’ve been waiting here for almost twenty minutes! You know I’ve got errands to run with Twilight in the afternoon. I’ve only got so much time to spare in the morning!”
First Base could only smile apologetically between his heavy breaths.
“Whew… sorry… whew… about that, Spike,” he said, sucking in a big gulp of air as he composed himself.
“We were just having brunch with my big brother. He just finished his basic training to be in the royal guard. Now he’s gonna be a full-fledged member instead of just a cadet! And he’s only home for home for the weekend before his real service starts. I just wanted to hang out with him as much as I could before he goes back to Canterlot tomorrow night.”
Hearing the explanation, Spike’s expression softened. The thought of getting to spend time with a rarely-seen older sibling tugging at his heartstrings.
“Ah, well at least you’re here now.” Then he got an excited expression. “Did you bring it?”
The colt smiled back at him. “Of course!” He held out his hoof to show a rubber, bright yellow bouncy ball about the size of Spike’s palm.
“Nice bouncy ball!” Spike said cheerfully, showing off his own. “I got this one last week with my last comic book.”
First Base gave the dragon a cheeky look. “Kind of small and dinky, isn’t it?”
Spike frowned at him.
“Hey, size isn’t everything. Don’t you know the smaller ones bounce higher?” The corner of his mouth lifted into a challenging smirk. “How ‘bout we see which ones is better!”
First Base matched his expression, swishing his tail eagerly. “You’re on!”
Button focused in on the board, contemplating his next move. Being the much less experienced player, Pipsqueak had allowed him to be white so he could go first. Each of them had only made move so far, Button moving one of his pawns a single space to F3, and Pipsqueak following similarly with a pawn to D3.
He rubbed his chin. During the last game he had taken quite a few of Pip’s pieces with a “hit and run” method targeting the flanks, mostly using the bishops and rooks. So, he would try in that vein again. He picked up his second-furthest-right pawn and moved it two spaces ahead to G4.
Pipsqueak gave a sly grin. He lifted his queen and moved diagonally it all the way to the side of the board to H4, giving a closed-eyed smile.
Button’s eyes widened, hints of a strained gasp of shock coming from his throat. After a few moments of choked stammering he threw his hooves up in anger.
“Son of a goat!”
“Button! Language!” Pipsqueak scolded.
The colt only groaned, pressing his hooves into his face. “This bites! How did you beat me in just two moves?!”
Pip offered a sympathizing look to his friend. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Button. You were doing really well the last couple of games. You just made yourself a bit mentally tired, so you forgot to give your king proper protection and left an opening. It was really just dumb luck that you moved where you did.”
“I don’t think I’m cut out for this… I’d rather stick to my Joy Boy. That’s easier,” he said, looking dejected.
“Perish the thought, Button Mash. Don’t give up so easily. Even if you don’t win, it’s always important to learn from your mistakes. It’s how you get better.” Pipsqueak said encouragingly. Then he gestured to the board again.
“Want to play one more time? Fifth time’s the charm?”
Before Button could answer him, their game table was suddenly knocked over. The board flipped and tumbled to the ground, and the chess pieces scattered everywhere, surprising both of them.
A voice sarcastically cut in.
Pipsqueak turned to the source, his brows knitted together in anger.
“Diamond Tiara! What did you do that for?!”
The offending pink filly regarded the two with a snooty sneer. She was flanked as always by her partner in crimes against decency, Silverspoon.
“Well hello there, losers,” she snarked.
First Base and Spike stood side by side. Both boys glanced at each other with competitive faces, ready to go.
“Alright, we’ll go on three,” Spike said eagerly.
Base held his hoof up high, with Spike matching his movement.
Shouting the last one together, they threw their balls down at the ground as hard as they could, causing the round rubber toys to leap high into the air, barely visible as tiny specks.
“Which is it?!”
“Which one’s higher?!”
They looked up frantically at to see where in the air the bouncy calls had reached, both anxiously hoping theirs would be the winner.
“Can you see em, Spike? Can you?”
Spike pursed his lips. “Not yet…”
“Don’t you have anything better to do than harass us?” Pipsqueak complained at the two spoiled fillies.
Diamond Tiara just flipped her mane in an uncaring manner. “Of course I do. I just felt like gracing you little hayseeds with my presence. Since everypony else is off on that silly little field trip to that dirty old settler pony town …” she scorned. Her nose wrinkling at the mention of the location. “You should feel privileged!”
“All we feel is assaulted.” said Pipsqueak
Button Mash looked angrily at the two fillies. “Give us a break! Why don’t you go do things with your own friends?”
Then his lip curved into a half-smile. “Oh wait a minute… you probably don’t have any.”
The two fillies suddenly looked very offended. Diamond Tiara whirled on him, her expression burning.
“What. Did. You. Say?!”
However, Button wasn’t backing down. He stood his ground, and continued to call out the insufferable pink tyrant.
“You heard me! Maybe if you weren’t such a jerk, maybe ponies would actually like you two! Heh, I’ll bet everypony is glad they don’t have to put up with you on the field trip!”
“How… dare you?!” Diamond Tiara shouted, her face twisting with her growing rage. Silver Spoon said nothing, but stood glaring indignantly at the boys.
Then Pipsqueak spoke up again. “Just you wait, Diamond Tiara. One of these days your bad attitude is gonna get you exactly what you deserve.”
Diamond stomped a hoof forward, looming over the shorter Pipsqueak.
“Oh, yeah? And what’s that?”
Without warning, the two red and yellow bouncy balls finally came down from their return trip and landed right on Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon’s heads.
The fillies let out pained whimpers, hooves immediately going to their heads to rub the sore spots as the balls rolled on the ground.
At that moment Spike and First base came running over.
“There they are!” Spike knelt down and picked them both up in his claws, neither him nor Base appearing to notice the ironic justice their toys had just served up to the two snot-nosed fillies. Pipsqueak and Button pressed their lips together with their cheeks puffing out, fighting to contain their laughter.
“Whoa, they really don’t lie. They were so far up I lost track of them,” Spike said.
First Base was quick to retort. “I think mine was the winner.”
“No way! Let’s settle it with a rematch!”
“You stupid boys!”
The sudden shouts made both of them look over. Diamond and Silver Spoon stared at them angrily, their narrowed eyes pricking with traces of tears.
The boys just stared confused at the two.
“…Huh?” came Base’s intelligible reply.
Without another word Diamond jerked her head away and went galloping away to the left, Silver Spoon following close behind.
“My father will hear about this!” she cried, just before they both disappeared out of view.
Spike and Base could only stare after them, baffled.
“What was all that about?”
Button trotted over, his face wide with joy. “Nice going, guys! You scared them away!”
Spike just tilted his head with a questioning look, still oblivious. Pipsqueak, who had just finished picking up the board and scattered chess pieces, joined them.
“Hello Spike, First Base!” he said cheerfully.
His entry caused First Base to raise a confused eyebrow at him. “Pipsqueak? What are you doing here? I thought you’d be on the class field trip to Appleoosa?”
The skewbald colt shook his head. “Afraid not. My parents and I just got back from visiting Trottingham for a week, so I couldn’t make it. We didn’t get back in until four o’clock yesterday,” he explained.
“So what’cha doing?” asked Button.
Spike held up the two rubber balls enthusiastically. “We’re having a contest. We’re trying to see which bouncy ball can go higher.”
Pipsqueak wagged his tail, eager to join in on the fun. “Can we watch? We can be your judges.”
“Sure!” Spike replied with a smile. “The more the merrier.”
Taking his ball back from the little dragon, First Base stood a few feet apart from Spike and faced him.
“Now we’ll have someone else to watch me win!”
“Hah! We’ll just see about that.”
The two stanced while Pipsqueak and Button made the call.
Another hard downward throw and the balls rocketed into the air once again. Placing their hooves and claws above their eyes to block out the sun, they all watched for the first sign of the balls. Again they had gone way high up beyond their sight. But after a minute, Button pointed up and exclaimed:
“Hey, here they come!”
Sure enough the tiny dots of the bouncy balls came falling down. Seemingly evenly paced.
But then a shape cut across their sightline. A gray pegasus mare with a light blonde mane and bubbles on her flank casually flying around abruptly passed underneath the falling spheres. Spike’s red ball landed smack on top of her hindquarters and sprang off in a wide arch.
While the mare jumped and looked around, blushing as she sought the source of whatever had just spanked her, Spike looked on horrified as his ball began to head towards town.
“Hey! My ball!”
His contest forgotten, the panicked dragon went running after his escaping toy, leaving the slightly regretful group of colts behind.
The Dragon Lands
The middle of nowhere.
It wasn’t the magical dimension of ponies as a whole.
It wasn’t the rocky mountain he’d been chased through.
It wasn’t even the unwilling airdrop into the nest of Equestrian military.
Now, Sonic was certain, he was in the middle of nowhere.
All around him was an empty, desolate, rocky wasteland. He had spent a good twenty minutes roaming up and down this part of the landscape, and there was nothing. Not a soul to be found. It was seemingly surrounded by nothing but bleak crags and ashen skies. Not even tumbleweeds seemed to drift about.
‘Sheesh… talk about a bleak place. Nothing but rocks and ash around here. Heck, even Sand Hill was nicer to look at.’
He absentmindedly kicked a flat stone and sent it skipping across the rough ground.
“Half surprised there’s no green giant in a white cape and turban out here in this wasteland.”
Seeing nothing worthwhile to do here and no one potentially helpful, Sonic shook out his leg and was about to make tracks due east, when a voice interrupted him.
“Well, well, well. What have we got here?”
The sound of wings flapping and several impactful thuds of something heavy landing on the ground preceded the voice.
Turning his head around, Sonic suddenly felt a sense of déjà vu. More than a half dozen dragons, not so different in size from Ultimo, gathered behind him.
At the head of the group was a red, long-snouted one. The way this one looked at him and carried himself screamed ‘bully’ in Sonic’s head. His face immediately hardened.
One of the others, a white male with tall reddish spines on his head came up beside Garble and prodded him in the side with his elbow. “Look at this weirdo, Garble. What do you think it is?”
Garble as he was apparently called, grinned meanly. “I dunno. Looks like a freaky little hedgehog that lost his way.”
Sonic went flat-faced.
‘It’s pretty sad when the dragon version of Ogre is the only one so far to get my species right.’
“Actually, Yoshi, I know exactly where I need to be. Far away from wherever you jokers are.” With a flippant wave of his hand, Sonic started marching away without even looking at them.
His choice in the matter was unfortunately taken from him when Garble suddenly landed in front of him. The dragon’s jaw was clenched angrily.
“Hold on one second there, you little blue squirt! Was that disrespect I heard? Do you not know where you are?”
“A bad car insurance commercial?” Sonic quipped.
Not understanding enough to respond back or not caring, Garble monologued on. “You’re in the Dragonlands! Home of… er, well, dragons!” He seethed, flexing out his wings.
“We’re the biggest, strongest, baddest creatures in all Equestria! Griffons don’t mess with us, and all those puny little ponies shake like little babies at the sight of us! You know what that means? It means everyone around here shows us respect! If they know what’s good for ‘em.”
He crossed his arms and bared his teeth in a wicked smile. “So whaddya think about that?”
“I think Vincent Tong deserves better,” Sonic answered, completely uninterested. “Now if it’s all the same to you, I’m busy. I’ve had a rough couple of days, and I don't feel like hanging around for whatever this is.”
He turned on his heel and started to walk away. He didn’t get more than a few feet before Garble landed before him again.
“You’re not anywhere, pinhead!” he growled. “I don’t appreciate your attitude. So I think me and the boys are gonna have to teach you a little respect. Dragon style.”
The dragons began to close in around Sonic in a ring, blocking his way out and grinning fiercely. The hedgehog just groaned and massaged his temples. ‘Here we go again.’ He turned about to the reptilian teenagers.
“Okay… look fellas. It’s been a really rough twenty-four hours. I’m really not in the mood to deal with you wild Charizards right now. So here’s the deal: you back off right now, and I don’t introduce your faces to the dirt.”
His remark only seemed to anger them further. They growled, swishing their tails and cracking their knuckles. A couple snorted smoke from their nostrils.
Resigned to his fate, Sonic exhaled and tightened a fist. His eyes narrowed on Garble, singling him out.
“Ok. You asked for it.”