The Burning Of The Leaves
IC date: Autumn 84
OOC date: December 12
PCs: Heartsong, Rising-Chaos, Fire-Bright, Stormdancer, Winter-Solstice, Carronade, Kludge, Skyflower, Thunnini, Jellybean
NPCs: Rock'em, Sock'em, Professor, Gustaff
GM: Fireside-Frolic, Mad-Mare

Today, is a big day.

Okay, so it's not /that/ big. It's just the start of the seasonal change. The official beginning of the week that transitions from cool to outright cold. From winds and orange colors to outright cold and snowy. The beginning of the Curtain of Snow, set by one all-important 'race' through any wooded area with leaves to drop.

Today is the Running of the Leaves, and even a small, rural, out-of-the-way place bordering a pony-eating forest like Horseshoe Harbor celebrates it. Yes, they have trees elsewhere! There's other hills and non-Wintersong trees! Perfect for a race. So it is that there's a gathering, an impromptu starting line set up at the edges of a friendly wooded area, where a decent group of runners are lining up to get ready to race. Some familiar faces. Some not-so-familiar.

Today is important for another reason. Recent events have led to a small village, a sister-community, harboring refugees from a much colder and unfriendly place. Several of those ponies have joined in this holiday! Most of them are even excited, if a little confused about this whole 'changing the seasons' thing. It wasn't exactly something they had to deal with…

Alas, there's no hot-air balloon for announcers. Instead several industrious ponies have put together a sort of 'pony-powered' wagon set to be dragged along by a few volunteers, upon which sits a booth, and three ponies. Rock'em, Sock'em, bodyguards of Horseshoe Harbor's own mayor Lorelei, and one elderly red and grey-maned pony. Professor Redmane!

The three have little microphones in front of them, rigged to a small portable sound system, just ready. Rock'em clears his throat, Sock'em giving his microphone a light polishing…which ends up creating a brief note of feedback to make various pony ears cringe. Oops.

Carronade is here! To race! And there's probably twins somewhere in the crowd waiting to cheerlead for him too. Or would be, if their player wasn't sick.

The big stallion is waiting at the starting line, doing… what looks like the pony equivilent to push-ups as a bit of a warm-up. He's not even phased by the brief speaker screech, if only because of the proximity he spends to loud noises (and some ponies wonder isn't already partially deaf or just that dense) on a regular basis.

Rising-Chaos would not ordinarily attend such an event. However, today she's making a concession. She's shown up to participate in the running of the leaves. However, since she lacks any kind of athletic ability, she will be taking it slow. Chaos prepares by herself off to one side of the starting area, doing a few stretches. Before her is a notebook, with a checklist, apprently she has another job to do on the run.

Towards the back of the crowd is an odd pair. Kludge is pushing Thunnini around in her go-kart, as the seafilly isn't the fastest on land, either on her own two hooves or poling along in her go-kart. But by the waves, she's still going to do her best to help with the Running!

Off to the -other- side of the starting line, Stormdancer's doing her own warmup routine- high-trotting in place while making large circles with her wings, snapping them back at the end of each rotation. She's managed to find a spot clear on the sides so she's not smacking anypony, but she's already displaced a couple of background ponies with her dustgloud, earning unseen dirty looks in the process.

Heartsong prances in place, looking around nervously from her spot over by some of the Nightmare World ponies gathered for the race. She's still not /entirely/ sure what they're here to do. Knock down the leaves? Why? They're so pretty and colorful! Why would anypony want them gone? It makes no sense to her. But it's tradition, so she's here, looking a bit small compared to the other pegasi from her homeland, and probably a good bit less athletically inclined.

Sitting between Rock'em and Sock'em, Redmane wears a mask of weary patience. Social things are interesting and all, but he's been neck-deep in getting things straightened out for his particular flock of ponies, and that's been interesting in its own right. This will be a nice break! He joins in the cringing at the feedback from the poked microphone, glaring at the pony responsible before clearing his throat into his own device.

"Ahem… The Running of the Leaves will begin shortly, after a few words from Mayor Lorelei." the old pony deadpans. To which Rock'em and Sock'em take their turn to cringe. "…Aw c'mon old-timer. You can do better than that, can't you?" Rock'em mumbles, gesturing to Sock'em, who picks his microphone up, sucking in a breath.

"Fillies and Gentlecolts! It's racing day here in Horseshoe Harbor, as we prepare to celebrate the annual Running of the Leaves! Our official first step out of the throes of autumn, and a full-out charge into the wonders of winter! All runners please gather at the starting line! We'll get this race going after a few moving words from our very own Mayor Lorelei, the most peaceful mayor Horseshoe Harbor has ever had!"

Sock'em sets his microphone down with a smug look, grinning at the Professor.

Kludge chuckles. Whatever else you can say about the henchgoons, they do have a certain knack for style. Thunnini just kinda leans against her poling staff, waiting with a touch of boredom for things to start.

Rising-Chaos looks up from her exercise at the anouncement of the start of the race. Dutifully, she takes her position near the back of the crowd, knowing full well where she is placing today. She forces a smile, perhaps this won't be horrible, at least the anouncers are fun.

Carronade stops his push-ups at the announcement to get ready at the starting line, bolting to his hooves. "I BETTER GET GOI" Then stops as he remembers he was already -at- the starting line. "oh, right. NEVERMIND." He turns his head at the squeak of wheels, and resumes his usual cheerfully lovable doofus grin as Thunnini is pushed up to the starting line, and reachs over to give the little gupper a playful noogie to the head. "Looks like YOU found a way to RACE AFTER ALL."

.. Poor Kludge, though. He's gonna be tired fast, racing for two.

Stormdancer hops a bit, composing herself and getting into the lineup next to, let's say… Thunnini! And Kludge, as part of the package, but he only gets a nod from her. The seafilly? A grin and an offered hoofbump. Hey, everypony likes 'Nini. "This oughta be fun!" The LOUD stallion on the other side of the pair gets a wing-wave.

Thunnini giggles and waves to all the others.

The rest of the mob of racers from both the Harbor and the Refuge, recently named Daybreak, mills about restlessly. Some chuckle at the seapony and the pony pushing her, or peer at the other runners, each one itching to stretch their legs on the forest floor. There's a definite feeling of restlessness and excitement for this race to begin!

Lorelei perks her ears, drawing herself up a bit as she moves to step up to the microphone. She flashes Sock'em a small smile and a slight nod, and then a more formal one to the Professor, clearing her throat daintily. "Hello, everypony! Thank you all for coming out today! Things are starting to heat up around here, I can tell everypony is excited. I won't keep you for long. I just want to say a couple things. First! A big welcome to all our runners from Daybreak. Thank you all for coming to help us send out Autumn and bring in Winter! And second, everypony, I want a clean race, now! No cheating. Remember, we're bringing down the leaves! Every hoofbeat helps, and really, it's all in good fun, isn't it?" Maybe she hasn't quite grasped how things work around this town yet! But that slightly forced smile suggests otherwise. "Now everypony have a good time, a fun run, and let's get these leaves down!" She steps back from the microphone so that Sock'em can retrieve it, letting out a breath. Speeches still feel a little odd.

Kludge aaplauds, and gets ready to push Thunnini's go-kart. It might've been easier to pull, but it's not really set up to be pulled, and Thunnini is too firecely independent-minded to rely on being pulled along.

Tap. Tap tap. Tap. Tap tap tap. Stormdancer's certainly restless! She manages to still her hooves long enough for the mayor's speech- But then, afterwards, well, it's applauding! Mostly. She rears up to get a look around at the rest of the lineup for a moment, before giving her wings a little flare when she drops back down.

A little late is better than nothing! On Daybreak's side is a young pegasus colt, cream-colored with fiery red hair and golden eyes and hooves, who is practically doing aerial loopdeloops in excitement at the starting line. "Oh boy! This is going to be awesome!!"

Maybe no one told him he has to actually, y'know … run on the ground.

Somewhere far in the distance, towards the direction of town, Winter Solstice's wailing voice can be heard, raised in a shout. "I'm late! I'm late! I'm late for a very important race!"

"Go get 'em Fire Bright!" A half-squawking cheer for the Daybreak pega-foal comes from one of the very few (if any others at all) griffon survivors from Nightmare World. Gustaff is good at running but being just a cub and not a pony doesn't have the stomp to really knock leaves down yet, so instead he just found himself a good perch to watch the race and cheer for the other Daybreakers.

Fire-Bright spins in midair, winding up upside down as he waves frantically at Gustaff. "I'ma beat ALL the Harbor ponies!" he grins.

Skyflower is trotting in place near the starting line, looking up at the foliage all around her. "What a lovely day for a race! The crisp air, the autumn breeze: divine, simply divine!"

Jellybean, meanwhile, has apparently decide that he wants to participate too! The little colt is waiting, tail swishing back and forth. He's dressed for the weather, with a lilac scarf wrapped around his throat. It's pretty clear it's one of his adult clothes.

Sock'em dutifully retrieves the microphone, plopping back down at his station. "Well there you have it. Wise words from our wonderful leader, eh Rock?"

Rock'em nods a slow, sage nod. "Indeed Sock. Can't get much wiser than that. Except maybe from our esteemed guest from Daybreak Village. Professor, do you have anything to add before this race gets moving?"

Professor Redmane squints at Rock'em, then at Sock'em, tapping a hoof on the booth's top. He leans forward towards the microphone, ponders for a good few seconds, and says: "Nope."

"…Okay!" Rock'em chimes, cheerfully despite the short answer. "Without further ado then! Ponies, on your mark!"

"Get set!" Sock'em speaks, both of the bodyguard ponies lifting a hoof. They both also give the Professor a nudge, and a headtilt.

Professor Redmane looks blank between the two, his head hanging for just a moment. Then he lifts both his hooves, all three of the ponies pointing and shouting into their microphones at the same time!

"GO!"

As they announce, Fire-Bright drops like a rock onto the ground, poised for action! On his mark, he's taken a dynamic pose, ready to shoot down the track. Getting set, he tenses up, like a tiny coiled spring — and GO! With a click of his heels, he takes off in a shower of sparks, running for all he's worth! BZEWWWW!!!

Kludge trots along, pushing Thunnini's go-kart. Thunnini, for her part, uses her poling staff to gently push away any accidental body-checkers.

And we're off! Sort of. Carronade takes off from the starting line at the shout of go, but the big guy isn't the fastest of runners by any stretch. Really more of the endurance type here, but hey, maybe he'll outlast some of the ponies that don't pace themselves!

He's really hard to miss though, considering his HOOFBEATS are as loud as the rest of him. STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP. Not a lot of speed, but he's probably doing a great job ont he whole shaking leaves, right?

Stormdancer griiiiiins as the countdown starts, crouching back… And exploding out like the spring in a poorly-made cuckoo clock! Thankfully, she remembers to -not- launch with her wings in such crowded conditions- The last thing anypony needs is a pileup -this- early in the race! The lightfooted pegasus isn't doing nearly as good a job of shaking the leaves as certain other, larger, cannon-wielding ponies are, though.

Jellybean starts off at a decent clip: even as a big pony he's not terribly fast and he's less so like this, but he's decided he's going to try to maintain a decent pace rather than trying anything fancy.

Rising-Chaos waits for a moment for the press to ease out before her before trotting along leisurely at the back of the group. Chaos pulls a small purple scarf out of one bag and wraps it around ehr neck as she trots, certainly in no hurry to go anywhere. Seems Chaos is not in it to win it, or even for the leaves. Sometimes it's just nice to have a run.

Skyflower, meanwhile, is apparently taking in the sights. "Such a lovely day. Oh, I only wish I could've gotten Whistlestop to come along. Oh well," she says with a philosophical little sigh, "one can't have everything."

Heartsong is a liiiittle slow on the uptake! Blame it on nerves. But a good number of ponies have already shot off at the shout by the time she starts running. She's not a bad runner, at least, keeping her wings tucked tight to her sides. Decently fast. Not a speed demon by any means, but probably middle-of-the-pack material. If she can keep up that speed, granted.

"i'm late i'm late i'm late I'm late I'm late I'm Late I'm Late I'm Late I'M LATE I'M LATE I'M LATE I'M LATE-"

Winter Solstice charges up from behind the pack and into it just as the call to go is made, her pieplate hooves thundering along the course with the volume of four itty bitty normal-sized ponies. LESSER COMPETITORS are tossed aside as she pounds her way though them, head tucked low, considerable weight thrown forward into her charge. "I'M LATE I'M LATE I'M LATE ARE WE GOING We're going we're going I'm going! Let's go! Let's go! I'M GONNA RUN IT!" All those easygoing types? Bam! Passed up. See you later, suckers. That's right, Winter's here to kick bonker and take names, and if her current rate is any indication she intends to charge pell-mell through the whole thing! Yesiree, she sure is-

"AAAHHHH, LEAVES!!!" bellows the big mare, skidding to a stop. She promptly veers off course and starts thrashing at a leafy tree with her back hooves: BAM BAM BAM. Any advantage she gained by sprinting ahead is lost to the sudden delay.

Carronade stares quizzically for a few moments at Winter. No one told him about bucking the trees directly. Huh.

"AND THEY'RE OFF!" Rock'em and Sock'em shout in unison! The poor Professor is a touch bewildered at the stereo announcing, honestly. Several ponies hitched up to the cart carrying this announcer's booth begin a light trot to carry the trio of microphone-using ponies off down the forest paths, after the racers.

Many of the other ponies barrel down the pathways with much the same strategies. Some hang back for a pleasant, if forceful 'power walk', while others trot at a decent clip. Only a couple others join the two ponies that went all out from the get-go, both of whom happen to be pegasi.

"Hooey, Rock! Looks like those winged wonders were really chompin' at the bit to get out of that starting gate!"

"You said it Sock. Did'ja see those two charge off? Like they were riding rockets or something!"

The Professor clears his throat. "It's a poor strategy. They're only going to tire themselves out. It's a pretty long trot from here to the end of the forest, isn't it?"

"It sure is, Mr. Elder." Rock'em agrees. "It sure is."

"So it's Fire Bright and Stormdancer out in the lead! That kid's got some speed, that's for dang sure! They really left the rest of the pony pack in the dust, but this race is just beginning!"

Skyflower apparently decides that now is the time for a more concerted effort. "My my, this DOES look exciting!" And with that she starts running properly.

Grinning delightedly, Fire-Bright continues zooming as fast as he can, though he's starting to pant and wear down. But no! He has to be first! He has to win!! Gallop gallop gallop!

Jellybean continues at his steady pace, wings a-flutter. See? He's still like a big pony, look at him go.

Kludge keeps up his pace, and now that things have calmed down a notch, Thunnini is taking more time to watch the falling leaves.

Heartsong keeps up her brisk trot, looking around as she goes. Hey, it's pretty nice here. Colorful forest path. Nice place for a run. She can't help but wonder how it'll look all covered in snow. And then wonders why of all things to miss she might miss snow.

BAM BAM BAM! Winter finishes mauling that one particular tree, any lingering leaves having long since fluttered to the ground around her. She promptly whirls about and charges back onto the track… and across it… and off the other side, into the trees. And headbutts another tree. WHAM. "Villain!" she declares, in a dizzy fashion, punching the tree a few times with her front hooves. She gets another headful of leaves and a few branches for her trouble.

The big mare then charges up alongside the track… off the official course, weaving between trees. Is that allowed? Is that against the rules? Here's what she has to say about it: "ONWARD! To VICTORY!"
Carronade continues to trot along at a steady, if unimpressive rate. In fact if somepony really paid attention they'd prehaps notice that he seems to be focusing more on how hard he stomps the ground than how fast. Its really the same difference with the big heavy hooves he has, and the race is all about the leaves falling in the end, right? So he's gonna make them fall!

Unfortunately, for any pony passing near him, he's also decided to sing as he goes along.

"o/~HOOFINTON PONIES SING THIS SONG, DO DAAA, DO DAAA. HOOFINTOIN RACE TRACK'S FIVE MILES LONG, OOOH THE DOO DA DAAAAY! o/~"

Did we mention it's both singing very badly and very loudly.

Ah, breathing space! Stormdancer stretches her wings out for a few strides, just because she -can-, slowponies! Though as she's doing so, she actually notices the -sparks- from the colt she's about on par with, and veers off. She just -got- these feathers! Twice burned, thrice shy and all that. Of course, combine that with looking over her back at the rest of the pack, and that's a bit of a drop in speed…
Rising-Chaos trots along at her slow pace for a few more minutes, happy to enjoy her stroll. She spots something a ways off the path and stops, pulling out her notebook again. After a few seconds of looking back and forth she moves off the track to pick out the herb. "Perfect," she says to herself, smiling. Chaos is forced ot jump aside when Winter charge through, even if it wasn't close, one can never be too careful. She moves back on to the trail. "Hmm, time to do some catching up, I think."

"Did'ja see that latecomer, Rock?" Sock'em wonders aloud.

"Of course! How could you miss that? Who is that?" Rock'em also wonders.

"That's Winter Solstice." The Professor pipes up with. "And she's got one mean kick. Look at what she did to that tree! Forget running, she looks like she's in the mood to just buck'em all off!"

Rock'em and Sock'em look to each other. "Yeah… That's more like it! Get in the mood!"

Back to the action! Rock'em and Sock'em lean forward, the ponies pulling their booth picking up some speed now that the race is getting warmed up. "The two speedsters remain in front of the pack! Oooh but the Professor might've been right. That firebrand of a kid's looking mighty tuckered after all that fast hoofwork."

"Yeah, but that other pegasus, Stormdancer wasn't it? She looks like she still has a little fuel to burn! She's going to need it if she's gonna catch up to that kid. He really zoomed out in the lead! Oh this is going to be one hot race, ponies!"

The Professor pipes up! "The rest of those ponies are playing it smart. We have Daybreak's own Heartsong out in third, and Jellybean hot on her hooves! There's a lot of pegasus power out here this race! Winter, Carronade, and…a pony pushing a cart. Kludge? With a fishpony?" Owlish eyes blink. "Seaponies are real?"

"You better believe it, bub." Rock'em notes, grinning to Sock'em. He even winks. "Hah, now that's a /real/ pony-powered vehicle right there. Those three are three to watch for sure, they could catch right up with a little fire under their hooves!"

"And rounding out the race are a couple more from the Harbor, Rising Chaos and Skyflower, and oh…boy am I horrible with names. I dont' know who the rest of these ponies are!" Sock'em says, with the biggest, cheesiest smile. Rock'em grimaces. "…Sock, some days I just wonder about you."

Fire-Bright finally wheezes and slows to a slow, panting trot. "Nooo… gotta… run… faster!" he gasps, but he just doesn't have the capacity to tough it out!

Skyflower keeps on keepin' on. She's found her pace and she's happy for it. "And such lovely air, too."

Third verse, same as the first! Kludge keeps up a respectable pace. Thunnini, on the other hand, is noticing a few leaves that are stubbornly clinging to the trees. With a look of concentration, she starts spinning the water in her bucket into a circular current, and starts taking a measured look at some of the leaves on the upcoming trees…

Jellybean is continuing his present pace as well, though he's starting to look a little tired. "This wouldn't be so hard if I were big," he says, panting slightly. Then he shakes his head. "Nu-uh! I can do this!"

Rising-Chaos decides it's time to kick it up a notch. After one last moment of consultation with her notebook, to check where the next herbs are. She tosses her notebook back into her bag. She starts running at a fair pace, wanting to at least put on an appearance. Once she's done that, no need to tire herself out. Even with her burst of speed, she's not turning any heads with her speed.

Carronade passes a few lackluster ponies that are already tiring out. Maybe it's time to pick up the pace a bit, so he does. Thusly what started as just a noisy hoofbeat picks up to near thunderous porportions due to his inherent loudness at everything and anything. It sounds like a one stallion stampede. The endurance racer putting on a boost of speed just as the hotshots are starting to tire out.

Maybe Carronade isn't entirely as dense as he looks after all.

Winter-Solstice romps back onto the track in short order, glancing around. Oh, yeah! This! She turns and looks back over her shoulder to see she has emerged further ahead than she was when she left. Oh, hey! Does… does that make her a cheater? The earth pony peers down at herself. Did anybody notice? She frowns, and tucks her head down, and charges forward! You can't punish what you can't catch! That, and she sees a particularly knotty sort of oak tree up ahead and wants to be the first to each it and start smashing it. Her short-cropped tail flutters around behind her like a flag, her short mane whipping about her ears, as she tucks into a furious sprint- oh man look at that mushroom over there let's go over there and step on it and no! No! Focus! Race! Raaaaaaaace

Heartsong perks her ears a bit as she hears her name. Third? She's in third? She blinks and looks around curiously. Oh! Oh, would you look at that. She is. Well! She hadn't even been paying attention. Well, if you're doing well, why stop now?

Stormdancer chuckles to herself as she slows down to a short walk, flexing her wings. "Ah, foals-" And what's all that coming up behind her? Ah- The wrecking crew is speeding up! The lighter pony gets the -hay- out of the way, nearly off the path, as she eyes the trees up ahead. So why's she grinning, even as her lead on second is cut down, and almost sure to be lost entirely?

And it is still a lovely day for a race! The leaves are right and truly coming down now, colorful flutters in the air, piling along the sides of the path as they fall or are kicked up by pony hooves. And great race weather! Cool and brisk, but not quite too cold yet. There's a light breeze, even, to help refresh the runners! Carrying the last scents of autumn! Leaves and pumpkins and spices and… smoke?

An observant eye might notice a few little flickers and sparks coming from some of the growing piles of dry leaves along the path.

"Halfway through the race now, fillies and gentlecolts, and I have to say this is a very interesting situation!" Rock'em speaks, with Sock'em nodding.

"You bet! The two racers, so gung-ho to be out in front, have slowed down, and now everybody's catching up! They're already neck and neck with Stormdancer, though that spunky little firebrand Fire Bright's still got a healthy lead on the rest of the pack!"

"But what's this..? That big white mare keeps weaving in and out of the path! Are you seeing this Rock?" "I sure am Sock."

"She's smarter than she acts." Professor Redmane pipes up, wearing his first grin. "She's caught up to the leader of the pack, and is now poised to take the lead, and maybe even the race!"

"So where's that put us?" Rock'em wonders. Sock'em clears his throat. "We have… Fire Bright in the lead, but barely, with Winter Solstice hot on his hooves. Behind them we have a trio of ponies neck and neck, Heartsong, Stormdancer, and Carronade. The cutest little faux-foal Jellybean is just behind them, with Rising Chaos, Thunnini and Kludge, and Skyflower bringing up the rear!"

The Professor pipes up one last time. "Does anyone else smell…smoke?"

Jellybean finally seems to give out, slowing his pace and smelling the air. "Is that smoke? I better get a raincloud." He's distracted from the race now, looking for anything in the nearby sky to bring to bear on the fire.

Fire-Bright is all too intent on the race to care about smoke! Or fire! Now that he's caught his breath, the little pegasus kicks his sparky hooves again and speeds off down the path. "RUN RUN RUN GOTTA WIN GOTTA WIN"

"AAHHHHH!" bellows Winter, after Fire Bright, who is not far ahead. "Pretend there are zombies after you! PRETEND THERE ARE ZOMBIES AFTER YOU! AAHHHHH!" She throws her head back and AHHHHHS a bit, a broad grin across her muzzle. You remember that time? In that awful always frozen place where there wasn't any food and we almost died? And there were zombies? That was fun. Let's reminisce. She's still tirelessly charging ahead, but once more veers off course to address a tree with her hooves. BAM. Shooting ahead to the next tree, she gives it a kick as well. BAM! Each time a shower of leaves descends about her, and a few times Winter stops to stomp on th eleaves- stomp stomp stomp- before charging back onto the course and tucking into another sprint.

Skyflower trot trot trot, but now she's pouting a little. "Oh, I /do/ wish I'd been able to ask him to come along: now that I think of it this is dreadfully dull without company." She sighs. "Oh Whistlestop, darling, what I wouldn't give for your scintillating conversation." She's sufficiently wrapped up in self-pity (and some small amount of delusion) that she hasn't noticed the smell of smoke.

It's no secret that Carronade is typically not the most aware pony of surroundings. But when you deal with smokey things like cannons as your one true talent, not to mention growing up in a fireworks factory, smelling smoke becomes something you grow very aware of. And that gets Carronade to skid to a slower pace. "NO NO NO. Suppose to KNOCK LEAVES DOWN, not SET THEM ALIGHT!"

The slowed pace does come in handy for letting him STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP on any fiery sparks in the leaves he sees though. Seriously, this place has seen enough fires in town, we don't need to burn down the forest too!

Well that's… odd. Kludge slows down a bit as he watches Thunnini cause the water to flow in a circular current. The seafilly sends a jet of water at some of the leaves still on the trees, and knocks a few of the leaves off. This is making Kludge think, but he's still going forward.

Rising-Chaos slows down to a steady trot now that she's comfortably close to the group. No rush, no worries. She's panting a bit after her run, so she's probably going to slow down further and drop back. At least she can say she made an effort! If she notices the smoke, she doesn't seem to care, so what if the forest burns down? She'll be fine.

Heartsong keeps up her pace. She's got some decent stamina, apparently! She's really in no hurry to win, but it might feel nice to place, wouldn't it? At the very least she feels she's being useful! She doesn't seem to notice the scent, but she does cast a double-take glance at a sparking leaf pile as she passes it. What's going on there, now?

Stormdancer grins widely- Oh, they're catching up? And pours on the speed- veering off the course entirely to… launch herself at a tree? With a snap of her wings, she's not running, so much as bounding- Landing sideways against the tree- and kicking off from it to the next, in a series of ever-faster leaps that roughly parallel the track. That has -got- to be bending the rules, if not breaking them outright, but you have to admit. The leaves? They're falling. Of course, being off the main path, she's missing the incindiary component of today's race.

Yes. Yes that is definitely smoke. It's starting to curl up in wisps from some of the leaf piles now. More are sparking! The STOMP STOMP STOMPing seems to do some good on a few of them, but… more and more are sending up sparks and smoke. All around the path, too! Not from any particular location, it'd seem. If there's dry leaves, there's sparks.

FWOOOOM. Aaaaand now it's fire. One pile flares up into crackling flames. And then a second, over there. And a third further down the way! And with so many dry, flammable, leafy bits around… Uh-oh.

"Oh wow! Look at that kid go again!" Rock'em shouts, pointing in the distance. "Fire Bright seems to have caught a second wind! He's galloping away like his tail's on fire!"

"His tail might very well /be/ on fire." Sock'em notes, sniffing a few more times at the air, "We've got smoke. And… And fire! Look at that! Leaves are erupting into little flaming piles! That's… Odd. Hey, did any pony remember to bring a hose with'em? Or a cloud? Or…something?"

The Professor sighs. "Ponies! Racers! Fillies and Gentlecolts! We seem to have a problem. Anyone with firefighting experience may want to see if they can't get water over here before something gets out of control."

Rock'em and Sock'em nod. Blink at each other. Then turn back to the race. "…In the meantime!" "It looks like Fire Bright might win the race! That single-minded determination of his to run when he has nothing left is somehow working!" "But others are still catching up. Don't count Stormdancer or Winter Solstice out yet, they're fighting for second place right now, but they could still overtake that kid if he can't keep up the pace." "Yeah, maybe… Winter's looking like she might be feeling the burn right about now."

"Not too far behind them is Heartsong! She's managed to break away from the rest of the pack, making a good effort for fourth, though she's looking pretty wiped out too all things considered." "Behind Heartsong is a little group of Skyflower, Jellybean, Rising Chaos, and Carronade, with Kludge and Thunnini now trailing behind the pack!"

That burst of speed puts Fire-Bright right back into trotting and panting. But boy is he ever determined to keep going. "Yes," he wheezes, "I'ma win! I'ma win this race and be the BEST! And…and…ohgodbreathing." It might be a little hard to breathe, after all, with all that smoke, and it's finally getting through his little brain that he's surrounded by FIRE. "Wha… what kind of a race /is/ this?" he pants, skeptically.

An idea hits Kludge. "Better hold on," he warns Thunnini before barrelling along. Thunnini grins and braces, splashing a bit of water onto any fires that the two of them happen to pass.

Jellybean starts fretting and then starts flying. "There!" He takes to the sky and grabs what, to the expert eye of a weatherpony, is a cloud full of good rain. He starts pushing it as hard as he can to get it moving in the right direction. It's moving, but now he has to get it to rain! He's jumping up and down on it frantically, but only a drizzle is coming out! "Come on, come on! Why is this so hard!" He can do this! He can do this on his own! He… he needs help. He takes a deep breath and shouts: "Somepony help! I've got a raincloud for the fire but I'm not strong enough to make it dump!"
Skyflower sniffs, looking around. "Oh my! Oh dear! Why this won't do at all!" She continues running, "I don't mean to alarm anypony but we seem to have a fire!"

And /that/ is enough to slow Heartsong down! Aside from just being a bit worn out, there is very obviously fire now! And smoke! She coughs a couple times, looking around in alarm. What the hay?!

Rising-Chaos slows down further to a sedate walk, she's done enough. She is jolted form her contemplation by the forest apparently being on fire. What a bother. It would look bad to continue on without at least helping a bit, and the herbs she need might get damaged. She starts levitating scoops of dirt to smother the little fires springing up along the path, since she doesn't have anything else to fight the fire with it. While doing so, Chaos manages to spot and pick another herb, two down, one more to go.

Fire -bad-! Stormdancer's eyes go wide as she abandons her bouncy ways, spreading her wings and taking to the nice, non-flammable sky. "Buck -tha'- noise fer a tuba- Where'd-" And there's ponies screaming, and shouting, and- /that's/ something she can help with, zipping over to hover above Jellybean. "Git clear!"

STOMP STOMP STOMPITY STOMP STOMP STOMP! And with that Carronade stomps his hoof down on the last flame spark he sees. Now maybe he can get back to the ra—

No wait, there's another one! He twists, having to cross his other foreleg over the first to STOMP on that one. NOW that has GOT to the be the las—

In the immortal words of Big Mac — Nope! Carronade pauses to sniff, and smelling smoke YET AGAIN cranes his head to look at several sparks igniting right behind him. Oh what is he going to do now?

Sit on it, that's what. No, really, he drops his massive flank right down on top of them…. which naturally proves to be a bad idea to do impulsively, being fire and all. The results of this are probably predictable at this point.

"YEEEEEAAAAAAAAOWOWOWOWOW!" Bellowing loudly even for him Carronade abruptly takes off like a shot, because someone literally did ignite a fire under his a—well you get the idea. "YOOOW! PROFESSSOR! HOOOOOT!"

On the other hoof, it's probably the fastest he's run EVER.

Forest fire? What? Winter glances back over her shoulder. Goodness sakes! Fire! Fire everywhere! What can she do? She's not a firepony! You can't actually FIGHT fire! Not even with fire. She tried once. Wasn't pretty. But what she CAN do is deprive it of fuel! And it's burning the leaves! So what she has to do is knock the leaves down even faster! Which means… we RACE! The burly pony puffs her cheeks out and tucks her head low, charging frantically towards the finish. Man, that smoke is sort of obnoxious! Whoever thought setting the forest ablaze should probably have reconsidered that decision, it's not helping at all!

So many fires! They're popping up everywhere now! These are very flammable leaves. And a few flammable /trees/. Maybe Winter had the right idea trying to take down all the trees. Some of the fires are getting pretty big now, actually. Pony-sized in places! Bigger! Which… might make the pony-sized shadow moving among some of the larger ones a bit harder to spot. But it's there, flashes of red and yellow of its own amidst the reds and oranges of fire. The smoke's getting kind of thick now too, possibly stifling, and it is /definitely/ not so chilly around here anymore!

So close to the end of the race, too! The home stretch! The 'finish line' is in sight, but there's fires popping up all over! The ponies pulling the announcer's stand unhitch themselves to start helping with the firefighting efforts, galloping about and stamping what they can. The Professor's included in this!

But not Rock'em and Sock'em. Nope. They have a sworn duty to announce, and by jove that's what they're going to do! "Uh… W..well with the fires going on it seems we've had an unexpected obstacle to the race!"

"Yep! It's really making problems! Two racers even gave up their places just to drag a cloud over! Hopefully that takes out the majority of this."

"Hopefully! As for the racers that stayed in the race? There's… Well. There's ponies stamping on fires. And ponies sitting on fires! And fire ponies running out of gas! Again!"

"Somehow that Fire Bright kid's really stuck it out, he's bound to cross that line first at this rate. But he's going to be chased to the bitter end by Winter! Further back behind them are Carronade, with his flank on /fire/, and Heartsong right behind him! We've got the Kludge and Thunnini team and Skyflower a little ways behind Heartsong and Carronade, with Rising Chaos bringing up the rear! Who's going to win!?"

"…And will there be any trees and leaves left to care? Why are we still sitting here, in the middle of all the fire?"

"Because in the end, Rock, that's how much we care about our job… Just like the hard working weather ponies trying to fix this mess now."

Skyflower says "Somepony, please! Think of the forest! Oh, whoever will save us!"

Kludge is still running like a pony possessed! Thunnini, noticing the fire on Carronade, tries to splash some water on the burning part of his flank.

Jellybean shakes his head. "No. I'm staying to help. I hafta: it's my job. Now let's do this together, okay? You jump, I'll push." He flies to the rear of the cloud and gets ready to start moving it.

Rising-Chaos picks up the pace just slightly, the heat is starting to get uncomfortable. It would be nice to get home, have a nice bath and get back to the lab. Still, she's got most of what she's looking for, even if the blazing forest is making it hard to imagine finding the final herb, so it was worth the outing. As Chaos moves, she flings more earth over any fires she can find, doing enough to keep herself safe.

"Well— not gonna let a silly thing like fire stop me!!" Fire-Bright flares his little wings and pushes himself to run again, breathing difficult though it is. Weaving around piles of burning leaves, he seems intent on just… ignoring everything, for VICTORY.

Oh no the fire is chasing him now! And it's still hot! When is fire ever not hot? Carronade doesn't have time to think about that right now, he's too busy trying to run from the fire chasing him to remember it's his own backside that's picked up the hitchhiking embers in the first place.

At least until Thunnini throws some water his way, bless the foal's finny heart. The flames go out with a hiss and steaminess.

…. Now if Carronade just wasn't so dense that he'd realize his flank wasn't aflame any more and slow down, but no luck in that.

And somepony calls for help! Heartsong rightly pauses now, and starts to turn, wings spreading as she goes to help - and then yipes as the leaves behind her spring alight! ZOOM! There she goes. Ever a jumpy pony, she totally forgets that she'd been just about to try firefighting, and takes off at a mad dash /away/ from the fire, thataway! Where… there very well might be more fire by this point.

Race? Was there a race going on? Winter has forgotten, too busy romping off the course to start stomping on fires. "Villains!" her voice howls, from somewhere off in the trees and smoke. When stomping doesn't work, she stops, drops, and rolls, which is what they always tell you to do, and pops back up all dirty and sooty and slightly singed at the edges but no worse for wear. She then starts kicking a tree with a few leave stuck on it, then stomps the leaves when they fall into a fire and start blazing. She is gonna get soooo much XP.

"Meant've this'n," Stormdancer tosses back, folding her wings to drop onto the raincloud only Jellybean gets clear. But, the moment of delay does let her think over things quickly, so instead of cannonballing into- and possibly through- the cloud, using it all up at once, she settles in to stretch it out. A couple careful pokes to feel it out later, and she passes the tiny Weather Captain a wing salute. "Ready!" And- Begin the bouncing! Sploosh, sploosh!

Gustaff tries to help with the clouds, but he's a griffon, not a pegasus. And still not that great at actually flying. He's unable to get up enough speed with his awkward flapping, and instead of making it rain happens to just bounce off the cloud instead. x.@

Well, at least some ponies are trying to do things! But it's not an easy battle. There are so many leaves, and the leaves are so flammable! Shouts from back near the starting point make it clear that some of the spectators have figured out what's going on and are (hopefully!) rushing to help. But the fire's spreading to some of the trees now, and that figure weaving between them is getting faster as it now has a decent bit of fire to run between! A few leaf piles that missed the initial sparks are starting to gain some of their very own now.

"Ponies are crossing the finish line!" Rock'em shouts excitedly, amid burning leaves, falling rain, smoke, and everything. "It's chaos out here! Chaos!"

"No…" Sock'em notes, pointing at Chaos, "She's, like, in last place, dude."

"…Not that kind of chaos. CHAOS!" Rock'em says, smacking Sock'em upside his head. "Yeesh."

"Ow… Okay, okay…"

"So that little shrimp pulled it off. Fire Bright wins first place in the Running of the Leaves! Go kid, go! …Uh, and come back! Because these pegasus really need some help getting more clouds and water here for the fires!"

"Yeah… He was followed by Winter Solstice and Carronade, then Heartsong, Skyflower, Thunnini, and Chaos in the rear! Good race, ponies, good race!"

The two ex-goons look at each other, nod, and promptly bail out of their cart! Probably to join the firefighting efforts. Or maybe to go hide behind the mayor…

Winter-Solstice emerges from the smoke. "I finished?" She sounds surprised, and glances about, down the track, then further up. Sure enough, there's the finish line. She peers down at her soot-covered self. "I finished! How unlikely!" The big mare takes a moment longer to revel in her second placedness before whirling and stomping back to start mashing more fires. She pursues the new fires as they start, trying to stamp them out before they get going beyond much of a blaze. On more than one occasion, though, this involves carelessly scattering the leaf piles such that they become many tiny blazes instead. Whoops! Ha ha ha, this is hard, guys!

Skyflower crosses the finish line and is now trotting in place looking quite fretful. "Oh, somepony, please help! Oh whatever shall I do! Whistlestop, darling, where are you?" She backs away from the fire closest to her… which is quite, quite small.

Carronade skids to a stop not long after crossing the finish line, and turns around to blow the fire out on his read… only to find it not burning any more. Huh. Oh well, that just means he can worry about other things.

Like the rest of the fire… wait, what? Dear Luna, how did it get so big? Not important, time to do stuff! Heroic stuff…. Wait, why is he pulling out his cannon?

Oh, he's stuffing dirt and rocks in it, that's why. He's trying to smother some of the flames by launching sedimentaries to cover it. Or something. We're working with a fairly limited skill set here, remember.

Jellybean pushes the raincloud while Stormdancer bounces atop it, wings flapping with all their might. Steering is hard but he's had some practice, even if he isn't as strong as he used to be.

Heartsong blinks, slowing down from her panicked sprint. It's done? Hey! She didn't do too bad. Wait. Oh yeah, fire! Stuff to do. /NOW/ she spreads her wings, catching her breath before hauling herself into the air with a few hard flaps. "What do I do?!" She shouts to the other Pegasi. Even a bit hoarse from the smoke, she's still got a distinctively lilting voice! "I don't know what to do!" She's never done the weather before, after all!

Rising-Chaos trots across the finish line and just keeps going. She's no firemare and doesn't have the power to help, so she just keeps going. Her last place finish doesn't bother her at all, it was a nice little run. Fire notwithstanding.

As soon as he crosses the finish line, Fire-Bright flops over with a buzz of his wings and a fling up of his arms. "YEEAAHHhkoffkoff!" He starts coughing on the smoke and stumbles up, flapping his wings a little harder to clear the air around him. "THIS WAS *koffhak* A DUMB IDEA *hakhak* FOR A RACE!" Of course, he's not really on his way to help with the fires right now. Whaddajerk.

Stormdancer backflips off the cloud at the height of one of her hops, gesturing to it when Heartsong approaches. "Keep bouncin' on that'n, Goldy! I'mma find anothe'!" And with those oh-so-eloquent instructions, she peels off up to the clouds, hunting madly for another decent raincloud. … Of course, she's not strictly a weatherpony by training, so she's more of running on instinct. Good instinct, mind!

Winter's having some success! At least she's… making some of the fires smaller. That's success, right? The rain is doing a bit more good at shrinking the fire /without/ starting a few new ones in the process! Some of them are getting smaller under the rainclouds; a few of the smallest have gone out. …And begin sparking again in short order! But it would seem that rain-dampened leaves and ashes /aren't/ as flammable as their dryer counterparts, and these sparks are easily quelched.

Kludge crosses the finish line, dropping back down to a walk and pushing the go-kart out of the way of the other ponies. He headtilts and gives Thunnini a curious look. "So, you can make water move in circles?" he asks, checking to make sure he saw that correctly.

"Yup," nods Thunnini, somewhat proud of herself.

Kludge ponders that for a moment. "Can you make /vertical/ loops of water?" he finally asked. A certain drawing is coming to mind…

"Yup, like this!" nods Thunnini, who then demonstrates.

As the seafilly shows off her ability to make loops of water in any direction, Kludge gets a HUGE grin. "Kiddo, you just gave me an idea," he smiled.

Carronade just keeps scooping dirt into his cannon and then firing it at the smaller fires, trying to smother them before they flare up again. Deprive fires of oxygen! His father kept buckets of sand around the factory for just such occasions. Carronade's applying it on a slightly larger, propelled scale that's all.

Finally, having caught his breath a bit, Fire-Bright starts making his way back, though he can't help but strut more than a little. Strut strut strut, victor, coming through. "I bet the fires were just cause they knew I'd *koffkoff* win!" he gloats. Fire-Bright: voted highest in categories of Most Useless Pony and Most Likely To Need a Boot to the Head.

Heartsong blinks and nods, fluttering over to start bouncing on the cloud. Bouncebouncebounce. She's probably a bit lighter than the previous cloud-bouncer, but she's at least big enough to knock some rain out!

Jellybean has an easier time pushing and steering with a lighter pegasus up top, and the nice thing is that once a raincloud has started going it's usually easier to keep it going. "Thanks for the help, miss!"

Winter-Solstice continues to kick and scatter burning leaves, and then stomp them out. Out of force of habit, on numerous occasions she stops to kick the trunk of a tree. Ha! After a few minutes, though, the earth pony slows and glances about. "Where are all of these coming from, anyway?!" she calls out, voice raised over the commotion of voices and roaring flames. "Was someone smoking!? Was our race just THAT totally killer?"

Gustaff really wishes he could fly better right now. So he sticks closer to the ground, and tries to use flapping his wings to help blow out small fires so the ponies can focus on the bigger ones. Sad thing is that fighting fights is -still- an improvement over their former world…. on the other claw, some snow wouldn't hurt right now.

There, -that- one feels right! Stormdancer snags a puffy greyish cloud, bringing it down to the same level as the other aerial firefighters. Placing it over one of the larger fires, she jumps- And gets a crack of lightning, instead. "- That ain't helpin! Bad cloud!" She starts pummeling the side of it, raising sparks around her hooves that start to fade out in intensity as she drains the charge into the air. And, well, herself. Her coat -is- looking a bit poofy…

Fire-Bright trots toward the fireponies, chest puffed out proudly before he blinks. "Hey! Stop putting out my fires! That's my vi— *koff* Victory flame! They did it 'cause I won!!" Clearly, the child is deluded, as he takes to the air and tries to flail at ponies to get them to stop.

A very good question is posed by one of the firefighters! A good question indeed. Some of the ponies near the bigger fires might, in fact, hear hoofbeats! See flashes of movement! It's all very hard to tell. After all, fires are big and loud, and tend to move, themselves. But something sure seems to be trying to reignite the extinquished piles, and seems loathe to give up completely on the damp ones! But all they manage, luckily, are sizzles.

"They wouldn't start the whole forest on fire for you, cinders for brains!" Gustaff snaps at Fire Bright, drawing up a bit of inner snarkiness all griffons seem to have.

Jellybean yelps! "Stop iiiiit!" he whines at the other pegasus colt. "We're trying to save the forest!" He keeps pushing, though.

"…Well they obviously didn't mean to put the whole /forest/ on fire," Fire-Bright scoffs at Gustaff, folding his forelegs. "I'm— *koff!* just saying! It's bright fire, for Fire-Br… what's that?" He blinks, and squints into the glow and flickering flame. "I think there's something out there!"

Winter-Solstice catches the flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye. "What the- hey! HEY! I JUST put that out, you jackanape!" She whirls and charges after the figure! She's gaining! She's gaining! "Ha! I've got you now! Eat justice!" Kick! Winter boots an old dead log caught behind a wavering flame. So deceptive! That's… that's not right! Winter casts about for the troublemaker, squinting against the smoke and flames.

Stormdancer -finally- gets all the zap out of her cloud, and starts dumping water on the hot spots that Jelly and Heartsong aren't covering. "Somepony gettin' th' civvies outta 'ere?" she shouts over the fire and the rain, zipping from point to point with her cloud. Movement catches her attention, then- nothing she can pin down from up here, though! And she's not about to drop down lower, no thank you. … Well, not without stronger incentives than what's already happening.

".. Huh?" Carronade glances up for a moment at ponies shouting about someone being in the flames. "That'd be CRAZY to be.. WAIT, that'd be the PERFECT place to hide it's SO CRAZY!" With as much as a growl as a pony can muster, which is pretty good with how deep his voice his, Carronade stuffs another load of dirt and rocks in his cannon, shoves it in the direction of the fires others said they saw someone moving, and BOOM! Maybe blasting some smothering grit into the blaze will flush the firebug out. Or weaken it enough for others to look!

Fire-Bright crams his hooves in his ears as Carronade fires his cannon, and scoffs. "That's REALLY loud!" But, he turns and zooms toward the blaze, intent on finding what this thing is! And he vanishes into the smoke and burning forest.

Try as they might, the fires are being beaten back, slowly but surely! They're shrinking bit by bit, losing some of their energy. Whatever was relighting them seems to have cut it out, too. Possibly because of Carronade's brilliant plan! As the fire is smothered, for a moment one might catch a glimpse of an orange-cloaked, distinctly pony-shaped figure! And then comes the requisite puff of smoke that follows a smothered fire. A flurry of hoofbeats, and by the time the smoke clears, the figure has vanished again! But at least the fires have stopped reigniting.

Jellybean plops down on the cloud as soon as all the running about seems to be done. He's panting and whining a little. "That was too close."

Heartsong plops down beside Jellybean, panting. She's looking distinctly more grey than white now, quite exhausted, and a little shaken. She glances over at the foal, gulping a bit. "…That wasn't supposed to happen, was it? Is this… /normal/ around here?"

Once the fires aren't relighting Carronade slouchs against his cannon, trying to catch his breath. All that cannon work after running a race is tiring! But it worked it seems. Well at least it chased off whoever was being such a VILLIAN as Winny would put it. He musters enough energy to shake a hoof over his head. "CURSE YOU MYSTERIOUS FIRE PONY! NEXT TIME!"

Then slumps off of it to grab the cannon and stow it away in whatever nowhere place the likes of certain ponies are able to hide that one thing, and starts trotting back towards town. "I NEED a drink. Or THREE." Pause, looking around. Flashes a somewhat disturbingly cheerful grin at Heartsong after her question. "SOMETIMES!" And continues on his way.