Part the First - Preparation
"Okay, Lyra, you can do this! Remember: balance, focus, speed and rhythm..."
The minty-green unicorn drew a deep breath, psyching herself up for the practice ahead of her. Then she reared up on her hind legs, her forelegs waving in the air as she sought to balance herself.
"Eyes front, don't look down, the vertical line from the base of your horn will pass through your body to the floor," Lyra muttered as she flung her arms to the side. The unicorn tilted her shoulders back and thrust her hips forward. Her tail stuck straight out from her rump, helping her keep her balance in the un-ponylike pose.
She swayed a few times, but corrected it with quick arm movements and by shifting her hooves marginally further apart. Then she was standing solidly on her hind legs, her forelegs held by her sides. "All right!" Lyra said, risking a quick glance at the mirror she'd brought down into the basement without Bon-Bon noticing.
Seeing herself in the mirror, not rearing but standing, honest to Celestia standing on her hind legs only, with no support, filled Lyra with confidence. She'd been practicing this for years, but it never ceased to excite and exhilarate her to see herself doing it.
Her family and most of her friends had long ago given up on asking Lyra to explain why on Equestria did she put herself through all these contortions - sitting with her weight pressing on her rump, her legs dangling over the edge of the seat, or practicing standing on her hind legs - and just accepted it as her eccentricity.
To be completely honest, the unicorn couldn't quite explain her own motivations. It had started when she was just a filly, probably on just a whim, but she had kept at it as she grew up. At some point, what had been a whim had turned into a quirk, the quirk into a hobby... and then the hobby had grown into what Lyra increasingly felt was her lifestyle.
She had tried to explain it to Bon-Bon one night, lying on their bed next to her filly-friend. "I'm not trying to shock anypony, or draw attention to myself; I can do that with my harp if I want to! It just... there's this challenge to it, you see? It's like I'm bucking against the whole world that expects me to stand and walk around on all fours all the time, sit properly with my legs under myself and so on. It's... it's liberating! Do you get what I'm saying?"
Bon-Bon had shaken her head. "Sorry, Lyra," she had said. "I really don't. But I see that it gives you something, and makes you happy. And that's good enough for me, sweety. Just don't overdo it, okay?"
And she hadn't. Lyra wasn't a stupid pony, and knew very well the strain these odd postures put on her unicorn body... and the stares she got from the other ponies who didn't love and accept her like Bon-Bon did. So, most of the time she went around like everypony else, only indulging her bipedalism every now and then.
And that's why she was practicing in the basement of the house she shared with Bon-Bon, instead of out in their back yard, in plain view of any passing pegasus. "Okay. Balance, focus, speed and rhythm. On the count of three... One, two, go!"
With a look of intense concentration on her face, Lyra swung out her left hind leg, her right front leg swinging in a counter-balancing arc. A step, and a second, and a third... Anypony could stagger ahead a few steps while rearing, but this went far beyond that. This was walking on two legs, like birds or young dragons did!
As she got into the rhythm, Lyra began to take longer steps, moving ahead quicker. It wasn't all that different from walking the ordinary way, you just had to move your front legs more laterally... and keep your balance, of course.
The mint-green unicorn reached the other end of the aisle she'd cleared in the basement. She turned around very carefully, with tiny prancing steps, and started back. Half way to the start, she stumbled. Trying to catch her balance, she overcompensated, and almost toppled over backwards. Only a quick flash of magic from her horn, grabbing onto one of the beams supporting the kitchen floor above her, kept Lyra from falling flat on her back. Twisting her body, she fell back on all fours with a sigh. "Dammit! I'm going to need a lot more practice!"
She cast a quick glance at the alarm clock, ticking away on top of one of the old crates. Still twenty minutes before Bon-Bon would close her sweets shop and head home. Enough time for another try!
Lyra trotted back to the start and drew a deep breath, her eyes shining with determination. Then she reared back up, and started anew.
Part the Second - Revelation
Bon-Bon trotted through the streets of Ponyville, a basket of fresh vegetables balanced on her back. Cauliflower, peas, fresh juicy carrots... Her mouth was already watering as she thought of the soup she'd make for herself and Lyra. Today was the unicorn's turn to cook, sure, but Bon-Bon felt she owed her filly-friend a nice, tasty dinner for having put up with her being so impatient and tense for the whole week.
One of Carrot Top's cousins was getting hitched next Sunday, and they had ordered the sweets - chocolate-coated carrot sticks, crunchy carrot caramels and candied carrot balls - from Bon-Bon. It was a big order, but she had handled bigger ones in the past. The problem was that the Carrots were trying to one-up the Apples with the size and sophistication of their shindig, and that had meant endless taste tests, demands to use fancier chocolates and complaints about the glossiness of the candies' glazing.
Lyra had been wonderfully understanding about the whole thing. The mint-green mare could be a hoofful at times, with her artist's temperament, typical unicorn neuroticism and her more... well, let's say unique quirks, but this time she had showed a saintly patience for Bon-Bon's fretting, evenings spent slaving in the store's kitchen, and general testiness.
Coming up to their shared house, she opened the door quietly, so as not to disturb Lyra if she had a student over, or was practicing. She couldn't hear music, however; neither the melodic sounds of Lyra's harp, or the usually much less melodic noises the young colts and fillies she tutored made. A quick peek into the living room showed it empty. Shrugging a little, Bon-Bon walked into the kitchen. Lyra was probably out on the town or something.
She tensed, the basket of vegetables held in her mouth. Only her ears swiveled, trying to pick up the noise that had bothered her. There it was again! A fast, curiously furtive rapping coming from the basement. Feeling silly about being spooked so easily, Bon-Bon put the vegetables on the kitchen table and walked over to the basement door, nosing it open.
Whatever the source of the noise, she hadn't imagined it. It was rapid but not too loud, coming in short rushes and sounding curiously like hoofsteps. But instead of the orderly clip-clop-clip-clop of a pony walking, it was a hectic patter, almost like applause.
Grabbing a rolling pin in her teeth, just in case it was some big, nasty varmint that had slipped in from the Everfree Forest, Bon-Bon went down the stairs. Cautiously, she turned around the corner to look, and saw...
"Lyra?!" she shouted, dropping her weapon in her surprise.
The unicorn, who had been running back and forth on her hind legs, jumped and turned to look at Bon-Bon with an almost guilty look on her face. "Eeek! Uh... Um... This is... That is, I'm practicing... Err, how come you're back home so early?" Lyra stammered, visibly wilting under her filly-friend's look.
A few minutes later, they were both sitting in the kitchen, Bon-Bon resting on her seat like a regular pony, while Lyra dangled her hooves off hers in the weird way she had. "So," Bon-Bon finally said. "Please tell me what on Equestria you were doing, Lyra?"
"Uh. Promise you won't laugh?" the unicorn asked. When Bon-Bon nodded, she drew a deep breath and continued. "I'm practicing for the Running of the Leaves."
"Running... of the Leaves?" To say that Bon-Bon was surprised was putting it mildly. Even though she had been born and raised in Canterot, Lyra wasn't the kind of a snobby unicorn who looked down her nose at anypony who'd been born without a horn, but neither was she particularly athletic, or interested in Earth pony things like the autumn race.
"Yes! I'm going to be the first pony in the history of Equestria to run it bipedally!" Lyra said, her excitement overcoming the earlier embarrassment. "I've been practicing for weeks, and I've really gotten hang of the balance. I'm sure I can handle it! And I got these, too." She lifted one of her hind legs up, to show the specialized runner's horseshoe clamped onto her hoof. "I have to be careful with my whole weight on just my back hooves, you see! These have improved traction and a shock-absorbing rubber innersole!"
Bon-Bon blinked. This clearly wasn't a passing fancy for Lyra; those horseshoes looked pretty expensive. "And... when were you going to tell me about this thing?" she asked. "Or did you want to spring it on me as a surprise on the morning of the Running?"
"No! I was going to tell you, honey, I swear!" Lyra said, reaching with her forehooves to touch Lyra's hooves. "I... I just wanted to make sure I could do it before I told. And I believe I can, Bon-Bon! I honestly believe I can!"
"You know that you're going to be the laughingstock of the whole town if you do this, don't you Lyra?" Bon-Bon asked, looking into her friend's golden eyes with concern.
"Will you laugh at me if I run the race like this?" she asked back.
"Of course not, sweety!" Bon-Bon said without hesitation. "I love you, and although I honestly don't always understand why you do these things... I won't laugh at you."
There was visible relief in Lyra's eyes. "Then who the hay cares what everypony else thinks?" she said.
Smiling, the two ponies leaned across the table until their noses touched, and nuzzled one another gently. It was Bon-Bon who eventually broke the tender moment by opening her mouth.
"Lyra, sweetie... It's your turn to cook tonight."
Part the Third - Competition
The days flew past, and before Lyra quite realized it, the day of the Running arrived. It was a beautiful morning. The weather team had arranged for a perfect autumn day, with sunny skies and a nice, crisp north wind that would cool the runners and make the leaves, once shaken free from the trees, fly in a spectacular fashion.
"I'm not ready for this," Lyra said, her hind legs quivering with anxiety. "I should have practiced more! I should have started earlier! I should have-"
Bon-Bon, walking by her side as they approached the crowd of ponies already gathered at the starting line, sighed. "Stop fretting, honey. You've practiced hard for this, harder than most of the runners -"
"Yes, but they're Earth ponies. Running is in their blood!"
Bon-Bon shook her head, exasperated. "First of all, not everypony running the race is an Earth pony. Look, Twilight Sparkle's participating, and so's Rainbow Dash; she's got a bet with-"
"Wait. Rainbow Dash? The fastest thing in all of Ponyville? The pegasus who never walks if she can fly, and never flies if she can fly fast?" Lyra asked, disbelieving.
"Honey, I know you're nervous, but so help me Celestia, if you don't let me finish my sentences..." Lyra looked appropriately ashamed, so Bon-Bon continued. "She and Applejack are competing against one another, to find out once and for all which of them is the better athlete. But my point is, you're not here to win the race! You're here to run it your own way, and I absolutely believe that you can do it!"
Lyra felt a rush of confidence, hearing the support in her marefriend's voice. "You're right, darling... Today, I, Lyra Heartstrings, will make Equestrian sports history!"
She and Bon-Bon signed up at the booth next to the starting line, and received their runner's numbers, helping one another to plaster them over their cutie marks. Taking her special horseshoes from her saddlebags, Lyra carefully slipped them on, tightening the screw clamps with her magic.
They got into the back of the crowd of runners. Bon-Bon was laughing and chatting with several of her friends, but Lyra paid no heed to the other ponies. "Balance, focus, speed and rhythm," she muttered under her breath. She was vaguely aware of Bon-Bon's cream-colored form next to her, but stared straight ahead, trying to will herself into the runner's high.
The warm kiss on her cheek came as a complete surprise to her; Bon-Bon was never one for public shows of affection. "Good luck, sweetheart," the Earth pony said, winking at her and making Lyra smile. Before she could reply, the starting bell rang, and the race was on!
To nopony's surprise, Applejack and Rainbow Dash took the lead, with several other more athletic ponies leading the main group. Lyra had been practicing nothing but the quadrupedal start for days, and she had no problems rearing onto her hind legs once she had built up some speed on all fours.
"Whoo! Go, Lyra, go!" Bon-Bon cheered her on, racing next to her. The other ponies around them were giving her weird looks, however. She ignored them; this was her race against her pony body and the thousand-year weight of Equestrian tradition. The other ponies were just a distraction!
It was easier to keep her balance than Lyra had feared. Just like she had noticed earlier, the faster she ran the less she had to worry about losing her balance, even on the soft and uneven path. The crowd around them was starting to thin as the ponies found their speed and place in the race, and to her surprise, Lyra found herself near the middle of the group. Soon, it was just Bon-Bon and Carrot Top running along with her.
"I gotta admit, I've always thought you're a bit nutty, even for a unicorn," Carrot Top commented, sounding as fresh as if she was just taking a nice walk or working her garden, instead of galloping through the woods. "But it looks like you got some sort of point in it after all, and the guts to go through with it. So I'm gonna wish you a good race and good luck, Lyra!" She nodded to Bon-Bon and began to put on speed, quickly leaving Lyra and her marefriend behind.
Near the halfway mark, as they entered Whitetail Woods, Lyra's legs and back began to ache. The forest floor was easier for her hooves than the cement floor of their basement, but it was also uneven, and that was putting more strain on the rest of her body.
Gritting her teeth, she slowed a bit, hoping that it would help. It did, for a moment. Soon, however, she was feeling entirely new twinges of pain as the stresses to her back were mounting. A particularly vicious stab of pain made her stumble, only catching herself at the last moment.
"Lyra, honey, are you all right?" Bon-Bon asked, a little out of breath herself. "You don't have to push yourself so hard if you're having difficulties!"
It hurt Lyra's pride, but she had to admit Bon-Bon was right. She slowed down until she was moving at just a brisk jog, and the trailing ponies began to catch up and pass her. She ignored them, her attention focused on staying upright and ignoring the way her hips were hurting.
By the time they emerged from the woods, it seemed like everypony had passed them, and Lyra was having real trouble maintaining a respectable pace. "C'mon... Bon...Bon..." she panted. "I'm... huhhh... draggin' you... down! Go on... I'll be... fine..."
"The hay I will!" Bon-Bon snapped. "If you're determined to finish this silly race, then I'm determined to help you finish it!" She moved in front of Lyra and looked over her shoulder. "Put your hooves on my back, I'm going to support you!"
Lyra blushed; it was a remarkable feat, considering how flushed and sweaty she already was. "B-bu-but B-bon-Bon! Think of what we'd l-look like!"
"So what?! We're in the last place already, and everypony's focused on AJ and Dash's grudge match anyway! Now get those hooves on my withers, missy!"
With a sigh of relief, Lyra let herself slump over her partner's back. No matter what it looked like, the position took a lot of her weight from her long-suffering hind legs. Still, she was glad that nopony was around to-
"Hello, Lyra! Hello, Bon-Bon!" The two ponies turned their heads in surprise, and saw Twilight Sparkle coming up from behind. The purple unicorn looked fresh as daisies as she caught easily up with them. "Now that's an unique way of running the race; I don't think I saw it mentioned in Well-Read Racer's Guidebook to Running," she commented. "I'd love to chat a little, but we're getting close to the goal, so it's now time for my sprint. See you at the finish line, girls; have fun!"
Then she was off like a rocket, leaving Lyra and Bon-Bon staring after her. "What the hay was that about?" Lyra panted.
"Shut up and run, honey. You're heavier than I thought," Bon-Bon replied.
As they entered the final stretch, they saw some kind of a commotion ahead: two ponies, grappling and kicking and rolling over and over as they struggled towards the goal, each pulling the other back and trying to push ahead by hook or by crook.
"Is that-?" Lyra gasped.
"They are!" Bon-Bon cried.
They shared a look. "We're not the last ones! Go, Bon-Bon, go!" Lyra shouted, rearing back up on her hind legs. "Run! We can make it!" It hurt, but the partial rest she had gotten helped a lot. Waving her front legs triumphantly in the air, Lyra crossed the finish line on her own two legs, only a yard behind Bon-Bon and almost ten yards ahead of Rainbow Dash and Applejack.
Part the Last - Completion
"Ow ow ow ow!"
It was the day after the Running of the Leaves. Lyra was lying on the thick rug before the fireplace at her and Bon-Bon's house, feeling like the entire Royal Guard, complete with a marching band, had paraded all over her body. Her neck hurt, her back hurt, her hips and flanks hurt, her legs hurt... even her tail hurt, and she had no idea why!
She heard the soft clip-clop of Bon-Bon's hooves as she brought the sore unicorn another cup of hot cocoa and a painkiller. Lyra levitated the bitter little pill into her mouth and washed it down with a big gulp of Bon-Bon's special double-cream, triple-chocolate cocoa. "Oh, thank you baby! I don't know what I would do without you," she sighed.
Her sighs turned into groans of pain, mixed with relieved moans, as Bon-Bon placed her hooves on her back and began to massage Lyra's sore muscles. "When I see what you get up to with me there to save your minty-green butt from your own stupidity, I shudder to imagine what you'd do without me," the Earth pony teased, shifting her weight until a series of pops and cracks echoed from Lyra's back.
"I know, honey," Lyra sighed, feeling proud, foolish and most of all happy. "I'd give you a kiss, but I don't think I can turn my head... Mmm. Mmmmph! Mmmm.... Oh, thank you!" she said when Bon-Bon finally lifted her muzzle away from her mouth. "Umm... a little to the left and lower, please... Ooooh yeah, honey. You're too good to me!"