The clouds were nowhere to be found in the sky, just the scorching Sun which's light slowly started to fade into orange over the desert. A lone eagle few by over Dodge Junction, taking a good look around and moving on. Cherry Berry enviously watched the animal fly by from her window, then soon it was gone, a resentful sigh left her mouth as her forehead hit the glass. Silence filled the room, as if time'd have stopped in a sudden. Berry let the melancholy take all over her as she closed her eyes, watching the same old dreams over and over, fading slowly into the void.
"Cherry Berry!" a deep, yet excessively loud voice squealed her name from somewhere behind her. Her eyes shot open as she recoiled from the cold window. She still felt its coolness against his head, so with her right hoof, she decided to rub it a bit to warm the spot back up. Though the voice.... she knew who that was, and turned around her bed to answer.
"Coming, mom!" she yelled back, letting out another sigh. She stood up headed towards the door of her little, wooden room. Just what was it, again? Barely can a pony get half an hour of rest here? She strolled down the narrow hallways when it happened again.
"I'm coming alright!" she shouted in an irritated voice as she made it to the living room "What is it?" she asked.
The room was ever so ordinary. Light brown walls reinforced by dark brown pillars, their colors similar of the wooden furniture. The floor having a pastel greenish-brown color didn't stand out either.
By the door, two ponies were packing up, each having a pair of saddlebags that were being filled with empty bottles. One of them was a stallion of average height, light, brownish-yellow coat and a short, charcoal grey mane kept in rather elegant way, brushed to one side. His cutie mark was an oval shaped, red berry hanging from a wooden mug. The mare had a lighter yellow coat similar to beige. She wore her crimson mane in a tall and elegant style to make up for her rather short body, using a golden colored headband to keep it together. Her cutie mark was a simple cherry. Cherry Jubilee and Mug Berry have been married for countless years by now, and their relationship just grew even stronger each passing day. Two of them raised two beautiful fillies on their own ever since, fillies who grew into big adults in what seemed like a blink of an eye.
"We're going out to the oasis for some fresh water, could y'all finish sorting those last piles we left in the meanwhile?" the mare explained, her voice having a strong country accent to it.
"Yeah, sure." Cherry Berry responded in a rather indifferent manner. They could never get to see this 'oasis' the two kept visiting from time to time. That was hardly fair. It even started to grew a bit of suspicion in her, why was it that they always went there together? Without them? Weird.
"Thank you, honey." Mug replied in a deep, manly, but still warm and caring tone, putting the last bottle away and opening the door for his wife. A real gentlecolt he was, despite being the owner of a bar nearby.
"Don't let your sister atop the sortin' wheel again, and remember to have fun." Jubilee added, stretching out the melody of those last words like a singer. It was like a catchphrase to her, really. Any time something mundane or boring was to come their way, she'd raise a moral somewhat with these cheerful words.
"I won't, don't worry." Berry shook her head as she waved to her parents gently, watching them wave back for a second before the door closed. Finally. She allowed herself to let out yet another heavy sigh again. Just another of those days this was, another drop of water into the ocean. She longed for something more.... exciting, and beautiful.
"What's with that attitude? Ya's face is longer than a conveyor belt in a log cutter." a rather high-pitched and raspy voice shouted up from behind, accompanied by a painfully big hit on the back of the neck. The 'little' Milleny was always like that, down-to-earth and positive. She inherited this from her mother, just like pretty much every other trait except her hot pink mane she wore in a bob. This was the reason their father let Jubilee decide the name. Though she was two years younger then her sister, she still looked older than her.
"C'mon, sis, Mom just said to have fun, so we gotta do just that." the Millie added as she began shaking her older sister like crazy. Then, as she finished she let go of her and headed towards the sorting room where they were assigned to work.
Cherry Berry just sighed up once more. Whatever her friend meant by fun was sure no good, considering the last time. She followed her sister anyway, just who knew what crazy things she might had in her mind. The sorting room was near empty, the conveyor belt, the wheel connected to it, boxes for different berries and a couple basket full of the fruits were there. Aside those, there were a couple more commodities as well, a larger table and a couple of simple seats, just in case somepony didn't feel very well.
"I'll take the wheel, I guess." Cherry said, heading towards the good old wheel. She liked the wheel, it allowed her to drift away into her thoughts and help time pass a lot faster.
"Ho-ho-ho, girl, we gon' need no wheel this time. Today is the day of the Second Annual Cherry Hill Cherry Championship." Millie told her as dragged her back by the tail with one of her hooves.
"Easy peasy, we'll be competin' three rounds. The one that win the most will be the Cherry Champion." Millie explained with childish carelessness. Berry rolled her eyes. She expected something like this. Last time when their parents were away they and they left the work in the orchard for them, she also made a competition out of it. Needless to say it backfired.
"Sorry sis, but I'm not really in the mood for games right now." the reluctant big sis explained, lowering her head like a tired mare.
The beige mare was not taking it, though, her smile flipped into a frown as her eyebrows descended. She tried, but if Berry insisted on it, then she might as well let her be.
"Oh, of course. You never are. Feel free to get back to your room and daydream about 'flying' and 'exploration', then, like always. I don't need none of your angst." the younger one replied in a fed up and irritated manner. Berry recoiled in shock. That was so not true, she wasn't angsty, she was just... she was... She sighed once more, Millie had a point. For too long she has been beating herself up over her dreams instead of actually trying to be happy here. This needed a change.
"Alright, so, what's it going to be?" She asked, her voice still filled with doubt. Her sister, however knew that all she needed was just a bit of happiness to get going, so she just went with the flow. She was reckless and competitive in nature, but also wittier than one'd expect in the beginning.
"A classic one, sugar: The Shell Game." Millie explained, turning around and rushing towards the kitchen.
'Shell game? Really? She wants to sort the fruits with the shell game?' Cherry Berry asked in herself. She didn't understand at all, but if that was what she wanted, it worth giving a try.
"The loser loses the round." the little cherry-mare explained, returning with three wooden mugs she held with her tail up high. She laid them down on the table, and since the baskets were just by, she could easily pick a single red piece and throw it on the furniture with a whip of her tail.
The cherry rolled a tiny bit before one of the empty jugs struck down upon it upside down. Millie set up the other two in line with it, a smug grin growing on her face. She surely was very confident in becoming the 'Cherry Champion'. She began shuffling the cups, slowly at first, then faster, and faster, and even faster.
"You better not trust Fortuna with this one, sis, 'cause she ain't gonna help you. You seeing this cup, you know which one has it still? Blink once and you miss it. Whoops! You saw that? Don't get too dizzy, you might end up seeing a couple more cups. Got it? Or you just think you got it?" she rambled maniacally as she mixed them up real good until she found it satisfying, then she put her hooves down by the two sides "Well, choose one."
Berry confidently put her hoof on the middle one, which rendered her sister frustrated enough to let a little groan out. She picked it up, revealing the red fruit from under the wooden cover. Cherry Berry knew her sister very well, she was all go and no show from time to time. The blonde mare picked the fruit up with her mouth and trotted over to the red cherry box by the conveyor belt, gently dropping it inside.
"Wonderful! One down, only two thousand seven hundred and ninety nine more left." she explained with a sarcastically happy voice.
Milleny rolled her eyes carelessly "We'll get'em in time. Now, your turn." she demanded. If there was one thing she did not appreciate, it was losing, and she desperately wanted to show her sister she's better.
Berry picked out another cherry from the basket, and carried it over to the table with her mouth. She layed it down and put the cups on it. With the same sly grin her sister did she began shuffling the mugs all around. She didn't need no words, she let her hooves do the talking, for she knew a handful of tricks to mislead her challenger. The sound of the wood sliding atop the wood barely ever stopped for a blink, until Berry let go of the mugs, putting her hooves by the sides. Milleny's eyes kept switching between them for seconds, and noticing that, Berry knew her chances are now one to three. The younger sister then, repeating her older one casually pointed at the one on the left. Berry confidently raised it, for she knew what was not under it. She raised the one on the opposite end, revealing the fruit underneath.
"Alright, you won." Millie mumbled angrily, which just made the other mare feel even more satisfied. Nothing like crushing your little sister's confidence.
"Don't want to break your mood but we'll never finish with this pace." Berry pointed out in a frustrated manner. They had a job to do, after all.
"Worry not your little head 'bout that. The next game's gonna make up for it." Milleny wagged her hoof carelessly as she walked away, leaving the room once more. What kind of insane thing was in her mind again was something only she knew. The mystery just grew even greater when she returned with a cup of sugar and spoon, and started to scatter it on the floor gently.
"Alright, what is this supposed to be?" Berry asked, her right eyebrow raised greatly as she scratched her head. Her sister refused to answer until she was finished, though. After making a circle big enough that about a pony could fit in, she dropped the spoon, put the sugar down on the table and finally spit out the answer.
"You know how to play marbles, right?" she asked. Marbles, a game Berry played long, long, very long time ago, before she lost them. She still remembered its rules faintly, something about hitting out other marbles with one of theirs. Though a game like that with cherries kind of made sense, after all there were aplenty of colors to choose from.
She nodded, following her friend who headed towards the baskets. Millie took a hoof-ful of cherries, many from different colors, beautiful reds, unripe greens and yellows alike. Barely withholding her excitement she quickly sorted a couple out of them and laid the reds and greens down in the arena. The cherries made a smaller ring inside the sugary one. The younger sister took one of the yellow fruits by the side, it was to be the main marble they'd use to hit the others.
"Alright, do you want the red or the green ones?" she asked. Throwing the little thing up in the air, but not very high.
"Doesn't matter." Cherry Berry answered. She still sounded very uninterested, which Millie did not appreciate in the slightest.
"Alright, you got the greens, I take the reds." the beige pony replied in frustration, laying down the golden cherry, and with a quick fling of her hoof, she knuckled it in with full force.
Cherries collided, rolling left and right, several leaving the ring, two-two of each to be exact. A wild but predictable tactic from her sister, Berry took hold on the yellow cherry and went for the safer way. She spotted an unripe one, standing all by itself at the edge. She laid on the ground down for maximum accuracy, and with a swing, she knocked it out of the ring, collecting it by her side along with the rest. Millie also liked this idea, and she swept all red ones outside of the ring by her before making the next move. The next move that she copied from her opponent.
It was still a tie, but Cherry Berry saw a way to hit two birds with one rock. By luck, two greens were aligned just so if one scores a hit in between them, both could roll out of the ring with ease. Cherry laid on her belly once more to set it up as perfectly as she could, for the targets were on the total opposite side of the arena. This shot had to be just perfect. She spent a little more time checking it out from different directions. Once satisfied, she knuckled the golden orb, making it thunder across the field. The cherry went just right in the middle, knocking the two others out of the ring.
"Yes!" Berry shouted as she pumped her hooves in the air once. She could hardly believe it, but this made her actually pretty excited. Who'd have thought. Milleny hit the wooden floor in frustration. No way she's going to lose again. She picked up all the cherries she collected by her side and put them in their representative box by the conveyor belt.
"Winner can choose the next match's layout, by the way." she noted in a rather angered, but still calm and condescending tone, which her sister obviously did not appreciate. Berry also delivered her cherries to the boxes, then proceeded to grab some new ones from the basket and set them up. She didn't care about her sister's frustration, obviously she was mad because she lost, as always.
With the new setup, it was Cherry Berry's turn to hit first, and she knew well her first target. The cherries made a big X shape, and at one of its end, a green marble lied. Berry took it out without much effort. Now it was her sister's turn, as such she passed the fruit over to her. Milleny looked still rather grumpy at her losses, but she carried on. This little habit had her fall into a devilish spiral multiple times by now. Just as recklessly as before (if not even more), she smashed the golden one into the middle, ruining the picture. However, it took them a couple seconds to realize something. There was only one red left.
Berry was shocked, she didn't expect this tactic to actually work. She still had three more of hers left, and no way she could make it in one shot. Guess leaving things to sheer luck can be a beneficial thing after all. No matter how hard she looked, this round she couldn't win for sure.
"Okay, you won." she resigned with a tiny sigh. Millie however just recoiled with an "Eh?". A moment afterwards did she let out a satisfied chuckle, before standing up and gathering another pile of cherries. Finally, she won once... but that didn't stop her, of course. It was time to double that up.
This was the last round, and as such, she felt it best to make it special. Something very challenging and risky. She came back with only four fruits, two green and two red, and then began laying them down. Mad yet strangely weak giggles left her mouth as she did so, like some evil genius. Red, green, green, red. The marbles made up a small square as the earth pony rolled them as close to each other as possible. Now this was to be exciting. She grinned like a maniac as she laid down the yellow cherry by the ring. However, unlike one'd have expected, she hit it so gently that it barely even touched the shape she created in the middle.
She then threw the fruit over to her sister. Cherry Berry was confused at first, but still tried to make some strategy here.
She kept humming as she tilted her head. Then, an idea struck her. Challenging it might be but if she could hit a red one hard enough to make the green behind it leave the ring, she could even the chances. Even them, because her sister was totally hit the single one that remained in the end. That way, she could putt the golden one by the side and take out the only remaining of hers. Seemed like a nice plan.
However, as she knuckled her cherry at it, the results didn't seem to be like the way it turned out in her mind. The green one made it close enough to the sugar rim, but it lost too much power to actually pass it. That was not all though.
'Oh no!' she thought as she noticed her fatal mistake. Now the red marbles made up a V shape, conveniently close enough for her sister to take both of them out with a powerful blow from where the unripe one lied. It was a trap! It was all too late by then, Milleny devilishly smiled as she prepared the golden cherry, hitting it with formidable power, right into the middle. The red ones shot out of the ring like bullets towards the two directions they were facing towards.
"Aww yeah!" the younger one shouted, followed by a loud laugh. She could hardly believe it worked, finally she could outsmart her big sis at something. Felt so great for her, the taste of sweet comeback just being the cherry on top.
Now that Millie won this round, thus the scores were even, the girls could get a breather from the tension by putting the piled up cherries into their correct boxes. They sorted out quite a few with this, and Cherry Berry was quite glad they did something already, even if it wasn't too much. Still, the little, teasing grin on her sister's face that remained there just fueled her longing for a rematch. She wanted to wipe it off, she wanted to teach her a lesson so bad.
"So, what's the next round?" Berry asked. The moment those words entered her ears, her sister's tiny grin instantly turned to a wicked smile.
"I see I got'cha interested." she laughed. She took one of the chairs and put it back where it belonged, except its backside was facing towards the table. She took another one and placed it just next to it. Ah, Berry got it now, the backs of the seats were completely solid and larger than the table, which meant if they turn it all around, their back side could make a wall around the table.
As the loud noises of the chairs being pushed, pulled and rotated faded away, the girls successfully set up a nice arena on the furniture. Milleny took the one in the far end, though, and removed it.
"Let's play some air hockey." she suggested, filled with excitement as she put the sugar aside, down on one of the chairs where it was not in the way.
"But we don't have-" Cherry Berry's answer was cut off by the mug just next to her "Oh, nevermind."
Weird idea it was but it could work. She put one of the three wooden mugs aside, and tossed the other one towards the other end of the table. Millie picked up another cherry from the basket and gently placed it in the middle of the arena. Both of them reached for their cider jugs and got ready for the duel.
"Ready! Steady! Go!"
A moment has just passed, but the two sisters suddenly found themselves breathing near each other's faces, The cherry vanished into nothing but sauce and tatters between the two cups, staining their sides. Shocked, both of them retreated to their side. Berry ran to get a wet kitchen towel, while Millie prepared another 'ball' by the side.
"I knew this was a stupid idea." the desperate Berry roared as she began cleaning the table.
"It was kinda funny though how it took us a second to realize." her sister giggled. Thinking back, Berry couldn't help but grow a smile on her face as well. She tried to force her lips down, but she just couldn't, which just made the whole thing even worse. Her sister didn't hold back though, and began giggling quit loudly. Evidently, Berry couldn't help but chuckle a little as well, then a little louder, then even louder. The two mares shared a good laugh for those few seconds until the mugs were cleaned, then they proceeded with the duel. This time, they were to be more cautious.
Milleny didn't count back, just tossed the cherry with the mug towards Berry. The assault came like lightning, and the older sister needed to act fast. With a sudden move to the right she somehow managed to block the ball. It caught some airtime, bouncing once from the table, then off the wall towards the other pony's direction. Millie swiftly repelled it with a hook, sending it back where it came from. Her eyes were filled with confidence, she was to win this one for sure. Berry tossed the fruit back to the right as it kept bouncing all around. It wasn't even air hockey anymore, but table tennis... or rather some odd hybrid of both. She didn't notice her move left her territory exposed on the left, a thing her sister noticed and targeted already. Another, small hook to left and the little cherry went flying once more. Berry tried to reach there, but she was too late. The ball slipped by and bounced down from the table. Rolling a couple steps longer down on the floor.
"Yeehaw!" the younger one squealed as she throw her hooves up in the air "The loser gotta pick 'em up." she added to tease her sister. Berry disregarded it, and just went to pick up the fruit and throw it into its place, bringing a new one from the basket and placing it down into her area.
"Wait, how far should we go?" she asked, laying her hoof on the wooden mug.
"Um, first to three?" Millie asked back rather unconfidently. Berry nodded, that sounded like a fair offer. She leaned forward and spread her hind hooves for some stability, then with a fast move, she hit the cherry to her sister's court. Maybe a bit too fast. Berry quickly lost the grip on her object, which then almost instantly ricocheted off the back of a seat, rolling and suffering through the table. A second later the red orb flew past by her once more.
Cherry Berry groaned, turning around to get it again and trying her best not paying attention to her foe's snickering behind her. She took another cherry, this one was yellow, for the sake of change. Who knew, this might bring her luck in the end.
The hold was firm, her senses sharpened, it was time for her to score already. She hit the golden cherry straight into the other side, which her sister sent back just as simply. Cherry Berry knew what to do now, with a long sweep of her hoof, she bounced the ball back towards the left corner. Milleny tried to catch it but it was too fast, disappearing under her beige skin. Next thing she felt was her jug being hit by something in the back, but soon she took it away, the cherry vanquished. Before she could even ask where did it go, the answer already poked at her hind hooves gently. She stepped back with a groan to reach under the table which the little fruit rolled under. She took it, and dropped it into the box, bringing a new, red one.
She didn't waste time, she threw it onto the table and hit it before it could even stop. Berry was ready now, and she hit the ball back with a right slash, making it ricochet off the wall again. Milleny knocked it back, but Cherry Berry also blocked it. The battle went on and on for long seconds, and the focus was seen on both ponies' face. They knew well what was at stake, and that there could be only one left in the end.
After a strong hit from Milleny, the cherry caught airtime once more. Letting out a gasp, Berry raised her jug by the handle, swinging it to repel the ball back to the field. Milleny also grabbed the handle of hers, raising it up and smashing the fruit back with a huge swing. The game turned completely into a table tennis match from that point, as the mares kept swinging their jugs like drunkards, bouncing the fruit back and forth on the table. Yet with each hit, the ball traveled faster, and the sisters found themselves backing away from the table on their hind hooves ever so slowly.
Each step made each hit longer and harder, hard enough to start destroying the cherry itself. The blows started to rip the fruit into pieces, but their expressions and their confidence didn't break once. Not until Cherry Berry felt something strange pushing against her hooves. Before she could even realize what it was the world around her began to flip. A second later did she came to her senses again, laying in the basket almost full of fruits.
It was just perfect, Milleny could feel the taste the sweet victory already. She bent over, readying herself for the final blow when-
"Cherry, Millie, we're back!"
Fear and panic washed over the little one as the fruit blew past her unnoticed. She had no idea what to do, or what's about to happen. Their parents will be absolutely furious. Frightened, she dropped the cider mug on the table and began turning the chairs back to their original position.
It was too late for that now. The door opened by the side ever so quickly as Mug Berry and Jubilee arrived. Their reaction was anything but unusual. Their eyes widened as they gazed around the messy room, but soon their mind grasped what was going on those big, surprised eyes turned into narrow, angered ones.
"What in Celestia's name was goin'on here?" the mother asked, almost shouted, staring madly at Milleny.
"Uhm, fun?" she answered slowly with a huge, awkward grin, which just made the mare sigh and slowly plant her face into one of her hooves.
"Cherry Milleny, you get back to your room this instant. Grounded for today." the father shouted back, pointing towards the door behind him. The frightened pony snuck out as fast as she could without a word. She could feel that any given second her dad might hit her, even though that couldn't have been farther from the truth.
Jubilee shook her head as she helped her other daughter get out of the basket. Half of the fruits were squeezed underneath her, those were no use anymore.
"Cherry what did she bring you into 'gain?" she asked. Her voice was filled with disappointment, rather than anger. Cherry Berry always had this bad habit of letting her sister drag her into crazy things. They expected her to grow out of it with time and teach the little Milleny some discipline, like big sisters do.
"Just some weird games, that's all." the regretful Cherry Berry replied. She knew this was going to happen, why didn't she stop it?
"We've been through this last time. You're the bigger, you should be tellin' her them do's and don't. She won't listen otherwise." her mom replied strictly, but still rather quietly.
"I know..." the pink pony responded, her head hanging in embarrassment as she stared at the lower corner of the room left to her.
"I'm gonna take out the table. There'll be no more playing instead of working here." Mug Berry mumbled madly, as he headed towards the table "Cherry! Bring back the mugs and the sugar to the kitchen, will you?"
She nodded and took off the other wooden cup from the table, as well as picking up the sugar Milleny left on the chair with her tail. Then, with a loud sigh, she proceeded towards the kitchen. In the end, none of them became 'Cherry Champions'. Though, while Cherry Berry still held a little bit of a grudge towards her sister, and the guilty also ate her heart like rust, she had to admit one thing.
It was fun regardless.