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Quote:Chapter 15: Over The Top

A week had passed after the trip around the world. Strawberryland had once again been saved from Purple Pie Man's grasp and all of us were glad. During this one week, nothing special had happened. Every single person on Strawberryland enjoyed their peaceful time without having to deal with Purple Pie Man or any other threat. On this peaceful day, I was sitting on my working table making a new device, while Almond was playing outside.

"Hey bro! Check this out!" Almond said, right after he came back.

"What is it?" I asked, turning my working chair around.

"Our friends are going to go here tomorrow! Let's go there too!" he said, giving me a piece of paper. I took the paper from him and read it. It was a brochure of a ranch where people can come to breathe on the country air and experience the life down on the ranch.

"Who are going there?" I asked.

"Lemon Meringue, Plum Puddin', Watermelon Kiss, Tangerina Torta, Rainbow Sherbet, Banana Candy, Blueberry Muffin, and Apricot," he replied.

"I'm not sure about this," I said.

"Why not?" he asked.

"I just don't feel like it," I replied. "I'm not really fond of going out anyway."

"Come on, bro! Please," he said.

"Can't you just go by yourself?" I asked.

"Not without you!" he said. I then pondered for a while.

"Alright if you want it," I said after sighing. "This device can wait anyway."

"Yaay! I'll tell them then!" he said, leaving the house running. I could only hope I had not made a bad decision.

At the next morning, the thing that woke me up was my telephone ringing. I picked it up while still being drowsy, and Almond was still fast asleep.

"Hello..." I said.

"Blackberry, are you coming or not?" the voice on the other side asked. "The bus is about to depart!"

"What?! Oh my, both me and Almond overslept!" I said in surprise.

"Do you want us to wait for you?" the voice asked. "But we can't hold the bus for long!"

"Uhh..." I said. "Go without us!"

"Are you sure?" the voice asked.

"We will come with another means! Don't worry about us!" I said.

"Alright if you say so. We'll wait for you at the location. See you soon, Blackberry," the voice said.

"See you soon, Lemon Meringue," I said, hanging the phone up.

"What happened...?" Almond asked, still in his drowsiness.

"We overslept," I said.

"I guess that can't be helped then..." he said.

"Yeah..." I said. "I'll get ready."

"I'll sleep for five more minutes then..." Almond said, going to sleep again.

About two hours later, the bus arrived at the ranch. All the girls on the bus were getting off, and then they were greeted by the owner of the ranch, who was a girl with orange ponytail in cowboy outfit.

"Welcome to Berry Prairie Dude Ranch! I'd like you to meet your ranch hands; Strawberry and Angel Cake!" the owner said. The girls were surprised that their ranch hands were indeed Strawberry Shortcake and Angel Cake, who were already in their cowboy outfit.

Soon, the teams were divided. Lemon, Banana, Blueberry, and Plum were in Strawberry's team, while Tangerina, Apricot, Watermelon, and Rainbow were in Angel's team.

"Is this everybody?" Strawberry asked.

"Well, there are supposed to be two more, but they overslept," Lemon said.

"Really? That's too bad. Who are they?" Strawberry asked.

"Blackberry and Almond," Plum said.

"But when I called them Blackberry said that they would come with another means," Lemon said.

"Well..." Strawberry said. "If it's them, they will come... about now."

Right after Strawberry said the last line, something familiar to most of the girls there came. It was Albatross, and when it arrived right above the front gate of the ranch, Almond and I jumped out from it. We landed safely because of Albatross' gravity field keeping our fall slow enough, and right after we had landed Albatross deformed back into necklace form. Almond caught the necklace and put it around his neck again.

"Sorry we're late!" Almond said.

"We're berry glad that you two made it here, Blackberry and Almond!" Strawberry said, welcoming us.

"Well, I guess I'm the only one who needs an explanation about what just happened, huh?" the ranch owner said.

"Annie, meet Blackberry Bun and his brother Almond Cookie," Strawberry said. "Blackberry and Almond, meet Annie Oatmeal."

"Nice to meet you," I said.

"Let me explain that the spaceship you saw was my true form. And before you ask, yes I'm not human. But let's just put that aside, alright?" Almond said.

"Alright, nice to meet you two. Welcome to Berry Prairie Dude Ranch!" Annie said. "Now pick your team."

"Team?" I asked.

"There are two teams here: Strawberry's and Angel Cake's. The two teams already has the same number of members, so it will be best if you two are in separate team. However, if you really want to be in the same team, I can arrange," Annie explained.

"What do you say, bro?" Almond asked.

"I'm fine either way actually," I said.

"Same, so let's separate," he said.

"Alright, I'll be in Strawberry's team," I said.

"Then I'll be in Angel Cake's team," he said. "Good luck, bro!"

"Good luck to you too," I said. I then approached Strawberry's team and Almond went to Angel Cake's team.

"Welcome to the team!" Strawberry said.

"Almond Cookie. With all his special abilities he's certainly the best competitor of the entire Strawberryland. With him in my team, this is gonna be an easy win!" Angel Cake said with low voice and grinning. Nobody heard her except Almond himself, who then decided not to talk about it.

Later, all teams were gathered at the horse area. We all had changed to cowboy outfit, except Almond who only put on a cowboy hat.

"Hey, Blackberry," Banana said. "Why Albatross... I mean, Almond, didn't change his clothes?"

"Well, the detail is hard to explain. To put it simply, his clothes can't be removed," I said.

"They can't?" Lemon asked.

"Does that mean he sleeps without changing to pajamas?" Blueberry asked.

"Yeah, he sleeps with those clothes, shoes included," I said. "The only thing that can be removed from him is the necklace, and you all know for what."

"Wow, that sounds terrible if it's us," Plum said.

"But the funny thing is that no matter how dirty he becomes during the day, he will be perfectly clean by bedtime," I said.

"Hey, Blackberry," Annie said while approaching me with a black horse at her side. "I'm going to pair you with this horse. He likes a rider who's calm and also smart. His name is Black Currant."

"Eh... what...?" I asked, not believing her last line. "Did you say... Black Currant?"

"Yes, that's his name," Annie said. "What's the matter."

"I had a cat with the same name," I said.

"What a coincidence! But that makes it even better to pair you with him, right?" Annie said, and I didn't say anything.

"Uhh.. Annie. I think we should pair Blackberry with another horse," Strawberry said.

"Huh? Why?" Annie asked. Strawberry didn't answer and instead she looked at me.

"Black Currant, my cat... He died protecting me six years ago," I said, which seemed to surprise Annie. "Without his sacrifice, I wouldn't be here now."

"Uhh Sorry. I didn't know," Annie said.

"It's not your fault," I said, stroking the black horse. "And don't worry about pairing me with this Black Currant. I'll get along with him just fine."

Later, all people had been paired with their horse and were riding them. I could see Almond riding a brown horse skillfully, which surprised me because he had never ridden any horse before. He then approached me.

"Hey bro, doing good with Black Currant?" he asked.

"You already know his name?" I asked.

"I can hear anything you hear if I want, remember?" he said. "You seemed down when Annie brought Black Currant to you, so I got curious and activated that trait."

"I see," I said. "By the way, I'm pretty surprised seeing you riding your horse so well," I said.

"My telepathy, along with him helping me with language barrier, really helps. Glad that ever since I split my soul, I no longer have any headache while connecting to him in human form," he said. Suddenly we heard someone screaming. We then rushed to Strawberry and Annie to ask about what had happened.

"What happened? I heard someone screaming," I said.

"It was Plum Puddin'," Strawberry said. "Her horse jumped over the fence and she was frightened."

"Is she going to be alright?" Almond asked, looking at a distant horse running around the field with its rider looking scared.

"Don't worry. Thunder knows where he's going," Annie said calmly.

Later that night, there was a chili cooking competition between the teams. I had no idea about cooking chili, so I only watched. I was standing close enough to the other group so I could hear Angel Cake bossing towards her team.

"Hey, Almond. Use your fire on this pot!" Angel said.

"Huh? But..." Almond said.

"We need to keep the fire hot, so do it now!" Angel interrupted.

"Alright..." Almond said. He then used his Flame Stone power on the pot. I was worried about the pain and burn damage he had to endure, but I decided to believe in him, so I didn't say anything.

"Hmm... Smells berry good," Strawberry said, smelling the chili from her team's pot. Blueberry then took a spoonful of the chili and tasted it.

"Could use some more chili powder," Blueberry said.

"Plum, could you do it?" Strawberry said.

"I'm on it," Plum said, bringing a bottle of chili powder. She was about to shake the bottle above the pot when I interrupted.

"Wait a second, Plum," I said, approaching her. "Before doing that, make sure the cap is sealed tight. Don't want to risk the cap falling and all chili powder in the bottle getting into our chili, right?"

"Oh yeah, you're right," Plum said, tightening the bottle cap. "Oh my gosh, glad you said that! The cap is loose!"

"Berry great job, Blackberry!" Strawberry said as Plum carefully added the chili powder to the pot.

Not long after, Annie went to the other group and tasted their chili.

"Ouch!" Annie said right after tasting.

"What's the matter?" Angel asked.

"This was delicious," Annie said. "But it's too hot! I mean, the heat. You probably had the fire too big. But don't feel bad about it."

Annie then went to our team's pot and tasted our chili.

"Hmm... This is... Perfect! Well done!" Annie said. "Team Strawberry is the winner for this match!"

Our team cheered for our victory. But my cheering didn't last long because I heard Angel Cake scolding Almond.

"We lost and it was your fault!" Angel said.

"I was about to say that the fire from Flame Stone is hotter than ordinary fire, but you wouldn't listen!" Almond said.

"You should have controlled it! It's your..." Angel said, but I came and interrupted her.

"He did everything as you told him, and now you blame him?! Do you know how hard it was for him?!" I shouted.

"Huh...?" Angel said in surprise. I then pulled Almond's right hand which he had been keeping inside his pants pocket. There was severe burn damage all over his hand.

"Look! This is what always happens if he uses the Flame Stone power continuously for more than one minute!" I shouted.

"Calm down, brother! It will heal by tomorrow morning!" Almond said, but I didn't listen.

"He did all those for you, and you scolded him?! I had better thought of you, but now I hate you, and I will never forgive you! NEVER!" I shouted from the top of my lungs. There was a silence, and I walked away from the crowd still holding Almond's hand. However, suddenly everything went dark and I didn't remember anything that happened next.

When I woke up, I was on a bed, but not the bed in the bunkhouse. I had no idea how I suddenly had ended up there, but I noticed that it was already the next day in the morning from the sunlight coming through the window in the room.

"Morning," suddenly a familar voice greeted.

"Hey, Almond. Where am I? What happened?" I asked, looking at Almond who was sitting on a chair next to the bed.

"This is Annie's bedroom. I knocked you out, with my soul power," he replied, which surprised me.

"Huh? Why? For what?" I asked.

"Because I needed you to calm down," he said. "Do you realize what you've done? Do you know what happened after you threw a tantrum like that?"

I couldn't answer, so I kept silent.

"Angel Cake broke down and cried! She was so shocked, and she fainted not long after! Not to mention the atmosphere became so bad that Annie decided to call the entire event off!" Almond said, standing up. "Everyone else should be halfway home by now."

"But she..." I said, but Almond interrupted.

"I know! You had a point that what Angel Cake did wasn't right, but you didn't have to be so outraged! You said it yourself that anything done out of rage wouldn't bring anything good, but why did you end up doing that?" he said. "Everyone else said that it was not like the usual you."

"Because..." I said, but I couldn't bring myself to speak further.

"Tell me, brother," he said, sitting on the bed.

"Because I love you," I said. Almond seemed a bit surprised. "I love you as my brother. I'm determined to guard you from anything at all cost, even if it means losing everything else. I won't mind the entire Strawberryland hating me, as long as I can always guard you I don't need anything else."

"Well, I'm flattered," Almond said. "But that still cannot justify what you have done. I appreciate you defending me, but you went too far and it won't bring any good for your future."

"Yeah, I pretty much have lost some of my friends' respect towards me. I'm aware of that," I said. "But the damage has been done and I have to live with the consequences."

"Brother, can you promise me one thing?" he asked.

"What is it?" I asked back.

"Never defend me out of rage again," he said. "If you want to defend me, keep your head cool."

"That may be a bit hard to do," I said.

"Promise me, brother," he said. I kept silent for a while.

"Alright, I promise," I finally said. I saw Almond smiling after I had said that.

"Thank you, brother. That's what I want to hear," he said. Suddenly, his necklace started to shine.

"Almond? What's happening with you?" I asked. Almond didn't say anything. He just kept smiling as his necklace emitted even brighter light to the point I couldn't see anything but white.

"We lost and it was your fault!" suddenly I heard a familiar voice.

"I was about to say that the fire from Flame Stone is hotter than ordinary fire, but you wouldn't listen!" I heard another familiar voice as I regained my sight. I was very surprised that I was back at the chili cooking competition again. Almond had somehow turned back the time.

"You should have controlled it! It's still your fault!" Angel said. I was once again angered by what Angel had said, but I had promised to keep my head cool. Therefore, I just calmly approached her.

"Angel Cake, did you really want victory so bad that you now blame my brother?" I asked.

"Eh? No... I mean... I..." Angel said, losing her words.

"If you want to blame someone, then blame me," I said. "Blame me for your loss because I prevented Plum from accidentally pouring the whole bottle of chili powder to our team's chili,"

"I don't think that makes sense, brother," Almond said, still with both hands inside his pockets.

"Well, does blaming you make sense either when you did what she had told you to the letter?" I asked.

"Alright, sorry for interrupting but I really need to say something here," Annie said. "Angel Cake, I don't mean to corner you, but you are really becoming what we have been trying to avoid."

Angel just bowed down her head, not saying anything.

"We all need to remember that the whole team competition is just for the fun of it, not for the victory or the trophy. So no bragging if you win, no whining if you lose. The participation and putting all your heart in it should be the main point," Annie said.

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Angel said. "I'm really sorry, Almond. I was carried away."

"Ah, no worries," Almond said.

"Alright, now that we are settled, let's eat our chili together!" Annie said.

"I'll pass, then," Almond said.

"Why is it?" Angel asked. "Are you still hurt because of what I said?"

"No, not that," Almond said. "I suddenly don't feel too well..."

"I think he needs some rest after using that Flame Stone power," I said. "I'll take him to the bunkhouse and return later."

"Oh I see," Angel said. "Good night, Almond."

"Good night, Almond!" the others said. The two of us then walked away from the group.

"Can't have her feel more guilty because of seeing this," I said, pulling Almond's left hand from his pocket while still walking. The hand had severe burn damage.

"Yeah, thanks," Almond said.

"And thank you to you too," I said.

"Huh? For what?" he asked.

"For turning back the time to give me second chance," I said.

"I did that?" he asked.

"Yeah. You don't remember?" I asked.

"I see. So that's why suddenly my soul power suddenly depleted and I felt so weak," he said. "Yeah, I can turn back the time, but I don't get to keep my memories of the future. Only one other person I choose will get to keep the memories."

"Oh..." I said.

"What had happened that I turned back the time?" he asked.

"It's embarassing. I'd rather not talk about it," I replied. "But I'm very grateful that you averted it."

"You're welcome," he said. "Though there will be no Albatross for at least two weeks because of this."

"A small price to pay," I said.

"If you think that's a small price, I'm starting to wonder what kind of trouble you got into," he said.

"You're better off not knowing," I said.

"Come on, bro. Tell me!" he said with a smirk.

"No!" I said, running away from him.

"Hey, wait!" he said, chasing me, and the two of us ran all the way to his team's bunkhouse.

-End of Chapter 15-
Ah, good explanation for Almond not recalling the future. Nice chapter, although you did make more than your usual number of grammatical errors over singular and plural ways to use words. "Who are going there?" should have been "Who is going there?", cowboy outfit should have been cowboy outfits as the outfits were more than one and not uniforms, et cetera. English is an annoying language that makes confusing exceptions for its rules.