Chapter 24: Shennanigans And Dark Discoveries
Early sunday morning James was jogging down along the forest edge in his usual work out routine, the air beginning to take on a chill as the season moved into autumn. Every once in a while, just to supplement it, he would stop and do some curls, squats and weighted sit ups with some heavy rocks. Ponyville didn't have a gym as far as he knew, so he did what he could with what he could find. He completed his circut in about an hour and began to jog back to the house for a shower and some food. He was half way back when he was joined by Flash.
"Hey bud, what you up to?" The pegasus asked while hovering along beside the human.
"Not much, I was just finishing up, you?"
"Same, gotta keep the wings in shape."
Silence hung in the air between them for a moment with nothing but the flap of wings and James' breathing to fill it.
"So... the other night I saw Rainbow Dash leave the club with you..."
"Nothing happened." James stated firmly, immediately picking up on what the stallion was asking.
"Well I just thought, they way you two were getting along... and you DID cook her dinner..."
"Nothing. Happened. Yeah, she left when I did, but we only talked for a bit and
went our separate ways."
"Aw, c'mon dude! You had it in the bag!" Flash exclaimed.
"Listen brother, it's complicated."
"What's so complicated about it?"
"Well first of all..." James gestured to his own body as he jogged.
"Yeah, you're big and muscular, chicks dig that."
"I was referring to the fact that I look like a big hairless ape."
"Ha, believe me when I say that almost nopony here cares about that!"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh, nothing. I've just heard... whisperings."
"Whisperings?" James asked skeptically, arching an eyebrow.
James continued to jog, not particularly enjoying the way this conversation was going.
"Well, all 'whisperings' aside, the other thing is that nobody's really been too keen on sticking around when they find out I might be a bit loony in the head."
"Cut it out, it ain't THAT bad..."
"Yeah, almost beating someone to death after you've already stopped them as a threat isn't all that bad." James said sarcastically.
"Ok, eveypony has their faults. All I'm saying is just give it a chance. Besides, from what I've heard from Pinkie, she ain't one to just cut and run."
"Flash, I appreciate what you're trying to do here, I really do, but I'm just not ready for something like that right now, ok? I got too much to worry about as it is."
"All right, all right, fine. I'll drop it for now, but this isn't over."
"Whatever." James said dismissively.
Flash flapped harder and took off towards the house. It was in sight now, so James decided to go hard for the last part of his routine and sprint the rest of the way home. When he reached the house, he immediately went upstairs to grab a towel for a shower and noticed that Spark's door was open, which was strange because the engineer always left it closed when he wasn't home.
"Hey Flash!" he called downstairs.
"Yeah?" the pony replied.
"Did Sparks get back from Canterlot this morning?"
"I thinks so, why?"
"Nothing, I just wanted to talk to him when he got back. Where'd he go?"
"I'm not sure, but when I left earlier I think I saw him heading to HQ."
James grabbed a set of clean clothes and a towel and quickly washed himself up in the bathroom. After tossing his dirty clothes in a corner of his room to clean later, he hopped down to the kitchen and ate a quick breakfast of an apple, some toast and a glass of orange juice. Once finished, he rinsed his plate and set off for the HQ. As soon as he reached it, James entered the readyroom and proceeded to the back where Sparks' workshop was, but stopped when he noticed a couple of this sheets of metal laying on the table. He picked it up and turned it in his hands, studying it. He then rapped it a couple times with his knuckles. It was very light, but hard as steel.
"This is titanium. Where in the hell did he get titanium?"
James put it back down and opened the door to the workshop to find the engineer pony sitting at the workbench, inspecting the odd glowing orb James had stored there days earlier.
"Sparks, you know that's dangerous, right? That's why I had a note on it not to touch." James scolded.
"I was there, I know how dangerous it is. Where did you find this one?" Came the pony's retort.
"I pulled it off a corpse. Didn't see any others. You find anything out about it?"
"No, not yet. I've only just started looking at it, it really is strange."
"Yeah, I was gonna ask you to examine it. I want to know what it's made out of, how it was made and how easy it is to make it."
"I can have that done by the end of the day."
"You don't have to do it right now, you still don't technically have to be at work until tomorrow."
"No, I want the challenge. Did you see our new potential armor out there?"
"The metal? Yeah, where'd you come across that by the way?" James walked back out into the main room and picked up the sheet again.
"I got it from an old classmate, strong stuff. Light too."
"What do you call it?"
"Ah, the pompous ass named it after himself, he's calling it 'Wrightsteel'."
"Uh, huh.... What do you want to do with it?"
"I figured I could fit some to the Clipper, that way we wouldn't have to worry so much about those crossbows. I was also wondering if you'd be willing to consider another concept."
"I want to make body armor for ourselves. Nothing like the clunky old guard armor, stuff we could still easily move in."
"Go on..." James said, intrigued.
"Well, it wouldn't completely protect the wearer and crossbow bolts would still be a problem, but vital areas would be covered and we wouldn't have to worry about being cut up so much."
"I'm game. Come up with a concept we can test and we'll see how it goes from there. As always, go ahead and order any and all matierals you might need."
"Awesome, thanks!" Sparks exclaimed gratefully.
"This comes out good, we'll be thanking you. On a lighter note, how was your leave?"
"Pretty good. I just went back to Canterlot for a couple days to visit my folks."
"How'd that go?"
"Ok I guess. They worry about the new career path, but their still proud of what I'm doing."
"Did you give them details?"
"No, just the gist of things. From what I told them, they know I do some fighting, but I'm mostly work on special projects. They were happy about my pay raise!"
"Good, good. Alright, I'll leave you to your devices here and check back later. And be careful with that thing!" James warned as he exited the building.
He would check back with the unicorn at the end of the day to see if he would have any new information on the strange object. Now he was off to order some cold weather gear and uniforms for his team and he knew just the place to go to. James quickly made his way to the residence of the best tailor he knew here. He casually strode to the door of the boutique and knocked three times and waited. No answer. He knocked another three times. Still no answer. He began to think she wasn't home and was about to leave when he heard a crash from inside. Fearing someone might be in trouble, he reacting quickly. James tried the door knob only to discover that is was locked, so he backed up then took two large steps to gain momentum, kicking the door in on the third. The frame bent inward and splintered, allowing the door to swing open crookedly inward on bent hinges.
Just as he entered, a small purple and orange blur shot by in front of him, chased by a soggy white one. Through an open door, James could see Applebloom in the kitchen trying to soak up a rather large, expanding puddle of water and suds with some fabric. Sweetie Belle trotted up to him, face and hide covered in small scratches.
"What in the name of all that is good is going on in here?" James asked her.
She put on her biggest smile and replied, "Hiya James! It's the Cutie Mark Crusaders Pet Salon! Why'd you do that to the door?"
"Pet Salon? It sounded like there was a fight going on in here! I'm guessing your big sister isn't home?" He asked as a brown dog - Applejack's, he remembered - fur covered in suds ran past him out the door, barking.
"Yeah, how'd you know?"
"Let's just call it a hunch. Is it ok if I leave a note for her? Then I'll help you clean up this mess, she is NOT going to be happy when she gets back."
"Sure, there's writing stuff in the kitchen!"
James walked into the kitchen and found a quill and parchment, scratching out his requests. After he had finished, he turned his attention to the fillies' plight. The puddle wasn't getting any smaller, the sink was full and overflowing, what James now identified as Rarity's cat, Opal, was leaving wet fur everywhere as she chased Scootaloo around the other room, hissing and yowling. First he turned off the faucet, then James scanned the room and saw a doorway off to the side, near the back door. He poked his head in and saw it was a laundry room. In the corner was a mop and bucket.
He retrieved the mop and bucket and proceeded to swab the deck, squeezing the water into the bucket. He repeated this until the floor was almost dry, then tossed Applebloom a towel and asked her to take care of the rest. While she did that, he went to go drain the sink. It didn't have a built in plunger, so he reached in the soapy water, feeling around for the plug. When his fingers brushed up against something, he thought he had found it, but it didn't really feel right. In fact it felt scaly. Before he could grasp it, the scaly object suddenly came alive and clamped down on his fingers.
"AHH! WHAT THE..."
James ripped his arm out the water and stumbled backwards. He looked down at his hand and was surprised to see a small alligator holding on to his fingers with its jaws fixed firmly in a vice. Oddly enough, it didn't hurt. He tried to pry it off, but the gator held fast. He gave up after a moment and just left it there, unplugging the sink with his free hand. After he completed that, he heard a ruckus from upstairs. Trusting Applebloom to take care of the kitchen, James went to go check on it. Reaching the top step, He observed that the Opal/Scootaloo chase had migrated to the second floor and found some new participants. Now a small white rabbit was hopping about while an owl flapped around the ceiling above. The rabbit hopped up to James and stopped at his feet, cutely wrinkling its nose. His heart softened at the sight as he bent down to pick it up, until it kicked him in the shin, stuck its tongue out at him and hopped passed him, down the stairs.
"How the heck did you guys even get all these animals?" He said angrily aloud.
James walked over to one of the windows, careful not to step on the chase running around the room. He opened one up and the owl quickly departed through the exit. Now, as far as he knew, he just had to catch the cat and clean up the hair. Also fix the door he'd kicked in. James called down the stairs and asked Sweetie Belle to bring him a towel, which she promptly did. Then with proper timing, he threw it over the feline as it ran past him in pursuit of the small pegasus and grabbed it, drying it off quickly, which was difficult to do as the alligator was still clamped down on his fingers. This resulted in him receiving numerous scratches up and down his arm as Opal freed herself and ran off into another room.
"Thanks," said Scootaloo gratefully, catching her breath, "I didn't know how much longer I could run!"
"My pleasure, now please go find some tape and use it to get all this fur up while I go check up on the kitchen."
James returned downstairs just as Applejack and Pinkie Pie showed up.
"Whut in tarnation is goin' on in here!?" The farmpony exclaimed.
The human walked over to offer an explanation, but AJ began again before he could.
"Ya don't have to say a thang, Ah recognize th' work of mah sister and her friends when Ah see it." She said flatly.
"Well, yeah, but the damage to the door was all me. I thought I heard someone in trouble, the door was locked and training just took over. You wouldn't happen to know were Rarity is, would you?" James said, gesturing with his hands.
When Pinkie saw the gator attached to one of them she lit up and bounced over. "Gummy! There you are!" At the sound of her voice, the small gator released its grip and dropped to the floor, waddling over to the pink mare before chomping down on her foreleg.
"Well, that solves that mystery." James muttered.
"Rarity is out lookin' fer gems with Spike, but she'll be back soon. Aw, she's gunna have a keniption when she sees this. Is mah sister still in here?"
"Yeah, all the girls are still here, helping to clean up the mess."
"Well, at least she's fixin' her mistake, but she needs ta git home and finish her homework."
"Understood, I think we got it from here."
Applejack raised her voice and called her sister out from the kitchen, "Applebloom! C'mon outta there, ya gots ta finish yer schoolwork!"
"Awwww! Can't I stay a little longer?" Came the reply.
"This is non-negotiable, now c'mon, ya got school tomorrow." The orange coated mare said firmly.
The little red maned filly glumly exited the kitchen and left with her sister and Pinkie. James then went to check on the kitchen and saw that the little mare had done a good job cleaning the floor. He bent down and picked up the fabric she had been using previously and inspected it. It was some kind of silk. Not good. He hung it up in the laundry room and went to find Scootaloo.
He found her with Sweetie Belle, still collecting loose fur, "Hey Scoots, can you do me a favor?"
"Sure, what is it?" She asked eagerly.
"I need you to take that scooter and wagon of yours into town and get a long piece of wood for the door frame and some nails and a hammer. Think you could do that for me?"
"Consider it done!"
"Good, here's some bits that should cover it," He handed her a small bag of the currency,"Take the two pieces of the broken frame for reference and hurry back."
"You got it!" She gave a cute little salute before running outside, jumping on her scooter and buzzing off to town.
While he waited for her to get back, James resumed helping Sweetie Belle with the mess. The two had nearly gotten all the hair up and the kitchen was almost immaculate by the time Scootaloo returned with the items he had requested. James left the two fillies to finish up while he got to work fixing the door. If they were lucky, by the time Rarity got back, it would be like nothing had ever happened. He removed the loose nails from the frame and hammered the hinges back in place. The new frame Scootaloo had bought was a little bit too big, but he had a hammer. James wedged it in and aligned it with a few strokes of the striking tool, securing it in place with the new nails afterwards. Unfortunately, they did not have any paint, but hopefully she would not notice. After repairing the door, James gathered up all the wood scraps and debris from when he had kicked it in. Thankfully, the door itself was sturdy and had only suffered the mark of his boot, which was easily wiped off. Rarity and Spike arrived with three large bags filled with various gemstones just as James was taking out a bag full of the left over trash.
In her refined accent she spoke, "James, what a pleasant surprise! What brings you to my shop?"
"Oh, not much. I just had some new uniforms I needed made, so of course I came to the most qualified pony for the job is all. I left a list of what I want done on a table in the kitchen."
"Oh, that's very flattering of you. You said in the kitchen, Sweetie Belle wasn't cooking, was she?" She asked suspiciously.
"Oh, no no no, nothing like that."
"Then, what is with the trash bag? And the scratches on your arms?" The seamstress asked bluntly.
"I, uh, noticed the bag was full, and uh, decided to take it out. The scratches were from a training accident. Yeah." He made up on the spot.
"Well, that's very kind of you. I'll begin work on your order as soon as I'm able. Spike, darling, you can just leave the bag here, and take a few of those gems for yourself, thank you so much for assisting me."
"Anything for you Rarity!" The little dragon exclaimed enthusiastically.
The cultured mare levitated the bag away and proceeded into her home while James and Spike began to walk away. James dumped the trash in a near by can.
As they walked, Spike looked to James and asked, "Why do you really have those scratches?"
"What do you mean?"
"You can't fool me, those are fresh."
"Would you believe me if I told you Rarity's sister and her friends were involved?"
"Yes, yes I would."
Just then, a fearsome bellow came from the shop behind them, "SWEETIE BELLE!"
"Shit, I forgot about the silk." James said, looking over his shoulder.
"What exactly happened?"
"Brother, it's a long story."
The day had grown old and the sun was setting. Having finished his errands, James was now returning to the Fixers' HQ. He wanted to see what his friend might have discovered about the object of interest. He entered and made his way to the back room workshop, knocking as he entered. The engineer swung around to face him, a haunted look on his long face.
"Woah, what's wrong buddy? It looks like you've seen a ghost."
"That thing, that THING is pure EVIL!" Sparks spat out, pointing to the glowing orb.
"Calm down, brother. Take a breath and tell me exactly what you found." James tried to say soothingly.
Sparks inhaled sharply through his nostrils, eyes closed, before giving the human his report.
"That ball is made of a special crystal believed to have only existed under Canterlot in caves that were just rediscovered earlier in the year. It takes a skilled stonemason to cut and shape it. It's energy storing properties are very unique in that magic stored in it will stay at the same energy levels regardless of the amount of time it's stored there. In lesser gems; sapphires, rubys, emeralds, even diamonds, the energy will dissipate over time. In fact, Myst uses it in her engine to store the energy required to power it."
"Ok, so what makes it evil?"
"What makes it evil is not the crystal itself, but what's inside it. What you're looking at is the concentrated energy of unicorn magic set to be released on impact. But in there is not just the energy of one unicorn, but TEN different unicorns. The high mixture of energies makes it very volatile."
"At least we know why they were only taking unicorns." James said, sitting down.
"There is a small bit of good news." Sparks told his commander.
"And what is that, exactly?"
"We know they made more than one of these, so there is a good chance they made others. You can't harvest unicorn magic like this from dead subjects."
"So they could still be alive."
"There is a chance, yes."
James leaned back and put his head in his hands, thinking.
Sparks looked to his leader for orders, "What are we going to do?"
James took a moment before replying, "First, I want you to put everything you just told me on paper, don't leave anything out. We're going to write a report, the princesses need to be made aware of this."
"And after that?"
James leaned forward and looked the unicorn dead in the eye.
"We prepare, and then we go hunting."