“... and so I welcome you to this evening’s presentation of some of Equestria’s most precious treasures! The exhibition will open to the public tomorrow, but tonight, we celebrate this collection of some of our greatest examples of pony art and culture, from unicorns, pegasi and earth ponies alike!”
Everypony clapped, demurely, their hooves thudding against the polished wooden flooring of the hall. Gathered here were some of Equestria’s best and brightest, not to mention the richest. They all listened politely while the Professor of Antiquities from Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns was giving his introductory speech, some more successfully feigning interest than others.
Sitting in the audience was a white-coated, pink maned unicorn, dressed for the occasion in a formal gown. She stood a good hand and a half taller than most other mares, and one might be forgiven for mistaking her as Princess Celestia going incognito, at first glance.
Her name, at least the one she was most commonly known by, was Fleur-de-Lis.
Most of the ponies in the room would have known her from her brief, but highly lucrative, modelling career. A few of the older and more artistically inclined may have recognised her as an ex-ballet dancer from the Canterlot Opera House’s troupe. The Professor of Antiquities would, perhaps with a little prompting, have remembered her as the one student in Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns who failed every class except counter spells.
She was trying her best to look interested, but was rapidly losing the will to live under the verbal onslaught. Fortunately, the Professor was beginning to wrap-up.
“... so, without any further ado, may I cordially invite everypony to join myself and our gracious host in the ballroom for drinks and appetizers!”
Another short round of applause followed, while the Professor and the evening’s host, (none other than a very bored-looking Prince Blueblood,) bowed. Soon everypony was rising from their seats and making their way through the double doors into the ballroom adjacent to the hall.
As Fleur rose to her full, notably impressive height, she felt a light tap of a hoof on her back. She turned to see a dapper-looking unicorn stallion, perhaps slightly older than she was, with neatly combed blue mane and oiled moustache, sporting a monocle and dinner jacket.
“Ah, Fleur, it is you! I’d know those legs anywhere,” he opened, adjusting the monocle and smiling.
“Fancy Pants,” she replied, as one peer to another, in a refined, elegant voice with just a hint of an accent. “I’m surprised to see you here, I didn’t think art was your ‘scene’, so to speak.”
“Well, perhaps not, but you can’t deny a chap the desire to further his own education, can you?” He parried, and Fleur smirked. The delicate fencing match of conversation had begun.
“Why, had a bad run of luck on the derby, did you?” she retorted, silkily.
“Well, how was I to know Rapid Fire would hit a loose piece of cloud on the final turn? It’s shameful, the way they let that track fall into disrepair.”
“You really must find a new hobby, mon cher.”
“I could start with dancing...” he replied, holding out a hoof and smirking. Touché, a hit. She grinned back, resting her foreleg over his shoulders playfully.
“I am a professional, remember. Try not to step on my hooves.”
The band, now in full swing on their third dance, was playing a quick waltz, and Fancy Pants was beginning to find it difficult to keep up. They danced and twirled, standing on their hind legs, forelegs in an elaborate tangle around one another’s shoulders. Fancy Pants had begun by leading, but gave up half way through the tango and decided it was easier to let Fleur lead him.
“Well, you’re improving,” she whispered in his ear as they spun.
“It was either that or perish, the way you dance,” he replied, telekinetically grabbing his monocle as it launched from his eye socket for the third time.
“You wouldn’t have asked me if you didn’t enjoy it...”
“True, I’ll concede that. I think I may need to give my fetlocks a rest after this waltz, though. Join me on the balcony?”
“Join you for drinks or dance with Prince Blueblood... Hrm, that’s a difficult one,” she grinned, lightly motioning with her head to where the royal unicorn was busy making his way down the hors d’oeuvres.
Fancy Pants smirked. “I will defer to your common sense, my dear. Or lack thereof.”
They continued to dance, elegantly circling the room with the other couples, until the waltz finally drew to a close. Bowing to one another, he led her away from the floor and out onto the great, overhanging balconies built into the slopes of the mountain. Far below wound the course of the river that flowed from Canterlot’s mountain peak, feeding and nourishing all of Equestria as it made its way towards the ocean. In the distance they could see the lights of Ponyville, and beyond that, the unnatural blackness of the Everfree Forest, with the moon high above, bearing the familiar shadows of the Mare in the Moon.
The balcony was wide enough to accommodate several tables, and the pair chose one close to the building, well-illuminated by the light streaming through the great glass windows that lined the wall. A waiter appeared near-instantly, in a neatly starched uniform. Fancy Pants smiled at him in a friendly manner, and the waiter curtly nodded in response.
“I’ll have a coffee, I think, I might need it to get through the rest of the evening. Yes, just a simple black coffee for me,” Fancy Pants said, waving a hoof in that way that nearly everypony does when ordering food or drink, despite offering no useful purpose at all. The waiter silently raised an eyebrow, and Fleur suppressed a giggle.
“Oh, come now, you’re sounding like your father!” she replied, before addressing the waiter directly: “Strawberry champagne for both of us, if you’d be so kind.”
The waiter nodded and glided away, as light on his hooves as a pegasus. Fancy Pants frowned a little.
“Really, Fleur, champagne?”
“I like champagne.”
“That’s not what you said the last time we had a drink together.”
Fancy Pants paused, then sighed loudly.
“Really, like my father?” he said, in exasperation.
“Word-for-word,” she replied, laughing.
The waiter quickly re-appeared and placed two glass coupes of the sparkling, pale rose drink onto the table before them. They both thanked him, and Fancy Pants threw him a couple of bits.
When he’d vanished again, they resumed their conversation. Fancy Pants took a sip of his champagne and smiled, feigning surprise.
“I say, look at that, I do like it.”
“Told you.~” Fleur replied, a trill in her voice.
“I have to say, Fleur, I did miss your company while you were off in Prance. Sometimes I feel everypony else here just agrees with me all the time to avoid ticking me off or losing my favour. They treat me like I’m some sort of... well. Some sort of princess, honestly,” Fancy continued, smiling happily at the unicorn mare.
“Ah, you missed my constant contradictions and rapier wit, hm?”
“Well, you know how much I loathe Yes-Mares.”
“Oh yes, I remember you telling me about that... oh, what was her name? Violet? Viola?”
“Violet Glory, don’t remind me... Spent the better part of a summer with her trailing my every step, seconding everything I said, even when I began to deliberately contradict myself just to catch her out. I can’t stand a pony without opinions.”
“Ah, so that’s why you put up with me,” Fleur smirked.
“Among other reasons, of course.”
“I’ll spare you the embarrassment of trying to think of one.”
They looked at one another, faces perfectly straight, and slowly broke into matching grins, before bursting out laughing, gathering a few strange looks from the other guests. They quickly tried to compose themselves, shoulders shaking with barely suppressed mirth.
“Ah, my dear, however would I cope with all... this,” he waved a hoof around for emphasis, “without you around to keep me firmly on this side of an asylum?”
“I’d have to join you there, I think,” she replied, finishing off the remainder of her champagne.
“I say, do you remember the sensation you caused that year when you turned up to the derby without a hat?” he began, after a moment’s recollection.
“Oh, the looks they gave me! I swear that duchess had a cockatrice in her family tree somewhere. And then you, of all ponies, stood up for me by taking off your tuxedo! I thought they’d faint on the spot!”
“It took me several months of careful words and earning favours to recover from that one, I assure you,” he grinned. “Worth every one, though.”
“Then the next month I was at the Canterlot Garden Party, and somehow mistook the Princess for a waitress!” Fleur continued, laughing.
“My dear, I know you can be a bit oblivious at times, but how in the blazes did you manage that?!”
“She came up behind me when I was talking to some ambassador or other, and well, given that I may have had one too many helpings of punch, I assumed she was a waitress taking empty glasses! Fortunately she saw the funny side of it.”
“Ah yes, our Princess is well-renowned for her... rousing sense of humour. I think her personal planner took a month’s holiday on the coast after she invited a dragon to last year’s Grand Galloping Gala,” Fancy Pants said, smirking at the memory.
“My, I wish I’d been there to see that.”
“Turned out she was actually the Royal Librarian. I think that took everypony by surprise. I certainly didn’t know there was a dragon living in the castle, at any rate. Are you going, this year?” he asked, making a gesture with his glass.
“They’re sending out the invitations already?”
“Well no, but as far as I’m concerned it’s pretty much a done thing. I think at least one of the family’s attended the Gala for every year since they began.”
“Ah. Well, if you find yourself with a plus one...” she replied, leaving the question unsaid.
“You would be the first mare to mind, Fleur. Actually, on a similar note, I was invited to the opening of the new Ponet exhibition next week. I don’t suppose...” he trailed off, looking at her hopefully.
“I’ll come and keep you awake, mon cher.”
He smiled and finished the rest of his glass, then fell silent for a moment. Fleur cocked her head to the side and looked at him inquisitively. He looked back at her and chuckled to himself.
“What?” she said, smiling.
“Here I am, dancing around the subject... Fleur, would y-”
“If the guests would please make their way inside for the beginning of the tour!”
“... Maybe later,” he said, rolling his eyes, and got up from his seat. Fleur reached across and placed a hoof on his back.
“Would I what, Barding?”
Touché. He’d missed a parry, and she’d struck him a blow. He paused, and held her gaze for a moment.
“You haven’t called me that in years,” he smiled.
“Well..." she chuckled in response, looking up at him. "... I always preferred it to ‘Fancy Pants’.”
“Honestly,” he said, taking her by the hoof and helping her up. “So did I.”
“In the next display are some striking examples of stone and metalwork from the Neopony Period, recovered from the site at Skara Bray. They show remarkable early use of advanced artistry in this far period of history, and seem to indicate an affinity for natural themes and objects...”
The Professor droned on, explaining each artifact and display in minute detail. Whilst some of the pieces in the exhibition were decidedly beautiful in their craftsponyship and had incredible history behind them, the Professor had a way of distilling all that raw wonder into hours and hours of mind-numbing monologue.
To make matters worse, Fleur found herself with a pony she definitely would have rather kept at several leg’s length.
“... and well, Auntie was furious, of course, but she just doesn’t have a sense of humour.”
“Yes. Your highness,” she managed, now struggling to keep the smile plastered on her face. She wasn’t sure which she found the worse ordeal, Blueblood’s banal trite or the Professor’s unabridged lectures.
To top it off, Fancy Pants had been ‘dismissed’ by the Prince and was currently milling around the jewellery displays, making small talk with various celebrities and aristocrats. Stealing a quick glance, Fleur saw that he had slipped back into that calm, collected demeanour he was so well known for. She knew that this merely meant he was bored to tears.
“So anyway, that’s why I’m stuck here hosting this bore of an evening. What’s your excuse?” the Prince continued, oblivious to all but himself.
“Oh... well, I am quite the lover of the arts, your highness. I was happy to attend when I received the invitation,” Fleur replied, with a smile that could melt stallion’s hearts at thirty paces. A conversation with Blueblood wasn’t a bout. It was a walk-over.
“How anyone could be interested in all this... junk is beyond even my considerable intellect,” he replied, in a feeble attempt to parry.
“But sir!” she replied, feigning shock and surprise at such a response. “Some of these items are older than the monarchy itself! Surely you must find some interest in them?”
Blueblood took this as his cue, and puffed up his chest in what he believed was a ‘macho’ posture.
“I am a stallion of progress, my good lady. We don’t need to waste time on all this 'digging up the past' when there’s new borders of technology and industry to explore!”
“Oh? Pray tell, sir.”
“You are, no doubt, aware of the recent advances in our steam technology? Our trains can now go faster than even our quickest athletes!” He continued, in a condescending tone such as one would use when talking to a little filly.
“Ah yes, the innovation of superheating the steam as it leaves the boiler was quite a remarkable concept. Such a simple thought really, the addition of a minor enchantment, but such an improvement on the old model!” Fleur replied, cutting Blueblood off. The prince stared at her, mouth slightly agape.
“I, uh, yes. Exactly,” he said, struggling to recover. He wasn’t used to talking to intelligent mares, usually he was just surrounded by the air-headed and vapid ponies that made up the sad majority of the Canterlot elite. Often the mere mention of the steam engine was enough to make mares look up at him in silent admiration, without having to back up his claimed knowledge. Despite his boasts, he didn’t actually keep up with the research or fully understand the science.
“And to think that soon we could even apply the technology to our airships, and have steam-driven flight! The endless possibilities are quite exciting, wouldn’t you agree? But of course, your highness is a ‘stallion of progress’, and I am a mere lover of the arts,” Fleur continued, batting her eyes at the now entirely stranded prince.
“The implications in the cloud-making industry alone are staggering. To think we could further automate the work of dozens of pegasi with a single machine to produce clouds of uniform density and consistency-”
“Yes. Quite. I think I’ll get another drink,” Blueblood interrupted, walking away, head held high as he tried to keep his dignity intact. Fleur tried her hardest to look disappointed as he left.
Now free of the Prince, she took the time to look around the exhibition, half-listening to the continuing drone of the Professor’s voice as he expounded on the rich and storied history of the Border Blanket, proudly displayed in a case at the far corner of the room.
She was just passing a particularly stunning pair of silver and amethyst necklaces when she was joined by Fancy Pants, having managed to shake off his own little crowd.
“Not bad, eh? Those ponies certainly had an eye for detail,” he opened, adjusting his monocle to better observe a particularly ornate earring.
“Oh, I think yours compare favourably enough, Barding,” Fleur replied.
“You flatter me, my dear, I am but a child playing with his father’s tools in comparison to these. I see you managed to successfully rid yourself of the Prince,” he said.
“No easy task, I assure you. Fortunately he left me an opening.”
“And you?” she asked, indicating the group of nobleponies who had just been talking to him.
“Oh, I excused myself. Said I had to go talk to the Ambassador of Zebrica or something or other. It worked, at any rate.”
“And they believed that? There’s not a single zebra here, Barding.”
“You’d be surprised at what they’ll believe, depending on who’s saying it...” he replied, glancing over at them with a hint of disdain. She smirked, and they spent a few more minutes going around the room, examining the works of the past.
Shortly, the Professor had managed to exhaust his repertoire of trivia. Raising his voice for attention, he announced:
“And now, fillies and gentlecolts, I would like to invite you back to the balcony for our piece to round-off the evening! The Prince has leant us his personal airship, the Windfish, as a platform for our fireworks display!”
This was it. Fancy Pants had left to fetch drinks for them both, and everypony else was distracted by the fireworks. This was the moment to act. If she didn’t make her move now, she wouldn’t get another shot.
Slipping away from the balcony, Fleur quickly and lightly trotted back into the ballroom. Nodding politely to a passing couple, she sped up the stairs and along the corridors, going fast enough to be practical, but not enough that she looked suspiciously in a hurry.
Mentally re-tracing her steps, she rounded a corner and passed a set of double doors, entering the biggest of the display areas. There, in the centre of the room, was her prize.
She glanced around. No guards, they’d taken the opportunity to help themselves to what was left of the food. Perfect.
She floated out a compact from the recesses of her gown, pausing momentarily to check her reflection, and blew a pinch of rouge into the air before her.
A tell-tale glint gave away the presence of a detection matrix, a spell specifically designed with security in mind. If anypony crossed the invisible beams of magic energy, the system would trip and an alarm would sound.
She sighed, scanning the room for the numerous gems that she knew made up the lattice on which the spell was based. Swiftly identifying them and marking their locations, she traced back towards...
There. The keystone, the enchanted gem that made up the entire system, was well hidden in the centre of the chandelier above.
Slowly, carefully, Fleur enveloped it in her magic. A light turn shifted the gem's position, so that the invisible beams of magic were now refracted through the hundreds of dangling glass prisms, effectively disabling the system without setting it off. The component gems faded immediately, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
Now she approached the glass case, atop its marble pedestal, resplendent as the hall’s centrepiece. Behind half an inch of plate glass was a plush velvet cushion, on which rested...
The Heart of Canterlot.
She recalled the Professor’s tour: legend had it that the city of Canterlot had been founded after the renowned wizard Starswirl the Bearded becalmed two warring dragons living on the mountain, a white one in the cloud-covered peaks, and a rust-red one dwelling in the caverns beneath. As a testament to their truce, they had both taken a prize gemstone from their hoards, and through the combined force of their flames forged them into this single, magnificent diamond, the Heart of Canterlot.
Even now, as it sat on its cushion, Fleur could see the dragon’s flames swirling within their diamond prison, chasing the latent sparks of Starswirl’s powerful magic. The Heart of Canterlot was a symbol of Equestria, an artifact of an ancient time.
It was also within hoof’s reach.
Fleur had been planning this for months. Getting an invitation to the exhibition opening was the easy part. She had made more than enough of the ‘right’ connections during her social career to net her an invitation weeks before the function was formally announced. Researching the venue, the security, and the evening’s program without arousing suspicion, that had taken the majority of the effort. But now all those preparations were about to pay off.
She studied the pedestal critically, looking for any give-away signs of traps or wires. She was surprised to find none, and proceeded to cast a simple scrying spell to see through the marble at any hidden inner workings, but it seemed the pedestal was just a pedestal.
Smirking to herself, she wrapped the glass case in her magic and gently lifted it up, placing it on the plush carpet beside her.
One last hurdle: the cushion. While the pedestal hadn’t contained any traps, that was no reason to believe she was home and dry. That was the sort of mistake other ponies made. She examined it from every angle, finding nothing. Not satisfied, she scryed again, trying to detect any spells that may have been cast over the cushion and gemstone. This was no easy task, as the diamond itself was a powerful source of magic, drowning out any other signals she may be able to read.
Only a faint flicker in the waves of magic being shed from the diamond gave away the presence of another spell. Fortunately, it was one she recognized from her days at the School for Gifted Unicorns: the Keep-Away spell. If the weight of the diamond shifted, then the cushion and anything within a set radius would automatically teleport to an unknown location as a safety mechanism. It had been developed for just such occasions as this.
She thanked the stars that she had always been good at counter spells.
Focusing briefly to detect the component parts of the spell, she effortlessly dispelled it with a flash of her horn.
Now all that was left was to take the diamond, and...
“I say, I do hope you don’t plan on going anywhere with that.”
She spun around to see a tall, white-coated, blue-maned unicorn stallion leaning against the door frame, adjusting his monocle and levitating two flutes of champagne.
“Barding,” she said, voice level, as one peer to another.
“The same, my dear Fleur-de-Lis,” he replied, his voice curiously absent of any hint of disappointment or disapproval, and instead just... curious.
“I...” she began, stuttering, “... would you believe it’s not what it looks like?”
He smirked, shaking his head.
“I didn’t think so,” the pink-maned mare replied, sighing. “I don’t suppose there’s any way I can persuade you to ignore all this?”
“Fleur, really, we’ve known each other for years,” he said, smiling. “And while I’m not exactly sure of what you plan to do with one of our nation’s priceless treasures, I know you well enough to be assured that no ill will come of it.”
Fleur felt the blade of her response flung from her grip. She stammered a moment, unsure of what to say. “I...”
Fancy Pants held up a hoof, and floated out a little black box from his jacket. It drifted across to Fleur-de-Lis, and opened to reveal an exceptionally well-wrought diamond ring.
“But... I can think of one thing,” he said, still smiling. “I was thwarted in my attempt earlier, on the balcony, and while this may not be the ‘perfect moment’... Well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
She blinked, looking back and forth between him and the ring. Touché, a stab to the heart. Bout conceded to Fancy Pants.
“This was... unexpected,” she managed to utter, at last.
“I thought I was making it painfully obvious, this evening,” he replied.
Fleur paused a moment longer, letting it sink in. “I... I suppose you were.” She glanced over her shoulder at the diamond sitting, exposed, behind her. “I... I’m sorry, Barding, but... I’m afraid you have a rival for my affections.”
“Oh?” the stallion intoned, quirking an eyebrow.
Fleur-de-Lis smirked, and quickly lifted the Heart of Canterlot from its cushion. The match had resumed, and she had struck him a feint.
“I expect it will be a short affair...” she replied, smiling at the stunned and disarmed Fancy Pants, his monocle having fallen, and dangling uselessly on the end of its string. “... he’s a good looker, but not much of a conversationalist. And after all, you know how much I enjoy our little bouts.”
Her horn lit up as she began a teleportation spell. Fancy Pants, recovering quickly, rushed forward. She held up her hoof to stop him. “I’ll be seriously considering your offer, mon cher Coupiere.”
And, blowing him a kiss, she vanished.
Fancy Pants just stood there a moment, not sure what to do. He absent-mindedly picked up and cleaned his monocle, and turned to leave.
He caught something out of the corner of his eye which made him look again.
The little black box was sitting there, on the floor.
He stared at it for a moment, and broke into a slow, broad grin, taking the box and putting it back in his pocket.
“I did say I loathed Yes-Mares...”
As the next day dawned and Celestia’s morning sunlight washed over the cliffs and crags of Canterlot Mountain, the Professor for Antiquities paced back and forth nervously, slowly beginning to wear a hole in the already threadbare carpet.
“The exhibition opens this morning! And without the centrepiece... Oh, who could have stolen it? A priceless artifact! Gone! Part of some madpony’s private collection by now!”
The Curator of the Royal Canterlot City Museum was standing by the door, equally as exasperated, but trying to put on a brave face for his colleague.
“Perhaps...” he began, struggling to come up with some hypothetical, yet believable, reason for the Heart of Canterlot’s absence. The Professor shot him a dirty glare and he gave up, sighing heavily.
“It’s a disaster, Bridle! An absolute disaster!” the Professor spat back at the Curator, emphasising with wild sweeps of his hooves. “Bypassed all our security, made a mockery of our attempts...”
“... You don’t think it was Black Reins, do you?” the Curator suggested.
“Black? No, not his style. He may be our rival, but he’d never stoop to theft from the museum itself. Out in the field, well, all bets are off, but once you’re safely across the threshold...”
The Professor’s pacing was interrupted by a sudden knock on the door.
“Enter,” he said, wearily. The door swung open to reveal one of the exhibition guards.
“Sir! Sir, it’s- It’s hexed, sir!” the guard gibbered.
The Curator and the Professor looked at each other with raised eyebrows.
“Hexed, man? What are you babbling about?”
“The Heart, sir!”
Their ears pricked and stood up to attention.
“What about it?”
“It’s back sir, in its case! I was doing my morning check like you told me to, sir, and I passed the case and it's back! There was this note with it, an- and a flower!” he stammered, producing a carefully folded note, written on scented paper, accompanied by a magnificent specimen of a white lily.
The Professor, with the Curator and the guard peering over his shoulders, adjusted his spectacles and read aloud:
Here is the Heart of Canterlot, safe and sound. A simple scrying spell will prove its identity, should you doubt that it is the genuine article. I would so hate for your fine exhibition to go ahead without its decidedly fabulous centrepiece, and I must compliment you on a delightful evening.
Canterlot was a city of two halves. On the slopes and the cliffs stood the tall, elegant buildings of white marble and gold, a forest of spires reaching for the Sun. But in the older parts of the city, among the caverns and caves of the mountain itself, dwelt a different class of ponies.
In one such cavern, hidden from the eyes of the sun and stars, there was a market, a market almost as old as the city itself. Over the centuries, buildings and shops had been carved into the walls of the cave, and the cavern floor had been smoothed by the passage of many hooves. This was Canterlot's Underground Market, and you could get anything here.
One shop in particular was nestled in a natural cleft in the cave walls, squeezed between two larger, brighter buildings. If you didn't know it existed, you would probably never find it. From the outside, the dimly lit stone gave away nothing of its contents, and only the battered sign bearing an ancient-looking vase gave any indication of its purpose.
As the stars swirled in the night sky above, a cloaked figure slipped inside the market cavern and made straight towards the hidden little store. A keen eye would have seen flashes of her white coat as the dark cloak that concealed her was caught in the night breeze, and a few errant strands of a pink mane peeking out from the hood.
The mare vanished into the cleft. Moments later a listener, straining their hearing, would have been able to hear the lightest of knocks and the creak of a hinge badly in need of oiling.
The mare was greeted at the door by an overweight stallion of decidedly drab colouring. His coat was a grubby off-white, and his messy, unkempt mane was a two-tone of grey and darker grey. His eyes (at least, what could be glimpsed of them under the mess of hair and his drooping eyelids) were a soft gold, adding a little colour to the picture. His cutie mark was two near-identical gold bits, one having a small chip in the rim.
He looked up at the mare at his door and smirked, quickly ushering her inside.
Despite its dark exterior, the inside of the store was like another world. Every available inch of space was taken up with valuable-looking bric-a-brac, knick-knacks and the odd bit of junk. Hanging on the wall were zebra tribal masks, their paint flaking with age. Stacked in piles were old, forgotten tomes of spells. Lying against an antique chair was a deadly-looking set of metal claws, obviously designed to fit a gryphon’s paw.
The floor was hidden beneath layers of plush, elaborately stitched carpets, and the only path between the mountainous stacks of things was a narrow and winding one. The fat stallion made his way through with surprising nimbleness, leading the mare to a back room. Once there, she lowered her hood, shaking her mane free of the fabric.
"I don't know why you bother with the cloak, Trophée. I'd recognize those legs anywhere." The stallion grinned, turning to 'Trophée', none other than Fleur de Lis. "S'been a while since I last saw you 'round here, got something for me?"
"Well, I don't come down here for the 'charming, rustic atmosphere', Copy," the mare replied, pulling back her cloak to reveal a saddlebag. Opening it with her magic, she floated out a brilliant, burning diamond. The stallion's half-open eyes widened in awe.
"That's... That's the Heart of Canterlot, isn't it? Oh, you sly filly. Stole it during the middle of the exhibition and all. Classic," he said, taking it in his own magic and admiring it.
"You know how much I love a challenge. It'll have to be back by dawn, of course," Fleur continued, before noticing that the unicorn was no longer listening to her. Raising her voice a little, she added: "Think that'll be enough time for the two of you to get to know one another?"
"Hrm? Oh, definitely. Incredible piece, this. You want the usual, then?"
"Of course. How long will it be?"
The stallion studied the diamond with a critical eye. "Tch, well... I dunno. Hard to say, t'be honest. It's not a natural rock, y'see, this here's bonafide dragon-smelted gemstone. It's half ruby and half diamond, that's what gives it the pink colour. Then there's the dragonfire, and the magic..." he continued, muttering to himself.
"The magic's not so important, Copy, it's only a souvenir for my collection, after all."
The stallion seemed almost hurt by the mere suggestion.
"What? My dear mare, you do not come to Copy Paste, the finest forger in all of Equestria, and go away with an improper replica. No, no, no. I can do it alright, but it'll take a while. What's your window?"
"I'd say you have about six hours, maximum."
"I'll have it done in three, but only for you, Trophée." He trotted over to a workbench and set the Heart down, clearing away a half-finished dinner and opening a draw of assorted gemstones. "Have a seat while you're waiting. Tea? Coffee? Kettle's ‘round here somewhere, if you can find it," he said, glancing over his shoulder.
"I'm fine, thank you."
"Suit yourself. Oh, I'll be taking the usual rat-"
He was cut off by a pouch of gold bits being placed on the bench in front of him.
"... Perfect. To work!"