The light lavender unicorn twisted in agony as the clock on her bedroom wall echoed throughout the empty library that midnight had fallen over Ponyville and the rest of Equestria. For days now, Twilight Sparkle had been terrorized by nightmares of all shapes and sizes, but they all included some key elements; a book, an eye, a knight, a slender walking mirror, and LOTS of explosions.
She tossed and turned, the visions becoming more vivid and more disturbing.
"H-Hello? Is anypony there? Hello…?" Twilight shook uncontrollably as she cautiously cantered through the murky darkness that threatened to envelop her entire being, her hooves made nary a sound as she made her way further and further into unknown territory.
She could feel the sweat dripping down from her multi-colored mane all across her lavender coat and multi-star Cutie Mark that decorated her flank. Her mane and tail were frazzled, the hair that comprised the lone pink and purple streaks in both her mane and tail merged ungracefully with it's darker counterparts.
As Celestia's most faithful student continued her trek into the crushing blackness, a voice rang out.
"HEY, HEY YOU, PONY. WHAT ARE YOU DOING ALL THE WAY OUT HERE ALL BY YOURSELF?" The voice echoed loudly all about the frightened unicorn, making its point of origin and speaker undetectable.
"GAAAAH! Wh-Who's there!? Who are you?" screamed Twilight as her tail shot straight into the air and her fur stood on end.
"GEEZ, CALM DOWN. I ONLY WANTED TO- HOLY HELL! WHAT'S THAT ON YOUR FOREHEAD!?"
"Huh? You mean, my horn?" stammered Twilight as she felt her horn to make sure there wasn't something wrong with it.
"IS THAT ACTUALLY A HORN OR ARE YOU JUST HAPPY TO SEE ME?" The mysterious voice chuckled loudly from its undisclosed location. Twilight's cheeks went red as she folded her ears back against her head and pouted.
"What do you want from me? Why have you imprisoned me here!?" Twilight demanded, stamping her hoof.
"IMPRISONED YOU? WHY, YOU BROUGHT ME HERE. BECAUSE YOUR THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE GOT THE BETTER OF YOU. YOU WOULDN'T BE THE FIST PERSON- ER, PONY, TO WANT TO KNOW MY SECRETS."
While Twilight Sparkle had been known far and wide for her impressive analytical mind, her obsessive-compulsive desire for knowledge often hindered her ability to observe all the facts of her current situation.
'How did I even get here?' thought Twilight as she scanned the seemingly endless void for a landmark. 'I put Spike to bed, finished re-reading the first six volumes of Daring Do, had some tea, and went to bed…that's it! I must still be dreaming! Which means…'
Twilight put on an innocent face and attempted to play coy. "What KIND of secrets? I know a lot about a lot, so I doubt your secret is even worth knowing."
"HMM, THAT'S THE FIRST TIME ANYONE'S EVER REJECTED MY OFFER. I GUESS YOU DON'T WANT PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN KNOWLEDGE…"
"W-Well, maybe I do. Can't you tell me just a little bit?" said the bookworm as she batted her eyelashes the way Rarity had once showed her in her lessons on flirting.
"SORRY, BOMB CRAFTING TAKES COMPLETE DEDICATION, AND I'M NOT ABOUT TO- OH, DAMN…"
"'Bomb crafting'? THAT'S your big secret? Basic applied chemistry? Pfft, and I thought that it was going to be something exciting." Twilight smiled as she triumphantly trotted off in the opposing direction she had been wandering.
"OH, OKAY, THAT'S FINE. I GUESS THAT 'TRIXIE' PONY WILL BE RECEIVING MY WISDOM OF HIGHER EXPLOSIV-"
"TRIXIE!? That showboat is NOT going to learn about crazy explosives! Tell me what you know, where are you!?" Twilight's voice suddenly echoed louder than the mysterious voice she had been arguing with.
"CHECK THE BARGAIN BIN YOU HALF-BRAINED PACK MULE!"
With that final insult, the ground beneath Twilight gave way as she fell back into conscience.
"GAAAAH!" Twilight shot up in her bed, drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. That was too real to be just a dream. She checked her surroundings; everything seemed to be order, right down to her checklist of morning routines for Spike…that was almost complete.
Twilight opened her curtains and was meet with the hash glare of Celestia's noonday sun. She had overslept. Before she had time to completely lose her marbles, a clatter came from downstairs followed by grunting and muttering. Not wanting waste anymore precious time, the frantic mare warped herself down into the kitchen with a burst of purple magic originating from her horn.
"WHOA! Twilight, don't do that! You almost made me drop everything, again!" said the frustrated baby dragon as he precariously balanced a trio of eggs along his spiky purple tail.
Spike had served Twilight for years, and yet the routine-obsessed scholar never ceased to find new ways to surprise him when he least expected (or needed) to be.
"Well, DUH! It wouldn't be a surprise if you knew it was coming, silly!"
The sudden announcement again caused Spike to throw his claws up in fright, launching the eggs for the second time that day. Twilight, now a bit more collected, caught the would-be eliminated eggs mid drop with her expert magical skill and carried them safely over to the counter.
"Pinkie, I don't have time for this right now," groaned Twilight as she lifted one of the eggs and cracked it open to reveal a pink cotton candy tail from within the off-white shell.
"Hmm, you're RIGHT! You really don't! I mean, just look at the time!" The pink party pony's voice did not reverberate from the freshly cracked egg, but instead from Pinkie Pie herself as she appeared inside the clock hanging on the wall.
Rather than question exactly how Pinkie had managed to break the laws of physics this early in the morning, Twilight opted to simply yank on the poofy pink tail with her magic and pulled the rest of her eccentric friend through the impossibly small shell.
Actually, she should probably check to see what time it really wa-
"ONE-THIRTY!? I've been asleep for sixteen hours!? But…but how? I set my alarm and EVERYTHING! Spike, why didn't you wake me up?"
Spike suddenly found himself face to face with his manic boss, the crazed look in her massive, violet, panic-ridden eyes seemingly bored into his very being.
"I-I-I don't understand Twilight! You woke up this morning just like always!"
"Yeah; you came downstairs, totally blew off the breakfast I made, grabbed something near the front door and headed out," said Spike as he eyed the increasingly confused mare with a growing sense of concern.
Twilight's brain is an interesting creature: a brilliant one with a tendency for routine, calculations and creating schedules and checklists to keep itself occupied and organized.
Its major flaw lies in it's inability to handle changes outside the norm, and will occasionally shut down in order to better assess the anomaly from a safe distance; like when its informed that it has already done something that couldn't have physically happened (i.e. being in two places at once).
Twilight struggled to maintain control. "Okay, so let's just PRETEND that I did what you said I did, then what exactly did I take with me before I left?"
"A book, I think. I didn't see it very well but you did had to dig for a moment before you found it. I think it was in the-"
"Bargain bin…" mouthed Twilight, the words barely escaping her lips as she released Spike.
She walked slowly over to the front of the library to a large red tub that sat in front of the wooden stallion statue, a parchment roll above it read; "Bargain Bin: All Books 3 Bits!"
While Twilight hated the thought of getting rid of any book, the library was only so big and some of the books had fallen into disrepair from either rough handling or old age. Spike was actually the one that had come up with the idea of a bargain bin for said books that some of the local ponies might want.
Twilight, again, had been against it from the beginning, but once she saw the look on the CMC's faces when they saw that copy of "A Brief History Of Cutie Marks" and each eagerly tossed a golden bit to the scaly book sales dragon did she see that the books would be better off with those who could actually use them.
A few months ago, after the events of her brother, Shining Armor, and Princess Cadence's wedding did she receive a type of book (one that Pinkie Pie herself had acquired from a local filly after a massive scavenger hunt) that Twilight had never come across in all of her life; one made of skin.
The apparently ancient tome was called "The Bombinomicon", and one of its many unique features was that its cover was that of an evil face glaring back at the reader with two piercing red eyes and an unlit bomb encased within a row of fangs.
While both Twilight and Spike had both been tempted to crack open The Bombinomicon, the amount of growling and snarling had been enough to defer any notion they might have had.
They had instead sent it off to the Princesses for further examination (by regular post as opposed to dragon fire just to be safe), and after a few weeks, it came back with a note stating that the book was in itself harmless but should not be tampered with.
So; what exactly did Celestia's most faithful and intelligent student do with this ancient evil? She shelved it. Right next to "Bold & Daring Equations".
"SPIKE! Why was 'The Bombinomicon' in the Bargain Bin!?" demanded Twilight as she stomped her hoof and teleported her frazzled assistant to her side.
"It must've gotten misplaced after I kinda…went on that rampage, heh."
Twilight pressed her hoof to her forehead in a vain attempt to suppress the impending migraine swelling at the base of her horn from sheer stupidity at her failure to properly contain such a powerful artifact…or cookbook, or whatever the hay it was.
"Okay! Spike, Pinkie! Get ready, we have to find…me, before I misuse whatever power that book might hold!" announced Twilight as she trotted out the front of the library with Spike clinging desperately to her tail.
"Yeah!" shouted Pinkie as she bounced along beside her friends, "and then we can have a 'We-Found-The-Super-Duper-Old-Thingy-Whatsit' party! Hmm, I wonder, what kind of ice cream would be best for that kind of party?"
"I'm more concerned about what kind of creature could have possibly created such a terrible thing," pondered Twilight as she, Pinkie, and Spike, headed for the center of Ponyville.
"WHAT TRICKERY BE THIS!? MERASMUS THE MAGICIAN SAW THAT KING OF HEARTS IN YOUR HAND WHEN YOU DREW IT!"
"HAHA! False information! That king was a actually a queen in disguise! Go fish, you sorry excuse for a sorcerer!"
"God…why dit Ah come here? Ah could gotten drunk just as well at me own home…" grumbled a semi-sober Tarvish DeGroot as he loosely held onto his playing cards while maintaining an iron grip on his treasured alcohol. "Although, Ah suppose it beats me mum badgerin' me aboot work all day," he said, lifting his bottle for another swig of whatever paint thinner substitute was currently tickling his fancy/liver.
For the past week and a half, the gentlemen at Reliable Excavation Demolition (or "RED" as they preferred to be called) had been on standby near the dusty little speck of a settlement called Teufort, acting off a tip they had received that the Builders League United (BLU) was setting up shop in town…again.
Fortunately, the Soldier (A.K.A. Mr. Jane Doe) still had the keys to his old house that his roommate, Merasmus the Magician, had been every since they had fought that one faithful Halloween. Being in a fairly secluded neighborhood, not many people would be around to object to a gang of mercenaries moving in (and those who did would be easy enough to track down thanks to the radioactive water making the locals light up like Smissmass Trees).
But this meant that RED Team was forced to uproot their base of operations and head back from Hydro towards the OTHER end of the desert by Teufort, and with Mr. Mundy (the team's designated marksman and tracker) the only one with a van, moving an entire mercenary base was no easy task.
They did manage to perform that dreaded feat with only one trip, two thousand yards of rope, eighty rolls of duct tape, three hundred and forty-three bungie cords, five paperclips, a safety pin, and nine combo meals from the local Tank Burger.
However, this was over a week ago, and easily the most exciting thing to happen within that timespan other than a quick round of Doomsday. There was the time when they got Spy REALLY drunk and had him do impersonations, but then he started shouting various codes and secrets which lead to an impromptu brainwashing session of a passerby and her two dogs (they did find out that mixing BONK! Atomic Punch with Jarate and Übering it with the Kritzkrieg for twenty seconds makes the world's most powerful mind-wiper).
Since then, Spy had only appeared when he was too groggy in the morning to cloak himself on the way to the bathroom or when he was chewing out Pyro for keeping him up with the inane tune he hummed when he polished his Something Special For Someone Special, which was a lot.
"When is tiny baby team coming? Sasha is getting bored from waiting," grunted Heavy as he cradled his immense mini-gun on his lap for her seventy-ninth tune up that evening.
"Yea; there's no TV, nothing ta' do in town, crap food, and no one ta' play baseball with! This place sucks…" said Scout as he readjusted his headset over his grey baseball cap.
"Weren't there some kids playing just down the street?" asked Dell (or "Engineer" as his paycheck so stated), not even looking up from his blueprints for his patented Teleporter that he had been studying for the past hour.
"Who, those little punks? No way, they cried when they lost 'n didn't even fork over the wager! And I think one of 'em might have been Spy…speakin' of which; has frenchy gotten done moping yet? I'd kinda like ta' be able to go upstairs and not have ta' worry about gettin' shanked."
Now it was the Medic's turn to interject. The tall german doctor sighed as he finished wiping his spectacles on his waistcoat. "It seems as if zough our friend izn't taking ze move as well as ze rest of us," he said in a very somber tone, prompting the rest of the team to lean in closer to hear what the good doctor had to say.
"Yes, I'm afraid zat being all ze way out here could be hazardous to his health. His heart might not survive-" the room went dead silent as the other mercenaries huddled closer to the german, "-being away from Scout's mother!"
The room erupted into fits of laughter as Scout's face went red with rage at the thought of that no-good fiend uncloaking his dagger to backstab his mom. Even Pyro and Sniper, who had been sitting just outside the window enjoying a good smoke (one from a pipe and the other from a torched grain silo a few houses over) joined in on the laughter at Scout's expense.
"You guys all suck! I'm gonna go up dere, and I'm gonna feed dat bastard his crooked teeth!"
The enraged sports fan reached into a nearby umbrella rack and withdrew a wooden baseball bat that said "Sandman" on the side along with a pristine white baseball. Ignoring the warnings he received in-between laughs from his so-called "friends", Scout stormed up stairs and pounding on the wooden door that had "KEEP OUT" written in various languages on it.
"Spy! Spy get out here! You 'n me are gonna talk! SPY!"
"Hey, french fry!" Scout was practically screaming while replacing his bandaged-up hand with the Sandman as his primary method of knocking. "OPEN THE DAMN DOOR! You scuzzy little-"
The door creaked opened slowly, light streamed from the cracks that had been recently added to the door via violent knocking. After having worked with Spy for so many years, Scout knew better than to let his guard down in what anyone else would assume was an "empty room".
This room was far from empty. Being a world traveler, Spy had collected many mementoes from the various places he had been, whether that be stamps or something he had liberated from an enemy organization in said location. A rack off in the left corner of the room was sporting a wide variety of Revolvers and early Sapper models, and a closet that held multiple copies of the same trademark red suit and matching balaclavas.
Towards the front of the room were two impressive briefcases made out of polished mahogany lying on a cluttered table. As Scout got closer, he saw that one case contained the many different Watches Spy had used, while the other cradled the deadly Knives that had been the swift end to many unsuspecting BLUs. Both cases had "Vintage/Genuine/Strange" engraved on the front under the golden locks.
He noticed something missing; the slots for the classic Knife and Cloak and Dagger were empty. As he looked around for any shimmers, he saw that that the Ambassador was also vacant from it's home on the weapons rack.
"Hey, guys? Are you all SURE Spy was up here…?" Scout called down nervously.
The laughter downstairs quickly subsided, giving way to the noises of an entire team of mercenaries scrambling to get up one staircase. As they filed in one by one, each member took it upon themselves to investigate each nook and cranny for their beloved teammate…and to temporally escape the crushing boredom that was slowing driving some more insane than others.
The Engineer was the first to check Spy's room as Scout decided it would be best to retreat to the safety of his room in case Spy really was around to witness him breaking his door down.
As he sifted throughout the mounds of papers that littered the large desk, Dell began to see familiarities in the pages; they all had something to do with Australium, a very rare substance that was only mined in Australia that had granted the Australians immense knowledge, power, and wealth.
"Australium? Now why in the hell would Spy be pokin' his pointy noise inta' somthin' like that?" Dell said aloud as he scratched his chin.
"See anything yet?" yelled Twilight.
"Hmm…nothing yet! Oh! But I do see the Cakes! HIYA!" Pinkie Pie shouted as she clung onto the topmost point of Town Hall in search of the imposture Twilight.
Twilight, the real one that is, sighed as she continued to searched the crowded market place with Spike bobbing up and down on her back as she trotted.
"Aw, don't worry, Twilight. We'll get it back. Besides, if the Princesses couldn't make heads or tails of that thing, then what could some impostor do?" said Spike as he stood to get a slightly better view of his surroundings.
"It's not that, Spike. I'm more concerned about, well, ME. Copy-cat spells are very difficult to perform and usually don't turn out very well. This pony was able to fool you completely and make off with stolen property!"
"She didn't completely fool me!" Spike retorted, "I was busy making breakfast and wasn't really in a talkative mood after, well, you blew me off."
"Well, whatever the case, we need to find out who took 'The Bombinomicon' and why! Pinkie! Anything to report?"
Pinkie continued to peer out across the flood of ponies moving between venders and the air traffic of pegasi as they flew through the warm summer's air before responding.
"Nope…*GASP!* Wait a minute! I think I see you over there! Near Applejack and Big Mac!"
Twilight galloped in the direction Pinkie had indicated, launching Spike off her back as he clung for dear life on her violet tail.
"Hang on, Spike! We're gonna catch us a thief!"
"Ah, ain't this a beautiful day, Big Mac?" sighed Applejack as she tilted her trademark hat up slightly so she could feel the warm rays on her freckled cheeks.
"Eeyup," stated her older sibling as he hefted a barrel of freshly picked Red Delicious from Sweet Apple Acres onto his back. The day was indeed something to be admired, the weather team had been hard at work all week to keep the skies clear for the upcoming Grand Galloping Gala.
The warm weather also meant that there were a lot of thirsty ponies wandering the streets, which meant that apple juice and cider sales were up, which meant Applejack was happy. And her mood was only brightened all the more when she spotted her dear friend, Twilight Sparkle, trotting rather hurriedly down the square as she placed a package wrapped up in her magic within a pair of unfamiliar saddle bags.
"Well howdy, Twi. Whatcha got there?"
Twilight looked up from her path with a strange look on her face; a cross between surprise and annoyance that drifted into one of distain. She raised an eyebrow at the orange farmer before heading back along her obviously-more-important-than-her-friend errand with a huff.
"Now just what in tarnation was that all about?" Applejack said aloud, causing Big Mac to look up from his job of juicing apples by applying brute force onto the red fruits over a strainer. True, it wasn't the most glorious way of producing juice, but when a sudden heatwave strikes while out at the stand, anything that fills customer demand is acceptable, even for Sweet Apple Acres' high standards.
"Uh, AJ? Ain't that Twilight a' runnin' up over there?" said the usually silent Big Mac as he pointed down the road towards the sea of moving bodies.
"I don't see anything. Are you su-" Before she could finish her sentence, the same violet unicorn that has just given her the cold shoulder rocketed by her stand with Spike hanging off her mane and Pinkie Pie in hot pursuit.
Applejack was dumbfounded. Had she just seen Twilight…chasing Twilight? She just sat there, stunned, for what seemed like minutes before shaking her head and tilting her hat back down into the grove it made on her blonde mane.
"Hey, Big Mac? Are ya sure that nothin' else is gettin' inta the apple juice? No bugs or anything like that?"
"Eenope," he said checking his hooves for any mud or other type contaminate.
"Huh, must be the darn heat then…" With that, the orange earth pony tipped her hat and decided it was best to rest a spell under a nearby tree to avoid anymore mirages.
Twilight panted as she bobbed and weaved in-between the various candy-colored ponies that mingled and shopped for all manor of things, nearly side-checking Cheerilee as she made a sharp turn. Pinkie took a slightly less aggressive approach at tracking down Twilight's impostor by bouncing merrily above the crowd before diving back down into the mass of Equestrians.
"TWILIGHT! SLOW DO-O-O-OWN!" Spike pleaded as he clung tightly to the manic mare's mane, thrashing about as she dashed to and fro.
"No time, Spike! We have to catch that impostor and get back The Bombinomicon before they open it!"
"But wouldn't they have opened it by now!?" yelped Spike as he fought to keep down what he had eaten that morning.
"Trust me Spike, we would have known if they had opened it." Actually, that was a lie. Twilight hadn't the faintest idea of what terror that tome may tell. It could still be harmless albeit rude, and that's what Twilight kept trying tell herself, she'd believe it too were not for her brain pointing out all of the terrible things it MIGHT be capable of. "We just have to keep looking until we-"
Twilight crashed onto the ground as Spike continued along the path they were traveling and ended up crashing head-first into a produce stand.
"My cabbages!" cried Fresh Pick as he held a few pieces of what used to be his beloved stand in his hooves.
Twilight groaned, she sat up rubbing her head as her dizzied vision returned to her. What did she hit? It must've been something big…
Or, somePONY big.
Twilight gasped, "Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry, I wasn't looking were I was going! Are you alright?"
Copper Head, a larger-than-most stallion with a mane and tail to match his namesake, got on his grey hooves and cricked his neck with a loud pop that made Twilight fear that she may have hurt him in her recklessness.
"I'm alright, Twilight. I've taken much harder hits than that," said the white unicorn as he swept some dust from his Cutie Mark; an orange Lambda symbol inside of a grey circle comprised of segments. "Why were you in such a rush anyway?" he said raising an eyebrow over one of his emerald eyes as he telekinetically placed his saddle bags across his back.
"I was uh- looking for somepony. Hey, how'd you know who I was? I think I would have remembered somepony like you. I mean; somepony as big as you…I mean; I don't have many coltfriends, so they're kinda short…my friends I mean! They're all mares, I don't have that many colt-friends…I mean…ohhh!" Twilight buried her face in her hooves from sheer embarrassment in a way that would have made Fluttershy proud.
"Err, it's okay. I know what you meant. Sorta. Anyway, I'm Copper Head, and how could I NOT know who you are? You're Princess Celestia's pupil, you're the librarian, you're one of the Elements of Harmony, you've saved Equestria twice, and you're Shining Armor's little sister; you're practically a Princess yourself!" said the white colt, who took his turn to blush a bit under his freckles.
"Oh. Um, wow. And I know almost nothing about you, heh. Well, Spike and I have to be going now. I'm sure the pony I'm looking for is…a ways off by now. Nicemeetingyoubye!"
The last bit of Twilight's sentence fused ungracefully as she levitated Spike up from his cabbage cage and broke into a dead sprint in the direction she saw herself go in. Copper Head, a little confused himself, decided it was best to just wave her goodbye and be on his way.
"Uh, Twilight? What was that all about?" asked Spike, still floating within the lavender mare's magical grip.
"Some weirdo who seemed to know everything about me," she said rolling her eyes and sighing.
"I heard some of that. It is common knowledge, besides, you're best friends with Pinkie Pie, and she knows EVERYPONY, I'm sure she's mentioned you to him at one of his birthday parties or something."
"I guess- wait a minute," Twilight skidded to a halt, this time keeping Spike from slingshoting into yet another vegetable cart. "Just where the hay is Pinkie Pie?"
As if on cue, a ballon that had been drifting lazily around a tree, popped to reveal the aforementioned pink earth pony. She tumbled down the tree's trunk and stopped in front of Twilight and Spike with a flourish. "Hiya Twilight! You find you yet?"
"Sadly no, I bumped into some stallion named Copper Head on the way and got held up. Actually, that reminds me; do you know anypony named Copper Head?" asked Twilight.
Pinkie scratched her chin as an uncharacteristically thoughtful look adorned her features. "Hmm…let's see; there's Copper Tone, Copper Kettle, and Copper Wire, but I don't know any Copper Heads. Isn't a Copperhead a type of snake? Maybe Fluttershy knows one! Honestly, Twilight. Is now REALLY the time to be thinking about snakes?"
Twilight shuddered at the the mention of snakes. She had never been what one would call fond of reptiles (except for Spike and Gummy), but ever since she accidentally awoke a large nest of snakes during her first Winter Wrap-Up, she had acquired an ample fear of serpents.
'If I never see another snake again, it'll be too soon,' Twilight thought. "Wait a minute; Pinkie, if you don't know anypony by the name of Copper Head, then…just who did I bump into?"
Twilight, Spike, and Pinkie all glanced back towards the swarming crowd, but sadly, no large unicorns with metallic manes where to be found. Little did they know the stallion was already on the other side of Ponyville, making his way into the clutches of Everfree Forest.
The Everfree Forest; not a place ponies usually wander into by choice. The few that do, only do so out of necessity and try not to linger within the bizarre forest for too long. In contrast to the rest of Equestria, the plants grow all on their own, the weather around it changes regardless of whatever the Cloudsdale Weather Chat may say without any aid from pegasi, and the creatures that dwell within could make even the most hardened Royal Guard quake in their armor.
If the natural dangers weren't bad enough, Everfree is also one giant maze that any non-pegasus would have a horrible time trying to free themselves from. Thorns and other nasty plant life encompass the vast majority of the trails that aren't dominated by monstrous trees and thick vines, and hazards such as quicksand or white-water rapids can spell doom for even Daring Doo herself.
But Everfree is nothing compared to what lays beyond: The Badlands.
A Celestia-forgotten place of nothing but rock and caverns where the only resemblance of plant life is that of the withered trees and dying weeds that dot the otherwise empty desert. The rock basin that commands most of this wretched place is by no means solid, boulders the size of Ponyville's Town Hall fall at a regular pace down into the fissures that crack open at random and engulf everything in the immediate area.
No creature, let alone pony, would be crazy enough to venture into such a danger zone…except for a white, orange-maned unicorn.
Copper Head glanced around the unforgiving landscape. The crackle of rocks tumbling down into the valley made his ears twitch in response but was given no second thought from the wandering colt. His head remained still as he scanned the sun-scorched cliffs. He was being watched.
However, Copper Head had been aware of that ever since he left the Everfree Forest and had been gaining popularity among his mysterious followers all throughout Dodge City. As he continued into a large cave that ripped the rock face in two, his sensitive ears detected a faint buzzing beginning to close in around him. A smile crept over his face, he was getting close.
As he trekked further into the darkness, the emerald glow around his horn grew brighter to keep his path moderately lit. As his illumination spell reached its limit, a throbbing glow gleamed in the black void told the wary traveler where to go. As he approached, the pulsating green light revealed just how large the cave really was.
Copper Head looked up and up to see cocoon-like growths hanging from the celling that emitted the guiding glow. A large cocoon rested in the center, sending pulses of light throughout all of the others like a heartbeat. The walls were nowhere near as impressive to look at; they were black, shimmering…and moving about in response to the glow streaming from the unicorn's horn.
One small part of the wall swiveled to reveal two large, segmented eyes attached to the head of an insect-like creature that screeched and bared its sharpened fangs at the traveler. The shriek echoed throughout the the cave, causing the thousands of Drones to elicit similar responses. They creaked open their exoskeletons, the roar of thousands of wingbeats shook the room as they swarmed around the central cocoon which grew ever brighter.
The massive hive-like growth suddenly engorged itself before splitting into fourths and released a gas that blocked out the Drones and everything else from Copper Head's sight. As he looked up to where the gas originated, a large object fell from within.
The large mass plummeted towards the ground, but somehow slowed its decent to a crawl before landing with nary a sound. The defining roar suddenly stopped, leaving only the sound of clacking hooves coming from the still gas-covered being that grew closer to Copper Head.
"Have you brought what I requested?" asked a female voice from within the greenish fog.
"I have," said Copper Head in a high-pitched, echoey voice as he levitated a wrapped package from his saddlebags. "It was easy, they had no Idea!"
A maniacal laugh rang out as the package was enveloped in a different aura. "Excellent! With this, my revenge on Equestria shall be legendary! So say I; Queen Chrysalis, ruler of the Changelings, and soon, THE WORLD!"
The gas was blasted away as Queen Chrysalis unfurled her torn, nearly translucent wings. She was just tall as Celestia herself, and much like her Drones and Soldiers, her body was encased in a black exoskeleton that reached all the way from her crooked, bent horn down to the holes that riddled her long, slender legs as smog continued to drift through them. Her stomach and back sported turquoise membranes as did the bulbs that decorated the natural crown growing atop her head, which was almost covered by her dark cerulean mane.
Her piercing green eyes looked hungrily at the package as she tore the wrapping away with her magic. "You have done wonderfully, Ditto," she said to Copper Head who kneeled as a green aura swirled around him. Upon standing, he had returned to his natural form of the Changeling Soldier known as Ditto.
"Thank you, my Queen," he buzzed as he too flew up to rejoin his siblings along the Hive's interior.
"Yes, with this stolen Canterlot Spell Book, we shall have our just desserts!"
The rest of the Changelings began to cheer, performing ariel acrobatics and high-hoofing each other. In the commotion, a pair of beady red eyes opened and began to take in their surroundings.
"WHAT? WHERE AM I?" Everyone else within the Hive, including Chrysalis, froze at the sudden exclamation. "OH, YOU LOOK LIKE A FUN GROUP. ANYONE WANT TO LEARN HOW TO MAKE THINGS GO 'BOOM'?"
"W-What? It talks?"
"W-WHAT? YOU SPEAK BASIC ENGLISH?" snorted The Bombinomicon as it ignored Chrysalis and returned to looking around the Hive. "THAT STUPID UNICORN REALLY LET THIS PLACE GO…"
Chrysalis brought The Bombinomicon closer and inspected the strange tome. "A TALKING Spell Book? I had no idea that Celestia sent such powerful artifacts across Equestria in such an unprotected manner. Crazy hag. She must be slipping in her old age," Chrysalis snickered as she continued to rotate the book.
"HEY, WHY DON'T YOU TAKE A PICTURE? IT'LL LA- AND JUST WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE? IT LOOKS LIKE SOMEONE COULDN'T 'OUT-SMART BULLET'" it said mimicking Heavy as its face rotated around and was meet the glare on Chrysalis'.
"Silence! You shall watch your tone in the presence of a Queen!"
"A QUEEN? EXCUSE ME, LET ME JUST TAKE A KNEE HERE SO I CAN- OH, WAIT, THAT'S RIGHT I'M A DAMN BOOK…"
"…You are a magical spell book from Canterot, correct?" said Chrysalis as the strong possibility that her master plan may not be as watertight as she originally thought began to dawn on her.
The Bombinomicon said nothing for a moment, its eyes seemingly starring off into space. "CANTERLOT? OKAY, THAT DOES SOUND FAMILIAR. WAS THAT THE NAME OF THAT DONUT SHOP WE STOPPED AT?"
Chrysalis' jaw dropped. This wasn't happening, no, it couldn't be. No no no no no, this HAD to be a Spell Book from Canterlot, it just had to be! Unless…
"DITTO!" the frightened Soldier quickly returned to his Queen, "I thought you said that this was one of Celestia's Spell Books!" she yelled stamping her hoof.
"I-I-I did, it is! I did just as you commanded: I took the guise of Copper Head, I observed that meddling pony for weeks as per your request, and I saw this exact book leave her library with that ditzy grey pegasus and return with that same mailmare. I even saw the postage that said 'Rush Delivery to Canterlot' with the Royal Seal!"
Chrysalis looked down at her quaking Soldier, he wouldn't dare lie. So that meant that this…thing, was indeed from Canterlot. "Very well; book! I command you to tell me your secrets!"
"EXCUSE ME? I'M SORRY, I MISSED THE PART WHERE YOU HIT YOUR HEAD HARD ENOUGH TO THINK THAT YOU CAN ORDER ME AROUND."
Chrysalis' pupils thinned until they were but barely visible lines dividing the otherwise green pools of her eyes. She violently tugged the troublesome tome over a pit filled with an unknown bubbling liquid and held it afloat mere inches from the rising bubbles, one of which popped and lightly sprinkled The Bombinomicon's leathery jacket.
"HOT! HOT! VERY HOT!"
"Yes, it is. And if you don't want to be submerged in it, then I suggest you OBEY. MY. COMMANDS!"
The Bombinomicon looked at the boiling pit and then back at Chrysalis, "ALRIGHT. WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU DESIRE OF ME, YOUR MAJESTY?"
Chrysalis smiled and pulled the defeated book to safety. "Well, isn't that a nice tone. I suggest you get used to using it around me." She set The Bombinomicon down on a desk made of the natural rock and began to flip through its pages. "Let's see; 'How To Make Bombs', 'Expert Bomb Crafting', 'Blast Radius Calculations', 'Magical Bombs'…why would Celestia even HAVE a book such as this? Was she planning something? Wait, what's…'MONOCULUS'?"
"HMM? OH THAT OLD THING? ITS NOTHING SPECIAL, ITS JUST AN ENCHANTED CREATURE THAT ONCE WIPED OUT HALF OF ARIZO- ER, CANTERLOOT."
"You mean 'Canterlot'?"
"YEAH, HIM TOO."
Chrysalis tapped a hoof to her chin: If the book was telling the truth (and if it wasn't it was going straight in the pit), then she had in her possession the means to summon a fabled beast of old! "Book! I command you to summon this 'MONOCULUS' at once!"
The Bombinomicon just sat there. MONOCULUS, here!? No, that would be disastrous. It knew it couldn't let this crazed…whatever the hell she was get control over something like that. She would have no more use for it, and that could mean anything from being chucked into that boiling pit to being shot into space.
Suddenly, an idea popped into The Bombinomicon's bindings; since it couldn't summon MONOCULUS here anyway, maybe there was a way it could save itself AND get rid of this pesky Queen.
"AS YOU COMMAND, QUEEN. BUT, I WONDER, WHY MONOCULUS? WOULDN'T YOU RATHER HAVE THE ORIGINAL?"
"…'Original'?" asked Chrysalis as she eyed the mystical book quizzically. "What do you mean by 'original'?"
"ALLOW ME TO EXPLAIN. YOU SEE, MONOCULUS TIS BUT A SINGLE PART OF MUCH MORE TERRIFYING MONSTROSITY. BUT, YOU'RE THE QUEEN, SO ONE MONOCULUS COMING RIGHT-"
"Wait! I-I've changed my mind! I want this other creature you speak of."
The Bombinomicon chuckled, "BUT OF COURSE: BAZBO BADARBA!!!"
The Bombinomicon's eyes lit up as shot into the air. It flew open, releasing a purple haze that quickly shrouded the upper tiers of the Hive causing the Drones and Soldiers above to rush into the catacombs for safety. Blue wisps started to revolve around The Bombinomicon faster and faster until they appeared to be rings wrapping around the floating book. Its tiny red eyes glowed brighter still as the wisps shot towards the ground. As they continued to strike the same spots on the cracked floor, a portal opened and a gust of air pressure shot forth.
Chrysalis was beside herself with joy. Her war beast was almost here! Although the dense fog stopped her from getting an eyeful of her new creature the amount of magic she felt from her horn told her that it must be immensely powerful. After a few moments the portal, the wisps, everything but the haze, had faded and The Bombinomicon began to drift back down.
Chrysalis wrapped the falling text in her magic, "YES! The moment has finally arrived! Now I can-"
"SHHHH! QUIET! DO YOU WANT TO ANGER IT!?"
Chrysalis quickly covered her moth with her hooves. She glanced up at The Bombinomicon with a puzzled and annoyed look. "Then what would you have me do!?" she said in a loud whisper.
"THE BEAST IS VERY TEMPERAMENTAL. ONLY THIS INCANTATION CAN SOOTH IT'S SOUL; THE ENEMY HAS CAPTURED THE INTELLIGENCE!" exclaimed The Bombinomicon in a flawless imitation of the Announcer.
"Wha? Ach, bloody hell!"
"And what did that-" before Chrysalis could finish, a small spiky ball stuck into the wall behind her, followed closely by several more. Each one of them was painted red with yellow stripes along the edges, and they all emitted a throbbing red pulse similar to that of the overhanging cocoons.
"OH THEY'RE GONNA HAVE TA' BURY WHAT'S LEFT OF YOU IN A SOUP CAN," The Bombinomicon said snidely. With that, and a small electronic beep, the Hive erupted into a maelstrom of defining explosions, fire, falling chunks of rock, Soldiers and Drones flying for dear life, and a lone brown bottle breaking against the ground.
OH MY GOSH OH MY GOSH OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH!
I, Lyra Heartstrings, won a raffled Grand Galloping Gala ticket! I'm so excited, and Rarity offered to make my dress for me (note; must payback Rarity)! I'm wearing it now and it's BEAUTIFUL. It's better than anything I could have asked for…but it's a bit too tight.
Alright, I admit, I didn't stick with my diet as much as I should have (of course getting booked to play at Pinkie Pie's parties and NOT having sweets isn't physically possible), but since the Gala is still a day away, so I should have time to get back into the measurements I gave Rarity that I may have fabricated…slightly.
Oh but you should see it! It makes the dress I wore for the Royal Wedding look like a waitress uniform. Hah! It's all red silk with some bright orange fringe around the bottom, looks exactly like flames. I thought it might be nice if I had a dress wonderful enough to go with my ring…
Well, that's enough outta me for right now. I gotta go meet Bon Bon for that workout. Ugh…
"Common, Heartstrings! You want to *nom* fit in that cute little *om* dresh donmp you?" Bon Bon said between bites of her third muffin that day. "Mmm, these muffins are AMAZING. You want one, Lyra?"
"I…hate you…so much right now…" grunted Lyra as she continued her regiment of fifty push-ups, "Why…are you eating, huh, those while…we're doing this?"
"It's to help YOU burn off more of that flank you don't want, AND…I deserve a little something for not being able to go this year…" Bon Bon said a little more softly as she sighed into what would become her fourth baked good. Lyra groaned, another muffin for Bon Bon meant addition grams for her to lift as Bon Bon relaxed comfortably on Lyra's aching back. "I can see why you like sitting like this, frees up my hooves."
"Forty-eight…forty-nine…fifty!" Lyra, successful in completing what felt like a Celestiean task, collapsed on the grass outside of the Carousel Boutique with a thud. "Thanks for the help, Bon Bon…now get off me," Lyra panted. "You know, I think I might be able to get tickets, but since you already have plans…" Lyra said with a coy smile as she ripped some sweat from under her red headband.
"You CAN!? Oh thank you thank you thank you tha- *GRRRRROOOOM*" Bon Bon abruptly stopped as her now slightly bulging belly reminded her that she hadn't given it that fourth muffin she'd teased it with earlier, "GAAAH! Why'd you let me eat all those sweets!? Now I have to work even harder to fit into my dress…that I don't even have!" The pale cream mare hopped up off her mint-green unicorn friend and started running about in a panic.
Lyra rolled her eyes, Bon Bon never was never good under pressure. "Shh! You shouldn't go around saying that you don't have an outfit, Rarity might just take back the gown she made for you."
"Mhmm, I asked her for you after I learned about the extra ticket," Lyra said with a hint of smugness in her voice.
Bon Bon's pink and dark blue mane stood on end as the reality that she was actually going to the Grand Galloping Gala (and really was going to have to shed all those pounds) started to set in. "Wait, how'd you get the extra ticket? I thought that only the Elements and members of the Royal Court got spare tickets. Unless…you're not just hiding your wings are you, 'Princess'?"
"ME? A Princess?" Lyra waved her off with a hoof. "Seriously, Bon Bon. Remember the fiasco at the last Nightmare Night? Well, after I, uh, 'helped' the Princess out of a jam, she said that she owed me a debt of gratitude. So, bing bang boom, you have tickets."
"Wow, Lyra. And Rarity just agreed to make me a dress? That's amazing!"
"Weeeell…" Lyra averted her gaze, "not exactly; I have to groom Opalescence for the next two weeks. Twice a day." Lyra was suddenly wrapped up in a giant hug from the cream-coated mare and did her best to return the favor. "So tubby, ya ready to get back inta shape?"
"This is bad. This is very, VERY bad!" Twilight said as she paced nervously about the ground floor of her library. Spike sighed, he knew nothing short of one of the Princesses physically shaking her and telling her not to worry would snap her out of her panic-induced state.
"It could be worse, Twilight," said Pinkie who had stayed with the troubled mare for most of the day. "They could have ruined the library AND taken The Bombi-whatsit. Don't worry, your Auntie Pinkie Pie will take care of it!"
"'The Bombinomicon' and yes, I realize it could have been worse but that doesn't mean we're in the clear just yet! The Bombinomicon was entrusted to me by the Princesses to look after, and I just let some impostor waltz in and take it! It could be across the sea by now and I would have no idea where to look for it…"
Twilight wiped a tear from her eye, prompting Pinkie to give her a pat on the back. Spike was about to join in when he glanced casually over at the clock and instead of giving his caretaker a hug, he gently tapped her on her horn.
"Uh, Twilight? I know it's a bad time but, you're about to be late for-"
"My meeting with Rarity! In all that's happened today I almost forgot, I need to run Pinkie!"
Pinkie bounced along merrily beside her, "So do I! Rarity told me to meet her too! Weird…I wonder if it has anything to do with our dress fittings," said the pink party pony as she somehow managed put a hoof to her chin in thought while maintaining a steady bounce.
"Hold still, Rainbow! If you don't let me put these final touches on your gown, then I'll have Applejack tie you up so I can work without you fidgeting," Rarity grumbled as she placed more stitches along the seem of Rainbow Dash's lavish Gala dress.
Applejack stifled a laugh as she stood in front of a full-body mirror in her own dress. "Heh, and don't think Ah won't! Thanks again for helpin' me with the braids there, Fluttershy."
"Oh, of course," the timid yellow pegasus said as she took another lock of Applejack's blonde mane and made the braid longer before ending it with with a ruby-encrusted crimson hair tie. "There you go…I hope it's alright."
Applejack tilted her head around to get a better look, "Looks good ta' me! Say, just where in the hay are Twi and Pinkie? Ain't like them ta' be late for somethin' like this. Wonder if somethin' happened?" the orange earth pony muttered aloud. Her fears were put to a rather abrupt end as the mares in question came bursting through the front door of Rarity's Carousel Boutique, tumbling head-over-hooves into a large pile of unused fabric.
"Um, come in?"
Twilight rolled lazily to the side of the clump and shook her spinning head as Pinkie popped out of the top with bits of lace stuck to her cotton candy mane.
"Uh…sorry, Rarity. I lost track of time and rushed over here," Twilight said, her cheeks starting to burn with slight embarrassment.
"Really? I would have thought that somepony as smart as you would've just teleported," grunted Rainbow Dash as she was forced into another uncomfortable stance for Rarity (now threatening her with pins and needles to stay still) to continue her precious work.
Twilight raised a hoof to say something, but by then she had already digested what Rainbow had blatantly pointed out and opted to simply collapse back into the fabric, exhausted both mentally and physically.
"You okay, Twilight?" Fluttershy timidly asked as she hovered over her downed friend. "You don't look so good. What were you doing all day?"
"Weeeeeell," started Pinkie, "Spike was making breakfast after Twilight, that wasn't really Twilight, took this book call the Bombomnom.com then the REAL Twilight woke up late, poofed downstairs and surprised Spike and I told him that it wouldn't be a surprise if he knew it was coming; duh! So then we went ALL over Ponyville for the not-Twilight and then our Twilight here got a crush on some stallion called Copper-"
"PINKIE!" barked Twilight, "I did NOT have a crush on him! More importunity, you had no idea who he was."
Everypony save Pinkie and Twilight gasped, a pony Pinkie didn't know? That was unheard of, outlandish even. Once more, as Twilight explained, he seemed to know everything about her and later disappeared without a trace. The Mane Six just sat there for a moment, each one with ideas of might have happened furiously racing about in their minds.
Rarity was the first one to break the silence. "You don't think, stay with me on this, he might be a…Changeling, do you?"
"Eep!" Fluttershy squeaked as she dove behind Rainbow Dash who was now attempting to remove her unfinished dress behind Rarity's back, but timidly put it back on as Rarity tracked Fluttershy's rather impressive dive.
"A Changeling? I thought they were banished when Candance and Shining Armor did that magical love explosion thing," said Rainbow as she tried to avoid eye contact with the angry fashionista. "Why would they be here in Ponyville?"
"They might be after Twilight seein' as how she was the one that freed the real Princess and stopped whatever plans they had fer us."
"Oh no, what if they are after me? What if they go after you guys, or my parents, or…or…" Twilight's chaotic train of thought finally came to halt as a white foreleg wrapped around her. She looked up at the mare it belonged to and sighed. "You're right, I'm just being paranoid…I just wish I had taken better care of that book."
"And we shall do our very best to see that it is brought home, but for right now, I need you and Pinkie to get into your outfits so I can make the final adjustments before we leave for Canterlot in the morning," Rarity said with a reassuring smile towards Twilight and a stony glare at Rainbow.
Twilight nodded and trotted over to the dresser where Rarity had stored her precious creations. As she unhooked the stunning original work from it's hanger, she paused, and looked over at a corner where a sewing machine sat. Had she just seen a shimmer? 'No, it must just be the heat,' she reasoned and headed off back to the group.
"WELL, NOT QUITE HOW I WOULD HAVE GONE ABOUT DOING THAT, BUT WHATEVER GRILLS YOUR CHICKEN AND FLIPS YOUR BISCUIT I SUPPOSE," The Bombinomicon said as it inspected the utter devastation that surrounded it with a sense of dark pleasure.
Only moments before, that bossy whatever had been ordering it around like a common cookbook! Now, her precious lair lays in shambles, fiery chunks of rock and cocoon membrane still rained down from the ruined ceiling, each sound echoing throughout the empty catacombs that hadn't been sealed by the chain of explosions.
The Bombinomicon's beady, crimson eyes swiveled around and continued to drink in all of the delicious carnage its little plan had created. Although, without a host, mobility would be something of a daunting task, but, after being forced to sit on a pedestal in that cooky old magician's library for all those years, sitting in a cave wouldn't be so bad. At least here it could relive the look of sheer terror on Queen Chrysalis' face.
Ah, yes; that beautiful, unique, wide-eye look…of pure, unfiltered rage.
"I…WHAT!? H-HOW ARE YOU STILL IN ONE PIECE, THAT BLAST COULD'VE BROUGHT DOWN A TANK!" The Bombinomicon blurted as a sickly green aura wrapped it up and thrust it into the air. From within the dust, a figure emerged, barring her fangs and attempting to burn a hole through the tome with her piercing glare.
"You…YOU did this to my beautiful Hive!"
Had The Bombinomicon been wearing pants and/or was in possession of the proper organs, then they would have taken a much more…earthy tone. Among the clatter of the few remaining falling rocks and the grinding of Chrysalis' teeth, the Anarchist Cookbook prototype heard an all too familiar voice somewhere in the dust cloud that hung over the stone floor.
"I dun…WHY? Why did it have to be youUUUURP? *sob* BWAAAAA-HAHA! WHY!?" The Bombinomicon searched fanatically in the billowing dust, looking for some sign of- THERE! Crying over the broken bottle!
Calling upon what little magic it had after performing the summoning, The Bombinomicon created a blue glow beneath itself and Chrysalis before taking the guise of Heavy's voice; "COME! PUSH ME OFF IT!"
There was a slight pause, followed by a shuffling and the sound of spiky orbs being forcefully loaded into a metallic tube, each ending with a click. "Ohhh…there's about to be another gravy-filled angel in heaven!" The sound of bombs being launched and attaching to the walls replaced the thick silence as blinking lights pulsed throughout the dust with an abundant red glow.
The Bombinomicon braced itself for the massive explosion…that never came. Instead, it suddenly felt its back cover hit the ground with a thud as Chrysalis redirected her magic away from the spell that kept it suspended. It glanced up at her crooked horn and the flowing aura pouring from it that formed a beam which lead right to-
"HIS OTHER EYE!? OH, DAMMIT! I KNEW I SHOULD HAVE TRIED FOR BOTH, BUT NNNNOOOO, I HAD TO GIVE THE KID A BREAK, I HAD TO- MMMFPH!" the annoyed text muffled as a size thirteen boot covered the vast majority of its face.
The boot wasn't just a boot, what was interesting about this boot, was that there was a whole person attached to it! From the ridged sole that was firmly planted on the normally chatter tome, a crimson full-body jumpsuit that lead up to a dark grey flap of kevlar that protected the most vulnerable area on the humanoid's body (and covered a small piece of paper with a smiley face drawn on it). A mid-sized pack adorned the waist with two smaller packs on the hips. The flap was attached to a blast vest of similar material and color, that's collar rose higher around the neck to prevent any stray shrapnel from shredding the wearer's alcohol-soaked throat. The torso had two extra straps that held three bright-yellow grenades on either side, with a full-body red suit that lay just underneath. The crimson sleeves (that sported a yellow decal of a Sticky Bomb) were rolled up just below the elbow and showcased the white undershirt that contrasted the human's dark brown skin.
The creature's features were just as battered and grizzled as the rest of his body. A square jaw lined with prominent five o'clock shadow (despite its dark backdrop) that formed the making of what could be an impressive mustache/beard combo if allowed to grow. A black wool cap covered whatever hair the being might have had, with a dark eyepatch that shrouded his presumably missing left eye in a mysterious state of existence. The right eye, while normally a light brown, now pulsated with a green aura akin to Chrysalis' magic.
"Hmhmhm, I really SHOULD just have the beast crush you for all the trouble you've caused me, insolent little whelp. Its nothing like how you described the monster MONOCULUS spawned from, assuming that its not a lie too," Chrysalis spat. She looked over the creature that stood before her. Not much to look at, she was taller than it was by a few hands and it didn't seem to posses any magical abilities, if how easily she brain-washed it was any indication.
She continued to ignore the muffled protests from The Bombinomicon and instead focused on the primitive weapon her new warrior was wielding: A long, cylindrical, tube with a fat metal drum secured to the bottom with two wooden handles. What purpose did it serve? The way it was held was very inefficient for a bludgeon or whatever form melee combat it was supposed to be used for.
"Creature, this weapon confuses me, explain to me its purpose," Chrysalis commanded. The human nodded and turned towards the adjacent wall, raising the strange contraption to eye level. After adjusting the sights, one of its digits squeezed the small metal piece near the wooden base which caused a familiar glowing red ball to launch across the room and stick to the rock face with a 'thunk'. The beast's digits found their way over to the side of the tube and clicked something. Suddenly, the bomb that been attached to the wall, along with the undetonated ones scattered about the floor, erupted in a defining explosion of fire and soot.
"Such power! And from such a tiny device! Perhaps…perhaps you can be of some use to me. Do you posses any other wonderful weaponry?"
The explosives expert grunted and removed its boot from atop The Bombinomicon, which sputtered and cursed as the biped lumbered over to where the summoning spell had first deposited it and knelt down next to a rather lumpy rock. However, as Chrysalis noticed upon looking more closely, it wasn't a rock but instead a large, brown bag.
"DRUNKEN, CLUMSY, CYCLOPS! DO YOU KNOW HOW MIND-NUMBINGLY DIFFICULT IT IS TO GET MUCK AND MIRE OUT OF TWO THOUSAND YEAR-OLD LEATHER!? IT'S REALLY DAMN HARD! IT'S NOT LIKE I CAN JUST GET SOME SPIT GOING AND WIPE MYSELF OFF WITH A CLEANING RAG! I HAVE GET A SPECIAL CLEANER, GET THE RIGHT TOOLS, AND- HEY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING? PUT ME DOWN YOU HAG!"
"YOU do not speak to me in such a manner!" the infuriated Queen hissed, "I should melt you down right now if it weren't for the fact that now I know you can actually summon mythical creatures." She looked back over just in time to witness her unintended warrior withdraw an impossibly long broadsword from the mid-sized pack. 'How did he do that? Does the beast posses magical powers? I need to remain cautious, the book might still be trying to betray me…' Chrysalis thought as she eyed the sword with a mixed sense of glee and terror. If The Bombinomicon truly did have some latent power resting within it that could allow it to regain control over the cyclops, then she would be hard pressed to counter it judging by how quickly her troops fled.
Speaking of which; "ANY CHANGELING THAT DOESN'T WANT TO WIND UP LIKE A PARASPRITE BENEATH MY HOOF HAD BETTER FALL IN RIGHT THIS INSTANT!"
The Hive once again filled with sounds of buzzing and rapid apologies being hastily blurted out as the Changelings flew back in droves, quickly resuming their positions along the blasted-out walls.
"My Queen!" a voice from the moving wall cried out. "Get back! I shall defeat this intruder! Bravo Company; ATTACK!" With the order from their C.O. given, dozens of Changeling Soldiers detached from the walls and rushed towards the alarmed human. It rolled away from where it was standing and scooped up its mysterious broadsword before turning to face the oncoming Bravo Company.
With a fluid motion, the TNT enthusiast swung the piercing blade in a wide arc over the wool cap that covered its head, effectively scattering the Changeling's assault and forcing them to crash into the floor, the walls, even each other to order to avoid being sliced.
"Oh-ho, impressive," Chrysalis said still holding The Bombinomicon within her aura, who said nothing.
"Tch, the monster's too powerful for a head-on attack. Bravo! Form up on me!" Captain Mockery ordered upon seeing the look of sick joy on his Queen's face. The Changelings did as they were told, and flew up to a safe distance with their Captain, who suddenly disappeared. The others floated there for a moment before also slipping way into nothingness with nary a sound.
The bipedal terror looked around for a moment to confirm that they were indeed gone (although it probably didn't help that there were thousands of similar looking Drones and Soldiers lining the walls), after a moment, it dropped its sword and picked up another brown bottle from within its pack and began to down its contents with gusto.
"Gah, I can SMELL that foul brew from here, what is it drinking?" the repulsed Queen said as she tried to cover her sensitive snout with her foreleg, a pointless endeavor thanks to the holes that riddled her lower legs.
"OH FOR- WILL YOU STOP CALLING HIM 'IT'? THAT'S A HUMAN, A HUMAN MALE IN DESPERATE NEED OF A SHOWER. AND HE HAS A NAME, IT'S DEMOMAN," The Bombinomicon stated, trying its best to dodge having to look foolish for not knowing the exact brand of transmission fluid substitute he preferred drinking.
"'Demoman'?" Chrysalis echoed.
"YOU MIGHT WANT TO WRITE THAT DOWN SOMEWHERE…OH THAT'S RIGHT, YOU DON'T HAVE FINGERS, ISN'T THAT JUST A LITTLE SAD?"
Chrysalis' angry glare was redirected as a large belch demanded her, and everypony else's attention. Demoman stood (as best he could) in the center of the Hive, switching violently between sobs and giggle fits while swinging his treasured brown bottle around in wide arcs. Although he wasn't making contact from what anypony in attendance could tell, an occasional 'clang' or loud smack would emit from the ether as the tipsy Scot stumbled about. This strange dance continued for about a minute before the grizzled man began shouting and then suddenly fell asleep right where he stood.
All but The Bombinomicon had an open jaw; what was THAT? A faint groaning slowly became audible as the buzzing ceased, there, scattered about on the floor, laid Bravo Company. All but a few members of the unlucky squadron had been knocked out cold by the seemingly aimless flailing of Demoman in his drunken state. Even with their ability to rapidly change to mimic their surroundings that rendered them almost invisible, the newcomer had still managed to best them, and what was worse, no he was taking a victory nap.
Chrysalis sat back on her haunches and clapped her front hooves together with a smile on her dark face. "Bravo! Bravo! Well done!"
"T-Thank you, your Majesty…"
"Not YOU, Mockery, I was referring to my newest champion; DEMOMAN!" The Hive, after a moment of hesitation, slowly built up cheers and applause until the whole network of tunnels rang out with the joyous noise.
"Zzzz~* Huh? I- uh…wha?" Demoman gurgled before finally falling over asleep again.
"GREAT CHAMPION YOU GOT GOING THERE. IF THE ENEMY IS ANYWHERE NEAR A BEER HALL THEY'D BETTER HEAD FOR THE HILLS WHILE THEY'VE STILL GOT A CHANCE," The Bombinomicon said with a snort.
"Quiet you; we shall have a glorious victory, as Demoman will be leading the charge from this point forth! Bravo Company! For your failure, you shall be assigned to be his personal squad, you take orders from him now..."
Private Mockery was about to protest when he caught a glimpse of the look in his Queen's eyes. "Thy will be done, my Queen."
"…and as for you, book," The Bombinomicon found itself wrapped up in a telekinetic grip for the umpteenth time that day and placed on Demoman's flak jacket. "Since you have tried so very hard to be rid of me, I'll grant your wish; by sending you along with Demoman on his most dangerous missions, if we ever do have to make eye contact, it'll be just long enough for me to throw you back out! Hahaha!"
"I'LL MAKE SURE YOU PAY FOR THIS, QUEENY…"
"Now my Soldiers, to Canterlot!"
Twilight was plagued by her dreams yet again, but the cause of her distress was that they were progressively getting more bizarre and more cryptic. They were the same as before, only now they seemed to focus on the slender, walking Mirror and the Knight.
The two appeared to be friends, walking side by side, and talking about something that Twilight could never quite figure out no matter how hard she concentrated. Then came (from as far as Twilight could tell) the turning point; the Knight abruptly turns away and begins talking to a Shadow while the Mirror looks about as if though it lost the Knight's whereabouts. The Shadow produces a book and gives it to the Knight, who in turn places it on its chest plate. It then marches about, angrily, causing an explosion of color and light with each enraged step, before finally bumping into the Mirror.
Twilight foolishly held her breath, foolishly because she was dreaming and had no need to breathe. Moreover, she KNEW she was dreaming, but this was as far as any of her dreams had allowed her to see before either her alarm woke her or the dream faded into something unrelated like most dreams do.
She drifted about anxiously, hoping that something would happen before she was interrupted again. "Come on. Come on, please, show me something new so I can figure out what keeps causing these visions…" she said aloud.
The dreams never really seemed to react in any way, shape, or form when she spoke, even when she wanted to have some impact. Like a different dream where she was late to a test…that she hadn't studied for! No amount of internal pleading made that overly-harsh, imaginary, instructor go any easier on her than if she had remained perfectly quiet.
This was not that dream.
The two entities stopped whatever it was they were about to do and instead looked over in her direction. Twilight glanced behind her. Nope, nothing. "Huh. I wonder wha- EEP!" Twilight turned her attention back around and came face-to-face with herself in the Mirror's reflective surface. She smiled timidly as she attempted to widen the gap between her and her apparition only for her flank to smack into the cold, metallic surface of the Knight's armor.
Before the startled unicorn could say anything in her defense, the grid on the Knight's helmet flew up and out popped a familiar pink face, her brilliant blue eyes beaming with their normal amount of hyper-energy.
"TWILIGHT! WAKE UP! WE'RE ALMOST THERE!"
Twilight bolted upright, an action that was restricted by her covers that she became hopelessly tangled in as she plopped onto the floor of the sleeper car that had been hauling Twilight and her friends from Ponyville to Canterlot.
Twilight managed to free herself from her comfy entrapment after a moment of thrashing. "Pinkie, I was just about to learn what my dreams were telling me!" Twilight said groggily, the adrenaline of her initial surprise having already worn off.
"Oh, sorry Twilight! Applejack said we needed to be up early so we wouldn't miss breakfast," said Pinkie with a little less enthusiasm. "Breakfast?" asked a formally snoozing Rainbow Dash before launching full-force from the sleeper car towards the dinning car, her mane and tail leaving the trademark rainbow steak as she flew through the air.
"Race ya!" With that, Pinkie launched herself with similar speed only leaving a trail of confetti in her wake as opposed to a rainbow.
"What time is- GOOD HEAVENS! Twilight, what happened?" the white unicorn exclaimed as she lifted her sleeping mask to check whatever uncouth hour she had been so rudely awoken before her beautiful sapphire eyes fell upon Twilight and her apparent predicament.
Twilight nervously fiddled with her mane. Did she really look that bad? Had the dream really impacted her that much? All these thoughts and more were shoved aside as an emergency makeup kit, brought to life by Rarity's blue aura, began to buzz around her head in an attempt to make her presentable.
After what seemed like a half hour, the beauty-magnifying devices ceased and retraced according to Rarity's will and found their intended places within the bright red box from which they originated. Twilight looked at her reflection in the car's window; her mane and tail had been straightened and untangled, its natural sheen casting a faint sparkling as did her Cutie Mark.
"Well", Rarity sighed as she looked over her work, "now that you look marvelous, I must away so that I can freshen up." Rarity gracefully slipped out from under her silk covers and trotted off to the bathroom, with a small battalion of makeup kits and hair products bringing up the rear.
Twilight got up and stretched, arcing her back until it popped. She did the same with her shoulders and haunches before heading off to the dinning car to meet up with her friends. As she passed down one of the corridors, one of the many numbered doors slid open, and out stepped a familiar mint-green unicorn.
"Morning, Lyra. What brings you to Canterlot?"
"Oh, hiya, Twilight. I'm actually going to the Gala tonight with Bon Bon- er, not WITH Bon Bon, but, uh…"
Twilight stifled her giggles while Lyra tried to come up with a better explanation. "It's okay, I know what you meant. I'm surprised though, I thought that we were the only ponies from Ponyville going to the Gala this year," Twilight said, gesturing towards the trail of confetti that littered the corridor and lead into the adjacent cars.
"I somehow managed to win the raffle this year! Pretty lucky I'd say," Lyra said sheepishly, she knew a bunch of other ponies were banking on winning this year too, so she couldn't take too much pride in being the only victor and then taking her best friend along with some second ticket she seemed to materialize out of her-
"Wait, you also said that Bon Bon is here too? Was there a second raffle?" Twilight looked past the mint-green mare into her room and saw a suitcase with three candies wrapped in blue and cream plastic on the side.
"About that, remember that little, 'situation' we had last Nightmare Night that I helped out with?"
"Oh…OH, I see. Well, I'm glad that you and Bon Bon got to come. See you later, 'Pyra'," Twilight said a tad quieter with a wink.
"So, Tia, what do you think of the dress?" The Lunar Deity said as she looked up from the book she had been reading.
"Chess? I haven't played in years. Why do you ask?"
"No reason, I just wanted to see if that dress was the only thing causing you discomfort," Princess Luna said as she examined her elder sister; it wasn't a pretty sight.
For as long as Luna could remember, the Royal Maids had pushed for her and her sister to wear an outfit "most befitting of a Princess" for each and every Gala made by the most talented tailor at the time (and with the rapid fluctuation of the fashion world that designer could change midway through a gown fitting). Back when their parents, King Starforge and Queen Everfree, were still in control of the throne before passing the metaphorical torch to their daughters and leaving for an extended vacation deep within the vast outreaches of space, the Royal Pony Sisters hatched a devious plan that would shake the foundation of Equestrian society forever; they showed up naked.
Now, this wasn't completely unheard of, since most ponies go about their daily routines with not so much as a hat and nopony bats an eye. But, when both of the Princesses arrive at one of the most important and exclusive social events in all of Equestria with nothing more than smiles on their blatantly guilty faces, then ponies start to take notice.
In stark contrast to what was to be expected, King Starforge followed his daughter's example and declared that those of the Royal Family could wear whatever they please at any given event, social or otherwise. It took a few years, but the Nobles started to catch onto the idea and dressed less and less formal each year until they finally settled on what was now traditional formal attire.
Sadly, even thousands of years after the law was enacted, the accursed pact the Royal Maids had apparently made with some ancient evil bound them to force new and constricting designs on the two Alicorns every year right before the Gala.
"I honestly don't understand why you let them do this to you, Tia," Luna said returning to her book. "It's not like you're going to wear it anyway."
"Yes, but…if I don't, the maids will force ANOTHER one on me." Celestia's words were strained. The hellish corset that she had been encased in had done a flawless job of rearranging her organs, both vital and unimportant, to resemble something that a foal might make while playing absently with molding clay and silly straws.
Luna simply rolled her cyan eyes and turned the page in her novel with her darkly-colored magic emitting from her dark sapphire horn that sat just behind a lock of her ethereal stardust mane. She readjusted herself on her pillow so that she was more on her side, not so that she would lay on her wing, but enough that her crescent moon Cutie Mark was now almost facing the ceiling.
…And what a ceiling! Deciding that she could save more face than if she was trapped with a bunch of tailors and the like in some salon, Princess Celestia had requested (demanded) that she try on her "gown for the Gala" in the privacy of her own chambers with only her personal mirror and her sister to accompany her.
Celestia's room reflected her and the star that she maintained possession of; the ceiling itself was real gold that narrowed down near the ivory floor as it ran down the marble columns that surrounded the over-sized bed that Luna was currently resting. In short, it looked much like the Throne Room, only with a bed, a walk-in closet, and a bathroom addition.
"Okay, it's been on long enough," Celestia's horn lit up and with a quick flash of light, the outfit released its victim and crumpled lifelessly on the floor a few feet away. She sighed with relief as she took her first full breath in the past half-hour.
"So Tia," said Luna as she bookmarked her leather-bond text, "are you finally going to tell your dear sister what's really troubling you, or should I assume that the creator of that gown now resides in the dungeon?"
"What? No…I…*sigh* It's Twilight, she sent me a letter recently that she had lost The Bombinomicon," Celestia sighed. Luna's dark blue ears perked up at the mention of that book's title. In all of their years, neither of the two Royal Sisters had ever come across a spell book of such power, such design, such…vulgarity. Not only was it the only book that either of them had known to be able to talk, but it was also the only one that they couldn't extract any information from.
"Th-The Bombinomicon? She LOST it!? Shouldn't we dispatch some guards, or setup wanted posters, or-" Before the Princess of the Night finished her panic-attack, a brilliant white wing unfurled and wrapped around her frame. She looked up to see her sister giving her a reassuring smile that gave her almost as warm a feeling that she received from the heavenly down of Celestia's feathers.
The feathers were the same color as Celestia's pristine white coat and twice as soft. Her deceptively slender body weighed heavily on the mattress next to Luna's equally deceptive form, and just like Luna, Celestia's mane also flowed gracefully in the invisible solar wind created by the sun, the same star that decorated her flank as her Cutie Mark. The only real difference between their two manes other than length was that Celestia's mane contain three different colors that flowed in harmony with each other; never mixing or separating, Luna maintained that becoming the lone bearer of the Elements of Harmony for so long had something to do with that.
"There's no need to worry," Celestia said softly. "I'm sure Spike misplaced it, or it was put into storage and forgotten. Besides, even if somepony DID steal it, I doubt they would get much more out of that vulgar little thing than we did."
Luna said nothing. She knew her sister was right, she was always right. She felt the soft warmth of Celestia's elegant wings glide across her dark coat as the Sun Goddess stood, her signature jewelry floating through the air to meet her as she walked to the twin doors that stood between them and a small army of ponies that desperately needed to speak with her for one reason or another.
"I suppose." She smiled, "Although, I don't have a THING to wear, oh whatever shall I do?" They then opted to do something they desperately needed to: laugh.
The day had finally arrived; the Grand Galloping Gala.
Ponies from all around Canterlot had arrived earlier that day in order to change, get settled in whatever hotel they may be staying at, and maybe grab a bite to eat to tide them over until that evening.
It was interesting, really, how some of these ponies could go from looking like common citizens on the streets only to transform into something dazzling upon dawning their formal attire, the mares especially, although some of the colts did know a thing or two about how to dress fancy beyond a nice vest and bow tie.
While Princesses Celestia and Luna wouldn't be officially greeting guests until right before the Gala got underway, some of the caterers and Night Watch filed in long before to assure that everything went off without a hitch…unlike last time, when a group of mares had caused untold havoc in the span of about seven minutes. The reports the guards had to file stacked up to the expansive ceilings in droves after that carnage.
It was for this very reason that Twilight was on edge. Although she hadn't caused any of the wreckage personally, it was her friends that she had meet on her assignment to Ponyville that had, so naturally the normally high-strung Twilight was a little nervous. She desperately wanted to talk to the Princess in person, but after being her student for some many years, she knew better than to disturb her before the Gala…but this was important! Somepony had stolen The Bombinomicon right out from under her nose, and then got away scot-free, and with her teacher's rather vague advice of "don't worry too much about it", the urge to knock down the front gates was getting worse.
Fortunately, her friends had done a surprisingly good job of keeping her talented mind off of the subject, and instead focused on getting ready for a redux of the best night ever.
Later that night, a few hours away from the official start of the festivities, Twilight asked permission from the guards standing watch out front if she and her friends could enter.
"Please? It's imperative that we see the Princesses as soon as possible," Twilight said, glancing up at the unflinching guards with the cutest face she could muster, swishing her touched-up bridesmaid dress from side to side. Despite Rarity's protests about wearing the same thing twice, she had finally caved in and simply made some additions to their bridesmaids dresses they had worn for the Royal Wedding.
The guards, however, were less than impressed. "Look, I know you think that we're just gonna melt from that face you're making, like I'm sure some of the other stallions must've, but nopony is gettin' in before the say-so from the Captain," the first one grunted.
"Yeah, so why don't you you just move along back to the end of the line. Who knows, maybe you'll even get in before midnight at this rate!" the second armored sentinel added with a snort.
"Oh, that's okay. We can wait…" meeped Fluttershy as she hid behind Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Twilight sighed, she knew the guards prided themselves with being able to reject almost anypony without so much as a bat of an eye, but Rarity had other plans.
"How DARE you!? Do you know who we are!? I am Rarity, and this wonderful mare standing before you is Twilight Sparkle, the Princess' star pupil!" The furious unicorn stamped her hoof as she told off the two guards who started to inch back to avoid her wrath.
"Twilight Sparkle!?" a familiar third voice rang out from atop the guard turret. Both of the guards recognized it too and quickly snapped back into attention as the clang of moving metal plates and hoofsteps grew louder from with the spiraling staircase. After a few moments of suspense, a tall, white stallion wearing purple and gold armor with a matching helmet stepped into the light. "Twily!"
"'Shining! I'm so happy to see you again! How's Ca-"
"Excuse me, Mr. Armor," Rarity interjected, "would you kindly inform your two brutes over there that we are who we say we are so they can let us through?"
Shining Armor turned to face his guards (who at this point were trying to suppress the mini heart attacks from having stopped the Captain's little sister) and waved them aside, allowing the six Elements (plus Lyra and Bon Bon) to pass by with a slight "Hmph!" from Rarity as she passed.
The interior of Canterlot Castle was a site that only a few were ever able to enjoy outside of pictures and stories from others. Every surface had been cleaned five times over, the curtains had been sown earlier that week just for this one night, the food had been prepared by chefs from all around Equestria working together within the castle's massive kitchens, and some of the ponies had blown a lifetime worth of bits for outfits for this incredibly special night.
The eight mares from Ponyville were having trouble drinking it all in, Twilight and Rarity to slightly lesser extents since they had been more exposed to high society more than the others.
"Wow, look at all of these ponies! They're so…clean," Lyra half mumbled to herself in disbelief at that site before her. The castle courtyard where the ill-fated Nightmare Night had gone down was impressive to be sure, but the grand ballroom took the cake in terms of elegance.
As the Gala started to pick up, the mares split off to try and enjoy themselves in an attempt to make up for last year: Rarity (realizing that the nobles were nothing more than a pack of stuck-up elitists) decided that her time would be best spent mingling with the other members of the upperclass and maybe strike up a few deals with some of the designers. Applejack had similar plans, only she headed straight towards the kitchens for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to get tips from master chefs on baking, and to give them the heads up on just were to find the most delicious apples in Equestria. Fluttershy thought it best to avoid the animals altogether, but she did find a table closest to the stain glass windows that had a perfect view of the lush gardens and whatever critters might be running through them.
Pinkie, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight took a completely different approach; they attempted to do the exact same thing as last time. Pinkie once more found herself on the dance floor, but this time, some of the other ponies joined in on the dancing, some of the colts even asked her to dance. Rainbow, her fangirl-ish side showing more than usual, went out in search of Spitfire, Soarin', or any other member of the legendary Wonderbolts. As for Twilight…
"PRINCESS! Oh, I'm so glad I found you!" said the lavender unicorn as she panted for breath. Celestia turned upon hearing the voice of her favorite student, her smile faltered somewhat upon see the look on her student's face.
"Twilight, are you alright?" Celestia said quickly before turning to greet another pair of ponies, "Ladies! Welcome to the Gala!"
"Yes…no…maybe. *Sigh* I don't know anymore!"
"Twilight, I- Welcome! The VIP section is just down that hall on the left! Sorry, Twilight. I realize that you must be stressing about what you told me in your letters, but I think I know how to help take your mind off it…" She bent down to Twilight's ear which swiveled to better hear whatever important instruction her ageless sensei had to offer. "Don't think about it. I want you to at least try and have fun here, and standing next to me while I'm trying to greet all of these ponies would bore you to tears. Why don't you try to talk to that…'Pyra' girl I saw walk that way not a minute ago?" the Princess said with a smile.
Twilight smiled back. She was right, and if the Princess wasn't worried, than neither should she. She bowed to her mentor before heading off in the direction Lyra had last been seen.
Twilight rounded the corner, a bobbing pink and blue tail caught her eye. It was Bon Bon! Well, that would certainly make finding Lyra that much easier, and as luck would have it, the mare in question was only a few yards away talking to a very familiar colt…
"*GASP* You!" Twilight's eyes narrowed, he would NOT be escaping her again.
"I wish! No, a friend of mine back in Ponyville made it for me," Lyra said alternating her weight on her back legs so that her bright red dress swayed to the side ever so slightly.
"Well, I know remarkable work when I see it. You must introduce me to this Ms. Rarity, I would love to see if she could make me a new suit." The stallion brushed off the front of his red vest and straightened his matching tie.
"She's around here somewhe- TWILIGHT!?" Lyra stood back in shock as her potential date was suddenly tackled to the ground by a half-crazed, lavender mare with reckless abandon for her delicate outfit.
"I've got you! And I'm not letting you out of my sight until I get some answers!" Twilight barked as she pressed her hooves deeper into the chest of her prisoner. "Who are you, how do you know me so well!?"
"Wh-What are you talking about? I've even seen you before!" Copper Head coughed as he tried to wriggle his way out from under Twilight's surprisingly heavy frame.
"Don't you lie to me!" Twilight was practically screaming at the downed stallion, her eyes widening as she pressed her face right up against his.
"Twilight, what are you doing!? Have you lost your mind, get off him!" Lyra whispered loudly while attempting pry the lunatic mare off of the confused colt. Lyra succeeded, but in doing so she caused both of them to tumble into the table behind them, sending food and drinks in every which direction. The upperclass ponies quickly dispersed to avoid any of the stain-inducing items that were now flying rapidly through the air. Twilight stood and shook herself, shooting an angry look at Lyra before scanning the room for her escaped prisoner.
'Where'd he go? He was just here, he couldn't have just disappeared!' Sadly, Twilight was wrong; the elusive unicorn had once again slipped into the crowd and away from Twilight's normally watchful gaze. Lyra slowly hefted herself up and shook a stray pastry that had gotten lodged in her mane, but before she could give Twilight a piece of her mind, her horn began to burn with and intense heat.
"Nnngh…what- what's wrong? Why does this hurt so much?" She put a mint green hoof up to her horn, only to reel it back upon making contact with her Something Special ring. Normally, her diamond ring from another dimension stayed at a mild room temperature, but now felt about as cold as a snowflake that had been left on the stove overnight.
Lyra tried to remove the ring of fire with her magic, her hooves, sliding it against a table edge, nothing. The ring remained and so too did the burning. She couldn't take it any longer, she looked around the nearby buffet tables for- yes! That will do nicely! Lyra dove through the air and landed horn-first into a crystal bowl filled to the brim with punch. The pain subsided momentarily as the refreshing liquid crashed over her horn and head, but quickly flared up again after the initial coolness from submerging herself wore off.
'Why is it doing this!? Why is it burning? I need to get. It. OFF!' With that, the pain suddenly stopped, its reasons for doing so were just as mysterious as for why it started. Thankful that her ordeal was at an end (at least for now), she could focus on the more important task of fixing herself up and apologizing to anypony she may have drenched by mistake.
"Sorry everypony. My, uh, horn acts up sometimes. I hope I didn't- Hmm?" Midway through her general apology, something small and cold bumped against her back hoof. Lyra turned to see a small, metallic, capsule with a flashing red light on either end. "What is that?"
"Welcome to the Gala, it's so wonderful to see you again!" Princess Celestia said with a warm smile as the two ponies before her bowed and trotted past her. "You know, if you don't show yourself, I'll do it for you," she said to the empty space to her right.
"I'm warning you, I told you not to cloak yourself at social events like this…Welcome to the Gala!" Celestia bowed to the stallion who quickly rushed past her after an awkward bow of his own. "Alright, you asked for it…" Celestia's regal horn became enveloped in a bright yellow glow before discharging a quick burst of magic off in the direction she had been talking.
"OW! Alright, alright, I yield…" said an irritated voice from the area where the small energy ball had collided. A dark blue aura engulfed the immediate area and formed the outline of Princess Luna, who flickered back into reality much to the surprise of a passing maid and the pony next in line to be greeted. "WelcometotheGalait'ssogoodtoseeyou…" Luna mumbled quickly before averting her gaze and shuffling over next to her older sister.
"Well, that's a start, but it might help if you look everypony in the eye…and actually try to smile," Celestia finished with a smile of her own to get her sister on the right track. Luna looked bashfully up at her sister, then switched to nervousness at the sight of the next mare in line.
She inhaled. "WELCOME TO THE GRAND GALLOPING GALA!" Luna's voice reverberated throughout the castle, ponies as far as the South Tower stopped what they were doing to look off it the direction of the noise. The frightened mare smiled as best she could before running off towards the ballroom. "Oops…uh, who was that, Tia?"
Celestia said nothing, instead she kept her beautiful magenta eyes trained on the aqua mare that hastily rounded the corner upon noticing the Princess' intense glare. "I could have sworn I greeted her already," she said so quietly that only Luna was able to hear.
"Couldn't she have just, I don't know, left to go get something and then came back?" Luna said raising a eyebrow.
"Yes, but she would have been escorted by the guards back in the other way, not through here. I'll speak with Ajax once he-"
Celestia froze. There, down the steps talking to Fleetfoot, was the EXACT same mare Celestia had just greeted. Luna saw it too, but before either of them could act, a thunderous explosion erupted from the ballroom. Followed by another, and another, and another, and another.
"Your Majesties! We need to evacuate you and everypony else immediately!" came the deep voice of Captain Ajax, his personalized blue and gold armor clanking as he maintained a steady gallop towards the Royal Sisters. Ajax was a large pony, a Clydesdale to be precise, with his coat and mane dyed the traditional white and blue.
"Captain, what vile sorcery doth assault our ears, speak anon!" Luna blurted, her panic getting the better of her and her speech patterns.
Ajax paused only for a moments before turning to Celestia. "Your Highness, something has gone terribly wrong, we're under attack!"
The ringing. That was first sign that told Lyra she wasn't dead, yet. But that was ALL she could hear; a sharp, ringing that blocked out whatever else might have been going on. The second sign was pain, more specifically, the burning sensation that now made its way all along her hind legs. She tried to move. She felt her legs moving, but not whatever they might have been brushing against. She was getting nowhere, she needed to open her eyes…it would be the final indication as to whether or not she had truly meet her maker…on the steps of the castle only to blasted to smithereens by some dumb capsule.
She decided not to drag it out, and forced open her large yellow eyes. Nothing. Well, not "nothing", there was a powerful white glow everywhere she looked…and a large, shadow making its way over to her. As the shadow got closer, features became to form; this thing was no pony, in fact, it didn't walk like anything Lyra could compare it to other than human.
As the shadow stood next to her, a sudden yank on her collar pulled her away from the mysterious being and out from under the downed light that had been shining right in her face. "Lyra! Lyra are you okay?" The male's voice that belonged to whomever had just saved her said. Lyra looked around, ponies were screaming, running every which way. Even Bon Bon, Twilight, and the other Elements fled the scene, no doubt to try and find the Elements of Harmony and/or the Princesses.
"Copper Head…ohhh, what happened? Wha- AAH!" She winced as her burnt leg scraped against some rubble that shot pain all along her leg. Copper Head dragged her behind a chunk of what used to be a marble column and had her sit the way she preferred. "My leg…"
"It'll be alright, that's just a small burn, I've suffered plenty worse," he said with a quick smile as he peered over the makeshift cover. "Stay here."
"BWHAHAHA! NOW LAUNCH ONE OVER THERE! YES, NOW THERE! OHHH, I LOVE EXPLOSIONS!" The Bombinomicon jittered as its host continued to lob grenade after grenade at terrified ponies, scrambling guards, and random bits of scenery that looked just a little bit too smug for there own good. Demoman simply grunted in approval, his un-patched eye still glowing bright green from Chrysalis' brainwashing. "HEY, THOSE PONIES OVER THERE ARE TRYING HELP THAT ONE THAT GOT ITSELF TRAPPED, WE SHOULD HELP THEM. DEMOMAN, WOULD YOU KINDLY ASSIST THEM," the evil book cackled as his monster raised his Grenade Launcher and aimed it straight at the unsuspecting ponies that were frantically trying to aid a couple that had been trapped under another destroyed column. He squeezed the trigger, and…
"I'm afraid not." *BANG*
The barrel of the Launcher was stuck by an unknown gunshot that moved it over and fired the dummy bomb harmlessly out the window (well, harmless until it went off and woke up every critter in the gardens).
"You've caused quite enough damage here tonight, Tavish," said Copper Head, a silver revolver floating next to him.
"AND JUST WHO IN THE WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS ARE YOU?"
Copper Head smiled, not a happy smile like most ponies were skilled at, but a devilish grin that showcased his flawless teeth. "You don't recognize me, Bombinomicon? I'm hurt."The Bombinomicon's tiny red reds widened as a smoke cloud originating from the unicorn's white horn enveloped him, slowly raising until it was twice as tall but half as wide.
As the smoke cleared, the unicorn known as Copper Head was no more, save for the paper mask with his likeness on it that was discarded to the floor. In his place, stood a thin human who looked none too happy. His suit was the same as the one Copper Head had been wearing (only with matching pants); a thin striped brick-red suit with a white dress shirt underneath that complimented the brilliant crimson tie. He wore slightly darker red spats and leather gloves that latched perfectly to his hands, the right of which was holding a very long, silver revolver that had intricate engravings on both sides. The man's scowl was largely masked by a crimson balaclava, with only openings for his eyes and mouth, which had a cigarette hanging loosely to one side.
"Just put your weapons down and walk away," he said pointing the Ambassador revolver right at Demoman's head. They sat there for a moment, neither wanting to make the first move…
So naturally, Twilight made it for them. "Wh-What? YOU stole The Bombinomicon!?" she said, her eyes darting back and forth between the two as the similarities of this strange situation and her dreams began to dawn on her. The two humans, both distracted by the mare's poor timing, looked over at the speaker only to whip back around while firing their respective weapons.
Spy dodged a grenade and rolled behind the barrier where he had placed Lyra…only to find the unicorn in question MIA. Another bomb grabbed his attention, which he retaliated with by nicking the brainwashed Scot in the shoulder with a hastily fired round from the Ambassador. Spy was so preoccupied that his keen eye didn't even notice the discarded red dress that had been ripped to shreds lying scattered under his polished shoes.
Demoman, even in his zombified state of mind, he knew that going head-to-head with Spy in an area with this much cover wasn't going to work in his favor for what he hoped wouldn't be a prolonged battle. He flipped his Grenade Launcher onto his back and withdrew his Eyelander, the cursed broadsword glistening in the brightly lit ballroom, and the Chargin' Targe; a small wooden shield with an orange cross painted on the front like a target.
"Ugh…merde," Spy cursed.
Demoman's feet began to glow as he sped towards Spy, the air rippling behind him as the energy worked its way up and infused itself with the blade of the Eyelander, which hissed with delight at the thought of claiming a head so soon after being drawn. Tavish drew closer and closer, tunnel vision took over his already hindered sight. He was so focused on smashing Spy into oblivion that he didn't even notice a similarly charged Equestrian barreling right towards him, her bovine horns aimed directly at his chest.
"WHAT THE-? LOOK OUT! WE'RE GONNA HIT THAT-" The Bombinomicon's warning was too late as the crit-boosted crime fighter plowed headlong into Demoman's gut, throwing him off course and crashing into a banquette table. Spy looked up, this courageous pony seemed familiar, although he couldn't place exactly what made him think that he had seen her before. Was it the hind leg bandaged up in what appeared to be part of a dress? The lyre Cutie Mark on her otherwise mint green flank? The painted cow skull that she wore as a garish helmet? The bronze shield that was still crackling with red energy?
"Who are you?" he said cooly, not sure whether or not he would have to try and stab his way through that menacing shield.
The pony turned around and stuck a pose that suggested heroism. "I'm Pyra: Defender of Justice!" she said proudly. Spy was stunned, had he REALLY just been saved by some pony as…crazy as she appeared to be? Pyra quickly turned and called out to one of the passing guards that was trying to help evacuate a wounded colt. "You there! Do you know where the Princesses are?"
The door on the other side of the room flew open as a mass of dark bodies where deposited on the once pristine floor, all of whom were moaning in pain after a sound beating. From the smoke emerged the Royal Sisters with Ajax and Shining Armor on either side, all of whom were sweating and breathing heavily.
"I didn't think the Changelings would try something so…bold. They're usually more devious than this," Luna said as she wiped her brow and bonked one of the more lively creatures on the head. "Good catch noticing the doubles, sister."
"Something tells me he might have had something to do with it, look!" Demoman stood drenched in whatever had been in those punch bowls, his stoney gaze now transfixed on the Royal newcomers.
"The Bombinomicon!" Luna gasped.
"*GASP* A TALKING GLUE STICK!" The Bombinomicon said snidely. "HMM, EIGHT AGAINST TWO EH? AND I IMAGINE THAT A FORTRESS SUCH AS THIS MUST HAVE GUARDS THAT AREN'T BUSY CLEANING UP OUR LITTLE WELCOME PRESENT. DEMOMAN, LET US DEPART."
Demoman nodded and blasted an unnecessary hole right next to the perfectly good one he had made on his way in.
"Oh no you don't!" Pyra, having recharged her Splendid Screen with her magic, charged once again towards the bipedal terrorist and his anarchist cookbook.
The next few moments happened in slow-motion, at least for Pyra: As she got within striking distance, the cyclops reached out with his free arm and actually managed to grab hold of the Splendid Screen latched onto her back. He then proceeded to use her own momentum against her and sent her flying into Spy, who until that moment had gone unnoticed in his attempt to backstab his former teammate. The Bombinomicon laughed heartily as it and Demoman escaped into the gardens and into the cold starry night.
"After him! Do not let him escape!" Luna shouted as the assembled members of her personal Night Watch sprung into action and tore off after the human.
"I'm sorry, I did all I could," Spy apologized as he helped Pyra to her hooves. She dusted herself off and stared blankly into the distance. One of the few things she had to remember her far away friend had been stolen right off her person…by a person. Actually, come to think of it, that man DID have the same colors as Pyro…he even had the yellow stencil in the same spot. Could be that this slender man might also be…?"
"Excuse me, sir? If you don't mind my asking, do you know a Pyro, perchance?"
"I do. But, I'm more curious as to how YOU know him."
"Oh, we're best friends! See?" Pyra tilted her head towards him to show off her Something Special For Someone Special. Sure enough, the engraving on the side said "From: Pyro".
With all that had gone on that day, the only response Spy could give upon receiving information that Pyro was indeed friends with a talking, candy-colored pony was a small snort. Followed shortly by passing out cold.
"Was it something I said?"
The pressure, why is it always the pulsating pressure in the temples?
'Wake up…come on, wake up you fool…'
Spy's eyes flickered open, but he quickly clamped them shut as Celestia's harsh sun scorched his drossy eyes.
'The sun? What time is it…how long have I been out?'
He tried to move his hands only to find that moving one resulted in the other moving along with it via shackle. The French saboteur cursed under his breath, he should have known that even talking, candy-colored ponies would know better than to leave someone of his caliber to his own devices…which he also noticed were missing from his person.
Spy forced his bloodshot eyes to stay open this time despite the sunbeams streaking through the side-by-side blasted out holes in the walls. The ballroom was still in horrible disarray from the battle the night before, although the cleaning crews had been able to remove the larger pieces of rubble, the over-turned tables and wasted food still laid scattered about the cracked floor. Spy shifted his gaze over to the other side of the once lavish hall; Celestia, Luna, and the guard captains had gathered around one of the few undamaged tables to discuss what torture method would be best for extracting information out of the semiconscious infiltrator.
Or, at least that's the conclusion Spy came to.
'How did it ever come to this?' he thought as he rubbed his aching head.
New Mexico; a land of prosperity, wealth, tourist trade, lying travel agents, and a whole lot of dust with a few exceptions. Hydro, a large communications array secured within a water-filled basin, was one of these exceptions and was highly sought after by two groups of highly unstable mercenaries that had battled for control over the rest of the God-forsaken desert for reasons neither party was one hundred percent sure about. All they knew was that if one team wanted it, it had to be valuable, and the other team was going to make damn sure that they didn't get it.
Sadly, in order to perform said tactical cock-block, BOTH teams would be forced to uproot all their expensive gear from whatever hole they had dug themselves into and haul it ALL the way over to the site of the next skirmish.
This was nowhere near as easy as it sounds.
For reasons unknown even to them, both teams had a tendency to construct extremely elaborate fortresses in very short amounts of time; with multi-leveled underground bunkers containing sensitive material, security cameras throughout, living quarters, tennis courts, lap pools, and large walk-in hat closets. The downside to these lavish living conditions was that whatever goes up, must be tediously taken apart piece by piece and put back into the correct box or so help you GOD that little doodad will never be found or work properly ever again.
It is within the depths of Hydro that the crew from Reliable Excavation Demolition are midway through one of these uprooting sessions, and as the blazing sun beat relentlessly against skin and rock alike, temperatures weren't the only things close to breaking point.
"C'mon…just a little…more…" grunted the Engineer as sweat ran down his reddened features and fogged up his goggles as he poured whatever strength he had left into pulling the stubborn rope.
"I'm impressed, mate," Sniper said and he watched the stout Texan attach yet another large piece of equipment onto the already over-packed roof of his van, "I wasn't sure it could be done, but, there it is…"
"It wouldn't…have been in such a state of doubt…if ya'd just…HELPED ME! There!" Dell gave the rope one last yank and secured the last of the ping-pong tables to a computer tower that roughly as big as he was. "That should just about do it. Say, where in the hell is everybody? I thought Scout was going to go and-" Sniper raised an eyebrow as he gestured towards one of the caves that dotted the canyon that had a faint snoring sound emanating from within, "-get his ass kicked the ol' fashioned way, SCOUT!"
The snoring stopped with an abrupt snort, followed shortly by incomprehensible muttering and not much else.
"Dammit, boy; SCOUT! GIT OUT HERE, WE NEED YA TA ROUND UP THE REST'A THE TEAM!" The tired man's echoing shouts fell on indifferent ears as the reconnaissances expert elected to ignore the southern gentleman and go back to all of the nothing that needed to get done.
After watching the small vein in the Engineer's forehead grow twice in size, Mr. Mundy decided that he should step in before his friend dug out his Sentry and switched its target settings from "BLU" to "that darned Boston kid".
"Aww, don't waste your time, mate. He's not comin' down anytime- well g'day Ms. Pauling! I didn't see ya there, all drippin' wet in that bikini you've got barley covering your-"
"Hel-LO Ms. Pauling! Hey, if you eva wanna see ME after I just get done swimmin' a hundred or so laps, I gotta say, it's pretty awe-GAAHK!" Scout and his windpipe were cut off by an oversized yellow work glove as Dell pulled the rapid recovery agent closer so that he wouldn't miss what he had to say:
"GIT GOIN' AND CORRAL THE REST OF OUR TEAM!" Engie barked, lifting Scout's headset so that his voice rattled around in his tiny little head with crystal quality.
"Ow, geez! Alright, I'll go get the rest'a the fricken' team…" the twenty-three year old track star grumbled as he rubbed his sore throat and shot the Sniper a dirty look. "Hope dat fancy scope a' yours gets a real good look at my ass walkin' away, you lying no-good boony."
Sniper only laughed as he readjusted his hat, "Oh come off it, if any woman was walkin' 'round here without clothes on, do you think we'd be broadcasting it for everyone to hear and ruin our chances with 'er?"
Scout didn't like being underground, or in any small space for that matter. In the past, he had met his demise on more than one occasion from not having the proper amount of space to move about in, whether it was a tunnel, cramped hallway, air duct, or a closing trash compacter on the detention level. The rest of RED Team was aware of his phobia, which the highly intellectual Engineer used as an incentive to make the up and coming major league dropout work twice as fast to get in, round up the other six classes, and get out.
The first of notably dangerous lost sheep he had come to herd was Heavy, still sitting in his now empty room with his metallic girlfriend, Sasha. "Eh, tons o' fun," Scout yawned as he cleared his free ear of any extra wax that hadn't been baked onto his ear from the blazing heat, "Engie says we gotta' move."
The large Russian man looked up at him and said nothing before nodding, standing up with his beloved minigun still cradled in his massive arms. Scout watched him to make sure that the slowest member of the team went the right way so that he wouldn't have to backtrack to go looking for him, although his heavy footsteps would make him easy enough to track in any situation other than a rocket taking off.
Scout turned to venture further into the depths when an idea illuminated his four watt brain. "Big guy," Heavy stopped and looked back at the little man with a stern expression, "you seen the doc anywhere?" This gave the shaved bear pause for thought, scratching the five o'clock shadow that lined his prominent chin.
He thought for a moment before snapping his fingers, "Come along, doktor." The gunmetal grey door behind Scout flew open and there stood Medic, wearing his iconic white lab coat and carrying a gold birdcage that housed his faithful dove, Archimedes. The tall German physician looked down at the Boston ballplayer through his thin-rimmed spectacles and motioned for him to move with his cage-free hand.
"Zank you. Now, Heavy, let's be on our way," he said unnecessarily bumping Scout as he past and headed out with Heavy back to where Dell was waiting.
Scout grumbled an insult before storming back down the hall in the opposite direction. Medic and Scout had never been what on would call "chummy", in fact, if they had been brought together under any other circumstances they would have probably torn each other to shreds. Or not even acknowledge one another, or discover that they both hate Dan Quayle, share phone numbers, become the best of friends, fight over the same girl, find out she's actually a hooker, start a business together, burn said business for the insurance when it starts failing, and live in harmony.
The point is that this was not the case. Medic had always looked down on Scout, not just because he was taller, but because he didn't think that Scout was worth his precious time. The Medic's job was fairly straight forward: heal those who needed healing…and provide Über Charges for when the metaphorical dung hit the windshield. That was also metaphorical. Thank the Lord that didn't actually happen all that often outside of trips to the zoo.
Naturally Medic thought it best to "pocket" the larger, more durable classes for a more desired effect when granting temporary invulnerability. Soldier, Demoman, Pyro, and most of all Heavy received the larger half of his attention as they could cause unimaginable amounts of damage were they not subject to their mortal coils. This meant that all the other members of the team were left out in the metaphorical rain…which was actually bullets, rockets, bombs, syringes, pot and pans, or whatever was being lobbed at them at the time.
So Scout never really got along too well with the selective physician, he was also positive that another reason why Medic avoided him was because he was too fast for him. Yeah, that's it, Scout was just too good, and didn't need some bratwurst-smelling doc slowing him down!
With a renewed sense of pride fueling his struts, Scout headed down the poorly lit hallway in search of the other four sluts.
After what seemed like an eternity to him, the youngest member of RED Team finally managed to round up all of companions…just in time for Engie to learn that that Sniper had left his keys in his jacket that was now buried somewhere deep within the swaying mountain of accumulated gear.
With Dell Conagher successfully talked down from jumping off the highest peak of the luggage mountain, the crew from Reliable Excavation Demolition was finally on their way back to the dreary little speck known as Teufort, and took in all the sights along the way: the majesty of Offblast, the raw power of Nucleus, the semi-rich history of Dustbowl, the uh…majesty of Offblast?
"OI! Someone get out the bloody map!"
"Hmm, well, looks like we WERE headin' the right way for a spell. But now-"
"We are lost! Lost in the middle of this wasteland! When trapped in a van in the middle of nowhere, Sun Tzu says-"
"What da hell does dat sign say? 'Next Left: Inns, Mining Museum, and-'"
"Maa Mranr Murmur!? Mhmhmhmhm!"
"Vhat vas that? Y~ES! Good times!"
"I dun, wha?"
"Ohh, zat is not good for ze body, but, eh…vhat ze hell! I'm starved!"
"Oh, merde; not zat disgusting hovel again…"
Keith didn't have what one would call an "exciting" life. Sure he had his fun on the weekends with his friends busting dunes and pelting each other with dislodged masonry, but ever since school ended, all he had to look forward to was when his shift ended.
Unfortunately for Keith, his shift started ten minutes ago and the lunch rush was just starting up as the various creatures and people wandered out of the scorching desert in search of poorly prepared fast-food. Keith sighed as his itchy headset alerted him that a costumer was pulling up to the drive-thru by screeching loudly in his ear.
"Welcome to Burger Tank, home of the Tank Burger, how can I provide you with excellent service today?" Keith said mechanically.
"G'day! Uh, you might wanna get some paper, mate. We've got a lotta orders for ya," the Australian man's voice crackled over the comm.
Keith never knew what hit him, soon, the entire fast-food joint was buzzing like bees that were just on the receiving end of an M80. Burgers, fries, and anyone not able to get to a safe distance flew through the air as the sorely undermanned establish rushed to fill the insanely large order for the waiting mercs. When it was all over, it took Keith and three other employees just to haul the massive order out to the aged camping van.
"Thank you…please come again…" Keith gasped as he wiped a few rouge beads of sweat from beneath his white and red Burger Tank cap.
"No worries, mate. We'll probably hit this place up again on the back," Mr. Mundy said innocently as the large order was consumed behind him with alarming speed by the eight other killers crammed into the dirty van.
Three hours and one emergency restroom break later, the REDs had been forced to pull over near one of the many abandoned mining facilities thanks to the massive weight that had been heaped onto their only means of transportation causing the strained engine to overeat.
"Well, that darn thing's busted as far's I can tell. Guess we'll just hafta wait till it cools," Dell coughed as he stepped back from the fumes spewing from the van's radiator.
"GAAH! This sucks on ice! I mean COME ON, there's nothin' ta do around here!" Scout moaned as he bounced his baseball off the deteriorating side of one of the structures. Despite their hours of travel, the scorching sun had seldom moved from its celestial perch in the great blue sky, raining down heat waves that had everyone in a lazy afternoon mood (or lazy whatever-the-actual-time-was mood). The only source of shade that wasn't wasn't completely covered in spiders was the rising and falling shadow of Scout's ball, which would return to his bandaged hand with a faint thud before being unenthusiastically tossed into the air once again.
"So BOOOOOARD! Hey Engie! Can't you make some sorta air-cooling thing-a-majig that shoots outta yer ass? And how much longer is the van gonna be coolin' off? 'Cause ol' bushwhack over der said it was 'good to go' an hour ago and I think that he's fulla cr- HEY!"
Scout's ball failed to return to its master's hand for what would have been a much more elaborate list of complaints had it not been stolen by the Russians. Well, one Russian to be exact. One that had had just about enough of the whiny Boston ballplayer.
"Tiny running baby want something to do? Let us play 'toss and find'; Heavy tosses…" the giant man wound up, "tiny man finds!" The worn ball rocketed off into the distance with a slight twinkle from the sun before disappearing completely.
Scout was certainly relieved of his boredom (if only to have it replaced by annoyance and heatstroke), Heavy had thrown his favorite ball so far that the twenty-three year old had already gone through four BONK! Atomic Energy Drinks and two Crit-A-Colas just to keep himself hydrated. He was about to call it quits and just have the shaved bear fork over the money to buy a new ball, when he saw it. There, lying on what used to be a wooden crate for storing medical waste, was the alabaster orb of his desires. All he had to do was walk a few yards, kneel down…
…and pry it from the other bandaged hand that was also reaching for it. Scout looked up, a boy of similar build wearing a blue track jacket with a "#13" up on the collar. His face was covered by a dark grey skull with twisted horns the same color as his jacket and golden eyes that reflected Scout's confused expression. In his hands was a familiar scattergun, but with festive lights wrapped around it.
The two just sat there for a moment, partly stunned and partly waiting for the other to make the first move. That was not the case, however, as neither of the cocky little buggers were about to be outdone.
Sniper's ear twitched, his powerful senses allowing him to intercept the exchange of gunfire in the distance over the bickering that was going on back at camp. He sighed and grabbed his rifle, no doubt BLU's marksman had heard it as well and they would be the first of their teams to engage at such a distance.
"Let's. Get. TO IT!"
Spy was thrust back into reality with a guard's spear poking him in the shoulder. "Get up. SLOWLY…"
Spy raised an eyebrow. If these "Royal Guards" had undergone any training regarding appearance in the face of an adversary, they had either failed that part of bootcamp (would it be hoofcamp? No, some of the ponies were wearing boots earlier), or seeing a human really was that jarring. Spy complied, he slid his feet underneath himself and stood, his full height once again causing the guards to lose their composure enough that only Spy noticed. He chuckled.
"So, are we off to ze stable for some oats and salt licks?"
"Uh…no? The Princesses have requested your presence," the guard pulled Spy down to his level by telekinetically yanking on his tie, "and I'd be careful about what you say to them; Celestia sent her own sister to the moon for a thousand years because Luna turned into a dark goddess when she felt under appreciated."
"Oh…" The guard smirked, if this shaved monkey had received any training about maintaining a good poker face, he must've slept through it.
"We can't just deplete our remaining forces to look for somepony we haven't been able to to so much as get glimpse of. There might still be Changelings here in Canterlot!" Captain Ajax said slamming his mighty hoof against the table with various maps of Equestria laid on its surface.
"I'm not saying that there isn't, but if I know anything about Changelings, their master scheme isn't going to end with some sloppy attack on the Gala. They must be planning something, but what?" Shining Armor sighed.
Shining and Ajax had been the best of friends ever since they met back in basic training, and had served side by side through most of their impressive careers, but on the rare occasions when they couldn't agree on something the whole nation might as well have been in peril at how heated their arguments became. Out of the two of them Shining had always had the cooler head while Ajax was first to show his temper, but now, Shining wanted nothing more than to exact revenge against the beings that almost ruined his wedding.
"Shining, I know you want to bring them to justice but we can't sacrifice anymore security." Ajax put his hoof around his distraught friend and sighed, "Let's just focus on the task at hoof and then you and I will go round up some of the pegasi and go Changeling hunting!"
Shining smiled. His grin faded, however, when "the task at hoof" walked forward accompanied by two weary guards that looked like they were expecting him to jump out his restraints and soar around the room. Not that Spy couldn't have easily freed himself…were it not for him making himself look like an idiot on his first attempt due to the magic part of "magical shackles".
"So, you're a…monkey?" Shining asked quizzically.
"Naw, he looks more like scaleless dragon," Ajax replied.
"He's HUMAN. H-u-m-a-n. You know, those things I told EVERYPONY were real and nopony believed me?" All three of them turned around to the frazzled unicorn and her six companions as they approached the table. "I take it that you're one of Pyro's friends, given your outfit and your, uh, reaction to hearing his name," Lyra said looking him over with her mint-green hoof to her chin.
"I remember him! He sure was funny, not much of a talker though but that's okay 'cause I know some ponies like good listeners! Big Mac's a pretty good listener I mean all he really says is 'eeyup' and not all that often, I thought he was mute first few weeks I knew h-MPHM!" Pinkie stopped as she suddenly came down with a serious case of Twilight's-hoof-in-mouth disease.
"What Pinkie is TRYING to say is that Pyro was…different to say the least. Are you…ya know…"
"A deranged, mute, pyromaniac?"
Twilight smiled weakly and chuckled nervously, "Not in those words, but; yes."
"Au contraire, mon petit poney; I am nothing like zat freak. Ze only similarities between the two of us iz zat we are on ze same brain-dead team." Rarity's azure eyes sparkled with excitement. He spoke the same sophisticated, romantic language she did! Finally, some…thing with class!
"Mmm, I must say; out of all the humans I've seen (you being the second but none the less), you are the most handsome and sophisticated one to date!" The seamstress cooed as she began to notice the expert stitching that held his remarkable suit together. Nothing she couldn't have outdone in her sleep, but impressive all the same.
"Rarity. Call me Rarity, darling."
"Miss Rarity, would be ever so kind as to remove zese shackles that I might greet you properly?" He stared into her beautiful eyes as she fluttered her eyelids. A catty smile crept across her lush lips...
"Oh, I don't have any control over those, silly. You'd have to ask the guard about that." Spy was spun around on his heel by a telekinetic grip that encased his head like a basketball player palming the ball.
"Yeah, and that would be me," Ajax sneered.
"Careful please, I don't want to warm our unexpected guest." Everypony in the room snapped to attention as the ethereal voice carried its sweet tune across the room. Spy found himself staring down at the marble floor as Ajax's powerful blue magic forced him into a bowing position. All he could see was a set of golden horseshoes that lead up to four alabaster legs. "Captain, if you would bring our guest to throne room so that my sister and I may have a chance to speak with him. Twilight, I want you and your friends there as well," the beautiful voice said with a slightly tired tone.
Spy was starting to regret sneaking in the back of the Gala after he tailed Demoman through the Everfree Forest, the castle was simply stunning, both in design and location (although using the "back entrance" to a fortified castle that sat on the face of an incredibly steep mountain probably wasn't the best method but it was so crazy that nopony thought to guard against it).
As he was lead from hall to to exquisite hall, Spy reveled at the majesty of what a bunch of Equestrians had somehow managed to accomplish without hands. 'I suppose they have magic on their side. That WOULD make things like this easier,' his thoughts drifted to the uncomfortable position his hands had been forced into for the past ten minutes, 'and also explain why I can't break these damned cuffs!'
The regal doors of the throne room towered over the small band of ponies and human as they approached, the gold and various other precious minerals glistening in the sunlight. The identical guards stationed at the entrance looked over at the slender being on the side of concern for the twin deities behind the massive doors before being waved aside by the present captains.
The throne room, while designed to be just as magnificent as the rest of the castle, had a certain essence about it that made all the more grand. Although, that could be due to the two goddesses representing the sun and the moon sitting side by side on identical thrones at the end of a long red rug.
The Princesses both wore stern expressions on their beautiful faces, the paler of the two kept her magenta eyes locked solely on the tall man in the red suit. As Twilight and her friends reached the foot of the thrones and bowed, Luna gestured for the guards near the door to close it and permit no further guests.
"Now that we won't be having any more company, would you care to explain exactly how you managed to cross over into our world?" Celestia asked plainly.
"You zeem like a sensible, er, pony. Perhaps you could persuade zese oafs to release my shackles and then we'll have a nice, long chat," Spy said in the most subtlety seductive voice he could muster.
"Oh, yes, of course. Shining? If you would." A surge of purple magic surrounded Shining Armor's white horn as the shackles unlocked themselves and fell to the floor with a heavy clang. Spy sighed with relief as he rubbed his sore wrists.
"Thank you, your Highness. If I may be so bold; why was I bound in ze first place? My items were taken from me (which I intend to acquire as quickly as possible) and I saved zis little unicorn," Spy pointed at Lyra who squeaked slightly from being able to see an actual hand up close.
"That would be my sister's doing, she tends to overact when humans suddenly turn up." Luna averted her gaze, silently thanking her parents for giving her a dark blue coat that concealed her blushing cheeks.
Spy cocked his brow. "Forgive me, but when you say 'humans' as in plural-"
"Yeah! Pyro was here a few months ago! You DO know him, right? How is he?" Lyra interjected, her yellow eyes practically bursting out of her head.
"Lyra," Twilight said, "don't bother him with a bunch of questions…you wouldn't happen to have a human anatomy chart on you, would you? The only ones we have are guess work. Do you actually have two hearts, or just a third pancreas?"
"Girls, please, we need to remain focused so we can resolve this 'situation' as soon as possible," Luna interrupted, raising her voice above what she hoped wouldn't become a Q&A with Equestria's most reluctant host besides Cranky Doodle Donkey. "We don't have what one would call a good track record when it comes to human visitors, or even centaurs for that matter. Silas, Tirek, Hecarim…the list goes on, but I think you get the picture."
Spy looked thoughtfully at the deities and rubbed his chin. "Zomezing still doesn't sit right; why were your subjects zo surprised at my appearance? I realize zat zeeing a human is a rare occurrence, but it zeemed as if zo zey had never zeen one before."
"Allow me to explain," Celestia began, "when your friend Pyro arrived in Ponyville, he was taken in by our very own Lyra Heartstrings and keep a secret from the rest of the world. That is, until Nightmare Night, when he was brought to our attention. And although his arrival may have been the catalyst for the events that transpired, he did manage to help us defeat Silas once and for all. After such a traumatic evening that would be too much to bare for most ponies, I found it best to wipe the fight from all but a few ponies' minds, like all of you present."
Spy's eyes widened. No, it couldn't be the same person. "Forgive my asking, Princess, but when you zaid 'Silas'…you don't mean-"
"The Horseless Headless Horseman, yep!" Pinkie shouted as she bounced around the group in her usual happy manner.
"You DARE show your impudent faces back here after what you did! I should cocoon the pair of you right here and now!"
"WELL, SOMEONE WOKE UP ON THE SNARKY SIDE OF THE SULFUR PIT THIS MORNING," The Bombinomicon remarked as Demoman lumbered into the Hive's main chamber and plopped down on one of the flatter rock formations.
Chrysalis hissed as her cat-like eyes flashed a sickening green. "I don't care HOW many of those foals you terrorized, you were supposed to replace Celestia! Or at the very least Blueblood! Did you manage to plant ANY drones!?"
"DON'T GET YOUR…WHATEVER IN A BUNCH. OH GOD, THAT WAS AN UNSETTLING IMAGE. GAH…" Chrysalis' face was now the same shade as Tavish's suit only with much sharper, bared fangs. "RIGHT…WELL, I THINK ONE OF YOUR 'OPERATIVES' STAYED BEHIND-"
"Uh, Commander?" the Changeling known as Reflection muttered from within the swarming mass of his brethren. "The rest of the squad never made it back, they were jailed upon the arrival of the guard captains."
For the first time in known history, the Hive went absolutely silent; no buzzing, no hooves clacking against various surfaces, no chatter, nothing. The only audible noises were the faint drips of moisture falling from the ceiling and growing snickering.
"…*SNORT* A-HAHAHAHAHAHA! THOSE IDIOTS GOT CAUGHT!? WE WERE THERE, WHAT? NOT EVEN FIVE MINUTES! HAHAHAHAHA! OH! OH MY SIDES HURT! HAHAHA! OH, OH MY- OH MY GAH-HAHAHA! IT HURTS, IT HURTS…OH GOD IT BURNS! AAAAAAAAAH! THE PAIN!!!" The Bombinomicon shrieked in agony as its back cover made contact with the contents of a boiling crater that Chrysalis had unceremoniously dipped it in.
"You have failed me for the last time you pathetic excuse for a tome!" She flipped the book around so that its horrid face could witness its untimely demise at the hooves of the dethroned Queen.
"WAIT! IF YOU KILL ME, I'LL BECOME MORE POWERFUL THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY IMAGINE!" A bubble in the acidic pool burst and flicked small specks of corrosive goo across The Bombinomicon's front cover. "OKAY! OKAY! THAT WAS A LIE! BUT IF YOU DESTROY ME YOU'LL NEVER SUMMON MONOCULUS!"
"How stupid to you think I am? If I incite the ritual again, you'll just summon another one of these incompetent foals!" She pointed a hoof at where Demo was sitting, his good eye still glowing a faint green from Chrysalis' spell. "Although, I must admit that the prospect of a giant monster of myth under my control IS enticing…alright, book, you've got ONE final chance to do this right before I cook you up and eat you!"
The Bombinomicon sighed internally. What to do? It could always try bring another member of of RED Team to come to his aid, but would it be enough? It might just turn out to be another Demoman situation and would seal its fate as Chrysalis' reader's digestion. It would have to try and usher forth MONOCULUS despite its reservations about giving a clearly unstable tyrant a mystic monstrosity.
"IF I AM GOING TO SUMMON MONOCULUS, THEN I'M GOING TO NEED AN AMPLIFIER WITH STRONG TIES BACK TO MY UNIVERSE."
Chrysalis raised her brow suspiciously. "Why not just use him? Or even one of the trinkets he's got on him?"
"NO, A LIVING CREATURE WOULDN'T SURVIVE LONG ENOUGH FOR ME TO COMPLETE MY SPELL. HIS 'ITEMS' ARE OF NO USE EITHER AS THEIR TIE BACK TO MY WORLD IS SITTING LIKE A SACK OF DISCARDED BODY PARTS OVER ON THAT ROCK. WE NEED SOMETHING THAT SOMEONE BACK HOME WILL MOST LIKELY COME INTO CONTACT WITH…BUT WHAT?"
"How 'bout that ring that wee pony was wearin' back at the party?" Tavish said, his voice raising over the mumble of the Hive and grasping the immediate attention of Chrysalis and The Bombinomicon.
"Let me through! Do you oafs have any idea who I am!?"
The guards at the door felt the veins in their temples pulse simultaneously at the unpleasant voice of their unwanted visitor. "Ugh…YES, Prince Blueblood, we know who you are-"
"Then why are you two clods barring me access to the throne room!?" the stuck-up stallion said as he tossed back a lock of his long blonde mane. The tall, light grey prince just stared at the two armor-clad guards expectantly, waiting for them to bend to his will as they were normally supposed to.
"I'm sorry, your Highness; but the Princesses gave us special instruction not to allow anypony into the throne room until told otherwise. And that, I'm afraid, includes YOU", the guard said with a quick smile.
"I ORDER you to let me in!"
"Didn't you hear the stallion? He said-"
"No. No, let him through."
"Well! It's about time!" the Prince snorted as he walked past the twin sentinels and into the previously secure room.
"…What the hay was that!? Why'd you let him in? Why'd I let you let him in? I outrank you!"
"Relax; 'Butt Stallion' wanders in there, whining about whatever, then Celestia and Luna send him back out here on his flank. They know that he probably threatened to banish us to Griffin territory if we didn't let him past and are gonna be way more angry at him than us," the first guard reassured the second.
"I dunno, you sure about that?"
Blueblood was ridged with heart-stopping fear for his tragically short life. Never before had he felt such terror, the closest he had ever gotten to this level of shock was when his backwater date for the Gala had flipped her lid after he barely managed to save his pristine coat from an airborne commoner cake. This, however was much different.
Not only had the mere sight of the strange, slender creature standing erect been enough to get the Prince's heart racing, but the small cannon it was holding had clipped some of the hair from his now flattened ears.
"SPY!" Lyra shouted as she pressed her hooves up against the RED infiltrator. "You almost shot the Prince!"
"Shame," Rarity sighed.
"Forgive me, reflexes and all." He holstered his Ambassador revolver and knelt down, "Would you like some assis-"
Blueblood slapped Spy's gloved hand away and then quickly retracted his manicured hoof for fear that the bizarre being might rend it from his body. "NO! Don't touch me! Don't come any closer! AAAAAAAAAAAH!!!" With that incredible display of bravery, Blueblood ran screaming like Opalescence when Sweetie Belle accidentally clamped her tail in Rarity's steam press.
"So, I get banished for a thousand years because I'm feeling under-appreciated and get a little cranky...yet you let him run around here acting that without so much as a slap on the hoof?"
"Don't start with me, Luna…" Celestia said rubbing her forehead from the impending headache of her nephew's screech. "Blueblood did prove a point; we can't keep Spy here without somepony stumbling upon him and having a similar reaction. I propose that we move him somewhere less populated were the media will be less likely to spot him. Mister Spy, you said that one of the items returned to you will help you maintain your disguise?"
"Yes, you see, zis cigarette case allows me to do ZIS." Spy flipped open the small, silver Disguise Kit and pressed a button on the internal panel. Smoke enveloped his tall frame as red lights flickered from within the smog, the pillar gradually began to swirl towards the floor, leaving behind nothing of the French human but a white unicorn instead. "Pretty cool, eh? It even helps me change my voice and mannerisms," Copper Head said, smiling at the reactions he was getting.
Twilight raised her lavender hoof. "What about that paper mask I saw you throw away back in the ball room? Does that have anything to do with it?"
"Good question! Here, lemme just tweak this, and…presto!" Instead of the usual smoke and mirrors, the image of the orange-maned pony flickered as if being projected before suddenly snapping back to Spy, but wearing a paper mask that covered his crimson balaclava with a picture of Copper Head's smiling face. "Which do you prefer?" he said, his voice now retaining its natural tone.
"Human!" said Lyra enthusiastically. She blushed upon realizing that nopony else was talking and instead had their eyes locked on her. "Or um, you know, whatever works…"
"I think human would be better," Celestia said warmly. "That way you can learn more about him and he doesn't have to strain himself to maintain his masquerade."
Spy bowed respectfully. "Princess, it is of no problem for me to keep up a disguise for long stretches of time, but I appreciate your concern." Lyra suppressed a squeal and stamped her hooves in joy.
"As much as I would like to keep you here until we can find a way to send you home, the paparazzi that swarm around the castle would no doubt question why a non-guard pony was staying here for an extended amount of time, let alone a human. Ajax, would you show these lovely ladies the way to the Guard Transit?"
"At once, Princess," the stalwart captain saluted and turned to lead the group out. As she walked down the red carpet towards the doors, Twilight felt a slight telekinetic tug on the back of her mane. She turned around in confusion, as she was in the back of the unconventional group, only to see Luna gesturing for her to come back. Twilight shuffled backwards until she was within earshot of the dark goddess, increasing the gap between her and her friends as they left the lavish room.
"Don't let him out of your sight."
Twilight smiled. "You can count on me, Princess!"
"Heya Twilight, you comin'?" Applejack said as she poked her head back in. Twilight gave the Royal Pony Sisters a wink before trotting off with her friend. The doors closed with a thunk. The only sounds were the winds blowing just outside the windows and the voices of two guards as they attempted to come to a consensus on what they had heard. Luna closed her eyes, enjoying the momentary quiet.
"Do you think they'll be alright? I mean, the last human that stumbled into their care was a fiey harbinger for that…monster, you don't think that maybe-"
"No. No…we haven't detected any magical rifts as of late. Lets just focus on finding Chrysalis, and that other human," Celestia said quietly.
All was not well in Equestria.
Tarence looked up at the bright blue sky and smiled, the warm rays of the sun cascading across his dark-grey face as the light breeze pushed a few strands of his ginger mane into his turquoise eye.
Life was good (other than that stray hair business temporarily blinding him), and as soon as he made his way back to Ponyville and its amazingly warm lake, it would be all the sweeter. He chuckled slightly; a swimming pegasus? That sounded strange even to him, but there was something about swimming that flying just couldn't hold a candle to.
Perhaps it was the same charm that drove him to occasionally take the train as opposed to taking the faster, saner option of flight. What most non-pegasi don't understand is that flying causes massive strain on one's body after long durations. For this reason, Cloudsdale schools train young pegasi to build wing strength at very young ages that gradually increases as they age and use their signature limbs more and more often.
So Tarence preferred train rides for long trips, especially from Saddle Lake to Ponyville…if only he didn't have to sit so close to other ponies. Tarence wasn't Equestria's most gifted conversationist when it came to strangers.
'I just gotta find the emptiest car and relax. Maybe I can get some drawing done, yeah, that'll keep my mind off things,' the water-logged flyer thought to himself as he boarded the train and rushed towards the caboose. To his relief, it was completely empty, and the majority of the other passengers were already sitting in other cars. Tarence dropped his saddlebags onto one of the plush seats and sat down beside it. He was just about to stretch out when he heard the sound of another train pulling into the station followed by the crackle of the intercom.
"Attention passengers: we will be experiencing a slight delay in our departure as we let on just a few more passengers. Thank you for your time."
Normally Tarence wouldn't pay any mind to the announcements, but when the train that pulls in is a golden engine from the Royal Guard Dispersal Transit, everypony takes notice.
'They're probably just moving some of the ponies from the Gala disaster back to their homes,' the grey pegasus thought as he brought out his drawing pad and pencil. Down the hall voices could be heard, followed closely by hoofsteps approaching the caboose. Tarence just sat there and hoped that whoever they were would just turn off into a different car and stay there, away from him and-
"This car looks the most spacious, let's stay in here," said a stallion's voice.
"Excuse me, would you mind if my friends and I stay in here?" The stallion's voice didn't have the gruff qualities of one of the guards, so he must've been just another refugee from the Gala. Well, there wasn't much other choice, Tarence kept his face buried in his sketch book as he nodded slightly.
"Great, thanks. Alright girls, he said it was cool."
"How many we got? Eight? Yeah, looks like there's enough."
'Eight? Oh come on…I just wanted a nice, QUIET ride,' Tarence punctuated his internal dialogue with small groan as the clinking of numerous hooves hit the metallic threshold as the rest of the stallion's friends entered.
"Oh! Dibs on the window seat!" one of the mares said as a gust of wind whipped past and nearly knocked a confused Tarence out of his seat!
"Now wait just a minute; who in tarnation said y'all could get the window? Ah wanted ta' see the apple orchards!" the second voice called, followed by a loud stomp.
"Well, darling, I'm truly sorry for the both of you because I shall be taking that seat. It has the largest overhead that I require for my essentials," the newcomer said as the sound of multiple bags bumping together almost made Tarence look up to see what exactly that mare considered to be "essential".
"But Princess Luna said she was going to be working on a new constellation tonight, and I have to be able to see it in order to properly track its stages," came yet another voice. Tarence was starting to get nervous, and the train hadn't even left yet!
"Um…actually, if you girls wouldn't mind, the migration of the-"
"I need it to hang the streamers and tie off the balloons!"
That was the apple that broke the pony's back, so to speak. The mares began to bicker as to why each one should have possession of the desired seat. Their voices got louder as their reasons became more and more bizarre (namely from the hyper-sounding one), Tarence finally had enough. He slammed his book shut and bolted upright.
"Look! Would you all just PLEASE-EEP!" He recognized them all the moment his blueish-green eyes fell on their fighting forms: the Mane Six! Just like the rest of Equestria, Tarence had heard all about their many adventures, and staying true to form when meeting nation-wide celebrities, he lost all control over his ability to form sentences and cognitive thought. "I…I don't…"
Tarence felt something make hard contact right where his head joined his neck and blacked out. The last, blurry image he saw was that of blaring lights and a white unicorn with a ginger mane standing over him.
"Spy!" Twilight shouted as she broke free from the maelstrom of quips flying between her friends. "Why did you do that!?"
"My apologies, I didn't want zis awkward colt to interfere with ours plans for getting me and Demoman home…a plan I assume you've already gotten started on, no?" Spy knelt down, still appearing as a human before the six Elements of Harmony, and hefted Tarence's unconscious form over his shoulder with a light grunt. To any other pony, it would appear as if though Copper Head had levitated the grey pegasus into the air with magic.
Twilight looked over at Lyra and Bon Bon, before looking over at her friends who only returned her blank stare. "Uh, hehe, we were kinda hoping YOU would have a plan…" Twilight said sheepishly.
Spy sighed as he tossed the unconscious stallion onto the overhead and covered him with some of Rarity's luggage. "Hmm, would any of you happen to have any 'Australium' on…er, hoof?" The eight ponies (not counting the one hazing in and out to the view of a purple suitcase) all looked at one another and then at Twilight.
"I've never even heard of that element-" Twilight's face seized up as her brilliant mind processed the impossible sentence her mouth had just allowed out in the open. She had known the elements by heart since she was a filly. She had even helped Cadance with her Academy homework and studying for tests! Twilight wavered for a moment before her lavender eyes rolled into her head as she passed out onto a pillow rushed over by Fluttershy.
"Oh my gosh! Is she okay?" Bon Bon asked as she and Lyra gasped.
"Ah reckon she's fine. Her noggin's jus takin' a breather." Applejack stroked Twilight's frazzled mane as she leaned in closer and whispered something in her ear. Twilight bolted up right and looked about frantically, covering herself with front hooves.
"What on earth did you say to her?" Spy said, almost impressed.
Applejack chuckled, "Ah jus told 'er she'd shown up ta' a test completely shaven. Works like a charm."
"Splendid. Since it appears zat I shan't be making ze trip home ze same way I came, we must research ozer methods of sending me back."
Twilight shook her head as she tried to dislodge the terrifying thought of showing up to a test completely unprepared and completely naked. "How exactly did you wind up here? From what Lyra's told us about humans, you aren't naturally magical, so you couldn't have teleported here the same way I can."
"Couldn't Pyro do that fiery-burny thingy with his claws?" Pinkie said popping out of one of the light fixtures.
"Hands, Pinkie, they're called 'hands'," Lyra corrected.
"Yes, but zat lunatic is about as far from normal as I am from being a talking pony," Spy twitched as he began to feel unnaturally hot, the sensation of being burned alive was one that he had felt all too many times before. "I was sent to zis world after a mishap with the element I mentioned earlier. I still remember ze hot day in which I found myself fighting for survival…"
"Not so fast now are ya? ARE YA!?"
"You SUCK. Seriously."
The two rapid recovery agents' witty retorts could be heard all across the battlefield, even over the shrapnel and explosions erupting with rapid succession as both groups of mercenaries unloaded everything they could at the opposing side. Spy sighed. They were so noisy and cumbersome, there was no way in hell any of them could do what he did. That's why they needed him and his particular set of lethal skills (since there's no way they could possible get some idiot like Heavy to do his job, that'd be absurd).
The French saboteur stood from his crouching stance on one of the covered mine cart tracks and paced silently about, sunlight becoming ever so distorted as it passed through his invisible form and cascaded faint colors against the rotting wooden structure the assassin was using to observe his surroundings.
Although they had only discovered this man-made blight some two hours ago, the Engineers' gumption had allowed them to set up the most essential equipment needed to build a base; Respawn Room, resupply cabinets, beach balls, air hockey tables, and the all-important somewhat wobbly bench. Leave it to TF Industries to make things complicated and actually bring some meaning to what was to be an otherwise senseless day of killing.
As it turned out, the facility that the identical teams had stumbled upon was in fact NOT a rundown junk pile, but a fully functional launch pad for a two-stage rocket holding much needed supplies for the great space exploring monkey Poopy Joe.
Spy hopped down from his perch and made his way through a series of large pipes, according to the intel provided from command, the fuel cell required to launch the rocket was stashed in a state-of-the-art container hidden somewhere nearby. Spy exhaled, it would take all of his cunning, all of his skill, all of his training to find this critical piece of technology before-
"I must be dreaming…" the words fell out of Spy's gaping mouth, his cigarette only staying in place thanks to years of practice. There, laying on the ground over a large, painted "X" was a plaid briefcase with a glowing thermos jammed onto the side. Spy's Cloak and Dagger flickered long enough for his stunned expression to be seen for a split second before disappearing again, leaving only faint sobs in its place. He shook his balaclava encased head and slinked carefully along the side of the wall, just in case this was in fact a horribly setup trap by BLU.
The paranoid infiltrator looked over the strange container for possible traps or sensors, it came up clean (aside from the fact it was slowly rotating a few inches off the ground and was emitting a yellowish glow from a clearly unsecured soup thermos duct taped to the side). He carefully picked up the case to examine it further, when it suddenly whipped around behind him and latched onto his back.
"That intelligence is MINE! Do you you understand that!?" Spy spun around just in time to see a crackling blue laser slam into his chest as he began to twitch violently before falling to the ground as nothing more than a pile of ash.
Spy felt a dull numbness all over his being, like the sensation of floating or being emerged in a pool of lukewarm water. This feeling, like most things in Spy's abnormal life, was abruptly interrupted by the voice of The Announcer alerting RED team that BLU was on their way to the launch platform with the Australium.
'Australium? That tattered excuse for a folder was holding AUSTRALIUM!? Mon dieu, who is running this team!?' Spy thought, shaking himself as the piercing bloom of the fluorescent lights greeted him on yet another successful return from the Void. He had little time to revel in the fact that death had no permanent hold him as his flicked open his silver Disguise Kit and headed out.
Things had not improved much since Spy got plastered across that wall. One of BLU's Engineers had managed to gain the upper hand by setting up a level two Sentry Gun near the loading platform, and to make matters worse, the Soldier that had bested Spy earlier was still in possession of the Australium and was now storming up the left side near his spawn point with the aid of a Medic.
On the RED side of things; Pyro was nowhere to be found, Engie couldn't keep so much as a Dispenser running for more than a few seconds before the unchecked Demoman blasted it to pieces, Sniper was too invested in mortal combat with his counterpart to provide any support, and the Scouts were busy having a "who can be the most annoying little virgin monkey" contest (as far as Spy could tell).
Just another mess Spy's team had left him, like a mentally-damaged puppy dragging in what's left of diseased squirrel and dumping it right on his fashionable spats.
"You're all dishonorably discharged!" Soldier barked as a well placed energy beam interrupted the Snipers' duel with a decisive disintegration. The Medic attached to him via Medi-beam laughed with approval as they stood on the loading platform at the base of the large rocket, which began to raise the duo up to the dock where the rare and highly unstable element was to be deposited.
Bullets and other ordinance flew through the air as the two BLUs ascended higher and higher above the chaos they had come to love over the many years. of course, all those years had also brought their fair share of beatings, a lesson Soldier had learned many times, which is why he chose to keep his head down and avoid the oncoming fire instead of returning it. The Medic apparently had the same idea as he had focused more on not getting hit as opposed to healing him ever since they hopped on the platform.
After what could have been a much shorter trip had BLU team been operating with any sense of coordination, the nose cone at the head of the rocket began to unscrew and lift itself from the rest of the metal-plated body. Soldier took one last look around to make sure the coast was clear, as far as vengeful Snipers were concerned, before slinging the Cowmangler 5000 over his shoulder and grasping the critical piece of tech in his scar-covered hands.
"I'm afraid not, but, at least you died for honor…and my amusement!" The Medic-turned-Spy laughed as he applied more pressure to the knife jutting out of the wannabe veteran's shoulder. Spy was actually relieved, he thought for sure that he wouldn't have been able to pierce the laser-launcher covering Soldier's backbone, but as it turned out, the durable metal weapon that had traveled across time and space only to fall into the delusional hands of Soldier crumpled like tinfoil against Spy's elegant butterfly knife.
Unfortunately for Spy, he was about to discover side-effect #325 of using a laser-based weapon such as the Cowmangler 5000 or Pomson 6000: what happens when said laser comes into contact with Australium.
The same energy that had killed Spy not two minutes prior began to crackle from within the opening created by his knife and surge violently across both of their bodies, and over the briefcase that began glowing at the same magnitude as the sun. Spy, unable to release his grip due to the electricity seizing up his muscles, could only watch as the blinding light intensified and slowly enveloped his entire being.
The resulting explosion shook the entire battlefield and effectively halted the match as both sides looked on in awe (and waited for the now decimated Australium case to reset). Among those gazing at what remained of the back-stabber and the rocket-jumper was a familiar figure wearing his iconic black gas mask. He said nothing, not even a muffle, instead he opted to simply commemorate his teammate's passing by blowing on his bubble wand and watching as they floated away over the bright pink mountains and mingled with the fluffy white clouds no one else seemed to be enjoying.
Spy's eyes shot open as he drew in a sharp breath, but he felt no air fill his lungs. He looked about in a moment of panic before remembering what had happened; he had died once again. He rubbed his tired eyes as he floated through the Void and contemplated what his next course of action should be upon Beetlejuiceing his way back to the land of the living. After a few minutes he began to worry, he had experienced longer-than-usual respawn times in the past, but nothing quite like this.
"What ze devil is going on out zere?"
"IVE BEEN ASKING MYSELF THAT QUESTION FOR FAR TOO LONG."
Spy froze, the haunting voice stirring a latent fear deep within his soul as it crept into his ears. He slowly and carefully slid his trusty butterfly knife into his palm. With cold sweat pouring down his body, he turned to face the hallowed horror…but was met nothing but haze and a few floating shards.
"I…where did he- GACK!" Spy felt his thin neck become even more compressed as an almighty vice grip sealed off his windpipe and began to lift him from his drifting platform. He struggled in vain to free himself, but only managed to tire his sweaty palms in an attempt to pry the massive, black glove from around his throat. Spent, the Frenchman was turned around and came eye to carved-out eye with the Horseless Headless Horseman, glowing head to boot in an eerie purple aura.
"WHAT HAVE WE HERE, A MOURNER UNTO THE VOID? JUST FOR ME? YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE," said the voice that echoed deep within the monster's statuesque features. Spy panicked and plunged his blade deep into the black glove wrapped tightly around his esophagus. The HHH glanced down at the metallic splinter lodged into his hand before unleashing one of the most terrifying laughs Spy had ever heard in his life.
"DID YOU HONESTLY EXPECT THAT TO WORK? TELL ME, WHAT WAS THE BEST CASE SCENARIO OF THAT PATHETIC ATTEMPT? FREEDOM, PERHAPS? IF YOU'RE GOING TO TRY SOMETHING LIKE THAT," the towering beast used his free hand to shatter a nearby floating shard, which began to contort and reform until it transformed into the fearsome Headtaker, "AT LEAST USE A REAL WEAPON."
Spy's eyes widened as the ax that had sent his decapitated corpse flying across Harvest and Mann Manor numerous times was gouged into his hand. He tried to yell in pain but the Horseman's grip was so great that no sound was heard.
"FEAR NOT, PUNY MORTAL; I HAVE A TASK FOR YOU…"
Spy felt the cold, rubbery slap of Pyro's hand across his face. He sat up and almost gave himself a concussion on the underside of Pyro's bunk-bed that he had setup in their new house. The mute firebug tried to assist his dazed friend only to be waved off as Spy took his second, and much more cautious attempt at sitting upright.
"Pyro? Oh…what happened? Where are we?" Pyro, through a series of muffled exclamations and gestures, explained that he and the rest of RED had managed to organize and secure the sought after Australium and successfully launch the rocket (sadly, the success ended shortly there after when the rocket carrying the supplies nose-dived into BLU's comm tower). Pyro also jokingly mentioned that it took Spy's violent death to lead his team to victory, and to Pyro receiving a well-placed karate chop right between the eyes.
Spy suddenly remembered why he had been spared, he looked down at his hand that had been pierced by the Headtaker only to find that it was still intact (throbbing slightly from smacking it against Pyro's deceptively hard face but otherwise fine).
The next few days blurred together as the entire team waited impatiently for new orders from TF Industries, most of them just sat around and fiddled with their ever-expanding array of equipment or sharpened their various skills…all of them, but Spy, who spent the vast majority of his time in his room pouring over research notes and the small chunk of Australium that had lodged itself into the side of his otherwise flawless knife.
Spy wiped his brow, working deep into the night was taxing no matter who it was or how trained they were. The fear kept him awake, the creeping fear that the Horseman would do unspeakable things to him with unspeakable devices in unspeakable places for unspeakable lengths of time the next time he expired like month-old cottage cheese that had been left out in New Mexican sun.
He continued to research the mysterious element until one faithful day, after spending countless hours in his room, Spy finally ventured out to attend to an even more pressing matter; heating his stone-cold tea. He peered around the dark hallway for any signs of intelligent life, or to see if any of his teammates were milling about. The coast clear, he effortlessly made it down the stairs and into the kitchen without so much as a silent fart before trying the tap, only to have (what appeared to be in the low light) thick soup splooge its way into the already clogged drain.
Spy staggered back up the aging stairs, all the while stifling the urge to purge when he noticed something shimmering from a crack in the door across the hall; one of Pyro's flamethrowers.
Spy slowly pushed the door open and slipped in unheard. He slid forward and reached out for the nearest one before hefting the surprisingly heavy makeshift dragon onto his back and exiting as silently as he had come. Back in his room, Spy placed his cold cup of tea down on his work desk as he prepared to heat it to the perfect temperature with the…the hell was that thing?
"Oh no, not zis…ABOMINATION. Is zere even a trigger on- ah, zere you are," Spy muttered to himself. In his haste, Spy had accidentally grabbed hold of the only weapon Pyro possessed that he didn't have the faintest idea of how to operate; the Phlogistinator. Now, Spy had had to mimic holding every weapon for every class at one time or another, but that was it. He couldn't operate Sasha anymore than he could repair a Sentry! Well, since the tap water was anything but and he desperately needed a pick-me-up, Spy ignored his better judgement and pointed the bizarre contraption at his "Fire Anyone" mug.
Spy squeezed the handle, a series of fiery disks swirled from within the bronze nozzle and enveloped the red cup with its cosmic energy. Spy eased off before the rings could scorch anything else. Or so he thought.
As he turned to lean the otherworldly toaster against the wall, an intense glow began to pulsate from where he had been examining the Australium shard. The golden light flared violently and continue to grow as it pulsed, Spy had no choice to but to shield his eyes as best he could before his entire being was snatched up by the massing energy...
"…I awoke shortly zere after. Naturally, ze fact zat ponies here can TALK shocked me to some degree, but, after a few hours I grew to accept my new reality." Spy sighed as he finished his story, slightly deflated at the fact that he may never see his world again.
"What happened to that other guy you…killed…?" Lyra asked cautiously.
"I don't zink he came with, I'm pretty sure dead stupid doesn't teleport as well as living competence," Spy reassured the small unicorn with a chuckle at Soldier's expense.
"Oh, th-that's good…" Fluttershy meeped from behind Applejack.
Twilight glanced out the window, the sun had since made its way across the sky and was now starting to set in the west. Normally Twilight loved to watch the sunset as she poured over a good book, but normally she wasn't harboring a para-dimensional assassin onboard a public train bound for her home.
Speaking of which; "Spy? Have you given any thought as to where you're going to stay once we get to Ponyville?" Everypony looked thoughtfully at Twilight, then at Spy, then at one another. None of them had really thought about where the espionage enthusiast would be staying until the Princesses could figure out how to get him back home.
"Oh oh oh oh, oh me! Me! He can stay with me!" Lyra practically screamed as she hopped up and down on her hind legs. "Uh, ya know…if that's cool with you, Spy."
"Well, I'm flattered at your offer, but I zink zat-"
"Oh, darling, I'm not called the 'Element of Generosity' for nothing. He can stay at the Boutique! I have more than enough room, and I'd simply LOVE to hear how you came across your fabulous suit," Rarity said rubbing her perfectly manicured hoof across Spy's sleeve.
"Would you believe it's a hobby?"
"I'm not sure that-" Twilight started before being cut off by Rarity raising her hoof.
"Darling; would you rather have the unknown stallion come with me where I have clients from all over Equestria stay for fittings that can last hours at a time and nopony bats an eye, or would you rather have him go with one of you and have assumptions made by everypony in town that will only make them want to known more about our friend here?" Rarity said quickly and dryly.
After the train pulled in to the station in Ponyville, the nine tired Gala attendees went their separate ways to enjoy what was left of the late afternoon and get a good night's rest before deciding on what to do next (Tarence eventually got off the train too, only it was in Appleloosa).
"Copper Head" escorted the elegant Rarity back to the Carousel Boutique, and for the first time in a long time, he actually enjoyed the conversation he was having with the beautiful unicorn. He was so enthralled that he never even noticed the rustling bushes that had been trailing them since the train station.
"Sister, may I ask you something?" Luna asked her older sibling as the last of the nobles filed out of the throne room after a long discussion of the future of Equestia (and to see if the Royal Budget had enough leftover to sustain another pool in the East Wing).
Celestia stifled a yawn. "Of course you can, what's on your mind?" Celestia said with smile as she wiped a few stray tears that had welled up in the corners of her magenta eyes.
"Why did you do what you did? The spell after all the events with Silas had concluded, I mean." Celestia didn't say anything for a long while, she just looked at her sister, with an almost dumbfounded expression as she chose her next words carefully.
"What would have happened if I allowed that harrowing memory to remain in the minds of our subjects?" Celestia's voice was stern and unwavering. "Our previously 'impenetrable magical wall' faltered, and the most dangerous being to invade our land since Discord and Sombra turned you back into Nightmare Moon and me into that…maleficent, baneful, Solar Flare. I didn't want my little ponies thinking that we could become something so monstrous," Celestia sighed, slightly disheartened.
"…I know that I've adapted to the modern methods of speech, but I could have sworn you were using the Royal 'we'," Luna's voice trembled ever so slightly as she stood and walked over to large window that overlooked the gardens. Her sapphire eyes scanned the edge of the hedge maze. The massive labyrinth, along with the rest of the West Wing Garden, was maintained by a single donkey who was now casually raking away a few stray leafs near a large, stone statue of Nightmare Moon.
"I don't understand, Luna. What do you-"
"Did you mean to say that you didn't want everypony to remember what turned YOU into a monster while you erect statues of my darkest hour all across Equestria!?"
"Luna, you have to understand…"
"Understand WHAT!?" Luna slammed her hoof against the tile, causing crystalline cracks in the magically reinforced floor. "If you could wipe the minds of everypony, why didn't you do the same for me when Silas first corrupted me instead of allowing an entire holiday to be made around it!?"
Celestia was taken aback by the rage pouring from her sister. Luna's eyes were now glowing brightly as she rose from the ground on her opulent wings, her voice growing ever louder. "I didn't have a hoof in the creation of Nightmare Night, some of the villagers came up with the idea-"
"But it couldn't have been made official WITHOUT YOUR APPROVAL!" Luna screamed as she flew rapidly over to her sister's face, the tears that had been rolling down her cheeks were now much more prominent. "The one time YOU falter, you bleach it like a stain! When I take a turn for the worst, you make sure that ponies for generations to come know what a horrible-" *SMACK*
Luna reeled back in shock, her reddened eyes returning to normal from the stinging pain that now afflicted her cheek. She looked up at Celestia as she slowly placed her hoof back on the ground. "I made that holiday and those statues so nopony could ever forget you!"
Luna could only blink.
"I…I made up that holiday about a decade after I was forced to banish you. I knew everypony would only remember you as Nightmare, so I played off their fear. I had rumors spread about the nefarious Nightmare Moon and that she may be lurking in shadows ready to attack if she wasn't appeased with offerings of sweets and the like. It caught on, and soon everypony was celebrating Nightmare Night and looking forward to it. I thought that if you ever did return, they wouldn't be as frightened of you. Shining a light at the monster under the bed so to speak. I wish I could have made it so they remembered who you really were, but at the time, even I wasn't sure you could ever be saved."
Luna looked away from her sister, trying her best to digest all the information that had been thrust upon her. "That still doesn't explain your recent actions…" Luna muttered sorely, still rubbing her cheek.
Celestia shook her head and took a deep breath before continuing. "I admit, part of my reasons for expunging that particular memory was to save my own self-image, but it was also for the good of everypony else, too. Imagine the doubt and fear everypony would have if they knew that deep down their Princesses had these vile alter egos just below the surface ready to lay waste to our fair land. What if Cadance had been there? What sort of villainous creature might she have become? Then there's the more obvious reason of Silas and all that he caused…I wanted everypony to have a sense of security, even if it was a false one," Celestia's head drooped slightly as her mane did the same. She felt a nudge from under her chin, she looked down to see Luna nuzzling her in an affectionate way. Celestia quickly returned the favor, and the two sat there for what seemed like hours, enjoying each other's company.
After a good, long while they separated, tears staining both of their cheeks as they wiped the remaining few from their tired eyes. "I'm sorry for yelling, Tia, and really do appreciate all that you've done for me over the millennia. If I could just ask one more question?"
"I think it's only fair."
"Are you going to do it again after all this is over?"
Celestia thought for a moment. "No. The only reason I blotted out that Pyro person was due to his own little transformation he had during his fight with the Horseman, that, and I didn't think my little ponies could handle the sight of creature such as he. But, after seeing the way Twilight and her friends handled it so calmly, I think I can let this one slide. Don't you agree, Lulu?" she said with wink.
"…And that thing he did to Blueblood was pretty funny too."
The giggle fit at the cowardly noble's expense was cut tragically short as a rapid knocking at the doors brought forth a frantic-looking guard. The Princesses instantly knew something was wrong, not only had he barged in unannounced but chunks of his otherwise pristine gold armor was were missing and he was covered head to hoof in a gelatinous green substance.
"Prin…Princesses! The-They escaped! We couldn't hold them, we couldn't…couldn't…"
Celestia looked at her sister not with worry, but with fierce concentration at the new threat at hoof. "It's alright, you're safe now. What happened?"
"The Changelings! They broke out their cells, we think think they're after the Elements!"
"Now if you could just hold this up, turn a little to left? No, to the right? There we are. Let me just bring this over here, and…perfect! Thank you so much, darling. It's not everyday I get to work with a unique model such as yourself." Rarity took a few steps back to admire her hours of work. She sighed happily, the sweat, tears, and a frizzled mane had been worth it to create her most elegant and difficult piece to date; a suit for Spy that would also look ravishing when he donned his disguise (not that he needed it, he just wanted to give Rarity something to take her mind off of trying to ask him anything about himself).
Spy admired the threads on his new suit, which looked exactly like his old one only with Rarity's Cutie Mark embedded in a pin on his lapel. "Je vous remercie, Rarity. It's exactly what I needed, I can't get anyzing done without a well-crafted suit." His work completed, Spy lit up a fresh cigarette and took a seat on one of the couches, much to the distress of Rarity's uppity cat, Opalescence, who greeted the new house guest with death-hisses and warning swipes. "Charming…"
"Opal! That is NOT how we say hello! Sorry about her, she's um, very protective of her things…which at times I think is everything around here," Rarity said sheepishly as she pried the frantic feline off the couch and flung her into the other room with her magic.
Spy watched the dressmaker as she moved about her mannequins, fussing over the smallest of details as if it was a horrible disease. He wondered if that was what having a normal job was like, or…what a normal life must feel like. Spy have never really had a normal life. If he ever did, he must've been younger than Scout; running from his home, then from the French government, then Interpol, even the C.I.A…he never stopped moving, or changing identities. He reflected on his many personas; farmers, police officers, prostitutes, construction workers, body builders, corpses, TSA, nuns, he'd been almost everything.
But somewhere in the middle of it all, he had lost who really was. He couldn't even remember his own name at times. It wasn't until his run-in with TF Industries that he found a sense of rest. They wiped his slate clean, on the condition that he smeared it with the blood of his enemies upon the request of his benefactors. He supposed that, even as a serial killer, he could still live a normal life. If Robin Walker could do it, so could he!
"Pardon me, but does Ponyville suffer from raccoons?" Spy said quickly, turning his attention towards the window behind him.
Rarity didn't look away from her work as she continued sewing and putting the final touches on various pieces. "Raccoons? Heavens no, thankfully the Everfree Forest keeps most of them happy, and those that wander too far into town are swept up by Fluttershy. Flithy little creatures, why do you ask?"
"Zere's somezing outside."
"*YAWN* Oh…I really do need to get some sleep. I need to- *YAWN* -be ready for…whatever…" The tired unicorn began mumbling to herself, even though Celestia's sun had only begun to set, Lyra had little to no energy to spare and was now focused on getting to bed and finally getting some sleep. She slowly climbed the wooden steps up to her room, once there, she unceremoniously took off her ruined dress and tossed it gently into her closet before heading towards the bathroom.
As she began brushing her pearly teeth with the toothpaste Colgate had given her, she felt a warm sensation emitting from the ring she still wore around her mint-green horn. It felt good, as if though the warmth spread out around her entire being like a hug. It also filled her with a sense of longing for her friend who was no doubt facing countless perils. She tried to shut it out of her mind. Thinking about it would only cause her to worry over something she had no control over…especially since she was even more powerless than usual.
"Out of everything he could have taken…why my shield?" Lyra sighed sadly, the empty spot on her wall reminding her all too well that one of the three gifts from Pyro was now only Celestia knows where. She finished brushing her teeth and wrapped herself up in her comfy blankets, sleep quickly taking her as she drifted off into dreamland.
"HELLO, WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO TAKE PART IN OUR MANDATORY SURVEY?"
"AAAAH! Who are you!? How did- MMPH!"
"EXCELLENT. CAREFULLY NOW, TAVISH, WE WANT HER TO BE ABLE TO SPEAK HER MIND."
"LET GO OF ME YOU DIRTY- "MHMMHM!"
"WELL, THAT'S ENOUGH OF THAT. YOU SURE THIS IS THE ONE, DEMO-DUNCE? 'CAUSE NOT THAT I MIND BEING AWAY FROM THAT HOLE-RIDDEN HARPY, BUT IF I SPEND ANYMORE TIME IN THIS COLORFUL PLACE I'M GONNA VOMIT BLOCK INK…AND I'M PRETTY SURE I HEARD RACCOONS. I HATE RACCOONS."
"Aye, it's her. Look, she's got the ring on 'er horn." Lyra continued to squirm from under the tall creature's grasp, she tried to call for help, but her muzzle was clamped shut by the giant's-
'Hands!? Demoman!' Lyra moved her head as best she could against the drunken might of her captor, and saw that he was indeed Spy's lost companion (not that Spy would ever admit to that). Lyra had to get to the others and warn them. If he was here, Chrysalis and her brood must not be far behind! Lyra's thrashing finally paid off as she shook off Tavish's grip long enough to come down on his hand like a vice with rounded teeth…which was about as effective as one too.
"Ach, tha's cute, she thinks she can hurt me," the towering explosives expert laughed as he gingerly tousled her mane. Well, Lyra had had about enough at this point and informed him that she wanted to be put down by "gingerly" smashing her back leg into his caber.
Lyra was impressed, she thought for sure that would have worked. What Lyra couldn't see (that The Bombinomicon was thankful for) was the pain-ridden face of the otherwise stoic, alcoholic knight, standing only because the kevlar flap down near his waist had saved him once again.
"WHOA! WHOA! CALM DOWN, WE JUST WANNA TALK. LISTEN, OUR DEAR, SWEET GRANDMA IS TERRIBLY ILL AND WE NEED THAT RING IN ORDER TO PAY FOR HER OPERATION…"
Lyra's tired yellow eyes looked over at the floating book before rolling around in their sockets in a sarcastic manner.
"…AND YOU'RE NOT BUYING ANY OF THIS, ARE YOU? ALRIGHT, YA GOT ME; WE'RE NOT OVERLY-AGGRESSIVE GIRL SCOUTS WITH A SICK GRANNY. WE ARE, HOWEVER, IN NEED OF THAT RING YOU'VE GOT THERE."
"Well then you've made the trip for nothing, I'm never going to give up this ring, and there's nothing you can say that will change that!"
"'SAY'? I SUPPOSE NOT, BUT THEN AGAIN; I'VE ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT ACTIONS SPEAK MUCH LOUDER THAN WORDS. EXCEPT THESE ONES: BRAZBO BARRABUS!" The Bombinomicon's red eyes shifted to a shade of green as smoke of the same color poured from within its bindings onto the floor. Within a matter of seconds, the eerie mist had engulfed the entire room, and now began to snake its way around Lyra.
Demoman remained unfazed as the smog wrapped around the frightened pony still struggling to free herself, he was still trying to shake the feeling that he wouldn't be walking straight for awhile after a kick like that (not that walking in straight lines was really his forte anyway). His train of thought was interrupted as the mare clenched tightly in his arms seemed to bend and contort. He worried for a moment that the devilish codex might be trying to pull the age-old squirrel in a microwave maneuver while he was still holding Lyra!
Tavish did his best to peer into the dense fog at his captive. He felt her trying to wriggle her head out from under his headlock, no doubt to take another crack at chopping down on his blast-riddled hand. He chuckled and lightened up on his grip just enough to let her get what he wanted. What's the worst she could-
"ACK! ME HAND! What the devil?" Demoman relinquished his wily captive and quickly tended to his hand, sucking on the wound to try and stop the bit of blood dripping from the break in his dark skin.
Lyra, now free and somewhat disoriented, tried to stand on her own hooves but instead collapsed to the floor. She lied there for a moment in confusion. What happened? Her legs felt fine as far as she knew, she tried to stand only fall forward again. She rolled onto her side and looked down at her hind legs, and in the low light, she could have sworn she saw…FEET!
'This…can't be real! Can it…?' She reached out for her new appendages with another alien, yet all too familiar limb; a hand. Her heartstrings began to to play a frantic melody, one of elation and utter confusion. She gripped her dresser for support, and finally putting her once thought "useless skill" into action, she shakily stood on her two new feet.
"THERE, NOW DOESN'T THAT FEEL GOOD? WOULDN'T YOU LOVE TO BE ABLE TO FEEL THE GRASS BETWEEN YOUR TOES? RUNNING YOUR FINGERS THROUGH YOUR HAIR? TRYING TO BRUSH YOUR HAIR OUT OF YOUR EYES AND TRIPPING IN THE GRASS THAT STAINS YOUR PANTS BEYOND ALL REASON AND NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU WASH THEM YOU STILL LOOK LIKE YOU BOUGHT THEM HALF-OFF AT A THRIFT STORE? DOESN'T THAT SOUND GREAT?"
"This…this is amazing! How did you-"
"I, ER, A MAGICIAN NEVER REVILES HIS TRICKS! EXCEPT FOR THE GREAT REVILO. IDIOT. NOW, WOULDN'T YOU LIKE TO STAY THIS WAY, FOREVER?" Lyra looked down at her now peach-colored skin, it felt so smooth against the mint-green lyre T-shirt and jeans she now found herself wearing. It felt…right somehow, albeit strange. She couldn't just sacrifice the ring Pyro had nearly died trying to give her, but the feeling of being human…
"I'm not going with you…"
"I-I'm not going with you. I don't know how you made me human, but it's not worth betraying my friends!" Lyra braced her new form for whatever assault the two deviants might be planing, but nothing could have prepared her for what came next: laughter.
"Lass, we came 'ere tell ye tha' Pyro sent us."
"THE FIERY FREAK WOULDN'T LEAVE US ALONE UNTIL WE CAME BACK TO THIS FRUITY TOWN TO GET YOU," The Bombinomicon looked about Lyra's colorful room with utter disgust for anything happy and/or candy-colored.
"I knew he was still worried about me! I knew it I knew it I knew it! This is perfect! Wonderful…too good to be true. You need the ring for something, Chrysalis sent you here so just admit it!" Lyra was suddenly spun back around towards Tavish, making her shaky stance even worse. He held her by the shoulders and pulled her in until she was inches away from him and his rancid alcohol breath.
"Does it look like we follow orders, lassy? We escaped from tha' witch after the Gala! Pyro used his uh, power o' friendship, ta' tele himself over. Tha's 'en we met up and decided ta' take ye with us."
Lyra looked deeply into his eye for traces of any mind control spells. His eye was indeed green, but it was all contained in his iris with hints of brown along the rims.
"…How soon can we be there?"
The Bombinomicon perked up from his half-daze, "IF WE HURRY, WE CAN MAKE IT BACK TO THE MEETING PLACE BY MORNING. BUT IN ORDER TO MAKE THIS SMOOTHER, WE'RE GOING TO NEED YOU TO BE ABLE TO TAKE MORE THAN FIVE STEPS BEFORE FALLING OVER…NOT THAT DRINKY MCGEE CAN DO MUCH BETTER," The Bombinomicon chuckled as his eyes flashed and shrunk an even more confused Lyra back down to her normal pony form. Demoman placed her on the floor with a pat on the head before equipping the exhausted tome on his flack jacket.
As the sound of her hooves clacking against the wooden floor echoed throughout her house, Lyra knew her days of hearing that noise were numbered.
"WE'D BETTER GET OUR COLLECTIVE ASSES IN GEAR, I'M PRETTY SURE OUR LITTLE WALKABOUT DIDN'T GO UNNOTICED."
"Is this really necessary, darling? I mean, there is such a thing as being a bit TOO prepared," Rarity reflected on what she had just said and what her friends might have said, but quickly dismissed it. Those extra scarfs had most certainly paid off in the end, despite what everypony else had said, but this…
"Sadly, zere iz no such zing. No matter how prepared you zink you are it always pays to have a back-up plan, ezpecially in my line of work." Spy grunted as he propped the last couch against the door before glancing around the Boutique for any other possible ways someone, or somepony could possibly enter.
"Well, thank you, Mr. Spy. I think you've done an excellent job managing to fortify the Boutique AND managing to keep everything looking fabulous. Sort of. Don't you think so, Sweetie Belle?"
"It looks okay, what do you think Apple Bloom?"
"It's alright, could use some more fortification 'round the windows. What about you, Scootaloo?"
"It needs to be about thirty percent cooler."
Spy was about to scream. "Rarity…how long have zey been here…?"
"Oh, I let Sweetie Belle and her little friends in the back before you started, erm, renovating my Boutique," Rarity said with a twinge of disdain in her voice as she began to realize how tacky it was to have all of her dressers and mannequins shoved up against the doors and windows. Had Rarity not been wrapped up in thought on how to reorganize her shop, and the CMC talking busily amongst themselves about the human newcomer, they may have heard the blood vessels in Spy's eyeballs popping like party balloons from the immense pressure that had built from him attempting to remain composed instead of rocketing out of his shiny spats.
This was a failing endeavor.
"You WHAT!? Do you have any idea how dangerous zat is? Zey could have been assassins in disguise, or zose 'Changeling' abominations I keep hearing about!"
"Who, them?" Rarity looked back at the three fillies who were practically vibrating trying to bottle the numerous questions they had thought up since they first laid eyes on the French back-stabber. They all looked up at the older unicorn and smiled, Spy could have sworn he saw halos flicker above their over-sized heads. "Oh, they're harmless…relatively speaking. Just so long as you're not furniture or expensive fabric that stains, you should be fine."
Rarity turned with a wink in Spy's direction as she trotted happily out of the room, whispering "Tag" as the last bit of her bobbing tail disappeared from sight.
"Rarity? I-" It was then that Spy realized what she had meant, and that he was powerless to stop what was coming...
"Spy, five foot nine, classified, a male human, dark gray, not zat I'm aware of, yes, only on leap years, no, a bunch of idiots, classified, I almost had a clear shot at Judy Garland once, no ze Princess didn't zay anyzing about eating fillies." The three little fillies were stunned, usually older ponies would just ignore their barrage of questions or try to direct them somewhere else but this…human had just systematically answered them all as quickly as they had been asked!
Rarity, who had hidden herself from the eager CMC behind the door, trotted back in after what she assumed what was the bulk of the chatter storm had past. "I must say, you really do have a lot of intrigue about you, don't you Mr. Spy?" Spy smiled and rubbed the back of his neck. If only she knew… "Oh, before I forget, I'd best tell Twilight that these three are in on our little secret. Her library is just a few houses over, would you mind if I went and got her? The others should be there right about now."
The French assassin looked down at the still somewhat dumbfounded fillies, "I'll be fine. I have quite ze way with children…" Rarity smiled happily as she trotted once more out of sight and down the steps towards the front door. "…like when I convince zem to help me stop ze child-napping Australian embodiment of Smissmiss! Who wants to hear zat story before Rarity and ze ozers get back?"
The miniature pony's already impressive eyes grew even larger as did their smiles. Rarity would have their hides if she knew that Spy was telling them stories about his dangerous career, so naturally that made them want to hear it all the more! But as the sound of the front door opening and clicking shut, the eagerness in the fillies' faces suddenly faded like the smoke being blown away to reveal the source of the fire.
"Actually, I'd think we'd much rather hear the story about how the human got himself captured by three innocent fillies…" Apple Bloom said in a strange voice, followed by a low chuckle from Sweetie Belle.
Green flames licked their hooves and rapidly shot up their tiny frames to reveal even larger, exoskeleton-encased ones. Spy quickly stood as the fillies-turned-Changelings moved in closer, forming a semi-circle around him from the wall. "You were right, Mockery, that WAS easier than Chrysalis made it seem," the former Apple Bloom said in a buzzing tone.
"That's CAPTAIN Mockery to you, Ditto! Bringing this beast back, the Queen will have to reinstate back to my rightful status, if not something greater," the faux Sweetie barked at his soon-to-be subordinate. Their attention soon shifted away from thoughts of strangling one another as the sound of something cracking filled the now silent room. Ten somethings to be exact, all coming from the gloved hands of Spy as he popped his knuckles for a second time.
"Oh-ho-ho, zink you can capture me, eh? Well zen gentlemen; en garde."
Spy made the first attack: a deceive roundhouse that sent Mockery and Ditto crashing into Carbon Copy, he made a move for the door but was cut off by a telekinetically-thrown mannequin that broke apart upon impact with the back of his head. The two Changelings that didn't have a part in lobbing the plastic horse took flight, using their quick wings to boost their moments as they lunged at the still disoriented Spy.
Less disoriented than he let on. Realizing too late that that Spy had once again gained the upper (and in this fight only) hand, Ditto and Carbon Copy were powerless to stop him before crashing head-long into a table Spy had quickly repurposed as a shield. The two dizzy shape shifters shook themselves to try and stop their spinning, segmented eyes, which they managed to do before getting whacked back across Rarity's partially destroyed workroom by Spy's makeshift bludgeon formally known as "improvised shield". Mockery roared and fired a searing green bolt from his crooked horn that set the table ablaze, this proved to make things even worse for Team Changeling as Spy hurled the fiery discus at the surprised insectoid. Mockery pumped his wings and nearly avoided the missile that ended up flattening both his cohorts, Mockery flipped over, using his momentum to plant both of hooves in Spy's arm as he raised them to block. An action he soon regretted, although the ability to properly pick up and use various objects, the lack of an exoskeleton made clashing with one a rather painful experience. Spy crashed hard against a dresser that spilled its contents of assorted fabrics and ribbons.
Well, the French saboteur had had about enough at this point and decided to even the odds. With a motion he had mastered after years of repetition, Spy twirled his beautiful butterfly knife betwixt his fingers and pointed the sharpened blade right between Mockery's eyes. "May I make a suggestion? RUN."
"…so the long and short of the matter is that Sweetie and her little friends know about Spy too. I wonder why they don't remember that other human either. Oh, what was his name, Fryro?"
"His name was Pyro, Rarity, and the Princess said she only let us six, Lyra, Bon Bon, and a few others in Canterlot retain any knowledge of what happened that Nightmare Night." Twilight said as the teapot wrapped in her magic floated around the room and refilled the cups of her gathered friends.
"That seems like a weird thing to do, even for the Princesses. Hmhm! I think Darrtaa just didn't know how to en-"
"Aw, but I like our little conversations. They're like fun mini-surprise parties!"
Well, Pinkie, it's not that I don't LIKE talking to you. It's just that-
GAH! See, I just- *sigh* look, I did what I did because I didn't think I'd be writing this story.
"It still sounds silly…"
"I would have come with something much smarter."
CELESTIA!? I-I-I…I, uh, haha. Uhh…
"Why don't you stop confusing the readers and get back to the story, hmm?"
"Uh, were y'all saying somethin', Pinkie?"
"Guess not…" Pinkie said rolling her eyes.
"It's getting late, girls. We should head over there and get the little ones to bed *yawn*", Fluttershy's cheeks turned pink as she shielded most of her face behind her mane. "If, um, that's alright with you…" The others nodded and finished what was left of the tea as Spike walked around and tidied up. Rainbow Dash, who had been tuning in and out of the conversation as she plowed through the latest installment of Daring Do, closed her book and swooped down to join her friends.
"You sure that leaving them alone with Spy was a good idea?" the rainbow-maned pegasus asked as the grouped headed back towards the Boutique.
"Oh of course, darling. Spy is far less brutish than he appears. I don't think he'd lay a…what are those called? Hands? Wouldn't lay a hand on them. My, that sounds strange, 'hoof' really helps the sentence along, don't you think?"
"Get up you fools! We can't let him escape!"
"Oh yeah, 'Captain'? Why don't YOU get smacked around the room a few times and-"
"Uh, guys? Where'd he go?" The other two Changelings stopped their bickering at once as they came to the sudden realization Carbon Copy had come to: Spy was nowhere to be found. They all looked hastily around, trying to find their prize among the remains of what was once a beautiful (if not somewhat messy) workshop. Bits of fabric that had once adorned various desks and mannequins now hung from the ceiling and other bizarre places for fabric to be, the mannequins themselves along with a few desks lay scattered about in pieces from the scuffle, the contents of their drawers spilled along the ground like entrails of a slain sewing beast.
The three little black Changelings were so focused on starring at nothing in particular that the sound of an Inviswatch deactivating only few feet behind them went completely unheard. "Right behind you." Spy wasn't about to take any chances with these creeps, in one fluid motion, he managed to pin Ditto to the floor with his knee, maintain a firm grasp around Mockery's neck with his right hand, and keep Carbon Copy in place with the aid of the wall and his left elbow. "Who sent you, where's Tavish and The Bombnomicon!?"
"Alright! Alright! We'll talk!" Mockery's hexagonal eyes swiveled over to the other side of the room, "…right after YOU go to jail!"
"What are you…?" Spy turned his balaclava-encased head just enough so that he could still his three captives but so that he could also see whatever it was the Changeling was smiling about out of the corner of his eye. He expected to see a swarm of similar black, insect-like creatures coming to the aid of their brethren. Not Rarity and the rest of her friends. "Ah, Rarity, excellent. I was just about to-"
"SWEETIE BELLE!!! What are you doing to Sweetie Belle!?"
"'Sweetie'…oh, merde…" Spy realized what the Changeling had meant by its earlier comment; Rarity and the others had in fact not walked in on Spy heroically defending the Carousel Boutique from a gang of wicked Changelings, but had instead arrived to see him mercilessly attacking three injured fillies. "Zis isn't what it appea- *WHACK*" Spy felt the wind leave his lungs as he crashed hard against the wall behind him from one of Rarity's signature karate kicks, which wasn't an easy feat considering the move was designed for members of an entirely different species.
Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash were at the side of the "CMC" in an instant, trying to comfort the fillies and also trying to put some distance between them and the dangerous human. "Sweetie Belle! What happened? He didn't hurt you, did he?"
"Oh Rarity! It was awful!" faux Sweetie Belle said over-dramatically. "H-He said that h-h-he was gonna ruin your Boutique and blame US! W-We tried to come tell you, but he said he'd turn us into glue if we did!"
"Oh, PLEASE!" Spy said, starting to really get angry. He opened his mouth to defend himself but was silenced by the daggers the older siblings (and Rainbow Dash) were starring at him.
"Get OUT of my house, and NEVER come near me or my sister again!"
"Rarity!" Twilight interjected, "I know this seems strange but we need to keep Spy around until the Princesses-"
"Horse apples, Twilight! Y'all would be singin' a different tune if that crazy person had attacked Spike!" Applejack shouted, rounding on her friend. "Ah don't care if the Princesses said to cook him a five-star meal and give him our farm, Ah ain't lettin' him near Sweet Apple Acres neither!"
"Applejack!" Twilight couldn't believe what she was hearing, her friends were starting to turn on her, and she hadn't done anything! Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie were just as confused; one the one hoof, they wanted to help Twilight (who had somewhat doomed herself by diving into the fray), but they could also see where the others were coming from. They instead opted to remain in the doorway and out of the lines of fire, something Fluttershy had mastered over the years while Pinkie was straining herself from doing something…well, Pinkie Pie-ish.
Spy looked on as Rainbow Dash began her argument, he knew EXACTLY what those little buggers were up; they were sowing the seeds of doubt among the mares at an impressive rate. Sweetie Belle looked away from the infighting she and her companions had created and gave Spy a smug smile before mouthing "I win, you lose."
Spy had reached his breaking point. He was the most elite espionage expert known around the world for his remarkable abilities, the same abilities that had gotten him noticed by the largest company in world, TF Industries, and was promptly asked for by name to be a paid operative…and he was NOT about to be beaten by some love-sucking insect!
He reached into his coat and withdrew his Ambassador revolver from its holster, the carved silver hand-cannon proudly displaying a rather racy depiction of Scout's mother along the barrel. He could have taken a pot-shot and most likely have hit his mark, but a true professional never leaves anything to chance, and if he truly wanted to prove that those weren't really fillies, he was going to need a fatal headshot (much like what a BLU Soldier had tried and failed to do to reveal Spy when he was the infiltrator).
As he lined up his shot, the light glistened off the sleek silver barrel and caught Rarity's ever attentive eye. Without hesitating, she whipped around and launched a magical missile from her horn that caught Spy square in the chest, sending him crashing violently through the second story window and into the bushes below. "Hmph! I was waiting for that ruffian to give me an excuse to do that. Come along, Sweetie Belle. Let's get you cleaned up and off to bed."
"That sounds just fine. C'mon, Apple Bloom, let's get some shut-eye and work all this muck out in the mornin'…" Applejack said, eyeing Twilight as she shuttled her little sister from the destroyed room.
"Yeah…say squirt, you wanna come sleepover at my place for the night?"
"Thanks but no thanks Rainbow Dash, I'm actually gonna head home, maybe some other time?"
"O-Oh, okay. See ya later, Scoots…" Rainbow was shocked, she was sure Scootaloo would have been thrilled to come hang out with her. Was she not cool enough!? Dash looked around the room and hastily sputtered something that sounded like a cross between "gotta go" and "later everypony" before dashing out of the busted window back towards her cloud home to make sure her radicalness and awesomeness hadn't suffered as well!
Twilight, still trying to figure out what had gotten into Rainbow, was rudely shoved aside by Rarity who was hurrying Sweetie to her room. "If I were you, Twilight, I'd take a good look at where my loyalties lay; the Princesses, or us." The lavender unicorn just sat there in the empty room as millions upon millions of thoughts raced through her head. She shook the majority of them from her mind and instead focused on what to do with- SPY!
"Oh my gosh, SPY! Spy, are you alright?" Twilight rushed over to what remained of the window Rarity had sent him through so unladylike and peered into the darkness. She saw where he had landed, the bushes showing obvious signs that something had been in them recently…but no other trace of Spy could be found. "Oh no. Now what am I going to do?"
"…AND THAT'S HOW I HELPED PYRO GET OUT OF JAIL." The Bombinomicon said as the trio continued their long trek through the early morning, the sky turning slightly brighter as they entered a cave that appeared to be their destination, at least Lyra hoped so, they had been walking for HOURS. In order to maintain high spirits (at least for Lyra's sake), The Bombinomicon had been regaling her with countless stories of misadventures he had had while being attached to Pyro and various other classes.
"Wow, so all you had to do was throw a ripe plum at that dolphin to stop the killer?" Lyra said in awe of the courageous things Pyro apparently did when he wasn't busy being a fiery sociopath.
"YEP. THAT'S ALSO WHEN WE TAUGHT THOSE BLIND ORPHANS HOW TO TREAT SECOND DEGREE BURNS WITH A TWO-BY-FOUR AND A CAN OF TUNA. ALRIGHT THIS IS THE SPOT WHERE WE'RE SUPPOSED TO MEET FRO-YO."
"Don't you mean 'Pyro'?" Lyra asked with a raised brow.
"HIM TOO. PLACE THE RING ON THE PEDESTAL AND STEP BACK, DON'T WANT THE HAPPY REUNION RUINED BY THIRD DEGREE BURNS 'CAUSE GOD ONLY KNOWS WHERE WE'RE GOING TO FIND A CRICKET BAT AND SOME MARMALADE AT THIS HOUR."
Lyra started to back towards the entrance, "I thought you said we were going to meet him here…" Actually, Lyra wasn't sure what to expect at this point. The story of what was going to happen once they arrived had fluctuated since they left Ponyville.
"Ack, ya got it all wrong, lass. We were sent ta' git you so we could all go home together! Lad's still back were we came from, said somethin' aboot a present for ya'." Tavish gave the nervous unicorn a wink and a slight nudge back towards the raised shelf that looked as if though it had once been a stalagmite that had been cut down for whatever reason. Lyra levitated the ring off of her horn and lowered it before her wide yellow eyes, the faint light from the torch Demoman had brought with them danced about in both the diamond and the gold band beneath it. Reluctantly, she placed her treasure down and took a few steps back as she waited for the infernal text to perform the spell that would reunite her and her friend. The Bombinomicon levitated off of Tavish's flak jacket and above Lyra's Something Special. Its beady red eyes glowed as it geared up for the complicated incantation need to bring forth Pyro…which sounded a lot like laughter to Lyra.
Laughter that was echoing and growing louder from all around her.
Lyra looked up as a flash of green light erupted from a previously unseen cocoon that shed its sickening glow on things the poor mare wished she hadn't seen.
"Excellent work, book. I was almost certain that you'd run off and tried to take your chances out in the wilderness, not that Demoman would have let you." Demoman, now fully concentrating on his bottle of scrumpy that he had rummaged from his backpack off in the corner, gave the Queen a nod and a digit skyward that Lyra had noted from her time with Pyro indicated "good job" or "okay". "Bombinomicon! Summon the beast you promised me!"
"ONE FLOATING ABOMINATION COMING UP; BRAZBO BARRABUS!" Lyra could only watch in horror as a massive ring of purple flames opened up on the ground before her as the evil textbook chanted and rose higher off the ground. As the flames turned to jets that spewed flames high into Hive's expansive ceiling, Lyra felt a hard thwack against the base of her skull that sent her to the cold floor. Little did she know that she was actually spared from the maddening sight that had been brought forth unto her unsuspecting world.
"It…it's MAGNIFICENT! The size, that evil looking- EVERYTHING! Hahahahaha!" Chrysalis was beside herself with evil glee, using every bit of willpower to stop herself from bouncing around the room like a school filly with a crush. The Bombinomicon floated back down to its perch on Tavish's jacket, exhausted from the immense amount of magic it required to summon such a monster. No wonder Merasmus looked as decrepit as he did if he summoned that hulk multiple times every Halloween (that and being older than sin must not help either).
"Now my subjects, we march on Canterlot! With this mythical monster on our side, we shall. Not. Fail!" The roar of the Changelings was deafening as the thousands of drones flew out of the various tunnels and out into the otherwise peaceful morning sky, the gargantuan terror hovering not far behind as it carried its new Queen along with her knight and their mint-green captive. "TO WAR!"
Dear Princess Celestia:
I've failed you. I had one job and I let you down. My friends are all angry at me, they don't trust each other, and…Spy escaped. I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry! We found him trying to attack Rarity and Applejack's little sisters after Rarity left them alone to come get us. I tried to talk them down but they wouldn't listen, one thing lead to another, and Rarity blasted him out of her second story window after he pulled a weapon on Sweetie Belle.
I know this sounds bad and I know that you and Princess Luna are still trying to get Canterlot back in order, but I desperately need your help! I don't know what to do! I know this sounds strange, but, I think Spy is innocent. I can't say that there's ever been a GOOD reason to pull a weapon on a filly, but so far he hasn't given us any reason to doubt him, and he selflessly saved Lyra and a lot of other ponies at the Gala when he could have just as easily slipped away and we would have been at the mercy of that other human. Please, any help you'd be willing to offer would be greatly appreciated.
Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight sighed as she finished her letter and tied it off with a red ribbon before handing it over to Spike, who hadn't left her side since she came home earlier that evening almost in tears. The tired baby dragon took the parchment over to the window as the sun began to lazily break over the mountain peaks, with a deep inhale, Spike's breath enveloped the urgent letter with its unique magic as it caught the breeze and disappeared into the distance. Spike yawned loudly as he shuffled over to his bed.
"Are you going to be alright, Twilight?"
"I'll be fine, Spike. Thank you for staying up with me." She kissed his forehead before she too succumbed to the siren call of her own warm bed and trotted upstairs to rest her busy brain. Hopefully tomorrow would bring some answers to Twilight's growing list of questions.
"We *GASP* made it! *WHEEZ*"
"About time too, I didn't think we'd ever make it out of Appleloosa…"
"We would have been fine if those buffalo hadn't interfered."
The three exhausted (and fairly battered) Changelings moaned as they limped pathetically into the Hive, their wings torn and crumpled from overuse. They hobbled into the main chamber, which was oddly silent even for this hour. "Mindless Droning" must have been pushed back until later to let everyone sleep in. That was what the group thought, at least, until they noticed the massive new skylight that had been installed since they had left on their failed redemption mission.
"…WHY would the Queen decide to put something like THAT in of all things? A small one in one of the tunnels sure, but that thing's big enough for Cerberus to get in!"
"Maybe the Queen thought that the Hive needed more light, it really does brighten up the room and lets in the fresh breeze."
"Oh I see. Yes, and some flowers over in the corner would really bring out the color in THE BRUISES I'M ABOUT TO GIVE YOU! We're Changelings! We don't NEED a gapping hole directly above our secret headquarters OR light and summer breezes! And I swear, the first one of you to mention 'fung shway' is getting- wait, what's that over there?" Ditto and Carbon's eyes followed Mockery's hole-riddled foreleg over to the center of the room, the sunlight that had been pouring into the one dark lair reviled all sorts of things that non-Changelings would have never been able to see (mostly just rocks and other things that LOOKED like rocks but actually weren't that were just there to throw off intruders) and saw something glinting brightly on the elevated platform.
"Is that a…ring?" Carbon said as he moved in to get a better look. "It is a ring! It's got a nice diamond on it t-"
"GET OUT OF THE WAY IT'S MIIIIINE!" Mockery screamed as he shoved Carbon Copy out of the way and began to drool over the size of the diamond embedded within the solid gold band of the Something Special. "It's so SHINY, and now it's mine. All mine…"
"What's it doing here? Aw shoot! Did we miss a wedding in here!?" The three of them froze; Chrysalis had been distraught after the failed wedding crash, she even kept Cadance's veil that she had worn. Was she really so upset to the point where she would just up and marry somepony? No, that's absurd! Still… "I'm just messin' with you guys, besides, it'd be one weird wedding with all these…scorch…marks…?" Ditto's statement slowly changed into a puzzling conundrum as he began to notice the small piles of ashes scattered around in a perfect circle that encompassed a large portion of the Hive's dirty dirt floor.
The trio of masqueraders all found their way to the center of the room around the shelf, each one coming up with numerous theories as to what the intended use for the mysterious ring might have been.
"You guys…you guys don't think that she summoned that creature from that book with this, do you?" Ditto said rubbing his hard chin with his equally dense hoof.
"Huh, gee, didn't think about that. Maybe that would explain all the NOTHING we saw on the way over here! Don't you think that the Queen would have told me, one of her best soldiers, of an impending attack?" Mockery said as he whacked Ditto upside his dark head with an audible *thunk*.
"What if we weren't the one's doing the attacking? What if the hole in the roof is from Shining Armor and his troops assaulting the Hive; what if they took the Queen captive!?"
"He might be right! We should round up whatever is left of our brethren and rescue her!" Unfortunately, Carbon Copy's enthusiasm was short lived as his voice echoed through the uncomfortably quiet passages and catacombs of his normally very noisy and chaotic home. The thought spread through all of their minds at the same time; they were the last of their kind. Mounting an attack on Canterlot would be foolish if their entire swarm had failed back during the Royal Wedding. They needed something to tip the scales in their favor, something to even the odds, something BIG, something like- "The monster! We could try summoning the monster! If that first failed creature was able to crash the Gala and escape, then the REAL beast should be able to knock over the whole castle!"
"Yeah! Great…how the hay do we call it here without that annoying book?" Each of the endangered Changelings stared off into the distance thoughtfully for a moment. "Didn't the book always say something before it cast one of its spells?"
"Yeah, YEAH! It was the same incantation too…but what was it?"
"You fools would never be able to function without me, would you? I remember it perfectly, now make yourselves useful and help me charge the ring," Mockery announced to much groaning from his "friends" as the novice sorcerers formed a triangle around the (hopefully) powerful ring of incredible power. They began to channel their magic into the large rock that sat atop the magnificent gold band, the green glow was refracted in a million directions as the diamond fulfilled its life-long ambition of becoming a light prism. Lyra's Something Special began to raise up above the natural table and spinning ever faster, a slight hum began to emanate from its rotating form as the green light intensified and spawned a ring of flames around all three of the Changeling summoners that made them jump back and break their concentration.
Not that the ring needed them anyway. The now fully charged bond of friendship threw out large shafts of light of all different colors before erupting into flames itself. Mockery, Ditto, and Carbon Copy shielded the multiple lenses of their eyes as something began to form within the roaring inferno. It started out small, growing steadily along with the size of the flames and by the time the fire had died down enough for the trio of tricksters to look directly at the monster they had brought forth, it had already pulled its entire upper half out of its infernal portal.
"It's here! It's incredible! It's powerful! It's…it's…it's a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Is there more of it somewhere or is that it?" Mockery scratched his head, the beast before him was certainly not what The Bombinomicon had cracked it up to be, then again, that glorified newspaper had been about as reliable as a subterranean sundial.
"It LOOKS like it's from the same place as the Demoknight, see, it has the same red clothes he does. It even has its own strange metal weapons like he did."
"Ugh, what's wrong with its face? I though the first one was ugly but this fella takes the cake, yikes!"
"Guys, I think it can understand what we're saying…" Unfortunately for Ditto, he was absolutely right; the summoned humanoid could understand them perfectly…and it was just itching to use one of its shiny metal weapons on these strange new creatures that had the nerve to badmouth their semi-invited guest.
"*Yawn* At least I finally got some sleep…however short it may have been, ugh…" Twilight hefted her star-cover blanket higher up over her head to try and avoid the fact that she had get up as Celestia's sun signaled a new day had began in the form of nearly blinding its master's star pupil.
"T-Twilight? Are you *urp* up yet? You've got mail…" Spike's voice was shaky as he tried to suppress multiple burps but only managed to make them sound stranger.
"Mail? Mail from the Princess!?" Twilight shot out of her super comfy bed and rocketed down the spiral staircase to see what the Princess' decision on what to do was. Or, at least she would have had she not slipped on a piece of parchment near the top of the stairs and sent her clumsy self tumbling down into a large pile of sealed scrolls with a *thwump*. Twilight poked her head out from the mound of scrolls she now found herself in, "Spike? What are all these?"
Spike, laying a few feet away rubbing his sore stomach, rolled over to face the dazed unicorn but only managed to fall off the couch he had been immobilized on since earlier that day. "Ohh…Twilight? Can you PLEASE tell the Princess to ease up on the letters? I sent her one asking her to stop but- *URP*" Spike involuntarily expelled a jet of green flames from his mouth, signaling that the Princess had sent him yet another letter. Unlike the others, this particular letter was open with a big green "NO!" etched on it.
Twilight dug her hoof into the pile of scrolls and unbound the emerald tie off the first one she grabbed. "'Dear Twilight; please come to Canterlot immediately. It is of the utmost importance that you, and your friends, see me at once.' Is…is that it?" Twilight rummaged through the pile of the notes, each one with the same, vague message over and over again. Twilight began to panic, the only time the Princess was ever this short with her was when she was angry about something…was she angry at her? What had she done? Did she forget to do something? And why did she have to include her friends, were they all in trouble? What, what, WHAT!?
The distraught unicorn didn't have long to dwell on that thought as the aged red door of the Golden Oak Library was swung open, the sunlight blinding Twilight just enough to obscure to identity of the pony at the door before they came crashing in and tackled a confused Twilight to the ground. "Where are they!? Did they come this way!?"
"Rarity! RARITY! It's hard enough tryin' tah find the little ones without you runnin' every pony we see inta the ground! You okay, Twilight?" Applejack said as she galloped into the hectic library and pried the Element of Generosity from the Element of Magic. "Twilight! Have Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, or Scootaloo been 'round here? We cain't find 'em anywhere!"
"N-No, I just got up a minute ago."
"Oh, darling, that's not good for you, you'll get all manner of wrinkles, but more importantly; WHERE IS MY SWEETIE BELLE!?" Rarity screeched. She was on the verge of tears, or perhaps she had just gotten through expelling all she had on the way there as she looked high and low, low and high for her dear sister.
"They're not here either? Oh no…" the quiet voice meeped from outside. Twilight tilted her head to see the rest of her friends standing just beyond the threshold, all of whom had grim expressions from going along with Applejack and Rarity door-to-door in search of the MIA CMC.
As Pinkie Pie rapidly explained, Applejack had first noticed that Apple Bloom had gone missing when she didn't rise and shine for breakfast, something that only occurred in the Apple household in times of sickness or just plumb not being there. Thinking that her little sibling had gone to play with her friends and forego her chores, Applejack stormed off towards the Carousel Boutique to retrieve her third of the CMC…when Rarity found Sweetie to be missing from her bed. When Rainbow Dash told them that Scootaloo had missed the Rainbow Dash Fan Club meeting, they really began to worry, rounding up Pinkie and Fluttershy to help them search before coming to the library in hopes that they were trying to get their Cutie Marks in something book related.
"I see. I'm sorry, they haven't been around here all day," Twilight said as she shook what was left of the spam scrolls from her mane and tail. "Actually I'm glad you're all here, I know that this is a REALLY bad time but Princess Celestia wants us in Canterlot as soon as we can. Spike, go get Lyra and Bon Bon and see if they can help you find the girls."
"Twilight, I'm sorry but we ain't goin' anywhere 'til we find mah sister!"
"I agree with Applejack, I can't just run off to Canterlot when my poor Sweetie is out by herself only Celestia knows where."
Spike stepped forward and tugged on the stripe in Twilight's mane. "Why not just ask the Princesses to help you? Celestia knows what all of her subjects are up to and Luna watches over everypony's dreams, it should be a piece of cake for them!"
"Do you really think they would help us find them?" Rarity's tired eyes showed her desperation and doubt, but the twinkle that danced about them shown brightly with hope.
Pinkie wrapped up the fashionista and the farmer in a hug. "You betcha'! The Princesses are ALWAYS helping ponies with pesky problems, I'm sure they'd love to help find Sweetie and Apple Bloom!" Pinkie's enthusiasm was Invictus, and soon, the Mane Six were train-bound to Canterlot. The moral boost had also affected Spike, who happily bounced from the library after locking up and putting Peewee down for a nap all the way down to Lyra's house on the other side of town.
"Lyra? Lyra, you there? I was hopping you could come help me find the Cutie Mark Crusaders. They went…" as Spike continued to knock, Lyra's front door slowly creaked open. Spike peered into the dark house, signs of a break in were evident from the broken window that faced toward the outside of town and muddy boot prints that lead up the stairs towards Lyra's room, "…missing?"
The train ride was unusually quiet, even with Pinkie Pie in such close proximity. Everypony's thought's kept drifting towards what the poor girls might be dealing with, or where in Equestria they could be…everypony, that is, besides Twilight. The letters she had received were still haunting her intellectual mind with their vagueness and no matter how hard she thought about them, they still didn't make any sense as to why the Princess could possible me cross with any of them. Somewhere along the line she had spotted what she had hoped was a weed pile being burnt off in the distance, the last thing she needed today was for some sort of disaster to take place this close to Canterlot.
Although she couldn't see the flames, the mental image she was slowly forcing herself to concentrate on began to invoke memories of her and the Princess back when she was still in school. The two of them in her study, warm cocoa, a blazing fire created by the goddess of the sun herself to keep out the cold; it was perfect, and it also reminded the busy-brained scholar that everything was going to be just fine…
…that was until they actually pulled into the train station in Canterlot.
"Oh no. What happened?" What indeed; the city of Canterlot had always been known for being a marvelous representation of its overseer, Princess Celestia, with its emphasis on pearl and ivory with gold trim on just about everything. Upon walking into the magnificent stronghold, the warmth of the sun's ray reflecting off of the bright white surfaces brought a comforting joy in the warmer months and accented the frost and snow of the colder ones.
This was not the case anymore.
The aforementioned white and gold had all been replaced with a dark and menacing black and green, giving the impression of poison or illness. The flags and banners had been torn down, swapped out with ebony ones that displayed an angry Changeling head just below a pair of tattered insect wings with a sickly lime green boarder. As the small herd of Elements soon noticed, the castle had also undergone some drastic changes. One to be exact: a large, brown orb that was nested near the throne room and had left the immediate area around it cracked and demolished, like a wrecking ball had been carelessly dropped onto it.
"Ugh, just look at those dreadful colors. Whoever thought THAT was a good ideas needs to be- Twilight, where are you going? Twilight!" Twilight's mind was all but blank. Nothing else mattered to her right now. Not the flags, not what happened to to CMC, not the two figures flying towards her. Nothing. Until the two specs flying about the sun's harsh rays dropped down in front of her and halted her charge with their matching spears.
"Biggs? Wedge? What's going here, what happened to the castle!?" Twilight demanded of the two stallions standing before her. "And what happened to you?"
"We'll answer the big question first," started Biggs as he returned his spear back to its resting position at his side, a stance that the more seasoned guards performed absentmindedly. "Canter- I mean, 'Neo Hive' is under new management as of earlier today."
"As to why we look the way we do…" Wedge mimicked Biggs and returned back to a neutral state, his black armor clanking together ever so slightly as he moved.
The armor of the Royal Guard has been more or less the same design for centuries; a golden centurion helmet with faux blue hair that ran the length of the skullcap followed by gold plates that allowed the wearer to look up and around without too much restriction. The body was more of the same gold motif that picked up where the helmets would have ended and matching, armored horseshoes that ran up the hoof and past the pastern for added protection from whatever they my be galloping through. With magically dyed coats,manes, and tails to further the legion presentation, one might think they were cloned from the same pony.
In fact, the only reason Twilight was able to tell Biggs and Wedge apart was because of their voices. Having lived in the castle since her apprenticeship to Celestia had begun, Twilight had found various ways to tell the seemingly duplicate guards apart, whether that was by their eyes, the way they carried themselves, voice, speech patterns and mannerisms, height, body build, hindquarters…
But sadly, all of the polished gold and beautiful hoofsmanship of the renown armor was now covered by craggy, black spikes that gave the guards about as much hug appeal as a riled up porcupine. While bits of the original armor could barely be seen underneath, the new razor look distracted the eye and made the once approachable guards look like monsters one might encounter in the darker parts of the Everfree Forest, "…it's not important. What is important is that we get you to see the Queen ASAP, we were actually sent to fetch you once you arrived."
"Queen?" The word, corse and unfamiliar, fell out of the six open mouths as the brains connected to them tried to process what the ears had told them.
As Twilight and her friends made it to the end of the hall before the throne room, a thunderous bellow followed swiftly by high-pitched laughter filled the chamber beyond. The sound was horrifying, especially to Fluttershy. Instead of cowering in fear like she would have normally done, the caring yellow pegasus was frozen in place, knowing full well that only the largest of creatures could make a sound that deep without having to put much effort into it.
"Ooo, spooky," Pinkie said, mildly entertained by all the new events that had been going on that day that she had forgotten to be scared from time to time.
The doors opened slowly and silently, the light from the hall wormed its way into the darkened throne room, though the vast majority of the dense blackness refused to be pierced and continued to blanket the mysterious noises coming from within. Twilight took her first few steps with caution until she was completely encased within the darkness and her eyes adjusted accordingly.
She wished they hadn't.
The throne room, aside from being uncharacteristically dark thanks to the tattered black drapes that hung like ghosts over the windows and blotted out the sun, looked the same as it ever did.
"Ah, Twilight Sparkle at last."
"Chrysalis!" A flash of green made her and the rest of her friends shield their eyes, the image they were greeted with upon removing their hooves was unsettling. Sitting on a throne that didn't belong to her, was the insect-like Queen Chrysalis with a small cluster of her Changeling flunkies crawling about and snickering to each other at the sight of the six terrified ponies standing in shock before them. Twilight's purple eye caught something hanging from the ceiling. A lot of somethings. Cocoon somethings. With live ponies struggling to break free.
"Lyra...Princess!? Wedge, what's going here!?"
"It's actually rather simple, Ms. Sparkle. I would have thought somepony like you would have been able to figure it out by now…" Green flames wrapped around Wedge's hoofs that quickly rose up his body, changing him back into Sergeant Reflection "…we rule Equestria now!"
"W-What!? Biggs…?" Biggs just stood there, trembling with anger.
"That…wretch stormed Canterlot earlier this morning. The rest of the guards and I did our best, but her knight and that monster couldn't be stopped before they reached the castle. The Princesses surrendered in exchange for everypony's safety. Chrysalis shuffled her own personal soldiers into the guard rotation, so nopony could be sure if the pony they were on patrol with was actually a Changeling or not, anypony who resisted was rounded up and encased in one of those cocoons you see above you. UNTIL NOW!"
Biggs launched himself towards Chrysalis with a single beat from his toned wings. The Changelings entrusted to protecting their Queen lunged forward to stop the Royal Guard, only to be knocked aside like twigs trying to stand up against a tornado of anger. With the slight annoyances scattered across the pristine room, nothing stood before him and the hag that had tried to take away everything he and his friends stood for…nothing, and the buzzed human that had been laying slumped over beside the throne.
"Oh I'm gonna hit you so hard you'll have a TWITCH!" Demoman slurred as he shakily hoisted himself up and stepped directly between Queen Chrysalis and the enraged Biggs. In one swift motion, Tavish (all while maintaining a firm grasp on his bottle o' whiskey) caught Biggs right on the chin with the metal rim of his Chargin' Targe and knocked him high into the air, right into the waiting clutches of a new cocoon made just for him. He struggled against the organic prison but found it all for naught. "That'll teach ya'."
"That was still a good tackle, all things considered," the real Wedge said from his adjacent upside-down restraints.
"Ahahahahaha! Yes, as you can see by that pathetic attempt, my warrior is unstoppable! He's not even my trump card! You've failed Twilight Sparkle, Equestria is MINE! HAHAHAHAHA!" Twilight looked up at the ponies trapped along the ceiling; Celestia, Luna, Shining Armor, Lyra, Ajax, Wedge, Biggs…Chrysalis was right, if the Princesses had given up, then what point was there?
Demoman chuckled, although he didn't have a damn clue as to what the wee colorful horses were babbling about, all he needed to know was that his uppity boss was on the winning side which meant that he was going to get the spoils. He raised his bottle to his lips and took a swig…or at least he THOUGHT he did. There was a loud noise as the flow of alcohol was cut tragically short. He looked over his bottle with his one good, semi-green eye to see that his favorite bottle had been broken from the neck down, its precious one hundred and ten percent juices spilled on his boots and on the silk rug that ran the length of the room. Stricken by the loss, Tavish began to express his displeasure by angrily slurring something of which even he couldn't have hoped to translate, followed by an impressive belch and bouts of full-blown crying.
"I'm BACK, you subnormal halfwit!"
"Spy!?" Every eye in the room shifted over to a thin man, the smoke rising from his revolver mixed with that of his cigarette that glowed brightly as he inhaled. "Spy! How did- where did you- HUH!?"
"You really need to learn when someone is following you, I was afraid I was making it too obvious."
"Yeah, come on Twilight, he was RIGHT THERE. Duh." Pinkie said as she waved happily to the long-lost assassin, who smiled back before dawning his trademark scowl.
"You're a back-pokin' snake, and by God you'll die like one!" the Scottish cyclops bellowed as he withdrew the razor-sharp Eyelander from its hilt and took his place at the bottom of the stairs.
"Oh, this is getting INTERESTING!" Chrysalis chuckled as she shifted her weight into a more comfortable fight-watching position. Spy lined himself up at the opposite end of the rug, his silver Ambassador still managing to shine brightly in the low light as he reloaded the chamber and clicked it shut with a flick of his wrist. He took one last puff from his cigarette before tossing it carelessly aside, much to the chagrin of a maid that was suspended high above.
"Spy?" Rarity asked softly. Spy tilted his head so that he could focus on Rarity while still keeping Mr. DeGroot in the corner of his eye. "I just wanted to say thank you for coming to save us, even after what I did to you, but you don't have to do this!"
"I'm ze only one who can stop zem, and remember what I told you; a person in my profession always has a backup plan," the handsome rouge said with a wink. He turned back the drunken swordsman, his hand returning to his revolver from adjusting the butterfly knife in his back pocket.
"I hope I didn't scare ya with my face-to-face MAN fightin'! YEEEEAAH!" Tavish rocketed forward, his speed rapidly increasing as was the crackling energy around his blade. Spy remained resolute, firing shot after shot at the oncoming drunk. To the untrained eye, it would seem that he was missing horribly and only hitting the Targe, however, the bullets caught in the shield slowed the Scot with each hit, enough so that a skilled man with a knife could easily take him down unharmed.
Or at least it would if the Ambassador was a fifty-cal handgun. Spy cursed himself and backed up, his time and distance from the enraged Demoknight quickly running down. His revolver clicked, a sound Spy did not want to hear until AFTER he had managed to wing Demoman in the leg once or twice. He reached behind his back, spinning the knife betwixt his fingers and jumped forward. Tavish swung. Spy stabbed.
The room was once again silent. The only sound that could be heard was the sound of knees hitting the tile as the mercenary from RED fell to the floor, bested by one of his own teammates.
"NO!" The world slowed down around the shocked magic student as Spy fell to his knees with an expression of shock and disbelief. The long, silver Ambassador clattered onto the floor among the empty shell casings, each one a reminder of his failure as a marksman, that filthy van-camper would have never let him live it down. At least the "living it down" part wouldn't be too hard.
Equestia, as perfect and surreal as it may seem to some, was not out of the reach of the Reaper. Ponies died everyday from old age, disease, or freak accidents, however, most of those ponies were usually able to hold on for a time until they finally expired in a familiar bed surrounded by friends and family (even the ones that ended up in accidents). Very rarely were deaths as gruesome or visceral as Spy's. While his balaclava had done a great job of soaking up the majority of the similarly colored blood, the cut it streamed from started to stretch around the entirety of his neck as it bent unnaturally far back. Twilight turned away, the sickening ripping sound followed shortly by the wet splat of Spy's head falling from his shoulders made Twilight and the rest of the gathered mares cringe as they fought the urge to purge.
"Oh my, that was a tad excessive wasn't it? No matter, with that wannabe Changeling disposed of, nothing stands between me and my right to rule! AHAHAHAHAHA! Demoknight, round up those mares and get them fitted for cocoons," Queen Chrysalis ordered as she waved him to his task dismissively, already thinking about what other changes she should enforce on her new captive subjects.
"Twilight! We gotta do somethin'! Cain't you zap him with one of yer spells, or one that'll make us tougher, or-"
"What point is there? If Celestia and Luna couldn't stop her, then what chance could we possibly have? We should just give and not waste our energy." Applejack just stared at her friend, she couldn't believe what she was hearing!
"Ah cain't believe what Ah'm hearin'!" Applejack exclaimed as she grabbed the gloomy unicorn by her soft purple shoulders. "Y'all are just gonna give up? After everything we've been through, you're just tossin' in yer hat?" Twilight was about to throw facts at the overly optimistic apple-bucker when the looming shadow of the drunken knight fell over them. He stood there, menacingly, and then he…continued to stand over them, menacingly.
"What are you doing you fool? Seize them!"
"Ya know, I've been thinkin'…" he said still towering over the now extremely confused ponies.
"O-Oh? What might that be?"
He turned around to face his "Queen", his eye glowing bright orange from beneath the thin layer of green magic that still clouded his vision, shafts of light trying to escape from behind it. "Yeah; I only joined your bloody team 'cause you brain-washed me inta' fighting for ya! An' since I've been doing such good job I think it's high time I collect me paycheck; OUTTA YER HIDE!" The red aura burst forth from his eye and shattered the last of Chrysalis' spell like glass. The Targe launched its wielder towards the false royalty, plowing through waves of Changeling guards that tried in vain to halt the rampaging drunk.
"Eep!" Chrysalis ducked just in time as the Crit-boosted Eyelander missed her slender neck and instead struck Celestia's crown, sending it flying clear across the throne room and right in front of Twilight. She wasted no time in jumping for the priceless artifact.
"I got it! I…got it? Where'd it go!?" Twilight blurted as she stared at her surprisingly empty hooves. She looked around for the elusive tiara thinking she may have bumped it by mistake (she had defiantly felt its warm metal on her forelegs), where had it gone!? The answer came from a glint of light flashing in the corner of her eye coming from atop Chrysalis' (assumably) filthy mane. "Wha- HOW?"
"Twilight Sparkle, don't tell me you thought it would be that simp-"
*WOOSH* Tavish continued to swing wildly as Chrysalis utilized her thin body and quick speed to evade him.
"Ugh, enough of this nonsense…" The annoyed shape-shifter spread her ripped wings and rose to a much safer altitude away from Demoman. "Ah, much better."
"Oi! Tha's cheating! Get your scrawny ass down here so's I can give it a size-seven boot massage!"
"Anypony that DOESN'T want to spend the next decade in the stockades had better go do something about him!" A few groans escaped the masses of downed Changelings as they shakily got back on their hooves and tried once again to apprehend Mr. DeGroot.
"Now then, as for the crown; when my drones were scouring through all of the old tomes that lay beneath the polished parts of the castle, they stumbled upon a few spell books, one of which contained a spell that will keep the crown returning to my beautiful head until I say otherwise!" She knocked her hoof against the ancient Equestrian artifact with a small ding.
"Why you~!" Rainbow Dash had had enough. If the RED-turned-GREEN-then-defected-back-to-RED Demoknight couldn't reach the morphing monarch, then it was up to the fastest flyer outside of the Wonderbolts to stop her! She rapidly sped through the air, her full-spectrum mane and tail casting a long trail of each bright color as she zoomed towards her target.
Sadly, best laid plans of mice and mares often go awry, and Rainbow Dash's plan went all kinds of awry as she was effortless batted away by one of Chrysalis' hole-ridden legs and crashed into the large spherical object that sat among the largest cluster of entrapped ponies.
"Rainbow!" everypony gasped in unison as the multi-colored mare staggered back onto her hooves.
'I should have known better! There's no way Chrysalis WOULDN'T have staged an assault without empowering herself with love first. That must have been how she overpowered the Princesses!' Twilight's mind raced, hundreds of possible strategies and all of the statistics that went with them rolled around like choppy waters amidst a hurricane.
She took in every detail; who was in what cocoon, how many Changelings had been knocked out thanks to Demoman and how many were still buzzing about, the way one of the chandeliers was swaying, the…where was the Ambassador?
"Don't feel bad; you did a fine job waving you little sword around."
"I don't need YOUR help ya know," Demoman said with a humph as he tried once in again in vain to strike the Queen who remained well outside his sword's reach.
All eyes, segmented or otherwise, swiveled up at the source of the exclamation. "Spy!" Twilight almost did a summersault as the fear and doubt just fell away from her being, only to be replaced by all of the questions that flooded into her mind. "How did-?"
"Can we not play 'bombard Spy with questions' until AFTER we stop zis hag?" Without further adieu, the reanimated assassin sprung from the swinging light fixture, knife drawn, right at the still dazed Queen. She only managed to bring up her hooves to shield her beloved face from his assault.
Surprisingly, her defense had more merit than anyone gathered there would have given it, for as luck would have it, Spy's fine blade managed to find the gaping holes in both of Chrysalis' exoskeleton-encased forelegs, Spy's (albeit slender) hands preventing the knife from reaching its target. "Not my finest moment…"
Not wanting to waste his attack, the French spook lifted his legs up and planted both spats directly into the Royal Barrel, sending Chrysalis sputtering into a cluster of of cocoons as Spy landed next to Tavish who punched him in the arm a bit harder than he should have (if the audible *crack* was any indication). Twilight and the others rushed to their side with a new sense of purpose and hope.
"I'm so glad you're alright. But darling I have to know, how are you not…you know…"
"Six hooves under? Pushing up daisies? Ka-poot? Buying the farm?" Pinkie said, trying to help Rarity find the phrase she was looking for and bouncing around while doing so.
"Dead? Oh-ho-ho-ho, no. As I've said before," Spy reached into his pocket and withdrew a well-polished gold pocket watch with a humming bird engraved on the top. "A man in my line of work always has a backup plan."
"Oh my, what a lovely bird," Fluttershy said softly.
"ENOUGH OF THIS OUTRAGE!" The scream jared everyone's attention over towards the throne, where Chrysalis shook with unbridled fury, covered from crown to hoof with cocoon gel. "At first I thought you little parasprites were entertaining, trying desperately to save your worthless friends, but now you just refuse to lay down and take it! So instead of letting you bow before me and becoming my personal slaves, I'M GOING TO BEAT YOU INTO SUBMISSION!" She slammed her hoof down and glared at the small group of heroes, practically frothing at the muzzle.
Spy and Demoman looked at her, then at each other, then back at her before the urge to laugh became to great to resist. Twilight and the other Mane Six gave each other nervous looks, were they really laughing at the face of danger like that?
'Well, Pyro seemed to have a tendency for rushing recklessly into impossible situations. Are all humans this daring? I wonder if he would have been anymore help than these two…gah, focus Twilight.'
The whole room suddenly shook with tremendous force as a low but steadily increasing moan echoed through the entirety of Canterlot Castle. "What in tarnation was THAT? Fluttershy, did that sound like any critter you know…Fluttershy?" Applejack looked around her group of friends for the cream-colored pegasus in question, and saw her clinging for dear life to Rainbow Dash who didn't seem to pay her much mind as her cerise eyes looked high and low for the source of the roar. AJ turned to get input from the REDs but stopped herself upon seeing them sharing an expression she had never seen on either of them yet; genuine fear.
Tavish brought his claymore closer to his chest. "Spy?"
"Yes?" Spy said, doing the same only with his Ambassador.
"Is that what I think it is?"
"Do ya think we can-"
"I'm afraid not…"
The shaking picked up again, this time more violently with fewer spaces between tremors. Rainbow (and by extension Fluttershy) lifted off the ground as the others ran out of the throne room to avoid falling pieces of masonry that began to rain down as the mysterious central sphere that had remained motionless started to raise out of its nest and out into the sky.
"Let us move!" Spy beckoned as he fired away at some of the larger chunks to break them apart so they would have less chance of striking one of the ponies.
"No! We can't just leave Sweetie and the others!" Rarity screamed, trying to maintain a line of sight with her sister around all of the chaos. Applejack grabbed hold of her and spun her so they were muzzle to muzzle.
"We ain't got time for that, sugar cube! If the Princesses are havin' trouble gettin' out with all their might, then I doubt a few rocks are gonna make much difference!" Rarity took one last look at her sister (who was still fast asleep dispute all that was happening) and then ran out of the doors along with the others.
Chrysalis and the few remaining Changelings that weren't seeing stars shielded their insect-like eyes from the sudden burst of light that filled the room, giving Spy the perfect opportunity to slip away and join the Mane Six outside in the courtyards. Tavish, however, had different plans.
"Oh, so you decided to stay? I suppose I can't really blame you, I wouldn't want to tangle with that beast either, not that you stand any better chance in here with me," Queen Chrysalis said with an evil smile as her horn glowed a faint green.
Tavish looked up and down her thin frame, his eye still burning brightly from the cursed sword in his hand. "That crown don't belong to you, lassie. And if removin' your ugly head is the only way to get it offa' ya, then by God, I'll make that happen!"
Chrysalis got a good laugh out that. She rose into the sunlight that was outmatched by the brightness of her magic encasing her dark, crooked, horn. "And what makes YOU think you have more of a right to this than I?"
"This!" He reached into a small brown pack (that he had snagged after Chrysalis had taken to the skies and Spy's reappearance had kept everypony's attention) and withdrew a shimmering gold crown that her proceeded to place on his head. A perfect fit.
She was stunned. 'WHAT!? How could that…that BRUTE be Royalty!? He doesn't carry himself like a Royal, he doesn't act like one, he DRINKS like one though, but…no! This cannot be right! He's bluffing.' As if it knew, Prince DeGroot's crown began casting rays of light from its expertly crafted gold frame, giving its wearer an angelic appearance. 'Uh-oh…'
Tavish took a final swig of his bottle before discarding the empty container which shattered on a rather misfortunate drone that had just managed to stop the room from spinning long enough for him to stand. "Now I'm gonna kill ya, and Imma keep the tickets to the gun show 'cause you're grass is ass and I- *BELCH* I'm just a one-eyed bloody monster!"
Demoman was certainly an anomaly in the land of Equestira and not only because he was human. In this fair land, like many others, wine and other such alcoholic beverages (such as cider) are sold and distributed throughout. But, since vice isn't as much of a problem among the ponies, there aren't any Equestrians that truly fit the title of "alcoholic" (expect for those such as Berry Punch, Luna, and even Celestia when treaty negotiations start taking a turn for the worst). The point is that most ponies (or Changelings for that matter) were not used to dealing with drunken behavior. Little did Chrysalis know that she was about to be taught one of the more Important lessons: drunks can have very sudden and very violent mood-swings, such as switching from sadness right into full-tilt anger.
"NokeephimawayfrommeeeeEEEEEEE~!" With that final display of courage, Chrysalis and Prince DeGroot sailed through the stained glass window that stood directly behind the terrified Queen, and crashed onto the winding staircase of the highest turret just outside. "Okay, that's the way you want to play it? FINE." Sickly green magic bubbled up from the base of her horn and began to solidify into a sharp, emerald blade before she lunged headlong at Tavish who swung his Eyelander in hopes of at least shattering the incantation (if not severing her horn altogether), only to find that it was just as sturdy as his possessed steel.
"Ugh…are they gone?" the first Changeling said peering out from behind the throne.
"Yeah, they're gone. It went for a stroll and she's talking to him outside."
The first Changeling scratched his head. "By 'her' you mean the Queen, right?"
"Who else would he be talking about? Celestia?" came a third voice as more and more Changelings came out of hiding or simply stopped pretending to be knocked out. "At least she and the other prisoners are still safe and sound."
"Me too, I was afraid one of those darn chucks of rock was going to rip them open. We really need to figure out a way to reinforce the outer part of the cell wall," said a fourth as he examined one that contained Captain Ajax. The doors to throne room suddenly flew open as three tired and battered Changelings came crashing in, bouncing a few times before coming a painful halt before the throne.
"As I live and change; Mockery! Carbon! Ditto! What are you three doing here? Shouldn't you still be on your 'super secret mission'?" the first Changeling said, followed by low chuckles from the rest. "You boys are a MESS! What happened? Those fillies at the playground too rough for ya?"
"It…it wasn't…what the book said it would be…much smaller…but, tougher…" moaned Ditto as he tried to get on hooves, breathing heavily.
"At least…it didn't ride on your back the whole way here…it's so HEAVY…" complained Mockery.
"Whoa whoa, back up. What did the say? You mean the monster?" the second Changeling asked as he and the others got closer to hear what their fallen comrades had to say. "It's outside, laying waste to the Elements and the rest of Canterlot!"
"Wha-What? But it's right behind us…unless, oh no…" Carbon Copy mouthed the last part of his sentence more than actually saying it. As he did, he rolled onto his soar wings to face the "monster" that the three stooges had summoned back at the Hive. Every face turned to look at what had been brought forth, as it took large strides over the fallen debris before stopping in the center of the room so as much light as possible shown down on it and its magnificent RED uniform.
"There's MORE of them?"
"Yeah," said Mockery, "and this one REALLY doesn't like us."
"What's going on at the castle? Is that psycho destroying more parts of the city?" said one of the residents of Canterlot as she and many others like her stepped cautiously outside of their homes after hearing the commotion at the castle. They all shuffled about in the street trying to catch a better glimpse of what was going on, which wasn't much aside from a few specs of what they assumed were ponies and one tall, slender creature fleeing from the shining fortress...and a gigantic sphere raising up out of the center of the ruined castle.
The brown orb drifted high into sky all the while following the Twilight and her friends. "Spy!" Twilight called back to the human keeping up the rear. "What is that thing!?"
"Somezing I was hoping we wouldn't have to deal with! I can only assume zat Ze Bombinomicon has somezing to do with zis!"
That was when Twilight noticed something else. "Where's Demoman?" Spy stopped, but only for a moment before remembering why he was running in the first place. He cursed under his breath at how reckless and selfish that drunk could be, now it was up him and the others to draw off this monstrosity while he dealt with the Queen. 'Dammit Tavish, this is one of your demons, not mine…' Spy looked back to see whether or not the ball of death was still following them. It wasn't.
Peering back, Spy could barely make out two figures fighting on one of the castle's higher towers. The beast had noticed this as well, and had begun to head in that direction to help its new master. "Merde." Spy, against every fiber of his slim body that was screaming at him to just run and leave Demoman to fight on his own, fired at the ball and winged it on one of its flowing…
"Are those…VEINS?" Fluttershy gasped as she finally managed to release Rainbow from her death-grip and actually looked at what was assailing them. Spy remained silent and opted to allow the answer to come about on its own.
The tendrils that wafted about behind the main "body" were indeed veins, and as the creature turned to face the source of the shot that was now lodged into its thick skin, it became clear that this being was once part of something greater, and had been forcibly removed by some unknown means. Namely, some angry creature that's had one of its eyes ripped out of its socket. The massive eyeball, something Spy had encountered more than enough times in the past, opened its lids and gazed upon the terrified group with a giant brown iris.
Spy bolted, running down the back streets and weaving through the packs of panicking ponies and away from the more populated areas. "MONOCULUS! YOU FILZY EXCUSE FOR A BEACH BALL! OVER HERE!" Spy fired a few more shots to fully grab Monoculus' attention as the brown eye lazily drifted away from the Elements and towards the fleeing Frenchman.
"Spy! What's he doing, that thing will crush him!" Rarity gasped.
"He's buying us time. C'mon girls! We have to find The Bombinomicon before Monoculus rolls over Spy or whatever it-" *BA-BOOM* Twilight whirled around as Monoculus launched another miniature eye-rocket at the unfortunate house it happened to be looking at, which exploded violently, leveling the house and shaking the ones around it, "-does? Oh no. We have to hurry!"
Sometimes The Bombinomicon really did hate being a book, but not all the time. Most of the time being a book consisted of just sitting around, usually in a library or somewhere with other books, seeing how much dust you had compared to other books (it was a pride thing, like how some people compare hair or hats). Then there were other times, like today, where being a book can be rather hectic; being tossed around, thrown into bags, not having any idea what the hell's going on on the outside world, etc.
The Bombinomicon hated this more than other books since it was one of the few that could actually talk to the reader, and curse their eyes when it felt like it…but details, details. People didn't even read it anymore! They just toted it around like a badge and didn't even pay it much mind either, just another trophy on the belt for killing Monoculus, like the Horseman's Head or Merasmus' stupid hat. Seriously, who told him that it was okay to go out in public looking like that?
"I TOLD HIM TO FIND SOMETHING BETTER, BUT NOOOO, I'M JUST A DAMN BOOK, WHAT DO I KNOW ABOUT FASHIONABLE HEADWEAR? MORE THAN THAT IDIOT, OBVIOUSLY. MAN IT'S STUFFY IN HERE. MAYBE I SHOULDN'T COMPLAIN AS MUCH WHEN I GET PINNED TO ONE OF THOSE MORONS LIKE A GIRL SCOUT BADGE ANYMORE…NAH, I'M PERFECT! IF THEY CAN'T SEE THAT THEN-" The flap on the bag in which the grumpy tome had been imprisoned suddenly opened, flooding the dark pack with harsh sunlight, blocked only by a hand that reached in and gripped the book by its bindings. "HAHA! YES! I KNEW YOU'D COME AROUND, I KNEW YOU WOULD REMEMBER ALL THE GOOD TIMES WE'VE HAD, I KNEW-"
"DEMOMAN DON'T YOU DAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!" The Bombinomicon screamed as it was flung from atop the high toward and plummeted towards the ground rushing up to meet it. It closed its tiny red eyes, waiting for the cobblestone to ruin its cover and diminish whatever resale value it might have had left. But the impact never came. No matter how annoying or chatty it might be, Twilight Sparkle wasn't about to let a book come to harm if she could prevent it. "OH THANK YOU, THA- OH NO, NOT YOU PACK MULES AGAIN…"
Demoman shielded his good eye from the glare of the sun and the rays of light dancing about his crown and peered down into the courtyard below, making sure that Twilight had received that blasted book safe and sound before turning to face Chrysalis.
"As if I care if Twilight Sparkle and her meddlesome friends have The Bombinomicon, it won't be enough to stop Monoculus!"
"Nah, I thought I should give the wee lass some help since it is my eye after all."
"Oh like it…could…YOUR EYE!?"
"STOP, STOPPIT- NOT SO FAST YOU'LL RIP THE PAGE! ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME!? DO YOU- HAHAHAHA! STOP! THE MAGIC TICKLES! AHAHAHA!"
"Quiet you! Twilight? Have you found anything yet?" Rarity asked the focused mare as Twilight poured over page after page of The Bombnomicon looking for something that might help them stop the massive optical devastator that was still in luke-warm pursuit of Spy.
"Nothing yet, all these entries are all about bombs and…EXPLOSIONS. You! You were the voice in my dreams!"
"Y-YOU'RE…YOU'RE NOT SERIOUS, ARE YOU? OH MY GOD. OH. MY. GOD; THE ONLY REASON I NEVER SAID ANYTHING WAS THAT I THOUGHT YOU HAD CAUGHT ON TO THAT AGES AGO! BUT THAT LOOK ON YOUR FACE…AHAHAHAHA! YOU REALLY DIDN'T KNOW!? TWILIGHT SPARKLE ARE YOU SERIOUSLY THAT DU-MMPH!" Twilight, her cheeks burning a bright red, slammed the chatty book shut while keeping her lavender hoof squarely over the bomb that made up its mouth.
"Oh my, what was that all abo-"
"Nothinglet'smoveonwe'rerunningoutoftime." Twilight blurted as she tried to hide the fading blush from her friends. "Stupid, know-it-all, book…"
"Didja try ASKING it to help us?" Pinkie asked with a smile as she got eye level with the pinned book and nudged it lightly. Twilight was about to explain to Pinkie about why that wouldn't work, but it was Pinkie Pie…
Twilight raised her hoof, and Pinkie swooped down like a candy-coated bird of prey, bringing the dazed and confused Bombinomicon right next to her bright blue eyes and widening smile. "UH…"
"HI! My name's Pinkie Pie and I'm super-duper happy to meet you!"
"…WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS ONE? WHY IS SHE SMILING LIKE THAT?"
"Ooh, I like your scary pet monster. I have a pet too! His name's Gummy, he's an alligator! Does yours have a name?"
"Mhm-hm! That's a funny name! That's almost as funny as a name I came up with; cherrychanga! Or, was it chimicherry…Oh! I remember! It was chimi-cherry-changa! Which one sounds funnier to you?"
"MAKE HER STOP."
"NONE, NONE OF THOSE WERE FUNNY! NOW WOULD YOU KINDLY PUT ME DOWN SO I CAN OVERSHADOW SOME ANTS OR SOMETHING TO GET ME OUT OF HERE?"
Pinkie rubbed her chin with her hoof at this statement. "You're right. Kumquat sounds a LOT funnier!"
'Curse Monoculus and its ability to fly over these blasted houses!' Spy fired another few shots at the hovering death-ball to keep its mild attention as he bobbed and weaved behind another small shop that was quickly devastated shortly thereafter.
That was something Spy had never really understood about Monoculus: All of the other Halloween horrors were much more malicious; the Horseless Headless Horseman stomped around Mann Manor swinging his Headtaker and beheading anyone who got too close, and Merasmus cast a wide array of spells ranging from head resizing to raining Jarate...
Spy shuddered at that thought. One jar was more than enough, an entire sky's worth made him physically ill just recounting the memory. That's what made Monoculus such an anomaly (more than it being a giant, flying, disembodied eyeball), is that it was so passive by comparison.
Sure, it launched explosive, miniature versions of itself at whoever it happened to to be looking at, and it didn't even do THAT with much enthusiasm. The only time the flying observer was ever truly terrifying was when it was struck by a critical hit. Something about being hit by a slightly more effective shot than it normally should be made Monoculus furious, furious to the point where its pupil flashed to a brilliant red and it started firing mini-eyes with uncanny accuracy and speed, each and everyone boosted with crits in retaliation…
"…Lord only knows where the lad got THAT from. I dun' like gettin' hit by 'em either but that eye o' mine really snaps. The only thing tha' makes me crazy are uppity nags like you!"
"'Nag'!? How dare you!" The two monarchs clashed as orange and green sparks could once again be seen dancing about from around the tower as Chrysalis' magic-encased horn struck the cursed Eyelander. While her horn was in no danger of being amputated, the strain of slamming it against a sharp implement of war was certainly taking its toll, like trying to bite down on steel with the intention of eating it. "Just give up already, and maybe I'll only imprison you for a few thousand years instead of mounting your head on a pike!"
"Yeah? And maybe I'll jus' smack ya around a bit insteada' breaking my foot off in yer ass!" Tavish wound up and brought the hammer down on Chrysalis again and again, each blow forcing her to back down the stairs as the Scottish Prince's might overwhelmed her with each strike…at least, the ones that he actually managed to land.
Fragile appearance aside, Changeling wings are actually quite durable and can be just as strong as those of a Griffin's if not stronger. Changelings excel at the arts of trickery and deception, which go hand-in-hand with speed and stealth, so having quick wings in which to propel one's self through the shadows of alleyways and into houses in the dead of night as quietly and quickly as possible was essential. The same could be said for combat purposes, and although she wasn't doing nearly as much damage as she would have liked, she was able to strike multiple times only to disengaging before the Prince had a chance to return fire.
Prince DeGroot was the other side of that coin. The grenades Demoman toted around with him weighed much more then they let on since they were packed to the brim with all manner of violent explosive material, add the solid wood and metal launcher used to fire said bombs and it's no surprise that one could build muscle tone faster than Dell could build his machines. While nowhere near as agile as the Queen buzzing about around him, the few exchanges he forced her into were all in his favor as he was able to easily gain the upper (and only) hand in terms of might.
As the fight wore on and the number of steps leading up to the top ticked down to single digits, the two battling Royals both showed signs of fatigue, but only physically. That was never what the battle had been about though. The true battle that had raged all the way up the tall tower was one of will, the physical exchanges being merely expressions of the fiery spirits that burned brightly within both of them, and among others that had been fighting this entire time.
It's still a good idea to watch your step.
"Ack! Bloody hell-OOF!" and with that, the mighty Prince DeGroot fell flat on his face as his sword clattered to the ground (which was probably good since it muffled the array of curses that he muttered to just about everything that came to mind as he got back up on his feet). "…and all of the bloody, stinking, CHA~*"
A flash of green magic filled the entirety of his vision (which wasn't very impressive to start with) and knocked Demoman off his feet as he crashed hard into the closed off room that was only was only used for guests, such as Rarity when she came to stay in Canterlot. Chrysalis drifted down onto the exact spot where Demoman once stood, snickering as a thin wisp of steam rose from the tip of her horn. "I must say, you've put up quite a fight. Tell you what, swear your loyalty to me and I'll make you a janitor! How does that sound?" No answer came from the darkened room, only the sound of a few books falling the floor and slight shuffling were the only indications that something was actually alive in there.
Chrysalis didn't buy it, the human time bomb had proven himself to be far more resilient to let one hit knock him out. So she decided to adopt a method Heavy had found useful throughout his years of being with Sasha; spray and pray (or shout obscenities as was usually the case with the large Russian bear). "Let's see you worm your way out of this!" The dark guest room lit up again, every possible square inch being struck at least once or twice with a luminous green bolt, but still no sign of Demoman. Chrysalis grunted in annoyance that her eyes had been subjected to the harsh rays of Celestia's sun for too long and had lost their natural ability to see perfectly in the dark. It was anypony's guess what he was doing in there.
'I can't believe how stupid I am…I let everypony down. The entire kingdom, all of Equestria, is in peril because of my dumb fascination with humans…they haven't brought anything but trouble and misery! All of my friends, everypony I loved, are in danger because I'm to stupid to recognize a blatant trap when I see one. If I ever get out of here, I have to save everypony, it's the only way I can possibly hope to redeem myself! I've got to-'
"-huh? AAAAAAAAAH! OOF!" Lyra's bright yellow eyes shot open as the sensation of falling gripped her being only to land in something a lot softer than the marble floor of the throne room. It was also a lot slimier. "Oh gross! That's coming off of me! Eww, I hate cocoons…wait, cocoons!?" That was when Lyra started to really take in her surroundings; the cocoons that had once held her and many others captive lay slashed and burned all along the floor, the ponies that had been trapped within were also scattered about and covered in the same mysterious goo she was.
Lyra was mortified. She had come to the conclusion that her poorly thought out actions had aided Chrysalis in her attempt to take over Equestria while she was marinading inside of her organic prison, but she couldn't have dreamed up this kind of carnage in her worst nightmares: Banners, armor, the destroyed ceiling, the condition of the throne room. All of it was her fault.
"Even the Princesses were caught? Ohh Lyra what have you done? If I only had my shield and mask, then maybe I could make up for my failure! Say, what'd I even land in?" Ever since Lyra had landed in the softer-than-ground substance she had felt a comforting warmth all around her, like being wrapped up in a blanket next to a blazing fire on the eve of a cold and otherwise unforgiving stormy night. She had felt this particular state of warmth before, and that was back when…
Before Lyra had enough time to soak in all that was going on, her savior set her down on a cushion that had been torn from one of the seats by a particularly destructive Changeling, grabbed his weapon and rushed out to the courtyard.
"W-WAIT! Don't go! I never got to say goodbye…" Lyra's words trailed off as she kicked up a little bit of dust from the ruined cushion she found herself on. A groan from Biggs made her ears perk, remembering that she wasn't the only pony that had been captured. 'Well, if I can't help with the fight directly I guess this is the next best thing.' She trotted over to the semiconscious guard and helped him up into a sitting position, then she moved onto Wedge, then Ajax, asking everypony she came across if there was anything she could do to help them get back on their hooves in time to help banish that monster eye once and for all.
"…chimicherry, chimi-cherry-changa, kumquat, cherrychan-"
"ALRIGHT! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY, SHUT HER UP! I'LL TALK! I'LL TALK!" The Bombinomicon cried out from the overdose of Pinkie-chatter.
"I thought you'd see it our way," Twilight chuckled, plucking away her earplugs as the book shuttered in fear of the happy pink pony looking down at it. "Rainbow?" The multi-colored mare gave a quick salute and promptly wrapped her forelegs around Pinkie's motor mouth, who continued to talk despite Dash's intervention. "Now, how do we stop Monoculus?"
"Not what I wanted to hear. Rainbow?"
"Mhmm hm uhmm, *GASP* Oh! You know what else I forgot? Doodad!"
"AHH! LISTEN TO ME! THERE REALLY ISN'T A WAY TO CONTROL MONOCULUS! THE ONLY PERSON WHO MIGHT EVEN REMOTELY UNDERSTAND WHAT TO DO IS THAT OLD COOT, MERASMUS. HE WAS THE ONE WHO ORIGINALLY CREATED IT FROM A YOUNG TAVISH DEGROOT'S LEFT EYE, BUT WHENEVER HE SUMMONS IT, HE JUST LETS IT DO WHATEVER THE HELL IT WANTS UNTIL SOMEONE FINALLY UP AND KILLS THE DAMN THING! SO, LIKE I SAID; YOU CAN'T STOP IT WITHOUT EITHER KILLING IT OR TRICKING IT BACK INTO THE HELL IT CAME FROM, AND SEEING AS HOW NO ONE'S EVER BEEN ABLE TO DO THE LATTER, YOU'RE OPTIONS ARE STARTING TO DWINDLE."
Twilight rubbed her temples. 'There has to be a way to get rid of Monoculus without killing it. Hmm…if The Bombinomicon can summon beings TO Equestria, then maybe the spell can be reversed to send it back. Maybe I could just…no, that would be silly. Still…' Twilight closed the book so that its front cover faced her. "Has anypony ever tried…saying the spell backwards?" she said sheepishly.
The Bombinomicon said nothing for a moment, "OH MY LORD IT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN THAT SIMPLE…NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT, MERASMUS HAS ONLY REALLY USED THAT ONE SPELL, ONE-TRICK PONY THAT HE IS…ERR, SORRY. I SUPPOSE IT'S WORTH A SHOT."
"Alright, here it goes; OBZARB SUBARRAB!" With the admittedly strange incantation leaving her lips, Twilight's large eyes became orbs of white light as she rose genteelly off the ground. A beam of strong magic rocketed into the air spawning a deep purple smog that blotted out the sun all throughout the city. A low rumble rocked the sky and shook buildings as the exhausted unicorn fell back to earth only to be saved by Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. Bolts of lightning danced about between the clouds, flashes of purple bloomed from within the dense fog but rarely breaking through. The plume continued to spiral around the point where the magical blast had pierced the heavens until a mysterious rectangle slipped through and slowly descended towards the ponies that looked up in awe at all that was happening. The Bombinomicon, on the other hoof, was looking up at the card the same way a gambler watches a roulette table.
"C'MON, C'MON C'MON C'MON C'MON C'MON C'MON YOU OWE ME, DECK." As the card came into the light the strange symbols that adorned it became clear-ish; clear in the sense that they could be clearly seen but not in the way that they made any sense. The only things any of them could distinguish was the number seven as represented by "VII" and a shield with lightning bolts that were bent in a shape that almost looked like a capital "K". The rest of the symbols around the boarder were completely indistinguishable, their true meaning had been lost for decades (ever since Merasmus had accidentally placed the decoder ring in his robe that he had sent off to the dry cleaners). The infernal tome's eyes widened (which really wasn't that noticeable) as its voice got lower than its normal annoying one. "IT IS THE CRIT BOOSTENING!"
"The, what?" Twilight asked as her world began to stop spinning from the large burst of magic she had discharged.
"What ze hell?" Spy uttered as he fired off another shoot towards the would-be-lumbering-if-it-couldn't-fly orb of ex-Tavish flesh as the voice echoed throughout the city of Neo Hive.
There was another reason why Spy was glad that he had decided to bring along the Ambassador as opposed to another one of his revolvers; he didn't have to worry about random critical hits. Normally, the mercenaries of Reliable Excavation Demolition and Builders League United were overjoyed when fate temporarily forgot that she hated them and blessed them with a random boost in power to whatever weapon they happened to wielding at the moment, but there were those few rare occasions where that became a problem, like trying to kill someone only to have an overpowered shot knock the target away and making a second shot impossible (assuming that the boosted hit wasn't fatal). With the Ambassador, Spy was able to pick and choose when to deal extra damage by aiming for the head, something that Monoculus was sorely lacking and therefore wouldn't become enraged no matter how many hits he landed on it.
That is unless SOMETHING boosted his shots without his consent.
The next few events happened in what seemed like an hour when it was only but a moment: As the booming voice finished echoing throughout the mountain a tingling sensation buzzed about in Spy's right palm. He looked around to his hand to find that his Ambassador was glowing bright orange and crackling with energy as smoke drifted lazily from the engraved silver barrel from the recent shot…the recent shot that had been affected by the Crit Boostening. "Oh. Merde."
"MURRRRRRURRR!!!" The great abomination bellowed as a small trickle of blood ran down from its upper lid where a still glowing bullet had lodged itself. The brown ring of its iris flashed red as the lids shaped themselves to form an expression that could only be described as "outraged". Spy knew what was coming next and flipped out the Dead Ringer, waiting for the inevitable barrage of ocular ballistics.
Suddenly, twin bolts of crimson lightning struck Monoculus coming from the direction of the castle. The energy crackled all around the confused sphere as it writhed about, launching eye-bombs randomly it a vain attempt to strike the source of the sneak attack. After a moment of struggling its lids shot open in what seemed to be sudden realization…before going right back into anger. Spy again prepped himself for a barrage of explosives but found his preparation unnecessary as Monoculus spun on its axis and made haste towards the palace. "Why would it be heading back? Unless…ze ponies!" Spy tore off down the alleyways, he had to beat that monster back or his only sober allies (and his only way home) would be blasted into thin glue.
"W-What was THAT? What did you do!?" Twilight shouted at the anarchist cookbook as it began to laugh at a joke that only seemed funny to it. Well, Pinkie was laughing too but she's very susceptible to laughter even if it's ill-timed.
"AW, WHAT'S WRONG TWILIGHT? THIS IS A GOOD THING! CHRYSALIS' MIND CONTROL WAS JUST SHATTERED BY MONOCULUS' WRATH AND WITH THAT LITTLE SPELL, IT IS NOW FULLY UNDER CONTROL. MY CONTROL TO BE EXACT."
Twilight was about to open her egghead mouth when a massive shadow enveloped her and her gathered friends. She looked up to see Monoculus looking right back at her, the only difference being that she was doing so in shock, it was doing so in anger. The Mane Six backed away slowly (Rainbow slower than others since she had to move for both her and a clingy Fluttershy) as the creature hovered high over their candy-colored heads. "How could you? We saved you after everything you did, and this is how you repay us!?" Rarity shouted taking a step forward.
"IT'S FUNNY, I HAD ACTUALLY PLANNED ON LETTING YOU GO ABOUT YOUR LAME LIVES…BUT SOME PONY DECIDED TO LODGE A BIG DAMN 'CHERRYCHANGA' INTO THAT PLAN!"
"Oh…" Twilight's ears folded against her head. Figures that this would happen, Applejack had been pretty sore with them after they did that to her and she was their friend. In retrospect, doing the same thing to a para-dimensional magic book with explosive tendencies and a hulking eyeball at it's beck and call probably wasn't the best idea.
"ACTUALLY, THAT REMINDS ME; PINKIE PIE, I HAVE A FUNNY WORD I'LL BET YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE…"
"*GASP* Tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me tell me! I wanna hear the fun word!"
"Silly! That's two wor-AHH!" Monoculus cut off the pink party pony's reply as a glowing purple eye rocketed towards them at amazing speed. Twilight's heart dropped into her stomached and digested: This was it. She couldn't throw up a strong enough shield to protect them from something like that, and only Rainbow might have been able to get away but Fluttershy was busy crying into her cyan coat. Twilight felt like doing the same, and as the first tear rolled down her cheek, she closed her eyes and waited for what was to come. At least she would be able to see her friends again in a better place...
*FOOSH!* *BA-BOOM* "MUUUURRRRAR!"
Everypony's eyes shot open at the strange sound just in time to witness the impending doom that was the Eye-Crocket arc back at an impossible angle and slam into Monoculus with an ear-shattering explosion.
Standing before them was someone they could never forget (which was ironic since most of Equestria had). He stood tall atop his bipedal legs which were coved by a pair of black rubber boots that ran up to his shins before stopping to allow the brilliant crimson body suit to take over the task of protecting the wearer. His hands had a similar motif and ran the length of his forearms over the asbestos-lined RED suit which was adorned with yellow decals of what appeared to be a flame on either shoulder, which in turn had various straps hanging from them that held such things like grenades and a large, grey propane tank. His visage, reflecting the sun's rays despite the layer of magical smog that still hung over the sky, was what truly set him apart; a black gas mask with filters near the mouth and two, soulless goggles that could pierce the very being of whomever they gazed upon, and if that didn't stop them in their tracks, then the long flamethrower he had tightly grasped betwixt his yellow-tipped digits certainly would.
"PYRO!" Twilight exclaimed, as the tears of sorrow were replaced by tears of joy and relief.
"Mhmm," the tall human mumbled as he gave her a thumbs up before snapping back to The Bombinomicon and Monoculus. "Huddah-huh? Mhm-hmp…"
"Who…or WHAT is that down there? Is that a dragon? How'd they come across a dragon!?" Chrysalis was starting to panic with all of this free time she had had to think while Demoman remained cloaked in the shadows of the half-destroyed guest room. Having grown bored watching the "empty" room, Chrysalis had decided to check up on how the rest of her master plan was going. Well, it was going alright, just down the metaphorical crapper instead of whichever way she wanted it to go (which WAS NOT down the aforementioned imaginary potty), and this…thing had just shown up out of nowhere and countered Monoculus! Her trump card! Her backup plan!
Things seemed bad, but she could easily wrangle Monoculus back under control after she dealt with Tavish, Twilight Sparkle and that back-stabbing book. "Back-stabbing? UGH! I forgot about that other meddlesome human! FINE! I'll deal with him too," she looked back towards the dark room, "but I can't do any of that until THIS COWARD SHOWS HIMSELF SO I CAN GET THIS OVER- *Thunk* -with?" The startled Queen looked up at her once glowing horn to find a red guard's hat with three gold badges connected by black straps placed over it. "Is this…a shako?"
"THAT'S A STOUT SHAKO! AND IT COSTS TWO REFINED!" the voice from the darkness shouted making the already irritated Queen jump.
"W-What? What's a 'Refined'? I don't even want this! Now get out here and fight-" As per request, the crowned Prince DeGroot stepped forth, but not in the same attire from which he entered. Instead of a blazing crown of gold and jewels, he now wore a tattered tricorn with a locked treasure chest on top with white shutter shades. His sword had been replaced as well (though the Chargin' Targe was still equipped to his right forearm), where the once proud broadsword had been gripped in his drunken fist was now a dirty frying pan that still retained traces of whatever was cooked in it last. "AH-HAHAHA! What's with the ridiculous getup? Have you finally given into your fear of my power and gone out of your mind?"
Tavish said nothing, instead giving her a quick smile before letting his actions speak from themselves. Specifically the charge. "YEAAAAAAARG!" Chrysalis' wings flared up as she prepared to dodge his frying pan and counter with…
'Curses! I forgot about the sha-' the annoyed Queen didn't have time to finish her thought as Demopan, opting not to smack her with his pan as she had thought, tackled her and sent them both tumbling down onto the roof of the throne room below with a loud crash. Demopan was back on his feet in an instant, Chrysalis…"Y-You'll never defeat me…I-I'm the Queen of Equestia, see? I even have the crown! Haha, HAHAHA-!" *WA-GONG*
As the sound of a frying pan making hard contact with a Changeling's exoskeleton reverberated throughout the immediate area, the strain on the roof finally proved too much and buckled under the two Royals' combined weight and caved into the very popular throne room. As the dust settled, the drunken Scot stood victorious over the half-conscious Changeling. While her eyes were still spinning, Prince DeGroot knelt down and removed Celestia's crown from the thief and held it in his worn hands. It was very warm, like basking in the sun on a pleasant summer's day and it shown just as brightly.
"…New hat! New hat for five Refin- *tap tap* -eh?" Demopan turned around, his eye wide with excitement. "A trade request already?"
"That's MY crown," Princess Celestia said in a soft but nonetheless serious tone as she held out her hoof. Tavish straightened himself out, his Bounty Hat and "Dangeresque, Too?" shades suddenly poofing out of existence and returning to the confines of his backpack. Prince DeGroot took a knee and held the crown out for the Sun Goddess. "Eh-heh, sorry. Here ya go, Princess." Celestia smiled as she lifted the bright gold tiara back atop her head with her powerful yellow aura…only to have it blink right back atop Tavish's. "Uh…"
"Hmm, oh. I know what happened; that awful spell Chrysalis cast upon my crown must be doing this," the eternal mare said as she looked over Demoman.
"Ack, I'd forgotten all- wait, how'd you hear abou' that?" Demoman asked.
"It's not like those cocoons were sound-proof, dear. So, it looks as though the crown has become attached to you since Chrysalis can't officially surrender," they both looked down at the defeated Queen as her eyes continued to do laps inside their sockets. Celestia sighed somewhat angrily, she wanted her crown back, but for the life of her she couldn't remember exactly what spell that was! 'Figures, it was probably a spell submitted in that same decade I opened the Magical Academy and just got filed away with the massive influx of 'mane-changing and coloring' spells. I really should have looked through those myself instead of having an intern do it…'
"Then prepare yourself, lass!" Celestia snapped out of her thought at the exclamation and looked over to see the gunpowder enthusiast taking a powerful stance with a strange smile. "I guess you'll jus' hafta' fight me for it! Wink wink."
"Wh…Why did you say 'wink wink'?" Celestia asked hesitantly, wondering if the human was more unstable than she originally surmised.
The black cyclops, while still maintaining his stance, rolled his eye as his confidant smile sagged. "Ugh, Monoculus was me good winking eye, so…"
"Oh! If that's the case, *e-hem*, I accept your challenge for the rights to the crown!" The Princess also took a mighty stance, flaring out her majestic ivory wings to their fullest extent.
Everypony else that was still recovering went silent as the energy from the two titanic powers hung heavily over the room. The Royal Guards all knew that the Princess, the Goddess of the Sun, was perfectly capable of handling any threat that might befall her (sometimes that fact made them question exactly how important they were to her as guards or if they were mostly just for show and policing services), but this human creature had single hoofedly (or what are those things called? Not claws…"hams"?) defeated Chrysalis, so naturally they were bracing themselves for what might happen.
Princess Celestia made the first the first move, rearing up on her back legs to get the best leverage she could, she brought her forelegs down upon Demoman's black flak jacket with a light *pomf*. "ARGH! Woe is me, I've been bested!" He crumpled to floor and stuck his tongue in an over-dramatic defeat. "Please, no more! I surrender this crown to you, lass."
Celestia, a little embarrassed (as was everypony in the room who pretended that they didn't just see that) once again lifted her crown from Prince DeGroot's head and placed it on her's where it stayed. "Right!" Demoman hoped onto his feet with surprising agility for someone who hadn't been legally sober in years. "Now that THAT'S over, I need to get goin' t' stop that blasted eye o' mine!" He felt a hoof drape over his shoulder and spun him around to face the dark mare it was attached to.
"ART THOU SAYING THAT THOU HAST SOMETHING TO DO WITH YONDER ABOMINATION!?" Princess Luna bellowed, her anger taking hold over her ability to use up-to-date vernacular and instead falling back on the terms and language to which she was accustomed.
"Yeah, it's me own flesh and blood. See, back when I was jus' a wee little thing, me mum sent me out to go find a job, and the only one I could find was helping this old coot, Merasmus the Magician, clean out his house. I hadn't so much as touched the broom when I heard a voice coming from a book, so, like the stupid little git I was I went over to it and tried to take a peak. Turns out that book was The Bombinomicon, and it had a thing about cursing people's eyes and turnin' 'em inta' giant flying monsters. Merasmus disappeared after that and was never seen or heard from again. So then last Halloween, I come to learn that Merasmus was my associate's roommate. There was somethin' t' do with a veggie plater, one thing lead to another and…BOOM! Giant angry eye creature."
Luna's mouth hung open for a moment as she tried to process what had been said before shaking herself. "Sister, please don't tell us that you plan to sit on your laurels while this monster roams free?"
"Far from it. Captain Ajax, contact the Wonderbolts and order them to speed up their mission and return to Canterlot at once. Guards, secure Chrysalis and her Changelings somewhere safe until I can deal with them personally. Luna, Demoman, and Lyra come with me to the courtyard, we're going to put a stop to this!" Everypony (and Scot) saluted as they all rushed off to their assigned duties.
"Get away from me, you imbecile! Are you TRYING to give away my-"
"-postion?" Spy jumped forward and tackled the overly-excited-to-see-him Pyro just as another eye exploded where he had stood. The compromised espionage expert threw the flame alchemist off him with a grunt as he slipped back into the shadows to cloak. Pyro tilted his head to the side a bit in confusion. No matter how many times he had fought alongside him, Pyro could never fully understand Spy's preference for hiding during a fight, he'd much rather just take his opponent head-on, or in this case, eye-on.
While Spy slinked away to do…whatever Spy did when he vanished from sight, Pyro took advantage of his skills and equipment, punishing Monoculus' sloppy attempts to blast him apart by returning all of his attacks via air-blast express. This greatly confused and infuriated Monoculus; it couldn't just let the firebug live after what it had done, but it also couldn't go about attacking him in the way it had been with its eye-crockets literally backfiring on it. The floating orb of Scottish flesh instead opted to follow him at a distance that his wretched faux dragon couldn't reach it but not so far that Pyro could escape its impressive vision.
Elsewhere, the Mane Six had their hooves full with The Bombinomicon, which had now begun to rain down large quantities of lit bombs from within its pages. Twilight and Rarity had been able to reduce the damage done with their combined magic, tossing the bombs higher into the air where they exploded harmlessly. The infernal tome had attempted to compensate for this by elongating the fuses so that the bombs would still had enough time to come back down if they were tossed like salad.
The girls' answer to that? Applejack. Having grown up on Sweet Apple Acres where quality was king, Applejack and her siblings had learned at a young age to stay aware after bucking a tree and watch carefully for any spoiled apples that might fall in the batch and knock them away from the good batch. Granted these were bombs and all of them could be classified as "bad apples", but that was no sweat for the honest earth mare. While Rarity and Twilight were tasked with keeping the majority of the medieval explosives airborne, the few that escaped them or fell back with an extended fuse were quickly bucked back at their caster by the ever-attentive farmer.
"GAAAAAH! THIS IS GETTING US NOWHERE! EH, MONOCULUS, TAG OUT!"
"MMM? MARRUH!" Monoculus roared in agreement as it opened a purple vortex that engulfed both the deadly eye and the dusty book, and after a moment of near silence, the dastardly duo were launched back out but on opposite sides; Monoculus at the girls, The Bombinomicon at the mercenaries.
At least, that was the plan…what came back out of that swirling portal into hell was far worse.
"MURRAH…WHAT? WHAT HAPPENED TO…ME? OH-HO-HO, YES!" The unholy fusion laughed, its double voice echoing over itself as the horrors just kept coming. At first glance it just appeared as though the ancient bomb recipe guide had grown to enormous sizes, until the bomb encased within the circle of teeth swiveled around in its socket to reveal that it was no longer a bomb, but Monoculus itself! Bulges began to writhe about from under the skin cover and snaked their way out to edges where Monoculus' veins sprouted forth from within the pages and the loose stitching. The Bombinomicon's original eyes (that now appeared to be even less significant with Tavish's old eye embedded in its "mouth") were like two miniature red suns blazing within the dark sockets.
"NOW THIS IS WHAT I CALL TRUE POWER! MURAHAHAHA!"
"Everypony RUN!" Twilight exclaimed, she and the others split up as eye-crockets coupled with the hailstorm of bombs continued to rain down from the thick overcast that had lingered long after the Crit Boostening had ended. As Twilight galloped away towards the castle she nearly slammed into Spy and Pyro as they rushed haphazardly TOWARDS the deadly raincloud and the creature controlling it. "What are you two-"
"Just keeping runing! We'll hold zem back!"
"Huddah!" the humanoid salamander mumbled as he withdrew a small, red cylindrical device. He stopped running only for an instant to line up his shot as a blazing flare rocketed from the tiny cannon and sailed high into the air. Picking up his stride Pyro clicked a secondary trigger with made the flare erupt with a bang that prematurely detonated all of the bombs nearby and causing a chain-reaction that rocked the sky with numerous explosions. Spy did more of the same only directing his efforts at distracting The Bombonculus itself so it would focus the deadly seeing spheres at him and away from the Mane Six.
"DON'T THINK A FEW PARLOR TRICKS IS GOING TO BE ENOUGH TO STOP ME, MURRRRAH! IT'LL TAKE A LOT MORE THAN-"
"Then how about us?"
"MURAHRA? DEMOMAN!? JUST WHEN I THOUGHT CHRYSALIS COUDN'T BE ANY MORE USLESS! AND HOW THE HELL'D YOU TWO ESCAPE?"
"We have our dear friend Pyro to thank for that," Celestia said.
"It appears as if though flames and a sharp ax are the bane of those vile cocoons," Luna said with a smirk as Pyro could be seen in a gap between a couple of small businesses on market street, flashing a quick thumbs-up before launching yet another flare over The Bombonculus much to the effect of the first.
"Bloody hell! What did you do ta' me eye, Bombinomicon!?" Tavish felt a weight on his shoulder about that of a hand, and upon further inspection it turned out to be just that. A gloved hand.
"Listen to me you drunken wretch, I know zat losing your eye left you more zen just physically deformed but you need to focus! Ze sooner we kill zat zing, ze sooner we can go home," Spy told Demoman as he shook the Scot to make sure his point was getting across.
"But why would we want ta' leave this gorgeous place? The lush fields, the wee little ponies, the-"
"Tavish, I'm going to stop you right here; Equestria is a dry country."
"ATTACK! KILL THE BEAST!" The Goddesses looked at one another as smiles crept across both of their beautifully deadly muzzles. They unfurled their magnificent wings like giant birds of prey and shot high into the air as they spiraled around one another.
The Bombonculus knew that the Princesses possessed immense power and quickly shifted all of its efforts towards bringing them down. Eye-crockets, bombs, and just about any other spell or incantation it could think to throw at them flew across the sky in a frightening yet dazzling display. The sisters remained unfazed as they flirted with the highly explosive witchcraft as the eruptions of each spell rang out in its own symphony of destruction.
The agile deities swooped back down below the massive tome, bringing a wide assortment of homing explosives along with them. "OH SON OF A-" The Bombonculus wasn't able to finish its curse as the volley of other curses it had cast earlier came back to haunt it in a rather explosive manner. With their foe momentarily distracted, the sisters leaped on the chance to finish off the menacing abomination.
The Royal Pony Sisters crossed their elegant horns, their eyes aglow with the growing power that surged within them; Sun and Moon fighting together as one for one of the first times in over a thousand years. They suddenly broke apart and released the pent up energy they had both gathered as beams of solid light and darkness that spiraled around each other in a double-helix of untold power.
The Bombonculus looked up in horror as the almighty beam washed over it. In a last ditch effort to save its greedy self, The Bombinomicon used the overwhelming energy that assaulted it to separate itself from Monoculus who in turn took the blast full force as it cried out in defeat. "MUR…RUHARR…RRR…" The gigantic ocular beast's lids fluttered weakly as it sank towards the cobblestone road before stopping to hover a dozen or so feet in the air. Everypony cheered as the great monster fell! Twilight cheered especially loud as she watched the Princesses clear the skies of the smog that once darkened the pristine sky they both had a hoof in creating. Things were starting to fall back into place; Monoculus and The Bombinomicon had both been defeated, Chrysalis and her Changelings overthrown, everypony was free, and the REDs were…were…where were they?
"GIT GOIN'! THA' PORTAL'S GONNA LEAVE US BEHIND!" Twilight looked behind her as all three members of the human stampede nearly ran her over as they sprinted towards the weakened eye.
"'Portal'? What por-" The answer to Luna's question came rather violently as Monoculus EXPLODED like a water balloon…unfortunately, no water was to be found within, but it was a liquid...
'Not THIS time…' Spy, who had been the leader of the pack, quickly sidestepped behind Pyro as the wave of yellow waste flew at them from the epicenter of Monoculus' demise. Pyro was confused for a moment at Spy's sudden decision to double back until he caught a glimpse of what was flying towards him. Now, while his asbestos-lined suit protected him from just about anything nature could throw at him (water, smoke, ticks, daytime television, etc) being hit by gallons of water turned into warm lemonade was still something to be avoided at all costs. For instance, a simple duck-and-cover should be all he needed to avoid it, which he executed promptly.
*SPLISH* "JARATE!? Uh-huh-huh!" The elegant espionage enthusiast couldn't help but emit his overwhelming emotions as he frantically wiped away at his soaked balaclava in a vain attempt to remove the foul juice from his disgusted features. Pyro felt a little sorry for his comrade (only the barest minimum since that ass just tried to use him as a piss-shield) and tried to aid him by air-blasting him dry, which really only managed to blow the Jarate that was pooling atop his lip up his nose, which caused him to scream out in agony as he started to wonder if his nostrils had the ability to vomit.
"We don't have time fer this!" Demoman shouted as he fired two Stickybombs near his feet, he ran at the small cluster of explosive eggs his gun had laid and jumped over them as he pressed the detonation button. The resulting explosion, aside from a bit of pain of being that close to plastic explosives, launched the drunk (and The Bombinomicon that was still dazed from the sister's assault) high into the air towards the spiraling, purple, trans-dimensional tear in the fabric of all that is.
Before disappearing completely, Tavish DeGroot saluted the ponies gathered and motioned for his teammates to hurry it up and follow his lead. Spy didn't waste anytime in using the unintelligible arsonist as a springboard to propel himself towards the vortex and allowing the vacuum it created to pull him the rest of the way all the while cursing the putrid oder that was burning into his brain in his native language.
Now all that left was Pyro, who stood there looking deep into the vortex, he knew that it would be closing soon, but…he just couldn't bring himself to jump. On the one hand, he could just make one simple jump and return back to his home and his team. On the other, he could just stay still and remain in the wonderful land that he had grown to love in his short time being there. He wouldn't have to worry about fighting, getting hurt by a bunch of mentally unstable contract killers in ways only the sick minds at Mann Co. could conjure up, living in peace among the ponies would guaranty his safety.
But could he guarantee theirs? Mann Co. would come looking for him once they noticed him missing from combat and no doubt find a way to come to Equestria and haul him back. NO! A Mann Co. expansion here would be devastating! And even if they didn't come for him, how long until his love of fire got the better of him? He had been unconsciously flicking an invisible lighter the entire time he'd been standing there! He…he could get it under control, how hard could it be? He'd seen alcoholics and optimists get over themselves all the time.
"PYRO!" Pyro perked up at the calling of his name and looked in the direction of the source. It was Lyra, finally rushing out to help after having gotten held up by three scared fillies that didn't have anypony to tell them what was going on, and needed a familiar green mare to comfort them. Now she was the one that was confused; the other humans (and for that matter a giant evil eyeball) were nowhere to be seen, and a strange spinning disk hung in the air just a few feet before her bipedal friend. "Pyro, please don't go. I-I missed you. I didn't think I'd ever see you again, I-"
The slipspace rupture Monoculus had left in its wake started to surge and collapse, and it was in that moment that Pyro received his answer: He couldn't risk subjecting the wonderful ponies to the world he was from, and that included himself. He shuffled forward and allowed the natural pull to levitate him off the ground and towards the rift. As he slowly faded into the portal he waved goodbye, much to to the sadness of everypony gathered who had to see him go. And just like that, all traces of the REDs vanished into thin air.
Well, maybe not ALL traces…
"What do you have to say for yerself, lad?"
"I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE BLATHERING ABOUT, I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING WRONG…" The Bombinomicon's voice echoed slightly from within the mouth of the massive belched white skull it and the three assembled crimson mercenaries were standing in. An eerie fog blanketed the small, water locked chunk of rock known as Loot Island, the mysterious skull that sat atop the small isle had its massive maw agape, almost as if though the ghostly moans that filled the air were emanating from within.
"Don't play stupid wiz us, Bombnomicon. You should be counting your lucky stars we haven't let Pyro here burn you," Spy said coldly as he ran the back of his butterfly knife across the lying book's cover. It winced to the best of its abilities, looking back and forth between the glimmering blade and the looming maniac who's soulless goggles were locked onto the wretched little textbook, all the while running his hand over his pilot light.
"HUH-HUH…WHY DON'T WE ALL JUST CALM DOWN AND THINK RATIONALLY ABOUT THIS; IF YOU DESTROY ME, YOU LOSE YOUR ONLY WAY HOME. SO…WHY DON'T YOU JUST HOP ON IN AND WE FORGET ALL THIS 'ME TRYING TO KILL YOU AND TAKE OVER EQUESTRIA' BUSINESS, EH?" The Bombinomicon stuttered a bit. Spy decided that he had had enough. He placed his hand over the cursed book and suddenly disappeared from the small island.
"Tha' sneaky devil! I'm gonna hit him so hard he'll *BELCH* *sobs* Why do all my friends leave me!?" Demoman leaned forward to lay an unsteady hand upon The Bombinomicon, but instead tripped and went headlong into the book and disappeared as well, leaving Pyro all by his lonesome.
"WELL, YOU COMING OR WHAT?" Pyro looked around at the desolate hell he found himself in, he had never been on Loot Island by himself before. Whenever he had managed to travel to the godforsaken place he was alway accompanied by an assortment of both REDs and BLUs and had to remain on his burned toes in case someone tried to kill him before he could claim his treasure. Now that he was there all alone, it was really…boring. He decided that he had had his fill of the depressing nothingness too, he placed his gloved hand over the the book…
…and found himself back in Soldier's apartment! He was glad that he was back home, at least now he could-
"PYRO! GIT DOWN BOY!" A yellow glove flew out from the darkness and pulled the flame alchemist down as a bright orange explosion bloomed like a flower above him. He shook the rubble from his mask and looked around him: Soldier's apartment had been completely leveled, only bits and pieces of wall remained standing. Small fires dotted the immediate area and covered anything beyond the property line with a thick blanket of smoke, the only thing that could be seen were the hail of bullets and rockets flying back and forth, the accompanying sounds rang out in what Pyro, could only assume with all of the smoke and ash, was night. "Keep yer head down, son! You're gonna get it shot off!"
"Yeah, it's me. Where the hell have you n' the others been? We coulda used ya against the Bots!" Dell Conagher coughed as he hauled Pyro back on his feet, the Lvl. 3 Sentry behind him still scanning the area and occasionally firing a few rounds into the thicket of smoke and ash at an unknown enemy.
"WAVE COMPLETE! But they'll be back, head to an upgrade station!"
The Announcer? Pyro had never heard her say THAT before. "Muphmrr mamurr? Hudda?"
"Oh right, y'all have been gone. I'll fill ya' in on the way to the Upgrade Station, I sent Spy and Demo on ahead."
"That's right, Princess; the Hive was completely burned down when we got there. We assumed that they had tried to remove any traces of themselves and what they were planning, but after what you told us, it's pretty safe to say that…'Pyro', was it? Was the cause of the fire." Spitfire concluded her report with a salute. She shifted her weight, her blue and yellow Wonderbolt flight suit squeaking slightly as she did so.
"I see, thank you for arriving so quickly, Spitfire. Please gather the rest of your team and make sure that all of the Changelings have been accounted for."
"Of course, Princess."
"WHAT!? My beautiful Hive, what happened!? How did that human dragon get into the Hive in the first place!?" Chrysalis screamed from the side of the room where she, and the rest of the Changelings, had been imprisoned by a large cage that hadn't seen the light of day in well over twelve hundred or so years.
"Well…" started Mockery. "We found that ring in the Hive, and thought that we should try summoning the creature the book spoke of…"
"Ditto and Carbon Copy were in on it too!"
"Don't drag us into your mess!"
"You helped! And beside, how was I supposed to know that...that thing would jump out and set fire to everything?"
Chrysalis. Was. LIVID. She could feel the veins in her forehead pulsing as they seemed to painfully pump her now boiling blood. She roared and pounced on her dim-witted underlings, and thanks to the wonders of the ancient containment device, she was able reach each and every one of her failed warriors to distribute a sound thumping.
Celestia felt a tug on her mane, she turned to see the familiar face of her sapphire sister, her eyes still pointed in the direction of the rattling cage fight. "While they're occupied with one another's company, shouldn't YOU be getting ready for a speech, dear sister?"
The solar deity groaned. "Lulu, do I HAVE to?" The younger Goddess nodded. "You're right, there's really no point in hiding it anymore…"
"…and that is why I stand before you today citizens of Canterlot, citizens of Equestria, humbled by my transgressions. You must understand, I only did what I did for you. I wasn't able to accurately judge how the effects of having something such as a human pyromancer doing battle with an undead human warlock that had…managed to corrupt my sister and I into do his bidding. However, after the recent events, we feel as if though it is for the best that you are all able to retain and reflect upon this knowledge. Furthermore, I have removed the original spell, and those of you who were witness to last year's Nightmare Night shall begin to slowly remember all that transpired little by little as to not overwhelm you. I am deeply sorry, and I hope that you can find it in your hearts to forgive me." Princess Celestia exhaled as she looked out across the multi-colored sea of ponies that had gathered to hear the important message their Princess had to say.
The masses were silent at first, digesting what their faulty deity had just told them, some of the mares and stallions gathered in the devastated courtyard perked up as the memories of that awful night washed over them, and they began telling those standing around them what they had seen. Celestia grew nervous as no pony had said anything back to her despite the growing chatter, after a few tense moments the murmurs ceased; and were replaced by thunderous stamping of hooves and cheers for the Sun Goddess. Celestia wiped a tear from her ivory cheek.
"Thank you all for your understanding! As a token of good faith, taxes shall be reduced for everypony!" The stamping grew louder as a few pegasi launched high above the crowd and looped around in the sky. Celestia gave a final wave as she disappeared back inside the castle where her dark blue sister was waiting for her and have her big sis a hug for doing such a good job.
"You know, the tax collectors are not going to be happy about what you said, Celly."
"Oh, I'm sure they'll find some other way to torture my little ponies," Celestia joked as she and Luna both giggled. "I'm just glad that all of this Chrysalis business is over and done with."
The Moon Goddess smiled. "As am I. Shining Armor said he would have all of those vile creatures locked away for good as soon as he could. How do you think Twilight Sparkle is handling the whole situation?"
"It's not her I'm worried about."
"Oh, Sweetie Belle! I'm so glad you're alright…oh, my, we really MUST get you into a bath once we're home so I can try to get that awful cocoon goo out of your coat." Rarity flicked some of the slime from her hoof after breaking the embrace around her sister.
"Ah'm glad you came to rescue us just like the time Pyro saved us from from that fire in Lyra's house," Apple Bloom said as she rested her tired head against Applejack's shoulder.
"Hey, you remember that too! I told everypony I wasn't crazy!" the small orange pegasus exclaimed as she bounced high off her seat and landed with an audible *poomf*.
"'Fire at Lyra's'? There was a FIRE at Lyra's? YOU were in a FIRE at Lyra's!?" Rarity shrieked. All large eyes darted over to the mint-green unicorn mare that was laying on her train bunk with a large, studded shield resting just underneath. She looked lazily up at them with a smile, she then stopped starring off into space when her own set of massive yellow eyes took in the looks she was getting from the nine other mares in the train car.
"Huh? Oh! That. It wasn't so much an actual 'fire' as it was an equipment malfunction. One that was caused when three little fillies went digging into things they shouldn't and tried to use a powerful weapon of war as a boat." Lyra smiled as the focus shifted away from her and back towards the increasingly guilty-looking Cutie Mark Crusaders.
Lyra smiled as she watched the CMC try and explain themselves to their older sisters/Rainbow Dash. She wasn't smiling because she enjoyed watching the young ponies trying to avoid trouble, she was smiling because her friend's memory had finally been restored, which meant that now no pony would call her crazy for talking about humans! Too bad there weren't any actual humans to actually talk to.
"Go easy on them, girls, we've all been through a lot," Twilight called back to the aid of the trouble-making trio as she walked over to Lyra, her hooves clacking on the train's hardwood floor. "Speaking of going through a lot, how are you holding up, Lyra?" the brainy unicorn asked thoughtfully as she sat down next to her. "It must be nice having your shield back."
"It is, it REALLY is…*sigh*, I just wish this wasn't the only thing I had to remember them by." Everything lurched forward slightly as the train pulled into the station in Ponyville. As the doors opened the ponies that had come from Canterlot after being abducted for one reason or another quickly ran out into the streets and off towards their respective houses. The Mane Six and company were the last ones to exit onto the platform as the clock that hung above the station chimed noon.
"Well, actually, about that," Twilight's purple magic aura wrapped around her heavier-than-when-she-left saddlebags as she undid the latch…and was tackled to the ground by a sobbing baby dragon.
"TWI-I-I-ILIGHT! I can't find Lyra ANYWHERE! I-I-I went to Bon Bon's house, and she wasn't there! So I made these posters, an-" Twilight had already tuned the crying Spike out as a black and white poster blew past with Lyra's smiling face printed on it below large bold letters that read; "LOST! IF FOUND, PLEASE CONTACT SPIKE THE DRAGON AT GOLDEN OAKS LIBRARY!" She rolled her eyes as Spike continued to list his numerous (and increasingly costly) methods for locating the human-obsessed harpist.
Twilight levitated her panicking assistant onto her back and gave him a kiss on his forehead. He wiped the last of his dragon tears from his red eyes, and with his overly complicated task behind him, passed out on the spot.
"Oh, Spike. You can't work yourself that hard," Twilight said softly to the snoring mythical lizard as he curled up. "Oh, Lyra before I forget. I found this back at in Canterlot." Twilight once again opened her saddlebags embroidered with her Cutie Mark and produced a gift with yellow wrapping paper tied up with red ribbon and a tag that read "To: Lyra. From: Pyro". Lyra's eyes grew wide with wonder, but before she could ask the Element of Magic how or why, she was gone.
Lyra delicately balanced the colorful present from another dimension on her battle scared shield which bobbed from side to side as she trotted back to her inviting home, occasionally stepping on a poster with her likeness on it. She stopped to examine one of them; she saw her smiling face looking back at her, at least Spike had used a decent picture (good thing she had destroyed all remaining evidence of that one Hearts Warming Eve…she was still convinced that some of that eggnog had permanently bonded to her coat).
The longer she looked down at the black and white unicorn the more alien it became. She flashed back to a few days ago when she had become something she had never thought possible; an actual, human, girl. She had never taken that thought off the back burner and now it was starting to drive her mad. No! She couldn't dwell on it, no matter how much she wanted that reality to be, she could not sell her soul to the leather-bound devil. Not again.
Lyra opened the door to her little home on the outskirts of town, the wind that swept through the now crowed streets blew into her living room as she flicked on the lights to reveal just how reckless Demoman had been when he broke in. The tired harpist sighed, not overly concerned with how messy her house was as much as how loudly her comfy, warm bed was calling her. With its familiar sheets, soft pillows-
"Oh…it's just the Splendid Screen, oh good…" Lyra reassured herself, wiping some sweat from her brow while using her other hoof to maintain an iron grip on the ceiling fan she was now wrapped around. "Stupid, sudden, loud noises. Oh! The gift." Lyra swung from side to side and landing squarely on her couch below…only to bounce off it and land with a thud on the other side. "Owww…glad nopony saw that…
Canterlot was always the most beautiful at night. The way the soft moonlight washed over the white and gold fortress city could hardly be described with mere words.
Celestia had tried. During Nightmare Moon's exile, Princess Celestia had always felt envious when she came out to the balcony in the evening, ironically enough. One of the first things she had done when Luna had been cleansed was take her out on that very same perch high above the city to show her just how beautiful her nights were, and thanks to advances in technology, electric lights allowed ponies to be out later and fully enjoy the night the same as the day. Truly, these peaceful nights were- *FWOOSH* -almost always interrupted by mail.
The ancient alicorn sighed, closing the curtains with her magic and trotting over to her large desk where a scroll sat waiting for her. The scroll didn't have Twilight's seal, but it had been sent by dragon's fire. Curious, she opened it and it read:
Dear Princess Celestia:
Today I learned that friendship can be just as strong with somepony you know that's far away as much as with somepony who lives next door. Even though those two friends might not see each other for long periods of time, or even get the chance to talk, they can still cherish the bond that they share in hopes that they can one day see each other again.
Sometimes those friends have to make special trips, whether that's across the sea, past mountains, over fields and plains, or something much further. If it means being able to see one another, even for a moment, then that makes whatever costs all worth while just knowing that that special somepony is doing well.
Today, I learned that friendship is the most powerful magic there is, one that keeps me going everyday in hopes I can come visit again soon.
Your flammable friend;
"What…are these?" Lyra asked nopony in particular, hoping the nonexistent entity might have some insight as she had none. After laying on her back for a few moments trying to recover from her embarrassing fall, Lyra Heartstings had finally gotten off the floor and shuffled over to the mysterious gift Pyro had left her, only to find an even more confusing item within; a pair of goggles with round, light blue lenses connected by a large piece of rubber, with white letters printed across the front that read "Optical Mask", and straps with a buckle off to either side.
The mint-green mare turned the strange cosmetic item over and over. First with her hooves, and then with magic, then with her hooves again (which was silly because she had much more dexterity with her mentally controlled magic emanating from her spiraling horn).
"Here goes nothing…" she loosened the straps and lifted the goggles over her eyes, then tightening them all with her yellow aura. 'Wow, they fit like a horseshoe, almost like they were…made for me.' Lyra kept her eyes closed, due to the fact that the eye covers were extremely snug and she didn't want to accidentally blind herself like she had seen Twilight do when attempting a Pinkie Promise.
When she opened her bright yellow eyes, she was met with quite the surprise.
The world she saw was incredible; large puffy pink clouds and giant lollipops she was sure were edible. She looked to the left and then to the right, but it seemed she was the only pony in sight, and that began to fill her with fright.
"Hello, is anypony there? Anypony at all; a stallion, a colt, a filly, a mare?" Her words echoed over the rolling hills and colorful trees but the only response came from the breeze, that whipped across the sky and chilled her knees. Lyra was confused more than scared, she had been in worse binds, and hardly cared. "I wonder where I am," the mare said alone, "I wish I had somepony to help me find my way home."
"How about me? Would I be alright?" a mysterious voice said from just out of sight. "I must warn you my my schedule is tight, but for you I can make an exception, just for the night."
"Night? Alright enough fun, if I look up I'm blinded by the sun. So unless the moon has grown brighter than before; you're lying to me, no less and no more." The unicorn tapped her hoof against the pastel grass, flicking her tail with much annoyed sass. "I've had enough," she shouted stamping the ground. "I'm not going to stop until you are found!"
"Alright, I suppose I have no other choice. I'm behind this tree, just follow my voice." Lyra took a hop, a skip, and a jump, but landed wrong and fell hard on her rump. As she got her hooves and rubbed her bruised flank, her heart arose from her belly it had once sank.
There by the tree was a familiar sight; a RED jumpsuit, so brilliant and bright. While the yellow-tipped gloves and mask were the same, there were a few items Lyra just couldn't name; like the gold orchestrina that rested on his back or the three little bongos that covered his rack. Where once was a flamethrower that had been the Spy's scorn, had become a bundle of three giant brass horns. His ax was gone too, the one with the red head on top, it had been replaced by a big lollipop.
"Pyro!" she screamed overfilled with joy, she hugged her good friend, no need to be coy! Pyro squeezed back and looked her dead on, before uttering:
"What took you so long?"
The harpist was about to reply when the twinkle of thought shown bright in her eye. What she had heard her mind tried not to block, which still begs the question, "Pyro, you TALK!?"
"That's hurts. Of course I can talk, just as easy as you and I can walk." He demonstrated by running around, all the while his bongos made a *thunk-a thunk* sound. "You gotta believe me, know I'm not lyin', all those 'huddahs' and 'murrphs' have been me tryin'! It's easier here, talking with those that I please, this world I created puts my tired mind at ease."
"Wait, YOU made this place!? Are you a god or some higher race?"
Pyro laughed. "No, this is a mental projection, one of the place I made for my own protection. You see, in the world from which I come, most of its residents are violent and dumb. I was but a child when the world turned mean, seemed like violence was the only thing to be seen. So I did what any child would do in my situation; I escaped into my own imagination! Pain became laughter, weapons were candy! War wasn't something to fear, it was just dandy! But the best of all," he said bending down low, "fires were replaced with a bright shiny rainbow!"
"Then what do you see when villains arrive on the scene? Or are they just masked by something happy and pristine?"
Pyro sighed, a little deflated, fooled into a trap Lyra had unwittingly baited. "I've learned that make-believe is fun most of the time, but it can't cover over every crime. I can switch back and forth between Pyroland and reality, that skill has saved me from more than one fatality. When you asked if I was a god…I am immortal in a way; dying and respawning day after day. It can maddening if on that thought one chooses to dwell; being unable to die? It's a perpetual hell! So I made these Pyrovison Goggles for the rest of my team to break down reality as if it were a dream."
Pyro snapped his fingers and jumped to his feet, "Wait 'til you this, it's a real treat. Balloonicorn!" Pyro yelled almost as if he were mentioning a pest. "Get your drunken-ass out here, we have a guest!"
From on yonder hill Lyra did see, two little specks flying so careless and free. They flew over to Pyro and rested on his shoulders, like two colorful air-filled boulders. "Balloonicorn and Reindoonicorn from left to right, I can see by your face that they're quite a sight. Balloonicorn is the Mayor of Pyroland when I'm not around (unfortunately the job's not fun as it sounds). To my right is Reindoonicorn, the new kid in town, he arrived around Smissmiss, the festive lil' clown. This is Lyra," Pyro said pointing to the mare, "she's a dear friend of mine, treat her with care. They don't talk, but they understood. To go against my will is to be banished for good.
"That's alright, totally fine. I just have one question; do we always have to rhyme?"
"The world likes to rhyme all the words it can, whether it be 'door', 'ship', 'bankrupt' or 'cyan'."
"Orange," Lyra said with a smile.
"It'll find something, just wait a while."
"Pyro, this is amazing, I never want to go. Living in here is like being in a quality TV show!" Pyro rested a hand on her green head, and the sudden shift in tone filled her with dread. "I can't stay, can I? It's too good to be true, I guess now I'll have to give the goggles back to you."
Pyro stroked her mane and got down on one knee. "I gave you those so you can always be with me. We can't meet together everyday, as the call to battle will whisk me away. But with these goggles and my two faithful balloons, I guarantee we'll do this again soon." He stood to leave but stopped as something was amiss. "You almost forgot this." From his back pocket he produced a ring, a gold band that made Lyra so happy she could sing.
She thought she had lost it when the Changelings stole it away! Pyro must've retrieved it on that faithful day. "Thank you thank you! From me it shall never be torn," she stated happily as it slid over her horn.
"Okay, Lyra, I know this seems mean and abrupt, but take off the goggles…
"…it's time to wake up! Hello? Lyyyyyra?" Lyra bolted upright and looked around her still messy house. Had she been dreaming this whole time? Did she really go to Pyroland or was that all just-
*Knock knock knock*
"Shoot, coming!" Lyra threw off her comfy sheets and yawned, magically grabbing a brush from her bathroom as she trotted down stairs. After glancing at a mirror to make sure her mane was acceptable, she opened front door. "Good mor-"
"HIYA LYRA! I'VE GOT SOME MAIL FOR YOU!" Derpy said with a big smile that could usually be found on her happy face. Lyra unfolded her ears from the side of her head and tried her best to summon up a convincing smile that early in the morning. "Sorry to bother you, but your mailbox was full of Hearts and Hooves Day cards so I had to bring this package to you personally. I think it's chocolates!"
The apparently popular pony pushed the mailmare aside to see just that; her mailbox nearly overflowing with cards. "Oh, wow…I wonder who they're all from? Oh NO! I forgot to make any for anypony else!"
The cross-eyed pegasus had a lightbulb light up above her head as Lyra's porch light flickered on. "Stupid thing on the fritz again, really?"
"I think some of the stores are still selling that stuff! If you hurry and make them up quick, I can help you deliver them!"
"Really!? Thanks, Derpy! C'mon, no time to lose!" With that, the two mares raced out into town as the weather team was just starting to sweep away the morning fog.
"Nice ring, Lyra. It's really pretty."
"R-Ring?" Lyra ran by a shop and looked into it's reflective glass, this time paying more attention to her horn than her still untidy mane. There, just above a sign that read "50% off all baked goods!" was that shimmering gold band with a diamond resting on top. "Yeah, a friend gave it to me."
"I never thought this castle was so big on the inside, all of these rooms and passages, it's a wonder you two don't still get lost in here," Copper Head said as he, Shining Armor, and Princess Cadance walked casually along the corridor that lead outside of the Crystal Castle.
"I guess living here for some odd moths does give Princess Cadance and I an advantage, huh? I'm glad you're enjoying the tour, it's the least Princess Celestia could do for somepony who was abducted by Changelings and imprisoned for so long," Shining said to the stallion who was trying (and failing) to remain calm in the presence of both Prince Shining Armor and Princess Cadance.
"N-No problem, y-your lordship. It really wasn't so bad, it only took three, four showers tops to get that gunk out of my coat. I have to admit, I thought somepony was pranking my when I got a letter saying that you wanted me to come tour parts of THE Crystal Castle, but after Twilight approved the Royal Seal as genuine (and after I regained consciousness) I was so honored, thank you again."
The happily married couple smiled. "Oh dear. Shining, Night Court will be getting underway soon. We should be off." Cadance winked at the white and orange unicorn as she trotted to the hall and out of sight. Twilight's older brother looked over at the oversized colt who was trying his best to contain himself but only managed to turn lobster-red all over his body.
"You alright there, soldier?"
"FINE! I'm goooood. It's all god- I mean 'good'. Good, hehehe…" Now the copper-maned stallion was turning red at just how amazingly stupid he was.
"Well, as much as I would like to continue our tour, I am needed elsewhere. Keep up the good work, soldier." Shining said with a salute.
It took Copper Head a second to process what he was doing before quickly smacking himself in the forehead with his hoof with a rapid salute of his own. "Thank you again, Prince Armor." Copper Head remained in the saluting pose until Shining poked his head back around.
"*GASP* Thank you, sir." With his ordeal over, Copper Head took one last look at the awe-inspiring Crystal Empire before plopping himself down outside the train station.
He looked around at the lush mountains that had once been covered for a thousands years of snow as a pleasant breeze blew through his mane and tail. Lots of birds were out flying today, it was rare to see them all flying off in one direction like that.
The large stallion's emerald eyes scanned the area, ever since he had been captured by Changelings that one night he couldn't remember which hotel room was his back in Dodge City and just opted to sleep on the bench outside had made him very attentive for things that seemed out of place, and birds all flying AWAY from somewhere that wasn't during a migration wasn't normal.
That was when he noticed the shooting star that crashed off in the mountains.
He galloped as fast as he could from the station back towards the Castle. As Copper Head pushed his way through the streets of crystal ponies, he spoted the entrance he had gone in and out of along with the two identical guards standing on either side.
"So I told him, just because Discord is a good guy now doesn't mean he's not still gonna do weird stuff to your sour cream bowl when you go in for a chip-dip," the first guard said.
"Oh yeah? What'd he do to it?" the second asked far more invested in the potentially bogus story his equally bored comrade was spinning for their enjoyment.
"He turned into shaving cream! He then takes a chip and starts to trim some of the hairs on his chin before he- HEY! You can't go in there! HALT!"
The off-white unicorn ignored the guards, now in hot pursuit, as he raced to find either Shining Armor or Princess Cadance. As luck would have it, he managed to spot Cadance sneaking out of the kitchen with a tart hovering above her in her magic. She opened her mouth to let the little tart slide down her pink throat when a ruckus caught her attention and made her accidentally drop her precious pre-court snack.
Annoyed, the pink alicorn walked menacingly over towards the pile up that had occurred when a certain somepony had stopped in their tracks while another two someponies were still racing after the first at top speed.
"What is the meaning of this? Explain yourselves." Cadance's voice, thanks to years upon years of foalsitting, pieced the very essence of the three stallions with a sense of dread and impending timeouts.
the two gold-clad guards shot to their hooves and pointed at the still disoriented Copper Head. "He started it!" they accused in unison.
Cadance raised an eyebrow. "What are you doing here barging in like this? Wasn't one tour enough?"
"No, Princess, the tour was more than I could have asked for," the white unicorn said as he stood. "That's not why I'm here though."
"Oh, then why are you here?"
"Something from space crashed off in the mountains! It had to have been larger than a pony and it was moving!"
"*BEEP BOOP* TELEPORTER REQUIRES MAINTENANCE. TRAJECTORY WAS OFF BY 8.7 MILES DUE NORTH. SOLUTION: SMELT THE FAULTY ROBOT AND USE RECYCLED METAL FOR <SENTENCE INTERRUPTED> LOCATION UNKNOWN. REQUESTING COORDINATES. <DOT DOT DOT> RUNNING SYSTEMS CHECK. COMMUNICATION MODUEL FUNCTIONING AT 100%. CONNECTION TO BASE LOST. SCANNING FOR GRAY MANN CO. ROBOTS. THIS UNIT IS THE ONLY UNIT WITHIN A 400 MILE RADIUS. OPTIONS:
1.) HAIL THE MAKER.
3.) SCAN AREA FOR MANN CO. MERCENARIES.
<OPTION 3. SELECTED.>
SCAN CONCLUDED. NO TRACES OF R.E.D. OR B.L.U. STRANGE, SCANNING FOR OTHER LIFE. OTHER LIFEFORMS DETECTED. SPECIES: EQUESTRIAN. THREAT LEVEL: LOW. ATTEMPTING TO REACH LARGE CRYSTAL STRUCTURE TO AMPLIFY SIGNAL.
<OPTION 1 AUTO SELECTED>
ALL HAIL THE MAKER. "