A crossover written by NotARealPony.com
Based on the Christopher Nolan Film "The Dark Knight Rises"
In turn based upon characters appearing in comic books published by DC Comics
Batman created by Bob Kane; Batmare created by --------
"Soarin' was needed. He was everything that Ponyville has been crying out for."
Police Commissioner Twilight Sparkle stood before a podium in front of the Town Hall where the late district attorney and former Wonderbolt, supposedly martyred in the line of duty, had once fought for justice by prosecuting the city's powerful underworld kingpins. Somber dignities, including the Mayor and other Wonderbolts, were on hand to honor his memory. A black funeral wreath framed a large color portrait of a handsome stallion with a wavy dark blue mane, a lighter blue coat, and a winning smile. Next to him in the picture was what anypony could merely take to be an apple pie. It was one of his trademarks to have one nearby at all times, and seeing it in the picture lightened the mood if only the tiniest bit so. Soarin' looked every bit a champion of justice in the photo, but Twilight had seen his other face. Quite literally. The commissioner hesitated briefly, before continuing.
"He was...a hero. Not the one that we deserved. No, Soarin' was the hero that we needed. Nothing less than a white knight, shining even brighter than, dare I say it, my own brother, Captain of the Royal Guard. And always, he shone even in Ponyville's darkest hours. But I knew Soarin'. I was...his friend. And I know that it will be a long time before somepony inspires us the way that he did." Twilight shuffled her notes together, anxious to finish her speech and get down from the podium as soon as possible.
"I believed in Soarin'."
The words caught in her throat. She prayed that the ponies gathered in front of her would think that she was simply overcome with emotion. Celestia help them if they could guess what was really going through her mind. That was a secret, she thought, one that she shared only with one other mare, a mare who had sacrificed her own legend to ensure that Soarin's would be preserved. She was a mare whose face Twilight Sparkle had never seen. Ponyville's true dark knight.
As she stepped down from the stage she'd spoken from, Twilight looked out once more at the crowd that was now stamping it's hooves in applause for her. Is she watching us? she wondered, her eyes scanning the crowd. Where is he now?
And will Ponyville ever see her again?
SOMEWHERE IN EASTERN EQUESTRIA...
A land cruiser sped over a rugged mountain road, past dry, brown slopes that were void of any habitation, pony or otherwise. Small patches of dirt-brown scrub dotted the barren hills of the Badlands. The cruiser had the road all to itself as it raced to make its rendezvous before the sun went down. It bounced over the rough terrain beneath a gloomy, overcast sky that was almost the same color as the hills. The place was unnaturally bad, as the name suggested, and a keening wind whipped through the desolate peaks and canyons as the cruiser made haste.
Not a good omen, thought Doctor Time Turner Whooves as he sped along in the cruiser. The middle-aged earth pony sat tensely in the middle of the vehicle, flanked by grim-faced colts armed with automatic weapons. Bringing the big stuff out, huh? he thought, staring down the barrel of one such item. Doesn't matter. They wouldn't help much. Not against him. More soldiers guarded the prisoners in the rear of the cruiser: three silent figures with hoods over their heads, whose clearly visible claws and scaled limbs made it clear that they were dragons. They sat rigidly, said hands cuffed, under the watchful gaze of the guards.
Whooves squirmed uncomfortably, feeling more like a prisoner than a passenger. He rubbed his hooves through his unruly brown hair, which was steadily accumulating a number of graying ones. Sweat glued some of it to his forehead, and his light brown coat glistened in the mid-morning sun. Am I doing the right thing? he fretted, glancing rapidly between the road, the guards, and the dragons at the rear of the cruiser. What if I'm making a terrible mistake?
Other sounds began to be heard. Just as the Doctor had convinced himself that he should never have accepted the offer of those damned Canterlot Princesses, the cruiser arrived at its destination--a remote airstrip overlooking a war-torn city. Or, at least, what had used to be a city. No doubt those monsters destroyed it, Whooves thought, and silently wondered if he was talking about the dragons in back, or the ponies surrounding the four of them. Artillery fired somewhere in the distance, and the noise shook the Doctor's bones. Sirens were blaring somewhere else. The sound of the conflict, which had been going on for months now, reminded Whooves of why he had been so eager to flee the province he was in for a safer, ore civilized location. This was no place for a stallion of his intellect--not anymore.
The cruiser finally squealed to a stop, and the guards hustled him and the hooded figures out of the truck. An unmarked jet airplane waited on the runway, along with a small "reception committee" consisting of a bland-looking colt in a suit and a small escort of armed guards. Although the plane had no identifying uniforms or insignia, Whooves assumed they were from the Canterlot Royal Guard, perhaps even from the Princesses' own Special Forces. The Doctor did not care at the moment what they were, only what they represented: the leading agency in Equestria, specializing in sabotage, reconnaissance, assassination (that one gave him chills), and especially... extractions. That one, he hoped, was what they were best at. He wanted them to keep him safe, especially after his recent narrow escape.
The guard who had been driving the cruiser shoved him forward abruptly, bringing him face-to-face with the colt in the suit.
"Doctor Time Turner?" The colt smiled and held out his hoof. "I'm EIA." He did not offer his name, and even if he did, Whooves would not have believed him.
"Just the Doctor."
The colt kept smiling. "Yes, of course." He turned to another guard, who held a suitcase in his teeth. He took it and gave it to the driver of the land cruiser, who accepted it eagerly. The briefcase contained more than enough money to make the driver's risky job worth while. Setting the case down, he gestured behind him.
"He wasn't alone," the driver announced.
The EIA colt spotted the hooded dragons kneeling beside the cruiser and frowned. He turned back to Whooves.
"You cant bring any friends."
"They are not my friends!" the Doctor rebutted. Indeed, he wanted nothing more than to get as far away from all of this and see his true friends again. He was especially worried about the hooded drakes. Looking around at the guards at the scene, he thought to himself, You have no idea what they're capable of doing!
"Don't worry," the driver told the EIA agent. "No charge for them."
The agent studied the dragons for a moment, looking doubtful.
"Why would I want them?"
At this, the driver smiled. "They were trying to grab your prize." He pounded Whooves on the back, his smile changing into a smirk. "They work for the mercenary. The masked drake."
A look of excitement crossed the EIA colt's nondescript, uninteresting features. He gave the prisoners a closer look, still a little unsure.
The driver nodded. Doctor Whooves gulped.
"Get 'em on board," the agent ordered, swiftly revising his original plans. Clearly this was an opportunity he wasn't going to pass up. He extracted a cell phone from his jacket. "I'll call them in."
Whooves swallowed again, hard. He was not enjoying the way this was turning out. He shuddered at the memory of the attempted kidnapping, and at the very name of his attackers' infamous commander. Spike had become synonymous with atrocities, at least in the parts of the world he now hoped he was finally escaping from. The most frightening fact about the mercenary was that, according to draconian standards, he could still be considered a baby dragon. He knew the dragons that were bound to be coming on the plane with him were also young, nowhere near the size they would grow up to be, but he was sure that they were older than their leader. And the legends that surrounded Spike's beginnings...
Celestia, a baby that has performed atrocities unimaginable to everyday city ponies. And now we're bringing some of his lackeys with us to Canterlot. Again, he gulped.
Given the choice, Whooves would have left Spike's followers far behind them.
Within minutes, they were in the air, flying low over the remote Macintosh Hills in an attempt to avoid detection. Special Agent Con Mane checked on Doctor Whooves, who was safely tucked into a passenger seat, before turning his attention to the three hooded drakes still kneeling at the back of the plane. Though his cool exterior showed no sign of it, Con Mane felt as though Hearths Warming had come early for him this year. Finally, he thought, after months of trying to get some reliable intel on Spike, these three bozos practically hop into the plane with me! To date, the notorious drake had defied the Agency's best effort's to neutralize or even co-opt him. They didn't even know what he looked like beneath the grotesque mask he wore twenty-four-seven. The dragon was a mystery--with an unsettlingly high body count.
Forget Whooves, Con Mane though. If I get the 411 on Spike, I'll be getting quite the recommendation on my files. There might even be a promotion waiting for me when I get back. Maybe a post up in Manehatten or Vanhoover.
The hooded figures knelt by the cargo door of the plane, their wrists still cuffed behind them. Their wings had been tied up as well, for good measure. Don't want them flying off when I need 'em. Royal Guard commandoes stood guard over the prisoners. Wilson grabbed the first captive, a pearly white drake with light pink spines running down his back.
"What do you think you're doing in the middle of my operation?" he demanded.
The prisoner said nothing. Con Mane assumed it was the gunk they had to shove down these things' throats to keep them from breathing fire. Of course, that didn't mean they couldn't talk.
Fine, Con Mane thought. We'll do it your way. He hadn't expected the drake to crack without a little persuasion, and in truth, he had been anticipating this next part. The colt drew a semiautomatic pistol from inside his suit and pressed the barrel against the pale dragon's hooded head. The prisoner flinched, but remained silent. Con Mane decided to up the ante a bit. He drew he prisoner over to the cargo door, and raised his voice so that the other prisoners could hear him even through their hoods.
"The flight plan I just filed with the Royal Guard lists me, my men, and Doctor Whooves here. But I only listed one of you."
Now he threw the cargo door open. Cold air invaded the cabin as the wind outside howled past like timberwolves howling at the moon. Con Mane grabbed onto a strap to anchor himself. He nodded at the guards, who grabbed the drake he'd pulled over and forced his head out the cargo door. The wind tore at the areas of his wings that were not completely tied down, threatening to pull him out of the guards' grip. Seeing this, they held those parts down so that they would not drag them all out. Below them, the barren stretches of the Badlands waited.
"First one to talk gets to stay on my aircraft!" Con Mane shouted, loud enough to be heard over the roar of the wind. He cocked his weapon next to the drake's head, hoping to intimidate him into talking. "So...who paid you to snatch the Good Doctor, huh?"
The drakes remained silent. Spike's goons were loyal, he could give them that. Time to push a little harder.
Alright. Time for a little illusion...
He fired the weapon out the door, the sharp BANG! of the gun blasting through the howling winds. The Royal Guards pulled the prisoner back into the plane, and clubbed him roughly over the head with the hilt of their swords before he could make a sound. In theory, Con Mane hoped, the other prisoners would think their comrade dead and thrown overboard.
Maybe then they'd be more easy-going about giving him what he wanted.
"He didn't fly so good for a guy with wings," Con Mane bluffed. "Who wants to try next?"
The Royal Guards shifted over to the next dragon, a burly crimson drake with torn yellow wings and matching spines, and pulled him over to the cargo door as well. They hung the prisoner out of the door, high above the mountains. The drop was enough to make even a dragon pray to Celestia as they fell. And he would fall, should they decide to throw him out. His torn up wings ensured that.
"Tell me about Spike!" Con Mane demanded. "Why does he wear the mask?"
No answer, save for the roaring winds and the purring engines.
Now frustrated, Con Mane placed his gun against the second drake's head. He was getting fed up with their silences. Did they really think he was just joking around here? Though, with them being younger dragons, he would expect them to. Stupid lizards don't even realize how powerful the Equestrians are. He cocked his gun again, but still...nothing. This one didn't even flinch.
"Lot of loyalty for a hired gun!"
"Or," a new voice interrupted, "maybe he's wondering why someone would shoot a drake who can't fly before throwing him out of an airplane."
The muffled voice came from the third dragon, who appeared smaller, but better built than the other two. Muscles bulged beneath the black leather jacket and weathered fatigues he was wearing (Con Mane had seen earlier that this one was the only dragon wearing some form of clothing). He had the build of bodyguard, or perhaps a bouncer, and he held his head high despite the hood. Con Mane shivered when he looked at the third drake's purple scales and emerald spines. He didn't know why he did.
Giving up on the second prisoner, Con Mane had the guards haul the useless sack of scales back into the plane, and then slammed the cargo door shut to keep out the howling winds, making it easier to hear the drake talk. Now, he thought, now they were going to get some answers.
"A wise guy, huh?" He examined the third captive more closely, and grinned. "Well, if you think that's funny, how 'bout I toss over a dragon who ain't got wings at all?" He tapped the purple drake's back, where twin wings were supposed to be sprouting from his spine.
"If what I've heard is correct, then you'll have thrown all three of us overboard," replied the third drake. "Unless, of course, you were bluffing, and they're still on the plane."
Con Mane circled back to face the drake (or at least his hood). The voice coming from underneath the hood, though muffled by it, sounded slightly amplified, as though he were speaking into a turned-down megaphone. He leaned in close to the captive and said, "Well, at least you can talk. Who are you?"
"We are nothing," the drake replied. "We are the dirt beneath your feet. And no cared who I was, before I put on the mask."
Whoa, Con Mane thought, caught off guard. He felt his heart begin to pound in his chest as the information just given to him processed itself in his mind. Did he just say what I think he said?
Warily, not daring to believe his own ears, he trotted over towards the prisoner. He held his breath, and yanked off the man's, exposing the exact visage that Con Mane hadn't dared believe was underneath it. It matched the images from the countless captured spy photos and combat footage exactly. It was a face--and a mask--that had burned its way into the nightmares of countless minds in the bloodier corners of the world. It was now that he realized why he'd been frightened by the prisoner's purple scales.
Bright emerald eyes shone above an intimidating dark blue mask that covered the bottom half of the dragon's face, covering his snout, mouth, and chin. The mask, made of rubber with metal components connected to it, was held there in part by a thick vertical strap that bisected the drake's brow and cranium, leaving slits in it for his spines to stick out of. Two rows of metal breathing tubes ran above and below some sort of built-in inhaler that covered the drake's mouth. To add to the image, the tubes gave the agent the vague impression that the drake was bearing his fangs. Pipes that ran along the sides and edges of the mask led to a set of miniature canisters at the back of his skull. Con Mane could hear air hissing out from the mask as the captive breathed. There was no sign of fear in the mercenary's pirecing green eyes. When he spoke, it was in a calm and reassuring tone.
"Who we are does not matter," Spike said. "What matters is our plan."
Con Mane was fascinated by the drake's elaborate headgear, which looked to him like a specialized sort of gas mask. Why had he put it there; to simply add effect, or was it really a breathing apparatus used for some sort of vital function? He gestured to it.
"If I pulled that off, would you die?"
"It would be extremely painful," Spike answered. Still calm, still without fear.
Good to know, thought Con Mane. He decided then and there he had no sympathy for the ruthless mercenary. Spike was a bad guy who deserved to suffer for his crimes. "You're a big guy, for a baby."
"For you," Spike corrected.
A chill ran down Con Mane's spine, but he brushed it off, too busy to let it show. He knew he had to remain in control of the situation if he wanted answers.
"Was being caught a part of your plan?"
"Of course," Spike said. "The Doctor refused our offer, in favor of yours. We had to know what he told you about us."
"Nothing!" the Doctor shouted from his seat. To Con Mane's surprise, he looked absolutely terrified to be in Spike's presence, even though the drake was safely in custody. From what I've heard about his guy, he's supposed to be fearless, Con Mane thought. What makes this little lizard so damn frightening? The Doctor's eyes were wide with terror. He called out frantically, as though he were pleading for his life. "I said nothing!"
Con Mane ignored the Doctor's pleading.
"Why not just ask him?" he said, nodding his head in the Doctor's direction.
"He would not have told us."
"You have methods, I'm sure," Con Mane said.
Spike nodded. "Him, I need healthy," Spike explained. "You present no such problems."
The dragon's utter confidence was unnerving. Con Mane laughed, mostly as a way to try and get his heart to stop beating so fast, then glanced up as a deep bass tone rumbled somewhere above them. The pilot was playing any DJ-P0N3, was he? No, the unexpected sound was playing from outside the cabin, competing with the sound of the engines.
Thunder? Wrong again; the weather report hadn't called for any thunder over the Badlands.
Outside, a massive transport plane, many times larger than the small turbojet aircraft, descended from above. Its dull gray hull gave no indication of loyalties as it drew dangerously close to the smaller plane. A ramp opened on it, and four other dragons flew out of it towards the turbojet. Two of them landed on each side of the plane. Each of them was armed ready.
The rumbling grew louder and louder. Turbulance rattled the plane, and it lurched suddenly to one side. Con Mane struggled to keep his balance. He exchanged a puzzled and aggravated look with the leader of the Royal Guard group. The soldier peered out one of the small windows and squinted into the fading sunlight.
Con Mane didn't know what was going on, but he wasn't going to show it. He still had an interrogation to finish, and a masked mercenary to finish off.
"Well, congratulations," he taunted Spike. "What's the next step of your brilliant plan?"
"Crashing this plane." Spike rose slowly to his feet. "With no survivors."
As if on cue, an armed dragon appeared outside the window the Royal Guard had been looking through. The dragon didn't give the guard enough time to react, and promptly shattered the window (and the left side of the guard's face) with a round of bullets. Another dragon began firing from outside the plane, and Royal Guards dropped left and right. Glass from the windows shattered and landed at Con Mane's hooves. Blood and chaos worthy of Discord's praise spilled throughout the cabin. Death had been an extra passenger on the flight.
No! Con Mane thought (and almost screamed). This can't be happening! I'm in charge here!
Outside the plane, the other two drakes attached sturdy steel grapples to the fuselage. Thick, industrial-strength cables connected the two aircraft as one of the dragons signaled the crew aboard the big transport. Powerful hoists activated, tugging the on the tail of the smaller plane that flew below. The tiny turbojet's tail began to pull upward, and the wings began to crumple.
The entire cabin tilted forward at an almost ninety-degree angle, throwing the Royal Guards and Con Mane towards the front of the plane, along with loose luggage and debris.
The EIA agent clutched onto a seat to keep from falling, but dead and wounded soldiers plunged through the upended cabin, plummeting past him and Doctor Whooves, who was still strapped in his seat. The Doctor was trying to process events as they progressed, but things were happening too fast.
I knew it, he thought, despairing what would come next. I shouldn't have tried to flee. There was no escape for me. Not from Spike.
Only the masked drake himself seemed to be expecting the sudden change in the plane's angle. Falling forward, he wrapped his thick legs and tail around the back of a seat and seized Con Mane's head with both hands. His wrists were still cuffed together, but that didn't stop him fro snapping the Equestrian's neck as easily as someone might slice a piece of cake for a friend.
Con Mane died afraid, far from his home and the ones he loved.
Spike then used the corpse as a weapon, dropping it onto a young guard, who was slammed into the cockpit door with a heavy thud. The soldier went limp, and the Doctor wondered whether he was dead or simply unconscious. Not that it matters, he thought. Judging by how much damage this plane is taking, I doubt he'd be alive much longer. At least he didn't have to wait for the fall. Now, though, he was worried for his own safety more than the already-gone soldier.
Spike will kill us all to get what he needs.
He propped his hooves against the back of the seat in front of him as gravity took its toll on the plane. He felt it shake violently, and realized with a new wave of horror that it was tearing apart. He felt the destructive vibrations in his spine. He was not an aeronautics engineer--well, at least, not in this sort of ship--but he knew that the plane could not withstand much more than this.
Then the right wing of the plane sheared off. The Doctor watched it separate from the rest of the plane and fall to earth, and slowly came to a realization:
This is it. We're all going to die.
Outside, the dragons at work climbed he tail of plane as the left wing came ripping off, plummeting towards the peaks below. A small cloud of smoke could be seen from where the wing hit.
The dragons paid this no mind, however. They had work to do. Pulling out explosives, they set them up around the tail of the plane. Then they flew away from the plane, flying up to get several tethers for their expected guests...
Spike snapped the handcuffs around his wrists as thought they were plastic knock-offs. Opening his legs, he fell down the length of the cabin with remarkable agility, sliding down gracefully before extending his arms to halt his descent. He stopped himself next to the Doctor's seat, and looked over at the frightened earth pony. He knew exactly what he was doing--and exactly what he wanted.
The Doctor's eyes widened with terror at the sight of the dragon.
A deafening explosion suddenly tore through the aircraft, blowing the tail off of the plane completely. Smoke filled what was left of the cabin, and Whooves saw that Spike's goons (all dragons) were gliding down into the cabin through the smoke. Several of them had cables. Whooves watched anxiously, trying to understand what was happening.
Is Spike trying to kill me, or save me?
Something large and heavy was lowered into the cabin, an the Doctor recognized it as a body bag. He was even more frightened (and, admittedly, a little relieved) to see that it was already filled. The bag was lowered into the seat next to Spike who unzipped it to reveal the body of a light brown earth pony. It took the Doctor only a moment to understand what Spike meant by it.
Sweet Celestia, that's supposed to be me!
Spike then pulled something out of one of his jacket pockets and turned to Whooves. The Doctor recognized it as a piece of surgical tubing, and his eyes widened when he saw the hollow needles sprouting from both sides of it. When Spike tore open his sleeve, he tensed, but didn't dare move. He simply shut his eyes as Spike took a strong grip on his foreleg and readied a vein the crook of it. He winced at the pain of the needle jabbing into his vein, and opened his eyes when he felt Spike loosen his grip on his foreleg.
Swiftly taping the needle into place, Spike then inserted the other end of the tube into the lifeless body in the seat next to them. Dark red blood began flowing through the tube, and the Doctor realized with horror that Spike was pumping the blood back into the lifeless body.
Doctor Time Turner Whooves had never felt sicker in his life.
After a pint or so of compressions, Spike withdrew the needle from Whooves' foreleg and gestured that he should apply pressure to the puncture to keep him from bleeding out.
As this happened, one of the dragons that had flown in drew the hoods off of the heads of the prisoners. He secured one of the harnesses on the red drake, tugged on the rope, and waved once as the crimson dragon was yanked up out of the plane to the transport above.
The second prisoner began climbing up towards the nearest cable.
Spike put a claw on the drake's chest and shook his head.
"No, brother," he said gently. "They expect one of us in the wreckage."
The white dragon nodded in understanding. Without any sign of protest, he unhooked himself from the life saving clip and fell back onto a seat, tucking his arms under his still-tied-down wings. He looked over at his leader and rested a claw on his arm. His eyes shone with the brightness of a true believer.
"Have we started it? The fire?" the drake said.
Spike squeezed his arm in return and nodded.
"Of course. The fire rises."
It was enough for the drake. He handed the line to Spike, who clipped it around the Doctor. He produced a knife that he must have taken from one of his men--or perhaps from one of the Royal Guards--and faced Whooves. For a moment, the Doctor was sure that Spike was going to slice his throat. But Spike simply leaned forward and cut the Doctor's seat belt, cutting him loose.
As gravity took its hold on him, Whooves flailed in panic and tried to find something that he could hang onto before he landed on the pile of bodies at the front of the plane.
Help me! he screamed in his mind. I'm falling...!
But he and Spike, who had let go of the seats as well, found themselves simply dangling several feet above the cockpit door and the pile of bodies blocking it. Smoke and blood filled the cabin of a plane that had been calmly sailing through the air on its way to deliver the prisoners to Canterlot, what was it, ten minutes ago? The Doctor wondered for a moment what had happened to the pilot, then decided that it didn't matter. His ears were ringing from the explosion, his hooves were dangling in the air, and what the hell was Spike pulling out of his pocket this time?
It was a small hand-held detonator, as it turned out. Whooves gulped at the sight of it. Spike looked him in the eyes.
"Calm, Doctor. Now is not the time for fear."
He checked the clips around them both once more, then looked up at the transport plane waiting for them up above.
"That comes later."
He pressed the firing button.
The explosions that released the plane from the grip of the steel grapples amplified the ringing in the Doctor's head. He yelled in fright as the cabin dropped away from him and Spike, falling down to the Macintosh Hills waiting below. Looking down at the falling cabin, Whooves was shocked to see that the white drake with pink spines that had said he would stay on the plane had indeed stayed on the plane. He was staring up at the figures of Spike and the Doctor as he grew tinier and tinier in the Doctor's vision.
What was most unnerving, however, was that he was smiling up at them.
The Doctor watched the plane fall and crash into the mountains below. He felt a dull, burning anger pushing up through him, one he'd felt on many occasions before. He knew it was pointless to express it, that it would only get him killed faster, but still, it was there.
And he decided to let it out, whether Spike liked it or not.
Doctor Time Turner Whooves, renowned doctor of "many things", screamed in both rage and terror as he was pulled up toward the waiting transport plane.
Soarin' High Day
"Soarin' High Day may not be our oldest public holiday," Mayor Mare declared, "but we're here because it's one of the most important. And," she added, grinning photogenically, "it's most certainly our cheesiest-named holiday."
Laughter, for a minute. Then the crowd quieted down, and the Mayor continued.
"Soarin's uncompromising stand against organized crime and, yes, ultimately, his sacrifice, have made Ponyville a safer place than it was at the time of his death, eight years ago." Behind her stood a large mounted photo of Soarin'.
A fashionable crowd filled the moonlit grounds of the Rainbow estate. Elegant stallions and mares, representing the cream of Ponyville society, listened politely to the Mayor's speech as they mingled and chatted amongst themselves. Bright lights dispelled the shadow of the looming manor in all of its restored Gothic splendor, revealing not a hint that the entire edifice had burned to the ground several years before.
Expensive jewelry glittered on mares i designer evening gowns who were escorted by stallions in tailored silk suits and tuxedos. Champagne glasses clinked. Waiters wove through the party, offering fresh drinks and refreshments. It was a beautiful fall night, and the weather was perfect.
"This city has seen a historic turnaround," the Mayor continued from her position at the podium. She was a lean mare whose wavy silver hair and surprisingly young looks had survived many years in office. "No city is without crime. But this city is without organized crime, because the Soarin' Act gave law enforcement teeth in its fight against the mob.
"Now ponies are talking about repealing the Soarin' Act. And to them I say...not on my watch!"
An enthusiastic round of applause greeted her words. Everypony in the crowd had benefited from the city's improved climate. One could confidently invest in Ponyville again, and expect to reap a handsome profit. Small wonder the mayor had been re-elected to another term (many ponies had lost count of how many that made).
"I want to thank the Rainbow foundation for hosting this event," she continued, accepting the applause in stride. "I'm told Ms. Dash couldn't be with us tonight, but I'm sure she's with us in spirit."
Or maybe she's closer than we think, Twilight Sparkle thought. The commissioner sat alone at an open bar not far from the dais where the Mayor was speaking. She was an ex-Canterlot student of magic, and she'd begun to feel the effects of middle age hitting her. Hard. Gray streaks appeared in her lengthy purple mane (streaks which she quickly dyed again), and her time as the police commissioner had taken a large toll on the social skills she'd come to Ponyville to perfect. Her bright violet eyes scanned the roof of the manor, and came to rest on a lonely figure gazing down at the festivities from one of the upper balconies. The figure was still enough to be mistaken or a gargoyle, but Twilight Sparkle knew better. She knew a lurker when she saw one, and she suspected that the one she was looking at now was the owner of the very manor she stood in front of now.
"Now I'm going to give way to an important voice," the Mayor sang, snagging Twilight's attention away from the shadow atop the manor. Her heart sank, and she wished she had time to fortify herself with another one of Applejack's famous Appletini's. Her hoof rested on the speech she'd prepared the night before, and she unfolded them to review her handiwork one last time. She'd sweated blood into her work, every word from her heart, but she didn't know if she had the heart to read these words out loud.
Then, taking a deep breath, she braced herself for what was to come.
Oh Celestia, she thought, I wish you could help guide me again. But even you, I can't tell. Am I really going to do this? Am I going to go up there and say it, finally, after all these years?
A hearty voice startled her out of her inner monologue, and Twilight's head snapped around to gaze at the form of Fancypants moving towards her. Judging by his unusually ruddy complexion, Twilight guessed that Fancy had already had a drink or two...or perhaps three. It was unlike the stallion, but, then, so was the event of Soarin' High Day. The only part of him that still looked remarkably uptight was his hair. It looked like it cost more than a beat cop's weekly salary.
The stallion glanced around the sprawling grounds, studying the gardens and statuary that adorned them.
"Ever lay eyes on Dash at one of these things?"
Yep, he's definitely drunk, she thought, and decided against mentioning the shadowy figure on the balcony. She shook her head.
"No one has," another voice said. "Not fer years."
Big Macintosh, Twilight's deputy commissioner, joined them at the bar. A large, burly figure, he was half a decade older than Twilight, though he looked remarkably younger. He'd made a name for himself as Twilight Sparkle's Number One Assistant, a name that made her cringe each time she heard it. He himself didn't care. Brother of Applejack and a farmer himself, he had surprised many ponies by joining the police force when it was instigated in Ponyville back when it was just, well, a village. Now, it seemed, he'd surprised even more ponies by showing up to Soarin' High Day in a tailored suit that fit his unusually large frame more comfortably than Twilight's dress fit her. He looked extremely dapper for a colt who spent his mornings and afternoons plowing in an apple orchard and his evenings stopping ponies from robbing the Sugarcube Corner.
Twilight looked down at her own dress and sighed. There had been a time when her love had helped her make sure she was presentable at these occasions. But, as she'd said many times in the past eight years, times had changed.
She listened again to the Mayor's voice as it drifted down from the podium.
"She can tell you about the bad old days," she continued, apparently in no hurry to leave the spotlight. "When the criminals and the corrupt ran this town with such a tight grip that ponies put their faith in a murderous thug in a mask and cape. A thug who showed her true nature when she betrayed the trust of this great stallion." She turned to the portrait of Soarin'. "And murdered him in cold blood."
Ignoring the Mayor's speech, Fancypants grinned as he spotted an attractive young server who breezed by bearing a tray of daisy canapés. A black maid's uniform, complete with a pressed white apron, cuffs, and collars, flattered the pink mare's slender figure. She froze as the celebrity rudely grabbed her derrière.
"Sweetheart," he scolded her. "Not so fast with the chow."
Veeeery drunk, Twilight noted.
The server turned to face him, pulling herself deftly out of his grasp. A tight smile graced her face and hid the immense displeasure lurking in her large pale blue eyes. She held out a tray.
Twilight repressed a snicker.
The remark flew over Fancypants' well-styled head as he snatched a pair of the snacks from the tray and stuffed them into his mouth. The maid swiftly exited the scene, not that Twilight couldn't blame her. Celebrity or not, Fancypants needed to keep his hands to himself.
"Twilight Sparkle," Mayor Mare was saying, "can tell you the truth about Soarin'-"
Fancypants noticed the papers that made up Twilight's speech floating next to her.
"Celestia, Sparkles, is that your speech?" he said, spewing crumbs at her. "We're gonna be here all night." Twilight resisted the urge the smack him upside the head, and instead put the papers away in her saddlebag.
"Perhaps the truth about Soarin' isn't so simple, Fancy."
"-so I'll let her tell you herself," the Mayor concluded. She stepped away from the podium. "Commissioner Sparkle?"
Another round of applause rose from the crowd.
Well, here goes everything, Twilight thought glumly, and headed towards the stage, gulping down her drink as she went. She found it ironic that she felt like a convicted felon approaching the gallows as she made her way to the dais. She stepped up to the mike and took out the papers that contained exactly what the Mayor had said she had. The truth.
"The truth?" Twilight repeated out loud, speaking to the crowd.
Without warning, an unwanted memory surfaced. She saw Soarin' as she truly remembered him, as she would always remember him. The left half of his face was a burnt mass of scarred tissue and blood red muscle, creating an opposite color scheme to the bright blur right half of his once handsome face. His left eye, burning with madness, gazed out at him from a naked socket. She could see his exposed jawbone, revealed through a ragged gap in his cheek, and half of his smile permanently shone out at her through that gap, pearly whites glowing in the moonlight.
The right side of his face was just as handsome as the photo she could now see out of the corner of her eye.
He was no longer the stunt-colt-turned-district-attorney that amazed and inspired ponies everywhere. Now he was mad, and he had a gun pointed at Trixie, the one mare she loved more than anypony else. The blue unicorn stared into Twilight's eyes, trembling and holding back panicked tears, even as Twilight herself was pleading for him not to kill her.
Unmoved, Soarin' flipped a coin...
The memory was forced back down as Twilight found herself back on the dais at the celebration for her wife's attempted murderer.
She wondered what would happen if she told them the truth. How would they react, if they learned that, for eight years now, they had been celebrating a colt that had murdered pony after pony to try and get revenge for a death that nopony he'd hurt was responsible for. Was it worth it, to clear her own conscience and weigh down theirs?
"I have written a speech telling the truth about Soarin'," Twilight admitted, making up her mind in that moment. She folded the papers and stuffed them away, this time in a secret pocket she'd magicked into her own coat. "But maybe the time isn't right."
"Thank Luna for that," Fancypants muttered, loud enough for her to hear from the bar.
"Maybe all you need to know," Twilight said, "is that there are a thousand inmates in Hayseed Prison as a direct result of the Soarin' Act. These are violet criminals, essential cogs in the organized crime machine that terrorized Ponyville for so long. Maybe all I should say right now about Soarin's death is this--it has not been for nothing."
The crowd applauded--all except the figure on the balcony, who silently turned and disappeared into the shadows of the manor. Twilight watched her go, and sighed.
Can't blame her, Twilight thought. I didn't say anything worth listening to.
She felt like a coward, and retreated from the dais without another word. Doubts tagged along with her, as they had every day for the past eight years. Had she done the right thing? Or had she simply not had the nerve to do anything?
She found Big Mac at the bar.
"Are the second shift reports in?" Twilight asked.
"On yer desk," Macintosh assured her. "But ah think you should put in more time with the Mayer."
"Sorry, that's your department." Big Mac was better at working City Hall (surprisingly enough), and stroking the egos of politicians. Twilight preferred the nuts-and-bolts of old-fashioned police work.
With one last glance at the portrait on the dais, she decided she'd done her part of Soarin' High Day this year (how she despised that name). So, with a goodbye kiss from Big Mac, she headed for the gravel driveway, where a long row of spotless town cars (so advanced they'd gotten, all because of good ol' Soarin'!) waited for their passengers. She couldn't wait to get of here.
Every year, it just got harder and harder to handle.
Fancypants watched Twilight go, and shook his head. She wants to leave this spread for work? He turned to Big Macintosh.
"Has she even seen the crime statistics?" he asked.
Bic Mac shrugged.
"She goes by her gut, and it's been givin' her nothin' but trouble these last few years."
"She must have one hell of an understanding with her wife," Fancy said. He thought of his own, dear Fleur, and how convenient it had been that her modeling trip had been at the smae time as the ever-important Soarin' High Day celebration.
"Nnnope," Macintosh drawled. "She left years ago. Just like when they first met." He did not mention his own relaionship with her.
"Hmmph. Well, she'll have plenty of time to visit." He leaned in toward Big Mac and whispered, "She's gatting dumped in the spring."
"What?" Big Mac looked astonished. "But, she's a hero!"
"She's a war hero," Fancypants corrected. "Look around, Mac. This is peacetime. And besides, when she's gone, you get the job." He grinned at Big Mac, a gesture that Big Mac did not return.
Drawing his attention away from the maroon stallion, Fancypants looked out at the party, now in full swing, and smiled. He wondered again why Twilight had decided to leave so soon before realizing something important.
Now, where did that ravishing little maid go?
She still felt his hooves on her flank. Each visit back to the memory drew up several pangs of unsettled anger. I'll deal with him later, she thought. Now, I have to focus.
She made her way back to the kitchen of the manor, where a small army of maids, cooks, and waiters were stomping around working as hard as they could to keep the guests well-fed and happily watered. She discarded the tray and entered the fray, blending in almost instantly with the rest of the staff. She overheard a small cluster of maids gossiping in the corner.
"They say she never leaves the east wing."
"I've heard she's had an accident, that she's disfigured."
The room abruptly fell silent when an older looking mare stepped into the room, wearing a butler's uniform that appeared to have been specialized to match her. Her light pink hair (complemented, surprisingly enough, by several streaks of gray) fell lightly across her face, and she brushed it away before turning to the head chef.
"Mr. Le Grand," She said, addressing the griffon under the chef's hat softly. Her voice seemed like that of a mother caring for her young child, though the maid was sure that Fluttershy herself had never had the time to have children. "Why are your people using the stairs, if you don't mind me asking?"
Despite the gentle tone of her voice, Mr. Le Grand muttered something incoherent in watch sounded like Prench. She didn't bother to listen, instead watching intently as the yellow pegasus set a glass of water on a large silver tray that had several large covered dishes on it. She glanced around the kitchen briefly.
"Um, where's Ms. Mild?"
The maid stepped forward.
"She's at the bar, ma'am," she said. "Can I help?"
The pegasus sighed, and gestured to the tray. She pulled a brass key out of her uniform (it looked ancient) and set it on the tray.
"The east drawing room," she instructed, ignoring the lock of mane that fell in front of her face again. "Unlock the door, place the tray on the table, lock the door again, if it's not too much trouble." She paused, then added, "Nothing more."
The maid nodded, took the tray upon her back, and swiftly exited the room. She trotted along the dark corridors of the manor, gazing at the antique-like items set along the walls of the house. It seemed less like someplace that somepony would live, and more like a museum.
She eventually found herself in front of a large wooden door, and slid the key off the tray expertly. She tried it, and the door swung open slowly, revealing what was obviously supposed to be a living area in the mansion. As a matter of fact, it looked more like somepony lived here than in any other part of the mansion.
She set the tray down and gazed around the expensive-looking room. She saw no sign of anything alive nearby, including the house's mysterious and reclusive owner. She twirled the key in her hoof, deciding not to leave just yet.
Her eyes locked on a door that had been left ajar on the other side of the room.
Well, what do ya know?, she thought, and grinned mischievously.
The Unicorn and the Cat
"I'm so sorry, Miss Rarity, but I've tried. She won't see you. Please don't be mad."
Fluttershy lingered in the hallway to converse with the stylish younger mare who had attempted to enlist her assistance. Rarity--a member of the board of Rainbow Enterprises--was probably the most attractive business executive Fluttershy had met in her years of service. Enormous purple curls slid down the back of her neck and rested on her pearl-white coat. Her deep blue eyes shone with an intelligence and determination that felt almost overpowering to Fluttershy.
"It's important, Fluttershy," she insisted. Her voice held an accent that Fluttershy could not exactly place, despite her years of travel across Equestria.
"Ms. Dash is as determined as ever to ignore important subjects as trivial ones," she replied sadly, and added, "I'm sorry, again," under her breath.
"Don't be, Miss Shy."
The chuckle that accompanied the remark came from Filthy Rich, who had strode into the mares' conversation with a smug look on his rugged and weathered face. The business tycoon, who was one of the leading business owners in Ponyville, had his iconic tie on and his shockingly black hair (Fluttershy was sure it was a wig) slicked back. His attention shifted to Rarity.
"Don't take it personally, Rarity," he told her. "Everypony in town knows Dash is up there with overgrown fetlocks, peeing into her own collection of vases." He chuckled at his own line, then turned back to Fluttershy, adding, "Fluttershy...it's good to see you still allow me on the grounds."
Fluttershy was not one to dislike another pony. Filthy Rich was one of her few exceptions. Without bothering to hide her distaste, she said, "The Soarin' Act is about Ponyville. Even you, Mr. Rich." With that, she turned and left the hallway, bowing politely toward Rarity and adding, "Miss Rarity, always a pleasure."
Halfway down the hallway, she could still hear the two ponies she'd left conversing, and she stopped and turned back to watch them.
"Why do you waste your time," Rich asked Rarity, "when you know that the mare that is hiding somewhere in this maze of a home isn't going to give you back the investment you made on some save-the-world project? He can't get you your money back. But I can."
The unicorn replied coolly.
"I could try explaining that a save-the-world 'vanity' project is worth investing in, whatever the return. I could try that, Filthy, but seeing how you understand only money and the power you think you can buy with it, I wonder, why waste my time indeed." She spun on her hooves and trotted off, head held high. Rich was left glaring menacingly after her, the effect of the use of his first name spreading across his visage.
Fluttershy resisted the urge to giggle. Bravo, Miss Rarity, bravo.
Rainbow Dash had grown up in Rainbow Manor, albeit in a previous incarnation, so she barely noticed the exquisite decor of the drawing room as she limped toward the her dinner. She hated her cane, felt like it made her look like Applejack's late grandmother, but she'd learned to ignore it years before. It didn't matter, as long as she wasn't seen with it.
And she was never seen.
Her face was emotionless and drawn back. Dark purple circles hung around her dulled maroon eyes. Along with the spectrum of color that burst out from her mane, a seventh shade was making itself visible, even to her. A silk blanket was wrapped around her shoulders. The sound of her hoofsteps was made silent by the slippers she wore on her hind legs.
The aroma of the meal awaiting her rose from the silver tray, and she found herself licking her lips. She wondered what Chef Gustav Le Grand had prepared for her tonight? She reached the table and raised a hoof to pull the cover off of the tray, and stopped suddenly.Her eyes scanned the room briefly.
Something was off.
Her gaze stopped on a door that led to the room connected to the balcony she'd previously stepped out onto to hear her friend Twilight's speech. Or, what she'd thought would be her speech.
Looking at the door now, though, she noticed something odd about it: it looked more open that when she'd left it.
Cerise eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Well well, what have we here?"
The sitting room was gorgeous, and looked even more expensive than the rest of the mansion. The maid resited the urge to snoop around the rest of the room, and instead focused back on the task at hoof.
Don't stay too long, silly filly, she told herself. Don't want to take too long.
A row of photographs, some singed, others ancient, rested on the chest of drawers she was currently crouched by. She stood up and examined them, recognizing the faces of the late Mr. and Mrs. Rainbow Spectrum. They had been brutally murdered when their dear little Dashie had been just a filly. A third photo portrayed a young pegasus, grinning photogenically at the camera while clearly showing off her flank and the Wonderbolt's logo adorned on the spandex suit that covered said flank. The mare's flaming hair made her instantaneously recognizable: she'd been the biggest celebrity athlete around, until the Joker came to town, the people said.
Ms. Spitfire, late Captain of the Wonderbolts, the maid thought. What are you doing here?
She set the photo aside and continued over to what seemed to be a fully equipped indoor archery range. In truth, it was simply the gear present on the table behind her, and a target that was mounted onto a large wooden cabinet. An array of arrows stuck out of the target, all of them centered on or around the bulls-eye. She reached out to take and inspect one of them, curious to see what damage they'd done beyond the target.
The maid jumped back and yelped as a new arrow whizzed by and struck the target, mere millimeters from where her hoof had been reaching out. She spun around and found herself looking at Rainbow Dash, who was setting the compact bow she'd fired the arrow from down. The pegasus hadn't made a noise, and the maid was actually impressed.
No one ever snuck up on her before.
Rainbow Dash took up her cane again and took a step towards the maid.
"I'm...I'm terribly sorry, Ms. Dash," she stuttered, a deep red blush accenting her already pink cheeks. She looked very young, and very embarrassed. "It is Ms. Dash, isn't it?"
Rainbow Dash nodded, and gestured to her mane. "The colors sorta give it away, right?" She smiled reassuringly.
"Well, you don't look like you've got overgrown fetlocks or any...facial...scars..." The maid trailed off mid-sentence. Rainbow Dash didn't recognize the maid, and simply assumed she was a temp. Couldn't resist looking around the coolest spread in Ponyville, I guess.
"So, that's what those Gabby Gums' are saying now, huh?" she asked, still smiling.
The maid shrugged nervously. "It's just that, nopony ever sees you anymore."
Well, I got one thing working for me, Dash thought.
She glanced at the multi-colored necklace laced around the pink mare's slender neck.
"That's a pretty cool necklace," she commented. "It looks just like the one my mother had. Rainbow Pearls, the jeweler called them, found in the lakes above the ground in Cloudsdale. A bunch'a sciency crud, didn't pay attention. 'Course," she said, meandering over to the bureau where the maid had been only a minute ago, "those can't be the same ones. There right here, in my safe-"
She cut off when her cane opened the hidden compartment on the drawer, revealing an all-too-opened safe. It looked like it had been fried from the inside. She turned slowly to the maid, saying as she went:
"-which the safe guy said was uncrackable."
The pink pony in the maid's outfit changed instantly. Her demeanor became more lax, and her nervousness evaporated, replaced by a cool calm and overall bounciness that Rainbow Dash found troublesome. Her form straightened as confidence seemed to pour into her from out of nowhere. She tilted her head innocently, a grin widening on her face.
"Oopsie. I didn't know it was uncrackable. Soooorry!"
Rainbow Dash hid her impressed look and pointed at the necklace.
"I'm gonna have to ask you hand those back over." They had been her father's gift, as an anniversary present. The present his mother gave back was a trip to the opera, where they had been murdered out behind the theater. In a way, the expensive look of the pearls themselves had caused her parents death. One had to keep heirlooms, though, and she gestured for the pink mare to hand them back to her.
She giggled, and stepped towards her, running a hoof across her swirly and equally pink mane and acting as though she didn't care what Dash wanted from her. "Okie dokie lokie," she said, "but first, you gotta play a game. Give it a go?"
She continued without learning of Rainbow's consent. "Okay, so, here are the rules. You, the one with moral standards, gets to watch me trot around your mansion, knowing you wouldn't hit another mare. Me, the pony with all the party pizzazz, gets to walk around without laying a hand on you."
With that, she spun and bucked the cane out of Dash's hooves. The pegasus went down, and kust as her wings reached out to keep her from hitting the floor, the mare's hoof came out of nowhere and struck her in the joint where her wing joing the rest of her body. Rainbow hit the ground hard, and grunted from the sharp, lasting pain in her bad knee that the fall had brought.
"Ding ding! We have a winner, folks! I guess I'll just have to pack up my things and be off!" the maid announced, then vaulted onto the bureau and then the windowsill. Rainbow Dash knew that it was at least a twenty-foot drop down into the hedges below. She heard the thief's final words:
"...with my consolation prize, of course."
Then she flipped out the window and into the night.
Rainbow Dash lay on the floor of the sitting room for a few more moments, knowing it was useless to try and follow the "maid." Not when it was the pearls she'd taken. Finally, the cyan mare rose up and looked over at the broken safe. Her eyes narrowed at the door to it, noticing something off about it.
The mare made her way through the shadowy outskirts of the yard, still moving on her hind legs, and watched the party wind down. Guests began to leave, and she knew it was the perfect time to get a ride out of here.
Perfectly timed, she thought, congratulating herself. As always.
She tore off the white collar, cuffs, and apron that marked her as one of the help. Now wearing a small black dress that accented her slender form and moderate curves, she dropped back down on all fours, adjusting the radiant necklace laced around her neck before stepping out of the shadows into the light of a dozen or so cars attempting to leave the party at the same time.
A valet stepped over to offer her help, and after scanning the crowd of cars for a moment, she found exactly what she wanted. And who she wanted.
Accepting the valet's offer to hold the door for her, the bubble-gum pink pony slid into the sleek black limo she'd chosen, scooting up right next to Fancypants. She looked over at him, relishing the ignorant surprise and (mostly) excitement of seeing her in his car.
That's right, big colt, lap me up like a milkshake.
"Can I have a ride?" she purred, never breaking her coy undertone.
Fancypants grinned and set his drink (he'd lost count after ginger schnapps) aside, giving his attention to the extremely attractive mare sitting next to him.
"You read my mind," he answered, and with that, the limo pulled out of the driveway and drove down into the city.
Fluttershy found Rainbow Dash hunched over a broken safe, rubbing her hooves against its surface gently. The pegasus was cautious about asking what her employer was doing, and instead coughed to get her attention. When she didn;t appear to, she simply began talking anyway.
"Miss Rarity was asking to speak with you again."
"Hmm," replied Rainbow, still absorbed in the task of whatever-she-was-doing at the safe. "Persistent."
"And very lovely," Fluttershy added. She blushed a little, and added, "You know, if you were wondering."
"I wasn't," Dash answered, without looking up from the safe.
Fluttershy sighed, reminded herself to apologize to Rarity later, and focused her attention on her employer's new obsession.
"Something the matter, miss?"
"We've been robbed," Dash stated flatly. "I'm examining print dust." The laid-back voice she always used in public was gone, replaced by the cold, intelligent one that only Fluttershy and a select few were allowed to hear.
"WHAT!?" Fluttershy's eyes widened, the pupils shrunken down to mere dots, and she began looking around the room frantically, as if the thief was still in there waiting for her to lower her guard. Through her mind played images of all the horrible things the thief could have done while she had been ordering around the other staff: he could have taken millions of bits worth of antiques, or broken them (Filthy Rich came to mind when she thought this), or he could have lit the manor on fire (again), or he could even have murdered Mistress Dash!
Her wings began buzzing as her breathing deepened, and Rainbow Dash finally drew her attention away from the safe. "Calm, Fluttershy," she said, raising a hoof and putting it on her butler's shoulder. "All she took were the pearls. And the tracking device that comes with them." She turned back to the safe.
Fluttershy sighed. The pearls. That's all. She heard herself think these words and immediately regretted them. The pearls that had once belonged to Rainbow Shimmer, Dash's beloved mother, were one of the most valuable items in the manor. To Rainbow Dash, at least. If anything happened to them...
At least we have the tracking device, she thought, then realized something else.
Dash nodded, still examining the black powder that Fluttershy now noticed was sprinkled on the front of the safe. "She. It was one of the maids. I suggest you stop letting them in this side of the house." She glanced up briefly at Fluttershy, giving her a wry look.
The yellow mare glanced back, her eyes beading with irritation. "Then perhaps you should learn to make your own bed," he suggested. Her cheeks darkened again, and she covered her mouth in shock at her own words. "I'm sorry, Mistress Dash", she muttered, and regained her composure slowly. She bent over Dash's shoulder to look more closely at the safe. "Why are you dusting for hoofprints, then?"
Dash's reply sent her into another worry-fit. "I wasn't. She was."
Below and Above
The rooftop of the Ponyville Police Department was not a sanitary place. For eight years, the only thing that had kept the roof worth visiting had been useless. Because of this, the janitors saw no reason to work harder on a place that nopony ever visited. The only one who did visit was now standing near the balcony of the roof, examining the city below. She was always coming up here, and it had been dubbed "The Sparkle Flat". It practically was her flat. She spent more time here than she did at home.
Twilight Sparkle sighed, her eyes shut, and let the breeze of the night flow through her mane. Her violet eyes opened, and she scanned the rooftops of Ponyville before settling them on the shattered searchlight next to her. Only, it hadn't ever really been a searchlight. She reached out to touch it, wondering again why she'd never removed it since that day, eight years ago.
Just as her hoof made contact with the cold metal, a voice called out from the entrance to the stairwell.
"Ma'am?" She looked over to see a young officer trotting over to meet her. This one was a newbie, she recalled. The Flightless Pegasus, the other officers called her. She knew that one of the main reasons the younger mare had been chosen was because of the unusual good looks the pegasus had, and the perverted minds of some of her colleagues. But Twilight saw her as a good cop, and perhaps, one day, a good detective.
The pegasus continued, tentatively. "I'm sorry to bother you, but there's a problem. We've got a missing pony. A celebrity, actually."
"Sounds like a job for the police," she replied, wondering why the young mare had really come up here. "What's the problem, kiddo?" She realized how old she sounded when she said kiddo.
"Well, like I said, a celebrity's gone missing. His name's Fancypants, and he never went home after the celebration at the Rainbow Manor.
Twilight surpressed a groan when the memory of the famous stallion groping a random maid's flank resurfaced in her ind. He's probably found himself a little extra company tonight, she thought. Though I wouldn't say she was willing to be so. She hoped she wouldn't have to deal with charges of rape once they found him. She pushed the thought away, and asked the question she'd meant to ask first.
"Why are you talking to me about this?"
The pegasus shuffled a bit. "Well, Ma'am, I've been on the force for a year or so, and I've basically stopped a half a dozen robberies of the Sugarcube Corner, all of them the same mare, flying off because she didn't have enough to pay for her muffins." She stopped looking at the ground and raised her eyes to meet the commissioner's. "But then there's you. Always up here, like it's still war-time."
Twilight hated the term for the time before Soarin's death.
The mare continued. "You always go up here, and act like we're waiting for things to get worse. Why?"
"Old habits," Twilight muttered.
"Or is it instinct?"
The lavender pony looked over the pegasus again. She was indeed prettier than most of the tryouts that signed up for training. Her tomboyish purple mane matched her nature, as did her athletic form. She had eyes that matched her mane, and they shone with an eagerness that told Twilight just what the young mare wanted. She saw the cop had no cutie mark, an anomaly that befell only the smallest group of ponies.
"What's your name, kiddo?" she asked, again feeling her age as the word kiddo passed her lips.
The commissioner trotted over towards the young cop and said, "Is there something you'd like to ask me, Officer Scootaloo?"
The pegasus looked down at the ground again. The eager light in her eyes faded for a brief moment, then returned with flaring determination. It reminded Twilight of Rainbow Dash, a little.
"It's about that night," she blurted out, looking back up at the unicorn with her new eagerness. "Eight years ago. The night Soarin' died."
"It isn't about what's right, Sparkle. It's about what's fair."
"Soarin', please, I'm begging you, let her go!"
"Yes? What about it?"
"It was the last confirmed sighting of the Batmare," Scootaloo said, speaking faster and faster now that Twilight had allowed it. "She murders those ponies, takes out two Royal Guard teams, on with your own brother at the head, breaks Soarin's neck, then escapes, never to be seen again?"
Celestia help us if it comes to that.
"I just don't believe it."
Twilight sighed. "What's your question, kid?" She didn't like the sound of that one, either.
"Don't you want to know who she was?"
Twilight glanced briefly at the shattered Bat-Signal. The question Scootaloo had just posed was one she'd mulled over herself in the months when the Batmare had first popped up in Ponyville. Eventually, though, the answer had slapped her in the face, and she realized...
"I know exactly who she was," she said, still staring at the broken searchlight. She turned back to the young mare and trotted toward her.
"She was the Batmare."
Twilight passed Scootaloo, and headed for the stairwell. When the pegasus did not follow, Twilight turned to her and said, "Come on, let's go find that missing celebrity."
And they went.
Fluttershy was irritated again. She simply wanted to deliver her Mistress's lunch, that was all, but of course, it was the one day that Rainbow Dash was not still in bed at 3:00 in the afternoon. She sighed, staring at the empty bed (which was made flawlessly, it seemed, by Rainbow herself), and left the bedroom, tray still held up by one wing.
She made her way through the lonely mansion, calling out her employer's name. By the time she'd done a full circle, the roasted daisy sandwich that was prepared for Dash was cold. After a series of contemplative What if... scenarios played through her mind, Fluttershy realized there was still one place she hadn't been.
She wouldn't have gone down below, would she?
It was worth a shot. Fluttershy turned and made her way to a room inhabited by a sole piano and an entire wall made from bookcases (most were filled with signed copies of the entire Daring Do fiction series), and stopped at the piano. She set the tray down on top of it, and played an unimportant and extremely non-musical set of keys.
The sound of a door sliding open told her it had worked. Bracing herself for what she almost hoped wasn't true, Fluttershy stepped into the elevator that had revealed itself from behind one of the bookcases, and felt the cage move down, towards the Batcave.
She stepped out half a minute later wishing that she didn't have to go down here again. It wasn't the countless number of bats that scurried around the cave that frightened her, no, she loved animals of all kinds, nocturnal included. It wasn't the dampness or darkness that always left her on edge when she entered, she'd gotten used to that eventually.
It was the meaning behind the place.
The Batcave was where Rainbow Dash made her home as the Batmare, and the Batmare was not a good thing. Not in Fluttershy's eyes, anyway. She knew that all Batmare brought Dash was injuries and sad endings. Especially with Spitfire.
Now she saw that her dear Mistress was once again in the cave, and she trotted up to her as the cyan pegasus typed away at a computer that showed the files on many different prisoners, shuffling through them faster than a playing card deck.
Rainbow Dash paid her no mind when she stepped up to the computers behind her.
"You haven't been down here in a while," she noted.
"I'm just trying to find out more about our jewel thief," Dash replied. "I traced her hoofprints, and this face came up."
She pulled up the image of a greasy-haired dark green unicorn stallion, easily 50 pounds heavier than the mare that had gone flipping out his window the night before.
"She's good," Dash continued. "Wearing somepony else's hoofprints. So, I decided to trace our little tracking device, and cross-referenced it with any recent incidents involving breaking and entering, and then this turned up."
The picture that showed up on screen this time bore the face of the mare that Fluttershy remembered entrusting with the duty of carrying Dash's dinner to her rooms. In the picture, she saw a mare who knew something she didn't, who was mocking her with her confident wink, not the shy young filly with whom she'd spoken to that night.
"Ms. Pinkamena Pie," Dash said. "A remarkably crafty jewel thief. Never caught, never convicted, but the ground beneath her hooves is shrinking." A list of newspaper headlines appeared on the screen, all of them bearing headlines that read similar: each one said something about a "cat" burglar.
"So then," said Fluttershy, "should I call the police to get a head start on finding your pearls before she pawns them?" The yellow pegasus shuddered at the thought of the pearls sitting in a dirty box somewhere in the back of an unnamed pawning business.
"No." Rainbow Dash sat back in her chair. "She likes them too much. And she wasn't after them in the first place."
"Then what was she after, if you don't mind me asking?"
"My hoofprints," Dash answered. "She used printer toner mixed with graphite. Untraceable."
"Maybe you could trade notes over coffee." Fluttershy felt herself blushing at the outlandish comment, but this time she did not apologize under her breath.
Rainbow Dash looked over at her with an astonished look in her eyes. "Now you're trying to set me up with a jewel thief?"
"I'd set you up with a tortoise if it would get you back in the world." Fluttershy was as shocked at her sudden boldness as Rainbow Dash was.
The cyan mare darkened at this. "There's nothing left for me out there."
"But that's just it," Fluttershy said, feeling more and more exasperated. "You hung up the cape and the cowl, but you won't move on! You're just sitting around waiting for everything to turn bad again. You couldn't just find somepony-"
"You know I did." Dash was looking angry now. "And you know what happened."
Fluttershy bit her lip and considered what she wanted to say. Finally, she said, "I know, and I'm sorry about Spitfire, but that's life. You have to keep going. You're killing yourself this way." She paused, wondering if she should say what she knew, but couldn't tell. Her own Dark Knight. She didn't choose you, she would say, and then what?
Instead, she shifted the subject away from Spitfire. "When you first left Ponyville, all those years ago, before Batmare, I hoped...I hoped that you wouldn't come back."
Dash looked at her quizzically.
"I had this...this fantasy," the butler said, closing her eyes so as not to meet Rainbow's. "Every year, I take my holiday, and I go to Flowerance, out in Haytaly. There's a café I always go to, near a river. I'd sit down, order a drink, and I'd scan the crowd of ponies there. And always, I'd imagine that you were somewhere there. I'd see you, and you see me. We'd smile, we wouldn't speak to each other, but I'd know, from the family that would maybe be sitting around you, that you had moved on."
She opened her eyes, and Rainbow Dash saw that they were welling up with tears.
"That was all I ever wanted for you." She paused, then added, "I still want that for you."
Then she turned, and exited the Batcave, leaving Rainbow Dash to her obsessions--with the bats.
Scootaloo stepped out of her unit car and approached the sewer entrance. Her face hardened when she laid eyes on the limp form in front of the gaping hole that led into the network of tunnels. She felt tears welling in her eyes when she saw who it was that they had found.
"I know this guy. He was at the boys home. St. Blueblood's."
Her partner shrugged. "So?"
She looked up at him, appalled that he showed so little interest or care that there was a dead colt in front of them. She realized she'd balled her hooves, and turned back to the dark gray colt lying on the ground.
"So, he had a brother. I remember teaching his brother how to ride a scooter, when they were younger. He'd always try and hit on me." She kicked a pebble nearby, and felt her tears slowly run down her cheeks. She didn't choke up, though. That was for little girls.
"This guy got a name?" Her partner appeared to have realized the situation, and set down the doughnut he'd been munching on.
"Thunderlane. His brother's called Rumble. And now, I gotta go tell him the news."
She trotted back to the car, making sure that her partner didn't see her tears.
St. Blueblood's was a large foal's home. It was split into fillies and colts halves, and as Scootaloo pulled up to the home, she remembered the times when she would sneak over to the boy's side to meet with her coltfriend. He'd show her his dark room, she'd ask for a picture from him, and the night would end with them kissing like they'd seen in the movies.
For the second time that day, Scootaloo realized she was beginning to cry without meaning to.
She made her way through the home, ignoring the stares from the young foals. Some recognized her, and waved, but when she didn't wave back, they understood that something was wrong. She took no note of them, and stepped into the matron's office without a word.
The matron had aged more than Scootaloo had expected since she'd left the children's home. His hair was now whiter than the sheets she'd slept in during her time at the home.
"I suppose we'll have to inform Rumble, then," he said after Scootaloo explained the situation.
"I wanted to tell him, if that's all right." Scootaloo hesitated to ask, but, just as one had last night with Sparkle, the question came slipping past her lips without meaning to.
"What was he doing in the sewers? Shouldn't he have been here?"
The matron sighed. "You know we don't have the resources to keep colts and fillies over the age of 16 here. We don't have the money."
Scootaloo was confused. "I thought the Rainbow Foundation donated to you?"
"Not for several months, no."
Scootaloo considered this for a moment, and made a mental note to check up on that later. Then she stood, thanked the matron, and stepped out to talk with Rumble.
When she gave him the news, the young pegasus looked as though he was close to tears.
"I'll be kicked out next month," he said. It took Scootaloo a moment to realize the colt was talking about his sixteenth birthday. The grayish pegasus muttered "Happy Birthday to me," and stared down at the ground, biting his lower lip.
"Why was he down in the sewers?" She knew he was down their for another reason. There were plenty of places to go when you were without a home, and the sewer was not a good one.
"They say there's work for people down there."
Scootaloo was surprised. "What kind of work?"
Rumble kept his stare fixed on the ground. "Nopony knows. But I guess it's more than what's waiting for you up here."
As Scootaloo got back into her patrol car later, she thought about his last words to her. The possibility of work under the city was slim. At least, the possibility of legitimate work. Her mind shifted to the thought of what kinds of work could be waiting down beneath the city.
And she didn't like what she thought up.
A Night On the Town
Pinkie Pie entered the bar with her guest at sometime around midnight. Looking around the place, she scrunched up her nose in distaste.
Ugh, this smells worse than my baked bads mixed with some toilet water.
She took another sniff.
Used toilet water.
Her guest was hobbling beside, and after spotting her blind date in the center of the relatively empty bar, she deposited him on one of the many fragile-looking stools that sat next to the bar's counter. She slid into the seat across from a young colt in a suit as expensive as her own slim black dress. She grinned at him. He did nothing, save look at the clearly drunken colt on the stool next to her. He flipped his stringy, grease-covered purple hair back, and the colt in the suit turned back to Pinkie.
"You brought a date?"
"Well of course, silly filly!" she purred, still grinning hugely at him. "They're good for opening doors for you!"
Business Suit shut his eyes for a minute, resisting the urge to shoot her down. He knew how the pink mare across from him worked. His eyes opened again, and he asked, "Do you have what I want?"
The mare nodded eagerly. She slid a tiny envelope out from under the table and across it. Business Suit took it, pulled from it the hoofprint of Rainbow Dash, smiled, and put it back in the envelope.
"Thank you for your services, Ms. Pie."
"Sooo, where's my present?" She still held the giddy air of somepony who had just gotten everything they wanted for their birthday.
The suit-wearing colt smiled for the first time that evening. "Of course," he said, and clicked his hoof against the wood of the table twice.
One of the other patrons at the bar stood up at the sound of the clicks. He trotted over to where Pinkie was sitting, drew a gun out, and aimed it directly at her head. The pink mare on whom the gun was trained looked neither scared or fazed whatsoever. She still bounced excitedly in her chair, a remarkably wide grin still plastered to her face.
"Ooh, are we playing Russian Roulette?"
The colt smiled again. "Yes we are. Only, in this game, all the chambers are full of bullets."
The grunt cocked the weapon.
"I think that's cheating," replied Pinkie Pie, still paying no attention to the gun barrel now pressing into the side of her head. "Oh! I know! Let's play 'Count the Hoof Marks!'" Her grin widened (if that was even possible), and the colt in the suit looked back down at the envelope. He pulled out the hoofprint again, and this time noticed that it was incomplete. His face twisted in anger a bit, and he looked back up at the mare before her.
"Looks like I win!" She leaned back in her chair, pushing the weapon pointed at her away from her head with a hoof. "Don't worry, though. Lot's of ponies aren't good at counting to one. I know a pony who can't even count to zero! She just says 'Muffins!' and-"
The mare would have continued, if the barrel of a certain goon's gun hadn't found its way into her mouth. She pulled it out of her mouth in a second and spit onto the floor repeatedly. The Suited Colt smiled.
"I can count fine, thank you." He gestured to the gun-holder, and he pointed the weapon at Pinkie's head once more. The Suited Colt ignored the brief attitude change Pinkie went through as she rose back up to the table, wiping her lips and giving him a look that would have scared a cop into having nightmares. "In fact," he continued, "I'm counting to ten right now."
The barrel of the gun pressed against her head (again), and Pinkie sighed, her bouncy nature replaced with the calm and collected one that had spoken with Rainbow Dash the night before.
"Fine," she said, and reached for her purse. The goon snatched it away before she could reach it, and tossed a cell phone over to the Suited Colt.
"Just hit Send," explained Pinkie Pie. "She'll be here in a minute."
The Suited Colt hit Send, and more than a minute later, a very young looking unicorn came inside the bar, looking apprehensive about the situation. She had brilliant orange hair that covered her face slightly, and her outfit of a short skirt and a form fitting tank top screamed Jailbait, come and get it! She trotted up to Pinkie, giving the gun a mere glance before handing her another small envelope.
"Nice place. A bit dull, don't ya think?"
"Don't worry your little head, Pumpkin," said Pinkie, taking the envelope without looking at the young filly.
"Everything cool in here?" Her eyes were on the gun.
"Great," Pinkie lied. "See ya later."
The filly exited with a dubious look on her face.
Pinkie sighed and slid the envelope over to the Suited Colt. "You didn't have to make this so complicated. You could have just given me what I wanted."
For the third time that night, the colt in the suit smiled. "Well, ponies would have asked how your payment ended up as your payment, and I don't like leaving loose ends. Which brings me to my next topic."
The barrel of the gun pressed against the back of her neck again. She gave her current business partner a deadpan stare.
The colt continued: "Nopony is going to miss you, so why bother leaving you out there with the knowledge of our little deal?"
Pinkie looked at the colt who had been sitting through the whole scene at the bar counter. Her grin returned, and she said, "You're absolutely right, buddy. But him..." She pointed at the drunken colt, then the television next to him. "Him, he's a different story."
The Suited Colt looked over at the Drunken Colt, and his eyes caught a glimpse of the news story playing on the local channel:
He glanced between the photo of Fancypants on the screen and the colt at the bar, then turned back to Pinkie, a smirk on his face.
"Well, aren't you the colt-magnet. But I don't think the cops'll be looking for him in a place like this."
Pinkie's grin widened. "Of course they will."
"What are you talking about?"
Half of her face showed of her pearly whites to the Suited Colt. "You just used his cellphone, silly!"
He had time to look down at the cell phone he had indeed just used before the sound of cop cars filled the bar.
Pinkie swung into action, quite literally. She swung out of her chair and bucked the colt with the gun in the face. He fell to the ground, unconscious before her hit it, and Pinkie turned her attention to Business Suit, who was pulling his own pistol out of a pocket in his jacket. She swiftly hopped over the table and held his hoof with hers. Then she turned, fired a shot at one of the other patrons at the bar (it had taken her only a moment with the gun pointed at her to see that everypony in the bar save for her and Fancypants were working with the Suited Colt), and turned the gun on the colt she'd brought in with her. The other goons made for her, but when she shot the celebrity in the leg, they paused long enough to listen to his scream of pain.
Then the police began beating down the doors to the bar.
Pinkie dispatched another henchman before pistol-whipping the Suited Colt with his own gun (she was still holding his hoof over it) before crouching down beneath the table just as the police came bursting into the room. She shoved the Suited Colt away, and while he made his escape (some of the goons hid him behind them while the police approached), she began to shriek herself. Like a special effect, her hair shifted from it's bouncy curls to straight cascades, and she frantically snatched at a police officer's vest as they made their way through the room.
"Just stay down, miss," the guard said. "You'll be alright."
She was alright, that much she knew. But she wasn't going to stay still, as more and more police stepped into the bar, she made her way from under the table to past where her one night stand was currently lying on the ground, clutching one of his hind legs.
"Don't forget to put pressure on that, baby," she said, adjusting her dress as she exited the bar.
The hopeless celebrity watched her go.
Scootaloo ran into Pinkie when the latter came rushing out of the bar. One mumbled apology later, the pink mare was explaining the situation to the cop.
"Th-There's a stallion in there!" Her voice revealed nothing but innocence and fright. "He's bleeding!"
"It'll be alright, miss," said Scootaloo. "Just stand by and let us do our job."
The mare did just that, and Scootaloo entered the building, gun raised and held (quite impressively) in one wing. She looked around quickly to see if anypony was still there, but it seemed as though the guards had taken everypony out through the back door. She found the colt the mare had screamed about near the bar's counter, holding his hind leg and groaning in agony.
"Help me," he whispered as Scootaloo approached him. It tool the pegasus to realize who exactly this colt was, and when she did, she pulled her radio out with her free wing and held it up to her mouth.
"I found him. The missing celebrity. We'll need an ambulance." In her excitement, she forgot about snooping around a bit to gather evidence.
She also forgot about the pretty young mare in the tight black dress.
In the alley behind the bar, all Tartarus broke loose. The hoodlums responsible (it was assumed) for Fancypants' kidnapping were so desperate to get away that they began firing any weaponry they had at the small army of cops heading their way. A small group of the hoodlums went down a narrower alleyway, and one of the three patrol cars in the fray managed to get around the other fighting ponies and follow them. Sitting at the driver's seat of this car was Twilight Sparkle.
The patrol car stopped when Twilight saw the band move into an even narrower alley, one that the car could never fit into. She sighed, stepped out of the car, and levitated her gun up to face the entrance to the alley. She steeled herself for a fight, and raced into the alley to find...
...nothing. The alley was empty.
What in Celestia's name...? She scanned the alley with ultra-observant eyes, never once considering the use of magic as an assist on the chase. After a full minute of staring at the alley, Twilight noticed a ponyhole cover hiding in the shadows. A ponyhole cover that was slightly ajar...
"PONYHOLE!" she shouted. The teams nearest to her responded almost immediately, and they rushed forward with the commissioner. The ponyhole was removed, and Twilight dropped down into the sewers without hesitation. Only a few of the cops that had originally followed her down the alley went into the sewers with her, though. They knew there was still plenty of danger above ground, and it was most certainly less danger than what might await them down below.
As Twilight descended into the sewers, she prayed that she wouldn't end up lost in the system of tunnels.
Scootaloo arrived on the scene soon after delivering Fancypants into the hands of the paramedics, and found the small group gathered around the ponyhole. They explained the situation to her, and she was surprised to see that Big Macintosh was still above ground, and not running after Twilight.
"Ah'd be a nuisance, nothin' more," he said. "Besides, Twilight's go th' situation under control."
Scootaloo wished she could believe that, but for some reason, she couldn't.
Twilight and her small gang of law enforcers trudged through the tunnels, the shining light of Twilight's horn casting a purplish shadow on everything around them. Twilight struggled to hear where the criminals had gone. There was a small splash of water from somewhere far off, and she followed it eagerly, trying to hide the sound of her hoofsteps splashing the water around. Her gun was still raised.
The group approached a corner, and they paused for a moment. Then, after gesturing to the others that they follow her lead, she turned the corner, gun raised high and pointed straight ahead.
She was met instantly with a barrage of gunfire from the criminals. The group sprang back behind the corner, but the sound of automatic gunfire continued incessantly, chipping bits of the tunnel walls and mixing the smell of sewage with that of gunpowder.
Twilight wished she had body armor like her group-mates did.
The gunfire stopped, and Twilight waited a minute before slowly turning her head around the corner to check...
The sewer blew up.
Twilight felt a wave of heat hit her with such force that she thought her mane might singe. She stubled backward, as did the other cops, before turning and running straight back towards where she believed the entrance was. She came to a stop after the ceiling behind her decided to stop crumbling. She was in the stage of contemplating the means for causing an explosion when the sound of somepony trotting towards her caught her attention.
She turned around to slowly. Something large and heavy struck her head, and everything turned to black.
Scootaloo sat in her patrol car, disappointed in herself, but more the Deputy Commissioner. Big Mac had not allowed her to follow Twilight down into the sewers, and though her arguments had been reasonable, the stallion had sent her to wait for further orders by her patrol car.
My flank, she thought, spitting on the ground beside her car. She thought of Twilight, and how much danger she could have been in at the moment, and where she might end up if she were injured down there-
An idea came to mind. Grinning, Scootaloo stepped inside her car and drove off to find just the place she was thinking of.
Twilight felt a dull sting on her knees from being dragged across the floor of the sewers. The rough texture of the hooves grabbing her told her that she was most certainly not being taken back up to the surface to be treated by the paramedics. The stench of sewage and her captor's clothing invaded her nostrils, and when she gagged, one of them kicked her in the ribs.
She heard them mumble about her being the police commissioner, and again found herself wishing Celestia hadn't given her that "surprise reassignment" all those years ago.
She saw lanterns, half alive, half put out, lining the walls of the new tunnels her captors took her down. Beefy colts trotted through the tunnels, and Twilight realized that there was an entire community living underneath the city she wanted so desperately to protect. What worried her most was the task each pony seemed to be up to. They were excavating throughout the tunnels, building...something. She didn't know what.
This is more than a kidnapping, she thought, and for the first time that night felt terrified. So much more.
She was dragged into a cavernous area, complete with sewer-waterfall as a centerpiece. There was no time to admire the grimy architecture, however, as the two hooligans tossed Twilight onto the ground before a startlingly large and scaly form kneeling before her, its back turned to face a wall of computer screens.
"Why are you here?" asked the creature, it's voice deep and slightly hard to understand.
The two stallions kicked Twilight again. "Answer him, ya pig!" one of them shouted. Twilight was too busy gasping in pain to answer. There was no need to, though; she was not the one being addressed.
"I am asking you," said the creature, and it turned to face them. The mask covering half of his (Twilight could see it was a male, though there had been almost no doubt from the beginning) face looked to her like that of a skull. The purple dragon looked between the two, waiting for an answer.
"Th-This is the police commissioner, Spike," the one on the left said. He grinned, as if joking, and added, "Brought him to ya ta see if ya could squeeze some info outta him."
"No." The dragon's lips could not be seen, but Twilight could hear the drawn back smile in his words. "What you did was panic. And now, there are three ponies dead because of you." He put a claw on the left colt's shoulder and nodded as he said this.
"But she was alone-"
There was no time left in his lifespan to finish the sentence. Spike snapped his neck with one hand, and the lifeless form slumped to the floor. Unfazed emerald eyes turned from the boy to the other colt, who was shaking slightly, though not bothering to run away.
"Search her," he said, nodding towards Twilight. "Then, I will kill you."
The colt stood there for a moment, and Twilight wondered if he would try and run away. She was shocked to see him nod and bend down toward her. His dirt-covered hooves ran under her coat, and she shuddered when they rested on her chest for a second too long. He took her pen, her quill, her wallet, her badge, her speech...
My speech, she realized. Oh Celestia, not my speech! She could not struggle, though, and watched the death-marked stallion hand the papers to the masked drake slowly. Spike read through them, and his eyes narrowed as he neared the end. If his lips were visible, Twilight was sure she would find them drawn back into a menacing smile.
She noticed then that no one in the area was paying her mind. She also noted that the edge of the platform leading down into the sewer waters was very close by. In half a second, an idea popped into her head. She took another glance at Spike, who was still absorbed in her speech, and turned back to the platform's edge.
Well, as a great doctor once told me, she thought, holding back fear as it tried to take control of her actions, Geronimo! Then she rolled over the edge of the platform and fell into the churning waters below.
She sighed with relief when she felt the waters begin to pull her down the pipe. Then she heard the bullets whizzing past, and she screamed underwater when several of these bullets rammed into her flesh. She swam towards the exit, getting out of fire range as quickly as possible and trying not to fall unconscious and drown in the sewers. She left Spike with her speech still in his hands.
He watched the now-crimson foam wash downstream, and turned back to the colt he hadn't killed yet. His fate had been sealed a long time ago, and now it was doubly so.
"He's dead," said the fool.
"Where's the body?" Spike asked.
The colt shook his head. "We wouldn't be able to find him. The tunnels stretch for miles and miles underground. She could end up anywhere. Really."
After some consideration, Spike turned to a crimson dragon behind him. "Lieutenant Garble," he said, drawing the drake's attention. He gestured to the GPS sitting next to him, and Garble picked it up and handed it to Spike. The purple dragon turned back to the stupid colt, and tucked the GPS gently inside his coat pocket. He patted it to check if it was secure, then told the idiot, "Follow him."
"What?" replied the dead colt.
Spike aimed Twilight's gun and shot him neatly between the eyes. The colt fell to the ground, and Spike kicked him into the water, where the body was swept downstream, the way that the lavender unicorn had. He tossed the gun behind him, where it landed in Garble's lap. The lieutenant held the gun up, examined it, and tucked it in his own belt for later use, then went back to looking at the magazine on the table before him. He'd read about half a sentence before Spike spoke up.
"Track them," said the mercenary. "Make sure that neither of the bodies are found. Then we must board up the south tunnel." He still held Twilight's paper's in his hand, and pointed at the crimson drake with them.
Garble got up and walked off to obey his boss's orders, leaving Spike alone to brood over the speech in his hand. He read through it again, and smiled under the mask, just as Twilight had guessed.
Fate, it seemed, was on his side.
Scootaloo found Twilight where she'd found Thunderlane. Only, this time, there was no corpse to come across. Only a frantic, panicking mare thrashing in the water. Scootaloo rushed over to the commissioner and pulled her out of the sewer water, laying her down on the pavement next to it. She was covered in grime and blood, and Sootaloo saw a set of neat little holes in her lavender coat.
"Spike," she muttered, her eyes already fading into subconsciousness. "Under...sewer...warn Ponyville...need the...B-"
Then she fainted.
Scootaloo kneeled over her for a moment, contemplating what the unicorn had just said.
She couldn't mean... she thought to herself, before realizing that the police commissioner of Ponyville was bleeding to death in front of her. She snatched her radio up again, and called for more paramedics.
Please don't be dead when they get here, she thought while the ambulance was dispatched. That would look so bad on my resume.
Out of the House
When Fluttershy opened the door to Rainbow Manor at 10 a.m. the next morning, she was not expecting the visitor to be a police officer. She silently prayed that Rainbow Dash hadn't gone out during the night, and smiled politely at the orange mare filling the police uniform.
"What brings you here, officer?" she asked.
The cop shifted uncomfortably, then answered, "I need to speak with Rainbow Dash."
"I'm afraid Ms. Dash does not accept visitors these days. I'm so sorry." She turned to shut the door.
The mare stopped her. Looking back at the cop, Fluttershy was surprised to see the nervousness in her eyes gone, replaced with sheer determination. What the officer said next only shocked her more.
"What if I come back here in twenty minutes with a search warrant in the investigation of Soarin's murder?" Her eyes narrowed. "Will she still not accept me then?"
Fluttershy's face went beet red.
Three minutes later, Scootaloo was sitting in a puffy chair that felt like it cost at least a hundred bits, in a room that looked like it cost a hundred times more than that. She looked around the room while waiting for "Ms. Dash" to arrive. She felt confident, invigorated by her successful entrance into the Rainbow Manor.
Though, it looked like that butler would have stepped aside to anypony, she thought, and smirked.
The sound of hoofsteps and the occasional ringing of a cane on the floor made her turn. Her eyes widened the tiniest bit as the Rainbow Dash came trotting (or limping, it seemed) into the room. She looked old, from her gray-streaked rainbow mane to her baggy eyelids. She was a mess, and she didn't seem to care. Scootaloo took note of this, and opened her mouth to greet the billionaire. Rainbow Dash, turned toward the window, spoke first.
"What'cha here for, Officer?"
"Commissioner Sparkle's been shot."
"Really? Dang. Twilight's a pretty cool mare."
Oh, she's good, thought Scootaloo. Out loud, she continued, "She chased several guncolts down into the sewers. When I found her out near the sewer pipe later, she was mumbling about a mercenary. Some guy called Spike."
Rainbow Dash now turned toward the cop. "And you haven't told the police this why?"
"I did," said Scootaloo. "They asked me if he was assembling an army of sewer gators to rise up against their pony oppressors."
The tiniest hint of a smirk crossed Dash's face. She turned away from Scootaloo again, this time looking at an expensive piece of pottery nearby that she couldn't have cared less about. "Okay, I'll ask it a different way. Why tell me this?" she asked.
The humor in her voice angered Scootaloo. "Because she needs you," the cop answered, looking down at the ground. She waited a moment, then blurted, "She needs the Batmare."
The silence gave Scootaloo time to think There, I said it, bucking deal with it. Then Rainbow Dash turned to her again. Scootaloo was almost frightened to see that she was smiling.
"If Twilight Sparkle thinks I'm the Batmare, she musta got shot real-"
"She doesn't know or care who you are," interrupted Scootaloo. "But...we've met before. At the orphanage."
Dash briefly recalled coming down to the foals' home when she was still Rainbow Dash. She blinked at the cop as a gesture for her to continue.
"My mom died when I was young," Scootaloo recounted. "I didn't really remember it that much. But then, my pops passed a couple'a years later. That I remember. It was over a gambling debt." She looked up at Dash, straight into her eyes. "I know how it feels, Rainbow Dash. To be angry at the world. To be angry in your bones. Not many ponies can say that, can they? I mean, sure, they 'understand.' For a while. Then they expect you to just let it go. To let the anger out. To forget it."
The last sentence spilled from her lips with a pop, as though bursting a bubble filled with poison gas.
"So, when you don't so what they want, you get sent to a foal's home; in this case, St. Blueblood's. It used to be funded by Rainbow Enterprises." She paused, to let it sink in. "I figured it out too late. You gotta hide the anger. Take the angry little kid in you and push him aside, and say, 'I'll let you take control again when I feel like it.' Learn to smile in the mirror. Make everypony else think you're fine." She shut her eyes and smiled, reliving memories long past. "You showed one day, in a big fancy sports car, a stallion on your left, a mare on your right. Rainbow Dash, the Rainbow Dash, the billionaire orphan." She opened her eyes, meeting Dash's again. "We made up legends about you. Stories, that's all. Fantasies of how you'd gotten so rich and famous.
"But when I saw you, I knew that look. The fake smile. The mask. It fit so perfectly on you."
She stood up, impressed with the speech she'd just given. If Rainbow Dash was, then she didn't show it. She simply stared blankly at the cop, her chilled-out attitude gone completely.
"I don't know why you took the fall for Soarin's murder," she said, slowly and carefully, "but I still believe in the Batmare. And I think it's time to get out of the house."
She headed to the door. Rainbow called behind her:
"Why did you say the foals' home used to be funded by Rainbow Enterprises?"
The orange pegasus stopped. Gray-purple eyes met maroon ones one more time.
"You stopped funding them years ago. You should really get out of the house." Then she turned and exited, satisfied with her "pep talk." She passed the butler on the way out the front door, thanked her, and got to her car in a fit of worry.
What if she ignores me? What then?
Rainbow Dash watched the officer leave in her patrol car. Fluttershy came in a moment later. The pegusi turned to each other.
"Did you check the name?" Dashie was gone again; now Ms. Dash was in play.
"Spike? Yes." Fluttershy looked extremely uncomfortable. "But I didn't like what I found. You wouldn't either. He's a dragon, miss. Very dangerous, did a mining job in Western Zebrica with our own Filthy Rich. And his mask..." The butler shivered, her eyes heavy with worry. "...I don't want to look at it anymore."
"You said Filthy brought him here."
"With a bunch of scary, huge dragon henchmen, yes. I'll have to check on that, miss." She turned at this, and made to leave. Rainbow stopped her.
"When did we stop funding foals' homes, Fluttershy?"
Fluttershy looked down at the ground again. "I'm sorry to remind you, Mistress Dash, but the homes were funded by the profits of Rainbow Enterprises." She paused before continuing, her voice getting softer with each word. "And for that to happen, um, there, um,havetobesomesorry."
Rainbow Dash frowned. She'd forgotten about the recent problems with Rainbow Enterprises and its profiteering in the past few years. She considered her options for a moment, then said, "I guess I'll have to talk to dear Zecora, then."
Fluttershy nodded, smiling slightly. "I'll get her on the phone." Her smile disappeared when Dash raised a hoof in protest.
"No," she said, looking back out the window at her long, empty driveway. It had only been used for the occasional party (and, in this case, visitor), and it looked so sad, sitting there without a purpose. Something was missing...
"Do we have any cars left, Fluttershy?"
The yellow pegasus hadn't smiled so genuinely in years. "One or two, I think." She found herself floating off the ground, and flew towards the door to get one of said cars, when Dash stopped her again.
"Oh, and I'll need to get to a hospital, to see about my legs."
Fluttershy was feeling happier and happier. She turned to her employer, grinning. "Which hospital, miss?"
Dash began to hobble out of the room, her own wings fluttering a little with anticipation. "Whichever one Twilight Sparkle is in."
Rainbow Enterprises was easily the largest building in Ponyville. Fifty stories high, its gleaming glass-and-steel construct had been deemed the unofficial center of the city. The monorail system was routed through the building, and thus earned its title, being the center of the main mode of transportation for any Ponyville citizen without a car.
Inside the building, a board meeting had just broken up. Many of the executives looked worried as they left, mumbling amongst themselves about whether or not the company could survive another year with their infamous owner hibernating in her mansion.
Rarity lingered as the older stallions left, wanting to find the rainbow-maned mare in question and speak with her about her energy project. She trotted over to the CEO, hoping that she could shed some light on Rainbow Dash's whereabouts.
"Ms. Zecora," she said, "if Ms. Dash would simply give me an explanation, I would be happy to see what I could do to help."
Zecora frowned. "I will remember to give her your request when I see her again, if I am blessed."
The zebra's incredible ability to rhyme any-and-everything she said without any hesitation was a small factor in the overall charm she brought to Rainbow Enterprises. Her regular ensemble of golden earrings and matching bow tie (something she always wore, for whatever reason) coupled with her foreign look well, and though many poies mocked her for it, the board members of Rainbow Enterprises knew the zebra for who she really was: a damn good CEO, and perhaps an even finer engineer.
"She doesn't talk to you either?" Rarity asked.
"Ms. Dash is very eccentric, I must say," Zecora replied, waving a hoof in the air. "It is hard to get to her these days."
"Darling, you do know that our dear Filthy Rich is trying to snatch up Rainbow Enterprises' shares, don't you?"
"No, I was not aware of that. But it is not a problem to be looking at. Ms. Dash has majority hold over those shares, so, again, do not worry about Mr. Rich's affairs." At this, she fell silent, indicating the conversation was over.
Rarity huffed and left, clearly disappointed to not have gotten to speak with Rainbow Dash. Zecora was impressed by her determination, but she wished she could have made it clearer that Dash was not available for chats. She turned and returned to her office, where she found she would have to eat her own words.
"Rainbow Dash, as I live and breathe," she said upon seeing the cyan pegasus herself sitting in the chair in front of her desk. "I have not seen you in years. It's hard to believe."
"It's good to see you again, Zecora," replied Dash, smiling genuinely.
Zecora trotted around the room to her side of the desk and sat down. "So, Ms. Dash, it nags me deep; what brings you out of cryo-sleep?"
Rainbow Dash chuckled. "Glad to see you've still got a sense of humor. Even if you haven't got most of my money around anymore."
Zecora was still smiling, but the humor in it had disappeared. "Actually, I'm afraid to say, it is your fault for your funding being this way." The zebra stood up and continued, stepping over towards a wall of bookshelves, much like the one in Rainbow Manor. "You see, my friend, when a project is begun and worked upon for years, then money problems are bound to appear. And when this project is simply tossed aside, well..." She turned and grinned at the pegasus again. "...I am certain that the company will not thrive."
"Even with a CEO like this," Zecora finished, gesturing at herself. "I'm afraid you're time is short, miss. Filthy Rich is closing in, and I am not sure our company can win."
Rainbow Dash took the foreshadowing in stride. "Alright, give me some options, then. What can I do?"
"If you will not turn on your machine-"
"I can't, Zecora," Dash interrupted. "You know it."
"Then the best plan is to sit tight and stay out of the way," Zecora advised. "Your majority will keep Filthy Rich at bay. we can find a solution to the problem of Miss Rarity, who has supported your project with great charity. She's a brilliant mind, and looks very fine."
The cyan mare groaned. "Not you too, Zecora?"
The zebra smirked. "There is more than one pony who wants what's best for you." She abruptly changed subject. "You must show her the machine, too."
"I'll think it over." Rainbow Dash got up to leave, pulling herself up on a cane. Zecora coughed lightly, making her turn back to the CEO.
"Is that all you need?" Zecora asked. "You need me for no other deed?"
The zebra smiled nostalgically. "I remember, from so long ago, that when these conversations end, you give a strange request from your vigilante friend."
Dash frowned again. "I'm 'retired.'"
"Ah, I see," said Zecora, nodding in understanding. Dash turned to leave, then realized something.
She didn't rhyme that time. Which means...
"I think it would be nice to show you something anyway, if I may plea."
The Applied Sciences division had been tucked away for years and years, along with Zecora. The re-discovery of the area by Rainbow Dash herself had led to the Batmare's eventual arsenal (and the costume), along with Zecora's positioning as the CEO of Rainbow Enterprises. The enormous facility was filled with unapproved technology from the four corners of Equestria, and had slowly turned into a graveyard before Dash's "hobby" had come to light.
Then Soarin' happened. And everything went wrong.
Now the place was once again a graveyard, as Dash had found it. Each piece of equipment, though dusty, was fully functional, thanks to the brilliant engineering mind of Zecora. Large military "tumblers" sat in a line in one zone of the facility. Rainbow Dash had once used one of these vehicles to move around the city, but when it had been destroyed by the Joker, she'd never bothered to replace it. Now, looking at them, she wondered how the Bat-Pod was doing.
"So, it still isn't shut down," said Rainbow Dash. "I'm surprised."
"It was always officially shut down, Ms. Dash," answered Zecora, looking around what was technically her second home. "But that does not mean that the systems all crash."
"Then what's with all the new stuff?"
"There were fourteen different areas where these were all stored," Zecora explained. "I've spent the past few years assembling this hoard. To keep them safe from untrustworthy hands, and whatever might be those hands' plans."
Rainbow Dash spun around once, taking in everything she could, old and new. Some part of her felt like she was coming home.
Zecora spoke up again. "So, what would you like? I have everything you could wish for. Infrared contact lenses, or perhaps a weapon that could end a war? Something for that leg, perhaps, to help you walk a little more?"
"I'm fine as I am." She hated lying about that, but she knew that if she took even one thing from this place, it would get her to come back again...and again...and again...
"Well, perhaps walking isn't your thing. For somepony who wants to fly, now, I have something good, with wings."
Rainbow Dash made to point out that, one, duh, she loved flying (or, used to), and two, that she didn't need anything with wings, because she didn't need to hide them behind a black cape anymore. She saw that Zecora had already moved to an enormous metal door that hid something in an adjacent room. She typed something out on a keypad, and the door slid open to reveal what appeared o be a giant metal construct made entirely of folding panels and giant rotors.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" said Zecora, admiring the giant metal contraption. "A way of maneuvering through cities without having to worry about smashing into buildings, yet here it sits."
Rainbow Dash ran a hoof along one of the plates. "What's it called?" she asked.
Don't get excited.
"Oh it had boring military designation, ROM-4358, something like that," said Zecora stepping up nest to the cyan pegasus. "I, however, took to simply calling it the Bat."
They turned to face each other. Zecora smiled slyly. "And yes, before you ask me back; it does indeed come in black."
Rainbow Dash looked up at the hulking metal beast. She couldn't help but wonder how well it maneuvered in air.
Don't get sucked back in.
"It works fantastic, I must mention," said Zecora, as if reading her mind. "Though the autopilot needs some attention."
"What's the problem?" said Dash, a little too quickly.
The software is on the fritz," said Zecora. "It may take take a mind more brilliant than mine to fix."
Dash raised an eyebrow. "A more brilliant mind?"
Zecora laughed. "That was modesty, Ms. Dash. I meant a less busy mind. Perhaps you know somepony that I could find?"
Don't let her pull you in.
She didn't. With a determined look on her face, Rainbow Dash turned and headed toward the exit.
"I'm retired," she mumbled, not sure if Zecora heard her or not.
I've seen worse cartilage in knees," the doctor said, examining an X-ray.
Rainbow Dash smiled, shifting in her seat on the examination table in the room. She was at the Ponyville Hospital, hoping to have some light shed on the problems with her knees. She was thankful that Fluttershy had managed to get him an appointment after-hours. She was also happy to know that the name Rainbow Dash still opened doors for her, financial problems or not.
"Well, that sounds good," she answered, glancing at the window anxiously. There were other thing she needed to do.
"Not really," said the doctor. "That's because there is no cartilage in your knees. And not much of any use in your forelegs, either. Between that and the scar tissue on your kidneys, concussive damage to your brain tissue, the overall scarred quality of your body, and the fact that you have no muscle in your wings anymore, I don't recommend you go stunt-flying." He noticed something on the X-ray, and his eyebrows seemed to shrug. "Your liver looks healthy, though, so if you're really that bored, you could always take up drinking, Ms. Dash."
"I'll think about it, doctor."
The physician left to attend to the rounds, leaving his patient in the examination room alone.
Rainbow Dash sighed, dressed quickly, and donned a wool ski mask before heading over to the window she'd been glancing at occasionally during her diagnosis. Taking up her cane, she twisted the ends, and pulled out an unbreakable wire and clipped one end to her belt. Then, she wedged the cane in the window frame, opened the window, and stepped out into the open air.
She'd rehearsed the moment in her head over and over again, but the actual process made her nervous. She dropped past floor after floor, and it seemed that the four seconds she had to count off were taking hours to pass.
"...four." She hit the breaking mechanism.
She stopped at the eleventh floor. Smiling, she flapped her apparently muscle-less wings and pushed herself towards the window sill. Opening it and sliding in stealthily, she had a flashback to another time when she'd had to sneak into a hospital, though for a much less important reason. Recalling the tactics she'd used then, Dash made her way silently to the bed at the other end of the room, where she found Twilight Sparkle lying.
Rainbow Dash's relationship with Twilight Sparkle was one that spanned decades. They'd first met the night Dash's parents were killed, when the then-only a student of Celestia's offered her her coat. Her first words to the pegasus had been, "I know it seems like it, but trust me, it isn't the end of the world." Later, once Batmare began, Twilight became a sort-of informant for the Caped Crusader, giving her information on what baddies were where.
And now, she was dying on a hospital bed.
Well, perhaps she wasn't dying. But the way she simply lay on the bed with a dozen machines hooked into her, complete with a gas mask hissing on her muzzle made it seem as though she were close to death. She looked old and ragged, like somepony who simply couldn't take living anymore. Rainbow Dash felt something red and fearful boiling inside her.
Twilight was her friend. And somepony did this to her.
She growled, almost unconsciously, and Twilight stirred. Her eyes fluttered open, and for a moment, Dash wondered if she would panic and get the hospital attendants to take her away. But the unicorn was calm, and seemed to recognize the figure before her (though, not as Rainbow Dash; she'd remembered to hide any trace of cyan or rainbow on her body). She tried to speak, but the oxygen mask muffled her speech. Her horn glowed weakly, and the mask lifted off her face.
"We were in this together," she said hoarsely. "Then you went-"
"The Batmare wasn't needed anymore," said Dash, disguising her voice as necessary. "We won."
"A lie. Our lie." Twilight coughed. "Something evil is rising up, now, from where we buried our lie. And nopony will listen." She was pleading with her eyes. "The Batmare has to come back."
Rainbow Dash stared at the weak unicorn. She was considering her options, weighing them in her mind. But she didn't have time. Still indecisive, she asked, "What if she doesn't exist anymore?"
"She must," Twilight croaked, gasping for breath. "She must."
The Big, Fat Charity Ball
Ponyville's Old Town was where tribute was made to great ponies from the days when Ponyville was simply Ponyville. Amongst these great monuments stood the Old Town Hall, where Mayor Mare had first been elected mayor of Ponyville; the first Sweet Apple Acres, where it was rumored that the owner, Applejack, tended to it more than her current business; even the Ponyville Library, renamed the Twilight Sparkle Public Library (for quite obvious reasons), was still there, basking in the moonlight as its branches swayed in the gentle breeze.
Ponyville's Old Town was also home to ninety percent of the immigrants, drug dealers, and squatters in Ponyville. The other ten percent were their neighbors.
The monuments had long been degraded and vandalized (save for the Library; ponies still went there occasionally, and thus, Twilight herself put an enchantment on it to keep thugs away) by various thuggish ponies. Along the streets and back alleys of Old Town, various drug dealings, gambling pits, and other unmentionable activities went on almost constantly. While the police force claimed they cleaned the streets of Ponyville, the view from Pinkie Pie's window told another story.
The pink mare turned away from the window to the mirror beside it, admiring herself. Her brand new super-duper colorful pearls looked just Pinkie keen with her thin black dress. She turned towards her door, already anticipating her excursion for the night.
The sound of two ponies fighting near the stairwell made her stop. She recognized one of those voices, and groaned when she realized what was happening.
"I told you!" Pumpkin shouted. She was shaking a hoof at a colt in a suit. "Money first!"
"You stole my wallet!" replied the colt. Pinkie could tell where this was going, and she slunk closer to the fighting couple, concentrating on what the colt was doing.
"Damn you!" he continued, apparently not satisfied enough with an accusation. "You took my bucking wallet!" He raised a hoof to punch the young mare. There was a golden watch on his hoof.
No you don't, Pinkie thought. The colt, thankfully, was so intent on punching Pumpkin that he didn't notice the bubbly mare reach out and grab his hoof. She twisted it, and growled, "Get out of here."
The colt stared in stupid astonishment. "She took my wallet!" he said dumbly, as if she cared. Pinkie shoved him away, towards the stairwell, and the colt fumbled at the edge of the stairs for a moment. He grunted with pain, and gave Pinkie a dirty look.
"Now," she hissed, and the colt went away.
Pinkie turned to Pumpkin, an accusing look on her face. The light orange unicorn was flipping through a large brown wallet, and looked up only after she removed a small sack of bits from it. She checked it, and frowned. She turned back to Pinkie Pie, ignoring the loo she was getting.
"He only had sixty bits in here. Don't know why he was so angry."
"What did I tell you about messing with plotholes?"
Pumpkin rolled her eyes. "They're all plotholes."
Pinkie sighed. "The ones that hit, then." Though there weren't many things that Pinkie cared about in her life besides her work, Pumpkin had been a key reason for her continuing to thieve. The unicorn and her entire family, consisting of her brother and parents, were all trying to live of of whatever they could get. Mr. and Mrs. Cake were fantastic bakers, but could barely afford to keep the shop they sold their goods in. Her brother, well...Pinkie didn't know what her brother did. And she didn't want to know, either. Pumpkin was her heir of a sorts, and she was trying her best to teach the young filly what she knew, so that her poor family could live with basic essentials. Pumpkin was practically her sister, and if anything happened to her, she would die.
"No I wouldn't," she'd responded when having a talk with Mrs. Cake one day. "If anything happened to Pumpkin, I'd kill them."
They heard the colt swear from outside the building. Pumpkin sighed again.
"Seriously, there's only sixty bits! Nothing else! Why's he so mad?"
"Probably the watch." Pinkie grinned, and held up the glittering gold watch the had been on the colt's hoof mere moments before. She tossed it to Pumpkin, and said, "Give this to your father. I've got to go. Don't wait up."
Pinkie bounced out of the apartment complex and into a nearby taxi completely unaware of the silver Lamborghini parked on the other side of the street. As the cab drove off, so did the Lamborghini.
Arriving at the Ponyville Museum of Art, Rainbow Dash prepared herself for what was about to happen. She stepped out of her car, and opened the back seat of the car to get her cane.
She heard a nearby paparazzo (they were everywhere; this was the place to be in Ponyville right now) chortle and say, "Look. Another stiff too lazy to get out of his car." What was said next made Dash want to check and see what expression the paparazzo was wearing: "No! That's Rainbow Dash!"
She could already feel the paparazzi hounding her as she moved from her car to the valet, who seemed to be the only pony without a camera. Fortunately, she'd come prepared. As the press moved in, she quietly clicked a button on her cane. The cameras, phones, and other electronic devices that were assigned to capture her image went out, without explanation. The paparazzi studied their cameras furiously, hoping to fix the proble in time to get a picture of the Rainbow Dash.
She never gave them a chance. Smiling, she entered the Museum, ready to take back her pearls.
She spotted Pinkie only ten minutes after entering the ball. She stood at a banister on the upper floor, watching couples dance, and kept her eyes locked on the pink mare wearing the stolen pearls and a velvet mask with (she almost laughed) cat ears dancing with a stallion who looked at least 30 years older than her. She made to intercept, but was intercepted herself instead.
"Rainbow Dash? At a charity ball?"
She already knew who the voice belonged to and groaned inwardly. She turned to face Rarity, hoping she could end the conversation quick. She was startled by how attractive the white unicorn looked wearing a long black dress with matching mask and necklace. Her stunning blue eyes shone knowingly from behind the wall of velvet. Rainbow shook her head to clear it, and pretended she didn't know who it was talking to her.
"Is that...Ms. Rarity?"
She smiled, and pulled the mask away, revealing the whole of her visage. "Very observant, darling." She seemed amazed to see her at the ball, and made it clear by saying, "Even when you weren't a recluse, you never came to places like this..."
Rainbow felt she would need to be extra cocky to win her hand tonight. "Yeah, well," she said, "it isn't about the charity part, 'cause everypony knows the profits from this pay for the big fat spread. These things are done to stroke the nice, big egos of the old, boring hags who hold these kinda things." She took a champagne glass from a nearby server, sipped, and added, "Make 'em feel good."
Rarity's smile was gone. "This is my party, dear."
Rainbow Dash swallowed her drink hard. "Oh," she sputtered, choking on the fruity champagne.
Now the smile came back. "The profits will go wherever I so wish, deary," she continued, "because I've paid for the 'big fat spread' myself."
Dash didn't dare doubt her.
"How generous of you."
"You have to invest, if you want to fix the world," she said, setting the mask down on the banister. "Take our clean energy project, for instance."
Zecora and Fluttershy were both right. This mare was extremely lovely.
"I'm sorry that your investment in me didn't pay off," Rainbow answered.
Rarity scanned her over, thoughtfully.
"It seems to me, Rainbow, that you have a practiced apathy towards other ponies. But I can see that you care about the world--why else would you spend half of your fortune on it?" She trotted past, and stopped to whisper in her ear:
"And, just between us, I've been investing in the project, not you. Not yet." Then she slipped off.
Rainbow Dash stared at the mask she'd left behind. Part of her wanted to take it and turn to call to the unicorn, make her come back to get it. The other part of her was focused on a certain mare with cat ears currently dancing with a senior citizen in the middle of the dance floor.
Eh, she probably wouldn't have taken it back, she thought as she trotted down the stairs to the dance floor, her eyes never leaving the pink mare. When she made it to the couple, she was laughing at one of her "date's" jokes. Or, at least, pretending to laugh.
"Mind if I cut in?" she said, pushing the old stallion out of the way with her cane before handing it to him. Ignoring the silent complaint of the senior citizen, she took Pinkie's hooves in her own, getting up on her hind legs (something she hadn't done in years, she realized, eight to be exact) and moving into the rhythm of the music without skipping a beat. Pinkie looked less than happy to see her.
"You don't look very happy to see me."
She let Dash lead, stepping with her across the dance floor. She ignored the looks they were getting.
"You're supposed to be sitting all comfy-wumfy in your big bad mansion."
"I wanted some fresh air."
Pinkie's head tilted. She look more curious than irked now.
"Why didn't you call the police?"
"I have a...powerful friend who can handle this kind of thing," she said, hoping she sounded enough like Dashie and not Rainbow Dash. She rubbed a hoof along Pinkie's cat ears, admiring them. "Pretty funny costume for a cat burglar."
"At least somepony gets the joke," she said, rolling her eyes at the pegasus. "So, who are you supposed to be?"
"Why, I'm Rainbow Dash, eccentric billionaire and sickest gal in Ponyville," she said, smiling. She noticed the old stallion glaring at them from across the room. "So, your date? Cool guy?"
Pinkie rolled her eyes. "His wife's in Ibiza, but she left her diamonds with him." She giggled. "She didn't want them to get stolen."
Rainbow Dash smiled, and muttered, "It's pronounced I-beetha. Ya don't want these nice, fancy ponies noticing how out of place you sound."
Pinkie was still smirking. "Silly filly. I don't care what anypony in this room thinks of me." Her voice had changed to one that sounded almost like Rarity's, and Rainbow Dash almost congratulated her on her acting abilities.
"I highly doubt you care what anypony anywhere thinks of you," she said, still smiling.
"Oooo, don't condescend," said Pinkie. "I don't think you know anything about me."
"Well, Pinkamina Diane Pie, I know you got here from your ghetto pad in Old Town. I know that that's a very modest place for a master jewel thief, and thus, I know that you're either saving up for something real nice...or you're hiding from a big, bad crowd."
Pinkie was no longer smiling. Rainbow Dash decided she didn't like that. She also decided not to let Rainbow Dash have too many cracks with her anymore.
"You think you're super smart, don't you?" said Pinkie, giving her best pity face. "Just 'cause you were born in the master bedroom of the Rainbow Manor."
"Actually, it was the Swimming Pool. Long story."
"I did what I had too, first," she said, ignoring Dash's last comment. She looked nostalgic, and Dash decided that also wasn't good. "But, once you do what you have to, you can't do what you want to." Now she looked genuinely sad.
"Ah, a fresh start. That's a good one."
Surprisingly, Pinkie giggled loudly. "Silly filly, you can't get a fresh start! You can't erase your history, just like that. A blank-flank little filly could look up everything you've done in a book. The world doesn't let you go. It lets you know what you did wrong, even when you already know."
"It also lets you know what you did right," Dash argued.
"Yeah, but the bad stuff sticks better," Pinkie said. "The good stuff is like flour. It just won't stick."
Rainbow Dash eyed the Rainbow Pearls around Pinkie's neck. Mistakes, huh? she thought.
"I suppose that justifies your stealing, then."
"I take what I need from the ones with too much to handle," she answered. "I wouldn't take from somepony who couldn't survive if I did." Her mind drifted to Pumpkin for a moment.
"I can do more to help somepony than anypony else in this room," she said. "Including you."
Her playful mood was coming back. That wasn't necessarily bad, but it wasn't good, either.
"You're assuming too much, I think," Dash replied.
"Well, I think," she said, slipping a hoof down to Rainbow's flank, "that you're being very unrealistic about what's in your pants beside your wallet."
"I'm a mare," Rainbow replied. She hadn't flinched.
They glided across the extravagant dance floor, silent for a moment. Pinkie kept her hooves in the same position as before, and Rainbow Dash was beginning to worry about the wandering eyes of other ponies at the ball. Pinkie glanced at the artwork hanging around them, and giggled again. She did not use her Playful Voice when she spoke again.
"Do you think all of this can last?" she asked, drawing closer to the cyan mare's muzzle. "There's a storm coming, Dashie, and when it hits, you and all your rich little friends are gonna be standing around wondering how you could have lived so large...and left so little for everypony else."
"Somepony sounds excited about it," she replied.
For now, thought Rainbow Dash, remembering the list of accusations on her computer screen down below the Manor. She was being reeled in, though her struggles were mighty, and she knew it.
"Well, I gotta admit, you look pretty sweet with those pearls," she said, putting up the shield of her other self. She let her own hooves wander up to the back of Pinkie's neck, and unclasped the necklace. "But I still can't let ya keep 'em."
Pinkie Pie glared at Rainbow Dash for a moment. They'd stopped dancing, thankfully on the edge of the dance floor, where nopony else was dancing towards. Rainbow Dash realized this at the same moment Pinkie tightened her grip on the cyan mare's butt and kissed her, hard. She pulled away quickly and sped off into the crowd. Rainbow Dash felt the taste of bubblegum fading on her lips, and realized she was already halfway to the door. She knew she couldn't reach Pinkie on her bad legs, and went to retrieve her cane from the old stallion.
"You scared her off," he complained when she took her cane back.
"I don't think so," she said, looking behind her again. "And, honestly, guy, I don't think you should go after her."
She began to make her way to the door. "I think she's a fillyfooler."
She heard the old geezer curse behind her, and grinned.
When she stepped out of the museum again, she reached the valet fumbling in the suit she was wearing. She felt herself beginning to blush, and forced it back.
"Uhh...I think I lost my ticket."
The valet looked confused.
"I'm sorry, but your wife said you were taking a cab home?"
Pinkie Pie was grinning from ear-to-ear in the Lamborghini as it zoomed down the road. She loved it when boys let other boys play with their toys.
Pound Cake's gonna love this, she thought, and revved the engine to warn other drivers to clear the road.
Fluttershy picked Rainbow Dash up an hour later.
"Just you, miss?" asked the butler.
"I swear to Celestia, Fluttershy, I'm gonna tuck and roll." She didn't like being outsmarted.
"Don't worry, Mistress Dash," Fluttershy replied cheerfully. "It takes a few days to get back in the swing of things."
Rainbow Dash ignored her, and pulled out a phone. She hit a speed dial button, and several seconds later was on the phone with Zecora.
"I have an unusual request."
"I knew it," said Zecora. "You-"
Rainbow stopped her. "I get it, I'm predictable. Now, that order..."
As the two talked over the phone, Dash noticed that the pegasus driving the car had lost her cheerful attitude, and had fallen silent at the wheel. Looking in the rear-view mirror, she noticed that Fluttershy was crying, not enough to interfere with her driving or for anyone to notice from behind, but she was. Rainbow Dash felt a pang of guilt strike her in her gut. Then Zecora mentioned the Bat, and she was sucked back into the world she had avoided for eight years before finally coming to face the truth.
It was time to come out of retirement.
The Dark Mare Returns
Rainbow Dash's leg braces arrived at the Rainbow Manor the next morning. She decided to put it on in the Batcave, where there were no eyes save for those of the bats and one very melancholy butler. She was low on sleep that night, having only gotten a few hours since the masquerade, but she felt wide awake. There had been enough sleeping the past eight years.
Staring down at the braces she'd placed on her knees, Dash felt the nervousness about them she'd felt when she'd ordered them coming back onto her again. She gulped, and pressed a button on each of the braces. They immediately tightened on the joints her leg, causing her to scream in utter agony, if for only a second.
Fluttershy, who had been watching with a disappointed expression on her face, asked, "Does it hurt terribly?"
Dash turned to her butler, breathing heavily and trying not to scream again. "You're welcome to try it, if you'd like."
The yellow mare shook her head. "I'm happy just watching, thank you."
Rainbow Dash waited for the agony to dull down. When it did, she slowly stood up on her hind legs and bent her knees. There was an infinitesimal moment where pain wracked her legs. Then it was gone, and she could walk.
"Not bad," she said, grinning down at the braces. She spun suddenly and administered a kick to a brick podium nearby, breaking a large chunk off. The bats overhead screeched, and she watched them fly around the stalactites madly.
"Not bad at all."
Fluttershy looked at the chipped podium, looking disappointed at her ability to walk--and kick--again. A pensive look replaced the disappointed one, and she looked over at Rainbow Dash.
"If you're seriously considering going back out there, then I think you should know something about this Spike character. There are...rumors."
"All ears," replied Dash, sitting down again and giving Fluttershy her full attention.
"There is a prison," Fluttershy began. "In a lonely part of the world. In a part of the world where dragons live. There is a pit, out there in the middle of nowhere. A pit where ponies, dragons, griffons, you name it, are thrown in to suffer and die. Wings are removed from pegusi, horns are broken off of unicorns, and these creatures live in agony. But, sometimes, somepony rises from the pit. Sometimes the pit spits something back up."
Rainbow Dash nodded. "Spike."
"Born and raised in Tartarus itself," said Fluttershy, looking as though she might go running under a table any second.
"Born in prison?"
"Nopony knows why," replied the butler, "and nopony knows how he escaped. But I do know that the one who trained him..." She seemed to not want tell her. But, eventually, the truth came out. "...was Ra's al Ghul. Your old mentor."
Rainbow Dash stared at her butler in dismay. Ra's al Ghul, known by the alias of Prince Blueblood, had been the leader of the group known as the League of Shadows, an ancient order of assassins and crusaders bent on destroying crime and corruption--by any means necessary. Rainbow Dash had been trained to carry on the League's work, and insteadhad been sculpted into the Dark Mare that was now readying to return.
Then Ra's had turned his sights on Ponyville, something she couldn't allow him to do. In the end, he had been incinerated in a monorail derailing. She didn't kill him, but she hadn't tried to save him.
"Spike was picked by Ra's out of the darkest part of the world," continued Fluttershy, shivering as she went on, "and trained him using the same methods he used with you."
"Spike is part of the League of Shadows."
"Was," corrected Fluttershy. "He was excommunicated. And anypony, or dragon, too extreme for the League of Shadows can't be messed with."
Rainbow Dash was not going to be intimidated.
"I'm sorry you don't like what I'm doing, but stop trying to scare me out of this."
"I only want you safe. And when you're the Batmare, you're never safe." She had tears in her eyes again. "You aren't who you were before, Rainbow Dash. You aren't the Batmare anymore." She sniffled, then added, "Please. Don't."
Rainbow Dash turned away from her. "I can't help any other way. I tried." She turned away and began to walk toward a small metal chamber rising up from the ground. "Just ask Rarity," she said, and threw open the closet.
There lay the suit of the Batmare, in all of its glory. Her Utility Belt, the bullet-proof chest plate, the gauntlets adorned with metal fins, the cloak that hid the fact that she could be a pegasus (who would have wings made from fabric when you've already got real ones?)...and the cowl. It shone in the light of the bulbs overhead, its pointed ears standing up attentively. Once, it had struck fear into Ponyville's criminals. Now, it would do so again.
Rainbow Dash took the cowl off of its perch.
The Ponyville Stock Exchange was one of the most evil places in the city. Many ponies, from all social classes, agreed to this theory. The world inside it was so different from the one outside that one would think they'd stepped over to another dimension.
Inside, hundreds of employees ran around in suits and suspenders, trying to buy buy buy, sell sell sell. At a horseshoe-shining station nearby, two of these employees exchanged notes on the sudden reappearance of Rainbow Dash in Ponyville society.
"She showed up at a party, so what?"
"That's change, isn't it? Change is either good or bad. I vote bad."
"On what basis?"
A shrug. "I flipped a coin."
Neither of the business colts paid any mind to the dragon polishing their shoes.
Outside the Exchange, a trader was hurriedly accepting a sandwich from a young-looking drake selling food at a delivery truck. The trader took a look at his sandwich and groaned.
"I ask for rye," he complained. The dragon shrugged, and the colt opened his mouth to protest when something went off on his phone. He checked it, and his eyes widened quickly. The sandwich wasn't important anymore.
The stallion pulled a satchel of ten bits out of his pocket. "Here," he mumbled, and turned to run back inside the building.
He would never get that far.
A motorcycle drove up to the rear entrance of the Exchange. There was momentary confusion from the guards, as the rear was used for deliveries. What was more, the rider was a dragon. They saw that he had a package with him, however, and let him by, albeit a bit grudgingly. A ruby-colored helmet hid his features.
"Hey buddy!" one of the security guards yelled. "Lose the helmet! Need faces for the camera!"
The dragon reached for his helmet.
In the colt's room, one of the janitors mopped the floor. Though he was a dragon, not many ponies seemed to care, though there was the occasional whisper. Behind him, toilets flushed. He snuck a peek at his wristwatch.
It's time, he thought.
Reaching into the bucket of soapy water, the drake removed a large Ziploc bag. In it was a mini-Uzi machine pistol.
He tossed the mop aside.
The two brokers examined their horseshoes proudly, then left for the trading floor again, leaving the horseshoe-shiner to count his pay. He looked up and watched them go.
They didn't tip me, he thought, and almost laughed.
His name was Firestarter, and he was only 16 years old. He was practically a baby, and yet he was ready to die for his cause today. He turned to a stuffed gym bag next to him, opened it, and admired the sub-machine gun inside. It had been a bitch to get inside the Exchange, but the time for hiding it was almost over.
He slowly stood up, shouldering the bag, and walked in the same direction as his previous customers.
The sandwich vendor drew a pistol out from beneath the stand and butted his unhappy customer in the head. The colt fell to the ground, and his sandwich slipped out of his hand and onto the ground.
The dragon stepped in it as he entered the Exchange.
The motorcycle dragon removed his helmet. The sight of the freakish rubber mask on the dragon's head made the guard gasp. He fumbled for the taser on his belt.
Spike was too quick. Lunging forward, the dragon snatched up the guard and tossed him into a group of other guards, sending them tumbling to the ground. Spike was on them in a second, ready to achieve his goal: inflict as much damage as quickly as possible.
He stomped on one guard's throat, caving in his windpipe. At the same time, he grabbed a female guard and snapped her neck as easily as a twig, cleaving another guard's face into chunks with his free claw in the same moment. Blood spattered everywhere. Ribs cracked. Necks were twisted into gruesome angles.
Then Spike stepped out of the ring he'd made with the guards bodies. 20 seconds had past since he removed his helmet.
The horseshoe-shiner burst into the chaos of the trading floor. He raised his sub-machine gun above his head and opened fire, sending sparks flying into the ceiling. A new kind of chaos took hold on the floor. Terrified traders galloped toward the exits, only to find them guarded by more gun-dragons. The janitor and the sandwich vendor joined their companion on the trading floor. The three herded the hostages into the center of the floor using their multi-colored flame breath. When they were herded, a new figure stepped into the room.
Spike strode in through the flames like a demon out of Tartarus. Which, in some cases, he was.
"This is a stock exchange!" yelled one of the hostages. It was the same colt that had stiffed the horseshoe-shiner on his tip. "There isn't any money for you to steal here!"
Spike regarded the colt scornfully.
"Then why would you be here?"
He strode over to the trader and seized him by the neck. His long, spiked tail curled around the colt's wrist and set it on one of the fingerprint readers at the automated trading terminal the trader had been sitting at. It recognized his prints, then asked for a password. The dragon leaned in close and spoke in the stallion's ear.
"Type in the password, or little Twist dies."
The stallion's eyes widened. How could he know my daughter? He typed the password in quickly, and turned to the masked drake.
He never finished. Spike smashed his head down on the table, knocking him out cold. He gestured to Firestarter, who brought over a USB drive and plugged it into the terminal. Figures and digits began racing up and down the screen, and a light on Firestarter's laptop told him there was a wireless connection established.
Spike watched the numbers race, and his plan unfolded before him.
"Get your truck out of the way!" yelled Scootaloo. She waved her hooves at a large colt driving a cement truck, who was inconveniently sitting in the middle of where the police were making their stand against the dragons attacking the Stock Exchange. The truck driver looked around, saw nowhere to drive, and smirked at the young cop.
"Where can I move it?"
"That way!" Scootaloo pointed behind the truck, and saw that the only clear path was now being blocked by the Royal Guard vans that were currently arriving. Scootaloo cursed under her breath, and turned back to the truck driver. "Just stay here," she said. "In your vehicle."
Then she charged over to where Big Macintosh was talking with Shining Armor, Captain of the Royal Guard and Twilight Sparkle's brother. A terrified colt was galloping over from the building to the two as well. He looked like he was the head of security at the Exchange. He also looked like he was having a very bad day.
"You've got to get in there!" he yelped as he approached. Big Mac raised an eyebrow.
"This is a hostage situation."
"No!" the guard argued. "It's a robbery! He has access to all of the stocks in Ponyville from there!"
Big Mac looked unmoved.
"Ah' not riskin' the lives of mah men for yer money," he replied.
"It's not just my money, you dumb hick!" the head of security yelled. "It's everypony's money!"
Before Big Mac could reach over and slug the guard, Shining Armor intervened.
"Everypony's money, huh? Well, mine's in my mattress, last time I checked."
The head of security leaned in and butted heads with the Captain.
"Yeah? Well, if you let these things do what they like with the stocks, then your mattress stuffing is gonna get a lot less valuable."
The message finally got through to him and Big Mac.
"Cut off all connections, including the cell phone tower." The Captain scowled at the building, and Big Mac wondered if he was thinking about his 401K plan. So was he.
He hoped that it would be enough to stop them.
Firestarter growled and turned to Spike.
"They've cut connections," he said, and checked his laptop again. "But the cell's still working-"
"For now," said Spike. "How long do we need?"
The blueish drake checked. "Eight minutes."
Spike glanced at the clock on the wall.
"Time to go mobile, then."
Big Mac's level of worry hit its peak when a large group of hostages came out of the building, all of them looking terrified. His worry was justified when a group of four motorcyclists came bursting out the doors, carrying a hostage on each bike with them. They sped of down a blocked street, easily jumped the police cars, and zoomed down the road.
The briefness of this sequence of events was so sudden that it took a moment for the police and Royal Guard to react to what had just happened.
Only a moment.
The bikes sped down the highway, ignoring and breaking every speed limit ever set in Ponyville. Horns of unsuspecting cars honked at them as they ran red light after red light. Pedestrians leapt out of the way and ran for cover as the bikes headed for a midtown tunnel. A bus pulled over to let a patrol car by.
The black-and-white cruiser followed the bikers furiously. It's siren blared as the five vehicles approached the tunnel.
Officer Sweetie Belle was a rookie, even more so than Scootaloo. Her partner, the ex-Wonderbolt Rapidfire (often called "the other Soarin'," a name he despised, for obvious reasons), had been on the force for almost twenty years. He was there to watch over Sweetie Belle, and make sure she didn't mess things up on these sort of assignments. Right now, the mare seemed to be enjoying her first high-speed chase, and was gripping the steering wheel tightly and pounding the gas pedal.
If we're lucky, we can be the ones who catch these guys! she thought.
"Shoot the tires!" she yelled at her partner.
"Good call," he said, and leaned out the window, pointing a pistol at the nearest biker. They entered the tunnel, and the veteran cop shot at the bike, missing the tires and, it seemed, almost hitting the hostage on the bike. He realized there was no shot, and pulled himself back into the car as they entered a larger part of the tunnel. It was illuminated by large fluorescent lights from above, and every inch of space was visible from their position in the center of it--at least, until the lights behind them started going off.
"What the-?" Sweetie Belle saw the cloak of darkness speed towards them through her rear-view mirror. Then their engine died.
"WHAT THE-?" she began to shout, when something shadowy sped by them. An ebony cape fluttered behind it.
Rapidfire's jaw dropped.
"That isn't possible..." he muttered, not believing his eyes.
Sweetie Belle turned to him. "What? What is that?" She had no idea what was happening.
Her partner turned over to her, a grin slowly forming on his face.
"Kid, you're in for a show tonight."
The bikes shot out of the tunnel into the starless night, unaware of the pursuit of the cloaked figure that had just disabled the lights. The sandwich vendor, named Lightning, looked behind him, and was pleased to see that the patrol car was not longer behind them. There was a more troubling matter, though, and the combined effect of the blackness of night and his helmet made it impossible to see what that problem was.
He could still hear something chasing them. This wasn't part of the plan.
The bike's engine sputtered and died suddenly. Seizing her opportunity, the hostage pulled hard at her bonds, snapped them, and jumped off the bike as it slowed down. She rolled across the pavement and stood up, shaking violently and bruised in several places.
"Somepony help me, please!" she yelled, waving her hooves wildly.
Lightning drew a pistol from his belt. No loose ends, he thought, and aimed it at the panicked pony. As he slowed down on his silent ride, he aimed, and-
Something knocked him off his bike. Hard. Darkness swept over him, and he felt an iron hoof crush his hand, making him drop his pistol. He attempted to breath fire at the unending blackness, but something stepped on his windpipe, choking him. He felt himself slipping into unconsciousness, and looked over in time to see an armored figure hop back onto what looked like an extreme version of a motorbike. As the figure sped of, its cape fluttered behind it, looking like the wings of an enormous bat.
Big Mac took a moment to take in the news Rapidfire had just given him over the radio. Slowly, he smiled, a let out a whoop.
"Yee-haw! They've spotted the Batmare!" He turned to Shining Armor. "Let's roll!"
The Captain of the Royal Guard nodded, and the two passed by a stunned Scootaloo on their way to their cars.
Is she really back? thought the orange pegasus. After all these years?
She was ready to find out. She sped towards her patrol car.
The bikes, only three now, split up at the next intersection. Two veered one way, and the other took another. An overpass loomed over the crossing--as did the Batmare.
The Bat-Pod drove up to the edge of the overpass, and the fully-armored mare stepped off of it. She pulled out a futuristic-looking gun, and pointed it at the fleeing bikes. It glowed bright blue. An electronic tone sounded, and the muzzle of the gun pulsed.
The janitor had traded his mop for a pistol and a sports bike. He was certain of his ability to evade the police as he separated from Spike and the other biker. Then his engine sputtered and died.
He instinctively hit the brake, and swore loudly when he did. A group of police officers surrounded him as he slowed down dramatically, and the hostage on his bike jumped off to avoid getting caught in the potential crossfire.
The janitor watched him run off. He laughed at the fool's pathetic attempts to hold onto his life. You'll lose it soon, anyway, he thought, resigning himself to his fate and stopping the bike completely. The police were upon him in seconds.
"The fire rises," he muttered under his breath, as though in prayer.
The Batmare frowned as the other two bikes sped off down the highway. The gun hadn't reached them.
Oh well, she thought. I guess we'll do this the old-fashioned way.
She holstered the gun and got back on the Bat-Pod, ready to pursue the masked dragon and his goons. Or, his remaining goon.
The Bat-Pod sped down the highway.
"Get ev'ryone down there, now!" Big Mac yelled into the radio. Scootaloo sat next to him, having resigned to being held back by the crimson stallion. She was having a hard time believing that the Batmare was really trying to do anything wrong, as she'd already taken down two of the culprits for them. Big Mac, however, still seemed to be stuck on the case set aside eight years ago, concerning Soarin'.
The stallion started up the car's engine, grinning almost maniacally.
"Ah'm about ta do what Twilight never could," he said, starting down the road. "Ah'm gonna catch th' Batmare."
Scootaloo sat in silence for a moment, considering the manic tone in her bosses' voice. She turned to him, and asked, "What about the armed robbers?"
Big Mac ignored her.
Patrol cars from all over the city came roaring towards one area of Ponyville. Along with them came helicopters, otorcycles, and even the canine unit.
The question was--who were they chasing?
Spike knew what an EMP pulse looked like, and the darkening world around him said that one had just been fired. Only one individual in Ponyville would use such a device, he knew.
He decided that the sack of meat sitting behind him was too much of a weigh-down. He rode up next to Firestarter, and in one swift motion grabbed the hostage behind him and put him on the other bike, which had been the only one without a hostage on it.
Firestarter cursed as the added weight threw him out of balance. As Spike sped away, he tried desperately to balance the bike.
Spike looked back to see the Batmare pursuing Firestarter and his hostage. Compassion had always been her weakness, and she was ignoring the only bike without a hostage completely.
Under his mask, Spike smiled.
We'll simply have to fight another day, dear betrayer, he thought.
The radio crackle in Big Mac's car.
"One of the bikes have veered off. There's no hostage," it stated.
Big Mac did not respond.
"Should we pursue?" asked the radio.
"Negative," ordered the stallion. "Stay on th' Batmare."
Scootaloo was appalled. "But the perp's getting away!"
Who d'you want to catch?" asked Big Mac, looking at the pegasus as though she were an idiot. "Some robber, or the bitch who killed Soarin'?"
Scootaloo gave him a poison look, but held her tongue.
Spike sped past the cop cars that were now intent on catching the Batmare, driving in the opposite direction. The return of the Caped Crusader was exactly what Spike had needed to escape easily. Spike chuckled.
"Welcome back," he said to the air. "We've all been waiting."
The dragon made his way to a nearby tunnel, ignoring the helicopters, motorbikes, and other patrol cars as much as they were ignoring him. Without decelerating, he sped into the tunnel.
Firestarter was in trouble. Having been left behind with the remaining hostage while Spike made his escape, he found that every time he checked the rear-view mirror, the Batmare was closing in. Thankfully, he heard a beeping coming from his laptop. The program was finished, as was his mission. Now he just needed to escape.
Which he couldn't do.
He turned back, and saw that the Bat-Pod had gone out of view. It suddenly zoomed up next to his bike, and Firestarter was shocked to see that it had no rider. The Batmare had disappeared, and he realized what this meant too late.
A giant black shape descended from the heavens and brained him off of his bike. He rolled across the pavement, and when he stopped, he reached desperately for his laptop.
The Batmare was on him in a second. She smashed the viewing window of his helmet, sending shards of glass into Firestarter's face. She yanked the dragon to his feet, and her mask was mere inches from his face as she shouted at the drake.
"WHAT WERE YOU STEALING?"
He did not answer. The Batmare saw that he woudn't answer, no matter what she did. So, she dropped him, and trotted over to the laptop lying on the ground beside the toppled bike.
On its screen was the meassge:
Then the world was filled with sound. Batmare looked up to see hundreds of officer from Ponyville and the Royal Guard surrounding her. She grunted, and pulled the USB out of the laptop. She shoved it into a pouch in her Utility Belt even as one of the police officers yelled at her.
"STEP AWAY FROM THE BIKE!" he shouted.
As if, thought Batmare before examining her surroundings to get a better view of her potential escape routes. Her eye caught a towing system, and she knew what she could use that for. She sped back to her bike, knowing that the cops wouldn't actually shoot her, and readied the large cannons on each side of the Bat-Pod.
The cops realized what she was doing just as she fired. The cannons blasted the towing device, and part of it fell down to make a sort of ramp. The Batmare sped along the road ignoring the warnings from the police. She hit the ramp and jumped it, speeding off towards what appeared to be-
"Downtown," whispered of the officers. "She's a moron."
Big Mac and Scootaloo were waiting for the Batmare when she turned the corner into one of the main streets of Ponyville. The crimson stallion smiled.
"That's it," he mumbled. "Right here."
Scootaloo recognized the vehicle she was riding from the cruddy footage she'd seen of one of his confrontations with the Joker. The bike had been able to flip a semi-trailer twenty times the size of it with a built-in grappling hook and chain. She thought back to her visit to Rainbow Manor.
I brought her back, she realized. I convinced the Batmare to return. She was embarrassed by the pride she felt as the Dark Mare drew closer. She was trapped, didn't she realize? Why didn't she do something?
She did. Before the Batmare reached the blockade of cop cars, she turned ninety degrees, flipping the wheels of the Bat-Pod as she did so, and went speeding down an alley. She disappeared into the shadows.
Big Mac smirked. "She must not've done much with her brain these past few years. That's a dead end." More patrol units showed up, and slowly began to surround the alley as Big Mac signaled to them. Helicopters hovered over the alley, providing air support.
"Like a rat in a trap," said Big Mac. He approached the alley, gesturing for somepony to bring him a bullhorn. He brought it to his lips, intent on ordering the Batmare out of the alley.
A deafening roar came from the back of the alley. Big Mac saw a storm of blown-up dirt and litter headed towards him, and had time to hit the floor before an enormous black aircraft came zooming out of the alley. The lights on the cop cars blew out when the intense wind hit them, and the metal contraption hovered for a moment above the police force. Scootaloo could see the Batmare inside a secure and heavily-armed cockpit. The twin rotors blasted air down upon the cops, and many ponies were shoved to the floor.
The aircraft roared of into the night. Scootaloo stared after it for a while, and turned to Big Mac.
"You sure that was her?" she asked.
Big Mac glared at her and shoved the bullhorn at her.
From her hospital bed, Twilight watched the events in downtown Ponyville unfold. The TV was tiny, the picture was blurry, but the image of the giant black aircraft zooming out into the night. The Batmare had returned.
For the first time in days, Twilight Sparkle smiled.
Catmare and Batmare vs. Evil
"-police are keeping quiet about the rumored return of the Batmare, but eyewitness accounts certainly seem to suggest-"
Filthy Rich muted the television. Flim, his assistant, looked up from his cell phone.
"Spike says that the Batmare intervened, but did no damage."
Filthy did not looked relieved.
"What about the drakes they arrested."
"His exact words were, 'they would die before talking.'"
At that, Filthy got up from his chair and strode across the room. Now he was relieved. Spike was a nightmare, to be sure, but if their was one thing he could keep, it was confidentiality.
"Where does he find these guys?" the stallion wondered aloud.
Flim shrugged. He didn't now, and truthfully didn't care to.
"Well, all the same, pop the champagne bottles," cheered Filthy, stepping into the next room over . He turned off his TV, done with the Batmare for the night. He was in a different kind of mood. "And let's get some mares up here, come on!"
"Careful what you wish for," whispered somepony nearby, and something flew out from inside the doorway. Filthy was flung against the wall of his office, and the figure, which turned out to be a mare in skin-tight black leather, pinned him to the wall using one of her heels...from a shoe that was on a hind leg. It was impossible, yet somehow the mare was managing it. She leaned in, her face hidden by a mask.
"Wassa matter, silly? Cat got your tongue?" she purred.
Filthy took a moment to realize that the mare pinning him to the wall was none other than Pinkie Pie, or, as some ponies called her, the Catmare. He had heard stories of the bubblegum pink pony's heists, and observed her form from his strange angle. Looking her up and down, he found her outfit just as ponies had described it. He would have been aroused...if he wasn't pinned up against a wall. In the bad way.
"You dumb bitch," he muttered, drawing his eyes back up to meet Catmare's. What nerve this filly had, thinking she could just waltz in here and steal from him. What did she think, he didn't have security? The bodyguards would be arriving any second now.
Pinkie giggled cutely, and said, "That's funny. Nopony's ever accused me of being dumb."
"Yer dumb," he repeated, gripping the heel (which, he saw, was made of steel and pointed like a knife) tightly with a hoof. She responded by digging her heel into his wrist, making him wince and swear under his breath.
"I want what you owe me."
He grinned through the pain. "'I want' never gets-" He stopped when he realized she was pulling her heel away.
"You really do think I'm dumb!" She looked like she was about to cry. She lowered her hind leg to the ground (Filthy swore he saw it re-joint itself into her torso) and looked down at the ground. "You thought that I wouldn't even be able to hear your stupid henchmen sneaking up on me and staring at my flank!" The last words held a warning of anger, and Flim, who was indeed standing behind her with a gun raised (and was also staring at dat flank, as Pinkie had guessed) smirked over-confidently.
"Your outfit is nice," he commented. Pinkie had not turned around. "Your heels, though. Are they tough to walk in?" He gestured at the hoof-wear.
"IIIIII dunno," PInkie sang, smiling down at the floor. "You tell me." She spun and slammed the six-inch steel spike of a heel into Flam's left hoof, causing him to scream. She drew the same leg up and kicked him upside the head, then snatched his gun out of his hoof as he fell to the ground screaming. She turned to Filthy again and pinned him once more, this time pointing the barrel at his forehead.
"Where is it?" she demanded.
"Where's what?" he replied, playing dumb.
"The program I need. The 'Clean Slate'."
"You like playing games, don't you?" he asked, still smiling at her. "Well, how about a scavenger hunt? I sure don't have it, but I'd love to see who can get it first."
Pinkie hissed at him, and turned her head at the sound of the bodyguards making their way into the room. Filthy sighed.
Finally, dammit! he thought. Where the hell were they?
Pinkie seemed to be prepared for this, though. She spun him around and held the gun against his head, trotting towards the window (he staggered; they were both on hind legs). The guards didn't advance on them, but they didn't back down, either. That wasn't what Pinkie wanted, apparently, and she kicked again, this time at the glass window, shattering it instantly. Then she tumbled backwards out into the night, taking a terrified Filthy Rich with her.
He had time to think, OhmyCelestiathepsychobitchisgonna-! before hitting a window cleaning platform below. She sliced a rope, and the platform went sliding down the length of the building. They hit the bottom, on the roof of the lower part of the complex his penthouse was on. She threw him over onto the roof, and pounced onto him.
Dazed, Filthy Rich took a moment to reorganize his senses. He felt something like claws digging into his chest, and noticed the position Catmare was in atop him. The thought occurred to him that there were ponies in the world that would pay for something like this. All she needed was a whip.
"Where is it?" she repeated.
He pretended to think for a moment. "The 'Clean Slate'? A program that lets you type in a name and a social security number, then erase anything that the person's ever done?" He grinned up at the mare. "Sounds a little too good to be true, doesn't it?"
"You're lying!" she hissed. "I know it was taken to beta testing."
"So did I," replied Filthy. "So I bought the company. But it was nothing. A gangland myth."
The pink mare stepped off of him, thinking hard. He savored he worried expression.
Chew on that, he thought. Chew on it, and tell me how it tastes when I sic Spike on you, you psycho bitch.
As if his thoughts had triggered their appearance, armed ponies (and drakes, he noticed) arrived and began firing at the mare in the black uniform. She sighed, dodging the first shots, and pulled Filthy back up off the ground. She found herself using him as a body shield for the second time that night, and pointed the gun at his head, once more on her hind legs.
"Stay back!" she shouted, looking at the emotionless faces of the guards. She dug her claws into her captives throat when they kept coming towards them, eliciting a gurgle from the business tycoon.
She felt something warm trickle down her gloved hoof.
"I'm not bluffing!" she insisted.
"They know," growled somepony to her left. "They just don't care."
All eyes moved to the source. Without warning, the Batmare leapt from her hiding spot in the shadows, causing one of the goons to spin towards her, gun raised. Catmare took the opportunity and tossed Filthy aside, leaping forward and slicing him in the face with her heel. The two black-suited mares ended up back-to-back, with a bleeding, unconscious gun-dragon lying next to them.
"Who are they?"
"You like games? Here's a hint: rhymes with Pike."
Catmare rolled her eyes, and lunged at the next dragon. Batmare followed, and the two became a flurry of different martial arts lashing out at the goons attacking them. One by one, the attackers fell, and Catmare was impressed by the energy within the Batmare. She'd never really seen the vigilante up close, and thought about asking for some tips later. She saw three dragons heading toward her, and raised the gun she'd stolen, ready to unload on them. The Batmare stopped her, though, tearing the Glock out of her hooves and tossing it over the side of the building.
"You're joking," she protested, kicking a burly stallion in the gut.
"No guns," she growled, knocking a pale white pegasus who looked like he'd been on steroids for years to the ground easily. "No killing."
"Aww, you're no fun!"
The Batmare responded by leaping to the edge of the building, turning back to her as more dragons (there were no other ponies, and Catmare suddenly realized they were part of Spike's little army) gangedup around her.
"Come on!" she growled.
Catmare followed, knowing that she couldn't handle the added artillery from Spike's hoard. She reached where the Batmare had gone, only to find that she'd leapt off the edge of the building. She hesitated.
Cats don't fly, you know, she wanted to yell.
A bullet whizzed by her ear, goading her to jump anyway. She leapt, and fell a mere three yards before landing on a smooth metal plate. She realized that an enormous metal aircraft (one she'd seen the Batmare in when looking at Filthy's penthouse, what, five minutes ago?) was hovering above the ground, waiting to be piloted into the night. She slid into the passenger's seat, and tried to hide her relief.
"My mommy told me to never get into cars with strangers."
"This isn't a car," the Batmare pointed out.
As they lifted off, Spike came striding out onto the roof. He and the Batmare made eye contact for a brief moment. Then the Bat flew off, leaving the masked dragon unmoved by the enormous gust of wind that came off the Bat's rotors. His claws were gripping the sides of his jacket.
His eyes seemed to say, "See you around, pal."
Batmare made sure that the EMP pulse disabled any electronic equipment nearby as she landed the Bat on top of a skyscraper in midtown Ponyville. Catmare slid out of the passenger seat, and she followed, taking a moment to admire her outfit--she seemed to have a flair for the dramatic.
"See you around," she said playfully.
"You're welcome," Batmare replied.
"Everything was all right before you came along," she insisted.
"Those were trained killers," the Batmare asserted. "I saved your life. In return, I want to know what you did with Rainbow Dash's hoofprints."
Catmare smiled slyly. "She wasn't kidding when she said 'powerful friend', hmm?" She sighed, and admitted. "I sold the prints to Filthy, then his dick henchman stiffed me on my pay, then I went to get it myself, then I got caught, then I went out a window, then you showed up, and we fought a bunch of bad guys, then-"
"Why did Filthy want them?" Batmare interrupted.
"He seemed pretty fascinated by the whole stock market thingy." She smiled again. "But what do I know? According to leading sources, I'm a dumb bitch."
Batmare was about to say she didn't think Catmare was dumb when a police copter zoomed overhead. Thankfully, whoever was doing lookout must have been tired, because the copter passed by the Bat without noticing it. After a brief seclusion into the shadows, she moved back into the light, and turned to Catmare.
There was nopony there. The pink mare had slunk off like a cat.
"Huh. So that's what that feels like."
The Next Few Days...
When Rainbow Dash returned, Fluttershy was unhappy. And she did well to show it. She never showed it.
Something was terribly wrong.
She stepped out of the Bat after landing it and removed her outfit, speaking with the pegasus as she did.
"You don't look very happy," she began.
"I don't imagine I would, after watching you show off your new toy to the entire Ponyville police force."
She ignored this quip, and tossed the butler the USB drive she'd taken.
"Got this off them."
Fluttershy caught it with her wing. "Congrats. A souvenir." She looked at it glumly. "Shouldn't the police be looking at this?"
"They haven't got the equipment for it."
Fluttershy glanced around the Batcave. "They would if you let them."
Dash strode over to the desk where her computers waited. "One mare's tool is another mare's weapon."
"And you seem to enjoy turning things into weapons, don't you?"
"Fluttershy, enough. Please."
"You can't just push the fact that you aren't who you were eight years ago aside and go romping around the city with new gadgets from Zecora!" Fluttershy was almost shouting now, something very odd for her. She tossed the USB away, onto the desk, and headed toward the elevator. Rainbow Dash saw the teardrops hitting the concrete as she trotted away.
The elevator took her out of the Batcave. When it came back down again, Dash took it up as well.
She met Fluttershy looking out a large window that overlooked the entire front yard of the Manor. She wasn't crying anymore, but there were marks where she had been.
"I'm sorry," she muttered when Dash approached.
"You shouldn't be," answered the billionaire. "You didn't do anything wrong.
"Oh yes I did," she replied, and Rainbow was shocked to her poison dripping from her words. "I never helped you, when you needed it," she continued. "All those years ago, I could have helped you move on, and I didn't. I just said you could." She turned to Dash. "And now, I think I'll have to handle the consequences. I'll help you with the flash drive, but after that..." Her lip quivered. "...I'm leaving."
Rainbow Dash didn't say anything. She had the USB in her hoof, but didn't offer it to her butler.
"You would leave," she said finally, "to get me to stop?"
"If that did it, yes."
"That would kill me, Fluttershy. There's nothing left for me but the Batmare."
"You used to talk about finishing. About life after the Batmare."
Dash sighed. "You know that isn't possible for me anymore. Spitfire was my life beyond the Batmare, and she died knowing we would have been together. I can't just move on. She couldn't." She turned to the yellow mare, hoping to talk reason with her.
"What if she had?"
Rainbow didn't speak. Fluttershy looked over at her, tears brimming at her eyes again.
"What if she chose a life without you, in the end?"
"She didn't," said Rainbow, not understanding the point in these speculations. "I can't change that."
Fluttershy was silent for a long time. Rainbow Dash could see she was determined to tell her something, but the yellow mare was at odds with her conscience when she finally spoke again.
"What if," she said, slowly, deliberately, "she'd written a letter? A letter that explained that she'd chosen Soarin' over you." She was choking up, and took a moment before speaking again. "And what if, to spare you the pain of it all, I-" She choked back a sob, wanting to finish giving her say first. "What if I burnt it?"
Rainbow Dash simply stared at the pegasus, first in confusion, then in realization, and finally, to Fluttershy's horror, in rage. Everything she'd believed, her entire world--all a lie. For eight years. Her cerise eyes shone with fiery, burning anger.
"Why would you say this?" she asked, clinging to the small bit of her that told her Fluttershy must have been joking.
"Because I care enough to tell you the truth. Because you are as precious to me as any child I would have ever had. Because I swore that I would protect you...and I haven't."
"You're lying," Dash spat.
"The only time I ever lied to you," said the butler, wiping at the tears streaming down her face, "was when I burnt that letter."
There was silence. Rainbow Dash thought of all the things that could happen in the next few seconds: images of Fluttershy's wing being snapped and her unconscious form being thrown out the great glass window in front of them filled her head, and she almost smiled madly. But, in the end, she knew that it would be pointless and stupid to do that. So, she decided to finish with her.
"Goodbye, Fluttershy," she said. There, she thought. Short and simple.
Fluttershy spoke through a bout of tears. "G-Goodbye...Rainbow Dash."
The rainbow-maned mare turned her back on her only caretaker for almost forty years and marched up the stairs.
The days passed quickly. Too quickly, even for Rainbow Dash.
The day after Fluttershy left, Zecora stopped by to tell her she was broke. Apparently, she'd doubled down in the stock market and lost. Something told her that the USB drive and the incident at the Exchange the other night had something to do with it. In a last ditch effort, they decided to try and get the board of directors at Rainbow Enterprises to let Rarity take hold of the company, so that Filthy Rich (who at the moment was Rainbow Dash's least favorite pony) would not get his hooves on it. Zecora it seemed, had prepared for this, and had scheduled a meeting to finally show the unicorn the project she'd spent five years investing in.
The result had been risky, but worth it. Rarity was given the knowledge that the machine did in fact work, though Rainbow was still worried that it could be changed into a nuclear bomb, that having been the reason the project had been mothballed in the first place. Rarity assured her that she had been aware of that danger, and had researched the one pony who had known how to change the reactor into a bomb. The scientist, a brown earth pony named Time Turner, had died in a plane crash six months earlier, ensuring that there was nopony in the world who knew how to turn the reactor into a bomb. Rainbow had had to go along with this info, as there was no other choice but to give the company over to Filthy Rich. Besides, if worse came to worse, the chamber was programmed to flood itself, destroying the project and all five years of work in a matter of seconds.
Rarity had been fine with this, and they shook. The next day, a board meeting was held between the board of directors was held, and, after Rainbow Dash was sent out of the meeting room (she had been snoozing in her chair), the board voted on who to let take control of Rainbow Enterprises. An hour later, Filthy Rich angrily excused himself while the other board members went over and shook Rarity's hoof in congratulations.
Filthy looked around the area he'd just exited from. The last surviving Rainbow family member was nowhere to be found.
She was, in fact, in a police cruiser.
Scootaloo had arrived on the scene just as Dash had come out of the building to go "handle an errand" just in time to watch her car being carted off. With her wings almost entirely defunct, she'd resigned herself to driving with the young cop to her destination.
They chatted about the return of the Batmare. Neither said it, but Dash was sure that Scootaloo knew exactly who was hiding behind the infamous cowl and cloak. Eventually, though, the topic turned from the Caped Crusader to her new enemy: Spike.
"Any idea where he's hiding?"
"Yeah, about five hundred pages of them." She gestured to the brick of a file wedged in between their seats. "I could use some help."
Rainbow Dash nodded, knowing what she meant. That was exactly why she was being dropped off in Old Town...
Filthy Rich stormed into his penthouse, slamming the door shut behind him. There were many words to describe the look on his face, but purple with anger was probably the best one.
"How the hell did that persnickety bitch Rarity get the inside track on the Rainbow Board?" he yelled at Flim. "Was she meeting with her? Hell, was she sleeping with her?"
Flim tried in vain to calm his boss down.
"Not that we know of-"
"Well, no shit! You clearly 'don't know of' anything around here!" He spun around, scanning the penthouse. "Where's Spike?"
"I told him it was urgent," Flim answered.
"Then where is that masked-"
"Speak of the devil..." A deep voice came rebounding from somewhere to his right. Filthy turned to see that the purple drake was standing in one of the doorways in his penthouse. He could hear air hissing from the mask.
"...and he shall appear."
Filthy was worried how Spike could have gotten in so easily, and wondered whether the first-class security bragged about at his penthouse was real or not. First Catmare, now this guy? It was too easy.
He tossed the concern aside, and decided he was taking control of the situation.
"What the hell is going on?" he demanded.
"The plan is proceeding as planned," replied the masked drake calmly.
Filthy chuckled sarcastically. "Do you see me running Rainbow Enterprises?" He strode over and put his face an inch or so away from the dragon's. "Your little game at the Exchange didn't do shit, my friend. And now, you think you're still going to be able to order my construction crews around? How exactly do you suppose that'll get my company to absorb Rainbow's?"
Spike looked over at the red-haired unicorn. "Leave us," he said, still calm.
Filthy turned to Flim. "Don't bucking move! I'm in charge here!"
Spike put a claw lightly on Filthy's shoulder. There was a hint of amusement in his eyes.
"Do you feel in charge?" he asked.
Filthy felt a chill run down his spine. He heard Flim trot out of the room, and suddenly felt as if he were falling.
"I paid you a small fortune-"
"And that gives you power over me?" Spike asked.
Rarity's words echoed in his head.
You understand only money, and the power you think you can but with it.
It almost seemed as though the mare had known this would happen.
"What is this?" he asked, feeling jittery and a little like shitting himself.
"This?" Spike nodded at his claw. "This is a coup. You're money and infrastructure is no longer needed."
Now Filthy saw what the mask was. It was not simply something that could be removed to kill him: it looked the way it did for a reason. He'd needed to make a name for himself, because there was one thing he had to bring with him where he went. It was fear. Spike worked for nopony but himself. He was no simple hired hand.
"Who are you?" he whispered, trying to know him beyond what he seemed.
"I am Ponyville's reckoning," Spike replied. "Here to end the borrowed time you've all been living on..."
Gently, oh so terrifyingly gently, Spike took Filthy Rich's head in his hands. He could not even feel the claws scratching at his skin. And yet still, in front of him stood the Destroyer, his Death, and he was more afraid of him than anything else. His final moment played out like a scene from a movie.
"You are true evil..." His final words.
"I am necessary evil," Spike corrected.
A sharp crack echoed through the penthouse. Two rooms away, Flim shivered, and felt himself gag.
Rainbow Dash was getting tired of a lot of things lately. She was tired of the fact that she was having to get up and answer her own door already, along with the other things she now had to do for herself. Added on top of that, her return as the Batmare was also tiring, though more so physically than mentally. She was also tired of the fact that ponies kept asking her for money, even though she was now broke.
"I told you," said the yellow unicorn blocking her path. "Money first." Her hoof was outstretched expectantly.
"I don't think so," she replied.
The unicorn opened her mouth to continue arguing when a voice called from the top of the stairs she was blocking.
"She's good," said Pinkie, stepping out so the two could see her. "Besides, she hasn't got a cent to her name, anyways."
The unicorn reluctantly let Dash by. When she entered what she assumed was Pinkie's apartment, she first noticed how nicely furnished it was for somepony living in the slums. She then noticed that Pinkie was very busy packing what she ould of this well-furnished place.
Pinkie giggled. "Nope. Let's just say I've got some nasty-wasty ponies breathing down my neck, and I just gotta outrun 'em."
Rainbow Dash looked her in the eye. "My friend hopes she can convince you not to."
"How's he gonna do that? Bribe me with cupcakes?"
"She says she'll give you what you were looking for the last time she saw you."
Pinkie thought back to when she'd ditched the Batmare on the roof. "It doesn't exist," she answered flatly.
"She says it does."
Pinkie stopped packing and turned to Rainbow Dash. In her mind, she wondered just how the Batmare could know about the Clean Slate. It took only a second to realize that she must have been eavesdropping on her conversation with Filthy Rich.
"Why?" she asked finally.
"She says you can help her find Spike," Rainbow answered.
Pinkie considered her options for a minute. She couldn't think straight, she realized, and said instead, "I'll think about it. Tell her I said that. And give her a kiss from me."
Rainbow nodded, and began to leave. She stopped when Pinkie spoke up again.
"I'm sorry they took your money, Rainbow Dash."
The pegasus turned to face the pink mare again. There was a hint of amusement in her eyes.
"No you're not," she responded, and stepped out of the apartment.
She arrived back at her home in time to see a certain white unicorn making her way down the steps, looking enraged at nothing and soaking wet. Rarity saw Rainbow coming up the driveway and stopped, looking less angry and more annoyed.
"Nopony answered," she said when Rainbow trotted over to her.
"Yeah," she said, looking over at the doors to the manor. "I'm on my own right now."
"Well, at least you have the keys."
"I never needed them..."
Now Rarity was looking enraged again.
"Let's find a window," suggested Dash, taking her hoof.
One surprisingly successful break-in later, Rainbow Dash and Rarity stood in one of the manors many great rooms, dripping water onto the carpet. Rarity seemed more concerned about this than Rainbow Dash, and she cast a spell that dried them both off considerably. It left Dash feeling almost impossibly warm. She turned on the lights as Rarity began to explain why she had come to the manor.
"Zecora was brilliant in the meeting today," she said, looking around the room at various cloth-covered items. "Mr. Rich is completely out of the picture."
She noticed the newspaper that Dash had been using to cover her head. The headline read:
The picture below the headline was of Rainbow Dash, smiling cockily at somepony out of the frame.
"I'll take care of your parents' legacy," she said, trotting over to Dash.
The pegasus laughed. "And here I thought you just wanted my money."
"Oh no," whispered the unicorn. She was now standing directly in front of Rainbow Dash. "I've always believed suffering builds character."
Then she leaned in and kissed her--passionately. Dash was surprised by her intensity, and pulled her closer, sliding her hooves down the length of the unicorns form. She couldn't help but compare Rarity's kiss with the one Pinkie had given her during the charity ball.
This wasn't a challenge, as Pinkie's had been: Rarity wanted this. And, Celestia help her, so did Rainbow Dash.
The lights went out suddenly. In the dark, the two parted lips and looked around, holding each other.
"What just happened?" asked Rarity.
"I think my power was just cut off."
Rainbow was glad they were in the dark now. She didn't want to be seen blushing.
Dash regrettably left Rarity in the final minutes before midnight, despite wanting to stay wrapped in her slumbering embrace at least little while longer. But there were other matters to attend to besides her own. She needed to get dressed for work.
Silently, she crept to where the entrance to the Batcave was.
Catmare was getting impatient. She wanted to be out of this crap city ASAP, and the Batmare wasn't helping by being late. Well, she wasn't late, but she wasn't early, and that wasn't beneficial to Pinkie at all.
She stopped pacing suddenly, and pulled the night-vision goggles that served as her "ears" when she wasn't using them up.
"Don't be shy," she purred playfully, hiding her impatience expertly.
The Dark Mare stepped out from the shadows of the subway tunnel they were in, hiding her annoyance at being seen in the dark equally as well.
"Dashie says that you can get me my 'Clean Slate'," she said plainly.
"That depends on what you intend to use it for," Batmare replied.
Catmare giggled. "Still don't trust me, hm? We'll have to change that somehow." She sounded sultry.
Batmare stepped forward. She was ready to go, and didn't want to stall anymore.
"Take me to Spike," she said.
Pinkie shrugged. "Okie dokie loki."
Then she turned, and they stepped into the dark of the subway.
FALL 1: KnightFall
"Beyond this point, Spike's goons patrol the area constantly," said Catmare, gesturing down the thinner, unused subway tunnel. She turned back to the Batmare. "These guys aren't regular drunken street brawlers."
"Neither am I," responded the Dark Knight, and pushed ahead. Catmare followed, rolling her eyes.
The tunnels hey had been traversing for the past half-hour became different, in ways that were so subtle that the Batmare almost didn't notice. She had mere seconds to look about the tunnel when the sound of footsteps echoed up ahead. Catmare heard them too, and swung up onto a pipeline and out of sight. Batmare followed, dissolving into the darkness just as three guards made themselves visible. Their get-up, which suggested they were expecting the entire police force to drop in on them, included military-grade automatic weapons, bullet-proof vests, and what looked like several detonators attached to their fatigues. They passed through the tunnel, armed but clearly not expecting anypony to show up.
Catmare dropped down behind them.
"She's behind you," the mare warned.
The three spun around and raised their weapons. The leader saw that it was somepony their boss wanted to see, and lowered his weapon slowly.
"Who?" he asked.
A darkness fell over them. They turned in time to see a cowl-covered visage drop down and stare into their souls, upside down, like the creature the cowl's owner was named for.
"Me," said the creature, and swallowed them into the dark.
The rest of Spike's minions were not as easy as the first three. Many came all at once, and Catmare found herself having to help out the Caped Crusader more than expected. She heard the mare panting by the time they reached their intended destination.
Retirement must have been a bitch, she thought, and stopped before a metal catwalk leading between twin waterfalls of what appeared to be sewage water but smelled too clean to be that. She gestured to it.
"Almost there," she said, grinning again. "Just past here."
The Batmare walked through the doorway onto the catwalk. She had taken one step along it before realizing that since their first fight, Catmare had not once stayed behind her. She turned in time to watch a steel grate fall shut between them. Looking down, she saw that below, where the waterfalls ended, a sort of headquarters lay. She looked back up at Catmare, who no longer wore a grin on her face.
"Sorry," she said softly, this time seeming to mean it. "I just wanted them off my back."
It was a trap. It had always been a trap. Batmare was disappointed in Pinkie.
"You've made a serious mistake," she growled.
"Not as serious as yours, I'm afraid."
The voice that had spoken was deep, menacing, and sounded slightly amplified. There was no other creature in the world that sounded like that. Slowly, Batmare turned to face the purple drake awaiting her on the other side of the catwalk. She hadn't even felt his footsteps. The figure was exactly as Fluttershy had descried him. Muscles rippled from his chest, covered only by a strange vest that looked connected to the elaborate mask on his face.
"Spike," she said.
The masked dragon approached her, slowly, his hands on his vest.
"Let's not stand on ceremony her, Ms. Dash."
Batmare didn't flinch at the sound of her true identity. Catmare, however, could be heard gasping over the sound of the waterfalls. Spike notice a look of regret develop on her face, and he felt like laughing. The fool actually having second thoughts about doing this! How laughable.
Without warning, Batmare launched herself at Spike, ready to defeat the mercenary one and for all, and become the hero that Gotham needed once m-
Spike caught her balled hoof easily in one claw. He squeezed it, and Dash felt something grind together in her foreleg. She grunted, and used her other hoof to try and reach Spike's gut. The drake easly blocked it.
Oh yeah, she thought. Trained by the League of Shadows. Right.
"Peace has cost you your strength," Spike stated. "Victory has defeated you."
Spike slammed the Batmare into the side of the catwalk with such ferocity that she almost yelled in surprise. A roundhouse kick swept her hind legs out from under her, and she fell backwards off the catwalk towards the raging waters below. She extended her cape and glided over to where she could properly stand again. She could already feel bruises developing under her armor.
Ii can't be... This wasn't supposed to happen. It wasn't supposed to be so hard for her. Not even the Joker, who, in the end, had won in his fight against her, hadn't been so hard to fight (or defeat, though only physically). No, Spike was something different, something new, something she didn't want to have to fight agai-
Spike was something that enjoyed interrupting her thoughts with his punches. While she had glided down and taken a knee, the mercenary had dropped down to where she was and punched her again. She staggered back, and pulled several mini-flash-bangs from her Utility Belt, tossing them up so that they would go off and distract Spike.
The dragon didn't flinch.
"Theatricality and deception are powerful agents," he said, quoting a line from the lips of Ra's al Ghul. "To the uninitiated."
Buck, thought Rainbow Dash, sidling off slowly. Fluttershy was right. I need to give everything I've got to beat this guy--if I can.
She hadn't ever doubted her own abilities before. That worried her.
She changed tactics, attempting to put Spike on the defensive. She charged again, striking out at Spike with her hooves and being countered effortlessly in response. Spike reflected the movements of Ra's al Ghul almost exactly, and Batmare tried desperately to remember how she'd beaten him before. She knew Spike was not Ra's, though, being much younger, stronger, and, most importantly, a dragon, not a unicorn. He targeted the weak points in her body armor, while somehow having no weakness of his own.
She was tired of this. The two broke apart, facing each other beneath the flowing channels. Spike looked like he had just had a good warm-up.
"But we are initiated, aren't we, Rainbow? The League." He glared at her over the mask. Poisonous scorn dripped from his voice. Batmare could hear air hissing softly from his mask. "And you betrayed us..."
"You were excommunicated," Batmare tried to clarify, "from that gang of psychopaths."
"And now, thanks to you I am the League of Shadows," he retorted, "here to fulfill Ra's al Ghul's destiny..."
Batmare knew what Ra's al Ghul's "destiny" had been: destroy Ponyville. No, she thought. Too many good people here. Too many worth saving. Too many people had spent their lives trying to make Ponyville a better place to have it all taken away for a reason such as destiny.
She hurled herself back at Spike with immense ferocity, knocking him back into one of the rushing falls. She pounded down on his mask again and again. Any normal foe would have been out cold long ago, but Spike seemed to simply take the pain, waiting for her to slow down to catch her breath. Which, eventually, she did.
She let up, for only a moment, and Spike shot his arms out and knocked her away. She felt battered, despite being hit only fraction of the times that Spike had.
"You fight like a younger mare," he said, his voice showing no hint of the beating he'd taken. "Nothing held back. Nothing reserved." His muscled bulged as her flexed, approaching the disoriented mare as she tried to get back up. "An admirable trait, but a mistaken one all the same."
It was at this time that Batmare realized how hard she was breathing. It had been very tiring, in fact, and what was worse, it wasn't already over. She wasn't the amazing warrior everypony had seen back when Ra's al Ghul was her enemy.
She needed a better strategy. She flipped a switch on her Belt, and the lights went out. The sound of several of Spike's goons panicking was quickly hushed by the others. The night-vision lenses in her cowl activated, and she looked through the dark at her adversary, who, to her shock, was unmoved by the sudden blackness. She decided to make her move quickly, and went to work.
Spike, meanwhile, turned slowly through the dark, completely calm and almost bored with their fight. He addressed the darkness, his voice just as calm and menacing as it had been when he'd welcomed the Batmare to his lair.
"You think the darkness is your ally?" he asked, sounding comical. "You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it. Molded by it..."
His calm was terrifying. Batmare circled, looking for some sign of weakness. She knew better, knew that Spike had not shown any form of weakness before and would not show any now just because it was dark, but she to try anyway. There was no other choice. Last shot, she thought, and moved in for the kill.
"I didn't see light until I was already a man," Spike continued. "And by then it was nothing to me but blinding."
He lunged into the dark and caught Batmare's throat in his claws. Her reinforced neckpiece was the only thing keeping her windpipe from being crushed in his powerful grip.
"The shadows betray you, because they belong to me..."
Spike slammed Batmare into the concrete floor with ferocity enough to smash any other pony's brains out. His fists pounded against her cowl over and over, each blow delivering force like a jackhammer. Batmare found herself unable to stop him, and lay there, taking the blows, hoping for something to stall him long enough for her to throw him off her, though she was unsure if she was physically capable of doing this at all. Then, after taking punch after punch, the graphite shell that made up the Batmare's cowl could take no more. Impossibly, incredibly, the cowl cracked open.
No, thought Batmare.That isn't possible.
She was broken. Spike could see it, could feel it in her bones as they bruised under his fists. He rose up, towering over his beaten foe. He pointed upward, at the ceiling that rose high above the twin waterfalls they'd fought through. Staring up at it, Batmare could see that there was a series of holes drilled into it, each containing an explosive charges.
"I will show you," said Spike, sounding not even out of breath, "where I've made my home while preparing to bring justice to Ponyville. Then...I will break you." He beckoned, and a dragon standing near them tossed him what could only have been a detonator. The other minions stood back, seeking shelter. Catmare, who, this whole time, had stood behind the grate at the catwalk far above and watched anxiously as the two had fought, covered her ears.
Spike pressed the button.
A large explosion rocked the world around Batmare. Chunks of debris rained down from the ceiling, falling into the waters below. Waves splashed against her body, and she sputtered as the chilled water ran through the crack in her cowl onto her face. Her eyes widened as artificial light poured down from above, revealing the lower levels of Applied Sciences.
We were under Rainbow Enterprises this whole time, she thought in horror.
One of the tumblers fell into the sewers as the rubble-fall ceased, landing atop a pile of such debris and resting there. Papers and ash floated down through the gap in the ceiling.
"No..." Batmare mumbled weakly.
"Your dearest armory," Spike confirmed. "Gratefully accepted as a donation from the Rainbow Foundation." He gazed contently at the stolen goods. "We will need it."
Spike's men, meanwhile, were clambering (and flying, in some cases) into the violated weaponry. They ransacked it like children moving in towards a pinata broken open, taking as much as they could, even as sirens and alarms blared uselessly. Buckets of weapons came down into the sewer system, and the other tumblers followed their brothers.
I can't let this happen, thought Batmare. I can't... She staggered to her hooves, on all fours now, and swaying unsteadily. She taste blood in her mouth, her head was swimming, and the world around her was spinning, but she stayed standing as best as she could. She realized she was concussed, and wondered how badly.
Nevertheless, she drew herself up on her hind legs once more, and raised her hooves.
Spike turned back to her, having heard her scrambling back up. He looked entertained.
"I was wondering what would break first," he said, goading her forward. "Your spirit..."
Batmare threw a punch, and he didn't even have to dodge it to avoid being hit. He lunged forward and grabbed her, and with a growl lifted her up above his head. She squirmed, but it was like being held in a vice.
"...or your body," Spike concluded, and brought her down on his knee.
The sound of the Dark Knight's back breaking echoed through the sewer. Even some of Spike's minions flinched at the sound. Catmare certainly did. She gasped, and backed away from the grate, too horrified to watch any more.
Spike dumped the Batmare onto the ground, where she lay uselessly in the puddles. He crouched down and tugged the broken mask off his victim, revealing the battered and mangled face of Rainbow Dash. Her hair, normally carrying the seven shade of the visible spectrum, was now almost entirely colored red with her blood. He beckoned to his henchmen, and they picked her limp, unresisting body and carried it off into a tunnel.
Spike examined the cowl, gazing into the hollow, empty eyes of the Dark Knight's mask. He began to walk back to where his new arsenal of weaponry waited. As he went, he lowered the cowl, and after a moment tossed it aside, where it clattered to floor. He paid it no mind. It was meaningless now.
Catmare had seen enough. Forgotten for the moment, she stepped back into the shadows, and was gone before anyone could notice.
Pawns and Pieces
Scootaloo looked at her new badge and sighed. Detective work, she decided, was boring as donkey-shit.
She looked out through the window of her now-unmarked police car, scanning the crowds that passed along Ponyville's streets. Having been promoted to detective by none other than Commissioner Sparkle herself, she'd set out to get a hold of Rainbow Dash, hoping they could discuss the return of the Dark Knight together, and had been disappointed to find that the Rainbow Manor was currently empty. Not even the butler (what was her name, Fluttershy?) would answer. It was odd, no doubt, but the new detective left the house feeling depressed.
She had not noticed the French windows that had been pried open the prior night.
Now, she sat in her car, waiting for something to happen. She'd looked through her notes on the possible whereabouts of Spike (notes that had gotten her her promotion to detective in the first place) twice, and was currently contemplating going over to the nearest coffee shop and getting a caramel macchiato. She found herself wondering how her old partner was doing. He hadn't shown any sign of jealousy, and Scootaloo had gotten the smallest impression that her partner felt sorry for her. She dismissed it, though, and took her farewells in stride. She almost missed him.
Not that she wanted to go back...
She looked up from her badge in time to see an elegantly dressed mare--one who seemed very out of place in Old Town--trotting out of a building quickly and making her way down the street. She was wearing a hat stylish enough to be featured in one of Hoity Toity's fashion lines, an it matched her thin black dress and, strangely enough, socks. She was carrying several bags of luggage, like she was going on a trip.
Hang on... The dress clicked in Scootaloo's mind, and she realized where she'd seen the mare before. This was the mare she'd seen running out of the bar where the police had found Fancypants a few nights ago. And now she was leaving, it seemed.
What had Twilight told her when she was promoted? She wasn't allowed to believe in coincidences anymore.
The mare hailed a cab and climbed into the back seat. As it drove off, Scootaloo trailed behind it, thankful to have something to do besides sit and wait for ten hours a day. She picked up her radio.
"Get Commissioner Sparkle," she said. "Tell her I've found a connection on Fancypants' kidnapping.
She followed the cab, congratulating herself for picking up on something her first day.
What was the mare thinking? she told herself as the cab made a turn onto the highway. That she'd be unnoticeable if she straightened her hair?
Pinkamena Pie made her way through the airport security without a second glance. Her boarding pass was in her purse, her luggage was all accounted for, and she was ready to get the hell out of this place and trade the grimy streets of Old Town for the luxurious cafes of Prance.
Or at least, she hoped it would end that way.
She spotted a uniformed officer giving her the look that told her he wasn't just appreciating her form. She sighed and decided that it was time to improvise. She turned and ducked into a secluded corridor, ignoring the sign that told her that only flight personnel were allowed in there.
The cop found her applying a fresh layer of ruby-red lipstick.
"Excuse me, miss, but I'll need to see your identification.
Acting surprised, Pinkie nodded, and handed him the hat.
"Do you mind?"
The guard took it without hesitation. Pinkie fumbled for her purse for a second, then abruptly brought a fist through the hat and clipped the officer on the chin. He went limp, and Pinkie caught him before he hit the floor. She noticed a custodian's closet nearby, and grinned.
Hide and Go Seek, anypony?
Leaving the cop in the closet with her formerly-functional hat (it did make a fashion statement on him, she supposed), Pinkie made her way to the terminal, where, to her disgust, she found two more uniformed officers waiting for her at the entrance to the plane. She turned on the spot, and headed back out towards the main area of the airport--only to run into the friendly cop who she'd ditched during the business with Fancypants.
She smiled, and held up her badge. It looked brand-new. Pinkie scowled.
Buck my life.
Five minutes later, she looked up at Scootaloo as the young detective entered the makeshift interrogation room they'd set up at the airport. She shifted her hooves uncomfortably in their cuffs, and gave her a poison look as she sat down across from her.
Okay, Scoot, the orange pegasus thought to herself. First interrogation as a detective. You can do this.
"I showed Mr. Fancypants your picture," she told the pink mare. "And guess what?"
"Don't tell me," she growled. "Still in love?"
"Oh, yeah, head over heels," she acknowledged. "Pressing charges, though." She set her hoof down on an enormous file sitting on the table in between them. "You've made some mistakes, Ms. Pie."
Ms. Pie shrugged, and tossed her hair back.
"Girl's gotta eat."
"And you have an appetite," Scootaloo added, flipping through the file briefly. She looked up from the file questioningly. "Why run? You can't hide from us with a record this big."
Her stare was poisonous. Not at all like the fragile little thing he'd met outside a crummy old bar last week.
"Maybe it's not you I'm running from."
Scootaloo put pieces together in mind, not sure if they fit. "Who then?" She took a shot. "Spike? What do you know about him?"
Her shot struck home. Her cocky demeanor disappeared.
"That you should be as afraid of him as I am."
Scootaloo could see that she meant it. "We could offer you protection-"
The mare shot him a look through her cascades of lengthy pink hair, as if she thought he was joking. She glanced at a mirror, and brushed the hair away with her cuffed hooves, seeming troubled by its straightness. She was giving Scootaloo all the signs she needed to see that there was nothing more that she was going to say on the matter.
There was, however, one matter that still needed to be handled--off tape. She switched the tape off and stood up.
"When I spotted you, on your way here," she said, "I was looking for a friend. Rainbow Dash."
The name had an instantaneous effect on the mare. She didn't say anything, but Scootaloo had seen the shock run through her, and knew she wasn't telling her something. She stepped closer, blocking her view in the mirror, and leaned in close.
"Did they kill her?"
Something odd happened. Her color seemed to drain away, not in a way that looked like shock, but in a way that made her look...darker. She did not meet her eyes when she spoke again. The tone in her voice sounded guilty of something that Scootaloo did not want to know.
"I'm not sure," she confessed.
Scootaloo's heart sank.
Bats. Bats everywhere. Screeching, trying to hurting her, fluttering with claws outstretched and fangs barred, they flew up, up, past her and into the sun, away from the dank hell they'd appeared from.
The child was left staring into it, waiting for something larger, something more dangerous, something black and rotten to come crawling out of their. It was slithering, she could hear it, and she wondered how quickly it would end for her. She saw it coming through the blackness, the bad thing, the Super-Bat, the thing that she didn't want, and it was gonna kill her, eat her for supper.
Then, through the dark, the soft flutter of familiar wings. The child looked up, and saw her guardian angel coming to help her. He was smiling, and the smile was comforting.
"Why do we fall, Dash?
Rainbow Dash woke in a cold sweat, breathing hard and wondering what was happening. Her vision was blurred beyond usage, and she lay there, panting, as the world came back into focus. When it did, she found it was an unfamiliar world, with nothing she recognized, save for the demented figure crouching next to her.
Spike. In a rush, everything came back to her. Applied Sciences. Their fight. Her defeat (death?). She realized she was dressed in rags, and the Batsuit was nowhere to be found. Not that she had expected that. Everything in her was hurting, and it didn't help when she spoke.
"Why didn't you just kill me?" she asked, voice hoarse.
The dragon was quick to answer. "You do not fear death. You welcome it." he shook his head. "Your punishment must be more severe."
After everything, he wanted more. She glared at her captor.
"You're a torturer..."
"Yes," Spike agreed. "But not of your body. Of your soul."
Rainbow Dash wanted to spit to spit in his face, but a sudden wave of pain wracked her body. She fought to stay conscious.
"Where am I?" she asked.
"Home," Spike replied. "My home. Where I learned the truth about despair. As will you."
Rainbow looked around, turning her head as little as possible. Through the rusty iron bars of her cell, she caught a glimpse of what looked to be an enormous stone complex carved entirely underground. There were metal staris and catwalks that led down into a huge pit, filled with cell blocks that looked dirtier and darker each level that went down. Looking up, Dash saw that there was indeed a way out, and that it was several hundred feet up. There were no guards here, it seemed, and Rainbow knew why. The only way out was to climb up. Rag-wearing figures populated the area, and most were looking up at the early morning sun, looking as though they wished they knew what it felt like to bask in its warmth. Angry shouts and screams echoed from the cells, and in that moment Dash knew where she was.
They were in the pit Spike had been raised in.
The purple drake rose from his spot next to Rainbow Dash and crossed the cell, looking out at his old home. "There is a reason this prison is called Tartarus." He lifted his masked visage up toward the distant sunlight. "Hope. Every dragon, pony, or griffin who has been thrown down here to rot has looked up to the light, and imagined climbing to freedom. So simple, so easy. And, like those trying to escape a sinking ship by jumping into the water, many have died trying.
"It was here that I learned that there can be no true despair without hope." He turned back to Rainbow Dash.
"So as I terrorize Ponyville, I will feed its citizens hope. I will let them believe they can survive, so that you can watch them clamber over each other to stay in the sun." He pointed to a television that was resting on a wall nearby. Rainbow wondered if he'd brought it down just for here.
"You will watch," Spike continued, "as I torture an entire city to bring you the pain you thought you could never truly feel again. Then, when you have truly understood the depths of your failure, we will fulfill Ra's al Ghul's destiny. We will destroy Ponyville, and you will watch everything you hold dear to you die, begging to be kept in the warmth for another moment longer, betrayed by their own hope. And when it is done--when Ponyville is ashes--then you have my permission to die."
Spike turned to depart, leaving Dash alone in her decaying cell. A door swung shut, its rusty hinges squealing in protest. She wanted to do something, anything, even yelling obscenities at the drake would do some good. But she was weak, and the agony was taking her again.
The darkness washed over her again, and Rainbow Dash fell into another of what would be many more dreams of death to come.
Even as she slept, the screams found their way into her dreams.
Hayseed Prison was a maximum-security penitentiary located on a small unicorn-made island in the middle of the Ponyville Lake. It was kept high up, on a mountain protected by countless charms and accessible only by balloon. Or, if ever there was such a thing, an all-purpose vehicle capable of climbing a mountain. The Soarin' Act had been what made Hayseed Prison the number-one place for criminals who thought they could plead insanity, replacing Ark-hoof Asylum as the preferred local for all ponies criminal. The worst of the worst were sent here, save for, perhaps, the Joker, who was presumably the only one locked away in the Asylum. Alone. In a former hellhole.
Or maybe he escaped. Nopony knew if he had.
Not even Pinkie.
She gazed at the slope of the Hayseed mountain as it dropped below them, giving way to a massive castle-like building that reminded her of Rainbow Manor. Instead of entering it with her favorite tight black dress, she was in a hideous prison-special orange jumpsuit, complete with hair tie for her waterfall of a mane, and hoofcuffs, which Pinkie would have done anything to trade for a pair of diamond-studded bracelets, as they made it much easier to walk.
Upon entering the facility, she was met with a cacophony of wolf-whistles and catcalls (the name made Pinkie giggle, even when her hair was Straight) from the rows of entirely male prisoners. Obscene jeers followed her as she strode down the hall. The prisoners rattled the bars of their cells like animals in a zoo. Some even reached their hooves (or claws) out to try and get a feel of a real mare again.
She sometimes missed the attention the big cats gave her.
One of the guards escorting her looked uncertain.
"We're locking her up here?"
Hayseed Prison was not co-ed, but there had never really been a need for it to be. The warden nodded anyway.
"The Soarin' Act allows non-segregation based on extraordinary record," he explained. He kept a close eye on her. "And buddy, it doesn't get more extraordinary than this. First time she broke outta a woman's correctional, she was sixteen.
Pinkie heard this, and called back: "Fifteen. I looked mature for my age."
One of the burlier, uglier convicts was reached out to grope her. He was rather close, and Pinkie saw him licking his lips, like a dog about to get dinner.
"Little closer, baby," he said coarsely.
Pinkie gave him a schoolgirl look. "Aw, honey," she purred. "You wanna hold my hoof?"
She slipped her hooves into his greasy ones, and for a split second his face lit up like the Summer Sun Celebration. Then Pinkie did a cartwheel and snapped both his forelegs.
Bone splintered, and the steroid-laden pegasus went down, screaming as two guards rushed to get Pinkie away from the other convicts. The convicts themselves had, unsurprisingly, shut up. She had not missed a beat coming down, and continued walking as if nothing had happened.
The warden turned to look at the uncertain guard.
"She'll be fine here," he predicted, giving the guard a rueful smile.
Zecora and Rarity stepped out of the elevator on the top floor of Rainbow Enterprises. They strolled at leisure toward the executive boardroom.
"I don't see the need for a board meeting right now," complained Zecora. "I have a problem to solve, and I need to know how." She did not say what her problem was, but showing Rarity the energy project was enough; she didn't need to know about Applied Sciences, or the raid that had been put on it. The inventory needed to be checked, and quickly. She didn't like the idea of some terrorist group getting their hands on her prototypes.
"Rainbow got a lot of things right, dear," Rarity insisted. "Keeping the board in the dark was not one of them."
Zecora wasn't sure she agreed with Rarity on that one, but with her as the acting president of Rainbow Enterprises, she didn't want to consider disagreeing with her. Word was that Rarity got mad when she was disagreed with, and when she was mad, she displayed a set of skills that one would not think possible from a mare as dainty-looking and pure as her. So, with an inner sigh, Zecora pushed open the doors to the board room, ready to sit through another round with the oldest geezers in the city...
...and found them already in a meeting, and with a character that Zecora was sure didn't belong in an office building.
The board members sat around the office, trembling in and ashen-looking. A group of dragons was standing with them, holding guns to their heads. At the head of the long table, sitting where Zecora usually did, was a figure who had turned his back to them. As the zebra and unicorn felt themselves pushed into the room and heard the doors shut, the figure spun around in his chair, imitating a sequence that Rarity had seen in one too many spy films that served as the revealing of the villain. The villain in this chair, however, was exactly the kind of face that she had never gotten when she had watched Con Mane make clever puns at the leader's idiot henchmen.
"This meeting is called to order," said Spike.
Zecora stepped protectively in front of Rarity, who was frozen in place.
"Chair and president," continued the masked drake, getting out of the chair and crossing his muscular arms. He looked as though he was about to go to war, and Zecora realized that that may be just what he was going to do.
The drake turned to the cowering executives. "We'll also need one regular board member. Miss Zecora, would you care to nominate?"
Zecora said nothing, but looked out at the frightened old ponies kneeling before the gun-toting dragons. Before she could say anything, a frail-looking gray stallion stood up. Zecora recognized him as Buford Waddle, one of Rainbow Enterprises oldest board members.
"I'll go," he said, speaking up. "There's no need for Zecora to choose."
Zecora silently thanked him, and oped things wouldn't end too badly for him. And them, she supposed as the three were led back towards the elevators. She wished that Dash was still on the board. Then, perhaps, she would be here with them, knowing what to do in the end.
But nopony had seen Rainbow Dash in days.
"Where are you taking us, you ruffians?" yelped Rarity, seemingly unaware of the dangers of being held hostage by dragons with guns.
"Where you buried your resources," answered Spike. "The bowels of Ponyville."
Zecora found herself shivering at the drake's words.
Twilight had had worse days, but not too many in this case. Scootaloo was in her hospital room, telling her that the Batmare may truly be gone this time, never to return. A moment after this, Big Mac had come in, telling her that he was sorry he hadn't believed her, that she should relieve him of his duties for what he'd done, that if she never wanted to see him again, that was okay, he deserved, etc. When she'd finally gotten enough of a break from him to tell him to shut up, he explained that the masked dragon she had been "going on" about was real, and that he was holding the entire Rainbow Enterprises board of directors hostage.
On top of that, her bed wouldn't move so she could sit up.
She jumped into action anyway. "Where are they now?"
Big Mac looked up at her. "He let most of th' board members go, but he's taken three a'them down into th' sewers."
Twilight shut her eyes, thinking through their options. When she opened them, she knew exactly what to do.
"No more hide and seek. Send every damn cop down there, and smoke him out." She felt invigorated, perhaps by the fact that she was finally being taken seriously.
Big Mac hesitated.
"Th' mayer won' want panic-"
"Then it's a training exercise," suggested Scootaloo.
Big Mac nodded, and turned back to Twilight. "Ah'm sorry, Twi, I-"
A lavender aura surrounded his lips and held them shut. Twilight smiled and shook her head.
"Don't apologize for what you've done wrong," she said. She couldn't stay mad at him, no matter what he did. She liked him too much. "Just fight to make it right."
Big Mac nodded, his lips still sealed, and charged out of the room. Scootaloo began to follow, only to be stopped by the same aura that had held Big Mac's lips together shutting the door to Twilight's room. She turned to Twilight.
"You say the Batmare's gone?" asked Twilight. "Then you go find any leads on what he might be doing. Look into what Spike's dealings with Filthy Rich were about. And fast."
Scootaloo nodded. The door unlocked and opened for her.
Water dripped from a rag into Rainbow's awaiting mouth, the droplets passing over her dry, cracked lips. The dragon who was doing this for her was old, and yet so small for a hulking beast. His dull turquoise scales flickered in the fading light coming from the aperture above them, and he wiped his brow when he was done, brushing it across the light grey fins that sat atop his head. He heard a muttering, and looked over at the griffon sitting in the cell next to Dash's. He was even older, it seemed, with his feathers falling out even as he spoke. Milky cataracts blinded him, and he spoke hoarsely. All in all, he appeared as though he was going to die any minute. He spoke in a language that Rainbow Dash did not recognize, and the dragon translated for him.
"He asks us if you would pay us to let you die," Gray Fins asked. He sounded as though there was some other place, far far away, where he'd lived before being thrown in this hellish place. "I told him you have nothing."
Rainbow grimaced. She was miserable, laying on the cot, waiting for whatever Spike had in store for her. She had no idea how long she had been down here. Feverish and weak, her mind was gone, and thus she'd lost track of time and, occasionally, space. She couldn't even clean herself, and she feared her hair would stay the one shade of blood-red forever.
"Do it for the pleasure," she suggested, hoping they would think about it. But the nameless drake put a piece of bread to her lips anyway, shrugging.
"They pay me more than that to keep you alive."
Chanting came from outside. Rainbow turned, slowly, wanting it not to hurt so much, and looked to see what was happening. Daylight made things visible, and she found it just as tantalizing as Spike had described it.
A crowd of prisoners had gathered around a well-built inmate who could have had a career as a carnival strong-drake. He stood on one of the upper levels, just below where the shaft leading upwards began. Another prisoner stood by his side, his face covered with inky-black tattoos. This one, also a dragon, handed the strong drake a rope, which he tied around his chest, making sure to avoid the large, blackened stumps on his back where Dash knew his wings had been. More prisoners crowded around the area, chanting the same phrase. It seemed to be an encouragement, but to Rainbow it sound like a battle-cry.
"He will try the climb," said Gray Fins.
The rope, it turned out, was a safety measure, something hammered into the shaft about a third of the way up. After that, it became something that would make sure you didn't make a mess hitting the ground. Strong Drake began to climb up, reaching the rope system easily, and for a moment Rainbow thought he would make it. Then, when he was almost at the top, Strong Drake reached an edge that was too far. He didn't see this, though, or didn't care, and jumped anyway. He fell past it, and after a while, the rope came in and tightened around him. Despite this protecting him, he still slammed into the wall of the shaft after having fallen more than a hundred feet, and Rainbow would not have been surprised if he came back down with cracked ribs. She saw his face, smashed up against the wall, and felt sick, something that gore had not brought on her since she'd last gone on a Deep Web site on her computer.
The spectators did nothing to help the Strong Drake. They looked disappointed, and made their way back to their separate cells.
"Has anypony ever made it?" she asked, making a mental note to start saying "anyone" instead.
"Of course not," said Gray Fins.
One cell over, the blind man barked in protest.
"What does he say?" Rainbow asked.
"He says there is one who did," answered the drake. "A child..." He shuddered. "A child who was born in this hell."
Rainbow understood in a second.
The drake flinched at the name. He seemed anxious to change the subject, and did so by getting up to leave the cell, stuffing the last of Rainbow's meal in her mouth. He paused at the entrance to turn the TV on.
"Don't" pleaded the cyan pegasus. She wouldn't watch the horror show Spike was about to put on for her amusement. She couldn't. But her caretaker did it anyway. He shrugged apologetically.
"Whatever they want you to see," he said, "it's happening soon."
Zecora wanted to ask where they were being taken, but she had an idea where they were going. After all, the concrete formations looked familiar enough to somepony who'd spent five years working around it.
She, Rarity, and Mr. Waddle had been taken through the jagged hole under Applied Sciences into the lair that could only have been Spike's. They were then escorted through what felt like miles of underground tunnels and catacombs. As they passed more and more of Spike's goons, Zecora recognized more and more of what had once been her life's work. Mini-mines, magnetic steel grapples, smoke and gas capsules designed to work like spitballs, surveillance equipment that Celestia had banned after it was used to discover her infamous sweet tooth, and even the tumblers, sister vehicles of the one that had once served as the Batmare's main mode of transport.
Thank Celestia Rainbow took the Bat, she thought, watching the drakes do their work with her tools. I would not have been able to do anything about that.
They came to a large, damp tunnel lit by flickering lights, just like the three dozen other large, damp tunnels they'd come across on their way here. What was different about this one, however, was the addition of what looked like a set-up of explosive charges, ready to tear a hole through the wall of the tunnel.
Beside the bomb stood a dull brown earth pony, who looked like he'd been wearing the same suit for at least a month. He was pacing back and forth, mumbling to himself, and seemed to have gone off the deep end a long time ago. He ran a hoof through his equally brown hair, ruffling it up as much as possible. Rarity covered her mouth with a hoof, recognizing the pony in the suit.
"Dr. Whooves?" she asked. The pony paid her no mind, but mumbled something that sounded like "Just Doctor" before continuing to pace and talk with himself.
Zecora knew the name of the dear Doctor. He was the reason that Rainbow had mothballed their energy project in the first place, having popped up out of nowhere and told the world how the reactor could be turned into an enormous nuclear weapon using only a brilliant mind like his. She wondered why he was here, and felt a nagging fear rise up in her gut again.
Spike waited while his minions finished setting up the explosives. When they did, one handed him a detonator, which he pushed immediately. Time Turner saw this, and galloped away from the wall swiftly.
An explosion rocked the tunnel.
Police and Royal Guard teams prepared to invade the underground. Big Mac was looking up at the sky, where Celestia's sun was getting ready to set. It didn't matter very much, he knew, but it still made him shiver to think of what this night might bring for Ponyville.
He got a call on his radio. The teams had set up positions in the sewer entrances, the subway stations, manholes, you name it, and were awaiting orders from him, sir. They were ready to begin, and so was Big Mac. He gave the signal, and the entire Ponyville police force (and half of Princess Celestia's Royal Guard) began their journey into the underground.
As they began to move, Big Mac found himself thinking about Twilight Sparkle again. He frowned when he recalled how he'd laughed at the panicked young mare who come in after finding Twilight at the sewer pipe earlier. The orange pegasus had returned the gesture by spitting in his coffee, something that would have gotten the kid fired had he not saved somepony whom Big Mac held near and dear to him. He thought of Twilight, and wished he'd believed her. That he'd done this earlier.
But he was going to make it up to her. One way or another, they were going to find Spike and bring him to justice.
Spike led the way into the chamber he'd just blown an entrance into. Zecora recognized it as the reactor chamber, and felt her lunch curdling in her stomach as her gaze fell upon the machine in the center of the room. She glanced again at the nervous Doctor standing near them, and suddenly everything clicked together.
She vomited onto the floor. Spike paid no mind to this, and shoved her forward, toward the machine.
"Turn it on," he ordered.
Zecora turned to him, wiping her mouth and spitting into the small puddle she'd made.
"No." It was one of the few times she didn't rhyme her words.
Spike shrugged, and drew his pistol from his belt. He pointed it at Waddle, pressing the barrel into his forehead.
"I need only one other board member," he explained. "Shall I fetch another?"
Zecora thought of the other board members waiting back at Rainbow Tower. We they still in danger? Zecora decided to call Spike's bluff.
"I won't do it," she said. "I would rather have my throat slit."
"I'm afraid it will have to be much more cost-effective," Spike said, cocking his weapon. Waddle was shaking badly, but he still showed no sign of breaking under pressure. He was old, and he had lived a long happy life. He was merely disappointed it had to end with a gun...
Rarity stepped forward. She had hardly spoken during their time underground, merely groaning quietly every time they passed by something dirty, which had been every five seconds. Now, though, she was ignoring the dirt on her hooves, and holding one up to stop Spike. She rushed past Zecora and placed her hoof on the biometric scanner acting as the security system. It beeped once, confirming her identity. She stepped down and pleaded with Zecora when the zebra gave her an incredulous look.
"Zecora, you'll kill this stallion and yourself, and hardly slow them down."
She hated to admit it, but the unicorn was right. Slowly, Zecora made her way to the scanner, and placed her hoof on it as well. She begged Rainbow Dash's forgiveness as the machine beeped again, and stepped back to let Spike bring Waddle forward. A final beep activated the reactor core, and it glowed brighter and brighter as the fusion reactor powering it went to work, generating vast amounts of energy out of almost nothing. It was the same energy that powered the sun.
And hydrogen bombs.
Time Turner, who had been watching the machine turn on intensely, was snapped back to reality by Spike.
"Do your work."
He scurried over to the core, and began to fiddle with the surface of the reactor core. Spike turned back to his goons and gestured to the three hostages.
"Take them to the surface," he ordered, dismissing Zecora and the others. "Ponies of their status need to experience the next era of Equestrian civilization."
Zecora didn't like the sound of that, but Spike didn't bother to elaborate. He stood silently, and watched his minions pull the three back into the tunnels.
When they were gone, he turned to watch the Doctor at his work. Under his mask, he allowed himself the smallest smile of self-satisfaction.
Everything in its right place.
Ponyville Stadium was one of the newest additions to the city, costing a little over 200 million bits and being the center of attention this fine evening. The Ponyville Elements were facing the Appleloosa Apples (known for their infamously unoriginal name), and everypony with a social life (or anypony not in a hospital) was going out to the Stadium that day. You had too, really. There was no reason not to.
Flanked by security, Mayor Mare made her way to her VIP box, where she was greeted by countless newsponies trying to get the inside scoop on why literally thousands of police officers were making their way underground. She took these questions in stride, having had to deal with them for years and years.
She would only have to deal with them one last time.
"Ms. Mayor! There are literally thousands of police officers going underground as we speak," began one reporter, a tan red-headed stallion who looked like he spent too much time on the internet.
"A training exercise, that's all," she reassured. Her smile was becoming slightly forced. She loved her city, she really did, but Celestia, sometimes these ponies would not shut the buck up. So, taking the high road, she planted an Elements cap on her head, letting her silvery hair flow out the back. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got tickets to watch our team thrash those darn Apples."
She made her way to her box, where she could see almost sixty-thousand ponies sitting in the stands, waiting for the game to start. Two whole acres of freshly planted grass waited below, where it would be torn up by the competing teams, no doubt. She wondered if the Elements were potential National material. That wouldn't hurt in the next re-elections, though she doubted that it would be too hard to win them. Again.
She waved to the crowd below as she took her seat. The crowd waved back.
She hoped that Big Mac and his posse could finish up whatever it was they were doing quickly.
Under the city, literally thousands of police and Royal Guards made their way through what could basically be described as the world's biggest latrine. Amongst these Guards included Shining Armor himself, Captain of the entire Royal Guard itself. Right now, he wanted to be at home, where his wife was probably preparing dinner. He knew it was only a teleport away, but he still felt the distance between them. He wondered if Cadence had finished planning their daughter's birthday party.
He smiled at the thought. My little Ambrose is turning five. He reminded himself to pick up a present as soon as he was done with this job. He kicked at a pebble, thinking about how easy it would be to just magic himself out of here. But that was wrong, he knew, so he didn't. The Royal Guard needed him as their captain, and besides, with all these cops helping them out, they'd be done in no time.
There were thirty minutes left before it all ended.
Scootaloo cruised through an ugly district, where he saw construction workers finishing up their work day. She was impressed to see that it was a group of ponies and dragons working together on whatever they were building. It wasn't every day you got to see something like that. She smiled, and stepped out of her car to check the situation out.
Twilight's orders had been to check the construction patterns throughout the city, as the construction business was something that Filthy had owned. She had already checked out half of the locations, and all of the workers had been friendly, letting her "snoop around a bit" before she headed off to the next one.
As she approached this site, though, she felt a chill run up her spine. There was something strange about this one...something that she'd seen before.
"Hang on..." she said, taking a closer loo at the large colt sitting in the cement mixer nearby. He looked oddly familiar...
Time Turner stepped back from the machine, his terrible deed done. He turned to Spike and nodded.
"I-It's done," he said, wanting to go back in time and undo his thesis on the reactor. "This is now a four megaton nuclear bomb." He was afraid of what it could do, but not as much as what Spike could do with it.
The drake nodded in approval. He called to his team.
"Pull the core out of the reactor."
Time Turner yelped. "You can't!" His face was draining of color. "This is the only power source capable of sustaining it. If you move it, the core will decay in a matter of months-"
"Five, by my calculations," Spike replied calmly.
The Doctor was confuse. He wanted the bomb to go off? He tried again to explain.
"The bomb will go off, then!!"
"For the sake of those dear to you," said Spike, "I hope so."
Stunned, the brown stallion backed away from the monster gazing at the bomb before him. He really wanted to go back in time now. Too bad I decided to work on nuclear physics, and not temporal physics, he thought to himself, trying to lighten the mood. The weight that rested on his shoulders was too heavy, though.
After all, four megatons is quite a bit.
"...I know you, don't I?"
Scootaloo was speaking with the colt driving the cement mixer. There was a smell coming from somewhere that was messing with her nose, and she was waving a hoof in front of her muzzle, trying to shrug it off. The colt in the driver's seat squinted at the mare.
Scootaloo decided to refresh his memory. "The stock market, right? You were there."
"When?" she echoed in disbelief. This guy had to be playing dumb. "When half the city's cops were trying to pull up in front of the Ponyville Stock Exchange, that's when!"
"Oh yeah," the colt said, smirking as though it was a memory of a crazy night in a club rather than when he'd almost gotten arrested. "You were the cop."
There was something wrong, Scootaloo realized. The colt was acting too dumb and laid back about this. And the dragon that had been chatting with him before was still standing behind Scootaloo, waiting to talk with him again. Or something.
The driver snorted, unimpressed by her promotion. The drake behind her moved, and Scootaloo heard the sound of metal clinking. Her wings fluttered in paranoia, and she recalled Twilight's words.
"And as a detective," she added, "I'm not allowed to believe in coincidence any more-"
She spun around, drawing her sidearm, and shot the drake just in time to nto have a knife stuck into her back. The dragon clutched the spot on his chest where the bullet had entered, sputtered a bit, and fell to the ground. Scootaloo was shocked at the fantastic amount of blood spurting from his body.
Oh Celestia, she thought. I think I killed him.
The driver opened the truck's door, and Scootaloo spun around again, this time too late to stop him from grabbing her and holding her in his grip. She struggled, and grunted when he twisted the foreleg holding the gun back, trying to break it. She responded by shooting wildly, hitting the concrete and ricocheting the bullet back into the driver's...back. He yelled once, then fell back, as the dragon had, and banged his head against the truck as he fell. The colt slid into a limp pile on the ground, blood pouring from his back.
Scootaloo stared at the body, then at her gun. She'd just killed two people. In a matter of seconds. Disgusted with herself, she tossed the gun away and phoned the commissioner. As she reached her, Scootaloo noticed the barrels standing next to the cement mixer. She also realized that that was where the smell was coming from. She trotted over to them, inspecting their labels closer.
She had never been a good chemistry student, but she still recognized the chemicals the barrels labeled, and she realized with sudden horror what Spike's plan had been all along. She raced towards her vehicle even as Twilight muttered "Hello?" into the phone.
"Explosives!" she yelled as she made her way to the car. "He's been pouring concrete laced with explosives! Get the police out of the tunnels, or they'll be trapped! Get Big Mac! Tell him! It's a trap! Pull them out!"
She scrambled into her car, ready to zoom down to where Big Mac was, if needs be. It was only two minutes until kickoff at the Stadium. But she had no way of knowing that.
Big Mac was given the message from one of his officers. He thought for a moment, then realized in a wave of horror that Scootaloo's story checked out. There had been road workers pouring cement all over the place the past few weeks, and when he thought about it, if he check an underground map and compared it to a regular one-
He gasped and dropped his radio. Not bothering to pick it up, he galloped over to the tunnels, where he yelled at the cops running around inside.
"Pull 'em out! PULL 'EM OUT NOW!"
Spike pulled himself up into the boiler room of the Ponyville stadium. He looked around for a moment, then made his way to the entrance to the stadium, where a young colt was singing the Equestrian Anthem. He stood at the entrance, unseen by the crowd, and listened as the crowd sang of the love and tolerance for all things they all shared. He closed his eyes.
"Such a lovely voice," he observed, and prepared the trigger.
The colt finished singing. Spike watched the referee approach the center of the field, and he looked to Garble at the sound of the kickoff. The crimson dragon nodded, showing him that the charges were all set. Spike turned back to the stadium just as the ball flew into the air.
"Let the games begin."
He hit the detonator.
FALL 2: GameFall
Big Mac felt the explosions begin in another part of the city, and raced towards the light of day. He and a small group of his team made it out mere instants before the explosions made it to the tunnel they'd just been in. The tunnel roof collapsed, and Mac felt slabs of concrete rush past him to the ground as he sprinted for the blockade of patrol cars they'd made. Booming echoes ricocheted through the tunnel, making other officers inside cover their ears. Ponies left and right dodged to get away from falling rubble. One of them was screaming under a slab that was now covering where his hind legs and cutie mark used to be.
Then it stopped. The booms turned to crumbling sounds, and Big Mac realized that he'd somehow managed to stay standing the entire time. He staggered back to the blockade before turning around to look at the damage. He choked, partly on the dust floating through the air at the moment, and partly because what he saw made him want to cry. There was an enormous mound of rubble blocking the tunnel entrance. Big Mac imagined what the other tunnels looked like, and the same image popped into his head again and again.
"Buck," he blurted out to nopony. There was nopony really around to hear.
The entire Ponyville police force and Royal guard division was buried alive.
Out in the oldest part of Ponyville, away from where her brother was currently sweating his badge off, Applejack decided to have something that wasn't apple-related for dinner that day. She fixed herself a daisy sandwich and a tall glass of milk, and made her way out into the backyard, where the entrance to the Sweet Apple Acres apple orchard lay. It was 50 times larger than the Ponyville Stadium, and it was what Applejack lived for
She made it out just in time to see it implode.
Setting the sandwich and milk down on a table near the door, Applejack turned at the sound of the explosions. When she did, she saw the trees rippling across the orchard. It looked as if the ground had turned to water, and was now making waves. Then it decided to stop waving and fall in. With a thunderous roar, the orchard began to disappear underground. Tree after tree fell into the growing chasm that was racing towards the rest of the orchard. Years and decades of hard work amounted to nothing as the orchard was obliterated into almost nothing. The chasm stopped growing at almost half an acre away from where Applejack was standing. The rest of the orchard had fallen into the hole, and now dust was what covered her land.
Applejack took a tentative step forward. Her face was emotionless as she peered into the chasm as best as she could without getting near it. She saw her once great orchard reduced to rubble and tree branches. The amount of red from her apples made it look as though the hole was bleeding. She was sure that it would if it could.
Applejack took one more step forward. Then her eyes rolled up into the back of her skull, and she keeled over, smacking her face into the ground when she fell.
Nopony was around to help her. They were all at the football game.
The ball spiraled into the air.
The Ponyville receiver was all over it. He caught it with ease, and began sprinting his flank off as a group of the Appleloosa team (whom he warmly referred to as the Apple-losers) hounded him like Diamond Dogs. He sprinted past the mayor's box, and guessed that she was cheering along with the rest of the hometown crowd. He felt energized by their cheers, and shoved the Apple-losers out of the way as the end zone came closer and closer. He could taste victory.
Then the mayor's box exploded. It happened so fast that the receiver never even noticed. The crowd that felt debris and the mayor's blood rain down on them, however, felt it plenty. The cheering turned to screams of horror as explosions sounded from underneath the football field, and the brand new Stadium began to fall into the crowd. The receiver was blissfully ignorant, hearing only the rumble of what could only be all of his fans cheering his name and stamping their hooves in applause. He raced forward, barely outrunning the caving-in stadium, and along the way unknowingly shoved several of his good old Apple-losers down into the growing pit to their deaths.
He reached the end zone in time for the ground to stop imploding. On either side of the field, only the end zones remained above ground. The receiver looked up at the stands, ready for the applause, only to see thousands of ponies racing to get out of their seats. He smelled smoke, and slowly turned around to face the wreckage of the football field.
He drop the pigskin. Touchdown.
The world around Scootaloo erupted into fire as she barreled through the city. The pavement behind her was going up in an explosion, and those explosions just kept on getting closer and closer. Along with them, Scootaloo was trying to avoid the array of obstacles making themselves known to her. Broken street wires lay across the street, other cars (or remains of cars) littered the road. There were ponies abandoning all hope and trying to simply outrun the end of the world, and thus were running into the street.
Struggling to control her vehicle, Scootaloo managed to turn onto another street, one seemingly devoid of any explosive concrete. She was covered in her own notes, having had to swerve enough times to send them flying throughout the cabin of her car. She swore loudly when her coffee spilled over onto her lap, and her hooves gripped the wheel tightly as she struggled not to tuck and roll out of her car right then and there.
She turned to look behind her. The area she'd come from, the bridge that kept Ponyville and another part of the world outside connected over the Ponyville River, was now falling into said river. Looking further out, she saw that the railroad system, which was the main transport in and out of Ponyville, was being taken out as well.
Dammit, Scootaloo realized. He's cutting Ponyville off from the rest of the world! It was a silly notion, but it seemed that way, and Scootaloo had no time to think of anything else. Another explosion had just one off. Directly underneath her car.
She went flying. Metal crumpled, glass shattered, and the small orange pegasus was upside down.
The football field was a nightmare. What had moments ago been a bright green playing field was now a desolate pile of rubble and dead bodies. There was no sign of the football itself. Nopony noticed.
Spike's henchmen made their way out onto the field, forming a protective barrier for their leader. More soldiers, weapons prepped, were guarding the exits, making sure nopony could leave. Spike didn't want to have to talk to an empty house.
He strode onto the field like a conqueror claiming his empire. The prisoners of the stadium sobbed when they saw the skull-like mask resting upon the drake's face, and some believed he was Death himself. They realized there was no escape, and slowly stopped trying to run for the exits. Spike observed the cameras swinging towards him, and nodded with satisfaction. He wondered how many televisions were tuned into this channel right now.
He also wondered how Rainbow Dash was taking it.
A dead umpire lay near him, a shard of concrete from the mayor's box lodged in his cranium. His headset appeared to have survived, though, and Spike plucked it from the dead colt's head and brought it close to his mouthpiece. He found it amusing to use it to speak to his crowd.
The crowd itself grew hushed as he prepared to speak. He held up his arm, asking for silence, and tapped the microphone to check if it worked.
"Ponyville!" he said to the crowd. "Take control of your city-"
A mile away, Scootaloo was crawling out of her totaled car. She spat out a mouthful of blood and checked to see if all her teeth were still in her mouth. She was thankful that nothing was broken, or seemed that way, and lay on the ground for a long while, listening to the sounds of chaos as explosions wrecked the city.
While she did, she thought. The "training exercise" had been a trap, she knew that. Spike wanted the police down in the sewers, where they could be trapped so that he could do what he wanted above ground. If the entire police force had gone in, that meant that the only law enforcement left was her and-
"Oh shit," she said out loud. Scrambling to her hooves, Scootaloo looked around for anything she could use to get to the hospital. She saw a battered mini moving down the street, smiled, and sprinted toward it, ready to commandeer her first car.
Twilight Sparkle awoke with a start. Her heart-rate monitor was beeping speedily, and she was breathing hard. The commotion downstairs had just woken her from a nightmare about Spike and the shoot-out in the sewers. It seemed so long ago now.
It took only a moment for her to recognize the sounds of screaming, shattering glass, and the occasional report of gunfire coming from downstairs. The whole thing gave her a horrible feeling of déjà vu, as the memory of the Joker's previous visit to a hospital to see Soarin' invaded her mind.
But there was no time for that. She pushed the memory away, knowing that she was going to be found eventually. And she new that whoever it was who were holding the guns, they probably would be looking for her. Again, she'd hated hated hated the Princess' little surprise. It made her too much of a target.
Grunting, Twilight slowly got out of her bed, keeping her IV tree close by with her magic. The needle in her foreleg stung each time she stepped forward, but she had to get out of there ASAP. How she was going to do that in this state, however, escaped her. This was not what the doctor ordered for her.
Slowly, she shuffled to where her room door was, and waited behind it, sniffling occasionally.
Scootaloo had dreamed once of being a stunt-flyer. When she found she couldn't fly, that dreamer had change to dtunt-biker. Her trusty scooter (which was still tucked away in her closet back at her apartment) had become her life, and she'd loved it more than anything. Her days of buzzing around on the scooter were over, but the dream of being able to do that for a living still itched in her mind.
Right now, though, she was in the process of learning why her caretakers had always told her not to go for that goal. Her commandeered vehicle was jumping over ramps made of upturned concrete, and she was practically doing barrel rolls in mid-air as she made her way to the hospital.
Reaching it, she felt as though she were too late. Broken glass was scattered around the door to the hospital. She bounded out of her vehicle and into the building. She passed by cowering nurses and doctors, who attempted to tell her what was happening. She promptly ignored them, and made her way towards Twilight Sparkle's room.
She burst into the commissioner's room at the sound of gunshots, praying that she wasn't dead already. Before she could move, though, she felt the warm barrel of a recently-fired gun press against the back of her head. For a second, her life flashed before her eyes. She was very disappointed at how short it was.
"Check the corners, rookie," Twilight Sparkle scolded. Now, rookie, that was a sound she liked.
Scootaloo turned to see Twilight still in her hospital gown, and she lowered what she assumed was one of her attacker's guns (the attacker in question was nowhere to be seen, but the broken window on the other side of the room gave Scoot a clue as to what had happened). She looked out into the hallway, where frightened patients looked out of their rooms at the four unconscious and/or dead bodies that Scootaloo had barely noticed when she charged into her room.
"Get my coat, please," Twilight asked.
Ponyville Stadium had become the hottest spot in Equestria, at least as far as the Royal Guard was concerned. More than three hundred personnel were crammed into what was titled, to the regret of their dear princesses, the "War Room."
It had not been this crowded since the janitorial biannual celebration last year.
The room was one of the most technologically advanced places on the planet (though it still paled in comparison to the Batcave). Shining monitors lined a wall, while another was lined with radar console and other tools that would scare the daylights out of anypony who saw what they controlled in action.
The ponies (and dragons and griffons) gathered around the table were occasionally glancing from the main monitor, where the terrorist threat known as Spike (or, as the Guard had code-named him, Equestria Bane) was speaking out to the citizens trapped in the stadium and the world beyond it, to the empty seat where their captain would have been sitting, had he not gone off to Ponyville to help his "dear little sister" himself. Now, they weren't sure if he was still around.
They wondered what they were going to tell the Princess Cadance.
On screen, Spike was gesturing to a radical looking device that his minions had pulled out from inside the locker rooms of the stadium. It looked almost like an enormous steel golf ball, but those gathered in the War Room knew better than to think that.
"This is the instrument of your liberation," Spike declared. He gestured again, and the drakes behind him tossed a sad-looking earth pony out beside him. The people gathered in the War Room recognized the pony immediately.
"Holy crap," one unicorn said. "He's got the Doctor."
"Identify yourself to the world," ordered Spike.
"Dr. Time Turner," the colt said, his voice shaking. "Scientist of many-"
Spike turned the Doctor's head towards the cameras, making sure the world knew who was speaking. The War Room Guards certainly knew who it was.
"He hasn't been heard from in months," said a griffon checking a computer. "We thought he'd gone of in his ship, but-"
The stallion at the head of the table hushed her, turning the others' attention back to the screen. Spike had placed his hand on the Doctor's shoulder, and was now asking him a question.
"Tell me, and the world, what is this?" He gestured to the giant sphere behind them.
"A fully primed neutron bomb. With a blast radius of six miles."
"And who can disarm this device?"
"Thank you, Doctor."
With the world watching, Spike effortlessly snapped the Doctor's neck, and shot him in between the eyes when he began to glow. The Doctor shook for a moment, then lay still. The stadium erupted into shrieks of horror. Many of the creatures in the War Room gasped. Only a mile away from where this was happening, a gray pegasus was holding her child in her forelegs, crying into her shoulder. The child was stroking her mother's lengthy blond hair, trying not to cry herself, and whispering that it was gonna be okay, even though it wasn't.
Spike went on, ignoring the screams, and said, "This bomb is armed. This bomb is mobile, and the identity of the triggerpony is a mystery. One of you holds the detonator. We are not conquerors of this city, but liberators, here to return control of this city to its citizens. At the first sign of interference from the outside world, or of ponies attempting to flee, this anonymous Ponyvillian--this unsung hero--will trigger the bomb.
"For now, martial law is in effect. Return to your homes, hold your families close, and wait." He threw out his arms, as though in a holy gesture. "Tomorrow you claim what is rightfully yours."
Spike turned and left the field. His goons rolled the bomb after him, leaving the body of the Doctor behind on the crumbling turf.
A hush settled over the War Room. Finally, a unicorn stood up, and ordered, "Pull back any and all fighters. Start high-level reconnaissance flights. And get Princess Celestia on the line."
He stared at the screen another moment, then turned away, ready to take action.
There was only one way into the city left. The railroad station that transported ponies directly to Canterlot was the only access road in and out of Ponyville. The rest of the city was either blocked off by rubble or by the countless dragons (fully grown ones, the size of the Canterlot castle) that circled the borders of the town.
Negotiations began with the terrorists at approximately 10:43 the day after Ponyville was taken hostage. These negotiations ended five minutes later. The one responsible for this was the second-in-command of the Royal Guard, one Diamond Sword, and when asked why he had broken off so quickly, he stared off into the distance for a moment. Finally, he answered:
"If we send one guard over that line that they've drawn, Ponyville gets blown sky-high."
It was easy enough to understand, but what was hard to believe was the fact that unicorn magic was useless in the fight against the terrorists. Dragons were capable of magic, most ponies knew, but the amount needed to block off an entire city from the rest of the world was nothing to laugh about. The barrier that covered the aerial zone over Ponyville was one that would have taken an entire brigade of Magic Specialist (or one Twilight Sparkle, as it happened), but the feat as carried out without any sign of effort or any sign of letting down. It stayed up constantly, and it left the War Roomies wondering.
A day later, Princess Celestia addressed the world. Rainbow Dash watched from her cot. She didn't move a muscle, yet tears streamed down her face.
"The ponies, dragons, griffons, and other creatures of this land are resilient," she announced somberly. "They have proven time and time again that this is true, and I know they can prove it again."
It was a nightmare, even when she wasn't sleeping, but the real pain came with Celestia's next sentence.
"We do not negotiate with terrorists," she said, and Rainbow saw a tear roll down the Princess's cheek, "but we do except realities..."
She couldn't take it anymore. Shuddering, she cried out in despair and pain.
The next day was no better, and for a good reason. The third day of the Siege of Ponyville was the day that the lie Commissioner Twilight had told to the city for eight years was revealed for what it was.
It began when Spike and his drakes rolled up to the front of Hayseed Prison, which had had its protection spells removed. Now it was a part of the mainland again, though the prisoners were still held there. They would only have to wait a few more minutes.
Twilight and Scootaloo were watching from the former's apartment when the masked dragon had pulled out a photo of a familiar light blue pegasus. In the photo, he was grinning photogenically at the camera, a pair of flight goggles settled neatly on his head.
"This colt was held up to you as an idol," Spike began. "I am here to tell you that he was and is a false idol."
He pulled out a few pages of notes. Twilight recognized them instantly.
Oh Celestia, she thought, her eyes widening. My speech. He kept my speech.
Spike held the photo up high, and turned his head to look up at it. He pressed a button on his vest, and a gout of flame burst from his mask, setting the photo of Soarin' alight. Twilight assumed it was what Spike used as a replacement for his regular flame, and felt the slightest pang of pity for him, for some unknown reason.
"Let me tell you the truth about Soarin'," continued Spike, focusing on the speech in his other hand as the photo burned, "in the words of Ponyville's own police commissioner, Twilight Sparkle."
Scootaloo looked up from her packing. Twilight was shuddering in her seat.
Spike began to read aloud from the speech. He read with enthusiasm, and Twilight hated his guts more than she had ever hated anything in the moment when she realized he was enjoying this.
"'The truth about Soarin' is simple in only one regard--it has been hidden for too long. After his devastating injuries, Soarin's mind recovered no better than his mutilated face. He was a broken, dangerous stallion, not the crusader for justice that I, Twilight Sparkle, have portrayed him to be for the past eight years. Soarin's rage was indiscriminate. Psychopathic.
"'He held the mare I loved at gunpoint, then fell to his death over the struggle for her life. The Batmare did not murder Soarin'--she saved my wife.'"
Twilight was crying, but she didn't notice. She was trying to concentrate on the screen in front of her, and not the furious pegasus breathing heavily behind her.
"'Then the Batmare took the blame for Soarin's appalling crimes, so that I could, to my shame, build a lie around this fallen idol.'"
Twilight let out a single sob, and lowered her head into her hooves.
"'I praised the mad-colt who tried to murder my own wife.'"
The crowd on the TV had fallen silent now, appalled by the things that Spike was saying.
"'The things we did in Soarin's name brought desperately needed security to our streets. But I can no longer live with my lie. It is time to trust the ponies of Ponyville with the truth, and it is time for me to resign.'"
That was all he said. Spike folded the papers up and looked out into the crowd.
"Well? Do you accept this mare's resignation?"
Nopony answered at first. Then, from the back of the crowd, Twilight heard a few ponies start shouting.
More voices joined in. Inside the prison, the inmates were all shouting their acceptance of Twilight's decision. One of the cameras zoomed in on the face of what appeared to be the only mare in the prison. The look on her face gave no clue as to what she thought of all this.
"Do you accept the resignation of all the liars?" Spike demanded to know. "All the corrupt?"
"YES!!!" The entire crowd was in a rage. Spike turned to his goons, and nodded. They nodded back, and approached the prison.
What happened next was a montage of chaos that would have made the Joker proud. The prisoners were freed, in crowds, and given weapons, which were promptly used on some of the pones not cheering in the crowd with them. The female prisoner, who had slunk out after everypony else, now was slinking away again, out of the sight of the camera. Spike disappeared off-screen as the camera-pony was attacked, presumably by one of the armed escapees.
Twilight turned off the TV. Her eyes were leaking tears. Scootaloo saw this, and she felt like smacking the lavender unicorn. She did not, though, and went back to packing. All she said was, "There were over a thousand ponies locked up in there for eight years without right to a trial. Based on a lie."
Twilight keeled over, off the couch, and fell to the floor, where she lay motionless. Scootaloo simply checked to see she hadn't died, then went back to her work.
The hours, days, and weeks that followed were broadcast over the airwaves of Equestria. Spike's voice rang out on every radio, TV, and computer in more than half of the homes in the country. His prophecies came to light as he spoke of them.
"For an army will be raised..."
Mercenaries hounded the streets, armed with the arsenal they had received from their new leader. THey looted, killed, and did other things besides to the ordinary citizens of Ponyville. Even those who were not part of this congregation joined, eady to get revenge on the ponies who had cheated them out of the luxury they so deserved.
Hotels were ransacked. Apartment buildings were looted. Doormen either joined the insurrection, or were shoved out of the way. Murderers, convicts, former inmates, anarchists, vandals, and even simple opportunists cheered as they heped themselves to the goods of the rich and famous.
"The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests..."
In one of the grandest of penthouses in the city, the looters came across the owner hiding under one of his many luxurious pieces of furniture. He was old, too old to run from them, and they yanked him out from under his hiding spot. The looters took turns spiting on him, then tore him to pieces, quite literally. The old colt's blood soaked and ruined a Persian rug that he'd gotten for his much younger wife a year ago, for her birthday. His wife, now unknowingly a widow, was held up in the bedroom, where she was forced to "handle" several of the looters at once.
The penthouse was trashed in minutes.
"...And cast into the cold world the rest of us have known and endured..."
Some of the apartment owners were luckier than the poor penthouse owner, but not by much. After being violated and otherwise beaten, they were cast out from their once-shimmering palaces, to live on the streets as the hobos they'd upturned their noses at in another life had.
On one street, Fancypants sat mumbling to himself. he was wondering where his wife was, and whether or not she'd ever return to him. For her sake, he mumbled, he hoped not.
He suckled on the wrapper of a candy bar, giggling madly and swiping at his greasy turquoise mane. It had been a week since he'd been found at the bar.
"Courts will be convened..."
The Stock Exchange, a once-great palace of money and value, was now a makeshift courthouse, with the honorable Judge Cranky D. Donkey, formerly a crazed killer, presiding over all who entered. He made judgments on the guilty, and all who were brought in here were guilty.
As he sentenced a former banker and his wife to death, Spike watched from afar, hidden in the large crowd of jeering ponies who acted as the jury.
"The spoils will be enjoyed..."
The ransacked hotels became Party Central. Dozens of former squatters came around to drink, have sex, do drugs, and anything else worth doing. Precious items were tossed across rooms, paintings were torn apart, there was a baseball game going on with a ruby for a ball. A drunken mare peed in the corner.
Through it all, Pinkie stood at the same window, fiddling with her long hair. She did not smile once.
"Blood will be shed..."
Shining Armor looked up at the daylight shining through the small crack in the dark that the storm drain provided. He winced as his wound burned again, and examined the gash along his right foreleg. He prayed that it wasn't infected, and hoped that if it was, somepony would send medicine, and soon. He would not die before seeing his wife again.
He was passed down a basket full of stale bread, moldy fruit, and cans of what was probably expired lunch meat. He pulled out a can for himself, and passed along the basket, hoping that it was enough for everypony and knowing it was not. His stomach growled, and he smacked the can against a rock, hoping to break it open without spilling the precious food inside.
He had long since given up on a rescue party. He dreamed often of Cadance's warmth, and woke up wondering what it really felt like.
"But the police will live, until they are ready to serve true justice..."
Somewhere, the reactor core glowed. A gauge slipped closer and closer to he red zone, indicating that Ponyville's eventual end was nearing. The bomb was secure, though, kept in place by the drakes who had followed Spike from the beginning.
"This great city will endure. Ponyville will survive."
The clock on the bomb ticked towards zero.
Far away, Rainbow Dash had seen enough. It was time to try again.
Gritting her teeth, she rolled off the cot and fell to the floor, landing on the sings that Spike had somehow rendered completely useless, with out cutting them off. She faced the area where the climb was taken, and planted her hooves on the ground, trying to push herself up.
Come on, you useless crap. Just one rep.
She had to begin again.
Over the next few days, Rainbow Dash tried vainly to work herself enough to move about the prison on her own hooves. Every minute of the first day of these attempts was spent lying on the ground, trying hard to execute only a single push-up. Her spine screamed at her to stop, and eventually she did, falling back into a heap on the floor of her cell. Throughout all of this, Gray Fins did nothing to stop her, perhaps because he knew she was unable to do anything, or perhaps because it was too much fun watching this poor thing flounder on the ground.
On the fourth day of this, he finally spoke up about her obsession. Or, rather, the blind griffon one cell over barked something, and he translated.
"You must straighten your back first, he says."
Rainbow Dash looked up from her push-ups (she could do two reps before losing feeling in her body now) and grunted, "How would he know?"
The griffon mumbled. The drake translated.
"He was the prison doctor, before he became blind. A morphine addict who earned the displeasure of many of thse in this prison. Your masked friend included."
The griffon spoke through Gray Fins. "Many years ago, when he was still one of the imprisoned, Spike was attacked by the other inmates. The doctor's attempts to help him saved his life, but left him in perpetual agony. The mask he wears feeds him a gas that keeps the pain at bay." He paused, finished with the griffon's speech, then added his own say: "He was only a child."
He still is, technically, thought Rainbow Dash. What she said out loud was: "So he was born here, am I correct?"
Gray Fins nodded.
"The legend says that there was a warlord, who had hired a mercenary to do his dirty work. The mercenary fell in love with the warlord's daughter, and they married in secret." He brought a rope from the hall and tied it under Rainbow's elbows as he recounted. "When he was found out, the mercenary was condemned to this pit. Instead, he found himself being exiled, dropped off on the side of a barren road.
"He knew that the warlord's daughter had pleaded with her father, and gotten him pardoned. But he could never have known what price she'd paid for doing so. She took his place in the pit."
Rainbow shuttered at the thought of a mare like, as Gray Fin's had described her, a princess, however little a kingdom she was heir to. There seemed to be no other mares (or females of any kind, for that matter) around the prison, as were there no guards. They were not needed, as she understood.
"And she was with child," Gray Fins continued. "The mercenary's child." He pointed at the Blind Doctor in his cell. "The doctor delivered the child back when his eyes were still young and full of light. But one day, years later, he forgot to lock the cell behind him."
Rainbow imagined the prisoners ganging up on the mare (or dragoness, she didn't know which), hungry looks in their eyes.
"Innocence cannot flower underground," the drake said. "It was to be stamped out. But the child had a friend. A protector. This protector showed the other prisoners that the child was their redemption. That his innocence was their redemption. Something to be prized." He hung his head low. "The child's mother was not so lucky."
Blind Doctor, who had this whole time been silent, now shouted something at Gray Fins. He shook his head.
"This is Spike's prison now," he said. "He would not want his story told. And most certainly not to you."
Rainbow had wondered for a while whether or not she could consider the drake and griffons as her companions. She still wondered.
Gray Fins knotted the rope he'd slung around her, and tossed the other end over the open door of the cell, stepping around to grab hold of it. Tugging on the rope, he pulled Rainbow Dash upright off the floor. She shrieked with pain as though she were being tortured on the rack. Which she was, if one thought about it.
The pain was overpowering her, and she could feel Spike beating down on her head as he had in the sewer (was it only a month ago, or a year?). It was worse than when she'd been set on fire by the Scarecrow, worse than when the Joker had stabbed her in the side. Worse than when she'd pulled Blueblood up over the edge of a cliff with only one wing.
She convulsed, trying to slip out of the loop and praying to pass out. She didn't know how much longer she could endure it, or whether it was worth calling it endurance at all. She prayed for oblivion, for that deep black cave she'd dreamt of in her time here.
She realized with horror that the pit was what she'd been dreaming of, not death.
Gray Fins, meanwhile, had tied the rope to the metal bars of the cell. His claws ran along Rainbow's spine, and for a second she thought he was going to tear it out, for the pleasure she'd offered her first day here. But he simply observed, adding to the pain of her broken back with his gentle touch. She bit her lip as he located the source of the pain. When he found it, she tasted blood.
"You have a protruding vertebra," he said simply. "That's all."
"OH, THAT'S ALL! GOOD!" Dash was in hysterics as she screamed at him. "I THOUGHT IT WAS SOMETHING SERIOUS!" She shuddered again, licking the blood from her punctured lips.
"I'm going to force it back in."
Without warning, the dragon punched her in the back, hard enough to send her swinging across the cell. There was a spasm of pain, and Rainbow realized it was in her wings, which were standing straight out on her sides. She was overjoyed to see that they could feel again, but she still howled like a Timberwolf separated from its pack. She finally sagged, being held up only by the rope tied around her. Drool dripped from the corner of her mouth as Gray Fins circled back around.
"You stay like this until you stand," he said, and the inky blackness of unconsciousness took her.
Days and nights blurred past as she hung there, drifting in and out of delirium. Her life was ending one moment, and then she felt herself grip the edge of everything again, fighting to stay in the light of life, just as Spike had predicted. Apparitions of her parents, of Spitfire, and finally of Ra's al Ghul himself, looking as dapper as ever, appeared before her. Each one angered her more, and the thought of Ponyville, her city, being obliterated and forgotten was too much. One day (or maybe it was night, she didn't know or care), she snapped, and woke screaming her defiance.
Prisoners outside looked over at her, puzzled by her outburst. They went back to their duties (whatever those were) when Dash looked back. They saw a fallen angel, ready to return to its rightful place again. By any means necessary and through any test.
The cyan mare staggered, and Gray Fins noticed the sudden slackness in the rope holding her up, and untied it, seeing that she could indeed stand. He stood next to her, ready to catch her if she fell, but amazingly, miraculously, she didn't do so. Instead, she took a step forward.
Dizziness passed over her, but the ghosts had given her the need to return to Ponyville. She wasn't broken. Not anymore. Her bad knee was a problem still, but she was glad to see that she now acknowledged the pain in it over the pain in her back.
Rainbow Dash was healing. She took another step. By the next week, she was doing fifty-rep sets again.
Gray Fins was interested by this mare. She was the same as any of those willing to try and escape this hell, and yet there was something that made her different (besides the fact that she was female, of course). Her wings, which had been effectively disconnected when her spine had been dislocated, were withered and useless, and still they fluttered when she worked.
She was indeed healing. Physically, at least.
"Why build yourself?" he asked one day.
Rainbow pushed herself up off the floor again.
"I'm not meant to die here."
Gray Fins glimpsed at the television, which Rainbow herself was staring at with hatred. The super on the screen read: "SIEGE OF PONYVILLE: DAY 84."
"Here? There?" He gestured to the screen. "What's the difference?"
She ignored him, and he knew why. He was speaking for the pit, as he had done for the fist weeks of her stay here. Over time, though, he'd grown to like the mare with the rainbow mane, and though it would get him killed (he almost hoped), he helped her. He wondered if the Blind Doctor felt the same way.
The pegasus pushed herself further. He heard her counting under her breath.
She was ready to climb to meet the sun.
She approached the wall, and gestured for the tattooed drake to give her the rope. She could hear prisoners behind her laughing. She didn't care. At all. Right now, there was only one goal, one solid thought in her mind, one destination she had to reach at all costs.
The prisoners began chanting as she began climbing. The hoofholds were there, and though Rainbow had gone rock-climbing many times in her life, she still wished for the equipment in her manor, or the spikes on the Batmare's gauntlets, or even for her wings to work enough for her to be able to glide down gently, if not move upward a little bit.
Now now, a voice in her head that sound like Spike told her. Or maybe it was the Joker. No cheating.
Perhaps it was Pinkie Pie. She briefly wondered what the pink mare was doing, and whether she was enjoying her little "storm."
She intended to ask her when she saw her again, in Ponyville.
She reached a ledge, and looked out to another one, far out of reach. Or at least, it appeared to be out of reach. Rainbow knew that somepony before her had made it, and therefore justified that she could make it as well. The chanting below had grown, and it cheered her on as she calculated her step. She brushed a hoof against the rope, and flexed her knees, making sure that they wouldn't fail on her at her most needed time.
She breathed deep.
Here goes nothing.
She leapt for the upper ledge, outstretching her hooves as far as they could go. She felt her wings flutter the tiniest bit, and for a second she thought she would fly again, up to the mouth of the pit. Her hoof brushed against the rugged stone edge of the ledge...
And she slipped away.
Gravity took hold of her, and Rainbow plummeted. In the two seconds of her fall, she imagined Spike's face, smiling with his eyes at the feeble attempt to leave. She felt rage build up in her, and when the rope jolted taut and swung her brutally towards a wall, she did something incredibly stupid.
She tried to punch the wall.
She screamed as her hoof cracked against the stone. She felt something break, she felt warm blood dribble down her arm, and she felt hot tears roll down her cheeks as she was lowered back into the pit. She was not crying because of her now fractured hoof.
She was crying because she had failed. Again.
She stepped into her cell again when the tattooed dragon untied her, and she sat on her cot, cradling her disfigured hoof. She was not worried about it, knew that it would heal (with some help from Blind Doctor and Gray Fins, of course), but the pain in her chest hurt her more.
She did not notice the large chunk of rock come crashing down from the section of wall she'd punched.
When Gray Fins entered the cell, he had dirty bandages. He set her bones (not gentle) and wrapped her hoof up. He did not look disappointed in her, merely sad.
"I told you it could not be done."
Rainbow Dash's voice cracked as she answered: "You said that a child did it."
"No ordinary child," Gray Fins shot back. "A child born in hell. A child forged by suffering, and hardened by pain." He finished his work on her hoof, and mumbled, "Three days," before stepping away from the pegasus.
Dash turned over and tried to sleep, ignoring the pain in her hoof as best as she could. Before she drifted off, she heard his final words to her. They were an insult. His first, really.
"Not some child of privilege."
A week later, Dash tried again. This attempt was caused by Spike more directly than the last time.
She had been watching her city slowly walk into the arms of Death unknowingly, when the image shifted to the railroad where supplies were allowed through. Two of the dragons guarding the area were eating something. Something that looked to be-
"No," Dash groaned, and leaned over her cot to vomit.
The dragons were eating several ponies. What was worse, it was ponies she knew that were having their guts torn out and gobbled down. Rapidfire's blank face stared up at the sun, and his partner Sweetie Belle lay nearby, her face pressed to the ground. The other ponies were beyond recognizable. Too much of their faces were missing.
She snapped again. Rolling of the cot and wiping her mouth with her newly-healed hoof (which still looked the slightest bit lumpy, as it always would from now on), she landed on the ground and began a set of push-ups, flapping her wings weakly as she did so. She loved them more than anything, and was ready to make Spike regret not tearing them off.
Blind Doctor spoke to her, and Gray Fins translated again.
"He says that the leap to freedom is not about strength."
"My body makes the jump," she replied evenly. She had gone up on her hind legs, and was shadow-boxing now, throwing punches and kicks at what she imagined was Spike.
The griffon suddenly spoke.
"Survival is the spirit." His voice was broken, as was his Equestrian, but his message made it through to Dash. In one way, at least. "The soul."
"My soul's more than ready to escape," she insisted.
Blind Doctor shook his head.
"Fear is why you fall."
"Oh, I'm not afraid," Rainbow countered. "I'm angry." She imagined the mask adorning that bucking, that fucking dragon's face cracking as she punched the air. She imagined the screams of pain he uttered as his gas supply was cut off, and the pain of the scars from this pit returned. She imagined all this, and smiled.
The griffon shook his head. What she didn't know, of course was that he wanted to help her out of this place. But she would not listen.
She tried the climb again the next day. Not as many prisoners came to chant.
Too lazy for an encore, I guess, she thought, snatching the rope from Face Tattoo's grasp. She knotted it herself, and began climbing immediately, not waiting for the drake to start pulling the rope with her.
She fell only a third of the way up. She didn't cry this time, but she did punch the wall again (though, when she was back on the ground, not swinging at it full force). Her wings flapped uselessly behind her as she returned to her cell.
Gray Fins watched her go, shrugged, and went back to playing a game of cards with a fellow inmate. He was a unicorn, and a disfigured one at that. His horn had been effectively split down the middle, and half of it was missing. He didn't seem to mind, and was actually one of the happier prisoners in the pit. He always had his cards, when all else failed.
This unicorn was grimacing at his cards now. Some of that damned mare's blood had dribbled on one of them. He looked up at Gray Fins, annoyed.
"Shouldn't you go to her?" he asked, slowly grinning. "You are her 'caretaker' after all." He winked.
Gray Fins shrugged without looking up from his cards. "She'll keep," he replied, and laid out a full house.
"Why do we fall?"
The voice was comforting, fatherly. The angel lifted her up in his forelegs, pulling her out of the dark place, away from the Bats and the bad things and the nightmares. She nuzzled into his chest, glad he was there to watch over her, as he would for now and forever. He smiled back down at her, and asked the question again.
"Why do we fall, Dash?"
Rainbow looked up at her father, still smiling. She knew the answer, had always known the answer, and now, because of him (and even the dark place, a little bit), she knew what it meant.
"To learn to pick ourselves up."
Rainbow woke up on her cot, crying. She had not had a dream about her parents since she was first place in here, and before that, not since the Scarecrow had drugged her with that gas. She had long accepted that her parents were gone, but now, the fact seemed to wash over her again, and she could no longer hold in her sadness.
In a pit far away from the rest of the world, Rainbow Dash cried.
There's no one here to help me pick myself up again, she thought grimly when she was done. She had to escape. And soon.
The griffon cleared his throat. Dash turned her head to look at him. She wondered if he'd watched her while she cried.
"You do not fear death," he croaked. "You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak."
Rainbow didn't understand. She always fought without fear, and always, she had won.
"Why?" she asked.
"How can you move faster than possible," Gary Fins asked, "fight longer than possible, if not from the most powerful impulse of the spirit? The fear of death. The will to survive."
It was then that Rainbow Dash realized something.
"I do fear death," she said, gazing up at the sunlight peering down from the aperture above. "I fear dying in here while my city burns with nopony there to save it."
"Then make the climb," the Blind Doctor said.
"How?" she asked.
"As the child did. Without the rope." The griffon cackled, something that offed Dash to no end. "Then fear will find you again."
Rainbow thought, and thought, and thought until morning, weighing the risks and chances in her mind, pondering the point of trying it at all, before finally coming to a decision. That morning, she rose from her bed, taking her sheets off and wrapping them into a sort of knapsack, into which went scraps of food and a wool coat. Then she stepped out of her cell for the last time, ready to make one last ascent.
Gray Fins smiled as she went. He pointed to the pack.
"Supplies for your journey?" he asked, and the prisoners standing behind him laughed. She turned to look at him, and smiled when she saw the sincere hope glint in his eye. She had decoded now. Gray Fins was her friend. As was the Doctor (the Blind one, that is).
She approached the wall, and when the tattooed drake offered her the rope, she waved him off, looking up.
That did it. The word buzzed around from ear to ear. The crazy Equestrian, a mare, a pegasus that couldn't fly even with her wings intact, was going to climb without the rope! A crowd gathered around her, and she heard a familiar chant begin anew. This stopped her for a moment. Throughout her time spent in the pit, she'd heard the chant several times, and it had always sounded like it was simply creatures of all kinds shouting something unintelligible. Now, she heard words. Foreign words, but words all the same. She turned to Gray Fins, who was still smiling at her.
"What are they saying? When they chant?"
He never broke his smile.
She looked through the crowd once, and turned her back, settling her hoof into the first hoofhold. Behind her, the prisoners chanted.
Deshi deshi, basara basara...
She scaled the wall slowly, not letting her life go to waste because of impatience or carelessness. Hoof over hoof, she made her way to where the ledge that had defeated her twice waited, perhaps to send her down, for the final time.
In the cell next to the one that had been hers, a blind griffon was chanting, slowly, quietly.
Deshi deshi, basara basara...
She hoisted herself up onto the ledge, steeling herself for her final leap. She steadied herself, running her hoof along the wall...and slipping it into a dark hole. She yanked it out in time to avoid blocking a swarm of bats that came bursting from the hole. It was impossible, she must have been hallucinating, but there they were, buffeting her face and body and screeching in her ears. She didn't dare move. Beneath her, the chant rose.
DESHI DESHI, BASARA BASARA!
She was afraid. She was afraid of falling, falling down to the hell that surely would welcome her back with open arms. She was afraid of the bats, now circling up towards the sun, like an omen. She was afraid of Spike, and the symbol of his mask, and the mask itself. But most of all, Rainbow Dash was afraid of failing, afraid of dying and letting her city burn without her, she was AFRAID!
And so she jumped, before she lost her nerve. She reached out, praying for the sun and the safety. The chant was all around her now.
DESHI DESHI, BASARA, BASARA!!!
...And she caught the ledge.
Wild cheers erupted from the pit as she pulled herself onto the ledge. The stone was old, very old, but it held her, and she kissed it when she was completely on it. The cheering caught her attention, and she looked down to see the prisoners cheering her onward. Gray Fins was hugging Face Tattoo, and she saw he was crying. She realized that she was, too, an let a teardrop fall down to the hell below. She imagined it a prayer.
Inside his cell, the griffon was crying through his cataracts. She was free.
The sun. The Sun. Celestia's Sun, the Sun that she'd missed for how long?, the sun that beat down on her as she pulled herself up and out of the pit, the sun that cast only a fraction of its light down on the poor souls below. The Sun. How it shone.
She was free.
Rainbow Dash looked around at the world above once more. There were no guards, and none of Spike's goons guarding the place. They had believed that she would stay there for all time, rotting with the other prisoners.
Hell, so did I, she thought, and found herself laughing for the first time in months. It felt odd on her lips, but pleasant.
There was an enormous rope sitting at the edge of the pit nearby. She trotted over to it, no longer feeling the pain in her back or her knees. Her wings fluttered happily, and she thought about whether or not she could fly herself back to Ponyville, if tried hard enough. She believed she could. She stared down at the rope for a minute, considering it. Then she kicked it over the side of the pit, where it uncoiled and uncoiled until it reached the bottom, making a much easier way out than the one she'd taken. She laughed again, at the irony, and the cheering that erupted again from the pit.
Free yourselves, she thought, looking out into the desert that awaited her. I gotta get out of here.
She cricked her neck, fluttered her wings, and started walking, even as the rope behind her tautened with the first of the prisoners.
The Dark Mare Returns (Redux)
Twilight Sparkle was grim today. It was an emotion she'd gotten used to feeling for the past five months. She stood outside the building where Big Mac and his sisters lived. The Sweet Apple Acres farm seemed to be the only place untouched by the original rampage of Spike's army, though it was far from clean. There was an enormous chasm sitting where the apple orchard had once been. Twilight had almost cried when she'd first seen it. Almost.
Sighing, she knocked on the door. There was a brief pause, and Twilight thought that he wouldn't open the door for her. Eventually, somepony opened it, but Twilight had been right: it wasn't Big Mac.
"H-Howdy, Twilight," said Applejack, her drawl sounding more like a croak. The orange mare had always been described as somepony who was "married to her work," and if that was the case, then Applejack was now a widow. She looked like one in the middle of the grieving stage, anyway.
The lavender unicorn looked past her, into the farmhouse. "Your sister?" she called, appalled at Big Mac's behavior. "You send your sister to your door, when I could have been Spike?"
The crimson stallion showed his face, stepping past his little sister, who retreated into the house. He hadn't been seen since the first few weeks of the Siege, and when he had been, he'd looked like a ghost. He did now, with his uniform cast off and his usual well-kept visage shadowy and pale. It made Twilight sick.
"What did you do?" she asked, letting her anger get up in his face. "Burn your uniform and toss it into the Sweet Apple Canyon?"
From inside the house somewhere, AJ bawled. Twilight felt hardly a pang of guilt.
"Twilight, ah can't." He looked so tired.
"You can't?" she echoed. She was gonna get a better explanation, and soon, or else she was gonna buck him right in the chin.
"Th' city's under occupation, jus' like you said," he answered. "That trigger pony is out there, and ah don't-"
"Trigger pony my ass!" she shouted, making him jump. "That's crap and you and I both know it!"
"Twi, ah know yer mad, but ah gotta keep mah head down. The city might get blown up cuz'a me!"
Twilight was ready to hit him. "The city's gonna blow anyway! The bomb goes off tomorrow, trigger pony or no trigger pony! And we're gonna do something about it. So come with us." She stared up at him, hoping to change his mind.
But he stayed defiant. "Ah'm sorry, Twilight, really." He started to shut the door, but Twilight held it in place with her magic. She stepped up close to him, putting her face hardly an inch from his, and gave him a death stare. The look turned to disappointment, and she looked down at the ground.
"Well, if you aren't going to do anything about this, then I guess this'll be the last time we see each other."
"Twi, don't talk like that-"
"SHUT UP!" she barked, and Big Macintosh shut up. She gave him a look another moment, then closed the gap between them and kissed him on the lips. She pulled his head down with her foreleg, wrapped around his neck, and only parted lips after he brushed his own hoof against her cheek.
"In case I'm right," she said, and shut the door for him.
The frigid winter weather felt worse than it had been in weeks. Hot tears froze on Twilight's cheeks as she turned to walk away from the farmhouse. She glanced up when she heard a familiar voice.
"I hear you're looking for officers, commissioner."
It was Rarity. She and Scootaloo waited by a frozen pond near the farm. Rarity was smiling, and Scootaloo's face was unreadable. Whether or not they'd seen or heard any of the conversation Twilight had just had was unknown, but the commissioner was sure they had anyway.
"How about me, instead," the white unicorn volunteered.
"Miss Rarity, I can't ask you-"
"My company built it." She was using a power play.
"Rainbow Dash built it."
"And she wanted to destroy it," she said. "It was me who wouldn't listen." She stared defiantly at her. "Please."
Twilight glanced at Scootaloo, who shrugged, as if the mare's insistent nature had overpowered her. Twilight sighed, resigning herself to fate, and nodded.
"Let's go, then."
The young foal ran through the streets, trying not to be slaughtered by the street thugs chasing him. He held in his teeth a ruby red apple, one of the few pieces of fresh fruit left in Ponyville. He slipped, and caught hold of the banister nearby to stop his fall. However, it also slowed him down enough to get him caught by the thugs chasing him. What was worse, they were both teenage dragons. The worst kind.
"You steal from us, you little shit?" one of the dragons spat. He had and ugly expression and bad skin, and his morals probably matched up with them. He snatched the apple out of the foal's teeth and drew back a fist to slug him.
A pink hoof responded by swinging out of nowhere and grabbing his arm, twisting it backwards and pressing the elbow into his shoulder blade.
Bone cracked, and the apple fell from his hand as he shrieked. Pinkie snatched the apple out of the air.
"Don't think you can just waltz on into my neighborhood," she said slyly, tossing back her long pink locks for added effect. She shoved the punk into his friend, and they retreated. Pinkie called to them: "If I ever catch you here again, I'll turn you into cupcakes!" Then she turned to the kid, twirling the apple in her hoof.
"Never steal from somepony you can't outrun, kid," she advised, winking.
The foal still looked upset, though definately less afraid of being beaten to death.
"Now you're gonna take it," he said, guessing the outcome of the conversation.
Pinkie giggled, and eyes the apple for a moment. She shook her head, took a small bite out of it, and tossed it back to the kid, who caught it in his teeth again. "Tax," she answered, and waved as the kid ran off without thanking her. She turned to leave, only to hear an impossibly familiar voice speaking to her.
"Pretty generous for a thief."
Pinkie froze, then slowly turned to face Rainbow Dash, a look of confusion (and, she was embarrassed to admit, relief) on her face. She was dressed in the common rags of nowadays citizens of Ponyville, but the face and mane could only have belonged to the former regent of Ponyville. She was smiling, and stepped closer to her, out of the shadows.
"You're not dead," she breathed.
"Not yet," she replied, still smiling. She trotted upright, her back perfectly straight despite the injuries incurred on it during her fight with Spike. The crack of her spine had haunted Pinkie's nightmares for months. She realized she was staring at Rainbow, and put her guard up.
"Don't think I'm gonna apologize-" But Dash cut her off.
"It wouldn't suit you," she said. "Neither does the mane. I just need your help."
She brushed a lock of pink hair out of her face and smirked. "And what makes you think I'll help you?"
Rainbow responded by pulling a USB drive from the coat she was wearing. Pinkie's eyes widened for the briefest moment, before returning their distrustful gaze to the cyan mare.
"You'd give me this? After all I've done to you?"
She hated the sound of regret in her voice, but couldn't help but feel sorry for what she'd done to Dash. Nopony, however rich and famous, should have to go through the tortures that Spike could inflict on a pony. Rainbow was no saint, but she wasn't a monster, either.
"I'll admit I am a little let down," said Dash, shrugging and nodding. "But I think there's more to you than that. In fact, I think that this"--she wiggled the flash drive in her hoof--"isn't a tool for you. It's an escape route. A chance to start over. To start fresh."
Steal a new life, thought Pinkie, and she reached for the drive hungrily. Dash let her pluck it from her grasp, and the pink mare turned it in her hoof before slipping it into a pocket. She surprised herself by not running away from Rainbow Dash. Instead, she asked another question.
"How can I start fresh when there's no way out of here?"
"I'll provide you a way off the island," DAsh answered, "when you take me to Zecora. I need to know where she is, and I need to be taken there. Immediately."
Pinkie gave her a look that told her it was easier said than done. "Why do you need Zecora?"
"To save this city."
"Who says it needs saving?" she challenged. "Maybe I like it this way."
"Maybe you do. But the bomb goes off tomorrow."
She paled considerably. Pinkie didn't doubt Rainbow for second. Spike was bent on making the city suffer, and nuking the crap out of it didn't seem above him at all. Her future went up in flames before her eyes, but she wasn't going to let it show.
"So? Get your 'powerful friend' to handle it." Saving Ponyville was the Batmare's duty, not hers. She was a theif, somepony who would survive, no matter what it took to do so.
"I'm trying," Dash replied. "But I need Zecora."
Twilight stepped out from behind the corner of the building she'd been hiding behind and coughed, leaning up against the wall as a large truck drove by. After is passed, but before it turned the corner her horn glowed dimly, and the GPS device that had been sitting in the middle of the road underneath a small mound of snow flew straight upwards and attached itself to the bottom of the truck.
Twilight had agreed not to use magic to assist her in detective work. She was glad she wasn't a detective anymore. iT was so much easier to use her talents, instead of holding them back.
She nodded to Rarity, who was hiding in plain sight pressed against the wall of a snow-covered apartment building. Her camouflage was perfect, and she nodded the okay to Scootaloo atop the apartments, who in turn reported back to the other cops stationed around the city.
Or at least, she would have, if she wasn;t being detained by several mercenaries.
Twilight saw the goons taking Scoot away, and she realized they'd been ambushed. Whether or not the mercenaries saw what she'd already done, she was going to be taken in if she didn't run. The lavender mare rushed to meet with Rarity, who was still unaware of the danger they were in. She reached the unicorn at the same time as a group of mercenaries did. One tapped Rarity's shoulder, and the snow-white mare gasped in shock when she saw who it was. Twilight was grabbed from behind, and she didn't bother to put up a struggle.
"Commissioner Twilight Sparkle," one of the goons barked. "You're under arrest."
"On whose authority?"
"The ponies of Ponyville, of course," the drake said smugly. He gestured to his men and they surrounded the two unicorns, stripping them of their weapons (or, Twilight's weapons; Rarity had none), then leading them away toward the stock exchange.
Twilight had a second to glance back up at the building's roof, where Scootaloo had been attacked. She was afraid for the young pegasus until one of her attackers slumped over the edge of the building. He was promptly dragged back over the edge.
Twilight smiled the rest of the way to her prison, beneath the Stock Exchange.
A hooded mare was shoved down the stairs into the basement of the Stock Exchange. The guards laughed as she toppled down the stairs, wings flaring wildly before settling on her heap of a body at the bottom of the staircase. A groan escaped through the hood.
Somepony moved to help her, and the guards laughed again.
"Find this on a good spot," one of them said. "She's got a big day tomorrow."
"We all do," his colleague added. "It's not every day you catch Rainbow Dash."
The pony helping the hooded mare gasped. He swiftly removed the hood, and stared into the cerise eyes of none other than Rainbow Dash herself. She stared back, a somber smile on her face. Then, the pony let go of her, and she fell suddenly to the floor. She grunted again, and this time the groan was answered with a rhyme.
"You've always been known for your lengthy vacations," said Zecora, trotting up to her with Rarity at her side. "This time, though, you've been truly needed during its duration."
"Yes, and it would be nice if you warned us when you decide to leave next time," added the white unicorn. NO doubt she was referring to her rather abrupt exit from the manor all those months ago.
"How long until the bomb goes off?" She couldn't spare any time for pleasantries.
"There are only twelve hours remaining on the clock. Then the city goes bye-bye, so...tick-tock."
Her rhyming was getting annoying. Dash ignored her annoyance, and said, "I need you tonight."
"You need me more? What for?"
"I'm getting back in the game."
Zecora smiled in the same instant the door banged open. Catmare came strolling into the room, in full outfit and accessories. She strode over to where Rainbow, Zecora, and Rarity were huddled, and grabbed the former by the hair. Her own was bouncing, curled once more.
"Sorry to spoil things, girls, but Spike wants to play a fun little game with you two." She yanked at one of Zecora's gold rings, and the zebra complied, not wanting to have it torn out of her ear. The guards did nothing to stop her. Apparently, betraying the Batmare got you major points in the criminal system. Two guards followed, prodding the reluctant prisoners forward.
As they left, Rainbow Dash bid Rarity farewell, promising, "I won't forget about you."
Rarity smiled somberly. "I know."
Catmare saw this, and she rolled her eyes before shoving Rainbow out of the room. She fell behind everypony else, appearing to be checking for any strays or followers. Only Rainbow knew this wasn't the case.
The moment they were out of sight and earshot, Catmare went into an almost ballistic display of violence. She disarmed one guard with a heel, the other with a claw. She slammed their head together, flipping over them and landing perfectly in front of Rainbow and Zecora as the guards fell to the ground, unconscious. he drew a pick from her belt and quickly unlocked Zecora's handcuffs, then Rainbow's. The zebra smiled and rubbed her wrists, looking over at the two mares slyly.
"I must say, Ms. Dash, your choice of mare is quite the one to flash."
"She should be so lucky," Catmare replied before slinking back into the shadows. Within seconds, it was as if she had never been there.
Zecora arched an eyebrow, and Dash simply shrugged. She still didn't know what to think of the bubblegum mare in the tight black suit, and their was no time to speculate now, anyway.
They had a suit to retrieve.
The old hideout used by Rainbow Dash while her manor was being rebuilt was still hidden, and the pegasus and zebra found it working just as it had the last time she'd needed it. Of course, none of the old tools had been moved. Which meant...
Dash pressed a button on a panel in the center of the room. Several walls flipped back, revealing the whole enchilada she'd been without for almost half a year. Mini-mines, a grapple gun, Batarangs, everything, all still here. She smiled at the weapons.
"So," she said, turning to Zecora, "How do we disable the trigger?" THey had discussed the possibility of whether or not there really was a trigger pony in all of this, and had come to the decision that, whether or not there was, they would have to find a way to block signals to and from the bomb.
"The only way to block it, as far as I can see, would be to use your trusty Bat, with its useful EMP." Zecora gave her a wry look. "Do you remember where you left her?"
Dash nodded. She turned and walked to the other side of the room, pressing another button on the control panel as she passed. A wire mesh cage rose up from the ground at the side of the room Dash was trotting toward, and she went up on her hind legs as she approached it. Throwing back the doors of the cage, she smiled up at the familiar black suit, cowl, and cape. Fluttershy (who she had wondered about only briefly during her imprisonment, she admitted to none) had always told her to stock up. And there was no fault to the logic. This proved it.
It was always handy to have a spare.
Twilight stood in the center of the makeshift courtroom, staring Cranky D. Donkey down like a painting would. The mule was clam and collected, but she knew that just underneath lay the criminal known as the Scarecrow. He was without his burlap mask, but his love for causing fear was present throughout the courtroom. She was surrounded by criminals, terrorists, anarchists, and she noticed that many of them were ones that she herself had put behind bars in the past eight years. Next to her, Rarity shivered. In the upper gallery above, Spike himself watched the spectacle unfold.
His mask still frightened her, and gazing upon it now, her bullet wounds throbbed. The memory of her first encounter with the deadly dragon surfaced again, and she wondered if this could have been avoided. If only the others had listen to her.
"The charges are espionage and attempted sabotage," Cranky declared, smirking. He was enjoying this obscene reversal of roles. "Have you anything to say in your defense?"
Twilight refused to play his game. Cranky belonged in a straight-jacket not a judge's robes.
"No lawyer, no witnesses? What kind of due process is this?"
"More than you gave Soarin's prisoners, commissioner. Your guilt has been determined. This is merely a sentencing hearing." He leaned forward in his seat and peered down at the unicorn. "What's it to be--death or exile?"
Twilight knew the path she would take should she choose exile. There had been no survivors, as rumors had told her, and she wasn't going to go out while running away, however forced it was. This was her city, and she wasn't going to be remembered as the Commissioner Who Ran Away.
"Cranky, if you think I am going out onto that ice willingly, than you've got another thing coming."
Cranky appeared impressed by her decision. "So. Death, then?"
Twilight wasn't going to beg for her life. She was speaking for her fellow enforcers, and prayed that poor Rarity would be spared.
"Looks that way."
"Very well," Cranky said, smiling. "Death...by exile." His gavel banged against the podium as the crowd cheered their approval of her decision. As she was led away, she noticed that Spike had stepped down from the gallery. A hush fell over the crowd, and Spike pointed at Rarity.
"Bring her to me."
Frigid winds buffeted Twilight as she was shoved out onto the frozen waters of the Ponyville Lake. On the other side, so far away, the Northern Everfree Forest waited for her. If she could make it.
Something sharp poked her flank. Behind her a mercenary snarled at her to get going, and, reluctantly, she got going. She stepped slowly, knowing that one false move would be her end. Though she realized that there was hardly a chance of her survival at all, she prayed that each second above the water's surface brought Scootaloo, or Big Mac, or even goddamn Rarity closer to doing something to rescue her.
She made it a hundred yards before smelling something that confused her. The cold hid it well, but she was close enough now that the odor was overpowered the crispness of the night air. She looked around, sniffing, and noticed a puddle of liquid on the ice.
An emergency flare lay next to it. Knowing the mercenaries couldn't stop her, she picked it up, and examined it. She was sniffing it to see if it was coated in gas when a raspy voice she thought she'd never hear again growled in her ear.
"Light it up."
Hope sparked in her, and she passed the sparks on to the flare. As it lit, she turned and was delighted to see that the mercenaries were now incapable of doing anything about anything she did. They were unconscious. She turned a little bit more, and the Batmare stepped out of the shadows and nodded to the puddle of gasoline. Trusting the Batmare (and the fact that she, with her incredibly heavy armor, was standing on the ice without sinking) with her life, Twilight tossed the flare into the puddle, where it lit up a trail leading up the side of the bridge.
It disappeared into the darkness of the night, and Twilight wondered what the point of it was. Then, on the far side of the river, the trail burst into a shape she'd seen shining in the skys over Ponyville for years before the mess with Soarin'. The flames went up the side of a rock formation near the forest, and the formation was suddenly showing off the enormous silhouette of a brilliant flaming bat.
Now everypony would know: the Dark Knight had risen again.
"Big Mac! AJ! Come see this!"
Apple Bloom, who was still full of hope and love and life, was pressed against one of the windows in the farmhouse on the other side of Ponyville. When her siblings did not listen, she galloped over to where her despondent sister was staring down at her Stetson. She yanked the mare over to the window, and when Applejack saw the enormous symbol over the lake, she felt a warmth rush over her. There was somepony out there who could avenge her fallen trees.
"Big Mac?" she spluttered. "Ya'll batter come'n see this."
The crimson stallion approached the window slowly. When he saw the flaming sign, his jaw dropped. His conscience stirred, from its place buried deep inside him.
Maybe there was still hope after all.
Stumbling, Macintosh rushed to his bedroom. He shoved his bed out of the way and stomped on the floorboards so hard they cracked. He didn't care. All that mattered was getting his uniform out of its hiding place, and getting it on again. Then, he had to find Twilight Sparkle.
There was an apology to be given, and a kiss to return.
Spike had always found the calm before the storm of the battles he fought to be more relaxing than anything else he'd ever tried. It was the last night before Ponyville would be destroyed, and he strode down the street, triumphant. He knew he would never walk this route again, and yet there was a stillness in his soul when he thought about it. The thought of Rainbow Dash's suffering down in that hellhole was enough to cheer him out of the thought of the oblivion he faced tomorrow.
Garble approached from behind. The masked drake turned to see what his most loyal worker had to say--and beheld the sight of the enormous bat burning brightly on the other side of the Ponyville Lake.
"Do you think it's really her, sir?" the second-in-command asked.
Spike hid his surprise behind his mask. There was no way it could be her. He had broken the Batmare, literally broken her, and thrown her into the hellhole from which he was spawned. She couldn't have arisen from that pit.
Twilight was escorted off the ice. She took a gun from an unconscious mercenary and stuck it in her coat. Batmare tossed her something when she turned to her again, and she caught it with her magic. It looked like a compact metal box.
"Stick that on the bomb when you get on the truck," Batmare said, apparently knowing Twilight's original plans (not that that surprised her). "It'll block the signal from the trigger. They might try and hit the button when it starts."
Twilight didn't bother questioning her.
"When what starts?"
Her answer was short and simple:
The bat shone through the city. Ponies everywhere saw it, and cheered. Prisoners saw it, and worried. Spike's henchmen saw it, and wondered how the hell that could be there. The cops and Royal Guards under the city who saw it alerted the others, and soon the whole force was talking about its appearance.
Two guards watching an exit gasped audibly when they saw the symbol appear. One of them moved into a clearing, away from the sewer exit, to get a better look. As he watched, he failed to notice the dark figure approaching him. It struck out, and he fell unconscious in a second.
The second guard, however, saw the whole thing, and frantically pointed his gun at anything that made a sound. He stood still, trying not to make a sound so that he could hear the figure making its way toward him. He heard it, but too late. He had time to turn around before something blunt struck a pressure point on his neck. The guard fell to the ground, and the dark figure approached the exit, dusting her hooves off.
Scootaloo went back down on all fours, and pressed against the exit to listen for anypony down there.
"Hello? Anypony?" she asked anxiously.
"Yes?" somepony answered, knocking a hoof against the exit just as they'd planned. She moved the cover, and the cop, whom she recognized as a recruit who'd moved from Trottingham last year, Pipsqueak, squeezed out of the pipe. More cops underground could be heard shuffling to get out, and as Pipsqueak stepped out completely, he breathed his first breath of fresh air in months.
A shot rang out, and Pipsqueak exhaled sharply as a red splotch appeared on his dirt-covered uniform. He fell forward, and lay still, breathing no more than that first clean breath. Scootaloo screamed, and more shots rang out. She frantically dodged them, using her wings as a boost of agility. She felt confident in her ability to not get caught, until she felt the barrel of a rifle press against the back of her neck. She stopped moving, and watched as a small band of spare guards approached the hole, firing into it to make sure nopony else got out. They kicked Pip's corpse aside like it was nothing.
When one of the killers pulled out a detonator, Scootaloo wanted to yell to warn the other ponies in the tunnels. Then the killer pressed a button, and the tunnel mouth collapsed, burying the cops alive. The mercenary holding the rifle to her head cocked his weapon, ready to execute her...
...and went flying backwards.
A shadowy figure went flying across the field, reaching each of the small band of killers and taking them down easily. Scootaloo watched in amazement as the Batmare punched and kicked and tossed Batarangs. The band was down in fifteen seconds.
Scootaloo stared, her jaw agape. She saw one of the mercs reaching for his gun on the ground, trembling.
"You missed a spot," she pointed out.
Batmare booted the killer in the head. She approached Scoot, cape fluttering behind her. Her cowl still made the orange pegasus shudder, though she full well knew who was hiding behind it. It was hard to believe that there was an ordinary pegasus under all that armor.
"If you work alone," Batmare advised, "wear a mask."
"No one cares who I am."
"It's not for you," she explained. "It's to protect the people you care about."
"Huh." She was impressed (and a little confused) by the Batmare's words. "And how do you always know where people are? Hm?"
"I lost someone once," she said. There was a hint of sorrow in her words. "Since then I break into the houses of these select few, and implant a tracking chip in their necks while they're sleeping."
Bullshit, thought Scootaloo, but rubbed the back of her neck anyway. Her mind was playing tricks on her, it had to be. She had never felt that scar tissue before.
She suddenly felt sick.
Batmare handed her two pulsing green orbs. "Lob on three," she instructed, and turned to run into the woods. Scootaloo counted threw, and braced herself as small explosions dented the pile of rubble blocking the tunnel.
"What was that supposed to do?" Scoot asked, mad that the cops were still down there.
"Warn the cops down there!" she called back, and disappeared behind a wall.
"Well, you got anything bigger on your-?"
The Bat came bursting from behind the wall, cannons already aimed at the rubble. Scootaloo got the message instantly, and leapt out of the way. Missiles went blasting out of the Bat's cannons, and they reduced the blockade to nothing in ten seconds flat. After the dust settled, the liberated cops came pouring out of the hole, assembling near the Batmare and Scoot.
"What now?" asked the detective. She was ready to fight for the city.
"You need to lead the people you care about out of here."
She felt disappointed, but didn't show it. "How?"
"Get them across the railroad blockade. The dragons are already detained." She didn't have to explain how, Scoot believed her. "Lead an exodus. Save as many lives as you possibly can."
"Don't you need me here? For the big battle?"
"You've given me an army," she answered, gesturing to the liberated cops and Royal Guards that looked, more than anything, mad as hell and ready to start a fight. None of them seemed to care that the supposed murderer of Soarin' was standing right there. They knew who their true enemy was.
"Now go," the masked mare said.
Scootaloo nodded, knowing there would be time to avenge Pipsqueak later. She had to set her hotheadedness aside, to help those she cared for. This meant that St. Blueblood's was getting an evac, ASAP. She only wished that Pip had lived long enough to see Spike go down.
She turned to leave, then paused to look back.
"Thank you," she said solemnly.
"Don't thank me yet," the Dark Knight answered.
"I may not get a chance to later."
Batmare nodded. They both understood that there was a slim chance that they would both live through this, or that either of them would live at all. They had to defeat Spike, his army, and disarm the bomb in time.
But now, we have a fighting chance, Scootaloo thought. And the Batmare on our side.
She turned, and hurried back into the city, as the light of the last day began to shine over the still flaming symbol of the Batmare.
Dawn rose on Ponyville.
A heavy snow fell from the sky as an army of cops and Royal Guards marched through the streets. Their numbers were over a thousand strong, and they comprised of ponies, griffons, dragons, and even a few Diamond Dogs. Armored stallions marched shoulder to shoulder with regular beat cops and detectives. They weren't going to hide or be held back any longer.
As they approached City Hall (the new one), Spike's own army came out to meet them. Escaped prisoners, convicts, psychopaths, anarchists, and opportunists lined the streets, blocking the path of the approaching soldiers. The light side and dark side of the city were meeting, for what would be there only confrontation. The masked drake himself had not shown up, choosing not to make an appearance in the fray. That is, not yet.
Big Mac led the pack. He was in full uniform, and held his head high, proud of himself for the first time in months. He was going to prove his worth to Twilight, and when it was over, when Spike lay on the ground defeated, and the bomb was back in its place, then by Celestia, he was going to find that unicorn and get her a damn drink. He smiled proudly as the two armies met at the corners of (appropriately enough) Harmony Street. They were evenly matched in numbers--until the three stolen tumblers made their way into Macintosh's field of vision.
Buck, he thought. They were outgunned now, severely outgunned, and he grimaced as a mercenary announced a message from his loudspeaker.
"DISPERSE. DISPERSE OR BE FIRED UPON."
The tumblers were noticed by other cops and soldiers, and faces untouched by the sun for months went paler still. There was apprehension, Mac could feel it, but none of them backed down. He stood at the front, gazing at the head mercenary. He recognized him as one of the goons he'd taken in the night the Batmare had returned. Now he had a target.
"There's only one law enforcement in this city!" he called out, and the army behind him answered back with their own battle cries.
A surge of blue and gold rushed at the opposing side.
Spike stepped out from his headquarters in City Hall to watch the battle begin. He was almost amused. It seemed as though his ants still wanted to try and escape the magnifying glass, give it one last go before they were eventually burnt by the heat of a magnified sun.
"Open fire," he said flatly. Garble nodded, and signaled to the drakes in the tumblers.
Missiles and cannon fire blasted at the army of Ponyvillians. Several went flying into the air, and others were on the ground in mere seconds. The two armies clashed, and Spike watched the crimson stallion at the head of the army take down two of his men at once. He had a vengeance. But the others were weaker, and were beginning to disperse, knowing they could live for at least a short time more. Spike expected them to break rank at any moment.
Then, out of the sky, the Bat came swooping down over the street. Its own cannons were primed, and the tumblers went flying through the air seconds later. They landed on their sides, twisted metal smoldering and wheels turning uselessly.
Spike grimaced under his mask. This was not part of his plan.
The Bat rose above the army of cops, providing the support and encouragement they needed to continue. Spike watched with annoyance as his own forces began to slowly, surely, fall back on the offensive lines. Bodies hit the snow. Gunfire became pointless, and the fist-fights began. Now Spike became worried. Hardly any of the cops had fallen, though his men were many, with actual fists to make, and claws to rake with. The Batmare had done something, she had to have done something. But the Bat was doing nothing. It merely floating over the street, giving the cops a sense of hope.
The street turned into a snowy melee as the battle for Ponyville's fate spilled over onto sidewalks and the steps. There were none who stood by who were not already beaten into submission. This was truly the fight to decide who ran Ponyville, once and for all.
Spike watched the Bat move across the sky, slowly descending into the street below, behind the soldiers. From his vantage point, he caught a glimpse of the caped figure who had piloting it come clambering out. In her deep black armor and nocturnally-themed disguise, the Batmare looked exceptionally out of place in the daylight, especially while it was snowing. She had come into the light once more.
No matter, Spike thought. I've broken you once, and I shall happily do so again.
He strode down the steps, towards his foe.
Catmare was part of the plan, of course. Her job was to get the hell out of the city. How, one might ask? Why, with nothing less than the coolest bucking motorcycle in the world.
The Bat-Pod looked good on her, she decided when she'd first straddled it after the Batmare had asked her to help. She'd smiled and nodded as her explained her plan to the pink mare, like a good little filly, and zoomed off on the cycle, ready to start a new life with the flash drive tucked safely in a slim pocket on her skin-tight outfit.
Now, sitting astride the Bat-Pod, she prepared the cannons mounted on it, and fired at the enormous wall of junked automobiles, which were (or had been, at least) blocking one of the tunnels that led out of the city. The wall disappeared in the explosion, and Catmare covered her eyes with her goggles to keep from being blinded by the shrapnel fling at her. She ducked behind the bulletproof shields on the Bat-Pod's figurehead.
Her hoof hovered over the firing button, waiting for the smoke to clear to see if she needed to fire again. When it did, though, she saw the tunnel was clear, and awaited whatever vehicle would get through first. She had a straight shot right out of Ponyville.
Now, if only she could take it.
Spike waded through the fray, searching for his true enemy. Mares, colts, drakes and griffons, even a damned donkey were trying to keep him from her, even his own men, and as he pushed them out of the way he twisted a purple dragon's neck, snapping it and leaving his body to slump into the arms of a Diamond Dog who was not on the side Spike was. He didn't care, and punched, kicked, and shoved his way through the crowd. Finesse was nothing to him--only the results. He wanted to hear her back breaking again. The thought made him itch with desire.
He trampled over bodies, fought with those on both sides of the field, always searching for the caped figure that had survived him once. Once.
His eyes suddenly locked with hers, and it was as if a path had formed between them. There was nopony, dragon, whatever in between them. He strode over to meet her, and so did she. Unlike him, the Batmare paused to beat his men off of the foalish idiots trying to stay in the light of this last day, and so it was that he reached her while she was pulling a dragon off of a pale white unicorn whose armor told Spike he was of great importance to the Royal Guard. Perhaps a captain, it did not matter.
Spike struck out at the Batmare, who used his own minion's body as a shield. Ribs cracked, and the drake barely had time to scream before Spike grasped his head with both hands and yanked his head sharply upward. The drake's scales seemed to rise up an extra few inches, and the Batmare dropped him, leaving him to snatched at his lengthened spine momentarily before falling into the dark of unconsciousness. Spike elbowed the rising Captain out of the way, shoved one of his men away, and a small gap in the crowd formed. Some of the armies stopped fighting to watch as Spike and Batmare face each other one last time.
"You came back," Spike said finally. "To die with your city."
"No," she replied, and smiled grimly, to his surprise. "I came to die with you."
"I am touched."
Spike had intended for her to suffer in that pit for the remainder of her worthless life. He had wanted her to watch her city burn, to see his triumph, but it did not appear to be the case at this point. Spike approached the caped figure slowly.
Perhaps it it better this way.
He lunged toward the Dark Knight, throwing powerful blows at her cowl. She dodged them, and fought back smartly, less like the drunken fool she'd acted like in the sewers. She ducked and weaved, and landed punches where they could. They felt like she was prodding him. It would take more than that to take him down.
He breathed deeply, taking in the gas from his mask.
The two fought in the center of the street, shoving each other through the crowd as they went. There was nothing in the Batmare's fighting that showed the extent of the injuries Spike had inflicted on her the last time they'd met this way. He saw now the mare that had captured the attention of the League of Shadows all those years ago
But that would not stop him. Both Batmare and Ponyville would die today. He had come to far to not get his way.
He parried her attacks, and drove her back with a set of rapid-fire punches and kicks. The Dark Knight was driven back onto the steps of City Hall, and launched herself forward using a pillar that stood on the steps. She grappled with the drake, and he realized she was aiming for the canisters at the back of his head. He almost laughed at the attempt. He raked his claws against her gaunlets, trying to tear them off, and she pushed them apart again.
Now he lunged for her neck, and managed to wrap his claws around it, trying to snap her neck. She threw her hooves up and spread them, forcing Spike's arms away. She smashed her hoof into his skull, but he simply shrugged it off, taking a deep breath and forcing her away again. He saw the Batmare was stumbling now. The reckless drunk was making another appearance.
Spike clenched his hands and threw another punch.
It was only a matter of time.
He looked up at the building he'd claimed as they clambered up the steps, their fighting drawing them closer and closer to the wide double doors. He glimpsed a purple-maned unicorn watching from window, a concerned expression on her face.
Watch, he thought lunging once more at the Batmare. Watch the Dark Knight fall once more.
Scootaloo gathered the kids around her. They all stared up at her, eyes full of hope. She gulped, and told them her plan.
"Everypony listen! The bomb's gonna blow today, and we need to get as many ponies out of here as quick as possible. The exit's the Everfree Underground Tunnel! Go two blocks, get as many ponies as you can heading that way, then meet back here! We're gonna take the bridge!"
The kids all saluted, and went charging off to warn ponies. She hoped they would listen.
Gazing over in the direction of where the fight was sounding off, she wondered how many were dead. And if one of them was wearing a mask.
Batmare and Spike continued to brawl up the steps, neither of them letting up. Batmare didn't bother with theatrics or tricks or threats, and she knew the ominous look of the Batmare disguise didn't faze Spike at all. The only way to beat this monster was through sheer force. One way or another, this fight would be their last. She only hoped that it wouldn't take too much longer. The bomb was bound to go off any minute.
A blinding-fast volley of punches drove Spike back. She lunged to press her advantage, only to have their battle interrupted by a tumbler passing by. It gave Spike the second he needed to recover, and he forced the Dark Knight into a pillar. He was ready to end this whelp, and raised a fist to crack that damned cowl again. Before he could, however, Batmare drove her foreleg across his mask, her gauntlet-mounted blades sticking out (they hadn't been there before though), and sliced against the breathing tubes that made up the skull-like part of the mask. Gas leaked out of them, and Spike backed off, grabbing at the tubes as the agony returned.
He bellowed in pain...except it wasn't a bellow. It was a pitiful wail, that of a child. It was high-pitched and cracked, filled with agony and rage and sorrow. Batmare saw, for only a moment, that she had just attacked a child, a child escaped from the tortures of hell, who needed that mask to stay in the light of the world.
Spike tried to fix the tubes, but his attacker punched him again first. Shocks of pain, something so unreal to he who had lived with anesthetic gas filling his lungs for years, made him spasm, and she smashed her hoof into his mask again, breaking another tube. He tried to stop her, had to, or else he would die from the pain. This perpetual agony, brought upon by that damned doctor, gave way to cold, unfeeling rage, and e swung violently at the Batmare. She dodged, too easily, and he smashed a piece out of the pillar she'd been in front of. He swung again, in his rage, and felt the Batmare grab his vest before he could turn.
He was thrown through the glass doors of the City Hall, where he lay on the floor, screeching (it had to be screeching now; he had no voice left, it was gone in the pain, the burning, the fire) and shivering as the pain rocked through him. Before he reach his mask, Batmare gripped his neck, and used her free hoof to search him.
"WHERE'S THE TRIGGER!?!?" she shouted. It had to be on his person somewhere. "YOU WOULDN'T GIVE IT TO SOME ORDINARY CITIZEN-"
Spike spoke, weakly, surrendering to the pain and lying still. His voce had changed, through the mask, and now, instead of the deep, menacing voice that had haunted her dreams, he spoke with a voice that she could have mistaken for a girl's. It was the voice of the child that had screamed when she'd first damaged the mask.
"I broke you," he said. "How have you come back?"
The pit. Batmare remembered.
"You thought you were the only one who could learn the strength to escape?"
For some reason, Batmare saw a smile in his eyes. A knowing smile.
"I never escaped."
She blinked in surprise. That didn't make sense.
"The child of Ra's al Ghul made the climb-" she began.
"But he is not the child of Ra's al Ghul," a familiar voice whispered in her ear. Something penetrated her armor, and she gasped in both pain and shock as Rarity leaned in closer. Her eyes were mocking. "I am."
Dash felt an animal panic rise up in her throat. She spluttered, not knowing what to say. Rarity shushed her, and reached in her coat pocket.
"And though I am not 'ordinary,' Rainbow Dash, I am a citizen..."
She pulled the trigger out of her pocket, and smiled again.
Twilight gasped for breath. The truck had been wrong. Twice. She watched the third truck pass by and prayed that there was enough time. Then she whistled.
The patrol car came zooming around a corner and slammed into the armored tumbler in front of the truck, slowing it to a halt. The truck stopped too, and Twilight sprinted forward. She unlocked the door with her magic, and leaped inside, shutting the doors behind her immediately after.
She grinned up at the bomb, and pulled out the disruption device.
This better work, or we're all dead.
The Batmare didn't move. Rarity's knife was instant's press away from cutting into a vital organ. She kept her grasp on Spike's neck steady, but never took her eyes off the white mare kneeling next to her.
Her smile was so cruel. It was a manipulating smile, one she'd seen the night at the charity ball (to fund the reactor that she must have known would be turned into a bomb) and the evening they'd broken into her manor in the rain (she'd slept with her, dammit!). And still, it was so, so lovely.
"My mother could not even name me before she was killed," she said, still smiling, still holding the knife in Batmare's armor. "The way I would have been killed, if not for my protector...Spike."
She looked over at the purple dragon, who was gazing silently at her. He was begin to shake again, and reached out to comfort him. His shivering halted at her touch.
"I climbed out of the pit," she continued, looking back at the stunned pegasus in armor. "I found my father and brought him back to exact terrible vengeance, but by that time the prisoners and the doctor had done their work to my friend, my protector..."
She adjusted the tubes on his mask, fixing them as best as she could. A single tear rolled down the drake's cheek as she helped him, and Batmare could feel his chest heaving, from pain or sorrow she didn't know.
"The League took us in," she recalled. "Trained us...until my father excommunicated Spike." Her tone became harsh, and she shut her eyes, grimacing for a moment. "He could not accept him. All my father saw was a monster, who wanted vengeance for the hell he was left pushing away with every breath he took. He saw a reminder of the hell that he'd condemned my mother to."
Her own tears dripped on the floor of the City Hall.
"His only crime"--she sniffled--"was that he loved me. I couldn't forgive my father..." She turned back to Batmare. "Until you murdered him."
For the first time, Batmare spoke to her.
"He was trying to kill millions of innocent ponies-"
"Innocent is a strong word to use against the ponies of Ponyville, Rainbow." She scoffed at the pegasus's words. "I honor my father by finishing his work."
She drew her hoof away from Spike's mask, repaired as best as she could manage to. She took up the trigger again, and twisted the knife in Dash's body, getting a grunt of pain in response.
"You see, Rainbow, it's the slow knife...the knife that waits years and years without forgetting, then slips between the bones. That's the knife"--she armed the trigger--"that cuts deepest."
She pressed the button.
Inside the truck, Twilight Sparkle was laughing. She lay on the floor of the truck, exhausted, beaten up, and cold, and still she laughed. She laughed at the joy of still being alive.
On the jammer, a blinking light told her that it was doing its work. The bomb wouldn't go off for another eleven minutes.
Rarity stared at the trigger in cold fury. She looked back to Batmare, who smiled weakly.
"Your knife may have been too slow," she said.
Rarity huffed, and threw the trigger aside. She stood up, twisting the blade of the knife one last time, and waited for Spike to pull himself out of Batmare's grasp before stepping over to the dragon. He was holding a pistol at the pegasus, and only dropped it when Rarity put her hoof on his hand.
"Not yet," she said. "I want her to feel the fire." She turned to the Dark Knight one last time, and added, to her: "Feel the fire of twelve million souls that had counted on you." She brushed a hoof against his mask once more, checking for leaks, and whispered, "Goodbye, my friend," softly.
He nodded. There were still tears in his eyes, and she didn't ask why. She didn't want to know. All she wanted was to see him again, when the fire took them. Then, maybe, in the next life, they could be left in peace.
She spun and trotted swiftly out of the building, flanked by guards. She reached a tumbler, stepped inside, and was off, leaving Spike alone with the wounded pegasus.
Batmare watched her go--and felt a blinding pain rush through her head. Spike had struck her with the butt of a shotgun. She had no clue where it had come from, and only assumed that he'd had it the whole time. She turned back up to the drake, stunned, and watched him crack open the breach to see if it held any ammunition. Apparently satisied with what he saw, he snapped the action shut and cocked the gun.
"You'll just have to imagine the fire," he said as he leveled the weapon at her face. His voice had deepened once more. "You and I both know...I have to kill you now."
Rainbow Dash stared down the barrels of a gun, just like her parents. She faced death calmly, as her parents had done. Spike's finger tightened on the trigger, and there was a BOOM!-
And Spike went sailing backwards, into a wall. He slid down, and did not move. His eyes fluttered between alive and dead, and Batmare wondered if he would get back up again. She turned around, pulling the knife Rarity had stuck in her out (slowly), and was almost overjoyed to see Catmare sitting astride the Bat-Pod. in the entrance to the building. Smoke rose from the cannons.
"That whole 'no guns' thing?" she said. "I don't feel so strongly about it."
Rarity was approaching the truck. She stepped out of the tumbler calmly, holding onto the sides and waiting for the passenger door to open. As the tumbler passed the carrier part of the truck, she was shocked to hear laughter coming from inside the truck.
Somepony was in there.
Well, she thought. They are going to have a tough time in nine minutes.
In nine minutes, the bomb went off.
Catmare zoomed down the road, toward the Bat. Batmare sat behind her on it, rather uncomforatbly. Usually, she was the one driving.
"I need you on the ground," she shouted as they zipped past the fights still going on. "I'll take the air."
Catmare nodded. She liked the bike. It suited her.
Batmare looked back at City Hall one last time. She wondered whether or not anypony had found Spike yet.
She wondered if he was still alive.
Rainbow Dash was right, but only barely. The only thing keeping Spike alive was his gas, and he could feel it escaping into the air around him. He was upset, not because he would die, but because he had not killed her first.
The pain was coming.
He breathed slowly, savoring the breaths he had left. The air tasted different, and he realized slowly that the taste wsa regular air, not the gas he had grown so used to breathing.
The air tasted wonderful.
The pain was there. It took him swiftly.
He was back in the pit. There had been no escape. He had simply been sleeping, unconscious while the prisoners beat upon him. Now he was in bandages. But...he still had the mask on? No, it had been given to him after he made it out, when they came to rescue him...
Oh. Wait. That had been a dream.
He saw the other prisoners coming towards him. They sharpened their claws against the bars of his cell, and grinned.
"Now, where were we?" one asked, and they tore into him. He screamed, but all that came out was a pitiful squeak.
Scootaloo yelled at the officers guarding the railroad. They'd set up a sort of bridge, dug a canyon during the past five months, as a precaution against anypony who wanted to run away. They wouldn't let her take these kids across. She'd tried to explain the situation, but they hadn't listen. They never listen to the angry kid with the messy purple hair, not when she was a kid, not now.
So she decided to be hotheaded. That worked the last few times.
She took a step towards the barrier. The guards raised their weapons.
"If you take another step forward, we will shoot!"
No you won't, she wanted to say. What came out was, "Your orders are obsolete, officers. We need to cross, now.
They fired at her hooves. She flinched, but still stepped forward again.
Then she saw the trigger in one of the guards hooves. She screamed her objection in the same moment he pressed the button.
The bridge blew. It was flimsy, made of wood, and it lit beneath her hooves. She screamed, and leapt backwards, not letting herself go over the edge. The bridge fell away into the canyon. Now it was impossible to get across, even with the dragons guarding the edge of the city facing away from them (they were that big).
Scootaloo felt rage building up in her chest. She shrieked at the guards, letting them know what they'd done.
"YOU BASTARDS! YOU'RE KILLING US ALL, YOU SONSABITCHES!"
Rarity was having a conniption in the driver's seat of the truck. She'd had to start driving when the useless drake at the wheel before her got shot in the head by that absolute bitch Catmare. Now, the Bat was chasing, the tumblers had been taken out, and on top of that, her coat was covered in blood.
Not how she'd wanted to go out.
So, she decided to improvise. And that meant extravagant!
She pulled out another trigger. his one would work, she knew, because the bomb was not its target. She hit it, and threw it out of the window. She checked her timer. Four minutes. Time to stop that pony's laughter.
She swerved on the highway she was on, flipping the truck and sending it over the edge of the level divider. It flipped again and again, until finally coming to rest in a heap of torn up metal.
The Bat-Pod reached it before the Bat did. Catmare got off the bike and ran to the truck, throwing open the doors to reveal a hyperventilating Twilight Sparkle and the bomb, which counted down to three minutes even as she yanked Twilight out of the way.
"We can get the bomb to the reactor if we get the cable tied up," Twilight said, though her actual words were harder to understand. She'd just survived an intense car crash, and was shivering as she looked over to the Bat, which had parked and was now depositing a long wire cable. The Batmare approached with it, ready to hook the cable up. She stopped when the driver's door opened, and a blood-soaked Rarity slipped halfway out. She had on a mad smile.
"I wouldn't bother," she said, grinning. "I was so trusted here. You showed me the reactor, made me your president, and even gave me the emergency flood codes." She laughed, and went into a fit of coughing.
Batmare almost dropped the cable.
"Prepare yourself." Their eyes met one last time. "My father's work is done." She shut her eyes, smiling as she left the world, perhaps to join her father
He was dying all over again. There was no one there to help him, no matter what what real or not. He was alone, without a protector. And they were reaching for his mask.
And they did. He hadn't said anything. It was someone else. Someone he hadn't thought would join him here.
The other prisoners stepped back to reveal her to him. Only, he thought it was her. She wasn't like he remembered her, with hooves and everything. Now she was like him, with fangs and scales and claws. But it had to be her, because those eyes, the ones that shone with such love for him...
"Spike," she said, gesturing for him to come to her. He did, and she slipped off his mask. He braced himself, but felt no pain. That part had been a dream to, hadn't it been?
"Of course it was, Spike," she said, giggling. He smiled, and could show his lips again. She smiled back, and kissed him softly on his new lips. Then she took his hand, and they walked off to wherever they wanted. It definitely wasn't the pit.
They'd risen above that.
"What are you doing?" Twilight asked. The Batmare was still hooking the cables up to the bomb. The core couldn't be stabilized, that was what Rarity had said. So why bother?
The armored mare had an answer ready. "Two minutes," she said, gesturing to the timer. "I'll fly it up, over the Everfree. I can get up high enough."
Catmare looked over her shoulder and nodded.
"Rig it to fly, then bail..." she began.
Batmare shook her head.
Understanding dawned as Batmare hooked u the last of the cables. Catmare turned to face her.
"You could have gone anywhere," she said. "Been anything. And you came back here."
"So did you."
"Then I guess we both just lost the game." She grabbed her shoulders and brought their lips together. This was an affectionate kiss, tender and loving, not the challenge from the ball (so long ago!). They separated, both wishing for more, both knowing it wasn't possible.
Batmare climbed into the cockpit. As she prepared to take off, Twilight Sparkle approached.
"I never cared who you were-"
"Good," Batmare growled.
"But shouldn't the ponies know the hero who saved them?" the commissioner asked.
Batmare paused before replying. "A hero can be anypony. That was always the point. Anypony at all. Even a self-centered little filly who thinks she's 20% cooler than everypony else..."
The canopy closed,and the Bat prepared to fly one last time.
Twilight Sparkle stepped back from the cockpit, blinking.
It was a party. A pretty good one, Twilight thought, and made her way to the snack table, where a rambunctious young pegasus was laughing obnoxiously with an orange mare and a blond pegasus with odd eyes.
The pegasus noticed her new badge, and trotted over to her, getting very close to her. The other mares simply watched, and the orange one rolled her eyes.
"Deputy, huh? How come I haven't seen you as a regular cop before?" said the pegasus.
"It was a surprise," she replied, pushing the mare's face away. "I was assigned by Princess Celestia."
The pegasus's eyes widened in false admiration. "The Princess! Well, looks like we've got a bad-flank over here!" She raised her hooves in a mocking gesture.
Twilight's eye twitched. "I'm sorry, but who do you think you are?"
Now the pegasus was upset. "You don't know who I am?" She whipped her rainbow-shaded mane around, hitting Twilight with it. "This doesn't clue you in?"
A blank stare from the deputy. The cyan mare groaned.
"Rainbow Dash." She extended a hoof, a confident grin appearing on her face. "I'm 20% cooler than any other billionaire you'll ever meet." Then she wandered off, leaving both Twilight and the pair of mares she'd been laughing with earlier behind.
Twilight wondered if she was bipolar.
Twilight's mouth was agape as the Bat flew straight up, dragging the bomb up with her.
Scootaloo had finished shouting at the guards, and she was done crying. Now, she was rushing the kids back onto the bus.
"C'mon! We're gonna get away from the blast! Quick!"
The matron of St. Blueblood's, who had joined them, was trying to stop her, for whatever reason.
"Scoot, they need to make their peace."
"For Celestia's sake!" she yelled. "They are children! They have no peace to-"
An explosion rocked the railroad. Scootaloo clambered on the bus, shouting to the kids.
"Get down! That's it!"
"No!" It was Rumble. He was gazing out of the window, at a black machine tearing through the air, rising faster and faster.
"It's the Batmare!"
The other kids (and the matron) watched as the Bat flew higher and higher, out over the Everfree Forest. It became smaller and smaller, and Scootaloo wondered what she was thinking. The orange pegasus realized what it was just as the white dot appeared in the sky.
An orb of nuclear power burst out from the dot. Thunder rocked the bus, and Scootaloo turned away as the heat wave hit them. There was a moment when it was not winter, but the hottest possible summer instead. Then the wave passed, and the cloud of smoke that appeared expanded outward. There was a second wave, suddenly, and the bus tilted. Scootaloo thought for a moment that it was really the end, that the Batmare had been too late.
Then she was still there, and the world was back to normal. At least, it appeared to be that way. The kids on the bus were cheering, and the matron was praying on the ground. She stepped off the bus, and saw that Royal Guards were approaching from across the busted bridge. Of course, it was brigade of pegusi. Scootaloo stared at them for a moment.
They only came after the danger had passed. After the Batmare had passed.
She pulled her badge out, and stared at it thoughtfully.
Then she chucked it over the side of the pony-made canyon, where it fell without a sound.
"'I see a beautiful city and a brilliant ponies rising from this abyss...'"
Flowers bloomed in the gardens of the Rainbow estate. Twilight read from her copy of A Tale of Two Cities. Zecora leaned on a cane, much like the one Rainbow Dash had worn the year before. She had needed it since the flood had smashed her into the wall of the reactor chamber, and she never spoke of it, merely shrugging off any comments made about the cane. Scootaloo stood beside her, her expression as melancholy as Twilight's. There was another mare standing off to the side, lost in her own grief.
"'I see that I hold a sanctuary in their hearts, and in the hearts of the descendants, generations hence. It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done."
Twilight shut the book. She gazed down at the small, simple marker that bore the name Rainbow Dash. Her throat tightened as she recited the final words of the passage.
"Is is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
There had been no word on the official cause of death, and most ponies believed she was somewhere deep at the bottom of Ponyville Lake, or simply gone altogether. There had been too much death anyway, to worry about a single one, however famous that pony had been. Most just wanted to move on, and bury the myriad tragedies that filled their pasts behind.
For some, this was easier said than done. Twilight looked across to the pony kneeling at the other two graves in the garden. She looked frailer, sounded frailer, and Twilight wondered briefly where Fluttershy had been during the last few months. She would have easily been killed had she stayed in Ponyville, and Twilight considered the possibility of her involvement in the Dark Knight's return.
Scootaloo tapped her on the shoulder. The unicorn looked up, and Scootaloo gestured away from the graves. Zecora had already gone, disappeared behind a tree, perhaps. Twilight walked with the younger pony, chatting solemnly with her.
Behind them, Fluttershy finally looked up from the ground. Her face was soaked with tears, and her rubbing had only reddened her face more. Her voice was hardly a squeak as she spoke to the graves beside Rainbow Dash's.
"I'm so sorry," she sobbed. "I failed you. You trusted me, and I failed you." She bent her head again, and cried through her hooves.
The gravestones beside the smaller one were marked Rainbow Spectrum and Rainbow Sprint.
The City Hall was rebuilt. A proper service for Mayor Mare had been held, and the next item of business was being attended to. And what an item it was.
Shining Armor stood in the middle of the lobby, in front of a group of representatives from all across Equestria, including the Princesses themselves (all three of them--Cadance was there as well). He took a breath, and announced the official unveiling of the newest piece of Ponyville history.
His horn glowed, and he pulled a large blue cloth off of a statue of no pony other than the Batmare. She stood in a pose that suited her, on her hind legs, head down, hooves curled into fists. It was their testament to the hero they had needed, and who had come to them. Looking out into the crowd, he saw his wife tearing up beside her aunts.
He was feeling a little sappy, too.
Scootaloo entered the office just as the lawyers present were getting right down to the meat of things.
"Though Ms. Dash's will does not take into account her previous loses, there are still considerable assets to be exposed of."
He cleared his throat, and began:
"The contents of Rainbow Manor are to be sold, to settle for the house's expenses. The remainder is to be given in its entirety to one Ms. Fluttershy."
Good, Scoot thought. That shy yellow mare deserved it, having spent her whole life serving the Rainbow family.
"The estate itself," the lawyer continued, "is left to the city of Ponyville, on the condition it never be demolished,altered, or otherwise interfered with, and that it is used for one purpose and one purpose only: the housing and care of the city's at-risk and orphaned children."
Scootaloo smiled, imagining the children running through the gardens and exploring the vast expanses of the house. The matron was probably praying in thanks right now. She did that too much.
The lawyers gathered their papers, packed them in identical brown suitcases, and began to file out the door, ho-hum. Scootaloo was led to a clerk at a desk nearby, where she was told she could check to see if Rainbow had left her any smaller "correspondences and instructions."
"Scootaloo," she said.
The clerk consulted the list.
"Nothing here," Frowning, she began to step away, but stopped when an idea flashed through her mind. SHe turned back to the clerk, pulling her wallet out of her jacket, and slid a card out of a pocket in it. She handed to the clerk, saying, "Try my legal name."
She glanced at the ID before checking the list again.
"Yep, here it is." Her horn glowed, and out of the pile of various items came a bulging sports bag. She brought it over to the pegasus, who hefted it onto her back. She was rightly confused.
What the hay is this for?
She turned to leave, but before she did, the clerk called back to her. She turned once more.
"You should use your full name," she suggested, twirling a pen in her hoof. "I like that name...Robin."
She smiled sheepishly, embarrassed by her first name. She'd always been worried about her first name sounding too girly for a tomboy, and the use of her last name as her full name had stayed with her, even through adulthood.
She stepped away from the desk, wondering what could be in the bag sitting uncomfortably on her back. She was tempted to open it right away, and resisted the urge. She knew that Rainbow wanted the contents of the bag to be seen by her eyes only.
As she walked away from the clerk, a lawyer strode up to her. He looked relatively annoyed, and for a good reason. One of the items on Rainbow Dash's list of possessions was missing, and they couldn't have that, could they?
"Any luck?" he asked when he reached the desk. The mare shrugged.
"Nothing yet," she replied.
"Well, keep looking," the lawyer said sternly. "We can't just put a string of pearls on the manifest as 'lost.'"
Zecora stood in front of the sole remaining copy of the Bat. It had been put together with the scraps that had fallen off during its final flight through Ponyville, along with the blueprints kept in her data banks and components that had survived Spike's incursion on her beloved Applied Sciences. Two technicians inspected it, having gone through the most intense of background checks before having been allowed anywhere near her children.
"Why worry about the stabilization software?" the older of the two asked. "This whole autopilot system obsolete."
Please," Zecora said. "I must know what I could have fixed, before it and nuclear bombs were mixed."
The younger techie looked puzzled. "Ms. Zecora...it's already fixed." He tapped a wrench on the display panel. "Software patch, six moths ago."
Six months ago?
"Check the patch user name, for its maker and I are not the same," she suggested.
The techie rolled his eyes at the zebra's rhyme, and keyed in the request anyway. His eyes widened when he saw the name.
"Rainbow Dash? What?"
Zecora's eyes widened, and she stepped away from the aircraft. Pieces in her mind clicked into place, and a small smile lit up her face. A weight was lifting from her shoulders, soaring up like a bird.
No. Like a Bat.
Twilight sighed and stepped out onto her Flat. Her nightly escape from the rest of the world had become less frequent, due to Big Macintosh's constant badgering about having a date, then another, and another. It took serious time out of her workday, and she wondered if ponies were beginning to notice that she was slipping up a bit more now.
Of course, she happily excepted every invitation to dinner, a movie, an evening stroll, a night at the barn, etc.
She smacked the flies she held in her aura against an air duct, straightening them. She had thought about Big Mac again, and that meant that the night would eventually end up with them together, perhaps up on this rooftop.
After all, there was nopony else left to share it with.
Scootaloo stared at the GPS, then the waterfall, then at the bag of climbing equipment at her hooves. She knew what Rainbow Dash wanted her to do, but she wasn't sure if it was possible. The equipment was advanced, sure, but ths was a very big waterfall. If she got hurt, she'd have to drag herself back to her car, where she'd left her phone.
Of course, she considered, you've always wanted to be a stunt-pony.
She smiled, and snatched a harness from the bag.
Fluttershy sipped her drink lightly, gazing at the unfamiliar faces in the restaurant. She was feeling only the smallest bit better, having decided to take an early vacation (her new job was as caretaker of the young foals; they were practically her own children, and some called her "Mama") to Flowerance, and had felt her game awaiting her the moment she stepped off the plane.
And so, here she was, looking through the crowd idly, waiting for her order to be ready. She couldn't help it, she realized as she glanced at the other patrons faces. It had become a habit at this restaurant.
But, of course, they were all strangers.
They always were.
Twilight turned to head back down the stairs to get Big Mac, when something odd caught her eye. Turning towards it, she trotted over so that her vision wasn't partially blocked by the air vent.
What she saw amazed her.
Standing in the same spot it had years before, shining like new (which she assumed it was), was the Bat-Signal. The shattered searchlight had been repaired, and the freshly-cast bat-shaped symbol stood proudly on its front, waiting to be used.
Twilight stepped over to it hesitantly, unsure if it was real. Slowly, she reached a hoof out, and shivered when it touched cold metal. Then she looked out into the night, wondering if she should turn it on or not. All she needed was a sign.
Maybe she wasn't on her own tonight after all.
Scootaloo traded daylight for stuffy darkness, passing through the waterfall relatively unharmed. She unclipped her harness and stepped further into the cave behind the waterfall, pulling a flare out with one hoof and unscrewing it with the other. She hardly noticed that she was walking on her hind legs.
As she lit the flare, a rustling, chittering mass above her stirred. The cave came to life as the screeching creatures swooped down from their roosts, flying wildly around the cave. Scootaloo ducked as they buffeted her, returning her front hooves to the ground. Then, slowly, she rose up again, as she was engulfed in a wild flurry of...bats.
Fluttershy finished her drink and set it down on the table, disappointed with her game. The results were the same, not that she expected them to ever be different. She heard laughter from a table to her left, and she felt the itch come over her again. Bracing herself for disappointment, Fluttershy glanced over at the couple three tables over from her--and saw no strangers.
A pink mare with enormous pink curls of mane was shaking in her seat, trying not to make a scene in the restaurant. The cyan mare who had clearly made her laugh watched with amusement on her face, until she felt the light green eyes of the elder pegasus three tables away watching her. She glanced up, and her maroon eyes met Fluttershy's. She smiled, and nodded, and Fluttershy did the same, after a moment of disbelief passed.
The waiter gave her her bill, and Fluttershy was snapped out of her stupor. She signed her name, and the waiter trotted away, thanking her for dining with them tonight. She glanced once more at the couple three tables down, but the mare had returned her attention to the pink mare facing her. She scratched her head, brushing some of her multi-shaded mane out of her face, and Fluttershy wondered how other ponies didn't recognize her because of it. She took another look at the bubbly pink mare, and recognized her as the nervous little maid who'd been there the night everything started up again.
She pulled her eyes away from the couple. She left them in peace. Besides, it was rude to stare. She paid a generous tip and left the restaurant with a spring in her step.
She never looked back.
The bats surrounded her, frightened her, with their screeching in the dark. She was still crouching defensively as the creatures buffeted her body, but she was now standing completely on her hind legs. There was an instinctive panic inside of her, but she knew to push it down.
She also knew why she was here.
Bats were not a symbol of fear in Ponyville, or at least not just fear. They were a symbol for hope and justice and the things that are right. They stood for a legend somepony wise and brave had once told her. A hero could be anyone, the pony had said. Now she raised her head up, greeting the bats as they welcomed her into their home.
Scootaloo rose, and was swallowed up by the darkness of their wings.
To Mr. Hoffman: always rising.