Deep beneath Equestria’s capital city of Canterlot, under the harsh white glow of fluorescent magelights and the oppressive starkness of hundreds of stainless steel corridors, Zig-Zag straightened his tie.
Director Zig-Zag. Director of the Equestrian Intelligence Service, or EIS—which was pronounced eyes, as it were. Yes, Zig-Zag was in command of one of the kingdom’s primary defence organizations, and held all the responsibilities that entailed. Which was why he was here, in the most secure holding facility known to ponydom.
“Um, sir?” An earth pony who was part of his six-pony entourage prompted. “Did you get that?”
Director Zig-Zag eyed his reflection in the metal wall. Yes, that was a very straight tie—perfectly aligned with his horn, as it ought to be. Zig-Zag thoroughly enjoyed a straight tie. Perhaps to a fault.
“I did, Specialist Generic,” Zig-Zag said. “Your suggestion has been noted, but I have chosen to perform this interrogation myself. No objections, please.”
Generic closed his mouth in the middle of doing just that. He opened it again. “Will you be requiring a pair of slim, square, semi-tinted interrogation shades, sir?”
The Director considered this for a moment. “No, but pass me her folder.”
Specialist Generic complied. “If I may be so bold, sir...”
Zig-Zag began to lead them down what he hoped was the right hallway. It was hard to tell one from another this far underground, and the Director had always had a little trouble with directions.
“You may,” he said. “You are all of course wondering why I am taking a personal hoof in this situation. Why it was so important that I be airlifted out of the Saddleburg facility immediately to come here. Given the nature of this particular prisoner, and the nature of her crime, you all cannot help but wonder why EIS is involved with this case at all, let alone its Director.”
Zig-Zag came to an intersection and stopped. Then waited. Then he cleared his throat. Finally, an intern in his entourage took the hint.
The other EIS agents shot the intern dirty looks. The Director proceeded to lead them to the left.
“That was a test, of course,” he said. “And you passed. In any case, I can assure all of you that the measures taken to secure this individual are most definitely called for.
“Our prisoner ranks among the most powerful unicorns in Equestria. She has several times now protected Equestria from outside threats, leading a paramilitary force in the name of Princess Celestia herself. If she’s gone rogue, it represents a threat of the highest order not only to this organization, but to Equestria as a whole.”
He stopped and turned to face a steel doorway that was bare but for the letter A emblazoned at its center in red. With a flash of magic, he opened it.
The door swung open, and the seven stallions in the hallway held their collective breath as they gazed in at what constituted a threat of the highest order to the security of both crown and country. Brooms. Mops. Buckets. A sign intended to warn of wet floors.
Nopony said a thing. Director Zig-Zag eyed the janitorial closet, his face an expressionless mask, before shutting the door. None of the members of his entourage met his eyes as he turned to the other side of the hallway to face a door marked AB. Then he opened it.
“Gentlemen,” Zig-zag said stiffly. “This organization has faced many enemies—terrible enemies—for the safety of Equestria. The Arcturis Directive. The NOZE organization. Drakbog, King of Frogs.”
At the mention of Drakbog, a shudder ran through the Director’s entourage. The other enemies were bad, certainly, but Drakbog was an inequine horror. It had taken Zig-Zag’s direct intervention to bring him in.
“But now,” Zig-Zag continued, “we face a threat that is perhaps greater than even the most fearsome amphibian deity.” He levitated the folder into the air beside him. “Gentlemen, we face Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight Sparkle was in a nondescript room.
So nondescript, in fact, that it could be described thusly: It had four metal walls, a metal ceiling, and a metal floor. Two chairs, one of which she sat on, a table, a window of one-way glass, and a door.
The door was the only interesting thing about the room. It was but unlike the average door in all ways but size. Steel teeth clasped together down its center. Warning tape ran along its side. Gears protruded. Lights flashed. It was all very impressive, and gave the impression that the door was an item of importance.
The door opened. A pony walked through it. Having fulfilled the entirety of its purpose, the door closed, and Twilight turned her attention to the new arrival.
“I am Director Zig-Zag of EIS,” The blue-grey unicorn said. He wore the kind of suit that said I work for a secretive government organization, and had an impeccably straight tie. “And you,” he said, “are Twilight Sparkle.”
He threw a folder onto the table in such a way that it spun through the air and audibly slapped the surface in front of Twilight, causing a stack of photographs to fan out in front of her. Twilight tending the library. Twilight eating an ice cream. Twilight visiting her parents.
Twilight decided to play her only card early. “Does Princess Celestia know I’m here?” she asked.
“I’ll be asking the questions.” Zig-Zag took a seat across from her.
“Princess Celestia doesn’t know I’m here, does she?”
“Her closeness to you would compromise her better judgement in this case.”
Twilight frowned. “Wow. Shining Armor wasn’t kidding when he told me you guys were paranoid.”
Zig-Zag breathed deeply through his nostrils, then exhaled. “I am going to start by asking you some basic questions about yourself, Miss Sparkle, and then we can move onto the events of this afternoon.”
“Sure!” Twilight said. “Anything to exonerate me!”
“Exonerate you,” Zig-Zag said. “We have eyewitness accounts from twenty ponies that describe you as standing in the wreckage of a Burger Princess as it burns to the ground, shouting ‘freedom, freedom, I am Twilight Sparkle.’ And you think we’ll find you innocent of all crimes?”
Twilight looked down and cleared her throat. “Really, it’s a long story...”
Zig-Zag ignored her. “Do you have any history of violent behaviour?” he asked.
The changelings fell before her in swaths, such was the power of her magic. Another laser beam shot from her horn, and another one of the monsters went down. One shot, one kill.
And Twilight still had plenty of shots left.
“Not at all.”
Zig-Zag eyed her suspiciously. “I see. Nothing that could suggest mental instability?”
“Hi girls!” Twilight said right after exploding out of Apple Bloom’s beach ball. Her pupils narrowed to pinpoints as her ears twitched. She was going to make a friendship problem, all right.
“No,” Twilight said. “Nothing.”
“Is that so,” Zig-Zag said, somehow managing to make it a statement. “In that case we can move on, can’t we?”
Twilight nodded. “Uh-huh! Move on to the part where we find out just how reasonable I was being when I burnt that restaurant to the ground.” A lock of her mane sprang free as she flashed Director Zig-Zag what she hoped was a genuine smile.
Zig-Zag drew away slightly. “Can you recount for me the events of this morning, starting with when you decided to leave your house and travel to Burger Princess?”
Twilight nodded again, almost frantic. “Uh-huh! Let me see here...”
Twilight’s stomach grumbled, and for the first time that afternoon she realized just how hungry she was. She carefully marked her page with a bookmark and set the book she’d been reading on her desk. Twilight always hated to stop reading a book so close to the end, but it wasn’t like it was fiction, anyway—She wasn’t closing the cover partway through the delicious denouement, or anything so heinous.
A cursory search of the kitchen revealed that she didn’t have any food. Or rather, she had food, but she didn’t have any lunch food. Twilight couldn’t eat a bowl of cereal or a full vegetable platter for lunch. The idea was absurd. She might as well just throw out the idea of using a structured system for mealtime at all and let chaos consume her dietary habits.
Twilight didn’t have any food. But she liked the idea of going out.
“Hmm...” Director Zig-Zag put a hoof to his chin, seeming almost disappointed. “You’re sure that’s the version of your story you want to tell, Miss Sparkle?”
“Yes, because that’s the truth. Why, what do you think happened?”
Director Zig-Zag cleared his throat...
Twilight Sparkle, mentally unstable terrorist extraordinaire, closed her book, Crippling Equestria’s Economy For Dummies. “Salads,” she hissed, reaching for a hairless cat to stroke. “Salads are the key to my master plan.” She swivelled in her rotating, high-backed chair to face the window, and her eyes began scanning the street outside, searching for a puppy to kick. “Without salad revenue, Equestria will surely fall...”
A silence hung between the ponies sitting in the interrogation room. Finally, Twilight spoke.
“Crippling Equestria’s Economy For Dummies.”
“It’s a real book!”
“I know it is, I’ve read it. It doesn’t have anything to say about salads.”
Zig-Zag cocked his head. “You’ve read it?”
“So you’re admitting you’re a terrorist.”
“No, I’m admitting I read.”
“Well then what were you reading before you left your house?”
Twilight locked eyes with Director Zig-Zag and said, in a very level tone, “Escaping Maximum Security Holding Facilities.” There was a pause before she looked down and added, somewhat abashed, “—For Dummies.”
“You think you can escape?” Zig-Zag asked. “From here?”
I’ve already figured out how. “Not at all,” Twilight said. “That’s just what I was reading this morning. Now if you’d let me continue...”
“By all means,” said Zig-Zag. “Go ahead.”
Burger Princess. Twilight had chosen Burger Princess.
“What can I get you today?” the acne-faced colt working the counter asked. His name tag read: Scrubs.
“Hi, Scrubs!” Twilight said.
“Hello,” said Scrubs, somehow managing to make his voice crack with that word alone. “What can I get you today?”
“Right.” Twilight nodded. It was fast food, after all. She looked up at the menu. “What goes on the flame-broiled Clopper?”
“Mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, ketchup, onions, with a quarter pound tofu patty on a toasted sesame seed bun,” Scrubs recited.
“Oh,” Twilight said, her eyes moving to the second item of hundreds on the menu. “How many tomatoes?”
“Two. You can ask for extra, if you’d like.”
“Oh. Well how much does that cost?”
Scrubs frowned, as though he wasn’t used to be asked so many questions. What, did people just come in and order food, heedless to the price or the condiments? What about the nutritional value? Twilight had already spent twenty minutes memorizing the food value chart, and she planned on putting that knowledge to use.
“It’s free,” Scrubs said. “All the condiments are free.”
It was Twilight’s turn to frown. “Wait, what?”
Behind her, a pony in the line let out a very loud sigh.
“The condiments are free,” Scrubs said. “We don’t charge for them. If you want extra carrots or cucumbers or lettuce, it doesn’t cost anything. We’ll even put them in a container for you on the side, if you’d like.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense!” Twilight said.
Scrubs leaned forward and turned his head to look up at the menu, and a small sign that proudly declared Condiments are free! Except for cheese. “The menu says they’re free,” he said.
Twilight didn’t look away from said menu. “But the menu also says that...” No. It couldn’t be.
Suddenly Twilight saw the inconsistency, a glaring flaw that stood out like a piece of glass in a candy apple. It was a math error, a failure of logic, and it bothered her more than she cared to admit.
The minds behind the massive fast food chain that was Burger Princess had made a horrible, indefensible, unforgivable mistake, and it was time for Twilight to teach them the error of their ways. It was time to completely shift the fast food paradigms. In a way that would involve no violence or collateral damage and not burn the restaurant to the ground, that was.
This time it was Director Zig-Zag who got to look supremely unamused. “I can’t help but feel like that last part was a fabrication, Miss Sparkle.”
Twilight sighed and rolled her eyes, then continued.
She looked at Scrubs. “I’d like a free salad.”
Once again, Scrubs leaned out to look at the menu. “Salads cost two bits,” he said.
“But condiments are free, and salads are just condiments.”
The pony behind Twilight in the line let out another exasperated sigh. “Can you please just order something?” he asked.
Twilight shot him an irritated glance, then turned back to Scrubs. “A garden salad is lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Those are condiments. And if they’re free on a sandwich, and they’re free on the side, then surely they’re free on the side together, making salads free.”
Scrubs gave her a blank stare. “Huh?”
“Don’t you see!” Twilight cried. “Burger Princess has been operating under a horrible misconception all along! This is a shift of the entire salad paradigm! Salads are free! Although dressing might cost extra...”
Scrubs looked at her some more. Then he leaned out to look back at the sign again. “The menu says that salads cost two bits.”
Twilight sighed. “Don’t worry!” she cried, pulling a notebook, two pens, a mechanical pencil, three graphite refills, a ruler, a triangle, a math textbook, and a copy of Teaching the Distributive Property of Mathematics to Minimum Wage Employees For Dummies out of her mane and setting them on the counter. Several strands of her hair sprang out of place as she smiled at him. “You just need a lesson in my very good friend, the distributive property!”
“To be honest,” Twilight said. “I don’t really remember what I used to teach him the distributive property, but that seems close.”
“So what you’re saying, Miss Sparkle, is that you aren’t ‘sure’ what materials you brought into the Burger Princess.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
Twilight shot him an annoyed look. “What?”
Those items were shortly followed by a blow torch, some wire cutters, a flamethrower, a kilogram of plastic explosives, and a dozen bio-magical nerve gas grenades.
“By the way,” Twilight said to Scrubs as she pulled a ski mask over her face. “I’m also a former paramilitary operative gone rogue, hell-bent on bringing Equestria to its knees by striking at its salad industry, which is we all know is the secret cornerstone of its economy.”
“That seems likely,” Twilight said. “Yeah, that’s definitely what happened. Do I get a quarter bit?”
Zig-Zag went from nodding along to eyeing her quizzically. “A quarter?”
“Yeah. For a phone call. I get a phone call, don’t I?”
“Oh,” Twilight said. There goes my brilliant escape plan. “Can I have a quarter anyway?”
“I’d pay you back.”
“I’m not sure what you’re planning, Miss Sparkle. But I can assure you: there’s no way for you to escape this room, quarter or no.”
Twilight shifted in her chair. “You know you’re holding me illegally, right? There’s no way you could reasonably suspect me of being a threat to Equestrian national security.”
Zig-Zag straightened his tie. “That is for me to decide, Miss Sparkle.”
“Can I borrow your pen?” she asked. “I need to write a confession.”
Zig-Zag gave her a flat look. “I very much doubt that.”
“Not to being an evil super terrorist, to the stuff I did at Burger Princess.” That sounded legitimate, right?
Evidently Zig-Zag thought so, because he rolled a pen across the table a moment later. “I’ll get you some paper.”
“No need!” Twilight said, reaching forward and grabbing a picture out of the folder.
At the same time, she hoofed the paper clip that held the folder together. It was an industrial strength paper clip—almost two inches long when folded and several millimetres thick. It wasn’t a quarter, but it’d do.
She flipped the photo on its back and took the pen in her mouth.
“Hey!” Zig-Zag said. “Those belong to EIS!”
Twilight spoke around the pen in her mouth as it scribbled across the picture paper. “You weren’t going to use them anyway. You only brought that in here so you could throw it on a table dramatically.”
“No I didn’t.”
“I’m sure.” Twilight scratched away at the back of the photo. “Now, where were we?”
“So as you can see,” Twilight said as she highlighted several lines of notes with a blue pen. “A bracket B plus C end bracket is equal to AB plus AC. Applying that to our set of salad variables up here, we’ll still get a sum of zero, regardless of the values of B and C.”
The group of ponies that had gathered around her all nodded appreciatively, finally seeing the beauty and usefulness of mathematics in everyday life. Several of them would likely go home that night and consider visiting the library, so moved were they by Twilight’s demonstration.
“I can’t help but feel like that didn’t happen, Miss Sparkle.”
Twilight sighed. “Fine then.”
“...values of B and C,” Twilight finished.
“No one likes you,” the pony behind her in the line said.
“I’ve been waiting forty minutes to buy a Clopper.”
“Go home and feel bad about yourself.”
Twilight ignored them, looking expectantly at Scrubs.
Scrubs leaned out to read the menu. “Salads cost two bits,” he said.
“What?” Twilight felt the beginnings of a headache start to pound between her ears. A few more strands of mane escaped from the whole, and her eye twitched involuntarily.
“Salads cost two bits,” he repeated. “It says so on the sign. Is something wrong with your eye, ma’am?”
There was: it was trying to murder him using morse code. “Do you have a manager I could speak to?” Twilight asked levelly.
Scrubs looked over his shoulder, then leaned in and spoke in a low tone. “You want to speak to... The Manager?”
“...Yes?” Twilight hazarded.
He sucked a breath in through his teeth. “Yeah,” he said. “Alright, alright. He’ll be right out.” Scrubs turned and walked away, disappearing into the kitchen.
Twilight felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned to find a crowd of customers waiting behind her in line.
“We just wanted to tell you how enlightening your proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem was,” their leader said cheerfully. “And in only forty minutes...”
“Do you know what happens when three children go without Burger Princess in a hot carriage for forty minutes?” The first of them asked, rage burning in her eyes.
“Um... no?” Twilight said.
“Neither do I. I am so truly terrified of entering my carriage.”
A sort of silence came over the collected ponies in the Burger Princess before any more of them could harass Twilight further. It was more than simple silence; silence is the absence of sound. This was the opposite of sound, antisound, and it poured from the awed faces of the customers as they stared at a point somewhere past Twilight.
“Believe me, Director, I wish I was misleading you this time.”
“You’re telling me the whole room went silent?”
“The whole room went silent and gaped.”
Twilight turned, and then she saw him.
His hooves were polished black to a mirror sheen; his fetlocks perfectly shorn. His legs were the very expression of unicorn masculinity, all lean muscle and slender height. He wore a stiff button up black shirt with a single breast pocket over a black coat. He wore it like it was a uniform, and he a general upon the battlefield. A single blue plastic pen poked out of his pocket, his mighty sword.
His mane was pure white, and he wore not a plain ball cap, but a visor, a crown. His irises glinted white around black pupils, giving him eyes that seemed to bore into one’s very soul.
His cutie mark was a white circle, obviously to represent a single grill element, burning white hot—or perhaps his will, encasing the sum total of all reality and endowing him with divine providence over all living beings. Twilight wasn’t sure which.
His name tag simply read “The Manager.”
“I am The Manager,” he said. His voice was deep and powerful.
“Hi,” Twilight said. “My name is Twilight Sparkle. I was just—”
“Using the distributive property to prove that a salad should be free on the premise that all condiments are free,” The Manager said.
Twilight eyed him. “How did you...”
“Irrelevant, Twilight Sparkle. What is relevant is that you are using the natural sciences to explain something that they cannot.”
At this, Twilight frowned. “Did you... did you just say that there’s something the natural sciences can’t explain?”
Enemy, Twilight’s mind hissed. Destroy him. “Oh,” Twilight said. “Then I suppose that’s fine then. We’ll just make things up as we go along. Why not charge two bits for a salad that should be free! We should just let unreasoned chaos consume the universe!”
“Not unreasoned, Twilight Sparkle. You fail to recognize the most powerful school of thought.”
Oh, this should be good. “Which is?”
The Manager stood a little straighter, something Twilight had not thought possible. “I have a university degree in philosophy,” he said.
“Then why,” Twilight said, “are you working in a Burger Princess?”
The Manager gave her a level look. “Because I have a degree in philosophy.”
Twilight gave a conciliatory nod. “Makes sense.”
With a flash of magic from his unicorn horn, The Manager adjusted his name tag. “It is the right of a pony to charge whatever they wish for their goods, Twilight Sparkle. It is the right of the consumer to choose whether or not to pay.”
Philosophy versus math. He’s actually serious.
“So you argued about philosophy and math?” The Director asked.
“Oh,” Twilight said around the pen in her mouth. “We argued in such a way that the world has never seen before.”
“—to shrug,” The Manager said as he finished his forty-eight minute long speech extolling the virtues of Objectivism.
“Very interesting,” Twilight said as she stood in the midst of a crowd of sleeping, half-starved ponies. “But I cannot accept the idea that a pony is only in this world for themselves when I have seen gods vanquished through the power of togetherness.”
“Hmm,” The Manager said, “there is that.”
“And you yourself said—at least four times—that a pony without reason has surrendered their heart to instinct and their mind to evil. What is charging two bits for a salad that mathematics can prove should be free, if not unreasoned thought?
“Money is the root of all good,” Twilight said, “And self-sacrifice a terrible sin, but to deny our greatest tool—our mind—its rightful place as the ruler of our actions makes us no better than...”
“That went on for a good twenty minutes,” Twilight said.
“—And so if we disagree with DesCanters theories, my salad should be free,” Twilight said, finishing her proof. “And since we already proved that if we agree with DesCanters theorems, my salad should be free, well...” She looked at The Manager expectantly.
He nodded. “I suppose I can give you a free salad.” He levitated a salad out and set it on the counter in front of her.
“Yes!” Twilight cried. She looked up at The Manager. “Don’t you understand what we’ve done! We’ve shifted fast food paradigms, we’ve—”
“I can help the next in line,” he said, calling out to the tent that several customers had set up behind her.
They must really like their Burger Princess.
“Yeah,” a stallion said as he came out from under the tent flap. “I’ll have a salad.”
“That’ll be two bits.”
What! The stallion pulled out two bits and began to pass them to The Manager.
They stopped in his hoof, refusing to budge, as Twilight’s magic encased them. Both the stallion and The Manager turned to look at her.
Twilight’s mane had peeled away from her head in almost all directions, and her teeth ground against one another to make a pitched screeching noise as she regarded them. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“He is paying for his salad, Twilight Sparkle,” The Manager said.
“Salads,” Twilight hissed, “are free.”
A white light joined Twilight’s purple as the manager attempted to seize control of the coins. “Or are condiments,” he said, “expensive?”
Twilight felt her grip on the coins begin to loosen, and she strained her mind against her enemy’s magic. How was a Burger Princess Manager using telekinesis with so much focus? “No,” she said, gritting her teeth. “The paradigms...”
“Your logical process is irrelevant, Twilight Sparkle. The customer will pay what they wish.”
“I just want a salad,” the stallion groaned.
The light building around the coins intensified as Twilight redoubled her will. “You’ll get your salad,” she said. “But you’ll get it for free.”
The Manager pulled back, his eyes narrowing. “Do not meddle further, Twilight Sparkle. I will sell this salad for two bits, even if I have to destroy you to do it.” The light around the coins continued to build. The stallion attempting to order a salad began to back away.
“I will not sit idly by while you spit on the axioms of mathematics, Manager!”
He gave her a pointed look.
Twilight rolled her eyes. “‘The’ Manager,” she amended, looking away from the near-blinding light that now radiated from the coins.
“You cannot win, Twilight Sparkle. Even if you give this one free salad, salads throughout the universe will continue to cost two bits.”
Twilight screwed her eyes shut as she bent the entirety of her focus towards seizing the coins. “We’ll... see... about... that!” she screamed, giving them one final, forceful tug.
There was a very bright explosion.
Twilight was thrown back and away from the Burger Princess counter, skidding to a halt on the even floor tiles of the dining room. Her head throbbed with the pain of using so much magic at once, and it took her a moment to shake off the dazed confusion that came with—well, with being in an explosion.
She clambered to her hooves, looking around at the scattered forms of the other customers as they rolled and groaned on the restaurant floor. Ponies who had stood in line for well over an hour. Ponies who deserved salads. Free salads.
Tapping her unicorn magic once more, Twilight turned to face The Manager, who was looking at her impassively while adjusting his name tag. The counter in front of him had been reduced to a smoldering hole, small patches of splinters radiating outward from where the explosion had occurred.
He levitated two bits into the air and placed them into his breast pocket.
Twilight’s left eye twitched. “No one spits in the face of mathematics, you sick monster.”
She charged, and The Manager followed suit, their horns flashing as they gathered their wills for a terrible confrontation...
Twilight teleported behind the counter, skidding to halt as she turned back toward The Manager. Her eyes flicked about wildly, searching for the place where they kept the salads.
There. The mini fridge tucked under the counter-top, just out of sight of the customers. With a flash from her horn, Twilight tore the fridge door off its hinges and tossed it out the drive-thru window. The sound of glass shattering was shortly followed by a carriage alarm.
Inside the fridge were salads. Rows upon rows of them, glistening and gleaming with vegetative glory. Jackpot.
The Manager ran towards her with a look of grim determination written on his face. Twilight quirked an eyebrow. “You’re kidding, right?”
He planted both forelegs on the countertop, then sprang off the floor with his hind, flipping over the counter, head down, to drive his hind legs toward Twilight’s face.
Twilight grabbed his hind legs with her hooves, then twisted, spinning him along his horizontal axis. Much to her dismay, he was agile enough to catch himself on the counter with his forelegs once more.
The Manager kicked her full on in the chest, and Twilight staggered backwards and fell to the ground. Away from the salads. And that just wouldn’t do.
She threw herself onto her hooves, and the Manager aimed a punch at her face with a foreleg. Twilight caught it in an upper block, then stepped into his guard, tucked a hind leg under his, and flipped him to the ground.
She ran past—
“You’re telling me you’re trained in martial combat?” The Director asked. “This seems implausible.”
“Yes,” Twilight said, “Very implausible. I’m definitely lying to you right now. Anyway...”
“Salads!” Twilight screamed at the fleeing customers. She flung a salad at a nearby pony, taking their legs out from under them and sending them sprawling to the floor. “Free salads for everypony!” A caesar sent a pegasus mare skidding back several meters after colliding with her head. Twilight punctuated her words with more salad missiles as she spoke. “None of you will ever. Pay for salad. Again!”
She felt a pair of hooves close around one of her hind legs and pull her off the counter, sending her to the ground below as she lost her grip on the salads. “That is called stealing, Twilight Sparkle,” The Manager said, looming over her.
“And this,” Twilight said, hitting him with a blast of telekinesis, “is called battery.”
The Manager went flying back into the back of the deep fryer, which promptly tipped over, spilling dozens of liters of searing hot shortening onto the floor behind him, where it promptly burst into flames.
Twilight teleported to The Manager, grabbed him, then teleported them both outside the store and into the streets of Ponyville. “That could have ended badly,” she said.
“It looked like an accident, with neither of us to blame,” said The Manager as he stood up straight. “Insurance will probably cover everything.”
The Director raised an eyebrow.
“Poetic licence,” Twilight dead-panned. “Anyway, after that we just sort of had a dramatic fight until you guys showed up.”
“No!” Twilight screamed as stallions in white suits wrestled her to the ground and fixed a magic dampener around her horn. “You don’t understand! The salads are free! Free!”
“I managed to save my salad, though. Do you guys have that?” Twilight let the pen fall out of her mouth and roll across the table.
The Director straightened his tie. “The location of the free salad is unimportant, Miss Sparkle.”
“Oh. Well then can I go now?”
Twilight sighed. “I hate to do this, Director. This seems like a very secure holding facility, and I’ll feel bad when it fails to do the one job it’s meant to do. But you see, I’m the Element of Magic, and you’re holding me against my will without proper reason to suspect I’m a threat to Equestria’s security as a kingdom.
“Actually, what is Celestia going to do if a god-tier threat shows up at this very instant? She doesn’t know I’m here, and the Elements of Harmony are our best bet in that situation. You’re actually compromising Equestrian security.”
Zig-Zag looked taken aback. His mouth opened, then closed, then opened again. “Wh-what? No! You burned a restaurant to the ground this morning because you wanted a free salad. There is no way you are mentally stable. And there is no way you can escape.”
Twilight kept her hoof over the paperclip. “Why not?”
“Do you see that door?” The Director nodded to the room’s only door, which stood shining and stalwart, warning tape gleaming and lights blinking. “That door is made of tungsten carbide laced with meteoric iridium and enchanted three times for impenetrability. And as you’ve no doubt already deduced, a unicorn cannot use magic in this room.”
Twilight nodded as if deep in thought. “Yes, it’s a very impressive door,” she said. Then she nodded to the window. “What’s that?”
The Director stiffened. “That is a window.”
“Is it also made of tungsten carbide laced with meteoric iridium and enchanted three times for impenetrability?”
“No. But I assure it is very definitely most likely a strong window that is hard to break.”
Twilight sighed. “Well then, I guess you’ve got me.” She let out a little laugh. “Here’s my confession!” she slid the back of her photograph across the table. The Director leaned down to read it.
Step one: distract Director Zig-Zag using the Escape Checklist.
(Nothing is as it seems)
“Oh,” said Zig-Zag.
Twilight’s foreleg wind-milled into the back of his head, driving his forehead down into the table with a satisfying thump. She kicked her chair away with her hind legs, planted her front hooves on the table, and jumped, thrusting her hind legs forward to wrap around the dazed Zig-Zag’s neck. They fell to the floor on the other side of the table, knocking his chair to the side.
“Sleeper hold,” Twilight said. “You’ll be unconscious in twelve seconds, and then I’ll let you go. See, I really did read Escaping Maximum Security Holding Facilities For Dummies. I once read a book about running and finished fifth place in the running of the leaves.” She leaned down to get closer to the Director. “I’ve read two guides on being an action hero,” she said. “I’m not sure where that puts me.”
He fell unconscious, and Twilight released her deadly grip. She searched around for her paperclip, finding it at the edge of the table.
She really didn’t know why she had to use her hind legs to choke him out instead of her fore, but the books had all insisted: mares should be using their hind legs for as much as possible. Wrapping them around things, kicking stallions in the face—if possible, she should use high horseshoes. And a suit made of tight black fabric. Or as they liked to call them, a spymare catsuit.
Step two: escape interrogation chamber using paperclip.
Twilight bent out one end of the paperclip between her teeth and a hoof, then tossed it on the ground. She picked up the Director’s chair, placing on of its legs right over the edge of the paperclip.
Then she jumped into the air and tackled the edge of the chair, trying to focus most of the force of her fall through the one leg and onto the end of the paperclip.
The end flattened, hammered down by the chair leg. Twilight picked it up in her teeth, walked over to the window and ran it across the glass with a shriek that made her blood curdle. After she had scratched the glass, she spat the clip out of her mouth and picked up the Director’s chair.
The chair met the glass with a violent bang, and hair-thin fractures radiated out from the scratch Twilight had made. “You see!” Twilight shouted to the ponies who were no doubt on the other side of the window. “Scoring it first makes it shatterable!”
The chair met the glass with another labored swing. Bang.
“The room is only as strong as it’s weakest point of escape!”
“And that’s the window!”
“And the window is only as strong as its weakest point!”
She swung the chair at the window again, her breathing labored. The glass shattered.
Twilight immediately stuck her head through the window and felt her unicorn magic return to her in a rush as her horn crossed the threshold.
The room had two occupants: one wore a suit much like Zig-Zag’s, the other wore a white button-up shirt. Both of them looked completely terrified. Twilight’s horn flashed as she gripped the edge of the window ledge.
Her spell changed the flow of gravity, making down the far end of the interrogation chamber behind her. Shards of glass, sticky notes, a mug of coffee, and two unfortunate EIS employees fell back against the wall as Twilight clung to the window ledge.
She reversed the flow of gravity just long enough to swing herself into the room beyond, then set it back to normal, letting every loose object collapse around the interrogation chamber floor along with the forms of three ponies. Twilight telekinetically retrieved her checklist and her paperclip, then cast a spell to repair the broken window. The shards each fell back into place and became a seamless whole, trapping the ponies on the other side.
“And all without high horseshoes or a spymare catsuit,” Twilight said, calmly walking out into the hallway.
“Director?” the voice that came to him was muffled and indistinct. “Director!”
Zig-Zag became vaguely aware of the fact that somepony was shaking him as the world came into focus.
“Director!” Specialist Generic said.
“I’m awake,” the Director said. Twilight had choked him out with her hind legs. Mares. Every time. “I assume she’s escaped?”
Specialist Generic swallowed. “She broke through the window then shut it behind her. We’re trapped in here.”
Zig-Zag began to straighten his tie, examining his reflection in the mirrored glass. “And how did she do that?”
“Well,” came a squeaky voice from the corner of the room. The Director turned to regard his intern. What was his name again? Stale Coffee? Out Straight? Hoyt?
“She scored the glass and then broke it by smashing it with a chair,” the intern continued.
The Director nodded. “Generic!” he barked.
“Think you can score that glass?”
“I did get average grades in my glass-cutting course in high school, sir. I suppose I could use my tie clip.”
The Director almost cringed. An EIS member without a tie clip was a gross breach of conduct. Still, desperate times...
“Do it,” he said. “That madmare is loose in my facility, causing who knows what kind of trouble...”
Step three: find a ventilation shaft to crawl through.
The book had stressed that crawling through a ventilation shaft was imperative. It claimed that an escape without a ventilation shaft was an escape not worth having. And so Twilight had wandered the halls of the EIS headquarters, safe in the knowledge that they were underground and that the breathable air had to come from somewhere.
And eventually she’d found it: a grate, securely fastened to the ceiling. Cool, sterile air flowed from the dark recess behind it to ruffle Twilight’s mane. Yes, this was her ventilation shaft.
It was also approximately eight inches wide by eight inches long.
“Huh,” Twilight said. She glanced down the hallway, at an open door leading to hitherto unexplored areas of the EIS complex. It would be a breeze just to walk through it. That was, after all, what doors were for.
Still, Twilight was inexperienced with escaping maximum security holding facilities, and if the book said she needed to crawl through a ventilation shaft, who was she to argue? When had something as simple as a book ever led anyone astray?
Her horn flashed with the light of a shrinking spell, and Twilight became Twilite: a pony very much like Twilight, only one twentieth her actual size. She reversed gravity and fell upward toward the ventilation grate, ready to slow her fall.
As she flew through the air, Twilite let out a helium-like, “Eeeeeeeee!”
Some time later, Twilite levitated herself to the ground in another identical hallway. Crawling through the ventilation shaft hadn’t really accomplished anything, but she trusted the book knew what it was doing. Which brought her to step three.
Step four: slide—
A door caught her attention. A big door, covered in yellow and red paint, black caution lines and warning symbols. Beside the door, affixed to the hallway wall, was a giant red button, above which a sign red “do not press.”
Twilite immediately recalled, with near-perfect memory, a passage from chapter four, “Impressive Doors.”
You may come across a door. A great door, form adorned with warning signs and bright paint. A door that begs not to be opened. These doors are common; they typically hold behind them the greatest terrors of our time. The enemy of your captor is your friend, and so it becomes imperative that you open this door.
Twilite’s horn flashed as she undid her shrinking spell and became Twilight Sparkle once more. She pressed her hoof into the giant red button without a second thought.
“You’d think if the didn’t want the door to be opened, they wouldn’t put this button here,” she said.
The Equestrian Intelligence Service apparently did not think that, because no sooner had her hoof depressed the button than the door began to open.
Steel as thick as a pony’s hooves reeled back, opening like a giant metal maw. Behind those, bars and gears twisted to move circular plates taller than Twilight. Behind those, a ding sounded as a set of doors that had been blatantly stolen from a shopping mall elevator slid wide.
Fog billowed out of the opening, and a set of colored strobe lights lit a single silhouette. It was that of a frog.
Except this frog was approximately ten times the size of the average frog. It hopped out of the doorway to stand before Twilight, it’s green skin glistening.
The frog did not move its mouth, but the words simply came to Twilight, as though spoken to her via thought.
“I am Drakbog,” the frog said in an undoubtedly male voice.
Twilight regained her composure. “Hello,” she said. “My name is Twilight Sparkle.”
“Twilight Sparkle. I thank you for freeing me.”
“Er, no problem... Drakbog.”
“We must escape this place, Twilight Sparkle. Our enemies abound.”
“Right,” Twilight said. “But first, I need to find something.”
Drakbog tilted his head to one side. “And what is that?”
The Director stepped out of the interrogation room, his hooves crunching on broken glass. “This isn’t good,” he said.
The alarm had begun to go off not second earlier, a blaring klaxon that sounded through the entirety of the EIS holding facility. Red light played across his face as he examined a panel along one wall. It had lit up and was now flashing, displaying the silhouette of a frog with a tiny crown atop its head.
“Drakbog,” Zig-Zag growled.
Behind him, Specialist Generic gasped. “Drakbog? But... he is terror!”
“And Twilight Sparkle has released him,” the Director said. “We must act quickly. Generic, you mobilize a squad to take them out. Intern, you—”
“My name is Hoyt, sir.”
“Hoyt, then. Come with me. We’re going to start closing the extremely slow blast doors.”
The Specialist was shaking now. “Sir, w-what if I fail? What if they make it past the blast doors?”
The Director rolled his shoulders and straightened. “Then I’ll be needing a pair of of slim, square, semi-tinted shades. You don’t become the director of EIS by collecting bottle caps, Specialist.”
“They keep the questionable materials they confiscate in a vault, Twilight Sparkle. I can take you there, but you will need to unlock it.”
They moved through the hallways of the EIS holding facility, Drakbog hopping along at a steady pace, leading the way.
Step five: retrieve the salad.
Everything Twilight had accomplished thus far would be for naught without that salad. The world had to see. It had to know that Burger Princess was charging for free salads. Twilight was going to forever shift the salad paradigms, no matter what got in her way.
“We are here,” Drakbog said, stopping in front of another absurd door. “Can you open it, Twilight Sparkle?”
Twilight examined the door. It had to be at least five feet thick and comprised of numerous locking devices, just like Drakbog’s. What was more, she sensed dozens of magical defense systems in place.
“Yep,” Twilight said before pressing the giant red button labeled Do not press on the wall next to the door. The door opened.
They strode—or in Drakbog’s case, hopped—into a room filled with metal cabinets, each of which was labeled. Evil disintegration beam. Ginger Bread House of Doom. Good disintegration beam. Sweet Rave Party Stuff. Luna’s Cursed Molar. Chaotic Neutral disintegration beam. Terrorism Salad.
“Here it is!” Twilight cried, throwing open the cabinet and levitating her salad into the air. She noted with dismay that the lettuce had gone somewhat limp. She turned to face Drakbog, who stood before his own cabinet.
“It is time that I revealed to you my true form, Twilight Sparkle. I am no ordinary giant frog.” He turned, lifting a tiny golden crown into the air and placing it upon his head. “I am Drakbog, King of Frogs.”
“Oh,” Twilight said. “Well, good for you... Your Majesty.”
Drakbog nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Let us proceed, Twilight Sparkle. Our escape awaits.”
Twilight nodded and began to move back toward the door. Something caught her eye on the way out, however.
“That can’t be right,” Twilight muttered to herself as she re-read the label on the metal cabinet. Except it was. It was right.
Skin-tight Spymare Catsuit.
Just as the book instructed, Twilight left the only zipper on her shiny black tight-fitting outfit slightly unzipped, letting a small tuft of hair show itself. Twilight followed instructions. Even when she didn’t really understand them. I should probably start working on some one-liners, she thought.
Her thoughts were interrupted, however, as half a dozen stallions wearing suits and ties came storming around the corner, horns glowing. Twilight prepared a shield spell...
Drakbog hopped up beside her, his crown somehow staying balanced atop his head.
The stallion in the lead took a step back. “It’s... it’s Drakbog!” he said, shaking.
“King of Frogs!” Another stallion yelled.
Drakbog hopped again, bringing himself to sit in front of Twilight, and his voice echoed through her mind.
“I am terror.”
The last of the EIS agents fell to the floor, clutching his temples and spasming uncontrollably.
“Wow,” Twilight said. “That does not look fun.”
Twilight edged her way around the fallen agents. “So... what now?”
“You must continue forward. You will eventually reach the break room, where an elevator can take you to the surface.”
“What about you?” Twilight asked. “You’re not coming with me?”
In her mind, Drakbog shook his head. “No, Twilight Sparkle. I must walk another path to find freedom.” He mentally gestured to a hall on their left. “Specifically that one.”
“Oh,” Twilight said, feeling a little put out. She could have written to Celestia about her new friend. “Well, goodbye.”
“Farewell, Twilight Sparkle, and thank you for my release. My people will sing songs of your bravery.”
“The frogs,” Drakbog said. “The frogs are my people.”
“Like, a specific sub-species, or...”
“All of the frogs. I am king of all of the frogs.”
The klaxon blared. On and off. On and off. Red alarm lights spun around on the ceiling, painting Twilight’s face with crimson light. She ran by several illuminated panels on the wall, each displaying the silhouette of a six-pointed star.
“Oooh,” Twilight said, examining one. “I have my own alert sign. They must think I’m really dangerous.”
The sound of hooves filled Twilight’s ears, and she looked down the hallway to see several approaching stallions, all of them still wearing suits. What was more, great, big, thick, heavy doors were beginning to close between her and the exit. The first one was moving from the roof downward. The second, from the floor upward. In a flash of clarity, Twilight’s situation became clear.
She needed to get to the end of the hallway and board her escape elevator. She needed to do it before those doors closed, and she needed to somehow get past the guards at the same time.
“Watch out!” one of them cried. “She’s wearing a spymare catsuit!”
And she’s falling right at you, Twilight thought.
Her horn flashed, and forward became down as Twilight changed the direction of gravity once again. She threw herself onto her back, keeping just enough downward attraction to make the the hallway seem like an extremely steep slope.
The guards fell back toward the end of the hallway as they lost their footing. Twilight began to slide.
She had to admit, the spymare catsuit helped, decreasing friction so that she moved faster down the floor. She slid under the first slow-moving blast door before it was even halfway closed.
Then she flipped gravity again, falling to the ceiling while retaining her momentum toward the end of the hallway. She slid, her hooves breaking through fluorescent light fixtures and sending sparks everywhere as she approached the closing door.
Twilight set gravity into perfect reverse just as she approached the door, making her skid to a halt on the ceiling right after she slid under it. She’d made sure to drop her salad on the other side, just so she could reach back and grab it right before the door closed. It was important to do things by the book.
She came to her hooves just as the giant door shut behind her. Just as two EIS agents stood up to face her.
The exchange was short and brutal. Twilight’s form was flawless, her strikes precise. For a few short moments she was martial perfection, blocking and dodging their forelegs and meting out danger in kind. She was like a thunderstorm gone to war.
When she finally set gravity back to normal, two stunned and bruised agents fell to the floor beside as she flipped down onto her hooves, and threw open the door labeled break room.
She stepped into a room that was lit by the standard fluorescent lights, with panelled steel flooring that reflected the harsh glow. At the side of the room, a water cooler stood. At the far end was the elevator. Twilight’s escape path.
In the center of the room stood Director Zig-Zag.
Step six: dramatically confront antagonist.
“Miss Sparkle,” Zig-Zag said, straightening his tie. He now wore a pair of tinted shades. “I feel like I should warn you that I am proficient in three separate martial arts.”
“Yeah?” Twilight said, attaching her salad to her catsuit. “Well I grew up wrestling with Shining Armor, and he’s proficient in four martial arts. You have any brothers or sisters?”
Twilight gave him a grim smile. “Can’t explain sibling rivalry to an only child.”
“I’m going to enjoy watching you fail, Miss Sparkle.”
They stared at each other for a time, sizing one another up. A bubble floated to the top of the water cooler with a loud glug. Then they charged.
Spells filled the air between them, sizzling and crackling with magical might. Twilight wove and ducked under the Director’s magic, and he did the same to evade hers. Magic missiles sped past them, shattering light fixtures and flash-boiling the water in the water cooler. They jumped as they reached one another, colliding in mid-air.
They landed, and each of them quickly set to work finding out whose kung-fu was superior. Flesh thudded against flesh, catsuit plastic snapped against expensive suit. She broke his glasses with a punch to the face, and he tossed them away.
The elevator dinged. Both of them turned to watch the doors slide open, revealing...
A gold-clad hoof stepped out of the elevator, and Twilight followed the pristine white foreleg that it was attached to up, past a jeweled necklace and to the very unamused face of Princess Celestia. She looked at Twilight. Then she looked at the Director.
“Princess,” he said. “Twilight—”
“Silence,” she said, in a tone that sounded like it was meant to quell thunderstorms and stopper volcanoes. The Director shut his mouth.
“I told you to tighten Equestrian security after you failed to foresee the changeling attack. I did not tell you to start seeing terror plots in your breakfast cereal. I certainly did not tell you to lock my star pupil two hundred meters under Canterlot. What did you think was going to happen?”
The Director swallowed. Twilight began to edge her way toward the elevator.
“And you,” Celestia said, turning on Twilight. Her face was anything but pleased.
Twilight tried to make herself as small as possible. A rain of sparks fell from a nearby light fixture to scatter against the floor. “Salad?” she asked, levitating the salad out toward Princess Celestia.
Soft. Happy. Forgiving. All of these words failed to describe the way Celestia looked at Twilight Sparkle.
“I have given you an unparalleled education in every field imaginable. Under my tutelage you have become one of the smartest magical minds in all of Equestria. I did this so you can do great things, Twilight Sparkle. Not so you can bully free food out of minimum wage employees and burn restaurants to the ground when things don’t go your way.
“I am the sovereign ruler of Equestria, the sole controller of the very sun, Twilight Sparkle. And do you know what I do when someone asks me for two bits to pay for a salad? I don’t put on a spymare catsuit and embarrass an entire government organization. I pay for the salad, Twilight."
The look of anger on Celestia’s face melted almost instantly as she finished her chastising. “But thank you for releasing Drakbog, King of Frogs,” she said. “The last thing I need to deal with is another equine-amphibian war. And you know what they say about Drakbog.”
Twilight looked up at the princess, at a loss for words. Celestia leaned down, winked, and whispered in Twilight’s ear. “He is terror.”