Introduction: Shady, Backroom Deals
The night streets of Fillydelphia were abuzz with activity. Unlike distant Canterlot, the City of the Unbridled Mare reveled in Princess Luna's contribution to the celestial rotation, and in the glimmering magelights of Shetland Avenue, street artists plied their trades, partygoers staggered drunkly, and hoodlums eyed potential marks. A vibrant, dangerous magic coursed through the brisk midnight air, the spark of life and equinity that set this city apart from its brethren.
Down the center of this virile artery trotted three stallions – two earth ponies and a unicorn, the former flanking the latter. The pony on the right wore a red-and-black pinstripe jacket, three buttons, and a dusty top hat tipped at a crooked angle atop his yellow-maned head, his iron-gray fur streaked with sweat and grime. Green eyes, one of which was slightly out of alignment with the other, glared out from beneath a few loose strands of mane. Opposite him strode a russet-furred giant, his ice blue mane trimmed in an aggressive spine, similar to the head spikes of a dragon. A small scar under his right eye, in the shape of a hook, and a cutie mark in the shape of a black baton, served to complete the bruiser look he had obviously worked hard to maintain.
By comparison, the unicorn, while slightly taller than either of his companions, was of much slighter build. His blue, windblown hair was slicked down, parting on either side of the white horn jutting from his forehead, and held back by a transparent green visor. A tiny handlebar mustache graced his upper lip. A pair of saddlebags draped across his frame jangled slightly with his movements, occasionally swaying partially reveal his cutie mark – three golden crowns set with black gems.
The motley trio came to a stop outside a nondescript teal building, the earth ponies shooing away a few revelers leaned against its wall. The pony in the top hat knocked on the wooden door, twice rapidly, then more deliberately three more times. A section of the door slid aside, revealing a set of red eyeballs that took in its visitors. “Who're you supposed to be, then?” The eyeballs asked, roving as they spoke.
“The royal census takers, just stopping by.” Top Hat Pony stated, almost as if reading from a script. “Need to ask a few questions.”
The eyes bobbed up and down twice. “Right, get in here.” The displaced section slammed shut, and the trinity heard several locks disengage. The door swung open, and the short blue doorpony motioned them inside.
“He here?” The russet pony grunted, regarding the smaller equine with disinterest.
“Just came in the back. Did anyone follow you?”
“You think I was born yesterday?” Blue Spikes spat, clearly incensed. “We doubled back twice. We're clean.” He shouldered the yellow stallion aside, his companions following in his wake.
They trotted down a short hallway that curved twice before emerging into a wide, short warehouse filled with crates and barrels. Amidst these stood three more ponies, two dark-clad brown unicorns, each wearing one half of a masquerade mask, one silver, one gold, and a stocky burnt-orange pegasus whose cutie mark displayed two dice, each rolled so the one was face up. He rose from his seat atop a large crate, and with some effort flapped his wings to land between his two guards.
“Ah, Facets,” he grunted as his hooves touched the ground, “It's good to see you again. What have you for me?”
The blue-haired unicorn bowed, his visor scraping the floor as he did so. “I have all the components, as promised, but without the exact measurements of each crystal I was unable to actually construct the mount.” His voice wavered a bit, a little of his native Phrench lilt creeping in. “Also, there is still the matter of my payment.”
The pegasus' nostrils flared. “That was not the deal. The deal was you build the mounts and deliver them here tonight, then receive your payment.”
“Tell me you aren't that foalish, Snake Eyes.” The jeweler shook his head, causing the orange pony's lip to curl. “I can't build mounts for stones I don't have the measurements for. I need to see them.”
“We already gave you the measurements, jeweler. Is it possible you're holding out on us? Hoping for a larger sum?”
“You gave me three measurements for each stone, yes, but you neglected the fourth dimension – the magical measure that governs the resonant frequencies each rock generates.” Facets spoke quickly as the two earth ponies escorting him moved closer. “I need to be able to adjust my equipment for those variables, or the whole mounting will come apart the first time you use it.”
Snake Eyes observed the unicorn for a moment, lips pursed in concentration. His lackeys gaze switched back and forth between their boss and the object of his scrutiny. After a moment, the pegasus grumbled, “Very well,” and gestured to the unicorn on his left. The guard levitated a sleek, black case from beneath his robe, holding it out, wreathed in his green magic, for the jeweler to see. Facets' horn glowed gold, and the lid swung aside. Set in velvet lay six gemstones, each of different colors and unique shapes. They glistened in magical aura Facets projected as he picked each one up and set it back down. After examining each one, he nodded.
“I have the measurement. Now, my fee.”
“No. Finish your work first.” Snake Eyes tone was pure steel.
“I must insist - “ Facets jaw snapped shut as the two earth ponies leaned in, Blue Spikes rolling his shoulders. “Then again, perhaps it can wait.”
The white unicorn levitated the saddlebags off his back and laid them out on a tablelike crate nearby. The two earth ponies followed him, while Snake Eyes watched from a respectful distance. Facets withdrew a trio of thick, polished brass bars from the first sack, and a small obsidian orb from the second.
“What are those?” Snake Eyes asked, eying the items curiously.
“These,” Facets held up the bars, slowly spinning them in front of his face, “Are what I will use to form the mounts. This,” and suddenly he propelled the black sphere directly towards Snake Eyes' face.
One of the unicorns threw up a force field as the tiny ball rocketed towards the pegasus. The ball burst, erupting in a cloud of inky black smoke that seemed to fill the room instantaneously. Several grunts of pain issued forth from the cloud, followed by the sound of the two unicorns launching force spells at the spot where Facets had stood moments earlier. The thud of a body hitting the warehouse floor brought a vicious grin to Snake Eye's lips, which froze when a voice whispered in his ear.
“Is merely a distraction.”
Facets shoulder-rammed Snake Eyes off his feet and into the guard on his right. The jeweler spun around to face the other unicorn, spinning the now-assembled bronze staff in his hooves. Before the guard could react, Facets cracked the butt of the weapon across his forehead, then flipped his legs out from under him with the other end. Before the guard even had a chance to hit the ground, Facets cast a spell that sent him sailing into the side of one of the crates with crushing force. The wood buckled and cracked beneath force of the guard's impact and collapsed on top of him. The second guard was just turning to face the sound when the green visor bounced off his nose, causing him to flinch. Taking advantage of the distraction, the jeweler bucked his opponent across the cheek with both hind legs, knocking him out cold.
Coughing and spluttering, Snake Eyes ran, making a beeline for the door, his wing beating frantically as he attempted to take flight. He was nearly there when a magic tether wrapped around his legs and sent him tumbling into the wall. Facets was on him in the blink of an eye, pressing his face into the cold stone floor.
“Who... are you?” The orange pegasus choked, his cheeks pushing between his teeth as he spoke.
Facets leaned down, bringing his mustachioed muzzle right up to his captive's ear. “The name's Fancypants.” His Phrench accent had vanished, replaced by an unmistakable drawl. “The most important pony in Canterlot.”