Edited by R.T. Stephens (FiMFiction)
The justice has been doubled! Though the world has been saved from Nightmare Moon, Metropony remains under threat. With the Empire gone, a new wave of super-criminals has emerged to fill the vacuum of power! How will the bastion of Harmony fare in an increasingly Chaotic world?! New friends, new enemies, and new adventures await those stalwart heroes named...
HARPFLANK AND SWEETS: SEASON 2, EPISODE 22 - GREEN ACTUALLY KIND OF IS YOUR COLOUR
Vinyl Scratch bobbed her head absentmindedly to the music blaring from the radio on her workstation, staring into space.
It was late - so late it was early - and ExTech was empty but for a skeleton crew ensuring none of the more volatile projects exploded, a few red-eyed scientists working furiously at near-complete research, and Vinyl herself. Octavia had reluctantly retired earlier after Vinyl had noticed the fatigue that assailed her partner after their recent bout of exhaustive research and insisted she rest.
The workstation’s terminal beeped, and her gaze snapped to the screen hopefully before returning to the middle distance in disappointment as she read the “Unable To Match Wavelength” message flashing unhelpfully at her for the eighth time that night.
It had started with a simple idea, as these things so often do. During a recent “Welcome to M.A.R.E!” brief she had been coerced into participating in, a passing mention of Discord had given Vinyl a flash of insight. When Lyra and Bon-Bon had returned from their encounter with the mysterious being, they had still been wearing their spacesuits. In the aftermath of the cataclysmic conflict with Nightmare Moon and the havoc of their interrupted funeral, it had entirely slipped Vinyl’s mind to run through the data the suits’ sensors would have automatically scanned during their disappearance.
Eagerly, Vinyl and Octavia had rummaged through their databases, but the results created more mysteries than they solved. According to the suits, Lyra and Bon-Bon had teleported straight from the moon to their funeral a month later. Audio, video, environmental readings, everything was as if no time had passed in that month. The lone snippet of information they had been able to successfully gather was, however, perhaps the most important. The tiniest whiff of residual magic had lingered on Lyra’s suit. Perhaps it belonged to Discord, and they could use his magical wavelength to detect his influence. Perhaps it would provide hint as to the awesome power that had allowed Lyra and Bon-Bon to travel in time and space with apparently zero effort. They had immediately begun analysis.
And here she was, days later, still analysing. The magic’s signal refused to be pinned down by technological or magical means. If they ran it through the scanners, the numbers changed, sometimes during the scan itself. If they tried to identify it magically, it threw up a different answer every time. At one point Vinyl had thrown up her hooves in disgust and declared sarcastically that obviously this was the magical wavelength of everything at once. Octavia had given her a pained look and suggested that, for all their progress, that was probably their best guess.
Vinyl sighed and rubbed her eyes. The whole thing was becoming a chore, the joy of discovery ebbing away under the weight of failure. She let her head drop to the desk, and rolled it back and forth in a futile gesture of frustration. The voice of the radio DJ made her stop and smile.
“That was DJ PON-3, with ‘Basslines Are Magic’ holding strong at number three!”
She sat up, focusing her attention on the radio. Her boredom had been such that she hadn’t even registered her own music. She loved technology in all its forms, but her cutie mark was a musical note for a reason and what little free time she had was usually spent creating. A mess of contractual chicanery on Derpy’s part had even allowed her to turn it into a source of revenue for ExTech, all with nopony in the music industry ever learning her identity. She eagerly listened to the radio. Third place in the charts wasn’t bad, but she couldn’t let a defeat go without knowing what she was up against.
“And now, down to number two in a shock upset, it’s Sapphire Shores with ‘Single Mares!’”
Vinyl slammed the desk with hoof. Shores! Every week, that blasted mare topped her in blasted sales with that blasted song and its blasted video! Every week! And ‘Basslines Are Magic’ had been so good! With grudging respect, she let the infuriatingly catchy song play out. Someone had beaten her nemesis, and she needed to know who. At last the DJ cut in over the last few lines, a practice that normally irritated her but now only fed her curiosity.
“Okay, it’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Who has managed to take Ms. Shores’ uncontested-for-how-many-months-it-felt-like-she’d-never-leave top spot? Well, it’s certainly not what I expected, I’ll tell you that! Apparently, you ponies like a little refinement in your music!”
Vinyl leaned in closer, as if proximity would make the DJ speak faster.
“This week’s number one is...”
Vinyl bit her lip in anticipation. It had to be someone new, someone totally out of the blue. Until now, Shores had been invincible. Her ear was almost touching the radio, such was her desire to glean the identity of her new foe.
“... Wait for it... newcomer Treble Clef! Treble Clef is at number one with her, and I can’t believe I’m saying this... her cello piece, ‘The Best Night Ever!’ Who’da thunk?!”
Vinyl’s head thumped into the desk again and she groaned into the metal.
“That’s it. No more tonight.”
Ignoring the low hum of the equipment that refused to do what it was told and letting the sound of Octavia’s music wash over her, she drifted into blissful, oblivious sleep.
Vinyl waved her hoof vaguely above her without opening her eyes. Some stupid voice wanted her to wake up. What a ridiculous idea. This bed was far too comfy. Bit bright, though.
She muttered something in response, unable or unwilling to formulate actual words as of yet. She wasn’t going to dignify the voice with a coherent answer. That light was definitely turned up a little high. She was sure it had been darker before.
The voice sure was persistent. It was time for desperate measures, or she’d never get the sleep she needed. She placed her hooves over her ears and began to sing.
“Lalalalala, can’t hear you, too busy sleeping.”
The voice harrumphed and began to talk in a sing-song tone, as if to a child.
“Okay, you keep sleeping.”
Vinyl smiled to herself. Ha! Take that, voice! Superior tactics win the day! Now, to settle back int-
“I’ll just take this picture of you, covered in grime and drooling, and post it... hmm. I just can’t think of a good place. Maybe I should send a base-wide memo.”
Vinyl’s eyes snapped open and she realised where she was. She sat bolt-upright, the feeling of the cold metal desk still fresh on her cheek. She looked around wildly, then narrowed her eyes.
Octavia was stepping back and giving her that infuriating smile of victory, obviously the source of the voice. ExTech’s bright lights were fully active and illuminated a roomful of suspiciously busy ponies trying desperately not to laugh. She looked down at the desk and sighed in relief. No drool. She was a mess though. She wasn’t one for vanity, but both the state of her mane and the time since her last shower left a lot to be desired.
She glared at Octavia.
“That was uncalled for.”
Octavia turned to the exit.
“No time to clean up, we have a briefing.”
Vinyl stood up unsteadily, the threads of sleep still clinging to her mind.
“What about Lyra and Bon-Bon? Normally they’d come and get us.”
Her partner shrugged and opened the door.
“No idea. Still, Commander’s orders.”
Vinyl smacked her cheeks and shook her head in an effort to bring herself back up to speed.
By the time they had reached Derpy’s door, Vinyl’s condition had improved. Octavia had watched disapprovingly as she slammed bits into a vending machine with fervour and gulped down the resulting coffee as if her life depended on it. The walk and the caffeine combined to push Vinyl into a state of almost, but not quite, wakefulness.
Octavia knocked, and the door hissed open. They strolled into the familiar office, picking their way across the obstacle course of muffins and piles of paper to the edge of Derpy’s desk. The Commander herself was facing away from them, looking up at her viewscreen. The screen itself portrayed nothing more than a mass of pink. Vinyl tilted her head in confusion as Derpy asked the pink screen a question.
“How are they doing?”
The pink shifted slightly and a pair of eyes slowly rose from the bottom of the screen, surrounded by a yellow coat. Vinyl realised that the wall of pink was Fluttershy’s mane and that the painfully shy pegasus still hadn’t gotten used to the Commander, despite the weeks she had spent working in the Infirmary.
“Oh, um, they’re doing fine. Nurse Redheart says they should be ready to walk by, um, the end of the week.”
Derpy sighed as Lyra’s voice called out, muffled, from behind Fluttershy, causing her to squeak and cower slightly.
“We can walk now! Let us g-ow!”
Nurse Redheart was obviously administering her particular brand of bedside discipline. Fluttershy’s face appeared on the screen again, smiling awkwardly.
“Well, as you can see, they have lots of, um, energy.”
Derpy nodded and saluted the screen.
“Thank you, Fluttershy. I’ll be down soon to check on them personally.”
Fluttershy looked panicked for a moment before she remembered the salute and hesitantly came to attention.
“Um, yes, Commander! Um, roger.”
Behind her, Lyra and Bon-Bon’s voices could be heard increasing in volume.
“I still can’t believe you thought that would work.”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time!”
Fluttershy turned away from the screen, letting Vinyl and Octavia catch a glimpse of the two ponies wrapped almost entirely in casts, propped up in ICU beds.
“Um, come on now, girls, you two need your re-”
“Everything seems like a good idea to you at the time!”
“So? I like to live life on the edge!”
“Oh, life on the edge, is it?! Well, this time you FELL OFF-”
Derpy cut the feed. Vinyl and Octavia exchanged amused glances. The two heroes were the same as ever, it seemed.
Derpy sighed and shook her head, then turned to face them.
“Vinyl, Octavia, take a seat! How are things in ExTech? I’ve been so busy with the fallout from Lyra’s latest escapade... I swear she spends her nights coming up with these things.”
Octavia leaned forward, businesslike, and filled the Commander in on their fruitless research, adding a brief outline of their more successful projects to cushion the blow. Derpy listened attentively, glancing at Vinyl as Octavia not-so-subtly informed her of their sleepless nights. As Octavia wrapped up her report, the Commander looked thoughtful.
“Any ideas as to what could help you with the Discord project?”
Vinyl thought for a moment.
“If I’m honest, Commander, we could really do with Twilight Sparkle. Before Trixie took her Celestia-knows-where, she showed me some of her notes and... wow. Just wow. I’ve never seen work like hers. With Trixie’s experience in Chaotic magic and Twilight’s brainpower, I think we could solve this in days. Maybe hours.”
Derpy’s face drooped in disappointment.
“I was afraid you’d say that. But I believe in Trixie. If she says they need to take this journey of hers, they need to take it.”
Vinyl shrugged. It was out of her hooves anyway. The Commander settled into her ‘official face’.
“On that note, the reason I called you in here.”
Vinyl and Octavia sat straighter in their chairs, curious. Usually they were called to Derpy’s office to supplement her briefings, not receive them.
“We’ve found another member of the Six.”
Their eyes widened, and Octavia raised an eyebrow quizzically.
“This one’s yours, too. The Element of Generosity, Rarity.”
She tapped a few keys on her terminal and the viewscreen flickered into life again, this time showing a still shot from what looked like a fashion magazine. A beautiful white unicorn with an immaculately-styled purple mane was reclining on a plush divan under a headline that proclaimed,
RARITY: ONE-HIT WONDER OR RISING SENSATION?
Vinyl let out a short burst of laughter.
“Wow, and here I was thinking Fluttershy and Redheart were different!”
Octavia shot her a glance which Vinyl ignored. Derpy continued.
“Now, we’ve had all the usual weirdness. She’s famous, has the right name, matches the Princesses’ description, and we’ve only just heard of her.”
Vinyl scratched her head thoughtfully.
“I still say our perceptions are being meddled with. It’s the only solution. None of the Bearers so far have had any recollection of their previous lives, and this is way too high-profile for us to just... not notice. Rainbow Dash was this close to becoming a Wonderbolt, for Celestia’s sake!”
Derpy’s eyes were already crossing in confusion.
“But if something has been hiding the Six from us, why are we finding them now?”
Octavia tapped her chin, closing her eyes as she thought.
“Perhaps the combined energy of the Elements is... counteracting this supposed glamour? I can’t deny that the time it takes to find them seems to be getting shorter.”
There was a moment of silence, which Derpy broke while waving her hoof dismissively.
“Regardless, we need to find her and bring her into the fold. If our previous discoveries are anything to go by, the Six tend to attract trouble when left on their own.”
Vinyl and Octavia nodded vigorously. Some of their staff were still repairing the damage from Lyra and Bon-Bon’s first meeting with Rainbow Dash.
“And that’s why I’ve called you here. I need you two to go undercover and recruit Rarity.”
“Roger that, Commander. Should be a piece of cak-wait, what?”
Derpy smiled wanly as the two scientists stared at her.
“I’m sorry, but you’re all we’ve got.”
Vinyl shook her head in disbelief.
“Let me get this straight, you want us to go on a field mission? Just the two of us?”
Octavia was equally confused.
“Is that wise? We’re hardly trained for an undercover mission.”
“Yeah! I mean, sure, we’ve gotten caught up in things before... There was that time Trixie invaded HQ... and that thing with the dragon migration... and of course the moon, but that was all totally different!”
Derpy held up a hoof to calm them down.
“We need to bring Rarity in as soon as possible and there’s just no one else I can trust. The timing couldn’t be worse.”
She began to count off the Elements of Harmony in the air.
“Lyra and Bon-Bon are incapacitated, Redheart is occupied caring for them, I’m needed here, Trixie is away with Twilight, and Fluttershy...”
There was a moment of silence as they all contemplated the consequences of sending Fluttershy alone into potentially hostile territory. The collective horrible thought was dispersed by Vinyl as she remembered one pony that hadn’t been mentioned.
“Aha! What about Rainbow Dash? She’s pretty hardcore. Isn’t she slated to join Lyra and Bon-Bon’s team anyway?”
Derpy shook her head.
“Rainbow’s still in Basic. She won’t be vetted for field ops until she’s improved her attitude. Can you imagine two Lyras on the same team? No, this will be a delicate operation. And I know you two can handle it.”
Vinyl’s shoulders slumped in defeat. Try as she might, she couldn’t see any other way. Something this important couldn’t be entrusted to anypony outside the core members of M.A.R.E, and they were the only two available. Octavia was already reaching for the briefing papers Derpy had slid across her desk. Vinyl sighed and did the same.
“Alright, fine. What’re the specifics?”
“My bonus had better be astronomical this year.”
Vinyl and Octavia looked up at the building that towered over them, glittering in the sun. The Best Exotic Maregold Hotel, the most prestigious and high-class hotel in Equestria, looked back at them, the very walls seeming to disdain the two working ponies that had approached it.
It was, they could not deny, magnificent. The lower floors were classic earth pony design, all stone and brick and mortar. As the hotel towered upwards, it gradually gave way to more modern steel and glass, showing the magitechnical prowess of its unicorn architects. At last, as the upper floors crested the clouds, those very clouds were incorporated into its design, shaped by pegasus artisans. An ambient magical field ensured that even earth pony and unicorn guests could enjoy the privilege of walking in the sky. It was an architectural triumph and symbol of the ancient alliance between the three sub-species.
It was also very, very intimidating.
Vinyl shifted uncomfortably in the tight-fitting dress that she wore and scowled.
“I hate clothes. Especially...” She wriggled again, trying desperately to make the impractical but oh-so-stylish dress any more comfortable, to no avail. “Especially fancy junk like this.”
Octavia, herself dressed in a crisp business suit that gave onlookers an impression somewhere between ‘professional’ and ‘assassin,’ gave her a stern look.
“You’ll have to get used to it.”
“What is it with these high-class ponies and clothes anyway? Nopony else bothers half the time.”
As Octavia shrugged, Vinyl made a childish noise of frustration and decided to try her luck one last time.
“You sure I can’t be the manager?”
Octavia shook her head.
“We have our mission. You’re the up-and-coming model who has managed to land a place in this show; I’m your manager. We infiltrate, make contact with Rarity, and extract her. That’s the mission. Now let’s get to it.”
As her partner strode towards the hoof-carved doors of the Maregold, Vinyl muttered under her breath before following, grumbling all the while.
“Still don’t see why I can’t be the manager, stupid briefing, I’d be a great manager anyways, wouldn’t have to wear this stupid dress...”
The two passed through the doors, stopping only to present their carefully-forged credentials to the burly doorpony who challenged them in a refined tone and to pass their bags to an anxious-looking unicorn colt, and no amount of professional detachment could prevent them from catching their breath.
The hotel’s interior was more impressive even than its multi-layered exterior. The grand foyer stretched out before them, the high ceiling and sweeping twin staircases making it seem wider than the building that held it. Plush red carpeting covered almost every inch of the floor, and a wide variety of statuary lined the marble walkways that linked the entrance to the doors that led deeper into the hotel. And, in the very centre of the foyer, the largest water feature they had ever seen. Surely tens of metres wide, the deep pool visually dominated the room as the leaping fountains that spilled about it threw glittering arcs of water into the air, barely missing the massive chandeliers that lit them.
Vinyl, who had never in her life given a flying feather about anypony’s opinion of her, suddenly found herself feeling deeply inadequate. There was something about the polished gleam of everything in the room, about the self-assured attitude of the stunningly-dressed ponies that trotted back and forth seemingly at random, about the very air, that brought a nagging feeling of disquiet up from the depths of her self. It was somehow... insulting.
Her reverie was broken by Octavia surreptitiously nudging her. She blinked and gave her head a small shake, clearing her mind. She’d been to the moon, for Luna’s sake. She could handle some curious stares from fashionable ponies. As she brought her head up and assumed a haughty expression, she caught Octavia’s small smile to her side. If Vinyl had to play the model, she’d darn well play the model.
Taking the lead, she strode towards the vast check-in desk, which bustled with ponies displaying various degrees of incredible wealth. She picked a clerk at random and pointed Octavia in his direction. As they neared, the tired-looking stallion made a visible effort at pulling himself together, without much luck. He gave them a welcome spiel in a tone of voice that, somewhat impressively, managed to convey utmost respect without actually conferring it.
“Greetings and welcome to the Best Exotic Maregold Hotel, the finest hotel and venue in Equestria. How can I help you?”
Vinyl said nothing, allowing Octavia to trot to the desk, pulling a form from her pocket and placing it decisively before the clerk.
“We have a reservation under the name Deep Blue.”
The pony gave the form a cursory glance and stuffed it behind the counter, nodding to Octavia.
“Everything seems to be in order. If you’re in the show, you need to see the organiser. It’s pretty informal, just go to her room. She’s just...”
The clerk proceeded to rattle off an extensive list of directions that, Vinyl was fairly certain, both extended beyond the confines of the building and doubled back on themselves several times. Octavia, however, thanked the clerk perfunctorily and turned back to her ‘ward’.
“Let’s go, Blue.”
Vinyl nodded, barely acknowledging the clerk, who was already settling back into the almost-but-not-quite slouch that seemed to be the norm for the desk staff. Once they were away, Vinyl spoke out of the corner of her mouth.
“Nice to see even the rich and famous have to deal with bad service.”
As the young bellhop they had thrust their luggage upon struggled towards the elevators, Vinyl and Octavia set off into the labyrinthine hotel. They had an Element of Harmony to find.
After what felt like an eternity of walking through ornately-decorated corridors and climbing grand staircases, they reached the door they were looking for. Roughly halfway up the steel-and-glass segment of the hotel, the door seemed no different to those around it despite apparently being the temporary abode of the pony, so far as the upcoming fashion show was concerned, in charge.
Vinyl and Octavia gave each other a determined look. This was it. Their first official field mission, and one upon which, as far as they knew, the fate of the world might hang. The moment had come for them to meet and convince Rarity, the original Bearer of the Element of Generosity, to join their cause. Whether she was a reincarnation, an amnesiac, or simply hiding for reasons of her own, they were about to meet one of the most important ponies in the world.
They nodded to each other. Taking the lead as ‘manager’, Octavia lifted her hoof and, even her stoic mask cracking slightly under the momentous import of their task, gave a short, sharp knock.
There was no response.
After a few moments, Octavia knocked again.
Still no response.
Exchanging a glance with Vinyl, Octavia raised her hoof to knock a third time, when-
The voice that emerged from within the room was not what the pair had been expecting. What they were expecting, they weren’t sure, but it was certainly not the cultured, cultivated tones that addressed them. Even through the thick wooden door, the voice chimed like a bell. Within moments, the door was thrown open.
“I am so dreadfully sorry! I’ve been working on these dresses for hours now, and, well, you understand how one can simply become absorbed!”
The two scientists stared for a moment, quite unprepared for the effusive welcome the unicorn at the door had afforded them. Rarity, for she matched the description they had been given perfectly, gave them a look that hovered between interest and confusion.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure that I recognise you...”
Octavia recovered first and, with admirable alacrity, settled back into her role.
“Miss Rarity? My name is Concerto, and I represent the model, Deep Blue. She’ll be a part of your show, and we’ve been instructed to-”
As Octavia rattled off her carefully prepared introduction, Rarity had craned her neck surreptitiously to the side to see around her. At the sight of Vinyl, who had been half waiting and half hiding behind Octavia, a hungry smile crossed her face and she almost leapt from the room to Vinyl’s side.
“Darling, just look at you! What a fabulous mane! That two-tone blue, oh! You must come in immediately, I have simply the perfect ensemble for you!”
Octavia could only watch as Rarity moved behind the stammering Vinyl and eagerly pushed her into the room, eyes gleaming like... well, like a fashionista with a new project. She followed, taking in the room around her as she did so.
Her first thought was of ExTech. Rarity’s room, like the bleeding-edge laboratory, was a jumbled mess of works-in-progress, scribbled diagrams and discarded projects. She quickly realised, however, that islands of order punctuated the chaos, revealing an underlying organisation to the half-finished dresses and streams of ribbon. This was a working room, a room in which the owner could focus entirely on their art.
It was to one of these works of art that Rarity maneuvered the still-protesting Vinyl. Placing her next to the stand of an elaborate green dress, Rarity stepped back and began to size her up mentally, pacing back and forth as she seemingly tried to view the increasingly-embarrassed Vinyl from every possible angle.
Noticing her friend’s discomfort, Octavia attempted to step in.
“So, I take it you’re happy with Blue?”
Rarity nodded absentmindedly, horn glowing as she brought a tape measure into play.
“Hmm? Oh, yes! I must have her in the show. After all, the finest dress in Equestria is nothing without the right pony to wear it. And you, Miss Blue, are the right pony for this one!”
Both Vinyl and Octavia could feel the situation slipping away from them. The sheer force of Rarity’s personality was overwhelming, and even the irrepressible Vinyl was struggling to keep up.
“Okay, uh, thank you for the compliments, but we really have to-”
Before she could get any further a phone, buried beneath a pile of vari-coloured fabrics, rang loudly. With barely a break in her stride, Rarity turned from Vinyl and lifted the receiver to her ear magically, simultaneously sorting the small pile as it fell to the floor.
“Rarity speaking. Yes? Yes? Oh my, when will that girl learn? Very well, I shall be down in a moment!”
She turned back to Vinyl. Octavia wondered briefly, if uncharitably, if Rarity would even notice if she left.
“ Miss Blue... may I call you Blue? Blue, I’m afraid I must cut this short. The staff of this establishment are all wonderful, but they sometimes require a little guidance if everything is to be precisely to plan. And with the show tomorrow...”
For the tiniest of moments, a crack appeared in Rarity’s mask of enthusiasm, and Vinyl and Octavia could see the terrified artist within. They knew from their pre-mission research that Rarity’s rise to fame had been almost unprecedented, having moved from a lucky sale to Sapphire Shores to being given the chance to host her own fashion show at the most prestigious venue in Equestria within the space of a few months. No pony, no matter how confident, could be unaffected by the responsibility she was currently bearing. Her entire career rested on her results here and the two agents felt sympathy welling up within them.
Rarity quickly recovered, however, regaining her poise with practiced ease as if nothing had happened.
“So, I must be off! You may show yourself out, the door will lock automatically. It has been a delight to meet you, Blue, and I shall see you at the final rehearsal!”
Before either pony could say anything, Rarity swept out of the room.
They stood in silence for a moment, blinking in the wake of Rarity’s exit. Vinyl gathered herself and let out a deep breath.
“Wow. She is... something else.”
A faint expression of worry crossed Octavia’s face.
“Indeed. She’s certainly no Fluttershy. At this rate, we may have to delay breaking cover until after the show.”
Vinyl nodded. Rarity was clearly in no emotional state to have knowledge of world-shattering importance thrust upon her, and they could afford a delay of merel-wait, what?
“After the show?”
Octavia gave her a look and repeated herself.
“Yes, after the show.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, that’s not what we agreed. We get in, we recruit Rarity, we get out. That was the deal.”
“If she joins us, it’ll be of her own free will, and I don’t think she’s in a position to decide right now.”
Vinyl shook her head adamantly.
“We’ll find a way. Okay, I’m not sure how. But there is no way, no way, I am taking part in a fashion show. No. Way.”
The spotlights, strung along a special gantry erected between the massive chandeliers in the grand foyer, nearly blinded Vinyl as she peeked through the curtain of the huge stage that had been erected with alarming speed at the foot of the twin staircases. What she could make out through the glare made her drop the curtain, close her eyes and take a deep, deep breath. How had it come to this?
They had been unable to get in touch with Rarity for the rest of the previous day, her work on the show keeping her entirely occupied, and they were forced to continue their roles as model and manager. To Vinyl’s increasing distress, the day of the show had progressed quickly. Octavia had taken to her undercover work with her usual adaptability and efficiency, integrating Vinyl into the preparations smoothly. As for Vinyl, she had tried as hard as she could to place herself in a position where she could carry out her mission, but the opportunity had simply never arisen. The repeated rehearsals, fittings, and last-minute coaching had consumed the day in what felt like minutes.
And now the moment had come. The show was starting. She glanced around the backstage area and saw nothing that reassured her. The other models were all checking themselves over one last time. Helper ponies dashed back and forth, touching up makeup here, tightening a loose stitch there. And, standing apart from the bustle, Rarity bit her lip, praying for success. Though she had only been involved in the final stages of the show’s creation, Vinyl could personally attest to the effort Rarity had put into the evening’s events. Her desire to help her soon-to-be colleague was almost equal to her frustration at having to, as Octavia had put it with a smile on her lips, “strut her stuff.”
She awoke from her reverie with a start as she realised that one of the organiser ponies was waving her over, urgently motioning her into her place in the lineup. With mounting reluctance, she took her place as the music started and the announcer opened the show. The line in front of her began to dwindle, every pony that took to the catwalk leading her closer to her doom.
At last, the pony right in front of her strode onto the stage and Vinyl realised with no small element of panic that she was next. In a few seconds she ran through the thought process she had run through hundreds of times that day. There was nothing hard about this. She had always wanted to perform, would no doubt be performing music before crowds of thousands if she hadn’t joined M.A.R.E, and there was nothing different about this. It was just clothes instead of instruments. No problem... right? Right?
The pony before returned from behind the stage. It was her turn. She stared at the curtain, willing herself to take that first step. She wasn’t entirely sure she would be able to.
She glanced over her shoulder and, as if guided by an outside force, her eyes sought out Rarity’s. For a moment, they met each other’s gaze, and Vinyl saw the pleading in the fashionista’s expression. At that moment, she felt something she hadn’t felt for months: her Element stirring. She realised how stupid she’d been. She held the Element of Laughter, didn’t she? Rarity had placed her dreams in her and these other ponies’ hooves, and here Vinyl was getting all mopey because she was embarrassed.
She smiled warmly at her fellow Bearer and, after a moment, Rarity nodded. Perhaps she, too, was feeling hints of the power that lay within her. But that would have to wait. The show must go on. Vinyl turned back to the curtain, and stepped out.
The lights hit her like a wall again, but she blinked the glare away and kept striding forward. By the time she had reached the halfway mark on the catwalk, the scene had fully resolved itself in her eyes.
The grand foyer had been filled with chairs, every spare inch of floor devoted to seating the sea of social elite that had come to see Rarity’s work on display. The catwalk extended across the fountain, which sent graceful streams of rainbow-lit water arcing over Vinyl as she continued her walk. Octavia, as her manager, was sitting in the front row and, as Vinyl passed her, she wore the proudest expression Vinyl had ever seen her wear.
No matter how they bickered and bantered, Octavia was her closest friend, and no doubt knew exactly what Vinyl had put herself through. That she had caught herself before falling too far into melancholy had simply reassured the faith Octavia had in her friend. The sight of her smile filled Vinyl with more confidence than even her communion with the Element had. She looked out across the crowd of judging ponies and grinned. Piece of cak-
It was at precisely this moment that the entire front wall of the foyer exploded.
With a collective scream, the crowd scattered. The surge of fleeing ponies travelled in every direction simultaneously, as the rubble rained down and the music cut out. Within moments, almost the entire crowd had vanished, disappearing through doors and up stairs into the depths of the hotel, their panic taking them anywhere that wasn’t the foyer. Only Vinyl and Octavia remained, eyes narrowed at the expanding cloud of smoke and dust that had replaced the hotel’s entrance.
Behind them, Rarity emerged from the curtain cautiously, gasping in horror at what had become of her hard work, causing Vinyl and Octavia to turn their heads in surprise at her presence. Before they could say anything, Rarity gasped again and pointed in shock to the gaping hole in the wall.
“It... it can’t be!”
They followed her hoof, realising that dark shapes were emerging from the debris. The smoke began to clear, and the shapes were revealed.
A large group of ponies, almost fifty strong, stood arrayed in what looked like a battle formation. Each and every one was dressed entirely in black, with only their eyes, mane and tail visible. Each had a katana/wakizashi pair slung across their back, along with pouches no doubt also filled with weaponry. They marched forward in perfect time, spreading out to form a single line that cordoned the foyer off from the street outside.
It was at this point that Vinyl realised that every single one of these ponies’ hair was - and there was simply no other way to say it - fabulous. Every colour and style seemed represented, every way one could shape one’s mane brought to glorious life on the heads of the black-clad army.
The line broke, several of its members in the centre stepping aside to make way for four more wonderfully-styled mystery ponies, who carried upon their shoulders a beautiful palanquin. And, on the palanquin...
A blue earth pony, standing proudly as her subordinates carried her onwards. She wore a dress that looked painfully well-tailored, predominantly black with white stripes across the forelegs and chest, and a pink scarf about her neck. Her mane was cropped relatively short and was a fine gray that, along with her full tail, gave her a strangely refined look at odds with her clothing. A pair of pink sunglasses with thick black rims completed the ensemble, almost blinding even the two scientists with sheer, uncompromising style.
The palanquin-bearers knelt and lowered their load. Two more black-clad ponies blurred into existence at their hooves, and the white-haired pony used them as steps to reach the ground. She cleared her throat lightly, and the entire group, as one, struck a dramatic pose that Vinyl had last seen on a double-page spread in Le Dernier Cri during her fashion research. Before anypony could react to this bizarre but impeccably-choreographed spectacle, the white-haired pony, in a powerful and strongly-accented voice, announced herself.
“I, Photo Finish... have arrived!”
The ensuing silence was broken by Vinyl’s hesitant question.
Rarity was the first to respond, voice trembling with a mixture of fear and awe.
“Photo Finish! Legendary leader of the Fashion Police! I’ve only ever heard whispers, but they say it’s a secret organisation, devoted to stealing and preserving the greatest treasures of fashion so that only they may witness their beauty!”
Photo Finish herself dropped her pose and nodded.
“Ze white-and-purple one is correct. We, ze Fashion Police, are ze true heroes of art, protecting its wonders from the ignorant masses!”
With a flourish, she pointed a hoof at Vinyl.
“And here is ze target!”
“Wait, me? What could you possibly want with me?!”
Photo Finish threw a hoof over her eyes as if lamenting that anypony could be so sadly uninformed.
“Ach, it is so sad when ze shining lights cannot witness zeir own brightness! Zat dress, darling, zat dress! It is a masterwork! But to truly shine, a dress must be worn, and you are ze one who has brought out zat piece’s light! We, ze Fashion Police, must have it, and you.”
Vinyl stared, unable to believe what she was hearing.
“Are you seriously trying to tell me that you’re invading a hotel with an army of ninja just so you can steal a nice dress?!”
Octavia chose this moment to join the conversation, having been eyeing the Fashion Police forces cautiously.
“You’ve already committed any number of crimes, and taking Vinyl will simply add theft and kidnapping to the list. ”
Photo Finish scoffed and let out a short burst of arrogant laughter.
“Ha! And you expect to stop us?”
She waved a hoof at her followers, who were all reaching slowly for their weapons.
“Zis is ze most ruthless fighting force in ze world! Zeir’s is ze ultimate tragedy - sworn both to be ze most beautiful zey can be, and to forever hide zeir faces. What can you do against zeir awesome dedication?”
Octavia opened her mouth, then suddenly realised that neither she nor Vinyl were carrying any weapons. Vinyl, realising this at almost exactly the same moment, took a step backwards and met Octavia’s eye.
“Well, for one thing, we can... run away!”
As one, the two scientists turned on their heels and galloped away from the Fashion Police. Photo Finish called to her minions in surprise.
The group of fashion ninja pulled their swords from their scabbards and simultaneously leapt forward, the line breaking apart as the faster ponies pulled ahead. As the agile warriors bounded towards them, Vinyl stopped before the still-stunned Rarity and grabbed her, pulling her into a run.
“Come on, Rarity! We gotta go!”
“The Fashion Police themselves want to steal my dress...”
Even as she turned and ran with her protectors, Rarity seemed trapped in between fear of their predicament and delight that her work was considered ‘a treasure of fashion.’
Behind them, the ninja split, one group leaping onto the stage and chasing Vinyl and Rarity, their skilled hooves making barely a sound even on the hollow wood. The second began weaving silently through the minefield of overturned chairs and scattered nibbles.
On the stage, Vinyl and Rarity leapt through the curtain and ran to the door that provided the only exit from the enclosed backstage area. Their horns glowed with magic simultaneously as they both attempted to turn the handle at once in their panic. With horror, they realised the door was locked and skidded to a halt, facing the curtain in trepidation. There was a flash of blades and a silken sound, and the curtain burst into hundreds of pieces, drifting to the floor like velvet leaves. The ninja brandished their swords and advanced slowly, their prey cornered faster than they had thought. Vinyl looked around desperately, but could see nothing useful as a weapon. She gritted her teeth, and cast a sideways glance at Rarity, who was herself eyeing the Fashion Police fiercely.
“Well, come on then. If you’re going to do something, don’t just stand there.”
It seemed both Elements of Generosity had a wry streak.
Octavia herself was currently on the floor outside, having tripped over the leg of a chair that had been in precisely the wrong place at the wrong time. Two of the ninja, faster than the rest, leapt high in the air, swords pointed down at her. Octavia threw herself to one side and the two ponies hit the ground where she had been only an instant before, their blades sinking deep into the marble floor as if it were nothing. Octavia scrambled to her hooves and resumed her clambering retreat, trying to find a clear path in the maze of chairs. The other ninja swept past the two who had attacked her, flowing around them as if they were a pebble in a stream.
Backstage, the line advanced. Rarity’s stern expression suddenly transferred itself to Vinyl.
“Just who are you, anyway? First these... ninja appear, then your manager starts calling you ‘Vinyl’ instead of Blue, and now we’re running for our lives! What in Equestria is going on?”
Vinyl eyed the approaching assassins warily.
“Uh, is this really the time for this?”
“I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to die, I’d quite like to leave fully informed.”
Vinyl made an exasperated noise and spoke quickly.
“Okay, fine. Concerto and I are agents of M.A.R.E. My name’s Vinyl Scratch, she’s Octavia. We were undercover, but these guys,” she waved a hoof vaguely at the menacing, however slowly advancing, horde, “have pretty much ruined any chance of this being a clean op. We’re here for you, for a variety of reasons far too complicated to explain right now. And right now I would appreciate it if we could stop talking and findawayoutofthisbecausethatoneiscomingrightatus!”
A fashion ninja had taken the initiative and broken from the pack, leaping forward with her blade raised high. Vinyl pushed Rarity aside, causing the tumbling artist to shriek in surprise. Operating purely on instinct, Vinyl’s horn glowed and pulled the katana from the incoming pony’s mouth. With no reaction greater than a wrinkled brow, the ninja drew its wakizashi and continued its charge, but was stymied by a second blue glow enveloping its smaller blade and yanking that away too. Landing lightly before them, it glared at the two unicorns, both hovering the blades uncertainly before them. Neither hunters nor hunted moved.
Octavia, who had seen none of this, let out an uncharacteristic squeak as the tip of her tail was sliced cleanly away by a lucky slash. Inwardly, she cursed her body for reacting to danger in such a... feeble manner. She had reached the end of the chair maze, and was now breaking even with the far end of the backstage area. She realised that Vinyl and Rarity had not emerged and skidded around the corner, hooves scrabbling to find purchase on the smooth marble. Throwing stars thudded into the ground behind her as she turned, missing her by inches.
Her lungs burned, her scrambling flight having been more tiring than she expected. As loath as she was to admit it it, she spent far more time in the lab than she did keeping fit. She pushed her screaming muscles as far as they would go. She had to do something. She had to save Vinyl and Rarity. She would give anything to save them.
She felt something stir deep within her, something familiar. The pain in her body began to fade, and her pace quickened. The door was closer now, as were her pursuers. Without thinking, she leapt for the door, hooves outstretched...
The face-off continued, Vinyl and Rarity’s weapons wavering in front of them. Rarity waved hers in what she hoped was a threatening manner.
“Back! Back, you ruffians!”
The fabulous warriors ignored her, taking a single step forward. VInyl gulped.
“I gotta admit... I’m not sure how we’re going to get out of this, Rarity.”
Before she could reply, Rarity was thrown to the floor by a tremendous crash. The door behind them had burst inwards, shattering into splinters that flew at the enemy with such velocity that many were forced to dive out of the way. A wave of force rippled across the room, causing it to shudder on its wooden frame and knocking over mirrors and mannequins. Vinyl, who had been knocked down with Rarity, picked herself up unsteadily and, coughing, peered through the cloud of dust.
Lying on the floor where the door and a significant chunk of wall had once been was Octavia, staring at her own hooves in shock. Vinyl’s own eyes widened as her partner looked up at her and she came to the only conclusion she could.
“That was you?”
Rarity stood up in as ladylike a fashion as she could manage while picking splinters out of her mane and tottered to Vinyl’s side, muttering under her breath.
“I was under the impression that wanton destruction was standard M.A.R.E. policy.”
Octavia herself had seemingly recovered, her face taking an analytical expression.
“It appears that... somehow I have gained similar powers to Lyra and Bon-Bon.”
Vinyl shook her head in confusion, still groggy from being thrown to the ground.
“I have no idea. I remember... I wanted to save you both. I swore I would give anything. I felt something...”
Octavia’s eyes widened again.
Rarity trotted into the discussion, looking frustrated at her exclusion.
“Perhaps somepony could inform one of what you are actually talking about?”
Vinyl opened her mouth to respond, but before she could say a word, two shadows burst from the debris, weapons raised. Blurring with speed, Octavia was suddenly in between them and their targets, batting their swords aside and following through with a double kick that sent both ninja ponies flying into and then through the wooden walls of the room. As she touched down from her acrobatic display, she looked down at herself, unable to believe the feats she suddenly seemed capable of. Vinyl whooped.
“Alright, Tavi! Element power! That was awesome, babe!”
Octavia looked up and gave Vinyl an oh-so-familiar look.
“Don’t call me ba-”
Four more shadows emerged from the dark surroundings, heading straight for Vinyl. Octavia moved to intercept, but another four leapt into view, and she was forced to defend Rarity. The artist herself gasped in horror as the deadly warriors descended upon Vinyl.
A burst of light erupted from Vinyl’s horn and enveloped her body. Her eyes snapped open with clarity, and she readied herself. As the first ninja came into range, she deftly sidestepped the swiping sword and planted a hoof in the pony’s side, sending it the same way as the previous two. The second attack came, and she caught the blade between her forehooves and used her newfound leverage to hurl the enemy over her shoulder, where it crashed into a similarly-hurled ninja from Octavia. The final two came at once, their descending blades crossed in a lethal X. Vinyl ducked low and the two sailed over her. She span and swiped low, knocking their legs out from under them and sending them sliding across the floor to collide with a heavy trunk, knocking them out.
Rarity stared at the two suddenly-empowered ponies. The situation was progressing far too fast for her, and she felt lost.
“What... what are you two?”
“I told you, didn’t I?”
They turned to face her, moving to each others’ side. They stood on their hind legs back to back. Octavia folded her forelegs, while Vinyl placed hers on her hips. She grinned, a beam of light from outside catching her teeth in just the right way to produce that particular gleam that can only be described as ‘ting.’
“We’re agents of M.A.R.E.”
The moment, which was later described by Vinyl as “so awesome,” by Octavia as “admittedly quite cool,” and Rarity as “rather over-dramatic, I thought,” was broken by Photo Finish’s voice echoing through the foyer.
The pitter-patter of covered hooves told them that the fashion ninja were retreating, presumably at Photo Finish’s command. Cautiously, Vinyl, Octavia and Rarity peeked out from the curtain, the two super-powered scientists leading the way.
The forty-odd remaining ninja had assembled behind Photo Finish again, many of them glaring at the trio with narrowed eyes. Photo Finish stamped a hoof in frustration.
“Zis is unacceptable! It seems I, Photo Finish, have made a terrible mistake. I foolishly assumed zat ze greatest fighting force in Equestria would be sufficient to deal viz three ponies.”
The ninja cringed as one, their leader’s displeasure cutting to the core of their honour.
“But! Zis is not an issue. Though we have lost a fifth of our number, we will not be defeated! I will sacrifice no more of my minions to your unexpected strength. For you see...”
Rarity whispered to Vinyl and Octavia as Photo Finish rambled on.
“So, do we have a plan? Surely with your new abilities...”
Octavia shook her head.
“There are still too many. I say we retreat, find some way of calling in backup.”
Vinyl looked thoughtful.
“I don’t know, Tavi. Those guys are fast, and I don’t know if we could protect Rarity and beat a tactical withdrawal at the same time.”
Rarity tossed her mane indignantly.
“I’m quite capable of looking after myself, thank you.”
Vinyl gave her a flat look.
“Against an army of ninja? An army of ninja that’s already nearly killed us?”
Rarity’s self-assured expression dissolved into a resigned one.
“Hmph, well, if you put it like that... Anyway, I thought they were after you and my dress?”
Vinyl and Octavia exchanged glances, then Octavia spoke carefully.
“You are... more important.”
It became apparent that Photo Finish was winding down, and they focused their attention back on the blathering pony.
“... across all of Equestria! And so, if we cannot have ze dress, nopony can! Behold! The Fashion Police’s ultimate weapon!”
Photo Finish pulled a gem-studded control panel from her dress and pressed the large diamond button that dominated it. A strange electronic noise buzzed in everypony’s ears, and the spotlights that had lit the stage jerked and turned to face the water feature, colour filters snapping into place. A rainbow of coloured beams shone into the deep pool. There was a low rumble, and the pool bubbled furiously. Photo Finish laughed triumphantly.
“Meet your doom, foolish ponies! Meet your doom at ze claws of ze most beautiful creature in all of Equestria! At ze claws of... Ze Thing From Ze Place!”
There came a tremendous roar and a vast purple shape erupted from the fountain, the varicoloured lights gleaming from its lovely luminescent scales. Water cascaded across the room, the droplets hanging in the air forming a thousand tiny rainbows around the magnificent beast. Vinyl, Octavia and Rarity’s necks slowly craned up, taking in its sinuous form, expertly coiffed mane and elegant fangs.
It truly was, in every possible sense of the word, the most absolutely fabulous sight they had ever or would ever witness.
The serpent looked down at them, eyes glinting with malice. Vinyl’s expression moved through fear, confusion, bedazzlement, fear again, and settled on incredulity.
“This is just the weirdest day.”
Lightning-fast, the creature hissed into action, snapping its jaws at them. Its immaculate teeth snapped shut where the ponies had been not an instant before, and its eyes darted back and forth, searching out their prey. Octavia and Vinyl had split, Octavia dragging Rarity behind her, all three attempting to outrange the serpent by galloping away from the fountain. Photo Finish scoffed and pressed another button on her control panel.
The searchlights, somehow under her control, intensified, their beams becoming lines of rainbow fire. Moving swiftly, they lit a blazing barrier around the fountain before the ponies could escape, hemming them in with the great beast. It roared again, and raised its tail from the water, swiping it at Octavia and Rarity.Octavia leapt in front of Rarity and planted her hooves firmly on the ground, taking the blow head-on. Her hooves made grooves in the marble floor as her developing powers struggled to match the mighty serpent’s natural strength.
Vinyl, meanwhile, had taken the opportunity to leap onto the serpent’s body, thrilling in her new agility even as she battled for her life. Galloping along its coils, she hopped from its spine to its claw, then up to its face, planting a mighty kick on the side of its chin. Her momentum carried her past it, but it recovered and turned with snake-like speed, smacking her to the floor with a mighty claw. She gasped as the wind was knocked from her.
Octavia, too, was not faring well. Though she had blocked the tail’s first strike, it was coiling back for another attack, and she could feel her body flagging again. Though their Elements were at last lending them their true strength, it seemed that they still needed time to grow into their powers, and time was one thing the Fashion Police weren’t throwing at them. She stepped back, and her hoof touched something. She looked down, and grinned uncharacteristically. She looked across to Vinyl, who met her eye and grinned back, having had precisely the same idea herself. Rarity stood fearfully back and watched as these two strange ponies put their life on the line for hers.
The creature struck at both ponies simultaneously, both tail and head whipping down at their targets. But Vinyl and Octavia were already gone. Almost faster than the eye could see, the two ponies grabbed the swords at their hooves and leapt, crossing paths in mid-air as their trajectory carried them past the serpent’s face. They landed, places traded, and spat the swords from their mouths. The beast flung its head back and roared...
And, to the great surprise of everypony in the room, burst into tears. In a high-pitched voice, it wailed its lament.
“Oh no! Oooh nooo! Oh, what a world, what a world! How could you do such a thing?!”
Nopony moved or spoke, entirely unsure of what to make of this bizarre development. Great clumps of orange hair wafted into the fountain’s waters, and it became apparent that the beast had managed to dodge VInyl and Octavia’s strike, only for one side of its luxurious moustache to be severed. There was a terribly awkward moment as the serpent wept, until Vinyl rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment and broke the relative silence.
“Um... are you okay?”
The serpent sniffed and started waving its arms dramatically.
“Am I okay? Well, I don’t know, someone just cut off half of my beloved moustache, and now I look simply horrid! Do you think I’m okay?!”
Vinyl and Octavia shuffled their hooves uncomfortably, guilt rising in them despite everything.
“Well... you know... you were attacking us, and we... reacted?”
The serpent gasped indignantly and raised a claw to its chest in horror.
“Ah! How can you blame moi?! I’m just doing my job!”
Unexpectedly, Rarity’s voice rang out.
“Exactly! Look at this poor fellow!”
Everypony’s gaze turned to the unicorn striding purposefully to the foot of the fountain, looking up at the serpent with sorrowful eyes.
“How can you be so insensitive? Just look at him! I cannot let such a crime against fabulosity go uncorrected!”
Before anypony could react, Rarity had levitated a katana from the floor and, with one swift slash, cut of her own tail, wincing as her own image was ruined. Wrapping the limp bundle of hair in her magic, she lifted it to the water serpent's face and entwined it in the sad clump that was all that remained of one half of its moustache. Within moments, it sported a rather fetching purple and orange moustache combo that even Photo Finish grudgingly admired.
The serpent giggled in delight and looked down its long nose, admiring its new look.
“Ohohoho! My moustaaache! How wonderful!”
Rarity smiled and turned to Vinyl and Octavia, who were still staring, mouths open.
“You see, ladies? This poor creature is simply misunderstood!”
The serpent nodded enthusiastically.
Rarity looked up at him, eyes wide with sympathy.
“And I bet the Fashion Police don’t even appreciate the hard work he does!”
The beast continued to nod, eyes brimming with tears.
“Oh, I know, I know!”
Rarity moved to the side of the fountain and laid a comforting hoof on the serpent’s side, stroking it gently.
“I mean, look at how ferociously he attacked us! He had you two on the ropes! Such gusto!”
The serpent brought its claws to its face, clutching its cheeks with raw emotion.
“It’s sooo truuue!”
Vinyl managed to gather herself enough to speak again.
“Uh... yeah! That sounds... uh... terrible.”
The serpent cast a conspiratorial glance about the foyer, then whispered to the ponies from behind a claw.
“Do you know, I’m not involved in the planning process?”
Rarity raised a hoof to her chest in shock and gasped.
Her reptilian confidante sniffed and nodded with conviction.
“They don’t even let me in the meetings.”
Rarity turned to Vinyl and Octavia and gave them a soulful look, as if she could hardly believe their callousness at not weeping for this poor, mistreated wretch.
“They don’t even let him in the meetings.”
She turned back to the serpent and smiled warmly.
“Well, I for one think it's high time that this beautiful beast struck out on his own.”
He gasped and looked around as if every eye was upon him.
“You don’t mean...”
Rarity nodded and winked.
“I think it’s time you taught them a lesson, hmm?”
The serpent looked thoughtful for a moment, then drew himself up.
“Hmph! Maybe I will!”
Dipping his head beneath the water, he took a great breath, filling his mouth with fluid. He emerged and, with terrifying power, fired it in a thin but powerful stream. Stronger even than the billowing flames around him, the beam of water sliced through the flames and extinguished them instantly in a hiss of steam. The stream died away and the serpent gave a satisfied grunt.
Rarity, Vinyl and Octavia turned to face the remaining Fashion Police, who had been watching the unfolding scene with increasing confusion. The towering serpent coiled behind them, arms folded and head cocked in a fashion that could only be described as ‘sassy.’ Rarity smiled cockily.
“Well, Photo Finish? Care to try to steal my dress now?”
Photo Finish gritted her teeth and looked back at her minions, who as one had taken a fearful step back. She tutted.
“Very well! It seems it is time for us to make...”
She thrust her hoof in the air so fast it made a sound like a whip cracking.
“... ze retreats! We go!”
The Fashion Police all threw tiny spheres at the ground and disappeared in a huge puff of tastefully sparkling smoke.
The serpent hugged itself and giggled with glee once more.
“Oh, that was wonderful! I feel so much better! Thank you, my little pony, thank you! Please, if you ever have another show, you must give me a call!”
He bent down and planted a leathery kiss on Rarity’s cheek (or rather, her entire face), waved, and dived back into the fountain, presumably returning to whatever vast channel had allowed his entry.
There was a long, long silence as the three ponies simultaneously ran through the events of the evening. Eventually, Rarity spoke.
“Not bad for my first show, really.”
Vinyl nodded slowly and replied, voice cracking slightly.
“Piece of cake.”
Vinyl and Octavia sat in Derpy’s office, watching as Derpy read their mission report for what they were fairly certain was the eighth time. The Commander’s face seemed unable to settle on any one expression.
At last, she laid the paper down and put her head in her hooves, muttering what sounded like a prayer to Celestia. She took a deep breath and raised her gaze to the two scientists sitting in front of her.
“So, let me get this straight. I send you two in on a clean undercover op, in which you are to locate and extract Rarity with a minimum of fuss. Within a day, however, the entire front wall of the grand foyer is demolished by an army of, and I quote, fashion ninja. During your attempts to protect Rarity, you both spontaneously develop superpowers. This forces the army, and I feel the need to repeat myself here, of fashion ninja to deploy their fabulous backup serpent and set the foyer on fire. Rarity then proceeds to somehow talk this creature into abandoning their cause, leading to their flight from the scene.”
She opened her mouth to continue, then closed it again. She closed her eyes for a moment.
“Is that about right?”
Vinyl coughed and added,
“And we, uh, we told Rarity about M.A.R.E. and she agreed to drop her career and join us.”
This seemed to be the final straw, and Derpy threw her hooves in the air.
“And thank Celestia for that! Otherwise we’d have nothing to show for an incident that surely rivals Lyra’s most ludicrous escapades! An incident that means I have to go before the city board and explain that the extensive damage caused to Equestria’s most prestigious hotel, and the trauma that many of its guests are claiming vast sums for, was caused by an army of fashion ninja!”
Octavia and Vinyl winced as the tirade washed over them.
Derpy sighed and massaged her temples.
“But... madness aside... you did good, girls. With Rarity, we now have four of the Six. Four of the greatest ponies ever to have lived. We’re closer than we’ve ever been to finding out just what’s going on in this messed-up world. It’s only a matter of time.”
She stood slowly and saluted. The two scientists, chests swelling with pride, saluted back.
They turned to leave, but Derpy called them back.
“One last thing. I haven’t told you what Rarity will be doing during her time with us.”
Octavia cocked her head questioningly.
“True. I mean no offence, but I’m not certain how her fashionista talents will be useful to our organisation.”
Derpy grinned, and this time there was the faintest edge to it. Vinyl felt a tingle on the back of her neck.
Derpy’s grin intensified, years of covering for reckless agents and dealing with the damage to the city without a word of thanks finally coming to a head.
“Vinyl. I hear you and Rarity had a minor clash of personalities.”
Vinyl shifted uncomfortably, unsure where this was going.
“Uh, nothing serious. It was just, you know, she’s kind of... girly. I’ve never been one for the frilly frou-frou, and she lives for it.”
With terrible deliberateness, Derpy pulled a form from one of the treacherous piles on her desk and passed it across.
“Well, considering that since going public our attempts to minimise collateral damage have been completely ineffective, I have decided that we must improve our image in other ways. For example...”
Vinyl shook her head, seeing the path the conversation was taking.
“Oh no. Oh, don’t do this to me, Commander. We’re better than this. We’re friends. You wouldn’t do this.”
“... for example, our technology. Which is why I’m assigning Rarity to ExTech as your new Public Relations officer. She will be in charge-” She raised her voice gleefully over Vinyl’s groan. “-in charge of making sure your inventions are more visually appealing to the populace, so as to present a kinder image of M.A.R.E.”
As Octavia led the protesting Vinyl from the room, nodding to the Commander unreadably, Derpy finished her spiel with relish.
“I’m sure the results will be... fabulous.”
The door closed on the Commander, who picked up a muffin and took a slow, satisfied bite, relaxing in her chair.
[ Credits roll. ]
Coming soon: Season 2, Episode 11 - Have A Bad Day? Make Someone Pay!