My fists clenched involuntarily, "What did you just call my fiance and our friend?"
The tough guy who seemed to be in charge of the mob sneered, "I called them nags, you ugly shaved monkey." His cronies chuckled at his razor wit. He seemed familiar, then I realized he was the guy that had picked a fight with me and Dash the last time we were in town. The same guy who tried to ambush me when I was looking for the Wonderbolts store. I smirked, dubbing him Fathead for my own amusement.
I turn to see a very, very angry Dash, "How bad is 'nag' compared to other rude names to call a mare?"
"It would earn you at least a month on the couch."
"Wow, that's bad.” I turn back to Fathead and company, “Ok, you know what? I usually look for a peaceful, or at least non-violent solution to problems, but today? Today I really really really really hope you think I’m bluffing and decide to make this physical. That would make me very happy.” I quickly glance back to the girls, “With both of your permissions of course.”
I glanced at Dash again, “Kick his flank, sweetheart.”
I turned to Twilight and I saw an angry smile I hope is never directed at me, "I for one feel this is an excellent idea, Alex. A calisthenic workout on such an unpleasant individual can only increase your mental and physical well being. You may proceed."
Fathead’s barking laugh draws my attention, “You see that? He’s tail whipped by two mares. No wonder he’s such a wimp.” This drew a chorus of laughter from his associates.
While still facing them, I carefully take my suit coat off and lay it carefully on the curb. I could see the cobblestones were very smooth on this street.
“Look at that. The little colt has to take off his Tuesday best.” This drew more laughter from the thugs.
I turned to the girls, my fingers making quick work of the buttons on the shirt, taking special care of Dash’s feather on the simple necklace I keep around my neck. Twilight’s eyes soften for a moment, then returns to the task at hand. I whisper, “Follow my lead, and, um, Twilight, I am really, truly sorry for what you’re about to see.”
As my shirt dropped to the ground, Twilights eyes widened in realization. The sounds of the shocked exclamations by Fathead and his group was sweet. When I turned with a predatory smile to our accosters, the sound of Twilight gasping then her choking back a cry only served to make me angrier. ‘You bastards made me show my scars to a sweet innocent young lady. You’re paying for this Fathead.’
I smiled and deliberately, dramatically gestured with my hands, “Now, in the interest of full disclosure I want to introduce you to your playmates for tonight. To my right is the beautiful Element of Loyalty, Rainbow Dash. This lovely pegasus is also my future wife. To my left is the Element of Magic, Twilight Sparkle. This lovely unicorn is our very good friend.”
I put my arms out in a dramatic pose, “As for myself, I’m a bucking human. Meat eating, tool using, apex predator. We hunt and kill for fun. I’m also one of Princess Luna’s personal champions, The Paladins of Redemption.” I could see Fathead was getting worried, so I may as well crank it up a notch. I pointed at him and smiled, making sure to show teeth, “Do you know what we call people like you where I come from?” I could see the worried looks of Fathead’s crew. I counted to two before continuing and slowly, with all the relish and threat I could muster, said, “Lunch.” I then licked my lips and theatrically wiped my mouth, as if I was drooling at the prospect of a fresh meal.
Fathead’s voice quavered slightly, “He... He’s bluffing. He’s nothing.” Fathead puffed his chest out and exclaimed, “I can take him all on my own, you lily livered cowards.”
In a clear, loud voice, “Ladies, you heard the pony. He wants to take the first dance. Please, do not interfere unless his minions join the fray.”
Dash’s hushed tone was worried, “Are you sure? He’s awfully big.”
I smiled an unpleasant smile, “And I’m a complete bastard.”
I pointed to him and raised my voice, “Here are the rules Fathead. No weapons, no killing. I’m giving up my two advantages, because they would be overwhelming and lethal.” I whispered, “Twilight, I need an illusion of a knife, I’m pulling it out now.” I reached in my pocket and felt that telekinetic slipperiness in the shape of a handle. I pulled out a nasty looking blade, about thirty centimetres long, plus the handle. I tried to not look surprised at the size.
I lifted it up, made a point of kissing the blade, and threw it to the ground. Twilight made it strike the street blade first and had it embed itself half of its length into a cobblestone. ‘For someone who claims they have no talent for showmanship, you’re putting on a fantastic show.’
I started walking slowly forward as Fathead angrily yelled and charged. As he got closer, I sprinted. The moment he turned to buck and had committed himself I threw myself into a slide, passing over the glass smooth cobblestones with little resistance, until I was below him with his legs high in the air. From my position I threw a punch straight up, directly between his hind legs. As he started falling, I held him in the air for a moment then redirected him away from me. When he hit the ground I rolled away and got back to my feet. I knew I needed to make this a definitive end, so I unceremoniously kicked him in the head as hard as I could. I knew a pony could take it, so I didn’t feel any need to hold back.
I looked down on him in disgust. I was a little afraid to look back at the girls, fearful of their expressions. I snarled at the mob, “Who’s next? Anyone else? No? Good.” I relaxed and looked at them with a friendly smile, “Now, let this be a lesson to you. Being part of an angry mob is all fun and games until someone gets the shit kicked out of them. I strongly suggest you disperse, go home, hug your loved ones, and think about what you were part of tonight. I’ll make sure your pal here,” I indicated the groaning Fathead curled in the fetal position, “gets home safe and sound. And the next time I see you, drinks are on me. But not tonight.” When they continued milling about, I shouted, “Beat it, I said.” They quickly left.
Once they were all gone, I started rubbing my hip, limping back to Fathead and the girls. I murmured, “Son of a pup that hurt.”
Dash was by my side in an instant, a look of concern plain on her face, “Are you okay? Do you need to get to the hospital?”
“No, but Fathead here,” I gestured to the groaning pony, “needs some looking after. I just hit the ground a little harder than expected and my foot is a bit sore but a couple of willow bark tablets and I’ll be fine.”
Twilight trotted forward, an angry expression on her face, “He was rude and he attacked us. Why do you care about him?”
“Because that’s what he does, Twilight. Paladin of Redemption, remember?”
Impossibly, my appreciation of Dash grew just a little more, “Everybody deserves a second chance, Twilight. Come on, can you pick him up off the street? Maybe you have a healing spell to fix him up?”
“Cadence taught me a basic one. I can fix his head, but I need to touch the affected body part with my horn, and I’m not putting my head anywhere near his crotch.”
Fathead quavered, “Come on sweetheart, I’m dying here.”
I looked at Twilight, “Do it for me. Speaking as a guy, getting hit in the fork is very unpleasant. Just close your eyes and think of Equestria.” I really hoped she doesn’t ask me to explain the reference.
Twilight rolled her eyes a little but smiled, “Okay, but you owe me one more Alex.”
“That’s the magic of friendship Twilight.”
Twilight’s horn glowed and she touched his forehead, then, with a little blush, she touched her horn in the general area of Fathead's private parts. Relief was clearly apparent on his face moments after. He looked up at me, his relief becoming fear. He pleaded, “Y-You’re not going to eat me, are you?”
Dash snorted, and I answered, “No. I only eat fish and pork once in a while. I’m sorry I hurt you. Look, before we do go any further, what’s your name?”
He replied, his voice getting back to normal, “Wood Frame.”
“Well Wood Frame, I think we need to talk. If there’s something wrong in your life, maybe we can help. But, right now I’m beat and you need to go home and hug your loved ones.” I passed him a business card, “Here, this is my address in Ponyville and I wrote where I’m staying here in Canterlot on the back. When you feel up to it, whenever you want to, get in touch with me. We can have a good talk, man to stallion. No judgments, no horsefeathers, just you and me making things better.”
Wood Frame’s expression was confused. He kept looking between the card and me until he finally muttered, “That sounds good.” He tucked the card away and wandered off, presumably home.
Once he was out of sight, Twilight started into me again, “Alex. Why did you offer to help him. He’s not a nice pony. I can see fixing him up and letting him off the hook, but... Ugh, don’t tell me, it’s what you do.”
I smiled wearily, “Twilight, he had a good reason to be mad at me. I made him look like a fool in public twice, three times now, once at the racetrack bar, once at the doughnut shop, and now tonight in front of his friends. I really don’t blame him for being upset. Not only that, but if I can help him be a better person, I’m doing my job as a Paladin.” I smiled sadly at her, “I don’t need to be their friend, I just need to point their way to hope.”
We were back in Twilight’s room with her research materials spread all over her temporary office. She was looking bashfully at Dash, having just explained her conclusions. Dash gave her friend a hard stare, “So let me get this straight Twilight. You want Alex, my fiancé, to sleep with you?” Her head snapped in my direction, “And what are you snickering for Alex Roberts?”
I couldn’t help but smile, “Hey, don't get mad at me. Is it my fault Twilight is a better magic sink? Anyway, I want you there to be my chaperone lest I be tempted to wander.”
Twilight started sputtering and protesting, "Dash I promise I never even considered him a potential suitor. I mean, ew. No offence Alex.”
I snickered, “None taken.”
Dash snorted and smirked, "I know I can trust you guys. And what do you mean, ew? Are you putting my stallion down?” She lovingly laughed, “I know he’s not much to look at but...”
I snorted, “But what?”
Dash started laughing while fluttering over to me, “But, you’re butt ugly. And you’re all mine.” A sweet, slow kiss told me how she really felt.
Without taking my eye off of Dash, “Ladies, I think I have a solution. It will preserve Twilight’s dignity, and Dash’s piece of mind.”
Dash grinned at me, “Oh, this should be good.”
Twilight just smiled and raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, so, Twilight casts a cloud walking spell,” Twilight opened her mouth to object, “but, only on herself. I know extra magic is no good for me. You two share the cloud bed and I sleep beneath you, on the subfloor. It's a little cold and damp, but I can grab a few extra blankets. Thus, dignity is preserved by Twilight, Dash has a clear conscious, and I get to spend the night with my angel and our friend, thus preserving my health.”
The girls, with surprised looks, glanced at each other. Finally, Dash started slowly nodding, “Hey, Twilight, you may have a run for your bits as top egghead.”
“Maybe so. That’s actually a very simple solution. But, won't you be uncomfortable, sleeping on a concrete floor?”
I dismissed her concerns, “Twilight, I slept in the branches of a tree in the middle of an ice swamp for four months. This is not a problem.” I stretched and yawned, “You know what, I’m beat. Let's do this.” I quickly went to my room, stripped the blankets and sheets off of my bed and grabbed a few extra blankets. I also grabbed the extra pillow from my room.
When I got back with my load of bedding, Twilight was casting the cloud walking spell on herself. I carefully stepped off the ledge of the entrance and walked to the bed. There, I blindly arranged the pillows and blankets on the sub-floor. Once done, Dash gave me a very passionate good night kiss and I lay down on my makeshift bed. I didn’t realize how cold and damp it was in the cloud layer until I had been laying down for a few minutes. I guess the cloud walking spell gives immunity to cold and damp.
I was soon dozing, not quite asleep, but perked up when Twilight whispered hesitantly, “So, how was he?”
Dash, half asleep, whispered back, “What do you mean?”
Twilight clicked her tongue in irritation, “Don’t make me say it. You know, was, it, any good?”
There was a pause, as if Dash was collecting her thoughts, “It was, different. I mean, I love him Twilight, but he just didn’t know what to do half the time, and some of the stuff he tried was just, weird. Mind you, he thought some pony stuff was weird too, so I guess it goes both ways. Anyway, I've found it’s not that great until the second or third time, so I wasn't totally surprised. The poor guy was at a double disadvantage, you know. I mean, it isn't my week, so it’s a little harder to get excited about it. Anyway, it's not like he's had a lifetime of knowing what a mare likes. The most surprising part was, well, human guys only, you know, once, and it can take awhile for them to go again. I feel bad for human mares.”
“Oh, he didn’t feel too bad, did he?” There was a pause, “But, it does make sense. I mean, he’s only been in our world for less than a year. I’m sure if a stallion was with a human female, she would feel the same way. Intimacy always seemed to make him a little uncomfortable and I know it’s not something he ever got a book on. It would be crazy to expect him to know what to do with so little experience and, at best, second hand stories.”
“Yeah, I know. Anyway, I did enjoy the effort. He was so cute, trying so hard to make me happy. I know he has to learn how it works here and some of what he did was really interesting. To be fair, I don’t think it was that great for him either. Anyway,” Dash giggled, “plenty of time for us to learn the skills.”
Twilight’s voice became so sad, it hurt my heart, “Well, I’m envious. I’ve never had a stallion look at me the way he looks at you. I don’t think I’ll ever have that, Rainbow, I...”
I coughed, “Excuse me... damn it.”
Dash asked hesitatingly, “How... how much did you hear, Alex?”
I raised my hand through the clouds and touched a feather. I then lovingly stroked her wing, “Enough to know that time and some learning will fix things. And as for you, Miss Sparkle,” I pushed my hand a little higher and pointed at her, to both of their amusements, “you never know when that special someone will drop into your lap. Have hope, Twilight. I know you will find what you seek.”
I felt a hoof grab my hand and tug it a little, then soft, warm lips kiss my palm. “I love you Alex.”
“I love you too Dash.” My fingers played along her cheek, “With all my heart.” I heard a sad little sigh that I guessed was Twilight and my heart broke just a little.
Ugh. There was nothing worse than waking up cold and damp. My joints ached, my back ached, my nose was running, and I felt sticky. I needed a good hot shower. I started standing, completely forgetting about the two ladies above me. I smacked into Twilight, knocking her off the bed with a surprised cry. I then stumbled forward, tripping over my pillow, my face landing on Dash’s chest and my arms grabbing her from beneath, startling her awake, making her wings pop, and making her fall off the bed. Finally, this caused me to stumble sideways and smack the back of my head into the wall.
I groaned, “Is everybody okay? Sorry about that. I forgot I had two lovely ladies sleeping just above me.”
Dash was laughing, “I’m just fine, you big oaf. You okay, Twilight?”
She was giggling too, “I’ll survive.”
I smirked, “I would say it was not exactly the romantic wake up you were expecting Dash, but your wings are telling a different story.”
Dash realized her wings were fully extended and she blushed. Slowly, deliberately, and with some obvious effort, she closed them. “Sorry you had to see that Twilight. He tends to do this to me in the morning.”
Twilight was blushing as she tittered, “That’s quite alright Rainbow Dash.”
Still facing Dash, I snorted, “I just realized I can tell Elusive I slept with Dash and Twilight, at the same time. He’ll be so jeal-” I was hit from behind by a pillow.
A laughing voice chided me, “Don’t you dare. Rainbow Dash, you tell your fiance not to tell anyone about this.”
“I don’t know Twilight. He has so few good stories like this. I’m not sure I can take this from him.”
I turn to Twilight, “Okay, okay, I promise that if it ever comes up, I will make sure to describe exactly what happened here in cold clinical terms. How I bravely slept on the cold, hard, damp floor so my beautiful fiance and our wonderful friend could share a comfortable cloud bed. Any conclusions will be drawn by the listener.”
Twilight gave me an incredulous smirk, “I suppose that will be the best I can hope for. Just promise you’ll avoid the subject?”
“Yes. I promise to never bring it up and only ever describe it if it somehow slips.” I put my hand over my heart, “You have my word as a friend and I also,” I raised my hands to perform the required gestures, “cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”
There was the snap-crack sound of a small item being teleported. On the dresser was a scroll with the black and blue seal used by Luna. I confirmed it was addressed to me, and snapped the seal. I smiled as I read it, getting some useful information from Princess Luna about her decision to ask Beatrix to join our little crusade. The girls asked what was in the scroll, but I simply answered, “Paladin business. Sorry.”
After an early breakfast we headed to downtown Canterlot to the jewelry store where Dash’s engagement necklace was ready. “Girls, why don’t you have a cup of tea at that cafe over there. I don’t want Dash to see it unless it’s perfect.”
Dash rolled her eyes, but smiled, “Come on Twilight, he’ll pout if it’s not just so.”
I waved them off and hurried to the jewelry store. Walking in, I saw the unicorn jeweller at his workstation, polishing the necklace. He turned his head at the jingle of the door bell and came out to greet me.
“Welcome back sir, welcome back.” He sneered at the mare behind the counter, “I told you he would be back, Gem Set.” He turned back to me, “I knew you would be back. And sir, if you don’t mind my saying so, this will be a real mark of prestige, making a piece for one of Luna’s Paladins and the Element of Loyalty. After the party last night, you probably didn’t see me, you are the talk of the town. I must say it is an honor and a privilege to provide my humble services to you.”
I was taken aback by the gushing, “Well, thank you very much. You’re Stone Facet, right?” He nods. “Between you and me, I was very intimidated at first, but I was made to feel so welcomed that I completely forgot about being intimidated. I was afraid it would be a string of awkward silences, but it turned out to be a fantastic evening. And, for the record, I’m the one who is honored. You were the only jeweler who actually took the time to listen to me.” I peered at the necklace on his workbench, “And I can see you read my mind as well.” He levitated the necklace and it was beautiful. It was, in fact, perfect.
“Just a little more polishing and it will be ready. Say, fifteen minutes?”
“Make it so, but take your time. I realize rushing art does no one any good. Also, if you can place it in a nice flip top box, that would be perfect. I’ll just wait here and admire your other wares.” I walked around, looking at the amazing work presented in the shop.
I stopped in front a display case with unicorn jewelry in front of the mare. “Pardon me, miss. I’m looking for a gift for a unicorn friend of mine. She’s feeling down and I want to give her something that says, she’s my friend, I'm there for her, but it can’t have any romantic connotation at all. And I mean none. Just one buddy to another to cheer her up. I have a history of cultural misunderstandings and I really want to avoid it here.”
“I’m afraid, sir, that jewelry almost always has a romantic component to it. Have you considered something related to her cutie mark? That’s a very friendly gift and unlikely to imply anything intimate.”
I thought for a moment and smiled, “Do you know where the nearest rare book store is?”
She smiled, “As a matter of fact I do. It’s just one block from here.”
“Thank you very much for that, and I’ll be right back.”
I strode out the store, waved at the girls and yelled, “I’ll be right back.” With that, I headed down the block in search of a little pick me up gift for Twilight.
From the outside the book shop looked like every other used book shop in every other reality. The storefront featured slightly dirty windows, piles of slightly dusty books, and signs pointing out a few featured books. I entered and found an old unicorn mare, also slightly dusty, at the counter with thick glasses. She peered suspiciously at me, “We don’t have picture books, diamond dog. You would be best to scoot before I call the royal guard.”
“Actually ma’am, I’m not a diamond dog.”
She peered intently at me again, “You may look like one, but, oh my, you certainly don’t sound like one, far more articulate. Come closer.” She lifted her glasses up and squinted at me, a little confused, “Huh. You look like... no, that can’t be right. You’re not a hominis, are you?”
It was my turn to be a confused, “No, I’m a human.”
She smiled and took her glasses off, lost in thought, “In my youth, I had the privilege of working in the Canterlot archives. One day, while cataloguing an ancient shelf of volumes hoof written by Starswirl the Bearded himself, I found a thin volume, no more than sixteen pages, titled ‘On The Dangers Of Piercing The Veil To Other Worlds’.”
“I was young and had a curious mind. I was so fascinated by the title I dared to gaze upon the pages and found a description of a bloodthirsty race called Romanorum hominum in their language. Starswirl described such... horrors they inflicted on their own people, how they murdered for entertainment, how they butchered animals, even ponies, simply to amuse the crowds. I even made a copy of the image in the book.” She points to an old frame on the wall behind her.
“Wait a second, why is there ‘LIFE’ in the corner?”
She smiled and got the same look Twilight gets when lecturing, “Oh, Starswirl himself was a terrible artist. His faithful assistant, Life Drawing, always did the art and sometimes signed his work.” Realization dawned on her face, but not fear, “So, you are one of these creatures, eh? Come for more entertainments?”
I took a step back and put my hands up defensively, “No no no. That was two thousand years ago, just a little before my time.” I put my hands in my pockets and smiled, “Me? I’m harmless. What I'm here for is to buy a gift for my friend, Twilight Sparkle.”
The old mare squinted at me for a long moment, “You’re downright decent for a blood thirsty monster. Well, I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover.” She trotted over to a back room with a locked door. Her horn glowed, the door opened, and she went in. She soon came back with a small, thick brown book and placed it on the counter. There was no title on the cover or spine. “This is only one of three copies of ‘Advanced Transdimensional Mathematics’. If this is the same Twilight Sparkle that practically grew up in the library in Canterlot, I know she never read this one.”
“Unless there are two violet unicorn mares with a six pointed star cutie mark, then we're talking about the same person. I may not know anything about magic, but I know a little something about old books. A rare book like that must be worth a fortune.”
“Oh, it is, but this is for Twilight Sparkle. She was always such a dear child. I’ll let you have it for a thousand bits. What I originally paid for it.”
‘Yikes, that’s more than I'll pay for Dash’s necklace. But, I have the rest of my life to make it up to her.’ “That is very kind of you, but I insist you make a little profit. Let’s say one and a half?”
She had a very slight smile, “Very well. I’m not used to dickering up the price, but I’ll accept.”
I was happy I bought that pouch with a direct link to the bank. 'Best hundred bits I ever spent.' I paid her the money I owed for the book and she wrapped it in a plain brown wrapper. As I was leaving, the old mare called out, “Tell Twilight, Indexed Book says hello. And tell her to come visit me when she can.”
“Yes ma'am. And thank you for looking past my species.”
“Books and covers my boy, books and covers.”
I jogged through the crowds back to the jeweller. As I walked in, Gem Set said with a smug expression, “I told you he would be back. Welcome back sir. Do you have a gift for your friend?”
“Yes, a dense and complex book on transdimensional mathematics. That will tickle her math bone. I want to thank you for that advice. She's a sweetheart, and I know she will love it. And I think my fiancé will just flip for the necklace. She's not the kind of girl that wears jewellery, but I wanted to do it right, you know.”
Stone Facet nodded and winked, “Sounds like you will have two happy mares in your near future.”
“I hope so.” I examined the sky blue box and opened it, “This is perfect, the box opens with a single smooth flick of my thumb, showing to the mare I love your masterpiece.” I felt a catch in my throat, “This is truly stunning. Thank you.” I started walking out the store when Gem Set and Stone Facet both cleared their throats. I stopped and sheepishly walked back in. “Sorry about that. I was just... anyway.” I pulled out my coin purse, “How much do I owe you?” They gave me a price and I paid. I chuckled on my way out at my inadvertent shoplifting attempt.
I returned to the girls, Dash smirking and busting my chops, “Hey Alex, we're getting bored here. You all settled up, or what?”
“Yes I am. I actually have a little something for each of you. First, my awesome magic user friend. I wanted to give you a little something to cheer you up.” I hand her the small package, “This is one of three copies of a rare book from the personal collection of Indexed Book. She says 'Hi' and asked that you visit her at her book shop some time.”
Twilight's eyes widened as she unwrapped the book and started flipping through it, “Oh my goodness. I was never allowed to get this book out. The Princess said it was beyond me. Thank you Alex.” She gave me a hug and went back to flipping through the book.
“And now for the main event, if you will.” Dash rolled her eyes, but smiled. I pulled the box out of my pocket and went to my knee. “Miss Rainbow Dash, will you do me the honour,” I flipped the box open, “of being my beloved wife? I'm just double checking.”
She smirked, then tapped her chin, “I don't know. You're coming off as a little... wanty.” She beamed at me and laughed, we both did, “Yes, you crazy goof. I would be honoured to be your wife.”
I took the necklace out of the box and put it around her neck. I then took the feather she had given me, the one I had mounted on a simple cord, the one I wore every day, and pulled it out from under my shirt and proudly displayed it for all the world to see.
Dash snickered, “You know I'm probably never going to wear this thing again after tonight, right.”
“I know, but I'll wear this,” touching the feather reverently, “for both of us. If you don't mind.”
“It would make me very happy. And...”, she gave me a quick kiss, “Thanks Alex. Thanks for being a stubborn flank head and wanting to 'do it right'. I was happy that you asked me, but I'm even happier you care enough to do it a second time.” We hugged and there were appreciative stomps from around the cafe.
Twilight looked up from her book, “Did I just miss something?”
I was drumming my fingers on my desk in irritation. I finally heard a knock on the door and called out for them to enter. They were late. Again. Just fifteen minutes this time, but it was still... annoying. I had everything off the desk except the offending document.
Flim walked in first, leading with that distinct nasally voice, “Never fear, your star employees are here. I’m sure you just wanted to thank us for the fantastic job we did with the lovely Trixie.” He looks around, ignoring me, “Say, these are some mighty swanky digs you have here Mr. Roberts. Isn’t that so Flam?”
“You speak the truth dear brother. Sending us after Miss Trixie was a stroke of genius, pure genius. And if I may say so, I look forward to your next mission.”
I’m sure my expression became sour, because I saw their expressions grow worried. “Are you two done kissing my ass? Because, it’s starting to wrinkle.”
In a much more restrained and humble tone, Flim stated, “Yes, sir.”
Quickly followed by Flam, “All done, sir.”
“Good. Now, what do I have in front of me?”
Flim ventured hesitatingly, “That’s the report you requested.”
“Close. It’s the report you gave me.” I idly flipped through it. “I know my appreciation of the pony physique is not as developed as the native...” I could see confused looks on their faces. I sighed, “I can’t tell how pretty a pony is physically.” They nodded in unison. “So, let me stop dancing around the issue.” I casually tossed the report on the desk, leaned back in the chair and steepled my fingers. “Why, in the name of all things pony, did you two take such candid pictures of this person?”
They started sputtering, “Well... I... we... he... they...”
I raised my voice, “You know what, you don’t have to explain anything to me. You really don't. You have until she gets here to explain to her why you did it. You will sit down in that corner and get ready for her to be here in about half an hour. I’m going to step out and be back in twenty minutes.”
I didn’t make eye contact and stomped out, slamming the door behind me. I then made diminishing stomping sounds. I looked back, making sure the door was still closed, and quietly opened Twilight’s door. I was greeted by a smiling Dash and Twilight. A smug looking Beatrix asked, “Did they buy it, boss?”
“Hook, line and sinker, and don’t call me boss. It implies I own you or something. Alex is fine.”
Dash smirked at her new friend and hit her in the shoulder, “You call him whatever you want Bea. You've got my permission. Anyway, Alex can be a little too humble for his own good sometimes.”
“Me? Humble? Whatever. My ego knows no bounds. Anyway, Beatrix, I’ve got to say this was a brilliant idea. And thank you for not holding a grudge.”
“Alex, this is merely the first step in their redemption. They must learn that the dignity of others is as important as their own.” She looked away from me, then looked back with kindness in her eyes, “I have to know, why did Luna choose me? I mean, I don’t exactly have a background in heroics.”
I glared at her, a little confused, “Didn’t you help Blueberry Fritter after that messy breakup? You stopped her from making a fatal mistake, Beatrix. You’re as much a hero as anyone else in this room, except me. I’m just faking it.”
Dash hovered over and pecked me on the cheek, “Hey, what did I tell you about knocking yourself. That's my job.”
“I know, I know. Old habits die hard.” I knelt down and Dash landed beside me. I put my arm around her and turned my head to Beatrix, “So, we let them stew for about twenty minutes? Then I head in, all cold and angry, or did you want to go first, in full Trixie mode?”
She touched her chin with her hoof, “Hmmm,” and started speaking in her Trixie voice, “As tempting as it would be for us to confront our two enthusiastic admirers with the full wrath that Trixie can bestow upon them,” she reverted to her normal voice and a chuckle, “it would be best to follow the plan.”
I sneered, my face a visage of anger, “Who do you think you are, telling me what to do? I’m an apex predator, pony. I’m the one in charge here.”
The girls all looked at me, gentle smiles, then almost as one burst into laughter. I quickly joined them. Beatrix placed a hoof on my shoulder, “Oh Alex, you should have been an actor.”
“Nope, not talented enough for that. Hey, Twilight. Could you check on them, please?”
Still tittering, her horn glowed and a small whirlpool appeared in the air. An image formed showing the Flim Flam brothers, hurriedly talking to each other in my makeshift office. They looked really panicked. I smiled at Beatrix, “Should we let them simmer for a little while longer?”
“Not much longer. I think Flim is going to cry.” I chuckled while reflecting on the events earlier today.
Twilight grinned at us, “I can't believe I missed the proposal. I'm so sorry.”
I waved my hand dismissively, “Don't worry about it, Twilight. You were distracted. Anyway,” I put my hand on Dash's cheek, “I only needed an audience of one.”
A proud feminine voice said, “I hate to admit it boss, but that was very sweet.”
I looked around and saw Beatrix walking toward us a few tables away levitating a latte cup in front of her. “Beatrix, my goodness. I'm sorry I didn't see you. Please, join us. You already know Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight grinned, “Hi Beatrix. I was looking forward to talking to you again. That advice you gave me about illusion spells already came in handy.” Beatrix smiled, but looked a little confused.
I beamed at Dash, “And this is my fiancé, Rainbow Dash. We were soon headed back to the hotel, but there's plenty of time to finish your coffee.”
Beatrix quietly said, “Don't stay on my account. I'll be at the hotel soon.”
Dash spoke up, “Hey Bea, you're our friend and we don't leave friends hanging. Besides, if we leave now, it only means less time to hang out with you.”
A surprised, hopeful smile crossed her face, “Um, wow. Okay. Luna said... but I thought she was... wow. Thank you. You really do make friends fast. And, no hard feelings?”
“Nope. Too much work to carry a grudge. Anyway, this big lug and the egghead see good in you and I trust them, so I trust you too. Easy.” Dash gave that easy smirk I found so endearing.
While Beatrix enjoyed her latte, her and Twilight discussed the book she had received. She also took some time to admire the necklace gracing Dash's neck. Once we started leaving, Beatrix asked, “So, my illusion advice came in handy, did it? What happened?”
Twilight and Dash looked at each other and started laughing. I told her all about the altercation and the role the illusion of a knife played. “Come on, Twilight. Show her your evil human blade.” I put my hand out as if it was holding it.
Twilight smirked, “Okay, here goes.”
The simple, practical blade reappeared in my hand. Beatrix examined it with a professional eye, “Very good. But, if I may,” the slight, almost imperceptible purple glow changed to a silvery glow. “It needs to be a little more frightening.” the blade suddenly grew curved with protrusions and useless decorations that would be a liability in a real fight, “There.” She had a look of satisfaction. “Now, let's put that away. Please eat it, Alex.”
It was an illusion, so I knew it would not hurt me. I shrugged, tilted my head back, and proceeded to swallow it. I think I shocked onlookers, especially when I commented on the flavor in a thick, gravelly voice, “Yummy, tastes like cheese.” The girls and I continued without further comment on the subject.
We finally made it to the hotel and all relaxed in Twilight's room. At my insistence, we explained my current medical condition to Beatrix. I wanted her to know what was going on. Then, came the part I was dreading.
“Beatrix, there's no easy way to say it, so I'll be blunt. I had hired the Flim Flam brothers to find you, and find you they did. They also went further than I had asked. Now, to be fair, I didn't tell them where to stop, so I take full responsibility for their actions. I insist any repercussions fall on my shoulders.”
She looked at me, not understanding. “Here,” I hold out the report, “this is what they sent me. While I personally don't get too excited about this kind of stuff, I actually have trouble telling ponies apart without the colors, I've been told this is very risque. I want to humbly apologize for this disrespectful act and want to assure you it will never happen again to any pony if I have any say in the matter.”
Beatrix grabbed the report and started flipping through it, her expression neutral, business like. “Some of these are not half bad.” She flipped some more, “This shower one is very good. Shows me with that very sexy wet mane look.” She gave a coquettish laugh, “It brings all the colts to my yard, as they say.” She finishes flipping through it and looks up, seeing us all staring at her in slack jawed disbelief. “What? I'm more upset that they didn't simply ask me to pose for these properly. Do you know how expensive glamour shots are?”
“So, you're not going to throw me out the window?” I was sure I saw Twilight slip Dash something out of the corner of my eye.
“My dear friend, why would I. It's not like you personally stalked me. At any rate, when Princess Luna asked me to become a Paladin, she told me about you.” Her expression softened, “She said you were kind and honorable, but a little too trusting at times. She felt I would be a good complement.”
“Now that we have this all sorted out between us, Alex, we must help redeem those two. My first act as a Paladin must be to teach them that the dignity of another is as important as your own.”
“What do you have in mind?”
Beatrix slowly broke into an evil grin, “I may have something up my sleeve.”
I stood outside my room with Beatrix, making myself ready to redeem the Flim Flam brothers. With a wink to my new friend, employee, and fellow Paladin, I slammed the door open, “Guess who I met in the lobby, boys.”