by Purple Patch

Chapter 7

Photo Finish’s yelling echoed across Briefly Manor. If anypony in the vicinity had plans for sleeping-in they were swiftly demolished.
“We’re going as fast as we can, Miss Finish” Ramekin put his waiter skills to the test, carrying photographic equipment and costumes around with his magic and handing them out to those that required them.
“Not! Fast! Enough! Ve begin in two hours! Two hours is not enough time to be slack!” The photographer stamped both hooves on the ground as she snarled like a rabid beast, her mane sticking out in strands as all ponies around her frantically bustled to and fro setting up the shoot. They had begun preparations at five in the morning. Any earlier and it would have begun to show on the models.
Mrs Fuss Pot was on hand to supply regular refreshments of tea, coffee and hot-chocolate which they were all exceedingly grateful for.
It was nearly ten o clock. The shoot would begin at noon, held at Briefly Manor.
There wasn’t a moment to lose.
Fleur was practically hiding behind the set, helping Pretty Vision, Powder Rouge and Stella Zeppole get ready.
“Just remember to leave time for yourself, Lizzie” Pretty Vision said, though in her garb and makeup she was no longer Pretty Vision. She was Anna Conda.
“Remember, this is your first day on the spotlight. Make it memorable for everypony” Powder Rouge finished fixing her hair and adopted her Oshi Roi nom-de-plume.
“I know, I know” Fleur fussed “But you’re all on first and...I don’t want Fancy...or one of Nitpick’s see me before then”
“Just remember, Fleur” Stella got to her hooves, adopting the persona of Gali Lea “As soon as you come on, you will be safe, you will be invincible, you and your long as you act that way. Do not show fear, they prey on it! Make them fear you! It was hard for all of us, our first time on stage” She looked down slightly “I myself had...very conservative parents...they did not took a long time for us to reconcile again...a very long time”
Fleur’s face fell at the thought. She had always known she was privileged, comparatively at least, to have two parents who always admired and encouraged her in her life’s decisions. So much so that the idea of parents not being proud of their foals was something that seemed almost alien to her.
“Oh Stella, I’m...I'm so sorry” Fleur gave her a heartfelt hug. Gali Lea seemed startled but Anna Conda and Oshi Roi were quite touched by the spectacle.
“Careful, Fleur, my make-up” The lime-green mare whined, though returned the hug daintily.
“Don’t worry, Lizzie. Your story isn’t so different from ours” Anna Conda placed a hoof on her shoulder “We’ve all been through a fair amount of curd to get this far and we’re not letting you fall in it face-first. Not after you and Fancy single-hoofedly saved our careers for free”
“We will be on early. If you still need help, we shall assist once we are finished” Oshi Roi assured her.
“It’s okay, my magic should be alright to get everything ready. Do you know what I’m wearing?”
“Right here” Anna Conda produced a shimmering magenta jumpsuit with silver accents, possessed of a high collar and adorned with a faux-fur lining in a mix of colours ranging between periwinkle blue to deep lavender. It wasn’t the most eye-catching specimen but it did look good, especially on her. The suit hid her still-healing injuries yet was tight-fitting enough to show off her figure. In short, a good start.
“See you later, Lizzie” Anna winked “Knock ‘em dead”


Fancy Pants had dressed himself in the morning. Unusual for him.
It wasn’t that he was incapable but he often enjoyed starting the day conversing with Tombola, who would give him the day’s news and arrangements while adorning the master of the manor with the day’s garments.
It hadn’t gone unnoticed by Tombola as he watched his master emotionlessly trudge down the landing stairway, past the statue of Knickerbocker’s Knighthood, without a shred of mirth.
“Sir” the butler said “You didn’t come down for breakfast”
“No, I...” Fancy’s gaze was blank and bleak “I don’t have much of an appetite”
Tombola closed his eyes as his patience gave out to his anxiety.
“Sir, forgive my bluntness but your despondency is making us very concerned. What exactly has transpired that puts you in such a sullen mood?”
Fancy Pants had almost passed him by when he paused, lowered his head, sighed and turned back to his butler.
“Alright, old chap...I’ll come clean...” He shrugged dejectedly “I was beaten. And now I stand to lose everything...everything” His voice was close to cracking “I’m so sorry, Tom...I fear our times together are about to come to an end”
“Sir?!” Tombola gave him an incredulous look “I would never contemplate abandoning you. Even at your darkest of hours. And I can safely say likewise for the rest of the household. Whatever fate befalls you, sir, I shall be happy to bear it beside you, as I have always done”
Fancy Pants made to adjust his monocle before realising he wasn’t wearing it. It made him feel half-dead.
“Tom...what happens to me will likely destroy me...Briefly Manor will become the property of my would not be faulted for resigning now while there’s time...I do not want to think about how you will be treated when the new masters arrive”
“Sir...with all due respect, you’re talking complete poppycock” Tom was nearly chuckling “If these cads ever set hoof in Briefly Manor, we’ll make them regret it. I personally will refuse to acknowledge them as the masters of this house and, as such, will be under no obligation to serve them. I’ll ensure they are late for any and all essentialities. And likewise, sir, Mrs Fuss Pot will make sure the food gives them the heave-ho and that which does not go in their stomachs will be strewn upon their person by Mister Ramekin, Miss Plumette will ensure dust and vermin thrive upon their beds, Mister MacTrowel will take up the bagpipes in the late night, Mister Gruffleby will let slip the location of valuables to burglars and I imagine that scamp, young Master Tinny, would find it amusing to stalk the corridors in the guise of the vengeful spirit of Knickerbocker himself, complete with a bloody sabre. Regardless, sir, they’ll either send us from the manor or leave of their own accord and quickly”
Fancy managed a light chuckle at the notion.
“Do you know, Tom, I believe they would...” With what looked like great physical effort, he raised a hoof and patted Tombola on the shoulder “No matter what happens...I’d like you to know that, in my honest’re a splendid chap, a dedicated butler, a much-respected gentlecolt and a...dash it all, a damn good friend”
Tombola’s smile was quite a wondrous sight, Fancy had never seen it until now. A stallion so composed, so proper, so used to showing as little emotion as possible, to see him smile was a spectacle that was worth the wait.
Though it wasn't near as lovely as Fleur's smile. The sight was enough to raise one out of any form of misery and into a world of light and colour.
He wondered if he'd ever see it again.
“I am most gratified to hear you say that, sir” Taking advantage of his master’s slight elation was the work of a moment “Now, sir, I believe the guests will be arriving shortly”

With a weary sigh, Fancy Pants exited Briefly Manor and stepped into the grounds. Though not as expansive as the Upper Royal Gardens, they were close to being just as luxurious as friends and acquaintances gathered and made themselves at home, mostly ignoring the large set covered by a checkerboard-patterned tent.
The famous critic, Hoity Toity, who Fancy Pants had little positive or negative interactions with, was conversing with Photo Finish. The two seemed almost friendly. Strange as both were ponies who few would see as friendly towards anypony let alone each other.
As he made his way around the gathering, the greetings and praises of friends, acquaintances or otherwise were barely heard in his ears. Nopony pointed out the lack of any monocle but it didn’t take a master wizard for anypony to realise.
He saw friendly faces, Earl Grey, Thousand Island and his father, Raven Inkwell, Fine Line, Éclair Crème, Primrose, even Prince Blueblood. All of them respected him, all of them supported him.
And he’d let them all down.
‘This must have been how Carcassonne felt all those months ago’ he thought dismally, a faint smile of blank courtesy riveted to his face as he approached the set.
Before he could get a word out to Photo or her ensemble, flood-lights came on all around the set and the tent was swept away to reveal the small but lavish modelling set. The mare of the hour herself, strut up on stage with a microphone and bellowed out to any who could hear, most of Canterlot at least, smiling brightly and giddy with excitement.
“Ladies and Gentlestallions! Stuten und Hengsten! I, Photo Finish, velcome you all to ze show! I vould first like to zank our most amiable Chairstallion, Meister Fancy Pants, for allowing zis show to take place here at his fundraiser, free of charge. I can see vhy he has the respect from so many in zis vondrous city”
There was a general vocal agreement and applause from the crowd. Fancy Pants smiled and nodded modestly, his anxieties still raging like a torrent in his mind.
“Unt now, sirs and madams, you see before your eyes, ze vonders of the modern dressmaking society brought to you by zis season’s most daring designers and vorn by my most talented of models”
He waved a hoof to the stage, beckoning over the models one by one. Each one appeared adorned with a dress that seemed to suit them perfectly. Both dress and model were unique, composed, confident and utterly beautiful. The crowd was generous with their enthusiasm, stamping hooves upon the grass as loudly as etiquette would allow. All Fancy Pants could think about was how much he had looked forward to seeing Fleur on the stage, no doubt dressed in a piece of finery that would fit her just so well and do all it could to make her look more stunning than she already always did. She was still the foremost matter on his mind. He didn’t know if that made him a better or worse stallion for putting everything he had in danger and failed at even that.
On and on the show continued and no show of glamour could compare to the image of his beloved that Fancy held in his mind. Yet it all reminded him of Fleur de Lis and how he had broken her heart and doomed her to pain and degradation. Would she live out the rest of her life convinced that the stallion she had loved so much held nothing but disdain and apathy for her? And what sort of life would that leave her with?
He could endure it no longer. Quietly turning away from the show, he prepared to go inside, barely listening to Photo Finish’s gleeful commentary.
“Zank you, Xylosa! And now, presenting our newest addition to our glorious troupe, tventy-six years old, born in Ponyville, eloquent, educated and as tall and graceful as a gilded goddess in spring...Fleur de Lis!”

Fancy’s eyes widened, unworried about dropping the absent monocle as he spun back round a full 180° and stared at the set as, passing by Roxy Stick, or Xylosa on the stage, was...her.
Fleur de Lis strode in, each little step a pose, dressed in clothing that Fancy had never really thought beautiful until now.
In truth she could have worn anything and would’ve suited her.
Pausing every length of the walk to wow the crowd with a playful posture, smiling enchantingly all the while, Photo Finish continued her introduction.
“Fleur de Lis is fortunate enough to be vearing a silver-embroidered, high-collared, fiber-trim suit in this season’s shade of pink, a stunning garb by ze gifted designer, Rococo Pommel and Daughter, appear in person for same-day custom-design guaranteed”
‘Rococo Pommel. Good to know that marvellous old mare’s still thriving’ A small thought popped into Fancy’s head. For the moment however, his attention was drawn predominantly to Fleur de Lis and her domination of the scene. There was no other word for it. Even in her most elated of moods, he’d never seen her show such splendour. It wasn’t even the astonishing suit she wore that made her so impossible to ignore. It was her sheer amount of confidence, of poise, of undaunted power.
She really was a goddess.
She was missing only the wings. And even then, she was close enough to an alicorn without them.
At least in Fancy’s eyes.
Though the crowd were close to the same opinion judging by their applause. As Fleur reached the end of the walk, he stood up on her two back hooves, a feat only capable by those with great reflexes or physical development, then spun round on one, her mane and tail flying around her like a pair of splendorous veils as pink as a winter sunset. Throwing her hooves behind her head, she brushed back her mane and let it dance before her, flowing out like a delightful pearl-pink stream. As Fancy stared out, his heart a-flutter, he just caught sight of her wink towards him.
The uncontrollable storm of gloom and anxiety that had bombarded the gentlecolt’s thought dissipated into the ether as he continued to watch Fleur de Lis make her exit.
She had stayed.
She hadn’t given up.
Fancy bowed his head, full of admiration.
She had possessed far more resolve than he had ever believed.
“Zank you, zank you all for your enthusiasm on zis day! Now silence!” Photo Finish bellowed “Ve vill continue ze shooting around ze Manor. Please vatch at your leisure but no interference of any kind vill be permitted. Ve vill also be allowing interviews viz our splendid models if your curiosity must be sated, starting viz our budding newcomer, Fleur de Lis. Until zen, mares and stallions, you have been a...satisfactory audience...I go!”
And with amazing speed that could have been mistaken for teleportation, Photo Finish had left the stage as the models were free to explore the manor and interact with its assembly.
‘Fleur...’ Fancy thought, thoroughly stunned at what he’d just seen ‘You really are extraordinary’


Earwax’s clients paid well but he could name few who didn’t get on his nerves.
Always so paranoid. A conspiracy here, a harassment scandal there and all the while he’d be sent back and forth collecting and the necessary information to use or destroy.
Then again, ponies didn’t pay six figure sums to arrange an injury lawsuit.
The pegasus arrived at the Canterlot Gazette headquarters, a towering skyscraper with shimmering cyan windows and gilded adornments, more as a means to fit in the rest of the scenery in truth. He stepped inside and was met with a receptionist before the elevator. He rapped on the desk and gave a curt introduction.
“Mr Earwax. You may have heard of me. I’m here to see Mr Buried Lede, the head of the company”
“Yes, thank you, I know the name of my boss” the secretary gave him a sarcastic look.
“Just send me up” Earwax growled. Unperturbed, the secretary pressed a button at her desk and the elevator opened as he’d demanded.
Earwax walked in and was sent up swiftly to the head of the company’s office.
As the doors opened, he found Buried Lede looking significantly unfriendly. More so than usual.
Buried Lede was a ruthless and notoriously caustic earth pony with a dark orange coat, a grey flat top of a mane and a moustache that spanned the length of his lip. He was almost always on edge, complaining or demanding one thing or another but had lapped up the smut on Fancy Pants with great enthusiasm, eager to publish it to a gossip-hungry populace at the slightest excuse.
Earwax had rather expected his arrival to be well-received. Instead, it seemed, nothing was further from the truth.
“Ah...Mr Lede...I trust you’ve been waiting for me”
“Oh ya bet I have, Earwax, ya bet yer mama’s flanks I have!” he snarled, taking a cigar out his mouth and waving it around frantically “Do ya read the Magnifique Fashion magazine?”
Earwax wasn’t expecting such a question.
“No...Not really my interest...” he said plainly.
“Well I’ve just started” Buried Lede snapped, eyes close to popping in fury, for whatever reason Earwax was unsure of “And ya know why I’ve just started? I’ll tell ya why I’ve just started! Because it might help me to know when some stuffed shirt is selling me stuff that could get me blacklisted by the media office!”
“...what?” Earwax took a step back, sensing all was not well as Buried Lede threw down the latest issue of Magnifique.
Depicted on the front, in a high-collar, fiber-trim pink suit, was the tall, young mare from the photographs.

Earwax’s eyes widened to the size of saucers and his jaw dropped several feet as he gave a weak exclamation.
“...oh buck...”
“Oh buck, indeed, pally!” Buried Lede yelled “The mare you claim to be an underage vagrant groomed for sexual service and political sabotage by the Royal Council Chairstallion, I was led to believe, turns out to be Canterlot’s newest up-and-coming model for that crazy Farman photographer! And guess what, her name, age and background appear in her profile! Fleur de Lis, twenty-six years old, born and raised in Ponyville, works part time as an ice-cream pony...who woulda thunk it!”
“Now...Mister Lede, I can explain...”
The irate CEO slammed a hoof down on his desk.
“Ya got yer head between yer flanks if ya think I’m gonna’ listen to anything else ya gotta’ say! It hasn’t ended well so far, I can tell ya’ that! When ya sent me the photos, which it’s worth pointing out went missing when I found this magazine on my desk this afternoon, ya promised me that Fancy Pants was due to fall in a citywide scandal the ponies of Equestria would never forget. As per yer recommendations, I pulled several strings and had it sent past the proofing and editing offices ahead of time to prepare for immediate publication...oh how wonderful it all sounded” He leaned forward, teeth bared.
“So ya can imagine my shock and dismay when those same offices tell me that, under Royal Decree No. 176 concerning confirmation and verification of any and all news and information required before being shown to the public, the Canterlot Gazette is facing temporary suspension and formal investigation of sources which, for the uninformed, is PRETTY BUCKING BAD FOR BUSINESS!”
“I...I...” Earwax was speechless.
“Save it!” He started backing a suitcase “Let me tell ya, this the last time I ever consider even touching information yer’ve sent me again, do ya hear me! Now if ya excuse me, I have to make a sincere apology to the Royal Council and quite possibly to the Princess herself in two hours and I assume ya have places to be! Now get the hay outta’ my office!”

Earwax’s mind was awash with fear as the elevator took his back to the ground floor.
Somehow somepony had moved before they did.
How? Who?
Nopony else was supposed to know but Fancy and he couldn’t do anything to stop it.
Something had gone wrong.
And now he was the one who’d have to tell Nitpick.
And his wife.
He gave a shudder at the thought.
The door opened and the receptionist smiled sardonically.
“Hello, Mr Earwax, was Mr Lede happy to see you?”
“That’s none of your concern!” Earwax barked.
“Of course not. Oh, by the way, there’s a stallion who wants to talk to you. He’s waiting outside”
Fuming at the inconvenience, Earwax stormed outside where a white-coated, blue-maned unicorn stallion stood in armour.
“Mr Earwax?” he asked calmly.
“Look, I really don’t have time to be answering questions right now, I’m a busy stallion, so make this quick” the lawyer snapped.
“Of course, I just have one question” the guard said, his horn flashing as several small pieces of paper rose in front of Earwax’s face.
“Are these yours?” the unicorn asked.
Paling significantly, Earwax gaped at the photos of Fancy Pants and Fleur for a moment before turning tail to run, only to find himself grabbed by the shoulders and hoof-cuffed by an enormous and humourless chocolate-brown mare with a jet-black slicked-back mane.
“I believe that answers the question, sir” she growled, deep but calm and strangely articulate.
“Thank you Corporal Blockbuster” the unicorn said as he turned to a rangy orange pegasus landed before them “And well done, Private Flash Sentry for bringing me these photos”
“Just another job well done for us, Sarge!” Flash Sentry said proudly.
“Indeed. You’re still getting three week’s fatigues for breaking into a private residence and stealing items”
Ignoring the muffled insults Flash Sentry strewed upon him, the unicorn glared at the apprehended lawyer with disdain.
“Mr Earwax. I am Sergeant Shining Armour of Her Majesty’s Palace Guard. You’re under arrest for invasion of privacy, extortion and public slander. Take him to lock-up”


“Oh stop being such a drama-queen, Cascadius, things are going off without a hitch! Victory is certain”
Countess Magnifying Glass looked remarkably confident considering her general demeanour a day ago, her trademark smirk etched into her face, as she triumphantly gazed out the window in the smoking room, calmly sipping whisky.
Cascadius, meanwhile, sat in a small armchair, his eyes closed in thought.
The only time one can be certain of victory...” he murmured “ after it has happened -Daimyo Furin Kazan of Hakuba, Master Strategist and Wielder of the Four Rings. He said it right before his faction, the Iron Sun Shogunate, suffered a crushing defeat at the hooves of Princess Laurelore and Lady Kimono in the War of the Fifth Ring. Sashimono, the eighteenth Shogun, didn’t listen to him. That was why there wasn’t a nineteenth”
The Countess sighed.
“Is this how you kill ponies then, Cascadius? By boring them to death? I’m not interested in what some rice-chomping Chineighpony said over a millennia ago”
The Countess raised an eyebrow and drew back slightly as Cascadius shot her a positively venomous glare, as she’d said something uncouth about a member of his close family.
“Furinkazan was not Chineighse, he was Neighponese. They are very different countries. His skill and wisdom crafted Neighpon into a society of unparalleled warriors. He was an exceptional pony and I shall thank you, milady, not to speak ill of him”
The Countess stared at his humourless expression a moment then turned away, tutting.
“You didn’t tell me there was another alicorn in Canterlot” Cascadius said, changing the subject but keeping his morose tone.
“Well...she was only a filly last time I hired you” the Countess shrugged “This would be Lady Mi Amore Cadenza then?”
“Yes...she is...unusual” Cascadius placed his hooves together in front of his lips in thought “When did she ascend?”
“Does it matter?”
“It matters to me” He had answered very quickly, as if snapping.
“Nopony knows. Celestia found her that way, wandering the wastelands to the north”
Cascadius’s eyes widened but that was the only change in his position.
“How old was she?” he asked.
“Barely older than a foal, or so I was told”
A slight smile crept into Cascadius’s features.
“Interesting” he said.
‘Another opportunity...’ he thought ‘To reclaim the prize that was stolen from me...stolen by him His hooves pressed angrily into the arms of the chair ‘But later...later...once he is dealt with...I never make the same mistake twice’

“Are you sure you won’t have a drink?” the Countess asked, hints of mockery in her voice “Hoity Toity has quite an eye for these things”
“Who?” Cascadius turned to face her.
“Oh don’t you know him? Famous celebrity critic around Canterlot. Gave my husband some congratulatory gifts at the Hanoverian”
“ mean he knows?”
“There’s no harm. We hold all the cards” She swigged the whisky, cleared her throat and chuckled “The plan is foolproof”
“Explain to me, milady, how a foolproof plan is carried out by fools
“Oh for Tartarus’ sake, even those blockheads can’t mess it up! He hasn’t any other option but to submit to us”
“He hasn’t...She has”
The Countess paused and eyed him.
“What do you mean?”
Cascadius looked at the Countess as one would a stupid puppy, with amusement and a hint of pity, as he got to his hooves.
“Why don’t we see what’s on the orb?” he asked sweetly.
Heart starting to constrict with worry, Magnifying Glass lit up her horn at the smoking room orb. The crystal ball filled with carmine smog and projected the image across the wall.
The image of a very familiar mare on the fashion channel.
There was a pause. Cascadius looked away, smirking slightly as the sound of a glass of whisky being dropped from a moderate height onto the floor sounded across the smoking-room before he left the room, no doubt through an exit only he knew.
Countess Magnifying Glass stood almost completely still.
Then she remembered how to use her voice again.


Fleur was led to a podium where a couple of journalists and several guests saw fit to surround her and satisfy their inquiries.
“When did you start modelling?”
Fleur gave a giggle and answered honestly, nothing to hide.
“Well, I went into modelling as a part-time job during my final years at school, nothing too important. I’ve been working freelance until now. I do quite like working in the business, it’s difficult sometimes but it’s all worth it and it’s good to do the things you love”
“Your profile says you’re from Ponyville? Anything to say about that?”
“It was a good place for my parents to start their business. It was lovely growing up there. I’d actually recommend visiting there to anypony. I’m not afraid to say it. I do love it here in Canterlot but Ponyville is a beautiful town, there’s nothing quite like it”
There was a murmur ranging from agreement to disagreement from the crowd.
“Would you say you are currently in a relationship?”
Fleur gave an exaggerated sheepish look.
“Ah...I’ll admit, I’ve been a bit of a shut-in in recent years, odd for a model, I know, but...let’s just say I’m still adjusting to the city life” She shrugged “But I’d say, given time...there might be somepony special to me but...” She gave a wink and a cheeky nudge of the camera with her forehoof “I’m afraid that’s going to have to wait for another time”
“Fleur de Lis! You are required!” Photo Finish boomed from the manor.
“Oh, and that I think will have to do. Thank you all, everypony, read my story in the Magnifique, you’ve been a great audience”
Giving them a dainty wave goodbye, Fleur strutted off toward the manor.
In the commotion of the guests and reporters, Tombola neatly deposited a small flat circle of glass into Fleur’s chest pocket and gave her a meaningful nod.
Stage Two of the plan was underway.

Fancy Pants half-sat, half-stood in the corridor of Briefly Manor, puffing like a bellows, a day and a night of endless anxiety lifted from his shoulders, as well as thoroughly flustered by Fleur’s performance.
This was it then, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.
Why did it feel so exhausting?
Just around the corridor, Photo Finish’s entourage were posing beside pieces from his modest but definitely sufficient art collection.
It must have been Vidalia who was on at the moment, last time he checked. And for once, Photo Finish said nothing about changing her posture. Today was definitely a productive day for them.
Even if Fleur hadn’t come back, it would still have felt laudable.
Now, no matter what Nitpick did to him, he was safe in the knowledge that his beloved was safe.
Fancy Pants braced himself to meet the mare of his dreams again. He hoped to Celestia that she had forgiven him for the letter he sent. It would be difficult to build their relationship back up again after what had happened, especially with the press about.
Hopefully he’d find a way around it. And even if, worst case scenario, there was no way for them to get back together, at least he had done all he could to protect her.
In fact, he had gone one step further.
He had helped her protect herself.

“Excuse me?”
A very familiar and very lovely voice beside him turned his head.
There she was. Fleur de Lis, still in her suit.
Behind her were a handful of ponies. Perhaps a couple of journalists among them.
Just faces in the crowd.
It didn’t matter now.
Fancy Pants adjusted his bowtie and prepared to speak.
He was cut off as Fleur’s magic produced an item that had, until a day ago, been very precious to him.
“Is this your monocle?” she asked “I think you left it on the courtyard table. I didn’t think you’d want to lose it”
“Th-thank you...”
As she gently placed it back on him, Fancy felt more himself than ever before. Invigorated, he spoke as he had done that fateful Rejuvenation Festival in Fleur’s hometown.
“Charmed...You’re a very kind...and if you don’t mind me saying...very pretty young mare”
It was always her smile. The most beautiful thing about Fleur de Lis was always her smile.
Behind them, the guests gossiped among each other and the journalists worked on catchy headline titles but Fleur de Lis didn’t care.
He just watched as Fancy Pants adjusted his monocle, gave a smile and became his old self.
It was good to have him back.


In the smoking room at Invitro Hall, the Glass family household and cohorts cowered in unison as Countess Magnifying Glass stood stock-still, lips white, eyes bulging as Masquerade the newsmare appeared on the channel.
“That’s right Canterlot! Love is in the air, especially around Briefly Manor as reporters are flocking to broadcast the goings-on where, according to rumour, the current Chairstallion, Fancy Pants, and an upcoming model in Photo Finish’s circle named Fleur de Lis have apparently fallen for each other at first sight! The two were unwilling to divulge into details but when asked their honest opinion, the Chairstallion’s friends and acquaintances had inklings that their relationship will become fruitful and believed the two were very suitable for each other, judging by Miss Fleur de Lis’s announcement at the modelling shoot held at Briefly Manor”
The cameras appeared on Fleur de Lis, who had been handed the microphone and was standing in her suit before the crowd, smiling proudly.
“Thank you all so much for coming here on this very special day” she began “Hoity Toity, who I’m sure you know well, has declared this the most eventful and unique fashion show he’s seen in a while and guarantees us the highest ratings in the capital”
There was a great round of applause as Hoity Toity gave a modest bow before Fleur continued.
“Now, what you may not know is that Mister Fancy Pants allowed our shoot to be held at Briefly Manor absolutely free of charge”
There was a murmur of surprise and a round of applause for Fancy Pants.
“Therefore,” Fleur said, beaming “with the profits made significantly higher than expected and more than enough investments to kick-start our enterprise, Photo Finish and company have decided that the money raised today will go straight to the funding of refugee camps in Shajarat as Fancy Pants proposed at his last speech, if you’ll remember. I’m told we’ll have enough to properly feed, shelter and protect over two million Saddle Arabian refugees for as long as they may need. And we couldn’t have done it without you”
There was a raucous applause that was likely sounded all across the capital as Fleur, Fancy Pants, Photo Finish, Hoity Toity and the cast and crew of the modelling shoot all received lavish praise from the throng of guests.
“With this grand show of generosity and, more importantly, the success of his promised proposals,” Masquerade continued “The votes for Fancy have climbed to nearly eighty percent of the-”
The carmine magic inside the orb flared and rumbled like a thunderstorm, exploding outwards, causing the orb to crack slightly and the image projected across the wall to dissipate and fade away.

Nitpick, Cumbersome, Monocular, Binocular, Morion, Culverin, Arquebus and Cringeworth all stared fearfully at the Glass Family matriarch who turned to them with the morbid, rigid smile of a pony who has thoroughly lost their marbles.
“How...did...this...happen?” she asked, her voice fluttering between octaves maniacally.
“I...I...I can’t imagine, my dear...” Nitpick whimpered “I...he...there was no way he could’ve...he was defeated, we saw it in his eyes when we...”
He stopped, doing an amazing impression of a suffocating haddock as his dear wife paced toward him, the sickly grin chiselled into her features.
“” she hissed, her eyebrow twitching frantically.
“When...” Nitpick gulped and answered in a decidedly high-pitched tone “When we told him...
The Countess’s teeth grinded against each other, her lips still stuck that ghastly grin as she closed her eyes, breathing deeply through flared nostrils.
“You....told him?” she said, horribly calm.
“Our plan?”
Another deep breath.
“I see”
“M-m-milady” Cumbersome stammered “He was powerless, if you had seen his face. There wasn’t a thing he could do to stop us”
“Well...that’s obviously not true...” Magnifying Glass growled “Otherwise we wouldn’t have seen what we just saw...”
“B-b-but...the photos...we...he couldn’t have...” Nitpick blustered, sweating profusely, and snapped to Arquebus “Contact Earwax immediately, tell him to get in touch with the Gazette!”
The khaki pegasus pulled out a transceiver, tuned it and held it to his ear for several moments.
“” he mumbled “Mister in prison...”
“What?!” Nitpick wailed “Why?!”
“Well, sir...” Arquebus put away his transceiver and shifted on his hooves “They found the photos”
Clammy-browed and goggle-eyed Nitpick sat down stunned as the Countess drew herself up, her face as red as her magic.
“I blame myself...” she said flatly “I really hadn’t thought to tell you...I didn’t consider it all that necessary at the time...”
“T-t-tell us...what?” Cumbersome burbled.
“Oh’s very simple...” the Countess’s horn crackled and flared as those around her watched with horror, making plans to bolt at the first opportunity.
“When you have a knife at somepony’s back...when you have poisoned their drink...sabotaged their carriage...trip-wired their door...when you are waiting in the shadows for the chance to spring out and end their days...YOU! DON’T! TELL! THEM!"

All Tartarus broke loose as the Countess let loose an unearthly scream and set about rearranging the entire smoking room, furniture, appliances and antiques flying at all those present, all the while bellowing insults.
All ponies barring the Countess tried in vain to escape unscathed. Nitpick hid behind an armchair to avoid the dreaded poker landing somewhere profoundly uncomfortable before the armchair itself set about flattening him into the floor. Cumbersome fell in a heap, painting after painting shoved over his head, the frames hanging round his neck. Binocular ran around, screeching and yelping as the poker thrashed at her enormous backside while Monocular struggled to remove a vase that had become stuck on her pinched, little head. Cringeworth was bowled out the room as a dresser took him straight in the face and carried him out, landing in the hallway with a crash. Morion, Culverin and Arquebus made to hold the Countess down but ended up battered by her flailing hooves far worse than they’d gotten from Fancy Pants in the Lower Gardens. In the absence of any nobler ways out, the seven helpless ponies streamed out the door of the smoking-room and were disinclined to stay in Invitro Hall for the remainder of the hour as the Countess finished thoroughly demolishing the smoking room, standing in a heap of debris, breathless and delirious.
Cascadius gazed at the aftermath and nursed his temples with one hoof.
‘I want to go back to Saddle Arabia’ he thought as he brought out a fresh whisky bottle and a glass from another room.
“I presume this is the congratulatory gift then?” he asked innocently.
“Shut up! Just shut up!” The Countess sounded close to sobbing “I’m not thirsty!”
“Just as well. I am” He poured a glass and downed it. Barely reacting to the strength, he smiled at the vintage.
“Mmm...Thane MacCaledon’s Finest” he said with mirth “Hoity Toity really does have good taste. At least when it comes to whisky”
“Well I’ll be interested to know where he gets it so I can DROWN HIM IN IT!” Magnifying Glass screamed.
Sighing, Cascadius put one of the armchairs back up and sat down.
“Am I to understand that the time has come for more...aggressive methods?”
“As far as possible!” Magnifying Glass stared him dead in the eye "I don’t care what you have to do, or who you have to send, I want them dead! Fancy Pants! Fleur de Lis! Photo Finish! Hoity Toity! Blueblood! Carcassonne! Earl Grey! Everypony! I will not be satisfied until I can paint the walls of Invitro Manor with their blood!”
“Oh I can do better than that” Cascadius said, smiling “I can give you free reign over Canterlot for a day and a night. Tomorrow morning a terrible disaster will befall Equestria that will require Celestia’s immediate and prolonged attention. In that time, all your little demons will be purged. I have a friend coming over to take care of Carcassonne. She and this Cadenza we were talking about have been digging up dirt on us and I think we’re done letting that slide aren’t we”
“See to it that it’s done!” The Countess barked, eyes as cold and bloodless as a pair of icicles “I want Fancy Pants’ demise to be as long and painful as you made that of his parents!”
Cascadius closed his eyes and pursed his lips in what almost looked like regret. Then he spoke.
“Your wish, my lady, is my command”