A dead silence reigned in the little hideout.
“That’s… bad,” Lyra said.
“It’s certainly not good,” Misty agreed, with just a hint of sarcasm.
“Nilla's tough, though,” Bon Bon mused. “She would win in a fair fight.”
“Fair fight,” Misty emphasized. “She’s still limping from our last encounter with the bugbear.”
“Right,” Bon Bon muttered. “Nearly forgot about that.”
“You’re in a wheelchair,” Lyra observed.
“I’ve been in a wheelchair for years. I’ve trained with it, I’m used to being in it,” Misty said with a shrug. “Vanilla, not so much. The bugbear incident was the last thing she did before SEMHA got permanently grounded.”
“She probably went right back to her parents’ ice cream shop, put an apron on, and never looked back,” Bon Bon agreed quietly.
Lyra looked around, desperate for a change in the conversation. “How does this place still have power?”
“We leech off the casino,” Misty answered, clearly happy to change the subject. “We chose this place because casinos are loud, noisy, and use a ton of power. Nopony would even notice what we use, let alone any agents walking in. Sweetie Drops there once walked in dragging an unconscious body behind her and nopony on the floors even looked twice at her. And if anything ever happened to the casino, we have backup generators in the back.” She jerked her head back to the corner. “They've got magic reactions going on inside; slowed to a safe level, of course.”
Lyra looked over and brightened. “Ooh, I know about these!” She hesitated, lifting a forehoof and rocking backwards. “They’re pretty dangerous, though, aren’t they?”
“Only if used incorrectly,” Misty said firmly.
“Kindof like SEMHA agents,” Bon Bon added brightly. “But if we’re friends-” here, she nudged Lyra, “then they’re the best ones to have on your side.”
“As long as those boron safety cores are inside, those generators are perfectly safe,” Misty finished. “But don't put a boron safety core in Sweetie Drops. It would be very painful…” She paused, and then a little smirk flitted across her face. “-for you,” she finished.
Bon Bon wrapped a foreleg around Lyra's shoulders and pulled her in close. “Pay no attention to the loony pegasus in the metal chair,” she said, playfully brushing her mane out of her face. “I'm your bestest friend, and I won't let anypony or anything hurt you.”
Lyra returned the gesture by brushing a hoof gently across Bon Bon's barrel. “Thanks, Bon Bon,” she said sincerely. “You're the best.”
“Ugh, you're going to give me the sugar sickness,” Misty complained, wheeling herself out of the way. “How about you get all cuddly-cuddly later and we try to figure out who's behind this now?”
Bon Bon stepped forward, away from Lyra. “Right. We know they're organized, and they have access to information regular ponies don't, so they're rich, well-connected, or both. Who fits that and wants us dead?”
“Who didn't want us dead?” Misty snorted. “We stepped on a ton of tails.” She smiled wistfully. “Good times.”
Bon Bon gave her a flat look.
“Are we thinking vamponies?” Misty asked, pretending to get back on track.
“I doubt it. That'd be a lot of favors to cash in. I'm thinking crime ring.”
“The Golden Claw,” Misty suggested. “Went up to nobles. They were pretty upset when we shut down their Phoenix feather trading operation.”
“We burned their headquarters to the ground,” Bon Bon pointed out.
“Oh, yeah. One of the best fires we've ever set, I remember now. Made it look like a complete accident. Sparky even did that thing with the wires, fire marshal bought it completely. Uh… The Black Manes?”
“Minor sap dealers, no way they'd have the resources to unseal or obtain any of our records.”
“Point. Uh… The Hoof Clan?”
“Now you’re just insulting me,” Bon Bon scowled. “Two-bit mobsters at best. If the royal guard would actually get off their flanks, they’d be yesterday’s news.”
Misty tapped her hoof. “The Mangled Marks?” she suggested, clearly grasping for straws.
“Please. Those pill-pushing pansies?” Bon Bon scoffed. “On a good day they can't tell their manes from their tails.”
“I don't know any of these names,” Lyra whispered, looking back and forth between the two former agents.
Misty smiled wryly. “Oh. Right. Civvie. Uh…” She looked over and pointed at a different area. “There're some books over there you might like to read instead.”
Lyra walked over to the bookshelf, lit her horn, and pulled up the first book she found. She read the title aloud. “‘Resisting Torture’ by Mistress Clamps?”
“Ooh, that’s a good one,” Misty said. “Lots of good stuff on breathing exercises and concentration techniques when somepony’s plucking out your feathers.”
Bon Bon pointed to Lyra. Specifically, she pointed to Lyra's still-lit horn.
“Oh! Right. There’s a chapter on breaking magic restriction rings; could you read it and tell me if it works? I’ve been curious, but…” She gestured wryly at her bare forehead.
Lyra nodded shakily and opened the book. She wasn't sure what to expect, but found there to be plenty of pictures (did the mare really need to be wearing such a tight bridle to demonstrate those breathing techniques?) and the instructions were simple to follow. She nodded and focused her magic, practicing the simple starting technique. She went back over to the table to read, thankful for the distraction.
Bon Bon kept thinking aloud. “Maybe the threat is griffon?”
Misty nodded thoughtfully. “That's possible. Lots of splinter groups, do anything for anypony for enough bits. Ponies were sent after us, which could be because they're cheaper than other griffs. And it’s probably not minotaur because they usually work exclusively with goats.”
“So, griffons. They don’t usually do groups; mostly just long enough to get paid and screech for bits. We had three groups calling themselves the Talons of the West, remember that?”
“Yeah. Made it pretty interesting when we tried to track down their leader. Remember the ones at the warehouse?”
Bon Bon nodded. “You shanked him as he was walking by, remember that?”
“Oh, can’t forget,” Misty chuckled wistfully. “Tried to hide himself among the common gangsters. Silk vests are always a… dead giveaway.” She snickered at her own pun.
“That one vest cost more than I made in a year,” Bon Bon agreed. “Felt good seeing you do that, really.”
“Hey, girls?” Lyra interrupted.
Lyra raised a hoof and pointed at one of the dashboards, where a light was flashing urgently and something was rattling quietly, something that might have at one time been an alarm. “What does that little red light mean?”
Misty cursed under her breath and slid over to the board, confirming what she’d already suspected. She pulled a small lever, and Lyra recognized the sound of the blow dart launcher emerging. “It means we’ve got company. Something or somepony breached the outer door.”
“Vanilla Swirl?” Lyra looked up hopefully.
Everypony's ears pinned as a loud creaking sound wrenched through the air, almost as if the door were being forced open, and then a colossal clanging as it dropped to the ground.
“Probably not,” Misty said, hitting a button. They could hear the spring-loaded dart fly, and a pony choked out a breath as the dart found its target.
“Not a chance,” Bon Bon muttered, eyes glancing around for something. “She couldn’t have forced the door, didn’t give the password, and she would have known to duck.”
“And that’s far too many hoofsteps for one pony,” Misty murmured, sliding over back towards the dashboard. “I’ll see what else we’ve got.”
“Stay calm,” Bon Bon said, looking at Lyra. “We've got self defense-”
“Air cartridges are dead,” Misty warned, pushing a button repeatedly that seemed to have no effect.
“Had self defense mechanisms,” Bon Bon corrected. She scowled. “Didn't you check those?”
“They are up in the ceiling!” Misty hissed, pointing upwards.
Bon Bon exhaled. “Plan F?”
“Plan F,” Misty said, drawing her dagger.
“What’s Plan F?” Lyra asked, her voice nearly a squeak.
“Hit them with sharp things until they stop moving,” Misty said brightly.
“Get back into the lounge and stay down,” Bon Bon warned Lyra. “This is going to be messy.”
“I can help,” Lyra protested weakly.
“Get. Back,” Bon Bon repeated.
Lyra nodded and headed further back. Darkness blanketed behind her as Misty turned off the lights. The front end of the hideout seemed to be all business, but back here it seemed to be more chill; the hard chairs gave way to couches, carpet, and even a pool table.
Her ears pricked up at the sound of conflict. Loud crashes and crunches and what sounded like bones breaking. She winced and scurried under the pool table. Maybe back here was just fine, after all.
The sounds of fighting continued, escalating to screams now, and Lyra buried her head in her hooves. This had not been on today’s plans! She didn’t want any part of this. How was this happening to her? All she’d wanted to do was-
Somepony came in, and Lyra held her breath.
“Lyra?” the stranger called.
“Misty?” Lyra poked her head out. “What’s happening-?”
Bon Bon tumbled in, blood splattered across her fur.
Lyra gasped and scrambled out from under the table. “Bon Bon?!”
“It's fine, it's not mine. Help me move this.” Bon Bon pointed at the pool table.
Lyra lit her horn and helped Bon Bon slide the table over as a barrier.
“There’s so many of them! What is this, a task force?” Misty asked.
“Nah, a task force has smoke grenades,” Bon Bon answered, picking up one of the cue sticks. “Misty? Why don’t we have smoke grenades?”
Bon Bon snapped the stick in two with her teeth and hefted the thicker side, casting a critical eye over the splintered edge. “Well, where are they?”
Misty paused. “I think the EBI requisitioned them after the shutdown.”
“The EBI doesn’t need smoke grenades!” Bon Bon hissed.
“Tell them that!”
“If my clearance still worked, I would!”
Lyra could tell that this wasn’t actual fighting; it was coping. They were scared. And that meant Lyra was scared, too. “Why aren’t they attacking?” she whispered.
“It’s not good, whatever it is,” Bon Bon said. “Hey, Lyra, levitate over part of that mirror, could you?”
Lyra looked around and spotted a broken mirror that looked like it had fallen off the wall a while ago. She lit her horn and pulled a shard over, and tilted it so they could see from their cover.
She didn’t like what she saw.
A tall stallion stood there on a table, standing above a small group of ponies decked out in black tactical uniforms. “Sweetie Drops!” he called.
“Who?” Bon Bon called back.
“Sweetie Drops,” the stallion repeated, his face curling in a bit of a snarl.
“Sorry, don't know her. She owe you money?”
“No; but she’s worth a lot to me dead or alive.”
“Oh, so you’re a bounty hunter,” Bon Bon returned.
“For the right price. And you're worth quite a lot, Sweetie Drops.”
“Aw, you sweet talker,” Bon Bon said, scuffing the edge of the broken pool cue with the edge of her hoof. “I bet you say that to all the mares.”
Bon Bon’s sarcasm prompted a little giggle from Lyra.
“I'm giving you a chance to surrender peacefully.”
Bon Bon gestured with her head, and Misty started wheeling herself backwards. She motioned for Lyra to follow before speaking again. “What, did my first response not give you an answer?”
“You're out of weapons and outnumbered. My client prefers you be alive, but you dead still gets us a pretty bit.”
Seeing that Misty and Lyra were out of the room, Bon Bon started scooting backwards as well. “Please. I could kill you with a teacup if I wanted to. Anything can be a weapon. Like this!”
She straightened up and rammed the pool cue into the pony who had jumped in a surprise attack. His own momentum and her quick motion doubled the force of the impact. She kicked him off, sliding his still wheezing body off the stick. The second pony took the blunt half upside his head, and stumbled to the ground. Bon Bon twirled the stick. “Is that all you got?”
Bon Bon took a hop, skip, and a step backwards. The ponies rushed her…
And then a seafoam green bolt of magic hit the ceiling, and collapsed it. Rubble rained down, causing a major distraction.
Bon Bon took full advantage of this and whacked two more ponies with her cue stick before driving it into a third pony’s eye and running back to where the others were.
“Nice job, Lyra!” Misty cheered.
“Yeah. Nice shot. Start running!” Bon Bon shouted, running past them.
They chased after her, going deeper into the hideout, Lyra’s heart beating furiously.
Definitely not how she’d expected today to go.