A pony up to fairly little good was pulling a small wagon through the park. It was just after dawn, and the light ringing of somepony's alarm clock could be heard in the distance, making the stallion frown. Eyeing a familiar tree, he separated from the cart, giving the higher branches a passive look.
“Sid, ya there?” he asked, getting a surprised yelp from above, followed by panicked desperation, before a short scream that ended with a crack as something unseen fell into the bushes. Slick let out a small sigh as his companion's camouflage melted away, revealing an embarrassed lamia, sprawled out through the underbrush.
“P- Present...” she replied, sitting up, rubbing her head, before giving the stallion a curious look.
“Ya stayed back, right?”
“Right, just like you told me!” she replied, giving him a fired-up look.
“And...?” she repeated, titling her head.
“Did ya learn anythin' useful?” he asked as he brought a hoof to his head.
“Oh! Uhmm, I think Reina hasn't used her eyes on Trixie,” she replied, getting a curious look from him.
“Yeah. She's got these glasses, and they both got rather depressed when she dropped them while bathing in the rain.”
“Hmm, magical glasses eh? I guess ah student of Luna can-” he then blinked, “Wait, bathin'?” he asked, getting a happy nod from Sid, “What kinda broad makes ah filly clean up outside, in ah city?” he asked, before shaking his head. “If she's not under Reina's magic, that's gonna makes things … complicated.”
“If you say so,” the mare replied, “It's just a feeling, but I think the she isn't gonna just give Reina up,” Sid said with a bothered sigh, before slinking over to the wagon, adopting a small smile as she pulled out a make-up kit.
“Not yet,” Slick said, making her blink at him, before putting the kit back, crestfallen.
“So, big boss was mad then?” she asked, giving Slick a guarded look.
“He was,” he replied as he rubbed his bruised cheek.
“Sorry about breaking the wagon, and Trixie's too,” she added as she eyed the ground, getting a bothered look from the stallion.
“It ain't that bad,” he quickly assured, getting a confused look from her, “Boss got all strange-like when I mentioned the broad's name.”
“Ya, got all quiet. He looked, well, scared,” he explained, before frowning, “He wants us to just watch 'em 'til they leave the city.”
“Sounds good to me,” she replied, kit in her hooves. She noticed the bothered look her companion was wearing, making her tilt her head.
“He's assignin' 'back-up'.”
“He is!?” she replied energetically, getting a hushing motion from Slick, the stallion peering through the trees to their back, Trixie's carriage barely visible in the distance. “S- Sorry. So, who is it? Is it Habadashery?” she asked, making him shake his head. “Glimmer?”
“Ch-,” he let out, spitting to the side, “No. And all the better fer it. That mare gives me the willies.”
“Awww, but she's kinda cute,” she replied, ears fallen. “Umm, what about Flora Bed?” another shake of his head. “Bark? Yoinker? Clangidie Clang? Yick Yack? Onno Matto Peia?” she asked, winning a 'no' for each, prompting Sid to adopt a worried look. “R- Ruler?”
“Thankfully, no,” he replied, getting a sigh of relief from her, before her eyes widened.
“Then, that just leaves...” her ears fell along with her silence, tears starting to well up.
“I- Isn't dealing with that firework mare bad enough!” she said, tears running down her cheeks. “C- Can we ditch this for a better job? Like, watching paint dry? In jail, where it's safer?” she asked, getting close to the stallion, a desperate, begging look in her eyes.
“Sorry Sid. I told the boss the same, but she's the closest around,” he replied, before giving her a cool look. “Anyways, we messed this up, so now we gotta set it straight.”
“W- When's she coming?” she asked, getting a troubled look from Slick.
“Any moment now,” he replied, peering through the trees. His eyes then narrowed, “Where's the specs?” he asked, getting a flustered look from the lamia. Digging through the bush she landed in, she picked up a pair of...
Slick frowned, getting a sheepish grin from Sid as she gave him two 'monoculars' hanging from the same strap. He simply shook his head, before using one to get a better look at Trixie's carriage. “Ch- Look's like our tail's caught up with Reina,” he said, getting a confused look from Sid, making him nod his head in Trixie's direction. “The zebra...”
“So your name is Zecora?” Trixie asked, getting a nod from the cloaked stranger, taking off her hood.
“Ah!” Reina let out, eyes filled with surprise, “I remember that mane! Mom helped you when...” her face then scrunched, “When you were ... ?” she asked, getting a pleasant chuckle from the mare.
“It is lifting that you recall my face from then, when your mother carried me to her den,” Zecora replied, “Lost I was, in the southern sands weak with thirst. But with her aid, my plight grew no worse,” she explained, getting a small nod from the filly.
“That's right!" Reina replied with a nod, "You talked funny back then too,” she pointed out, getting another small chuckle from the zebra.
"And you have certainly grown, your voice now eagerly shown," she pointed out, getting a bashful smile from the filly,
“Yeah yeah, touching,” Trixie interjected, motioning Reina back from the door, “What's the short of it? Where's Reina's mother? And why are you showing up now?”
“The short of it that you do seek, is I must guide—“
“On second thought, nevermind,” Trixie interrupted, getting a surprised look from Zecora. “Trixie just needs to know where Reina's mother is,” she said, getting a considering look from the zebra, who glanced from Trixie to the filly.
“She waits south of Baltimare, where she can hide,” she replied, making Trixie blink.
“Guide and hide? Does that count as a rhyme?” Tiko asked as Reina's eyes grew in awe, “She is not a dum-dum!” he added.
“Using a rhyme is sublime,” Trixie began with an annoyed look, “but to astound a crowd, you must dare for flare.” She then raised her head, “Besides, that rhyme of hers was ruined by Trixie's interruption.”
“Of my rhyming, what you speak is true. But tell me Trixie, what will you do?” Zecora asked, indicating Reina.
“Trixie will take her there, of course,” she replied matter-of-factly, getting a surprised look from the zebra. Zecora considered Trixie for a moment, before nodding herself.
“If that is how it will be, then I shall accompany thee.”
“W- Wait, Trixie didn't ask for your help!” she replied, getting a confused look from Zecora.
“I didn't mean to get you riled. I simply seek to help the child,” she pointed out, making Trixie hesitate.
“Trixie is just being a dum dum. More is better!” Tiko chimed in, getting an agreeing nod from Reina. Trixie glared at the doll and its companion for a moment, before considering Zecora.
“You know where to go, but Trixie can fix that with this map,” she said, levitating out said article, before pointing at Baltimare. “If you want to accompany Trixie, you're gonna need to do more than rhyming.”
“A mare of many skills I am. Herbs, potions, lore, and more, madam.” Zecora then pulled out two vials, one a quarter the size of the other. “Particular diet, Reina has, which this brew can aid. While this one will make her eye's power fade.”
“Diet?” Trixie asked curiously, seeing Reina eye the larger vial. The filly blushed as her stomach made a gurgling noise, making her glance to the side for a moment, before eyeing the smaller vial. “Well, besides that, Reina doesn't need her power 'faded', that's what the glasses are for,” she pointed out, getting a disagreeing look from the lamia, who kept it to herself.
“But, the glasses only work when I wear them,” Reina said flatly, getting a cross look from Trixie.
“Let Trixie see those,” she replied, making Reina blink, before eyeing the ground as she took the glasses off. Zecora put her smaller potion away as she eyed Trixie curiously. The alchemist then noticed the filly carefully eyeing the larger brew, prompting the zebra to give it to her. As Reina accepted it, Trixie's horn started to glow brighter, the glasses doing the same. “So what's this about a diet? Are Lamia allergic to water or something?” Zecora chuckled at that, but her reply was cut short when Reina tapped her with her tail, avoiding eye contact as she shook her head. The sage nodded in understanding.
“Hard foods are no good. Leave that to me, if you would.”
“...Fine,” Trixie replied, looking a little put off.
“Hey, Trixie!” an unknown, tomboyish voice called out from outside, making Trixie's concentration waver, getting a frown from the show-pony as she glanced outside. She raised an eyebrow as she took in a pegasus wearing goggles and thin saddlebags hovering several meters above. “Catch~!” she let out, a red stick with a lit fuse leaving her hooves. Trixie's horn glowed. The pegasus' smile then turned to surprise as her stick stopped falling, floating right in front of her. “Eh?”
The pegasus disappeared in a small plume of fire and smoke, the boom making the carriage rock slightly, wind blowing through Trixie's mane. The show-pony couldn't help but smile.
“Now, where were we?” Trixie asked, looking quite pleased with herself as her attention returned to the glasses.
“Y- You think a single explosion is- cough, is gonna do me in!” the ruffled pegasus asked, flying closer, another lit stick in her hooves. Her eyes then widened when they met Reina's, whose attention had been caught by the explosion.
Trixie casually glanced over her shoulder as she stomped a hoof on her carriage. In response, the magical crystal in the cupboard glowed brightly, its light shining through the wood as the pegasus was trapped in a magical cage. Said prison was short-lived, the bars disintegrating as another explosion swallowed up the pegasus.
Trixie frowned, hearing the crystal snap as the cupboard burst to pieces. Feeling flames lick the carriage's canopy, Trixie took in a deep breath, putting the glasses back on Reina's surprised head, before giving the thinning mushroom cloud her undivided attention.
“You haven't won yet, you hay-rolling meddler!” the mare let out, the smoke giving way to reveal that her original colors were now lost in a layer of black soot. She was pointing accusingly, but was facing the wrong direction.
“The Great and Powerful Trixie disagrees,” she replied, sounding as if the entire thing was beneath her, “Incidentally your saddlebags are on fire,” she added, her horn glowing to make the statement true, getting an alarmed look from the pegasus. She tried to reach for her bags, only to notice they weren't on her back. She rubbed the soot from her goggles, before freezing in acknowledgment. Trixie was levitating the fiery bags a pace away from the flying mare.
“You- You cheeky little-!” Trixie levitated the bags closer, getting an indignant cry from the demolitionist as she started to fly away, her bags in hot pursuit. Her flight was given a speedy boost when the bags detonated, propelling the pegasus out of the fireball, leaving a trail of smoke in her wake as she disappeared beyond the tree line.
“...Is she going to be okay?” Reina asked in an unsure tone, getting a short scoff from Trixie.
“A mare like that is quite tough, even if that was a little rough,” Zecora replied, looking a little bewildered.
“Who was that?” the filly asked curiously, wiping some ash from her glasses, and successfully smudging them instead.
“Don't know. Either it was somepony jealous of how amazing Trixie is! Or, probably a friend of those two goons,” she replied, giving Reina's glasses a light tap with her hoof, making them sparkle, soot free. “Now, the enchantment Trixie's placed on the glasses will linger after you take them off, about half an hour or so. You won't need those silly potions, and the magic will stay longer if your eyes are closed, so your eyes will still be safe for a few minutes after waking up in the morning.”
“R- Really!?” Reina asked wide-eyed, getting a small smile from Trixie as she nodded. “Thanks Trixie!”
“Think nothing of it, assistant. Trixie is well aware of how nasty 'good' concoctions taste, and felt it was her solemn deed to spare you such torment,” she said valiantly, winning another small chuckle from Zecora, which got a brief look of annoyance from Trixie in return.
“What's going on out here?” another unexpected voice asked, making Trixie shoot daggers from her eyes at the source. Those daggers melted away with surprising swiftness as Trixie took in the police officer.
“T- Trixie can explain...”
“Fricken unicorns!” Ember Dust exclaimed, getting small, agreeing nods from Slick and Sid, “Had I another stick, I would have had her!” she added, getting flat looks from them. “What, I would!”
“We saw the whole thing,” Sid said, before mumbling 'idiot' under her breath.
“Ya know it's bad if Sid calls ya an idiot,” Slick pointed out, getting an alarmed look from the lamia, who slinked back as Ember got in her face.
“Who are you calling an idiot?” she asked, making the stallion clear his throat.
“Sid, what do you call a pony that blows themselves up?”
“Unfortunate,” she quickly replied, getting a briefly disappointed look from Slick as the pegasus turned her ire towards him.
“Let's get movin',” he insisted, “The cops are gonna be lookin' around here soon.”
“Hey, we're not done here!” Ember replied.
“Yes, we are. The boss said so,” he replied, strapping himself to the wagon as Sid crawled into the back, before she started applying her make-up. Ember flew closer, a flustered look on her face.
“Okay. Fine. I kinda botched it, but only a little! We can still get Reina back,” she said, a sense of urgency in her voice that made the stallion consider her. “We can't let her stay with that mare, there's no telling what she'd do to her!”
“Must I point out you almost blew her up?” he asked, getting an insulted look from her.
“Oh please, I checked my fuses so my sticks would blow before getting too close to the wagon.”
“Clearly,” he replied, getting a happy nod from her, before the implication dawned on her, making her give him a heated look. “Anyways, we ain't tryin' anythin' 'til they leave the city,” Slick assured, making Ember get in his face.
“And I'm saying we gotta do it now!” she decreed, getting a long sigh from the stallion, before he matched her glare.
“Gettin' blown up must be tirin'. You should take a nap,” he said in an odd tone, getting a confused look from the pegasus, before she flinched.
“Ow!” she let out, seeing Sid reel back from her, spitting as if she just tasted something disgusting. “Did you just bite...” Ember's eyes started to droop, “...me?” she asked as she passed out. Before falling to the ground, Sid caught her with her tail, lifting her into the wagon, before trying to wash out her mouth.
“Bleh, she tastes just like charcoal,” the lamia let out, her ears perking as Ember started to snore.
“...And how do ya know what charcoal tastes like?” Slick asked in a sarcastic tone, making the lamia look at him for a moment, before adopting a sheepish blush.
Reina eyed Trixie and Zecora, who were still conversing with the police. Her gaze then shifted to the bottle the zebra had given her. Pulling off the cork, she gave the contents an experimental lick. Finding it almost as pleasing as apple-juice, she quickly downed it, being left quite satisfied. She appraised the empty bottle, glancing to the mares, before taking it over to the trash. She paused when she noticed the parchment resting in it.
Looking back to Trixie, she adopted a curious look, swapping the bottle for the parchment, which she started to read. Yep, nothing but chicken scratch. She wasn't surprised or disappointed, but annoyed. It resembled all the other pony writing in the city, which the filly couldn't make heads or tails of.
“Honestly, that took far too long,” Trixie said as she returned into her carriage, her eyes narrowing on the broken cupboard, among other things. She then gave Reina a curious look when she noticed what the filly carried.
“Trixie, what's this say?” Reina asked, making the mare frown for a moment, before it disappeared in a blink of realization.
“You can't read?” Trixie asked, her tone making Reina frown at nothing in particular.
“I, well, mom said she'd teach me how to read pony, but...” she explained as her ears fell.
“If it's something of concern, I can help you learn,” the zebra chimed in, catching the others off guard.
“I, I'd like that!” Reina quickly replied, before looking back to Trixie, “So, what's it say?”
“Not your concern,” she replied, throwing the letter back in the trash. “Look, Zecora, you can help, just, stay out of Trixie's spotlight, alright?” she asked, getting a considering nod from the zebra.
“The stage is yours, my good magician. Thank you for letting me follow my mission,” she said, making Trixie blush for a moment before she glanced to the side.
“Y- You're just lucky that Trixie is Kind and Considerate!” she added, getting a smile from the zebra.
“Zecora, is mom alright?” Reina asked, getting a nod.
“That I can assure to be true, and she is waiting for you.”
“But the road is long, so just stay strong,” Trixie added, before her eyes widened in realization. “Oh great, now Trixie is rhyming!”
“...Can we see Cloud-Ri-La, before we leave?” she asked, getting a small nod from Trixie which won a smile from the filly.
“I swear,” Trixie mumbled under her breath, “first a filly, now a zebra? At this rate, Trixie will be a circus ringleader before we even reach Ponyville!” she said, before letting out a sigh.
“You'll be a spring eater?” Tiko asked in a confused tone, getting a cold shoulder in return. After that, Trixie quickly got her things together, repaired her cart, and before long the three of them were on the move.
“Zecora,” Reina began, perched in the window as she got a curious look from the mare, who was following alongside the carriage, “Why was I foal-napped?”
“A good question you bestow. Sadly, I do not know.”
“We'll find out sooner or later,” Trixie chimed in, “But enough about that, we need to get stocked up before heading out. And, there's a certain building to climb,” she added, giving Reina a small smile, which the filly mirrored, as they returned to the heart of the city...