The world had ended. The two of them were the only survivors. And their only hope was to somehow salvage order out of the apocalyptic wasteland of books and despair. This was where awesome retired and excitement went to die. But books, books never change, not even here in this graveyard of fun. One moment you think you are safe in the overdue books pile and suddenly you get jumped by a...
"Gah!" Rainbow cried, pulling her forehoof back from a book as if she had been stung by a bugbear.
"A thesaurus." The Marshal picked up the offending book up with all the care one might give a perspiring sock.
"It's sharper than a sword." Rainbow muttered, nursing a papercut.
"Yep, you could totally screw up a guy's life by telling him his chocolate could be anything else other than chocolate." The Marshal nodded in sympathy. "Makes you wonder, finding a thesaurus in the overdue books pile," he sighed at the tragic sight, "What sort of fucked up soul could have committed such a sick crime?"
"There's no other word for it." Rainbow muttered.
They stared at each other. "Pffft." They snorted in perfect symphony. "Bwahahahah!" They broke into wild laughter. "Hahahah...hahah...hah." They trailed off into weak chuckles, their mirth soaked up by all the paper in the room. "Buuuuuuuh..." They flopped lifelessly onto the book pile as one, empty husks sapped of all fun.
"That's it, I'm history." Rainbow muttered, her nose stuck in a massive tome titled 'A Brief History of Equestria'.
"Well, I'm geography. Beat that." The Marshal's voice sailed out of a thick volume labelled 'The World is Flat, Deal With It'.
"I'll beat something soon." Rainbow gave a long-suffering sigh as she picked herself up and got back to work. "My Little Chryssie." She lazily tossed a few more books onto her shelves. "'Bon Bon's Acceptance', 'How to Raise Your Moon', 'Stardust', 'Gladiator', huh? What's this one about? '1000 Virgin Ma-...'" The book suddenly slipped right out her forehooves. "Hay! What gives?!" She cried as the Marshal held the book out of her grasp.
"Why don't you deal with the 'Rule of Cool' section?" He pointed at a corner of the library. "You're the expert on the subject, right?"
"Heh, not like the whole section's totally about me." She grinned, zooming off to the Rainbow Dash section of the library. "Heehee, this is totes more my speed."
"Good. I don't want you to tell me you lost the race because you weren't at your best." He said, in the offhoofedly slow voice of a deadly predator edging his prey into a trap.
His words hit a nerve like a homing missile. "Was that a challenge?" Her eyes flashed menacingly. "Do you even know who you're talking to? You should look up 'speed' in that thesauruthing. That'll give you a clue."
He gave a dry chuckle. "I don't mean to brag, but ever since Twilight's been disqualified on grounds of horse-godhood, I've taken on the mantle of Equestria's fastest librarian. It is the ultimate expression of mental, manual and futile speed." He shadow-boxed in demonstration. Or was it shadow-sort? Shadow-shelve?
"Hah! Well, Rainbow winning Dash is about to steal your mantle and wipe the floor with it." Rainbow pointed a forehoof at him.
"Alright then." He rubbed his hands together excitedly. "Everything from the flash-mob section to the Pinkie Pie section is mine. Everything else is yours. Ready? One, two...." He launched himself at his work.
"Hay! You didn't say 'Three'!" Rainbow protested, taking flight towards her own pile.
"I did in my heart. That's all that truly matters!" He called back, stealing a head start.
'He's doing it again, saying cool things while doing totally lame-o things! That's. Just. So. UNCOOL!' Rainbow growled at yet another crime unto all things cool. 'I'll totally own this race and show him just how much of a loser he really is!" She attacked her bookshelf with zeal that bordered on demonic.
As she flitted about completing her first section, she stole a glance at the Marshal. He was chuckling quietly to himself, his nose buried in what looked like a raunchy clop novel. Rainbow was about to gloat when she noticed the two fully completed sections behind him. She gave a little squeak as she focused on her sorting once more, fighting to
catch up dominate!
She panted as she shelved the last book into her third section. She took a moment to scout her competition. His brow was furrowed in deep, brooding concentration as he slowly flicked through a magazine. Her eyes suddenly widened with embarassing recognition. 'Is that a Playcolt magazine?! What is that doing in Twilight's library?!" Rainbow couldn't help but break into a soft blush at the thought. She shook herself free of the distraction, turning her attention to his shelves. He was only one bookcase away from completion!
She gritted her teeth as she threw herself back into her book-sorting with feverish fervour. A rainbow blur sent books flying into their shelves in a whirlwind of colour. Twenty books left. Fifteen books left. Ten. Five. Three...two....
She slammed the last book into its slot before whirling around, heart pounding. She found her nemesis where she last saw him, still giving the photo magazine all the intellectual reverence of a man confronted by divine scripture. He had completed his half of the library except...except for that porn magazine in his hooves! Or claws! Or whatever those things he uses to hold porn were called!
"I WIN!" Rainbow declared.
"Oh?" The Marshal finally looked up from his magazine. "So you did." He nodded approvingly. "Congratulations, Rainbow. It is with great heaviness that I pass on my mantle to you. Wear it with pride. You are now Equestria's fastest librarian." He said, solemnly.
Equestria's fastest librarian threw both forehooves into the air as she whooped, "Yeah! I am Equestria's fastest librarian! Whoo!" She trailed off into thoughtful silence as her mind finally caught up with what she just said. "I-I'm Equestria's fastest librariaaaaaan! My life is ruuuuuuuined!" She gave a tragic wail, breaking down into a puddle of tears. "It's like being an egghead but 20% cooler! But 20% of zero is still uncool!"
"I feel ya, Rainbow." He sighed, patting her on her withers. "Hang in there, buddy. We'll make it through this together."
"Shut uuuup. Don't tooouch meeee." Rainbow sobbed, grabbing hold of his arms as if they were her last anchor to coolness.
"Hey, tell you what." He said, consolingly. "Let's make it a daily challenge. Every day you win we knock a day off your sentence. Every day I win you gain a day. We'll call today your first win and shave a day off."
"Really?" Rainbow cut her sobbing short to give him an exuberant look, complete with perky ears and swishing tail. "Whoo! I win a day!" She shot off into the air in celebration."Ahah! Oh yeah!"
"A lady of simple pleasures. I like that." He chuckled at her celebratory mid-air dance.
"One day less with you, one day less with....uh..." Rainbow's chanting trailed off into silence. "Hay, what's your name anyway?" She suddenly asked. "Everypony's calls you 'Marshal'. Is that, like, seriously a name?"
"Actually it's M.A.R.S.H.A.L." He said, hijacking a blackboard and spelling out the letters. "It stands for Mojo Augmented Radical Small Horse Actuated Link. It is a prototype magical generator powered by sheer awesomeness. It powers the first bipedal pony power-armour fueled by hot-blooded coolness, me.” He drew a caricature of what looked like a pony standing on its hindlegs about to stomp something that was either a castle or a box of crayons. “Our meeting was no coincidence, Rainbow Dash. You are my destined pilot. With the two of us combined, nothing shall stand in our path. Come, Rainbow Dash, embrace your destiny!” He threw his arms out invitingly.
"Whoah. R-really?" She quavered, trembling with excitement. A coolness-fueled power armour? Just like Iron Mare in the Power Ponies? With an abbreviation and everything?! That’s, like, super ultra extreme awesomazing!
"Nah, I just made that up to screw with you.” He gave a sudden dismissive wave. “I have no idea what the hell the word means* but it's probably something badass."
*Marshal: (mɑː.ʃəl) noun….etymology - archaic: Middle English, from Anglo-French ‘mareschal’, of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German ‘marahscalc’, from ‘marah’ (horse) + ‘scalc’ (servant). Originally referring to "a person in charge of the upkeep of horses or stable hand”. The station became a position of trust and power in medieval courts and went on to acquire its modern military usage.
"Badass my ass!" Rainbow felt like she had been robbed. She had no idea what she lost but she had a feeling she’d never get it back, ever.
“I'm the Marshal of the Friendship Guard." He went on. "Most just call me 'Hey Marshal!', though some like to shorten that down to 'Hey You', 'You Lucky Bastard' or my personal favourite, 'AAAGHWHATTHEBUCKSAVEMEAAA'. But my friends call me 'Mars'."
"Mars, huh?" Rainbow committed the name to her internal scoreboard. Now that she had a really big reason to keep score, she decided it was finally worth learning a thing or two about her nemesis. After all Twi always said, 'Know yourself, know your enemies and...uh...you will win one thousand friends'? Something like that anyway. 'I'm gonna find out more about him every day, especially his weaknesses! I'll play him like a yoyo! Hah, lucky I thought of it first. No way he's gonna keep up with me now!' Rainbow Dash thought as she gave the Marshall a scheming leer. "So, uh, how did you end up here anyway, Mars?" She asked, innocently.
"Heh, thought you'd never ask. Nobody can ever resist." Marshall chuckled darkly, slowly straightening up to his full height. "I was a genetically engineered cybernetic soldier created for my world's final war. I have a tailor-made backstory so edgy I can shave my carbon fibre pubes with it. I am powered by a dark matter core whose brooding emo alone is enough to plunge happy horseland into eternal night. But because of funding issues and a little fabrication accident resulting in me being exponentially more sexy than the general, I was left in cryostasis to keep the planet from overheating. That's, like, being frozen in a popsicle in a giant freezer." He added, noticing Rainbow's blank look. "Then one day Twilight found my cryostasis pod underneath her crystal pony bed strewn amongst the rest of her toys. When she unfroze me, she realized that for the sake of all the mares of Equestria she must keep me on a short leash. So that's why I'm here, serving as her guard marshal."
"Whoah, really?" Rainbow's eyes grew as wide as dragon eggs.
"Ya, really." He nodded. He suddenly looked down at his crotch. "What? What was that?" He said, seemingly speaking to thin air.
If he were any regular stranger gibbering to himself, Rainbow would have totally done a sonic rainboom in the opposite direction. But he is a bucking super soldier frozen in a giant popsicle for Celestia knows how long! He can talk to himself all day long and he'd still be cool! Totally not a pun too.
"Sorry, Rainbow, I'm talking to the artificial intelligence embedded in the microchip in my left testicle." He gave her a long-suffering look. "She likes to rudely interrupt my conversations with entirely random but witty bits of exposition. What was that, Largehard? Cute pony detected where?" He looked around at Rainbow Dash. "Largehard, me and my google-powered heart-seeking vision found her first. So you can keep your undefrag'd mittens to yourself. No, cancel lock-on! Bad Largehard! Bad!"
Rainbow found her cheeks warm up. The...the anti-sniffle intelligence thing in his crotch is talking to him and telling him she's cute? That's, like, super cool!
E-Except the 'cute' thing. Rainbow Dash doesn't do 'cute'. Nope.
"Natural wit." He nodded sagely to himself. "Beats artificial intelligence all the time."
"You mean real mischief, right?" Princess Egghead herself chuckled as she pushed the door to the library open. "Mars, I'm sure we've been over this. You know, about you and your tall tales?"
"Yep. We've established that you love'em, your royal Princessness." He said, saluting smartly.
She gave a light giggle at that. "Alright, you. Okay, sure, they're cute. But mark my words, mister, they're gonna get you in biiiig trouble one of these days." She waved a forehoof at Rainbow. "Besides, when it comes to coolness, Rainbow is more gullible than Fluttershy. You realize she is gonna believe every word you say, right?"
"Well, yeah. That's what makes her...." Marshal paused to look down at a flash card. "...cool!"
Rainbow fluffed out her chest at that. "Yeah, I am pretty coo-....wait a sec! You mean you've been pulling my tail all this time?!" She spluttered.
"Well, yeah, duh." He rolled his eyes with a chuckle. "Everyone knows I ended up here because some bastard pawned me off this magical suit of armour at a comic book convention. It is cursed to be irremovable until the day my one true love removes it for me. I am here in Equestria on a quest to find her. Or, y'know, him, as the case may be. I'm not picky."
"Whoah, really?" Rainbow eyed the suit of armour with wide-eyed fascination.
"Ya, really." He winked at Twilight.
Twilight just gave him a helpless smile and a long-suffering sigh as she trotted out. "Just make sure you sort all the books by the Oxcolt classification system before you go out hunting for your one true love, okay?" She gave them a sweet sideways smile over her withers.
"But you said Dewhoof system this morning!" Her marshal groaned.
"That was this morning." She gave him a conspiring wink before chuckling sadistically at their collective cries of despair.
“Darn it, my schedule was full of so many important world-saving things this afternoon,” he sighed, shaking his head ruefully.
“Like your beauty sleep?” Twilight teased with a giggle.
“I hibernate to look this good, you know,” he flashed her a million bit smile.
“Whoah, how ugly were you in summer?” Rainbow recoiled.
“Let’s just say my face back then was the inspiration for the Oxcolt classification system.” He gave Twilight an irritable look.
“Do you want me to lecture you on all two hundred and forty three pros of the Oxcolt system?” Twilight raised an eyebrow as pointed as a guillotine.
“Hey, actually, I’m totally feelin’ the Oxcolt system today. In fact I’m gonna organize my hats and my toilet paper by the Oxcolt system.” Marshal was quick to change his tune.
"Come on. Do it well and there'll be some fresh muffins for both of you." Twilight gave them both an encouraging smile before leaving them to their trials.
Rainbow took a slow, deep breath, as if drawing in the courage she couldn't find inside. Strange how it was so easy to go face a dragon or a hydra but so difficult to call out to her own friend. "Hay, Twi?" She peered out of the library door to call after the princess. She cursed her voice for retreating a pitch or two higher than usual. "Can we, uh, talk for a bit?" She gave her friend a beseeching look.
"Sure. What's up, Rainbow?" Twilight asked as her pegasus friend carefully closed the door behind her.
"Uh, well, uh..." Rainbow's ears drooped a little as she lowered her voice. "Well, uh, I..." She hesitated. "Uh, I wanna know, what's this whole punishment thing about?" She stalled before kicking herself for stalling.
"Well, what do you think it's for, Rainbow?" Twilight asked, cooly.
"Okay, okay, okay, sorry, I know, alright." Rainbow quickly waved a forehoof at her friend. She gave a slow huff before biting the bit and ploughing through with it. "Okay, I know I'm really bad at sayin' this, but I'm sorry, okay?" She blurted her apology out all at once like a nasty bitter pill. "I'm sorry I wrecked the factory, and I'm sorry I didn't say sorry sooner." She hung her head. "It's just...I was so...Tank was..." She felt tears well up with the words. She shut her eyes tight.
Rainbow suddenly felt a forehoof curl around her neck, pulling her into a tight hug. "Hay, Rainbow, it's okay." She heard Twilight whisper in one ear. "You were having a tough time. I'm sorry the rest of us weren't with you any earlier when you really needed us." Twilight gave her a tight squeeze. "Just remember that we're here for you, especially now." There was a slightly accusatory note in her voice, almost suggesting that she knew about Rainbow's sneaky little visits to Tank's burrow over the past five days.
"Thanks, Twi." Rainbow hiccupped softly. "And I'm...I'm also sorry you ended up having to punish me for the whole, y'know, thing." She added, sheepishly.
"Oh, the punishment is nothing personal. Honest, it's just to ease some red tape over the law." Twilight waved a dismissive forehoof. "We need to show those who care that the Council of Friendship is not above the law. Besides, you're doing us a really big favour, Rainbow."
"Huh, I am?" Rainbow frowned.
"Yeah." Twilight nodded with a smile, "You know how Applejack and Pinkie are spending Hearthswarming at the Pie farm, right?"
"Yeah?" Rainbow said, slowly.
"And Rarity and Fluttershy are going home to their own families this year, right?"
"Y-yeah..." Rainbow's ears drooped perceptibly.
"And Spike and I are spending it with my BBBFF, my not-so-brand-new-but-still-awesome sister-in-law and my parents in Canterlot, so..."
"I get it, okay!" Rainbow snapped. "You're all going away for Hearthswarming. I know that. I don't need your pity and..."
"No, Dash, I didn't mean it that way." Twilight quickly said as soothingly as possible. "The five of us were the only ones who've taken the time to get to know Mars ever since he got here. I know you've been a bit skittish around him because he's all new and everything..."
"Hay, I don't do skittish. Awesome doesn't skit." Rainbow quickly pointed out.
Twilight rolled her eyes before continuing on, "...but you're the only one we can count on to keep him company this Hearthswarming. Please, Dash? For me?" She pleaded, resorting to her best puppy-Sparkle eyes. The only comparable weapon in the art of persuasion was, quite probably, a ballista to the face.
"Nnngguuuh....." Rainbow growled beneath her beseeching siege before finally throwing her forehooves into the air in defeat. "Fine! Whatever! But I still don't get why you had to glue us together with this whole community service thing!"
"Rainbow, I'm gonna be a friend and be really frank with you now." Twilight sighed, rubbing a forehoof on her temple. "Where would you be if I hadn't?"
"Ugh." Rainbow flinched a little at the question, her ears drooping perceptibly. "Yeah, okay, point taken." She muttered at the floor. "Fine, I'll babysit your pet human for you for Hearthswarming. But I better find something awesome in my Hearthswarming sock in return!"
"You bet, Rainbow." Twilight smiled, giving her pegasus friend a sisterly hoof-bump. "Hay, enjoy yourself too, okay? He's a good friend once you get past the cheesy humour."
"There's a lot to get past." Rainbow muttered, returning to the library. "Hay! What's that book fort doing on my half of the library?!" She shouted as she disappeared inside.
"Not yours anymore, snoozer-loser!" The book fort's king declared.
Twilight could only wince at the loud crash echoing from within. It took her every fibre of self control she had to turn around and pretend that her books were perfectly, totally alright.
"Yer a bad liar, Twi." An orange mare stepped out of the shadow of a nearby corridor. She pushed her hat up to aim an accusing glare at the princess.
"No, she didn't find out. That makes me a good half-truth-er." Twilight winked at her friend. "Look, we've tried everything else together; Races, Wonderbolt shows, pancakes. But the moment we turn our backs she's back up there reading to Tank. And you know things are only gonna get worse when all of us leave for Hearthswarming. Rainbow can't be left on her own, not after all that. This'll be good for both of them. Besides, the arrangement's keeping Cloudsdale and the Weather Factory off our backs." A glower darkened Twilight’s face at the mention of Weather Factory. “Some of the words the Weather Factory chose to use….” She muttered under her breath, “Yes, I think it is definitely safest that my Marshal keeps his eyes on Rainbow for a while.”
"Ah seriously think ya should be tellin'er how much the Council of Friendship's payin' for that darn weather factory." Applejack pointed out. "I'm not just sayin' this 'cause I'm one of them farmer folk who depend on that factory, but she just went and wrecked the biggest source of Equestria's weather. It's almost as bad as stopping the sun from shinin', and we know what the punishment for that is." She gave her friend a pointed look, "It sure as hay ain't sortin' books, but it's a darn close second."
"Maybe in the future. But right now that's the last thing she needs. You know what she's going through better than anypony, AJ." Twilight gave her friend a disapproving look.
"Consarn it, Twi, Ah hate it when yer actually all wise and princessly like for once." Applejack rolled her eyes. "Fine, whatever, as long as Pinkie and I don't suddenly find our flanks buzzin' awkwardly callin' us back home halfway through the Hearthswarming meal with our families." She muttered as she fell into step alongside her alicorn friend.
"Aw, you worry-wart." Twilight teased. "What's the worst that could happen?"
"Now ya just had to ask." Applejack gave a long suffering sigh.
"I could do with a chalk outline inside me. I think I died a little inside." Rainbow groaned as the two survivors crawled their way out of the shadows towards the palace doors, stretching their weakly quivering limbs like dying withered flowers towards the sunset beyond.
"I left the chalk with my mortal remains in that library. I'm nothing but a spirit ascending to paradise now." Marshal rasped, reaching out for the light at the end of the tunnel. "Rainbow Dash, we're in heaven!" He declared as they stepped out to meet the glorious sunset.
"You sure this is heaven? 'Cause I'm pretty sure you're still with me. I can hear you a little too clearly, buster." Rainbow muttered, darkly.
"Dammit, we're in hell, aren't we?" Marshal muttered. "I knew clopping to that Countess Coloratura hug pillow would send me straight to hell. Oh, dear goddess Coloratura, please forgive me for I have sinned! Please find it in your heart to forgive this humble sinner and raise me to your razzle-dazzle paradise in the sky!" He cried, raising his hands up in prayer to a Rara-shaped cloud drifting past in the sunset sky.
"You have no self-respect, do you?" Rainbow rolled her eyes in disgust.
"I am hanging out with you." He pointed out, dropping his arms to his sides.
"Hay!" Rainbow protested. "I have a fan club. Ponies queue up to be seen with me."
"Are you getting competitive with my Countess Coloratura hug pillow?" He raised an eyebrow that was as suggestive as an eyebrow could get without being propped up by a rolled up Playcolt magazine. "'Cause I wouldn't mind that in the slightest."
The normally brash pegasus broke into a furious blush. "K-keep your fantasies to yourself!" She yelped, making her point with a flying headbutt.
He tumble-dived out of the way of her rainbow bullet. "Hah, you still can't hit shit!" He laughed as she rammed into the palace wall behind him.
"That's still not what I was aiming at." Rainbow called back from above.
He looked down to see yet another shadow grow wider and wider around his feet. "I'm ready for you this time!" He probably would have leapt out of the way of the landslide of snow rushing down from the palace rooftops. His trousers, however, had other plans, as they suddenly came loose and dropped down around his ankles. He barely managed a hop and skip before falling under the deluge of snow from above.
Rainbow hovered high above the mound of snow, well outside grabbing range. "Huh, can't see you." She twirled an oddly familiar trouser belt in one forehoof while shielding her eyes with the other, making a show of looking around for him. "That snow must be deeper than four inches, huh?"
A face shook itself free of the snow. "How the hell did you do that?" It sputtered.
"Winning? Sorry, kinda tough explaining that to somepony who's never done it before." Rainbow laughed at the human struggling to unbury himself.
"No, the trouser thing." He demanded. "That was a belt buckle! You've got hooves. You just broke physics!"
"I've also got a tongue." She showed him with a raspberry. "It can unbutton, unzip and undress anything in one second flat, physics or no. Kinda a survival requirement when you're friends with the queen of frou frou." She gave him a smug grin.
"Well, let's see if your tongue-fu can untangle this!" He suddenly burst out of his mound of snow.
"Hah, I'm not gonna let you grab me aga–" Her words trailed off as she noticed he was making no efforts to grab her. Instead, he was twirling something in his hands. Then she realized why he had kept her talking while taking his time unburying himself; He had secretly fashioned himself one of those Zebrican bolas out of his own pants. The bola-pants were already in flight before she could even dodge. It struck her in her barrel, wrapping itself tight around her withers and wings. She gave a loud squeak as she suddenly plummeted, crashing bum first in the thankfully soft snow.
"Cry! Your tears are part of my five-a-day!" He cackled. She looked up just in time to see a pair of bare hairy legs rushing at her. She gave a loud squeak of fright as she dug herself out and rolled out of the way of his flying tackle.
"Hope your five-a-day includes my hoof!" Rainbow barked as she rolled upright, snowball at the ready.
"EAT SNOW!" They both roared as they launched themselves into a snowball storm.
The palace doors opened a tiny crack. Six pairs of eyes peered out at the rumpus in the snow outside, just as it escalated into a full-out fracas.
"Guys, maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all." Twilight said, worriedly.
"What're ya talking about, Twi? This is great!" Spike chuckled, dipping his claws into Pinkie's tub of popcorn.
"I do agree with Spikey-Wikey. They do appear to be communicating." Rarity nodded.
"They're totally makin' friends!" Pinkie declared through a mouthful of popcorn. "Five bits on Mash-Mash!"
"Oh, I do so enjoy a friendly wager." Rarity accepted the bet with a hoof-bump.
"Yer all horrible." Applejack muttered, hoofing over her bits into the pot.
"Oh, I do hope nopony gets hurt." Fluttershy paid her share.
"Ya really think those two're gonna survive Hearthswarming?" Applejack asked, wincing as Rainbow rammed snow down Marshal's boxers.
"Oh, I am sure the two will be the best of friends by the time we get back." Rarity said, confidently. She flinched as Marshall pulled said boxers over Rainbow's face, visibly affronted by the flagrant abuse of flagrant fashion.
"I hope you're right, for their sake." Twilight trembled as the two were reduced to a kicking and flailing cloud of snow. "I don't think either of them will survive otherwise."