• Published 26th May 2013
  • 1,427 Views, 162 Comments

No Heroes Part II - The Journey Home - PaulAsaran

Fine Crime and Princess Luna have chosen their team. Now there's just the minor problem of bringing them together. Every team needs a base of operations, and what place better than Ponyville?

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Old Roads

Jimmy was busy triple-checking his saddlebag, making sure he had every minute piece of information he might need. The objective sheet, the pre-design checks, the drafts, the environmental image set, everything. His employers weren’t going to ask for most of it, he knew. It didn’t matter; he never went to them unprepared.

At last sure that he had everything, he went to the kitchen and prepared a big breakfast. As he did his brother Nye stumbled into the room, looking downright miserable.

“Morning Sunshine,” Jimmy announced with a grin. “Waffles?”

Nye only grumbled in response. Jimmy could tell from years of experience that this meant yes. While he worked his twin approached the cooler and slowly pulled out some milk and hot cocoa mix. “Lunar Metropolis?” Nye’s grumbled response indicated something different, perhaps involving coffee. “Well while you’re at it see if you can whip up that Rising Dawn of yours.”

The twins worked on their respective morning routines, Jimmy whistling happily as he flipped the waffles over and Nye looking like a zombie by the coffee machine. The elder brother watched Nye quietly as he began mixing ingredients, feeling just a touch envious. He could cook, but only with known recipes. Nye, on the other hand, couldn’t cook, but he had a knack for making weird and tasty drinks off the top of his head… even when in his usual morning doldrums.

Nye poured some lime in a mixer, sprinkled in a bunch of pecans, threw in milk. A few more ingredients and Jimmy recognized the combination. What was Nye’s name for it? Monkey Buck, or something like that. Once the cappuccino mixture was finished his brother set it aside to cool and started working on Jimmy’s: some strange formula of orange juice with milk and hot chocolate that had the peculiar effect of having the bottom appear a milky orange and the top black. Like a Rising Dawn.

Really, his brother’s creativity was something else.

Breakfast ready, the two sat at the table and began to dine. Nye took a sip of his drink and almost instantly began to wake up, though he still had a dour expression. “Canterlot today?” he asked.

“Yeap,” Jimmy confirmed between bites. “Gone two days, you know the drill.”

There was a long silence, save for a moment where the grumpy Nye muttered something about Jimmy being a ‘cheery bastard’ that he probably wasn’t supposed to overhear. He let the comment slide; his brother had been this way in the mornings since before he could remember. When the big breakfast was over he asked, “Wanna join me on the walk to the station?”

Nye, not even half finished with his own meal, shook his head slowly. “Got ‘nother hour,” he mumbled almost incoherently. “Still an ass.”

“So be it,” Jimmy declared, heading back to his room, “but try not to be late again.” More incoherent grumblings followed him through the door. He chuckled and put on his saddlebag, making just one more check that he had everything. Confident and happy, he waved to his brother on the way out – “See you in a few!” – and didn’t bother trying to decipher the gloomy response as he made his way outside.

The sun had only just begun peeking over the trees in the east. Fresh dew chilled his hooves as he trotted through the grass, taking in the pleasant morning air. Most of Ponyville was still asleep, save for a few fellow early birds getting ready for business. Some familiar faces greeted him on the way, faces he was always happy to see.

He liked living in Ponyville. People here were so much friendlier than in the cities. The air was clear, he wasn’t being crushed under a mass of ponies trying to get to work, and the only noise was the chirping of the birds and the occasional breeze. Truly this was heaven in comparison.

But he was an engineer, and engineers worked in the cities.

When he reached the train station he was surprised to see a welcome face: Octavia, standing beside a luggage bag and her cello case.

“Mornin’,” he called, trotting up to her with a grin.

She turned to him with a sleepy yawn, though she seemed pleased enough to see him. “Oh, Jimmy. What brings you here so early?”

“Work. You?”

“The same.”



“Me too.” He took a quick look at her luggage. “Planning on sticking around for a few days, then?”

She nodded, taking a moment to rub her eyes free of sleepiness. “It’s a week-long deal. Not paying much, but it’s important to keep busy.”

The train was pulling up, right on time. He waited politely while she spoke to an attendant who took her luggage to the baggage car, and they got on together. He noticed where she was going and followed. “Want to ride together? These trips are always better with a friend.”

She paused and gave him an uncertain look. “Well… I would, Jimmy. But… umm…”

She looked not just a little embarrassed, but he caught on. “Gonna sleep some more?” She nodded with an apologetic, relieved expression. “No worries. Maybe we’ll see one another in Canterlot.”

“Y-yeah… maybe.”

He watched as she entered a private cabin, the kind a pony could only get via reservation, and whistled to himself; that kind of traveling didn’t come cheap. He could have afforded one himself, but he didn’t mind economy, unlike many ponies he knew.

As he found himself a spot to sit he considered Octavia’s behavior. Why had she seemed so… nervous? After a long meditation he came to the only obvious conclusion: she must not have wanted to offend him by rejecting his offer. He’d have to reassure her later.

He leaned against the window as the train began to move, ready for a pleasant day.

Canterlot. Jimmy could never get used to it. He’d been to plenty of big cities before, but none of them really matched this one. It wasn’t bustling with activity like Manehattan, or intensely crowded, or dirty with age. It was always pristine, beautiful and calm.

And that was disturbing, because it defied all his common knowledge for what a city should be.

He didn’t care for most Canterlotians, either; they were snobby and self-righteous at the best of times. But they needed engineers, they paid well and conducted flawless business ethics. This was the kind of clientele he wanted and needed to form his own identity. So when he’d first moved to Ponyville it was here, in the beating heart of Equestria’s governance, that he’d come to make a name for himself.

And a name he was making; within short order he’d been hired as a freelance designer for one of Canterlot’s rising star firms. It was good money and honest work. Best of all his designs were a hit! His wasn’t the most popular building designs in Canterlot, but they were still drawing eyes, and eyes meant more business. More business meant more work, and Jimmy practically lived on work.

In summation: he was very happy.

“Mr. Marble will see you now,” the pink-coated secretary declared. Jimmy thanked her and walked into the meeting room.

Black Marble, white-coated and black-maned, was alone. This struck Jimmy as strange; there’d always been a group of ponies with him to help with the decisions of the company’s owner. He knew better than to ask about it; far safer to act as if nothing were wrong.

“Mr. Marble,” he began pleasantly, pausing next to the meeting table and a respectable distance from the unicorn, “how nice to see you again. I have the new designs you requested and…”

He paused when the unicorn turned his head to look at him. He had hard, focused eyes. They reminded him of his father’s eyes. He had to shake off that terrible sensation…

“…and… I just know you’re going to like them.”

Black Marble said nothing, but approached as Jimmy nervously set his documents on the table for display. He made sure the building’s most aesthetic image was prominent, just in case. He didn’t know why he was so nervous – how was meeting this pony alone any more intimidating than meeting him with his retinue of advisers? But somehow it was.

Those hard eyes were still on him when the unicorn got close. Jimmy resisted the urge to swallow the lump in his throat and stepped back to give the business owner a respectable amount of room. But Black Marble didn’t look at the portfolio. He kept looking at Jimmy.

“You’ve done good work for us,” he said after what seemed like an eternity.

Wooo, that was a relief! “I’m grateful you think so.”

Black looked down thoughtfully, as if considering something entirely unrelated in his mind. Only then, finally, did he look at Jimmy’s work. He said nothing, asked nothing, only shuffled through the papers slowly. Jimmy stood like a soldier awaiting orders, not really sure what to expect. He’d never had a review of his work go quite like this…

At last the unicorn nodded. “This is all fine work, Mr. Stone. It would have made a fine contender for the company’s bid.”

Would have?

“I am sorry, Mr. Stone, but the Marble Company can no longer accept your designs.”

Jimmy was shocked. He stood there, mouth agape, trying to process what he’d just heard. “You… you mean you’d like me to make some changes… I can do that. Just tell me…”

“No, Mr. Stone,” Black corrected seriously. He turned to give Jimmy that hard gaze again. “I mean we can no longer accept your designs. At all. The Marble Company is ending your contract.”

Jimmy opened his mouth, tried to speak, couldn’t find any words. He glanced around in search of something to explain this, but of course there was nothing, so he looked back at Black Marble. He tried to speak again. “I… don’t understand. Why would the company… why would you do that?”

Black Marble sighed and turned away, walking once more to stare out the window. “Mr. Stone, this company is still very young. We’ve earned enough money to be capable of standing on our own hooves, and you’ve had a hand in that. It is appreciated. But we have investors on whom our very existence depends even now. If enough of our investment money is pulled away, we flounder.”

Jimmy shook his head. “I don’t see what that has to do with my employment.”

Black Marble didn’t look at him, but his words were such that he might as well have been staring those daggers at him once more. “You’ve been building a name through us, Mr. Stone. That alone can rub people the wrong way. One of our biggest investors doesn’t like your rising success. If that investor pulls out, the future of the Marble Company will be in question.”

Jimmy felt his blood run cold. It couldn’t be… “W-what is the investor’s… name…?”

Black Marble sighed, shook his head. “Listen, you really have done excellent work for us, Mr. Stone. I want to keep you in this company. But this is a threat I cannot answer, nor will I try. You are a freelancer, which means we can cut off the contract at our discretion and without giving a reason. That said…” he gave Jimmy a look that was as close to apologetic the stallion could probably have mustered without quite being there, “…I know how wrong this is for you. I’m going to accept your design and even pay you quadruple our agreed fee. But after this, we can do no more business with you. I am sorry.”

It was enough. Jimmy knew who had stood in his way. He didn’t know whether to be infuriated or miserable or both. And yet… he didn’t blame the pony for this decision. “I… understand…” he muttered. “I guess… I guess I can find work at another company.”

Black Marble approached him, shook his head. “You can try, Mr. Stone, but I am afraid the pressure is on. My investor is very well connected, and holds much power in this business. If he doesn’t want you to succeed, you almost certainly won’t.”

Now Jimmy was truly alarmed. “Are you saying that nopony will hire me after this?”

Black Marble glanced away for just a brief moment, which the pegasus could only take as a tiny sign of anxiety. “What I’m saying, Mr. Stone, is that you may have to seek employment in an entirely different field.”

Jimmy had enough bits to live the royal life in Canterlot for years. But, as they say, money can’t buy happiness.

He trudged the nighttime streets, bitter and cursing his family name. To think, once there had been a time when he was proud of that name and the legacy it entitled him to. Now the only thing he really wanted was to meet his father again so he could buck his teeth out! To think the stallion would go this far. He knew Stikin would be furious about his leaving, but this kind of devious malpractice required a true devotion of hate.

And at this moment he was definitely getting some in return. It was the first time Jimmy really understood how his brother must have felt during all those years in their youth. How had their mother ever put up with that monster, how!? His entire life devoted to his practice, and just like that the old stallion had reduced it to trash.

He didn’t know what he was going to do. Take his bits and live a carefree life? No; he was a producer. He needed to work. He needed a job.

For a brief moment he imagined himself working beside his brother at the train station. It was the most humiliating thought he’d ever had. He refused to throw all his hard work and studies away like that! His brother might be fine with such a modest life, but Jimmy never would be. He had to find something else, something that put his talents to good use.

He paused at the sound of music and laughing. He glanced around and saw that he was in the food district; classy restaurants, expensive cafes and members-only clubs. He was thirsty, and depressed; why not?

He found a lounge, paid the ridiculous entry fee. It was a quiet atmosphere, the establishment only half-full with self-important, rich and elite ponies. None tried to talk to him. Most ignored him. He wasn’t known, and for once he was glad for it. He started to make his way to the bar… but then paused.

There, sitting at a booth on her own, was Upper Crust. She was adorned in a very fine, expensive looking gown… and seemed absolutely miserable. She was leaning heavily against the table, tall glass of wine half-gone, cheek in a hoof and eyes downcast.

Perhaps misery loved company.


She reacted slowly, staring at him with eyes red from tears. She didn’t seem to recognize him at first, but then she wiped her face and asked, “You’re… I’m sorry… Mr… Mr. Stone? Nye, wasn’t it?”

“Jimmy,” he confirmed softly. “Nye’s the other Stone.”

“…I see…”

He nodded at the spot opposite her. “This seat taken?”

She didn’t respond, so he sat. There was a long silence; she clearly was in no mood for conversation. He didn’t know what was wrong. He wasn’t sure if it mattered; he was in enough trouble himself. Even if he knew what the problem was, he probably couldn’t help.

A server came by, and Jimmy ordered something he recalled as being ridiculously alcoholic. Tonight seemed the right time for that kind of drink.

“I’m guessing the last three months haven’t been treating you well,” he ventured slowly, just to break the silence between them.

She sniffed, shook her head, sipped her wine.

He sighed, leaned against the table forlornly. “I remember us leaving the Empire three months ago and thinking how everything was going so wonderfully. Heh, if only I had known…”

Her eyes finally went to him. She spoke slowly, as if uncertain of her words. “Do you still feel it?”

“Feel what?”

“The excitement. The joy.” Her eyes fell again. “Three months ago I felt on top of the world, like I could do anything. I mattered. For once in my life, I really mattered.”

His drink came, he took a sip. It was almost too alcoholic to choke down. Perfect: he took another, longer sip.

“I guess,” he answered at last, “that kind of feeling fades with time.”

She said nothing, just stared at her wine glass as if there were some infinite truth hidden within.

Perhaps it was his turn. “Have you ever tried to challenge somepony?”

She blinked, gave him an uncertain look. “…like who?”

Another sip. “Somepony powerful. Somepony you were scared of. Somepony who held your life in his hooves, and knew it.”

She sighed dejectedly. “Like challenging fate.”

Her answer perplexed him, but then it made a kind of sense. Challenging his father really was life challenging fate, wasn’t it?

“I felt like I’d challenged fate that day,” she confessed. “Challenged it and won. Now I wonder if it wasn’t just a fluke.”

A fluke? “No.” Her frown deepened, but he reached a hoof over the table to touch hers. The contact surprised her; she looked up. “No, Upper Crust, it was not a fluke. You had something to offer, and you offered it.”

“I didn’t offer it,” she corrected, dropping her hooves under the table and away from his touch. “I was volunteered by Fine Crime.”

“Does it matter? He saw that there was something in you, something that mattered.”

She turned her head away dejectedly. “Then why does nopony else see it?”

He leaned back, slowly pulling his hoof to his side. Another sip of his drink. “What about you?”

“I don’t know anymore… but I long to have somepony, anypony see it again.”

“Well,” he ventured, “if it makes you feel any better, I just found that I’m pretty useless myself.” He could see that it didn’t.

She gave him a long look, as if her hopes had been crushed. “I… should be getting home. My husband will start wondering where I am.”

Jimmy blinked, glanced around the lounge. Why would she come to such a social place alone? “Will you be alright?”

“Good night, Mr. Stone,” she said, tone morose as she slipped off the booth and walked to the door.

She forgot to pay her bill. Jimmy paid for it, finished his drink and ordered another.

He had the bits, after all.

He couldn’t bring himself to go home early. His return ticket was set for tomorrow, and he didn’t want to face his brother so soon. Not yet, anyway.

So instead Jimmy spent his day wandering Canterlot, sunk in his own doldrums. He considered applying at the various firms in the area, actually tried twice. In both cases his last name came up and he was immediately sent away. He wouldn’t try anymore; the ponies hadn’t said as much, but it was obvious why they wouldn’t hire him. With nothing left to do he just explored.

He was disgusted with all the posh ponies of the city’s upper levels, the ones that lived near the castle. The sight of them in their fine coats and livery and gowns reminded him far too much of his old life and of his father. So he went down, into the lower levels. Every city had to have a common class, the ponies hired to keep things clean and pretty and organized. The types the elites didn’t want to see or associate with, but needed for their very existence. Canterlot was no exception, no matter how it tried to disguise itself with its demanding residential laws, registration requirements and zone curfews.

The rules made it clear that the lower class ponies couldn’t go up save for work, but there was no rule saying an upper class pony like him couldn’t go down.

The place was more crowded than the upper levels, but not as much as he’d expected. Certainly not on the same level as Manehattan. It wasn’t so dirty or dull, either. But it still felt more like a proper city in Jimmy’s mind, so he found he liked it. This was what he was used to.

He wandered the place, not looking for anything in particular. It was a good place to get lost in. It wasn’t what Jimmy had been trying to do… but it’s what happened. He didn’t let it worry him; if he needed to get back to his hotel he needed only to go uphill and he’d find a gate eventually. He stopped to eat at a small café where he was certain the hay was the leftovers of the bale that had gone to the upper levels. He felt out of place there, but nopony seemed to mind.

It was early in the afternoon when he came upon the shop. Perhaps ‘junkyard’ would have been a better title, for the building was surrounded by scraps of old items probably thrown out years ago; wagon wheels, rusting doors, piles of bolts, even a worn and vine-covered steam engine that had to have come from a train. He wandered the area curiously, the entire shop dark beneath the vast shadow cast by Canterlot’s upper levels.

‘Two Bits’ was emblazoned in worn gold letters on the dusty window of the shop. Well, mostly; the ‘o’ in two was only a pale shadow where the letter had once been, and most of the others letters were peeling. He glanced inside to discover all sorts of things, from a carriage chassis to shelves of makeshift, possibly home-made toys. And, interestingly, a pony struggling with something big and blocky in the background.

Jimmy was curious, so he went in.

What he found was an old, short, yellow-coated and purple-maned unicorn struggling with his hoof, which seemed to have been caught in the inner workings of a massive grandfather clock.

“Umm, are you okay?”

The unicorn glared at him. “Nay, I’m naut!” His accent made it clear he was from Trotland. “Give me a han’ wif this infernal thin’, woodya nau?”

Jimmy, just a little uncertain, stepped forward to get a better look. “Stop jerking, you’re making it worse,” he noted sympathetically. The hoof was caught within three different gears! “By Celestia, how’d you get it that far in?”

“Well I had ta put the friggen’ lever back somhau!” The gears glowed for a moment, but wouldn’t shift to the unicorn’s magic. “I keep tryin’ ta get ‘em ta le’ go, but is like they determine’ ta take me hoof!”

“Alright, alright, just hold still and let me study this…”

“Hurts a wee much fer holdin’ still, lad.”

Jimmy ignored his grumbling and focused on the clock’s inner workings. After a few seconds he was able to see how all the small pieces worked together. “I’ll need a screwdriver.”

“Wha? You knau hau lon’ it took me ta put this thin’ back together?” But after a moment’s consideration the old pony sighed. “Check me saddleba’, lef’ side, secon’ from de back.”

Jimmy did as he was told and found what he was looking for. Keeping the screwdriver in his teeth, he shifted and worked until he was at last able to get the tool into the tight fit. A few quick turns and a lever loosened. This had a rapid domino effect on many of the other components, and suddenly the old stallion’s hoof slipped out.

The unicorn let out a long, relieved sigh and rubbed his bruised hoof tenderly. “Thank ya lad, I though’ I’d never get me hoof out!”

Jimmy took a moment to re-tighten the screw before turning to check the stallion’s hoof. “That looks pretty bad, old timer.”

“Bah, I’ve ha’ worse,” the stallion muttered. “Quick bandagin’ an’ it’s back ta work. Thanks again, lad, I owe ya. Wha’ can I do ya fer in the meantime?”

“Oh, not much,” Jimmy confessed, glancing around as the pony went to a cabinet and pulled out a first aid kit. “Just exploring Canterlot.”

“Then you’re in the wron’ place, lad,” the unicorn declared gruffly. “this may be Canterlau, bu’ all the sigh’seein’s up there. You los’?”

“Not really,” Jimmy answered. “Well, yes, I am, but I can figure out how to get back. And I don’t feel like being up there. What is this place?”

“Two Bits,” the stallion announced as if this were obvious – which perhaps it was. “Repairs. Toymaker. I’m Two Bits. Junior.”

“And what’s with all the junk outside?”

“Parts, o‘course.”

“Of course.” Jimmy watched as the old stallion began to study the clock again. “Shouldn’t you… I dunno, take a break? You won’t be using that hoof today, I hope.”

“Nau, I think it’s broke,” Two Bits Jr. confessed, but kept right on. “Can’ stop workin’, though. Go’ a schedule to keep.”

Jimmy was amazed. Back when he’d worked for his father he’d learned that safety was of the utmost importance; even a minor injury was warrant for a day off. To see this old stallion working right on when he was most certainly in a lot of pain was rather surprising.

“Here, let me help.”

“Ya done helpe’ me enough, lad,” Two Bits Jr. argued. “Ya shoul’ go back to ya explorin’.”

“You’re hurt,” Jimmy argued, “and I’m bored. I need to do something constructive or my day’s a waste. Besides,” he turned and tapped his cutie mark, “this kind of thing’s my special talent.”

The unicorn raised an suspecting eyebrow. “Ya’d jus’ go an’ help an ol pony, jus’ like tha? I can’ pay ya nothin’.”

“Forget payment,” Jimmy said, “give me something to do! That’s payment enough.”

“I’ll be damne'.” Two Bits shrugged and stepped back. “If ya wanna work, who am I ta stop ya? Where ya from, lad?”

He almost said Manehattan, but stopped himself. He considered the question, and what the answer really meant to him.

“Ponyville,” he said at last. “I’m from Ponyville.”

Jimmy’s mood had shot up so much since the day before it was downright extraordinary. He’d spent the entire day in that tinkerer’s shop, helping with repairs and modifications and upgrades and designs. He’d been using his special talent, something he’d not done in years. He’d forgotten how much pleasure it gave him, to work on things with his hooves. Not like drafting a building or setting up blueprints: this was him working on something physical, something he could touch and examine up close. An entirely different experience.

He’d enjoyed himself so much he actually regretted leaving the shop that evening. Two Bits had been nothing but impressed with his work, and despite his earlier declaration of not being able to pay he’d gone and offered Jimmy a job.

But he’d turned the offer down. He’d spent his life training to be a structural engineer. Somehow taking on a job like that seemed… wrong. Like it flew in the face of everything he’d worked for. Besides, he lived in Ponyville; he had to stay there to take care of his brother. Nye liked to act independent, but Jimmy knew he’d never even get out of bed on time if not for the knowledge that big brother as watching over his shoulder.

But even if his future was uncertain and he still had no job, Jimmy was happy, at least for tonight. This called for something special, something he used only very rarely, but first he’d have to find a place that offered it.

He found one, a grungy looking bar not far from the gates to the upper levels. He went on in and was met with loud talking, jazzy music and the occasional bout of raucous laughter. Nye’s kind of place, or so he imagined. Smoke filled the air, which was for Jimmy an encouraging sign.

He sat before the bar and waited for the bartender to approach. “What’ll ya have?”

“I saw on the sign you offer extract,” Jimmy replied. “What’s your best quality?”

The bartender raised an eyebrow, studied Jimmy for a moment. “Blue Buck. Twenty bits a stick.”

Ooh, surprisingly high quality stuff for a place like this. “Gimme three.”

The mare stared at him dumbly for a moment. “Three? You sure? This is some tough stuff.”

“I can handle it,” Jimmy declared, setting his card on the counter. The bartender glanced at the card, then back at Jimmy. Finally she took the card and nodded, heading into the back. A few minutes later she returned with three long, purple-colored sticks on a pan. They looked like incense sticks. On one side of the pan was a small burning coal.

Jimmy took his card back, then picked up a stick in his mouth and pushed the other end into the coal. It began to smoke, a small constant stream that swam its way up to join the rest of its kind in the air. The pegasus sucked in, could taste the refined poison joke extract within, and relaxed.

He turned back to scan the bar, puffing pleasantly on his extract. Nothing special about the place; it certainly wasn’t winning in points for tidiness and beauty. A dump, really. However they got their hooves on Blue Buck he couldn’t fathom. He ignored the ponies all around him and turned to watch the band.

His extract stick nearly fell out of his mouth.

There, wearing a purple silk dress, was Octavia. She had her eyes closed as she played her cello with the band, and Jimmy was stunned. This was her week-long job? He took another look around, expecting to see something that might justify such an elegant pony as her being here, but there was nothing. So he stared some more, and was mystified.

He nearly burned his lips on his extract stick, he’d been watching so long. He put it out and lit another. Once it was set he tapped the counter and informed the bartender he’d be right back, then approached the stage. He sat and listened intently in the corner near the stairs. He noted that Octavia had no sheet music, unlike the other members of the band. He was no music pony, but as he watched her gently swaying form and calm, quiet face he was almost sure she was a league above the others.

The music stopped, and the drummer announced a break. Octavia set her instrument aside and turned to leave the stage, but when her mulberry eyes caught sight of Jimmy she froze, eyes wide.

Jimmy gestured to the bar politely and did his best Nye impression. “Hey there, little filly. Buy you a drink?”

She glanced around, at first in alarm, but then with a guilty, bashful expression. “I… I don’t know…” she said quietly as she slowly came down the stairs.

He was caught off guard by her manner. “What’s wrong?”

She glanced at him, then lowered her eyes once more. “How did you know where I was…?”

“I didn’t,” he confessed reassuringly. “Just a coincidence. Honest.”

She eyed him as if trying to determine his sincerity. “I… Jimmy, it might look…”

He smiled. “Octavia, it’s not like I’m asking you out on a date. I’m offering to buy a friend a drink.”

She glanced around yet again, considered nervously. “Well… alright, I guess…”

“Don’t act too thrilled,” he noted sourly as they made their way back to the bar.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered, “I just… didn’t want anypony to know I was here. Besides, most stallions who offer to buy a mare a drink have only one thing on their mind.”

“You’re confusing me for my brother,” Jimmy said with a chuckle, “although I admit it was a good impression.” He sat back at his old spot, and Octavia joined him.

“Pink Sparkle,” she ordered while Jimmy scanned the previously untouched beverage menu.

“Do you use apples or apple juice for your cider?” he asked the barkeep.

She glowered darkly. “Apple juice. Not fancy enough for you?”

“Good,” he announced smartly, “I’ll take just the juice.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. Apple juice only.”

The bartender wandered off, grumbling to herself.

Octavia was watching him with a raised eyebrow. “You’re buying me a beverage but getting yourself apple juice? Really, Jimmy?”

“I only drink when I’m in a bad mood,” he declared, taking a long puff of his extract.

She waved the smoke away from her face. “I didn’t know you smoked.” It didn’t seem to appeal to her.

“Only when I’m in a really good mood,” he said, grinning. “I’ll try to blow the smoke away from you.”

“Don’t bother,” she muttered, turning to the counter as her drink was delivered, “there’s so much in here it wouldn’t matter.”

Catching her unhappy tone, he glanced around. “I have to admit I was surprised to see an elite pony like you in a place like this.”

She bowed her head and closed her eyes. For a few seconds she said nothing. “I’m not an elite pony, Jimmy.”

He had been in the middle of a drag and started coughing fitfully. It took him almost half a minute to recover. “…seriously?”

She nodded, still not looking at him. When she next spoke he was surprised to note that her posh accent was gone entirely. “I can fake the tone, and I’ve got the look, but the truth is I’m just a regular mare from little old Trottingham.”

“But… didn’t you get a gig at the Grand Galloping Gala? That’s not something just anypony can obtain.”

“That was a one-time offer,” she declared. “Things like that come around, sometimes. They pay well and I’m always thrilled to go. But most of my work is… well… this." She said the word as if disgusted. "I’m a musician, Jimmy. Musicians have to work almost constantly to make ends meet, especially if they haven’t been trained in the elite schools. I’m self trained, and not endorsed.”

“I see…” It was all he could think of to say. “…I guess… I guess things are bad all around.”

She eyed him uncertainly. “I thought you were happy?”

He chuckled, turned back to the counter. “For the moment. I had a really productive day. Days like that make me happy.” Another long puff of extract. “I lost my job yesterday.”

“Lost your job?” She seemed astonished. “Why?”

“Stikin Stone,” he answered. “My old stallion caught wind of my recent success, decided to stamp it out.”

“But you can find a job elsewhere, right?”

He shook his head. “He’s apparently found a way to end my career. I’ve got nothing left, Octavia. Nothing but money and time. Some ponies dream of being in my situation, but I need a job. I need to feel like I’m being productive. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

She sighed, set a hoof to his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Jim.”

“Me too,” he muttered, putting out the stick and lighting his third.

A long silence passed between them, a deep and uncomfortable one. Looking for something else to touch upon, he finally said, “I ran into Upper Crust yesterday.”

“And how is she?” Octavia asked with little interest.

“Miserable,” he admitted.

The cellist sighed. “Well… you were right. Things are bad all around.”

“It’s not all that bad,” he noted, eyeing her for a moment. “You’ve still got your looks. I won’t be telling anypony what I’ve learned today, if that’s what you’d prefer.”

“Very much so,” she confessed meekly. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” He smiled weakly. “You’re lucky I’m not Nye. I can just imagine his reaction to seeing you in that dress in a place like this.”

She blushed. “The dress is… expected… in a place like this. I didn’t think it was racy…”

“It’s not,” he corrected. “Really, it’s not. It just looks good on you is all.”

She raised an eyebrow and gave him a suspecting smile. “Are you sure Nye’s not rubbing off on you? At least a little?”

“By Celestia, I hope not,” he laughed.

She chuckled and shook her head. “Poor Nye, he does seem to have an eye for the mares. He should learn not to bother with me; I’m just not interested in stallions.”

Jimmy blinked, stared at her, rubbed his head with his hoof uncertainly. “I’m going to sound like Nye when I ask this… but did you just confess to being a fooling filly?”

At that Octavia burst out laughing. It was an amazing sight; he was absolutely certain he’d never seen her laugh, much less laugh like this. She leaned against the counter and fought to control herself, grinning and giggling uncontrollably. “You… you’re right,” she said between breaths, “that sounded… just like Nye!”

He considered, grinned, laughed as well. They were laughing so much the other ponies at the bar were giving them bemused looks. Finally they calmed down, and Octavia said between huffs, “No… N-no, Jim… I’m not… not interested in mares…”

“Oh,” he chuckled, tried to keep from bursting into laughter again. “…okay… Nye mistake.” He chuckled some more at his wit.

She let out a long, deep breath and grinned. “I haven’t laughed like that in ages.”

“I didn’t know I could laugh like that,” he confessed.

“Anyway,” she declared, finally recovering her breathing, “what I meant was that I’m not searching right now. No time for romance. Not interested.”

“Ah,” he nodded, took another puff of extract to calm his own breathing. “That’ll break a lot of stallions’ hearts.”

She eyed him. “What about you?”

“Me?” He shook his head. “I’m in the same boat. I’m too busy to go chasing after mares like my brother.”

She giggled. “So he’s the tailchaser and you’re the breadwinner.”

“More or less.”

Another long pause came between them. He spent the time puffing on his extract and sipping his juice. She used her hoof to spin the straw in her untouched drink. The silence was just on the verge of becoming awkward when she spoke again.

“Jimmy… do you ever think about the others?”

He glanced at her apprehensively. “The others?”

“You know; Upper Crust, Lightning Dust, even Fine Crime.”

“Every now and again,” he confessed. “Not much, though.” She nodded. He had the distinct impression he’d just confirmed an old suspicion.

“I think about them – about us – a lot,” she claimed. “What were we then? Just a bunch of ponies who stumbled upon one another?”

“I don’t know about you,” he muttered, “but I was just trying to get a look at the Wonderbolts.”

She leaned her cheek into her hoof, staring at her drink quietly for several seconds. “What if we were meant to be a team?”

“A team?” He studied her inquisitively. “What do you mean? What kind of team?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Just… a team. What if somepony out there, somepony powerful, had planned for us to work together all along?”

“That sounds like a conspiracy theory to me,” he answered dully. “I didn’t know you were the type.”

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “What if I told you I met somepony after Sombra was defeated, somepony with big plans in store for us?”

"Like who?" he asked uncertainly. "Like what?"

She thought about the questions for a long time, bu finally shook her head. “I’m sorry, Jimmy. I don’t think it’s my place to talk about it. I probably shouldn’t have brought it up at all.” She glanced towards the stage, stood. “I need to get back to work. Thanks for the drink.”

“Oh… okay.” He watched her go, feeling a little disturbed by what she’d just said. Her manner was always so serious, he couldn’t simply dismiss it. Them, a team? Even Nye and Jimmy? It sounded ridiculous. But her entire manner when she’d spoken of it…

He looked down at her glass. She’d not had a single sip. The bartender picked it up.

“Better luck next time, pal,” she told him sympathetically.

“Huh? Oh… uh… yeah. Next time…”

He found Nye with Rainbow Dash. She was napping on a cloud. Nye couldn’t get up there, so he was napping on a park bench just below her. Jimmy watched his brother for some time, wondering what it must be like to be so… easy going. After a while he sat on the bench next to his brothers’ and waited. He had plenty of time, after all.

His mind flitted around all the same subjects that had subdued him on the train ride home. What was he going to do now? How would he get past his father’s career blockade? How would Nye take the news? Was there anything else he could do that was half as fulfilling? How would he ever build up his own legacy?

What? Where? Why? How? When?

A team.

The one out-of-place thought. It kept popping up, over and over again. Could they be a team? Was somepony out there really so deluded as to think he and his brother were meant to join something bigger? Nye, a lazy tailchaser, and Jimmy, who had no future? It made no sense.

So why did he like the thought so much?


Nye stirred, sat up slowly and blinked against the bright sun. He nodded to Jimmy, cast a grumpy glance at Rainbow Dash’s cloud. “Lost my shade,” he muttered. Jimmy realized the cloud must have been set just so to block the sun for his brother. But the sun had moved, of course, so Nye was awake again.

The younger twin yawned, stretched, and turned around so his head was on the other side of the bench, back in the shade. “So… another thrillingly successful trip to Canterlot, I take it?”

“Not exactly,” Jimmy muttered, earning him a surprised look. “Father’s put his hoof down, Nye.”

Nye sat up, stared at him without understanding. “What do you mean?”

“I lost the contract,” Jimmy admitted miserably, slumping. “Father’s put the vice on the companies in Canterlot. I’ve been completely blocked off.”

Nye’s face was slack, but then it slowly turned to an expression of rage. He let out a vicious snarl. “Celestia damn that fucker!”

“Hey hey,” Rainbow mumbled from her cloud, “not so loud…”

The twins looked up at the cloud dully for a moment, then Nye continued. “You’ve got to have a way to fight it.”

“No, Nye,” Jimmy replied, “I don’t. I tried two new companies yesterday, and six more before I got on the train home. Nopony will hire me.”

“This is ridiculous,” his brother declared venomously. “I understood he hated me, but to slam you like that…”

“Daddy issues again?”

They looked up to find Rainbow Dash’s surprisingly awake and aware face peering at them upside-down through the cloud.

“Something like that,” Jimmy muttered, lowering his head once more.

“No,” Nye snapped at him, “not ‘something like that.’ ‘Daddy issues’ are the only issues we ever have in this family!”

“I know it’s not my business,” Rainbow noted apologetically, “but why don’t you two just confront the guy?”

Nye raised his hoof dismissively. “I’m not even going to dignify that suggestion with a response.”

The blue pegasus dropped from the cloud to land in front of Nye. “What’s wrong with my suggestion?” she demanded angrily.

“Rainbow,” Jimmy answered, “if you grew up with this stallion, you’d understand. He’s not somepony we can just stand up to.”

“Why?” she demanded angrily, “because he’s your father?”

“Yes,” the twins replied in grim unison.

Their response caught her entirely off guard. “He can’t be that bad,” she suggested a little more timidly. “I mean, I stood up to my father when I had to.”

“You’re father probably didn’t treat you like scum all your life,” Nye noted darkly.

“Or own a multinational company,” Jimmy added.

“Or treat your house like his own private castle,” Nye went on.

“Or look down on his sons expecting them to carry his legacy,” Jimmy concluded. “Like pair of ants trying to carry a Big Mac-sized stallion all on their own.”

She sat and looked at each of them with mild surprise. “Wow… yeah, my dad was nothing like yours.”

“We can’t let him get away with this,” Nye grumbled.

“I don’t think we have much choice, bro,” Jimmy said.

There was a long, miserable silence between the two, with Rainbow glancing between them worriedly. But then she floated in the air triumphantly. “I know! Why don’t you go into business for yourself?”

The twins gave her curious looks.

“No,” Jimmy said after a moment’s consideration, “nopony would go to me for a job.”

“In structural design,” Nye noted thoughtfully, earning him a questioning look from his brother. “Jim… you’re not a structural, remember? You used to whine about it to me all the time.”


“You’re a mechanical, that’s your talent,” the younger twin declared. “If you can’t work making buildings, why not start a company offering something relating to that?”

“Like what?” Jimmy asked. “I’m not… really…”

An idea came to mind. He remembered his work the day before, with the old codger in the repair shop. He recalled the joy it have given him, even despite his job loss. He’d never considered it before, because it had never been an option before. But now?

“Rainbow,” he said, giving her a light smile, “you’re a genius.”

She did a flashy flip and posed in midair. “But of course!”

Nye frowned and gestured to himself. “What about me?”

“You?” Jimmy grinned teasingly. “You’re just Nye.”

The seas were raging all around the island. A lone unicorn stood near the ocean’s edge, grey-coated and silver-maned, his horn glowing a fierce white as he struggled for control. At his neck was a necklace, on which hung a big black box of a design unlike any in Equestria.

The sea would not calm. It resisted him, struggled, refused to obey. It was getting angry. It didn’t like the control he was trying to force upon it.

At last he accepted defeat, his horn dimming and his body sweating terribly. It was either that or be destroyed himself. Slowly, like a calming beast, the seas stilled.

How many times do you intend to try?

“Until I get it right,” he muttered unhappily.

Why would you bring it here if you didn’t know how to control it?

“Why do you keep asking me that question?”

Because it is one in need of an answer.

He glowered at the sky, as if it were the source of the voice in his head. “I didn’t do it on purpose.”

So you say.

He grimaced and turned away from the oceans. “It doesn’t matter. It’s here. But I’ve used countless alien magics and weapons; this should be no different.”

All we ask is that you let us help. Together we can control it.

“I’ve been trying for twenty years,” he snapped angrily. “What makes you think you’re so powerful?”

Mane, you can’t control it on your own. Neither can we. But together we can bend it to our will.

“You just want it to find the Shades of Night,” he snarled angrily. “Don’t think I’m not on to your game! You’ll use me and throw me away.”

We do want the Shades of Night. In that you are correct, Mane Archon.

Mane snarled and looked away from… well, from nothing, really. He hated having that voice in his head. “I won’t be used by you, Silma. Take your slave and cook up your own schemes. Leave me to my own.”

You are renowned for your scheming, Mane. Which is why it puzzled us that you don’t see the obvious.

He glared at nothing in particular. “The obvious?”

Yes: if we must use our powers together to control it, then how could we possibly get rid of you once we have done so? Losing control once it has been gained would be… cataclysmic.

He considered her words, but shook his head. “Once you have the gemstones, you may be powerful enough to do it on your own.”

We doubt it. The stones grant power, true, but without the Elements we will never be what we once were.

“The Elements…” Mane turned to stare into the ocean once more. “The Elements are nothing against this.”

We know.

He stood there in silence for several long seconds, watching the waters roll onto the beach ominously. Twenty years he’d been at it, trying every trick and artifact and tool at his disposal. Nothing would work. He knew this now. But returning to the world outright was not an option, not since the incident. He needed a weapon. He needed this.

“Alright, Silma,” he muttered unhappily, “we’ll try it your way. But not now; it is already angry enough as it is, and I am weary.”

We are a patient pony, Mane. We have waited an eternity. A few months more – even a few years more – are nothing to us.

“I would hope it doesn’t take that long,” he admitted. “Even without our plans, this thing is too dangerous to leave alone.”

Patience, my friend. Good things come to those who wait.

Mane stared at the oceans, imagining what was awaiting below.

“There’s no way this is a good thing, Silma. No way at all.”

Author's Note:

I was glad to get this chapter done, because in truth I had no idea what all would happen in it once I started. Some things were entirely improvised, particularly the visit with the tinkerer. I only knew two things for certain would happen: Jimmy losing his job and the meeting with Octavia in the bar. In fact I was really looking forward to that second part. On a related note: I have no idea how a mare's dress could be considered 'racy.' But I figured the ponies themselves would have an idea, so it wouldn't be so strange to them even if it was to me.

One topic that interests me: Octavia shipping. I'm sure that people will now be expecting me to ship Octavia and Jimmy; in fact I imagine some people will wonder why I didn't have them all over one another at the end of the bar scene. First: I have no concrete plans regarding Octavia and her potential relationships. This is related to one of my very early decisions regarding my design of her: she really has no interest in relationships and a very low libido. Now whether a pony will eventually melt her heart or she'll stay single throughout the story (despite certain ponies' determined attempts) remains a mystery even to me.

But this story will not be shipping-free. I have two relationships planned, one of which will be brought up before the end of this 'series.'