• Published 9th Nov 2013
  • 3,130 Views, 157 Comments

Unbound Skies - Luminary



Equestria isn't what it should be. Fear, smoke and an invisible, ever-growing menace rule the day. A pink toymaker, a noblemare, and an airship captain and her crew are thrown together by peril, and set out to rescue the soul of Equestria

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Chapter One: The Toymaker and the Noblemare

Twist. Crank. Bonk!

The colt and his mother looked on as Pinkie Pie, who was behind the counter, fiddled with a clockwork contraption. A seal toy with cymbals on its flippers, which would clash together when prompted. It also doubled as a bubble blower.

The mare adjusted the green-lensed goggles on her face, getting out a screwdriver from beneath the counter. Carefully, she held it in her hoof, and slowly turned one of the bronze gears inside the seal. After that, she lathered the inner mechanisms with oil then shut the compartment. The last step was the most important.

The mother and son flinched. “Why’d you just hit the thing?!” the parent asked.

Pinkie raised her goggles, revealing her bright blue eyes. She held a wrench in her hoof that was still vibrating from the impact. “Hitting machines is super important when they break down. It’s like a punishment for them misbehaving.” She pressed a button atop the seal’s head and it instantly smashed its cymbals together repeatedly, blowing bubbles from its mouth. “See?” she said, smiling.

The colt excitedly hopped on the spot, taking the toy and beaming at the tinkerer. “Thanks Miss Pinkie! I didn’t think Mr. Flippers would ever get working again!”

“He really was upset when it broke. You have our gratitude, Miss Pie,” the mother said.

“No problem! Just doing my duty!” Pinkie replied, saluting them.

The mare kept an eye on her son as he giggled in delight, playing with the toy. “Only thing that’s left is the matter of payment.” She dug into a weathered leather satchel, attached to her gray dress. “What’s your rate for repairs? Fifteen bits?”

Pinkie waved her hoof dismissively. “Oh no, I couldn’t ask you to pay that much.” Her eyes locked onto the golden bits as they came out from the satchel. She bit her lip, averting her gaze. “Go halfsies?”

The mare gave her a contented nod and put the required change on the counter. “That sounds just fine.Thank you for the help. Have a good day, Miss.” She turned, calling to her son, but stopped just as they were about to leave. “You’re a rare commodity, Miss Pie; a cheerful soul in a dying city.”

“Weeeeeell… I don’t think it’s dying. Maybe juuuust… It needs more pink! Yeah!” She gave the mother the most serious of sage nods.

“Heh, if you say so. Good day.”

They slipped out of the door, but not before the colt managed to poke his head in and shout, “Thanks Pinkie, you’re great!”

Pinkie giggled-snorted. “And you’re fandabbydozy! Bye!” She gave him a cheerful wave and didn’t stop until the door shut and he left her sight.

Sighing, she scooped up the bits and put them into a small metal case behind the counter, in which they joined tens of other bits. She closed the case, shook it, then placed it into a pouch on her jacket. “You used to jangle. Now you just jingle.” Putting it down, she glanced around her shop with a forlorn look.

It was perfect, all things considered. Sure, the wooden walls and floor were a bit drab, but that didn’t matter when you had tons of toys. Lining the walls were rows of them, beautifully built by herself, all with her own hooves. Most were metal and clockwork, like the monkey candy dispensers, but some were cuddly toys too. A clock with wiggly hands ticked and tocked, rusted gears visible, churning away. It was almost time for lunch break.

To the back of a counter was a door that led into the kitchen. She walked in and checked her bread box. Nothing but crumbs and broken slices. The fridge? Yogurt and chocolate were tasty, but didn’t make for a filling lunch and she didn’t have much of either. All the other cupboards revealed scraps and half empty cans of really boring foods like beans of the blandly baked variety. All signs pointed to her eating out today.

She turned, going past a basket. “Gonna have to go grab some more grub, Gummy. Be a good boy while I’m gone!”

The robotic alligator blinked beneath the rim of his metallic tophat.

Trotting out of her shop, she locked the door and gazed up at the sign. It read The Clockwork Cupcake. The colors were faded now, but it was a business that still brought many a smile to children’s faces when they saw it.

She went along the narrow cobblestone streets, going past houses all squished together and uniform in their blandness. The sky was dulled by cloud and smog. A small, pale yellow disc hung in the sky; sunlight desperately trying to break through the murky barrier.

Pinkie tightened the white scarf around her neck, heading out towards the busier parts of Canterlot. A sooty chestnut colored jacket covered her chest and her back, the tails having a big, shiny button on them. Long brown leggings covered her limbs, but left the tips of her hooves visible. She tugged her goggles down over her eyes; they were starting to tear up from the stinging air.

She could’ve bought a sandwich or something. That sounded good, actually. But she knew she had to save up the bits if she didn’t want to go under. And every, well, bit counted. So her lunch today wouldn’t be nearly as luxurious as normal, and would require going to a different part of the city than those she usually haunted.

Said route took her to somewhere quieter and more decrepit than where she lived. Houses and shops had been abandoned, broken windows boarded up. Rubbish, puddles of alcohol, and things best left unidentified littered the streets. Shady characters shuffled about, but paid Pinkie no mind. Usually she wouldn’t go anywhere near this part of town. It wasn’t as dangerous as some of the alleys in the the Lower City, but it had more of a feeling of desperation to it. However, it did have a silver lining that she just had to go to.

Well, technically, it was a copper lining. The silver had been scraped off, but it’d been nice when it was there. It still managed to be the fanciest place in Rustyard. Like most buildings in the ‘yard, it was made from what was left of one of the old wooden airships they didn’t make anymore. Old brass plates covered most of the holes eaten into it by time and the need for firewood. The whole building had been painted over in a deep shade of purple, which was still only slightly faded. A whole section of the front was taken up by a sign with a single image: a bowl of soup with a wisp of steam, tracing the shape of two feminine eyes.

Pinkie thought it kind of looked like a cushy shop for pretty unicorn-types from the upper city, who wanted something ‘retro’. That certainly wasn’t who was visiting it though. Instead, lined up around half the block was a collection of just about the saddest ponies in the ‘yard. The ones coughing away with Black Lung, or limping from those nasty looking factory hurts you get from having your hoofsies caught in things. Even just the ones with ribs that you could see through their coats. Pinkie, as she always did, stopped half a street away. Her eyes narrowed as if calculating some magic that would fix all that badness.

Except she didn’t really have to. The closer those ponies got to the front doors, the rarer the frowns got. Some of the ones just outside the door were even grinning a little. Maybe because they could hear the happier talk inside. Most likely it was because they could smell what was cooking. Food was superb in that it could cheer up anypony. And Rarity’s soup kitchen gave it out for free. She'd discovered that it was even pretty good! Pinkie’d had to visit before, when her bitbox had stopped jangling or jingling. For a lot of the folks in the Rustyard, those that didn’t have a bitbox at all, Rarity’s was the only thing they had to fill their tummies.

She stared at the scene for a while, wrapping her brain around the fact that, soon, she would be an actor in it once again. She’d try to keep her chin up, that was for sure, but things were definitely going to get tougher again soon. There were worse things than to stand in that line. At the very least, the owner had proved to be a super-nice pony whenever Pinkie met her. Rarity was beautiful, maybe too beautiful. That perfect white coat got sooty too easily. That bright voice, which sang at the start of the night, was tired by the finish. Those eyes, so like Pinkie’s own, sometimes got all teary. As much as Pinkie was overjoyed to see such a friendly face, it seemed a little unfortunate that she was here.

It was sort of like the old mare’s tales about Princess Celestia. You just couldn’t picture her being somewhere like the Rustyard.

Like Celestia, though, she seemed untouchable too. Bad things sometimes happened to beautiful ponies in the ‘yard, but not to Rarity. Nopony ever scratched or wrote anything on her walls either, like they did the other buildings. Nopony was ever so bad that they couldn’t see something purely good. At least that’s what Pinkie thought.

Pinkie joined the back of the line, getting a few stares from the other ponies. She simply smiled at them. Some returned the expression, while others shrugged and looked away. A pang of guilt struck her as she realized why she was here. She still had money, but wasn’t spending it. The ponies around had nothing. But if she wasted bits on herself, she wouldn’t have them for rent on the Clockwork Cupcake. And if that closed then there wouldn’t be toys for anypony.

Her tummy rumbled quietly, as much from guilt as hunger. Hopefully only a little bit of soup would fill it up.

Pinkie was halfway through telling Cast Iron, her new soup-line-friend, the one about the unicorn and the gryphon fishermare when she made it past the doors and into the dining area itself. She was there, behind the serving counter.

As usual, she looked like she was dressed more for a ball than a day in one of the poorest parts of the Lower City. It was a corsetted affair of rich royal blue and cloth-of-gold trimmings, backed by pure white lace and cheery ruffles. It was shinier and cleaner than anything in the ‘yard had a right to be; or a reasonable possibility of being, for that matter.

She looked more tired than usual. Not that her mane was messy, or there were bags under her eyes or any such thing. Her makeup seemed just a little thicker, as if she was hiding imperfections. Plus she wasn’t her normal gushingly enthusiastic self. She was just sitting behind the counter, chatting with the ponies that came up to it without her usual animation, and pouring soup with her magic. Even so, she still managed one of those small smiles for each pony. And each one a little bit different. Sometimes sympathetic. Sometimes happy. Always, however, seeming perfectly aimed to give a little cheer to the pony that received it.

Pinkie wasn’t sure if Rarity’s smiles were real. But the ones she got back certainly were. So that was something.

She walked up to the counter, providing the smile for Rarity this time. “Hi, Rarity! Long day?”

Jackpot! Pinkie mentally cheered, as the unicorn’s crystal-blue eyes finally joined in on what her lips were delivering.

“Oh! Pinkie Pie!” The mare behind the counter sat a little straighter. “Not the day. The Grand Galloping Gala, last night. I’m sure you saw the fireworks?”

She nodded. “Watched them from my roof. I’m guessing you went, then? Oo, that must have been so exciting! I hope you had fun! Oh, and don’t fill up my bowl up to the top, ‘cause I don’t wanna be a greedy-gumps,” she quickly added.

As Pinkie might have expected, Rarity proved more than delighted to share a bit of gossip. She leaned slightly forward, as she always did. “I had the pleasure of going on the arm of Lady Starcatcher. A lovely young mare, but not, I found, one who can handle her drink. I was alone for most of the night.” Rarity pursed her lips. “Still, it was an… illuminating evening.”

Rarity scooped up a bowl with a bit more of her usual flourish, disdaining the ladle to magically spin a trailing snake of the rich orange-gold soup. She’d always done that since the first time Pinkie had rather over-enthusiastically eaten her meal, and burned her tongue. The bit of showmareship cooled it to a far more Pinkie-safe temperature. “Though truth be told, the Gala’s reputation is a trifle overinflated. I think I’d rather have been watching fireworks on your roof too, darling.”

“Aaaw, well there’s always next year!” Pinkie replied with a friendly wink, then took a look at her bowl, and made a pulling motion towards herself.

Rarity floated the bowl over to the pink mare. It was filled nearly to overflowing. The unicorn made a dainty wave of her hoof to cut off any objections. “Now don’t say a thing. Eat. You’re getting skinny again.”

Pinkie’s eyes trailed to the ponies behind her. “Not as skinny as…” She stopped, sighed, then smiled. “Thanks Rarity. You’re a one in a million billion zillion.”

“So my mother must have hoped when she named me.” Hiding a tiny, lady-like yawn behind a hoofkerchief, she made a small shooing gesture. “Go. Have some lunch, you silly thing. And though I’m sure I’m wasting my time with the request, do try to take your time.”

“Okey dokey lokey! You have a fandabbydozy day, Rarity!” Pinkie chirped, taking her bowl and walking away.

“Oh!” Rarity called. “I suppose I should mention, I may be gone for a time, Pinkie dear. I’m leaving enough bits to keep this place running in my absence. It could be a few months. I expect to return to hear that you’ve been availing yourself of our help. And that you haven’t been giving my fillies and colts trouble asking for small portions.”

What?!” Pinkie exclaimed, zooming over and leaning over the counter. She grabbed Rarity’s shoulders and shook her about. A levitated wooden bowl went skidding along the ground. “You can’t leave! You’re a shining star! A light in the smoky, sooty dark! A, um… you’re wonderful!”

White hooves batted at Pinkie rather ineffectually. “Pinkie! My dress!” she complained. She settled for pressing her forelegs against Pinkie’s own. Trying to project an air of calm, if just to make the shaking stop. She offered the pink mare a fond, if slightly dazed smile. “I’ll miss you too. Truly I will. That’s why I want to make sure you’re taken care of. There’s simply something very important I need to do. Even more important than this.”

Pinkie’s ears lowered, as if sapped of perkiness. “Okay.” She moved off of Rarity, giving her a small smile. “Be careful, though. Pretty please?”

Rarity gave a little dismissive shake of her head. “It’s less dangerous than the fierce old Rustyard, dear. I’m a seasoned traveller, after all. But I promise anyhow.” Rarity rose from where she was sitting. “I’d ask the same from you. I’ve always been so envious of what you do. I might be here to fill a pony’s belly, but where would we be without you to heal something far more critical?” She reached out and placed a hoof against Pinkie’s chest, over her heart.

There was no hiding the rosiness creeping across the cheeks of a pony with Rarity’s colouration. “Now, enough of that, before I get all misty-eyed and make myself look horrible. Let’s get you another bowl of soup.”

Pinkie glanced at her bowl, then licked her dry lips. “All right… but just a halfie.”

=====☼=====

With her belly full and plump, but feeling a little down ‘round the edges otherwise, Pinkie left the soup kitchen. There wasn’t time for feeling pouty, though. Lunch was almost over, and she couldn’t afford time for dilly-dallying—tinker time was about to begin. With a renewed spring in her step she hopped over puddles and rubbles, heading toward the more well-off part of Canterlot where she lived.

It was pretty clear when you left the Rustyard. The old breaker’s yard was surrounded by a wall that was more scrap than stonework, these days. The smell sort of told you too. It became more of the normal smell of enchanted-coalsmoke instead of thick iron and nastiness.

There was a sight unusual enough to bring pause as she passed the walls. Two gendarmes were walking down the street as if they owned it, shouldering aside or hoofing at ponies too slow to get out of the way. That was pretty normal. What was weird was that they were unicorns, not the usual pegasi or earth ponies they had in the lower city. They were all gleaming armor and—just like with Rarity—blue cloth way too clean for a place like the ‘yard. Their barding was criss-crossed with nasty magelit pistols, instead of the clever wheel-locks pegasi struggled with. And judging by the mean, sneery, disgusted looks on their muzzles, they’d be happy to use them.

Pinkie shook her head and went on, leaving the sight behind. There wasn’t anything she could do for that particular case of The Grumps. The tatter on Pinkie’s left ear was a reminder that unicorn soldiers either didn’t like being shown how much fun it was to be nicer, or they didn’t like singing.

They probably didn’t think much of where she lived, either. On a scale of badness, it was just above pretty bad, but below icky. It was the sort of place stuck squarely between getting a name like ‘The Rustyard’ and one like ‘Rose Hill’.

She was almost home when a pony stepped out in front of her. She paused mid-bounce.

“Miss Pie, I—” The pony—a mare—stopped, her perfectly cultured tone being bitten back. She stood, staring with one of those really funny looks ponies sometimes got around her. The kind where their jaw hangs down a little. The mare was as still as a statue until Pinkie started falling again, after a few moments of delay. The stranger blinked and reached up, rubbing at her eyes with the back of a foreleg.

Pinkie waited with look of eager expectation. Time had taught her that it was the best thing to do to keep ponies from stammering a lot. Well, not Time Turner, who ran a really neat clock shop nearby. The ordered, linear progression-y thing, where one event precedes another. Time Turner had taught her about how to properly deal with a self-winding mainspring, but not much about ponies.

The pony took a breath and straightened herself up. She seemed pretty cozy in that poised pose, too, as if that was the way she normally carried herself. Pinkie would have thought she was from Upper Canterlot, except that was impossible. The mare was an earth pony, not a unicorn. She sort of reminded Pinkie of Marble—or as Pinkie liked to call her, ‘Inkie’—her sister. Light grey coat, a darker grey—well, black in this case—mane, and purple eyes. The edges of Pinkie’s lips tugged upward a bit. She liked this mare already. Well, more than usual, for strangers.

“Madam Pie,” the stranger started again, walking forward toward her. Pinkie would have said she moved like a fancy-pants pony too, except it wasn’t quite like that. It was more flowingly catlike. Each rear hoof-fall setting itself precisely where the one in front left. “I have a proposition for you. The opportunity for lucrative employment.”

Had this mare fallen from the heavens above, just to give Pinkie a second chance? Maybe. She didn’t seem bruised, though. “Lucrative employment would be great! Money doesn’t make the world go ‘round, but it helps ponies keep chugging along. Whatcha need? I got bubble blowers, catapults, race carriages, cuddly toys, not-so-cuddly-but-awesome toys, even a mechanical ostrich that foals can ride… whatever you need, I can make it!”

“Ahh.” The stranger raised one lace-frilled foreleg. “My employers aren’t interested in toys, Madam Pie.” She paused for a moment, inclining her head slightly, to correct herself, “Or most of them aren’t, to my lament. Rather, I represent the crew of a very particular ship. One with very particular needs. The scales you’d be working on would be rather larger. Much like the pay.”

Pinkie rubbed her chin, mulling over this proposition. “Is this like a ship that delivers presents to all the children in the world? Or does it deliver candy? ‘Cause both would be amazing!”

The mare blinked numbly. Her cultured voice faltered, becoming ever-so-slightly husky with strain. “No. We aren’t a foal’s tale. We’re a ship of fortune, Madam. We work on contract, if the bits are good, and the causes reasonable. Your task would be one of precision engineering work. Our ship has needs far different from a standard boiler-driven ship. Aiming mechanisms, flight mechanics, custom clockwork, maintenance of small gearwor—”

“No thanks! Seems waaay too technical for me. I think about the bigger picture—in the chimney.” She smiled brightly. “Besides, I love my work! I wouldn’t give it up for all the cupcakes in the world. Mostly because I can bake them, so I kinda have an unlimited supply of them anyways.”

“Your reputation would indicate otherwise in regard to your skills, Madam. Not to put too fine a point on it, but our ship was lucky enough to come into possession of one of your clockwork globes.” The mare’s tone seemed to very pointedly shy away from calling it the Funducational GeoSphere. “It has functionally replaced our need for charts, and has been an incalculable boon. We have no doubts as to your qualifications.” The mare brushed a hoof along her opposite sleeve, unsuccessfully trying to clear off some soot. “And truthfully, Madam, you deserve far better than to be in a place like this.”

“Nah, I like it here. Sure, the scenery is just—” she stuck out her tongue and made a retching noise, “but the ponies aren’t too bad. And my shop is like a beacon of joy to all the children around! Which makes their parents happy, and their friends happy, so happy smiles all around.”

The mare’s lips twitched, just slightly. It wasn’t much at all. Most ponies who weren’t Pinkie Pie would never have seen such a tiny upward-pull. “I do believe I understand.” The grey pony took a half-step back, to make a courtly bow, low enough that her long, black mane nearly brushed the road. She held it for a few beats longer than was strictly necessary, before straightening back up to that perfect, upright posture. “My employer will be disappointed. But she, as I, know the value of doing what one believes is right. If you change your mind, however, look for the Plain Sight. We’re docked in The Bellows’ skyport for the next several days. Berth six. We would look with favor upon any conditions you might impose for employment.”

Pinkie nodded, her mane bouncing around. “Okey dokey lokey. Maybe I’ll come drop off some treats for you before you have to go! Thanks for the offer, anyways,” she chirped.

With an acknowledging dip of her head, the stranger turned, with the usual swish and rustle of layered skirts. She set off, with that same feline prowl, toward the thickest black on the horizon; toward The Bellows, where the massive boilers churned through tons of thousand-year-coal, to provide hot water and steam for the city’s use.

Pinkie hopped along, taking shortcuts through narrow alleys, being careful to avoid stepping on the rats. The cockroaches were fine though, since they were the surviving champions of all bugs ever. When she got back to her shop, she opened the door, causing the bell to ring. Going past her counter, she headed down into the basement, to her workshop den within.

It was a cluttered mess of random parts and tools. In the center was a big wooden table, tons of metal pieces scattered about on it. To the sides were shelves, boxes and tools for tinkering purposes. Trusty wrench in hoof, she entered an intense state of concentration as she worked on her toys. It was tough at first, keeping still enough to maintain the precise movements needed with tinkering. But after a lot of practice, she learned to keep her body fairly still, while her mind did all the exciting stuff. Like coming up with great new schematics. Or trying to figure out the elusive gear ratio of ‘fun’.

Pinkie’s tinker-trance was shattered when a loud thump echoed from the floor above her.

Her ears twitched and she put down her tools. Gummy wasn’t heavy enough to make a thump. He made bumps. Plus, he wasn’t the most active animatronic alligator around. She crouched low, adopting a stealthy pose, and carefully creeped up the stairs. Opening the door at the top, she went onto the shop floor, peering about.

The back door to the shop floor was open, which was strange enough, since Pinkie always kept it locked. The doorframe didn’t seem all splintery though, so it hadn’t been forced. Pinkie’s display of music boxes had seen better days. Some were on the floor, open and competing with one another for who had the best cheerful tune. And half-sprawled under that broken shelf was a pony who hardly seemed to be there to enjoy the super-cool music.

It took a moment for Pinkie to figure out who the pony was. The signs were there, sure. The white coat. The curled purple mane. Even the pretty dress, the blue corsety one, accented with paper-thin, overlapping wafers of lapis she’d overlooked before. They looked like dragon-scales and would look pretty amazing on one of her spark-breathing dragon toys. What made it hard to recognize her was the mess. The strands of mane out of place. The running mascara. The harried look. And most importantly, the blood; it ran down the side of the noblemare’s graceful neck from a long, thin cut, to soak into the ruffles of formerly white fabric at her tall collar. Even when Rarity was worn and frazzled from helping ponies in her soup kitchen, she’d always somehow still seemed perfect. Maybe even more perfect, in Pinkie’s eyes. Now she was, well, a bit of a wreck. There was something that felt very wrong with a world where that could happen.

“Rarity…?” Pinkie blinked. Then blinked again. This wasn’t a dream. Slowly, she approached, keeping her voice low. “What happened?”

Rarity’s head shot up, but her eyes seemed unfocused at first, her expression uncomprehending. It took a few moments for any recognition to spark in her eyes. She immediately breathed a sigh of profound relief. “Pinkie,” she began, before pausing to take a look at her surroundings. Her tone seemed faint, as if she wasn’t entirely home. “Oh. Oh dear. It seems I’ve made rather a mess, haven’t I? I’ll pay for the damages, to your toys, and your lock. Just… one moment.” The unicorn struggled to get a perfectly filed hoof under herself. Her forelegs trembled as she started to rise.

“Wait! You’re hurt!” Pinkie rushed to her side, gently setting her down. Rarity seemed all too happy to lean into her forelegs. “I’ve got some stuff that’ll help. Stay here, I’ll be back in a jiffy.” In less than ten seconds, she was out then back in with a damp cloth and bandages. Using the cloth, she dabbed at the wound, being very tender in her movements. They both winced. “Who did this to you?”

“The Lord Regent’s bullyboys, I’m afraid.” Rarity slowly reached a forehoof up, placing it overtop Pinkie’s own, halting her dabbing at the wound. She dipped her muzzle closer, to meet the slightly smaller mare’s eyes. “Pinkie Pie. I know you’ve no reason to help me. We don’t know each other half so well as I’d like, but I have no other place to go. Canterlot-proper is closed to me, and my allies with it.” She seemed to realize she was edging toward babbling. She stopped, to collect herself and take a slow breath. “I desperately need your help. So many lives more than my own depend upon it. They’re searching for me.”

Pinkie scrunched up her muzzle. “You need an out, then. Hmmm…” The room seemed to illuminate for a moment, just as Pinkie leapt up, gasping. “I got an idea! But you gotta trust me on this, since I’m basing it off a hunch. And I know that I trust you, since you’re super-nice, even if this is all completely wacko.”

Unease coloured Rarity’s expression for a brief moment. She squared her jaw in aristocratic fashion, and gave a short nod of her head. “Times like these require leaps of faith, don’t they?” She managed a smile, slightly fragile though it was. It was all but a gift. “And thank you, Pinkie Pie. For trusting me, in turn”

“You make it sound like that’s a hard thing!” she exclaimed. She pointed at Rarity. “You got bits, right?”

Rarity clicked her tongue, clearly trying to lighten the mood. “Tsk. Is this a shakedown, Miss Pie?” She reached into the ruffles of her gown and levitated out a distressingly small bit-bag. Looks were apparently deceiving. “Only a few tens of thousands. In fire rubies and platinum bits. Is that enough? I wasn’t entirely prepared for departure. I have some trade slips too, but we’d need to go to a bank, and that would seem unwise,” she answered, apologetically. Her worried tone was depressingly sincere.

Pinkie’s jaw hit the floor. She grunted in pain, rubbing it as it went up. “Wowza… that’s way more than more than enough. It’s almost—”

The front door violently slammed open, with a worrying crack of wood. The pleasant, jingly bells above Pinkie’s door made a sound more like a clang as the door struck them, followed by a unpleasant clatter as it bounced down the aisle, not a few hoofspans from the fluff of Pinkie’s tail. Rarity’s eyes went wide.

“Knock knock,” an urbane, Canterlot-accented voice called out into the shop.

Pinkie put a hoof in front of her lips, then slipped away to the counter, looking at her new ‘customers’. It was the same bullies she saw in the street on the way back here. Pinkie never forgot a face. They had the same Upper City uniforms and armor. The same pointy unicorn horns. The same coats and manes. And most especially, the same meanie looks. Like they’d just stepped in something gross.

“I love those ones! Who’s there?” Not even Pinkie’s smile was enough to wipe away their intimidating frowns. She sighed, then leaned forward on the counter. “All right, what’s up?”

The gendarme standing behind was the one who stepped forward to speak. A huge mare—probably—with a yellow coat, who stood almost as large as her stallion partner. She used that size to full advantage, towering over Pinkie from across the counter, standing in the light of the window and throwing the colourful mare in shadow. Unicorns were always good with flashy details, Pinkie’d found; this one would be a natural at ghost stories. “You’re Pinkie Pie?” the soldier all but growled, in question.

“The one and only,” she answered, putting a hoof on her chest. “Need a toy for your kid? Ooooor…” Her eyes darted about. “Is something fishy goin’ on?”

The two gendarmes looked toward one another. The stallion gave a small, noncommittal shrug. Clearly they were expecting a somewhat… different response. “We’re looking for a mare,” the yellow unicorn continued, her voice still gruff, but some of the cruel momentum had gone out of it. “A courtier and designer. Rarity Belle. Word is that you know her.”

Pinkie dragged on a thoughtful hum, then shrugged. “Rumors are silly like that. I mean, I’ve never gone to the really rich and nice places like she does, and I don’t think she’d like to go where I am. Maybe ponies just thought that we met ‘cause I’m nice. I dunno. Well, I know that I haven’t seen her.”

The unicorn shot her a rather unamused look. “You seem well-informed about the habits of a pony you’ve never met.” The hulking mare’s horn lit with a dark orange aura, which crept along the gilded grip of one of the enchanted pistols affixed to her barding. “And after trudging through the trash down here all day, I’m not in the mood to be fucked with by some pink mud pony.”

Pinkie bit her lip, feeling beads of sweat rolling down her face, her heart thumping in her chest. “That’s because of rumors, you know? I just heard it through the grapevine, honest. I really don’t know anything!”

Gummy climbed onto the counter to check out the commotion. He stared at the guards with his illuminated purple eyes, cold and piercing. He blinked, dull green metal eyelids moving independently of each other. The gears on the tops of his legs moved, but did so with an unnatural silence.

Both gendarmes paused again, staring at the mechanical alligator. He continued to gormlessly stare back, undeterred. The only sound in the shop was the tick of Pinkie’s old clock, and the quiet winding-down of one of the fallen music boxes.

The stallion sighed, one of his ears flicking. He reached up and placed a hoof against the mare’s shoulder. “Forget it. This weirdo isn’t worth the report we’d have to make to the nagging old bitch if we put a bullet in that empty head. A mare like Rarity wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this. C’mon. We’ve got other places to check out.”

For her part, the mare looked back toward Pinkie, with narrowed eyes, her aura staying lit. Finally, she seemed to make a decision. She shrugged her partner’s hoof off of her shoulder and glanced toward him. “Yeah. Screw it.” She slid her held pistol from its loop with her magic. She levelled it at the pink pony with a cold eye, a little hiss sounding as the magical match began to smolder, primed.

Pinkie froze.

The pistol turned, levelling on the brass alligator. There was a sharp pop. A choking puff of dark grey smoke poured from the end of the weapon. The unicorn didn’t even wait for the smoke to clear before she shot Pinkie a nasty sneer. “Thanks for all your help, citizen.” She turned, her magic sliding the weapon back into place as she trotted from the store with a certain satisfied spring in her step. Her partner went along a half-step behind her.

Pinkie deflated when they were gone, expelling all that nasty tension that had built up with her. Waving away the smoke frantically, she turned towards her pet. “Gummy?! Are you okay?!”

The alligator blinked, the bullet trapped between his lips. There was a whir and a cheery metallic tick as he swallowed. He blinked again.

Pinkie wiped her brow, then picked him up, gave him a quick nuzzle and placed him in her mane. “Phew… I thought you were a goner.” He instantly latched onto it with his mouth. Originally, he had teeth, but after a child had returned him saying that he had eaten one of the other toys, they were removed. The colt never came back, though, so Gummy stayed.

The tinkerer turned, going back to Rarity. The slight blue glint of her magic could be seen shining on the copper and brass of the toys in the shelves around her, but it doused itself before Pinkie could turn the corner. “Okaaaaay… looks like we gotta hustle before we get busted. They’ll be ba—”

Pinkie’s reassurances were cut off by a near-tackling embrace. White forelegs wrapped tightly around her neck, holding on with a desperate strength that seemed out of place on such a dainty pony. Pinkie could feel a bit of moisture seeping into her coat where Rarity’s face was pressed to her neck. When Rarity spoke her voice was muffled by Pinkie’s fur. “Oh, darling, I thought you’d paid with your life for helping me.”

“I thought I was about to, too, but nope! Gummy got a free meal instead.” She pointed up, gently moving Rarity’s head so that she could see the alligator.

“I… I’m afraid I don’t know what that means.” The mare turned her head, giving the cotton-candy mare a grateful nuzzle on the cheek. A dazzling smile dawned on her face, before she continued, “But thank you. It would have been easy indeed for you to tell them. Most ponies would doubtless do it, expecting a reward. And given how life is down here, I couldn’t blame them.”

“Helping good ponies is the reward that I’m after. The smiles help too.” After giving Rarity a strong smile, in demonstration, she wiped away her tears with a soft touch. “But we really have to go. Like, A.S.A.P: as Speedy as Pinkie.”

Rarity dipped her muzzle in a nod of concession. “Well, I could hardly deny the wisdom of my savior, now could I?” She took a half-step back and went about fretfully straightening her already-ruined gown. A flash of levitation magic from her horn deftly pushed something further up her wide sleeves. “Though I’m afraid I’m rather poorly dressed for being a fugitive. I should hope we don’t go anywhere too horrid. This is Neighponese cloud-silk. It’s very easily stained.” Her magic tugged at the blood-stained fabric of her collar, and she pressed Pinkie’s cloth back to her neck. Her smile became a trifle embarrassed. “Well, I suppose that I should count my blessings if that’s the worst that happens.”

Pinkie nodded, then double-timed it upstairs, grabbing everything she could and piling it into a faded white bag. She packed light: a few gadgets and essential tools, whatever food she could scrounge up, and finally a photo of her family by her bedside. It depicted Pinkie and her family, her sisters grinning, and even her parents wearing a subtle smirk. She stared at it for a few moments, then put it into her bag too. It looked like the day promised to be full of adventure. A day like that might require an Inkie-and-Blinkie pick-me-up along the way, like some gloomy ones did. Rushing back downstairs, she regretted that she couldn’t take her bed too; it was old and creaky, but still comfy.

She went to close her back door. There wasn’t much left of the lock. It looked as if somepony had pushed something sharp through the metal face, right through the deadbolt.

Huh.

With a shrug, Pinkie shut the door and slid a heavy old bin of metal castoffs toys she’d been using for spares in front of it, to keep it shut. She headed back toward the shop floor.

Stopping, Pinkie stared at Rarity in those fine clothes she wore. “I think you’ll need a disguise… here! Take one of mine!” Before Rarity knew it, there was a blur of boring colors. Just a moment later, she was covered in tattered rags, obscuring all of her coat. Cracked goggles protected her eyes.

“Don’t worry,” Pinkie said, tapping her bag. “Your silk stuff is in here.”

Rarity stood stock-still. She seemed almost reluctant to look down at herself. Clearly it made for a battle of wills as she did so. “I-is that undyed burlap?” she asked, weakly, her voice almost a whimper.

“The most undyed there is!” Pinkie cheerfully replied, nodding eagerly. She dropped her voice to a stage whisper. “It’s very good for sneaking around.”

Rarity swallowed heavily, and nodded her head with fragile stoicism, her lower lip quivering. “Well, that’s one answer.” Her horn lit, driving Pinkie’s hair down flat against her head. She peered up at Pinkie’s forehead. “For the other, I thought you were an earth pony. Was that Wisteria’s Wardrobe Wipe you used on me? I’ve never seen it cast so deftly. I barely felt a thing.”

Pinkie blinked, raising an eyebrow. Ponies often said a lot of really weird things to her, when they got that puzzled look. This one was a first. “A what? I don’t have any horn, silly!” She tapped her head. “We don’t have much time though, so I just changed your clothes the quickest way I knew how. Now we really gotta go!” She looked toward the front door. “There’s a flight we gotta catch.”

Author's Note:

Fun fact: We had to flip a coin to decide who would post this on their account.

Endless thanks to JaketheGinger. He not only got me writing again, but his was the influence to get this story humming along. If it had been just me, it'd be twice the length, and we'd be half as far. Most of you would now be yawning. Who knew that coauthoring with someone with so opposite a writing style could work?

Also, thanks to all the great corrections and suggestions from our pre-readers, 621Chopsuey, Aburi, Web of Hope and Dusk Watch, as well as my ever-mysterious and anonymous editor.