• Published 10th Mar 2014
  • 3,311 Views, 101 Comments

Old Habits - Viking ZX

It's Nova's first official day off, and he's decided to spend it in one place he knows he can relax: the Canterlot Bazaar. But when he has an unexpected encounter with a face from his past, can he face the pony he once was?

  • ...

The Scene

It’s a truism of every major city, Nova mused as he trotted down the streets of Canterlot, his hooves ringing against the clean, polished stone. No matter how big it is. No matter how many ponies live or don’t live in it, or how run-down or polished it is...

Although Canterlot is definitely the latter in that case, he thought as he passed by a public cafe, the chairs and tables laid out in a careful pattern so clean-cut he could have marched his way through them with his eyes closed simply by counting his hoofsteps. Several more well-to-do members of the city were already sitting at a few of the tables, nobles in flashy clothing and gaudy jewelry discussing various topics as they sipped at morning cups of tea or poured over newspapers. Or perhaps that was noon-day tea. It was closer to lunch than it was breakfast.

But even with all this polish and glitz... Nova thought, smiling as he passed the restaurant and took a left at the first corner, moving away from the more well traveled thoroughfare and the pomp and glamour of the city, passing down streets where the displays were less ostentatious, more to the point. Even with the nobility, and the crispness, and everything else that runs through Canterlot, or the toughness and independence of Manehatten, or even in the arts and cultural focus of Baltimare, there’s one thing that every city will aways, always have. His smile grew as he passed by larger and larger groups of ponies; unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies of every shape and color.

The shops on the thoroughfares and main streets would always be crisp, clean, and congenial. But if you really wanted to find anything, to experience the beating heart of a city's public economic district, then there was only one place to go. The bazaar. Nova took a final turn, rounding the corner at the end of the street and—

—and it was like he’d stepped into another world. His pace slowed for a moment as the sounds—kept from spilling over into the surrounding streets by carefully placed baffling spells—swept over him, a symphony of voices, shouts, and noise blending together in a tumultuous melody. Voices in languages both familiar and foreign, words that spoke as much from context and volume as they did from anything else. Hooves, paws, and even claws scraping against well-worn stones, the rushing torrent of species with places to be.

And the color! While the rest of Canterlot’s businesses took great pride in matching the aesthetic of the city, patterning their storefronts after the famous marble-and-gold colors that were so much a part of it, the bazaar had no such restrictions. Brilliant spectrums of color stretched across the square, vivid blues, startling pinks, transcendent yellows, electrifying greens … colors of every conceivable shade and style in a veritable rainbow hurricane that challenged and then overwhelmed the rolling crowd for variety.

Nor was the color stationery, either. Brilliant banners rippled from storefronts, their bright or dark surfaces always dancing in a wind that was far too strong and regular to be naturally occurring. Colorful cloth awnings gave shoppers shade from the hot summer sun, their eye-catching patterns designed to hopefully draw in prospective buyers. Some more extravagant or wealthy shops had gone even a step further, with magical signs, illusion spells of pure light that danced or pulsed to try and draw the attention of the crowd.

Nova paused for a moment, his head just past the nearly invisible barrier that marked the change from ordinary, quiet Canterlot to the frenzy, the life of the bazaar. He took it all in, a deep breath as if he was the one of the mares moving from bouquet to bouquet at the flower cart to his left, sampling each selection. Or perhaps like the griffon to his right, the one staring hungrily at the rows of shish-kebab meats and veggies that one pony was busily hawking, doing his best to taste them with his eyes as he counted out bits from a small bag. Or the stallion near the smaller fountains, his chest puffing out with pride as somepony—probably his marefriend—became completely ecstatic over a small vial of perfume.

Nova took it all in: scents, sights, sounds. The feel of the cobblestones beneath his hooves, shaking and trembling with each movement of the crowd. The taste of excitement, of interaction in the air. He took it all in, a shiver running down his spine as he let out a deep breath. The team, his life in the Guard … that was home now. But this?

This was where he’d grown up. This was where he’d lived. The flow of ponies, the way the crowd moved and spun ... It didn’t matter what city or what side of Equestria he was on. If there was a bazaar, then he was right at home.

He trotted into the square, an uncontrollable grin sliding across his face as he began to move past ponies of all shapes and sizes. Mostly unicorns, since it was Canterlot, but there were plenty of earth ponies moving through the crowd as well, along with some pegasi. There were quite a few overhead as well, casting shadows across the crowd as they flew from place to place. The sky was clear and blue, with almost no clouds in sight to block the warm sunlight from heating the stone beneath his hooves.

Occasionally a larger shadow would pass overhead as a griffon flew past, bags of merchandise slung across their backs or clutched in their talons. Most of the bazaar’s clientele were ponies, but Nova could see quite a bit of representation from other races and species as well. Several griffons were down among the crowd, laughing and chatting as they made their way across the square, and his eyes spotted several different sets of black-and-white stripes wrapped in brilliant silks that made even some of the more colorful ponies look plain. Zebras, in traditional garb, if he was remembering Sabra’s little notes about his people’s culture correctly. There was even a horse on the far side of the square, his tall, slender frame putting him a head above the crowd around him.

One side of the central fountain was occupied by a large, blue minotaur who seemed to be chanting to the crowd about some sort of seminar, with a pair of goats nearby that were handing out fliers—probably related to whatever the minotaur was selling. There was a small piece of the bazaar that had stopped in order to listen to him, but only half of them seemed truly interested. The other half seemed more concerned with resting their hooves, chatting with their neighbor, or taking a moment to steal a sip of water from their pack.

Nope, there’s nothing like a bazaar, Nova thought as he made his way towards the center of the square. Even in Canterlot, at the center of Equestria, you could still find a little bit of everything if you just knew what to look for.

Including spare bits, he thought as a blue-and-orange unicorn couple passed in front of him, their saddlebags only half-closed. His eyes slid over the pair, fixed on something just past them but close enough that he could clearly see make out the small, telltale bulge in the side of their saddlebags where one of the pair’s bit-bags normally sat.

It wouldn’t even be hard, Nova thought as he moved up behind the blue unicorn. I wouldn’t even have to cross paths. In this crowd all it would take is being close enough for a second… He stepped up behind the mare, almost shaking his head at how easy it was to get close without her noticing. She was completely focused on her conversation with the stallion next to her, gushing about some tickets to some show she’d acquired. Nova slid up alongside the bag.

“Excuse me, Miss?” he said. The mare kept on watching. Her stallion friend hadn’t even noticed that he’d said anything. Nova fought the urge to roll his eyes. Definitely an easy mark.

“Hey, hello?” he said, tapping her shoulder with one hoof. The mare let out a little gasp of surprise, her head snapping around as she came to a halt. “Yeah,” he said, waving his hoof. "Hello.”

“Can we help you?” her friend asked. He had a fairly deep voice, definitely deeper than it had been a moment ago.

Relax guy, Nova thought as he nodded his head towards the mare’s saddlebags. “Your saddlebags are open. Just thought I’d say something.”

“Oh!” the mare said, her eyes widening as she looked back. “Thanks!” A purple glow wrapped itself around her bags, the drawstring letting out a barely audible whiz as she pulled it shut. She glanced back at him, the corner of her mouth turning up as her eyes darted down to his hooves and then back up again, lingering for a moment on his chest.

Oh no… He could already see her friend's brow furrowing as he looked at the mare’s obvious attention and then back at Nova. Not good at all. This was why the good looking thieves always got caught. You had to be invisible. Not memorable.

“No problem,” he said, turning and heading back the way he had came. I am not getting into this. No. No, no, no.

“Hey!” the mare called, and he could feel her eyes on his side. “What’s your—”

“Don’t worry about it,” the other unicorn said, and Nova was relieved to hear a note of relief in the poor stallion's voice. “I’m glad he pointed that out. You could have lost something!”

“Oh gosh, do you think I did?” The rest of the pair’s conversation faded back into the crowd as Nova moved away, a small smile on his face.

Well, that was … different. Not just the mare eyeballing him, although that was a little surprising. And slightly uncomfortable. The whole thing though, helping the mare instead of grabbing her bits...

Then again, it wasn’t that different. You would have gone after somepony like that when you were a kid, but even a few years ago? He almost shook his head, but opted instead for nodding politely and then ducking out of the way of a black-and-grey griffon carefully balancing a large platter of something that smelled spicy in one paw. She gave him a quick nod back, her wings opening slightly and then folding back down as she passed. He wasn’t sure if she’d just been adjusting them or if it was a social cue he didn’t know much about. He’d known a few griffons growing up in Baltimare—well, no, he corrected himself. It was more like he’d known of a few. He’d never been much for socializing past being friendly with most of the local crews.

And now I work for the Guard, he thought with a wry grin as he reached the center of the square and hopped up onto the edge of the fountain. The minotaur was still bellowing away on the far side of the fountain, sidestepping back and forth along the rim of massive marble construct as he shouted something about his self-image seminar.

Maybe he’ll slip and fall in, Nova thought with a grin. That’d give that crowd something to watch. It was tempting to ‘help’ the idea along a little bit, but he shook the idea away. If it were Hunter, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Or Sabra or Sky Bolt. And … that’s it. I don’t think I’d dare try doing that to Captain Steel or Dawn. Well, maybe the Captain. Maybe. Above him, the tiered fountain sputtered once, a spurt of water jetting up to a momentary abnormal height. Someone laughed as the cascade of water splashed down into the fountain pool, kicking droplets up on all sides.

I wonder if it does that on purpose? Nova turned his attention away from the fountain and back to the square around him. Maybe just to give ponies an excuse to cool off on a hot day?

Around him, the square was packed. Although it had clearly been designed to give the most space possible, with the actual buildings ringing the edge in order to allow the inside to be as open as possible, the sheer number of vendors and ponies that had packed the space made it look smaller than it actually was. The fountain which he was currently perched on made up the center of the square, and he could see four paths leading out back to the rest of the city, each with a smaller fountain along it.

For a city built on the side of a mountain, they sure manage to keep it spacious, he thought as he spotted a waving blue-and-black flag that looked promising. How is it Manehatten can’t manage this? Or Baltimare? Both cities had always been packed, full of narrow alleys and streets that had only been two-carts wide while almost always seeming to have three carts competing to pass one-another. Although for a thief, such close quarters hadn’t exactly been a bad thing.

A flowing electric-blue-on-black banner caught his eye, and he hopped down from his perch, ducking around a pair of donkeys carrying heavy shopping bags as he made his way towards the store he’d been looking for. As he drew closer, the magically animated text beneath the banner spun, and he could make out the words “—Scratch’s new album—” before the rotation was too off from his perspective to be able to make out the rest of it.

Not that it mattered. He knew exactly what the rest of it was referring to. He could hear it now, too, and he pricked his ears forward, picking out the faint sounds of a beat above the hustle of the crowd. He heard something else too, a rapid, clattering cascade of sound rushing towards him.

High pitch, rapid sequence! Nova thought as his eyes darted downward. From the right! He snapped his eyes to one side as a young unicorn colt came crashing out of the crowd at a full sprint, his own hooves tripping under his small body as he barreled towards Nova’s flank in an out-of-control rush.

Nova snapped himself to the side, darting out of the colt’s way and almost crashing into a nearby earth pony. His horn was lit, ready to catch the young pony even as he came to a skidding halt, his eyes wide open.

“Sorry about that!” the colt said before Nova could say anything. “Good thing you’re fast!” Then he was gone, darting forward into the crowd, his hoofsteps once again controlled, regular.

“Sorry,” Nova said, apologizing to the earth pony he’d nearly run over. “The kid just surprised me, that’s all.”

I’ll say he did, he thought as he turned back to look in the direction of the vanished colt. Nopony was chasing him, and his hoofsteps only picked up a few seconds before he burst in on me. He didn’t fall either, even though he looked like he was going to … and that saddlebag. The small bump had been colored the same shade of red as the colt’s coat, and it had been faint, but it had clearly been a saddlebag designed to blend in. He headed straight for my flank. Was that little guy actually going for my bit-bag?

Maybe I’m just being paranoid. He shook his head as he turned back towards the music shop. The kid probably just was in a hurry to get somewhere. Not everyone who bumps into someone’s saddlebags is a thief.

Not that they’d find his money if they did. His own bit-bag was snug against his side, inside a pocket that could only be accessed from the side of the bags that pressed against his flank. It wasn’t impossible to get at, but it was much more secure than leaving his bit-bag sitting in the main pocket of his bags where any halfway decent pickpocket could get at them.

The sign over the shop proclaimed it to be “The Soundwave” in the same electric-blue color as the banner, with some smaller text beneath that declared it a “one-stop-shop for records and instruments.” Nova grinned as he pushed the door open. This was exactly the kind of shop that he’d been looking for.

A bell rang somewhere above him as he stepped in, and a green-coated unicorn looked up from behind the shop's counter and gave him a welcome wave. He returned it with a wave of his own, nodding at her as she turned her attention back to her magazine. He’d been to The Soundwave twice before, although it had been a stallion behind the counter on those occasions. Five rows of shelves stood in front of him, just tall enough that he could look over the tops without stretching his neck, each bearing small, metal signs that listed off each of the genres that could be found on the racks. The walls around him were covered with instruments, mostly simple stuff that a beginner could pick up, but there were a few more complex and difficult to play instruments hanging, like guitars.

The store was definitely more crowded than it had been before. On his previous visits there had been maybe four or five ponies at most browsing the shelves or listening to the portable record-player over by the till. Today though, there were at least twenty, maybe as many as twenty-five ponies in the store. Maybe more. He couldn’t really make a solid guess since most of them were clustered in the back, but he could make out the buzz of excited conversation.

Nova stepped between the first two sets of shelves, his eyes still peering over the top to try and figure out what the crowd was up to. It seemed to be mostly ponies his age or younger, all pressing forward against one another in an excited jumble. The crowd parted for a second and a sky-blue unicorn darted out, a wide grin stretching across her face and a record sleeve floating in the air in front of her.

Ah, I get it, Nova thought as the mare almost bounced up to the register, her body practically shaking with excitement. Autographs. Must be somepony famous back there. He took a second glance back towards the back of the room, but still couldn’t make out whoever was doing to the signing. The crowd was too thick.

The row he’d wandered into wasn’t what he’d been looking for. Row after row of purple-lidded eyes stared up at him, loud lettering proclaiming the artist’s name in bold overtones.

They’ve moved things, Nova thought, frowning as he looked down at the collection of pop music. Sapphire Shores had never been his thing, nor any of the other artists in the pop genre. To much fluff, he thought as he panned his eyes across the signs, stopping on one that read “DJ Pon3.” Give me a symphony or a grooving beat to move to any day. Overhead the song that had been playing since he’d entered the store faded away, only to be replaced by a familiar Draft Punk tune.

That’s more like it, he thought, his head bobbing to the beat as he stepped around the end of the shelves and made his way towards the row he’d spotted. In the back of the store, the crowd was starting to bob to the beat, rocking to the music as somepony—probably the mystery guest—started to cheer them on. There was something familiar about the voice though. Something very familiar ... maybe it was an artist he'd listened to before. Or one that Sky Bolt loved.

Nova stepped into the last row before the back, stepping around another customer who was eagerly picking up one of the record sleeves in his teeth. Now, this is the right row. Rows of blue-on-blue album covers stared up at him, each featuring a white-coated unicorn with a pair of iconic magenta shades. Even better, there are still plenty of copies! The middle shelf was empty, and the bottom rows were taken up by other popular artists in the dance genre, but the top shelves showed no such sign of running short anytime soon. He lit up his horn, wrapping one of the new albums in a yellow glow and pulling it from the top row, away from the rest of its siblings and the paper banner that was hanging … just … above…

Nova paused, his eyes narrowing as he read the text on the banner. “Come to The Soundwave this afternoon—” the banner read, “—and you can get your record signed by—”

Nova felt his body freeze as he read the last words on the banner. “—signed by DJ Pon3 herself: Vinyl Scratch!”

That explained the crowd. And the noise. And the familiar voice. Nova shifted his eyes over the top of the shelf, halfway hoping that he was just mistaken, that the banner was from the day before. Maybe today was some other artist.

But no. The crowd parted for just a moment as another happy fan wandered out, the same album that he was holding in his magic gripped in her teeth, a sharp, showy signature splashed across the front in black ink. And through the gap in the crowd, he could see the same bright, electric-blue, two-toned mane. The magenta glasses. The white coat. There was no mistaking it. He was standing in the same store as Vinyl Scratch.


For a moment, he froze. Then the crowd pushed together again, laughing as Vinyl said something, and Nova shook himself free.

Ok, this was unexpected. He could feel his heart beating a little faster as he turned towards the register, the album floating by his side. But everything’s cool. Just pay for the album and get out of here before she notices you.

“Find what you need?” the unicorn behind the counter asked, setting her magazine down as he walked up.

“Yeah,” Nova said with a nod. He slid the album across the counter, smiling a little at the faint swish the cardboard made when it slid across the wood. “Found exactly what I wanted.” He kept his voice neutral, as if he was any other customer. Just like robbing a place and playing it cool, he thought. Although this time, I’m actually paying before trying to get out.

“Oh, hey!” the mare said as she picked up the album. “You a Vinyl fan? You know she’s right in the back, right?” Her eyes darted towards the group clustered at the back of the store. “You can just go back there and get it autographed for free.”

“That’s alright,” Nova said, shaking his head and keeping his voice level. “I just came for the album.” He twisted his head back as he tugged at his saddlebags with his magic, the zipper over his bit-bag making a satisfying buzz as he tugged it open.

“No, no, it’s totally cool,” the mare said, lifting his album higher into the air as she reared up on her hind legs. “Half of those ponies aren’t even buying, they’re just hanging back there and chatting with her—”

“No, it’s fine,” Nova said, his panic rising as he sat back and raised his hooves. “I’ll just take it as is, I’m kind of in a hurry and—”

“Yo! Vinyl!” the mare called, completely oblivious to his protests. “We’ve got a guy up here trying to walk away without letting you sign your album!”

The clamour at the back of the store ground to a halt as a single voice cut through the store.


Nova felt his heart drop into his stomach as the crowd parted, Vinyl’s magenta lenses fixing on him. Dang it.

Vinyl’s eyes narrowed behind her glasses as she leaned forward. “Yo!” she called, her head cocking to one side. “You’re a fan but you don’t want my autograph? What?”

“Well,” Nova said, his mind frantically screaming as he scrambled for an excuse. “I’m a big fan, but you seemed to have so many—”

Vinyl’s eyebrows jumped so high he almost saw the whites of her eyes. Then she grinned, letting out a little laugh, and Nova tried not to grimace.


“You’re that—!” Vinyl started to say, leaning forward, but then she snapped back into her chair, glancing at the ponies on either side of her.

Oh dang. Sun above, she recognized me! Nova thought as Vinyl stood up in her seat and waved her hoof to the crowd.

“Alright guys,” she called, waving her hoof to the crowd. “Any final party-goers here that want to get some albums signed before I take an hour for lunch? And don’t you go anywhere!” Vinyl called, her hoof snapping in his direction as he started to rise. “You’re coming with me.” Amid gasps and looks of surprise, she gave the crowd a quick shrug. “I owe him for some help he gave me once, guys. I’ll catch up with you all later. Any last takers?”

Nova turned back towards the salesmare behind the register as a few eager fans rushed towards Vinyl with albums held high. Her horn began to glow as she signed each of them with a flourish.

“Don’t go anywhere!” she called in Nova’s direction as he glanced towards the door. “I’ll be right there!”

Alright, Nova thought as the salesmare looked at him in awe. I can figure out a way out of this. Slip away. I’ll just tell her I’m busy. Grab my album and—

A soft-blue glow swallowed his album as the salesmare finished ringing it up, and Nova watched, a sinking feeling in his stomach as it floated over towards Vinyl. The pearl-white mare gave him a bright grin as she trotted up next to him, his album sliding down into one of her saddlebags.

“Here,” she said, levitating a hoovefull of bits out of her bag and dropping them on the counter with a clatter, “this one’s on me. It’ll give me a chance to sign it for you after we have lunch.”

Alright, Nova thought as Vinyl headed for the door, almost dancing with energy. New plan to consider. How much trouble will I get in if I steal my own gift and make a run for it?