• Published 19th Oct 2014
  • 999 Views, 63 Comments

The Great and Magnificent Seven - Lapis-Lazuli and Stitch



In the far south of Equestria, beyond the reach of Princess Celestia's law, seven creatures will come together for a simple job... that will become a legend.

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Once Upon a Time in the Badlands...

~~~~~The town of Last Rest~~~~

“Another.”

The barkeep quirked a brow at the unicorn, but didn’t argue the point. He simply pulled another bottle of the hard cider out of the chiller and popped the cap. “You waitin’ for somepony?” He drawled, trying to draw the familiar face into conversation for the third time today.

Bloody Celestia, he isn’t going to leave me alone until I say something, she grumbled mentally. So, she tipped up her hat and half-glared at him. “Trixie heard there was somepony looking to hire a capable unicorn for a bandit problem, and came here to wait for them to arrive. They always end up here, after all.” She grabbed the cider bottle, scowling slightly at the ‘Sweet Apple Acres’ label, and took a slow sip. She wanted to make this one last.

The barkeep nodded and turned back to polishing his glasses. They always did end up here, especially if they were as a desperate as she’d heard. Another sip of the sweet and bitter cider went down as cold as defeat. It was a taste she was all too familiar with, but her luck was changing. Even the long hoof of the Princess’ law wouldn’t follow her down here, far from the pristine civilization of Equestria. Far from ‘Princess’ Twilight Sparkle, and all of the bitter reminders that pony’s memory brought to her.

No. No one was going to come looking for her in Last Rest. Beyond the edge of the Everfree Forest, far past the almost civilization of Appleloosa and Dodge Junction, the little town of Last Rest served as the final stopping point for the Equestrian Rail system. Here, literally at the end of the line, she toiled in silence. No more cart. No more showpony. Just a unicorn looking for work to keep herself afloat until she could figure out what to do next.

Which wasn’t to say she was poor or desperate. She’d actually done quite well for herself out here. Not many unicorns ventured this far south, far from the cosmopolitan cities they favored and every one was valued for whatever talents they might have. “Mornin, Miss Trixie!” A bright and chipper voice startled her out of her thoughts and nearly spilled her cider. A dusty, strawberry-blonde earth pony settled down to the bar next to her with a long braid of blonde mane and a huge grin. “Knew I’d find ya here. Momma want’d me t’ thank you fer yer help with them water sluices.”

“Trixie was glad to help.” She responded with the utmost civility. Desert Rose was one of many earth ponies who knew where to find her when there was work that needed to be done. Earth Ponies could be very clever when it came to construction, but sometimes even they were forced to muddle through when it came to complex jobs like putting in an irrigation system. And to think I’d sworn I would never use all that nonsense I studied in that civil engineering course I took. She thought ruefully, taking another sip of her cider. “They’re working as Trixie intended then?” It was always good to appear concerned about the quality of your work. It developed a good reputation.

“Eeyup. Workin’ jes’ fine. Momma says we’ll be able t’ keep the bushes goin’ even if the rains’re late this year.” Desert Rose grinned cheekily, and smacked her hoof on the bar. Moments later, a hot breakfast of eggs, grits, fried apples and a pile of griddled oatpatties slipped in front of her alongside a tall, cold glass of beer and she beamed. “Thankee kindly, Hot Shot. Almost like ya’ll knew I was comin.”

The barkeep nodded in silence, but he did smile faintly. Hot Shot was sweet on Rose, and everypony in town knew it except for Rose. “So what’re y’all doin’ t’day Miss Trixie? We’ve got some collectin’ work t’do that could use an extra hoof if’n yer not busy.” Rose managed to get out her words past the breakfast she was downing with an impressive gusto.

Trixie normally wouldn’t mind such work. It was easy enough, and the rose gardens of her family’s fame were a sight to behold at this time of year. They also smelled gorgeous, even over the fertilizer they used to keep the bushes blooming. But today, she had a bigger job she needed to get. “Trixie is thankful, but is waiting on a prospective client.” She sipped her cider again, and glanced at the door. They’d come. They always did, when there was trouble.

Here, far from the reach of Celestia’s royal guards, the law might as well not have existed. Disagreements were handled by a local sheriff or with a duel. The land was hard, and the ponies and other creatures that lived here were harder. But there was always someone trying to bend their will upon others, and there was always a need for someone with the guts to stand up and do something about it.

The door to the bar creeked timidly, and instantly Trixie knew it had to be her mark. She turned with the bottle almost to her lips to get a feel for her new employer, and was instantly struck by surprise. She was a pretty young pegasus, with a dark brown coat and a mane of bright red that looked more than a little tousled. She had dark rings around pretty green eyes and a certain hollowness to her otherwise well muscled body. Her feathers were much ruffled and she looked… worried. “Is… is this the Silver Bit bar?” She asked with a lilt in her voice that screamed ‘Apple Family descendant.’

The barkeep nodded, and the poor filly practically collapsed on the floor. “Oh thank Celestia,” she whispered in fervent prayer, and seconds later Desert Rose was helping her back to her hooves. Rose carefully guided the filly to one of the chairs in the bar, sitting her down and glaring at the Barkeep until a mug of clean ice water was produced, which she slowly sipped at. “I was told there was a unicorn here… somepony who knows how to handle trouble.” The pegasi insisted weakly, even as Rose fussed.

Trixie took one more pull of her cider and tossed four bits onto the bar before dismounting her stool. “I am she,” Trixie said with a quiet dignity and strode across the rough wooden planks, keeping her head. The old moniker she’d used with reckless abandon now felt like a sick joke to her, a reminder of how her pride had hurt so many. But it still served a useful purpose, and so she did not correct the filly. “What can Trixie do for you?”

The mare looked up, and her eyes lit up like hearths-warming sparklights. “Oh, thank Celestia!” She breathed out as all of the tension drained out of her and she went slack against the chair… and then her hooves shot out to grab Trixie’s own. “I thought I’d never find you in time. We’ve already lost so much, we can’t take another season of it.” Her words were coming quicker with every moment that passed, and Trixie could feel her hoof being faintly crushed under her grip.

“Slow down, sugah.” Rose cooed softly, urging the pegasus to take another drink of the water. “Start at the beginnin’. Where’d y’all come from an’ what’s th’ trouble?” Desert Rose was a softie, but she was also as practical as anypony Trixie had ever met. Which is probably why she put you to work as opposed to throwing you off her property, Trixie. She thought wryly.

Fortunately, the pegasus mare was easily soothed. “My name is…” she coughed once, taking a breath before continuing. “My name is Blossomtime. I’m from a little village about halfway between here and the Saddle Arabian border. You’ve probably never heard of it, It’s called..”

“Rosedale. Trixie knows.” Trixie cut through shortly. Rosedale was the last truly Equestrian settlement in the Badlands, and as far south as one got before things became a complete desert. It was easily as far from Canterlot as somepony could get and still be technically in Equestria. “That is a very long way to travel. What brings you this far north?”

Blossomtime shook her head faintly. “Our town is under siege by a band of changeling bandits,” she gulped out, her eyes wide with fear. Not that Trixie was surprised, being attacked by changelings had a habit of making one paranoid. “We have tried to send word to Canterlot, but every messenger we sent never returned. My father sent me with a load of our flowers for sale, and bid me to use the money to return with aid…”

“Enough,” Trixie cut her short. Changelings. Ugh. That was the absolute last thing she needed to be dealing with. Bloody changelings. So much for a simple bandit job, those she could handle all by herself without trouble. Just conjure up a few big illusions and send the bastards running. Changelings though, they didn’t give up so easily, and scaring them took a lot more than a few well placed illusions.

Still… Bits were bits, and she might be able to parlay this into something more than bits if she played her cards right. Some risks are worth taking, Trixie. “Very well. But Trixie will not be able to do the job alone,” she cautioned, keeping her eyes narrow and holding up her hoof to forestall the pegasus. “Trixie shall need to gather allies for this mission. Leave the coin with Trixie, and she shall see it done.”

“Oh thank you! Thank you so much!” Blossomtime embraced her fiercely, and Trixie awkwardly patted her back. Now, what suckers could she rope into helping her with this…?

~~~~~~~~~

The soft chug-chug sound of the train’s engine reminded him of the Cider Squeezy. Now that had been a mechanical marvel fit to beat the band! We got arrogant with that one, he thought with a sigh, as the clink of bits punctuated the train’s turning wheels. Should have taken the money by selling it to those Apples and running with it before the thing broke down. Ugh.

And now it was gone, like so many other projects. Poof. Seized by the government as a ‘danger to the populace.’ At least their last scheme had made them some money before they’d gotten run out of town. Again.

“Two hundred and eighty two, my most esteemed brother.” His brother sighed, dropping the last shimmering bit onto the stack, glaring at it morosely. “Unless we tap the contingency fund, then we’d have a thousand more. But that’s only enough to get us back to-” He bit off the word, not wanting to say it. Flam had to agree with the sentiment. The idea of dragging themselves back home as failures was nausea-inducing.

“We are never going back to Ponyville, anyway,” Flim grumbled quietly, and Flam had to silently agree with that one, too. Who’d have thought? A town full of rubes ruled over by savvy operators instead of the other way around. Flam never thought he’d see the day, but there it was. Still, the trip hadn’t been a complete loss. Just most of one.

“Well then we’d best think of our next scheme quickly, Brother. And on a budget to boot.” He sighed dramatically, hoping to rile his brother up a little. “It’s not as though we didn’t start with a mere fifty bits back in our salad days. Nor that we have gained many a skill in the arts of alchemy and mechanics and-” He was cut off by a pillow to the face and a snort of laughter.

Pushing the pillow aside, he grinned. “In all seriousness, Flim. We’ve been down deeper holes before. Have a little faith, dear brother.” Flim still looked a little grouchy, so Flam gave his shoulder a smack, grinning. “Besides, Last Rest is up ahead. We’ve never lacked for business there, even if it’s mostly been the legitimate and low-paying kind.”

That was the first thing to snap Flim out of his grouchiness all day. His expression turned thoughtful as he gave a soft hum. “I suppose doing some legitimate business would be a good way to get back to money-making,” he mused, rubbing at his chin. “Maybe we can go back to work on that chemical fertilizer we’ve been sitting on for a while. Celestia knows it could finally give us a profit base to work the rest of our ideas on.”

Flam made an ‘ick’ face, but nodded anyway. He hated working on his brother’s silly chemistry projects, but there was no doubt they’d produced reliable profits. “Oh come on, Flammy,” Flim huffed, his lips twitching up in a smile, “you know I’m right. Remember that changeling repellant we sold to the entire city of Manehatten?”

Flam laughed, raising his hooves. “Oh, I know! I know. It’s not as though it didn’t work either!” He snickered. “It was just a little too effective at keeping out bugs…” He made another ick face and shook his head. “Darned florists giving us a problem because it was driving off bees. And how were we supposed to know that manticore saliva was illegal to purchase and distribute without a licence?” That conjured a bright laugh out of Flim, which he joined in on with a hearty guffaw of his own.

And it was in such a moment of laughter that inspiration struck. “Say, now there’s an idea!” Flam smacked the seat with a grin. “We can take that old formula of yours and add it to the fertilizer! Nopony down here gives two bucks about chemical legalities, they just care about keeping their desert crops as high-producing and low-waste as possible!” Flam felt his mind kicking back into motion for the first time in ages, the gears already turning. “We’ll have to tweak the formula a bit for the bees, but still…”

Across the aisle, his brother’s eyes were brightening as his mad chemist’s brain began to bubble up and go to work in its own inimitable fashion. “Yes… That could very well work! Doho!” He clapped his hooves excitedly, practically bouncing. “We can pick up what we need from Old Pricklefruit. This could be the beginning of something big, Flam!”

“Oh, yes indeedy, Flimmy.” He could feel the subtle buzz of excitement running through him, the electric thrill of embarking upon a new scheme. But still… “We’re going to need somepony to help us work the crowd, though. Somepony who isn’t going to ask too many questions...” He rubbed at his chin. That might be difficult. Where could they find somepony that was both charismatic and exceptionally thick?

~~~~~~~

“Fifty.”

“Call.”

“Full House.”

“Ffffffff-”

Lightning Dust shook her head with an amused grin, scraping the board clean of the markers they were using. “Seriously, G. You gotta learn when to let a hoof go.” She chuckled happily and expertly stacked up the chits. It took only a moment’s counting to see she had more than enough to big-stack G out of the game. “Looks like I get light duty tonight,” she remarked with a smirk. G might be absolute crap at Omareha, but she was pretty spectacular at any game that required strategy like Chess or backgammon.

G, or rather, Gilda, sighed and grumbled. “Seriously lame. Where the buck did you learn to play cards?” She glared at Lightning Dust with those hawk-like eyes, just long enough to be a trifle intimidating before shuffling the cards together and tucking the worn squares into the holding case and a wry grin.

“Third Air Wing, actually,” she deadpanned, and Gilda winced away. Lightning let her feel guilty for all of twenty seconds before shrugging and socking Gilda’s shoulder. “Relax, G. I left that job myself. There was nothing left for me there, and I knew I’d never make it into First Wing without a commission I wasn’t gonna get.” Gilda relaxed a bit, and Dust laughed faintly. “You’re such a sap, G.”

GIlda smacked her shoulder back. “Shaddap, Dusty.” She snorted in laughter and shoved herself up. “Right, I’mma get the firewood then.” And off she went a moment later, without so much as another word. Gilda hated sappy stuff more than just about everything, including hard work. Not that Lightning Dust could much blame her after everything she’d been through. Lightning herself dusted off her hooves and decided it was time to get the camp ready for the night.

Water was easy for a pegasus, even in the badlands. She grabbed a stray wisp of cloud and dragged it down to the ground, stuffing the fluffy white thing in an old tin bucket and pounded away at it with her hooves. It would take a few minutes to beat the water vapor into something thick enough to fill up the bucket, but this was such kids-stuff weatherwork that she could do it without thinking about it. That gave her time to watch Gilda diving out amidst the driftweeds and rolling hills, and wonder how the buck the pair of them had ended up out here.

Well, geez LD. Shall we recap? You pissed off your commanding officer enough to lose your cushy military job. Then you pissed off the commander of the Wonderbolts by virtue of pissing off the first pegasus in centuries to do the Sonic Rainboom. Oh yeah, and then you pissed off your boss at the Weather Control Board because you couldn’t keep your fat flank from showing off.

Yeah, there had been a long string of pissing ponies off involved in her being here. But Gilda? That one she still couldn’t figure. She wasn’t lazy or stupid. She wasn’t out here because she didn’t have any other skills or because she was poor. She was… well, Lightning didn’t know why she was out here. She only knew she’d been looking for a partner to go into the contract weather business with, and that had been that. The rest…

Gilda dropped off a talon load of sticks and wood-bits before dashing off again, and Lightning Dust felt the telltale squish of the cloud under her hoof. Water thus taken care of, she pitched the lean-to’s and began to pile the wood up for the fire. They didn’t really need one per se, but it was faster and easier to bunk on the ground when they weren’t on contract. She’s been awfully cagey about why she came out here. Even when she’s been drunk, she doesn’t talk about it.

If Lightning had been a suspicious pony, she might’ve thought Gilda was running from something… or maybe somepony. But more likely she was running away from the same thing Lightning Dust was. Memories. Don’t you dare bucking start, LD. Don’t you DARE. She winced away from those thoughts and focused on her work. Instant soup mix into the pot, water standing by, vegetables roughly broken up and tossed atop the soup mix. All they’d need now was a fire, and that was Gilda’s job.

The griffon landed a few moments later and piled the sticks and wood bits within easy reach and went to work with her field flint and steel. “So what’s this place we’re goin’ next? Someplace called Last Rest?” Gilda’s tone was purely casual, but her body language screamed ‘change the subject fast.

“Yeah,” Lightning began, propping her butt on her pillow and crossing her forehooves over her legs. “Surprised you don’t know it. It’s the last stop on the Friendship Express. They’ve got their big growing season coming up, and the rains can be kinda sketchy in this part of the world. Figure we can pick up some amenities and work at the same time.” That was the big downside out here - finding hoof-made goods that weren’t made by some family’s lone crafter son was a pain in the patoot. The son might be perfectly good at making stuff, but nothing beat real Manehatten craftsponies.

Gilda grunted noncommittally at first, but hummed as the sparks began to take hold of her tinder. “Not a bad idea. We’ve been running short on coin.” The fire slowly took, fed by Gilda’s ministrations. “Better have a plan B, though. Never know who might steal our work.” Gilda huffed out a breath and watched the fire, almost a little too carefully.

Lightning Dust nodded, waiting for the pot to heat up before pouring in the water and settling back on her cushion to wait. “Hm. Well, Hot Shot might have work for us,” she mused, staring off into the distance, wishing there wasn’t so much quiet time out here. Gilda was usually pretty good for doing stuff, but there was always time between dinner and sleep that neither one of them generally felt like talking.

Too many memories, maybe.

“Wonder who else’ll be in town?” She muttered softly, and with only silence to answer her, decided to just watch the sun set.

~~~~~~~

Darkness had already fallen over Last Rest by the time they got into town, which meant they’d have to wait until tomorrow to check the work boards. “Rrrf,” he snorted in frustration, and glaring at the darkening sky overhead. “Stupid sun.” It wasn’t generally the kind of thought he wanted to voice in a pony town, but no one was around to hear him anyway, except for the stupid dragon.

Well. Maybe not stupid. Just annoying. “Chill,” Garble growled out with a rasp in his voice that made his eye twitch. “We’ll just check in the morning, Doggie-o.” The dragon’s grin set his companion’s teeth on edge, all sharp fangs and a frightening lack of respect for what they could do.

“Hrmf. Rover will see you then.” He turned and quickly padded away from the annoying dragon. The last thing he needed tonight was to deal with anymore trouble the teenager would inevitably attract. Likely he’d have to go bail him out in the morning, but such was the price of doing business with a dragon.

“Uh…” For just an instant, uncertainty raced across the dragon’s face, until he finally raised a claw in a wave. “Yeah, I’ll uh… See you in the morning then, partner!” And off he ran, not wanting to show his hesitation. Obviously.

Someponies thought diamond dogs were slow, or stupid. Someponies thought they couldn’t think with more than two gems in front of them or make a plan more complex than ‘get more wealth’ or ‘produce more goods.’ And someponies ended up working the rest of their lives in the central diamond mines, vanished into the earth, never to be seen again. Not that Rover personally approved of such practices, but it wasn’t personal. Business was business after all, and when your competition would stop at nothing to out produce you, you had to do the same.

Of course, no one ever talked about what happened when the Pony Goddess took notice of your operation, like when you kidnapped one of her personal attendants. It wasn’t the kind of thing that went unnoticed… or unpunished. And now, here he was, far from his mines, far from the place where he ought to be, searching for what had happened to the only dogs in the world he called ‘brothers.’

They were gone somewhere now, cast to the far flung reaches of the world by the Pony Goddess and her near limitless power. Rover was no fool, he knew the odds of ever finding them were slim. But that did not mean he could not stop looking for them, no matter how much he wished he could grieve and move on. It would take a life debt to make him stop his search now. The Pony Goddess might not have known it, but there were bonds of blood and bone to be considered in a thing like this. Oaths that had to be upheld to the fullest.

Promises kept.

He waited until he was well outside the town limits to dig. Rover sighed silently, and pushed his paws into the soft earth beneath them, pushing it aside and repeating the motion over and over again. It was a familiar action that belied a distinct unease. Dogs were not meant to dig alone, and it showed in how loose the dirt was getting from his flailings. He grunted and put more effort into his work, packing, pushing, spreading, repacking, repeating. Over and over and over again, until he’d reached the tunnel he’d made weeks ago.

Then he dove through the dirt, swimming amongst the cool earth of the world. Down here, where the sun did not see, there was no beating heat or scorched greenery. The world down beneath the surface smelled of rich moisture and something new around every twist and turn. It felt like home, even though the hollow feeling in his chest told him that it wasn’t. Truth was, he’d probably never see his home again.

But the cave he’d found would do for now. It was much cooler than the surface world was, and the air was thick with the rich smell of untouched gemstones. His paws itched to go digging for them, but right now he needed rest. Sleep. Tomorrow would be another day of work and toil, that he might save up the so-called ‘bits’ to buy his next train ticket.

Somepony had tried to convince him once that gems were equally valuable, but that was nonsense. Gems weren’t proper currency, and every diamond dog knew it. Metal was true wealth of the world. Gold, iron, copper, silver, steel. Gems were good for nothing but tools and the alchemy needed to extract those metals from the deep earth. Stupid ponies.

His paws found the soft patch of dirt he’d come to prefer, and he did a quick spin before settling down upon it. “Good night, Fido. Good night, Spot,” he grumbled into the dim silence, and trying to imagine the echo of their voices in the dark. Fortunately, for tonight at least, sleep felt like it was coming quickly. Tomorrow was probably going to be a big day, after all.

Author's Note:

I am going to aim for an every-other-day update schedule. Lets see if I've got the stones to pull it off.

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