• 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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A Hooffull of Bits

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

As far as Gilda was concerned, the badlands sucked.

Mind you, it didn’t suck because of the heat or the dryness. Those sucked, but she could deal. You didn’t get out of primary school back home without being able to deal with sucky weather. It didn’t suck because of the company either. Dusty was kinda alright for a pegasus pony, even if she was occasionally kind of a pisser and a party pooper. Nah, it sucked because there was nowhere out here to get a decent drink.

For anyone else that might not have seemed like a big deal, but Gilda really wanted a stiff drink right now. Preferably one that wasn’t hard cider or moonwhisky. A nice bottle of Las Pegasus Ale would be good. Or maybe a Trottingham Stout. Mmm. Good beer was hard to find out here in the badlands and for any self-respecting griffon, that sucked. Actually, good anything was hard to come by, but she made do for anything that wasn’t beer. It was better than being back in Equestria proper. Better than dealing with her parents or having to give explanations for shit she didn’t want to explain.

Fortunately, Dusty didn’t need explanations. She just needed someone who could work hard, party hard, and didn’t take crap from the locals. Gilda qualified on all three fronts, and thus was a partnership born. She reminded Gilda of- A snapped beak shut that thought down hard, and she went back to doing what she was supposed to be doing. Which was hauling gear and looking intimidating.

So she scowled, and tried not to feel worried about what Dusty was saying a few yards ahead of her. “Whaddya mean you don’t…” A pause, and the mare she was talking to looked to be chewing her out a bit. “Look, we just need a short contract until-” Dusty got cut off again, and Gilda couldn’t help but grin a little. Dusty didn’t get her flank handed to her that often in conversation, and even if it meant losing out on work it was a sight to behold.

Finally, Dusty sighed and threw up her hooves. “Well do you know anypony in town who is!?” That got a pause out of the other pony, and then a brief flurry of words. Gilda rapped her talons against the ground and rolled her eyes. Quit while yer ahead, Dusty, she silently jeered, trying to keep the smirk off her face and failing miserably. It was always nice when somepony else could get Dusty to shut up and listen for once.

Finally, the pegasus turned around with a huff and trotted back towards her. “Figures somepony with a brain would finally install some irrigation down here. Phooey.” She spat at the ground impressively, and growled. “That’ll be a problem down the line, but there’s apparently paying work waiting at the bar. Somepony named Trixie’s looking to deal with a changeling infestation.”

The mention of the stupid bugs made Gilda scowl a little. Word had it that one of the queens had made a play for Canterlot a year or two ago and gotten herself and her entire swarm blown to smithereens for their trouble. Of course, if Celestia had asked a griffon about them she might never have had the problem in the first place. Her scowl turned into a grin as she realized the implications, though. A chance to go changeling hunting and get paid for it? Now that did not suck. “Well, what’re we waiting for?” She tried not to appear too eager. It’d been all too long since she’d had a good fight.

~~~~~

The roadside shack stood proudly in front of a well-maintained, ten-foot tall wooden fence. Behind the fence both brothers knew knew there was a treasure trove of goodies fit to make any inventor or salespony giddy with anticipation. From machined parts to magical artifacts, this place had it all and all under the watchful eye of a very old friend.

He sat on the porch strumming an old banjo which might well have belonged to some kind of music megastar. Or maybe it didn’t, and he’d just tell you that it did. Cactus Jack Pear, Pricklefruit to his friends, was quite possibly the very best of his kind in all of Equestria. Collector, inventor, and salespony truly non pareil. Flim ought to know - he’d been the one to teach them everything they knew.

As they approached the porch, Pricklefruit looked up and his eyes instantly brightened. Nopony really knew how old he was, but sometimes Flim wondered how lonely the old stallion got out here. Flim was not a pony given to embracing those who were not of his family, but the old pony in front of him was an exception to every rule. “Its been a long time, boys.” the wheezy old earth pony muttered out, accepting the offered hugs. For just a moment, they stood in companionable silence.

They were professionals, one and all, and had few contemporaries and even fewer peers. Which meant it would be impossible to hide their hangdog mood from him. It only took him a second to take in the not-quite impeccable vests and slightly tattered hats and do all of the math. His beady eyes narrowed at them. “Hit th’ bottom again, didja?” He half-growled, smacking them in the sides. He didn’t have much strength, but it was enough to put the wind out of Flim’s belly nonetheless.

“We got caught out, Pricklefruit. Twice.” Flam muttered, looking away in embarrassment. It was hard enough to admit to themselves that they’d let the operators get the best of them, but admitting it to somepony else? That was pretty close to not-gonna-happen-ville. “We’re hard up, and we were hoping you might give us a lift. You know we’re good for double it.” Flam tried to keep the begging out of his voice. Pricklefruit knew where they’d be heading next if he said no, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t if he thought they weren’t a good investment.

The ancient earth pony glared at them both, then smacked them upside their heads. Flim winced at the blow, but took it like a stallion anyway. “Idjits. I thought I taught’cha better.” He harumphed, but there was a twinkle in his eye. “Yer both lucky I know you wouldn’t ask lest ya had a plan t’ get back on yer hooves.” Flam felt a surge of relief flood his chest, some of the tension draining from his spine. “But I gotta price you need t’ pay, an’ it ain’t bits.” Pricklefruit brandished a walking stick at them, beady black eyes gleaming. “I’ll fund ya on one condition. There’s some badness goin on down south’a here, an’ one of my nieces needs help. I want you two to take them big brains of yers and solve her woes. Legitimately.”

The word ‘legitimate’ made Flam’s coat hair stand on end. Pricklefruit knew them both all too well, and he’d be able to figure them out instantly if they tried to run a scam on the girl. “What’s her malfunction, Pricklefruit?” Flam asked, keeping his voice low and cautious. “You know we’re not exactly troubleshooters…”

Pricklefruit fixed him with a glare, one strong enough that he could’ve bottled it and sold it to parents with distressed foals. “No, but y’all know how t’ adapt to anything.” He feinted another smack with the cane, then grinned broadly. “Besides, I know how ya both like a double payday. Somepony in town’s already puttin’ together help t’ fix the issue.”

That made Flam take in a breath, Flim miming him. Pricklefruit just chuckled. “I know, I know. It’s not my usual thing to send ponies gallavantin’ off on damnfool adventures but…” He hesitated for a moment, just long enough for them to see it. “Well, it’s important somepony practical is there t’ take care of things. Since I can’t go myself…” He shifted in his seat, and Flim could’ve sworn he could hear the coot’s hips creaking.

Flim shook his head slowly. This sort of thing really wasn’t up their alley. They were hardly adventurers, they were thinkers! Creators of wondrous items and sellers of the same! But… He glanced towards his brother, and he had the very same look. Who else could they turn to? Who else would bankroll them? “What sort of woes are we talking about here, old timer?” Flim drawled, hoping he could stall long enough to get some more information.

But Pricklefruit was giving them a hard look. “Trouble,” he said, with an emphasis on the word that sent a cold chill down Flim’s spine. His next words were like a judge’s gavel, coming down with a guilty verdict weight behind it. “You in, or not?”

~~~~~~~~

There were exactly four things a dragon needed to know about how to be a dragon. One, you had to be tough. Two, you had to be cunning. Three, you needed a damn good hoard if you were gonna get any respect. And four, you weren’t gonna get that hoard sittin’ around in a volcano. Not a real one, anyway. Gems were tasty, but far too easy to find if you wanted to impress a pretty drake. Diamonds did better since they were so rare, but even they paled in comparison to more tangible forms of wealth.

All of this had been new to Garble when he’d first tried getting into Lillianerath’s cave. He’d been sure his limitless supply of high quality grub could at least get him a date. But no such luck. She wanted statues, paintings, fine pieces of art, legendary artefacts of power, and most importantly of all: Gold. Lots and lots of gold to snuggle up on.That meant if Garble had any intentions of getting laid, he’d better be ready to work for it or steal it. Since he wasn’t quite large enough to be raiding museums or sacking castles, he’d have to get his start the old fashioned way. Which sucked. It sucked probably the biggest amount of suck anything could suck in the known world.

But suck or not, he was making progress. Pretty good progress, actually, once that smart businesspony had turned him on to the concept of ‘investing.’ Sure, he couldn’t sleep on a pile of investment slips, but Garble was smart enough to understand that sleeping on the miserly pile of gold he’d managed to collect would just depress him. Better to keep the money working for him, and eventually he’d turn small money into big money. But that meant he had to keep working for the small money so he could keep himself fed and alive while his extra worked for him.

Some dragons might’ve thought he was getting ripped off, but everypony he’d talked to told him that this ‘Filthy Rich’ stallion was on the level. He saw going into business with a dragon as a good long term investment of his own, and Garble was inclined to agree. So long as he got his hoard, why the fuck did he care how he got it? Maybe he could become famous like that Dunkelzahn guy his grandpop had told him about…

Whatever. He had to get more money before he could even think about being famous, much less have a horde big enough to impress. So that meant doing what Rover called ‘grunt work,’ which given the apparently fearsome reputation of diamond dogs and dragons alike meant mostly being intimidating and sometimes beating ponies up or protecting other ponies from getting beaten up. It was kind of a lame job, but it paid well enough (according to Mr. Rich, anyway) that Garble himself didn’t much mind it.

What he did mind was that Rover was such a grump about things. He never seemed to have a lick of good cheer in him about anything, and while Garble could put up with that to a degree, he kinda wished the dog would crack a joke once in a while. Or maybe show some emotion other than grim resignation. He meant… yeah, sure, what’d happened to him had sucked flank but that was no excuse to act like a dinglebat.

Again, whatever. It was time to look for a new job, and that meant looking tough and grunting a lot. Rover did the talking, since that was easier than trying to get a pony to talk to him. Wimps acting like they’d never seen a dragon before. “Hrrrhn,” Rover grumbled as he checked the omnipresent cork board that represented all of the outstanding work in this town and every other one they’d visited down here. Most of the notices were tattered and faded, but one was bright and fresh. ‘Help wanted for bandit eradication. Good pay. Apply at Bar. Ask for Trixie,’ it read. “Could be promising,” the dawg growled, and turned to head for the bar without another word.

It took Garble a moment to figure out what he’d meant, and another couple of them to scramble and catch up to his so-called partner. “Wait up, bro!” he half shouted as he pumped his still slightly-awkward legs, longing for the day when he was huge and didn’t have to travel anywhere except by wingbeats and being obviously carried by his legions of future minions. “Dude, what’dya mean ‘promising’?” The job had read pretty standard to Garble, but maybe he’d missed something.

“Bandits often have extra loot,” Rover grumbled, giving him a faintly disdainful look, “and often know lots of things that might be valuable to me. And you.” He turned away and continued his trundling walk to the bar, seemingly content in his answer. Garble jogged a bit to keep up, but didn’t immediately respond. That was true that the two bandit jobs they’d done so far had been profitable, but what was this crap about ‘knowing things’?

Rover was such a weirdo sometimes.

~~~~~~~~~~

Trixie wanted a pair of aspirin and a nice dark room right about the time the fifteenth dirt farmer wandered in and tried to convince her she needed their help in dealing with her little problem. It wasn't that they lacked muscle or strength, but rather that the instant they heard the word ‘changelings’ they ran like little fillies before the school play. The excuse was always different, but the results were the the same.

She needed a crew to pull this off - no two ways about it. Ideally she’d like about a dozen well trained royal guards and a few unicorn battle mages, but since that wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon she had hoped for a few locals who were decent in a fight and knew how to hold a line. Instead, it seemed nopony around here could believe that a changeling was no tougher or more dangerous than your average low-level unicorn and could be beaten with smarts and guts.

She was about ready to scream with frustration when the diamond dog and dragon walked in the door. Instantly, Trixie’s hopes for actually surviving this job jumped dramatically. There were few tougher fighters on the planet than those two races, although Trixie knew a few griffons who might argue with that. They focused on her a moment later and she very nearly did a little dance in place. They were looking for her! They were looking for her job! She might very well walk away from this alive!

But this wasn’t the time to lose her cool, so she quickly schooled her expression back to neutrality. “Are you Trrrixie?” the dog rasped out, his voice thick with the kind of inflection the independant dog tribes tended to have. His dragon…. friend, for lack of a better term, was crossing his forearms and giving her a stern sort of look. Obviously some sort of informal partnership, where the dog talked and the dragon loomed.

She ought to have known their names, but it was escaping her at the moment. “I am the Great and Powerful Trixie,” she intoned archly, which got a blink of surprise from both of them. Good, best to make it clear she wasn’t going to be intimidated. “Are you here in regards to the job?” Best to be sure they weren’t here to collect on some forgotten debt.

“Rrf.” That could have been agreement, or it could have been a negative. Fortunately, he kept talking. “What is the pay? And where is the work?” His trill settled a bit, and he himself settled onto his haunches to watch her cautiously.

“Rosedale, and the pay will be one hundred bits, plus looting rights.” That had been a stickler in her side, but it was the only hope she had for attracting good enough talent to actually deal with this. If she was lucky, she’d be able to keep them from looting the town too. “Half in advance, half when the job is complete. Standard contract.” She kept her voice clipped and professional. No sense in getting too personal with them, at least until they were officially on the job. “We’re dealing with changelings. Is that going to be a problem?” Trixie was tempted to lie about their targets, but that might lead to desertion out in the field… and losing what little help she could afford would be disastrous. Best to make sure they were stern enough to deal with it before paying them.

That got a cocked eyebrow from the dog, who worked his lips for a moment before nodding. “We’ll take the contract.” he growled quietly, casting a quick glance at his dragon friend. “Will need more than just two.”

Trixie nodded. “Feel free to take a seat. Trixie is hoping to get several more.” Hoping, but not hopeful.

The dog nodded. “Me Rover.” He patted his chest three times, traditional greeting of allies. “This is Garble.” He thumbed to the dragon dismissively, and the teenaged dragon grinned with a huge field of deadly looking fangs. “When do we leave?”

Trixie shook her head. “When we have enough help, or sunset tomorrow. Whichever comes first.” She took a deep breath. “If we get nopony else before tonight, I’ll provide you your half pay to pick up whatever you’ll need for the trip.”

The dog nodded and trundled himself over to one of the bar stools. The dragon - Garble, wasn’t it? - looked a bit hesitant, glancing at her for a moment before putting on what he must’ve thought was a smile before hurrying after his partner. What a strange pair. Dogs didn’t typically run in packs of other creatures.

Trixie settled back to her drink, slightly bolstered by the presence of a pair of real fighters. She still couldn’t figure out how to actually win this little fracas yet, but now she knew how she could survive it. That was better than an hour ago, and then the door swung open again and Trixie’s heart lifted all the way back up to her chest.

A griffon!

Had she been inclined to do so, Trixie might’ve done a little dance in place at the sight of the lean and sleek griffon accompanied by a rough-and-tumble pegasus mare. The pegasus was nice, but the griffon was fit cause for celebration. Nothing and no one liked hunting changelings more than griffons did. They were the closest thing the damned bugs had to a natural predator, and what was more they held the things in universal contempt.

The pair of them spotted her a moment later, and she schooled her expression into neutrality. “Word is you’re organizing a bug hunt.” The griffon sneered confidently. Trixie might have giggled at her faux ‘bad-girl’ attitude, but that would probably chase her off. Military brat, running away from her family probably. Trixie ran into a lot of those out on the road, especially near Las Pegasus.

Speaking of the pegasus… she was hanging out near the back, giving Trixie an odd look. She could’ve been any number of things, but nopony ended out here in the badlands without a good reason. Since she probably wasn’t a native, she was probably running from something the same as Trixie. What or who she was running from was mostly irrelevant. “You would be correct. One hundred bits for each hire, plus looting rights.” She arched an eyebrow at the pegasus. “And you will be given first claim on any changeling horns you wish to claim as trophies.”

That got a big shit-eating grin out of the griffon girl. “That’d be a nice little present to send back to pops.” She drawled, turning to her… partner, perhaps? “It’s good pay, Dusty. Better than if we’d gotten the weather job. I say we take it before somepony else poaches it.”

The pegasus she’d called ‘Dusty’ looked about ready to smack her, her expression looking distinctly ticked-off... before collapsing into resignation. “We need the bits, I guess.” Her voice was less enthusiasm and more bitter acceptance. That might turn out to be a problem if Trixie didn’t keep an eye on it, so she resolved to do just that. Odd reaction though; most pegasi relished the chance to get into a real fight without one of the Cloudsdale Legion looming over their shoulders.

She nodded to where Rover and Garble were sitting, somewhat separated from one another, and the pegasus sulked over towards them. “Tsch. What crawled up her plot?” the griffon muttered, then shook her head. “I’m Gilda, that’s Lightning Dust. When do we leave?”

Trixie hummed. Four wasn’t bad, but she wouldn’t mind a few more. She had funds for ten before it started to eat badly into her own profits, but she knew that wasn’t going to happen. “Trixie is hoping for a few more. We’ll wait until midday before heading out.” That felt right to her. Anyone looking for actual work would be here before midday, and the rest would just be vultures.

The griffon nodded once, then did a quick trot over to where ‘Dusty’ was sitting, starting to talk to her in a low voice. Trixie felt like she ought to go talk to that one, just to make sure there wouldn’t be trouble… but then, of course, trouble walked in the door. “Well, well! Look what the manticore dragged into this fine establishment,” drawled a brain-searingly familiar voice.

“Sure enough, brother of mine. Heaven forefend that this is our soon-to-be employer.” piped the second, inevitable voice to match the first. Trixie had to drag her gaze, hoping beyond hope for a moment that it wouldn’t be THOSE two… and of course, it was. “Long time no see, Miz Looney Moon.” Lilted one of the Flim Flam Brothers. Trixie had never been able to easily tell them apart, though one of them had apparently grown a mustache since the last time they’d met.

She fixed them both with a flat look… but only for a moment. They were likely amongst the most annoying, frustrating, and otherwise exasperating ponies on the face of the planet. But… They were both grinning at her, comfortable and relaxed in a way that precious few ponies in the world ever were around her. “Well if it isn’t Fiddle and Faddle,” she drawled back, crossing her hind legs and cocking an eyebrow at them. “I thought you two were deathly allergic to real work.”

The mustached one, Trixie decided this one would be Flim, sighed dramatically. “Well, we are, we are… but you know how it is, ol’ looney. When you’re hard up for cash, you do what you have to do.” His grin never wavered though, despite his theatrics, and he chuckled a moment later. “Pricklefruit sent us. Apparently he’s got family where you’re going, and we’ve been tasked to assist.”

Ah. That made a great deal more sense than the pair of them coming on their own. You got to know the other ponies who traveled the roadways of Equestria, and it was almost like an ordinary community. Sure, it might be months at a time before you saw someone again but it was no less like greeting a friendly neighbor for that. Everypony knew everypony else, and everypony also knew everypony’s scams. And everypony knew Old Pricklefruit, the stallion that was practically a legend amongst thieves.

Still, this was possibly a positive. Whatever else might be said about the Flim Flam Brothers, and Trixie would have been happy to say a very great deal about them, they weren’t stupid. Jerks and con artists through and through, but not stupid. They knew how to adapt to a bad situation quite quickly, and they brought a number of specialty skills with them. They weren’t the fighters she might’ve preferred, but… “Give Trixie a good reason why she should bring along a pair of reprobates like yourselves,” she sneered, hoping to conjure up something useful out of them.

Fortunately, they were quick on the uptake. “We’ve got your logistics handled,” supplied Flam, with a vague smirk, “and we can bring along a few trump cards you might appreciate. We do have a fine and superbly effective changeling repellant, and my dear brother over here is a natural at producing any number of vile and dangerous substances to hurl at our foes.” He gave a dramatic flare of a hoof waggle, which had about as much effect on her as a buzzing fly.

Still, he’d cut her to the quick on the subject of supplies. She would undoubtedly need them, and she’d need more than the usual stuff if she hoped to pull off her scheme. And that repellant might just be the ace she needed… “Oh, very well, Fiddle. You and your baby brother can join us.” She tried hard to keep the snark out of her voice, but it didn’t work very well. Fortunately, the pair of them just laughed off the insult and trundled over to the rest of her little gang and started selling themselves. Typical Flim and Flam.

Trixie settled back into her chair and sipped at her cider. Seven. Seven wasn’t bad. She had a lot of specialty skills to draw on here, and if she was lucky this would be very much an in-and-out job. Of course, she was never lucky, so she immediately began to plan for the worst. It was a good attitude to have out here in the badlands. It was an attitude she was sure would save her life in the days to come.

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