• Published 19th Oct 2014
  • 1,000 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.

  • ...
5
 63
 1,000

The Good, The Bad, and the Trixie.

~~~~~Somewhere north of Rosedale, several days later.~~~~~

Three carts and a covered wagon stood in an even half-moon around the smouldering coals of a campfire as the sun peeked above the horizon. Four sleeping bags sat raggedly around the warmth, and a few dozen yards above a lone cloud hung faint and wispy in the air. For Trixie, it was yet another faintly chilly morning in the desert. Yet another morning where she would not wake up in a soft bed or with any of the comforts and amenities the common ponies of Equestria took for granted. But it was also yet another morning where she would wake up alive and not in a prison cell, so she could handle a little discomfort.

The one called Lightning Dust was poking a battered copper pot into the smouldering embers and adding a pitcherful of surprisingly clean looking water to it. She glanced over her shoulder to eye Trixie and nodded once. “Mornin’,” was all she said, before turning back to her pot. Getting to know her compatriots had not been a terribly interesting affair so far. Gilda was a runaway, Flim and Flam were… well, Flim and Flam. Garble was intriguing - she’d genuinely never heard of a dragon trying to get rich through investment of all things. But Lightning Dust intrigued her in a way that only Rover could match.

She might have fed Trixie a story about a botched weather agency job and being down on her luck, but everything about her screamed ‘Wonderbolts Washout’. Yet even those souls who failed to meet their standards typically didn’t have trouble finding work with one of the other pegasi flying teams, and there was nothing about Lightning Dust’s attitude that suggested a quitter. So what had happened to her? An accident? Bad luck? Had she pissed off someone important? Something I’d know all too much about… It was weirdly distracting to not know what she’d done… or what had been done to her.

Rover was the true enigma, though. Trixie might not have gone to Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, but she hadn’t skimped on her self-education. Diamond dogs simply did not run without their packmates unless some disaster had separated them, and they were known to go to some rather severe lengths against the forces that had done so. That was equal parts good and bad, since diamond dogs were fierce and unconventional fighters and she was going to need every inch of that. But he had the mien of a dog looking for a place to die, and the last thing she needed was him running off to die ‘honorably’ or some nonsense.

The pot had come to a boil amidst her ruminations, and she stuck her head back into her cart to drag out a half-full bag of oatmeal mix and levitate it over to Dust. “We’re going to be busy today, so fix us all up a bowl,” she said quietly voice, Lightning Dust looking surprised at the offering. So far they’d mostly relied on themselves and the supplies Flim and Flam had ginned up but Trixie needed them in prime condition today. They were going to make the town before noon, and she wanted everyone alert and moderately cheerful.

The plan she’d struck upon was a fairly simple one. She’d heard of it used before to great effect in the far east, and planned to add her own flair to it. It was likely that the changeling infestation wasn’t that severe, and they were keeping the townsfolk afraid by virtue of superstition rather than any real numbers. It would be a snap to turn Flim and Flam’s skills at working a crowd to rile them up to action, and she could then use Gilda’s knowledge of changeling fighting techniques to get the townsfolk in a condition where they could defend themselves. Then it would be a simple matter - use Dust and Rover to lure out the swarm, get everyone to beat them up a little and let the townsfolk do the rest.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?

Of course it wouldn’t be. Trixie already knew the whole damn opera was going to fall apart at the first brush with the enemy, and for all she knew this particular changeling swarm was being lead by a Queen which would… Well, okay, Trixie didn’t think herself much of a fighter, but she was pretty sure Prince Captain Shining Armor would go looking for backup in that scenario. She would probably run for Equestria and hope to Celestia that Twilight had forgotten her little… well, she wouldn’t depress herself and think about that.

For now though, she would proceed with the plan. It was solid enough to take on adjustments as needed, and probably flexible enough to make certain that one thing going wrong wouldn’t bring down everything. The smell of cinnamon and dried apples reached her nose, and she took a deep breath. She would also spend now eating her breakfast and worry about the complexities of things later.

Gilda was already sitting at the fire by the time her attention returned, and Garble was examining the oatmeal with a rather dubious expression. Rover had eaten and was now sitting a little bit away from the camp and staring off into the distance, while Flim and Flam were already chatting animatedly about… something. Maybe the scheme they intended to use on the rubes? Whatever. “Pour me a bowl, please,” she said simply, and Lightning Dust dutifully compiled. “Trixie will now be going over our plans for the day,” she announced, and all eyes focused on her.

She cleared her throat, trying not to get stage fright. The curtain was just going up on this little show.

~~~~~Rosedale~~~~~

Flim eyeballed the little town in front of him, running over the facts in his head one by one. If Last Rest was the ‘end of the line’ in Equestria, then Rosedale was in some nebulous place beyond it. Perhaps ‘the middle of nowhere’ might finally be a legitimate appellation for a place, because if anywhere was there, it was here. The road that had taken them here was ancient, rough, and in bad need of a re-grade. Best he could tell, it had been laid in the time of Commander Hurricane and nopony had paid much attention to it since.

Then again, anypony living this far south was pretty much admitting they didn’t want to live under the rule of Princess Celestia for one reason or another. Nonconformists, criminals, exiles, opportunists, and stubborn traditionalists whose families had lived out this way for millennia were in thick supply this far from the Equestrian border. That meant his and Flam’s usual techniques for conning the customers wasn’t going to fly.

Flash and spectacle might’ve been the way into the hearts of most of Equestria, but ponies out here were interested in one thing only: Results. That meant anything they tried to sell to them had to be firmly grounded in reality. Which meant that Trixie’s plan was utterly absurd on its face, and they were already in serious trouble.

Not that he disagreed with her sentiments, mind you. It was a solid enough plan, but she was just a little… naive in thinking that they were going to convince these folks that changelings weren’t some sort of demonic entities sent from the depths of Tartarus to punish them for some damnfool sins nopony else gave two shits about. At least it isn’t Windigos. The last thing I need are those apocalypse cult ponies giving us trouble again…

But that was neither here nor there. He had to sell this scheme to these ponies, and he would be buggered if he was going to admit that he couldn’t sell something to a bunch of back-country hooligans. Especially hooligans that Pricklefruit gave a shit about, since the last thing he wanted to do was disappoint the old coot. I’m going to smack him when I get back to Last Rest for sending us on this errand… This whole thing is shaping up to be a disaster waiting to happen.

Flam had a grim look when he glanced over to his brother, and he was certain he had one to mirror it. “Not going to be an easy sell, brother,” Flam groused, eyes screwing shut as he pinched at his snout. “We’re going to need something spicy to get under their coats. Ideas?”

Flim hummed and rubbed at his chin. “Pride could work. We haven’t pulled out the old ‘nothing to fear’ dodge in a while and it might just work here.” He sniffed, trying to get his thoughts together. “Folks in places like this like to think about how tough they are. All we need to do is prick that. Angle?”

Flam nodded, grimness turning to thoughtful consideration. “They sent for help pretty desperately, and I’ll bet they aren’t going to much like that they had to do it. We need to be difference makers.” He tilted his head towards his brother, cocking an eyebrow. “Force multipliers, so to speak. Make them think they’re the ones solving the problem, we just sort of helped make it possible. What do you think for tone?”

Flim snorted faintly. “Celestia’s balls if I know. Have to make that up on the fly. Depends on how scared they are.” He hated making things up like this on the go. A good con was entirely about believability and it was hard to sell believability when you were going off of pure instinct. Pricklefruit could do it, but he was Pricklefruit. That horse could sell cheap glassware to a crystal pony and make at least sixty percent profit doing it.

His brother sighed faintly. “Tell me we’ve got enough of the juice to actually do something, brother.” There was a faint note of desperation in his voice, and Flim couldn’t blame him.

He gave his very best grin. “Don’t worry, Flam. We’ve got more than enough to deal with this little bug infestation. If we’re canny about it, we might even be able to eke out a little profit too.” That was probably pushing it, but Flam needed a boost. That’s what brothers were for, after all.

There was a pregnant pause, and Flam laughed faintly. “I believe we’re stalling, o’ sibling of mine.” That… was probably true. Even if he really didn’t want to admit it. Flam stood all at once, his voice chipper as he began to move, “Come on. We need to get a feel for the town and we can’t do that from here.” Off he went, trotting almost merrily.

Flim scrambled to catch up, trying to suppress his shock at the sudden change of mood. Surely he couldn’t have been that inspiring. “Flam! Wait up!” He yelled, and his brother laughed at him. What had gotten into him?

~~~~~~~

The smell of flowers was nigh on overpowering for him, but even more distracting was the rich soil’s distinct scent . Rover had never stood in such a place before, and especially not in such a place that ought to have been a wasteland. It had been like crossing some unseen border as they approached the town, the feel of the dirt beneath his paws changing subtly from the dry and cracked earth of the badlands to something softer and sweeter. It was… soothing. He was irritated to find his mood unconsciously improving with every step he took. He was not on some kind of holiday here, he was here to work. And yet…

He shook off the strange feeling and snapped at the air. There was an underlying tension as the pack loped into town, moving without purpose or unity. Hardly even capable of being called a pack, but it was the only term he had to familiarize himself with the situation. Somehow, somewhere in the back of his mind, he smelled a strange familiarity about the others next to him. He was not one given to believe in the usual dog superstitions, but he shared something with these strange ponies.

Something important.

Whatever it was, he was determined to root it out before he moved on. The bits he intended to earn here would be enough to purchase transport to the Saddle Arabian kingdoms, so he had little time. He would need to open up a bit, discover what his new Packleader was like before she too moved on to the next thing. There was a melancholy about her, almost an air of profound regret that pulsed deep below the surface. She had done something terrible in her past, and it haunted her. It was a feeling he was familiar with.

As they strode into the town, curious faces and hopeful eyes followed them. Ponies and mules poked heads out of doorways and windows to watch their eclectic band pass by. Rover turned his nose to the air and inhaled deeply. Under the faint stink of changeling chitin, there were the far deeper and more pleasent scent of the town’s inhabitants. Ponies of all three tribes. Mules. Donkeys. An old mated pair of Griffons. A smattering of buffalofolk and- His nose caught on the sharp scent. Four of them, a male, a female and two pups.

Dogs.

His head swiveled left to right, trying to suss out the exact direction they were, but the scent was all over town. They’d been here a while, leaving their mark all over the damn place. What was worse was that this mark was underwritten with fear so distinct that Rover had to fight the urge to turn his tail and run for the hills. It was a fear that was all too likely a product of having young pups in close proximity to changelings and the horrors promised to those who were taken in the night…

He shook his head to clear it and steeled his features. The pack leader had strode forward to engage the local constabulary, and was already speaking in low tones. She would handle the politics, he had other things to worry about. So he loped off, confident that she’d find him when he was needed for his tasks and not a moment before.

The town was not large. Perhaps two or three dozen buildings in total, and most of those were either large communal homes or warehouses. There was a post office, a public bath house, and a doctor’s office and not much else besides. Oh, there was a general store, but it looked a touch on the shabby side. The local dogs scent was strong around the post office, and from there he followed the trail to one of the large houses.

The door swung open just as he came up to it and Rover nearly scrambled away at the sight that greeted him. An absolutely gorgeous female of his own species, smiling faintly at him. But that wasn’t what nearly sent him running. It was the absolute horde of fillies, colts, young mules, and the two adorable pups that were clearly her own children milling about her feet and all looking at him with big, wide and hopeful eyes. “I vass vondering ven you vould come,” the female dog said in a thick accent and with a slow smile. “I could use a paw with ze childer. Come inside, lone one.”

Rover swallowed the knee-jerk words he wanted to speak, and instead contented himself with a grunt and an embarrassed look to the side as he shuffled into the house and the sea of young and smiling faces therein. Great, five minutes in a new town and already he was waist deep in trouble and pups. What else could go wrong?

~~~~~~~

Gilda grunted faintly as she examined the crude map of the town. This place was a defensive nightmare, flat terrain in every direction filled with flower and rose bushes too low to provide real cover for the ponies but just high enough to work for those fracking changelings. There was a fairly fast river with enticing possibilities to the west, and plenty of wood-workers in town who knew how to build good barricades, but that was the entirety of the good news. The town’s ‘defense’ militia consisted of two old Griffons who hadn’t seen a proper battle in decades and a smattering of buffalo, donkeys and earth ponies with farming tools.

Which wasn’t to say the griffons weren’t wily and tough looking, or that the earth ponies didn’t look like they could break down mountains if they put their minds to it. They were just universally untrained and unready for this. She had her work cut out for herself, especially with the attitude of the town ‘sheriff’ who looked like he probably got hired to the position because he was built like a brick shithouse. “But we hired you to come and deal with this problem!” he growled, almost whining. If a voice that sounded like churning gravel could be said to be ‘whiny’. It made her want to slap him upside the head.

Still, she restrained herself. Besides, it was fun to watch this Trixie chick do her thing. “The great and powerful Trixie was not paid sufficient funds to bring an army,” she snapped with such a scathing tone that Gilda was pretty sure she’d just traumatized the poor bugger across the table. “So she brought specialists to ensure that the problem could be dealt with! Surely you did not think a mere fifteen hundred bits was sufficient to bring a mercenary company this deep into the badlands?”

Something on the dork’s face told Gilda that was exactly what he thought, but he swallowed whatever retort he was intending to deliver when Trixie slammed her hoof into the table. “Enough! Trixie did not come here to argue the point. Your townsfolk will be trained to deal with the changeling scum, and we will join you in bringing the fight to them. Once they have been defeated and scattered, we shall be on our way after we have assured you are ready to further defend yourselves. Do you understand Trixie?”

Gilda nodded in slow approval. She might be a prissy unicorn, but this Trixie knew how to deliver a good yell. Fortunately, the old griffon gent stepped forward before the sheriff could get any wind in his sails. “We understand, Miss Trixie. And we thankya for true for your help.” he grumbled gently, with a hint of steely resolve. The way he was standing there, he looked like old military. Maybe he was. “Mister Frost Rose will join us tonight at the inn and we’ll deliver the plan to the townsfolk together.” He eyeballed the Sheriff who looked about ready to swallow his tongue before reaching out to clamp his talons over the idiot’s muzzle. “That is enough, Mister Ripped. We have work to do.”

The one he’d called Mr. Ripped glared at them, then tromped off in a sulk. Heh, she already liked this guy and she didn’t even know his name yet. “I’m Ironbeak,” the aged griffon said with friendly smile. “Frosty and I were the ones to send Blossomtime to find you. Our…” His beak twisted in disgust, “Guests in the western caves had agreed that we’d be pretty useless as a food source if we could not buy supplies. I’ve no doubt once they hear of your arrival, they shall be most put out.”

Gilda nodded shortly, crossing her arms. “Gimme the straight silver, gramps. Will these sissy ponies fight?” She didn’t need some line from the sheriff or the mayor on this one, she needed an expert.

Ironbeak’s beak gaped open in a grin. “If you can convince them they can win, they will fight. They would’ve fought already, but the changelings are quite numerous and after what happened in Canterlot, very intimidating.” He shook his head slowly. “I don’t think it will take much to rouse them to action, but I would be wary. They will think first of their own, second of their possessions, and you shall be a distant third should things become grim.”

Gilda shot a look at Trixie, who looked a little grim herself. “Trixie is aware of that sort of attitude. We shall be careful.” She kept her voice even, but it was clear she was already planning her escape. Well, fair enough. So was Gilda.

But for now, she needed to play along so she could get paid. “Alright then, gramps. I’m deputizing ya.” She grinned griffily at him. “Lets see if we can’t whip these ponies into shape.”

~~~~~~~

Trixie crossed her forelegs and watched at a distance as Flim and Flam worked the crowd that had begun to gather in the town square. They were already busting out into song, though instead of their usual song-and-dance routine, they were pulling from an old Equestrian war ballad from the days before the Alicorns.

Trixie knew that all it would take was a single letter to Twilight Sparkle and she would be down here before Trixie could blink thrice. Trixie knew that all it would take was one little apology, and she could have the resources to deal with this problem lickity split. Of course, to do either of those things, she would need to finally admit in a letter how much of a monster she’d became before Twilight had saved her from certain banishment or death. And Trixie was simply not ready to do that yet.

Lightning Dust settled down next to her, as her griffon partner began to bully and chide the locals with military nonsense about how easy it would be to protect the place. Dust cocked an eyebrow at her. “This is gonna be rough, isn’t it?” she asked, keeping her voice low.

Trixie nodded. “Trixie hopes you are as clever with pegasus magic as she thinks you are. We shall need every ounce of that cleverness to survive.” She blew out a hard breath. The townsfolk would take care of their own, and it was up to her to take care of hers. Somehow without getting them all slaughtered - or worse: captured. She had heard stories of what happened to mares captured by changelings alive, and she would slit her wrists before such a fate befell her. “I shall need you to be forthright with any ideas you might have,” she said quietly as the din began to rise amongst the townsfolk.

Lightning Dust nodded. “Gilda’s no slouch herself. And I’ll bet that dog and his dragon friend are pretty tasty in a fight.” She jerked her head towards Flim and Flam, her voice a low growl. “They anything more than a pair of conponies?”

Trixie had to smile at that one. “No, but they are very excellent at what they do. They’ve got hidden talents for mayhem that I intend to exploit.” She could remember the first time they’d ended up in the same town together. Ah, memories. She shook her head clear of such silliness and focused on the now. “It’s not going to be particularly easy, though.”

The pegasus nodded and settled back on her haunches to watch the absurdity of the Flim Flam Brothers’ act. Trixie chuckled and left her to that pastime, turning and moving away from the crowd and into the ‘streets’ of Rosedale.

The town was tiny in comparison to anywhere else but other towns like it, and reminded her a great deal of a tiny town called Ponyville. True, Ponyville would have been eminently more defensible against an attack of this nature, if for no reason than by the proximity of one Twilight Sparkle, whose name still burned in Trixie’s mind.

Her thoughts ground to a halt as a trio of foals went galloping by towards the town square, apparently having heard the cacophony there. In the distance, several aged earth ponies moved amongst the flower fields that surrounded the town and tended to their crop. It was tranquil and homelike here, and had she merely been traveling the roads Trixie likely would have found this place to be agreeable to settling down for a little while.

The wind caught her cloak, billowing it impressively as she gazed towards the stubby mountains to the west of the town. That was where the changelings were supposedly coming from. Once every two weeks or so, gathering the love energy and what few other supplies they needed to survive then vanishing again. They had just been here two days ago, which meant Trixie had a small window of opportunity to make this place wholly unpalatable to the damn bugs.

She reached up and pulled her hat down as the sun slowly arced towards the horizon. Tonight, they would eat, drink, and make merry to show the townsfolk they could be trusted. Tomorrow, the real work would begin and the clock would begin to tick down until either her finest hour…

Or her final one.

Author's Note:

New chapters coming at a rate of once per week from now on.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!