• Published 27th Sep 2016
  • 2,633 Views, 92 Comments

Gangs and Monsters - Flynt Coal

While Twilight deals with the fallout of the Friendship Games, the notorious Fake AH Crew come to town to lay low and rebuild. Twilight soon finds herself entwined in the plots that surround them, hoping to do some good after having done so much bad.

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2 - Tower of Pimps

While Twilight Sparkle stood at her locker being antagonized by Trixie and her friends, Dusky Darneil stood in front of his own open locker on the opposite wall further down the hall, fidgeting nervously with the shiny yellow tower idol on his necklace. He remained quiet and stiff, hoping that he would remain for all intents and purposes invisible. He was, after all, far too familiar with the situation that Twilight found herself in now—it had been the role he played throughout his school life up to that point. That was why Dusky had been relieved when he first saw the girl with violet streaks in her hair walk down the hallway surrounded by cold, hateful stares. To his shame, Dusky knew that if the school’s hate was directed at her, maybe he would be able to fly under the radar.

But then Dusky had gotten to know Twilight Sparkle. He got to see for himself that the girl was smart, kind, and even funny in her own dorky way. Not to mention she was very cute. But most of all, she didn’t treat him the way so many others had. She didn’t talk down to him, make fun of his name or the way he looked, or treat him as an inferior. She treated Dusky as a friend.

So when Dusky glanced down the hall to see the large boy aggressively shoving a helpless looking Twilight amidst the laughter of the other girls, he suddenly found his hands clenched into fists. Dusky couldn’t even remember the last time he felt such genuine rage flowing through him. However, he still had enough rationale to know that going over there to confront the group would be a bad idea. Not only would it likely not do any good, but he would put himself on the radar of the group of bullies, and that would run counter-intuitive to Dusky’s “fly under the radar” plan for this new school.

So it was thus that Dusky merely closed his locker and slung his backpack over his shoulders before walking down the hall towards the school’s exit. He felt a sickening feeling in his gut as he did so. He knew he was making the smart choice in avoiding the situation, but it still didn’t feel right.

Unfortunately, Dusky had to pass the scene unfolding by Twilight’s locker to reach the front entrance. He would have made it past without stopping if Twilight hadn’t turned to run from her harassers. Dusky caught a brief glimpse of the girl’s face as she ran past him, and seeing the tears building in her eyes was all it took to bring the rage back tenfold.

One of the girls yelled something at Twilight as she disappeared around the corner, but Dusky didn’t register it. His vision was a red haze of anger as he marched up to the three girls and one boy and gave the latter a hard shove. The boy was a good head taller than Dusky, and was built... well, like a high school football player. But he hadn’t anticipated Dusky’s attack, and as a result was sent awkwardly stumbling into the lockers he and the others so recently had Twilight cornered against. The girls around him stopped laughing.

“What the hell?!” the blue-haired boy exclaimed, pushing off the lockers and giving Dusky a retaliatory shove. “The fuck’s your problem, kid?”

Dusky raised his pointer finger. “What the fuck is your problem... asshole?” he asked, punctuating it with a jab of his finger against the bigger boy’s chest.

For his part, the boy looked mildly perplexed before swatting the finger away. “It’s gonna be you if you’re not gone in the next five seconds, Carrot Top!

The familiar mean-spirited nickname brought Dusky momentarily out of his blind rage—it would seem that all bullies were universally uncreative. Regardless, Dusky wasn’t phased by the bigger boy’s threat; Dusky had known far scarier people than him. After all, it was why he was here.

“Ooh, well aren’t you a fuckin’ tough guy!” Dusky exclaimed, trying to regain some of that rage to get his momentum going again. It was too late to back off now, so he might as well keep going. “Tell me, uh….”


“Curly!” Dusky pointed dramatically. “If that is your real name!

“It is.”

“Does picking on helpless girls make you feel like a big man? Huh?!

A look of genuine confusion adorned Curly’s face. “What?”

“Twilight Sparkle!” Dusky all but shouted, now unable to stop. “She’s a nice girl and you treated her like crap!” Dusky was glaring daggers now. “You made her cry. You can’t do that. You don’t make nice girls cry.”

Nice girls?” the girl in the blue sweater with cornflower blue hair said. “Pssh! Twilight Sparkle isn’t a ‘nice girl’, she’s a menace!”

“Exactly! She’s…” Dusky trailed off as the girl’s words registered. “Wait, what?”

“You’re awfully eager to play Twilight’s white knight, but do you even actually know her?” the girl sneered.

Dusky opened his mouth to answer but found that he couldn’t.

“That’s right, you only met her today, didn’t you?” the girl continued. “You weren’t there for the Friendship Games. You didn’t see what she did; what she became!” Now it was her turn to jab Dusky with a finger. “So why don’t you get back on your high horse and ride off into the sunset? Your noble intentions are wasted on a girl like Twilight: That monster deserves everything we gave her and more!”

Just like that, Dusky found the righteous fury he had when he first approached, and with all of his might shoved the smirking girl in the blue sweater. She fell and landed on her rump with a surprised yelp. The other two girls shrieked, and before Dusky could react, something collided with his face hard enough to rattle his brain in his skull and make him see stars. He only had time to realize the object in question was Curly’s fist before he was grabbed by the collar and roughly thrown to the ground.

Dusky thought he heard the sound of something snap and hit the floor just before he landed, but he didn’t have time to dwell on it before Curly was on him again. It would be sometime later when he’d figure out what it was.

“Don’t you fucking touch my girlfriend you little shit!” Curly shouted as he brought another fist to Dusky’s face.

He could feel something wet trickle out of his nose and his whole face was in a world of pain. Curly raised his fist for another blow but a voice suddenly boomed, seeming to stop Curly’s fist with its sheer power.


Everyone looked up to see a woman dressed in purple with hair like the night sky storming down the hall towards them looking ten times more furious than even Dusky himself had felt earlier.

“Shit,” Curly swore under his breath as he stood and straightened himself out. “Uh, hey Vice Principal Luna. I was just fooling around with my buddy….”

“THE POOR BOY IS BLEEDING, CURLY!” the vice principal stated. Even though it was only his first day at CHS, Dusky had already heard stories about what the other students called ‘the Royal Canterlot High Voice.’ Hearing it in person, it was no wonder Curly and the others were frozen in place. “THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR!”

Curly pointed an accusing finger at Dusky. “But he….”

“I DON’T CARE WHAT MR. DARNEIL SAID OR DID, VIOLENCE IS NEVER THE APPROPRIATE RESPONSE!” VP Luna yelled. “Now, if you’ll follow me to the principal’s office, I believe you and Ms. Celestia need to have a talk about appropriate behavior!”

“But Miss…!” the girl in the blue sweater started, but the vice principal silenced her with a look.


Trixie wisely replied with nothing.

“Now, I’ll be taking Mr. Winds to the principal’s office,” Luna said, grabbing Curly by the back of his collar before shooting Dusky a sympathetic look. “Mr. Darneil, I suggest you stop by Nurse Redheart before going home. It’s just down the hall left of the front entrance.”

“Thank you, Vice Principal Luna,” Dusky said, and though the sentiment was genuine, he probably wouldn’t have been able to answer any other way due to the sheer terror.

Before VP Luna escorted Curly to the principal’s, the bigger boy turned to Dusky and hissed through his teeth, “You’re dead, Carrot Top.”

Trixie and her friends made themselves scarce after that, and Dusky made his way to the nurse’s office pinching his nose to keep any more blood from coming out. It wouldn’t be until after he made it home when he realized he’d lost something very important.

Awesome as I wanna be!

Rainbow Dash finished the song with a dramatic slide on her knees, strumming one final powerful guitar chord before holding her pick high above her head. The massive grin on her face was weathered by the lack of the same enthusiasm in the others.

“C’mon, guys! Where’s the flourish?” she asked.

“I think we’re gettin’ tired of playin’ the same song over and over again, RD,” Applejack said, setting her own guitar down on the nearby stand.

“Pssh, I can’t help it if it’s our best song!”

Sunset Shimmer ignored the bickering friends and pulled out her phone. To her disappointment and growing concern, there were no new alerts: Her message “where r u?” remained unanswered.

“Any of you heard from Twilight?” she asked.

A quick check of their phones put a stop to the bickering and all of the friends reported negatives.

“Do you think she’s alright?” Rarity asked from behind her keyboard.

“Maybe she just went home,” Fluttershy suggested.

“Without even one teensy text?” Pinkie Pie asked, somehow scrolling through her bright pink phone with one of her drumsticks.

It had been nearly twenty minutes, and Twilight’s locker was pretty close to the music room. She should have been here by now, or failing that, have at least texted as Pinkie Pie said.

“You girls keep playing,” Sunset said as she stood. “I’ll see if I can find her.”

Stepping out into the hallway, Sunset made her way towards Twilight’s locker. She passed the main entrance and managed to catch a glimpse of Trixie and her friends as they made their exit. A bad feeling entering her gut, Sunset double timed it down the hall and around the corner and before she knew it found herself in front of Twilight’s locker.

The hallway was empty and at first glance everything seemed to be in order. But on closer inspection, Twilight’s locker door was slightly ajar. Additionally, Sunset spotted something on the floor not far away. Picking it up and bringing it closer for study, Sunset was unable to determine exactly what the object was.

It looked like a tiny tower made of five cubes: a dark purplish-black one as the base and four shiny yellow ones stacked on top. Additionally, a small ring was attached to the top, indicating perhaps that the strange object was meant to be worn as a necklace. Sunset didn’t think it was Twilight’s—she’d certainly never seen the girl wear a necklace like that before.

“Sunset! There you are!” a familiar male voice called out.

A handsome boy with spiked blue hair wearing a black jacket over a white t-shirt made his way briskly down the hall towards her. A whirlwind of conflicting emotions flew through Sunset at the sight of him. After all, this was the very same kind boy without whom she might not have survived her first days in the human world. The same boy whose feelings for her she’d taken advantage of in her bid for what little power there was to be had as a student at Canterlot High. She’d managed to get herself back on good enough terms with Flash Sentry after the incident at the latest Fall Formal, but there would always be the lingering tension between them. If I hadn’t been such a power-hungry bitch, then maybe….

Regardless, it did Sunset no good to dwell on what could have been. Instead, Sunset dwelled on the simple fact that the aforementioned awkwardness between them meant that they rarely went out of their way to talk to each other. If he was trying this hard to find her….

“Is something wrong, Flash?” Sunset asked.

He nodded. “It’s Twilight. I think something happened.”

That bad feeling in her gut returned stronger than before, as if reveling in its vindication. “What do you mean? What happened?”

“I don’t know,” Flash said solemnly. “I just saw her run into the girls’ bathroom looking really upset. I think she could really use a friend right now.”

Giving Flash her sincere thanks, Sunset wasted no time in rushing past him toward the girls’ bathroom. Most of her haste was born of a desire to ensure her friend was okay, but Sunset knew another part of it was to get away from Flash as quickly as possible before things could get too awkward and painful for both of them.

Rounding the corner and passing a pair of girls on their way out of the bathroom, Sunset approached the door and carefully stepped in. The bathroom appeared empty at first glance and for a moment Sunset thought maybe Flash was mistaken about what he saw, but then Sunset heard the sound of a soft whimper followed by a sniffle. A closer look around confirmed that one of the stalls was shut, and Sunset could see a familiar pair of nice shoes and stockings beneath the door.

“Twilight? That you?” Sunset asked, moving closer.

Sunset heard the quick clearing of a throat as the person in the stall quickly stood and unlocked the stall.

“Oh… hey, Sunset,” Twilight said hoarsely, rubbing her eyes as she opened the door. Right away Sunset noticed her red eyes.

“You okay?” Sunset asked as Twilight stepped out, sniffing again.

“I…” Twilight’s hesitation was an answer in itself. “I’ll be fine.”

“Did something happen?”

“It’s fine,” Twilight insisted as she stepped past Sunset towards the bathroom door. “Let’s just go back to the others.”

Sunset grabbed her arm and gently but firmly held her back. Sunset gave her a compassionate smile. “Look, I know you’re still new to the whole ‘having friends’ thing, but you know you can tell me if something happened, right? Me and the rest of the girls… we’re all here for you.”

Twilight looked back at her, the look on her face longing to believe the promise on Sunset’s own. But still she said nothing.

“It was Trixie, wasn’t it?”

Twilight looked away, and for a moment Sunset thought she wasn’t going to answer, but then Twilight nodded.

“That’s not surprising. Trixie was the resident Alpha Bitch before I showed up,” Sunset said, her face filling with hard resolve. “The girls and I will have words with her if she keeps giving you trouble.”

“I should be used to it,” Twilight said. “I mean, people at Crystal Prep didn’t exactly treat me with kindness. But here, it’s like… they genuinely hate me.”

“No one hates you, Twilight,” Sunset said, rubbing her shoulder. “Sure, a lot of them are still distrustful and perhaps a little fearful of you, and some of them—like Trixie—express that through hostility. But most of them will come around eventually. They did for me.”

Sunset put an arm around her and with some hesitation, Twilight finally allowed herself to be comforted.

“How did you do it?” Twilight asked after a few moments of being held. “How did you deal with all of the fear? All of the hostility?”

“It wasn’t easy, but keeping my friends close helped.” Sunset laughed as a thought occurred to her, and she couldn’t help but share it. “Of course, beating a trio of fish monsters in a music battle helped too!”

“Hmm?” Twilight looked up from their embrace with a somewhat puzzled expression.

“The Sirens,” Sunset explained, and Twilight gave her an ‘Oh’ of understanding, having heard the story about the Battle of the Bands. “Guess it helps people trust you when you help defeat a threat greater than you were!”

Sunset chuckled at her little self-deprecation, but Twilight just looked away. This wasn’t the same timid avoiding eye contact she had displayed earlier, Sunset noticed: She could see the gears turning in Twilight’s mind.

“Thanks, Sunset,” Twilight said, at last giving her a smile. “I think that helped.”

Relieved, Sunset gave Twilight’s back a few final rubs. “Glad to hear it. Wanna get back to the others?”

Twilight’s smile became slightly more strained then. “Sorry, but… I think I just wanna go home.”

Sunset was disappointed, but hid it behind an understanding smile. “Hey, that’s totally understandable. But listen, the girls and I were planning on getting dessert at the Sugarcube Corner this evening and we’d love for you to join us.”

“Yeah, I’ll…” Twilight said, struggling to find an answer. “I’ll let you know how I’m feeling later.”

“Alright, just… as AJ would say, don’t be a stranger, okay?” Sunset said as the two of them stepped out of the girls’ bathroom and back out into the hallway.

After waving goodbye, the two girls went their separate ways down the hall; Twilight towards the front entrance and Sunset back toward the music room. Sunset let out a rueful sigh when she was alone. She wanted to make friends with Twilight, and she knew the nervous girl wanted the same, but for someone as introverted as her, old habits apparently died hard. Sunset knew it would take baby steps for Twilight to come out of her shell after the Friendship Games. She just hoped that Twilight would be willing to take them.

“I’m home!” Twilight called out as she came in through the front door. Usually both of her parents would still be at work by this time (and Shining Armor recently started living with his girlfriend Cadance), but she knew at least one person would be there waiting for her.

“Twilight!” The exclamation was followed by an excited whimper and the sound of paws frantically skidding across hardwood floor. Sure enough, a tiny purple dog came running around a corner and bolted straight towards her, tail wagging and tongue happily lolling out. “I’m so so glad you’re home! I thought you were gonna be gone forever!”

The idea of owning a talking dog was still one Twilight was struggling to get used to. If anything good could be said to have come of her meddling in forces beyond her ability to grasp, being able to know what her loyal companion was thinking was one.

“Spike, you knew I was coming back!” she said with a smile as she scooped the little guy up into her arms and braced herself for zealous face-licking.

“Yeah, but it felt like forever!” Spike whined as he started to settle down. “There’s nothing to do here all day when nobody’s home.”

“Well, maybe I can bring you to school tomorrow,” Twilight said as they started heading upstairs. “If I could convince Principal Cinch to bring you to Crystal Prep, certainly Miss Celestia would let me bring you to CHS.”

Of course, Twilight had Dean Cadance backing her up then, and the only reason Cinch had agreed to allow Spike on the property in the first place was because she thought Twilight was using him as a test subject for her research. As if I would ever let that happen to my little Spike.

“So, how was your first day there anyway?” Spike asked as they entered her room.

Twilight’s bedroom was a far cry from average as far as teenaged girls’ bedrooms were concerned. Scientific graphs, charts, and the table of elements adorned her walls in place of popular boy bands. Her desk and shelves were all organized in perfect symmetry. The closest thing to a stuffed animal she had was a small, worn-out gray doll (Miss Smartypants), and a framed photo of Spike by her bedside table. A few more photos hung on the walls by her bed depicting family and—in the case of the one featuring an eight year old Twilight holding hands with a man wearing a duster and stetson—extended family.

“All things considered, it could have been worse,” Twilight sighed as she flopped onto her bed. “But it could have been better too.”

Spike tried to cheer her up with a grin. “You mean you’ve had a… ruff day?”

“That’s so funny I forgot to laugh,” Twilight deadpanned, but nevertheless found herself unable to resist smiling at the cheeky canine wiggling his eyebrows (can normal dogs even do that?).

“Seriously though, what happened?” Spike asked, dropping the jovial tone for a moment. “Do I need to bite somebody?”

Twilight smiled and stroked his head, feeling better already. “No, some people gave me a hard time after classes, but Sunset was there to support me.” Twilight’s smile fell slightly. “I just need to decide whether I’m up for hanging out with them tonight.”

Spike’s eyes suddenly lit up and his tail started to slowly move back and forth. “Is Rarity gonna be there?”


Spike’s tail was now wagging at full force. “Then we should definitely go!”

“I figured that would be your answer,” Twilight said, but wasn’t too sure herself. After the events of the day, she was totally drained, and just wanted to stay at home work on her projects and maybe get started on a new book.

“Well why not? What do we have to lose?” Spike persisted.

“I don’t know… what if Trixie or her boyfriend will be there?”

Spike’s tail was not stopping. “Then your friends will be there to tell ‘em off. And you know I’ll bark at anyone that makes you upset!”

Twilight grinned and stroked behind his ears, causing the little dog to go stiff and start kicking his back leg. “Yeah, you’re very ferocious.”

When Twilight stopped (much too soon in Spike’s opinion) the two lay there in comfortable silence for a while.

“So, we’re going, right?” Spike finally asked.

“Maybe,” Twilight said noncommittally. “I guess we’ll see how I feel later….”

“Twilight, I thought the whole point of you going to CHS was getting out of your comfort zone and making friends. If you wanted to keep spending your days living as a hermit, you should have just stayed at Crystal Prep!”

Grinning again, Twilight said, “You know, I always thought that if I ever reached the point in my life where I was taking advice from a talking dog, it’d be because I’d gone insane….”

“Wait, are you not?”

Twilight’s rebuke was a swift flick of her finger against Spike’s nose, causing the pup to grumble and rub his snout with a paw.

“Well, considering everything that’s been happening in my life lately, maybe I have gone insane,” Twilight said. “And if that’s the case, then the best thing I can do is just run with it!”

The Sugarcube Corner was only marginally busy as Geoff the Boss and two of his compatriots sat down in one of the booths by the side. The only other patrons in the establishment were a few night shift workers getting some coffee before starting their shifts and a group of teenage girls at a table across the way.

Geoff himself had put away his orange jumpsuit in favor of his usual suit and bowtie. He’d also gotten a chance to shave since his escape and his mustache was now immaculately trimmed. With him was Jack, who still wore her Hawaiian shirt, and Gavin was sitting across from him still wearing his eye-concealing aviators.

Gavin put a hand to his ear as Ray said something through his earpiece. The Puerto Rican was watching the area through the scope of his garish pink sniper rifle, hidden on a rooftop across the street.

“Ray says they’re pulling in now, Geoff,” Gavin reported, and Geoff nodded.

The Fake AH Crew had dealings with this group of arms dealers before and hadn’t had any problems with them in the past, but Geoff was a cautious man. Sometimes a little too cautious, as the rest of the crew sometimes made fun of him for going so slowly he might as well have been going backwards.

Right on cue a black sedan with tinted windows pulled into the parking lot outside. Two large men in black jackets stepped out and opened the rear door for another who was similarly dressed. The only differences were this man wore a leather jacket and a pair of large biker boots. Geoff glanced at Jack, and the two shared a knowing look: They both knew who would do the talking. The dark man entered the establishment and made his way over to the crew’s booth.

“Hey, B!” Gavin greeted, standing up to give the other man a handshake-hug.

Blackthorn was a friend of Gavin’s back when they were both in the English army together. Back when Gavin was known by his birth name White Hawk.

“How’s it goin’, little Hawk?” Blackthorn asked in a similar British accent to Gavin’s own.

“Not bad, B. Met a bird the other week down at the pub.”

“Oh yeah? You jeb her?”

“Yeah, B, her fibble was bloody scrotised!”

“Gave her the ol’ knob and bob? Nice. Was it a wafty minge?”

Geoff had no idea what the two were saying, other than it was probably vulgar. However that wasn’t what bothered him about their conversation.

“Do you think you guys’ll speak a real language at some point this evening? Jesus!” he exclaimed.

Just like that, the two Englishmen adopted a much more business-like demeanor and cleared their throats as they sat in the booth across from Geoff and Jack.

“So, Geoff. I see it’s true, then,” Blackthorn said, removing his sunglasses. “Congratulations on your escape.”

“Thanks,” Geoff said.

“But I imagine Jack and Gavin didn’t call me all the way out to this quiet burg just celebrate your return.”

“You know me too well, Blackie,” Geoff said, leaning forward. “How’s business been since the Funhaus Gang took over?”

Blackthorn scowled. “Those limey gits don’t pay me nearly enough for my services. I think they got someone else selling them weapons.”

Geoff had heard as much, of course, and even knew who the Funhaus Gang was getting their weapons from thanks to his own sources.

“Ready to do business with respectable clients again?” Geoff asked.

“You still owe me for the last bit of merchandise I lent you,” Blackthorn was quick to say. “That Rhino I saw steamrolling cop cars on the Los Santos News wasn’t cheap, you know.”

Jack decided it was her time to step in with her patented temperance. “I know we promised to pay you after our Humane Labs heist was finished, but we hit a little snag.”

“Yeah, your boss ‘got Got’,” Blackthorn said, air quotes and all. “But now he’s back.”

“The real problem was that our take from the heist went missing shortly after, and is still missing now. We’re looking for it, but we don’t have the resources we once did,” Jack explained. “Our information network is a shadow of its former self.”

“But if we take back some of our territory from the Funhaus Gang, we’ll be in a position to track it down,” Geoff explained. He and Jack always worked well as a team, and pitches like this one were one of the many skills they shared. “All we need is the manpower to do it.”

“Which, of course, is where your extra weapons and manpower comes in,” Jack finished. “Think of it as making a very prudent investment in a stock that can only go up.”

Blackthorn looked at them skeptically. “I can’t run a business on promises, Jack.”

“B, how long have we known each other?” Gavin asked. “Years, right? And at what point during those years have my boys here ever gone back on a promise?”

Blackthorn shook his head. “That’s not enough.”

Gavin bounced anxiously in his seat. “But, B….”

Geoff raised a hand to silence him. “How much do we owe you for the tank?”

“Considering the five-hundred thou deposit you put on it already…” Blackthorn said thoughtfully. “One million.”

Gavin opened his mouth to respond, and the drink he had forgotten to swallow spilled onto the table in front of Jack, who gave the spill a mildly shocked look.

“Goddamn dude, you’re a mess,” Jack said.

“I was flummoxed!”

“If we can get you your money, and you help us take back Los Santos, we can make you a partner,” Geoff said, ignoring Gavin in favor of giving Blackthorn his best pitch face. “This means you would get a percentage of all of our profits in all of our business ventures.”

Blackthorn tried to keep up his poker face, but the slight twitch of his eyebrows betrayed his intrigue. It was no lie that the Fake AH Crew’s various businesses, legitimate and otherwise, had been incredibly lucrative at their peak. Technically, Geoff and his crew didn’t even need to do any more heists after their first couple. By that point they’d had enough money to get into the drug trafficking trade and filled the void left by the Vagos and the Lost MC.

“Get me my money first, then we can start talking about partnership,” Blackthorn said, standing up. “If you have the money, we can meet again in a few days to settle up. There’s a bar in this area called ‘the Crev.’ We’ll make the exchange there.”

“You’re a prudent man, Blackthorn. You won’t regret becoming a part of our family!”

Jack looked over at Geoff. “If he’s going to be an official member, he’s going to need a callsign.”

All too familiar with the idiosyncrasy of the Fake AH Crew’s callsigns, Blackthorn spoke up. “As far as old fashioned names go, I’ve always been fond of Dan myself.”

“Dan the Man. I like it.”

Blackthorn nodded. “Right. Now, if I’m going to be spending more time in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere, I might as well meet a decent bird. Cheers, boys!”

And with that, Blackthorn - now also known as Dan - put his sunglasses back on and exited the establishment. As soon as he was gone, Jack turned to face Geoff, dropping her calm indifferent mask to show mild concern.

“Geoff, I know you’ve been in prison for a little while but we don’t have the cash we used to have, man.”

“She says when we’re living on an eight million dollar yacht,” Gavin muttered, but not quietly enough.

“We can’t sell the yacht, that’s our hideout!” Geoff hissed.

“To be fair, there are plenty of other places we could use as a temporary hideout,” Jack said. “I think Michael told me there’s a pretty good warehouse district that had some abandoned-looking places.”

“C’mon, what are we, plebs? The S.S Boner is one of the only luxuries we have left, and I’m not giving it up!” Geoff argued. Besides, Geoff had heard about those same warehouses from Michael, who also told him he’d seen some very suspicious people around there. People too high-end for just a local gang. Geoff didn’t want to get involved with whatever might have been going on there.

“We can always sell whatever souped-up supercars we have left,” Jack mused. “But even that might not be enough….”

“That’s why I want you to call the Wonder Twins over here tonight so they can start looking for leads tomorrow,” Geoff said, looking at Gavin. The man nodded, his large sunglasses hiding this rare moment of comprehension.

Jack also figured out what her boss was getting at. “Leads? No way, Geoff. We’re here to keep a low profile, remember?” she said.

Geoff’s retort was briefly interrupted by one of the girls at the table across the restaurant screaming at the top of her lungs. Fuckin’ kids….

“We didn’t make it big the first time without taking a few risks, did we, Jack?” Geoff asked, ignoring the outburst. “Besides, once we have Blackthorn on our side, we’ll be one step closer to finding that missing data. And once we get our payout from that, we’ll be unstoppable….”

Sunset Shimmer could feel the strange object in her jacket pocket as she approached the front entrance of the Sugarcube Corner. She hadn’t given the shiny blocky object a second thought since first picking it up, but for some reason at that moment—as she removed the earbuds from her ears and had a few moments with nothing but her thoughts as she approached her destination—she found herself remembering it again. Sunset allowed herself to forget about it once more as she entered the Corner, passing a man in sunglasses and a dark leather jacket on his way out. She quickly spotted her friends at a table near the back.

A pair of frantically waving arms erupted from the table, and Pinkie Pie tried to call out to her around a mouthful of donuts. The establishment was relatively empty, the only other filled booth being occupied by a group of three adults—two well-dressed men and a woman wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

“Hi, Sunny,” Fluttershy said, being the first to greet her as she arrived at the table. The other girls followed suit as Sunset sat down.

“Is Twi comin’?” Applejack asked hopefully.

Sunset could feel the disappointed frown forming on her face. “Sorry girls, but you know she had a rough day today. If she’s not already here….”

“Than she’s probably only a few seconds behind you!”

Startled, Sunset looked over her shoulder to find Twilight Sparkle standing there, giving the table a shy grin. She was holding a small, familiar dog with purple fur in her arms.

“I tried calling out when I saw you, but you seemed distracted,” Twilight said as she pulled over a chair from a nearby empty table and sat down.

“Plus you were wearing those things in your ears that makes humans ignore you!” Spike exclaimed, sitting happily in Twilight’s lap. Sunset noticed the slightly alarmed look on Twilight’s face as she did a quick scan of the restaurant, but she seemed to relax once she realized there was no one close enough to notice a talking dog.

“Aw, I always forget how precious you are, Spikey-wikey!” Rarity cooed, picking the little dog up and moving him to her own lap.

For his part, Spike seemed perfectly happy with this development, looking at her with his tail wagging. “Well, not as precious as you, Rarity…” Spike sighed. “Got any treats?”

Rarity glanced over at Fluttershy, who gave a good-natured roll of her eyes as she produced a dog biscuit from one of the many compartments in her bag. Rarity gave him the biscuit and Spike happily devoured it.

“Who’s a good boy?” she asked.

Spike gave her a mildly curious look. “I dunno. Who?”

“Who’s a good boy?”

“I dunno, why’re you asking me?”


Spike whined. “I dunno, please tell me, Rarity!”

“You are!”

“...!!!” Spike gasped, eyes widening and tail going into overdrive. “You just blew my mind….”

Sunset couldn’t help but giggle at the scene before turning to Twilight and adopting a more serious look. “Feeling any better, Twilight?”

“A little,” she answered. “I guess that’s one reason I’m here: To get my mind off of today.”

Pinkie Pie suddenly leaned across the table and looked at Twilight with wide eyes. “You should totally try the Super Double-Chocolate Sundae Supreme! It takes my mind off of stuff so much that it really hurts sometimes!”

Sunset noticed Pinkie appeared to have that very product on the table in front of her now.

“Pretty sure that’s called ‘brainfreeze,’ Pinkie,” Applejack said. “And it typically means you should slow down.”

“Pfft! I’ll drink as fast as I want!” Pinkie said before doing exactly that. Putting the straw in her mouth, the hyperactive girl took a huge, unrestrained slurp of the sundae in front of her. This was immediately followed by an ear-piercing scream as she clutched her head and bounced uncomfortably in place.

“Told ya.”

Sunset took a brief look around the restaurant, ready to apologize to the other patrons, but the only other group she’d seen coming in appeared to be resolutely ignoring the outburst. It did, however, draw the attention of one of the proprietors, a portly, but nice middle-aged woman Sunset knew as Mrs. Cake. Her arrival was well-timed, as after they explained to her that their friend was just overreacting to a brainfreeze, Sunset and Twilight were able to make orders for themselves.

“I’ll have what she’s having,” Twilight said dryly, nodding at Pinkie Pie.

The group of girls couldn’t keep themselves from giggling after Mrs. Cake left to get their orders.

“So, Twilight…” Rarity said once the giggles subsided. “When are you going to tell us about this boy you’ve been seeing?”

Twilight gave her a genuinely puzzled look. “Boy? What boy?”

“C’mon, you know who we’re talking about,” Rainbow Dash said, giving the awkward girl a lecherous grin. “Dusky What’s-his-face.”

“Word is you two are absolutely adorable together!” Rarity exclaimed.

“What? No! No, it’s nothing like that,” Twilight protested, even as her face turned beet red.

“I mean, he’s not my type,” Rainbow said. “He’s actually a little weird if you ask me, but you like who you like. Ain’t nothing wrong with that!”

The other girls nodded while Twilight shook her head and waved her hands. “No nononono. I mean, I don’t disagree with, uh, the principle of what you said, but Dusky’s just a friend. He’s new and seemed alone and I empathised with that, so I decided to show him a little kindness. And he’s not weird... I mean, he is, but he’s also actually pretty nice. And smart, too.”

“Well, I for one think it’s great that you’ve made a new friend,” Sunset said, trying to save the poor girl from further teasing. “You should see if he wants to come to Countess Coloratura’s event tomorrow.”

“Yeah, maybe I will,” Twilight said, before following up with a question, “Wait, the what event?”

“Oh, you haven’t heard? Countess Coloratura is doing a record signing tomorrow afternoon at Blue Note’s,” Rarity explained while Fluttershy nodded along. “It’s part of her campaign to raise money and awareness for record stores and small businesses.”

“Ain’t surprised you haven’t heard about it,” Applejack added. “Since Coloratura actually grew up here, she’s makin’ this event very low-key: No press or anythin’.”

“AJ, are you gonna try to convince us that you used to know Countess Coloratura when you were kids again?” Rainbow asked.

Applejack gave Rainbow a deadpan stare, and was about to reply when Twilight decided to ask the next question on her mind: “And, uh, who’s Countess Coloratura?”

Suddenly all sound in the diner stopped as everyone at the table stared dumbstruck at Twilight. Even Mrs. Cake, who was approaching with their orders, seemed shocked. Sunset was certain that if a pin were to drop, she would have no trouble hearing it, and that wasn’t just because of her somewhat more sensitive pony hearing. A plate dropping to the floor in the back kitchen seemed like a gunshot.

WHAAAAT?!” And yet Pinkie Pie’s voice was even louder. “YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF COUNTESS COLORATURA?!

“WHO’S NEVER HEARD OF COUNTESS COLORATURA?” an older man’s voice cracked.

The girls all looked towards the front of the restaurant to see the other group of patrons by the door. The three appeared to have just been on their way out but were now looking over at the table of teenage girls, the man in the suit wearing an expression bordering on horror.

“Uh… me?” Twilight answered.

The man in the suit with the big black mustache sputtered incoherently for a few moments before saying, “But how?! She’s the greatest pop artist of our generation! You must have heard her music: The Spectacle?”

“Um, I don’t know. I might have heard it. I’m not exactly big on the popular music scene...” Twilight started, but couldn’t get any further than that as the man then decided to demonstrate by actually singing the song. At least, that’s what it seemed like he was trying to do. Unfortunately, it was clear the mustachioed man had no clue how to actually sing, and was more just screaming the words in a high-pitched voice at the top of his lungs.

TIME FOR THE SPECTACLE!” he shouted, and the woman in the Hawaiian shirt and the younger man in blue joined in. “TIME FOR THE SHOW!


Somehow, each one of them were exactly as inept at singing as he was, screaming the lyrics out in ridiculous high-pitched voices.

I’m not just anybody. I THINK YOU KNOOOOOOW!

And just like that, the absurd serenade was over. Pinkie Pie cheered loudly and clapped her hands, demanding an encore even as the others gave her discreet head shakes.

“It’s a great song, right?” the mustached man asked.

“It’s a great song, but was it worth looking like a bunch of lunatics?” the man in blue beside him asked with what Sunset noted was a very British accent.

“So yeah, Coloratura is great. Stay in school, don’t do drugs,” the woman said to the group of girls as she led the her two companions out to where a man in a brown leather jacket was waiting in the parking lot.

The instant they were gone, the table of teenagers erupted with laughter.

“Forget the Rainbooms,” Twilight snickered. “I want to join their band!”

The next day, Twilight found herself taking the bus to school. It was a lonely ride, as she was the only one of her friends who lived in the downtown Canterlot area. She didn’t even have Spike with her, as she still needed to get permission from the principal to bring him to school. Lonely as the ride was, Twilight was used to it. Nevertheless, when a familiar face stepped onto the bus, Twilight was glad for the company.

“Hey, Dusky!” she called out, waving at the somewhat short, orange-haired boy and inviting him to take the seat beside her.

But when Dusky turned to face her, Twilight’s joy fell away. The boy’s pudgy face was swollen on his right side, with a bruise right beneath his eye.

“Hey, Twilight. You okay?” And yet his concern was entirely focused on her as he took her up on her offer. “I, uh… I saw what happened between you and that Trixie girl.”

“I’m fine, but what about you? That looks really nasty,” she said, reaching to touch his face without even thinking.

Dusky winced and gently nudged her hand away. “Yeah, it’s still kind of tender.”

“What happened?”

The boy gave her a lopsided nervous grin that was, admittedly, pretty cute. “I may have… sorta-kinda picked a fight with Curly Winds.”

It took a few moments for the name to register in Twilight’s memory. “Trixie’s boyfriend? Why?”

“I don’t know, it all happened so fast…” Dusky sighed. “I-I saw them picking on you, and I just got mad. I think I only meant to talk to ‘em and tell them what’s what, but things kind of got out of hand.”

Twilight didn’t even realize she was holding a hand to her chest until Dusky was finished. She wasted no time in correcting that and straightening up.

“Well, I appreciate you sticking up for me, Dusky. I really do. But do you think you could maybe just… not next time?” Twilight pleaded, and then without thinking, added, “The last thing I need is someone else getting hurt because of me.”

Immediately, Twilight closed her mouth, wishing she could pull her words back in just as easily. Dusky looked at her curiously.

“Did something happen between you and them?” he asked. “That girl Trixie said some strange things about you.”

Twilight’s heart started to race anxiously as he continued, “She… she called you a menace. A monster.”

Wincing slightly, Twilight looked away. “Let’s just say there was an… accident during the Friendship Games a week ago. People got hurt, and I was mostly to blame.” She saw Dusky’s curious look out of the corner of her eye and looked down at her shoes. “I don’t really want to talk about it….”

Dusky raised a hand and for a moment seemed to struggle with some internal decision before finally letting it rest on her shoulder. “For what it’s worth, you don’t seem like a monster to me.”

Twilight allowed herself to smile, even as she realized with a certain amount of despair the true reason she enjoyed Dusky’s company so much: He was the only one at the entire school who didn’t know about her. The only one who hadn’t seen Midnight Sparkle.

The sound of a strange car horn playing part of some song sounded out just then, and the bus honked its own horn as it was nearly cut off while pulling up to a bus stop. As the bus rolled to a stop and opened its doors, Dusky looked at the window. His eyes went wide for a brief moment before he muttered a curse and ducked.

“What? What do you see?” Twilight asked, turning to look out the window herself and expecting to see Trixie or her boyfriend waiting to get on.

A moderately large crowd of morning commuters stood waiting to board, but Twilight didn’t see Trixie or Curly Winds out there with them. It took her a few moments to find Trixie’s two friends among the crowd - at least, two girls that looked like Trixie’s friends. Twilight honestly couldn’t remember them that well, but she was sure it was them. She couldn’t imagine any of the others out there would elicit such a response from Dusky.

“Don’t worry, they won’t bother us. I’m sure they won’t even notice we’re here,” Twilight said.

Taking another glance out the window at the boarding passengers, Twilight spotted a familiar well-styled head of purple hair among the crowd.

“Hey, it’s Rarity!” she exclaimed with a wide grin. She then took a closer look at the scene. “Who’s she talking to?”

Covering her mouth with a hand, Rarity giggled at the joke told by the man waiting beside her at the bus stop.

“The pop-up ad said: ‘Sad at your job at the can crushing factory?’” he had asked, the cheekiness audible in his voice. “‘Visit www.myjobissodapressing.com.’”

It started when the relatively short man complimented the Sapphire Shores paraphernalia on her backpack. Rarity had proudly proclaimed that she’d gone to almost all of her North American concerts, and had gotten the exclusive button for each one.

“And I thought I had no life…” the second man said around a mouthful of chips, resulting in the shorter one to casually knock the miniature bag out of his hands.

The two of them had built up a friendly rapport from that, talking about their favorite music with a number of website related puns thrown in. The man was short—Rarity herself wasn’t exactly a tall girl, but the man’s orange tinted sunglasses were about an inch below her eyes. Rarity also couldn’t help but notice he was pretty beefy, and likely had some well-toned muscles beneath his orange shirt and purple sports jacket. His head was covered by a white cowboy hat even bigger than Applejack’s, and he seemed to consistently wear the grin of a loveable rogue.

His friend, on the other hand, was incredibly different. Tall and lanky, the man wore a baggy red sweater and jeans. He had a short scraggly beard which along with his long, flowing auburn hair made him slightly resemble the popular depiction of Christ. He proceeded to disinterestedly eat out of another mini-bag of chips he’d quickly replaced the other one with, clearly wishing to be anywhere else.

“So, you’re a big fan of Sapphire Shores,” the shorter man said. “Tell me, you a fan of Countess Coloratura?”

Rarity’s eyes lit up and she giggled some more. “Is the sky blue, darling?”

“Sometimes…” the other man muttered.

“I’m something of a fan of the Countess myself,” the shorter man said, crossing his meaty arms. “I heard a rumor that she’s doing an event here or something?”

Rarity nodded. “Why yes, a record signing actually. Part of her fundraising tour to raise money for small businesses in the music industry, especially since traditional CDs are going the way of the dodo, unfortunately. I hear there even might be an auction of sorts for rare collector’s items!”

“Hmm, it’s weird that I haven’t seen anything about this event on any of her social media.”

“Well, because she grew up here, she doesn’t want a lot of press around for it. Just her and the fans. So she let it spread by word of mouth.” Rarity straightened up proudly as she said, “I’m always keeping my ear to the ground when it comes to my favorite artists, and my family happens to know some people in the industry who knows some people on Coloratura’s staff, so….”

Rarity let the sentence trail off there, and the short man grinned. “Pretty cool. So you said this was part of her charity tour? Think her people will have the rest of the tour’s proceeds with ‘em?”

Putting a hand to her chin, Rarity “hmmed” and said, “From what I’ve been told, that’s usually how her people does things. Why?”

“Oh, no reason,” the man shrugged. “Just a curious Coloratura fan.”

It was then that the lankier man with him tapped him on the shoulder. “Dude, ride’s here.”

Rarity thought he meant the bus at first, and a glance down the street confirmed that the bus was indeed approaching. But then Rarity heard a sound that surprised her. It sounded like the first several notes from Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but played on a car horn. The bus’ own horn sounded as a black and green car swerved in front of it, pulling up to the curb just ahead of the bus stop.

Not being a car person, Rarity had no way of knowing that what she was looking at was a 1920 Albany Roosevelt. All she knew was that it was old. Well, maybe old wasn’t the right word. Vintage. The car was clean and shiny, looking like it was fresh off of the factory floor, albeit of a prohibition era factory. Clearly its owner strongly believed in keeping it authentic.

“Welp, that’s us,” the short man said, removing his large hat and dipping his head at Rarity. He had appropriately short hair, and although the sides of it were a dark onyx color, the hair on the top of his head was green like a grassy plain. “Thanks for the conversation, Miss…?”

His hesitation reminded Rarity that she hadn’t even properly introduced herself the entire time they had been talking. Honestly, Rarity. A lady should know better!

“Rarity,” she said, before realizing the little faux-pas extended both ways. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe I got your name, either.”

The man put his cowboy hat on and tipped it in her direction. “I am Monster Truck.”

Rarity smiled. “It was very nice to meet you, Monster Truck.”

Monster Truck’s taller companion nudged his shoulder. “Hey, you comin’, Romeo?”

Rarity then realized that the bus was already stopped and people had been starting to board. She quickly but elegantly stepped on, payed her fare, and in no time spotted Twilight sitting next to that strange boy she had befriended.

Meanwhile, Monster Truck hopped into the Roosevelt with his lanky companion. Once inside the fine leather interior outfitted with various modern conveniences in the otherwise old-fashioned car, he was able to shed the name he had used all his life for the new name he’d made for himself with the Fake AH Crew.

“Get any good intel, Li'l J?” Gavin asked from the driver’s seat. As usual, he was wearing his aviator sunglasses and his blue hair was spiked to perfection.

“Pretty good,” Jeremy answered, gesturing to his partner.

“We’ve confirmed that Countess Coloratura’s event is indeed happening at Blue Note’s Music Emporium,” Matt explained. “Which I could’ve just told you if anyone ever listened to me….”

“Additionally, multiple people including the girl I just talked to confirmed that Coloratura’s people are indeed keeping all of the proceeds from the tour on them,” Jeremy continued, tactfully ignoring his partner. “About one-hundred and seventy five thousand.”

Gavin grinned as he returned his focus to the road. “Top.”

“EEEEEY HEIST!” Gavin proclaimed a few hours later.

He was standing at the head of the table in the main conference room on board the S.S. Boner with the other five leading members of the Fake AH Crew sitting around the table before him. All of them gave a resounding “EEEeeeeey” of varying degrees of enthusiasm in response, as was tradition.

“Right, so Li’l J and Matt recently provided us with some tippy-top information about a promising take right here in Canterwot or whatever,” Gavin explained. “Now, you might all be wondering: Why would I lead a heist? What skills do I have?” The others all nodded, and so Gavin continued. “Well, let me tell you. I have… confusion, and disorientation.”

“There’s medicine for that,” Jack snarked, and beside her Ray and Michael snickered.

Geoff stood just behind them, his arms folded and a stern look on his face. Gavin knew that his boss believed in him, but the uncompromising eyes above that mustache reminded the young Brit that failure in the big leagues was unacceptable. Ryan stood a few feet away from the door, his face an unreadable mask—literally. Gavin still didn’t know why Ryan kept wearing his famous skull mask in the depths of their own hideout.

“Right! So the place we’re hitting is a music shop called Blue Note’s. I’ve already taken the liberty of scoping it out,” Gavin said, reaching into the dossier folder in his hand to pull out the pictures he’d taken earlier that morning.

Gavin posted the first photo of their target to the whiteboard behind him, and right away the other members of the crew noticed something was off.

“Why the hell are you in the photo?” Ray asked, scratching his head under his beanie.

Sure enough, the photo of their target happened to have Gavin in the foreground, appearing to be holding the phone himself, and waving at the camera while the supposed subject of the photo was across the street just behind him.

“This is the store we’re gonna hit,” Gavin explained, paying no attention to Ray’s perfectly reasonable question as he posted up another photo of the target. This one showed what could only have been a rear entrance in an alleyway just behind the building… and Gavin making a weird, petrified-looking wide-eyed face in the foreground.

“So… we’re going to have to burn these photos and you when we’re finished with this heist, right?” Ryan asked in his deep, quiet voice.

“You do realize you can use the camera on the front of your phone too, right?!” Michael yelled, making frustrated gesticulations.

“Look, if you see a guy going around taking photos of a place… pretty suspicious, right?” Gavin asked. “But a guy going around taking selfies? Just a normal occurrence, innit?”

“God, I hate your generation…” Geoff muttered with a sigh.

“Right, so I’ve devised a plan to steal Coloratura’s charity money using nothing but cheap disguises and equipment we already have from previous heists,” Gavin explained, gesturing to a list he’d written on the whiteboard. Some of the items included a cell phone jammer and a phone line jack. “The only thing we don’t have that we need is a fire truck….”

A knock on the door interrupted the rest of Gavin’s explanation, and Ryan turned to open it. Lindsay poked her red head into the room with a look of slight concern.

“Boss, we’ve got our employer on the line,” she said. “He’s requesting a video conference immediately.”

“Wait, you mean…?” Geoff asked.

Lindsay just nodded and Geoff sighed. “Alright, let’s put him on.”

A few minutes later a laptop was set up at the end of the table with Geoff the Boss sitting opposite to it. In short order a dark older man appeared on screen, well dressed in a black suit and tie, and sporting dark red hair separated by streaks of gray.

“Hey, Mr. Clupea,” Geoff greeted. “Long time no video chat.”

Geoff and his crew had never actually met Smoked Clupea in person. Their mysterious employer for the Humane Labs job months ago only ever contacted them by phone or video conference. The company Clupea represented, Glamorie Industries, was by all outward appearances a manufacturer of perfume and cosmetics. Of course, so was Humane Labs, and considering the kind of projects that they actually worked on, it seemed likely that Glamorie also performed research in a similar field. At least, it made sense considering their willingness to hire a notorious criminal enterprise for something as simple as industrial espionage.

“Mr. Ramsey. Back in the land of the living I see,” Clupea said in a stilted, almost robotic tone. “If I had to guess, you’re now trying to put the pieces of your crumbled empire back together.”

Geoff straightened his tie as he tried to maintain a calm demeanor. Dealing with Smoked Clupea always set him and his crew ill at ease. Something about the way he seemed to know way too much about them while Geoff in turn knew next to nothing about him or his organization didn’t sit well with him.

“Maybe. Not sure why you or Glamorie Industries gives a damn.”

“The other gangs that have risen in your place have proven to be… insufficient to our purposes.”

So Glamorie had been trying to hire the Funhaus gang and some of the others now fighting for control of Los Santos.

“Mr. Clupea, I told you time and again, if you’re looking for quality of service, than look no further than the Fake AH Crew!”

“So you have,” Clupea said, giving Geoff a dismissive glare he did not care for. “And yet you’ve been no more successful at retrieving that research data than your peers.”

“Uh, except we actually succeeded in our Humane Labs raid,” Michael stated, habitually cracking his knuckles. “If shit hadn’t gone south at the end, we would still have….”

Geoff calmly raised a hand, and his associate wisely silenced himself. “We think we can track down the missing data, but we need more time to get our own affairs straight first. Just give us a little more time. Uh… a week! We’ll have that data, and your company can catch up with its competition.”

Traces of a smile finally formed across Clupea’s face. “Good. Despite this setback, Glamorie Industries is willing to pay the original agreed upon amount in full."

Geoff raised an eyebrow: He certainly hadn’t been expecting that. “Fifteen million dollars all for a bit of research data,” he mused. “Whatever’s on that drive must be pretty important….”

The dark man on the laptop screen nodded. “Indeed. If our information is to be believed, Humane Labs has recently opened up an entire new world of possibility. No price is too great to join a new age….”

Sunset Shimmer sighed as she took a seat in front of the monitor. As a pony who had already gone through all of her standard schooling in Equestria, most of the subjects she studied at Canterlot High were ones she’d already learned as a filly… except Computer Sciences. So it was a cruel twist of fate that the teacher for the one class Sunset was genuinely interested in could not care less about actually teaching.

Sure enough, Mr. Flask—a somewhat obese older man with gray hair—came staggering in ten minutes late with a fedora and a pair of sunglasses covering his eyes. Sunset could tell the man was once again hung over by the way he immediately shut the blinds before slowly lowering himself into the seat behind his desk, wincing as if the action was causing him great pain. Looking around her, Sunset could see that those students who had bothered showing up were either scrolling through social media or playing Counterstrike.

“Seriously, how does this guy still have a job?” Sunset muttered, glancing at her friends. Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity were at the computers beside her while Fluttershy, Applejack, and Twilight were in a Global Studies class down the hall.

“Teachers’ unions,” Rainbow Dash casually answered as if that explained everything, not taking an eye off her monitor. She then let out a silent “Yes! Suck it!” as a soldier was blown away on her screen.

Sunset thought for sure Mr. Flask would have been fired after hearing rumors of how he was blatantly drunk during parent-teacher interviews last month, and that they would finally get someone who would actually teach the course material, but alas. Perhaps this was just another way the universe was punishing her for her past misdeeds. Indeed, if Sunset had known how to use a program like Photoshop when she’d attempted to frame Princess Twilight, it would have been that much harder for Flash to have proved her innocent.

“Derpy? You’re on OkCadance?” Rarity’s voice brought Sunset out of her thoughts, and she turned to see the young fashionista talking to a blonde girl that Sunset regrettably remembered bullying for her wall-eyes. She had what looked like some sort of dating website on her own screen, and was chatting with someone.

Derpy looked over at Rarity sheepishly. “I know what you’re thinking, but I’m not actually planning on hooking up with anybody or anything,” she said. “It’s just… it’s nice to know there are people out there who find me attractive, y’know?”

Sunset winced. She knew that her bullying had likely caused poor Derpy all kinds of unneeded self-esteem issues, and although she had apologized to her after the Fall Formal, Sunset doubted Derpy had simply gotten over those issues overnight.

“Hey Derpy,” Sunset said carefully, moving closer to the wall-eyed girl. “Just… be careful, okay? I don’t want some predator to find out where you live or something.”

Derpy gave her a smile, but something about it looked hollow. “Thanks Sunset, but I’m fine. I’ve already hacked the site and hid my IP behind several fake ones. I’m good.”

It had been only after she’d made peace with Derpy that Sunset learned the girl was actually a genius hacker and all around computer whiz.

“Hey Sunny, do you have a pen?” Pinkie’s high-pitched voice pulled Sunset away from the conversation with Derpy. She found Pinkie practically gyrating in her seat, looking at Sunset expectantly.

“What happened to the one I gave you last period?” Sunset asked.

“I’unno!” Pinkie coughed into her hand, and for a moment Sunset thought she saw blue ink on the girl’s palm as she pulled it away from her mouth.

“Just try not to lose this one, okay?” Sunset said as she opened her bag and reached in to feel through the assorted mess of books, paper and random supplies for her pen. She had to reach deep to find it, and as she pulled it out a plethora of other junk fell out onto the floor. I should really organize this stuff, Sunset thought.

“Here,” Sunset offered the pen to Pinkie, but the girl’s attention was focused entirely on something on the floor by Sunset’s feet.

“What’s that?” she asked.

Sunset looked down and saw the familiar shape of five cubes stacked on top of each other, one black and the others shiny and yellow like gold. Somehow, the thing had landed on the floor standing up, looking like a gold tower with an obsidian base. Rainbow Dash looked away from her game to stare at the tiny tower on the floor, and Rarity hesitated in her conversation with Derpy as she too looked at the strange object. Sunset had to admit, something about it had an almost alluring quality. The object seemed to promise great things and more, which Sunset thought sounded hilariously vague.

“I don’t know,” Sunset admitted, picking it up and looking at it. “I found it the other day. I was planning on taking it to lost and found, but I guess I forgot.”

Pinkie extended a hand and made an urgent grabby motion. Seeing no harm in it, Sunset passed the strange object to Pinkie and the poofy-haired girl studied it with the intensity of a detective investigating a critical piece of evidence. Rainbow Dash moved to lean over her shoulder.

“It looks like some kinda pimped out tower,” she said, putting a hand to her chin. “Now, what would you call that…?”

“You think it’s real gold?” Rarity asked.

“Why would it be real gold?” Sunset asked, even though the idea certainly piqued her curiosity. If it was real, then it was probably worth a lot of money.

“Only one way to find out!” Pinkie Pie proclaimed. She then proceeded to put the object in her mouth gold end first and started gently but persistently biting down on it.

“Pinkie, do you even know how to identify gold by doing that?” Sunset asked, already knowing the answer.

“It’ll probly tathte like gold,” Pinkie said as she continued nibbling.

She quickly changed tactics and started sucking on it like a lollipop, and Sunset started to grow concerned as the little tower started slowly being pulled deeper into her mouth. Soon, the dark obsidian-like base was all that was visible, and all at once the recent image of Pinkie coughing up what looked like ink entered Sunset’s mind.

“Alright Pinkie, that’s enough,” Sunset said, reaching over to retrieve the object before the girl could choke on it.

Sunset grabbed the dark cube and pulled, but Pinkie bared her teeth and growled, and the object didn’t budge.

“Pinkie, I’m serious. Drop it,” Sunset ordered, pulling harder. The other girls giggled as Pinkie continued to hold on, growling. “Drop it… drop it… drop….”

Sunset heard a faint snap as a piece of the object came off with another sharp yank. She looked down at her hand and saw only the dark cube making up the base. Sunset rolled her eyes.

“Great. We broke it.”

Ptthoo!” Pinkie spat the other, much larger piece of the object from her mouth as Sunset continued to look down at hers.

Oddly enough, the small dark cube was concave on one side, and kind of looked like a lid or a cap of some kind. Maybe we didn’t break it after all. But why would…?

A gasp and a high-pitched exclamation of “WHAT IN THE WHAT?!” interrupted Sunset’s train of thought.

“Lower your voice, Ms. Pie,” Mr. Flask groaned from his desk at the front of the classroom.

“Sorry Mr. Flask!” Pinkie said at a much more reasonable volume.

Sunset was about to ask what had prompted Pinkie’s reaction when she looked at the rest of the tower that had so recently occupied her mouth. Where the dark obsidian-like base had been was a small metal protrusion. One Sunset recognized despite her relative lack of computer knowledge.

“Is that a… USB drive?” she asked.

Indeed, the little metal bit sticking out of the tiny tower’s base was shaped to fit into a USB port.

“That thing was a hidden drive all along?” Rarity asked as she and Rainbow moved closer. Even Derpy shifted her attention from her online conversation to the mysterious miniature drive.

“Where did you say you found this, Sunset dear?” Rarity asked.

“Just the floor by Twilight’s locker,” Sunset said. “Wonder what’s on it….”

“Only one way to find out!” Pinkie exclaimed, and before the others could say anything, she bent down and tried to insert it into her computer’s USB port. “Oops,” she muttered as the drive didn’t go in. Pinkie turned it over and tried again. “Darn it!”

After turning the USB stick over a few more times, Pinkie finally managed to insert the drive into her computer. A few moments later a new icon appeared on the screen labelled “FAHC”. Pinkie clicked it eagerly and a red, blue, and yellow logo appeared, and beside it the words Humane Labs and Research.

“Humane Labs?” Rarity said.

“You know what this is?” Sunset asked.

“Not exactly. I’ve just seen the name on some of my perfume bottles.”

The sound of Pinkie’s rapid clicking on the mouse prevailed, but all the screen showed was a pop-up window with a seemingly random jumble of letters and numbers.

“Huh. It’s not letting me in,” Pinkie said as she kept fruitlessly clicking. “C’mon, Mr. File! Pretty please?”

“It’s encrypted,” another voice said, and Derpy rolled closer in her chair. “Move.”

Pinkie obliged, and Derpy parked in her place and started typing like she was a machine herself. “Looks like a basic Triple DES. Pretty outdated, but it’s still sometimes used to encrypt government files. Hold on, I have a few programs I can use to brute-force it.”

“W-wait, w-why are we hacking into the mysterious hidden drive with government encryption?” Rarity asked, looking around nervously as Derpy grabbed her bag and started pulling out external hard drives and hooking them up.

“It’s cool?” Rainbow Dash asked with a casual shrug. “We could be in a spy movie!”

“Rarity’s right, we have no idea what this is,” Sunset said. “Maybe we shouldn’t.”

“I think we should,” Pinkie stated with uncharacteristic seriousness. When the others looked at her for an explanation, Pinkie just said, “Look, I don’t know what this is, but I just have a feeling about it. Like… there’s something here we’re supposed to see.”

The girl shrugged and her more characteristic silly grin returned. “I don’t know… just call it my ‘Pinkie Sense’, heehee!”

The rest of the girls looked at each other. Sunset couldn’t deny that something about that USB drive seemed to call out to her, and had indeed been doing so ever since she found it. She wasn’t sure whether this was just curiosity or something far less mundane.

She looked at Derpy, who had set up her external drives and was waiting, and nodded. “Do it.”

Nodding back, Derpy typed a few more things and her programs were off. “Hmm, fifty-six bit encryption on three different keys. This shouldn’t take too long.”

And yet most of the period had passed, and they were still waiting for the decryption. The girls had made some small talk in the intervening time, but mostly remained quiet as they preoccupied themselves with their own activities. Sunset couldn’t help but find the whole situation amusing. Here they were, working on hacking into decrypted files like something out of a spy movie, but in the middle of their second period class right under the nose of their hung over teacher.

Finally, Derpy announced, “We’re in,” and the others all gathered around.

The screen now displayed several files. Many of which seemed to display budgetary numbers and quarterly corporate data, but a few stuck out. “Chemical Research” and beside it, “PROJECT: PROSPERO”.

Remembering her studies into Shakespeare, Sunset took the mouse from Derpy and clicked the latter. Two files appeared: “RESEARCH: San Chianski Branch” and “RESEARCH: Canterlot Branch”.

Exchanging an increasingly worried look with the others, Sunset clicked the latter and a myriad of files appeared. Opening a few at random didn’t show the girls much: They were all a series of overly detailed notes, charts and graphs that Sunset couldn’t make sense of without their original context. Then she spotted a file labelled “REPORTS” and opened it. She clicked the most recent file, which was labelled only with the date of six days ago.

Hmm, the day after the Friendship Games ended, Sunset thought to herself as she studied the report.

The first thing she noticed was the recipient email address: director_cognize@iaaserver.com.

“IAA…?” Rarity gasped behind her.

Sunset thought she too had noticed the email address, until she glanced down at the document itself, and saw the blue and yellow round symbol with bits of white and red within it. An eagle’s head sat in profile above a shield with a gold star in its center, flanked by a pair of downward pointing arrows on each side. The circular perimeter contained the words International Affairs Agency, United States of America.

“Wow… I thought this was the work of some amateur hacker,” Derpy said at barely a whisper. “I didn’t know we had actual government data on our hands.” The wall-eyed girl looked at the others with unguarded worry. “Do you have any idea how many laws we’re breaking just by looking at this?!”

Sunset Shimmer ignored her as she started reading through the rest of the report. Her eyes had caught a few words further down the document that gave her more reason to worry than anything Derpy had just said.

Animal testing for Project: PROSPERO continues to be inconclusive. Exposure to the harvested foreign energy appears to result in increased intelligence in most subjects, but additional effects vary widely from subject to subject. Cannot recommend human testing until further progress is made on this front…

Sunset skimmed the next couple of paragraphs, which contained mostly a lot of highly technical gibberish in what she could only guess was an effort to figure out how to get more consistent results with whatever they were testing. However, repeated mention of the “foreign energy” formed a nervous lump in her throat as she started realizing what it could be referring to.

Continued surveillance at the possible origin site of the foreign energy fluctuations has presented us with further significant finds. At eighteen-hundred hours yesterday, a significantly larger than usual fluctuation heralded the appearance of another creature, pictured below. Apart from a few aesthetic differences, this specimen was extremely similar in appearance to the one that appeared six months ago.

Sunset’s heart raced as she read on and the description of the events surrounding the appearance and subsequent disappearance of the “creature” sounded all too familiar. Finally, Sunset scrolled down to see the picture the document mentioned and her racing heart skipped a beat. Behind her, the girls watching over her shoulder gasped.

“What the hell?!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed.

“That’s…” Rarity gasped, unable to finish her thought.

“A really bad photo!” Pinkie exclaimed. “What did they take it with? A potato?”

But it was what was in the photo that had Sunset so worried. “We have to warn Twilight about this as soon as possible!” Sunset exclaimed, looking at the others with wide, serious eyes. “If these people, whoever they are, find out about her….”

Sunset couldn’t finish the sentence, in part because the end of period bell rang, and in part because the implications were too horrifying to contemplate aloud. She turned back to the screen to close out of the document—no, the entire drive—and got another look at the photo.

Pinkie was right about it’s quality: The image was extremely pixelated thanks to what Sunset assumed was an attempt to enlarge it. But the subject of the image was unmistakeable: A dark figure floating against a dark sky clad in various shades of purple, with great black wings and teal energy around its eyes and forming a horn coming out of its forehead.

“Then what?” Pinkie asked. “What does this all mean?”

Sunset closed out of everything and hastily removed the shiny yellow drive from the computer’s USB port.

“Someone is researching the magical phenomena at Canterlot High. Someone working with the IAA… someone who saw what happened to Twilight on the last night of the Friendship Games,” Sunset said, unable to keep the worry from her voice as she looked down at the drive in her hand and remembered with ever growing horror where she’d found it.

“And whoever it is, they’re inside the school’s walls!

Author's Note:

The plot thickens already...

Special thanks to BradtheBrony for editing!