• 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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3 - Gavin's Heist

As Canterlot’s resident low-income district, Shady Hollows was one ugly dump. Everywhere Officer Shining Armor looked, dilapidated buildings stood covered in graffiti. He could tell which ones were actually still in use by which buildings covered their broken windows with wooden boards nailed in place. Groups of young men in baggy clothes avoided eye contact as Shining’s police cruiser drove past, and he was hard-pressed to discern whether the various homeless people around were sleeping or dead.

Soon enough, Shining and his partner arrived at the address they were sent to investigate and the two of them stepped out of their vehicle. A myriad of musty smells assaulted Shining’s nose and based on the way Melati Jasmine’s face crinkled beside him, he figured she noticed it too. Shining knew his day would be interesting when he came into the station that morning and heard that he and Melati would be working Shady Hollows, but he had no way of knowing he would be ending the day with a few wounds, both new and old.

“So this is it, huh?” Melati mused beside him, giving the small apartment complex a once-over. “Yeah, I don’t blame the Fire Department one bit for worrying about the crew they sent here.”

The whole reason Shining and Melati were stopping there was because the Fire Department had contacted the CPD saying that a fire crew they sent to this address in response to an emergency call hadn’t reported back in a couple of hours. A quick glance around the immediate area confirmed no sign of the fire truck. Shining and Melati were only to assess the situation and call in backup if necessary. Even so, he kept his hand near his holster as he and Melati entered the building.

The apartment building’s interior was just as much a mess as the exterior. Old newspapers littered the floor, which creaked under the pair’s weight. The front desk was deserted, and none of the lights were on. Is the building having power issues?

“Hello?” Shining called out as he stepped on some broken glass. “CPD, anyone here?”

The continued silence was his only answer. Melati moved over to the front desk and reached over the top to rummage around. After a few seconds, she asked, “Did the Fire Department ever say whether the 911 call was made by a resident at this address?”

Shining tried to remember the call from Dispatch that sent them here, and shrugged. “You’d have to ask them.”

Melati pulled out a piece of paper and held it up so Shining could see what was clearly a condemnation notice from the Canterlot Health and Safety board.

“Because I don’t think anyone actually lives here anymore,” she said.

It certainly seemed strange that someone would make an emergency call to an abandoned building. It was possible that some passerby saw smoke or something from the outside, but something still didn’t feel right.

“Wait, you hear that?” Melati asked, and the both of them went quiet. Sure enough, Shining heard a faint “thump” sound sound coming from down the hall.

Exchanging some non-verbal words, Shining and Melati crept down the hall until they found what appeared to be the source of the noise. The worn door to apartment number 109 looked back at them, the “thumps” now much louder. Shining knocked on the door and called out to anyone inside, but the only response was more frantic thumps. Exchanging a quick look, the two police officers came to an unspoken agreement and Melati readied her weapon as Shining stepped back. Calling back to his training, Shining put all his force behind a kick that sent the door flying open and his partner stepped in, pistol raised. Upon seeing what was in the room, the woman hesitated and allowed her stance to relax somewhat.

“Pardon my French, but what in the flying fuck is this?

Shining followed her into the room and saw the fire crew they were here to find. Three had their hands and feet bound, and were gagged with gaffer tape, their eyes wide and afraid. The fourth was crumpled in the corner, unmoving. One of the bound firefighters had managed to inch his way to the wall beside the door and had likely started kicking it as soon as he realized the CPD was here. Shining immediately went to the nearest firefighter to unbind him while Melati checked on the motionless one in the corner. Shining had a bad feeling about that one: He noticed what appeared to be blood on the floor.

Removing the tape from the man’s mouth, Shining asked him the obvious question, “What the hell happened?”

“G-got a call to take care of a fire in this building and got jumped,” the man said.

Shining glanced over at Melati, who looked up from the still man on the floor and shook her head sadly before moving to free the other firefighters.

“I know you guys just went through a tough ordeal, but I need you to tell me everything that happened starting from when you arrived,” Shining said gently as he got to work untying the man in front of him.

The man rubbed his wrists with shaking hands before answering, “When we arrived the lady at the front desk pointed us down the hall where the room with the fire was. What looked like the tenant of the room was there too. A Puerto Rican guy by the looks of him. We told them both to get out of the building….”

“Wait, so there are people living here?” Melati asked.

“I’ll admit, I figured the building was abandoned when we got here too,” the man said. “But when I saw those two, I just chalked it up to ‘Shady Hollows’.”

Something definitely didn’t feel right. There was certainly no woman at the front desk when Shining and Melati had arrived, and no one had answered when they announced their presence. And then there was the condemnation notice….

“We entered the room, but we didn’t see any signs of a fire. Place didn’t even look lived in,” the firefighter continued. A cursory glance around the room from Shining confirmed the lack of furniture. “Then before we knew it, a bunch of men came in behind us with masks and guns. Told us to get on our knees and put our hands behind our heads.”

The man rubbed his face with a trembling hand. “And Torrent over there, he… God, he was always hot-headed. He didn’t cooperate. Tried to fight back, so they… they….”

The man was unable to finish, but Shining easily figured out that Torrent must have been the one lying dead in the corner.

“After tying us up, they took the keys to the truck and left us here. We tried banging on the walls of the neighboring apartments, but I guess no one was there…” the shaken fireman concluded.

“It’ll be alright, you guys are safe now,” Shining said before turning to his partner. “Looks like we have a stolen fire truck on our hands. Better call this in.”

Melati nodded and started speaking into her radio while Shining returned his attention to the men they’d just rescued.

“Can you give us any kind of description of your attackers?” Shining asked.

The man he’d been talking to shook his head. “Like I said, they were all wearing masks. Animal masks to be precise. There was a wolf, a raccoon, an owl, and an eagle.”

Shining figured as much. That wasn’t going to make tracking down the perpetrators easy. “Did you hear them say anything?”

“They started arguing after the raccoon shot Torrent,” one of the other firefighters said, a dark-skinned man who seemed to be keeping it together only slightly better than the man Shining had been talking to. “The guy in the wolf mask kept yelling at him, ‘what happened to your murder break?’ or something. Kept saying ‘we can’t use their outfits now.’”

“And you didn’t hear any names?” Shining asked, and was answered by three shaking heads.

Just then, Melati got off the radio and joined Shining. “Dispatch is sending a few more cruisers to investigate the scene and question these guys. Any idea what the fuck this is about?”

Nothing about this whole thing made any sense. To Shining, it looked like someone had called the Fire Department for no other reason than to ambush the fire crew they sent and steal their truck. The big question was “why”?

Shining Armor certainly wouldn’t have expected to find the answer later that very day.

Twilight’s morning classes passed relatively slowly. That was the problem with someone of her intellect being taught lessons she’d already mastered at Crystal Prep. Still, at the very least she was in good company: Applejack and Fluttershy were with her in Global Studies, and she’d even gotten to know a couple of other students, including two very talented young musicians with very different tastes.

When the period bell finally rang and the lunch period began, Twilight went her own separate way from Fluttershy and Applejack, promising to meet up with them and the rest of their group in the cafeteria. She walked down the hall toward the school’s administrative office, so focused on her mission that she almost didn’t notice the cold stares of the students milling about the hallways. She certainly wasn’t expecting to see a familiar face walk out of the very same office she was now headed towards.

“Oh! Hey, Dusky,” she greeted pleasantly.

The somewhat pudgy boy jumped slightly, but seemed to relax once he saw it was her. “Oh, hey Twilight. What are you doing here?”

“I was hoping to talk to somebody in this office so I can find out how I can get permission to bring my dog to school.”

Dusky’s face lit up. “Oh, you have a dog? Awesome! What kind?”

Twilight opened her mouth to answer and paused. “I… don’t actually know. Purple?”

“Is… purple the breed, or the color?” Dusky asked. “Because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a purple dog before.”

“Purple and green.”

Dusky started snickering. “Purple and green? Is he Barney the Dinosaur?”

Twilight snickered along with him. “I think I’d know if Spike was a reptile of any kind!” Their mirth abated, so Twilight thought to ask, “So what were you doing here, Dusky?”

Something about the boy’s countenance changed, and he looked away. “Oh, uh… I was just checking the lost and found.”

Giving him a curious frown, Twilight asked, “Oh? Did you lose something?”

Dusky nodded. “Yeah, just yesterday. A little gold tower. I need to get it back. It’s… really important.”

Twilight suddenly remembered the object in question. “Was that the thing you were wearing on your necklace?”

“Yeah, that’s the one! It’s sort of, uh… a good luck charm. You haven’t seen it, have you?”

Twilight shook her head, and was about to reassure him she would keep an eye out when she heard a familiar voice call out, “Hey, Twilight!”

Down the hall, Twilight saw Sunset Shimmer waving her down. The rest of her friends were with her.

“Guess I’d better go,” Twilight said with a friendly smile as she started walking away. An idea quickly came to her and she turned back to Dusky before she left. “Oh! My friends and I were gonna go to this ‘Countess Coloratura’ record signing event after school. Do you wanna come?”

Twilight only realized what it sounded like she was really asking after it was too late. Oh God, he must think I’m such an idiot! I should probably leave before….

“Yeah, I’d love to!” Dusky answered immediately, before suddenly wincing and rubbing the back of his head as evidently something just occurred to him. “Except… I probably shouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not supposed to be….”

Twilight!” Sunset called out again, more urgently this time.

Dusky shook his head. “Forget it. See you later, Twi.”

“Bye…” Twilight said, giving the boy a weird look as he walked away. Shrugging to herself, Twilight turned to see what Sunset wanted only to find her and the other girls making their way toward her. “Hey Sunset, what’s up?”

It was then that Twilight noticed for the first time the looks of fear and urgency on all of the girls’ faces. Had something happened?

“Twilight, we just found something you need to know about,” Sunset said, holding up a small object for her to see.

It didn’t take long for Twilight to realize what the familiar shiny yellow object was. “Wait, that’s…” she turned back the way she came and called out, “Dusky, wait! Dusky!” But the boy was already gone.

“What are you doin’, sugarcube?” Applejack asked.

“Dusky, he was looking for that just now,” Twilight explained. “Told me he lost it yesterday.”

“Wait, slow down, Twilight darling,” Rarity said, the fashion-conscious girl looking at her uncharacteristically seriously. “Do you mean to tell us that this tower thing belongs to your new friend Dusky?”

Twilight nodded, and Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened. “He’s a spy!

Twilight, along with every other student within audible range, looked at Rainbow with confusion. “Um… is today ‘Outrageous Accusation Day’, or something?”

“Nah, that’s Friday!” Pinkie Pie said while Sunset continued looking at Twilight with desperate eyes.

“Twilight… this little tower isn’t just some weird trinket. It’s a hidden thumbdrive,” Sunset said, the seriousness in her tone only rivalled by the looks on the other girls’ faces.

“Okay… so what’s on it?”

An unmarked vehicle sat across the street from Blue Note’s Music Emporium. It was four in the afternoon and already people were lining up for the big event inside. The two men inside the vehicle tried to remain inconspicuous as they looked on.

“The others are in position,” Michael said after checking his phone. “You ready?”

Ray looked down at the bag by his feet, where hidden inside a bright pink assault rifle awaited its master’s touch. He and Michael performed their part of the plan perfectly: The cell phone jammer was placed on the roof and the phone line was jacked (their maintenance worker disguises lay in the trunk of the car they currently sat in). Ray was an ace—if a plan ever went wrong, it was rarely because he’d done his job incorrectly. No, when a plan went wrong, it was usually because of some flaw in the plan itself.

“You really think this is gonna work?” Ray asked, hoping to probe Michael for his thoughts.

The red-haired man gave Ray a look that he did not appreciate. “You doubtin’ my boi’s plan?”

With a sigh, Ray gave Michael a placating look. “Listen, I know Gavin is like the brother you always wanted, but do you really think he’s qualified to plan a heist? I mean, let’s face it: He ain’t the sharpest tool in the Ted.”

Michael gave him a perplexed look, so Ray felt the need to explain himself. “Smash Mouth?”

“You know that’s not how the song goes, right? It’s ‘sharpest tool in the shed.’”

“Ooooooh! That makes a lot more sense!”

Michael’s consternation persisted. “So… have you been singing it the other way…?”

“My entire life. Yeah,” Ray said, now desperate to get back on topic. “But seriously though, do you really think Gavin’s plan is gonna work?”

“Hey, I believe in my boi!” Michael said, jabbing a finger at Ray. “You should too.”

Ray thought about it. “Yeah, maybe you’re right….”

“Thank you….”

“After all, Geoff’s the one who put him in charge of this job,” Ray continued. “You think maybe his time in prison might’ve made him lose his touch?

Oh my God! I am not having this conversation right now!” Michael exclaimed as he opened the door and stepped out of the car. When he turned to grab his own bag, Michael added, “You’d better make sure nobody else hears you saying that shit, Ray!”

Before Michael could close the door, Ray decided to pay back his reprimand with one of his own, “Hey, we’re heisting remember? Use our code names!”

“Right, forgot. Let’s go Secret Ray.”

“I’ll be right out, Secret Michael.”

Michael slammed the car door while Ray sat still in the passenger seat collecting his thoughts. He remembered a time when he and Michael used to be better friends. That changed when they both became a part of the Fake AH Crew. Now, Michael’s best friend—his ‘boi’—was Gavin. Ray didn’t know what that weird Brit had that he didn’t, but Michael and Gavin had gotten closer over their time in the Fake AH Crew than he and Ray ever had been before. Sure, Ray liked Gavin well enough (they even spent a short time galavanting around the city under the guise of superhero alter-egos) but around the dynamic duo of Michael and Gavin, Ray always felt like a third wheel. Although his time in the Fake AH Crew had been extremely lucrative, Ray was starting to wonder whether it was worth it to continue.

“Maybe it’s time for me to go…” Ray muttered as he stepped out of the vehicle with his bag of heisting equipment.

“What was that, Ray?” Michael asked.

“Nothing. Don’t worry about it,” Ray said. “LLLLLLLet’s heist!”

For what felt like the hundredth time, Twilight’s eyes scanned the crowd at Blue Note’s. The store looked far more crowded than it was normally. She could barely see the names of all the vinyl records on the shelves through all of the bodies. The space that might normally have instruments on display was cleared out to make space for a signing table, where a black-suited security guard stood waiting.

“Still looking for your friend?” Fluttershy asked sweetly. She was holding a small white bunny in her arms. Angel Bunny if Twilight remembered.

Twilight couldn’t hold back the sigh with all of the willpower in the world. In truth, she was hurting. Here she thought she’d finally made a friend at Canterlot High all on her own. Someone who didn’t see her as the monster that almost tore apart reality, because he wasn’t even there to see it. Someone who just saw her for her.

At least, that’s what she had believed. Sunset Shimmer and the others had told her a very different truth. Now, Twilight didn’t know what to believe. Had the friend she’d thought she made really known all along? Was he really spying on her for the IAA? The thought drew another heartbroken sigh from her, and Sunset put an understanding hand on her shoulder.

“You gonna be okay?” she asked.

Twilight mustered a nod. “I just… thought he might come.”

They hadn’t been able to find Dusky Darneil at school during or after classes. Hadn’t been able to get answers. And although Dusky had said he couldn’t go to the event after school, his initial excitement at the prospect made Twilight think for a moment that he might surprise her. But it was just another lie.

“You’ll have your chance to talk to him again, so don’t fret dear,” Rarity said.

“Oh, we’ll talk to him alright!” Rainbow said menacingly, pounding her palm with a fist. Sunset and the others gave her a ‘not helping’ glare.

“Exactly! Dusky’s not going anywhere, so just try to enjoy the event!” Pinkie exclaimed.

As if on cue, the crowd around them erupted in excited cheering. Sure enough, when Twilight looked up she saw an exceptionally attractive young woman enter. She wore a sparkly purple jacket and her trademark veil over her face, and had her long, flowing purple-streaked orchid hair done up in a haughty manner. Escorting her was a man in a three-piece blue suit with pale vermillion hair and round glasses—her manager if Twilight had to guess.

“Rara! Hey Rara!” Applejack shouted over the rest of the crowd, waving at the pop star.

For her part, Coloratura actually dropped her haughty appearance and looked at Applejack with a smile. “AJ! It’s been forever!”

“I know! It’s great to see you, Rara!”

Her manager gave her a swift tap on the shoulder then, and whispered something while gesturing to the signing table.

“We definitely need to catch up later!” Coloratura said before moving on to her table. The group of girls all looked at Applejack in shock.

“Holy crap on toast, you weren’t lying about knowing her!” Rainbow exclaimed, wide-eyed.

“‘Course I wasn’t! It’s me,” Applejack said. “You gals want to hang out with her later?”

Twilight cracked a smile as all of her friends nodded earnestly as one. Applejack cracked a smile for a much more mischievous reason.

“Well, too bad. Y’all shoulda believed me from the start!”

“Whuh-what?!” Rarity exclaimed in a most unladylike fashion. “Now Applejack that’s not fair….”

As her friends tried bartering with Applejack, Twilight caught a glimpse out of the corner of her eye of someone with red hair wearing a brown leather jacket open the door to the back room that Coloratura just came out of. She turned to look more closely, but only briefly saw the face of a snarling wolf on the back of the jacket before it disappeared behind the door. Paying it no mind, Twilight returned her attention to her bickering friends.

After a few minutes, Applejack agreed to put in a good word for her friends. Then a few more minutes passed. Then a few more. Before they knew it, a half-hour had passed and they were still far at the back of the line to see the Countess.

“UGH! At this rate, I don’t think we’re ever gonna get to see Countess Coloratura,” Rainbow moaned.

“I told you we should’ve come here way earlier,” Sunset said calmly.

Rainbow whined and looked around for a few more seconds before moving away from the line. “I’m gonna see if I can barter for a better spot,” she said before moving out.

Applejack’s grip on her arm stopped her. “No yer not. Do you want us to get thrown out?”

“But what if Coloratura has to leave before we get our autographs?”

“Oh puh-lease! Countess Coloratura’s scheduled to be here all afternoon,” Rarity reassured her. “She won’t be leaving for anything short of a complete emergency!”

At that exact moment, a shrill beeping sounded throughout the entire store, and an aura of alarm began to fill the space. This was followed shortly by a man running out of one of the back rooms yelling, “Fire! There’s a fire in the back!”

Twilight had no time to realize it was the same man in the brown leather jacket she’d seen earlier before everyone started pushing their way to the front door. Sure enough, smoke was billowing out from the door to the back area. One of Coloratura’s people grabbed the pop star by the arm and rushed her out a nearby side door, her manager close behind.

“Somebody call the Fire Department!” a woman shrieked.

Regaining her senses, Twilight pulled her phone out and tried to dial, but quickly ran into a complication. “I have no signal!” she shouted.

“Yeah, me neither!” Pinkie exclaimed.

The other girls all confirmed similar findings. Weird, must be a dead zone. Twilight saw what appeared to be the store’s manager on the phone by the front counter, and realized with some relief that he was probably on the landline with the Fire Department now. She went on believing that as she and the others poured out onto the sidewalk outside. But as she would later discover, it was just another lie.

“About bloody time,” Gavin muttered as he saw the outgoing 911 call from Blue Note’s appear on his screen. The four of them were currently set up in an apartment they’d rented well away from the one in Shady Hollows where they’d ambushed the fire crew. With a few deft finger movements, the call was rerouted via the phone line jack to a burner phone.

“Ready, Jack?” Gavin asked as the phone started ringing.

The somewhat chubby woman sighed and collected herself before picking up the phone and putting on her most professional voice. “Nine-one-one what is your emergency?”

This is Blue Note, of Blue Note’s Music Emporium. Our back room is on fire! Oh God, all our records….”

“Sir, I need you to calm down. Can you give us your address please?” Jack asked calmly. They already knew exactly where the store was located, but appearances had to be kept. The man on the phone gave her the address and Jack responded as cool and businesslike as ever. “We’re sending a fire crew to your address now. Please make sure everyone is clear of the building.”

After hanging up, Jack turned to the three men with her. “Alright, it’s go time!”

The four of them quickly packed up the computer equipment, unhooking it from the rented apartment’s phone line and stowed it away in bags. All four of them were dressed in yellow from head to toe. Gavin had commented while they were suiting up that they all looked like bananas, to which Jack had reminded him that this was his idea in the first place.

Technically, the plan had been for them to steal the uniforms of the fire crew they had stolen the truck from, but Ryan’s zeal to deal with the uncooperative firefighter in his usual way made their uniforms all but unusable. At least, assuming people would notice all the blood covering them. Thus, Gavin came up with the brilliant backup plan to buy cheap firefighter costumes at a local dollar store. Since they hardly looked convincing on their own, the four of them had next hit up a clothing store and all bought the yellowest ensembles they could find.

Looking at Geoff, Gavin, and Ryan now, Jack thought they looked at best like cheap strippers. She only hoped that no one would notice just how awful these ‘firefighters’ looked in the heat of the moment. If we all end up in prison, I am one-hundred percent blaming Gavin.

They all emerged in the apartment’s back alley, where they’d hidden their stolen fire truck. Ryan tossed the bag full of their computer stuff next to the duffel with the rest of their heist equipment, including the animal masks they had been wearing when they ambushed the fire crew and the small arsenal of firearms… just in case. Jack realized all too late that Ryan’s red, white, and black war paint that was normally hidden behind his skull mask was in plain sight beneath his plastic fire helmet and sighed. If this actually works, I’ll be fucking amazed.

The fake firetruck pulled out of the alleyway with the Fake crew on board, and after turning the corner, Gavin figured out the lights and siren, grinning ahead with childlike wonder.

When Melati Jasmine stepped back into the car, the aroma of the two cups of coffee in her hands was almost enough to reenergize Shining Armor right then and there. Almost.

“You’re a lifesaver, Mel,” Shining said before taking his first sip, savoring the feeling of anticipation before the caffeine kicked in.

The day had turned into a slog ever since the two of them found the kidnapped firefighters. For hours they briefed the officer in charge of the investigation and generally assisted before they were finally dismissed. After that they were able to get a quick lunch before resuming their patrol. They had to deal with three domestic disputes before having to stop to refill on coffee.

“We still haven’t gotten a coffee maker for the new place, and I’m usually the one to walk up to the corner to get some for Cady and myself,” Shining said.

Melati grinned around her own cup. “Living up to your name, I see.” A barely perceptible frown suddenly crossed her face. “Lucky her.”

But it was perceptible to Shining, “Surely a charming woman like you has someone in your life?”

Melati just gave him a sad smile and said, “Oh, I do. But that someone seems immune to my charms.”

Trying to give her a smile of his own, Shining said, “Well, keep trying. If this person doesn’t see what a great person you are now, they will.”

His attempted encouragement only drew a bitter laugh out of Melati that she elected not to elaborate on, so the two of them simply sat together in the silence of their police cruiser, silently sipping their java. This silence was broken by the sound of a siren, and Shining glanced up from his cup to see a firetruck race down the street past them, lights flashing and horn honking. Shining was ready to dismiss it when a crazy thought occurred to him, and he glanced over at Melati. The young woman looked back at him and right away he knew she was thinking the same thing.

“C’mon, Shiny. What are the odds?” she asked.

Starting the engine, Shining Armor answered, “Good enough to be worth a look at least.”

Doing a quick blind spot check, Shining pulled the cruiser out onto the street and started discreetly following the larger emergency vehicle. After several minutes of driving, they found it pulled over on the side of the road by a store called Blue Note’s Music Emporium. A sizeable crowd was gathered on the sidewalk outside, and parted as the firefighters got out of their truck and rushed inside. Shining pulled over on the other side of the street a short distance away.

“Guess I’ll go ask some of the bystanders what happened,” Melati said as she opened the car door. “Why don’t you get on with Dispatch and see if they can get in touch with the Fire Department? See if they responded to an emergency call from this address.”

It wasn’t long after the policewoman finished questioning them and moved on to another group that Rainbow Dash started getting bored again. And when Rainbow Dash started getting bored, everyone else had no choice but to be aware of it.

“Don’t worry, Rainbow,” Sunset said after the girl’s latest loud groan. “The Fire Department will deal with this in no time, and then we can get back to….”

“To standing in line some more!” Rainbow exclaimed, thrusting her palms against her forehead. “Ugh, I’m gonna lose my goddamn mind!”

“This is exactly why ya gotta remember to charge yer phone, RD,” Applejack said. “We keep telling you that.”

“Oooooh, so that’s why you haven’t liked my post!” Pinkie exclaimed, holding up her own cell phone to display what appeared to be a selfie featuring herself standing in front of the door to the back room with smoke billowing out of it, wearing a strangely serene smile.

Twilight wasn’t sure why, but the photo kind of made it look like Pinkie was guilty of something and couldn’t help but imagine the photo overlaid with text like one of those image macros she always saw online.

“Now just where are they going?” Rarity asked, and Twilight looked over to where the aspiring fashionista’s attention was focused to see a group of three students creep back into the store, clearly trying to act inconspicuous.

A gasp from Rainbow Dash indicated that she understood for all the wrong reasons. “That’s it!” she exclaimed. “If we go back inside right now, we can wait by the signing table and be at the front of the line when it starts again!”

What?! That’s a terrible idea!” Sunset exclaimed. “We could get hurt!”

“Please, Rainbow. Let’s just wait outside until the firefighters are finished,” Fluttershy all but begged.

Rainbow was silent, and for a moment Twilight thought that Fluttershy had reached her.

“No, I’ve done enough waiting already!” Rainbow said, straightening her shirt. “You guys can wait to get back in line like suckers, but I’m gonna get ready to meet Countess Coloratura!”

“And I will come with you because my phone just died too!” Pinkie proclaimed.

“Yeah! C’mon, Pinks!”

“Wait, seriously!” Twilight desperately said as the two of them went for the door. “You could get in trouble!”

“Twilight, ‘trouble’ is getting locked underneath a stage by a thrall while a trio of fish monsters wreaks havoc on the student body with evil music,” Rainbow said very matter-of-factly. “This is nothin’!

Rainbow opened the front door for Pinkie, who entered in a single bound with a “wheee!”

“Those two are a terrible influence on each other,” Rarity said after the door shut.

“Well, c’mon y’all. It’ll probably take all of us just to drag Pinkie out,” Applejack said with a resigned sigh.

“And we should probably get those other kids out of there as well,” Sunset added.

Twilight nodded in agreement, and with one final whimper from Fluttershy, the five of them entered the establishment. Right away Twilight noticed that the smoke had mostly cleared out. Maybe the firefighters had finished dealing with the fire after all? Regardless, Twilight looked over to where Coloratura’s signing table was and saw the small group of teenagers standing around it. Twilight actually recognized the other three.

Two of them were the musicians Twilight had met in class earlier that day. Octavia and Vinyl Scratch if she remembered correctly. Currently, it looked like the latter wanted to be here more than the former. The other person was a boy from her old school. Trenderhoof was an aspiring writer with blonde hair and white rimmed glasses. He wore a fashionable scarf over his Crystal Prep uniform.

“Hey! So you guys came to your senses, huh?” Rainbow said with a pleased smile on her face.

Sunset did not look so pleased. “Rainbow, I’m not kidding around. We need to leave now!

As an argument started between the two groups of teenagers, Twilight found her attention pulled away from them and to an unusual noise coming from the back room. Is that… a drill? she wondered.

Sure enough, the noise sounded again and Twilight undoubtedly heard something being drilled into. What would firefighters need to drill? The thought brought on another: Namely, that the firefighters that had hopped out of the fire truck and raced inside hadn’t looked much like real firefighters. Something about what they were wearing had just seemed… off. Twilight hadn’t thought to question it any further in the heat of the emergency, but now she had to wonder….

Twilight hadn’t even realized her feet had been slowly moving her closer to the door, and her friends were too busy arguing to notice. Now, Twilight stood just on the other side, and she could hear voices.

“Why am I always on drill duty?” one man asked. He had a somewhat deep voice that might once have had a Spanish accent, now long buried by years of speaking English.

“Because this is what you wanted, TAFKAR. You trained for this,” replied another man’s voice, this one with a somewhat Jersey-sounding accent.

“Oy! That’s the wrong heist! I mean, codename. I mean, wot?” a very confused sounding British man said.

“Right. Sorry, Secret Gavin.”

“Alright, everybody stay cool,” an older man’s voice said, its potential wizened quality withheld by the slur of a lifetime of heavy drinking. “Everyone just do your jobs right and we’ll all come out of this just fine.”

Twilight’s curiosity was piqued. She had no idea what was going on behind that door and she had to know. Just a quick peek wouldn’t hurt, right? You didn’t think learning a little more about magic would hurt either, and look at where that got you. Ignoring the voice in her head, Twilight pushed the door open a crack and had to suppress a gasp. The familiar image of a snarling wolf looked back at her, but that wasn’t what elicited her response. No, it was what the man wearing the jacket was holding that made her heart stop.

“Jesus, Secret Michael! What’s that for?” the British voice said.

“I brought an automatic pistol because I’m not fucking around!” the Jersey-accented man Twilight saw said, holding up said weapon.

The back room had four men and one woman all standing around a single safe. A man wearing a purple sweater and a beanie had a large safe-cracking drill in his hands and was using it to try to break into the safe. The other two men and the woman were all dressed as firefighters, only now Twilight realized their helmets were plastic and their uniforms too small. The room they were in was a disorderly mess… but nothing looked burned.

“Yeah, I never leave home without at least one automatic weapon…” a deep, dark voice said. Twilight didn’t have time to reflect on just how close the voice sounded before a black, white and red painted face suddenly filled the crack in the door, a pair of cold eyes staring lifelessly back into hers.

“Because you never know when some miscreant will come poking their nose about….”

Officer Melati Jasmine was hoping that with the more witnesses she talked to, the clearer it would be that the fire truck they’d tailed was only that. Sure, it would appear there really had been a fire at Blue Note’s. However, the various teens and young adults gathered for the apparent celebrity record signing event continued to give her information that raised flags as red as the fire truck still flashing its lights at the side of the road. Stuff like the firefighter team didn’t bring any hoses into the building, or that one of them appeared to be wearing clown make-up or something.

It was as Melati was considering how to tell all of this to Shining back by the patrol car when a chorus of terrified shrieking erupted from inside the store. So without even thinking about calling over her partner, Melati raced into the store and right away all of her and Shining’s suspicions were validated.

The sight of a firefighter wearing some sort of gang warpaint threatening a group of about ten teenagers with an automatic rifle was all the proof she needed something was wrong.

“FREEZE!” Melati shouted, quickly pulling her sidearm out of its holster and flicking the safety off. “DROP YOUR WEAPON AND PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD!”

The painted man turned his head, regarding her with a dead expression—like everything around him was nothing more than a dream. He kept his rifle trained on the group of teenagers over by the side. Melati noticed that six of them were gathered around one with dark blue hair with a pink streak who was looking at the man with wide-eyed terror.

“I said drop your weapon! I’m not going to ask you again!” Melati said, hoping that cocking her own weapon would drive the point across.

The painted man only kept staring at her with the same impassive dissonance that sent shivers down her spine. Then a childishly gleeful grin spread across his face.

Just like that, the door to the back room opened and two more guys ran out, also carrying weapons. However, the first thing that Melati noticed was that they were wearing masks: Animal masks. A man in a brown leather jacket wearing a wolf mask opened fire with an automatic pistol. Melati felt her hair move with the wind of the bullets as they passed within inches of her face as the teenaged girls started shrieking again. This resulted in her return fire being wild with panic, her shots passing harmlessly between the gunmen. And yet more poured out of that back room. Three, then four, then five, and all of them with guns and masks.

Officer Jasmine did the only logical thing she could think of, and that was to run back out the front door as the rest of the gunmen started shooting. All except the man with the painted face, who only stared after her with that childish grin.

Shining Armor was already halfway towards her from the car with his own gun drawn. “What the hell’s going on?!” he asked, before something behind her caught his attention. Melati instinctively dropped to the ground just before the rapport of the automatic pistol rang out, followed closely by the screams of the crowd of bystanders. Shining returned fire as both of them retreated to cover behind their cruiser.

Melati wasted no time getting on the radio with Dispatch, answering Shining’s question as she said, “Officers Jasmine and Armor going for Dispatch! Shots fired at 56 Main Street. Encountered multiple armed gunmen. Request immediate backup! They have hostages. Repeat: They have hostages!

Dispatch answered, confirming that they were sending backup. It was only as Melati put down the radio that she realized her hands were shaking.

“Today just got a whole lot worse, didn’t it?” Shining said. But neither he nor Melati knew just how much worse it was about to get.

“Dammit! She got away!” the man with the Jersey accent said—Secret Michael, according to his compatriots—heading briskly back into the store. His voice was somewhat muffled by the wolf mask he now wore.

It would seem that as soon as the group of criminals realized they were being watched, they all donned masks. All except for the man who had initially spotted Twilight, who was only wearing his scary warpaint. Perhaps he figured that since she’d already seen his face, there was no point in wearing a mask?

At the moment, Twilight was not in any state to be considering the situation too carefully. She, and likely the rest of her friends now standing around her, were a bit too preoccupied with their terror over the brief gun battle that just took place in front of them. Sunset Shimmer and Applejack had both helped Twilight to her feet after her legs gave out from the shock. Rarity and Rainbow Dash were holding Fluttershy steady, as the delicate girl had very nearly fainted when the shooting started. Pinkie Pie only seemed relatively curious.

“Secret Ray, Secret Ryan, get these kids under control, yeah?” the man with the British accent said. Ironically, he was wearing a mask resembling a bald eagle.

In response, the face-painted man and a man wearing a purple sweater and a monkey mask stepped forward, leveling their rifles and barking orders.

“Against the far wall. Now,” the painted man said in his dark voice.

“Go on!” the other said, waving his gun menacingly. Twilight recognized him as the one with the drill and the vaguely Spanish accent.

Exchanging uncertain looks with her friends, Twilight complied along with the rest of them. “Secret Ray” immediately began heckling anyone who didn’t follow their instructions fast enough.

“Nice shades,” Secret Ray said, yanking the big purple-tinted glasses from Vinyl Scratch’s head. “What, is it dark on Planet Cool?!”

The man threw the shades on the floor and stepped on them, resulting in an audible crunch. A dejected looking Vinyl Scratch moved against the wall with the others.

“Now, put your hands on your head…” Secret Ryan intoned, “and turn around.”

As Twilight and her fellow hostages made to do just that, something completely unexpected happened.

Turn around, bright eyes…” the man in the wolf mask, Secret Michael, suddenly started singing.

Turn around!” the other criminals chimed in.

Every now and then I get a little bit lonely…” the British one, Secret Gavin, sang.

Turn around!

Every now and then I get a nananana na na…” Secret Michael continued, apparently foregoing the bridge to cut right to the chorus, to which the others joined in. “CUZ EVERY NOW AND THEN I FALL APART!”

At that moment, a man who carried himself like a man in charge approached the group wearing an owl mask and the same bright yellow clothes as the rest of them.

“Hey guys…” the man started, but the other five were already too into their impromptu musical number to listen now.

AND I NEEEED YOU HERE TONIGHT!” the other five sang in ridiculous high-pitched voices, each one in harmony with each other but so horrendously off-key.

“Guys, can we get back to opening the safe?”


“This is a great song, but can we get back to work?”

“Oh shit!” Secret Ray exclaimed, apparently just remembering he still had a job to do. The man immediately raced back towards the back room to continue his efforts to break into the safe.

Just like that, the song was over, but it was too late for Twilight and her friends not to have heard it. Indeed, the poor quality of the group’s collective singing was strangely familiar. Twilight remembered hearing the same kind of discordant harmony before, and recently too. She turned to look at Sunset Shimmer standing beside her, who was already looking back at her.

“Why do I get the feeling we’ve met these people before?” Twilight asked rhetorically.

If Sunset’s look was any indication, she knew exactly what she was talking about. Twilight realized that between seeing Secret Ryan, Secret Michael, and Secret Ray in the back room, and seeing the other three at Sugarcube Corner the other day, she had seen the faces of all of the criminals in this group.

She glanced back up at the man they called Secret Ryan, who studied her with distant curiosity. Now if I can just survive to put that information to good use….

It seemed a painfully long time for Shining Armor and Melati Jasmine as they waited in cover behind their own police cruiser, weapons trained on the front door of the music store, before they finally heard the sounds of sirens in the distance. It was shortly after that that several police cruisers pulled up around the facade of Blue Note’s, and dozens of uniformed police officers got out and assumed positions of cover around the establishment, weapons drawn.

It was only after they were certain that the front entrance was secure that Shining and Melati stood and stepped away from their own vehicle, moving towards the small army of police to try to find the man in charge. As it happened, the correct term was woman in charge.

“Chief Hardline!” Shining Armor exclaimed as he and Melati approached.

The hardened policewoman was looking out on the sea of police officers and flashing red and blue lights, a hand on her own firearm. She turned to face the pair as they saluted her.

“Officer Armor, Officer Jasmine. Report,” Hardline stated. “Just what are we dealing with here?”

“About six perps armed with automatic weapons,” Melati reported. “And about a dozen hostages.”

Hardline sighed. “When it rains….”

“All due respect, ma’am, we’re going to need a lot more than this,” Shining armor said. “We need a SWAT team.”

“Yeah, and I need one million dollars and eternal life,” Hardline replied dryly. “The Canterlot City SWAT team is in the middle of a raid on a drug compound just outside of town. Hate to say it, but this is all we’re getting.”

Shining looked again at the two dozen or so officers set up around the store. Against weapons like assault rifles, it wasn’t going to be enough. If things came down to a shootout, there would be casualties. Many casualties.

“We have a professional hostage negotiator being flown in from Los Santos. He’ll be here within the hour,” Hardline told them. “You two just get in position and be ready for anything.”

Shining nodded, and Hardline turned to Melati. “Any idea why so many armed men are hanging around a record store?”

“Oh, I can tell you why,” a haughty male voice answered.

Shining turned to see a rather pompous looking man in a three-piece blue suit wearing round glasses walking towards them escorted by another officer Shining recognized as Thin Blueline.

“Blue, who’s this and why did you let him past the blockade?” Hardline asked him.

“He said he has something very important to tell you,” Blue replied.

The man in the blue suit nodded. “Svengallop. Countess Coloratura’s manager. She was doing a record signing in this building before the incident.”

“No shit, really?” Melati said, an excited gleam entering her eyes. “Uh, is she…?”

“No, Ms. Coloratura is no longer on the premises,” Svengallop answered without letting her finish. Evidently, he’d been expecting the question. “As soon as the shooting started I made sure to get her back to her hotel immediately.”

Melati nodded in understanding, but Shining detected a hint of disappointment.

“You said you have information for us?” Hardline asked.

“In that building is a safe belonging to our company,” Svengallop explained. “And in that safe is all of the money raised from Countess Coloratura’s charity tour: Almost two-hundred thousand dollars!”

Hardline’s face didn’t change, but her eyes briefly flicked to Shining and Melati. Well, now we know what these guys are after, Shining thought.

“Getting that money back needs to be your first priority!” Svengallop exclaimed.

“The hostages are our first priority, but rest assured we will do everything we can to secure Coloratura’s money,” Hardline said firmly.

The scowl on Svengallop’s face indicated that it wasn’t the answer he was hoping to hear.

Twilight wasn’t sure how much time had passed since she and her friends found themselves in the middle of a hostage situation—she was too afraid to pull her phone out even to glance at the time. She guessed it must have been at least thirty minutes in total. It only took a few minutes for the group of thieves to finish breaking into the safe in the back, and now a pair of duffel bags full of money sat on the floor against the far wall.

“Only the truly despicable would steal charity money!” Rarity hissed under her breath. Twilight didn’t blame her for not wanting to bring her complaints to the criminals themselves.

After getting the money, the band of criminals quickly started working out how they were going to deal with the apparent snag in their heist. The small army of police now surrounding the building outside and the dozen or so teenagers inside with them was most certainly not part of their original plan. At some point during the conversation, the one they called Secret Michael took out a cellphone and called someone called Lindsay.

“Hey uh, you think you could bring the chopper and pick us up?” he had asked. “Ga… uh, Secret Gavin’s plan kinda went to shit.” He paused as the person on the other end said something. “I know. Shocking.

For some reason, this made the man they called Secret Ray “pssh” and lean his head back. Even though he was wearing a mask, Twilight could almost see his eyes rolling.

“Okay, my wife’s going to bring the chopper and pick us up from the roof,” Secret Michael explained to his fellows after hanging up. “Now, the chopper only has seating for four, so Secret Ray, myself, and someone else are gonna have to get away on the two motorcycles we planted in the back alley for the original plan.”

“I’ll share a motorcycle with someone,” Secret Ryan, the creepy man with the facepaint, said.

“Dude, R&R Connection!” Secret Ray exclaimed, and he and Secret Ryan fistbumped.

The whole time, Twilight paid as close attention to the conversation as she could. She wanted to give the police as much information as she could to help them catch these guys when this was all over and they inevitably questioned her. This was easier said than done, as a lot of what the group of five men and one woman were saying didn’t make any sense whatsoever.

“There’s a lot of gaff out there, lads. You havin’ a laugh?” The fact that the British one—Secret Gavin―didn’t even use real words half the time was especially frustrating.

“I don’t know what Secret Gavin just said, so I’m just going to ignore him and ask: How are you getting past all the cops outside?” the woman called Secret Jack asked.

“Oh, I’ve got some toys I can bring out…” Secret Ryan stated ominously.

“Right, now my wife’s still out buying groceries…” Secret Michael continued, “so it’ll take her a little while to get back to the Boner to get the chopper.”

Twilight exchanged a confused and mildly disturbed look with the others. If she was confused earlier, she was definitely confused now.

“Right, here’s what we’re gonna do, lads. We’re gonna stall for time until Lindsay gets here with the chopper,” Secret Gavin said.

“How are we gonna do that?” the apparent ringleader, Secret Geoff, said. Twilight wasn’t sure why, but she felt like she’d heard the odd archaic name somewhere recently.

“HELLO IN THERE,” a voice boomed from outside, amplified by a megaphone. “DOES ANYONE HEAR ME?”

The gang members all looked at each other, and Secret Geoff moved towards the front door to the establishment (which the gang had barricaded using what had been Countess Coloratura’s signing table). The man moved the table so he could open the door a crack, and then lifted his owl mask just above his mouth, revealing a luxurious mustache.

“What do you want?!” Secret Geoff called out.

“I JUST WANT TO TALK, SON,” the voice outside replied.

The robbers silently conferred with each other, and Twilight couldn’t hear what they were saying despite her best efforts. Finally, Secret Geoff returned to the door.

“ALRIGHT! We’re gonna send out a guy to talk to you. If you guys try any funny business while he’s out there, we’ll start giving hostages back with a few more holes in them, capice?”

“OKAY, TRY TO REMAIN CALM NOW,” the booming voice said placatingly. “WE DON’T WANT ANYONE TO GET HURT HERE.”

Secret Geoff nodded at Secret Gavin

“What? Me?” Secret Gavin asked.

“Yeah, didn’t you say you wanted to stall them?”

After some more mild confusion on Secret Gavin’s part, the masked brit moved to the door and awkwardly tried to step over the table as Secret Geoff and Secret Jack moved it aside to make room for the door to open fully.

When he was gone, and most of the group of criminals seemed focused on what their British associate was doing, Twilight felt someone tap her shoulder.

“So what’s the plan for getting out of here?” Rainbow Dash whispered.

“If I recall, you and Pinkie are the reason we’re in this mess in the first place!” Applejack hissed back. “If you’d just waited outside like we done told you, we wouldn’t be here!”

“Which is exactly why I want to get us out of it!”

“By asking us what to do?”

“I’m giving you an opportunity to think of something!”

“If I was gonna think of somethin’, I woulda done it during the past forty minutes!”

“Can’t you guys just do that thing?” Twilight asked, and the others looked at her curiously. “You know, that thing that you do. With the magic.”

“Ooh, Pony Up? I hadn’t even thought of that!” Pinkie Pie stage-whispered.

Sunset didn’t look convinced. “We’ve never used our powers on anything non-magical before,” she said, taking a look around at the rest of the teens kneeling beside them. “Besides, we’re not the only hostages they have. If it was just us, I would be on board with it, but who knows how these people will react if we start doing magic?”

Twilight would certainly feel terrible if one of her classmates was injured or worse because the heavily armed gunman got panicky at the sight of six glowing girls floating in the air growing pony ears. No, using magic was out of the question. After all, it’s what got you in trouble before.

“Hey!” the deep, sinister voice cut off the one in Twilight’s head as the man with the painted face stepped closer, the end of his weapon beginning to drift in their direction.

“What’s all the psst psst about?” he asked with eerie casualness.

Twilight and the others looked guiltily at him for a couple of seconds before Rarity piped up.

“Oh, just… sharing a bit of gossip,” she explained diplomatically. “You know… girl stuff!

“Oh yeah?” Secret Ryan said warily, carefully evaluating each of them. After several nerve-wracking seconds, the big man sat cross-legged in front of them and placed his gun in his lap. “Well shit, gimme the scoop!”

“The scoop?”

“Yeah, I wanna know the juicy teenage gossip!” the man exclaimed with a gleeful smile on his face. “It’s those two, isn’t it? They’re totally doing each other!”

Secret Ryan gestured to where Vinyl Scratch and Octavia were kneeling, who both looked thoroughly mortified by the accusation.

“Um… no, I don’t think….”

“No?” Secret Ryan asked. “Well what about Glasses McHipster over there? He’s been eying up Cowgirl here the entire thirty six minutes!”

Applejack looked across the row of hostage teens to Trenderhoof and scowled. “That so?”

For his part, the Crystal Prep student suddenly made a show of looking in every other direction, deciding that something on the ceiling was particularly fascinating.

“Oooh, no luck there, McHipster. Guess the feeling isn’t mutual!”

“Hey, Secret Ryan!” Secret Michael called out from where he and Secret Ray stood. “Quit making friends and get over here. We need to plan our exit strategy.”

Making friends. As the tall dark man with the painted face stood up and walked over to his compatriots (the woman Secret Jack taking over his watch), Twilight suddenly had an epiphany.

“‘Making friends,’ that’s it!” she exclaimed silently. “We’ll beat them the way you guys have beaten all the threats in the past. With friendship!”

“With friendship?” Fluttershy asked, fidgeting nervously. “But I thought we decided not to Pony Up?”

“We won’t need to. We’ll just befriend them the old fashioned way,” Twilight explained. “We’ll get to know them, and let them get to know us. If we can manufacture Lima Syndrome—make them see us as people instead of things….”

“It’ll be harder for them to pull the trigger. Maybe make them hesitate at a crucial moment!” Sunset exclaimed, understanding exactly what Twilight was getting at. “It’s not much of a plan, but it’s all we’ve got.”

Twilight nodded and looked at the unruly group holding them. The first hints of doubt started to creep into her mind.

“Right. Now all we have to do is befriend the armed maniacs….”

Shining Armor kept his gun steady as the criminal stepped out of the store and stood on the sidewalk, looking out at the rows upon rows of police officers aiming weapons at him from behind their cars. Hope getting a good look at us makes this guy reevaluate his options, Shining thought to himself. The man was dressed in yellow from head to toe, and wore what looked like a cheap firefighter costume jacket over top of it. An eagle mask sat on his head, covering his face.

“Why don’t you take that mask off so we can talk face to face?” the hostage negotiator, Talkdown said, taking a step forward, his bullhorn at his side. He was an older man who wore a dark blue jacket with shoulder pads underneath, the kind that people only wore in the seventies. Additionally, he was missing most of his hair, with only a little gray and white growing out of the back. The man had arrived just five minutes ago, and was wasting no time in getting to work.

“I’m not falling for that load of pap,” the man in the eagle mask said. Right away Shining noticed his thick British accent. There weren’t a lot of people with that accent here in Canterlot. “You slags just wanna know what my face looks like so you can find out who I am!”

“I’m sorry, but I just can’t hear what you’re saying with that thing on,” Talkdown said. “Why don’t you just take it off? Just for a few minutes while we’re talking?”

He’s good, Shining thought. Unfortunately, he wasn’t good enough, as the masked Englishman wasn’t falling for it. Instead, the man only lifted his mask enough so his mouth was showing before continuing the conversation.

“Okay, can you hear me now?” the man asked.

“Yes, I can hear you,” Talkdown replied, evidently disappointed that he couldn’t give the analysis team a face they could use to figure out who these guys were.

“So, you wanted to talk,” the Englishman said. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Well, why don’t we talk about you? What do you want?”

“We want to rob this place. We were doing great until you drippy spaffs turned up!”

Shining furrowed his brow as he tried to consider just what a “drippy spaff” could possibly be.

“And why are you robbing this place?” Talkdown asked calmly. “Are things going okay in your life?”

The yellow man shrugged. “Well, since you asked, no. Things are pretty much bang out of order!”

“Well, I’m sorry you’re going through a rough patch. I know what it’s like, believe me, we’ve all been there,” Talkdown said reassuringly. “But you can get through this!”

“Of course we can. It’s why we’re gettin’ all this money. So we can hire more muscle to take back our turf.”

“Look, I know times seem hard, but turning to crime isn’t the answer. Your actions aren’t only hurting innocents. You’re hurting yourself! Please, don’t throw your whole life away!”

The masked man in yellow changed his posture. He seemed to be getting agitated. “What are you on about? This, what we’re doing now, is our whole life. We’ve been doing it for years!

Just who are these guys? Shining Armor wondered as he kept the strange British man in his sights.

“Alright, if you guys are such pros, maybe you can let one of the hostages go as a sign of good faith,” Talkdown said. “Surely you don’t need all of them.”

The man sputtered incoherently for a few seconds, making weirdly appropriate bird-like squawking noises. “We’re not giving any hostages away for nothing!”

“Okay, so what do you want?”

The man seemed to consider this for some time, glancing back to the store where his compatriots were waiting with the hostages before finally answering, “Right, here’s what we want, yeah? We want… all of the original Care Bears!”

Shining almost did a double-take, and beside him, Melati snorted.

“Even Monkey?” Talkdown asked.



The two were silent for a few seconds. “Well, what about the lion?” Talkdown asked. “He was sort of one of the originals even though he was kinda different.”

If the man in the bird mask was as perplexed at the hostage negotiator’s Care Bear knowledge as Shining was, he made no indication of it.

“Quimmy? Sure, he was like the best one!”


It had been several minutes since Twilight had come up with her “friendship” plan, and so far none of her friends had taken the first step to executing it. Evidently working up the courage to talk to an armed robber was more difficult than she had expected.

Currently one such criminal was pacing down the line of hostage teens, stopping only to make catty remarks about whatever one of them was wearing. At some point during the past ten minutes, the group of criminals had foregone wearing their masks, either deciding they didn’t need them while they were out of sight of the police or simply having gotten tired of wearing them.

“Hey,” Secret Ray said to a rather nonplussed Rarity. “Nice shoes. They make ‘em in smaller sizes than ‘extra large’?”

“I’ll have you know I’m a size seven and a half!” Rarity pouted.

“Noted.” Satisfied that his job was done, Secret Ray moved further down the line.

“Hey.” Secret Ray was now standing in front of a nervous looking Trenderhoof. “Nice scarf. Does it come in men’s?”

A moment of tension passed during which Twilight noticed Rainbow Dash seemed to be struggling to hold something back. Evidently, the struggle was in vain, and before she knew it, Rainbow blurted out, “You would know all about coming in men, wouldn’t you?”

Secret Ray looked over at her with an expression of stupefied shock. Twilight’s heart started beating fast. Well, it was nice knowing you, Rainbow Dash, she thought.

Instead of bringing down some furious justice on the spunky teen, Secret Ray started laughing hysterically with genuine mirth.

“Oh man, fucking got ‘em! Get wrecked, me!” Secret Ray said between bouts of laughter. He then turned to Secret Michael. “Did you hear what she just said?”

“Yeah, I feel like I got Got a little it was so good,” Secret Michael said. “Well played, uh….”

“Rainbow Dash.”

“Rainbow Dash. Nice,” Secret Ray said. “Hey, that a Pounders shirt you’re wearing?”

“Fuck yeah it is!”

“Sweet! You catch last night’s game?”

“Of course! Can you believe Stont made that touchdown with that epic fake out?”

“I know, right?!”

Twilight couldn’t believe it. Somehow, against all odds, Rainbow’s inability to keep her mouth shut at a crucial moment got her bonding with one of their captors. What was more, they had bonded over her insulting him! Twilight decided to try it for herself.

“Hey!” she called out to the one called Secret Michael. “You’re so dumb, you probably couldn’t find the square of the hypotenuse even if you had the value of the remaining two sides!”

The man just looked at her with confusion and mild annoyance. “What?

“Never mind!” Twilight squeaked. Okay, so maybe a Pythagorean theorem based insult wasn’t the best idea.

Looking around, Twilight could see the other girls were executing their part of the plan. Fluttershy took her pet bunny Angel out of her backpack (who she’d been hiding up until this point out of fear for its safety) and Secret Ryan of all people was the first to come check it out. Applejack offered the leftovers of her homemade lunch to Secret Jack, who had been complaining about her hunger for the past ten minutes. Sunset brought out her phone and started showing Secret Michael funny videos on YouTube, and Pinkie Pie started bonding with Secret Gavin over, of all things, Care Bears. Coming up with an only marginally better idea than her math insult, Twilight raised her hand.

“Uh… what?” the apparent leader of the gang, Secret Geoff asked, looking at her in a way she couldn’t quite figure out.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” she lied.

“Oh. Well, just hold it in.”

“I can’t hold it in, I’ve been holding it in since we were standing in line for Coloratura!”

Secret Geoff let out a breath, and Twilight thought she heard him say “fuck” before gesturing for her to get up. “Come on then. I saw a bathroom in the back area.”

Twilight followed Secret Geoff into the employee area, past the open safe belonging to Coloratura’s people and into a storage area. A small room with only a toilet and a sink was off to the side, and since she hadn’t thought of anything else yet, Twilight simply thanked him and entered, closing the door.

“Hey, are you just going number one in there or are you feeding the bears?” Secret Geoff asked. “I wanna know how long I’m gonna be standing guard out here.”

“Feeding the bears?” Twilight asked, extraordinarily confused.

She heard Secret Geoff swear under his breath before he explained. “Sorry, force of habit. It’s kind of an inside joke between me and my daughter.”

This was exactly the kind of information Twilight was hoping to glean from her little gamble. “You have a daughter? How old is she?”

The crime boss hesitated. “A few years younger than you, I guess.”

“That’s nice.”

“Yeah, she’s pretty cool.” Secret Geoff then went on to explain what ‘feeding the bears’ meant, and Twilight couldn’t help but laugh.

“Why would you tell your daughter that bears eat poop and live in the toilet?”

“I had to toilet train her somehow, and she really likes bears,” Secret Geoff said. “I dunno, it seemed like a really good idea at the time.”

“Heh, well it sounds like you guys are pretty close,” Twilight said, smiling. This ‘Secret Geoff’ guy didn’t appear to be all that bad.

After chatting with him through the closed door for a little bit longer, Twilight flushed, washed her hands and stepped out. Seeing the rifle in Secret Geoff’s hands was a cold reminder that the man she had been chatting with was a hardened criminal.

When they got back to the main room of the store, the atmosphere seemed much more relaxed. Teenagers and criminals alike were hanging out and talking about anything and everything. Rarity was telling Secret Michael how a properly tailored suit would look good on him, and Pinkie Pie and Secret Gavin were coming up with definitions for made up words. Applejack was telling Secret Jack her family’s recipe for something she called “zap-apple jam”, and Secret Ryan was giving Fluttershy surprisingly well-informed advice on improving Angel Bunny’s diet.

Eventually, Secret Michael’s cellphone started to ring. After answering it and giving a series of one word affirmatives, he hung up and addressed the rest of his crew.

“That was Lindsay. She’s airborne now and about five minutes out,” he said. “It’s time to put the rest of the plan in motion.”

He then turned to Twilight, and the rest of her friends and appraised them for a moment. “Let’s use these six. Let the others go.”

Just like that, the five men and one woman were back in full hostage taker mode, and motioned for Vinyl, Octavia, Trenderhoof, and Sunset Shimmer to stand up. Sunset put a hand on Twilight’s shoulder before doing so and nodded, saying “it’ll be okay” without words. After announcing to the police outside that they were releasing four of the hostages as part of their Care Bear agreement, the door was opened and the three girls and one boy were released into the hands of the waiting police officers.

Now it’s just the six of us, Twilight thought, and worried for a moment that her plan for them to befriend the criminals had worked too well. The man with the painted face reached into a bag, pulling out one of their animal masks (the raccoon) as well as a roll of gaffer tape. Twilight saw a rectangular object with wires and buttons in the bag beneath them.

“I know Halloween has long passed,” Secret Ryan said. “But how would you girls like to dress up?”

Clutching some sort of bright pink stuffed bear under one arm, Shining Armor watched as the four teens ran out of the building to the waiting police officers, who quickly led them away to safety. Only a girl with red and yellow hair like fire seemed to want to stay. In the distance, Shining could hear a helicopter getting closer and closer. Perhaps one of the local news stations was trying to get some aerial coverage?

“Alright, we have your Care Bears, what do you want us to do with them?” Talkdown asked.

There was a pause, and when the British man inside finally replied, it sounded like he’d honestly forgotten about their bargain. “Right, just leave ‘em by the curb.”

Shining and the cops who were holding the criminals’ unusual demands all walked out and did as they were told. They then returned to their blockade and waited for the gunmen to collect their prizes. Instead, the British man called out again.

“Right, well it’s been a long day,” he said, sounding tired. “Now that we’ve got what we want, I think we’re just gonna give up now.”

Shining and Melati exchanged a look. They had honestly been expecting this crisis to last well into the night. No, something doesn’t feel right.

“Alright, we’re coming out now, yeah?” the Englishman shouted from his unseen position inside the building. “So uh, make sure you don’t shoot us or anything!”

A few moments later, six figures emerged from the store’s front entrance with their hands raised. All of them were wearing various animal masks, and four of them had firefighter jackets while the other two wore a brown leather jacket and a purple sweater.

They didn’t appear to be armed, so Sergeant Nightstick signaled Shining, Melati and three other officers to move in with him and make the arrests. Shining moved to apprehend the one in the owl mask. Strangely, all of them were a lot shorter than he’d been expecting. When he cuffed the perp, Shining was surprised to find that their hands were incredibly small and dainty.

“Okay Nightstick, get your team in there and secure the hostages,” Chief Hardline ordered, and another team of officers moved into the building.

Shining’s team brought the arrested thieves over to the assembled police cruisers and started lining them up to be put inside. Strangely enough, he thought he heard the one he had arrested screaming, or trying to scream. It was as if something was keeping them muffled underneath the mask.

Chief, there’s no sign of the other hostages,” Nightstick’s voice sounded over the radio.

“What about our money?” Svengallop demanded, approaching Chief Hardline.

“I told you the hostages are our priority,” Hardline stated without so much as glancing at him. “Once they are safe and the premises is secure, then we’ll look for your money.”

Svengallop ground his teeth and looked around. “Fine. I’ll just get it myself.”

Without saying anything else, the haughty man jogged past police officers towards the building.

“Wait, sir!” Hardline called out to him. “Get back here, we haven’t finished securing…!”

“Securing what? You’ve already apprehended the criminals, the danger is gone!” Svengallop yelled back without stopping. Before Hardline could do anything, he had disappeared inside the store.

Shining returned his attention to the suspect in his custody when he heard what sounded like a soft whimper come from beneath their mask.

“What the?” But it was Sergeant Nightstick who was the first to unmask the person in his custody.

A young girl with poofy pink hair was underneath the eagle mask, her mouth taped over. She seemed completely unconcerned with her predicament, smiling and trying to say ‘hello’ around the gaffer tape. Shining’s heart started to race as he began to realize what was really going on. But it outright stopped the moment he unmasked the person in his own custody, and saw familiar locks of dark blue hair with violet streaks.


The way his sister’s eyes widened when she saw him indicated that she was just as surprised as he was. Regaining his senses, Shining Armor immediately removed the gaff tape over Twilight’s mouth.

“Shining!” she gasped. “You need to get those cops out of there now!

That was when it fully dawned on Shining Armor: If the remaining hostages were here, where were the gunmen?

Before Shining could get the word out to the chief, a deafening BOOM nearly shook him off his feet. The windows of Blue Note’s Music Emporium were shattered, black smoke pouring out of the spaces where the glass had been. It took a few moments for Shining to steady himself, and when the ringing in his ears started to clear up, he could hear several car alarms going off up and down the street.

The other thing he could hear was that helicopter, now significantly louder. At the same time Shining noticed the aircraft landing on the roof of the half-bombed building, he heard the sudden rapport of gunfire in the distance.

Bravo Team is taking fire! Multiple officers down!” a voice called out over the radio.

Bravo Team were the officers assigned to setting up blockades on the two other streets where the alleyways around the store exited… exactly where the gunfire appeared to be coming from. Taking stock of his more immediate surroundings, Shining noticed that Twilight hadn’t been so lucky in keeping her footing. The girl lay on the ground and looked to have hit her head. After kneeling down to check on her, Shining waved over a paramedic before noticing Twilight’s hands were still cuffed and freeing them.

He then looked back towards the half-destroyed building, and a hot rage suddenly began to boil up inside him. The monsters responsible for all of this had used his sister as a pawn in their sick game, and now who knows how many good police officers were dead because of it. It was thus that Shining Armor didn’t think twice about removing his pistol from his holster. He didn’t hear Melati shout after him as he raced around and through the alleyway beside the building.

He ran through black smoke and past crumbled brick walls until he rounded a corner and saw them. Three men were getting on two motorcycles, and seemed to be getting ready to ride out onto the street that Bravo Team had been posted on. All three of them were facing away from him, and had whatever weapons they had put away.

Freeze! CPD!” he shouted over the roar of the helicopter on the roof above, aiming his weapon at them steadily.

He heard one of them groan in frustration.

“Put your hands on your head, fingers interlocked, and get on your knees!” Shining demanded.

The three men half-heartedly raised their hands into the air, but rather than kneel down, they all turned to face him.

“Only one? You fucking kidding me?” one of them said—a vaguely brown man with glasses and a black toque.

“You gonna arrest all of us by yourself, little man?” one of the other two said in what sounded like a Jersey accent.

“I might not have to bother with the arrest if you keep refusing to cooperate,” Shining warned, keeping his gun steady. “Hands on your head. On your knees. Now!

To Shining’s consternation, the three men only laughed. The middle one gave him a curious look. “Something about you seems familiar…” he said. “Did I shoot you once? Maybe held you hostage?”

Strangely, Shining thought that something about his voice sounded familiar, but he certainly didn’t remember ever having met such an unsettling man before. “This is your last chance. Do it.

The man just gave him a mad smile, made all the more sinister by the red, white, and black face paint he wore resembling a skull.

“Or what? You’ll shoot us?” he asked in a deep voice laced with poisonous eloquence. Somehow, the tall man managed to look intimidating even while wearing yellow from head to toe.

“If that’s what it comes to.”

“And have you ever shot a man before?” the man with the painted face asked, smiling. “Have you ever killed a man before? Watched as the blood poured out, and the life left his body?”

Shining didn’t answer. He couldn’t. He had trained to be able to pull the trigger—to take a life—when the situation called for it. But somehow, everything felt different now. Shining’s thoughts kept going back to his sister: How little Twily would look at him if she knew he had blood on his hands.

“You may look the part dressed in all that blue, but when I look at you I see nothing but green,” the painted man took a step forward, testing the waters. Shining did the same in response, leveling his gun further, but made no other move.

“Do yourself a favor and put it down, kid. Killing you won’t mean anything to me,” the painted man continued. “You spineless cops all look the same to me. To me, you’re all just Edgar.”

Shining’s eyes widened, and his heart skipped a beat. That name was all he needed to place where he’d heard that man’s voice before. All it took for him to realize just who it was he was talking to.

“That’s impossible….”

Unfortunately, the man caught on to Shining’s brief loss of focus, and with one lightning fast motion, a throwing knife flew through the air and landed in Shining’s right shoulder. Shining stumbled back, and barely had time to register the pain flowing from his shoulder when the man rushed forward. His painted face inches Shining’s, the man swiftly disarmed him and knocked him down with a precise punch to the face.

Shining lay on the ground, dazed. He was barely able to register the sound of a motorcycle’s engine as one of the other two men rode away. He heard the second motorcycle start up, and the brown man—no, not the brown man. The Brownman, Shining realized—shouted, “C’mon, Secret Ryan! Get on! What are you doing?!”

Shining suddenly felt himself pushed onto his back, and found himself looking up at the painted face of the owner of the knife in his shoulder. The man bent over him and gripped the handle of the knife, but rather than retrieve it, he twisted it in place, sending fresh waves of hot pain through Shining’s whole body.

“You know me,” the Vagabond said. It wasn’t a question, it was a statement of fact. “How do you know me?”

Shining Armor could barely answer through the pain, but he did manage to get out three words through clenched teeth. “You… killed him….”

“Dude, come on!” the Brownman shouted as gunfire suddenly erupted. The Vagabond reacted immediately, leaping off of Shining Armor and jumping on the motorcycle behind his associate. The Brownman appeared to be holding off attackers behind Shining with a bright pink pistol. The two criminals pulled out of the alleyway on their motorcycle (the Vagabond holding up a middle finger for good measure), and soon the alleyway was quiet. Even the helicopter that had been on the roof was long gone.

Before Shining knew it, Melati Jasmine was kneeling over him. He could see more officers moving through the alley behind her.

“Hey there, bud. You’re okay, it’s not that bad,” she said before telling one of the officers around her to get a paramedic over here. “What the hell were you thinking running back here without backup?”

“I wasn’t. Just jumped into the deep end,” Shining groaned, sitting up.

“Exactly, and you’re very lucky you didn’t drown.”

The paramedics arrived and got to work, removing the knife and filling the wound with gauze. When it was all done, Shining had nothing to distract him from the very disturbing fact he’d just learned.

“Melati,” he said, his expression deadly serious. “It was them. They’re here.”

Author's Note:

Shoutout to BradtheBrony for editing!