• Published 2nd Apr 2019
  • 542 Views, 30 Comments

Knight of Equestria III: Pizzicato and Changelings - scifipony



Vinyl Scratch lands a gig for DJ Flopsy Mopsy: the public party for the royal Canterlot Wedding—in a stadium-sized venue! Handling this taxes her fledgling abilities, but, when she thinks she owns all the hooves, all Tartarus beaks loose.

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The Credible Threat

In retrospect, I had seen the green flashes through the stained glass windows of the castle, but I had been trying out the mix of tracks I'd planned for immediately after the grand announcement of the royal marriage. I'd thought it was the Australis Lighting Group testing an illusion. As I usually do, my eyes went heavenward as I listened and bobbed to the music in the two headphone earpieces I held to my right ear. I was looking at the sky.

I'd stopped thinking about its odd red color, but when the continuous red sheet suddenly crazed, crackled with lightning, and shattered, I froze. I dropped the headphones, one of which hit a turntable, cracking a spinning record and causing the arm to ricochet. I instinctively hit mute; it hadn't been the main line, but a faint drum mixed in.

Nopony seemed to notice on the floor as I stared with a cold chill running through me.

"A credible threat to the crown," Vinyl Scratch had said. I whispered, and it went over the PA, "More than credible."

Since voiceovers are a thing in EDM, and I'd done a few in sync with the music already, few ponies looked up at the stage as I saw black dots descending from the clouds. With barely a thought, I pressed the urgent button on the Australis lighting board. My elevated stage looked out over a crowd of neigh-maybe ten thousand unsuspecting ponies. I grabbed from my history stack and popped a disc onto my empty inspiration turntable; an ambient album. I plunked the needle to a heavy chill track that started it. It fascinated me that my wing trembled as I crossfaded it into the main.

The morning of the 1000th Sun Celebration, I'd been sent to take the rubbish bin my parents had filled in Town Hall out back. Mum and Dad had contracted to do the cleaning before the event. Exiting as Mayor Mare announced the beginning of the ceremony, I was outside when Princess Nightmare Moon ambushed Princess Celestia as her chariot descended. I had thought I'd seen her murdered. When Nightmare Moon stepped up and addressed me, something inside me broke. I curtseyed and called her "Your Royal Majesty," and kept my eyes locked on her electric green ones. I'd impressed her. I had acknowledged her royalty. In return, she'd promised to make me her first knight when she ascended the throne.

It took just moments before I'd released the curtsey, but she'd gone inside. I'd never felt so powerless or been so fearless at the same time.

I'd circled outside to the front door to stand with my Mum and Dad. The crowd inside had just defied Princess Nightmare Moon and the armored alicorn had exited swooping over my head. The auditorium had been packed to the rafters with ponies. I thus found myself blocking the only visible exit when Mayor Mare unwisely told the tense crowd not to "panic."

They had.

Panicked, that is.

With no thought, I'd shoved my parents aside, flared my wings, and shouted "Stop!"—and thereby halted the stampede that should have killed me. I'd saved...

The promenade below held more ponies than I could count. The only exit was a bridge that—albeit it could hold forty, withers to withers—was sorely inadequate for thousands fleeing at once. It spanned the east Canterlot Cascade river, which roared over the edge of the mountain to a half mile drop. And, of course, there was the chest high travertine fence that rounded the perimeter of the promenade that pressing bodies could easily be pushed over. I had a vision of thousands over the side of the mountain, dead and bloody on the Ponyville plain. That would be the result of pony instinct and a stampede, discounting the tramplings and those crushed together at the choke point bridge

Last fall, I had walked home from school into the center of Ponyville to find Discord standing there. The same suicidal calm I had felt when I saw him mangle ponies into warped creatures, descended now. My engaging Discord had allowed hundreds to flee, though I too was then transformed—into a grey upside-down flying whirligig pony. Whatever fell from the sky now could scarcely be more friendly than Discord. Call me an optimist.

Ghost Zapper galloped up. Ten seconds had passed.

I lifted the boom mic away from my mouth and said, "Can you do a red sky illusion like what's been above Canterlot the last few weeks?"

He looked up and gasped.

"Look at me!" I said, slapping him on the ribs with a wing.

His mouth opened, but the dropping black monsters magnetized his gaze. His eyes widened.

I tugged his face down sharply with a wing on his muzzle. I flipped my mane from my forehead, then gestured between my eyes and his with the other wing. "Look at me. Zap. At me."

He gulped, struggling with his head, but we locked gazes. I held his pale blue eyes and said, "You can do it. Cast the illusion."

His face went pale—pretty extraordinary when you consider his white fur—but his horn lit with blue magic as I slowly turned with him so I could again see the crowd in my peripheral vision and keep him controlled by eye-contact. Some few ponies had noticed something funny, but I saw relieved sighs as Ghost Zapper's illusion took affect. "And add storm clouds scudding in. Be a stallion. You're going to concentrate on your illusion, right? Not going to go mental on me, right?"

"Uh, huh."

I could only hope.

I leapt into the air. Gliding over the crowd in circles, I brought the mic down with a hoof and said, "Sorry folks, but it looks like the event has been cancelled."

I got a chorus of "awww" from that, which beat a chorus of screams. Above, dark clouds that actually blocked out the sun gathered with theatrical malevolence.

"It seems there's been a bad mistake with the weather team. I am going to have to ask everypony to leave the promenade calmly but quickly. Can we do that? Calmly. Calmly."

With me repeating that, ponies rapidly drifted toward the bridge that connected to Castle Way and the Strand. The pegasi left reluctantly, but kept under the clouds and didn't add to the foot traffic. If something ugly popped through the illusion before ponies dispersed into the streets of Canterlot, or some terrified pegasi flew screaming back toward the promenade...

I pushed the thought out of my head.

That and the thought, what if I were wrong? What if something benign, like the end of the threat against Canterlot had just happened?

During the wedding?

What were those green flashes?

I spotted constables dressed in blue wearing blue Prance caps, and royal guards in shiny brass parade armor, all of whom were acting as crowd control along the periphery of the promenade. I glided and flared my wings to land beside the largest knot of them.

If I were wrong, I was going to make an infamous fool of myself. I might be arrested. I'd be committed for the crazy pony I feared I was.

So be it. I'd pay, gratefully. But intuition screamed I had the right of it.

Where I landed, they stopped. The crowd retreating to the bridge distanced themselves, letting me safely speak aloud.

I lifted my mic and said, "Sirs! Something has broken through the shield around Canterlot. We have to keep ponies calm. The east bridge is a danger with this many ponies..."

I left the word stampede unvoiced.

One constable said, "So that's what that is—" He bolted, galloping toward the crowd and the exit. His fellows tackled him, which probably snapped a growing panic in others.

"Calm," I reiterated. "Get everypony out safely."

They nodded. I so hoped I was completely wrong. I so hoped nothing would pop through the illusion. I so very hoped nopony would get hurt for my stupidity, whatever the black dots turned out to be.

I pulled down the mic. "Everypony be calm and..." Yada yada.

As the promenade substantially emptied, I could not stop thinking about what hurtled down at us. In all likelihood, they headed to attack the princesses, not the common folk. But I had to know. The morning of the 1000th Sun Celebration, I had caught Princess Nightmare Moon spying through the window of the Golden Oak Library. She had needed to know her enemy and that meant so did I. I curved north, flapping hard, and soared up over the ramparts of the castle. Passing through the illusion of red sky and storm clouds hovering barely five stories high was like having been whirled around on a desk chair until made sick. (Thank you Vinyl Scratch for having demonstrated once.) It passed in an instant, and I shot into the sunlight.

Sadly, I wasn't wrong.

Jet black ponies with bulbous lime-green eyes and shimmering dragonfly wings swarmed like angry bees through the air, heading for the inner grounds of the palace. There were hundreds. All had fangs.

Wolves had fangs. I could well guess what wolves did to ponies with them.

I wasn't a target. None saw me flying.

But I saw something that experience had made me expect. Racing from the southeast wing of the castle galloped Twilight Sparkle, followed closely by her friends. Together they were the bearers of the Elements of Harmony; they had defeated Discord.

The insect ponies dive-bombed the group. They also appeared to be unicorns. They shot green beams from their jagged horns that exploded against the ground. Bloody wonderful, that.

When they landed, each suddenly transformed in a sheet of green smoke, becoming duplicate Twilight Sparkles, Pinkie Pies, or another. The Six turned and charged their pursuit, the two groups smashing together in a cloud of dust. When I saw unconscious black monsters flying away in the air and bursts of red-purple magic, I knew there was nothing I could do to help.

I curved away. I trusted that Twilight Sparkle would know what she was doing. She always prevailed. I could help elsewhere.

I dived through the nerve-jangling illusory clouds, rushing up on the stage and landing with a resounding clack of my hooves. I flipped my headset away across the soundboards and looked at my confused team of roadies, lighting and sound technicians, and two assistants. "Everypony here!" I shouted, pointing at my hooves.

To a one they came, though Ghost Zapper mumbled something about wondering why he was casting the illusion he was sweating buckets to maintain. Helping Hoof stood beside him and steadied him as I addressed the team. "Look at me. I'm calm. You can be calm, too." I pointed with a wing behind me at the crowd that had diminished to less than a third in the last few minutes. "They're calm, too. Can we be calm?"

I saw nods.

"Good lads. Somepony is attacking Canterlot." D-D jumped and the blue mare in charge of the speakers began shaking. I flared my wings. "Calm. We can do calm. I'm totally calm. See? Totally. Completely. Calm." And patently crazy, but I wasn't going to say that. "Breathe. Okay? They look like pony-shaped black insects with cheese-holes in their limbs and they are heading into the castle. We must go the other way. Find some place to hide while the princesses and the Elements of Harmony sort this out. Can we do that? Calmly?"

I led the way, on four hooves though I was a pegasus. We merged as a group into the crowd, me telling everypony around me to be calm, patting anypony on the back that looked nervous, asking some if they liked the music I played.

Calm.

Totally.

Completely.

It took three minutes until we walked on the first hundred pony-lengths of the Strand and could turn through the thronging crowd toward the castle. The optical properties of Ghost Zapper's illusion made it look like storm clouds jostling in a barely seen red sky. He maintained the illusion, but as I turned east, I could see it ended a few blocks into town. I saw confused ponies milling, but they were not gathering into larger crowds, so I hoped they would continue dispersing without becoming spooked. I watched as the last thick group of ponies, almost forty abreast, walked over the arched bridge, followed by just stragglers in groups only twenty or so across.

"I cannot keep it going much longer, Mop." His aura burned a bright pale blue, making his horn look as if illuminated from inside, and hot like a gas flame.

"Aurora? Anypony?"

Aurora Australis shook her head. "Never knew he was such a high level unicorn. That apparition u-up there—that's impossible."

"Fear and necessity find strange depths in a pony." I knew well. Regardless, the crowds and the clumps of stragglers were still too thick. A stampede was a contagion spread by proximity. To Ghost Zapper, I said, "A bit longer."

His legs started quaking below him. His fur was slickened with perspiration to an extent that he smelled intensely of horse. Aurora Australis swooped in on his left while Helping Hoof did the same on his right, to keep him from collapsing as they lowered him to the ground.

He said, My horn is beginning to hurt."

I looked around at the crowds streaming into Canterlot and folded sphinx-like before him. "I imagine it is. I faced Discord in Ponyville. He turned me inside out, but I persisted. I found a way to help ponies escape. You're doing that now."

"It really hurts." His eyes started widening, looking spooked.

"Look at me." I held his face with my wings, tilting his head down as his eyes threatened to roll up into his head. "I'm here. A little more."

Aurora Australis said, "You're hurting him."

Ponies were still too tightly packed.

He said, "I-I can't—"

I shot back. "You can."

"Not much longer..."

The fur around his face was drying suddenly. "Yes, you can."

"No."

"Look at me Zap."

His frown increased, but his eyes wandered in my general direction. Over his shoulder, I saw the crowds thinning more. Not enough to keep a panic from spreading. He said, "Flopsy Mopsy. What kind of name is that?"

Aurora Australis tried pulling a wing away. I smacked her sharply as I said, "I'll show you the foal picture Mum and Dad keep on the mantelpiece."

"Nice," he croaked as his eyes started wandering. I smelled smoke.

I had the sudden fear I was missing a more immediate attack, but focused on his face. I asked, "What color are my eyes? What color?"

The pale blue aura around his horn guttered.

"My eyes!"

He looked at me and we locked gazes. "I think, indigo?"

"That's your artistic side." Above the sky flipped from red to deep blue.

"May be."

"You know, you're a hero."

"You think?"

"May be."

"Hah!" he exclaimed. There was a sudden phizzzzz and a flash. Stinking smoke filled the air and I coughed, waving the noxious cloud away with a wing as his head became heavy, or rather he went limp. Late afternoon sunlight beamed down suddenly.

Multiple ponies caught him to keep his skull from bouncing off the ground. In the middle of his forehead, his fur looked burnt off, had been burnt off. Burnt hair stink filled the air. Char formed a pattern of a five point star centered on his horn.

He breathed. I heard him sigh into unconsciousness.

Aurora Australis screamed, "You, you, you monster!"

"I am a monster," I spat back, launching into the sky.