• Published 23rd Jan 2019
  • 2,487 Views, 115 Comments

Pressed for Time - Aragon



Vinyl and Octavia need to hug for eight hours – or the building explodes.

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Chapter Three – Would Recommend to my Friends

The hydra dwarfed Twilight Sparkle. Drool dropped from every one of its mouths. Dumb rage in its eyes. Murder in its breath.

Twilight Sparkle looked up at it. “Okay,” she said. “So what is it going to be this time, Mister Hydra. Killing me or eating me?”

The hydra didn’t really reply. It just sort of went “RAAAAAARGH.”

“Uh-huh. I can’t understand that, so let’s go with murder.” Twilight had bags under her eyes, and sounded utterly bored. She cleared her throat with a cough and then said, slightly louder: “I am officially telling you that there’s no need for violence, and that we can simply talk about your feelings if you want. Also, please don’t try to murder me and all that.”

RAAAAAARGH.

Around them, war went on.

Canterlot was a city of excess; it was dominated by an immortal almighty goddess wearing gold and only got more decadent from there. The Outer Gardens of Canterlot extended through most of the mountain; there were cliffs, rivers, entire forests held within. All of it tended with care across millenia, carefully arranged to maximize its beauty for absolutely no reason other than to flex at the rest of Equestria.

To walk through the entirety of the Canterlot Gardens took months. To appreciate it fully took years.

And they were currently bursting with hydras and dragons fighting it out.

You could see it in the distance. Dragons flying all around the mountain, like scaly birds of prey, spewing fire and destroying the countryside. Hydras snatching at anything that came close, tearing everything to pieces with their four jaws. Forests were burned, rivers ran red.

All the beauty of the mountain got destroyed that day.

And Twilight Sparkle, who had been born and raised in Canterlot and loved the mountain, was forced to live through this in real time, and she was not happy about it.

“I mean it.” She was standing between the gigantic hydra and Canterlot Castle, still sounding utterly bored. There were no dragons nearby, they were all fighting around the mountain. “I am telling you to stop this because I promised Fluttershy I would be nice: you really shouldn’t try to murder me.”

If the hydra understood Twilight, it certainly didn’t show it. It just kept staring with four dumb pairs of eyes, drool still dripping from its mouths. It growled, and the earth trembled.

Pause.

Twilight squinted. “Is… Is that a yes, or…?”

RAAAAAARGH!

The hydra moved.

A blur, four blurs, the sound of something sharp breaking the air—suddenly, a million teeth appeared in front of Twilight. One mouth to grab the prey, the other three to tear it to pieces; you don’t get to fight toe-to-toe with dragons without being impossibly fast.

CRASH!

And before it could even get close to Twilight, a giant boulder fell on top of it, crushing it completely.

“Okay, I take that as a no, then.” Twilight looked up. “Rainbow Dash! Thanks!”

Another blur—this one blue—and Rainbow Dash made it to the ground. She still had a lever in her mouth. “You’re welcome!” She spat the lever to the side. “Did you try to talk to it first?”

“Yes.”

“Because Fluttershy is going to get angry if you didn’t try to talk to it first.”

“I did try to talk to it first. It immediately tried to murder me, though.”

“Okay, cool.” Rainbow Dash turned around and gave the giant boulder—and the hydra underneath it—an appreciative look. “By the way,” she said, “I am loving this. Remember when hydras were scary?

“They still are, we just got used to it.” Twilight looked at the boulder, focused—and her horn flashed. Next thing you know, neither the boulder nor the hydra were there anymore. There was just a crater on the ground. “There. It’s back on the roof, so go and drop it on the next hydra you see getting close to the Castle. I’m going to go check on the others, see how they’re doing?”

“Sure!” Dash grabbed the lever again, and took off—but she paused before disappearing. “Wait, do I talk to the hydras before dropping the boulder?”

“I mean…” Twilight frowned. “I don’t know. Do you want Fluttershy to be mad at you?”

Dash saluted. “Gotcha. I talk to them before dropping the boulder.”

Twilight Sparkle had been standing guard by the east wing of the Castle—the part that overlooked the Gardens, and so the most dangerous one—to look out for any wandering hydras that managed to get out of the dragons’ reach.

An extremely concerning amount of them had managed so far.

“Um.” The sound of wings flapping came from above, and Fluttershy landed in front of them, down from one of the highest towers in the Castle. “I heard you talking about me being mad at Rainbow Dash?”

“Hey, Shy.” Dash spat the lever once more. “All good by the north wing?”

“Mmm. Yes.” Fluttershy gave Dash a nod, one of those nods that she had that was both a gesture of affirmation and a way to hide her face from others. “We just saw two hydras come running, and, and I talked a lot with them.”

“So they’re out?” Dash asked.

“They were dealt with.”

“Awesome!”

“Yes,” Twilight said, and then she shot a side-eyed glance at the Gardens. She could see smoke rising. “I have to say, if it weren’t for the fact that my childhood is burning to the ground? I’d say this plan is going pretty smoothly!”

“Rainbow Dash? Uh.” Fluttershy swallowed, and then looked at Dash, still hiding behind her mane. “Why were you saying I was going to be mad at you?”

Dash shrugged. “We’re splattering the hydras with giant boulders.”

Pause.

Fluttershy immediately stopped hiding behind her mane, and she looked at Dash with a full-on frown. “What.”

“We’re totally talking to them, though, so it’s cool.” Dash looked at Twilight. “Right?”

“Yeah,” Twilight said. “We only splatter them afterwards.”

Fluttershy’s frown did not go away. “Did you ask the hydra if they wanted to talk about their feelings, Twilight?”

“It kinda tried to murder me.”

“Yes, but did you ask?”

“Okay, wait.” Dash dashed towards Shy and floated above her, front legs crossed in front of her chest. “Like. For real—is there any point to this? Whatsoever? Are you seriously telling me that the hydras listen to you, or…?”

That got Fluttershy to stop frowning. “Um.”

Which, in turn, made Twilight arch an eyebrow. “Fluttershy?”

“Well, I make sure that they tell me that don’t want to talk first,” Shy explained, looking down and pawing the ground with a hoof. “They aren’t really nice.” Then, spirit back up, she looked at Twilight. “But I’m sure not all hydras are like that! There must be one or two that are good, right?”

Twilight squinted. “Uuuuh…”

“Okay, so you’re like—what? Dropping boulders on them, too?” Dash asked, still looking at Fluttershy. “You said you dealt with two hydras, didn’t you?”

“Hmm-hmm.” Fluttershy did another of her hiding nods. “I flew away and led them to Applejack and Pinkie Pie.”

“And Ah took care of it!” a voice came from afar.

Twilight, Fluttershy, and Dash all turned around. Applejack was racing towards them from the southernmost corner of the building. She was fast enough to get there in no time, and then she tipped her hat at them. “Everythin’ clear on the South, Twi.”

“Thank you.”

“Um.” Fluttershy looked at Applejack, and then she looked at the corner from which Applejack had popped out—all the way to the south. “Did you… hear us speaking all the way from there?”

“Yeah!” Applejack said, grinning at Fluttershy. “Acoustics in these Gardens are crazy! Must be all the destruction the hydras are bringin’.”

Twilight grumbled under her breath.

“Makes it easier for the sound to travel! ‘Cause everythin’s either burned or broken to pieces, see?” And AJ tipped her hat. “Why, this is gonna take centuries to regrow! At least!”

Twilight grumbled harder.

“Oh yeah, and speakin’ of that.” Here Applejack got serious, and shot Twilight a look. “Bad news. Rarity found somethin’ weird.”

“Applejack bringing bad news!” Dash was hovering above Applejack now, glaring down with all she had. “What a shocker, huh.”

“Now, what in tarnation do you mean by—”

“Wait, you’re still fighting?” Twilight cut, frowning. “Girls, we’re at war! Can we please focus? Applejack, what do you mean, bad news?”

“Rarity found somethin’. She’s—” Applejack turned around, and then blinked. “She’s still all the way over there? RARITY! COME HERE ALREADY!”

Rarity popped out from the same corner Applejack had turned minutes ago—but she was definitely not in a rush. She just walked with her usual delicate trot, and nothing else.

“COME ON, RARES! WE’RE AT WAR! RUN A LIL’, WE AIN’T GONNA JUDGE YOU FOR SWEATIN’!”

“Pfft.”

Applejack glared up. “Did you just laugh?”

“Who, me?” And Dash floated backwards, perfectly innocent expression on her face. “Not at all!” Then she grinned at Applejack. “So how are you taking care of the hydras anyway? Bumming them out until they give up?”

“Ah actually just throw giant boulders at ‘em, matter of fact,” Applejack said, squinting hard at Dash. “‘Cause unlike others, Ah don’t need gravity to do my job.”

“Now what does that—”

“Twilight!” And just in time, Rarity made it to the group. She was wearing a golden necklace—some odd, uneven shape that looked ugly as sin. “Oh, darling, I think I know why the hydras are attacking! And it’s terrible!

There was the sound of stone creaking in the distance, and the hill of the south got blown to pieces. Twilight arched an eyebrow. “Gosh,” she said. “That’s a shock.”

“I am serious! This might be more complicated than we thought. See this terrible necklace here?” Rarity grabbed the thing around her neck. It looked half-done, like a puzzle with missing pieces. “The hydra we stopped was carrying it around. It tried to hide it from us!”

This made Twilight frown, and approach Rarity. She looked at the necklace, but nothing rang a bell about it. “Odd. Did they say where the other half was?”

“Inside of the Castle! Which is why we asked Applejack to throw a giant boulder at them.”

“And Ah did!”

“Ah-hah.” Twilight nodded. “Elegant solution.”

“A necklace?” Fluttershy hovered above Twilight and looked at it. “Um. The hydras I talked to did not mention a necklace. They did talk a lot about pretty rocks, but I thought it was about the ones Applejack kept throwing at her friends.”

“Apparently not.”

“They said they had to look for some inside the Castle.”

This got Twilight’s attention. She looked at Fluttershy. “Another what?”

“Rock.” Fluttershy shrugged. “I thought she was still talking about Applejack. We are protecting the Castle, right? Or… maybe it meant a stone? Is there any difference?”

“I mean, yes, we’re protecting this place.” Twilight flashed her horn and took the necklace from Rarity, then grabbed it with her hooves. “But I think we just found out why they’re trying to get in—wait.” She blinked, looked around at her friends. “Wait a minute. Rarity?”

“Twilight, dear?”

“You said that the hydra you stopped was carrying this?”

“I did, yes.”

“And Applejack.” Twilight looked at AJ. “You threw a rock at it, and Rarity took the necklace.”

“Yep.”

“But Fluttershy talked to two hydras. Right?” Twilight looked at Fluttershy again. “And then you led them away after talking to them. Two hydras that were trying to get in the Castle.”

“…Uh-oh.” Fluttershy’s eyes got big. “You… you don’t mean…”

“Yes. I mean it.” Twilight took a deep breath. “Girls? Please, tell me at least one of you can tell me. Where is that other hydra, and where is Pinkie Pie?

Nopony replied.

Then, suddenly, out in the northern part of the Castle—an explosion. A hydra screaming. The entire Castle trembled, and the sound of rubble falling. The acoustics of the Gardens were so good that they could even hear some of the ponies inside screaming with high-pitched voices.

Pause.

Twilight frowned. “Okay then, that sounds like a good place to start looking. Fluttershy, fly to that tower and look out for hydras. Rainbow, you drop a boulder if they come from here, Applejack, you throw rocks if they come from there, and Rarity—” She threw the necklace at her friend “—you’re in charge. Keep this safe.”

Then she flashed her horn, and she was gone.


Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing uncomfortable about losing consciousness. When you get knocked out, you barely feel it. A flash, a hard knock on the head—and then nothing but nothingness.

Regaining consciousness, though. That’s why concussions get such a bad rap.

“Vinyl! Vinyl, are you awake?” Nudge, tap, nudge. The voice came like cotton floating down the river. “Oh, dear. Please tell me you are not dead, or else this is going to get really uncomfortable. Vinyl?”

Vinyl tried to speak. She tried with all she had. “Hrrrg.” Close enough.

“Ah! Vinyl!” More tapping, more nudging. “I saw you move!”

“Hrrrg.”

“Vinyl, wake up! Wake up! Rise and shine?” Nudge nudge. “You don’t have to shine if you don’t want to. Please?”

Vinyl opened her eyes. She immediately regretted it.

The room was mostly dark, but whatever light lingered was enough to hurt Vinyl’s eyes. Everything was musky and smelled like dust. Vinyl was laying on cold hard rock, surrounded by rubble, and feeling thunder inside her head. Something soft and warm by her side.

The ceiling was of stone, and way too low to be comfortable. There was a single window with no glass and iron bars blocking it, but the sunshine came dimmed through it. A muffled sound in the distance — screams, and fire, and the sounds of war.

“Vinyl?”

And the voice.

The voice came from Vinyl’s right, the place of soft and warm. So she turned, expecting something, and something she saw: Octavia. Face like an angel, bowtie ruffled, mane full of dust. Worry in her eyes, but a smile in her lips. The room smelled of dust, but she smelled of old wood, and rosewater, and strawberry tea. She was holding Vinyl.

She asked: “Vinyl? Are you okay?”

And she looked beautiful, in that moment between sleep and wake, in that dimly lit place of cold stone and low ceilings.

So Vinyl grimaced and looked to the side, then said: “Blegh.”

“Ah-hah! I knew it!” Octavia’s smile was bright enough to light up the room, and give Vinyl an even worse headache. “You were breathing too hard to be dead. How are you feeling? Does it hurt? Do you know who I am?”

“…What happened.”

“A monster attacked us!” Octavia’s voice was not exactly high-pitched, but it still stung Vinyl like a needle through her brain. “It climb all the way to the princess’ study. And then it fended off Mister Labcoat, and Princess Luna both! It was terrible.”

Pause.

“And also I believe Princess Luna called me fat? And I don’t know what to think about that. She said I’m plump!

Vinyl closed her eyes and sighed, trying, and failing, to control her migraine. “Okay,” she said. “Okay. That’s a lot to take in.”

“Right? I have a reasonably good figure. I exercise a lot!” Octavia was squinting, twisting her head around to examine her own side. “Would you say I’m plump? I would not say I’m plump.”

“Octavia.”

“Yes?”

“Shut up.”

Octavia’s voice sounded sympathetic enough to be frustrating. “Oh,” she said. “My apologies. Concussion not treating you well?”

“Concussion not treating me well.”

“Happens to the best of us! Nothing to be ashamed of.” Pause. Octavia looked to both sides, then cleared her throat with a cough. “I have to say, ah, I would love to give you some space? But, well.” And she grimaced. “I’m afraid I cannot.”

Vinyl tried to blink, but she had trouble coordinating both eyelids. Everything still hurt. The thunder in her head echoed.

“Right,” she said. Then she held her breath and did the old party trick: she focused on her horn, as if to cast a spell, then shook her head as hard as she could without letting it go. It hurt like hell for a while, then it got so much better. “Right,” she repeated, “of course. We don’t want to explode.”

“Oh?” Octavia had moved her head away—only a bit, they were still hugging—to give Vinyl room to shake around, but now that that was over she was close and personal once again. “So you remember that? I am not going to lie, I was fully expecting you to suffer some kind of minor memory loss. You know.” She nodded towards Vinyl’s head. “Because of your head trauma!”

“Yeah. Nah.” Vinyl grunted, and then rested her head on the cold hard ground. It did not help. “Not enough brain damage. So, that’s the good news. Sorry if I’m grumpy, my head just hurts a lot.”

“Don’t worry! I won’t hold it against you.” Then Octavia frowned. “Also, I’m glad you bring up brain damage? Because that was not a soft fall you took.”

“So what happened, anyway?”

“Well, you hit the floor head-first and it made the most peculiar noise.”

“No, no, not that. I mean more…” Vinyl looked around, at the dark room. There wasn’t enough light to really tell, but the rubble, the dust, and the oddness of the ceiling made it clear the place wasn’t in pristine condition. “Where are we? What happened up there? Did the tower collapse?” A pause, and then as an afterthought: “Also, are the princess and the dragon okay? There was a, a hydragon…”

Octavia nodded, still looking at Vinyl with those worrying eyes, that angel face. “Hmmm.” She tapped Vinyl’s head once again, as if trying to find a wound—but eventually she gave up. “Indeed! The—how did you call it? Hydragon?”

“Called itself that.”

“Right, I suppose.” Octavia looked down, pouted a bit, frowned. “What is a hydragon, even?

Pause.

“Take a guess, Octavia.”

“I will! I will take a guess.” Octavia made a thinking face—like a pout, but more intellectual—and then hummed a little. “Hum hum hum. Some kind of terrible monster?”

Vinyl took a moment to think about this. Then she said: “You know what? Yeah. Yeah that’s actually a great description.”

“Thank you! I am very intelligent.” Octavia stopped with the thinking face and smiled at Vinyl. “Well then. That terrible monster tried to get inside Princess Luna’s study, but it was simply too big. So, yes, to answer your other question—the tower collapsed! With us still in it.”

“Right.”

“Mister Labcoat and Princess Luna flew away to safety. They have wings, you see? They can just do that! But we don’t. So we plummeted to our death!”

It took a moment for Vinyl to catch this. “We what?” She asked. “We plummeted?”

“Hmm-hmm.”

“To our death.”

“Yes indeed!”

If Vinyl had been able to massage her temples, she would have. Her front legs were busy wrapping Octavia, however, so she just kept laying on the ground and made a face. “Okay,” she said. “So, like. We’re dead now, or…?”

Octavia chuckled, and bopped Vinyl’s muzzle with her forehead. “Of course not! Princess Luna teleported us to safety before we could die. Then you hit your head and got knocked out! And now we’re here.”

Vinyl got stiff the moment Octavia touched her muzzle. When she spoke, she pronounced every word very, very slowly. “She,” she said, “teleported us to safety.”

“Yes!”

“And then I hit the floor and got immediately knocked out.”

“Princess Luna is very bad at dealing with mortals! It’s because of all the talent she has for murder, I think.”

“She does look like somepony who’s tasted blood.”

“She does! She really does. I love her, but she is terrifying.”

“Told you.” Vinyl made a face. “We’re super getting murdered today, one way or the other.”

Then Octavia examined Vinyl, really examined her. Looked her in the eye and so on. “Are you okay, though? Are you sure? I would hate it if you got really hurt. I was very worried!”

Vinyl arched an eyebrow. “Don’t wanna be hugging a corpse?”

“Indeed! Especially one with that mane.” Octavia looked at Vinyl’s hairdo and made a face. “It looks terrible. But I also do not want you to die! We are casual acquaintances, right?”

“We super are. But don’t tell that dragon.” Vinyl squinted. “I’d hate to give him the satisfaction.”

“Oh, absolutely! Just call me an inbred again as soon as he’s around, and he’ll absolutely believe we don’t like each other.”

“Yeah, tha—ah?” Vinyl blinked, looked at Octavia. “Wait. You were aware that was an insult? Have—have you been playing dumb all this time?”

And Octavia smiled, and fluttered her eyelashes. “Oh, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

It took a moment for Vinyl to reply. She just stared at Octavia for a little while first, digesting everything, thoughts slowed down because the headache was terrible.

Ultimately, though, she returned the smile. “You know, you’re kinda fun to be around.”

“Thank you! I absolutely am. It is one of my best qualities.”

“You could really stop going after my mane so hard, though.”

“Oh, no, no. I have to draw the line somewhere.”

If they both felt that they were dancing about the issue, it’s because they were. If Vinyl was trying to make Octavia smile to get some weight off her chest, she could hardly be blamed. If Octavia was a little too relieved to be able to talk to Vinyl again, well. How could she not?

It’s difficult, sometimes, for those who were not born in Equestria to understand what the Princesses, the alicorns, mean. It’s such an internalized thing that the moment Princess Luna came back, she was immediately accepted. The moment Princess Twilight ascended, she joined the pantheon, and nopony ever doubted why.

This was not because they were perfect—they were not. Too many mistakes to account for already to believe that particular lie. But they were immortal, and they were powerful, and they were reliable. Monsters were dangerous, and they could hurt you, but they could not hurt the alicorns.

But Princess Luna had been visibly distressed in front of the hydragon. Labcoat—a genuine dragon himself—hadn’t been able to immediately kill the monster.

It was not an easy thing to take in.

Which is why they were simply not thinking about it.

Vinyl rolled her eyes, but there was a bit of a smile tugging to her lips. She suppressed it rather nicely. Then she looked around. “So where are we right now, exactly?”

Octavia frowned. “Say. Are we avoiding the fact that we are the Chosen Ones and seemingly fated to save the world?”

“We are super avoiding that fact, yes.”

And the frown went away and a beaming smile took its place. “Okay! That sounds like a reasonable thing to do.” Then Octavia started looking around, ears perked up. “And these are the lower dungeons! Light up your horn, please? I can’t see properly.”

“You know, my head kinda hurts.”

“Oh?” Octavia looked up at Vinyl, down from her chest. The little light that came to the cell reflected in her eyes almost perfectly, and they looked—for a second—wide, and deep, and full of stars. “So you can’t?”

Vinyl’s left eye twitched.

Here’s the deal, in plain terms: Hugs are not to be taken lightly.

You hug someone, and you feel their warmth, their heartbeat, and they feel yours. Hugs are special things. Hugs are powerful things.

Vinyl wasn’t hugging Octavia—she was holding her. But Octavia wasn’t holding Vinyl.

She was hugging her.

Which is why Vinyl’s left eye twitched, and why she looked away, grumbled, and then said: “Whatever.” And in spite of the throbbing headache it gave her, she lit her horn.

And Octavia smiled after one look around. “Ah-hah!” she said. “The lower dungeons, indeed! I am so good at this. It is probably due to all that inbreeding.”

“You went all the way around from insult to flattery again with that one, huh.”

“And the dungeons seem intact, I might add!” The only sign that Octavia had heard Vinyl was the light slap the latter got on the back of her neck. “I assume the Castle is maintaining its structural integrity, then, towers aside.” Octavia looked smug while saying this. “That’s good news! Nothing is down except for the ceiling, which you pretty much blew away with your head!”

Vinyl looked up. Now that there was light, she could see that the ceiling wasn’t as low as she’d thought—it’s just that big chunks of it had collapsed. There was a big hole right above them, too. “Oh. Wait, did we do that?”

“Yes!” Octavia nodded with enthusiasm. “And we caused very little damage, all things considered! Far from my intentions to toot my own horn, but the craftsmanship of this Castle is amazing! Don’t you think?”

It took Vinyl a moment to understand this. “Toot your what?”

“Oh. Is that offensive? I’m very sorry! I won’t use it again.” Octavia looked up, at Vinyl’s horn, then frowned. “It’s an old Canterlot saying, but now that I think about it, it does sound insulting towards unicorns.”

“No, I’m not—well actually it is a bit offensive, not gonna lie?”

“Ah-hah! See? That’s probably why it became a saying in the first place. Canterlot is terrible.”

“Right, fully agree—but I’m not talking about that.” Vinyl squeezed Octavia by the shoulders and looked around. “Why are you being smug about this?”

Octavia’s turn to look confused. “Excuse me?”

“About the Castle not being blown up.” An explosion outside, and the whole building shook slightly. Some dust fell from the ceiling. Vinyl cringed. “Yet.”

“I’m not smug!” Octavia sounded genuinely distraught. “I am just proud of my heritage!” Then her ears perked up and she raised her chin, and in that moment she looked more noble than ever, and almost a thousand years old. “My family, you see, is the one that built this Castle in the first place. Thousands of years ago! And it’s still up!

“What. What?” Vinyl’s eyes got wide. “Are you kidding? Your family built this?”

Octavia raised her chin even more. More smug than ever. “Indeed!”

“…Isn’t your name Pianissimo, though?” Vinyl tilted to the side a little and caught a peek of Octavia’s flank. “Unless bricks play in the treble clef, I am pretty certain you’re supposed to be a musician.”

“And I am! But I am the second daughter, so I can afford diversifying my family’s field of expertise.”

“Right, but you are called Pianissimo.” Vinyl looked at Octavia again for a second, saw her eyes, then immediately looked somewhere else. “Like, that’s your actual name.”

“I am a Pianissimo, yes! We’re a pretty famous dynasty, actually.”

“The Pianissimo dynasty, then. And you’re architects.”

“We build things very quietly.”

Pause.

“You know what? I’m not brain damaged enough to have this conversation either! So let’s just—” Vinyl squinted, and while doing that, she noticed, for the first time, that her eyes were bare. “Ah. Shoot. My shades.”

Octavia blinked. “Beg your pardon?”

“Beg, then. My shades?”

“Your sunglasses?” Octavia looked around. “I think they’re over there,” she said, nodding towards one of the corners of the room. Indeed, there was something purple there, reflecting the light of Vinyl’s magic. “I saw them when—!”

“Shades, shades.” Vinyl licked her lips, braced herself for the pain, and floated her glasses to her face with a flick of her horn. It barely hurt at all, which was the first pleasant surprise she’d had in at least twenty-four hours. “They’re shades.

Octavia cocked her head to the side. “What?”

“Not sunglasses. The Secret Equestrian Service uses sunglasses. These,” Vinyl lifted the shades for a moment, to make sure it was clear what she was talking about, “are shades.”

“Oh,” Octavia said. Then: “I didn’t know there was a difference!”

“There is.”

“I didn’t know we have a Secret Service either. Do we?”

“We do.” Vinyl put the shades on. It felt good, even if it meant she could see absolutely nothing. “Huge deal.”

“Never heard of them! Are they well-known?”

“They’re called the Secret Service, Octavia.”

“Ah. I see, I see.” Octavia nodded. “Are you supposed to be telling me this?”

“Not at all, actually! It’s quite literally a State secret. This is high treason I’m committing right now. I have no idea why I ever brought this up.”

A small pause.

“Is it me, or did you actually suffer a lot of brain damag—”

“I’ve actually suffered a lot of brain damage, let’s get out of here.”


“You know, far from my intentions to nag you on this,” Octavia was saying. “But you didn’t say anything, when I complained about Princess Luna calling me fat?”

Vinyl nodded. “Uh-huh. So do we turn left or right now?”

“Left! We have to go left. And one would think that, you know, reassuring me that I am indeed in quite good shape is the socially expected response?”

“Sure is.”

Pause.

Vinyl clicked her tongue. “Okay!” she said. “Going left, then!”

Vinyl got a light slap on the back of her neck.

An hour had passed since the bomb had entered Vinyl and Octavia’s lives, and now they were at the bottom of Canterlot Castle, trying to find a way up.

The lower dungeons were mostly made of harsh cold stone, although once you got away from the cells the walls were painted white and the floor was reasonably smooth. It was dark, sure, there were no torches around, but Vinyl could light up her horn without much trouble, so rolling around was more or less comfortable.

The dungeons were, to be honest, mostly there out of a sense of obligation. Nobody ever used the place. When your entire culture is based on the idea of literally weaponizing friendship, taking prisoners is not something you do very often. Ponies classified threats in two broad categories: there are future friends, and then there are victims.

“Well, that is a good way to put it, yes,” Octavia said when Vinyl mentioned something of the sorts. “Say. Do you think it is possible to befriend a hydra?”

Vinyl frowned. “Not really? We mostly use friendship to slay them. Also, I don’t think hydras even understand it.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah.” Vinyl thought about it for a moment, and then repeated something she’d heard Bon Bon said once: “I think that, when it comes to brains, hydras kind of choose quantity over quality?”

“Aaah. Of course.” And Octavia nodded. “Happens to the best of us, really!”

So, by the end of the day, they both expected the dungeons to still be empty, the hydras to still be the enemy, and also a lot of dead lizards all around Canterlot.

In the meantime though, no prisoners meant no reason to lock any doors. Only then, of course, there was the issue of actually getting out. Turns out, hugging is a bit like handling scissors: doesn’t mesh well with running.

“Ouch! Stop! Stop!” Octavia winced, and she forced Vinyl to go still, then rubbed her forehead against Vinyl’s chest while moaning in pain. That made Vinyl stiff up again, but Octavia barely noticed. “There was something on the ground!”

“I—uh—what?” Vinyl shook her head a little, and then looked back—there was indeed some rubble on the ground. “Ah, yeah. Did you roll over it?”

“It poked me right above the tail! It stings!” Octavia squirmed, trying to both press herself against Vinyl to keep the bomb stable and look to her own back at the same time. It didn’t work, because anatomy doesn’t work that way, but she still tried. “Ow! I think there was something sharp over there, and we passed right over it! Do you mind rubbing my lower back to see if there’s anything stuck to it?”

Vinyl didn’t reply for a couple seconds. She just stood there, completely still, while Octavia kept moaning softly.

Then she cleared her throat with a cough and said: “Uh. Sorry. You’re asking me to do what?

So here’s how it goes: if you’re hugging somepony with both your front legs, and kinda with your back legs too—a little, now and then, it was a very case-by-case thing—the only way you can reasonably move around is either flying or just rolling around doing your best impression of a tumbleweed or a very strange hula hoop.

The latter is extremely uncomfortable unless you’re doing it on a carpet. The ground in the lower dungeons was cold harsh stone, rocky as can be.

Neither of them had wings.

So the two musicians did not mind the rock and rolled, and neither appreciated the irony in the slightest.

Only, of course, the Castle shook every time something big happened outside, and Vinyl was now realizing that maybe they should’ve been a little bit more careful in looking where they were going, instead of just trying to roll away as fast as possible.

“I am asking you to gently caress the area around my tail to see if there’s anything stuck to it!” Octavia said.

“To c—?” Vinyl choked. “To. To caress the are around your t—you know what? I’m rather sure that is just not going to happen.”

“What? Vinyl, it hurts! What if there was s sharp rock and it stabbed me? I can’t see!” Octavia was pressing herself hard against Vinyl now, and wiggling around, and moaning of pain, and—oh boy.

Oh boy.

She sure was, okay. She sure was something all right.

“Oh, Celestia, what if I’m bleeding?” There was alarm in her voice, mind you, but her accent was pleasant enough for that to almost make things worse. “You have to hurry! Just rub it a bit to see if there’s anything there?”

“Right, look, I can just—” Vinyl squirmed a bit too, tried to look over Octavia’s shoulder down to her lower back, utterly failed because that is, once again, not how anatomy works. “See? Perfectly fine!” she said anyway. “No need to gently caress anything!”

“Vinyl, I swear to the stars! I’m worried! Come on, you are already hugging me! I’ll buy you three coffees myself!”

“That’s still—wait, you’re going straight for three?”

“Yes!”

“Boy, your ass must hurt a lot.”

“It does! Which is why I’m asking you to check it!” Octavia kept hugging Vinyl with one front leg, but took the other out and pushed Vinyl’s hoofs downwards. Towards her backside. “Just lower your hooves a little bit, gently lift my tail and go to town with—

“Okay you don’t nee—OKAY OKAY WOW WOW STOP HEY.” Vinyl moved her hooves up, away from Octavia’s tail. “HEY THERE.”

“What?! Vinyl, this is an emergency!”

“YEAH, SURE IS!”

“Vinyl, I don’t understand what—” And then Octavia blinked, and her ears perked up, and her mouth became a perfect ‘o’. “Oh, dear,” she said then, voice completely different. “Oh my. I am so sorry—is this making you uncomfortable?”

“WHAT?”

“Because if this is making you uncomfortable at all, you don’t have to—”

“HAHAH, WHAT? Me? Uncomfortable? Please!” Vinyl’s voice was so tense you could have wrapped it around a racket and played tennis with it. “Please! Not at all! See? Look at me, just—” she lowered her hooves “—just, rubbing your ass! Like there’s no tomorrow! Just, circular notions, playing with your tail a little, see? Perfectly fine! Nothing wrong with that! Hah! Hah, hah!

Octavia was, indeed, being rubbed rather well. Bit of an odd sensation, she would explain much later, when narrating this scene. Interesting. Rather peculiar. But Vinyl was looking like she was trying her best, so she tried to encourage her. “So you are!” she said, smiling. “Uh, now, can you check if I’m bleeding or if there’s anything right above my tail? Because that’s where it hu—”

“Just gently caressing everything! Look at me go! I could do it all day!”

“Ooor just stay over that bit for a while! I suppose! If that’s what you want.” Octavia looked at Vinyl dead in the eye. “Are you sure you’re okay? You’re acting fishy.”

“Absolutely! I’m just an adult mare, gently rubbing another adult mare, in a completely appropriate fashion! Because she asked me to do so, and what is just a little bit of fondling between friends, right? Hah! Hah!” She rose her hooves back to Octavia’s back. “There you go! See? Just copping a feel! Like one does!”

And Octavia gave Vinyl a small smile. “Thank you!” she said. “Sorry for making you do this.”

No need to! Nothing to apologize for! And, hey, now that I have touched your ass, we can finally move on!”

“Sure! Although, um.” Octavia frowned. “So, was there anything stuck there or…?

Pause.

“Right. Give me a moment.” Vinyl lowered her hooves again, copped another feel, slapped something away, rose her hooves. “Right yes something stuck but there’s no blood. I think it was just tangled with your tail. Does still hurt?”

Octavia was grimacing. “A little! I think I’ll have a bruise tomorrow. You didn’t have to be so rough!”

“Right, I—”

“But at least I’m not bleeding! Right? You didn’t feel anything wet down there.”

Vinyl’s shades covered most of her face, but it was still painfully clear that she was blushing. “And look at the time!” she said, looking away, at the wall, where there was nothing remotely resembling a clock because they were in the dungeons and why would you have a clock there. “Time to leave and shut up for a while!”

“Okay!” Octavia nodded, and started to roll around and nudge Vinyl to the side… and then she stopped, and her ears perked up. A devious glint made it to her eyes. “Although,” she said. “I say! Seeing how you just inspected my curves rather thoroughly—that thing Princess Luna said, you know, it’s still bothering me a little bit…?”

Vinyl nodded. “I am ignoring you.”

“Aw, come on! Can’t a mare just get a compliment when she needs it?” Octavia made a huff, but then just kept talking, pout still on. “Alright. Let’s see, if I remember the layout correctly, we need to go over there, and then reach the—do you think we may be able to climb stairs like this?”

Vinyl looked at Octavia. The blush was going away from her face. “What, like, roll up some stairs?”

“Yes.”

“You just rolled over half a pebble and almost broke in half, you tell me.”

“Ah-hah! Perfectly fine point to make!” So Octavia frowned, and looked down. “Let me think for a moment. If we want to avoid the stairs, we can probably go to the dumbwaiter and use it…”

Something nagged at Vinyl here, and she took the chance to ask aloud as soon as she saw it—anything to distract herself from everything that had just happened. “Say,” she say. “How come you just know all this?”

“Hmm?” Octavia came back to reality, and looked at Vinyl face to face, which made Vinyl blush again, but neither of them acknowledged it. “Sorry?”

“Like. Uh. Why do you know the layout of the dungeons? Like, I get it, your family built them, but… Do all Pianissimos know about this, or something?”

“Oh?” Octavia snickered, cutesy, and then admitted: “In a sense! Building Canterlot Castle is not a small feat, right? So my family…”

“Is really smug about it?”

“Yes! Exactly! We don’t say it so openly, though.”

Vinyl nodded. “Gotcha. It is a feat, I guess, so congratulations on that. Go on.”

“I will!” Octavia winked at Vinyl. A hint of mischief made it to that angelic face, and Vinyl had to look away for a moment to compose herself. “So we just hung the original blueprints of the Castle all around the walls of our mansion. They’re quite priceless!”

Vinyl gulped, and then looked at Octavia, testing if it was safe now. She wasn’t winking anymore, so probably yes. “Right,” she said. “You just proudly expose the blueprints of the building where the leaders of our kingdom live.”

“We do!”

“Riveting. Then again, I guess that when you’re as bad as Equestria at homeland security, at one point you just legitimately stop caring.”

“Mmm-hmm!” Octavia frowned again, lost in thought once more, trying to remember. “So. If we want to avoid the stairs, we need to go over… there!” she said.

Looking at the way they were already going.

Because they had already turned left a while ago, and they had only stopped after the accident with Octavia’s back.

Octavia kept talking anyway. “Then I suppose we can take the dumbwaiter and the lift. There’s a lever, if I remember correctly… Right, and that would bring us up to the hall.” She capped it all with a smile. “And then we can search for Princess Celestia!”

“Perfect.” Vinyl nodded. “Also, no.”

The smile dropped from Octavia’s face. “No?”

“No.”

“No what?”

“We’re not looking for Princess Celestia. We’re looking for a friend of mine—she’s probably in the Castle right now—because she’ll be able to deactivate the bomb. And then you hide somewhere, and I—”

“What? But Princess Luna told us to find her!”

“Princess Luna also said we need to go on a quest to save the world, and we’re not doing that either,” Vinyl grunted, and rolled around. Now she was on top, looking down at Octavia. Pretty suggestive pose. Not the wisest thing to do. “Looking for Princess Celestia is just an extension of that. They’re trying to fool us into becoming heroes.”

Octavia gasped. “The fiends,” she said.

“Yeah, see? You’re getting it.”

“I am! I am getting it.” Then Octavia rolled around until she was on top, looking down on Vinyl and oh, hey, that was even worse. Her mane cascaded around her face, caressing Vinyl’s cheeks. Smelled nice. This was terrible. “Okay no, that was a lie. I thought we were avoiding this topic? Why do we not want to be heroes, again?”

Groan, roll over, Vinyl on top. “Okay, Octavia. Do you have any idea where I come from?”

Roll over, Octavia on top. “I do not! Where do you come from?”

Vinyl on top. “You getting dizzy too?”

Octavia on top. “This is very fun! But also yes I feel like I’m going to vomit at this rate.”

“Right.”

They stopped rolling, and simply lied side to side.

“Okay.” Now that they weren’t frolicking like little lambs in a grass field, Vinyl had a breather and thought really hard about what to say. “You need to understand that, like… You’re from Canterlot, right? But I’m not. I’m from Ponyville.”

Octavia took this without reacting, at first—then her right ear twitched with recognition. “Ah,” she said. Then: “That Ponyville?”

“Yes.”

“The one that keeps attracting disaster? Literally right next to the Everfree?”

“That one.” Vinyl nodded. “Now. Me being from there, here’s a pop quiz for ya: How many world-saving adventures I’ve had by now, like, just by proxy?

And Octavia made a face. “Ooof,” she said. “Yes, I suppose that’s—one a month?”

“Average is one a week.”

Technically not a single lie so far. Vinyl felt rather proud of herself.

“I see! I see.” Octavia sighed, and nodded. “You have had your fill for harrowing quests in your lifetime, then?”

“I’m a musician by trade and I haven’t had a gig in ages because I keep getting involved in postponing the apocalypse.” Vinyl’s face darkened. She started biting her lip. Certain memories always came back whenever this topic was brought up. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff, Octavia. I have—hnng!

Octavia had been nuzzling her cheek. When she saw Vinyl stiffen, she cocked her head to the side. “What?”

“What the—what was that?!”

“I nuzzled you!”

Why?!

“Hmm.” Octavia shrugged. “You were saying? No more saving the world, right?”

“I—” for a moment Vinyl felt like pressing the issue some more, but to be absolutely honest, in hindsight that had been a welcome distraction. “…Yes. No more adventures.”

“Riiight.” Octavia didn’t seem to mind Vinyl’s furrowed brow now, fancy that. She was just lost in thought, which was interesting, because all of a sudden she looked elegant again, rather than cutesy. “Is that the right thing to do, though?”

“Yes.”

“Won’t it be bad if we refuse the call like that? We are the Chosen Ones!” Octavia looked at Vinyl. “Princess Luna might be better at cannibalism than she is at socializing, but she does hold some ancient wisdom. I think she might be right in that regard!”

“Yes, bu—cannibalism?”

“Yes!”

“…She does that?”

“Not anymore! And that’s the important part.” Octavia nodded, both to herself and to Vinyl. “You were saying?”

Vinyl squinted, but let that pass. She took off her glasses to make the next bit more genuine: “…Right. Look, Octavia—Destiny literally gives us tattoos on the flank when we approach puberty, okay? Everypony is a Chosen One.” Vinyl sighed. “And I don’t mean to be disrespectful towards Princess Luna? But she sort of tied us to a bomb first, asked questions later.”

“She did that! She absolutely did that. But won’t it be dangerous?” Octavia sat on it for a bit. “If we… refuse the call?”

And Vinyl shook her head. She still looked a bit troubled, but this time she sounded convinced. “Nah, not really. I’ve seen a lot of ponies ‘refuse the call’ before, actually.”

Technically not a lie either.

Octavia’s eyes went wide. “Wait, really?”

“Yeah. I told you, I come from Ponyville. It’s not the first time I refuse the call myself.” Vinyl sighed. “And all that happens is that the Elements of Harmony appear out of nowhere and just get the job done anyway? That’s sorta what they’re for.”

“Aaah, I see.” Octavia was nodding now. “I see! They are Destiny’s last resort?”

“More like Destiny’s handyman, but yeah. So, we get the bomb deactivated, and you just hide and don’t die, and I do whatever.”

“That sounds like you are going to die, actually!”

“Whatever, I said. I stand by it. Sounds like a plan?”

Octavia thought on it. She was the one who knew the way, so she was aware that Vinyl actually needed her. It wasn’t a rhetorical question; Octavia had to be part of the plan. She could say ‘no’ and screw up everything, and force her to fulfill their destiny. So she said:

“It does sound like a plan, yes!”

But then added:

However…”

And Vinyl flinched so hard it was a miracle the bomb didn’t immediately go off.

“You know, I really do not want to be seen as naggy, buuuuut.” Octavia looked to the side demurely. She stopped hugging Vinyl with one of her hooves just so she could play with her mane a little bit, in a casual way. “That comment that Princess Luna made, I have to say, it does make me wonder if I’m actually plump…?”

“Oh, for the love of—no, you’re not fat! You’re the opposite of fat. You’ve got a wonderful figure! Okay?”

“Really? I do?” Octavia immediately turned to Vinyl, and she lit up like a million stars at night. The smile she put on crossed her entire face. “Oh, but you don’t have to say that, you sly, you!” She gently, playfully slapped Vinyl’s shoulder. “Come on, tell me the truth! I can take it.”

“No, no, like, I copped a feel and all that. Really nice figure, ten out of ten. Would do it again. Would recommend to my friends. Amazing texture, soft in the right places—”

Octavia arched an eyebrow, face suddenly hardening. “Soft?”

“—in the right places. It’s a good thing. Like, you’re pleasant to hug. In a, uh, conventionally attractive way!”

“Ah, shush, you. Now I know you’re just flattering me!” Pause. “You can keep talking, mind you.”

“Blegh. You’ve got a good ass, I don’t know what else to say.” And with a flash of her horn, Vinyl put on her glasses again. “Now. Are we doing this, or not?”

“Sure! Definitely! You’ll hear no qualms from me whatsoever!”

“Great, so. No hard feelings about us not saving Equestria or any of that. We’re on the same page. Screw Destiny, and let the world burn, and all of that?”

“Absolutely!” And the smile on Octavia’s face was the most honest, most beautiful, most innocent think that Vinyl had seen in her entire life. “You got a terrible concussion back there, right? That counts as an adventure already. Especially because I didn’t get one! I’m sure Destiny won’t mind if we take the rest of the day off.”

“Neat. Okay, then. Let’s roll on this rock.”

“Let’s!”

“And I hate how I worded that last bit.”

“Me too!”


They made it to the dumbwaiter.

“Ooooh,” Octavia said. “This is bad!”

“This is super bad,” Vinyl added.

It was bad.

The thing about the dumbwaiter is that it had been mostly designed to bring food to the Royal Guards attending the lower dungeons. And as far as that went, it was perfect! It was able to get a bowl of hot soup from the kitchens all the way to the dungeons. Extremely efficient method of transportation.

“As long as you’re a bowl of soup yourself,” Vinyl added, glaring at the ridiculously tiny entrance to the dumbwaiter. “Which we are not, I gotta add. No way we fit in there.”

“I agree!” Octavia was still talking in that peppy way of hers, although she did flinch a little when they heard another explosion outside, and then she tugged at VInyl until they rolled closer to the dumbwaiter. It was by the left wall of the Guard post, right next to a door that led to stairs they couldn’t climb, and in front of a table full of things they couldn’t reach. “But open it anyway? I think we might make it work!”

Vinyl arched an eyebrow, but let herself be rolled. She flashed her horn to open the dumbwaiter’s door, wordlessly, already looking around for other ways to leave. None in sight.

“Ah-hah! See?” Octavia tapped her on the back to get her attention, and pointed at the dumbwaiter. "It’s actually pretty big inside. It’s just the entrance that’s a tight fit. But we can make it work! Come on, let’s try it!”

Vinyl looked. “We super don’t,” she said.

“Nonsense! I’m exceptionally slender, you yourself said that.”

“…Did I?”

“You did!” Octavia sounded serious. “My memory is very good.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Now let’s get in!”

They couldn’t get in.

Vinyl popped her head out, sweating, and groaned. “Okay,” she said, blinking hard to shoo the headache away. “Not so slender after all. Do we write the dumbwaiter off?”

Octavia, equally sweaty, glared at her.

“I meant me,” Vinyl said. “You’re still slender.”

Octavia immediately brightened up. “Good!” she said. “That is a clever thing to say. I’m glad to see you’re learning so fast!”

“You aren’t exactly subtle.”

“I am not! Oh, but also?” Octavia winked at Vinyl. “Don’t undersell yourself! You’re toned, it’s pleasant.” And she gave Vinyl a little squeeze to sell the point.

“Blegh.”

“Hahah. Still, it’s such a shame we can’t fit in. It would be perfect!” Octavia leaned in and looked at the inside of the dumbwaiter again. “Vinyl, can you try to use your magic here? Give us an extra grip?”

“Depends,” Vinyl said, arching an eyebrow. “Want me to squash your head?”

Pause.

“Is that a rhetorical question or are you actually—?”

“Rhetorical question, Octavia.”

“Ah.” Octavia frowned. “Then I… don’t?”

“That is not how rhetorical questions work.”

“…Oh. Then I do?”

“I—what?” Vinyl blinked, and took her shades off a second to arch an eyebrow at Octavia. “Uh. No?”

“Is that a rhetorical question too?”

“Octavia, do you even know what rhetorical means.”

“Pfhah! Silly question.” Octavia nodded a little, to butt heads with Vinyl, forehead against forehead. A cutesy gesture; how exactly did she manage to dodge Vinyl’s horn while doing so, Vinyl would never know. “I have no idea.”

“At least you’re honest.”

“I am! Us aristocrats can afford to be true to ourselves, see? Everypony else has to put up with us anyway, so we might… as…” her eyes suddenly gleamed, and a devious smirk made it to her face, and moved her face away from Vinyl’s. “Well…”

Vinyl saw that, and followed Octavia’s gaze. “Oooh, what?” she asked. “What are you looking at?”

Octavia was looking at the table.

The dungeons were rarely used, but that didn’t mean they were abandoned. There were some things around the office—a chair, some buckets and an old broom by the corner… And of course, the table that was too high for them to reach. That’s what Octavia was looking at—or rather, everything on top of it.

An empty bowl, full of dust. A spoon and a lost knife. And down from the floor it was hard to see, but the thing right next to it seemed to be bottles and condiments, and among them…

“…Olive oil,” Octavia purred. Purred. It gave Vinyl shivers; if good or bad, she had no idea. “Vinyl?”

Vinyl didn’t like the way she said that. Or she liked it a lot. Whatever. “Octavia?”

“I think I know what we need to do now!” Octavia looked at Vinyl now, trickster smile on her face, showing just a tiny bit of teeth. It made her look like a little devil. “What do you usually do when you find a very tight hole?

Silence.

Vinyl squinted. “Is that a rhetorical quest—”

“You use lubricant!”

“What.”

They covered themselves in olive oil.


Octavia and Vinyl dashed through the inner wall tunnel.

RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT.

“This was a terrible idea!” Vinyl yelled.

Octavia squinted. “What?!”

I’m saying this was a terrible idea!”

RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT.

“I can’t hear you! But this was a great idea, right?!”

No! No, it wasn’t! I’m fairly sure this legally counts as torture!

“Hahah! Yes!” Octavia grinned. “Like a rollercoaster!”

RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT.

So.

About that dumbwaiter.

The good news was that it was, indeed, a marvel of engineering, able to get a bowl of hot soup from the kitchens all the way to the lower dungeons and deliver it while still warm. The bad news was, the lower dungeons weren’t used often, so the dumbwaiter hadn’t been properly tested on installation, and nopony had bothered to fix it afterwards.

Sure, it would deliver the bowl in time. The soup itself? Not so much.

So Octavia and Vinyl were completely blind at the moment—not a lot of light in there—and they were racing so fast that too much contact with the speeding walls would grate them until they looked like soup, ironically enough. They stank of olive oil and felt slimy and slippery. The base of the dumbwaiter was full of old food spills. And the chain mechanism was...

RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT-RACKT.

Loud. It was loud.

“I think we should be arriving to the kitchens soon!” Octavia yelled. She had an almost manic smile on her face—sheer terror, if Vinyl had to guess. “In less than a minute!”

How is this thing even going to stop?! Isn’t the impact going to, like, immediately kill us?

“I have no idea what you’re saying! But, on a completely unrelated note, I sure hope the impact doesn’t immediately kill us! Because it probably will!”

What?!”

They made it to the kitchen.

CLANG!

Loudly.

The one thing that saved their lives—and their bones—was nothing other than engineering ingenuity: while the dumbwaiter on the dungeons had been designed to make it easier to take the bowls of soup out, the one in the kitchen had been made to facilitate placing the bowls in.

Which meant there was a noticeable slope at the end of the tunnel on the kitchen’s side, leading out. The olive oil and the inertia did the rest—Vinyl and Octavia didn’t hit the dumbwaiter’s roof and kill themselves once they got to the kitchens.

They simply got slingshotted out at supersonic speed.

PLONG!

Loudly.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—

“Oh, we are flying! How quaint!” Octavia looked around, marvel in her eyes, as they soared through the kitchens with grace. “This is definitely an experience I was not expecting to have when I woke up this mo—whoops there’s the ground.”

PLAF

And upon impact, they slid across the floor, leaving behind a trail of olive oil, and producing the most undignified noise Octavia had ever heard.

It took them a while to be able to speak again.

The Canterlot kitchens were, all in all, rather nice: white walls, white floor, exceedingly clean environment, and a slab of meat hanging from a hook over there even though ponies were herbivores. The meat was labelled “beef”, which made even less sense, since as far as Octavia was aware, cows were herbivores also.

The place was empty, but big enough to fit a dozen ponies, because if the Pianissimos were good at something, it was at wasting space. There were multiple counters, each one of them with stoves. Kitchen appliances—pans, pots, the odd misplaced saucer, another slab of meat, what was up with that seriously—hung slightly above eye level all around.

Octavia was the first one who managed to get her voice back. “My,” she said. “We made it!”

Vinyl was wide-eyed, laying on her back—Octavia on top—and staring into space. Her muzzle was red. “I think I broke my face.”

“That was way more exciting that I thought it would be! And also terrifying. I almost died! Let’s never do it again?”

“I’m with you. Is my face broken?”

Octavia looked. Vinyl’s glasses had flown away, and her eyes were bare. “Not from here,” she said. “You look as handsome as ever! Shame about that mane. Let’s move on now!” She nudged Vinyl and pulled her to the side, trying to roll around—but they just slid in place. The olive oil was too slippery to roll; not enough traction. “Oh. Uh-oh.”

Vinyl was still staring into space. “Hmm?”

“I think we need to get the oil out.” Octavia frowned, smelled her own shoulder. Nice fragrance, at least. “We can’t roll like—” she looked at Vinyl—“oh my gosh! Vinyl, your face! It looks terrible!”

“What?!” Vinyl blinked, and stared at Octavia now. “You just said it was okay!”

“Yes, but it got worse! It’s so red! It doesn’t fit you at all.” Octavia kept on hugging Vinyl with just one hoof—they were laying on their side—and caressed Vinyl’s nuzzle with the other; Vinyl flinched. “What happened? Did you land on it?”

“Uh. Yeah?” Vinyl blinked, then frowned at Octavia. “Oh, Celestia. I’m starting to taste colors. Everything else seems fine, though. You okay?”

“I am! Thank you for worrying.”

“Nothing broken?”

“Not at all! Your face broke my fall.” Octavia then rolled—struggled a bit; the oil made it almost impossible—until she was on top, and then looked around, ears perked up high. “Let’s see if we can find some ice to stop the swelling! This is a kitchen, that—uh.”

Vinyl was trying to look at her own muzzle. It still hurt. “Ice would be nice. Also, I’ve been meaning to ask for a while—is my mane really that bad?”

Octavia’s ears went flat against her head, and she swallowed. “Um. Vinyl?”

“Like, I was going for a bit of an eclectic feeling, but if it really looks that terrible, I’ve been looking into red dyes lately? And there’s a surprising amount of things you can do if you don’t mind looking like your entire head is bleeding, it’s pretty neat.”

“Vinyl, we have a, uh, a little bit of a problem?”

Something in Octavia’s voice made Vinyl focus. She tensed up, and immediately forgot all about the pain. “What,” she said. She tried to roll around to be on top, but they just slipped around for a couple seconds until she gave up. “What? What is going on?”

Octavia pointed with her head towards the left side of the room. “There seems to be a hydra there.”

Pause.

Slowly, Vinyl turned around and managed to get a look in the direction Octavia was facing.

“Huh,” she said. “There is.”

They looked at the hydra.

The hydra, standing right next to a giant hole in the wall that it had made itself, probably, stared back at then.

And Octavia lowered her head and whispered: “Just to make sure—are we in mortal danger now?”

Vinyl nodded. “Hmm-hm. Start screaming.”

“Right. Of course.” And then Octavia cleared her throat with a cough. “Ahem. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—”

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

The hydra charged, smashing anything that stood in its way.


Pinkie Pie was an interesting character, but she wasn’t that hard to figure out when you got to it. Vinyl Scratch would always put it this way—if you want to understand Pinkie, you need to look at how she moves around:

She doesn’t walk.

She skibbity bops.

It takes twice as much effort and it is half as efficient as using her legs like Nature intended. But Pinkie is too busy having fun to give a single hoot, and she gets to the place where she wanted to be anyway. So, who cares, really?

All this to say: at the moment, Pinkie was supposed to be protecting Canterlot Castle from any wandering hydras. She tackled this task by absolutely ignoring her orders and doing a beeline towards the pastry because she kinda felt like eating cake. She was about to open the small door that led to the cake depository when she heard something strange, coming from the kitchens.

In order:

Bite sound.

GNOM!

Wet sound.

Schlorf.

Screaming.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—”

And then roaring.

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

So that was weird enough to make Pinkie Pie arch an eyebrow by itself. But, and this was the super duper weird part, once the roaring was done, the cycle started all over again.

GNOM!

Schlorf.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—”

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

Bite sound, wet sound, screaming, roaring. And then, of course, a third time, for luck:

GNOM!

Schlorf.

“AAAAAAAAAA—”

So Pinkie, having absolutely no idea what the words “self-preservation” meant, immediately opened the kitchen doors with a kick and a huge grin on her face, and she yelled:

“Hi there! What’s going on? I’m Pinkie Pie!”

And then she saw what was going on.

So what Pinkie found at the kitchens was—of course—Vinyl, Octavia, and the hydra. More specifically, she witnessed the single most miserable struggle any of those three characters had ever lived through, which had been going on for the last five minute or so.

In order:

The two ponies screamed.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA—”

And the hydra, of course, roared.

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

Then it threw itself at Vinyl and Octavia and tried to bite them in half.

GNOM!

But the hydra was a total idiot and hadn’t noticed that the two ponies were covered head to toe with olive oil—and a lot of saliva too—and so they were so slippery they slithered out of the jaws at the slightest amount of pressure.

Schlorf.

Then the two ponies started screaming again.

AAAAAAAAA—

And then Pinkie had opened the door.

This caused everybody to stop screaming for once, and silence fell on the kitchen. The echoes of the screaming vanished little by little, and the hydra—stupid as it was—turned every single one of its faces towards the door and the pony in there.

A pony that didn’t look like it would slither out of its mouths if it tried to bite at it.

“Oh. Hahah. Whoops.” Pinkie looked at the hydra, head cocked to the side, huge grin still on her face. “Now I’m going to die.”

“PINKIE!” Vinyl Scratch’s voice came from the other side of the room—not as much a word as a screech, but it still managed to carry meaning. “RUN! RUN!

“Hi, Vinyl!” Pinkie looked at her friend and waved a hoof in the air up high. “Didn’t think I’d see you here! How’s it going?”

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

“Oh right there’s a hydra here too. Hi, Mister hydra!”

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

The hydra charged at Pinkie Pie.

PINKIE. WHY AREN’T YOU RUNNING AWAY.

“I don’t know! I probably should.” Then something off the side caught Pinkie’s eye, and both her ears perked up. “Oh, wow. Is that a whole bag of cinnamon?”

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

“It is! Look!”

Pinkie grabbed the bag and held it above her head, a good ten kilograms of pure ground cinnamon. The hydra tried to eat Pinkie.

GNOM!

The hydra missed.

RAAAAA—aargh?”

And bit the entire bag of cinnamon powder instead.

“AAARGHCHGKH. AAAKHJAHJGK. GJHAAARKGJ. A-GHKJAAAGJK.”

“Ah.” Pinkie just stood there, looking at one of the hydra’s four heads suffocate amongst a cloud of brown lethal deliciousness. “You probably shouldn’t swallow cinnamon like that. It’s really bad for your throat!”

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

And Pinkie blinked. “Oh, hey, you guys are okay? That’s so cool! I guess having four heads has its advant—IS THAT THREE WHOLE BAGS OF CINNAMON?!

By the time Octavia and Vinyl managed to catch their breath and try—and fail—to roll their way to Pinkie, the hydra was rolling on the ground, blind, deaf, tearing up, gasping for breath, and begging for mercy.

“That was fun! I like how I didn’t die in the end.” Pinkie gave it a single customary look and then walked away, her eyes as sparkly as ever. “Hi, Vinyl! Hi, Octavia!”

“Uh. Hi.”

“Hello, Pinkie Pie.” Octavia was panting, her coat was a mess, her mane was a disgrace, but she still maintained an air of quiet dignity—and when she looked at Pinkie, she looked genuinely happy. “I am so very glad to see you here.”

“So am I! I think I just saved your lives, too.” Pinkie trotted towards the two ponies, as they were clearly not gaining much ground in their struggle to roll around, and grinned. “So what are you doing here?” She stopped mid-trot and looked at them. “Wait. What are you covered in?”

“Oh, this?” Octavia let out a shy chuckle. “It’s olive oil! Very unpleasant, although it does smell nice.”

“Hahah. It does! Wait.” Pinkie frowned. “You’re covered in oil? And you’re hugging? Why would you—gasp!” She took a step back and pressed a hoof against her chest, eyes wide. “Oh, no! Am I interrupting something?!

“You’re not.”

“You’re super not.”

“Because Rarity told me that if I keep interrupting somethings, she’s going to have,” Pinkie shuddered, and spoke the next three words with horrified reverence: “a Little Talk with me!”

Pause.

Octavia looked at Vinyl. “Was that supposed to sound ominous?”

“I have no idea.”

“I get the feeling that was supposed to sound ominous.”

“You have no idea how bad are Rarity’s Little Talks!” Pinkie whined, jumping in place but in a very nervous-not-quite-happy way. “They’re terrible! She’s been practicing with Sweetie Belle for years! And Sweetie Belle is actually little herself!

Another pause.

Octavia looked at Vinyl again. “I have no idea who or what Sweetie Belle is. What is she talking about?”

Vinyl arched an eyebrow, but she looked more bemused than annoyed. “It’s cute how you think I can understand Pinkie Pie.”

“Thank you!” Octavia said. “That is a nice thing to say.” Then she cocked her head to the side. “But I thought you knew each other?”

“We do!” Vinyl said, nodding. “We totally do. It’s still cute how you think I can understand Pinkie Pie.” Then Vinyl tried to roll around—again: olive oil, not happening—and with some effort managed to make herself face Pinkie Pie while keeping Octavia close to her chest. “You can’t really live in Ponyville without knowing Pinkie Pie. Premier party pony, and all that? She’s been throwing me birthday parties for the last five years.”

“That’s right!” Pinkie said, winking at them.

“Even though I never actually, you know. Asked?”

“That’s double right!” Pinkie said. Then she lost her grin and went back to looking scared. “Seriously though, please don’t tell Rarity I interrupted something again? She’s not going to forgive me after what I did to the Cakes.”

“We won’t!” Octavia said. “Also, you didn’t interrupt anything, actually. So Rarity is not going to have a Talk with you. Little or Not!”

Pinkie gave them the puppy eyes. “She’s not?” she asked.

Vinyl rolled her eyes. “No, Pinkie, she’s n—” She blinked. “Well. Actually, you’re you? So, like, statistically she’s totally going to yell at you at some point.”

“Vinyl!” Octavia immediately inched closer to Vinyl and managed to do that thing where you whisper and you yell at the same time. “I understand Pinkie Pie can be awfully obnoxious, but she just saved our lives!”

“Look, do you want me to be nice to her, or do you want me to be honest.”

“I want you to be nice!” Octavia hush-yelled. “And she’s right there! If you don’t whisper, she can hear you!”

“Hahah. You’re like five feet away from me. I can hear when you whisper like that, too.” Pinkie stopped with the puppy eyes and sat down on the floor, right next to them. “But as long as you’re not telling Rarity, I’m okay with it! Good friends aren’t really honest anyway. That’s why we like Rarity.” Pause. “Don’t tell Applejack, though. So what are you two doing here? I didn’t know you knew each other!”

“Well…”

“Also why are you covered in olive oil? Or hugging?”

“We literally just met this morning,” Vinyl said, shrugging at Pinkie. “Not really part of the same crowd. And we’re hugging because of an extremely long, extremely stupid story that involves Princess Luna.”

Pinkie Pie nodded. “That sounds likely! She’s super duper maladjusted to society. ”

“Sure is, we almost died. So.” Vinyl then looked at Octavia. “You two do know each other, then? She’s called you by your name a couple times.”

“We do!” Octavia said. “It is pretty hard to live in Canterlot without knowing Pinkie Pie. She keeps saving the city! Or burning it down.”

“Or both!” added Pinkie.

“Or both!” Octavia agreed, nodding. “It never ceases to be terrible. She also organised my parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary!”

“Huh.” Vinyl frowned. “Did you ask her to do that, by any chance?”

“Hmm?” Octavia blinked. “Uh. I did not, actually! She just showed up one day and did it by herself?”

Pause. Both Vinyl and Octavia looked at Pinkie.

Pinkie beamed. “I’m so good at my job!”

“You are!”

“You super are.”


BLAM!

“Pinkie!”

The doors to the kitchens opened with a deafening blast of purple light, and Princess Twilight Sparkle dashed into the room with the speed of somepony who was clearly born without wings, but is not going to let that stop her. She made it to the pink pony in less than three seconds, and barely sprawled herself all over the floor.

“Pinkie!” she repeated, gasping. “Pinkie Pie!”

Pinkie waved. She was working on one of the cooking stations, rolling something massive over a huge mountain of flour. “Hi, Twilight!” she said.

“Are you okay?! Fluttershy told me there were two hydras, and there are monsters everywhere, and we lost track of you and—uh.” Twilight stood up, blinked, and looked at the other side of the room. “Is… Is that a hydra over there?”

“Yes!” Pinkie said. “It tried to eat me!”

“And it’s… suffocating?”

“Yeah! It tried to eat me!”

Pause.

Twilight fixed her mane and looked at Pinkie, relieved smile on her face. “You know what? I count that as an explanation. I’m glad you’re okay, Pinkie Pie. You had me worried. You also probably left your post even though we’re at war, by the way.”

“Sure did! And, aaaaw.” Pinkie gave Twilight a sweet look. “Thank you for being worried!” She kept on rolling that giant flour thing, which was big enough to taint her hooves completely white, and then she scooped up a tiny bit and put it in her mouth. “Yuck.” She pursed her lips. “This tastes horrible.”

Twilight sighed. “Pinkie, what are you doing here?”

“Kneading!”

“That’s not what I’m asking.”

“It’s what I’m answering, though!” Pinkie produced two shakers from her mane and sprinkled some generous amounts of salt and pepper on the batter before taking some more and tasting it. “Oooh, much better.”

“Pinkie!”

“What? I’m helping Vinyl and Octavia!” Pinkie tapped the roll of flour twice. “Say hi, girls!”

Twilight blinked. “What?”

And the roll of flour suddenly moved, and shifted, and turned around to face Twilight. It had two faces.

“Hello!” Octavia said.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Vinyl said. “And this is exactly as stupid as it looks.”

“They were covered in olive oil!” Pinkie chirped above them, throwing some more flour on top of the two ponies. “So I’m helping them!”

A moment of silence. The sound of the hydra choking over the other side of the room was the only thing they could hear—and then something exploded outside, and the Castle shook again.

Twilight simply looked at Vinyl and Octavia, who by now looked like a really strange cannoli, and then at Pinkie. “Pinkie Pie,” she said, voice perfectly calm.

“Yes?”

“Are you interrupting something again.”

“No!” Pinkie’s voice immediately rose two octaves and her eyes went wide. “No no no no no! I’m not!

“Because you know the rules. If you interrupt something, I’m calling Rarity. And she is not in a good mood lately.”

“Noooooooo!”

“Ahem!” Octavia didn’t cough, she literally said the word ‘ahem’. Her mane was a single clump of wet flour that framed her face and made her look like a sentient pastry. “Your Highness? Princess Twilight?”

Twilight looked at Octavia, apologies all over her face. “Yes, yes, I know,” she said, flashing her horn and floating Pinkie away from the working station and towards her. “We’ll be leaving now so you can continue doing… Whatever this is. I’m not judging!” Then she forced a smile and floated Pinkie even closer. “We’re leaving now.”

“Twilight, noooo! Aaaaaaah!”

“No! No, no, there’s nothing to apologize for! Or to judge. Well, maybe Vinyl’s aesthetic inclinations. But that’s beside the point!” Octavia wiggled around, although it was hard to move while covered in flour like that. “Pinkie Pie did not interrupt anything! Princess Luna played a prank on us and—”

“There’s a bomb strapped to us!” Vinyl yelled from under Octavia. “If we stop hugging at any point for the next seven hours, it will explode!

Silence.

And then Twilight Sparkle took a step back, business all over her face, and she simply looked at Pinkie and arched an eyebrow. “A bomb,” she said. “They’re strapped to a bomb?”

“And they came here covered in olive oil! They were fighting a hydra.”

A flash of Twilight’s horn, and Pinkie fell to the ground. Twilight still looked serious. “They were fighting a hydra and they’re strapped to a bomb. Right. Chosen Ones?”

“Chosen Ones!” Pinkie chirped. “The one under Octavia is Vinyl Scratch!”

“Oh, is she?” Twilight flashed her horn again, and the Vinyl-Octavia cannoli started floating in midair. Flour fell down from them like snow, only less pretty, and Twilight took a good look. “Ah,” she said then. “She is. Good morning, Vinyl Scratch.”

Vinyl looked exactly as amused as one would expect her to look. “Twilight.”

“Running from Destiny again, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Twilight.”

“That explains a couple of things. Okay!” Twilight then sighed, and she sat down on the floor next to Vinyl and Octavia. Behind her, Pinkie did the same. “Canterlot is under attack, but hydras are easy. I don’t know if we can shoot a bomb with friendship. What’s exactly going on?”


“…And then Pinkie Pie said, the best way to take olive oil off is with flour!” Octavia said. “And then she just dumped us on the cooking station and started, uh. Kneading us?”

“Mind you, she never asked for permission.” Vinyl had her glasses on again, and they hid most of her face, but it was still pretty clear she was glaring at Pinkie. “She literally just started kneading us like that and then laughed a lot.”

“It was really kind on her part!”

“It was terrifying and has literally done nothing but worsen our situation.”

“That’s right!” Pinkie Pie said. They were all sitting—or lying—on the floor, but Pinkie got up with a hefty bounce at this point. “But now I can do this!” And she got closer to Vinyl and Octavia and pawed some of the clumpy flour off. It peeled away seamlessly. “See? Oil and flour off!”

Twilight frowned. The bags under her eyes looked darker than ever at that moment. “Pinkie,” she said, sounding tired. “You could have used soap.”

“But this is much more fun!” Pinkie licked the bit of flour she had pawed off, and grinned. “And the flavor’s perfect, too! You can’t get that with soap.”

“That’s not—”

“Ah!” Pinkie’s ears perked up, and she looked to the right. “Wait! Mister Coughie is getting up!”

Twilight blinked. “What?”

“The hydra!” Pinkie pointed at the hydra at the other side of the room. “I call him Mister Coughie. And he’s getting better!” She pointed at Vinyl and Octavia. “Peel the flour off. They’ll be squeaky clean in no time! Meanwhile I’m going to force some more cinnamon down Mister Coughie’s throats.”

And Pinkie left.

Octavia, Vinyl, and Twilight all watcher her go in silence.

“…Your Highness?” Octavia finally said.

“Twilight is fine.”

“Good! I can’t stand formalities..” Pause. In the background, Pinkie Pie was laughing and the hydra was suffering. Octavia talked again: “So. Twilight?”

“Octavia?”

“What is Pinkie Pie doing?”

“I have no idea, but she took care of that hydra all on her own, so who am I to judge?” Then Twilight shrugged, got up, and flashed her magic. Vinyl and Octavia went up in the air. “Close your eyes just in case,” she said as she did this. “There’s a lot of pepper in that flour and I wouldn’t want you to go blind by accident. And, Vinyl Scratch?”

Vinyl didn’t need to close her eyes, since her shades were big enough to protect them—which gave her ample room to look at Twilight with perfectly innocent eyes. “Yes?”

“I can’t say I was expecting you to be a Chosen One again so soon.” Twilight started peeling off the flour off them. “But on the other hand, this does explain why Applejack and Rainbow Dash are rediscovering the meaning of friendship for the fourth time in a row.”

Vinyl and Octavia were floating at an angle so they could both look at Twilight, which meant that Octavia got a perfect first-row sight at just how hard Vinyl flinched at this comment. “Oof,” she said. “Right. Did Destiny force the call on you guys?”

“Sure did.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean that to happen.”

“Um.” Octavia leaned slightly closer to Vinyl and whispered in her ear. Her breath tickled. “I was under the impression this was literally the plan? Do not answer the obvious call to adventure and let the Elements of Harmony deal with the catastrophic aftermath?”

“Yes, that’s the plan,” Vinyl whispered back. “But I am lying, see.”

“Aaah.”

“Heroes don’t mind doing your dirty work for you as long as you make it look like an accident. I’m just playing with her.”

“I see! That is very clever!”

Twilight was arching an eyebrow, hard. “You guys do realize I’m five feet away from you and I can hear everything you’re whispering, right?”

“We’re aware!”

“We’re super aware.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Oh, great. You get along. Hold on tight, please.” Then light surrounded her horn, and Vinyl and Octavia felt themselves rise and twirl in midair as Twilight peeled off the flour in bigger chunks. “Huh,” she said. “This is pretty effective.”

“Hi!” Pinkie Pie made it back to them and sat down next to Twilight, content smile on her face. “I’m back! Coughie ate the cinnamon again. I think he’s starting to like me! That, or he’s given up hope already. Either way, good news!” She then poked Twilight on the side. “What are we talking about?”

“They’re the Chosen Ones but they’re forcing us to do their job,” Twilight said. Peeling Vinyl and Octavia felt and looked like peeling a giant, oddly-shaped, sentient orange—but it was also oddly satisfying. “Also, the flour actually worked!”

“Of course!” Pinkie said. “This is just like cooking but without a fire. And they’re not saving the world, huh?” Pinkie rubbed her chin. “That does sound like Vinyl Scratch.”

“It really does.” Twilight kept on peeling, but took a moment to give Vinyl a meaningful look. “Dash and Applejack are butting heads, so I guess that part of what Destiny had in mind for you two was that you would rediscover the true meaning of friendship.”

“Ooooh.” Pinkie nodded. “That’s a classic!”

“It doesn’t seem like you two are having any problem in that regard, though. What’s exactly your relationship at this point?”

And Vinyl blinked. She looked at Octavia. “Uuuuuh…”

“We are casual acquaintances!” Octavia said, after looking right back at Vinyl. “We had a rocky start because I insulted her mane and she called me an inbred. But then she gently lifted my tail and gave me a massage—”

We get along,” Vinyl interrupted, words harsh. “We get along fine, yes.

Twilight flashed her horn one last time, and Vinyl and Octavia were lowered to the ground once and for all. They looked rather messy, but no trace of olive oil or flour left in them. “Right,” she said. “On the one hoof, annoying as it is, this might mean that the key to defeating the hydras is just friendship again. Which is good news!”

“It is!” Pinkie said. She grabbed the salt and pepper shakers and stuffed them back in her mane. “We are really good at friendship!”

“We really are. On the other hoof…” Twilight blinked really hard and suppressed a yawn before continuing. “There’s the whole bomb business, and I have no idea what that’s about, or why Princess Luna would force that on you of all ponies.” She was looking at Vinyl when she said this.

Vinyl noticed this, so she replied. “Princess Celestia’s idea, apparently.” Her tone was bitter. “Ask her.”

“I will, once I see her. But still—why? It doesn’t make any sense.”

Octavia had also noticed the strange looks Vinyl had been getting, so she was frowning. Still, when she talked, her voice sounded normal. “Because we’re the Chosen Ones!” she said. “That’s why we almost died twice in an hour.”

“Thrice,” Vinyl said.

“Thrice?”

“I’m counting the dumbwaiter.”

Twilight waved a hoof in the air. “Yes, sure, you’re the Chosen Ones this time—but why? It’s not like Destiny can pick whoever. The Chosen Ones are always special.” Twilight pointed at Pinkie and herself. “The only reason why we keep getting selected is because we’re actually a pretty well-balanced group, so we fit most archetypes.”

Pinkie nodded, big smile on. “Yeah! I’m the oddball who never learns anything!”

“No, no.” Twilight shook her head, and tapped Pinkie’s hoof. “You’re the oddball who never needs to learn anything.”

“Ah.” Pinkie blinked. “Aaaah. Then who’s the one who never learns?”

“Fluttershy.”

“Oooh.”

“Yeah. And, you two.” Twilight went back to looking at Octavia and Vinyl. “You must have something special we’re not thinking about, something that only works if you’re friends. That’s why Applejack and Rainbow Dash are arguing, so they can make up later. But the bomb, and the dragon… Hmm.” She looked at Vinyl. “Have you tried disassembling that thing?”

“No can do,” Vinyl said. She lifted her shades. “A dragon named Labcoat made it, and he said it’s charged with dragonfire. The only alloy strong enough to support that kind of power is coltpixie gold, and I don’t know if you remember what happened at the Cowliphate…”

“Hmm.” Twilight squinted. “The rise of the coltpixies,” she said. “That explosion that blew up half the country? Was that the alloy?”

“Yes. We tried to disassemble their machine. Turns out, it was made of coltpixie gold. Not our brightest idea.” Vinyl took a deep sigh, and then put her shades on again. “The bomb works with a pressure plate that I assume has some kind of magical component. Knowing the coltpixies, the only way to disassemble it safely is with a stray of silver-salt, or enough Wendigo ice to cool off the mechanism and…”

The words died in her mouth.

Octavia was looking at her with eyes the size of plates.

“…And. Uh. Ah-hem.” Vinyl looked away, and fake-coughed. “Ah-hem.” Twice. “If, uh. If we try to touch the bomb, it, uh. It’ll go boom boom?”

Twilight looked at Vinyl, then at Octavia, and then at Vinyl again. A bit of a smirk made it to her face. “Yes,” she said. “It’ll go boom boom.”

“Vinyl?” Octavia was staring at Vinyl still, with that angel face of hers. “This feels significant!”

“No idea what you’re talking about.”

“That is a lot of information about explosives I was not expecting from an electronic musician.”

No idea what you’re talking about.”

“All that matters is that we can’t disassemble the bomb.” Twilight spoke, and immediately, Octavia stopped paying attention to Vinyl. The Princess sounded exhausted. “If I had the time and the materials, I could give it a try, but right now I don’t think it’s safe.” Pause. “Also, there’s a war outside.”

“Oh, yeah!” Pinkie looked around. The Castle, as if on cue, shook slightly after something big hit one of the outer walls. “I forgot about that. Twilight, we need to find more cinnamon! It’s really important!”

And Twilight blinked, and looked at Pinkie. “We what?”

“To find more cinnamon!” Pinkie pointed at them. “I have a plan. We’ll give it to Mister Coughie!”

Twilight turned around to look at the suffocating hydra, blinked for a second time, and then: “Uh. Sure. Why not? Better than teaching Dash the value of honesty for the fourth time this week.” Then she got up, but before she walked to the hydra, she turned to Octavia and Vinyl one last time. “I’m sorry I can’t help with the bomb business, by the way.”

“No need to apologize!” Octavia immediately replied, ever-so-sweet. “Thank you very much for saving the world for us! We would really rather not.”

“I know. I’ve known Vinyl for a long time.”

Vinyl had an awkward smile, but she still looked back at Twilight. “We’ll just hide and wait this out. Bon is probably around, right? What with the hydras.”

“Probably? Also, uh...” Twilight frowned, and looked at Octavia before continuing. “I think A.K. Yearling is here too, in case you wanna see her?”

Octavia blinked. “A.K. Yearling?”

“Nah, I don’t wanna see, uh, Yearling,” Vinyl said. “But Bon? Maybe she can help me with the bomb.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage!” Pinkie said, giving Vinyl a wink. “But you should leave soon! Mister Coughie is getting better at choking. I think he can’t feel pain anymore.”

“Reassuring, Pinkie.”

“Thanks!”

“Wait.” Octavia squirmed a little, resting her chin on Vinyl’s shoulder to give Pinkie and Twilight a better look. “We’re leaving? Wouldn’t it be safer for us to stay near you?”

Twilight looked at Vinyl before answering. “…Not a great idea,” she said. “We could try to find you a good place to hide, but—”

“We’re all caught up in an adventure!” Pinkie chirped. “And Vinyl can’t get involved. Or else Destiny will grab her!”

“Oh!” Octavia frowned. “I… see? I think.”

“You’ll be safe, anyway,” Twilight said. “I promise. I mean, you have Vinyl with you. Go through that door and then through the corridor to the—”

“The Ballroom?” Octavia asked, ears perked up. “Right on top of the Throne Room? Good idea! That is the sturdiest part of the Castle! The walls being thicker in the west wing after all.”

“I—uh.” Twilight made a face. “What? How…?”

“Octavia Pianissimo,” Vinyl said. “Her family still has the blueprints.”

“What? Of the entire Castle?

“Yep.”

“We actually put them up as decorations all through our house!” Octavia added, with not a subtle hint of glee to her voice.

And Twilight grimaced. “Ugh. I need to talk to the Princesses about tightening our national security.”

“You really do,” Vinyl said. “Thanks, Twilight.”

“Don’t mention it. And…” Twilight gave them a stern look. “This goes without saying? But don’t go rediscovering the true meaning of friendship while we’re not looking, you two. That would put all of our efforts to waste.”

And to this last point, Vinyl Scratch replied with a cocky grin, and a smug look, and as much swagger as she could put in her voice. “Oh, don’t worry,” she said. “I am absolutely sure that is not going to happen.”

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