• 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 Six – Kind of Heart

Vinyl Scratch was an ex-secret agent. Octavia Pianissimo was a noblepony. Both of them had met Princess Celestia many times before, and would do so many times afterwards.

It never stopped being breathtaking.

True power had a name, and it was Celestia. She moved through the world with careful confidence, aware that she could break it in an instant. She spoke like a mother because next to her everybody was a child. She allowed herself to be vulnerable around others—because she knew that you couldn’t hurt her.

Princess Celestia was standing in the center of the Ballroom, looking at them, and she was beautiful and eternal.

And Daring Do clicked her tongue and said: “I really want to punch you right now, Princess. How’s it going?”

Princess Celestia smiled at her. “My kingdom is under attack, and I fear for the fate of my subjects, in spite of all my careful planning. I’ve had better days, Daring Do.” Then she cocked her perfect head to the side. “And, it seems, you want to punch me on top of it all. I must admit, I do not understand why.”

In the distance, clearer than earlier but still muffled by the walls of the Castle, came the sound of something exploding.

Daring Do’s face was hard as stone. “Gee. Take a wild guess.”

Daring Do’s voice echoed across the entire room. The Ballroom was gigantic—there were at least a hundred nobleponies sleeping there and there was absolutely more than enough space for three hundred more. Far away, in the middle of the room, there was a huge chandelier that swung every time the Castle shook.

There were red curtains in every window, but they were all open. The sound from the war outside came through them rather well.

“Interesting proposition. Perhaps later, Daring Do.” And Celestia shot her a wink before turning to Vinyl and Octavia. “But right now, there are more pressing things to consider. Vinyl Scratch.” She closed her eyes, and lowered her head slightly. “I believe you have something to tell me.”

Vinyl immediately arched an eyebrow. “Honestly, I kind of want to punch you too, Princess?”

And Celestia opened her eyes. “Ah.”

“So, like—we can change the topic, I guess, but it’s just going to be delaying the inevitable.”

“Well.” Celestia let out a sigh. “I cannot say it surprises me, Vinyl Scratch, nor that I do not deserve it. What I have done to you today is not something I am proud of, and I apologize. But, I understand that might not be enough. I must accept the consequences of my actions.” Then she looked at Octavia and in the same motherly tone, she said: “I assume you want to assault me too, Octavia Pianissimo?”

Octavia grinned at her. “I don’t know! But if Vinyl starts, I might join the fight anyway. I’m a mare of action!”

“Oh. I was not aware of that.”

“Me neither!”

“All I ask for, then, is for you to mind the crown.” Celestia stood there, closed her eyes again, and offered her cheek at them, leaning it so she’d be closer to their hooves. “It is quite delicate, and too much beauty has been destroyed today because of my failures already.”

Daring Do got visibly awkward when Celestia leaned in like that, so she flapped her wings and moved away from her. “Uh. That was just a manner of speaking, Princess. I’m not actually going to punch you.”

Celestia opened one of her eyes and looked at Daring Do. “You are not?”

“What!” From the ground, Vinyl frowned at Daring Do. “Come on! Way to get your hopes up!”

“That—what. What?” Daring Do looked at Vinyl. “I’m actively trying to save the world here! Do you really want me to waste time assaulting the princess just because I’m angry?”

“We do!”

“We super do.”

“We want to see what happens!”

Daring Do waved a hoof, and looked at Celestia. “I am angry, Princess. It would be great if you actually went and told me about your stupid plans beforehand, instead of just hoping that I jump in and fly blind like this. It’s extremely stressful, and my assistant is out there fighting hydras. But I don’t think that deserves a punch. Yet.”

Celestia nodded, and offered her cheek again. “I am glad to hear that, Daring Do. However, I believe you cannot speak for Vinyl Scratch.”

“Uuuh.” Daring Do scratched the back of her neck and frowned. “I… guess? Scratch, I don’t really get all the Mademoiselle said, so I don’t know exactly how this is supposed to go. Do you want to…? I don’t know, punch her or…?”

Vinyl Scratch considered this. More importantly, Octavia watched her.

Octavia Pianissimo was, essentially, an aristocrat—which meant that she was not one to let an absolute lack of any relevant knowledge cripple her ability to immediately develop strong opinions on issues she knew nothing about. And she knew nothing about Vinyl Scratch’s mind, or what went through it whenever Destiny was brought up.

But she had seen her wince and have difficulty breathing. And it always looked like this was against Vinyl’s own will—that she didn’t want to freak out like that, that she hated it, but something else forced it on her.

And Princess Celestia had put Vinyl in a position where that had happened very often.

In the distance, something exploded, and Vinyl close her eyes shut and opened her mouth to say something.

So Octavia, wasting no time, pressed Vinyl’s face against her chest, and talked: “We do! We do want to punch her. I do wonder what will break first, my hoof or her cheek?”

Pause.

Daring Do looked at Celestia.

Celestia lowered her head, ashamed. “Your hoof,” she admitted.

“Perfect! That sounds absolutely unfair. But also very cathartic! I’ve already got a concussion, I don’t really mind more time in the hospital.” Then Octavia patted Vinyl’s back and whispered: “You don’t have to deal with this now if you don’t want to.”

Vinyl, whose face was against Octavia’s chest, simply squeezed Octavia. “Thanks.”

“Good! Good.” Then she looked at Princess Celestia. “But we’ll do it later! We should probably end the war first, so we can escape Destiny and not save the world? That would be great.” Pause. “We’re totally punching you later, though!”

“We’ll use a hammer,” Vinyl muttered.

“We’ll use a hammer!” Octavia repeated, chipper like a chocolate cookie. “That will probably break too, though.”

Celestia lowered her head even more. “…It will.”

Daring Do frowned, but she saw the look Octavia gave her, so she just nodded. “Uh. Okay. You do… you. Scratch?”

“Let her be, Daring Do,” Octavia said.

“…Okay.”

“I am, for the record,” Vinyl said, speaking louder now, still pressing her face against Octavia, “not freaking out right now.”

“You are not! It’s why I’m not nuzzling you.”

“Not talking to you, Octavia.”

“I know! I’m still not nuzzling you. Don’t be greedy.”

Daring Do saw all this, and then looked at Celestia, who still had her head down. Seeing how nopony else was talking, she hovered closer to Celestia. “Uh,” she said. “Are you… actually ashamed of being able to break a hammer with your face?”

“It makes penitence particularly difficult, Daring Do.”

“Boy. I wish those were the kind of problems that kept me awake at night.”

“Do not wish for what you do not understand, Daring Do,” Celestia said then, raising her head once more and looking—if not fine, at least not as hurt as earlier. “I pray you may never find out.” Then she looked at Octavia and Vinyl. “I will accept whatever you feel I deserve, hammer or not. And I will not play coy with you. This was all part of my plan. I am not proud of it.”

“Save the world first,” Vinyl grumbled, not looking at her. “We can go about this later.”

Daring Do hesitated a little. “…You sure, Scratch?”

“Why are you being so considerate all of a sudden? I’m already here, right? No escaping from Destiny anymore.” Vinyl grimaced. “i just want this to be over. You said Canterlot is in danger. This place is full of innocent ponies. Get to it.”

Daring Do still hesitated some more. However, after getting a good look at Vinyl—and noticing how Octavia was rubbing her back in a reassuring way, out of Princess Celestia’s line of sight—she looked at the nobleponies.

They were all huddled up together, their expensive clothes stained and tattered. Their sleep was so deep they weren’t moving at all, and there was a subtle glow to them.

Celestia followed her gaze and nodded. “I put them to sleep,” she said. “I promised safety for them, and my Royal Guard is taking care of the city, protecting it from the hydras. It was the best way to go about it.”

So Daring Do bit her lip. “Right,” she said. “Innocent lives in danger. Gotcha.” Then she reached down her shirt, still flying above everypony else. “Princess?”

Celestia looked up at her. “Daring Do.”

“Catch.”

And Daring threw the Can of Wyrms at Celestia.

The princess’ reaction was immediate. She caught it with her magic, quick as a viper, and then brought it close to her face to inspect it. Any hint of a smile had vanished completely. “…It has been a long time since I saw this,” she said, and her voice had steel in it.

“Centuries? Figured.” Daring Do landed right in front of Celestia, frown on her face. “The legendary Can of Wyrms, Princess—or at least one third of it. The finest coltpixie gold you’ll ever see. I’ve been looking into its legend for some time, so imagine my surprise when I heard that this reunion was going to happen, and the whole thing was going to come together in one place.”

Celestia still held the Can of Wyrms tightly, but she glanced at Daring Do. “How did you…?”

“Find it? I had a little chat with Dragon Lord Ember.”

Celestia frowned. “And she deemed you worthy of carrying the Can of Wyrms?”

And Daring Do shrugged. “I punched a hydra.”

“And that was enough to convince her?”

“I punched a hydra really hard. And now,” Daring Do winked at Celestia, “there are two pieces of the Can of Wyrms in this very room right now. Am I right?”

This made Celestia almost flinch. She didn’t quite do it, but she came close, and that was enough to paint a smirk in Daring Do’s face. “I was not expecting you to know that, either,” Celestia admitted, looking down, frowning slightly. Then, she sighed. “I must apologize to you too, Daring Do. It seems I have underestimated you. Today is not my day.”

“Hah.” Daring Do’s expression was so cocky it could have sung at sunrise. “Happens often. Don’t sweat it.”

“I will not. But it will not happen a second time. That, I can guarantee you.” Celestia then flashed her horn, and the Can of Wyrms went flying towards Daring Do’s face. “Catch,” she said, half a second too late.

Daring Do caught it anyway, using both her hooves to hold it instead of her mouth. The cocky smirk went right away. “Wait, what?

“It is safer with you than with me.”

What?! But—but you’re Princess Celestia!

“Exactly.” Celestia’s smile did not reach her eyes; she glanced at Vinyl and Octavia for a moment when saying this. “You, however, are Daring Do. And I will not underestimate you anymore.” Pause. Celestia nodded, to herself. “Plus, I do believe punching a hydra hard enough has its merits.”

“Wait, but—okay.” Daring Do landed on the ground and put the Can of Wyrms around her neck again. “Okay. So I’m keeping this now? I’m keeping this now.” She tucked it under her shirt. “That was the plan all along? Because I actually didn’t see this coming.”

Celestia arched an eyebrow, and then looked at Vinyl and Octavia. Octavia glared at her. Then Celestia looked at Daring Do again, and squinted. “…Plan?”

“Yeah!”

“I do not… follow. What does this have to do with any plan?”

And something in the way Celestia said this made Vinyl come back to the world of the living. Her ears perked up and rolled until she was on top of Octavia, eyes as wide as plates, manic grin on her face. She looked at Celestia. “Sorry, excuse me, what? What was that?” She nudged Octavia so they could roll all the way around until they stood right next to Daring Do, and then she spoke again. “What was that I just heard?”

“I—the Can of Wyrms wasn’t part of your plan?” Daring Do made a point of ignoring Vinyl and just stare at Celestia. “Then…?”

“I am afraid it was not, Daring Do,” Celestia said. “I was aware, of course, that the only reason the hydras might attack today would be to find the other two pieces. I put my best agents on the field to try to stop them—it did not work.” Celestia sighed. “I have to admit, however, that that was expected.”

Daring Do nodded, and hid the Can of Wyrms under her shirt. “Right. Because of the hydragon?”

“Agent Sweetie Drops is the best at her job, but not even she can stop such a monster by herself. The hydragon is as cunning as it is dangerous, and it is the one leading the hydras towards the Can of Wyrms, yes.” Princess Celestia looked at Daring Do. “But that was all I had planned. That you would find out about it, much less retrieve one of the pieces, was… completely unexpected.”

“But—so, so you being here and me finding these two…?” Daring Do looked at Vinyl and Octavia, then at Celestia. “The nobleponies? Record Label being here?”

Celestia cocked her head to the side. “I have no idea what you are talking about. I am merely here to protect the nobleponies. I would not dare to leave them alone.”

“So you weren’t expecting me to get the piece from Dragon Lord Ember?” Daring Do asked, her voice getting increasingly more desperate. “Isn’t there any kind of—of masterplan I’m not seeing, that involves me in some ridiculous fashion?”

“Um.” Celestia was still cocking her head to the side. She hadn’t stopped doing that. “No.”

“Oh, my!” Again, Vinyl hollering from the ground. This time she looked at Octavia. “Would you believe that! Did you hear that, Octavia, best friend?”

“I did!” Octavia said. “I did hear that! How quaint!

“It is almost as if it was all a stupid coincidence all along!

Celestia nodded. “It was just a silly misunderstanding, yes.”

“A silly misunderstanding! Turns out! It’s all just really really dumb! You hear that, Octavia?”

“I do!”

Daring Do spoke behind gritted teeth. “Scratch,” she said. “I’m going to punch you.”

“Man and to think Daring Do believed there was some kind of conspiracy here! How utterly embarrassing!

“It is!” Octavia was getting into the mood, bobbing up and down slightly, or at least as much as she could while still hugging Vinyl. “It is embarrassing!”

“…A strange belief to hold, my dear Daring Do,” Celestia muttered. “One must admit it. I am already juggling too many things in the air as it is. Why would I complicate the matter further by adding you to the picture?”

Fair is fair: Daring Do took this without breaking down. She simply stood there, cheeks burning, and she closed her eyes and took a deep breath before talking again. “Okay,” she said. “Okay. Severely overestimated you there, Princess.”

“Do not sweat it, Daring Do.” Celestia nodded. “It happens all the time.”

“Right. Right! Okay!” Daring Do looked around. “So! Any reason for me to be here right now? Any at all?

Celestia looked at her.

Vinyl and Octavia looked at her.

And Daring Do sighed. “Me being here is literally a coincidence, isn’t it.”

“…Yes.”

“I am absolutely not included in the plan whatsoever. I’m not going to play any part in saving the world today.”

“…Not as far as I am concerned, at least.” Celestia squinted. “I am… sorry?”

Daring Do nodded. “Right. I—I’m just. I’m just going to walk over there.”

Then she turned around, walked away some twenty feet away, and just stood there. Looking away from them, head hung low.

Silence.

“Well.” Celestia was the first one to speak. Vinyl and Octavia looked at her. “I suppose Daring Do can have a very… literary view of life sometimes.”

“It’s funny because she’s miserable!” Octavia said.

“Octavia.”

“Vinyl?”

“It’s you saying stuff like that what makes us best friends.”

“Thank you!”

“So I guess this is it?” Vinyl rolled on her side again so she could squeeze Octavia a bit better, and then she looked at Celestia. Never had she missed her glasses so much as in this particular moment. “This is where we punch you, Princess.”

Celestia sat on the ground next to them. “Yes. If you so wish.”

“Is that also part of your plan.”

“It is.” Celestia looked around, at Daring Do, at the sleeping nobleponies. “I apologize again, Vinyl Scratch. I understand that you wanted to stop saving the world, that you wished to escape from Destiny. I forced you to fall back into its arms. I do not know if I deserve forgiveness.”

Octavia patted Vinyl’s back and started looking around the Ballroom with squinty eyes.

“Only if you want to, of course,” Celestia said. “But I do believe you two deserve an explanation. I fully intend you to save Equestria today. You are the Chosen Ones. You cannot escape it anymore.” Pause. Celestia frowned. “Octavia Pianissimo.”

“Yes?”

“Are you looking for a hammer to break against my face?”

“I am! I was lying earlier, I really don’t want to hurt my hoof. It is quite exquisite.” Octavia looked at Vinyl, and then at Celestia. “Do you perhaps have a hammer with you, Princess?”

Celestia seemed to give this some actual thought, but eventually she shook her head. “I can summon one for you,” she said. “But I would prefer to talk first.”

Octavia looked at Vinyl. “Do we talk first?”

Vinyl looked to the side. “Sure. I don’t care anymore.”

“Good!” Then, to Celestia: “We’ll allow you to talk!” Back to Vinyl: “We’re angry, Vinyl. We have to sound authoritative.”

Vinyl replied to this with a warm look and a small snuggle, and then they rolled around so she could look at Celestia. It took her a moment to talk, but eventually she managed. “Why?” she asked. Her eyes were bare, and her voice was normal, if with some raw undertones. “That is all I want to know. Why me? Why would you do this?”

“It had to be you two.” Celestia closed her eyes. “I am sorry.”

Vinyl’s eye twitched. “It did not have to be us two. That was the whole point why I stopped following Destiny. It does not need to be me, or Octavia.” She looked at the mare in question. “She’s been in danger, too.”

“I know.”

“Then—why?”

Princess Celestia didn’t make a sad face, or in fact change her expression at all. Her voice still sounded royal and composed, her wings were slightly spread, making her look even larger.

But the way the light bounced off her when she talked—that changed, somehow. It felt gray, toned down. She looked as delicate as the sleeping nobleponies behind her, and even the crown on her head seemed to lose its shine when she said:

“Because otherwise it would have been Twilight Sparkle.”

And then, suddenly, everything made sense.

Vinyl Scratch felt herself shrink a little, she felt her breath quicken, but still she said: “She’s the one who told me to leave the Secret Service—”

“I know. I speak the truth when I say I may not deserve forgiveness, Vinyl Scratch,” Celestia said. “This plan was nothing but a selfish action of my behalf. That is why you two are here.”

“…Twilight doesn’t know your plan,” Vinyl muttered. “Twilight didn’t know about me being forced into the call.”

“She does not. And it speaks greatly of her, to sacrifice her own life so that you may achieve happiness.” A smile made it to Celestia’s face, but it was not a happy one. “I taught her well. Too well, in fact. Every time you dodge your Destiny, Vinyl Scratch, Twilight Sparkle is forced to save the world in your stead.”

“Because they are Destiny’s last resort?” Octavia asked.

Celestia nodded. “Indeed,” she said.

“But—” Vinyl Scratch was visibly struggling to speak. She cleared her throat with a cough before continuing. “I… thought that she didn’t mind it. That it didn’t bother her.”

“I know. She told me the same. But…” Celestia shook her head. “I know better. Vinyl Scratch, you are a young mare. You are too young to have children yet, I assume?”

“Uh. Yeah.”

“But you may have them, one day.”

Pause.

Vinyl blinked, and her eyes went back to normal. She looked at Octavia—Octavia gave her a cute smile—and then at Celestia. “Uh.” She gulped. “Uuuuuh. I’m… probably not?” She glanced at Octavia again. “That would be a, uh. A really big surprise, all things considered.”

Octavia caught that, and giggled. “It would! It would be a surprise. I already said that earlier.” Then she snuggled against Vinyl’s chest. “But we still have adoption left, if we really want to!”

“Well, yeah, but—wait. Did you just say we.”

Octavia blinked charmingly. “What?” she asked. “I do not follow!”

Celestia’s ears perked up, and she straightened her back. “Oh,” she said, speaking a little louder than earlier. “I… did not realize you two were…?”

“Wha—uh. We’re not. We’re not!” Vinyl rolled around so she would be on top of Octavia and gave Celestia a look. “I mean, if you’re implying what I think you’re implying, at least? Because if you are, we’re not that. As for you,” Vinyl looked down, “you’re… probably implying something completely different.”

“I am!”

“And you’re wording it horribly.”

“I may be!”

“Right.” Vinyl looked at Celestia again, and licked her lips. “I, uh. I do not plan on having a relationship with… a stallion? Any time soon. If you catch my drift?”

Celestia blinked. “Yes, I understood that, Vinyl Scratch. I may be old, and I might be flawed, but I am not blind.”

“Yeah you’re not exactly making it hard to guess, Scratch.” Daring Do, seemingly out of nowhere, popped up next to Vinyl and gave her a funny look. “I mean, come on.”

“Agh!” Vinyl flinched, and then glared at Daring Do. “What?!”

“That mane.”

“Shut up! Why are we talking about this!”

Daring Do frowned. “You brought it up! Look, can you like, focus for once in your life, or…?”

“I’m trying! Okay. Look.” Vinyl sighed, and then let go of Octavia with one hoof—she made sure to hug her tightly with the other one—so she could point at herself. “Me? Gay. Explicitly. Her?” She pointed at Octavia. “She’s, uh.” Vinyl looked at her, on top of pointing at her face. “Probably that, too, apparently? Octavia, is that what you were implying?”

Octavia had a mysterious smile on. “Mmm.”

“Are you seriously playing coy now.”

“Mmm. A lady never tells!”

“I just did that myself!”

“A lady never tells.” And Octavia made a face. “Seriously, Vinyl. You’re my best friend, but… that mane!”

“I somehow feel,” Celestia interrupted, raising a hoof in the air to catch their attention, “that we got sidetracked. I understand you two may have many things to talk about, but this topic does not seem to be relevant to the current situation.”

Vinyl blinked. “Uh.”

“Children!” Octavia chimed. “And adoption. That’s why it’s relevant!”

“Right, I—You know what? You’re absolutely right, Princess. This has nothing to do with the current topic. Let’s go back to—what were we talking about?”

Celestia nodded, and her body language became serious again. “My betrayal of your trust and your consequent heartbreak, Vinyl Scratch.”

“Right yes let’s go back to that. And you.” Vinyl looked at Octavia again. “Shut up.”

“Okay!”

“Princess.” Vinyl managed to make a straight face when looking at Celestia. “Twilight Sparkle told me that she did not mind it, that she barely felt the difference once I stopped saving the world.”

“And you believed it?” Daring Do asked before Celestia could say anything. She sounded annoyed. “Scratch, are you daft? Do you ever stop to think about the consequences of your actions, or do you merely set things of fire and then wonder why it all smells like smoke?”

“I—!”

“My dear Daring Do.” Celestia was gentle but firm when speaking, and she looked at the pegasus with motherly authority. “I understand you are… emotionally invested in this argument. But Vinyl Scratch is an adult, and so is Twilight Sparkle. If they so desire, they may do as they want with their lives.”

Daring Do took this as a hit, and she took a step back. “I mean,” she said, “I know that. But that’s a stupid—”

“It may be, or it may be not,” Celestia said. “It is not my place to say. Just like it is not your place to tell Twilight Sparkle or Vinyl Scratch what they are allowed to do in the pursuit of their own happiness.”

“And yet,” and it was Octavia who talked, and it was merely a whisper, but her voice still carried across the entire room and it seemed to echo against the walls, “you didn’t ask any of them before forcing Vinyl to follow her Destiny against her will today.”

Everybody shut up at once.

In the distance, something exploded.

Vinyl Scratch didn’t look at Celestia when this happened. She looked at Octavia.

The mare didn’t look cute or elegant, now. She was gray, and groomed, and gorgeous, but she looked detached. Aloof. She looked every little sign as purebreed as she was, and for a moment Vinyl felt chills down her spine.

“Have you seen what happens to Vinyl when Destiny sneaks up to her, Princess?” Octavia kept on talking. Her voice had lost all spice; now it was nothing but steel. “Because it is not pleasant. I didn’t know memories alone could bring physical pain, but apparently, they can. And you felt you were in a position where you could force that on her?”

It took Celestia a moment to reply. When she did, her voice sounded as maternal as ever.

She did not dare look at Octavia when speaking, however.

“I did,” she simply said. “It was not easy. Agent Sweetie Drops threatened to leave the Secret Service when I gave her the order to fool Vinyl Scratch into coming, but I was able to convince her. It was our only choice.”

Vinyl didn’t dare look at Celestia either. She felt something cold in the pit of her stomach. “So it was Bon Bon, then.”

“She threatened to leave?” Daring Do frowned. “That’s… That must have been so hard for her.”

Octavia was the one who replied, again. “I sure hope so,” she said. “Princess, I am waiting for an explanation as to why you did this.”

Celestia nodded. “ The hydragon has reached maturity,” she said. “And it is far, far more vicious than any dragon, and unhinged by shackles such as honor, or dignity. There was no way to predict what damage it could cause on Equestria, or even the world as a whole.”

“So you held a party with the dragons and made sure they would all attend,” Daring Do said. “Because that means two of the three pieces of the Can of Wyrms would be together, and that would be—”

“—Impossible for the hydragon to ignore. Yes. I must admit, however, that the prospect of peace talks with the dragons also held a certain attractive quality. My sister is trying to teach them the merits of friendship.” Celestia looked up. “Luna has a wicked sort of wisdom, one that I sadly lack. I trust she might be on to something.”

“She’s not,” Octavia said.

“She’s super not,” Vinyl whispered.

“She’s probably not,” Daring Do added.

“Oh, well. It is always wise to hope. What is left, otherwise?” Celestia swallowed, and then forced herself to look at Vinyl, and Octavia. “The hydragon, in here, could be defeated. With enough planning, with enough foresight, I can set a powerful enough trap. But that is not a quest to be taken lightly, that is not a task any pony could take—”

“You needed a hero,” Vinyl said. Octavia looked at her, but Vinyl nodded, and so Octavia didn’t interrupt her. “And Destiny to be involved.”

“Yes. I cannot be the one to carry the bomb, Vinyl Scratch. I wish I could. Octavia Pianissimo is the only one, as far as I know, and you are here to protect her.” Here Celestia straightened her back, and her voice got some confidence back. What she said next, she said without shame. “Twilight Sparkle could have, perhaps, but she has too much on her plate already. Most of which, I must say, came from yours.”

In the distance, a creature screamed in pain. Smoke rose in the horizon.

Vinyl rolled around to look at Celestia. Octavia let her. “What?”

“Destiny does not give up easily, Vinyl Scratch,” Celestia said, looking straight into Vinyl’s eyes. “Every time you dodge the call, somepony else must answer it.”

“I—”

“How many times?” Celestia leaned forwards. “How many times do you refuse the call, Vinyl Scratch? How many times do you feel Destiny asking you to save the world, only for you to force that responsibility on Twilight Sparkle?”

It took a moment for Vinyl to find the words. When they came, they came almost on their own, without her input. “…Average is once a week,” she said.

“Once a week,” Celestia repeated. She did not sound angry, but she did sound stern. Strained. “Once a week, Vinyl Scratch. Once a week. Twilight Sparkle is forced to go on a quest to do the job you could not finish. Once a week she puts her life in danger for her own sake. But that is not all she has to do.” Celestia looked at Daring Do, who lowered her hat to cover her eyes, and then back at Vinyl. “She has responsibilities of her own, too.”

“I…” Vinyl looked at Octavia—who nuzzled her—and then back at Celestia. “She told me that she didn’t mind it, she said—”

“She is kind of heart, and I could not be more proud.” Celestia nodded, but her eyes were still piercing at Vinyl’s own. “But how long can she keep this? Two quests a week, three? Every time you refuse the call, it falls on her and her friends. Have you seen her lately, Vinyl Scratch? How tired she is?”

The kitchens.

Twilight, sounding utterly bored—or perhaps exhausted—as she talked about Destiny and Vinyl running from Destiny. Running from Destiny again.

The bags under her eyes.

“I have,” Vinyl muttered, looking down. Her voice was just a little whisper. “I have seen it.”

“I figured. So have I.” Princess Celestia took a deep breath, and kept on talking. She kept on staring. “It was only a matter of time until she cracked under the pressure. No matter how talented she is, no matter how much I have trained her—there is only so much a pony can do. And the hydragon is too dangerous. I do not think she would have made it. I do not think it was a risk I could afford to take.”

Vinyl couldn’t reply. She remembered everything she had seen in her years at the Service, and thought of Twilight seeing the same every week. Time and time again.

Vinyl’s fault.

Her ears were flat against her head. She started breathing in quick, shallow breaths; her heartbeat started—

“HNNG!”

Octavia stopped nuzzling her, and stared at Celestia. “The hydragon was too dangerous for Twilight Sparkle—so you threw Vinyl under the bus?”

“Yes.” Celestia nodded, looking at Octavia, now. “I believed Vinyl Scratch would not be alone. She would be well-rested. She was properly trained, and she was the one Destiny would call first anyway.” She pressed a hoof against her chest. “I do not ask for forgiveness, and I understand that what I did was wrong. I hate that you have to go through this. But I would be lying if I said that I would not do the same again, if I had to.”

“You didn’t tell Twilight this either,” Octavia said. “You made this choice in her place.”

“And she might grow to resent me. If she does, so be it. I will accept the consequences of my actions.” Celestia looked at Vinyl, now. “It was not an easy choice, and I deserve your anger. But I do think you might one day appreciate what I did as an act of love.” She took a deep breath. “If you ever have children on your own.”

True power had a name, and it was Celestia. She allowed herself to be vulnerable around others—because she knew that you couldn’t hurt her, no matter how you tried.

“An act of love?” Octavia asked. “That is what you call it, Princess?”

Celestia nodded. “Flawed as it may be.”

“I see.” Octavia looked away. “Then I suppose that explains why your sister betrayed you a thousand years ago.”

Octavia knew exactly what she was doing.

There was nopony to nuzzle Celestia back.

She didn’t cry or yell, however. She didn’t start breathing quickly. She just winced, and pressed a hoof against her chest again, and looked broken.

Daring Do took a step forward and opened her mouth—but Celestia saw her, and rose a hoof to interrupt her. She didn’t say anything, simply shook her head and gave her a quick smile, but Daring Do got the gesture. She shut her mouth and looked at Octavia and Vinyl instead.

When she spoke, she spoke softly.

“The Secret Service is everything for Bon Bon.”

Vinyl gulped. She avoided looking at Celestia, but she did not shy away from Daring Do’s face. “It is,” she said.

“So she knew why you left the Service, too. She knew about you, and about... “ Daring Do tipped her hat and looked down, so her eyes were out of sight. “About all this. You told her.”

“I—”

“And Princess Celestia, too. And Twilight Sparkle. You told everypony but me. All I got was some music nonsense.”

Vinyl drew a sharp breath. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—I couldn’t just—”

“I can read between the lines.” Daring Do lifted her head. “If you really don’t trust me enough to let me be a part of this, then Princess Celestia was right. It’s not my place to tell you anything.” She looked at Octavia. “Guess you’ve made your choice.”

“It’s not about me not trusting you, it’s—”

“Whatever, Scratch. You’re an adult. If you want me out, I’ll be out.”

“I don’t want you out.”

“You’re really not making a good job showing that.”

“Daring Do,” Octavia said, “I’m sure she had her reasons. Right not might not be a good moment.” Then she looked at Vinyl, and all the steel was gone from her. Her voice had that old spice again. “We should go now! We can probably wait the bomb out at this point.”

Vinyl frowned, and looked at Octavia. “I… Octavia.” Then she looked at the Princess, who was simply sitting there, quiet. “You… I’m really grateful that you stood by me, but you really didn’t need to go that hard.”

“I disagree!” Octavia chirped. “You didn’t have to go that hard. I, however?” And then she snuggled against Vinyl a little bit. “I told you, did I not? You need to speak with authority when you’re angry.” She looked at Celestia. “It’s the best way to make sure others try not to make you angry again.”

And to this Celestia reacted, although her voice was a bit wavy when she talked, at first. “I cannot deny it is an effective method, Octavia Pianissimo.”

Vinyl swallowed. “Princess, I’m—”

Something exploded in the background, and Vinyl shut up. Celestia shook her head and gave her a motherly look. “There is no need to apologize, Vinyl Scratch. I am willing to accept the consequences of my actions. I did not ask for your consent, or for Twilight Sparkle’s, and I am sorry. But what is done is done.” She looked at Daring Do. “Daring Do? May I ask for your assistance?”

Daring Do straightened her back. “Always,” she said, saluting. Then she frowned, and said: “Princess, I—you know you’re my friend. I don’t think Princess Luna’s fall was your—”

“Thank you, but that will have to wait. There are still more pressing issues at hoof.” Celestia looked at Octavia. “You may not leave yet, I am afraid. The world still needs saving. But I learn from my mistakes.”

Octavia arched an eyebrow. “Do you?”

“I do.” Celestia turned around, and unfolded her wings. “You have been through too much already; I understand that now. And if neither you nor Twilight Sparkle fulfil your Destiny today, perhaps I will suffice.” She rose her head up with dignity. “It is not a risk I like taking.” She glanced at the sleeping nobleponies when she said this. “But it is the least I can do.”

Daring Do flapped her wings and flew right next to Celestia. The princess was looking at the westernmost wall of the Ballroom, the one that led outside, to the Gardens. “So is that what I’m helping with?”

“Yes.” Celestia nodded. “Your instructions were to find me here, Vinyl Scratch. You did so. All the pieces are in place.” She took a deep breath, and readjusted her crown. “What follows is the difficult part. I have laid a trap for the hydragon, but it involves you. I will try not to use it. Which means…”

CRASH!

The outer wall was blown to pieces.

RAAAAAAARGH!

At the other side of the hole, the hydragon roared.

And Princess Celestia looked at it. “Which means that now it is my turn to fight.”


Outside of the Castle, overlooking the war destroying the mountain bit by bit, Rarity felt chills down her spine. Suddenly, the unfinished golden necklace around her neck seemed to weigh twice as much, and she felt compelled to grasp it. By her right, Applejack was throwing an giant boulder at a hydra and laughing about it, but Rarity didn’t even notice it.

“Something… weird is going on,” she said, frowning, looking at the necklace. “Applejack, dear?”

CRASH!

RAARGGHGHGHGHG.”

“HAH—HAH! TAKE THAT, YOU DARN TOOTIN’ SON OF A—Wha?” Applejack turned to face Rarity, still making a rude gesture with her front legs. “Rares? You called?”

“I did, yes.” Rarity frowned, put the necklace down, and then observed Applejack’s work with a modicum of interest. The attacking hydra was currently trying to swallow the boulder, or maybe take it out of its mouth. No way to know. “I am glad to see you’re having fun, by the way.”

“Ah sure am! Ah like how they yell when Ah hit ‘em.”

RAARGGHGHGHGHG,” the hydra choked.

“Somethin’ like that, yeah.”

“Hmm-hmm.” Rarity looked at the hydra again. “I have to ask. How do you know it’s a male?”

“Wha?”

“You called it ‘son of a’ something, if I recall correctly,” Rarity said. “And I do. As it literally just happened.”

“Sharp one, aren’t you,” Applejack said with a tip of the hat. “Ah don’t really know? ‘Daughter of a—’ just lacks somethin’. Ah’d call anypony a ‘son of a—’ if Ah had to insult ‘em, really.” She shrugged. “Ah’d call you—”

Pause.

Rarity arched an eyebrow. “No, no. By all means, finish that thought.”

“—a lady?” Applejack gave Rarity her most charming smile. “Yeah! Ah’d, um, Ah’d probably do that. You’re a special case, Rares.”

“You’d do that if you had to insult me.”

“Yeah!”

“You would call me a lady.”

“Ah would be really condescendin’ about it.”

Rarity thought about this for a moment, and then gave Applejack a second, equally charming smile. “I can see that, actually! It does work, doesn’t it?”

“Sure does! Ah would call Dash a ‘son of a—’ though, if you still want an example.” And then Applejack took a step towards Rarity and gave her that look she could give that disarmed you completely. “And, don’t get me wrong, Ah don’t mind talkin’ about this—but this ain’t what you wanted to talk about. Right?”

“As delightful as it would be to say that yes, I in fact intended to start what is doubtlessly a long diatribe on the many ways in which you can insult Rainbow Dash,” Rarity said, pawing at the necklace again, “I’m afraid that’s not it, no.”

“Then?”

“Applejack, did you…?” Rarity looked around, then bit her lip and rubbed her forearm in an accidental, but still pretty good, Fluttershy impression. “Did you… feel that?”

“Feel what?”

“Chills. Like—something important happening. Something bad happening.” Rarity had to scratch the back of her neck to avoid feeling too embarrassed; she would later tell Octavia and Vinyl that she felt extremely silly while saying all this. “My, I think I just felt something terrible going on somewhere in the Castle, and I can’t help but fear that our dear Twilight might—”

The west wing of the Castle exploded, dust and rubble cascading downwards into the inner Gardens. The distinct sound of mares screaming, and the sound of something roaring, something that felt like both a dragon and a hydra at the same time, followed.

“—be in danger,” Rarity finished, mouth hanging slightly open, looking at the Castle.

Immediately afterwards, another explosion, this time smaller—and light started flashing from the west wing. Golden light.

Then, more screaming.

By Rarity’s side, Applejack took off her hat and pressed it against her chest, eyes wide in horror. “You know what,” she muttered, eyes big as plates. “Ah do think somethin’s goin’ on in the Castle after all.”

“Rarity!” A sudden blue blur, and before you know it, Rainbow Dash was fluttering above both of them. “We’ve got trouble!”

Rarity felt a weight drop in her stomach. “Oh, dear,” she whispered, sweat running down her face. “Not this, too. What happened?”

“What happ—what?” Dash blinked, and the worry left her face for a moment. She looked back at the Castle—smoke rising now—then at Rarity. “Uh. The Castle exploded? Rarity, are you blind?”

“Ah. Ah, you meant that?” Rarity let out a sigh. “Oh, thank Celestia. I thought you meant something else was going on.”

“Is the Castle exploding not enough for you, or…?”

Rarity rolled her eyes. “It—! Never mind.” Then she turned around to look at Applejack—and found it was a little bit harder than expected. The necklace still weighted more than usual, but it also pulled from her, as if it were magnetic, as if it wanted to go to the Castle. “Oh?”

“Rainbow Dash?” Applejack put on her hat again, and took a step forward, looking up to the pegasus. “You son of a—what are you doin’ here? You were supposed to take care of Fluttershy! Did you just leave her alone?!”

Rarity blinked. “Oh, no. Oh, no, no, please, we don’t have time for your silly arguments—”

“There was an explosion! That’s what I’m doing here!” Dash complained, turning around and pointing at the Castle. “See? Hydras can’t do that!”

“Ah agree,” AJ said, nodding. “But Ah mean why are you here.”

“Well, to talk with Rarity, I guess?” Dash arched an eyebrow. “Twilight said she’s in charge! Fluttershy’s hiding among the trees, and there are no hydras nearby, okay? And this kind of looks like an emergency!”

Applejack looked at Rarity, then at Dash. “Huh. Twilight did do that,” she said. “And this is an emergency. Y’know, Dash, you’re makin’ a lotta sense, come to think of it.”

FLASH!

The sudden burst of purple light made the three mares cringe in place. It came from the west wing, too, but this time it had a distinct shape, that of…

“…Twilight’s cutie mark,” Dash muttered, rubbing her eyes to get back her vision. “Eugh. That was Twilight’s cutie mark, wasn’t it?”

“Ah think so.”

“You think that’s a bad sign?”

Both mares looked at Rarity.

Rarity was also rubbing her eyes—but more than anything, she was thinking. Thinking really hard.

Twilight hadn’t appointed her leader for nothing. Applejack was better at using common sense, Fluttershy was better at dealing with the hydras, and Rainbow Dash was the best at teamwork as long as she was the captain.

But Rarity was a romantic. Rarity believed in the beauty of little details and in passion being enough to move mountains. Rarity knew how to overanalyze and become obsessed, but she also knew when to stop thinking, when to become rationally irrational. She understood that taking important decisions was one part skill and two parts art.

And more important than that, she knew how ponies worked. So she turned around to look at AJ, ignoring the necklace’s pull. “Applejack, dear?” she asked, trying to keep her voice as soft as possible.

“Yeah?”

“By all means, correct me if I am wrong, but—did you just say Rainbow Dash was making a lot of sense?”

Applejack frowned. “Uh. Yeah. Ah mean, she was!” Then she looked at Dash. “Sorry for snappin’ at you back there, Dash. Been a bit stressed lately Ah might’ve been too harsh to you today.”

Dash waved a hoof dismissively. “Nah, I’ve been annoying lately, I get it. We good?”

Applejack smiled. “We good.”

By the side, Rarity was staring.

Hard.

“Did you two,” she eventually asked, vocalizing every word as carefully as possible, “just make up? Like that?”

“Yeah!”

“Ah guess?”

“Right.” Rarity nodded. “Even though you have been arguing all day. Just like that—no lesson learned, no big revelation, just… Normal communication. Like two actual adults recognizing that there’s no real reason to fight.”

“We are kinda tryin’ to save Equestria right now, Rares,” Applejack said, a hint of annoyance making it to her voice. “It’s about priorities. Dash?”

“Yeah, we’ve been a bit silly, I guess. But hey.” Dash shrugged. “Better late than ever.”

“Right.” Rarity nodded, swallowed, touched the necklace. It kept pulling. “Right. Dash?”

“Rarity.”

“Go get Fluttershy. There are no hydras nearby aside from…” She pointed at the one Applejack had forced to eat a boulder mere minutes ago. “And I know more might come at any moment, but I am willing to risk it.”

This caught Dash so off-guard she actually landed. “What? Why? Where are we going?”

And Rarity pointed at the Castle, at the Ballroom, at the black smoke rising. “There,” she said, face tense. “It is not the first time I see you two fight, Rainbow Dash, and you didn’t even learn a friendship lesson right now. Whatever is happening in the Castle, it was not a hydra, and it is big. So go get Fluttershy. I think Twilight needs our help.”


The moment the hydragon managed to slip into the Ballroom—which was sadly big enough to accomodate the monster—Daring Do jumped and lifted into the air, grabbing Octavia and Vinyl and moving them as far away from the danger as possible. She was fast; she was arguably the fastest pegasus alive at the moment, with that kind of visceral speed that only comes when dodging bullets has become part of your daily routine.

And still she was slower than Princess Celestia, who immediately unfolded her wings, and shone her horn. All the nobleponies got unceremoniously lifted and carried around with golden magic, and then dropped at the leftmost wall of the Ballroom. They were all screaming, they were panicking—but Celestia kept them in place.

Then she pointed her horn and shot one single burst of light, in the shape of Twilight Sparkle’s cutie mark, through the hole the hydragon had carved.

And the hydragon…

RAAAAAAARGH!

..charged.

“Princess?” Daring Do left Vinyl and Octavia on the ground and then rushed towards Celestia, who was currently flying to the left and shining her horn to catch the hydragon’s attention and drive it away from the sleeping nobles. “Little question, if you don’t mind?”

Celestia sounded perfectly calm when she looked at Daring Do—a smile even made it to her face for a moment—but she kept on focusing on the hydragon. “Yes, my dear Daring Do?”

“Is this going to work? Like, at all?”

“It was not part of my plan to fight today, Daring Do. But.” She looked at her. “I did not know you would be here. Perhaps, your help is all I needed. Perhaps you can help me fight Destiny itself. If it is not much to ask.”

This took Daring Do by surprise. She actually stopped looking at the hydragon for a moment, and glanced at Celestia. “I mean, you’re my friend, I don’t mind helping. But… You didn’t really answer my question?”

“The answer, Daring Do, is—is this going to work?” Celestia smiled one last time, and then looked at the hydragon. “I do not know. But I am certainly going to try.”


The hydragon had four faces, a million teeth, and infinite ways to kill you. It was slightly larger than a normal hydra, and it had—Vinyl and Octavia could see this now; they hadn’t really been able to give the monster a good look earlier—tiny wings on its back. Its eight eyes were yellow and gleaming with disgusting intelligence, its four mouths were salivating, and it moved way too fast for something its side.

Celestia snapped her neck and shot some kind of light straight at one the hydragon’s face.

The hydragon dodged it.

Daring Do tried to fly around and punch it one of its heads.

The hydragon smashed her out of the air with a well-timed head-butt.

Celestia teleported, moved close to Daring Do, shone some light on her. The hydragon head-butted them both into the ground.

And that was the end of this fight.

From the other side of the room, next to the sleeping nobleponies, Octavia and Vinyl were looking, eyes wide. Octavia was the first one to talk. “Well!” she said. “That was absolutely unimpressive!”

“Boy,” Vinyl said, squinting. “We’re going to get murdered today.”

“And you’re taking it very well!” Octavia said. “I’m so proud of you. Want a nuzzle anyway?”

“No.”

“I’m going to nuzzle you anyway!”

“I’m good as long as I’m not the one fighting the monster.” Pause. Vinyl looked at Octavia. “Well, actually, I’m not? But at this point I’m too emotionally exhausted to care.”

“Also the concussion! Come here anyway.”

“Also the concu—HNNGG.”

Octavia stopped nuzzling her, and looked at the hydragon again. “But! I don’t think the fight is over. That was probably only slightly stronger than a hammer. I might be angry at the Princess still, but she is royalty.”

At the other side of the room, the hydragon slammed its four heads against Celestia and Daring Do.

CRASH!

Again.

CRASH!

And again.

Pause.

Octavia looked at Vinyl. “We’re going to get murdered today,” she said.

“We’re super gonna—“

FLASH!

A dark cloud of gas appeared out of thin air, choking the hydragon, making it stumble and cough.

Then, a booming voice:

Do not touch my sister.

With a blink of magic, Princess Luna appeared right in front of the nobleponies, Vinyl, and Octavia.

And everything became so much darker.

Powerlessness is hard to describe. It’s ice in your throat so you can’t scream, it’s weights on your ankles so you can’t run, but it’s also so much more. Because ultimately, what powerlessness means is that—no matter what you do, no matter how you try, it’s not up to you. Who lives, who dies, it’s not up to you.

That’s what Vinyl and Octavia felt when Princess Luna appeared, and all the talk died away. Ice in their throat and weights on their ankles—because even though she was fighting the hydragon, it was clear she wasn’t on their side.

Luna looked at the hydragon, eyes sparking like lightning, mane floating behind her, framing her face to make it look sharper. She seemed taller than usual, darker than usual. Her fangs were long and sharp when she spoke.

Try again and your world will be ashes.

And her voice didn’t seem to come from her mouth—but rather, from everywhere at once, every single direction.

RAAAAAAARGH!

The hydragon shook its four heads, glared at Luna, and started to run. The entire Castle seemed to tremble with each one of its steps. Princess Luna faced this, but she didn’t flinch, or cover. She simply rose, her hooves not touching the ground even though her wings were not flapping, her horn lighting up with a light that was dark…

And then another flash of magic and Celestia appeared right next to Luna, carrying Daring Do on her back. “Luna,” she said, voice soothing. “I am okay.”

Immediately, the pressure went away, and Vinyl and Octavia felt that they could breathe once more. Luna’s eyes went back to normal as soon as her hooves touched the ground again—and she became smaller, lighter, her voice as chipper as always. “Sister!” she said, grinning at Celestia. “That is pleasant news!”

Celestia nodded. “It is.”

“It is always such a pleasure to see you are safe! I was ready to lose control and destroy everything in sight.”

“I know, Luna. We need to talk about your propensity to do that.” A glance at the hydragon—still charging, this was a large room—and Celestia grimaced. “Perhaps later today? There seems to be a more pressing issue at hand.” She looked at the pony on her back. “Daring Do, are you hurt?”

“Ggggh.” Daring Do cracked her neck to the side, then jumped off the princess. “Bit sore. Thanks for the ride.”

“You are so very much welcome.”

“Neat.” Daring looked at Vinyl and Octavia. “You two okay?”

“Bit traumatized, not gonna lie.”

“Thanks for asking, though!”

And Daring nodded. “Neat.”

Once again, the hydragon got to them.

Daring, Luna, and Celestia charged back.

What followed could have been described as a ballet, as long as whoever was describing had never seen a dance, and was also both blind and criminally stupid. Princess Celestia was the most powerful thing alive, Princess Luna was a close second, and Daring Do could move really fast and hit really hard.

It wasn’t even a fight. The hydragon was just smashing them all to the ground.

Because sure, it had issues hitting anything—Luna and Celestia had no issue teleporting away from danger, and Daring Do could’ve raced lightning and won—but it had stamina to spare, and it only needed to land a hit once. The ponies, however, couldn’t dent the hydragon at all, no matter how many times they got to it.

So Princess Celestia raised her horn, and light came from it and pierced the hydragon—

Sizzle.

Which was just enough to leave a scorch mark..

“Well.” Celestia had to stop and stare after this, the glory and quiet dignity of her posture stuttering somewhat. “That was unexpected.”

SISTER!”

RAAAAAAARGH!

A flash of dark light, a teleported Celestia, and the hydragon smashed one of its heads against a wall instead of against the princess—but it came close. Way too close.

“Sister,” Princess Luna said, hissing. “You must be careful!”

“Yes, yes. I am sorry. It is just…” Celestia looked at the hydragon, roaring wildly, and fired some more light.

Sszt.

“It seems to be immune to magic,” Celestia mused, frowning.

“We already knew that, Sister.”

Another flash of light. Celestia and Luna were standing on the other side of the room, now. The hydragon was foaming at the mouth.

“We did, yes, but not to this degree,” Celestia said. She was rubbing her chin, squinting that the hydragon. “Luna, would you mind try grabbing it? You have always been better at magic than me.”

Luna smiled, and blushed a little. “You are teasing me,” she said. “We both know that is a lie.” Nevertheless, she tried. Her eyes went white again, her horn flashed, a blue glow surrounded the hydragon…

Plink.

“So we can’t grab it either,” Celestia said. “As I feared. ” Then she blinked, and looked around. “Where is Daring Do?”

“TAKE THIS!”

Ploc.

ARGH. MY HOOF.”

Luna pointed. “She’s over there. Punching the hydragon.”

“Oh.” Celestia frowned. “I see.”

“I do not think it is working, though.”

Ploc.

ARGH.

RAAAAAAARGH!

Daring Do had to fly away in a hurry to avoid getting smashed to pieces by one rogue head.

Magic did not work, period. No matter what the princesses tried, it would just bounce against the hydragon’s scales and vanish as if no spell had been cast at all. Daring Do tried her best, she really did, but punching really hard could only carry you so far.

“How has she not broken her hoof already?” Vinyl whispered, still hugging Octavia tightly by the asleep nobleponies, seeing Daring Do try to knock the hydragon out for the nth time in a row, and failing horribly yet again. “There is no way that hoof is not broken.”

“Perhaps she thinks she can dent its armor if it keeps trying!”

“What, with a broken hoof? There’s a limit to how stupid you can be, even if your name is Daring Do.”

In the background, Daring Do flew in circles to gain momentum, then darted towards the hydragon.

Ploc.

ARGH. MY HOOF.

“Then again,” Vinyl said, “maybe not.” Then she felt that Octavia was snuggling against her chest, and looked down. “You okay down there?”

“I am! I am okay. Relatively speaking? It is fun to see somepony else be knocked around for once!”

“Agree.” The next words took a little bit to come out but, Vinyl figured, they were kind of over with playing coy with each other at this point. “Octavia, I—”

“Yes?”

“Thank you. Just… Thank you.” Vinyl started caressing her head as she talked, not quite looking at Octavia but not quite looking away either. She missed her shades so much. “I don’t know how I would have faced Princess Celestia without you doing all the heavy lifting for me.”

“I know! I am quite amazing.”

“You are.” Vinyl smiled. In the background, the hydragon was beating the living heart of the leaders of their land. Vinyl literally paid them zero mind. “You kind of are, actually. You didn’t have to get angry for my sake like that.”

“I disagree!”

“I know you do. But I think I understand that Princess Celestia was put in a very difficult position, and… She’s at least trying her best. I don’t really blame her that much.”

Octavia frowned, and looked up at Vinyl. “You don’t?”

And Vinyl looked back at Octavia.

She looked timeless. She always did, honestly, but now more than ever. Her mane was a mess, full of dirt and bits of flour and salt and pepper. Her fur, once silky and smooth, was rough and dirty. Her bowtie was an absolute disgrace.

Vinyl had known this mare for less than eight hours and she already meant the world to her.

“I don’t. Not really.”

“Well, you’re a better mare than me, then!” Octavia waved a hoof. Then she frowned, and looked at Vinyl for a moment. “Relatively speaking, of course. In general terms, I am vastly superior.”

“Right.”

“I have a fantastic bloodline.”

“Never change, Octavia.”

“I won’t!”

“I know you won’t.” Vinyl chuckled again, and kept caressing Octavia’s head. “I guess it’s easier to get angry for somepony else’s sake. I’d get defensive about you too if Princess Luna, I don’t know. Burned down your manor or something.” Then she hummed a little under her breath. “You know what’s funny?”

“That Daring Do is still trying to punch the hydragon?”

RAAAAAAARGH!

Ploc.

ARGH. MY HOOVES.

“Yes. Absolutely. But also.” Vinyl tapped the back of Octavia’s neck, causing her to look up. “I think meeting you has been the only good thing Destiny has ever done for me. I’m almost thankful for that. Thanks for everything you’ve done. For real.”

And to this Octavia replied with one of her perfectly symmetrical smiles. “You’re welcome! For real, too. And don’t worry, I think the same about you!”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah! You’re going to buy me three coffees still, after all.”

In the meantime, and completely unaware of the conversation that was taking place, Princess Celestia was growing restless. Her being herself, the only visible proof of this was the fact that she hadn’t blinked in the last seven minutes, and probably would not blink in at least another hour.

“Daring Do.” She moved next to the pegasus in a rare moment of respite, when the hydragon was busy trying to chase Luna around. “I fear for your safety. Are you okay?”

Daring Do was sweating, flapping her wings a little harder than necessary, and gripping her hoof. “Yes,” she obviously lied, eyes full of fire. “Perfectly fine. Any moment now I’m going to find its weakness and I’m going to punch it so hard.”

“I do not believe a mere punch will be enough.”

“Yeah, it always looks like that, and then wouldn’t you know it? Bam! And they’re out.”

Celestia shook her head. “I suggest something less harsh on your body. My sister is distracting the hydragon. I ask you to do the same.”

“What?”

“I need it to move over there.” And Celestia pointed, but she pointed upwards—at the roof of the Ballroom, that exquisite work of art, full of drawings that depicted glorious events from the past…

…and a giant golden chandelier, hanging from the very center of the room.

Daring Do’s face was puzzled, up until the pieces clicked, and then a huge grin appeared instead. “Ah,” she said. “I like the way you think, Princess.”

“I do not. I like that chandelier.” Celestia sighed, and then took flight herself. “I need you to get the hydragon over there without it noticing our intentions, and without endangering anypony else in the room. I trust you will be able to do as such?”

“Oh, definitely.” Daring Do waved the hoof that hurt in the air to get the pain away, and then she rolled up her sleeves and tucked her hat on. “This is not my first rodeo, Princess. The trick is to fight smart, instead of fighting hard. Give me twenty seconds.”

“Thank you so much, Daring Do. The future of Equestria relies on your shoulders.”

“Yeah, happens all the time.”

And exactly eighteen seconds later, Daring Do was punching the hydragon and failing for the millionth time in a row, and definitely breaking her hoof for real.

“ARGH! YOU DUMB THING!” And then, instead of moving away, she simply dodged to the side when the hydragon tried to bite her off the air and kept punching. “WHY!” dodge, punch, “WON’T! YOU!” dodge, punch, “DIE!

Dodge again—only this time, a bit too slow.

Skkrt.

The sound echoed across the entire Ballroom. It was similar to the sound of a nail tearing through fabric, but much meatier, much wetter. Daring Do wasn’t hit squarely by one of the hydragon’s heads, but she did get grazed—grazed enough for there to be blood.

She fell from the air, her face so full of shock one couldn’t even tell if she was feeling pain anymore—but when she landed, she did it gracefully, rolling around to avoid any further injury, splashing red across the ground, flinching in pain.

Then she just stood there, looking at the hydra, red on the side of her shirt, favoring her left side, and she dared a smile that was danger incarnate.

She said: “Lucky shot. Don’t get cocky.”

The hydragon roared, and chased after her—and Daring Do, still smiling, turned around.

And ran.

That was it. That was what made everything happen, that very moment with Daring Do running away from the hydragon, limping a little.

Because all in all, this was the very first time that the hydragon stopped paying attention to one of the princesses and focused entirely on the lowly commoner who’d been punching it for a while. And, while doing so, it happened to face in the direction of Vinyl and Octavia—and they caught the hydragon’s eye.

There was no doubt about this in Vinyl’s mind. The hydragon was chasing Daring Do, but it was looking at them. Explicitly, all four heads focused on her and Octavia, smiling that stupid grimace that spelled nothing but death.

And then, of course, Celestia shot the chain that was holding the chandelier in place, and it fell down, crushing the hydragon under it.

It went like this:

CRASH!

But a million times more satisfying.

The chandelier was an old, gigantic thing made out of gold, and glass, and candles, and ornamental bloated sweetness. It was the kind of chandelier that’s less put in place to light up the room and more to tempt any daredevil pegasi that feel like swinging from it at some point.

It wasn’t even pretty, it was simply decadent to the nth degree. Probably weighed a ton. Enough to kill anything.

It landed on the hydragon squarely, right down on its four necks.

The hydragon shrugged it away and threw it to the side.

CRRRSH

Daring Do stopped on her tracks so suddenly she slid across the polished marble floor for a couple meters before slowing down. She looked at the beast, completely covered in broken glass and gold and clearly barely feeling it, with wide eyes.

A flash, and by her side appeared Celestia. “Oh,” she whispered, and then added: “no.”

“Princess.” Daring Do swallowed, and looked at Celestia. “Please tell me that was just the first half of your plan.”

“It was not.”

“Throwing the chandelier was our last resort?”

“Yes.”

A second flash, and by Daring Do’s other side, Luna appeared out of nowhere, huge smile on her face. “Okay!” she said. “This has been fun. I hated that chandelier.” Then she looked at her sister. “What do we do now?”

“I do not know, Luna.”

“You did not think of a second part for this plan?” Princess Luna frowned. “Was the chandelier all we had under our sleeves?”

Princess Celestia bit her lip. “Indeed.”

“Oh. I see.” Then Luna rubbed her chin, looking at the hydragon shake the broken glass off its scales. “What if we punch it?”

Daring Do’s ears immediately perked up. “I like how that sounds!”

“Luna,” Celestia’s voice was patient, but she did look concerned when she talked. “I do not think a punch will be enough to defeat the hydragon. It is a legendary beast. There have been prophecies written about it. A punch will not suffice.”

“I see. What if we punch it really hard, then?”

YOU…

The hydragon’s voice tasted like charcoal and pierced like needles. It was fire in a forest and the howl of a wolf at midnight. It came from four different throats, harmonising with each other.

And it was looking at Octavia, and Vinyl, while speaking like this.

GET YOU

Hell, made noise.

Vinyl froze, and Octavia gulped. Call it instinct, call it a premonition—you can’t face a monster like the hydragon so many times in a row without developing a sense of incoming dread whenever you look into its eyes. When the eyes look back, one feels like nothing can save you.

In that moment, Vinyl and Octavia could very well had given in to despair. But they didn’t.

Because then, at the opposite side of the Ballroom the northernmost wall exploded inwards.

CRASH!

Rubble and dust flying everywhere, a gust of wind that filled the room; even the hydragon flinched and looked around in surprise. A stark silhouette stood in the middle of the new hole in the wall.

When the dust settled, she walked in. She was riding a hydra, commanding it with the ease of somepony who’s been born to rule. She had Pinkie Pie on one side and Twilight Sparkle on the other—two of the most powerful, versatile heroes in the land, and they looked at her with a mixture of respect and adoration.

Her tuxedo was impeccable. Her sunglasses were dark.

Her name was Bon Bon.

“My apologies for the wall, Your Highnesses,” she said, hopping off the hydra, bowing slightly at Celestia and Luna, absolutely ignoring the hydragon. “You can take it out of my salary once I’ve dealt with this thing.” Behind her, Twilight and Pinkie Pie stepped off the hydra’s back, too, and Bon Bon gave the whole room a perfunctory look before looking at them. “Pinkie? A favor?” Bon asked.

“Sure?”

And Bon pointed at the hydragon. “Take that thing down.”

“Sure!” Pinkie looked at the hydra they’d been riding. “Hey, Coughie! Take that thing down!”

RAAAAAARGH!

…RAAAAAAAAARGH?

The hydragon was nothing to laugh about. It was bigger than a normal hydra, stronger than a normal hydra, smarter than a normal hydra. In a fair fight, nothing could stand a chance against it.

But that said, no matter how strong you are, an adult hydra charging at you from across the room by surprise is slightly hard to react to. The hydragon planted its feet on the ground and tried to withstand the impact, its four mouths snapping in the air—but it still felt the impact.

BLAM!

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

And toppled backwards.

RAAAAAAAAARGH!

And hit the wall with the window that Daring Do, Vinyl, and Octavia had bursted through not that long ago. The outer wall, the one that led to the inner Gardens.

The weight of the two struggling monsters, combined, was too much for the ancient stone to withstand.

So it cracked. And it broke.

CRASH!

Both monsters fell. The sound of them hitting the ground was loud, and fleshy, and disgusting. The hydragon’s roars, and the hydra’s cry, could be heard for a while—but they were muffled, and weak, and soon enough they got drowned by the more varied sounds of war in the distance, and then nothing but silence in the Ballroom.

Pinkie was the first one to break the silence. “Uh-oh,” she said, and her high-pitched voice resonated across the room and made everypony’s ears perk up. “That looked bad. You think Coughie will be okay, Twilight?”

Twilight blinked. “Um. Probably?”

“I wouldn’t worry, Pinkie Pie. Hydras are tough. I’m sure Coughie barely even felt that.” Bon Bon then took off her sunglasses, and calmly stored them on the front pocket of her jacket. “This is like a game for them.”

“Hahah. Phew!” Pinkie swept some nonexistent sweat from her brow. “Good to know! Got worried for a second there.” Then she waved a hoof in the air. “Hi, Princesses! And Vinyl! And Octavia! Oooh, and Daring Do! I wasn’t expecting you here.”

“Right. Uh. Hello, Pinkie Pie.” Daring Do was still grabbing her side, drops of blood falling on the ground by her side. “I… wasn’t expecting you here either.”

“Today’s just full of surprises, yes,” Bon Bon muttered, looking at Princess Celestia. “Out of curiosity—how much of this was your plan, Princess? In general?”

Princess Celestia, Octavia would always comment later, reacted with surprising etiquette, keeping her dignity intact when she replied: “Almost absolutely nothing. At no point had I thought that you would ever come to our rescue while, um.” She did crack a little, here, when she squinted and cocked her head to the side, but she still managed to look regal. “While… riding a hydra? To battle?”

“Right. Well. What can I say.” And here Bon Bon gave them all a smile with so much swagger it was almost impossible to believe it could all fit in one single mare. “I’m the best at my job.”

Stunned silence.

Then, Bon Bon blinked. “Wait, why is Vinyl hugging that mare like…? Oh. Oh, no.” And her face twisted. “Don’t tell me—did I just interrupt something? Oh, Rarity is going to kill me!

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