• Published 23rd Jan 2019
  • 2,495 Views, 116 Comments

Pressed for Time - Aragon



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

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Chapter Seven – So Good at Being Best Friends

Bon Bon was not sharp. Sharp things are brittle.

Bon Bon was polished.

It had taken her exactly fifteen seconds to get rid of the hydragon. Her mane was bi-tonal, and not a single hair was out of place. Her suit was black as a beetle, smooth as a snake. She was not just a cool pony. She was a mare that, were you to catch her sneaking out of your mother’s bedroom in the morning, you would immediately high-five.

And, at the moment, she was doing the secret agent equivalent of paperwork.

"Civilian morale is high." Bon produced a file from the inside pocket of her jacket and started paging through it as she spoke. "But there was a minor scare in Main Street when a hydra snuck past the dragons and burst into the Canterlot Bank."

Princess Celestia's tone was grave. "Casualties?"

"None. It got really close to devouring the manager, though." Bon turned a page in the file, and arched an eyebrow. "Which actually raised morale, so call that a happy accident?"

"Oh." Celestia blinked, and frowned. "That sounds… uncharacteristically morbid for my subjects."

"I think it sounds rather fun!" Luna said, standing behind Celestia, smiling.

And Celestia nodded at her. "You are right, Luna. I stand corrected." Then she looked at Bon Bon. "That sounds uncharacteristically and worryingly morbid for my subjects, Agent Sweetie Drops."

"The manager was a nouveau riche and this is Canterlot, Princess."

"Oh."

"Ha-hah!" And from the ground, Octavia wagged her tail rather outrageously. She was laying on top of Vinyl, and looked at her right after her outburst. “I love this city! Even the commoners hate the bourgeoisie. Isn’t it wonderful?”

Vinyl nodded. “You’re aware that they would’ve cheered harder if it had been you being almost eaten, right?”

“Well, yes, I’m better than him. I still count it as a victory!”

“Scratch.” Bon Bon stopped her folder fiddling and glanced at the two mares laying on the ground. “I’m really, really sorry. I need to talk to you as soon as possible, but—”

Vinyl looked away. “Work first. Got it. Get it over with.”

Octavia saw this, and immediately rolled until they were both laying on their side and behind the princesses, slightly outside of Bon Bon’s line of sight. “Vinyl!” she chirped, but she was soft when saying so. “Is that your friend?”

“Mm-hmm.” Vinyl snuggled against Octavia’s shoulder. Octavia let her. “That’s Bon,” she said. “Agent Sweetie Drops when she’s working.”

“The one that betrayed you?”

“Yeah.”

Octavia patted Vinyl’s head. “Want me to take care of it? You can just snuggle up and avoid all your problems!”

Vinyl gave her a sweet look. “Thanks,” she said. “And I mean it. But—what, I’m going to just keep running forever?”

“Yes! Exactly! I knew you’d get it.”

“Nah.” Vinyl shook her head. As she was still snuggled against Octavia’s shoulder, this meant she rubbed her face against her friend’s fur—and she didn’t mind it one bit. “I can’t keep avoiding everything that’s slightly unpleasant for the rest of my life.”

“Are you sure? That’s only a step away from total moral decadence!” Octavia patted Vinyl’s head. “We could almost turn you into an honorary noblepony if you do that!”

“And play second fiddle to you?” Vinyl stopped snuggling Octavia just for a moment, just so she could blow her a tiny raspberry. “Never, I’ve got my pride.” Pause. “Plus, I like Bon Bon. She takes her job seriously. I’m angry at her, but I don’t know if I can really blame her or anything.”

“Hmm.” Octavia said nothing for a moment or two, simply caressing Vinyl’s head as she snuggled, and looked at the princesses, still talking. “Vinyl!” she said finally. “That’s a bit silly.”

“…I don’t think it is. Bon and I go a long way, we—”

“You’ve been playing second fiddle to me for a long while, now! I’m really obviously the one in charge here.”

“Ah.”

Twilight, Pinkie, and Daring Do were to the side, half-listening to Bon Bon’s reports. Mostly, though, they were talking to each other.

“Okay.” Daring Do had tucked the Can of Wyrms under her shirt again, and was toying with her hat as she spoke. “I’m not going to lie—riding a hydra to battle? That’s dumb but effective, that’s got Bon Bon written all over it. But having a hydra lying around to begin with? That’s just dumb. Like.” Daring Do rubbed the space between her eyes. “That’s incredibly dumb. So I’m going to go and guess that was you two.”

Twilight frowned at Daring Do. Not a lot, but at least a little. “Hey!”

“Okay.” Daring Do rose a hoof. “Let me rephrase it. Was it you two?”

“Yeah!” Pinkie said, bouncing up and down by Twilight’s side, huge grin in her face. “Like are you kidding me?”

“Just because you’re right doesn’t mean it’s not offensive.” The bags under Twilight’s eyes gave her a disheveled look. It was just messy enough for you to believe she’d stab you if you ticked her off. “We can be efficient when we’re dumb, too, sometimes.”

“Yeah!” Pinkie nodded. “We’ve saved the world tons of times!”

“Half of them we weren’t even dumb at all!” Pause. Twilight squinted. “Kind of.”

“They were only moderately silly!”

Daring Do nodded. “Right. Sorry if that came out wrong—you are good at your job, you two.” Then she looked at the hole that the hydra and the hydragon had fallen through. “This one time you were really stupid, though, right?”

“Oh, yeah, no, this was just monumentally dumb,” Twilight said.

“Yeah!” Pinkie said.

“We had no plan whatsoever? We just spent forty minutes in the kitchens doing nothing. Huge waste of time.”

“It was really fun!”

“I am very tired, Daring Do.” Twilight took a deep breath and rubbed her eyes. They were slightly bloodshot—not enough to be worrying, but enough to be noticeable. “I am good at this, and I enjoy going on adventures, and saving Equestria? But I have no idea how long I’m going to be able to keep it up.” She looked at Pinkie and smiled. “And Pinkie Pie is great to have around when you need to take a break.”

“I am charmingly naive yet childishly wise!” Pinkie said, grabbing Twilight by the shoulders and giving her a good ol’ squeeze. “It’s great to cheer up your friends sometimes. We’re just going through a rough patch, is all! It’ll all get better soon.”

Twilight sighed. “I hope so.”

“Hmm.” Daring Do scratched at her neck, around the chain that held the Can of Wyrms, and glanced at Vinyl for a moment. “Right,” she said, addressing Twilight and Pinkie again. “You still really haven’t explained the hydra, though?”

“Oh, Coughie?” Pinkie grinned at Daring Do. “It was easy! We’re friends now!”

“What?” Daring Do had to blink and look at Pinkie a second time to parse this. “You—what? You taught friendship to a hydra?

“Yeah!”

“Uuuuh. No.” By Pinkie’s side, Twilight shook her head and patted Pinkie on the shoulder. “No, we really didn’t. We just choked Coughie seventeen times in a row? And by the end of it all he was so terrified he was willing to take orders.”

Pause.

Daring Do arched an eyebrow. “You tortured and brainwashed a hydra just for fun?”

“If it helps, we mostly did it in self-defense. It kept trying to eat us.”

“And it kept missing!” Pinkie added. “It was a whole process.”

Twilight nodded. “Huge waste of time.”

“And then Bon Bon arrived!” Pinkie pointed at the mare, still talking to the princesses. “Out of nowhere! And she said, let’s ride this puppy!”

“And we saw that somepony was calling for me,” Twilight said, pointing at her horn. “My cutie mark exploded in the sky?”

“And we rode that puppy! And now we’re here. It’s been a pretty cool day so far!”

“Coolness?” Bon Bon stopped talking to the princesses and her ears perked up. “You three over there talking about me behind my back?”

“To your face, Bon,” Daring Do said, tipping her hat at Bon Bon and approaching her with two slow steps. “I was just asking for details on your little personal odyssey. Do they train you to ride monsters at the Secret Service or were you just too lazy to walk?”

“I noticed something had blown up half the Ballroom, and I figured bringing a hydra to a knife fight could be a good idea.” Then Bon winked at Daring Do. “You’re welcome, by the way. Hydragon grazed you?”

Daring Do frowned, and scratched the bloody side of her shirt, on the right. “Lucky shot,” she muttered. “Doesn’t count.”

“Mine was a lucky shot too, and I still won, didn’t I?” Bon Bon winked at her and then went back to her file. “Don’t underestimate luck. Our job is only, like, five percent skill.” Her tone warmed. “And go to the hospital as soon as this is over, okay? Lyra would get sad if you were to kick the bucket. She finds your books mildly entertaining.”

“Right. You and I need to spar some time, Bon Bon.” But Daring Do was smiling again while saying this. “Would love to teach you some modesty.”

“Sure! I’ve heard being humble can be great sometimes. Never felt the need myself.” Bon Bon smiled back at her, and then pointed at her file. “I’m in the middle of something, if you don’t mind? I’d rather get this over with.”

“Right, sure. Go away.”

“Hmm.” Bon Bon looked at Luna and Celestia. “Apologies for that, your Highnesses. You know how friendly rivalries go.”

“There is no need to worry,” Celestia said.

“I was not aware you knew Daring Do!” Luna added, popping her head from behind Celestia. “I do wonder who would die first, were you to fight each other?”

“Right. Luna.” Celestia looked at her sister, sweet smile on. “What did I say about worryingly morbid things?”

“That I like them?”

“Right. Of course. Let me start again.” Celestia looked at Bon Bon. “Agent Sweetie Drops?”

“Princess.”

“Please never fight Daring Do. I hold you both in quite high esteem, and my sister would probably enjoy it too much.”

“Agreed.” Bon Bon looked at the file again. “We’re almost done anyway, Princess. A hydra managed to throw a boulder at the city. No casualties, but part of Donut Joe’s was destroyed by the boulder.” She turned to the last page of the file. “Which raised morale even more. Overall, not a bad morning.”

Celestia frowned. “Donut Joe’s?” she asked.

“Yes. The diner by the food district? Old, greasy, cozy in a bizarre sort of way?”

“I know Donut Joe’s, Agent Sweetie Drops. I am a regular myself.” Celestia looked at Luna. “And I was under the impression that Joe was beloved among the subjects. It is worrying to see the citizens rejoice at his misery.”

“Oh, no, no.” Bon Bon closed the file, stuffed it in her inner pocket, and looked at Celestia. “No, Joe is popular. It’s just—the boulder just smashed the coffee machine? And the rest of the diner is pretty much intact.”

Pause.

“Sister.” Luna’s tone was grave. “Is it unbecoming to rejoice at that ourselves?”

“I am wondering that very same thing, Luna.”

“And what a merry bunch we all are, then. I’m sure Joe will find brand new ways to disappoint us.” Bon nodded to Celestia and stepped to the side. “Report over, Princess.”

“Thank you. I lack the words to express my gratitude for your service.”

“It’s my job, Princess, there’s no need.” Then Bon softened. She stopped looking professional for once—and she just looked like a normal mare. One that could absolutely rock a tuxedo, mind you, bust still somewhat relatable. “Scratch!” she said, and she rushed towards Vinyl and Octavia, kneeling by their side so she could be closer to their heads. “I’m really sorry for making you wait like that, I had to get thaaa—” she squinted “—aaand you’re still snuggling this mare. You’re still snuggling this mare?”

“She is!” Octavia said. “Hi!”

“I super am. Hi.” Vinyl was so cozy she had closed her eyes at some point, like a cat being scratched under the chin. “How’s it going.”

“Hi.” Bon waved at them. Octavia waved back, but with her tail, since her hooves were busy petting Vinyl. “Gotta say, Scratch.”

“Hmm?”

“I expected to find you in way worse shape than this.”

“Hmm?” Vinyl opened one eye and looked at Bon before closing it again. “Oh, no, no. I’m completely broken.”

“I’m teaching her how to be decadent!” Octavia added, waving her tail some more. She wasn’t patting Vinyl’s face anymore as much as she was gently caressing her, and looking fine while doing so. “Because I’m really good at it.”

“It was that or having a nervous breakdown,” Vinyl said.

“And my muzzle was getting itchy!”

Bon took this like she would take a punch: stoically, but you could tell she was shaken. “Ooookay,” she said. “Okay. You’re perfectly aware that answered nothing, though, right?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Absolutely!”

“We just kinda consider this part of the whole decadence thing? It’s a whole process.”

Bon blinked. “Uuuuuh.”

“Yeah, don’t mind them.” Daring Do made her way to the side of Bon Bon and shot Vinyl and Octavia a look that could have been friendly in another timeline, probably. “They’re just like that. Hell of a double act.”

“Thank you,” Vinyl said.

“We’re taking that as a compliment!” Octavia added.

Daring Do squinted. “I really don’t mean it as such.”

“Okay, are we sure that I didn’t interrupt anything when I came in here?” Bon Bon got up and looked around—pretty much every pony was looking at them anyway, princesses included—and then pointed at Vinyl and Octavia over her shoulder. “Like, I’m aware that there’s a bomb between them, but are we sure.”

Vinyl opened an eye again, still all snuggly, and glared. “We’re friends,” she said.

“Best friends!” Octavia said, still caressing Vinyl.

“Really stretching the meaning of that term, here,” Bon mused, arching an eyebrow. “Okay, but, for real. If Rarity comes, it’s official that I haven’t interrupted nothing, right? Because she was very explicit about what she was going to do to me if I ever—”

“Oh, for the love of Celestia!” That finally got Vinyl to open both eyes and stop snuggling. Octavia stopped caressing her at once, too. “You just kicked out a hydragon, Bon. Literally, what’s the worst thing Rarity can even do to you?”

“Okay, yeah, you’ve clearly never seen Rarity angry for real,” Bon replied. “After the last time I walked in on the Cakes? She was livid.”

“Oooooh. Are we talking about Rarity being angry?” Pinkie bounced in their direction and then rested her elbow on Bon Bon’s shoulder. “Because tell me about it!”

“Right?” Bon nodded and looked at Pinkie. “Like, why is she invested in protecting the love life of the Cakes, of all ponies? What’s in there for her?”

“I have no idea!”

Twilight had been looking at both Pinkie and Bon Bon for a while, now, and she found the chance to speak at this moment. “Uh,” she said, frowning. “I… I’m sorry, but, how are you two walking in on the Cakes so often that this has become an issue?”

“I have no idea either!” Pinkie said.

“At this point I think it’s kind of their fault?” Bon Bon said, squinting. “But if I say that, Rarity yells that’s victim blaming, and then she hits me in the face with a rolled-up newspaper.”

“Best secret agent, you said,” Daring Do asked, eyebrow arched, looking up and down at Bon Bon. “Best at your craft.”

“Go eat dirt, Daring Do.”

“Go get whapped with a newspaper! Seriously!” Daring Do looked at Celestia. “Am I the only normal one here, Princess? Is everypony who works under you either weird or a total idiot or something?”

Celestia frowned when she heard this, and opened her mouth to reply. But then she blinked, and closed it.

She looked at Luna, behind her, smiling. Twilight by the side, looking like she hadn’t slept in at least three weeks. Pinkie Pie and Bon Bon, still leaning on each other. Vinyl and Octavia, practicing decadence.

And Celestia nodded to herself, and looked at Daring Do. “…I think the only thing I am allowed to say,” she said, speaking very slowly, “is that our way to handle national security would do with some improvements, Daring Do.”

“I can’t believe I keep risking my life for this kingdom.”

“It’s our job, Daring Do.” Bon Bon pushed Pinkie away, and Pinkie stopped leaning on her. “It’s what we do. Stop complaining. And speaking of that…” She turned around and faced Vinyl. “We need to talk, Scratch. For real.”

Vinyl sighed. Her eyes were open now, and she wasn’t snuggly anymore, but Octavia was still patting and caressing the back of her neck as she talked. “We really do, I guess.” She glared at her friend. “So. Cat’s out of the bag. I know everything.”

Bon Bon nodded. “I am really, really sorry. I had no other option. It wasn’t easy, and I almost left the Service over it, but in the end it was all I could do.”

“Betray me like that? Lie to me and force me to follow my Destiny again?”

“Yes.”

Vinyl nodded. She didn’t want to ask, but she asked anyway—if only, to get closure. “Why?”

“Twilight is my friend, too.”

Vinyl winced a little at this. Not as much as earlier—Octavia felt no need to nuzzle her, that’s for starters—but still, Bon said it all in a very matter-of-fact way, and that’s what sold it, in the end.

Because Twilight was standing right there, and now that she could see her, Vinyl wondered how come she hadn’t noticed earlier. The bags under her eyes, the way her mane was all over the place, the way she twitched.

So she nodded. “Right. I’m friends with her too. I get it.” She looked at Bon Bon. “I’m still angry, but I get it.”

“And I’m sorry, but I would probably do it again.” Bon Bon rubbed the space between her eyes. “Honestly, Destiny is the one we should blame here. Nopony’s really at fault.”

“I disagree!” Octavia chirped, and she spoke so suddenly that she made both Bon Bon and Vinyl flinch. “I think Princess Celestia is very much at fault. She could’ve tried not to manipulate everypony!” She gave Celestia a little pretty smile. “What a novel concept, huh?”

And Bon Bon frowned. “Miss Pianissimo, I don’t care how old your blood is, you can’t talk like—”

“Just Octavia, please! I hate formalities.” Then Octavia looked at Twilight. “Twilight! You should ask the Princess what’s going on and why it’s going on! I cannot wait to hear what you think about it.”

“Uuuh.” Twilight blinked—slowly—and looked at Celestia, who looked troubled. Then at Octavia, and Vinyl, and Bon Bon. “What? Why do I keep popping up in this conversation? I’m not following.”

“I…” Celestia swallowed. “I made a mistake, Twilight. I suppose I am merely paying for it, now.”

“Yeah, a bit too much, maybe,” Daring Do said, stepping in front of Celestia, literally shielding her from Octavia. “You’re sticking your nose where you shouldn’t, Mademoiselle. When it comes to Scratch, you do you, but here you’re clearly stepping over the line.”

“Am I? How quaint! Because I think I’m really not.” Octavia’s accent was of spice and rosewater, but at the moment, more spice than roses. “I’m a noble! I manipulate others for a living. But I would never be delusional enough to think I’m doing it for their own good.”

“I—”

“Octavia Pianissimo.”

Like ice. Like cold steel against your throat.

Princess Luna’s eyes were bigger than normal. They weren’t completely white, not yet, but the irises were paler; grey, rather than black. She took two steps forward, and the temperature of the room went down two degrees.

“Octavia Pianissimo,” she repeated, staring at the mare in question. “You are an old friend of mine, and I hold your family in high esteem. But speak to my sister like that again,” she showed her teeth when she talked, and she had fangs, “and there will be blood.”

Celestia rested a hoof on Luna’s shoulder. “Luna,” she whispered. “We do not—”

“You are a graceful ruler, Sister. That is your burden to bear.” Luna kept on staring at Octavia. Her eyes grew paler still. “But I fell from grace once already. I do not mind doing it again.”

Octavia did not really shy away from that look, however. “And I wonder, Princess Luna,” she said, “who will be responsible fo—HNNGG.”

Pause.

And Vinyl looked at Octavia. “You done, now?”

And Octavia stared, eyes wide. “Did you just nuzzle me?!”

“Call it karma.” Vinyl patted Octavia’s head and rolled around until she was on top. “Look, I dig the whole ‘manipulative noblepony’ schtick you’ve got going on? But you’re playing it way too hard.” Then she looked at Celestia. “Sorry for that, Princess; didn’t mean no harm. Octavia’s just really defensive of me.”

And the smile Celestia gave her in reply was warm enough to bring the room temperature back to normal. “Do not worry, Vinyl Scratch,” she said, pushing Luna closer towards her with a wing. “I understand.”

Luna, eyes back to normal, looked at her sister. “She spoke ill of you,” she said.

“And you threatened them with murder, Luna. There were mistakes on both sides.”

She spoke ill of you!

Vinyl and Octavia were observing the conversation with varying degrees of interest. Eventually, Vinyl leaned closer to Octavia’s ears, and whispered: “Octavia?”

“I can’t believe you nuzzled me! That is not how this friendship works.”

“It super is.”

“Yes! It is! But you’re not supposed to know that!

“Look, remember how earlier this morning I—HNNG.”

Octavia stopped nuzzling Vinyl. “Ah-hah!” she said, triumphant. “Much better! I’m so good at being best friends. You were saying?”

Vinyl glared before continuing, although to be honest she kind of half-assed the gesture. “Right,” she muttered. “So. Remember how earlier I said that, boy, we’re super getting murdered today?”

“I do! I do remember that. I am very smart.”

“Sure—so, can you, like, not take that as a challenge? If you don’t mind?”

“Hah! Ah, hahah.” And Octavia, coy, pawed at Vinyl’s chest. “Probably not.”

Far away from them, Twilight Sparkle was staring at both the princesses and the private nuzzlefest. Her face was the visual equivalent of nails scratching a blackboard. “What is… going on?” She looked at Bon Bon, at Pinkie, at Daring Do. “Is anypony else following this?”

“I am,” Daring Do said, and then she looked at Twilight. “Did you know why she left the Secret Service?” she asked, pointing at Vinyl. “Something about having flashbacks?”

Twilight blinked. “I…”

“Cat’s out of the bag over here, so if you knew, please say.”

“Right.” Twilight nodded. “I knew. We all did.”

“Gotcha.” Daring Do looked at Vinyl again before facing Twilight. “So it was really noble of you to take that load off her shoulders, but you really can’t keep up, judging by the fact that you’re clearly familiar with the act of injecting caffeine straight into your eyeballs.”

Pause.

“Hahah.” Pinkie Pie looked at Twilight, grinning. “Twilight?” she said. “This is where you say you’ve never done that.”

Twilight gulped. “Uh. Um.”

Twilight.”

“Yeah, my point exactly.” Daring Do waved a hoof in the air. “So this time, Princess Celestia figured you were going to get yourself killed, because Destiny is pulling no punches. So she got Scratch to save the world instead, but that was unpleasant, and overall the moral is we all hate Destiny and only Bon and I are good at our job. That right, Bon?”

Twilight was looking at Celestia. Celestia was not looking at Twilight. “Princess…” she muttered, her voice strange.

And by her side, Pinkie Pie was having the opposite of an emotional crisis, because Pinkie Pie was a pony with priorities. “Hey!” she said, elbowing Daring Do. “We’re good at our job too! Twilight is just really bad at not accidentally getting close to dying.”

“Uh-huh,” Daring Do say. “That is the definition of being bad at this.”

“What! No, it is not!”

“Pinkie Pie, I respect you and your friends, and I consider you all amazing ponies? But you’re all, like. Massive idiots.” Daring looked over her shoulder. “Bon? Some backup? I’m trying to establish dominance here.”

Bon Bon was staring at Vinyl and Octavia. “Hm?”

“Saying we’re the best at what we do?” Daring Do frowned, and punched Bon Bon’s shoulder. “Come on, focus! What are you, daydreaming?”

Bon Bon rubbed her shoulder, still not looking at Daring Do. “Honestly?” she said. “Kind of? I mean, like.” She squinted. “Are Scratch and that psycho noble in a constant nuzzle kind of relationship now? Is that a thing?”

“Kind of? They’ve been gently lifting each other’s tails for a while, from what I’ve got.”

“Right. That’s weird. That’s weirding me out.”

“What!” Pinkie gasped, and pressed a hoof against her chest. “Whaaaaat! So there was something to interrupt after all! I knew it! It was—”

“THERE WAS A WHAT?!

And the sound made everypony freeze.

Rarity.

“Pinkamena Diane Pie!” Rarity came in from, of all places, the hole that the hydragon and the hydra had crashed through on their way out. Fluttershy was carrying her, red in the face and obviously struggling. “What did you say?!” Rarity roared.

“Nooooo!” Pinkie immediately jumped up and dashed off to hide behind Princess Celestia—this made the Princess flinch and go ‘whoop’, but softly—and then she cowered. “No, no, no, no!” she whined, ears flat against her head. “I didn’t mean to, it was an accident!”

“Oh, no! Don’t you—ah.” Fluttershy managed to land in the middle of the room with a big huff, letting Rarity go and then flopping on the ground with absolutely zero grace. Rarity looked at her with a perfectly fine smile. “Thank you very much, dear.” Then she turned to Pinkie and the rest again. “Young lady! Don’t you dare hide from me again! Come here!”

Nooooooo!

Twilight was looking at this with the kind of face that clearly showed she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to smile or to frown at the moment. “Rarity,” she said, getting up and approaching the mare. “She didn’t actually interrupt—”

“Twilight.” Rarity’s voice was so cutting Twilight froze mid-step. “I love Pinkie Pie as much as you do, but you are too soft on the poor dear. This is for her own good—and don’t you think I can’t see you hiding over there, Bon Bon!

“Crud.” Bon Bon poked her head from behind Princess Luna, and looked at Vinyl and Octavia. “You know, this would be a great time for the both of you to like... clarify what’s going on?”

Vinyl and Octavia looked at Bon Bon. Then at each other.

“That sounds like something we could do,” Vinyl said.

“It does! It does sound like it.”

A small pause.

“Okay!” Octavia beamed at Rarity. “You can continue with your yelling now if you want to. We’ll just be nuzzling each other over here!”

Wait no you can’t—

“Thank you, darling, I will. Have fun!” Rarity gave Octavia a smile before turning around, and immediately steeling her gaze. “Pinkie Pie! Bon Bon!” Her horn lit up. “Come here this very instant!

“No no no no no no n—”

“Rarity, I am an adult mare, and I am a government worker in the middle of a mission, and I refuse to be treated like a ki—OH NO! NOT THE EAR! NOT THE EAR! AAAAARGH!”

Both Pinkie Pie and Bon Bon were dragged away from the princesses by their right ears, glowing with Rarity’s magic. They tried to paw at the ground to stop themselves, but there was no use.

“I have told you many times!” Rarity started, pulling from their ears still and walking away from the group and towards one of the walls, “that you cannot keep doing this! I thought I had been clear enough with that last time with the Cakes?!”

Bon Bon and Pinkie were both released and stood in place, looking down, rubbing their ear.

“I asked you two a question!”

“Yes, Rarity,” both mares muttered.

“Good! Well then! What are we supposed to do when we walk into a room?!

“We’re supposed to knock first, Rarity.”

Far away from them, in the foreground, Octavia looked at Vinyl. “Hahah,” she said. “We’re so petty. So, are we angry at Bon Bon?”

And Vinyl looked at Octavia. “You didn’t even know?”

“I did not!”

“That’s my girl.” Vinyl patted Octavia on the back. “And nah, we’re cool with Bon Bon, she hated this as much as us. And she apologized as soon as she could, right?”

“I see! I see. I’ve no idea why we’re being mean to her, then, though.”

“Oh, me neither. Friendship’s complicated sometimes.” Then Vinyl looked at Fluttershy. “Hi, by the way. How’s it going.”

“Um.” Fluttershy had already caught her breath, and had been waving at the princesses and her friends by the time Vinyl had talked to her. “Hi.” And then she blinked. “It’s… going fine?”

“Good for you! I’m Octavia Pianissimo.”

“Fluttershy.” Twilight approached her friend just as she was opening her mouth to ask further questions. “What are you doing here? How did you find us?”

“Um.” Fluttershy looked around. “You kind of blew up half of the Ballroom.”

Pause.

Twilight nodded. “Right. Dumb question. Why are you here, though?”

“Because you blew up half of the Ballroom!” came Dash’s voice.

Everypony turned around to see the newcomers—Rainbow Dash, carrying Applejack, looking like a million bits and landing with the grace of a ballerina.

Both mares rushed towards them, and Dash kept on talking. “Seriously, you can see smoke from outside and everything, we thought you were—heeey there. Hello?” Dash stopped mid-step and glared at Vinyl and Octavia. “Uh. Mind getting a room or…?”

“We do not!” Octavia said. Then she looked at Vinyl. “Or wait, do we?”

“Octavia, why would we even need a room for.”

“Oooh, you.” Octavia fluttered her eyelashes and pawed at Vinyl’s chest. “A lady never tells!”

“Princess Luna put a bomb between them and it’ll explode if they stop hugging,” Twilight said. “Just to get you girls up to date.”

Fluttershy blinked. “Oh.”

Dash’s eyes went wide. “Oh, wow.”

And Applejack frowned. “What. What?” She looked at the two hugging mares, then at Twilight—Twilight shrugged—then at Princess Luna. Who just smiled at her and waved a little. So Applejack frowned even harder. “Why would you do that, Prin—”

“And why is Rarity yelling at Pinkie and Bon Bon?” Rainbow Dash’s left ear perked up as she looked at the scene. Bon Bon and Pinkie were both looking down, looking miserable. “And why are there like a million nobleponies sleeping over there?”

Applejack frowned at the interruption, but once Dash shut up, she took a deep breath, and looked at Princess Luna again. “Why would anypony get a bomb and—”

“And is that Daring Do? Daring Do!” Rainbow Dash’s face lit up, and she rushed towards the pegasus. “Hi! It’s been so long! It’s—whoa!”

Applejack had to take another deep breath. “Okay,” she muttered, more to herself than to anypony else. “You just made amends, Applejack. No issue gettin’ worked up now. Dash is dumb. You already knew this. You can deal with this.”

This got Twilight’s attention—her ears perked up and she looked at Applejack. “What?” she asked. “You two made up? You’re not fighting anymore?”

“Hm?” Applejack’s ears perked up. “Not anymore! We didn’t even know why we were fightin’ anymore, so we figured—”

“Daring Do!” Dash yelled. “You’re hurt!

Daring Do didn’t reply. She had been quiet for a while, gripping at her chest—and the necklace under it. She kept eyeing Rarity, still yelling at Bon Bon and Pinkie in the background. On her right side, her shirt was redder than ever. “Please tell me I’m hallucinating,” she muttered.

“What do you mean, you two made up?” Twilight was asking to the side, still glaring at Applejack. “You’re not supposed to—did you learn a friendship lesson while at it?”

Applejack thought about it. “Not really? We just realized we were bein’ silly. Especially Dash, but don’t tell her that.”

“Twilight?” Celestia looked at her protégé, something strange in her voice. “Is something wrong?”

“Princess, Applejack and Rainbow Dash were fighting earlier.” Twilight turned to look at Celestia, full frown on, now. “But it wasn’t a normal fight. It was the kind of fight we have when we need to rediscover the meaning of friendship, the kind that—”

“—The kind,” Celestia finished, slowly getting up, “that comes with a harrowing quest, perhaps?”

“Yes! But if they did not learn a friendship lesson along the way, then… Destiny doesn’t work like that, does it? If somepony doesn’t answer the call, somepony else must do it in their place.” Twilight swallowed. “And if we’re not doing that anymore…”

“I’m okay,” Daring Do muttered then, pushing Dash aside. “It’s just a scratch.”

“Daring Do, you’re bleeding!” Dash said. “Oh my gosh!”

“That doesn’t matter. I think I’m not hallucinating.” And Daring Do reached inside of her shirt and took the Can of Wyrms out. It was clearly moving. “Princess Celestia! Princess Luna! Look!

Celestia looked at the necklace with fear. Princess Luna, however, did it with surprise. “The Can of Wyrms?” she asked, getting up from the ground too, approaching Daring Do. “Why would you possess such a thing, Daring Do?”

“Dragonlord Ember gave it to me. And now it’s moving.

“Wait a minute.” Twilight looked at the necklace too. “I have seen that before.”

“Um. Yeah.” Fluttershy stopped hiding behind her mane to give the Can of Wyrms a good look. “That’s… That looks like the necklace Rarity found.”

“Sister. The necklace is calling for its second piece.” Princess Luna’s back got perfectly straight, and her pupils shrank. “This does not look good.”

“It does not,” Princess Celestia said. “The Can of Wyrm, a pending friendship lesson…” She looked at Twilight, and Vinyl and Octavia. “The situation is looking more and more fateful, by the second.”

What followed was harrowing silence. The only thing that broke it was the muffled sound of Rarity, still lecturing Bon Bon and Pinkie in the background—but even her voice got weaker.

Then, Twilight spoke, and there was a little bit of fear in her voice. “Applejack?” she asked.

“Twi?”

“You said you came here because you saw the Ballroom exploding?”

“And somepony signallin’ for you, yes.”

“Right. But I asked you to wait for me outside for a reason.” Twilight took a deep breath. “Applejack, is there anypony out there, making sure no hydras enter the Castle? Anypony at all?”

Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack all looked at each other.

Then Applejack looked at Twilight. “Uh,” she said. “Um. Whoopsie?”

CRASH!

The sound made everypony flinch—except for Fluttershy, who got so startled she actually jumped several feet in the air and then she stood there flying for a bit.

No wall had been broken this time, but something else had come through the one hole that Rarity and company had used earlier. A gigantic, multi-headed monster, laid on the ground right next to it, completely inert. Wounds around its whole body. Barely breathing.

Pinkie Pie’s voice, then:

COUGHIE! OH, NO!

And, as if echoing it:

RAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

But a million times as loud.

The hydragon came again, landing on top of Coughie the unconscious hydra—but it was not alone. Behind it, climbing over its body, were two smaller hydras, looking exactly as vicious. By its hooves, three more could be seen.

On the other side of the room, four more hydras came through the hole that Coughie had bursted into the Ballroom when Bon Bon and company were riding it.

They all roared in unison.

RAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!

But the hydragon’s roar drowned them all.

And once the echoes faded, and everypony started to internalize the scene that was happening; as the hydras poured into the room and approached them with death in their eyes and thirst for blood in their throats, the ponies felt instinct take over. The one that fills your throat with ice. The one that says, you are the prey, and you are surrounded by hunters.

Among the silence, then, a voice. Applejack’s; the only one grounded enough to remember how to speak in such a situation.

So she said the only thing she could say:

“Oh, son of a—”

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