• Published 23rd Jan 2019
  • 3,856 Views, 128 Comments

Pressed for Time - Aragon

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

  • ...

Chapter Eight – The Most Important Pony in her Life

Let’s talk about hydras.

In a world like Equestria, where harmony reigns sovereign, predators need to be intelligent to survive—they need to outsmart reality itself. Some, like the changelings, make do with disguise and subversion. Some, like the dragons, thrive in ancient wisdom and hard-earned might.

Hydras don’t do any of that.

Hydras are dumb, and slow, and can’t breathe fire. They’re so stupid they think the sun sets on its own. And that’s precisely what makes them so dangerous: against a dragon, you either run, or give up. Against a hydra? Hey. You might have a fighting chance. You might get lucky.

Only, luck makes people stupid. That’s why lotteries always run at a profit.

The Ballroom was gigantic. It could fit all the nobleponies of Canterlot and still leave enough room for half a cathedral—empty space was the most profound statement of decadence you could make in a city where rent was measured in the GDP of poorer countries. And yet, at the moment, the room looked absolutely packed. Reptiles as far as the eye could see. Eyes glinting. Mouths drooling. Teeth sharp.

Hydragon in front.

That was the real kicker.

“Oh, dear. This looks bad.” Rarity looked at the monsters rushing towards them, and had to cover her mouth with a hoof. Then she fluttered her eyelashes, and looked at Bon Bon. “Bon, dear? Mind carrying me out of here?”


“Yes, like that exactly!”


Bon was fast. Fast enough to pluck Rarity like a flower, and get out of there before the first hydra could eat them both. Fast enough to survive.

Not fast enough to get Pinkie out of there in time.

“Bye, Rarity! Bye, Bon Bon! Be careful out there! Oh wow wait my legs gave out too.” Pinkie Pie frowned at her own hooves, and then looked up at the hydra towering in front of her. “Do you think I should try to run away anyway?”


“Hahah. You’re going to eat me. Okay!” Pinkie nodded and started rummaging through her mane as the hydra lashed at her, teeth-first. “I better drop some weight then! Like this whole bag of cinnamon powder that I was storing in my—

And far away from them, Daring Do looked at Twilight as the hydra choked. “And you’re telling me,” she said, “that you did that for half an hour?” she asked.

Twilight nodded. “Yes.”

“Oh, no!” In the background, Pinkie was still yelling. “That was not enough! I’ll have to also get rid of these three other bags of cinnamon powder I always carry with me at all ti—

“It’s been a really long morning,” Twilight admitted.

The rest of the hydras rushed forward, all at once.

Moving your right leg and then your left leg was the greatest feat of large-scale coordination your average hydra could manage. When they first entered the Ballroom, they all ran roughly in the same direction—this didn’t last for long.

So some hydras rushed for Celestia, because she was closer to them, and hydras were legitimately just that stupid. But other hydras did not. Other hydras saw that there was a rather numerous amount of nobleponies sleeping by the wall, and figured, hey.

Free food.

“Hah-hah! But this is a formal event!” was the one-liner Princess Luna chose to use when she suddenly appeared in front of the sleeping nobleponies and shone her horn, confident grin on her face. “You must use a knife and fork to taste the appetizers!

And then she shone her horn, magically grabbed the hydra that had gotten closest to the nobleponies, and lifted it.

The hydra noticed that it wasn’t walking on the ground anymore, and so it tried to run in the air. Couldn’t. Tried some more. Couldn’t again.

Looked at Luna.


Luna shook her head. “Yes! We do take formalities seriously in Canterlot. It is a very decadent city, you see. Away you go!”

And she threw it away, right towards the hydragon.


It didn’t work. The hydragon just tossed the hydra to the side when it went flying towards it.

“Ah-hah!” Luna repeated anyway, never losing her smile. “We have projectiles now! This will be easy. I am so good at—wait no!

She had to snap her head to the side. Two more hydras had made it to the nobleponies.

“I said wait!” Luna repeated, lifting them both in the air too. “I did not think of a witty one-liner this time, and I consider myself a fan of the classics, which—stop it!

Third hydra. It took Luna almost an extra second to grab this one while keeping the other two in the air. The monster almost made it to the nobleponies.

Some sweat started to run down her forehead.

Half a room away, the hydragon took another step forward—and Princess Celestia was there, burning hard enough to blind.


Celestia spoke. “Twilight!”

And Twilight stood to attention, horn blaring already. “Princess?”

“Fire! Now!

They fired at the same time, with everything they had. White, and purple, and all the colors of the rainbow at once. It was a star, distilled in one beam; lightning, brought forth with fury. Another three hydras also went flying towards the hydragon, courtesy of Luna.


It did nothing, and the hydragon took another step.

Twilight gulped and took flight. “Okay! I’ve no idea how to stop this monster! And I don’t have any bags of cinnamon powder with me at the moment, and as far as I know that’s the only thing that—”


“A barrier!”

“Ah, a barrier, right.”

Both horns flared again. A giant, semi-transparent bubble came out of thin air, surrounding everypony in the room, keeping the hydras away. It was thick and purple-looking, and the air inside smelled like rain and ash.


A lone hydra bounced back after hitting the barrier with its four heads. Another, by its side, tried the same.


And then the hydragon roared.


And it bashed the barrier with its four heads at once.

There was no comical clonk this time, no bouncing off the barrier. Instead, what happened was a slight shimmer around the area the hydragon hit, and a strange hissing sound, like a cigarette pressing against bare flesh. Smoke, some, rose from the hydragon’s heads.


And the barrier disappeared.

The sudden pull was like a concussion but in the opposite direction, and it took Twilight all she had not to grab her head in pain. “Agh! Ooh, this is going to hurt tomorrow.” She looked to the side, bags under her eyes deeper than ever. “Princess?”

Celestia was biting her lip in pain. Smoke was rising from her horn. “Twilight Sparkle?”

“You don’t have any bags of cinnamon powder with you, right?”

“I do not.”

“Right. Right.”


As soon as the pain receded enough for them not to faint at the slightest amount of effort, Celestia and Twilight erected the barrier again. But the hydragon had already taken another step—and some hydras had slipped by and were now inside the bubble.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash rushed the moment they saw one single hydra sneak past the barrier. Daring Do joined them, still bleeding but clearly not caring. “Scratch!” she yelled over her shoulder. “Protect Octavia! Take care of the one on the right!”


“Would a nuzzle help?” Octavia asked.


“You’re a professional, Scratch, you’ll figure it out!” Then Daring Do took flight, and reached into her saddlebag. She took out the old curtain they had used to rappel into the Ballroom earlier, the one that was tied up like a rope. “Applejack, please tell me you’re a stereotypical enough cowgirl to carry a lasso with you at all times!” she yelled. “And Dash, catch!

“Oh, hey!” Dash caught one end of the curtain. Daring Do was still holding the other one. “We’re using something fancy as a weapon instead of for its intended use?”

“Yes!” Daring Do said.

“Destroying it in the process, too?”

“Probably! We’re gonna lasso the hydras and tie them up!”

“See, this is why you’re the best.”

And Applejack grinned as she produced a lasso from her mane—all rolled up, ready-to-use—and started running towards the hydra alongside Dash. “Ah can see why you like her! She called me stereotypical.”

“Uh. AJ, I’m pretty sure that was meant as an insult.”

“Nah, when they call you a cowgirl, it ain’t!”

Vinyl’s voice, shaken, in the background, as Daring Do and the rest ran away: “Boy. We’re going to get murdered today.”

“Say.” Octavia was frowning. “Is it a good moment to say I resent how Rainbow Dash showed glee at destroying part of the Castle? Because I really resent how she—oh, is that a hydra rushing towards us from the right?”


“So it is! How quaint.” Octavia nodded, and looked to the other side. “Princess Luna? Some help, please?”

Princess Luna was grabbing hydras, then either throwing them or teleporting them away from the nobleponies. More kept coming. She was actively struggling. “Not at the moment!” she said, not even looking. “Later, perhaps?!”

“Absolutely! Take all the time you need.” Octavia gripped Vinyl a bit tighter, nuzzled her cheek again. “We should probably run.”


Vinyl screamed, wordlessly. She felt her heart exploding in her chest, she felt the noise piercing her ears, and then it all became too much.

Something in her brain flipped.

She shut down.

Twilight and Celestia were barely keeping up.

The hydras were swarming into the room—more were coming every second from the holes in the walls. Running towards the nobleponies, towards Vinyl and Octavia, towards everypony in the room. They trampled each other, pushed and pressed as hard as they could. They widened the holes in the walls, they made the floor crack with their weight, and they all bounced off the barrier.

Kind of. The hydragon was there—and every time there was a barrier, it would smash it to pieces. Every time, Twilight and Celestia would cast a new barrier, they would keep the hydras at bay…

…But some slipped through, in those precious few seconds where nothing could stop them.

Octavia noticed that something was wrong immediately. Vinyl was covered in cold sweat, and trembling like a leaf.


And there was a hydra running towards them.

“…Vinyl?” Octavia rubbed her cheek against Vinyl’s in such a way that, were any of them to turn their head and face the other, the gesture would probably turn into a kiss. “Vinyl. We need to run away.”


The hydra was there, right there, but Octavia—heart hammering, panic settling in—managed to keep her voice calm, reassuring, warm. “Vinyl,” she said, whispered, purred. “We need to run away. Vinyl. Vinyl Scratch, we have to go.”


Vinyl wasn’t reacting.

She was curled up like a cat. Her eyes were darting around, but she clearly couldn’t see—she kept breathing hard, but was still suffocating. Vinyl gripped at Octavia, rather than hugging her, she winced with actual physical pain at every sound. Tears fell from her eyes but she didn’t seem to notice.

Octavia tried to nudge, roll away and drag Vinyl with her—but she was neither strong enough nor fast enough. “Vinyl. Vinyl. You have to help me, Vinyl.”

Vinyl couldn’t help.

The hydra lunged at them.


And then Fluttershy’s voice, meek and weak and soft and gentle: “U-um. Uh. Rawr. Raar-rargh? Rawr rawr.


The hydra stopped, dead in its tracks, inches away from Octavia—and looked at Fluttershy.

The pegasus had come flying from their back, and was now standing right in front of the monster, visibly trembling.

When the hydra roared again, it did so almost softly. “RAAAAAAAARGH?

Rawr, rargh-ra! Rarrargh. Rrrwrarrgh.”


“Oh.” Then Fluttershy looked down at Octavia and Vinyl. “Um. I’m trying to ask her about her feelings? But she says that you need a certain degree of detachment to argue anything remotely sentimental, and she can’t, uh, not be emotionally…” she looked at the hydra again. “Invested? Rwar-rwar?”

RAAAAAARGH.” The hydra nodded with its four heads at once. “RAAAAAAARGH.

Fluttershy nodded back. “Invested. Right.” Back at Vinyl and Octavia. “She can’t not be emotionally invested when she’s angry. So she’s asking if you would mind being eaten?”

“We do!” Octavia said, straining her smile a little bit as she kept on nuzzling, patting, caressing Vinyl. Then, when she saw that there was no echo coming from her friend, she repeated: “We super do. But, thank you very much for asking that! I feel I have learned so much about emotional burdens today. It is such a fascinating topic!”

“Oooh, yes.” Fluttershy nodded again, smiling at Octavia. “It is interesting. Did you know I have social anxiety myself?”


“Thank you! I have been working on it a lot. It’s a slow process, but I try.”


“Oh. Um.” Fluttershy looked at Octavia again. “Well. She says she is going to eat us both anyway, and that it is futile to run. But, I think we made a lot of progress today!”

Octavia’s smile became even more strained. “Okay!” she said, and then she patted Vinyl’s head again. “Vinyl, I am aware that you can’t hear me, but I want you to know that I have been in the ‘saving the world’ business for less than eight hours, and I already hate it! So much!”


The hydra lunged again.

And then Bon Bon popped up from behind the hydra. It had climbed on its back while Fluttershy was distracting it, and she was now grabbing one of the hydra’s necks. She had her sunglasses on.

“Yeah,” she said. “Keep dreaming.”

Then she punched the hydra on the side of the neck

The hydra toppled down with the grace of a sack of potatoes being kicked off a cliff.

Bon Bon jumped off the monster and to the ground, readjusted her tie, and looked at Vinyl and Octavia. “There, done. You two okay?”

“Thank you!” Octavia said, this time smiling for real. “We’re really not.”

“Sorry. I had to climb all the way up the thing’s neck.” Bon Bon shrugged. “By any chances, did the hydra tell you anything interesting? Any kind of secret plan or hidden motivation as to why they’re doing all this?”

Fluttershy thought about this for a moment, and then she looked at Vinyl and Octavia. “Well,” she said. “The hydra did say that Octavia looked, um. Like a tasty snack. I guess that counts as a hidden motivation?”

Bon clicked her tongue. “Not really.”


“Oooooh!” Octavia’s eyes lighted up, and then she looked at Vinyl, actually wagging her tail slightly. “Did you hear that? I’m a tasty snack!” she said, nuzzling Vinyl again. “Do you think that’s a compliment? I think that’s a compliment.”

Now that there wasn’t a hydra roaring right next to it, she seemed to have calmed down a little. She wasn’t wincing, though her shoulders were shaking still. She whimpered something that might have been a response, or may have just been a whimper.

So Octavia made a face, and hugged Vinyl against her chest. “Well, I’ll ask you again once you wake up! I’m sure it’ll be a constructive conversation.”

“It’s been a while since she’s been this bad.” Bon Bon had her sunglasses on, so it was hard to read her face, but she was looking at Vinyl with something that definitely did not look like happiness. “I’ll find a way to get you out of here. Keep trying to calm her down?”

Octavia nodded. “Of course! It’s either that or have a breakdown myself, and we really don’t have the time for that.”

“Ah-hah. A pragmatic mare. I can see why Vinyl likes you.”

“Yeah! I like myself a lot, as well.” Octavia nodded. “I’m great.”

“Say! Sorry to interrupt, but, Bon Bon? Dear?” Rarity, of all ponies, made her way to them from behind the unconscious hydra. She was pressing a hoof against her chest, and her mane was an absolute mess. “Was it really necessary to throw me away like a dirty sock? Because I get that it was quicker than the alternative, but, my mane!” She pointed at it. “Look at what you did!

Bon Bon arched an eyebrow, and pointed at Vinyl and Octavia. “I mean. Did you want these two to die?”

“Well, I—!” Rarity blinked, looked at Octavia. Frowned. “I… I mean… Not to be offensive, but—”

“I’m not offended!” Octavia chirped. “Your mane looks hideous. And I’m the one saying that! I’ve been hugging Vinyl Scratch for the last seven hours, my standards are extremely low at the moment.”

Rarity winced. “Ouch.”

“Oh, no, don’t worry, we’re best friends. I can say that.” Octavia patted Vinyl’s back and nuzzled her again. “Right?”

Vinyl whimpered.

“She means yes! Again. I’m very good at putting words in Vinyl’s mouth. I should do it more often!”

“Right. Look, this is a fascinating conversation that we’re having, really, don’t get me wrong,” Bon Bon said, after rubbing her temples a little. “But, Rarity were you actually going to ask something, or did you come here literally just to annoy me?”

“Both, actually! I am very offended about my mane. But also…” Rarity stopped pressing that one hoof against her chest—and a golden necklace was revealed underneath. It was an ugly piece, incomplete, and it wasn’t hanging down. It was pulling, as if attracted by a magnet, and it was pulling towards—

“Daring Do,” Bon Bon muttered, frowning, looking back at Daring Do. She was currently tying up the hydra Applejack had lassoed to the ground.

“Indeed!” Rarity said, covering the necklace again. “Odd, isn’t it? Do you have any idea why this is happening, by chance?”

“That’s…” Fluttershy blinked. “Daring Do had a necklace just like that, didn’t she? Right before the hydras…?”

Octavia perked up. “Why,” she said, looking at Rarity. “Isn’t that the, what was it?” She looked down, nudged Vinyl. Vinyl whimpered in response, but that was it. Octavia nodded anyway. “The Can of Wyrms, yes?” She looked at Bon Bon. “Ancient artefact, able to kill pretty much anything?”

Bon frowned. “Rings a bell. Kind of. Where did you find that, Rarity?”

“Why, two hydras were carrying it and trying to walk into the Castle,” Rarity explained. “Can of Wyrms, you say? What a strange name.”

“It is! It is pretty terrible.” Then, Octavia looked down at her own chest. Tried to. Vinyl was kind of in the way. “But, why isn’t it pointing at us, too? We have the third pi—”


Bon Bon stood to attention, eyes perked up. A second hydra was approaching. “Fight first, talk later. How does Vinyl feel about explosions?”

“At this point we don’t even register them anymore!”

“Just what I wanted to hear.”

The hydra made it to them, and Bon Bon jumped at its four necks. Hooves-first.

At the literal opposite side of the room, another hydra was on the ground, coughing, all heads tearing up. “GGKGHACGKH.”

“Hahah. I’ll call you Coughie the Second!” Pinkie Pie said, poking one of the hydra’s heads. “Will you let me ride you, now?”


“Is that a yes?”


Pinkie blinked. Frowned. “Huh,” she said. “That did not sound like a yes.” Then she turned around, and saw that there was another hydra behind her—and this one looked much bigger than Coughie the Second, too. “Ooooh,” Pinkie said, eyes going wide. “You look deadly!”


“Yeah! Like that! I have no idea what you just said.” Then Pinkie looked at Coughie the Second. “Hey! Can you understand what your friend is saying?”


“Is that another yes?”

RAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!” went the other hydra.

And Pinkie rolled her eyes, and started rummaging through her mane. “Yes, yes, I’m going to die, oh no, somepony help, etcetera, what am I going to… Uh. To…” She stepped to the side, dodging the hydra’s mouths, frowned, and kept looking. “To—give me a moment, please?”


“Just one moment! I’ll—huh. Huh!” Pinkie blinked again, and then took her hoof out of her mane. “I don’t have any more cinnamon powder left!” she said, and she sounded genuinely surprised, which in Pinkie Pie was nothing short of a miracle. “Would you believe that, Mister?” she asked, looking at the hydra. “No more cinnamon! This has literally never happened to me before.”


“Oh, right, you were going to eat me!” And Pinkie’s smile got a little bit strained. “Hah. Hah, hah. Whoopsie.”

The hydra lunged forward. Again.

Pinkie screamed.

A bit to the south, Fluttershy was frantically flying around a hydra, rawring as loud as she could.

Rawrawra! Wrorrorrghraaa! Raaargh?”


“He’s saying he’s willing to listen!” Fluttershy said, looking at Rarity. “He still wants to eat you first, but he’s willing to listen! Isn’t that great?”

“Dear, you know I love you.” Rarity was walking slowly, horn glowing. In front of her, Vinyl and Octavia were floating, curled up in a snuggle. “I would go to the moon and back for you, or at least I’d fool Rainbow Dash into doing it—but can we please focus less on the big picture and more on the small details? Like not getting eaten?


And the hydra that’d been chasing them toppled and fell, unconscious, right on the spot Rarity had been occupying a second ago. Bon Bon jumped down from one of its necks, readjusted her tie, gave them a salute, and bounced away to get another one.

Fluttershy looked at her go and then nodded to herself. “I helped.” Then she looked to the side, and blinked. “Oh! Rarity, you should move to the left a little!”

Rarity turned around. “What?”

Too late.

The light brown blur came too fast to sidestep away from it, and it caught Rarity right in the chest, taking the air out of her lungs with one meaty:


Rarity fell, and tumbled backwards.

Her magic dissipated.

Vinyl and Octavia fell, too.

Momentum does weird things when magic is involved. Only Rarity got hit, but Vinyl and Octavia went rolling on the ground anyway, hitting it face-first, then bottom-first, and so on, so forth. It was exactly like a summersault, only instead of athletic ability they were showcasing misery.

Meaning, Vinyl hit her head. It hurt.


And like that, she was back.

“MY HEAD.” The yell came naturally, and suddenly Vinyl was able to think, and talk, and move on her own. Everything hurt still, and it was terrible, but it was still like getting out of the water after a deep dive. “WHAT THE HELL.”

“Vinyl!” The moment they stopped tumbling around, Octavia—who had never let Vinyl go—nuzzled Vinyl rather strongly on the cheek. “You’re back! You’re okay! Are you okay?”

“I’M NOT!”

“Me neither! But I am so happy that now you’re miserable in a way we can shamelessly chitchat about. It’s much more fun this way!” Then Octavia winced. “Also, ouch, my head.”

Vinyl grumbled, and took a moment to look around. They had rolled all the way to the sleeping nobleponies, and were now laying right behind Princess Luna, who was keeping the hydras at bay. Fluttershy was coming, and Rarity was whining about something nearby.

A hydra roared in the distance, and Vinyl made the conscious decision to focus on Octavi, lest she started hyperventilating again. “Octavia,” she said.


“I’m so sorry.” Vinyl took a deep breath. “I—I couldn’t move, and that hydra almost… I could’ve gotten you…”

“What?” Octavia, ever cutesy, cocked a head to the side and rolled around so they were both side to side, clinging to each other. “You mean that first hydra? You remember!”

“I wasn’t unconscious. I could hear everything, I just couldn’t really do anything else.” Vinyl swallowed. “Octavia, for real, I am so sorry, it’s all my fault, I—”

“So, did you think it was a compliment?”

Vinyl opened her mouth to reply, and then she thought about it, and she said nothing. She took a second. Then: “The what now.”

“What the hydra said! It called me a tasty snack.” Octavia made a face. “I think it might have been a compliment! But I’m not sure. See, on the one hoof, it was trying to eat me. But on the other hoof, it was trying to eat me! That sounds flattering, in a way?”

“Octavia, I don’t—eating you is flattering? You consider a monster devouring you alive flattering.” Vinyl felt her heartbeat calm down, as her eyebrow arched almost automatically. “Am I getting this right?”

“Well, I don’t know! It’s why I’m asking. This sounds like the kind of thing a commoner should know about! You’re all very degenerate in your own way.”

“Okay, Octavia, did this whole adventure awaken something new in you or…?”

And Octavia beamed. “It absolutely did!” she said. “I don’t think it’s what you’re talking about, though.”

Vinyl blinked. “What.”

Octavia smiled. “What?”


Vinyl relaxed her shoulders—she hadn’t even noticed they were tensed up—and let out a small chuckle. “You don’t even care, do you? That my freakout nearly got us killed.”

Octavia gave her a wise smile and a playful wink in response. “I do not! I had everything under control, you see.”

“Oh, yeah?” Vinyl nudged Octavia on the side, playfully. “And what was the plan if Bon Bon hadn’t appeared in the nick of time?”

“Easy!” Octavia said. “Somepony else would have rescued me instead. I am very resourceful!”

“And if nopony rescued you?”

“What! Why wouldn’t they? Vinyl, have you met me?”


Both of them flinched at the same time. Right behind them, Luna had grabbed a hydra and throw it against the wall—hard enough to carve a hole. Hence the sound.

Vinyl saw this, and then sucked air through her teeth before looking at Octavia. “Right. Forgot we’re at war there for a second.”

“It’s amazing how we keep doing that! We’re so good at this.”

“Oh, for Celestia’s sake.” A sudden third voice, weak, came from the side. It was almost a whimper. “Please, would you mind not getting lost in each other’s eyes for a second, at least? I would love to die without feeling nauseous. You know, for a change of pace?”

Vinyl’s ears perked up, and she rolled around until she was on top. “Daring Do!” she said. “What are you—”

Then they saw how Daring Do looked.

And Octavia said: ‘Oh, that is not good.”

Daring Do was laying under Rarity; she’d been the brown blur that had hit them and thrown them tumbling. She looked pale, there were bags under her eyes, and her shirt was completely red.

Blood kept dripping as they looked.

“Daring Do!” Vinyl said, rolling closer to her. “Are you okay?”

“Do I look okay to you, Scratch.”

“What happened?!”

“Ugh.” Daring Do swallowed, and closed her eyes. “You know, my plan of fighting hydras while bleeding out?”


“Not my brightest idea.”

“And Rarity is okay!” Octavia said. “I hope. Right, Rarity?”

“Oh, I feel wonderful, pain aside.” Rarity gave Octavia a little smile, and tried to get up without disturbing Daring Do. “And thank you very much! I know it’s not really necessary to ask me, when Daring Do is the one hurt, but I still appreciate the detail.”

“You’re welcome!”

“Yes, ye—wait.” Rarity stopped as she looked down at herself. “Is this blood?”

“It is!”

“It super is.”

“I’m going to die surrounded by idiots,” Daring Do whispered, squinting at the ceiling, eyes glassy. “And Rarity.”

“Why, thank you, darling.” Rarity said, moving to the side. “ And we need to bring you to a hospital. This does not look—”


Sudden silence, only broken by the fork-related expletives Luna was spouting by their side, and the roar of the hydras as they got thrown away. Daring Do and Rarity looked in horror at their respective necklaces.

They had fused. They were now only one big, ugly, golden piece; the chain that Rarity had been using had broken, so now the whole thing was hanging from Daring Do’s neck. It looked almost complete—except for one big hole in the center.

“The Can of Wyrms,” Daring Do hissed.

Vinyl felt her heartbeat accelerate again, she felt herself hyperventilate, and added: “Destiny.”

And in the background, Twilight yelled: “PINKIE PIE!”

Celestia and Twilight had not given up. They were still flying, still casting barriers, still keeping the hydragon at bay. The monster was anxious—it showed in the way it snarled, in the way it roared, in the way its eyes seemed to gleam more than usual—but they were tired, Twilight had a headache, Celestia was sweating.

And then Pinkie Pie came in, screaming at the top of her lungs, three hydras chasing after her.

“THIS IS NOT FUN THIS IS NOT FUN THIS IS NOT FUN oh hi Twilight! How’s it going?”


Twilight was tired. She hadn’t slept in way too long, she had overworked herself to the point where caffeine had replaced oxygen on her lungs, and she had been struggling with a hydragon for the last ten minutes.

It’s not that she couldn’t think straight. It’s that technically speaking, she didn’t have a functioning brain anymore.

So she blinked, saw that her friend was in danger, and turned around. She forgot the barrier, focused on her horn, and teleported Pinkie Pie away to safety. It took her less than two seconds.

That’s all the hydragon needed.

Celestia was fast, she really was, but this was a job for two alicorns, not just one. The hydragon smashed the barrier once more, and then—unfairly quick, in a way that tricked the eye—smashed one of its heads into Twilight.


But this time, a million times louder.

The scream that came from Celestia’s throat when she saw this happen was broken glass, it was rusty iron stabbing flesh.

It was a mother who might have just seen her one child die.


Twilight ricocheted off the ground from the hit and hit the roof, then the ground again, then tumbled around until she stopped.

Celestia teleported next to Twilight, quicker than thought itself.

The barrier was no more.


“Ah… Well. I guess there’s more to the story,” Vinyl had said at the staircase, a million years ago, it felt like. “I—look, saving the world is not exactly a laughing matter. You’re only adjacent to Destiny trying to catch me, and you’re already, what? Strapped to a bomb, chased by monsters, brain damaged, horrified by the bleakness of the reality you inhabit and of which you were unaware until today?”

There was a flash! and Celestia teleported both herself and Twilight out of the hydragon’s face—and next to Luna, next to the sleeping nobleponies, next to Rarity, and Daring Do, and Vinyl, and Octavia.

Celestia looked like she was about to cry.

“Twilight Sparkle,” she said, voice rough. “Are you—are you hurt?”

“Hnng.” Twilight flinched, but she managed to get up with Celestia’s help. Her left leg was weak, so she had to favor the right. “Yes. Are we done with the fight? I really need to take a nap.”


“Sister!” Literally by Celestia’s side, Luna was zapping her horn left and right, keeping what looked like thirty hydras at bay. At the same time. “I cannot do this on my own!

“Yes.” Celestia’s ears perked up, and she let Twilight go. “I promise, I will find you the best bed in all of Equestria once this is over.” She faced the hydragon, standing next to her sister.


The hydragon advanced.

Luna saw what they were facing, zapped some more hydras to the side, and shot Celestia a quick look. “Sister,” she said. “I have run out of witticisms. I do not know what to say in this situation.”


“Hey, I’ve got an idea!” And then Bon Bon walked into the scene. Her suit was impeccable. Her sunglasses were dark. Her right hoof was searching for something inside her jacket. “Princess Luna, how about this?”


And Bon Bon gave the hydragon a cursory glance before facing Luna, Celestia, and behind them, Twilight.

She said:


And then she threw a pocketful of pepper at the three alicorns.

“Like, I’d be okay if I had managed to escape Destiny,” Vinyl had said at the staircase back then. “It keeps chasing me, is the thing. I guess I’m still supposed to do one last quest for the sake of the world. The big one, maybe? The Universe doesn’t like Chosen Ones retiring, so sometimes it sends them into one last stupid mission so they can sacrifice themselves.”

Explosions are a bit like music. You can read about them, you can study them, you can understand everything about them—but you need to experience it to get it.

They all went flying. The hydras, against the walls and through them. The ponies, in the opposite direction, shielded by the bodies of the alicorns themselves. They scrambled, and bruised, and tumbled, and stopped—painful enough to feel lethal, not lethal enough not to be painful.

But the hydragon?

Even though sneeze happened right in front of it, it got thrown to the side. To the side and through the hole in the wall, away from the Ballroom and towards the mountain.

Vinyl and Octavia followed. The shockwave pushed them backwards, but they were thrown forwards.

“Which should not be possible, right? Physically,” Vinyl had said. “But I guess Destiny doesn’t really play by the rules most of the time. You don’t have to, when you’re the one who made the game.”

Vinyl Scratch felt the explosion in her body like a punch to the gut—and then everything was too blurry, too windy, too noisy to understand what was going on.

They’d been shot upwards through the hole in the wall.

Upwards towards the sky, and out of the Castle bounds, out of Canterlot. Upwards, above the clouds above the Mountain, where a war was being fought. They were flying without wings, and soon they would start falling, and not even the fastest pegasus in Equestria would be able to save them.

And then, with sheer horror, she heard the hydragon roaring. Right behind them.


But a million times as loud.

Daring Do was not a stranger to bleeding. She had been stabbed by Redcombs in North Equestria, she had been kicked by ictiocentaurs down in the Lake of Silver Linings, she had been bitten by the Nemean Lion in the Mean Den. There was more Daring Do blood across all of Equestria than inside of her body, at this point in time.

It never got any easier.


And Rainbow Dash was yelling at her. How come Rainbow Dash was always yelling whenever things went south? What was up with that.


“Yes,” Daring Do muttered, eyes closed. She was surprised at how dry her mouth felt. “I am.”


For a second or two, Daring Do really thought about answering that question with exactly the kind of vitriol it deserved. But, annoyed and dying as she was, Daring Do had always had a soft spot for eager fans. Plus, Dash was a good kid. Better be polite.

“Dash,” she whispered.


“You’re really, really dumb.”


Daring Do opened her eyes.

She was laying on the ground, using a sleeping noblepony as a pillow. There was a lot of general fussing around. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity, tending to Princess Twilight. Luna and Celestia over there looking around, whispering to each other.

“Where…?” It hurt to speak, but Daring Do was bleeding out, so who cares about pain. “What is going on?”

“Daring Do.” A familiar voice, and Daring Do blinked, only to see Bon Bon enter her line of sight. “You look worse than usual. Please tell me all this blood is not yours.”

Daring Do smirked at her. Oh Celestia, it actually made everything hurt more. She smirked harder. “Gonna disappoint you there, I’m afraid.”

Bon Bon rolled her eyes, pushed Applejack aside, and started tearing Daring Do’s shirt to take a look at the wound. Her face dropped. “Oh, yikes. I haven’t seen anything like this since the Redcombs.”

“I am so glad you’ve got medical training, Bon. Celestia knows if I would’ve been able to figure that one out myself.” Oh, wow she was going to die. Daring Do was going to die. This was it, wasn’t it. “What happened back there? I was sorta groggy. Did we win?”


“Ah.” Daring Do stopped smirking, because she really couldn’t keep it up, and then looked at Bon. “What did you do?”

“I made us all explode. Got rid of the hydras and the hydragon.” Bon Bon glanced at Daring Do’s face just in time to give her a cool smirk. “All in a day’s work, how about that.”

“You know, before you even arrived here, me and the Princesses tried to fight it for like half an hour. It thrashed us.”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m on their payroll and you’re not.”

And then it came, rumbling across the room, a hundred throats at the same time, echoing each other:


The sound of the hydras roaring. Weakly, from afar, clearly affected by the explosion.

But getting closer.

Daring Do saw the color leave everypony’s faces, and looked at Bon Bon. “So,” she said. “All in a day’s work, huh.”

“Shut up.”

“Really earning that pay check. See, this is why essential services can’t be government-funded. You just lack the competitive edge of privatised servi—” she choked, coughed. Spat some blood. “Egh. Oh wow, I’m going to die.”

Bon Bon rolled her eyes, and started bandaging Daring Do. “I’ll just make them explode a second time. Shut up.”

“And you’re not dying,” Dash muttered by the side. “We’ll ask Princess Celestia to teleport you to the hospital, and I’m sure over there they’ll be able to—”

“Say,” Applejack said, frowning. “Are we government funded?”


Dash looked at her. “We what now.”

“Government funded! Are we that?” Applejack asked, nodding towards Daring Do and Bon Bon. “Like are we offering’ a public service or…?”

Dash took a deep breath. “Applejack, my personal hero and overall favourite pony in the world is dying, there’s no—wait, don’t you, like, run a farm?”

“Ah do!”

“Right. So that’s a private business, right?”

“Ah, mean, yeah, but it was a direct gift from Princess Celestia to my family.” Applejack looked Dash. “We didn’t pay for any of it! Don’t that make it a bit wishy-washy?”

“I think that’s just nepotism?” Dash rubbed her chin, and looked at Bon Bon. “Bon? Is that nepotism? I don’t really know what that word means.”

In the distance:


Closer yet.

Bon didn’t even flinch. She just kept working on the bandages. “Say,” she muttered. “You were absolutely right, Daring Do.”


“They are really dumb. This is as much as I can do for now,” Bon muttered, tying up the bandages and getting away from Daring Do, giving her space to breathe. “It’s…”

“Bad,” Daring Do said.

“It’s a work in progress. Dash is right—we’ll ask Princess Celestia to teleport you to the hospital, and there you can—”


“—get treatment. Shut up.”

But neither of them were smiling. Daring Do was pale enough to look completely white, and Bon Bon had given the wound a good, thorough look. Truth was: one of them was fooling herself, and the other was being brutally honest, and neither liked which one was which.

“You shut up,” Daring Do retorted, weakly. “And take my last words already, this is getting awkward.” She stopped to swallow and breath some, and then looked to the side. “By the way, Dash?”

“Daring Do!”

“You’re not getting paid when saving the world, so that’s volunteer work.”

“Aaah. But it’s not nepotism?”

“Well, you got a magical element of loyalty to shoot lasers whenever you’re in danger, and I just got a pat on the back and some encouraging words,” Daring Do said, squinting. “So, a little bit of nepotism, I supp—” she winced in pain, and had to stop talking.


The hydras were right around the corner. They could feel the ground shaking again. Bon Bon nodded, and turned around. “Princess Celestia! We—”

“Wait.” Daring Do opened her eyes and looked around as best as she could. “Where is… Scratch?”

Bon Bon blinked. “She—”

“She’s okay!” Dash said, getting closer to Daring Do, reassuring smile on. “She just rolled to the side with Octavia and—”

“Got blown up with the hydragon and are probably either dead or worse,” Applejack said.


Bon Bon and Dash both glared at her.

And Applejack frowned. “What?” she said. “Ah never lie. That’s my whole thing! Ah don’t get why this is surprisin’ to you.”

“Bon.” Daring Do winced again. “That—”

“I know,” Bon said, nodding once. “I tried to make sure they were safe from the shockwave, but Destiny was playing some dirty tricks. Nothing we could do, and nothing we can do now.”

Daring Do really didn’t have any strength left. “But…”

“I’m as worried as you are, but we need to take care of things one by one, okay? Right now, Scratch is out of reach. Hospital, then hydras, then Scratch.”

Daring Do tried to get up. Utterly failed. Kept trying anyway until Dash physically held her in place, and then she closed her eyes. She was falling asleep. “You idiot, that… Not…”

“Daring Do.”

The voice was clear as crystal, proud as the roar of a lion. Daring Do opened her eyes again. It took a lot of effort.

“Princess Celestia,” she whispered.


Daring Do saw the way Dash, Applejack, and Bon Bon reacted, and swallowed again. Seems like the hydras were finally there, on sight.

“There is little time for explanations, but I do not think you need one. I told you that I would not underestimate you again, and I am a mare of my word.” Celestia nodded at Daring Do’s chest. “Look down.”

Daring Do did so, almost without thinking. The Can of Wyrms was still hung from her neck—but it was pointing forward, towards…

“I thought Scratch had the third piece,” Daring Do whispered. “The bomb. Coltpixie gold.”

“Ah, a perfectly safe assumption,” Celestia said. “But your necklace never pointed at them, did it? Even once it was complete. I would have never trusted Mister Labcoat with a piece of the Can of Wyrms. Too much power for someone with his curiosity.”

The floor was shaking around them now. Bon Bon, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash got up. Out of the corner of her eye, Daring Do saw that everypony else was doing the same—except for Twilight.

But she focused on Celestia. The Can of Wyrms was pointing at her. “So.”

“One piece for the hydras. That is the one Rarity had.” Celestia spoke slowly, and flashed her horn, and she took off her crown. “One for the dragons. Dragon Lord Ember gave you that one.”

“Princess!” Bon Bon yelled. “The hydras! We need your help, now!”


“And the third one.” Celestia flashed her horn again, and cracked her crown in two. The largest gemstone in it—the purple one, roughly the size of an eye—came out. Celestia floated it towards Daring Do. “The third one was for the ponies. In my possession.”


The gemstone touched the Can of Wyrms.


And Daring Do felt the fire come back to her body. She felt her muscles sparkle and her eyes become stars. She felt her bones crack like thunder and flow like water.

She opened her eyes.

Everything went white.

Vinyl Scratch hugged Octavia Pianissimo through it all.

They weren’t falling in a straight line, but rather, at an arc. Canterlot was far away from them already, and it would be a while until they hit the ground—but there was no stopping now. The wind cut through their ears, howling wildly. They had to scream to hear each other, and even then, it was a struggle.

“Oh my gosh! Vinyl!” Octavia was doing her best; Vinyl still had trouble hearing her. “Vinyl! Vinyl Scratch!”

Vinyl didn’t know she suffered from vertigo, but apparently, she did. Her stomach was upside down. Her head was dizzy. The bandages on her left side felt wet—the shockwave had reopened the cut the hydragon had given her at the stairs. “Octavia!” she managed.

“Vinyl! We’re falling”

“I know!

“Vinyl!” Octavia’s eyes looked bigger than ever. They reflected the sky, and the hydragon falling behind them. “Are you okay?! Do you need a nuzzle?!


Vinyl had to blink. “I—what?!”

“A nuzzle! I mean, we are falling to our death, yes?” Octavia looked down, nodded, looked back at Vinyl. “I am not completely unsatisfied with it, mind you! Very poetic! I live as I died!”

In spite of herself, Vinyl snorted. “Falling from grace?” she ventured.

“Above everypony else, but dragged down by the uncultured masses!” Octavia shot Vinyl a smile. “No offense! I’m sure you’re rather cultured for a commoner!”

“None taken!”

Octavia nodded to herself. “That said, poetic as it is, this situation is rather stressing, and I can’t really tell if you’re hyperventilating, what with all this wind! I would love to say that the explosion also scared you, probably? But we both know we don’t even register those as a threat anymore!”

It took Vinyl a couple seconds. “You’re asking me if I’m having an episode?”

“Yes! Usually I would just nuzzle you anyway, just to be sure? But I can’t really move with all this wind!” Octavia shook her head, and her mane flapped around. “So I kind of need your collaboration if we’re going to do this!”

“You’re worried that I might be having an episode!” Vinyl repeated. She was absolutely terrified, and starting to hyperventilate, but she also had the dumbest grin on her face. “We’re falling to our death, and you’re worried I might be having flashbacks!”


The sudden yell made Octavia wince and twirl around in midair to get a look at the hydragon.

The monster was falling after them, alright, but it had wings, and it was flapping them furiously—to fly down.

It was trying to catch them.

“Okay! That is also a concern, then!” Octavia looked at Vinyl again. “So! Nuzzle time or what?”

Vinyl burst out laughing.

She couldn’t help it. The ground was getting closer by the second, the hydragon was getting closer by the second, they were absolutely going to die horribly, and Octavia was thinking about nuzzling her. That’s how her brain worked. Oh, no, bad things are coming. Nuzzle time or what.

“You’re an idiot!” Vinyl said between giggles. “You’re an absolute idiot!

And then, before Octavia could say anything else, Vinyl leaned closer to her, as close as possible, and kissed her on the cheek.

Kissed her on the cheek one, two, three times, four, five, too many to count. She landed kiss after kiss after kiss—sloppy, clumsy, all over the place. She moved from cheek to forehead to eyelid to anywhere she could reach while twirling in the air and falling down at terminal velocity.

Because that’s all she could do. Because she’d known this mare for seven hours and fifty-seven minutes, but she was already the most important pony in her life. Because she was an absolute idiot, and completely impossible to predict, and she worried over the dumbest stuff, and she hated Vinyl’s mane. Because she looked timeless and had an accent as sweet as chocolate, with a hint of spice.

Because she was a joy to be around.


“Bwhahaha! Okay! We’ve moved on from the nuzzles then! That’s a great—wait, is that thing getting closer?” Octavia looked at the hydragon. “I think it’s getting closer!”

“It is!”

“Well, that’s a way to kill the mood!”

Vinyl winced. “Sorry!”

And Octavia shook her head. “No, no, you did your best! Honestly, I’m kinda surprised it took us this long to get to the kissing phase? But I suppose your kind is slow at everything! So—”

“No, not that! I mean more the whole, Destiny thing? The hydragon is probably only chasing me! If it weren’t for me, it—”

And then, it clicked.

“Yes,” Celestia had said. “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.”

Vinyl snapped to the side, to look at the hydragon. The hydragon, that horrible monster, that mass of muscle and death whose scales could dispel magic, that terrible beast that they had ran away from so many times already.

So many times.

Almost as if it had been chasing them all this time.

Bon Bon had said it. Bon Bon had said it when they had met at Donut Joe’s, back when meeting Record Label was still important. She’d spelled it for Vinyl, word for word.

“Dragons are genetically predisposed to try to eat any princess they stumble upon, so that’s another nasty habit. Blue blood’s tasty, turns out.”

Blue blood was tasty. Eating an Equestrian princess would be a stupid move, most of them were either omnipotent or really hardcore—but blue blood was tasty.

That’s why Celestia had gathered all the nobleponies in the Ballroom, why she’d put them to sleep instead of teleporting them somewhere safer. She couldn’t take any risks, and the hydragon might have found one of them and eaten it instead.

But it hadn’t. It’d been chasing them all this time instead.

“What, the nobleponies?” Vinyl had asked. “Who cares about them!”


“You don’t count, Octavia.”

“Good! Good. I have more noble blood than all of them combined, though?”

“Because you are,” Vinyl muttered, staring at Octavia, “ridiculously aristocratic.”

The hydragon roared behind them.


Vinyl laughed again.

She knew what to do, and she didn’t like it.

It wasn’t fire. Fire burns.

Maybe it was light in solid form. Maybe it was lightning moving slowly. It wasn’t magic, that’s for sure, because magic is a tool, it’s limited by the skills of the user. The false fire worked by itself, had a mind on its own. It twisted and turned, it danced in the air, it reached every corner of every room at the same time. It was alive, as much as any pony that had ever lived.

But in the end, that didn’t matter.

Daring Do moved a hoof.

The false fire followed.

Over a hundred monsters in that room, and every single one of them got quiet all of a sudden. Even Celestia and Luna felt a shiver down their spines. The false fire filled the Ballroom and sharpened, even though it had no edge. Some of the hydras tried to scream, but the false fire got in their mouths.

Daring Do’s very coat was as golden as the Can of Wyrms itself; her eyes were silver. She brought forth the false fire with slow and steady breaths, and moved it with her eyes and mind.

The hydras were struggling. Daring Do lifted them, toyed with them, moved them around. She felt a smirk creep up on her face. Easy to let it get to her head, easy to kill them and save herself some trouble. Too easy. Not really a challenge, not worth the trouble.

A blink, and the hydras went away. To some swamp, perhaps; maybe down a cliff. The false fire had a mind on its own, and Daring Do neither cared nor needed to know what had happened. One minute the Ballroom was full of monsters, then it wasn’t, and everypony was safe. And that was that.

Now. Bigger fish to catch.

She talked, and her voice reverberated, as if many things were speaking at once. “Princess Luna. I need to know. Why a bomb? Why them?”

And Princess Luna looked at Daring Do, golden and powerful, and spoke the truth.


“It has to eat us, Octavia!” Vinyl said, clinging to Octavia, sneaking a kiss here and there. “That’s why we’re carrying a bomb! Because the hydragon has to eat us!”

Octavia didn’t immediately reply. She just looked at Vinyl, and then at the hydragon.

It was as ugly as ever, with its four massive necks stretched as much as possible, all four heads opening their mouths and salivating wildly. The wings on its back were flapping so hard Octavia could hear the meaty flop flop flop they made every time they moved.

Then she looked at Vinyl. “WHAT?!”

Look, didn’t you say that being eaten alive could be seen as a compliment? There you go! You can be flattered and save the world at the same time!”

“Well, while I do admit that saving the world while indulging my own vanity is rather appealing—I DIDN’T MEAN BEING EATEN BY THAT!

“Okay, now you’re just being picky!”


“Vinyl Scratch!” Octavia made a huff. “I will not go down in history as an appetizer! Can’t we just wait thirty seconds and splatter against the ground, preserve some dignity?”

“That’s not an option!” Vinyl said, and she meant it. “Listen—remember what Daring Do said?” She looked right into Octavia’s eyes. “Princess Celestia always does this! Everything is extremely complicated and then it all comes together, and it’s obvious! This is the little bow wrapped around it!”


“We’ll make it out! Okay?” Vinyl wasn’t shouting; she was pleading. “Trust me! Please! It’s the only way to survive this!”

Octavia blinked. “Why!” she said. “We can survive this?”

“Yes! We can! If we get eaten! Why do you think I’m so desperate for you to listen to me?”

“Some sort of repugnant attraction to the idea of being digested?”

“Okay, now you’re just projecting!”

What a lady does behind closed doors is nopony’s business but her own!” Octavia said, and then she clinged to Vinyl’s chest. “How is it going to work anyway? What is your plan?”

“It’s been almost exactly eight hours! Can’t you see it?” Vinyl shook her head, looked at the hydragon. “This was the plan from the start! We get shot out of the Castle and detonate the bomb, and we take out that thing from the inside out without destroying the whole Castle! And if we don’t do it now, the bomb will turn off, and we’ll have missed our chance!”

“But how are we going to detonate it?”

“You have to let go!”

“But then—!”

“Listen!” Vinyl swallowed. “The bomb won’t explode after eight hours—it’ll turn off, right? We have to let go beforehand, make it go off! It has to be a conscious choice! It has to be a wilful sacrifice!

“Friendship has traditionally been the most effective dragonslaying weapon in History.”

“The hydragon is immune to magic! But, the bomb and an act of friendship? There’s no way it’ll survive that!”

“What are you talking about! No!” Octavia shook her head and clinged harder against Vinyl. “No! I outright refuse to do that! Do not kill yourself for my sake!”

“I have no choice!” Vinyl then let Octavia go with her right arm, and poked the bandages on her left. Hard. Needles of pain made it through her entire body, and she screamed.

But then she just looked at Octavia. She wasn’t wearing her shades anymore, so the wind was cutting at her eyes and making her cry. They’d been falling for minutes already—the ground was getting closer and closer. Now or never.

Octavia yelled something, but Vinyl didn’t listen. She just smiled at Octavia, and hugged her tightly.

“Take it as a compliment,” she said.

And then she took a deep sniff of Octavia’s hair.


It smelled like pepper.

The sneeze was weak, but still a discharge of magic. Still strong enough to halt their fall, or slow it down, for a second or two.

Enough for the hydragon to catch up, open one of their four mouths, and swallow them whole.

As soon as the teeth closed around them, Vinyl let go of Octavia.

The bomb exploded, and Hell followed.

Hell is a very unpleasant place.

It is, for starters, full of fire. What little light the flames bring—they’re the short that burn hard but not bright—doesn’t make things better, because all you can see, you would rather not. Demons are real, and they do not like you. Souls walk the place, in the same way pirates walk the plank.

To draw a picture of Hell would be like making a map of a mind. Whatever is there that you think makes sense, is merely a projection of what you want to see.

Vinyl Scratch was in Hell.

In front of her was a demon.

“My Name Is Forneus. Great Marquis Of Hell.” The demon talked, and its voice was like a million bees stinging your ears. He was difficult to describe—it had mouths, and horns, and tails, and arms. None of them were in the right place. “I Have Been Summoned.”

Vinyl was lying on the ground—never comfortable, not in Hell at least—and she pawed at her chest for a moment or two, looking for something that wasn’t there, before she realized that she was free, and she could simply get up. So she did, and it felt wrong. “Right,” she said. “My name is Vinyl Scratch, and I have summoned you. How’s it going, Forneus. What is up.”

Forneus smiled, or at least Vinyl thought it was smiling. “You Used Your Own Blood For The Ritual. How Vain Must You Be. How Proud. To Believe It Would Suffice.”

Vinyl looked around. Hell had never looked good, and that hadn’t changed lately. “I mean,” she said, arching an eyebrow, desperately missing her shades, looking at the blood on her hoof. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Because I Willed It So.”

“Oh, pffft. What, I don’t count as an innocent now? I’m a good guy!” Vinyl pointed at herself. “I’m saving the world as we speak! Come on!”

“Innocence And Bravery. They Are Not The Same Thing.”

“Those are the same. Those super are the—”

“I Have Seen You. Gently Lifting Tails. Caressing What Lays Underneath.”

Absolute silence.

Even the penitent souls around stopped their moaning to stare.

Vinyl choked with her words, and it took her a little bit to reply. “That’s—!” she finally said. “I—! That is wildly out of context!”

“I Have Been Watching You. All This Time. I Know What You Have Been Doing All Morning. With That Mare”

“Okay! First of all, that is a terrible violation of my privacy!” Vinyl said, taking a step backwards, pressing a hoof against her chest. “And second of all, you’re wording that terribly! You’re giving the damned souls of Hell a completely wrong impression of what we—WE JUST CUDDLED! OKAY?” She looked at one particularly curious-looking soul. “NOTHING MORE! AND WHY AM I EVEN TRYING TO EXPLAIN MYSELF TO YOU? I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT WITH MY LIFE! I’M AN ADULT!

“Out Of Wedlock,” Forneus said. “You Barely Know Her.”

“SHUT U—wait. What? Wedlock?” Vinyl stopped yelling. Probably out of shock. “What the Hell. Forneus. Really?”


“I’m out of wedlock? That’s your big gotcha?” Vinyl looked at the demon up and down, eyebrow arched again. “What are you? My mother?”

“I Am Eternal. I Value Tradition.”

“I can’t believe I’m doing business with you.”

“Ah. But You Are.” And here Forneus’ tone became much darker, and some of its many mouths smiled, or grimaced, or at least did something that showed a lot of teeth. “Because You Have No Other Choice. You Need To Save Her. That Is Why You Licked The Blood. That Is Why I Watched.”

Vinyl’s expression darkened, too. Any trace of levity left her voice. “…How much do you know already?”

“Time Works Differently Here. But You Don’t Have Much Anyway.” Forneus bsaid. “She Will Die. Soon. You Detonated The Bomb.”

“She doesn’t need to die,” Vinyl said. She was not looking down, or looking away. It was horrible, but she was looking at Forneus dead-on. “Not if you save her. Teleport her away before the explosion hits. You’re a Marquis of Hell, you can probably do it without lifting a finger.”

“I Can,” Forneus said. “I Can Save Her. But Why Should I.”

“…I know how this goes.” Vinyl took a deep breath. “A life for a life. You save Octavia, you can take my soul. Immediately. Deal?”

This made Forneus stop and think. The demon’s body language was not exactly easy to decipher, but Vinyl didn’t need to be a genius to realize that he was interested. “The Soul,” he said, “Of A Hero. But You Will Die.”

“Yeah. Fancy that.” Vinyl scratched her muzzle, tried to look nonchalant. “Which brings me to my next point! Save me and you get, I don’t know, the soul of eight heroes? It’s a great deal for—”


Vinyl clacked her tongue. “Figured.”

“If I Save You, And You Survive.” Forneus twisted and turned. He was probably gesturing in a way that made sense to him. “You Will Get Your Soul Back. Eventually.”

“…That’s the plan, yes.”

“No. You Are Out Of Options. You Tried To Dodge Fate.” Some of Forneus’ mouths smiled. “No Deal. I Will Not Save You. You Will Die, Immediately. And You Will Be Condemned. Your Soul Is Mine Forever.”

Vinyl scrubbed her eyes. She wasn’t hyperventilating, not yet. Hell did strange things to your head—but she was a visitor at the moment. As a condemned, she assumed, things wouldn’t be as pretty.

“Right,” she said. “I knew that. Just—had to try it, right?”

“You Need To Sacrifice Yourself. To Slay The Monster.” Forneus said. “Because You Love Her.”

“Princess Celestia doesn’t leave anything to chance. I’m guessing she knew I’d get attached.” Vinyl sighed. “Octavia is my best friend. If I can save her and kill the hydragon in one single move, then I’m happy with that.”

“I See.” Forneus paused again, contemplating the offer, before stating: “I Accept. Your Life For Hers. Immediately.”

Vinyl swallowed again. “Right. Then, according to the laws of Hell, I offer you my—”

“See! That’s the problem with secret agents! You’re so predictable! Something bad happens, and what do you do? You immediately summon a demon. Seriously, get better material, Scratch.”

Forneus didn’t have a face, but he still managed to frown. Vinyl turned around, eyes wide, not believing what she had heard. It was…

“Daring Do?!”

Daring Do.

Her coat was golden. Her eyes were silver. She was floating in place, even though her wings were not moving, and the Can of Wyrms was hanging from her neck. False fire around her, coming forth whenever she breathed.

“You are not the only one who bleeds, Scratch.” Daring Do raised a hoof. It was red with blood, just like the right side of her torso. “We all have some battle scars here and there.”

Vinyl had many questions. A million, really. But she had just spent an entire day hugging Octavia Pianissimo, and that had taught her a couple things about priorities. So she said: “Wait. Really?” and she turned to look at Forneus. “She counts as innocent, and I don’t?”


Forneus looked at Vinyl. “She Did Not Gently Lift Any—”

“Okay, you know what? On second thought, don’t answer that question.”

“Scratch.” Daring Do again. There was something strange in her voice, as if there were more than one pony talking at the same time. When she approached Vinyl, with that eerie floaty flight of hers, Vinyl couldn’t help but to take a step backwards just in case. “I don’t like it here.”

Vinyl made a face. “Me neither.”


“Well, mostly, because Hell is literally engineered to torture—”

“No.” Daring Do shook her head, and looked straight into Vinyl’s eyes. “Not that. Why didn’t you tell me?”


Vinyl looked to the side. “…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“What Is Going On.” Fernous’ voice, from behind Vinyl. He sounded annoyed. “We Were Doing Business.”

“Everypony else—Twilight, Bon Bon… Even the Mademoiselle!” Daring Do said, showing her teeth. “You went and told every single one of them why you were leaving the Service—but I just get some weak excuse about you being a musician?”


“Do you just not like me, did you think I would tell everypony or write it in one of my books…?”

“No! I just—” Vinyl let out a sigh, and looked back at Daring Do. “I didn’t want to tell anypony. Have you ever had an… You ever been through that?

Daring Do’s expression didn’t change. “A panic attack?”

“It’s not that, exactly. It’s more… Shock? Shame? I just, I can’t deal with this kind of stuff. I break down. And I don’t like to talk about it.” Vinyl ran a hoof through her mane, felt how her arms twitched, wished Octavia was there to hug her, or at least nuzzle her some. “I freaked out once at work, and Bon Bon was there, which is how she knew. She had to save my ass, and I almost got both of us killed.”

Daring Do closed her eyes. “I didn’t know that.”

“Yes, because I don’t want you to know. I get that this is a, a sickness or something, but I wanted to… I don’t know.” Vinyl kicked the ground. “Preserve some dignity? At least pretend I was in control, and that I had taken the decision to leave the Service by myself?”

“And you never told me.”

“No! Because I didn’t tell anypony, they just found out! I live in Ponyville, Daring Do. It’s a nice town, but we get attacked every other Saturday! They caught me freaking out under a table after a dog knocked down some pots and pans, and then Princess Twilight just connected the dots with Bon Bon’s help. I didn’t—” Vinyl rolled her eyes at herself. “I didn’t want you thinking less of me just because I’m broken now. Okay?”


Daring Do didn’t move. She just kept staring at Vinyl. “I don’t think less of you.”

“Oh, for the love of—”

“I love my job, Scratch,” Daring Do interrupted. “I do it because I like it, and because nopony else can. But I get that it’s not for everypony. If it wasn’t your thing, then that’s that. I would probably break down if I had to spend my days trapped in an office. No shame in that.”

“It’s not the same.”

“Isn’t it? Scratch, you made me think that you had just left. That you had forced Princess Twilight to go through Hell because you were bored with your duties.” Daring Do glanced at Forneus. “Full offense.”

“I Am Surprised You Remember I Am Here.”

“Not because I want to. I don’t like your type.”

“Unwise Words.”

“Unwise mare,” Daring Do replied, and then she looked back at Vinyl. “But if you left because you had to? I’m not a monster, Scratch. I’m your friend. Of course I’m gonna understand it.”

Vinyl opened her mouth, closed it. Opened it again. “I…”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m not a fan of this kind of talk either.” Daring Do gave Vinyl a weak smile. “Look, there’s no need for us to go all emotional. Just—explanation accepted. There’s no need to apologize. I’m guessing you weren’t exactly in a good mindset when you told me you’d left the Service?”

Vinyl let out a weak laugh. “I hadn’t slept in weeks.”

“So yeah, I’m guessing you’re finally getting why I got angry.” Daring Do stopped, and frowned. “And I’m guessing me being angry at you leaving didn’t make you telling me the truth any easier?”

Vinyl nodded, and smirked, too. “You got it. We’re cool now? Friends again?”

“As cool as we’re ever going to be.”

Forneus was looking at them both. “Would You Like Some Privacy. Or Something.”

“Nah, I think we’re done.”

“Not yet, not yet.” Daring Do raised a hoof when she heard Forneus sigh in frustration. “Just give us a minute— Scratch? Now that we’re cool again—what are you doing here?”

“Selling my soul to save Octavia.”

“She Is Sacrificing Herself. To Me.”

“Wonderful—why are you doing that? You’ve left the Service, this is not your place anymore.” Daring Do shook her head. “Call it therapy or whatever, I don’t care. Let the professionals do this.”

Vinyl blinked. “Uh—”

“That means I’m not letting you save the world again, and also no heroic sacrifices. You idiot.” Daring Do floated forwards and placed herself between Forneus and Vinyl. “You’re not selling any souls today, Scratch. And you, Marquis of Hell, you’re going to save both of them. Not just Octavia.”

This made Forneus tilt forwards, closer to Daring Do. It did that thing with the teeth again. “Am I, Now.”

“Yeah. You are.” Daring Do pointed at Vinyl. “Bring her, and Octavia, to a safe place. They escape the explosion, the hydragon dies, they’re found by their friends immediately and get out of this whole mess without getting hurt in any way. That’s the deal.”

“I See. You Ask For Many Things.”

Forneus, the Marquis of Hell, seemed to expand after saying this. His amorphous body got bigger, and bigger, until it dwarfed the two ponies and every teeth was the side of a mountain. He became infinite, all-powerful, all-burning.

And when he talked again, his voice was unrecognizable.

And Which Soul Do You Offer In Exchange?

Daring Do didn’t have to move. She just blinked.

False fire, or perhaps solid light—it didn’t matter. It didn’t burn, but it got sharp, and it had a mind on its own.

It surrounded Forneus in his infinity and went inside his mouths, inside his eyes, across his fingers and around his necks. It pierced the darkness that covered the Marquis of Hell. It enveloped him like an iron maiden, drawing a moan and a whine out of Forneus. It had no edge, but still, it sharpened.

And in the middle of Hell, it made a demon bleed.

Daring Do talked, then, and her voice was many voices.

“Which soul?” she asked, dragon-slaying smile on her face. “Yours.”

The explosion was brighter than the sun. The shockwave cleared the sky of clouds, leaving it naked and blue. What little remained of the hydragon fell down to earth as smoking flakes of ashy flesh.

There was still a war going on. Not every hydra had been banished by the Can of Wyrms—some, the ones that hadn’t been inside the Castle, remained. The dragons were keeping them in check, but there were a lot of fires, of the real kind. The one that burns.

But that didn’t matter to Vinyl.

What mattered to her was that, when the smoke cleared, she found herself laying on the grass of the inner gardens of the Castle. Right next to the Ballroom, and in fact, right under the big hole in the wall that they’d been shot out.

The grass felt fresh and clean against her fur. Vinyl couldn’t really move, her entire body was numb, but it was the good kind of numb. The pleasant one that comes right before a good sleep. She was still bleeding a bit, she could see the cut if she wiggled, but it was superficial. It would heal.

Sounds of war in the distance. She didn’t pay attention.

She found that, a couple feet away, Octavia was laying face-up on the grass, too. Her eyes were closed, and her expression was peaceful, and she looked like she was sleeping, rather than knocked out.

Not a single injury in sight. Not even a hair out of place.

The smile in her face was so wide that it hurt Vinyl’s cheeks.

They were found by Twilight and company some time later. The way Bon Bon told it, both Vinyl and Octavia were sleeping peacefully, looking better than they had all morning. The bomb was gone, but they were still hugging tightly.

Nopony tried to split them apart.