• Published 26th Sep 2019
  • 509 Views, 30 Comments

CRISIS: A Royal Affair - GanonFLCL



In an alternate Equestria, a young filly, Blackburn, was destined to be Queen of Hope's Point, a beacon of light in the darkness. See her grow alongside the friends and loved ones that made her the ever-watchful, iron-hoofed Queen she was born to be.

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Chapter Twelve: Violent Vengeance

Blackburn and Gadget arrived at Virtuoso’s penthouse extremely late that evening; Crossfire wasn’t with them, as he’d agreed to watch over Lockwood back at Miracle’s place. They both looked tired and hadn’t bothered to change out of their dirty, sweaty clothes. Blackburn approached the hulking enforcer that guarded the penthouse door, a withering scowl on her face. Said enforcer stepped in the way between her and the door and held up a hoof to bar her path.

“Hey hey, toots, nopony gets into the Don’s place without an appointment,” he said, taking a long time in between every word.

“Lockwood was here earlier today, wasn’t he?” she asked, glaring at the pony-shaped obstacle in her way. “Did he have an appointment?”

The enforcer scratched his head. “No. But--”

“So, if Lockwood didn’t need an appointment to see the Don, I don’t need an appointment to see the Don,” Blackburn said. “Get out of my way.”

The enforcer shook his head. “You ain’t on his list of friends and family though, toots. Lockwood was. You gotta go--”

Blackburn grabbed the enforcer’s suit collar and yanked him down to her eye level so that they were nose-to-nose. “Listen, you overgrown sack of bricks, I’ve got news for the Don that’s very important for him to get. You are preventing me from delivering it. If he finds out that you kept me from bringing this to him, he’s not going to be happy. Capisce?

The enforcer, to his credit, remained firm, and grabbed Blackburn’s collar in turn and lifted her right off the ground. “Look, toots, you ain’t on the Don’s list, and you don’t have an appointment--”

Blackburn turned her head just slightly towards Gadget, whose horn was glowing. “My friend here has her special lightning gun pointed at your groin.”

The enforcer twitched slightly as he felt cold steel press against his balls.

“It’s got enough juice in it to put down a pony twice your size,” Blackburn continued. “She’ll send every last volt straight through your most precious bits if you don’t put me down and let me through that door. We’re going inside one way or another, it’s up to you if you’re conscious or not when we do.”

Gadget primed her sidearm to fire; it gave a loud whirring hum. The enforcer’s eyes shifted to Gadget, who was stone-faced, then back to Blackburn’s intense glare. He gulped, then lowered Blackburn to the ground, dusted her collar off, and opened the door for the pair of mares.

They didn’t get very far into the penthouse before Lyrica intercepted them, just as they reached the door to the dining room; she was still dressed in a crisp black suit despite the late hour. Her horn was aglow; her magic gripped a pistol at her side, though it wasn’t aimed at anypony just yet.

“You two have five seconds to give me a reason not to put a couple of bullets in your heads for trespassing,” Lyrica threatened.

“Virtuoso wants to know who started the war,” Blackburn said, unintimidated. “I know who it is and have evidence that proves it.”

Lyrica paused, her gaze shifting between the duo slowly, then she holstered her gun and dimmed her horn. “The Don’s not gonna like doing this so late--”

“He’ll forgive me once he sees what I have to show him.”

Lyrica gestured towards the dining room. “Wait in there while I fetch the Don. Don’t. Touch. Anything.”

Blackburn nodded, and she and Gadget headed into the dining room and took seats near the head of the table; they'd never been in this room before, so they took the time to look around. They only had to wait about two minutes before Lyrica returned, Don Virtuoso just behind her. The Don was in his pajamas, a blue-and-gold silk robe and nothing more; he was in the process of lighting a cigar as he entered.

“Miss Thunderbolt,” he greeted, annoyed but still polite. “Lyrica tells me you have something I want that couldn’t wait until morning?”

Blackburn gestured for the empty seat beside her, her expression still harsh despite her current company. “I do, Don Virtuoso. Let’s not waste time on pleasantries.”

Virtuoso puffed his cigar, eyeing Blackburn with a stern gaze, before giving a small shrug and taking a seat. “This had better be good, Thunderbolt.”

Gadget hoisted out her datapad and passed it over to Blackburn, who propped it up on her side of the table so that the Don could get a good view. She opened up the recording from Lockwood’s apartment, hit “Play”, then leaned back in her seat to comfortably watch Virtuoso’s reactions. At first, the recording only consisted of Lockwood relaxing on his couch reading a book-on-datapad. So far, of course, Virtuoso was unimpressed.

“This is from today?” he asked, taking another puff.

“From a few hours ago, yes,” Blackburn replied.

Virtuoso gestured at the screen with his cigar. “How'd you get this? Why do you have equipment in Lockwood’s apartment?” He gave her a harsh-but-curious look. “You spying on him?”

“It was his idea. He asked us to set our equipment up because he had an idea about who might be responsible for your troubles.” Blackburn snorted in disgust. “He wouldn’t tell me more than that. Made me swear not to interfere, the stupid idiot…” She took a deep breath and looked away from the screen, knowing what was coming next.

The Don continued watching, and was at first confused at the sight of the three mares - Gem, Ruby, and Rook Candy - forcefully entering Lockwood’s apartment, then upset when Gem hit him.

“Who are these mares?” he asked through gritted teeth.

“You’ll see,” she replied.

Then, of course, Cotton Candy walked into the apartment, and the Don’s cigar nearly fell from his mouth as he stared at the screen in shock.

Com’è possibile?” he muttered, regaining his composure. “How is she there? She’s supposed to be dead. Are you sure this is from today, Thunderbolt?”

“Absolutely,” Blackburn replied. “Just watch, Don. Trust me, that isn’t the most surprising thing you’re going to see.”

Virtuoso continued watching, growing enraged as the sisters gave Lockwood the beating of his life under Cotton Candy’s careful gaze, and as Cotton questioned Lockwood and threatened those he was closest to, and most especially when Lockwood was able to weasel a confession from the not-quite-dead underboss.

This last one angered Virtuoso so much that he burned through most of his cigar in a matter of seconds. “That treacherous bitch,” he snarled, his eye’s alight with fire. “She’s a dead mare. A dead mare!

He turned to Lyrica, red in the face with anger. “Get your crew together. I want you to get this bitch where she breathes! I want you to find her, and I want her dead! I want her sisters dead! I want whatever shithole she’s hiding out in burned to the ground! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and I wanna piss on her ashes!

Lyrica nodded. “Of course, Don, right away.” She then hurried out of the dining room to leave the apartment.

Virtuoso took a few heavy breaths, head in his hooves as he watched the video finish up, with Blackburn’s crew sweeping into the apartment and taking Lockwood out of there. “Look at how they massacred my boy, Thunderbolt...” He looked at her, sincere sadness in his eyes and voice. “Is he okay? Is my boy okay?”

“He’s being treated by a mutual friend of ours, one of the best in the business. I left Fireblast with him to keep him safe,” Blackburn said, her tone unwavering and her expression solid as steel. “It was bad, Don. Very bad. But he’ll live. Lockwood will live thanks to me. And you have this information thanks to me.”

Virtuoso turned to her, and though he wasn’t even close to happy in the slightest, his mouth curled in a slight, knowing grin. “So I do, Thunderbolt, so I do. Knowing Lockwood, he probably told you all about my offer to him and what I’d give him if he found anything. Probably even extended the offer for you to take over him? Am I close?”

“That’s exactly right, Don.”

Virtuoso leaned back in his seat and smashed his cigar into his ashtray. “I like you, Thunderbolt. There’s something about you that I haven’t seen in a pony in a long time. And you’ve been a good friend to Lockwood, from what I understand, and Lockwood’s practically famiglia to me.” He spread out his arms in a gesture of acceptance. “So sure, if he’s willing to give up his reward to you, I’ll accept that.”

He got up from his seat and poured himself a glass of scotch, grabbed a new cigar and lit it up, then retook his seat. “I haven’t known you for long, Thunderbolt, but I think I’ve got a pretty good idea what you’re going to ask me for.”

“Do tell.”

“You’re a tough businessmare, got a real entrepreneurial spirit. You want more independent control of your company now that I’ve helped prop you up. A bigger share of the profits, maybe?” He took a long puff of his cigar. “I can agree to--”

“Wrong,” Blackburn said.

Virtuoso paused, confused. Gadget, too, looked at her in surprise, not expecting that response at all. “Wrong?” Virtuoso asked, taking his cigar from his mouth. “What do you mean ‘wrong’?”

“I don’t care about any of that, not right now.” Blackburn rose from her seat. “You sent Lyrica out because you’re planning an attack on the Candy sisters. You want revenge on them for what they’ve done to you, and what they did to Lockwood.” She put her hooves on the table and got right in Virtuoso’s face. “I. Want. In.”

Virtuoso looked at her for a long moment, then put his cigar back in his mouth and took a drag. “You want in, huh?”

“Yeah. I want in. I want to make those bitches pay for what they did.” Blackburn’s scowl intensified; a lesser pony than Virtuoso might’ve withered under her gaze. “Nopony hurts my friends and gets away with it, Don, capisce? Nopony.”

Virtuoso pondered this for a moment, running a hoof along his stubble. He nodded in agreement. “Okay, Thunderbolt, okay. When Lyrica finds where Cotton Candy and her crew are hiding, we’ll be in touch--”

“Not good enough,” Blackburn said, shaking her head. “They’re looking for me, Don, you heard them. And if they don’t find me at our apartment, they might think Lockwood lied to them, so they might go searching for him. They won’t leave him bleeding on a rug if they find him again.”

“That might be so, but it’ll take time for Lyrica’s crew to put together--”

Blackburn looked at Gadget. “Tinker, find the Candy sisters. You have five minutes.”

Gadget blinked, taken aback. “Golly, five minutes? Uh… yeah, okay, sure. You got it, boss.” She pulled her datapad back over to her side of the table and got to work.

Virtuoso raised an eyebrow. “Perdonami, Thunderbolt, but you’re not involved in this kind of business. It takes time to find somepony like Cotton Candy if they don’t want to be found. Lyrica’s crew can search the city all day and night, and I promise that they’ll search every street corner, every alleyway, every building. But, I’m not expecting anything until tomorrow night at the earliest.”

“That’s why I’m not leaving this up to your crew, Don,” Blackburn said. “I mean no insult, but my crew can do what needs to be done much faster.”

“If you’re so good, Thunderbolt, then why do you need me to help you?” he asked, taking a drink. “Sounds like you want to do this all by yourself. So why don’t you? Now that I know you came to me for vengeance, I want to know why.”

Blackburn shook her head. “Cotton and her sisters could only have succeeded in their attacks on the Three Families if they had ample resources and numbers, neither of which I have. But you do. On the other hoof, my crew and I have the capabilities to do things your crew cannot. We’re helping each other here, Don.”

Virtuoso smiled slightly. “You say that, but--”

“Done!” Gadget exclaimed, turning her datapad around to show Blackburn and Virtuoso what she’d found.

On the screen was an green-tinted image of a large warehouse building: clearly security camera footage. The outside of the building was guarded by dozens of ponies in full-body armor, though none seemed to be carrying weapons. They patrolled the building exterior with an almost mechanical pattern and precision. Some others were carrying large crates into and out of the warehouse.

They were supervised by a familiar-looking mare, Gem Candy, who stood and quietly watched the others work. She wore a high-tech visor over her eyes and had her hoof to her temple, tapping away at the visor’s side for some reason.

Virtuoso rose sharply in his seat, dropping his cigar. “Where is this? How are we seeing this?”

“Piece of cake.” Gadget cockily breathed into her hoof and scuffed it on her blouse. “You’re looking at the top tech engineer in the city, Don, remember? Just a little hack into the city’s security systems, then I ran some facial recognition software. Easy peasy.”

Blackburn eyed the warehouse and nodded in understanding. “The surrounding area suggests this warehouse is in the Mid-North’s Factory Sector. Should be easy to pinpoint the exact building once we’re there.” She turned to Virtuoso. “Get your crew together and have them meet us--”

Virtuoso held up a hoof as he picked up his cigar and placed it back in his mouth. “Now, hold on a moment, Thunderbolt. This is a bit more than just dealing with a small crew of Cotton Candy and her sisters.” He gestured at the multitude of guards. “You’re a good friend of Lockwood’s. He’d never forgive me if you were injured--”

“It’s out of his hooves, Don, but I’ll humor you,” Blackburn snorted. She turned to Gadget. “Tinker. Present your sidearm, please.”

Gadget nodded and drew her weapon, setting it on the table. She cleared her throat. “This is the latest in my line of lightning guns I make for self-defense purposes; I'm still working on a new name for them, considering their power level. It can electrocute and stun a full-grown adult pony from about one hundred feet away. It also has a lethal setting strong enough to power multiple city blocks for a full day; it’s like getting struck by lightning.”

“Our friend Fireblast will be getting suited up as well,” added Blackburn. “His custom-fitted body armor resists most small arms fire and is kitted with assorted firearms and explosives as well as other utility features. He is fully-trained in its use in any sort of combat situation.”

Virtuoso leaned back in his seat, impressed. “You’ve been holding out on me, Thunderbolt.”

“You don’t deal in weapons, Don, and neither do we. These are personal projects for protection purposes only. In our current situation, we’re going to make an exception and use them to lay down some hurt on ponies that deserve it. That isn’t a problem, is it?”

“No. But what about you?” Virtuoso asked, gesturing to her with a hoof. “If you’re going along too, I assume you’ll have something to protect yourself?”

Blackburn nodded and looked to Gadget. “Tinker, if you would?”

Gadget nodded and passed Blackburn a small, hoof-shaped device with a dial on the side. Blackburn slid it over her hoof and showed it off to the Don.

“This is Tinker’s latest invention, which she calls the FA-4000 but I call a ‘Power Hoof’. It increases the force applied by the user exponentially, and also absorbs kinetic energy to prevent injury from said applied force or other sources. Allow me to demonstrate.”

She pulled over one of the Don’s dining chairs and stomped hard on the seat with her bare hoof. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. She then twisted the dial on the device on her other hoof, then used that hoof to stomp down on the chair, smashing it into splinters.

The Don’s eyes widened and he nearly dropped his cigar again. “Stupefacente.” He looked over at Gadget and gave her a small grin. “You’ve outdone yourself, Tinker. First finding the Candy sisters, now bringing all these wonderful toys to bear? I see why Cotton Candy wanted to get her claws into you.”

Gadget smiled and shrugged. “What can I say, Don, I am pretty amazing.”

Virtuoso took a long puff of his cigar and leaned back in his seat. “Okay, Thunderbolt. You’ve convinced me. I’ll get in touch with Lyrica, tell her to get her crew up to the Factory Sector to find this warehouse. You meet her there in about an hour. Ti suona bene?

Grazie, Don Virtuoso,” Blackburn said with a nod. She and Gadget started for the door.

Virtuoso called out before they left. “Thunderbolt! One more thing.” She turned to face him. “Don’t do anything stupid. Lockwood would never forgive me if anything happened to you, understand?”

Blackburn paused, then nodded. “I’ll be careful, Virtuoso.”

*****

Blackburn, Gadget, and Crossfire met with Lyrica and her crew just before midnight about a block away from the Candy sisters’ warehouse. Lyrica’s crew was composed of herself and eleven other ponies; all of them were dressed in suits and ties, armed with pistols or shotguns, and wore body armor under their clothes.

Blackburn, meanwhile, was in a comfortable jacket and was wearing her lucky scarf, the Power Hoof attached to her right foreleg. Gadget was dressed in her coveralls with her glasses over her eyes, sidearm already drawn. Crossfire had donned his bronze-colored armor, helmet included, but hadn’t drawn any weapons just yet.

Lyrica’s crew were getting set up with their gear behind a building at the end of the block, out of sight of the warehouse. From here they could see the armored ponies patrolling the grounds in perfect lockstep, their routes repeating every few minutes with mechanical timing and precision. As Blackburn and her entourage approached, Lyrica quietly waved them over.

“So, the Don says you folks are coming along for a little ride with us, huh?” she asked, skeptical. She eyed Gadget and Crossfire up and down, more impressed with them than with Blackburn at the moment. “Well, far be it from me to question the Don’s decisions. I guess if he thinks you can handle yourselves, I’ll give it a shot.”

“Golly, thanks for the vote of confidence,” Gadget scoffed.

Lyrica glanced around the corner of the building, then turned back to Blackburn’s crew. “So, we scouted things out a little bit before you got here. There’s a front entrance, obviously, which is heavily guarded and patrolled by whoever these goons are that Cotton and her sisters recruited. There’s also a back entrance, not as well-guarded, definitely set up as an escape route for the Candys if they need it.”

“The information I have on the facility’s layout confirms that. The best course of action would be to split up,” Blackburn suggested. “The front entrance--”

“Whoa whoa whoa,” Lyrica interrupted. “Who put you in charge that you think you can start barking orders around, huh? This is my raid, sister, not yours.”

“You’re welcome to try and suggest ideas if you want, Lyrica,” Blackburn noted. “However, I will point out that I’ve been reviewing the building’s blueprints, monitoring the security cameras, and calculating the patrol routes for the past hour while you’ve been putting your crew together.”

“So what? Just because you have a bit of knowledge doesn’t mean you have experience--”

“None of the Three Families have participated in anything like this since before you were born,” Blackburn interjected. “Nopony in your crew has practical experience, but I at least have extensive knowledge of the situation we’re going into. I’d suggest that information is more important in these circumstances.”

Lyrica paused, a sneer on her face, then shook her head. “Then what’s your big plan, ‘boss lady’?”

“As I was saying, we split up,” Blackburn said. “You and your crew attack from the front entrance, but don’t make a strong push - stay safe, but keep the guards distracted. My team will enter through the rear and take out Cotton Candy and her sisters from the inside, where they are more vulnerable.”

“That puts my whole team in the line of fire,” Lyrica snorted.

“We need somepony moving on the front entrance, but we also need to cover the rear entrance to prevent them from escaping. My team is smaller, so we’re less likely to be discovered; your team is bigger and louder, so you can make a ruckus.”

Lyrica scowled, then nodded her head. “Fine, whatever, it’s an okay plan. But I’m not putting my life or the lives of my crew on the line to save your asses if you get in trouble in there, got that?”

“Wouldn’t have it otherwise.” Blackburn took a breath. “Give us five minutes to get into position, then give us a signal to move in. A suitably loud distraction will do.” She turned to Gadget and Crossfire. “Let’s go.”

“Yes ma’am,” Gadget and Crossfire said in unison.

Lyrica watched the trio leave, then snorted in annoyance. “Whatever. Bitch.” She turned to her crew as they were finishing gearing up. “Okay, colts and fillies, let’s get a move on. Four groups of three, one unicorn, pegasus, and earth pony each. Everypony got your teams picked out?”

The eleven other members of her crew nodded and murmured in agreement.

“Then let’s go. Move!”

With that, the twelve ponies split off into four teams, each with one unicorn, one pegasus, one earth pony, and moved into covered positions by the front entrance to the warehouse, unseen as of yet by the patrol ponies. They then waited for Blackburn’s team to get into position; Lyrica kept an eye on her watch the entire time.

When she was satisfied they’d waited long enough, Lyrica signaled to the teams to start their attack. The ponies in each squad fastened and mounted their weapons, then popped out of cover and opened fire on the patrolling ponies, emptying their magazines before ducking back into cover and reloading. A single strike was enough to take eight of the patrollers down, leaving some forty left.

Gem Candy, who was situated far from the entrance, sneered and turned towards the noise. “Aw shit, already? Damn, I thought we had longer.” She tapped the side of her visor a few times; the patrolling ponies stopped their seemingly-automatic motions for all of a split second before turning their attention towards the intruders. “Let’s see how these two-bit goombas deal with some military-grade pain.”

The patrol ponies got into position to defend the warehouse, and waited. As soon as Lyrica’s teams popped back up to open fire, the patrollers’ armor opened up around their shoulders, revealing mounted guns, which fired high-velocity flechette rounds towards the attackers.

The unicorns in each team were in charge of raising barriers to protect their teams as they took aim. However, under the flurry of concentrated shrapnel-based rounds, they had a difficult time concentrating. One squad’s unicorn lost focus and took several rounds to the face; the flechettes tore his flesh to shreds, leaving his squadmates splattered with his blood as they retook cover.

Some of the defenders didn’t launch flechette rounds, instead firing explosives. One unicorn reacted in time to pump more magic into her barrier, but the blast sent her reeling and her squad had to drag her back into cover before the other defenders shot her. Another squad’s unicorn wasn’t as lucky, and the explosion tore through his shield and incinerated him and the two ponies with him.

Lyrica grit her teeth and reloaded her pistol. “These aren’t just regular ponies,” she noted to her squad mates. “This is military gear. A.M.P. Troopers. Shit, this way beyond our paygrade.”

*****

Meanwhile, Blackburn’s team had already taken advantage of the distraction at the front to move on the back entrance, which was just a small sliding door not even large enough for the trio to enter side-by-side at the same time. The few defenders that had been here had already circled around front to deal with Lyrica’s crew.

The inside of the warehouse was laden with large metal crates stacked in neat lines, and it was currently poorly lit. A thin series of catwalks above them indicated that there was a second floor.

Almost as soon as they entered, the back door slid closed behind them; they jumped in surprise. Then the lights came on, revealing the entirety of the warehouse to the trio. Row upon row of crates greeted them.

In the middle of the warehouse floor stood Rook Candy, wearing a visor just like her sister outside. She didn’t smile or react at all, really, just stared at the trio from across the room. “Hmm. We weren’t expecting you,” she muttered in a dull monotone, just loud enough that they could hear. “Cotton figured the Don would catch on eventually, but seeing you here is a nice little surprise, Thunderbolt.”

“I hear you’ve been looking for us,” Blackburn said, taking a step forward. “We figured we’d save you the trouble and come pay you a little visit instead. Is this a bad time?”

Rook tilted her head towards the front entrance. “I assume you’re working with the Don’s cronies outside. That probably means you’re not here to accept our invitation to join us, are you?”

“Obviously not. You’re the smart one between Gem and Ruby, aren’t you?”

Rook shook her head. “Oh well, it doesn’t matter. The results are gonna be the same: your big bodyguard there isn’t making it through this alive, but you and the tech wiz get to live, for now.” She tapped the side of her visor. “I’ll just use some non-lethal tactics, I guess.”

Two crates beside her slid open, letting out six armored ponies identical to the ones outside. They did not deploy any shoulder-mounted weapons, merely approaching precisely-timed in lockstep towards the trio.

“These are military-grade A.M.P. Troopers. Highly-advanced robot soldiers the NPAF uses for ground assaults. Extremely durable frames, adaptable A.I., and a commendable battery live. If you give up now, I’ll call them off,” Rook called, still monotone. “Otherwise, fair warning, this isn’t going to be fun for you.”

Blackburn shook her head. “I disagree. A.M.P. Troopers are just target practice for us. You could say that they’re our specialty. Isn’t that right, Tinker? Fireblast?”

Gadget smiled and primed her lightning gun, switching the output to lethal. “Golly, I’ve been blowing up these pieces of junk since I was ten. No problem at all. We even use my improved versions for training these days, since they’re actually a challenge.”

“Yessir, been trainin’ ta fight these clankin’ heaps all mah life. Ain’t nothin’ these rust buckets can throw at us that we can’t handle,” Crossfire agreed, arming a pair of shoulder-mounted rifles. His voice was muffled by his helmet, but Gadget and Blackburn could hear him clearly through their earpieces.

Rook raised an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?”

Blackburn took a few steps back so that Gadget and Crossfire were at the front of their formation. “I haven’t seen you two work in a long while. This should be fun, I think. When you’re done with the robots, make sure she doesn’t go anywhere,” she said, indicating Rook.

Gadget turned to Crossfire. “Okay, big guy, who gets first dibs?”

Crossfire scratched his chin. “Flip a bit for it?”

Gadget turned to Blackburn. “Got a bit on you, boss?”

Blackburn fished a bit out of her pocket. “Call it.”

“Heads.”

Blackburn flipped the bit. It landed on the floor, tails up.

“Yee haw!” Crossfire cheered. He took point in front of Gadget. “First dibs, heck yeah. ‘Bout time we get some action ‘round here.”

“Yeah yeah, whatever,” Gadget said, rolling her eyes. “We alternate lines though, got it? No hogging all the fun like you usually do.”

Rook tapped her chin, confused. “You’re awfully over-confident. Interesting.” She tapped the side of her visor again. “Your funeral, though.”

The front line of three robotic ponies charged forward. Crossfire adjusted his hooves inside his armor, and a pair of shoulder-mounted rifles revealed themselves and each pumped out three-round burst. Crossfire shifted the angle of his shoulders in time with the bursts so that all three approaching A.M.P. Troopers were struck by exactly two bullets each, right where their eyes would be if they real ponies. The robots collapsed before they even got close to him.

The next line of Troopers approached immediately afterwards. Crossfire made to fire again, but a burst of lightning ripped through the air behind him and tore straight into the lead robot before arcing to the other two. The electricity overloaded their mechanisms; all three robots exploded in a shower of sparks and shrapnel.

“Next line’s mine, remember?” Gadget chided, tapping Crossfire’s side with her hoof. “Nice try though. We’re keeping count, y’know?”

“Sorry, got a lil’ excited,” Crossfire chuckled, rubbing the back of his head. “Haven’t gotten a chance ta let loose in a while.” He gestured towards Rook. “Shall we?”

“After you,” Gadget said with a bow.

The two then approached Rook.

Rook scowled. “You’re mocking me,” she said, her monotone faltering just slightly. “Fine.” She tapped the side of her visor again. “Let’s see how you deal with this.”

Several other crates slid open, letting out a complete platoon of A.M.P. Troopers, which quickly moved to surround Gadget and Crossfire. The duo didn’t flinch or cower; instead they stood back-to-back and primed their weapons. They didn’t even need to indicate to each other with words or otherwise in order to move in perfect sync with one another.

As the Troopers leapt forward in waves, Gadget blasted through some with her lightning gun while Crossfire fired his rifles at others. The second Crossfire let loose the last round in his magazine, he called out, “Reloading!” and Gadget raised a magical barrier around the two for the exact amount of time needed for him to reload, then dropped the barrier right as he was letting loose another barrage of bullets. Perfectly in-sync.

One Trooper got blasted away from the action still somewhat intact, landing next to Blackburn. She nonchalantly cranked up the dial on her gauntlet and smashed its head in when it tried to get up.

It took less than a minute for Gadget and Crossfire to tear through the entire platoon, leaving a ring of mechanical wreckage around them. They were breathing heavily and drenched with sweat - even if one couldn’t tell the latter with Crossfire. They then turned on Rook, stepped over the wreckage, and approached her without a word; they had their orders.

Rook didn’t flinch, but she didn’t do anything else, either. “I didn’t believe Cotton at first when she said having Tinker on our crew was absolutely necessary to our success, but now I see why she made such a big deal about it.” She turned to Crossfire. “I will say she was wrong about you, though. You might’ve gotten in the way, but you’d have been pretty useful. Probably worth keeping around.”

“Golly, thanks for the compliment,” Gadget spat, shoving her lightning gun under Rook’s chin. “All set over here, boss!”

Blackburn circled around the wreckage and approached. “Rook Candy. I don’t believe we’ve ever met formally.”

Rook’s expression didn’t change, and her voice was back to a calm monotone. “Can’t say that we have. You must be something special, Thunderbolt, to have two ponies like these so loyal to you. Shame we couldn’t work together.”

Blackburn’s expression remained equally stone-faced as she turned to Crossfire and Gadget. “You two did all the work here, so you earned this one.”

Crossfire clapped Gadget on the shoulder lightly. “Y'all should take it. Don’t need ya gettin’ all squeamish right now.”

“With pleasure.” Gadget primed her lightning gun and adjusted her aim right over Rook’s heart. “This is for Lockwood, bitch.”

Rook smirked. “Ah, so that’s what--”

A lethally-powered bolt of lightning punched straight through Rook’s chest, injecting over ten billion volts of electricity in one concentrated burst. Rook flew across the room from the explosive kickback, sliding against the floor and slamming into the wall. She didn’t get back up.

Gadget blew the barrel of her sidearm and holstered it. “Good riddance to bad ponies.”

Blackburn immediately made for the metal staircase leading to the second floor. “We still have Ruby and Cotton to deal with, so don’t relax yet. Tinker, you’re with me.” She briefly turned to Crossfire. “Fireblast, see if you can’t help Lyrica’s crew outside. Gem’s out there too, so she’s all yours. Make it hurt.”

Crossfire nodded and headed straight for the front entrance. “Got it, boss.”

*****

Lyrica barely raised her shield up in time to block another barrage of flechette rounds aimed right for her. Her numbers had dwindled tremendously: she was the only unicorn left in her crew able to function, as two were dead and the third was unconscious from feedback injury. What remained of her crew that could still fight had gathered up together with her, and they’d huddled around the wreckage of a fallen stone wall to take cover as they tried to keep up the offensive.

This proved mostly fruitless. Gem Candy’s forces still outnumbered them greatly; eighteen A.M.P. Troopers remained, though the missile-firing variants were thankful out of munitions. Even so, her crew was running out of ammo and they were running out of wall to take cover behind. She swore silently as her crew ducked back into cover to reload again. One of her pegasi crew shook his head - out of ammo; another earth pony gripped his shoulder - he’d been clipped about a minute ago and was bleeding badly.

Gem, who’d taken up a position in cover behind a crate opposite Lyrica’s crew, cackled as her Troopers let loose another volley to keep them pinned down. “You ready to give up yet?!” she shouted. “I promise you’ll at least die with dignity if you stop wasting my time!”

Lyrica didn’t respond.

“Fine! Be that way, you bunch of wannabe wiseguys! My Troopers can do this all day! How much longer you think you can la--” The front entrance slowly sliding open drew Gem’s attention. “The hell?”

In the span of a few seconds, a volley of bullets - three bursts of six bullets each - fired out of the entrance into the backs of each the Troopers’ heads; not a single shot missed its target.

Gem looked around at her sudden absence of robots to order around, worried and confused. “What the hell?!” She glared at the entrance, where she saw Crossfire - helmet still up - standing and staring directly at her. “Who the hell are you?”

Crossfire didn’t bother removing his helmet for her to see, and didn’t answer her question. All he said was: “Lockwood says ‘hi’.”

Gem paled. “Aw sh--”

Six bullets pierced her body in quick succession, two at a time. Two to the head; two to the chest; two to the gut.

Crossfire then glanced out at the cover that was obviously in use by Lyrica and her crew. “All clear, Lyrica! Y’all can come out now!”

Lyrica slowly poked her head over the edge of her cover to see that Crossfire had finished off the remaining Troopers all by himself, including Gem Candy. She breathed a sigh of relief.

*****

Blackburn and Gadget walked along the second-floor catwalks towards the offices on the other side of the warehouse. It was darker up here despite the first-floor lights still being on, so the two mares had to watch their step and hold the railings to guide them along. Assorted tools, pieces of moving equipment, and empty boxes and crates sat along the short side pathways.

The pair suddenly stopped when somepony approached them from one such side catwalk, pressing a knife to Gadget’s throat without a word.

Gadget didn’t panic, and in fact remained genuinely calm. “Boss. Company.”

Blackburn turned slowly and narrowed her eyes at the newcomer. “Ruby Candy?”

Ruby, her face barely visible in the darkness, grinned and nodded. “Uh huh.”

“Is your sister back there?” Blackburn asked, gesturing in the direction she’d just been walking.

Ruby grinned wider and nodded again. “Uh huh.”

“Looks like you've taken Tinker hostage. Good for you.”

Ruby licked her lips and pressed her knife harder against Gadget’s neck. “Uh huh.”

“Seeing as you’ve got me backed into a corner here, I suppose you want me to go on ahead and negotiate with Cotton?”

“Uh huh.”

Blackburn looked to Gadget, though she did show not much concern; Gadget would be just fine, and she knew that. “You’re gonna be okay, Tinker. Okay? I promise.”

Gadget gave Blackburn a nervous look, but Blackburn knew it was false nervousness; while Ruby’s attention was on Blackburn instead of Gadget, Gadget had very discreetly slid one of her TS-200 devices out of her pocket and placed it behind her rear hoof. Always paid off to be prepared for anything.

“I’ll be fine, boss,” she said, “but please be careful.”

Blackburn then turned and headed off down the catwalks towards the second-floor offices, leaving Gadget and Ruby alone.

Once Blackburn was out of sight, Gadget took a deep breath. “So. You’re the creepy quiet one, huh?”

Ruby hummed a nursery rhyme quietly in Gadget’s ear. “Uh huh.”

“I saw you on the recording. You’ve got kind of a blood fetish going on or something, don’t you?”

“Uh…. huh?”

“Oh, yeah that’s how we found you guys, sorry. Caught you all on camera confessing to going behind the Don’s back.” She gave a small shrug. “It’s funny, really. I’ve had this overwhelming fear of blood since I was a little filly. Couldn’t even get a paper cut without passing out, y’know?”

She turned her head slightly and smiled at Ruby; Ruby couldn’t see her using her TS-200 under her rear hoof to grip onto a wrench sitting on a bench just behind Ruby, out of sight; she could see in the dark just fine with her glasses, even if Ruby couldn’t.

Ruby cooed gently in Gadget’s ear. “Shhhh.” She pressed the blade of her knife against Gadget’s throat harder. “Shhhh.”

“I took some therapy sessions a few months ago, but I still haven’t gotten over it fully. I don’t pass out any more, sure, just puke my guts out.”

Ruby’s smile turned into a scowl as she pressed the knife harder still. “Shhhh shhhh shhhh.”

Gadget’s newfound wrench weapon, held in the grip of her TS-200, floated quietly behind Ruby’s head.

Gadget gulped audibly. “You keep shushing me. What’s the matter? Want me to keep quiet?”

“Uh huh.”

“Or what? You’ll slit my throat, I guess?”

“Uh huh.”

“Ah. Well, too bad.”

Gadget used the TS-200 to swing the wrench into the back of Ruby’s head with a heavy THUNK. Ruby howled in pain and flailed her hooves, dropping her knife on the catwalk and smacking Gadget in the face. The wrench fell just behind Ruby’s hoof.

Gadget went to draw her lightning gun, but Ruby was able to recover from the pain quickly enough to kick it out of Gadget’s grip; it fell off the catwalk to the floor below.

Ruby then kicked Gadget as hard as she could, knocking her back while almost losing her own balance; Gadget fell hard on her back on the catwalk.

Gadget blinked, trying to regain her senses; Ruby recovered her balance, saw the wrench behind her, grabbed said wrench, and leapt at Gadget with intent to inflict serious harm.

Gadget felt Ruby’s knife by her hoof. She grabbed it in her magic and swiftly lifted it, blade up, directly above her. Ruby’s throat landed directly on the blade, slicing her neck open. Blood from the wound and Ruby’s mouth splattered all over Gadget’s face.

Ruby Candy died instantly.

Gadget took half a second to realize she was covered with blood, but when she did, she pushed Ruby off of herself and vomited over the side of the catwalk.

*****

Blackburn reached the door at the end of the hall, finding it slightly ajar. She considered it for a moment, then pushed it open. The room on the other side was small and bare, only a single table in the middle with a chair on either end. A light hanging from the ceiling kept the room in total darkness except for the table and chairs.

In the chair on the opposite side of the table sat Cotton Candy, still in her loose-fitting red suit with an eyepatch over one eye. In one hoof laid casually on the table she held a rather large pistol, which was pointed right at the Blackburn as she entered. Blackburn wasn’t surprised at all to get this welcoming treatment; if anything she’d have been disappointed with anything less.

“Thunderbolt,” Cotton greeted with a nod. “Good to see you. Come in, have a seat. I would've prepared something special, but you didn't call ahead.”

Blackburn wordlessly took a seat opposite of Cotton, but kept her hooves below the table for now.

Cotton leaned forward with a smile. “Now this is a surprise. I love surprises. Don’t you love surprises? I mean, just imagine you’re me for a second. It’s hard, I know, because I’m such a paragon of ponykind, but just give it a try. Imagine you’re me, and you’re looking for you. Imagine you’ve been trying for months to weasel information about you, your company, and most importantly that little genius you’ve got with you, out of anypony you could get your hooves on.

“Now imagine that one night, out of the blue, without warning, and most importantly unexpectedly, you show up at my doorstep with a bunch of Virtuoso’s goons in tow, and you start making a bunch of noise and just being a general nuisance. You’d be pretty surprised, right? Because I was surprised.”

“I can imagine.”

“I was also surprised when your little Tinker friend killed my little sister with a lightning gun.” Cotton laughed. “I didn’t think you guys had it in you. I knew there was some potential there, though.”

“You don’t seem all that bothered by your sister’s death, Cotton.”

Cotton shrugged. “When my empire takes grip over this stupid shithole of a city, I’ll name a building after her. Or maybe a district? No no, too big, she didn’t like crowds. A street? Yeah, a street. Rook Candy Drive or something. Whatever. You can’t make an omelette with losing a few sisters.”

“Just get to the point, Cotton,” Blackburn snorted. She very quietly twisted the dial up on her Force Amplifier to just above the minimum setting; she wouldn’t need too much to get the upper hoof here.

“The point is, Thunderbolt, that if I’d known you were going to show up in the middle of the night like this, I would’ve gotten a proper welcome wagon together. Maybe some balloons and banners or something. Or a stripper in a cake; I know just the guys, too, you'd like 'em.” Cotton sighed and shook her head. “Oh well, there’ll be time for a little party later, after we negotiate some terms. Namely those of the surrender of you, your company, and allll of your assets, including that little wizard of yours, to me.”

Blackburn scooted her chair forward and put her bare hoof on top of the table. “There aren’t going to any terms. There isn’t going to be any surrender.” Her other hoof, meanwhile, pressed gently against the edge of the table; she was careful not to actually touch it, just keep her hoof the barest of distances away.

Cotton chuckled and leaned back in her chair, setting her rear hooves up on the table. “You’re a tough cookie, Thunderbolt, I’ll give you that. You’ve got more balls on you than half the stallions in this whole city, and believe me, there’s plenty of balls to go around. Take your studdly bodyguard for instance. I bet he’s got great big brass balls. But what am I speculating for? You should know.”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

Cotton scoffed. “C’mon, don’t give me that ‘I don’t kiss and tell’ shit, Thunderbolt. I’ve been around the block enough times to know that all you rich bitches with your fat wallets and your loose cunts see the word ‘bodyguard’ and think it means ‘side fuck that’ll kill somepony for looking at me wrong’. Just a coltfriend that you don't have to pretend to like, or a prostitute with bonus features. The only reason you’d even hire a Utopian stud like that is because he’s got a biiig dick and not enough brains to say ‘no’.”

Blackburn smirked. “You can think whatever you want--”

“Thunderbolt, please, you’re killing me here with the nicey-nice act. It’s not you. Be honest with me. How many times have you let that big ol' sack of meat dick you down, huh? Or have you lost count?”

Blackburn merely tilted her head. “Zero times. I know it must be surprising that some mares aren’t thinking about dick all the time. Not like you. The only reason you didn’t lift your tail for him when you first met was because the Don was there, I bet.”

Cotton smiled. “Probably right. But fine, be that way.” She set her rear hooves back beneath the table and leaned forward in her seat, pointing the gun more directly at Blackburn’s head. “Let’s move on to negotiations, then, if we’re not gonna have fun. I want your tech wiz. If you give her to me, I promise that you’ll be able to walk out that door without so much as a scratch.”

“And how do I know you’d keep that promise?”

“I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.” Cotton gestured a little with her gun, growing impatient. “Now, are you going to give me what I want, or are you going to make me get nasty? I don’t like getting nasty, Thunderbolt. It’s beneath me. That’s why my sisters do the dirty work these days.”

Blackburn sneered. “I already told you, I’m not here to negotiate. I’m here because you hurt somepony very close to me, and I’m going to make you pay for it.”

Cotton paused a moment, then her mouth curled in a tiny, coy grin. She pulled back in her chair, letting her gun relax. “Lockwood, huh? I knew I made the right decision going after that scrawny wuss to get to you. Worked like a charm, it looks like. Just not the way I intended. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?”

“There aren’t going to be any negotiations, Cotton. You’re going to die today.”

Cotton sneered. “So, that’s how it’s gonna be then, huh? Fine. I’ll just kill you and negotiate with the pipsqueak directly. This was just a polite gesture to somepony I thought of as a rival. You should feel honored that I even considered you worth talking to.”

Blackburn braced herself. “Do you ever shut up? Or is talking the only way you know how to breathe?”

Cotton rose up out of her seat. “You wanna buck with me? Okay. You wanna play rough? Okay!” She pressed her hoof against the trigger mechanism.

Blackburn punched her hoof against the edge of the table. The table flew forward with the force of a car, knocking Cotton bowling over her chair; Cotton fired her gun, but missed Blackburn’s head by about an inch. The table kept going into the wall and shattered as it hit.

Blackburn didn’t give Cotton time to recover, leaping over as Cotton made to take aim at her from her spot on the floor. She cranked the dial up a little more mid-flight, slamming her hoof right onto Cotton’s hoof, part of her foreleg, and the gun, which all blended together into a messy, bloody paste.

Cotton paled and screamed, grabbing at what was left of her hoof with her other hoof. “You bitch! You bucking bitch!

Blackburn cranked the dial all the way up to maximum level and lifted her hoof above Cotton’s head. “You messed with the wrong mare, Cotton. Say ‘hi’ to your sisters for me.”

Splat.

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