• Published 9th Oct 2019
  • 1,205 Views, 39 Comments

Legend of the Galactic Horses - MagnetBolt

When nopony else is willing to step up and do anything, Tempest has to confront the shadow of her own past to keep Equestria safe.

  • ...

Scum and Villainy

Imagine a sealed can. It doesn’t matter what’s inside it, but in this case, it’s probably something that will cause a lot of damage if it spills everywhere, like the way beet juice stains just about anything it touches. This is also a convenient metaphor because the beets and their juice are not dissimilar from the colors of the pony who was stewing in undirected anger as we speak.

Take that can, and without opening it, start heating it. What’s in that can wants to boil, but for right now it’s sealed. She’s keeping a lid on it. She’s under control. Tempest started pacing, and our metaphorical yet somehow very real can shudders and starts making a worrying creaking sound.

Increase the heat, and the pressure inside the unicorn -- sorry, inside the can -- builds up faster and faster. Eventually, there’s just no way to contain it any longer, and something has to give. The seal on the can pops, and the wallpaper in your kitchen is ruined.

Starlight looked around the guest room.

“Well,” she said, eventually. “I’m going to take a wild guess here and say you’re upset.”

Tempest shrugged, still trying to catch her breath. The furniture in the room was thrown against the far wall, most of it broken. She hadn’t even used magic, just frustration and the brute strength that comes from it.

“You shouldn’t feel so bad.” Starlight looked around, found a pillow that had only been slightly torn, and maneuvered Tempest onto it, sitting her down and rubbing her back in small circles.

“They wouldn’t listen at all,” Tempest said.

“Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are good at a lot of things, but they’re terrible at actually listening to other ponies,” Starlight said. “They don’t even listen to each other sometimes. You might not know this but they've had a few fights.”

“Why can’t they understand that ponies are going to get hurt because of this?” Tempest asked. “Ponies could die, and it’ll be my fault, again, because I didn’t finish the job.”

Starlight sat down. She idly started trying to piece the shattered table and chairs together while they spoke. “I’ve been around Twilight a lot, and one thing I’ve learned from her is that she grew up worried about everything.”

“If you’re going to tell me not to worry…” Tempest growled.

“No, that’s not it.” Starlight sighed and rubbed her head. “It’s sort of a trolley problem.”

“Trolley problem?”

Starlight smiled with the simple joy of having an opportunity to explain something. “It’s a classic philosophical problem. Imagine you’re standing at a switch. There’s a trolley coming, and the brakes have totally failed. If it keeps going down the path it’s on, it’s going to hit five ponies! There’s another path it can take, and you can throw the switch to make it go that way instead. If you do, though, it’s still going to hit a pony. But just one.”

“That’s not much of a choice,” Tempest scoffed. “Obviously you throw the switch.”

“But if you throw the switch, it means you’re personally responsible for what happens to them,” Starlight explained. “To some ponies, it’s more moral to wait and try to find a third option, and even if you wait too long and five ponies get run over, at least you aren’t personally responsible for it.”

“If they get run over because you did nothing, you’re still responsible!” Tempest said. “There’s no moral high ground in sitting on your flank and letting trouble come to you!”

“I actually agree with you. Think about Princess Celestia and Twilight, though. Celestia made that decision already a long time ago, and sent her sister to the moon, then she spent a thousand years wishing she’d found some other way. Twilight, she faced down those tough choices and made them blink and found a third way. That’s what makes her a hero.”

Tempest grunted. “I still think you’re responsible either way. That means making a choice.”

“Maybe you just need to find a way to channel your energy into something productive,” Starlight suggested. “Have you ever tried building your own kite? It’s one of those skills that’s an afternoon to learn and a lifetime to master.”

“Something productive…” Tempest stood up. “You’re right. I can’t just sit here and sulk.”

“That wasn’t as hard as I thought,” Starlight muttered. “Maybe I’m getting good at this.”

“The last time I got complacent and just followed orders it was a mistake.”

“Just to be clear about this, you’re not going to go back into the throne room and start yelling at Celestia, right?” Starlight asked.

Tempest shook her head. “No, of course not. That would be stupid.”

“Okay, good,” Starlight sighed. “I was worried there for a second! So the first thing we’ll need is some lightweight wood. Balsa is probably the best, but we can use just about anything in a pinch--”

Tempest stopped at the door. “I’ll need an airship.”

“You don’t need an airship to fly kites,” Starlight said, rolling her eyes. “I mean, that would defeat the whole point!”

“What? Why are you talking about kites?” Tempest asked.

“Well, I just assumed you liked my idea.”

“I don’t.”

“So much for a fun afternoon,” Starlight muttered.

“I’m going to take care of this myself,” Tempest said. “If Celestia won’t pull the switch, I will.”

Starlight stepped in front of her, getting between Tempest and the door. “And what? Attack a fortress on your own?”

“If I have to.”

Starlight groaned. “Even you have to admit that’s kind of crazy.”

Tempest shrugged.

“You’re going to do this even if I make a really well-constructed argument.”

Tempest nodded.

Starlight sighed. “Since I promised Twilight I wouldn’t mind control anypony, even if it seems like a really easy way to solve a problem, you have to promise that you’re not going to break the law or hurt anypony. If you can promise me that, I’ll help you.”

“Trust me, he’s the smartest pony I know,” Starlight said. “Well, aside from Twilight. And Pinkie Pie has weirdly extensive files on everypony. But aside from that, the smartest pony.”

Tempest looked around. “Why are there so many crystal castles in Equestria?”

“Technically, this is the Crystal Empire, but it’s sort of a protectorate so it’s… well, it’s a complicated political situation.” Starlight shrugged, opening a door without knocking.

Tempest saw the bear coming at her and reacted without thinking. A bolt of uncontrolled magic zig-zagged through the air and into the ursine, exploding it apart from the inside. Foam stuffing rained down around them.

“Nice shooting, Tex,” Starlight said. “I think you got it.”

“That was a stuffed animal,” Tempest said, after a few moments. “I, um. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize to me, apologize to Flurry Heart,” said the world’s most important foalsitter. Sunburst sighed, pushing the door open the rest of the way. “At least it’s not the first spontaneous toy detonation we’ve had today.”

“How’s it going?” Starlight asked, leaning in for a quick hug. “Is Flurry giving you any trouble?”

“No more than usual,” Sunburst said, which could have meant practically anything. “I was just putting her down for naptime. So what’s going on? The telegram you sent wasn’t very specific.”

“I wanted to pick your brain,” Starlight said. She held up rolls of paper, half of them scrolls and the other half blueprints. “Got a few minutes?”

“Sure! Let me clear off a table and get the tea kettle going.”

Sunburst looked over the diagrams. They detailed a complex shaped almost like a mushroom cap hanging over the peak of a stone spire. He brushed a few dice aside. The only table large enough for the maps still had most of the night’s O&O game on it.

“You drew these floorplans from memory?” he asked, looking up.

“I spent a lot of time there,” Tempest said. “These areas near the control center and the barracks are accurate. I’m not sure about the vault level or the alchemy lab.”

“This is really fascinating,” Sunburst said. “Having the docks on the underside to protect from attacks from above, with the assumption that an enemy couldn’t approach from below.”

“The water below it is full of hidden reefs and volcanic glass as sharp as knives,” Tempest said. “Even if you could get a boat through, there’s nowhere to land and you’d have to climb up a sheer cliff to reach the dock level of the Maw.”

“So you’ll need an airship, and you’ll need to find a way to get them to let you dock,” Sunburst said. “Otherwise you can’t even get in the front door.”

“But even if we do that, it’s a whole fortress,” Starlight said. “I’m pretty strong, but I don’t think I could just knock it off the foundations.”

“No,” Sunburst agreed. “But if this is accurate, there’s a weak point here.” He tapped a section with the hoof. “This is where the outer structure actually connects to the rock face. Are you sure this is right?”

“I’ve seen it myself,” Tempest said.

“If I’m right, all the support beams connect at this point. It’s like a keystone holding the whole place together.”

“He probably hired the cheapest contractors he could find,” Tempest muttered.

“If you had some kind of explosive, you could probably detach the whole thing in one go. It’d fall right into the water.”

“I am an explosive,” Tempest said. She let sparks fall from her horn for totally unneeded emphasis. Sunburst didn’t even notice her attempt to be cool, and she felt really silly about it after a moment.

“Oh, you wouldn’t want to do it with a spell. You’d want some time to get out of there first. Otherwise, kersplat!”

“The biggest problem is that it’s probably full of soldiers who aren’t going to just let us walk in. Could we teleport?” Starlight asked. “With accurate maps like this…”

“Teleporting won’t work. There are wards everywhere.” Tempest sat back. “Even the doors are magic. If you have the right token you can walk through, if not they lock you out. And they can’t just be stolen, they’re imprinted to the person they’re issued to. You'd have to rewrite the enchantment.”

“So to even get to the keystone you’d need to get through multiple security checkpoints,” Sunburst said.

“Unless somepony can crack the wards,” Starlight said. “And I know the best pony for the job!”

“Who?” Sunburst asked. There was a long pause. “Wait, me? No, no no-no. I can’t!”

“Why not? You could totally do it!” Starlight assured him. “You’re a genius!”

“Even if I didn’t have to take care of Flurry Heart until Shining Armor and Cadance get back, I’d need books on the ward construction, and references on abjuration effects, and even then it would take hours. It’s way outside my field of expertise.”

“Oh.” Starlight sat back, mildly disappointed.

“You’d need a real expert to get through all those doors as quickly as you’d want,” Sunburst said.

“Do you know any experts?” Tempest asked. “Somepony good enough to crack through military-grade wards.”

Sunburst adjusted his glasses. “The only pony I know who was that good was Celestia’s old student, but she vanished years ago.”

“...Sunset Shimmer?” Starlight asked.

“You’ve heard of her?” Sunburst was surprised. “She was pretty infamous when I was going to school. She’d break the wards at Canterlot Castle practically every night just to sneak out. There were all sorts of rumors, then one day, poof, gone and never talked about again. Where did you even hear about her?”

Tempest swallowed. That wasn’t unusual. She was in a restaurant. She clutched her hoov- her hands nervously. Her body felt all wrong. Her knees didn’t even work correctly. If she didn’t think too much about it and just let instinct take over she was okay, but nothing else about the current situation was anything like okay.

“First time?” Sunset asked.

Tempest nodded.

“It takes a while to get used to the new body,” Sunset said. She picked up the hamburger in front of her and took a bite. Tempest could smell the charred meat. “It’s nice to have some company. I’ve been working on something and I didn’t want to get the girls involved.”

“If you’re in the middle of something, we can go,” Starlight said.

“Nah, it’s cool,” Sunset said. “At least I know the idiots in the corner aren’t going to do anything to you.”

“Which idiots?” Starlight asked.

“I’d tell you not to turn and look, but I know they’re here, they know I know they’re here, I know they know, blah blah blah.” Sunset waved a hand dismissively. “It’s the three idiots with giant hair over in the corner booth.”

Starlight and Tempest turned around to see the three people sitting there pretending to act casual. One of them was actually singing a song where the only lyrics were the words ‘acting casually’ repeated over and over again until one of the others hit her.

“They’re the Dazzlings,” Sunset explained. “Sort of like villains but pretty harmless most of the time. I’m just trying to figure out what their plan is this time.”

“Sort of like villains?” Starlight asked.

“They try to be evil but they’re not very good at it,” Sunset explained. “I can’t tell if they want to be good but don’t know how, or if they’re just sort of coasting on inertia.”

“We need you to come with us on a mission,” Tempest said. “We’re going to… we’re going to… how can you eat that?”

“Hm?” Sunset looked down at her burger. “I mean it’s not gourmet, but diner burgers are still really good.”

“It’s meat,” Tempest whispered.

Sunset shrugged. “You want a bite?” Tempest shook her head. “I’d love to go with you two on whatever crazy mission you’ve got planned, but I need to keep an eye on them. They might just be waiting for me to leave, and if they weren’t stupid they could keep me from being able to stop them for a long time.”

“So you just need to deal with them first,” Tempest said. She stood up. “Starlight, you explain the plan.”

“Wait, where are you going?”

“I’m freeing up her schedule,” Tempest said. She stomped over towards the three sirens, mostly because she was still learning how to walk but also because stomping gave people the right impression when you were coming over to kick their butt.

Adagio stood up and stepped out of the booth, facing Tempest. “Oh? You’re approaching me? I thought you looked like another refugee from Equestria. So what are you going to do, come over here like one of those pathetic students at Canterlot High and try to hug me and make friends with me?”

“I can’t beat the stupid out of you without getting closer,” Tempest said.

“...what?” Adagio asked. She probably had a plan, but everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.

“Oh horseapples!” Starlight gasped, getting up and grabbing Tempest, trying to hold her back. “You can’t just attack someone! Sunset, help!”

Sunset ran over and grabbed Tempest’s other arm before she could punch Adagio again. It took her whole weight to keep the girl from getting the hit in on the downed siren.

“I haven’t been punched like that since the fall of Rome,” Adagio groaned, from the floor.

“Holy kelp!” Sonata squeaked.

“That was a pretty good punch,” Aria said, rubbing her chin. “Usually she doesn’t go down like that without being paid for it.”

“Okay, okay,” Tempest sighed. “I’m done. You can let go.”

Sunset and Starlight gingerly let go of her.

“Are you doing anything later?” Aria asked. “I can really get behind anyone that puts Adagio on the ground. We could get dinner, a boxing match, just go back to my place…”

“Sunset, please call off your crazy attack horse,” Adagio said, rubbing her chin.

“I don’t know, Adagio, maybe I’ll let her go another couple rounds. If you’re in the hospital, I won’t have to worry about whatever you’re planning.” Sunset folded her arms.

“We’re not planning anything!” Adagio snapped.

Sunset raised an eyebrow.

Tempest cracked her knuckles.

Adagio made a sound like a terrified rabbit and scooted back, trying to get away from her. “We were planning on finding out which of your friends you’re dating, then we were going to seduce them and make you break up with them and leave you a vulnerable emotional mess!”

“Yeah, and so far she hasn’t gone on a date with any of them, so I’ve been sitting here posing seductively and getting myself worked up for nothing!” Aria yelled. “It’s a dumb plan!”

“It’s a good plan!” Adagio defended. “You just can’t understand my subtle ideas!”

“It’s because Gio wants Sunset to hug her,” Sonata said, very matter-of-factly. “I’m pretty sure she’s got a crush on and doesn’t know how to express herself so she’s just sort of scaring off Sunset’s other suitors and bullying her so Sunset won’t ignore her and will give her some kind of attention, even if it’s negative.”

Everyone shut up and looked at Sonata.

“What? I’m right!”

Sunset pinched the bridge of her nose. “I’m not dating any of my friends. We’re just friends. That’s it.”

“...Really?” Adagio asked.

Sunset held out a hand and helped her up. Adagio held onto her hand just a little too long, then when she did let go, she looked at her own hand like Sunset had left a mark on it.

“If you promise not to be evil until I get back, we’ll talk,” Sunset said.

“...do I have to talk to your friends?”

“No. Actually, it’d be great if you didn’t. Just…” Sunset paused. “Just stay at home. Watch movies or something.”

Adagio nodded weakly.

“Great!” Sunset smiled. “So, looks like my week just opened up. Tell me more about this suicide mission you’re planning, Starlight.”

Going back through the portal hadn’t done wonders for Tempest’s stomach. She was sure that something had gone wrong and it was still trapped in the limbo between worlds, and from the way it felt, it was doing some kind of flips and twists while on vacation.

“We still need an airship,” Starlight said. “That’s one thing Sunburst wasn’t able to help with.”

They’d gathered around a table with some hot peppermint tea. They had a few scrolls with checklists and a long list of crossed-off ideas.

“You know, you’re taller than I thought you’d be,” Sunset said.

“I get that a lot,” Tempest muttered. “Can we just borrow an airship from somewhere? I was hoping we could use one of the ships that the Storm King left in Canterlot that the Royal Guard captured.”

“The ships that are impounded in a military base?” Starlight asked. “The ships that we’d only be able to get near if we asked the Princess to let us go on this mission that she would never approve of? Those ships?”

“That’s…” Tempest sighed. “Those ships, yes.”

“We’ll have to figure something else out,” Starlight said. “If we can get a few dozen… thousand… bits, maybe we can buy one.”

“I hope you’re not expecting me to have a small fortune just lying around,” Sunset said. “I haven’t even used bits in years.”

“Starlight, you’re back!” Trixie yelled, running into the room and ignoring the ponies she didn’t care about. “Thank goodness! Trixie needs a beautiful assistant for her next show, and that means we need to practice a new illusion Trixie has developed!”

“Not right now, Trixie,” Starlight sighed. “We’re working on something.”

“But the mystery of the linking rings, Starlight! Trixie has developed a whole new routine! They link and unlink like usual, but then at the end Trixie gets caught up in them and it becomes an underwater escape act--”

“That sounds really great, Trixie, but we’re trying to figure out how to get our hooves on an airship,” Starlight said.

“Maybe we can hire somepony to take us instead of trying to buy one,” Sunset suggested. “Twilight mentioned some pirates she helped. They might have a ship and be willing to take us…”

“Anyone smart won’t want to fly into the Maw,” Tempest said. “It’s infamous for wrecking ships.”

“Oh, is that all?” Trixie asked. “You can just use Trixie’s airship.”

Everypony at the table looked up at Trixie.