• Published 17th Dec 2011
  • 8,855 Views, 624 Comments

Banishment Decree - Neon Czolgosz



Gryphon warriors don't get fired, they get banished.

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6. Very Dark Places

There's a knock on Pinkie's office door. “Come in” she says, and a tall, orange-coated green-maned unicorn stallion with a dopey smile plastered across his face walks in, pushing a serving cart laden with food in front of him. Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle both smile in recognition. Trixie looks furious for a moment, and then smiles along with the others.

“Snails, is that you? That IS you, how've you been Snails?” says Twilight.

The orange stallion smiles widely. “Miss Twilight! Yeah it's me, I've been living in Filly since I finished school, I got a job with Pinkie a few months ago. What are you guys doing all the way in Fillydelphia?”

“Oh we're just visiting Pinkie Pie and checking out the city” says Twilight. “I can't believe it's you, the last time I saw you was in field trips to the library with the school. You've grown into quite the handsome young stallion” she says with the cheeky smile of an aunt, making Snails blush.

“Snails mah colt, how you been?” says Rainbow Dash, “Scoots said you'd moved to Filly, you and Twist still an item?”

“We're engaged” he says almost gleefully, “The wedding is this summer, Pinkie Pie is helping plan it and-” He notices Trixie and his lidded eyes go wide. “The Great and Powerful Trixie? Is that you?”

If anyone else notices the look of unbridled hate that quickly passes over the blue illusionist's face, they don't show it. “That would be I, my good stallion. Are you a fan?” she says.

“Am I a fan? I'm a HUGE fan! I saw your Ponyville show, two of your Manehattan shows, your entire Manechester summer tour, I even went to Canterlot to see your firework display for the Grand Galloping Gala! You're amazing, you're like, the reason I actually listened in class when we were studying magic-” He pauses, looking like he has remembered something very bad, and then looks sheepishly at Trixie. “And I, uh, wanted to apologise to you. About Ponyville. Uh, and the Ursa... and your wagon...”

Trixie just smiles gracefully and waves her hoof. “Water under the bridge my dear fan, the wagon was insured against rampaging monsters and my tour continued without a hitch. I changed my story to how I teamed up with Celestia's personal student to defeat an Ursa Major that attacked a town, though not before it devoured two foolish colts” she says, grinning evilly. “Crowds simply loved Trixie's new story, I had far fewer problems with idiot hecklers.” She sticks her tongue out at Rainbow Dash, who rolls her eyes. “But don't worry, Mister Snails, you are entirely forgiven.”

“Aww, that is so nice of you Trixie” says the simpering pink mental case. “Snails has been working here for a few months now, he's a super cook and even better, he can cook for griffons and diamond dogs! Way too many ponies won't which is really annoying for griffons and dogs because it's a big city and there's no decent food, though I can kinda understand why because killing animals is horrible and even eating fish is kinda squicky but Snails is up to the task, ain't that right Snaily-waily?”

Snails nods and levitates five covered dishes off the tray, and sets them down on the table in front of us. One lid comes off to reveal a massive radish and jalapeño pizza covered in cheese for Dash. The next contains a beanburger the size of a pony's head and a serving of crispy hayfries for Twilight. The third is a mixed platter of kelp, carola, sea lettuce and other seafood served with a bowl of dipping sauce for Trixie. Pinkie has a plate of sugared donuts.
Last of all, Snails lifts the lid off my serving dish with his magic. On that dish is pure beauty. Four golden brown fish cakes, steam gently drifting off them. The smell of dill and basil and garlic and impossibly fresh salmon hits me like a warm pillow filled with my greatest sexual fantasies. I bring my knife and fork to one, and gently tease a piece off. Juicy, pink chunks of salmon wrapped in fluffy mashed potato. My eyes go half lidded as I bring the piece to my beak.

Oh Celestia...

The creamy, buttery potato practically melts on my tongue. The salmon has the perfect amount of give and tastes like cubhood summers spent flying and fishing over mountain lakes. Tiny chives and spring onions explode in my mouth like flavour crystals.

Snails, you have no idea what you have just done. I am going to rob, blackmail and murder until I have enough bits to keep you as my full time on-call personal chef. I will buy you out from under that pink witch sat across the table from me. No stallion or tom can satisfy me the way you can, Snails. I... I think I love you.

I wolf down the fish cakes. I think I might actually be crying when I'm done.

I'm far too happy to care.

I look back up. Twilight, Trixie and Dash are all enjoying their food. Snails is standing in the corner, looking at me with a smug, “I just gave a filly multiples” smirk. Pinkie has finished her donuts, and is giving me a similar variation of that look. Fuck you, Pinkie. Your food isn't allowed to make me this happy.

“Snails,” says Twilight, “This is-”

“Incredible-” I say,

“Best Pizza I've-” says Dash

Ever tasted.” says Trixie.

Snails takes a small bow and moves to leave, but Trixie stops him. “Snails, would you accept a small gift from the Great and Powerful Trixie?” she says, “You can think of it as a wedding present in advance.”

Snails looks confused but pleasantly surprised. “Uh, sure, I'd be honoured Miss Trixie.” Trixie levitates a small wooden charm on a string necklace from her bag. It has an odd looking glyph carved into it, like a starburst within a starburst.

“The next time you and your fiancée are... 'enjoying your relationship', use this,” says Trixie, “Wear it around the neck to activate it. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by its effects.”

Snails blushes so hard he looks like a nearly-ripened tomato, stammers a thank you and leaves the room.

Pinkie licks donut sugar from her hooves, moves her plate aside and slaps a folder down on the table. “Now that you're all fed, let's get down to beeswax.

“The jelly centre of this crime donut is that the three big gangs in Fillydelphia are fighting for power. The second one gang gets a big enough edge over another, they'll try to wipe that gang out. That's what was giving me problems, because as soon as I took out ponies from one gang, ponies from the next would be waiting to take their place. They weren't scared of Mare-Do-Well, I mean hay, I hadn't even been in the full costume until Sunny Skies so they didn't know Mare-Do-Well was here; but they were terrified of another gang getting ahead of them.”

“That's kinda weird,” says Twilight, “Back in Manehattan there were dozens of gangs, but they weren't all going crazy at once like that. What's different here?”

“In Manehattan they were in a stable state, like mints and soda-pop on their own,” says Pinkie, “All the little gangs had their own comfortable empires and hidey holes, so when somepony came along to dislodge them they didn't know what hit them; and the police and courts got back on their feet and stopped them from setting up shop again. It ain't like that in Fillydelphia. Someone has dropped the mints into the soda-pop inside the gangs themselves, so the gangs are going crazy and the fact that the gangs are going crazy is making the other gangs go even more crazy making the other gangs even crazier!”

“I'm hoping you know what's causing all the crazy,” says Dash, who is shovelling the last slice of pizza into her mouth.

Pinkie slides a piece of paper from the folder, with a photo of a young, drunken, butter coloured earth pony stallion attached. “Lucino Tagliatelli, officially the head of the Macaroni family in Filly. Trixie, Gilda, I believe you two know this guy, but I'll just fill in everyone else. Lucino is an idiot playcolt who goes through moon dust like I go through cupcakes. He stumbled into bosshood through a mix of accidental deaths and silly power games by other players in the Macaroni family. Everyone under him hates him and wants to murder him, but fortunately for him, they can't.”

Pinkie pulls out another two sheets of paper. One has a photo of a sour faced, aquamarine earth pony mare. The other has a photo of a moustachioed, middle aged unicorn stallion. “There's a split in the Macaroni family” says Pinkie, “The mare is Jackie Cannoli. She's from Neighples, thinks everyone in the family should stick to their roots in Neighples and that anyone not from Neighples should shut their mouths, know their places and be glad for scraps from the real Macaroni family's table.

“The stallion is Weams and he thinks the exact opposite. He's Fillydelphia born and raised, got into the Macaroni family because it was the only gang in his neighbourhood, and as far as he cares all that matters is loyalty to the family and money brought in, and not in that order. He doesn't really get along with Jackie Cannoli, they both kinda want to kill each other. Thing is, they both run about half of the family each, and if they had a fight, half the family would end up in jail or dead and the other half would get picked apart by the other two gangs. This is what's keeping Lucino alive,” she says, tapping his picture with her hoof, “if he's out of the picture, a civil war is all but guaranteed. He's not the smartest pony but he knows this, so he uses what clout he has to stop either side getting a big enough edge over the other, because as soon as one side gets strong enough to force the other to back down, he's mincemeat.

“This is what's causing the problems. Neither side can get leverage from within the family, so they're having to look outside. That's why they're going crazy with collections, diving straight into any business that the other gangs get forced out of and doing every silly little thing to get a few more bits or a bit more clout; because as soon as Lucino's gone, which could be soon seeing that he does enough drugs to kill several lesser ponies, it could spell the end for the entire family.”

“That's one gang, who else?” I say.

She pulls another sheet of paper out, this time there's a photo of a well dressed zebra who seems to ooze style and charm even in a grainy surveillance photo. “The next gang is the Wharfies. They've got a long history as smugglers and privateers and have always ran the shady businesses around the Fillydelphia docks. I think they started acting weirdly about two years ago, but I couldn't figure out why. I thought I'd be able to work it out with the book of names, but I've had a chance to look through it and I'm even more confused now,” she says, frowning. She pulls out a ream of newspaper clippings and police reports.

“These are a bunch of crimes that I've linked to the Wharfies,” says Pinkie, passing the stack of papers around, “Notice anything weird about them?”

Trixie flicks through them. “Racketeering, muggings, burglaries, seems pretty normal... huh, that's a lot of arsons they're doing... soliciting in public? Why would you do that, it's legal if you do it in a brothel or in a licensed district- Wait, vandalism? Fly tipping? What would a criminal gang get out of fly tipping?”

“It got even weirder when I got the book of names,” says Pinkie, “The Wharfies weren't vandalising things for fun, they were actually paying their ponies to do it, same with fly tipping. They were buying the garbage off businesses at the docks and dumping it in random neighbourhoods in town. They were setting fire to businesses that didn't even have insurance. They were mugging joggers that weren't carrying any bits!

“There was no rhyme or reason to it, they'd just appear in an area of town, cause a miniature crime wave that was probably making a loss for cupcakes' sake, then disappear and cause another bunch of crime waves in a different bunch of areas” she says, throwing her hooves in the air. “The only good lead I have is their boss, Barry LaCroix. Originally from the Clopagos, educated in Canterlot and became the boss just before they started going crazy. He's smart, he's charming and he owns a bunch of fronts; that's just about all I know of him.”

“That's two gangs, who's the third?” asks Dash.

Pinkie takes out another sheet of paper. The photo is a dour russ mare, who I recognise immediately. “The Kurierzy” she says, “Criminals from Stalliongrad, Trotholm and Tarandroland. They're small compared to the other two gangs, but they're very bad ponies and they do very bad things. Their members are much more cautious than the other two gangs, and information on them is much harder to find. I've only been able to get good information on their middleponies. They've been around for half a decade, but kicked off in the last year like everypony else. All the book of names says about their leader is that she's a russ called Trotsky, she's probably from Stalliongrad and she might have been a soldier.”

I grin widely. “Oh, we know Trotsky and we know the Kurierzy, don't you worry.”

Pinkie looks genuinely surprised for the first time today. “Really? Cool! How?”

“Me and Trixie have worked with Trotsky before,” I say, “She's a crazy midget, from Stalliongrad or maybe Trotholm or maybe Sarvvik, she was definitely in armed forces of some kind. We were never sure if she was a spy who liked to pocket some extra bits through crime or a criminal with good intelligence contacts. She's probably both. Has a thing for gelding stallions before she kills them.”

“Yes, that's one of her less endearing habits.” says Trixie, “Two years ago she started acting more paranoid than usual, which is impressive, and six months after that she cut off contact with everyone who wasn't in the Kurierzy or weren't cowed enough by them that they legally qualified as pets. I would advise letting Gilda and I investigate them. They have a great many links to corrupt Equestian Intelligence members and that's really our sort of thing.”

“Alrighty then!” says Pinkie Pie, suddenly perking up like the nut she is. “Gilda and Trixie can stick some feelers into the Kurierzy, Twilight and me can try figure out what the hell is going on with the Wharfies and me, Dashie-”you don't get to call her that you stupid bitch “-and Twilight will plan how to mess up the Macaronis. Sounds like a plan?”

I smile and look over at Trixie. “I'll see what I can do.”

* * *

Me and Trixie are back in the hotel room, planning our next move. “Now see, all this crime fighting horseapples is all well and good especially at twenty-five grand a piece” I say, “But we've got our own shit to worry about too. I gotta get unbanished, you gotta get back in the Guild's good books or find some other work. The Kurierzy has a whole bunch of bent EIS agents and assets, so it ain't a bad hole to fish in for either purpose. We find an agent who knows more than he should, use him to get some answers, then serve him up to the Guild on a plate. You got the files Pinkie gave us?”

Trixie levitates a bunch of documents out of her saddlebags and starts flicking through them. “He's useless, he's useless, she's dead, he's stupid, she's smart... Ah!” She smirks darkly. “Gilda, did you know that Smedley Puddinghead is still working in Fillydelphia?”

I turn my head so fast my eyes spin. “What, 'Puddie' Puddinghead? Worked with spies and pony traffickers to get foreign assets in and out of Equestria, didn't really care if the pony traffickers were trafficking slaves, we shut down his operation and told him we'd hang him from his eyeballs if he ever came back to Filly?”

“The very same,” says Trixie, “He set up shop a year after we shut him down and he's up to his old tricks. Would you like to know the best part, my lovely griffon friend?” She takes a juicebox from her saddlebags, lays back on her bed and takes a long drink before looking back up at me.

“Shoot.”

“He's working with Goodflank,” she says, smirking, “And last I heard, Goodflank had been operating in Stalliongrad.”

Ah, Goodflank. Shiftless, sadistic, gossipy, Goodflank. Makes himself useful by working with ponies no one else will Goodflank. Steals from the Guild like his life depends on it Goodflank.

“Hmm, he's careless, he's almost certainly working with the Kurierzy and the Guild will be glad to see him gone,” I say, “He's got the trifecta. Pinkie, you magnificent bitch, you've given us our in!”

I pause, remembering something. "Yo Trixie, just out of curiosity, that orange chef dude that you looked like you wanted to murder. What was that charm you gave him?" I ask.

Trixie slurps up the rest of her juice and smiles sweetly. “A premature ejaculation charm." I grin. Better than being Hoofdini'd.

"Well then Trix, I think it's time to go find Mister Puddinghead.”

* * *

It had took an hour to drag Puddie's fat plot up to where I wanted it, even with the sky wagon. We hadn't told Rainbow Dash that we were taking it. She'd never approve of something like this. No, this was strictly between myself, Trixie and the dweeb passed out in the back.

The altimeter strapped to my wrist reads 60,000 feet. Enough time for what I was going to do. I clamber into the back and give Puddie a poke. His front hooves are tied and he's wearing a blindfold.

“Wake up, dweeb!” I say, poking his fat, brown coat with my claws. He stirs and groans.

“Hnngh... whu- how did-”

“You get here?” I cut him off, “That cute red mare back in the bar who was going to fully blow you? Turns out she won't. She slipped something into your drink. Might have been a sedative.”

I take out my flask and have a pull. “Come to think of it, it was definitely a sedative. Yeah, a sedative. Now you're here, with me. Gilda the Gryphon.”

Puddie tenses up for a moment, then goes limp on the wagon floor. “Oh Nightmare Moon...”

“Yeahhh, you could say that,” I say “We had a little agreement Puddie, didn't we? All you had to do was stop being a middlepony for spies and pony smugglers and stay the hay away from Fillydelphia but that was too fucking hard for you, wasn't it? As I said, now you're here.”

“W-where are we?” he asks.

“Puddie, Puddie, Puddie,” I say, hauling him to his hooves by the scruff of his neck. “It's not where we are that matters, Puddie.” I move him to the back door of the wagon and unlatch it. “It's where we're going

With that I whip off his blindfold and tackle him out of the wagon, diving down alongside him. It takes him a second to realise what just happened, and his piggy little eyes go wide. The look on his face is beyond priceless. It should be in a Canterlot art museum, behind all lasers and alarms and shit, titled 'The Terror of the Falling Dipshit.' A second later he opens his mouth.

“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH WE'RE FALLLING! WE'RE FUCKING FALLING! AAAAAAHHHHHH!”

“NO, YOU'RE FALLING” I yell back “I'M DOING AN 'AERIAL MANEUVER' ON ACCOUNT OF THESE HERE WINGS!”

“NO CELESTIA PLEASE NO!” He says, hitting the 'semi-coherent pleading' stage of negotiations. Cold wind rushes past us and ruffles my feathered as we plummet to the ground.

I love this feeling.

“CALM DOWN DWEEB I'M OFFERING YOU A JOB! THERE'S NO PAY, BUT YOU GET A NEW LEASE ON LIFE COURTESY OF ME, HOW'S THAT SOUND?” I'm a big fan of griffon negotiation, but it's hard on the vocal cords. It's not easy to be heard clearly when you're dropping through the air at sixty meters a second.

He looks at me in terror and confusion. His mouth shuts and opens but no sound comes out. He shuts his eyes hard, and then says “WHAT?”

“YOU'RE GOING TO WORK FOR ME, I'LL GIVE YOU THE DETAILS BACK ON THE GROUND. YOU'RE UP HERE BECAUSE I'M GIVING YOU A CHOICE!”

“WHAT?” Again with the confusion and terror. Ponies, honestly.

“WE'RE AT TERMINAL VELOCITY, YOU HIT THE GROUND THIS FAST AND YOU'RE PASTE, EVEN YOUR TEETH AND BONES. IT'S A MERCIFUL DEATH!” I stare him straight in the eyes and dig my claws into his withers hard enough to draw blood. His face twists up in pain. “BUT IF YOU TAKE THIS JOB AND YOU FUCK IT UP, ON PURPOSE OR THROUGH INCOMPETENCE, YOU WILL NOT HAVE A MERCIFUL DEATH! YOU WILL DIE BY INCHES, UNDERSTAND? I'LL START BY SEWING YOUR BALLS INTO YOUR MOUTH AND WING IT FROM THERE!” I think he's starting to get the message.

“SO WHAT'LL IT BE, MERCIFUL DEATH OR FUN NEW JOB? YOU'VE GOT THIRTY SECONDS TO MAKE YOUR MIND UP!”

I'll admit it, I'm having fun.

“JOB! JOB! I PICK JOB!” he screams. Tears are running down his face.

Wonderful. I wrap my arms around his body and spread my wings, going into a glide. Puddie is openly sobbing, and I'm pretty sure he's wet himself.

“So Puddie,” I say, whispering into the quivering lump's ear, “I hear skydiving is less fun without wings.”

* * *

As soon as we'd got him into a safehouse of Trixie's, Puddie told us everything we needed to know and a few things we didn't. He confirmed that Goodflank was working with the Kurierzy, among other ponies. The operation that Goodflank is most involved in is a flophouse in a slummy neighbourhood in the north of Fillydelphia. The more Puddie told us about this place, the less we liked.

“It's run by a dozen or so stallions from Stalliongrad” Puddie had said, “They call it the mechanics, because they 'fix' the mares that give any of the Kurierzy pimps trouble. It's, uh, not a nice place. From what I hear! I've never been there or had any involvement myself...”

I knew Puddie's history, he's probably been involved up to his balls in a place like that if he gets any bits from doing so; but the important thing is he told us where it is and how many people are there. I spent the following day and night surveilling the place from a distance with Trixie.

Now it's the evening after that, we've got our equipment sorted and we're about to go in.

I’m perched above a lookout for the flophouse, a navy unicorn. Next to him is a crossbow under a pile of rags. The pegasus method for neutralizing unicorns uses speed and surprise. You strike the top of their head from above to stun the unicorn, then apply a strangle from the back until the unicorn is unconscious. The combination of being stunned and lack of blood flow to the horn stops the target from using offensive or defensive magic. Then you apply a 'Sting Ring' to the horn, a thaumelectric converter which turns magical energy into electricity and directs it into the unicorn, preventing them from using any magic. Finish by binding and gagging the target. All very clean, with no unnecessary casualties.

The griffon method uses a sharp knife.

I fish the house key from the unicorn, hide him under the rags, and caw like a crow. That’s Trixie's signal to come and take the back door to the house while I take a top window. The blue illusionist appears from the shadows, wearing dark clothes and a darker than usual coat. She takes the key and I fly up to a boarded-up third floor window. After securing myself with a rope, I take a hand drill from my webbing and make a quiet little hole in the boards. Pinkie Pie had given me a device for looking through little holes like this one, a strange thin periscope enchanted by Twilight to bend and still work. I was gaining a grudging respect for that pink nutcase. The room is clear, bar a ratty bed and some rattier medical equipment. I spend a minute prying the boards off the wall, and then give a thumbs up to Trixie. We go in.

The room is dark, and stinks of mould and stale piss. There are restraints hanging loosely off the corners of the bed, and an IV drip next to it. The bedside table is covered in used needles and empty vials. I pick a vial up and look at the residue inside. Blue lotus oil, a bad narcotic. It gives a small weak high and quickly causes a crippling addiction. It's banned pretty much everywhere, as no one would take it recreationally and is only used for causing addiction in ponies.

I creep to the door and slide my scope under the crack at the bottom. The hallway is empty, but I take my knife out just in case. There are four more bedrooms and the staircase down the hall. I check the room across from me first. I hear weak murmurs from inside the room as I set the scope up. No hooves on the floor, but someone is on the bed. Opening the door as quietly and slowly as I could, I go in.

Two mares are tied to the bed, face down. Their coats are matted with dirt and covered in cuts and bruises. Both have a shaved patch on their front legs with an IV needle sticking out. The one on the left, a Russ mare, has her tail yanked tight up her back with rope, tied to her mane. The base of the tail was swollen, red and had several needle marks on it. She bleats weakly in broken Equestrian. The burgundy earth pony next to her isn't moving. I check her pulse, weak; but still there. I want to cut them loose, tell them it will be okay and comfort them what little I can, but can't risk them running about in a house full of slavers. They won't have long to wait.

I check the other three bedrooms. Four earth pony mares, an earth pony colt and a reindeer mare. One of the pony mares is dead, choked on her own vomit. Poor thing looks barely past school age. I cut her from her restraints, closed her eyes and covered the cream mare with a sheet. The colt bound next to her is unconscious, a small mercy. I'll be back for him and the others, but I have a job to do first.

I go down the stairs to the first floor. Four bedrooms, and judging from the fumes drifting down the hall, one bathroom-turned narcotics lab. Light shines from under from the bathroom door. A very bad pony is in that room. When I’m eight meters from the bathroom door, the door latch starts to move. I jump straight upwards and flatten myself against the ceiling. Dig your talons into the drywall, stay still, and nopony sees you in a dark hallway unless they're staring upwards. It's a cute griffon trick.

Caustic fumes billow from the bathroom, and out trots a gangly, piss yellow stallion. He’s carrying a soldering iron, glowing orange in the unlit hallway. He giggles as he goes into one of the bedrooms. I drop down and sneak up to the bedroom door. There’s a bloodcurdling scream that quickly dies down, replaced by pathetic, broken sobs. I walk into the open doorway.

I see a cyan pegasus filly, not a day older than Dash was on our first day of Junior Speedsters, wings bound to her sides, tied to a filthy mattress and her haunches propped up with blood-flecked pillows.

I see a giggling, piss yellow stallion next to her.

I see what he is doing with the soldering iron.

I see black.

* * *

I'm thirteen years old and I'm soaring over Greenwood Valley. I've been flying properly for less than a year, and today I'm hunting from the air for the first time. My Uncle Scratchy is flying meters away from me, looking down at the valley with his one good eye and telling me what to look for. He's grizzled and funny and wise, everything a good uncle should be.

Scratchy points to a clearing on the ground and tells me to watch it carefully. I see a flash of red peek out from a bush, and a fox moves into the open. My uncle gives me thumbs up, and I go in for a dive. The wind screams past my ears the fox doesn't notice me I'm only seconds away I'm ready to pull up it's in my grasp blood sprays-

* * *

My claws are filled with delicious, warm meat. I tear into it with my beak. It’s rich and meaty and juicy, just as meat should be. There's something a bit odd about the taste that I can't place. I hear a strange gurgling sound.

On the floor in front of me is a yellow stallion with a gaping hole in his side. Dark blood is flowing out freely, and the gurgling sound is him trying to breathe without enough pressure in his chest cavity.

I'd torn his liver clean out of his body.

I stop chewing and drop the organ. I'm not a fan of pony meat. Or liver. The stallion is staring straight ahead at the cyan pegasus filly. I grab him by his wound and drag him out of the room. I won't allow him to die looking at the small filly he had tortured. She was too innocent, too pure, too good to be the last thing that fuck sees. He can bleed out staring at a mouldy wall.

I hear a little creak, the sound of a pony trying to walk up a creaky staircase without being heard. Horseapples, I must have made a ton of noise just now. I flatten myself against the wall next to the stairs, then take out my knife and a flashbomb. The pony sounds like they’re halfway up the stairs. I muffle my mouth with my hand and softly caw like a crow, just loud enough for somepony on the stairs to hear. If I don't hear the callback, they’re getting their eyes overloaded with light and their face overloaded with knife.

“hoo...” comes softly from the stairs. Trixie's callback. She quietly trots up the stairs, sees me, sees the blood dripping down my beak, plumage and talons, and sees the pony dying at my paws. Most ponies would have screamed or thrown up at the sight. Trixie just gives me a look that said 'yo, what happened to that diet of yours?'. Good old Trixie. She points downstairs with a hoof and gives me the 'all clear' gesture. I point upstairs and return the all clear, give the all clear for the room with the pegasus filly, and shrug at the other rooms.

I take out my viewing device and check the doors for the remaining rooms. Trixie's horn lights up, her coat ripples and she’s suddenly the dead unicorn from outside. We do the bathroom/lab first. It’s full of thick, yellow fumes, test tubes, jugs of solvents, cleaners and chemicals, Bunsen burners and everything else an amateur chemist could want. There are no ponies in here hiding in the bath or under the jury-rigged fume cupboard, the lab is the late Mr Jaundice's stomping grounds by the look of it.

We then check the bedroom across from the one with the filly. There are three cots, all with mares restrained and attached to drips the same as upstairs. Two of them have the same pulled up tails as the russ upstairs. One more room and then we can free them.

The final room has no bed, just several dog crates. All but one are empty. A gray pegasus filly looks up at us with pleading eyes.

“Please... don’t hurt my sister. Take me instead. Don’t hurt her...” Her voice is weak and raspy, and her eyes bloodshot from crying. Trixie's illusion washes away into a mint-green version of herself and she unlocks the padlock on the cage.

“We're here to rescue you, your sister is safe and all the bad stallions are gone. Can you walk?” says Trixie.

The tiny filly stands up and takes wobbly, tentative steps towards Trixie, then bolts towards her and collapses sobbing in her forelegs. Trixie wraps a foreleg around her and lets the filly cry into her chest.

“T-they said they would kill us if our parents didn't pay... They would c-cut us up and send us to our p-parents bit by bit aaa-aand-” her speech dissolves into sobbing again.

“Shhh, you're safe now, you'll be back with your parents in no time. Shall go find your sister?” Trixie can deal with foals. A perk of spending your teenage years doing birthday parties for exposure and free pizza.

The filly sniffles, looks up at Trixie and puts on a brave face as she nods. She slowly breaks from the embrace, and they both make towards the door. That's when I remember the very messy, very dead stallion in the hallway.

“Trixie, kid, can you dudes wait here for a sec? I gotta go put away my leftovers.”

* * *

Everyone was in the living room. We had freed all the prisoners, and the ones who were more or less lucid helped us with the ones who more-or-less weren't. All of them could just about walk, thank Zephyrous, but we had to hook them up to Blue Lotus drips to stop them going into withdrawal. The two pegasus fillies, Hailstone and Virga, are on a blanket next to the colt, cuddled up to each other as a burgundy mare tells them a story.

There's a weird mood in the room. A few mares look numb and have thousand yard stares, from the drugs or from the brutal treatment they've had. The reindeer mare and one of the russ mares look positively giddy at their new freedom, and keep breaking out into peals of laughter. Most of the rest are comforting the ones who are in a bad way. They all look tired.

One mare, a teal pegasus, is trotting around the room anxiously, eyes darting around. She bites her lip and walks up to me.

“Excuse me, um, mister griffon, but what's going to happen now? Y'know, about all this,” she says, gesturing around the room with her hoof. Her voice is cracked and dry.

“It's like we said. My associate here is contacting a social worker through her magic. She can keep you guys safe, hide you, get you back to your homes, whatever you need. What do you need to know?” I ask.

“Well, me and my hubby run a coffee shop, we have for years” she says nervously “Everything was fine until last year, when a bunch of gangsters from Stalliongrad showed up and started extorting money from everyone and beating up anyone who wouldn't pay. We kept up at first, but they kept asking for more and more, until last week we just couldn't pay them or we'd lose the shop.”

She takes a deep breath. “When we told them, they didn't say anything and just walked out of the shop. Later, just before we close up for the evening, five stallions break in. They beat up my husband and told him that they'd make me work off the money we 'owed' them, and if we ever came up short again they'd kill us both. That was two nights ago, they hadn't done anything to me yet, I mean thank Celestia, but... Won't they just come after us when they come back and find the house empty?”

“When who comes back?”

“The gang!” she huffs “There's like, ten of them, and they're all psychos!”

Twelve, actually. Two dead, ten tied up, sedated and crammed into the downstairs bathroom. They didn't notice a disguised Trixie slipping a sleeping draught into their vodka.

“Are the ponies in this house the same ones extorting money from your shop?” I ask.

“The very same.”

“All the ponies in this house have been taken care of," I say, "They kept records of who they were extorting and stuff up in the drug lab, which we're taking, so even if their associates come and check on the house they'll have no idea who you are. Soon their associates will be taken care of. So, you can just kick back and look forward to seeing your stallion again.”

The mare gives me a small smile. “Oh thank Celestia. I'm sorry, I must sound really ungrateful, you guys did an amazing thing saving us and stopping those bastards and I can't thank you enough. It's just been, well, a nightmare. That yellow one, he told me they were going to... all of them, tonight, after they'd been out drinking.” Her voice goes a little quieter. “I can't even imagine what the other mares went through...”

I would give her a comforting pat on the shoulder, but ponies get all weird about that on account of the talons and such. “We can't change the past” I say gently “But we can stop bastards like these from bucking up the future.”

“Thank you” she says softly, “For everything.”

A flash of light and smoke comes from the kitchen. Trixie trots out, covered in chalk dust and stinking of arcane reagents.

“By Nightmare sending circles are a hassle” she mutters to no one in particular, “and ponies wonder why arcane communications majors earn six figures three years after graduation... Ah, Beakface, I've just got a response back from our friend, she'll be here with transport in fifteen minutes.”

“Good,” I say “I'll go start the prep work.”

* * *

There were two social workers, Marmalade and Sweetpea. I gotta paw it to them, they're pretty damn efficient. Ten minutes after arriving, they've already figured out who needs medical treatment, who needs a place to hide, where the three kids' parents are and have everypony loaded into the carriage, ready to set off. We'd found a big stash of bits and bankers notes, so we give it to the social workers to make sure all the mares can get what they need and have a little compensation for what they went through. It's only a cold comfort after being forced into prostitution like this, but it's better than nothing.

Before the carriage sets off, the cyan pegasus filly pokes her little head out of the back, and calls to me. “Mister griffon!”

“Hailstone, right? What's up?” I ask.

The small filly gives me a look that I can't place. “I saw what you did to the yellow one,” she says quietly.

Damn it. What the hell do you say to that? I try to laugh it off, foals like funny stuff right? “He tasted horrible. Needed ketchup,” I say, smirking like a dick.

The filly cracks a wide smile, to my surprise. “Thank you, mister griffon. We'll never forget this!” Hey, a pony who doesn't freak at a little blood. She's even more like Dash than she looks.

“No problem kiddo. Now shoo, your parents miss you!” I say, smiling properly for the first time tonight. The two fillies wave at me and Trixie as the carriage pulls away. I know it hurts my griffon cred to say this, but I hope everything goes back to normal for them. They're good kids.

As soon as they're gone, me and Trixie crack on with the cleanup. We search the house for any records or valuables we might have missed the first time, check there are no secret rooms or mares tied up in wardrobes. Fifteen minutes later we're as sure as we can be that we've got everything. The documents and ledgers the slavers had kept are all in our saddlebags.

We head into the bathroom drug lab. Trixie starts rooting around for any chemistry nerd crap that her and Little Miss Migraine could use. It takes her a while, the slavers weren't a big fan of organization or labelling. I start looking under the sinks and in cupboards for some less sophisticated chemistry. I look under the fume cupboard and boom, a dozen gallon-jugs of industrial strength ethanol.

We go from room to room and douse everything in the house. Soon the place reeks of cheap, strong vodka and I start feeling woozy from the fumes. We had already shut off the fuse box, a good thing too since the tiniest spark would turn me into flame-broiled griffon chunks. We get to the downstairs bathroom, where ten slavers are still tied up and out cold from Trixie's sleeping draught.

“Yo Trix, how strong is that draught?” I ask, taking out my knife, “Should I slot these dweebs before we start the fire?”

“Hmm? Oh, I wouldn't bother” she says, “A dose of the Great and Powerful Trixie's sleeping draught is strong enough that the fire won't wake them, no need to waste your time with that thing.”

“Hey, don't call my awesome knife 'that thing'” I say, mock indignantly, “His name is Leroy and he deserves respect! Now pass the accelerant.”

I douse the ten ponies, whistling as I go. They don't stir.

“So how are we going to set this off?” I ask. I'd rather not be in the house as we set it on fire, or near enough for witnesses to see us. Trixie pulls out a battered egg timer.

“I smeared potassium chlorate and some other stuff on the bell of this egg timer I found in the kitchen” she says, “It'll make a big enough flash to start a fire when the timer goes off. Shall we go back to the observation post and watch the fireworks?”

* * *

Our observation post was the security office of a disused postal service sorting office two hundred meters down the street from the flophouse. The office was three floors up, so with my eyes and Trixie's magical listening voodoo, we'd had a pretty good idea of what went on down at the flophouse. We arrive in the office with two minutes to spare, and go to the gap in a boarded-up window. Trixie levitates a pair of binoculars from our equipment table and sets up the weird sound amplification doohickey. I just squint.

“Got any snacks?” I ask. Trixie rolls her eyes and levitates a bag of sesame snaps in front of me. I snarf five of them down at once.

“These are Nightmare-damned delicious” I say “These are the greatest sesame snaps I've ever ate. Where'd you get them from?”

“Pinkie Pie gave them to us” says Trixie, smirking like the witch she is. Damn it. The sesame snaps might as well be ash in my mouth.

“Gah, something that annoying shouldn't be able to cook that well.”

“You know Gilda, I really can't see what your problem with Pinkie Pie is” Trixie says, “The Great and Powerful Trixie feels that she is an eccentric yet quite pleasant individual who hosts excellent parties.”

“Yeah, well, I can't see why you don't have a problem with that giant pink vagina, she's the living avatar of that noise balloons make when you rub them together” I mutter, “Anyway, eyes sharp, the house is about to spark up.

Sure enough, an orange glow appears in the kitchen window of the flophouse. It quickly grows into an inferno that engulfs everything downstairs and then starts to spread upstairs. Then we hear the noise. It's coming from the house and it sounds like ponies screaming. Specifically, it sounds like ten ponies screaming through gags as flames sear away their fur and burn the flesh from their bones.

Huh.

I slowly turn to look at Trixie. “Trixie, you said your sleeping draught would keep them asleep through the fire.”

“It would” she says.

“Then why-”

“I didn't use my sleeping draught” she cuts me off, “I used Pinkie's. It has a built-in failsafe that wakes you up if you're on fire or drowning or suchlike.”

The screams are starting to peak, and barely sound equine. I give Trixie a reproachful look. “You should have told me.”

“Oh?” Trixie says sharply “And why is that?”

“I would have brought beer.”

Trixie's expression softens and she gives me a gentle smile. “See, this is why you don't bring ponies like Dash or Pinkie along to every little job you take” she says, “There are just some things they can't truly appreciate like you and I.” The screaming starts to die down. They can't have lasted more than a minute and a half.

We sit there in calm silence, watching the blazing inferno, sipping from juice boxes and occasionally popping sesame snaps into our mouths. It's a good ten minutes until either of us speaks.

“So what's got your tail in a twist, Trix?” I say.

“What?” Her face goes from calm to irritated.

“You wanted those pricks to burn and you wanted to make sure I didn't stop you. You're usually pretty cold when it comes to killing. I'm usually the one who gets pissed off and feeds some dumbass into a woodchipper feet first, metaphorically speaking” I say, “So clearly, something is up.”

Trixie sighs and looks down at the floor. When she looks back up at me there's a solemn expression on her face. “One of the earliest things that the Great and Powerful Trixie learned about the entertainment business is that there is a thin and fuzzy line between the mainstream and the seedy underbelly. The same inn that hosts a Dazzling Displays of Magic show will be hosting the Flanks, Fetlocks and Fantasy Night later that evening, and it's entirely possible that the same performers are in both of them. I never had a problem with things being that way, your job is to entertain people so that's what you do. Most aspiring actresses and singers do some escort work on the side, and near every actor or male model has worked as a 'masseur' at some point.”

“What I'm saying is that when you're in the entertainment business, you know the ponies in the other entertainment business, and often they're the same pony and often that pony is you. Mares and stallions who have sex for money are your friends, your rivals, your confidants and everything inbetween. Prostitution's not a bad gig in central Equestria, it's legal, if a bit sleazy, it pays well, you're working with interesting individuals and you're getting laid all the time. It takes a certain mindset, Discord knows I couldn't do it on a regular basis, but there are worse ways to earn a living.

“Then you travel outside of central Equestria, to Stalliongrad or Trotholm or the Sultanates” she says.

The moon goes behind the clouds, making the dark room seems darker still. Trixie's face hardens. “You visit these very dark places and it's suddenly a very bad gig. Pimps beat their mares in broad daylight. Guards arrest working mares, take their money and rape them. Recent geldings who stare at the floor, terrified, when their 'friend' glances over at them. There are kidnap rings to get fillies into the business. In central Equestria they are - or were, just a rumour, a horror story from a distant land. Outside of central Equestria- you see the signs. The thousand yard stares. The blue lotus addictions. The black eyes and bruised jaws. But the very worst is the tails.”

“What, like some of those mares in the flophouse had?” I say, “I was gonna ask, what in Hades is up with that? Is it some weird look-like-you're-in-heat thing?”

“Close” she says, with a grim smile “Stalliongrad pimps tell the street-trotters to keep tails up in the air at all times to show that they're available. If a mare forgets, or is too weak, or refuses; they strap the tail up her back, inject the lifting muscles with steroids and let the lowering muscles wither from disuse. Tail muscles aren't supposed to work like that, so it's painful to trot around with and makes sex excruciating. Customers hate it, because it tells them that the mare has been forced into the trade, so it actually costs the mares and the pimps money.”

“So why do they do it?” I ask.

“Sheer fucking meanness” she spits. “It hurts the mares, tells them that pimps own them completely and tells them that they're worthless.” She stares back out at the burning house, and then turns to me.

“So when the Great and Powerful Trixie sees bastards like these try to bring a taste of their homeland to central Equestria” she says dramatically “She thinks it prudent, nay, downright patriotic, to discourage them.”

I sling an arm around Trixie's shoulders. “Trixie,” I say, “Usually I fucking gag when ponies talk about 'the magic of friendship'...”

Trixie looks at me and smiles warmly. “Trixie shares your sentiments.”

“Still, when I hang out with a mare like you long enough, well, I kinda see what they're getting at...” I look down at the floor, embarrassed. I mean it, but Adune knows how corny I sound.

Trixie just gives me a chaste nuzzle, and puts her foreleg around my shoulders. We sit there for a while, both cuddling a friend, drinking juice and snacking on sesame snaps as we watch a flophouse burn to the ground.