• Published 6th Nov 2020
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A Clash of Magic and Steam - law abiding pony

The Fire of Friendship that once united ponykind has all but faded. One thousand years ago, Equestria fractured... those who disagreed with Celestia's rule left under the leadership of Princess Luna to found their own nation, their own way of life.

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5: A Servant's Wishes and a Master's Troubles

The months following after the gala saw the family slip back into a routine. While Twilight Sparkle was still barred from the lab, even if it would have been a great distraction from the gala, leaving her with Twilight Velvet more often than not. There she learned the ins and outs of trade, supply and demand, and her worst subject: the art of the sale.

Today, Pinkamena cantered through the halls with a tray of drinks on her back to find the three Lights sitting in the estate library. Velvet and Night Light were sharing a meal at the central reading table, gossiping over the newspaper. Twilight was camped out on a drafting table she had talked her father into pulling out of the lab. The books she was assigned to read were long since complete, so the budding scholar was hard at work, drawing something with her wings. Several crumpled up papers resided in the waste bin, along with a broken quill or two.

I hope the lords are in a good mood. They’d never go for my idea if there is anything souring the air. Pinkamena rounded the table and turned so the drinks were presented to the adults. “Here are your drinks, they’re on the house!”

Night Light levitated two of the drinks away. “Thank you, Pinkamena,” he said absently.

That was more than just a nod or affirmative grunt. A good sign to be sure. She went straight over to Twilight and waited for her to lift her quill from the parchment so she wouldn’t cause the demicorn to mess up her drawing.

Twilight, however, noticed the presence behind her, and stopped her efforts, thinking it was her father. Her face lit up when she saw who it was, and doubly so at the sight of the rootbeer float. “Oh wow, thank you.” Twilight put the quill down and claimed the drink. “Why don’t you get one too?”

That was the game they had to play. Pinkamena wasn’t allowed to get such treats, unless one of the Lights gave permission. Yet it was something Pinkamena didn’t want to abuse. Her one friend was too precious to risk losing. “I’ll get one later, thank you, Mistress.” Pinkamena rubbed the back of her head and smiled at how happy Twilight looked as she licked the hits of melting ice cream spilling over the sides of the cup. “Do you require anything else?”

“There is one thing.” Twilight took the paper she was working on and presented it to Pinkamena. She had to whisper to keep her parents from overhearing. It had multiple drawings of the boiler in her father’s lab. Complete with frontal, side, and cross sections. “How accurate did I get this time?” Her father had resorted to taking the broken boiler apart for new leads, and without Twilight there to watch him, she had resorted to getting Pinkamena to spy for her.

“Hey, that’s really good.” Pinkamena scrutinized the drawing closely, knowing full well Twilight was not looking for praise. Still, it was nice to be able to do both at once. “It’s like I'm looking right at it.”

“Excellent.” Twilight rolled the paper up, and looked over her shoulder to make sure the parents were still not paying them any attention. “Since I already know the engine inside and out, now I can go for the big cheese. To design my own boiler! Better boiler, faster steam, right?”

“I love cheese! Especially on garlic bread and macaroni.” Pinkamena’s stomach growled, making her blush with embarrassment.

A snort-laugh escaped Twilight. “Then go get us some! I’m sure Baker Dozen has some left over from last night.” She pulled up a folder full of notes she copied from her father. “We can go see a play tonight, I heard the Sly Flies are playing all week.”

“A play? Ooo that sounds like fun!” Pinkamena noticed the ink well on Twilight’s desk was low. “Looks like your quill is getting tired, I’ll go get some fresh supplies.” Pinkamena skipped over to the adults to see if they had any needs to fulfill, but came up short when she heard what they were talking about.

“So the execution was today, was it?”

“I’m surprised it took this long. The whole gala saw it, and he confessed. Was there even a point to bother with a trial at all?”

The Gala Killer... Oh! if they're already thinking about it, then I'll never get a better chance to ask! Doing her best to muster up the courage she had lacked thus far, Pinkamena went up to Night Light and remained quiet in the corner of his vision, awaiting him to acknowledge her.

Thankfully, she didn’t have to wait long. He broke his conversation with Velvet to regard the young servant. “Yes? Oh the plates, silly me.”

Pinkamena turned aside so the plates could rest upon her back. “Begging your pardon, Sir, but may I ask a question?”

“Yes?” He looked to be in a moderately good mood, and was giving her undivided attention. Velvet was a bit annoyed at being interrupted, but kept her peace.

“I couldn’t help but hear about the Gala Killer. And, well, could something like that happen to Mistress Twilight?”

Night Light shifted uncomfortably. He took his glasses off and absently cleaned them with a cloth. “I’d be lying to say it would be impossible. But after witnessing such a thing happening right there in front of dozens of Royal Guards and even a senior inquisitor, no less... Why do you ask?”

Good, she got them in the desired frame of mind. All she had to do was say it. “Could - could you get somepony to train me so I can be Mistress Twilight’s bodyguard?”

“Bodyguard?” all three of the family members echoed. Twilight stopped her work, stunned, and both parents looked upon Pinkamena in a new light.

Whelp, now or never! “Yes!” Pinkamena jumped, causing the plates to rattle. “It is my honor and purpose to help her forever, right? But what if she gets in the kind of trouble words can’t solve?”

Any other day, this might not have worked, but Pinkamena could see the wheels turning behind the adults’ eyes. They looked at each other, a silent conversation passing before Night Light spoke up. “Servants are not typically allowed to be taught how to fight. Too much temptation to order them to do something illegal before the servant has a chance to realize it. But, she does have a point.”

“Point being what it is,” Velvet added with a waggle of a feather. “Only the queen herself can authorize such a request. You’ve got her ear, Nighty, but why cash in that clout for this when we could just hire a regular bodyguard?”

“Not that she really needs one right now,” Night Light added with a hum. “Maybe if she leaves the nest, but…”

Pinkamena tried to remain firm and hopeful, any show of doubt would ruin her chances, but it wasn’t her place to interrupt them, no matter how much she wanted to.

“Cadence might!” Twilight called out. She cantered over, and whispered into Pinkamena’s ear. “Do you really want to train to protect me?”

“Yes, I really do.” Pinkamena felt no need to hide her reply. “If some ne'er-do-well attacks you, and I was there, but couldn’t stop him, then what good am I?”

‘You’re a lot of good!” Twilight scowled at the self-depreciation. “Like, like, how often do I forget to eat were it not for you? Or all kinds of stuff.”

“But I can do more, Mistress! Just like Daring Do said, ‘a spear is useless weight if you don’t know how to wield it.’”

“For a child, you make a good case,” Velvet admitted, only to shake her head. “But the problem remains that you are a servant. It is simply not done. We’d just hire a bodyguard, but again, I don’t think Twilight needs that right now. The gala was not aimed at the aristocracy, it was an isolated incident.”

It was not what Pinkamena wanted to hear, even though she expected it. What do I say now? I don’t want Twilight to get hurt if I could help it. But what can I do? Her heart sank, and Pinkamena wilted, knowing it was not her place to press the issue further.

“What if you hired the trainer for me!” Twilight said suddenly. “Pinkanenia could be trained by proxy.”

Pinkamena was stunned and looked over at the other filly with weak hope.

Feeling as if she had a good case, Twilight pressed it home. “A true lady of the skies and great halls need not hide behind somepony else's blade. At least that's what you've always said?”

"She has a point," Velvet said, interrupting Night Light's coming refusal. “If she is willing to heed tradition, even if it is under unbecoming conditions, then we should follow through."

“Far be it for me to deny the warriors of the skies,” Night Light huffed, fully aware of his daughter’s argument working too easily on his wife. “I'd normally be glad to hear you come around were it not for the timing.” He looked to his wife who silently forbade him to turn Twilight down. A lot of help Velvet was at the moment. “But you have my blessing.”

“Good,” Velvet stated as though she would accept no other answer. Still, she leveled a weary gaze upon both fillies. “If this is what it requires for you to take such training seriously, then so be it. While your other work still takes priority, I expect you to actually listen to this trainer, do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, ma'am!” Twilight nodded with all the fierceness she could muster.

It ended up being just after summer started when the martial instructor arrived. The north end of the estate, which faced the mountain, was roughly thirty feet from wall to cliff. Shining Armor had used it as his old training ground before enlisting, and Velvet had taken the time to replace rotting dummies and equipment for her daughter.

It was a bright morning on the grounds where Twilight and Pinkamena stood in the center of the dirt ring. The instructor was an earth pony stallion whose brown mane was greying on the edges, and his tan fur was getting a bit patchy in places, but the numerous scars and strong physique banished any thought that age was the only source of his ailing health. He wore nothing, save for a scabbard for his muzzle sword, a common single bladed weapon for his tribe, that would clutch tightly to the face so the skull and jaw would take the brunt of the blows, rather than his teeth.

Arrayed between him and the manor were a dozen weapon racks, all filled with steel and wood training versions of all types of weapons, save those used by unicorns.

While Night Light was absent, Velvet watched them from upon the roof so the fillies wouldn’t notice her.

“In the event your parents neglected to mention my name, I am former Captain-Lieutenant Cross Hook. Glad to see you are a filly willing to wake early in the morning without needing my boot up your tail on the first day,” started the trainer with an accent Twilight couldn’t place outside of being unfamiliar. “I must admit I was intrigued by the prospect of instructing a demicorn, so if you are going to lazy about this, tell me now so I don’t waste my time.”

The two fillies were not really sure on how to act around him. He wasn’t like the drill instructors Shining told them about, so they stood at a rough approximation of attention. Twilight nodded at the stallion. “I’ll train as hard as demanded of me if you train Pinkamena as well.”

“Oh..?” He turned his scarred face to the pink ball of shaking energy. Her vibrating body, poofy hair, and uncomfortably massive grin set him on edge. “I was worried that’s why she was here.”

“You mean daddy didn’t tell you she was part of the deal?”

He grumbled irritably, and leveled an evil eye in the manor’s direction. “No. I suspect he was hoping you’d think better of it by the time I got here. But... one or two it matters not to me. Still though, a servant at that.”

Pinkamena performed the army salute Twilight had taught her. “Yes sir. I stand by my Mistress in everything!”

He studied the color of her stripes. “A personal servant... At least you ain’t a red.” He turned away and tapped his left front hoof in a nervous tick. “What is it with the nobility and skirting the law? No wonder the pay was so damn good.” He groaned, rolled his shoulders, and faced the fillies once more. “Whatever, it won’t be my hide that gets tanned.” He adopted a sudden hard glare. “Alright, little miss, you got a deal. The first thing we need to find out is what weapons you should be trained in. Bare hooves are all well and good, but there will be times you actually have time or need to arm yourself. I don’t care what those martial artists claim, good steel will always be better than bare hooves.”

Seeing that the fillies had no idea what he was talking about, Cross Hook waved a hoof to the weapon racks. Like a pony’s Destiny, one is drawn to the weapon most befitting them. Go and see for yourselves, but I hope I don’t need to remind you to not touch the sharp ends. The average noble intelligence is lacking at best.”

Taking Twilight’s lead, Pinkamena bounded over to the racks with the earth pony symbols. Many of them looked interesting, and they all looked lethal. What finally got her attention were a collection of bladed shin guards. Tough rune magic coursed through them, making them highly resistant to disruption from anything other than a machine.

“A good pick,” Cross Hook said after Pinkamena started trying to strap one onto her foreleg. He helped her put the set on in short order. Unlike most others, this training gear was also metal, save for the blades themselves. “They’re fine to wear at all times, so long as the safety cantrap is active. So long as it’s active, the blades don’t slide out.”

“What makes them go out in the first place?” Pinkamena asked as she shook her legs, testing the weight.

“There are three settings, safe, double, and single. With single, every time your hoof goes more than a few inches off the ground, higher than typical running gaits, the blade will project out, allowing for stabbing and slicing. Double is used for bucking and the like. Settings can only be changed by inscribing new runes into them so nopony other than you can control the blades. They’re also typically paired with a face shield, but with that kind of weight, somepony your age is already pushing it with the shin guards. Go run some laps to see how they feel.”

“Yes, Sir!” she cried out before galloping off like a bullet.

Once he saw her off, he looked to Twilight and gave a toothy grin at armor that had grabbed her curiosity. In the end, it was really the only choice he would have been happy with. “You like?” he asked with a smirk.

In truth it was the only weapon originally designed with a demicorn in mind. The right shin guard was much like Pinkamena’s own. The left one had a single-shot holdout-pistol strapped to it instead of a blade. Strung along on chest straps were a complicated set of pouches and rods. It had taken Twilight a few minutes to guess their purpose. “Oh! Those are there so you can reload a pistol with one leg. Genius!” All of it was protected by a flap that was currently open for display. The edges had lines of toothed metal that Twilight gently prodded with a wing-finger. “What is this?”

“Quite the marvel, innit it? The inventor called an automatic, continuous clothing closure.” Cross Hook knelt down and closed the flap by moving the metal tab up and then reopened it by pulling down. “But as you can hear, it makes a zippy sound when it opens and closes so I just call it a zipper.”

That little invention hooked Twilight almost then and there, but she managed to rein in her impulse and continued to search the rest of the armor. A pair of buckler shields for the ‘hand’ of her wings grabbed her attention next. It looked normal enough, if a pegasus didn’t want to fly very well, or at all. Not really a problem for me. What had ultimately pulled her attention, was the rigid leather circlet with an attached horn ring. It was much like her own, but built sturdy enough for combat.

Her curiosity was sufficiently peaked. The sheer complexity of it all made her think of the engine, and if nothing else, that was enough for her. “What is all this called?” she asked while running her fingers over the straps.

“It doesn’t really have a name, but it was a custom job. Even comes with its own literature if you can believe it.” Cross Hook inspected the leather, finding it cracking with age. “All I know is that it was originally created seventy years ago for some eccentric noble’s bodyguard. Apparently he had a thing for hiring one of each tribe to protect him. Never did manage to snag a thestral though. Anyway, I found it at a pawnbroker, and I was a collector at the time. Now I just trade one weapon away at a time to new students.”

Twilight looked up at him with a half-frown. “Is that why you came? So you could finally offload this one?”

He laughed derisively and eventually shrugged when he calmed back down. He ended up giving a sharp smirk. “In part, sure. Demicorns aren’t exactly common, among the nobility even more so, and I’d hate to for such a weapon to never see use after such care was put into it’s creation.”

“Huh…” Twilight had to admit, it looked rather fitting. I bet Shining would think it's perfect. Not really sure about the circlet in a fight though. If anything, lighting could help distract the bad guy. “The pistol bit is quite excellent,” she added, trying to hide at least some of her enthusiasm.

“Aye, you aristocrats seem to prefer pistols nowwa days anyway. Almost as if the Lunarians were right about firearms all along.” He bit his tounge, having spoken out of turn. Not that he had to worry about the filly. Twilight was too engrossed by the armor that she didn’t register what he said. He decided against looking up to see if Velvet had heard him.

“I’d take it, but it’s far too big for me.”

“It was made for a stallion anyway. But if it tickles your fancy, I’m sure your father could have a new one commissioned. Probably get an adjustable one for somepony your age to grow into, eh? Only problem might be that zipper, buuut I’m sure with your kind of bits, it should be no problem, eh?” He chuckled and took a few steps back, studying the filly’s form, to see just how he could best train her.

She nodded at the piece and faced him with steady determination. “If daddy can make one, I’ll use it.”

“Good, good, at least now that old fool can rest easier knowing his work won’t fade into obscurity without ever being tested. First though,” his voice took on sudden command, “get some laps going! Your assistant there’s already breaking a sweat, now get, get!”

The rest of Twilight’s year was taken largely by Velvet at her emporium, the real source of income for the family. Yet on Hearthwarming, Twilight was offered a position at one of the arcanosmiths, named Gold Hammer, who was working on more replacement parts for the engine.

While it proved to be mildly interesting, the magic based method of fabricating the part was beyond her capabilities, and thus garnered only professional interest. No, but what Gold Hammer’s shop was able to provide was easy access to the grinding wheels and other tools to make engine parts on her own. For months, she practiced and labored as often as she could to perfect her manufacture.

Late one night, a collection of glow lamps surrounded a workbench Twilight Sparkle was leaning over as she worked on her latest creation. Small springs taken from children toys, gears, fine tools, a hoof-driven grinding wheel, and metal frames were organized around her. By law, Gold Hammer didn’t use any striped servants in his shop. Which was just fine by Twilight. She couldn’t look at them the same way anymore. Pinkamena’s friendship and her eagerness to please haunted the fresh teenager.

Compared to the purple scholar, Pinkakema’s boundless energy found her running circles around Twilight during Cross Hook’s training. That in of itself didn’t bother Twilight. What did, was how much Pinkamena threw herself into it. Was it for the reasons Pinkamena said, or was it escapism from her the chains?

The jester’s lifeless eyes plagued her nightmares from time to time. How the stallion went from distracted depression to jovial clown and back again like a switch. Pinkamena's stripes could just be more subtle.

Are momma and daddy right? Does Pinkamena only act that way because she has to? That question hounded her more and more as the days rolled by. Are we really friends, or is the real Pinkamena buried by the strips? If she could think clearly, would she actually hate me? Does she train so hard so she can try and forget for a moment that she is a servant?

Oh how she hated these thoughts. No. Of course she's always honest. Stop overthinking everything! Twilight squeezed her eyes shut in a vain effort to enact that impossible task.

Or at least, mostly impossible. Gold Hammer's workshop proved the perfect distraction from such troubles. Her mother's instruction in trade and logistics were mentally stimulating to be sure, and she had long since been allowed to return to work in Night Light's laboratory, but nothing sang to the demicorn like crafting a machine with her own hooves, and today was no different.

As with many nights here, Twilight was so absorbed in her work that she couldn't be bothered to control the sparks of electricity dancing freely between her horn, hair, ears, and face. As she grew, so too did her magic, such as it was. Thankfully though, the sparks tended to rarely go much further than her mane. Still, her parents went so far as to commission clothing and bedding that would not easily burn at great expense.

Toiling away in her tireless efforts, Twilight pulled a crank handle off of her creation, and was instantly rewarded with steady ticking. The crude clock face’s second hand came to life, and she could see the exposed gearwork come to life. “Yeeeeeesssss!” She squealed with unbridled excitement, and flapped her wings hard enough that she rattled one of the lanterns, and a particularly large spark arced off her horn.

Resting next to her work was a birthday gift from Shining Armor: a Lunarian pocket watch. The soldier who had taken it as a trophy had passed away, and had given to the only friend who could legally own it due to his family. Shining Armor then gave it to Twilight. Ever curious, she had wasted no time taking it apart to learn its secrets, and Gold Hammer's workshop was the perfect place to do so.

As she compared her creation with that of the pocket watch, the watch's second hand moved much faster than the one she made. “Doesn’t matter right now. I made a working clock. An actual working clock with no magic! I just need to refine everything so it can tell accurate time.”

She went right back to work taking apart the pocket watch again to compare the balance wheels. “Maybe the weight is off. Or the escapement needs calibration.”

The lightning on her horn returned in earnest as her excitement grew. This is so trivial to maintain for an average pony!
No need to buy mana crystals or sign up for the recharge service, just tighten the spring, and you're good for over a day.

Twilight found a possible error she had made in one of the cogs of her new clock, and wasted no time in snatching up a brass ingot from the table. The grinding wheel was loud, but it was hardly the first time she had stayed so late. But this time, was once too many.

A brief pattering of hoof on the wooden floor was her only warning. “What are you doing?!” Came Gold Hammer’s terrified whisper from behind her.

Twilight freaked and accidentally slapped him with a wing as she scrambled to cover her work with a sheet of planning paper. “Nothing! Just creating replacement parts for daddy's engine.”

“Replacement parts my flank!” Gold Hammer shoved her wing out of his face and ripped the paper away. Anger flashed across his face. “This is what you’ve been doing at night? You know damned well making new machines is illegal!”

She was caught dead to rights. Lies would be useless, and if she were honest, she was sick of them. “Well, it shouldn't be!” Twilight pulled her clock away from the irate unicorn stallion, shielding it with her body. “Can’t you see it! Clocks and land engines are just scratching the surface. How long did it take you to learn how to make an arcane timepiece or even this grindstone’s enchantments? Well guess what, I made this in just a year of studying that pocket watch.” She thought better of mentioning her crafting the pieces under his nose.

“None of that matters to the law, you daft filly!” Gold slammed a hoof on the table so hard it rattled everything. “These machines destroy magic, and in case you forgot, Equestria can’t survive without it! By Celestia above, Canterlot would fall off the mountain without it!”

“Then we build somewhere on the ground, like Ponyville.”

“No, no. Don’t you understand, you insufferable girl! If the Inquisition ever heard you made an unsanctioned machine in my shop, they’ll clap me in irons so fast I’ll be before the judge before sunrise.” The surging terror in Gold Hammer’s voice made Twilight falter long enough for him to toss her aside and grab the clock. It was only dumb luck the way she fell masked the pocket watch from sight.

“Hey, don’t break it!”

A few pieces and parts broke off the delicate clockwork from Gold’s frantic grasp, but he got enough of it and backed away to the furnace. “I have to.” Twilight ran up and tried to grab it back, but the unicorn stallion magically pushed her back with ease. He threw the clock into the furnace bucket and magically kicked the bellower to turn up the heat for the next hour. “You made this under my roof, and you’re underage. It would be my neck that met the hangmare’s noose, not yours!”

“These laws will ruin us.” Twilight stayed back, and made sure he wouldn't notice her slipping the pocket watch into the folds of her dress. She was not about to let him destroy that too. Twilight stood back up before he turned away from the furnace to glare at her. “Lunaria is going to keep getting stronger with these machines, and magic is not enough anymore.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. We will get stronger with magic just as we always have.” Gold stormed past her and started gathering his tools. “I still can’t believe you were doing this.”

“What about those of us without magic, Gold Hammer?” Twilight challenged. She was still irritated that he pushed her aside so easily, and held her ground at a distance. “Machines barely affect pegasi or earth ponies. If anything The Crown should be endorsing this!”

“Well, it’s not!” He screamed back. “You want to change things, become an advisor to the Crown. You want to get ponies killed, you keep making unsanctioned machines. But you will make them somewhere else. Your services are no longer required.”

Can’t say I didn’t see that coming. Twilight huffed dismissively and turned to the door, masking her shuffling the watch from the folds of her dress and into a proper pocket. “As if a demicorn would ever be so much as considered for such a position.”

“Why not?” Gold Hammer saw an opportunity. Sending Twilight away in anger, lawfully correct though he may be, that anger could cause repercussions via her father. But if her anger could be redirected, then he could escape this incident with his business intact. “Think about it. Your tribe can live for over four hundred years or so. If you can’t prove yourself become an advisor by then with your family’s connections, then you aren’t trying.”

Unfortunately for him, Twilight wasn't buying it. She shook her head and dug at the floor. “And advise the crown on what? The need to adopt more Lunarian technology. That’ll never happen, and you know it. Not even Mi Amore Cadenza’ll side with me on this.”

“Then if you want to die outside of a dungeon one day, wise up, put your head down, and fall in line with the rest of us. Now get out of here before I start thinking that turning you over to the Inquisition would save my skin more than forgetting this ever happened.”

“... If that is how it has to be.” Twilight leveraged every ounce of noble bearing she had, going so far as to completely silence her horn for the briefest of moments. “So long as I can help it, I will never darken your door again.”

“You’d best.” He returned to the furnace and renewed his work with the bellows to ensure the evidence’s destruction.

Turning away, Twilight stormed out, and slammed the door along the way for good measure. Is the whole damned country insane? So what if unicorn magic gets cut off. I get along just fine without it. Just rebuild Canterlot somewhere sane!

Twilight had expected to sleep at his workshop, so the only way she was getting a bed tonight was to walk. For the first two hours of her long trek through Canterlot she imagined all sorts of petty revenge against Gold Hammer. Having her father cut ties with him, and a plethora of other ways.

Yet by the time the fifth patrol officer asked about her business at such a late hour, and help had been refused, Twilight calmed down enough to think properly.

“An advisor. As if.” She huffed, and kicked a rock against a light pole. “No pony wants to listen to me, so why would that ever change?”

There was one person who listened. Pinkamena.

In that moment, the rebellious embers of her roared to life. Out in the street, she stared up towards the palace. Enstripment. That's the real reason everypony snubs machines isn't it? Celestia above, is this what you really wanted? To bind us all to this horrible state because of that horrible practice?

She turned away from the palace with a bitter taste in her mouth. Fine then. I'll hit two birds with one stone. I'll drag Equestria kicking and screaming into a machine revolution, and Lunaria will offer up all the incentive those stubborn fools in power need once the Lunas crush us in the next war and force everypony's eyes open!

Twilight walked home, ignoring any taxi carriages or police aid. No, she needed time to think. The streets were patrolled well enough, and she had her armor just in case.

“I can still do something to prepare." A flurry of ideas came to mind, some worth writing down, but there was one major problem she could see right off. What am I going to do with Pinkamena though? I'll need her help, but what if I have to do something her stripes would force her stop me?

The fires in her heart sputtered, as if struggling to survive against a blizzard. The need to act and the fear of losing Pinkamena warried within her. If I slip even once, she might leave or be taken from me. Could she fight her stripes enough to help me, or should she be forced to turn me in?

Twilight felt she was once again standing on that cloud. Only now, she couldn't muster the will to jump.

For years, Twilight stood on the edge of that very cloud. Her conscience demanded her to take the plunge, but she had yet figured out how to walk away from it. And so, she languished with inaction until...

It was shortly after the fillies reached eighteen years of age when Twilight finally came up with an idea to test Pinkamena. It had taken Twilight weeks to get the servant to do more than avoid anything Twilight threw at her.

Today's sparring match finally had a breakthrough. Both young mares were both left panting heavily in the dirt. Pinkamena’s legs ached from exertion, and she sported a number of bruises which were further pained by the weight of her newly resized shin guards. What was different this time, was that Twilight was on the dirt, sporting what would soon be a massive welt on the side of her muzzle.

The moment Twilight went down, Pinkamena went into a panic and started franically babbling apologies, and unable to touch her mistress now that the match was over. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to! Please be okay."

“Oooh, I'm going to feel that for a week." Twilight had to blink some spots away, but she actually felt ecstatic it happened at all, and started laughing and grabbed Pinkamena so she could climb back to her hooves.

“Alright, that’s enough!” Cross Hook called out from outside the sparring ring. He was in no hurry, and in fact took his time in walking over, giving Twilight more than enough time to sit back up. “I must admit, you surprise me, Pinkamena. I thought you'd never actually bring yourself to hit her."

Pinkamena hovered over the injury, dearly wishing to grab a bandage. “I'm sorry, Mistress, you kept telling me to do it, but I'm not supposed to. Please don't be - don't..." She started blinking hard, trying to come to grips with how to process what was happening.

Twilight acted quickly and rested a tired hoof on Pinkamena's foreleg, doing more in front of the instructor would be unthinkable. “Don't worry, Pinkamena, you helped me out. I can't really expect a mugger to pull his punches now can I?"

“But I - um," Pinkamena visibly shook, trying to come to grips with her stripe bound training, and Twilight's wishes. “Y-yes, Mistress," was all she could muster.

“Far be it from me to give this kind of warning.” Cross moved in close to the young mares and and roughly patted some dust off their manes. “But I suggest you tell your parents you fell down some stairs when they get back. If they hear about this, they might take Pinkamena here to be re-striped.” Both mares looked at him in terror, only for him to shrug uncaringly. “Personally, I'm only being paid to teach you how to defend yourself, and I'd hate to see my hard work go to waste if the pink one is brain drained."

Pinkamena's ears fell and she started quivering at the prospect. Twilight tried to soothe her growing terror by saluting Cross Hook, and pull attention towards her. “Sounds like a good idea. I believe that should be all for today, yes?"

“Good. That’ll be all for today, and the week for that matter.” Cross Hook dusted off one of Twilight’s buckler shields. “The two of you need to polish and wax your gear like I showed you. When I get back, I expect them to be able to shave off that shield, young miss.”

With a feeble, shaking wing salute, Twilight snapped as best she could to attention. “Yes, sir! I think we can call it a day, yes?”

He saluted her back with a snorting laugh. “Yes, I suppose we can. And get a cold compress on it before your mother sees you."

A pair of long showers later, Twilight was sitting in front of a mirror while Pinkamena went through the motions of fixing her hair. The earth pony had remarkably calmed down now that she could aid Twilight in less stressful endeavors.

As Pinkamena hummed a ditty, with comb in hoof, she spotted a troubled frown on Twilight’s distracted face. It was a worryingly old expression by now. Pinkamena had tried to gently inquire into Twilight’s troubles, but her mistress was always vague or misleading about the real cause. Even after recruiting the parents’ help, Twilight betrayed nothing.

I hope today is different. I still don't understand why she wanted me to hit her so much, but maybe now she'll spill the beans. It was no ideal hope, because this time Pinkamena has a plan of her own. “Might I ask what’s troubling you?” She had to be direct. Dancing around the question never worked with Twilight. “Because you look worse than usual.”

Twilight’s ears and posture wilted, and she looked at her servant via the mirror. “You mean besides the swollen jaw?” Twilight teased. Pinkamena's distress returned across her face, making Twilight quickly stop. “Just lost in thought. Sorry.”

Running the comb in short strokes down Twilight’s neck gave Pinkamena a good excuse to be eye level. “Come on, Mistress, you know you can tell me the truth.”

Someone else might have missed it, but to Pinkamena caught Twilight's eyes move towards the servant’s stripes. “I wish that was true. But work secrets, you know. Daddy doesn’t want me telling a soul.”

A silent evil eye was Pinkamena’s response. One that bored into Twilight’s head like a drill. This was supposed to be where Pinkamena would let it go and finish her grooming, but she held firm.

Twilight wilted away even further like a shriveling leaf. “What? What?! It’s the truth.”

“Nu uh.” Pinkamena’s glower grew so intense that Twilight was practically forced off the chair. “That’s not a work secret face, that’s a ‘top secret to everypony’ face.”

“And it’s going to stay that way,” Twilight shot back, duscomfort written all over her. She recovered herself and sat back up, gently pushing Pinkamena away.

“It shouldn’t be.” Pinkamena’s staunch insistence surprised Twilight. She stopped brushing to round on Twilight so they were eye to eye. “Mistress, I have watched you tight lip this secret for too long. Your smiles are low and your cheer was dried up until our match... concluded. You can tell me, I promise.”

Twilight opened and closed her mouth a few times, unsure of how to respond. When Pinkamena held Twilight’s hoof, trying to wheedle her way past those walls, the young noble swallowed. A cold sweat manifested on her brow, and her wings started to tremble. “Pinkamena. If… If I told you to jump to the left, and the queen ordered you to jump to the right. Which one would you do?”

Pinkamena arched an eyebrow and one ear went flat at the question. “Well I guess it would depend on if she was watching me. If not, I’d jump to the left.” Twilight knitted her brow and had to think about the response, clearly surprised, to which Pinkamena felt she needed to clarify. “I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble if she was present. So if she was there I’d jump to the right.”

“Wait a minute.” Twilight stood up suddenly, half of her mane still a tangled mess from the shower. “That doesn’t make sense. If you know it is an order from the queen, you have to do it whether she’s watching or not... Right?” Twilight didn’t even wait for a reply before she started to get lost in her thoughts. “I know I read the rules hundreds of times, what did I miss?”

For Pinkamena, the answer was easy to say. Twilight was her Mistress, the only person who both kept her in such a ritzy estate, and who Pinkamena could count as an honest friend, even over the other servants and staff. “You missed the obvious, silly, your orders are more important. Your health even more so. That really made hurting you, even in practice a real headache.”

To that, Twilight sighed and shot her a sad frown. “I know, sorry again for it. Your stripe compel you to never harm me, so I wanted to know if you could resist that if I allowed you to do so.” Not wanting to get side tracked from her discovery, Twilight spoke again before Pinkamena could respond. "As for my orders being more important than the queen's that’s factually incorr-, hold on.” Twilight scrutinized Pinkamena’s stripes, and even brushed a wing tip through them. The blue and green never lit up, not even a single mote of light. A carefully crafted flat expression descended upon Twilight. “Okay. Servants must first obey the crown, then the law, then their masters. So how am I above Corona herself?”

“Because Mistress, you forgot something.” Pinkamena flashed a broad grin, the same one she gave anytime she knew Twilight would be pleased by something she did. “Celestia is above all others.”

“I don’t follow.” Twilight instinctually looked to the sky, but then back at Pinkamena. “I mean, that’s true, but it’s not like you received a vision or anything. You would have told us if you had.”

“Nope no vision. But just like the queen said, alicorns stand above all others, since you know, Celestia is one. And Mi Amore Cadenza will rule Equestria once she is trained. And you are an alicorn as well.” Twilight was so dumbstruck by Pinkamena’s reasoning; it gave the pink mare time to elaborate. “So logically,” Pinkamena grinned, knowing Twilight loved that word, “until Her Holiness takes the crown, your word is law as far as I see it.”

“But… but.” Twilight tried to wrap her head around such mental gymnastics. “But I’m a demicorn. How many times have I told you that?!”

The servant nodded slowly and patted Twilight’s shoulder. “I know ponies keep telling you that. They see you lack feathers and have a wonky horn, but they are all wrong. Celestia and her holiness have horns and wings, and so do you. Ergo, you are all the same tribe.”

“That, but, what, huuuh?” Twilight squeezed her eyes shut to think. She had to start massaging her temples with her wings. “Okay, so if I told you I want to end the stripe practice, and herald a revolution of machines to Equestria, what would you say?”

Pinkamena’s cheerful disposition vanished completely. A poorly masked fearful smile crossed her lips, making Twilight nervous. “Wow. That. I always knew you wanted machines to be accepted, but endings stripes? Mistress, the crown would never accept that. Let alone the public.”

“Ahhh, but you see.” With Pinkamena not running off to warm her parents, Twilight felt confident enough to elaborate with renewed vigor not seen for some time. “Queen Corona wouldn’t, but Cadence will once she assumes the throne.”

“Sorry, Mistress, but I don’t think so.” Pinkamena shook her head. The fear in her expression only worsened and she was feeling the creeping effect of desperation. “Alicorn or not, she’d be directly contradicting scripture given to us by Celestia before she vanished.”

Twilight huffed bitterly and sat back down so Pinkamena could continue work on her mane. “Those in power would only use that as an excuse. But you’re not wrong. However, as Merchant Law Ten expressly states: greed is eternal. The piety of those in power vanishes quite quickly when it hurts their purses.”

“To be fair, Mistress, but talk of ending stripes isn’t very pious either.” Pinkamena removed the comb and started fixing the damage. Her efforts weren’t helped by Twilight slumping in brief defeat.

“I know that, but it also means I know why those in power do what they do. So I need to change their minds. Equestria won’t survive if Lunaria keeps improving where we never bothered starting.”

Pinkamena exhaled in relief. Oh goodness. For a second there I thought she was planning on treason. I can’t protect her from the government. “Alrighty!” Pinknamena finished up the last of the brushing and fished for a mirror so Twilight could see the back. “So how do we do that?”

“I don’t have anything solid yet.” Twilight looked too and for before nodding in approval of her hair. She got up and patted the seat so she could return the favor. The young mares were alone in this part of the house so no one would see a master grooming a servant. “What I do know is that I’m going to need independence from mom and dad. Doing anything around here will get shut down before I can get anything started.”

“Might need sizable purse.” Pinkamena practically jumped into the seat. Having Twilight help with brushing was always a treat.

“And time.” In the past, Twilight could do little with Pinkamena’s disastrous mane. Had she been a socialite, it would have been embarrassing to be seen with the pink pony. But now, Twilight was able to at least make the curls look well managed. “And I looked into Gold Hammer’s claim. Apparently none of the books has ever seen a demicorn die from old age. The longest living one was five hundred and twenty three years old.” She suddenly became angry and growl-whispered. “Even if Felt Hat was just a show piece for the crown, and was kept alive with alchemy.”

“Point is, I have all the time in the world to make it happen. Even if Equestria doesn’t.”

Author's Note:

My editor BP, has signed off on all typos, and undoubtably added some more to vex me for playing alliance.

Still, I hope you all enjoyed a good read. And now, as is tradition...

Will Pinkamena ever discover she’s a unicorn with an inny instead of an outy? Will Twiggles ever find out she’s been the victim of the feather gnomes all her life? Which time lost friend will appear next? Find out maybe one of these next time on Clash TV!!

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