• 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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7: Inquisitor

If there was one lesson Shining Armor tried to teach his sister it was this: ‘plans are useless, but planning is everything’.

Twilight Sparkle, Pinkamena, and two of the draft stallions left the currency exchange house early the next morning. Twilight had a pair of ornate, brightly colored saddlebags crammed with all the Lunarian slips the establishment was willing to give her, while Pinkamena and one of the stallions carried three bags full of Equestrian bits.

“I will say this much, mistress,” Pinkamena half giggled as she bounced the large purse of money. “Slips are a lot easier to carry in bulk.”

Twilight was sweating out of anxiety, but kept it to herself. The timetable was stricter than she had hoped, and getting caught was an ever present thought. “I still don’t get how they can attribute value to a slip of paper instead of hard gold, but when in Unicornia...” She glanced around to make sure no one was within earshot before turning to the stallion carrying the sacks of bits. “Rocky Sholes, do you remember what Lunaria imported and exported from us?”

“A little, Mistress.” Just like all other red striped servants, Rocky’s response was robotic with barely any perceivable emotion. The solid red line in his otherwise brown mane glowed far more often than most. “We imported saffron, a spice, which was highly sought after for traditional meals. Along with raspberries and authentic red spine lumber. None of which grows in Lunarian territory. But the biggest commodity is runeweave cloth. Especially during wartime due to our low unicorn population. I am not familiar with our exports.”

Pinkamena hummed for a moment before speaking. “I don’t think we have time to order a frost container for the berries. Actually, I don’t think they’re even in season right now.”

“Not to mention the rumors that only Equestrian ships have them anymore since Lumarian ship engines break the magic on those containers.” Twilight tapped her chin, trying to work up a plan. “The lumber would be profitable, but we’d need a week to negotiate with a ship to move enough to be worth it. Let alone a supplier. So we’ll have to shelf that for now.”

“The runeweave might be the way to go, Mistress.” Pinkamena looked around before pointing at a trader wagon who had a large carpet as a sign. “It has to be really expensive if the richie-riches love clothing made from it.”

“An excellent idea.” A plan started forming in the scholar. Yes… the cloth would make me a small mint if I can get it on the cheap. Even with just what two stallions can carry alone. “Come along then. After we get a few bolts of cloth, we can find a place to eat.

An hour or so later, Twilight and company emerged from the shop weighed down by bolts of cloth. The purchases went quite well, and both mares were pleased enough to be whistling an old tune.

“I can’t believe it. The merchant was Flute Song of all ponies! Oh how the mighty have fallen. He was being groomed to be a viceroy you know.”

Pinkamena was not quite so vindictive. Even with Twilight being as kind to her as she was, there was always that little voice in the back of Pinkamena’s mind that told her to walk on eggshells when contradicting Twilight. “Mistress, I know we got a super good deal, but maybe we shouldn’t have squeezed him quite so much.”

“He’s a borderline stripe abuser, and always spread rumors I used grease as perfume. I bet you if I had not come in there with money to spend, he’d be no better than usual.”

“True,” Pinkamena lied carefully. “But he might be a useful friend later. A pony like him would love to make his way back into court, and machine money could do that.”

Twilight’s catharsis at seeing the luckless noble again fell apart. Shaking a chill away, Twilight sighed as she started to resent her own satisfaction. “Pinkamena… I really wish you could stop me from being stupid before I act on a whim.”

“Maybe one day, Mistress.” Pinkamena dearly wished to nuzzle Twilight’s spirits up the same way Velvet or Night Light did, but alas, it was not her place.

Twilight’s mind was squarely focused on her self-depreciation until hunger gave her the perfect excuse to ignore such thoughts. First things first.

“Rocky Sholes, would you kindly go ahead and take your cargo to the buyer. Once the transaction is complete, report back to the wagon train with a receipt for both the cargo and the purchase of warehouse space in Tranquility.”

“As you order, Mistress.” The stallion turned away and jogged away towards the docks.

That’s one servant. Now I need an excuse to send the second. Her stomach rumbled it’s annoyance at her for her repeated neglect Her timetable would have to wait. “Alright, now then lunch time!” Twilight pulled a map out of her saddlebag. Pinkamena came to her side to read as well. “I can’t believe all there is are lounges and inns. You’d think with all the traders there’d be at least a bistro.

“To be fair, Mistress, I’d imagine most of the traders are here on errands for their superiors. Maybe we should buy up some of the fancy spices besides the saffron for both ourselves and resale. I saw a seller two streets over. I can cook up something magnificently tasty compared to the muck we’ll get around here.”

“I like it. We could also pick up some soaps too. The last thing I need are his rumors getting one iota of anecdotal confirmation.”

“If you’re so interested in dealing with Lunaria,” came a feminine voice to the left of them. “Might I suggest grabbing the recipe for spiced teki noodles? They’re to die for.”

“Thanks for the advice…” Twilight turned to the speaking only to stop dead in sudden fright.

A gold and white armored unicorn mare with a long, professionally curled purple mane was leaning against a lamppost smiling at an unvoiced joke. “From what I hear, it’s all the rage in Hoofington.”

She recognized the mare’s attire instantly. Twilight’s wings became jittery, and her horn sparked loud enough to scare Pinkamena away. “May… I help you, royal inquisitor?”

“I believe you can, actually,” The inquisitor had pearly white fur that reflected the sunlight to make her look as if she were glowing. She carefully eyed the pink earth pony before centering on Twilight and speaking in an accent that sounded like a rural mare trying to mimic a Canterlotian native. “A pleasure to meet you, Madam Twilight Sparkle, I am Rarity Belle of her majesty’s most holy inquisition. We should talk somewhere more private.” She casually gestured at an innocuous covered carriage across the street. She spoke as if there was no possibility Twilight would dare to decline.

“Y-yes, naturally.” Twilight did her best to nod her head with an air of calm. Underneath however she was on the verge of a panic attack. In an effort to control herself, quickly pulled hard on her horn’s sparks as best she could, and turned to approach the carriage.

Rarity magically opened the door for Twilight to go in first. “Your servants can stay out here.”

“Certainly.” Twilight gave a curt nod to Pinkamena, and climbed inside the carriage. Pinkamena kept a strong, impassive face when Rarity looked at her. The inquisitor only gave a passing glance at the pair of earth ponies before entering the carriage herself and locking it.

Twilight sat on the front seat, trying to keep a calm outer facade. How? Why? I’m so stupid, of course there would be an inquisitor in the only approved trade port. But I thought I was careful. I still haven’t broken any laws as long as you ignore the lounge, and I didn’t see her there. I only sent Rocky to deliver goods. Not my fault if the crew captures him. I can just try again some other time, that’s all.

“Dearie me,” Rarity exclaimed as she took her helmet off and magically cooled herself with a paper fan that had been stowed in the door. Her curled hair tugged a little as it passed through the mane slot of the helmet. “It is so dreadfully hot out there. I do apologize for disrupting your business affairs, Madam Sparkle, but I felt inclined to point out a rather troublesome faux pas somepony in my position can’t ignore.”

The polite and courteous air Rarity was putting off threw Twilight for a loop. It almost sounded like she wasn’t in actual trouble. The thought did little to calm her erratic sparks. “A faux pas? I thought I was being careful.”

Rarity placed her helmet carefully on the seat. “Madam Sparkle, I realize the usage of servants may be second nature to the nobility, but there is a sizable number of Lunarian nationals still residing here, if only for business purposes.” Rarity kept herself from sounding patronizing. “Parading servants around with you, red striped ones at that, is unnecessarily provocative.”

“Ah? Oh.” Just how long has she been following me?! Twilight’s renewed inner panic attack started to leak out as constant sparks dancing over her horn. She played off her ballooning stress with a halted laugh and tried to get herself back under some semblance of control. “Of course. My apologies. I just didn’t think of hiring somepony to carry my purchases. I promise to be more thoughtful next time.”

Nodding slightly, Rarity took a discrete breath. “I’m glad to hear it. It would be quite troublesome if such misunderstanding caused further tensions.” She was interrupted by a particularly loud spark racing between Twilight’s horn and nose.

Twilight’s face burned red from mortification. She shied away from Rarity’s gaze. “I’m so sorry. It’s just when a grand inquisitor pulls you aside, it’s typically an ill time for all. I can get rather dangerous to be around.”

“There is no need to apologize for something out of your control, Madam.” Rarity waggled a hoof at Twilight. “And you can drop the ‘grand’, I have a ways to go to earn that, I dare say I’m only a year your senior.” Rarity adopted a more apologetic expression. “Truth be told, I am here at the behest of your brother to watch out for you. From a polite distance, that is. I only stepped in because of the servants.”

Twilight’s inner panic surged right back and it started shouting at her to abort her plan. “I didn’t know my brother had any authority over inquisitorial matters.”

Rarity let off brief tittering laugh behind a hoof. “Well, he doesn’t, no. But the queen does like it when her subjects cooperate when we don’t have to. It honors Celestia above, and that is enough for me.

“I only just arrived a few hours ago. I must say I am deeply appalled after checking in with the local constables. Had I been a day earlier, you would have never been accosted by that thug. The delay should never have happened.”

Twilight absently touched the mark on her neck. “Oh, it was unsettling, sure, but it’ll heal. If anything, it proved my mother right that I needed to learn self-defense.”

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a pony’s character lies in their own hoofs. Book of Hope chapter seven verses eight through ten.” Rarity gave a forlorn sigh as she looked out of the window. Twilight was left mute, confusion written all over her face. “Tell me, if you don’t mind me prying a little, what do you plan to do with your life?”

“Ahh…” Twilight’s wings fidgeted, and a single arc escaped her horn. What is she playing at? Does she think she can get some dirt on a noble to get that grand part of the title? I guess I’d be the perfect target if I’m honest. “I want to start by sticking my nose into mercantilism. Build up a sizable bit of capital so I can petition the crown for my own technology lab.”

“Really?” Rarity said with clearly false surprise. “And here I thought you’d throw your hat in with the next abolitionist movement.”

Twilight’s blood ran cold, and Rarity smirked at Twilight’s eyes shrinking to pinpricks. “T-that’s absurd.”

Rarity laughed dangerously, rocking in her seat a bit with the force of it. When the laughter ended, Rarity let the silence hang just long enough to make Twilight sweat. “Come now, Madam Sparkle, don’t be coy. You see, when I was asked to watch over you, I took the initiative to read the literature the inquisition has you.” Twilight’s sweat and sparking horn only sweetened Rarity’s smile. “Oh don’t worry too much, the inquisition takes notes of all the nobility, not just you.

“But.” Rarity’s smile fell away into a hard, even stare. “We have noticed how abnormally you treat your servants, a certain Pinkamena in particular.”

“I am entitled to treat her however I wish,” Twilight rebuked weakly.

“Well…” Rarity flicked a lock of her wavy hair. “Given your history, that ‘however I wish’ would fall inside the bounds of the law at least, so I won’t go into semantics. Madam, I am simply reminding you of a fact of life. As a member of the aristocracy, you are allowed to think whatever your deviant heart desires, Madam Sparkle, so long as those desires never become actions.” Rarity leaned in, just a touch, but even that made Twilight recoil. “Although I am concerned that freedom is not enough for you.”

“If you don’t like me being coy, then I would appreciate you following your own advice,” Twilight shot back with some defiant resolve crawling back. “Just tell me what you mean.”

Rarity sighed and pulled back to give Twilight some air to breathe. “I am the reason your head was not on the same chopping block as Sunny Fields’ was. You should remember him, he was the abolitionist member you were trying to contact a good while ago.”

“You don’t… have-” Twilight denial was silenced when Rarity pulled a few papers from the door pocket, and levitated them over to Twilight’s face. The would-be abolitionist was dumbstruck. She recognized the wingwriting, and every word she had thought had been so carefully phrased to mask who she was. It wouldn’t matter how much she could argue in court, these letters in the possession of an inquisitor was damning, and she knew it.

“You mind if I call you, ‘Darling’?” Rarity said casually, breaking the silence. “It’s so much easier than proper titles.” She pulled the letters back over to her chest. “These letters are actions, Darling. But you see, young ponies do stupid things. Celestia knows I’ve committed quite a few blunders myself. Emotions take over when sound reason should be your guiding principle.”

Rarity took a moment to magically pull a glass bottle of lemonade from under her seat along with two glasses. Using her magic to chill the beverage, she poured herself one and offered the other to Twilight. The demicorn accepted it more out of polite terror than any desire to drink. Only when Rarity has a chance to sip some and smile in delight did she continue. “You should count yourself fortunate. Our investigations into the movement were already well into the sting phase, you see, and well,” Rarity turned the letters over so she could read them. “It was painfully obvious you still had no dealings with them as of that moment, and judging by the content of the letter, it seems you were rather critical of them for idealistic abolition without anything to economically replace the stripes. So I was able to argue to my instructor you were being critical of them, not trying to join them as I suspect were your true intentions. Thankfully for you, Darling, you have been smart enough to stay quiet ever since. So my superior decided to bury these letters.”

In a flash, the letters burst into flames and were reduced to cinders in moments. Twilight stared at the ash on the floor in utter shock.

“But not before showing them to Shining Armor,” Rarity clarified, jerking Twilight’s attention back to her. “Your family is very important to the crown, Darling, her holiness especially. It would be woefully uncouth if you were to feel the hangmare’s noose. I implore you to not force my hoof.”

Twilight’s heart was racing so fast her breath became strained and laborious. Only some of Rarity’s words connected as Twilight kept imagining the feel of a rope around her neck. “I-I thought you said you only read up on me after being sent after me.”

“Well, Darling, your wrote those over a year ago,” Rarity half-laughed while waving her hoof. “And I have other matters to take care of besides you. I wanted to know if my efforts to save you from yourself were not in vain.” Rarity flashed a sly smile and crossed her legs. “See, you are off on your own now, making a name for yourself. Admirable, to be sure. Most noble scions are content staying in the family home until marriage. Only a brave few venture out at our age. Dare I say, I’d wager your tribe is the real reason you acquired a strength few of your peers possess.” Rarity sighed at herself for speaking too much. “Rarity you silly mare.” She paused a moment to clear the air.

Twilight was too preoccupied with keeping her terror from surfacing. Yet between her quivering lip, bloodshot eyes, and the frantic swishing of her tail, she was doing a poor job of it. Twilight’s imagination was running wild with doomsday closing in on her.

“I want you to remember to keep your name off my list,” came a warning with a thin smile.

Twilight grimaced, briefly unwilling to meet Rarity in the eye. She just wants me in her pocket. A lifelong contact that she can wave some blackmail around to make me bend to her will. The moment she thinks I’m trying to industrialize Equestria, she’ll ‘remind’ me of those letters and force me to stop! I’d practically be her servant. “I-I'll keep that in mind,” was all Twilight was willing to say.

“Wonderful!” Rarity clapped her hooves joyfully and magically reclaimed Twilight’s untouched drink. “I’m so glad we had this little talk. And there’s no reason we can’t be friends, darling. I know you’ll need time to calm down. Get your thoughts sorted. I’ll leave you to your errands and perhaps we can share some tea or coffee in a month or two, does that sound agreeable?”

“At the Wilermare celebration?” Twilight suggested, trying in vain to sound pleasant.

“A marvelous idea.” Rarity lit her horn to magically open the door, but stopped short to give Twilight a thin, yet agreeable smile. The inquisitor made sure to meet Twilight eye to eye, her smile dropping again when all Twilight could meet her with was cold dread. “I’m not lying, you know.”

Twilight stopped stiffly and became openly panicked. “About what?”

“About wanting to be friends.” Rarity opened a drawer under her seat, and pulled out a flat, cylindrical box that was decorated in fashionable blue and gold print. “I had hoped burning the letters would have been enough for you to understand that blackmail is not something I desire to partake in, but your face says it all.”

Twilight’s ears wilted as she eyed the box. “That’s part of the reason I refuse to gamble. I have a horrible poker face.”

“Oh I don’t know, you have a history of gambling. Just not with money.” Rarity almost laughed, deciding to instead barely widen her smile. “I have a peace offering for you. To back up my word.” Rarity removed the box’s lid and pulled out a beautiful, feathered, light purple, satin hat. Twilight was taken aback by the half-gear that played as the left side of the brim, something that was highly scandalous to those who knew what it was. White pegasus feathers adorning the sides. Twin velvet horns served as tie points for a band across the crown. “Perhaps one day you’ll feel confident enough to stop hiding your unusual Destiny, and take better pride in what you are.”

Twilight held the hat in her hooves, and felt the contours of it with her wingtips. The stitching was immaculate, the colors and style expressed a work of love, and the fine material spoke of an item that could last her whole lifetime if she cared for it.

Going from being fearful of Rarity to holding such a gift left Twilight mute for a long moment as she inspected the work of art. It was truly beautiful to her eyes, something that she’d be glad to wear; were it not for the source. Not that I can show it. “I. This is wondrous. Where did you get it?”

Rarity let off a satisfied hum. She drank in every ounce of Twilight fawning over the article. “I designed and sewed it together myself, actually.” She lost some of that satisfaction when Twilight looked at her with utter surprise, as if Rarity was little more than a government sanctioned nightmare. In the end she played it off. “It is wonderful seeing such reactions to one’s passions. I would have loved to have been a seamstress… but…” True sadness fell over Rarity’s face. “Perhaps we can discuss such matters another time. You have trading to do and there is another local matter that requires my attention, and I have been putting it off.” Rarity levitated the box over, prompting Twilight to place the gift back inside.

Twilight knew wearing it now would be seen as a slight. Her garb would clash with the hat, diminishing the beauty of both. “Thank you, Inquisitor Rarity Belle.” She carefully closed the box and held it close. “I will definitely commission a dress to match it when I get a chance.”

A true smile of appreciation crossed the pearl white mare. “I’m glad you understand.” She opened the door, allowing Twilight to step outside. “Be safe now.”

Hiding the mountainous dreed freezing her blood, Twilight returned the best friendly smile she was capable of. “Naturally, Inquisitor.”

Rarity nodded and shut the door. The carriage pulled away on its own, leaving Twilight standing there with the box until Pinkamena scampered out of the nearby alley. She gave the box a suspicious look as if a bomb was inside it. “Mistress, are you alright?”

Twilight vacantly watched the carriage disappear behind a street corner. She had a repreve, but within her dress, she could feel her pocket watch ticking away the last minutes of her freedom. Only now, she had no idea how to rewind that particular spring. At last, she looked dumbly down at the box, then at last to Pinkamena. “Not one bit.”

The moment Twilight made it back to her wagon, she pulled all the pillows, blankets, and sheets into a giant mound and screamed into them until her throat was sore.

Standing vigil just outside the wagon’s door, Pinkamena had been left with the hat box. During the whole scream, she ordered the servant stallions to keep any passers by from approaching close enough to hear their master’s anguish. When the solid two minutes of screaming ended, Pinkamena risked poking her nose through the door. “Mistress?”

Twilight had collapsed on the floor and was sobbing into her wings. Between sobs she kept repeating, “It’s over.”

Pinkamena set the box down next to the luggage, and shut the door behind her. The only time she had seen Twilight in an even remotely similar state was after she was banished from Night Light’s laboratory. Here was the center of her life, her sole friend and provider reduced to a blubbering mess. The worst of it, she knew there was nothing she could do. The sight of it unnerved Pinkamena to her core. “Mistress?” She hazarded, eliciting no response. “What do we do now?”

The crying morphed into choking laughter. “What do we do?” More manic giggles as Twilight propped herself up with one foreleg on the bed. “I’ll tell you exactly what we do. We sit here and wait for the inquisitor to find out I sent a servant to “trade” with a Lunarian ship. She’ll put the obvious dots together. Arrest me. Try me, then hang me. It doesn’t matter how much Shiny or my parents protest, I'm still a dead mare. As for you and the others, you might get lucky and sent back to my parents. Worst case, the inquisitor might point to you as the root reason I did all this and bumps your stripes up to reds. And I still get hanged.”

“M-maybe she’ll think the Lunarians kidnapped him. It would be something they’d do. A-and you gave the order before talking to her!” Pinkamena put on a hopeful, weak grin, trying to reassure Twilight as much as herself.

“Maybe if she never saw those letters.” Twilight pulled the blankets over her head, but the constant sparks of electricity were still visible through the resistant fabric. “No, no, no. She's a bloody Inquisitor! She'll find out I sent Rocky to the ship. They don't miss something like that. And then once she does find him, she’d be an idiot not to interrogate Deck Flog about the whole thing. He knows my whole plan. Oh don't worry, Rarity will certainly be adding that 'grand' to her title after clapping me in irons, I promise you that! Not even Cadance could save me.”

Pinkamena's heart tried to drag her into the same pit of despair Twilight was trapped in, but that was something she wouldn't accept. She didn't have the luxury of a breakdown while her mistress was in danger. “Maybe not by herself, but if Shining Armor and your parents weigh in, maybe the inquisitor will bury the whole thing.”

Twilight yanked the blankets off her face to glare at Pinkamena for even suggesting that. “And force all of us to be under her hoof!? At that point the only difference between you and I then would be that your stripes are at least visible! Even if she wouldn't ruin my family and I, her bosses certainly would!” The stark reality of it crashed over Twilight all over again, and she collapsed back against the bench. “Just one day. In one day I've ruined a house that's stood since before Equestria was founded.”

“We could run away!” Pinkamena suggested with sudden energy. Her protective instincts, compelled by her stripes or genuine care, forced her to think of anything that could help. “We can’t just sit here and wait for it to happen!”

“To where?!” Twilight yelled while throwing the covers over her face again to hide her shame. “The forest and live like wild ponies? Coming here and spending a month or two in this wagon was already my idea of ‘roughing it’. I wouldn’t last a week in the woods! And that’s assuming the inquisition never bothered to come after me anyway!”

An idea struck Pinkamena hard enough to steal her breath away. “The ship.” She looked back up at her distraught master and friend. “What if you fled to Lunaria on the Sea Hopper.” Twilight’s crying hitched as the suggestion registered. “The inquisition can’t arrest you there, and you can’t tell me the Lunas would arrest and send back somepony who was a stripe runner.”

The gears in Twilight’s mind started turning and the lighting on her horn seemed to return to normal for a moment or two. She threw off the blanket to think a bit more clearly. “But - flee to Lunaria of all places!?”

“Who else would risk defying an Inquisitor to hoof over a criminal their nation has no reason to shelter?” Pinkamena countered as tactfully as her barely controlled terror would allow. “The zebras? Too closely allied to Equestria. The griffins? They already hates ponies thanks to Lunaria. The Saddle Arabians? Yaks? Dragons? Diamond dogs!?" Pinkamena threw a hoof up in exasperation. "No pony would have a reason to protect you except Lunaria!“

The logic was starting to pry away some of the dread, and Twilight closed her eyes to think. “The government wouldn’t. I may not be seen as a hero, but I’d at least be seen as moral. Ish. But I couldn’t do that to Shiny, mom, and dad. They’d be just as much ruined then as my surrender would be! Their own heir and sister defecting? Shiny would be lucky to stay in the army.”

Pinkamena latched onto the idea. It had given Twilight pause, and that was enough for Pinkamena to keep pushing. This was the only route she could save Twilight and by damned she was going to do everything she could to get her on that boat. “Mistress, he’s protected by not just her holiness, but also the queen. He’s not responsible for your actions either, so any blame he gets would be tiny. What do you think would hurt him more? You defecting, or your…?” She couldn’t say it. Pinkamena didn’t even want to even think about it.

As much as it pained her to even think about hurting her brother, Twilight clung to her pillow, unable to meet Pinkamena’s eyes. “My, my exec... But what about mom and dad?”

Pinkamena wracked her brain for a good answer. One wrong word would leave Twilight to resign herself to her fate. Every cell in Pinkamena’s being screamed at her to save Twilight from outright surrendering to the inquisitor. “I’ve seen the parents of murders beg for clemency. The Lord and Lady would be no less protective or horrified if the worst happened. And that worst, is not defection.”

“Is it though?” To that, Pinkamena was left without words. Twilight opened her eyes and started hugging herself, an act that left Pinkamena squirming to find something to respond with. “...There really isn’t any other choice… is there? Damned if I do, and damned if I don't.” She fell silent, and wallowed in resigned self-pity. Twilight stayed like that for a time she didn't bother tracking. Sniffled sobs finally broke the silence, but they weren't her own. Twilight looked up to find Pinkamena's emotional strength was failing. Her most faithful servant, and dearest friend, was losing the battle to hold back her tears and was using her hooves to muffle her sobbing as best she could.

Twilight felt like a hammer had just struck her in the chest. Pinkamena. “I'm such a fool.” The admission had iron determination set in her voice. “I may be beyond saving, but you aren't!” Twilight found her will to survive, and embraced her childhood friend as hard she could, stifling the sobbing with a single act. “If nothing else comes of today, let it be that you are set free.”

A tidal wave of both confusion and defiance crashed into Pinkamena. She eyes Twilight as best she could from her angle. “I don't know what the plan is, but I refuse to be free if you are not.”

Twilight shook her head, her brow knitted in thought. “Save that thought for what may come. We first have to figure out how to get the ship to take us… the stallions!” Twilight let go and scrambled to the window, ducking to the corner as conspiracy made her paranoid. “We have eleven left with us, yes? If we bring all of them at once, the prospect of rescuing so many should be enough to book passage for you at the very least.”

“And you too!” Pinkamena retorted sternly. “They could carry your money and the goods we brought, so we're not left bitness, but don't you dare try to sacrifice yourself!”

“If that is what it takes to get you on that boat, then so be it.” Truth be told, Twilight was touched by the condition. “Now, how would we convince them to go along with this?” Twilight pondered aloud. She ducked away the window at seeing a patrol pass by. “Red stripes don’t rob a pony of their intelligence. As soon as they think I’m ordering them to break the law, they’ll bolt for it. I don’t think they have your… talent for that sort of thing.”

“Oh that’s easy.” Pinkamena adopted a crisp stance of attention. “You’re the Mistress, but I’m a fellow servant. If I back up your orders, they’ll see it as legal. After all,” she added with a smirk. “We stripes can’t break the law. They don’t need to know the only laws I obey are yours.”

Twilight nodded firmly and with a weary smile. The redness in her eyes was waning, but not by much. “If we do this, we have to go after dark. At this time of year… Sunset is half past eight. That’ll give us an hour and a half to board the Sea Hopper before it leaves. Which…”

“Is three hours from now,” Pinkamena offered. Her own confidence and mood brightened as Twilight’s plan crystallized.

The fires of self preservation and no small amount of vindictiveness hardened Twilight’s resolve. She could almost picture herself standing on the cloud again. All paths before me are chasms that promise prison or death. Lunaria’s the only cliff I can see myself walking away from.

“Three hours, thank you, to pack. If the inquisitor wasn’t lying about having another matter to tend to, then we should at least be in the clear until nightfall. Gather the boys! Capital will be key so pack up my money, the more expensive goods we bought, and leave any personal effects we can replace.”

“Yes, Mistress!” Pinkamena turned to leave, only for her hoof to strike the hat box. She paused long enough to pick it up. “What about this?”

Twilight had already pulled a suitcase when the question pulled her eyes away. An amused grunt escaped her. “Far be it for me to discard the Inquisitor's going away present. Besides, it’s a very lovely hat. Bring it along.”

Author's Note:

Will Twilight's Eleven escape with the cash? Will Pinkamena have to throw Twilight onto the ship to save her? Can they bribe the inquisitor with a year-long pass to Disney World? Can Shining Armor finally discover the dark secrets of armor wax!?

Find out next time, same Pon-channel, same Pon-time!!

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