• Published 30th Sep 2022
  • 969 Views, 26 Comments

The Rejects: Enemy of the State - Argonaut44

A band of misfits must come together to foil corrupt Canterlot elite, war criminals, and old enemies. Meanwhile, Princess Twilight Sparkle must divert her attention between Equestria on the brink of war and a vengeful threat beyond the sea.

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03: Go For Broke

Starbright shadows lanced in the velvet vacuum, down black depths trembling cold. Those bloodshot eyes traced the corners of the city, past each glimpse of burning hearths and traffic light sweat. By her chamber’s balcony, heartbeat heat kept Twilight Sparkle wide awake, while the moon spurned her from its skybound perch. What was keeping her in place, she wondered, what tempted her against pure escape, past that steel railing. Was she more horrified to want it or want against it, she wondered.

Now Equestria would see her for what she is.




None of them could know of the burden, none of them could speak to her as if she chose wrong.

I saved you. I saved Equestria.

And Cadance. Featherglass. Marius, even her own brother - all preying on her for their own ends. Those rats, those thieves, they were waiting for her to give it all away, she knew it, waiting for her to make a mistake.

She hardly spoke a word to anypony these days. Enemies, enemies everywhere. Nopony was on her side.

Had she gone mad already, she feared, were the rumors all true? No, no, no, the sickness was a lie.

She laughed aloud, imagining her old friends in her shoes now, or worse, her former teacher.

Equestria was long a land of misery, she reasoned, masked only by the sheer dissonance of its blissful inhabitants. Celestia enjoyed a few hundred years of peace, a pristine result of a collateral clean slate. The sickness, Twilight recalled, was this the sickness? All alicorns fell against it, eventually. Artemis. Nebulae. Solaris. They had all wandered, Celestia had warned, until they fell off the edge of sanity. Such powerful magic was bound to corrupt eventually. It was only a matter of time. She would be among them soon enough, she was sure of it.

But she was not too far gone, not yet, she reminded herself. She could have torn Sunset Shimmer apart when she had the chance. But for the blood already dried on her hooves, perhaps she ought to not make the same mistakes of the past. She could yet rise above the specters chasing her around each and every corner, at whatever peril.

Ember, Thorax, the lot of them, they were vultures, traitors, thieves. After Celestia, they would have come for her next, she knew it. All they ever wanted were the spoils of a dying nation doomed for the dust. But despite whatever the apocalyptic prophecies said, Equestria remained intact, though only by a thread. Had she done nothing and let them finish their plans, she had no doubt the war would have already begun, and that her head would be rotting on a spike. Such was the dilemma that tormented her nightly. Twilight thought herself not capable of such depravity, once. Sunset seemed a better choice for the job. But when forced into a corner, a choice had to be made. Somepony’s hooves would have to get dirty. Still, she hated the thought of having taken a life, or, rather, lives. But Equestria had prevailed. So far.

She had not given up on her efforts to restore Spike’s life, though with each passing day the reality was made ever clearer. He was the first casualty, the first drop of blood in the coming tidal wave.

Twilight cursed herself, and Starlight Glimmer, and Cadance and Sunset the same. Crooked complications hammering against the glass gate of her fractured mind.

Cadance had the last laugh. Equestria was lost to madness, the moment the press had a hold of that letter. Twilight felt liberated, almost. The day she had long dreaded had finally come. No more hiding in the shadows.

Over the mountains, the earth roared in earnest, muttering in low hums and grunts.

The first drops of rain splashed against her crown, spilling down her cheek.

Stained glass shook with each crack of thunder.

Twilight was halfway towards her bed, nearing utter exhaustion, when she heard a knock on her bed-chamber door.

This had better be important.
Sauntering over towards the door, Twilight begrudgingly tidied herself up.

Swinging open the door, a pair of icy blue eyes were there to greet her, along with the rest of Snowfall Glitter, whose horn was glowing white with light.

“Please turn that down,” Twilight muttered, wincing at the strain.

Snowfall complied with the command, dimming her horn.

“May I come in, Princess?” Snowfall asked, meekly, unable to even lift her gaze off the ground.

“...Be my guest, Lieutenant,” Twilight said, curious as to what was so urgent, and at so late an hour.

Snowfall trotted into Twilight’s bed-chamber, cautiously checking her shoulder for any lurking eavesdroppers.

The door shut, and Snowfall let out a great deep breath, as if finally able to breathe.

“Reports have flooded in all night, Princess. Riots, states of emergency, mass panic, from Klugetown to Stratusburg, Baltimare to Las Pegasus. The marshals have demanded we send support to put down the unrest, I don’t know what to tell them. We’ve lost contact with the North, and Lieutenant Periwinkle’s told us the situation at the border has escalated. She needs reinforcements, Princess, before the dragons can begin an offensive. And the public, princess, they need a statement, they need something. The longer we stay silent, the worse this will all get…” Snowfall sputtered, struggling to make her thoughts plain, “They don’t know who to believe in.”

Twilight approached her, resting her hoof on the mare’s shoulder.

“And what do you believe?”

Snowfall glanced up at Twilight, and appeared almost terrified. She backed away from Twilight’s grip, sheepishly.

“...I believe what matters most is protecting ponies’ lives,” she said, glaring at Twilight, “And I think that’s what you want, too.”

Twilight smiled and shut her eyes, approvingly.

“That’s all I’ve ever wanted,” she said, turning around towards the bay window of the bedchamber, “I’ll have a statement ready by tomorrow. Not that I expect it to change any hearts and minds.”

“I hope for Equestria’s sake, you’re wrong,” Snowfall said, “I fear the worst. And we can’t possibly fight a war on two fronts, Princess.”

“Shining Armor won’t turn against me,” Twilight assured, “He’ll know this is all a misunderstanding. And the dragons, even they won’t be brazen enough to light the fire, not while the whole of Equestria might stand against them.”

“And how much longer will Equestria remain whole?” Snowfall asked.

“...The Grand Galloping Gala is in a week’s time, yes?”

Snowfall stared at her, blankly.

“It is, though, er, I’m not sure now is the time for-”

“The Gala, during which we expect to find a match for the daughter of the new hippogriff queen. If we can manage a strong marriage alliance, the dragons will cower away from the fight, and stay in the Badlands where they belong,” Twilight said.

“I suppose that could work,” Snowfall said, “...However I may be of service, Princess, let me know.”

Twilight nodded her head.

“The time will doubtless come, Lieutenant. Now for my peace of mind and yours, get some rest.”

Snowfall bowed her head, and trotted off towards the door.

Once by her lonesome, she glanced back towards the window.

The night toyed with her, as the stars seemed to blink silent one by one.

Time was running out.

White leaves left their storied branches, helplessly clinging to whatever refuge they could discover, but never for long.

Silver Stream felt a similar sting, peering past her balcony window at the city, whose lights blinked and faded like a dying pulse.

“Your mom’s looking for you,” came Ocellus, who had popped her head through the door to Silver’s bed-chamber, “Said you’re late for dinner.”

Silver Stream hardly spared a glance, tossing against her quilt’s comfy silk.

“I can’t find my appetite,” Silver muttered.

Ocellus wavered, before abruptly planting herself down in a small wicker chair by the door, which she promptly shut.

“You can’t hide in here all day,” Ocellus mused, “Today is fried potatoes day.

Ocellus,” Silver Stream said, sternly, turning to face her.

Ocellus shut her mouth, taken aback by the red burn in the hippogriff’s eyes, evidence of a night’s worth of tears.

“I must be an idiot. Thinking this was just some vacation to get my mind off things. I shouldn’t be here.”

“Everyone’s freaked out,” Ocellus said, “I don’t get what’s going on, and I’m scared too…But we’ve got to keep it cool, right?”

Silver glanced up at her, softly.

“Princess Twilight…She-” Silver began, “It was her. That’s what everyone’s saying.”

“We don’t know the whole story,” Ocellus said, flatly.

Ocellus. Whether she’s the one who did it, or not, she’s hiding something. And who knows what they’re doing to Princess Cadance! We could be next, Ocellus. I’ve got to get home. I’ve got to get out of here.”

Hey,” Ocellus said, rushing over to Silver’s side, “No one’s after you. And even if they were, we can take ‘em, right? Princess Twilight will always have our back.”

Silver glared at her, unconvinced.

“All these Canterlot ponies play their stupid games. I guess I thought Twilight would end up different.”

“She is! This is all some misunderstanding, You know Twilight would never do the things they say she did.”

“I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

Ocellus sighed.

“So what will you do?”

“My mother’s too terrified to leave the capital. If what happened to Cadance hasn’t convinced her it isn’t safe here, then I don’t know what will. I’m stuck. My mom could be in trouble, and how are we supposed to help? We don’t even know what’s going on.”

Ocellus reached for Silver’s claw.

“Then we’ll figure it all out. And once we do, you can talk sense into your mom, and get out of the city before things get dangerous. But you can’t fall apart now, OK?” Ocellus said, glancing at the ground, “The truth is, I knew it would be like this, that’s why I came. Everyone at the Hive was saying that things would only get worse down here, and when I heard you were coming, I…”

Her eyes returned to Silver.

“What are friends for, huh?”

Silver reached over to embrace Ocellus, who was practically being throttled under Silver’s trembling grip.

“I better get to dinner,” Silver declared.

“Save some extra for me,” Ocellus said, smiling weakly as Silver launched herself out of her bed.

Broken bottles and bloody bricks littered the gutterways, where last night’s drizzle formed murky riverbeds in the concrete. Splintery signs were left smashed to pieces, left in crude piles below boarded-up storefront windows. Spray paint came to light in the glow of burning carriage hulls, whose wheels were all ripped off.

Policeponies roamed the streets in herds, having only recently claimed control of the city after a night’s worth of anarchy. Ponies had since fled back to their homes, as if to wait out the storm.

Siren cries made for an easy alarm clock, when Lightning Dust toppled off the couch, landing face-first on the ground.

Ow!” she groaned, rolling over onto her back.

The basement of Mandola’s Bodega was packed with its usual collection of surly street urchins and food stamp families, most of whom had come to escape last night’s riots. Lightning rubbed the sore on her head, and scanned through the crowd.

“Scootaloo? Kickstart?”

“You just missed them,” came Mandola, kicking a sleeping pony out of his way, “He took the girl to run some errands for me.”

“Without me?” Lightning grunted, struggling to pick herself off the ground.

“I wanted to let you get some beauty sleep. You need it.

Mandola dumped a box of expired produce near the barred window of the basement, muttering some curses under his breath as his knees began to tremble.

Lightning’s wings stretched out, and she sprang back to her hooves.

“You sent a foal out there?!” Lightning stammered.

Relájate, pegasus. It’s kids’ stuff. Not that your lot is good for much else. Heh!”

Lightning shook her head in dismay. She should have been with them, she thought, or Scootaloo would surely get herself killed.

But before Lightning could retort, the door upstairs came swinging open.

Lightning’s eyes shot up towards the top of the basement stairs. Sunset Shimmer emerged, complete with a facemask of ash and an assortment of broken glass shards decorating her mane.

“Back in record time,” Sunset chimed, trotting down the stairs. She was followed by Suri, then Bon Bon, then Wallflower, and finally a fifth pony who Lightning did not recognize.

Mandola turned to follow Lightning’s gaze, before his eyes lit up with rage.

¡¿Qué carajo?!

“Wait, Mandola, listen,” Suri began, stepping out ahead of Sunset.

No,” Mandola snapped, shaking his head in dismay.

“Who’s the square?” Lightning asked, narrowing her eyes.

“Cool it, she’s friendly,” Sunset said, while Moon Dancer rolled her eyes.

“She doesn’t look friendly.”

Suri stepped past the others to reach Mandola, who was too flustered to speak coherently.

“We didn’t have a choice, we had to bring her,” Suri explained.

“Every day you bring a new pony to this place, like I haven’t already got enough mouths to feed!”

“It’s not like I want to be here,” Moon Dancer scoffed, “This place smells like-”

“Knock it off,” Sunset snapped.

“Your bounty rises by the hour,” Mandola said, as Suri slowly approached him, “Three-thousand bits, each.

Lightning scoffed.

“C’mon, I’m worth way more than that.”

“It’s been a week since Razor Blade kicked the bucket,” Suri said, “Nopony’s showed up here to take over his operation, so I think it’s safe to say you’re off the hook. Which means everything we owed him, goes to you instead. If you let us stay here, just a little while longer, we’ll get you four times your original share.”

Mandola eyed her, skeptically.

“It’s a great story. But you make for a sorry bunch of thieves,” Mandola said.

Wallflower bit her lip, unsure whether to be insulted or not.

“Where’ll you be getting all this dough from?” Mandola laughed.

“We’ll figure something out. First we’ve got to shake off whoever’s hunting us down, or we’ll end up like Razor Blade, and you will too, probably. We just need some more time.”

Mandola glared at Suri, and back at Lightning Dust.

A smile returned to his face.

Perra loca,” Mandola grinned, “Fine. I will gamble with you one last time, Polomare. But your little troop of musketeers is done drafting. ¿Entendéis?”

“Deal,” Suri said.

“You have two weeks.

“No problem,” Suri said, lying through her teeth.

“Your unicorn friend scares me,” Mandola confessed, to Sunset’s contempt, “I will be well rid of her. Not so, for the lovely pegasus. I think I’ll keep her.”

“I’ll think about it,” Suri smirked, trotting off to join the others.

Wait, what?” Lightning exclaimed.

Moon Dancer trailed behind the others, skeptical of the other basement dwellers’ vicious glares and snarling growls.

“I can’t believe I let you drag me here,” Moon Dancer muttered.

“You could’ve stayed and given yourself up to the guards, but trust me, we make for better company,” Sunset said, leading her to the assortment of torn-up couches that the group called their home.

“So what took you so long? And who’s the new girl?” Lightning Dust buzzed, flying over to join them. She tossed a small bag of sunflower seeds over for Suri and Bon Bon to share, and took her seat beside Wallflower, who was sprawled out, exhausted.

“Patrols were double-timing it last night, with all the looting. We had to take the long way,” Suri explained, picking through the seeds.
“So that letter to the press, it wasn’t you?” Lightning Dust said.

“No,” Bon Bon said, “I guess we aren’t the only ones with a bone to pick with Twilight.”

“We’ve got more to worry about than Twilight,” Sunset said, “Now, Moon Dancer here thinks this pony, Fancy Pants, might have something to do with what happened to Razor Blade. If that’s true, we could find out if somepony’s still on our trail.”

“Why should we trust her?” Lightning snapped, glaring at Moon Dancer.

Take it easy, kid, she’s alright. See? Look at her, she’s alright,” Sunset said.

Lightning backed down once Sunset raised her voice, though her eyes were still locked onto Moon Dancer, suspiciously.

“Don’t act like I’m joining this little freakshow of yours. I’d gladly be back in my living room with my tea and my crosswords, instead of being stuck in this den of mongrels and miscreants,” Moon Dancer exclaimed.

“Some way of saying ‘thanks for saving my skin,’” Suri muttered.

“A miserable bunch of lost causes. Why, oh Celestia why, did you have to drag me down with you!? We’re all going to prison!”

“She whines worse than you, Suri,” Lightning grinned.

Wallflower snickered, causing Lightning’s smile to grow and Suri’s frown to harden.

“It’d do you just as good, if we can get rid of this tail,” Sunset reminded, “So, what more do you know about Fancy Pants?”

Moon Dancer sighed, supposing that if she was stuck in this coercive arrangement for the meantime, she might as well play along.

“He works at the Red Roan building. It’s got serious security, more than you can handle.”

“Think again,” Sunset grinned, “Bon Bon, you done with that little project of yours?”

Bon Bon, who was struggling to stay awake, suddenly came to life, dashing over towards one of the cardboard boxes stuffed full of equipment, before retrieving a burlap sack tied taut with a thick twine.

“Careful, too much pressure will set ‘em off,” Bon Bon warned, gently handing them over to Sunset.

Sunset untied the bag and inspected its contents. Her eyes lit up at the sight, a collection of crudely-assembled egg-shaped shells, each with wires and screws sticking out haphazardly.

“Are those…” Lightning began.

“Yep,” Bon Bon chirped, “That’s a month’s worth, there’s more on the way.”

Sunset nodded, approvingly, and handed the bag back to Bon Bon.

Wallflower shook her head in disbelief.

That’s your plan?” Wallflower stammered, “Blow our way through the guards? None of this is worth taking lives.”

“Have you got a better idea?” Sunset asked, dryly, “The only way we can get to Fancy Pants is if we fight our way through.”

Wallflower grinded her teeth, as she tried to think of a less destructive alternative.

But it was Suri who suddenly rose up from the couch, her eyes widening.

“There could be another way,” Suri said, digging into her purse.

She came back with a folded-up magazine, which she quickly threw down onto the half-shattered coffee table that sat between them all.

Coloratura Caught Lip-Syncing. What the hell does that mean?” Lightning laughed.

“Not that, moron. This, right here,” Suri corrected, pointing at the larger headline up at the top of the cover.

73rd Grand Galloping Gala…Guess Who’s Not Invited,” Lightning read, “What’s the big deal?”

“Fancy Pants, he’s bound to be there,” Suri said, “Luck’s on our side for once. If we can get inside, we can lure him away for a little while and see what he knows.”

“Nice try” Moon Dancer said, rolling her eyes, “But you need a golden ticket to get into the Gala. And I think a criminal record might keep you off the guest list.”

“...The Erased used to make counterfeit tickets to get inside the Gala and keep an eye on ponies, I’ve still got some we can use, back at my house,” Bon Bon said, and she was beginning to get on board with the idea.

“This is never going to work,” Moon Dancer exclaimed, as her face turned red “You’re all on Equestria’s Most Wanted! One step through the doors and you’d be recognized!”

Suri fumbled with her hooves, stuck.

“...I wouldn’t.”

The others all glanced at Wallflower, who had to gulp down her fears.

“They won’t notice me, I promise,” Wallflower said.

“I mean, she is pretty good at sneaking around,” Bon Bon offered.

“Yeah, sometimes I even forget she’s there,” Suri snickered.

“I wish I could say the same for you, Suri,” Lightning snarled.

“Shut your trap, Washout, or I’ll turn that rat of yours into mincemeat,” Suri warned.

Scampers hissed at Suri and dug himself closer to Lightning, who held him protectively, sending a scowl back Suri’s way.

“It’s too dangerous, Wallflower,” Sunset said, “You’ll get caught.”

“I won’t get caught,” Wallflower said, “Once I’m inside I can find Fancy Pants, and we can get to the bottom of what happened to Razor Blade.”

Suri glanced at Sunset.

“I suppose it’s worth a shot,” Suri admitted, “I can put an outfit together in time.”

Sunset glared at Wallflower, who kept her head held high, convicted.

“Moon Dancer,” Wallflower said, “We’re going to need your help.”

“What is this, some kind of joke? I’m not helping you,” Moon Dancer snarled.

“We’re going to need your carriage.”

“Oh, it is a joke. Wallflower needs my carriage. ”

“If we do it this way, nopony has to get hurt. But I need your help.”

Moon Dancer glanced at Sunset, who seems unconvinced of such a prospect.

“Fine. But after this, we are going our separate ways,” Moon Dancer assured.

Wallflower smiled, and nodded her head..

“Suri, you and Sunset can sneak inside a different way, and I’ll lure Fancy Pants to you. Then you can shake him down, find out what he knows,” Wallflower said.

Sunset eyed her.

“Alright, Wallflower, we’ll do it your way,” Sunset said, “But when knives come out, you might wish you had me around.”

Wallflower held her ground.

“Let me do this,” Wallflower said, “Please.”

Sunset sighed, and raised her hooves up in concession.

“You better get ready then, Cinderella,” Sunset said, trotting off over to Bon Bon.

Wallflower glanced at Lightning and Suri, who seemed skeptical of her chances of success. But she was sure of herself for once, which was enough.

She had a gala to attend.

By the velvet ramparts, skirting down glimmering gold steps to the palace foyer, Silver Stream made sure Ocellus kept close behind her.

“You need to slow down,” Ocellus whined.

As if. We’re gonna miss them, hurry up!” Silver shot back, dodging some ponies dressed in flowering silks and satin waistcoats. Down the grand stairwell, the foyer was packed to the brim with ponies, flooding in from the golden gates.

The ceiling rose into a great dome, complete with painted portraits of lost heroes, battles, and courtships. The guests’ eyes were drawn upward, as if they were looking up into the heavens. Cupolas sent stray sunbeams spilling down into the palace, and while the rain-clouds loomed, the foyer held onto a homey glow of candle chandeliers. Thin coats of gold adorned the stone and wood surfaces, where light reflected throughout the palace.

Creatures of all kinds had traveled near and far for the Gala, ranging from pampered ponies of status, to baseborn merchants eager to profit off of the new market.

But Silver and Ocellus were searching for just one creature in particular, hidden somewhere in the commotion.

Terramar!” Silver squealed, springing through the crowd.

Ocellus soon lost track of her, once Silver had slipped away after an off-white hippogriff with a cyan mane, caught up in conversation with some older pony she did not recognize.

Terramar was caught unaware, when Silver Stream ran to embrace him from behind.

“Baby brother!” Silver squeaked, while Terramar laughed off her tight hug, “I wasn’t sure you’d come!”

“Hey, I had a feeling you’d get lonely,” Terramar said, smiling.

Ocellus popped out of the crowd, landing face-first in between them.

“Or maybe not,” he said, helping Ocellus to her hooves.

“She’s well-taken care of,” Ocellus declared, dizzily regaining her balance.

“Let me look at you,” Silver said, grabbing Terramar by the shoulders, “Ah, you still don’t know how to use a comb. But you’ve got bigger problems, I guess.”

Thanks, sis, I missed you too.”

Silver beamed in excitement, and hugged him again, this time nearly squeezing the life out of him.
“Where’s mom?”
“...She’s been in bed all day. She’ll be so super stoked when she hears you’re here.”

Terramar nodded, before his attention turned to the stallion he had been talking to, who had begun chatting with some passing servant.

“Silver, this is Stonehoof,” Terramar said, right as the stallion turned back toward them.

Silver reached to shake the stallion’s hoof, energetically.

“My pleasure,” the stallion replied in a deep voice.

“He runs things in Haverford up north, and works with the Corps part-time…Uh, recruitment.”

Silver smiled, while Terramar seemed to be bracing himself for an explosive reaction.

Silver blinked, as a realization came to her.

You’re enlisting?”
“Considering,” Terramar explained, “Dad thinks it would be good for me.”

“Well I don’t. So that’s why you came up here?”

And to say hi,” Terramar insisted, shakily.

“I think you’d make a great soldier,” Ocellus offered, despite Silver’s belligerence.

Thank you,” Terramar said, “See that? Is that too much to ask?”

“Ocellus!” came a voice from deeper in the crowd.

Silver briefly glanced away, before sternly sticking her claw in Terramar’s face.

We’ll finish this later.

Terramar rolled his eyes, right as a young changeling emerged from the crowd, dull turquoise with deep purple eyes and wings of bright amaranth.

Ocellus hesitated, struggling to recall the boy’s name.

Malthos,” Ocellus said at last, reluctantly allowing the young changeling to rush in for a hug.

“And you must be Silver Stream,” Malthos croaked, “You’re just as lovely as everyone says.”

Malthos cleared his throat and approached Silver with an outstretched hoof.

Silver mustered up the courage to shake his hoof, while Terramar winced in discomfort.

“Uh…thanks,” Silver Stream said, her smile beginning to fade.

Ocellus’ eyes were meanwhile drawn towards the boy’s father, who had come storming over after him.

“My King,” Ocellus said, bowing her head as soon as Pharynx had reached them.

“Ocellus,” Pharynx grunted, while motioning for Malthos to rejoin him, “So this is where you ran off to.”

“Um, yeah, sorry about that.”

“I invited her,” Silver said, unaware that lies rarely went unnoticed by a changeling.

“Of course,” Pharynx said, indifferent to the truth of the matter, “It’s good you're here, Princess, your brother too. I never had the chance to offer my condolences for your aunt.”

“Thank you,” Silver said, glancing at Terramar to keep quiet and let her do the talking, “And your brother, too, it’s awful what happened.”

Pharynx’s eyes flashed red, as if the mere reference to Thorax was enough to set his heart ablaze.

“Awful, yes. While his killer roams free.”

Silver caught Ocellus’ glare, wary of Pharynx, who towered over the rest of them.

“Soon enough I should remedy that,” Pharynx continued, “...Oh, but don’t let me spoil your fun. This is my son, Malthos. He would be delighted to make your acquaintance. Wouldn’t he?”

Malthos nodded his head, his eyes locked onto Silver Stream.

“I trust you’ll take care of yourselves,” Pharynx said, almost as a warning, “These days, we should better stick together.”

Pharynx’s eyes lingered on Silver, before he at last turned back to wade through the crowd, dragging Malthos behind him.

Silver glanced at Ocellus and Terramar, both of whom seemed to agree with her cause for concern. They may just be in more danger than they realized.

The prince sunk into his seat, his crimson tunic studded in snowflakes, his eyes heavy with exhaustion.

The journey back to the Crystal City had frozen over the fire in his heart.

He could not do it, he told himself, he could not turn against his own family.

Cadance is family too.

He shook his head in dismay, while the uproar of voices grew louder, reeling him back into reality.

The provinces of the Crystal Empire had not gathered together in one place since the rise of King Sombra, thousands of moons beyond memory.

The Reindeer and the Moose had their roots dug the deepest, though their dominion over the north was lost with the arrival of the Frost Ponies. Now they had only a fraction of the grandeur they once enjoyed.

From the Far North, there came the Ice Ponies, a meek bunch who kept to themselves mostly, hidden away in the Frozen Wastes of Selene. The Novadori dwelled nearby, the descendants of those Frost Ponies who had inter-mixed with the ancient Mountain Clans.

In the East, there were the mighty Selvites, a rambunctious bunch of malcontents.

In the West, adrift from the Crescent Shore, the Dains hailed. Ponies of great stature and strength, their raids and ravages had scourged the coasts for thousands of years, and only since the reign of Princess Cadance had they finally put aside their brutish ways.

And lastly was the Yaks, who had long defied conquest, whose wrath over their late prince had boiled over.

In ancient days, there was rarely a time where two or more of the kingdoms were not at war with one another. Only the strength of the Crystal Empire had been able to unite them all, and so it was once again.

Shining Armor eyed the lot of them, who sat around the great round table, a great slice of diamond cut from the heart of Mount Everhoof. The room itself was at the highest floor of the palace, where the walls glimmered with a hundred colors, alongside the collection of trophies and artifacts of centuries prior. A great diamond chandelier hung above the table, which sat close to forty in all.

He had expected a brawl to ensue within minutes of the meeting’s beginning, with fiery tempers all around.

“My prince,” came Broadwing, who was seated at Shining’s right, alongside his mother Primrose, and younger brother Orion, “...Before we begin, you ought to read this.”

He spoke in a low mutter, making sure he was not overheard by the others at the table, who were caught up in their arguments.

Broadwing placed a sealed envelope on the table in front of Shining, who eyed Broadwing suspiciously.

Dragons?” Shining muttered, recognizing the seal on the wax.

Broadwing appeared equally baffled, and waited for Shining to tear open the envelope, drawing out the letter inside.

Shining spared just a few seconds to skim it over, before scoffing in contempt.

“Empress Cinder is prepared to invade Equestria,” Shining said, bluntly, glancing back at Broadwing, “She wants our support.”

“Fate has been kind to us, my prince,” Broadwing grinned. Shining eyed him, and he was not so sure he agreed.

“Dragons, you say!” roared out Torak the Dain, a red-bearded stallion with a black ashy dent stuck in his forehead. He had overheard Shining Armor, who had meant to keep that information quiet.

“Then the south will burn, and Canterlot is ours for the taking!” Torak barked, raising his hooves in the air, as if they had already completed the task.

The cohorts of Torak all came roaring and hollering in excitement.

“Dragons or not, we would be marching to our graves,” came Lady Primrose, sternly, “They outnumber us five to one.”

Broadwing sat up in his seat, hesitant to speak out against his own mother, whose voice demanded silence from the table.

“Twilight Sparkle kill brother,” boomed Prince Rutger, Chief of the Yaks, “She kill Cadance next. Us, too. Or, we fight.

“They could have supply lines up by tomorrow, they could have trenches and barricades up at the border before we even had time to organize,” Primrose continued, “We ought to try something more diplomatic, before provoking more of an incident.”

“She’s right,” croaked the Great Moose, Magnus, withered in age, twice the size of a pony, “What’s to stop your sister from cutting Cadance’s throat, the moment she hears our soldiers have crossed the mountains?”

“Playing coy won’t bring her back any sooner,” Broadwing snapped, speaking on Shining Armor’s behalf, earning an scornful glare from his mother, “Twilight Sparkle wants Princess Flurry Heart as a hostage as well, to keep us in line. If the dragons go to war, Twilight’s armies will be stretched thin.”

“The Highlands are treacherous grounds,” Magnus countered, “The coastal settlements are firmly in the crown’s grasp, and marching straight toward the Heart would put us in a chokehold. There’s no way south.”

“There is,” Broadwing said, stealing a map from the nearby Prince Sweyn of the Novadori, “If we take Seaguard, we’ll have an avenue to strike from the sea at the Smoky Shore, and from the sea, we can keep Vanhoover and Saddleopolis and Tall Tale busy. In the meantime, we continue pulling support from the Highlands, in Shimmerspear, Starhaven, and Haverford. We close off land travel to Manehattan and the northwest, and cut southeast, surrounding them. Then we can push south, lay siege to Canterlot, and find where they’ve stowed Princess Cadance.”

“There you have it,” laughed Torak, thirsty for blood.

“I’m with the boy,” said Prince Vitreum of the Selvites, glancing around at the others with a vulture’s gaze.

Shining Armor narrowed his eyes, wary of his compatriots’ appetite for war.

“We must rescue Cadance, no matter the cost!” exclaimed Sweyn, rising to his hooves, “I am not much of a fighter. But for our princess, there is no other choice.”

Prince Ivan the Elder, the Reindeer, whose horns rose into the air like a pair of twisted swords, rose next, “She would do the same for any of us,” he said, glaring right at Shining Armor, “Flurry Heart could be next. And if what Cadance said about Twilight is true, her life may be at even greater risk than we first thought.”

“This is a losing fight,” Primrose said, bitterly, “Cadance would not want anyone of us to give their life for a futile effort.”

“Mother,” Broadwing said, struggling to keep from speaking up.

“We have no soldiers to spare,” came Lady Epulaea of the Ice Ponies.

“And what little we have, we would lose within a week,” Magnus said, waving off the ravenous glares of the Dains and the Selvites.

Broadwing rose to his hooves, and soon all eyes were on him.

“Each of you swore oaths. To Cadance, to your prince,” Broadwing said, glancing at Shining Armor, “And to the Empire. We were each bred for war, you all know it. Does your blood no longer run cold?”

Magnus rose to his hooves next, angrily raising his hoof towards Broadwing.

“I have lived two of your lifetimes, boy,” he growled, “The risk is too high! Cadance may very well be dead already.”

“Then we ought to follow her,” Broadwing replied, “To death, or to victory, we must take action.”

Orion joined his brother at his side, as did Torak and Vitreum, and the smaller representatives who were too afraid to speak.

All eyes turned to Shining Armor, who was pawing at the table, disturbed.

He glanced back up around the table, at each pair of eyes, and he thought again of Flurry Heart, of what he was putting at risk.

He rose to join the others, to Primrose’s regret.

“I do not smile at the thought of war,” Shining said, glaring over at Torak and Vitreum, “...But this is a question of justice, of loyalty. Cadance brought us all back together. So on her behalf, let us all die together.”

Torak sounded off with an explosive cry of wrath, and was followed by the pounding of hooves on the table, echoing throughout the halls of the castle.

And the hall erupted then, creatures all around the table cheering. Broadwing smiled at the sight, that was until he noticed his mother’s glare.

Orion found Broadwing after the crowd had dispersed, filing off into the Great Hall for a celebratory feast.

Broadwing had just finished exchanging words with Windchill, a young captain in the Crystal Guard, before Orion ran up to grab him by the hoof.

“Politics suits you. I hardly recognized you back there,” he laughed.

“You know I’m in love with the sound of my own voice,” Broadwing smiled.

“You got through to them, even that old moose, I couldn’t believe it!”

“Neither can I.”

Primrose had taken both of the stallions by surprise, waiting patiently for the last remnants of the crowd to empty out of the round table hall, before she could be alone with them.

“Mother, I-”

“Your callous war-mongering may very well have killed us all,” Primrose said, incredulously, “Has nothing I’ve said gotten through to you? You have responsibilities now, responsibilities that you should be taking seriously.”

“I understand my responsibilities,” Broadwing insisted, “Just as I understand my duty. Father would have done the same.”

Primrose shook her head.

“Shining Armor’s word is final, I cannot change what’s been done,” Primrose said, “Though you may very wish I could have, someday.”

“I know the risks.”

“You know nothing,” Primrose corrected, “And you,” she said, turning her attention towards Orion, “I know for certain that you planted these foul notions in his head. Don’t think for a second you’ll be joining him in whatever doomed excursions he’s planned.”

What? Mother, I-”

“He had nothing to do with anything,” Broadwing interrupted.

“I should be fighting with the others!” Orion exclaimed.

“We need able bodies,” Broadwing added.

“I will find use for him,” Primrose said, shifting her gaze away from Orion, “But he will not be marching under my husband’s banner.”

Orion held his tongue, struggling to keep from lashing out at her.

He was a unicorn, unlike the rest of his family, who each wore a set of wings. The prospect of war had attracted him, if only for the chance to prove his worth in spite of a life of infamy.

Primrose glared at him with contempt. She was not his, or so she believed, though nonetheless she would not see the both of them die somewhere far from home. His resentment toward her was bearable, but an avoidable demise was certainly not.

“On this matter, my word is final.”

She left the two of them in silence, as Orion hung his head in defeat.

“I’ll try talking to her.”

“I thought even if I was never one of you, I might be glad to die like one of you.”

“You are one of us,” Broadwing said, grabbing Orion by the shoulders, “I will make her see reason. I need your help out there. Yeah? Now c’mon. Today we celebrate. Tomorrow, we go to war.

Orion followed after his brother, his head held low.

Rose petals leapt across rain puddles and marble dust, where the wind had doubled down in its wrath. It was nearly noon, when Marius Moonshine arrived at the palace’s west-spire apartments, across a narrow bridge three stories high.

Marius wiped the sweat from his brow, shuffling out of the cold past the tower gate.

The apartments were cluttered with palace visitors - most of whom were unaware that just days prior, Cadance’s crystal host had been slaughtered right there in their beds. The blood has since been scrubbed off, though Marius could still make out the sickly smell of rotting flesh.

Marius had to push through passing clusters of servants and royal guards, before arriving at the end of the hall.

Room 320.
He landed three simple knocks on the door, before checking behind his shoulder.

The door creaked open, and a young stallion’s red eye made itself known in the resulting crack.

Moonshine?” the stallion asked.

“At your service,” Marius replied, bowing his head.

The door swung open, slowly, revealing the rest of the stallion. He was a pale rose in color, with curly gold locks, the color of the sun.

He stepped aside, allowing Marius to enter the room, which was alive with light, and at the center of it all, was a glistening bronze tabletop, cluttered with parchments and inks, vials of wine, and stacks of letters.

And behind the table sat the other occupant of the room, an older mare with similar features to the stallion - a pale rose coat, and a thin mane of white, hidden underneath a chaperon and veil.

“You’re late,” the mare muttered, coldly, as she wrapped up her paperwork.

“Lady Azimuth, and Hydrangea,” Marius began, pausing while the young stallion took his seat on the other side of the room, helping himself to some leftover basket figs.

“I wanted to personally welcome you to Canterlot. The city is blessed by your presence.”

The city is blessed by my presence,” Azimuth repeated, amused, “Does that work on the other mares, Marius? Are you here to seduce me?”

“A bit obvious, perhaps.”

“Oh no, please, seduce away. It’s been so long. But you have come mincing all this way for something. So what is it?”

“Might I sit?” Marius asked, moving towards a nearby chair.

“No,” Azimuth said, stopping him in his tracks, “You sought me out. I’m curious as to why.”

“...You’ve taken an interest in the young Princess Silver Stream.”

“Have I?” Azimuth smiled, “I’ve yet to speak to the girl. Perhaps you need better spies.”

“Ah, my mistake for wasting your time then.”

“Come, come then, you surrender rather easily,” Azimuth laughed, reaching for two empty glasses on her table. She poured out some of her wine, offering it to him.

Marius reluctantly accepted the glass, sipping at it delicately, as though he was unsure of its contents.

“I pick my allies carefully,” Marius explained, “My enemies more so.”

“And which is Silver Stream?”

“Neither. I admired her aunt.”

“Yes, Novo had many admirers. As did Posh Paramount, and Filibuster, and Thorax. How many stepped forward when they were each put to death?”

“I could not help them. But perhaps I could help this girl.”

Azimuth lifted an eyebrow.

“You’re not the only one who’s taken an interest in her.”

“Is that so?” Azimuth cooed.

“She’d make a lovely match for the right suitor,” Marius said, glancing over at the young Hydrangea on the sofa, “Word of the offer has swept through Equestria. Pharynx, Featherglass, countless others, they’ll each be vying for her. Twilight will be satisfied as long as a match is made, and soon.”

“And why have you come to me with this offer?”

“The new dragon empress, Cinder, she’s more ruthless than her predecessor. She’s nearly a match for Twilight Sparkle, and we both know what the latter is capable of.”

“Careful, Marius. One might take those words for treason.”

“The plain truth is that if war breaks out with two tyrants leading the charge…I fear the resulting devastation would be irremediable. There is a way to force negotiations, and it requires leverage. While her mother wears the crown, Silver Stream is the key to the Hippogriff army.”

“And the wrong suitor would have the key in his pocket,” Azimuth presumed.

“Precisely. But I believe I have a solution.”

“Oh, you don’t need to be so clever for that.”

The two of them glanced over at Hydrangea on the sofa, whose eyes began to widen in shock.

Hydrangea adjusted his helmet, though his bouncy blonde locks made sure it never sat even atop his head. He came to regret the effort, however, ramming into a marble column headfirst.

The palace gardens were nearly empty that day, save for Hydrangea and his patrol partner, Valance. The gardens were lush with ferns and flowers from across the sea, thriving despite the change in biome. Pinks, blues, and golds attracted bees and butterflies, buzzing around clay pottery and antique fountain statues.

“Watch yourself, kid,” came Valance, huffing on a cigarette in spite of palace policy, “You’re gonna walk right off the battlements one of these days.”

He waited for Hydrangea to recalibrate himself, before stomping out the cigarette and stealing an orange off a low-hanging branch.

Valance was a stocky stallion, with a snow-white coat and a charcoal-grey mane. Engraved on his golden plate armor was the symbol of the Nine, Twilight’s hand-picked roster of personal guards.

“What’s the matter with you?” Valance asked.

“Just…distracted, is all,” Hydrangea muttered.

“You say that every day,” Valance laughed, “What is it? Worn-out mattress?”

“Worse. A girl,” Hydrangea said.

“Ah. Don’t worry. You’ll get a better distraction soon enough, if the papers are right. Dragons are stockpiling weapons, they say.”

Hydrangea meant to respond, before his eyes wandered over to the southern garden gate, where a new pair of creatures had just passed through. Hydrangea cleared his throat. His mother had given him a task to complete, he recalled, and this might just be his chance.

He broke off away from Valance, who had just torn into a package of cigarettes.

“Where are you off to?” Valance demanded, between bites of the orange. .

But Hydrangea paid him no mind, strutting off into the garden.

“Silver Stream,” he said, catching her and Ocellus by surprise.

Silver Stream’s heart fluttered; she recognized the stallion from the Fall Formal two semesters ago. He looked older now, and even more to her liking.

“Hydrangea! It’s great to see you!” Silver exclaimed, “You remember Ocellus,” she continued, glancing down at her changeling companion.

“How could I forget? I wouldn’t have passed calculus without her.”

“You’re here for the Gala?” Silver asked.

Hydrangea nodded.

“Just got in yesterday. The roads weren’t kind to us, I’m afraid. We came across a cragadile in the Deep Wood, bigger than our carriage. It took six of us to set the beast running off, I’ll tell you all about it later. Now they’ve already put me to work. It’d be a delightful bore, if I wasn’t allergic to the pollen,” Hydrangea said, before bellowing out a sneeze.

Silver Stream giggled, and glanced down at Ocellus.

“Well, I’m super glad you got here in one piece. I, uh, missed you.”

Hydrangea eyed her, as if trying to decipher her intentions.

“Yes, well, a journey’s worth nothing if not for a goal in mind.”

Silver Stream hesitated, noticing how he had moved closer toward her, and how his eyes were locked onto hers.

“We’ll have to catch up later. I promise I’ll make time,” Hydrangea assured, reaching for Silver’s claws.

He wanted her, she imagined he would have said, only, something about the look in his eyes told her none of this was real. And even with the blood rushing to her head, a thought crept ever closer. He wanted her. Malthos, too, and how many more?

That’s why I’m here.

Hydrangea glanced back at Valance, who was idly resting against a pillar.

“Until then,” Hydrangea said, smiling for a brief moment before adjusting his helmet and rushing back to rejoin Valance.

Silver glanced at Ocellus, who was equally as dumbstruck.

“I think I’ve got a hunch about what this is all about now,” Ocellus said, flatly.

“No shit,” Silver said, though her shock quickly turned to anger.

“I’ve got to find my mom.”

Scarlet shades of the afternoon sun sifted through the window film, where a purple pair of eyes kept watch over the city below.

Featherglass sat at the desk of his office, ignoring the rambunctious market commotion from down in the city streets.

The door came open, and in came the charcoal-headed Sergeant Valance, out of breath and covered in crumbs.

“Sorry I’m late, sir,” Valance wheezed, shutting the door behind him.

“No trouble,” Featherglass said, dropping his pen and turning to face his new guest.

“Have a seat,” Featherglass said, motioning towards one of the red leather chairs near the door. Reaching for a nearby bottle of cider, he poured a tall glass for the exhausted sergeant, and a smaller amount for himself.

And along with the glass, Featherglass left a small sack of bits sitting on the coffee table in front of Valance.

Valance dove into the bag, inspecting its contents.

“It’s all there?” Valance asked.

Featherglass nodded his head and took his seat opposite to Valance, who quickly stuck the sack into his satchel, grinning like a foal.

“What have you found?” Featherglass asked.

“The kid’s after the hippogriff, just like you thought.”

“...I suppose it’s not out of the question that Azimuth would shop off her own son, though I imagine she had help.”

“I picked up Hydrangea at the apartments today. I saw Moonshine with him, the two of them were talking.”

Featherglass smirked.

“He wants to get under my skin, I think.”

“You’re just going to let this happen?”

“Silver Stream isn’t going to marry anypony. Her worth is temporary, and greater still as a means of leverage than an ally.”

Featherglass smiled to himself, amused.

“Keep what you know to yourself,” Featherglass instructed, “I may need your help again, soon enough.”

“Sure thing, Boss,” Valance grinned, finishing his cider and rising to his hooves.

Featherglass raised his glass instead of waving goodbye, and began to finish his drink, smiling still.

Silver Stream found her mother still abed, buried in her sheets while the windows were drawn shut. She shut the door behind her, startling Ocean Flow awake.

“So that’s why you dragged me here?”

Ocean Flow lifted her head out from the blankets, confused.

“What is it, dear?”

“You’re trying to proffer me to the highest bidder, is that it?”

Ocean Flow sighed and sat herself up, half-awake.

“...Princess Twilight believes it’s what’s best for Equestria. We have to stand together, or else we will all turn against one another. You’re too young to understand. It was inevitable anyhow, ever since…” Ocean Flow said, trailing off, “I didn’t want to go behind your back, but I knew you would put up a fight otherwise.”

“Of course, how silly of me, to have a mind of my own. I’m not marrying.”

“What about that Azimuth stallion? I thought you liked him.”

“I do, but not like that, and not like this, and…This is all wrong!”

Silver turned to storm out of the bed-chamber.

“Silver Stream,” Ocean Flow called, though Silver had already slammed the door shut.

Silver rushed down the corridor in search of Ocellus, though it was a stranger’s voice who found her first, around the corner leading into the west-end stairwell.

“Ah, Princess…”

Silver came to a halt, turning towards the shadowy hall where the voice had emerged.

“....Featherglass, right?” Silver said, and was simply glad it wasn’t Hydrangea, or worse, Malthos.

“Is something wrong?” Featherglass asked, noticing she was out of breath.

Silver shook her head, before deciding she could not stop herself from releasing her frustration.

“My own mother brought me here to sell me off,” Silver Stream said, “Excuse me if I’m not in a talking mood.”

Featherglass laughed, resting against the stone wall across the hall.

“Things are heating up out there, I’m sure you’ve noticed.”

“Yeah…I just don’t get what I have to do with it.”

“Your mother wears the crown now. An alliance would be welcome, for our Princess, or any one of her underlings, for that matter.”

“But not you, right,” Silver said, rolling her eyes.

Featherglass smirked, and shrugged, seemingly indifferent to her presumption.

“One should always choose his battles carefully. This time, I prefer not to be involved,” Featherglass said, “I should warn you, if you mean to act like an obstacle, you’ll be treated like one.”

“What do you recommend then?” Silver Stream asked, bluntly.

“They see you as a piece of meat, to fawn over like a last meal, before whatever war soils the better chances. Twilight, Azimuth, Pharynx, none of them care for your thoughts on the matter. Perhaps not even your mother.”

Silver’s eyes fell to the floor.

“If I don’t marry….there will be war?”

“Twilight tells herself so. But war is coming no matter what, whether she will admit it or not. If you go through with this marriage, no matter the groom, you’ll be little more than a hostage, for years on end perhaps. Your armies will be forced to fight, your brother might even be among them.”

Silver bit her lip, anxiously, and hung her head in despair.

“I’ve…I’ve got to go.”

Featherglass watched the hippogriff scamper off, and again leaned back against the wall, content.

Wallflower winced at the last stroke of the brush against her eyelash, as the pressure began to build inside her head. Suri inspected her work from various angles, taking extra care with the finishing touches.

She had spared no expense on Wallflower’s behalf, having retrieved a half-shattered mirror from the alley outside and some of Mandola’s old Hearths’ Warming lights, together with an antique mahogany dresser to assemble a makeshift vanity.

“Are you finished yet? We’re gonna be late,” Lightning said from nearby, while teasing Scampers with a crumb of cheese.

“These things take time, Dust, not that you would know,” Suri muttered, “This is the Grand Galloping Gala. Only the classiest ponies in Equestria will be there. She has to fit in with the rest of them.”

Wallflower had endured three hours of Suri’s preparations, and could feel her muscles beginning to tense up, as the clock crept closer to striking six.

Bon Bon had arrived earlier that day, having spent the week traveling back to Ponyville to retrieve one of her counterfeit Golden Tickets, as well as some other personal belongings that she had left behind. Photographs, memorabilia, even an old childhood toy of Lyra’s, that she had refused to give up. Bon Bon had left as soon as she had everything she needed. She had not wavered yet, not while each step forward brought her closer to what she wanted, to what she needed, closer to revenge. Twilight Sparkle would not evade her. Nopony ever had.

“You’re sure you know what you’re doing?” Wallflower grumbled.

“Well, it has been a while, ‘kay, but…here, tell me what you think,” Suri said.

Suri spun Wallflower around in her chair, sending her face-to-face with her reflection in the mirror.

Wallflower hardly recognized the pony she saw; her unkempt curls had been tucked and weaved into downy locks of pristine green, and her bangs had been replaced by two curls coiling left and right over the rest of her mane, which had been pulled straight towards the back.

She got a better look at the dress Suri had stuffed her into as well; a billowing lacy gown, cerulean in color, twirling down into shocks of deeper blue. The satin corset fastened around her waist rose to her chest, beneath tufts of flowery silk that wrapped around her shoulders. Suri had spent all week working on the dress, an old design that she may or may not have come up with herself.

“I must say, I’ve outdone myself,” Suri boasted, shutting her eyes and smiling up toward the ceiling.

“I…I…Uh…Oh gosh,” Wallflower muttered, uneasily, “...I don’t know if I can do this.”

What?” Suri exclaimed, “You can’t call it quits now, this wasn’t easy, you know!”

“What’s the matter?” Lightning asked, flying over towards them.

“I’m not sure I’m cut out for this,” Wallflower said, hanging her head, “I don’t really do this kind of stuff. I’m gonna screw up, I just know it.”

“You’re in and out. The worst part will be having to put up with those rich schmucks blabbering about nonsense. Don’t sweat a thing. We’ll be right outside. You’re gonna be fine. Right, Suri?”
Suri had not been paying attention, until Lightning nudged her in the side.
“Uh, yeah, right. You’re gonna do great,” Suri coughed.

Wallflower sighed, and reminded herself of what the alternative was; Sunset wreaking more havoc. She knew there was a better side to her, she just needed to show them all that it was possible.

Wallflower stood up, careful not to crumple or tear her dress, and shuffled over towards the door leading up into the alleyway outside.

There, they found Sunset and Bon Bon, who had just finished stocking Moon Dancer’s carriage with boxes of their equipment.

Wallflower?” Sunset exclaimed, “I hardly recognized you!”

“That’s the idea,” Suri added, digging through her purse for a cigarette.

“Hey, uh, Wallflower,” Lightning said, approaching Wallflower.

“Yeah?” she replied, her voice trembling.

“Good luck out there, OK? You’ve got this,” Lightning said, struggling to put the words together.

“Thanks,” Wallflower said, leaning in for a quick embrace. Lightning was caught by surprise, and she could feel Wallflower shaking uncontrollably, even under her grasp. Lightning held her for a moment, before Sunset had the chance to call out to her.

“Kid! You’ll be helping Moon Dancer out in the carriage. Keep her company, she needs to lighten up.”

Lightning backed away from Wallflower and glanced over to Sunset. She nodded her head, hoping that Moon Dancer had become less hostile than during her arrival at the bodega.

Wallflower held her dress up with her hooves as she trotted off after Lightning into the carriage, wary of spoiling the fabric with any of the muck and grime that covered the pavement.

The carriage was large enough to hold ten ponies, though much of the space was already taken up by Moon Dancer’s various gadgets and modules. Television screens displayed news networks, CCTV of various locations in the city, and even video feeds of the carriage’s surroundings.

“What the hell does she need all of this stuff for?” Lightning wondered.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” growled Moon Dancer, who had popped her head out from a lower compartment in the carriage, fiddling with tangled wires, colored red, gold, blue, and green.

“A little help?” Moon Dancer squirmed, struggling to lift herself out of the compartment.

Lightning stuck out her hoof, and was hardly surprised to receive no ounce of gratitude.

“I’m Lightning Dust, by the way,” Lightning said.

“Never heard of her,” Moon Dancer spat, “Hold these.”

Lightning begrudgingly accepted the clump of wires that Moon Dancer plopped down in her hooves. Moon Dancer left the room in an instant, leaving Lightning unsure what to do.

Sunset, Suri, and Bon Bon joined them inside, the latter carrying with them a wound-up scroll of parchment.

“Your ticket,” Bon Bon said, handing over one of her Golden Tickets to Wallflower, who had never seen one in real life before.

“The palace is going to be on high alert, with all the riots,” Bon Bon explained, “But there are some passageways that the guards don’t know about, that wind all around through the foundations.”

Bon Bon sprawled out the parchment on a nearby table, revealing a rough schematic of the palace layout, along with additional notations scribbled in the margins.

“This tunnel, right here,” Bon Bon said, pointing at the map, “Should take you to the second-floor lounge. It should be locked, nopony has any business being there.”

“So that’s where I should bring Fancy Pants?” Wallflower asked.

“That’s right.”

“What about patrols?” Sunset asked.

Bon Bon glanced at Wallflower.

“Ideally they won’t be around. Otherwise, try not to make too much of a scene.”

“And where will you be?” Suri asked.

“We’ve got barely a week left before Mandola kicks us out of here,” Bon Bon reminded, “You guys finish this business with Razor Blade, and I’ll try to find a way to get Mandola his bits.”

“With how much you owe him, you’d need a fortune,” Moon Dancer remarked from the driver’s compartment, “And this plan of yours isn’t going to work. We’re all going to die,

That’s the spirit,” Sunset chided, “...It’s almost six. Are we ready?”

Lightning nodded her head, eagerly, while Suri sighed and Moon Dancer scoffed. Wallflower was the last to nod her head, gulping down her fears.


Beneath the terrace pavilion, Marius Moonshine lifted his hood, escaping the rain just as it began to engulf the city.

“You’ve got a funny sense of timing,” laughed the pony who was there waiting for him, a snow-white stallion with a charcoal-grey mane.

Must we do this out in the open?” Marius muttered, reaching into his belt to retrieve a small pouch of gold.

“I’m on patrol, pal. Some of us have jobs beyond eavesdropping,” Valance rebuked.

“Get on with it,” Marius spat, stuffing the pouch in Valance’s hoof. He eagerly untied it and inspected its contents, seemingly satisfied.

“You spoke with Featherglass?” Marius asked.

“I did. Told him Azimuth came up with the plan. I left you out.”

“That won’t matter, he’ll know,” Marius replied, not that he believed Valance anyway.

“It's not like what you thought. He doesn’t want to marry her or anything like that. Not yet anyway. She’s just leverage to him, he said. If she don't marry, there'll be war, and that's what he wants, I expect. Wants to stir up chaos, it looks.”

Marius nodded, relieved.

“Keep an eye on him.”

“Sure thing, Boss,” Valance chirped, struggling to light up a damp cigarette.

Marius shuddered in the cold and ventured back into the rain, though came to a quick halt.

“Be careful,” Marius warned, “Featherglass is a dangerous pony to cross.”

Right,” Valance grinned, planting his hoof on his sword belt, “I’d like to see him try.”

31st Avenue was packed to the brim, ponies arriving in black limousines to camera flashes and red carpets. The Gala guests were each dressed in top-of-the-line attire, trotting up the path toward the palace gate. From across the street, Moon Dancer’s carriage had come strolling up against the curb, beside a lamppost and a mailbox.

The five of them were packed together inside the carriage, to Moon Dancer’s annoyance. Lightning was practically on top of her, having spent the entire ride fiddling with each button on the control pad.

What did I just say? No touching!” Moon Dancer yelled.

Sorry,” Lightning said, resisting the urge to continue.

Sunset and Suri were huddled together over the map of the palace, trying their best to memorize their route inside.

Wallflower, meanwhile, tried her best to ignore her nerves, as the muffled voices outside began to grow in number. She felt like throwing up.

Sunset had noticed Wallflower trembling in the corner, though kept her attention on the map. This was their last chance to find out the truth, they couldn’t afford any mistakes.

“Hey, Miss Equestria,” Moon Dancer said, trotting over to Wallflower “Stick these in your ears.”

Moon Dancer handed her a pair of earpieces, small enough to lose if she wasn’t careful.

“So we can communicate.”

Wallflower obliged her, reluctantly sticking the plastic plugs in her ears.

She only heard dull static, that was until a shrill spike tore out of the speakers, prompting her to jump in shock.

“Oops,” Lightning winced, having accidentally brushed against the microphone on Moon Dancer’s work desk.

Moon Dancer growled something under her breath and shoved Lightning out of her way.

“I fixed some micro-cameras onto that necklace and those earrings, so we can keep an eye out for you.” Moon Dancer said, “You’re welcome.”

Wallflower nodded, nervously inspecting the jewelry.

Moon Dancer eyed her up and down, and seemed somewhat content.

“Well, you look the part, at least. But you better be careful.”

“I will.”

“There’s a lot of ponies out there,” Suri remarked, glancing out the window of the carriage.

“Just keep a low profile,” Sunset said, though Wallflower gave no reply.

She had volunteered for this, she kept reminding herself, this was her choice. But part of her would have given anything to turn back, to spare herself the risk of getting herself killed. Or worse, that her fantasy of finishing the job without bloodshed was unattainable, that Sunset had been right all along. Just one slip up and catastrophe might follow. She held off from sharing such thoughts with the others, for fear of making herself even more of a burden. She had to prove her worth to them, prove that she was capable. This was her chance.

“Hey, you OK?” Sunset asked.

“Yeah. No. Yeah. Sorry,” Wallflower replied.

“You sure you want to do this? We can always-”

“I can do it,” Wallflower insisted, “I’m OK.”

Sunset glanced at Suri, who rolled her eyes, unconvinced.

“If you need to get out of there, just give us a call,” Lightning said, clenching her hooves, “You know I’m always ready for a fight.”

“If we can do this without getting in any fights, it’s worth a shot,” Wallflower reminded, glancing back at Sunset.

“See you on the other side,” Sunset said, complemented by a mock-salute.

Suri had a handle on the rear doors of the carriage, and turned back for Wallflower’s nod of approval.

“Let’s do this.”

Chandeliers cast stray bands of torchlight buckling against curtains of rose gold, bending through chilled bottles of champagne. By columns of old marble, flower petals seeped into the palace foyer, blue, indigo, and violet, littering the white tile of the ballroom deeper into the heart of the palace.

Wallflower Blush twirled her hoof around a curly strand of her mane, keeping her head down as she made her way towards the garden gate.

You’ll be fine.

You’ll be fine.

You’ll be fine.

The crowds had already gathered in the garden courtyard, where pink flowers wound up the vines that hung tightly to the perimeter’s columns and arches. Birds of exotic origin had been imported and put on display, each bearing a unique coat of colors.

There were two guards posted at the courtyard’s entrance, both of whom appeared exhausted with the tedious line of ponies that never seemed to end.

Wallflower kept her eyes on the ground when it was her turn, meekly sticking her ticket in the guard’s hoof.

The guard inspected the ticket, front and back, and glared back at Wallflower.

“Go on,” he said, motioning for her to move along.

Wallflower tried to contain her excitement, despite part of her having wanted to be turned down right then and there, so that she might not have to go through with this.

I have to do this.

Wallflower,” came the voice of Sunset through the earpiece she had been given, “You’re in?”

“Yeah,” Wallflower replied, unsure where to go next, “There’s a lot of ponies here…”

There’s no rush. Settle in first, then find Fancy Pants. Suri and I will be off soon.

Sunset’s voice fell into static, and Wallflower focused her attention back to the cluttered crowd of ponies sharing drinks, laughs, and stories of home.

Inside the carriage, Moon Dancer paid attention to three of her module screens, displaying the grainy feedback from the miniature cameras stuck in Wallflower’s earrings and necklace. Lightning hovered over her, eagerly trying to make out who was who in the crowd.

“Ever heard of personal space?” Moon Dancer muttered.

“We better get out of here,” Sunset said, nodding for Suri to follow after.

“Moon Dancer, you keep an eye on Wallflower. Kid, you too.”

“Will do,” Lightning replied.

“Whatever,” Moon Dancer said.

Meanwhile, at the Gala, Wallflower was not sure what to expect at first, and quickly became disoriented, losing track of where she was in a matter of seconds.

Wallflower stole a glass of champagne off a waiter’s passing tray, hoping to blend in and stick to herself.

She backed up, nervously attempting to regain her bearings.

She nearly dropped her glass, when she came crashing into something from behind her. Her face fell in horror, when she realized it wasn’t something, but rather, somepony.

“I’m so sorry!” Wallflower exclaimed, raising her voice to be heard above the crowd.

“Hey, no worries,” replied the pony, whose smile put Wallflower at ease.

The pony was a royal guard, a unicorn, hard-tan in color, with a fiery mane of reddish-brown. He was standing with another pony, a pale white mare with a raven-dark mane.

From the carriage, Moon Dancer leaned in closer toward the screen.

“Uh oh,” she muttered.

“What? What’s uh oh?” Lightning whispered.


“Styles. Nice to meet you,” Styles said, shaking Wallflower’s hoof, “This is Venger. Hey, relax, clumsiness isn’t a capital offense.”

Wallflower faked some laughter, and wondered whether they could tell her heart was beating right out of her chest.

“You’re Twilight’s personal guards?” Wallflower asked, recalling the names of ponies Moon Dancer had instructed her to avoid.

Off to a great start.

“That’s right,” Styles replied, “Though it looks like her highness is still getting ready. Or maybe she’s not in the mood for all this. Can’t say I blame her, the things ponies have been saying lately.”

Wallflower glanced at the ground. While Styles may have been charming enough, Venger’s hard glare made her uneasy.

“Traitors don’t deserve the courtesy,” Wallflower said, trying her best to round out her performance, “The sooner we lock them all up, the better.”

“She’s a natural,” cooed Lightning, ecstatic, while Moon Dancer shook her head in disbelief.

Enough small talk. Get out of there,” Moon Dancer roared into the microphone.

Wallflower winced, while Styles seemed amused.

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Styles laughed, “Oh, I never got your name.”

“Maybe later you’ll find out,” Wallflower smiled, before excusing herself.

Styles’ grin was stuck on his face, watching as she slipped away into the crowd.

What happened to ‘keep a low profile?’” Moon Dancer stammered.

“So far so good, right?” Wallflower said, “C’mon, help me find Fancy Pants.”

She had little idea what the pony in question looked like, aside from some vague description offered by Bon Bon earlier that day.

Wallflower scanned the crowd, and nearly dropped her glass, when she almost made eye contact with the only pony she happened to recognize.

What’s wrong?” Moon Dancer asked.

Snowfall Glitter’s here,” Wallflower muttered, trying to stay out of the blonde pegasus’ line of sight from across the courtyard.

“She knows you guys?” Moon Dancer asked, turning to Lightning.

“Tried to kill us, more than once. Y’know, no big deal.”

Great. She’s gonna get caught. And killed!”

“She knows what to do, give her a chance,” Lightning insisted.

Wallflower wandered off deeper into the crowd, and could feel her breath run short.

“Guys….I think I’m freaking out.”

Lightning glared at Moon Dancer, who had little to say in the way of comfort.

Lightning nudged her, aggressively.

Moon Dancer sighed, and flipped on the switch to the microphone.

Um…You’re doing great.”

Lightning laughed.

“That was terrible.

“I’m not exactly a first-draft pick for pep talks.”

Suri struggled to keep up with Sunset, who followed the route Bon Bon had specified, around the perimeter of the palace battlement, towards the western guard tower.

“That friend of yours better be right about this pony, ‘kay. If he doesn’t know anything, this will all be for nothing,” Suri muttered.

“Moon Dancer’s got good sense for these kinds of things, at least Bon Bon thinks so.”

“Razor Blade is dead because of me,” Suri said, bluntly, “Whoever’s after us, I can’t let them get away with it.”

“Well, you won’t have to wait much longer,” Sunset said, glancing around to make sure they had not been spotted.

“Wait, stop…This is it, this right here,” Suri said, squinting at the map, which was a challenge to read in the dark. They were still along the battlement wall, which rose twenty meters up in the air.

“You’re right,” Sunset said, glancing around at the wall, “She said it’d be hidden, that checks out…”

“So, how do we plan to-”


Sunset froze, as did Suri, when the guard’s voice boomed out from behind them.

He was accompanied by a younger companion, together storming towards them with spears in hoof, from further down the battlement wall.

“Neither of you move,” barked one.

“Who are you?” called out the other guard, who couldn’t make out the ponies’ faces in the dark, “Show us your papers.”

Sunset glanced at Suri, hesitating to answer.

I said-”

“Ah! Um…just give me a second, sir,” Suri interjected, as she began to fiddle with something in her purse.

Sunset caught on quick enough.

Her horn ignited, while both of the guards were still fixated on Suri and her purse.

In a flash of light, the closest guard collapsed to their knees, toppling over in the grass.

“Hey!” yelled the other, who lunged towards Sunset with his spear drawn.

Sunset dodged the attempt, blasting the guard in the head, sending him flying off towards the wall. He landed hard, sliding down to the ground in a heap.

Suri glanced down at the bodies, and back at Sunset.

“...Are they-”

“Alive,” Sunset confirmed, having begrudgingly accepted Wallflower’s parameters of conduct this time around, “Here, now we’ve got some disguises.”

Both were again caught off guard, when the sound of scraping stone screeched out from the wall.

A square-shaped indentation revealed itself in the stone right around where the guard was leaning against, pressing inwards a few inches.

“How about that,” Sunset grinned, running towards the wall and shoving the guard out of the way. She pressed against the stone, deeper and deeper until she heard the sound of clicking metal screws and grinding gears.

The square indentation, now six inches deep in the stone, began to retract towards the right, into a waiting cobweb-covered slot. In its wake, there was only darkness, a drafty breeze, and the distant sound of music and ponies’ voices.

Sunset and Suri crouched down around the tunnel hole, and glanced at one another, giddily.

“After you.”

Waltzing through the great doors of gilded oak and polished glittersteel, Silver Stream had arrived twenty minutes late, having struggled to climb into her gown, a snug cocoon of teal satin, that clung so tightly against her she was uncertain it would ever come off. And beside her at the doors was Ocellus, clad in a short, looser scarlet dress that made Silver just a tad jealous.

The guests were begrudged to be cheated out of the annual Wonderbolt performance, though the rumor made it clear that their resources were better spent elsewhere.

Preparing for war, more like, Silver Stream presumed.

“Come on, you need to cheer up,” Ocellus insisted, though Silver Stream was hardly in the mood.

They made their way through the crowd of comely aristocrats, and while Ocellus was immediately drawn towards the table of appetizers, Silver made her best effort at introducing herself to everypony she came across. Despite her sour spirits, she could not deny herself the chance to make some new friends.

The far end of the ballroom led into a larger balcony portion of the castle, where ponies enjoyed what little warmth remained to the night, as autumn began to set in. And on the east side, windows revealed a perilous drop into the city below, rivaling the stars themselves in their dizzying spectacle.

By a pair of pillars in the darker edge of the ballroom, King Pharynx had just finished exchanging words with one of his subordinates, when Marius Moonshine took him by surprise.

Marius had two glasses suspended in an aura of purple magic, raising one over for Pharynx to take.

Pharynx waved off the prospect, and glanced around to see who else might be lurking nearby.

“I was wondering how long it’d take,” Pharynx scoffed.

“For what?” Marius wondered.

Pharynx shook his head in disgust.

“I’m not interested in whatever you’re selling.”

Marius was hardly phased, finishing his glass and setting the other to the side, in case Pharynx changed his mind.

“Sitting on the fence, I see. Twilight would be pleased with you,” Marius said.

“I hope she thinks so,” Pharynx mocked, “Where is the princess? I had hoped to speak with her.”

“She’s still preparing herself, as I understand,” Marius said, “...You know, there are ponies in Equestria who feel a similar slight to your own. You might want to join them, before blood is spilt.”

“Blood was spilt a long time ago,” Pharynx corrected, “You may have been content to play along with that tyrant all this time. But since the day she took my brother’s head, I’ve only ever been concerned with one thing.”

“Lady Azimuth has agreed to betroth her son to Silver Stream,” Marius said, hurrying to the point, “As of now, the Azimuths control all trade in the South Lunar Sea, they make for a powerful ally. She has a daughter as well, and you have a son. It would be wise for you to join forces, seal the alliance in matrimony.”

Pharynx grinned.

“You beg like a beaten dog. All I want is the hippogriff fleet. I don’t see the need for a middlepony, especially a decrepit whore like Lady Azimuth. The bitch and her pretty little pups are cutthroat opportunists, nothing more. I've had enough of trusting in ponies.

“You’re making a mistake, my friend.”

Pharynx laughed and took the glass of champagne off the table.

“I’m going to get what I want, one way or another.”

Wallflower kept to the outskirts of the courtyard, patiently scanning through the crowd for Fancy Pants.

From the carriage, Moon Dancer rubbed her eyes, exhausted, while Lightning leaned in for a closer look.

“Wait, is that him?”

Moon Dancer shoved her out of the way.

“Wow, look at that, you’re not completely useless,” Moon Dancer growled, reaching for her microphone.

“Gee, thanks,” Lightning said.

Wallflower. Turn left. Blue carnation.”

Wallflower picked up on Moon Dancer’s voice, and again inspected the crowd. She saw him, a large white unicorn with a combed blue mane and a mustache beaded with drops of champagne. He wore a white suit, and, just as Moon Dancer had said, a bright blue carnation.

“He’s with somepony,” Wallflower pointed out, noticing the pink-maned model following the stallion’s lead.

No time to waste,” Moon Dancer said.

Wallflower teetered on through the crowd. She pretended to stumble, nearly running straight into Fancy Pants, who had to help steady her before she tripped over her heels.

“Good heavens, are you alright?” he asked, while Wallflower gazed up at him.

“Oh, how clumsy of me, um, gosh, I can be such a klutz! Ha ha!”

Fancy Pants glanced at his escort, baffled, before turning back to her, somewhat curious.

“I haven’t had the pleasure, my dear,” he said, warily.

“...I’m, um, happy to have changed that, then,” Wallflower said, forcing a smile, batting her eyelashes. She stuck out her hoof for Fancy Pants to shake, though he surprised her with a kiss instead.

“Fleur, darling, run along and fetch us some Bollinger. Hm?” Fancy Pants said, while his eyes remained fixed on Wallflower.

The mare muttered something under her breath and scurried off, leaving the two in peace.

Wallflower. We’re all set, ready for you,” came Sunset’s voice over the radio.

Wallflower cleared her throat, and took a step closer to Fancy Pants, who was somewhat stunned by the forward advance.

“I’ve heard a great deal about you, actually,” Wallflower said, playing with her mane, glancing up and down, nervously, “....And, um, y-yeah, I’d like to learn a bit more.”

Fancy Pants glanced around, shocked, while Wallflower narrowed her eyes, releasing a hint of a smirk.

“We’re all here to have fun, after all,” she added.

Fancy Pants struggled to come up with a reply, before laughing, amazed that he was even considering her proposal.


“I know someplace,” she whispered, “Not far. So why don’t we-”

Her voice trailed off, as the rambunctious crowd began to draw silent.

Wallflower followed their gaze, and suddenly turned pale, at the sight of the newest arrival to the Gala, descending the foyer steps clad in a deep violet gown, and a crown of lustrous gold.

Twilight Sparkle ignored the whispering voices and the terrified pairs of eyes, as she arrived at the foyer.

Twilight ignored the stares, strutting towards Wedge Ward, who had been begrudged to be put on that duty that night.

“You look lovely, your grace,” Wedge smiled.

“Pardon the delay,” Twilight said, “I didn’t want to cause a stir.”

“Oh, these ponies can hardly remember their own names by now, your grace, don’t worry about a thing.”

Twilight smiled, though she could not shake the feeling that something was out of place.

“Excuse me,” she said, trotting over toward the bar.

As the crowd slowly returned to their tableside chats, Wallflower turned to find Fancy Pants had been swept up by the crowd already, now out of sight.

Wallflower, maybe you should-” Moon Dancer began, before Wallflower could turn off the earpiece. She suspected Twilight might be able to hear the frequencies, through some sort of magic. Wallflower could finally put a face to the name, the pony who had killed her friend and provided for all of the hardships they had endured over the past year. She had trouble looking at the princess for too long, as if she expected to go blind at the sight.

In the carriage, Moon Dancer frantically flipped with some switches, distraught to have lost Wallflower’s audio feed.

“She hung up on me!” Moon Dancer exclaimed.

The cameras suddenly turned to static, to Moon Dancer’s horror.

“What just happened?”

Wallflower felt a static shock from her jewelry, and caught sight of a glowing horn in the corner of her eyes.

“Don’t move.”

Wallflower froze, when a familiar voice whispered itself in her ear.

She glanced behind her, and saw Snowfall Glitter approaching her to the side, avoiding direct eye contact. The mare was clad in a tight-fitting white satin gown, and her wavy pale blonde mane was done up in a golden wire headdress.

Wallflower was too panicked to speak, expecting to be subdued right then and there, if not simply executed. She was defenseless, frozen in place while Snowfall stood alongside her.

“It’ll take more than a makeover to sneak past me,” Snowfall snickered, “Are your friends here?”

Wallflower shook her head.

“No. It’s just me.”

“Got it. So how many? Two? Three?”

Wallflower glared at her.

“...I’m sorry for what happened to Starlight,” Snowfall said, “I wanted to help her, somehow, but…”

"I have a hard time believing that," Wallflower scoffed.

"I wish no ill upon you or your friends," Snowfall said, "But I have a duty to my princess. There is still one pony left in Equestria to whom loyalty means something."

“Let me go,” Wallflower said, “Please.”

“You know I can’t do that,” Snowfall said, taking a sip out of her glass, “...But, let’s say you’ve got fifteen minutes to get out of here. You and all your friends.”

Wallflower eyed her, uncertain whether she could trust her.

“Don’t say I didn’t play fair,” Snowfall winked, before trotting off, “Don’t push your luck, Wallflower Blush.”

Wallflower ignored her second guesses and took off straight for Fancy Pants, who was again taken unaware.

“It’s now or never,” Wallflower pleaded, grabbing his jacket, “So what do you say?.”

Fancy Pants stared down at her, incredulously.

“Nopony’s ever needed to ask me that twice,” he grinned, allowing her to drag him off towards the staircase that led up to the next floor.

Moon Dancer sat back with her headphones hanging around her neck, rubbing her forehead to calm herself down.

“You alright, Specs?” Lightning asked.

“Please, please shut up.”

Lightning cowered back for a moment, before her wrath took the better of her.

“Why do you have to be such a jerk? I’ve been trying to help, you know.”

“I don’t need help. Especially from a cocky airhead like you.”

Lightning opened her mouth to reply, before the impact of Moon Dancer’s words hit her. She retreated, struggling to convince herself against escalating the argument.

Moon Dancer’s glare loosened, and she sighed, heavily, leaning back in her chair.

“OK, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. You have been kinda….sorta helpful.”

Lightning glanced back at her, crossing her hind legs in embarrassment.

“Can you see where the others are?”

Moon Dancer shook her head.

“Everything’s shot, I can’t see anything. I hope your friends know what they’re doing, ‘cause they’re on their own now.”

Fancy Pants’ belt was half-unfastened, as he staggered down the empty corridor, his bubbly giggles echoing against the granite.

"For a moment I thought you'd planned to invite Twilight's dog, too," Fancy said. Wallflower took a moment to realize he was referring to Snowfall Glitter, "Half the palace court's made their attempts, but I dare say she won't open her legs to anypony unless Twilight herself commands it. It's a wonder the bitch knows how to breathe on her own."

While Fancy laughed at his own jokes, Wallflower had him by the hoof, tittering and tripping over herself as her mind began to wander.

Her eyes drifted across the door labels, until she stopped short towards the end of the hall.

Wallflower knocked on the door, turning back to Fancy Pants, who was already ravenously pawing at her face. Wallflower shuddered, though continued to play along.

“I guess this will do,” she grinned, reaching for the door handle.

Fancy Pants laughed and grabbed her by the back of her mane with an uncoordinated hoof.

Wallflower had meant to turn around, but was too slow, by the time his lips touched hers, gnawing on her like a ripe piece of fruit.

Wallflower stumbled back into the door, which began to creak open.

Wallflower fell backward, with Fancy Pants on top of her, tumbling through the door as it slid open.

Fancy Pants laughed, and opened his eyes again, only to notice Wallflower’s giddy little grin had disappeared.

“Not a fan of foreplay?” he grumbled, before Sunset Shimmer could plant a kick to his rib cage.

He yelled out in pain and fell off of Wallflower, who scurried to her hooves.

“Thanks,” Wallflower said, brushing herself off, “Snowfall knows I’m here! We have to leave!”

Sunset glanced at Suri, who was posted by the door, checking to see if anypony had heard Fancy Pants’ scream.

“Get back to the carriage, we’ll take it from here,” Sunset advised.


Wallflower. Trust me.”

Wallflower sputtered up some nonsense, before reluctantly nodding her head.

“Whatever you’re going to do, please hurry,” Wallflower said, before slipping out the door, carrying her dress in her hooves.

Suri shut the door and locked the bolt shut, before glancing down at Fancy Pants, who was trying to make out their faces in the dark of the lounge.

“I know you, don’t I?...You’re some of Gladmane’s girls, no?”

Sunset flipped on the switch to a lamp, and Fancy Pants’ delirious grin suddenly fell from his face. He crawled backward against the wall, horrified.

“You’re…You’re…Sunset Shimmer!

“Wrong kind of surprise, huh,” Sunset said.

“Wh-What do you want with me?!”

“A friend of ours, Razor Blade. You know him?” Suri demanded.

Who?” Fancy Pants stammered.

Suri glanced at Sunset for support.

“He worked for the Underground. Ring a bell?”

Fancy Pants flinched at the mention of Underground, to Sunset’s amusement.

“Ah, does that get you scared? Why could that be?”

“What Razor Blade? I don’t know anything about a Razor Blade!”

Sunset sighed, and her horn ignited.

Suri winced at the sound of the tendon in Fancy Pants’ knee snapping apart, prompting Fancy Pants to holler out in agony.


“Focus. Right here,” Sunset said, stepping closer towards him, eyeing him down.

“Razor Blade. What happened to him?”

Fancy Pants sputtered, his body trembling in pain as his knee turned purple from the internal bleeding.

“I…I…They’ll kill me.

Suri’s eyes widened.

“Sure. But they might make it quick,” Sunset said, igniting her horn again.

“Wait! Wait! Stop! Stop, hold on….” Fancy Pants exclaimed, terrified, “...There was a pack of ponies, Undergrounders….I know they bit the dust.”

Sunset glanced at Suri, eagerly.

“Who by? The royal guards?” Sunset demanded.

Fancy Pants laughed.

“The royal guards? No…Those Undergrounders and your friend, it was me who sent them. They were meant to recruit you to rescue my niece from the ponies I work for. And all of us would work together, to tell you about the project, to send you out to steal it, and sell it for a profit. But the ponies I work for, they didn’t want cutthroats like you involved in all this, and the less of a threat to their investment, the better. So they took action, alright? Now a new deal’s brewing. The Underground is floundering, their boss is dead, he’s dead,” Fancy Pants managed, struggling to keep from fainting as the pain surged out of his leg.

Suri gulped, distraught at the idea that whoever killed Razor Blade would probably prefer they were all dead too.

“What project?” Sunset asked.

Fancy Pants glared at her with burning red eyes.

“The grand boon, is what it is. Its price rises by the hour. Manehattan, Canterlot, everypony wants a piece of it.”

“Twilight Sparkle?” Sunset asked, acting on suspicion.

Fancy Pants laughed.

“Her most of all,” Fancy Pants bellowed, “It was hers to begin with.”

“What is it?” Suri asked.

Fancy Pants shook his head.

“I can’t.”


“I’ll end up the same as your friend, torn to pieces. I don’t want to be a part of this, I really don’t. But they’ve taken my niece! They’ve taken her, and they’ll kill her unless I work for them. That's why I meant to hire you. I thought I could trust those Undergrounders to serve as middleponies, but they got themselves killed.”

His eyes shifted up to the two of them.

“...But here I have you, finally! You must do it, you must save her! I can make you rich. Please, please, she’s innocent in all this.”

“Tell us more about this project, and we’ll consider it,” Sunset said.

Fancy Pants hesitated, raising his hoof up as if to try and level with them.


“It’s in Cloudsdale?”

“No, no, but…In Cloudsdale there is a pony who can help you. I can’t, they’ll kill me and my niece. But this pony, he has nothing to lose, he’s a voluntary stockholder.”

Sunset glanced over at Suri, who seemed open to the opportunity.

“Where do we find him?”

“His name is Fire Streak, you’ll find him at the Wonderbolt Academy.”

“Wonderbolts?” Suri repeated.

“Yes, yes, he can tell you what you want to know.”

Suri suddenly jumped alert, her ears picking up on the marching of hooves somewhere outside.

“You keep this little talk of ours quiet, got it? For both our sakes.”

Fancy Pants nodded, between winces of pain.

“And my niece?”

Sunset hesitated.

“Stay on our good side, and we’ll consider it.”

Fancy Pants smiled, briefly, before the pain overtook him.

“Let’s get out of here,” Sunset said, and Suri followed suit, the both of them invigorated.

Silver Stream struggled to choke down the Vieux Carré, as her face turned red and her eyes grew wide.

“How is it?” Ocellus asked, curiously.

Not so good,” Silver Stream managed, setting her glass down and trying her hardest not to break into a coughing fit.

Silver suddenly felt a cold sensation on her shoulder, slimy like a used popsicle stick.

Silver turned around and nearly jumped back in fright, when Malthos took a step closer to her.

“Gosh! Sorry, you scared me,” Silver said, glancing at Ocellus, who trotted up at her side, glaring at Malthos with murderous intent.

“Hey, Silver Stream, I just wanted to say hi,” Malthos said, as if there was a frog buried in his throat.

“Well you’ve said it,” Ocellus snapped.

Ocellus,” Silver said, dismissively, “Sorry, Malthos. That’s sweet. It’s good to see you.”

Malthos laughed, but for too long, and soon enough he was coughing up some spit stuck in his throat.

“Er, it’s always good to see you, Silver,” Malthos grinned, taking another step closer to them.

Silver sighed, and bit her lip.

“Malthos, um, look, I think you’re great, but…I uh, don’t really want to be…Y’know…”

Silver,” Malthos grinned, “We both want it. I can tell. So-”

“Hey, Malthos, why don’t you and I go try those strawberry tarts over there, huh? You’ve gotta catch me up on what I’ve missed at the Hive, right?” Ocellus said, sticking herself between them.

“Uhm, er, okay, sure, but,” Malthos stammered.

“Yeah. Let’s do that. C’mon,” Ocellus said, grabbing Malthos by the hoof and leading him off into the crowd.

Silver sighed, and felt pity for the changeling, while Ocellus led him away, leaving her by her lonesome.

Some commotion near the door grabbed her attention, along with those around her.

“The dragons!” cried a pony, as the ballroom began to draw silent.

“The dragons have crossed the Red Teeth! Canter Creek’s been put to the torch!” he exclaimed.

Silver Stream glanced to her left, right as one mare fainted on top of her dancing partner.

Screaming, shattering glass, and the stampeding of ponies soon took over the room,

Silver Stream turned back to find Ocellus in the chaos, though soon enough she was swept up in the current of ponies, dragged away off her hooves.

Twilight, meanwhile, stood alone while the crowd cowered and crawled for the exit.

‘We’re too late,’ Twilight thought to herself, mortified. She turned to Wedge, who was right there at her side.

“Defend that girl with your life,” Twilight instructed.

Wedge glanced between her and the crowd and hesitated, before nodding his head and taking off after Silver Stream.

Wallflower made for the closest exit, teetering down a rounded staircase, her dress twirling in the breeze.

She stopped short, when ponies’ voices revealed themselves from down the stairs at a smaller balcony, far away from the prying eyes of the gala-goers.

Wallflower hid behind a portion of the wall, catching her breath.

She recognized one of the voices, as that of Styles, though his companion was a stranger.

She peaked out from the wall, and saw a stocky stallion with a snow-white coat and a charcoal grey mane. They were laughing together, until they came to a stop to take in the view of the city.

“And I said to him, your funeral,” Valance laughed, and he was visibly unable to stand straight, having had far too much to drink.

“And he died the next day. Celestia save us,” Styles exclaimed.

“Celestia save this city. It’s all gone to hell, Lieutenant, oh for Luna’s sake. These ponies with their plots and-and their schemes…”

“I’ve heard rumors,” Styles said, “Not that it’s my business.”

“No, no, it’s nopony’s business. But that…You know that, it’s those two, Moonshine and the Feather fellow. Curse them, the slugs. They share a brain, them too. The more you listen to them, the harder it is to stand it, see?”

“They have your confidence, I take it?” Styles asked.

Valance laughed.

“Oh, yes. Yes, they do. Featherglass sends me a task, I do it, and I do it well, you know me, Lieutenant. And then I tell Moonshine, that’s the arrangement, see? It’s brilliant, it is. My pockets never go dry, and Feathers, he doesn’t know a thing.”

Styles’ smile faded.

“No, my friend, I’m afraid he does.”

Valance laughed, before he noticed Styles, who was staring at him with those deep purple eyes of his.

“...What?” Valance choked, though he could do little to take action before Styles had a hold of him by the throat.

Wallflower raised her hoof to her mouth to keep her from screaming, watching as Styles tossed Valance over the rise of the battlements, screaming bloody murder as he went.

It was a three-story fall, and Styles stayed to watch it all, until he could feel satisfied with his work.

She held back tears and waited for Styles to return down the stairs, before following after him, making sure to take a different route to reach 31st Avenue outside.

But she didn’t make it far, when a pony stormed out in front of her from around the bend of the stairs.

Styles shook his head, as if crushed to come to an understanding.

You again. I had a feeling you were up to something,” Styles laughed, “...Maybe now you’ll tell me your name.”

Wallflower bit her lip, backing up against the stairs.

“Take it easy…You and I could come to an understanding, OK? No need to make an issue out of what you think you saw.”

Styles tilted his head, amused, though his smirk didn’t stay there long.

Lightning Dust had come barreling in from the air, planting both of her hind hooves into Styles’ chest.

He fell hard against the concrete, gripping his chest in agony, while Lightning Dust rushed over to Wallflower.

“Are you OK?” Lightning asked. Wallflower nodded, while Styles struggled to find his breath.

“Thanks for the help,” Wallflower said.

“Anytime,” Lightning replied.

Wallflower smiled, before she saw Styles’ horn begin to glow.

“Lightning!” Wallflower exclaimed, shoving Lightning to the ground, just in time to spare them both from a purple beam of Styles’ magic, shattering a nearby statue into dust.

Wallflower glanced back up, watching as Styles’ horn simmered down, as he gripped his chest in pain.

“...Wait, that’s it. That’s where I know you from…You’re that little band of Robin Hood runaways I keep hearing about,” Styles coughed, “Luna be good, you’ve got some kick.”

"Yeah? How'd you like another?" Lightning scowled and scampered back to her hooves, moving in to plant another kick, while Styles laughed.

Wallflower stopped her, however, holding Lightning back with an outstretched hoof.

“Forget him, let’s get out of here. We got what we needed, we can't stick around.”

Lightning reluctantly obliged, glaring back at Styles.

“See you around,” Styles grinned and blew her a kiss, resting against a short wall of columns while he caught his breath.

“Hold on tight,” Lightning advised, reaching around Wallflower to scoop her up.

Lightning took flight, leaving Styles to struggle back to his hooves.

At the carriage, Lightning touched down just as Moon Dancer threw open the rear doors.

“You’ve got her!” Moon Dancer exclaimed, shocked. She had expected Wallflower to be a corpse already.

Lightning set Wallflower down, gently.

“Thanks for the save,” Lightning said, smiling.

A rustling in the bushes nearby put all three of them on alert, that was until Sunset and Suri struggled out into the street beside them.

“Sunset,” Wallflower said, relieved to see both of them alive, “Did you get what we needed?”

“You have no idea,” Sunset grinned, mischievously.

She ushered in the others to jump back into the carriage, glancing back at the palace over the rise.

“I think I’ve just found our fortune.”

Silver Stream nearly lost her balance as the crowd toppled over one another in the foyer.

“Ocellus!” she exclaimed, having lost her in the chaos.

But a hoof found her in the madness, dragging her out from the stampede and up into the grand stairwell.

“Captain!” Silver said, flinging a strand of her mane out of her eyes. Wedge Ward’s horn was alight, and there was a bruise on his cheek.

“Come with me, Princess,” Wedge Ward.

“Wait,” Silver said, searching the crowd for Ocellus.

“Princess, now,

“Ocellus!” Silver wailed, though her voice cracked right as the changeling came springing out from the rush, climbing up the stairs to join Silver.

“Oh, you beat me here,” Ocellus said, shaking her head.

“Get a move on, both of you,” Wedge said, helping Ocellus up and ushering the two of them along.

“What’s going on?” Silver stammered, as Wedge practically shoved her and Ocellus up the stairs to the second floor of the palace.

“Equestria’s lost its mind, is what’s going on,” Wedge muttered, glancing behind him, “The dragons have declared war. The Crystal Empire, too.”

Silver’s eyes widened. She felt almost relieved. Featherglass was right after all, there was no need for her to marry.

“I’ve got to find my mom and my brother, we need to head home.”

Wedge glared at her.

“You’re not safe. Neither are they.”

Silver had trouble believing him, while he led them down a corridor, towards Silver’s bedroom.

But he came to an abrupt halt, as did the girls, when they caught sight of a creature standing in their way.

“Malthos?” Silver said, as the changeling approached them from the other side of the hall.

Wedge watched as Malthos kept on creeping closer toward them, silent at first.

“That’s far enough, highness,” Wedge said.

“...You could have made it easy, Silver,” Malthos croaked.

Ocellus stepped in front of Silver, protectively.

“Now it’s got to be the hard way.”

Pairs of eyes began to glow in the dark, lighting up the far end of the hallway.

Wedge’s horn began to glow, as he took a step forward.

“Princess, take your friend and go to your mother’s chamber, stay there and lock the door.”

“What are y-”

The horde of changelings began to buzz, their wings each fluttering together, Malthos at the helm.

Go. Now,” Wedge barked.

The changelings came rushing towards them in full, numbering thirty or forty.

Wedge’s horn lit up the corridor, knocking the first wave of the changelings off-kilter, while more and more began to appear behind them.

Silver had finally felt compelled to run, only after a final prod by Ocellus.

Silver! Let’s go!”

Wedge’s horn erupted again and again, though the changelings never stayed down for long.

They were atop him in an instant, and he was forced to resort to more extreme measures, searing the flesh off his attacker’s bones, and burning a hole through the skull of another.

He backed up, careful not to trip, while his eyes darted left and right, aiming for each changeling that tried to fly past him.

None evaded him, until a new face came rushing out from the dark.

The creature swung its hoof into his face, crushing his snout and sending him flying over against the wall.

The changelings took advantage of his incapacitation, flying off after Silver Stream and Ocellus.

Wedge grunted and tried to pick himself up, before the creature’s hoof stamped itself on his chest.

Pharynx scowled, glancing over at the dozen or so changelings that lay dead deeper down the corridor.

“You’ll regret that one day,” Pharynx muttered, “Tell Twilight she’s going to have one more problem to deal with.”

Before Wedge could ignite his horn, Pharynx swung his hoof into Wedge's skull, knocking the lights out of his eyes.

Pharynx scoffed and turned back towards where the girls had scurried off.

Silver Stream and Ocellus sprinted toward the other side of the palace, hoping to find Ocean Flow waiting inside.

Silver pulled on the handle, hoping to take advantage of what little time Wedge had given them.

“It’s locked!”

While Silver panicked, Ocellus frantically glanced around the hall, before catching sight of another stairwell.

“Head that way, try to find a way out. Don’t ask anypony for help, they could be a changeling in disguise.”

“What, without you?”

“They’re after you. I’ll try to distract them and buy you time. They won’t catch me, I promise. Just hurry, Silver, please. Go!”

Silver was out of breath, struggling to keep herself together. She wondered if Wedge was alive even, or what the changelings were planning to do with her.

She could not think of another plan, however, and took flight, rushing off down the stairwell, while Ocellus glanced back at the way they came.

Malthos licked his lips, his beady purple eyes darting across every inch of the palace corridor.

The marble was stained gold by the candlelight, which cast the far corners and buried depths in murky shadow.

He had ten changelings behind him, while other patrols were lurking around the palace, posing as guards or servants or Gala guests, all with one goal in mind.

Twilight and her advisors were indisposed with the news of war declarations and riot resurgences, while the majority of her royal guards were busy escorting the panicked crowd of guests out of the palace. It was the perfect time to strike, Malthos thought to himself. She had no escape.

Down past one gilded hall of royal trophies, however, Malthos picked up on a speedy squeak against the granite tile, and glanced at his companions to follow his lead.

He crept closer towards the hall in question, only to find it entirely abandoned.

Undeterred, Malthos took flight and buzzed down the hall, glancing all the way up and around for any sign of movement.

Breezing past one closet door, however, he came to a stop, glancing over at his companions.

He grinned and approached the door, stretching out his oily green hoof to grab the handle.

Silver Stream came falling out of the closet, her claws held over her eyes, terrified.

“Please don’t hurt me!” she wailed.

Malthos cackled at the pathetic display.

“Aw, don’t cry,” Malthos laughed, smiling wildly as he lifted a strand of her mane away from her eyes, “You’re safe now, I promise.

He turned to face the other changelings, who had already encircled a trembling Silver.

“Tell my father we’ve got her. We need to leave, before the whole palace is on top of us,” Malthos said.

“Yes, sir,” replied two of the changelings in unison, who promptly hoisted up Silver to her hooves.

“Please don’t do this. Just let me go,” Silver begged.

Malthos shook his head.

“You’re mine now,” he grinned.

They turned to flee, with Malthos leading them, wearing a sickly smirk of triumph, eager to show his father what he had just reeled in for the taking.

But neither Malthos nor the other changelings had noticed, when Silver’s eyes twitched for a moment as she was dragged away. A flash of green overtook her eyes for a brief moment, before she had the chance to glance back behind her one last time.

Then a changeling’s hoof landed against her skull, and her world turned to black.

Author's Note:

Hey, thanks for reading! Had to cut out everybody else to keep the wordcount down on this one (it's still too high tbh), so the next chapter will be mostly Starlight / Trixie / Blondie / Bandolier / Juno stuff. Part of me just wants to upload each individual section as its own chapter, but idk. A lot of the next chapter is already written so it should be out in mid-March. For anyone who is enjoying the story, please know that it means so much to me, and is the main reason why I stick with it. Thank you again for reading!