"And it's just, like… look, if you're on Serato Scratch, don't call yourself a DJ," Vinyl Scratch said, finishing a long rant.
Spike nodded in agreement. He'd been to his fair share of bad clubs. "Tell me about it. Beat detecting's got no attitude, y'know?"
Scratch slammed her drink onto the table. "Exactly!"
"So how'd it work out with that guy from EMG?" Spike asked, leaning back in his chair.
Almost instantly, Scratch's good-natured indignation disappeared and her face fell. "It's… well, we're still talking about it."
"What?" snapped Spike, confused and a little angry. "There's nothing to talk about! You're great! They should be falling all over themselves to sign you."
Scratch chuckled. "Thanks for the vote of confidence, but these executive types don't see it like that. It's all about focus groups and Fencepost rankings with those guys- they're looking for hooks and gimmicks and overproduction, not music."
"Then tell 'em to take their focus groups and buzz off!" Spike was starting to get worked up.
The beleaguered DJ sighed and shook her head. "I wish I could, man, but you can only make so much on the indie circuit and rent doesn't pay itself."
"Well, yeah, but… ugh!" Spike rubbed his temples and tried to calm down; yelling wouldn't do any good. "Alright," he said after cooling down a bit, "you want my advice? Give it to 'em straight: either they get you as you are or they don't get you at all. You're the one making the music; they're just pencil pushers."
Scratch tilted her head, thinking. "Nah, that won't work. These guys like being in charge- they wouldn't want anypony trying to pull the rug out from under them."
"So what?" Spike said with a shrug. "You should still go for it. If worse comes to worst, I know a guy from Steeplechase Records who'd probably love to hear your stuff."
Scratch's ears pricked up and she looked at her dragon companion, half-expecting him to laugh and say he was pulling her leg. "Seriously?"
"Yeah, totally!" Spike said, his mood quickly improving. "Me an' Dale go way back. I'm sure I can call in a favor."
"Well... fine. I guess I can give it a shot." Scratch leaned forward inquisitively. "So what are you up to these days, anyway? I haven't seen you in weeks."
"Oh, that." Spike shrugged. "Celestia has me and Twilight living in Ponyville now."
"Out in the boonies? Harsh." Scratch smiled mischievously. "Still, I'm surprised. She's the last pony I'd expect to tick off the princess."
"Oh, it wasn't a punishment. She wanted to stay out there."
"For real?" Scratch shook her head sympathetically. "Your partner's one weird little unicorn, dude."
Spike waved his hand dismissively. "Nah, Twilight's cool, really. She's mellowed out a lot these days, too. She even made some friends!"
"Well, good for her!" Scratch said, giggling a bit. "I knew she'd open up eventually. Kinda lame that she had to drag you along, though."
"It's not so bad, really. The town's nice enough, and it's never very long before I get to come back to Canterlot, what with the rate she goes through those fancy foreign teas. And besides, lemme tell ya, those country ponies?" He whistled, thinking of Rarity. "Oh! That reminds me. I wanted to ask you something."
"Sure thing, guy."
"Twilight and some of our friends are putting on a fashion show, and they're making me organize the whole thing."
"What else is new?" Scratch said, grinning.
"Ha, you don't even know the half of it. Anyway, I was hoping you could come down and handle the music."
"Well... I dunno, man," Scratch said, chin resting on hoof in contemplation. "That's not really my scene, y'know?"
"C'mon, please?" Spike pleaded. "It's just, there's this girl I really like-"
A white hoof stopped him mid-sentence. "Alright, alright, I get the picture." Scratch smiled. "I normally wouldn't do this, but… okay. I'll help you out."
Spike leapt up and began shaking her hoof vigorously. "Thanks, Scratch! You're the best."
"It's fine, really." She pulled her foreleg back and put it down. "Besides, I've never run a fashion show before, so at least it'll be something new."
"Oh… really?" Spike looked concerned. "Are you sure you can do it? I mean, I'd hate to-"
"Don't worry about it!" Scratch said, laughing. "I got this."
The door opened and a small party entered the donut shop, bringing with them a short burst of casual conversation. Scratch, who had been facing the door, was the first to notice the new arrivals.
"Oh, no," she moaned, covering her face with her hooves. "Not them!"
Curious, Spike turned to get a look. Four earth ponies- two mares and two colts, each with a musical cutie mark- had entered. "Oh, I know those guys!"
"You would," Scratch said with a touch of sarcasm.
"Yeah, they're an orchestral group. It's not really my thing, but they're pretty big with the nobles."
"Don't remind me." The white unicorn sat back up, crossing her forelegs and grimacing. "I was supposed to play a show last week, but some idiot double-booked the space with this high-society fundraiser. It took fifteen minutes for the management to figure out what was going on, and guess who got to chat with the aristocracy's entertainment?"
"Oh. That's too bad. Still, I'm sure it was just a misunderstanding."
"Nah, see, that's the thing. Scheduling's hard, accidents happen, I get that. I wouldn't even have mind moving the show, really, but those guys were just… ugh, I don't even want to talk about it." Scratch was clearly growing more agitated by the second. "That bassist is a real nasty piece of work."
"Who, Octavia? She's not so bad, really, once you get to know her."
"Yeah, well, I think I'll just take your word for it. Look, I'm gonna get out of here before-"
A new voice interrupted them. "Why hello there, Spike, old friend!" The grey pony with the long, dark mane had split from her bandmates and walked over to greet them.
"Oh, uh… hi, Octavia." Despite his earlier claims, the baby dragon was suddenly very nervous.
"And look!" said the sarcastic musician, her voice dripping with venom. "If it isn't Canterlot's up-and-coming superstar… oh, what was it again? DJ Pine Tree?"
"You know how it's pronounced," Scratch muttered through clenched teeth.
"Oh, I'm sorry; it must have slipped my mind. I never could keep up with you Top 40 types. Tell me, did you get that interview with Mr. Seacolt yet?"
Years of weaving in and out of Canterlot's various circles had given Spike something of a sixth sense; he knew when it was time to get away from a bad situation, and this was most certainly it. "Um, now that I think about it, I've still got some errands I need to run for Twilight, and I gotta get out to the store before it closes, so I'm, uh… I'm just gonna split, alright?" he said, rising from his chair.
"So long, Spike!" Octavia said with exaggerated cheerfulness.
"I'll see you at the show, right, Scratch?"
"Uh-huh, sure," Scratch said, only half paying attention. She was still glaring at Octavia.
Spike made a beeline for the door, calling to the shopkeeper on his way out. "Hey, Pony Joe! Put it on Twilight's tab for me, okay?"
Joe grimaced a bit, but kept his gaze locked on the two mares and their rapidly escalating argument. "Okay, fine, just this once." Normally, Joe wouldn't have let Spike get away without paying, but right now the donut salesman was more concerned with keeping the peace than making money.
In that same instant, back in Ponyville, Twilight- who had developed a sixth sense of her own- momentarily paused her studies and wrote a memo reminding herself to yell at Spike when he got back home.
Spike stood outside Joe's shop and wondered what he should do next. In reality, he had taken care of his errands some time ago, and the fashion show was mostly prepared; he still had a few more things to set up, but they could all be done locally. If he wanted to, he could have gone straight back to Ponyville.
But he didn't want to. His work wasn't finished yet. Canterlot was a big city, and if he looked hard enough, he knew he could find a way to turn Rarity's show into something truly special. Spike was a noble dragon; he couldn't bear to make her settle for anything less.
The door to Pony Joe's opened and a cyan-colored pony with a brown mane quickly slipped outside. "Oh!" she said, noticing the baby dragon. "Uh, hey there, Spike."
Spike turned to greet her. "Hi, Bluenote. The rest of the band coming out, too?"
Bluenote rubbed the back of her head sheepishly. "No, no, they're still hanging around. I just had to… well, you know."
Spike nodded. "Yeah, I get ya."
"Do you think she'll be alright?" Bluenote looked concerned. "Your friend, I mean. Octavia's bark is worse than her bite, but…"
Spike knew that wasn't saying much. He liked Octavia well enough, but he knew how impressive her bark could be. Still, he wasn't too concerned. "I wouldn't worry about it. Scratch can handle herself. Besides, Pony Joe won't let anything happen on his watch."
The sousaphone player cast a worried glance back inside the building. "I hope you're right, Spike. That DJ seemed nice enough when I met her, but… well, you know how Octavia can be."
"Ah, I'm sure they'll work it out," Spike said. The steadily rising voices coming from within Pony Joe's seemed to disagree.
"If you say so," said Bluenote, obviously unconvinced. The distinctive sound of breaking glass rang out from within the shop. "…We should probably get out of here."
"Good idea." Spike may have been an optimist, but he wasn't a fool.
The two friends wandered down one of Canterlot's many streets. They had no particular destination in mind, so long as it got them away from Scratch and Octavia's argument.
"I really am sorry about all this," said Bluenote.
"You should probably be apologizing to Scratch."
The remorseful pony lowered her head, slightly ashamed. "Yeah, probably…"
"Ah, don't worry about it," Spike said, trying to cheer her up. "It's not your fault."
"Well, maybe, but I still wish there was something I could… Oh! I know!"
Spike didn't. "What? What is it?"
"Remember when you asked us if we had any fashion connections?"
"Oh, yeah. That." Spike had been hoping to surprise Rarity by inviting some industry bigwigs to her show, but as it turned out, his disdain for girliness and frou-frou meant that fashion was the one business he had no ties to.
"Well, you know Hoity Toity?"
Spike supposed that Twilight must have finally started rubbing off on him; for once, he had actually done his research, and he immediately recognized the name. "You mean that big-shot designer?"
"Uh-huh," said Bluenote, looking more than a little smug.
"What about him?"
"Well, we were hired to play at one of his shows the other day, and I bet if I pulled some strings…"
Spike was ecstatic. "You think you can get me in to meet him?"
Bluenote nodded. "It's the least I could do."
The musical earth pony was true to her word, and by the next day Spike had managed to schedule an appointment with one of Canterlot's biggest designers. Unfortunately, Hoity Toity was a busy colt, and the baby dragon was unable to meet him until the very day of the show.
The silver-maned fashionista peered over his glasses as Spike entered the office. "Ah, yes," he said. "You're the dragon who works for Celestia's top student, correct?"
"Sure am." Spike knew he and Twilight had more direct access to the princess than just about any pony in Equestria, and the leverage that gave him was one of his greatest assets.
"And what is it you wanted to talk about, young man? Oh, and do hurry up; I've got another meeting in five minutes."
The designer's rudeness was to be expected, really. Dragons and aristocrats have never gotten along; a dragon is far too proud to ever show high society the kind of respect it feels it deserves, and for all the pony folks' talk of sharing and caring, they can still be very stingy when it comes to gold and jewels. Naturally, Spike had been down this road many times before, and this was always the point in the conversation where he stood his ground and demanded to be treated with some basic courtesy.
Just this once, though, he kept quiet. Rarity was worth putting up with a little abuse.
The baby dragon took a seat in the expensive office chair across from Hoity. "Alright, then, I'll make this quick. What if I said I could get you a direct line to the hottest new designs in Equestria before anypony else even knows about them?"
"I'd tell you to stop wasting my time."
Spike felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He couldn't afford to lose Hoity's attention. "Look, I'm telling you, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!"
Hoity chuckled condescendingly. "I'm already the biggest name in Canterlot. What do I need with opportunities?"
Spike saw an opening and leapt for it. "You might be the biggest in Canterlot, but what about Cloudsdale? Manehattan?" He leaned in closer. "And what about ten years from now? Twenty? A hundred?"
Hoity just rolled his eyes. "Oh, puh-lease. I can't run around chasing every two-bit amateur who thinks they're the next big thing."
Despite the rejection, Spike could tell he had Hoity's interest. The designer was getting on in years; he was at the age where stallions start to wonder if they're losing their touch, if they'll still be around thirty years from now, if anypony will remember them once they're gone. A pony like that could never resist the promise of immortality, and Spike was happy to give him a chance to live on forever as the guy who discovered Rarity. He just needed one little push…
"Well, alright, then, Mr. Toity. I guess I've wasted enough of your time." Spike began to stand up. "Still, it's your loss. I wanted to give you the first shot at this, but I'm sure Ms. Finish-"
Hoity sighed. "Oh, fine. I really should know better, but..."
"Don't worry! I promise you won't be disappointed."
Once her set ended, Scratch left her turntables and walked up to Spike. She could barely keep from giggling. "You know, I wasn't sure at first, but now I'm glad you got me to come out here. This is hilarious!" She burst into laughter.
"What're you talking about? Rarity's designs are great!"
It took a moment, but eventually Scratch was able to contain herself enough to speak. "Man, have you even seen those dresses?"
"Yeah! Of course I have!" Spike said, becoming defensive. "They're, uh…"
Actually, now that he thought about it, Spike realized he hadn't taken a good look at them. He was always focused on other things- namely Rarity- and, to be honest, he barely noticed the dresses themselves. Still, they had to be good, right? After all, they were designed by the most beautiful and brilliant unicorn in all of Equestria, a professional beyond compare, and who was Scratch to criticize somepony like that? Everypony knows musicians don't have fashion sense.
The DJ smirked. She could read him like a book. "Just as I thought. Looks like somebody's been blinded by love."
"N… No!" Spike turned towards the stage, determined to prove her wrong. "See? They're… uh…"
His stomach fell. The dresses really were bad.
Scratch laughed. "Told ya!" She raised her hoof and lightly rapped Spike on the head. "You gotta keep your eyes open, man. Don't let yourself be fooled by a pretty mane."
Spike didn't say anything. Normally he wouldn't have been able to keep himself from laughing at the sight of his friends in such ridiculous outfits, but right now he was too busy panicking.
Scratch could tell something was wrong and tried to console him. "Hey, don't worry about it. This whole thing'll blow over soon, and it's not like you're the one on stage! I bet nopony will even remember you were involved."
"That's not important!" Spike snapped. "I just… I can't- Her career is ruined and it's all my fault!"
"Aw, c'mon, I'm sure she'll bounce back. Everypony has a few bad gigs! If I gave up every time one of my shows turned out awful, I'd be working in fast food twelve times over by now."
"It's worse than that. Much worse. I thought I was being helpful, really, but-"
"Harrumph." Hoity Toity was on his way out and noisily cleared his throat as he passed the stage, ensuring he had their attention for his next comment. "I suppose that's what I get for trusting a dragon."
Spike glared at the haughty stallion, his panic rapidly becoming rage.
Scratch scowled angrily and turned to the baby dragon. "I think I know that guy. He's that big-league designer, right? Tawty or whatever?"
Spike sighed. "Yeah…"
Scratch was beginning to understand the situation. "You know what, man? Forget about him. That guy's a complete scumbag. Octavia said-"
"Octavia?" Spike smiled in spite of himself. "See? I told you!"
Scratch rolled her eyes. "Alright, fine, you were right. She's really not so bad once you get a couple of donuts in her. Besides," she continued, grinning, "the girl's got some awful interesting stories. You wouldn't believe what those nobleponies get up to when they think the plebs aren't watching."
"Haha, yeah." It was true; Octavia always seemed to have a story to tell, and she was more than happy to rant at length about the terrible ponies she'd worked for. "Anyway, what's this about Hoity?"
Scratch shuddered. "Ugh, I don't even wanna think about it. Dude's a total creep. Go ask Octavia about him yourself- she'll tell you."
"Y'know, I just might have to do that." Spike knew it was wrong to hold a grudge, but he didn't particularly care; at that moment, there was nothing he would have enjoyed more than some Hoity Toity-flavored schadenfreude.
Nobody felt like talking much in the library that night, but at breakfast the next morning Spike found that Twilight was even more upset than him. "That was a disaster!" she moaned, her need to vent finally overcoming her guilt as she stared into an untouched bowl of cereal.
"Tell me about it," Spike muttered, staring at his own half-eaten donut. "I just don't understand! Rarity's dresses are usually so great, but…"
Twilight sighed. "It's our fault. Her original designs were perfect, but-"
"Wait, original designs?" Spike said, perking up at what he hoped would be a chance to set things right.
The purple unicorn nodded. "Rarity made wonderful outfits for all of us, but we thought we knew better and… well, you saw how that turned out."
"So… there are other dresses? Better ones?"
Spike felt a plan begin to form itself in the back of his head. "Does she still have them?"
"Well, maybe," said Twilight. "I mean, I'm not-"
Spike jumped up. "I know how we can fix this!" He started heading for the exit. "Listen, Twilight, can you and the others get Rarity ready for another show?"
"Well, we could try, but- wait, where are you going?"
"Canterlot!" he yelled, already halfway out the door. "There's something I need to take care of."
Spike burst into Hoity Toity's office, making sure to push the door hard so it would slam against the wall.
Unfazed, Hoity put down the paper he was holding and looked at his visitor. "Oh, it's you again. I don't believe we had an appointment."
"Typical." Hoity brought the paper back up to his face and resumed reading. "I don't know what you're here for, but if you're after my gemstones, I'll have you know that I stored them away before your first visit."
"I don't want your gems, Hoity. I just want you to hear me out."
"Hear you out?" The designer lowered his paper and snorted derisively. "After you wasted my time and subjected my poor, sensitive eyes to those monstrosities? Are you mad?"
"Are you gonna listen or not?"
Hoity sighed. "Oh, all right. Normally I'd have the guards throw you out, but my next meeting isn't for another ten minutes. Besides," he said, his voice heavy with condescension, "I could use a laugh."
"A laugh? Sure, I can do that." Spike was suddenly very cheerful.
Hoity didn't say anything, but this change in tone slightly worried him.
"In fact, a certain bassist just told me a very funny story. One about you, even!" Spike chuckled. "Talk about eye candy, eh?"
Hoity almost dropped his paper as a look of shock shot across his face, but he quickly regained his composure. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Aww, don't be like that, Hoity! It really is an awful interesting story." Spike began to pace around the room. "In fact, I bet the princess would just love it! I might have to tell it to her next time I'm at the castle."
Hoity put the document down, his face deadly serious. "What do you want?"
Spike walked up to the fashionista's desk, leaped onto the chair, and leaned across the desktop. "Give her another chance."
"Your designer friend?" Hoity laughed. "Oh, please. You should just give up on her! She's clearly a lost cause."
"Give her a second chance, and you'll see."
Hoity gave the dragon a good, long look. "You must really like her."
Spike didn't respond.
Hoity stood up and walked around the desk. "Listen," he said, placing a hoof on Spike's shoulder, "This is going to be hard for you to hear, but I know talent when I see it, and I most certainly did not see it last night."
The baby dragon angrily pushed the designer away. "Don't try pulling this buddy-buddy stuff on me, Hoity. It's not gonna work."
The old stallion sighed. "Look, you may not want to believe me, but I've been there before. You won't find a colt in Canterlot who hasn't, and they'll all tell you the same thing: she's not worth it."
Hoity shook his head. "That's what you think now, but what about in ten years? Or twenty? Or a hundred? Blackmailing me, risking your reputation… do you really want to-"
Spike laughed. "C'mon. We both know my reputation's not the one on the line here."
"I just think you should reconsider."
"Look, I can tell what you're trying to do, and I'm not falling for it. Rarity's a great designer, and I know she's a great designer, and I'm not giving up until you know it, too."
Seeing that there was no way out, Hoity finally gave in. "Fine. I'll be back at 3 PM, four days from now." The designer walked back to his seat. "And I have your word you won't tell anypony about that… incident?"
Spike gave him what could have been an innocent smile but was probably more of a toothy smirk. "I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about."
Spike felt pretty good about himself. Rarity's second show had gone even better than they had expected; she was set to rise to meteoric heights in the fashion world, and it was all thanks to the hard work of one enterprising young dragon. True, she barely seemed to recognize his contributions, but he didn't mind- it was enough just to have helped her.
It had been a long day, and Spike was looking forward to some well-deserved rest. However, just as he was preparing to get into bed, he remembered there was still one last thing he needed to take care of. He ran over to Twilight's desk, grabbed a piece of parchment, and started writing.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Hey there! It's just Spike this time, but boy, do I have a story for you…